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Subsequently, Shoghi Effendi, who led the global Baha’i community from 1921 until his passing in 1957, translated many of the original writings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, into English. These authorized translations, seen as a model of accuracy and acumen, merit close study not only for their soaringly beautiful language but for the intellectual and spiritual insight they convey.
So let’s consider one such crucial translation and interpretation, in which Shoghi Effendi adds a single word in his English translation — the word “verse” (a word whose Persian equivalent is not found in the original Persian text) — in the following passage from Baha’u’llah’s “Book of Certitude:”
How strange! These people with one hand cling to those verses of the Qur’an and those traditions of the people of certitude which they have found to accord with their inclinations and interests, and with the other reject those which are contrary to their selfish desires. “Believe ye then part of the Book, and deny part?” (Qur’an 2:85). How could ye judge that which ye understand not? Even as the Lord of being hath in His unerring Book, after speaking of the “Seal” in His exalted utterance: “Muḥammad is the Apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets,” (Qur’an 33:40) hath revealed unto all people the promise of “attainment unto the divine Presence.” To this attainment to the presence of the immortal King testify the verses of the Book, some of which We have already mentioned. The one true God is My witness! Nothing more exalted or more explicit than “attainment unto the divine Presence” hath been revealed in the Qur’an. Well is it with him that hath attained thereunto, in the day wherein most of the people, even as ye witness, have turned away therefrom.
And yet, through the mystery of the former verse, they have turned away from the grace promised by the latter, despite the fact that “attainment unto the divine Presence” in the “Day of Resurrection” is explicitly stated in the Book. It hath been demonstrated and definitely established, through clear evidences, that by “Resurrection” is meant the rise of the Manifestation of God to proclaim His Cause, and by “attainment unto the divine Presence” is meant attainment unto the presence of His Beauty in the person of His Manifestation. For verily, “No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision.” (Qur’an 6:103.) Notwithstanding all these indubitable facts and lucid statements, they have foolishly clung to the term “seal,” and remained utterly deprived of the recognition of Him Who is the Revealer of both the Seal and the Beginning, in the day of His presence.
In my first book, “Symbol & Secret,” I argued that – “after speaking of the ‘Seal’ in His exalted utterance: ‘Muḥammad is the Apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets,’ (Qur’an 33:40) hath revealed unto all people the promise of “attainment unto the divine Presence” – Baha’u’llah is alluding to Qur’an 33:44, just four verses later (“after speaking”). This is a translation of Qur’an 33:44:
On the day when they will be brought into the presence of their Lord, their greeting to each other will be, “Peace be with you.” God has prepared an honorable reward for them.
Of course, it’s quite impossible to “meet” God directly, as Baha’u’llah explains. So this future promise – “On the day when they will be brought into the presence of their Lord” – refers to the “the promise of ‘attainment unto the divine Presence’,” as Baha’u’llah explains referring to the appearance of the Bab, and also presaging the appearance of Baha’u’llah himself. To understand the meaning of “attainment unto the divine Presence,” we can simply think of Jesus’ profound statement in John 14:9:
Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?
So according to Baha’i belief, whoever has seen the Bab (i.e. “he that hath seen me”) has “seen the Father.” In effect, by believing in the messengers of God, a person has “attained unto the divine Presence” or has “met God,” figuratively speaking. The same holds true for Baha’u’llah, whom the Bab foretold.
I was tipped off to this second verse by Baha’u’llah’s statement:
And yet, through the mystery of the former verse, they have turned away from the grace promised by the latter, despite the fact that “attainment unto the divine Presence” in the “Day of Resurrection” is explicitly stated in the Book.
The “Book” refers to the Qur’an. Note that Shoghi Effendi has added the word “verse” in this remarkable, interpretive translation. Here, the “former verse” refers to Qur’an 33:40, while the “latter” (verse) I understood to be a veiled reference to Qur’an 33:44. This was an important discovery, at least for me – one that I will never forget, an experience I wrote about in the very first article (Part 1) of this “Figuring Out Prophecy” series: “Unsealing the ‘Seal of the Prophets’.”
In the next essay in this series, we’ll talk to a scholar of the Qur’an, Dergham Aqiqi, and ask him about how these verses fit together and what they really mean.