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TITLEKitáb-i-Íqán, The Book of Certitude: Wilmette Institute faculty notes
AUTHOR 1Michael W. Sours
AUTHOR 2Brent Poirier
AUTHOR 3Ismael Velasco
AUTHOR 4Iraj Ayman
ABSTRACTNotes on various topics related to Bahá'u'lláh's Book of Certitude.
NOTES Prepared as part of Wilmette Institute notes and commentary on the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh.

The notes of Michael Sours are also available in a Dutch translation.

TAGS- Buddhism; - Christianity; - Hinduism; - Interfaith dialogue; - Islam; Arabic language; Authenticity; Bible; Corruption of texts; Fourth heaven; Heaven and hell; Houris (huris); Kitáb-i-Íqán (Book of Certitude); Manifestations of God; Paradise; Persian language; Progressive revelation; Prophecies; Prophets; Questions and Answers (Kitáb-i-Aqdas); Scriptures of other religions; Seventh heaven; Shaykhism; Words and phrases
  1. Notes by Michael Sours
  2. Notes by Brent Poirier
  3. Notes by Ismael Velasco
  4. Notes by Iraj Ayman

1. Notes by Michael Sours

Question: How shall we use the Íqán to teach seekers?

The Íqán is most useful if we use it ourselves with seekers. That is, it provides the interpretive tools for understanding scriptural symbolism (prophecies, promises, theology) and religious claims (divinity, supremacy, and exclusivist claims). If we learn these tools by studying the Íqán, we can answer the questions we are commonly asked. The Íqán, for example, answers all the common questions one can expect to hear from Christians. If we give the book to others, they may not have the patience needed to understand it.

Question: On page 13, paragraph 2: "To maintain that the testimony of Providence was incomplete, that it hath therefore been the cause of the denial of the people, is but open blasphemy." Bahá'u'lláh's explanation is very clear but where does this accusation come from?

Answer: This argument occurs early in the Kitáb-i-Íqán on page 13 [paragraph 14], and is restated and concluded on pages 89-90 [paragraph 98].

I'll try to explain the context. The Íqán begins by stressing that the seeker must be detached from the views and objections of others. Bahá'u'lláh then provides an outline of history to show that religious leaders often misunderstood the scriptures and raised objections to the Manifestations. This is the main focus of part one of the Íqán. He argues that each religion prophesied the next and the following religion fulfills these prophecies. To demonstrate this argument, He focuses mainly on how Jesus prophesied Muhammad. This is a controversial argument for both Christians and Muslims and there are interesting early documents that recount this dispute between the two communities. Christians asserted that the Bible never mentions Muhammad and the Muslims have typically replied by maintaining that the Jews and Christians removed (corrupted) the Bible by deleting the references or by loosing the true scriptures and making up something else. That is, they asserted that the testimony of Providence (i.e., the Bible) is at best, incomplete. Bahá'u'lláh tackles this misunderstanding in a very dramatic way, because He doesn't just defend the Bible, but other past books as well (p 84), and He reinterprets both important prophetic references in the Bible and references to the Bible in the Qur'an. Bahá'u'lláh demonstrates very effectively that the Gospel does prophesy the Day of Muhammad, that the Gospel has not been corrupted, and that the Qur'an affirmed the Torah and Gospel. Bahá'u'lláh's arguments establish the symbolic interpretive basis for understanding that the Báb has likewise fulfilled the prophecies of the Qur'an — an argument elaborated later in part 2 of the Íqán (especially with reference to the quranic expectation of attaining the presence of God in the Day of judgment and resurrection).

In other words, the passage you referred to — "to maintain that the testimony of Providence was incomplete" — is one of the main Muslim arguments that Bahá'u'lláh seeks to refute in Part One, and as we come to the end of Part One, the refutation is complete. This view that past books are incomplete, and therefore the people could not see the truth of the following Manifestations, is a view that takes many forms. One can argue that the books were lost, deliberately corrupted, too hard to understand, mistranslated, etc. But Bahá'u'lláh is pointing out the simple theological reality that if God sends Messengers to guide people, why would God let that guidance be destroyed or reveal it in a form that is not useful? The responsibility of the religious leaders was to help the people understand the holy books, but they interfered by misinterpreting the books and opposing the Manifestations. If the Messenger is a sign or manifestation of God's power and love, to maintain that the guidance was lost or corrupted is the same as negating God's power and love. Bahá'u'lláh writes:

"We have also heard a number of the foolish of the earth assert that the genuine text of the heavenly Gospel doth not exist amongst the Christians, that it hath ascended unto heaven. How grievously they have erred! How oblivious of the fact that such a statement imputeth the gravest injustice and tyranny to a gracious and loving Providence! How could God, when once the Day-star of the beauty of Jesus had disappeared from the sight of His people, and ascended unto the fourth heaven, cause His holy Book, His *most great testimony* amongst His creatures, to disappear also? What would be left to that people to cling to from the setting of the day-star of Jesus until the rise of the sun of the Muhammadan Dispensation? What *law* could be their stay and guide? ... Above all, how could the flow of the grace of the All-Bountiful be stayed? How could the ocean of His tender mercies be stilled? We take refuge with God, from that which His creatures have fancied about Him! Exalted is He above their comprehension!"
     Kitáb-i-Íqán, pages 89-90 [paragraph 98]

So while this view about the testimony of God being incomplete is a view held among some Muslims, it is not unique to them, nor does it take only one form. Anyone could fall into this kind of mistaken view.

The Bahá'í Faith argues that Buddhist books, Hindu books, etc., all contain guidance pointing even to this day, the coming of Bahá'u'lláh. To deny this does a disservice to both truth of God's love and to the truth of other holy books.

2. Notes by Brent Poirier

Question: What is the "fourth heaven" and the "seventh sphere"? Are there more of each?

Answer: The Guardian's secretary wrote a letter about the "fourth heaven." It has to do with the views of the early astronomers which the Shi'ihs adopted, and that since Bahá'u'lláh wrote the Íqán for the guidance of the Shi'ihs He used terminology in accordance with their understanding. The letter is quoted on page 132 of Mr. Dunbar's book in the notes for paragraph 98.

As to the "seventh sphere" referred to on page 186 of the Íqán, paragraph 204, as Mr. Dunbar's book points out (p. 164), this is a quote from the Mathnavi of Rumi. I assume that "seventh sphere" is the same as saying "seventh heaven." The Qur'an mentions the seven "heavens" in verses 17:44, 23:86, 67:3, and 71:15. Muslims believe that in His night journey, Muhammad passed through the seven heavens. My guess (I do not know for sure and am no Islamic scholar) is that the Shiih belief is that Muhammad is greater than Jesus, so Jesus went only as high as the Fourth Heaven, and Muhammad to the highest. I do not think that the Íqán bears this out, as the ranks of the Manifestations have to do with the impact of Their Revelations in this world, not with their proximity to God or their relationship to One another. So a Prophet going to a "fourth" or a "seventh" heaven does not have to do with ranks in the next life, or with a hierarchy in the spiritual realms to which He has access.

From the point of view of the Íqán, which defines "heavens" to mean the Divine Revelations, Muhammad's would be the seventh, the Báb's the eighth (hence eight pillars on each side of the Shrine of the Báb) and Bahá'u'lláh's the ninth in sequence. "Heaven" or "Paradise" does not always mean bliss in the next world. In the Holy Books it sometimes means the Revelations. Some of the prophecies, such as the huris in paradise, are obtained in the Íqán itself, as we will see when we get to those pages, and as John Hatcher so well explains in his book. Similarly, the believers drinking from Fountains in Paradise, eating foods, etc., these refer to the bounties inherent in the Revelations of the Báb and of Bahá'u'lláh. Many of these prophecies refer to the Íqán itself, and the blessings the reader can obtain.

      Brent Poirier

3. Notes by Ismael Velasco

Question: How was the Kitáb-I Íqán received by the Bábí community in Iraq?

Answer: The Íqán became the standard work of the Bábís, not only of Iraq, but of Iran as well. By the time that E.G. Browne visited Iran in 1888-89, the Íqán was the one work that a book owning Bábí was likely to possess. It was instrumental in the teaching work of the community at that time, and led to the conversion of many souls, including the immortal Muhammad Taqi Afnán Vakilu'd-Dawlih, chief builder of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár of Ishkabad and relative of the Báb, whose story is told in Memorials of the Faithful. Many were the souls that became believers through this book at that time, as alluded by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and stated by Adib Taherzadeh.

Question: Was it unusual for Bahá'u'lláh to reference Christian teachings in His Writings?

Answer: My understanding is that this was quite unusual. Jesus was a very venerated and cherished figure, and in mystical Islam in particular the teachings of Jesus were often recounted, but not usually with direct reference to the Bible, which was considered corrupted (tahrif) by most thinkers, an argument Bahá'u'lláh confounds, as you know, in the Íqán. This was not entirely unprecedented, and Chris Buck's book cites the example of Siyyid Ahmad Khán as an example of another Muslim who recognised the inspiration of the Bible, but it was largely counter-cultural and altogether unorthodox. To my knowledge, Bahá'u'lláh was quite unique in using the Bible as a fundamental proof text, although oral reports contained in Nabíl recount biblical themes in the Báb's last address to the Letters of the Living. There is no written parallel however as far as I understand to Bahá'u'lláh's use of Christian prophecy in the Íqán and its sister tablet Jawarhir'u'l-Asrár (Gems or Essence of Mysteries) in the writings of the Báb or of the Twin Luminaries, Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim.

Question: How does the theology of the Kitáb-i-Íqán compare with that of Shaykhism?

Answer: This is a very hard question, given that Shaykhí teachings remain understudied, and also are quite technical by comparison to those of Bahá'u'lláh and to a lesser extent the Báb. There are many parallels between the Íqán and Shaykhí teachings, such as the metaphorical interpretation of Scripture, particularly as regards the Day of Resurrection; the emphasis on intuitive knowledge and purification in order to understand the Word of God; the concept of the Manifestation of God, and the Progressive revelation of His Being in creation, etc. The Íqán however is much closer to the Persian Bayán of the Báb and His Seven Proofs; which adopt a similar approach to proving the validity of the Prophet. Bahá'u'lláh's Book of Certitude, however, is much more accessible than the writings of the Báb and certainly the Shaykhí texts. It is as if Bahá'u'lláh had distilled the crux of progressive revelation from the Báb's teaching and placed it at the heart of His Revelation. The Íqán itself declares its contents to be the essence of all religions, just like the Hidden Words. Unfortunately I have no time to go into more detail on the specific parallels and departures that I see.

      Ismael Velasco

4. Notes by Iraj Ayman

On the word "Prophet": nabi, rasul, and payaambar:

The Persian word for prophet is "payaambar". It is also written and pronounced as "payghambar", or "payghaambar" meaning "messenger". It is composed of two parts: payaam or peyghaam meaning message and bar meaning the one who carries something. In Arabic there are two terms: Rasul or Mursel and Nabi. Rasul means courier or messenger. Nabi comes from Nubuvvat which means to give news, to make aware, to inform. Nabi is used as a religious term meaning prophet. All Biblical prophets who had come prior to Muhammad with the exception of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, are called Nabi. Muhammad is called Rasulu'l-Laah meaning the Messenger of God. The word manifestation in some mystical connotation has been used in the Persian and Arabic classical literature. Manifestation in its Bahá'í connotation is a term coined in Bábí-Bahá'í scripture. However the other two terms in their plural form: Anbiya' (for Nabi),and Rusul or Murselin (for Rasul)are also used in the Bábí-Bahá'í scripture when reference is made to the prophets in general.

Note: It is interesting that nabi in Islamic usage also means "Qur'an." Those who are professionally chanting Qur'an are usually called Qari (the person who reads something) but also have been called as Nabi Khaan meaning the one who chants Qur'aan. (Mu'in: Farahang-e Faarsi Vol.IV, p.4669)

In the Kitáb-i-Íqán Bahá'u'lláh has used manifestation (lower case) in its usual connotation and Manifestation (with capital M) as a new term for the prophets. He also uses three other terms (in plural form) for this purpose: Maraaya (mirrors), Mataale' and Mashaariq (dawning places) as almost synonyms for Manifestations. He usually uses these terms together with some adjectives such as Universal M. (p174), M. of the All-Glorious (p.155 or 160), divine M. (pp. 241), M. of God, M. of Holiness, M. of Glory and Power, M. of His divine Essence...etc. On the whole there are more than 40 of such combined terminologies.

This term reflects the Bahá'í concept and belief regarding the nature of the relationship of the prophets with the divine source who is unknowable to us and forms one of the principles of Bahá'í theology....

... Nabi comes from the same root as Nobovvat (bringing or giving news). It means a person who brings the news, who prophesizes. Rasul, on the other hand, comes from the same root as Resaalat (Mission). Rasul is a person who has a mission or pronounces a mission. In Islamic literature these two terms sometimes are used interchangeably. Technically speaking Rasul is equal to a Manifestation of God while Nabi is a lesser prophet who comes under the shadow of a Manifestation. For example Muhammad is Rasul of God. Zakaria is a Nabi in Biblical tradition.

On Messengers and Prophethood:

Fadil Mazandarani, in his encyclopedic work, Amr va Khalq" Vol. II, in further explanation of the following quote from the Íqán, gives a quote from Some Answered Questions, pp. 174-175, that I have put after the quote from the Íqán:

  1. "These attributes of God are not and have never been vouchsafed specially unto certain Prophets, and withheld from others. Nay, all the Prophets of God, His well-favored, His holy, and chosen Messengers, are, without exception, the bearers of His names, and the embodiments of His attributes. They only differ in the intensity of their revelation, and the comparative potency of their light. Even as He hath revealed: "Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel the others." It hath therefore become manifest and evident that within the tabernacles of these Prophets and chosen Ones of God the light of His infinite names and exalted attributes hath been reflected, even though the light of some of these attributes may or may not be outwardly revealed from these luminous Temples to the eyes of men. That a certain attribute of God hath not been outwardly manifested by these Essences of Detachment doth in no wise imply that they Who are the Daysprings of God's attributes and the Treasuries of His holy names did not actually possess it. Therefore, these illuminated Souls, these beauteous Countenances have, each and every one of them, been endowed with all the attributes of God, such as sovereignty, dominion, and the like, even though to outward seeming they be shorn of all earthly majesty. To every discerning eye this is evident and manifest; it requireth neither proof nor evidence."
          (Bahá'u'lláh: The Kitáb-i-Íqán, page 104 [paragraph 110])

  2. "Therefore, the reality of prophethood, which is the Word of God and the perfect state of manifestation, did not have any beginning and will not have any end; its rising is different from all others and is like that of the sun. For example, its dawning in the sign of Christ was with the utmost splendor and radiance, and this is eternal and everlasting."
          (`Abdu'l-Bahá: Some Answered Questions, BPT 1970, pages 174-175 [paragraph 38.7])

Unfortunately the English translation of this statement by Abdu'l-Bahá is not its exact rendering. Instead of "its rising is different from all others and is like the sun", it should read "Its effulgence (the degree of its shining) is like the shining of the sun. It has different degrees (not always the same). For example its dawning from the sign (sign of zodiac) of Christ was at the utmost splendor and radiance and this is eternal and everlasting."

In other words, the sun in its own station constantly diffuses the same radiance, has the same degree of effulgence, but its degree of shining that we receive depends on the sign of Zodiac that it has dawned from. In the same manner all the Manifestations of God, who are the Suns of Reality, have the same power of effulgence, but humanity receives the shining of each one of them according to the point from which each one has dawned from or the degree of readiness and capacity of the people to whom they have given their message. That is why it says that, "Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel the others."

      Iraj Ayman

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