June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
Everything you know is put to the test when you have children. Recently, after singing the prayer that begins “O God! Educate these children…” for what must have been the 1,000th time, my five year old asked me: “What is the Sun of Reality?” She stopped me in my tracks. I really had to think about it, and think about how to explain my thoughts. She also frequently asks about what is referred to as “the ringstone symbol”, a work of calligraphy often found on Baha’i-inspired jewelry, and used by many of our family members. My answers to all these questions need some work, so this prompted me to read up on this significant symbol and, in preparation for the next time she asks about it, I’ve written up seven questions and answers about the ringstone symbol:
What is the ringstone symbol?
The ringstone symbol is a calligraphic symbol designed by Abdu’l-Baha. It incorporates the Arabic letters in “Baha” into a visual representation of the relationships between the worlds of God, of Revelation and of humanity. Hand of the Cause Abu’l-Qasim Faizi wrote “No less a person than Abdu’l-Baha could have designed this emblem, for who else could have condensed so much of the divine mystery into so little space and into so few letters!” 1
What does “Baha” mean?
Baha is the Arabic root word and it means splendor, glory or light and Baha is the Greatest Name of God. The Baha’i concept of the Greatest Name of God can be traced back to an Islamic tradition that considers that most sacred Name to be hidden. With the advent of Baha’u’llah, whose title means “Glory of God,” that hidden Name is now manifest.
With its calligraphic rendering of the word “Baha”, the ringstone symbol is therefore also connected to the Greatest Name.
Isn’t the Greatest Name another Baha’i symbol?
What Baha’is often refer to as the Greatest Name is a calligraphy of “Ya Baha’u’l-Abha” (which means “O Glory of the All-Glorious” in Arabic) exquisitely designed by Mishkin-Qalam, an early Baha’i calligrapher. It can be found in Baha’i temples and in Baha’i homes. (We shared an article about the decorative use of the Greatest Name here on Baha’i Blog if you’re curious to know more.)
Another form of the Greatest Name is “Allah-u-Abha” or “God the Most Glorious,” which some Baha’is use as a greeting, depending on their culture. Baha’is are also encouraged to say “Allah-u-Abha” 95 times daily in private and it is also included as part of the Long Obligatory Prayer.
How is the ringstone symbol a visual representation?
The official website for the Baha’is of the United States offers a succinct and well-worded explanation:
The top and bottom horizontal lines—each a stylized doubling of the Arabic letter “h”—represent respectively the world of God and the world of creation. In between, a stylized letter “b” represents the world of the Manifestations of God. That letter is repeated vertically to represent the role and station of the Manifestations in “joining the world of the Creator to that of His creation,” Mr. Faizi wrote.
The five-pointed stars at the right and left, Abdu’l-Baha wrote, “represent the divine origin and also the human personality of the Bab and Baha’u’llah.” 2
Where can the ringstone symbol be found?
The ringstone symbol is most often exactly that: a Baha’i symbol often found on rings. But it is also frequently seen on necklaces, art and architecture — you will find it, for example, on the exterior of the Shrine of the Bab.
How should this symbol be used?
The same principles apply when recreating Miskin-Qalam’s design of the Greatest Name as when recreating Abdu’l-Baha’s calligraphy of the ringstone symbol: dignity and reverence. Putting either symbol on objects used in everyday life (such as dinner plates) is discouraged and when recreating them, we are encouraged to copy the designs as faithfully as possible. If you’d like to know more, we compiled guidance on this subject in our article “Using the Greatest Name”.
When a ring bears the ringstone symbol, how should it be worn?
Mr. Faizi writes:
One finds in the Islamic laws governing worship and reverence that whoever possesses a ring bearing the symbol of the Greatest Name must wear the ring on their right hand.
The friends are not obliged by Baha’u’llah to wear a ring carrying this emblem since there is no specific law by Baha’u’llah in the Aqdas or in His Tablets regarding this. The beloved Master told the friends in the West that the ring should be placed on the right hand, which is a perpetuation of the Islamic law referred to above. 1
Armed with this knowledge, I’m now better prepared to field my daughter’s questions and am much more in awe of this marvellous and mysterious symbol. I hope this article has answered any questions you may have had about this calligraphic symbol.
Footnotes & Citations
“Explanation of the Symbol of the Greatest Name”, Abu’l-Qasim Faizi, Conqueror of Hearts, https://bahai-library.com/faizi_symbol_greatest_name[↩][↩]
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.
It is my understanding the it is a design thought up by Abdu’l-Baha but given form by Mishkín-Qalam
Steven (April 4, 2018 at 10:38 PM)
Shoghi Effendi came up with a version used on some front pages of the Baha’i World series
Steven (April 4, 2018 at 10:40 PM)
Excellent article, Sonjel. Thanks!
Effie Baker also made a contribution with her presentation of this design.
“Coronation on Carmel” , just published by George Ronald, tells the story of the use of this design on the Shrine of the Bab.
Michael V Day (April 4, 2018 at 12:00 AM)
Thanks, Michael! And that’s wonderful to know. I just got my copy and I very excited!
Sonjel Vreeland (April 4, 2018 at 11:31 PM)
Please overlook my abject ignorance, but this wonderful article brought to mind a question that I am almost too embarrassed to ask. But ask I must as I am now confused. Upon seeing the Ring stone Symbol displayed on the Shrine of the Bab I am prone to wonder if this holy symbol is best displayed vertically or horizontally? Mr. Faizi is quoted as to having noted it’s display horizontally and yet we see the Symbol depicted vertically on the Shrine. I have been able to describe to questioners the meaning of my ring, but I never before thought of “the vertical question.”
Van Gig (April 4, 2018 at 1:41 AM)
Hi! This is a really great question! Unfortunately I don’t have an answer for you, just some humble thoughts. When I looked at Mr. Faizi’s article (https://bahai-library.com/faizi_symbol_greatest_name) and saw some of the other calligraphic renderings of “Baha”, particularly the first one listed, it made me realize that the symbol could be read in either orientation. I’m really not sure why one orientation is more common than the other but I’m really grateful to you for raising this question. Perhaps some of our other readers will know the answer!
Sonjel Vreeland (April 4, 2018 at 11:52 PM)
Thank you for warm reply. I am happy to know this “orientation” issue is not that all easy to decipher after all. I tend to agree with your assessment; however, I do have one thought to add. I may be totally off base, but I would tend to think there is a very good reason why the Ringstone Symbol is depicted as it is. And that is because it the “most correct orientation.” Still being a neophyte Baha’i, I would look to the Bab’s Shrine as the model. I await the solution of this spiritual mystery!
Van Gig (April 4, 2018 at 4:00 AM)
I feel a need to “drop back and punt.”. Upon further research and prayerful consideration, I sought out the sage insight of several senior friends from Persia. I am now inclined to believe that the Ringstone Symbol can be both read and understood from the vertical and horizontal orientations without losing its validity or original meaning. Thanks, Sonjel, for being the impetus to make me think “outside of the box.”
Van Gig (April 4, 2018 at 10:33 PM)
The Baha’i Ringstone Symbol defined herein is a Divine Testiment
to my long time enjoying it as it’s placed on the Wall in my place of study. The detailed discrimination you have discovered for your daughter’s edification has benefited me as a Baha’i for four years now! Plus your copious detailed specific comprehensible written scripting tells all that I needed to know indepth regarding thr Baha’i Faith’s Ringstone Symbol and its design by Abdu’l-Baha, the son whom Baha’u’llah appointed as The Guardian of His Holy Covenant!
Charles Wilson (November 11, 2022 at 11:01 AM)