Ziyarat and the Tablets of Visitation

By Vahid Rafati

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #97
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 3–6, 2010
(see list of papers from #97)

    Ziyarat, in its typical usage in the Arabic and Persian languages, means "to visit." As a matter of religious terminology, the term refers specifically to the act of visiting a holy person or holy site with the intention of paying respect, asking for forgiveness, and praying for the fulfillment of wishes.

    It is for these purposes that there are specific tablets of visitation to be recited upon entering the site. Visiting the Bahá'í sites became a matter of custom in the Bahá'í Faith during the time of `Abdu'l-Bahá and The Guardian. After their passing, this became a praiseworthy act of faith.

    To visit the House of the Báb in Shiraz, or the House of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad, there are special tablets in which details of the manners of visiting these sites have been described. These represent the Bahá'í Hajj, or pilgrimage, which is distinct from ziyarat in the sense that whereas the hajj involves specific actions and verses which must be carried out, ziyarat does not. Thus for example the visiting of Bahá'í holy places in the Holy Land, or the resting places of individual Bahá'ís, are ziyarat visits since no specific structure or method has been provided.

    There are abundant references in the notes of pilgrims that `Abdul-Bahá and the Guardian when visiting the resting places of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh observed practices that are commonly found across religions when visiting a holy spot. Among those are reverence and silence, cleanliness and modest dress, and not turning one's back towards the threshold. In the Bahá'í faith there are tens of tablets of visitation that have been revealed for visiting the holy shrines, the graves of the martyrs, and the graves of believers, in addition to hundreds of prayers that have been revealed for forgiveness and the progress of their souls. These writings and the tablets of visitation are among the most important and eloquent works revealed by the central figures of the Faith.

    Among the most famous writings of Bahá'u'lláh is the tablet of visitation in honor of the Imam Hussein, the Prince of the Martyrs. Bahá'u'lláh further revealed tens of tablets of visitation for members of his family, the Afnán family, the martyrs, prominent teachers of the faith, and other individual believes, to be read at their graves or in their memory.

    Tablets of visitation are one of the fundamental elements for religious education in that they are reminders of the spiritual principles of the Faith. At the same time, they remind us of the services of those who have passed away, and bring to mind the purpose of life, the value of their service, and the ephemeral nature of physical life in contrast to the everlasting life of the soul.

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