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

by Todd Lawson

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Chapter 3

Part ii


The following study of the Bab's commentary on the súra of Joseph is divided into four chapters. The first is a general description of the work and the two manuscripts consulted for this study, together with some considerations on the Bab's choice of the 12th súra as a basis for his proclamatory or annunciatory commentary. The second chapter attempts to come to terms with the elusive problem of the voice of the commentary. To this end, two of the titles assumed by the author are examined in detail (dhikr and báb). In the third chapter, the question of voice is raised again in the study of one of the more striking, and heretofore cryptic, or "idiosyncratic" features of the commentary and, it is felt, sufficiently demystified. This feature, the combining of opposites or antithetical terms, is seen to correspond to one of the other titles of the Bab, al-nuqta. The general usage is found to be directly reflexive of a particular hadíth ascribed to the first Imám. The fourth chapter singles out one súra of the commentary, in order to analyze the specific characteristics of the author's method of interpretation. Here an attempt at translation, together with a verse by verse commentary is offered. Examples of the tafsír will be found reproduced at appropriate places in the discussion. In the interest of clarity, henceforth "chapter" will refer to the Bab's tafsír, although these units are called súras in the text; "súra" will refer to the Qur'an.

The Bab's commentary on the 12th súra of the Qur'an is unique for a variety of reasons, many of which will become clear below. Certainly the most striking aspect of the work is that it purports to be both a commentary on the Qur'an, and a new Qur'an. Separately considered, both of these features carry with them a number of problems, which while not necessarily new, are, in the context of the present study greatly complicated because they are joined within a single work. This is new. The general argument offered here may be summarized as follows: The Bab's tafsír on the Súrat Yúsuf displays at one and the same time a radical change in the Bab's attitude towards both Scripture and himself. It shows both a thorough knowledge of the Qur'an, and a degree of boldness in manipulating and interpreting the sacred text (earlier faint traces of which are found in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara) which is quite unprecedented. This license is thought to derive, at least in part, from the distinctively Shí`í idea that the Qur'an which we have now is not the Qur'an as it was revealed to Muhammad: If the Book was allowed to be changed in the past, why should it not be allowed to be changed now, particularly in the historical context of the Shí`í millenium, which involved according to tradition, the promulgation of a new Scripture? This idea, combined with the Bab's own strong spiritual experiences, permitted him to exercize authority over the Book. A Book, which according the Shí`í doctrine of the Imamate, was accessible only through the interpretive guidance of an Imám, a status which is claimed de facto. By claiming such authority, the main task of the tafsír was accomplished, namely to announce that the Bab himself occupied a spiritual rank comparable only to the ahl al-bayt. Although this announcement is conditioned by the statement in the work that the Bab had been commanded to write his tafsír by the hidden Imám, the reality is quite similar to Muhammad's role in revealing the Qur'an. The intermediary is unavoidably identified with the source. In this case the identification appears to be total: the Bab becomes the symbol upon which previously he was content merely to meditate. In any case, the "source" here (i.e., the hidden Imám) would have been identified with God, as the earlier study of hierarchies has shown.

The nonquranic language and symbols of the commentary derive, for the most part, from a very old tradition within Shí`ism and may be found preserved elsewhere in early Ismá`ílí works and the compilations of Imámí lore like the one referred to many times above by Rajab Bursí. While this tradition is certainly not representative of "orthodox" Shí`ism, vestiges of it may be found in the canonical works. In short, this language and these symbols were understood.

Part ii: Chapter 1

General Description

Commentary and Imitation

The súra of Joseph has been singled out by various exegetes throughout tafsír history, as one which lends itself to discussion because, unlike many other súras of the Qur'an, it presents a comparatively sustained narrative. At the same time, like other súras, it is replete with many topics considered to be key to the Islamic religion in general. The figure of Joseph as a spiritual hero and prophet has also been the subject of other works. For example, the great mystic Ibn `Arabí took up the quranic Joseph in his Fusús al-hikam, as a basis for his discussion of the spiritual imagination.[748] The súra has also been the subject of earlier commentaries and elaborations. To the renowned Abú Hámid al-Ghazzálí (505/1111) is ascribed a mystical tafsír on this súra.[749] The same work has been ascribed to Abú Hámid's younger brother Ahmad (520/1126 ) and is published as Ahsan al-qasas.[750] Other titles for this work include al-Durra al-bayda and Bahr al-mahabba wa asrár al-mawadda fí tafsír súrat Yúsuf. The latter title was apparently published in Bombay in 1894. Verifying the precise authorship of this "ghazzalian" work remains to be done. Regardless of who actually wrote it, the commentary has virtually nothing in common with the Bab's, except of course the quranic citations themselves.

Another example of the interest in the súra, is the seventeenth century Natíja al-tafásír fí súrat Yúsuf by one Shaykh Ya`qúb b. Shaykh Mustafá' al-Khalwatí, completed in the year 1133/1720. This work collects excerpts from commentaries by a variety of authors including al-Maturídí, al-Nasafí, Fakhr al-Dín al-Rází, al-Qurtubí, al-Qushayrí, al-Túsí, al-Zamakhsharí, and the "books of preachers".[751]

In addition to these commentaries, GAL lists several others with some duplication.[752] A Tafsír súrat Yúsuf is ascribed to Mullá Sadrá, although the catalogue cited lists only a Tafsír súrat Yá Sín for this author.[753] There is mention of another work with the title Ahsan al-qasas, this time by the Táj al-`Ulamá al-Naqaví, grandson of the famous Dildár Nasírábádí (1236/1820), who studied in Mashhad and Karbalá,[754] and who was apparently "the first Indian to return to India as a recognised mujtahid, having studied under Bihbahání in Karbalá. He was instrumental in establishing the Usúlí school in Oudh and also for a campaign against Sufism." [755] This work was published in `Azímábád, presumably sometime before 1894, the year of the author's death. Another Tafsír súrat Yúsuf is ascribed to one Ahmad b. Asad b. Isháq, about whom no other details are given.[756]

An indication of the importance that the story of Joseph has had for the Shí`a is the many titles of tafásír devoted solely to it in Dharí`a. Volume 1 lists three separate works, two of which were written in the nineteenth century.[757] Volume 4 lists ten separate entries, one of which is the previously mentioned work of Táj al-`Ulamá.[758] The first entry (#1512) is the above-mentioned work by Mullá Sadrá. The first line of the work, which Tihrání quotes, is the same as the one said to begin the Tafsír súrat Yá Sín [Q.36] in the Sipahsálár catalogue quoted by GAL. The ninth entry is ascribed to yet another descendant of Dildár, one Muhammad b. al-Sayyid Dildár `Alí Naqaví al-Nasírábádí al-Lakhnaví (1326/1908). Given the well-attested antipathy of the usúlíya toward the Shaykhís, and by extension the Bábís, it is most interesting that the descendants of the great Indian usúlí scholar felt called upon to compose commentaries on the súra of Joseph, perhaps as a corrective to the by then well known, or at least infamous, work of the Bab. (The Bábí threat may have also been behind the decision to publish (in1266/1849) the above-mentioned Natíja by al-Khalwatí.) Unfortunately, none of these Indian works is readily available, so that any relationship between them and the work here under discussion is impossible to verify.

Two works of this century may also be mentioned by way of illustrating the continued interest the figure of Joseph, and the quranic account of him, holds for Muslims. The first is by Ahmad Máhir Mahmúd al-Baqrí, Yúsuf fí'l-Qur'án (Alexandria, 1971). It discusses several aspects of the Joseph tradition in chapters devoted to tafsír, the moral implications of the story, Yúsuf in belles lettres and Yúsuf in the Qur'an and Torah. The second is: Mu'tamar tafsír súrat Yúsuf . . . al-`Alamí al-Ghazzí al-Dimashqí (Damascus, 1961). As the title suggests, this is actually the proceedings of a conference which was held to discuss a specific tafsír.[759] The Bab's commentary bears virtually no resemblance to any of the above works, at least those which it has been possible to consult.

Just as the precedent for singling out Súra 12 is well-attested in Islamic literature, so is the precedent for composing imitations of the Qur'an. Muslim tradition condemns, for example, the attempts of the false prophet Musaylima for claiming a revelation, which according to preserved examples, paralleled in many respects the Qur'an's style and form. The important point here is not whether Musaylima was the actual author of these fragments, but that Muslim scholars acknowledge the existence of such imitative attempts with the intention of pointing up their obvious flaws when compared with the genuine article.[760] One of the earliest attempts at imitation according to legend, was by the early master of Arabic prose Ibn al-Muqaffa` (118/756), who at the request of "a group of heretics" began a task which eventually proved too difficult.[761] No trace of this work has survived, but fragments of another work by Ibn al-Muqaffa` have been preserved in a refutation ascribed to the Zaydí Imám, al-Qásim b. Ibráhím (246/860), which contains the noteworthy phrase: "In the name of Light, the Merciful the Compassionate".[762] It does not appear that this author claimed divine revelation, as did the Bab with his imitation. Rather, it seems that the act of imitation for Ibn al-Muqaffa` was more a literary than spiritual exercise. However, it should be remembered that Ibn al-Muqaffa`, like the Bab, suffered a premature death. It is a matter for conjecture whether or not such blasphemous activities precipitated it.[763]

In addition, there is the well-known case of Abú al-`Alá' al-Ma`arrí, whose al-Fusúl wa'l-gháyát bears verses which appear to be conscious imitations of the Qur'an. Although al-Zamakhsharí spoke quite disapprovingly of it,[764] there is no evidence that this attempt was meant to be taken as a serious rival to the Qur'an, as far as any claim to revelation on the part of al-Ma`arrí might be concerned. As Paret says, "By the time al-Ma`arrí was writing, rhyming prose had long since been accepted as a stylistic device characteristic of elevated language, so that it could be employed without second thoughts."[765] Another example, about which very little is known, is the case of Muhadhdhab al-Dín al-Hillí (601/1204), who is accused of mu`áradat al-Qur'án al-karím, as well as other heresies.[766] Whether this opposition was in the form of an actual imitation intended to challenge the inimitability of the Qur'an, or simply arguments against `ijáz al-Qur'án, is not known.

It is interesting that Paret's final example for his discussion of the history of Qur'an imitation is drawn from the writings of the Bab himself. Oddly however, the work adduced is the Arabic Bayán, which was written quite late in the Bab's career and attempts to imitate the Qur'an by the employment of quranic diction and the announcement of a new code of laws, but does not present the kind of formal imitation which the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf displays. The basic assumption, that the Bab did claim to be the bearer of a post-Muhammadan revelation, is however correct. Paret's choice of an example is undoubtedly determined by availability. Complete texts of the Bab's Tafsír súrat Yúsuf exist only in manuscript, whereas the Arabic Bayan has been recently published.[767] Paret characterizes the (Arabic) Bayán in the following way:

Báb (sic) felt that he had been called upon to replace Muhammad as the Prophet and to replace the outmoded Islam with a new religion. In the Bayán he summed up his doctrine. The mode of expression is prosaic, the arrangement of the material unsystematic despite the division into eleven units (wáhid) of nineteen chapters (báb) each. The work was designed not to outdo the Qur'án in rhetorical power but to supersede it as a sober statement of the new faith. Yet it accords with the Qur'án in one respect - that the revelations derive from God Himself. Moreover, there are several points, both in the subject matter and in the formulation, which are not only inspired by the Qur'án but modelled on it, consciously or unconsciously.[768]

While it is not possible to know for certain that the Bab intended the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf to "outdo" the Qur'an, it is clear that he intended it to be on a par with it. In fact, in several places he claims that the work is the same Qur'an which was revealed to Muhammad, implying that both derive from the same source and bear the same spiritual reality.[769] As will be seen, whereas the Bayán is structured as described above, this commentary, which by comparison Paret would probably not describe as "sober", is consciously modeled on the Qur'an. This is so not only in the divisions of suwar and áyát which characterize it, but also in the use of the basmala and various combinations of disconnected letters at the head of each súra. While the work as a whole has not received extensive attention, this particular feature has been known for nearly a century.

Whether or not this imitation succeeds from a literary and stylistic point of view, is quite beside the point to be made here. By "daring" to cast his commentary in the quranic form (described in detail below), the Bab's essential point was made. Therefore, Nèldeke's statement that the Bab's "révélations" cannot be considered as a true continuation of the genre of Arabic literature (of which there is only one example, viz, the Qur'an) may be accurate enough from one point of view.[770] However, it is certainly an error to assume that for the Bab, the inimitability of the Qur'an resided solely in literary artifice. What becomes clear after a study of the work is that it represents a continuation of a genre of literature. which might best be described as charismatic. Insofar as the Qur'an itself may be said to belong to such a category, the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf may then be seen as continuing and extending the tradition. This is the best explanation for its reception by those who first read it or heard it.

Date of Composition

It was the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, also known as the Qayyúm al-asmá and Ahsan al-qasas, 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 Bab, as the Qur'án of the people of the Bayán".[771] The early Bábí preacher Mullá `Alí Bastámí is known to have carried a copy of the work with him to Baghdád after leaving Shiraz sometime before the autumn of 1844.[772] It is also generally assumed that other members of the group known as the "Letters of the Living" also used the commentary to promulgate the new message during this earliest period. It is not clear, however, just how much of the work had been completed before the Bab left on his pilgrimage to Mecca in the late summer of 1260/1844.

According to the dates on the manuscripts of the Tafsír súrat al-baqara examined by MacEoin,[773] and the sources which speak of the Bab's proclamation to Mullá Husayn, it was approximately four months after the completion the commentary on the Súrat al-baqara (juz'1), that the Bab began his commentary on the quranic story of Joseph. This was on the eve of the fifth of Jumádá 1, 1260/May 22,1844.[774] As MacEoin points out, this date is somewhat corroborated by a statement early in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf in which the Bab says that he is now twenty-five years old.[775] The problem of dating the work is in knowing exactly when it was completed. The Bab says that he wrote it in forty days,[776] but from internal evidence it seems clear that these were not forty consecutive days. It appears that the Bab wrote parts of it in Shiraz, and other parts during his pilgrimage to Mecca.

There are, for example, two references to 'this month of Ramadán' -- most probably Ramadán 1260/August-September 1844. Other references include those to a storm at sea, quite possibly one of those suffered by the Báb on his journey from Búshihr to Jidda between 19 Ramadán/2 October and late Dhú'l-Qa`da/early December; to what appears to be his first public declaration of his claims at the Ka`ba in Mecca; to God's having revealed matters to him in the Ka`ba; to his call 'from this protected land, the station of Abraham', apparently Mecca; to his having been 'raised up' in the Masjid al-Harám (in Mecca; and, finally, to what seems to have been yet another experience in Mecca, in which he says 'when I went to the Ka`ba (al-bayt), I found the house raised up on square supports before the báb; and, when I sought to perform the circumambulation around the Ka`ba, I found that the duty imposed in truth in the Mother of the Book was seven times'. These references, all of which occur in the later section of the book, strongly suggest that it was completed during the Bab's pilrimage to Mecca, from which he returned to Búshihr on 8 Jumádí (sic) I 1261/15 May 1845.[777]


Several manuscripts of the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf have been examined by MacEoin in his study of the sources of Bábí doctrine and history,[778] and lists sixteen manuscripts as follows:

(1) Cambridge Browne F.11 (dated 1891)

(2) Leningrad

(3) Leningrad

(4) London B.L. Or. 3539

(5) London B.L. Or. 6681

(6) Paris B.N. 6435 (dated 1909, hand of Rizwán `Alí)

(7) Paris B.N. 5780 (dated 1897, hand of Rizwán `Alí)

(8) Tehran Bahá'í archives 6020,C (dated 1275/1858-9)

(9) Tehran B.A. 6016.C (dated 1281/1864)

(10) Tehran B.A. 5006.C (pp. 5-262; dated 1262/1846)

(11) Haifa Bahá'í World Centre (formerly Nicolas No. 107)

(12) Haifa B.W.C.

(13) Haifa B.W.C.

(14) Haifa B.W.C.

(15) Haifa B.W.C. (defective)

(16) Haifa B.W.C (dated 1261/1845)

Number (2) was described, and portions of it were edited and published by Rosen in Collections Scientifiques.[779] A sample from this edition is reproduced below at the end of chapter 3. Number (7) is bound together with a manuscript of the Tafsír súrat al-baqara, and MacEoin says that number (11) appears to be incomplete. Number (16) is the oldest manuscript of the work known to exist anywhere, and may for that reason be more reliable than the others. The scribe of numbers (6) and (7) was the son of Mírzá Yahyá, Subh-i Azal.[780] In addition to these sixteen, one other manuscript of this work is in the "Bábí collection" in the Princeton University library (as yet uncatalogued). It carries a provisional shelf number of 269. It is in a very clear hand and bears the title Sharh-i súrah-yi Yúsuf az Nuqtat-i bá.

Xerox copies of two manuscripts were consulted for this study, numbers (1, hereafter F11) and (16, hereafter QA). By their dates they represent, approximately, the two extremes of the manuscript history itself, which may account for the several differences between them. The older of the two, and perhaps therefore the more reliable, was transcribed in 1261/1845, or one year after the Bab had begun the work, and differs from the later ms. in many details. The work itself is quite long (QA running to 234 pages, with each 9.5 x 17.5 cm., page bearing 25 lines of closely written text).[781] The colophon of QA (p.234) gives the name of the scribe as one Muhammad Mahdí ibn Karbalá'í Sháh Karam, about whom nothing is known. This manuscript was transcribed at the request of Mullá Husayn Bushrú'í, mentioned earlier, for presentation to the Amír of Qá`inat.[782] F11 was transcribed for Edward Browne in Istanbul (1309/1891-2) by Mírzá Aqá Khán Kirmání at the request of Shaykh Ahmad Rúhí. These men were sons-in-law of Subh-i Azal, and both were prominent followers of Afghání in the Persian Nationalist Movement, and eventually executed in Tabríz on July 17, 1896.[783] The manuscript, written in a beautiful nasta`líq script, contains 202 ff. with 22 lines per page.[784] In the original, the headings and titles are written in red ink.

Some of the discrepancies between the two manuscripts are as follows: QA explicitly states that the number of verses for each chapter is forty-two, while F11 does not. F11 gives the place of revelation for each chapter as Shiraz, while QA is silent on this matter. QA gives the name of each chapter, while F11 does not. Blanks in this latter manuscript suggest that the copyist intended to supply such information later, perhaps in a different colour of ink. Both manuscripts make use of catchwords and appear to have been copied with care as is evidenced by several marginal notes indicating and correcting lacunae.[785] It would seem that QA is the most careful of the two transcriptions, not only because it has more marginalia than F11, but also there appear to be more undetected, or uncorrected lacunae in this more recent manuscript than in the older one.[786] A proper answer to the question must be postponed until all of the existing manuscripts have been collated.

In addition, QA bears the words sajda wájiba in several places on the margin of the work, indicating that at this place a prostration is required by whoever is reading it. This of course, is in imitation of the same sájida tiláwa tradition connected with the recitation of the Qur'an.[787] That such is found in the oldest manuscript of this commentary by the Bab, reveals much about the way the earliest followers regarded his position and that of the book itself.[788]

This tafsír is utterly different in all of its aspects from the Tafsír súrat al-baqara. Unlike the previous commentary, this work contains no discursive elaborations on such important Shaykhí topics as the Fourth Support and no architectonic metaphysical representations.[789] These topics are, however treated by allusion, not only in the titles of the various chapters (a list of these is provided below), but also in the use throughout the chapters themselves of the distinctive vocabulary encountered in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara. One example may be seen in the above quotation from Charismatic in which MacEoin translates a portion of the text as: "when I went to the Ka`ba (al-bayt), I found the house raised up on square supports (al-qawá'im al-murabba`) before the báb".[790] While the statement undoubtedly refers to the Ka`ba, the allusion to the doctrine of the four supports is obvious. Similarly, repeated use of such terms as sirr mustasirr (passim) is meant to allude to the corresponding Shaykhí theology.

Although allegorical and typological exegesis is still one of the chief methods of actual interpretation, it is of a different character than that found in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara. Indeed, direct interpretation of the verses represents only a portion of the material. In one way the work is much more structured, taking as its model the Qur'an in its use of súra divisions, and in another way it is much less "logical", in that it is difficult at times to see just how the text is actually tied to the quranic material. It is also a very long work and one in which there are presented a variety of concerns, images, terminology, laws, exhortations and prayers. Interestingly, there are no hadíth. This indicates that the only isnád which the Bab required to validate his comments is the one introduced in the first chapter which invokes the authority of the hidden Imám.

The title, Qayyúm al-asmá', is the most frequent way the work is referred to by both Babí and Bahá'í authors. Bausani translates it as "Colui che s'erge sugli Attributi." As such, the word refers to the deity which is beyond attribution.[791] It is derived, according to the Bab himself, from the numerical correspondence between the name Yúsuf and qayyúm, both of which amount to 156 according to abjad calculation. The Bab says also that the word qayyúm refers to "the Qá'im of the House of Muhammad and he who is Hayy-i Qayyúm."[792] This numerical correspondence is pointed out on the first folio of F11.

The designation of the qá'im as qayyúm is quite unusual, the latter term being almost exclusively reserved for God alone. al-Qayyúm occurs three times in the Qur'an, always with the companion epithet al-Hayy.[793] Anawatí points out that this pair of divine names has been identified by some authors as the greatest name itself (ism alláh al-a`zam).[794] From this it would seem that the title, in one sense, conforms to the previously mentioned function of the Qá'im as the bearer or embodiment of the greatest name, which also points beyond himself to the absolute. According to later Bahá'í interpretation, qayyúm also points beyond the Bab to a second messianic figure, specifically Bahá'u'lláh. For example, Kázim Rashtí is quoted as having said, towards the end of his life:

After the Qá'im the Qayyúm will be made manifest. For when the star of the Former has set, the sun of the beauty of Husayn will arise and illuminate the whole world.[795]

As for the other title, Ahsan al-qasas, "the fairest of stories", it is of course the name which the Qur'an gives to the story of Joseph [12:3]. It may be that the work was originally designated as Tafsír ahsan al-qasas and later shortened. Or, it may be that the work was seen to supplant the former as a new ahsan al-qasas.


As mentioned, the story of Joseph in the Qur'an, is among the favorites of Muslims in general. It is considered the "best of stories" [12:3], because it is a more or less extended and consistent narrative, unlike from the other súras of the Qur'an.[796] According to al-Tha`labí (428/1036), the author of the Qisas al-anbiyá', the story of Joseph is the most beautiful "because of the lesson concealed in it, on account of Yúsuf's generosity and its wealth of matter, in which prophets, angels, devils, jinn, men, animals, birds, rulers and subjects play a part."[797]

The contents of the súra present something of an integrated expression of the fundamental thrust of Islam, whether from the point of view of personal religiosity and spirituality, or from the broader perspective of man's communal religious life. As with many súras of the Qur'an, this one also emphasizes the connection of Islam with previous religions. One can assume that these factors were basic to the Bab's choice of this súra for this important proclamatory, or annunciatory, commentary.

Some "structural" reasons for the Bab's choice of this súra as a subject for his Qur'an-like commentary might be found in the approximation of the number of verses in súra 12 to the number of súras in the Qur'an itself.[798] An example of sanctifying a text by arranging it according to the number of quranic súras, may be seen in a recent edition of the Ziyárat al-jámi`a (the subject of Shaykh Ahmad's commentary, referred to many times above as Ziyára) which was divided into114 verses by Muhammad Tha'rulláhí (d. ca. 1962).[799] It has been argued that the number of súras in the Qur'an is precisely 111, the Fátiha and súras 113 and 114 being regarded as prayers which serve to "protect" the contents of the Book, rather than as súras proper.[800] It is also possible that the number of chapters in the Bab's commentary is more of a coincidence in this regard than anything else.

Another distinctive feature of súra 12 is that the word báb or its plural abwáb occur in it more than in other súras. For this reason it might have been thought to represent more fully than others, the mystery of bábíya. This also is conjecture.

Finally, the choice of the súrat Yusúf for the subject of this commentary is connected with a long tradition which reveres the story of Joseph as representing the spiritual mystery of taqíya, or pious concealment, which is so important to Shí`í religiosity in general. Here the absence of the Imám may be regarded as a species of taqíya.[801] Also, the Bab instructed those who first recognized him to keep his identity secret just as Jacob instructed Joseph to not divulge the details of his dream to his brothers. To quote Amanat:

The Qá'im, who is the initiator of a new revelation, provides new norms and values for making the distinction between 'truth' and 'falsehood'. In the early stages of his 'revelation', the Bab regarded the commentary on the Sura of Yúsuf as this major 'Differentiator' (Furqán): 'At the beginning of his appearance', writes the Báb, 'he (i.e. himself) interpreted the Sura of his own name and entitled each chapter (of this commentary) with one verse from the Qur'án, so that it be the indication that he is the Point of Furqán in the Bá' of Bismalláh'. The Bab saw 'the best of stories' as the allegorical account of his own prophecy, not only because he found in himself a resemblance to Joseph, or because the story of Joseph contained the secret of taqíya, but also because of a sense of collective commitment which he shared with the other 'letters' of Bismalláh, and through them with the Kullu-Shay' which is the whole of mankind.

'At the time of revelation, the first who swore allegiance to him (i.e. the Bab) was Muhammad and then the Amír al-Mu'minín and then the Imams on whom be peace. This is the secret of the verse "When Joseph said to his father: Father, I saw eleven stars, and the sun and the moon; I saw them bowing down before me. [12:4] [802]

Amanat also writes:

To Mullá Husain and the other early Babis, the works of the Bab were to be valued not as examples of conventional Shi`i and non-Shi`i exegesis but because of their novelty of style and messianic content. Again the preconceived attributes of the traditions which required the revelation by the Qá'im of a commentary on the 'Best of Stories' . . . convinced the Bab as much as his believers, that his writings possessed all the 'extraordinary' qualities which are special to the Qá'im. [803]

Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate a tradition which explicitly declares that the Qá'im will compose a commentary on the Súrat Yúsuf. There does exist, however, a prediction to this effect ascribed to Sayyid Kázim Rashtí. According to Nabíl, Mullá Husayn, the young Shaykhí who was the first to accept the Bab's claim, had once asked the Shaykhí leader to write a commentary on the súrat Yúsuf. His teacher responded that such a task was beyond his abilities but that the "great One, who comes after me will, unasked, reveal it for you. That commentary will constitute one of the weightiest testimonies of His truth, and one of the clearest evidences of the loftiness of His position."[804] Rashtí's response here would appear to be conditioned by numerous hadíths which say that the Qá'im will resemble Joseph in several respects and that he would bring a new book. Throughout the Bab's commentary it is clear that he is seeing himself as Joseph, and that the quranic story is read as an allegorical prefigurement of the Bab's own mission.

In the hadíth literature, it is said that the sáhib hádhá 'l-amr (i.e., the Qá'im) bears a certain resemblance to Joseph, one example being that this expected "Hujja" is to attain eventual sovereignty over the world at some particular time (waqt min al-awqát), just as Joseph gained sovereignty over Egypt.[805] This feature is of particular interest for the study of the first two chapters of the Bab's commentary, which are addressed to the secular rulers and the ulama respectively. In these chapters, the Bab not only acknowledges the importance of both institutions for the welfare of men, but demands absolute and unquestioning obedience to himself from both quarters.[806]

In another report, the story is told of how Joseph discovered the signs of nubúwa in himself,[807] and an explanation of how Joseph became a Hujja is given.[808] In the Ikmál al-dín by Ibn Bábawayh, it is mentioned that God has secretly (ghayban) named the Qá'im Joseph[809] and the proper greeting for the Qá'im is al-salám `alayhá yá baqíyat alláh! [810] The word baqíya, which connotes the divine remnant symbolized by the shirt (qamís) of Joseph,[811] is found in this commentary in innumerable places where it seems to refer to the Bab, either directly or by association.[812] Elsewhere in the Ikmál al-dín, it is specified that the Qá'im will be "fair in colour".[813] This attribute may be associated with Joseph's legendary physical beauty; the Bab's pleasing appearance is said to have been one of the qualities which attracted support for his claims.[814] al-Báqir is elsewhere quoted as saying that the sáhib of "this cause" bears resemblance to four prophets, Moses, Jesus, Joseph and Muhammad, and that the prison of Joseph (sijn) represents the occultation of the Imám.[815] The Mahdí will have a basket in which he carries relics of all the prophets, including the " cup" of Joseph.[816] When the Qá'im comes, there will be great disagreement about the Qur'an[817] and he will know all of the quranic sciences, including tafsír, ta'wíl, ma`ání, and násikh wa mansúkh.[818] Most importantly, it is mentioned that the Qá'im will appear between the rukn and the maqám (reference to the sanctuary in Mecca), and the people will take an oath on a new book.[819]

In a very long commentary on one of the verses of the Ziyárat al-jámi`a, in which reference is made to the "return" (raj`a) of the Imáms,[820] Shaykh Ahmad mentions several hadíths on the subject. One of the signs of the return of the Qá'im will take place during the month of Jumádá 1, and before his khurúj there will be seven years of famine and little rain "like the years of Joseph".[821] This presumably refers to Joseph's interpretation of the dream of the "king" (12:46-9). Shaykh Ahmad also mentions the tradition from al-Báqir, which says that the Qá'im will say what none other has said, and will promulgate a new book which will be difficult for the Arabs.[822] This last tradition may have been more instrumental than others in preparing the Bab's first followers for the acceptance of his claims, claims which were intimately bound up with the revelation of a new and unusual book.

Description of the Work

The work was described in some detail, and a small portion of it edited by Rosen in 1877.[823] It was also discussed by Browne in 1889 and again in 1892, in a series of articles in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.[824] Since then, it has received a certain amount of attention from scholars concerned chiefly with the social history of the Bábí movement.[825] All have drawn attention to the fact that text is modeled after the Qur'an. It is important to give some idea here of the extent of this.

The most striking similarities between the Tafsír and the Qur'an are those mentioned above: súra divisions, and verse divisions. As stated earlier, the older manuscript, in imitation of the sajda al-tiláwa tradition connected with the chanting of the Qur'an, carries the instruction sajda wájiba at various places on the margin of the text where the word sajada, or some derivative occurs, in order to indicate that a prostration should be performed while reading the particular verse. In addition, while QA supplies at the head of its 111 chapters not only the number of verses (which in this manuscript is inavariably 42), the F11 manuscript in imitation of texts of the Qur'an, indicates the place of revelation, which is invariably Shiraz. Thus a typical chapter heading would appear as follows:

Súrat al-imán, wa hiya Shírázíya, wa hiya ithnatán wa arba`ún áya.

The number of verses is thought to represent the abjad value of the quranic word balá,[826] which was the word used to convey man's assent to the primordial divine covenant [cf. 7:172], and, according to the commentary on al-Baqara, was a kind of code word for the most recent re-enactment of that event on the Day of al-Ghadír. Allusion to the word in this way in the work, would seem to indicate an even more recent re-enactment of the yawm al-mitháq.

Immediately following this comparatively technical information comes the standard Islamic basmala: In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This occurs without exception at the beginning of each chapter, and is followed by the verse from the Qur'an which is to be the subject of the commentary. However, the first chapter of the tafsír does not contain a verse from súra 12, and is anyway of a slightly different order from the rest, representing something of an introduction.

Continuing this imitation of the form of the Qur'an, the Bab has placed between the quranic áya to be commented upon and the main text of each chapter but four,[827] a series of disconnected letters, some of which are quranic. Thus chapter 3, the Súrat al-ímán, bears the two letters tá há, while the chapter immediately following, al-madína, carries the unquranic alif lám mím tá há . While the vast majority of these sets of letters must remain at this stage somewhat mysterious, it is interesting to note that at the head of chapters 108 and 109, the following combinations occur: `ayn lám yá and mím há' mím dál, giving the names `Alí and Muhammad. The titles of these two chapters are, respectively, al-dhikr and al-`abd (one of the frequent quranic names for Muhammad), both of which represent titles assumed by the Bab in the course of his commentary.[828] It is likely, therefore, that these two names pertain first of all to the Bab himself (Sayyid `Alí Muhammad), and indirectly to the first Imám and the Prophet. Needless to say the ambiguity is no accident.

Following the disconnected letters, there usually occurs one or perhaps two verses (terminations of which are marked in QA by the typical quranic verse marker resembling an independent há', and in F11 by means of a space), which offer some variation on the frequent quranic introductory: dhálika al-kitáb . . . [2:2], or kitábun unzila ilayka . . . [7:2], which has been shown to be one of the common elements shared by those súras which bear disconnected letters.[829] A few examples will illustrate.

Chapter 1, al-mulk, begins, after the title material described above and the respective quranic verse, as follows: al-hamdu li-láh al-ladhí nazzala al-kitáb `alá `abdi-hi bi'l-haqq li-yakúna li'l-`álamín sirájan wahhájan.[830]

Chapter 2, al-`ulamá : (1) alif lám mím, dhálika al-kitáb min `ind alláh al-haqq fí shán al-dhikr qad kána bi'l-haqq hawl al-nár manzúlan; (2) wa inna nahnu qad ja`alná 'l-áyát fí dhálika 'l-kitáb mubínan(sic).[831]

Chapter 3, al-imán: (1) tá' há' ; (2) alláh qad anzala al-qur'án `alá `abdi-hi li-ya`lama al-nás anna alláh qad kána `alá kulli shay' qadíran.[832]

Chapter 37, al-ta`bír : (1) fá `ayn sín nún; (2) al-hamdu li-láh al-ladhí anzala `alá `abdi-hi al-kitáb li-yakúna `alá 'l-`álamín bi'l-kalimat al-`alíy (sic) shahídan.[833]

The slightly variant Chapter 59, al-af'ida, just as one example, has the following, which is still concerned with the way God communicates to mankind: (1) káf há' `ayn sád; (2) alláh qad akhbara 'l-`ibád bi'l-ism al-akbar an lá iláh illá huwa al-hayy al-qayyúm. [834]

Finally, the example of Chapter 111, al-mu'minín, is offered by way of emphasizing the more or less standard pattern which obtains throughout the work: (1) alif lám mím; (2) inná nahnu qad ja`alná bayna-kum wa bayna al-qurá al-mubáraka min ba`d al-báb hádhá unásan táhirín yad`awna al-nás ilá dín alláh al-akbar wa lá yakháfúna min dún alláh al-haqq `an (sic) shay' 'ulá'ika hum qad kánú asháb al-ridwán fí umm al-kitáb maktúban; (3) wa inná nahnu qad ja`alná hádha al-kitáb áyát li-'ulíy al-albáb al-ladhína yusabbihúna al-layl wa'l-nahár wa la yafturúna [cf. 21:20] min amr alláh al-haqq min laday 'l-báb `alá dharra min ba`d al-shay' qitmíran. [835]

This then gives some idea of the Bab's conscious desire to make his tafsír structurally resemble the Qur'an. In general, the saj` rhyme of the Tafsír is much more constant than that in the Qur'an. As such, it was possibly intended to appear to suggest divine inspiration that much more intensely,[836] while at the same time imitating the language of the Qur'an.

After the disconnected letters, and the above mentioned introductory verses which claim divine revelation, the next section of a given chapter begins. It is this section which is most difficult to characterize, because of the variety of concerns which may appear in it. Generally speaking, the last section of a chapter is where the Bab turns his attention directly to the verse of the Qur'an under which his commentary is written. The method of exegesis is usually direct paraphrase of the Qur'an, in which the Bab makes various substitutions with words which give a meaning much more specific to his own claims and situation. In the course of his exegesis, there is never recourse to the usual markers of an interpretive statement such as ay or ya`ní ("that is"), or aqulu ("I say"). Rather, the exegetical equivalences offered by the Bab are much "closer" to the quranic material, than would be the case if the above words (along with the semantic and exegetical distance that their use implies) were used.[837] Before giving examples of this kind of commentary, it may be of interest to discuss in some detail the first chapter of the tafsír.

Súrat al-mulk (chapter 1)

The Súrat al-mulk, which is in fact the part of the work which was written in the presence of Mullá Husayn on the night of May 22, 1844,[838] forms an introduction to the whole. It is unusual in that it is not written under a quranic verse. Evidence that it is indeed part of a commentary on the Qur'an, does not occur until well into the text where the following statement is found:

God hath decreed that this book, in explanation of the 'best of stories' . . . should come forth from Muhammad, son of Hasan, son of `Alí, son of Músa, son of Ja`far, son of Muhammad, son of `Alí, son of Husayn, son of `Alí, son of Abú Tálib, unto his servant [the Bab] that it may be a proof of God on the part of the Remembrance (dhikr ) reaching the two worlds.[839]

The title is related to the fact that the entire chapter, rather than dealing with subjects connected to an understanding of the twelfth chapter of the Qur'an, is a sustained and impassioned challenge, first to Muhammad Sháh, the reigning monarch of Iran at that time, and second, to his Prime Minister, Hájí Mírzá Aqásí, to submit to the command of the Remembrance (dhikr, i.e. the Bab). In the course of this chapter we see several elements, which are however, characteristic of the whole. The first of these is the proclamation of the Bab's spiritual rank either as báb or dhikr, to name only two of the several different designations which are used throughout the text [840]. Then there is the fluent paraphrase of the Qur'an, the call to absolute obedience, summons to the world beyond Iran, reference to laws (ahkám), the language, and imagery which is striking in the extreme. An example of this last is the Bab's juxtaposition of opposites. In the Súrat al-mulk, one reads, for example: . . . inna al-nár fí nuqtati'l-má' liláh al-haqq sájidan `alá 'l-ard . . . (". . .the fire which is in the drop of water is itself prostrate upon the earth before God, the Reality . . .") [841]. This may, of course, be a simple case of an echo of basic alchemical imagery, particularly in this instance. In later chapters, however, this combining of opposites appears to take on original characteristics, which seem to designate the source of the Bab's inspiration and his status as Imám.[842]

This third section of a given chapter may also consist of a running exegetical paraphrase of extended sections of the Qur'an. For example, chapters 52 and 53, al-fadl and al-sabr,[843] present a detailed rewriting of the first fifty or so verses of the second súra of the Qur'an, al-baqara, e.g.:

(Qur'an:) That is the book wherein there is no doubt, a guidance to the godfearing who believe in the Unseen, and perform the prayer, and expend of that We have provided them; who believe in what has been sent down to thee and what has been sent down before thee, and have faith in the Hereafter; those are upon guidance from their Lord, those are the ones who prosper. [2:2-5]

(The Bab, in the voice of the hidden Imám, addressing himself:)

By thy Lord! Thou artthe Book wherein there is no doubt, and thou art praiseworthy in the estimation of God. Those who believe in the Remembrance of God, in his ghayba, and rule among mankind with truth by means of his verses, we will, in very truth,[844] bestow upon them, as a blessing from Our side, a great reward. Those are upon a guidance with the Remembrance of God, and those are the ones who hastened first, in truth, in the Book of God.[845]

Another more extended example of this running paraphrase may be found in chapters 80 through 95, inclusive,[846] which treats most of the quranic material between 10:57 and the first few verses of 17. A random example is the Bab's rewriting of 10:87, which reads:

(Qur'an:) And We revealed unto Moses and his brother, 'Take you, for your people, in Egypt certain houses; make your houses a direction for men to pray to; and perform the prayer; and do thou give good tidings to the believers.'

(The Bab:)And We revealed to Moses and his brother, 'Take you, [or "set aside"] in the Egypt of the hearts, for the people of the earth, houses consecrated to the Exclusive Unity (ahadíya) of the Most Great Remembrance of God, the Living, and He is God, the Knowing, the Judge. And verily God made them [houses] a direction for men to pray to , and to perform all the prayers in, so give good tidings to the sincere servants of God. [847]

As mentioned above, the fourth section of a given chapter usually returns to the verse of the Qur'an under which it is written. The method again is paraphrase, of which the last two of the following three examples are characteristic. The second chapter, súrat al-`ulamá', is written under Qur'an 12:1: Alif Lám Rá. These are the verses of the Manifest Book. Therefore, it ends with a commentary on these three disconnected letters. The Bab says that God created the letter alif to represent "this servant of His who is strong in the divine cause (amr)." The letter lám signifies the ascendancy of his rule over the rule of the Book (the Qur'an). The letter was made by God for the spreading (inbisát ) of His cause according to the way it has been ordained in the Mother of the Book. It is not clear how the last two letters are tied to the interpretation, however, it is probable that the lám, or the letter of `Alí according to the Tafsír súrat al-baqara, signifies a level above the rá, which here probably stands for the level of divine mercy (al-rahmáníya). As was seen in the earlier commentary, the gradations of Exclusive Unity (ahadíya), Inclusive Unity (wáhidíya) and Mercy (rahmáníya), describe descending ontological levels. The last pertains to creation as such, whereas the first two are restricted to the Prophet and the Imám. In that commentary, the disconnected letters alif lám mím were seen also to be symbolic, first of the divine command (amr) with Muhammad as its representative. The lám was the letter of `Alí, who as the interpreter of the Book would be, in one sense, above it. The mím, standing for Fátima, would be analogous to the rá', insofar as Fátima is the symbol of the passive creative principle ("the passive earth" in the language of the earlier commentary) and as such, a symbol of that principle whereby the otherwise unreachable Divinity is communicated to the world. This interpretation of the alif appears to be tantamount to attributing nubúwa to the Bab.

Chapter 71, al-qalam is written under Qur'an 12:70:

And when he had equipped them with their equipment, he put his drinking-cup into the saddlebag of his brother. Then a herald proclaimed, 'Ho, camel-riders, you are robbers!'

The Bab's paraphrase of the verse is:

Verily, We commanded the angels to place the drinking-cup of the Remembrance in the saddlebag of the believers, by the leave of God, the Exalted, and God is Knower of all things. O crier (al-mu'adhdhin) cry out! O camel-riders, you are robbers. Indeed the cup of the Remembrance is concealed from you in the highest station, in very truth. And God is the Preserver of all things. And God is powerful over all things.[848]

The metaphors in the above commentary (drinking-cup : "sign" of the Remembrance; saddlebag : "hearts" of the believers ) are similar to the previously cited Egypt of the hearts. In this instance, however, they refer to a subject raised in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara, namely one's innate, and in a sense predetermined, capacity for accepting or rejecting the Imám, in this case the Bab his representative, and the locus of divinity. The believers are therefore privileged to be so, because they hold within themselves the "signs" of the Remembrance, here represented by "drinking-cup". Likewise the "robbers" are prevented from accepting the truth, because these signs have been witheld from them.

The súrat al- hajj, number103, is written under Qur'an 12:102:

This is of the tidings of the Unseen that We reveal to thee; thou wast not with them when they agreed upon their plan, devising.

The Bab's paraphrase is:

This commentary (dhálika tafsír, cf. 2:2) is of the tidings of al-`amá, written upon the leaf of the heart (al-fu'ád) by the permission of God, the Exalted, in the vicinity of the sacred fire. Verily, God has revealed to you the tidings of the Unseen: Indeed you are upon the Most Great Truth even while you were with them and they were disagreeing about a false lie. God is, in very truth, Witness over you.[849]

These examples suffice to demonstrate an important aspect of the work. The Bab is patently not presenting himself as a systematic theologian. Rather, the message of the commentary is proclaimed by an invocation of images and symbols, which when combined point to a kind of annunciation. The absence of any discursive argumentation, renders the work more a verbal "painting", or "carpet" than a normal expository attempt at adducing proofs, in a structured manner, for the Bab's spiritual rank. At the same time, many of these images and symbols have a specific intention, as will be seen below.


The titles which the Bab has given to the 111 chapters of this commentary deserve some discussion. There is no question that the use of these titles is meant to suggest the appearance of a new Qur'an. Titles of quranic súras are thought to have not been part of the original revelation, but were chosen by those who were charged with the task of compiling the Book from various disparate sources. This is supported by the existence in many editions of the Qur'an, of such headings as "The súra in which the 'cow' is mentioned".[850] Other editions merely employ a kind of shorthand by introducing the same súra as "The chapter of the Cow" (súrat al-baqara). This is a much less precise heading and one which is subject to a certain amount of misunderstanding, particularly on the part of non-Muslims, who find such titles cryptic, amusing, or nonsensical precisely because, contrary to what such titles might otherwise imply, very few of the súras actually treat a single topic, much less single topics like "The Cow" or "The Table", and so forth. Originally, then, the titles of the súras were not so much titles, but merely editorial notations, However, by the time the Bab was writing, it was the shorthand version of such notations which had become the most common form of referring to a particular súra. In addition, it may be that these titles were considered part of the original revelation.

The titles used in the Bab's commentary also refer to topics raised in their respective chapters, as in the case with the Súrat al-mulk and the Súrat al-`ulamá' mentioned above. It should be remembered that whereas such titles might be taken to imply that a given chapter "discusses" the topic introduced by its name, this is not the case. In fact, the vast majority of chapters seem to have no direct connection with their titles. The Súrat al-qarába does, for example, mention the Bab's relatives, and the chapters with names such as ahkám, and jihád do present laws and references to "holy war".[851] Other chapter names, such as al-Ziyára (7), al-`Ashúra (12), Fátima (38), al-Huzn (58), al-Husayn (61), and al-Qist (70), conjure up important topics in Shí`í religiosity. Such titles as Yúsuf (5), al-Báb (17), al-Dhikr (60 & 108), al-Kalima (79), al-Tayr (86), and al-`Abd (109), are related to the spiritual station claimed by the author. Another category of titles refers directly to theological, spiritual, or ontological topics, some of which have been encountered in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara: al-Sirr (8), al-`Amá' (9 & 10), al-Musattar (11), al-`Ubúdíya (35), al-Wahda (43), al-Rukn (55), al-Af'ida (59), al-Ghayb (65), al-Ahadíya (66), al-Tathlíth (182), and al-Rabí` (91). Most of the chapters repeat much of the same material and many of the same ideas, couched in different or identical terminology.

These titles are included in only the older of the two manuscripts used in this study. However, as mentioned above, the existence of blanks at the beginning of the chapters in the other manuscript, make it clear that the scribe intended to insert these titles, perhaps in a different colour, at some later time. These titles are present in other manuscripts of the work and have been studied and listed by both Browne and Nicolas.[852] F11, in fact bears marginal notations (presumably by Browne himself), which supply titles from the manuscript Browne studied in the British Library. There is a certain amount of disagreement among those manuscripts which include titles. A list of the titles as they appear in QA, together with the page on which they begin, is given on the following page in a somewhat abbreviated form. All of these titles, except number 45 (Huwa) should be read as being preceded by "Súrat al-". The list may be compared with those given by Browne and Nicolas. In several instances, the same title has been given to more than one chapter, and this has been indicated by the inclusion of a roman numeral after the title.

1 Mulk................................... 3

2 Ulama...................... 5

3 Imán........................ 6

4 Madína.................... 8

5 Yúsuf....................... 10

6 Shaháda.................... 12

7 Ziyára...................... 13

8 Sirr........................ 14

9 `Amá (i).................. 16

10 `Amá (ii).......................... 17

11 Musattar............... 18

12 `Ashúra................. 20

13 Firdaws................ 21

14 Quds...................... 23

15 Mashíya................ 24

16 `Arsh.................... 26

17 Báb........................ 28

18 Sirát...................... 29

19 Síná'...................... 31

20 Núr....................... 32

21 Bahr..................... 34

22 Má'........................ 36

23 `Asr...................... 38

24 Qadar.................... 39

25 Khátam.................. 41

26 Hall....................... 43

27 Anwár.................... 45

28 Qarába................... 48

29 Húríya.................. 51

30 Tablígh................. 54

31 `Izz....................... 56

32 Hayy..................... 58

33 Nasr...................... 60

34 Ishára.................... 61

35 `Ubúdíya............... 63

36 `Adl....................... 65

37 Ta`bír................... 67

38 Fátima................... 69

39 Shukr................... 70

40 Insán(i)................ 73

41 Kitáb..................... 74

42 `Ahd...................... 77

43 Wahda................... 79

44 Rúyá'..................... 81

45 Huwa..................... 83

46 Mir'át.................... 84

47 Hujja.................... 86

48 Nidá'...................... 90

49 Ahkám (i)............. 92

50 Ahkám (ii)............ 95

51 Majd..................... 98

52 Fadl....................... 100

53 Sabr...................... 102

54 Ghulám.................. 105

55 Rukn..................... 107

56 Amr...................... 110

57 Akbar.................... 112

58 Huzn..................... 114

59 Af'ida.................... 116

60 Dhikr (i)............. 118

61 Husayn.................. 120

62 Awliyá'.................. 122

63 Rahma................... 124

64 Muhammad........... 127

65 Ghayb.................... 129

66 Ahadíya................. 131

67 Inshá'.................... 134

68 Ra`d...................... 136

69 Raja`..................... 139

70 Qist....................... 141

71 Qalam.................... 143

72 Ba`ír..................... 145

73 Kahf...................... 148

74 Khalíl................... 150

75 Shams................... 152

76 Waraqa................. 153

77 Salám.................... 155

78 Zuhúr.................... 157

79 Kalima.................. 158

80 Zawál..................... 160

81 Káf......................... 162

82 A`zam.................... 164

83 Bá'......................... 166

84 Ism....................... 168

85 Haqq...................... 170

86 Tayr...................... 172

87 Nabá'..................... 175

88 Iblágh.................... 177

89 Insán(ii)............... 180

90 Tathlíth................ 182

91 Rabí`..................... 184

92 Mujallil................ 186

93 Nahl...................... 189

94 Ishhár................... 191

95 BLANK.................. 193

96 Qitál(i)................. 195

97 Qitál(ii)................ 197

98 Jihád(i)................ 199

99 Jihád(ii)............... 202

100 Jihád(iii)........... 204

101 Qitál(iii)............ 206

102 Qitál(iv)............. 209

103 Hajj.................... 212

104 Hudúd.................. 214

105 Ahkám(iii)......... 216

106 Jum`a................. 218

107 Nikáh.................. 220

108 Dhikr(ii)........... 223

109 `Abd.................... 225

110 Sábiqín................ 229

111 Mu'minín........... 231

Part ii: Chapter 2

The Terms "Remembrance" (dhikr) and "Gate" (báb)

The problem of voice

This work has been studied by several Western scholars, all of whom have concurred that it is one of the Bab's works, that it is obscure in several places, that its grammar is flawed, and that it is not a tafsír in the usual sense of the word. Many have alluded to the importance of the work for a proper understanding of the development of the Bab's ideas. These scholars have also agreed that among the most obdurate problems the text presents, is the one of voice. Who is actually speaking the words? From the very beginning this uncertainty revolves around four possible choices. The first, is that the speaker is `Ali Muhammad Shírází, the young merchant; second, that the speaker is actually the hidden Imám, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-`Askari, who has chosen the former to be his mouthpiece, and as a result of which the "merchant" is thus elevated to the rank of the Remembrance (dhikr) or Gate (báb) of the Imám; third, that the speaker is the Bab as the Imám himself; and fourth, that the speaker is God. A solution to this problem is suggested in the following pages, namely, that the Bab claims through the use of a complex of symbols and imagery to be the Imám himself, and therefore his words are the words of God. Browne himself was fairly certain on this point:

Of himself he speaks often, but in various, and often very enigmatical ways. Thus in one place he calls himself "This well-favoured Arabian youth, in whose grasp God hath placed the kingdom of the heavens and the earth;" in another he says, "O people of the earth! hear the voice of your Lord, the Merciful, from the tongue of celebration of this Arabian youth, the son of `Alí the Arabian;" a few lines further on he describes himself as . . . "This Arabian youth, of Muhammad, of `Alí, of Fátima, of Mecca, of Medina, of Bathá, of `Iráq." In another passage he alludes to himself as "called by the Persians a Shírází."[853]

Here Browne cites Rosen's description of the commentary:

Ce jeune homme, qui est tantót `Arabí, tantót, `Ajamí, Madaní, etc. revient très-souvent dans le courant du livre (. . .presque sur chaque feuillet), sans que l'on puisse comprendre exactement son róle.[854]

Browne continues:

I have no doubt myself that [the Bab] is throughout speaking of himself. He calls himself "Muhammadí," "`Alawí," "Fátimí," because as a Sayyid, he is descended from these. That he should describe himself as a Shírází is only natural, as is the use of the epithet `Ajamí (Persian); but it is harder to see for what reason he calls himself "Makkí," "Madaní," "`Iráqí," etc. I can only suppose that on account of his visits to Mecca and Medina, and his sojourn at Kerbelá, he considers himself entitled to apply these titles to himself.

In other places he speaks of himself in a manner entirely mystical, as "the Light on Sinai, and Sinai in the rising-place of the manifestation" (fí matla` iz-zuhúr); "the (letter) which permeates the water of the Letters, and the Point which stands at the Gate of the Alifs.[855]

Browne thought that this usage is an allusion to the universal intelligence, and quotes what he believed to be Ibn `Arabí's tafsír:

Here is a subtle point, which is this, that the prophets . . . have placed the letters of the alphabet in correspondence with the degrees of Existences . . . and therefore it is said, 'Existences [al-mawjúdát] emerged from the Bá' of Bismi'lláh,' since that is the letter which follows the Alif which is placed to correspond with the Essence of God. And it (i.e. the letter Bá') signifies the First Intelligence, which was the first thing which God created.[856]

The Shaykhí leader, Sayyid Kázim Rashtí (1259/1843) has taken the symbol of the bá' a bit further, in a passage of one of his most famous and important works, the Sharh al-qasída al-lámíya.[857] Here he does in fact quote the hadíth cited above from the tafsír attributed to Ibn `Arabí, and goes on to say that the is the "preserved tablet, the hidden book (al-kitáb al-mastúr)"; "the place to which all divine realities return"; and, the "locus of all the divine names and attributes". It is also "the place of the manifestation of the glorious one (al-jalíl)"; the "pen which details (qalam al-tafsíl)"; and, the "starting place of all divine proofs and reasons", because it is associated with absolute waláya, which is "the place where the power for everything in creation, whether actual or potential (al-akwán wa'l-a`yán) appears". This may also be called "the gate to God for creation, and the gate to creation for God: That except through which the bounty of God reaches no-one." It is the "absolute gate" and the "true walí" (al-walí al-haqq).[858]

Finally Browne quotes a similarly obscure allusion, in which the Bab refers to himself as:

The mystery (which is) in the Gospel Syrian, and in the Pentateuch Hebraic, and the mystery concealed in the Koran (which is) of Muhammad. (As-sirru fi'l-Injíl Suryání, wa'sirru fí'l-Tawrát rabbání, wa's-sirru'l-mustasirru fi'l-Furqán Ahmadí).[859]

While Browne is undoubtedly correct in his assumption that all of these allusions intend the Bab himself, he also appreciates the difficulty they present. The following puzzled statement is characteristic of most scholarship which has dealt with the Bab's Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, because of a lack of familiarity with those very cryptic statements of the Imáms from which much of this obscure terminology derives. (As we have seen, al-sirr and al-sirr al-mustasarr both had precise intentions for Shaykh Ahmad;[860] the Bab here appears to be "improvising" on a familiar theme.) Browne writes:

I only hazard a guess at the meaning of these passages, especially the last two, which are very obscure. Indeed as they stand they appear to contravene the rules of grammar.[861]

Regarding the style of the commentary, Rosen's assessment was somewhat more severe. In his description he speaks of "this strange work" and alludes to its incomprehensibility.[862] He refers to chapters 49 and 50 (both named súrat al-ahkám), as being the most intelligible, probably because they include what Rosen calls "renseignements positifs sur les doctrines exotères de l'auteur du livre". In fact, these two chapters present an example of the frequent running paraphrase of long, consecutive sections of the Qur'an mentioned earlier. In the case of chapter 49, the paraphrase includes material from 2:183 to 2:245, and a few verses from other sections of the Qur'an (e.g., 5:2-5:6). In the case of chapter 50, the quranic material treated, in addition to the appropriate verse of sura 12, includes 5:87, 4:176, 5:38, 5:96-97, 6:151-2, and so forth.[863] A much better example of this, and one which Rosen might have therefore considered even more intelligible than the examples he cites, includes all of the text of the commentary between chapters 80 and 91,[864] which more or less consecutively incorporates much of Qur'an 10:57-16:66. Examples of this type could be greatly multiplied, but these two will suffice. They illustrate another way in which the Bab attempted to appropriate and participate in the charisma of the Qur'an in order to invoke his own spiritual authority, namely by re-casting the existing revelation in a new form. While much of the legislative content of the Qur'an remains unchanged here, the Bab by taking obvious liberties with the Book, nevertheless asserts his own authority over it. This in itself is perhaps evidence enough, that while the Bab refers to his station in allusive and ambiguous terms, there can really be little doubt that he considered himself as holding a rank equal to Muhammad's. This, I think, is also conclusively borne out by the quranic form of the work, viz, the use of súras, verses, "mystical letters" and so forth.

Others who have examined this work are not so ready to accept that the Bab, at this stage of his career is claiming divine revelation, or the ranks of Imám and Prophet, which as we have seen in the previous pages, are functionally equivalent. MacEoin, for example, describes three phases of the Bab's career. The first includes the period up to1848, during which his movement grew rapidly and the Bab presented himself as the agent of the hidden Imám, precisely as báb. During the second, from 1848-9, the Bab "proclaimed himself the promised Mahdíin Person." The third phase is characterized by the Bab's "assumption of the role of an independent prophet or divine 'manifestation' directly empowered by God to open a new religious dispensation after Islam, to reveal new scriptures and to ordain a new legal system." [865]

However, this scholar had previously acknowledged the complexity of the question, in his discussion of this commentary. Rightly pointing out that the work is "much more" than a tafsír,[866] MacEoin alludes to its being modelled on the Qur'an, but appears not to appreciate the significance of this as an emblem of authority and divine revelation. However, he does say that this imitation of the Holy book led to accusations that the Bab had written a false Qur'an, citing Tunakabúní and others.[867] In view of the more or less universally held Islamic article of faith, namely, the miraculous nature of the Qur'an (`ijáz al-Qur'án), the signifcance of such a charge cannot be overemphasized. What it means, at the very minimum, is that those who levelled the charge, accused the author of claiming for himself an evidentiary miracle on a par with the sacred book of Muslims, quite apart from whatever those who made the accusations actually thought about such a claim. Furthermore, as has been repeatedly suggested here, given this quranic form alone, it would seem that the charge was in all ways accurate.[868] While those who made the accusations did not perhaps appreciate the full implications of the Bab's claims at the time, it is wrong to say that the response was "superficial";[869] such a reponse is in fact precisely to the point. To illustrate the apparently ambiguous claims of the Bab, MacEoin cites a series of passages from the commentary.

At the very beginning of the book, it is made clear that the twelfth Imám had sent it (akhraja) to his servant (the Bab, frequently referred to as 'the remembrance' -- al-dhikr); he has been sent these 'explanations' from the 'baqíyyat Alláh, the exalted one, your Imám'. To be more precise, 'God has sent down (anzala) the verse upon His Proof, the expected one', who has, in turn, revealed them to his remembrance. In different terminolgy, the Imám inspires (awhá) the báb with what God has inspired him.[870]

MacEoin's assessment of these expressions is important:

The role of the Imám here appears to be very similar to that of the angel Gabriel in the Qur'anic theory of revelation; thus, for example, he has inspired the Báb just as God inspired the prophets of the past. The process is not, however, quite so simple, for the bulk of the work seems to be intended as the words of the Imám speaking in the first person, while there are a great many passages in which either God or the Báb is intended as the speaker, and others in which it is not at all clear as to whom is intended.[871]

In the light of the preceding examination of the commentary on al-Baqara, it is quite clear that the Imám, and specifically the Imám as Qá'im, was regarded by the Bab not only as similar to Gabriel, but as Gabriel himself. Furthermore, it was pointed out that Gabriel represented a principle which served as a link between the fu'ád and qalb of Muhammad. It is therefore reasonable to suspect that this same principle operates in this commentary, but with the important difference that it is now the fu'ád and qalb of the Bab, rather than the Prophet Muhammad, between which this angelic principle serves as a link. Given the following, it is difficult to understand the uncertainty expressed earlier by the same author:

It is, nevertheless, manifest that the book is represented as a new divine revelation of sorts, comparable to the Qur'an. Thus the Imám is 'made known' through 'the new verses from God', while God speaks 'in the tongue of this mighty remembrance (i.e. the Báb).' It is stated that 'this is a book from God' and that 'God has sent down (anzala) this book', while the Báb is summoned to 'transmit what has been sent down to you from the bounty of the Merciful'. In this respect, a comparison is drawn from the Qur'an which goes beyond mere [!] form: God has 'made this book the essence (sirr) of the Qur'an, word for word', and one 'will not find a letter in it other than the letters of the Qur'an'; this book 'is the Furqán of the past', and is referred to repeatedly as 'this Qur'an', 'this Furqán', or one of 'these two Furqáns', while reference is made to 'what God has sent down in His book, the Furqán, and in this book'. As in the case of the Qur'an, a challenge is made to men to produce a book like it, for it is held to be inimitable. As such, it is in itself the evidence of the Imám to men. It contains the sum of all previous scriptures, abrogates all books of the past, except those revealed by God, and is the only book which God permits the `ulamá to teach.[872]

In view of the passages from the Tafsír referred to in this statement, it seems highly unlikely that the magnitude of such challenges and claims to a new revelation would have been lost on any Muslim who read them.

Elsewhere, in an unrelated context in which he denies charges that he had shown favoritism to one of his early followers whom he had chosen from among several others to accompany him on his pilgrimage, the Bab makes the following statement:

Not that special grace was shewn to him [. . . Hájí Mullá Muhammad `Alí of Bárfurúsh, afterwards called Jenáb- or Hazrat-i-Quddús, . . .], for that same grace was shewn to all, though they veiled themselves therefrom. For in that year of the 'Manifestation' [a.h. 1260] the Book of the Commentary on the Sura-i-Yúsuf reached all.[873]

Elsewhere, in speaking of the veiled nature of his claims in the early period, the Bab wrote:

Consider the manifold favours vouchsafed by the Promised One, and the effusions of His bounty which have pervaded the concourse of the followers of Islám to enable them to attain unto salvation. Indeed observe how He Who representeth the origin of creation, He Who is the Exponent of the verse, 'I, in very truth, am God', identified Himself as the Gate (báb) for the advent of the promised Qá'im, a descendant of Muhammad, and in His first Book enjoined the observance of the laws of the Qur'án, so that the people might not be seized with perturbation by reason of a new Book and a new Revelation and might regard His Faith as similar to their own, perchance they would not turn away from the Truth and ignore the thing for which thay had been called into being.[874]

This important passage has also been quoted or referred to in the two recent studies frequently cited here; it was written by the Bab later in his career in a work entitled "The Seven Proofs" (Dalá'il-i sab`a). MacEoin has confirmed that the work was written in Máh-Kú in 1264/1848, laying to rest earlier uncertainties as to the date of composition. [875] The "Seven Proofs" was apparently written for a Bábí who was experiencing doubt about the more explicit claims made by the Bab at this time. The passage is self-explanatory and is undoubtedly conditioned by the nature of the questions put forth. This may explain the apparent contradiction between it and the first one quoted, where the Bab says that there was ample proof in his Tafsír súrat Yúsuf for everyone to properly recognize his station. It is possible that the Bab is referring not only to the contents, but to the form of the work as well. Again, and at the risk of monotony, the significance of the casting of this work in the form of the Qur'an, cannot be overemphasized as an emblem of spiritual authority. One reiterates this point because it seems not to have been fully appreciated in the past. The medium here is indeed the message.

While the problem of who is speaking in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf appears to be greatly complicated by the various titles or epithets which "populate" the text, from all that has been cited here, it would seem that there can be no question about the "voice" of the commentary. Among the various titles found in the commentary, three in various combinations, stand out as the most frequent: dhikr, báb, and nuqta. We have already examined some of the implications of this third title, and more will be said about it later in a separate section. For the moment then, let us examine some of the background to the first title.


Among the several titles by which the author of this commentary is designated, one of the most frequent is dhikr. This word has a long and multiform history in Islamic religious literature and practice, and is perhaps most encountered in connection with certain Sufi practices, sometimes called "audition" (sama`). Of interest in this work is a usage of the term which is perhaps less well known, namely as a designation of a person. Throughout the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, the Bab refers to himself as al-dhikr, dhikr alláh, dhikr alláh al-akbar,or dhikr alláh al-`alí, in addition to other similar combinations.[876]

Browne has remarked, in several places, that the term dhikr alláh was used by the Bab's followers in referring to him.[877] MacEoin also acknowledges that the title was widely used by the Bab at this time.[878] Amanat says that the claim to dhikríya (as well as bábíya) "were assumed with a vague sense of deputyship or delegation from the Concealed Imám".[879] The title itself is derived first of all from the Qur'an, where several verses refer to the remembrance of God . Some idea of the way in which the term is used by the Bab, may therefore be thought to involve the several meanings which these quranic passages contained for the akhbárí exegetical tradition. A brief synopsis of the appropriate article in Anwár will therefore not be out of place.

Isfahání begins by saying that the word dhikr may have several possible references. The first is the Qur'an itself, followed by Prophet (nabí), `Alí, the Imáms, waláya, and imáma (and obedience thereto), and finally the act of reminding people of God's blessing and beneficence. This last possibility is, however, applicable only in the case of the Prophet and the Imáms. Isfahání then cites the appropriate verse, together with its explanation by one of the Imáms, for each of these possibilities.[880] The epithet al-dhikr al-hakím [3:58] is said to apply both to `Alí and the other Imáms. These latter, according to, `Allama al-Hillí,[881] are referred to as al-dhikr because they mention those things which benefit mankind, like the sciences of divine unity (`ulúm al-tawhíd), the return (al-ma`ád), and the other verities which are involved with waláya. Isfahání cites another tradition from al-Sádiq, in explanation of 20:124 . . . but whosoever turns away from my remembrance . . . The Imám said: "That is (ya`ní) from the waláya of `Alí."[882] Isfahání quotes the seventh Imám, Músá, as saying that the waláya of `Alí is the password (tadhkira) for the godfearing. Isfahání says that in general, all of the interpretations (ta'wílát) of the word dhikr refer either explicitly (saríhan) or implicitly (dimnan) to the waláya of `Alí.[883] Isfahání closes his discussion of this word, with the following statement:

In Káfí al-Sádiq is quoted as saying about the verse [39:45] When God is mentioned alone, then shudder the hearts of those who believe not, that is when God is remembered through the obedience to him who was commanded to be obeyed among the Family of Muhammad [i.e., the Imám]." And he said about 41:12 when God was called upon alone, you disbelieved [884] "That is, [disbelieve ] in the waláya of him for whom God commanded waláya . . ." This is why the Imáms are the possessors of the remembrance (ulú al-dhikr), as in the statement of al-Sadiq: "We are the possessors of the remembrance and the possessors of knowledge. . ." And thus they are the ones who follow the Remembrance, as al-Sádiq is quoted in Káfí on the verse: Thou only warnest him who follows the Remembrance . . . [36:11] where all of the interpretations which were applied to the last verse are applicable, according to his statement: "That is to say, `Alí is the explanation (bayán) of the ta'wíl of dhikr." So understand.

Then there is the interpretation (ta'wíl) of al-kathír (much ), as praise of Fátima (tasbíh Fátima), according to the reports from al-Sádiq in interpreting the quranic phrase: remember God much [passim]. al-Sádiq was asked about this and said: "He who praises like Fátima has remembered God much. ." It is possible, from what we have said, that the ta'wíl of tadhkír and its like, may be as a synonym for admonition (tanbíh) and contemplation of the truth (tadabbur fí 'l-haqq) which is the waláya, viz, that obedience must be to the people of the House, and that one must abandon allegiance to everyone else. . . . As for al-dhákir, this word also signifies `Alí, and there is no doubt that it includes the Imáms and even their perfect shí`a [shí`atuhum al-kummal]. Thus in one of the hadíths `Alí said: "In the Qur'an I am designated by several names, try to master them and beware that you do not err." Then he mentioned several of them and said: "I am al-dhákir implied in the verse: Those who remember God [3:191].[885]

The above clearly illustrates a cardinal principle of all Shí`ism: the two sources of religious authority, the Qur'an and the Imám, function in a complementary manner to such a degree that their respective titles are interchangeable. Dhikr may designate either the written scripture, or the human form which has been designated as the bearer of divine authority, the Prophet or one of the Imáms. Often the former is referred to as the "Silent Book" (al-kitáb al-sámit), while the latter is referred to as the "Speaking Book" (al-kitáb al-nátiq).[886] In the same way, both the written text and the bearer of authority may be referred to as Imám.[887] These categories and their mutual dependency, derive from among other statements, the Hadíth al-thaqalayn, in which the Prophet says that his legacy to the community consists of "two important things": the Qur'án and his descendents.[888] The underlying assumption of this Shí`í principle is that a text, in this case the Qur'án, is susceptible of multiple interpretations and that in order to minimize disharmony within the community resulting from conflicting interpretations, a single interpreter must be established and recognized.[889] In this regard, the principle or rukn of waláya contains within it profound implications for hermeneutics, as a result of which the preeminent function of the walí, Prophet, or Imám is precisely that of Interpreter (mutarjim) par excellence. This function is designated in early Ismá`ílí literature by the epithet al-nátiq al-wáhid, a term which bespeaks the absolute authority (ontological, eschatological, hermeneutical, legal/political), involved in the office of Imám/walí.[890] For the present discussion, it is important to note that the idea of a "single speaker" resurfaced in more recent years, with all of these implications, in the writings of the Shaykhís. The distinguishing feature of the Shaykhí concept of wahdat al-nátiqa, however, resides in the very fact that its bearer must remain unknown. The nátiq wáhid occupies the summit of the Shaykhí spiritual hierarchy of categories of believers such as abwáb, nuqabá', and nujabá', who are likewise unidentifiable during the time of occultation.

Les shaykhs de la silsila shaykhíya ont donc affirmé l'existence, á chaque époque, de ce Nátiq wáhid, ´shi`ite parfait�(tm) et Báb supr�(tm)me de l'Imám; mais aucun d'eux n'a jamais prétendu que c'était lui-m�(tm)me, ni prétendu á �(tm)tre reconnu comme tel. Loin de lá. Ils ont affirmé son existence, parce qu'il est impossible que le monde humain, l'humanité terrestre, en soit privé, mais ils ont corollairement affirmé l'impossibilité qu'il soit manifesté, c'est-a-dire l'impossibilité que les hommes soient en mesure de le reconnaítre, de le déterminer ou proclamer nommément, en personne.[891]

The idea of an anonymous spiritual elite is, of course, a very old one,[892] and as Corbin's summary of the doctrine as explained by Sarkár Ághá (1389/1969, the fifth successor of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í) indicates, it is also a very durable one. That it is in some measure faithful to the spirit of early Shaykhism is confirmed by a similar statement, written by the Bab himself, in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara.[893] The existence of such a statement in that earlier work by the Bab, contrasted with the proclamation (see below) contained in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf and written only a few months later, indicates a profound change in the Bab's self-perception. Whereas before it was imperative that the Qá'im remain hidden "in the souls of the Shí`a",[894] it is now incumbent upon all men to recognize him in the person of the Bab. That the Bab intended that he be regarded as the exclusive representative of the Qá'im is confirmed in the quotations cited below. The claim of the Bab to be either the personification of the heretofore more or less abstract principle of the "Gate of the Imám", or the Imám himself, could not but be received as a scandal and profanation of an old Shí`í doctrine, which had long since been "metaphorized" beyond any danger of vulgarization, or perhaps more importantly, politicization.

Furthermore, the irreconcilable nature of these two attitudes is reminiscent of a similar oscillation in Sufism. On the one hand, there is the above-noted doctrine of the 'hidden elite', and on the other hand, the tendency among some mystics to make various grandiose claims of spiritual authority. An example of the latter may be found in the early figure of Sahl al-Tustarí (283/896),[895] or later in the writings of Ibn `Arabí.[896] al-Tustarí's claim to be the "proof of God" (hujjat alláh) is interesting in itself as a case of Sufi/Shí`í terminolgical confluence, particularly in view of the fact that the claimant lived ten years into the period of the Shí`í "lesser occultation". It was during this period, which began in 260/873-4, that according to tradition, the Shí`í (12er) Hujja par excellence, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-`Askarí, was inaccessable to the main body of believers.[897] Even more striking is the gloss anonymously provided for this statement: [He means] "the pole (qutb) around which revolves the millstone (rahan)."[898] The similarity between this statement, and the opening line of the Khutba al-shiqshíya ascribed to `Alí is too striking to be ignored.[899] At this time, however, one can do no more than note in passing such Súfí/Shí`í cross-fertilizations.

At some point, there occurred a radical change in the Bab's thinking on this subject. That such a change should occur in a single individual, as opposed to the above doctrinal differences which the history of Sufism as a whole records, is a phenomenon of some significance. In addition, the fact that so many of the Bab's early followers were members of the Shaykhí school,[900] indicates that a similar change occurred in their attitude as well, insofar as they had previously held that the Qá'im, or his representative must remain unknown.[901] It may be assumed that the transition from being a follower of Kázim Rashtí to being a champion of the Bab was brought about, at least partly, by what was perceived to be a certain continuity of theme between the teachings of the two masters. Corbin and Sarkár Ágha may have been repulsed by the "rupture" of the "eschatalogical hope",[902] (which appears to function as the creative tension of individual spirituality) represented by the phenomenon of Babism. However, the historical fact that the Bab's message (including presumably, that part of his message which invoked those venerable Shí`í symbols, such as dhikr and the like) was enthusiastically embraced, indicates that the power which resided in such words was too great to be monopolized by philosophy. Several factors seem to have played an important role in effecting this change: the visions which the Bab claims to have received prior to writing the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, the credibility of which was supported by the Bab's universally agreed upon saintly character;[903] the disarray in which the followers of Kázim Rashtí found themselves upon the death of their leader;[904] and perhaps most importantly, the intense atmosphere of messianic expectation which permeated the Shí`í world at this time.[905] A somewhat cynical interpretation suggests that the Bab and his writings were manipulated by more sophisticated men, dissatisfied with the political and religious status quo.[906] This calls to mind early orientalist interpretations of Islam, in which any possible explanation for Muhammad's prophecy (and therefore the subsequent success of Islam) was preferable to one which simply acknowledged that Muhammad, and those who followed him, sincerely thought that he was a prophet. That the Bab considered himself as having been "chosen" to fulfill the Shí`í prophecies seems clear.[907]

For textual evidence of this transformation in the way the Bab saw himself, reference may be made to statements in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, like the following unequivocal one, which is in the form of a general address by the Bab on behalf of the hidden Imám:

O servants of the Merciful! Take not friends from among the disbelievers as opposed to the sábiqún [i.e, the "Letters of the Living] from the believers. He who comes to God in disbelief in the Book and in this Remembrance of ours (dhikriná hádhá) will have nothing from God.[908]

Earlier in the same chapter, the Bab has written, again in the voice of the Imám:

Indeed, We have sent down this Book with the truth from God to our Servant and have made all the verses in it clear (muhkamát), not [!] ambiguous (mutashábihát). And none knows their interpretation (ta'wíla-há) except God and whomsoever We desire from among the sincere servants of God. Therefore, ask the Remembrance its [the Book's] interpretation (ta'wíl). Indeed, he is, through the bounty of God, knowledgable about all of its verses, according to the rule of the Book [itself].[909]

Quite apart from identifying the author as dhikr, this passage is a good example of the way in which the Bab improvised on the quranic material.[910] In this case Q. 3:7, which establishes the hermeneutic categories for all Qur'an interpretation, has been radically changed. Whereas in the Qur'an "the Book" (i.e., the Qur'an proper) has been described as containg two basic types of verses, the Bab (or the hidden Imám) annuls one of these categories, namely that of the "ambiguous verses" (mutashábihát). Nonetheless, these clear verses (muhkamát) are still subject to interpretation. (This differs from the quranic original which can be interpreted as stating that a number of qualified persons (viz, al-rásikhún, "those whose knowledge is sound") are capable of interpreting the verses.)[911] In the present case, it would appear that it is the Remembrance alone who is qualified to comment on the text.

Following the above quotation, the Bab has written:

Those who disbelieve in the Most Great Remembrance of God, neither their wealth nor their children will avail them . . .[912]

It is of course possible that in this passage dhikr alláh al-akbar refers to the Book, rather than to the Bab. However, it seems clear from the above that dhikr refers to a person, in this case the person of the Bab.[913] In the same chapter the Bab has written, paraphrasing Q. 3:14:

Indeed God has appointed an excellent abode for those who assist the exalted Remembrance of God (dhikr alláh al-`alí) with their hands and their tongues and their wealth for the love of God, the Self-sufficient.[914]

It is important to note the reference here to the Bab's own name - `Alí - in the epithet. This provides further support for the identification of the Bab with the dhikr. The following passage, which combines frequent quranic images, also tends to support this reading:

In the origination of night and day and their appearance (iblájuhumá) and the bringing forth of the living from the dead and the bringing forth of the dead from the living are signs (áyát) for this Most Great Remembrance of God (li-dhikr alláh al-akbar hádhá). For this reason he is described as exalted (al-`alí) by God in the preserving tablet (al-lawh al-hafíd).[915]

The following extended final excerpt is a good example of the way in which the language of the Qur'an and the "akhbárí code" are combined:

Mankind! If you believe in God alone then follow me in the Most Great Remembrance of God (fí dhikri alláh al-akbar) from your Lord that God might forgive you your sins. Verily God is Forgiving and Merciful to the believers. Verily We have chosen the messengers through our word and secretly preferred some of their progeny over others through the great Remembrance of God (dhikr alláh al-kabír) according to the rule of the Book. And We have given to you (i.e., the Bab) the authority of the Gates (hukm al-abwáb) by the permission of God, the Hearing. And God is a witness over all things. And We sent down Our spirit upon Mary and We accepted from the wife of `Imrán her vow to God, the Exalted (al-`alí). And God is apprised of his servants, the believers. And We gave tidings to the Prophet mentioning (dhikríyan) Our name Yahyá confirming this Most Great Word of God (kalimat alláh al-akbar hádhá) and thus We appointed him a chief (sayyid) and chaste, in the Mother of the Book. Indeed, the likeness of the creation of the worlds with God is as the likeness of Our cause (amruná) when we desire [it] we but say to it "Be" and it is (naqúl la-hu kun fa-kána) existent, in the precincts of the fire, in the Book of God, the Praised (al-hamíd). Indeed, God has taught you the knowledge of the Book from the Furqán and the Gospel and the Torah and the Psalms and whatever is beyond them of the Scriptures. And in the estimation of your Lord, you are abiding at the gate of the point of the hidden bá'. Indeed, We have revealed unto you (awhayná) concerning the tidings of the unseen and revealed to you this book with the truth, and forbidden unto you wicked deeds and permitted unto you the good things that the people might believe in your word (bi-dhikrika) . . . Indeed, those who fancy that they can compete with you to any degree in knowledge sink from the sky to a wretched earth. God is witness over all things. God has touched your essence (dhát) with Our essences (reference to all the Imáms) and your being (kaynúna) shines with the light of the Essence of God, the Ancient, Our Lord. And God is powerful over all things. And the unfaithful (mushrikún) themselves have plotted against your word (dhikri-ka), but they harm only themselves. Indeed, God fulfills His covenant and I have purified you and made my claim on you and raised you up to God, the True One so that you rule, by the permission of God, on the Day of Resurrection about that wherein mankind disagrees concerning the exalted Remembrance of God (dhikr alláh al-`alí). And God is Witness over all things. Some of the people of the city have said: "We are God's helpers". But, when the Remembrance came suddenly upon them they turned away from assisting us. Indeed God, My Lord and your Lord, is the True One, so worship Him. And this is a high road (sirát `alí) in the estimation of your Lord - straight. God will judge among mankind with the Truth, then they will not find in themselves any sanctuary from the rule of God, the Pure. Indeed this command is ordained in the Mother of the Book.[916]

This passage, as in the case with so many others in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, is developed around a section of the Qur'án. By seizing upon a particular key quranic word or phrase, usually in existing quranic sequence, the Bab elaborates his own particular message through paraphrase. This method is analyzed in full in a later chapter; this particular chapter, the Súrat al-ímán, of the Bab's tafsir is constructed around Qur'an 3:1-60 (approximately). In any case, the above passages, which are typical of those found in each of the other 110 chapters of the work, seem to indicate that the Bab is intended by the hidden Imám (his alter-ego, see below chapter 3) to be regarded as the personification of the remembrance of God. As we have seen, a source for such personification may be found in the works of akhbárí tafsír, where the Prophet and Imáms are identified either individually or collectively, as dhikr.

Quite apart from the rigorous effort of the Shaykhís, and others before them (e.g. Mullá Sadrá, and apparently the Bab himself in al-Baqara) to insulate belief from the harshness of the world, such terms as dhikr and báb are seen, especially here in this work of the Bab's, to have a life of their own. The ideas which they convey: savior, guide, refuge, and so forth, are finally simply too appealing, particularly on the literal level, to remain in a philosopical realm to which the "common man" has no access. For the Shaykhís mankind in general is now, and will be for an indefinite span of time, incapable of recognizing the spiritual grandeur of an actual theophany in the person of an Imám (viz, nátiq, báb, dhákir, dhikr). This is so because such recognition necessitates a spiritual correspondence between the theophany and the one who recognizes it.[917] The Shaykhís imply that such a correspondence can be expected in only a few cases. On the other hand, the proclamation that such an Imám has appeared "in the world" suggests a view of mankind not as essentially flawed, but potentially perfect in all the ways that the Imám himself is perfect, namely as the locus for the appearance (mazhar) of the innumerable divine attributes of God. An announcement, such as the one contained in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, refuses to accept that such a capacity is limited to an elite.[918] In addition, the Shaykhí belief taught by Kázim Rashtí, that the world was on the verge of entering a new cycle which would involve a new and higher level of man's spiritual maturity, could have suggested to those numerous Shaykhí students who were to become followers of the Bab, that it was no longer necessary or perhaps even possible, to rely on the argument of "incapacity" as a safeguard against the dangers (spiritual and political) inherent in recognizing an actual person as the bearer of waláya.[919]


Every writer who has made mention of the Báb has pointed out that this title assumed by him at the beginning of his mission signifies in Arabic 'Gate' or 'Door,' but in specifying that whereunto he professed to be the 'Gate' they are no longer in accord. [920]

One of the most frequent titles assumed by or "bestowed upon" the author of this commentary is indeed that of báb. Because of this, and because it is the title by which `Alí Muhammad Shírází is best known, it was thought appropriate to treat in some detail what is undoubtedly a very important word. It is felt that the better its use in the commentary is properly grasped, the better our position to understand this rather difficult work. For if the term indicates, even at this stage of development of the Bab's message, something beyond a mere "herald" of future events, namely a kind of prophethood, then the text, unusual as it is, must be read as a "new scripture," as is in fact stated in the work.[921] In the face of a new prophecy, we are well-advised to expect a departure from the rules.[922] That those readers of the revelation who became followers of the Bab would have found in the work sufficient proof of such claims, indicates that however outlandish or bizarre the work might otherwise appear, it undoubtedly had meaning for those who were perhaps in the best position to judge it.

The word báb occurs in almost every chapter of the text, usually several times. Sometimes it appears simply as báb alláh:

Verily, those who disbelieve in the exalted Gate of God (bi-báb alliah al-rafí`), indeed I have ordained for them a painful chastisement by the authority of God.[923]

At other times, it appears as báb imámikum:

Did not the Remembrance and the Book come to you from all directions with the most great truth calling: "O concourse! I am the Gate of your awaited Imám . . .";[924]

or, as hádhá 'l-báb:

Indeed, mankind is wrongfully in neglect and perturbed concerning this Most Great Gate [who comes] by Our mighty command. And He is God, Exalted, Great.[925]

Dhálika 'l-báb is also frequently encountered and is seen to exploit the ambiguity associated with Qur'án 2:2 dhálika 'l-kitáb.[926] Such an allusion represents yet another example of the Shí`í doctrine of "the Imám as Book and Book as Imám", discussed above.

And indeed We have sent down the book upon Our servant in order that mankind might be a witness to the exalted Remembrance of God [which is] in that Gate.[927]

Several times, the author is referred to as báb alláh al-akbar, al-báb al-akbar, or dhálika al-báb al-a`zam.[928] These usages find their parallel in others, such as al-dhikr al-akbar, or kalimat al-akbar (sic).[929] Other epithets, such as báb alláh al-rafí` are also found.[930] Several times the ahl al-báb are referred to, indicating presumably, those who have recognized the claims put forth.

Verily your Lord, God, said: "I am truly merciful to those believers from among the people of the Gate."[931]

Similarly, the sabíl al-báb, or some variation is often read:

He is God, the Truth, He of whom [it is said] "There is no God but He." He has desired only that you serve sincerely in the path of this Gate.[932]

A most important usage of the term appears in the following:

inna hukm al-dunyá wa'l-ákhira `alá khátim al-abwáb fí nuqtati 'l-báb hawl al-nár qad kán fí umm al-kitáb mahtúman.

Indeed, the rule of the World and the Hereafter [devolves] upon the Seal of the Gates in the point of the Gate about the fire and is firmly established in the Mother of the Book.[933]

An indication of how the Bab meant such references to be understood is found in such statements as:

wa inná nahnu qad rafa`ná daraját al-abwáb bi-qudrat alláh al-akbar bi'l-haqq wa inna al-dhikr hádhá la-huwa al-murád bi'l-`alím laday al-hakím wa huwa 'lláh qad kána bi'l-haqq mahmúdan.

We have elevated the rank of the gates through the most great power of God. This Remembrance is he who is meant by the divine name "learned" before the Judge. And God is indeed deserving of praise.[934]

Such a statement appears to support the idea put forth at the beginning of this thesis that as a result of the unrelenting negative theology of Shaykhism, the Imáms and the Prophet came to fill the "void" left by the Deus absconditus. This being so, the former rank of bábíya was also elevated to fill the position previously occupied by the Imáms. Nonetheless there appears to be a certain amount of reluctance in recent studies of Bábism to acknowledge that the Bab at this time was claiming such an exalted spiritual rank.

While it is certainly true that the term báb can refer to those who represented the hidden Imám during the period of the minor occultation (i.e., 260/873-4 -329/941), during which time he communicated to his followers through a series of four individuals who were known as abwáb, nuwwáb, or sufará, it is also true that the term has a great many connotations as a function of its use in various traditions ascribed to the Imáms, and in other contexts.[935] Nicolas, in arguing that the title denotes spiritual authority beyond "mere" bábíya, namely imáma, has discussed the importance of certain traditions which designate the Imáms themselves as "gates".[936]

But there continues to be some equivocation about the significance of the term as applied to the Bab in this commentary. Amanat writes:

It is almost certain that references to the Concealed Imám in the works of the Bab are, even from the early stages, references to the status which inwardly he claimed for himself.[937]

This statement may be thought to be supported by those passages in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara, which speak of the Qá'im as an esoteric principle, perhaps even ultimately accessible to all believers. Elsewhere, however, Amanat refers to the vagueness of the terminolgy in the commentary, or its ambiguity.[938] The conclusion put forth by him is that the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf announces certain claims of the Bab, but not his "real" claims.[939] The point to be made in the following examination of hadíth literature, is that such terms as báb and dhikr had acquired a sufficiently broad semantic range to accommodate a hierarchy of meanings. It would therefore be wrong to suppose that the Bab's perception of his spiritual rank had evolved or developed from seeing himself as a representative of the Imám, to possessing imáma, and ultimately to being a manifestation or claiming divinity, merely because his language became less ambiguous as time went by. As has been amply demonstrated in the study of the Tafsír súrat al-baqara, the Bab's imamology was one in which the Imám and the Prophet could be equated with God. In fact, one of the ontological levels of imáma was seen to be bábíya or gatehood, the level of the appearance of the principle of imáma to the believers.

For our purpose, this hadíth literature has been conveniently summarized in Isfahání's dictionary.[940] The akhbárí commentator of the Qur'an says that both báb and abwáb occur in many traditions, meaning that the Imáms themselves are the gates of God, and the gate by which the believer approaches God. He quotes from the Kitáb kanz al-fawá'id,[941] a tradition in which the Prophet, addressing Abú Dharr says: "`Alí is the greatest gate of God (báb alláh al-akbar), he who desires God let him enter the gate." As we have seen, the Bab has appropriated this very title to himself. Isfahání then quotes from the book of Salím bin Qays:[942]

I heard Salmán al-Fárisí . . . say that `Alí is a gate, God opens it and whoever enters is a believer and whoever goes out of it is a káfir.[943]

Isfahání says that this meaning for the word báb will also be adduced in the reports he lists in his article on al-bayt, as well as in the famous mutawátir hadíth in which Muhammad declared: "I am the city of knowledge and `Alí is its gate." In addition, it occurs in some of the reports which cite the statement ascribed to `Alí: "I am the house of wisdom and am stationed at its gate."[944]

Isfahání continues with material from the Manáqib of Ibn Sharáshúb,[945] which quotes `Alí as having said: "I am the gate of God through which anyone who comes to God must enter prostrate." He then quotes al-Sádiq from the Ma`ání al-akhbár: [946] "`Alí said, 'I am the gate of repentance (ána báb hittatin, 2:58).'" Isfahání says that this hadíth will come again on the article on hittatun and safínatun where the meaning is that the Imáms are like the gate of repentance of the baní Isrá'il mentioned in the Qur'an, 2:58. This statement also occurs in the course of the article on al-súr ("wall") 57:13: And a wall shall be set up between them, having a door in the inward whereof (bátinuhu) is mercy, and against the outward thereof is chastisement (záhiruhu). Here Isfahání says that the gate is `Alí, just as the word gate in 15:14 is `Alí. He adds that in some of the reports the Imáms are said to be the "gates" to the Qur'an", the "gate of faith", the "gate of immortality" (báb al-muqám), the "gates of Paradise, "the gate of laws", the "most sought gate," the "gate of certitude", and finally the "gate of piety."

He then quotes the transmission of al-Kaf`amí from the Imám al-Báqir: "God is concealed from men by his prophet and the trustees (awsiyá') which came after him whom he gave all knowledge men would require.[947] When the time came for the Prophet to give `Alí the divine wisdom he said:

"I am the city of knowledge and `Alí is its gate." In any case, God had already made it obligatory upon men to submit to `Alí in His statement: And enter in at the gate, prostrating, and say, Unburdening (hittatun); We will forgive you your transgressions, and increase the good-doers. [2:58], that is those who do not doubt the excellence of the gate, and the loftiness of his power."

Returning to Kulayní, where `Alí himself is quoted, Isfahání cites the statement: "God appointed knowledge for a certain people and imposed upon the servants obedience to them through His statement: Enter the houses through their gates [2:189]. The houses here are the houses of the knowledge which had been entrusted to the prophets. Their gates are the trustees of the prophets."

Isfahání closes this article with his own views. He says that these last two hadíths, and their like, especially those which come in his article on al-bayt and elsewhere, indicate that the intention is according to the exegetical principle of spiritual metaphor (al-murád al-tashbíhát al-ma`nawíya). "The prophets themselves are the gates of the religion (dín) of God, and the signposts of His religion (ma`álim dínihi)[948] and the means of passing through the gates to Him for men. At the same time, the trustees are the gates of the prophets, and the means whereby men approach the prophets." He then quotes the Prophet, who said to `Alí: "You are the gate to me for whoever enters it and I am the gate of God, any one but you who enters it has not attained me and will not attain God." Then God sent down the verse: It is not piety to come to the houses from the backs of them . . . [2:189]. "It is obvious that the gate of the gate of God is the gate of God. In this sense, the ulama are the gates to the Imáms, nay, rather also the gates of God, according to the above-mentioned reports. And since that is the cause for the attainment of faith (al-fawz bi'l-ímán), and repentence of sins (hatt al-dhunúb), and access to all the paradises, and the knowledge of the divine laws, they are named gates. `Alí is the greatest gate (al-báb al-akbar), inasmuch as he is clearly given this name in many of the reports. Likewise, the khulafá' al-jawr, and their following, and the ulama of the opposition and their companions, are the gates of disbelief and deviation and hell. Ta'wíl is applied to this word in all places accordingly; only God knows."[949]

Curiously, the author of Anwár makes no mention of the historical four deputies (nuwwáb), or gates (abwáb) of the hidden Imám. In summary, báb can designate the prophets in general, the Prophet Muhammad in particular, the Imáms (especially `Alí as al-báb al-akbar), and even the ulama. In light of the interchangeability in Shí`ism of the authority of Book and Imám, it is interesting that báb appears to be uniquely applicable to a person. A similar case is the word walí.[950] Apart from the single possibility of interpreting báb as designating the Imáms in their capacity as báb al-Qur'án, that is, as interpreters of the Holy Book, the Qur'án itself is not mentioned in Isfáhání's discussion of the word.

Another work which has been shown to have a bearing on the study of Shaykhism and the writings of the Bab, is Rajab Bursí's al-Masháriq, several times mentioned above. Aside from referring to the recitation of the Fátiha as a means of "opening" the gates of heaven to the believer,[951] Bursí quotes (in addition to quoting some of those hadíths mentioned in Anwár) the following:

`Alí said: "O people! we are the gates of wisdom and the keys of mercy and the masters of the community and the trustees of the book."[952]

The Messenger of God said: "When I went up to the seventh heaven, and beyond it to the sidrat al-muntahá, and beyond it to the veils of light, my Lord called to me and said, 'O Muhammad, you are my servant, and I am your Lord, so humble yourself to me and serve me and trust in me and I will accept you as my servant and friend and messenger and will accept for you `Alí as caliph and gate, and make him my proof against all my servants . . . To God belongs a gate (whoever enters it is saved from Hell), and it is the love of `Alí. Indeed, he who loves `Alí, God will give him, for every vein in his body and every hair thereon a city in paradise." [953]


Having examined what might be considered to be a synopsis of akhbárí thought on the term, attention is now turned to the way the title figured in some of the works of Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kázim. It is important to note that both men were known by their followers as gates.[954] Rafatí refers to a letter written by Táhireh, who was one of the hurúf al-hayy, in which reference is made to Ahsá'í and Rashtí as the "two gates (al-bábayn)", and Rashtí himself as "the earlier gate of God (báb alláh al-muqaddam)". Rashtí was also referred to in this way by the Bábí historian Qatíl-i Karabalá'i.[955] All of these sources, however, are written by Bábís who had previously been adherents of the Shaykhí school. So far, it has not been possible to locate a direct statement by either Ahsá'í or Rashtí, in which a claim to bábíya is made. However, given the above range of meanings which the term báb was capable of bearing, it would not be surprising if these two scholars had tacitly accepted such a title as a possible metaphor for the function of the ulama. Such would offer an example of the moderate akhbarism which Shaykhism propounded as a means of bridging the gulf between two antagonistic Shí`í trends.[956] It is also possible that the former followers of Ahsá'í and Rashtí have retrojected the title báb on to the first two masters of the Shaykhíya, in order to emphasize a continuity between Shaykhism and Bábism. This is clearly seen, for example, in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf:

O ye peoples of the earth! During the time of My absence I sent down the Gates unto you. However the believers, except for a handful, obeyed them not. Formerly I sent unto you Ahmad and more recently Kázim, but apart from the pure in heart amongst you no one followed them.[957]

The dual of báb is found in several places throughout the commentary and it may be thought that wherever it occurs, it may on some level, refer to the first two leaders of the Shaykhí school.[958] However, the dual number is widely used throughout the commentary, and as such forms a separate subject of study to be taken up below in the examination of the way the word nuqta, and its synonyms are used in the commentary.

To return to the term báb in Shaykhí thought, commenting on the verse of the Ziyára: al-salám `alaykum yá ahla bayt al-nubúwa,[959] Shaykh Ahmad says that this means that the Imáms are the people of the house of prophetic knowledge because they preserve it, and this knowledge is from divine revelation (wahí). In the esoteric interpretation, the "house" is the Messenger of God himself in whom nubúwa was put, and the "houses" are all of the Family of the messenger. "However,the Prophet is the greatest house, nay rather he is the city and they are the gates." He quotes al-Báqir: "The family of Muhammad are the gates of God and the path to Him and the summons to paradise." He then quotes the celebrated hadíth, in which the Prophet says that he is the city of knowledge and `Alí is its gate, and that no one enters this city except through its gate. Shaykh Ahmad also says that it is related that the Prophet said: "I am the city of wisdom."[960] In this case, wisdom means knowledge. He then quotes the Kitáb al-ihtijáj of Tabarsí, which contains the statement of `Alí commenting on 2:189 about which he says: "We are the houses which God commanded to be entered by their gates, we are the gates of God and the house which should be entered thereby. He who pledges allegiance to us and confesses our waláya will have entered these houses through their gates, but whoever opposes us will have entered the houses from behind. " Shaykh Ahmad then cites several of the traditions which were cited by Isfahání, indicating his own veneration of the akhbárí tradition.[961] This veneration was either already shared, or passed on to his successor Sayyid Kázim Rashtí.

Sayyid Kázim speaks of the gate of God in various ways. In one place he refers to Muhammad himself as the báb alláh, from which those who claim to be independent have turned away.[962] Elsewhere he speaks of the divine bounties (al-fuyúdát), as being the báb alláh ilá al-khalq.[963] And in another passage, relating the three categories of abdál ("saints"), arkán, nuqabá', and nujabá', to the idea of gate, he says that they are three but one essence (fí `ayn kawnihá wáhidatun).[964]

The first is the place where divine unity appears (mazhar al-tawhíd) in the maqám al-tábi`íya, the second is the place where prophecy appears (mazhar al-nubúwa) in the same maqám, and the third is the place where waláya appears (mazhar al-waláya) in the same maqám. Each one is a mazhar al-tawhíd, nubúwa, and waláya, and each is [simultaneously] a manifestation of the part (mazhar al-ba`d) and a manifestation of the whole (mazhar al-kull).[965]

The inspiration for this statement is the quranic reference to the "single command/cause" of God, as is clear from the portions of verses immediately quoted in rapid succession as follows:

And Our command (amruná)is but one (wáhidatun) . . .; Thou can see no disharmony (tafáwutin)in the creation of the Merciful . . .; If it had been from any other than God they would have therein much disharmony .[966]

So he who recognizes only one aspect is one-eyed (a`waru) and he who recognizes [only] two aspects in one is cross-eyed (ahwálu). But he who recognizes them all in one aspect, and not in three, is a true seer (basírun kámilun). . . . Know that the gates of the gate and the aspects of the threshold are all one, when you consider what is inside the "house" or the "city".[967] But if the sight is turned to the gates as such (ilá nafs al-abwáb), then the gate will disappear and the threshold becomes blocked.[968] It is as if the gate were the same as the "house".[969]

Here is another instance of the theme of simultaneous veiling and revealing. If attention stops at the gate itself, then that to which it leads is lost sight of, or veiled. This is a clear warning about indiscriminant attachment to the "personality" of the person who functions as the gate. On the other hand, this same gate when approached as a means of leading beyond itself, reveals.

Elsewhere Rashtí, quotes the following hadíth from the 11th Imám, `Alí ibn Muhammad al-Hádí al-`Askarí (254/868):

When you approach the gate recite the shaháda twice for the gate of God is not known unless God is remembered/mentioned near it. And if God is brought to mind near it (`indahu), then it is [truly] the gate, and the proof (al-dalíl) and the threshold, and the path. And if God is not brought to mind in his/its presence (`indahu) in neither His name nor attribute, then that [particular] gate is not the gate of God.[970]

The intention here of the hadíth (and Sayyid Kázim) seems to be quite straightforward: if someone claims to be the "gate of God" and God is in fact not "brought to mind" when in the presence of such a claimant, then the claims are false.[971]

In several places Rashtí appears to use the terms báb and hijáb interchangeably. Thus, in speaking of the Fátiha, he says that a proper reading of it will name the one who is the báb al-abwáb and the first veil of the al-nafas al-rahmání.[972] Here, báb al-abwáb is one of the many names of the "Holy Spirit", who as a primordial creature (and is also a creative principle), recites "both" books, the "book" of creation and the Qur'an proper. Commenting on a verse of the ode: hádhá riwáq madínat al-`ilm al-latí min bábi-há qad dalla man lá yadkhulu, Rashtí says that three words are important here: al-riwáq, al-madína, and al-báb, the exoteric meaning of which requires no interpretation.

I will mention that which has overflowed to me from the sea of Light (bahr al-núr) and that which has come to me through the praise of God from the world of felicity (`alam al-surúr) which has not been mentioned before, except by way of allusions.[973]

He then defines al-riwáq as "threshold (janáb)", "gate of the gate (báb al-báb)", and "veil of the veil (hijáb al-hijáb) ". Further, he calls it:

The pole around which the days revolve, the full moon which illumines the darkness (badr al-zalám) . . . the one who combines [in his] person those teachings (jámi` al-kalim) about piety and justice for which refute, on behalf of true religion, the corruption of the exaggerators (tahríf al-ghálín) . . . the judge over the flock and the rightful successor of the Imám (khalífat al-imám) . . . the tree of piety (shajarat al-taqwá), he without whom the traces of prophecy would have been effaced and without whom the pillars of waláya would have crumbled . . . [He is] the one who knows, without having to learn (al-`álim bi-ghayr al-ta`allum), the understander (al-`árif) of all the mysteries of Being in both the invisible and visible world, the dawning place of the [single] point of knowledge (matla` al-`ilm) which the ignorant have multiplied. . . . [He is] the one who knows the secret of the one and the many . . . and the secret of integration (sirr al-jam`) and the integration of integration (jam` al-jam`) and the mystery of reward and punishment. . . . and the mystery of that soul, which if known, God is known." [974]

One of the more important features of this passage is, of course, the reference to unlearned knowledge, sometimes referred to as `ilm laduní, which was one of the credentials the Bab was to eventually adduce. Rashtí continues in the same vein at some length, adducing similar equivalents for the riwáq of the door of the city of knowledge. Although no proper names are mentioned, it is possible that by the words "gate" and "city", the persons (or principles) of `Alí and Muhammad are intended. It may also be that Rashtí here regards himself as the riwáq, which both conceals and provides access to the Imám. Given however, his own scholasticism, it is difficult to see how the qualification of unlearned knowledge could be appropriated by him, unless it refers to supernatural knowledge which he acquired from the kinds of dreams or visions which both Shaykh Ahmad and the Bab experienced.[975] It is also explained that the term riwáq is equally applicable to the abdál, namely those souls who qualify as arkán, nuqabá, and nujabá (whose numbers are often set at four, thirty, and forty respectively), who will serve in their capacity as riwáq until the day of judgement (yawm al-waqt al-ma`lúm).[976]

Another aspect of bábíya comes a little later; in discussing the famous hadíth in which the seven grades constitutive of ma`rifa are mentioned,[977] Rashtí makes the following statement:

The gates are the prophets, they were the gates of God in worldly affairs (tashrí`) but our Prophet is the gate of God in both the metaphysical and physical worlds (takwín wa tashrí`). Existence comes to no one except through his agency (wásita) and the agency of the awliyá after him, particularly the seal of absolute waláya (viz, `Alí; khátim al-waláya al-mutlaqa) to whom leadership (riyása) and soveriegnty (saltana) befell from the seal of nubúwa.[978]

Commenting on the word satr, which occurs in another verse of the ode, Rashtí gives a precise meaning for satr, now glossed as hijáb:

[It is] the gate which connects the higher world with the lower (al-báb al-wásil wa'l-wásita bayna al-`álí wa'l-sáfil) the one who transmits the meaning of the Qur'an (al-mutarjim li'l-tibyán `inda ta`lím al-Qur'án) . . . to whoever does not understand. This can only be the one who unites the two stations, the tenant in the two degrees, the matter between the two matters, the one who abides over the two gulfs, the one who surveys the two wests and the two easts (jámi` al-maqámayn, the khá'iz al-martabatayn wa'l-amr bayn al-amrayn, al-wáqif `alá al-tatanjayn, al-názir fí 'l-maghribayn wa'l-mashriqayn).[979]

Rashtí then says that the Messenger of God is the most great veil interposed between God and His creation, and the awliyá' and the khulafá' are his veils which are interposed between him and his flock:

The walí is the veil and gate of the nabí. And this walí also has a gate and they are the ulama who really know (al-`ulamá' al-`árifún al-atyáb) and the perfect spiritual guides. They are the báb al-báb and the hijáb al-hijáb.[980]

Apart from seeing in this statement a possible indication for an understanding of the idea of the Fourth Support, namely as the whole body of those from among the Shí`a who may be considered "perfect spiritual guides", we see in all of this material how closely Rashtí accepts the wide variety of meanings given to the word báb in those akhbár quoted in Anwár (cf. especially the mention of shí`atuhum al-kummal above).

This application of the term báb to prophets is reminiscent of certain Ismá`ílí texts, such as the work ascribed to Ja`far ibn Mansúr al-Yaman (10th century), author of the Kitáb al-kashf. It may therefore represent an actual case of the often suggested Ismá`ílí influence, (albeit through akhbárí Qur'án interpretation) on Shaykhí thought.

The naming of the gates: One gate is Adam and his proof (hujja) Seth; One gate is Núh and his proof is Shem, one gate is Abraham and his proof is Isma`íl; one gate is Musa and Joshua his proof; One Gate is Jesus and Simon his proof. The proof of Muhammad is `Alí. The proof of Hasan is Husayn. The proof of Husayn `Alí b. Husayn, the Proof of `Alí b Husayn is Muhammad his son al-Báqir, the proof of al-Báqir is Abu Abd Allah Ja`far al-Sádiq bin Muhammad and thus the Imáms from the progeny of Ja`far b. Muhammad, one after the other, until the appearance (zuhur) of the Qá'im.[981]

This statement is important because it suggests that the term gate is used as a function of relation, and not as an absolute, as is the case with other such terms (e.g., hujja). Corbin, in his study of other Ismá`ílí works, has spoken of a ten-tier hierarchy for the Ismá`ílí grade of bábíya,[982] which indicates further the all-important relativity of the term. The báb, according to another early text, is precisely the (?) last Imám, le Résurrecteur.[983] (It is also known that the Ismá`ílí author, Mu'ayyad Shírází (470/1077), was the bearer of the title báb in at least one of its levels of meaning.[984]) While here in the Kitáb al-kashf Muhammad is not explicitly called a gate, it is implied in the context. The passage presupposes a kind of progressive revelation which the Bab, our author, most certainly subscribed to, for example in such statements where he says that the "day of resurrection" for one religion is the advent of a new religion which it is destined to supplant.[985] Thus the time of Jesus was the day of resurrection for the religion of Moses, the time of Muhammad was the day of resurrection for the religion of Jesus, and his own zuhúr represents the day of resurrection for Islam.[986]

In this regard, and in particular connection with the súra of Joseph, it is of some interest to note that an eighteenth century Ismá`ílí commentary by the thirty-third Yemení dá'í mutlaq, Diyá al-Dín Ismá`íl ibn Hibat Alláh, interprets the first part of 12:56 So We established Joseph in the land, as: wa kadhálika makkanná li-Yúsuf fí'l-ard . . ., ya`ní, bi-bulúghihi bi-rutbati'l-bábíya: "That is, by his attaining to the rank of gatehood".[987] Clarification of what is meant here by bábíya is found elsewhere in the work, where one Abú Muhammad Aristátálís is mentioned as being the násút of Khidr, for whom he thus functions as a veil and the báb al-abwáb. In this way, his earthly sovereign functions as the al-hijáb al-imámíya.[988]

Now this commentary need not have any direct connection with the Bab's, in order for such shared semantic relationships to exist. Given the factor of geography alone, the possibility of the Bab or even Shaykh Ahmad ever having read it, is remote. The citation is interesting because it refers to the office of báb in connection with earthly sovereignty, and also as a veil. It also points to a case of direct Ismá`ílí influence, through undetermined means, on Shaykhí thought.

Commenting on another verse in which the word báb itself is used,[989] Rashtí says that the gate, as a veil, is an intermediary:

[Báb] means the saintly men (al-rijál al-abdál). And because it represents two relationships (i.e, one to the higher world, the other to the lower) it is named "gate".[990]

Rashtí says that "báb" is composed of three letters, two of which are the same, which indicates the joining of the two principles (i.e., "higher" and "lower"). The other letter stands between them and indicates the ultimate unity obtaining between both worlds. The bá' which indicates this relationship, even though it appears to be two, is in reality only one. But if it is ommitted there ceases to be a gate. The first bá' indicates the principle of fatherhood. The second bá, is the bá' of the basmala, from which all existing things came forth (analogous to motherhood).[991]

This idea of the báb as veil is taken up elsewhere in the Qasída, and appears to be one of the more important themes of the book.[992] Representing, therefore, a principle which simultaneously reveals and conceals, the title báb was admirably suited to the uses put to it by the author of the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf.

Rashtí also equates gate with the face of God, i.e. the Imám;[993] the Fourth Support, which here is further defined as al-murshid al-kámil ("perfect master") and al-shaykh al-`ádil ("just teacher") indicating a contrasting view with Shaykhí material discussed above, in which the Fourth Support is seen to refer to a group, rather than an individual.[994] He several times refers explicitly to the "city of knowledge" hadíth;[995] and in one place says that the Qur'an itself is the "gate", an equivalence we have not been able to locate in the akhbárí literature.[996] However, as was the case in that literature as summarized in Anwár, there seems to be no direct reference to the early emissaries of the hidden Imám as gates, but confirmation of this would require further study of the work. What is clear is that the word is used in a variety of ways indicating prophecy and imáma.

Such is the immediate background for the manner in which the Bab's first disciples could have understood the term, particularly as used in those passages mentioned above, where the author of the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf is called the "most great gate of God". As such, I do not think that the word struck them as vague. It may be, however, that those persons who allied themselves with the movement and who did not come from a Shaykhí milieu did not perceive all of the manifold implications of the term. This might explain why the Bab employed other, more universally recognized titles of authority, as his movement gained in popularity. It seems clear that his assumption of the title báb, did in fact put forth his real claims right from the beginning.

Part ii: Chapter 3

The term "Point" (nuqta) and the Khutbat al-tatanjíya

Certes, l'Imám comme mazharest bien la limite á partitr de laquelle prennent naissance les couples de termes antithétiques. ... Corbin

The title nuqtat al-bá', discussed above, is one of the more straightforward instances of the use of the word "point" in this commentary. Whatever its full implications might be, we at least know from it that the point, or dot under the letter bá' is intended, and that tradition presents the Prophet as having discussed its significance. The Bab employs the term in several other ways throughout the commentary; the following represents a comparatively small number by way of example. These show that the word is used by the Bab, in what might be thought an original way, to allude to the spiritual rank for which the tafsír as a whole is a proclamation. In the first chapter the Bab describes himself as the "fire in the drop of water (nuqtat al-má') prostrating to God."[997] In chapter 13, Súrat al-firdaws, the Bab paraphrases 12:11-12 as follows:

And when they said: O our father! . . . Send him with us tomorrow so that he may abide in the point of ice from the frozen mountain about the point of union, and that he might cause the point of fire to appear from the mountain of justice about the water of virtue.[998]

In chapter 29, Súrat al-húríya, the following is found:

O peoples of the earth! Cleave ye tenaciously to the Cord of the All-Highest God, which is but this Arab Youth, Our Remembrance - He Who stands concealed at the point of ice amidst the ocean of fire. [999]

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

We have made all living things from water, according to what God decreed in the Mother of the Book, from the precincts of the fire from (`an) the point of water. [1000]

In chapter 48, Súrat al-nidá', is found:

O people of the earth! Follow the fire and him who is in the precincts of the water. Verily, he speaks on the authority of God and it [?he] is the truth: 'There is no god but He. So cling to the Cord of God, all of you. He is the truth, in the primal book of God (fí kitáb alláh al-bad') and is concealed with the truth in the point of the fire.'[1001]

In chapter 58, Súrat al-Huzn, we read:

And verily God intends [to proclaim] through this Gate, the secret of the fire of the point of water. Do not commit shirk in the service of God, your Lord, the Truth with the Truth, at all.[1002]

In chapter 81, Súrat al-Káf, the Bab writes:

O people of the Cloud! Hearken to the call of God in this tafsír from the point of water flowing from the spring of Káfúr, with the truth, upon the mighty truth, wondrously new.[1003]

In chapter 83, Súrat al-bá', the following is read:

That is from the story of the township, we recount it to you. Some of them are in the precincts of the water and some of them are in the precincts of God. Indeed, they were burned, in very truth, in the point of fire.[1004]

Finally, in chapter 110, Súrat al-sábiqín, we find:

The Remembrance of God is not like (laysa ka-mithl) any one of your ulama. By thy Lord! Verily, he is the truth coming from God and is a haníf Muslim. And he is upon the straight religion, in the point of the fire in the precincts of the water - straight." [1005]

A similar group of verses is found which employ the word qutb in a cognate manner. The term qutb, is of course one with a rich history both in Islam in general, and particularly in Sufism.[1006] As for Shí`ism, it will be remembered that in the canonical collection of the sayings of `Alí, the Nahj al-balágha, it is found for example, in the important Khutbat al-shiqshiqíya, where `Alí likens his rightful position in the community to the axle of the millstone. This position was one which Abú Bakr recognized, but proceeded to usurp anyway: wa innahu la-ya`lamu anna mahallí minhá (i.e., the caliphate) mahall al-qutb min al-rahá.[1007] Corbin has discussed the implications of qutb in several contexts, some of which, by way of introduction to the following examples of the Bab's writings, will be summarized.

First of all, the Imám as qutb distinguishes what Corbin repeatedly refers to as "la gnose shi`ite", which thus sets itself apart from Sunní veneration of the person of the Prophet.[1008] As "pole", along with other designations such as "guide" or "witness", the Imám is a point of metaphysical focus for the believer.[1009] The Imám as pole also represents a means for the believer to avoid the "double trap" inherent in the affirmation of divine unity. That is, the metaphysical danger which the shaháda poses of either attributing God with existence or non-existence. As pole, the Imám represents all that can be known by the believer of such things as God, and is thus the place where everything begins and ends.[1010]

Another aspect of qutb is brought out in connection with the Imám as the Face of God, or the aspect under which God reveals Himself. This Face is that which allows man, insofar as his own self-knowledge permits, to present himself to God. Thus the Imám, as an esoteric principle, occupies a "polar" position in this transaction between God and Man.[1011]

Suhrawardí (al-Maqtúl, 587/1191) made much of a spiritual hierarchy headed by one who functions as qutb which is ever-present in the world, albeit invisible (according to Corbin). As such, this qutb is the caliph of God.[1012] This correspondence between what the Ishráqís termed qutb, and what is termed imám by Shí`ís, is one of the major reasons that the writings of Suhrawardí gained such popularity in a Shí`í milieu. This milieu may be characterized as one in which the function of the Imám was essentially metaphysical and mystical, thus obviating any necessity for him to be publicly recognized.[1013]

According to Ibn Abí Jumhúr, the 12th or, hidden Imám, is the pole during the period of occultation.

In him every Imám and every pole converge, from the East to the West, from the Earth to Heaven ... . The world continues to be preserved only as a function of the existence of the Perfect Man (viz, the Imám) ... . This shows us that in the twelve Imáms, from the first to the last, all of the religions are manifested in both their exoteric and esoteric dimensions ... . If the Imáms are absent, then the universe ceases to be ... . Because it is by means of them that all begins, and it is to them that all returns.[1014]

Of more immediate relevance to this work of the Bab's, Corbin points out that the Shaykhís insist that in every age there exists a "Salmán" who functions as the earthly pole, or nadir of the Imám, who is the heavenly pole. This "Salmán" is thus a "burning wick", the flame of which is "none other than the communication of the invisible Fire."[1015] This presents another aspect of those dual usages so peculiar to the Bab's commentary (to be examined below), from which it would seem, that this "Salmán" is joined with the Imám himself in the person of the Bab. But Corbin notes that this figure, also designated by the Shaykhís variously as nátiq wáhid (unique speaker), the "perfect shí`í", and the supreme báb of the Imám, must by its very nature remain anonymous.

Aucun d'eux (i.e., the Shaykhís) n'a jamais prétendu que c'était lui-m�(tm)me, ni prétendu á �(tm)tre reconnu comme tel. Loin de lá. Ils ont affirmé son existence, parce qu'l est impossible que le monde humain, l'humanité terrestre, en soit privé, mais ils on corollairement affirmé l'impossibilité qu'il soit manifesté, c'est-a-dire l'impossibilité que les hommes soient en mesure de le reconnaítre, de le déterminer ou proclamer nommément, en personne. Sa personne et son nom restent le secret de l'Imám . . .

Quiconque se proclame publiquement le Báb de l'Imám, se met eo ipso en dehors du shí`isme, car il en profane le secret fondamental, viole la ghaybat, rompt l'attente eschatologique. Aucune école n'a insisté avec plus de force démonstrative que le shaykhisme sur ce point. C'est pourquoi le bábisme et le bahá'isme, quel que soit l'intér�(tm)t de ces phénomènes religieux considérés en eux-m�(tm)mes, ne peuvent apparaítre que comme la négation m�(tm)me du shaykhisme.[1016]

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

The conclusions suggested here about the precise nature of the Bab's claims in this commentary are really not dependent upon whether or not Rashtí ultimately expected an actual appearance of an Imám. Rather, they depend only on the obvious centrality in the writings of Shaykh Ahmad and Rashtí of repeated allusions to such symbols of authority as báb, imám, waláya, and so on, quite apart from considerations of whether or not these two authors were primarily interested in the esoteric, as opposed to the exoteric, implications of such terms. Many examples exist in Islamic history in which entire movements acquired identity from allusive or ambiguous references to such ideas as, for example, the spiritual authority implied in the term khátim al-awliyá.[1017]

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

We have set the mountains in motion upon the earth and the stars upon the Throne around the Fire in the Pole of the Water in the presence of the Remembrance by [the will of] God, the Truth.[1018]

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

And verily God knows that your obedience during both night and day, and to the Pole of the Fire in the precincts of the Water, is to God, the One, the Ancient, He other than Whom there is no god.[1019]

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

Say: 'All are at the Gate and have been remembered.' And: 'Verily, verily I am the Fire in the Pole of the Water, taking [men] to account about the cause. And in the estimation of God, the Truth, I have been mentioned.' [1020]

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

Say: I am that statement - the Reality (al-háqqa, cf. 69:1-3) in the precincts of the Water, and am also that statement -the Judgement to come (al-kalimat al-qári`a, cf. 69:4) in the precincts of the Fire upon the Pole which speaks of the divine glory by the permission of God, the High. In truth I am praiseworthy.[1021]

In chapter 81, the Súrat al-káf, the following is found:

Verily, We have established the throne upon the water [11:7], and the air around the Fire, and the Fire in the centre of the water (fí qutb al-má') . . ." [1022]

In chapter 99, Súrat al-jihád, we read:

Verily the Remembrance wants to connect you to his word of justice, by our permission. He is the Fire which has been appointed in the center of the water (al-ladhí qad kána fí qutb al-má' ma'múran). [1023]

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

O people of the earth! The night has indeed enshrouded and the day has indeed appeared resplendent [cf. 92:1-2] in the rising of the Sun with the truth. This day it is visible in the midst of its zenith (fí markaz al-zawál) in the precincts of the Water, upon the Water, around the Fire.[1024]

In chapter 109, Súrat al-`abd, we read:

O people of the Cloud! Know ye that this Arab youth is speaking the truth in the center of the water (fí qutb al-má') from the midst of the Fire (min markaz al-nár): 'There is no god but Him, the Mighty. And He is God, Mighty, Ancient.' [1025]

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

O Qurrat al-`Ayn! Mankind will ask thee concerning Dhú'l-Qarnayn. Say: [18:83, n.b. the Qur'an continues here with I shall recite unto you a remembrance of him. The Bab however stops the citation at the point indicated, possibly taking for granted that the rest of the verse will have been stimulated to life by the allusion, and continues with:] 'Yea, by my Lord! I am the king of the two beginnings (málik al-bad'ayn) in the two eras (fí'l-qarnayn). And I am the exalted era in the two bodies (al-qarn al-rafí` fí'l-jismayn) and verily, verily I am the Fire in the two waters (al-nár fi'l-má'ayn), and verily, verily, I am the Water in the two fires (al-má' fí'l-nárayn). So hearken ye to my call from this double Mount (fí dhálika al-túrayn): So We established Joseph in the land [12:56] and have given him a single letter of the name of the Remembrance - this Arab youth, in very truth.' [1026]

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

The frequent, almost hypnotic, reference to such words as nuqta, qutb, and markaz, however allusively employed, would quite naturally evoke in the minds of such persons as Mullá Husayn-i Búshrú'í, and other Shaykhís or Shí`í gnostics, the figure of the Imám, specifically the twelfth Imám. This figure is depicted in a particular type of imamology, which developed out of the meditation on such texts as the Khutbat al-tatanjíya. As has already been stated several times, this text was the subject of a large work by Sayyid Kázim Rashtí. This imamology, which speaks of the Imám as the coincidence of opposites, will be better understood through a brief description of the Khutba and Rashtí's commentary.

Before turning to this subject however, it will be of some interest to note another aspect of the idea of the coincidence of opposites and its connection with eschatology, as demonstrated in an article by Eliade.[1027] The author has isolated several instances of the theme from mythic and religious history. His focus was on the myth of androgyny, but in the course of his discussion many other examples are cited, such as the theme of reunion, the polar opposition of heaven and earth, water and clay, old and new, up and down, sun and moon, and other opposites which are found in works of alchemy. His conclusion on the matter is stated succinctly, and in the present context, most appropriately. For him the coincidence of opposites represents:

Le syndrome eschatologique par excellence, le signe que le Temps et l'Histoire ont pris fin - c'est l'agneau auprès du lion, et l'enfant jouant avec le vipère. Les conflits, c'est-a-dire les contraires, sont abolis; le Paradis est recouvré. Cette image eschatologique met parfaitement en évidence que la coincidentia oppositorum n'implique pas toujours la "totalisation" dans le sens concret du terme; elle peut signifier également le retour paradoxal du Monde á l'état paradisiaque. Le fait que l'agneau, le lion, l'enfant et la vipère existent, veut dire que le Monde est lá, qu'il y a un Cosmos et non pas le Chaos. Mais le fait que l'agneau reste auprès du lion et l'enfant s'endort auprès de la vipère, implique également qu'il ne s'agit plus de notre monde, mais du Paradis. Bref, il s'agit d'un Monde paradoxal, puisque vidé des tensions et des conflits qui définissent tout Univers.[1028]

It will be remembered that Shaykhí works (as well as Ismá'`ílí works) speak often of two cycles of history. It is also important to note that one of the main objections to Shaykhí theology has been against that school's understanding of the Hereafter, or Paradise, which the Shaykhís identified as the recognition of the waláya of the Imám, and their further insistence that Paradise and Hell are realized through the actions of men and have no real identity beyond this.[1029] The Bab, in his voice as Qá'im, would therefore function as marking the end of the previous cycle (Eliade's "Time and History"), and the "descent to earth" of Paradise, in the person of the Imám to whom mahabba or the act of waláya is owed. At the same time, this Qá'im is the personification of Hell (al-nár), insofar as he is not recognized or accepted. As has been seen, such ideas have their basis in the akhbárí literature.[1030] The matter is elucidated in Rashtí's commentary on the Khutbat al-tatanjíya, to which attention is now turned.

Khutbat al-Tatanjíya

The single most revealing clue to the proper understanding of the way in which the Bab himself perceived his own station, or the true voice of this work, resides in the many references, both oblique and explicit, to the Khutbat al-tatanjíya in the tafsír on the súra of Joseph. This sermon has been mentioned in previous pages, but it is now time to consider it in some detail. One of the major works of Sayyid Kázim Rashtí, to whom the Bab refers as his "dear teacher", was a lengthy commentary on this sermon attributed to the first Imám `Alí. The piece is known by the above name because of the distinctive way in which the unusual Arabic word tatanj is used in the text.[1031] We are fortunate to have a discussion of the obscurities the sermon presents by Henry Corbin, who studied it with his students during one of his courses at the ...cole des hautes études during the academic year 1969-70.[1032] The following is a synopsis, by way of a rather free translation, of Corbin's discussion of the sermon and Rashtí's commentary. As far as I know, Corbin is the only Western scholar to have studied this work. The point to be made is that the Bab's so-called "galimathias"[1033] does have a direct relation with the khutba itself. The Bab's preoccupation with this sermon has obvious traces in his other work, beginning as we have seen with the few passages pointed out in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara, and more importantly in numerous dual usages in the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf where the reference is either explicit or implicit. Such a connection, it is argued, sheds considerable light on the nature of the Bab's claims, however obscure and/or confused these might otherwise appear, especially to those scholars who might have been unaware of the kind of literature this difficult sermon represents. The conclusion offered is that the Tafsír of the Bab represents not only the "new book, difficult for the Arabs" (mentioned above from a hadíth) which the Qá'im is expected to promulgate in Mekka, but also it proclaims the distinctive imáma to which the Bab was laying claim. The text of the khutba, as it appears in the Masháriq anwár al-yaqín by the fourteenth century Shí`í scholar Rajab Bursí is reproduced below. Next to this, is reproduced the chapter from the Bab's tafsír in which the emulation of the style of the Khutba reaches something of a climax.[1034]

The Khutbat al-tatanjíya is attributed to the first Imám, `Alí. The khutba itself is rather long, and according to Corbin, one of the most difficult and complex imamological texts.[1035] It is not found in the Nahj al-balágha; the earliest mention of it is in the work of the twelfth century Shí`í scholar, Ibn Shahráshúb.[1036] A characteristic passage runs:

I am the one who hopes and the one hoped for; I am abiding over the two gulfs (tatanjayn); I am he who gazes towards the two Wests and the two Easts [cf.55:17]; I have seen the mercy of God and Paradise is (sic) the vision of the eye.[1037]

Elsewhere in the sermon we find the following:

I know wonderful things about God's creation - things which none but God knows. And, I know what was and what will be and what was with those who preceded at the time of the first dharr belonging to the first Adam (Adam al-awwal) . . . God hid His full knowledge from all of the prophets except the master of this sharí`a of yours (i.e., Muhammad) . . .Then he taught me his knowledge and I taught him my knowledge . . . through us perishes he who perishes and through us is saved he who is saved . . .[1038]

A final example:

I am the master of the first flood and I am the master of the second flood[1039] I am the master of the flood of `Arim [34:16]. I am the master of the hidden secrets. I am the master of `Ad and the gardens. I am the master of Thamúd and the signs. I am the one who destroys them. I am the one who agitates them. I am the place to which they return. I am their destroyer. I am their manager. I am the one who constructs them. I am the one who flattens them. I am the one who causes them to die. I am the one who gives them life. I am the First. I am the Last. I am the Seen. I am the Hidden. [cf. 57:3] I was with generation (kawr) before generation (dawr). I was with age before aging. I was with the Pen before there was a Pen. I was with the Tablet before there was a Tablet . . .[1040]

The sermon is one of a number, in which what Corbin calls "l'imamologie théosophique", finds its most accomplished, condensed, and obscure expression.[1041] Among such sermons or hadíths included in this category is the first one discussed in this article by Corbin,[1042] which presents a conversation between the láhút (divine nature) and the násút (human nature) of the Imám. As mentioned above, it may be that the dialogue presented in this sermon offers another clue to the elusive problem of the "voice" speaking in the Bab's commentary. Signs of such an internal dialogue may be found in the Qur'an itself (viz, the "qul" verses), but the phenomenon is clearly developed in, for example, the Persian mystic, A`lá al-Dawla Simnání (736/1336). Landolt's study of the letters exchanged between Simnání and his master, Núr al-Dín Isfaráyiní, sheds light on this topic:

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

En d'autre termes, la spiritualité d'Esfaráyení, ou plutót du Maítre absolu ... est devenue celle de Semnání.[1043]

In the same way, the spirituality of the Imám (or the supreme "Shaykh" of Shí`ism) has become the spirituality of the Bab. Where the object of contemplation for Simnání was the spiritual form of his master,[1044] the object of contemplation for the Bab was the Imám, or any one of the members of the ahl al-bayt. The phenomenon would appear to be the same.

Another similar address is the so-called Khutbat al-bayán, possibly identical with a Khutbat al-iftikhár, mentioned by Ibn Shahráshúb and on which the founder of Alamút, Hasan-i Sabbáh, is said to have written a commentary.[1045] The text of this sermon is found in the Kitáb al-Kashf. In it `Alí declares from the pulpit:

"I am the Christ who heals the blind and the leprous, creating birds and dispersing clouds." Meaning [says the commentator]: 'I am the second Christ (al-masíh al-thání),- I am he and he is I.' At this a man stood up and asked: "O Commander of the Faithful, was the Torah written in a foreign language or in Arabic?" `Alí said: "[In a] foreign language, but its meaning is Arabic, namely that the Christ is the Qá'im bi'l-haqq, and the king of this world and the next. The Qur'an itself confirms this in the verse: Peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day that I die, and the day that I am raised up alive. [19:33] Thus `Isá ibn Maryam is of me and I am of him, and he is the Most Great Word of God (kalimat alláh al-kubrá) and he is the witness and I am the one testified to." [1046]

Because such material is not found in the canonical Nahj al-balágha, compiled by al-Sharíf al-Radí, some have insisted that such statements attributed to `Alí are forgeries by men like Rajab Bursí.[1047] Two factors must be taken into consideration here. First, it has been pointed out that even if such sermons were not really spoken by the Imám, they nevertheless spoke, at some moment, in the Shí`í conscience, and it is this which is phenomenologically important.[1048] Elsewhere Corbin states that such material was left out of the Nahj al-balágha precisely because it presents "certaines résonances avec l'imámologie ismaélienne." [1049] It is clear from the commentary on the Khutbat al-tatanjíya by Kázim Rashtí, that one of the, "moments" at which such material "spoke" is the one which has the greatest importance for this discussion, namely mid-nineteenth century Iran.

To begin with, the title itself is strange. The adjective is derived from the word tatanj, or tatanj, or tatanj, and the text itself offers no lexicographical clues about the word. The two commentaries on it mentioned by Corbin do not agree on its orthography, but both insist that the word is a synonym for khalíj, "gulf". The title can therefore be translated as "The sermon between (or on) the two gulfs". The Persian translation and commentary, completed in 1680, by al-Hasan al-Khatíb al-Qárí,[1050] does not go very far in illuminating the main message of the sermon. Corbin has relied on the commentary by the Bab's former teacher, Sayyid Kázim Rashtí, a commentary which he describes as "très dense, allant, suivant son habitude, jusqu'au fond des difficultés spéculatives et en dégageant la portée spirituelle pratique."[1051] The meaning of the title of the sermon is somewhat clarified by Rashtí's comments on the statement: "I am he who abides over the two gulfs ( aná 'l-wáqif `alá'l-tatanjayn); I am he who faces the two Wests and the two Easts" [cf. Qur'an 55:17]. This is likened by Rashtí to another statement attributed to `Alí, a variant of which is quoted by the Bab in al-Baqara:[1052] "My záhir is waláya; my bátin is an unknowable mystery." Rashtí says: "The záhir of this sermon is the explanation of the divine creative activity; its bátin is the secret meditation of this activity." Presumably, the two gulfs then are the gulf of the exoteric and the gulf of the esoteric. But, as we shall see, the pair of gulfs are susceptible to several other interpretations. In his commentary, Rashtí constructs a table of fourteen complementary pairs of záhir and bátin, which comprehend all metaphysical levels and cycles of divine manifestation.

The first major theme of the sermon is that of the apophatic theology (tanzíh), so distinctive of the Shaykhí school. Rashtí says, "This sermon indicates a kind of transcendence of the Creator, which is incomprehensible to the creation." This transcendence is suggested in such words of the Imám as, "I am he who hopes and I am he who is hoped for." Corbin says that this transcendence, which is the profession of a divine oneness (tawhíd) beyond names and attributes, ultimately establishes a metaphysical void, but a void in which paradoxically, divine manifestation is produced.[1053] The "pleroma" of the fourteen Pure Ones is constituted through their practice of tawhíd, which is also their denial to themselves of the rank of godhead. This tanzíh excludes the possibility of any divinity being shared by Man, while at the same time, the Creator causes Man to realize his true self. Rashtí says, "This sermon, and those like it, explain the manner in which a created thing always ends in its like, the reason why the description of anything results only in more description."[1054] This closed circuit is its own justification, because by its very existence, its opposite, that is absolute transcendence, is indicated. Paraphrasing Rashtí, Corbin says that those who deny the authenticity of such sermons do so precisley because they are incapable of understanding such absolute transcendence; rather, they fall, unwittingly, into the error of anthropomorphism (tashbíh), which destroys completely the idea of the Unique (tashrík).[1055]

It is said that the sermon was spoken by `Alí somewhere between Medina and Kufa. For Rashtí, these two cities refer to a mystical and symbolic topography. Medina is the city of the Prophet, or the place of revelation (tanzíl), while Kufa can be either the Land of paradise or damnation, depending upon one's acceptance or rejection of `Alí's Imamate. That is to say, it is the place of the true meaning (ta'wíl) of the revelation. Here part of 57:13 is cited: . . . the inward (bátin)whereof is mercy, and against the outward (záhir)whereof is chastisement. Thus Kufa typifies the two gulfs mentioned in the title: one is the "gulf of mercy" and the other the "gulf of wrath". Both flow from the greater Sea of Mercy, which here is the true meaning (ma`ná) in a metaphysical sense, of the person of the Imám.[1056]

In this way, the Imám occupies the position of "pole" (qutb), as the physical and metaphysical manifestation (mazhar) of the name of Divine Mercy. This universal mercy comprises both gulfs. The one on the right, the Eastern or superior gulf, is designated by several names: bahr al-sád,[1057] the nún (as in the divine command "kun! "), the gulf of "sweet water", and so forth. The other, to the left, is the opposing "sea", sijjín, the "left hand", "the hand of justice", etc. In order to understand the thoroughness of this schema, of which Rashtí sketched a diagram on the margin of his commentary, the first hadíth (on `aql) of the first book of Káfí is cited.[1058] The Eastern gulf represents the stages of the development ("épopée") of the Intellect: the stages of its descent and rise back to its Source. Opposite this is the Western gulf, which represents the counter-development of Ignorance (jahl, also from the same hadíth). This antithesis points to the following conclusion: The divine command, perceived by the Intellect, causes it at the lower limit of its descent to return to its Principle. The very same command, perceived by Ignorance, causes it to return to its origin "au plus profond de son abíme". Thus two opposite, but symmetrical, curves are presented: one of knowledge, the other anti-knowledge. In the Eastern, or right gulf, occurs the advent of the degrees of being, including the form and matter which are involved in the cycle of descent of the Intellect from the "throne" through all the various heavens and elements. This continues until it attains the Earth, where the cycle of its ascent begins, and in the course of which this same Intellect travels through all the realms of nature, until it arrives at the Angel and the Perfect Man.

This cosmology includes twenty-eight degrees, each of which is symbolized by one of the letters of the Arabic alphabet. The Western, or left-hand gulf, represents an inverted cosmology. It is an "anti-world", the theatre in which the "contre-épopée" of Ignorance is played out. Each degree of this process is represented by an inverted letter of the Arabic alphabet.[1059]

L'Imám veut dire qu'il est le Póle (qutb) qui domine les deux golfes et détermine la courbe de leur cercle respectif. Il est celui par qui se manifeste la Miséricorde et par qui se manifeste son antithèse. "C'est en lui que se produit la différenciation des choses; c'est de lui que procèdent l'origine de la béatitude et l'origine de la damnation; c'est par lui que prend réalité la difference de l'une et de l'autre".[1060]

The Imám, as mazhar, is the limit from which the various pairs of antithetical terms proceed. For Corbin, the Imám thus depicted represents a modification of the ancient Manichean principle of Zerván ("unlimited Time"), which was an attempt to overcome a basically dualistic metaphysic.[1061] In the case of the imamology expressed in this sermon, it is not by reason of a "zervanic" cosmic doubt, nor by reason of any duality inherent in the person of the Imám, which gives rise to the antithesis; rather, the antithesis comes about as a result of the choice which is put before men in the very appearance of the Imám himself. This choice was decided by mankind in the period of pre-existence, referred to in the Qur'an as the Day of the Covenant [7:171]. It is also from this "limit", i.e., the Imám, that the various acts of being acquire their reality, to be determined in their final form by this or that quiddity. Such is the meaning of the Imám's statement: "I am the Essence of essences."[1062]

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

There are according to Rashtí, still other ways of looking at these two gulfs, namely as the typifications of Matter and Form respectively, but in the sense of the hylomorphism peculiar to the Shaykhí school. Here, Matter is the paternal aspect, or "being as light". Form is the maternal aspect, that is the "quiddity" which determines being in its act; it is also referred to as the dimension of "divine mercy". According to a tradition from al-Sádiq, each faithful believer has as "father" this divine light, and as "mother" divine mercy. The Prophet and the Imám represent this Matter and Form respectively.[1063] Therefore, man is only fully man insofar as he accomplishes the triple shaháda distinctive of Shí`ism: [1] affirmation of divine unity (tawhíd); [2] affirmation of the mission of the prophets; [3] affirmation of the waláya of the Imáms. The first affirmation renders the believer "fully human" only on the level of potentiality, "evanescent before a God who does not regard the believer." [1064] The second element produces the formless Matter of the heretofore only potential believer. The third element completes, or actualizes the believer, by providing him with Form or quiddity.

Ainsi l'anthropologie plonge ses racines dans une métaphysique dont le motif dominateur est la réponse donnée par les hommes á la question A-lasto ? Cette metaphysique comporte une perspective proprement théosophique dominant de haut le schéma de la cosmologie que nos penseurs avaient héritée du néoplatonisme avicennien. Entre l'Absconditum qui est la Cause première et le schéma de notre monde avec les Intelligences et les Ames motrices de ses Sphères célestes, s'interpose le lointain des Noms divins et de leurs énergies; le support initial prééternel de leurs théophanies, c'est cela le mystère de l'Imám, dont la manifestation au niveau de notre monde entraíne la cosmologie dramaturgique que ne pressentait pas les philosophes. Ici la pensée shí`ite révèle la hauteur d'horizon visée par elle, et c'est tout autre chose que d'en rester á discuter la "legitimité" des trois premiers khalifes reconnus par le sunnisme.[1065]

This discussion of Rashtí's commentary on the Khutbat al-tatanjíya will have established the correspondences between the Bab's vocabulary and style, and the theosophical or metaphysical themes which Rashtí read in the khutba. The all-important spiritual implications of the duty of choice ikhtiyár has been amply demonstrated, and as we have seen, the Bab's commentary of the Súrat al-baqara contained repeated references to this principle. Rashtí's identification of the "two gulfs" as Exclusive Unity and Inclusive Unity, will also be seen to relate to the Bab's terminology in that tafsír, particularly in those passages where the Bab refers to the waláya of the Excusive Unity and its counterpart. The lack of clarity in some of those usages, which revolves around the question of the exact nature of the Inclusive Unity (sometimes used to refer to false waláya, sometimes used to refer to levels of the true waláya) may be derived in part from Rashtí's hierarchization. In this scheme, the values "good" and "evil" are ever relative and ever subject to a progressive refinement, which appears to risk meaning itself, but somehow ultimately preserves it. Simply put: on one level the Inclusive Unity , as less complete than the Exclusive Unity may refer to false waláya, just as it might, for the same reason, refer to nubúwa, or imáma as less "complete" than pure divinity (ulúhíya).

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

Part ii: Chapter 4

Súrat al-nahl (Translation and Commentary)

In the general description of the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf, several features of the work were enumerated and a few examples from the text itself were presented. Out of context, these features offer but a limited picture of the work as a whole. It was thought advisable, therefore, to present at least one full chapter of the work as a more or less typical example (Súrat al-nahl, #93, QA, pp.189-91). In it are found most of the tafsír's distinguishing elements. Those that are not, have been mentioned elsewhere.

The following study is divided into three parts. The first is a presentation of the quranic and hadíth background on the two main symbols of the chapter: the Bees of Qur'an 16, and the Shirt (qamís) of Joseph. The second part offers a translation of the chapter. The third part, which accompanies the second, is an attempt to come to terms with the style and contents of the work through a verse by verse commentary. It is hoped that this translation and commentary (which are of necessity 'experimental') will give an idea of the problems connected with the study of the work, and at the same time, provide at least some of the reasons why the work was so enthusiastically received. A photocopy of the Arabic text of the chapter precedes the translation.

The Qur'an and Hadíth

The chapter chosen for this examination is written under Qur'an 12:93, which contains part of Joseph's address to his brothers immediately after their recognition of him in Egypt. After assuring his brothers that God will forgive their past misdeeds against him, Joseph exhorts them:

idhhabú bi-qamísí hádhá f'alqúhu `alá wajhi abí ya'ti basíran wa'túní bi-ahlikum ajma`ína.

Go, take this shirt, and do you cast it on my father's face, and he shall recover his sight; then bring me your family all together.

The symbol of the cloak may be seen to have developed out of the ancient practice of holy men and diviners, who kept the "exterior world at a distance" by wearing a special robe.[1066] In Shí`í works, reference is often made to "the people of the cloak" (ahl al-kisá') who are specified as Muhammad, `Alí, Fátima, Hasan and Husayn.[1067] This designation is used by Shí`í writers, whether Twelver or Ismá`ílí, to express the idea that Muhammad's special qualities were transmitted to his progeny through contact with the his mantle. In the hadíth literature, the qamís of Joseph is seen to fullfill the function of bearing the charisma of prophecy. This qamís is of course the quranic equivalent of the "robe with sleeves" mentioned in Genesis 37:3, which Jacob had given to Joseph because of his great love for him. It was this robe which provoked the jealousy of his brothers.

The word qamís appears in the Qur'an only in súra 12, where it is mentioned six times. First at12:18, where Joseph's brothers are described as having put false blood on his shirt in an attempt to deceive Jacob, claiming that a wolf had eaten their brother. At 12:25-28, the qamís figures prominently in the well-known episode with Potiphar's wife where the guilt or innocence of Joseph is determined by whether the shirt is torn from the front or the back.[1068] Finally, for the present discussion, the most important mention comes at 12:93. Joseph's brothers have finally recognized him as a highly-placed official in Egypt, whereupon Joseph instructs them: Go, take this shirt, and do you cast it on my father's face, and he shall recover his sight; then bring me your family altogether.

Many of the traditions which compare Joseph to the Qá'im are ascribed to al-Sádiq. The Imám was asked about the shirt of Joseph and responded that when Abraham was burning in the fire [21:68-69], Gabriel came down with the shirt and clothed him with it so that he would not be harmed. Abraham gave this shirt to Isaac, who gave it to Jacob. When Joseph was born, Jacob gave the shirt to him. It was this shirt, originally sent from Heaven, by which Jacob detected the scent of Joseph [cf.12:93].[1069] al-Sádiq was then asked what became of this shirt, to which he responded that the shirt stayed with the descendants of Joseph and is now in the possession of "our Qá'im" because all the prophets inherit knowledge and other things from each other.[1070]

In the article in Anwár on this word, Isfahání says only that its exoteric meaning is well known, but that its ta'wíl is possibly connected with the words thiyáb and libás.[1071] The first word is defined as representing the knowledge with which the Imáms have been endowed, and by extension refers to waláya proper.[1072] The second word carries a complex of meanings which includes, together with the idea of garment, "deception". For the former, Isfahání refers to several verses in the Qur'an, among which are 2:187, where it is stated that spouses are as a garment to each other. For the latter, he cites 2:42 in which those who disguise the truth with falsehood are condemned. Ultimatley however, the word libás is seen as a symbol of the waláya of the Imáms.[1073]

In his commentary on the Qasída al-lámíya, Rashtí takes the opportunity to dilate on the implications of the word qamís which occurs in one of its verses.[1074] The poet has compared the curtain (satr) of the tomb of the Prophet with the qamís of Joseph, indicating that the spiritual "fragrance" of the former is far greater than that of the latter. Rashtí says that however powerful the fragrance of the shirt of Joseph might have been, it cannot compare with the much stronger power of the curtain of the Prophet's mausoleum. Interestingly, the power of the shirt comes from Joseph's having worn it, rather than from the heavenly origin of the shirt. Jacob could detect its perfume from a great distance, because both he and Joseph were an "aspect" of the "seal of the prophets". Since Joseph's shirt acquired its "fragrance" (i.e. power) from physical contact, the "fragrance" acquired from physical closeness to the Prophet's tomb must be even stronger. Therefore, while it was the power of the fragrance of the shirt of Joseph which caused Jacob's physical sight to be restored, the perfume of this "shirt" (i.e., the satr of the tomb) is incomparably stronger and will give spiritual sight to those who regard it with the "eye of reality".[1075]

In this chapter, however, the Bab indicates that the qamís of Joseph represents a power equivalent to the satr of the tomb of the Prophet. The symbol of the shirt of Joseph is immediately associated with the Bees mentioned in Qur'an 16 (súrat al-nahl). Such an apparently incongruous and abrupt association of the Bees with the shirt of Joseph is quite typical of the Bab's method throughout this commentary.[1076] The Bab seems to take the Bees out of thin air. As will be seen, this air is actually the exceedingly rich atmosphere of the Shí`í exegetical tradition.

The following reference to this exegetic history is intended to illustrate that while the concatenation of images, symbols and themes which the Tafsír súrat Yúsuf presents appears quite "unprofessional", it nevertheless has its roots in a tradition which goes back to the earliest tafsír literature. As such, the implications and resonances of the Bab's work would have been understood by those young Shaykhís, as well as many others, who first read the commentary.

The third century traditionist and commentator, Furát ibn Ibráhím al-Kúfí, whose Tafsír was recently published, was one of the earliest sources for later compilers like Majlisí and Isfahání. He is regarded as one of the most important authorities for Shí`í tafsír and was one of the teachers of al-Qummí (ca.307/919).[1077] The work contains several comments regarding the word and the appropriate verses.

The commentary on verse 16:68 quotes a transmission from one Muhammad ibn al-Fudayl, who had asked Abú al-Hasan (i.e. the tenth Imám, d. 254/868) about the verse.[1078] He said that the Bees are the trustees (awsiyá', i.e. the Imáms). Concerning the phrase Take from the mountains, houses, he said that this refers to the Quraysh, implying that the rightful due of the Shí`a is to be taken from the so-called usurpers. The trees are to be understood as "the suffering",[1079] presumably, which has befallen the Shí`a and by which the Shí`a will be strengthened. And that which they build , refers to the clients of the Shí`a (al-mawálí), suggesting that Shí`ism was destined to be preserved beyond the nation of the `Arabs. Follow the way of your Lord means the way (sabíl) which "we are on in the religion of God (dínihi)". In which is healing for mankind refers to that which comes forth from the knowledge of `Alí, inasmuch as it is the healing which God also mentioned in the verse: a healing for whatever is in the breasts [16:57].

Whether or not one accepts the "orthodoxy" of the above report (which is bound to strike certain segments of the Shí`í population as "extremist"[1080]) it seems that later Shí`í commentators and compilers saw a certain amount of merit in it. It is this fact which is important in the present context. As mentioned above, the tafsír of Furát was used as a source by consecutive generations of Shí`í exegetes; it is not, therefore, necessary to make an exhaustive study of these. The essential point here is that Bees are understood as representing the Imáms and the drink which they produce symbolizes the divine knowledge of which they are trustees. That this exegetical tendency persisted as an important one in connection with this verse up to and including the time of the Bab, may be verified by referring to the appropriate literature.[1081]

It is clear that Shaykh Ahmad subscribed to this reading of 16:68-9 from his commentary on it, which is found in his Sharh al-ziyára.[1082] This commentary is a good example of the way in which the akhbárí tafsír tradition was used by al-Ahsá'í and his successors, in conjunction with the philosophical developments which had occurred by his time, to present the distinctive Shaykhí synthesis. Shaykh Ahmad repeats the identification of the Bees with Imáms and the drink with their knowledge, and characteristically divides the latter into several grades and levels. As mentioned, none of the "hierarchization" so characteristic of the Bab's tafsír on al-Baqara, is found in his commentary on the súra of Joseph. The Shaykhí influence on this later work by the Bab is to be seen, in the manner in which the Bab takes for granted the very old akhbárí Qur'an interpretations preserved by and elaborated on by Shaykh Ahmad or Sayyid Kázim. Further, this influence is present only insofar as the general tendency toward a total "imamization" of the Qur'an was a major feature of that tradition. There is not a single khabar or hadíth cited in the commentary on the Súrat Yúsuf.

Arabic text of the súrat al-nahl

(The following is an enlarged photocopy of QA, pp.189-91.)

Translation and Commentary

1 In the name of God the Merciful the Compassionate.

While the use of the basmala as an introductory formula is perhaps the least remarkable feature of this commentary, it will be of some interest to notice a few aspects of the phrase which could have been read into it in this context. The Bab and the whole tradition of akhbárí and mystical tafsír make much of the basmala.[1083] Early Qur'an commentators considered an exegesis of the formula as part of their job. Several hadíths were adduced to support the special significance of this phrase, the most frequent being a variation of the following:

Sádiq said: The bá' [of the basmala] is the glory of God (bahá' alláh), the sín, is the splendour of God (saná' alláh), and the mím is the sovereignty of God (mulk alláh). Alláh is the god of all things. al-Rahmán pertains to creation in general while al-Rahím specifically applies to the believers.[1084]

The basmala is also considered a prayer in its own right, a source of divine knowledge and healing. It is said to contain, in addition to all the knowledge in the Qur'an itself, all the knowledge of the previous scriptures. It has been seen as a means of salvation and protection. Opinion has been divided as to whether the basmala, which heads all but one suwar of the Qur'an, should be counted in the total number of verses, but Shí`í scholars have tended to treat it as an independent verse. al-Sádiq is also supposed to have said that the basmala is "the greatest verse in the Book of God".[1085] It has also been identified as the "Greatest Name of God" (ism alláh al-a`zam),[1086] or as being "closer to the Greatest Name than the pupil of the eye is to the white".[1087] For these reasons it has been counted as a separate verse of the chapters in the Bab's tafsír.[1088]

Two other traditions, not mentioned by Ayoub in the article referred to above, appear to have particular bearing on the Bab's veneration of the basmala. The first has been mentioned as the one referred to by Browne in his discussion of the Bab's claim to be a personification of the letter bá': "All existing things have appeared from the of the basmala."[1089] The other is the famous statement from `Alí:

All that is in the world is in the Qur'an, and all that is in the Qur'an is condensed in the Fátiha of the Book, and all that is in the Fátiha is in the basmala, and all that is in the basmala is in the bá' and I am the point under the bá'.[1090]

The number "nineteen", which has such significance in the the Bábí religion, is the number of letters in the basmala. The Bab instructed his first followers to remain silent about his claims until a total of eighteen persons had recognized his station of their own accord.[1091] Each of these eighteen hurúf al-hayy and the Bab, represent something like separate incarnations of one of the nineteen divine letters of the formula, just as each of the Imáms were said to represent one of the twelve letters of the shaháda.[1092]

The hurúf al-hayy are themselves regarded as identical with the sábiqún referred to in the early works of the Bab and his followers, both in the literal sense of their having preceded others in the recognition of the Bab and in the more esoteric sense of their identity with the first group of mankind to respond to God's pre-eternal covenant. This latter group is itself identified in Shí`í literature with Muhammad and the Imáms, and it is clear that the Bab regarded the hurúf al-hayy as the return of the Prophet, the twelves Imáms, the original four abwáb, and Fátima.[1093]

These first disciples formed the first unit (wáhid) of the movement, each successive unit of believers was to have also been composed of nineteen members.[1094] In relation to the hurúf al-hayy, the Bab occupied the rank of bá', which according to Rashtí is a "cloak" for the point. In his discussion of the mysteries of the set of disconnected letters: káf há yá' `ayn sád [19:1] (which he here refers to as al-ism al-akbar), he also calls it the "compriser of the two existents" (jámi`at al-wujúdayn): the `ayn is absolute existence, while the sád represents contingent existence (al-wujúd al-muqayyad). Thus it represents the station of complete integration (maqám al-jam`). He then says that all of its "stations" are condensed in the point, which is the maqám jam` al-jam`. "This point is the one under the bá', which represents the hidden dimension of the bá', and the bá' is its shell (qishr), exterior (záhir), and cloak (`abá)." [1095] The Tafsír súrat Yúsuf is quite explicit in several places, in its direct reference to the Bab as the "point", which in the context of tradition, automatically implies the bá'.

In relation to the eighteen hurúf al-hayy, the Bab also occupied the rank of the nuqta concealed by the bá'. This is clear from such of his titles as al-nuqtat al-úlá, hadrat-i nuqta-yi bayán, and so forth.[1096] This rank of nuqta, already appropriated by the Bab in this early work, is a good indication that the Bab actually claimed the equivalent of prophetic status at the time of its composition, a status which later became more frequently denoted by the term mazhar "manifestation".[1097] However, the rank suggested by the word nuqta appears to go quite beyond other definitions of nubúwa, being in fact analogous with the divine unity and "simplicity' (basíta) itself.

The Bab's calendar, constructed much later, of nineteen months of nineteen days is another example of the function of the number "nineteen".[1098] The importance of the number is also indicated by Rashtí. In his discussion of the basmala, he quotes the Prophet: "The letters are nineteen". Rashtí says that this means that all the letters of the alphabet are actually only nineteen, rejecting the belief that there are twenty-eight. They appear to be twenty-eight, according to Rashtí, only because of their various states and stations.[1099]

The number nineteen is also mentioned in Qur'an 74:27-30:

And what will teach thee what is Sakar? It spares not, neither leaves alone scorching the flesh; over it are nineteen.

This verse was quoted by Rashtí in his last testament (`ahd) and has been understood as a prophecy of the eventual zuhúr of the Bab and his first followers.[1100] It would serve no useful purpose to survey the venerable and

extremely intricate tradition of the "science of letters" (`ilm al-hurúf) in Muslim scholarship. Suffice it here to quote Corbin, and mention a few of the more important works on this subject:

Les gnostiques en Islam ont amplifié une théorie de la gnose antique considérant que les lettres de l'alphabet, étant á la base de la création, représentent la matérialisation de la Parole divine. Pour Marcos le gnostique, le corps de l'Aletheia ("Truth") se composait des lettres de l'alphabet. Pour Moghíra, le plus ancien gnostique shí`ite (ob. 119/737), les lettres sont les éléments dont est fait le corps m�(tm)me de Dieu. D'o_ ses speculations sur le Nom supr�(tm)me de Dieu (les dix-sept personnes ressuscitant á l'apparition de Mahdí, et á chacune desquelles sera donnée l'une des dix-sept lettres dont se compose le Nom supr�(tm)me de Dieu. Le traité proto-ismaélien Omm al-Kitáb considère les figures et l'ordre des lettres comme un indice certain de la hiérarchie des �(tm)tres célestes et des Imáms. Aussi bien l'Imám Ja`far Sádiq est-il regardé comme l'initiateur de la science des lettres, dont il eut connaissance par la révélation d'un livre mystérieux, al-jafr. 'Depuis la seconde moitié du IIIe siècle, les mystiques sunnites ont emprunté aux Shí`ites la science des lettres et lui ont accordé une place de plus en plus large dans leurs doctrines. Chez Ibn `Arabí et ses successeurs, ces spéculations ont pris des proportions démesurées.' [1101]

2 Go, take this shirt of mine and do thou cast it on my fathers face, and he shall recover his sight; then bring me your family altogether. [12:93]

The first explanation of its appearance here not only a verse to be "commented upon", but as a verse of the Báb's súrat al-nahl, is in keeping with the basic structure of the work as described above. It appears that by assigning an already existing quranic verse a new function, namely as one of forty-two which make up the exegetic unit (or súra), the Bab may be seen to claim a kind of authority which enables him to re-order the revelation. Such is even more apparent in the following verses which paraphrase, without cue, whole passages of the sacred text. Such manipulation of the basic elements of scripture would not have been taken lightly by his Muslim audience. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, such manipulation can not have been taken lightly by the Bab either, who was unquestionably aware of the serious implications such an act would have.

2 káf há' `ayn = 20 + 5 + 70 (95).

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

(In the rest of the translation, quranic material will be distinguished by underlining.)

4 Indeed we revealed unto the bees, saying: 'Take from the mountains, [16:68] citadels - the abode for affriming the sanctity of God - the sign of this luminous one, and of trees, [16:68] places for affirming that there is no god but God (al-tahlíl) the sign of this Easterner and of what they are building [16:68] in the path of affirming the unity of God (al-tawhíd) the threadbare garment of this Westerner belonging to God, the High. And He is God, Witness over all things.

As mentioned earlier, most of the chapters of this commentary have a reference to the act of revelation in their fourth verse. This chapter follows the same pattern. But as we have seen, the word nahl also has important meaning in Shí`í exegesis. In addition, there is also a semantic and syntactical correlation between the the verse to be commented upon and this one, namely the two imperatives "go with" or "take" (idhhabú) [12:93] and "take" or "choose" (ittakhidhi). This parallel is continued in the verse by the use of the three expressions al-barqí hádhá, al-sharqí hádhá, and al-gharbí hádhá, which may be seen as exegetic equivalences for qamísí hádhá [12:93]. The image of light here connected with "East" and "West" is of course an echo of the Light Verse [24:35], which is similarly alluded to several times in this chapter, as it is throughout the commentary. The Bab's claim to be both Eastern and Western represents a variation on the quranic neither Eastern or Western. "Citadels" (qusúran) parallels the quranic buyút, as does the singular "abode" (al-maskin). "This threadbare garment . . ." translates sahq al-gharbí hádhá. The other possible reading is suhq "remoteness". The epithet al-`alí (found eight times in the Qur'an) in addition to continuing the rhyme, is undoubtedly intended to suggest the Bab's name, `Alí Muhammad. The shirt itself is not only a divine remnant (viz, baqíyat alláh), but the Bab as custodian of the symbol, is also the remnant by association. The command to take my shirt and cast it on my father's face is more fully explained in verse 40.

5 Then eat of all manner of [16:69] divine allusions (al-ishárát) made smooth [16:69] in the path of the Remembrance, this Gate. There comes forth from their bellies [12:69] the water of the elixir which is one in terms of its blessings, although it is of diverse hues wherein is healing for [16:69] believers. Verily God is Powerful over all things.

Having established this semantic relationship between the two verses, the Bab merely extends the comparison by paraphrasing 16:69. Here, "divine allusions" may be considered as a synonym for the `ulúm al-a'imma, which early exegesis saw as the meaning of the quranic thamarát. Here also, reference could be made to the commentary on 16:69 by Shaykh Ahmad, who elaborated the signifcance of "the sciences of the Imáms" by explaining thamarát as the perfection, or realization of those things which had been deposited in the Imáms.[1102] The Bab seems to be saying that by the appearance of the "Remembrance" (himself), these various divine teachings have become accessible (smooth = dhululan) for the faithful. "Path" (sabíl) is merely a substitute for the quranic subul. As a singular noun, it emphasizes exclusivity. A variation in the manuscripts occurs at "which is one in terms of its blessings". QA: mutawahhidan álá'ihi [=álá'uhu] (for mutawajjidan; the dot seems to be a designation for the há', see below, v.13. The alternate reading would be "causing its blessings to exist"); F11, f.162b: mutawaqqidan: "causing the blessings to flame forth".

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

This verse takes as its cue the first part 12:70: wa alláhu khalaqakum. The second sentence of the verse introduces the very frequent phrase `alá 'l-haqq bi'l-haqq, which is translated here as "in very truth". This translation is merely for convenience inasmuch as the meaning of the phrase, which occurs hundreds of times throughout the commentary, is dependent upon the various contexts in which it appears. It seems to be something of a short rhythmic and multi-vocal refrain (reminiscent of dhikr formulae), the function of which is to fill out the measure of a given verse. In many instances, it is clear that `alá al-haqq bi'l-haqq directly refers to God, whereas in other cases it means that the Bab is "truly speaking the truth" or some variation of this. Elsewhere, it connotes inevitability. The plural verb ya`malúna, since it precedes the subject should technically be in the singular, and reflects, perhaps, Persian grammatical norms.

7 O believers! Fear God concerning this most great word protected in the divine fire. Indeed he is, in very truth , accounted by God the High as a witness.

The vocative address is used in varying forms, as will be seen below. The quranic attaqú 'lláha, also frequently employed, requires no comment. The ungrammatical dhálika kalimat al-akbar is quite characteristic of the language of this commentary. Dhálika here bears the same ambiguity of 2:2: dhálika 'l-kitáb, which is generally understood as "this is the Book". However, it has been the subject of much debate by mufassirún, because of its obvious meaning of "that is the Book". [1103] Shí`í exegesis has also seen the demonstrative as referring to the (presumably missing) "book of `Alí".[1104] This uncertainty is reflected in recent English Qur'an translations: Arberry: That is the Book . . .; Pickthall: This is the Scripture . [1105] It may be that the Bab is exploiting this ambiguity as a function of taqíya; alternatively, it could simply mean "this".

Kalimat al-akbar may be thought to allude to his station specifically, in line with the previously mentioned hadíth ascribed to al-Sádiq: nahnu kalimát alláh, or the one ascribed to `Alí: aná al-kalimat al-kubrá.[1106] The elative al-akbar is used elsewhere with masculine nouns, as in báb alláh al-akbar, where the Bab himself appears to be intended. Such grammatical liberties are found, for example, in the Arabic translations of the New Testament, namely, John 1:1: fí'l-bad' kána al-kalima wa'l-kalima kána `inda 'lláh wa kána 'l-kalimatu alláha. They are explained by the rule that a feminine noun may sometimes represent a masculine subject, e.g. khalífatun, `allámatun, and rawiyátun.[1107] As can been seen in the reproduction of the manuscript, the Bab was capable of maintaining grammatical gender agreement. Here the phrase bi'l-haqq `alá 'l-haqq refers to the veracity of the Bab as the kalimat alláh al-akbar and "witness/martyr" (shahíd) through God's incontrovertible will.

8 O people of the veils! Hearken to the call of God from the tongue of the most great Remembrance: Verily verily I am God [28:30] there is no god but Him [passim]. Indeed, the likeness of the Remembrance is as gold softened in fire which flows in rivulets to all the hidden places by the will of God, the High. And he is God - Mighty, Ancient.

The ahl al-hujub may be taken as a general address to all those who have been veiled from recognizing the Bab; or, given the above equivalence hijáb/báb, it may refer paradoxically to those who have recognized the Bab. The exhortation to heed the call, isma`ú nidá' or some variation, is a frequent imperative in the commentary. In this instance, the Bab refers to himself as dhikr alláh al-akbar, which is also used many times in the work. The reference to 28:30, inní aná 'lláh is also frequent. It suggests that the Bab is claiming revelation by comparing his rank to that of Moses.[1108] It is difficult to determine whether it is meant to be read as the direct speech of God, the hidden Imám, or the Bab. The result of the ambiguity, however, permits the Bab to "participate" in the declaration. By referring to the "likeness of the Remembrance", the Bab anticipates 16:74-6 in which the word similitudes occurs. The similitude which the Bab "strikes" is original, and quite characteristic of his opulent imagery. "Gold softened" translates al-dhahab al-má'ila, and is dhahab al-mumá' in F11, f.162b. "Flowing to all the hidden places" translates sayyála ilá kulli 'l-ghuyúb and perhaps takes its cue from 13:17, a verse in which God "strikes a similitude" which employs the image of valleys flowing according to their measure (fa-sálat awdiyatun bi-qadari-há; n.b. also the root dh h b in this verse), and that over which they kindle fire ( wa mimmá yuqidúna `alayhi fi'l-nár). The image continues the mention of sharáb in 16:69. Ghuyúb might also be seen as echoing the measure of the quranic buyút in16:68.

9 O people of the Throne! Hearken to my call from the precincts of the tomb (al-daríh) from the tongue of this Tree which grows on the exalted Túr, and which is covered with golden holy leaves: 'Verily verily I am God, there is no god but Him. There is no soul who has suffered anything in the path of the Remembrance, whether through warfare or loss of wealth, but that we have written down for him the Gardens of Eden and Ridwán in truth. Verily God is Powerful over all things.'

The ahl al-`arsh could have several implications, but the intention here may be simply "people of the world". That the "call" is being sent out from the "precincts of the tomb" (hawl al-daríh), may be evidence that the Bab wrote portions of this work during his pilgrimage, as MacEoin has suggested.[1109] "Tomb" may also have a purely symbolic meaning. "The tongue of this Tree which grows on the exalted Túr" translates lisán hádhihi al-shajara al-manbata. Again, the reference is to the revelatory experience of Moses on Sinai and may be seen to reflect the language of 23:20: wa shajaratan takhruju min túr sayná' tanbutu bi'l-duhn wa sibghin li'l-ákilín. In this case, it is also possible to translate the Bab's words as "this Tree which produces" leaving the objects "oil" and "relish" understood. Al-mutawarraq bi'l-warqá' al-safrá' al-maní` is distinctive imagery, which appears to modify Túr.

10 Indeed, we have power to move the earth in this hour [passim] by the order of the Remembrance, and could, in truth, hold it aloft [cf. 35:41, 22:65] by means of the summons from his self. Otherwise, the earth with its people would, in very truth burn completely (sákhina maskhúnan). And He is God, Powerful over all things.

This verse continues the "call" initiated in verse 8, the speaker is either the hidden Imám or God; as has been explained, these two are functionally the same in the basic theology expressed in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara. The phrase wa numsikuhá `alá 'l-haqq bi'l-du`á' min nafsihi offers another example of the `alá'l-haqq bi'l-haqq formula. "Burn completely" translates sákhina maskhúnan, which fills out the saj` rhyme used here and throughout the work.

11 And verily God has preferred some of you over others [16:71] with knowledge of the Remembrance. What, and do you deny God's blessing [16:71] by lying? Indeed he is the truth from God which, in very truth,is now fulfilled.

This verse continues the paraphrase of súra 16. "Fulfilled" is the quranic mas'úlan [passim, cf. esp. 25:16:. . . kána `alá rabbika wa`dan mas'úlan, and 33:15: . . . wa kán `ahdu 'lláh mas'úlan].

12 God has appointed for you of yourselves wives [16:72] in truth. And God has ordained [16:72] that the women who are believers be as leaves on the lote-trees in the precincts of the Gate. And God is Knower of all things.

Wa inna 'lláh qad ja`ala nisá' al-mu'minát (both manuscripts) might be translated as "God has ordained women, that is believing women, . . .". The paraphrase continues with the Bab's own imagery of leaves and trees waraqát min al-shajara al-sidar. This usage was continued by Bahá'u'lláh, who referred to the females of his family as leaves and the males as branches (aghsán or afnán).[1110]

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

Sirr alláh al-muhallil hawl al-hall al-muhallal (italicized portion is missing from F11, f.163a) without shadda over al-hall. This is very problematic. Both manuscripts provide dots under the há' of al-muhallil, and QA places a dot under al-hall. It might also be read al-jall/jull with the meaning of "great" or "major portion"; al-jill could give the meaning of "carpet" or "garment", the latter would of course extend the "textile" metaphor of the qamís. It could also be read al-jul (perhaps for the Persian gul); al-muhallil would also give the meaning of "lawgiver" or "one who makes things right". Since there is no dot under al-muhallil, it was thought that the other dots served the function suggested at verse 5. In any case, the "Mystery of God" appears to refer to the Bab himself. The phrase fa-inna alláh qad a`hada (sic) `alá ahl al-`amá satra al-wafá' ( F11, f.163a: fa-inna alláh qad ashhada . . . ) employs the frequent image of the "cloud" discussed above. This seems to be an exhortation to taqíya.

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

Yá qurrata'l`ayn indicates that the Bab is now being addressed by the hidden Imám. It should not be seen as referring to the famous disciple of the Bab, the poetess, Táhireh.[1111] The language is found in the Qur'an [19:26; 20:40; 25:74; 28:9 &13; 32:17; 33: 51], with the meaning of general consolation or comfort. The epithet is also traceable to the hadíth from the Prophet in which he speaks of prayer as being the "consolation of my eye" (qurrat `ayní).[1112] Its frequent use in this work by the Bab, also undoubtedly refers to the restoration of Jacob's sight by the qamís and the consolation of his heart which came from reunion with Joseph. "Red Dove" (al-warqá' al-hamrá') is another title for the Bab. The exhortation to "clothe the words" refers to the allusive nature of the commentary in general. The implication being that those who have the capacity to understand the obscure language will do so because of their spiritual readiness for the advent of the Imám. Others will simply fail to appreciate its significance. This theme is found also in a later work by Bahá'ulláh:

The purpose underlying all these symbolic terms and abstruse allusions, which emanate from the revealers of God's holy cause, has been to test and prove the peoples of the world; that thereby the earth of the pure and illuminated hearts may be known from the perishable and barren soil. From time immemorial such has been the way of God amidst His creatures.[1113]

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

Min hawl nuqtat al-má' `alá markaz al-turáb. Such phrases have been discussed above, as describing the Bab's station as the point from which proceeds antithetical terms. This is reminiscent of the distinctive imamology of such pieces as the Khutbat al-tatanjíya, though the Bab's imagery seems to be new.

16 Verily, verily I am the fire from the precincts of Túr, and I speak the truth, and am praiseworthy.

This is another reference to the quranic description of Moses' experience on Sinai. It would seem that God is continuing the address begun in verse 15, which was being transmitted through the "point of water at the center of the dust" (i.e. the Bab). But it should be remembered that by thus being a channel for revelation, the Bab is also touched by the "Fire", and is also in this way the fire itself.

17 Verily, verily I am the light above Túr - raised.

The use of the predicate marfú`an, which technically refers to God as the source of revelation, also alludes to the lineage of the Bab as a Sayyid, or descendant of the family of Háshim. For example, describing a hadíth as marfú`, indicates an authentic isnád which goes back to the Prophet.[1114]

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

According to the hierarchies in the Tafsír súrat al-baqara, red symbolizes corporeality. This usage may be meant to allude to the embodiment of the hidden Imám.

19 Verily, verily I am the sapling - the glory with the most great truth, and am the goal (maqsúd) at the head of (fawq) the source of the ruby stream which flows upon Túr.

Ja`far al-Sádiq interpreted one of `Alí's statements: "I have planted their trees" (ána gharastu ashjárahá) as meaning that the Imáms from his progeny are the trees of repentance and the lote-tree beyond which there is no passing.[1115] Either from this interpretation, or other similar ones, the word ghars seems to have acquired a life of its own, as a symbol for the zuhúr of the Qá'im, e.g.:

In the year ghars [i.e.1260] the earth shall be illumined by His light, and in gharasa [1265] the world shall be suffused with its glory [?al-bahá']. If thou livest until the year gharasí [1270], thou shalt witness how the nations, the rulers, the peoples, and the Faith of God shall all have been renewed.[1116]

The appositional wa inní aná al-ghars al-bahá' is also conditioned by the previously-mentioned exegesis of the basmala, where the bá' is seen to stand for the divine attribute bahá'. This is borne out in the following verse.

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

In the two commentaries referred to above, as well as several others, the sín of the basmala is interpreted as the saná' alláh. The allusion to Sinai (sayná',síná' [23:20]) is obvious. Cf. also the "single soul" passages in the Qur'an [4:1, 6:98, 7:189, 31:28, 39:6].

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

The use of the verb ja`ala need not, of course, be a reference to the Qur'an. However, in light of the foregoing, it would appear that the Bab intends a reference to 16:72 and a somewhat tenuous continuation of the paraphrase begun in verse 3.

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

This is a kind of enjambment with verse 21, aníqan rhyming with the above `amíqan. (Cf. also line 1 of the Khutbat al-tatanjíya.) It may be read as a parenthesis, mashhúdan referring to the sirr hádhá 'l-báb in the above verse. This is an allusion to the proverbial physical beauty of Joseph, which the Bab is said to have shared.[1117]

23 Indeed, in these verses are similitudes [16:74] for those possessed of minds [passim], those who, in the precincts of the Gate, are in very truth, prostrating.

Prostrating at the gate is taken from 7:161: Enter the gate prostrating and also implies the "gate of forgiveness" [cf. hitta, 2:58] and the "city of knowledge" hadíths, along with all those other less immediate associations mentioned at length above.

24 What, do you worship [paraphrase of16:71] one beside God who possesses [16:73] nothing, while sovereignty is God's (wa 'l-mulk li-lláh, [passim]), the High both before and after; in the mother of the Book [passim], it is all written about the matter of the Gate.

The "mother of the Book" is the repository of God's pre-eternal decree; that is, the Bab's mission has been ordained from before the beginning of time. It is also a reference to the Fátiha, which is referred to by several exegetes as the umm al-kitáb, and thus continues the metaphor of the basmala. Umm al-kitab may also refer to the Imám himself, as such it becomes a symbol of the sirr or divine conscience mentioned in verse 12.[1118] In short, umm al-kitáb designates the Imáms as the source for understanding the Book.

25 So strike not any similitudes for God [16:74]. He is the truth Like unto Him there is naught [42:11]. And He is God, Mighty, Wise.

This is a direct quotation from sura16 and continues the paraphrase.

26 God has struck a similitude concerning two men, one of them [16:76] standing upon the divine cause (qá'im `alá al-amr) commanding justice [16:75] and good deeds; and the other standing over Hell, summoned by the Fire to the Fire. And both of these two are upon the truth, if you confess even one letter of the book. And your Lord is the Merciful and aware of what you do [passim].

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

27 Today God has written for his servant a reward - indeed! - from a line of the leaf of the white scroll. God is Knower of all things.

28 And [has written for] the servant who does well (`alá al-`abd al-fá`il bi'l-istiwá',cf. 17:76) two gardens [18:32-3; 34:15-6; 55:54] in a true line (`alá khatt al-istiwá') and for the bearer of the goblet of water [He has written] a goblet of the pure river of Kawthar. And God is Witness over all things.

This may also be an allusion to Joseph's "two fellow-prisoners" [12:36-42], one of whom was to "pour wine for his lord" [12:41]. The other, according to Joseph's interpretation of the dream, was to be crucified. The khatt al-istiwá' occurs many times throughout this work. The dictionary definition "equator" is helpful insofar as it connotes a dividing line which "orders" (cf. istiwá' in the Qur'an passim). The Imám, in this sense, may be regarded as the line between good and evil. The term figures in the akhbár of al-Halláj, in which along with several other distinctive terms, the editors detected "d'emprunts gnostique ismaÃ?lien", although they offer no definition.[1119] The term figures prominently in Hurúfí literature, where it refers primarily to the (center) part in the hair, which had symbolic value: "Elle est la ligne médiane régulatrice symbolisant ainsi l'harmonie, la justice, l'équité, la verité, etc., . . .".[1120] al-Halláj designates it as the source of the alphabet,[1121] i.e., the alif.

29 And with God belongs the Unseen [16:77]. All unseen things are visible to the Truth. And God ordained only that the cause [16:77] of the Remembrance be closest to the divine cause [16:77]. And He is God, Powerful over all things.

The language here substitutes the quranic hour (al-sá`a) with dhikr, one of the titles of the Bab. This is in keeping with the akhbárí equivalance hour/ waláya.[1122] Similarly, cause may also represent the Imám.[1123]

30 And we have brought you forth from the wombs [16:78] to aid the Truth during the day of the Remembrance. And we have given you hearing, and sight, and hearts so that you might be grateful for [16:78] the truth of the Remembrance concerning the straight balance , straight.

Hearing, sight, and hearts have been interpreted as standing for nubúwa, imáma, and waláya, and while this interpretation need not be primary here, it undoubtedly operates on some level.[1124] Fí 'l-qistás al-qayyim mustaqíman is a variant of 17:35 and 26:182, and perhaps a retroactive incorporation of more material from 16:76, e.g.: huwa `alá sirátin mustaqímin.

31 And we have made the birds obedient in the air of heaven [16:79]. Is there any but God who holds them aloft [16:79] in truth? Verily God is Witness over all things.

In addition to continuing the paraphrase, this verse also reflects the image in verse 10 above.

32 O Place where the dawn appears [97:5]! Mention the name of your Lord, He who there is no god but Him. He is High, Wise.

Yá matla` al-fajr obviously addresses the Bab; matla` is a synonym for mazhar "manifestation", and in this connection alludes to a high spiritual rank. According to Isfahání, "In the akhbár the ta'wíl of fajr is the Qá'im, and its appearance is qiyáma, just as subh refers to the Imáms and the lights of their knowledge."[1125]

33 O Hour of the dawn! Mention, before the rising of the sun [20:130, 50:39] from the place where the Gate appears, that the day which belongs to God is closer than a twinkling of the eye [16:77]. And the judgement has already been ordained in the Mother of the Book.[1126]

Sá`at al-fajr does not occur in the Qur'an, but combines two quranic words, and may be thought to combine the above-mentioned interpretations of these words. It addresses the Bab. "Day" is an allusion the same word in 16:80, the use of which would continue the paraphrase, just as "sun" may be seen in connection with zilálan of 16:81. "Sun" has of course other implications. It may stand for rasúl, `Alí, or "each Imám, specifically the Qá'im".[1127] It is undoubtedly the last which is intended. The sense is that the Qá'im has not yet fully arisen; that is, he has not yet been universally recognized. Alternatively, it may allude to another individual as Qá'im. However, min matla` al-báb seems to suggest otherwise.

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

The speaker here is presented as the hidden Imám, who designates the Bab as al-nafs al-qá'im. As such, it is a good example of the manipulation by the author of such terminology to indicate his own claim to be the "promised one". This device here as elsewhere, resembles the "qul" verses of the Qur'an, enabling the Bab to speak on behalf of a higher authority while at the same time participating in this authority. As mentioned earlier, the variety of voices which speak throughout the commentary should be thought of as representing separate aspects or "levels" of the soul of the Bab, which for the purposes of rhetorical effect, are separately emphasized in this or that passage. "Cloud" refers again to the divine source of the Bab's message. In his commentary on al-Baqara, we have seen that the Bab interpreted fadl "bounty" as the Qá'im.

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

Verses 35-42 represent the fourth section of the chapter, which as mentioned in the general description, returns to the áya of the Qur'an to be commented upon. The reference to `Arafát could be another indication that the Bab wrote part of the work during his pilgrimage; it may also simply refer to the holiness of `Arafát itself. The Bab returns to the qamís of12:93 and presents it as a symbol of martyrdom, so essential to Shí`í religiosity.[1128] He expands the theme by alluding to Husayn, who was killed near the Euphrates. The nahrayn of QA is nahrayn in F11, f.164a. The word matrúh is a reference to 12:9: 'aw itrahúhu ardan, while the extended repetition of the dual is a reflex of the language of the Khutbat al-tatanjíya. The portion between brackets, { ... }, is missing from F11.

36 Verily God hasinspired [16:68] me in a single thread of that shirt stained with pure blood with: 'Verily, verily I am God, He who there is no god but Me.'

This continues the allusion to the beginning of súra 12, thus the blood is pure, as opposed to the "false blood" of the wolf [12:18]. The Arabic is: al-qamís al-muhammara bi'l-dam al-mutahhara. Thus, the verse could read: "that pure bloodstained shirt". It is likely that both meanings are meant to be suggested.

37 'O people of Paradise! Go with my shirt [12:93] - the sign of this most great Remembrance - and cast it on the face of [12:93] the Hujja, your Imám so that he might look to you through your eyes, and that today, if God wills, your sight concerning this Gate which is on the truth and with truth will be sharp.

The Arabic is: bi-qamísí áya hádhá 'al-dhikr al-akbar. The speaker is the hidden Imám. The variant "cast it on the face of your/my Imám" (F11, f.164a: imámí; QA: imámukum, complicates the reading. "Look to you through your eyes" is an echo of the theme of "signs" discussed in the study of al-Baqara, where the important point is that individuals have been invested with áyát of the Imám or Prophet, without which they would be unable to recognize their stations.

38 O Solace of the Eye! Say: 'Verily, verily I am the hour. How is it then that you do not know that the hour, in very truth, is near according to the mother of the book.

39 {O Solace of the Eye! Say:} 'Verily, verily I am the house and am with the truth, established (marfú`an).

Verse 38 and 39 follow F11, f.164a. The underlined portion in verse 38 is missing from QA which skips to verse 39. {---} in verse 39 is missing from F11, 164a. The nearness of the hour is found at Q.17:51. Bayt refers both to the Kaaba and the "house" or family of the Prophet, viz. the Imáms and their waláya. [1129]

40 And verily, verily (inní aná) I am the lamp in the niche [24:35] and am, through God the Truth upon the truth, shining (mudí'an).

This is a combination of the above-mentioned theme of the revelatory experience of Moses (signaled by inní aná), and that of the "light verse" [24:35]. Misbáh, according to Isfahání, refers to Hasan and Husayn, to the rasúl, and to the light of nubúwa and knowledge (`ilm), as well as to the `ulamá , and the shí`a.[1130] Mishkát is understood as representing Fátima (thus Hasan and Husayn are misbáh), and in another hadíth from the eighth Imám Ridá, we find the statement: "nahnu al-mishkát in which the misbáh of Muhammad shines." Alternatively, the word is glossed as the sadr Muhammad, "in which the light of knowledge, that is nubúwa, shines.[1131] Here is another clue about the frequent refrain al-haqq `alá 'l-haqq, which would appear in this instance to parallel the núr `alá núrin of 24:35. See also the following verse, where the reference is made explicit.

41 And verily, verily I am the Fire in the Light upon Light [24:35] of Túr in the land of felicity and am hidden in the precincts of the Fire [cf. 20:10-11].

It is not really possible to examine the images of fire and light in any detail.[1132] The verse speaks for itself, and is quite typical of other verses in the work.

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

This concludes the paraphrase of 12:93: wa'túní bi-ahlikum ajma`ín. The Bab's words: atúní bi-ahlikum mimman kána fí ahl al-mahw `alá 'l-jam` bi-idhni 'lláh al-`alí, while paraphrasing the Qur'an ahlikum ajma`ín, perhaps refer to the mystical idea of jam` al-jam` associated with the states of al-faná' (cf., the Bab's al-mahw) and al-baqá'.[1133]

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