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The Qur'an Commentary of Sayyid 'Alí Muhammad, the Báb:
Doctoral dissertation

by Todd Lawson

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Chapter 1


Shí`í Tafsír: General History

Before turning to the tafsír works of the Bab, it is important to have some general idea of the history and development of Shí`í tafsír, particularly as this had evolved up to the period just prior to the time of the Bab himself. A recent discussion of the subject divides this history into four major periods. The first generation of commentators were the disciples of the Imáms, specifically the followers of the fifth and sixth Imáms, al-Báqir (113/731-2) and al-Sádiq (148/765). None of their works has survived but material from this period is preserved in works of the next generation of Shí`í Qur'an scholars such as Furát ibn Ibráhím ibn Furát al-Kúfí whose work Tafsír Furát al-Kúfí has been published.[14] This author lived during the Imamate of the ninth Imám, Muhammad al-Jawád (220/835), and may have lived into the tenth century. Abú al-Nasr Muhammad ibn Mas`úd al-`Ayyáshí (2nd/9th century) who converted to Shí`ism from Sunnism, is the author of Tafsír al-`Ayyáshí, which represents only an abridged version of the first volume of his commentary.[15] The famous student of Furát, Abú 'l-Hasan `Alí b. Ibráhím al-Qummí (ca. 307-8/919-20) composed a frequently cited tafsír.[16] This scholar, who related traditions from his father who had acquired them directly from disciples of the Imáms, lived during the time of the Lesser Occultation, a time having an abiding influence on the subsequent development of Shí`ism. Muhammad ibn Ibráhím al-Nu`mán (361/971) was the author of an unpublished commentary, which presents tafsír ascribed to al-Sádiq and also wrote an essay on tafsír. This latter work has been reproduced in the late seventeenth century compilation of Shí`í lore, Bihár al-anwár, by Muhammad Báqir al-Majlisí.[17] Such commentaries, which are basically compilations of traditions without further discussion by the authors, represent the "formative" or "pre-classical" period of Shí`í tafsír, and cover the first three centuries of Islamic history.[18] They have a direct bearing on the tafsír of the Bab, who depended very much on the akhbárí revitalization of this material during the decline of the Safavids, for the "raw material" of his commentaries.

The second phase of Shí`í Qur'an commentary begins with such scholars as al-Sharíf al-Radí (406/1015), author of Talkhís al-bayán fí majázát al-Qur'án wa'l-hadíth, and the compiler of Nahj al-Balágha, regarded as the canonical compendium of the sayings and sermons of the first Imám, `Alí ibn Abí Tálib (40/661).[19] He was the brother of the more famous Sayyid al-Murtadá, known as `Alam al-Hudá (436/1044), the author of several books on kalám which bear a strong Mu`tazilí influence. We are now firmly in the period of the so-called Greater Occultation when the possibility of direct contact with an Imám had ceased and scholars were beginning to seek answers for their questions in their own powers of reasoning. Here begins what Ayoub has called the "classical" period of Shí`í tafsír, during which time such men as Abú Ja`far al-Túsí (a former student of `Alam al-Hudá; 460/1067) known as Shaykh al-tá'ifa, wrote extensive commentaries in which not only the Imáms but also influential Mu`tazilí teachers were quoted. His work is called al-Tibyán fí tafsír al-Qur'án.[20] This classical period is seen to last well into the sixteenth century and includes the work of Abú `Alí al-Fadl ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Fadl al-Tabarsí (548/1153), Majma` al-bayán fí tafsír al-Qur'án.[21] It is during this period that the beginnings of what came to be known as usúlí Shí`ism are discerned, and the faithful begin to be counselled by some scholars to turn not to the Imáms or the statements of the Imáms exclusively, but to the ulama themselves for religious guidance.

The third period, and the one most important for this study, is characterized by a number of concerns which seem to have had very little importance for the authors in the classical period. It represents a renewed interest in the words of the Imáms themselves, as opposed to the thoughts of this or that exegete. Chief among these revitalized issues is the integrity of the text of the Qur'an. Early traditions frequently spoke to this question, but with the consolidation of Sunní power over much of the Islamic world, the issue was avoided during the classical period. Under Safavid, or Shí`í rule exegetes now resurrected the old controversy, opting heavily for the truth of the assertions found in the akhbár that the Qur'an which we now have is not what was sent down to the Prophet. This of course was not their only concern. However because of its radical implication, such an assertion may be seen as a major one, and one which deserves further study by itself.[22] Several authors, all writing around the same time, produced very similar commentaries which have the virtue of collating many of the exegetical traditions of the Prophet or the Imáms on the quranic verses. Their work is along the lines of the above-mentioned compilation by al-Majlisí, but at least two of these works appear to have been written before the Bihár al-anwár, one by Mullá Muhsin Fayz al-Káshání (1091/1680) who was in fact one of al-Majlisí's teachers.

The fourth, or contemporary period of Shí`í tafsír, is the one represented by such works as al-Mízán fí tafsír al-Qur'án, by Muhammad Husayn al-Tabátabá'í (b. 1321/1903) some of whose other works have been translated into English.[23] A second contemporary work is by al-Sayyid Abú'l-Qásim al-Khú'í (b.1317/1899), al-Bayán fí tafsír al-Qur'án.[24] Only one volume of this work has been printed, and the author apparently does not plan to continue the project. According to Ayoub, "In some important respects, these commentaries resemble the works of the classical period. Thus Khú'í, for example, felt obliged in his work to counter not only traditional Sunní ideas of the Qur'án but some Shí`í notions as well."[25] The notion referred to here by Ayoub (in a footnote) is none other than the above-mentioned problem of tahríf, or the corruption of the Qur'an. al-Khú'í states categorically: "It is well-known by Muslims that the Qur'an has not been corrupted by tahríf and that the Book in our hands represents all of the Qur'an which was revealed to the Prophet." [26] This last period of Shí`í tafsír has no direct relevance for this study apart from illustrating the continued interest of Shí`ís in exegesis and to mention one aspect of tafsír, namely the question of the integrity of the text, the position on which appears to be subject to a cyclical pattern.


The type of tafsír which is pertinent here, is that which acquired renewed importance during the third period. It represents one of the two major trends in Twelver Shí`ism, which eventually came to be known by the adjectives Usúlí and Akhbárí. The former describes those scholars who affirmed the importance of ijtihád or independent reasoning in legal and religious matters, while the latter describes an approach grounded on the sayings of the Prophet and the Imáms. The thrust of the Usúlí argument tended to support the authority of individual mujtahids over the believers, and culminated in the establishment of such institutions as that of marjá` al-taqlíd (an individual scholar who was to be emulated by the faithful in all matters pertaining to the sharí`a). The Usúlí method ultimately came to dominance in Iran during the late eighteenth and early nineteenthth centuries, while the Akhbárí school, which abominated the emulation of anyone apart from the Prophet and the Imáms, was relegated to second place. While this particular struggle between the two groups was a fairly late event, traces of the dispute can be found throughout the history of Qur'án interpretation. For example, in the earliest commentaries on16:6, the bees, which are presented in the Qur'án as having been inspired by God to behave the way they do, including the producing of honey in which is healing for mankind, are treated as a metaphor for the Imáms whose divine knowledge is that which provides this healing.[27] However, by the time of al-Sharíf al-RáÂ¥í, the explanation of the verse had changed considerably. Here, the bees are the ulama themselves. "This honey is with the ulama and does not come from the bellies of the bees . . . [28]

Such a shift in exegesis supports Madelung's view concerning the history of the Usúlí/Akhbárí dispute. This scholar, in his discussion of the relationship between Shí`ism and Mu`tazilite theology, cites a twelfth century work in which the author, one `Abd al-Jalíl al-Rází, describes his theological position as that of the "Imámiyya Usúliyya" as opposed to the position of the "Imámite Akhbáriyya". Madelung's conclusion is:

These statements show that the conflict between Usúliyya and Akhbáriyya in Imámism is not a phenomenon originating in ...afavid times, as is sometimes suggested ... . The later conflict which centres on technical questions of the principals of the law (usúl al-fiqh) is rooted in the earlier broader conflict between supporters of speculative theology and traditionalist opponents of reasoning in religion. [29]

The dispute involves a basic difference in the use of Qur'án interpretation, most commonly designated by the word ta'wíl in Akhbárí sources. The word means "taking back to the beginning" or "taking back to first principles". For the authors presented below, this means reading the verses of the Qur'án according to the interpretations of the Imams, who are the "first principles" of Shí`ism. But beyond this, ta'wíl means, for the Akhbárí school, a radical interpretation of many quranic verses which mention such things as "the Face of God" or the Hand of God" as referring specifically to the Prophet and the Imams. The Mu`tazila are famous for insisting on a very abstract interpretation of such material. This is the major difference between these two schools of Shí`ism. The Qur'án interpretation of the Usúlíya was heavily influenced by Mu`tazilite theology, while the Akhbáríya sought to preserve what was undoubtedly an earlier devotion to the ahl al-bayt by eschewing such extraneous influences as Greek philosophy in their reading of the Holy Book.

It is not possible, or necessary, to survey the history of this dispute, reference is made to a recent summary of the question.[30] The point to be made here is that the Akhbárí approach began to assert itself in Irán during the Safavid period, especially in the writings of Muhammad amín astárábádí (1033/1623-24).[31] It is after this time that a series of Qur'án commentaries which can be characterized as Akhbárí, were produced. It is clear from the many correspondences in the use of hadíth, that this type of commentary was one of the major sources for the Báb's Tafsír súrat al-baqara. For this reason, and because these works appear not to have attracted much attention in the West, a brief survey of their authors and contents will be offered.[32]


The first work to be considered is the most famous, namely the commentary of Mulla Muhsin Fayz Kashaní (1091/1680), the student and son-in-law of Mullá Sadrá. Muhsin Fayz was a member of the so-called Isfáhán school, which was responsible for the elaboration of what became known as the Hikmat-i iláhí movement in philosophy. He was also the author of one of the "three books" of later Twelver Shí`ism, namely al-Wáfí, a compilation and commentary of the canonical hadíths of the original "four books" of Shí`í traditions.[33]

It is because such a thinker as Muhsin Fayz is counted among the Akhbáríyún, that it is impossible to consider the movement as purely and simply "fundamentalist".[34] apart from his tafsír, Muhsin Fayz, as is well known, produced several other works expounding an intricate, rarified, and quite speculative, spiritual philosophy. The question to be asked, therefore, is how such so-called Akhbárí literalism can be associated, or perhaps be productive, of such an apparent incongruity. The following study will show that whatever else Akhbárí scholars might have been, the results of their exegesis of the Qur'án cannot really be classified as "literalist" in the usual sense of the word. That is to say, their so-called "literalism" must be seen to pertain to a veneration for the statements of the Imams on a given verse of the Qur'án. Many of these statements are concerned precisely with the "inner meaning" of the text, and for that are usually not what one would describe as straightforward interpretations of the literal text. Insofar as these interpretations by the Imams themselves are rigorously adhered to, the Akhbárí project may be seen to be "fundamentalist". However, at this stage in the exegetic process the act of interpretation has already gone beyond the ipsissima verba of the Qur'án itself.

In any case, the work was written in 1664, well into the period of Safavid decline[35] and the edition used here was lithographed in1283 [1866]. The full title of the commentary is al-Sáfí fí tafsír kálám álláh ál-wáfí, hereafter Sáfí. This edition is in-folio and runs to 495 pages of 37 lines to the page. It contains no indexes or divisions in the text (apart from those which occur at the beginning of a new súra) and is therefore somewhat difficult to use. It is introduced with twelve "prologues" (muqaddamát), which contain the basic presuppositions informing the work: 1) On wásíyá; 2) Thát the knowledge of the Qur'án is all with the ahl al-bayt; 3) That wherever the Qur'án speaks of "friends" or "enemies", it refers to those of the ahl al-bayt; 4) Concerning the meanings of a verse from the point of view of: tafsír, ta'wíl, zahr, batn, al-hadd, al-muhkam, al-mutashábih, al-násikh, ál-mansúkh, and other matters; 5) On the prohibition of tafsír bi'l-ra'y; 6) On the collection of the Qur'án and its corruption; 7) That the Qur'án explains everything; 8) On the qira'at; 9) Concerning the actual period when the Qur'án came down; 10) On the Qur'án as intercessor at the Day of Resurrection and the rewards for memorizing it and reciting it; 11) On recitation; 12) Explanation of the technique of interpretation.[36] In addition to gathering the pertinent sayings of the Prophet and Imams around a given verse, Sáfí also borrows from the very popular Sunní commentary by al-Baydáwí (685/1286), anwár al-tanzíl.[37]

Muhsin Fayz's work has recently been made the basis of the general discussion of Shí`í tafsír cited above. ayoub points out that Muhsin Fayz claims that the first transmitters of the exegetic tradition were limited in what they related by taqíya ("pious dissimulation"), with the result that much of the true tradition might have been lost. "This, of course, left great scope for new ideas in tafsír in the name of recovering the tradition."[38] Elsewhere in this recent study, Muhsin Fayz along with Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisí, are described as "extremists" for claiming that the the Qur'án which we have has been altered.[39] This idea of an altered Qur'án is shared by the authors of the other works to be described, and plays a definite role in the Báb's tafsír. However, Safí is sufficiently ambiguous on the question to enable another author to cite it in support of his own argument that the Shí`a do not hold that the present Qur'án is somehow defective.[40] The relevant passages in Sáfí are as follows:

The Qur'án which is in our hands is not the entire Qur'án sent down by God to Muhammád. Ráther, there is in it thát which contradicts that which God had sent down. There is, moreover,in it that which was altered and changed. There were many things deleted from it, such as the name of `Alí in many places and the phrase Ál Muhammad (the family of Muhammad), as well as the names of the 'hypocrites', where they occur . . . . The Qur'án, furthermore, was not arranged in accordance with the pleasure of God and his apostle.[41]

Later, however, Muhsin Fayz, appears to soften his position somewhat.[42] This is explained by ayoub as follows: Muhsin Fayz was bound by tradition, as represented by such venerated Shí`í scholars as al-Túsí and al-Tabársí who had insisted on the authenticity of the text. ayoub explains, paraphrasing Sáfí:

The Qur'án as it now stands is the word of God which, if interpreted correctly, contains all that the community now needs in the way of legal sanctions and prohibitions, as well as the necessary proofs of the Imam's high office as its guardians and sole authorities on its exegesis. The Qur'án which is in our hands must, [Muhsin Fayz] argues, be followed during the occultation (ghayba) of the twelfth Imám. It must be assumed that the true Qur'án is with him.[43]


It máy be that Sáfí influenced the much larger tafsír by al-Sayyid Háshim al-Bahrání (1107/1695 or 1109/1697), written sometime during the reign of the Safavid Shah Sulaymán or al-Sáfí (r.1077/1666-1106/1694), which contains similarly arranged introductory material and repeats many of the same traditions at corresponding verses. However its author neither cites Sáfí directly, nor mentions the work in the long list of sources which is included in his introduction.[44] The title of the work is Kitab al-burhán fí tafsír al-Qur'án, hereafter Burhán, and is in four volumes.[45] The author was born in a village named Túbálí, in one of the districts of Bahrayn. His birth date is unknown. He died in the small town of al-Na`ím, from whence his remains were returned to Túbalí for interment in a tomb, which subsequently became a popular place of visitation. He is said to have been a compiler of hadíths, comparable in his efforts only to Majlisí himself. He is also said to have written seventy-five works, mostly dealing with religious sciences.[46]

For each verse or group of verses, the author lists a series of pertinent akhbár from the Prophet or the Imams. as mentioned, the introductory material appears to be modeled after Sáfí, but with some interesting variations.[47] It begins with a number of reports against tafsír b'l-ra'y, and other reports which assert that only the Prophet and the Imáms were able to interpret the Qur'án. "God taught the Prophet the literal text (tanzíl) and He taught `Alí its interpretation (ta'wíl)."[48]

The author of this work laments that not withstanding such a statement, he finds the people of his time persistent in interpreting the Qur'án without referring to the Imáms, and cites the works of al-Zamakhsharí (539/1144) and al-Baydáwí as examples.[49] This statement might have a more immediate target for Bahráni, ás á possible allusion to such scholars as Mullá Sadrá (1050/1640), who engaged in a style of exegesis quite different from that of Muhsin Fayz, his student, and the other Akhbárí commentators. Mullá Sadrá's commentaries, by comparison with these other works which ceaselessly refer to the ahl al-bayt, virtually ignore the Imams and the Prophet; rather, he is concerned with elaborating his Hikmat-i iláhí philosophy. This would appear to have rankled the religious sensibilities of men like Bahrání, not neccessarily because of any displeasure with this philosophy itself, but because what was perceived as the true meaning of the Qur'án, viz, the Imamate, hád been subordinated to it.[50]

Whereas Muhsin Fayz's introduction was divided according to the number of Imams revered by the Shí`a, Báhrání's work is introduced by sixteen chapters (sing. bab) which provide a useful summary of the major themes of his táfsír.[51] an account of some of these will further illustrate the concerns of this work.

Chapter 3: "Concerning the 'two weights'." This refers to the Hadíth al-thaqalayn, related from the Prophet. [52]

a version of this hadíth has been translated elsewhere as follows:

[The Prophet said:] I am soon about to be received . . . I am telling you before I am taken up that I shall leave with you as representatives after me the Book of my Lord, and my progeny, the people of my household. The all-Gracious, all-knowing told me that they [the two weights] shall not be separated until they meet me [on the Day of Resurrection] . . . Do not precede them, for you would go astray, and do not fall behind them, for you would perish. Do not teach them, for they are of greater knowledge than you.[53]

This tradition, in several variants, provides support for the basic Shí`í notion of the "Speaking Qur'án" (i.e., the Prophet and the Imáms) and the "Silent Qur'án" (i.e., the Qur'án itself).[54]

Chapter 5: That the Qur'án was not collected as it was revealed and that the Imams are the only ones who knew its meaning (ta'wíl).[55]

Chapter 6: On the prohibition of tafsír bi'l-ra'y and the prohibition against disputation (jidál).[56]

Chapter 7: That the Qur'án has an external and an internal meaning, and a general and particular application, and clear verses (muhkam) and ambiguous verses (mutashabih), and abrogating (násikh) and abrogated (mansúkh) verses. and that the Prophet and the people of his House know these and they are those who are firmly rooted in knowledge [3:7, al-rásikhún fi'l-`ilm].[57]

Chapter 8: "That the Qur'án came down in parts (áqsám)".[58]

This chapter cites several hádíths which clearly indicate the presuppositions of Bahrání's work; therefore, a few of them will be presented.

`álí: "It came down in three parts: one third concerning us and our enemies, one third concerning sunna and one third concerning obligations and laws."

Sádiq: "The Qur'án cáme down in fourths, one fourth about the permitted things, one fourth about the forbidden things, one fourth about the sunna and laws and one fourth concerned the stories of the past and prophecies about the future."

Baqir: "In fourths, one fourth about us and one fourth about our enemies and one fourth about sunna and examples and one fourth about obligations and laws. and to us pertain the most important parts." [59]

Chapter 9: This chapter deals with the principle that some verses in the Qur'án were revealed in the mode of iyyáka a`ní w'isma`í yá járatu, meaning: "I am speaking to you, but you over there should listen as well!". One example given is 17:74 and had we not confirmed thee, surely thou wert near to inclining unto them a very little . The implication here seems to be that although Muhammad is being directly addressed by God, the message is also addressed to `Alí.[60]

Chapter 10: This section deals with the Imáms as the subject of the Qur'án. Because of what they reveal about the Akhbárí approach to the Qur'án, a few of the reports from this chapter are presented.[61]

Báqir: "Whenever I hear God mention that someone is good in the Qur'án it means Us and whenever he mentions someone bad it pertains to our enemies."

Sádiq: "If the Qur'án were read as it was sent down then we would be found named in it." another report ascribed to Báqir adds "just as those who preceded us are named in it."

Báqir: "Had it not been for adding material to the Qur'án or subtracting from it our right (haqquná) would have been clear to anyone with sense. When the Qá'im arises and speaks, the Qur'án will confirm his words."

From Da'úd ibn Farqad: "I said to Sádiq 'are you the salát in the Book and are you the zakát and are you the hájj?" He said: "We are these as well as the fast and the sacred month and the sanctuary (balad al-háram) and the Kaaba and the qibla and the face of God (wajh alláh) and the verses (áyát) and the clear verses (bayyinát). and our enemies are designáted in the Qur'án ás indecency (al-fáhshá' and al-munkar) "unjust insolence" (al-baghy) and wine (al-khamr) and gambling (al-maysir) [etc.] . . .".

Sádiq: "We are the source of every righteousness and our enemies the source of all evil . . . ".[62]

This chapter is followed by another which supplements and explains such hadíths with others from the Prophet and the Imáms.[63]

Chapter 12: On the meaning of al-thaqalayn and al-khalífatayn according to the Sunnis.[64] This chapter cites material from such works as the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the Sahíh of Muslim, the Tafsír of al-Tha`labí, which support the above-mentioned idea of the "two weights" bequeathed by the Prophet for the guidance of his community.[65]

Chapter 13: On the reason that the Qur'án was revealed in Arabic and that its miraculousness is in its arrangement (nazm) and that its meaning is newly applicable through the course of time. It contains, among others, the following hadíth:

Sádiq said, in response to a question: "God did not make the Qur'án for one time to the exclusion of others, or for one people to the exclusion of others. Thus it is new for each time, and by it each succeeding generation will be refreshed until the Day of Resurrection." [66]

The last three chapters are entitled "No hadíth compares with the Qur'án"; "On the first súra and the last súra that was sent down"; and, "The books from which material for this book was taken".[67]

Following these chapters, Bahrání reproduces, verbatim, most of the introduction to al-Qummí's tafsír.[68] The problems treated include those of abrogation (naskh wa mansúkh, including the question of taqdím and ta'khír), clear and ambiguous verses (muhkam wa mutashábih), verses which fall into the category of generalities with specific applications (lafz `ámm wa ma`ná kháss), and specific statements which have a general application (lafz kháss wa ma`ná `ámm). Verses are cited which show that they were interrupted in the course of their revelation and continued later (al-munqatta`a wa'l-ma`túf), and which employ one word when another is intended (harf makán harf) such as 2:150, where illá al-ladhína zalamú minhum should be read as wa lá al-ladhína ... .[69]

In addition, the problem of contradiction in the Qur'án (má huwa `alá khiláf má anzala Alláh) is treated. Here, an example is made of 3:10 You are the best nation ever brought forth to men, bidding to honour, and forbidding dishonour, and believing in God. Sádiq is reported to have said to the reciter of this verse: "How is it that the best community killed `Alí, Hasan and Husayn?" The anonymous reciter then asked, "How was it really sent down then, O son of the Messenger?" Sádiq said: "Like this: 'You are the best Imáms (a'imma replaces umma) ever brought forth to men. . . .". al-Qummí, quoted by Bahrání, then lists several other similar cases.[70]

Another sub-section deals specifically with corruption (muharraf) of the text, perhaps implying that the above category describes verses which were accidentally misread. The example given here is 4:166: But God bears witness to that He has sent down to thee; He has sent it down with his knowledge; and the angels also bear witness; and God suffices for a witness. This verse was originally revealed as: God testifieth to that which He has sent down about `Alí then came He revealed to him His knowledge and the angels testify to this. [71]

Another problem dealt with pertains to quranic words which appear to be in the plural, but whose meaning is singular (lafz jam`/ma`ná wáhid), and vice versa (lafz wáhid/ma`ná jam`). In addition, the problem of verbs in the past tense which actually refer to the future (lafz mádi wa huwa mustaqbal) is discussed, citing 39:68 as an example, in which wa nufikha f'l-súr is to be read as For the trumpet shall be blown.[72]

al-Qummí says also that the verses in one súra may be completed in another súra; or that in the case of abrogation, one half of a verse may be affected while another is not. In other cases, it is possible to derive the interpretation (ta'wíl) of a verse from the text of the Qur'án itself (tanzíl), or by reference to this text. Elsewhere, the Qur'án has verses which indicate that it's interpretation was already apparent in the common usage of the Arabs before the revelation codified this usage, while some verses show that the meaning of a particular verse came as something new after the revelation.[73]

Various other principles of exegesis are thus described by the author of this commentary, and the introduction is concluded by a series of refutations (radd) of various groups which include the Zanádiqa, by which astrologers are intended; the idol-worshippers; the Dahríya, "materialists"; those who deny divine reward and punishment; those who deny the Ascension and Night Journey and the Beatific Vision of the Prophet; those who deny the existence of Heaven and Hell; those who deny the efficacy of man's will (al-mujbira); the Mu`tazila; those who deny the Return (al-raj`a); and those who describe God.[74]

Núr al-thaqalayn

The third work which is frequently referred to in the following pages, was written around the same time by `Abd `Alí al-Huwayzí (1112/1700), Kitáb tafsír núr al-thaqalayn, hereafter Núr. Not much is known about his life, but as indicated by his nisba, he was from the small town of Huwayza, near Ahwáz in southwest Iran. His work contains none of the introductory material found in Sáfí or Burhán; rather it begins, after a few words of doxology in veneration of the Prophet and the Imáms, with a discussion of the Fátiha by way of pertinent hadíths. The only known edition was edited by Háshim al-Rasúlí al-Mahallátí and printed in Qum during the years 1963-65. This edition is based on three manuscripts of varying completeness.[75] A preface by the highly regarded Shí`í scholar Muhammad Husayn al-Tabátabá'í refers to the work as "one of the best . . . if not the best" work of its kind.[76]

The author of Dharí`a says that his work explains the Qur'án with transmissions from the ahl al-bayt and that he has collected these from such works as al-Káfí, Tafsír al-Qummí, al-Ihtijáj of Tabarsí, several works from Ibn Bábawayh, the Tahdhíb of Túsí, the Kitáb al-Ghayba and the Manáqib (works of Ibn Shahr-áshúb), and many others. "But he does not include the isnáds nor does he [fully] mention the verses, and this makes it difficult to know which khabar goes with which verse."[77] The first part of the tafsír was completed by the author in the madrasa al-Muqayyimíya in Shíráz, in the year 1067/1656; the second, up to the Súrat al-kahf, was completed in 1655, as was the third volume. About the date of the completion of the fourth volume Tihrání is silent, saying only that it covers the Qur'án from the Súrat al-fátir to the end.[78] This dating indicates that the work was probably extant while Muhsin Fayz was writing Sáfí, but it appears to have been unknown to him.


The fourth and final work to be discussed here, has proved to be in some instances, the most useful of them all. Its author's name is Abú 'l-Hasan al-Sharíf al-`Amilí al-Isfahání, and his work is entitled Mir'at al-anwár wa mishkát al-asrár fí tafsír al-Qur'án, hereafter Anwár. This exegete was a student of Muhammad Báqir al-Majlisí, author of the Bihár al-anwár, and Muhsin Fayz, author of the Tafsír al-sáfí. In addition, Isfahání had ijázát from several other notable ulama of his time,[79] and was the teacher of students who would later influence the minds of such seminal figures as Sayyid Mahdí Bahr al-`Ulúm (1212/1797), a teacher of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'i.[80]

According to Dharí`a, one manuscript of the work comments on verses up to the middle of the Súrat al-baqara while another takes the commentary up to 4:4.[81] The first volume was published in Iran in 1303/1885, but was, "due to the lack of information on the part of the publisher" attributed to one Shaykh `Abd al-Latíf al-Kázarúní, about whom nothing else is said.

This work is often referred to by Corbin, in his magisterial study of Shí`í Qur'án interpretation.[82] Corbin, either contrary to Dharí`a or perhaps speaking of another edition, says that the work was lithographed in 1295/1878 in Tehran, but agrees with Dharí`a that its authorship was wrongly ascribed. Thanks to the "vigilance bibliographique" of one Mírzá Husayn Núrí Tabarsí, the work was re-edited and printed in Tehran in 1375/1955, under the correct name of Isfahání. This edition, according to Corbin, continued the tradition of treating the work as an introduction to Burhán, but Isfahání was apparently unaware of the tafsír by Bahrání.[83]

At some point, this later edition was published in an independent volume; its title page says that the work is "like the introduction to the Tafsír of al-Bahrání." In it, the editor promises to publish a second volume which would contain the balance of Isfahání's work, but this second volume has not yet appeared. It is this edition, containing only a lengthy introduction to the tafsír proper, which has been referred to throughout this thesis. At this time, I am unable to explain the discrepancy in the dates given by Corbin and Tihrání. But this question is quite secondary to the nature of the work itself; the author of Dharí`a says that "nothing like it has ever been written".[84] Corbin's description is as follows:

C'est un monument de ta'wíl systematique, o_ l'auteur s'explique sur son dessein, sa méthode de travail, les fondements et les exigences de l'herméneutique shí`ite. Chaque partie comprend elle-m�(tm)me plusieurs maqála. Les "Prolégomènes III" contiennent une sorte de Clavis hermeneutica, groupant déjá autour de quelque mille trois cents mots-typiques du Qorán un minimum d'indications provenant des hadíth des Imáms. On peut ainsi se faire une idée de ce qu'eút été l'úuvre entièrement réalisée. Le principe général qui l'inspire, énoncé déjá á plusieurs reprises par le Ve et VIe Imáms, est que, si le sens des versets qorániques s'épuisait dans le sens extérieur relatif aux personnes ou aux circonstances á propos desquelles ces versets furent révélés, et qui sont toutes maintenant disparues, il y a longtemps que le Qorán tout entier serait mort.[85]

A description of the table of contents will suffice for illustrating the degree to which the author systematically approached the task of "imámizing" the Qur'án.[86] The work is divided in three prologues (muqaddamát), two of which will be described in detail. These two prologues are designated below as "A" and "B". The corresponding maqálát into which they are divided are designated by Arabic numerals. Finally, the fusúl into which these maqálát are further sub-divided, are designated by lowercase Roman numerals.

A All of the esoteric content of the Qur'án concerns the notion of waláya and the Imamate, just as its exoteric content concerns tawhíd and nubúwa.

1 That which is proven by the akhbár adduced in this prologue:

i The Qur'án has esoteric dimensions, and that the verses are susceptible of ta'wíl, and that meaning of the Qur'án is not restricted to only one era, but continues at all times for all people.

ii Several reports to the effect that the inner meaning of the Qur'án is related to: the Imáms, their waláya, and their followers.

iii On the task of harmonizing the exoteric with the esoteric, and the relationship between the esotericists (ahl al-ta'wíl) with the exotericists (ahl al-tanzíl).

iv The imperative (wujúb) of belief in both the exoteric and esoteric content of the Qur'án. This is similar to the necessity of belief in both the clear (muhkam) and ambiguous (mutashábih) verses.

v That the knowledge of the ta'wíl of the Qur'án, or rather the complete knowledge of it, is with the ahl al-bayt. Also included here is the citation of akhbár forbidding tafsír al-Qur'án through personal opinion (al-ra'y), or without heeding the Imáms.

2 The second essay deals with the doctrine that the general meaning of the word of God pertains to tawhíd and nubúwa on the surface (saríhan wa tanzílan), and to waláya and imáma in its inner meaning (batnan wa kináyatan wa ta'wílan) according to the akhbár. It is divided into five parts as well:

i Some of what our ulama have written about the greatness of the Imáms and their waláya, and the disbelief (kufr) of their rejectors.

ii A few of the akhbár concerning the imperative of the waláya of the ahl al-bayt, and of loving them (mahabba), and obedience to them. This is the anchor of ímán and the condition for God's acceptance of all deeds and for one's leaving (truly) the boundary of kufr and shirk. Also included is a condemnation of the rejection (inkár) of waláya and doubt about the Imáms.

iii Confessing the Imáma of the Imáms and their love and waláya comes after the confession of the nubúwa of the Prophet in the course of correct religion and faith, just as the confession of nubúwa comes after the confession of tawhíd.

iv Waláya, together with tawhíd, was presented to all creation, and the covenant implying it was imposed upon all creation, and all the prophets were sent with it for all creation, and that waláya was sent down in all the holy books and imposed upon all nations.

v That the Prophet and the Imáms were the first to be created and that their waláya is the cause in the process of creation (al-`illa fí 'l-íjád) and the principle in obedience.

3 The third maqála [which contains no subsections] says that the esoteric content of the Qur'án pertains to waláya and the Imamate, according to the akhbár which indicate that this community follows the practices (sunan) of previous religious communities.

B This prologue [which contains no maqálát] seeks to establish that there are some alterations (taghyír) in the Qur'án, and this explains why guidance is placed in the divine command (amr) of waláya and imáma, and is also an allusion to the virtues of the ahl al-bayt, and the obligation of obedience to the Imáms according to the esoteric content of the Qur'án and its ta'wíl. In the absence of explicit statements in the Qur'án on this matter, one arrives at this conclusion through metaphor and symbols and allusion in its literal text (tanzíl), comprised under four headings:

i Concerning the collection of the Qur'án, its incompleteness and alteration from reports which our friends (i.e. the Shí`a) related.

ii Concerning the collection of the Qur'án, its incompleteness and alteration, and the disagreement about this in the reports of the Sunnís (mukhálifín).

iii The report of the zindíq who brought `Alí proof of the alteration of the Qur'án and the misdeeds of the hypocrites regarding the word of God. This report is long, containing many things which were deleted from the Qur'án.

iv A resumé of the statements of our ulama concerning the absence of alteration of the Qur'án and the falseness of the argument of those who deny alteration.

A third prologue deals in detail with many of the subjects already indicated. It also affirms that according to ta'wíl, some of the pronouns in the Qur'án refer to something which is not mentioned clearly, but intended according to the batn, "like those pronouns which refer to waláya, `Alí, and the like without having an antecedent." In addition, the mode of revelation mentioned above, namely "I mean you, but you over there also listen!" is propounded. A long Appendix (tadhyíl) to the first maqála of this prologue is concerned with the repudiation (daf`) of ghuluww and tafwíd (immoderate attitudes toward the Imamate).[87] The second maqála of the third prologue is the clavis hermeneutica mentioned by Corbin. This section will be referred to several times in the course of this study as it provides a most convenient glossary for individual words which have otherwise impenetrable meanings as used by the Báb. Admittedly, one can be overly confident about the pertinence of Isfahání's glossary for the Báb's commentary, but inasmuch as it offers at least some clues to the Báb's writings, it provides a most welcome resource.

Corbin's interest in such works was restricted to the purely spiritual or `irfání motifs which they contain. He seems to have been thoroughly uninterested in the question of the "alteration of the Qur'án", or the other highly polemical aspects of these works. Thus his closing comment on the tafsírs of Bahrání and Isfahání:

Par tous les textes mis ainsi en oeuvre, le shí`isme se fait entendre essentiellement comme une religion d'amour spirituel, á tel point, les textes y insistent, qu'en l'absence de cette dévotion d'amour, il ne saurait �(tm)tre question de la validité d'aucune oeuvre pieuse, ni m�(tm)me de satisfaire aux obligations de la sharí`at. Or, tout cela est dit sans qu'il soit m�(tm)me question de soufisme; c'est un élève de Majlisí qui parle, ou bien laisse la parole aux hadíth des Imáms dont il a une connaissance extraordinairement approfondie. Cette constatation aura une grande importance pour le prolongement de ces recherches.[88]

It was necessary to go into such detail on these works in order to show that the tafsír to be studied in Part i is in no way innovative in its thorough "imamization" of the Qur'án. So little is known about this early work by the Báb, that the establishment of such similarities in style and content will have contributed substantially to a study of the history of the development of his ideas. It is hoped that the above discussion, in addition to setting the stage for a study of the Báb's tafsír, will also have suggested the importance these works have for a study of other questions connected with the history of tafsír. But these works of Akhbárí exegesis, important as they are for understanding the Báb's basic attitude to the Qur'án and for tracing the many akhbár cited by the Báb in some of his own commentaries, represent only one of the formative factors of the Báb's work. Another major influence was the early nineteenth century theological and philosophical developments associated with the name of the Shaykhí movement, a movement which in some respects sought to bridge the rift between the Usúlís and the Akhbárís.


The Shaykhí School

In a "Foreword" to his account of the first hundred years of the Bahá'í religion, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957, emphasized the significance of the Shaykhíya in Bábí and Bahá'í history:

I shall seek to represent and correlate, in however cursory a manner, those momentous happenings which have insensibly, relentlessly, and under the very eyes of successive generations, perverse, indifferent or hostile, transformed a heterodox and seemingly negligible offshoot of the Shaykhí school of the Ithná-`Asharíyyih sect of Shi`ah Islám into a world religion ... [89]

The "seemingly negligible offshoot" mentioned, is of course the Bábí religion. It is known that the Bab's teacher, Shaykh `Ábid, was a devotee of this Shaykhí school. It is also known that several of the Bab's merchant relatives were attracted to the teachings of this movement.[90] Furthermore, the Bab himself attended the lectures of the second leader of the Shaykhí school, Sayyid Kázim Rashtí, and in at least two works directly refers to him as "my teacher" (mu`allimí).[91] It is therefore important that at least some brief statement on the history and teachings of the Shaykhí school be offered in order to better understand the context in which the Bab wrote his quranic commentaries.

The founder of the Shaykhíya, or the Kashfíya, as its adherents preferred to be designated, was Shaykh Ahmad b. Zayn al-Dín b. Ibráhím b. Saqr b. Ibráhím b. Dághir. He was born in the month of Rajab 1166/24 April-24 May1753, in a small village in Bahrayn, apparently of pure Arab lineage. His family had been followers of the Shí`í version of orthodoxy for five generations. From his early childhood, it was clear that Shaykh Ahmad was strongly predisposed to the study of religious texts and traditions. By the age of five, he could read the Qur'an; during the remainder of his primary education, he studied Arabic grammar and became exposed to the mystical and theosophical expressions of Ibn `Arabí (638/1240) and the less well known Ibn Abí Jumhúr (after 904/1499), author of the Kitáb al-mujlí. In 1186/1772-3, Shaykh Ahmad left his home to pursue advanced religious studies in the area of Iraq referred to as the `Atabát, the shrine cities of Kázimayn, Najaf, and Karbalá.[92] In 1209/1794-5, he received his first ijáza from the renowned scholar Sayyid Muhammad Mahdí Bahr al-`Ulúm (1212/1797), and eventually six others from various recognized teachers.[93] Shaykh Ahmad remained away from Bahrayn for about a year, whence he returned to pursue his studies, presumably independently, for the next twenty-five years.

At the age of forty-six, Shaykh Ahmad took up residence in Basra, probably as a result of the Wahhábí attack on his native al-Ahsá. The year was 1212/1797. From this time on, Shaykh Ahmad remained in Iran, or the region of `Atabát. He travelled widely and gained the respect of the Iranian elite, whether religious or politcal. From 1222/1807 to 1229/1813, Shaykh Ahmad lived mainly in Yazd. It was during this period that Shaykh Ahmad was invited to visit the ruling Qájár monarch, Fath `Alí Sháh (r. 1212/1797-1250/1834). In 1129/1813 he moved from Yazd to Kermánsháh where he lived until1232/1816. At this time he went to Mecca on pilgrimage after which he returned to `Atabát. He eventually moved back to Kermánsháh where he remained, except for a few visits to other Iranian centres, from 1234/1818 until he departed for another pilgrimage to Mecca. It was during this journey that Shaykh Ahmad died, not far from Mecca in 1241/1825. He was buried in the Baqí` cemetery in Medina.[94]

As mentioned, Shaykh Ahmad was held in high esteem. Fath `Alí Sháh tried unsuccessfully to persuade al-Ahsá'í to live in Tehran. The story is told of how the governor of Kermánsháh felt so honoured by Shaykh Ahmad's decision to visit his city that he travelled four farsakhs from Kermánsháh for the sole purpose of welcoming the famous scholar to his city. It may be that Shaykh Ahmad was so warmly welcomed by the political leaders of Iran because his views offered a mystical interpretation of standard ithná `asharíya Shí`ism which served as an alternative to what was becoming a disturbing interest in more purely Sufi doctrine, as propagated by the leaders of, for example the Ni`matulláhí order.[95] Nevertheless, Shaykh Ahmad also incurred the wrath of the Shí`í ulama. The most famous example is the "excommunication" (takfír) issued against him in 1239 or 40/1824 by Mullá Muhammad Taqí Baraghání (1264/1847).[96]

The work of Shaykh Ahmad was continued by his favorite student, Sayyid Kázim Rashtí (1798-1844), and it was at this time that the followers of Shaykh Ahmad began to be distinguished by their adversaries from the rest of the Shí`a.

Although the terms "Shaykhí," "Posht-i Sarí," and "Kashfíya" refer to a certain group of people, and were intended to distinguish them from the rest of the Shí`a, the group solidarity and identity of the Shaykhís was in fact not so distinct as to sharply separate them from the rest of the Shí`í community of Iran as an independent sect or even branch of Twelver Shí`a. The Shaykhís considered themselves true Shí`a who thought and behaved in accordance with the teaching of the Shí`í imáms; they did not consider themselves innovators.

It is difficult to believe that during Shaykh Ahmad's lifetime he was considered the founder of a new school within the Shí`í framework. However, as time went on and the nature of his ideology received greater intellectual attention, a group of fundamentalist `ulamá perceived a radical distinction between his views and the established doctrines of the Shí`a and increasingly differentiated themselves from the Shaykhís. This Shaykhí school, then, gained more group solidarity as it developed historically, reacting as a group against the main body of the Shí`a when it encountered social and intellectual opposition.[97]

After the death of Sayyid Kázim (1259/1843), his students divided into several groups, two of which tended to overshadow the others. Of these, one centered around Muhammad Karím Khán Kirmání (1288/1870), the other around Sayyid `Alí Muhammad, the Bab.

Shaykhí Teachings

The distinguishing features of this school, as is the case with most Muslim religious groups, are related to the manner in which spiritual authority was to be defined. At this time the Shí`í world was experiencing somewhat of an active controversy carried on by the partisans of the usúlíya and akhbaríya. These terms refer to the way each group tended to support its statements on Islamic law and theology. The debate was based on the question of whether ijtihád, "exerting individual effort to form an opinion", rather than wholesale acceptance of the guidance contained in the preserved statements of the Prophet and the Imáms (pl. akhbár), was the best way to resolve the questions of religion, which would of course include questions of law. Finally, the usúlíya, those in favor of ijtihád, won the day and for the past two hundred years this basic attitude toward the written sources of the Islamic religion has held sway over most of the Shí`í world.

The Perfect Shí`a, The Fourth Support

Shaykh Ahmad grew up in one of the last bastions of the akhbarí approach, and his synthesis may be seen, in part, as an elaboration of this method. Through propounding a doctrine of the Nátiq Wáhid (a single authoritative voice) and the Perfect Shí`a, an obvious adaptation of the Sufi idea of the Perfect Man (al-insán al-kámil), Shaykh Ahmad was able at least in theory, to circumvent the restrictions imposed by either of the two above methods and arrive at much less fettered and independent position vis á vis the reinterpretation of the raw material of the Islamic religion - the Qur'an and Sunna of the Prophet and the teachings of the Imáms which were preserved in the akhbar.[98] In short, this doctrine held that a group which may be designated as the Perfect Shí`a was always present on earth as a direct link to the hidden Imám, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, the 12th Imám of the Shí`a, who disappeared from the public ken at the age of six after succeeding his late father as Imám and whose occultation had now lasted nearly 1,000 years. While neither Shaykh Ahmad nor Sayyid Kázim ever publicly claimed the rank of Perfect Shí`í, it seems fairly certain that their followers considered them as qualified for such.[99]

Shí`ism has traditionally based itself on five main principles: Divine Unity (tawhíd), Prophethood (nubúwa), Return (ma`ád), the Imamate, and Divine Justice. These were reduced to three by combining Justice with Unity and placing the Return in the category of Prophethood. To these three (Unity, Prophethood, and the Imamate) was added the above-mentioned idea of the Perfect Shí`a, referred to by the Shaykhís as the Fourth Support (al-rukn al-rábi`) of religion, an allusion, in parallel, to the four pillars of God's throne (`arsh, kursí ). This doctrine of the Fourth Support has been interpreted in various ways. Corbin says that it refers to an esoteric sodality of spiritual elite, but mentions also the "perfect individual," the "Salmán of his time" who is to be regarded as the Nátiq Wáhid, or apex of this spiritual hierarchy.[100] MacEoin's study of Muhammad Karím Khán Kirmání's teachings on the subject, suggests that the reference is to an individual as the "bearer" (hámil), or "owner" (sáhib), of the Fourth Support.[101] One of the more interesting aspects of the Bab's commentary on al-Baqara are the several references in it to this subject of the Fourth Support. Concern with the doctrine of the Fourth Support, is therefore one of the most convincing evidences that the Bab was writing his first tafsír in a Shaykhí milieu. Early in this commentary, he says that the Fourth Support is in fact the Shí`a itself and makes no direct reference to a special individual.[102] That the Bab understood the Fourth Support in this way, may be evidence that at this time he either did not harbor any claims to the special spiritual authority implied by other uses of this term, or that he did not want to be perceived as doing so. But this is not his only statement on the subject; as will be seen in due course, the subject of the Fourth Support in the Bab's writings is intimately connected with both the eschatological and ontological theory on which the commentary proceeds.

The doctrine of the Perfect Shí`a was inseparable from the Shaykhí apophatic theology and implied a virtual deification of the Fourteen Pure Ones (chahardah ma`súm ) of orthodoxy: Muhammad, Fátima, `Alí, Hasan, Husayn and the remaining Imáms of Twelver Shí`ism. This statement must be tempered by reference to the innumerable assertions of the servitude of Muhammad and the Imáms to the essence of God. It would be misleading in the extreme to suggest that this "Imám-apotheosis" represents incarnationism. God here is eternally unknowable (rather than remote) and makes His will known through various stages. Eternally crucial to this process is the twofold institution of Prophecy/Imamate, and whenever any positive statement about divinity is made, its proper reference is to this institution. The Prophet and Imáms are a different order of creation as mediators between God and Man. They are separated from the divine essence by a line of apparently infinite tensile strength. In Corbin's terms they represent the Deus Revelatus, as opposed to (or complementary to) the Deus Absconditus, which is referred to as the "unknowable essence" and other terms, and for which the convenient word in Arabic is alláh.[103]

The Perfect Shí`a acts as mediator between the Imáms (represented by the 12th, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan) and Man. Therefore when the Bab claimed to have received the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf from the Imám, even though he did not explicitly claim for himself the title of Perfect Shí`í, those Shaykhís who were his first readers were already convinced of the necessity for such a link as báb ("gate"), even if they were not agreed as to who was best qualified to act as such, or less important what the exact name for such a link should be. E.G. Browne states the importance of the doctrine of the Perfect Shí`í for the success of Babism in its early stages:

He [the Bab] did not invent this term [báb], nor was he even the first to revive it, for it was used in the same sense by ash-Shalmaghání, a Messiah of the 10th cent. of our era, and by others. So far as recent times are concerned, however, it was the Shaykhí school . . . which revived the idea that among the faithful followers of the Twelfth Imám there must always exist one, whom they entitled Shí`a-i-Kámil . . . 'the Perfect Shí`ite,' who was in direct spiritual communication with him. Neither Shaykh Ahmad nor his successor Sayyid Kázim . . . made use of the title 'Báb,' but their conception of 'the Perfect Shí`ite' was practically identical with the idea connoted by that title. On the death of Sayyid Kázim his followers were naturally impelled by their doctrine concerning 'the Perfect Shí`ite' to seek his successor.[104]

What Browne does not emphasize is that it is important to appreciate one of the more significant results of Shaykhí theology, in order to understand the eventual claim made by the Bab. As will become more clear, particularly in the chapter on Hierarchies, the pleroma of the Prophet, Fátima and the Imáms, had for Shaykh Ahmad in one sense replaced God (Deus absconditus). As a result, the hierarchy of God, Prophet, Imám, Báb, Shí`a was sounded in a higher register, each element being "promoted" as it were, to fill the gap produced by the distinctively relentless Shaykhí view of divine transcendence (tanzíh). As a result, the Bab's claim to be the báb of the Imám, may be seen as functionally identical to a claim to imáma as usually understood.

`Álam al-mithál

Shaykh Ahmad attributed a great deal to several visions he had experienced, beginning at quite an early age. In these visions, either the hidden Imám, or some other member of the ahl al-bayt would appear to him. During one such vision, the Imám bestowed upon Shaykh Ahmad twelve ijázát, one presumably from each of the Imáms. By appealing to such experiences, Shaykh Ahmad made it clear that the only religious authority he would submit to would be the Imáms themselves (as opposed to, for example, the marja` al-taqlíd of the usúlíya). This also implied that his own knowledge, thus derived directly from the Prophet and the Imáms, was qualitatively superior to that of others. Shaykh Ahmad was not the only personality to make much of such experiences. The phenomenon was common enough for those who experienced it to be designated by the term Uwaysí.[105]

The `álam al-mithál was also important in Shaykhí eschatology, in which a corporeal resurrection was denied in favor of a somewhat complex recourse to this separate reality, in which a resurrection of one's spiritual or subtle (latíf) body, underwent a process designated by the familiar terminolgy of ma`ád, qiyáma, and so forth.[106] Surely the emphasis here is on the denial of the scientifically untenable bodily resurrection, which so many Muslim philosophers prior to Shaykh Ahmad also found impossible to believe. Shaykh Ahmad's contribution here is in the form of a sufficiently detailed and appealingly possible alternative; even the most hard-bitten skeptic could never completely deny the possibility of the totally spiritual process which Shaykh Ahmad propounded.

The idea of an interworld, while certainly not new with Shaykhism, can be considered to have reached a theological and philosophical prominence in its system of thought previously unknown. For the history of the idea, the reader is referred to the appropriate literature.[107] Corbin translates `álam al-mithál with the Latin expression mundus imaginalis, and hastens to emphasize that the realm in question must not be considered as merely imaginary, or a "fantasy world". Rather, the term denotes a realm which is accessible only by means of the "faculty" of imagination (khayál), which in turn is one of the several human faculties. Khayál may be thought of as a true "sixth sense", through which this world, "located" between the world of sense perception and a purely spiritual world, may be encountered. As such, the adjective "imaginal" as distinct from "imaginary" is most appropriate.[108]

This world is also referred to by the Shaykhís and others as the "eighth clime", which is "outside and beyond" the seven regions or climes of classical geography.

We are not dealing here with irreality. The mundus imaginalis is a world of autonomous forms and images (mo`allaqa, "in suspense," that is, not inherent in a substratum like the color black in a black table, but "in suspense" in the place of their appearance, in the imagination, for example, like an image "suspended" in a mirror. It is a perfectly real world preserving all the richness and diversity of the sensible world but in a spiritual state.[109]

For the Shaykhís, beginning with Shaykh Ahmad himself, the `álam al-mithál, sometimes referred to as Húrqalyá, had preeminent importance as the abode of the hidden Imám, and as the "place" of bodily resurrection. The hidden Imám, residing in the `álam al-mithál, is accessible through the spiritual imagination of those members of the Shí`a who are capable of purifying their consciences to a degree which allowed the hidden Imám, or Qá'im, to appear to them (i.e., the Perfect Shí`a). The question is open whether or not this private appearance, as discussed by the Shaykhís (especially in the earliest days, just prior to the millenium) was the only one to be expected by the Shí`a, or whether the masters of the Shaykhí school also hoped for an imaginal zuhúr of such intensity that it entailed an actual advent of the Imám on the plane of history. We know, for example, that Shaykh Ahmad's own visionary encounters with the Imám in the `álam al-mithál, produced in him a feeling that he had been divinely appointed to lead others to the truth. Although the biography of Sayyid Kázim is less full than his predecessor's, it is known that he was also guided by his dreams, which are but windows to the `álam al-mithál (though perhaps not the only ones, nor is every dream necessarily a glimpse into that world).

In an attempt to explain the quranic doctrine of bodily resurrection, and such things as the Night Journey of the Prophet, in a manner acceptable to philosophy, Shaykh Ahmad maintained that each human being possesses four bodies (two are referred to as jasad and two jism), which undergo purification and development during the course of a lifetime. Jasad 1 is the elemental body which decomposes after death. Jasad 2 is also composed of elements, but these are the elements of the interworld Húrqalyá, or the `álam al-mithál. It survives after death and will be reunited with the Spirit at the time of the Great Resurrection. Jism 1 is composed of the elements of the "heaven of Húrqalyá", and is an astral body, occupied by the Spirit at the time of its "descent" to this world. It also accompanies the Spirit at the time of departure from this world, and depending upon the circumstances, enters either Paradise or Hell; it disappears at the time of the Great Resurrection. Jism 2 is the essential, archetypal body, both imperishable and inseparable from the Spirit. At the time of the Great Resurrection it will be finally united with jasad 2, forming the complete resurection body, or in alchemical terms, "the body of diamond", in the Aeon to come.[110]

It should be pointed out that not all scholars are willing to accept the `álam al-mithál as an ontological reality. Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindí (1035/1625) insisted that the mundus imaginalis was useful only as a conceptual "screen", upon which the individual conscience projects the image of its own progress: "`álam al-mithál is for seeing, not for being; the place of being is either the spiritual world or the physical world."[111] The possibility certainly exists that for Suhrawardí, Ibn `Arabí, Mullá Sadrá, and Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í, the `álam al-mithál functioned to safeguard the purely spiritual realm from attempts to speak about it, and therefore misrepresent or otherwise "defile" something which was conceived to be utterly beyond comprehension. However, it is also true that for these thinkers, the `álam al-mithál was unquestionably real. In the case of Shaykhism, particularly as interpreted by later leaders of that school, the `álam al-mithál appears as the only place of appearance for the Imám.[112]

While possible allusions to the `álam al-mithál may be read in the Bab's commentaries, as when he refers to "spiritual bodies" (ashbáh and azilla)[113] or to the "earth of saffron" (ard al-za`farán),[114] it is most significant that the actual terms `álam al-mithál, or Húrqalyá, are not found in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara or the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf. The word "imagination" appears only once in a passage which might be related to the doctrine of the `álam al-mithál. Here, the Bab says that only speech of the Family of God (ál alláh, i.e. the ahl al-bayt) has real existence and, "whatever they desire takes on existence . . . just as whatever their Shí`a imagine, God causes to exist for them in Paradise."[115] But the fact remains that this central Shaykhí doctrine takes up surprisingly little, if indeed any, space at all in these two earliest works by the Bab.

These three features (the doctrine of the Perfect Shí`í, the extreme veneration of the Holy Family, and the denial of bodily resurrection via the appeal to the `álam al-mithál) are perhaps the most important with regard to the relationship of Bábism to Shaykhism. [see bk 3 38].

Background: 4


Although orthodox Shí`ism disavows Sufism, and Shaykhí works often continue this tradition, it is undeniable that the basic religious attitude of both Shí`ism proper and Shaykhí theology have much in common with tasawwuf. A great deal has been written on the relationship, both historical and doctrinal, between Sufism and Shí`ism, particularly in the central Islamic lands of `Iraq and Iran.[116] As will be seen, the Bab's writings are permeated by standard Sufi themes and ideas, although no Sufi author is ever quoted directly. This may be regarded as a typical feature of theosophical Shí`ism, which articulates several ideas and sometimes actual statements found in the Sufi handbooks and other sources. al-Husayn ibn Mansúr al-Halláj (309/922), the martyr mystic of classical Sufism, is a source for some of these expressions; the Sufi background for other statements and ideas will be noted as well. Unfortunately, it is not possible at this time to do more than signal the Sufi nature of these various expressions.

It is interesting to note, that the author of a history of Bábism found it necessary to reject the idea that the Bab belonged to a taríqa, or benefited from the instruction of a Sufi shaykh.[117] As Amanat says, however, "it is likely that at least to some extent the Bab was exposed to certain heterodox ideas and practices then in circulation in his environment."[118] It may be assumed that the presence of this material simply represents a rather late example of how the two basic traditions are involved, one with the other. As is well known, Shiraz has been a major centre of Sufi activity for centuries. It was the place where Ruzbihán Baqlí (606/1209), the famous Sunní mystic responsible for preserving many of al-Halláj's writings, wrote and taught. More recently, Shiraz had at the time the Bab wrote, become the major centre for Dhahabíya Sufism.[119] It is also of interest that Shaykh Ahmad is said to have studied while still in al-Ahsá with a shaykh from this order.[120]

Background: 5

Life of the Bab

The Bab was born in Shiraz on October 20, 1819 (1 Muharram 1235), into a family of fairly prosperous merchants. His father died when he was about seven years old and the responsibility for his upbringing devolved upon his uncle.[121] His formal education consisted of six or seven years at a local maktab under the direction of one Shaykh `Ábid, who happened to be an adherent of the then somewhat popular Shaykhí school. It appears that the Bab, whose name was `Alí Muhammad, was not particularly fond of school although, according to some reports, this antipathy was not the result of any intellectual incapacity. On the contrary, the few reports which exist tend to show the Bab at this early stage, as the owner of a precocious, inquisitive, and outspoken nature.[122]

At age thirteen the Bab left the maktab, and two years later moved with his uncle to Búshihr to pursue the family business there. After about four years of working in partnership with his uncle, the Bab became independent. There is disagreement about what the Bab's attitude to trade was, but so far no compelling evidence has been brought to light to support the statement that this basic attitude was negative.[123] It was while the Bab was in Búshihr that he began to write various religious works. Although it is not known exactly what these were, they probably included essays on various theological topics and eulogies of the Imáms. Some of these were apparently written at the request of certain of his fellow merchants.[124] There is also indication that even before voicing any particular claim to spiritual authority, the Bab had aroused a certain amount of attention and even ill-will, by the production of these earliest works.[125]

In 1256/1840-41, the Bab closed his business and left Búshihr for the region of `Atabát, where he remained for nearly a year.[126] It was during this time that he attended lectures by Sayyid Kázim Rashtí, the undisputed successor of Shaykh Ahmad, founder of the Shaykhí school. It seems that the Bab's family did not approve of his preoccupation with things religious and that his marriage, on Rajab 1258/August1842, was arranged in the hope of inducing him to concentrate his attention more on the practicalities of existence.[127] Prior to his marriage, while he was still in Karbalá, it is said that the Bab became acquainted with and attracted a certain amount of attention from a number of Shaykhís, some of whom later became his followers.[128] Even his arch-enemy, Muhammad Karím Khán Kirmání, says in his polemic Izháq al-bátil, that although he himself never met the Bab, it was true that he was held in respect in Karbalá and that he did in fact meet and serve Sayyid Kázim.[129]

The picture that thus emerges is of a pious young man, who, despite a lack of formal training in the higher religious sciences was nevertheless motivated to produce religious works, the nature of which was sufficiently impressive to win the respect of some of his readers. Indeed, it was undoubtedly the very fact of this lack of training, together with his status as a merchant, which called attention to his undeniable spiritual and literary gifts.[130] Thus a variation on the Islamic theme of the "unlettered prophet" begins to take shape.[131] In this connection, it is also interesting and perhaps instructive vis á vis the way in which Muhammad's so-called illiteracy may be understood, to observe that the Bab was manifestly not illiterate; many of his writings were produced before witnesses. That these works were written by one untutored, or at best self-taught, and perhaps even more convincing, that they were written with astonishing speed and fluency, combined to present to some an evidentiary miracle comparable, in every way, to the Qur'an itself.[132]

Although we do not know exactly when the Bab began to experience visons comparable to those of Shaykh Ahmad mentioned above, it appears that at least one of them occurred before he began the Tafsír súrat al-baqara, early in 1260/1844.[133] Amanat mentions several such experiences which date from the Bab's early childhood. In one of his earlier works, the Bab has written the following:

Remember! the emanation of all these verses and prayers and all these unlearnt sciences (`ulúm-i laduní) is because of a dream which I once had of the holy head of the Master of Martyrs (Sayyid al-Shuhadá' i.e. Imám Husain) upon him be peace, detached from his holy body, together with the heads of other companions. I drank seven handfuls of his holy blood with greatest joy, and it is now the blessing of that blood which illuminated my heart with such verses and prayers.[134]

Such experiences, which seem to have increased in both frequency and intensity as time went by, are seen to be the main cause of the stylistic differences between the two commentaries studied below in Parts i and ii. Although even in the earlier work there are indications that the Bab considered his explanation of the Qur'an to carry considerable authority, it is in the later Tafsír súrat Yúsuf that the special status of his writings is made explicit.

On the evening before the fifth of Jumádá I,1260/22 May 1844, approximately six months after the death of Sayyid Kázim, the Bab put forth his claim in writing,[135] to be in direct contact with the hidden Imám and so a locus of tremendous spiritual authority. Mullá Husayn and seventeen other young Shaykhís, including the famous poetess Táhireh, gave their allegiance to him and the Bábí movement was born. The Bab departed for his pilgrimage on the 26th of Sha`ban 1260/10 September 1844, returning to Búshihr on 8 Jumádá I, 1261/15 May 1845.[136] On his journey from Búshihr to Shiraz, the Bab was, as a result of the activity of his followers, arrested for the first time and shortly released.[137] In 1846, the Bab took up residence in Isfahán where he remained from September of that year until March of 1847 shortly after his powerful protector, the Mu`tamid al-dawla, Manúchihr Khán, died. At this time he was arrested by government troops and escorted to the western frontier of Iran where he was to spend the rest of his life in secluded imprisonment.

During this last stage of his career, the Bab continued to experience and record revelations.[138] It was at this time that his most famous work, the Bayán,[139] was written, together with many prayers, ajwíba, and other correspondence to his by now numerous following throughout Iran. According to Nabíl, during the nine months he was held in the castle at Máh-kú, the Bab produced no less than nine complete commentaries on the Qur'an, one of which the Bab claimed was of greater significance than the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf studied below.[140] As is well known, the Bab's literary activity came to an end on July 6, 1850 when he was publicly executed in Tabriz.

Background: 6

Works of the Bab

The writings of the Bab are many; on his own estimate they exceed 500,000 verses.[141] He himself has said that they comprise five distinct categories:

All the writings of the Point [i.e. the Bab] are named Beyán. But this name is, in its primary nature (bi-haqíqah-yi avvalíyah), peculiar to verses [i.e. verse written in Arabic in the style of the Kur'án]; then it is uttered in its secondary nature in regard to supplications (munáját); then in its tertiary nature in regard to commentaries (tafásír); then in its quaternary nature in regard to scientific treatises (suwar-i `ilmíyeh); then in its quinary nature it is used in regard to Persian words (kalimát-i fársíyeh) [i.e. writings and discourses]. But properly speaking this name [of Beyán] is peculiar to verses and [is applicable] to nought else.[142]

That all of the Bab's writings may be designated by the word bayán has caused a certain amount of confusion, the precise details of which may be found elsewhere.[143] The Persian Bayán itself was the last major work by the Bab and represents the final stage of his religious vision. It is, among other things, a book of laws and ordinances, exhortations, and homilies. It is also characterized by repeated reference ("over three hundred"[144]) to "He whom God will make manifest" (man yuzhiruhu 'lláh).[145] Apart from the French translation, there exists in English an "Index of Chief Contents of the Persian Bayán"[146] and an English translation of various excerpts.[147]

In the past, these writings have been examined mainly for what they have to tell us about the history of the Bábí Movement. The purpose of this study is to draw attention to the literature itself, in order to begin an evaluation of what must surely be one of the most important questions to be raised by students of not only the Bábí and Bahá'í religions, but also those interested in the history of nineteenth century Iran, upon which the dramatic events associated with the name of the Bab made such a vivid mark. That question: How did the Bab read the Holy Book of Islam? will also be of interest to those engaged in studying the history of the interpretation of the Qur'an.

From the above statement by the Bab it is clear that tafsír represents only one of several types of exposition to which he applied himself. That it should be regarded among the most important types is clear from the mere fact that it comprises a large percentage of his extant work, and that it was by means of a tafsír that he first made his claims known.

It was the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, also known as the Qayyúm al-asmá, which the Bab's earliest followers used to propagate his cause. It has been referred to by Bahá'u'lláh as "the first, the greatest, and mightiest of all books" and by Shoghi Effendi as being "universally regarded, during almost the entire ministry of the Báb, as the Qur'án of the people of the Bayán".[148] In addition to this work, there are three other major tafásír extant, and a series of shorter commentaries.

More relevant for the history of quranic exegesis, it will be seen that most of this material represents a distinct type of scriptural interpretation. This is particularly apparent in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, excerpts from which will appear below in Part ii. That there are problems connected with the proper categorization of some of these writings, is something which Browne suggested long ago. In speaking of the above-mentioned tafsír he said: "A Commentary in the strict sense of the word it is not, but rather a mystical and often unintelligible rhapsody . . .". [149] In the following pages an attempt will be made to describe and discuss some aspects of this work, and one other of the Bab's tafásír, in order to indicate some elements of the logic of structure and content of this important work, while calling attention to the clear and remarkable transformation of style and thought between it and the earlier Tafsír súrat al-baqara, the subject of Part i.

Other Tafásír

The Bab wrote several works of tafsír, all of which are important for a finer understanding of the relationship of the Bab's religion with Shí`ism. This is of course one of the chief virtues of tafsír: it provides something of a laboratory "control" for Islamic Studies. Some of these commentaries, that is titles in which any of the words tafsír, sharh, or bayán figures, are explanations of important traditions[150] or topics.[151] Others are commentaries on either a complete súra of the Qur'an or one of the more notable verses.[152] These commentaries present a broad range of ideas and exegetical techniques - to such a degree that any attempt to discuss all of them in the space allowed here would be ultimately meaningless. This is in spite of the fact that they all are said to come from the same general period. Despite the astonishingly varied nature of the style and content of these commentaries, or more accurately because of it, they are of course extremely valuable for a study of the development of the Bab's thought. Collectively they represent a unique individual corpus of Islamic scriptural commentary. The following list of such works is taken from Sources, the first four titles are in chronological order:

[1] Tafsír súrat al-baqara (Q.2, juz'1)[153]

[2] Tafsír súrat Yúsuf (Q.12)[154]

[3] Tafsír súrat al-kawthar (Q.108)[155]

[4] Tafsír súrat wa'l-`asr (Q.103)[156]

[5] Tafsír súrat al-hamd (Q.1)[157]

[6] Tafsír súrat al-baqara (Q.2,juz' 2)[158]

[7] Tafsír súrat al-baqara (Q.2)[159]

[8] Tafsír basmala[160]

[9] Tafsír súrat al-qadr (Q.97)[161]

[10] Tafsír súrat al-tawhíd (Q.112)[162]

[11] Tafsír súrat al-inshirah (Q.94) [163]

[12] Tafsír áyat al-kursí (Q.2:255) [164]

[13] Tafsír áyat al-núr (Q.24:35) [165]

As mentioned above, it is generally believed that works of commentary, i.e. the third of the five categories mentioned by the Bab, all come from the same early period. To quote MacEoin:

The existence of so many commentaries, a large number in reply to questions from individuals, is indicative of the Báb's role at this period as a commentator on the Qur'án and traditions. That this is how he was widely regarded at this time and saw himself, is clear from a treatise written by Mullá Muhammad `Alí Zunúzí.[166] This writer remarks that 'people at the beginning believed the Báb was sent by the Hidden Imám', that he himself regarded his words as being of a lower station than those of the Imáms, although greater than those of Ahmad al-Ahsá'í and Sayyid Kázim Rashtí, and that he gave himself out as an interpreter (mufassir), commentator (mubayyin), and expounder (muwarrij) of the Qur'án and Islám. Mullá Muhammad `Alí specifically refers in this context to the Báb's tafsírs on the suras of Yúsuf, al-Baqara, al-Kawthar, wa'l-`Asr, al-Inshiráh, al-Fátiha, 'and others'.[167]

Basing himself on Zunúzí's statement, it appears that MacEoin has dated all titles in which some synonym of the word "commentary" figures, as having been written by the Bab between May 1844 and September1846. Exceptions are those works which are known to have been written earlier (Baqara), or later (wa'l-`Asr). In addition to these two commentaries, MacEoin has mentioned "two short tafsírs" which the Bab wrote on one of his own works and according to internal evidence, were written two weeks before his execution.[168] Of the works mentioned in the Bab's Kitáb al-fihrist, dated 15 Jumádá II, 1261/21 June 1845 numbers 1,2,6,7,8, and 12 are named.[169]

It is not impossible that the remainder of the commentaries mentioned above, whether on the Qur'an, hadíth, or a specific subject, all date from the designated period. However, it is equally possible, especially in view of the fact that works with some such word as "tafsír" in the title are known to have been written later, that they do not all belong to this period. It seems imprudent to base dating of a particular work solely on the criterion of whether or not it purports to be a commentary; such presupposes a much too "symmetrical" division of the Bab's career into various stages, e.g.: 1) commentator; 2) Qá'im; 3) Manifestation, or some such similar schema. It will be seen that such divisions can be be misleading insofar as it could be inferred from them that after a certain point the Bab no longer commented on any verse of the Qur'an, hadíth, or other Islamic subject. Inasmuch as most, if not all, of his followers were in fact Muslims, it seems highly unlikely that at some point all concern with the "previous dispensation" (Islam) ceased.

Another problem connected with such a dating has to do with the presupposition that a commentator is ipso facto of a lower "rank" than a prophet. As will become clear, particularly in Part ii, the commentator becomes tinged by the charisma of the text in the process of his explanations, and may therefore be seen to participate as a partner in the Prophetic process of revelation. Apart from this, the Imáms themselves are frequently seen by tradition as commenting on this or that verse, tradition, or subject, as will become abundantly clear in Part i. From this it might be thought that the act of commentary, particularly on the Qur'an or hadíth, carried considerably more prestige in a Shí`í milieu, than might be the case in a Sunní milieu; but this would have to be studied further.

Major Tafásír

Of the thirteen titles which are said to be commentaries on the Qur'an, whether a single súra or verse, four stand out by reason of their length as major works; they are the commentaries on al-baqara , Yúsuf, al-kawthar, and wa'l-`asr. Before proceeding directly to the two earlier works which form the main subject of this thesis, some brief notice of the two later works will be offered.

Both commentaries are quite long: the earlier of the two on the súrat al-kawthar, which is the shortest súra in the Qur'an, runs to 115 folios in the Cambridge ms.,[170] while the other commentary on Qur'an103[171] consists of eighty-five folios. Both have several features in common: they are both on two of the shortest chapters in the Qur'an; they were written for specific individuals; they were written before observers, the circumstances of their composition resembling something of a virtuoso "performance" in that they were both said to have been written in an astonishingly short period of time; they both employ the same basic method of interpretation.[172] Numerous eschatological traditions are recorded in akhbárí tafsír works for each súra, and this may also help to explain why the Bab was specifically asked to comment on them.[173] As a matter of fact, the last few pages of the commentary on wa'l-`asr is a verbatim citation from Sáfí, in which among other things, al-asr is said to be the time of the advent of the Qá'im.[174]

The Tafsír súrat al-kawthar was written for Sayyid Yahya Dárábí, the son of the illustrious Ja`far Kashfí. Because the father is such an important figure in nineteenth century Iranian religious philosophy and because his life seems to have intersected the Bab's at two important junctures, it will be of interest to summarize a bit of what is known about him. Corbin has called him "l'un des plus brillants penseurs et spirituels imámites du xixe siècle".[175] He was an upholder of the usúlí approach to the sources of dín, and wrote a large number of books in both Arabic and Persian.[176] The sobriquet Kashfí became his in virtue of his widely acknowledged talents within that distinctively Shí`í discipline referred to euphemistically as `irfán. He is said to have gone on the same pilgrimage which the Bab had only recently completed, at the time he wrote this commentary for his son, Sayyid Yahyá.[177] He died in 1267 [1850-1] near the date of the Bab's own execution (1850). After Sayyid Yahyá accepted the Bab's claims, he was instructed by his new master not to pressure his father regarding the new dispensation.[178]

As to Sayyid Yahyá himself, he had been sent by Muhammad Sháh to investigate the Bab[179] and had, as a result of reading this tafsír, converted to the new faith.[180] He was, at the time of his conversion, around 35 years of age and apparently highly regarded in learned circles.[181] Sayyid Yahyá was eventually surnamed Vahíd by the Bab, and was instrumental as a Babí leader in the Yazd and Nayriz disturbances of 1850. MacEoin has referred to him as "probably the most active Bábí dá`í of this [early] period".[182]

At one time, the Tafsír súrat al-kawthar was thought to have been completely destroyed; notwithstanding, ten separate manuscripts are listed by MacEoin.[183] MacEoin has also discussed the work elsewhere, suggesting that it is the most important work written by the Bab during his residence in Shiraz after his pilgrimage (from July 1845 to September 1846), and pointing out that it was widely used by Bábí teachers in Tehran, Kirmán and Isfahán, and that Táhireh herself used it to preach in Kermánsháh. MacEoin continues:

Interesting as it undoubtedly is in places, and highly regarded as it was by the early Bábís, this work is, for the most part, almost unreadable, consisting of highly abstract and insubstantial speculations on the verses, words and even letters of the súra on which it is supposed to be a 'commentary'. Of greater interest are the numerous ahádíth which the Báb quotes in a later section of the work ... [184]

While there is no space here to go into all the implications of such a statement, particularly as they might relate to the biases of the author, it is important to at least register some astonishment at the implied proposition: the work is nonsensical, and at bottom without merit, except for the selection of hadíth material which makes up the greater part of the manuscript. The alternative is of course, that MacEoin does not understand the work; however, since examples of "unreadable, . . . highly abstract and insubstantial speculations" are neither quoted nor referred to, it is difficult to pursue this question further. What has been argued elsewhere[185] is that the commentary and particularly the commentary on individual letters, represents a variation on the kind of cabbalistic meditation practiced and taught by, for example, Abúlafia.[186] The result is something like what Scholem refers to as a "music of pure thought", but here in the case of the Bab, the emphasis is to be placed on the word music. By commenting on each individual letter and this in four parts, a certain rhythm is imparted to the work within which the variations on each letter may be elaborated. The effect upon the auditors has been recorded.[187] Thus the circumstances of composition, particularly of the second letter commentary, resemble something of a postprandial musical recital where the Bab, a young spiritual prodigy, was asked to "perform".

As for the content of the Tafsír súrat al-kawthar, it will be found to contain many terms and ideas which although unfamiliar to modern Western readers, were common coin in the milieu where it was first read. A single example will have to suffice here. Commenting on the letter wáw of the word al-kawthar, the Bab has written:

Concerning the wáw (thumma min kalimat al-wáw): [1] In the forest of the land of "Yellow"[188] it refers to the Absolute Universal Pre-Eternal waláya; [2] the waláya which has been individualised in the soul of the form of abstraction[189] which claims for itself to itself the [divine] Ipseity, to be also the moon of the [divine] light and the sun of [divine] manifestation and the tree of al-káfúr and the wine of manifestation and the source of the river of al-kawthar and the name of God the Living the Forgiving,[190] and he who speaks in the forest of the land of "Yellow"; [3] then there is the waláya 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 (fí daqá'iq tilka al-zujája) 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 lá iláh illá lláh (i.e., 12 = the Imams) and appears from the tree which grows upon the land of "Green";[191] [4] then there is the waláya which has dawned from the splendours of the light of the morning of eternity[192] which has spoken in the heart (fu'ád) of this bird (hádhá al-tayr, i.e. himself, the Bab) whom the Satans have cast into prison and waxed proud before, even though none of them were able to understand a single letter of the manifestation of the the traces of His power in the loci of the appearance of these individual lofty letters which God has created in the likeness of those communities which have passed away. Verily the practice of God is governed by His rule (hukmihi), ordained by Truth. And on that day the waláya will belong to God, the Truth. He is the best of rewarders and the best of punishers. [Q.18:44][193]

It is not clear to what this imprisonment refers; perhaps by "this prison" he is referring to the arrest mentioned above which occurred on his way back to Shiraz from his pilgrimage. In any case, it is clear that the Bab lays claim to some kind of special rank, which we may assume to be associated with the above-mentioned idea of the fourth support, given that the reference to himself occurs at the fourth or lowest exegetic level of the letter wáw. It should also be noted that the Bab refers to Muhammad as the "seal of the prophets" just before the section translated above.[194] As will be seen in Part i, waláya was a central exegetical concern of the Bab.

Browne discussed the work briefly and described the manuscript which has been quoted here. In addition, he edited a small portion of the text.[195] In this portion, we read for example: inna al-yawm laysa al-haqq li-yakúna li-ahad hujjatun illá nafsí. In the case of such a statement, it makes little functional difference whether the Bab chooses to designate his obviously exclusive role by terms such as báb, imám, qá'im, or mazhar.[196] The point and message is this same exclusivity, as is stated elsewhere in the same work, addressing Sayyid Yahyá:

Had you been one of the companions of Kázim you would understand the matter of the hidden support, in the same way that you comprehend the (other) three supports. . . . just as you stand in need of an individual sent from God who may transmit unto you what your Lord has willed, so you stand in need of an ambassador from your Imám.[197]

If you say that the ulama represent this function, I say that how can they be regarded to represent a single position (maqám wáhid) since some of them are more excellent than others? And if you say that they are all agreed upon the same basic principles, their own words and actions contradict your statement. If you say that some are better than others then it is necessary to abandon the inferior for the superior until you ultimately arrive at a single soul (nafs wáhida, cf., Q.4:1; 6:98; 7:189; 31:28; 39:6, a possible allusion to the Shaykhí idea of the nátiq wáhid, mentioned earlier) . . . in the case of two individuals, if you know that one is more excellent in a given matter, even to the extent of the black in the eye of an ant, you cannot possibly regard his inferior, for God has said: And which is worthier to be followed ... He who guides to the truth, or he who guides not unless he is guided? What then ails you how you judge? [10:35] . . . so that you might comprehend that none but a single soul is capable of bearing the universal bounty from the Imám (fayd al-kullíya `an al-imám).[198]

In al-Kawthar, the actual letter commentary takes up approximately one third of the manuscript.[199] The major portion of the work is devoted to citing an enormous number of ahádíth complete with asáníd and numerous quotations from the Qur'an pertaining to the zuhúr of the Qá'im.[200] Bearing in mind that this commentary is considered to have been written after the Bab's claims were articulated in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, we should assume that these citations have been marshalled as evidence of the fact that the zuhúr has already occurred. This, notwithstanding the Bab's explicit statements in this work to the contrary, e.g.: that those who say he claims wahí are liars;[201] or, those people who assert that he claims to be the "Gate of the Remnant of God" are wrong;[202] or, whoever claims God's lordship, waláya, a Qur'an or divine inspiration, has committed kufr and that he himself has not claimed specific "gatehood".[203] It seems that such statements are conditioned in this commentary by two factors: [1] the general practice of taqíya and [2] the fact that the person for whom this tafsír was written was neither a Shaykhí nor an akhbárí, but a supporter of the religious status quo (viz., usúlism), if his connection to the Qajar court and his parentage can tell us anything about his basic religious temperament.[204] As has been seen, we find other statements in the same work which suggest that the author is advancing some kind of special claim for himself.

In the account of its composition given in Nabíl, it appears that the entire work was completed in an extraordinarily short period of time, after which the manuscript was given to Dárábí and another man. It was their task then to transcribe the work and verify the traditions quoted in it which were found to be "entirely accurate".[205]

The Tafsír súrat wa'l-`asr was written for the powerful Imám-i jum`a of Isfahán, Mír Sayyid Muhammad Sultánu'l-`Ulamá,[206] sometime between September1846 and March1847.[207] As mentioned, both of these súras, which are among the shortest chapters in the Qur'an, are explained by the Bab not verse by verse, or even word by word, but rather letter by letter. In this way the quranic material is exploded by the commentator, in an attempt to mine it for as much meaning as possible. The letter wáw of wa'l-`asr is explained according to the four levels of láhút, jabarút, malakút, and mulk. These standard metaphysical categories will be seen to have figured, probably (but not necessarily) as a result of Shaykhí influence, in the Bab's earliest work of tafsír.[208] In any case, a typical passage of this kind of commentary runs as follows:

The first letter is the wáw and it is an indication of the several stations of universal waláya in the world of láhút,then to the throne of jabarút, then to the proofs of mulk and malakút. It also indicates the several stations of waláya [which is characterized by the statement] no soul comprehends the knowledge of God. And beyond this, it indicates certain truths which none but God knows. [209]

The commentary on wa'l-`asr is a good source for the Bab's religious ideas as they had developed by1846, wherein distinctions are made between his "theosophy" and for example, the "theosophy" of Ibn `Arabí.[210] Elsewhere in the work, appear such topics as the Christian veneration of the cross,[211] reference to the Khutbat al-tatanjíya,[212] numerous references to the process of divine self-manifestation,[213] reference to the du`a al-Khizr,[214] the fourth or hidden support,[215] universal waláya as the cause of all things,[216] in addition to the standard veneration of the Imáms and the Prophet so characteristic of the Bab's writings at this time. The letter commentary itself ends at f.50b.

The actual letter commentaries are preceded by lengthy introductory material in both manuscripts: al-Kawthar from ff. 2b-11b; wa'l-`asr, from ff.2a to 19a. Like the earlier commentary on al-Kawthar, the Tafsír súrat wa'l-`asr is reported to have been composed in a similarly remarkable fashion.[217] Apparently, during its composition, a clock was brought in whereby the Bab was actually timed, and it was found that in the course of six hours 1,000 verses were written.[218] This slightly later work has very few hadíths. MacEoin has listed eight manuscripts for this work,[219] one of which is probably represented by the transcription in INBA #69.[220]

To return to the phenomenon of letter commentary itself, it should remembered that it is found in a less developed form in most works of so-called orthodox tafsír, most frequently in interpreting the letters of the basmala. Thus tafsír works attributed to the earliest figures of Islam, usually carry a tafsír of the bá', sín and mím. Those attributed to Ibn `Abbas (68/687-8),[221] and Ja`far al-Sádiq (148/765),[222] to name only two, carry some such interpretation, albeit in a very undeveloped form. Thus the bá' is often interpreted as representing the glory (bahá') of God, the sín represents His brilliance (saná'), while the mím stands for the divine splendour (majd). A somewhat more developed approach to the basmala is found in the tafsír of Rúzbihán Baqlí (606/1209), which begins:

: is the revelation (kashf) of immortality (baqá') for the people of spiritual detachment (faná')

sín: is the revelation of the holy brilliance (saná') for the people of intimacy (uns).

mím: is the revelation of the divine kingdom (malakút) for the people of divine qualities (ahl al-nu`út).

From here Rúzbihán proceeds to discuss other aspects of these individual letters.[223]

Concern with the individual letter may be seen, first of all, in the mere preservation of the quranic al-hurúf al-muqatta`át, as well as in the commentary on them which is frequently found in most books of tafsír, orthodox or otherwise. Apart from this, letter commentary is preserved in several hadiths, among the most popular is the one attributed to `Alí in which the Imám is quoted as saying that all the knowledge in the world (or the other holy books) is in the Qur'an; and all the knowledge of the Qur'an is in the Fátiha; and all the knowledge of the Fátiha is in the basmala; and all the knowledge of basmala is in the bá' and all the knowledge in the bá' is in the point under the bá'. And `Alí is that point.[224] As a matter of fact, one of the Bab's more usual titles was "the Primal Point" (al-Nuqta al-Ulá) and it undoubtedly refers to this tradition with the implication that the Bab is either a re-appearance of the Imám `Alí, or that he shares the same lofty spiritual rank of the first Imám.

With the development of Islamic mystical philosophy, comes also an elaboration of the significances of these three letters beyond the above single word equivalences. Ibn Arabi, in his Futúhát al-Makkíya, has much to say about the letters of the alphabet.[225] Ibn Abí Jumhúr, influenced by Ibn Arabí, fashions a most elaborate letter commentary, which like the Bab's, does not concern itself with numerological or physiognomical correspondences, such as are found in Hurúfí letter commentary.[226] And the pattern of the Bab's interpretation closely resembles his in some respects. For example, in his commentary on the basmala, Ibn Abí Jumhúr takes as his starting point the statement of Ibn `Arabí in the Futúhát, that the bá' should be interpreted according to its three modes: form, pronunciation, and vowelling. The form of the bá' is the malakút, the pronunciation is the jabarút, and the vowelling represents the testimony of its mulk. Ibn Abí Jumhúr even comments on the hidden (mahdhúfa) alif which is seen as representing the hidden Imam, the eventual Qá'im.[227] Later, in the works of Sayyid Kázim, concern is also shown for the individual letters of the Arabic alphabet.[228]

In light of this venerable history, the Bab's treatment of these two short suras may be seen as a logical development. Moreover, it would appear that this method of letter commentary - far from offending his audience - served in some ways to validate his claims in their eyes.

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