Some Notes on the term مَسائِلِ Masā'il ("Questions") in Shi`i Devotional Texts and in Select Writings of the Bab.

The word Masa'il in Line 15 of  two major Twelver Shi`i Supplications

Some Notes on the term Masa'il in the Twelver Shi`i Devotional Texts, the Du`ā' al-saḥar (Dawn supplication), the Du`ā' yawm al-mubāhala ("Supplication for the Day of Mutual Execration") and in select Writings of the Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Bab.

Stephen Lambden UC Merced, 2020

IN PROGRESS - last updated 21-07-2020

المَسَائِل‎ al-Masāʾil, its Derivation and Meanings.

The Arabic word masʾala   مَسْأَلَة   and its plural مَسَائِل‎ masāʾil  derive from the Arabic triliteral root s -‘- l  (sin - hamza – lam). Among other things, as a verb, this word has to do with questioning or asking questions; `to ask’, `to interrogate’, ` to demand’ or enquirie, etc. On a basic level the aforementioned singular  and its Arabic plural both relate to a specific  `question', `issue', `problem', `matter', `affair', `case' or `request' (see Hans Wehr, Dictionary, 4th ed. 1979, trans. Cowan, 455). See also the generally reliable listings in the online `Qur'an Dictionary' :

The plural Masāʾil (= `questions', `issues, `cases', etc ) can be found, for example, in Shi`i Islamic jurisprudence. It may point to a particular  `case' , issue or `question' of religio-legal interest. A very erudite near contemporary of the Bab named  Sayyid ʿAlī  ibn Muhammad ʿAlī  al-Ṭabāṭabāʾī al-Ḥāʾirī (b. Kazimayn, 1161/1748 - d. Karbala, 1231/1816) wrote an important (two volume) Arabic text entitled Rīyāḍ al-masāʾil fī bayān al-aḥkām bi-l-dalāʾil  ("The Gardens [Meadows] of Issues (masa'il) in Exposition (bayan) of the Legalities (ahkam) respecting the [Jurisprudential] Proofs"). This book is obviously about aspects of Islamic law and jurisprudence. It may have been known to the Bab who had a special interest in al-fiqh  (Islamic jurisprudence) as a young man. He later, during the 1840s, wrote much in this area in articulating his new Babi shari`a, his religious law.  The Bab even stated in his Sahifa bayn al-Haramayn (`Epistle between the Two Shrines, 1845 CE) that a merchant could not operate effectively if he did not have a good knowledge of al-fiqh (see S. Bayn al-Haramayn, Browne Coll. ms. Or. F 7(9), 80f). A near relative of the Bab,   ميرزا محمد حسن الحسيني الشيرازي , Mirza Muhammad Hasan al-Husayni al-Shirazi (= Mirza-yi Shirazi;  b. Shiraz 1815 -. d. Samarra, 1895) known as الميرزا الكبير‎ (the Grand Authority) and  المجدد الشيرازي‎  (Mujaddid Shirazi, "the Renewer [of religion] of Shiraz"), became the univeral marja al-taqlid (source of emulation) as one especially brilliant in twelver Shi`i Islamic law and more besides. 

Masāʾil may thus have legal implications and this seems to be reflected in the Persian Bayan of the Bab (see below). Elsewhere in the writings of the Bab (as we shall see) even seems to regard the plural masāʾil (cf. the plural kalimāt = Divine "words") as almost an Attribute (sifa) or Name (ism)  of God operating as a kind of theological pointer indicative of unanswerable issues or questions surrounding an apophatic Deity or his earthly representatives, the mazhar-i ilahi, manifestation of God.

In the renowned 19th century Arabic English  Lexicon (1st ed. London 1863-1893) of Edward William Lane (1801-1876 CE) we have the following (extract from the) entry mas'ala / masa'il (image from Vol. I 1283b): 

"Questioning" in the Qur'an

In the Qur’an words derived from thes root  s-`-l (`to question', etc) are quite common. Though derived from the aforementioned Arabic root meaning `to question', neither the singular Arabic word masʾala   مَسْأَلَة   nor its plural مَسَائِل‎ masāʾil occur in the Qur’ān. Active and passive verbal forms from this root are frequent (more than seventy times). The imperative (sal + is’al) occurs about sixteen times while the passive participle mas’ul ("questioned")  is found five times (Q. Surat al-Isra' 17:34, 36; Surat al-Furqan 25:16; Surat al-Ahzab, 33:15; Surat al-Saffat, 37:24; for details Kassis, Concordance, 1046-1048).  Certain occurences of this passive participle mas’ul in the Qur’ān have interesting eschatological implications pertaining to modes of end-time “questioning" or being "questioned" at the era of the yawm al-qiyāma (Day of Judgement). In the Meccan Surat al-Saffat, Q. 37:24, there is reference to this latter-day questioning :

"[20] And they say : `Ah! Woe! This  is  the Day of Reckoning (yawm al-din) ... The Day of Judgement [Separation] (yawm al-fasl)... [37:24].  And hold them back for they shall be questioned! (mas'ulun)"...

The `questioning' of the last times is also expressed in Qur'anic Arabic through the imperfect passive yus'alu ("be questioned") as in Q. 16:93 where we read, "you will surely be questioned (la-tus'alunna) about the things you wrought". In Q. 43:44 we find reference to "assuredly you will be questioned" about the Qur'anic revelation. While Q. 55:39 has it that "on that day none [neither man nor jinn] shall be questioned about his sin", it is stated in Q. 102:8 that "you shall be questioned (la-tus'alunna) that day about true bliss (al-na`im)"  (cf. Q, 2:119, 132, 141, etc). God, directly or indirectly, it seems, is  to be the "Questioner" on the Day of Judgement about matters pertaining to faith, works and other aspects of religiosity.

The Name of God, the "Questioner" is not, however, among the classical 99 Names of God given  by the Prophet Muhammad according to the well-known hadith relayed by Abu Hurayra (d. c. 68/878) or the Sunni version allegedly transmitted by Imam `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 40/661). There are numerous such Islamic lists of the various Names of God. See for details this website at `Commentaries on the ninety-nine Names of God and the al-ism al-a`zam, the Mightiest Name of God' at https://hurqalya.ucmerced.edu/node/2651/

The Bab himself did not restrict the asma' Allah, the Names of God, to ninety-nine. At times he indicated - like certain other Shi`i Islamic writers - a much larger number relating their "fullness" or pleroma to the realization at 19 x19, namely  361 Names (see K. Asma' ; K. Panj sha'n). There are certainly many Names or Attributes used of God by the Bab that are different from and go beyond the classical ninety-nine. We shall see below how issues of Qur'anic eschatological "questioning" and the renewal of faith were interpreted by and important to the Bab in various of his numerous Arabic and Persian scriptural writings. God as a "Questioner", One concerned with issues of modes within existence, with masa'ala / masa'il is presupposed.

Masāʾil in Two Shi`i Supplications attributed to Twelver Imams, the  Du`ā' al-saḥar (Dawn supplication) and the Du`ā' yawm al-mubāhala (Prayer for Mutual Execration).

The Bab made great use of the Ramadan Dawn Prayer, the twelver Shi`i Du`ā' al-saḥar (Dawn supplication) attributed to the 5th Imam Muhammad al-Bāqir (d. 126/743) and transmitted by Imām `Ali l-Ridā' (d. 203 /818) - see al-Qummī's Mafātīḥ al-jannān, pp.  351-355 and the annotated translation on this website). This twelver Shi`i Ramadan Dawn Prayer with its initially  parallel recension known as the Du`ā' yawm al-mubāhala ("Supplication for the Day of Mutual Execration") transmitted by the 6th Imam Ja`far al-Ṣādiq (d.183 799), are devotional supplications omnipresent in the later writings of the Bab. For details and translations (under revision) see:

Masā'il ("Questions") occurs in line 15 of  the  Du`ā' al-saḥar (Dawn supplication) and the Du`ā' yawm al-mubāhala (Prayer for Mutual Execration). It reads,

 اَللّـهُمَّ اِنّي اَسْاَلُكَ

مِنْ مَسائِلِكَ بِاَحَبِّها اِلَيْكَ وَ كُلُّ مَسائِلِكَ اِلَيْكَ حَبيبَةٌ

 اَللّـهُمَّ  اِنّي اَسْاَلُكَ بِمَسائِلِكَ كُلِّها

 O my God! I beseech Thee by Thy Masā'il ("Questions") which are most Agreeable (aḥabb) of Thee for all of Thy Concerns (masā'il) are truly beloved (ḥabīb); I, verily, O my God! beseech Thee by the totality of Thine Affairs (masā'il).

Some Notes on Twelver Shi`i and Shaykhi  Commentaries on the Two abovementioned Devotions.

Add Here.

The use of masa'lah in the Hadith Qudsi (Sacred Tradition), the Hadith al-Nawā’fil  relayed by the seventh Imam Musa al-Kazim (d. c. 183 / 799), the son of Ja`far al-Sadiq and cited by the Bab.

In his early Kitab al-rūḥ (Book of the Spirit, 1261/1845) and Kitab al-Fihrist (Book of the Index, 1261/ 1845), the Bāb explicitly cites as a sacred utterance of God (al-ḥadīth al-qudsī), a very famous variously transmitted probably 8th-9th century Imami rooted tradition, that is also closely related to the emergent  Sufi-rooted traditions  held important by  al-Junayd (d. 298/910) and members of his circle. It came to be known as the ḥadīth al-nawāfil (the `hadīth of supererogatory religious deeds') (Kitab al-rūḥ, 64-5). Versions of this tradition  existed in both 8th-9th century CE Imami Shi`i and Sunni sources and was much cited by Ibn al-`Arabi (d. 638/1240) and his followers. A version of it was also recorded, for example, by the Sunni Hadith collector Isma'il al-Bukhari (d. 256/870) in his Sahih al-Bukhari as well as by  Shi`i scholars such as the centrally important hadith compiler Abū Ja`far Muhammad ibn Ya`qūb al- Kulaynī (d.c. 329/ 941) in his al-Usul min al-Kafi ([The Book of] `What is Sufficient for the Knowledge of Religion’). 

In the ḥadīth al-nawāfil, to be very succinct, the devoted servant of God is often represented as so assiduously engaging in extra devotions (al-nawā’fil) and drawing nigh unto God, that God himself loves that servant to the degree that He becomes the "ear wherewith he hears" and the "sight by which he sees", etc. If  such a devotee asks something of God,  it will be appropriately bestowed upon him. In the version of this tradition cited by the Bab, there is reference to the devotee "who loveth Us  and approaches us in Our love, conscious of Our Gnosis (ma`rifat)".  such that should he ask  about a specific al-masa'la ("matter", "issue") from Us" :

و سئل مسئلة منا الا و نفثنا في روعه جوابا لتلك المسئلة

"And should he (the ultra-pious devotee) asks about a masa'la  matter from Us [God] it will come about such that We utter into his consciousness (ru`) a reply (jawab) regarding that issue (al-masa'la) (the Bab as cited Fihrist, 343' see al-Kulayni, al-Kafi I:144-5; II: 353, 365).

It is obvious here that in this sacred hadith the singular masa'la (pl. masā'il) refers to an issue of personal or doctrinal concern, somerhing about which a question might be asked of God.

On the  `Hadīth al-nawāfil'  see al-Kulayni, al-Uṣul min al-Kāfī (vols. 1-2) ed. A. A. Ghaffārī. Beirut: Dār al-Aḍwā, 1405/1985.
(I:144-5; II:354); William A. Graham, Divine Word and Prophetic Word in Early Islam A Reconsiderati(Religion and Reason,15) Paris: Mouton + De Gruyter, 1977, p.174f; and Michael Ebstein, `The Organs of God: Hadïth al-Nawafil in Classical Islamic Mysticism'  in Journal of the American Oriental Society 138.2 (2018), pp. 271-289.

The Baha'i Translation of Masā'il as the name of Month 15 in the Babi-Baha'i Calendar.

The Baha'i Guardian Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (d. London, 1957) translated masā'il in a writing of the Bab, most likely his Kitab al-asma'  - closely related or dependent upon the abovementioned Ramadan Du`ā' al-saḥar (Dawn supplication or the often parallel Du`ā' yawm al-mubāhala prayer (also well-known to the Bab) - with the English plural "questions" which became one of the authorized names of month fifteen of the 19 Babi-Baha'i months of its new solar year (19x19 = 361+4 = 365).

Qur'an-rooted Eschatological "Questioning" in Persian and Arabic Bayans IV. 6. 

The Persian and Arabic Bayans of the Bab at IV. 6 are centered upon this issue of "questioning". E G Browne summed up Persian Bayan IV. 6 as follows :

"WAHIID IV, CHAPTER 6. Concerning this, that He is not to be questioned concerning what He does, but all else shall be questioned. The perfection of a mirror is this, that naught should be seen in it but the Sun; for, if it itself be seen, it becomes unworthy of mention. So if there be seen anyone with a will other than the one Primal and Eternal Will, he is disobedient. If anyone look with this regard on the Apostle of God [Muhammad], he will see in Him all the Prophets" (`A Summary of the Persian Bayan', in Momen ed. and comp. 1987, 353).

 Persian Bayan IV.6 opens similarly with the following Arabic summary:

"This relates to the fact that He shall not be questioned about He accomplishes. Whatsoever is other than this shall  in every respect be questioned (`an kull shay'). "

The Bab subsequently underlined the fact that "God  doeth whatsoever He willeth and ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth". His very Essence  (dhat-i u) is representative of the Logos-Persona of the Divine Will (nafs-i mashiyyat-i u). God does not will anything outside the the mashiyya (His Divine Will) which is centered in the mazhar-i ilahi, the `Manifestation of God'. The Divine Manifestation never asks questions about the Divine Will. The carrying out of this Will is their essential purpose. Their own will is negated before that of their Creator. The bright "sun" of the divine mashiyya eclipses all modes of enquiry, doubt or "questioning".

Arabic Bayan IV.6 may be cited in full:

"Now the sixth [Gate of the fourth Wahid] `I shall in no wise be questioned about whatsoever I do! Yet all, will be questioned respecting my relationship to the Divine Unity (tawhidi) and whomsoever We shall erelong make manifest. And I shall activate whomsoever We make manifest after that Manifestation [Theophany] (zuhur). Say: `If thou should question him about whatsoever He doeth then how can ye claim to believe in Me? Yet He, He shall indeed question thee about everything! Wherefore shall thou be nothing, in very Truth,  save among such as do answer questions!"

From the Ziyarat for the Nuqta (Point) and the Huruf al-Hayy (Letters of the Living).

Opening neo-basmala and first line of Ziyara for the Nuqta ...

Among the largely unstudied and untranslated Ziyarat-namas (Visitation Tablets) of the Bab, is that he wrote (c. 1849) or revealed for himself as the messianic locus of the Logos-like primordial Nuqta (the Generative, Subcritical Point of the letter "B") and certain among his Huruf al-Hayy ("Letters of the Living", his 18 major disciples) a few of whom had died in the Shaykh Tabarsi Upheaval or in other circumstances  (e.g. the 4th Letter Mulla `Ali Bastami, d. Istanbul c. 1846). This nine or ten page Arabic text opens "When thou desire [to recite] the Ziyara of the Nuqta or any one of the `Letters of the Living' (ziyarat al-nuqta aw ahad min huruf al-hayy) can be found in the mss compilation INBA 6007C ms. (pp.201-211; extract from the opening on p.201 imaged above). It contains numerous points of interest including the following (loosely translated) lines of theological interest in connection with any human questioning of the Will of God and His, God's for the Bab, rightful  questioning the deeds or actions of His creatures:

"In no way did Thou [God] appropriate for Thyself any associate (sahib) or any son (walad) for there is no doubt (shirk) whatsoever with respect to Thy act of creation nor the manifestation of Thy handiwork. Everything was within Thy grasp (qabda), at the right-hand of Thine Intention (irada). Thou bestowed permission upon whomsoever Thou willeth in whatsoever manner thou willeth and whenever it was that thou willed and in whatever manner Thou willeth! And Thou withheld from whomsoever Thou willeth in whatsoever manner thou willeth and whenever it was that thou willeth! This since it was never legitimate to ask whatsoever was accomplished by Thee. Yet  were all [humankind] in every respect questioned about whatsoever they carried out! (6007C:203).

A page or so later the devotee is commanded to recite a prayer with many parallel repetitions following the pattern of Names or Attributes occasionally found in the two Shi`i devotional texts referred to above, the Du`ā' al-saḥar and the often parallel but longer Du`ā' yawm al-mubāhala. Note the following initial seven invocations with their repeatedly opening superlative (e.g. abha; a`la, etc.) and occasional use of the VIIIth form of the corresponding verbal-noun (e.g. b-h-j -> ibtihāj; m-n-` -> imtinā`, etc.) :

  • O Thou Who art He who is al-Abha (All-Glorious) above every  possessor of glory (bahā'),
  • O Thou Who art He who is al-A`lā (Utterly Exalted) above every possessor of exaltedness (dha alā)! 
  • O Thou Who art He who is al-Arfa` (Utterly Elevated) beyond everyone characterized by being raised Aloft (dha irtafa`a)! 
  • O Thou Who art He who is al-Abhaj (Supremely Joyful) beyond everyone characterized by Happiness [Delight](dha ibtihāj)! 
  • O Thou Who art He who is al-Amna` (Utterly Inaccessible) beyond everyone characterized by Remoteness (dha imtinā`a)! 
  • O Thou Who art He who is al-Akbar (Supremely Great) beyond everyone characterized by Grandeur (dha kubriyā')! 
  • O Thou Who art He who is al-Asma` (Most Hearing) beyond everyone possessed of Hearing (dha sam`)!  (6007C: 204-5).

This pattern of the Invocation of various Names or Attributes of God/ the Bab/ Man yuzhiru-hu Allah initially in their superlative form continues for several pages (pp. 204-211) containing well over 200 further invocations, sometimes addressing the Divine with unusual titles, names or other dimensions of the mediatory Deity. Of especial interest in this connection are the following invocations, the first according God the Name the "Greatest Answerer" (ajwab) and another in which He is the "Greatest Questioner" (as'al):

  • O Thou Who art He who is al-Ajwab (the Supreme Answerer) beyond every possesser of  an answer (dha ijāba)!  (6007C: 208, image above end of lime 1 and beginning of line 2).

Note in this connection that among the 99 Names of God listed within the prophetic hadith cited Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. Ṭūs, Persia, 505/1111) in his al-Maqsad al-asna ... as name No. 45. is ٱلْمُجِيبُ  al-Mujib,  the name of God "the Answerer" of prayers or the "Responsive" to petitions.

  • O Thou Who art He who is al-As'al (the Supreme Questioner) beyond every possesser of  a question (dha sa'l[a] [? sic.])! (6007C: 210. see image immediately above).

If the superlative al-As'al (اسئل) as above with the definite article (as al-as'al) loosely, "the Supreme Questioner", presupposes a name of God based on the same root this might, for example, be the passive مَسْـُٔول al-Mas'ūl (the Questioned / Petitioned) depicting God as the one from whom an answer is desired,  requested or petitioned. Alternatively, it might presuppose his name being theologically active like the active participle سَآئِل , Sā'il meaning 'The Interrogator" or "the Questioner"  which is in fact, presupposed in the Qur'an at Qur'an 7:6; 70:25 (cf. also  Steingass, Dictionary, 645). Another possibility would be God as ___

See further for the full tramslation of the aforementioned Ziyarat-nama : `The Ziyarat-Namah (Visitation Tablet) of the Bab for the al-Nuqta (the Point, the Bab) and the Huruf al-Hayy (Letters of the Living). Ms. 6007C 201-211. Arabic text and Translation. July 2020' : https://hurqalya.ucmerced.edu/node/4181/

A key teaching of the Bab is that God is the supreme authority is answering or resolving questions and that human beings should not pose questions  about the ways or works of the Divine. It is for God to question His creatures not the other way round. God poses questions through the subtle mysteries of His creation and at times questions in judgement the not always pious ways of humanity. As the As'al (Supreme Questioner), it may be possible to assert that one of the Names of God is that He is            al-

We may note at this point the following paragraph in the c. 1873 CE Kitab-i aqdas (Most Holy Book) of the founder of the Baha'i religion,  in which direct reference is made to the Bab's teaching about asking questions:

"In the Bayán [of the Bab, IV.6] it had been forbidden you to ask Us questions. The Lord hath now relieved you of this prohibition, that ye may be free to ask what you need to ask, but not such idle questions as those on which the men of former times were wont to dwell. Fear God, and be ye of the righteous! Ask ye that which shall be of profit to you in the Cause of God and His dominion, for the portals of His tender compassion have been opened before all who dwell in heaven and on earth"  (K.Aqdas, Para. 126).

Baha'u'llah abrogated the Bab's forbidding asking religious questions or questioning the Divine purpose. He often promoted the right of all to seek truth in an atmosphere of freedom and independence. Hundreds of his scriptural writings were written in answer to thousands of questions.
 

Masā'il in Select Writings of the Bab.

The recreations or re-revelations by the Bab of the two supplications referred to above, the Du`ā' al-saḥar (Dawn supplication), and the Du`ā' yawm al-mubāhala ("Supplication for the Day of Mutual Execration"), are frequent in many of his later writings, especially his Kitab al-asmā' and the Kitab-i Panj Sha`n. The utilixzation of these texts accounts for many of the Bab's use of Masā'il.  These closely related. Imam transmitted texts, are further echoed and `recreated' in the calendar of the Bab. In the Persian and Arabic Bayans, the Kitab al-asma; and other writings of the Bab,  the names of the new nineteen months are registered and transfigured as centrally important names or Attributes of God. They become the names of 19 successive months of the new calendar including the 15th month Masa'il translated "Questions" by the Baha'i Guardian Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (d. London 1957).

Masā'il in the Persian Bayan.

The word masā'il in the phrase masā'il-i furu`iyya ("subsiduary religio-legal matters") occurs twice in the Persian Bayan, at I.1 (p.6), then  at VII.4 (p.244). Towards the end of the first section of the P. Bayan (I, 1) we read,

The context here at P. Bayan I.1  is that the Bab has referred to the Islamic religion centered in the Qur'an as the word of God and the subsequent religion of Bayan also the Word of God. Their respective sacred books and religious guidance derived therefrom should never be a cause of failure to renew faith. Matters such as "the ma`rifat asma' Allah, the gnosis of the Names of God, the ma`rifat-i nabi, the gnosis of the Prophet  Muhammad, the ma`rifat-i a'imma-i huda va abwab-i huda, the  gnosis of the Imams of Guidance and of the [Four] Gates of Guidance as well as that of the endless مسائل فروعيه masa'il-i furu`iyya, "subsiduary  religio-legal matters"  should never become the cause of being veiled from their ultimate,  single Divine source as the very purpose of the creation of  seeking individuals.

In Persian Bayan VII.4 on Takhlis ("sanctification") we read

“Consider in this respect the example of the revelation [descent] of the Furqān [Qur’ān] and the religion of Islam (dīn-i islām), how its foundational basis (aṣl) was the gnosis of God (ma`rifat Allah) until its termination with the ending of the [relevance of its] subsidiary religio-legal objectives (masā’il furū`iyyih) through their repositioning relative to the gnosis of the [new] Sun of Reality (shams-i  ḥaqīqat) at the moment of the Dawning-Forth of that Vali (Imami Intimate, Divine Authority, the Bab) (P-Bayān, VII.4, p. 243-4)”

A third occurence of  masā’il is found at P. Bayan III.16  on acting according to the writings (athar) of the Bayan, the revelation of the Bab (p.100). Here the ineptitude of those who fix their gaze upon insignificant things as opposed to the deep realities of the revelations of th Bab himself is underlined. The Bab states,

"Nay rather! It is the case that in this Dispensation (kur) most persons fix  their gaze upon the intricacies of [religio-legal] matters (bi-javahir-i masā’il) and the insignificant trivialities of various sayings, proofs and pleasantries (takhfaf dar aqwal va dala'il va taladhdhudh) as opposed to that which was revealed from the Point of the Sun of Reality (nuqtat-i shams-i haqiqat) [the Bab] for the deep meanings of His writings (athar) are even as the radiant Splendour of the Sun!... (Lambden trans.).

Kitab al-asma'

The Second of Four Sections within the Kitab al-asma' based on the Arabic root R-S-L  meaning in Qur'anic Arabic,  `to send, commission' ; cf.  Arsala (form IV) = `to send, one sent, etc. This may invovle the act of comissioning or sending persons such as Messengers of God, the rasul ("sent Messengers"). This may also be related to  a `sent message' or  sacred writing sometimes called a risala (sacred message, document).

An extract from Kitab al-asma' II-II  commencing with the neo-basmala with the double superlative, al-arsal al-arsal  in INBMC 29: 212-213.

In the Name of God,

the Supreme Comissioner (al-arsal). the Supreme Dispatcher of the Messengers (al-arsal)!

O my God! O my God! We do indeed testify unto Thee as indeed do All-Things (kull shay')  for Thou, Thou art God, no God is there except Thee Alone. There is no doubt regarding Thee for

  • Unto Thee is the Dominion (al-mulk) and the Kingdom (al-malakut).
  • And Thine is the Might (al-`izz) and the Omnipotent Realm (al-jabarut).
  • And Thine is the Power (al-quwwat) and the Divine Realm (al-lahut).
  • And Thine is the Power (al-quwwat) and the Crimson-Ruby (al-yaqut).
  • And Thine is the Sovereighty (al-saltanat) and the Mundane realm (al-nasut). 
  • And Thine is indeed the Might (al-`izzat) and the Glory (al-jalal).
  • And Thine is the Face (al-wajh) and the Perfection (al-kamal).
  • And Thine is the Countenance (al-tal`at) and the Beauty (al-jamal).
  • And Thine is the Power (al-quwwat) and the       (  al-       ) ...

[p.213]

So reveal ye now then unto them, O my God! this very Night, what will be made manifest

  • [1] though all of Thy Baha' (Splendor) in its Most Splendid (abha-hu),
  • [2] from all of Thy Jalal (Glory) at its Most Glorious,
  • [3] from all of thy Jamal (Beauty) in its supreme Beauty,
  • [4] from all of thy `Azimat (Might) at its acme of Might
  • [5] and from all of Thy Nur (Light) through His Lights (anwar).
  • [6] And from all of thy Rahmat (Mercy) let it be diffused abroad!
  • [7] By virtue of all of Thy Kalimat (Words) are matters completed!
  • [8] By virtue of all of Thy Asma' (Names) things are magnified!
  • [9] By virtue of all of Thy `Izzat (Might) are things empowered!
  • [10] By virtue of all of Thy Mashiyyat (Will) everything is actualized!
  • [11] As a result of the totality of Thy `Ilm (Knowledge) matters were befittingly transmitted!
  • [12] And all of Thy Masā’il (Questions, Objectives) become especially beloved for Thy sake. Such were assuredly ennobled  for Thy sake!
  • [13] For  by virtue of all of Thy Sharaf (Honor)  was  everything made noble!
  • [14] By virtue of all of Thy Saltana [Sultan] Sovereignty was  everything ever-abiding! ...

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The Kitab-i Panj Sha'n

The Bab commenced  this work on the 1st of Bahā’  of the Badī` or Bābī (- Bahā’ī) year 7 (= 1850 )  which (in the Christian Gregorian calendar ) corresponds to the 19th of March 1850 CE  (= in the Islamic calendar to the 5th of Jumāda I  in the year 1266 AH). From this date onwards the Bāb wrote five Arabic-Persian grades daily in the name of specific  leading Bābī disciples (to whom specific groups were sent out) until 21st Jumada I (1266),  about 4 months before the martyrdom of the Bāb in Tabrīz (NW Iran) on July 9th 1850.  The  Kitāb-i Panj Sha`n was thus fairly  speedily  completed on the 4th of April 1850  or  21 Jumādā 1st 1266 AH.

The plural  مسائل masā’il occurs at least six times scattered  throughout the fairly lengthy, several hundred page Arabic and Persian Kitāb-i Panj sha’n (= KPS) of the Bab. Most, though not all, are found within the Munājāt (Devotions) divisions again suggesting the influence of the two devotions referred to above which are highly influential and often in whole in in part with variations, re-revealed. Firstly, in KPS I.1 which is closely related to the messianic figue Man yuzhiru-hu Allah ("Him whom God shall make manifest"), we read -  I have retained here and below in the translation, the at times `Persianized' transliterations of Shoghi Effendi :

(1)  Masā’il in Kitab-i panj sha'n I. 2 (Munājāt) (10).

فلتنزلن اللهم علی اول من ذاق من حدائق تلك الرضوان واراد رضائك فی ذلك الحنان وكل من يسلكن به الی يوم الحساب من عندك ياذا العزه والسلطان ويا ذا العظمه والملكان من كل بهائك ابهاه ومن كل جلالك اجله ومن كل رحمتك اوسعها ومن كل كلماتك اتمها ومن كل اسمائك اكبرها ومن كل عزتك اعزها ومن كل مشيتك امضاها ومن كل علمك انقذهومن كل قدرتك مستطيلها ومن كل قولك ارضاه ومن كل مسائلك احبها اليك وامنعها لديك ومن كل شرفك اشرفه ومن كل سلطانك ادومه ومن كل ملكك افخره ومن كل علائك اعلاه ومن كل ما انت عليه من اسمائك الحسنی وامثالك العليا ما ينبغی لارتفاع امتناع قيوميتك واستقلال استجلال قدوسيتك واستقلال استجلال قدوسيتك  

So do Thou assuredly reveal O my God! upon the first of such as do taste [experience] from the orchards of this Ridwan (hada'iq al-ridwan) and come to desire Thy Good-Pleasure (rida') in this All-Compassionate Realm (hannan) [or Paradise - reading Jannan] as well as for all who dwell therein up until the Day of Reckoning (yawm al-hisab) before Thyself, O Thou Possessor of `Izzat (Might) and Sultan (Sovereignty), O Thou the Possessor of  al-`Azimat (Grandeur) and  al-Mulkan (the Dual Dominions). This on account of all of Thy Baha' (Glory) at its Most Glorious (abha-hu) [من كل بهائك ابهاه], through all of Thy Jalal (Splendour) at its Most Splendid,  through all of Thy Rahmat (Mercy) at its most encompassing, through Kalimat (Words) in their completeness, through all of Thy Asma' (Names) in their Sublimity, though all of Thy `Izzat (Might) at its Most Powerful, through all of Thy  Mashiyyat (Will) at its Realization, from all of Thy `Ilm (Knowledge)  at its Most Liberating for such [He] is from all of Thy Qudrat (Power) in its vast extension, through all of Thy Qawl (Speech) at its most pleasing, through all of Thy Masā’il ("Questions") which are Most Beloved of Thee in their Apophatic Abstraction from Thee, through all of Thy Sharaf (Honor) in its supreme Nobility, through all of Thy Sultan (Sovereignty) in its Perpetual Endurance, from all of Thy Mulk (Dominion) at its Most Noble and through all of Thy Elevatedness (`ala') which is supremely elevated! And through all that Thou cause to be diffused therefrom by virtue of Thy Most Beautiful Names (al-asma' al-husna) and Thy Elevated Similitudes (amthal al-`ulya') rendering them befittingly Exalted (irtifa`), Abstracted (imtina`) expressive of Thy Self-Subsistence (qayyumiyya),  Independent (istiqlal), Sublime (istijlal) in Thy Holiness (quddusiyyatika) ...

Note that in this passage from KPS I.2 (Munājāt)  is again closely related to the two Shi`i supplications introduced above. We  find clear reference to  God's  masā’il ("Questions") which are associated with His  transcendent Unknowability as opposed to trifling issues connected with relgio-legal concerns (masa'il) (cf, Persian Bayan above). Masā’il here points to the matters beyond, the `Wholly Other'; perhaps also to  the will and person of man yuzhiru-hu Allah (Him whom God will make manifest) which cannot be approached or "questioned" in an easy manner. This as opposed to mundane issues within the distracting world of  fiqh (jurisprudence) which occupy many among the legal-minded `ulamā' (clerics, divines), anxious to verify and legitimate their fatwas (legal rulings) for the distracted masses.

The elevated masa'il (Concerns, Issues, Questions) of the Bab point  towards the Beyond, the One Inaccessable or Unutterably Apophatic,  as in the second superlative of the new basmala of the Bab, the al-amna`  which derives from the root m-n-`  ( = `to restrain, block, abstain', etc) often having to do with the apophatic inaccessability of the forbidden beyond which the mind cannot fathom (see KPS I.1; text above). We shall see also below that masā’il ("Questions", etc) are again associated with transcendent Reality. Befitting "Questions" point towards the One Unquestionable in His Reality for His Actions are generated as One Who "doeth whatsoever He willeth" way beyond the ken of mortal humans.

(2) Masā’il in Kitab-i panj sha'n  IV.2 (Munājāt) (118).

This passage translated below is obviously initially (from here, this point) modelled on the Du`ā' al-saḥar (Dawn supplication). It again (at 15)  associates the especially beloved masā'il ("Questions") with theological dimensions which are especially - in the sight of God, as it were -  forbidding, abstruse, insurmountable, interdicted (or something similar). It has superlative senses based on the root m-n-` which we have commented on above and which several time figures in connection with masā'il in the Kitab-i panj sha'n and elsewhere. For the Bab, following the  two devotions, the term masā'il is something agreeable or beloved of God but has, furthermore, aspects which are unapproachable or unfathomable.

Perhaps in Babi theology masa'il might even be translated `unfathomable dimensions'. It should be noted that there are four or five theological and devotional pages in KPS IV. 2 prior to the passages translated below, as well as another seven or more pages within the whole of KPS IV.2 (= pages 113-125). I shall translate a few further verses beyond [19] below (these numbers are NOT in the original) in order to illustrate the style of the Bab and register the divine names, attributes (asma' wa'l-sifat)  or whatever he adds here beyond A`la ("Loftiness") (KPS IV.2. pages 118-9f) : 

  • [1] "This by virtue of all of Thy Bahā' (Splendour) at its Most Splendid (Abha-hu)!
  • [2] And on account of all of Thy Jalāl (Glory) at its Most Glorious!
  • [3] And through all of thy Jamāl (Beauty) in its Utmost Beauty!
  • [4] And by virtue of all of Thy `Azimat (Grandeur) in its Greatest Magnitude!
  • [5] And on account of all of Thy Nur (Light) and His Lights (anwar)!
  • [6] And through all of thy Rahmat (Mercy) with its utmost diffusion!
  • [7] And by virtue of all of Thy Kalimāt  (Words) in their completeness !
  • [8] And on account of all of Thy Asmā'  (Names) at their Most Supreme!
  • [9] And through all of Thy  Kamalāt (Perfections) at their Most Perfect!
  • [10] And by virtue of all of Thy `Izzat  (Might) in their Greatest Power!
  • [11] And on account of all of Thy Mashiyyat (Will ) at its Most Actualized!
  • [12] And through all of Thy `Ilm   (Knowledge) at its Most Penetrating!
  • [13] And by virtue of all of Thy  Qudrat (Might) at its Most Extensive!
  • [14] And on account of all of Thy Qawl (Speech) at it enduces Contentment!
  • [15] And through all of Thy Masā'il (Questions) which are Most Beloved of Thee and Most Forbidding [Insurmountable] before Thee (amna`i-ha)!
  • [16] And by virtue of all of Thy  Sharaf  (Honor) at its Most Noble!
  • [17] And on account of all of Thy Saltana [Sultan] (Sovereignty) with its Perpetual Endurance!
  • [18] And through all of Thy Mulk (Dominion) in its Utmost Honor.
  • [19] And by virtue of all of Thy A`lā' (Loftiness ) at its Most Exalted!
  • [20] And on account of all of Thy  Mann (Beneficence) with its Pre-Existence!
  • [21] And through all of Thy  Ayāt (Verses-Signs) at their Most Wondrous!.
  • [22] And by virtue of all of Thy Rizq  (Providence) at its Most Extended!
  • [23] And on account of all of Thy  `Atā' (Graceousness) with its Felicitation!
  • [24] And through all of Thy Fadl (Excellence) at its Most Exquisite!.
  • [25] And by virtue of all of Thy Jud (Bounty) at its Most Bountiful!
  • [26] And on account of all of Thy Nasr (Victory) at its Most Victorious!
  • [27] And through all of Thy Fath  (Conquest) at its Most Extensive!.
  • [28] And by virtue of all of Thy Zuhur (Theophany) at its Most Manifest!
  •  

3) Masā’il in Kitab-i panj sha'n  VII. 2 (Munājāt)  (228)

(4) Masā’il in Kitab-i panj sha'n VII. 4 (Tafsir) (236),

(5) Masā’il in Kitab-i panj sha'n IX. 2 (Munājāt) (300)

(6) Masā’ill in Kitab-i panj sha'n XI. 2. (Munājāt) (378-9).

Note the close parallel here to (1) KPS I. 2 (Munājāt), translated above: 

قهرك وجبرك وشداديتك وما قد وصفت به نفسك من اسمائك  فلتنزلن اللهم علی من تظهرنه يوم القيمه كل نصرك وفتحك وظهورك وغلبتك و الحسنی الممتنعه وامثالك العليا المرتفعه من كل بهاءِ ابهاه ومن كل جلال اجله ومن كل جمال اجمله ومن كل عظمه اعظمها ومن كل نور انوره ومن كل رحمه اوسعها ومن كل كلمات اتمها ومن كل اسماءِ اكبرها ومن كل كمالات اكملها ومن كل عزه اعزها ومن كل مشيه امضاها ومن كل علم انفذه ومن كل قدره مستطيلها ومن كل قول ارضاه ومن كل مسائل اجبها اليك وامنعها لديك ومن كل شرف اشرفه ومن كل  سلطان ادومه ومن كل ملك افخره ومن كل علاءِ اعلاه ومن كل ما انت عليه من اسمائك الحسنی الممتنعه وامثالك العليا المرتفعه بما قد اختصصتها فی كتابك بعلمك ونزلتها امثالك اذ كل شيی ءِ بشيئيته سمه علی انه لا اله الا انت المهيمن القيوم   

"So reveal ye then of a certainty O my God! upon whomsoever thou shall make manifest on the Day of Resurrection (yawm al-qiyama), all of Thy Victory (nasr), Thy Conquest (fath), Thy Theophanic Manifestation (zuhur), Thy Victorious Conquest (ghalbat), Thy Vanquishing (qahr), Thine Omnipotence (jabr), and Thy Great Strength (shidadiyya) though such qualities can in no wise depict Thine Own Logos-Self (nafs) by virtue of Thine Own Most-Beautiful Names (asma’ika al-husna) which are Inaccessible [Apophatic] (al-mumtana`ah) for Thy Abstracted Similitudes (amthāl) are Supremely Elevated (al-`ulyā), greatly Upraised

  • [1] through all of Thy Bahā' (Glory-Beauty) in its Supreme Abha Glory (abha-hu),
  • [2] through all of Thy Jalal (Splendour) at its Most Splendid,
  • [3] through all of Thy Jamal (Beauty) as its most Beautiful,
  • [4] through all of Thy `Azimat (Grandeur) at its Grandest,
  • [5] through all Nur (Light) expressive of His Lights (anwar),
  • [6] through all Rahmat (Mercy) spread abroad in its vastness,
  • [7] through all Kalimat (Words)  in their completeness,
  • [8] through all Asmā' (Names)  in their Magnitude,
  • [9] through all Kamalāt (Perfections) expressing their Completeness,
  • [10] through all `Izzat (Might) expressive of Power,
  • [11] through all of the Mashiyya  (Divine Will) in its actualization despite its utter impenetrability before Thee,
  • [12] through all of Thy Sharaf (Honor) with its power to ennoble,
  • [13] through all of Thy `Ilm (Knowledge-Gnosis) at its most penetrative,
  • [14] through all of Thy Qudrat (Power) as it is long-stretched, 
  • [15] through all of Thy Qawl (Speech) at its most pleasing,
  • [16] through all of the Masā’il ("Questions") which are Most Beloved of Thee and of Thine Elevated Similitudes (amthāl al-`ulyā) which are Upraised thereby, through whom indeed were matters glorified!
  • [17] And through all  `Alā` (Loftyness) at its most elevated.
  • And Thou did        upon them, by virtue of thy Most Elevated Names (asma'),