To better understand the Tablet, it may be useful to know some aspects related to its revelation, the historical background, and the life of Ahmad himself.
Many people named Ahmad received Tablets from Bahá’u’lláh. Two of these Tablets are commonly referred to as “Tablet of Ahmad”. One was written in Persian and the other in Arabic. The Tablet this website is dedicated to, and which is found in many prayer books, is the one revealed in Arabic.
Given the Tablet’s references to the Báb and to the Bayán, it is often assumed that Bahá’u’lláh revealed the Tablet of Ahmad prior to the public declaration of His station. However, the Tablet was revealed by Bahá’u’lláh around 1865, during His imprisonment in Adrianople – in other words, after His public declaration of His station. This fact is key to understanding the theme of the Tablet, and the annotations below offer some insights into the references to the Báb and the Bayán.
Bahá’u’lláh wrote this Tablet Himself. As Taherzadeh mentions, “a cursory glance at the original Tablet makes it clean that Bahá’u’lláh wrote this before He was poisoned by Mírzá Yahyá” (i.e., His handwriting wasn’t shaky). Manuscripts of the Tablet in the hand of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also exist.
Shoghi Effendi translated this Tablet into English in 1924 with the assistance of Hand of the Cause of God John Esslemont. The original in Arabic has no paragraphs (which is the norm), so the paragraphs were introduced as part of the translation.
Some of the other Tablets revealed by Bahá’ulláh around the same period include the Tablet of the Holy Mariner (March 1863), the Lawh-i-Ayyub (April 1863), the Súriy-i-Hawdaj (May 1863), the Mathnavi-i-Mubarak and the Tablet of the Bell (Autumn 1863), and the Súriy-i-Amr and the Tablet of Bahá (circa March 1866, just before the Most Great Separation).
The theme of teaching
The final paragraph of the Tablet has not been translated into English, perhaps because it contains a practical instruction to Ahmad that is irrelevant for us today: in that paragraph, Bahá’u’lláh intimates to Ahmad that he should return to Baghdád – presumably to teach the Cause.
The central message of the Tablet may well be a call to teach the Cause. Indeed, Ahmad himself stated:
I received the Tablet of ‘The Nightingale of Paradise’ and reading it again and again, I found out that my Beloved desired me to go and teach His Cause. Therefore I preferred obedience to visiting Him.
It is endearing to notice that Ahmad does not refer to the Tablet as the “Tablet of Ahmad” but, rather, as the “Tablet of the Nightingale of Paradise”.
As the life of Ahmad is key to understanding the Tablet, it is described at some length in a separate page.
One salient aspect pertains to Ahmad’s circumstances just before he received the Tablet.
He had set out to walk from Baghdád to Adrianople to arrive at the presence of Bahá’u’lláh. He was about 60 years old at this time. The Tablet reached him after he had travelled, on foot, the distance from Baghdád to Constantinople (over 1700 kilometres) – simply to request permission to visit Bahá’u’lláh, according to Kolstoe. This author writes:
While awaiting an answer to his request, Ahmad received this famous tablet, which he called ‘The Tablet of the Nightingale’. The tablet says nothing about Ahmad’s request to visit Bahá’u’lláh. But, Ahmad saw a clear message [to go teach the Faith].
After reading the tablet several times, Ahmad decided to follow the call to teach the Cause, choosing not to walk the remaining distance to Adrianople (260 kilometres). Instead, he directed his steps to Persia – another 2240 kilometres – where he went on to walk around the country, teaching the Cause. Kolstoe writes: “at the age when many people retire, the most profound period of his life began”. The Hand of the Cause of God Abu’l-Qásim Faizi states that, through his “persistence, undaunted spirit, tenacity and steadfastness”, Ahmad became the “embodiment of his own Tablet”.
To more fully understand the Tablet, one should bear in mind an important point made by Gurinsky (pp. 22-23):
Let us examine the phrase ‘He is the King’. To whom does ‘the King’ refer? To God or to Bahá’u’lláh? (…)
‘He is the King’ may have several, simultaneous meanings. It may refer both to God and to Bahá’u’lláh. It may also refer to the Báb.
We in the West are accustomed to thinking and making comparisons in terms of ‘either/or’. We tend to judge everything we read, say and do as either right or wrong, for or against, good or bad. When we attempt to understand the Word of God, however, such an approach is extremely limiting. It prevents us from recognizing essential relationships and it veils us from seeing new spiritual meanings. (…)
Bahá’u’lláh often attributes different meanings to the same phrase, an approach which is inclusive.