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Maẓhariyya : The roots and significance of the Bābī- Bahā’ī concept of the maẓhar- i ilāhī ("Divine theophany", "Manifestation of God").





The roots and significance of the Bābī- Bahā’ī concept of the maẓhar- i ilāhī ("Divine theophany", "Manifestation of God").

Stephen Lambden, UC Merced. 

Extract from the Lambden PH.d with additional Notes and Comments. 1987 / 2002.+

It was out of the abovementioned nexus of Islamic prophetological, imamological and theophanological Sufi and Sh ī`ī- Shaykhī concepts, that the terminology and many aspects [87] of the Bābī- Bahā’ī doctrine of the mazhar-i ilāhī evolved. The Bāb personified the mashiyya (Primal Will) and made it, as the maẓhar-i ilāhī (Manifestation of God), the centerpiece of his theology. It was is by virtue of the mashiyya (Will) that God made himself indirectly known to his creation through the maẓhar of His own nafs , the Logos-Self which is the maẓhar ilāhī (The Manifestation of God). In Bābī- Bahā’ī usage ẓuhūr indicates the divine tajallī (theophany, divine self-revelation) of God through his maẓhar (theophanic manifestation) unto the worlds of creation. The study of the background of the centrally important maẓhariyya (theophanological) doctrines within the Bābī- Bahā’ī religious universe of discourse, to some degree illustrates how aspects of Bābī- Bahā’ī doctrine evolved out of heterodox Shī`īsm in a similar way to the emergence of Christianity from sectarian Judaisms. Only a few notes pertinent to this can be set down here (cf. MacEoin, maẓhar, EI2 VI:952-3).
Deriving from the triliteral Arabic root ẓ- h-r which may verbally indicate `to appear’, `be manifest’, the straightforward sense the Arabic noun of place maẓhar (pl. maẓāhir cf. ẓāhir, `apparent’, `visible’ `outer’, `exterior’) is a `place of appearance’. It may also be indicative of an `outward expression’ or `mode of apparition’, and thus additionally indicate a `manifestation’ or `theophany’ (Corbin, 1972, IV:518, index). In his The Sufi Path of Knowledge Chittick prefers to translate maẓhar, "locus of manifestation" (Chittick, 1989:89).
The term maẓhar has a long history and rich semantic field in a multitude of texts expressive, for example, of the mediatory position of the prophets and imams as loci of divine realities. Murata has stated that many "cosmologists employ terms like ẓuhūr (manifestation) and tajallī (self-disclosure) to explain the relationship of the world to God" (Murata,1992:11). Maẓhar is a term that lies at the heart of certain prophetological and [88] imamological speculations within Islamic philosophy and theology. It is found within the writings of numerous exponents of Shī`ī [74] mysticism, theosophy and gnosis. 1

1 In early Shī’ī Khaṭṭabī [Nusayrī) gnosis the pentadic "Five Companions of the Mantle" (Muhammad, Fāṭim[a], `Alī, Ḥasan and Ḥusayn) represented by the initial letters of their names, become "Names" or "Principles" as well as tajalliyat (`theophanies’) and maẓāhir (manifestations) of the "Light" (Corbin, [1974] 1998:186-7).
The terms ẓāhir, ẓuhūr, maẓhar are frequently used and important within the theologically loaded writings of Ibn al-`Arabī and of persons falling within his `school’ (Chittick, 1988:201-221, 470 [index ẓuhūr, etc]; 1989:16, 478 index ẓuhūr etc). Within the writings of Ibn al-`Arabī maẓhar is a theological term rooted in the exegesis of Q. 57:3, "He [God] is the ẓāhir (Manifest) and the bāṭin (Nonmanifest) (Chittick, 1989:89; cf. Futūḥāt III:484-5). For the Great Shaykh ẓuhūr is used of the tajallī, the divine `self-disclosure’ or the `manifestation’ of God. For him maẓhar can indicate the locus of a particular divine Name (s) and/or Attribute (asmā’ wa’l-ṣifāt).
For Ibn al-`Arabī the terms ẓāhir / ẓuhūr / maẓhar have an important place in Islamic thought ( Chittick, 1988: 201-221, 470 [index ẓuhūr, etc]; 1989:16, 478 index ẓuhūr etc). Maẓhar is a frequently used theological term rooted in the exegesis of Q. 57:3, "He [God] is the ẓāhir (Manifest) and the bāṭin (Nonmanifest) (Chittick, 1989:89). At one point in the Futūḥāt it is written, "God is the ẓāhir (Manifest) who is witnessed by the eyes and the
bāṭin (Nonmanifest) who is witnessed by the intellects (al-`uqūl)" (Fut. III:484-5). In his The Sufi Path of Knowledge Chittick prefers to translate maẓhar "locus of manifestation" (Chittick, 1989:89). For Ibn al-`Arabī ẓuhūr is especially used of the self-manifestation of God which is his tajallī (self-disclosure).  

Among the many disciples of the "Great Shaykh" who have made fairly frequent use of maẓhar as a theophanological technical term was, for example, Ibn al-`Arabī’s  son-in-law Ṣadr al-Dīn Q ūnawī (d.673/1274). His K. al-fukūk, (The Book of Unravellings) represents itself as a `key to the mysteries’ of Ibn `Arabī’s Fuṣuṣ al-ḥikam (Bezels of Wisdom). In his exposition of the section revolving around the prophet Ismā’īl (here no. 7) and the implications of prophets being maẓāhir of the divine Names, Qunawi (commenting on Q.29:27a) categorically states "Every [75] prophet is a maẓhar of one of the divine Names (ism min al-asmā’) (K. al-fukūk, 209). The same is also stated in the section devoted to Muhammad: "every nabī is a maẓhar of one of the Names of the Divine Reality (ism min asmā’ al-ḥaqq; ibid, 310). In the section on Shu`ayb it is stated that Moses’ education (tarbiyat) was initially taught by means of this Arab prophet. It was such that Moses’ āyāt (verses, signs) were according to the dictates of the "outer Name" (aḥkām al-ism al-ẓāhir). When God desired the perfection of Moses he sent him to Khiḍr who is said to be a maẓhar (manifestation) of the hidden [Inner, Non-Manifest] Name (al-ism al-bāṭin). (Qunawī,al-Fukūk, 251).
Rajab al-Bursī (d.c.814/1411) in his influential Mashāriq compiled much of relevance to this topic including a section dealing with the anbiyā’ (prophets) as maẓāhir asmā’ Allāh ("manifestations of the Names of God"). They are all maẓhar ism kullī (`manifestations of a universal [divine] Name = Allāh) whose sharī`a (law) is likewise universal. All the prophets and messengers (nabī + rasūl) are reckoned as archetypally revolving around the following seven figures, (1) Adam, (2) Enoch, (3) Abraham, (4)Jospeh, (5) Moses (6) Aaron and (7) Jesus. Among other things each prophet is associated with a particular divine Name. While Enoch, for example, is described as a maẓhar of the divine name al-ḥayy (`the Living), Joseph is the maẓhar of the divine name al-murīd (Disciple) associated with jamīl (Beauty). Beyond them Muhammad is the maẓhar of the comprehensive divine Name (al-ism al-jāmi`) Allāh as well as the maẓhar of the (supernal) Lights (al-anwār) (Mashāriq, 32-3).

[90] Within the Kalimat-i Maknūnih (Hidden Words) of Mullā Muḥsin Fayḍ al-Kāshānī (d.1090/1679), another Shī`ī thinker much influenced by Ibn al-`Arabī, is a theologically oriented section (kalimat) about the significance of al-ẓuhūr (the Manifest) and al-maẓhar (the Manifestation). Within this section it is stated that "the manifestations of the True One (maẓāhir al-ḥaqq) is something independent (muṭlaqa) since the maẓhar-i ilāhī is in that locale as something [independently] evident (ẓāhir) and manifest (maẓhar) (manifest)" (Kalimat, 114-5). Another section concerns the ultimacy of the of the theophany of the Ultimate Reality (ẓuhūr al-ḥaqq). Relative to the maẓāhir (Manifestations) this is said to be by means of the Divine Names [76] (al-asmā’ al-ilāhiyya). The Manifestation of the Name of Allāh (mazḥar ism Allāh) is identified as the person of the al-insān al-kāmil (The Perfect Man [Human]). The perfection of the name Allāh is evident in the manifestation of the Universal Perfect Human (maẓhar-i jāmi`-yi insān-i kāmil).
Similar examples could be gleaned from numerous other philosopher-theologians of the school of Ibn al-`Arabī and the `School of Isfahan’ and elsewhere. 1 The famed al-insān al-kāmīl.. (The Perfect Human) of the Shī`ite Sufī `Abd al-Karīm al-Jilī (d. c.832/1428) contains a section dealing with the divine Names al-jalāl (The Majestic) where iti s stated that for every divine Name and Attribute there is a athar, a trace-impression which is a maẓhar of divine jamāl (Beauty) or jalāl (Majesty). (New ed, 97).
1 The first Safavid ruler Shāh Ismā’īl (d.930/1524), a Sufi Shaykh and one time head of the Qizilbash made use of maẓhar in certain of his Turkish, distinctly (neo-) ghuluww (extremist) high imamological and theophanologically oriented poems. Apparently referring to himself he states in one poem (no. 259), "A man (ādam) has become a maẓhar of the ḥaqq ( Ultimately Real).. My Beauty is a maẓhar of Our God (jamālī maẓhar ilāhhum...) (Minorsky, 1942: 1039a-1040a,194).

Bahā'-Allāh's uses of maẓhar are numerous and generally fall into the theological- theophanological pattern set in the writings of the Bāb. Bahā'-Allāh,’s apophatic theology of the maẓhar-i ilāhī (Manifestation of God) , like that of the Bāb (Lambden, 1997), categorically bypassed the potentially pantheistic waḥdat al-wujūd ("oneness of being") speculations of Ibn al-`Arabī (not his terminology) and his devotees (Bahā'-Allāh, Haft vādī, AQA 3:XX/ tr. Seven Valleys, 39-40). The Unmanifest Godhead ever remains unknowably beyond number, gender and all limitations. He/She/It, the absolute Godhead, is only indirectly manifested through the maẓhar ilāhī who, as the (subordinate) "God", makes the `Wholly Other’ knowable to human beings. Scriptural (Q. + Bible) statements about God actually have apophatic significance or only disclose something about his Will or His knowable, mediatory theophanic manifestations.
As a theological term central to Bābī- Bahā’ī usage maẓhar precludes any hint of ḥulūl, the `incarnation’ of the absolute Divine Essence (dhāt al-dhāt). The divine intermediary maẓhar-i ilāhī (Divine Theophany, Manifestation) does not manifest the hidden, incomprehensible Deity the dhāt or dhāt al-dhāt. Rather, it is the totality of the (created) divine Names and Attributes [77] (al-asmā’ wa’l-ṣifāt) that are exhibited in his Person. They are manifested by any given maẓhar-i ilāhī but only according to human capacity at a given point in history and for a divinely ordained era in time (ẓuhūr = " theophanological dispensation"). The Bahā’ī prophet’s notion of tawḥid (the Divine Oneness) is focussed on the non-ontological, spiritual "oneness" of the nafs (Logos-like`Self’) of the major founder Prophets of religion who are manifestations of the totality of the Divine Names and attributes. They indirectly make the incomprehensible God known through the partial maẓhar or disclosure of the knowable Divine Will (Bahā'-Allāh, Lawḥ-i madinat al-tawḥīd).

At the outset of an untitled writing, Bahā'-Allāh writes, "The [eschatological] Day cries out announcing, `The manifestation of the Divine Command has assuredly been made manifest (qad ẓahara maẓhar al-amr) (La`ālī al-ḥikma, 1:109 No.170). He composed a number of alwāḥ designated L.-i ẓuhūr (The Tablet of the Theophany [Manifestation]) in which he detailed some theological aspects of the person of the maẓhar-i ilāhī. In one of them he explained that,

The theophany of the Divine Manifestation (ẓuhūr) is not compounded of the four elements. Nay rather, he is the mystery of the divine oneness (sirr al-aḥadiyya), the Pre-Existent Being (kaynuna al-qidamiyya), the All-Enduring Essence (al-jawhar al-ṣamadiyya) and the Hidden Ipseity (al-huwiyya al-ghaybiyya). He can in no wise be known apart from his own Self. It is not possible for anyone to establish that he was made manifest from the four elements (`anāṣir), from such elements (ustaqusāt = Gk. stoicheion) as are mentioned by the tongue of the practitioners of philosophy (ahl al-ḥikmat), or indeed, from any of the four natures (al-tabai`). All such as this was created as a result of His Command and through His Will (mashiyya)... In every world he is manifested according to the capacity (bi-isti`dād) of that world. In the
world of spirits (`ālam al-arwāḥ), for example, he reveals himself and becomes manifest unto them [the spiritual beings] through the vestiges of the Spriit (āthār al-rūḥ). So likewise in the world of bodies (ajsā d), in the world of Names and Attributes (al-asmā’ wa’l-ṣifāt) and in other worlds which none comprehends save God. All [of these worlds] derive their good-fortune (naṣīb) from this theophany of the Divine Manifestation (ẓuhūr). Wherefore does he appear unto them according to the requisite form in order that He might guide them unto God, His Lord, and draw them nigh unto the Abode of His Cause (Bahā'-Allāh, L. Ẓuhūr, Mā’idih, 4:161f). .

The following are a few Bābī- Bahā’ī doctrinal teachings that are held to apply equally to all maẓhar-i ilāhī. Bahā’ī hermeneutics never permits the interpretation of sacred books or Isrā’īliyyāt traditions in ways which might negate these theophanological doctrines:  [78]

1) Divinity and Lordship (ulūhiyya, rubūbiyya).
All representatives of the unknowable Godhead, the maẓhar ilāhī are equally divine. They can all legitimately make the claim to (subordinate) divinity by saying , anā Allāh ("`I am God") or the like, though they can never claim to be ontologically identical with the Absolute Divine Essence, the Ultimate Godhead (Bahā'-Allāh,  KI: 137/ 114).

(2) Pre-existence
The pre-existence of the divine Manifestations (maẓāhar ) is presupposed and affirmed in numerous Bābī- Bahā’ī texts. This by virtue of their divine Logos-like Reality, their primordial nafs (Identity-Self-Soul). The multi-faceted Islamic doctrine of the pre-existent (Per.) nūr-i Muḥammadiyya ("Muhammadan Light") was foundational and is applied to all of the maẓhar-i ilāhī. Like Jesus the Bābī- Bahā’ī maẓhar can all utter such words as "before
Abraham was I am" (Jn. 8:58b) or claim a central, pre-existent role in the origins of existence. The Pre-existence of the Bab is spelled out the certain of his probably 1261-2/1845-6 alwah addressed to his first disciples as Haykal (plural hayakil, Temples, Embodiemnts), the eighteen `Letters of the Living' (huruf al-hayy) from Mulla Husayn Bushru'i (No.1) to Mulla Muhammad `Ali Barfurushi, Quddus (the Most Holy). See facsimilies in Shoghi Effendi (ed.) the Dawn-Breakers ... (1st ed. 1932).

(3) `Iṣmā` (`immunity from sin’; `moral infallibility’ ). 1
The Islamic doctrine of `iṣmā’ was gradually and in diverse ways incorporated within in both Sunni2 and Shī`ī Islam. It was championed by numerous Shī`ī thinkers including the Imami writers Hisham ibn al-Ḥakam (d.179/795). Ibn Babūya (d.381/991) and Shaykh [94] al-Mufid (d.412/1022).

1 It was perhaps due to Samaritan (Jewish) influence from the late 2nd/8th century that the principle expressed by the non-qur’ānic terms `iṣmā’ (moral impeccability) and ma`ṣum (immunity from error) first (?) came to be applied to the Shi`ī Imams and subsequently to the Prophet Muhammad as well, on occasion, as other the pre-Islamic
prophets and agents of God.

2 The doctrine of `iṣmā’ is found in the Sunnī Fiqh al-Akbar (Greater Understanding)
II (10th cent.) and was earlier championed by various Shī`ī thinkers including Hisham b. al-Ḥakam (d.179/795).


Within Shī`īsm the `iṣma of prophets and the ma`ṣūm (guarded from sin and error) of the Imams became and has remained an important article of faith. It was affirmed and in various ways integrated in Bābī- Bahā’ī imamology and theophanology. All maẓhar-i ilāhī are considered ma`ṣūm in Bābī- Bahā’ī scripture. Abrahamic sacred books
(Bible and Q.) and Isrā’īlyyāt traditions can never be interpreted so as to attribute sin and error to the divine Manifestations of God.
[79] Numerous biblical legends and qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’ narratives as well as doctrinal utterances of past prophets, sages and agents of God are interpreted in Bābī- Bahā’ī texts in line with the doctrines of `iṣma / ma`ṣūm. Majpr Messengers are pictured as all wise paragons of pious virtue and miraculous power. Texts which contract this are allegorically or non-literally interpreted (`Abdu'l-Bahā`, SAQ III ch. 44). The hermeneutical maintenance of `Iṣma / ma`ṣūm is a Bahā’ī religious touchstone of exegetical integrity and historiographical soundness. In Bābī- Bahā’ī exegesis , for example, Adam the maẓhar-Ii ilāhī never sinned by eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden (Gen 2-3; Q.2:25; 20:115; cf. Q. 7:19).1

The Bahā’ī exegesis of the story of Adam and Eve as explained by `Abdu'l-Bahā` is wholly removed from the sphere of history. The story is symbolic of the plight of humankind in the material world. Adam represents of the rūḥ-i Ādam, the higher "spirit of Adam" (= humanity). Humanity (the first couple) fell from paradise when Eve who represents the nafs-i Ādam, the lower self of humanity, precipitated a "fall" from spirituality as a result of being enticed bythe "serpent" (= materiality). To eat of the "fruit" of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" is to be engrossed in the material world by the satanic lower self (`Abdu'l-Bahā`, SAQ:92f /tr.122f cf. `Abdu'l-Bahā` explanation, "The Tree (shajarat) [ of the knowledge of good and evil] of his eminence Adam is the reaching out to the [material] world (bulūgh-i a`lam) Ma’idih 9:128-9).

Following and expounding Bahā'-Allāh’s teachings both `Abdu'l-Bahā` (d. Haifa, 1921) and Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (d. London,1957) made the upholding of `iṣmā’ an essential hermeneutical principle. `Abdu'l-Bahā`, for example, probably following Islamic [95] exegetical precedent, made lawful the Islamo-biblical notice that Abraham married his half-sister (cousin) or aunt Sarah (cf. Gen.12:10f; Rippin EI2 IX:26-7) by writing,

During the time of the Abrahamic Prophethood it was considered allowable, because of a certain exigency, that a man should marry his aunt, even as Sarah was the sister of Abraham's mother" (`Abdu'l-Bahā` PUP: 365)

Bahā'-Allāh himself claimed (Per.) `ismat-i kubrā (the greatest infallibility ) which he also made applicable to the Bāb and the other maẓhar-i ilāhī and to other lesser past worthies such as the twelver Imams and various anbiyā’ (prophets) of Israelite history. While supreme theophanies , the maẓāhir-I kulliyya (universal manifestations) like the "Sun" have `iṣmat-i dhātiyya ("essential infallibility") other sanctified individuals and groups like "moons" luminous with divine light, can only evince `iṣmat-i ṣifātiyya ("conferred infallibility") (SAQ. XLV: 129ff/171ff).

(4) The ability to perform of miracles (mu`jizāt).
Within Abrahamic scripture and tradition innumerable messengers of God, saints, Imams and others are credited with the working of miracles. Such supernatural acts are dealt with generally and specifically in Bābī- Bahā’ī primary literatures. Though the Bāb is credited with miracles in most 19th century Bābī- Bahā’ī hagiographical histories, he most frequently highlighted as his miracle his ability to reveal divine verses through waḥy. For
him this was the true hallmark of his claim to divine maẓhar status (Ar.+P. Dala ’il) . The Bāb gave spiritual interpretations to the various "miraculous" deeds of past prophets (e.g.Muhammad’s alleged the "cleaving of the moon" (Q. 54:1f; P-Dala’il,13) and non-literally interpreted many cosmic eschatological signs including, for example, the rising of the "Sun of Reality" (shams-i ḥaqīqat) in the "West" which he related to his theophanic appearance in Shīrāz , (Fars, Iran) (P-Dala’il, 51-2).
Bahā'-Allāh is also credited with numerous miracles in the Bahā’ī histories (cf. `Abdu'l-Bahā`, SAQ IX tr. 34-5), miracles of revelation, prophecy, resurrection and human transformation, etc. Though in his Ṣaḥīfa-yi shaṭṭiyya (Scroll of Gushing Torrent c. 1857) Bahā'-Allāh plays down the miracles attributed to him, this phenomenon is discussed here (INBMC 57:10-18) as it is in other of his alwāḥ and in many writings and discourses of `Abdu'l-Bahā` (SAQ index). Miracles of past pre-Islamic divine messe gers such as those ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels, are very largely given "spiritual" interpretations in Bahā’ī sources. Examples of biblical miracles which are ‘demythologized’ or given "spiritual" interpretations include God’s theophany before Moses (Exod. 33:18-23; Q. 7:143) the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea (Exod. 13:17ff) and the wars of the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 5ff), The miracles which took place during the war of the chidren of Israel with the ungodly which are mentioned in the Holy Bible (kitāb-i muqaddas) have a spiritual interpretation (ta`wīl) and meaning (ma`anī). Despite this Bahā’īs do not seek to outrule or alter the miracles of the prophets (anbiyā’). (Ma’idih, 9:39).
Most NT miracles are allegorically interpreted in Bahā’ī primary sources, including the feeding to of (4) 5,000 ( Mk. 6:35ff + //s ; Jn 6:1-14), Jesus’ walking on the water (Mk. 6:43ff+ //s Jn 6:15-21) various healing miracles and exorcisms, the raising of Lazarus, the resurrection of Jesus and the various resurrection appearances (Lk. 24:13ff, etc). Miracles attributed to Muhammad in various Islamic sources [81] are likewise occasionally non-literally
interpreted as are various qur’ānic apocalyptic "signs" mentioned in the Q. and traditions (Lambden, 1987).

The developed Bābī- Bahā’ī position regarding miracles is that they are accepted as within the power of the maẓhar-i ilāhī though most mentioned in biblical and qur’ānic scripture and tradition are of largely symbolic import. They are thus "spiritually" , non-literally interpreted. The directly or indirectly witnessed power of waḥy (divine
revelation) is seen in Bābī- Bahā’ī scripture as the supreme miracle, the hallmark of the divine providence.
In conclusion it can be stated here that Bahā’īs greatly revere the numerous aforementioned maẓhar-i ilāhī and affirm their ability to perform supernatural miracles. This to such a degree that, transcending even Islamic norms, they consider their true station incomprehensible to human intellects (Bahā'-Allāh, L. Hirtik). Modern Bahā’īs do not generally exhibit pictures of the Bāb, Bahā'-Allāh or any of the other the maẓhar ilāhī (divine manifestations) out of respect for their sublimity and as a safeguard against worshipping the form or person of the maẓhar instead of the transcendent God who (indirectly) manifested them. The Bahā’ī interpretation of Abrahamic scripture and Islamo-Biblical traditions attempts to preserve the high theophanological status of the divine messengers who are deemed infallible agents of the transcendent Deity. In the Bahā’ī view they have a human body but all other aspects of their Logos-like Being are said to transcend worldly limitations.