The Khutbas or literary "Sermons" of the Báb

By Stephen Lambden

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #81
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 29 – June 1, 2008
(see list of papers from #81)

    The Arabic word khutba has a range of senses in Islamic literatures. It is only loosely and inadequately defined by the western Christian terms "sermon", "homily" or "oration", etc. Within Islamic literary history khutba can indicate a much favored oral discourse or related literary form and contain weighty cosmological, theological, prophetological and other materials. Within Imámí Shí`ísm the seminal Nahj al-Balágha ("The Path of Eloquence"), ascribed to the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, the first Shí`í Imam `Alí ibn Abí Tálib (d. 40/661), is a major compendium including over 230 khutbas ("sermons") compiled in the 10th-11th century CE by Abu'l-Hasan Muhammad ibn al-Husayn al-Músáwí, Sharíf al-Radí (d. 406/1015).

    The scores of khutbas of the Báb are not exactly like the sermons delivered on Sundays by countless Christian clerics in their respective churches. Like the first Imam, `Alí (d. 40/661), who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad, the Báb as the latter-day messianic `Alí of the new age of fulfillment, found himself inspired to set forth a considerable number of Arabic khutbas ("sermons"). Many of these khutbas of the Báb also deal with deep theological issues like the first sermon of the Nahj al-Balágha (Path of Eloquence).

    Numerous Khutbas were set down by the Báb throughout his six year ministry (1844-1850). They were often evoked in response to diverse historical circumstances such as persons or places encountered. When travelling on his almost ten (Gregorian) month extended pilgrimage journey (1844-1845) to and from Shiraz-Bushehr travelling to Mecca and Medina via the ancient port city Jeddah (now in Saudi Arabia) he often dictated khutbas. Many were originally written down by his companion and major disciple Quddús.

    In this presentation some of the contents of the Khutba al-Jidda (Sermon at Jeddah) and the Khutba `ilm al-Hurúf ("Sermon on the Science of Letters") and other khutbas will be commented upon and contrasted with sermons ascribed to Imam `Alí. Reference will also be made to some of the later sermons of the Báb contained, for example, in the very late (1850 CE) Kitáb-i Panj Sha'n (Book of the Five Grades). It will be illustrated that khutbas form a major, though somewhat neglected, aspect of the universe of the writings of the Báb.

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