Introduction by Alison Marshall

Baha'u'llah revealed the tablet Garden of Justice for Aqa Siyyid Muhammad-Rida Shahmirzadi, who was from an early Babi family. In paragraph 23, Baha'u'llah refers to his correspondent directly as "the servant named Rida after Nabil". Baha'u'llah did not identity correspondents by name because of the danger to them if a tablet was confiscated by authorities. In this case, the name 'Nabil' was substituted for 'Muhammad' because both names have the same numerical value on the abjad system, which assigns numerical values to Arabic letters. The phrase "Rida after Nabil" means 'Rida after Muhammad', which gives the name Muhammad-Rida.

Although the circumstances leading to the writing of this tablet have not yet been uncovered, references in the tablet to prior events suggest that Baha'u'llah probably wrote it late in the Edirne period or early in Akka. He refers at length to the fact that the Babis were rejecting his claim to be the manifestation promised by the Bab. We can glean from this that the tablet was written after Baha'u'llah had openly declared his mission in Surah of the Companions in the mid-1860s. Baha'u'llah's open assertions to be the Promised One of the Bab provoked opposition from his half-brother Mirza Yahya Subh-i Azal, who was understood to be the successor of the Bab and hence the leader of the Babi community. Baha'u'llah's declaration to be the Promised One meant that the Babi religion had ended, and a new one, for which Baha'u'llah was the prophet-founder, had begun. This claim ended Azal's reputed leadership of the community. The resulting conflict between Baha'u'llah and Azal lead to Baha'u'llah separating his household from Azal's in 1866. The difficulties and suffering Azal brought on Baha'u'llah during subsequent years are alluded to in the Garden of Justice. For example, in paragraph 25, Baha'u'llah laments being left alone among the Babis and mentions their calumny against him through accusations of wrongdoing and the distribution of malicious material. Another reference to Azal comes at the end of paragraph 4, where Baha'u'llah warns the name of God 'the Just' not to be like one who was adorned with the names and, when he looked at himself, turned against God.

Baha'u'llah opens the tablet in paragraph 1 with the statement: "This is a Tablet wherein God hath sent forth His Name, the Just…" This opening statement is important because it tells us what Baha'u'llah is referring to when he uses the phrase "O this Name!" in the early part of the tablet. In these phrases, God, through Baha'u'llah, is addressing the name of God, the Just. Baha'u'llah goes on in the first sentence to tell us that God, in revealing this tablet, has also "breathed the spirit of equity into the temples of all created things". In other words, through Baha'u'llah's revelation and the revelation of this tablet in particular, the spirit of equity became an intrinsic aspect of every created thing, including human beings. This spirit within humans gives rise to a corresponding responsibility to be just, which Baha'u'llah addresses in the next sentence: "Thereby might all preserve pure justice and judge themselves and others, nor transgress against it to the extent of a blemish on a date pit."

Paragraph 2 is the first of six paragraphs (paragraphs 2-7) in which Baha'u'llah directly addresses the name of God, the Just. In these paragraphs, Baha'u'llah speaks to the Just as if it were a person who can understand what is being said. The literary technique of addressing, in an exclamatory way, an object or idea as if it can understand is called 'apostrophe'. Baha'u'llah uses this technique in other tablets; there are good examples in Surah of Blood. The technique is common in literature; for example, in Sonnet 148, Shakespeare directly addresses Love: "O cunning Love! with tears thou keep'st me blind / Lest eyes well-seeing thy foul faults should find." And so, in the six paragraphs (2-7), we find out what God has to say to the Just.

In paragraph 2, Baha'u'llah outlines the overall role of the Just in creation. He begins by stating that God has made the Just "one of the suns of Our most beautiful names". The term "most beautiful names" comes from Qur'an 17:110: "Call upon God or call upon the All-Merciful; by whichever name you call him, his are the most beautiful names." According to Islamic tradition, God has 99 such names and so 'the Just' is one among many.[1] Baha'u'llah refers to the Just as a sun. This is in keeping with the image he commonly uses to explain the role of the names in creation and their relationship to the physical world. He likens the names of God to divine suns whose rays shed light on the world. In response, the essences of all things, and particularly the souls of people, are like mirrors that reflect the light of the names and thereby are illumined by them. Accordingly, in the second sentence of paragraph 2, Baha'u'llah commands the Just to shine on the world so that the people might take advantage of its bounty.

Baha'u'llah goes on to say that God has made the Just the source of justice among those who are near to God. The logic behind this requires a little teasing out. The names of God are like divine suns, and this means that their illumination is the source of the virtues in the world; for example, the Just is the source of justice in the world and the Generous is the source of generosity. It follows that a person who is just is a person who is illumined by the Just and a person who has drawn near to God, for the Just is a ray of the divine. The last sentence of the paragraph tells us that it is by means of the Just that the justice of a person is revealed to the world; in other words, a just person reveals this virtue by being illuminated by the light of the Just. Although it is not stated here, a crucial point that is being established is that a person's virtue is not an inherent aspect of them. Virtue comes from the names of God and is revealed when the suns of the names shine in the mirror of a person's soul.

Baha'u'llah was keen to dissuade people from believing that virtue was an inherent aspect of them because he wanted to prevent them from becoming proud. One way to do this, he appears to have reasoned, is to explain how the structure of reality and, in particular, the names of God work. In paragraph 3, he reveals his agenda by warning the Just to beware lest the very high station given to it leads it away from submission to God. It is intriguing that God should warn a name of God against haughtiness. In actual fact, it is impossible for the names of God to stray from God, for they are intellectual realities, like love, and do not have a will of their own. More likely, God speaks to the Just in this way in order to drive home a message to human beings. This technique of addressing a blameless person about the commission of a wrong is found elsewhere in scripture. Abdu'l-Baha gives many examples in chapter 44 of Some Answered Questions, and explains that when God rebukes the prophets, the rebuke is meant for the people:

"All the divine discourses containing reproof, though apparently addressed to the Prophets, in reality are directed to the people, through a wisdom which is absolute mercy, in order that the people may not be discouraged and disheartened."

The rest of paragraph 3 is an explanation for why the Just has no basis in reality for thinking itself better than anything else in creation. Baha'u'llah begins by telling the Just two things:

Baha'u'llah then appears to explain why. But again, the explanation is condensed and requires unpacking to follow. It consists of a series of statements:

  1. While seated on the throne of justice, God created all creatures through a Word.
  2. In creating creatures in this way – that is, by means of a Word – God was wise with regard to all things.
  3. After that, God exalted some names over others by raising them to the realm of eternity. God did this out of grace.
  4. (Despite the above), there is no relationship between God and creation.
  5. God transcends all created things and all that the people say about the divine.
  6. The relationship humans understand as binding them to God, and that is referred to in the scriptures, has been created through God's will and decree.

What should we take from all this? The point seems to emerge in the first two sentences of paragraph 4, where Baha'u'llah states that the Just has been chosen and exalted (a reference to statement 3 above) but that this exaltation must not be allowed to become a barrier between the Just and God. God, Baha'u'llah explains, exalts whoever God pleases. This is in line with the idea in statement 3 that God exalts out of grace. The Oxford Dictionary tells us that grace is "the unmerited favour of God"; therefore, there is no inherent greatness in the Just that results in its being favoured. Its exaltation is a bounty. Baha'u'llah commands the Just to see nothing in itself except "the effulgence of the sun of the commanding Word". This is presumably a reference to the Word in statement 1 above, and that Word is the originator of every creature. Aside from this effulgence, the Just is an empty thing; it has no inherent qualities such as power, might, movement or stillness. From this, we can see why Baha'u'llah tells the Just that:

This is because the only reality in the Just is the effulgence of the originating Word (statement 1), and this Word is the effulgence in all things. This demonstrates the wisdom Baha'u'llah refers to in statement 2: by creating all things through a Word, all were created equal. This is also a sign of God's justice, for God created all from a Word while seated on the throne of justice (statement 1). The point that Baha'u'llah is making is illustrated by this introduction. I have written this introduction by means of words. In doing so, I have exalted the words 'the Just' above other words because the Just is the subject of the essay. But the words 'the Just' are just bits of light on a screen or dots of ink on paper like every other word I've written. From that perspective, I have exalted the words 'the Just', but those words are inherently no different to any other word I've chosen to use.

Looking now at statements 4, 5 and 6, statement 4 makes the point that, although God has created all from a Word, there is no relationship between God and creation. Again, using this introduction as an analogy, the idea here is that, although I am the author of this essay, this does not mean that there is a relationship between me and it. I transcend the essay; I am wholly above it in that I occupy a different realm than it. The same principle applies to God and creation. Statement 6 tells us that the relationship human beings understand as binding them to God, and that is referred to in the scriptures, has been created through God's will and decree. In other words, it did not come about simply because God created creation; it came about as part of the creation process. The point is that any 'relationship' with God that a thing enjoys is contingent and not absolute.

In paragraph 5, Baha'u'llah introduces the idea that, just as God can exalt as God pleases, God can also abase. This is the point that those who become proud fail to recognise. They imagine that their exaltation is an inherent aspect of them; therefore, it can never be taken away. But in fact, their exaltation is a contingent reality; it exists at the pleasure of God and can be removed just as easily as it was created, if God pleases. In the first sentence of paragraph 5, Baha'u'llah uses the analogy of clothing. He likens the names to garments, and explains that God can put on and take off these garments as God pleases, for God is the Sovereign. Then he emphasises over a few sentences that God will never lose this power or be thwarted from using it: "the hand of Power shall never be chained up".

In paragraph 6, Baha'u'llah outlines to the Just God's plan for it in this revelation. He explains that God has made the Just "the dawning-place of Our justice in all the worlds". This is a restatement of the idea discussed in paragraph 2, that the names of God are like divine suns, in which case their illumination is the source of the virtues in the world. Baha'u'llah goes on to say that God will dispatch 'manifestations' of the Just in the worlds. Here, the word 'manifestation' does not have a capital and does not refer to the Divine Manifestations. Instead, the word refers to those that manifest justice – that is, reflect the illumination of the sun of the Just – in the worlds. By means of these beings or things, God will eliminate tyranny and establish justice in the worlds. Paragraph 7 gives us one example of the people intended as possible manifestations of justice - the rulers. Usually, when Baha'u'llah addresses 'the rulers', he particularly intends the rulers of nations. This interpretation is supported by the fact that, further on in the paragraph, Baha'u'llah specifically mentions the kings and the monarchs. However, the paragraph could also apply to any person who 'rules' over others in some way. Baha'u'llah tells the rulers that they have a choice whether or not to be adorned with the robe of justice. If they are just to the people and act in accordance with what's in the Book, they will be adorned with the garment of justice. If they do not act in that way, they are naked even if they wear silk. In paragraph 8, Baha'u'llah addresses all people and exhorts them to take up the robes of justice.

In paragraph 9, Baha'u'llah begins a new theme and, like the theme discussed above, this is a major topic for the tablet - much of what is said from this point on relates to it. The theme is the issue of the people rejecting the new manifestation when he appears among them on earth. Baha'u'llah's immediate concern is with having the Babis recognise him as the Promised One of the Bab. He commands the manifestations of justice to summon the Babis to recognise his Most Great Announcement. The words Baha'u'llah uses to address the Babis reveal the connection he makes between recognising the manifestation and being just. He challenges the Babis to identify the proof that leads them to believe in the Bab and yet reject him. The implication is that they cannot come up with such a proof because the Bab prophesied the imminent appearance of Baha'u'llah in all his writings. Baha'u'llah asks the rhetorical question: have the Babis believed in his herald and yet rejected him? In this, he likens them to those who followed John the Baptist and yet rejected Christ. Baha'u'llah outlines some of the arguments such people had for rejecting Christ: that Christ transgressed against the commandments of John; that John's message had not had sufficient time to be established throughout the countries; that Christ baptised only with the spirit and not with water; that Christ associated with sinners. Baha'u'llah accuses the Babis of voicing similar arguments. At this point, the relationship between this issue and justice can be seen. Baha'u'llah is accusing the Babis of hypocrisy: they say they believe in God and yet, when that belief is tested by the appearance of a new manifestation of God in a different person, they reject him as someone who violates the commandments of God. Not only is this hypocrisy; it is an injustice to the new manifestation and to God.

This issue goes right to the heart of Baha'u'llah's revelation. In Gems of Divine Mysteries (paragraphs 3 and 4) and the Book of Certitude (paragraphs 4 and 5), Baha'u'llah states that it is very important to understand why the people reject the new manifestation whenever s/he appears. A key reason why the people do this is because they don't understand that the manifestations have two stations: a divine one, "the station of pure abstraction and essential unity"[Book of Certitude, paragraph 161], and a human one, which results in the manifestations appearing at different times and having different characteristics. From the point of view of the first station, the manifestations: "are one and all, the Manifestations of His Self, the Repositories of His might, the Treasuries of His Revelation, the Dawning-Places of His splendour, and the Daysprings of His light."[Gems, paragraph 44] On the other hand, the human station determines physical characteristics and circumstances such as the person's name and family situation, the historical period s/he lives in and the social laws s/he enacts for the time.[2]

Because the people do not understand these two stations, they conflate them, imagining that only one historical person - for example, Jesus Christ, who lived two millennia ago - manifests the divine. This position requires that, when Christ returns, the very same person of Christ must return to earth. The mistake in this thinking is to confuse the 'office' of manifestation, so to speak, with the person who occupies that office. It can be easily seen if we look at another office, the office of President of the United States. That office has been occupied by different historical people. For this reason, the Democrats do not argue, for example: Bill Clinton is the only person who is president, therefore George Bush isn't a president; Bill Clinton is the only person to whom we swear allegiance and only the laws made during his presidency are true laws. The argument is absurd and it is equally absurd when applied to the office of manifestation. That office also has been, and always will be, occupied by different historical human beings. Each will have their own name, features, family and life circumstances and each will establish a social standard for the times they live in. Baha'u'llah wrote a fairy tale, Lover and the Beloved, to illustrate the point about people conflating office and person. In it, he accuses those who reject the new manifestation of believing only in buildings and locations on a map:

The rose says, "Nightingales: I am your beloved, and have appeared with perfect color, fragrance and delicacy, and with unparalleled freshness. Come mingle with your friend and do not fly away."

The metaphorical nightingales say, "We are natives of Medina, and were intimate with the Arabian rose. You hail from the plane of true reality, and you threw off your veil in the garden of Iraq."

The rose said, "It has become apparent that for all this time, you were deprived of the beauty of the All-Merciful, and never recognized me. Rather, you recognized walls, rafters and buildings. If you had known me, you would not now flee your friend. Nightingales, I am neither from Medina nor from Mecca, neither from Iraq nor Syria. Rather, from time to time I travel through the lands and observe. At one time I appeared in Egypt, at another in Bethlehem. At one point I was in Arabia and at another I bloomed in Iraq, then in Shiraz. Now, in Edirne I have thrown off my veil.

Nightingale and the Owl, paragraphs 2-4

Stated briefly, God sends manifestations as different human beings in order to test what the people really believe in. Is it the physical characteristics of the manifestation or the divine qualities that are reflected in him? In paragraph 13, Baha'u'llah addresses the people: "O people, fear God, and do not circumscribe the Cause of God with the limitations of your own selves. Verily, He decreeth, as He pleaseth, His command." The point Baha'u'llah is making is that, by expecting a specific historical person to return in the future, the people place limits on what they imagine God will do. In this way, they "circumscribe the Cause of God" with their own preconceived ideas. But Baha'u'llah is reminding them that God commands as God pleases, and God will send a manifestation in whatever person it suits God to do so. For this reason, Baha'u'llah counsels the people, at the beginning of paragraph 14, to look upon God with God's eyes, and not with one's own eyes or those of the people or one's religious leaders.[3] Baha'u'llah is challenging us to see beyond our own cultural and religious milieu and toward a reality that transcends those worldly limitations. Manifestations appear out of the realm of the unseen and their appearance is not determined by societal expectations.

In the remainder of paragraph 14, Baha'u'llah underscores the point that he does not speak from himself but what he is told to by God. He is a dove caught up in the winds of the will of God; he does not have any balance, but is blown about by God's decree. He is also a reed that has been hollowed out to produce a pipe, which produces the melodies God's decree blows through it. Baha'u'llah, the human, has not chosen to reveal the new revelation to the world (he would not have chosen such a fate for himself (paragraph 13)), rather God has chosen him and causes him to shine regardless, just as the sun cannot stop its illumination. In paragraph 15, Baha'u'llah states that the eye of justice and the Reality of Justice weep for him because the Babis, who claim to believe in God and seek God's blessings, have rejected him and made his life a nightmare. At the beginning of paragraph 16, Baha'u'llah appeals directly to the manifestation of justice about the injustice of the situation – that the Babis were created to believe in, and support, Baha'u'llah but have opposed and oppressed him instead.

In the following three paragraphs (17 to 19), Baha'u'llah proclaims the greatness of his revelation until, at the end of paragraph 19, he is instructed by God to stop because the people will not understand. Instead, he is told to bestow on the people "the mention of thy doings". What this means is made clear at the start of paragraph 20, where Baha'u'llah changes his theme and begins an explanation of what justice is and how humans are judged by it. The explanation runs over three paragraphs (20 to 22) and challenges commonly accepted understandings about justice. Baha'u'llah says that the essence and source of justice are embodied in the system of regulations and principles brought by each new manifestation of God. Even though people may be perturbed by it, they react this way only because their perspective is too narrow to grasp God's purpose. Baha'u'llah explains that justice does not work in the way that the people think it does. Justice gives each person his or her due, but this occurs "in the manifestations of being". What follows seems intended as an explanation of what this means. Baha'u'llah says that those who do not believe in him have "departed out of the citadel of justice". This principle applies even to a man who does every possible good deed. If such a person does not believe in Baha'u'llah, he has wronged himself and is considered one of the unjust. The act of taking a drink of water at Baha'u'llah's command is better than "the worship of all who are on earth".[4]

What does this principle tell us about what is meant by justice giving each person his or her due in the 'manifestations of being'? Certainly, this question has infinite answers, but I'll put forward some ideas that come to my mind. The key idea seems to be that divine justice primarily manifests itself in the inner reality (or 'being') of the person, not in their life in the physical world. What is often not realised is that belief in the new manifestation is a grace bestowed out of God's favour, and comes our way only if we genuinely submit ourselves inwardly and beseech God for knowledge.[5] The flip side of this is that, if a person does not humble themselves in a desire to know God, then they will not be granted the privilege of recognising the new manifestation. In effect, a person's belief or disbelief, as the case may be, is the same thing as that person's due in the light of justice. This is why Baha'u'llah makes statements like this one in Surah of the Companions: "The injustice committed by those who join partners with God is nothing but perdition." (paragraph 44) He is saying that the injustice of those who reject the new manifestation is the same thing as their judgement. It follows that a person who does every good deed may not recognise the new manifestation. We do good deeds for many reasons, but what interests Baha'u'llah solely is the purity of our hearts and their genuine attachment to God.

Behind the idea that sincerity leads to recognition of the new manifestation is the assumption that we all have a capacity in our inner selves to see the things that God wants us to. Baha'u'llah does in fact assert this, and argues that, had this not been the case, God would be unjust to hold people accountable for their failure to recognise the manifestation.

"Suffer not yourselves to be wrapt in the dense veils of your selfish desires, inasmuch as I have perfected in every one of you My creation, so that the excellence of My handiwork may be fully revealed unto men. It follows, therefore, that every man hath been, and will continue to be, able of himself to appreciate the Beauty of God, the Glorified. Had he not been endowed with such a capacity, how could he be called to account for his failure?" (Gleanings, LXXV)

Baha'u'llah refers indirectly to this aspect of our inner selves in paragraph 1 of Garden of Justice: "This is a tablet wherein God hath… breathed the spirit of equity into the temples of all created things." We have been created with an innate capacity to be just, which means that we are able to recognise the new manifestation.

Another reference to this innate aspect of us is found in paragraph 18, where Baha'u'llah exhorts us to "be faithful to the covenant of God, and break not the pact to which ye swore in the world of pre-existence, in the Presence of God…." What is this covenant or pact that we made with God in the time of pre-existence? Persian Hidden Word 19 describes a metaphorical setting in which the agreement was made:

"O my friends! Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise? Awe-struck ye listened as I gave utterance to these three most holy words: O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings. Would ye but sanctify your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident unto all of you."

The Hidden Word tells us that, at a time before existence came into being, we made an agreement with God to follow God's will and desire and to open our hearts to God. Baha'u'llah says that we would remember making this agreement if we sanctified our souls. At the same time, we'd also recall the spirit of equity that was breathed into "the temples of all created things" through the revelation of the Garden of Justice.


[1] A hadith that mentions the 99 names says: "Allah has ninety-nine names, i.e. one-hundred minus one, and whoever knows them will go to Paradise."

[2] Further details on the two stations can be found in the Book of Certitude, paragraph 161. See also Gems of Divine Mysteries, paragraphs 44 to 47.

[3] Paragraph 24 also contains reference to this issue: "Blessed art thou, insofar as thou hast shattered the graven image of idle fancy with the power of thy Lord, and thou hast cast off from thy temple the cloak of blind obedience…" The phrase "the cloak of blind obedience" is a reference to the Shi'ah practice of adopting without question the views of religious leaders on matters of religion.

[4] This principle is so central to Baha'u'llah's revelation that he included it in paragraph 1 of his Most Holy Book. "The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws…. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed."

[5] This idea is found in Arabic Hidden Word 42: "O son of man! Humble thyself before Me, that I may graciously visit thee."

Another partial translation of Garden of Justice can be found at Hurqalya.