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Even as the Lord of being hath in His unerring Book [the Qur’an], after speaking of the “Seal” in His exalted utterance: “Muhammad is the Apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets,” hath revealed unto all people the promise of “attainment unto the divine Presence.” …
Nothing more exalted or more explicit than “attainment unto the divine Presence” hath been revealed in the Qur’an. …
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.
This quote changed my life, challenged my thinking, gave me insight. Here’s how:
Calgary, 1991. Bone-chilling winter. Freezing cold outside. Not so cold inside. Colder in the basement, though. Way past midnight. Wife, two young sons, fast asleep. Freeze-dried coffee. Stay awake. Keep typing. Finish my Master’s thesis.
Read above passage again. Again and again. Something puzzles me. Got to figure this out: What’s the “latter” verse that Baha’u’llah refers to? Must be important: “Nothing more exalted … hath been revealed in the Qur’an.”
Okay. “Seal of the Prophets” is verse 33:40 in the Qur’an. (The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims revere Q. 33:40.) Definitely the “former verse” Baha’u’llah refers to.
But where’s the “latter” verse? No citation. No footnote. First clue: “Latter” means “later.” After the “Seal of the Prophets” verse, what should I look for? (Baha’u’llah’s next clue: “Day of Resurrection.”)
How many times have I read this text? Lost count. Must study the text again. Drink more Taster’s Choice. Get up. Walk around. Stretch. Sit down. Read again. Concentrate! Q. 33:40. Verses right after. Here’s what they say:
Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men, but the Messenger of God, and the Seal of the Prophets; God has knowledge of everything.
O believers, remember God oft, and give Him glory at the dawn and in the evening. It is He who blesses you, and His angels, to bring you forth from the shadows into the light. He is All-compassionate to the believers.
Their greeting, on the day when they shall meet Him, will be ‘Peace!’
Qur’an 33:40–44. [Arberry’s translation.]
I think I got it! Sudden insight? Did I just discover the “latter” verse that Baha’u’llah refers to? Maybe. The verse qualifies. For sure, Q. 33:44 has “revealed unto all people the promise of ‘attainment unto the divine Presence’.” Okay. Now I found the “latter” verse. Do I understand Q. 33:44? Sort of. (Not quite!)
Some of Q. 33:40–44 is clear: “To bring you forth from the shadows into the light” refers to the Day of Resurrection. “Shadows” suggests death. “Light” implies life. “Meet Him” means “meet God.”
Problem : If God can’t be seen, then what does “meet God” mean?
Note to self : Prophetic code. Got to decode.
Think! Getting close. Thoughts ablaze. Spirit on fire. So I write:
This one single verse, Qur’an 33:40, is at the heart of Muslim theology. Carved in exegetical stone, the sense of ultimacy behind the “Seal of the Prophets” cannot be overruled. At most, it can only be reinterpreted. Baha’u’llah does just that.
His exegesis is dramatic: he points his finger just four verses further to Qur’an 33:44, a relatively overlooked verse. Suddenly, the reader is transported from the Last Prophet to the Last Day, from the end of prophecy to the end of time. Within a few lines of revealed Arabic, the vision of Muhammad dissolves into the vision of God. …
The interpretation of “Seal of the Prophets” has traditionally meant the “last of the prophets.” The “presence of God,” in Baha’u’llah’s exegesis, signifies, in effect, the “prophet of the Last Day.”
God cannot be seen. The “Presence of God” must be “seen” in the absence of a visible God. The “Presence” is visible; God is not. The “Presence of God” is not God in person but rather the “Person of God.” The Bab is such a “Presence.” Correspondingly, Qur’an 33:40 is Muhammad; Qur’an 33:44 is the Bab. Exegetically, Qur’an 33:44 is therefore the most crucial of all the verses in Baha’u’llah’s argument. – Symbol and Secret, pp. 194–195.
All Muslims – and including Baha’u’llah, the latest divine manifestation – believe that Muhammad is the “Seal [Last] of the Prophets,” precluding any further Prophets. Yet this Baha’i interpretation of the “Seal of the Prophets” and the “Meeting God” references in the Qur’an shows that divine revelation continues, always providing humanity with new guidance and hope.