Ridwan II : From the Biblical Hebrew רָצוֹן = rāṣon to the Arabic, Islamic riḍā’ and riḍwān.

Riḍwān facing Gabriel and Muhammad

Riḍwān as an angelic keeper of Paradise. 

 

From the Biblical Hebrew רָצוֹן = rāṣon to the Arabic, Islamic riḍā’ and riḍwān.

Stephen Lambden UC Merced.

Revised from a powerpoint presentation 2012.

In progress: last uploaded 20-04-2017.

 

Some important observations about the byways of the Biblical Hebrew word רָצוֹן = rāṣon were made by the pioneering Dominican missionary, Cyprian Rice (1889-1966). [1]  Rice studied Persian Arabic and Turkish being an important pupil of Edward G Browne (d. 1926) and certain of his Camridge successors who held the `Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic’ chair at the University of Cambridge. Rice was a protestant-born convert to Catholicism and a Dominican missionary who correctly suggested in his 1964 book The Persian Sufis, that the Arabic word Riḍā’ has a Biblical Hebrew cognate and biblical associations. So too, as we have seen, the Arabic Riḍwān along with related formations from the same Arabic root. 

In then, his brief though engaging book The Persian Sufis,  Rice comments on the Biblical roots of Arabic word riḍā’ in the course of discussing the, for some Sufi authorities, seventh spiritual state of  'riḍā' (contentment). As something like spiritual contentment, this riḍā’, for some Sufi initiates is reckoned the “last of the stages” of the Sufi path (“following logically from tawakkul (submission)”. Rice himself defines riḍā’ as “a condition in which the spiritual traveller is always pleased with whatever providence sends his way”, adding that riḍā “is akin to the Hebrew root” רָצָה rāṣa [= BDB] [2], the verbal noun from which  רָצוֹן rāṣon is derived. He notes that this word occurs frequently in the biblical book of Psalms (Persian Sufis, p. 52, citation adapted cf. TWOT XIII: 626).[3]

Riḍwān in Select Islamic sources

In both the Sunnī and Shī`ī Islamic world, riḍwān is a term found in a variety of sacred texts such as Tafsir (Qur’an Commentary), Hadīth and related literatures.  As will be seen this term riḍwān as a general and sacred word (verbal-noun)  is quite common in the massive corpus of Arabic and Persian writings of the nineteenth century Persian messianic claimant known as the Bab (= “the Gate”). From his first major work, the Tafsīr Sūrat Yūsuf (Commentary on the Surah of Joseph) or mid. 1844, Qayyum al-asmā’ (Self-Subsisting Deity of the Divine Names) we find scores of phrases, sentences, and paragraphs containing the word riḍwān, often in deep theologically, esoteric and messianic contexts.

It is not only Rice and Glasse who look back to Biblical Hebrew and Greek words cognate or related to verbal and nominal senses of و رض  (=   r-ḍ-w /y) but (as we shall see) such associations are standard in Hebrew dictionaries dealing with the root   r-ṣ-ā    (see the Sepuagint, LXX., and the New Testament Greek translations). Related Arabic forms are regularly referenced. In modern academic works dealing with Semitic and associated Arabic lexicography, these comparative language links are regularly registered. Martin R. Zammit, for example, in his 2002 Brill published book A Comparative Lexical Study of Qur’anic Arabic,   defines select verbal senses of RDY, radiya as `to be content, pleased; to choose’ (p.194). This writer also makes reference to Epigraphic South Arabian senses where rdw may signify 'to satisfy, content and rdy 'to consent'. The Syriac r'ca he also notes, can indicate 'to be contented, pleased, willing'. Additionally, Zammit refers to select verbal  senses as 'to regard with good will, or favour' registered in Syriac, Aramaic and Hebrew as well as in Latin translation where the meaning can be 'to regard with good will, or favour'. Ugaritic, the now dead Semitic language of Ugarit, is not bypassed here but is referenced through the rsy  = (German)  'gnadig behandeln' or (Eng.) `gracious treatment’  which Zammit  does not translate  (pp. 194, 520).

The Qur’ānic, Islamic Riḍwān concept is known to many present day Islamicists and other academics. There is, for example, a very brief  `Riḍwān’ (only eight lines long!) entry by W. Raven in second edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam ( EI2 ) as well as a slightly fuller one by Cyril Glasse in his The [New] Encyclopedia of Islam. This neglected though important item of Qur’ānic vocabulary (see below), similarly, only occasions a few lines in the course of the article `Angel’ by Gisela Webb (vol. 1:84-90) in the recent five or six volume (with index) Encyclopedia of the Qur’ān (Leiden, Boston, etc: Brill, 2001>) edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe:

“Though not mentioned in the Qur’ān or early ḥadīth, the angel Riḍwān becam an accepted figure in Arabic literature from the time of al-Ma`arrī onwards, perhaps in relation to the word (riḍwān Q 9:21), indicating God’s favor, or sanction” (see vol.1:89 and see further below).   

Another brief though useful article centered on the non-qur’anic title `Riḍā’ by Rafik Berjak can be found in the Oliver Leaman (ed.) 2006 The Qur’ān, An Encyclopedia  :

RIDA.  Radiya is a root verb meaning to be satisfied, content or to agree or approve. According to the Qur’an the rida of the slave with Allah is to be content with his ruling and the rida of Allah with his slave is when he sees him following his commands: ‘Allah will be pleased with them, and they with Him’ (98.8). Radiya also signifies to choose or to approve: ‘And have chosen for you Islam as your religion’ (5.3). Al-ridwan is pleasure of a high degree. The Prophet Muhammad and his companions were ‘Seeking bounty from Allah and (His) great pleasure [riḍwān]’ (48.29).” (p. 547) [4]

Select senses of the Arabic-Persian word Riḍwān in Islamic culture and Islamic Literatures.

This above paragraph of Berjak leads us on to the subject of Riḍwān; the word which is universally known to contemporary Baha’is.  It derives from the Arabic root R-Ḍ-W/Y,  which has verbal and nominal connotations of contentment, well-being and felicity, etc., As a verbal-noun riḍwān could (and has been) widely and variously translated fairly literally as  “well-being”, “contentment”, “felicity” and  less literally, or in paraphrased form, as  “paradise”, “beatitude” or the like (so XXXX). 

The Arabic-Persian word Riḍwān is thus a word which has senses or connotations indicative of well-being, contentment, felicity, beatitude, etc It is pronounced in Arabic as Riḍwān while the Persian pronunciation is something which can be transliterated as Rizvān (cf. the Web page pronunciation). Most Baha’is are familiar with the several new religious senses accorded this word Riḍwān within their religion and its extensive Arabic and Persian sacred writ. We shall here largely be concerned with a summary of its significances and meanings in Islamic literatures and its background within the writings of Sayyid `Alī Muhammad Shirāzī, the bāb (d. Tabriz 1850 CE). Outside of their faith generated new `universe of discourse’, Riḍwān has a massive range of secular, religious and other senses and definitions a few of qwhich may now be summed up.

Riḍwān and Proper Names

Riḍwān has been used for many centuries, well over 1,000 years, as a proper name, title or component thereof. It was, for example,  the name of the prolific and polymatic Egyptian  Muslim scholar and physician Abū’l-Ḥasan ʻAlī ibn Riḍwān ibn `Alī ibn Ja`far al-Miṣrī (b. near Cairo c. 388/988 - d. ca. 453/ 1061) [6]  and of the Seljuk prince and diplomat of Aleppo Riḍwān [Ruḍwān] ibn Tutush ibn Alp Arslan, Fakhr al-Mulk (d. 507/1113). [7]  Riḍwān  is now a very common Middle Eastern and Iranian proper name. There are, for example, numerous Ḥajjī Riḍwāns and Dr. Riḍwāns  in modern times. We have all probably met people named Ridwān or the related feminine forms Riḍwāna , Riḍwāniyya  and  Marḍiya (“Contented").     

It will be pertinent to note here the widespread Islamic practice of uttering or writing after the personal name or title of a holy or eminent figure    (“May God be pleased with him). This is extremely common in Islamic religious literatures. An example, among thousands occurs in Ibn al-`Arabī’s al-Futūḥāt 1:273 where this benediction is upon the ahl al-`ilm  (“the people of knowledge” =  أهل العلم رضي الله عنهم . Such usuages may also found in Bābī-Bahā’ī primary and secondary literatures though forms of reference to Bahā’-Allāh or to Bahā’ as the al-ism al-a`ẓam often occur in blessings upon his followers.[8]

Select senses of Riḍwān in the Qur'an and Tafsir (Qur'an Commentary) Literatures with other Islamic sources.

At this point we may list a few of the senses of Riḍwān in Islamic sources. In the pages to follow further details will occasionally be set down.

  • The Oath of Riḍwān.

Reference to the phrase bay`at al-Riḍwān (Oath of Riḍwān) is found in Q. 49:10; 18, 29.

  • Riḍwān as the gatekeeper of the Islamic Paradise.

Riḍwān is the name, ot one of the titles of an angelic figure associated with Paradise; often as one of its gatekeepers or guides. This though is not registered in the Qur’ān, most ḥadīth literatures, or early tafsīr (Qur'an commentary)  works (see Raven.`Ridwān’ EI2). 

  • Riḍwān as a middle eastern geographical location.

It is the place name, for example, of a  locale near Mecca or in eastern Saudi Arabia.

  • Some  modern senses of Riḍwān

The name of a contemporary Iranian pictachio company : see 

The Qur’ān, the root R-Ḍ-W/Y and Riḍwān.

The Arabic word Riḍwān (= Per, Riḍvān) is derived from the trilateral root r-ḍ-w/y which has connotations of human contentment, and being well-pleased, etc. Hanna E. Kassis has it in her excellent A Concordance of the Qur’ān (Berkley, Los Angeles, London: Univ. Calif Press, 1983) that the basic qur’ānic senses of verb raḍiya indicate:  “(I)-to approve of; to be well-pleased with, to be with, to be content with; to love. (pcple. act.) one who is well-pleased or well-pleasing, (pcple. Pass.) accepted, well-pleased, one who is pleasing” [9] According to the 2008 Brill published Elsaid M. Badawi and Muhammad Abdel  Haleem  Arabic English Dictionary of Qur’ānic usuage  “eleven forms of the root r-ḍ-w/y occur 73 times in the Qur’ān (see pp. 368-70): 

Here the basic root senses given are “To accept, to agree, to consent, to be pleased, to be satis6ed, approval, contentment , acceptance, favour, grace”.  

 In the Islamic holy book, the Qur’ān, the basic verbal form raḍiya (= I) occurs around eighteen times as the perfect active (e.g. “God was = well-pleased / satisfied/ content…) with the believers” (Q. 48:18) and some twenty times in the imperfect active (e.g. “God gives leave to whomsoever He wills and yarḍā’ is well-pleased/ satisfied/ content… (Q. 53:26[27]). The active participle (fem.) rāḍiya occurs four times (Q. 69:21; 88:9; 89:28 and 101:7[5]) and the passive participle marḍīy twice (Q. 19:55[56]; 89:28)[10] (cf. the feminine name Marḍiyya). Thus the important, eschatologically suggestive verse Q. 89:28 contains both the active and the passive participle forms of the root r-ḍ-w/y (in the same verse):

“[27] O thou soul (al-nafs) which art at rest  (al-muṭma’inna). [28] Return to thy Lord well-pleased (rādiyyat an), well-pleasing (mardiyyat an). [29] So enter ye then among my servants (`ibādī). [30] Enter thou my Paradise (jannatī).”

Aside from the masculine noun or adjective raḍiy meaning “well-pleasing” which occurs only once in the Qur’ān (Q. 19:6 = “make him, my Lord, [to be] well-pleasing”) two further qur’ānic noun forms are derived from the root r-ḍ-y. They are the feminine noun marḍāt, meaning, “good-pleasure”, “satisfaction” which is found five times in the Qur’ān (Q. 2:207[203]; 2:265 [267]; 4:114 and 60:1 (twice) and  the  masculine noun riḍwān which occurs thirteen time in seven sūras of the Qur’ān (Q. 3:15 [13],162[156], 174 [168]; 5:2, 16[18];  9:21, 73  109 [110]; 47:28 [30]; 48:29; 57: 20, 27; 59:8).

Some Notes on Islamic Tafsīr Literatures and

The following are a few key citations and summary comments upon the thirteen qur’ānic texts in which the verbal-noun Riḍwān occurs -- in the order in which they occur (see the list above).

Ridwan in Qur'an and select Tafsir Literatures.

The three Qur’anic Riḍwān  references  in the Sūrat al-`Imrān (Q. III).

          [1] Q. 3:15

Q. 3:15 = “[14] … the best of abodes (ḥusn al-ma`ib)  is with God. [15] Say: Shall I inform you of [other things] which are even betters? With the Lord are gardens and running streams of water for those that keep from evil and follow the straight path.  Where they will live unchanged, with the purest of companions [spouses] (ajwāj muṭṭaharat) and the Riḍwān [good-pleasure / beatitude] of [from] God (riḍwān min Allāh)”…

In context riḍwān or, more precisely, the riḍwān min Allāh is associated with images of Paradise; gardens, running streams and unchanging immortal life with celestial houri type companions. The riḍwān from God is obviously linked with the glories of the life to come and the attendant blessings of the eschatological age accorded the righteous who “follow the straight Path”.

 In his monumental Tafsīr entitled Jami' al-Bayān 'an ta'wīl āy al-Qur'ān (“The Compendium of the Exposition of the Interpretation of the verses of the Qur’ān“) on Q. 3:15, Abū  Ja`far Muhammad ibn Jarīr  al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) interprets the phrase ajwāj muṭṭaharat ( “purest of companions/  spouses”) as indicating “the women of Paradise” (nisā’ al-jannat). Then, after noting the various vowel pointings or possible pronunciations of Riḍwān (or Ruḍwān in the dialect of [the tribe of] Qays), the promised Ridwān of God (riḍwānihi  XXX) is interpreted as the “most elevated of the way stations of the magnificences of the people of Paradise” (a`lā manāzil karāmat ahl al-jannat). Having said this he cites an interesting hadīth relayed from a certain Ibn Bashār.   It reads :

“Jābir ibn `Abd-Allāh related that he [Muhammad?] said `When the denizens of Paradise ( al-jannat) entered Paradise God, exalted and elevated is He, said [unto them], `I shall bestow upon you something more gracious (afḍal) than this!’ They responded [saying] `What is it Our Lord than can be more gracious (afḍal) than this? He replied, `My Riḍwān / My good-pleasure!’ (al-Ṭabarī, Jāmi` al-bayān III-IV: 243 [on Q. 3:15]).

 A version of this ḥadīth is translated and commented upon in Juynboll’s 2007 Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith where the suggestion of  the great Sunnī hadith expert  Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī in his Fatḥ al-bārī bi-sharḥ  Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (see the  Ḥalabī edition, Cairo 1959 page ADD) having it that riḍwān reference is here rooted in or associated with Q. 9:72 (see fn. XX cited below) :

“With a strand on the authority of Zayd b. Aslam— `Aṭā’ b. Yasār— Abū Sa`īd al-Khudrī, who related the Prophet’s words:

“God addressed the people in Paradise saying: ‘People of Paradise!’ They said: ‘We are fully at Your disposal, our Lord.’ God said: ‘Are you satisfied?’ ‘How should we not be satisfied,’ they replied, ‘while You have given us what You have not given anyone of Your creatures.’ God said: ‘I shall give you something even more excellent than that. ‘Lord,’ they exclaimed, ‘what is more excellent than that?’ ‘I shall make My satisfaction ( riḍwān) descend upon you and I shall never again show you My displeasure with you,’ God said”.[11]

It should be noted here that the angelic personification of Ridwān has been associated with  this text (Q. 3:15).  In his EI2 article, `Riḍwān’ (as noted) W. Raven  states, “The proper name Riḍwān may result from a personifying exegesis of the riḍwan (= Allah's favour) which believers will meet in the hereafter (Qur’ān, III, 15, etc.)” (Raven EI2).


NOTES

  • [1] During a few years in the 1930s and for a dozen or so years later in the 1940s-1950s, Rice was a Catholic priest and one-time missionary to Persia resident in Newcastle upon Tyne (UK). 
  • [2] See  Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Rāṣa = `to be pleased with, accept favourably’… etc ( cf. Aramaic רְעָא, `have pleasure in’).
  • [3] In this he goes beyond the seminal work of Arthur Jeffery (1882-1959; Professor of Semitic Languages, School of Oriental Studies, Cairo) The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’ān (1st ed. Oriental Institute Baroda. 1938. rep. Leiden. Boston: Brill, 2007) which does not take riḍā ’/ Riḍwān (an established Arabic word from a well-known Arabic root) as an item of foreign vocabulary.
  • [4] ] Cf. the reference to ...
  • [5] See EI2 art `Ibn Riḍwān’. The World Cat index of literatures “reports 70 works in 118 publications in 10 languages and 737 library holdings” associated with Ibn Riḍwān.
  • [7] See art. C.E. Bosworth `Riḍwān…’ EI2.
  • [8] We may note here the title al-Riḍā’. This latter word with the definite article  is closely related  to  the word Riḍwān. It is derived from the same, abovementioned trilateral Arabic root, in fact from the  VIIIth form of raḍiya, also meaning “contentment”, etc. With the definite article, al-Riḍā’, became a title or a proper name indicating a personification of contentment, contentedness; or something or someone especially approved or conciliatory. It is thus the case that al-Riḍā’  was the title of the eighth [twelver] Imam Abū’l-Ḥasan `Alī ibn Mūsā, `Alī, al-Riḍā’ (d. c. 203/818) whose magnificent shine is located in Mashshad, Khurasan province in NE Iran. The various senses of al-riḍā’ as a Sufi spiritual state (hāl) or way-station (maqām) have already been briefly noted and commented upon above. Riḍwān, in fact,  has also been used for the sacred vicinity of the shrine of the eighth Shī`ī Imām `Alī al-Riḍā’ in Mashhad.
  • [9] I draw here on the Kassis Concordance, pp. 994-997.
  • [10] See for the basic verb (active and passive) occurrences,  Q. 5:3 (5); 5:119 (119); 5:119 (119); 9:38 (38); 9:58 (58); 9:59 (59); 9:83 (84); 9:87 (88); 9:93 (94); 9:100 (101); 9:100 (101);p 10:7 (7); 20:109 (108); 48:18 (18); 58:22 (22); 58:22 (22); 98:8 (8); 98:8 (8),
  • [11] Juynboll in his Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadith p.307 provides the following detailed supplementary note to this hadith referring to vaious major Sunnī sources: “cf. Mz., III, no. 4162° (kh, 81/51, 4, Fat, XIV, p. 212, m, IV, p. 2176, t, s, confirmed in Ibn al-Mubārak, Zuhd, the Nu`aym b. Ḥammīd appendix, p. 129, no. 430, I ., III, p. 88,    ilya, VI, p. 342).

    ). ‘God’s satisfaction’ is probably an allusion, as IHj. suggests, to Q. IX:72. At the first glance this bundle shows up a likely CL, Mālik b. Anās, with two PCLs, Ibn al-Mubārak and Ibn Wahb and also some additional SSs converging in Mālik, which can be traced in Ij., Fat, XIV, p. 212, lines 15, 17. It must be added here that the tradition does not occur in the currently available Muwaṭṭā versions. However, Abū Nu`aym does label this tradition as belonging on the one hand to the ‘sound’ (i ) ones of Mālik and, on the other hand, to his ‘strange’ ones (gharīb), cf. VI, p. 342. Abū Nu`aym’s listing of traditions in some one’s tarjama is more often than not an occasion for him to expose those that are undeniably his as opposed to those which have something the matter with them. We have come to know Mālik as (one of) the earliest originator(s) of ḥadīth qudsī in Islam, something which speaks all the more for the theory that this one is also one of his. For more on the qudsī aspect of this particular tradition, see Graham, p. 201.” (p.307).