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Coincidentia Oppositorum in the Qayyum al-Asma:
The terms "Point" (nuqta), "Pole" (qutb), "Center" (markaz) and the Khutbat al-tatanjiya

by Todd Lawson

published in Occasional Papers in Shaykhi, Babi and Bahá'í Studies
5:1, 2001-01

"There is no doubt, the Imam as divine manifestation is the limit at which the various pairs of antithetical terms are born." -- Corbin (1)


This article is a companion piece to my earlier "The Terms Remembrance and Gate" in that it explores the significance of a title or station by which the Bab refers to himself in the Qayyum al-asma. Because of the interest shown by others in recent years in one of the main subjects treated here (the Khutbat al-Tutunjiya ) I would like to present the following somewhat provisional study as a contribution to this discussion. Here I draw attention to the relationship between the Bab's notoriously difficult style in the Qayyum al-asma, among other of his writings, and various sermons and statements attributed to members of the Ahl al-Bayt (frequently referred to by the Bab as the Al Allah "the family of God"). Of singular importance is the Khutbat al-tutunjiya or Khutbat al-tatanjiya, which is described below along with a few excerpts presented in translation. In the intervening fifteen or so years since writing this, a complete translation of this Sermon was done by Dr. Khazeh Fananapazir and published on the Tarjuman list recently. Some years prior to this recent full translation, Stephen Lambden published parts of a translation on Tarjuman as well.

Together with signaling the importance of the Khutba for a study of the Bab's writings, this article emphasizes the presence in the Qayyum al-asma of the motif of the coincidentia oppositorum, in distinctively Shi'i form, as an expression of the "apocalyptic imagination" that suffuses the work as a whole. In addition to the primary philological work of translation, several pertinent publications on various aspects of Shi'ism, both Twelver and Isma‘ili, have appeared since the following was first written. These works will be taken into account in the printed version of this article when it appears as a chapter of a longer work.

Much of what follows relies heavily on the pioneering work of Henry Corbin who was, until relatively recently, the only Western scholar to publish extensively on these Shi'i gnostic texts. Thus much of what follows is either a direct translation or paraphrase of his work. However, Corbin did not study the writings of the Bab and the discussion and translation of these have not appeared previously outside of the above-mentioned thesis.

Bibliographic references, abbreviations and so on can be followed up by consulting the Bibliography and key to Sources for my H-Bahai article "Reading Reading Itself" at


The title nuqtat al-ba', discussed elsewhere (i.e. Reading Reading Itself), is one of the more straightforward instances of the use of the word "point" in this commentary. Whatever its full implications might be, we at least know from it that the point, or dot under the letter ba' is intended, and that tradition presents the Prophet as having discussed its significance. The Bab employs the term nuqta in several other ways throughout the commentary; the following represents a comparatively small number by way of example. These show that the word is used by the Bab, in what might be thought an original way, to allude to the spiritual rank for which the tafsir as a whole is a proclamation. In the first chapter the Bab describes himself as the "fire in the drop of water (nuqtat al-ma') prostrating before God."(QA, p.3, v.20. The numbering of the verses is provisional.) In chapter 13, Surat al-firdaws, the Bab paraphrases Quran 12:11-12 as follows:

And when they said: O our father! . . . Send him with us tomorrow so that he may abide in the point of ice from the frozen mountain about the point of union, and that he might cause the point of fire to appear from the mountain of justice about the water of virtue. (QA, p.23, v.29.)

In chapter 29, Surat al-huriya, the following is found:

O peoples of the earth! Cleave ye tenaciously to the Cord of the All-Highest God, which is but this Arab Youth, Our Remembrance - He Who stands concealed at the point of ice amidst the ocean of fire. (QA, p.51, v.10. This is slightly adapted from the translation in Writings, p. 54.)

In chapter 46, Surat al-mir'at, the Bab writes, in paraphrase of Qur'an 21:30:

We have made all living things from water, according to what God decreed in the Mother of the Book, from the precincts of the fire from ( ‘ an ) the point of water. (QA, p. 86, v.36.)

In chapter 48, Surat al-nida', is found:

O people of the earth! Follow the fire and him who is in the precincts of the water. Verily, he speaks on the authority of God and it [or "he"] is the truth: 'There is no god but He. So cling to the Cord of God, all of you. He is the truth, in the primal book of God (fi kitab allah al-bad') and is concealed with the truth in the point of the fire.' (QA, p. 91, v.23.)

In chapter 58, Surat al-huzn, we read:

And verily God desires [to proclaim] through this Gate, the secret of the fire of the point of water. Do not commit shirk in the service of God, your Lord, the Truth with the Truth, at all. (QA, p.114, v.9.)

In chapter 81, Surat al-kaf, the Bab writes:

O people of the Cloud! Hearken to the call of God in this tafsir from the point of water flowing from the spring of Kafur, with the truth, upon the mighty truth, wondrously new. (QA, p. 164, v.41.)

In chapter 83, Surat al-ba', the following is read:

That is from the story of the township, we recount it to you. Some of them are in the precincts of the water and some of them are in the precincts of God. Indeed, they were burned, in very truth, in the point of fire. (QA, p.167, v.24; cf. Q.11:100.)

Finally, in chapter 110, Surat al-sabiqin, we find:

The Remembrance of God is not like (laysa ka-mithl; cf. Quran 42:11) any one of your ulama. By thy Lord! Verily, he is the truth coming from God and is a hanif muslim. And he is upon the straight religion, in the point of the fire in the precincts of the water - straight." (QA, pp. 229-30, v.17.)

A similar group of verses is found which employ the word qutb in a cognate manner. The term qutb is of course one with a rich history both in Islam in general, and particularly in Sufism. For example, qutb is the title given, in Sufi literature and practice, to the one who heads the hierarchy of saints (nuqaba', abdal, etc.). (SEI, pp.55 & 582.) As for Shi‘ism, it should be recalled that in the canonical collection of the sayings of ‘Ali, the Nahj al-balagha, it is found for example, in the important Khutbat al-shiqshiqiya, where ‘Ali likens his rightful position in the community to the axle (qutb) of the millstone. This position was, according to Shi‘ism, one which Abu Bakr recognized, but proceeded to usurp anyway: wa innahu la-ya‘lamu anna mahalli minha (i.e., the caliphate) mahall al-qutb min al-raha. (Nahjal-balagha, v.1, pp. 30-31. This khutba is frequently referred to by the Bab in the Tafsir surat al-baqara.) Corbin has discussed the implications of qutb in several contexts, some of which, by way of introduction to the following examples of the Bab's writings, will be summarized.

First of all, the Imam as qutb distinguishes what Corbin repeatedly refers to as "la gnose shi‘ite", which thus sets itself apart from Sunni veneration of the person of the Prophet. (Corbin,En Islam Iranien, v.3, pp.9-10 [hereafter EII]) As "pole", along with other designations such as "guide" or "witness", the Imam is a point of metaphysical focus for the believer. (EII, v.1, p.21.) The Imam as pole also represents a means for the believer to avoid the "double trap" inherent in the affirmation of divine unity. That is, the metaphysical danger which the shahada poses of either attributing God with existence or non-existence. As pole, the Imam represents all that can be known by the believer of such things as God, and is thus the place where everything begins and ends. (EII, p.298; on this "double trap" see also Corbin, Trilogie, p.11. See the important discussion by Peter Smith of several defining socio-religious motives, including the "polar," reprinted on H-Bahai at /~bahai/bhpapers/vol2/motif.htm)

Another aspect of qutb is brought out in connection with the Imam as the Face of God, or the aspect under which God reveals Himself. This Face is that which allows man, insofar as his own self-knowledge permits, to present himself to God. Thus the Imam, as an esoteric principle, occupies a "polar" position in this transaction between God and Man. (EII, v.2, p.205, cf. EII, v.4, p.261 which discusses further the polar dimension conferred upon the believer by his Imam.)

Suhrawardi (al-Maqtul, d.1191) made much of a spiritual hierarchy headed by one who functions as qutb which is ever-present in the world, albeit invisible. As such, this qutb is the caliph of God. (EII, v.2, p.69.) This correspondence between what the Ishraqis termed qutb, and what is termed imam by Shi‘is, is one of the major reasons that the writings of Suhrawardi gained such popularity in a Shi‘i milieu. This milieu may be characterized as one in which the function of the Imam was essentially metaphysical and mystical, thus obviating any necessity for him to be publicly recognized. (EII, vol.2, pp.71-2.)

According to Ibn Abi Jumhur (d. after 1499), the 12th or, hidden Imam, is the pole during the period of occultation.

In him every Imam and every pole converge, from the East to the West, from the Earth to Heaven … . The world continues to be preserved only as a function of the existence of the Perfect Man (viz, the Imam)… . This shows us that in the twelve Imams, from the first to the last, all of the religions are manifested in both their exoteric and esoteric dimensions… . If the Imams are absent, then the universe ceases to be … . Because it is by means of them that all begins, and it is to them that all returns. (From the French translation of a passage from al-Mujli, p.488 by Corbin, EII, v.4, pp.406-7.)

Of more immediate relevance to this work of the Bab's, Corbin points out that the Shaykhis insist that in every age there exists a "Salman" who functions as the earthly pole, or nadir of the Imam, who is the heavenly pole. This "Salman" is thus a "burning wick", the flame of which is "none other than the communication of the invisible Fire." (EII, vol.4, p.282.) This presents another aspect of those dual usages so peculiar to the Bab's commentary (to be examined below), from which it would seem, that this "Salman" is joined with the Imam himself in the person of the Bab. But Corbin notes that this figure, also designated by the Shaykhis variously as natiq wahid (unique speaker), the "perfect shi‘i", and the supreme bab [= gate of access to] of the Imam, must by its very nature remain anonymous.

Aucun d'eux [i.e., the Shaykhis] n'a jamais prétendu que c'était lui-même, ni prétendu à être reconnu comme tel. Loin de là. Ils ont affirmé son existence, parce qu'il est impossible que le monde humain, l'humanité terrestre, en soit privé, mais ils on corollairement affirmé l'impossibilité qu'il soit manifesté, c'est-a-dire l'impossibilité que les hommes soient en mesure de le reconnaitre, de le déterminer ou proclamer nommément, en personne. Sa personne et son nom restent le secret de l'Imam . . .

[None of them had ever claimed that it was he himself [who was this bab], nor did they pretend to be recognized as such. Far from it. They affirmed his existence, because it is impossible that the human world, earthly humanity, be deprived of it; but, they affirmed as a stipulation the impossibility that he be manifested, that is to say the impossibility of men being capable of recognizing him, or of determining or proclaiming him by name in person. . . . ]

Quiconque se proclame publiquement le Bab de l'Imam, se met eo ipso en dehors du shi‘isme, car il en profane le secret fondamental, viole la ghaybat, rompt l'attente eschatologique. Aucune école n'a insisté avec plus de force démonstrative que le shaykhisme sur ce point. C'est pourquoi le babisme et le baha'isme, quel que soit l'intérêt de ces phénomènes religieux considérés en eux-mêmes, ne peuvent apparaitre que comme la négation même du shaykhisme. (Ibid., pp.282-3.)

[Whoever claims publicly to be the Bab of the Imam, by this very fact puts himself outside Shi’ism, because in so doing he profanes the fundamental secret, violates the sacred mystery (ghaybat), and breaks the [all-important and characteristically creative] "eschatalogical tension". No school has insisted more than the Shaykhis on this point. This is why both Babism and Bahaism, whatever might be the interest these religious phenomena carry in themselves, can appear only as the very negation of Shaykhism.]

This statement sheds light on the Bab's employment of the term qutb in its various contexts throughout the commentary. It is precisely because those statements may be read as speaking of an actual concrete appearance of a bab or qutb in the person of the author, that the Babi movement quickly separated itself from the tendencies developing in "post-Rashti" Shaykhism. This, as has been noted elsewhere, is the phase of Shaykhism which influenced Corbin's own understanding of that school's eschatological views. That Rashti himself seems to have countenanced the eventual appearance of an actual Imam, or at least the advent of a new cycle of history, is pointed out elsewhere.

The conclusions suggested here about the precise nature of the Bab's claims in this commentary are really not dependent upon whether or not Rashti ultimately expected an actual appearance of an Imam. Rather, they depend only on the obvious centrality in the writings of Shaykh Ahmad and Rashti of repeated allusions to such symbols of authority as bab, imam, walaya, and so on, quite apart from considerations of whether or not these two authors were primarily interested in the esoteric, as opposed to the exoteric, implications of such terms. Many examples exist in Islamic history in which entire movements acquired identity from allusive or ambiguous references to such ideas as, for example, the spiritual authority implied in the term khatim al-awliya. (Cf. Chodkiewicz, Sceau, pp.159-79.)

In the following examples from the Bab's commentary, the word qutb appears to be used in much the same way as nuqta. In chapter 1, the Surat al-mulk, the following, which incorporates some of 18:47, is read:

We have set the mountains in motion upon the earth and the stars upon the Throne around the Fire in the Pole of the Water in the presence of the Remembrance by [the will of] God, the Truth. (QA, p.4, v.39.)

In chapter 58, the Surat al-huzn, the Bab writes:

And verily God knows that your obedience during both night and day, and to the Pole of the Fire in the precincts of the Water, is to God, the One, the Ancient, He other than Whom there is no god. (QA, p.115, v. 21.)

In chapter 74, Surat al-kahf, we read:

Say: 'All are at the Gate and have been remembered.' And: 'Verily, verily I am the Fire in the Pole/Center/Midst of the Water, taking [men] to account about the cause. And in the estimation of God, the Truth, I have been mentioned.' (QA, p.150, v. 42.)

In chapter 79, Surat al-kalima, is read:

Say: I am that statement - the Reality (al-haqqa, cf. 69:1-3) in the precincts of the Water, and am also that statement -the Judgement to come (al-kalimat al-qari‘a, cf. 69:4) in the precincts of the Fire over the Pole which speaks of the divine glory by the permission of God, the High. In truth I am praiseworthy. (QA, p.159, v. 34.)

In chapter 81, the Surat al-kaf, the following is found:

Verily, We have established the throne upon the water [11:7], and the air around the Fire, and the Fire in the centre of the water (fi qutb al-ma') . . ." (QA, p.163, v. 28.)

In chapter 99, Surat al-jihad, we read:

Verily the Remembrance wants to connect you to his word of justice, by our permission. He is the Fire which has been established in the center of the water (al-ladhi qad kana fi qutb al-ma' ma'muran). (QA, p. 202, v. 39.)

A similar group of verses employs the word markaz. In chapter 24, Surat al-qadar, we read:

O people of the earth! The night has indeed enshrouded and the day has indeed appeared resplendent [cf. 92:1-2] in the rising of the Sun with the truth. This day it is visible in the midst of its zenith (fi markaz al-zawal) in the precincts of the Water, upon the Water, around the Fire. (QA, p. 40, v. 6.)

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.)

These kinds of statements are among the most cryptic in the Bab's commentary and are perhaps the main reason this work has been characterized as, among other things, an "unintelligible rhapsody". However, a study of such statements in connection with other passages in the commentary, suggests that while they are undoubtedly obscure and very difficult to translate properly, they may be seen to conform to the "inner logic" of the work as a whole. For example, in chapter 76, Surat al-waraqa, the following more or less explicit statement is read:

O Qurrat al-‘Ayn! Mankind will ask thee concerning Dhu'l-Qarnayn. Say: [18:83, n.b. the Qur'an continues here with I shall recite unto you a remembrance of him. The Bab however stops the Quranic citation at the point indicated, possibly taking for granted that the rest of the verse will have been stimulated to life by the allusion, and continues with:] 'Yea, by my Lord! I am the king of the two beginnings (malik al-bad'ayn) in the two eras (fi'l-qarnayn). And I am the exalted era in the two bodies (al-qarn al-rafi‘ fi'l-jismayn) and verily, verily I am the Fire in the two waters (al-nar fi'l-ma'ayn), and verily, verily, I am the Water in the two fires (al-ma' fi'l-narayn). So hearken ye to my call from this double Mount (fi dhalika al-turayn): Thus We established Joseph in the land [12:56] and have given him a single letter of the name of the Remembrance - this Arab youth, in very truth.' (QA, p.154, v.19.) (2)

This last example is characteristic of several passages in the commentary, which space does not permit to be listed in full. An extended example is found reproduced at the end of this chapter. The point to be made here is that the opposing elements of fire and water, as only two examples, stand for the Bab himself as Imam. An Imam who as qutb, nuqta, or markaz, represents the focus of all cosmology, eschatology, and ontology, in a word: walaya. Walaya, in turn, is the touchstone by which all things are found to be true or false, good or evil. The frequent invocation of these opposites, whether as elements such as fire and water, or moral and religious principles such as iman and kufr, has as one of its functions the designation of the Bab as the "point" from which these things acquire reality or existence. Those many passages which employ several dual substantives have a similar function. Because of the overwhelming abundance of such terms and expressions in this work, it is not really possible to attempt here a discussion of them in any detail.

The frequent, almost hypnotic, reference to such words as nuqta, qutb, and markaz, however allusively employed, would quite naturally evoke in the minds of such persons as Mulla Husayn-i Bushru'i, and other Shaykhis or Shi‘i gnostics, the figure of the Imam, specifically the twelfth Imam. This figure is depicted in a particular type of imamology, which developed out of the meditation on such texts as the Khutbat al-tatanjiya. This imamology, which speaks of the Imam as the coincidence of opposites, will be better understood through a brief description of the Khutba and Rashti's commentary.

Before turning to this subject however, it will be of some interest to note another aspect of the idea of the coincidence of opposites and its connection with eschatology, as demonstrated in an article by Eliade. The author has isolated 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 suggestively. For him the coincidence of opposites represents:

[le] syndrome eschatologique par excellence, le signe que le Temps et l'Histoire ont pris fin - c'est l'agneau auprès du lion, et l'enfant jouant avec le vipère. Les conflits, c'est-a-dire les contraires, sont abolis; le Paradis est recouvré. Cette image eschatologique met parfaitement en évidence que la coincidentia oppositorum n'implique pas toujours la "totalisation" dans le sens concret du terme; elle peut signifier également le retour paradoxal du Monde à l'état paradisiaque. Le fait que l'agneau, le lion, l'enfant et la vipère existent, veut dire que le Monde est lá, qu'il y a un Cosmos et non pas le Chaos. Mais le fait que l'agneau reste auprès du lion et l'enfant s'endort auprès de la vipère, implique également qu'il ne s'agit plus de notre monde, mais du Paradis. Bref, il s'agit d'un Monde paradoxal, puisque vidé des tensions et des conflits qui définissent tout Univers. (3)

[the] eschatological syndrome par excellence, the sign that Time and History have come to an end -- it is the lamb with the lion, the child playing with the snake. All conflicts, that is to say the contraries, are abolished; Paradise is recovered. This eschatological image, perfectly in evidence in the coincidentia oppositorum does not always imply "totalisation" in the concrete sense of the term. It can siginfy equally the paradoxical return of the World to a paradisiacal state. The fact that the lamb and the lion, the child and the snake exist, means that the World is, that Cosmos not Chaos reigns. But, the fact that the lamb lies down with the lion and the child sleeps near the snake, likewise implies that it is no longer our world, but Paradise. Briefly, it signifies a paradoxical World, since it is empty of those tensions and conflicts that define the Universe.

Shaykhi works (as well as Isma‘ili works) speak often of two cycles of history. It is also important to note that one of the main objections to Shaykhi theology has been against that school's understanding of the Hereafter, or Paradise, which the Shaykhis identified as the recognition of the walaya of the Imam, and their further insistence that Paradise and Hell are realized through the actions of men and have no real identity beyond this. (4) The Bab, in his voice as Qa'im, would therefore function as marking the end of the previous cycle (Eliade's "Time and History"), and the "descent to earth" of Paradise, in the person of the Imam to whom mahabba or the "act" of walaya is owed. At the same time, this Qa'im is the personification of Hell (al-nar), insofar as he is not recognized or accepted. Such ideas have their basis in the akhbari literature. (5) The matter is elucidated in Rashti's commentary on the Khutbat al-tatanjiya, to which attention is now turned.

Khutbat al-Tatanjiya

The single most revealing clue to the proper understanding of the way in which the Bab himself perceived his own station, or the true voice of this work, resides in the many references, both oblique and explicit, to the Khutbat al-tatanjiya in his tafsir on the Sura of Joseph. One of the major works of Sayyid Kazim Rashti, to whom the Bab refers as his "dear teacher", was a lengthy commentary on this sermon attributed to the first Imam ‘Ali. The piece is known by the above name because of the distinctive way in which the unusual Arabic word tatanj is used in the text.(6) We are fortunate to have a discussion by Henry Corbin of the obscurities the sermon presents. Corbin studied it with his students during one of his courses at the École pratique des hautes études during the academic year 1969-70. As far as I know, Corbin is the only Western scholar to have studied this work. (7) The following is a synopsis, by way of a rather free translation, of Corbin's discussion of the sermon and Rashti's commentary. The point to be made is that the Bab's so-called "galimathias"(8) does have a direct relation with the khutba itself. The Bab's preoccupation with this sermon has obvious traces in his other work, beginning few passages in the earlier Tafsir surat al-baqara, and more importantly in numerous dual usages in the Tafsir surat Yusuf where the reference is either explicit or implicit. Such a connection, it is argued, sheds considerable light on the nature of the Bab's claims, however obscure and/or confused these might otherwise appear, especially to those who might have been unaware of the kind of literature this difficult sermon represents. The conclusion offered is that the Tafsir of the Bab represents not only the "new book, difficult for the Arabs" (mentioned above from a hadith) which the Qa'im is expected to promulgate in Mekka, but also it proclaims the distinctive imama to which the Bab was laying claim. The text of the khutba, as it appears in the Mashariq anwar al-yaqin by the fourteenth century Shi‘i scholar Rajab Bursi is reproduced below. Next to this, is reproduced the chapter from the Bab's tafsir in which the emulation of the style of the Khutba reaches something of a climax.(9)

The Khutbat al-tatanjiya, attributed to the first Imam, ‘Ali, is rather long, and according to Corbin, one of the most difficult "imamological" texts.(10) It is not found in the Nahj al-balagha; the earliest mention of it is in the work of the twelfth century Shi‘i scholar, Ibn Shahrashub.(11) A characteristic passage runs:

I am the one who hopes and the one hoped for; I am abiding over the two gulfs (tatanjayn); I am he who gazes towards the two Wests and the two Easts [cf. Quran 55:17]; I have seen the mercy of God and Paradise is (sic) the vision of the eye.(12)

Elsewhere in the sermon we find the following:

I know wonderful things about God's creation -- things which none but God knows. And, I know what was and what will be and what was with those who preceded at the time of the first dharr   belonging to the first Adam (Adam al-awwal) . . . God hid His full knowledge from all of the prophets except the master of this shari‘a of yours (i.e., Muhammad) . . .Then he taught me his knowledge and I taught him my knowledge . . . through us perishes he who perishes and through us is saved he who is saved.

A final example:

I am the master of the first flood and I am the master of the second flood [cf. Quran7:133 & 29:14] I am the master of the flood of ‘Arim [Quran 34:16]. I am the master of the hidden secrets. I am the master of ‘Ad and the gardens. I am the master of Thamud and the signs. I am the one who destroys them. I am the one who agitates them. I am the place to which they return. I am their destroyer. I am their manager. I am the one who constructs them. I am the one who flattens them. I am the one who causes them to die. I am the one who gives them life. I am the First. I am the Last. I am the Seen. I am the Hidden. [cf. Quran 57:3] I was with time (kawr) before generation (dawr). I was with age before aging. I was with the Pen before there was a Pen. I was with the Tablet before there was a Tablet . . . (Ibid., 167-8)

The sermon is one of a number, in which what Corbin calls "l'imamologie théosophique", finds its most accomplished, condensed, and obscure expression.(Annuaire, p.235.) Among such sermons or hadiths included in this category is the first one discussed in this article by Corbin,(Ibid., pp.233-4.)(13) which presents a conversation between the lahut (divine nature) and the nasut (human nature) of the Imam. As mentioned above, it may be that the dialogue presented in this sermon offers another clue to the elusive problem of the "voice" speaking in the Bab's commentary. Signs of such an internal dialogue may be found in the Qur'an itself (viz, the "qul" verses), but the phenomenon is clearly developed in, for example, the Persian mystic, A‘la al-Dawla Simnani (d.1336). Landolt's study of the letters exchanged between Simnani and his master, Nur al-Din Isfarayini (d.1317), sheds light on this topic:

Dans ces letters de Semnani, c'est souvent Esfarayeni qui prend la parole à la premiere personne [dans le cas] où la voix du Maitre est annoncée comme esharat az ‘alam-e lotf, cette voix donnant à Semnani qui écoute des explications de haute doctrine mystique concernant trois propos que l'Esfarayeni matériel avait écrits auparavant. … Mais personne, y compris Esfarayeni … ne doute que ce soit en fait Semnani, c'est-a-dire l'entité spirituelle de Semnani, qui ait ainsi donné une reponse subtile à Esfarayeni, et non pas inversement.

En d'autre termes, la spiritualité d'Esfarayeni, ou plutôt du Maitre absolu … est devenue celle de Semnani.(14)

[In these letters of Simnani, it is often Isfarayini who speaks in the first person [in the instance] where the voice of the master is announced as a communication from the world of divine grace (isharat az ‘alam-i lotf). This voice gives to Simnani -- who listens -- certain explications of high doctrine concerning three teachings which the bodily Isfarayini had written earlier. But no one, including Isfarayini himself, doubts that it was really Simnani, that is to say the spiritual entity of Simnani, who has thus given a subtle response to Isfarayini, and not the other way around. In other terms, the spirituality of Isfarayini, or better that of the Absolute Master . . . has become that of Simnani.]

In the same way, the spirituality of the Imam (or the supreme "Shaykh" of Shi‘ism) has become the spirituality of the Bab. Where the object of contemplation for Simnani was the spiritual form of his master, (15) the object of contemplation for the Bab was the Imam, or any one of the members of the ahl al-bayt. The phenomenon would appear to be the same.

Another similar address is the so-called Khutbat al-bayan, possibly identical with a Khutbat al-iftikhar, mentioned by Ibn Shahrashub and on which the founder of Alamut, Hasan-i Sabbah, is said to have written a commentary.(EII, v.1, p.96n.) The text of this 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 I.' 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, 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 is of me and I am of him, and he is the Most Great Word of God (kalimat allah al-kubra) and he is the witness and I am the one testified to." (16)

Because such material is not found in the canonical Nahj al-balagha, compiled by al-Sharif al-Radi (d.1015), some have insisted that such statements attributed to ‘Ali are forgeries by men like Rajab Bursi.(17) Two factors must be taken into consideration here. First, it has been pointed out that even if such sermons were not really spoken by the Imam, they nevertheless spoke, at some moment, in the Shi‘i conscience, and it is this which is phenomenologically important.(EII, v.1, p.96n.) Elsewhere Corbin states that such material was left out of the Nahj al-balagha precisely because it presents "certaines résonances avec l'imamologie ismaélienne."( EII, v.3, p.184n.) It is clear from the commentary on the Khutbat al-tatanjiya by Kazim Rashti, that one of the, "moments" at which such material "spoke" is the one which has the greatest importance for this discussion, namely mid-nineteenth century Iran.

Corbins starts his discussion by pointing out the strangeness of the very title of the sermon. The adjective is derived from the word tat.anj, or t.atanj, or, and the text itself offers no lexicographical clues about the word. The two commentaries on it mentioned by Corbin do not agree on its orthography, but both insist that the word is a synonym for khalij, "gulf". The title can therefore be translated as "The sermon between (or on) the two gulfs".(17) Corbin has relied on the commentary by the Bab's former teacher, Sayyid Kazim Rashti, a commentary which he describes as "très dense, allant, suivant son habitude, jusqu'au fond des difficultés spéculatives et en dégageant la portée spirituelle pratique."(Annuaire, p.236.)(18)

The meaning of the title of the sermon is somewhat clarified by Rashti's comments on the statement: "I am he who abides over the two gulfs ( ana 'l-waqif ‘ala'l-tatanjayn); I am he who faces the two Wests and the two Easts" [cf. Qur'an 55:17]. This is likened by Rashti to another statement attributed to ‘Ali, a variant of which is quoted by the Bab in al-Baqara (Baq., p.24): "My zahir is walaya ; my batin is an unknowable mystery." Rashti says: "The zahir of this sermon is the explanation of the divine creative activity; its batin is the secret meditation of this activity." Presumably, the two gulfs then are the gulf of the exoteric and the gulf of the esoteric. But, as we shall see, the pair of gulfs are susceptible of several other interpretations. In his commentary, Rashti constructs a table of fourteen -- the number of the holy family -- complementary pairs of zahir and batin, which comprehend all metaphysical levels and cycles of divine manifestation.

The first major theme of the sermon is that of the apophatic theology (tanzih), so distinctive of the Shaykhi school. Rashti says, "This sermon indicates a kind of transcendence of the Creator, which is incomprehensible to the creation." This transcendence is suggested in such words of the Imam as, "I am he who hopes and I am he who is hoped for." Corbin says that this transcendence, which is the profession of a divine oneness (tawhid ) beyond names and attributes, ultimately establishes a metaphysical void, but a void in which paradoxically, divine manifestation is produced. (19) The "pleroma" of the fourteen Pure Ones is constituted through their practice of tawhid, which is also their denial to themselves of the rank of godhead. This tanzih excludes the possibility of any divinity being shared by Man, while at the same time, the Creator causes Man to realize his true self. Rashti says, "This sermon, and those like it, explain the manner in which a created thing always ends in its like, the reason why the description of anything results only in more description."(20) This closed circuit is its own justification, because by its very existence, its opposite, that is absolute transcendence, is indicated. Paraphrasing Rashti, Corbin says that those who deny the authenticity of such sermons do so precisley because they are incapable of understanding such absolute transcendence; rather, they fall, unwittingly, into the error of anthropomorphism (tashbih ), which destroys completely the idea of the Unique (tashrik ).(Annuaire, pp.236-237.)

It is said that the sermon was spoken by ‘Ali somewhere between Medina and Kufa. For Rashti, these two cities refer to a mystical and symbolic topography. Medina is the city of the Prophet, or the place of revelation (tanzil ), while Kufa can be either the Land of paradise or damnation, depending upon one's acceptance or rejection of ‘Ali's Imamate. That is to say, it is the place of the true meaning (ta'wil) of the revelation. Here part of Quran 57:13 is cited: . . . the inward (batin )whereof is mercy, and against the outward (zahir ) whereof is chastisement. Thus Kufa typifies the two gulfs mentioned in the title: one is the "gulf of mercy" and the other the "gulf of wrath". Both flow from the greater Sea of Mercy, which here is the true meaning (ma‘na) in a metaphysical sense, of the person of the Imam.(Annuaire., pp.237-8.)

In this way, the Imam occupies the position of "pole" (qutb), as the physical and metaphysical manifestation (mazhar) of the name of Divine Mercy. This universal mercy comprises both gulfs. The one on the right, the Eastern or superior gulf, is designated by several names: bah.r al-s.a:d , (in this connection, it would be interesting to study the work of the Bab's disciple, Mulla Muhammad ‘Ali Barfurushi, Quddus, on the interpretation of the sad of samad (from Q.112) which is reported (Nabil, p.357) to be "thrice as voluminous as the Qur'an itself," though no manuscripts of it have yet been found.) The nun (as in the divine command "kun!" ), is the gulf of "sweet water", and so forth. Note that the graphic representation of these letters may be seen as suggesting a gulf . It should be noted also that the grapheme waw alif waw represents perfectly the abider over the two gulfs. This grapheme is indicated in the cryptogram of the Greatest Name .

The other, to the left, is the opposing "sea", sijjin, the "left hand", "the hand of justice", and so on. In order to understand the thoroughness of this schema, of which Rashti sketched a diagram on the margin of his commentary, the first hadith (on ‘ aql ) of the first book of Kafi is cited.(21) The Eastern gulf represents the stages of the saga ("épopée") of the Intellect: the stages of its descent and rise back to its Source. Opposite this is the Western gulf, which represents the counter-development of Ignorance (jahl, also from the same hadith). This antithesis points to the following conclusion: The divine command, perceived by the Intellect, causes it at the lower limit of its descent to return to its Principle. The very same command, perceived by Ignorance, causes it to return to its origin "au plus profond de son abime". Thus two opposite, but symmetrical, curves are presented: one of knowledge, the other anti-knowledge. In the Eastern, or right gulf, occurs the advent of the degrees of being, including the form and matter which are involved in the cycle of descent of the Intellect from the "throne" through all the various heavens and elements. This continues until it attains the Earth, where the cycle of its ascent begins, and in the course of which this same Intellect travels through all the realms of nature, until it arrives at the Angel and the Perfect Man.

This cosmology includes twenty-eight degrees, each of which is symbolized by one of the letters of the Arabic alphabet. The Western, or left-hand gulf, represents an inverted cosmology. It is an "anti-world", the theatre in which the "contre-épopée" of Ignorance is played out. Each degree of this process is represented by an inverted letter of the Arabic alphabet.(23)

L'Imam veut dire qu'il est le Pôle (qutb) qui domine les deux golfes et détermine la courbe de leur cercle respectif. Il est celui par qui se manifeste la Miséricorde et par qui se manifeste son antithèse. "C'est en lui que se produit la différenciation des choses; c'est de lui que procèdent l'origine de la béatitude et l'origine de la damnation; c'est par lui que prend réalité la difference de l'une et de l'autre". (Annuaire, p.239. Material in quotation marks is from Corbin's translation of Rashti.)

[The Imam wishes to say that he is the Pole (qutb ) who dominates the two gulfs and determines the contour of their respective circles. It is he by whom is manifested divine mercy and him by whom is manifested its opposite. "It is in him that the differentiation of all created things is produced; it is from him that the origin of blessedness and the origin of damnation proceed; it is by him that the differences between the two acquire reality." (Annuaire, p.239. Material in quotation marks is from Corbin's direct translation of Rashti.)

The Imam, as mazhar (lit. "place of manifestation or appearance"), is the limit from which the various pairs of antithetical terms proceed. For Corbin, the Imam thus depicted represents a modification of the ancient Manichean principle of Zervan ("unlimited Time"), which was an attempt to overcome a basically dualistic metaphysic.(EII, v.2, pp.54-6; 88-90 & 96; v.3, p.208n.) In the case of the imamology expressed in this sermon, it is not by reason of a "zervanic" cosmic doubt, nor by reason of any duality inherent in the person of the Imam, which gives rise to the antithesis; rather, the antithesis comes about as a result of the choice which is put before men in the very appearance of the Imam himself. This choice was decided by mankind in the period of pre-existence, referred to in the Qur'an as the Day of the Covenant [7:172]. It is also from this "limit", i.e., the Imam, that the various acts of being acquire their reality, to be determined in their final form by this or that quiddity. Such is the meaning of the Imam's statement: "I am the Essence of essences."(24)

The two gulfs here, are the highest degree of the process of divine manifestation detailed by Rashti, in the course of which he cites another statement from the khutba. "I saw the Earth as a garment enfolded in a fissure (khazaf) in the right hand gulf, and the the two gulfs appear as if they were to the left of two other gulfs." These two other gulfs are the Orient and the esoteric dimension of the first two, which being at the level of the manifestation of divine mercy, become through the acceptance or rejection of men, the place of the manifestation of the antithetical divine names. The divine names are really in one state. The two gulfs both flow from the principle of diety (uluhiya). They are called "the gulf of Life" and the "gulf of Permanence". The "pole" is the esoteric dimension of the Imam, and the theophany of the Greatest Name. Deeper still, "and [paradoxically] still higher still", Rashti perceives an esoteric dimension of these two gulfs. He refers to them respectively as the gulf of the Exclusive Unity (tatanj al-ahadiya), and the gulf of the Inclusive Unity (tatanj al-wahidiya, "golfe de l'Un-multiple") where the Imam is the source of the divine names and attributes. The pole, in this case, is the impenetrable mystery (ghayb) of the Imam. Still "further East", two other gulfs are found which flow from the "Ocean of pre-eternity" (bahr al-azal). They are the gulf of deity and the gulf of the divine ipseity (huwiya).

There are according to Rashti, still other ways of looking at these two gulfs, namely as the typifications of Matter and Form respectively, but in the sense of the hylomorphism peculiar to the Shaykhi school (see on this the excellent PhD thesis by Idris S. Hamid). Here, Matter is the paternal aspect, or "being as light". Form is the maternal aspect, that is the "quiddity" which determines being in its act; it is also referred to as the dimension of "divine mercy". According to a tradition from al-Sadiq, each faithful believer has as "father" this divine light, and as "mother" divine mercy. The Prophet and the Imam represent this Matter and Form respectively.(24) Therefore, man is only fully man insofar as he accomplishes the triple shahada distinctive of Shi‘ism: [1] affirmation of divine unity (tawhid); [2] affirmation of the mission of the prophets; [3] affirmation of the walaya of the Imams. The first affirmation renders the believer "fully human" only on the level of potentiality, "evanescent before a God who does not regard the believer."(24) The second element produces the formless Matter of the heretofore only potential believer. The third element completes, or actualizes the believer, by providing him with Form or quiddity.

Ainsi l'anthropologie plonge ses racines dans une métaphysique dont le motif dominateur est la réponse donnée par les hommes à la question A-lasto ? Cette metaphysique comporte une perspective proprement théosophique dominant de haut le schéma de la cosmologie que nos penseurs avaient héritée du néoplatonisme avicennien. Entre l'Absconditum qui est la Cause première et le schéma de notre monde avec les Intelligences et les Ames motrices de ses Sphères célestes, s'interpose le lointain des Noms divins et de leurs énergies; le support initial prééternel de leurs théophanies, c'est cela le mystère de l'Imam, dont la manifestation au niveau de notre monde entraine la cosmologie dramaturgique que ne pressentait pas les philosophes. Ici la pensée shi‘ite révèle la hauteur d'horizon visée par elle, et c'est tout autre chose que d'en rester à discuter la "legitimité" des trois premiers khalifes reconnus par le sunnisme.( Annuaire, pp.240-1.)

[Thus does anthropology plunge its roots in a metaphysic in which the dominant motif is the response given by men to the question A-lastu ? This metaphysic has a literally theosophic [= divine wisdom, cf hikmat-i ilahi] perspective that dominates from the entire cosmological schema our thinkers inherited from Avicennan neoplatonism. Between the absconditumwhich is the First Cause and the schema of our world with its various Intelligences and sphere-animating Souls is interposed the distance of the Divine Names and their energies; the initial support of their several theophanies, namely the mystery of the Imam whose manifestation at the level of our world entails a cosmic drama undreamt of by philosophers. Here Shi’i thought reveals the vast extent of the horizon it envisions and this is ultimately something completely other than [vainly] arguing about the "legitimacy" of the first three caliphs recognized by Sunnism. .( Annuaire, pp.240-1.)

This discussion of Rashti's commentary on the Khutbat al-tatanjiya will have established the correspondences between the Bab's vocabulary and style, and the theosophical or metaphysical themes which Rashti read in the khutba. The Bab's commentary on the Surat al-baqara contains repeated references to this principle of ikhtiyar. Indeed, this emphasis may be seen as one of the formative or defining themes of pristine or "Kufan" Shi'ism. Rashti's identification of the "two gulfs" as Exclusive Unity and Inclusive Unity, will also be seen to relate to the Bab's terminology in that tafsir, particularly in those passages where the Bab refers to the walaya of the Excusive Unity and its counterpart. These references may also be seen in the various other images the Bab uses repeatedly throughout the earlier work, namely lujja (gulf, watery deep), t.amt.a:m (midst of the sea), and yamm (open sea) all of which mean some kind of body of water and are used ubiquitously by the Bab in Baqara to indicate some kind of polar or oppositional relationship, either in the realm of mysticism, ontology, religion and morality. The apparent lack of clarity in some of those usages, which revolves around the question of the exact nature of, for example, the Inclusive Unity (sometimes used to refer to false walaya, sometimes used to refer to levels of the true walaya ) may be derived in part from Rashti's hierarchization. In this scheme, the values "good" and "evil" are ever relative and ever subject to a progressive refinement, a refinement that appears to risk meaning itself, but somehow ultimately preserves it. Simply put: on one level the Inclusive Unity , as less complete than the Exclusive Unity may refer to false walaya, just as it might, for the same reason, refer to nubuwa, or imama as less "complete" than pure divinity (uluhiya).

Most importantly, as the following reproductions of the two Arabic texts will show, the relationship between the Bab's Surat al-‘abd (number 109 of the Tafsir surat Yusuf) and the Khutba al-tatanjiya itself, is unmistakable. The message is quite clear: the Bab is claiming for himself the specific type of imama that this khutba was perceived to describe by authors like Rashti. Needless to say, the Bab's "invocation" (and therefore appropriation) of the spiritual and charismatic authority which the khutba expresses, is far from the kind of detailed analysis offered by Rashti in his commentary. But Rashti was not claiming imama, he was only explaining it. The difference in the approach of the two authors to the same text (the one explanation, the other imitation and thus appropriation through performance), shows most convincingly that the Bab at the time of writing his commentary, had gone far beyond any explicit claims either put forward by or for Sayyid Kazim.



* This paper is a slightly revised chapter of my PhD thesis "The Quran Commentary of the Bab." (McGill 1987)

1 Certes, l'Imam comme mazhar est bien la limite à partir de laquelle prennent naissance les couples de termes antithétiques. — Corbin

2 Cf. Mizaj al-tasnim, p.72, quoted above, which continues: "When the Lord of the Age will have become absolutely established [in the earth], he will become the centre of all its forms (sara markazan li-suwariha ajma‘)." Cf. also Corbin, "L'idée du Paraclet".

3 Eliade, "La Concidentia Oppositorum".Ibid., pp. 234-5.

4 Rafati, p.195.

5 Cf. Anwar under such headings as "al-akhira," (p.72), where in one hadith it is defined as the return of the hidden Imam (al-raj‘a wa'l-karra); "al-janna," (p.118) where Paradise is described as the dawlat al-haqq ma‘a 'l-qa'im; "al-nar," (p.314) where ‘Ali is described as the sahib al-janna wa'l-nar.

6 A commentary on one verse of Rashti's commentary is ascribed to the Bab (Sources, p.97). Three manuscripts are known to exist, none of which have been available to me.

7 Annuaire,1969-70, pp. 235-41. Other mentions of the Sharh khutbat al-tatanjiya may be found in Corbin, EII, v.1, p.96n.; v.3, p.184n.; v.4,p.195n. & 236n. See also Rafati, p.133.

8 Rosen, Collections scientifiqes, v.1, p.186.

9 From Mashariq, pp.166-70. Bursi wrote a Tafsir surat al-tawhid which is apparently still in manuscript (Sipahsalar Catalogue, v.1, pp.127-8). His nisba refers to the small town in Iraq, situated on the Euphrates between Hilla and Kufa.

10 Rashid al-Din Abu ‘Abdalliah Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Sharashub Sarawi Mazandarani (b. ca. 490/1096), Manaqib al Abi Talib. He also wrote a work entitled Ma‘alim al-‘ulama. Majlisi identifies it with the Khutbat al-aqalim, as does the author of Dhari‘a. (Annuaire, pp. 235-6).

11 Mashariq, p.166. Lest it be thought that the last phrase is a misprint, it is found quoted in this way at Baq., p.9, C, f.3a, and I, p.157: wa 'l-firdaws ra'yu 'l-‘ayn. The editor's note in the text reads simply: fi 'l-asl "afradaws".

12The text of this khutba is also found in Mashariq, p.31 and is said by Corbin to have been also commented on by Rashti.

13 Landolt, Correspondance Spirituelle, p.21 (intro.); see the following quotation, which describes the source of this voice as "la substance subtile du Moi (latifah-ye kamilah-ye ananiya). Cf. also idem, "Deux opuscules de Semnani sur le moi théophanique".

14 Landolt, Correspondance, p.6 (intro.).

15 Kitab al-kashf, p.8. See elsewhere the Bab's appropriation of the title kalimat allah al-akbar, mentioned in Lawson "Terms", p.0000.

16 Rajab Bursi is considered to have been an extremist by "orthodox" Shi‘i writers. (Cf. the comments in the Sipahsalar Catalogue, loc.cit.). In a recent polemical work directed against Babism, the author makes the following statement about Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i:

It is quite obvious from his teachings that in a number of matters, Ehsai (sic) had followed the deviationist schools of Hurufi, Nuqtaviyan, Adadiya, Ghulat sects and some of the mystical sects who went on to elevate the Imam or the Prophet to superhuman levels and deify them. Most of these extreme views that led to his excommunication, were borrowed directly from the writings of Hafiz Rajab Bursa Hilli . . . and Qazi Saiduddin Qummi . . . Hafiz Rajab was, in turn, influenced by the views of Sayyid Shah Fazlullah . . . Fazl-i Hurufi . . . founder of the Hurufi sect . . . (Noori, Finality of Prophethood, p. 20, English text.)

The statement is of course impossibly general, but it does indicate a common attitude.

17 The commentary is apparently on the whole Mashariq; cf. EII, v.4, p.212. A Persian translation and commentary, completed in 1680, by al-Hasan al-Khatib al-Qari does not go very far, according to Corbin, in illuminating the main message of the sermon.

18 The edition of the commentary used by Corbin was lithographed in Tabriz in 1270 [1853]. Despite its 353 pages, in-8º, of tightly written script, 35 lines per page, it was left unfinished, covering only one of several levels of meaning which the author of the commentary perceived the sermon as encompassing. "Tel qu'il est, il a, cependant, les vertus d'une Somme."

19 This has implications for the term al-‘ama "the cloud", which although strictly not a void, may be seen as devoid of "meaning" (cf. al-ma‘ani) prior, (in an ontological sense) to the articulation within it of the divine hypostases known collectively as the "Family of God".

20 Cf. e.g. Baq., p.10: "wa dama al-mulk fi'l-mulk …".

21 Kafi, v.1, p.10: "When God created the Intellect, he tested it by saying 'Draw near!' Then it drew near. Then he ordered it to withdraw, and it withdrew. God exclaimed, 'By My might and glory! I have created nothing which is dearer to Me than you." On ‘ aql in hadith attributed to Sadiq, see Crow, "The Teaching," passim.

22 This topic of nuzul and su‘ud is of course a standard one in Muslim spiritual philosophy. Cf. Rafati, pp.111-13 for Shaykh Ahmad's twenty-eight tier "alphabet" hierarchy, which is possibly the precedent for Rashti's. However there is no mention in Rafati of a corresponding negative hierarchy.

23 Also quoted by the Bab, Baq., p.165. Cf. also the sirr al-tanki:s "the myster of reversal" discussed in MacEoin.

24 Cf. Baq., p.224. Cf. also the similar view put forth by Isma‘ili author, Husayn ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad, ibn al-Walid (7th/13th century) translated in Corbin, Trilogie, p.184. Earlier (5th/11th century), Nasir-i Khusraw had taught a similar doctrine (mentioned in EII, v.4, p.296).

25 Cf. the three levels of rububiya in the Tafsir surat al-baqara, specifically such expressions as: "The Lordship which exists when theer is not yet even any vassal (marbub)."

Appendix 1: Arabic Text of the Bab's Surat al-`Abd







Appendix 2. Al-Khutba al-Tatanjiya





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