Brief thoughts on "the camphor fountain"

In the Qur’án, verse 76:5, we find:

’inna al-abraara yashrabuuna min ka’siN kaana mizaaju-haa kaafuuraN (Verily the righteous shall drink from a wine-cup that has been tempered with camphor.)

The literal translation of the Qur’ánic verse is:

’inna (verily, thus) al-abraara (the ones who are just) yashrabuuna (shall drink, imbibe (from sharaba)) min ka’siN (from a wine-cup (i.e., cup filled with wine)) kaana mizaaju-haa (that has been tempered (from mizaaj, temperament)) kaafuuraN ((by) camphor)

Historically, camphor was an extract with many uses, which was added to wine to enhance its flavor and bouquet. Since it is also rumored to quiet the passions, it has been linked with detachment from the world, and being freed from the vagaries of the heart.

In Persian literature, the word “camphor” is used with four meanings (besides the oil/plant itself): to convey whiteness, fragrance, something with a cooling effect, and a lack of virility (because the passions have been cooled). For example:

tuuda’-i kaafuur – A heap of snow; a fair skin; a white head.

khurda’-i kaafuur – (crumbs of camphor), The stars.

kaafuur khwurdan – To eat camphor (an expression used to imply deficiency of virility).

kaafuur-baar – (raining camphor) Anything cold or fragrant; snowing.

may-i kaafuur – Camphorated wine (which is done to “cool” it).

One Qur’ánic commentator writes:

The root of the word camphor that has been used in this context means suppressing and covering up. This is an indication that they have drunk of the cup of cutting asunder from the world and turning to God with such sincerity that their love of the world has been cooled down. All emotions are generated by the ideas of the heart and when the heart withdraws far away from improper thoughts and has no concern with them, the emotions are subdued till they disappear altogether. In this verse God Almighty desires to convey that those who turn wholly to Him cast aside their passions and their hearts become cool to worldly activities and their emotions are covered up and suppressed as poisonous matter is suppressed by camphor.1

This meaning resonates with Bahá’u’lláh’s reference to the above verse when discussing freedom from worldly limitations:

He who hath attained this station [of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness] is sanctified from all that pertaineth to the world. Wherefore, if those who have come to the sea of His presence are found to possess none of the limited things of this perishable world, whether it be outer wealth or personal opinions, it mattereth not. For whatever the creatures have is limited by their own limits, and whatever the True One hath is sanctified therefrom; this utterance must be deeply pondered that its purport may be clear. “Verily the righteous shall drink of a winecup tempered at the camphor fountain.” If the interpretation of “camphor” become known, the true intention will be evident. This state is that poverty of which it is said, “Poverty is My glory.”2

If the interpretation of camphor here referred is “releasing man from bondage to limited things”, it fits nicely.

Bahá’u’lláh also brings up this verse when discussing the necessary qualities for apprehending the meaning of the Holy Writings:

Hence, it is clear and manifest that by the words “the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven” is intended the waywardness of the divines, and the annulment of laws firmly established by divine Revelation, all of which, in symbolic language, have been foreshadowed by the Manifestation of God. None except the righteous shall partake of this cup, none but the godly can share therein. “The righteous shall drink of a cup tempered at the camphor fountain.”3

When He says, “None except the righteous shall partake of this cup”, I believe He is referring to the cup of Revelation, where “partake” means to understand its real intent. And this to the righteous because they drink from the camphor fountain (that is, they’ve purged their hearts from worldly affections). This theme is addressed later when He writes:

The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit.4

Likewise, `Abdu’l-Bahá makes reference to the above verse in the following prayer:

Call Thou to life those who dwell in their tombs, warn Thou the prideful, make happiness world-wide, send down Thy crystal waters, and in the assemblage of manifest splendours, pass round that cup which is `tempered at the camphor fountain.’5

The idea of detachment would render the meaning of this prayer as “Make all to be forgetful of the world, purified from lesser interests, and mindful entirely of Thee”. And in another tablet He writes:

Therefore must the desire of the friends be this, to bring together and unify all peoples, that all may receive a generous drink of this pure wine from this cup that is `tempered at the camphor fountain.’6

A possibly more explicit reference to “camphor” is given in the following:

Muhammad-Hádí was loyal always, and he accounted all things other than God’s good pleasure as fiction and fable, nothing more. Blessed is he for this gift bestowed upon him, glad tidings to him for the place to which he shall be led; may it do him good, this wine-cup tempered at the camphor fountain, and may all his strivings meet with thanks and be acceptable to God.7

Lastly, `Abdu’l-Bahá reports one of the Bábí martyrs as offering these words in a prayer immediately before his execution:

Thanks be unto Thee that Thou didst succor me and confirm me and didst give me to drink of this cup that was tempered at the camphor fountain8

The next verse begins with “`aynaN”, meaning “a spring, source, fountain (also ‘eye’)”. Whether this fountain is related to camphor is unclear.

Bahá’u’lláh refers to this verse – “a fount whereof the near unto God shall drink” – in the Valley of Unity, where He seems to describe the sufficiency experienced when a person has purified their heart from limitations and God’s light begins to reflect therein.

So, the righteous drink of the camphorated wine, and they also drink from a fountain whose flow increases by the drinking. My previous reading would link these two with: “This state is that poverty of which it is said, ’Poverty is My glory.”’

Both “kaafuuraN” and “aynaN" are in the accusative case, kaafuuraN because it is the noun related to "temper", and "aynaN” because it is the object of the following phrase (“from which the righteous shall drink…”). My Arabic does not go much farther than this, though, so if there is truly a grammatical connection between these verses, I cannot see it. Can anyone else assist?

I thought perhaps Bahá’u’lláh may have joined “kaafuuraN aynaN" (a camphor fountain), but in the original Kitáb-i-Íqán He does not quote the word "aynaN”. The Guardian decided to translate “fountain” into the reference. And as I understand it, the wording would have to have been “aynaN kaafuuraN" if kaafuur were to be read as an adjective ofaynaN.”A fountain of camphor" would have been “`ayna kaafuuriN”.

Question: What do you think that the camphor fountain refers to?

I apologize that my previous posts were unclear. I am examining the possibility that camphor refers to purification and detachment, and that as a result, one gains access to the heavenly wine of Divine Intention (expressed most directly in the Covenant). Perhaps all of our suggested meanings inter-relate.

I also wish to consider the agency of camphor, which has more uses than fragrance alone. If “camphor fountain” is taken only to mean obedience to the Covenant, without reference to the agency or qualities of that obedience, then the following paragraph seems to end in a non-sequitor:

This is the purpose underlying the symbolic words of the Manifestations of God. Consequently, the application of the terms “sun” and “moon” to the things already mentioned hath been demonstrated and justified by the text of the sacred verses and the recorded traditions. Hence, it is clear and manifest that by the words “the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven” is intended the waywardness of the divines, and the annulment of laws firmly established by divine Revelation, all of which, in symbolic language, have been foreshadowed by the Manifestation of God. None except the righteous shall partake of this cup, none but the godly can share therein. “The righteous shall drink of a cup tempered at the camphor fountain.”

At this point in the Íqán, Bahá’u’lláh is discussing the true meanings of the heavenly allusions, and why the divines have failed to perceive them. Now, just above He says “… all of which, in symbolic language, have been foreshadowed by the Manifestation of God”. Then immediately after that He says, “None except the righteous shall partake of this cup.”

He does not mention the Covenant here (or in the paragraphs surrounding), nor the attractive qualities of the Word of God. When He says “this cup”, I believe He is referring to the preceding discussion by use of the demonstrative adjective. He then links “this cup” with the wine-cup mentioned by Muhammad.

Taken in context, “this cup” seems to refer to the true intention of “the symbolic words of the Manifestations of God”, and that “none except the righteous may partake of this cup”. Why? He gives the necessary qualifications later in the same text:

The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven… depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit.

To “partake of this cup”, we need purity, chastity, freedom, all of which imply sanctity (from impurity, defilement and bondage).

Taking the literary uses of “camphor” into account, where it means either whiteness, fragrance or cooling of the passions (even botanical guides list it as an anaphrodisiac9), it would seem that the third usage fits very well: that the wine-cup tempered by camphor means that the vessel of the human heart has been freed from ephemeral attachments, at which point it is capable of apprehending the manifold meanings of the Word of God. Compare this with `Abdu’l-Bahá statement in the commentary on the Sur’ih of Rúm:

Were one of the sincere ones to turn to God in this most great Day and see with the purest vision, he would understand all of the realities and meanings of every word of the verses of God, the Eternal Protector – nay indeed, every letter and every dot.

Forgive my prolixity, but in reading camphor to indicate “true poverty” (inner poverty, abandoning all that is not of God), I am offering this interpretation of the Qur’ánic verse:

Verily, those who hold to justice10 have purified their hearts by a draught which has severed their connection to the world, and they now enjoy the crystal waters of communion with His will, a solace that increases with every drink.

Of course, since His will is made manifest most brightly in the Covenant, this would indeed refer to that “fountain”. I am excited to see this connection; both yours and Patti’s letters have helped me find it. Also, Patti’s reference of tempering to fire, which I too quickly passed over, leads to this additional interpretation of “a wine-cup tempered by camphor”:

The wine-cup is the human heart; after being tempered by the fire of tests and trials, it is touched by the cooling essence of that camphor which attracts souls into the sheltering shade of the Covenant11.

As Patti expressed, there are many layers here, and just playing around with these few has increased my excitement, and brought me into greater contact, with verses I had longed considered too mysterious to approach.

Just a brief note on the tempering of metal, since it figures into many different metaphors.

The process of tempering means to alter behavior or condition by contributing a new factor. This could be by admixture, pressure, heat, etc. Burning away impurities, by the way, would indicate a different process (purification).

In the case of steel, tempering acts as follows: When carbon is dissolved in liquid iron, and cools sufficiently to be malleable, it is in a state called “austentite”. If it is allowed to cool freely, it will become “pearlite”, which is very weak chemically. The steel molecules will be randomly arranged, and the metal is neither hard nor strong.

If austentitic steel is quenched – if its temperature is dropped quickly – it forces the steel molecules to solidify into structures they would not normally select. This is called “martensite” steel, and is very hard. However, it is also very brittle.

To make martensitic steel strong enough to be useful, while retaining hardness, it is necessary to “temper” the metal: literally to mellow its temperament: by heating it up to a temperature less than austentite, but enough to induce a structural change within the metal. The result is similar to Rebar embedded in concrete: the iron is fortified by a latticework of ferrous carbide molecules within the steel.

Once the tempered metal has cooled, it is both hard and strong, which is the whole purpose for adding the carbon to iron in the first place (since iron is neither hard nor strong).


  1. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Essence of Islam: Vol 2

  2. Bahá’u’lláh, Seven Valleys, pp. 36-7

  3. Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 41

  4. ibid, p. 211

  5. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections, p. 254

  6. ibid, p. 278

  7. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 69

  8. ibid, pp. 177-8

  9. Julia Lawless, Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils

  10. “He who hath drunk the choice wine of fairness from the hands of My bountiful favour will circle around My commandments that shine above the Dayspring of My creation.” – Aqdas

  11. “Seek a martyr’s death in My path, content with My pleasure and thankful for that which I ordain, that thou mayest repose with Me beneath the canopy of majesty behind the tabernacle of glory.” – Hidden Words