A Study of the Bāb’s Ṣaḥīfa Bayn al-Ḥaramayn and Stephen Lambden’s Translation of the Tablet

Jul 18, 2023
map of Saudi Arabia showing the cities of Mecca and Medina


Last summer, the course The Writings of the Báb generated an unusual and quite sophisticated summary of the Báb’s tablet Sahifa Bayn al-Haramayn (“The Epistle Revealed Between the Two Shrines”). The Báb composed the work during His pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in December 1844. While in Mecca, He encountered Mirza Muhammad Husayn al-Muhit Kirmani, a leading Shaykhi, and demanded that he either accept the Báb or reject His claim on the spot (Kirmani did the latter). It is regarded as the most important tablet the Báb revealed while on hajj. Rick McKown decided to review all the unofficial translations and commentaries about the tablet and write a paper summarizing what he learned; the result has now been posted below as a student paper to the Wilmette Institute’s website.

Moojan Momen, the course’s faculty member, was immensely impressed by the thoroughness and care of the work and suggested that we publish it. We have edited it lightly. You will note that the paper uses macrons (flat accents) instead of the standard Bahá’í accent marks. Shoghi Effendi had chosen the accent aigu because his typewriter had a key to make the accent, but he said that flat accents were acceptable as an alternative. Because the sources Rick cited use macrons, it was easiest to remain consistent with them. Unfortunately, Rick’s sources do not transliterate consistently. We have left them as quoted by Rick.

–Robert H. Stockman

A Study of the Bāb’s Ṣaḥīfa Bayn al-Ḥaramayn

by Rick McKown

For my Unit 3 “Specific Study” in the Wilmette Institute course The Writings of the Bāb I chose #4:
(a) Lambden, Stephen; The Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn Text and Translation.

In addition to my primary reference (which will be cited below as “Lambden, Translation”), I have also consulted the following:

(b) Amanat, Abbas; Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (PDF of 2005 edition):

(c) Lambden, Stephen; “The Bāb – Life and Writings” (web page; cited below as “Lambden, Life”):

(d) Lambden, Stephen; “The Bāb – Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn – Introduction, Mss. Notes” (web page; cited below as “Lambden, Introduction”):

(e) MacEoin, Denis; From Shaykhism to Bābīsm: A Study in Charismatic Renewal in Shī’ī Islam (PDF of published edition; cited below as “MacEoin, Shaykhism”):

(f) MacEoin, Denis; “Nineteenth Century Bābi Talismans” (PDF of published article; cited below as “MacEoin, Talismans”):

(g) Nabil, Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation (on-line ebook):

When citing references (b), (e), and (f) I will use the page numbers printed in the publication, not the page count of the PDF. References (a), (c), and (d) are not paginated. Reference (g) is paginated.

As my authors use both (parentheses) and [square brackets] in the body of their writing, I have chosen to use {curly brackets} to identify comments that I have inserted into the text of passages quoted from my references.  Quotes from the translated text of the Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn appear in bold font.

With regard the use of diacritical marks in transliteration of Arabic names and terms, in my own text I have endeavoured to follow the standard academic practice represented by Amanat and MacEoin, my primary published references; in those passages directly quoted from my references, however, I have retained the usage found in that reference, even when at variance with standard academic practice (e.g., Lambden, whose working documents are inconsistent in the use or omission of diacritical marks).

Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn (Lambden translates the title as The Treatise [written] between the Two Shrines [Mecca and Medina]”) was written while the Bāb was in the Ḥijāz on ḥajj in Muḥarram 1261 AH (January 1845 CE) (see Lambden, Introduction; MacEoin, Shaykhism, p. 140). It has been described as “Foremost among the writings of this period” (Lambden, ibid.) and as the Bāb’s “most important work” of the ḥajj period (Amanat, p. 246; MacEoin, ibid., even adds “undoubtedly”).

In the opening line (Lambden, Translation) the Bāb informs us that “This wondrous Ṣaḥīfa was propagated between the two shrines [Mecca and Medina] in reply to such questions as were posed by [Mirza Muhammad Husayn] al-Muhit [‘the all-encompassing’, al-Kirmani] and Sayyid ‘Ali al-Kirmani”, two Shaykhī ‘ulamā’ who were also on ḥajj at that time. Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Muḥīṭ was one of Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī’s prominent disciples and a claimant to leadership of the Shaykhī school after Rashtī’s death (Amanat, pp. 154-55; MacEoin, Shaykhism, pp. 116-17). The questions that al-Muḥīṭ had addressed to the Bāb, to which the latter responded in Ṣāḥifa bayn al-ḥaramayn, resulted from a confrontation between the two that occurred on 15 Dhu al-Ḥijjah 1260 (25 December 1844) in the Masjid al-Ḥarām (the Great Mosque in Mecca that surrounds the Ka’ba). Amanat (pp. 244-247) describes their encounter in the context of the Bāb’s rather disappointing experience in Mecca. The Bāb sought out and surprised al-Muḥīṭ in the crowd, and challenged him to either accept the Bāb’s claim and submit or reject the Bāb entirely. In the manner of classical historiography, Nabil’s Narrative (p. 134) gives a dramatic rendering of the occasion through a speech attributed to the Bāb: “O Muhit! You regard yourself as one of the most outstanding figures of the shaykhi community. . . . Behold, we are both now standing within this most sacred shrine. Within its hallowed precincts, He whose Spirit dwells in this place can cause Truth immediately to be known and distinguished from falsehood, and righteousness from error. Verily I declare, none besides Me in this day, whether in the East or in the West, can claim to be the Gate that leads men to the knowledge of God. . . . Ask Me whatsoever you please; now, at this very moment, I pledge Myself to reveal such verses as can demonstrate the truth of My mission. You must choose either to submit yourself unreservedly to My Cause or to repudiate it entirely. You have no other alternative. . . .”

As Amanat explains (p. 245), “Muḥīṭ was clearly faced with a claim that had gone well beyond the bounds of the Perfect Shi’a. Like any good student of madrasa, he required theological evidence. His demand for satisfactory proofs was met by the Bab not by conventional reasoning, but by direct appeal to irrevocable divine arbitration (mubāhala)”, in which the Bāb believed himself to be following the example of Muammad. As the Bāb states in Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn: “I accomplished the proof of mubāhala in Masjid al-Ḥarām in the presence of eyewitnesses, and the one who was addressed . . . was Muḥīṭ. . . . My God! I take you as witness to what I said in Masjid al-Ḥarām to the inquirer of these verses [Muḥīṭ], of what has been revealed in the past to your beloved friend Muḥammad in the Qur’ān, ‘And whoso dispute with thee say . . . let us humbly pray and so lay God’s curse upon the one who lies.’ . . O Muḥīṭ, the inquirer! Did I not call you in Masjid al-Ḥarām . . . to accept my summons and stand up for mubāhala with me beside the Pillar in front of the Black Stone, so that you will stand on behalf of all the people of the earth who renounce my covenant? Thus God will arbitrate between us with truth, and God has perfect knowledge of what has been said” {passages from Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn translated in Amanat, pp. 245-46; the Quranic passage quoted is Q 3:61}. Al-Muḥīṭ did not accept the Bāb’s “invitation” to mubāhala, a challenge which he repeated twice more (Amanat, p. 246) but he did present the Bāb with theological questions (an option seemingly implied in the Bāb’s speech as quoted above in Nabil, p. 134), questions to which the Bāb responded in Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn.

Lambden, Life, describes Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn as follows: “In this work the Bāb refers to himself as the dhikr Allāh (remembrance of God) and the fatā al-`arabī (Arabian youth) as well as the kalimat al-‘amā’ayn (‘doubly beclouded Word’) and ‘the khaṭṭ al-qā’im (“upright trace”) between the worlds subject at all times to inspiration from the spirit (al-rūḥ)’ (Ḥaramayn, F7 (9):fol6f). Apart from discussions of such subjects as the paths of the stars and the science of talismans the Ṣāḥifa {sic}bayn al-ḥaramayn contains a fair amount of material illustrative of the Bāb’s marked interest in `ilm al-fiqh (‘jurisprudence’). Throughout his ministry the Bāb set forth in great detail sometimes novel regulations to be observed by the (ultra-) pious adherent of what, by 1848 had evolved into the revolutionary new Bābī shari’a.”

MacEoin (Shaykhism, p. 140) provides a more detailed description of the contents of Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn: “This work of about one hundred short pages is an unsystematic collection of replies to questions together with prayers. Among the topics dealt with are: the Bāb’s mubāhala challenge to Mīrzā Muḥīṭ {excerpts translated in Amanat, as noted above}; the use of talismans {the portion translated by Lambden, see below}; the seven causes of creation; the courses of the celestial bodies; and right conduct (sulūk).” MacEoin’s list (ibid.) includes specifics of those “sometimes novel regulations . . . [for] the (ultra-) pious adherent”: “There are prayers to be said at sunset, after the noon and dawn salāts, on the evening of Friday, and at the beginning of every month, as well as instructions for pilgrims to the Shrine of Ḥusayn. Of particular interest is a lengthy passage in which the Bāb sets out a somewhat strenuous daily routine for the seeker (sālik), with directions as to prayer, nawāfil [extra prayers], fasting (which includes an additional fast of ten days each month to the age of thirty, of fifteen days from thirty to forty, of three days from forty to fifty, and of Ramadan only from fifty), the taking of gum mastic, water, and milk, study (including that of fiqh [jurisprudence]), sleep and prayers during the night.”

Shrine of Imam Husayn, By, CC BY 4.0,

Some portions of Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn are included in Lambden, Translation. The first half of the text that he has translated is in the nature of a general declaration of the Bāb’s claims regarding divine revelation, directed at his Shaykhī`ulamā’ audience, under the headings “Section II of the Third Verse” and “Section I of the First Verse”. The second half of Lambden’s translation, again beginning under a heading titled “Section II of the Third Verse” (also identified as CUL Ms. Or. F7, pp. 27-37), is largely devoted to a technical discussion regarding construction of talismans (MacEoin, Talismans, p. 88, note 58, identifies pp. 27-37 of CUL Ms. Or. 7 as “chapter two”). Lambden’s translation is clearly a rough working document, not intended for publication, and he provides no explanation of these section headings. For my purposes I will use the section headings and the paragraphs within the sections, in lieu of pagination, as a means of structuring my observations.

Section II of the Third Verse: This first section of Lambden’s translation is structured as nine paragraphs of varying length, some opening with bolded text in the manner of a sub-heading. The first paragraph states the circumstances of it being “sent down” (i.e., “revealed”): “. . . within the sacred [holy] land (`ala al-ard al-muqaddas) between the Two Shrines [Mecca and Medina] . . . in responce {sic} to the petition of the questioner (du’a al-sa’il), Hajji Sayyid `Ali Kirmani {al-Muḥīṭ}, regarding [seven aspects of the] well-established verses (ayat al-muhkamat). . . . This perchance it might instruct the believers about the Elevated Word (kalimat al-`ulya) within the seven mathani (twice repeated cf. Q. Surah 1) {“the seven mathānī” = “the seven of the oft repeated”, referring to the seven verses of al-Fātiḩa, the first sūra of the Qur’ān; “twice repeated” increases seven to 14, referring to the Twelver Shīī holy family, i.e., Prophet Muammad, his daughter Fāima, and the 12 Imams} and the Mighty Qur’an. The second paragraph says Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn is divine revelation addressed to the Shaykhis: “. . . these revealed verses (ayat al-nazila) from the Sinaitic Tree (min shajarat al-sina’), the established Proof of God (hujjat Allah) unto the devotees [people] of the twin originators (ahl al-nishatayn) [of the new era of Shaykhism = Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa’i and Sayyid Kazim Rashti]”. The third paragraph suggests that Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn will bring both salvation to believers and hellfire to unbelievers, utilising the image of the two gulfs, al-Ṭutunjayn, from the Sermon of the Gulf (al-Khuṭba al-Ṭutunjiyya) attributed to `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, the First Imām (Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī wrote a commentary on this khuṭba, and the Bāb wrote a brief commentary on just one phrase from Rashtī’s commentary). Shaykhī thought regarding the “two gulfs” can be seen here: “This to the end that the ones safely delivered (al-nazirun) might proffer salvation through the Word of the Book (kalimat al-kitab) {i.e., Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn} after drinking of this camphorated Water (al-ma’ al-kafur) from these twin rivulets (nahrayn) {“twin rivulets” here presumably refers not to “two gulfs” imagery but to the teachings of Shaykh `Aḥmad and Sayyid Kāẓim}. Such is the pleasant delight (`adhb) of the tasty Euphrates for those who might drink thereof (firat al-sa’igh al-sharibin). [On the other hand] It [another of the two streams] {or another property of Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn} may also proffer the [hellish, undrinkable] salinity (milh) of the abyss (lijaj) of the melody of God (? naghmat Allah) unto the unbelievers (al-mushrikin).”

In the fifth and sixth paragraphs of this first section the Bāb asserts his messianic status in various ways and also alludes to fulfilling of Shī’ī prophecies regarding the Qā’im in Mecca (see the underlined text): “Is it not, O thou people of the heavens and of the earth! that they [Shaykhis] {presumably referring to the two Shaykhis to whom this treatise is addressed, i.e., Mīrzā Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Muḥīṭ al-Kirmānī and Sayyid `Alī al-Kirmānī} hearkened unto the decree of the Baqiyyat Allah (Remnant of God = the hidden Imam/the Bab or the Shaykhi leaders) and enquired about the Pathway of the Truth/True One (sabil al-haqq) from the [messianic] Dhikr (Remembrance) of the Name of thy Lord [the Bab], this Arabian Youth (al-fata al-`arabi) whom thou hoped to witness relative to the [expected] decree of [fulfillment] {i.e., of the prophecies} between the two shrines (hukm al-haramayn) [Mecca and Medina], the Word of the Dual Theophanic Cloud (kalimat al-ama’ayn), the Upright [alphabetical] Trace (al-khatt al-qa’im) [the Arabic letter A ] betwixt the two worlds (al-`alamayn)? . . . the decree of God (hukm Allah) which deriveth from Me [the Bab]! for this is the descendent of the Messenger of God (ibn rasul Allah), this one supremely learned in the knowledge of the Divine Unity (al-tawhid) and of all of the [Divine] Attributes (sifat) pertinent to the path . . . .” The implication is that al-Muḥīṭ and Sayyid `Alī al-Kirmānī are enquirers after truth who have addressed their questions to the Bāb seeking knowledge from a recognised divine source. In the eighth paragraph of the first section the Bab again refers to himself as “. . . the [now] manifest (shahid an) Dhikr of the Name of God (dhikr iam Allah)!” Further, he alludes to being one who can interpret of the word of God and by paraphrasing Q 3:7 he equates Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn with the Qur’ān: “Indeed! None is aware of its inner exegesis (ta’wil) which He hat {sic, hath} sent down unto thee within this Book, except God Himself and whomsoeever {sic} He hath willed for He, no God is there except Him! And He is One Powerful over all things.”

Section I of the First Verse: The second section of Lambden’s translation consists of only two brief paragraphs, the first praising God “. . . Who hath indeed generated oneness through His Might (bi’l-izzat), etc ”, the second acknowledging the sanctity of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the Prophet Muḥammad and his family: “may Thy peace and blessings be upon him and his family – for Thou do love [him] even as Thy Logos-Self (li-nafsika).”

Section II of the Third Verse (2nd of this title) or “Chapter Two”: This third section of the translation is very lengthy, consisting of an introductory statement and eighteen paragraphs. The introductory statement sets out in general terms the content of this section: “Regarding the matter [regulation] (hukm) which the questioner {Muḥīṭ?} hath (re)cited from [writings deriving from] Thy tongue [of revelation, the Bab] respecting the structures [pathway[s] of the threefold-triangular (al-tathlith) and the fourfold-quadrangular (altarbi`) talismanic configurations (hukm al-ṭilismāt), which came forth with the sanction of thy Lord, according to a Straight Path (`alā ṣirat al-qawīm).” Of the eighteen paragraphs, some include instructions on the construction of talismans (e.g., the fifth paragraph – “Fill up the segments of the two talismans (buyut al-talismat) with the Names of thy Lord (asma’ rabbika), according to thine own purpose” – or the 12th paragraph – “So fill up the structures [pillars, configurations] of the talismans (qawa’im al-tilismat) according to the arrangement of the descending pattern (tartib al-hubut) of the verses (a-ayat) [to be written] upon those plain-white papers [tablets] (al-alwah al-bayda’).” Others draw connections between talismans and esoteric concepts (e.g., the 14th paragraph, which refers to “seven [khiṣāl = factors, or dimensions of reality]” or the 17th paragraph, which links the threefold-triangular talisman (kalimat al-tathlith) with the First Imām because his name – `Alī – has three letters, and links the fourfold-quadrangular talisman (altarbi`) with the Prophet Muammad, whose name in Arabic has four letters). The third section of Lambden’s translation of Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn is quite opaque, in part because the subject matter, talismans, is itself very obscure. MacEoin, Talismans, discusses talismans primarily in relation to the Bāb’s latter works and provides some images of Bābī talismans.

Section IV on the Four Verses (al-bāb al-rābī` fī’l-āyāt al-rābi`a): The fourth section of Lambden’s translation appears to be a kind of side note from the Bāb referring to having sent a letter or an earlier draft from Mecca.

Section V on the Fifth Verse (al-bāb al-khāmis fī’l-āyāt al-khāmis): The fifth (and currently last) section of Lambden’s translation appears to be the Bāb’s personal exhortation to his two Shaykhī addressees to obey him and thereby achieve salvation: “As for that which thou hast enquired relative to thine own self, about the pathways of the Journey [unto God] (subul al-suluk) and the [associated prayerful] supplications (al-da`awāt) for the summons [supplication to God] (da`wāt) during the days of the ascension unto thy Lord (al-ṣu`ūd ilā rabbika) according the path of the believer in the Divine Unity (ṣirat al-muwahhidīn). So follow ye the decree which We have [already] cast upon thee from thy Lord, to the end that thou be numbered among such as are of the saved [successful] (al-falaḥīn).

The Bāb’s Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn did not achieve its intended purpose. As Amanat notes (pp. 246-47), “On his return to Karbalā, Muḥīṭ remained unmoved by the alarming tone of Ṣaḥīfat bayn al-Haramayn which strongly advised him to purge from his soul ‘those signs of [false] scrutiny,’ since such illusions would prevent him ‘from grasping the knowledge of certitude’. . . . But in spite of all warnings, Muḥīṭ remained opposed to the Bāb.”



Rick McKown

I am 73, retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Alberta Public Service, a psychologist by education who spent almost all of my career working in the area of training development. I've been a Bahá’í since 1987 - first read about the Faith in 1970, it being briefly discussed in the textbook of an undergraduate course I was taking in Islamic history, but I did not actually meet any Bahá’ís  until the early '80's. I retain a strong interest in Islamic history and the Islamic roots of the Bahá’í Faith.

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