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Notes:
Prepared as part of Wilmette Institute notes and commentary on the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh.

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Tablet of All Food (Lawh-i-Kullu't-Ta'ám):
Wilmette Institute faculty notes

by Muin Afnani, Stephen Lambden, and Moojan Momen

1999
Muin Afnán

       This Tablet is a commentary on the verse (3:93) of the Qur'an where it is said: "All food was lawful to the children of Israel save that which Israel forbade himself before the Torah was revealed." Muslim commentators over the years have written explanations on this verse focusing on the laws concerning certain foods. Bahá'u'lláh took a symbolic and figurative approach in explaining this verse.

        This Tablet is of medium size; in English it would consist of about 20 pages. Before mentioning the various explanations given by Bahá'u'lláh two issues should be pointed out in connection with this Tablet. First, it is clear from the Words of Bahá'u'lláh in this Tablet that this was the first time the Blessed Beauty agreed to respond to someone's questions in writing. Addressing Mírzá Kamaluddin Naraqi, Bahá'u'lláh says that because of sincerity of Mírzá Kamaluddin He responded to him in writing. This might be the first Tablet revealed in Baghdad. The second point is that in this Tablet revealed sometime before His departure for mountains of Kurdistan, Bahá'u'lláh referring to the activities of a few disloyal Bábís (Azal & his associates) alludes to His intention of leaving Baghdad. The only section of this Tablet translated by Shoghi Effendi is a short paragraph found on page 118 of God Passes By, where Bahá'u'lláh alludes to this intention. Having been surrounded by calamities, in this Tablet Bahá'u'lláh pleads with God to take Him to the world of unseen and seat Him beside the throne of Almighty.

        Bahá'u'lláh uses allegorical language throughout this Writing. For example, at the beginning it is said "... Praised be God Who has surged the oceans of light by divine fire-like water and excited the letters of Manifestation by the Point of Ama'..." [Technical translation from me: unauthorized]. What is meant by this water which is like fire? The words "water" and "fire" have appeared in other Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, e.g., His Mathnavi (poetry), Ode of Varqá'iyyih, and so forth. Although it requires several sessions to fully describe the background and meaning of these terms, if I dare to explain my understanding of them in one sentence it would be this: Fire is a reference to Bahá'u'lláh Himself; this is clear from several Writings of Bahá'u'lláh in which he has used this term in reference to Himself. By "water" is meant the "water of life" which the mystics and seekers for centuries have been searching for. This water is to be found behind the "Fire" (station) of the Manifestation of God. In other words, to partake of this spiritual "water of life" one has to recognize the station of the Manifestation of God.

        This Tablet appears to be the first extant work of Bahá'u'lláh in which He explains the concept of Manifestation of God and its relation to God. Of course, this concept was explained later on in more detail in other Writings, particularly in the Book of Íqán.

        In addition to explaining the historical background of this Tablet, Mr. Taherzadeh has given some of the meanings of the word "Food" offered by Bahá'u'lláh, viz., the spiritual worlds of Hahut, Lahut, etc. (Vol. 1 of The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh). Therefore, I will not repeat those concepts that Mr. Taherzadeh has already explained.

        In addition to the above, Bahá'u'lláh gives four distinct explanations for the terms "Food," "Israel," and "Children of Israel." I will enumerate these four descriptions briefly:

  1. "Food" is a reference to All Knowledge or Essence of Knowledge; "Israel" is a reference to the Primal Point, meaning the Manifestation of God; "Children of Israel" is a reference to the Laws of God. Therefore, according to this interpretation the Qur'anic verse is explained as: People were permitted to pursue all forms of knowledge save that which the Manifestation of God had forbidden. i.e., that which was outside the laws of God.

  2. The second explanation is in connection with the expectations regarding the coming of the Báb and appearance of "Him Whom God shall make manifest": "Food" is recognition of the Manifestation of God; "Israel" is the Primal Will of God, the Agency through which God has created the heaven and the earth; "Children of Israel" is the servants of God that have been attracted to the Fire of that Primal Will in the year sixty (1260 A.H., 1844 A.D.) until the Day when God revives people, i.e., until the Promised One, "Him Whom God shall make manifest" appears (again, please note the use of the word "Fire" in reference to the Manifestation of God).

  3. The third interpretation: "Food" is the Guardianship of God over His creation through His Prophets; "Israel" is The Point of Furqan/Quran, meaning the Words of God; "Children of Israel" are the true successors to the Manifestation of God.

  4. The fourth interpretation: "Food" is that hidden Sea which is veiled in the Tablets of Light (reference to essence of God); "Israel" is the station of the Manifestation of God; "Children of Israel" are the people of Bayán (Bábís), who if wanted could ascend to the heaven of mercy and drink from the cup of purity, meaning, with purity of motive and effort they could recognize the Promised One of Bayán (Bahá'u'lláh).

These are but a few of the symbols that Bahá'u'lláh has explained in this weighty Tablet.




Stephen Lambden, translator's introduction

      The Lawh-i Kull al-ta`am ("The Tablet of All Food") Tablet was addressed to Hajji Mírzá Kamal al-Din Naraqi (d. Naraq c. 1298-9 / c.1881). An inadequate printed text is printed in Ma'ida-yi Asmani 4:265-276 and a slightly better one in Rahiq-i makhtum 2:416-426). A superior photocopied ms. is to be found in INBAMC 36:268-277 (see following postings)

            The Lawh-i Kull al-ta`am is, loosely speaking, an esoteric commentary on Qur'an 3:87 [93], "All food (kull al-ta`am) was lawful to the Children of Israel save what Israel [=Jacob] forbade for himself before the Torah was sent down. Say: `Bring you the Torah now, and recite it, if ye are truthful." (trans. Arberry).`Abu'l-Hasan `Alí al-Wahidi (d.468/1075) in his Asbab al-nuzul ("Circumstances of the Revelations" of quran'ic verses) has explained that the revelation of Qur'an 3:87 was occasioned by Jews contesting the claim of Muhammad to follow the faith of Abraham since he ate the meat and drank the milk of the camel — allegedly forbidden by Abraham (cf. Genesis 32:32[33]). Hence the revelation of the verse in question (see Searle, The Bible and the Qur'an 111). Informed by Sufi terminology and Bábí concerns, Bahá'u'lláh's spiritual or eisegetical explanation operates on another level than that indicated by the Sitz im Leben (original `setting in life') of a "paradisiacal" Qur'anic verse [Q.3:87], deemed a "choice fruit, divine song and heavenly pearl", with "subtle meanings endless in their infinitude." (III:7).

            Probably written in late 1853 or early 1854 (1270 AH) it is essentially a reply to a question of the Bábí Hajji Mírzá Kamal al-Din Naraqi about this qur'anic verse. He had travelled to Iraq in the hope of meeting Mírzá Yahyá from whom he initially requested a commentary on Qur'an 3:87. Apparently unimpressed with Mírzá Yahyá's response (no longer extant?) he sought enlightenment from Bahá'u'lláh.

      Written in a somewhat abstruse and grammatically loose Arabic revelatory style, a variety of meanings are given to the terms "food" (ta`am), "Israel" and "children of Israel" in the Lawh-i kull al-ta` m. Towards the beginning of this "tablet" the mystical significance of "food" (ta`am) is related to a hierarchy of paradises and metaphysical realms well-known in theosophical Sufism; those of Hahut (= the realm of the Divine Ipseity); Lahut (= the realm of the Divine Theophany); Jabarut (= the realm of the `Divine Decrees/spiritual powers'); Malakut (= the Heavenly Kingdom or realm of the angels) and Nasut (= the realm of creation) (see trans. III:10ff)

      Having set down these esoteric meanings of "food" (ta`am) Bahá'u'lláh laments his sad plight, alludes to the faith status of Mírzá Kamal al-Din (drawing on Q. 18:17-18) and expresses his intention to expound Qur'an 3:87 still further. He explains that "food" also signifies the "essence of knowledge" (nafs al- `ilm) or all branches of learning; "Israel" the "Primal Point" (nuqtat al-ula; the Báb) and the "children of Israel" one whom God made a "Proof" (hujjat) for the people "in these days" (= Yahyá/Bahá'u'lláh?). The phrase "except what Israel made unlawful for itself" refers to that which the Báb made unlawful "for his elevated ones and his servants" (the Bábís). Most probably countering the antinomian tendencies of a Bábí faction — who may have cited Qur'an 3:87 in support of their antimonian stance — the need to follow the Bábí law is underlined (III:9f)

"..[9] Let not the actions of those who have been spreading wickedness in the land veil you [Mírzá Kamal al-Din]. They suppose that they are rightly guided.[10] Nay! By the Lord of the Realm of the Divine Cloud ! They are liars and calumniators. [11] The nature of that party is such that they should never be allowed to eat even barley in these days. [12] How then, can they possibly be allowed to eat what God hath forbidden in the Book? So praised be He, praised be He above that which the associators [polytheists] assert."

Having thus explained, Bahá'u'lláh, in the light of Mírzá Kamal al-Din's having been "irradiated through the orient light of the splendours of the Morn of Eternity" (subh al-aza l= `turned to Mírzá Yayha as the head of the exiled Bábí community?), identifies "food" (ta`am) with the "bearer of the Cause" (sahib al-amr = Mírzá Yahyá/ Bahá'u'lláh?). "Israel" in this connection signifies the "primal will" (al-mashiyyat al-ula/awwaliyya?) by means of which God created everything, while the "children of Israel" are those who attained faith in the Báb from the "year sixty" (= 1260/1844) and thereafter those who have and will come to believe in him until the Divine Theophany at the eschatological consummation (for Bahá'ís = Bahá'u'lláh/the Bahá'í Faith).

      Still further interpretations of the key terms in Qur'an 3:87 are given towards the end of the Lawh kull al-ta`am. At one point Bahá'u'lláh explains this verse in the light of the Islamic dispensation — calling to mind the Báb's earlier explanations of "Israel" and the "children of Israel" in his Tafsír Súrat al-Baqara ("Commentary on the Sura of the Cow" = Qur'an II).




Moojan Momen:

...Some have postulated that 'aalam-i-mithaal is attainable to humans and 'aalam-i-amr only to the manifestations.

This is a little problematical. It depends on whether one considers that the `Alam al-amr (the World of Command) is the same as Jabarut

Certainly the realm of Jabarut is described as the level at which God's Command (amr) and Decree (qada') are created and from where they are sent to earth. In some religions the agents of God at this level who carry out the commands of God are described as archangels. Thus, for example in Islamic angelology, Gabriel is the carrier of the revelation, `Izra'il is the angel of death, and Israfil, the one who announces the Day of Resurrection. It is the first level at which substantiation (taqyid) occurs - in other words that this is the highest level to which something that is contingent and substantial can attach itself.

Apart from their trans-historical presence at the level of Lahut, each of the Manifestations of God has a specific mission, a commission or command (amr) that it is his historical purpose to fulfill. This specific mission is relative to the needs and exigencies of the time in which each appears. Bahá'u'lláh describes this second aspect of the station of the Manifestation thus:

The other is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of creation and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined Revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite Mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation . . . (Bahá'u'lláh: Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp. 176-177)

But and this is the point - it is also stated that the human spirit, when it reaches the highest point in its spiritual development enters the realm of Jabarut. This is God's ultimate goal and desire for human beings:

Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things . . . And My purpose in all this was that thou mightest attain My everlasting dominion (Jabarut) and become worthy of My invisible bestowals. (Hidden Words, Persian no. 29)

`Abdu'l-Bahá appears to confirm this when he states that this level of Jabarut is the highest level that the human soul can attain.

[It is the] light of lights, the secret of secrets, the Sidrat al-Muntaha (the farthest tree), the highest degree, the loftiest focal point, the farthest place of prostration (masjid al-aqsa), the uttermost limit in the realm of creation. And since there is neither a beginning nor an end to perfections nor any limit, so well is it with the one who enters this holy, blessed and might place. ( `Abdu'l-Bah, Makatib `Abdu'l-Bah, vol. 1, pp. 95-6)

Some may argue I suppose that the "one" who enters realm of Jabarut is the Perfect Man - the Manifestation of God - but this does not seem to me to be what the quotations cited above are saying.
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