Letter from the Universal House of Justice:
|To:||The Universal House of Justice|
|Date:||2 October 1994|
|From: ||Research Department|
|Re:||Letters of the Quranic Dispensation|
In an electronic mail message dated 30 August 1994, Mr. xxxx requested information on a quotation from Bahá'u'lláh, cited by the Guardian in God Passes By
...the Letters of the Bayán, whose station is ten thousand times more glorious than that of the Letters of the Qur'anic Dispensation...
God Passes By, p. 98
Mr. xxxx wishes to know if the "Letters of the Bayán" are the same as the Letters of the Living. Also, he asks the identity of the "Letters of the Qur'anic Dispensation". These questions were referred to the Research Department, and we offer the following response. The word "Letters" (Hurúf), used in the quotation above, has a definite background in the Writings of the Báb. The Báb used the term Hurúf in a number of ways that are similar but not identical in meaning. For instance, He used Hurúf to indicate all followers of a religion. As an example, in the Persian Bayán, Vahid 2, chapter 4, we find "Hurúf-i-Alíf" as a reference to the generality of the followers of Jesus Christ. In the same chapter, the term "Hurúf-i-Qur'an" is a reference to Muslims in general.
The term Hurúf is also used in the Persian Bayán (Vahid 4, chapter 6) to describe the earliest believers of the Prophet Muhammad, i.e., those followers through whom other people accepted Islam. In the same manner, the Báb identified his own earliest believers as the "Hurúf-i-Hayy" or Letters of the Living.
In addition, Hurúf is found in the Persian Bayán as an appellation of the Shi'ih Imáms. In Vahid 2, chapter 17, for example, Imám Husayn is referred to as the "Marf-i-Khamis" or the "Fifth Letter" (Harf is the singular form of Hurúf).
The Research Department has not, to date, found any authoritative interpretation of the quoted passage from God Passes By
and therefore Mr. xxxx is free to decide for himself in which context the term should be understood.
Universal House of Justice
Notes by Iraj Ayman:
Following my earlier comment on the quotation from Íqán: "this revealed and manifest Letter" (p. 252), I would like to further explain what I intended to convey.
I would like first to give the following account from The Báb: His Life, His Writings and the Disciples of the Bábí Dispensation,
by Nusrat'u'lláh Muhammad-Husaini (a Persian text published in 1995) pages 190 and 952:
LETTER, in the Writings of the Báb, has also the meaning of "a believer to His mission." The Báb, in His Writings, has referred to the very first believers of previous dispensations as the Letters of the Living. For example he refers to the first believers in Christ as "Letters of the Gospel (Injil)" and first believers to Muhammad as "Letters of the Living of Qur'an (Furqán)." He also refers to the believers in general as "Letters of Affirmation (Ithbát)" and to those denying and opposing Him as the "Letters of Negation or Denial." He has referred to the first believers of "Him Whom God shall make manifest" (Bahá'u'lláh) as the "Letters of the Living of He Whom God shall make manifest"
The Báb was the "Primal Point". From that "Point" the "Letters" became manifested. The Báb named the first eighteen believers to His mission the "Letters of the Living (Hurúf-i-Hayy)." The numerical value of h and y without counting the vowel "a" and the mark doubling the sound of y is equal to 18. Therefore Letters of the Living refers to 18 not 19. The Báb has called the 18 Letters of the Living plus Himself (the Primal Point) as the first Vahid of Bayán Dispensation.
The numerical value of VAHID is 19. Vahid means One and sometimes translated by Shoghi Effendi as "one and the same". The Báb has used this term as reference to God and His Manifestations. The Báb has revealed an Epistle for Dayyán which is called "The Tablet of the Letters". It is in this Epistle that He refers to Dayyán as the "Third Letter to believe in Him Whom God shall make manifest" (ref.: God Passes By, p. 124)
That is why I had briefly written, in my previous posting, that "this revealed and manifest Letter" is the translation of "In harf-e mazkur-e mashhur" (a reference to Bahá'u'lláh Himself), while "Letter of the Living " is the translation of "harf-e hayy". Therefore these two expressions are not the same. "Harf" (Letter) in the usage of Bábí-Bahá'í literature, sometimes, means "a person". For example "harf-e thálith" (The Third Letter) in God Passes by p. 124 means Dayyán.
The reference of Bahá'u'lláh to Himself as a LETTER is based on the usage of this term by the Báb. It is a reference Himself as the Manifestation of God, "Him Whom God shall make manifest." The word "mazkur" means "having been mentioned", a reference to being revealed (mentioned) by the Báb. The word "mashhur" means being manifest, an allusion to Himself as the Promised One of Bayán. In this statement in Íqán (p. 252) Bahá'u'lláh is exalting the station of the Báb.
Finally it should be clear that the Báb is not the nineteenth Letter of the Living and Bahá'u'lláh is not the twentieth Letter of the Living! In a personal
message to Dr. Muhammad Afnán at the Research Department of the Bahá'í
World Centre, who is a distinguished expert in the studies related to the
Bábí Dispensation, I asked him to clarify the case for us. Here is his
On the subject of the number of the Letters of the Living, your response
to the Enquirer/s is very well explained and there is no doubt that those
selected ones were 18 not 19. Thus the fact we should keep in mind,
according to the letter written on behalf of the Beloved Guardian
(Unfolding Destiny p.428), is that the Báb is Nineteenth Letter of the First
Unit (Vahid), not the Letters of the Living. The numbers of the Letters of
the Living in the Dawn Breakers, p. 80 (American Edition 1974) is
straightforwardly counted as 18, not more. As you mentioned, the title Letter (harf) is a general term used in The Bayán for a
believer and that is why Bahá'u'lláh has applied it to Himself in the
The question of twentieth Letter goes back to years ago, it is already
corrected and there is no such mistake in the list of illustrations in the
Dawn Breakers printed from 1974 onward. To our knowledge the List of
Illustrations was not prepared by the Beloved Guardian, but by a committee
in the U.S.
Notes by Robert Stockman:
In the Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh Shoghi Effendi quotes a prophecy about the 27 letters of knowledge, 2 of which had been revealed to mankind by previous messengers, and the Qa'im (here, the Báb) will reveal the other 25. You will find this in *World Order of Bahá'u'lláh,* page 125 in the section on the Báb. The 27 letters refers to the Arabic alphabet (which has 27 letters, excluding the vowel Alif) which here symbolizes all knowledge.
Taherzadeh refers to a different prophecy by Bahá'u'lláh Himself, that of the three letters in His name (Bahá has three different letters in Arabic, b, h, and a) He had revealed two of them. The letters again symbolize all knowledge.
Superficially these two statements contradict, but not at a symbolic level, where they are meant to be understood. One prophecy looks backward at the relationship between the Báb and previous revelations, stressing the Báb's greatness. The other looks forward, to describe the relationship between Bahá'u'lláh's revelation and future ones, stressing Bahá'u'lláh's greatness. If you want to reconcile them I suppose you could say that each letter Bahá'u'lláh reveals is equal to a hundred the Báb reveals. The word "letter" is being used in a different symbolic way between the two statements.