A Study of the Pen Motif in the Bahá'í Writings
This article is an introductory survey of the frequently
encountered pen motif in Bahá'í writings. The theological usage
of the "pen" is explored along with the Islamic theological and
theosophical background of the term. The "pen" is a metaphor for
the preexistent and creative force presented by the
Manifestation of God. The pen-tablet relationship is then
examined with the "pen" as a creative metaphor. The pen
(active) -tablet (recipient) motif is then utilized to explore
the possible correlation between two theosophical topics, the
'five divine presences' and the seven stages of 'coming into
being.' The creative forces of the pen undergoing emanation,
create five distinct realms of existence. These five realms are
generated as the pen creates in descending emanation. The pen
undergoes the natural order of generation, the seven stages of
'coming into being', as each of the divine presences are
The term pen (qalam) is frequently encountered in the
Bahá'í writings. This term most commonly occurs in
combinations such as the "Supreme Pen" or the " Pen of
the Most High" as an appellation for Bahá'u'lláh. Such
usage has significant theological implications. This
article examines the pen motif in the Bahá'í writings
primarily through a survey of selected topics gleaned
from one of Bahá'u'lláh's less-studied tablets, the
Súrat ul-Qalam ( the Chapter of the Pen ), where this
motif is heavily utilized. The Súrat ul-Qalam is an
important document as it introduces Bahá'í theology and
the claims of Bahá'u'lláh, and establishes a dialogue
between the Bahá'í revelation and the theosophical and
mystical traditions within Islam. The pen is a metaphor
for the creative forces of the manifestation of God.
This article will focus on the creative aspects of the
pen in considerable detail. It emerges that the pen,
undergoing emanation, generates all that exists.
Particular attention will be given to the generation of
the 'five divine presences.' It will also be
suggested that the pen undergoes the natural cycle of
generation of all things, known as the seven stages of
'coming into being', as it generates the five
presences. Despite the importance of the pen motif in
the creative schema, there has been no systematic study
of this subject to date. The Súrat ul- Qalam
Throughout this article the authors will refer to the Súrat ul-
Qalam. The dating of the Súrat ul-Qalam is important for the
purposes of this article. There is little internal evidence in
the published text of this Tablet to allow for an accurate
dating. There is a general consensus that Bahá' u'lláh revealed
the Súrat ul-Qalam in commemoration of the declaration in the
garden of Ridván. This is supported by the reference to the
`ayd ul-akbar (the Great Festival) in the text of the Tablet
(Súrat ul-Qalam 128). This is consistent with the fact that the
term pen is most heavily utilized in the Adrianopole and Akka
periods of Bahá'u'lláh's ministry. The Ganj-i- Shaygán (The
Abundant Thesaurus), the standard Persian reference text on the
writings of Bahá'u'lláh, places the Súrat ul- Qalam in the Akka
period ( Ishráq-Khávarí, Ganj-i- Shaygán 192 ). Most authorities,
however, have suggested Adrianopole as the place of revelation.
As such, the dating of this Tablet remains uncertain. On this
issue, the Research Department at the Bahá'í World Centre has
kindly provided the following guidance, which is the most
authoritative to date: The exact place and date of the
revelation of this Tablet has not yet been found in the records
of the Faith. However, the tone and content of the Súrih itself
show that it is quite possibly one of Bahá'u'lláh's works
revealed in Adrianopole, as is suggested by Adib Taherzadeh in "
The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh" ( Oxford: George Ronald, 1977),
vol. 2, p.397.
The Supreme Pen (Al-Qalam ul-A`lá )
The term "Pen" occurs frequently in the Bahá'í scripture.
Occasionally, the term merely signifies a device of writing.
The following may be considered an example of such use:
One night, in a dream, these exalted words were heard on every
side: "Verily, We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by
Thy Pen...." (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf 21)
Another instance in which "pen" is used to refer to an
instrument of writing occurs in the Kitáb-i-Badi` in which a
particular pen bemoans its plight in the hands of one of
Bahá'u'lláh's enemies (239-50). Most often, however, the pen is
a direct reference to Bahá'u'lláh. An example occurs in the
Fire Tablet. In the initial portions of the Tablet the
sufferings and wrongs to which Bahá'u'lláh was subjected in the
path of God are recounted. Then a shift in tone occurs and
Bahá'u'lláh, the Manifestation of God, is addressed from a
O Supreme Pen, We have heard Thy most sweet call in the eternal
realm: Give ear unto what the tongue of Grandeur uttereth, O
Wronged One of the Worlds!(Bahá'í Prayers 218-19) The classical
pen is a hollow entity and a mere instrument in the hand of its
operator. It also serves a creative function, as writing is
impossible without it. Bahá'í theology maintains both
hollowness and creativity with regard to the Manifestations.
For example, Bahá'u'lláh speaks of the hollowness of the pen
indicating that it is the Might of God which has endowed the pen
(i.e., Bahá'u'lláh) with pearls of mysteries (La'álí ul-Hikmat
2: 206). The Súrat ul-Qalam also maintains that the pen is
reinforced by the strength and might of God (Súrat ul-Qalam 124-
25). A survey of the spectrum of the available writings of
Bahá'u'lláh indicates that the qalam (pen) motif is primarily
used in the Adrianopole and Akka periods of revelation in
comparison to the writings preceding the declaration in Baghdad.
Islamic theology accords the pen a very significant function.
Considering the background and theological implications of this
term, this may be said to represent an escalation in the gradual
unfolding of the claim advanced by Bahá'u'lláh. There are,
however, occasional references to the pen in the writings of the
Baghdad period, such as the Jawáhiru'l- Asrár (the Essences of
Mysteries). These references hint at this unfolding of the
Bahá'í kerygma and foreshadow the future employment of the pen
motif. Bahá'u'lláh uses this motif in various ways. An
alternative usage of the pen occurs in the Tablet to Násiri'd-
Dín Sháh (Lawh-i-Sultán-i- írán), where a novel and challenging
interpretation of Qur'án 96:4 is advanced:
Nay, by Him Who taught the Pen the eternal mysteries, save him
whom the grace of the Almighty, the All- Powerful, hath
strengthened. The Pen of the Most High addresseth Me saying:
Fear not....(The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh 57-58) Here
Bahá'u'lláh produces a phrase very close to the well-known
quranic verse. The implication is that Bahá'u'lláh is the
recipient of communication from the pen. As will shortly be
demonstrated, such an interpretation of Qur'án 96:4 is a
novelty, at least in the context of classical orthodox
commentaries. Later in the same tablet, Bahá'u'lláh hints that
the "shrill of the Pen of Glory" intends the author of the
tablet. A question may be raised at this point: How is it that
Bahá'u'lláh is intended by the pen at one time and elsewhere
addressed by the pen? The quandary is simplified when it is
understood that the pen, occurs in successive descending stages.
The pen generates the tablet (recipient), and the tablet itself
manifests generative forces and acts as a pen on another tablet
(recipient). The cycle thus continues. As such, Bahá'u'lláh
may be referred to as both the pen and one addressed by the pen,
without contradiction. The Pen: The First Created Thing Early in
the Súrat ul-Qalam (125), Bahá'u'lláh establishes the precedence
of the pen over letters and words (hurúf va'l-kalimát) and
contingent beings (mumkinát). The creation of the pen is also
stated to precede the foundation of the kingdom of names and
attributes (Malakút ul Asmá va' s-Sifát) and the revelation of
the preserved and glorious tablets (Alwáh-u-`izz'in mahfuz'in).
The precedence of the pen over the letters and words may seem
problematic. One notes, however, that in writing, the pen
precedes the point, the point precedes the letter, and the
letter precedes the word, and words make up that which is
written. The pen is the intermediary between the source and
that which is penned. It is also the first entity outside the
body in the chain that leads to action. Such a chain can be
envisioned as, mind-hand-pen-tablet or mind-hand- pen- point-
letter-word-book. The word assumes a prominent role in other
traditions. The New Testament , for instance, maintains the
pre-existence of the word (logos ): "In the beginning was the
Word"( John 1:1). Bahá'u'lláh has established the precedence
of the pen over words and letters in the Súrat ul-Qalam. In the
Tablet of Wisdom, however, the word of God is said to precede
and bring about all creation, including the active-recipient
(pen-tablet) interactions. The problem posed by these
seemingly contradictory statements has been addressed by Momen
through his suggestion that the pen and logos are synonymous
(Momen, Relativism 191). He therefore distinguishes between the
word as used in the Súrat ul-Qalam and the word of God
(Kalimat'u'lláh). Alternatively the authors maintain that the
pen (qalam) itself precedes the word (logos) and begets the
word. The Súrat ul- Qalam provides the textual justification for
this thesis. The Islamic Background of the Pen The
chronologically earliest of quranic verses contain the source
for the subject of this study. Islamic history records that
the Prophet of Islam would regularly retire to the mountains
near Mecca, where Muhammad would spend long periods in prayer
and meditation. One day while Muhammad was sleeping, the angel
Gabriel approached the Prophet with a sheet in his hand. The
angel said to Muhammad, "Recite." Muhammad responded in
surprise, "But I cannot read." The angel repeated the command
three times, and his third command became the first revealed
verses in the Qur'án: Recite thou, in the name of thy Lord who
created; Created man from clots of blood;- Recite thou! For thy
Lord is the most Beneficent, Who Hath taught by the Pen; Hath
taught man what he knoweth not. (Qur'án 96:1-5)
The Qur'án mentions the pen on yet another occasion, namely in
the quranic Súrat ul-Qalam ( the Chapter of the Pen ), also
known as the Súrat un-Nún (the Chapter of the letter N). The
súrih begins as follows: "Nún. By the Pen and that which they
inscribe" (Qur'án 68:1). Murata points out that "these short
and rather enigmatic verses provided a great deal of food for
meditation, especially since the Prophet himself added a certain
amount of interesting clarification."(The Tao of Islam 12) The
quranic commentators transmit most of the interesting
clarifications in the form of traditions (hadíth) regarding al-
qalam. Most commentators examine the pen as an instrument of
writing, especially when commenting on Qur'án 96:1-5. However,
all commentators favor more esoteric interpretations when
elaborating on Qur'án 68:1. In the Jámi`' ul-Bayán at-Tabarí
(d. 310 A.H.) presents the following tradition while discussing
Qur'án 68:1: Verily the first thing that God created was the pen
(29:14 ). The contemporary Shi`ah commentator, Tabatabai ,
elaborating on the same quranic verse writes: By al-Qalam (the
Pen), al-Qalam ul-A'lá (the Supreme Pen) is intended, which is
found in the hadíth : Verily, it is the first thing that God
Virtually all quranic commentators have acknowledged variants of
this tradition. Ibn-Kathír (d.774 A.H.) writes: The Pen is that
which God hath ordained predestination (qadar) by, when He
revealed the measures of creatures, fifty-thousand years prior
to the creation of heaven and earth. (Tafsír 7:79 )
This represents an attempt to explain the precedence of the pen.
Here Ibn-Kathír argues for a temporal priority and places the
creation of the pen 50,000 years prior to the creation of the
"heaven and earth." Most commentators, however, argue for an
essential priority, along the lines suggested by the Súrat ul-
Qalam. These Islamic traditions establish the pen as the first
creation. A particularly interesting set of Shí`ah traditions
on this topic are summarized by Khomeini, quoting one of his
masters. This quotation summarizes a number of traditions, from
Shí`ah books of hadíth, including al-Káfí, narrated on the
authority of the Imams. The following summary is provided: The
realm of the letters of alphabet is a realm reflective of all
the Worlds, organized according to the letters of alphabet.
Thus, alif (A) represents the Necessary Being, and bá (B)
represents the First Creation that is the First Intellect, the
First Light, that is the Light of our Prophet (Peace be upon Him
and His descendants) and therefore it is interpreted to be
Bahá'u'lláh (the Glory of God).
The passage does not mention the pen directly; however, the
first intellect and the Muhammadan light are mentioned. The
equality of the pen, with the first intellect and the light of
Muhammad is clearly established in Islamic thought. For
example, the great commentator Imám Fakhr ur-Rází, in his Tafsír
ul- Kabír, concludes the equality of al-`aql (intellect) and al-
qalam (pen). He states that the two must be one and the same
thing, otherwise a contradiction will result (Tafsir ul-Kabir
In the above hadíth summary, the imagery of Arabic letters of
the alphabet identifies the first emanation of God with the
light of Muhammad (núr-i-Muhammadí). The symbolism is
remarkable, in that the letter alif (A), is paralleled with the
necessary being (God), since it is dependent on none else (The
reference is the shape of alif, that of a vertical straight
line). Proceeding from the alif (A) is the letter bá (B) which
represents `aql ( intellect ), núr (light) and qalam (pen). The
above passage provides a study of the relation between the
necessary being and the pen as exemplified in Islamic thought.
The student of the Bahá'í Faith may also take note of the
reference to Bahá'u'lláh in the text of the passage, and of the
implied relationship with the pen. The Pen as an Agent in
Creation The glossary in the highly acclaimed volumes entitled
Islamic Spirituality defines al-qalam as the "symbol of the
Divine Intellect and the instrument of God's creative act"
(Islamic Spirituality : Foundations 422 ). This definition is
supported in Bahá'í writings. In the Súrat ul-Qalam, the pen is
identified as the creator of all that exists. Bahá'u'lláh states
that all contingent beings were created through a word
manifested by the pen (Súrat ul-Qalam 126). The pen also
proclaims that all were created by God's command and that all
observe God's bidding (Súrat ul-Qalam 124 ). As indicated by the
above, a prominent role is accorded the pen in the process of
creation. This creative function is also expressed in terms of
a familiar Islamic motif in Bahá'í writings, that of the divine
command: BE (kun). The divine imperative is rooted in the
Qur'án itself, "His command when He willeth aught, is but to
say to it, 'BE', and IT IS" (Qur'án 36:82 ). The divine
imperative BE is a theme frequently encountered in the Bahá'í
writings. In the Súrat ul- Qalam, Bahá'u'lláh states that the
divine command "BE" is uttered by the pen (Súrat ul-Qalam 135 ).
Islamic traditions also acknowledge the role of the pen in the
process of creation. There is a large body of traditions on
this topic. The following is given by at- Tabarí through a chain
of transmitters leading to Ibn- `Abbás: The first thing created
by God was the Pen. Then He made it to stream forth to that
which would exist. Then He made steam to ascend from the
waters, by which He created the heavens. Then He created
'nún',and expanded the earth on the back of the 'nún'. Then He
moved the earth and caused it to grow. (Jámi` ul-Bayán 29:14)
The above tradition incorporates al-qalam and nún from Qur'án
68:1. In this context, the nún (the letter N), represents the
second letter in the divine imperative of creation, that is, kun
(composed of the letters káf and nún). Islamic traditions place
the creation of nún after the creation of al-qalam. The
following tradition cited by Ibn- Kathír (Tafsír 7:77), on the
authority of Abí- Hurayrah is representative : Verily the first
thing that God created is the Pen, then He created the nún,
which is the ink-pot (dawát).
The primary reference here is to a literal definition of nún
which is an inkpot. A subtle reference here may also be to
shape of the letter nún, which resembles an inkpot. The pen
must be dipped in the ink, as the ink allows for the writing
potential of a pen to become actualized. The joining of the
letters B (káf ) and E (nún) follows a similar pattern, as the
interaction between qalam and dawát is a necessary causal
prerequisite, before anything can be written on the tablet
(Lawh). It is the pen that inscribes upon the tablet. The
creative interaction between the active force (the pen) and its
recipient (the tablet) is reminiscent of the following passage
from the Lawh-i- Hikmat : That which hath been in existence had
existed before, but not in the form thou seest today. The world
of existence came into being through the heat generated from the
interaction between the active force and that which is its
recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different
Bahá'í theology understands creation as occurring through
emanation (Some Answered Questions 203). In such an emanative
scheme, the pen, which is the first creation, becomes the cause
preceding contingent existence. Therefore, one may say that the
pen contains the essence of all created things in itself, this
in the form of primordial and undifferentiated matter. Imám
Fakhr ur-Rází states that the pen is "the principal substance of
all creation." He also refers to the pen as " the essence
(jawhar) which is the principal substance of all created things"
(Tafsír ul- Kabír 30:78). This understanding of the pen is
consistent with Bahá'í theology. The Pen and the Godhead The
Súrat ul-Qalam presents a definite problem for the reader
unfamiliar with Bahá'í theology. In the very opening of the
Súrat ul-Qalam, the pen is commanded to testify that there is no
God but I (Súrat ul-Qalam 124). The structure of this phrase
closely parallels the Islamic kerygma, "There is no God, but
Alláh" (Lá illáha illal- láh). The problem is that in light of
the above material, why is the pen identified with the Godhead?
The relation between the pen and the Godhead will be further
examined under the heading "Five Divine Presences." The Bahá'í
response, however, must begin with a survey of Bahá'í theology.
Bahá'u'lláh has repeatedly made the dual claim of divinity on
the one hand, and servitude and utter nothingness on the other.
The following is illustrative: When I contemplate, O my God, the
relationship that bindeth me to thee, I am moved to proclaim to
all created things 'verily I am God!'; and when I consider my
own self, lo, I find it coarser than clay! (The Dispensation of
Bahá'u'lláh 24- 25) This understanding, is consistent within the
Bahá'í theological framework, which maintains that God is
To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God,
the unknowable Essence, the divine Being, is immensely exalted
beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence,
ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory
that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that
human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is and hath
ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His essence, and
will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight
of men. 'No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision;
He is the Subtile, the All- Perceiving.' No tie of direct
intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures.(Kitáb-i-íqán
Humankind's direct access, by any means, to God is therefore
according to Bahá'u'lláh, absolutely closed. The question arises
then, how can a person as a spiritual being know of God? Bahá'í
theology responds, as taught by the following passage, that God
is revealed through the Manifestation: The door of knowledge of
the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings,
the Source of infinite grace, according to His saying: "His
grace hath transcended all things; My grace hath encompassed
them all," hath caused those luminous gems of holiness to appear
out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human
temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart
unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable being, and tell
of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence (Kitáb-i-íqán 99-
Bahá'í theology maintains that God is transcendent over all
attributes. In the Lawh-i-Kanz, `Abdu'l-Bahá confirms this
transcendence while elaborating on a tradition by Imám `Alí
(Rahíq- i-Makhtúm 1:51). Therefore, all attributes fall short of
the majesty and grandeur of God, as Bahá'ís profess during their
daily obligatory prayer (salát):
Too high art thou for the praise of those who are nigh unto thee
to ascend unto the heaven of thy nearness, or for the birds of
the hearts of them who are devoted to thee to attain to the door
of thy gate. I testify that thou hast been sanctified above all
attributes and holy above all names. No God is there but thee,
the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious. (Bahá'í Prayers 12)
The Seven Stages of 'Coming into Being' and the Pen
The writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh contain references to
the seven stages of 'coming into being' (marátib-i-sab`ih-i-
takwín), involved in the formation of all things. Every
created thing has gone through these stages. In a Tablet
(Má'ídiy-i-Asmání 8:191- 92) Bahá'u'lláh points out that nothing
whatsoever, may exist, whether in heaven or on earth other than
by going through the seven stages of will (mashiyyat), purpose
(irádih), predestination (qadar), fate (qadá), permission
(imdá), fixed-time (ajal), and book (kitáb). The marátib-i-
sab`ih-i-takwín (seven stages of 'coming into being') are part
of the Shí`ah heritage of the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í writings
have systematically used these terms with precision and
accuracy. Responding to a written query regarding qadá (fate),
qadar (predestination) and irádih, `Abdu'l-Bahá provides a
systematic and technical response : Thou hadst asked about fate,
predestination and will [irádih]. Fate and predestination
consist in the necessary and indispensable relationships which
exist in the realities of things. These relationships have been
placed in the realities of existent beings through the power of
creation and every incident is a consequence of the necessary
relationship. For example, God hath created a relation between
the sun and the terrestrial globe that the rays of the sun
should shine and the soil should yield. These relationships
constitute predestination, and the manifestation thereof in the
plane of existence is fate. Will is that active force which
controlleth these relationships and these incidents (Selections
The Súrat ul-Qalam links the pen with the seven stages of
'coming into being,' as the purpose (irádih) of the supreme pen
is stated to be involved in the process of creation (Súrat ul-
Qalam 126). An interesting relationship exists between the
pen and the seven stages of 'coming into being'. In the
progression from will (mashiyyat) to book (kitáb), there is a
decrease in the pen (active) attributes and an increase in the
tablet (recipient) attributes. Will (mashiyyat ) is all active
(fá`il), while the book (kitáb) is all recipient (munfa`al).
This progression is also suggested by the reference to mashiyyat
as the Father of the World (Abul' `álam) and the reference to
irádih as the Mother of the Children of Adam (Ummu baní Adam) by
Bahá'u'lláh (La'álí ul-Hikmat 2:275). Ontologically, the primal
will is equivalent to the pen. Irádih, identified by `Abdu'l-
Bahá as an "active force" in the above passage, is a pen with
respect to descending stages. Predestination (qadar) itself,
exercises active control with respect to fate (qadá), as
indicated from the above tablet by `Abdu' l-Bahá, and therefore
is a pen. Predestination (qadar) is also determined by the pen,
and therefore functions as a recipient as well. An example
occurs in the Fire Tablet: "Where is the compelling power of
Thine Ordaining Pen (Qalam-i-taqdír-i-ka), O Conqueror of the
Worlds?"(Bahá'í Prayers 214). Islamic and Bahá'í sources are in
agreement, as a great number of Islamic sources confirm this
relationship between predestination and the Pen. The following
tradition by Tabarí is representative: The first thing which God
created is the Pen. Then He said (to the Pen), "Write! " The
Pen said, "what shall I write?" He said, "inscribe
predestination (qadar)." (Jámi` ul-Bayán 29:15)
Based on the above evidence, one can conclude that
ontologically, the progression from will to book, represents
successive pen-tablet (active-recipient) interactions. The
implications of such interactions in the creative schema is
clear, that God is manifested in the world, through successive
pen-tablet interactions. Restated, the pen-tablet motif occurs
in successive stages. As the pen undergoes successive pen-
tablet interactions the creative schema progresses from will to
book, generating all created things. The Pen and the Five Divine
One of the central features of Islamic mysticism and theosophy,
especially of the Ibn al-`Arabí school, is the doctrine of
hadarát ill'áhhiyya khams (the five divine presences). These
would be the "five domains in which God is to be 'found', or
God's presence is to be perceived" (Sufi Path of Knowledge 5).
Ibn al-`Arabi describes the "self-manifesting activity of the
Absolute" in the form of four categories of 'emanation'
(tajallí) resulting in the five planes of being. The
commentators and expounders of Ibn al-`Arabí have developed
somewhat different formulations of these presences. The
classification by al-Makkí (d.386) is considered to be the most
systematic. He describes Háhút, Láhút, Jabarút, Malakút and
Násút in a descending order(Concise Encyclopedia of Islam 128).
This classification is the one followed most closely in the
Bahá'í writings. The object of this study is linked to this
doctrine. In the Súrat ul-Qalam, the pen is said to be the
light that created the Heavenly Court (Láhút ) and the temples
of the dwellers of the All- Highest Dominion (Jabarút), and
their essences (Súrat ul-Qalam 129). Numerous references to
these realms may be found in Bahá'í writings. The most widely
available systematic explication occurs in the Tablet of All
Food (Lawh-i-Kullu't- Ta`ám). This article does not allow for a
detailed survey of these realms. There have been a number of
surveys regarding these realms. This portion of this study
aims to examine this relationship. Moreover, Bahá'u'lláh
describes a gradation of colors while elaborating on these
divine presences, which will be explored later in light of the
Bábí-Bahá'í concept of the seven stages of 'coming into being.'
A. Násút (The Corporeal World) Násút is the physical realm.
Násút itself may be further subdivided into the mineral,
vegetable and animal kingdoms ; included also is the corporeal
aspect of human life. The pen is involved in both the general
and specific theophanies. God is manifested in Násút, through a
universal revelation (tajallíy-i-`ám) or general theophany
(Kitáb-i-Íqán139). The following passage from the Gleanings(65)
reiterates the same: Upon the inmost reality of each and every
created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and
made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon
the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all
His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own self.
According to this passage every created thing may be considered
to be a manifestation of God, as all things come to exist
through this general theophany. It is in this context that
Bahá'u'lláh states that if one listened to objects with innate
hearing (bi sam` il- fitrah), one could hear from every atom
that which the ears of the Interlocuter (Moses) heard ( La'álí
ul- Hikmat I:46 ). God is revealed to humankind in a secondary
revelation (tajalliy-i-thání) as well, through God's
Manifestations. This specific theophany in the Bahá'í
Revelation also occurs through al-Qalam ul-A`lá (the Supreme
Pen), which interacts with the five divine presences . In
Násút, this Manifestation is known as "the Perfect Man" (Islamic
Mysticism: Manifestations 79). The corporeal body of the
supreme pen exists within Násút as well. This may be gleaned
from Bahá'í writings, including the following, passage where
various realms address Násút as follows: This is the Day whereon
the unseen world [Láhút] crieth out:" Great is thy blessedness,
O earth [Násút], for thou hast been made the foot-stool of thy
God, and been chosen as the seat of His mighty throne." The
realm of Glory [Jabarút] exclaimeth: "Would that my life could
be sacrificed for thee, for He Who is the Beloved of the All-
Merciful hath established His sovereignty upon thee....
This realm is described as the "crimson land." `Abdul'-Bahá
indicates that crimson is a reference to martyrdom (shahádah),
which occurs in Násút (Má' idiy-i- Asmání 2:21, 48).
B. Malakút ( The Kingdom )
The first in the ascending hierarchy of non-corporeal realms.
Malakút is frequently translated and referred to as the "angelic
realm" or the "psychic realm" in Islamic mysticism. In the
Tablet to Varqá (Lawh-i- Varqá), Bahá' u 'lláh provides two
definitions for Malakút. The first definition is the "Most
Great Beauty" (Manzar-i- Akbar), a reference to Bahá'u'lláh. The
second definition states that Malakút contains the similitude
(mithál), of all that which is in heaven and on earth. Malakút
is therefore located intermediate to the Jabarút and Násút. In
the same Tablet , Bahá'u'lláh asserts that the latent
potentialities of Jabarút are manifested within Malakút . In
the Tablet of All Food Bahá'u'lláh uses a well-known quranic
verse (24:37) to describe the dwellers in the malakút. He
states that malakút is the realm in which souls whom neither
trade nor transactions have kept from the remembrance (dhikr) of
God reside. This seems to be the farthest realm to which
humankind has access to in its spiritual quest. This realm has
been divided into a`lá (higher) and asfal (lower) in some
schools (Sharh- i- Manzúmih-i-Hikmat 442). This distinction is
not readily maintained in Bahá'í scripture. This realm is
designated as the land of green (ard ul-khadrá) in the Tablet of
All Food. The pen exists within and interacts with the Malakút.
This interaction takes different forms. In an explication of the
Fifth Tablet of Paradise, `Abdu'l-Bahá states that the supreme
pen inscribes onto the preserved tablet (lawh-i-mahfúz) in the
Malakút (Má'idiy-i-Asmání 2:56). As such, the pen is the source
of guidance for Malakút. Bahá'u'lláh is referred to as the
preserved tablet (lawh-i-mahfúz) and the most great book (kitáb
ul-a`zam) in Bahá'í writings. One may ask how can the pen and
the tablet coexist in the same realm. A possible solution to
this problem, based on the principle of interaction between the
active force and its recipient underlying creation, as
established in the Tablet of Wisdom was presented earlier. In
short, the pen-tablet relation occurs in successive stages, as
the generated tablet manifests generative forces and acts as a
pen on another tablet. Therefore, a pen and a tablet may co-
exist in any of the presences
. C. Jabarút (The Dominion)
In this presence, God, as revealed through Manifestations, is
established in the "Heaven of Oneness" (janat ul-wáhidiyya).
Bahá'í theology makes a sharp distinction between Oneness
(wáhidiyyat) and Absolute Oneness (ahadiyyat). The oneness
encountered in jabarút is wáhidiyyat. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains
that when the Light of the Ipseity (núr ul- Huwiyyat) is
manifested in the lantern of oneness (wáhidiyyat), names and
attributes come into being. Absolute Oneness (ahadiyyat) is
the state where the attributes (sifát) are part of the
essence (dhát). Jabarút is the realm where "Thou art He and
He is Thee" (anta huwa va huwa anta). This presence has also
been described as the archangelic realm in Islamic mystical
cosmology (Islamic Mysticism: Foundations 416). There are
four archangels mentioned in Islamic thought, namely Isráfíl,
Miká'íl, Jibra'íl and Izrá'íl. Isráfíl, for example, will
blow the trumpet in the last day to signalize resurrection.
Bahá'í writings ascribe this function to the pen:
We have chosen thee to be our most mighty Trumpet, whose blast
is to signalize the resurrection of all mankind (Gleanings 31).
Another function of Isráfíl is to bestow life, i.e., to place
spirits within bodies. This function is also one that is
performed by the pen, as already examined. In the Súrat ul-
Qalam, the pen gives life to all creatures through a word from
His mouth (Súrat ul-Qalam 126). When addressing the denizens of
Malakút and Násút from the Jabarút, the pen speaks with the
authority of God. Bahá'u'lláh explains in the Tablet of All
Food that from the realm of Jabarút, the Manifestations do not
speak except with the leave of God, and that they perform no
action other than by divine command. Jabarút is the locus of
divine revelation from which humankind is summoned. Jabarút
itself is begotten of the pen. In the Súrat ul-Qalam,
Bahá'u'lláh states that the pen is the light that brought forth
the dwellers of Jabarút and their essences (Súrat ul-Qalam 129)
. This relationship was examined earlier. The pen also exists
in this realm. The following response to the Pen as presented
in the Fire Tablet is demonstrative: O Supreme Pen, We have
heard Thy most sweet call in the eternal realm (Jabarút) : Give
Thou ear unto what the Tongue of Grandeur uttereth, O Wronged
One of the worlds.
Jabarút is designated by Bahá'u'lláh as the land of yellow (ard
us- safrá). The color yellow is generally used in the Bahá'í
Scripture with reference to the realm of Jabarút. The secondary
revelation (tajalliy-i-thání), which is the pen, is recognized
and identified by different names, as it manifests itself
throughout different divine Presences. These names also differ
in the Malakút from their counterparts in the Jabarút. In the
Tafsír Súriy-i-va sh-Shams (Commentary on the Chapter of the
Sun), Bahá'u'lláh states that the Prophet of Islam is recognized
as Muhammad in the Malakút (Kingdom) of names and Ahmad ( most
praised ) in the Jabarút ( Dominion) of eternity.
D. Láhút (Heavenly Court)
This realm is the last divine Presence in which the Pen is to be
found. This is the realm in which "He is He and there is none
other but He" (Huwa Huwa wa laysa ahadun illá Huwa). In this
presence there is no distinction among the Manifestations, nor
is there individuation. Adib Taherzadeh points out that "they
claim no station for themselves on this plane and are as utter
nothingness compared to Him" (Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh 1:58).
Most theosophical schools accept that humans may potentially
ascend to this realm, but this is not supported in Bahá'í
Writings. Láhút is characterized as a heaven designated for
those servants established on the seat of Glory, Who drink of
the camphor fountain (Rahíq-i-Makhtúm 2:982-83). Within the
Shaykhí-Bábí context of the Tablet of All Food, this is a clear
reference to the Manifestations, not humans (Asrár ul-Athár,
under the heading Káfúr). It is here that the potentialities
latent within the primal will (mashiyyat) of God are first
realized. Bahá'í theology holds that the first emanation of God
is this primal will (Some Answered Questions 203). It is this
primal will (mashiyyat) that then begets all things (Majmú`ih 2,
144). The primal will can be identified with the pen, as
demonstrated earlier. Some Bahá'í authors have identified the
most exalted pen within the realm of Láhút only. This
suggestion poses two problems. First, Bahá'í scripture provides
clear evidence that the Pen interfaces with four of the Five
Divine Presences, not exclusively with Láhút, as established
earlier. Second, it is clear that the Pen causally precedes the
realm of Láhút, as demonstrated in the Súrat ul-Qalam (129).
According to Sabziwari and his commentators, Láhút is the locus
for the most excellent names and the most exalted attributes of
God (Sharh-i-Manzúmih 442). This view is supported in Bahá'í
scripture, as Bahá'u'lláh refrains from ascribing attributes to
higher realms. Sabziwari also holds that the glorious essence
of God is veiled (muhtajab) from the dwellers of the descending
realms through the rays of Láhút ( Sharh-i-Manzúmih 35). This
view is also in conformity with Bahá'í theology. E. Háhút
(Unknowable Essence) References to this realm are scant in
Bahá'í scripture. The word Háhút may be considered to be derived
of the letter Há and Huwa (He), both of which represent the
Ipseity (Concise Encyclopedia of Islam 128). Háhút is described
as the Heaven of Absolute Oneness (Ahadiyyah). Absolute Oneness
was defined earlier as the state where the attributes and
essence are one and undifferentiated (Rahíq-i-Makhtúm 1:49-52).
God is absolute in this realm and immeasurably transcendent.
Bahá'u'lláh states that it beseems none to know of this realm,
but that God will reveal it to whomsoever God wills (Rahíq-i-
Makhtúm 2: 982). The following verse of poetry by Shaykh Mahmúd
Shabistarí, from the Gulshan-i Ráz, is well known in Persian
literature. Here the poet distinguishes the Ipseity from the
Manifestation in an innovative style:
From Ahmad to Ahad (the One) is but a mím (M) A universe is
lost within that one mím (M). Bahá'u'lláh does not mention the
Pen in this realm, rather points out that the Manifestations
know but a letter thereof (Rahíq-i-Makhtúm 2:982-3). Adib
Taherzadeh concludes that the Manifestations themselves are
lost and bewildered at this station, and he cites the
following as support:
Ten thousand Prophets, each a Moses, are thunderstruck upon the
Sinai of their search at His forbidding voice, "Thou shalt never
behold Me!"; whilst a myriad Messengers, each as great as Jesus,
stand dismayed upon their heavenly thrones by the interdiction,"
Mine Essence thou shalt never apprehend!"(Revelation of
The Five Presences and the Stages of 'Coming into Being' The
parallel between the seven stages of 'coming into being' and the
five divine presences may be already obvious. `Abdu'l-Bahá
establishes the correlation using a sequence of colors that
parallels closely the one used by Bahá'u'lláh in the Tablet of
All Food. `Abdu'l-Bahá states that white represents the will
(mashiyyat), and green represents predestination (qadar). He
confirms that crimson represents fate (qadá) and that yellow
represents the stage of purpose (irádih). This correlation is
elsewhere restated by `Abdú'l-Bahá (Má'idiy-i-Asmání 2:25). A
one- to-one correlation exists between the four stages mentioned
above and the colors assigned to the four ascending realms in
the Tablet of All Food. This correlation is depicted in Table
1. Does this correlation suggest a creative schema? The Tablet
of Wisdom implies that the active-recipient (fá`il -munfa`al )
dynamics occur in more than one stage, and it describes a number
of interactions. One possible schema is that the creation of the
divine presences by the pen, follow the pen- tablet (active-
recipient) interactions examined earlier. These interactions
at the level of mashiyyat bring about the creation of Láhút.
This same interaction involving irádih (purpose) begets Jabarút.
All the four descending divine presences are generated through
similar dynamics. These relations may be summarized in Table 1.
Stage of Genesis Color Divine Presence Pen- Tablet Relationship
__________ ______________ Háhút Gives rise to the Pen Will(
Mashiyyat ) White Láhút - Pen to Jabarút . -Tablet in relation to
the Pen. Purpose( irádih ) Yellow Jabarút -Pen to Malakút.-
Tablet in relation to Láhút. Predestination( qadar ) Green
Malakút -Pen to Násút.-Tablet in relation to Jabarút.. Fate(
qadá ) Crimson Násút -Tablet in relation to Malakút.-Many Pen
forces act within. Table 1 The pen- tablet dynamics may now be
applied to the two problems encountered earlier in this article.
The first was posed by the Tablet to Násiri'd-Din Sháh where
Bahá'u'lláh writes: "The Pen of the Most High addresseth Me
saying...." (Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh 57-58). The second was
the use of appellations such as the "Preserved Tablet" and the
"Most Great Book" in reference to Bahá'u'lláh. The key to both
problems lies in the pen-tablet dynamics presented in the Tablet
of Wisdom. The pen (active force) may be said to generate a
tablet (recipient) and inscribe upon it. Restated, the process
of creation is initiated by the generation of the pen. The pen
then generates the tablet. The tablet itself has creative
powers and acts as a pen (active force) on another tablet. The
cycle is then repeated. Therefore, the Manifestation may claim
to be the pen or the tablet (or book) in any descending realm.
Similarly, Bahá'í theology can maintain that the Manifestation
is both the pen, and the one spoken to by the pen, without a
contradiction. Conclusion This article examined some salient
features of a significant theological motif frequently used by
Bahá'u'lláh, through an analysis of a lesser-known Bahá'í
document, the Chapter of the Pen (Súrat ul- Qalam). The pen-
tablet relation is a critical and key motif in the study of
Bahá'í scripture. The deliberate use of the pen-motif
represented an escalation in the gradual unfolding of the claims
of Bahá'u'lláh. An approximate dating for the revelation of the
Súrat ul- Qalam was provided, which supports the above
progression. The Islamic background of the pen was extensively
examined through a study of primary Islamic sources. An
appreciation of this Islamic background is indispensable to a
deeper understanding of the pen motif and Bahá'í scripture. The
pen is a metaphor for the creative function of the manifestation
of God. The pen was examined in the context of the little-
studied seven stages of 'coming into being' and the five divine
presences. A correlation between the pen-tablet motif, the five
divine presences and the seven stages of 'coming into being' was
suggested, based on the active- recipient dynamics presented in
the Tablet of Wisdom as presented in Table 1. It follows that
the creation of the four descending divine presences occur
through successive pen-tablet interactions as the pen undergoes
the descending progression of the stages of 'coming into being.'
It was noted that the Tablet of All Food confirms an already
established color correlation between the presences and the
stages of 'coming into being.' The significance of this finding
has not been fully appreciated and further investigation is
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Nafeh Fananapazir has a B.A. with concentrations in Biology and
Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Virginia. He has
special interest in Bahá'í- Christian dialogue. He presently
resides in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Kavian Milani is a physician in private practice. He
completed his residency in Family Medicine in 1998 from
the University of Virginia, where he also received his
Medical Doctorate. He has authored a number of
articles in Bahá'í Studies and in Medicine.