Nineteenth-Twenty First Century Bābī and Bahā'ī Tafsīr.

 Nineteenth-Twenty First Century Bābī and Bahā'ī  Tafsīr.

Some Notes on Select Primary and Secondary Sources

Stephen N. Lambden (UC-Merced).

God revealed the Qur’ān according to the likeness of the creation of all things (bi‑mithl khalq kulli shay’)..  For every single letter of the Qur’an, as accords with its being totally encompassed by the knowledge of God, to the level of its existent particles (min dhawāt al‑ashyā’),  there is a tafsīr  (interpretation). For every tafsīr  (interpretation) there is a ta`wīl  (deeper sense). For every ta`wīl  there  is a bāṭin level (`deep inner sense’). For every bāṭin  level there are also further deep inner senses (bāṭin),  dimensions, that is,  to the extent that God wills... (The Bab, Tafsīr Surat al-Kawthar, fol. 8b).       

Regarded as the foundation of Islamic civilization and the  revealed Word of God,  the Arabic Qur'an was accorded a very exalted status by both Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Bab (1819-1850) and Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha'-Allah (1817-1892), the founders of the Babi and Baha'i religions respectively. They very frequently cited the Qur'an, paraphrased it, expounded it and claimed to divulge during eschatological times, its deep senses or batini ("esoteric") levels of meaning. It has numerous zahir ("outer") and batin ("inner") levels of meaning as is often underlinded in akhbar/hadith (traditions) attributed to various of the twelve Imams of developed Imami Shi`i Islam . Certain of their meany Arabic and Persian works are distinctively neo-Qur'anic in style. These sometimes lengthy texts often commence with the Islamic basmala or new Arabic  and Persian often extended forms recreations thereof. In his Persian and Arabic Bayans ("Expositions", "Clarifications") the Bab explicitly recreated the basmala by substituting for the two words Rahman ("All-Merciful") and Rahim ("Compassionate") two Arabic superlatives expressive of the apophatic transcendence and holy sanctity of God : Bismillah al-amna` al-aqdas ("In the Name of God, the Wholly Other, the Most Holy").  As in 28 Suras of the Qur'an, Babi and Baha'i sacred writ often commences with isolated or disconnected letters; sometimes identical with  Quranic forms (e.g. A-L-M/ H-M / K-H-Y-`-S, etc) or with new, often expended forms with a variety of clear or crytpic senses such as H-M-R-A the letters spelling hamra meaning "red" or "crimson". Many works or individual verses of the Bab and Baha'-Allah are written, like Qur'anic verses in rhyming prose (saj`). This is especially the case in the Qayyum al-Asma' of the Bab which contains 111 surahs of 42 verses of rhyming prose, often ending with the accusative maker an  (written with the final letter Alif or "A"). 

Being revised and updated 20-10-2014

 

Select Bibliography.

BABI-BAHA'I PRIMARY SOURCES.

Sayyid `Alī Muhammad Shirazi, the Bab (d. Tabriz 1850 CE).

  • (1) Tafsīr  [Ḥurūf al‑] Basmala (Bismillāh al‑raḥman al‑raḥīm),

  • (2 )Tafsīr al‑Hā’  (the letter "H") in two versions (I & II)

  • (3) Tafsīr al‑Ḥamd or al‑Fātiha (The Opening, Qur'ān1)

  • (4) Tafsīr Surat al‑Baqara (`The Cow’, Qur'ān2;; incomplete) dating to early 1260/1844.

  • Tafsir Surat al-Baqara (Commentary on the Surah of the Cow). 1843-4 CE. mss.

  • (5) Tafsīr Surat Yūsuf  (Qur'ān 12 Joseph), the Qayyūm al‑asmā’ (= QA). Mid 1844

  • = Qayyūm al-asmā' ("The Self Subsisting [Deity] of the Divine Names"). mss. mid 1844 CE. 

  • Lambden trans. See this website : Add.

  • (6) Tafsīr Ayāt al‑Nūr  (Light Qur'ān 24:35), (`the light Verse’) and a few others verses of Qur'ān 24. 

  • Tafsir wāw wa'l-Sāffāt ("Commentarty on the [letter] wāw of wa'l-saffāt")  Qur'ān Sura 37:1a (The Surah of `Those [angels] arrayed in rows') :  وَالصَّافَّاتِ صَفًّا  : "I call to witness those arrayed in rows". See Nicholson,  Descriptive Cat. 1932: 62.

  • (7) Tafsīr / On  Qur'ān 50:16 and Qur'ān 112:4 (for Ḥasan Waqā’ī`‑yi‑Nigār).

  • (8) Tafsīr Laylat al‑Qadr   (Qur'ān97 `The Night of Destiny’).

  • (9) Tafsīr Surat al‑`Aṣr   (Qur'ān 103 The Era [Afternoon])

  • (10) Tafsīr Surat al‑Kawthar  (Qur'ān 107, `The [Eschatological] Abundance’).

  • (00) Nine commentaries upon the whole Qur'an written by the Bab whilst at  Maku (1848) -- so Muhammad Nabil-i Zarandi, Dawn-breakers, Mss. lost .

  •  

 Mirza Husayn `Ali Nūrī, Bahā'-Allāh (b. Tehran 1817 CE -- d. Acre 1892 CE)

  • (1) L. Kull al‑ṭa`ām (the Tablet of All Food) on Qur'ān 3:87) ( c. 1853-4).

  • (2) Tafsīr Ḥurūfāt al‑muqaṭṭa`a (The Isolated Letters [of the Qur'ān] (c.1858) also known as Tafsīr āyāt al‑nūr  (Commentary on the Light Verse).

  • (3) Tafsīr Basmala, on the basmalah and its  component letters, etc.  

  • (4) Tafsīr Qur'ān 68:1a including  the letters of the basmala,  the isolated letter ن nūn) and verse 1a , "By the Pen!"

  • (5) Tafsīr Qur'ān 13:17‑18a & 18:60‑90 contains a detailed exposition of the story of Moses and Khiḍr and of  Dhū’l‑Qarnayn and Yājūj and Mājūj (Gog and Magog).

  • (6) Tafsīr Sūrat wa’l‑shams  (Qur'ān 91)  Acre around 188?.

  • Url =

`Abbās Effendi, `Abd al-Baha' `Abbās ( born Tehran 1844 CE - d. Haifa, Palestine, 1921).

`Abd al-Baha'  wrote various Tafsīr  letters on  numerous verses and motifs of the Qur'an in Persian, Arabic and Turkish. He also wrote several commentaries on passages within the Bāb’s Qayyum al-asma'  expository of the deeply intertextual Qayyum al-asma' or Tafsir Sūrat Yūsuf (Qur'ān12) of the Bab. His Qur'an Commentary has yet to be studied in any detail.

  • Tafsir  [Basmala] Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. Makatib-i hadrat-i `Abd al-Baha' vol. ADD

  • Tafsir Sūrat al-Rum (The Surah of the Greeks) in Makatib-i hadrat-i `Abd al-Baha' vol. ADD Vol. X:XXX.

  • Tafsīr Yūsuf,  on passages, verses and motifs of  Qur'ān12 in Ma`ida-yi Asmani vol. 4 : ADD.

  • Tafsīr Qayyūm al-asma' -  on passages, verses and motifs  the QA of the Bāb.  Ma`ida 4: XXX.

  • ADD

  • ADD

Secondary Sources

Alcan, Nejati

  • trans.

Lambden, Stephen, N.

Lawson, B. Todd.

  • 1987 The Qur`ān Commentary of the Bāb. Ph.D dissertation. McGill Univ.

  • 1988 `Interpretation as Revelation: The Qur'ān  Commentary of Sayyid `Alī Muammad Shīrāzī, the Bāb (1819-1850)', in A. Rippin, ed., Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur'ān.

  • 1992 `The Dawning Places of the Lights of Certainty in the Divine Secrets Connected with the Commander of the Faithful by Rajab Bursī’  in Lewisohn, ed. The Legacy of Mediaeval Persian Sufism.  261‑276.  London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications.

  •  1993  `Akhbārī Shī`ī Approaches to Tafsīr.’  In Approaches to the Qur’ān.  Ed. Hawting and Shareef. 173‑210.  London and New York: Routledge

Moojan Momen

  • TRANS.  Surat al-Rum

Vahid Rafati. (ed. and annotated).

  • Bada`i-yi Ma`ani va Tafsir. Majmu`a-yi az athar-i Hadrat-i `Abd al-Baha dar Tasfir-i ayat-i Qur'ani va ahadith Islami.  Darmstadt: [Germany] Asr-i Jadid Publisher. [Intisharat Majmu`-yi `Irfan, 1993]. This important 273pp. Persian volume is a compilation of Arabic and Persian texts of `Abd al-Baha'i expository of the basmala, various Quranic texts and a few doctrinally significant Islamic hadith (traditions).

EXTRACT FROM THE LAMBDEN Ph.d (2001)

The Bible,  Isrā’Iīliyyāt  and  Bābī‑ Bahā’ī Tafsīr.

             Bābī‑ Bahā’ī spiritual hermeneutics mostly follow the aforementioned Shī `ī‑ Sufī‑ Irfānī‑ Shaykhī  non‑literal hermeneutical methods. They accept  ẓāhir  (outer) and numerous  bāṭin (inner) senses of the Qur'ān as did Shaykh Aḥmad and Sayyid Kāẓim Rashti (Sh‑Qaṣīda,169‑70). As indicated in the above passage from the Bāb, Bahā'-Allāh and the Bābī‑ Bahā’ī leaders  generally upheld the position that the sacred word has an infinite number of deep senses, even down to the qabbalistic level of its letters and beyond. Bābī‑ Bahā’ī primary sources  have it that past sacred texts derive their ultimate meaning in and through the theophanic person and religion of the latest  maẓhar‑i ilāhī (divine Manifestation’). The existence of  ẓāhir  (literal) and bāṭin  (inner) senses of sacred writ are affirmed (Bahā'-Allāh, Tafsīr Shams; TafsīrTa’wīl) as are innumerable even deeper sometimes eschatologically meaningful scriptural senses.  Such deep levels are often referred to as the bāṭin al‑bāṭin, the interior of the interior, the most inward of the esoteric senses (The Bab,Kawthar ; Bahā'-Allāh KI:198/ [SE*]163).

            The importance of the Qur'ān  to both the Bāb and Bahā'-Allāh can hardly be overestimated. Both cited it thousands of times and frequently commented upon portions of  it. In his Persian and Arabic Bayāns the Bāb divided the totality of his writings into five "modes" ("grades", "categories", shu`ūn), the fourth of them being  tafsīr  type revelations, Arabic verses in some sense expository of or comparable to qur’ānic revelations. For the Bāb the revelation of qur’ānic like Arabic verses constituted a true miracle, the touchstone of assured prophethood.

            From the outset many of the writings of the Bāb were distinctly neo‑qur’ānic in form; having isolated letters, being divided into sūrahs and written in rhyming prose. The Bāb associated his revelations with the ta’wīl  (inner sense) or bāṭin  (interior dimension) of  the Qur'ān The use of non‑literal  ta’wīl  in his first major work, the Tafsīr  sūrat Yūsuf  (= QA; mid.1844) suggests that he saw this work as unlocking the messianic  ta’wīl  or deeper senses of the entire Qur'ān "O people of the earth", the Bāb writes towards the end of this neo‑Tafsīr, "This Book (= QA) is the tafsīr  of everything (li‑kulli shay’)  (QA 111:448; cf. 104:414  41:151; 38:142; 44:164; 61:242).

            In an early letter the Bāb refers to his partially extant and originally 700 sūra Kitāb al‑rūḥ (Book of the Spirit, 1845) as a work which he "revealed upon the ocean on the return of the Dhikr  (to Shīrāz after the Ḥajj) in seven hundred sūrahs,  in definitive, expository verses (muḥkamat āyāt bayyināt)  expressive of the bāṭin  of the Qur’ān..." (INBMC 91:89‑90). This work is thus identified with the muḥkamat, the  established dimension of the (revealed) verses, though it is also an exposition  of the bāṭin  of the Qur'ān Here as elsewhere the Bāb subtly challenges qur’ānic `ijāz (inimitability):

Yea indeed! We have sent down in the Book [K. Rūḥ, Bāb’s revelations] certain verses which are the bāṭin  (interior meaning) of the Qur’ān" (ibid).

In another early (pre‑June 1845) work addressed to Muslim clerics, the Kitāb al‑`ulamā’, the Bāb again  associates the bāṭin  (interiority)  of the Qur'ān with revelations sent down through himself ("Our servant `Alī") as a "proof" (ḥujjat) from the eschatological Baqiyyat‑Allāh (Remembrance of God)" for the faithful (Ar. text, Afnān, 2000:107).

            The Bāb authored  several tafsīr  works only a few aspects of which have been the subject of academic analysis (see Lawson, 1986+ bib.‑>).  Aside from nine lost complete qur’ān  commentaries dating from the time of the Bāb’s imprisonment in Mākū (1848, DB:31), the extant, major,  all Arabic  tafsīr   works  of the Bāb  are, according to the sūra numbers commented upon (cf. McEoin, Sources, index, tafsīr) as follows:

  • (1) Tafsīr [Ḥurūf al‑] Basmala (Bismillāh al‑raḥman al‑raḥīm),

  • (2) Tafsīr  al‑Hā’  (the letter "H") in two versions (I & II‑‑> bib.)

  • (3) Tafsīr  [Surat] al‑Ḥamd or al‑Fātiha (The Opening, Qur'ān1)

  • (4) Tafsīr  Surat al‑Baqara (`The Cow’, Qur'ān2;; incomplete) dating to early 1260/1844.

  • (5) Tafsīr  Surat Yūsuf  (Qur'ān 12 Joseph), the Qayyūm al‑asmā’ (= QA). Mid 1844

  • (6) Tafsīr  Ayāt al‑Nūr  (Light Qur'ān 24:35), (`the light Verse’) and a few others verses of Qur'ān 24. 

  • (7) On  Qur'ān 50:16 and Qur'ān 112:4 (for Ḥasan Waqā’ī`‑yi‑Nigār).

  • (8) Tafsīr  Surat Laylat al‑Qadr   (Qur'ān97 `The Night of Destiny’).

  • (9) Tafsīr  Surat  al‑`Aṣr   (Qur'ān 103 The Era [Afternoon])

  • (10) Tafsīr  Surat al‑Kawthar  (Qur'ān 107, `The [Eschatological] Abundance’).

             Aside to some degree from the 1259‑60/1843‑4 Tafsīr Baqara, most of the Tafsīr  works of the Bāb are not exactly comparable to classical Islamic tafsīr  compositions. In form and content they are often more neo‑qur’ānic than tafsīr   works. Exhibiting rewritten tafsīr   characteristics often in a revelation (waḥy) mode the Bāb’s often eisegetical works challenge the inimitability (I`jāz) of the Qur'ān Innovative post‑qur’ānic dimensions and eschatologically suggestive levels of meaning are subtly or boldly in evidence in many of the Tafsīr  works of the Bāb.

    Several of the commentaries listed above interpret biblically rooted qur’ānic narratives. The best example of this is the multi‑faceted story of Joseph. In the Qayyūm al‑asmā’ (= QA), this  aḥsan al‑qaṣaṣ (`best of stories’) is given a complex, multi‑faceted imamological and gematric level of eschatologically suggestive senses. Other narratives directly or  allusively interpreted by the Bāb, include verses dealing with episodes in the lives of Abraham, Dhu’l‑Qarnayn, Moses, David, Jesus and others. Qur’ānic prophetological motifs and narratives along with occasional  Isrā’īliyyāt traditions are given post‑Islamic senses meaningful within the new Bābī theophany.

             In line with numerous ḥadīth  of the prophet and the Imams and like the Bāb, both Bahā'-Allāh and Abd al‑Bahā’ (= AB*) again accord multiple meanings to the sacred books of the past Bahā'-Allāh often expressed this as the following extract from one of his earlier writings illustrates:

 Know that the words of God (kalimāt Allāh) and his scriptures (sufarā’) have inner sense upon inner sense (ma`ānī  ba`du  ma`ānī), allegorical meaning (ta`wīl)  after allegorical meaning   (ta`wīl ), cryptic senses (rumūzāt)  and  allusive significances (isharāt) as well as evident proofs (dalālāt). There are, furthermore, clear regulative meaning(s)  (ḥukm/ḥukum) that are without end. No single person is aware of even a letter of the  inner meanings [of scripture] save such as your Lord, the All‑Merciful  has willed (Bahā'-Allāh, Tablet for Jawād Tabrīzī, INBMC 73:[179‑186]173).

            Bahā'-Allāh as well as `Abd al-Baha' (d. 1921 CE) also wrote many often non‑literal commentaries on select sūrahs and / or verses of the Qur'ān  Like the Bāb they frequently utilized an allegorical hermeneutic. The orientation of these tafsīr works is often eschatological fulfillment and doctrinal renewal through a new Bābī‑ Bahā’ī  universe of discourse. Though less well‑known as a Qur'ān commentator, Bahā'-Allāh expounded a very large number of qur’ānic verses, though few complete qur’ānic sūras. Like the Bāb he occasionally gave a detailed atomistic exegesis‑eisegesis to particular phrases, words and  letters of the Qur'ān  A characteristically Bāb‑like qabbalistic, letter by letter, `ilm al‑ḥurūf   exegesis seen in the Bā b’s Tafsīr Basmalah   and Tafsīr `Aṣr  is evident in certain early works of Bahā'-Allāh (INBMC 56:24ff). Among the not yet fully collected and catalogued distinctly tafsīr  works of Bahā'-Allāh are,

  • (1) L. Kull al‑ṭa`ām (the Tablet of All Food) on Qur'ān 3:87) ( c. 1853/4?).

  • (2) Tafsīr Ḥurūfāt al‑muqaṭṭa`a (The Isolated Letters [of the Qur'ān] c.1858) also known as Tafsīr āyāt al‑nūr  (Commentary on the Light Verse).

  • (3) Tafsīr Basmala, on the basmalah and its  component letters, etc.  

  • (4) Tafsīr Yūsuf,  on passages, verses and motifs of  Qur'ān12 or on the QA of the Bāb.       

  • (5)  Tafsīr Qur'ān 68:1a including  the letters of the basmala,  the isolated letter ن nūn) and verse 1a , "By the Pen!"

  • (6) Tafsīr Qur'ān 13:17‑18a & 18:60‑90 contains a detailed exposition of the story of Moses and Khiḍr and of  Dhū’l‑Qarnayn and Yājūj and Mājūj (Gog and Magog).

  • (7) Tafsīr Sūrat wa’l‑shams  (Qur'ān 91) 

            Certain of Bahā'-Allāh’s tafsīr  statements refine, supplement or develop those of the Bāb. There thus exists in Bābī‑ Bahā’ī scripture what might be called multiple, progressively expounded texts of the (Bible‑)  Qur'ān This cumulative, multi‑faceted tafsīr  of the Bāb and Bahā'-Allāh  is sometimes also further interpreted by  `Abdul-Baha' and less frequently by Shoghi Effendi (d. 1957 CE) or members of  the Bahā’ī community. A tafsīr   notice of the Bāb touching upon qur’ānic qiṣaṣ al‑anbiyā’,  for example, is not infrequently given further levels of interpretation by Bahā'-Allāh, `Abd al-Baha'  and others. Developed Bābī‑ Bahā’ī Qur'ān commentary expresses several dimensions of meaning evolving over a period of more than a century (1844‑1957>). A few examples of this evolving tafsīr   are found in connection with the Bābi‑Bahā’ī exegesis of the Joseph story and that of Dhū’l‑Qarnayn.  It is often in tafsīr  contexts that Isrā’īliyyāt traditions are interpreted  or reinterpreted beyond their Judaeo‑Christian, Abrahamic  roots.

 1 Bahā'-Allāh sometimes asked his son `Abd al-Baha' to respond to questions regarding tafsīr. issues. Among AB*’s tafsīr   works is a commentary on the Basmala, on the Sūrat al‑Rūm Qur'ān 30:1‑5 (The Byzantines [Romans], probably dating to the late 1880s) and various commentaries on passages within the Bāb’s QA relating to the Sūrat Yūsuf (Qur'ān12). `Abd al-Baha'  wrote various Tafsīr  letters in Persian, Arabic and Turkish.