A fresh translation from Adib Masumian of Baha’u’llah’s lengthy and important Tablet of the Veil reveals a new side to Baha’u’llah. The circumstances surrounding the revelation of the tablet are unusual and enlightening. Baha’u’llah has chosen to place himself in the situation many of us find ourselves in – how to deal with a person who argues with you by nitpicking minutiae. I think the tablet could be seen as a commentary on Persian hidden word no 5: “O son of dust! Verily I say unto thee: Of all men the most negligent is he that disputeth idly and seeketh to advance himself over his brother. Say: O brethren! Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.”
This is what happened and how Baha’u’llah decided to get involved. A believer wrote a letter to Haji Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani, who was the leader of the Shaykhis at the time. After Siyyid Kazim died, the Shaykhis divided – some following the Bab and the rest remaining Shaykhis, with Karim Khan as their leader. He hated the Bab, wrote horrible things about him and was a most unpleasant fellow. So this believer wrote Karim Khan a letter, which was headed up with this sentence: “Praise be to God, who hath lifted the veil from the faces of His loved ones.” Subsequently, Baha’u’llah is informed that Karim Khan had replied and accused the author of this letter of being completely ignorant. Why? Because everyone knows that only women wear veils and so the term does not apply to him!
To cut a long story short: Baha’u’llah has a field day telling Karim Khan what he thinks of him for making such a ridiculous remark. I still can’t stop laughing! Just for a start: Baha’u’llah breaks the rules. (I know, he is a Manifestation is allowed to do that, but it is interesting.) Baha’u’llah openly acknowledges that he never read Karim Khan’s reply, and says that he was responding to an oral account of Karim Khan’s remark. So there’s something no ordinary person should do, which is to jump into an argument with only an oral account of what someone said. You get the impression that it takes very little from Karim Khan to wind Baha’u’llah up, which is fair enough. Added to that, I always had the impression from Baha’u’llah’s wise counsel generally that if people make snarky remarks like that, it is best just to ignore them. Probably, for the most part, that’s how Baha’u’llah reacted to situations, but on this occasion, he decided to make an example of Karim Khan.
And away he goes! The tablet is full of colourful adjectives in which Baha’u’llah lets Karim Khan know what he thinks of him. Here’s a collection of them: “O thou who art renowned for thy learning and yet standest at the precipice of the pit of ignorance!”, “O ignorant one!”, “O ye who are shut out as by a veil!”, “O wayward denier!”, “O repudiating doubter!” “O heedless one!”, “O thou who hast gone far astray!” “O thou who are fragile to the very core!”
Baha’u’llah has much to say to Karim Khan about his denial that the veil can be applied to men. He references well-known works of the Arabs in which the veil is applied metaphorically to men, and he gives Karim Khan a lesson on metaphor. But what caught me eye in particular was Baha’u’llah’s counsels about how to respond to people when in correspondence with them. I think these passages can be viewed as instructions on online etiquette. Here are a couple of examples of what I refer to:
“Hearken thou to Mine utterance! Object not to him who adviseth thee, and trouble not the one who admonisheth thee. Follow not an expression of bounty with one of grievance.” (para 21)
“Be neither quick to cavil nor like a lethally vicious and ever-watchful serpent. He that hasteneth to impute error shall fall into remorse.” (para 22)Baha’u’llah: Tablet of the Veil, translated by Adib Masumian
The tablet ends with Baha’u’llah quoting a passage from Shaykh Ahmad about the advent of the Qa’im. When you read Adib’s extraordinary translation of it, you will quickly see why Tablet of the Veil has not been translated until now. The passage is full of letter mysticism and is pretty much incomprehensible. Baha’u’llah states that the Shaykhis couldn’t understand it. So Baha’u’llah quotes this passage for Karim Khan and challenges him to interpret it. Of course, Baha’u’llah knows that Karim Khan can’t do that, but he hopes that Khan will admit to this and turn to Baha’u’llah for an interpretation of the passage. Basically, it’s a ploy on Baha’u’llah’s part to jolt Khan out of his arrogance.
The tablet is famous for this difficult quote of Shaykh Ahmad, and for this reason the tablet has been put into the translation too-hard basket. Also difficult for the translator are Baha’u’llah’s references to famous Arab writings, in which veils are assigned to men, which require much painstaking research. But our translation warrior, Adib Masumian, who clearly loves a challenge and will never be defeated so long as Baha’u’llah is the wind under his wings, has cracked it open for us. He has also provided extensive notes to the translation that guide the reader through the symbolism. I hope readers won’t let the difficult letter mysticism bit at the end of the tablet put them off reading the tablet, for it is full of much more than that. In this tablet, we see the human face of Baha’u’llah dealing with someone intent on idly disputing the truth with one-up-manship absurdities and technicalities.