The Tablet of Unity is a tablet of Bahá'u'lláh dealing with the subject of unity and describing varioustypes of unity that may be attained.
It is usually considered that this tablet belongs to the Akka period. (1) The tablet is stated to have beenaddressed to Sayyid Asadu'lláh of Rasht, the fourth of five brothers known as Sádát-i Khams. If thisattribution is correct, and it seems to be well supported in that it is given in several sources,(2) thiswould place the tablet firmly in the Akka period since the five brothers were only converted by `AlíAshraf Láhíjání, known as `Andalíb, in Rasht in about 1296 (c. 1879). (3)
At first, it may appear confusing that there are several addresses to the "people of the Bayán" where onewould expect, in a tablet of the Akka period, the "people of Bahá" to be addressed. It must beremembered, however, that Sayyid Asadu'lláh of Rasht was particularly affected by Azali activities inQazvin. Samandar has described in his narrative how, shortly after his conversion, Sayyid Asadu'lláhmoved to Qazvin. Here, the Azalís discovered that he was a Bahá'í and attempted to shake his faith.One of them sent his son to be a servant in Sayyid Asadu'lláh's house and thus obtained an entrance tothe house. They then began to speak to Sayyid Asadu'lláh until they had caused severe doubts to arise inhis mind. Samandar became aware of the situation and asked to be present on an occasion when theAzalís were at Sayyid Asadu'lláh's house. Samandar then proceeded to answer them point by point fromthe text of the Bayán. As a consequence, Sayyid Asadu'lláh's faith was restored. (4)
The five brothers were merchants and had obtained Russian protection. When Sayyid Asadu'lláhreturned to Rasht, he was able, together with one of his brothers, to negotiate a contract with the holderof the Imperial concession for the surfaced road between Anzali and Tehran for the provision oftraveller's services along the route - rest-houses, food, accommodation, etc. As a result of this hebecame very rich.(5)
In this tablet, Bahá'u'lláh deals with 6 types of unity. The word used for type is "rutbah" in some placesand "maqám" in others.
A. Unity of Religion. Bahá'u'lláh says that when the believers are united, this leads to the victory of thecause of God. Furthermore, he asserts that if all of the people in a country are united in religion, the government of that country need interfere very little in the social affairs of that country.
B. Unity of Words. Bahá'u'lláh appears to require that the Bahá'ís be united in their public position. Inother words that the message that they should be one in the message that they give. He states that whatis said should be with wisdom and gives the example that he also uses in the Lawh@-i Maqs@úd ofgiving milk to babes. But ultimately, Bahá'u'lláh asserts that in this dispensation, it is deeds rather thanwords that will bring triumph to the Cause of God
C. Unity of Ritual Acts. Although it is tempting and possible to translate this as oneness of deeds oractions, it would appear, from the examples that he gives, that Bahá'u'lláh has the specific meaning ofritual acts in mind when he writes of ittih@ád-i a`mál. He states that in Islam, different ways of doingthe rituals, such as the obligatory prayer, have led to differences arising among the believers andultimately to disunity.
D. Unity of Rank or Station. By this Bahá'u'lláh means that the Bahá'ís should regard themselves as allequal in rank. He states that it is the fact that some have regarded themselves superior to others that hasled to the weakening and downfall of other religion. In particular, he condemns the religious leaders.
E. Unity of Wealth and
F. Unity of Souls. Bahá'u'lláh considers these two unities together. He says that the mere sharing ofwhat one has is not sufficient, one should prefer others over oneself. This is the way towards that unity of souls which is the ultimate aim. A situation which Bahá'u'lláh characterises as being one where "allshould gather around and cling to the Love of God and the Word of God."
A number of important issues are raised by this tablet, issues that are foundational to the Bahá'í Faith. Itis of interest to see the way that the themes initiated by Bahá'u'lláh in this tablet were later developed by`Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi.
1. Unity as a value. The first issue raised is the question of the value assigned to unity. One of thedistinctive features of the Bahá'í religion is the fact that a higher value is placed on unity than on other values and principles that have had great importance in religious and secular history. When one iswanting to make decisions and seeking guidance in the scriptures of a religion, either as an individualor as a community, one frequently finds oneself in a situation where one value leads one to contemplateone course of action, while a different value leads one to propose a different course of action. In suchsituations, it is necessary to set one's values in a hierarchy.
In this tablet, Bahá'u'lláh gives an evaluation of unity as a higher value than the freedom to speak one'smind and put forth one's view. This latter freedom is accorded the very highest position in thehierarchy of values of the Western liberal Tradition. Thus in this tablet Bahá'u'lláh sets himselfdecisively apart from that Tradition. There are passages in the authoritative Bahá'í texts that assert theright of the individual to express his or her views, passages summarised by Shoghi Effendi thus:
Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of theindividual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. (ShoghiEffendi, Bahá'í Administration, pp. 63-4)
In this tablet, however, Bahá'u'lláh appears to be saying that this right of the individual is a secondaryright and should be subservient to the higher principle of the need to maintain unity in the community.In other words that one is free to express one's view as long as it is in a situation and undercircumstances where the exercise of that right does not threaten the unity of the community. Otherwiseone must exercise prudence (hikmat).(6)
We see this clearly set forth in this tablet but also in other tablets of Bahá'u'lláh. It is followed up by`Abdu'l-Bahá when he speaks of the fact that "If they agree upon a subject, even though it be wrong, itis better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divinefoundation." (`Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í World Faith, pp. 411-412). From this principle in the writings ofBahá'u'lláh, from this idea of the need for unity in speech, we can also discern the roots of `Abdu'l-Bahá's ruling that all Bahá'í writings should be subject to review as a temporary measure - this beingagain a matter of ensuring unity of speech in the community.
2. Station, Rank and Leadership of the Community. The second issue that is raised in this tablet is thatof station and rank. In this tablet, perhaps more clearly than any other tablet, Bahá'u'lláh emphasisestwo interrelated teachings, that are very distinctive to his religion. The first is the prohibition on anyreligious professionals in the Bahá'í Faith. The second is absence of any ranking or stations in theBahá'í community. In this tablet Bahá'u'lláh emphasises that every Bahá'í is to be regarded as being ofequal rank to every other Bahá'í. More importantly, Bahá'u'lláh urges the individual Bahá'í not toconsider himself or herself superior in any way to fellow-believers. No-one should consider themselvesto be "more learned, more favoured, more accomplished, more righteous or more exalted" than anyother Bahá'í.
An extension of this teaching of the equality of rank of every Bahá'í is the prohibition that Bahá'u'lláhmakes more clearly in other writings on any form of priesthood, monasticism, or other forms ofreligious leadership. Rank and station inevitably lead to pride and arrogance, and this pride blinds oneto the truth. Hence it is that the ulama of Iran have persecuted the followers of the religion of God.Shoghi Effendi develops this theme when he writes that those who are elected to administer the affairs of the Bahá'í community should:
They should never be led to suppose that they are the central ornaments of the body of the Cause,intrinsically superior to others in capacity or merit, and sole promoters of its teachings and principles.They should approach their task with extreme humility, and endeavor by their open-mindedness, theirhigh sense of justice and duty, their candor, their modesty, their entire devotion to the welfare andinterests of the friends, the Cause, and humanity, to win not only the confidence and the genuinesupport and respect of those whom they should serve, but also their esteem and real affection. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration, p. 64)
3. The Covenant. The third issue that is touched upon tangentially in this tablet is that of the Covenant. Although the tablet does not refer directly to the issue of the Covenant, we can see how Bahá'u'lláh'sconcern for unity would raise the question of what was to be the focal point of unity and loyalty in thenew religion. Christianity was based around intellectual loyalty to theological and doctrinalformulations which were summarised in creeds. Islam was based around a more practical loyaltyfocussed on a way of life formulated around the Sharí`ah. What was to be the basis of the unity ofBahá'u'lláh's religion?
There is also the matter of the third type of unity that Bahá'u'lláh mentions - unity of ritual acts. If sucha unity is to be achieved and yet the Bahá'í community is not to have the equivalent of priests ormujtahids that can rule on such matters, then the question of religious authority needs to be settled.
These questions were answered by Bahá'u'lláh through the establishment of the Covenant
appointing`Abdu'l-Bahá as the focal point towards which all Bahá'ís should turn. Bahá'u'lláh saw this as
the wayof achieving the last unity that he described in this tablet - the unity of souls.
Text used: Ad`iyyah H@ad@rat-i Mah@búb (original edition: Faraju'lláh al-Kurdí, Egypt, 76B.E./1920; reprint Germany 1980), pp. 388-406
Text also to be found in Mihrábkhání, Khándán Sádát-i Khams, pp. 89-93 (calligraphy of Amanu'llahMuqin)
The Tablet of Unity (Lawh@-i Ittih@ád)
He is God! Exalted be He in Wisdom and Exposition!
A letter has been received by this Wronged One from one of the Sayyids (7) who have turned towardsGod, have listened and responded to their Lord, the Compassionate, the All-Bountiful. All [of them]have been remembered in the presence of this Resplendent Beauty and I ask God ( H@aqq) to confirm[them] all in that which will cause them to be remembered for ever.
Thou hast asked about unity (ittih@ád). The first kind of unity is unity in religion. This unity hasalways been the cause of the victory of the Faith of God in every age and century. Togetherness is the mystic sword of God. [p. 389]
For example, should a government see that most of the people of the country have rent asunder the veilsand are turning towards the horizon of Divine revelation, it should remain silent and should listen towhat is said. (8) Each person who is attentive attains to the knowledge of God, except those who areutterly distant from the Mercy of God. They indeed are fully deserving of anger and vehementopposition. Such persons are, in any case, forbidden and barred.
And another kind of unity is unity in speech. And this is very necessary. For example, consider that iftwo of the chosen ones [p. 390] of God should come to a town and should speak about the same matterand disagree, this would be the cause of disunity. It would cause them and those around them to be deprived and debarred from the bounties of unity which have been revealed by the Pen of the Lord ofBeing. That which aids the One True God has always been and is words (bayán), but in this mostmighty dispensation, deeds and a goodly character are the hosts of the one True God and areresponsible for the triumph of the Cause. If words are used to a due extent, they can be Divine mercy,but if they exceeds that, they become the cause of devastation. In our tablets, we have exhorted all withwords within which is concealed the effect of [p. 391] milk, such that it may educate the children of the world and cause them to reach maturity. Words, in every station, have an evident state and a cleareffect, and there emanates from them the fragrance of either good or evil.
And in another respect unity in [ritual] acts in intended. For any difference in these is the cause ofdisunity. When this wronged one was being exiled from Zawrá (Baghdad) to Edirne, we entered amosque, on the way, where we saw different forms of the obligatory prayer being performed. Although all were agreed on the words of the prayer, yet each was different from the other for some reason. If thepeople of the Qur'án [p. 392] had truly acted in accordance with what was revealed in the Qur'án, theneveryone on earth would have attained to the honour of becoming a believer. But differences in [ritual]acts resulted in differences in the cause, and this weakened the Cause. One group prays with handsclosed and another with hands open; one group gives greetings while saying the shahádah, whileanother says "as-salám". And besides this, one group dances and says this is remembrance of God. Wetake refuge in God! God is sanctified and detached from any such remembrance.
The Holy Law (Sharí`ah) of the Messenger of God may be likened to an ocean [p. 393] from whichinnumerable gulfs branch out. And this is the cause of the weakness of the Sharí`ah of God among the peoples. Until now no-one, not kings nor subjects nor the indigent have understood the reason for this,nor have they appreciated how to regain that power that has vanished and the learning that has fallenaway. Thus one gulf is Shí`a, one gulf is Sunni, one Shaykhi, another Shah Ni`matulláhí, oneNaqshbandi, another Malámatí, one Jalálí, another Rifá`í, and yet another Khárábátí. Thus aremultiplied the innumerable pathways [p. 394] to hell. Thus do the stones weep and the Pen of the All-High laments. Seest thou what has befallen a Sharí`ah whose light illumined the world and whose fire,that is to say the fire of its love, was the guide of its peoples. Well is it with those who ponder uponthese matters and investigate then and are fair in their judgement. Thus did this difference in ritualsbecome the cause of the shaking of the foundations of the Cause of God.
O people of the Bayán! Listen to the call of this Wronged One. Do not afflict yourselves with the likeof what has happened to previous religions. Verily doth He reveal the evidence and make clear thestraight path. Beware of disputing about what has been revealed from the heaven of the Will of ThyLord, the All-Powerful, [p. 395] the Almighty.
By the Eternal God! If a single person could be seen who spoke the truth or an upright person could befound, this servant would not have spoken a word - in other words the One True God would not havedelivered him over to this people, that is to say the people of the Bayán. Let those possessed of insighttake warning!
Purify and sanctify your hearts and your inner beings with the living waters that flow forth from the penof the All-Merciful. And busy yourselves with assisting the Cause with the hosts of good deeds, apleasing character, and holy words. Such is the advice of the One True God, exalted be His Majesty, which hath flowed forth from Pen of the All-High and been revealed in tablets.
[p. 396] Another type is the unity of rank or station. This results in the rising up of the Cause and itselevation among the peoples. But if ranking and preference of one over another comes into its midst,the world falls into ruin and desolation may be witnessed. Those souls who have drunk from the sea ofthe utterance of the All-Merciful and are turning towards the All-High Horizon should see themselvesas being of one rank and one station. Should this injunction be firmly established and be realisedthrough the power and might of God, the world would be seen as the Abhá paradise. Verily humanbeings are exalted, as can be found in every Divine scripture; but to consider oneself as more learned,more favoured, [p. 397] more accomplished, more righteous or more exalted is a mighty error and sin.Well is it with those souls who are adorned with the ornament of this unity and are accepted beforeGod. Look at the `ulamá of Iran. If they had not considered themselves the most exalted and mostaccomplished of all beings, they would not have caused those wretched followers of theirs to curse andblaspheme against the Desire of the Worlds. All humanity is dismayed, nay the entire world isbewildered, at these false and neglectful souls. The fire of pride and vainglory has burnt them all, butthey are not aware of it and do not understand. They have not drunk a drop of the ocean of knowledgeand understanding. Woe unto them [p. 398] and unto what their tongues have uttered and unto whattheir hands have wrought on the day of retribution and on this day when the people have arisen for theLord of the Worlds.
If the Pen of the All-High were to wish to describe the types of unity in every way and in every affaircompletely, it would be occupied for years. Another example is the unity of souls and of wealth andwith this example we will end our discourse on unity as a command from us, and We are the All-Powerful, the Unconstrained. This unity is a unity which is the source of joy, happiness and delight,were they to know and understand. Let the neglectful clerics [p. 399] not ask: "To whom does thisapply?" It applies to all.
From this unity beneficence arises. And this beneficence has been and is beloved in all of the holybooks of the past and future. This beneficence is in terms of wealth, not anything either more or lessthan this. "And they prefer [others] over themselves, even though poverty become their lot. And theywho are saved from the avarice of their own souls, verily, those are the ones who have attained [untoThee]. (cf Qur'án 59:9)" (10)
This station goes beyond just equality. Equality is where a human being does not debar his fellowcreatures from that which the One True God, exalted be His Glory, hast graciously given him. Hehimself doth live at ease [p. 400] and he doth cause those like himself to live at ease. Such a station isindeed well loved since all will thus partake of ease and receive their share of the ocean of grace. Butthose that prefer others over themselves have a station that, in truth, is above this station, as has alreadybeen mentioned and what the All-Merciful has revealed in the Qur'án is proof and evidence of this.
O people of God! The most exalted Pen doth weep unto itself over what hath occurred in thiscontingent world. Matters have reached such a pass that a stagnant pool claims to be the ocean and alizard doth claim to be an eagle. (11) What hath occurred? What smoke hath encompassed the world? [p.401] Hath not the fragrance of this revelation been diffused and distinguished itself from aught else?Can not the straight path be discerned from the pathways of evil? No! By my life! The truth with all ofits attributes and actions is and always has been distinguishable from aught else and those who arepossessed of insight have not and will not be mistaken over this.
The meaning of the unity of souls is that all should gather around and cling to the Love of God and theWord of God. Anyone possessed of wisdom and insight will affirm the truth of that which hath flowedforth from the most exalted Pen.
These unities that We have mentioned are each an army among the hosts of God, [p.402] a part of theparty of God, and a command that is part of the Decree of God. The unity of souls, from the beginningof creation until now, hath been and shall be that which doth assist and bring victory to the Truth - thatis to say that unity that is established according to the Decree of God and His Law. In this station, unitydoes not exceed this degree.
Therefore, take heed, O people of insight! The most exalted Pen, at this moment, doth exhort Its chosenones, one and all, to unity and harmony that, through this, may be manifested the Decree of God, theHelp-in-Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Similarly with wisdom; some of the friends of God have not observed wisdom and have [p. 403] neglected its importance. In some lands they have become thecause of upheaval. Listen to the call of this Wronged One and act according to what has been revealedin the tablets. For as long as thou hast not found a listener, do not open thy mouth. And if thou dost notsee a good and blessed soil, do not deposited the seed of wisdom. The word of God should only be castwhen the ear and the insight is ready to receive it and similarly the soil [of the heart]. Some have, attimes, spoken words that damage the root of the tree.
Say: O people! Follow God and do not be of those who do evil. [p. 404] Fear God and do not be ofthose who are ignorant! Barren ground is not suitable for growing vegetation and the ear of infidelity isnot worthy of hearing word of the Unity of God.
O People of God! From the most exalted Pen hath flowed forth that which is the cause of the life of theworld. Everyone must meditate upon God and in particular upon the Unity of God. Let it not be that,like unto the peoples before you who spoke the words but remained bereft of their meaning, being worshippers of names and devotees of idols. Despite this, they accounted themselves as being amongthe upholders of the Unity of God and among the people of certitude. The One True God hath decreedthat what was hidden [p. 405] of the actions and rewards of these people on the day of return should berevealed; that their elevation, their rank, their station and the extent of their belief in the Oneness ofGod should all become clear and manifest to the people of the world.
O my name! Convey to the friends of God the greetings of this Wronged One and counsel themaccording to what God hath exhorted in scriptures and tablets. Well is it with those who have emigratedin the path of God until they entered this most might Prison. They have accepted all for the sake of Godand have turned themselves toward God. Their reward is with Him who hath formed them and createdthem, hath provided for them, assisted them, taught them and hath caused them to speak forth inmention and praise of Him. Verily, He [p. 406] hast power over all things. May the glory shining forth from the Horizon of the heaven of My Mercy be upon them whom God hath enabled to act inaccordance with that which hath been revealed in His firm and unshakable Book.
Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds! We ask Him, exalted be He, at the end of this tablet, toconfirm them, assist them and reinforce them with the hosts of the Unseen and of the seen and to givethem victory in His Cause. Verily, He is Powerful to do what He willeth and in His grasp are the reins of all things. There is none other God but He, the One, the Mighty, the All-Informed.
1. Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh , vol. 4, p. 191
2. Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh , vol. 4, p. 191. Mazandarání, Zuhúr al-Haqq , vol. 6, p. 941
3. Rúh@u'lláh Mihrábkhání, Khándán Sádát-i Khams (Germany: `As@r-i Jadíd, 1994) p. 13
4. Samandar, Táríkh Samandar (Tehran, 131 B.E./1974), pp. 250-51
5. Mazandarání, Zuhúr al-Haqq , vol. 6, p. 940-41. Mihrábkhání, Khándán Sádát-i Khams, p. 43-7
6. This matter is expounded on at greater length is several other tablets, including the Lawh@-iH@ikmat, see Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh , p. 143
7. This tablet was addressed to Sayyid Asadu'lláh of Rasht, the fourth of five brothers known as Sádát-iKhams.
8. There are two ways of reading this sentence. One way would be to read this sentence as saying that,if the majority of a nation became Bahá'ís, then the Bahá'í teachings can be implemented by thegovernment. The second way to read the sentence leads to the idea that once the people were followingthe path laid down by God, they would be able to steer their own path and would need little control andguidance from the centre. If this second reading is correct, it was taken further by Shoghi Effendi whenhe laid down the principle that the Bahá'í community should, as far as possible operate in adecentralised manner. (9)
9. Shoghi Effendi, quoted in Lights of Guidance , no. 568, p. 172. See also World Orderof Bahá'u'lláh , pp. 41-2
10. Qur'án 59:9 is identical except the last word is muflih@ún (successful) in the Qur'án and fá'izún (those who have attained) in this text.
11. It is possible that the text here is corrupt since the usual expression is a gnat (dhabb) rather than alizard (d@abb ) in comparison to an eagle.