Miscellaneous historical and doctrinal topics
by John Walbridgepublished in Essays and Notes on Babi and Bahá'í History
The Persian Dala'il-i Sab`a is a major polemical work of the Bab in which he justifies his religion and his claims to prophethood to an unidentified and evidently sceptical inquirer who is said to have written and asked for proofs of the Bab's mission. There are actually two works with this title, a longer version in Persian and a shorter version in Arabic. The Persian text mentions that it being written in Maku and that four years of the revelation had elapsed, that is in late 1847 or early 1848. The individual for whom the work was written is not known, but the text mentions that he was a student of Sayyid Kazim and had met Mulla Husayn, and the content indicates that he was not a confirmed believer. Azal claimed that the recipient was the Bab's secretary, Sayyid Husayn Yazdi, and Fadil Mazandarani believed that the recipient was Mulla Muhammad-Taqi Harawi, a Shaykhi who was converted by Mulla Husayn in Isfahan but who later abandoned the religion and wrote a refutation of the Bab (Brown, Catalogue 448; Mazandarani, Asrar 4:109). Since the former remained a firm Babi and the latter is referred to as a third person in the text, the matter is still unsettled. (MacEoin, Sources, 85–88.)
The Seven Proofs seems to have been popular among the Babis; after the death of the Bab Mirza Ahmad Katib was able to earn a modest living copying it and the Persian Bayan for the Babis (Nabil, 592), and at least thirteen manuscripts of the Persian text and three of the Arabic text exist in the hands of various Babi and Bahá'í scribes.
The doctrines of the Seven Proofs closely resemble those of the Bayan, which was written about the same time. The chief theme of the work is the standard by which the Bab's claim to prophethood is to be evaluated. He argues that according to the Qur'an, a prophet is to be judged by his verses (ayat), a word that Muslims interpreted as meaning both "writings" and "evidentiary signs." Taking for granted that his own writings were comparable to the Qur'an, he argues that only God can reveal scripture and that the greatest miracle of Muhammad was that no one until the Bab had been able to compose anything comparable to the Qur'an. The verses of God must be greater than the miracles of the prophets of old, since the Qur'an, the only evidentiary miracle of Muhammad, abrogated their religions. Finally, whereas it took Muhammad twenty-three years to reveal the Qur'an, the Bab, who composed his works with extreme rapidity, had revealed works of comparable size in two days and nights, despite his not having had a conventional theological education.
The Bab, arguing against the usual Muslim reluctance to accept the possibility of revelation after Muhammad, points out that the Muslim belief that Islam abrodgated Judaism and Christianity implies the obligation to accept other prophets if they come with inimitable revealed writings. This obligations applies to the Babis as well, who were counselled to accept Him Whom God shall make manifest, the messiah of the Babis, whom Bahá'ís identify with Bahaullah.
The Persian Seven Proofs contains a number of passages of historical importance, the most important being the Bab's explanation of the gradual revelation of his station.
Note: An edition has been published by the Azalis in Iran; Abu al-Fadl Bayda'i, ed., Dala'il-i Sab`a (Tehran: Ism-i A'zam, n.d.). Known MSS are listed in MacEoin, Sources, p. 185. I have used Cambridge Browne F.25 in the preparation of this article. I have not seen the Arabic version. A full French translation is A. L. M. Nicolas, Le Livre des Sept Preuves (Paris, 1902). English selections are found in Bab, Selections. See also Mazandarani, Asrar 4:108–15; Amanat, Resurrection 161, 193–94, 199, 375, 384; Momen, Babi 37, 39; Sulaymani, Masabih 2:496; Ishraq-Khavari, Qamus 202, 206, 1645–52; `Abd al-Baha, Makatib 26; Ishraq-Khavari, Muhadirat 837-39.
The "Most Holy Tablet" is an Arabic letter addressed to a Bahá'í, apparently of Christian background. He may have been Faris Effendi, the Syrian Christian converted by Nabil Zarandi while they were jailed together in Alexandria in 1868. It was written in `Akka, but the exact date is unknown. Its Arabic uses many Christian terms and quotations from the New Testament. The title—properly al-Lawh al-Aqdas—is given by Bahaullah Himself in the heading of the tablet. It is sometimes referred to as the "Tablet" or "Message to the Christians." It is to be classed with the tablets to the kings and rulers revealed in the Edirne and early `Akka periods.
After the initial salutation addressed to the unnamed Christian Bahá'í, the bulk of the tablet is addressed to the Christian community as a whole—the "followers of the Son," the priests, the bishops, and the monks.
Bahaullah begins by asking the Christians why they failed to recognize him as the return of Christ. He points to the Pharisees who had lived in expectation of the Messiah and had known the prophecies of the Old Testament yet had rejected Christ. The monks who fail to recognize Bahaullah are like these.
Bahaullah then eloquently announces his own claim to be the return of Christ, "come down from heaven, even as he came down from it the first time." This announcement is expressed in the prophetic language of the Bible and the Qur'an with allusions to the Kingdom of Heaven, the River Jordan, Sinai, the Father, the Hour, and the Face of God. He chides the Christians for not heeding the voice of the Bab, "the Crier. . . in the wilderness"—words that the New Testament applies to John the Baptist.
He calls the priests to leave their churches and their bells and not to be veiled by the name of Christ, for Bahaullah has glorified Christ. Now they should summon the people to the Most Great Name of Bahaullah. They should ponder the fact that although the light of his revelation appeared in the East, its effects were manifested in the West—perhaps an allusion to the extraordinary technical progress of Europe in the nineteenth century. As for the bishops, he says that they are the stars whose fall had been prophesied by Christ Himself. He promises the monks that if they follow him, he will make them his heirs, though if they fail to do so, he will endure this with patience. The tablet now becomes a dialogue between Bahaullah and Bethlehem and Sinai, in which these two holy places of Christianity and Judaism bear witness to Bahaullah's station.
Bahaullah addresses the recipient of the letter again, praising him for recognizing his Lord. The Muslims had persecuted Bahaullah without just cause, but such people are like the dead. He should not be disturbed by what they say and should remain steadfast.
Bahaullah asks the recipient to greet on his behalf another Bahá'í, whom he praises with wordplay on the man's name, Murad, which means "desired."
The tablet closes with a set of beatitudes proclaiming the blessedness of those who have recognized Bahaullah and his station.
Note: The Lawh-i Aqdas was first published in Kitab-i Mubin, a collection of Bahaullah's writings published in Bombay in 18_?_ [and reprinted as Bahaullah, Athar 1????] Shoghi Effendi translated several passages in Shoghi Effendi, Promised, along with similar passages addressed to the Christian priests. These are incorporated in the full translation found in Bahaullah, Tablets.
Note: The Arabic text is found in Bahaullah, Athar 1 and Bahaullah, Tablets ch. 2. The full English text is in Bahaullah, Tablets,, ch. 2. Extracts translated by Shoghi Effendi are in Shoghi Effendi, Promised 42, 105–7, 110. Eric Bowes, "Bahá'u'lláh's Message to the Christians" (n.p.: Bahá'í Publications Australia, 1986) is a brief commentary addressed to a Christian audience. It includes the full English translation. Information on the Lawh-i Aqdas is found in Ishraq-Khavari, Ganj 164–68, Ishraq-Khavari, Da'irat 13:2011–14, and Taherzadeh 4:227-35. Information on Faris Effendi, the probable recipient, is found in the sources mentioned and in Taherzadeh 3:5-11 and Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh 267–68.
The attitude towards dreams displayed in Babi and Bahá'í history and literature is firmly rooted in Iranian tradition. Iranians have generally accepted the possibility of significant true dreams. Thus, the sophisticated philosophical tradition of which the Shaykhi school was a part explained dreams as a contact with the World of Image, an intermediary world between the material and purely spiritual realms. The authority of true dreams was unquestioned in the Iranian, the Islamic, and the Shi'ite traditions. The Shah-Nama, the Iranian national epic, reports a number of dreams foreshadowing the rise or fall of rulers and thus granting political legitimacy. The Qur'an itself was sometimes revealed to Muhammad in dreams. The Prophet Joseph was the archetype of dream-interpreters (Q 12:4, 36–49). The Shi'ite Imams received inspiration through true dreams.
The most important class of dream for the spiritual background of the Bahá'í Faith is that in which a religious figure appears and initiates or gives knowledge to an individual. The tradition of receiving revelation in a dream goes back in Iran to Zoroaster. Throughout the history of Islamic Iran, claims to religious knowledge or authority have been made on the basis of dreams in which the Prophet, the Imams, angels, or other supernatural individuals appeared. Such dreams took on particular importance for Shi'ism, since it was believed that the Twelfth Imam was in concealment but still concerned with the affairs of his community. It was through dreams that he most commonly instructed his followers. For Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i, the founder of the Shaykhi school, such dreams were central. He saw the Imams and the Prophet many times in dreams and had received from them the authority to teach (Amanat, Resurrection 131-32, 168). During the period prior to his declaration of his mission to Mulla Husayn, the Bab had significant dreams. It was a dream in which he drank a drop of the blood of the Imam Husayn's severed head that begin his prophethood. Likewise, Bahaullah's prophethood first came to him during dreams in the Siyah-Chal.
True dreams may also be symbolic and require interpretation—as the example of Joseph shows. In Bahá'í history the most famous interpretation of a dream is that of Bahaullah's father. According to Nabil (119) Bahaullah's father had dreamed of his son swimming in the ocean as fish clung to his hair. A dream interpreter had been summoned and explained this as a prophecy of the boy's future greatness. Likewise, a mujtahid's dreams warn him of Bahaullah's greatness (Nabil, 111–12), and a dream tells a merchant to prepare to be the Bab's host (Nabil, 217). Such dreams have continued to play a role in Bahá'í piety ever since.
In Bahá'í theology, dreams are significant only as evidence of the objective existence of the spiritual realm. Both Bahaullah and `Abd al-Baha say that true dreams, dreams in which problems are solved, and the power to travel beyond one's own body in dreams are evidence that man's soul is immaterial (Bahaullah, Seven 32–33; Bahaullah, Gleanings 79:151–53; `Abd al-Baha, Some 61:227–28).
In the modern Bahá'í community, dreams have no official authority (Hornby, Lights 1739:513–14, 1745:515), but they often play a role in the spiritual lives of individuals. Two themes are particularly significant. Dreams in which `Abd al-Baha appears, often to give some spiritual advice or practical instruction, seem to be not uncommon and are generally viewed as spiritually significant. Second, dreams sometimes play a role in teaching successes. A Bahá'í teacher might report being guided by a dream to a place or an individual. Sometimes, Bahá'í teachers report being told that a dream, either of the teacher himself , of `Abd al-Baha, or of some other recognizable Bahá'í image, had presaged their coming. Though such reports have no canonical authority and perhaps properly belong to the realm of Bahá'í folklore, they do play a role in modern Bahá'í spirituality.
Sources: On dreams in Iran see H. Ziai, EIr, s.v. "Dreams and Dream Interpretation."
Evolution: a note
From the mid-nineteenth century to the present, the issue of conflict between science and religion has been preeminently identified with the dispute about evolution and human origins. The religious implications of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection were recognized as soon as his The Origin of Species was published in 1859. Not only did Darwin's theory discredit traditional religious accounts of the origin of man, such as those found in Genesis and the Qur'an, it seemed to make man an animal like any other and thus cast into doubt any accout positing a supernatural aspect of human beings. The controversies concerning evolution in the Christian world are well known and still continue, especially among evangelical Protestants. Darwin's theory became well known in the Middle East within a few decades of its publication through popular accounts in Arabic and other Islamic languages. A Shi'i cleric in Najaf wrote a two volume refutation of Darwin soon after the publication of the first book on the subject in Arabic. Thus, by the time `Abd al-Baha came into contact with Westerners around the beginning of the twentieth century, evolution was a subject that any serious religious thinker—Middle Eastern, American, or European—would be expected to take a position on.
`Abd al-Baha's best known statement on the subject is in Some Answered Questions (ch. 45–51). It is usually understood to advance a theory that man evolved from a more primitive form to his present state but that he was always a distinct species, not directly related to other animals. Such a theory has no scientific support.
`Abd al-Baha's statements on evolution reflect the unease of many thoughtful religious people of the time at the use and misuse of Darwinist concepts. Evolution was being used as a justification for the abandonment of traditional religious and spiritual ideas, of standards of decency and kindness, and of the social solidarity that made the rich and powerful responsible for the well-being of the poorer and weaker members of society. The formulation given in this talk is clearly `Abd al-Baha's attempt to offer a way out of this dilemma, using the philosophical and theological concepts of the sophisticated Iranian philosophical tradition, which since the work of the great philosopher Mulla Sadra in the 17th century, had seen the transformation of substance as a key to understanding the deepest nature of being and the godhead. Thus, his statements on evolution should be read not literally as corrections to a particular scientific theory but as an insistence that scientific truth must be understood in the context of a spiritual view of the universe. (See also Brown and von Kitzing, Evolution and Bahá'í Belief, which I have not used.)
The biggest news story during the first few weeks of `Abd al-Baha's stay in America was the sinking of the British passenger steamship Titanic of the famous White Star Line. He had reached America on 11 April 1912, a few days before the disaster.
The largest and most luxurious liner built to that day, the Titanic sank after striking an iceberg on her maiden voyage from England to New York on 15 April 1912. Of the 2235 people aboard 1522 drowned or froze, including many prominent English and American socialites. News of the disaster reached America the next day and filled the papers for weeks to come. Following a speech to the Persian-American Association in Washington, D.C., on 20 April, he was asked by reporters about the disaster. He replied that Europeans and Americans seemed possessed by a desire for speed, that it was a pity if such a loss of life had indeed resulted from nothing more important than the desire to save a few hours (Ward, 239 Days, citing Washington Evening Star, 21 April 1912).
At a reception on 23 April, he returned to the topic of the disaster. `Abd al-Baha', who had chosen to come to America on the more modest Cedric of the same line, remarked that he had traveled as far as Naples with some of those who died—presumably some of the many Syrians among the immigrants in steerage, almost all of whom died. Explaining that in everything there is a divine wisdom, he then spoke of death as the gate to the other worlds of God and said that the disaster showed both the need for man's technical skill and his ultimate dependence on God (`Abd al-Baha, Promulgation 46–48). `Abd al-Baha's remarks are notable for avoiding both the most common reactions to the disaster: excessive sentimentality and intemperate criticism of society, the owners, crew, or survivors.