Answers to Questions of an Indian Scholar
[Photograph on this page]
The First Question
QUESTION: Shaykh Nuru'd-Din al-Hindi asked our belief concerning Noah's age. Did he live 950 years as revealed in the Holy Qur'an, or does this have another meaning?
ANSWER: Those who are knowledgeable concerning such matters are divided between two views, one religious and the other scientific.
The religious view is as follows: It is well known that whoever believes in the truth of the mission of the Prophet Muhammad, and believes that the Holy Qur'an is the Book of God revealed from heaven, necessarily accepts the validity of everything contained in that noble book. He acknowledges the truth of whatever was revealed therein, whether or not it accords with the understanding of the people, as long as clear reason does not judge it impossible and no decisive proof against it can be shown to exist.
Anyone who has the least familiarity with rational proofs and logical analogies accepts as self-evident that the only objection to the extreme longevity the ancients are said to have enjoyed is that such a thing is simply unlikely. However, in reality it is not rationally untenable. For not the least convincing proof exists that it is impossible for people to enjoy a greater longevity than is normal in our own times. This is especially so for human beings who lived in ancient times and past ages because there is no way to investigate
their circumstances or the length of their lives, owing to the inaccessibility of their history and the disappearance of all traces of their civilization. A prudent mind will refrain from deciding against that which was revealed in the Holy Qur'an merely because it is unlikely. "It is verily a decisive word, nor is it in jest."[1.1]
[1.1. Qur'an 86:13-11.]
As for the scientific view, it is this: It is obvious that no scholarly investigator will accept the authority of any statement unless he can determine their original sources and the degree to which these are reliable and trustworthy. It is, moreover, well known that there are only four historical traditions containing information on how the creation began which are held in high esteem by great nations and whose sources they find dependable. These are Buddhist history (that of the Chinese), Hindu history (that of the original inhabitants of India), Zoroastrian history (that of the first peoples of Persia and their great rulers), and Hebrew history (that of the Jews and others who accept the mission of Moses). These historical traditions differ irreconcilably in their concepts, contain the diverse beliefs of their peoples, exhibit a huge variance in chronology, and clearly differ as to the names and events they mention. In spite of all this, the observer will note with amazement that these historical traditions accord with one another in two ways. One is their common assertion that the ancients lived extremely long lives compared to what became normal in later times, and the other is their intermixture with stories greatly resembling myths (in the eyes of scholarly investigators), or riddles, enigmas, and symbols (in the eyes of the moderates).
As for the Buddhist, Hindu, and Zoroastrian histories, they contain no mention of Adam and Eve, or of
Seth, Noah, or the others. Neither do they mention their stories or the events associated with their lives. Not even similar names occur in them. Only the Hebrew history mentions these names, and from there they were transmitted to the Christians and Muslims.
The Prophet Mohammed said, "We, the concourse of Prophets, were sent to address people according to the capacity of their minds." And likewise, "Speak to the people of that with which they are familiar; do you wish God and His Messenger to be called liars?" Thus was it related by the learned judge Averroes of Spain in his book Exposition on Methods of Evidence Concerning the Doctrines of the Muslim Community, citing al-Bukhari.[1.2] Therefore, given this situation, it is permissible for the scholarly investigator to depend on the verses of the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet in historical questions.
[1.2. The first tradition from the Prophet Muhammad is given in Averroes, Kitab al-Kashf' an manahij al-adillah, ed. Mahmud Qasim (Cairo: Anglo-Egyptian Bookstore, 1964), p. 191. The second tradition ("Speak to the people...") is cited in Averroes, On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy, trans. George F. Hourani (London: Luzac and Co., 1961) p. 52. Averroes (1122-1198 A.D.), the renowned philosopher of Cordoba, Muslim Spain, was the most eminent follower of Aristotle in medieval Islam. The two works by him mentioned above were reprinted in Cairo in 1895 from the 1859 Munich edition of M.J. Muller, who rediscovered them.]
It is clear that the prophets and Manifestations of the Cause of God were sent to guide the nations, to improve their characters, and to bring the people nearer to their Source and ultimate Goal. They were not sent as historians, astronomers, philosophers, or natural scientists. Their position in the world of creation is like that of the heart in the body: it has a universal position with a general effect. The position of the learned in the world of earthly dominion is like that of a specific organ. That is, they have a particular position and a special effect. Therefore, the prophets have indulged the people in regard to their historical notions, folk stories, and scientific principles, and have spoken to them according to these. They conversed as was appropriate to their audience and hid certain realities behind the curtain of allusion. They secluded the holy maidens of meaning in the palaces of sacred verses, veiling them in eloquent metaphors.
A rational human being will therefore have no doubt that those things mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, such as how the creation commenced, the debate of the angels, the stories of Adam, of Satan, and of Noah and the flood, are all realities. These speak of repeated promises to renew the world and refer to the appointed times for the expiration (through the advent of the primal Holy Reality and the renewal of the divine laws) of the terms allotted to the nations. But, from the point of view of science, it is impermissible for the historian to depend on the literal meaning of these verses. This is because he cannot discount the very real possibility that they possess a higher significance and are subject to sublime, figurative interpretations which differ from the understanding that might be gained from their external sense.
The possibility that these verses should be interpreted figuratively is hardly a remote one, nor is it an unlikely concept which can be disregarded by the eminent and learned as insignificant. For it has been revealed in the Holy Qur'an, "Nay, they deny that which their knowledge does not encompass, though its interpretation has not yet come to them."[1.3] Another verse says, "Do they look for aught else but its interpretation? The day its interpretation comes, those who forgot it before shall say, `Indeed, our Lord's Messengers came with the truth.'"[1.4] Moreover, the traditions and practice of the Prophet have genuinely established and made it abundantly clear that the verses of the Qur'an have mysterious and profound esoteric meanings and exalted, subtle, figurative interpretations. These are known by those who have dedicated themselves to the Holy Book and are ultimately familiar with it, for God has granted to His steadfast sincere servants the ability to discover them.
[1.3. Qur'an 10:39.]
[1.4. Qur'an 7:53.]
By figurative interpretation is meant only the original meanings intended, which God veiled in the inner depths of the verses and hid behind a curtain of metaphors. Such interpretation is not something for mere mortals, nor should every ignorant one plunge haphazardly into it, nor every obscure scholar interpret the verses according to his opinion. Some of the ignorant have done this in their pride, and have gone astray and led many others astray with their interpretations. They have thus kept people from the well-spring of life, the path of salvation. Rather, this is a matter for the Manifestations of the Cause of God, the Vindicators of His promise. This has been said clearly in the Qur'an: "So when We recite it, follow thou its recitation. Then Ours it is to explain it."[1.5]
[1.5. Qur'an 75:18-19.]
It has, therefore, been established that the historian cannot depend on the outward meaning of the verses of the Qur'an for historical knowledge, and that Noah and his like are not mentioned in the rest of the ancient histories. And so, the historian is left with only the Pentateuch and the other books of the Old Testament. If he avoids sectarian prejudices, blind traditionalism, and popular fabrications, an insightful critic will perceive that these holy books have two distinct sorts of teachings, which deserve further attention.
The first sort is the teachings attributed to God, which are spoken by God, or which consist of revelation from God. These contain ordinances, commandments, laws, and directions. They also contain warnings, and glad tidings — the most important of which are predictions concerning the signs, portents, and circumstances signaling the advent of the Day of God. Such are the Ten Commandments of Moses and his hymn of blessing at the end of Deuteronomy, the
Psalms of David, the book of Isaiah the Prophet, and the books of Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and other prophets of Israel. Anyone upon whom God has bestowed insight and the gift of knowledge can distinguish between human words and the verses of God, and will confess that all these books are made up of divine verses and heavenly prophecies and warnings. These shine forth from the blessed Bush of Moses like a lighted lamp in the depths of night, or a star rising in the farthest heaven.
The second sort of teachings is those that contain information concerning such historical matters as how the creation began, the development of various tribes, the dispersal of mankind over the earth, the history of the lives and times of the prophets, and the enumeration of kings and the events occurring during their reigns. Of this sort are the histories contained in the Pentateuch, from the beginning of Adam's creation until the death of Moses. Likewise, included are the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel I and II, Kings I and II, Chronicles I and II, Ezra, Nehemiah, and so on. In these works there is no open statement, or any sign, or indeed the faintest hint that they are celestial revelation or divine inspiration or speech. Therefore, it is impermissible for the historian to depend on them, or to assert that their contents contain no error, or to consider them revelation. This could be done only if one were sure of the identity of the authors of these books. Anyone who is aware of the degree to which scholars differ over the identities of the writers of these histories, and the evidence on which each faction depends in establishing its view or belief, knows that to rely on the correctness of the contents of these books is not permissible. It would be utterly foolish for a person of critical reason to depend on a book whose author cannot be established by research,
or to consider it divine revelation when, in spite of extensive examination and detailed investigation, its author and source remain unknown.
For example, when one pages through the works of the most eminent scholars on the identity of the author of the Pentateuch, which is the foundation of the Old Testament and the basis of Hebrew history, one sees that there are great differences, which no one could hope to resolve through inquiry and investigation. Nor could one expect to arrive at a foundation that is, in the final analysis, at all sound. Many scholars used to think that Moses was the author of these books. However, the final passages of this book refute those scholars and render their views worthless, as they mention the death of Moses and how the Israelites held a wake for him. Other pieces of evidence clearly indicate the books were composed long after Moses' passing. Some scholars have, without any evidence, asserted that everything but the last two chapters of Deuteronomy was written by Moses, and that these latter are the work of Joshua, the son of Nun. He is said to have written them and added them to the five books of Moses to complete it by finishing Moses' biography and clarifying the circumstances of the people after his death. Others say that these books were composed by Jeremiah or another of the prophets of Israel. This assertion, like the preceding ones, suffers from weak justification and lack of evidence.
One group of scholars has said (and perhaps correctly so, since the argument has some force) that they are compositions of Ezra the soothsayer, referred to in the Qur'an as Uzayr.[1.6] After the people returned from the Babylonian exile at the order of Ardishir the Great, Jerusalem was rebuilt, the Jews were gathered together, and the House of David was revived. At that time, the people asked Ezra for a copy of the Hebrew
Bible. He was a learned man, a skillful writer, and a pious soothsayer. He had studied in the great schools of the city of Babylon, acquiring wide knowledge and useful arts unrivaled for his time. Babylon was then the refuge of civilization and the dawning-place of the light of science and philosophy. Ezra then wrote, in answer to the people's request, five books on how the creation began, how the people split up, how the tribes branched off, and how mankind developed until the death of Moses. He included therein the story of how Moses (or Joshua, according to some of the Bible's verses: see Joshua 24) legislated for the organization of his people's affairs.
[1.6. Qur'an 9:30.]
To sum up: first, it is apparent that the stories of Noah and the others are not mentioned in the histories of the great peoples of antiquity, such as the Chinese, the Persians, and the Indians. At the same time, no one can belittle the breadth of their knowledge, the antiquity of their civilizations, the remoteness of their eras, the vastness of their kingdoms, or the wide fame of their attainments. Second, research is unable to establish the identity of the author of the Hebrew Pentateuch. Finally, it is well known that neither the Prophet Muhammad nor the rest of the prophets ever engaged in disputes with the people about their historical beliefs, but addressed them according to their local traditions. It is therefore necessary to conclude that interpreters and investigators may not come to a final opinion on these matters on the basis of sure knowledge. If the way should be barred to individual judgment, then only the religious point of view would remain, and this would consist of worshipful submission to the literal meanings of whatever has issued from the prophets and messengers.
One of the most astounding things is that, so far, researchers have failed to find in the ancient Egyptian ruins even the slightest evidence that the Israelites were ever in Egypt. This has confused the scholars, attracted the attention of the wise and intelligent, thrown suspicion on what used to be considered universally accepted, and forced historians to reexamine and carefully investigate even those things they had considered self-evident. No trace has been found of Moses' mission to the Israelites, their plea for salvation from Pharaoh's tyranny though Moses' leadership, or their emigration to the plains of Syria under his standard. Yet the Israelites were a warlike people, numbering the warriors among them at eight hundred thousand or more. Pharaoh pursued them with his troops, who all drowned in the sea of their infidelity and atheism.
In the ancient Egyptian ruins, as scholars are aware, accurate histories have been discovered which time had obscured and buried so that their mention had been obliterated from the history books. Centuries and cycles passed, until God revived them in this glorious age. This is the age wherein mysteries have been unraveled, the light of lights has dawned, and the accumulated darkness of confusion has been unexpectedly dispelled. A number of Western scholars have arisen and have discovered the truth of Egyptian history from ancient ruins. From these have appeared the names of the kings and pharaohs, their deeds and circumstances, the number of their houses and families, their religion and customs, and their gods and rites.
These ruins have allowed scholars to recover clear references to the pharaohs, to order the sequence of their reigns correctly, to enrich history with a new
epoch, and to give the science (of archeology) a firm foundation. All these ancient artifacts, including the mummified corpses of the pharaohs, are preserved in the Egyptian Museum. Travelers and learned men set out for their great temples, coming from Europe and America to uncover historical information and to visit the Egyptian monuments.
They have not yet found any corroboration for the Old Testament stories about Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, or their circumstances. Neither have they found anything concerning their forebears, such as Adam, Seth, and Noah. Those who believe in the Old Testament histories are bewildered as to how to fill in this huge gap. They have been profoundly alarmed by the crumbling of the foundations of this great historical tradition. For it is unimaginable that the Egyptians, who depicted on walls every event, great or small, and inscribed in stone everything that happened in Egypt, whether temporal or religious in nature, should have neglected to mention such extraordinary and stupendous occurrences as Moses' demonstration of amazing signs and the drowning of Pharaoh and his huge army.
Some have propped their chins in the palms of their hands in astonishment, still hoping for some way to adjust things or patch them up. Others are waiting for more investigation and research so that they may find a path to corroboration and agreement. God knows best how this affair of the archeologists and those who are waiting expectantly will end up. In any case, this should suffice those with insight.
The Second Question
QUESTION: He asked (may God preserve him) about the meaning of the angels' argument with God concerning His appointment of Adam as His vicegerent on earth.[*]
* Qur'an 2:30: "And when thy Lord said to the angels, `I am setting upon the earth a viceroy.' They said, `What, wilt Thou set therein one who will do corruption there, and shed blood, while we proclaim Thy praise and called Thee Holy?' He said, `Assuredly I know what you know not'" See also Qur'an 38:71-88].
ANSWER: May God confirm both of us by His spirit and bestow His mercy upon us. Know, my erudite friend, that this matter is intimately connected with the question of knowing that there are pure spirits and celestial souls, and understanding that these are essentially sanctified above matter and that they require matter in order to act.
First it must be recognized that philosophers and researchers in the scholarly community have defined "spirit" in different ways. The best, most perfect, and clearest of these is that spirit is an abstract substance separate from matter in essence but not in act. It will not be hidden from the wise that this definition, insofar as it is a definition by negation, fails to elucidate the reality of the essence of one thing described. It is a comprehensive, restrictive definition which, nonetheless, better explains the intent of the word "spirit" than other definitions. It can be known from this definition, for instance, that spirit is different from matter
and material things to regard to its essence. Spirit cannot be described by such attributes as ingress and egress, independence and inherence, advance and retreat, movement and stillness. Eyes cannot perceive it, nor can the other senses. Yet it remains in need of matter in all acts, and inseparable from it in all conditions, for it is unimaginable that matter be stripped from it.
No act can issue from spirit except through matter, and it is inconceivable that an effect could be produced by spirit save through the instrumentality of matter. For instance, it is impossible to imagine that the acts of seeing, hearing, writing, or thinking could proceed from spirit alone, except through the instrumentality of the eye, the ear, the hand, the brain, and so on. In this respect there is no difference between holy celestial spirits, rational human spirits, perceptive animal spirits, or base satanic spirits. These are all terms and expressions referring to actions, attributes, and properties rather than to the common abstract nature of their essence and their need for matter in order to act.
Many have remained heedless of this point, and ancients and moderns have both wandered astray in this desert. To this the holy verses have referred: "And had we made him an angel, we would have made him [in the form of] a man, and we would have thus confused them concerning the very thing about which they are sowing confusion."[*] Those lost in the wasteland of delusion, heedless of the true meaning of that which the All-Possessing, the All-Knowing had promised,
saw in the heavenly scriptures (particularly the Holy Gospel) that the Lord Messenger (or the Lord who would descend) would come with a company of favored angels and a host of the Concourse on High, and that he would be rendered victorious by a multitude of swooping angels and those riding behind.[1.7] But when the noble messenger Muhammad appeared — may the blessings and peace of God be upon him and upon his House — thy saw a simple man who ate food, strolled in the market, kept company with other Arabs, and sat upon the ground. There were neither angels hovering over his head nor hosts of those imagined spirits walking before and behind him. They criticized Muhammad for failing to fulfill the Revelation because he did not meet an unreasonable condition.
[* Qur'an 6:9. The Qur'an here points out to the Meccans that they would not have been able to recognize an angel, as he would be sent down so as to resemble an ordinary man.]
[1.7. Qur'an 3:124-25: "When thou saidst to the believers, `Is it not enough for you that your Lord should reinforce you with three thousand angels sent down upon you? Yea; if you are patient and godfearing, and the foe come against you instantly, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand swooping angels'"; Qur'an 8:9: "When you were calling on your Lord for succour and He answered you, `I shall reinforce you with a thousand angels riding behind you.'"]
They clamored, shouted, elaborated, and expatiated at length. "And they said, `What is wrong with this messenger, that he eats food and walks in the markets? Why has an angel not been sent down to him, to be a warner with him?'"[1.8] The previously cited verse was revealed to reproach and to silence these people, to refute their proofs, and to rebut their fancies. It informed them that there is no effulgence of the spirit save in the form of a human being and that angels only descend in such a form.
[1.8. Qur'an 25:7.]
To put it more clearly, pure substance can only have an effect through the instrumentality of bodies. An angel who descends is nothing other than a human being. What is the meaning of human being? He is the supreme talisman; the most noble substance; the form created for unchallenged dominion of all the world; the perfect, distinguished reality; the first revealed sign; the essence receptive of all forms, high and low.
All these names and attributes refer to the human being, and all else is fancy, dream, illusion, and imagination.
How often have philosophers attempted to establish that there exists an absolutely pure intellect separate from matter both in essence and in act! However, the steed of their argument has stumbled on their evidence, the blade of their investigation has failed to strike home, and the standard of their proof has been hauled down. They spoke with great bombast and verbosity, but in the end produced nothing. How could it be otherwise? For this idea is simply a relic of the idle notions of the pagans and the daydreams of the Greeks, left over from a time when the veils of doubt obscured the truth on all sides and the gloom of the blackest night enveloped all regions. Among the peculiar properties of night is that nothing can be seen except prostrate souls drowning in slumber and minds lost in a labyrinth of dreams. The great scholar Nariru'd-Din Tusi, may God sanctify his soul, put this concisely and eloquently in his book, the Tajrid, wherein he demonstrated the weakness of their proofs. He said, "As for the [universal] intellect, there is no evidence of its impossibility, but the evidence for its existence is weak."[1.9]However, I say that even as the evidence for the possibility of a being which is sanctified from matter both in essence and in act is unconvincing as far as those of mature thought are concerned.[*]
[* Medieval Neoplatonic Muslim philosophers, in discussing metaphysics and the creation of the world, argued for a series of descending emanations from God. The first was the intellect, from which emanated the universal soul, from which in turn emanated universal form, from which finally emanated universal matter. And so the cosmos came into being. One of the arguments these Neoplatonists employed was that only intellect could act without matter; soul and form need matter to accomplish anything. Thus, only the universal intellect could begin the chain of actions, or emanations, which led to the creation of the world. The intellect, therefore, had to be the first emanation from God, and the source of all other emanations.
The eminent Shi'i thinker Tusi (1201-1274 A.D.) does not deny the existence of the universal intellect here but finds the evidence for it to be weak. Abu'l-Fadl denies that even universal intellect can act without matter, agreeing with Tusi that this argument of the Neoplatonists is defective. However, Abu'l-Fadl and the Bahá'í Writings affirm on other grounds the existence of the universal intellect as the "first" or primary emanation from God. See `Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, trans. Laura Clifford Barney (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, rev. ed. 1981), p. 203.
Since in Bahá'í thought both matter and the universal intellect have always existed, the latter has never had to act without the instrumentality of matter.]
[1.9. Nasiru'd-Din Tusi, Tajrid al-i'riqad, commentary by Muhammad ash-Shirazi (Najaf: Matba'at al-Adab, 1961), p. 165.]
Let us leave off this plunge into the black depths
of idle thoughts and return to the exposition of the solution we were proposing to this question. Those endued with intelligence know that God in His consummate wisdom and all-encompassing power created two opposing forces, two conflicting spirits. The first is the sanctified spirit, which does good and emanates compassion, inspiring propriety and wisdom. The prophets have called it Gabriel, the Holy Spirit, or the Faithful Spirit. The philosophers have termed it the Celestial Spirit, the Universal Intellect, the First Emanation, and the Heavenly Soul. The second is the wicked spirit, which does evil and provokes rancor, inspiring sin and error. The prophets have referred to it as Satan, the devil, and in the Holy Gospel as the Beast and the Behemoth. The philosophers have called it the base spirit and the absolute self.
It has been established that the relationship between spirits and bodies is only that of connection and encompassment, not that of infusion and incarnation,
or of entering and withdrawing. It has been shown that the mirrors reflecting the effulgences of the Holy Spirit are the hearts of the prophets and messengers, the innermost being of the Manifestations of the Cause of God, the Lord of the worlds. Their noble bodies are thrones upon which God is seated, temples for the worship of God, lamps shining with the light of God, manifestations of all His names and attributes, and instruments of His emanations and signs. In the same way, evil hearts are the seats of base spirits and vile selves, and are mirrors reflecting idle fancies and contemptible, delusive thoughts. Their bodies are instruments of error and manifestations of tests and divisions. Their tongues are the dragomans of Satan, and they are themselves the essence of the Evil One and enemies of the All-Merciful. But the hosts of Satan are the vanquished, and the armies of God are the victors.
If all this be recognized, the meaning of "angel" and "demon" will necessarily be understood, as will the meaning of the argument between God and the Concourse on High. It will also be seen that everything contained in the Holy Qur'an in this regard is only a statement of what has occurred, and what will happen, at the time of the appearance of the Manifestations of the Cause of God: the renewal of the world through their appearance; the return of the primal realities through their dawning; and the realization of the "Creation," the "Resurrection," the "Assembling," and the "Dispersal" through their Word. At such times the angel is distinguished from the demon, and the hosts of unbelief are weeded from the ranks of the army of God. Then will the good be known from the despicable, the base from the excellent, the lean from
the fat, the denizens of hell from the inmates of heaven.
It is recognized and established among those of pure heart and illumined vision that the dispute among the Concourse on High only took place after God decided to set up a vicegerent upon the earth, to ordain a guardian, to prescribe the succession of the Branch which came forth from the Ancient Root, and to order that all should prostrate themselves before his noble countenance. Since the recurrence always resembles the original, God proclaimed that this dispute would be renewed. He preordained the occurrence of such opposition in the verse, "Say: it is the Great Announcement, to which ye are opposed. I had no knowledge of the Concourse on High when they quarreled."[1.10] God has stated openly in His Holy Book, with the greatest eloquence and the most lucid explanation, that enmity will inevitably break out among the Concourse on High, and a dispute is expected in the most high paradise. This is so that the people of the right hand will be distinguished from the people of the left hand, that the people of guidance might be told from those gone astray, the angel known from the demon, and the followers of Satan separated from the worshipers of the All-Merciful.
[1.10. Qur'an 38:69.]
However, God commanded His Prophet to conceal the explanation of this quarreling and disputation, and to avoid giving the believers its details, leaving it general in its symbolism. Since God did this out of mercy toward His creation owing to their weakness, no doubt the erudite questioner will pardon us if we have spoken concisely and left this matter, after a profitable investigation, still somewhat ambiguous.
[Photograph on this page
The Third Question
QUESTION: He asked whether prayer, religious donations, fasting, and pilgrimage have real benefits and useful effect, or whether they are merely primitive pastimes and useless religious customs.
ANSWER: O eminent scholar! may God confirm us both with penetrating vision and sound views. Know that such matters depend on the belief that there is a true, wise, encompassing, and omnipotent God above His servants, and that this God sends messengers and prophets to establish divine laws and to found religions. It is unimaginable that anyone could embrace any of the religions without submitting to this truth, or that any reasonable person would bear the difficulties and discomforts of worship and service without recognizing this abstruse reality. We Bahá'ís believe that all religions were ordained by God, that they spread by His power, became exalted by His Word, and that they conquered the world through His will and volition.
Just as religions depend on recognition of the existence of God, they are also dependent on belief in the immortality of souls and their survival after separation from the body. Were it not for an acceptance of this truth, no reasonable person would ever embrace any religion or follow any divine law. Spirits are eternal, and the worlds of God are imperishable. Moreover, as we explained earlier, bodies are in need of spirits, and
no act can appear from any faculty save by the instrumentality of souls. Spirits make manifest the acts that proceed from these faculties. Spirits conform to the attributes that are grounded in those faculties. Given all this, no thinking individual will doubt that religion cannot be complete unless it is based on two separate sorts of laws and founded on two firm foundations.
The first sort of law concerns the outward aspects of the world and the unity of nations. This includes the promulgation of justice and beneficence, the preservation of the rights of the people, and the establishment of manners involved in human relations and the best means of associating together. Moreover, it includes the ruling of subjects, the progress of nations, and other means whereby human society is preserved. It is upon this sort of law that the pillars of culture and civilization are reared.
The second type of law concerns the progress of souls, the purification of hearts, the refinement of characters, and the perfection of minds for the sake of their hoped-for survival in the worlds to come. This includes fasting, prayer, the mention and magnification of God, and other varieties of worship. It is obvious that some laws and ordinances were ordained for their spiritual properties and their benefit in the next life alone, such as prayers and the praise of God. These practices bear no relationship to any benefit to civilization or to the preservation of human society, except perhaps in some trivial respects. But there are also ordained laws concerning the externals of this world, which have no link with anything spiritual, such as most of the ordinances about politics and social and economic intercourse.
There are, moreover, those laws which were ordained because they possess both sorts of benefit discussed
above, and these have splendid effects on both levels. They encourage good works including justice, beneficence, pilgrimage, charitable contributions, truthfulness, trustworthiness, purity and cleanliness, and command the avoidance of evil deeds such as murder, adultery, lying, treachery, tyranny, calumny, slander, and so on. The adherence to good and the avoidance of evil have manifest effects, for thereby human beings progress, improve their characters, safeguard society, and protect the rights of the community.
An understanding of the way in which spirit is the actor and the effective agent (the body being nothing but an instrument) will necessarily lead us to an appreciation of the degree of the spirit's influence. For it is the spirit that performs the above-mentioned deeds and takes on virtuous or base characteristics. Character is only an attribute which inheres in the actor through the repetition of the act until it becomes a characteristic. It is on the basis of attributes that mankind will be gathered together on the Judgment Day, and it is by these attributes that the extent of our gain or loss shall be known.
Let us now discuss the benefits of the four ordinances about which the esteemed questioner has asked. May God guide him to the presence of His Name, the Self-Subsistent, and give him to drink of the sealed Wine.
As for prayer, it is a ladder for the believer, a solace to the eye of one possessed of certitude, a station of intimacy with God, and a place to attain the presence of God and to turn in repentance to Him. Prayer is humility before God, recognition of His lordship, affirmation of His unity, obedience to His will, and compliance with His every wish. Prayer thus has an effect on the spirit and makes the heart tender, removing it
far from all cruelty and darkness. The heart then becomes aware of the virtues of servitude and perceives the full meaning of the rancor and evil caused by disobedience. Through prayer a human being will see the effect of things with illumined insight and understand the influence of his actions with perspicuous certainty. Beyond all this, he will even recognize that there is an omnipotent, all-encompassing, victorious, and almighty God Who visits retribution upon His servants for every offense, small or large, holding them responsible for every sin and crime. Such a one will necessarily strive to avoid transgressions and shameful acts, out of real apprehension and deep fear. This is the secret of the verses, "Prayer forbids indecency and dishonor," and "Seek you help in patience and prayer, for grievous it is, save to the humble."[1.11]
[1.11. Qur'an 29:45; 2:45.]
By the life of God! If prayers and other forms of worship did no more than bequeath certainty, and bestow detachment and assurance in regard to religion, this would be sufficient as a virtue. For there is no life save through religion and no religion except through certitude. Understand then the verse, "Serve thy Lord until certitude comes to thee."[1.12]
[1.12. Qur'an 15:99.]
The reason certitude derives from worship is that certitude is the spirit's perception. The spirit is a perceptive faculty which encompasses the essences of all things, or on which their forms are imprinted. The spirit grows ever stronger and purer through worship. Moreover, whenever the worshiper is engaged in prayer — concentrating upon the meaning of its words and basic elements, feeling the ecstasy of being so engaged — he will be kept from the grave transgressions and offenses whereby the heart is hardened and the spirit is clouded.
When the power, clarity, and purity of the spirit grow, so too does the faculty of perceiving realities and their forms. The strong, purified spirit perceives the realities of things as they are through encompassing them. But the sullied spirit perceives the forms of things only through evidence and proof. Therefore, the sciences of the prophets are marked by direct perception, while the knowledge of the learned is obtained through analogy and evidence. Only those who have attained the station of certitude can know the full extent of this difference. Those who have not yet reached this station may deduce this difference from the writings of both sides. On the one hand are the prophets and the first generation of the people of faith; and on the other, the philosophers and the learned, who are masters of evidence and demonstration. The seeker will find between the writings of the two sides a clear distinction and a huge distance, as we shall, God willing, elucidate. This is only one of the signs of certitude, but it will suffice for those with insight.
No consideration should be given to the assertions of the partisans of naturalism — including materialists and Darwinists — who claim that the prophetic writings are only the products of fanciful emotions and hysterical imaginations — that they have no reality but have simply taken root in peoples' minds through long habituation and fervent study. For a man's progress through the stages of faith to the point where he will gladly give his life to protect his religion gives clear evidence for the soundness of his faith and the reality of his certitude. This transcendent quality — this astonishing attribute — is realized only through beliefs that require the exercise of independent judgment and the acquisition of knowledge, not through inherited beliefs which demand blind imitation. The difference
between these two kinds of faith manifests itself as the first grows and spreads its influence, like healthy seed in good ground, while the second falls and fails, like rotten seed on barren earth.
It is obvious that matters concerning discernment and belief — such as doubt and certainty, opinion and decisive judgment, and so forth — are not things the outward senses can perceive. Geometrical proofs and philosophical analogies cannot be used to demonstrate them. Rather, it is deeds that give evidence of them and hearts that bear witness to them. This is the secret of the noble Qur'an verse wherein God addresses the Jews: "O Jews: if you assert that you are friends of God above all others, then long for death if you speak truly!"[1.13] The Jews believed they were the sacred people, the children of righteousness, the good and pure family, and the friends of God above all others. God silenced them with this proof and expelled them from the people of faith by explaining what was meant by "friends of God" and making the station of the lovers of God clear. It is established and certain among the people of insight that the doubter will be distinguished from the one possessed of certitude only when the storms of trials blow, when the cyclones of tests arise, when the sharp teeth and claws the rapacious predator attacks the unarmed believer, and when violent death bares its fangs. Then will the one who exercises independent judgment be known from the blind imitator, the steadfast from the feckless, and truth from falsehood.
[1.13. Qur'an 62:6.]
We have, in our own time, seen a great many pure souls with courageous and immaculate hearts who, at the gathering of these storms and at thunderous tempests, poured out their lifeblood with the utmost joy. For the love of God, they counted their blood as worthless. They disdained life and welcomed death with the
greatest ardor. They hastened to the field of sacrifice and hurried to the scene of their death with their faces exultant and their hearts full of cheer, so that everyone was bewildered at their forbearance, and every onlooker was astonished at their calm and steady mien. They did not recant their religion, nor did they conceal their belief. By the life of God, this is that real martyrdom which attests to the soundness of their religion and the reality of their certitude!
An even better proof of the loftiness of their certitude and the exalted station of their religion is their power to transform the hearts of others, their ability to exchange corrupt creeds for sound beliefs and to change repulsive, savage natures into good and pleasing ones. By them, God has curbed the wicked and perverse morals, and the evil customs and beliefs that were firmly established among the ancient peoples, as no philosopher ever could, even with all the power of his thought and the depth of his knowledge.
For God has granted to His chosen ones the capacity to convey His Word, to spread His religion, to establish His Cause, and to make manifest His proofs without drawing upon earthly, human forces. These chosen ones support themselves with nothing save divine power. They do not rely on acquired sciences or knowledge, on wealth or riches, on royal authority or sovereign power, or on kinship solidarity or cooperation.[1.14] They exalt the name of God's religion with brilliant divine power and need not raise it upon those outward pillars. This is a truth the recognition of which distinguishes the people of ignorance from the people of faith, and the people of doubt from the people of certitude.
[1.14. This argument is in part directed against the North African philosopher and historian `Abdu'r-Rahman ibn-Khaldun (1332-1406 A.D.). Ibn-Khaldun, who has been called the founder of sociology, argued that a religion can only succeed if it receives the backing of the prophet's people on the basis of kinship solidarity. See ibn-Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, 3 vols., trans. Franz Rosenthal (New York: Pantheon Books, 1958) 1:322-27.]
Anyone who mediates upon the conditions of the first generation among the faithful, the companions of the prophets and messengers, such as the apostles of
Jesus or the companions of Muhammad, will be able to perceive some of the signs of this mighty force and perceive some of the signs of this mighty force and understand the meaning of this divine power. The disciples of Jesus promulgated the religion of God and transformed the absurd beliefs held by the nations. They abolished long-held savage customs of peoples around the world without distributing printed books or dazzling them with wondrous manufactured goods or opening schools of science or resorting to military force. They had no help from the thunderous rumbling of cannons, nor were they reinforced by the clatter of steel, on which modern men have depended and whereby they have become victorious. Rather, they spread the religion of God by their faith, erased unbelief by the power of their certitude, aided the Cause of God with their blood, and exalted His Word by offering up their lives. But the Jewish rabbis, the Zoroastrian priests, the philosophers of Greece, and the sages of Rome were unable to abolish even one of those absurd beliefs and customs, which seem so laughable today to their descendants and at which their successors and grandchildren scoff.
In the same way, the companions of the Prophet dispelled the gloom of unbelief from the world by the light of this celestial force and rooted out polytheism with this divine power. In order to perceive some of the effects of this mighty bestowal, it suffices to consider what is recorded in the noble biographies of the Prophet and in the authentic traditions from him. The great ones among the Prophet's Helpers[*] — when they believed in and accepted the Prophet in the last year prior to the emigration from Mecca to Medina —
requested that he dispatch one of his companions to them to instruct them in prayers and religious practices, and to call the people of Medina to Islam. He sent Mus'ab ibn `Umayr, among others. Mus'ab was a mere youth, wholly ignorant of reading and writing. He was known for neither his eloquence nor his oratory and had only memorized the obligatory prayer and some verses of the Qur'an. He called the people of Medina to the new Faith, and through him the majority of Yathrib's[**] inhabitants embraced Islam before the Prophet arrived there and before he unsheathed his sword — contrary to the claims of those who hold him in contempt.
[*. The Helpers (Ansar) were the Medinans who became Muslims. They invited Muhammad to take refuge from his enemies by emigrating from Mecca to their own nearby city.]
[**. Yathrib is another name for Medina.]
Likewise, in our own time we have witnessed that some illiterates upon whom God bestowed this dazzling power have, with the potency of their certitude and the sincerity of their conviction, vanquished the hearts of ancient peoples who were wandering in the darkness of idle fancy and in the desert of blind imitation. They have transformed their inherited false dogmas into sound, demonstrable beliefs, destroyed their superstitions, and perfected their faith. Their ethics were renewed, their tastes edified, their vision set ablaze, and their consciences set at ease. Through the light of faith, their ignorance was turned into knowledge, their weakness into power, their treachery into trustworthiness, their evil into chastity, their estrangement into affection, their cowardice into valor, and their brutality into meekness.
In sum, all their old corrupt ways were transformed into new and virtuous morals, and their inbred deluded creeds were changed into sound and valid beliefs. Thus, any fair-minded person can judge their
transformation of character, their rebirth and renewal, in spite of their former lifelessness. All these things are but the effects of certitude; and certitude itself is a result of worship as it was revealed to the trustworthy Prophet: "Serve thy Lord until certitude come to thee."[1-15] Therein is what will suffice those with insight.
[1-15. Qur'an 15:99.]
As for religious donations, this is a matter the benefits of which shine forth brilliantly. Contributing to the Faith has a direct effect on the soul insofar as it develops within it the virtue of munificence while effacing the rancor caused by stinginess and avarice. Such contributions hold the key to generosity and well-being, which make command and leadership possible. For it is impossible to safeguard human society unless subjects pay a prescribed tax to their ruler so that he may spend it on the various means of protecting their rights, directing their affairs, improving their conditions, and exercising leadership of the general public. For the sake of all these benefits, God established such contributions as one of the primary ordinances of the Islamic religion and in the Qur'an clarified how they are to be spent. However, the people misconstrued the Word of God and corrupted the divine laws, spending these donations in ways God never commanded.[*] Therefore has their power become weakness, their life death, and their independence bondage. Thy Lord does not wrong His servants.
[*. Most fail to give such contributions, and the few who do so do not give them to the proper authorities. — ABU'L-FADL]
As for fasting, it effects are even more clear and manifest, more perfect and exalted. For fasting possesses all the benefits of prayer, which we have mentioned and elucidated, while it also effectively disciplines the animal self and curbs the defiance of
the appetitive faculties.[*] This is obvious for all to see, and it does not require lengthy discourse or excessive explanation. For it is evident that man is one of the animal species, and animal faculties are intrinsically attracted to the natures imprinted on them and incline to the pleasures derived from their disposition. We have explained in our other works that the legislative faculty[**] be it divine or human, belongs to the natural faculties and regulates the deeds that issue from the lower self. For it is impossible to restrain the willfulness of the self and turn it away from base pleasures and destructive, animal desires save by training it with the discipline of the Divine Law which has been handed down and withholding it from grave offenses by means of prescribed moral standards. This should not be through arduous, artificial restraint, as the Sufis believe, or solely through refinement and learning in schools, as naturalist philosophers maintain.
[*. One system of Platonic thought maintains that man has three natural faculties: the appetitive faculty (the source of all animal drives), the irascible faculty (the source of strong emotions), and the intellective faculty (the source of rational thought).]
[**. That is, legislative faculty is the human ability to make laws that govern society, whether this ability be exercised under the influence of divine revelation or of human reason.]
As for pilgrimage, this is the most perfect commandment, encompassing both spiritual and civilizational benefits, both religious and worldly rule. For God has ordained therein rituals and acts of prayer, commemoration, and praise, which are useful for spiritual progress, as we have explained. Therein are also rules and practices which lead to mutual acquaintance, cooperation, association, and contact between various nations and races, and which offer great benefit to civilization.
If this blessed and praiseworthy act of pilgrimage
involved no more abstruse effect or no greater deed (which any wise or astute person recognizes) than to provide a means for creating intimacy and harmony, unity and concord, among the great peoples — which we mentioned above — this would suffice to require that it be held in high regard, and recognized for its mighty effects. For it is not an easy matter to bring together each year — from the borders of Chine in the east to the farthest reaches of Africa in the west, and from the principalities of India in the south to the hinterlands of Siberia in the north — every person who is able, from nobles of tribes and the leaders of nations, in this vast gathering, for the purpose of performing this great and arduous rite such that they see this as a religious duty and a divine command.
By the life of God, if the rulers of Islam and the caliphs and the kings who have taken possession of this Blessed Spot,[*] this noble land, knew how to make use of this lofty wisdom and divine policy, and if they treated the visitors of that Sacred House[**] in the best way — showing them the most fitting courtesy, facilitating their travel, preparing the means for their comfort — and if they arose to invite them to agreement and to warn them of the consequences of disunity, and alerted them to the benefits of harmony — then would they be able to establish a consensus among the Muslims and cause all the believers to stand beneath the shade of a single banner. Then would they acquire an invincible power and an exalted Word. But only the intelligent and pure esteem these things, while the obscure and the foolish hold them in
disdain. And so, alas, they have not appreciated the value of this laudable wisdom and have not perceived the purpose of this apposite policy. They have mistreated the visitors to the ancient House, and robbed and plundered the pilgrims to that distant land, until the Dispensation of the Book[***] was ended and the sun of grace and glory set. Therein are signs for possessors of discernment.
[**. A reference to the Kaaba, the sacred cubelike building in Mecca which Muslims circumambulate during the pilgrimage, and toward which they pray each day.]
[***. The Qur'an.]
[Photograph on this page]
The Fourth QuestionQUESTION: He asked (may God protect him) concerning the meaning intended by the staff of Moses and its ability to part the sea and make springs flow from rocks, as well as concerning the meaning of the miracles of Jesus and the meaning of the water that flowed from the Prophet's fingertips, as is related in the traditions.
ANSWER: May god grant you the joy of ascending to high stations and sublime goals! Know, illustrious scholar, that for all their exalted, lofty, and elevated station, the holy scriptures and prophetic sayings remain words, expressions, and designations. They therefore contain both literal, outward meanings and hidden, spiritual metaphors. In the same way, the hearts to which these words were revealed and the tongues that spoke these verses, though they were the thrones of divinity and the interpreters of heaven, remained human hearts and human tongues.
To put the matter more clearly: there is no doubt that the prophets to whom the books were revealed were human beings like all other men and spoke in the same way that other human beings speak. They expressed what was revealed to them in the same way that others express their own consciences. It is not rationally untenable that some of these expressions contain metaphors and figures of speech, metonymies, and similes. In the same way, it is possible for them to
contain plain statements empty of allusion, and literal propositions not subject to figurative interpretation.
Many of the learned have taken the statements in the traditions literally and have thought that the staff actually turned into a serpent and that water really flowed from the fingers of the Lord of Prophets,* and have believed other amazing stories and miracles. On the other hand, a great many eminent scholars, who are knights in the arena of knowledge, have held that all such incidents reported in the holy books and traditions are figures of speech standing for rational matters and realities which sound reason will accept and healthy discrimination does not reject. They have therefore interpreted the staff as God's command and decree. Moses, with this staff, defeated Pharaoh and his troops and escaped the snares of pride and unbelief. With this staff, he struck the twelve tribes so that their hardened hearts grew tender, their constricted breasts were soothed, and their darkened bosoms were illumined. From these hearts the waters of knowledge and wisdom flowed, and the springs of grace and mercy burst forth. The Israelites then became sovereign rulers and great leaders, whereas before they were ignorant shepherds and lowly slaves upon whom the pharaohs imposed the worst scourge, and to whom they gave to drink of the bitterest dregs. They had stolen their daughters for their service, killed their sons, and enslaved their men. In the course of these tribulations, and in suffering these adversities, the Israelites became like motionless rocks and lifeless bodies. They found no refuge from their ordeals and no remedy for their maladies.
Then Moses appeared, and God gave him the
power of legislation and prophecy and commanded him to deliver the children of Israel from the shame of their bondage and slavery. Two splendid consequences, which no knowledgeable person will deny, nor any man of insight ignore, followed upon this command (which was spoken of as a "staff") and this mission (which was called "the white hand).[*] First, all of Pharaoh's schemes and plots were undone. Second, Moses' people were redeemed from their broken condition, rescued from the degradation of captivity, and seated upon the throne of supreme authority.
[*. See Exod. 4:6-7. God changed Moses' hand to a leprous white and then returned it to normal, as a sign of his power.]
And so from these hardened hearts, which were like barren rocks, the springs of knowledge and wisdom gushed forth. Their religion became known to all mankind, and, over a period of fifteen hundred years, every tribe learned of their faith and their path. Then their dispensation expired and their era reached its end. They grew disunited in their speech, their ties were broken, their hearts grew hard and died, and the leprosy of degradation ate at their limbs and countenances. They went from the oppression of pharaohs to the tyranny of caesars, from slavery to the Egyptians to bondage under the Romans. At that point, the Sun of Reality dawned from the horizon of God's world, and the melodies of the Gospel rang out. God restored life to some among the people through the breath of Jesus. With his blessed hand he purified all the leprous faces and created the Christian religion. By this Faith he cleansed all of Europe of the decay of idol worship.
Then the years passed and the centuries followed one another until the Sun of Guidance shone again from Arabia. The noble Prophet arose to establish the
Islamic Faith, and God caused springs of knowledge and divine wisdom to flow from his blessed fingers. The branches of guidance put forth their foliage, came into flower, and then gave fruit in the kingdoms of the East. The East and the West were thus prepared to attain equilibrium, to achieve their perfection, and to witness the descent of the Promised Lord from the clouds of glory. Thus, cycle revolved and ages expired until day dawned again and the Light of lights shone forth. The gloom of darkest night was dispelled from all regions. The Cause is God's, the One, the All-Conquering.
We Bahá'ís believe that the Manifestations of the Cause of God and the Repositories of His Revelation are, in reality, the manifestations of all His names and attributes, and the Dawning-Places for His verses and sayings. Not a single one of God's attributes becomes manifest on this primary plane save from them, and it is impossible to establish any of the exalted characteristics of glory or beauty save by them. Moreover, reason cannot accept that we can ascribe to the Essence of God any personal pronoun or any other allusion regarding the performance of any act, except if these refer to the Manifestations.
For the Divine Essence and the Supreme Reality is transcendent in its quintessence, exalted above description in its substance, and purified from attributes in its inmost being. Minds cannot discern it, nor can understanding attain to it. Consciousness cannot contain it, and the sense cannot encompass it. It cannot be described, named, or indicated. It cannot be specified by ascribing any pronoun to it, for the basis of all such ascription is sense perception, while it is beyond apprehension. It is clear that whatever is perceived is encompassed,
and whatever is encompassed is limited. Whatever is limited has position, and this is an attribute of bodies and bodily things, above which all abstract things are exalted — how much more the Divine Essence, the Illumined Reality!
All that whereby God's essence is described, and everything which is added to and rests upon God — including such attributes as glory, grandeur, power, might, knowledge, wisdom, will, volition, and so on — refer, in reality, to the Manifestation of His Cause, the Dawning-Points of His light, the Repositories of His Revelation, and the Fountainheads of His theophany. This matter has been inscribed upon the Tablets of our most glorious Lord by the Pen of the Most High with detailed elucidations, and God has made manifest the essence of His mysteries in the scriptures that His sweet utterance has purified.
Since it has been established that the Manifestations of the Cause of God are the manifestations of God's power, might, will, and volition, then it follows that it is not impossible for them to perform miracles, to cause things to appear which others find impossible, because of the universality of that holy Soul which is effulgent in them. How could it be otherwise? They are mighty in their powers. They are the Spirit of God descended from heaven, and the Reality exalted above all things that subdues all beings and vanquishes all that is in the realms of the visible and invisible. Just as things appear from human beings which do not appear from other species of animals, owing to the universality of the human spirit in relation to the particularity of animal spirits, in the same way the prophets can produce things other cannot because of the universality of their spirit, the all-encompassing nature of their
power, and the greatness of their might. In the same way that the wondrous deeds and glorious works manifested by human beings are miraculous for other species of animal — and, indeed must be considered altogether impossible for the animals, in relation to their own powers — so the prophets manifest things that are miraculous for other human beings.
By the life of God! Were those with penetrating insight to meditate upon the glad tidings and dire warnings proclaimed by the prophets and messengers concerning the cycles their people must pass through, their future progress, their halt, and then their decline — including prophecies of the period they would survive, specification of their allotted terms, and of what they would undergo as a result of their good and evil deeds — they would perceive the meaning of this Spirit's universality and the all-encompassing nature of its power. For the divine scriptures are the true heavenly repast.[1-16] They contain whatever souls hunger for — that whereby breasts are gladdened, eyes are delighted, and hearts are overjoyed.
[1-16. See Qur'an 5:115.]
Look, for instance, at the second Epistle of the Apostle Peter, who is known among the Arabs as Simon the Pure. He was the first to believe in the Spirit of God, Jesus, who descended from the heavens, and was his vice-regent over his servants after his ascension to the Concourse on High. This chosen apostle, this preferred leader, foretold in this epistle the future condition of the Christian community and the events which would befall the Christian people. But human minds cannot perceive such things even with all their lofty scientific understanding, or with their precise political foresight, or even with their sublime, yet merely human, acumen. Rather, this is a matter of celestial revelation and divine inspiration, which we
have referred to as the encompassing of the soul and the universality of the Holy Spirit. Were it not for lack of space, and the fact that my mind is distracted by all the work I have to do, and the opposition of base enemies, I would have given a commentary on this noble epistle for those with clear vision. Thus might they witness the wondrous marvels God has reposited in the Book, for the understanding of which He has specialized those with acute minds.
Likewise, the glorious Qur'an reports the future condition of the Islamic nation in meticulous detail, until the end comes with the promised Theophany. It appoints the time of that Theophany, its place of origin, and the way in which his Cause will spread and his call will be promulgated. For instance, anyone who contemplates the holy verse, "And listen thou for the day when the caller shall call from a near place. On the day they hear the cry in truth, that is the day of coming forth,"[1-17] will see that it specifies the place where the Promised One will descend and predicts clearly that the call of the Lord will be raised from the Holy Land, which is the region nearest to Arabia. It is the western part of greater Syria, which lies near Jabal al-Quds, on the coast of the Mediterranean sea between Asia and Europe. This place is the snow-white Holy Land, the redolent, illumined Spot. It is the scene of the Presence, the Point of Adoration for the pure ones, the homeland of the prophets, and the place from which the call of God is raised up between heaven and earth.
[1-17. Qur'an 50:42.]
It is well known that Syria and the coastlands of the Mediterranean are vast realms containing famous lands and numerous cities, villages, and farms; and the Prophet himself explained that the Promised One would appear in the city of Akka, and that the
repository of that light would be the celebrated plain of those regions. He lauded and extolled that city and its environs, mentioning its springs and wells in his holy sayings. He foretold for its inhabitants and visitors the greatest good, saying, "Blessed is he who hath seen `Akka." This noble tradition became so widely known that specialists in language, like the author of the Sihah and others, seized upon it and cited it in their books so that it has become a proverb.[1-18] Poets were so enamored of it that they used it in their poetry. Thus, in this tradition, and in many others like it which are recorded in the books of traditions, the Prophet set forth the details of all the blessed verses we mentioned above, elucidated them in the best possible manner, and firmly indicated where the Theophany would take place. He spoke most clearly.
[1-18. The author of the Sihah was Isma'il al-Jawhari (d. 1006-7 A.D.), a lexicographer of Arabic from Turkish Central Asia. He studied in Baghdad and made language studies among the Bedouin in Syrian and Iraq. He finally settled in Nishapur, where he died. He made a monumental contribution to Arabic lexicography through his celebrated dictionary, Taj al-lughah wa sihah al-`Arabiyyah [The crown of the language and Arabic's authentic words], 2 vols. (Bulaq: Bulaq Press, 1281/1865-55). For this tradition, see vol. 2, S.V. `*K*K.]
The great ones among the learned have taken this tradition as a source for the details of their own prophecies and have referred to it in their speeches, essays, books, and other works. These include the Prince of the Believers, `Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was among the first believers; the great spiritual leader Ibnu'l-Arabi; Shaykh Kamalu'd-Din Muhammad ibn Talhah; Sayyid ash-Sha'rani and many others in later times.[1-19] Among the sayings ash Sh'rani quoted from the exalted traditions in his book Sapphires and Jewels (in the sixty-fifth discussion) is the Prophet's saying, "The most great battle, the banquet of God, shall be witnessed on the plain of `Akka." Also cited is his saying concerning the ministers of the Promised One: "They shall slay them all save one, who shall dwell upon the plain of `Akka at the divine banquet, which God has made to be a table of feasting for beasts of prey, fowl, and vermin."[1-20] There are many more such
sayings that God has concealed in the hidden reaches of His knowledge and reposited in the inner depths of the Qur'an's verses. The revolution of days and the passing of ages have amply confirmed them. His mention will extend to the ends of the earth, and His fame will fill the seven heavens.
[1-19. Muhyi'd-Din Ibnu'l-`Arabi (1165-1240 A.D.) was one of the greatest Sufi mystics of Islam. He was born in Murcia and grew up in Seville. He was an acquaintance of Averroes, but his metaphysics owed more to Neoplatonism than to peripatetic philosophy. He began his major work, al-Futuhat al-Makkiyyah [Meccan victories] while on pilgrimage to Islam's holy city. After traveling in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, he settled in Damascus, where he died. He was especially known for his doctrine of wahdatu'l-wujud [better translated as "existential monism" than as "pantheism"), which held that only God exists in an absolute sense.
Kamalu'd-Din Muhammad ibn Talhah al-`Adawi (1186-1254 A.D.) studied in Nishapur and taught the traditions in Aleppo and Damascus. He was briefly a minister to Al-Malik as-Sa'id and is said afterwards to have become an ascetic.]
[1-20. `Adbu'l-Wahhab ash-Sha'rani, al-Yawaqut wa'l-hawahir fi bayan `awa'id al-akabir, 2 vols., (Beirut: Dar al-Ma'rifah, n.d. [offset of 1899 Cairo ed.]) 2:128. Ash-Sha'rani (1491-1566A.D.) was a prominent Egyptian mystic. The passage here referred to is quoted from Muhyi'd-Din Ibnu'l-`Arabi, al-futuhat al-Makkiyyah, 4 vols., (Cairo: Dar al-Dutub al-`Arabiyyah al-Kubra, 1329/1911) 3:327.]
Were those who reject everything beyond nature to be equitable, and were they to contemplate these abstruse matters, they would be forced to confess that human minds cannot perceive these matters in every detail and particular before their occurrence, nor can they inform the people of them before they come true. How can any knowledgeable and fair-minded person, given that this be the case, deny that from the Holy Reality, from the very Dawning-Places of the universal, all-encompassing Power, there might appear things that bewilder the reason, transcend the capacity of other souls, astonish the mind, and captivate the heart?
Therefore, it does not behoove us to speak at length in discussing the appearance from them of special miracles. Rather, we must explain the essence of miracles themselves and their division into two categories: signs proposed to the prophets and revealed written signs — as well as the degree to which each of these types constitutes a proof. Do proposed signs constitute proof of the truth of the prophets? To what extent are these a necessary attribute for their being, a sign of their theophany, a proof of the truth of their call, or a support for their word? Or does this quality of proof not inhere in them, such that it is not a necessary quality for them to show forth? We shall discuss this complex issue and overcome the burden of its difficulties.
Let us plunge into the deluge, and then we shall uncover its secrets. It is, by God, a stumbling block for the feet and a hotly contested issue among the world's people. Through their ignorance, many an ancient civilization fell, and oblivion was irrevocably decreed for many a past era.[*]
[*. In the essay beginning on p. 97 Mirza Abu'l-Fadl gives a full discussion of his views on miracles.]