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Letter from the Universal House of Justice, plus translator's
introduction, notes by Sen McGlinn, Juan Cole, Ahang Rabbani

Letter from the Universal House of Justice:

To: The Universal House of Justice
Date: 20 August 1996
From: Research Department

Darvish Sidq-`Aliy-i-Qazvini

The Research Department has studied the query in the email of 29 May 1996 from Mr. .... Mr. ... provides the following passage from `Abdu'l-Baha's Memorials of the Faithful (Wilmette: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1971), page 38:
While in the barracks, Baha'u'llah set apart a special night and He dedicated it to Darvish Sidq-'Ali. He wrote that every year on that night the dervishes should bedeck a meeting place, which should be in a flower garden, and gather there to make mention of God.
Mr. ... asks which night was intended for this celebration, and, if that cannot be determined, he wonders whether the Universal House of Justice itself could designate a night so that the friends who wish to can begin to observe it. The following is our response.

The only source available to us regarding the date Baha'u'llah set apart for the gathering in question is Fadil Mazandarani's Asraru'l- Athar (volume 4, page 491). In this article, the date is given as the second of Rajab.

As Mr. ... is no doubt aware, there is no further information in Memorials about this event, and there is no clear evidence in historical documents so far reviewed as to how and by whom this celebration might have been observed. It also remains a question when it was discontinued. However, in his book Ganj-i- Shaygan, pages 209-210, the well known scholar, Ishraq Khavari states that the ceremonial practices of Baha'is from dervish backgrounds were subsequently discouraged by Baha'u'llah. As Mr. ... is also well aware, with the revelation of the Kitab-i- Aqdas in 1873, the laws and ordinances concerning days to be commemorated were given. Thereafter, other celebrations which had developed to that point were discontinued.

In view of Mr. ...'s interest in this subject, we have attached an article by Dr. Vahid Ra'fati, published in the Proceedings of the Persian Society of Letters and Arts, Landegg Academy, volume 2 (Darmstadt: Druckservice und Verlag Reyhani, 1991), pages 13-39. This article is devoted to the subject of the relationship between Islamic Mysticism and the Baha'i Faith and it contains a section on the dervishes in the Baha'i Faith, including Sidq-`Ali (see pages 29- 31). In addition, the footnote beginning on page 35 lists all of the references presently known to touch upon the celebration in question (see note 48). Mr. ... may wish to consult the Persian friends in his community for assistance in gleaning information from this article.

      Universal House of Justice

Translator's Introduction: notes by Juan Cole:

      While it is customary to have community gatherings on the evening of May 22 to celebrate the declaration of the Bab, it is clear that another complex of individual and group means of celebrating that day was encouraged by Baha'u'llah. Surprisingly, these practices are especially associated with Baha'i Sufis or dervishes (daravish, `urafa'), and involve prayers specifically revealed for this occasion and the custom of staying up most of the night of the 22nd, praying and chanting remembrances (dhikr) of God.

      `Abdu'l-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari tells us in his survey of Baha'u'llah's Tablets, Ganj-i Shayigan (Tehran: BPT, 124 B.E.), pp. 209-210, that the "Tablets of the Sacred Night (Alwah Laylat al-Quds)" were revealed in `Akka by Baha'u'llah with the intention that Baha'i dervishes or Sufis should treat that night as a festival and read these Tablets.

      `Abdu'l-Baha says more about this custom in Memorials of the Faithful (Wilmette: BPT, 1971), pp. 36-38, in his biography of Darvish Sidq-`Ali, the Baha'i Sufi and companion of Baha'u'llah. While in the barracks, Baha'u'llah set apart a special night and He dedicated it to Darvish Sidq- `Ali. He wrote that every year on that night the dervishes should bedeck a meeting place, which should be in a flower garden, and gather there to make mention of God. He went on to say that "dervish" does not denote those persons who wander about, spending their nights and days in fighting and folly; rather, He said, the term designates those who are completely severed from all but God, who cleave to His laws, are firm in His Faith, loyal to His Covenant, and constant in worship (p. 38).

      In his encyclopedic work, Rahiq-i Makhtum, 2 vols. (Tehran: BPT, ), 2:296, Ishraq-Khavari identifies the "Sacred Night" as none other than the night of the Bab's declaration (bi`that), and reaffirms that Baha'u'llah said it was good to stay up that night.      

      Of the Tablets of the Sacred Night, only one has, to my knowledge, been printed, (Baha'u'llah, "Lawh Laylat al-Quds," in A.H. Ishraq-Khavari, ed., Risalih-'i Tasbih va Tahlil [New Delhi: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1982], pp. 174-181). The affinities of this short Tablet (which is really an extended supplication to God) with Sufi thought and practice, are evident. The first paragraph refers to the sufferings of the prophets, evoking the Egyptian Sufi mystic `Umar Ibn al-Farid's "Poem of the Way," which likewise details the tribulations of God's messengers. Human beings are characterized as "poor," the word the Sufis humbly used to describe themselves. Attaining nearness (qurb) to God and even the divine Presence (liqa') are mentioned as goals, and the language here is shared between Sufism and Babism.

      The Sufi practice of staying up late praying is referred to when Baha'u'llah says, "I beseech Thee to look, O my Beloved, with Thy generous gaze, upon these persons, who are sleepless during this Night that Thou hast designated a festival for Thy creatures, wherein Thou shonest forth by Thy Name, the All-Merciful, upon the entire contingent world, and wherein the Beauty of Thy Divinity mounted the Throne of Forgiveness." In Sufism, such ceremonies were held on the "Laylat al- Qadr," the Night of Power upon which Muhammad was believed to have received the Qur'an from the angel Gabriel. Baha'u'llah has moved such observances to the equivalent night in the Babi-Baha'i religion, the "Laylat al-Quds" or Night of Holiness, when the Bab is believed to have revealed himself to Mulla Husayn Bushru'i.

      The mystical path in Sufism is characterized by a strong emotional component in worship. Baha'u'llah evokes this aspect of that path when he calls upon God to "endue their yearning with ardent passion." Another goal of Sufism is to attain a mystical knowledge (`irfan) of God. Baha'u'llah in the beginning of the Most Holy Book makes attainment of such mystical knowledge of God one of two prerequisites for salvation. In the Tablet of the Sacred Night, however, he reminds the Sufis that God singled out His Messengers for the mystical knowledge (`irfan) of His Self, a reference to the Baha'i doctrine that the Manifestation of God stands in the place of the Self of God in the lower realms of being.

      Sufis lay stress on achieving a powerful understanding of God's Unity (tawhid), which is, again, a repeated theme of this Tablet. Moreover, they employ sometimes scandalous metaphors for the spiritual drunkenness they seek, and Baha'u'llah here also evokes these literary themes when he says, "Yes, my Beloved: give them to drink of the cup of life from the hand of this Youth in this garden," representing himself as the wine-server or "saqi." He speaks of the supererogatory worship of the Sufis, urging that they "may make mention of Thee at eventide and sunrise," though such practices are also urged of all Baha'is in the Most Holy Book.

      Sufis tended to seek to focus all their concentration upon God, finding Him in all things and using breathing and other meditation techniques to heighten their awareness of the divine. These practices are probably alluded to in the phrases, "that they might not speak save with love for Thee nor draw a breath save with devotion to Thee nor turn their faces toward any direction save the realm of Thy compassion and generosity, nor raise their hands save toward the heaven of Thy glory and nobility, nor open their eyes save to the marvels of the effulgence of the lights of Thy joy." Continual awareness of God, in every word one speaks, in every breath one takes, in every sight one sees, is an aspiration of mystics in many traditions, not only Sufis but also the Greek hesychasts, for instance.

      Finally, Baha'u'llah refers toward the end of this Tablet to the Baha'i ideals of unity, asking God to remove from the Baha'i mystics gathered on the Sacred Night every vestige of "contention" (ikhtilaf). Their words, he says, should be such as to guide others to the court of God's love. The mystics in their devotions should become "as one soul." This mystical unity of worshippers mirrors the divine Oneness (tawhid), reflecting in the sublunar realm an attribute of God Himself. In the provisional translation I offer below of this Tablet, I have presented it visually as a prose poem or psalm, which I think comes closer to conveying the lyrical quality and resort to rhymed prose that characterizes much of it, and underlines that this is a text meant to be chanted.

      The nineteenth century Iranian Baha'i community was divided into orders, as was Qajar society as a whole. There were Baha'is of high civil rank associated with the government, as officials and even provincial governors, known as the nawkar class. There were Baha'i `ulama or Learned, who had a seminary training and often continued to wear the robes and turban of the clergy. There were Baha'i tujjar or great merchants, Baha'i artisans, and Baha'i peasants. Among these orders were the Baha'i `urafa' or mystics. These included eminent believers such as Darvish Sidq-`Ali, Ahmad Yazdi (the recipient of the Tablet of Ahmad), and Mishkin-Qalam (a member of the Ni`matu'llahi Sufi order). The Tablets of the Sacred Night and the practice of staying up that night and chanting prayers appear to have concerned this order in particular, though obviously they were available to all Baha'is. Mystics in the Middle East were known for performing extra acts of worship, such as "nawafil" or additional obligatory prayers beyond the five, and the late-night observance of the Declaration of the Bab appears to fall into this category of supererogatory acts of worship.

      These customs, ordained by Baha'u'llah, appear to have ceased in the twentieth century Iranian community, but it is unclear upon what basis. Certainly, if Baha'u'llah ordained them, they cannot be abrogated. Sociologically, one could point to the decline of an order-based society and the rise of a class society in Pahlavi Iran, such that statuses like Baha'i learned and mystics ceased to exist as separate categories with distinctive customs and dress. Sufism itself declined in the Middle East as an organized movement, though some groups, such as the upper-class Ni`matu'llahis, remained as a vigorous minority. The process in the 1920s and 1930s whereby Shoghi Effendi attempted to wean Baha'is away from dual membership in other religious bodies led to the end of any membership by Baha'is in Sufi orders. Nor do there appear to have been any special-interest societies with a mystical tendency within the Baha'i community, though individuals with a strong orientation toward `Attar, Rumi, and Baha'u'llah's Seven Valleys and other mystical works continued to exist. (Such a special-interest society could in principle be formed.) There is to my knowledge no bar to Baha'is informally gathering together to stay up late the night of 22 May in order to say this and other prayers.

      Juan Cole

Further questions by Sen McGlinn:

This date (2 Rajab) does not seem to match with something Juan Cole said [above]:
The night the Baha'i Sufis were to gather and stay up late chanting that and other Tablets was the anniversary of the declaration of the Bab, according to Ishraq-Khavari. ...

`Abdu'l-Hamid Ishraq-Khavari tells us in his survey of Baha'u'llah's Tablets, Ganj-i Shayigan (Tehran: BPT, 124 B.E.), pp. 209-210, that the "Tablets of the Sacred Night (Alwah Laylat al-Quds)" were revealed in `Akka by Baha'u'llah with the intention that Baha'i dervishes or Sufis should treat that night as a festival and read these Tablets. ... In his encyclopaedic work, Rahiq-i Makhtum, 2 vols. (Tehran: BPT, ), 2:296, Ishraq-Khavari identifies the "Sacred Night" as none other than the night of the Bab's declaration (bi`that), and reaffirms that Baha'u'llah said it was good to stay up that night.
One explanation (not having seen the texts) is that the tablets of the sacred night refer to the declaration of the Bab and that this is distinct from the night of Darvish Sidq-`Aliy-i-Qazvini. There could, after all, be more than one festival on which Baha'i dervishes might stay up to celebrate. If the night of Darvish Sidq-`Aliy-i-Qazvini was the same as the declaration of the Bab, it would hardly have been necessary for Baha'u'llah to "set apart a special night", and it would also be rather extraordinary to take a night already dedicated to the Primal Point and use it to remember a lesser figure. Moreover the tablet which Juan has translated speaks of 'this festival' as if it should be a known and major date in the calendar...

      Sen McGlinn

Juan Cole:

Here is the relevant passage from Ishraq-Khavari:
Ishraq-Khavari, Ganj i Shayigan, pp. 209-210:

Tablets of the Sacred Night

These were revealed by the blessed Pen in `Akka, so that the dervishes on that night would hold a celebration and recite these tablets. But afterwards the celebration of the sacred night was discontinued, since the dervish way in the blessed Cause is disapproved of and all the divine friends have bestowed upon them mystical insight (`irfan) into the Manifestation of the Cause of God. They are therefore absolved of and beyond any need for ordinary, common dervishes. A copy of a Tablet of the Sacred Night has been included in Tasbih va Tahlil.

This passage refers to the Sufi-Baha'i practice of staying up all night on the Declaration of the Bab, and, as Sen suggests, appears to be distinct from the Sufi-Baha'i commemoration of Sidq-`Ali's death on 2 Rajab.

Ishraq-Khavari does not say that Baha'u'llah abrogated these Sufi meetings. He said they were discontinued, in the passive. This leaves open the question of who discontinued them. As late as Memorials of the Faithful, `Abdu'l-Baha reports Baha'u'llah's wishes with regard to the Sufi-Baha'i commemoration of Sidq-`Ali without saying it had been abrogated.

If on the other hand Baha'u'llah did personally discontinue the Sufi-Baha'i gatherings he had earlier envisaged, on the grounds that `irfan or mystical insight can be collapsed into personal faith in the Manifestation, this would prove my contention that his attitudes toward the mystical path changed radically over time. Unfortunately, since Ishraq-Khavari did not cite a source, and even the Research Department doesn't seem to know a citation, all we can do is speculate.

... If we knew what year Sidq-`Ali died (1870?) we could figure what 2 Rajab was that year and then have a uniform annual Gregorian date. Also, note that Ishraq-Khavari's comments about the discontinuance of Sufi meetings did not pertain directly to the Sidq-`Ali commemoration, but rather to the Baha'i-Sufi practice of staying up all night on the anniversary of the declaration of the Bab, chanting the Tablets of the Sacred Night. This is a second special commemoration advised by Baha'u'llah for Baha'i mystics, of a supererogatory (nafilah) nature. (It was well known in Islam for some people to do more than was required--say an extra sixth daily prayer, e.g.; the special Sufi commemorations appear to have this character).

Also, if I am not mistaken, Sidq `Ali was a Ni`matu'llahi, and therefore could not have been one of the Kurdish Sufis Baha'u'llah met in Kurdistan, since those were Naqshbandis and Qadiris. Ni`matu'llahis were largely Persian Shi`ites.

      Juan Cole

Notes by Ahang Rabbani:

I think the biography of Fadil-i Shirazi is important to this discussion. He states that he met darvishes who had been with Baha'u'llah in His cave in the mountain of Kurdistan. From Him they had learned, without any of them ever uttering a single word, all sort of divine knowledge/sciences. They "knew" He wanted them to return to Iran and find waiting souls. Some of them settled in the caves outside of Shiraz. I presume Sidq-Ali was one of these darvishes. Finally, the last remaining one, told Fadil-i Shirazi, again through clairvoyance (sp?), that he should proceed to Akka and meet the Master. Of course, Fadil at that time didn't know a single thing about the Faith and was clueless as who Abdu'l-Baha was. However, he undertook this journey (filled with all sort of amazing and wonderful events) and finally met Abdu'l-Baha, Who told him that he had been expected for some time. Later on, Abdu'l-Baha reminded Fadil about the bag containing the secret of alchemy sent to Him by the darvishes in Shiraz and instructed Fadil to throw it in the sea.

I'm leaving out all sorts of interesting and relevant details about this biography, but my point is that I suspect with the passing of these particular group of darvishes the practices given to them was discontinued. In other words, whatever "practice" they had learned from Baha'u'llah was never intended to be come widespread and was meant only for them. I really don't see of any way of extrapolating from their experience to ours.

Therefore, while I'm a bit puzzled as to why the Research Dept has not referred to the biography of Fadil-i Shirazi in their memo to Sen, I fully agree with them that any practice about this business was discontinued in the time of Baha'u'llah (actually the Master!) and has no bearing on today's situation.

At any rate, the very fact the Abdu'l-Baha (and Shoghi Effendi) never adopted such a practice, namely, staying up a particular night of the year, should be a clue that this notion is a no go. After all, He is our (Baha'is) Perfect Examplar.

      Ahang Rabbani

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