The word Baha' : Quintessence of the Greatest Name of God : The writings of Bahā'-Allāh and his successors.

 

The word Baha', Quintessence of the Greatest Name of God, in the  writings of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Bahā'-Allāh and his successors.

Stephen Lambden UCMerced.
In progress 1980s-2017.

Under revision, correction and completion ...  Last updated 16-02-02-2017
 

Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Nūrī (1817-1892), the Founder of the Bahā'ī  religion and a one-time leading member of the Bābī religion, bestowed upon each of the 81 (=9X9) participants at the 1848 Babi conference of Badasht, a new name. He himself, to quote  The Dawnbreakers (Tārīkh-i-Zarandī = DB) , "was henceforth designated by the name of Bahā" (DB:211).  Bahā’-Allāh thus, from very early on, whilst outwardly a leading Bābī or Sufi dervish (for over ten years before declaring his mission in 1863 CE) sometimes used the word Bahā' as a proper name. It shall be illustrated below that the word Bahā' was a term of considerable importance in Islamic and Bābī literatures. On occasion it occurred in contexts which had, or came to be interpreted as having, prophetic, messianic, import.

The honorific title (laqab)  of Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Nūrī is Bahā’-Allāh. 4 It is a title which follows an early Islāmic pattern. Grammatically, it is a genitive construction made up of the two closely linked words, [1] Bahā' and [2]  Allāh. 5 It signifies "The Glory / Splendour of God". cf.  Ḍiyā'-Allāh (= "the Radiance of God") and Dhikr-Allāh ( = "The Remembrance of God"). In a certain sense Bahā’-Allāh is a double "greatest name". A good many Islāmic writers follow traditions in which the designation of God, Allāh is reckoned the "greatest name". Bahā’-Allāh himself, in his Tafsīr ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`a (Commentary on the Isolated Letters [of the Qur'ān] c. 1857),   at one point explains the letter  "A"  (alif;  the first of the Qur'ānic disconnected letters) relative to its being the herald of the "greatest name", Allāh (Ma’ida-yi asmani 4:67).

For Bahā'īs the word bahā' is viewed an extremely powerful and theologically significant word. As a proper name it is thought to designate  God's Universal Manifestation (mazhar-i kullīya). In this latter day it refers to the "Self" (nafs) of God and is deemed to have been communicated in secret to Moses on the mystic Sinai. According to tradition, partial knowledge of  this Name bestowed supernatural, miraculous powers upon the prophets and Messengers of Israel and upon other ancient sages. For Baha'-Allah himself, it is the name of the "Father" who is the return of Christ. By virtue of its power Christ, the "Son", was raised from the "dead"; his religion revived and revitalized.  

  • 4 On the honorific title (laqab tashrīfī)  in Islam see Schimmel, 1989, 12-13, 50ff. See below, p.00 
  • The Arabic Divine designation Allāh is the main Islāmic word for God. It is hundreds of times used in the Islāmic Holy Book, the Qur'ān and is not linguistically or conceptually alien to the Bible of Jews and Christians. More than ten different  words for God occur in the Hebrew Bible ("Old Testament"); among them the following three interchangeable words for God, 'El, 'Eloah and 'Elohim --the latter a feminine plural with singular significance and the first word in the Torah for God (Genesis 1:1). Very likely a contraction of "the God (masculine = al+ilāh), Allāh is related to, and essentially synonymous with, these Biblical names of God. 

The Arabic word    بهاء : some preliminary notes

Considered alone, the word Bahā’  is a verbal-noun meaning, among other things, `beauty', `excellence', `goodliness', `divine majesty', radiant `glory', `splendour', `light' `brilliancy' -- there exist a wide range of verbal and other senses also. [2] It was at the 1848 Bābī conference of Badasht that Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Nūrī  (1817-1892), the Founder of the Bahā'ī Faith and a one-time leading Bābī, bestowed upon each of the 81 (=9X9) participants, a new name. He himself, to quote The Dawnbreakers (Tārīkh-i-Zarandī),  "was henceforth designated by the name of Bahā" (Dawnbreakers, 211).  Bahā’-Allāh thus, from very early on -- whilst outwardly a leading Bābī or Sufi dervish -- sometimes used the word/title (Jināb-i-) Bahā' as a proper name. It shall be illustrated below that the word Bahā’ was a term of considerable importance in Islamic and Bābī literatures. On occasion it occurred in contexts which had, or came to be interpreted as having, prophetic, messianic, import.

Using Sufi language in the eighth couplet of His earliest extant revelation, the nineteen or more couplet Rashh-i `amā'  ("The Sprinkling of the Divine Cloud", Tehran late 1852 CE), Bahā’-Allāh probably alludes to his power of revelation when he states that a "cup of honey" pours forth out of the "vermilion lips of Bahā'" (cf. couplets 10 & 18,  Mā'idih  4:184-6). Again, in the early  Lawḥ-i kull al-ta`ām  ("Tablet of All Food"  c. 1853/4) he refers to the "fire of love" surging in his heart, "in the heart of al-Bahā'"; and also to the "dove of sorrow" in the "breast of al-Bahā' (see Mā’idih  4:265f). In hundreds of subsequent Tablets, whether revealed in Ottoman Iraq, Turkey or Palestine, there occurs the use of Bahā' as a proper name. In the "Fire Tablet" (Lawḥḥ-i iḥtirāq; c. 1870), for example, we read: "Bahā is drowning in a sea of tribulation: Where is the Ark of Thy salvation, O Saviour of the worlds?". [3]    

Bahā’-Allāh came in the station of Divinity and represents the Godhead in the worlds of creation. The word used to designate his Divine "Logos-Self" (nafs)  was the Arabic word Bahā'. In the following letter, Shoghi Effendi summed up the theological significance of the word Bahā', "By Greatest Name [= Bahā / Bahā'-Allāh] is meant that Bahā’u’llāh has appeared in God's Greatest Name, in other words, that He is the Supreme Manifestation of God." (cited Lights,  1551).

Various derivatives of bahā', it should be noted at this stage, are significant in Bābī-Bahā'ī  scripture. The superlative form of bahā' ("glory") is abhā,  signifying `most' or `all-glorious' and a title of Bahā’-Allāh (God Passes By, 97) -- in Bahā'ī texts this word is often linked with the term "Kingdom" and indicative of the spiritual world, the realms of the afterlife. Bahīyyih  ("Beautiful", "Luminous", "Radiant", "Splendid") is a feminine noun derived from the same root letters as bahā'. It,  among other things, was the title given to Bahā’-Allāh's daughter Fāṭima, Bahīyyih Khānūm, (1846-1932 CE).  

 The laqab  (honorific title) of Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Nūrī is Bahā’-Allāh. [4] It is a title which follows an early Islamic pattern. Grammatically, it is a genitive construction made up of the two closely linked words, [1] Bahā' and [2] Allāh. [5] It signifies "The Glory / Splendour of God". cf. Ḍiyā'-Allāh (= "the Radiance of God") and Dhikr-Allāh (= "The Remembrance of God"). In a certain sense, moreover, Bahā'-Allāh is a double "greatest name". A good many Islāmic writers follow traditions in which the designation of God, Allāh is reckoned the "greatest name". Bahā’-Allāh himself, in his Tafsīr ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`a ("Commentary on the Disconnected Letters [of the Qur'ān]" c. 1857?),   explains the letter alif ("A") (the first of the Qur'ānic disconnected letters in Q.2:1) relative to its being the herald of the "greatest name", Allāh (Mā’idih, 4:67).

For Bahā'īs the word Bahā' is an extremely powerful and theologically significant word. As a proper name it designates God's maẓhar-i kulliyya (Universal theophany [Manifestation]). In this day it refers to the emanated/ created "Logos-Self" of God. It was communicated in secret to Moses on the mystic Sinai. According to tradition, partial knowledge of it bestowed supernatural, miraculous powers upon the prophets and Messengers of Israel and upon other ancient sages. For Bahā’ÿs It is the name of the "Father" who is the spiritual "return" of Christ. By virtue of its power Christ, the "Son", was raised from the "dead"; the "body" of his religion revived and revitalized.