If you’ve ever wondered what the most important book of Baha’u’llah is—the one from which you might gain a better understanding of the basic beliefs and spiritual significance of the Baha’i Faith—then look no further than the Kitab-i-Iqan (“The Book of Certitude”).
Written by Baha’u’llah during His exile to Baghdad, and before He publicly announced His own station and Mission, the Iqan surveys the lives and sufferings of the Prophets of the past, validates Their Missions and the common features of Their Faiths. In doing so, Baha’u’llah reinforces the oneness of God’s Divine Manifestations and, for readers, the validity of their own religion. He then introduces the Bab and His Message, and applies to that new Revelation the same standards he uses to verify the truth of the previous Prophets.
Shoghi Effendi wrote:
The one who ponders over that book and grasps its full significance will obtain a clear insight into the old scriptures and appreciate the true Mission of the Bab and Baha’u’llah.1
Shoghi Effendi went on to describe the Iqan as a “unique repository of inestimable treasures,”2 occupying a position “of unsurpassed pre-eminence among the doctrinal writings of the Author of the Baha’i Dispensation.”3
A model of Persian prose, of a style at once original, chaste and vigorous, and remarkably lucid, both cogent in argument and matchless in its irresistible eloquence, this Book, setting forth in outline the Grand Redemptive Scheme of God, occupies a position unequalled by any work in the entire range of Baha’i literature, except the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book.4
Shoghi Effendi translated the Iqan into masterful English in 1931, and continually stressed the importance of the work, describing it as the “most fundamental book on the Baha’i Revelation,”5 “the best means of grounding those who become interested in the…teachings,” and “sufficient to make any seeker a true believer in the divine nature of the Faith.”6 It is one of the books—along with The Dawn-Breakers and Some Answered Questions—to be mastered by every follower of the Faith. And for Baha’is who wish to fulfil their duty to share the Teachings with others, close study of the Kitab-i-Iqan enables them “to present the Message in a befitting manner.”7
The background to the Kitab-i-Iqan
The story of how the Kitab-i-Iqan came to be written is fascinating in its own right. The whole book is actually Baha’u’llah’s response to a number of questions put to Him by an uncle of the Bab, seeking to understand how his nephew could possibly have been the Promised One of Islam.
The Bab had three maternal uncles. As a young man, He worked as a merchant with two of them in Bushihr, Iran’s main trading port on the Gulf Coast. The eldest of the uncles—Ḥaji Mirza Siyyid Muḥammad—remained in Bushihr after the Bab returned to Shiraz, and was still there at the time of the Bab’s declaration of His mission in May 1844. However, on the Bab’s journey to and from His pilgrimage to Mecca, He visited with Ḥaji Mirza Siyyid Muḥammad, who then witnessed a remarkable spiritual transformation in his nephew. “Truly, His bountiful soul is the source of felicity for the people of this world, and the next,” he wrote to his own sister (the Bab’s mother) and their mother. “He brings honour to us all.”8
In spite of his evident admiration of the Bab’s character and qualities, Ḥaji Mirza Siyyid Muḥammad struggled to recognise His claims to be the Promised One of Islam. While the Bab’s followers attempted to put forward many proofs and arguments, Ḥaji Mirza Siyyid Muḥammad felt unable to accept the Bab’s claims, despite sincerely wishing to do so. How, he wondered, could the traditions concerning the coming of the promised Qa’im have been fulfilled in his nephew?
More than a decade after the Bab’s public execution in 1850, it was suggested to Ḥaji Mirza Siyyid Muḥammad that he make a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines in Iraq and then, travel on to Baghdad to put his questions to Baha’u’llah, Who was an exile in the city. In 1862, Ḥaji Mirza Siyyid Muḥammad attained His presence and begged Him to clarify the truth of the Bab’s Message. He made a list of all of the perplexing questions and the traditions that were causing him doubt and presented them to Baha’u’llah. Within two days and two nights, Baha’u’llah composed the more than 200 pages that comprise the Kitab-i-Iqan. In the early days, the book was even known as “Epistle to the Uncle”.
Ḥaji Mirza Siyyid Muḥammad’s sincere search for truth and understanding was evident in his questions; he begged Baha’u’llah to answer them in such a way that would enable him to acquire faith and certitude in the Bab’s mission. Baha’u’llah’s response succeeded, dispelled Ḥaji Mirza Siyyid Muḥammad’s doubts, enabling him to recognize the claims of the Bab and, subsequently, Baha’u’llah Himself.
The spiritual search
A key feature of the Kitab-i-Iqan is the qualities that a true seeker must cultivate in order to reach an understanding of the inner meaning of the sacred Writings of the Manifestations of God. Baha’u’llah writes:
The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit.9
The heart must needs therefore be cleansed from the idle sayings of men, and sanctified from every earthly affection, so that it may discover the hidden meaning of divine inspiration, and become the treasury of the mysteries of divine knowledge.10
Such a search for truth is a lifelong quest and the Kitab-i-Iqan rewards the reader with new insights every time it is read. “The Kitab-i-Iqan is like an ocean,” wrote Adib Taherzadeh. “It contains the innermost reality of religion and its depths are unfathomable. One may read it many times, yet each time new truths and new visions manifest themselves before the eye.”11 Even the pre-eminent Baha’i scholar Mirza Abu’l-Faḍl reported that he had read the Kitab-i-Iqan with the “eye of intellect seventeen times through and it had seemed to him a meaningless string of words.” Later, he said, he had read it with “the eye of faith” and had “found it the key with which he could unlock the secrets of all the sacred books of past religions.”12
The Kitab-i-Iqan, then, resolves some of the theological questions at the heart of the Baha’i Faith, making it indispensable to our understanding of “the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.”13
Well may it be claimed that of all the books revealed by the Author of the Baha’i Revelation, this Book alone, by sweeping away the age-long barriers that have so insurmountably separated the great religions of the world, has laid down a broad and unassailable foundation for the complete and permanent reconciliation of their followers.14
You can read the Kitab-i-Iqan in its entirety on the Baha’i Reference Library.
- From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a Local Spiritual Assembly, 27 March 1931, Compilation of Compilatons, Vol.1, p.213 [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Retrieved from: www.bahai.org/r/030230792 [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, quoted in a message from the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer dated 15 December 1994, Retrieved from: www.bahai.org/r/989087010 [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Retrieved from: www.bahai.org/r/656662496 [↩]
- From a handwritten postscript to a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 25 August 1932 [↩]
- From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 7 May 1933 [↩]
- From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 7 August 1934 [↩]
- Cited in Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, Vol.1, p.154 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, Retrieved from: www.bahai.org/r/643779013 [↩]
- Ibid. Retrieved from: www.bahai.org/r/801173566 [↩]
- Taherzadeh, Adib. The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, Vol.1, p.197 [↩]
- Gail, Marzieh, Dawn over Mount Hira, p.233 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, Retrieved from: www.bahai.org/r/912049805 [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Retrieved from: www.bahai.org/r/656662496 [↩]