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Theology and background of the "pen" metaphor — the creative force presented by the Manifestation of God — and the "tablet" — the recipient of the creative force. Also the five realms of existence: Háhút, Láhút, Jabarút, Malakút, and Násút.
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Mirrored with permission from See also Bahá'í cosmology [wikipedia].

A Study of the Pen Motif in the Bahá'í Writings

by Kavian Sadeghzade Milani and Nafeh Fananapazir

published in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 9:1, pages 27-49
Ottawa: Association for Bahá'í Studies North America, 1999

This article is an introductory survey of the frequently encountered pen motif in Bahá'í writings. The theological usage of the "pen" is explored along with the Islamic theological and theosophical background of the term. The "pen" is a metaphor for the preexistent and creative force presented by the Manifestation of God. The pen-tablet relationship is then examined with the "pen" as a creative metaphor. The pen (active) - tablet (recipient) motif is then utilized to explore the possible correlation between two theosophical topics, the 'five divine presences' and the seven stages of 'coming into being.' The creative forces of the pen undergoing emanation, create five distinct realms of existence. These five realms are generated as the pen creates in descending emanation. The pen undergoes the natural order of generation, the seven stages of 'coming into being', as each of the divine presences are created.


The term pen (qalam) is frequently encountered in the Bahá'í writings. This term most commonly occurs in combinations such as the "Supreme Pen" or the "Pen of the Most High" as an appellation for Bahá'u'lláh. Such usage has significant theological implications. This article examines the pen motif in the Bahá'í writings primarily through a survey of selected topics gleaned from one of Bahá'u'lláh's less-studied tablets, the Súrat ul-Qalam (the Chapter of the Pen), where this motif is heavily utilized. The Súrat ul-Qalam is an important document as it introduces Bahá'í theology and the claims of Bahá'u'lláh, and establishes a dialogue between the Bahá'í revelation and the theosophical and mystical traditions within Islam. The pen is a metaphor for the creative forces of the manifestation of God. This article will focus on the creative aspects of the pen in considerable detail. It emerges that the pen, undergoing emanation, generates all that exists. Particular attention will be given to the generation of the 'five divine presences.' It will also be suggested that the pen undergoes the natural cycle of generation of all things, known as the seven stages of 'coming into being', as it generates the five presences. Despite the importance of the pen motif in the creative schema, there has been no systematic study of this subject to date.

The Súrat ul-Qalam

Throughout this article the authors will refer to the Súrat ul-Qalam. The dating of the Súrat ul-Qalam is important for the purposes of this article. There is little internal evidence in the published text of this Tablet to allow for an accurate dating. There is a general consensus that Bahá'u'lláh revealed the Súrat ul-Qalam in commemoration of the declaration in the garden of Ridván. This is supported by the reference to the `ayd ul-akbar (the Great Festival) in the text of the Tablet (Súrat ul-Qalam 128). This is consistent with the fact that the term pen is most heavily utilized in the Adrianopole and Akka periods of Bahá'u'lláh's ministry. The Ganj-i-Shaygán (The Abundant Thesaurus), the standard Persian reference text on the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, places the Súrat ul-Qalam in the Akka period (Ishráq-Khávarí, Ganj-i-Shaygán 192). Most authorities, however, have suggested Adrianopole as the place of revelation. As such, the dating of this Tablet remains uncertain. On this issue, the Research Department at the Bahá'í World Centre has kindly provided the following guidance, which is the most authoritative to date:
The exact place and date of the revelation of this Tablet has not yet been found in the records of the Faith. However, the tone and content of the Súrih itself show that it is quite possibly one of Bahá'u'lláh's works revealed in Adrianopole, as is suggested by Adib Taherzadeh in "The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh" (Oxford: George Ronald, 1977), vol. 2, p.397.
The Supreme Pen (Al-Qalam ul-A`lá)

The term "Pen" occurs frequently in the Bahá'í scripture. Occasionally, the term merely signifies a device of writing. The following may be considered an example of such use:
One night, in a dream, these exalted words were heard on every side: "Verily, We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy Pen...." (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf 21)
Another instance in which "pen" is used to refer to an instrument of writing occurs in the Kitáb-i-Badi` in which a particular pen bemoans its plight in the hands of one of Bahá'u'lláh's enemies (239-50). Most often, however, the pen is a direct reference to Bahá'u'lláh. An example occurs in the Fire Tablet. In the initial portions of the Tablet the sufferings and wrongs to which Bahá'u'lláh was subjected in the path of God are recounted. Then a shift in tone occurs and Bahá'u'lláh, the Manifestation of God, is addressed from a higher realm:
O Supreme Pen, We have heard Thy most sweet call in the eternal realm: Give ear unto what the tongue of Grandeur uttereth, O Wronged One of the Worlds!(Bahá'í Prayers 218-19)
The classical pen is a hollow entity and a mere instrument in the hand of its operator. It also serves a creative function, as writing is impossible without it. Bahá'í theology maintains both hollowness and creativity with regard to the Manifestations. For example, Bahá'u'lláh speaks of the hollowness of the pen indicating that it is the Might of God which has endowed the pen (i.e., Bahá'u'lláh) with pearls of mysteries (La'álí ul-Hikmat 2: 206).

The Súrat ul-Qalam also maintains that the pen is reinforced by the strength and might of God (Súrat ul-Qalam 124-25). A survey of the spectrum of the available writings of Bahá'u'lláh indicates that the qalam (pen) motif is primarily used in the Adrianopole and Akka periods of revelation in comparison to the writings preceding the declaration in Baghdad. Islamic theology accords the pen a very significant function. Considering the background and theological implications of this term, this may be said to represent an escalation in the gradual unfolding of the claim advanced by Bahá'u'lláh.

There are, however, occasional references to the pen in the writings of the Baghdad period, such as the Jawáhiru'l-Asrár (the Essences of Mysteries). These references hint at this unfolding of the Bahá'í kerygma and foreshadow the future employment of the pen motif. Bahá'u'lláh uses this motif in various ways. An alternative usage of the pen occurs in the Tablet to Násiri'd-Dín Sháh (Lawh-i-Sultán-i-írán), where a novel and challenging interpretation of Qur'án 96:4 is advanced:
Nay, by Him Who taught the Pen the eternal mysteries, save him whom the grace of the Almighty, the All-Powerful, hath strengthened. The Pen of the Most High addresseth Me saying: Fear not....(The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh 57-58)
Here Bahá'u'lláh produces a phrase very close to the well-known quranic verse. The implication is that Bahá'u'lláh is the recipient of communication from the pen. As will shortly be demonstrated, such an interpretation of Qur'án 96:4 is a novelty, at least in the context of classical orthodox commentaries. Later in the same tablet, Bahá'u'lláh hints that the "shrill of the Pen of Glory" intends the author of the tablet. A question may be raised at this point: How is it that Bahá'u'lláh is intended by the pen at one time and elsewhere addressed by the pen? The quandary is simplified when it is understood that the pen, occurs in successive descending stages. The pen generates the tablet (recipient), and the tablet itself manifests generative forces and acts as a pen on another tablet (recipient).

The cycle thus continues. As such, Bahá'u'lláh may be referred to as both the pen and one addressed by the pen, without contradiction.

The Pen: The First Created Thing

Early in the Súrat ul-Qalam (125), Bahá'u'lláh establishes the precedence of the pen over letters and words (hurúf va'l-kalimát) and contingent beings (mumkinát). The creation of the pen is also stated to precede the foundation of the kingdom of names and attributes (Malakút ul Asmá va's-Sifát) and the revelation of the preserved and glorious tablets (Alwáh-u-`izz'in mahfuz'in). The precedence of the pen over the letters and words may seem problematic. One notes, however, that in writing, the pen precedes the point, the point precedes the letter, and the letter precedes the word, and words make up that which is written. The pen is the intermediary between the source and that which is penned. It is also the first entity outside the body in the chain that leads to action. Such a chain can be envisioned as mind-hand-pen-tablet or mind-hand-pen-point-letter-word-book. The word assumes a prominent role in other traditions. The New Testament, for instance, maintains the pre-existence of the word (logos): "In the beginning was the Word"(John 1:1). Bahá'u'lláh has established the precedence of the pen over words and letters in the Súrat ul-Qalam. In the Tablet of Wisdom, however, the word of God is said to precede and bring about all creation, including the active-recipient (pen-tablet) interactions. The problem posed by these seemingly contradictory statements has been addressed by Momen through his suggestion that the pen and logos are synonymous (Momen, Relativism 191). He therefore distinguishes between the word as used in the Súrat ul-Qalam and the word of God (Kalimatu'lláh). Alternatively the authors maintain that the pen (qalam) itself precedes the word (logos) and begets the word. The Súrat ul-Qalam provides the textual justification for this thesis.

The Islamic Background of the Pen

The chronologically earliest of quranic verses contain the source for the subject of this study. Islamic history records that the Prophet of Islam would regularly retire to the mountains near Mecca, where Muhammad would spend long periods in prayer and meditation. One day while Muhammad was sleeping, the angel Gabriel approached the Prophet with a sheet in his hand. The angel said to Muhammad, "Recite." Muhammad responded in surprise, "But I cannot read." The angel repeated the command three times, and his third command became the first revealed verses in the Qur'án:
Recite thou, in the name of thy Lord who created;
Created man from clots of blood;
Recite thou! For thy Lord is the most Beneficent,
Who Hath taught by the Pen;
Hath taught man what he knoweth not. (Qur'án 96:1-5)
The Qur'án mentions the pen on yet another occasion, namely in the quranic Súrat ul-Qalam (the Chapter of the Pen), also known as the Súrat un-Nún (the Chapter of the letter N). The súrih begins as follows: "Nún. By the Pen and that which they inscribe" (Qur'án 68:1). Murata points out that "these short and rather enigmatic verses provided a great deal of food for meditation, especially since the Prophet himself added a certain amount of interesting clarification." (The Tao of Islam 12) The quranic commentators transmit most of the interesting clarifications in the form of traditions (hadíth) regarding al-qalam. Most commentators examine the pen as an instrument of writing, especially when commenting on Qur'án 96:1-5. However, all commentators favor more esoteric interpretations when elaborating on Qur'án 68:1. In the Jámi`u'l-Bayán at-Tabarí (d. 310 A.H.) presents the following tradition while discussing Qur'án 68:1: Verily the first thing that God created was the pen (29:14). The contemporary Shi`ah commentator, Tabatabai, elaborating on the same quranic verse writes: By al-Qalam (the Pen), al-Qalam ul-A'lá (the Supreme Pen) is intended, which is found in the hadíth: Verily, it is the first thing that God created.

Virtually all quranic commentators have acknowledged variants of this tradition. Ibn-Kathír (d.774 A.H.) writes:
The Pen is that which God hath ordained predestination (qadar) by, when He revealed the measures of creatures, fifty-thousand years prior to the creation of heaven and earth. (Tafsír 7:79)
This represents an attempt to explain the precedence of the pen. Here Ibn-Kathír argues for a temporal priority and places the creation of the pen 50,000 years prior to the creation of the "heaven and earth." Most commentators, however, argue for an essential priority, along the lines suggested by the Súrat ul-Qalam. These Islamic traditions establish the pen as the first creation. A particularly interesting set of Shí`ah traditions on this topic are summarized by Khomeini, quoting one of his masters. This quotation summarizes a number of traditions, from Shí`ah books of hadíth, including al-Káfí, narrated on the authority of the Imams. The following summary is provided: The realm of the letters of alphabet is a realm reflective of all the Worlds, organized according to the letters of alphabet. Thus, alif (A) represents the Necessary Being, and bá (B) represents the First Creation that is the First Intellect, the First Light, that is the Light of our Prophet (Peace be upon Him and His descendants) and therefore it is interpreted to be Bahá'u'lláh (the Glory of God).

The passage does not mention the pen directly; however, the first intellect and the Muhammadan light are mentioned. The equality of the pen, with the first intellect and the light of Muhammad is clearly established in Islamic thought. For example, the great commentator Imám Fakhr ur-Rází, in his Tafsír ul-Kabír, concludes the equality of al-`aql (intellect) and al-qalam (pen). He states that the two must be one and the same thing, otherwise a contradiction will result (Tafsir ul-Kabir 30:78).

In the above hadíth summary, the imagery of Arabic letters of the alphabet identifies the first emanation of God with the light of Muhammad (núr-i-Muhammadí). The symbolism is remarkable, in that the letter alif (A), is paralleled with the necessary being (God), since it is dependent on none else (The reference is the shape of alif, that of a vertical straight line). Proceeding from the alif (A) is the letter bá (B) which represents `aql (intellect), núr (light) and qalam (pen). The above passage provides a study of the relation between the necessary being and the pen as exemplified in Islamic thought. The student of the Bahá'í Faith may also take note of the reference to Bahá'u'lláh in the text of the passage, and of the implied relationship with the pen.

The Pen as an Agent in Creation

The glossary in the highly acclaimed volumes entitled Islamic Spirituality defines al-qalam as the "symbol of the Divine Intellect and the instrument of God's creative act" (Islamic Spirituality: Foundations 422). This definition is supported in Bahá'í writings. In the Súrat ul-Qalam, the pen is identified as the creator of all that exists. Bahá'u'lláh states that all contingent beings were created through a word manifested by the pen (Súrat ul-Qalam 126). The pen also proclaims that all were created by God's command and that all observe God's bidding (Súrat ul-Qalam 124). As indicated by the above, a prominent role is accorded the pen in the process of creation. This creative function is also expressed in terms of a familiar Islamic motif in Bahá'í writings, that of the divine command: BE (kun). The divine imperative is rooted in the Qur'án itself, "His command when He willeth aught, is but to say to it, 'BE', and IT IS" (Qur'án 36:82). The divine imperative BE is a theme frequently encountered in the Bahá'í writings. In the Súrat ul-Qalam, Bahá'u'lláh states that the divine command "BE" is uttered by the pen (Súrat ul-Qalam 135). Islamic traditions also acknowledge the role of the pen in the process of creation. There is a large body of traditions on this topic. The following is given by at-Tabarí through a chain of transmitters leading to Ibn-`Abbás:
The first thing created by God was the Pen. Then He made it to stream forth to that which would exist. Then He made steam to ascend from the waters, by which He created the heavens. Then He created 'nún',and expanded the earth on the back of the 'nún'. Then He moved the earth and caused it to grow. (Jámi` ul-Bayán 29:14)
The above tradition incorporates al-qalam and nún from Qur'án 68:1. In this context, the nún (the letter N), represents the second letter in the divine imperative of creation, that is, kun (composed of the letters káf and nún). Islamic traditions place the creation of nún after the creation of al-qalam. The following tradition cited by Ibn-Kathír (Tafsír 7:77), on the authority of Abí-Hurayrah is representative: Verily the first thing that God created is the Pen, then He created the nún, which is the ink-pot (dawát).

The primary reference here is to a literal definition of nún which is an inkpot. A subtle reference here may also be to shape of the letter nún, which resembles an inkpot. The pen must be dipped in the ink, as the ink allows for the writing potential of a pen to become actualized. The joining of the letters B (káf) and E (nún) follows a similar pattern, as the interaction between qalam and dawát is a necessary causal prerequisite, before anything can be written on the tablet (Lawh). It is the pen that inscribes upon the tablet. The creative interaction between the active force (the pen) and its recipient (the tablet) is reminiscent of the following passage from the Lawh-i-Hikmat:
That which hath been in existence had existed before, but not in the form thou seest today. The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different (Tablets 140).
Bahá'í theology understands creation as occurring through emanation (Some Answered Questions 203). In such an emanative scheme, the pen, which is the first creation, becomes the cause preceding contingent existence. Therefore, one may say that the pen contains the essence of all created things in itself, this in the form of primordial and undifferentiated matter. Imám Fakhr ur-Rází states that the pen is "the principal substance of all creation." He also refers to the pen as "the essence (jawhar) which is the principal substance of all created things" (Tafsír ul-Kabír 30:78). This understanding of the pen is consistent with Bahá'í theology.

The Pen and the Godhead

The Súrat ul-Qalam presents a definite problem for the reader unfamiliar with Bahá'í theology. In the very opening of the Súrat ul-Qalam, the pen is commanded to testify that there is no God but I (Súrat ul-Qalam 124). The structure of this phrase closely parallels the Islamic kerygma, "There is no God, but Alláh" (Lá illáha illal-láh). The problem is that in light of the above material, why is the pen identified with the Godhead? The relation between the pen and the Godhead will be further examined under the heading "Five Divine Presences." The Bahá'í response, however, must begin with a survey of Bahá'í theology. Bahá'u'lláh has repeatedly made the dual claim of divinity on the one hand, and servitude and utter nothingness on the other. The following is illustrative:
When I contemplate, O my God, the relationship that bindeth me to thee, I am moved to proclaim to all created things 'verily I am God!'; and when I consider my own self, lo, I find it coarser than clay! (The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh 24-25)
This understanding is consistent within the Bahá'í theological framework, which maintains that God is infinitely transcendent:
To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is and hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men. 'No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision; He is the Subtile, the All-Perceiving.' No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures. (Kitáb-i-Íqán 98)
Humankind's direct access, by any means, to God is therefore according to Bahá'u'lláh, absolutely closed. The question arises then, how can a person as a spiritual being know of God? Bahá'í theology responds, as taught by the following passage, that God is revealed through the Manifestation:
The door of knowledge of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings, the Source of infinite grace, according to His saying: "His grace hath transcended all things; My grace hath encompassed them all," hath caused those luminous gems of holiness to appear out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable being, and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence (Kitáb-i-Íqán 99-100).
Bahá'í theology maintains that God is transcendent over all attributes. In the Lawh-i-Kanz, `Abdu'l-Bahá confirms this transcendence while elaborating on a tradition by Imám `Alí (Rahíq-i-Makhtúm 1:51). Therefore, all attributes fall short of the majesty and grandeur of God, as Bahá'ís profess during their daily obligatory prayer (salát):
Too high art thou for the praise of those who are nigh unto thee to ascend unto the heaven of thy nearness, or for the birds of the hearts of them who are devoted to thee to attain to the door of thy gate. I testify that thou hast been sanctified above all attributes and holy above all names. No God is there but thee, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious. (Bahá'í Prayers 12)

The Seven Stages of 'Coming into Being' and the Pen

The writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh contain references to the seven stages of 'coming into being' (marátib-i-sab`ih-i-takwín), involved in the formation of all things. Every created thing has gone through these stages. In a Tablet (Má'ídiy-i-Asmání 8:191-92) Bahá'u'lláh points out that nothing whatsoever, may exist, whether in heaven or on earth other than by going through the seven stages of will (mashiyyat), purpose (irádih), predestination (qadar), fate (qadá), permission (imdá), fixed-time (ajal), and book (kitáb). The marátib-i-sab`ih-i-takwín (seven stages of 'coming into being') are part of the Shí`ah heritage of the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í writings have systematically used these terms with precision and accuracy. Responding to a written query regarding qadá (fate), qadar (predestination) and irádih, `Abdu'l-Bahá provides a systematic and technical response:
Thou hadst asked about fate, predestination and will [irádih]. Fate and predestination consist in the necessary and indispensable relationships which exist in the realities of things. These relationships have been placed in the realities of existent beings through the power of creation and every incident is a consequence of the necessary relationship. For example, God hath created a relation between the sun and the terrestrial globe that the rays of the sun should shine and the soil should yield. These relationships constitute predestination, and the manifestation thereof in the plane of existence is fate. Will is that active force which controlleth these relationships and these incidents (Selections 198).
The Súrat ul-Qalam links the pen with the seven stages of 'coming into being,' as the purpose (irádih) of the supreme pen is stated to be involved in the process of creation (Súrat ul-Qalam 126). An interesting relationship exists between the pen and the seven stages of 'coming into being'. In the progression from will (mashiyyat) to book (kitáb), there is a decrease in the pen (active) attributes and an increase in the tablet (recipient) attributes. Will (mashiyyat) is all active (fá`il), while the book (kitáb) is all recipient (munfa`al). This progression is also suggested by the reference to mashiyyat as the Father of the World (Abu'l `álam) and the reference to irádih as the Mother of the Children of Adam (Ummu baní Adam) by Bahá'u'lláh (La'álí ul-Hikmat 2:275). Ontologically, the primal will is equivalent to the pen. Irádih, identified by `Abdu'l-Bahá as an "active force" in the above passage, is a pen with respect to descending stages. Predestination (qadar) itself, exercises active control with respect to fate (qadá), as indicated from the above tablet by `Abdu'l-Bahá, and therefore is a pen. Predestination (qadar) is also determined by the pen, and therefore functions as a recipient as well. An example occurs in the Fire Tablet: "Where is the compelling power of Thine Ordaining Pen (Qalam-i-taqdír-i-ka), O Conqueror of the Worlds?" (Bahá'í Prayers 214). Islamic and Bahá'í sources are in agreement, as a great number of Islamic sources confirm this relationship between predestination and the Pen. The following tradition by Tabarí is representative:
The first thing which God created is the Pen. Then He said (to the Pen), "Write!" The Pen said, "what shall I write?" He said, "inscribe predestination (qadar)." (Jámi` ul-Bayán 29:15)
Based on the above evidence, one can conclude that ontologically, the progression from will to book, represents successive pen-tablet (active-recipient) interactions. The implications of such interactions in the creative schema is clear, that God is manifested in the world, through successive pen-tablet interactions. Restated, the pen-tablet motif occurs in successive stages. As the pen undergoes successive pen-tablet interactions the creative schema progresses from will to book, generating all created things.

The Pen and the Five Divine Presences

One of the central features of Islamic mysticism and theosophy, especially of the Ibn al-`Arabí school, is the doctrine of hadarát ill'áhhiyya khams (the five divine presences). These would be the "five domains in which God is to be 'found', or God's presence is to be perceived" (Sufi Path of Knowledge 5). Ibn al-`Arabi describes the "self-manifesting activity of the Absolute" in the form of four categories of 'emanation' (tajallí) resulting in the five planes of being. The commentators and expounders of Ibn al-`Arabí have developed somewhat different formulations of these presences. The classification by al-Makkí (d.386) is considered to be the most systematic. He describes Háhút, Láhút, Jabarút, Malakút and Násút in a descending order (Concise Encyclopedia of Islam 128). This classification is the one followed most closely in the Bahá'í writings. The object of this study is linked to this doctrine. In the Súrat ul-Qalam, the pen is said to be the light that created the Heavenly Court (Láhút) and the temples of the dwellers of the All-Highest Dominion (Jabarút), and their essences (Súrat ul-Qalam 129). Numerous references to these realms may be found in Bahá'í writings. The most widely available systematic explication occurs in the Tablet of All Food (Lawh-i-Kullu't-Ta`ám). This article does not allow for a detailed survey of these realms. There have been a number of surveys regarding these realms. This portion of this study aims to examine this relationship. Moreover, Bahá'u'lláh describes a gradation of colors while elaborating on these divine presences, which will be explored later in light of the Bábí-Bahá'í concept of the seven stages of 'coming into being.'

A. Násút (The Corporeal World)

Násút is the physical realm. Násút itself may be further subdivided into the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms ; included also is the corporeal aspect of human life. The pen is involved in both the general and specific theophanies. God is manifested in Násút, through a universal revelation (tajallíy-i-`ám) or general theophany (Kitáb-i-Íqán 139). The following passage from the Gleanings (65) reiterates the same:
Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own self.
According to this passage every created thing may be considered to be a manifestation of God, as all things come to exist through this general theophany. It is in this context that Bahá'u'lláh states that if one listened to objects with innate hearing (bi sam` il-fitrah), one could hear from every atom that which the ears of the Interlocuter (Moses) heard (La'álí ul-Hikmat I:46). God is revealed to humankind in a secondary revelation (tajalliy-i-thání) as well, through God's Manifestations. This specific theophany in the Bahá'í Revelation also occurs through al-Qalam ul-A`lá (the Supreme Pen), which interacts with the five divine presences. In Násút, this Manifestation is known as "the Perfect Man" (Islamic Mysticism: Manifestations 79). The corporeal body of the supreme pen exists within Násút as well. This may be gleaned from Bahá'í writings, including the following, passage where various realms address Násút as follows:
This is the Day whereon the unseen world [Láhút] crieth out: "Great is thy blessedness, O earth [Násút], for thou hast been made the foot-stool of thy God, and been chosen as the seat of His mighty throne." The realm of Glory [Jabarút] exclaimeth: "Would that my life could be sacrificed for thee, for He Who is the Beloved of the All-Merciful hath established His sovereignty upon thee.... (Gleanings 30)
This realm is described as the "crimson land." `Abdu'l-Bahá indicates that crimson is a reference to martyrdom (shahádah), which occurs in Násút (Má'idiy-i-Asmání 2:21, 48).

B. Malakút (The Kingdom)

The first in the ascending hierarchy of non-corporeal realms. Malakút is frequently translated and referred to as the "angelic realm" or the "psychic realm" in Islamic mysticism. In the Tablet to Varqá (Lawh-i-Varqá), Bahá'u'lláh provides two definitions for Malakút. The first definition is the "Most Great Beauty" (Manzar-i-Akbar), a reference to Bahá'u'lláh. The second definition states that Malakút contains the similitude (mithál), of all that which is in heaven and on earth. Malakút is therefore located intermediate to the Jabarút and Násút. In the same Tablet, Bahá'u'lláh asserts that the latent potentialities of Jabarút are manifested within Malakút. In the Tablet of All Food Bahá'u'lláh uses a well-known quranic verse (24:37) to describe the dwellers in the malakút. He states that malakút is the realm in which souls whom neither trade nor transactions have kept from the remembrance (dhikr) of God reside. This seems to be the farthest realm to which humankind has access to in its spiritual quest. This realm has been divided into a`lá (higher) and asfal (lower) in some schools (Sharh-i-Manzúmih-i-Hikmat 442). This distinction is not readily maintained in Bahá'í scripture. This realm is designated as the land of green (ard ul-khadrá) in the Tablet of All Food. The pen exists within and interacts with the Malakút. This interaction takes different forms. In an explication of the Fifth Tablet of Paradise, `Abdu'l-Bahá states that the supreme pen inscribes onto the preserved tablet (lawh-i-mahfúz) in the Malakút (Má'idiy-i-Asmání 2:56). As such, the pen is the source of guidance for Malakút. Bahá'u'lláh is referred to as the preserved tablet (lawh-i-mahfúz) and the most great book (kitáb ul-a`zam) in Bahá'í writings. One may ask how can the pen and the tablet coexist in the same realm. A possible solution to this problem, based on the principle of interaction between the active force and its recipient underlying creation, as established in the Tablet of Wisdom was presented earlier. In short, the pen-tablet relation occurs in successive stages, as the generated tablet manifests generative forces and acts as a pen on another tablet. Therefore, a pen and a tablet may co-exist in any of the presences.

C. Jabarút (The Dominion)

In this presence, God, as revealed through Manifestations, is established in the "Heaven of Oneness" (janat ul-wáhidiyya). Bahá'í theology makes a sharp distinction between Oneness (wáhidiyyat) and Absolute Oneness (ahadiyyat). The oneness encountered in jabarút is wáhidiyyat. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains that when the Light of the Ipseity (núr ul-Huwiyyat) is manifested in the lantern of oneness (wáhidiyyat), names and attributes come into being. Absolute Oneness (ahadiyyat) is the state where the attributes (sifát) are part of the essence (dhát). Jabarút is the realm where "Thou art He and He is Thee" (anta huwa va huwa anta). This presence has also been described as the archangelic realm in Islamic mystical cosmology (Islamic Mysticism: Foundations 416). There are four archangels mentioned in Islamic thought, namely Isráfíl, Miká'íl, Jibra'íl and Izrá'íl. Isráfíl, for example, will blow the trumpet in the last day to signalize resurrection. Bahá'í writings ascribe this function to the pen:
We have chosen thee to be our most mighty Trumpet, whose blast is to signalize the resurrection of all mankind (Gleanings 31).
Another function of Isráfíl is to bestow life, i.e., to place spirits within bodies. This function is also one that is performed by the pen, as already examined. In the Súrat ul-Qalam, the pen gives life to all creatures through a word from His mouth (Súrat ul-Qalam 126). When addressing the denizens of Malakút and Násút from the Jabarút, the pen speaks with the authority of God. Bahá'u'lláh explains in the Tablet of All Food that from the realm of Jabarút, the Manifestations do not speak except with the leave of God, and that they perform no action other than by divine command. Jabarút is the locus of divine revelation from which humankind is summoned. Jabarút itself is begotten of the pen. In the Súrat ul-Qalam, Bahá'u'lláh states that the pen is the light that brought forth the dwellers of Jabarút and their essences (Súrat ul-Qalam 129). This relationship was examined earlier. The pen also exists in this realm. The following response to the Pen as presented in the Fire Tablet is demonstrative: O Supreme Pen, We have heard Thy most sweet call in the eternal realm (Jabarút): Give Thou ear unto what the Tongue of Grandeur uttereth, O Wronged One of the worlds.

Jabarút is designated by Bahá'u'lláh as the land of yellow (ard us-safrá). The color yellow is generally used in the Bahá'í Scripture with reference to the realm of Jabarút. The secondary revelation (tajalliy-i-thání), which is the pen, is recognized and identified by different names, as it manifests itself throughout different divine Presences. These names also differ in the Malakút from their counterparts in the Jabarút. In the Tafsír Súriy-i-va sh-Shams (Commentary on the Chapter of the Sun), Bahá'u'lláh states that the Prophet of Islam is recognized as Muhammad in the Malakút (Kingdom) of names and Ahmad (most praised) in the Jabarút (Dominion) of eternity.

D. Láhút (Heavenly Court)

This realm is the last divine Presence in which the Pen is to be found. This is the realm in which "He is He and there is none other but He" (Huwa Huwa wa laysa ahadun illá Huwa). In this presence there is no distinction among the Manifestations, nor is there individuation. Adib Taherzadeh points out that "they claim no station for themselves on this plane and are as utter nothingness compared to Him" (Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh 1:58). Most theosophical schools accept that humans may potentially ascend to this realm, but this is not supported in Bahá'í Writings. Láhút is characterized as a heaven designated for those servants established on the seat of Glory, Who drink of the camphor fountain (Rahíq-i-Makhtúm 2:982-83). Within the Shaykhí-Bábí context of the Tablet of All Food, this is a clear reference to the Manifestations, not humans (Asrár ul-Athár, under the heading Káfúr). It is here that the potentialities latent within the primal will (mashiyyat) of God are first realized. Bahá'í theology holds that the first emanation of God is this primal will (Some Answered Questions 203). It is this primal will (mashiyyat) that then begets all things (Majmú`ih 2, 144). The primal will can be identified with the pen, as demonstrated earlier. Some Bahá'í authors have identified the most exalted pen within the realm of Láhút only. This suggestion poses two problems. First, Bahá'í scripture provides clear evidence that the Pen interfaces with four of the Five Divine Presences, not exclusively with Láhút, as established earlier. Second, it is clear that the Pen causally precedes the realm of Láhút, as demonstrated in the Súrat ul-Qalam (129). According to Sabziwari and his commentators, Láhút is the locus for the most excellent names and the most exalted attributes of God (Sharh-i-Manzúmih 442). This view is supported in Bahá'í scripture, as Bahá'u'lláh refrains from ascribing attributes to higher realms. Sabziwari also holds that the glorious essence of God is veiled (muhtajab) from the dwellers of the descending realms through the rays of Láhút (Sharh-i-Manzúmih 35). This view is also in conformity with Bahá'í theology.

E. Háhút (Unknowable Essence)

References to this realm are scant in Bahá'í scripture. The word Háhút may be considered to be derived of the letter Há and Huwa (He), both of which represent the Ipseity (Concise Encyclopedia of Islam 128). Háhút is described as the Heaven of Absolute Oneness (Ahadiyyah). Absolute Oneness was defined earlier as the state where the attributes and essence are one and undifferentiated (Rahíq-i-Makhtúm 1:49-52). God is absolute in this realm and immeasurably transcendent. Bahá'u'lláh states that it beseems none to know of this realm, but that God will reveal it to whomsoever God wills (Rahíq-i-Makhtúm 2: 982). The following verse of poetry by Shaykh Mahmúd Shabistarí, from the Gulshan-i Ráz, is well known in Persian literature. Here the poet distinguishes the Ipseity from the Manifestation in an innovative style:
From Ahmad to Ahad (the One) is but a mím (M)
A universe is lost within that one mím (M).
Bahá'u'lláh does not mention the Pen in this realm, rather points out that the Manifestations know but a letter thereof (Rahíq-i-Makhtúm 2:982-3). Adib Taherzadeh concludes that the Manifestations themselves are lost and bewildered at this station, and he cites the following as support:
Ten thousand Prophets, each a Moses, are thunderstruck upon the Sinai of their search at His forbidding voice, "Thou shalt never behold Me!"; whilst a myriad Messengers, each as great as Jesus, stand dismayed upon their heavenly thrones by the interdiction," Mine Essence thou shalt never apprehend!"(Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh 1:58)

The Five Presences and the Stages of 'Coming into Being'

The parallel between the seven stages of 'coming into being' and the five divine presences may be already obvious. `Abdu'l-Bahá establishes the correlation using a sequence of colors that parallels closely the one used by Bahá'u'lláh in the Tablet of All Food. `Abdu'l-Bahá states that white represents the will (mashiyyat), and green represents predestination (qadar). He confirms that crimson represents fate (qadá) and that yellow represents the stage of purpose (irádih). This correlation is elsewhere restated by `Abdú'l-Bahá (Má'idiy-i-Asmání 2:25). A one-to-one correlation exists between the four stages mentioned above and the colors assigned to the four ascending realms in the Tablet of All Food. This correlation is depicted in Table 1. Does this correlation suggest a creative schema? The Tablet of Wisdom implies that the active-recipient (fá`il-munfa`al) dynamics occur in more than one stage, and it describes a number of interactions. One possible schema is that the creation of the divine presences by the pen, follow the pen-tablet (active-recipient) interactions examined earlier. These interactions at the level of mashiyyat bring about the creation of Láhút. This same interaction involving irádih (purpose) begets Jabarút. All the four descending divine presences are generated through similar dynamics. These relations may be summarized in Table 1. [Note: original formatting of this table has been lost. Contact me if you/anyone can send a scan of this page. -J.W. 2011]

Stage of GenesisColorDivine PresencePen-TabletRelationship
_________HáhútGives rise to the Pen
Will (mashiyyat)WhiteLáhútPen to JabarútTablet in relation to the Pen.
Purpose (irádih)YellowJabarútPen to MalakútTablet in relation to Láhút.
Predestination (qadar)GreenMalakútPen to NásútTablet in relation to Jabarút.
Fate (qadá)CrimsonNásútTablet in relation to MalakútMany Pen forces act within.
Table 1

Note: I do not know what this table originally looked like. If anyone
can send me a scan of this page from JBS 9:1, please do so. -J.W. 2011

The pen-tablet dynamics may now be applied to the two problems encountered earlier in this article. The first was posed by the Tablet to Násiri'd-Din Sháh where Bahá'u'lláh writes: "The Pen of the Most High addresseth Me saying...." (Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh 57-58). The second was the use of appellations such as the "Preserved Tablet" and the "Most Great Book" in reference to Bahá'u'lláh. The key to both problems lies in the pen-tablet dynamics presented in the Tablet of Wisdom. The pen (active force) may be said to generate a tablet (recipient) and inscribe upon it. Restated, the process of creation is initiated by the generation of the pen. The pen then generates the tablet. The tablet itself has creative powers and acts as a pen (active force) on another tablet. The cycle is then repeated. Therefore, the Manifestation may claim to be the pen or the tablet (or book) in any descending realm. Similarly, Bahá'í theology can maintain that the Manifestation is both the pen, and the one spoken to by the pen, without a contradiction.


This article examined some salient features of a significant theological motif frequently used by Bahá'u'lláh, through an analysis of a lesser-known Bahá'í document, the Chapter of the Pen (Súrat ul-Qalam). The pen-tablet relation is a critical and key motif in the study of Bahá'í scripture. The deliberate use of the pen-motif represented an escalation in the gradual unfolding of the claims of Bahá'u'lláh. An approximate dating for the revelation of the Súrat ul-Qalam was provided, which supports the above progression. The Islamic background of the pen was extensively examined through a study of primary Islamic sources. An appreciation of this Islamic background is indispensable to a deeper understanding of the pen motif and Bahá'í scripture. The pen is a metaphor for the creative function of the manifestation of God. The pen was examined in the context of the little-studied seven stages of 'coming into being' and the five divine presences. A correlation between the pen-tablet motif, the five divine presences and the seven stages of 'coming into being' was suggested, based on the active-recipient dynamics presented in the Tablet of Wisdom as presented in Table 1. It follows that the creation of the four descending divine presences occur through successive pen-tablet interactions as the pen undergoes the descending progression of the stages of 'coming into being.' It was noted that the Tablet of All Food confirms an already established color correlation between the presences and the stages of 'coming into being.' The significance of this finding has not been fully appreciated and further investigation is required.

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Bio Notes

Nafeh Fananapazir

Nafeh Fananapazir has a B.A. with concentrations in Biology and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Virginia. He has special interest in Bahá'í-Christian dialogue. He presently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Kavian Milani

Kavian Milani is a physician in private practice. He completed his residency in Family Medicine in 1998 from the University of Virginia, where he also received his Medical Doctorate. He has authored a number of articles in Bahá'í Studies and in Medicine.
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