Notes by Stephen Lambden, translator, excerpted from "The Tablet of Medicine (Lawh-I Tibb) of Bahá'u'lláh: ... Occasional Notes," from Bahá'í Studies Bulletin 6:4-7:2 (1992), by Khazeh Fananapazir & Stephen Lambden.
The Arabic-Persian text of Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of Medicine (Lawh-i tibb) [The Lawh-i tibb was first published in Majmu'a-yi alwah-i mubaraka (Cairo 1920, Reprint Wilmette, Illinois: BPT 1981 pages 222-226).]
is to be dated to the early Akká period of his ministry (early 1870's?). It was addressed to a Bahá'í named Mírzá Muhammad Rida'-yi Tabib-i Yazdi, a physician of the traditional school.... The notes are designed to clarify what is a sometimes difficult text which could, at certain points, have been translated in quite a number of different ways. Only a few of the verses or terms contained within the Lawh-i tibb
are commented upon. It is hoped that the translation and notes will be of interest to Bahá'ís in general and to those who are practitioners of modern medicine. Doubtless, in the future, scholars expert in both Bahá'í doctrine and in the history of science medicine will write learned and comprehensive commentaries upon this important Tablet.
As indicated, not all of the numerous Bahá'í texts which might have an expository bearing on the Tablet of Medicine
can be cited below. The following letter of Shoghi Effendi makes some centrally important points:
"The Tablet to a Physician was addressed to a man who was a student of the old type of healing prevalent in the East and familiar with the terminology used in those days, and He addresses him in terms used by the medical men of those days. These terms are quite different from those used by modern medicine, and one would have to have a deep knowledge of this former school of medicine to understand the questions Bahá'u'lláh was elucidating. Bahá'u'lláh has recommended that people seek the help and advice of experts and doctors: He does not say which school they should belong to.
Likewise there is nothing in the teachings about whether people should eat their food cooked or raw: exercise or not exercise: resort to specific therapies or not: nor is it forbidden to eat meat.
Bahá'u'lláh says teaching is the greatest of all services, but He does not mean one should give up medicine to teach. [From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, December 18, 1945 cited UHJ:1984. See also the letter printed in BSB 4:3-4 (April 1990) p.58.]
As indicated by Shoghi Effendi in a letter dated 14th January 1932, the first few Arabic paragraphs of the Tablet of Medicine
contain useful advice for the maintenance of good health. Part of this letter of Shoghi Effendi reads, "With the appearance of every Revelation a new insight is created in man and this in turn expresses itself in the growth of science. This has happened in past dispensations and we find its earliest fruits in our present day. What we see however is only the beginning. With the spiritual awakening of man this force will develop and marvelous results will become manifest. Among other phases of human learning the medical science will have a place. There is a Tablet of Medicine that Bahá'u'lláh has revealed and which is translated into English. That does not contain much of scientific informations [sic.] but has some interesting advices for keeping healthy." (cited LDG 2:21)] They echo those medical maxims and pieces of useful advice found in a variety of Greek and Islamic literatures — generally speaking, a considerable proportion of lslamic medicine has Greek roots. Ullmann has written in the introduction to his Islamic Medicine,
"'Islamic medicine' did not grow up on Arab soil. Rather it is the medicine of later Greek antiquity which was formulated in the Arabic language in the south and west of the Mediterranean from the ninth century A.D." (p.xi). While the Qur'an contains little or no explicit medicine — neither the word doctor/physician nor medicine are mentioned (cf. Ullmann, p.4; Dols, review of Rahman ii — this is more than made up for in the Sunni and Shi'i hadith literatures.
From the early Islamic centuries compilations of medical wisdom attributed to
the Prophet Muhammad were made by Sunni and Shi'i writers. Such major Sunni canonical collections of hadith
as that of al-Bukhhari (810-870 CE) contain their own Book of Medicine (Kitáb al-tibb).
Many medical or quasi-medical traditions were attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is nonetheless the case that "The hadith
directly related to medicine are relatively few, usually late, and frequently contradictory." [M.W. Dols, Review of Rahman in Hist.Sci., xxvi (1988), p.417]
The medical wisdom of the Twelver Shi'i Imáms was likewise assiduously compiled.
A great many statements are attributed to the Twelver Imáms that, in one way or another, have to do with medical matters or with bodily health. To the eighth Imám 'Alí al-Rida' (c.768-818 CE) is attributed The Golden Treatise,
a treatise on medical cures and good health written for and at the request of the 'Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur. Commentaries are said to have been written on this Arabic treatise which have been translated into Persian and Urdu (see W. Malelung, All al-Rezd,
Elr. 2:877-8). There exists furthermore, a treatise in the Jabirean corpus — writings attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan (c.103/721-c.200/815) certain of which Bahá'u'lláh drew upon — entitled The Book of Prophetic Medicine according to the View of thee Household of the Prophet.
A multitude of other Shi'i works, which cannot possibly be even listed here, are relevant to the study of the background to the Lawh-i tibb.
The Lawh-i tibb
cannot be fully or adequately commented upon without some reference to its (Shi'i Islamic background.