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.

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