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TB - Tafsīr al-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt - Introduction


Tafsīr al-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt 

(Commentary on the Isolated Letters)


Lawḥ-i āyah-yi nūr  

(Tablet about the Light Verse)

of Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Nūrī Bahā'-Allāh (1817-1892).

A brief Introduction and  Select Notes and Commentary.

Stephen N. Lambden 1990s-Now being further revised 2015.

 A more detailed introduction and partially annotated translation and reproduction of a good [Haifa supplied] Arabic mss will erelong appear in the [new] periodical, Syzygy: A Journal of Bābī-Bahā'ī Studies 2/1.  The forthcoming translation corrects and supersedes two earlier (partial) postings on H-Bahā'ī (from Wed, 10 Sep 1997 12:37; April 1998) of about one third of the translation. These earlier versions should be consigned to the Bābī-Bahā'ī geniza (`sacred repository'). The version posted here is also still in progress and will doubtless contains errors in need of correction. It was last slightly revised early 2004.

 Incorporated below are a few (rather speedily pasted together) details from my paper `Light, Letters and Alchemy: Dimensions of the Lawḥ-i ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt  ("Tablet of the Isolated [Isolated] Letters") of Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Bahā'-Allāh (1817-1892 CE).' first (partially) presented at the last Californian Bosch Bahā'ī Mysticism Conference (1998) and from my Traces from the Musk Scented Pen.. In making the translation I have consulted three further mss. along with the (only) printed text (it is riddled with errors) found in vol. 4 of `Abd al-Ḥamīd Ishrāq Khāvarī's compilation Mā'idih-yi āsmānī  4: 49-88.


 The forty or more page wholly Arabic mid-Iraq period (? c. 1857-8?) scriptural tablet of Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Bahā'-Allāh (1917-1892 CE) known as the Lawḥ-i āyah-yi nūr  ("Tablet about the Light Verse [Q. 24:35]") in various sources is also entitled Tafsīr [Lawḥ-i] ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt  ("Commentary [Tablet] on the Isolated Letters"). This since it (among other things) contains a detailed non-literal exegesis of both the well-known and much commented upon qur'ānic Light Verse (Q. 24:35) and select al-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt (loosely, `isolated letters'). It was written in reply to questions posed by the early Bābī-believer and Bahā'ī martyr [Ḥajjī] Āqā Mīrzā [Āqā] Rikab-Sāz Shīrāzī, about whom relatively little seems to be known.

 Rikab-Sāz Shīrāzī was presumably a trader in saddles / riding equipment. He is known to have been much occupied with copying and studying Bābī-Bahā'ī scripture despite illness in his later years. It was in the context of clerical and local governmental anti-Bahā'ī activity that a fatwa for his death was issued by the Shīrāzī mujtahid Shaykh Ḥusayn-i Nazim, stigmatized as al-Ẓālim (`The Tryant') by Bahā'-Allāh. He was put to death in Shiraz in 1288/1871 along with Mashadī Muhammad Nabīl and Mashadī [Rafi`] Ja`far-i Khayyāt (Mazandarani, ZH VI:857-9; Ishrāq Khāvarī, Ganj, 21-2; GPB:200).

 To date the text of the Lawḥ-i ḥurūfāt.. has neither been befittingly published (no critical edition exists) nor authoritatively translated by Bahā'ī agencies. A complete though wholly inadequate printing of the Arabic exists in volume 4 pages 49-86 of Ishrāq Khavrari's compilation of Bahā'ī scripture entitled Mā'idih-yi āsmanī -- the mss source on which this printing is based is not indicated (cf. also the partial printing in Ganj, 46-49). Three futher mss. texts are known to the present writer including (at least) one (Haifa supplied) in the hand of Bahā'-Allāh's important amanuensis Zayn al-Muqarrabīn This is not to say that the following prov. trans' is based upon a critical edition; there being probable errors in all mss seen.

 In various of his writings Bahā'-Allāh himself has made occasional reference to the Lawḥ-i ḥurūfāt. In, for example, the Arabic 1868 Lawḥ-i Ra'is ("Tablet of the Leader", namely Mehmed Emin `Alī Pāshā [1815-1871]) it is written:  

"We, verily, have clarified all that We have mentioned in the Tablets which We revealed when we made reply to the one who asked about the isolated letters (al-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt) of the Furqan (= Qur`ān). Refer ye thereto that ye may be illumined in the light of what hath been sent down from the heavenly realm of God (jabarūt Allāh), the Mighty, the Praised One" (MAM: [87-102]100).

  And in another Persian Tablet we read,

"And additionally thou hast enquired about the isolated letters (ḥurūfāt-i muqaṭṭa`āt). During the day of the sojurn in `Iraq unnumbered [scriptural] traces respecting these matters (maqāmat) were sent down a few of which have been sent.."  (Mazandarni, Asrar 3:90)

 Very brief notices have been given the Tablet by Shoghi Effendi (GPB: 140) and a few other Bahā'ī writers,  including Fāḍil-i Māzandarānī (Asrar.. 3:90-9X), Ishrāq Khāvarī, Ganj: 21-2, 45-49 trans. Habīb Taherzadeh The Bahā'ī World XIV [1963-8] 627) and Adib Taherzadeh RB I:125-128). Details of the Sitz im Leben (`setting in life'; circumstances of composition) are not supplied in the texts of any manuscripts known to the present writer. Some details can be gleaned from an examination of the text itself.

 Āqā Mīrzā Āqā is the main addressee ("O my brother" LII:6 etc). Other pericopes [paragraphs] are also addressed to:

  • The "concourse of lovers" = Bābī believers + mystics..

  •  "O concourse of the Bayān" X4

  • "O people!.."   several times addressed.

  • "O concourse of the Criterion" (= Qur'ān) =  Muslims.

  • "O Assemblage occupied with  the Alchemical Task  [Divine Artistry] (malā' al-san`a)!

    Within the Lawḥ-i hurufāt  Bahā'-Allāh refers to this Tablet as divine revelation:

"Hearken then unto what is revealed (w-ḥ-y) unto thee in this blessed [Sinaitic] Spot (buq`a[t] al-mubārkah) from this all-eternal [Sinatic] Tree [Bush] (al-shajarat al-sarmadiyya)  which is not consumed by Fire (ma qabasa `anhā al-nār) [cf. Exodus 3:2b?]. Unto this do none draw nigh except such as circumambulate about its domain and, with His consent, sacrifice themselves in His path thereafter rendering thanks."

Following a 4-5 page cosmologically and mystico-alphabetically oriented prolegomenon, the person who communicated Aqā Mīrzā Aqā (= Rikab-Saz]'s letter to Bahā'-Allāh (possibly Aqā Mirzā Āqā himself ?) [fn.1] is mentioned allusively by means of the phrase letter حرف القاف     ḥarf al-qāf   ق   qāf ("The [Arabic letter] "q"). [fn.2]

[1] We received a communication [kitāb letter] from [through?] the letter "Q" (min ḥarf al-qāf) who had journeyed from his self and emigrated unto God, the Protector, the Self-Subsisting. [2] He attained unto the regions of holiness and entered the Egypt of certitude (miṣr al-īqān) in a region [`locale' maqām ) wherein the Fire of God (nār Allāh) blazed up beyond the veils of Light and in which the Luminary of Singleness (sirāj al-aḥadiyya) was ignited in a mighty, concealed Lāmp [cf. Q. 24:35]. [3] Thus are those to be preferred who have left their homes for the love of God above those who failed to turn towards the precincts of holiness in the City which those who are nigh unto God have circumambulated. [4] In his letter there was enquiry about mysteries (asrār) which none among the creatures hath anticipated; the veil on the face of which none among humankind hath drawn aside and which hath not been comprehended by the mystic knowers..." (Mā'idih, 4:52 etc).

 The implication here seems to be that someone had travelled to Iraq (Baghdad?), the "Egypt of certitude" (miṣr al- īqān), the abode of the "True Joseph" (= Bahā'-Allāh) and attained the presence of Bahā'-Allāh, "a mighty, concealed Lamp (miṣbāḥ)." A "letter" (kitāb) was delivered enquiring about various arcane mysteries which had long remained undivulged. The Lawḥ-i ḥurūfāt  is, in the light of human capacity and the dictates of wisdom, a disclosure or resolution of these long-secreted "mysteries" (asrār),  mysteries pertaining that is, to

1) the Qur'ānic `Light verse' (Q. 24:35):

 اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ

 God is the Light  of the heavens and of the earth

 مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ

The likeness of His Light is even as [the light streaming from]

a niche  (mishkat) containing a lamp (al-miṣbāḥ);

 الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ

the lamp (al-miṣbāḥ)  is in a glass (zujājat),

 الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ

the glass even as a resplendent Star (kawkāb durriya)

يُوقَدُ مِنْ شَجَرَةٍ مُبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونِةٍ

enkindled from the oil (zaytūn), of a blessed Tree (shajarat mubāraka)

لاَ شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلاَ غَرْبِيَّةٍ

[an olive] neither of the East nor of the West.

 يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ

Its oil (zaytuhā) well nigh radiates forth  even though it [Fire] hardly touches it.

 نَارٌ نُورٌ عَلَى نُورٍ

It is Light upon Light [and]

يَهْدِي اللَّهُ لِنُورِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ

God guideth unto His Light whomsoever He willeth.

 وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ  

And God [does indeed] strike similitudes (al-amthāl) for the people for God is aware of it all things.

2) the al-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt  (`isolated letters') A.L.M. (Alif. Lām, Mīm) in the Sūrat al-Baqāra ("The Surah of the Cow" 2:1) and

3) various alchemical processes such as the secret of the production of gold.

    The major and minor themes of the Lawḥ-i ḥurūfāt are all the central concerns of theoretical and practical mysticism. The Lawḥ-i ḥurūfāt .. begins with a qabbalistic-cosmological exposition of the creation of the letters of the alphabet (ḥurūfāt) in pre-eternity; the coming to be of the archetypes of the letters of the Arabic alphabet in terms of the emergence of the "Primordial Point" (al-nuqṭa al-awwaliyya) and the first letter "A" (al-alif).

    Then, following a few paragraphs on the purpose of creation and the exalted status of the Bāb and leading Bābīs, Bahā'-Allāh dwells on the theme of continuing divine guidance. The rest of the Lawḥ-i ḥurūfāt ..., though there are a number of significant digressions, largely consists of replies to (Rikab Saz's) two (or three?) questions about;

    1) The mysteries of a "Light verse" (ayah-yi nūr);

"Then know thou that that which thou hast asked concerning the "Light Verse" [Qur'ān 24:35] which was sent down upon Muhammad..."

 This section is basically an esoteric exegesis of Qur'ān 24:35 (cf. 14:5) which is partly rewritten or paraphrased by Bahā'-Allāh. The mention in Qur'ān 14:5 of "the light" (al-nūr) and the "days of God" (ayyām Allāh) doubtless led Bahā'-Allāh to take this verse as a prophecy of the future advent of Muhammad (4-5 pages; Ma'idih 4:53-57) around whom the non-literal exegesis revolves.

2) On the isolated, detached or disconneted letters Alif. Lām. Mīm (Qur'ān 2:1), etc; their qabbalistic-cosmological, chronological, eschatological and other significances.

3) The secrets of the alchemical production of "gold" along with notice that concern with "gold" and "silver" only increases poverty!

Among the important though minor secondary themes of the Tablet one may note:

  • a) the state of the Bābis and the condition of Bahā'-Allāh.

  • b) The mi`rāj  of the believer.

  • c) The secret of `ilm al-jafr (loosely, "letter mysticism"; "qabbalistic divination"; "occult prognostication", "number-letter esotericism")

  • d) The Jabirean theory of the balances-natures.

  • e) Eschatology and the issue of the khātam al-nabiyyīn ("Seal of the Prophets"). 


 [1] The Arabic is a little ambiguous and could be translated in more than= one way. I have translated it as if (Hajji) Āqā Mīrzā Āqā [Rikab-Saz] took his letter to Bahā'-Allāh himself though it may well be, as Mazandarani suggests, that it was delivered by a certain Hajji Muhammad Bāqir Nabil Musaffir-i Hamadāni (Asrār, IV:462; cf. ibid III:90). Aqā Mirzā Aqā may be the one referred to as the   حرف القاف ḥarf al-qāf ( "the letter Qāf ق )  in view of an allusion to his (double) designation Āqā (= Per. `elder [brother]' , `master') the central letter of which is "q" (qāf). Worth noting is the fact that there is reference in a Tablet of Bahā '-Allāh to Hajji Dhabih in the following manner: "And it hath dawned forth to he who hath believed in God and His verses with the name of "Q" after "A" (fi ism al-qāf ba`d al-alif)  = Āqā (cited Māzandarāni Athar, 4:462). Another Tablet of Bahā '-Allāh begins,

In my Name,  the One given to Remembrance and the One Remembered! (bism al-dhakir al-madhkur)

 O letter "Q" between two letter "A"s  (ḥarf al-qāf bayn al-alfayn)

Hearken unto the Call of the Confluence of the Two Seas (majma`al-bhave to aḥrayn)  from these two elevated Names (min hadhayn al-ismayn  [ al-a`liyyayn) [= Ḥusayn+`Alī ?]..."

(Tablet cited Mazandarani , Asrar, IV:230f).

[2] The phrase ḥarf al-qāf  (="The [Arabic letter] qāf ) could be understood in several different ways. The Arabic letter "Q" has quite a range of senses. In various Tablets of Bahā'-Allāh the isolated letter qāf ("Q") refers to such places as Qazvin (in Iran) or Qumm (in Iraq) from which a number of Bābīs and Bahā'īs originated or resided. IsLāmic esoteric and other Bābī and Bahā'ī literatures extend further the multifarious senses of the Arabic[-Persian] letter qāf, "Q". Full details cannot be set down here. In his Commentary on the "Light Verse" (Q. 24:35 ) for example, the Bāb at one point says, "Know that I, verily, am the [letter] "Q" (qāf) of the Glorious Qur'ān through this Five [= his being the Bāb = abjad 5 [x20]=3D 100 = abjad qāf) (fi hadha al-khamsa).." (Browne Coll,= Ms f.21  (9), 000). See also Aḥmad ibn `Alī al-Būnī, Shams al-ma`arif al-kubra wa lata'if al-ma`arif (4 vols in 1) Beirut: al-Maktaba al-Thāqāfiyya. np.nd. [Cairo, 19XX] [Vol 4:504-5]...