TB-Lawḥ-i kull al-ta`ām (The Tablet of all Food).

 لوح كُلُّ الطَّعَامِ 


Stephen N. Lambden mid. 1980s.

TB2A: 00 (Ar.) Lawḥ-i kull al-ta`ām  (The Tablet of all Food).

Opening Lines:          بسم الله البهي الابهى


Text from INBMC   + full Eng. trans. and commentary `in Stephen Lambden, A Tablet of  Bahā'-Allāh of the early Iraq Period: The Tablet of All Food (Lawḥ-i kull al-ṭa`ām) in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin 3:1 second ed. on this website (forthcoming).

Some details about the Lawḥ-i kull al-ṭa`ām can  be found in

  • Ishrāq Khāvarī, Ganj. 8-10 ; cf. BW XIV:622-3;  Rahiq-i Makhtum II: XXXX
  • Shoghi Effendi, GPB:116-7;
  • Taherzadeh RB I:55-60;
  • Balyuzi BKG. ll: 2-3;

Probably written in late 1853 or early 1854 (1270 AH), this wholly Arabic Tablet is essentially a non-literal Bābī inspired commentary upon Qur'ān  3: [87]93. It was  written in response to a question about this qur'anic verse by Ḥajjī Mīrzā Kamāl al-Dīn Narāqī (d. Narāq c.1278-9/1881) which had been inadequately replied to by Mīrzā  Yaḥyā Nūrī (c.1831-1914), the then nominal head of the Bābī  community. This verse of the Qur'ān 3:[87] 93 reads,

"All food  (kull al-ṭa`ām) was lawful  (hallan) to the children of Israel [= Jacob] except that which Israel had forbidden unto himself before the Tawrat (Torah, Hebrew Bible) was sent down [revealed].    Say: `Bring then the Tawrat  and read it, if you are truthful." (Q. 3:[87] 93)

This qur`ānic verse would seem to express  Muhammad's desire, in the light of the plethora of Jewish prohibitions concerning food and the need to define Islam as against Judaism, to free his community from the burden of excessive dietary regulations or food restrictions. Prohibitions concerning food were not imposed on the Israelites "before the revelation of the Torah, except for a prohibition, not of divine origin, which Israel (= Jacob) had imposed on himself:

עַל־כֵּ֡ן לֹֽא־יֹאכְל֨וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־גִּ֣יד הַנָּשֶׁ֗ה אֲשֶׁר֙ עַל־כַּ֣ף הַיָּרֵ֔ךְ עַ֖ד הַיֹּ֣ום הַזֶּ֑ה כִּ֤י נָגַע֙ בְּכַף־יֶ֣רֶךְ יַעֲקֹ֔ב בְּגִ֖יד הַנָּשֶֽׁה׃

"Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the sinew of the hip which is upon the hollow of the thigh, because he [God] touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh on the sinew of the hip." (Gen 32:32)

Q. 3:93 would thus "appear to be a reference to the ancient Israelite prohibition of the sciatic nerve after the struggle of Jacob and the angel registered in Gen. 32:32" (art., Ghidhā' in EI2 II:1061). Abu'l-Ḥasan `Alī ibn Mattāya al-Wāḥidī (d. 468/1075) in his Asbāb al-nuzūl  (Cairo 1959, 65) has explained the circumstances of the revelation of Q. 3:87 [93] in the following manner (as summarized by M. Seale in his The Bible and the Qur'ān,  111):

"Muhammad was confronted by some of his Jewish critics who contested the claim that he professed the faith of Abraham. They asserted that this could not be the case, seeing that he ate camel's meat and drank camel's milk, both forbidden in the Law. Muhammad replied that no such prohibition existed in Abraham's day, but they insisted that it dated as far back as Noah."

This issue was settled by the revelation of Q. 3:87[93] See also Majlisī, Bihār al-anwār,  (section on Jacob),  216-7 (on Q. 3:87).
    The Bābī Ḥajjī Mīrzā Kamāl al-Dīn  ibn Ḥajjī  Mīrzā  Muhammad Tāqī  Narāqī (d. Narāq c.1278-9/1881)  was the grandson of Mullā Aḥmad Narāqī, a prominent mujtahid, notable poet and the great-grandson of Ḥajjī Mullā Mihdī Narāqī who wrote a book on the episode of Karbala entitled Muḥrīq al-qulūb (Ishraq Khāvarī, RM 2:614-5). He was converted to Bābism by a certain Mullā Ja`far who had met the Bāb in Kāshān and who is several times directly addressed in this Tablet.

        Mīrzā Kamāl al-Dīn Narāqī had traveled to Iraq in the hope of meeting Mīrzā  Yaḥyā from whom he initially requested a commentary on Qur'ān 3:87.2 Apparently unimpressed with Mīrzā  Yaḥyā's response (no longer extant?) he sought enlightenment from Bahā'-Allāh thereafter becoming his ardent admirer.3

    Why Mīrzā Kamāl al-Dīn  wanted an exegesis of Q. 3:87 is not clear but it was very likely motivated by antinomian tendencies amongst the Bābīs as indicated in the Lawḥ-i kull al-ta`ām  itself:  ADD

It is thus possible that Mīrzā Kamāl al-Dīn's question was prompted by this work of the Bāb in the light, perhaps, of the antinomian tendencies of certain Bābī factions (see further BSB ).

        In his  early  Bayān `illati taḥrīm al-mahārim.. (On the reason for the prohibition of forbidden things) the Bāb quotes Q. 3:87 and relates this verse to Imām `Alī who "did not forbid any soul anything except what it made unlawful for itself" (TBA. Ms. 6006C, 87).   After the death of the Bāb certain Bābī factions in Iran and Iraq adopted an anti-Islamic, free-thinking, antinomian stance. In the early 1850s, the missionary Henry Aaron Stern (1820-1885) seems to have come in contact with such Bābīs in Māzandarān. Posing as Muslims they asked Stern for anti-Islamic tracts and expressed such contempt for Islam that the missionary was "glad to get out of their company" (Dawnings.. 261-2; cf. Shoghi Effendi, GPB:113ff).

        In the L. kull al-ṭa`ām  Bahā'-Allāh states that Q. 3:87 has an infinitude of subtle meanings and that, through the grace of God, he could expound its mysteries from his day "until the days find their consummation in al-mustaghath (= [abjad] 2001 of the Babi era)", until the time of the eschatological renewal.

        Written in a revelatory style, a variety of meanings are given to the terms ṭa`ām ("food")  "Israel" and "children of Israel" in the Lawh-i kull al-ṭa`ām. Towards the beginning of this "tablet" the mystical significance of "food" (ṭa`ām) is related to the hierarchy of metaphysical realms well-known in theosophical Sufism; those of hāhūt (= the realm of the Divine Ipseity); lāhūt (= the realm of the Divine Theophany) jabarūt (= the realm of the `Divine decrees/spiritual powers') Malakūt (= the realn of the angels) and Nasūt (= the realm of creation). In summary the meanings of ta`ām are as follows-:

  • (l) the "throne of hāhūt" and "paradise of the divine oneness" none, not even Bahā'-Allāh himself, can expound even a letter of Qur'ān 3:87 as it relates to the realm of the divine ipseity; all, save a number of "Letters of Manifestation" (= prominent Bābīs?), would be drowned if "oceans of light" surged forth from that exalted realm. The realm of hāhūt  is that of "the mystery of Endless Duration (sirr al-ṣamadāniyyat),  ibniyyat al-aādaniyyat) (loosely, "Unique Sonship") isrā'iliyyat al-firdānyyat ("Incomparable Israelicity") and "Resplendent Selfhood" (nafsāniyyat al-lama`aniyyat). Here, perhaps, in other words, are the unfathomable mysteries of Qur'ān 3:87 -- known only to God their "Creator and Lifegiver"-- whose esoteric and exoteric aspects are one and the same (see the text).
  • (2) the "paradise of endless duration" (jannat al-ṣamadiyya), the "throne of lahūt", the "snow-white light" (nūr al-bayḍā') and the station (maqām) of "He is He" (besides whom there is none other). It is the realm allotted to such as "are established on the seat of glory and quaff liquid camphor nigh unto the All-Beauteous One". Therein they are enraptured and derive comfort from the celestial "food" (ta`ām).
  • (3) the "paradise of the divine unicity" (jannat al-wāḥidiyya), the "golden land" (arḍ al-safrā') "fathomless deep of jabarūt (tamām al-jabarūt) and the station (maqām) of "I am He and He is I" allotted to such as at all times act and cry out just as God intends (cf. Qur'ān 21:27).
  • (4) the "paradise of justice" (jannat al-`adl), the "emerald land" (arḍ al-khadrā') and "deep sea of malakūt" (qamaqām al-malakūt) allotted to these whom "neither traffic nor merchandise beguile from the remembrance of God" (Q.24:37) and who are the "companions of the Light" (aṣḥāb al-nūr).
  • (5) the "paradise of the divine bounty" (jannat al-fadl) , the "crimson land" (arḍ al-ḥamrā'), the "golden secret" (sirr al-safrā', the "snow-white mystery" (mustassir al-bayḍā) and the "point of nasūt" (nuqṭat al-nasūt). Herein the "proofs of the Remembrance" (adillā' al-dhikr) are greatest.

        Having set down these esoteric meanings of "food" (ta`ām) Bahā'-Allāh laments his sad plight, alludes to the faith status of Mirzā Kamāl al-Dīn (drawing on Q. 18:17-18) and expresses his intention to expound Qur'ān 3:87 still further. He explains that "food" also signifies the "Logos-Self of knowledge" (nafs al-`ilm) or all branches of learning, "Israel" the "primal point" (nuqtat al-alā; the Bāb) and the "children of Israel" one whom God made a "Proof" (ḥujjat) for the people "in these days" (= Mīrzā Yaḥyā ?). The phrase "except what Israel made unlawful for itself" refers to that which the Bāb made unlawful "for his elevated ones and his servants" (the Bābīs). Most probably countering the antinomian tendencies of a Bābī faction --who may have cited Qur'ān 3:93 [87] in support of their antinomian stance -- the need to follow the Bābī law is underlined:

"Let not the actions of those who have been spreading wickedness in the land veil you (Mīrzā Kamāl al-Dīn). They falsely suppose that they are rightly guided. Nay! By the Lord of the Realm of Unknowing! They are liars and lax in faith. The nature of that party is such that that should never (even) be allowed to eat barley in these days. How then can they possibly be allowed to eat what God hath forbidden in the Book."

Having thus explained, Bahā'-Allāh, in the light of Mīrzā Kamāl al-Dīn's having been "irradiated through the orient light of the splendors of the Morn of Eternity" (ṣubh al-azal; i.e. turned to Mīrzā Yaḥyā as the head of the exiled Bābī community ?), identifies "food" (ṭa`ām) with the sāḥib al-amr  ("bearer of the Cause"  = Mīrzā Yaḥyā?). "Israel" in this connection signifies al-mashiyya al-awaliyya  (the "Primal will") by means of which God created everything, while the "children of Israel" are those who attained faith in the Bāb from the "year sixty" (= 1260/1844) and there after those who have and will come to believe in him until the Divine Theophany at the eschatological consummation.

Still further interpretations of the key terms in Qur'ān 3:94 are given towards the end of the Lawḥ kull al-ṭa`ām. At one point Bahā'-Allāh explains this verse in the light of the Islamic dispensation, calling to mind the Bāb's earlier explanations of "Israel" and the "children of Israel" in his Tafsīr Sūrat al-baqara:

O Thou Faithful One! If you be of those who dwell in the Snow-White forest (ajamat al-bayḍā'), the Isle of the Furqān (jazirat al-furqān) then know that "food"- (ta`ām) signifieth the wilāya  (locus of divine guidance) which God decreed for His people [in Islam]. The intention of "Israel" is in this connection) the Point of the Furqan (nuqṭat al-furqān =the Prophet Muhammad) and of the "children of Israel" His trustees (= the Imams) who succeeded him".

He then explains that for those who "dwell in the "Crimson Isle" (jazirat al-ḥamrā'), the "Orchard of the Bayān" (ḥadīqat al-bayān; i.e. the Bāb s) the "food" (ta`ām) of the Islamic wilayat (see above) is abandoned and the "Primal Point" or Bāb is desired. For Bābīs, in other words, the Islamic dispensation has been abrogated. "Israel" furthermore signifies the "Last Objective" (wijhat al-ukhrā, the "Mystery of Endless Duration" (sirr al-ṣAḥmadāniya) (allusions to Quddūs?) and the "Countenance of Light" (tal`at al-nūr), the "Isolated Manifestation" (mujarrid al-ẓuhūr), the "Temple of the Divine Unicity" (haykal al-aḥadiyya) whom the aggressors caused to be "imprisoned in the land" and "concealed in the cities" (allusions to Mīrzā Yaḥyā?).

Finally Bahā'-Allāh identifies the "food" (ta`ām) mentioned in Qur'ān 3:87 with "the Ocean of the Unseen (baḥr al-ghayb) which is hidden in the "Pages of Light" (saḥā'if al-nūr) and treasured up in the Inscribed Tablets (alwāḥ al-mastūr) perhaps meaning Bāb sacred writings. "Israel" signifies the "Manifestation of the Command" (maẓhar al-amr = Mirzā Yaḥyā?) and the "children of Israel" the "people of the Bayān" (ahl al-bayān =the Bābīs) for whom the "food" (ta`ām) of the Bāb revelation is permitted -- if they are sincere Bābīs  who derive spiritual sustenance from the true fountainhead of guidance.

On these interpretations compare also the Tafsīr sūrat al-baqara, of the Bāb, 168, 176, 223 and 270, where imamological and cosmological interpretations are given to "Israel" and "the children of Israel". Like Bahā'-Allāh, the Bāb before him had identified "Israel" with God's creative Will, al-mashiyyat,  the "children" of Israel being all that was brought into being by it ( T. Baqara,  223 on Q. 2:83).