Occasional Papers in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Studies No. 5 (November, 1997)

"Reading Reading Itself: The Bab's `Sura of the Bees,' A Commentary on Qur'an 12:93 from the Sura of Joseph—

Text, Translation and Commentary"

by Todd Lawson

1. Preface

The Qur'an is both the center and the circumference of the life of Islam. It is indeed difficult to imagine a more intensely read text in the literary history of the human race. The intensity of such reading may be seen to have achieved something of an apogee in the experience of `Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the young man who was born in Iran in 1819 and executed by his fellow countrymen for heresy in 1850. His first public heretical act was to compose/reveal a new Qur'an -- "the true Qur'an". It was such a literary gesture that gave rise to a new religious movement that is best known in the West as Babism or "the Babi Movement" after one of the titles adopted by Shirazi, "al-Bab", an Arabic word meaning "the door" or "the gate." In the immediate context, this title means that the author esteemed himself to be the sole point of contact between the faithful Muslims and their absent and hidden leader, the Imam. It is important to point out that the Imam in Shi`ism is recognized as a living text, the so-called speaking Qur'an, while the actual Book is referred to as the silent Qur'an. [1] In previous publications, I have drawn attention to the way such a "motif" is present in the literary compositions and life of the Bab. [2] The translation and commentary below is of one of the sections (singular "sura") of the work by which the Bab made his involvement in this phenomenon known to others. One of the results of the following exploration is the suggestion that this highly distinctive literary work be thought of as an apocalypse of separation and reunion.

This composition is known by the title Tafsir surat Yusuf (Commentary on the Sura of Joseph). It is also known as Ahsan al-Qisas (The Best of Stories) and Qayyum al-Asma' (Maintainer of the Divine Names).[3] Given that it is thus titled, those familiar with the history of Arabic literature will be lead to expect a work of scriptural exegesis that conforms more or less to a rather rigidly adhered to structure informed by a variety of traditionally held presuppositions and expectations.[4] Encountering this text by the Bab, however, will frustrate such expectations. It is no exaggeration to say that this purported exegesis has absolutely nothing in common with the formal representative works of scriptural exegesis in the Islamic tradition, apart from the nominal one found in the title. The deliberate use of the technical word tafsir (exegesis) to describe the work is a separate question unto itself. Employing it expresses the desire to maintain a link with the greater learned tradition. But it seems clear that one of the purposes for this is to break the very relationship it invokes.

This work by the Bab most certainly offers a distinctive reading -- which must be one of the functions of even the classical tradition -- of the Qur'an through its intense concern with the 12th chapter of the Qur'an, the Sura of Joseph. But how this reading is developed and presented could not really be more different and could not be imagined to deviate more from the classical tradition. In the first place, it is clear from the structure of the work that the author is introducing a new scripture or revelation by means of the Trojan horse of exegesis. So blatant is this assertion that one may well wonder why the literary fiction of tafsir had to be involved in the first place. In short, the work is structured like the Qur'an itself and divided into 111 suwar (chapters) each with 42 ayat (literally "divine portents or signs" < "holy verses"). In addition, each sura or chapter (but four in the main manuscript consulted for this discussion) is headed by some combination of mysterious disconnected letters. None of these features had until this time occurred outside of the Qur'an in Islamicate literature -- at least they had not been used together in a single work. To have done so would have indicated to the reader/audience that the author was claiming revelation, something Islamic religion holds cannot happen anymore because Muhammad was the last prophet and therefore the final revealer of God's word. There have been many instances, particularly within the Islamic mystical tradition, where this dogma has been teased and indeed violated. For example, Ibn Arabi's (d.1240) statement that his books are revelation.[5] But none of these earlier similar gestures have claimed quite so explicitly to be a new Qur'an.


The Tafsir surat Yusuf is one of the more important of the Bab's works and this for a variety of reasons. In other publications I have described several features of the work and offered a few examples from the text itself.(1) Out of context, these features give but a limited picture of the work as a whole. It was thought advisable, therefore, to present at least one full sura of the work as a more or less typical example (Surat al-Nahl, #94, QA, pp.189-91). In it are found most of the distinguishing elements of this commentary (tafsir). This presentation is divided into two parts. The first is a discussion of the Quranic, Hadith and Shaykhi background of the two main symbols of the chapter: the BEES of Qur'an 16, and the SHIRT (qamis) of Joseph. The second part is an attempt to come to terms with the style and contents of the work through a verse by verse gloss. It is hoped that this translation and gloss will give an idea of the problems connected with the study of the work, and at the same time provide at least some of the reasons the work was so enthusiastically received.

The Qur'an and Hadith

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
(John Donne, "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning")

The chapter chosen for this examination is written under Qur'an 12:93, which contains part of Joseph's address to his brothers immediately after their recognition of him in Egypt. The word qamis (Wehr: shirt, dress, gown; covering, cover, wrap, envelope, jacket; (Chr.) alb, surplice, rochet; incarnation. N.B. taqmis and taqammus = transmigration of souls, metempsychosis) appears in the Qur'an only in sura 12, where it is mentioned six times. First at Qur'an 12:18, where Joseph's brothers are described as having put false blood on his shirt in an attempt to deceive Jacob, claiming that a wolf had eaten their brother. At Qur'an 12:25-28, the qamis figures prominently in the well-known episode with "the `Aziz's"/Potiphar's wife where the guilt or innocence of Joseph is determined by whether the shirt is torn from the front or the back.(2) Finally, for the present discussion, the most important mention comes at 12:93 and the reference to it in Qur'an 12:96. Joseph's brothers have finally recognized him as a highly-placed official in Egypt. After assuring his brothers that God will forgive their past misdeeds against him, Joseph exhorts them:

It will be recalled that Jacob, in the Quranic story, lost his sight from weeping over the loss of Joseph. As the Qur'an says: AND HIS EYES BECAME WHITE FROM GRIEF (Qur'an 12:84). That is, his copious tears washed away the colour, the visible emblem of sight, from his irises. The brothers take the shirt with them on their return to Jacob and as they cross the border from Egypt into the Holy Land, the Qur'an, in an almost cinematic gesture, switches point of view dramatically with a single verb from the border of Egypt to the bedside of Jacob, languishing there from the heart-wrenching separation from his beloved Joseph. This gives us the scene of Jacob in his house exclaiming at this remote distance from the other narrative action: I DO INDEED SCENT THE PRESENCE OF JOSEPH: NAY THINK ME NOT A DOTARD (Qur'an 12:94). Those around him assume that Jacob is losing his mind to think that his long lost -- probably dead by now -- beloved son was present: he had become senile. The Qur'an continues: THEN WHEN THE BEARER OF THE GOOD NEWS CAME, HE CAST (THE SHIRT) OVER HIS FACE, AND HE FORTHWITH REGAINED CLEAR SIGHT. [JACOB] SAID: "DID I NOT SAY TO YOU , `I KNOW FROM GOD THAT WHICH YE KNOW NOT?'" (Qur'an 12:96). This last reference is to the earlier scene in Qur'an 12:85-6: THEY SAID: "BY GOD! (NEVER) WILT THOU CEASE TO REMEMBER JOSEPH UNTIL THOU REACH THE LAST EXTREMITY OF ILLNESS OR UNTIL THOU DIE!" [JACOB] SAID: "I ONLY COMPLAIN OF MY DISTRACTION AND ANGUISH TO GOD, AND I KNOW FROM GOD THAT WHICH YE KNOW NOT."

The symbol of the cloak may be seen to have developed out of the ancient practice of holy men and diviners, who kept the "exterior world at a distance" by wearing a special robe.(3) Cognates of this symbol exist in shamanism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and so-called primitive religions from the Amerindians to the South Pacific. In the Acts of Thomas; Jesus is clothed in a "robe of light". The shirt, robe, cloak, garment, remnant represents a cluster of images and symbols that are extremely rich in implications: civilisation, new body, protection, knowledge, and so on. Quranic Suras 73 & 74 al-Muzzammil"the Enwrapped", al-Muddaththir "the Shrouded", refer in their titles to the garments or textile (< "text") coverings either worn or used by Muhammad. His Yemeni robe later frequently plays a role in his life. We will see below how the fabric traditionally used to drape the Kaaba may be compared with the shirt of Joseph.

In Sufism, the khirqa, "robe, gown," is an initiatic garment bestowed upon an aspirant at a given stage in the spiritual pedagogy. According to the venerable Sufi handbook `Awarif al-ma`arif by `Umar Suhrawardi (d.1234), this mantle or cloak is the antitype of the shirt of Joseph. He speaks also of its heavenly origin, and mentions the qamis of Joseph (with which the khirqa is compared) as that which protected Abraham from the fire. In wonderfully suggestive language, Suhrawardi speaks of the relationship thus symbolized between the Sufi master and the aspirant:

"The Shaykh is a door which God, exalted be He, opens to the threshold of His generosity. By him [the Shaykh] he [the aspirant] enters and to Him he returns. . . . The khirqa does for the aspirant what the qamis of Joseph did for Jacob, upon them both peace." . . . And it is related that Abraham, the Friend, upon him peace, when he was thrown in the fire, he was stripped of his garments, and he was thrown into it naked. Then Gabriel, upon him peace, brought him a qamis made of the silk of paradise, and he clothed him with it. And it remained with Abraham, upon him peace, and when he died, he bequeathed it to Isaac, and when he died he bequeathed it to Jacob. Jacob, upon him peace, protected the qamis by putting it inside Joseph (fa-ja'alahu fi `unqi Yusuf) so that it would not be separated from him, and when he was cast into the well naked, Gabriel came to him while it was thus protected and he drew forth the qamis from him and clothed him with it. . . . Joseph, upon him peace, knew by God, exalted be He, . . . that one was the qamis of Abraham and he related what we have related, he said: Gabriel was commanded to carry your qamis, for in it is the scent of paradise, it is not placed on a sick one except that he become healed and healthy, thus does the khirqa belonging to the sincere murid (disciple), bear the perfume (rih) of paradise. . .. In the same way," says Suhrawardi "the khirqa transmits the perfume (`arf) of paradise to the aspirant." It should be noted that the word for perfume, `arf, is a derivative of the same Arabic root from which the words for knowledge, gnosis, and mystical insight also derive: `irfan, ma`rifa. The verb, `arafa "to know", occurs in the very influential: "Who knows himself knows his Lord." Thus `arif, "one who knows" means mystic, gnostic, seeker, and knower. In the case of Shi`ism, the immediate background here, this knowledge must be mediated by the Imam, hidden or otherwise, who is the source of all ma`rifa/mystical knowledge. Because of the distinctive bond that obtains between the individual Shi`i believer and the Imam which is denoted by the Arabic word walaya, an `arif is, in addition to being a gnostic and a seeker, also a lover. It is precisely Jacob's burning, unwavering and private love for the absent Joseph that is read as the model and type of the Shi`i believer's love for the hidden Imam. It is, after all, by means of "scent" that Jacob gains reunion with the object of his love: THEIR FATHER SAID: I DO INDEED SCENT THE PRESENCE OF JOSEPH (Qur'an 12:94).(4)

In Shi`i works, reference is often made to "the people of the cloak" (ahl al-kisa') who are specified as Muhammad, `Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn.(5) This designation is used by Shi`i writers, whether Twelver or Isma`ili, to express the idea that Muhammad's special qualities were transmitted to his progeny through contact with his mantle. A dramatic episode involving the "People of the Cloak" occurred during the famous debate between the Prophet and the Christian delegation from Najran. It was on the Red Sandhill (kathib ahmar) that the apparitional forms (ashbah) of the Ahl al-Kisa'i flashed forth like lightning, during the contest. Massignon speaks of this tradition in the following passage:

In the hadith literature, the qamis of Joseph is seen to fullfill the function of bearing the substance and charisma of prophecy. This qamis is of course the Quranic equivalent of the "robe with sleeves" mentioned in Genesis 37:3, which Jacob had given to Joseph because of his great love for him. It was this robe which provoked the jealousy of his brothers.

Many of the traditions which compare Joseph to the Qa'im or Mahdi (another name for the Muslim promised one) are ascribed to Ja`far al-Sadiq (d.765). The sixth Imam was asked about the shirt of Joseph and responded, along the lines of the material quoted above, that when Abraham was burning in the fire (Q. 21:68-69), Gabriel came down with the shirt and clothed him with it so that he would not be harmed. Abraham gave this shirt to Isaac, who gave it to Jacob. When Joseph was born, Jacob gave the shirt to him. It was this shirt, originally sent from Heaven, by which Jacob detected the scent of Joseph (cf.12:93). The distinctiveness of al-Sadiq's teaching comes with his response to the question: "What became of this shirt?" He responded that the shirt stayed with the descendants of Joseph and is now in the possession of "our Qa'im" because all the prophets inherit knowledge and other things from each other.(7) In the article in Anwar on this word, the author says only that its exoteric meaning is well known, but that its ta'wil or esoteric interpretation is connected with the words thiyab and libas (both literally mean "clothing"). The first word is defined as representing the knowledge with which the Imams have been endowed, and by extension refers to walaya or authority proper. Walaya is the central doctrine in Shi`ism signifying at once authority, guardianship, allegiance, devotion, faithfulness, love and friendship. The second word carries a complex of meanings which includes, together with the idea of garment, "deception". For the former, the author refers to several verses in the Qur'an, among which are 2:187, where it is stated that spouses are as a garment to each other. For the latter, he cites 2:42 in which those who disguise the truth with falsehood are condemned. Ultimately however, the word "garment" (libas) is seen as a symbol of the authority (walaya) of the Imams. (8, 9 & 10)


The Shaykhi School (madhhab) provides the immediate historical and intellectual background for the rise of the Babi Movement for a number of reasons. Most important for this discussion is the fact that the majority of the Bab's first followers came from it. The "school" was founded by the teaching and intellectual and spiritual virtuosity of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i (d.1826) who acquired much notoriety in Qajar Iran because of his ideas which in turn enjoyed a special popularity amongst the pious merchant classes. He was succeeded on his death by an Iranian, Sayyid Kazim Rashti (d.1843-4) -- the man the Bab elsewhere referred to as his beloved teacher. In his commentary on the Qasida al-lamiya ("Ode on the Letter `L'"), Sayyid Kazim Rashti (d.1843-4) -- takes the opportunity to dilate on the implications of the word qamis which occurs in one of its verses. The poet has compared the curtain (satr) of the tomb of the Prophet with the shirt (qamis) of Joseph, indicating that the spiritual "fragrance" of the former is far greater than that of the latter. Rashti says that however powerful the fragrance of the shirt of Joseph might have been, it cannot compare with the much stronger power of the curtain of the Prophet's mausoleum. Interestingly, the power of the shirt comes from Joseph's having worn it, rather than its heavenly origin. Jacob could detect its perfume from a great distance, because both he and Joseph together formed an "aspect" of the "seal of the prophets". Since Joseph's shirt acquired its "fragrance" (i.e. spiritual power) from physical contact, the "fragrance" acquired from physical closeness to the Prophet's tomb must be even stronger. Therefore, while it was the power of the fragrance of the shirt of Joseph which caused Jacob's physical sight to be restored, the perfume of this "shirt" (i.e., the curtain or satr of the tomb) is incomparably stronger and will give spiritual sight to those who regard it with the "eye of reality". (11 & 12)

In this sura, however, the Bab indicates that the shirt of Joseph represents a power equivalent to the curtain of the tomb of the Prophet. The symbol of the shirt of Joseph is immediately associated with the BEES mentioned in Qur'an 16 (The Sura of the Bee). Such an apparently incongruous and abrupt association of the BEES with the SHIRT of Joseph is quite typical of the Bab's method throughout this commentary.(13) The Bab seems to take the BEES out of thin air. As will be seen, this air is actually the exceedingly rich atmosphere of the Shi`i exegetical tradition.

Qur'an 16:68

And thy Lord revealed unto the bees, saying:

`Take unto yourselves,

of the mountains, houses,

and of the trees, and of what they are building.

Then eat of all manner of fruit, and follow

the ways of your Lord

easy to go upon.'

Then comes there forth out of their bellies a drink

of diverse hues wherein

is healing for men.

The following references to this exegetic history are intended to illustrate that while the concatenation of images, symbols and themes which the Commentary on the Sura of Joseph appears quite "unprofessional", it nevertheless has its roots in a tradition which goes back to the earliest exegetical literature. As such, the implications and resonances of the Bab's work would have been understood and felt by those young Shaykhis, as well as many others, who first read the commentary. The third century traditionist and commentator, Furat ibn Ibrahim al-Kufi, whose Tafsir was recently published, was one of the earliest sources for later compilers like Majlisi and Isfahani.(14) He is regarded as one of the most important authorities for Shi`i exegesis and was one of the teachers of al-Qummi (ca.307/919). The work contains several comments regarding the word and the appropriate verses. The commentary on verse 16:68 quotes a transmission from one Muhammad ibn al-Fudayl, who had asked Abu al-Hasan (i.e. the tenth Imam, d. 254/868) about the verse. He said that the BEES are the trustees (awsiya', i.e. the Imams). Concerning the phrase TAKE FROM THE MOUNTAINS, HOUSES, he said that this refers to the Quraysh, implying that the rightful due of the Shi`a is to be taken from the so-called usurpers. The TREES are to be understood as "the suffering ones", i.e. the Shi`a; through suffering the Shi`a will be strengthened. AND THAT WHICH THEY BUILD, refers to the clients of the Shi`a (al-mawali), suggesting that Shi`ism was destined to be preserved beyond the nation of the Arabs. FOLLOW THE WAY OF YOUR LORD means the way (sabil) that "we are on in the religion of God (dinihi)". IN WHICH IS HEALING FOR MANKIND refers to that WHICH COMES FORTH from the knowledge of `Ali , inasmuch as it is the HEALING which God also mentioned in the verse: A HEALING FOR WHATEVER IS IN THE BREASTS [16:57].(15 &16) Whether or not one accepts the "orthodoxy" of the above report (which is bound to strike certain segments of the Shi`i population as "extremist") it seems that later Shi'i commentators and compilers saw a certain amount of merit in it. (17) It is this fact which is important in the present context. As mentioned above, the tafsir of Furat was used as a source by consecutive generations of Shi'i exegetes; it is not, therefore, necessary to make an exhaustive study of these. The essential point here is that BEES are understood as representing the Imams and the DRINK which they produce symbolizes the divine knowledge of which they are trustees. That this exegetical tendency persisted as an important one in connection with this verse up to and including the time of the Bab, may be verified by referring to the appropriate literature. (18)

It is clear that Shaykh Ahmad subscribed to this reading of 16:68-9 from his commentary on it, which is found in his Ziyara (Commentary on the `Visitation Prayer').(19) This commentary is a good example of the way in which the Akhbari tafsir tradition was used by al-Ahsa'i and his successors, in conjunction with the philosophical developments which had occurred by his time, to present the distinctive Shaykhi synthesis. Shaykh Ahmad repeats the identification of the BEES with Imams and the DRINK with their knowledge, and characteristically divides the latter into several grades and levels. None of the "hierarchization" so characteristic of the Bab's Commentary on the Sura of the Cow, is also found in his commentary on the sura of Joseph. The Shaykhi influence on this work by the Bab is to be seen in the manner in which the Bab takes for granted the very old Akhbari Qur'an interpretations preserved by and elaborated on by Shaykh Ahmad or Sayyid Kazim. Further, this influence is present only insofar as the general tendency toward a total "imamization" of the Qur'an was a major feature of that tradition. There is not a single khabar or hadith (saying of the Prophet or Imams) cited in the commentary on the Sura of Joseph, except in the "meta" sense in which the entire work is transmitted by Sayyid `Ali Muhammad as a single hadith on the authority of the hidden Imam. (20)

Endnotes for Introduction:

Contemporary Gloss on the Bab’s Commentary

1 In the name of God the Merciful the Compassionate.

ba' The basmala is the phrase, “In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate,” which in Arabic begins with the letter ba’, equivalent to “b,” which in turn is made up of two elements, a boat-like cursive form with a single point underneath it; the single point differentiates it from a number of other similarly-shaped letters. The basmala heads all but one of the 114 chapters or suras of the Qur'an and is used by Muslim writers to begin a wide variety of compositions.

While the use of the basmala as an introductory formula is perhaps the least remarkable feature of this commentary, it will be of some interest to notice a few aspects of the phrase which could have been read into it in this context. The Bab and the whole tradition of Akhbari and mystical tafsir make much of the basmala.(1) Early Qur'an commentators considered an exegesis of the formula, which in Arabic is bismillahir-rahmanir-rahim as part of their job. Several hadiths were adduced to support the special significance of this phrase, the most frequent being a variation of the following:

The basmala is also considered a prayer in its own right, a source of divine knowledge and healing. It is said to contain, in addition to all the knowledge in the Qur'an itself, all the knowledge of the previous scriptures. It has been seen as a means of salvation and protection. Opinion has been divided as to whether the basmala, which head all but one of the chapters (suwar) of the Qur'an, should be counted in the total number of verses, but Shi`i scholars have tended to treat it as an independent verse. al-Sadiq is also supposed to have said that the basmala is "the greatest verse in the Book of God." (3) It has also been identified as the "Greatest Name of God" (ism allah al-a`zam) (4) or as being "closer to the Greatest Name than the pupil of the eye is to the white." (5) For these reasons it has been counted as a separate verse of the chapters in the Bab's tafsir.(6)

Two other traditions, not mentioned by Ayoub in the article referred to above, appear to have particular bearing on the Bab's veneration of the basmala. The first has been referred to by E.G. Browne in his discussion of the Bab's claim to be a personification of the letter ba': "All existing things have appeared from the ba' of the basmala."(7) The other is the famous statement from `Ali , the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, and the first Imam of the Shi`is:

The point under the ba' is significant not only for the way it represents what may be thought of as an Islamicate sacred unified field theory by virtue of its divine simplicity, but it is also important to the "theosophers" of Islam because of the way it illustrated the basic unity of being orientation that characterizes so much of Islamic thought after the 13th century. Namely, Being, the par excellence sacred value and reality, although insensible as such is present throughout creation in the same way that the point is present throught the written language. The number nineteen, which has such significance in the Babi religion, is the number of letters in the basmala. The Bab instructed his first followers to remain silent about his claims until a total of eighteen persons had recognized his station of their own accord.(9) Each of these eighteen Letters of the Living (huruf al-hayy or hurufat al-hayy) and the Bab, represent something like separate incarnations of one of the nineteen divine letters of the formula, just as each of the Imams were said to represent one of the twelve letters of the shahada.(10)

The Letters of the Living are themselves regarded as identical with the sabiqun (foremost believers) referred to in the early works of the Bab and his followers, both in the literal sense of their having preceded others in the recognition of the Bab and in the more esoteric sense of their identity with the first group of mankind to respond to God's pre-eternal covenant (see Endnote 6). This latter group is itself identified in Shi`i literature with Muhammad and the Imams, and it is clear that the Bab regarded the Letters of the Living as the return of the Prophet, his daughter Fatima, the twelve Imams and the original four emissaries (abwab) of the hidden Imam in the century after his occultation.(11)

These first disciples formed the first Unity (wahid) of the movement, each successive Unity of believers was to have also been composed of nineteen members.(12) In relation to the letters of the living, the Bab occupied the rank of ba', which according to Rashti is a "cloak" for the point. In his discussion of the mysteries of the set of disconnected letters: kaf ha' ya' `ayn sad [Qur'an 19: 1] (which he here refers to as al-ism al-akbar"the Greatest Name"), he also calls it the "compriser of the two existents" (jami`at al-wujudayn): the `ayn is absolute existence, while the sad represents limited existence (al-wujud al-muqayyad). Thus it -- the entire verse or "portent" comprised only of these disconnected letters -- represents the station of complete integration (maqam al-jam`). He then says that all of its "stations" are condensed in the point, which signifies the maqam jam` al-jam` "the station of the integration of complete inetgration". (This is perhaps a reference to the "incorporation" of the hidden Imam.) "This point is the one under the ba', which represents the hidden dimension of the ba', while the ba' is its shell (qishr), exterior (zahir), and cloak ( 'aba)."(13) The Commentary on the Sura of Joseph is quite explicit in several places in its direct reference to the Bab as the "point," (al-nuqta) which in the context of tradition, automatically entails the ba'.

In relation to the eighteen Letters of the Living, the Bab also occupied the rank of the nuqta (Point) concealed by the "cloak" of the ba'. This is clear from such of his titles as al-nuqtah al-ula (the Primal Point), hadrat-i nuqta-yi bayan (His Holiness the Point of the Bayan), and so forth.(14) This rank of nuqta, already appropriated by the Bab in this early work, is a good indication that the Bab actually claimed the equivalent of prophetic status at the time of its composition, a status which later became more frequently denoted by the term mazhar, "manifestation".(15) However, the rank suggested by the word nuqta appears to go quite beyond other definitions of nubuwa or prophethood, being in fact analogous with the divine unity and simplicity itself.

The Bab' s calendar, constructed much later, of nineteen months of nineteen days is another example of the function of the number nineteen.( 16) The importance of the number is also indicated by Rashti. In his discussion of the basmala, he quotes the Prophet: "The letters are nineteen." Rashti says that this means that all the letters of the alphabet are actually only nineteen, rejecting the apparent reality that there are twenty-eight. They appear to be twenty-eight, according to Rashti, only because of their various states and stations.(17) So, according to this Shaykhi leader, the number of the basic elements and components of consciousness itself obeys the "divine law" of nineteen.

The number nineteen is also mentioned in Qur'an 74:27-31:


This verse was quoted by Rashti in his last testament and has been understood as a prophecy of the eventual zuhur or messianic appearance of the Bab and his first followers.(18) It would serve no useful purpose to survey the venerable and extremely intricate tradition of the "science of letters" (`ilm al-huruf) in Muslim scholarship. The interested reader should see the masterful and suggestive study of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i's letter interpretation by Juan Cole ("The World as Text"). This article conveys the assumptions and more importantly the mental and spiritual ambience of a strong tradition in Islamic scholarship and letters which is one of the more important keys to the Bab's Writings. Suffice it for the present to quote Corbin, and mention one or two fundamental works of this subject:


The first explanation of its appearance here as not only a verse to be "commented upon," but as a verse of the Bab's Sura of the Bees is in keeping with the basic structure of the work as described elsewhere. It appears that by assigning an already existing Quranic verse a new function, namely as one of forty-two which make up the exegetic unit (or sura), the Bab may be seen to claim a kind of authority which enables him to reorder and revalorize the Quranic revelation. Such is even more apparent in the following verses which paraphrase, without cue, whole passages of the Quranic text. Many of these direct quotations from the Qur'an are presented in capital letters, but there is much in the Bab's work that is originally from the Qur'an, for example, the divine epithets, which I have not put in caps. Indeed, the Qur'an undergirds, both lexically and notionally so much of Islamicate culture that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish it. This is one of the important lessons of the Commentary on the Sura of Joseph. Frye in his The Great Code traced the enormous impact of the Bible on Western literature; it remains for an appropriate analog that treats the Qur'an as a literary influence in the Muslim world to be written. In any case, such a manipulation of the basic elements of scripture would not have been taken lightly by his Muslim audience. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, such manipulation cannot have been taken lightly by the Bab either, who was unquestionably aware of the serious implications such an act would have.

3 Kaf Ha' `Ayn = 20 + 5 + 70 (95)

Almost every chapter contains as its third verse a set of disconnected mysterious letters. Precedent for counting it as a separate verse is taken from the Qur'an. Some of these sets of disconnected letters are Quranic, some are names, and others are neither. The manuscripts differ with regard to some of these sets, as is the case here. F11, f.162b reads kaf mim `ayn with a fatha over each letter (20 + 40 + 70 = 130). QA appears to be either kaf ha' mim `ayn or simply kaf ha' `ayn. In any case, it bears a certain resemblance to the Quranic kaf ha' `ayn sad discussed by Rashti, and may be meant to suggest it.

4 Indeed we REVEALED UNTO THE BEES, SAYING: TAKE FROM THE MOUNTAINS [16:68] (which are) citadels -- the abode for affirming the sanctity of God -- the sign of this luminous one, AND OF TREES [16:6.8] places for affirming that there is no god but God (al-tahlil) the sign of this Easterner AND OF WHAT THEY ARE BUILDING [16:68] in the path of affirming the unity of God (al-tawhid) the threadbare garment of this Westerner belonging to God, the Exalted. And He is God, Witness over all things.

Most of the suras of this commentary have a reference to the act of revelation in their fourth verse. This sura follows the same pattern. But as we have seen, the word nahl also has important meaning in Shi`i exegesis. In addition, there is also a semantic and syntactical correlation between the verse to be commented upon and this one, namely the two imperatives "go with" or "take" (idhhabu)[ 12:93] and "take" or "choose" (ittakhidhi). This parallel is continued in the verse by the use of the three expressions al-barqi hadha ("this luminous one"), al-sharqi hadha (this Easterner), and al-gharbi hadha ("this Westerner"), which may be seen as exegetic equivalencies for qamisi hadha ("this shirt") [12:93]. The image of light here connected with "East" and "West" is of course an echo of the Light Verse [24:35], which is similarly alluded to several times in this sura, as it is throughout the commentary. The Bab's claim to be both Eastern and Western represents a variation on the Quranic description of the Blessed Olive Tree as NEITHER EASTERN OR WESTERN. "Citadels" (qusuran) parallels the Quranic buyut (HOUSES), as does the singular "abode" (al-maskin). "This threadbare garment" translates sahq al-gharbi hadha. Another possible reading is suhq "remoteness". The epithet al-`ali (the Exalted: actually found eight times in the Qur'an) in addition to continuing the rhyme, is undoubtedly intended to suggest the Bab's name, `Ali Muhammad and the relationship/participation with that name and the name of `Ali, the first Imam, himself. The shirt is not only a divine remnant (viz., baqiyat allah), but the Bab as custodian of the symbol, is also the remnant by association. More radically (and probably more accurately) the Bab, `Ali Muhammad Shirazi, is the qamis or shirt in the same way that the ba' was said by Sayyid Kazim Rashti to be the cloak for the point. But these symbols, it cannot be emphasized too strongly, are not univocal. They may and do mean several different things at once. This is the source of their evocative and rhetorical power. The command to TAKE MY SHIRT AND CAST IT ON MY FATHER'S FACE is more fully explained in verse 40.

5 THEN EAT OF ALL MANNER OF [16: 69] divine allusions (al-isharat) MADE SMOOTH [16:69] in the path of the Remembrance, this Gate THERE COMES FORTH FROM THEIR BELLIES [16:69] the water of the elixir which is one in terms of its blessings, although it is OF DIVERSE HUES WHEREIN IS HEALING FOR [16:69] believers. Verily God is Powerful over all things.

Having established this semantic relationship between the two verses, the Bab merely extends the comparison by paraphrasing 16:69. Here, "divine allusions" may be considered a synonym for the `ulum al-a'imma "knowledge of the imams," which early exegesis saw as the meaning of the (rhyming) Quranic (thamarat=) FRUITS. Here also, reference could be made to the commentary on 16:69 by Shaykh Ahmad, who elaborated the significance of "the sciences of the Imams" by explaining thamarat/FRUITS as the perfection, or realization of those things which had been deposited in the Imams.(20) The Bab seems to be saying that by the appearance of the "Remembrance" (himself), these various divine teachings have become accessible (SMOOTH = dhululan) for the faithful. "Path" (sabil) is merely a substitute for the Quranic PATHS (= subul). As a singular noun, it emphasizes exclusivity.(21)

6 God is the creator of everything through His power. And God, in very truth, is Apprised of everything which men do.

This verse takes as its cue the first part of 12:70: wa allahu khalaqakum / AND GOD CREATED YOU. The second sentence of the verse introduces the very frequent phrase `ala 'l-haqq bi 'l-haqq (lit. "upon the Truth, in the Truth"), which is translated here as "in very truth." This lamentably pallid translation is merely for convenience inasmuch as the meaning of the phrase, which occurs hundreds of times throughout the commentary, is dependent upon the various contexts in which it appears. It seems to be something of a short rhythmic and multi-vocal refrain (reminiscent of dhikr or Sufi meditation formulae), the function of which is to fill out the measure of a given verse. In many instances, it is clear that `ala al-haqq bi 'l-haqq directly refers to God -- Who is al-Haqq par excellence in the Islamic mystico-philisophical tradtion. In other cases it means that the Bab is "truly speaking the truth" or some variation of this. Elsewhere, it connotes inevitability. In all cases it also always resonates "the Absolute". The plural verb ya`maluna,(="men do"), since it precedes the subject should technically be in the singular, and reflects, perhaps, Persian grammatical norms.

7 O believers! Fear God concerning this Most Great Word protected in the divine fire. Indeed he is, in very truth, accounted by God the Exalted as a witness.

The vocative address is used in varying forms throughout the sura (and the commentary), as will be seen below. The Quranic FEAR GOD (=ittaqu 'llaha), also frequently employed, shares the same root with another important word in Shi 'ism, namely taqiya or pious dissimulation which became institutionalized because of Shi`ism's status as a minority and frequently despised religion. The ungrammatical dhalika kalimat al-akbar (= "that is the most great Word") is quite characteristic of the language of this commentary. Dhalika (lit. "that") here bears the same ambiguity of Qur'an 2:2: dhalika 'l-kitab, which is generally understood as THIS IS THE BOOK. However, it has been the subject of much debate by exegetes, because of its obvious meaning THAT IS THE BOOK.(22) Shi`i exegesis has also seen the demonstrative as referring to the (missing) "book of `Ali."(23) This uncertainty is reflected in recent English Qur'an translations: THAT IS THE BOOK (Arberry), THIS IS THE SCRIPTURE (Pickthall), THIS IS A PERFECT BOOK (Maulawi Sher `Ali), THIS IS THE BOOK (Yusuf Ali), and THIS BOOK . . .(Maulavi Muhammad Ali).(24) It may be that the Bab is exploiting this ambiguity as a function of taqiya. Here it could simultaneously refer to the Bab and to the remote hidden Imam. Alternatively, it could simply mean THIS.

The ungrammatical Kalimat al-akbar ("Most Great Word") may be thought to allude to the Bab's station specifically, in line with a hadith ascribed to al-Sadiq: nahnu kalimat allah("We are the word of God"), or the one ascribed to `Ali: ana al-kalimat al-kubra ("I am the most great word"), which occurs in one of the many theopathic sermons ascribed to him. The text of this particular sermon is found in the Kitab al-Kashf. In it `Ali declares from the pulpit: "I am the Christ who heals the blind and the leprous, creating birds and dispersing clouds." Meaning [says the commentator]: `I am the second Christ (al-masih al-thani),- I am he and he is Me.' At this a man stood up and asked: "O Commander of the Faithful, was the Torah written in a foreign language or in Arabic?" `Ali said: "[In a] foreign language, but its meaning is Arabic, namely that the Christ is the Qa'im bi 'l-haqq [one who arises for (in or by) the Truth], and the king of this world and the next. The Qur'an itself confirms this in the verse: PEACE BE UPON ME THE DAY I WAS BORN, AND THE DAY THAT I DIE, AND THE DAY THAT I AM RAISED UP ALIVE [19:33] Thus `Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary) is of me and I am of him, and he is the Most Great Word of God (kalimat allah al-kubra). He is the testifier and I am the one testified to."(25) "witness" translates precisely the same word above as "testifier" (=shahid) does here. It is also important to note that the same root, in slightly different form means "martyr". Such a cluster of meanings is of course highly (and deeply) appreciated in a Shi`i milieu.

The elative and superlative al-akbar ("the greater" "the greatest") is used elsewhere with masculine nouns, as in bab allah al-akbar ("the most great gate of God"), where the Bab himself appears to be intended. Such grammatical liberties as the one in this verse where the masculine (al-akbar) and feminine (al-kalima) genders are "wrongly" mixed are found, for example, in the Arabic translations of the New Testament, namely , John 1: 1: fi 'l-bad` kana al-kalima wa'l-kalima kana `inda `llah wa kana 'l-kalimatu allaha (where the feminine "Word" that was with God and is God is referred to by a masculine verb). They are explained by the rule that a feminine noun may sometimes represent a masculine subject, e.g. khalifatun (caliph), `allamatun (great scholar), and rawiyatun (relater of the Prophet's sayings).(26) As can been seen in the reproduction of the manuscript, the Bab was capable of maintaining grammatical gender agreement. Here the phrase bi'l-haqq `ala 'l-haqq refers to the veracity of the Bab as the kalimat allah al-akbar or Most Great Word of God and "witness/martyr" through God's incontrovertible will.

8 O people of the veils! Hearken to the call of God from the tongue of the most great Remembrance: VERILY VERILY I AM GOD [28:30] THERE IS NO GOD BUT HIM [passim]. Indeed, the likeness of the Remembrance is as gold softened in fire which flows in rivulets through all the hidden places by the will of God, the Exalted. And he is God -- Mighty, Ancient.

The ahl al-hujub, "People of the veils" may be taken as a general address to all those who have been veiled from recognizing the Bab. Or, given the exegetical equivalence hijab/bab, it may refer paradoxically to those who have recognized the Bab. This equivalence of "veil" and "gate" is elaborated by Sayyid Kazim Rashti. In several places Rashti appears to use the terms bab and hijab interchangeably. Thus, in speaking of the Fatiha (Sura 1 of the Qur'an), he says that a proper reading of it will name the one who is the bab al-abwab, "the gate of gates" and the first veil of the al-nafas al-rahmani, "the breaths of the Merciful". (Qasida, p.28) Here, bab al-abwab is one of the many names of the Holy Spirit, al-ruh al-qudus, who as a primordial creature (and also a creative principle), recites both "books", the book of creation and the Qur'an proper. Commenting on a verse of the actual ode: hadha riwaq madinat al-`ilm al-lati min babi-ha qad dalla man la yadkhulu "This is the curtain (veil) of the city of knowledge which is its gate. It will guide the one who has not entered", Rashti says that three important words here are: al-riwaq, al-madina, and al-bab, the exoteric meaning of which requires no interpretation, but "I will mention that which has overflowed to me from the Sea of Light (bahr al-nur) and that which has come to me through the praise of God from the World of Felicity (`alam al-surur) which has not been mentioned before, except by way of allusions. He then defines al-riwaq, "curtain" as "threshold (janab)", "gate of the gate (bab al-bab)", and "veil of the veil (hijab al-hijab)". Further, he calls it/him:

The pole around which the days revolve, the full moon which illumines the darkness (badr al-zalam) . . . the one who combines [in his] person those teachings (jami` al-kalim) about piety and justice which refute, on behalf of true religion, the corruption of the exaggerators (tahrif al-ghalin) . . . [He is] the judge over the flock and the rightful successor of the Imam (khalifat al-imam) . . . the tree of piety (shajarat al-taqwa), he without whom the traces of prophecy would have been effaced and without whom the pillars of walaya would have crumbled . . . [He is] the one who knows, without having to learn (al-`alim bi-ghayr al-ta`allum), the understander (al-`arif) of all the mysteries of Being in both the invisible and visible world, the dawning place of the [single] point of knowledge (matla` al-`ilm) which the ignorant have multiplied. . . . [He is] the one who knows the secret of the one and the many . . . and the secret of integration (sirr al-jam`) and the integration of integration (jam` al-jam`) and the mystery of reward and punishment. . . . and the mystery of that soul, which if known, God is known.(Qasida, p.96.)

(27) The exhortation to "heed the call" (isma`u nida' or some variation, is a frequent imperative in the commentary. In this instance, the Bab refers to himself as "the Most Great Remembrance of God" (dhikr allah al-akbar), which is also used many times in the work. "The Call" (al-nida') is a major topic in Shi`i eschatology (see above, introduction), being classified as one of "the five signs" announcing the appearance of the Mahdi. It is explained as follows:

"The Cry" (al-sayha/al-nida'); it appears as though there will actually be two "cries" of supernatural origin that will be heard before the coming of the Mahdi. One cry will come from the sky, calling men to defend the Cause of the imam, and the other will come from the depths of the earth (sometimes this is seen as the voice of Iblis), inviting people to join the ranks of the Enemy of the Imam; these cries will be heard during the month of Ramadan.(28)

The quotation of Qur'an 28:30, VERILY, VERILY, I AM GOD (inni ana 'llah ) is also frequent throughout the commentary. It suggests that the Bab is claiming revelation by comparing his rank to that of Moses.(29) It is difficult to determine whether it is meant to be read as the direct speech of God, the hidden Imam, or the Bab. The result of the ambiguity, however, permits the Bab to "participate" in the declaration. By referring to the "likeness of the Remembrance," the Bab anticipates 16:74-6 in which the word SIMILITUDES occurs. The SIMILITUDE which the Bab "strikes" is original, and quite characteristic of his opulent imagery. "Gold softened" translates al-dhahab al-ma'ila, and is dhahab al-muma' in F11, f. 162b. "Flowing through all the hidden places" translates sayyala ila kulli 'l-ghuyub and perhaps takes its cue from 13:17, a verse in which God "strikes a similitude" which employs the image of VALLEYS FLOWING ACCORDING TO THEIR MEASURE (fa-salat awdiyatun bi-qadari-ha; n.b. also the root dh h b in this verse), and THAT OVER WHICH THEY KINDLE FIRE ( wa mimma yuqiduna `alayhi fi 'l-nar). The image continues the mention of sharab, BEVERAGE, in 16:69. Ghuyub ("hidden places") is also read as echoing the measure of the Quranic buyut, HOUSES in 16:68. It shares the same lexical root with al-ghayb, THE UNSEEN (e.g. Qur'an 2:3) and al-ghayba, the Occultation of the Imam. On the personal existential level, al-ghayb may refer to the spiritual interior of the individual.

9 O people of the Throne! Hearken to my call from the precincts of the tomb (al-darih) from the tongue of this Tree which grows on the exalted SINAI, and which is covered with golden holy leaves: `VERILY VERILY I AM GOD, THERE IS NO GOD BUT HIM! There is no soul who has suffered anything in the path of the Remembrance, whether through warfare or loss of wealth, but that We have written down for him the Gardens of Eden and Ridwan in truth. Verily God is Powerful over all things.'

The ahl al-`arsh or "people of the throne" could have several implications, but the intention here may be simply "people of the world." That the "call" is being sent out from the "precincts of the tomb" (min hawl al-darih), may be evidence that the Bab wrote portions of this work during his pilgrimage, as Denis MacEoin has suggested.(30) "Tomb" may also have a purely symbolic meaning in line with the strong martyrdom theme in Shi`ism and the special sanctity of the tombs of the martyr Imams which would be automatically evoked by anyone speaking on their behalf. "The tongue of this Tree which grows on the exalted SINAI" translates lisan hadhihi al-shajara al-manbata al-tur. Again, the reference is to the revelatory experience of Moses on Sinai and may be seen to reflect the language of 23:20: wa shajaratan takhruju min tur sayna' tanbutu bi'l-duhn wa sibghin li'l-akilin: AND A TREE ISSUING FROM THE MOUNT OF SINAI THAT BEARS OIL AND RELISH FOR ALL TO EAT. In this case, it is also possible to translate the Bab's words as "this Tree which produces" leaving the objects OIL and RELISH understood. Al-mutawarraq bi 'l-warqa' al-safra' al-mani, "covered with golden holy leaves" is distinctive imagery, which modifies "Tree" (i.e. the Bab).(31) It is important to note the yoking of the two Quranic phrases (1) VERILY VERILY I AM GOD (28:30) and (2) THERE IS NO GOD BUT HIM(passim) in a single, apparently contradictory utterance. This is an excellent example of the ambivalence, ambiguity and amphibole of post-Safavid "polyvalent" high theosophical apophaticism. It expresses the "now-you-see-it-now-you-don't" aspect of divine manifestation (tajalli) akin to Buddhist "void" theological aniconism.

10 Indeed, we have power to move the earth in this HOUR [passim] by the order of the Remembrance, and could, in truth, hold it aloft [cf. 35:41, 22:65] by means of a single supplication from him and him alone. Otherwise, the earth with its people would, in very truth burn completely (sakhina maskhunan). And He is God, Powerful over all things.

This verse continues the "call" initiated in verse 8, the speaker is either the hidden Imam or God. These two are functionally the same, but "tonally" different as indicated in the previous verse. The phrase wa numsikuha `ala 'l-haqq bi 'l-du`a min nafsihi offers another example of the `ala 'l-haqq bi 'l-haqq formula. "Burn completely" translates sakhina maskhunan, which fills out the distinctive Quranistic (saj`) rhyme used here and throughout the work.

11 And verily GOD HAS FAVORED SOME OF YOU OVER OTHERS [16:71] with knowledge of the Remembrance. WHAT, AND DO YOU DENY GOD' S BLESSING [16:71] by lying? Indeed he is the truth from God which, in very truth is now FULFILLED.

This verse continues the paraphrase of sura 16 FULFILLED is the Quranic mas'ulan. [passim, cf. esp. 25:16: kana `ala rabbika wa`dan mas'ulan, IT IS A PROMISE BINDING UPON THY LORD and 33:15: wa kana `ahdu 'llah mas'ulan, AND A COVENANT WITH GOD MUST SURELY BE ANSWERED FOR].

12 GOD HAS APPOINTED FOR YOU OF YOURSELVES WIVES [16:72] in truth. And GOD HAS ORDAINED [16:72] that the women who are believers be as leaves on the lote-trees encircling the Gate. And God is Knower of all things.

Wa inna 'llah qad ja`ala nisa' al-mu'minat (both manuscripts) might be translated as "God has ordained women, that is believing women." The paraphrase continues with the Bab's own imagery of leaves and trees waraqat min al-shajara al-sidar. This usage was continued by Baha'u'llah, who referred to the females of his family as leaves and the males as branches (aghsan or afnan).(32)

13 O believers! Fear God and never say concerning the glorious Mystery of God, the Unfastener, in the precincts of that which is (forever) unfastened anything but the truth. For God has imposed upon the people of the Cloud the veil of faithfulness. And God is Witness over all things.

Sirr allah al-muhallil *hawl al-hall al-muhallal* (*---* portion is missing from F11, f. 163a)without shadda over al-hall. This is very problematic. Both manuscripts provide dots under the ha' of al-muhallil, and QA places a dot under al-hall. It might also be read al-jall/jull with the meaning of "great" or "major portion" ; al-jill could give the meaning of "carpet" or "garment," the latter would of course extend the textile metaphor of the qamis. It could also be read al-jul (perhaps for the Persian gul, "rose"); al-muhallil would also give the meaning of "lawgiver" or "one who makes things right." Since there is no dot under al-muhallil it was thought that the other dots served the function suggested at verse 5. In any case, the "Mystery of God" appears to refer to the Bab himself. The phrase fa-inna allah qad a `hada (sic) `ala ahl al- `ama satra al-wafa' ( FI1, f. 163a: fa-inna allah qad ashhada ) employs the important mystico/philosophical category/image of "the Cloud". Ibn `Arabi, inspired by a hadith, used the word al-`ama to designate one of the ontological modes of Absolute Being (al-haqq al-mutlaq, al-wujud al-mutlaq). Thus it designates a stage Izutsu translates as "abysmal darkness" between the absolute transcendance of Being Itself and the existentiation and individuation of created things (al-ashya'). Here it is used to refer to, if you will, the holiness of silence and hiddeness, in possible addition to the "cloud" as the mediatrix of the sacred faculty of imagination as discussed by Corbin.(33) The verse seems also to be an exhortation to taqiya.

14 O Solace of the Eye! Speak forth the melody of the beloved from the Throne and cloak (uqmus) the words with the shirt (qamis) of divine breezes. Indeed,God desires that your proclamation concerning this Red Dove be not naked. And God is your Preserver.

Ya qurrata'l-`ayn ("O Solace of the Eye") indicates that the Bab is now being addressed by the hidden Imam. It should not be seen as referring to the famous disciple of the Bab, the poetess, Tahireh.(34) The language is found in the Qur'an [19:26; 20:40;. 25:74; 28:9 &13; 32: 17; 33: 51], with the meaning of general consolation or comfort. The epithet is also traceable to the hadith from the Prophet in which he speaks of prayer as being the "consolation of my eye" (qurrat `ayni).(35) Its frequent use in this work by the Bab also undoubtedly refers to the restoration of Jacob's sight by the qamis and the consolation of his heart which came from reunion with Joseph. "Red Dove" (al-warqa' al-hamra') is another title for the Bab. The exhortation to "cloak the words" refers to the allusive nature of the commentary in general. The implication being that those who have the capacity to understand the obscure language will do so because of their spiritual readiness for the advent of the Imam. Others will simply fail to appreciate its significance. This theme is found also in a later work by Baha'u'llah:

The purpose underlying all these symbolic terms and abstruse allusions, which emanate from the revealers of God' s holy cause, has been to test and prove the peoples of the world; that thereby the earth of the pure and illuminated hearts may be known from the perishable and barren soil. From time immemorial such has been the way of God amidst His creatures.(36)

15 O concourse of lights! Hear my call from the precincts of the point of water at the center of the dust! `God! there is no god but Him, the Lord of all worlds.' And He is God, Mighty, Wise.

Such phrases as "from the precints of the point of water at the center of the dust" (min hawl nuqtat al-ma' `ala markaz al-turab) are amongst the most characteristic and allusive features of this work . They indicate the Bab's station as the point from which proceeds all of the antithetical terms such as good and evil, saved and damned, up and down, left and right, cold and hot, and so forth -- in other words, consciousness. This is reminiscent and reflective of the distinctive "imamology" of such pieces as the Khutbat al-tatanjiya, "Sermon of the Two Gulfs" which begins with the Imam saying: "I am the presider over the two gulfs" and on which Kazim Rashti wrote an extensive metaphysical commentary in support of the above-mentioned imamology. The Bab also devoted a separate work to this "Sermon", but even if he had not, much of his early writing is intimately connected with it in any case. The vocabulary elements here deserve some notice. min, = "from" or "of"; hawla together with min is a very frequent preposition in this work = "around", "about" "from the precincts, vicinity". It derives from the verb hala from which come nouns meaning "state" and "condition". In its prepositional form here it evokes circularity. This leads to the next word nuqta ="point" discussed above. In this context, the reader is "moved" instantly from somewhere in a circle to its center point. al-ma' = water. The most precious element on earth (particularly for those living in arid regions) and highly symbolic of an extremely dense cluster of moral, ethical, religious and spiritual themes. One could easily devote an entire study to the "semiotics of the elements" in the Qur'an. Indeed, the job has already been begun by none other than Mulla Sadra (d.1640) in his spiritual typology of water and related liquids in scripture (EII, vol. 1, p. 316n). Similarly, and a fortiori the same kind of "elemental" reading of this Commentary is bound to produce important insights into the function, content and meaning of this highly unusual -- yet somehow perfectly natural -- composition. `ala is another prepositon meaning "on," "upon," "above," "over". It can also mean "incumbent upon" or "dominant". It is derived from the same root as the frequent divine epithet "the Exalted" which shares (and not accidentally, according to Shi`ism) the same root with the name of the first Imam, `Ali ibn Abi Talib. markaz = "center of a circle" (or center, as in "headquarters" or "station". (`Abdu'l-Baha' is known to Baha'is as the markaz of the Covenant.) al-turab ="the dust" or "earth". Thus, in this phrase, the Bab directs the reader to the conjunction or "coincidence" of opposites motif, over which he demonstrates his obvious control. Other examples of this at once disconcerting and effective "trope" are mentioned by me in an earlier publication. The frequency and nature of this image in this work helps us to come to terms with a distinctively Islamic "apocalyptic imagination" and, as such, should not be dismissed or underestimated. The word, by the way, for "dust" also appears in one of the nicknames for the first Imam, `Ali: Abu Turab = "Dusty" (lit. "Father of Dust") a term of mock annoyance and affection, given him by the Prophet, which in later literature acquired cosmological significance as "Progenitor of Creation".(37)

16 Verily, verily I am the Fire from the precincts of Sinai, and I speak the truth, and am praiseworthy.

This is another reference to the Quranic description of Moses' experience on Sinai. It would seem that God is continuing the address begun in verse 15, which was being transmitted through the "point of water at the center of the dust" (i.e the Bab). But it should be remembered that by thus being a channel for revelation, the Bab is also touched by the "Fire," and is also in this way the fire itself. inni ana "Verily, verily I am . . ." is a frequent signal of revelation used throughout the commentary in combination with other "substantives" (as in the verse immediately following) and not just as it is found in (though always inspired by and reflective of) the Quranic VERILY, VERILY I AM GOD (28:30) already discussed above.

17 Verily, verily I am the Light above Sinai -- raised up.

The use of the predicate marfu`an, "elevated, raised up" (cf. qa'im, "one who arises/will arise") which technically refers to God as the source of revelation by virtue of its passive construction, also alludes to the lineage of the Bab as a Sayyid, or descendant of the family of Hashim. For example, describing a hadith or saying as marfu`, indicates an authentic isnad (chain of transmission, "spiritual pedigree") that goes back to the Prophet Muhammad who is the historical manifestation of the logos-like nur muhammadiya "Muhammadan Light" or haqiqa muhammadiya "Muhammadan Reality".(38)

18 Verily, verily I am the Reddened Point which revolves around God, its creator. And I am in truth beloved.

According to the hierarchies in the Bab's "Commentary on the Sura of the Cow", red symbolizes corporeality. This usage may be meant to allude to the embodiment of the hidden Imam. (39) Once again, the motifs of circularity and center are invoked. It is also possible to translate al-nuqtat al-muhammara by the more elegant "Crimson Point" if we retain the passive aspect of the original. God is the only doer. All else is acted upon or done to. Islamic literature luxuriates in this "conceit" and this has lead to the widespread misreading of Islamic culture as one in which individual volition has no place.

19 Verily, verily I am the Sapling -- the glory with the most great truth, and am the intended one (maqsud) at the head of (fawq) the source of the ruby stream which flows upon Sinai.

Ja`far al-Sadiq interpreted one of `Ali's statements: "I have planted their trees" (ana gharastu ashjaraha) as meaning that the Imams from his progeny are the trees of repentance and the lote-tree beyond which there is no passing.(40) Either from this interpretation, or other similar ones, the word ghars seems to have acquired a life of its own, as a symbol for the zuhur or appearance of the Qa`im or Shi`ite messiah, e.g.:

In the year ghars [1260] the earth shall be illumined by His light, and in gharasa [1265] the world shall be suffused with its glory [?al-baha']. If thou livest until the year gharasi [1270], thou shalt witness how the nations, the rulers, the peoples, and the Faith of God shall all have been renewed.(41)

The appositional wa inni ana al-ghars al-baha' is also conditioned by the previously-mentioned exegesis of the basmala, where the ba' is seen to stand for the divine attribute baha' or glory. This is borne out in the following verse which continues this subsidiary commentary on the basmala by proceeding to the next element, namely the letter sin (the "s" in bismillah).

20 Verily, verily I am the Splendour -- the praise; none but the Praise itself, being single and unique, perceives the splendour.

In the two commentaries referred to earlier, as well as several others, the sin of the basmala is interpreted as the sana' allah - the splendour of God. The allusion to and alliterative (therefore real) association with Sinai (sayna, sina' [Qur'an 23:20]) is clear. Cf. also the "single soul" passages in the Qur'an [4: 1, 6:98, 7: 189, 31:28, 39:6].

21 O people of the earth! Praised be God, the Truth! verily. God HAS MADE [16:72] the mystery of this Gate profound.

The use of the verb ja`ala ("he has made/done/appointed") need not, of course, be an invocation of the Qur'an. However, in light of the foregoing, it would appear that the Bab intends a reference to 16:72 and therefore a remote but for that no less profoundly engaged continuation ("Like gold to airy thiness beat.") of the paraphrase begun in verse 3.

22 To describe him in Arabic he is comely -- as is witnessed.

This is a kind of enjambment with verse 21: aniqan rhyming with the above `amiqan "profound". (Cf. also line 1 of the Khutbat al-tatanjiya.) In a hadith of the Prophet, he is quoted as referring to the Quran in the following words: "Its literal meaning (zahir) is beautiful (aniq) and its hidden meaning (batin) is profound (`amiq)."(42) Here, then, is yet another example of that apparently inexhaustible and quintessentially Shi`i motif of the Imam as the embodied Qur'an and the Qur'an as the inlibrated Imam. This verse may also be read as a parenthesis, mashhudan "witnessed" (same root as martyr) referring to the sirr hadha 'l-Bab "the mystery of this Gate" in the above verse. This is an allusion to the proverbial physical beauty of Joseph, which the Bab is said to have shared. The Prophet said: "God created beauty (husn) in a hundred parts and gave Joseph ninety-nine." It should be noted that in this context physical beauty is a reflection of moral beauty, most dramatically represented in the case of Joseph in the Quranic episode in which he resists (with the asistance of God) the wiles of the Egyptian woman and as a result of which moral athleticism he is unjustly imprisoned [Qur'an 21-35]. (43)

23 Indeed, in these verses are SIMILITUDES [16:74] for THOSE POSSESSED OF MINDS [passim], those who in the precincts of the Gate are in very truth prostrating.

Prostrating at the gate is taken from Qur'an 7:161: ENTER THE GATE PROSTRATING and also implies the "gate of forgiveness" [cf. hitta, Qur'an 2:58] and the "city of knowledge" hadiths, wherein the Prophet says that he is the city of knowlege and `Ali is the gate to the city, along with all those other less immediate associations mentioned in Lawson, "The Terms".

24 What! Do you worship [paraphrase of Qur'an 16:71] one BESIDE GOD WHO POSSESSES [Qur'an 16:73] nothing, while sovereignty is God's (wa 'l-mulk li-llah, [Qur'an, passim]), the Exalted both before and after; in the MOTHER BOOK [Qur'an 3:6 & 13:39], it is all written (maktub) about the cause of the Gate.

The MOTHER BOOK umm al-kitab is the repository of God's pre-eternal decree. That is, the Bab's mission has been ordained from before the beginning of time. It is also a reference to the Fatiha, which is referred to by several exegetes as the umm al-kitab, and thus continues the symbolism of the basmala. Umm al-kitab may also refer to the Imam himself; as such it becomes a symbol of the sirr or divine conscience mentioned above in verse 12.(44) In short, umm al-kitab designates the Imams as the source for understanding the Book. Maktub also means "ordained".

25 SO STRIKE NOT ANY SIMILITUDES FOR GOD [16:74]. He is the truth LIKE UNTO HIM THERE IS NAUGHT [Qur'an 42:11]. And He is God, Mighty, Wise.

This is a direct quotation from sura 16 and continues the paraphrase. In the religious outlook represented in this work the paradoxes and ambiguities of monotheism are in evidence to a very high degree. The veneration of the Imam constantly threatens to "ripen" into idolatry and incarnationsism. One of the ways this highly creative tension is maintained and the equipoise of this figure-ground shifting of transcendence and immanence remains alive and supple is through repeated references to Qur'anic and other scriptural assertions of the uniqueness and transcendent solitude of the Absolute. God is not to be compared with anything. The second quotation is thought to be especially apposite to the task of tawhid because it contains a negation of a double nature: laysa ka-mithlihi shay', lit. "no thing is like His likeness". A "thing" is in that large class designated by the phrase "whatever is other than God".

26 GOD HAS STRUCK A SIMILITUDE concerning TWO MEN, ONE OF THEM [Qur'an 16:76] presiding over the divine cause (qa'im `ala al-amr) COMMANDING JUSTICE [Qur'an 16:75] and good deeds; and the other standing over Hell, summoned by the Fire to the Fire. And both of these two are upon the truth, if you confess even one letter of the book AND YOUR LORD IS THE MERCIFUL ONE AND AWARE OF WHAT YOU DO [Qur'an passim].

The thrust of the Quranic verse, which means to distinguish between two men, one being good, the other bad, is transformed by the Bab. The implication appears to be that the two are actually one. As such, it is an allusion to the themes and language of the Khutbat al-tatanjiya.

27 This DAY God has written for His servant a reward -- indeed! -- in a line of the leaf of the White Scroll. God is Knower of all things.

Allah qad kataba'l-yawma li-`abdihi jaza' `ala 'l-khatt haqqa min waraqati'l-musattarati 'l-bayda. HIS SERVANT occurs seven times in the Qur'an and in all but one of these (when it refers to Zakariya, Qur'an 19:2, the sura that is headed by Kaf Ha Ya `Ayn Sad, commented upon by Rashti; see above) it designates the prophet Muhammad. Thus it has become one of the countless honorifics used for him. The verse then is an intentional "confusion" of Muhammad, the hidden Imam and the Bab, all of whom in the last analysis are, according to Shaykhi theology, equivalent. This repeated, periodic and rhythmic raising of enigmas, puzzles and solutions that are meant to be resolved in the next breath is one of the chief literary features of this work. According to the four-colour hierarchy adopted by the Bab in an earlier work, white represents the highest level. If this same hierarchy is adhered to in this verse, then the "white scroll" would be a synonym for the MOTHER BOOK, discussed earlier. The choice of language may be partially determined by another factor: Shaykh Ahmad was very attached to a particular hadith or khabar from the Imam. His commentary on it was influential in the subsequent Shaykhi school, chiefly because it provided the necessary theory for the distinctive doctrine of the Fourth Support and the general predominance of the motif of quaternity particularly as it is manifested in a four-tiered ontology. The color hierarchy mentioned above is another example of this quaternity. The hadith is actually composed of two similar statements from the sixth Imam, Ja`far al-Sadiq. Because of its obscurity, the translations of both versions are followed by a transliteration. The point I wish to emphasize here is not so much the sense of the statements, but their sound. Both are strongly sibilant and the basic meaning carried by this sibilance is "mystery/secrecy/hiddeness". It happens that the word for "scroll" (al-musattara) above closely approximates (in its Persian pronunciation only) one of these words for mystery (viz, al-mustasirr). I think the choice of the words "white scroll" is partly determined by the implied similarity, even though philologically each word comes from a completely different etymological root. This is a possible example of the Bab being technically "wrong" though musically correct where al-musataara provides a perfectly cogent improvisation on al-mustasirr (as is evident below, both share the common feature of whiteness). It calls to mind the ridiculous examination of him by Shaykhi ulama and others in the presence of the Crown Prince, the future Nasiruddin Shah in Tabriz just prior to his execution when he was asked to conjugate and parse certain pons asinorum -type Arabic words and phrases. He responded to the request with the question, "You would ask the jeweller the price of straw?" In any case, the hadith in question is as follows:

[A] Our cause is the truth, and the truth of the truth. It is the exoteric and it is the esoteric of the exoteric, and it is the esoteric of the esoteric. It is the secret, and the secret of the secret - a secret enveloped in a secret and the secret of that which is veiled by the secret.

(amruna huwa al-haqq wa haqq al-haqq wa huwa al-zahir wa batin al-zahir wa batin al-batin wa huwa al-sirr wa sirr al-sirr wa sirr al-mustasirr wa sirr muqanna` bi'l-sirr)

[B] Our cause is a veiled secret, a secret which can only speak of a secret, a secret above a secret, a secret which remains enveloped in the secret.

(amruna sirr mustasirr wa sirr la yufiduhu illa sirr wa sirr `ala sirr wa sirr muqanna` bi'l-sirr)

This hadith (along with two others) plays an important part in Shaykh Ahmad's commentary on one of the verses of the Ziyarat al-jami`a: "Peace be upon you, O members of the family of the Prophet, you who are [collectively] the repository of the prophetic message (mawdi` al-risala)." Shaykh Ahmad refers to this tradition in detailing four ontological levels (maqamat) of Imama, the quality of leadership of the Muslim community:

[1] The station of "a secret veiled by the secret" (sirr muqanna` bi'l-sirr).

[2] The station of "the secret of the secret" (sirr al-sirr) or "the esoteric of the esoteric" (batin al-batin). (These two stations correspond to "the truth of the truth" (haqq al-haqq) in version A.)

[3] The station of "the secret" (al-sirr) or "the esoteric of the exoteric" (batin al-zahir). (This corresponds to "the secret which can only speak of another secret" (sirr la yufiduhu illa sirr) in version B.)

[4] The station of "the exoteric" (al-zahir), or "the veiled secret" (sirr mustasirr). (Stations 3 & 4 correspond to "the truth" (al-haqq) in version A.)

These levels correspond to the colors white, yellow, green, red (from top to bottom).(45)

28 And [has written for] THE SERVANT WHO DOES WELL (`ala al-`abd al-fa`il bi'l-istiwa', cf. Qur'an 17:76) TWO GARDENS [Qur'an 18:32-3;.34:15-6; 55:54] according to a true line (`ala khatt al-istiwa') and for the bearer of the goblet of water [He has written] a goblet of the pure river of KAWTHAR And God is Witness over all things.

This may also be an allusion to Joseph's "two fellow-prisoners"[Qur'an2:36-42], one of whom was to POUR WINE FOR HIS LORD [Qur'an 12:41]. The other, according to Joseph's interpretation of the dream, was to be crucified. The khatt al-istiwa' occurs many times throughout this work. The dictionary definition "equator" is helpful insofar as it connotes a dividing line which "orders" (cf. istiwa' in the Qur'an passim). The Imam, in this sense, may be regarded as the line between good and evil. The term figures in the Aphorisms of the early Muslim mystic and martyr al-Hallaj, in which along with several other distinctive terms, the editors of the collection detected "some Isma`ili Gnostic borrowings" although they offer no definition.(46) The term figures prominently in the literature of the Hurufi movement (from the 14th century) that centered on arcane letter symbolism. Here it refers primarily to the (center) part in the hair which had symbolic value: "It is the median, regulatory line symbolizing thus harmony, justice, equity and truth, etc. ...".(47) al-Hallaj (executed 922) designated it the source of the alphabet (48) i.e., the alif, a single vertical stroke of the pen. The alif, because of its upright vertical posiiton is also symbolic of the Qa'im. KAWTHAR is the name of one of the rivers of Paradise. It means abundance. It is also the word by which one of the shorter Quranic suras is known and in explanation of which the Bab would later compose one of his more important tafsirs.(49)

29 And with GOD BELONGS THE UNSEEN [Qur'an 16:77]. All unseen things are visible to the Truth. And God ordained ONLY THAT THE CAUSE [Qur'an 16:77] of the Remembrance BE CLOSEST to the divine CAUSE [Qur'an 16:77]. And He is God, Powerful over all things.

The language here substitutes the Quranic TO GOD BELONGS THE UNSEEN OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH with: "And with GOD . . .". The word ghuyub, used above in verse 8 "hidden places" follows where one would be led to expect the Quranic HEAVENS AND THE EARTH. The Bab's substitution of "with" for TO is of course not accidental. His prepositon also connotes "in the presence of" and "according to" where TO denotes possession. Thus the hidden Imam is at once referred to as being in the divine presence and "validated" by God. This idea of proximity and presence it further asserted by BE CLOSEST. The Quranic HOUR (al-sa`a) is replaced with another Quranic noun, dhikr, REMEMBRANCE, one of the titles of the Bab. This is in keeping with the hermeneutic equivalence HOUR/ walaya.(50) Similarly, CAUSE may also represent the Imam.(51)

30 And we have BROUGHT YOU FORTH FROM THE WOMBS [Qur'an 16:78] to aid the Truth during the day of the Remembrance. And we have GIVEN YOU HEARING, AND SIGHT, AND HEARTS SO THAT YOU MIGHT BE GRATEFUL FOR [Qur'an 16:78] the truth of the Remembrance concerning the STRAIGHT BALANCE, straight.

HEARING, SIGHT, AND HEARTS have been interpreted as standing for nubuwa "prophethood", imama "imamate", and walaya "authority/allegiance/guardianship", and while this interpretation need not be primary here, it undoubtedly operates on some level.(52) Fi 'l-qistas al-qayyim mustaqiman ("concerning the STRAIGHT BALANCE, straight") is a variant of Qur'an 17:35 and 26: 182, and perhaps a retroactive incorporation of more material from Qur'an 16:76, e. g.: huwa `ala siratin mustaqimin, HE IS ON A STRAIGHT PATH.

31 And we have made THE BIRDS OBEDIENT IN THE AIR OF HEAVEN [Qur'an 16:79]. Is there any but God who HOLDS THEM ALOFT [Qur'an 16:79] in truth? Verily God is Witness over all things.

In addition to continuing the paraphrase, this verse also reflects the image in verse 10 above. One of the suras of the Tafsir surat al-Yusuf is entitled Surat al-tayr, Sura of the Bird (number 86). In a later work, the Tafsir surat al-kawthar , the Bab refers to himself as "this bird" hadha 'l-tayr. The epithet occurs in the course of his explanation of the letter "w" (waw of the word walaya, which is, as mentioned earlier the central distinguishing religious notion in Shi`ism, meaning the continuation of post-prophetic religious authority, allegiance, guardianship and love. The Bab's method, in this commentary, is to comment on each letter of the Quranic Surat al-kawthar with reference to the four levels of Being and the colour hierarchy mentioned earlier. A brief excerpt from this commentary will not be out of place here:

Concerning the waw :

[1] In the forest of the land of "Yellow" it refers to Absolute Universal Pre-Eternal walaya;

[2] The walaya which has been individualised in the soul of the form of abstraction which claims for itself to itself the [divine] Self, to be also the moon of the [divine] light and the sun of [divine] manifestation and the tree of al-kafur and the wine of manifestation and the source of the river of al-kawthar and the name of God the Living the Forgiving, and he who speaks in the forest of the land of "Yellow";

3] Then there is the walaya which has been individualized shining, luminous, glittering, paradisaic, unique -- glimmering with the light of the secondary pre-eternity which alludes to and warbles subtleties in this LAMP that which has not been heard by any but God and he whom He desires. It is visible in the number of the letters of la ilah illa llah, "there is no god but God"and appears from the tree which grows upon the land of "Green";

[4] Then there is the walaya which has dawned from the splendours of the light of the Morning of Eternity which has spoken in the HEART of this bird fu'ad hadha al-tayr, i.e., himself, the Bab) whom the Satans have cast into prison and waxed proud before (whom God has created in the likeness of THOSE COMMUNITIES WHICH HAVE PASSED AWAY), even though none of them were able to understand a single letter of the manifestation of the the traces of His power in the places of the appearances (mazahir) of these individual lofty letters . Verily the PRACTICE (sunna) of God is governed by His RULE (hukmihi), ordained by Truth. AND THEN {ON THAT DAY} ALL WALAYA WILL BELONG TO GOD, THE TRUTH. HE IS THE BEST OF REWARDERS AND THE BEST OF PUNISHERS [Qur'an 18:44].(53)

32 O RISING OF THE MORN [97:5]! Mention the name of your Lord, He other than whom there is no god. He is Exalted, Wise.

RISING OF THE MORN (matla` al-fajr) is Quranic. In fact, it ends the quintessentially important Sura laylat al-qadr, "Sura of the Night of Power". The Night of Power is the "time" of the revelation of the Qur'an. Althought there is no agreement as to the exact date of this in tradition, it is nonetheless held to have occurred during Ramadan, the month of fasting. The phrase could also be translated as "O place where the dawn appears" since the noun matla` is a so-called noun of place in Arabic (like the cognate term mazhar). The vocative adresses the hidden Imam/the Bab as the place where the divine light appears, emphasizing that no matter how important the Imam or "manifestation" may be, it is God who cause divinity to "appear" in them. They are thus somewhat passive. It nonetheless alludes to a very high spiritual rank. According to Anwar, "In the Traditions the figurative interpretation (ta 'wil) of DAWN (fajr) is the Qa'im or Promised One and its/his appearance is the Resurrection (qiyama), just as MORNING (subh) refers to the Imams and the lights of their knowledge."(54) It is also of some interest that the word matla` came to have a technical application in scriptural exegesis as one of four hermeneutic dimensions of a text (along the lines of the Philo-inspired medieval scheme: historia, allegoria, tropologia, anagoge). According to a statement from Ja`far al-Sadiq every Quranic aya has an exterior meaning (zahir, an interior meaning (batin), a legal meaning (hadd) and a spiritual meaning (matla`). These four meanings operate simultaneously, or polyvocally, at any given verse. For an example of a related use of this important term in the works of Sayyid Kazim Rashti, see the commentary on verse 8 above. (55)

33 O HOUR of the DAWN! Mention, BEFORE THE RISING OF THE SUN [Qur'an 20: 130, 50:39] from the place where the Gate appears, that the DAY which belongs to God is CLOSER THAN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE [Qur'an 16:77]. And the judgment has already been ordained in the MOTHER BOOK.(56)

"The Hour of Dawn" or sa`at al-fajr does not occur in the Qur'an, but combines two Quranic words, and may be thought, therefore, to combine the above-mentioned interpretations of these words. It addresses the Bab. DAY is an allusion to the same word in Qur'an 16:80, the use of which would continue the paraphrase, just as "sun" may be seen in connection with SHADE, zilalan of Qur'an 16:81. SUN has of course other implications. It may stand for rasul (messenger of God), `Ali, or "each Imam, specifically the Qa'im."(57). It is undoubtedly the last which is intended. The sense is that the Qa'im has not yet fully arisen; that is, he has not yet been universally recognized. Alternatively, it may allude to another individual as Qa'im. However, min matla` al-bab ("from the place where the gate appears" -- or, "the shining appearance of the Gate") seems to suggest otherwise. CLOSER THAN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE [Qur'an 16:77] in this context refers to,precisely, THE CAUSE (or perhaps better EVENT/amr) OF THE HOUR. The Arabic is: wa ma amru al-sa`ati illa ka-lamhi al-basar 'aw huwa aqrabu. lamh, TWINKLING OF AN EYE resonates with the event in Sura 27 of the Qur'an ("The Ants") in which the throne of the Queen of Sheba appears in the court of Solomon in A TWINKLING OF AN EYE although the Arabic vocabulary is completely different in this instance [Qur'an 27:40], both instances have in common the view of "time" as something God expresses absolute power through and by means of - a sacrament, if you will. The mystics have made much of such Quranic references, particularly in regard to the distinctively Islamic idea of perpetual creation and destruction of the world -- the "occasionalism" of the theologians. Through this "vision" the activities of world, which might appear to those without knowledge as a sequence of events in a causal chain, are actually the result of God's instantaneous destruction and recreation of the cosmos. Each "atom of time" therefore is a NEW CREATION, khalq jadid[13:5; 14:19; 17:49, 17:98; 32:10; 34:7; 35:16;50:15]. In the later Baha'i thought, this Quranic notion becomes "a new race of men".(58)

34 O people of the earth! Listen to the call of this upright soul in the AIR [16:79] of the cloud: `Praised be God, He who has taught me through this Gate -- the PATH of those who affirm divine unity -- a just word. And that is from the BOUNTY of God to me. And He is Self-sufficient above all the worlds.'

The speaker here is presented as the hidden Imam, who designates the Bab as al-nafs al-qa'im, "the soul who arises". As such, it is a good example of the manipulation by the author of such terminology to indicate his own claim to be the "promised one." This device here as elsewhere, resembles the qul, SAY! verses of the Qur'an, enabling the Bab (and Muhammad before him) to speak on behalf of a higher authority while at the same time participating in this authority. As mentioned earlier, the variety of voices which speak throughout the commentary should be thought of as representing separate aspects or "levels" of the soul of the Bab, which for the purposes of rhetorical effect, are separately emphasized in this or that passage. "Cloud" refers again to the divine source of the Bab's message as discussed above at verse 13. In his commentary on the Sura of the Cow, the Bab interpreted fadl, BOUNTY as the Qa'im.(46b)

35 O people of `Arafat! Be firm in the precincts of the straight one and listen to my call about this blood-stained shirt which has been rent with 4,000 darts of the people of idolatry (shirk) from among my servants. `Verily , verily I am the one slain at the two slaughters [or rivers]. Verily, verily I am the one slaughtered by the two swords, and verily, verily I have been flung down (al-matruh) upon the two earths, and verily, verily I speak in the two stations: "There is no god but God alone, there is no god but Him. {*Exalted is God, the Lofty, He other than whom there is no god.*}" And He is God, Mighty, Wise.'

The portion between brackets, {*...*}, is missing from F11. Verses 35-42 make up the fourth section of a given sura/ chapter of the Tafsir surat Yusuf (as described in Lawson, "Interpretation", p.250) which returns to the verse/aya of the Qur'an being commented upon. In this case, these verses are a sequenced reprisecommentary and paraphrase of the Quranic

The reference to `Arafat could be another indication that the Bab wrote part of the work during his pilgrimage. But it probably "simply" refers to the holiness of `Arafat itself which is one of the sacred places of the Islamic pilgrimage where on an appointed day during the pilgrimage, all pilgrims gather together for the prescribed "sermon of the day of `Arafat". Thus, it refers to an assemblage of the pious awaiting a message at a predetermined time. (Note that the word shares the same root as `irfan and ma`rifa "gnosis" and even ma`ruf "proper Islamic behavior" and, of course `arf). See also the exegetical hadith (ad Qur'an 7:46) "We are the Heights", nahnu al-a`raf, referred to many times in Baq, as discussed by Corbin (EII, vol. 1, pp. 310-20.) The Bab, in this verse, returns to the qamis of 12:93 and presents it as a symbol of the theme of martyrdom, so essential to Shi`i religiosity.(59) He expands the theme by alluding to Husayn, who was killed near the Euphrates. The nahrayn ("two slaughers," with a hard "h") of QA is nahrayn ("two rivers," with a soft "h") in F11, f. 164a. The word matruh (flung down) is etymologically and phonically related to 12:9: 'aw itrahuhu ardan OR CAST HIM OUT TO SOME OTHER LAND, while the extended repetition of the dual is a reflex of the language of the Qur'an and more pertinently, the language of the Khutbat al-tatanjiya (mentioned several times here) and the concomitant evocation of the mystical topos of the coincidentia oppositorum. Eliade studied several instances of the theme from mythic and religious history. His focus was on the myth of androgyny, but in the course of his discussion many other examples are cited, such as the theme of reunion, the polar opposition of heaven and earth, water and clay, old and new, up and down, sun and moon, and other opposites which are found in works of alchemy. His conclusion on the matter is stated succinctly, and in the present context, most appropriately. For him The "coincidence of opposites" represents:

"The eschatalogical "syndrome" par excellence, the sign that Time and History have come to an end. It is the Lamb with the Lion, and the Infant playing with the Viper. All conflicts, that is to say, all the contrarities, are abolished; Paradise is recovered. This eschatological image demonstrates perfectly that the coincidentia oppositorum does not always imply "totalisation" in the concrete meaning of the term. It can likewise signify the paradoxical return of the world to the paradisal state. The fact that the Lamb, the Lion, the Infant and the Viper exist, says that the world is there, that it is a Cosmos and not Chaos. But, the fact that the Lamb lies down with the Lion and the Infant sleeps near the Viper implies equally that it is no longer our world, but Paradise." (60).

36 Verily God has INSPIRED [Qur'an 16:68] me in a single thread of that SHIRT stained by pure blood with: `Verily, verily I am God, He who There is no god but Me.'

This continues the allusion to the beginning of sura 12, thus the blood is pure, as opposed to the "false blood" of the wolf [Qur'an 12:18]. The Arabic is: al-qamis al-muhammara bi 'l-dam al-mutahhara. Thus, the verse could read: "that pure bloodstained shirt." It is likely that both meanings are meant to be suggested. Note the similarity to the epithets "Red Dove" and "reddened point" above and the attendant possible allusions to the Bab's colour hierarchy. The final refrain of this verse might be more clearly understood as `Verily, verily I am God, He who [is designated by the phrase] There is no god but Me.'. But, in translating it this way one runs the risk of making things "too" understandable. That is, it is quite likely that the Bab intended the notionally and perhaps grammatically wrenching (but melifluous) dislocation found in the original Arabic, viz inni ana allah al-ladhi la ilah illa ana.

37 `O people of Paradise! GO WITH MY SHIRT [ 12:93] - the sign of this most great Remembrance - AND CAST IT ON THE FACE OF [12:93] the Proof, your Imam so that he might look to you through your EYES, and that today, if God wills, your sight concerning this Gate, who is in accord with the truth and by the truth, will be sharp.

The Arabic is: idhhabu bi-qamisi ayat hadha al-dhikr al-akbar (GO WITH MY SHIRT - the sign of this most great Remembrance). The speaker is the hidden Imam. The variant "cast it on the face of my Imam" (F11, f. 164a: imami; QA: imamukum), complicates the reading. "Look to you through your eyes" is an echo of the theme of "signs" discussed in the study of the Bab's Commentary on the Sura of the Cow (Lawson, "Qu'ran," pp.187-224), where the essential presupposition is that individuals have been invested with the aya, sign of the Imam or Prophet, without which they would be unable to recognize their own selves or stations. (This theory appears to be in perfect harmony with the mysticism of Shaykh Ahmad as described in Cole, "Individualism"). Here again the "confluence" of text and person are represented by the word aya which means verse of the Qur'an and miraculous portent/proof.


39 {*O Solace of the Eye! Say:*} `Verily, verily I am the HOUSE and am with the Truth, established (marfu`an).'

Verse 38 and 39 follow F11, f. 164a. The capitalized portion in verse 38 is missing from QA which skips to verse 39. {* --- *} in verse 39 is missing from F11, 164a. The NEARNESS OF THE HOUR is found at Qur'an 17:51; bayt ("house") refers both to the Kaaba and the "house" or family of the Prophet, viz the Imams and their walaya (authority). (61)

40 And verily, verily I am the LAMP IN THE NICHE [24:35] and am, through God the Truth upon the truth, shining (mudi'an).

This is a combination of the above-mentioned theme of the revelatory experience of Moses (signaled by inni ana), and that of the Light Verse [Qur'an 24:35]. LAMP misbah, according to Anwar, refers to the Prophet's beloved grandsons Hasan and Husayn (the second and third Imams), then to the messenger of God, al-rasul, then to the light of prophethood, nubuwa and knowledge, `ilm as well as to the learned (ulama), and the Shi`a.(62) NICHE, mishkatis understood as representing Fatima (thus Hasan and Husayn are the LAMP shining out of the NICHE. And in another hadith from the eighth Imam Rida, we find the statement: "We are the NICHE (nahnu al-mishkat) in which the LAMP Muhammad shines." Alternatively , the word is glossed as the "breast of Muhammad" sadr Muhammad) "in which the light of knowledge, that is nubuwa (prophethood), shines.(63) Here is another clue about the frequent refrain al-haqq `ala 'l-haqq, which would appear in this instance to parallel the nur `ala nur LIGHT UPON LIGHT of 24:35. See also the following verse, where the reference is made explicit.

41 And verily, verily I am the Fire in the LIGHT UPON LIGHT [24:35] of SINAI in the land of felicity and am hidden in the precincts of the Fire. [cf. Qur'an 20:10-11].

It is not really possible to examine the images of fire and light in any detail.(64) The famous Light Verse [24:35] is as follows:

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth;
the likeness of His Light is as a niche
wherein is a lamp
(the lamp in a glass,the glass as it were a glittering star)
kindled from a Blessed Tree,
an olive that is neither if the East nor of the West
whose oil wellnigh would shine,
even if no fire touched it;
Light upon Light;
(God guides to His Light whom He will.)
(And God strikes similitudes for men,and God has knowledge of everything.)

42 O Solace of the Eye! Say to the believers from among all the people of the earth and the heavens: `Come to me with your people who are effaced completely by the permission of God, the Exalted. Verily. God desires your reward in this Gate, upon the most great truth.' And He is God, Knower of all things.

This concludes the paraphrase of 12:93: wa 'tuni bi-ahlikum ajma`in, COME TO ME WITH YOUR PEOPLE ALL TOGETHER. The Bab's words: atuni bi-ahlikum mimman kana fi ahl al-mahw `ala 'l-jam` bi-idhni 'llah al-`ali ("come to me with your people who are effaced completely by the permission of God, the Exalted"), while paraphrasing the Qur'an ahlikum ajma`in ("your people in their entirety"),refer to the mystical idea of jam` al-jam` ("absolutely completely") associated with the states of al-fana' (annihilation of the carnal self, the Bab's al-mahw or "effacement" and al-baqa, perduration of the enlightened soul. Similar language is found in the work of Rashti, quoted above at verse 8, and Ibn Abi Jumhur (d. after 1499, ) one of the pre-Safavid Shi`i scholars responsible for "domesticating" the teachings of Ibn `Arabi to the Shi`i belief system. He is thought to have been a major influence on Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i and therefore the Shaykhi school. Ibn Abi Jumhur discusses the divine acts (af`al) and says, quoting Ibn `Arabi, that of the primordial divine acts, the second is called by the theologians, with justification, "the gate of justice". Ibn Abi Jumhur says that in this statement there is an allusion to the gate of tawhid in which, according to the Sufis, there are several stations: the station of jam`, "comprehension/integration" and the station of tafarruqa, "differentiation", and the station of jam` al-jam`, "comprehension after differentiation" and the station ofal-jami` li'l-jami`, "the integration of the various modes of comprehension".(65)


The Rising of the Imam

We shall show them Our signs on the horizons
and in their own souls, so that the Truth be manifest to them

On earth are signs for those certain in their faith
As also in your own souls
And in heaven is your sustenance
And all that you are promised
51: 20-23

According to the Qur’an, being human entails reading the signs of God. To such an extent is reading a religious discipline, one’s actual behavior may also be thought a reading, an interpretation, of the data of religion — the signs of God. These signs are in the external world, the internal world, and the Book itself. The believer, therefore is a reader of several texts simultaneously: the natural, the existential, and the scriptural. (Juan Cole has beautifully explicated this in his article, “The World as Text”.) These signs are thought of in many ways: signs of God as Truth, Light, Love and Being are perhaps the most germane here. In Arabic, aya, (plural ayat) perfectly encodes and joins the important idea of divine miraculous portent, verse and text. The universe is a dynamic luminous “cloud” of these self-referential and utterly meaningful signs. The picture that emerges is similar to the “chaos of light” of a Turner (1775-1851), except that the picture is textual. And just as the image of a “chaos” of light is paradoxical, a “chaos of text” is so a fortiori. Reading this luminous chaos is the job.

In the tradition to which the author of the Tafsir surat Yusuf belonged, there was an acknowledged and celebrated confluence in the signs/verses of the Imam/Qur’an nexus. Since at least the time of Mulla Sadra (d.1640) it had become important in some circles to speak of an inner Imam, as distinct from (but not necessarily exclusive of) a hidden Imam dwelling in some realm of the external world.(66) Such a doctrine has obvious political implications. By the time of the Bab, and as a result of the intense eschatological meditation of thinkers like Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim, it becomes clear that the sign of the hidden Imam, which the Bab tells us has been deposited in the souls of humans, is for him a text of primary importance. But this text is within the soul of the Bab, who in the act of reading inscribes himself with the read text and becomes a text himself, which he also reads aloud to us. Reading reading itself.

The “mechanics” of this process have been alluded to above. It may be helpful to sketch it out in fuller detail. At the Gloss on verse 27, above, reference was made to Shaykh Ahmad’s commentary on the hadith “Our Cause is the truth and the truth of the truth.” The object here is to identify and correlate four metaphysical levels with aspects of this important hadith. These levels begin at utter transcendence - a transcendence so rare and “elevated” that it may be thought to be beyond Being itself. As Shaykh Ahmad has said: “This is why it is towards the inaccessible Essence that the human is turning himself, even though he can never ever actually find It. Yet, he does not cease searching for it, though It remains forever inaccessible to him.”(67) The Imams, as representatives of this transcendence are the only proper focus for the believer, but the believer must never lose sight of the “unseeable” point beyond the Imams. In his earlier Tafsir surat al-baqara the Bab provides some clues for an understanding of the process of the encounter with the Imam. There is no space to fully discuss and analyze this here, but I will offer here some translations of selected passages which in addition to providing important background for the ideas encountered in the Tafsir surat Yusuf will also show the difference in the structure and plan of the earlier composition, which is much more traditional. In the course of his commentary on Qur’an 2:29, the Bab says

“As for the sign of the Divine Exclusive Unity - it is in all things. And even if there is corruption in their (“all things’”) knowledge and recognition of this sign, God will remove whatever is causing such deficiency at the time of ecstasy (or “consciousness”: ‘inda wijdán). And at this time there will no longer be in them any hint of mixture or plurality. Thus they, at such time, will be proof of the Living, the Self-subsisting. And God did not make multiplicity a proof of His Exclusive Unity. No one knows Him and none understands His mode except Him. Nevertheless, the known (ma‘ruf) is His Will (viz, Muhammad, Fatima and the Imams) which is the intended ultimate goal of all contingent beings according to what they are and recieve of the divine manifestations of His Will according to their capacities. This is a result His BOUNTY flowing to all regions.”(68)


In the presence of God, the meaning of BOUNTY is the Qa’im. And He is the BOUNTY of God in all the worlds. And were it not for Him, Origination would not have been originated and Invention would not have been generated. By him Origination rose up. Such is upheld in this commentary; and by Him the fruit of Invention acquired existence from the sign of the Pure Exclusive Unity, and the signs of the pure Inclusive Unity.

He who believes, insofar as he is capable, in the divine unity and the divine kingdom, will have gathered to himself the BOUNTY from his Lord and will be purified of the baseness of THE LOSERS, by means of an unearned gift from his Imam. BUT ONLY A FEW BELIEVE IN HIM. If the COVERING BE REMOVED to the extent of but a single drop (rashha) from his unity, and a single allusion from his dominion, then all created things will be dumbfounded by his grace, and would long for the atmosphere of his love by entering into the city of the apparitional form (shabah) of his self, oblivious of all but him, so that only baqa’ remains as his sign. And the heavens and the earth would be filled with the sound of “There is no god but God”, and TO HIM IS THE FINAL DESTINY.(69)


The reference is to the Family of God (Muhammad, Fatima and the Imams). By THE BOOK is meant the appearance (zuhur) of God to them by means of them; they cause the appearance of God to appear to themselves as a true appearance, in such a way that their stations do not show up in any world except on the authority of the manifestation of the Absolute Truth (illa ‘an al-mazhar al-haqq al-mutlaq). Whatever is other than them belongs to the contingent world, according to what each merits through Origination, and whatever is in its potential through Invention. And Invention, and whatever is dormant in it, glorifies their splendour. They are not heedless of the least thing in all of the worlds of contingency and actuality concerning the TRUE RECITATION of the Qur'an. THEY HAVE FAITH IN God alone, because they point the way on the authority of God alone. AND WHOSO DISBELIEVES IN IT/HIM (bi-hi), that is to say, IN the Qa'im, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, during his life, and during his return and his advent (zuhur) and his government (dawlati-hi), THEY SHALL BE THE LOSERS. Because they will have LOST for themselves/their souls, during their lives, the radiance which comes from the brilliance of PURCHASING the sign of His self, which God has deposited in the potentiality of all created things.(70)

The Tafsir surat Yusuf may be read, then, as the rising of the Imam through the consciousness (wijdân) of the Bab. As a mirror of his mind and culture, heavily engraved with the lore of the exceedingly rich and baroque Shi‘i tradition, this work stands by itself. Throughout this “heresy of paraphrase” his apocalyptic and messianic consciousness “flames forth” and is deliberately, elaborately and responsibly reflected. The work holds up to the public the deeply personal process of the Imam rising up through this very consciousness to announce the nearness of the kingdom of God. It is, in short, Islamic apocalyptic, a species of apocalyptic literature with distinct and characteristic features but which nonetheless shares much in common with its predecessors in the Abrahamic tradition. Some of these shared features may be thought to achieve a certain apotheosis in this work: i) the confluence and complete identity between Text and Person; ii) the instrumentality of “otherworldly” beings, e.g., the hidden Imam; the cloud, God; iii) the utter and unapologetic manipulation of sacred scripture, which, in the Islamic instance, has a degree of sanctity unknown in the earlier traditions, and in which instance renders the manipulation all the more heretical and apocalyptic; iv) the closely related polyvocality or “ambiguity” of the utterances; v) the announcement of a new world or creation and the passing away of the old order. A remarkable, and perhaps ultimately even more distinctive feature of this work is vi) the degree to which love is involved in the apocalyptic vision. This love is symbolized here by the devotion of Jacob to Joseph (the devotion of the believer to the hidden Imam). The analogy is of course exquisitely paradoxical. This merely contributes to its effectiveness and compelling power. It is an apocalyptic of separation and reunion — another pair of opposites. (71)

The fascinating question about the existence or nonexistence of a play element in Islamic religion and Islamicate culture may be partly responded to by referring to the intricacy and creativity exemplified in the text studied above. Although it might be argued that this is a sui generis example (and this is true), it is also the case that part of its uniqueness is seen in the degree to which it exemplifies literary tendencies, tastes and presuppositions that suffuse the entire range of Islamic letters and religious life. While it might be difficult to find a text that is “playful” in precisely the same way that this one is, it may also be argued that there are countless texts which display the play element in their own way. And this both because of and despite the strenuous and repeated warnings against “play”, “sport” and “frivolity” enshrined in the Qur’an. In short, as a human creation, Islamic culture is just as permeated by the human “faculty” and activity of playfulness as any other. But because this playfulness is frequently indistinguishable from “official” religious activity it is camouflaged so well that it is thought not to exist. Izutsu was interested in Ibn ‘Arabi for precisely the way in which his work was playful. In this he saw another commonality with his own Zen tradition and, as it happened, aspects of the deconstructionist project.(72)

As Corbin has repeatedly insisted, the prime epistemological principle in this theosophical tradition is that one “knows” by virtue of what one “is”. And as it has become clear by now, particularly with regard to the theory of signs found in this commentary, traces of all of the abstract principles have been deposited in the HORIZONS and the SOULS precisely to enable the individual to realize the "perfect" manifestation of such a principle when it appears. “But when, through our ignorance, it is not inside us, it can be neither known nor recognized by us at all, because nothing can be known on the outside except by the grace of a corresponding modality which is in us.”(73) From those passages which speak of consciousness, “truly finding,” or ecstasy (wijdan) and in light of the clear authority with which the Bab comments on the Qur'an, it may be thought that the Qa'im was seen by the Bab primarily as an internal principle, but that finally his own experience or encounter with this principle was too strong to remain exclusively personal. That the intensity of his inner experience coincided with the Shi‘i millenium is of course of primary importance.

Endnotes for Section 3, Contemporary Gloss and Conclusion

(1) An anecdote is told of how the Bab, while a student of Shaykh 'Abid, and therefore still a young child, gave an extemporaneous explanation of the basmala which greatly impressed his teacher, who was himself a student of Shaykhi theology. Muhammad “Nabil-i A`zam” Zarandi, The Dawnbreakers, trans. Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1970), p. 75. On the "wise child" motif in biographies of the Bab see Lambden, "An Episode in the Childhood of the Bab” in Peter Smith, ed., Studies in Babi and Baha’i History Volume 3: In Iran (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1986), pp. 1-31 .

(2) al-Sayyid Hashim al-Bahrani, Kitab al-Burhan fi tafsir al-Qur’an, 4 vols. (Teharan: Aftab, 1955), v. l, pp.43-4, #1 from Qummi who gave six separate isnads (chains of transmission) for this matn (text). In addition, Burhan lists six more variants. Similar material is found in Nur and Safi. This hadith provides important background for the title Baha'u’llah, assumed by Mirza Husayn ‘Ali Nuri, the founder of the Baha'i Faith.

(3) Mahmoud Ayoub, "The Prayer of Islam: A Presentation of Surat al-Fatiha in Muslim Exegesis." Journal of the American Academy of Religion,Thematic Issue: Studies in Qur'an and Tafsir, v.47 (1979), pp. 639-42. The basmala is also treated as a separate verse in the Ahmadi interlinear Qur'an: The Holy Qur'an , translated by Maulawi Sher ‘Ali, Rabwah, Pakistan, 1979.

(4) 'Abd `Ali al-Huwayzi, Kitab tafsir nur al-thaqalayn, 5 vols. Qum, 1383/1963-1385/1965, 1, pp. 6-7, #22.

(5) ibid., 1, pp. 6-7, #21 and #23. This tradition was cited by Rashti in his discussion of the Greatest Name (see Sayyid Kazim Rashti, "Risala fi sharh wa tafsir ism allah al-a'zam ," School of.Oriental and African Studies Library, Ar. 92308 (ff.27 la-74a). It is suggested that since aqrab min. ("closer than"), as applicable to both time and place, it might be construed as an allusion to the imminent appearance of an actual Qa'im.

(6) The numbering of the verses of this work is not always simple or straightforward; thus if the assumption here is correct, it would facilitate the task somewhat, inasmuch as all chapters are said to contain forty two verses, the numerical equivalent to the Arabic word bala "Yea verily" which was the response of humanity (in potentia) to the question posed to them by God on the pre-eternal Day of the Covenant recounted in Qur'an 7: 172. ba'= 2 + lam = 30 + ya'= 10 = 42. (Dr. Muhamad Afnan, personal communication.) The work has elsewhere been described as containing forty verses per sura (E.G. Browne, "Some Remarks on the Babi Texts Edited by Baron Victor Rosen in Vols. I and VI of the 'Collections. Scientifiques de l'Institut des Langues Orientales de Saint Petersbourg'," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, v.24 (1892). pp. 261-62), representing the abjad value of the quranic li "to me" or, "before me" (lam= 30 + ya ' = 10). The prepositional phrase is an explicit allusion to the dream of Joseph: FATHER, I SAW ELEVEN STARS, AND THE SUN AND THE MOON: I SAW THEM BOWING DOWN BEFORE ME (li) [ 12:41. Browne notes, however, that several chapters of the British Library ms. (probably Or. 3539, another ms of the work there is Or. 6681) are described in the ms itself as having forty-two verses (as is one chapter of ms Cambridge University Library, Browne Manuscript Collection, F11. ). In either case, the number of verses are taken to be symbolic of either the acceptance or assertion of spiritual authority (Browne, "Remarks," p.262). See chapters 1, 2, 52 and 95 in QA. Incidentally, there are many blank spaces at the heading of the chapters in F11. It appears that the scribe intended to insert rubrics in these blanks, which would carry such information as the number of verses, and so on.

(7) 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Kashani, Tafsir al-Qur 'an al-karim li 'l-Shaykh al-Akbar al- `Arif bi 'llah al- 'allama Muhyi al-Din. bin `Arabi. 2 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Yaqza, 1387/1968, vol. 1, p.8, unascribed (note, the Tafsir is erroneously ascribed to Ibn `Arabi). See also Sayyid Kazim Rashti, Sharh al-Qasida al-Lamiyyah (Tabriz, n.p., 1270/1853), p.82 where the same hadith is ascribed to the Prophet. Rashti adds that the ba' is: al-lawh al-mahfuz, al-kitab al-mastur, marja` al-haqa'iq al-ilahiya wa mahall al-asma' wa 'l-sifat al-idafiya wa 'l-khalqiya, wa 'l-ba' mazhar al-jalil wa qalam, al-tafsil wa 'l-mabda' wa 'l-dalil wa 'l-sabab wa 'l-sabil wa 'l-sirr wa 'l-ta'lil . . .: "The Preserved Tablet, the Hidden Book, the Reference Point for all the Divine Realities, and the Place of the Divine Names and Attributes Known to Creation, the "B" is also the Shining Appearance and a Pen telling of the Origin and indicating the Mediary and Path and the Mystery and Motivation . . .". A word about this important work is in order. The qasida or ode which is the subject of Sayyid Kazim's commentary (sharh) was written by one `Abd al-Baqi Afandi al-Mawsili (1789-1861). al-Mawsili spent most of his life in Baghdad, and was a distinguished poet and the author of several works on poetry and biography. This particular ode is devoted to the seventh Imam Musa Kazim (d.799-800), and was written on the occasion of the donation of a piece of the covering of the Prophet's tomb in Medina by Sultan Mahmud II to be used for the Shrine of the Imam Musa located in Kazimayn. Rashti wrote his commentary in 1258/1842 at the request of `Ali Rida Pasha, then governor of Baghdad. It is possible that the original ode was motivated by an anti-Wahhabi sentiment. For brief references to Sayyid Kazim's commentary see Rafati, "Shaykhi", p.133 and references; Charismatic, p.104 and references. The entire work really needs to be studied thoroughly. Corbin seems not to have taken an interest in it. Nicolas, on the other hand, has translated a passage from it, part of which corresponds to a passage cited by the renowned Baha'i apologist, Mirza Abu'l-Fada'il Gulpaygani (d.1914) in his Kitab al-fara'id (pp. 575-7) where the object is to show that Shaykhi writings predicted the advent of the Bab. The edition of Qasida used here is unpaginated. Page numbers supplied are counted from the recto of the title page.

(8) Rashti, Qasida, pp. 84-5 & 92; Rashti adds: "`Ali did not make anything. higher than the point." There follows an elaborate discussion of five levels of meaning of the basmala.

(9) Zarandi, The Dawnbreakers, p.63.

(10) Bab, “Tafsir surat al-baqara,” Tehran Baha 'i Archives, 6014 c, pp.11-12. The "point" is also referred to in a celebrated hadith from the Prophet: "Knowledge is a single point which the ignorant have multiplied." (quoted unascribed) in Baha'u'llah's, "Haft-i vadi," apud Athar-i qalam-i a`la vol. 3, Tehran: Mu'assasa-ye Milli-ye Matbu'at-i Amri, p.117 which corresponds to idem, The Seven Valleys, pp. 24-5. See Lawson, "The Terms," p.37. The shahada is: la ilaha illa 'llah (not all of the vowels are counted).

(11) Denis MacEoin, "From Shaykhism to Babism: A Study in Charismatic Renewal in Shi 'i Islam." Unpublished Ph.D thesis, Cambridge, 1979, p.146, available from. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan). Cf., e.g., the title of the 110th chapter of the Tafsir surat Yusuf, "Surat al-sabiqin," (QA, pp.229-31.)

(12) On the identity and number of the first disciples of the Bab, see Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, pp. 177-9.

(13) Rashti, Qasida, pp.90-1.

(14) E.G. Browne,(ed. & trans.). A Traveller's Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Bab (by 'Abbas Effendi). 2 vols in 1. Amsterdam: Philo. Press, 1975 (reprint). p.229. Cf. also the passage from Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 204, quoted above.

15 MacEoin, "From Shaykhism to Babism," p. 174, where the author perceives a gradual evolution of the nature of the Bab's claims, as opposed to one claim which came to be expressed more and more openly (i.e., by the word mazhar or manifestation) as time went by. In fact, the Bab refers to himself in numerous places in this early work as mazhar, e.g., QA, pp. 113 (in the voice of the hidden Imam) and QA, p.170: "Praised be to God who sent down this Book with the truth upon this servant that he might be a mazhar in all the worlds."

(16) The months of this calendar, still used by Baha' is, take their names from key words found in a popular Shi 'i prayer which is recited during the month of Ramadan. (Al-Qummi, Mafatih al-jinan, pp. 184-6 ) These key words appear to. have no direct relationship with the letters of the basmala.

(17) Rashti, Qasida, p 93.

(18) Vahid Rafati, "The Development of Shaykhi Thought in Shi 'i Islam." Unpublished Ph.D thesis, U.C.L.A., 1979, available through University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan), p. 175, see p. 160 for the description of a manuscript copy of titis document in the Near Eastern Collection of the UCLA Library.

(19) Corbin, Trilogie ismaelienne, Paris: Maisonneuve, 1961, p. 30. The quotation is from Paul Kraus, Jabir ibn Hayyan, v.2, Cairo, 1942, p.263. Reference may also be made to Corbin, "Le Livre du Glorieux de Jabir ibn Hayyan,” Eranos-Jahrbuch, v. 18 (1950), pp.75-87. See also Rajab al-Bursi, Mashariq Anwar al-Yaqin fi Asrar Amir al-Mu'minin (n.p, 1979), esp. pp. 18-38 (on this work see now Corbin, Rajab Borsi, and B.Todd Lawson, "The Dawning of the Lights of Certainty in the Divine Secrets Connected with the Commander of the Faithful by Rajab Bursi (d. 1411)," in Leonard Lewisohn, ed., The Legacy of Medieval Persian Sufism (London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1992), pp. 261-276. In addition see Futuhat, v. 1, pp. 231-361: "al-bab al-thani fi ma`rifa maratib al-huruf' ; and the well-known manual on magic by al-Buni (d.1225), Shams al-ma`arif al-kubra. Thus, it is not necessary to ascribe to the Babi use of gematria, a Hurufi influence. In fact, the most recent study of the Hurufis refers to other less superficial similarities, namely Fadl Allah`s claim to be mahdi, the combining of teachings of Judaism, Christianity.and Islam, and antipathy for both the mainstream of Shi`ism and Sufism. (Gölpinlari, Hurufilik metinleri katalogu, p.20. Thanks to Mr. R. Sezer for translating the appropriate passage for me; thanks also to Dr. A. Karamustafa for drawing my attention to this book.)

(20.) Ziyara, p.69

(21) A variation in the manuscripts occurs at "which is one in terms of its blessings.” QA: mutawahhidan ala'ihi [=ala' uhu] (for mutawajjidan; the dot seems to be a designation for the ha', see below, v.13. The alternate reading would be "causing its blessings to exist"); F11, f. 162b: mutawaqqidan: "causing the blessings to flame forth.”

(22) Thus Abu `Ubayda (d 824-6) found it necessary to specify dhalika 'l-kitab as hadha 'l-Qur'an and cite poetry to prove his point. Abu 'Ubayda, Majaz al-Qur'an. Cairo: al-Khanji, 1373/1954, pp. 28-9.

(23) al-Bahrani, Burhan, v. 1, p.53, #1, ad 2:2 and #1 ad 2:3.

(24) See also the discussion on this point in the translation by Maulvi Muhammad Ali (see bibliography), p. 12 who cites Lane to suggest that the usage dhalika, in implying remoteness, indicates esteem.

(25) Ibn Mansur al-Yamani, Ja'far (al-Da 'i), (ascribed). Kitab al-kashf, Dar al-Fikr al-'Arabi [Islamic Research Association Series, # 13. Edited by R. Strothmann. Cairo, Bombay & Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1952], p.8.

(26) Wright, Grammar, v. l, p. 179.

(27) Lawson, "The Terms," pp.35-42.

.(28) Mohamad Ali Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early Shi 'ism,: The Sources of Esotericism in Islam, translated by David Streight, Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1994, p. 118. The other four signs are: the revolt of the Sufyani, the counter-revolt of the Yemeni, the assassination of the Pure Soul, "the swallowing. up of the army.” On the historical development of this tradition, see Wilferd Madelung, "'Abd Allah b. Zubayr and the Mahdi," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 40.4 (1981) 291-305. See also the reference to "the Call" above in the quotation from Massignon, v.1, p.300.

(29) The voice from the burning bush is also a classic argument in Sufi literature to justify revelation through tajalli "Divine Self-Manifestation" of various kinds, not necessarily "revelation" of a prophetic Book. See al-Kashani's letter to Simnani, in Hermann Landolt, "Der Briefweschel", pp.72-3, n. 125.

(29) MacEoin, “From Shaykhism to Babism,” p. 157-8.

(30) Charismatic, p. 157-8.

(31) Cf. Lambden, "The Sinaitic Mysteries".

(32) Qadimi, pp.433 & 674.

(33) The term `ama has a rich and complex history. As this word is frequently encountered in the writings of the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and other Baha'i authors, some reference to this history is in order. The word figures in a hadith ascribed to the Prophet:

He was asked: "Where was our Lord before He created creation?" The Prophet answered: "In al-`ama having no air above or beneath it."

A part of this tradition is quoted in Fusus, v.1, p.111) and al-Kashani, who cites it in a shorter form (the editor of al-Istilahat gives a variant: "having air above it and beneath it.") in the above form, comments as follows:

al-`ama is the level (hadra) of the Exclusive Unity (al-ahadiya), according to us. . . . It is (also) said that it is the level of the Inclusive Unity (al-wahidiya) which is the place where the divine names and attributes appear, because al-`ama is a thin cloud (al-ghaim al-raqiq), and this cloud is a screen between heaven and earth. Therefore this level is a screen between the heaven of the Exclusive Unity and the earth of creaturely multiplicity, about which not even the [above] hadith from the prophet is very helpful. (al-Kashani, al-Istilahat, pp.131-2.)

Izutsu's translation, "abysmal darkness" ( Sufism and Taoism, p. 119) and Austin's "The Dark Cloud" (Bezels, p.134) do not convey the diaphanous quality which al-Kashani emphasizes, suggesting a thin cloud at such a high altitude that it seems to appear and disappear from one moment to the next. Cf. also Corbin's "Primordial Cloud", Creative, pp. 216-245. An extensive discussion of the use of the term in Babi and Baha'i literature is Lambden, "The Cloud of Unknowing".

(34) Writings, p.49, n.2 and Rosen, Collections scientifiques, v. 1 , p. 1.87n.

(35) Cited in Fusus, v. 1, p.325.

(36) Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i Iqan, English translation (slightly adapted), p. 49, Persian text, p.38. On Baha'u'llah's hermeneutic, see now Buck, Symbol and Secret.

(37) On the Khutbat al-tatanjiya, see Lawson, "Dawning"; Sayyid Kazim Rashti, Sharh khutbat al-tatanjiya, and Corbin, Intineraire. Other examples of the trope are translated in Lawson, "Interpretation," p.248. Additional examples are: "We have apportioned mountains on the earth, and placed the earth upon the water, and the musky air [we have caused to come forth] from under the hot coldness (al-harr al-bard )" (QA, p.137). "O peoples of the earth! Cleave ye tenaciously to the Cord of the All-Highest God, which is but this Arabian Youth, Our Remembrance [i.e. the Bab] - He Who standeth concealed at the point of ice amidst the ocean of fire." (Writings, p.54). Numerous other examples from this work could be cited. One of the more challenging is the entire Surat al-`abd;, "Sura of the Servant," (#109 of the Tafsir surat Yusuf). In chapter 109, Surat al-`abd, we read: "O people of the Cloud! Know ye that this Arab youth is speaking the truth in the center of the water (fi qutb al-ma') from the midst of the Fire (min markaz al-nar): `There is no god but Him, the Mighty. And He is God, Mighty, Ancient.'(QA, p.227, v.20; An edition of this sura, based on a ms. in St. Petersburg, was actually published by Rosen, Collections scientifiques, v.1, pp.179-91, who because of his unfamiliarity with the background esoterica, was led to make some very unfortunate comments about the Bab's written works. I am preparing a translation and commentary of the Surat al-`abd, which is unmistakably modelled on the above-mentioned Khutbat al-tatanjiya. This joining of opposites may have its origin in the Qur'an (see my forthcoming "The Qur'an and the Poetics of Opposition,"; and, it may be related to the kind of idea in the statement ascribed by Ibn `Arabi to Abu Sa`id al-Kharraz (d.899 or 90) who, when asked by what means he knew God, answered that it was by the fact that God is the joining of opposites (jam` bayna'l-naqidayn) (cited in Corbin, Creative Imagination, p.188). On the theme in Ibn `Arabi, see also Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism, passim. A related apperception is from Rumi: sulh-i azdad ast asli-i in jihan "The harmony between opposites is the principle of this world," quoted in Nasr, Islamic Science, p. 228.) Incidentally, ice is a frequent image in the Bab's tafsir. A particularly powerful example is when the Bab speaks of the hidden Imam: "and when He chanteth words of praise and glorification of God all Paradise becomes motionless like unto ice locked in the heart of a frost-bound mountain." (Writings, p.54).

(38) I.e., muttasil marfu`; see Robson, "Hadith," EI, v.3, p.25.

(39) Lawson, "Qur'an," pp.115-145. See also Rafati, "Alwan," pp. 24-32.

(40) Mashariq, p. 172.

(41) Ascribed to Mirza Muhammad Akhbari (117.8/1764-1232/1816, on whom see Amanat, pp.25-8; translated in Nabil, pp.49-50 (see also the reference here to the predictions of none other than Ibn `Arabi about the rise of the Mahdi in Persia). I have not located the original for this hadith. Cole has shown the complexity and integrality of Shaykh Ahmad's reading of the symbol of the tree from the vantage of ontology (Juan Cole ("The World as Text: Cosmologies of Shaykh al-Ahsa'i," Studia Islamica 80 (1994):145-163). The Babi movement attests to the intimate connection perceieved between such abstract preoccupations and the world of history.

(42) Tustari, Tafsir,p.2. The translation is Böwering's, Existence, p.139.

(43) See Nabil, p.27 and the hadith quoted in Qasida, p.69.

(44) For the Fatiha as umm al-kitab see Anwar, pp. 80-1. N.b. also the hadith cited in ibid., p.80, from `Ali: "The family of Muhammad is the umm al-kitab and its seal (khatimatuhu)."

(45) This verse is divided in two: the first part appears at Ziyara, p.5, the second at 8. Ziyara, p.8 adds wa sirr mustasirr; cf.EII, v.1, pp.116, 187-99 on which the translation is based. A recent edition of the prayer may be found in al-Qummi (comp.), Mafatih al-jinan, pp.445-50.

(46) al-Hallaj, Akhbar, introduction, p.49.

(47) Reza Tevfiq in Clement Huart, Textes persans, p.293. See the following pages for the background of this belief, which is associated with Abraham. See also p.305.

(48) al-Hallaj, Akhbar, #'s 32 & 34.

(49) This commentary is the subject of my : "Qur'an Commentary as Sacred Performance" (in press).

(50) Cf. Anwar, pp. 182-3, where the standard interpretation of this word, i.e. qiyama, "resurrection", is also given. In addition to standing for walaya proper, it also represents `Ali himself.

(51) Anwar, p.73 , quoting, among others, the Kitab al-wahida of Tariq bin Shihab, `Ali said: "The Imam is a holy spirit (ruh qudsi) and a divine cause (amr ilahi.

(52) Mashariq, p.63.

(53) NOTE: [1]fi ajamati ard al-safra' (F10, f.17a). There seems to be some interchangeability with this and the more obscure ard al-za`fran; that symbolises for Ibn `Arabi the famous `alam al-mithal or world of images. (Ibn `Arabi, Futuhat, vol.1, bab 8; Fazlur Rahman, "Dream, Imagination".) The Bab uses this latter term several times in his commentary on al-Baqara,;. For example in his four-part explanation of the word PROSPERITY (ad; Qur'an 2:5, Baq., p.41) he says that for the people of the third level, PROSPERITY is the attainment to the ard al-za`fran which is the second level and therefore connected with the color yellow (al-safra. While possible allusions to the World of Images may be read in the Bab's commentaries, as here when he refers to the "earth of saffron" or elsewhere to "spiritual bodies" (ashbah, azilla), passim), it is most significant that the actual terms `alam al-mithal, or Hurqalya, are not found in the Tafsir surat al-baqara or the Tafsir surat Yusuf.The Bab's comment is a good example of the way the he applied the Shaykhi doctrine. Both Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim use ard al-za`faran frequently. One example from the latter will suffice. In a discussion of al-muzammil (THE ENWRAPPED ONE, i.e. Muhammad, Qur'an 73), Rashti outlines four separate "stations" (maqamat of the term, followed by seven separate appropriate "garments" (thawb). The basic idea (now familiar), is that the Muhammadan Reality, is concealed by a number of veils. Of these seven garments, the second may correspond in some way with the third hermeneutic level of the word PROSPERITY as explained by the Bab. Sayyid Kazim says: "The second is the yellow garment (al-rida') in the yellow veil and the ard al-za`faran." (Qasida p.54)

Here Rashti is presuming the colour hierarchy: white, yellow, green, red. The discrepancy between this and the Bab's hierarchy may be accounted for by the fact that the latter begins his tetrad at the level of colourless light or tawhid. Such a discrepancy offers an example of the way in which these hierarchies may be manipulated to stress a given point. On the World of Images see Corbin, Spiritual Body p.182; idem, "The Visionary Dream"; idem, "Mundus Imaginalis"; see also John Walbridge, The Science, for an analysis of the idea in the work of Qutb al-Din Shirazi (d. 1311), whom the author describes (p.149) as possibly the first Islamic philosopher "to have made a determined effort to work out the philosophical implications of the concept".

(54) See Anwar, p. 256 where the Quranic matla` al-fajr is interpreted as the Qa'im in a hadith from al-Sadiq.

(55) Cf.,e.g.al-Amuli (d. after 1385), Tafsir, v.1,p.302. The same teaching is found, unattributed, in the early mystical exegete Sahl al-Tustari (d.896), Tafsir , p.3, and repeated, still unattributed, 600 years later in the vade mecum of Sunni Quranic studies al-Itqan of Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d.1505). On the significance of the hermeneutic therein see Wansbrough, Quranic Studies pp.242-6. See also Böwering, Existence, pp.139-142 who remarks on the similarity between this aspect of Sahl's exegesis and that ascribed to Ja`far al-Sadiq.

(56) Cf. the translation in Writings, p. 69.

(57) Anwar, p.200.

(58) On perpetual creation in Ibn `Arabi, see Corbin, Creative pp.237-245 (and notes). Here it is pointed out that Ibn `Arabi considered himself a "Muhammadan Joseph" and further that he taught that each person should make of themselves a living and breathing Qur'an. (Joseph is particularly important to Ibn `Arabi because he is the exemplar of the importance and holiness of the imaginative faculty.) Such similarities are simply too glaring and persistent not to be mentioned in this study. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the Bab read Ibn `Arabi directly and seems not to have been as negative towards him as many of his predecessors and contemporaries-- at least in the only direct reference known to me (F6, f. 71a), which I have also quoted in my "Dangers ":

"Muhyi ud-Din al-`Arâbi (sic) said some wondrously strange words in his Fusus, "I am the holy one that is veiled in the exalted singleness." The Bab comments: "There can be no doubt that such words, if one interprets them positively (bi-husni zann) have spiritual meaning. However, I do not like this, nor do I so interpret; nay, rather, I beg of God to make known the truth as He desires it. Verily He is the Mighty, the Most High." I have been unable to locate this statement ascribed to Ibn al-`Arabi in Fusus.

Essential reading on this topic is Toshihiko Izutsu, Creation and the Timeless Order of Things: Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 1994 where the author discusses in learned detail the relationship between the idea of perpetual creation and similar ones found in Zen. On Zen-like conceits and expressions and strident antipathy against Ibn `Arabi in Shaykh Ahmad see the recent valuable article by Juan R. I. Cole. "Individualism and the Spiritual Path in Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i." Occasional Papers in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Studies vol. 1, no. 4 [September, 1997]). An elegant introductory discussion of time in Islamic thought is Böwering, "Time". On "Occasionalism" see Fakhry.

(59) On this: Ayoub, Redemptive Suffering. QA: al-qamis al-mughammas; F11, f. 164a: al-qamis al-muqammas.

(60) Eliade, pp. 234-5 (my translation).

(61) Cf. Writings, p. 74 for this and the following two verses.

(62) Anwar, pp. 207-8.

(63) The usage here may also be derived from some visitation prayers dedicated to `Ali, in which the phrase: ya' mishkat al-diya,"NICHE for the light" occurs. Anwar, pp. 205-6.

(64) Of some interest is the point made by the Bab elsewhere, that the images of fire (nar) and light (nur) represent respectively, those who either accept or reject his claim. The numerical difference between the two (nar = 251; nur = 256). 5 is the numerical value of the word bab; Thus through recognition of the Bab, the "fire" of rebellion (exemplified in Islam by Iblis who refused to bow to the angels, Qur'an 2:) is transformed into the "light" of faith and obedience (cf. Amanat, p.203).

(65) On fana'; and baqa' and jam` al-jam` see the useful and apposite summary in Schimmel, pp.143-8. The quotation is from Ibn Abi Jumhur. On Ibn Abi Jumhur in general see Lawson, "Ebn Abi Jumhur" and Madelung, "Ibn Abi Gumhur"; for the influence of Shahrazuri in him, see Schmidtke. On his influence on the Shaykhiya, see, in addition to Rafati and EII, v.4, p.222n, Cole, "The World as Text" where this influence is first demonstrated; see also Cole "The Individual". The last article is particularly important because it essays an understanding of "mysticism" in Shaykhism that is highly suggestive for a phenomenology of the problem of the individual and egalitarianism in Islam. I think there can be no doubt that one of the strong attractions Shaykhism held for Henry Corbin, the first western scholar to take the movement seriously, was precisely the apotheosis of the individual it seemed to suggest and this during a time when the evils of sovereign states, organizations and churches seemed to be reaching an "apotheosis" of their own. Cole is quite correct to point out that insofar as the Shaykhis represent "modernism" it is a distinctive Islamicate modernism, no matter how much the terminology may be read to resonate with Heidegger. Corbin has often been criticised for ignoring the so-called distinctively Islamic topic of the Shari`a in his writings on the great "theosophers". It seems clear that this was a conscious decision on the part of the French existentialist. (See Landolt, "Henry Corbin"). One hopes for more studies of the fiqh of the Shaykhis.(For a contrasting view of mysticism as culturally and politically conservative, see Katz.)

(66) Morris.

(67) EII, v.1, p.194, my translation of Corbin’s French translation of Shaykh Ahmad’s Arabic.

(68) Baq, p.115.

(69) Baq, p.198. The terms Origination and Invention (ibda‘ and ikhtira‘ are special technical terms coined by Isma‘ili philosophers in order to uphold the principle that only God is Creator (khaliq), but because of “His” remoteness, creation needs to be further elaborated and refined through subsequent, neoplatonic-inspired, stages. The Prophet, Fatima and the Imams are these subsequent cosmogonic principles. Indeed, throughout Baq these two words are treated as grammatically feminine in line with the Shi‘i understanding of Fatima — ( known to this tradition as Fatima Fatir, Fatima Creator, and umm abiha, Mother of her father) — mother of the Imams.

(70) Baq, pp.269-70.

(71) Collins, pp.1-32; Brown. In this wondrous article by one of the great readers of the 20th century, the author, for the first time (and as one outside Islamic studies), identifies and elucidates distinctive apocalyptic features of the Qur’an.

(72) This question was recently raised by William Garlington on the H-Baha’i discussion forum. For the various serious manifestations of the play element in culture see the classic Huizinga. For a discussion of this issue, particularly as it regards the “higher” mystical discourse of Islam and Zen and a relationship to Derrida’s deconstructionism, see Izutsu & Landolt, pp.20-4.

(73) “Quand, par notre inscience, il n'est pas à l'intérieur de nous, il ne peut être ni connu ni reconnu de nous ‘nulle part’, car rien ne peut être connu extérieurement que grâce à une modalité correspondante qui soit en nous.” (my translation) EII, v.4, pp.308-9; See also ibid., pp. 286-99: “Eschatologie et isomorphisme du temps et de l'espace.”

Abbreviations and Bibliography


Baq = (Photocopy of) Tehran Baha’i Archives, 6014.C.: “Tafsir surat al-baqara by the Bab”.

F6 = Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. Ms. F6: “Tafsir surat wa’l-‘asr by the Bab”

F10 = Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. Ms. F6: “Tafsir surat al-kawthar by the Bab”.

F11 = (Photocopy of) Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. Ms. F11: “Tafsir surat Yusuf by the Bab”.

Or. 3539 = British Library Ms. Or. 3539: “Tafsir surat Yusuf by the Bab”.

Or. 6681 = British Library Ms.Or. 6681: “Tafsir surat Yusuf by the Bab”.

QA = (Photocopy of) Haifa, Baha’i World Centre (uncatalogued): “Tafsir surat Yusuf by the Bab”.

SOAS = School of Oriental and African Studies Library, Ar. 92308 (ff.271a-74a) “Risala fi sharh wa tafsir ism allah al-a‘zam by Sayyid Kazim Rashti”.

Published Works

Amanat = Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.

Anwar = Abu al-Hasan al-Isfahani, Tafsir mir’at al-anwar wa mishkat al-asrar, Tehran: n.p., 1374/1954.

Burhan = al-Sayyid Hashim al-Bahrani, Kitab al-burhan fi tafsir al-Qur’an, 4 vols., Tehran, 1375/1955.

Charismatic = Denis, MacEoin. “From Shaykhism to Babism: A Study in Charismatic Renewal in Shi‘i Islam,” unpublished Ph.D thesis, Cambridge, 1979, (available from University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan).

Dhari‘a = Agha Buzurg, Muhammad Muhsin al-Tihrani, al-Dhari‘a ila tasanif al-shi‘a, 25 vols., Tehran and Najaf: n.p., 1355/1936-1398/1978.

EI = Encyclopaedia of Islam (second edition).

EII = Henry Corbin. En Islam iranien, 4 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1971-2.

Fusus = Ibn ‘Arabi. Fusus al-hikam, 2 vols. in 1, edited by Abu al-‘Ala ‘Afifi. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1365/1946.

Kafi = Abu Ja‘far Muhammad b. Ya‘qub al-Kulayni al-Razi, al-Usul min al-kafi, 2 vols., Tehran: Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiya,1374 [1954].

Lane = Edward William Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, London : Williams and Norgate, 1863-1893.

MacEoin = Denis MacEoin, Sources for Early Babi History and Doctrine, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992.

Mashariq = Rajab al-Bursi, Mashariq Anwar al-Yaqin fi Asrar Amir al-Mu’minin, n.p, 1979.

Momen = Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi‘ism, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Nabil = Muhammad Zarandi, “Nabil-i A‘zam” , The Dawnbreakers, translated and edited by Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1970.

Nur = ‘Abd ‘Ali al-Huwayzi, Kitab tafsir nur al-thaqalayn, 5 vols., Qum: n.p.,1383/1963-1385/1965.

Qasida = Sayyid Kazim Rashti, Sharh al-qasida al-lamiya, Tabriz: n.p. 1270 [1853].

Safi = Muhsin Fayd Kashani, al-Safi fi tafsir kalam Allah al-wafi, n.p.,1286 [1869].

Wehr = Hans Wehr, Dictionary of the Modern Arabic Language, edited by J. Milton Cowan, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1971.

Wright = W. Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, 2 vols in 1, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Writings = The Bab (Sayyid ‘Ali Muhammad Shirazi). Selections from the Writings of the Bab, translated by H. Taherzadeh et al., Haifa: Baha’i World Centre, 1976.

Ziyara = Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa’i, Sharh al-ziyara al-jami‘a, Tehran, n.p., 1276 [1859]

Qur’an Translations

Arthur J. Arberry. The Koran Interpreted, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall. The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an: Text and Explanatory Translation New York: The Muslim World League, 1977.

Maulawi Sher ‘Ali. The Holy Qur’an, Rabwah: The Oriental and Religious Publishing Corporation, 1979.

Maulvi Muhammad Ali. The Holy Qur’an: Containing the Arabic Text, with English Translation and Commentary,Lahore: Ahmadiyya Anjuman-i-Isháat-i-Islam, 1935.

‘Abdallah Yusuf ‘Ali. The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary, New Revised Edition, Brentwood, Maryland: Amana Corporation, 1989.

Oral Sources

Dr. Muhamad Afnan.


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Amanat, Abbas. Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.

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Ayoub, Mahmoud. Redemptive Suffering: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of ‘Ashura’ in Twelver Shi‘ism, The Hague: Mouton, 1978.

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The Bible, (= The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, expanded edition, Revised Standard Version, edited by Herber G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.)

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Browne, Edward G. “Some Remarks on the Babi Texts Edited by Baron Victor Rosen in Vols. I and VI of the ‘Collections. Scientifiques de l'Institut des Langues Orientales de Saint Petersbourg’,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 24 (1892) pp. 261-62.

Buck, Christopher. Symbol and Secret: Qur’an Commentary in Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i Iqan Studies in the Babi and Baha’i Relions Volume 7, Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1995.

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Calder, Norman. “Tafsir from Tabari to Ibn Kathir: problems in the description of a genre, illustrated with reference to the story of Abraham,” Approaches to the Qur’an, edited by G.R. Hawting and Abdul-Kader A. Shareef, London & New York: Routledge, 1993, pp.101-140.

Chodkiewicz, Michel. "The Futúhát Makkiyya and its Commentators: Some Unresolved Enigmas," The Legacy of Mediaeval Persian Sufism, edited by Leonard Lewisohn, foreword by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, introduction by S.H. Nasr, London & New York: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1992, pp.219-232.

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Lawson, Todd. “Interpretation as Revelation: The Qur’an Commentary of Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Bab," Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur’an, ed. A. Rippin, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 223-253.

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