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Abstract:
Informal correspondence from the listserver Talisman 1 regarding the Panj Sha'an, including translated portions.
Notes:
See also John Walbridge's discussion of and translated excerpts from the Panj Sha`n.

Add comments or links pertaining to this work here.


Kitáb-i-Panj Sha'n, Book of Five Qualification:
Notes

by Ahang Rabbani

1999
Lately, I've been deepening on one of the larger Works of the Bab, namely, Kitab-i Panj Sha`n (Five Qualifications) which is among His last Writings and I'm struck by the tone and language used to address Yahya Azal and the clear predictions that "Him whom God will make Manifest" will appear shortly (i.e. during Azal's days) and that Yahya Azal will fail to recognize Him. In addition one should note that the Bab in instructing Azal of some of the most basic aspects of ontology and beliefs employs a tone suitable for instructing a wayward person and not someone who is suppose to assume the leadership of the community after the Bab. So, if nothing else, this section of Panj Sha`n is clear documentation that the Bab never had in mind for Yahya Azal to put forth outrageous claims that he did.

I'm aware that E.G. Browne had a copy of this Work in his possession and its a mystery as to why he failed to see based on these passages that not only Azal was not held very highly in the eyes of the Bab, but in fact was assured to be one who will cause harm to "Him whom God will make manifest."

Further, its a bit puzzling as to why these passages where not used by Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá to support their arguments against Azalis and can only assume that They did not wish to shame Yahya Azal any more than what he had brought upon himself.

The copy of Panj Sha`n that I'm using is in fact an Azali publication. It has no date or place of publication but I suspect it was calligraphed in Qazvin and printed in Tihran. Its in a beautiful script, very readable, and contains 3 pages of Table of Contents, a total of 447 pages of Text, and some 14 pages of notes at the end. These endnotes are very interesting and contain such info as to the date of Revelation of this Work (commenced on the first day of Naw-Ruz 1850 and lasted for 17 days) and some other useful data. The Table of Contents has also much useful info such as the identify of the recipient of each section and that's how I know the section beginning on page 125 is addressed to Yahya Azal.

This section (pages 125-137) is in two parts, the first half Arabic and the second half in Persian.

I have not translated the Text as regrettably I'm thoroughly unqualified to undertake such a task, but have taken some notes on the Arabic portion which are shared herewith. My comments are in square bracket, [].

This section starts:

In the name of God, the Living, the Alive.

The original is: "Bismi'llah al-hayal al-hayal" and its a play on the name of Yahya (the living). Yahya Nuri adopted the name of Yahya Azal partly because, numerically both are equivalent to 38 but mostly since the Bab was fond of refering to Himself as Nuqtih-i azaliyyih, subh-i azal, etc. By adopting a surname which was employed by the Bab and appeared so frequently in them, Azal tried to give credence to his claim.

Praise be God, there is no God by Him, the Living and the Alive. From eternity and for ever, the glory emanated from God be upon "Him whom God will manifest" and believers (promoters) of His Cause.

Be thee (Yahya Azal) witness that God is sanctified perpetually above His creation and supreme over imaginal world. He is holier than all that created or will be created. He has not created people, except for His own recognition and that He is unneedy of them and their worship. And His recognition may not be achieved except through His love and worship may not be possible except through obedience.

Obviously, this passage is the reformulation of Hadith-i Qudsi "I was a hidden treasure wished to be known, therefore, created man to know Me and love Me." Its also the same sentiments articulated in the opening paragraph of the Kitab-i Aqdas about twin, inseparable, duties of recognition and obedience.

So, recognize God, thy Creator, the most Glorious, and achieve this through the recognition of Him whom God will manifest, mighty are His blessings. Serve God, thy Lord, through servitude to Him whom God will manifest, long be His aid. As the path of the essence of Eternal (azal) is closed and the way to the hidden eternity is forbidden otherwise.

This is the key Bahá'í doctrine too, namely, recognition of God and His Names is not possible except through His Prophets. But what is of particular importance is that the Bab is covering some very basic things with someone who in a couple of years will advance the claim to His successorship. This makes no sense! Is this the sort of thing that Bahá'u'lláh, for example, would be covering in the Tablet of Branch regarding Abdu'l-Bahá, or is this how He addressed Abdu'l-Bahá in the Tablet to the land of Ba.

When thee [Yahya Azal] understand this, then realize that God, exalted be His sanctity, will identify Himself to His creation through the manifestation of His own Self. Therefore, all the nations have recognized God, their Lord, naught but through recognition of their Prophets. And those endowed with understanding will perceive this.

[Up through here was page 125.]

[A long section follows explaining that the Essence of God is beyond comprehension of all, but His attributes are manifested in the Eternal Point (nuqtih-i azaliyyih, ie. the Bab) of the Dispensation of Bayan. He goes on to say such things as: Whoever worships the Manifestation of God, has worshipped God; whoever serves Him, has served God; whoever praises Him, has praised God, ...]

[Bottom of page 127:]

When thee [Azal] has understood these, then firstly grasp the proofs and upon comprehended that, turn with certainty to the Throne of Appearance at the time of Manifestation and have no fears. As this is the path of God, in the past and future and the way of the Manifestation of God among all nations.

[middle of page 128:]

And in the Days of "Him whom God will manifest", whenever He chooses to appear, on that Day, this Word [ie. the Manifestation] will not be recognized except through believing in Him and do not look upon the Witnesses of Bayan.

[Its very instructive that the Bab explains that Witnesses of Bayan, which included Yahya Azal, should *not* be used as guides for discovering Him whom God will manifest.]

Because their blessings [ie. station] was due to believing in the Primal Point, and similarly for the faithfuls (teachers) of "Him whom God will manifest" and believing in Him. And nothing else is worthy, both in the past and the future.

Strive to acquire higher qualifications. Perhaps thee will be enabled to render assistance to God in thy essence. And acquire spiritual qualities and radiate rays of pure ones, so that, perchance, in the Day of Resurrection [here refers to appearance of Him whom God will manifest], if thee will not make God, thy Lord, happy, at least thee will not make Him sad.

This is an amazing prophecy by the Bab where He predicts that Azal will bring sadness to Bahá'u'lláh. In this last sentence, "God" refers to Bahá'u'lláh. First time that I read this admonishment to Azal that he should avoid saddening man-yazharu'llah, immediately the passage in Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament came to mind where He enjoins upon all not to cause the dust of despondency be shed upon Shoghi Effendi.

A section follows explaining that for ordinary people, sadness and happiness are two distinct states but before Him whom God will manifest they are the one and the same as are all the other conditions. Namely, He is above such human feelings and limitations.

[middle of page 130, line 7:]

It will please God, to exalt the station of this Word [ie. the Bab], for exaltation of His own Self in the Day of Him whom God will manifest. Be watchful from this day, lest God, thy Creator and His believers (teachers of the Cause) will appear and thee [ie. Yahya Azal] be among those unaware. Because now (soon) is, of course, the time of coming of Him whom God will manifest along with His followers. Recognize Him and His believers, if thee believe in the Primal Point and His believers. Therefore, thy faith in the Bayan, at the Day of His Manifestation, is believing in Him and nothing else.

This paragraph is most emphatic in tone! In a very clear language the Bab instructs Azal to turn to "Him whom God will make manifest" as will occur very soon. Then He tells him that his belief in the Bab is contingent upon believing in Bahá'u'lláh. In other words, if one fails to recognize the next Manifestation, he has failed to recognized all the earlier Ones.

Do not wonder of the Cause of God. Perhaps the Cause of God will appear and thee [Yahya Azal] remain unaware and be veiled of the Throne of Manifestation.

Then, the Bab delivers this final punch on page 131:

The Throne of the Truth became manifest and thee [Yahya Azal] failed to recognize Him and all things created through Him.

The Bab further notes:

Do not wonder of the Cause of God. Perhaps the Cause of God will appear and thee (ie. Yahya Azal) remain unaware and be veiled of the Throne of Manifestation.

There are several sections of the Bab's Kitab-i Panj Sha'n (Five Modes) that have had profound effect on me and I like to gradually begin producing English translation of them as I suspect that others would enjoy them as well. At the outset I should say that I firmly believe any attempt to translate the Writings of the Bab is a futile effort as invariably the translation will fall drastically short of the sublimity of the original. But nevertheless attempt we must.

As time permits, every few days I post a section for our collective benefit and discussion, and when its clear that these passages are not generating interest among the esteemed list participants, well, I can take a hint and will stop ;-}

I would greatly welcome suggestions towards improving the translation, but even more so look forwards to comments about the meaning of these Words of God.

The section that we concentrate for now begins on the top of the page 400 of the Azali published Text:

Know thou that thy belief, which is a necessary condition for entering the religion, should be to attain the good-pleasure of God. How would then be possible that the cause of your entrance into the religion be such things that thou desire, and not those that thy everlasting Lord hath decreed? Consider how delicate and precise is this command. All desire to win the good-pleasure of God by entering religion, but wish to do so based on their own self-centered reasons. And at the time of every Manifestation, the wavering of [adherents of the] previous Dispensation hath been based on this reason and shall ever remain so. Had the followers of Moses, behold the same miracle in the person of Christ, none would have turned away. In like manner, had the believers in Jesus, recognized Him in the Messenger of God [ie. Muhammad], none amongst the Christians would have paused. Similarly, consider every Dispensation and behold that essence of "enter the religion," [Qur'an ?:?] is none other than to attain the good-pleasure of God. And hold fast to this command in every Manifestation, and not your own desires or the doing of others. And know thou, that the proof from God in every Dispensation is complete and sufficient and shall ever be so. And everyone must turn aside from all else but the Proof which comes bearing the utterance of God, so that the might of His Person is readily established. After thou recognized this, in every Dispensation, whether One or Infinitude, remain acquiesce and do not utter yea or nay. Whatever is then manifest, behold it them as manifest from God. And look upon all such manifestations with the eye of unity, and not multitude. And consider every utterance in its own context, so that neither in the exoteric meanings of the manifest, nor in the esoteric purport of it, should you see two contradictory words.
I am struck by several key themes in this section:

  1. The importance of approaching the religion of God through the purity of the desire to win His good-pleasure and not any other considerations. This reminds me of the passage in Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet of Visitation where we pray: "Help me to be selfless at the heavenly entrance of Thy gate, and aid me to be detached from all things within Thy holy precincts." This detachment from all worldly and heavenly concerns is what this passage seems to be calling for.

  2. The theme of the unity of the Manifestations of course speaks loudly in this passage, and related to it the need to recognized in each of the Divine Educators, the essence of the previous One.

  3. Another point that I thought was profoundly important is to not judge the religion of God by saying and doing of the others, but to remain focused on God Himself. When one thinks of all the things that has transpired during the past year or so in the cyberspace, one grows in appreciation of this singularly important point. In particular, one should highlight the command of the Bab for us not to look upon the *others* as our model in such matters and again one is struck by how relevant this statement is in relation to the present generation.

  4. The last paragraph is where the Bab begins to lay the ground work for His discussion of unity. He points out that the religion of God is complete and no contradiction exists within it. What may appear as contradiction though is simply due to lack of contextualization of the Word of God. In other words, apparent contractions tells us something about the speaker and not the Word.

In the next section we'll see how the Bab extends this concept of the unity of Word to the cause of disunity in the community.

Next, a rough rendering of the next paragraph of the Bab's discourse on faith and unity (Panj Sha'n, p. 400-1):

Consider how in each Dispensation [zuhur], the adherents cause differences. The root of all disputes, is what hath been manifested from the Source of that Dispensation. Each believer traverses through one of the effulgences and remains distinct (unaware) of the others. As such, differences occurs within each Dispensation, while in all the Dispensations, there is nothing that God hath forbidden more strenuously than disunity, and all been commanded to unity and fellowship. Because when thou become the cause of disunity in this Dispensation, the fruit of that will ripe in the next Dispensation and will be directed to the Manifestation then, which before God is certainly greater than the present effect of thy deed. Indeed, it would have been better if thou had not acquired knowledge to cause differences, than to become learned and bring forth disunity. Know that, the harm of such differences, will surround the believers (champions) in the next Dispensation.
I don't know if I should dare comment on this passage, but a few obvious points comes to mind.

  1. I'm struck by the fact the Bab recognizes that the cause of all differences and disunities is the Revelation itself. Now I think in this regard one should note that there are many sources of disagreements amongst people (e.g. money, business, marriage, relationships, etc., etc.), but that by implications He notes that none of these are lasting differences or at least do not cause harm to the whole of mankind and effect only a small pocket. The one body of difference that will cause permanent harm, if I read the Bab correctly, are the ones based on the Revelation.

  2. He goes on to note that actually it is not the Revelation per se that causes disunity, but rather varying interpretations that exists among the adherents (later on He narrows it to the Divines/learned). He notes that each of them have a particular interest/background/training and view the Revelation through the narrow range of his/her own orientation. It is the clash, or perhaps the narrowness of these interpretations, that cause permanent division in the community.

  3. Disunity, He says, in that universal constant that has been forbidden in all Dispensation in the strongest possible language.

  4. The resultant differences have a divisive effect on the present Dispensation, but it becomes the dart that penetrates the chest of the next Manifestation and the sword that slays the believers in the following Resurrection.

  5. I read Him to say, its best to remain humble and united, than to grow learned and cause division.

What is my take on all of this? It seems to me that the idea that is being rejected in this passage obviously is not learning and scholarship, but rather the inability of these so-called scholars to resolve their difference. The subtext of this passage speaks of humility that must be manifest be those that claim learning so to bow to one another's view rather than the arrogance that we see in the world around us and the fierce debates that cause nothing but harm.

This passage calls on those who aspire to be students of religion to learn to speak with one another, to consult properly and to effectively resolve their varying views, always with an eye on the promotion of unity.

Because if they don't, the Bab says the blood of the next martyrs will be on their hands.


Juan Cole's note

What the Bab is saying in this passage is essentially similar to what Ibn al-`Arabi, Rumi and Bahá'u'lláh said. Religious differences arise because human beings are at different levels (maqam) of perception or understanding (idrak), and because they each become convinced that only their understanding is the true one.

There are a number of possible solutions to this problem:

  1. Everyone could tolerate everyone else. This solution is the Unitarian-Universalist solution. It has the drawback, however, of diluting a strong doctrinal core to the religion, since not everyone can be expected to assent to every doctrine.

  2. The Roman Catholic solution: There is one "privileged" set of interpretations (the Pope or Vatican) that hold sway in the central institutions of the religion, and which are reinforced by appointments from on high, and by occasional sanctions on believers who are perceived to stray too far from orthodoxy. Ordinary Catholics may in fact develop interpretations quite distinct from the "privileged" Vatican positions, but these are considered "lay" views and not the view of the Church.

  3. The Khomeinist solution: There is one privileged set of interpretations (the Supreme Jurisprudent) and straying too far from them puts one's life at risk (e.g. Saidi Sirjani, Soroush).

I personally think the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh had solution 1) in mind.


Ahang Rabbani replies

Question: Does the Scripture enjoin on us resolution of differences, or simply recognition of them and allowing us to coexist?

The answer, based on my inadequate (in every sense of the word) understanding of the Bab's passage, is a resounding call for *resolution* of differences.

Let's see what the Bab has to say.

Remember, so far, He is focusing on the reason why people failed to recognized their divine Beloved with a new Name.

Consider the Dispensation of the Gospels, and how it was segregated into multitudes of factions. At the time of the appearance of the Messenger of God [ie. Muhammad], because of this same reason, they remained oblivious in believing in Him, even though at the time of His Manifestation some seventy of the Nazarene divines [ie. Christian priests] believed in Him. And if they were all united in the effulgences of the Gospels, they would all, similar to those seventy, have believed. And the cause was none other except that which had been stirred amongst them, for it was not from God. Each [of the factions] claimed that the truth is solely in my hands, and caused a manner of dispute. And the short days of his life passed and naught resulted, and what fruit thereof remained, in the Day of the Manifestation of the Messenger of God, was directed at Him. Now asked if these differences profited him any.

Ahang: Forgive my inability to do the passage justice and express it better but trust me when I say that the original is absolutely exquisite and enthralling.

In this passage, the Bab laments that because of their own differences, the Christians failed to recognize Muhammad. Remember He had said earlier that each Prophet comes with complete and sufficient proof, so it wasn't that Muhammad did not offer ample proof to the Christians, but their own difference, caused by inability to resolve their disputes over reading the Sacred Text (the Gospels), denied them the blessing of inhaling the fragrance of Muhammad's Message.

Then the Bab asks, and what happened to those that caused disputes? Where are they now? What became of their efforts? And He answers solemnly as: naught, except harm. Their days passed, and their differences became the sufferings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Forgive this intrusion, and let's get back on the passage.

In similar manner, consider the Dispensation of Islam and how it had grown factious. At the beginning of the Manifestation of the Point of Bayan [ie. the Bab], a single group of them expresses their belief, and others, because of their conversion, stayed oblivious, saying that in orientation we differ with them. These people are so pathetic that do not understand that in every Dispensation the harm of such differences is directed at the Author of the Revelation, and as soon as the Source of that Dispensation is manifest, all the divisions are the mainspring of His injuries. The destiny of all depends on that Balance. Whatsoever He enjoins will be made manifest, and whatever He forbid will become naught. ...

Ahang again:

The Bab gives yet another example, His own. Points out that at the beginning of His Manifestation, the Shaykhis recognized Him and believed in Him. But the rest, because of their differences with Shaykhis, rejected His Message and caused Him injuries. I must say that when in this passage He alludes to His sufferings, the force of the language and the depth of anguish is absolutely numbing. With every single Word, one senses the pain that He must have been enduring. I don't mind telling you, that the first that I read this passage, I was deeply shaken and moved. I wish I had the skills to translate it more effectively.

Its wonderful to see that at the conclusion of this passage, once again, with the utmost authority born of God, He speaks that: only that which He willeth, will be created, and from that which He turns away, will assuredly disappear.

Which then brings us to this magnificent passage:

Now in each Dispensation, the learned should resolve themselves that no differences would occur, and if because of their heart's weakness to consider each effulgent in its own station (context), disagreements did occur, then assured of the divine wisdom and knowledge, to dispense with such divergences, rejecting neither position, but considering each in its own context, so that all would be educated as result of unity. Thereby, at time of the next Manifestation, all will be guided to the lofty height of guidance and recognition, as this is the greatest of all deeds in every Dispensation. The Cause of God should never be divided and the oneness at no time compromised.

Ahang: Now we have the answer to the question that was raised earlier, namely, the need for resolution of the differences.

That Bab calls on the learned to arise and shoulder the brunt of this responsibility, as He had recognized that it is them that typically cause the divisions in the first place. He points that that many among the learned may not be spiritually mature to fully appreciate the intricacies of the Revelation and nit-pick it to death by pointing to various contradictions, etc. He says that those endowed with true learning, must explain the wisdom and context of each aspect of the Revelation to eliminate the differences of interpretation. Therefore, quite clearly resolution of problems and disputes is what is being called for.

One should point that by extension, the Bab, is placing the ultimate responsibility of the unity of mankind, which will ensure the recognition of the next Manifestation, in the hand of the learned -- an awesome responsibility.

If you would allow me a personal observation: I think the implication of the call of the Bab on the learned to resolve difference stemming from the Revelation has enormous potentialities for the development of Bahá'í scholarship, in fact, one could dare say its the charter for such an enterprise. However, we should never loose sight that it should be scholarship aimed at promotion of unity of mankind.

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