An Epistle of Baha'-Allah
`Alī Muhammad Sarrāj (18XX-18XX)
Stephen N. Lambden 1980s + 2006+ 2014.
Last updated 17-03-2021.
The Persian scriptural Tablet of Baha'-Allah to the Babi believer Mullā / Mirza `Alī Muhammad Sarrāj [incorrectly, Sirāj] (18XX-18XX) of Isfahan dates from the latter years of the Edirne (Adrianople) period, most probably to the year 1867 CE. -- the date may be to the year 1283-4 /May/June/July 1867? as it seems to have been written during the time of Bahā-Allāh's residence in the House of Amr-Allāh. It has been printed once in Ishraq Khavari (ed) Mā'idah-yi āsmānī vol. 7 pp. 4-118 and occupying well over 100 pages in this printed text. The text can be found in several mss. compilations including INBMC 35: 190-276 and INBMC 73: 178-231 as well as 76: . The Lawḥ-i Sarrāj would perhaps be around 120 pages in English translation. It is about 2/3 rds of the length of the well-known Kitāb-i īqān ("The Book of Certitude") which is 199 pp. in the (Egypt, Cairo, 1934) printed Persian text and 164 pages in Shoghi Effendi's English translation. The Lawḥ-i Sarrāj is certainly one of the longer and fairly weighty works of Bahā-Allāh. It deals with quite complex or theologically loaded issues often exhibiting an highly Arabized Persian and containing a large number of Arabic citations from a number of the Arabic writings of the Bāb. Only two brief passages from the Lawḥ-i Sarrāj have been translated into English by Shoghi Effendi. They are printed in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, sections L (50) on Bahā'-Allah's divinely conferred theophanic status and revelatory ability and XCVII (97) on the reality of the possibility of the alchemical transformation of copper into gold.
`Alī Muhammad Sarrāj, "The Saddler" or "Leather-worker" had met the Bab during his stay in Isfahan (1846-7) and subsequently became a Babi. He was the brother of Mullā Rajab `Alī ( d. [assassinated at] Karbala [by Nāṣir the Arab] 185?) entitled Qahīr ("Wrathful" -- Rajab `Alī = abjad 315 = abjad Qahīr) by the Bāb and of the Fāṭimah (c. 1832- [Dec. 1Xth] 1916) whom the Bāb took as his second wife in Isfahan. This apparently at the prompting of Manūchihr Khān, the then governor of Iṣfahān while he was resident there (late 1846 or early 1847). Later later Mīrzā Yaḥyā, contrary to the instructions of the Bāb, took her in marriage. The former two brothers , `Ali Muhammad and Rajab `Ali were staunch supporters of Mirza Yaḥya Nūrī, Subḥ-i Azal (c. 1830-1914). They remained so after the writing of the Tablet to Sarraj despite its detailed theological and historical arguments. Mullā Rajab `Alī was the author of a quite lengthy (around 175pp) and detailed Azalī treatise in support of the position and leadership role of Mīrzā Yaḥyā (copy in EGB mss. Coll. ADD).
The Lawh-i Sarrāj has often previously been referred to as the Lawḥ-I Sirāj or "The Tablet of the Luminary [Light]" for the unvoweled consonants Ṣ-R-J would most readily call to mind the common qur'ānic term sirāj ("lamp") (see the `Light Verse', Q. 24:35). This word siraj is in fact very frequent in the numerous Arabic and Persian writings of the Bāb and Bahā'-Allāh, hence the error (cf. Balyuzi, BKG: 237). Read or pointed as an intensive form of the active participle (or adjective) after the paradigm fa``ālūn we basically have a noun indicative of a profession or occupation. Thus Sarrāj, a word descriptive of the profession of the recipient of the Tablet, namely `saddler', a maker or seller of saddles (for horse riding'). Note similarly the word hallāj which indicates `wool carder' which was the profession of the famous Ṣūfī mystic al-Ḥusayn ibn Manṣūr al-Ḥallāj (d. c. 992) who uttered the words anā al-ḥaqq = "I am the (Ultimate) Truth [True One [God]". Note again `Aṭṭār meaning `Perfume merchant' or `Druggist' as was Farīd al-Dīn `Aṭṭar (d. c.122X) the author of the Mantiq al-Ṭayr, ("The Discourse [Conference] of the Birds") and other Persian mystical poetry.
Bahā'-Allāh's lengthy Persian epistle to Mullā Alī Muhammad Sarraj is largely a reply to questions posed about the position of Mirza Yahya and the Azali Babis in the light of Bahā'-Allāh's claims. At one point within this treatise Baha'-Allah quotes Qayyum al-asmā' XXVIII, argues that the "latter turn" ( karrat al ukhra) has been manifested through his revelation and underlines the fulfillment of that line which anticipates the "death" or "annihilation" of the "dwellers on the Mount" (ṭūriyyun). This in order to illustrate the fall of Mirza Yahya, the "one time "Blessed Fruit" (thamara ṭūba ) who has been trans formed ( as a result of his rejection of Bahā'-Allāh's claims) into a mere "wild gourd" or "colocynth" (hanzal). Elevated Babis have become satanic souls. Exalted Sinaites have lost their lofty status, in view of their having failed to sustain the impact of the new Baha'i theophany. In another connection Bahā'-Allāh claims to be privy to secrets which were not heard by the Prophet Muhammad during his "Night journey ( mi`raj) by Jesus in the "heavens of the Divine Command" or by Moses "the Speaker" (al-kalim) when situated "upon the Mount of gnosis" ( ṭūr al `irfān ) and listening to the proclamation of the "Tree of God" ( shajarat Allah ). He also argues that such scriptural expressions as "Lote Tree of the Extremity" ( sidrat i muntaha ), "Furthermost Tree" ( shajarat i quswa ), "Leaf"( waraqa ) and "Fruit" ( thamara ) may apply to the faithful believer in God. Babis who were referred to in these terms thus have no special or supremely authoritative positions. Yahya*s being referred to as the "Fruit" ( thamara [of the Bayan ]) by the Bab is of no great moment in the light of the exalted status of Bahā'-Allāh.
The Lawḥ-i Sarrāj is a response to various questions relating especially to the titles, position or status of Mīrzā Yaḥyāt about how ḥurūf-i `aliyyīn ("elevated [sublime] letters [souls]") can become ḥurūf-I sijjīn ("debased letters [souls]"). One mss. INBMC 73:198 begins,
"He is the Answerer [Beloved One] (huwa al-mujīb [maḥbūbī]). In reply to the questions of Muhammad `Alī Sarrāj Iṣfahānī
The letter of that reverend one [ān jināb] was presented before the [Divine] Throne (al-arshī and arrived unto the locale the nature of which none knoweth other than He Himself. The contents thereof were observed with the perception of God (malḥū- Allāhī. It had been enquired as to how it can possibly be that ḥurūf-i `iliyyīn ("elevated [sublime] letters" [souls]) can be transformed [changed] (tabdīl mīshavad] into ḥurūf-i sijjīn ("debased letters" [souls]) or [the condition of faith] affirmation (ithbāt) be altered into one of [faith] negation (nafīīt), how the choice fruit (thamara janniyya) can be abstracted from the spiritual subtleties (laṭifat) or the [station of the polished] Mirror (mirāt) be witheld from the splendours of the lights of the Sun of Mystic Meaning (ishraqāt-i anvār-i aftāb-i ma`ānī).
So Yea! Indeed unto what thou hast asked for thou art of such as pose questions. Thou hast submitted numerous questions for in this [eschatological] Day (al-yaum) it is [perfectly] legitimate [necessary] for every soul that is troubled [weak, incapacitated] to enquire after the mystical [gnostic] aspects of the enigmatic divine realities (irfān-i mu`ḍilāt-i masā'il-I ilāhiyya) from the [Embodiment of] the Law of Lordly Knowledge (sharī`a-yi `ilm-i rabbāniyya) and the All-Enduring Euphrates of Wisdom (furāt-i ḥikmat-i ṣamadāniyya) and expectently [hopefully] become a recipient of a sprinkling (bi-rashḥī) from the [Divine] Fountainhead (mashrūb) and experience beatitude (mustarīḥ gardad) upon the carpet of tranquility and certitude (bisāt sukūn va īqān). We supplicate God that He may enable thee to ascend unto a station (maqām) in which thou shalt witness the Ancient Beauty (jamāl-i qidam) with thine eye and be abstracted from the sight of the worldly realms, shall hear His [divine] melodies (naghāmāt) with thine own ear and be detached from the [vagaries] of the inmost hearts (afi'dat pl. fū`ād) of whomsoever lieth within either the heavens or the earth[s]. ... There is no God except Him.
The Supreme Countenance (tal`at al-a`lā) [= the Bāb] is assuredly [this] His Bahā' (Beauty-Splendour= Bahā'Allāh) within the Supreme Concourse (al-malā' al-a`lā), His very Radiance [Splendour] between earth and heaven, His Grandeur (kubriyā') unto whomsoever lieth within the Kingdom of the Command and the Creation (malakūt al-amr wa'l-khalq). The same do all things (kulli shay') cry out [as thou wouldst realize] if thou be in possession of a hearing ear. This in that [this eschatological] Day is it that incumbent upon every soul before God to investigate and ponder upon His Cause with their very eye, ear, and heart.
Summary Notes and translations
MA = Ishraq Khavari (ed) Mā'idah-yi āsmānī vol. 7 + page number.
MA VII: 5. Ponder the reason why all people withheld from the liqā=Allāh, the Encounter [Meeting] with God through his Manifestation, and are occupied with -- it is because of vain fancies (wahm) and being veiled by the likenesses of their own selves along with their mindless taqlīd (imitation). The Cause shines resplendent yet human faculties veiled by the words of the people.. Bābīs must consider the qudrat Allāh (Power of God). Bear in mind the testimony of those past religionists who failed. Be warned. Don't make the same mistake. Don't imagine [like the Jews of ages past] that yad Allāh maghlūtah ("the hand[s] of God are chained up") (Q. 5:64 [ṣ]+48:10) As the Q. says "Nay! Outstretched are both his hands!) (Cf. KI:80...). Continuity of revelation. God doeth what he pleaseth..
MA VII: 7 "Thus it was that with the advent of the year sixty (=1260 AH = 1844 CE) all of the people were witheld from [the] (Reality) [of the Bāb] (ḥaqq), from both knowledge (`ālim) and ignorance (jāhil), by virtue of meaningless worldly constraints.. Persons were returned-transformed from the `īliyyīn al-baqā' to the sijjīn-i fanā' they were...
And what shall [enable thee to comprehend] what is Sijjīn ? [It indeed is but] a Book Inscribed ( kitāb marqūmī.)
Sijjīn here taken by many Qur'ān commentators to be a proper name. There are numerous explanations often revolving around aspects of it being thought to be indicative of the lowest "earth", a "rock" or "well" in the depths of hell or it being (as the Qur'ān indicates) the name of a book recording all human actions. In EI2 IX:538 Vacca states
"Without the definite article Sidjdjīn designates Hell Fire, or again, something painful, violent, hard, durable or eternal. The interpretations are influenced by the term's resemblance to sidjdjīl, associated erronously with the root s-dj-l. Although al-Suyutī's Itkān classes it amongst non-Arabic words, no generally accepted etymology has been put forward.. The lexicographers, on the other hand, make it a synonym of sijn (prison), which has influenced the most widespread interpretation of the commentators who see it as the place where the record of the evildoers is kept rather than the record itself. The Kur`ān's text admits of both interpretations."
Bahā'-Allah thus speaks of various modes of transformation using highly technical qur'ānic and Sufi influenced vocabulary. People veiled from the Bāb experience judgement on his advent.. "They were [numbered] among such as are consumed with idle fancy in the archetype ["Mother" Book] of the aforementioned Tablets (umm al-alwāḥ madhkūr an)." So away from such matters... Set gave upon the Divine Representative e.g. stations no such a big deal...
MA VII: 7 This Day if all who exist in the heavens and on earth were to become Bayān-type “Letters [of the Living” (ḥurūfāt-I bayānīyya) -- who are 100,000 times more elevated and greater than the “Qur'ānic Letters” (ḥurūfāt-i furqānīyya)ī -- and evince the least modicum of such qualities they would regarded as having attained....
"The Glorious Beauty (jamāl-I subḥān) is being established upon the Throne of the All-Merciful (`arsh-I raḥman) and a ray of the Lights of the Sun of His Bounty shineth upon and is disclosed unto all things"
On the effects of Bahā's manifestation. Every atom ..
"Beatitude: "Blessed be whomsoever knoweth himself through His Self and becometh detached from all that is other than Him." Cf. Man `arafa nafsahu fa-qad arafa rabbuhu...
MA VII:8 line 3ff.
1st Direct Address to `Alī Muhammad Sarraj:
"O `Alī. Hearken unto the Call of God (nidā' Allāh) and attain unto a locale that hath ever been and will eternally remain sanctified from Names (asmā)" . The important thing is beauteous designations of the Pen of the Creator of the Kingdom of Names.. Says his intention is that "that revered One" (presumably Yaḥyā or Sarrāj) should burn away the veils and be sanctified from idle speculations. No light.. "in that place the stars of the seeker (nujūm-i tālib) are naught but the dark clouds of the night (-alamāt layl..)"
Very astonishing that they are astonished at the changing and alternation of the names of the people when "at every moment change and alternation of manifestations of names and their Dawning-Places may be observed. Despite this the people get embroiled in veils of idle fancy.. Despite this people are veiled
On the paragraph about the Kitab-i iqan as the Sayyis-i kutub (Lord of Books) in Mā'idah-yi āsmānī VII:167 - not part of the Lawh-i Sarraj - see https://hurqalya.ucmerced.edu/node/371/edit