Posted by: samandal | November 12, 2009


Birth of Bahá’u’lláh

“The richness of the cloth offers some positive link with the royalty it is intended to signify.”                                                                                                           (Ian Almond: Sufism and Deconstruction, page 125)

A photograph of Bahá’u’lláh is provided at the end of this entry; if this offends, do not read further.

The Bahá’í Dispensation is the first Dispensation in which adherents are privileged to reflect upon the Glory of God through an actual photograph of his latest Manifestation, Bahá’u’lláh. However, the station of Bahá’u’lláh is such that even his portrait is very precious. It should, therefore, be gazed upon with only the utmost reverence and only selectively displayed. Since a praxis for the demonstration of an acceptable degree of reverence has not been legislated, the imposition of such a praxis of reverence would be entirely inappropriate. Moreover, the unmediated presence of God requires images of Divinity (or icons of the Divine) upon which to focus our faith, as Bahá’u’lláh himself implicitly acknowledged.

A photographic portrait is a historical document of a very particular moment in time, situated through various conventions of composition, representation, interpretation and use. The portrait of Bahá’u’lláh is a depiction of his person in his circumscribed human nature. He can neither be seen nor depicted in his divine nature, since his divine nature is uncircumscribed and therefore inaccessible to our perception in any direct manner. His portrait is a photographic reproduction, a surrogate image, which can in no way represent his divine nature, let alone reproduce it. The photograph of Bahá’u’lláh mediates both his presence and the devotion returned to him, but only inasmuch as its referent inspires veneration through meditation and prayer.

The portrait selected to illustrate this entry is the only documented photograph ever taken at the express request of Bahá’u’lláh, and the only one to receive his explicit approval. It was created in response to his dissatisfaction with the results of the first passport photograph for which he sat. It is free of all copyright restrictions, as it is a photograph taken in the Ottoman empire in 1868. Bahá’u’lláh requested that no copies of this photograph be made so that Bahá’ís do not make a mimetic idol of his image. However, as the original of this photograph may be viewed by Sans-Guardianists on pilgrimage to Haifa, it seems apparent that Bahá’u’lláh did not prohibit the veneration (proskynesis) of his image so much as the adoration (latreia) of it.

Alláh’u’Akbar! Alláh’u’A‘zam! Alláh’u’Abhá!