Friday, 30 December 2016

New translation: Surah of Visitation for Mulla Husayn

In late December, I put up two new translations completed by Joshua Hall on the Windflower Translations website.

The first one is an important tablet that Baha'u'llah wrote for Mulla Husayn's sister, Varaqatu’l-Firdaws (Leaf of Paradise), to say at his grave site. It is called Surah of Visitation for Mulla Husayn. It is a very beautiful tablet and is highly recommended for anyone wanting to be carried away by Baha'u'llah's lyrical style and tone. The introduction to the tablet is found here. A previous translation has also been done by William McCants, which is found at the end of an article called The Wronged One. The article focuses on the style and structure of visitation tablets in general. This surah for Mulla Husayn is faithful to the traditional style of these tablets.

The second translation recently uploaded is called Tablet of Consolation. It is a two-page letter in which Baha'u'llah consoles a believer whose father died. The tablet is an interesting window into Baha'u'llah's attitude to death and grieving. He refers to his experience upon the death of his own father.

In addition to these two new translations on Windflower, Adib Masumian has also recently uploaded new translations to his website. One is a short tablet Baha'u'llah wrote comforting a believer and telling him that if he says the tablet with sincerity, he "shall behold in his dream that which he hath desired from the Presence of God". The other translation is about Ayyam-i-Ha and how its purpose is related to generosity. There are three more new translations, which you can see at the link. Adib tells me that he is focused on preparing further translations that believers can recite on holy days.

Friday, 30 September 2016

New translation: Tablet on the Right of the People

The new translation of Tablet on the Right of the People (Lawh-i haqq al-nas) is now available on the Windflower Translations website, or you can download it here in English or here in Persian and English. My introduction to the tablet is found below, and you can download it here.

The translation is dedicated to Paula Bidwell, who died suddenly on September 17. Paula was Lakota and deeply passionate about the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In relation to that issue, Paula posted the message below on her Facebook page on the day before she died. It refers to issues that are raised by Baha'u'llah, in this tablet, about the worlds of God and how they are all interconnected. Baha'u'llah's discussion in this tablet leaves no doubt that any rights that have been unjustly taken from the Native people will be restored through the processes he describes. For this reason, I was really looking forward to sharing this translation with Paula. But now, she will see the big picture anyway.

"We do have a strategy and prayer is our way of gaining guidance for action and strategies. So far we've done really well. I have witnessed in my life some real oddities and sincerely believe there are powers existing in this world that have nothing to do with human inventions such as corporations, governments, laws, etc. All of these things are simply "man" made constructs. In my reality they appear to be illusion in the multiple worlds that are wrapped up within this one. For instance, if one has a dream of a future event and then years later the dream occurs exactly as dreamed, doesn't that make one wonder about the multiple worlds wrapped up within this one? Isn't it possible that in the dream world one traveled to another world which exists in another time frame? Time is also a construct of "man". So, what is reality? Prayer might be the best way to guide us toward the most powerful actions. Although, for sure prayer alone is not going to do what is necessary. So, we will see... these things are all simply different ways toward truth. I am never sure in this world which is the best way. So, again let's see how this all turns out. And for me, I have to struggle not to get sooo angry that I simply let go of my traditional ways and turn to material ways. So, I am doing my best while wanting to chain myself to one of those damned machines and then praying my heart out that the powers that be will not eat me for lunch... but then they may get indigestion and gas from that - grin!" September 16

Paula, may Baha'u'llah reveal to you the mysteries of his kingdom and fill your heart with his peace. I look forward to seeing you again somewhere in the realms of the Placeless. But for now, go on with you, sweetheart.


Introduction to Tablet on the Right of the People

by Alison Marshall

Tablet on the Right of the People (Lawh-i haqq al-nas) is an usual tablet in that it is entirely devoted to an examination of one philosophical issue. That issue is hinted at by the term ‘haqq al-nas’ (right of the people) in the name the tablet is commonly known by. This term has a wide meaning. In its plural form, ‘huquq al-nas’ (rights of the people), it can refer to the private rights of individuals under Islamic law.[1] In the tablet, Baha’u’llah discusses three situations that relate to a person’s private rights - two relating to theft and one involving a small debt. But, beyond the legal context, the term ‘right of the people’ also refers to the spiritual rights a person has as a result of their righteous deeds. In this context, the rights are founded in God’s promise to reward a person for their good deeds and punish those who do wrong. An example of this promise is found in the following verses of the Qur’an:

“As for those who disbelieve I shall chastise them with a heavy chastisement in the world and the hereafter; and they will have no helpers. And as for those who believe and do good works, He will pay them their wages in full. Allah loveth not wrongdoers.” (3:56-57) [2]

This principle is restated by Baha’u’llah. In “Words of Paradise”, for example, he tells us that, on the fifth leaf of the Most Exalted Paradise, the Pen has let it be known that:

“at the beginning of the foundation of the world [Wisdom] ascended the stair of inner meaning and when enthroned upon the pulpit of utterance ...  proclaimed two words. The first heralded the promise of reward, while the second voiced the ominous warning of punishment. …  Thus the basis of world order hath been firmly established upon these twin principles.”[3]

This passage tells us that, at the beginning of the world, the embodiment of Wisdom announced from the pulpit of meaning the twin principles of reward for good deeds and punishment for bad deeds. As such, these two principles are at the foundation of world order. The wording of the passage, with its focus on an announcement made in pre-eternity, underscores the idea that the principles of reward and punishment are woven into the very functioning and purpose of reality.[4] They do not just occur at a social level in the physical world, where societies use justice systems to maintain law and order. Rather, they are satisfied through the processes of reality. Baha’u’llah’s philosophical examination of the issue of the right of the people describes the metaphysical processes involved and explains how, through them, compensation for a right is made good in the physical world and the spiritual worlds.

The context for the tablet is a question put to Baha’u’llah by a correspondent who wanted to know how a person’s rights, breached in the physical world, are redressed in the spiritual worlds. The question is framed in the following way, although not in these terms. What is the mechanism by which someone’s personal rights are repaid in the next world? How is this process to be understood and how does it occur in the Day of Resurrection, which is also known to be the Day of Judgement? The physical and social structures that underpin the creation and recognition of personal rights in the physical world do not exist in the spiritual worlds. And even if a person’s rights, as conceived of in the physical world, did exist in the next world, they would not be of any use to the right-holder in that world. Therefore, how can these rights be compensated for in the next world? The questioner understands that there must be some mechanism by which restitution takes place because, as is commonly believed, God sometimes waives a debt owed to Him but never allows a debt owed to a person to be set aside.

To answer this question, Baha’u’llah begins by setting out two metaphysical principles, which are closely connected. Commentaries on these two principles will no doubt run into volumes in centuries to come.

  • Principle 1: Everything in the physical world - no matter what its name and description, and its form and attributes - appears in every one of the worlds of God in a manner that is appropriate to that world. And it appears in that other world with another name and description, and another form and other attributes.
  • Principle 2: If a thing dies in this physical world, this death applies only to the body or form of the thing. The reality (ḥaqiqa) and essence (dhāt) of the thing has not gone out of existence. This quintessential aspect of the thing continues to exist and to appear in the worlds of God in accordance with Principle 1.[5]

If Principles 1 and 2 are put together, they constitute a very important statement about the functioning of reality. Principle 1 tells us that every thing in the physical world, no matter what its name and description, and form and attributes, appears in different forms, with different attributes, in each of the worlds of God. Principle 2 tells us that every thing has a reality and essence that survives the ‘death’ - that is, a change or extinction - of its forms. This means that the manifested forms of a thing can go through a process of radical change, while the essential reality of the thing is unaffected. From these two Principles, we have the general principle that every thing is, at core, a reality and essence, and that this reality and essence manifests itself in different forms in all the worlds of God.

Probably, the primary example of this general principle is the Manifestation of God. The reality and essence of the Manifestation is the Primal Will, or Word, of God. The Primal Will manifests itself in infinite forms in all the worlds of God. We witness this phenomenon in the physical world through the principle of the unity of the Manifestations. In accordance with this principle, the Primal Will has appeared in the persons of, for example, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha’u’llah. Each one of them came with different names and descriptions, and different forms and characteristics. But their reality and essence was the same, and this did not go out of existence when one of these Manifestations died a physical death.

Baha’u’llah continues his argument by applying Principles 1 and 2 to deeds.[6] Each human being has an essence and reality - that is, the soul - and our deeds are its attributes, which have various names, descriptions and forms in all the worlds of God. The physical body is also one of its attributes. When the body dies, our deeds continue to be manifested in all the worlds of God as attributes of the soul. As a result, a person is necessarily confronted with the manifestations of their own deeds, even if those manifestations do not appear in the same form as they did when the deed was committed. Justice is carried out in whatever way God determines, in any world of God, through this process of unfolding manifestations.

“It is evident, then, that deeds will be preserved and every [acquired] attribute will continue to exist, so that through the attribute or deed itself requital can be given. Every [acquired] attribute a person possesses and every deed he commits, therefore, will reveal itself and take on a particular form in each world ‘so that He may requite each soul for what it has done.’”

The second half of the tablet is given to Baha’u’llah providing analogies, in a variety of contexts, showing how a reality and essence, can have, simultaneously, different names and descriptions, and forms and attributes in multiple worlds. The primary analogy he uses to show how this phenomenon works is the dream, which he says is like the afterlife and said to be its “brother”. In a dream, a person has an experience in the world of vision. Subsequently, the person formulates a meaning of the dream by interpreting aspects of the vision experience in terms of corresponding experiences in the person’s life in the physical world. Baha’u’llah cites as an example Joseph’s dream from Qur'an 12:4, where it is recounted that Joseph dreamed that the sun and the moon and eleven stars prostrated before him. Later, this experience is revealed in the physical world when Joseph is seated on the throne of Egypt, and his father, Jacob, and eleven brothers prostrate before him. Baha’u’llah explains that this sequence of events, involving the dream event and its subsequent physical manifestation, is an example of the principle that things have different manifestations in the worlds of God. Here, the reality and essence of Jacob appears in the physical world as a man with a certain bodily form, but in the dream world as a sun. Similarly, the brothers appear in the physical world in their respective physical bodies, but in the dream world as stars. Therefore, the essential realities of Jacob and the brothers appear in the physical world in forms that are different to those in the dream world.

Baha’u’llah makes an important enigmatic statement about the relationship between the manifestations of the essential realities of things in the dream world and their manifestations in the physical world. First of all, he has the reader consider the nature of the dream world from the perspective of the physical world. “Now consider. What kind of world is that wherein his father and mother are seen as the sun and the moon, and his brothers appear in the form of stars?” But then he reverses the perspective and has the reader consider the nature of the physical world from the perspective of the dream world. “And what is this world wherein the reverse is seen: the sun and the moon in the form of his father and mother, and the stars in the form of his brothers?” In asking these opposing, but parallel, questions, I think Baha’u’llah is calling into question the view that the physical world is real and the dream world is unreal, consisting only of transitory, ephemeral images. In asking the second question, Baha’u’llah forces the reader to view things in the physical world as symbols, where the physical bodies of the father and brothers are just corresponding metaphorical representations of the sun and stars of the dream world. From this perspective, the physical things in this world, despite their concrete appearance, are just manifestations of the realities and essences of things. Further on in the tablet, Baha’u’llah encourages the reader to see all the worlds of God, including the physical world, as metaphorical.

“God willing, to the extent you are cognizant of the divine worlds, you will recognize and understand the metaphorical nature of this world, and will be able to extend it to the limitless worlds.”

Baha’u’llah gives two further analogies illustrating how an essence and reality of a thing can appear in a variety of forms and characteristics. But this time, instead of focusing on the differences in form in the innumerable worlds of God, Baha’u’llah focuses on the physical world alone and the way in which the manifestations of a thing change in form through time in this world. Baha’u’llah gives the scenario of a person stealing seeds from someone else in the season of spring. The thief plants the seeds and grows plants that bear fruit in summer. A just king then determines to restore to the victim what was taken. But how would he go about doing this? Would he return the seeds or give the victim the plants and their fruit? Baha’u’llah concedes that a person could argue that the seeds no longer exist, and if they did exist would no longer be of use, and that the plants and fruit are not the same thing as the seeds. But Baha’u’llah rejects this position and argues that the seeds do still exist; they have changed in form and become plants and fruit. Giving these to the victim constitutes fair compensation for the loss of the seeds and, arguably, a more valuable return as a result of the changes in form. The scenario highlights the fact that a victim’s right does not go out of existence even though events in the world lead to changes in the appearances of things. The reality and essence of the right is preserved and is restored to the right-holder in this world in another form.

In some cases, Baha’u’llah says, a victim is compensated in this world for a loss without that person being aware of it. The scenario he gives for this is where a person loses a great deal of wealth as a result of misfortune or wrongdoing. The compensation for such a loss is the lifting of the associated afflictions that come with possessing the wealth in the first place. If the wealth is stolen, these afflictions will settle on the thief. Baha’u’llah sees this outcome as a most efficient way to administer justice.

Baha’u’llah ends the tablet with a second analogy related to changes in the manifested forms of things in the physical world. In this scenario, a Christian owes another some wine or pork. Subsequently, the two parties become Muslims, which means that the wine and pork are no longer of value. Baha’u’llah argues that a judge hearing the case would have to order that the debt be repaid in the equivalent of goods lawful under Islam or in cash. The example illustrates the same point, this time showing how the debt changes in form from wine or pork to something lawful in Islam. But the right is not extinguished by the fact that the two parties change their religion. It persists through these changes in circumstances. The scenario seems to underscore the fact that a person’s rights are not annulled by a change in religious law due to the appearance of a new dispensation.


[1] In this case, the term is the partner to the corresponding term, ‘huquq allah’ or ‘rights of God’, which refers to the rights that relate to the public interest. Anver M. Emon: “Huquq allah and Huquq al-’ibad: A Legal Heuristic for a Natural Rights Regime”, 13 Islamic Law and Society, 2006, p. 326.

[2] Pickthall translation

[3] Tablets of Baha’u’llah,

[4] Baha’u’llah makes the same point in other places too, such as in the Tablet of Maqsud: “The Great Being saith: The structure of world stability and order hath been reared upon, and will continue to be sustained by, the twin pillars of reward and punishment.” Tablets of Baha’u’llah:

[5] It is my assumption that the “reality” (ḥaqiqa) and “essence” (dhāt) of a thing refers to its ‘existence’ and ‘essence’, which correspond to the active force (al-fá`il) and its recipient (al-munfa`il). Baha’u’llah: Tablet of Wisdom (Lawh-i Hikmat), in Tablets of Baha'u'llah,

[6] They also apply to words, as Baha’u’llah makes clear later on: “Were I to remove the veil from the manifestations of the deeds, act, and words that appear in limitless and manifold forms in the worlds of God…” The following hidden word suggests the principles also apply to thoughts: “O heedless ones! Think not the secrets of hearts are hidden, nay, know ye of a certainty that in clear characters they are engraved and are openly manifest in the holy Presence.” Persian Hidden Word 59

Note: Another translation and introduction of Tablet on the Right of the People can be found on the Baha'i Library Online.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Saiedi commentary on the first verse of the revelation

The following is a transcript of two 10-minute sections from talk no 6 in Dr Nader Saiedi's series "Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age", 2014.  In this talk, Dr Saiedi discusses Baha’u’llah’s three declarations:
  1. the one in the Siyah Chal
  2. the one in the Garden of Ridvan
  3. the one consisting of the messages to the leaders of the world.
The transcript covers the section of the talk in which Dr Saiedi discusses the content of the first declaration, the one in the Siyah Chal. For this, he focuses on the first sentence of the revelation: "Verily, we shall render thee victorious by thy self and by thy pen". Dr Saiedi finds six major themes of Baha'u'llah's revelation suggested in that sentence. Dr Saiedi says: "I believe that everything about the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah’s message is present in this very first sentence."

The themes are:
  1. the principle of freedom of conscience
  2. the rejection of the principle of violence in terms of religious belief and violence in general
  3. the rejection of the culture of patriarchy
  4. the rejection of miracles and the emergence of rationality
  5. the agreement of reason and faith
  6. the principle of the separation of church and state.
The transcript includes the last 10 minutes of the talk, in which Dr Saiedi answers a question about the issue of the separation of church and state.

All the talks in the series "Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age" can be accessed at

A transcript of a passage from talk no 5 in the series can be found here.


Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age
A series of talks by Dr Nader Saiedi, 2014

Transcript of talk no 6, beginning 36:43-48:48 and last 10 minutes
(Prepared by Alison Marshall)

Introductory note: In this talk, Dr Saiedi discusses Baha’u’llah’s three declarations: the one in the Siyah Chal, the one in the Garden of Ridvan, and the one consisting of the messages to the leaders of the world. This transcript covers the section of the talk in which Dr Saiedi discusses the content of the first declaration, the one in the Siyah Chal. The transcript also includes the last 10 minutes of the talk, in which Dr Saiedi answers a related question. 

36:43 What happens in these declarations? What is the content? What is the message of Baha’u’llah in terms of these declarations? Let us look at the first declaration. The first moment of declaration, which is the moment of the birth of Baha’i Faith, is told us by Baha’u’llah, in terms of this particular statement, that he says that, one night, in dream he hears from all sides this particular voice. This is the emergence, this the birth of the Baha’i Faith. This sentence, this statement, is the first statement in the history of the Baha’i Faith. And this is really the essence of his concealed revelation.

37:28 The concept of dream is very interesting. You remember that I talked about dream in relation to the story of Joseph. With the story of Joseph, the Bab begins with a dream, ‘cos Joseph sees a dream, that sun and moon and eleven stars they bow down - and twelve stars bow down before Joseph. That’s the way it started. And the Bab emphasises this dream that this dream actually becomes a dream which takes place at the level of the throne of God. In other words, that dream, instead of being a shadow of reality, is the essence of reality. And this statement of Baha’u’llah in Siyah Chal that, in a dream, he sees this, this dream should not be understood simply as that he was sleeping - but that can be the first layer of the meaning. But more importantly, is dream in the sense that it is the spiritual truth, the invisible realm of the truth, of this material reality, this ?? reality of phenomenal shadows - which is, as a matter of fact, just an expression of that dream - that dream is the ultimate reality. So this is what Baha’u’llah says: “One night in a dream, these exalted words were heard on every side, ‘Verily, we shall render thee victorious by thy self and by thy pen’”. This is the first experience of revelation. This is the moment that Baha’i Faith is born. I believe that everything about the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah’s message is present in this very first sentence. Since we don’t have time, I’ll be very brief analysing this statement in order to have a sense of his mission. 

39:35 Remember, this is a time that oppression has - oppression of the Babi community, genocide and tyranny and cruelty against the Babi community - has reached limits which is beyond description. And it appears to be no hope - that it is destroyed and so on. And at this time, what Baha’u’llah hears as the essence of this new spiritual attitude and values is that “verily, we shall render thee victorious”, Baha’u’llah who is in prison in that situation, “by thy self and by thy pen”. The question is, what is the response, what is the appropriate response, to experience of oppression? This is a very important sociological, political question as well. This becomes very important in all the Baha’i writings and the like. In that Tablet of Job, the Book of Job, the Surah of Patience or Job, also this issue becomes very important. 

40:41 So the first meaning of this, of course, is the principle of freedom of conscience. Namely, in the past, particularly in Islamic discourse, many times rendering the Cause of God victorious took place by the sword. The sword was used as a legitimate vehicle for promoting the faith. And Baha’u’llah is removing the sword and replacing that with two things: one is the character and personality and deeds and actions and attitudes, and the other one is with pen. So the Cause of God, which appeared to be dead and finished, is going to be rendered victorious “by thy self and by thy pen”, through our actions, values, which are expressed in our deeds, as well as by pen. So the principle of freedom of conscience becomes the fundamental issue. It is also an expression of the rejection of the principle of violence in terms of religious belief and, as you will see, the question of violence in general. In all three declarations of Baha’u’llah, the question of violence, and discourse on violence, is the central issue - the common issue among all the three declarations. Rejection of the culture of violence. 

42:22 But this statement also is a rejection of the culture of patriarchy. Baha’u’llah describes for us that this experience, this word that he hears, this voice he hears that through Maid of Heaven. Maid of Heaven becomes the truth of Baha’u’llah. (Actually, I found one tablet of Baha’u’llah in which he directly and explicitly talks about who is, and what is, this Maid of Heaven, this huriyyah. And he explains that that is the truth of the Manifestation of God.) In any case, women - the female figure - was usually the symbol and the sign of wickedness, of nafs al-`ammarah - you know, that aspect of the self and the soul which is attached to the material world and sinful and insists and is the opposite of reason and intellect and morality and so on. This was the conception that we had of female figure in Persian poetry, even in the Sufi poetry of Rumi, for example, it’s consistently that way. Women are represented as the nafs al-`ammarah. Men are represented as ‘aql, of intellect and reason, even though mystics were less patriarchal as compared to the legalistic `ulama, clergy and so on. But still in `Attar and Rumi, all of them, you see consistently the female figure becomes representative of everything which is bad and evil. Baha’u’llah turns this upside down and, aside from God, which is neither male nor female, the highest absolute reality of the world - namely, the truth of all Manifestations, the truth of all prophets - is presented symbolically as a female figure, as Maid of Heaven. The truth of Baha’u’llah is Maid of Heaven. Maybe that’s why he’s ‘Baha’u’llah’ because the word ‘Baha’’ is a female word in Arabic. And when the Bab talks in his Commentary on the Surah of Joseph, he defines, he talks about Baha’ as a mother who gives birth … “Baha’ is my mother”, “I was born by Baha’”. Baha’ is a female figure. So Baha’u’llah is identifying the truth of divine revelation as a female entity. Now why this is happening if his culture, the new spiritual culture, is rejection of the principle and culture of violence, then definitely without any surprise, this must be also rejection of the culture of patriarchy. Culture of patriarchy is not just the question of violence against half of the population, it is also a culture of a general attitude of violence with regard to life, with regard to everybody and everything. 

45:55 The other thing that you see in this same statement is rejection of miracles, a culture of magic and magical consciousness. The Cause of God is going to be rendered victorious, to be proved, to be affirmed, not by strange events defying the laws of nature called miracles, but through pen. Pen becomes the supreme proof of the sovereignty of God. The highest expression of the spiritual reality becomes consciousness, becomes emergence of a spirit in this world, not natural events. And of course, this is the emergence of a new culture of rationality. Already, the idea of agreement of reason and faith is present in this very statement. 

46:56 And of course, a very important implication of all of these statements is separation of church and state. Baha’u’llah explains in a variety of his writings that the realm of religion belongs to the realm of heart, dominion over the realm of the heart, which only can be a question of voluntary acceptance and persuasion. Political dominion, dominion on earth, is an area in which coercion sometimes may become relevant. But for Baha’u’llah, with regard to the realm of the heart, the realm of religion and religious consciousness and religious belief and so on, no coercion, no violence can be legitimate. It is a complete philosophical, sociological, theoretical separation of the two realms and that, institutionally, they cannot be one and the same. This issue, namely separation of church and state, not only is mentioned, is a statement, in the first, the very first statement of Baha’u’llah’s writing, it is also emphasised in his last work, which is his Book of Covenant. And in the Book of Covenant, two issues are emphasised. One is that successor of Baha’u’llah, and leadership of Baha’u’llah, is specifically determined in the figure of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. And the second point is, again, separation of the realm of the heart and the realm of dominion over earth. And Baha’u’llah says that this distinction can never be revoked, can never be changed. It’s an eternal covenant of God. 48:48

Transcript skips to the last 10 minutes of the recording, in which Dr Saiedi answers a question about church and state.

1:22:20 [Questioner] You mentioned that Baha’u’llah emphasises the split between church and state and how those should be kept separate. There seems to be a current strand of Baha’i thought that our institutions are going to somehow replace the secular government, in which case we’d be sticking church and state very much together and welding them forever together. So could you please comment on that with regards to the writings?

[Dr Saiedi] Yes, I have seen a number of similar statements that primarily on the sense that this separation is a temporary thing but in the future it would be different, something like that. I believe that this is contrary to all the principles of the Baha’i Faith. As I mentioned, the very first statement of Baha’u’llah deals with that. All his various statements and discussions all over his ministry is affirmation of the same thing. ‘Abdu’l-Baha has written extensively on this issue; for example, his work Risalih-i Siyasiyyih (Treatise on Politics), which was written at a particular point of time in which the religious clergy in Iran appeared to be, to have actually a progressive, apparently progressive, role. But interference in politics and so on - ‘Abdu’l-Baha writes, at that very time, to say that these two are completely different, their functions are different, and they have to be separate. And whenever the religious leaders, clergy, have interfered in politics, he says the result has been catastrophic, elimination of freedom, of liberty, of religion and so on. We are used to, in Baha’i literature, to talk of 12 principles of the Baha’i Faith. There is no such thing. And ‘Abdu’l-Baha - in one of my talks in the future I might deal with this - at least has talked about 16 principles that he discussed when he came to the West and so on. And one of these 16 principles is separation of church and state. And he mentions that - you know, in one of his talks, he says the first principle is, for instance, independent investigation of truth, the second one is agreement of reason and faith and so on - and one of them he says is about separation of church and state. 

1:24:46 It’s interesting that he discusses that in Paris, when he was in Paris. He doesn’t emphasise it when he is in United States. In Paris, because Catholicism, even at the time of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, throughout 19th century has had always struggles and tensions with question of secularism and there was this battle between church and state and the necessity of separation of that. The fact that ‘Abdu’l-Baha chooses in France to discuss this, and to affirm this, is very important. So he discusses that and he says the ‘leaders of religion’ - he doesn’t say ‘`ulama of Islam’ or something like that in general.

1:25:33 And the statement of Baha’u’llah that is in his final work, which is his Will and Testament really, his basic message to humanity and the Baha’i Faith is that he says that God has given the dominion on earth to secular figures. And he says that Baha’is, as a religious group, should be concerned with the realm of the heart. And he says that these two are separate and this separation, he says, is a law that God has decided to be a principle which can never be revoked. It won’t be subject to mahv [erasure]. If you read also one of his last works, which is Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, the entire work is a discourse on the necessity of separation of church and state. He quotes extensively from Gospel and the idea that what is due to Caesar, should give it to Caesar, and what is due to God, render it to God and so on and emphasises in a variety of ways that. The reason was that the addressee of this particular work, he himself had almost political rule. He was one of these famous intolerant, cruel religious figures in Isfahan, but he had his own private army and ruled more or less like [the] state. And Baha’u’llah at this time, which was again the time that tobacco revolt is happening and the Shi`a clergy becomes conscious of its potential for political power, he is writing this particular work, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and constantly emphasising the necessity of this separation. 

1:27:42 So there is one statement of Baha’u’llah with regard to the House of Justice, in which he says "Amur-e siyasiyyeh kull raje` ast be bayt-al adl"[1]; namely, political affairs, issues of politics, should be referred to the House of Justice. This idea is misunderstood normally by conventional readings of that and misunderstood by a number of scholars who want to prove that there is separation of church and state in the Baha’i Faith. Both have misread it. Some wants to say the word “siyasiyyeh” does not mean siyasat, it means, ‘in general, leadership’, which is not the case here, it means ‘politics’. But the conventional understanding of this is that therefore House of Justice in the future would be the political leader. But what the statement says is very clear. It says that, for the Baha’i community - in relation to state, in relation to political issues - the authority to make decisions, in terms of our relation to state - what to do, what not to do, what position to take and so on - is the consultative body, consultative leadership of the Baha’i community. It’s not up to the individuals to decide for them what is the policy of the Baha’i Faith, but it should be through consultative leadership of the Baha’i Faith. So [the passage from Bisharat] doesn’t mean that bayt al-`adl is going to be, the House of Justice is going to be, the new state of the future. It means that the relation of the Baha’i community to state, which is a secular state, to political institutions and so on ultimately is going to be decided by the consultative leadership of the Baha’i community.

1:29:32 This issue is so fundamental, and so frequently discussed in so various ways, that it is impossible to consider it in other ways. And, if you assume that, in the future, Universal House of Justice is going to be the political, legislative power of the world and so on, what it means is elimination of all the basic principles of the Baha’i Faith. Namely, those who make decisions - political decisions - can be only Baha’is because members of the House of Justice can only be Baha’is. Non-Baha’is therefore - entire civil rights of the non-Baha’is, from the very beginning, is going to be destroyed, contrary to everything that Baha’u’llah has said from the very beginning in various fashions and so on.

1:30:22 So, in my judgement, we sometimes understand Baha’i writings in terms of pre-Baha’i cultures and ideas and so on. Coming from a Shi`a background also many Baha’is have looked at some of the Baha’i texts in those ways and so on. So my understanding of this issue is that it is categorical. Baha’u’llah has legitimised the secular state and that’s why sometimes he talks - because in the writings of Baha’u’llah, the democratic state is suggested and approved. But, in some of the writings of Baha’u’llah, you see that, about kings in general, also there are positive statements. And the reason is that he is reacting to the Shi`a dominant, increasingly dominant, clerical position that the only legitimate political rulers are `ulama, are the religious leaders, as representatives of the 12th Imam. And Baha’u’llah is rejecting that. For that, he is affirming the legitimacy of secular state. But for him, that secular state also eventually has to be, has to move, towards a democratic, consultative state.

Footnote 1: Here, Dr Saiedi has quoted a verse from the 13th Bisharat (Glad Tidings). There are two differing translations of the first word of this verse: siyasiyyeh. The two translations are: 1. “Administrative affairs are all in charge of the House of Justice" (Shoghi Effendi: The Baha´i World, Vol 11 (1946-1950), p67); and 2. “All matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice.” (Habib Taherzadeh with the assistance of a Baha'i World Centre Committee in Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p27). The same verse was also revealed by Baha’u’llah in the 8th Ishraqat (Splendours). Habib Taherzadeh’s translation of this (Tablets p129) is the same as above; and Shoghi Effendi’s translation is "Administrative affairs should be referred to the House of Justice" (published in The Dawn: a monthly Bahai Journal of Burma, Vol. II, No. 7, March, 1925).

Download a PDF of this transcript.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Word Jesus uttered that caused his disciples to flee

Written by Trevor Richardson

The following is a personal comparison study on certain aspects of the Tablet on Understanding the Cause of Opposition to the Manifestations of God and the rejection suffered by Christ in his mission on earth, which Bahá'u'lláh states, in the tablet, had no lesser purpose than "the salvation of humankind".

All source quotes are taken either from the above-mentioned tablet or from The Holy Bible, John chapter 6, King James Version.

In the Tablet on Understanding the Cause of Opposition, Bahá’u’lláh asks us to "reflect sincerely on that which has been the cause of souls turning toward the Dawning Places of revelation and the Daysprings of inspiration during the ages and centuries and what has been the reason for turning away". We are informed that "It is necessary to think about the cause and reason for this opposition" so "There can be no doubt that the purpose of creation is the recognition of God".

Bahá’u’lláh tells us in the tablet that "The Shī’ah divines believe that when the promised Qā’im appears in the House of God [Mekka], he will utter a word that will cause even his chosen disciples to turn away from him and flee". It is interesting to note that a similar event also occurred at the time of Christ many centuries earlier.

When Jesus perceived the people, and his disciples, wanted to make him king of an earthly kingdom so that he might defeat the Romans and end the occupation of Palestine, he began to speak in ways they could not comprehend or understand. He asked them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Their response was “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” To them, this was an impossible thing to do. The reason for this was that they could only accept or understand literal truth, so what Christ was saying to them made no sense at all. Christ knew their limitations and understood their inability to change into spiritual beings. The time had come to end his association with them and drive away 'with a word' those that could not undergo the necessary process of transformation.

Baha'u'llah, in the tablet, explains the reasons for the opposition to messengers of God. "There is no doubt that if the Exponents of divine commands and the Sources of heavenly laws appeared in a way that agreed with, and conformed to, the references, traditions and texts current among the people concerning the Manifestation, not a single soul would oppose them. Rather, all would attain to that for which they stepped from non-existence into the realm of being."

The spiritual truths given by Christ were given in an allegorical language that the people could not comprehend and that hid their true meaning. This caused many of his disciples and followers deep distress, so they turned their backs to him and walked away, no longer believing in him or his teachings.

Jesus asked those who remained with him, "Will ye also go away?" and Peter replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life". Peter had made the transformation, so for better or worse, in glory or abasement, his love for Christ had so transformed him that he could no longer contemplate life without him. He had understood the hidden spiritual truths of Christ's challenging words and was of those who believed and attained the recognition of God.

The passage below is an extract from The Holy Bible John-6, which gives an account of Jesus uttering the word that caused his disciples to flee.

"When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone…

Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent…

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you…

Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?...

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him…

Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life…

Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?

He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve."

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Translation of Tablet to Ashraf

The second translation brought about through the Windflower Translations Project is now completed and available online. The link to the translation is here. Below is a short introduction I have written for the tablet.

Tablet to Ashraf (Lawh-i Ashraf)
Written by Baha'u'llah in the Edirne period

Tablet to Ashraf is akin to a dispatch that Baha’u’llah wrote for Siyyid Ashraf-i Zanjani at the end of Ashraf’s second visit with Baha’u’llah in Edirne (Adrianople). The context for the communication was that Ashraf was about to leave and travel back to Iran. The tablet contains instructions for Ashraf on what to do when he gets there and what news to share with the believers about Baha’u’llah. The tablet also has pastoral guidance for Ashraf and many interesting statements about the nature of Baha’u’llah’s revelation. Tablet to Ashraf also addresses two other people and is, in effect, a call to action aimed particularly at three men who subsequently became martyrs.

Siyyid Ashraf-i Zanjani was born during the siege of Zanjan, Iran, in 1850, where 2000 Babis held a section of the town against the forces of the town's governor. Ashraf's father was killed there and his mother, subsequently, raised him and his two sisters alone. When Ashraf was a young man, he twice made the long journey from Zanjan, Iran, to Edirne, Turkey, to visit Baha'u'llah. On the second occasion, Baha'u'llah wrote this tablet for him.

Taherzadeh gives the details of Ashraf’s life in the second volume of his Revelation of Baha’u’llah series.[1] He says that Ashraf's visit with Baha'u'llah was cut short suddenly when Baha'u'llah instructed Ashraf to return home. A reference to this can be found about halfway through the tablet, where Baha’u’llah says to Ashraf: “Know that the time has come for your sojourn before the throne to end”. The explanation Taherzadeh gives for this is that, at the time of the visit, Ashraf's mother was being subjected to huge pressure back home from relatives about her raising her children as Baha'is. She became so upset by this that she begged Baha'u'llah in prayer to send her children (Ashraf and his sister) home, which he did. Ashraf was reportedly so angry about this that he likened the action of his mother to the sin of Adam.

Not long after Ashraf returned home, he was martyred, along with his best friend Aba Basir. The scene of his martyrdom is described in a passage in Gleanings (LXIX) where Baha'u'llah recounts the story of "Ashraf's mother", who was called to the scene of her son's imminent martyrdom in the hope that she would convince him to recant. Instead, she insisted that he give up his life.

Tablet to Ashraf falls roughly into two sections.[2] The first section runs from the beginning through to the paragraph, about halfway through, starting “O Ashraf! Give thanks to God inasmuch as He has honored you with meeting Him…” In the first section, Baha’u’llah outlines some of the extraordinary and unique characteristics of his revelation, with the seeming intention of showing how great is the measure of bounty that the revelation has showered on creation. Early on, Baha’u’llah explains that, with this revelation, God has appeared to all things in the splendour of all the names and attributes of God and anything can attain to the Greatest Name if it is completely detached from creation. Again, if all things begged the Lord, in a spirit of complete detachment, for the treasures of heaven and earth, this would be instantly granted to them.

Baha’u’llah explains that the Book (of revelation) has been sent down in the person of Baha’u’llah (“this youth”[3]) and counsels people not to run away from him. He makes the crucial point that his first proof is his own self - that is, the person of the youth. He himself is the first proof of the station he claims to have. His second proof is what he reveals or manifests, and then in third place are his verses. He likens himself, his greatest proof, to the sun and points out that even the blind can recognise it, just as a blind person can feel the warmth of the sun’s rays. He says that the Sun of his self is the same reality as the Fire that Moses saw on Sinai, which is always declaring “There is no God besides Me, the Powerful, the Most High!”

It is instructive to compare Baha’u’llah’s explanations about his self in this tablet with his comments in Lawh-i Tawhid (Tablet of Divine Unity), where he presents the same idea in a different, but related, way.[4] For example, in Lawh-i Tawhid, Baha’u’llah likens his teaching that people should recognise his self to the process of recognising any other person. If we recognise that person by their clothes, we will not recognise them again when they put on different clothes. Therefore, we must recognise Baha’u’llah by his self and not by what issues from him, because that may change and is not really him anyway.

Finally, in the first section of the Tablet to Ashraf, Baha’u’llah makes the point that, in order to see the Sun of his self, a person must look with their own eyes. God has created every person in such as way that they can do this of their own accord. This faculty in each person ensures that everyone is in a position to understand God’s proof and accept it if they choose to. Baha’u’llah states that God is not unjust and so does not ask a person to do something they cannot do. Again, this theme is discussed in Lawh-i Tawhid. In that tablet, Baha’u’llah emphasises the responsibility each person has of examining Baha’u’llah’s claim for themselves and makes the very important point that a person’s acceptance or denial of the revelation cannot be based on the opinions of others.
“In like manner, every servant must take it upon himself to recognize that Orb of Unity. Therefore, the denial or acceptance of His servants hath never been, nor will it ever be, sufficient proof for any one to embrace or reject Him.” [4]
The second section of Tablet to Ashraf starts at “O Ashraf! Give thanks to God inasmuch as He has honored you with meeting Him and permitted you to enter His presence, the seat of sublime glory.” With these words, Baha’u’llah begins his personal address to Ashraf, which runs to the end. This section also contains messages for two other named individuals: Muhammad ‘Ali and Aba Basir. In both cases, Baha’u’llah gives them similar advice to what he gives to Ashraf. Aba Basir is known to be Aqa Naqd-’Ali, who was blind. Baha’u’llah gave him the title “Basir”, meaning “Seeing”. He was Ashraf’s close friend and was beheaded just before Ashraf was killed. The name Muhammad ‘Ali probably refers to Aqa Mirza Muhammad ‘Aliy-i-Tabib, who was also from Zanjan and died a martyr. Baha’u’llah wrote a tablet of visitation jointly for these three men - Siyyid Ashraf, Aba Basir and Muhammad ‘Ali.[5]

The second section of the tablet begins with Baha’u’llah telling Ashraf that it is time to leave and instructing him on what to do. He is to take the tablet and visit the believers in Iran. He is to tell them what has happened to Baha’u’llah and give them the glad tidings of the revelation. Baha’u’llah is particularly concerned that Ashraf tell the believers back home about the difficulties Baha'u'llah faced while living in Edirne. He does not mention his half-brother, Azal, by name, but states explicitly that Ashraf is to tell the believers about the attempt to kill him and the subsequent scheming against him, which was carried out by Azal and his sympathisers. At this time, the believers in Iran were confused about Azal, who was reportedly the leader of the Babis, but were unaware of his cruelty towards Baha'u'llah. Baha’u’llah counsels the believers not to listen to the words of those who have been unfaithful to him and have schemed against him. He reminds them of the inevitable moment when they will stand before him and face the consequences of their actions. He warns them not to be the sort of people who believe in something and then give it away. He repeatedly emphasises the need for everyone to be detached from all things, focus on what he has told them and remember their Lord.

[1] See Adib Taherzadeh: The Revelation of Baha'u'llah. Adrianople 1863-68, vol 2, pp 223-230.
[2] Further details about the tablet can be found in Revelation of Baha'u'llah, vol 2, pp 230-232.
[3] "Say: O people! The Book of God has now appeared in the person of this youth. Blessed, therefore, be God, the most excellent of makers!"
[4] Lawh-i Tawhid (Tablet of Divine Unity), translated by Shoghi Effendi and Adib Masumian
[5] The details about Aqa Naqd-'Ali (Aba Basir) and Aqa Mirza Muhammad ‘ Aliy-i Tabib come from Revelation of Baha'u'llah, vol 2, pp 226-7 and 229. Baha’u’llah also mentions Aba Basir, and his martyrdom with Ashraf, in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp 73-4.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Nobody would do these things except us

document translation - stock image
In talk no 5 of the series entitled "Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age" (2014), Dr Nader Saiedi describes his recent visit to the Baha'i archives at the World Centre and the profound effect it had on him. I have produced a transcript of this section of the talk, which you will find quoted in full below. It is four pages long. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, because Dr Saiedi gives the reader an overview of the sheer size of Baha'u'llah's revelation and the amount of work yet to be done in terms of translation, research and study. His perspective is unique and very worthwhile. He says that we do not yet know a very great deal about what Baha'u'llah said.

I found this talk so inspiring that it galvanised me to begin the Windflower Translations Project. As you will read in the transcript, Dr Saiedi is saying that there is so much that needs to be done in terms of Baha'i Studies and translation work that we all need to take ownership of this task. There are no priests or scholars to do it for us. We must do it, for no one else will. As I read it, this is a call for provisional translations, from a man who is in a position to know what's needed. His time at the World Centre gave him a very real sense of the totality of the writings of Baha'u'llah and the amount of work that is required for humanity to gain even a provisional idea of what Baha'u'llah taught. Dr Saiedi emphasises that, from the perspective he gained from his time at the World Centre, the idea of the Faith that we currently have can at best be described as tentative.

Dr Saiedi was at the World Centre for two-and-a-half months. He explains that he was involved in a process of indexing the tablets of Baha'u'llah:
"But because I had to engage in indexing, which means each tablet, each paragraph of each tablet, I had to put a target in terms of different subjects. I couldn’t just read fast and then write a summary. I worked extremely hard."
He goes on to say that, during this two-and-a-half month period, he was able to read about 15 percent of the writings of Baha'u'llah. And of that 15 percent, he found many tablets that were "extremely important" for clarifying our understanding of Baha'u'llah and his message.
"In any case, despite all this, I could read only 15 percent of the writings of Baha’u’llah. I found lots of tablets of Baha’u’llah, lots of documents - things like what I shared with you tonight - which are extremely important and clarify so many issues in terms of Baha’u’llah and his messages and so on."
And the important lesson Dr Saiedi tells us he came away with, after his visit to the World Centre archive, is that we have now only a provisional idea of what the Faith is about.
"In principle, the conceptions that we have of the Baha’i Faith and the nature of the Baha’i community at this time is very tentative. We should never think that we know exactly what the Baha’i Faith is and that the existing institutions and forms of structures of community and so on is exactly as it would be in the future. ... The vast majority of the writings of Baha’u’llah, of Abdu’l-Baha, we have not studied. We don’t know. And for that reason, we Baha’is in particular, but also non-Baha’is, we have to be much more humble in terms of our conception of the Baha’i Faith. We should not be very dogmatic and sure that this is what has happened and these are the Baha’i ideas and so on."
And so, Saiedi continues, if we don't know, then we must do something about that. And the emphasis is on "we" - we must do something about it and not wait for others to do it for us, because there is no one else.
"The Baha’i Faith is something which is completely fresh and untouched and unexplored.  … Now, because we don’t have priesthood in Baha’i Faith, but then we have the idea that we have particular scholars and that these scholars know everything and that they have read everything. There is no such thing. As I mentioned, the Baha’i Faith as it exists right now is completely tentative. We have to explore that, we have to begin to study that, Baha’is, non-Baha’is, in the form of research and so on. Particularly the younger generation, they should know that there is nobody to do this for them. We don’t have priests, so it is ourselves who have to explore these things gradually."
As I see it, the implication of what Dr Saiedi is saying is that the Baha'i Faith will be what we discover about it as a result of our own efforts. If we make no effort and leave it to crystallise, then this will be what we get. It is on the shoulders of everyone. It isn't a matter of leaving everything to be done in Haifa, or to scholars, and wait to be told what the revelation is by them. The revelation belongs to everyone. It is immense in scale and it's just waiting for all of us to decide whether we want to be a part of it.
"So, many of the fundamental, primary works of Baha’u’llah has been published, has been translated. But those other works which are not translated, it’s not that they are not important. I mean I share with you one work of Baha’u’llah. This is absolutely, for me, one of the most important, one of the most significant documents of Iranian history. And there are infinite numbers of these things. But the Baha’i literature and Baha’i writings, as I mentioned, are not confined to one book or two books or three books. So in its time and resources, and the Baha’i community also is the one who is directly involved in this. We need people who can read these things, who can work on these things, who can translate and so on. Nobody would do these things except us."
The work in unravelling the meaning and implications of the revelation is so huge that, if it is left to the World Centre to do it, it will never be done. Baha'u'llah wrote so much, and his words are so full of meanings, that humanity will not exhaust this divine resource in 1000 years. It doesn't matter whether the House of Justice is infallible. This is about us. To sit back and say to ourselves that Haifa will do everything for us, and we do not need to worry about it, will limit the outcomes for the revelation. It doesn't matter that Baha'u'llah is infallible either. Our attitudes and decisions in relation to this issue determine the future here. Revelation is a dialogue, a covenant, between two parties. If we sit idle and mute, we have not played our part. As believers, we have a duty to actively respond to the texts and seek to uncover their meanings as we find them. We need to do this for the sake our own spiritual maturity as well as for the betterment of the world.


Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age
A series of talks by Dr Nader Saiedi, 2014

Transcript of talk no 5, beginning 49:20 to the end

Note: The document Dr Saiedi refers to in the talk is a prayer written by Baha’u’llah in which he frees his slave Isfandiyar. It is an example of a work by Baha’u’llah that predates his revelation in the Siyah Chal. The Arabic text of the prayer, along with Dr Saiedi’s English translation of it, can be found at here.

[49:20] [Question from the audience] I was taught that manifestations of God are really a separate class. It’s not something that one could evolve into. Is there anything that you have studied where Baha’u’llah has the awareness of being a manifestation of God before he actually declares it or has the experience in the Siyah Chal?

[Answer] This question is really a metaphysical question. You can look at, for example, the documents or episodes which I shared with you and interpret that, and conclude that, this means that Baha’u’llah had, from the very beginning, a prophetic consciousness that he was actually a prophet. Later on, he declares that but he already was that. This is a very plausible form of reading of these documents. But also you can believe that he had this claim of prophetic consciousness in the future and these are earlier stages of development of a personality, which is in terms of that same logic, compatible with that same worldview, but not completely developed yet. Both readings are possible. Unfortunately, we don’t have that much writings of Baha’u’llah available, or documents of Baha’u’llah available, belonging to earlier times of Baha’u’llah.

[51:04] I should say, however, I should modify what I said. I haven’t seen and I haven’t studied all the writings of Baha’u’llah. When I was in Haifa working in Baha’i archives on the writings of Baha’u’llah, we were there for about two-and-a-half months. But because I had to engage in indexing, which means each tablet, each paragraph of each tablet, I had to put a target in terms of different subjects. I couldn’t just read fast and then write a summary. I worked extremely hard. I mean I slept when I would pass away - pass out out more or less. Not pass away, pass out. Although “pass away” is not also inappropriate, because it was an unusual spiritual experience reading these works of Baha’u’llah and life and death would merge together. In any case, despite all this, I could read only 15 percent of the writings of Baha’u’llah. I found lots of tablets of Baha’u’llah, lots of documents - things like what I shared with you tonight - which are extremely important and clarify so many issues in terms of Baha’u’llah and his messages and so on. So I haven’t read the vast majority of the writings of Baha’u’llah yet. It is possible that within those that I have not read yet, there would be a number of texts which are written during his earlier times, then our understanding might be different. But at this time, based upon what I know, we have few of the writings of Baha’u’llah available prior to his experience in the Tehran dungeon and the beginning of writing, of works in 1853. [53.40]

[Question and the answer, which leads into…]

[55.25] The second one [ie the prayer], this one, I mean you are the only large group that I am sharing this. It was among the tablets which is there, which is untouched, nobody really haved worked with them, nobody have perhaps noted them. I shared this with my class [55:47] ... [56:30] But in principle, you are the first people who become aware of the existence of such a tablet. It is not published anywhere, but it exists in archive of the Baha’i Faith. And this is what I wanted to say a few moments ago. In principle, the conceptions that we have of the Baha’i Faith and the nature of the Baha’i community at this time is very tentative. We should never think that we know exactly what the Baha’i Faith is and that the existing institutions and forms of structures of community and so on is exactly as it would be in the future. We have, as Baha’i communities, we have not studied writings of the Bab, writings of Baha’u’llah, writings of Abdu’l-Baha - a few of them we have - but vast majority of the writings of Baha’u’llah, of Abdu’l-Baha, writings of the Bab, we have studied nothing almost. The vast majority of the writings of Baha’u’llah, of Abdu’l-Baha, we have not studied. We don’t know. And for that reason, we Baha’is in particular, but also non-Baha’is, we have to be much more humble in terms of our conception of the Baha’i Faith. We should not be very dogmatic and sure that this is what has happened and these are the Baha’i ideas and so on. We have to have a tentative idea and to be confident that as time goes on and we become more and more familiar with the Baha’i writings that the complexity of Baha’i message and so on becomes more available to us. And so everything that we have at this time is really a tentative expression of Baha’i Faith. This was the most important message for me of spending time in Haifa, for instance, and studying the writings of Baha’u’llah. The most important implication of that for me was that I understood that I should not be so sure. Every single thing about the Baha’i Faith that we know. I mean we know some aspects of the Baha’i Faith, but a lot of that we don’t. And many things that we think we know. But really those statements, those discussions mean, those meanings become much more enriched, and much more complex when we look at the totality of the writings. And so it’s a fresh, happy, hopeful future of exploring Baha’i writings and understanding Baha’i culture and so on. [59.31]

[Question and the answer, which leads into…]

[1:03.04] The very existence of this prayer I just discovered last winter. And there are so many of these writings that almost no one is aware of its existence. So we need lots of particularly younger scholars that they devote themselves to learning Persian, learning Arabic, and try to engage in Baha’i Studies deeply and therefore explore increasingly these works and discover and share, elaborate and so on. The Baha’i Faith is something which is completely fresh and untouched and unexplored. Sometimes in traditional conceptions of religion that some of Baha’is sometimes share - that traditional conception - the idea is that we have this particular ulama, scholars, - previously, they were … Now, because we don’t have priesthood in Baha’i Faith, but then we have the idea that we have particular scholars and that these scholars know everything and that they have read everything. There is no such thing. As I mentioned, the Baha’i Faith as it exists right now is completely tentative. We have to explore that, we have to begin to study that, Baha’is, non-Baha’is, in the form of research and so on. Particularly the younger generation, they should know that there is nobody to do this for them. We don’t have priests, so it is ourselves who have to explore these things gradually. I mean in a sense it is sad because we don’t have familiarity with all these layers and complexities of the Baha’i Faith. But at the same time, it is so delightful and happy and exciting that there is so much which is unexplored and it’s really an adventure to go and do that. [1:05:29]

[In answer to a question, Saiedi briefly discusses the fact that Baha’u’llah says in one of his writings that Baha’u’llah and the Bab met in the physical world, often Quddus was present. Then another question, to which Dr Saiedi replies...]

[1:08:36] Actually, the reason that I was there [at the World Centre] last winter was because the House of Justice wants to make all these tablets of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, the Bab and so on, to make them accessible to the world and the Baha’i community. So the idea is first to know what are existing; for example, what tablets exist, what topics they are discussing. When I worked on the writings of the Bab, this began with work on the writings of the Bab five years ago. I was invited in Haifa and I was doing this. At that time, there was no indexing. So I would just read the work of the Bab and I would write a summary in English. I like that much more because I could read much more. I was in there four months. I did everything, everything of the writings of the Bab which exists in Haifa. I created an inventory. Because the House of Justice was pleased with that system, they wanted to make this much more elaborate, much more sophisticated, adding now indexing. And right now they have this plan that, for each work of Baha’u’llah, at least three different readers would engage in this writing abstract and indexing and so on. That is to be one perspective of one particular person and if one makes mistakes, at least two other readers and so on. So on the basis of these, the idea is that to...

Ah, and when I was working on the writings of the Bab, one very important issue was ‘which one of these are the writings of the Bab?’ Because it is possible that some of the works which are there are assumed to be by people who have collected them and have put them together, they have assumed that this would be the work of the Bab, but this might be the work of somebody else. Might be the work of Baha’u’llah, might be the work of one of the major Babis, or someone else. And, as a matter of fact, occasionally I found a few works which were not by the Bab and so I indicated that this is not work of the Bab so should be excluded. So the idea of publishing, whether in the form of online publishing or in the form of books and, later, translation, because this is the scriptural Word and so on has to be a work which would be meticulous and make sure that the copies would be authentic and not mistaken. So it’s not an easy task. But it is what the House of Justice wants to do and so this process is going on right now. It depends how fast those people who are engaged in this process.

But many of the writings which are not published, you can find sometimes in different manuscripts or collections in different universities and some of them have become online and so on. So it is not the case that only things which are formally published are accessible now. Many other things are also accessible. But nowhere - for example, in terms of the writings of the Bab which I’m much, much more familiar with that, nowhere in the world has the rich collection of the writings of the Bab than Haifa archive. Nowhere in the world is remotely comparable to that. So many works of the Bab. I found at least 15 works of the Bab which are about 500 pages. Nobody knows they exist! When I was doing that work, I have to give them names because they have not been discussed in any literature, so they don’t have a name! Nobody has talked about them and so on. In order to make a computer file for that, I had to assign a name to this. Hopefully, later on, these names will change and the names will be something which would fit the text better. But my point is that there are so many writings of the Bab that no researcher, past, present, no literature which has talked about the Bab or the writings of the Bab is aware of the existence of these texts, let alone that they have read and so on. They have no names in the literature. There are so many. Nobody is like Haifa, and for Baha’i writings, writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha even more. I mean that’s the place. Having said that, for those who want to make research and so on, oceans of possibilities exist in different collections, some of them online and so on. But in the future, of course, more and more would be available, more and more would be translated. That’s one of the problems with the Baha’i Faith. It has no one book. It has library of sacred books. The challenge becomes much more complicated. [1:14:35]

[Question from the audience]

[1:15:00] No, there is no such thing. Rumours are very popular among human beings and human communities, including Baha’i community. And so lots of people say lots of things for themselves and this one here is from that one and that one here is from this and suddenly it is accepted as fundamental truth or something like that. The works that has been written by Baha’u’llah, by Abdu’l-Baha, by the Bab, they are works for humanity and the purpose has been to have them accessible. If Baha’u’llah himself decides that some of his writings humanity’s not ready for that and so on, he’s the only person who would make a decision like that. But the writings are available. The point is that nobody at this time - it’s difficult to say this - but nobody at this time really knows, or has really read, or is familiar with, all the writings of Baha’u’llah, of Abdu’l-Baha and so on. It is so much and it requires lots of work. This is one of those stages that the Baha’i community is entering. And so as I mentioned, future is so exciting. In terms of the idea of why not all the writings are available, sometimes people make these sort of statements, but then when you ask them have you read works which are translated, which are published and so on, vast majority have not read almost... in any case. So, many of the fundamental, primary works of Baha’u’llah has been published, has been translated. But those other works which are not translated, it’s not that they are not important. I mean I share with you one work of Baha’u’llah. This is absolutely, for me, one of the most important, one of the most significant documents of Iranian history. And there are infinite numbers of these things. But the Baha’i literature and Baha’i writings, as I mentioned, are not confined to one book or two books or three books. So in its time and resources and the Baha’i community also is the one who is directly involved in this. We need people who can read these things, who can work on these things, who can translate and so on. Nobody would do these things except us. Younger generations in particular, I emphasise that it’s very important that some of us, I mean not that I would be part of the younger generation, but some of us would take this issue of devoting our life to Baha’i Studies seriously.

Download a pdf file of the transcript

Monday, 18 April 2016

New footnote to Tablet on Understanding the Cause of Opposition

Soon after the translation of Tablet on Understanding the Cause of Opposition to the Manifestations of God was released, there was discussion about the meaning of one paragraph in particular. The paragraph comes early on in the tablet and, in it, Baha'u'llah refers to a tradition in which the Qa'im appears and utters a Word that makes "his chosen disciples" flee. The paragraph reads:

“The Shīʿah divines believe that when the promised Qāʾim appears in the House of God [Mekka], he will utter a word that will cause even his chosen disciples to turn away from him and flee. This is a statement that the Shīʿīs admit to and acknowledge. Now, reflect on the heedlessness of certain ones. They assert and attest to the opposition of the chosen disciples, who, according to their own doctrines, are the noblest people after the Imāms, yet it does not occur to them that their own opposition might be equally unworthy and incorrect."
The discussion was centered around the issue of why the Arabic word "nuqabā’" was translated here as "his chosen disciples" and not as "leaders", "chiefs" or "nobles", which would be the more usual way to translate it. The two interpretations lead to very different understandings of Baha'u'llah's meaning. The translation says that the Qa'im's own disciples flee from him and the alternative interpretation suggests that it is the religious leaders and rulers who flee from him. The issue is complicated by the fact that the Guardian may have favoured the second interpretation and thought that those who flee were the "leaders". Evidence for this comes from a passage in God Passes By, page 32. In it, the Guardian is describing the aftermath of the incident in which Tahirih removes her veil at the conference of Badasht. He says that, after doing this, she proclaimed that she was the Word that would put the leaders of the earth to flight.
"Undeterred, unruffled, exultant with joy, Ṭáhirih arose, and, without the least premeditation and in a language strikingly resembling that of the Qur’án, delivered a fervid and eloquent appeal to the remnant of the assembly, ending it with this bold assertion: “I am the Word which the Qá’im is to utter, the Word which shall put to flight the chiefs and nobles of the earth!” Thereupon, she invited them to embrace each other and celebrate so great an occasion."
The purpose of the footnote is to explain why the Arabic word "nuqabā’" has been translated as "his chosen disciples" and not as "chiefs and nobles". I am grateful to Dr Armin Eschraghi for sharing his extensive knowledge on the tradition and giving the details as to why this translation is closer to Baha'u'llah's meaning.

The footnote reads:

"A Shī’ih and Shaykhī version of the tradition Bahā’u’llāh is referring to here can be found in ibn Babuyah's Kitāb al-Ghayba and Aḥmad al-Aḥsāʾī's Kitāb ar-Rajʿa (p.106). This says that the Qāʾim will ascend the pulpit of the Kufa mosque (in Bahā’u’llāh’s account, this occurs in the House of God) and bring out a book. When he reads from it, all of his 313 disciples (asḥāb) will flee except for one wazīr (helper) and 12 nuqabā’ (chosen disciples). Those who flee will find no refuge and eventually return to him. The English phrase “his chosen disciples”, used in the translation of the tablet, translates the Arabic word ‘nuqabā’’. This translation is based on the account given in the tradition, which makes it clear that those who flee the Qāʾim will be from among his own disciples. In contrast to this, a dictionary definition of ‘nuqabā’’ gives the more general meaning of ‘leaders’, ‘chiefs’, or ‘nobles’. If ‘nuqabā’’ was translated this way, it would suggest that the people who flee the Qāʾim are religious leaders and rulers - that is, those who would be expected to oppose the Qāʾim. However, in Sufi, Shīʿih and Shaykhī literature, the word ‘nuqabā’’ has a specific meaning. It refers to one of several ranks, such as nujabā, abwāb and abdāl, in a spiritual hierarchy. The beings who occupy this very high spiritual rank, due to their gnosis or divine knowledge, are deputies of the Hidden Imām and ‘chiefs’ and’ leaders’ in that sense. These nuqabā’ are not known to other human beings and do not hold ecclesiastical or political power. Only upon the Qāʾim’s return will he, according to some ḥadīth accounts, give the nuqabā’ power as actual leaders and rulers over men. Bahā’u’llāh’s point in this paragraph is that, if it is possible even for the nuqabā’ to wrongly reject the Qāʾim - and they are only one step below the Qāʾim in spiritual rank - then perhaps the reader could entertain the possibility that he himself is also wrong, just like the mullahs of his age, and admit that the Qāʾim has appeared, though in a way that differs from popular expectations, and it is wrong to oppose him. - Alison Marshall, based on information kindly provided by Dr Armin Eschraghi."

The translation of Tablet on Understanding the Cause of Opposition to the Manifestations of God can be found here.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Tablet on Understanding the Cause of Opposition

The translation of Tablet on Understanding the Cause of Opposition to the Manifestations of God (Lawḥ-i ʿirfān-i ʿillat-i iʿrāḍ) is now available. You can access it on the Windflower Translations website here. On this page, you can read the English translation and, in addition, open or download a pdf file that contains the original Persian/Arabic side by side with the English. The tablet has two distinct sections: the first section in Persian, which contains Baha'u'llah's explanations to his correspondent, and a second section in Arabic, which is a long prayer that Baha'u'llah wrote for his correspondent to say.

The Tablet on Understanding the Cause of Opposition is not known in the English-speaking world. It is on the Baha'i World Centre's 'best-known' list of tablets, but despite that, nothing is known about it. Taherzadeh does not mention it in any of his four volumes on Baha'u'llah's writings. The one thing that can be said for sure is that it was written in the Akka period, because in the tablet Baha'u'llah says that he is writing in the Most Great Prison. The recipient of the tablet is not known. It might be a Baha'i who has come to doubt Baha'u'llah's claims or perhaps a Muslim seeker who is 'hesitating'.

In responding to his correspondent, Baha'u'llah uses the opportunity to go over in summary his arguments for why people turn away from the manifestations when they come to the world. It would be fair to say that the Persian section of the tablet is like a very concise statement of what is argued at length in the Kitab-i Iqan. It contains a quick-fire hard-hitting line of reasoning, which is at bottom the same as in the Iqan, but with a different flavour.

In the Arabic section of the tablet, Baha'u'llah launches into a long prayer, where he has the recipient of the tablet go into a deep meditation on his failings. It contains many parallel constructions and is really quiet beautiful. For example:

"O my God! The more you showed compassion and patience toward me, the more my heedlessness and opposition increased. You remembered me when I failed to remember you, and you turned toward me with the Manifestation of yourself when I hesitated to turn toward the radiance of your face, and you called out to me when I was unable to hear your call issuing from the Dayspring of your Cause."

As you can see from the quoted passage above, the tablet has been translated into a simple, modern English.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Why do provisional translations?

Question: Why bother to work on provisional translations when the World Centre already has a plan for translating the writings of Baha'u'llah?

To answer this question, let's begin with an estimate of how many tablets Baha'u'llah wrote. "Bahá'u'lláh revealed over 15,000 tablets. Some are long (several hundred pages) but most are a page or two, written to a specific individual to answer a question or convey encouragement."[1] Of these, the World Centre has archived just under half: "Bahá'u'lláh, 7,160 tablets archived".[2]

Taking into account the number of translations done by the Guardian and by the World Centre, up to the point when the Kitab-i Aqdas was translated, the following is an estimate of authorised translations, including partial translations:

"It appears that less than 500 of the 15,000 tablets — a relatively small percentage of the total revelation — have been partially translated and published in English."[3]

And to give a little more context, "Taherzadeh's four-volume Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh provides historical information on and summaries of only about 86 tablets."[4]

Now, if we think about the sheer size of the revelation and the speed at which the World Centre is able to release authorised translations, we begin to see that, if we wait for the World Centre to translate the revelation, we will not see very much of it in our lifetimes. The task is simply enormous. As many believers have pointed out to me, the World Centre has to work very hard to ensure that the translations it produces are as accurate as possible and this involves much time, a lot of resources and the minds of many people. So while it may be true that the World Centre does a better job of translating the writings, this does not mean that it is pointless to do provisional translations. Provisional translations may not be quite as good, but they are still extremely valuable. The argument against doing provisional translations seems to take the position that a thing is not worth doing unless it is perfect. I think it is an excuse for inaction - an excuse never to take up a challenge and sail on the ark of faith. Surely, any worthy attempt to translate the revelation for the benefit of all will be blessed by Baha'u'llah? Why would he not wish to see his words spread throughout the English-speaking world? Isn't that why he came?

Another argument for not bothering with provisional translations is the one that says that the translations we already have cover the most important tablets Baha'u'llah wrote. Therefore, we should be content with what we have, for it is the most important portion of the revelation anyway. In fact, I've even heard someone say something like, 'Well, how many read what we've already got!?' To which I say, 'Who cares what others do? I read what we've got and I want to read more! Do we simply adjust to the lowest common denominator? Why not cater to those who faithfully read the writings and can't get enough of them? Aren't they the people that matter?'

As to the argument that what we have constitutes the important portion of the revelation, in fact, there are still significant tablets - like Kitab-i Badi, which is longer than the Kitab-i Iqan - that have yet to be translated. There are many, many important tablets published in Persian and Arabic that have yet to be translated into English. We are in the ridiculous position where a sizeable proportion of the global Baha'i population - that is, the section who read Persian and Arabic - are familiar with writings that English speakers do not even know exist! If it is good enough for Persian and Arabic speakers to read those tablets - they have been published, after all - why not make them available to English speakers? Why should English speakers have to settle for less than what Persian and Arabic speakers read? Shall we take away the tablets published in Persian and Arabic and tell those who read them that, hey, it's all right because they already have the bit of the revelation that matters? It's patronising. There are books of daily readings published in Persian and Arabic that contain passages from tablets English speakers have never even heard of.

[1] Notes by Rob Stockman.
[2] Ibid, Resource Guide for the Scholarly Study of the Bahá'í Faith
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid