Introduction by Alison Marshall
Surat'udh-Dhibh, which translates as Surah of Sacrifice, is a letter Baha'u'llah wrote in Edirne to Muhammad Isma'il Kashani, who had been given the title 'Dhabih' (the Sacrifice) by the Bab. The surah is not to be confused with a letter Baha'u'llah wrote in Akka to the same person, which is titled Surat'udh-Dhabih, Surah of the Sacrificed. This second surah was translated by Shoghi Effendi and appears as section CXV in Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah.
Dhabih was one of three Babi brothers from Kashan, the other two being Haji Mirza Jani, who was martyred in Tehran in 1852, and Haji Mirza Ahmad, who went on to become a Baha'i and then an Azali (a follower of Azal). Dhabih was a follower of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i, the founder of Shaykism, and his successor Haji Siyyid Kazim Rashti. Many Shaykhis became Babis after the death of Siyyid Kazim and the subsequent declaration of the Bab in 1844.
Dhabih wrote a Mathnavi, a huge mystical work consisting of seven books. A mathnavi is a traditional form of Persian poetry, "used chiefly for heroic, historical, and romantic epic poetry and didactic" purposes. The Mathnavi well known in the West is the one by the 13th-century Sufi poet, Jalal al-Din Rumi, which ran to five books. Dhabih uses his mathnavi to explain his beliefs and the teachings of his faith and record significant events in his life. He covers topics such as the spiritual insight of the Shaykhi leaders, which lead them to prophesy the coming of the Bab; the Bab's three-day stop over in Kashan, during which he stayed with the three brothers; the spiritual status and ideas of the Bab and Baha'u'llah; and Dhabih's three visits to Baha'u'llah. The first two visits took place in 1849-50 and 1853-54, when Baha'u'llah was in Baghdad. On the third visit, in 1868, Dhabih arrived in Edirne when Baha'u'llah's house was cordoned off by guards in preparation for Baha'u'llah's exile to Akka. Baha'u'llah instructed Dhabih to go to Gallipoli, and the two met at the Gallipoli port. At this time, Dhabih received one of Baha'u'llah's important tablets, Suriy-i-Ra'is, which was written while Baha'u'llah travelled from Edirne to Gallipoli. In the first half of this tablet, Baha'u'llah addresses Ali Pasha, the Ottoman Prime Minister, about Baha'u'llah's enforced exile to Akka. In the second half, he addresses Dhabih, who he names 'Anis' (the Intimate), and answers Dhabih's questions about the nature of the soul. Dhabih records in his Mathnavi that he accompanied Baha'u'llah to Akka, after which he seems to have returned to Iran. I can find no information on when Dhabih received the Surah of Sacrifice.
A photograph of Dhabih is found on Wiki. Apparently, the photo was taken when Dhabih was under arrest in Tehran, in the years after his third visit with Baha'u'llah. The photo was scanned from page 432 of Adib Taherzadeh (1977), The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, Volume 2.
After addressing the surah to Dhabih in the opening paragraph, Baha'u'llah begins with an exchange between himself and God. To do this, Baha'u'llah has to speak in two different capacities: on behalf of God (para 1 and 2) and to God (para 3). In Baha'i theology, God is understood to be an invisible essence that transcends creation. This means that God has no direct connection to creation and therefore does not speak directly to creation. What, then, is the precise nature of the 'God' voice that speaks to Baha'u'llah (and, by extension, humanity) in the opening paragraphs?
The answer is found in the realm known as the divine Will. The first step in the process by which God brings creation into being is the Will. God creates the Will through itself, not from God's Essence, and then the action of the Will brings about the rest of creation. Periodically, God causes the reality of the Will to appear in this physical world, as the innermost self of a human being. Human beings with the Will as their essence are of a special kind, called manifestations of God. The reality of the Will is hidden within the self of the manifestation and is revealed through the manifestation's person (that is, countenance), words and actions.
The Bab, who is a manifestation of God, explains in his writings that the Will ("the Point") has two stations. These are like two inner selves, which act in response to each other. One self speaks the word of God and the other self responds to the divine revelation addressed to it.
"Verily the Point possesseth two stations. One is the station that speaketh from God. The other is the station that speaketh from that which is other than God, a station whereby He expresseth His servitude for the former station. By virtue of the former, the latter worshippeth God in the daytime and in the night season, and glorifieth Him at morn and at eventide."
The Bab explains that the first station of the Will "speaks from God and on behalf of God, in the mode of divine verses" and the second station of the Will "speaks to God, in worship and adoration of Him, in the mode of prayers and supplications." In paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Surah of Sacrifice, we hear Baha'u'llah speaking from God and on behalf of God, and in paragraph 3, Baha'u'llah responds to God as a servant.
Paragraph 1 is made up of four declarations, each roughly one sentence long, about God's uniqueness and power. These declarations follow the same pattern: they each begin by introducing the 'place' from which God is speaking - "the throne of grandeur and splendour", "the realm of glory and majesty", "the Essence of Pre-existence" and "within His own substance" - and follow with a statement about God's singleness. In three of the declarations, the statements are spoken in the first person and convey the same message in slightly different language:
"I, verily, am the Lord God, and there is no other god beside Me, the Help in Peril, the Everlasting."
"I am, in truth, Almighty God, beside Whom there is no other God, and I am the Powerful, the Omnipotent, the Beloved."
"There is no divinity save Me, the Manifest, the Visible. I testify within My essence, to My essence and by My essence that I am God".
The effect of this repetition of statements is to emphasise that the voice we hear speaking is talking to us from the highest realms of reality and that there is no thing in existence that stands beyond the one who speaks. In the last declaration, the being explains that its claim to being God comes out of the substance and nature of its own essence. Its lordship and power comes from the fact that it stands at the core of existence (via the Will). Nothing exists without this being standing within it as its lord.
In paragraph 2, God speaks directly to Baha'u'llah ("O Beauty of the Primeval"), asking him to sprinkle drops of the ocean of grace over created things, so that they might catch a whiff from the camphor fountain, which is the manifestation. Camphor smells like menthol and cinnamon combined. The idea is that a person will pick up on the camphor scent by the grace of God. It is as if a person is wandering along and, of a sudden, happens to notice an unexpected fragrance in the air, which others do not notice. Next, we are told that the scent leads to the river of paradise, which has been "distilled" in the words ("Pen") of Baha'u'llah. Those words are a sign of God's knowledge, but few realise this.
In paragraph 3, Baha'u'llah responds by saying that he does not know how to fulfil God's request because he is overwhelmed by his enemies. He expresses the reservation that speaking about God's wonders will make matters worse. There is no answer to this from God.
At this point, the focus of the surah changes and Baha'u'llah appears to do a 'camera turn'. For the rest of the tablet, he addresses Dhabih and humanity.
In paragraph 4, he asks Dhabih to tell others about Baha'u'llah's message and explains how Dhabih is to do this. The instructions centre on the idea of detachment, and are the same ones Baha'u'llah gives in many of his tablets. He begins: "If thou dost wish to enter into this station…" The "station" refers to the spiritual state of the manifestation, which is described in paragraph 2 and is said to be a reality that only a few attain. Dhabih must detach himself from all in heaven and earth and all that has happened or will happen. Dhabih must, instead, focus his love, knowledge and trust entirely on Baha'u'llah, having Baha'u'llah as his companion, goal and fortress.
These are radical instructions, and their significance is impossible to capture in words. Baha'u'llah is asking Dhabih to realign his whole being away from spiritual and earthly things, including events, and turn himself inwardly toward Baha'u'llah and rest his entire confidence and love in him. The instructions do not involve doing anything in the world, but instead focusing on a transforming adjustment within the self. If Dhabih realigns himself accordingly, Baha'u'llah says that God will awaken in him a spiritual insight that will enable him to see a reality that no one else has ever seen, especially those who claim to have knowledge of God but whom God has not allowed to see anything. The final sentence reiterates the essential instruction Baha'u'llah is giving: Dhabih is to leave alone the "idolaters and what they possess" - that is, not allow himself to be entangled in the affairs of those who deny Baha'u'llah. Instead, he is to rise above it ("ascend on the wings of holiness") and focus on developing an intimacy with Baha'u'llah, so that he might find the paradise hidden in Baha'u'llah's Word (described in paragraph 2).
Paragraph 5 involves another camera turn. It begins with "Say", suggesting that what follows is a speech or message Dhabih is to give to others on Baha'u'llah's behalf. Such passages double as messages addressing all humanity. The essential argument is that Baha'u'llah's message does not come from himself, but from "the Spirit that speaketh in My breast". This is the voice that announces itself in paragraph 1 as the one, all-powerful God. This same Spirit spoke in the breasts of the prophets and messengers of the past. Therefore, anyone who rejects what Baha'u'llah is saying also rejects what the prophets of the past have said. Baha'u'llah asks people to consider his claims with equity and not to weigh them "by what is with you". In other words, he is asking people to examine what he says with an open mind and not through the lens of their religious tradition. What Baha'u'llah means by this becomes clearer in paragraphs 7-9.
Paragraph 6 is another camera turn to Dhabih, in which Baha'u'llah expresses dismay at the way his enemies have treated him, and how this has prevented him from illuminating creation. But these events have been written by fate on preserved tablets. This is reported by the Pen, which, as explained in paragraph 2, has within it "the waters of life from the fountain of the All-Merciful". But no one understands.
Note that in paragraph 6 (and in subsequent paragraphs) Baha'u'llah refers to himself as a "Youth". This is a reference to the fact that the Bab was a youth and referred to himself as a youth (he was 23 years old when he began his mission). Baha'u'llah, in referring to himself as a "Youth", is underscoring the fact that he is claiming to be the return of the Bab – that is, Him Whom God Shall Manifest.
The first two sentences of paragraph 7 allude to a principal argument Baha'u'llah makes against those who reject him, which is argued in detail in the Book of Certitude. Baha'u'llah occupies many pages of that book interpreting Matthew 24: 29-31, as well as some relevant verses from the Qur'an, which describe signs that will appear in the world on the Day of Resurrection; for example, the sun will darken and the stars will fall. The opening sentence of paragraph 7 alludes to two of these signs. It says that a commotion came about because the "heavens of idle imaginings" were torn apart and the sun stopped shining.
In paragraph 46 of the Book of Certitude, Baha'u'llah interprets the phrase "cleaving of the heaven", which is a paraphrase of Qur'an 82:1: "When the heaven shall be cloven asunder". Baha'u'llah explains that the phrase refers to the process that takes place whenever a new divine relevation appears in creation and supersedes the established one. The word "heaven" refers to the spritual reality of a divine revelation, which acts as the canopy of creation when it is established. In order for a new revelation to take the place of an old one, the heaven of the established revelation must be taken down. This is the process of the heaven being torn apart. It is torn down like old wallpaper, so that a new wallpaper and modern look can be put up in its place.
The phrase Baha'u'llah uses in the first sentence of paragraph 7 refers to the "heavens of idle imaginings" being torn apart. Common sense suggests that Baha'u'llah could not be referring to the heaven of a divine revelation by the term "idle imaginings". For this reason, I suggest he is referring to the way the people understand the established religion at the time when the new one is being introduced. Put simply, the people's understanding of their religion has, over centuries, moved so far from its original teachings that their beliefs now amount to idle imaginings. This is referred to as a 'heaven' because those beliefs are raised up as the unquestioned truth of that revelation by its followers, creating a canopy of understanding. This heaven is then torn apart when the new manifestation comes and establishes a replacement set of teachings.
The second sign referred to in the first sentence of paragraph 7 is the sun of creation no longer giving off its light. In paragraphs 31-38 of the Book of Certitude, Baha'u'llah explains that the word "sun" may refer to, apart from the physical sun, the prophets, the Imams, the leaders of religion, and the laws and teachings of the established religion. In this case, Baha'u'llah uses the phrase "sun of creation", which probably rules out the physical sun. But whatever other 'suns' are being referred to, the point is that the "sun" no longer gives off light; in other words, whether it is the prophets, Imams, leaders of religion or laws and teachings of previous revelations, all are eclipsed by the sun of the new revelation.
Baha'u'llah is telling us in the first sentence that these two events – the heaven of idle imaginings being rent and the sun darkening – have caused a "commotion". It does not take much imagination to guess how people might react when they are told that what they have held to for centuries as the one true religion is now being taken down and replaced. Baha'u'llah then states in the second sentence that the commotion made by the people at the appearance of the new manifestation is proof of their hypocrisy in claiming to believe in God. This judgement harks back to paragraph 5, where Baha'u'llah explains that his message is from "the Spirit that speaketh in My breast"; that is, the same Spirit that spoke in the breasts of all the prophets. Therefore, to reject one is to reject them all. The assumption here is that, if one claims to know the 'melody' of this Spirit's voice, then one will recognise it no matter which prophet is speaking it. It is analogous to multiple orchestras playing Beethoven's 5th symphony at various times all over the world. Everyone who claims to know the symphony will recognise it no matter which orchestra plays it. And if someone denies it is that symphony because, for example, the Berlin Philharmonic is playing it and not the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, then you have only to conclude that the person has learned to recognise orchestras but not the symphony. For this reason, Baha'u'llah accuses of falsehood those who claim to believe in God but make a commotion when God speaks anew through a new prophet. Baha'u'llah follows in the rest of paragraph 7 with reiterations of the fact that he really is speaking with the same voice as the previous prophets and warns people to listen to him.
Paragraph 8 again summarises a principal argument Baha'u'llah makes throughout his writings about what constitutes proof of his mission. He begins by stating that someone had sought an opinion from another person about the truth of Baha'u'llah's claims. Most likely, the opinion sought was from a divine or religious leader, because the enquirer thought the person to be learned. What follows, starting "Say", is a three-sentence outline of the argument. The three points are:
- God does not need anything in creation to vindicate the Cause.
- All in creation beside God is created by God.
- God's proof is God; God's existence is the same as God's sovereignty.
The argument is based on ontology – that is, the structure and nature of existence. God created all things and is independent of them. God does not rely on anything for anything. The only proof of God is God. This all-conquering aspect of God's existence is what makes God sovereign over all in creation. In light of this, it is pointless asking a divine whether Baha'u'llah's claims are true. A divine is a creature of God, just like everything else, and has no privileged knowledge about God's Cause.
Here is a simple table depicting the flow of grace from God to creation.
|2||Manifestation, the Word, the verses|
All the bounties of God flow from God, through the manifestation, to creation. Everything in level 3 is dependent on level 2 – for existence, knowledge, power and all other bounties. Therefore, it is impossible for anything on level 3 to have knowledge of God that is independent of level 2. It is a misunderstanding of the structure of existence to ask a being on level 3 about levels 2 and 1 and any realities that appear from them in level 3.
This principle harks back to the point in paragraph 5, where Baha'u'llah asks people not to weigh what he says "by what is with" them. The things that are 'with' people are a part of creation (level 3) and therefore in no position to act as an independent standard against which Baha'u'llah's claims can be assessed. Instead, toward the end of paragraph 8, Baha'u'llah asks people to view him "with the eye of holiness". By this, he means that they should put aside the standards that have their origin in things in the world, such as the opinions of religious leaders, and examine his claims on their own merits with an entirely open mind. By this means, they will "crush the idols of vain imaginings" (para 7) and be allowed to see what only those empowered to do so can see (para 2).
Paragraph 9 continues the themes introduced in paragraph 8. The message Baha'u'llah delivers, he says, has been brought purely out of love for humanity, but God is not affected by whether or not it is accepted (because God is independent of all created things). God does as God pleases. Baha'u'llah tells Dhabih/humanity to look at his Cause "with the eyes of God". This is a restating of the idea discussed above that people are to assess God's Cause on its own merits and not against the standards of "what is with" the people.
Towards the end of the paragraph, Baha'u'llah reminds people that all that they own and take pride in in life is "established solely by the verses of God" and that these verses are subject to God's Will. This point can be seen by referring to the table above. All that we have in life exists on level 3 and, therefore, relies on level 2 for its existence. This is a warning. People imagine that what they own and rely on for security and reputation in life is stable and entirely under their control. In fact, all created things are under God's control, via the verses of the manifestation (level 2). Do not deny the verses, Baha'u'llah says, for in doing so, one brings one's works to naught. The idea here, I think, is that if we deny the verses, we spend our life misinterpreting the nature and purpose of the reality in which we exist and therefore act in life in a way that does not profit us.
In general, paragraph 10 restates in different words the advice Baha'u'llah gave Dhabih in paragraph 4. Essentially, that Dhabih must tell others about Baha'u'llah's good tidings and, in order to be effective in doing this, he must detach himself from everything in the world and rest all his love and trust in Baha'u'llah. That, by doing this, Dhabih will find himself able to experience a sanctified reality that is shown to only a few by the grace of God. This message is summed up in one sentence in the middle of paragraph 10, where Baha'u'llah tells Dhabih to "Strip thyself of everything that the hand of grace may take thee, exalt thee to the majestic and beloved seat, and clothe thee in raiment that will illumine all beings". Note that the term "Sinai of Pre-existence" in the last sentence of this paragraph is a reference to the level 1 world of existence.
In paragraph 11, Baha'u'llah focuses on "the people of the Qur'an" as an example of the behaviour described above that he counsels Dhabih and the rest of us to avoid. Baha'u'llah refers to his exile to Iraq and to how this event stands as a testimony and proof of his claims. He explains that, by means of this exile, God has completed his proof and fulfilled his blessings to those who believe. But the people of the Qur'an missed the import of what happened. Their insight was obscured by the "veils of imaginings" (para 7) and because of this, they never saw the divine purpose in those events. Baha'u'llah accuses them of surrendering their insight into the hands of others. In other words, instead of examining Baha'u'llah's claims with an open mind, they took as gospel the opinions of their religious leaders ('what is with them'). They judged Baha'u'llah by the standards of human beings that were created to appear at level 3 by Baha'u'llah himself in level 2. Baha'u'llah sternly instructs Dhabih not to do this; he must see with his own eyes, and thereby benefit from the flow of grace that is being sent by God in the new dispensation.
What does Baha'u'llah mean when he says that his exile to Iraq was a complete proof of his claims? The spiritual meaning of Baha'u'llah's exile is infinite and well beyond anything I could set out here. I will give one explanation, which Baha'u'llah expounds in the Book of Certitude. A principal theme of the first half of that book is the fact that all the prophets of God were persecuted when they declared their mission to humanity. Baha'u'llah writes a short piece about each major prophet, from Moses to Muhammad, and shows how each one was denounced and persecuted by his contemporaries. In paragraph 14, Baha'u'llah asks about the motive behind such behaviour. What could have caused people to denounce the very one they had for centuries been praying for God to reveal? He answers his own question, saying that what caused such misguided behaviour in the past is causing people to repeat the same mistake in his day. He says "such behaviour can be attributed to naught save the petty-mindedness of such souls as tread the valley of arrogance and pride, are lost in the wilds of remoteness, walk in the ways of their idle fancy, and follow the dictates of the leaders of their faith."(Book of Certitude, para 14) He goes on in the same paragraph to state that if people had "sanctified their eyes, their ears, and their hearts from whatever they had seen, heard, and felt", they would have recognised the new prophet. Similarly, if the people of the Qur'an had looked at Baha'u'llah's exile with an open mind, they would have seen that the way Baha'u'llah was being treated was the same as the way Muhammad and all past prophets had been treated, and seen in this the true spiritual meaning of the events unfolding before them.
In paragraph 12, Baha'u'llah tries to give Dhabih an idea of the gravity of the persecution he has been forced to endure at the hands of his enemies. He does this by comparing the divine origin of his own persecution to that of the Bab. He states that the Bab suffered martyrdom after he asked for permission to sacrifice his life for the Cause. But Baha'u'llah was never given the opportunity to make such a request. He was "sacrificed even before being offered up". It seems that Baha'u'llah was destined in pre-existence to suffer multiple martyrdoms that were to reoccur at every moment for decades: "I have been sacrificed at every moment for the past 20 years". The 20-year period probably began after the martyrdom of the Bab in 1844, when persecution of Baha'u'llah began in earnest with his arrest and imprisonment in the Siyah Chal.
Paragraph 13 is another empassioned statement of Baha'u'llah's instructions to Dhabih already outlined in paragraphs 4 and 10. Dhabih must stop focusing his attention on "the worlds of being" and "the contingent universe" and what is in them. In doing this, Dhabih will be enabled to enter "the house of mysteries", where no one gains entry except with the permission of God. Baha'u'llah encourages Dhabih to see the greatness in the radiance Baha'u'llah is shedding on him and the rest of humanity in this new revelation. If he gains entry to this spiritual 'place', it is better for him than anything else. And if he should gain entry to it, he would see from that vantage point the divine purpose in the persecutions sustained by Baha'u'llah, which Baha'u'llah has allowed himself to undergo in the hope that people might wake up from their "heedlessness", detach themselves from the world and enter Baha'u'llah's court.
Paragraph 14 continues on with the idea of what Dhabih should do when he sees the true significance of Baha'u'llah's sacrifice from the vantage point of the sanctified court. Baha'u'llah uses the imagery of a person burying their face in an item of clothing that once belonged to a person they deeply loved. The person holds it up against their face and breathes in the scent the beloved left behind on it. This is the intimate encounter Baha'u'llah asks Dhabih to participate in with Baha'u'llah's blood-stained cloak, in the hope that the repercussions of Dhabih's spiritual ecstasy might lead to the rest of humanity removing its veils of idle imaginings and entering "the kingdom of names and attributes" (that is, Baha'u'llah's court).
The rest of the paragraph is devoted to Baha'u'llah recounting a personal experience, in order to show Dhabih the degree and subtlety of opposition he will face when he tries to follow Baha'u'llah's instructions. Baha'u'llah explains that, when he tried to enter the sacred realm, Satan in the form of a human being tried to prevent him, so Baha'u'llah threw stones at him. Baha'u'llah warns Dhabih to watch out for any person who tries to get in the way of his entering the sacred realm. Any person who attempts this is Satan in human garb. Dhabih is to do what Baha'u'llah did and "exorcise him with a luminous star-shower". Dhabih must adopt nothing less than absolute determination to make his way to the "sacred and adored shore".
In paragraph 15, Baha'u'llah refers to the fact that he concealed his station as Him Whom God Shall Manifest "out of a wisdom" that only the sincere know about. This statement refers to a request the Bab made of Him Whom God Shall Manifest to wait 19 years before declaring his mission.
"And though no doubt is there about it, do Thou grant a respite of nineteen years as a token of Thy favour so that those who have embraced this Cause may be graciously rewarded by Thee."
Out of respect for this request, Baha'u'llah waited until 1863 before openly declaring his station, 19 years after the Bab's declaration in 1844. But all along, it was Baha'u'llah that the Bab was proclaiming and all along it was the same Spirit that spoke in the breast of Baha'u'llah as spoke in the breast of the Bab (para 5). During this 19-year period, the Babis did not know who Baha'u'llah was and most treated him unjustly. Baha'u'llah states that it was his policy to be patient during this time and wait for God to bring about a change in his circumstances.
The surah ends with a blessing on Dhabih.
 Unless stated otherwise, all biographical details about Muhammad Isma'il Kashani are from Abbas Amanat: Resurrection and Renewal. The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran 1844-1850 (Cornell University Press, 1989) pp 344-348
 Adib Taherzadeh: The Revelation of Baha'u'llah. Adrianople 1863-68 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1977) p 137
 The Encyclopædia Britannica Online (05 Oct. 2009) says a mathnavi is "a series of distichs (couplets) in rhymed pairs (aa, bb, cc, and so on) that makes up a characteristic type of Persian verse, used chiefly for heroic, historical, and romantic epic poetry and didactic poetry." Passages from Dhabih's Mathnavi are quoted in Amanat (see reference in footnote 1).
 The official translation of Suriy-i-Ra'is is found in The Summons of the Lord of Hosts (Haifa: Baha'i World Centre, 2002) pp 141-157. The tablet is online at the Baha'i Reference Library.
 Adib Taherzadeh: The Revelation of Baha'u'llah. Adrianople 1863-68 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1977) pp 412-13
 "God, verily, created the Will from nothing through itself, then He created through it all that to which the name 'thing' can be applied. The cause of its existence, in truth, is its own self and naught else." The Bab, quoted in Keven Brown Creation: The Nature of God and the Creation of the Universe in Bahá'í Cosmology.
 The Bab, quoted in Nader Saiedi: Gate of the Heart. Understanding the Writings of the Bab (Canada, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008) p 46
 Nader Saiedi: Gate of the Heart, p 46
 The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p 7