Baha’u’llah’s Tablet on Fornication, Sodomy, and Adultery

This is a letter written by Baha’u’llah’s secretary, Mirza Aqa Jan (“Khadim”), on his behalf. It is dated 17 Jumada Thani 1291 (Aug 1, 1874), roughly a year after Baha’u’llah completed his book of laws, al-Kitab al-Aqdas. The translation is based on the only two publicly-available manuscripts of the letter, INBA22:155-163 (أ in the transcription) and KB#834:088-095 (ب in the transcription); see Phelps Inventory BH00721. Text in brackets [ ] indicates the page number in that manuscript; text in angle brackets < > indicates an alternate text in one of the manuscripts. I have not noted minor orthographic differences that do not affect meaning, like آنجناب in one manuscript and آن جناب in another. The letter has not been previously translated in full for the public that I know of, although a paragraph has been translated by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice (more below). I have translated the letter more literally than I usually would, including the phrases that indicate a quote from Baha’u’llah, so those who do not read Persian or Arabic can appreciate the flow of the text and more easily spot its ambiguities.

Text

[أ: ١٥٥، ب: ٨٨] 

هو الله تعالى شأنه العظمة والاقتدار 

He is God, exalted is He, the Lord of Majesty and Power!

رقيمهٌ انجناب رسيده <ب: رسيد> از نفحات آن كمال بهجت و سرور دست داد [ب: ٨٩]

Your letter has arrived, the breezes of which elicited the utmost joy and happiness.

انشاء الله در كلّ احيان از قلم احبّای رحمن جاری شود آنچه سبب روح <ب: روح جان> و ريحان امكان گردد 

God willing, that which flows from the pen of the loved-ones of the Merciful will bring gladness and joy to creation at all times. 

و چون از مطلبی سئوال شده بود اينعبد لازم دانسته كه جواب آن به تعجيل نوشته و ارسال گردد تا حقيقت امر برانجناب و ساير احباب واضح وهويدا آيد

Since a certain subject was inquired about, this servant considered it necessary to answer you and send a response quickly so that the truth of the matter would become clear and obvious to you and the other loved-ones.

اگر چه تقديس و تنزيه امر مثل شمس در قطب زوال ظاهر و مشرق است و لكن نظر بطلب انجناب عرض ميشود اينكه مرقوم داشتيد از بعضی رفتارهای اناسيّه <ب: اناثيّه> متحيّر شده ايد 

Although the sanctity and holiness of the Cause is manifest and shining forth like the noonday sun, the question you have asked (indicates) you have become perplexed by some human [alt ms: female] behaviors. 

مثل انجناب بايد [أ: ١٥٦] در اين امورات ابداً تحيّر ننمايند چه كه مدّتها در ساحت اقدس بوده اند و اكثر از بيانات رحمانيّه كه سبب وعلّت تربيت عباد و ترقّی من فی البلاد بوده از لسان مبارك جهرة استماع نموده اند 

People like you should never be perplexed about these matters since they have spent a long time at the Most Holy Threshold and have heard aloud from the Blessed tongue most of the merciful elucidations, which are the cause of the education and advancement of the people of the world.  

هر نفسی بغير آن عمل نمايند خائب و خاسر بوده چنانچه فرموده اند ولو يكون من ذوی القربی

Everyone who behaves otherwise is hopeless and lost, inasmuch as he has stated, “even if they are kindred.”

بعض امورات از عادات اوّليّهٌ اهل بيان است كه ما بين ايشان متداول بوده و من غير حق بان عامل بوده اند چنانچه انجناب و ساير احباب ميدانند كه قبل از اين ظهور اعظم اكثر <اكثرى از> اهل بيان عامل بوده اند انچه را كه بهيچ ملّتی و شریعتی موافق نبوده <ب: نبود> و هيچ ذی عقلی و ذی بصری انرا قبول نمينمود تا انكه شمس ظهور اشراق فرمود [ب: ٩٠] از سنين توقّف در عراق تا حين كه يوم سابع عشر شهر جمادی الثّانی سنه ۱۲۹۱ متتابعا مترادفا <ب: شهر جمادی سنه ۱۲۹۱ است متتابعا مترادفا> از سماء مشيّت [أ: ١٥٧] الهيّه الواح بديعهٌ نازل 

Some behaviors are among the early customs of the people of the Bayan that were current among them and were done wrongfully. You and the other loved-ones know that before this Most Great Theophany, most of the people of the Bayan did that which accords with no (religious) community or law and is unacceptable to anyone possessing intellect and insight. (Such was the case) until the sun of the theophany dawned. From the years sojourning in Iraq until the present, which is the seventeenth day of the month second Jumada of the year 1291 [Aug 1, 1874], wondrous tablets have descended continuously and uninterruptedly from the heaven of the divine Will. 

وكلّ را از امورات مردودهٌ نا مرضيّه منع فرموده اند و باوامر الله كه سبب نجات كلّ بوده امر نموده اند چنانچه از افق هر لوحی شمس بيان در اين مقام مشرق و لائح است 

He forbade everyone from (engaging in) repulsive and displeasing behaviors and enjoined on them the commandments of God, which are the cause of the salvation of all, for the sun of the Bayan is shining in this station from the horizon of every tablet. 

بر كلّ اليوم لازم كه بحبل تقديس متمسّك شوند و بذيل تنزيه متشبّث گردند

Today, all must cling to the cord of holiness and cleave to the hem of sanctity.

ای برادر لؤلؤ امر از اعمال نا شايسته مستور مانده و اين است علّت كلّيه كه سبب توقّف بريّه گشته والّا از كلّ اطراف و بلاد ندای قد توجّهت اليك و سرعت اليك يا مقصود العالمين می شنیدی 

O brother! The pearl of the Cause is hidden by unseemly deeds, and this is the general reason that has caused people to hesitate (embracing the Cause). Otherwise, you would hear from all sides and every land the cry of “I have turned to you and hastened to you, O desire of the worlds!” 

در عراق بعد از اشراق نيّر آفاق نهی فرمودند كلّ را از بعض امور بعضی حسب الامر ترك نمودند بعضی مع انكه در ظلّ حق بودند عامل بودند انچه را عامل بودند ولكن ستر ميشد

In Iraq, after the light of the world dawned, he forbade everyone from (engaging in) some behaviors. Some abandoned (those behaviors) as bidden, and some, even though they were in the shadow of God, continued to do what they were doing but it would be concealed.

و همچنين در اين ارض حكومت ظاهره نيست تا [أ: ١٥٨] انكه اجرای حدود الله شود حق مظلوم بوده وخواهد بود لا يسمع منه الّا رجال مقرّبون 

Likewise, in this land there is no outward authority to implement the limits of God. It has been and always will be the right of the Wronged One. None hear from him except men who draw nigh. 

اينست كه [ب: ۹۱] معادله نمي نمايد بعمليكه خالصا لوجه الله ظاهر شود عمل عاملين چه كه نفسی از قصاص ظاهره خوفی نداشته اينست كه اگر از نفسی عمل خيری ظاهر شود للّه بوده لذا آن از <ب: لذا از> افضل اعمال محسوب است

Thus, their behavior is not equivalent to an act that appears purely for the sake of God, for (such) a person has no fear of outward punishments. Therefore, if a good act appears from someone for (the sake of) God, it is considered the best of actions. 

فوالله الذي لا إله الّا هو نفوسيكه وارد اين ارض شده اند چه اناثاً و چه ذكوراً هر وقت تلقاء عرش <أ: تلقاء شمس> حاضر گشتند جميع را باخلاق طيّبه <ب: باعمال طيّبه> و اعمال روحانيّه <ب: باخلاق روحانيّه> و صفات مرضيّه و اجتناب از مشتهيات نفسيّه امر فرموده اند 

By God, besides whom there is no other god but Him! Every time a person, whether male or female, comes to this land and attains the presence of the throne, he enjoins upon all of them good morals, spiritual acts, pleasing qualities, and the avoidance of selfish desires.  

طوبی لمن فاز وويل لمن غفل قوله عزّ كبريائه قال قد حرّم عليكم الزّنا <ب: الزّناء> واللواط والخيانة ان اجتنبوا يا معشر المقبلين تالله قد خلقتم لتطهير العالم عن رجس [أ: ١٥٩] الهوی هذا ما يأمركم به مولی الوری ان انتم من العارفين ومن <ب: العارفين من> ينسب نفسه إلى الرّحمن ويرتكب ما عمل به الشيطان انّه ليس منّي يشهد بذلك كلّ النّواة والحصاة وكلّ الاشجار والاثمار وعن ورائها هذا اللسان الناطق الصادق الامين انتهی 

Blessed are those who have attained and woe unto those who were heedless of his statement, exalted be his grandeur: “Zina, liwat, and khiyana have been forbidden unto you. Avoid (them) O concourse of the faithful. By God! You were created to purify the world from the filth of desire. This is what the master of humanity commands you, if you are of those who recognize. One who associates himself with the Merciful and commits what Satan does is not of me, to which every atom, pebble, tree, and fruit bear witness and beyond them this ever-proclaiming, truthful and trustworthy tongue.” The end.  

اين كلمات عاليات از فم منزل آيات مشرق گشته و اين عبد بحروفها معروض داشته من عمل فلنفسه ومن اعرض فعليها انّ ربّنا العليم [ب: ٩٢] لهو الغنيّ الحميد 

These exalted words have dawned from the mouth of the revealer of verses and this servant expresses their content exactly: “ًWhoever acts (righteously), it is for his own benefit. And whoever opposes, it is to their detriment. Verily, our ِAll-Knowing Lord is the All-Possessing, the All-Praised.” [c.f. Q41:46, 45:15]  

اگر بدانند ناس از اين امور چه قدر ضرّ و حزن وهمّ بر جمال قدم وارد شده هرآينه كل بنوحه وندبه مشغول شوند 

If the people knew how much harm, sadness, and sorrow befell the Ancient Beauty from these behaviors, they would all verily engage in wailing and weeping.

در اوّل ايّام از رؤسای بيان بعضی امور ظاهر كه سبب احتجاب و توقّف خلق گشت 

In the early days, some behaviors appeared from the leaders of the Bayan that veiled people and caused their hesitation (to embrace the Cause).

اگر اينعبد از اعمال بعضی كه خود ادراك نموده ذكر نمايد سبب حيرت كل ميشود 

If this servant were to mention the deeds of some that he has witnessed himself, all would be astonished.

[أ: ١٦٠] اگر اين ظهور اعظم ظاهر نمي شد بر اکثری از ناس امر مشتبه بود 

If this Most Great Theophany did not appear, the matter would have been misunderstood by most of the people.

از الطاف الهيّه والواح منيعه انقدر شد <ب: شد كه> اكثری از احبّا كه در اطراف در مدن وقری ساكنند بقميص تقديس فائز شدند 

There were so many divine favors and holy tablets that most of the loved-ones that lived throughout the lands in the cities and villages attained the garment of holiness. 

و در بعضی از بلاد بكمال جد <ب: جهد> واجتهاد باوامر الهيّه كه سبب نفع بريّه بود <ب: بوده> عامل گشتند و از اعمالات مردوده مقدّس شدند 

In some of the lands, they carried out, with the utmost endeavor and effort, the divine commandments that benefit humanity, and they were sanctified from unseemly actions.

ولكن بعضی بهمان عادات قديمه باقی مانده اند 

However, some persisted with the same old customs. 

نسئل الله بان يوفّق الكلّ على ما يليق لايّامه وينبغي لجماله ويرفع به امره المبرم المتين

We beseech God to grant everyone success in (doing) what befits his days and beseems his beauty and elevates his resistless and immovable Cause.

ای اقای من اكثری از نفوس سست عنصرند بمجرّد مشاهده برقی مثل ثلج از [ب: ٩٣] نار ذوب ميشوند 

O my Lord! Most people are faint of heart. At the mere sight of lightning, they melt like ice from fire.

كجايند آن نفوس مستقرّهُ ثابتهُ ساكنه كه ميفرمايد اگر جميع نساء عالم بتمام جمال و زينت ظاهر شوند و جميع خزائن دنيا برايشان [أ: ١٦١] جلوه نمايد ابدا التفات بآن نكنند چه كه اين نفوس از رحيق جمال ذوالجلال سرمستند 

Where are the calm, firm, and steadfast people who, it is said, will pay no mind whatsoever if all the women of the world were to appear in all their beauty and adornment and all the treasures of the world were are available to them since these people are intoxicated by the wine of the majestic beauty? 

سكرشان سلطان صحو <أ: محو> بوده و صحوشان مبدء محو

Their intoxication is the sultan of sobriety and their sobriety is the source of self-effacement. 

باری موسی از بيت فرعون ظاهر شد و ابو لهب از دودمان رسالت 

Briefly, Moses appeared from the household of pharaoh and Abu Lahab from the lineage of messengership [i.e the family of Muhammad]. 

انشاء الله در كلّ اوان بافق اعلی ناظر باشيد و بكمال جهد و اجتهاد در كسر اصنام نفسيّه مشغول كه شايد بهمّت انجناب و دوستان حق اعمال غير مرضيّه كه سبب احتجاب بريّه شده از ما بين خلق مرتفع شود 

God grant that you may gaze upon the Most Exalted Horizon at every moment and with utmost effort and striving shatter the idols of self that perchance through your efforts and those of the friends of God, the unseemly deeds that are the cause of veiling humanity may be removed from the midst of humanity.

واين ايّام اين آيهٌ منيعه از قلم اعلی نازل قوله عزّ كبريائه ينبغي لكلّ من آمن بالله ان يسرع يصدع <ب: ان يسرع يصدع> بالحق ويسعى في إزالة الباطل عن بين الخلق انتهى 

These days, this holy verse has descended from the Most Exalted Pen, exalted be his grandeur: “It is incumbent upon all who believe in God to quickly show forth the truth and strive to remove falsehood from among creation.” The end.

بايد كلّ باين خدمت كه سبب وعلّت تقديس ارواح و ترقّی من في البلاد است [أ: ١٦٢] قيام نمايند 

All should undertake this service, which is the cause for sanctifying the spirits and advancing the dwellers of every land.

در احيان رسول الله ص مشاهده نمائيد يوم عروج <ب: عروج الحال؟> [ب: ٩٤] آن جمال محمود قريب صد هزار نفر او ازيد از اطراف مدينه در حول <ب: اطراف در مدينه و حول> آن حاضر شدند 

In the time of the Messenger, observe that on the day of the ascent of that lauded beauty close to a hundred thousand people or more from the environs of Medina gathered around him.

واكثر آن نفوس در عُرف از صحابه بودند چه كه مصاحبت نموده بودند 

Most of those people were known as Companions since they had accompanied (Muhammad). 

معذلك عاملين و متّقين معدود مشاهده شدند انّ الفضل بيد الله يختصّ من يشاء بامر من عنده انّه لهو المقتدر القدير 

Nevertheless, few doers and god-fearers were seen. Verily, grace is in the hand of God. He singles out whomever He wills by His command. Verily, He is the Powerful, the Omnipotent.

فی الحقيقة اين سئوال انجناب بسيار محبوب واقع شد چه كه <ب: چه> اكثری از خلق ضعيفند و از رضای حق و ما هو المحبوب عنده محجوب اينقدر شد كه <أ: كه شده> از عريضهٌ اين عبد الله مخلصين ادراك مينمايند آنچه را كه لدی الله محبوب و مقبول است و از <ب: از او> نفحات قميص رحمن <ب: رحمان> ما بين اكوان متضوّع

In truth, your question is well loved since most people are weak and veiled from the good-pleasure of God and that which is beloved in His sight, so much so that the sincere ones recognize from the petition of this servant of God that which is beloved and acceptable to God and diffuse the fragrances of the garment of the Merciful among creation.

نحمده ونشكره علی ذلك انّه ولیّ الشّاكرين 

We praise Him and thank Him for that. Verily, He is the friend of the thankful.

خدمت جناب اسم الله الاصدق [أ: ١٦٣] عليه بهاءالله الابهاء تكبير ابدع امنع اقدس از جانب اين فانی معروض داريد ساير احبّا عليهم نفحات الله ذاكر بوده وهستم واز كلّ التماس دعا متوقّع كه اينعبد را فراموش نفر مايند انّما البهاء [ب: ٩٥] عليك وعليهم خ ا د م مورخه ۱۲۹۱ ١٧ ج ٢

Offer the most wondrous, most holy, most sanctified praise on behalf of this lowly one to Ism Allah al-Asdaq, upon him be the glory of the All-Glorious. I have and will continue to mention the other loved-ones, upon them be the breezes of God, and this servant cherishes the expectation that all may not forget him in their prayers. The glory of God be upon you and upon them. Khadim dated 1291 17 J[umada] 2

Context

In the letter, Baha’u’llah responds to the questions of someone who knows Ism Allah al-Asdaq, a Hand of the Cause and one of the earliest believers in the Bab. The questioner seems to have inquired about the religious lawfulness of some behaviors current among the Baha’is. We can surmise that some of these behaviors were sexual given the nature of Baha’u’llah’s response, in which he blames the early Babis and some of their leaders for condoning such acts (we’re not given specifics) and then provides guidance on which behaviors God forbids: zina, liwat, and khiyana.  

The Universal House of Justice’s Research Department has translated these words as “adultery, sodomy, and lechery” in its rendering of the paragraph. I have left the words untranslated as “zina, liwat, and khiyana” and modified the remaining paragraph to give readers a better sense of the original. 

In the Islamic world, zina means heterosexual sex outside of marriage; it can include fornication between two unmarried people as well as adultery. In the Baha’i religion, Abdu’l-Baha held that zina means fornication between two unmarried people [“The issue of zina is connected with someone unmarried, not married.” Ganjinih 301]. Adultery is likely covered by khiyana, betrayal, which Baha’u’llah mentions in this text separately from zina. If this analysis is correct, the Research Department’s translation of zina as “adultery” here and in the Aqdas may need to be reconsidered. At the very least, it will have to revisit its translation of khiyana here as “lechery,” which is not one of the meanings of the word. 

The Research Department’s translation of liwat as “sodomy” is certainly defensible, although it has many connotations that are not captured by the English word. In Baha’u’llah’s day, liwat was a synonym for male pederasty, as Khaled El-Rouayheb documents in meticulous detail in Before Homosexuality: Although “in Islamic law, the luti is a man who commits liwat (i.e., anal intercourse with another man), regardless of whether he commits its as an active or passive partner,” El-Rouayheb demonstrates that in Baha’u’llah’s time and place “liwat was normally understood to be equivalent to sodomizing boys” (p.17). Boys here is ghilman, the word Baha’u’llah uses in the Aqdas when he says “We shrink, for very shame, from treating of the subject of boys (al-ghilman). Fear ye the Merciful, O peoples of the world! Commit not that which is forbidden you in Our Holy Tablet…” So when Baha’u’llah says in this letter that liwat has already been forbidden, he is presumably referring to the passage he wrote in the Aqdas a year earlier forbidding sex with male youth. As Mirza Aqa Jan writes in the surrounding text, there is no authority (hukumat) to implement the “the limits of God,” i.e. the laws of Baha’u’llah, which assumes that they had already been written. It’s also worth considering that Zayn al-Muqarrabin, Baha’u’llah’s chief scribe, used the same word, liwat, to refer to male pederasty in his questions about the laws of the Aqdas when he asked Baha’u’llah about the punishment for it in the Risalih-yi su’al o javab (Questions and Answers): 

Question: Concerning the penalties for zina, liwat, and sariqa [theft], and the degrees thereof.

Answer: The determination of the degrees of these penalties rests with the House of Justice.

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