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Nuqtat al-Káf

by Kavian Sadeghzade Milani

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 2008
NOQṬAT AL-KĀF (Point of the letter Kāf), the earliest general history of the Bābi religion spanning the years 1260/1844 to 1268/1851-52 with a theological preamble (Browne, pp. 1-99). The work was completed in 1852. It has been assumed that kāf referred to Kāšān, the hometown of Mirzā Jāni, but the text (p. 5) indicates that it was derived from the Qurʾānic injunction “kon fayakun” ([“He merely says to it] `be’, and it is;” Q. 19.35).

The first ninety-nine pages of the book contain a treatise on theology and apologetics consisting of one ḵoṭba (religious address), an introduction, and four sections. Early in the text, the author apologizes for his poor knowledge of Persian and Arabic, and for his inadequate command of Arabic grammar and spelling (p. 10). He also states that he is writing while traveling under dangerous conditions, fearful of enemies, and saddened by the plight of fellow-believers. This section captures the main theological and apologetic concerns of an early Bābi. The author sets out by outlining the Bābi cosmology in terms of quaternities such as the stages of “coming into being” (substantiation) of mašiyyat (divine will), erāda (divine purpose), qadar (predestination) and qażā (fate) in parallel with the other quaternities: pen, point, letters and words. The theological section is heavily influenced by Shaykhi (Šayḵi) thought. As to be expected in a Bābi treatise, the cosmology and angelology schemes are based on numbers four or seven. Much of the evidence is produced from the Qurʾān and Hadith literature while emphasizing the innate (feṭri) aspect of knowledge. The next section (pp. 53-62) offers a systematic criticism of the revelation of verses as criteria for prophetic office. The apologist rejects three standard criteria of eloquence, prophecies, and rational nature of the new law and, using Islam as an example, offers the de facto establishment of a religion as sufficient proof of it veracity. Important aspects of Bābi apologetics such as the proofs based on innate knowledge (feṭrat), based on the eloquence of the Qurʾān are presented and critiqued. A brief history of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus is given but the sections on the life of Mohammad and the persecution of Shiʿite Imams are presented in more detail (pp. 63-85). The author is concerned with the theological interpretation of religious history as a Bābi apologetic. The advent of the Qāʾem is identified with the Day of Resurrection. This section is important because it provides a fairly concise presentation of Bābi theology. Theologically, the apologetic section anticipates later Bahai teachings such as the nature of manifestations of God (pp. 206-7), and the station of Imam Ḥosayn (p. 80).

The historical section begins on page 99 and continues until a few pages before the end of the book. Textual and manuscript evidence suggests that the historical narrative is not the work of a single author, and that it was originally written in a form most closely preserved in the Haifa manuscript. The transition from the apologetic section to the historical section occurs with a short segment on Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾi (p. 99), and transitions into the narrative of Sayyed Kāẓem Rašti (pp. 100-105). Here important information is given concerning the meetings between Rašti and the Bāb (Sayyed ʿAli Moḥammad of Shiraz). The early days of the Bāb, the formation of the nucleus of early believers (letters of the living), his pilgrimage, his arrest on return (pp. 105-12) and the conversion of Sayyed Yaḥyā Dārābi and Mollā Moḥammad Zanjāni are covered (pp. 120-26). An important feature of the narrative of the Bāb is the emphasis on his miracles, cited as evidence of his supernatural powers. Many of the narrated miracles closely follow Biblical patterns such as the healing of the sick (p. 127), or Qurʾānic miracles attributed to Jesus such as speaking at birth (pp. 110-11). The Isfahan, Māku and Čehriq periods, the examination of the Bāb in Tabriz, and his martyrdom, are presented in detail. The clashes between the Bābis and government forces in Māzandarān are described in detail, with briefer presentations of the Nayriz and Zanjān clashes. The Noqṭat al-kāf is generally in accord with other histories of the period in its account.

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