Shrine Baha’u’llah in Haifa, Israel. Photo from https://www.bahai.org/bahaullah/shrine.
Shrine of the Bab on Mt. Carmel, Haifa, Israel. Photo from https://www.bahaiblog.net/2012/05/the-decleration-of-the-bab/.
Room where the Declaration of the Bab took place, May 22-23, 1844, in Shiraz, Iran. Photo from https://youtu.be/JZtUr95q6o4.

Entrance to the dungeon in Tehran, where Baha’u’llah was incarcerated when he was visited by the heavenly maiden. Photo from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%ADy%C3%A1h-Ch%C3%A1l.

In Tablet of the Maiden, Baha’u’llah described a mystical experience He had while suffering in prison. I became acquainted with the tablet when a friend  showed me an excerpt from the writings of Baha’u’llah in the book, The Mystery of Sophia, by Robert Powell and Estelle Isaacson.  After having studied the writings of Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i faith for over 20 years, I was surprised to find that there were English translations of His writings that I was unfamiliar with. I did a search, using a few of the words from the excerpt quoted in my friend’s book, and discovered the entire Tablet of the Maiden on a Baha’i library website,.  I read it several times. It is a beautiful description of a mystical being, and of the mystical fellowship Baha’u’llah had with her during, what was otherwise, a grim and gloomy time. 

The tablet describes an houri which I had never heard of before and probably misread the first time as “hour.” I looked it up and learned that an houri  is an Islamic heavenly being. A promise in Islamic tradition is that houris will attend to the needs of. believers in paradise.

After reading and enjoying Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of the Maiden several times, I read the linked notes from the Universal House of Justice and the translator. I learned that the UHJ (the global governing body of the Baha’i Faith) did not fully approve of Juan Cole’s translation. They did not forbid the believer’s from perusing it, but they withheld full approval which would, if it were granted, have exalted this tablet to the status of scripture for Baha’is, along with the body of previously authenticated writings of Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and the Bab, which, along with the Bible and the Koran, are scripture for Baha’is.

Only 5 percent of the writings of Baha’u’llah have been translated into English and authenticated by the Baha’i elected hierarchy. A few others, such as, the Cole translation of Tablet of the Maiden, are known as provisional translations, meaning they have not been authenticated by the Faith’s elected leaders. 

Whether scripture or not, Tablet of the Maiden certainly belongs to a wide category of literature from which I derive inspiration and pleasure. One of the inspirations I am deriving from it is that the breast of God is accessible to me.

I believe the reason that the UHJ has not yet authenticated this work is that the English-speaking Baha’i community, as a whole, may not yet be ready for a glimpse of our Lord baring a woman’s breast. Perhaps not enough of us understand mystical allegory. Molesting a girl is horrible, but appropriating the nurturing potential of God is awesome!

There are several passages in the vast body of Baha’u’llah’s writings, which have been translated into English, and which have also been authenticated by the Guardian or the Supreme Body, in which Baha’u’llah refers to His contact with the Maid of Heaven. 

In Epistle to the Son of Wolf, Baha’u’llah describes what He experienced while incarcerated in a brutal Tehran dungeon in 1852. Innocent of any crime, save that of being involved in the suppressed minority religion started by the Bab, Baha’u’llah was forced to trek, barefooted and bareheaded, before a jeering multitude pelting Him with stones, for several miles in the summer heat. Arriving at the dungeon, He was  escorted down several long, narrow flights of steps to a damp, dark underground pit inhabited by killers, robbers and vermin. He was collared in a hundred pounds of chain. He sat on a low bench chained to other prisoners with His feet in stocks. The dark prison was gloomy and putrid. Other Babi prisoners were being summoned out to be tortured and killed.

There was little opportunity for sleep, and the weight of the chain was a constant torment. Yet, sometime near the midpoint of the four months during which He was in the black pit, Baha’u’llah had an amazing mystical experience which He later described.

In his Súriy-i-Haykal (Tablet of the Temple) Bahá’u’lláh describes his vision as follows:

“While engulfed in tribulations I heard a most wondrous, a most sweet voice, calling above My head. Turning My face, I beheld a Maiden — the embodiment of the remembrance of the name of My Lord — suspended in the air before Me. So rejoiced was she in her very soul that her countenance shone with the ornament of the good-pleasure of God, and her cheeks glowed with the brightness of the All-Merciful. Betwixt Earth and Heaven she was raising a call which captivated the hearts and minds of men. She was imparting to both My inward and outer being tidings which rejoiced My soul, and the souls of God’s honoured servants. Pointing with her finger unto My head, she addressed all who are in Heaven and all who are on Earth saying: ‘By God! This is the best beloved of the worlds, and yet ye comprehend not. This is the Beauty of God amongst you, and the power of His sovereignty within you, could ye but understand.'” [Bahá’u’lláh, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, page 5 (Tablet of the Temple comprises the first section of Summons of the Lord of Hosts). This passage is also quoted in God Passes By, by Shoghi Effendi, pages 101-102.]

After His release from the black pit of Tehran, His health broken, Baha’u’llah, His son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha (then 13), His daughter, Bahi’ih Kanun (then 12)  and His pregnant wife were banished to Baghdad, across a snowy mountain pass, in winter. Two of His brothers also accompanied Him. 

According to Shoghi Effendi’s histories of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths, Baha’u’llah wrote prolifically during the decade He spent in Bhagdad (1853-1863 including the two years He absented Himself to Kurdistan due to problems with a half brother). His literary works during that period include The Book of Certitude, which explains the Babi doctrine, later to become the Baha’i doctrine, of the Manifestation of God, Who appear from age to age, and include Krishna, Abraham, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. The Bab, too, is a Manifestation of God, asserts Baha’u’llah, citing the proofs of His recently martyred contemporary. As a general concept the doctrine of the Manifestation of God is also taught in Hinduism as the return from age to age of the divine avatar. The writings of Edmund Bordeaux Szekely, who translated the Essene Gospels of Peace approximately a hundred years after Baha’u’llah’s Book of Certitude was written, frequently make mention  of the great teacher to humanity, who arises periodically throughout history, and names some of the same Figures put forth by Baha’u’llah. Both Buddha and Christ promised to return, their followers expecting the Matreya and the second coming of Christ respectively. Jews still await the Messiah. One of the sects of Muhammad’s followers, the Shia,  expect the return of the Twelfth Imam; the other sect, the Sunni, expect the appearance of the Mahdi.The appearance of a messianic figure was widely expected during the 19th century. America experienced revivals known as the great awakenings. Everywhere expectation was high.

Another book Baha’u’llah wrote during the Baghdad period was the mystical Seven Valleys, written in response to Sufis He met during His sojourn in Kurdistan. This book introduced the concept of the Friend, the personal companion we each have once we are awakened spiritually. Krishna spoke of the concept in the Bhagavad Gita. Gita 6:30, “He who sees Me in all things, and sees all things in Me, he never becomes separated from Me, nor do I become separated from him.”

Christians speak of having a relationship with Christ. Matthew 11:27-30: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  

In Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys, we deepen in our relationship to the Friend in seven phases, hence the seven valleys: the Valley of Search, the Valley of Love etc.. 

Baha’u’llah also wrote the poetic Hidden Words during his stay in Baghdad. He would walk along the banks of theTigris River and compose a verse or two, writing in either the Persian used in the Sufi poetry of His Iran heritage, or the Arabic used in the Koran and the oral and written traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

“O SON OF SPIRIT! … Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.”

The themes of the individual revelations within the book are devotion, detachment mystical love, faith and so on. In fact they run the gamut of the themes found in divinely inspired writings, with  the amplification factor of the recency of their revelation, being now around 150 years ago, by the Founder of the most recent world religion, the Baha’i Faith.

The idea of the god within is as old as the Brahmins and as new as the enlightenment of the most recently enlightened person. Yet the ignorant either call it blasphemy or take it as an excuse for presumption.

Baha’u’llah wrote many other works during the Baghdad period. When Baha’u’llah was about to be expelled to Constantinople in 1863, He wrote the Tablet of the Holy Mariner (pages 224-225, Baha’i Prayers), an except follows:

“Whereupon the maid of heaven looked out from her exalted chamber,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

And with her brow signed to the Celestial Concourse,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious! 

Flooding with the light of her countenance the heaven and the earth,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

And as the radiance of her beauty shone upon the people of dust,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

All beings were shaken in their mortal graves.

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

She then raised the call which no ear through all eternity hath ever heard,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

And thus proclaimed: ‘By the Lord! He whose heart hath not the fragrance of the love of the exalted and glorious Arabian Youth,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

‘Can in no wise ascend unto the glory of the highest heaven.’

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!”

Up to this point Baha’u’llah had not claimed a leadership role in the Babi community, although He was greatly respected by many of the Bab’s followers. Immediately prior to leaving for Constantinople, Baha’u’llah announced to his family and a few followers that He was the one who had been foretold by the Bab.

Baha’u’llah and the Bab were born two years apart, 1817 and 1819 respectively by the Gregorian calendar. Under the Islamic calendar, in use in Persia at the time, their birthdays fell on two consecutive days. However, translating their birthdates into the Gregorian calendar resulted in their being observed a month apart. Recently the western Baha’i world began to observe the birthdays of their twin manifestations on two consecutive days which vary from year to year, but generally fall sometime within October or November.

Prior to the births of Baha’u’llah and the Bab, Shaykh Ahmad, a Shi’i Moslem cleric born in 1753, taught a more scientifically harmonious approach to spirituality than the literalist interpretations that dominated. He taught that the journey Muhammad reportedly took to Jerusalem and back to Arabia within the duration of a single night was not a physical journey. Although this seems logical now it was controversial at the  time. Shaykh Ahmad also prophesied the eminent coming of a new Manifestation of God. After Ahmad’s death in1826, the Shaykhi school came under the leadership of Siyyid Kasim. Siyyid Kasim became increasingly aware of the proximity of the coming of an new Manifestation of God. From Nabil’s Dawnbreakers: “To his disciples who questioned him regarding the signs of the Manifestation, Siyyid Kasim would say: ‘He is of noble lineage. He is a descendant of the Prophet of God, of the family of Háshim. He is young in age, and is possessed of innate knowledge. His learning is derived, not from the teachings of Shaykh Ahmad, but from God. My knowledge is but a drop compared with the immensity of His knowledge; my attainments a speck of dust in the face of the wonders of His grace and power. Nay, immeasurable is the difference. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is of extreme devoutness and piety.’”  He had even appeared unnoticed at one of the Siyyid’s lectures.

In 1843, when Siyyid Kasim passed away, his disciples dispersed to search for the Promised One. Mulla Husayn, who had distinguished himself in service to the Siyyid, traveled from Karbila in Iraq to Sharaz in the south of Iran, following his intuition. The evening before May 23, 1844,  he met a young man who looked vaguely familiar. They struck up a conversation and the young man, Ali Muhammad, invited Mulla Husayn to his home. There the Bab revealed himself to Mulla Husayn. Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad, also known as the Bab (which means gate or door), was born 1 Muharram 1235 A.H., according to the Islamic calendar (20 October 1819 AD, according to the Gregorian calendar).

Over a millennium earlier, the martyrdom of another Husayn, Imam Husayn, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (now known as the Bab or Gate), tragically occurred at the Battle of Karbala 10 Muharram 61 AH or October 10, 680 AD. This bitter day is still commemorated by Shias. As the Movement founded by the Bab grew, the joyous celebration, by the Babis, of the Bab’s birthday, and in time Baha’u’llah’s also, contrasted with the more somber commemorations of the martyrdom of Husayn still being being widely observed, in Iran, near the same days. 

The Bab’s house in Shiraz with the upstairs room where the Bab declared His Station and Ministry to Mulla Husayn, in 1844, was  demolished, in 1981, as part of a plan by the post-1979-revolution government of Iran to persecute the Bahai’s by, among other things, destroying their shrines. The persecutors built an Islamic religious building on the site, named “Bayt-al-Mahdi” or “The House of the Promised One”.

The Bab prophesied the eminent appearance of another Promised One, One greater than Himself Whom He referred to many times in His writings as Him Whom God would make manifest.

Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri, now known as Bahá’u’lláh (the Glory of God) was born on the second day of the Islamic month of Muharram, 1233 A.H. (12 November 1817), in Tehran, Iran. His son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha,Who later became the Center of the Covenant, was born the same night the Bab declared Himself to Mulla Husayn, May 23, 1844. Soon afterwards Baha’u’llah became involved in the Movement inaugurated by the Bab.

The Bab was imprisoned, first house arrest, then moved to mountain fortresses. Baha’u.llah convened a conference of Babis at Badesht, in the mountains near the Caspian Sea. There Tahirih, the Pure One, removed her veil while addressing the assembly, in violation of Islamic custom, which obligated women to wear veils over their faces while conversing with unrelated men or to sit behind a curtain. Tahirih, who was later martyred, stated, while being led to her execution, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you can not stop the emancipation of women!” Then the Bab too was martyred by a firing squad in Tabriz, Iran on July 9, 1852.

When the Shah was attacked by two youths identifying themselves as Babis unhappy about the execution of the Bab, Baha’u’llah was arrested as part of a large sweep against the Faith. The black pit where he was incarcerated was formerly a reservoir for a public bath. It became a Baha’i shrine for a short time.

In 1868 the dungeon was filled in and an opera house was built over the site. The opera house was destroyed in 1947 and a bank building was constructed there. Baha’is acquired the property in 1954, but it was confiscated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. 

Bahá’u’lláh’s: Tablet of the Maiden (Lawh-i-Ḥúrí), was written in Baghdad. Following is an excerpt of the Tablet, translated by Juan Cole:

There arose the houri, Who had dwelt in pre-eternity in the pavilions of holiness, protection, and glorification and in the canopies of sinlessness, greatness and splendor. Upon Her creamy brow the most high pen hath written in crimson ink, “Praise be to God! This is a houri upon Whom none have gazed save God, the exalted, the most high. God hath purified the hem of Her purity from the knowledge of the concourse of names in the realm of eternity, and Her face from the view of all who are in the kingdom of creation. When She arose with the ornament of God from Her palace, She looked with one glance toward the sky. The people of the heavens swooned at the rays of Her visage and at the wafting of Her perfume. Then She looked with another glance toward the earth, and it was illumined by the lights of Her beauty and the loveliness of Her splendor.

Praise be to Thee, O my God, for all the wonders of Thy handiwork that Thou hast shown Me in Her, for the ensemble of Thy power, manifest in Her creation. She hung there, suspended. Then She journeyed through the sky as though striding across the horizon in mid-air. It is as though I discovered that the chain of being was set in motion by Her footfalls. She descended, drew nigh, and came until She halted before Me. I was bewildered by the subtleties and wonders of Her creation. Behold, I discovered within myself a passion that grew out of my yearning for Her. I raised my hands toward Her, and lifted the hem of Her veil from Her shoulder. I found Her hair to be sandy, wavy and curly, lying on Her back in ringlets, hanging down almost to Her legs. And when the gales blew it to the right of Her shoulder, it perfumed the heavens and the earth. When it was blown to the left, from its fragrance there spread a holy musk-like scent. It is as though the motion of Her tresses caused the spirit of life to quake in the inner essence of creation, and caused the kingdom of mystical insight to tremble in the realities of being.

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