The evolving claims and titles of Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Nūrī Bahā'-Allāh (1817-1892) : Introduction and Abrahamic Background.

The Evolving Claims and Titles of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha'-Allah (1817-1892 CE) : Introduction and Abrahamic Background.

Stephen Lambden UCMerced,

In progress 1980s + 2017

Last uploaded : 29-04-2017.

Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri was the fourth son of Mirza `Abbas Nuri known as Mirza Bururg (d. 1839) and his second wife Khadijah Khánum  (b.1822 near Takur in the Mazandaran province, d. September 15, 1882)  who were both of Persian Shi`i descent.  The father was a vizier ("governor") to the royal prince Imam-Virdi Mírza, the twelfth son of Fath `Ali Shah (d. Isfahan 1834 r. 1797-1834) the  second Qajar ruler, king, or Shah of Persia. Baha'-Allah's date of birth was November 12th 1817 his parentally conferred name being the twofold Husayn `Ali, both names rooted in those of two of the most important Twelver Shi`i  Imams.

Baha'-Allah's claims range from humble  expressions of servitude before God and the rest of humanity, to claims which are expressive of his manifesting or representing God in his position as a mediator between the apophatic Unknowable or Ultimate Godhead, the Wholly Beyond, and the rest of humanity or the worlds of creation. His humanity as a Persian-born man is never overuled, though His claimed Divine, Pre-Existent Reality, his being a manifestation of the (Arabic-Persian) nafs ("Logos-Self") or Personna of the Godhead, is countless times celebrated in his extensive Arabic and Persian writings which span a forty year period, from  c. 1852  the time of his symbolic prophetic call to the year of his passing at Acre in May 1892. His expressions of Divinity are always that of a divinity subordinate to the incomprehensible Divinity Beyond everything. Like earlier messengers of God and an array of spiritually intoxicated Sufis and sages, He may claim "I am God" but this never implies that he is He Himself, the Ultimate Reality. One can discern something of an evolution in Baha'-Allah's claims though many are implicit from the earliest days of his coming forth as one commissioned by God.

The  Baha'i theology of the claims.

In his persian Kitab-i Iqan ("Book of Certitude" , c. 1861 CE), Baha'-Allah set forth an apophatic theology of the transcendent unknowability of the Absolute Deity, and articulated the dual status of His-Hers-Its Messengers (rasul) or Manifestations of God (mazhar-i ilahi). They all occupy both a human position of `ubudiyya (servitude) and a divine status of  ilahiyya (Divinity). All, furthermore, have an "essetial unity" such that they can claim "oneness" with each other or to be the "return" of each other. Each having an indivualised name, persona and cultural background they, at different times, utter claims on these seemingly incompatible, though actually unitative lines : claims, that is, within the spheres of humanity and servitude or of divinity and omnipotence. This also in the light of their diverse religious missions and the limitations of human language at the times and places of their advent. Other related factors, such as their recipients vocabulary, intellectual capacity, and geographical location come into play, "they have voiced an utterance that would conform to the requirements of the occasion" (Kitab-i iqan, 198) :

We have already in the foregoing pages assigned two stations unto each of the Luminaries arising from the Daysprings of eternal holiness. One of these stations, the station of essential unity, We have already explained. “No distinction do We make between any of them.” 14 The other is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of creation and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined Revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite Mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation. Even as He saith: “Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel the others. To some God hath spoken, some He hath raised and exalted. And to Jesus, Son of Mary, We gave [p. 177] manifest signs, and We strengthened Him with the Holy Spirit.” 15  (Kitab-i iqan, pp. 176-7)

In this same work, Baha'-Allah speaks of the elevated divine position of the messengers in the following way:

"It hath ever been evident that all these divergences of utterance are attributable to differences of station. Thus, viewed from the standpoint of their oneness and sublime detachment, the attributes of Godhead, Divinity, Supreme Singleness, and Inmost Essence, have been and are applicable to those Essences of being, inasmuch as they all abide on the throne of divine Revelation, and are established upon the seat of divine Concealment. Through their appearance the Revelation of God is made manifest, and by their countenance the Beauty of God is revealed. Thus it is that the accents of God Himself have been heard uttered by these Manifestations of the divine Being" (Kitab-i iqan, pp. 177-8).

Of their secondary human status he writes,

"Viewed in the light of their second station—the station of distinction, differentiation, temporal limitations, characteristics and standards, —they manifest absolute servitude, utter destitution and complete self-effacement. Even as He saith: “I am the servant of God. 16 I am but a man like you” 17 (Kitab-i iqan, p.178).

As regards Baha'-Allah's own position of servitude in his Kitab-i iqan, he at one point refers to himself as "this unlearned and humble Servant". Similar lowly claims of humility and self-effacement are scattered throughout hundreds of Persian and Arabic writings as indeed are claims the divinity, Lordship and the like. In his Lawh-i Ibn-i Dhi'b (Epistle to the son of the Wolf, c.1891) which was written about thirty years after the Kitab-i iqan, Baha'-Allah responds to his being referred to in very exalted terms in the following manner:

"In truth I say, and for the sake of God I declare: This Servant, this Wronged One, is abashed to claim for Himself any existence whatever, how much more those exalted grades of being!" (ESW: Add).

Either thou [Shatkh Muhammad Taqi] or someone else hath said: “Let the Súrih of Tawhíd [- Qur'an surah 112)  be translated, so that all may know and be fully persuaded that the one true God (haqq) begetteth not, nor is He begotten. Moreover, the Bábís believe in his (Bahá’u’lláh’s) Divinity and Godhood.”
O Shaykh! This station (maqam) is the station in which one dieth to himself (maqam -i fana-yi az nafs) and liveth in God (va baqa bi'lahi). Divinity whenever I mention it, indicateth My complete and absolute self-effacement (bar nisti bakht-i bat). This is the station in which I have no control over mine own weal or woe nor over my life nor over my resurrection." (ESW: 49-50).
 

 Ana ("I am") I myself and Huwa ("He is") He Himself : A tradition of Theological Identity and Isolated Separateness:

Baha'-Allah quite frequently cited appprovingly the following enigmatic hadith which testifies to the role of the Prophet Muhammad and/or the Imams relative to identity with God while maintaining their own separate self-identity. This since elevated prophets or manifestations of God both mirror or reflect the Deity claiming subordinate theological identity,  though always retaining their separate humanity :

لي مع الله حالات انا هو و هو انا الا انا انا و هوهو

  • For myself with God are [various] states [conditions] (halat), I am He (ana huwa) and He is I (huwa ana), except that I am that I am (ana ana) and He is what He is (huwa huwa).
  • "I, verily, am He [God] and He [God] is I [Myself] except that He is He [Himself] and I am I [Myself]" (Jawāhir al-asrār  in AQA 3:36)
  • "Manifold and mysterious is My relationship with God. I am He, Himself, and He is I, Myself, except that I am that I am, and He is that He is“ ( Trans Shoghi Effendi, GWB XXVII).
  • "Manifold and mysterious is our relationship with God. I am He Himself and He is I myself except that He is that He is and I am that I am" (see Jawāhir al-asrār  (late 1850's) AQA 3:36; Kitab-i Iqan XX trans.75;  ESW: 52 trans. XX).

Versions of this hadith are cited by the Bab, Baha'-Allah and  `Abd al-Baha' in  various of their writings. It can be found, among other places, in various Islamic sources  expressing a high theophanological role or status of the twelver Imams, including, for example, the Manāzil al-Sā'irīn (`The Stations of the Wayfarers', completed 475/1082-3) of Khwaja Abu Isma'il Abd-Allah al-Ansari (b. Kohandez [Herat] 1006-d. Herat,1089), and the Kalimāt-i Maknūnah (The Hidden Words) of Muhammad ibn Murtadâ ibn Mahmûd or Mulla Muhsin al-Fayd al-Kashani (b. Kashan, c. 1007/1598 -d. 1091/ 1680). 

In Baha'i sources the imamological hadith is interpreted as an expression of the elevated divine status of the Imams, Prophet Muhammad or the mazahir-i ilahi  (Manifestations of God) as well as a confirmation of  their being human (Makatib-i Hadrat-i `Abd al-Baha' vol. 2:21). From the Baha'i viewpoint there is an intimate and close relationship between the great Messengers, Prophets or Manifestations of God and the Ultimate Deity. For Baha'is this tradition cannot be taken too literally or lead to a belief in the identity of the Unknowable Deity and the Divine nature of His representative.

For  further details refer to this Hurqalya website at: http://hurqalya.ucmerced.edu/node/278/

A few Notes on the claims and titles of select Abrahamic figures as the founders and initiates major world religions.

Many of the claims of Baha'-Allah expressed as titles or epithets, are rooted in Jewish, Christian and/ or Islamic or Abrahamic religious traditions. He sometimes claimed in the context of equality or eschatological "return", levels of spiritual "identity" with past founder prophets, philosophers or theologians, with great religious figures and thinkers of past ages. In attempting to attract followers from the Abrahamic religions, he found it necessary to make claims which echoed, matched or went beyond those of occupying the centre of the faith and devotion of whatever community was addressed. There are hundreds of claims to be the eschatological  "return" of past prophets of messengers of God. Baha'-Allah often claimed that aspects of his life such as rejection, exile and suffering, echoed the lives of such past luminaries as Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and others.

Moses.

Diverse factions of  Jews or followers of Moses accord him very elevated titles including, for example, certain initiates of the Merkabah and Qabbalistic mystical traditions along with the members of the ancient Israelite faction known as the Samaritans.

Select Titles of Moses from the Hebrew Bible and other Jresh and related Literatures.

  • The Prophet Heb.  

Jesus

The New Testament pictures Jesus in a multitude of ways or life situations and directly or indirectly accords him a range of titles and powers  expressive the divine or religious purpose. A multitude of books have been written about the claims, titles and divine status of Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of the originally Galilean Jewish movement that became Christianity, now one of the major religions of ther world. For practically 2,000 years followers of Jesus and more recently modern academics, have been trying to understand the human and divine status of Jesus. This quest has led to a multitude of Christologies or estimates of the status of Jesus relative to God and to humanity, none of which has ever been wholly accepted by the Christian world. Modern academic New Testament scholars differ as to the status Jesus claimed for himself, to what degree, if at all, he should be regarded as divine / Divine.

Select Titles of Jesus from the New Testament.

  • Jesus / "The Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).
  • Teacher -Ta'eb - Rabbi. See       John 4:19, 25.  (cf. Deut 18:15+ Elijah and  John the Baptist). Note the "Christology" of  Jewish Christianity and the portait of Jesus as a wisdom teacher in the `Gospel of Thomas' and elsewhere.
  • The Prophet/ 'the True Prophet', ὃ ἀλεΘήΣ ποήτεΣ  (Luke 3:2; 24:19;     ). There were early Christian prophets or persons said to have the gift of "prophesy" (see I Cor. 12.28; Eph. 4.11; Acts 11.27 f.; 13.1; 21.10; Rev. 22.9; Did. 11-13; `Gospel of the Hebrews' `Preaching of Peter', Pseudo-Clementine Homilies...
  • The Suffering Servant of God ( Isaiah 42:1f; 53:4f) the Ebed Yahweh, παïς Θεοῦ (Matt. 8:16f; 12:18-21). See Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament (1963), Sect 3, p.40ff; 68ff.
  •  The Son of David (Matthew 1:1).
  • The Christ = "the Messiah". XXXX a noun form of the adjective XXXX  found in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the  LXX, the Septuagint and a few other  early Jewish writings as well as the New Testament. It was applied in connection to kings, priests and prophets being the Hebrew equivalent of         .
  •  The Holy One of God  (Mark1:24).
  • The Son of Man  (Matthew 8:20) = Aramaic      = Gk.
  • The Nazarene (Matthew 2:23) cf. KI.
  • The Son of God = Gk.
  • The Only Begotten Son ( John 1:18)
  • The Good Shepherd  (John 10:11).
  • The Lamb of God ( John 1:29, 36)
  • The Light of World (John 8:12)
  • The Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6- all three).
  • The Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14).
  • The Mediator μεδÎτXσ  of a new covenant' ( Heb. 9.15).
  • The Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5)
  • The Resurrection  (John 11:25).
  • The Word =  (Greek λόγος = Logos   John 1:1f cf. Gen 1:1 Rev. 19:3.
  • The Lord = Kyrios. Hebrews
  • God = Θεóς  Titus 2.13; John,    ..

"in the few New Testament passages in which Jesus receives the tide 'God', this occurs on the one hand in connection with his exaltation to lordship (Paul's letters and II Peter), and on the other hand in connection with the idea that he is himself the divine revelation (Johannine writings and Hebrews) ... By way of contrast, Ignatius of Antioch, in whose writings the title Θεóς for Jesus occurs much more often (Smym. 1.1; Eph. 1.1; 7.2; 15.3; 19.3), uses it in such a way that he tends to move away from the New Testament use in the direction of the later Christological controversies. Of course, he also makes the distinction between the Father and the Son (cf. Smym. 8.1; Magn. 13-2)." (Cullmann, Christology, 314).

See further for example,

Muhammad and Qur'anic Prophetology. 

The Qur'an assumes Muhammad was a human being with an expraordinary relationship to God, a rasul Allah or `Messenger of God'. This latter title rasul Allah, is perhaps his key qur'anic Islamic title or designation. There is nothing like patristic or later Christologies in the Qur'an. The Qur'an has it that it was a rasul (Messenger) of God, or a divinely comissioned or sent messenger (mursal), had come to all peoples or religious communities of  past eras of human history:

وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَسُولٌ

And for every  community (li-kull ummah) there is a Messenger (rasul) (Qur'an, 10:47)

 وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَّسُولاً

"We did indeed send a messenger [of God] (rasul an) unto every community (ummah)" (Qur'an, 16:36).

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلًا مِنْ قَبْلِكَ مِنْهُمْ مَنْ قَصَصْنَا عَلَيْكَ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ لَمْ نَقْصُصْ عَلَيْكَ

And, indeed We have sent a Messenger (rasul an)  before you [Muhammad] of some of We have related for you their story and of some We have not related to you their story... (Qur'ân, 40:78)

The Qur'an uses, as is well known and apart from angelic mesenger figures (mala'ikat), two major terms for messengers of God: (1) nabi meaning Israelite type prophet and (2) rasul or rasul Allah, indicating  a Messenger of God, cf. also the closely related synonymous qur'anic Arabic term mursal meaning (lit.) `sent messenger'). The Arabic rasūl (pl. rusul), has often been variously translated, `messenger’, `envoy’, `apostle,’ etc. It is a term which is most probably rooted in Jewish Christian (Elchasaite) and / or Manichean terminology (Ar. rasūl = Syr. šĕlīḥa, Fossum, 1993149f). Rasūl occurs over 300 times in the Qur'an and is also implied by mursal (lit. `sent one’; Q. x 36 in 14 sūrahs ; Kassis, 807f; 1032-3). Aside from Muhammad himself, eight figures are specifically designated rasūl in the Qur'an : [1] Noah, [2] Shu`ayb, [3] Hūd, [4] Ṣāliḥ, [5] Lot, [6] Ishmael, [7] Moses and [8] Jesus.

From the creation until the time of Muhammad, the Qur'an directly or indirectly references around twenty-eight prophet-messenger figures though Islamic tradition knows of many more, acknowledging that divine guidance was sent to every religious community (see Qur'an citations above), a matter confirmed by Baha'-Allah in his Tafsir surat al-shams (Commentary on the Surah of Light). According to the explicit text of the Qur'an. "Every ummah (community) has its rasūl" (Q. 10:47) though we do not known the extent or location of these past nations, communities or peoples (ummah).

Select Titles of Muhammad from the Qur'an and Hadith Literatures.

  • Muhammad = "The Praised One" ...
  • Ahmad = The All-Praised. `The Most Praiseworthy' (see Qur'an 61:6).

When He raised up the Messiah ... he Jesus] said, 'A prophet shall corne after me whose name shall be Ahmad  [Qur'an 61:6]-upon him and his family be peace. Of the progeny of Ishmael shall he corne in confirmation of me and in confirmation of thee". 42

"My name in the Qur'an is Muhammad and in the Gospel[s] (injil) Ahmad. And in the Torah it is Ahyad ['the Shunner']; I am called Ahyad because 1 shun 'hell fire' more than any of my people (Ibn 'Abbas, cited Hughes Dictionary of Islam, p. 387 [translation adapted])."

1 heard the Messenger of God say: 'Unto me are allotted various names. I am Ahmad and I am Muhammad. I am the Obliterator (al-Mahi) through whom God wipes out Infidelity. I am the Gatherer (al-hashr) before whom the people will be gathered. And I am the Finality (al- `aqib) after whom there will be no prophet" (hadith cited Bukhari + Muslim. See also al-Tabrizi, Majma al-bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an  5:280; Parrinder, Jesus  in the Qur'an, 98).

"I [Muhammad[ am Ahmad without the [letter] m , Ahad, "One" (cited Schimmel, And Muhammad is his Messenger, 116).

  • The Prophet  Ar. al-nabi .
  • The Messenger Ar. Rasul (see above.

ما کانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبا أَحَد مِنْ رِجالِکُمْ وَ لکِنْ رَسُولَ اللّهِ وَ خاتَمَ النَّبِیِّینَ وَ کانَ اللّهُ بِکُلِّ شَیْء عَلِیماً

"Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men but is the Messenger of God (rasul Allah) and the khatam al-nabiyyin (the seal of the prophets"). And God is Knowing about everything." (Qur'an 33:40).

  • (The Last-Seal-Acme-Apex) of the prophets (khatam al-nabbiyin). Both the Bab and Baha'-Allah referred to Muhammad as the khatim al-nabiyyin but did not understand this is means that he was the final or last prophet. There are numerous Sinni and Shi`i hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and the twelver Imams which take khatim to mean "last", "final", or "seal", etc.
  •  
  • The "Morning Light" ( al-duha; see Qur'an Surah 93, so Muqatil ibn Sulayman, etc).
  •  

See further for example,

  • Annemarie Schimmel, And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety .. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.
  • Carl Ernst, Muhammad as the pole of existence in Jonathan Brockopp ed.  The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad Ch. 6 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Online at :

Imamology and the position of the Shi`i Imams

The word imam has a number of meanings in Arabic  one of which is indicative of the successors (up to twelve or so)  who were descendents and members of the foundational ahl al-kisa; or fivefold `people ofthe cloak'; namely, [1] Muhammad, [2] `Ali, [3] Fatima, and her two sons [4] Hasan and [5] the maytyred Husayn. They thus include Muhammad the founder prophet of Islam and his daugher Fatima al-Zahra (the Pure One) and two of her sons believed by Imami Shi`i Muslims to be the first two Imams as successors of the Prophet. As leaders of the Islamic community the first Imam `Ali was succeeded by his son Hasan and then the 3rd Imām Ḥusayn ( d. 61/680] after whose maryrdom in ten successors were designated Imams as leaders of the twelver Shi`i community.

As heads of the Islamic community, these Imams were accorded special titles, powers and levels of infallibility. Certain works attributed to them have it that they made very elevated claims, A perhaps or quasi- ghuluww (heterodox, "extremist") example, being the Arabic semi-ghuluww (“extremist”), Shī`ī khuṭba al-ṭutunjiyya (loosely, `"Sermon of the Gulf")  attributed to Imam `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d.40/661) where the first Imam is reckoned, for example, to have claimed:

  • I am the one who presideth over the two gulfs (waqif `alā al-ṭutunjayn)..
  • I am the Lord of the first flood (ṣāḥib al-ṭūf ān al-awwāl);
  • I am the Lord of the second flood [of Noah?];
  • I am the one who raised Idrīs [Enoch] to a lofty place [cf. Q.19:57]
  • I am the agent whereby the infant Jesus cried out from the cradle [Q.19:29, etc]
  • I am the Lord of the Mount [Sinai] (ṣāḥib al-ṭūr) ..
  • I am the one with whom are the keys of the unseen (mafātīḥ al-ghayb)..
  • I am Dhū’l-Qarnayn mentioned in the primordial scrolls (ṣuḥuf al-awwālī)
  • I am the bearer of the Seal of Solomon (sāḥib khātam sulaymān)
  • I am first First Adam; I am the First Noah... I am the Lord of Abraham, (ṣāḥib ibrahīm),
  • I am the inner depth of the Speaker [Moses] (sirr al-kalīm)...
  • I am the Messiah [Jesus] = al-rūḥ ] (al-masīḥ) inasmuch as no soul (rūḥ) moves nor spirit (nafs) breathes without my permission...
  • I am the Speaker who conversed (mutakallim) through the tongue of Jesus in the cradle...
  • I am the one with whom are one thousand volumes of the books of the prophets ...