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Wisdom-Ḥokmāh... Ḥikmah - World Religions and Babi-Baha'i Concepts of Wisdom





Stephen N. Lambden


Being revised and updated 19-09-2022,

Frequently mentioned in Bahā'ī scripture, "wisdom" (Ar. ḥikma[t]; Per. khirad, danā etc), may indicate spiritual insight, prudence or a balanced, mature, sense of judgement. It can also refer to various dimensions of philosophy, science and theology. All these and other senses of "wisdom", are present in Bahā'ī scriptural texts.

 Concepts of "wisdom" are common to all cultures and have played an important part in the history of religions. Most of the major world religions prize Divine, transcendent or human "wisdom". Texts representative of a `wisdom literature' are widely held sacred. According to the Buddhist scholar Edward Conze, "There was a time when wisdom was more prized than almost anything else" (Conze, 1988:9). Kurt Rudolph writes that "wisdom" has taken "these broad forms: an anthropological ability to cope with life; a rational system; a personification, hypostasis, goddess, or attribute of God" (p.12). Significant wisdom traditions have existed in the major Abrahamic and Asian religions as well as in numerous offshoots within these streams of wisdom and perennial gnosis as well as in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.

 Wisdom, knowledge and insight (jnāna) were important in the ancient Indian tradition. Aspects of this tradition are reflected in such Hindu texts as the Bhagavad Gītā where we read, "A man of faith, intent on wisdom (jnāna), his senses (all) restrained, wins wisdom; and wisdom won, he will come right soon to perfect peace" (IV:39, trans. Zaehner, 1973).

 Teachings regarding or relating to "wisdom" (khrad) figure prominently in Zoroastrianism. In certain sacred texts the heavenly Being "Spirit of Wisdom" (Menog ī Khrad) is considered one of the "Bountiful Immortals" (Av. Amesha Spenta). The Zoroastrian corpus of `wisdom/advice/instruction (andarz) literature' includes, for example, the "Book of Judgements of the Spirit of Wisdom" (Dādistan ī Menog ī Khrad). In book Vl of the ninth century CE (Pahlavi) "Acts of Religion" (Denkard) we, at one point read, "Wisdom is manifest in work, character in rule, and a friend in hardship." (Denkard  Vl:24 Shaked tr.13; see further Rudolph, 19-20).

 "Wisdom" (Sanskrit, prajnā; lit. `consciousness',`understanding') is a central concept of Mahāyāna Buddhism. It often refers to a non-conceptual awareness, "an immediately experienced intuitive wisdom that cannot be conveyed by concepts or in intellectual terms" (Rider Enc., 274). There are more than forty Mahāyāna "perfection of wisdom" (prajnāpāramitā) texts written over a millennium or so from around the first century BCE (dating uncertain)? Such early Mahāyāna Wisdom Sūtras as the highly influential "Diamond Cutter Sūtra" and the "Heart Sūtra" (dating after c. 175 CE?) provided the philosophical basis of much developed Buddhist thought (Conze, 1988; Hajime, 1989:222f, Williams, 1989:40f).

 "Wisdom" (Heb. ḥokmā) is quite frequently mentioned, and has a variety of senses, in the Bible. Primarily, "Wisdom" belongs to God (Dan. 2:20-23) from Whom it should be sought. In Proverbs 1:7 (+ 9:10) it is said that "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God" (for details see Von Rad Ch.IV ; this is often reflected in Islamic and Bahā'ī texts). The `Wisdom Books' of the Hebrew Bible include the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (see also the book of Ben Sira [Sirach] and the Wisdom of Solomon). In Judaism personified Wisdom was sometimes identified with the substance of the Torah or Law. In Proverbs 8, personified wisdom is "an instrument of God in the planning and implementation of the created order" (Scott, JE16:563). The personification of "Wisdom", important in Judaism, is also reflected in various New Testament and post-Biblical Christologies. The name "Wisdom" was applied to the "Logos" or "Word" (analogous with Gk. "Sophia") which was incarnate in Jesus Christ (John 1:3). Modern analysis of the Gospel sayings reckons Jesus a teacher of wisdom (Mark 6:2), "one greater than Solomon" (Matt 12:42), the Jewish paragon of wisdom (see also Luke 2:40, 52; 7:35). The transcendent Wisdom of God was manifest in Christ. Compared to it human wisdom is but folly (I Cor 1:18ff).

 In the Greek rationalist tradition "wisdom", the developed, properly functioning intellect, was reckoned the cause of true happiness (Peters, 520-521). It was in Greece that philosophy as the `love of wisdom' took shape (Rudolph, 11). Bahā'-Allāh had a very high regard for the Greek sages and philosophers of antiquity; including the Athenian philosopher Socrates (469-399 BCE), Plato (429-347 BCE) who regarded wisdom as the supreme virtue (Republic 441c-d), and Aristotle (384-322 BCE) who distinguished mundane practical wisdom from that speculative wisdom (sophia) which became philosophy. Of Greece Bahā'u'llāh wrote, "We made it a seat of ḥikmah [wisdom, philosophy...] for a prolonged period" (TB:149).

The term "wisdom" (ḥikma ) is quite frequently found in the Qur'ān (around nineteen times). It often signifies that "wisdom" which "implies knowledge of high spiritual truths" (Goichon, 377). "Wisdom" and divine revelation are intimately related. In the Islamic holy Book, references to "Wisdom" are often found in conjunction with references to "the Book" (e.g. 2:129, 151, 231, 251, etc). Divine "wisdom" was granted to various Israelite prophets and other sages and Messengers of God; including, Abraham, Luqman, David, Jesus, and Muhammad. In the ethical and intellectual history of Islam concepts of "wisdom" (hḥikma ) are centrally important. During the Islamic centuries, "wisdom" not only indicated aspects of religious piety but also the "foreign" (non-Islamic) sciences. It came to be virtually synonymous with philosophy (falsafah) and at times included spiritual, theosophical or gnostic branches of inspired learning distinct from rational dimensions of knowledge (`ilm, see Peters, 740). Among the various Islamic dimensions of "wisdom" are to be counted ḥikmat ilāhiyya ("divine philosophy", "metaphysics"), ḥikmat ishrāqiyya ("oriental, illuminationist theosophy") and ḥikmat lanuniyya ("inspired wisdom" e.g. Hermetic gnosis; see Corbin 1993:125). In one of his Tablets Bahā'u'llāh sets forth quite a number of different Islamic understandings of that "Wisdom" mentioned in Qur'ān 2:269 (272), "whoso is given the Wisdom (al-ḥikmah), has been given much good.." (trans. Arberry). Bahā'-Allāh records that this "Wisdom" has been taken, among other things, to signify the Divine decrees, medical knowledge and alchemical gnosis (Mazandarānī, Asrar 3:120-121).

As in the Qur'ān the Babi and Bahā'ī scriptures frequently accord God the attribute, the All-Wise (al-ḥakīm). He is the ultimate Source of "Wisdom" which is communicated by divine revelation to His prophets an Messengers and thence to jumankind. From the Bahā'ī point of view the "wisdom" of the true, spiritual philosopher, is ultimately rooted in the "wisdom" of the Word of God.

A glimpse into God / the Bab as one Hakim ("All-Wise") and al-ḥikmat, "wisdom" in the Qayyum al-asma' and select later Writings of the Bab.

In the very first chapter, the Surat al-mulk (The Surah of the Dominion) towards the beginning of the Qayyum al-asma' (mid. 1844 CE) the Bab writes

انّه فی امّ الكتاب لدينا لعلیّ و علی الحق الاكبر قد كان عند الرّحمن حكيماً

"He is in the Mother-Archetypal Book (umm al-kitab) which is before Us, assuredly one Elevated (`aliyy or one named `Ali [Muhammad]), as accords with the Supreme Truth (al-haqq al-akbar) for He was assuredly nigh the All-Merciful, One All-Wise (hakim)" (QA 1 in INBMC III: 3). 

Elsewhere in the QA the Bab is associated as one named  `Ali or one "Elevated" (`aliyy)  with the name of God al-hakim, the Wise or All-Wise. The following example from the 11th Sūrat al-saṭr (The Surah of the Alphabetical Line [Script])  on Qur'ān 12:10 must suffice to  illustrate this :

هو اللّه المعبود لا اله الّا اللّه بالحقّ و هو اللّه كان بكل شیء عليماً ه و هو الّذی يبشّركم باسم ...

عبده علی الحقّ بالحقّ و انّه قد كان فی امّ الكتاب لدی اللّه عليّا و علی الحقّ حكيماً 

So turn ye repentently unto thy Creator and lay down thy lives in the Path of God (sabil Allah), the True One, being fearful before God, the Transcendent. And He is God, Who hath ever been One Mighty, Worthy of Praise. He is indeed the One Who hath, in very truth, sent down these verses on His part as  news (tabshir) for all the  believers. He is indeed God, the One Worshipped (al-ma`bud). In very truth there is no God except God. And He is God, One Aware of all things. 

He is indeed the One Who, in very truth, gave thee the good-tidings of the Name of His servant. He was indeed one in the Mother-Archetypal  Book which is before God, One Elevated (`aliyy) [or named `Ali] and, as befits the Truth, One All-Wise (hakim an). He is indeed the one for whom God, in truth, in very truth, did not keep the naming of his Name a secret. He is God! He indeed made peace to be upon him on the day of his birth and on the day of his rising up [call to prophethood] as well as the day of his ingathering [everyone] upon the land of the inmost heart (ard al-fu'ad), which is, in very truth, one peerless (farid an) about the precincts of the [Sinaitic] Fire (al-nar). Such is indeed the mystery of mysteries (sirr al asrar) on the part of One Wondrous (badi`) Who, no God is there except Him, [for He is] One Transcendent (`aliyy / named `Ali]).  And God hath ever been Powerful over all things (INBMC III:19).

The Bab refers to himself as of the progeny of the prophet Abraham in the Sūrat al-Majd (Sūrah of Glory) of the Qayyum al-asma'  LI (51) where he also assocates himself with the quality of "wisdom" (al-ḥikmat) which was bestowed upon certain of the pre-Islamic prophets according to the Qur'an,

“He indeed made this Youth (al-ghulam) [the Bab], in Truth, in very Truth, to be of the progeny of Abraham. And We indeed made him according to the Book to possess Wisdom (al-ḥikmat), Kingship (malik) and Mighty Sovereignty (sulṭān an `aẓīm an)” (INBMC III: 98).

God is several times called اللّه العلیّ حكيماً  al-`aliyy al-hakim, "the Exalted, the All-Wise" in the Qayyum al-asma' (see QA XII [12] in INBMC III:21 and QA XXXVII [37] in INBMC III:68, etc). Around 36 times the Divine Attributes عزيزا حكيماً al-`Aziz al-Hakim, "the All-Mighty, the All-Wise" are found in the Qayyum al-asma' ( see QA XIV [14] in INBMC III:24;  XXXIV [34] in INBMC III:63; LXXXIV [84] in INBMC: 169). Eleven times عليماً حكيماً  God is referred to with the two, adjacent Divine Attribures `Alim Hakim (the All-Knowing, the All-Wise" (e.g.  QA  III [3] in INBMC III:7; QA XXXV [35] in IINBC III: 65).

Elsewhere in the Qayyum al-asma' and other writings, the Bab associated himself with al-Hikmat, "wisdom". In fact ḥikmat occurs around fifteen times in the Qayyum al-asma' and the Divine attribute حكيم, hakim / al-hakim is found over 130 times in this Arabic text. In QA XX [20] the Bab states that one should not present hikmat ("wisdom") before the "foolish" (sufaha') lest they come to an abyssmal, weak and insipid faith in God  (QA XX [20] Surat al-Nur in INBMC Matt 7:16). Twice in the QA the Bab refers to the sabil al-hikmah,  سبيل الحكمة , the "Pathway of Wisdom"  (QA XXVII [27] Surat al-anwar, the Surah of the Lights in INBMC III: 47; QA XXVIII [28] Surat al-Qarabah, the Surah of the Kinsfolk in INBMC III:50).    

Some Baha'i Aspects of Hikma and Hikmat 

"Wisdom" has a variety of ethical, spiritual and metaphysical significances within Bābī and Bahā'ī scripture. Most of the Islamic senses of "wisdom" are present, though ethically based dimensions are paramount. In his "Words of Wisdom" (aṣl-i kull al-khayr) Bahā'-Allāh defines the "essence of wisdom (ulu al-ḥikmat)" as "the fear of God (al-khashiyatu `an Allāh), the dread of His scourge and punishment, and the apprehension of His justice and decree" (MAM., 25 tr. TB,155). True wisdom is essentially based upon that relationship with God in which there is a receptive consciousness of His ultimately equitable control of human destiny. In his Words of Paradise (Kalimāt-i firdawsiyya) Bahā'-Allāh writes that God's "greatest gift and most wondrous blessing hath ever been and will continue to be wisdom (Per. khirad)."

  قل سيف الحكمة احرّ من الصّيف و احدّ من سيف الحديد لو انتم من العارفين

Say: The sword of wisdom (sayf al-hikmat) is more liberating than that of entertainment and sharper than a sword of steel (ahadd min sayf al-hadid), as thou would know if thou were numbered among the truly informed (al-`arifin)!" (Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i Mubin, 55). 


Wisdom-Hikmat as the protection of individuals and the emergent Baha'i community; the aviodance of persecution and martyrdom.

[5] The reason that wisdom (hikmat) and the protection of the friends hath been and shall be commanded is that those who remember Me should remain in the world and occupy themselves with the mention of the Lord of all the worlds. [6] Thus it is binding and necessary that all may protect themselves and their brethren for the sake of the Cause of God. [7] If the beloved of God had performed that which they were commanded, the majority of the people of the world at this time would have been adorned with the garment of faith" (extract from Baha'-Allah, Lawh-i Tibb, Tablet of Medicine (trans. Fananapazir and Lambden, 1989).

In the Tablet of Medicine (Lawh-i ṭibb c.1871) Bahā'-Allāh highlights the importance, in this religious Dispensation, of "two decrees" which are beloved and desired of God. The first decree consists of the qualities of "wisdom and eloquence" (ḥikmat va bayān). These twin qualities are regarded as the basis of successful Bahā'ī teaching activity and the avoidance of difficulties, tests or trials (Fananapazir & Lambden, 1989:24).

Within the Tablet of the Proof (Lawḥ-i burhān) Bahā'-Allāh also exhorts his followers to "wisdom" (ḥikmat); which is again, in the following terms, linked with "eloquence",

"O ye loved ones of God! Drink your fill from the wellspring of wisdom, and soar ye in the atmosphere of wisdom, and walk ye in the garden of wisdom, and speak forth with wisdom and eloquence (ḥikmat wa'l-bayān)." (TB:213).

It is befitting that in a response to a question about his latter day advent as the expected Zoroastrian messiah figure Shāh Bahrām, Bahā'-Allāh states that it is "insight" (bīnā'ī) which leads to "wisdom" (dānā'ī) and results in that true faith which is "salvation". "The quintessence of wisdom (dānā'ī-yi khirad; lit. `the wisdom of wisdom') he further teaches, derives from "insightful vision" (bīnā'ī-yi-baṣar) (Daryā-yi danish, 68f). Similar statements are found, among other places, at the end of Bahā'u'llāh's "first arāz" where we read, "in the estimation of men of wisdom (sāhibān-i ḥikmat) keenness of understanding (again, dānā'ī-yi khirad) is due to keenness of vision" (see TB:35 and the Persian original). True "wisdom" indicates prudence; the wise and learned communication of the Bahā'ī teachings to prospective converts. On occasion it implies the holding of a `noble silence' (cf. the Islamic taqīya, `prudent dissimulation'). In a large number of Tablets Bahā'u'llāh exhorts his followers to "wisdom" when in circumstances of possible martyrdom, persecution or strife.

Bahā'u'llāh's Tablet of Wisdom (Law-i-ḥikmat) may be considered the centerpiece of Bahā'ī `wisdom literature'. Shoghi Effendi reckoned this Arabic Tablet to be a work in which Bahā'u'llāh "sets forth the fundamentals of true philosophy" (GPB:219). Therein Bahā'u'llāh equates the "beginning of Wisdom (ḥikmat) and the origin thereof" with the human acknowledgement of Divine revelation (see TB:150). There are many Tablets in which Bahā'u'llāh himself or his revelation are counted the fountainheads of "Wisdom".

At a subsequent time nonetheless, a [new religious] Cause (amr) will be realized by virtue of the hand [Power] of God Himself, having another Proof (hujjat) pertaining to the establishment of [the advent of] subsequent Manifestations [of God] (mazahir-i ba`id). At a future time  He will send down [the philosophy of] His Wisdom (hikmat) within the scriptural Tablets (fi'l-alwah). And We shall express beyond everything (`ala kull shay') the ways of wisdom (hakimin) for all matters (al-umur) will be in the grasp of Our Power (qudrat).  We shall accomplish whatsoever We so will and ordain whatsoever We do desire! 

The great importance of hikmat or "wisdom" as the centerpiece or locus of spititual insight is underlined in that Tablet of Baha'-Allah in which he meditates upon the "proof" (hujjat) of a future mazhar-i ilahi or Manifestation of God. The person of himka, the true divine philosopher who generates hikmat without arrogance, will be beyond even those capable of revealing verses. The Babi-Baha'i religions have and will elevate  the revelation of verses as a "sign" of the true Prophet-Messenger-Manifestation  but in the future this will be superceded, Baha'-Allah states, by the one expressing Divine Hikmat or "Wisdom". This though within revealed alwah or scriptural Tablets (fi'l-alwah). Exactly what this indicates is not, at this time, fully explained.

See further, `The Tablet of Baha'-Allah relating to another, post-revealed verses (ayat) "Proof" (hujjat) of forthcoming Manifestations of God':



Arberry, A.J. The Koran Interpreted. Oxford:OUP, 1986; Bahā'-Allāh, Tablets of Bahā'u'llāh Revealed after the Kitāb-i-Aqdas, [=TB] Haifa: Bahā'ī World Centre, 1978; Daryā-yi- danish New Delhi: Bahā'ī Publishing Trust, 1985; Conze, Edward. Buddhist Wisdom Books, The Diamond and the Heart Sutra Rev. Ed. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1988. Corbin, H. A History of Islamic Philosophy. London, New York: Kegan Paul International, 1993; Lambden, S. and Fananapazir, K., `The Tablet of Medicine (Lawḥ-i ṭibb) of Bahā'u'llāh: A Provisional Translation with Occasional Notes' BSB 6:4-7:2 (October 1992), pp. 17-65. Goichon, A.M. ḥikma . EI2 III: 377-8. Mazandarānī, Fāḍil-i, Āthār al-asrār vol. 3 n.p. [Tehran]: BPT, 128 BE. Hajime, Nakamura. Mahāyāna Buddhism, in Kitagawa, J. M. and Cummings, M.D. (Eds.), Buddhism and Asian History.. (London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1989), pp. 214-239. JE = Encyclopedia Judaica. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Ltd. 1972; Peters, R.E. Allah's Commonwealth. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. The Rider Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion... London: Rider Books, 1989. Scott, R.B.Y. `Wisdom; Wisdom Literature' JE 16:557-563. idem, The Way of Wisdom in the Old Testament London: Collier Macmillan, 1971. Shaked, Saul (tr.), Wisdom of the Sassanian Sages (Denkard VI).. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1979. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By Wilmette, Illinois: BPT., 1974; Von Rad, Gerhard, Wisdom in Israel. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1972. Williams, P. Mahāyāna Buddhism. London/New York: Routledge, 1989.


Appendix HAFT PURSISH and other alwah of Baha'-Allah.

The fourth question: "Our books have announced the [future] appearance of Shāh Bahrām with manifold signs for the guidance of mankind..."

O friend!

"Whatsoever hath been announced in the Books hath been revealed and made clear. From every direction the signs have been manifested. The Omnipotent One [yazdān] is calling, in this Day, and announcing the appearance of the Supreme Heaven [mānā-yi a`ẓam]" [PDC:77]."

The world is illumined by the lights of His appearance, yet rare indeed are the eyes endowed with insight. Ask of the one true God to bestow insight upon His servants. Insight leadeth to wisdom (dānā'ā) and hath ever been the cause of salvation. Keenness of wisdom (dānā'ā-yi khirad) is derived from insightful vision. Were the peoples of the world to gaze with their own eyes, they would see that the world is, in this Day, illumined with a new radiance. Say: the Day-Star of Wisdom (khurshād-i dānā'ā) is manifest and the Sun of Knowledge (āftāb-i dānish) evident. Happy the one who attaineth thereunto, who seeth clearly and hath recognised Him."  (BSB)

See also 1st Taraz etc.