Note by E. G. Browne in Traveller's Narrative p. 123
I was at first doubtful as to whether the passages here cited were really translated by Behá from some Arabic work bearing his name, or whether they were in truth extracts from a work of his own called 'Hidden Words' (~~~) whereof I had heard frequent mention amongst the Bábís. The following passage on p. 379 of Mr Merrick's translation of a work on Shi'ite theology called ~~~ seemed to bear on the question:- "After the Prophet's death Fátima was affected in spirit to a degree which none but God knew. Jebrá'íl was sent down daily to comfort her, and 'Alí wrote what the angel said, and this is the Book of Fátima which is now with the Imám Mahdí." On consulting Rieu's Catalogue of the Persian MSS. in the British Museum, I found mention (vol. ii, p. 829 b.) of a work entitled ~~~ composed by Mullá Muhsin-i-Feyz of Káshán, and described as consisting of "one hundred sayings of Imáms and Súfís in Arabic, with Persian commentary." I seized the first opportunity of examining this work, but a search of about two hours through its pages revealed nothing resembling the passages in the text before us. Finally I wrote to Acre, asking, amongst other questions, what might be the true nature of the work here alluded to. The following answer (which is authoritative) was returned:- [Translation] "Fifth Question. Concerning the mention of the matters in the Hidden Book of Fátima (upon her be the peace of God). The answer is this, that the sect of Persia, that is the Shi'ites, who regard themselves as pure, and the [rest of the] world (we take refuge with God!] as unclean, believe that after His Highness the Seal of the Prophets [Muhammad] Her Highness Fátima (upon her be the blessings of God) was occupied night and day in weeping, wailing, and lamenting over the fate of her illustrious father. Therefore was Jebrá'íl commanded by the Lord Most Glorious to commune, converse, and associate with Her Highness Fátima; and [footnote goes onto page 124] he used to speak words causing consolation and quietude of heart. These words were collected and named 'The Book of Fátima' (~~~). And they [i.e. the Shi'ites] believe that this Book is with His Highness the Ká'im [i.e. the Imám Mahdí] and shall appear in the days of his appearance. But of this Book nought is known save the name, and indeed it is a name without form and a title without reality. And His Highness the Existent [i.e. Behá'u'lláh] willed to make known the appearance of the Ká'im by intimation and implication; therefore was it mentioned in this manner for a wise reason which he had. And that which is mentioned under the name of the Book in the Epistle to His Majesty the King [of Persia] (may God assist him) is from the 'Hidden Words' ~~~ which was revealed before the Epistle to His Majesty the King. The 'Hidden Words' was revealed in the languages of eloquence (Arabic) and of light (Persian). It hath been commanded that some portion of it shall be written and sent specially for you, that you may become cognizant of the truth of the matter. At all events both the Persian and the Arabic thereof were revealed in this manifestation. As to the pronoun" [I had asked whether the pronoun in ~~~ referred to God, or to Gabriel, or to Fátima, i.e. whether its subject was masculine or feminine] "he says, 'It refers to the Hidden Unseen, from the heaven of whose Grace all verses are revealed.'"
Edward Granville Browne
Notes by Jonah Winters:
The Hidden Words was known as the "Hidden Book of Fatimih," (Sahífiyyih-Maknúniyh-Fatimiyyih) until around the mid-1860s, at which time it came to be referred to simply as the "Hidden Words." In the Lawh-i-Sultán (Tablet to the King of Persia), from 1867, Bahá'u'lláh quotes four Persian Hidden Words and states that these are from a work which "was" known as "Sahífiyyih-Maknúniyh-Fatimiyyih" but "these days" is called "Kalimát-i-Maknúnih" (Hidden Words).
For many reasons which are beyond the scope of this note, Shiism has long held strong beliefs in two layers of meaning in Sacred Writings, the "exoteric" (zahir) and the "esoteric" or "hidden" (batin). The former are the outer essentials of religion and theological explanations for the masses, and especially the non-Shii Muslims. The "hidden" teachings are those only known to the truest Muslims, the Shiis and especially the Shii Imáms. (Much discussion of this can be found in _The Divine Guide in Early Shi'ism_, by Mohammad Alí Amir-Moezzi, and also in a paper I wrote, "The Shi'i Qur'an," online at bahai-library.com/personal/jw/my.papers/.) This, then, is one possible meaning of "hidden," the fact that Bahá'u'lláh is now revealing teachings which previously had been reserved for the spiritual elite.
The academic consensus, supported even by much Shi'i consensus, is that the Book of Fatimih is mythical; even 'Abdu'l-Bahá said that it did not really exist. As a myth, however, its history and meaning was clear. The sixth Imám of Shiism, Ja'far al-Sadiq, relates that, when Muhammad's daughter Fatimih — the wife of the first Imám Alí and mother of Imám Husayn — was grieving Muhammad's death, an angel visited her with words of comfort. This angel is often said to be Gabriel and, since Gabriel was the bearer of the annunciation to Mary, mother of Jesus, and to Muhammad, he represents divine revelation and the Book of Fatimih would thus have come from God. Fatimih mentioned this to Ali, who advised that she record everything Gabriel told her (or, in some versions, wrote it down himself). The resulting Book of Fatimih is unlike the Qur'an in that it contained more mystical and prophetic teachings, and was said to be 17,000 verses, almost three times the size of the Qur'an. The subsequent Imáms were the only ones who had possession of the book and, by extension, anyone who had the book was the Imám (this is important). In 874, though, the last Imám disappeared and became "occulted," or "hidden." Within a short time, Shiis ("Twelver" Shiis only) began to believe that the Hidden Imám would one day return as the "Qa'im," or "Mahdi," and bring the Day of Judgment and the end of time. When he came, one of the proofs he would have of his identity would be that he would possess the hidden Book of Fatimih. As well, he would prove his authority by revealing the hidden, secret meanings of all previous religious texts.
A further significance has far-reaching ramifications. The exact meanings of terms like "Báb," "Mahdi," and "Qa'im" are difficult to determine and, even though the Báb was technically the Báb/Mahdi/Qa'im, Bahá'u'lláh also represents certain aspects of each. The Shii audience would have been expecting the Mahdi to authenticate His revelation by, among other things, revealing the "hidden" meanings of previous religions and possessing the Hidden Book of Fatimih. Thus, when Bahá'u'lláh gave His book that title, the significance could not have escaped His audience, for the very act of composing a book by that title was to make an indirect claim, not just to Prophethood, but to the very abrogation of the rule of the Ulama! 'Abdu'l-Bahá also points out this significance, saying that Bahá'u'lláh "willed to make known the appearance of the Qa'im by intimation and implication; therefore was it mentioned in this manner for a wise reason which He had" (quoted in Malouf, diss. version of Unveiling..., 95 [trans. Browne?]).
While it would have been clear that the Hidden Words was not *literally* meant to be the Book of Fatimih, for it was much shorter and did not contain some of the things that Fatimih's was said to contain, the title alone would have been enough to make some people wonder. It is not clear how many people made the connection, since this was 5 years before His private declaration and 10 years before His public one, but in retrospect we can see the great significance this title has.
On the "True and Radiant Morn"
Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise? Awe-struck ye listened as I gave utterance to these three most holy words: O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings. Would ye but sanctify your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident unto all of you.
Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Persian #19
Since this is a mystical/spiritual teaching, it has a few different answers. Most, I believe, refer to the Covenant God established with humankind. To best explain, let me provide some excerpts from four books: (1) Taherzadeh, (2) Secret of Divine Civilization
, (3) The Qur'an, and (4) Annemarie Schimmel's Mysical Dimensions of Islam
. First, let me excerpt some passages in Taherzadeh which discuss this. From Rev. of Bahá'u'lláh
"There are a few passages in The Hidden Words which refer implicitly to the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh — a Covenant which later became explicit with the revelation of the Will and Testament of Bahá'u'lláh, designated by Him the Kitáb-i-'Ahdí (The Book of My Covenant).
`Abdu'l-Bahá, Who is the Centre of that same Covenant and the appointed Interpreter of the words of Bahá'u'lláh, has explained the meaning of some of these passages. One instance is the following:
O My Friends! Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise?....
The `true and radiant morn', `Abdu'l-Bahá stated, refers to the Revelation of the Báb, the `tree of life' to Bahá'u'lláh, and the `hallowed and blessed surroundings' to the heart of the individual. He further explained that the gathering referred to in this verse was not a physical but a spiritual one. The call of God was raised within the sanctuary of their hearts; but they did not respond and were bewildered and awestruck.
In other Tablets, `Abdu'l-Bahá interpreted the meaning of the gathering beneath the shade of the `tree of life' as the establishment of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh. `The Lord, the All-Glorified,' in the words of `Abdu'l-Bahá, `hath, beneath the shade of the Tree of Anisa [tree of life], made a new Covenant and established a great Testament...' That this Covenant was established at so early a stage in the ministry of Bahá'u'lláh is one of the mysteries of Divine Revelation. Indeed, in a Tablet `Abdu'l-Bahá stated that when the day-star of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh dawned upon humanity, the first ray which shed its light upon those gathered beneath the `tree of life' was that of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh.
Another passage in The Hidden Words which refers to this Covenant is the following:
O My Friends! Call ye to mind that covenant ye have entered into with Me upon Mount Paran, situate within the hallowed precincts of Zaman. I have taken to witness the concourse on high [The gathering of the holy souls in the next world.] and the dwellers in the city of eternity, yet now none do I find faithful unto the covenant...
`Abdu'l-Bahá has stated that the covenant upon Mount Paran refers to the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh which was written by the Exalted Pen in the Holy Land and which was announced there after His ascension."
Now, we can elaborate on this a little bit by referring to the Secret of Divine Civilization page 44, where Abdu'l-Bahá says "Remember when the holy breaths of the Spirit of God (Jesus) were shedding their sweetness over Palestine and Galilee..., all the peoples...were fire-worshipers and pagans, ignorant of the Divine Voice that spoke out on the Day of the Covenant. (25)" Footnote #25, at the bottom of page 44, explains: "25. Qur'án 7:171: Yawm-i-Alast, the Day when God, addressing Adam's posterity-to-be, said to them, "Am I not your Lord?" (a-lastu bi Rabbikum
) and they replied: "Yea, we bear witness.""
The "Alast" or, as it's sometimes referred to, the "Banquet of Alast," is a very important symbol from the Qur'an which Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá refer to every now and then. It is the time when God established His covenant with humankind, in a "primordial pre-existence." Here I'll quote the relevant passages from the Qur'an, chapter 7, verses 170-174. I include two translations, one by Yusuf Alí and one by Shakir.
YUSUFALI: As to those who hold fast by the Book and establish regular prayer,- never shall We suffer the reward of the righteous to perish. SHAKIR: And (as for) those who hold fast by the Book and keep up prayer, surely We do not waste the reward of the right doers.
YUSUFALI: When We shook the Mount over them, as if it had been a canopy, and they thought it was going to fall on them (We said): "Hold firmly to what We have given you, and bring (ever) to remembrance what is therein; perchance ye may fear Alláh." SHAKIR: And when We shook the mountain over them as if it were a covering overhead, and they thought that it was going to fall down upon them: Take hold of what We have given you with firmness, and be mindful of what is in it, so that you may guard (against evil).
YUSUFALI: When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam - from their loins - their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): "Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?"- They said: "Yea! We do testify!" (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: "Of this we were never mindful": SHAKIR: And when your Lord brought forth from the children of Adam, from their backs, their descendants, and made them bear witness against their own souls: Am I not your Lord? They said: Yes! we bear witness. Lest you should say on the day of resurrection: Surely we were heedless of this.
YUSUFALI: Or lest ye should say: "Our fathers before us may have taken false gods, but we are (their) descendants after them: wilt Thou then destroy us because of the deeds of men who were futile?" SHAKIR: Or you should say: Only our fathers associated others (with Alláh) before, and we were an offspring after them: Wilt Thou then destroy us for what the vain doers did?
YUSUFALI: Thus do We explain the signs in detail; and perchance they may turn (unto Us). SHAKIR: And thus do We make clear the communications, and that haply they might return.
Yusuf Alí adds two footnotes which I'll include here:
"1146. This passage has led to differences of opinion in interpretation. According to the dominant opinion of commentators each individual in the posterity of Adam had a separate existence from the time of Adam, and a Covenant was taken from all of them, which is binding accordingly on each individual. The words in the text refer to the descendants of the Children of Adam, i.e., to all humanity, born or unborn, without any limit of time. Adam's seed carries on the existence of Adam and succeeds to his spiritual heritage. Humanity has been given by Alláh certain powers and faculties, whose possession creates on our side special spiritual obligations which we must faithfully discharge. These obligations may from a legal point of view be considered as arising from implied Covenants. In the preceding verse (vii 171) a reference was made to the implied Covenant of the Jewish nation. Now we consider the implied Covenant of the whole of humanity, for the Holy Prophet's mission was world-wide.
1147. The Covenant is completed in this way. We acknowledge that Alláh is our Creator, Cherisher, and Sustainer: therefore we acknowledge our duty to Him: when we so testify concerning ourselves, the obligation is as it were assumed by us; for it follows from our very nature when it is pure and uncorrupted."
Fourth, I couldn't explain it clearer than Annemarie Schimmel, in Mystical Dimensions of Islam
page 24: "The aims of all the mystics are essentially the same. For, as Henri Corbin has stated, "the religious conscience of Islam is centered upon a fact of meta-history" (W 46), namely, upon the transhistorical fact of the primordial covenant as understood from the Koranic word in Sura 7:171. Before creation, God called the future humanity out of the loins of the not-yet-created Adam and addressed them with the words: "Am I not your Lord?" (alastu bi-rabbikam
), and they answered: "Yes, we witness it" (bala shahidna
). The idea of this primordial covenant (mithaq
) between God and humanity has impressed the religious conscience of the Muslims, and especially the Muslim mystics, more than any other idea. Here is the starting point for their understanding of free will and predestination, of election and acceptance, of God's eternal power and man's loving response and promise. The goal of the mystic is to return to the experience of the "Day of Alastu," when only God existed, before He led future creatures out of the abyss of not-being and endowed them with life, love, and understanding so that they might face Him again at the end of time."
I'll summarize the above very succinctly, to wrap up. In the time of what we could call "primordial pre-existence," i.e. that mystical time and place when God first created Adam (humankind), God asked Adam "Am I not your Lord?" God asked this to secure the promise from Adam that humankind would always keep the covenant. The Arabic word alast
is simply the first three words, "am I not"? Adam replied, "yes, to this we bear witness." That is, Adam made the pledge to follow God's laws and worship no other. God secured this promise so that, on the Judgement Day when Adam is testifying to his deeds in life, he can't make the excuse of "I didn't know," i.e. Adam can't say "I didn't obey your laws, worship you, and keep your covenant, because I didn't know about you and never made you any promises." In these Hidden Words and other passages in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'u'lláh is re-iterating this Covenant, calling humankind once again back to God's Path and admonishing humankind not to forsake the Covenant. BTW, Mt. Paran is a real place, but here I think it's being used to indicate a sacred locale and a sacred time.
Excerpts from Jack McLean, Dimensions of Spirituality
(Oxford: George Ronald, 1994), 121-23.
Our primary spiritual consciousness has become buried over the aeons by the multiple forms of ego: the dense layers of the clay of materialism, godlessness, selfishness and sensuality. The spiritual seeker must, therefore, become a pilgrim archaeologist in order to recover this lost memory. As seekers we must go digging for this buried foundation, the foundation of our true selves. Yet the digging is simple. We recollect our ancient spiritual birth through memory, by reactivating the doctrine of the sacred memory persons.
The idea itself is centuries old and runs, like a thread, through the Hindu tradition of Vedanta and the Upanishads and the yoga of the Middle Ages, back to Greece, to Plato and Plotinus and to the Christian Gnostics as well. The idea of remembering is often connected with the belief in reincarnation. There is nothing, however, in the recollection of the sacred memory that makes it dependent on reincarnation, for once the soul comes into existence, which in the Bahá'í view occurs at conception, it is able, through education, to possess the past as well as the future.
Bahá'u'lláh in the Hidden Words alludes to our sacred memory and gently prompts us to remember the circumstances of our divine creation:
"O My Friends!
Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise? Awestruck ye listened as I gave utterance to these three most holy words: O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings."
Apart from the moral implications of 'the three most holy words', Bahá'u'lláh here refers to 'the Dawn of divine Revelation when the Exalted One (the Báb) manifested Himself in the plenitude of His glory', while 'the gathering of the people implieth a spiritual communion, not a physical one'. There are also implications of our primeval spiritual creation. The tree of life 'is the blessed tree, which hath flourished in the Most Great Paradise, and casteth its shadow upon all regions', 'the Tabernacle of the Lord of Grace, the divine LoteTree'. It also has its parallel in the Genesis account of our spiritual origins in the creation of Adam and Eve. The 'tree of life' is perhaps the same 'tree of life' in the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve:
"And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil."
Further on in Genesis the 'woman' says to the serpent:
"We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die."
In both Bahá'u'lláh's Hidden Word and in the Genesis account the voice of God issues divine commands in connection with the sacred tree. This indicates that the trees of life and of good and evil are reflections of the divine will. As the word of God, the tree of life stands at the centre of the garden, that is, in the centre of paradise. The tree of life also offers its shelter to all humanity. The command not to partake of the fruit of the tree of life indicates that the Word of God is holy and must remain inviolate.
There are two striking images in this Hidden Word. The first is an image of unity, the image of the divine assembly or the gathering together. The master and the disciples, the divine Teacher and His initiates, assemble beneath the shade of the tree of life, the tree that distinguishes truth from falsehood, good from evil. The tree, in addition to being a symbol of the Word or Manifestation of God, is also an eternal symbol of unity: the tree is one community, so to speak, a unified gathering of individual leaves, twigs and branches.
The second image is that of all creation falling silent, awe-struck, as it listens to the sacred voice. Here we perceive the sacred exchange that takes place with the enunciation of the holy word and the reciprocal reverent listening of the disciple, the twin acts of sacred teaching and learning. The annunciation and the hearing of the holy word are sacred acts of primordial time: the divine will has intended that the sons and daughters of the Ancient of Days be gathered together under the shade of the Tree of Life to listen to the divine voice. Thus, the basic purpose of the Bahá'í revelation, which is the gathering of all the citizens of the earth into one universal faith under the tree of unity, has its origins at the very beginnings of creation.
The doctrine of the sacred memory of persons means, therefore, nothing other than a willingness to listen to the voice of our divine Teacher, a voice that spoke deep within the human soul on that first morning in time. This voice of God, the voice of the divine Manifestation, can be heard within each one of us. This listening to the voice of God within the soul is listening to Eve, the spiritual soul, who is the companion of Adam, the physical man. Eve, the symbol of the sacred reality of the soul, is depicted as the anima in Jung's analytical psychology and is identified as the feminine principle by 'Abdu'l-Bahá: Adam signifies the heavenly spirit of Adam, and Eve His human soul.'
Bahá'u'lláh asks that we remember this sacred act of our primeval creation:
"Would ye but sanctify your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident unto all of you."
Bahá'u'lláh's Hidden Word suggests that we can reactivate this sacred memory by listening to the counsel of God which is the very reason for our creation. Through this we become awakened, that is, conscious once again of our spiritual origins.
Remembering or recollection is also a special method of learning, as taught in the doctrine of Plato. Plato held that the Ideas, although forgotten, were already imbedded in the soul and that by gaining knowledge of the Forms and Ideas through philosophic contemplation of the Good, the individual was recalling a disincarnate spiritual existence. Although it is often assumed that Plato's doctrine of recollection as learning was based on his belief in reincarnation, his teaching can also be taken as an oblique or bacKhánded criticism of reincarnation, for Plato taught that forgetting the knowledge of the Forms and Ideas was a consequence of reincarnation. Through philosophic contemplation one recovered the knowledge of the Forms. Said Eliade: 'It is in returning to earthly life that the soul "forgets" the Ideas.' It could be argued consequently that Plato's endorsement of reincarnation was not complete, for with the return to the body came the loss of the knowledge of the Ideas; although, according to Eliade, the events of former lives were remembered. For Plato, it was only in the disincarnate or out of body state between incarnations that the soul was able to share 'in pure and perfect knowledge'.
Notes by Julio Savi:
; What's the Arabic word for "Justice" used
in the Second Hidden Word from the Arabic ("The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice...")
The Arabic word is "insáf."
Steingass, Arabic-English Dictionary,
translates "insáf" as: "equity,
justice" (p. 85)
Wehr, Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic translates "insáf." as: "justice,
equity, fairness; just treatment" (p. 1139)
The word comes from the root nasafa, translated by Wehr as: "to... become
noon,... to divide in the middle... to share.... to be just; to treat with
justice... to serve" (p. 1139).
Steingass, Persian-English Dictionary
translates "insáf" as: "Dividing,
taking half; acting justly; justice, equity; impartiality, fairness,
equitable adjustment..." (p. 111).
The Italian Campisi, A Dictionary of Islamic Theology
translates nas.afa as
"to reach the middle point" and its derivative "munsif" as "just,
equitable, impartial" and the verb "ansáfa" as to be just with someone, to
I like very much the idea that the Arabic nasafa conveys also the
connotation of service. As if we could not be just with our fellow-beings, if
we do not serve them.