Baha'i Library Online

See original version at

COLLECTIONEssays and short articles
TITLEReferences of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi to the Hidden Words: Introduction
AUTHOR 1Dominic Parvis Brookshaw
TITLE_PARENTBahá'í Studies Review
PUB_THISAssociation for Bahá'í Studies English-Speaking Europe
ABSTRACTEssay written as introduction to the Compilation on the Hidden Words, both published in BSR 9.
TAGSCovenant; Interpretation; Kalimat-i-Maknunih (Hidden Words); Preserved Tablet; Translation; Tree of Life; Ungodly


"That marvellous collection of gem-like utterances, the 'Hidden Words' with which Bahá'u'lláh was inspired, as He paced, wrapped in His meditations, the banks of the Tigris."[1] Such is the Guardian's description of the Kalimát-i Maknúna[2] (Baghdad c.1858), probably Bahá'u'lláh's best known and most widely translated work.[3] The broad popularity of the Hidden Words means this enlightening, if somewhat slim, compilation of passages from the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi will be of interest both to scholar and general reader alike. Future publication of an annotated edition of the Hidden Words, incorporating the quotations in this selection together with previously translated and published references, would greatly assist us all to gain greater insight into this work which occupies a position of "unsurpassed pre-eminence among the ... ethical writings of the Author of the Bahá'í Dispensation."[4]

It is interesting to note that 'Abdu'l-Bahá advised daily recitation of the Hidden Words (2). This is perhaps why selections from the Arabic and Persian sections of the work appeared in early printed prayer books such as Ad'íyya-yi Hadrat-i Mahbúb.[5] 'Abdu'l-Bahá's emphasis on personal conduct (3, 4, 25, 28, and 35) is noteworthy, although not surprising given the mainly ethical concerns of the work, and his use of the New Testament (9) and the Qur'án (19) to expound the meaning of certain passages in the Hidden Words is a good example of Bahá'í scriptural correlation.[6]

Shoghi Effendi's comments on the circumstances of the revelation of the Kalimát-i Maknúna and its link to the mythical "Hidden Book of Fatima" (5) suggest that the Guardian valued research into the historical and literary background of Bahá'í scripture. Perhaps future annotated editions could also include valuable information on the Hidden Words uncovered in more recent Bahá'í scholarship.[7] Passage 13 of the compilation illustrates the evolution of the Guardian's translation of the Kalimát-i Maknúna through his own revision and the review of some English-speaking Bahá'ís.[8] Shoghi Effendi's defence of his translation "ungodly" for ashrár (the evil-ones) in Persian no.3 and his insistence that this passage refers to those who disbelieve in God and who are "perverse", shows that the Guardian sometimes favoured a more literalist interpretation of Bahá'u'lláh's work (16). His comments on Arabic no.70 (14) and Persian no.19 (22), however, show that he was equally open to an allegorical interpretation.

'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi provide a model for the interpretation of Bahá'í scripture with their multiplicity of interpretations for Persian no.19, suggesting that there is no single correct understanding for the phrase "true and radiant morn" (án subh-i sádiq-i rawshaní) and that "Tree of Anísá" (shajara-yi anísá) can signify both Bahá'u'lláh Himself and the Tree of Life (17-22). 'Abdu'l-Bahá's emphasis on how the Covenant and loyalty to Him as the Centre of the Covenant is expressed in The Hidden Words must be viewed in light of the machinations of the covenant-breakers at the time of writing (17, 20, 26, 29 and 35). 'Abdu'l-Bahá's pronouncement that the "Preserved Tablet" (lawh-i mahfúz) refers to Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb 'Ahdí (26) will be of interest to students of Islamic theology.[9]

Although many of these passages derive from tablets previously unpublished and/or untranslated, it would be useful for those wishing to cross-reference with the original if the source of the quotation was listed where possible.[10]

Dominic Brookshaw

Go to Compilation.

End Notes
  1. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Company, 1950) 140.
  2. The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh: Arabic, Persian and English edition (Brazil: Editoria Bahá'í, 1995).
  3. Cf. Diana Malouf, Unveiling the Hidden Words (Oxford: George Ronald, 1997) 67-107 on English translations of the Kalimát-i-Maknúna.
  4. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By 140.
  5. Published in Egypt (76 BE, c.1919) by Farraju'lláh Dhakíy al-Kurdí.
  6. Bahá'u'lláh quotes from the New Testament just as he would from the Qur'án to illustrate his theological arguments (cf. Kitáb-i-Aqdas and Javáhir al-Asrár), something extremely uncommon in Shi'i texts.
  7. Cf. Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh 1:71-83; Franklin Lewis, "Scripture as Literature: sifting through the layers of the text", Bahá'í Studies Review 7 (1997): 125-46.
  8. Cf. Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust 1969) 204-5.
  9. Shoghi Effendi offers another interpretation (27). Muslims believe the text of the Qur'án revealed to Muhammad through Gabriel is kept with God in Heaven on a "Preserved Tablet." Cf. Qur'án 85:21-2 bal huwwa Qur'ánun majídun fí lawhin mahfúz.
  10. For example, passage 23 appears in Má'ida-yi Ásamání, part II (New Delhi, 1984) 56.
VIEWS13490 views since 2010-07-17 (last edit 2022-05-02 02:46 UTC)
PERMISSIONeditor and publisher
Home Site Map Links Tags Chronology About Contact RSS