Skip to content

From Alwāḥ to Ziyārā : The literary forms .. the Bāb (d. 1850).

From Alwāḥ  to Ziyārā :

The literary forms and nature of the scriptural writings of  Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Bab (1819-1850).

Stephen Lambden UC Merced.

IN PROGRESS - Last updated 29-04-2020.

From Alwāḥ to Ziyārā : 

The literaray forms and nature of the scriptural writings of the Bāb (d. 1850).

In line with the conviction that they were expressions of waḥy (divine revelation), the sacred kalimat Allāh (Word of God), like the (original) Torah, Gospels and Qur'ān, many of these writings have specific designations derived, for the most part, from time-honored (largely) Abrahamic religious terminology. Key designations for the writings of the Bab include :

  • (1)  لوح , الواح    Lawḥ (pl. alwāḥ), scriptural `tablets’. (Per.) Lawh-i aqdas (The Most Holy Tablet');
  • (2)  سورة / سور   Sūrah,  (pl. suwar). Surahs or (loosely), sections, `chapters'. Thus, for example, Surat al-Khitab ('The Surah of the Discourse'), Surat al-bayan (The Surah of the Exposition') ...
  • (3)  كِتَاب/  كُتُب    Kitāb  (pl. kutub), book, writings, letters, pages .. hence  Kitāb al-Haykal (The Book of the Temple). 
  • (4)   صَحِيف / صُحُف   Saḥīfa  (pl. ṣuḥuf )  (scrolls, sacred writings'...), thus (Per.)  Sahifa-yi`Adliyya ('Trestise expressing Justice /Equitable Tract').
  • (5) Risala (pl. Rasā'il), Treatise... e.g. (Per.) Risala Sahifa `Adliyya ('Trestise expressing Justice'); 
  • (6) Tafsir (tafa'sir) or Sharh Commentary. e.g. Tafsir Surat  Yusuf (Commentary on the Surah of Jospeh  = Q. 12).
  • (7) Ziyarat-Nama (Visitation Tablets). e.g. (Per.) Ziyarat-nama-yi Tahirah, Qurrat al-`Ayn (Visiting Tablet for Tahira [Fatima Baraghani, d. 1852 CE.], the `Solace of the Eyes')
  • Add

(0) Bayan (Expositions Clarifications)

The Qur'anic Arabic word Bayan meaning `Exposition' of Sacred Scripture or religious Texts or Writings is a term used by the Bab to described the totality of his divine revelations. It also denotes a separate work which exists in both a longer Persian recension and a shorter Arabic version, both most likely dating to the period 1847-9.

  • Bayān-i farsī  (The Persian Bayan).
  • al-Bayan al-`Arabi (The Arabic Bayan).

(1) Lawḥ (pl. alwāḥ), Tablet.

The Qur'anic Arabic word for scriprural Tablet is Lawḥ (pl. alwāḥ) which corresponds to the biblical Hebrew   ל֥וּחַ  = luḥ (pl. luḥōṯ = הַלֻּחֹ֥ת = "the Tablets" ). This biblical term indicates, among other things, the חָר֖וּת עַל־ הַלֻּחֹֽת׃ , Tarot `al ha-luḥōṯ = " the Tablets of the Law (Torah)" given by God (on Mt. Sinai) to the prophet Moses (Exodus 32:16). The phrase הַלֻּחֹ֥ת ha-luḥōṯ, "The Tablets", occurs some 14 times in the Hebrew Bible largely in connection with the "Tablets of the Law" (see also, Exodus 32:19; 34:1, 28; Deut. 9:17; 10:2ff., etc.).   

In the Qur'an the Arabic  masculine noun lawḥ ("Tablet") or its plural alwāḥ occur five times. Three of these occurences are of the plural الواح alwāḥ  and are found in the 7th Surat al-A’rāf ("the Heights"). They relate to the episode of Moses' receipt  of the `Tablets of the [Israelite, Jewish] Law' on Mount Sinai and his subsequent destruction of them when he observed what Aaron and the people has done (see Q. 7:145,150,154):

Q. 7:145.

"And We ordained laws For him [Moses] in the Tablets (alwāḥ). In all matters, both Commanding and explaining All things (kulli shay' in), (and said): "Take and hold these With firmness, and enjoin Thy people to hold fast By the best in the precepts: Soon shall I show you The homes of the wicked,— (How they lie desolate)."

Q. 7:150.

"When Moses came back To his people [from Sinai], angry and grieved, He said: "Evil it is that ye Have done in my place In my absence: did ye Make haste to bring on The judgment of your  Lord?" He put down the Tablets (al-alwah), Seized his brother by (the hair Of) his head, and dragged him To him. Aaron said: "Son of my mother! The people Did indeed reckon me As naught, and went near To slaying me! Make not The enemies rejoice over My misfortune, nor count thou Me amongst the people Of sin."

Q. 7:154.

"When the anger of Moses Was appeased, he took up The Tablets (alwāḥ) : in the writing Thereon was Guidance and Mercy For such as fear their Lord".

The fourth Qur'anic reference is connected with the story of Noah and his Ark found in  Surah 54, the Surat al-Qamar (Surah of the Moon). The ark which bore Noah is referred to as a "well-planked vessel, well-cauked" (so Arberry trans.) This illustrates the sense of Lawḥ (pl. alwāḥ) as a wooden plank, also suggestive of a flat surface which something might be written upon as is the case with inscribed scriptural "Tablets".

Q. 54:13.

"But We bore him [Noah] on an (Ark) made of Broad planks ( dhat alwāḥ)   and caulked With palm-fibre (dusur in)"

The fifth and final Qur'anic reference to a (sing.) lawḥ is found in the eighty-fifth Surat al-Burūj, (The Surah of the Zodiacal Signs) :

Q. 85: [21-]22.

"Nay! Such is a Glorious Qur'an (Qur'an majid) [85] [inscribed] in a Preserved Tablet (Lawḥ in Mahfuz in)".

Here reference is made to the  well-known  "Guarded Tablet" (Lawḥ Mahfuz) about which a great deal has been written by Muslim Qur'an commentators as well as by the early Shaykhi leaders - Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i (d.1241/1826) and Sayyid Kazim al-Rashti (d. 1259/1843). Soo too both the Bab and Baha'-Allah.

Individual items of sacred writ deriving from Baha'-Allah are very often referred to as "Tablets" whether they be in Persian or Arabic (or both), very brief or very long; whether relating to matters "mundane" or to matters profoundly theological or to issues of global significance. Many writings are generally called `Tablets' despite the fact that they may have other names or deisignations such as are listed above. Thus,  in other words, on occasion, the totality of Baha'i scriptural writings are reckoned alwāḥ (`sacred Tablets') as are writings also given other literary designations such as those discussed here, e.g. Surahs, Books, Treatises, Scrolls, etc. 


The Bab on Lawh and Lawh-i Mahfuz

Some Extracts from the Tafsīr Sura wa’l-`aṣr (" Commentary on the Surah of `By the Afternoon [Declining Day]', Q. 103) of the Bab.

In his Tafsīr Sura wa’l-`aṣr (" Commentary on the Surah of `By the Afternoon [Declining Day]', Q. 103) the Bab makes an interesting and instructive interpretation of the Lawḥ al-Ḥafīz or Lawḥ al-Mahfuz  when commenting on letter twenty-three, namely the letter "L" (al-lām). 

"Then regarding the 23rd letter which is [the letter] "L" (al-lām).

  • [1] It signifieth on this level al-lawḥ al-a`ẓam (the Most Great Tablet) in which exist all modalities (al-shu’ūn).
  • [2] Then [additionally it] signifieth the lawḥ al-amr (Tablet of the Command) for God did not send down [reveal] a single thing except He had it penned therein.
  • [3] Then [additionally it]  signifies the Lawḥ al-Ḥafīz ("Preserved Tablet") which indicates the actions [deeds] of the totality of all the creatures such as have been encompassed in the knowledge of God.
  • [4] Then [additionally it] signifieth the Lawḥ which God hath assuredly created through the knowledge of `Azrā’īl through the constriction of all who are possessed of a spirit [soul] (bi-qaby rūḥ kull dhiya rūḥ). For he gazeth upon it [Lawḥ] at every moment. And he followeth the amr (Cause-command) of His Lord in accordance with what hath been stipulated, with the permissionof God -- exalted and glorified be He -- in the dictates (aḥkam) of that Lawḥ".

In the  commentary  of the Bab,  the  lawh mahfuz (Preserved Tablet) is presented as the "Greatest Tablet" (al-lawḥ al-akbar). This work of the Bab reflects Islamic esoteric traditions, as well, most notably, as the sometimes arcane Khuṭba al-ṭutunjiyya (The Sermon of the Gulf) ascribed to Imam `Ali (d.40/661), an oration which both  Sayyid Kazim Rashti as well as the Bab and Bahā’-Allāh,  regarded very highly.


(X)  Tafsir (tafasir) or Sharh, Commentary.

An Islamic Tafsir writing is a commentary or work expository of portions or of the whole of the Qur'an though this word may be indicative of the attempt to  explain some other weighty composition. It may also indicate the mode of interpretation which in later Islamic usuage can be in some sense non-literal or allegorical.

(1) Tafsīr Surat al-baqara (Commentary on the Surah of the Cow, Q.2). Late 1843- early 1844.

{2} The Tafsīr Surat Yusuf  (Commentary upon the Surah of Joseph, Q. 12) also referred to by the Bab as the Qayyūm al-asmā’ (Self-Subsisting Repository of the Divine Names) or Kitab al-Husayniyya (Husaynid Book).  This Arabic, mid. 1844 treatise of the Bab is a verse by verse neo-qur'anic commentary upon the 112 verses of the Surah of Joseph.

Tafsir pl. Tafasir : Commentaries

  • T.Akhi = Tafsīr ḥadīth `allamanī akhī rasūl-Allāh. INBAMC 14:410-417.
  • T. `Ama’ = Tafsīr, ḥadīth al-`amā’. TBA. Ms 6007C:1-16..
  • T. `Asr = Tafsīr sūra wa'l-`aṣr. (Q. 110) INBMC 69:21-119
  • T. Baqara = Tafsīr sūrat al-baqara (Q. 2 ) INBMC 69: (1ff) 157-294+377-410.
  • T. Basmala = Tafsīr (ḥurūf ) al-basmala. TBA ms. 6014C: f. 301-370..
  • T. Ha’ (1) = Tafsīr al-Hā’ (1) INBMC 14:221-283; INBMC 67:4-52.
  • T. Ha’ (2) = Tafsīr al-Hā’ (2) INBMC 14:284-320. INBMC 67:53-85
  • T. Hamd = Tafsīr Sūrat al-ḥamd (Q.1). INBMC 69:120-153.
  • T. Kawthar = Tafsīr Sūrat al-kawthar. EGB Coll. Ms. Or. F10 [7].
  • T. LaylatQ. = Tafsīr Laylat al-qadr, (Q.97) INBMC 69:14--21.
  • T. Kumayl=Tafsīr Ḥadīth Kumayl ibn Ziyād al-Nakhā’ī. INBMC 53:63-8.
  • T. Man T. M-`arafa = Tafsīr ḥadīth man `arafa nafsahu.. INBAMC 14:468-477; [2] INBMC 40:46-53.
  • T. Wajh = Tafsīr Naḥnu wajh Allāh. TBA 6006C: f.69-70; INBMC 53:56-8.
  • Tafsīr-i - ( Commenty on ).
  • Sharh-i  (Commentary on).

(2) Sūrah,  (pl. suwar), Sections, Scriptural Divisions.

The word Sūra سورة (pl. suwar) : possible Hebrew or Syriac derivation...

The qur’ānic  Arabic word sūra has been thought by  Theodore Nöldeke (1836-1930), and a number of other 19th and 20th century western orientalists and academic scholars, to be a loanword derived from the (Mishnaic) Hebrew         word shūrāh, which can signify "rank", "file", "line" or "row". Arthur Jeffery (1892-1959), in his seminal, pioneering The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur'an (1st ed. Oriental Institute, Baroda, 1938) doubted this derivation (see rep. Leiden: Brill, 2003, pp. 180-182) as did Richard Bell (1876-1952) who noted that it was a term used of "bricks in a wall and of vines". Rejecting this Hebrew derivation of the Arabic sūra he suggested one from the Syriac  ṣūrṭā which can mean "writing", "scripture":

"The word sūra (plural suwar) also occurs in the text, but its derivation is doubtful. The most accepted view is that it comes from the Hebrew shūrāh, 'a row', used of bricks in a wall and of vines. From this the sense of a series of passages, or chapter, may perhaps be deduced, but it is rather forced. Besides, it hardly gives the sense in which the word is used in the Qur'an itself. In 10.38/9 the challenge is issued: 'Do they say: "He has devised it"?; let them come then with a sūra like it'. In 11.13/16 it is a challenge to bring ten sūras like those which have been produced. In 28.49, however, where a similar challenge is given, it is to produce a book, or writing, from God. Evidently the sense required is something like 'revelation' or 'Scripture'. The most likely suggestion is that the word is derived from the Syriac ṣūrṭā, which has the sense of 'writing', 'text of Scripture', and even 'the Scriptures'. The laws which govern the interchange of consonants in Arabic and Syriac are against that derivation, but in Syriac itself the spelling of the word varies to ṣūrthā, and even surthā; and in any case, in words directly borrowed, these philological laws do not necessarily hold" (Bell [+Montgomery-Watt] Introduction, 58; see also Jeffery, Foreign Vocabulary, p.180ff).

The above pioneering suggestions are now largely doubted or rejected entirely. A recent related suggestion, however, is that the qur'anic Arabic sūra may derive from the Syriac shūrayā ("beginning") meaning "short psalms that are sung before the reading of scripture" (Neuwirth, `Sūra(s)' EQ 6:167). This whole matter invites further detailed research in the light of Rabbinic and Patristic practices and terminology associated with Semitic-Abrahamic scripture and its liturgical or other modes of delimitation, partitioning and associated recitation. In this respect it is worth consulting relevant papers in the volumes making up the important series `Pericope, Scripture as Written and Read in Antiquity' (Van Gorcum, The Netherlands, 2000, and ongoing). The paper, for example by  K. D. Jenner in Pericope Vol.1, Delimitation Criticism  entitled `The Unit Delimitation in the Syriac Text of Daniel and its Consequences for Interpretation' examines a number of ancient (8th. cent. CE) biblical manuscripts of the Syriac Peshiṭta  the texts of which are frequently "marked with or interrupted by rosettes, vignettes in minium (red pigment) and strings of dark brown thick dots as well. A second category of markers is that of titles inscribed in minium in or added to the text. These titles may theologically label the content of the following pericope or may relate to its chronological scheme or to some ecclesiastical calendar or lectionary system" (p.112). Such matters are highly relevant to the study of the emergence of early Qur'an manuscripts which themselves contain markings of the kind just mentioned. Some of these early Qur'an mss. contain headings, dots and blank spaces pertinent to the study of the evolution of surahs as Qur'an segments. Examination of very early Qur’an manuscripts indicates that sūrah beginnings were indicated by the use of colored inks (cf. add    EQ  add .).

The Titles or Names of the Sūrahs of the Qur'an

The 114 Sūras of the Qur'an each came to have individual names or titles; mostly, if not wholly, from the first few decades after the time of the Prophet during the early `Umayyad period (661-750 CE). They were not all fixed by a single designation. There has never been any absolute agreement as to all of the qur'anic sūra names. Several are known by multiple designations in different parts and eras of the Islamic world, e.g. Q. 112 Ikhlāṣ  ("Sincerity")  or Sūrat al-Tawḥīd ("the Divine Unity").  In modern printed Qur'ans a title section provides the name of the Sūrah and its number in the sequence of 114 sūras.

The names of sūras are often taken from,

  • a) Initial words  or verses within a given sūra e.g. Sūrat al-Ṣād, Q. 38:1;  Sūrat al-Qāf Q.50:1; 
  • b) A rare or memorable word occurring within a sūra, e.g. Q. 29: 41, `Ankabūt = "spider"; Q. 80: 1 Abasa "He frowned"; 97:1b Laylat al-Qadr, 'Night of Power'; Q. 16 Sūrat al-Nahl (`The Sūra of the Bee[s]')
  • c) A major theme within a specific sūra, e.g. Q.2 Sūrat al-Baqara (the Sūra of the Cow) which contains the a version of the biblical story of the `golden calf'; 
  • d) According to a traditional designation which is not always based on words or terminology found within that specific sūra, e.g. Q. 1 Sūrat al-Fatiha (The Sūra of the Opening), which is in fact a prayer or devotional qur'anic prolegomenon widely recited in Islamic ritual practice.

Some sūra names are not found in the qur'anic sūras they designate.  e.g.  

A complete list of the qur'anic sūra names in the A. J. Arberry translation can be conveniently found at :

See further :

(3) Kitāb  (pl. kutub), "Book", "Letter" ...

The word Kitab in Arabic indicates a letter, book or written composition of some kind. A farly large numnber of Bab's writings are designated books (kitab, pl. kutub).


Select Kitab-Kutub : Books among the writings of the Bab.

  • Kitāb al-asmā' (The Book of the Divine Names). INBMC 29. [2] Uncat. ms. Marzieh Gail Coll. Bosch Bahā’ī Library (USA).
  • Kitab al-Fihrist (The Book of the Index [of the writings of the Bab] :Kitāb al-fihrist INBA. Ms 6007C:339-348.
  • Kitāb-i panj sha'n (The Book of the Five Modes-Grades of Revelation). np.nd. [Tehran Azali ed. 196?]. cf Shu'un-K = Shu`ūn-I khamsa al-fārsī (= Persian K.Panj ) INBMC 82:78-133.
  • Kitab Haykal al-dīn (The Book of the Temple of Religion). np.nd [Tehran, Azalī ed. 196?]
  • Kitāb al-`ulamā' (The Book for the `Ulama;-Divines) INBMC 67:206-16; Afnan 2000:107-111.
  • Kitāb al-rūḥ (The Book of the Spirit)  [incomplete]. Haifa mss.

4) Saḥīfa  (pl. ṣuḥuf ). 

Occurring eight times in the Qur'an (=Q.), the originally Sabaic word ṣaḥīfa (pl. ṣuḥuf) may have originally meant something like `document'. According to Arabic sources this word indicates a `sheet’ or piece of material for writing upon; hence, `document' , `page of writing’, `scroll’, `scripture’, etc (Jeffery, 1938:192-4; Ghédira, `ṣuḥuf’', EI2 VIII: 834-5; Maraqten, 1998:309). Though the Q. says very little about divine revelations sent down prior to the time of Moses, the word ṣuḥuf  ("scriptures") is used in this connection. There is mention of the "earlier scriptures" (al-ṣuḥuf al-ulā), the ṣuḥuf Ibrahīm wa mūsā ("The Scriptures of Abraham and Moses" Q. 87:19).
In one way or another the Arabic words ṣaḥīfa and ṣuḥuf are quite common in Bābī-Bahā'ī sacred literatures, often indicating specific revealed writings as well as indicating pre-Islamic or especially pre-Mosaic divine revelation. Both the Bāb and Bahā'-Allāh used ṣaḥīfa  in varied and diverse ways  to indicate portions of their sacred writings. The Bāb, for example, wrote a Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn  usually loosely rendered `Epistle between the Two Shrines' [Mecca and Medina],  (Muḥarram 1261/ mid.Jan. 1845) and Bahā'-Allāh authored the Ṣaḥīfa-yi Shaṭṭiyya (Scroll of the Raging Torrent, c.1857-8).

Saḥīfa  (pl. ṣuḥuf ) among the writings of the Bab

  • Sahifa bayn al-haramayn (The Treatise [written] betwwen the Two Shrines
  • Ṣaḥīfa Ja`fariyya
  • Ṣaḥīfa‑yi `adliyya  (Treatise on Justice)
  • Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn. CUL, Browne Or. Ms. F 7(9):1-125; TBA. ms. 6007C, 348-413.
  • Sāḥīfa-yi Ja`fariyya. INBMC 98:48-108; INBMC 60:57-154.

(5) Select Risala (pl. Rasa'il) - Treatises of the Bab.

  • R. Dhahbiyya = Risāla Dhahabiyya. (cf. Afnān, 2000:449). INBMC 86:70-98.
  • R. Jasad = Risāla fī’l- jasad al-nabī (= Sharḥ kayfiyyat al-mi`rāj) INBMC 69:416-418.
  • R. Nubuwwa = Risāla fī'l-nubuwwa al-khāṣṣa The Treatise on the Specific Prophethood [of Muhammad]. INBMC 14:385.
  • R. Sulūk = Risāla fī'l-sulūk. TBA., Ms. 6006C: 73-74..

(7) Ziyarat-Nama (Visitation Tablets)...

Ziyarat-Nama (Visitation Tablets) as texts of varying lengh in Persian or Arabic (or both) which commenorate a deceased individual and is meant to be recited at his or her resting place. There are scores of Ziyara texts of importance in Shi`i Islam  especially those centered upon the twelver imams, from `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 40/661) to Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi (d. 260/874), the twelfth Imam who is thought to be in the heavenly world in occultation (al-ghayba). There are Shi`i Islamic visitation texts for the Prophet Muhamad himself, his daughter Fatima and his descendants the twelve Imam. Some important Ziyara texts suffice for one or more of these Islamic worthies.


(8) Talismanic Haykals (Temples) and Dhari`a (Circles).

(9) Khutbas, Literary Homilies, Sermons, Dialogue ..

  • Kh. Ḥuruf = Khuṭba on `ilm al-ḥurūf INBA 91; INBA6004C: 209-213.
  • Kh. Jidda = Khuṭba at Jeddah. INBA 91: 61-81
  • Kh. Qahriyya = Khuṭba-yi qahriyya. INBMC 64:127-150.
  • QA = Qayyūm al-asmā’ Afnān Lib. ms.5
  • Q. Mahfuz = Su`āl `an al-lawḥ al-maḥfūẓ. (Q. 85:22) ,TBA. ms. 6006C:79-80.
  • Q. Zavarih = Reply to the three questions of Mīrzā Muhammad Sa`īd Zavārih on Basīṭ al-ḥaqīqa and other matters INBMC 69:419-437.

(X) Istidlaliyya ("Testimonia")

  • P. Dala’il = Dalā'il-i sab`ih. IBA (ii) (? = Nicolas ms.106),104bff. + n.p. n.d (Azalī edition [Tehran,196?]) 1-72.

(10)  Prayers and Treatises in Reply to Questions.

  • Q. Mahfuz = Su`āl `an al-lawḥ al-maḥfūẓ. (Q. 85:22) ,TBA. ms. 6006C:79-80.
  • Q. Zavarih = Reply to the three questions of Mīrzā Muhammad Sa`īd Zavārih on Basīṭ al-ḥaqīqa and other matters INBMC 69:419-437.




Azalī editions of writings of the Bāb.

  • P.Bay. = Bayān-i Fārsī. Tehran, n.d.
  • P.Dalā’il = Dalā’il-i Sab`ah. Tehran: n.d.
  • Qismati = Qismati az alwāḥ-i khaṭṭ-i nuqṭa-yi ūlā wa Sayyid Ḥusayn Kātib (n.p.)[Iran] n.d.).

Translations of A. L. M. Nicholas (1864-1939)

  • P-Béyan = Le Béyan Persan, trans. A. L. M. Nicolas, 4 vols. Paris: Librarie Paul Geuthner, 1911-14
  • Ar-Béyan = Le Béyan Arabe, Le Livre Sacré Bábyse. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905
  • S-Prev. = Le Livre des Sept Preuves de la mission du Bab. Paris: Maisonneuvre, 1902

Translations of the Bahā’ī World Centre (Haifa, Israel).

SWB = Selections from the Writings of the Bāb, trans. by Habib Taherzadeh (et al.). Haifa: BWC,1976.
SWB* = Muntakhabātī az āthār-i ḥaḍrat-i Nuqṭih-i ūlā. Wilmette, Illinois: BPT, 1978.