Bab - Risāla fī'l-nubuwwa al-khaṣṣa

 Sayyid `Ali Muhamamd Shirazi




Risāla fī'l-nubuwwa al-khaṣṣa

(The Treatise on the Specific Prophethood [of Muhammad)


Introduction and partial annotated  translation

Stephen N. Lambden 1984

    The Bab's wholly Arabic Risāla fi'l-nubuwwah al-khaṣṣah, his  "Treatise on the Specific Prophethood", of Muhammad (c. 570-632 CE) is extant in several mss. Among them  INBMC 14:321;   

 The Sitz im Leben of the Risāla fi'l-nubuwwah al-khaṣṣah

       Towards the end of his confinement in Shiraz the Bāb bequeathed his property to his wife and mother, took up residence in the house of Hajji Mīrzā Siyyid `Alī (his uncle) and sent a number of his disciples to Isfahan.  The Bābīs in Shiraz had been the object of increasing harassment and it appears to have been the intention of Mīrzā Ḥusayn Khān (on the orders of Ḥajji Mīrzā Āqāsī) to secretly have the Bāb executed. In late September 1846 however, a cholera epidemic swept Shiraz and Mīrzā Ḥusayn Khān fled the city. In the absence of the Governor the chief constable `Abd al-Ḥamīd Khān detained the Bāb in his own house. Here the Bāb is said to have cured the latter's sons who had fallen sick with cholera. The grateful father subsequently induced Mīrzā Ḥusayn Khān to allow him to release the Bāb from house arrest. This though was on condition that the Bāb quit Shiraz. Thus was precipitated the Bāb's six month sojurn in Isfahan (Sept 1846 -> March 1847).

        The Bāb spent most of the Isfahan period as the semi-secret guest of the governor Manūchihr Khān (d.1262/1847), Mu`tamad al-Dawla ("Chancellor of the Empire"), a Georgian eunuch who had outwardly embraced Islam. A somewhat tyrannical though excellent administrator, this faithful servant of Muhammad Shāh had, for reasons that are not clear, responded favorably to a letter from the Bāb requesting asylum (Zarandī, D-B:144f; Balyuzi, 1973:l09f; Mangol Bayat, 1982:95). For the first 40 days or so of his residence in Isfahan, the Bāb was accommodated in the house of Mīrzā Siyyid Muhammad Sulṭān al-`Ulamā' the Imam Jum`a of the city. For him he wrote, in just a few hours, a day a one hundred or so page Tafsīr sūrat wa'l-`aṣr ("Commentary on the surah of `By the Afternoon!' = Q. 103; see INBMC 69:21-119).  It was in this house that Manūchihr Khān visited the Bāb and asked him to write a treatise on nubuwwa khāṣṣa, the "specific prophethood" of Muhammad.  In compliance this request the Bāb again composed  within a two hour or so period a fifty or so page treatise which, according to Zarandī, led  Manūchihr Khān to make a sincere confession of his faith in Islam (Zarandī, D-B:145ff).

        Such demonstrations of inspired Bābiyya ("gatehood") and the increasing number of devotees which the Bāb had managed to attract to or gain in Isfahan, served to arouse the opposition of a number of leading Isfahani `ulamā'. Once again the young Siyyid was condemned to death. The Imam Jum`a, however, despite an increased openness on the part of the Bāb in asserting his claims, refused to view the Bāb as anything but an extraordinarily pious though somewhat unbalanced  Shī`ī Muslim.

        Though it was eventually decided that the Bāb should be expelled from Isfahan and conducted to Tehran -- where grave concern about his influence had been expressed in official circles -- Manūchihr Khān gave secret orders that this journey to the capital be cut short and the Bāb be secretly conducted to his private residence in Isfahan. Such, according to Bahā'ī sources, was the devotion of Manūchihr Khān to the Bāb, that he offered him his considerable fortune and the resources of his army. The motivation behind this support was doubtless related to the Governor's political ambitions, which may have been fueled by his sharing of the Bāb's own vision of a new religio-political order in Persia  the like of which the Bab subsequently outlined in his Persian Bayān. Whatever the case nothing concrete came of Manūchihr Khān's patronage of the Bāb. This powerful governor of Fārs died in the month of Rabi` al-Awwal 1263 (21st Feb 1847). The properties he had bequeathed to the Bāb were appropriated by Gurgīn Khān the nephew of Manūchichr Khān and his successor who hastened to inform Muhammad Shāh of the Bāb's whereabouts.

        Having become aware of the Bāb's place of residence, Muhammad Shāh instructed Gurgīn Khān to have him escorted to Tehran. The king was apparently most desirous of meeting the one whose charismatic charms had exercised such a remarkable influence over the late Governor of Fārs.  Ḥajji Mīrzā Āqāsī, however, his haughty and hypnotic prime-minister, anxious of the possible consequences of such a meeting, made sure that it never took place. After passing through Kāshān and Qum (en route to Tehran) the Bāb was detained for 20 days at Kulayn (a village about 20 miles from Tehran) until orders were received from Ḥajji Mīrzā Āqāsī instructing a group of Nusayrī horsemen to take him to prison in Mākū, a remote town in Adhirbayjan near the Russian border. Here the Bāb remained, having passed through and caused considerable excitement in (among other places) Mākū, and Tabriz (where he was detained for 40 days) for about 9 months or from late summer (July/August?) 1847 until early April 1848.

 A biographical note upon  Manūchihr Khān  (17XX?- d. 1263  Feb 21st 1847).

The Bahā'ī poet and historian Nabīl-i Zarandī (d. 1892) reports that Manūchihr Khān (d. Rabi 1 1263/ 17th Feb 1847) the crypto-Muslim governor of Isfahan (between1253-63 = 1838-47), visited the Bāb at the house of the Imam Jum`a  of Isfahan. There he asked him to write a treatise on the al-nubuwwa al-khāṣṣa (The specific Prophethood [of Muhammad]). In  compliance with this request the Bab,  very rapidly  within two hours or so,  composed a  fifty or so page Arabic treatise on the specific prophethood of Muhammad (d. 632 CE). The same chronicler also has it that this led the Governor to make a sincere confession of his faith in Islam (Zarandī, DB:145ff).    

Within this complex treatise there are, for example,  acrostic type explanations of the names of Adam and Muhammad as well as `ilm al-ḥurūf  (number-letter mysticism) informed speculations about  the chronology of the latter's mission. The Bab identifies the mashiyya  ("Divine will’) as the bearer of the nubuwwa  khāṣṣa  in the being or body of the prophet Muhammad (INBMC 14:321‑333b). Such demonstrations of inspired bābiyya ("gatehood") and the increasing number of devotees which the Bāb had managed to attract to or gain in Isfahan, served to arouse the opposition of a number of leading Isfahani `ulamā'. Once again the young Siyyid was condemned to death. The Imam Jum`a, however, despite an increased openness on the part of the Bāb in asserting his claims, refused to view the Bāb as anything but an extraordinarily pious  adherent of the Shī`ī creed.


Georgian/ Armenian Safawid  - Georgia 4th cent CE X'n -- Georgian lang. not Semitic; not indo European -- lit. 1811> Russian Orthodox.  1st Qajar ruler 1795 Aqa Muhammad Shāh Tiflis

MK castrated  and sent to the court of Fath `Alī Shāh (r.         ).  The allegedly crypto Christian, "Muslim" status of  Manūchihr Khān

Bāb RNK:

`Abdu'l-Bahā' wrote a ziyārat-namih (visiting-devotional Tablet) for Sayyid al-Sudūr (xx?) and Manūchihr Khān which is sometimes read time of the celebration of the birth of the Bāb:


Some  Further introductory Notes

 As noted, it was Manūchihr Khān himself who asked the Bāb at the house of the Imam Jum`a of Isfahan, to write a treatise on al-nubuwwa al-khāṣṣa, the "specific prophethood" of the Arabian Prophet Muhammad (c.570-632 CE).  Some Sunnī writers, including Ibn al-`Arabī (d.  638 /1240) and numerous of his Sunnī and Shī`ī devotees,  have distinguished nubuwwa `amma ("The Prophetic Office") and nubuwwa khāṣṣa ("The Specific Prophetic Office" i.e. of -----). We may cite as an example, Sharaf al‑Dīn Dāwūd al‑Qayṣarī (d.751/1350), a student of the Shi`i Sufi `Abd al‑Razzāq Kashānī (d. c. 832/1428) the well-known author of the al-Insān al-kāmil (Thwe Perfect Man...). Qayṣarī wrote an important commentary on the Fuṣuṣ al‑ḥikam of Ibn al‑`Arabī. Within this massive and dense work  Qayṣarī several times uses the prophetological terminology al‑nubūwwa al‑khāṣṣa (specific prophethood) as differentiated from al‑nubūwwa al‑`amma  (general prophethood). The former relates to dimensions of the prophethood of a specific, comissioned prophet figure (nabī)  while the latter has to do with the explication of general principles of the eternal nature, office and rank of  prophethood. At the opening of the section of his commentary upon the `Ringstone of the wisdom (ḥikma)  of prophecy  (nubūwiyya) in the utterance [Word] of Jesus (kalimat `isawiyya). Qayṣarī writes:

Now as regards the attribution of the wisdom of prophecy (nubūwiyya)  relative to the word of Jesus (kalimat `isawiyya)  he [Jesus] is a prophet (nabī) according to general prophethood (bi‑al‑nubuwwa al‑`amma) which is eternal without beginning  and everlasting without end  (azal an abad  an ) as well as according to the specific prophethood (bi‑al‑nubuwwa al‑khāṣṣa)  which is actualized at the moment of arising with the [time of the prophetic] commission (ḥīn al‑ba`th). Wherefore did he [Jesus] announce his prophethood from the cradle through his saying, "He has given me the Book and he made me a prophet (nabiyy  an)" (Q. 19:30b) and he [also] made announcement from the womb of his mother (fī baṭn ummuhi)  on account of his eternal sovereignty (siyāda azaliyya) by means of His saying, "Grieve not for thy Lord has made beneath you [Mary] a rivulet" (Q.19:24), that is to say a sovereign [sayyid  an = Jesus] over the people. Thus was he [Jesus] granted supremacy over the [other] prophets (al‑anbiyā ’) through the instrumentality of  the spiritual ones (aḥwāl al‑ruḥāniyyīn) . His proclamation (du`a) was thus centered upon the interior realities  (al‑bāṭin) which are  supremely ascendent  (aghlab)... [spefic] legalistic prophethood (al‑nubuwwa al‑tashrī`ayya) is the collective concern of various [specific] prophets (al‑anbiyā’) .. (Qayṣarī, Sh. Fuṣuṣ, 843).

 It is clear from this passage that al‑nubūwiyya al‑khāṣṣa (specific prophethood) has it earthly genesis at the time of the prophetic call while al‑nubūwiyya al‑`amma  (general prophethood) is al‑azaliyya, an all eternal phenomenon. The bearer of the  office (ṣāḥīb hadha maqām) of general prophethood holds it eternally. Eternal realities are communicated by the prophets and the al‑awliyā’ (intimates of God, "saints") for al‑nubūwiyya al‑`amma  (general prophethood) results in wilayā  (divine guidance).

Is is possible, if not probable that the Bāb's approach to his Risāla fī al‑nubuwwa al‑khāṣṣa (Treatise on the Specific Prophethood [of Muhammad]) exhibits the earlier influence of the prophetological terminology  of the school of Ibn `Arabī as this was influential upon the Sufi and related groups (such as the Dhahabiyya) operative in and around early Qajar Shiraz. 

Thus, in summary,

  • 1) al-nubuwwa `al-amma ("general prophethood") designates the theory of the prophetic office in general terms  as it applies to all those considered prophets;
  • 2) al-nubuwwa  al-khāṣṣa  ("specific prophethood")  indicates the basic historical and theological dimensions of the concrete prophetic career of a given prophet figure (nabī) within Islamic (= Muhammad) or pre-Islamic ( e.g. Israelite) salvation history. The Bab's treatise was thus about the concrete figure of the prophet Muhammad (d. 632 CE) though his treatment of the Arabian Prophet is not simple concrete history. It often  brings into focus a very exalted theophanological theory of the maẓhariyya   of the Prophet.

This work, which contains interesting acrostic type explanations of the names of Adam and Muhammad as well as `ilm al-ḥurūf  (number letter)  informed speculations oriented around the chronology of the latter's mission, the Bāb identifies the mashiyya ("divine will") as the bearer of the nubuwwa khāṣṣa in the being or body of the prophet Muhammad (see INBMC 14:321-333b).