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TB غوثيه ghawthiyya



Some Notes on the Background and Significance  of   غوثيه  Ghawthiyya  in the prolegomenon to the هفت وادی  Haft vādī  (Seven Valleys)  of  Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī,  Bahā’-Allāh (1817-1892).

Stephen N. Lambden UCMerced.

Last revised 5/1/06

The following paragraphs are a brief response to this enquiry about the term ghawthiyya in the fourth paragraph of the Eng. trans. of  the Arabic prolegomenon of the Seven Valleys (= SV) of Bahā'-Allāh. First I set down part of my 1992 provisional retranslation (cf. BSB 6:2-3 Feb. 1992 pp. 26-74) of the paragraph  which contains this word then some notes oriented around the significance of ghawth and ghawthiyya which, in the SV context (= riyāḍ al-ghawthiyya ), is most probably allusive of Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir al-Jīlānī (1077-1166), the central figure of the Qadīriyya Sufi order and / or one of  (?) his writings if these be the words  cited in paragraph IV.

هفت وادی

Seven Valleys , Prolegomenon paragraph  0-IV.


و هی ما غنّ بلبل الاحديّة فی الرّياض الغوثيّه


و تظهر علی لوح قلبك رقوم لطائف اسرارُ

 اتّقوا اللّه يعلّمكم اللّه

و يتذكّر طائر روحك حظائر القدم و يطير فی فضاءِ  

 فاسلكی سبل ربّك  

ذللاً بجناح الشّوق و تجتنی من اثمار الانس فی بساتين  

 كلی من كلّ الثّمرات  

(AQA III:94)

[1] Of such hath sung the Nightingale of Divine Singleness  (bulbul al- aḥadiyya)  in the Garden of Intercessory Sainthood (riyāḍ al-ghawthiyya).[2] He saith:  "`And there shall appear upon the tablet of thine heart transcripts of the subtle mysteries of [3]  "Fear God and God will give you knowledge" (= Q. 2:282) [4] Thereupon shall the Bird of thy spirit recall the sanctuaries of the pre-eternal realm (ḥazā'ir al-qidam), [5] shall soar insignificantly on the wings of rapture (jannāḥ al-`ishq) in the vastness of  "so traverse the paths of thy Lord" (=Q. 16:69b [71b]) [6] and shall gather the fruits of intimacy (thamarāt al-uns)  in the orchards of  "Feast on fruits of every kind!'"  (= Q.16:69a [71a]).."

By referring to the  bulbul al-aḥadiyya  ("Nightingale of Unity") which sings in the riyāḍ al-ghawthiyya (loosely) "Garden of Intercessory Sainthood" allusion is probably made to the person and/ or writings of a saintly figure whose holiness places him high in the hierarchy of mystical sainthood. One that is who occupies a pivotal position in the Sufi hierarchy; one believed to be capable (among other things) of aiding, helping or interceding on behalf of such as seek refuge in or invoke them. Allusion, in other words, may be made to `Abd al-Qadīr al-Jīlānī (d. 561/1191). He is widely regarded as the founder of the Qadīriyya Sufi order  to which Shaykh Muḥyī al-Dīn (the person for whom the Seven Valleys was written) belonged. If allusion is made to al-Jīlānī, Bahā'-Allāh would appear to be praising his person and/or writings which he most likely subsequently quotes.

        In his God Passes By (p. 122; drawing on unpublished sources Shoghi Effendi states that in Sulaymaniyya Bahā'-Allāh established personal contact with Shaykh `Abd al-Rahman the "undisputed leader" of the Qadiriyya Sufi order."  Shaykh Muhyī al-Dīn, to whom the SV was addressed, was thus a member of this order and it is fitting that Bahā'-Allāh's use of of the term ghawthiyya in the SV was especially meaningful to him.  Also worth noting is the fact that the tomb of `Abd al-Qadīr al-Jīlānī  is located in Baghdad. It was frequented by a good many pilgrims, possibly including those of the Ghawthiyya group (? see below). Such pilgrims doubtless sought ghawth = "Aid", etc  from `Abd al-Qadīr al-Jīlānī,  there, as will be seen, from the "Most Great Ghawth".

        The word translated "nightingale" (bulbul) outwardly describes a small sweet-singing bird of the thrush family. It, along with many other birds, is an important and widespread symbol in Sufi literatures. The celebrated love-song of the male is apparently heard chiefly at night. In Sufi poetrythe nightingale sometimes symbolizes one uttering divine melodies or one enraptured with the "rose" of the spiritual mystery of the Beloved. ADD fn [3] At this point in the SV the non-Qur'anic term "Nightingale" symbolizes one who reflects the transcendent Divine Oneness or Singularity (aḥadiyya , aḥad = "one"]) and who occupies a lofty status (= resides in a celestial garden) expressive of ghawth.

        The early French Baha'i Hippolyte Dreyfus (d. 1928) accurately translated bulbul al-aḥadiyya fi'l-riyāḍ al-ghawthiyya into French as "Rossignol de l'Unité dans le Jardin du Secours (1)", with an ambigiously placed footnote (1) indicating that reference is made to an epistle pre-dating the time of Bahā'-A'llāh which is about to be quoted (p.27). Ghawthiyya was thus rendered by the French word secours = help, aid, assistance. AKK and Marzieh Gail have, for reasons that are not clear, consistently merely transliterated this term; leaving western readers somewhat mystified as to its exact meaning: not clearly indicating that "....Ghawthiyya. 4." alludes to a person or writing and not directly it seems to a "Sermon by `Alī" [AKK 1+2+3+4 fn.4 p.3]. It should also be noted that Dreyfus (p.27) similarly has his footnote (1) placed at the (Fr.) word secours  which translates ghawthiyya. This would seem to be  the source of the AKK FN.  It is misleading in that, as far as I am aware, there does not exist a sermon (khuṭba) of Imam `Alī (ibn Abī Ṭālib, d.40/661) named or referred to as ghawthiyya. The reference to Imam `Alī is thus incorrect. It will be evident in due course that the word ghawthiyya is a Sufi `technical term which most like alludes to a leading figure in the hierarchy of sainthood.

        The word ghawthiyya is an Arabic (feminine) relative adjective (expressive of an abstract idea) derived from ghawth  which among other things can signify, "Aid", "Help[er]" "Succourer". It comes from the root GH-W-TH., meaning (form IV), `to call for help, aid or succour' or `to go to the aid' of someone ( see Wehr4 1979: 804 cf. Lane2 1984: II: 2305-6; MuS: No. 486 [502] ). Bearing in mind its developed (Sufi) range of senses ghawthiyya could (apart from the above) have been (again loosely and perhaps less satisfactorily ?) rendered `Assistance' (= Fr. secours, so Dreyfus) `Saintliness', `Patronage' or `Deliverance' (cf. Steingass 1892:897 ).

        The mainstream Sunnī and Shī`ī Qur'an commentaries which I have consulted do not derive theosophical or Sufi concepts of ghawth / ghawthiyya directly from qur'anic verses (see fn.5). Such was primarily the task of Sufi theorists. D.B. MacDonald's short article Ghawth in SEI: 111 (= EI1 2:145-6) explains that the term is "an epithet of the quṭb the head of the Sufi hierarchy of saints. It is used of him only when he is thought of as one whose help is sought; but that, from the nature of the quṭb, is practically always. Thus it is a normal sequent to quṭb. Others say that the ghawth is immediately below the quṭb in the hierarchy" (transliteration adjusted; see also HDI:139 ; Khaja Khan:178 ; Corbin 1986: 64f).

        The great Sufi philosopher and theorist Muhammad ibn `Alī al-Hakīm al-Tirmihdī (d. Mecca c. 932 ) in his Khatm al-awliyā' ("The Seal of the Saints"), worked out various ideas about "sainthood". Therein he, "developed the terminology of sainthood that had been used since that time. The leader of the Sufi hierarchy is the quṭb, "pole" or "pivot," or ghauth [ghawth], "help". The saints govern the universe, certain groups of three, seven, forty, or three hundred saints being entrusted with various duties in maintaining world order" (Schimmel 1975:57). For Tirmihdī the supreme spiritual authority is the "Axis / Pivot" (quṭb) or "Helper" (ghawth). Around and beneath him in rank revolves a considerable hierarchy of (some say in excess of ) 4,000 hidden saints who are important in regulating universal order.

        From at least the time of `Alī al-Hujwīrī (d. c. 1075 CE ) the word ghawth had become a Sufi technical term indicative of the head of the Sufi order or one occupying an important position in the hierarchy of Sufi saints, the "Men of the Unseen" (ahl al-ghayb ). In his Kashf al-maḥjūb (`The Unveiling of the Secret Things’ written c. 1050) Hujwrī wrote:

Of those who have power to loose and bind are the officers of the Divine court there are three hundred called Akhyār ["Choice Ones "], and forty called Abdal  ["Substitutes "], and seven called Abrār ["Pious Ones"], and four called Awtad ["Pillars"], and three called Nuqabā'  ["Directors "], and one called quṭb [ "Pivot " or "Axis "] or Ghawth  ["Helper "]  ( Tr. Nicholson 1936 : 214 )

Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir al-Jīlānī (1077-1166)

        There exists  a "divine questionnaire"  addressed to God  known as the Ghawthiyya (as well as the Mi`rājiyya) which is ascribed to `Abd al-Qadir Jīlānī ( d.1166 CE) the (aforementioned) Hanbalite (Sunnī) founder of the Qadiriyya Sufi order. In this writing Jīlānī is repeatedly addressed by God in the following manner, "O Most Great ghawth ["Helper"] (yā ghawth al-a`ẓam)". Towards its beginning we read :

"God, exalted be He, said, `O most great ghawth. I [Jīlānī] said,`Here am I, O Lord of ghawth... The ghawth [Jīlānī] said, `I saw the Lord..." (Fuyt. .pp.4, 7 see also pp. 35, 37, 77,87,173).

Here Jīlānī is seen to represent the supreme Sufi saint (cf. Trimingham 1971: 160 ; Schimmel 1975: 248).

The Sufi hierarchy, including the ghawth, are quite frequently referred to in Jīlānī's celebrated Futuḥhat al-ghayb ("Revelations of the Unseen"). Though the passage from the SV (IV. 2-6 ) is not contained with this work (see below), the word ghawthiyya , does occur at the end of the thirty-sixth sermon within it :

And safety lies in the Book of God [the Qur'an] and the practice of the Prophet [Muhammad] and destruction in what is besides them and with the help of these two, the servant of God rises towards the state of wilaya  [ "Providential Divine Guidance /Saintly Overseership"], Badaliyya ["Substitutionary Sainthood"] and of Ghawthiyya ["Intercessory Sainthood"].

        It is here implied that the mystic wayfarer or "servant of God" may aspire to the station of ghawthiyya , "intercessory sainthood". According to W. Braune Jīlānī held that "The perfect Sufi lives in his divine Lord, has a knowledge of the mystery of God, and yet this saint, even if he reaches the highest rank, that of a badal or a ghawth, cannot reach the grade of the prophets, not to speak of surpassing it, as some Sufis were teaching." (`Abd al-Kadit al-Djilani in EI2:69).    The concept of the ghawth / ghawthiyya is thus extremely important in the writings of Jīlānī and in Qadiri Sufism.

Shaykh Muḥyī al-Dīn ibn al-`Arabī (d. 638/1240).

The concept of the Ghawth ( "Helper"; "Intercessory Saint") and theological ideas associated therewith are important in the highly influential and voluminous writings of Shaykh Muhyī al-Dīn ibn al-`Arabī (d. 1240). Though ghawth  is not very frequent in his magnum opus, al-Futuḥat al-Makkiyya ("Meccan Openings"; it occurs 4-5 times in Futuhat 1:8; 4:356, 561), Bahā'-Allāh expounded this vast work in Sulaymaniyya [Iraqi Kurdistan] (see GPB: 122). There have existed countless Sunni and Shi'i  mystics belonging to various "schools" which look back to Ibn al-`Arabi, the  supreme mystic. He is himself, it is important to note, sometimes referred to as the ghawth or the supreme ghawth al-aqṭab ("Helper of the Pivot") (e.g.    Mafātīḥ al-uns, 518). Many of his literate devotees expounding and drawing upon his  many and varied writings, occasionally defined or made use of the term ghawth.

        In what is probably his al-IstiIahat al-sufiyyah  ("Sufi Lexicon") written 1218 [?]) and dealing with 199 terms, it is reckoned that the synonymous terms al-quṭb and al-ghawth    (= the "Pivot" and the "Helper") should both be defined in the following manner:

"The one person who forms the focus of Allah's supervision of the world in every age. He belongs to the heart of Isrâfîl [the angel of the Resurrection], upon whom be peace." (trans. Rabia Terri Harris in JMIAS III,   31).

            The word ghawth is also separately defined in this brief work:

"He is, by his essential nature, unique and alone in his time [ wâhdat al-zamân bi`aynihi], except when the moment has led [others] to seek the protection of his loving concern (inâyah) " (ibid, 43 ).

Ibn `Arabī, then, reckoned that the non-qur`anic term quṭb was essentially synonymous with ghawth and held that it can denotes a timeless, celestial yet ever-present and unique terrestrial personage, who has been known by various names from the time of Adam until the Day of Resurrection, e.g. Idris ( = Enoch ; Khidr , etc., see Futuhat.  2:6,555, 3:136-7 etc.; Mujam al-Sufi : No 524 cf. Gurgani 1978: 169, 313). He also applied this term to various concrete saintly, historical  individuals held in especially high esteem.

`Abd al-Razzaq al-Kashānī ( d.1330 CE )

`Abd al-Razzaq al-Kashānī,   the aforementioned Shi`ite Sufi, in his  own Istilahat al-sufiyya ("Sufistic Lexicon") under the letter ghayn (513) has an entry al-ghawth,  "The Helper" which reads :

 `He is the "Axis" [quṭb], at the moment when he is being sought as a refuge. He is not named the "Helper [ghawth]" except at that time.' (Kashani 1991:118, [Arabic] , 167 [personal translation] cf. above on I.[6] ).

In his Āsrār al-athār  ("The Mysteries of the Writings") the Bahā’ī scholar Fāḍil-i Māzandārānī understood (the Arabic term) ghawth to mean "auxiliary" (Per. kumak ) or "aid" (Per. yār) and probably correctly linked its significance with "the celebrated" `Abd al-Qadīr al-Jīlānī (Athar, 4 : 429-30). If it can be proven that SV 1V. 2-6 are indeed the words of al-Jīlānī then this statement is obviously correct. Until this proof is forthcoming it would seem best to only admit this possibility in the light of the wide range of applications of ghawth / ghawthiyya in Qādīrī and other Sufi literatures, rather than assert it absolute truth.

    `Abd al-Karīm ibn Ibrāhīm al-Jīlī (Gīlānī, d. c.1410) was descended from the abovementioned founder of the Qādirite Sufi order. Among his significant and influential works is the  al-Insān al-kāmil fī ma`rifat al-awākhir wa'l-awā'il  ("The Perfect Man regarding the Gnosis of the Last and of the First Things)" in which he claims to disclose deep spiritual or gnostic truths about God. At one point in this work he explains that the supremely "Perfect Man" or exalted "God-man" is  al-farīd al-kāmil,  the "Perfect Unit  " as well as the al-ghawth al-jāmi`  (Microcosmic Ghawth), on whom "the whole order of existence revolves"; for "by means of him God keeps the universe in being" (Nicholson 1921: 130). Nicholson comments on the application of such terminology to Muhammad and His successors: "It would seem then, that the Illumination of the Absolute is given to the Heavenly Man (Mohammad) alone and transmitted through him to the Perfect Men who are his representatives on earth" (ibid).

        A certain Muhammad ibn Shah Mir ibn `Ali (d.923/1517) who claimed descent from `Abd al-Qadir Gilani (through his son `Abd al-Wahhāb) and known as Muhammad Ghawth. He was  the founder of the Indian Ghawthiyya group of the Qadiri Sufis ( Trimingham 1971:43-44, 271 [ Appendix D]). Like a good many other prominent Sufis he also claimed the position of the ghawth. The term ghawth is also significant in the Ni`matullahi order of Sufis founded by Shah Ni`matullah Wali ( d. 1431 ) and on occasion has apparently been connected with the the Mahdi ( Pourjavady & Wilson 1978: 40-2 ).

Concluding Note

To sum up: if the term ghawthiyya in the SV is a Qadiri  rooted term allusion most likely being made to `Abd al-Qadir Jilani himself or to another elevated (Qadri ?) Sufi considered a quṭb  ("Axis") or  Ghawth ("Helper").  As noted, Hippolyte Dreyfus correctly, though unsatisfactorily, identified the quotation at IV 2ff from an epistle pre-dating the Baha'i' revelation. AKK [+Gail] have incorrectly thought it a "sermon from Imām `Alī" (see above). It is likely though that this quotation (citing three qur'anic passages ) comes from a work of Jīlānī. It is not, however, from the work commonly referred to above as Ghawthiyya  though there might be some connection with the work which W. Braune reckoned as a probably apocryphal poem ascribed to Jilani,  entitled  al-Qada al-ghawthiyya which exists "in a style that is very different from that of his [Jilani's] authentic writings" (EI2:70). The ghawthiyya quotation in SV IV is not contained in the celebrated Futuḥ al-ghayb ("Victories of the Invisible") of Gilani though the word ghawthiyya does occur here (see above). Other collections of Jilani's work (authentic or apocryphal,  several published in recent years) remain to be thoroughly examined.



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  • AKK2 = 2nd edition trans. with Marzieh Gail.
  • AKK3 = 3rd rev. edition trans. Marzieh Gail+ Ali Kuli-Khan.
  • AKK4 = 4th rev. edition trans. Marzieh Gail + Ali Kuli-Khan

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