Surat al-Sabr (The Tablet of Patience) or Lawh-i `Ayyub (Tablet of Job). 1863.
Ṣabr = -صَبْرٌ
The 1863 Surat al-Ṣabr (The Tablet of Patience) or Lawh-i `Ayyub (Tablet of Job) of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha'-Allah.
Introduction written early 1980s.
Under revision and correction - last updated 17-02-2017,
Stephen Lambden UCMerced.
Job and the Sūrat al-Ṣabr (The Surah of Patience"). 1
The Surat al-Sabr is a twenty-five or so page (wholly) Arabic epistle composed by Baha'-Allah in late, 21st/22nd April 1863 (= 1st Riḍwān 1863) in honour of the prominent and wealthy Bābi merchant, Hajji Muhammad Tāqi of Nayriz (Fārs province, Iran; d. c. 1868). Hajji Muhammad supported Siyyid Yahya Darābī, Vaḥīd (b. Yazd c. 1811 - d. Nayriz, 1850) and his fellow Bābis during the Nayriz upheaval (May 1850> 1853) and suffered terrible imprisonment and torture for his faith at the hands of Zayn al-`Abidān Khān (the then governor of Nayriz). He visited Baghdad shortly before Baha'-Allah's leaving that city and came, in view of his long-standing Bābi allegiance and great fortitude, to be designated `Ayyub ( = Job).
Mss and printed Texts
- `Abd al-Hamid Ishraq Khavari comp. Risala Ayyam-i tis`ah [= AT] Surat al-sabr = pages 262-304.
- PDf. Ayyam T = Surat al-sabr-AT.pdf
- Ishraq Khavari comp. Ma'ida-yi asmani [= MA], Vol. IV pp. 282-313,
- PDf. Ma'ida IV = Surat al-sabr-MA.pdf
- Ishraq Khavari ed. Rahiq Makhtum [= RM] .
On al-Ṣabr (}Patience") in Islamic sources.
- Wensinck, A.J. "Ṣabr". Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W. P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2008. Brill Online. 29 April 2008
The Story of Job
Of multiform genre (narrative + dialogical poetry) the notoriously difficult biblical (idiomatic Hebrew) book of Job is complex for a variety of reasons. Its authorship, date (estimates range from ) and provevance ( ) and provenance are all uncertain (cf. Lacocque, 1996). Job, the non-Hebrew universal legendary hero, is both supremely "patient" (cf. James 5:11x "patience of Job") as well as a disgruntled, poetic grappler with problems relating to theodicy. Both hero and anti-hero it is the tradition of his legendary patience which Baha'-Allah focuses upon in the Surat al-ṣabr.
Though Job is only a few times mentioned in the Qur'ān 3 a Sunni and Shi`i sources contain numerous legends rooted in the Biblical book of Job (MT + LXX versions) and, to a greater or lesser extent, derived from Jewish or Christian Job stories such as the Testament of Job (1st cent. BCE -> 1st cent. CE). 4 It is on such Islamic sources that Bahā-Allāh indirectly drew upon in the opening section of his Surat al-Sabr in which the story of Job and his wife is narrated at some length 1. In the Islamic rooted Surat al-sabr the Biblical book of Job is neither directly quoted nor paraphrased.
In the opening paragraph of the Sārat al-Ṣabr an esoteric account of Job's call to prophethood is set forth:
This is the City of Patience.
So strive that thou mayest enter therein, O concourse of patient ones!
In the Name of God, the Exalted, the Most Exalted.
In the city of patience (madinat al-ṣabr) God commemorateth His servant Job:
when We gave him refuge in the shade of the Tree of Holiness in his inmost heart [cf. Qur'ān 38:40a; 21:83a]. We caused the [Sinaitic] Fire which was ignited and beamed forth in his inmost reality to bear witness [to God] and We disclosed Our [theophanic] effulgence unto him -- through his self, unto his own self -- and caused him to cry out in the blessed region of the locale of God (fā buq`at Allāh burika awlihā cf. Q.7:l43;27:7f), `He, verily, is God, thy Lord and the Lord of all things. Wherefore is He One Powerful, Self-Subsisting.' And when his [Job's] face was illumined by the Fire which blazed forth within him We clothed him in the garment of prophethood and commanded him that he direct the people unto the Fount of Bounty and Grace (`ayn al-jud wa'l-fadl)."
Job's call was an interior Sinaitic experience comparable to that of Moses. He, it may be gathered, visioned the Divine Theophany in the mystic Mount of his inner self and bore testimony to his Maker's Divinity. He was thus made a prophet:
"So he [Job] summoned them [his contemporaries] unto a shore sacred and blessed" (cf. Q. 4:161; 6:84).
His initial opulence, dwelt upon in the Bible (Job 1:2ff and a multitude of Islamic sources (but not the Qur'ān) 2 is detailed and accounted for in the following way:
"We strengthened him [Job] on earth and caused the rain of [the divine] bounty to pour down upon him. In the dominion we made him one rich in excess of all others gathered on earth and gave him an abundance of wealth [in livestock]. We made him self-sufficient, bestowed on him a portion of all things, powerfully assisted him with mighty associates, and caused sons to spring forth from his loins. We established him on earth as one occupying an elevated station."
Job's prophetic mission and preaching1
"He sojourned among his people for many long years and preached unto them in accordance with what We taught him of the hidden mysteries of knowledge. He called their attention to the [eschatological] "Days" which, in very truth, were to come (matiyy an). He said: `O People! The Ocean of knowledge hath surged in the Self of God, upright in justice (nafs Allāh al-qā'imat bi'l-`adl). So hasten ye towards it [or Him] perchance thou mightest find a path thereton.' The Sun of Bounty hath, in very truth, risen up and this very moment is established in the midmost-heart of occultation (qub al-zawāl). The Beauty of the [Divine] Face hath flashed forth from behind the pavilions of holiness. So be thou present besides Him perchance thou might be irradiated with the beloved lights of holiness. The Heaven of Grandeur hath been raised up and hath been ornamented with the stars of knowledge and wisdom. In such manner hath the Command (al-amr) risen up from the Horizon of Holiness."
The implication of this distinctly Bābi version of Job's preaching, appears to be that Bābism will be established in the latter days, Job's words perhaps being couched in the prophetic perfect
Bahā'-Allāh also puts the following words into Job's mouth:
"And, O People! Before me [Job] there hath come Messengers [of God] unto you with the messages of God. They summoned you unto that which was capable of orienting you towards a Mighty, Elevated Shore. [They said?]:`The "Hour" hath, in very truth, struck. With justice hath the Lights shone forth. The Bird of Eternity hath warbled forth and the Dove of the Command hath sung out. The cloud[s] of light have been upraised and the Ocean of Bounty overflowed' But you, O Concourse of the Earth! were assuredly held back from all of this. Fear God and frustrate not the Wisdom of God. Then give ear unto the Word (kalimat) which hath descended from the Heaven of [Divine] Nearness."
These lines obviously tell us more about Bahā'-Allāh's championing of a realized eschatology -- in the light of the Bābā revelation -- than about any alleged preaching of Job or hias prophetic predecessors. What appears tp be the rest of Bahā'-Allāh's version of Job's preaching is as follows:
"In such manner have We [= Job and his prophetic predecessors ?] counselled the servants [of God] through the tongue of the Messengers [of God], from the beginning which hath no beginning unto the end which hath no end. But all turned aside from the Counsel of God and fell back [in heedlessness] upon their heels; save that is, such as were outstripped by the Bounty which deriveth from Us. They heard the Call of God from behind mighty, hidden veils but drew back from the Summoner unto God both publicly and in secret. Yet were there those who were captivated by the beloved enticing melodies, who attained unto the Haven of Guidance and received of the Blessings of God and His Mercy. God bestowed on them that which none had fathomed and they attained a station which was veied from the eyes of all creatures.
God shall be made manifest through His Command (bi-amrihi) and He shall distinguish between truth and error. He will raise up the banners of guidance and tear down the emblems of all who add gods to God. Those among His servants shall inherit the earth who are dedicated to God have not drunk in their hearts of the love of the [golden] Calf (cf. Q. ) and have turned aside from such as have disbelieved and added gods to God after clear signs came unto them from all sides. Thus hath the decree been inscribed on Tablets of Light with the [Divine] Finger of Might"1
Job's Rejection and Testing
It was, Baha'-Allah continues, in view of envy over Job's material wellbeing that his contemporaries maltreated him:
"So call to mind the time when Our servant Job appeared in the dominion with the tokens of self sufficiency; when his people were envious of him and slandered him in their gatherings. Wherefore were their deeds preaerved in Hidden Scrolls (aā'if al-sirr). They supposed that he [Job] invoked God inasmuch as He [God] had given him [Job] of the ornaments of the world despite the fact that he [Job] was one sanctified above their imaginings and their fixed ideas and from all gathered in the dominion [of God]."
In order to highlight Job's detachment and holiness God allowed him to be severely tested:
"And when We resolved to cause the signs of his [Job's] detachment and trust in God to be made manifest We sent down upon him calamities from every side and We severely tested him. We took his sons from him and removed the bounty which We had, in very truth, bestowed upon him [cf. Job 1:18, 19]. 2 Every day We took a specific thing from him. No day passed but that We sent down upon him from the realm of the [Divine] Decree that which was inscribed by the Pen of Realization. He [Job] was afflicted with misery (al-ba'sā') and distress (al-arrā') as decreed on the part of One Powerful, Self-Subsisting. Then, through the instrumentality of the Angels of the Command (malā'ikat al-amr) We burned up the harvest of his plantation and decided to reduce it all to dust [or smoke; habā']. (cf. Job 1:16).
Not only was Job deprived of his material wealth and sons but was made the victim of terrible bodily suffering:
" When We had made him [Job] to be one sanctified of the trappings of the world, purified him of squalors of the earth and cleansed him of all earthly grades We, by means of the Angels of [God's] Wrath (malā'ikat al-qahr) blew an hot wind (or `poisoned breath'; rian an samām an) into his skin. By this means did We weaken his body, agitate his frame and cause his limbs to quake such that there did not remain even an ounce of strengh in his body" (cf. Job 2:4ff., esp., verses 7-8).
Yet did Job remain patient and mindful of God:
"Despite his being afflicted he [Job] every day multiplied his thankfulness and was, at every moment, patient. He was not impatient on account of that which had befallen him. Wherefore did We reckon him one [truly] trusting [in God], thankful [towards God] and patient [in suffering]." (See Job 1:22; 2:10).
His aforementioned sufferings were compounded by his being expelled from his home and maltreated by his contemporaries:
"And his people expelled him from the city (or: village) in which he dwelt and were unashamed before God their Creator. They maltreated him [Job] in view of their having power over him. We found him [Job] oppressed on earth. The gates of wealth were barred before his face and the gates of poverty open. Days passed by during which he [Job] found nothing with which to satisfy his hunger. Thus was decreed the [Divine] command with respect to him. He was left without friend, intimate or companion. He was alone in the dominion save for [his] wife who believed in God her Lord and served him [Job] in his affliction. We found her an helpmate (lit: path) for him in [his] circumstances (fi'l umār). "
Bahā'-Allāh here introduces Job's (initially) faithful wife. She speaks only once in the biblical text in response to the her afflicted husband's terrible plight, "Dost thou still continue in thy simplicity? Bless God, and die" (Job 2:9). These words earned her a prominent place in Christian misogynist literature, secured by Gregory the Great in his Moralia in Iob (written in 595 CE; see Astell, 1991:93ff).
Bahā'-Allāh narrates a version of the story of her attempts to help her husband in the following manner:
"When his consort found him [Job] in a dire condition she went unto his people and requested of them a [flat] loaf of bread but they, the embodiments of tyranny, refused to give her one. Thus have We ennumerated all things in a hidden Book.
Her plight was such that she was obliged to approach her who was the most evil of the women on earth (cf Job 2:10a-rooted in this ref.) and who refused to give her [Job's wife] a loaf of bread until she had taken from her that which she desired. By God! The Pen is ashamed to recount this episode. God beareth witness their deeds.
So she [Job's wife] went unto the servant [of God= Job] with a loaf of bread. When he [Job] turned to look at her [his wife] he found that her hair had been cut off. He [Job] then cried out from the depth of his being -- so too on this account did the heavens and the earth cry out and said:
`O Maidservant of God! What on earth has happened to you that you have, in truth, comitted a thing forbidden? You should not have cut off your hair which God gave you to be an ornament of your beauty.' (nb. Job 1:20 where Job shaves his head out of grief).
`O Job! Whenever I requested of your people a loaf of bread for thy sake they all refused me until I entered the house of one of the maidservants of God whom I asked for a loaf of bread. Even she refused me until she took my hair. Then she gave me this loaf of bread which I have presented to you. Under these circumstances did she [the evil woman] commit an outrage against God and displayed arrogance towards him. Thus did the affair between me [Job's wife] and her [the evil woman] transpire
O Job! Forgive me. Deal not with me according to my sin for I was compelled [so to act] on account of thy plight. Be merciful unto me and restore me to favour. Thou verily art one benevolent, forgiving."
And He it was? [God?] judged between them as was decreed or understood that which had transpired between them.
So he [job] wept to such an extent that the heavens were well nigh cleft asunder, the
earth of forbearance [all but] split open and the mountain of patience [all but] reduced to dust. Then he [Job] buried his face in the dust and said: `Lord! Adversity hath seized me on all sides but thou art the One whose mercy preceedeth all things. So be merciful unto me through Thy bounty and restore me through thy grace. Thou verily art the One Who is merciful unto Thy servants.'"
See al-Kisa'ā p. 201-2, same context. (cf. Job 2:9-10; Qur'ān 38:44 commentaries).
In response to this prayer of Job, an expanded rewrite of Qur'ān 21:83, God, according to Bahā'-Allāh, restored Job's health and material prosperity:
"When We heard his [Job's] call We made a fresh, palatable and sweet spring to flow beneath his right foot. We commanded him [Job] that he should immerse [himself] in it and drink from it. And when he had drunk [therefrom] he was cured of all [his] maladies and was manifestly the fairest of [God's] creatures." [See Qur'ān 38: 41-44] 1
"And We returned to him [Job] all that We had taken from him and more since We caused to rain down upon him from the heavenly realm of prosperity that which enriched him more than all gathered on earth."
"And We delighted his eyes with his family (or: kinsfolk; bi-ahlihā) and We compensated him with that which We promised those who are patient in holy, preserved Tablets."
"And We restored all his circumstances through the aid of the command which is, in very truth, powerful."
"And We caused lowly ones to show deference towards him [Job] and We smote (see note) such as waxed proud before God till they were wretched on earth."
"Thus did We accomplish that which We willed through Our command. And We compensate the wages of the patient ones and bestow upon them a fitting reward out of the treasuries of holiness."
For Bahā'-Allāh the story of Job is the tale of a persecuted prophet whose complete patience and trust in God was ultimately amply compensated for. Having known great wealth and prosperity Job remained patient and trusted in God under the most terrible circumstances.
After setting forth his account of the call, prophetic mission, testing, patience and divine vindication of Job Bahā'-Allāh dwells on the need of patience during the "days of the spirit" (ayyām al-ruh= the Bābi dispensation ?) and glorifies this spiritual quality. In the "Heights of Eternity" God created a special paradise and named it "Patience" (al abr). Therein delights exist which are not to be found in other paradises. It is set aside for those Bābis who have patiently endured dire suffering and persecution. In narrating the essentially Islamic legend of Job Bahā'-Allāh meant to encourage those Bābis who had or were exposed to possible harrasment, torture, imprisonment or martyrdom. Patience, he, in line with Qur'ān asserts, leads to special rewards. God made patience the "garment" of His Messengers for; "no prophet (nabi) or Messenger (rasul) was raised up [by God] except God had ornamented his being (haykal) with the cloak of patience (ridā' al-sabr).. ."
The advent of God and the continuity of revelation
Bahā'-Allāh's several paragraphs on the sublimity of true patience led him to associate this quality with the anticipated eschatological advent of Divinity in the person of man yuhiruhu'llāh, the Bābi Messiah
"So anticipate the "Day" when the "cloud of patience" (ghamām al-Ṣabr) will be upraised, in which the Bird of Eternity (tayr al baqā') will sing out and the Peacock of Holiness (tā'wus al-quds) be made manifest with the ornament of the Command (tirāz al-amr) in the Kingdom of Meeting [God; malakut al-liqā') and screech out with the accents of the Dove the [the arrival of?] the universal age (reading: al-sann al-kulliyya). The Dove of Paradise shall be suspended between earth and heaven; the Trumpet shall be sounded; the embodiments of existence be renewed; the Fire [of Hell] be made to blaze and God come in the shadows of the Spirit (zullal min al-ruh) with a powerful, transcendent Beauty".
He then, a few paragraphs later, comments on the advent of the Bāb in the light of those Qur'ānic texts that announce the eschatological advent of God. Addressing Muslims he writes:
"Say: O Concourse of Ignorant Ones! Was it not revealed aforetime [in the Qur'ān]: [That] Day God shall come in the shadows of the clouds" (= Q. )? Then, when He, in very truth, came in the "clouds of the Command" (ghamam al-amr) in the [mortal] temple of `Ali (= the Bāb) you rejected him, waxed proud and were a ruinous people. And was it not sent down [in the Qur'ān]:
"The Day when thy Lord shall come or some of the signs of Thy Lord" (Q. ).
And when He [God/the Bab] came with manifest signs you rejected Him and were veiled in the veils of our own selves" (= MA 4:290-1/AT:273-4)
Having identified the Bāb with the eschatological advent of God predicted in the Qurān Bahā'-Allāh underlines the fact that the absolute Godhead, being utterly transcendent, is beyond "coming" or "descent" in his exalted "essence" (dhāt). Since God Himself cannot be directly seen or comprehended, it is argued that, "He Who comes is the Locus of the Manifestation of His [God's] Self (mahar nafsihi).." (MA 4:291/AT: ). That the Bāb came as the eschatological advent of Divinity is not, Bahā'-Allāh continues, contradicted by the Muslim assertion that Qur'ān 33:40(b) signifies that the sucession of prophets or Divine Messengers ended with the mission of Muammad. Divine guidance can never be cut off. Prophethood was only "sealed" after Muhammad up till the "Day of Resurrection" which, in fact, commenced with the rise of the Bāb and the onset of the Bābā dispensation: "This is the "Day of Resurrection" in which God hath risen up through the locus of the manifestation of His Self [= the Bāb]."
The anticipated "meeting with God'l (liqā' Allāh) has already come to pass. Muslims have for the most part failed to understand the deeper implications of Qur'ānic eschatological prophecies. In this they are like the adherants of other religions who each claimed that the continuity of revelation ended with their own founder Prophet. When Muhammad came as the bearer of a new revelation the Jews said:
"By God! This [Muammad] is he who hath calumniated God or in whom is a jinn or one bewitched [by sorcery]."
Such Jews also said:
"God hath "sealed" Prophethood through Moses. And this is the decree of God which hath been ordained in the Torah. The Law of the Torah shall never be abrogated even as long as God endures. He who shall come in the future [the Jewish Messiah] shall rise up under the shadow of its Law in order that he might spread abroad its decrees unto all who are on earth. Thus was the [Divine] Command from the Heaven of the Decree upon the Moses of the Command sent down."
Christians made similar assertions:
"And those who the Gospel (al-injāl) said thelike of what they [the Jews] asserted [when Muammad came]. From that time until this they have been anxiously awaiting [the eschatological advent] and God hath cast them out in view of that which was revealed unto Muammad the Arab in the Sāra of the Jinn (= Qur'ān:72):
"They [Christians] supposed the like of what you [Jews] supposed; that God will never raise up after him [Jesus] anyone [another Messenger]" (MA 4:293/AT:277).
This slightly expanded and non-contextual interpretation of Qur'ān 72:7 is taken by Bahā'-Allāh as evidence for the Christian assertion that no Messenger will come after Jesus. 1
In the following words Bahā'-Allāh categorically rejects this static view of God's dealings with men:
"Say: God hath raised up Messengers (rusul an) after Moses and shall communicate His Message [through Messengers] unto the end which knoweth no end..." (MA 4:293/AT ).
Muslims should not act as did Jews and Christians by outruling the continuity of revelation communicated by exalted Messengers of God.
Following some further paragraphs on the subject of the eternal continuity of revelation and related themes BA* mentions the rejection of the Bāb and the maltreatment and martyrdom of Imām Husayn (d. 680). This leads him to mention Hajji Muhammad Taqi (see above), Siyyid Yahyā Darabi Wahid and some aspects of the Nayriz upheaval. Certain pericopes are addressed to the inhabitants of Nayriz as well as to the trees, earth and atmosphere of this blessed region. As noted the latter part of the Surat al-Ṣabr contains material of great interest in connection with the claims made by Bahā'-Allāh shortly before his journey to Constantinople.