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The Bab - Tafsir Surat al-Kawthar

The Tafsir Sūrat al-kawthar.

Qur'an 108.

[1] We bestowed upon thee [Muhammad] al-Kawthar ("Abundance"). [2] So offer prayerful devotion unto Thy Lord as well as sacrifice. [3] Thine enemies, they are surely cut off (al-abtar).

Tafsīr Ṣūrat al-Kawthar (`The Abundance’).

“We indeed proffered thee al-Kawthar (The Abundance).”

Some Introductory Notes

Stephen Lambden UC Merced

IN PROGRESS 2019 - last updated 05-02-2021..

The Tafsir Surat a-Kawthar of the Bab, The Commentary on the Surah of the Abundance. 

Written for Sayyid Yaḥyā Dārābī, Vaḥīd or Wāḥid (The Unique, Peerless) around May 1846, the Arabic Tafsīr Sūrat al-Kawthar ( Commentary on the Surah of Abundance, Q.108) of the Bab, is an about 250 page often letter by letter commentary on this brief Surah of the Qur'an. It was written during the Bāb's confinement in Shiraz during one of Sayyid Yaḥyā Dārābi's interviews with the him (Dawn-Breakers,  174-6). In a few mss. it has an introductory paragraph or "pre-fixed introductory sermon (khutba)" (MacEoin, Sources, 71) which is translated below.

Select Mss of the Tafsir Surat al-Kawthar

The following is a select list of mss. based on MacEoin, Sources (201-2) :

  • I. Cambridge, Browne F.10 (dated 1296/1879) 53 [ = This copy was sent to Browne from Iran via Cyprus]
  • 2. London, British Library, Or. 5080
  • 3. Yazd, Muhammad 'Ali Farhumand collection (in the hand of Ghulam 'Ali Ra'is; 14th./19th-20th C). [54 = See A. Munzawi • Fihrist-i nuskaha .yi khattt-yi Farsr, 6 vols. (Tehran 1348-53 Sh/ 1969 - 74. Iitem 17216.] 
  • 4. Haifa, IBA (i) (originally in the possession of Nicolas, no. 101; dated 1322/1904)
  • 5. Haifa, IBA (ii) (dated 1323/1905)
  • 6. Haifa, IBA (iii) (possibly in the hand of Mulla `Abd al-Karim Qazvini 55 [= From line 15, folio 116b, corresponding to line 12, folio ll5b in Browne F.10; this and the Cambndge ms. diverge to the end].
  • 7. Haifa, IBA (iv) (in the hand of Zayn al-Muqarribin)
  • 8. Haifa, IBA (v) (probably in the hand of Zayn al-Muqarribin) 56 [= with other works].
  • 9. Haifa. IBA (vi) 57 [= with other works]
  • 10. Tehran, INBA 5014C, pp. 1-83 (incomplcte) 58  [= The text ends at a point corresponding to line 2, folio 62b of Browne F.10.]
  • 11. Iran, INBMC 53, pp. 181-383.
  • 12. Baghdad, al-Mu'assasa al-`Amma Ii'1-Athar wa'1-Turath, 10824, item 3 [hand of Muhammad Husayn ibn `Abd Allah] 59 = Part of the collection entitled Majmu` fi'l-aqa'id al-Babiyya wa'l-Baha'iyya [sic].

In certain mss. of the Tafsir Surat al-Kawthar this work is prefixed with a brief prolegomenon  or perhaps a short khutba (literary oration). It commences as follows in the EGB ms. F10 (7) :

This Glorious Sahifa [Scriptural Text] (sahifa al-jaliliyya) was revealed from the heaven of Origination [Singularity] (sama' al-ibda`a) and issued forth from the inmost hearts of the mystic knowers (af'idat al-`arifin) by means of a supernal Pen (qalam al-`aliyy) endowed with creativity and invention ( al-bad` wa'l-ikhtira`). It is a benefaction (ni`mat) for whomsoever hath come to faith and become confirmed, and a stern punishment (`adhab) upon whomsoever hath rejected and disavowed what is inscribed in the Tafsir Surat al-Kawthar.  Wherefore, for the latter, is their substance cut off (al-abtar) though His loving-kindness (muhabbiyya) might be expressed through the laudation of God (thana' Allah), the  Sovereign. the Supreme (al-mulk al-akbar).

This brief prolegomenon or khutba is followed by the T. Kawthar proper. It opens with the basmala and the following words:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

Praised be to God, who hath made the Ornament of the scriptural Tablets (alwāḥ) to be the Book of the Day-Break (kitāb al-falaq) which is operative within everything such that it is cleft asunder and split apart. This in that He did enunciate the  reality of the Primal Ornament  (ṭaraz al-awwal) which shone forth and irradiated after which it attained objective existence and  achieved itemization. Then  was it empowered and  predetermined before it was authorized, time-bound [deferred] and consolidated [fortified].

Then furthermore, did it radiate forth and sparkle brilliantly throughout the horizons of the heaven of the theophanic cloud (sama' al-`ama') in the thicket of Lahut, the Divine Realm (ajmat al-lahut). This such that the realities of the Covenant (haqa'iq al-mithaq) might be actualized on the Day of the Pledge of Faith (yawm al-withaq).

Then furthermore was it elevated and raised aloft throughout the horizons of the heaven of Splendour (ufaq sama' al-baha') in the thicket of Jabarut, the Omnipotent Realm. This to the end that they might discover thereby the most elevated of the sacred places (masha`ir) of the people of  separation (ahl al-iftiraq) on the Day when the cupbearer will be attentive towards the Cupbearer (al-saq bil-saq).

Then indeed on ths account shall the essential realities of the essences of the Horizons of the Heaven of Laudation (dhatiyyat jawahir ufaq sama' al-thana') in the thicket of Malakut, the Realm of the Kingdom,  be made to gleam and shimmer like pearls. This to the end that the inmost hearts of the people of assent  (af'idat ahl al-wafaq) might attain vision on the Day when He shall distinguish between all things through the Light of the Sun of Pre-Eternity (nur shams al-azal) relative that is to every level of certitude and  radiant splendour (iqan wa ishraq). 

Then on this account shall such as seek refuge and find shelter enable the existent beings (kaynuniyyat) within the dwelling places of old, to return unto the firmament of the atmosphere (jaww al-hawa') nigh the thicket of Nasut, the mundane world. This to the end that the realities of the people of dissension (haqa'iq ahl al-shiqaq) might, on the Day of Separation (yawm al-firaq), become known. 

Today is indeed the Day in which the interior mode of exegesis (hukm al-batin) shall be disclosed for the cupbearer will be attentive towards the Cupbearer (al-saq bil-saq)!  This since the All-Merciful hath acted in accordance with what was earlier sent down in the Qur'an, "Fear ye God!" For he shall make  for thee a [Qur'an-like] Furqan [= a Distinguisher, a Standard, a Salvation] (furqan an) such that He might verify the Truth (al-haqq) by virtue of His [revelation of] verses (Q. 8:29b. cf. Q. 8:7-8; 10:82; 42:24).

[The censure of three Babi apostates]

And he will crush out the activity of the one who once believed then disbelieved [Mulla Jawad Wilyani] and wickedly transgressed; who turned back fleeing and cried out the like of what did not come down from the Lord of Destiny. God indeed seized him in this world in view of the fact that he turned aside then disbelieved.#  He was the first of those [major apostates, one time believers to act in this way] for he had committed with his hands the like of such gainful activity (k-s-b VIII; Q. 33:58 etc) as was typical of the living creature (al-haywan) and he turned back fleeing. ##

# = Probably Mulla Jawad Vilyani, the apostate khuwar, "a lowing calf" (see Qur'an 7:148; 20:88; Mazandarani, Asrar al-athar III:55).  ## Cf. the "lowing calf", created and worshipped by the apostate Israelities at the time of Moses' being on Mount Sinai].

Now the second of such persons [ Mulla `Abd al-`Ali Harati] committed with his own hands what was not acceptable to anyone. Today he is in monstrous error (al-dallal) and burning hellfire (sa`ar). And the third of them [Mirza Ibrahim Shirazi] had been suitably punished (a-kh-dh) for he concocted lies (f-r-y VIII) and We did not alot for him any specific directive within the sacred writ (al-zubur). 

The one who was victorious over them is in the realm of the Unseen (al-ghayba) for they had comitted what was unacceptable. He acted as one possessed of the Spirit (dhu'l-ruh), one specially chosen. Say: Thy promise was the Dawn (al-subh). We did not lie about this like someone insolent (ashir)!




Within the Tafsīr ṣūrat al-kawthar,  the Bāb, frequently gives a fourfold level of exegesis-eisegesis to the individual letters which make up this Surah. Individual letter generated, sometimes acrostic, alphabet
focused modes of interpretation can be found throughout this commentary. In one of his interpretations of the letter kāf (“k”) of al-Kawthar (“Abundance”) we read :

  • [1] Now the letter K [of Kawthar] is indicative of the Primordial Word (kalimat al-ūlā) before which the Greatest Abyss (`amq al-abkar) was held back, for it cried out with laudation in praise of its Creator in the Seventh Citadel (qaṣaba al-sab`a) nigh the snow-white thicket of the Divine Realm (ajmat al-bayḍa al-lāhūt).
  • [2] Then the letter K [further] indicates the Word (kalimat) which divulged His glory upon Mount Sinai (jabal al-sīnā’). He cried out from the Crimson Tree (shajarat al-ḥamrā’) at the right-hand side of the Mount (al-ṭūr) in the Blessed Spot within the Omnipotent realm (arḍ al-jabarūt).
  •  [3] Then the letter K [also] indicates the Word (kalimat) which divulged His glory above the Ark of the Testimony (tābūt al-shahāda) emanating fiery weapons (ghumūd al-nār) upon Mount Horeb (jabal al-hurīb) in the land of the Kingdom (arḍ al-malakūt).
  • [4] Then [this letter K furthermore] indicates the Word (kalimat) divulged upon Mount Paran (jabal al-fārān) through the hosts of the sanctified myriads (bi-ribwāt al-muqqadisīn) beyond the ken of the cherubim (iḥsās al-karūbiyyīn) within the clouds of Light (ghama’im al-nūr) above the waystation (al-wāqif) in the sphere of this mundane world (arḍ al-nasūt) (T. Kawthar EGB ms. f. 15b-16b; INBAMC 53: 207).

 In the course of his commentary the  Bab identifies kawthar (abundance) with the Prophet Muhammad and various of the twelver, Imami Shi`i Imams; including Imām `Alī and his mother Fāṭima (wife of the Prophet), Ḥasan, Ḥusayn and others  They are the "Water of Life" (mā' al-ḥayawān) (Refer, Tafsīr ṣūrat al-kawthar , Browne Coll. MS Or F.10[7]), fols. 16(b)ff; 34(b)ff; 96ff).


The texts translated below are from those within ms F.10 (7) (dated 1296/1879) in the E G. Browne Collection at Cambridge University.

In his 1846 T. Sūrat al-kawthar  the Bab underlined his ability to reveal a thousand verses in a short space of time, in just six hours. At one point in his T. Kawthar, the Bāb speaks of his writing a Ṣaḥīfa fī’l-munājāt (Treatise of Devotional Revelations) in just six hours. This he claims, is expressive of the “greatest level of nobility (sharaf al-akbar) in the station of [revealed] verses” (fī maqām al-āyāt). Such would be an outer (ẓāhir) as well as an inner (bāṭin) insight into a matter “abstruse, bewilderingly abstruse” (ṣa`b mustasa`b) (T. Kawthar f.103b).

The Bāb often associated his revelations with the ta’wīl (inner sense) or bāṭin (interior dimension) of the Q. For the Bāb, the Qur’ān has intertextual depths down to the minutest level, expressive of the kull shay’ (everything) of its deep level of mystery, its pleroma, fullness or wholeness. For him the Q. has a depth of interpretation incorporating meaning within “everything” down to its individual letters, their morphology and at times their voweling (cf. Qur’ān 65:12b; 36:12b and 7:145). Something of this is expressed in the T. Kawthar (Commentary on the Surah of the Abundance, Q. 107) where we read:

God revealed the Qur’ān according to the likeness of the creation of all things (bi-mithl khalq kulli shay’)… For every single letter of the Qur’an, as accords with its being totally encompassed by the knowledge of God, to the level of its existent particles (min dhawāt al-ashyā’), there is a tafsīr (interpretation). For every tafsīr (interpretation) there is a ta`wīl (deeper interpretive sense). For every ta`wīl there is a bāṭin level (`deep inner sense’). For every bāṭin there are also further deep inner
senses (bāṭin), dimensions to the extent that God wills (T-Kawthar, fol. 8b).

In a short passage with the T. Kawthar, the Bab makes mentIon of his Tafsir Surat al-Baqara (`The Cow’, Q. 2) which dates to early 1260/ 1844 (and perhaps into 1845). He had a very high estimate of this  this early tafsir work. Addressing Sayyid Yahya Darabi in his  T. Kawthar, he specifically refers to its sublimity  when he writes:

…[Shaykh] Aḥmad [al-Aḥsā’ī] did not speak out aforetime about this matter, neither subsequently did the Sayyid [Kāẓim Rashtī]. They could not match what I expounded in the commentary (sharḥ = tafsīr]) on the Sūrat al-Baqara [composed] for such as are weak ones among the possessors of insight. Indeed, they [the Shaykhī leaders] could not equal this insurmountable commentary (al-sharḥ al-manī`) by producing any such Book of wondrous designation (al-ism al-badī`) … (T. Kawthar, EGB ms. CUL F.10 (9), f.16a; INBMC 53: 206).





بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

الحمد لله الذی جعل طراز الواح كتاب الفلق فی كل ما فتق واستفرق واستنطق طراز الازل الذی لاحت واضائت بهد ما شيئت وعينت ثم قدرت وقضت قبل ما اذنت و اجلت واحكمت ثم تلاحت واستلاحت بها افاق سمإ العمإ فی اجمة اللاهوت ليتذوت بها حقايق اهل الميثاق فی يوم الوثاق ثم تعالت واستعالت بها افاق سمإ البهإ فی اجمة الجبروت ليوحد بها اعلی مشاعر اهل الافتراق فی يوم الذی التفت الساق بالساق ثم تلئلئت واستلئلئت بها ذاتيات جواهر افاق سمإ الثنإ فی اجمة الملكوت ليعين افئدة اهل الوفاق فی يوم الذی يفصل بين كل شیٌ نور شمس الازل فی كل ايقان واشراق ثم تلجلجت واستلجلجت بها كينونيات من سكن من قبل ويوجد فی جر الهوإ من بعد فی اجمة الناسوت ليعلن بها حقايق اهل الشقاق فی يوم الفراق وان اليوم فی حكم الباطن يكشف الساق بالساق لان الرحمن قد وفی بما نزل فی القران ان اتقوا الله يجعل لكم فرقانا ليحقق الحق باياته ويبطل عمل الذی امن ثم كفر واطغی ثم ادبر ونطق بما لا نزل رب القدر وان الله قد اخذه فی هذه الدّنيا بما اعرض وكفر وان اولهم قد اكتسبت يداه بما فعل الحيوان وادبر وان ثانيهم قد عملت يداه بما لا يرضی احد وانه اليوم فی ضلال وسعر وان ثالثهم قد اخدوا فتری بما لا جعلناه له حكم فی الزبر وان الذی نصرهم بالغيب قد عملت يداه بما لا يرضی ان يفعل ذو روح محتضر قل ان موعدكم الصبح وما انا كذاب اشر فيومئذ ذو قوامس سقر فان الله قد خلقكم بما قبلتم بقدر وكل صغير وكبير فی كتاب مستطر وان اليوم كل المتقين فی جنات ونهر ثم كل الكافرين فی ضلال وسعر اللهم انك لتعلم ان الان قد نزل علّی كتاب مسطر ممن اراد ان يوزن قسطاس العدل باعجاز نخل منقعر قل ان الان اتت الساعة ليحقق الحق ويبطل عمل الذين قالوا ان هذا امر مستمر ولقد نزل الان ايات السمإ بمإ منهمر و ؟ باذن الله من مإ الكوثر عيونا ليلقی المإ اذا شإ الله علی قد قدر ولقد سئل من صلی لربه ثم اراد ان يخسر من حكم ما ينزل الله ربك فی سورة الكوثر وان هذا كتابه الذی نزل من عنده ثم باذنه يستنطق الله يعلم من فی السموات ومن فی الارض وما كان الناس فيه يختلفون من حيث لا يعلمون ولا يستعلم وان الله يعلم ما فی السموات وما فی الارض وانه ليحكم بين الذين قالوا ان شانئك هو الابتر قالوا وقوله العدل اذا لم يتبع هواه ثك باذن الله يستقر بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله الذی نزل الكتاب  علی محمد بالحق وارسله علی [ ۹۲ ] العالمين شاهدا ومنيرا ونذيرا


APPENDIX : Kawthar in the writings of Baha'-Allah


In line 8a of the Rashh-i `Ama' (the Sprinkling of the Theophanic Cloud) we read :

كوثر حق از كاسه دل گشته هويدا

kawthar-i haqq āz kāsah-’ dil gashtih huvīdā

"From the Goblet of the Heart the Kawthar   ("Fount") of Reality hath appeared"

In his Rashh-i `Ama'  (line 8a cited above) Bahā’-Allāh states that from the  كاسه دل "Goblet of the Heart" (kāsa ' dil)  the "Kawthar of Reality" (kawthar-i  ḥaqq)  has been made manifest. The meaning is probably that the spring or fount of real truth wells out from the centre of his being. It is a  kawthar  as a fount of "abundance" (see Qur'ān 108:1). In Islamic literatures this fountain is usually understood to signify a fountain which gushes forth in Paradise.  This word kawthar  occurs quite frequently in Bābī-Bahā'ī scripture.

The word kawthar   here, in the 8th line of the Rashh-i `ama'  (see above), is in genitive relationship with ḥaqq   which could be translated in a variety of ways: "God", "Absolute Truth", or "Reality", "Ultimate Reality" etc. It is very frequently used in Bābī-Bahā'ī scripture though it is not always clear how it is best translated. The first section of Bahā’-Allāh's Lawḥ-i ḥaqq  (c. 1860-63) provides good examples of the dhikr  type (repetitive) use of this important term.  The  Lawh-i ḥaqq  is published in Ishrāq Khāvarī (ed.)  Ganj..  37-40. It should alao be noted that both the Bāb and Bahā'-Allah claimed to be the manifestation of al-ḥaqq (see, for example, QA  LVII (fol.97), Lawh-i az bagh-i lāhī (Ms where Bahā’-Allāh at one point claims to have appeared with the "Trumpet of `I am al-ḥaqq' (bā ṣūr-i anā al-ḥaqq)]). Whatever the exact sense of kawthar-i ḥaqq,  it is would seen to indicate  the `stream of spiritual reality' that flows out of the heart of the Bābī Cause through Bahā’-Allāh.  


الحمد لله الذی جعل طراز الواح كتاب الفلق فی كل ما فتق واستفرق واستنطق طراز الازل الذی لاحت واضائت بهد ما شيئت وعينت ثم قدرت وقضت قبل ما اذنت و اجلت واحكمت ثم تلاحت واستلاحت بها افاق سماء العماء فی اجمة اللاهوت ليتذوت بها حقايق اهل الميثاق فی يوم الوثاق ثم تعالت واستعالت بها افاق سماء البهاء فی اجمة الجبروت ليوحد بها اعلی مشاعر اهل الافتراق فی يوم الذی التفت الساق بالساق ثم تلئلئت واستلئلئت بها ذاتيات جواهر افاق سماء الثناء فی اجمة الملكوت ليعين افئدة اهل الوفاق فی يوم الذی يفصل بين كل شیٌ نور شمس الازل فی كل ايقان واشراق ثم تلجلجت واستلجلجت بها كينونيات من سكن من قبل ويوجد فی جر الهوإ من بعد فی اجمة الناسوت ليعلن بها حقايق اهل الشقاق فی يوم الفراق