Baha'u'llah's writings

This page begins with an explanation of how Baha'u'llah revealed what he wrote. It then lists some of his works, with a brief description of each one and a link to the complete text.

How Baha'u'llah revealed his works

When ordinary human beings like you and I decide to write something, we have to sit down and think hard about it, knock out a rough draft and then edit it extensively. This isn't how it worked for Baha'u'llah. For him, it was a process of inspiration that overtook his whole being. He didn't have to sit down and work anything out; he was overcome by an inner power that poured out in pages and pages of writings for hours at a time. For the ordinary person, the result would be incomprehensible, but Baha'u'llah was able to reveal beautiful poetry and complex arguments in this way.

Baha'u'llah had an amanuensis whose name was Mirza Aqa Jan. An amanuensis is a person who writes from dictation. Mirza Aqa Jan took down the words that Baha'u'llah spoke during these periods of inspiration. He would have a large pile of paper at the ready, 10 to 12 reed pens and a bowl of ink. Baha'u'llah would pace the room and chant or speak his words and Mirza Aqa Jan would write them down quickly. He wrote so quickly that his pen made a singing sound. Sometimes, his pen would fall out of his hand and he would grab another one and keep going. The result was a scrawl that only a handful of people could read. It came to be called 'revelation writing'. It was in Arabic or Persian.

The revelation writing was checked by Baha'u'llah and then transcribed by those who could read it. It was then copied by hand numerous times and disseminated to the believers in many countries.

Some important works

Baha'u'llah revealed his writings over a period of 40 years, which means the body of his works is very large. He wrote a variety of works, such as books, letters, surahs and poems. Often, these works are referred to in English as 'tablets'. As yet, not all his writings have been translated into English, although most of his important works have been.

Below is a list of some of Baha'u'llah's writings. They are divided into three categories:
1. Mystical writings
2. Writings containing social teachings
3. Two important books

Mystical writings

Baha'u'llah wrote poems and tablets in which he describes the activities of celestial beings in the spiritual worlds of the Kingdom of God. Often the main person in the work is the celestial woman who appeared to him in the Siyah-Chal and in visions throughout his life. Baha'u'llah refers to her as a 'houri', which is often translated as Maid of Heaven. Her appearance in the spriritual world and her beauty symbolise the appearance of Baha'u'llah's new revelation in creation and its profound power. Other mystical works describe the spiritual path of the soul to God. The language in these works comes from Sufism, which is the mystical aspect of Islam.

Ode of the Dove (al-Qasidah al-Warqa'iyyah). A Sufi leader asked Baha'u'llah to write an ode, called a 'qasidah', "in the meter and rhyme of Ibnu'l-Farid's Poem of the Way [a famous Sufi poem]. Baha'u'llah complied with this request and produced a poem of some 2000 verses. Of these he chose out 127." The poem is very powerful. Baha'u'llah expresses his love for the houri in profoundly passionate and tender language. A must read! The quote is from Juan R.I. Cole, "Baha'u'llah and the Naqshbandi Sufis in Iraq, 1854-1856," in J. Cole and Moojan Momen, eds., From Iran East and West: Studies in Babi and Baha'i History, vol. 2 (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1984.)

The Hidden Words (Kalimat-i-Maknunih). This work is a collection of short paragraphs, 71 revealed in Arabic and 82 in Persian. Baha'u'llah describes it as the inner essence of religion clothed in the garment of brevity. It focuses on the individual's spiritual path to God and contains ethical guidance as well. It is easy to read and very beautiful. Because the passages are short and pithy, they are great for mediation. Another pithy set of sayings that is easy to read and good for meditation is Words of Wisdom (asl-i-kullu’l-khayr).

The Seven Valleys (Haft-Vadi) and the Four Valleys (Chihar-Vadi). This book contains two of Baha'u'llah's works that describe the soul's journey to God. In the first book, the word 'valley' refers to each stage the soul passes through. These seven stages are: search, love, knowledge, unity, contentment, wonderment and absolute nothingness. The stages are very similar to the ones set out by the 12th-century Sufi, Attar, in his book Conference of the Birds. The Four Valleys approaches its description differently, describing four kinds of person who journey to God. Another book similar to The Seven Valleys is Gems of Divine Mysteries. It also describes valleys that we pass through on our journey to God. In addition, it discusses major theological themes of the teachings.

Tablet of the Houri (Lawh-i Huriyyih). This work is a description of a complex vision Baha'u'llah had of the celestial houri. The first part of the work is an in-depth description of her impressive beauty and qualities. He then records a dialogue with her, in which she asks him about his deep unhappiness. The tablet ends tragically when the houri dies having come to understand the extent of his grief. He then raises her to life and they exchange the glad-tidings to each other. When Baha'u'llah revealed this work, he wanted it thrown in the Tigris river, where many of his writings were thrown because they were beyond what any person could understand. However, his amanuensis begged for the tablet to be saved and Baha'u'llah consented to this.

Nightingale and the Owl. This is a short work written in the style of a fairy tale. Baha'u'llah casts himself as a nightingale that is prevented from singing its beautiful songs because people mistakenly think a crow sings like a nightingale. The people hear a beautiful song and wonder what has produced it. When a crow appears, they imagine that the beautiful singing came from the crow. They refuse to allow the nightingale to prove them wrong. The story is an allegory on how people become attached to their religious traditions and refuse to allow new manifestations to sing the beautiful songs of God.

Social teachings

Baha'u'llah's social teachings are spread throughout his writings. Here, I will highlight two principal sources. The first is Baha'u'llah's letters to the kings and rulers of the world and the second is a collection of tablets he wrote in the latter part of his revelation.

Summons of the Lord of Hosts. This book contains the collection of Baha'u'llah's letters to the kings and rulers of the world, in which he proclaimed his revelation and gave guidance on establishing justice and peace. The letters are addressed to, or discuss, Pope Pius IX, Napoleon III, Czar Alexander II, Queen Victoria, Nasiri’d-Din Shah of Persia, Ali Pasha (the Ottoman Prime Minister), Sultan Abdu'l-Aziz (the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire), Fu'ad Pasha (an Ottoman statesman), and the kings of the earth generally.

The following summary of the contents of these letters is written by Professor Juan Cole. "In these letters he proclaimed himself the promised one of all religions, and therefore in a symbolic sense the return of Christ for Christians. (For Jews, he was the messiah, for Shi`ite Muslims the return of Imam Husayn, for Zoroastrians the Shah-Bahram Varjavand.) He denounced the international arms race, saying that military budgets should instead be diverted to caring for the poor, and advocated collective security, wherein all nations would bind themselves to join in a defense of any country attacked by an aggressor. One of the great issues facing the autocratic governments of the Middle East in the late 1860s and early 1870s was whether to allow governmental reforms such as cabinet government, a written constitution, and parliamentary democracy. ... Baha'u'llah, disappointed that he had been treated unjustly by the sultan and his ministers, joined in the call for parliamentary government on his arrival in Akka. In his Tablet to Queen Victoria (1868 or 1869) he praised the system of British parliamentary democracy, the franchise in which had been widened when she signed the Reform Act of 1867 only the year before. ... In later tablets he advocated that a world-wide consultative body be convoked. ... Baha'u'llah continued to call from Ottoman soil for constitutional monarchy and elective government in the Middle East, a call that was officially forbidden in the despotic regimes of the sultan and the Iranian shah."

Tablets of Baha'u'llah revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas. This book contains many tablets in which Baha'u'llah outlines his social teachings. Examples of these tablets include Glad-tidings, Ornaments, Effulgences, Words of Paradise and Splendours. Each of these tablets outlines a series of social teachings. For example, the following is taken from Glad-tidings and quotes the first three of 15 glad-tidings:

"O people of the earth!
The first Glad-Tidings which the Mother Book hath, in this Most Great Revelation, imparted unto all the peoples of the world is that the law of holy war hath been blotted out from the Book. Glorified be the All-Merciful, the Lord of grace abounding, through Whom the door of heavenly bounty hath been flung open in the face of all that are in heaven and on earth.

The second Glad-Tidings: It is permitted that the peoples and kindreds of the world associate with one another with joy and radiance. O people! Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. Thus hath the day-star of His sanction and authority shone forth above the horizon of the decree of God, the Lord of the worlds.

The third Glad-Tidings concerneth the study of divers languages. This decree hath formerly streamed forth from the Pen of the Most High: It behoveth the sovereigns of the world—may God assist them—or the ministers of the earth to take counsel together and to adopt one of the existing languages or a new one to be taught to children in schools throughout the world, and likewise one script. Thus the whole earth will come to be regarded as one country. Well is it with him who hearkeneth unto His Call and observeth that whereunto he is bidden by God, the Lord of the Mighty Throne."

Another major source of Baha'u'llah's social teachings is his Most Holy Book, which is discussed below.

Two important books

The Kitab-i-Aqdas, or Most Holy Book. This is Baha'u'llah's book of laws. It is one of his most important works. It covers subjects such as prayer and fasting, successorship, administration of the Baha'i community, worship, the requirement to work, marriage and divorce, wills and inheritance, and burial. He forbids such things as confession of sins, pulpits and the clergy, slavery, cruelty to animals, begging, backbiting and calumny, adultery, gambling, drinking alcohol, taking recreational drugs, and carrying arms unless this is essential.

The Book of Certitude (Kitab-i-Iqan). This is another of Baha'u'llah's most important works. The book is devoted to answering four questions put to him about the day of judgement and how it would be fulfilled. The problem was that people believed the day of judgement would be a time when God would come and smite the wicked. But the Bab had been martyred and the Babi community was demoralised. How could this be reconciled with the promises of scripture? These questions gave Baha'u'llah a good opportunity to give an in-depth interpretation of passages about the promised Day of God in both the Bible and the Qur'an. It explains how God initially fulfils promises in a spiritual reality that only the pure in heart can see. He does this in order to test people's faith and sincerity; for example, if Jesus was to literally come riding down from the clouds, who would disbelieve?