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Abstract:
The meaning of the Arabic letters alif, lam, mim, as explained in Baha'u'llah's tablet Tafsir hurufat al-maqatt’ah. Includes List of disconnected letters in the Qur'an and Abjad values of the Arabic letters.
Notes:
Presented as a homework assignment for the Wilmette Institute's "Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh" Course, year two

Tablet of the 'Light Verse' (Lawh-i-Áyiy-i-Núr), also known as Commentary on the Disconnected Letters:
What on earth is a disconnected letter? Baha'u'llah's commentary

by Alison Marshall

1999-07
Since the perfect human being is the path of the Exalted, the Praiseworthy,
this path cannot be traveled upon, nor is it qualified by traveling.

-- Ibn 'Arabi

Contents
    1 - Introduction
    2 - The creation of the disconnected letters
    3 - The letters and the Manifestation
    4 - Interpretations of alif, lam and mim
    5 - The central role of the alif
    6 - The self-manifestation of the alif in humans
    7 - The alif in all the worlds
    8 - The letters of love
    9 - Appendix One: list of disconnected letters
    10 - Appendix One: abjad values

Introduction

The "disconnected letters" are letters of the Arabic alphabet that appear at the beginning of a number of suras of the Qur'an. For example, the second sura, The Cow, begins with the letters alif, lam and mim:

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Alif Lam Mim

That is the Book, wherein 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...

The letters that appear at the beginning of suras in this way are: alif, lam, mim, sad, ra, kaf, ha, ya, ain, ta, sin, qaf, and nun. In total, 29 suras of the Qur'an begin with at least one of these letters. A complete list of letters and suras appears in Appendix One.

In his Tafsir hurufat al-maqatt’ah, the Tablet of the Disconnected Letters (also known as Lawh-i ayah-yi nur, Tablet of the Light Verse), Bahá'u'lláh gives a commentary on the meaning of the disconnected letters, particularly the letters alif, lam and mim. Because these three letters appear at the beginning of the second sura, they effectively introduce the whole Qur'an, and Bahá'u'lláh attributes great importance to them.

Baha’u’llah wrote the Tafsir hurufat al-maqatt’ah in, it is thought, 1857-8, in response to questions from Hajji Aqa Mirza Aqa Rikab-Saz Shirazi. The tablet falls roughly into four sections:

1. a section explaining the creation of the disconnected letters in pre-existence
2. a commentary on the Light Verse (Qur'an 24:35
3. a commentary on the disconnected letters, principally, alif, lam and mim
4. a section interpreting the alif in terms of alchemical theory.

In this paper, I will focus on sections 1 and 3. The tafsir is long, about 15,000 words, of which section 3 takes up about two thirds. For this reason, I cannot cover these sections in depth, but I hope to provide an overview of the main arguments Bahá'u'lláh gives, with some discussion on these. The way that Bahá'u'lláh plays with the letters and draws significances from their various combinations and cosmological placements makes for startling reading.

His discussion focuses around the alif, in English the letter "A", which takes the shape of a single vertical stroke, like the letter "l" or the number 1. He describes it as "a manifestation of the Letters" and devotes all his commentary on the letters to explaining the central role that this letter plays in all the worlds of God.

The creation of the disconnected letters

As mentioned above, Baha’u’llah begins the tablet by describing the creation of the disconnected letters.

God, he explains, "created the letters in the worlds of the Divine Cloud", "gave them to drink from the goblet of eternal subsistence", "clothed the letters in a black robe" and "caused them to descend in the Kingdom of the Divine Will in the atmosphere of the Divine Decree."

God then addresses the Primordial Pen with the cry: "O Pen! Set down the mysteries of pre-existence upon the Perspicuous, Snow-White Tablet." At this, the Pen is "stupified with intense yearning for 70,000 years" and, after recovering, weeps "crimson tears for 70,000 years" and then stands up "between the hands of God" at a time that is outside time. However, while the Pen is crying, "there appear[s] within its tears a black hue" and this results in a black teardrop falling onto the Tablet "whereupon the Point [is] made manifest in the world of origination".

The Point takes on the "primordial shape upon the mirrors of the letters in the beings of the Names. The A received it before all the [other] letters in the existing particles [world of potentiality] and thus did this Divine Point take on the form of this Eternal A ... whereupon the Countenance of Inclusive Unity was disclosed from behind the Green Veils. The substance [body, temple, form] of the Point was made manifest in the shape of the A..."

Baha’u’llah explains that when the alif "was established upon the Luminous Tablet, it was again transfigured with renewed splendour whereupon the Disconnected Letters shone forth in the first of the Manifestations [Theophanies]". "Then there appear[s] from these Letters ... in the first of the Theophanies, the worlds of delineation and multiplicity. They were differentiated, separated and disconnected then gathered together, reconciled, united and linked together. Then assembled words and gathered letters appeared in the worlds of creation in the forms of Names and Attributes."

This creation story explains the creation of the Primal Point in the "world of origination": the Point is a black teardrop of the Pen, which began weeping when God's call for it to set down the mysteries of pre-existence stopped. The implication is that the Pen fulfilled the command to set down the mysteries by expressing within itself its relationship with God, hence its stupor at first hearing God's cry and then its weeping as a result of being separated from that cry. This expression of its spiritual reality was the cause of the creation of the Point, which holds the mysteries of pre-existence in it. At verse 20, Bahá'u'lláh tells us that the purpose of creation is that all things might "demonstrate through the tongue of [their] inmost realities" that God is the Creator. It would seem then, that this is what the Pen did, and in doing so, wrote the script of existence.

There are several passages in the tafsir where Bahá'u'lláh repeats the theme that the purpose of creation is for all created things to testify with their own beings that: "He, verily, is the Eternal, the Enduring, the Creator, the Powerful, the Mighty, the Sovereign."; for example:

• "... that every manifestation may bear witness in the secret recesses of their hearts unto the secret things; that He, verily, is the Mighty, the Powerful, the Protector, the Bestower" [I: 29]

• "Ponder therefore, O concourse of lovers, upon the creation of the heavens and of the earth, then within yourselves that you might be guided by the Manifestations of Power unto the Lights of Guidance in the Days of the Divine Visage". [II: 4]

Later we will see how Bahá'u'lláh asks the reader to look within himself at the way his being functions to gain an understanding of how God works and by this means to attain mystical insight (irfan). Elsewhere, Bahá'u'lláh explains that attaining to mystical insight is the purpose of creation. For example, Bahá'u'lláh explains: "Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He, through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know (irfan) Him and to love Him - a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation."

What then of the relationship between the Pen and the Point? I suggest that they are one and the same, for is the tear of the Pen different to the Pen? I suggest that because the Point is the expression of the Pen's devotion to God, it is therefore identical to it. This holds in the same way that on one level, our identity is the same as our expression of our devotion to God through gaining of mystical insight.

In fact, Bahá'u'lláh refers to himself in his writings as both the Pen and the Point. As for the Pen, a search of the published writings of Bahá'u'lláh brings up 407 references to the word Pen. In particular, Bahá'u'lláh commonly refers to himself as the "Pen of the Most High", "the Supreme Pen" and "the Most Exalted Pen". The "Primal Point" is usually a reference to the Bab - there are several passages in Bahá'u'lláh's writings in which he refers to the Bab in this way. To cite just one example, Bahá'u'lláh says in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf: "With a detached heart, and a dilated breast, and an utterly truthful tongue, recite thou these sublime words that have been revealed by My Forerunner - the Primal Point". In fact, Bahá'u'lláh goes on in this tafsir to say that God created the "worlds of dominion and the Predestined Ornament" so that all created things might testify in themselves that the Bab is the "Manifestation of the Divine Essence and the Manifestation of the Divine Attributes". However, Bahá'u'lláh also refers to himself as the Primal Point: "Arise thou to serve the Cause and say: I swear by the righteousness of God! Verily this is the Primal Point, arrayed in His new attire and manifested in His glorious Name."

Although he is not explicit about this, I think Bahá'u'lláh as good as says that the Letters of the Living are the embodiments of the disconnected letters in the world of creation. For he goes on to say that the "Mirrors that speak of Him [the Bab] and the Letters that cry out about Him" are "distinguished ... above the rest of the creatures in the worlds of pre-existence" and "all testify of Him and demonstrate Him such that there is no distinction between Him and between them except that they were created by His command, were raised up in accordance with His Intention, and were assembled through His Power." Bahá'u'lláh seems to be saying here that the spiritual reality of the Letters of the Living was created when the Reality of the Manifestation, in this case the Bab, shone in the disconnected letters, which we know are all extensions of the one alif. These letters were then manifested in creation according to a determined arrangement.

Bahá'u'lláh goes on to explain that the Letters of the Living are the ones that, in their beings, pass through the "cyclic scheme" and the "circling of the [spheres] of existence," and through whom the fruits of the Trees of Divine Unity are manifest. When the Point has undergone a complete revolution within itself, "arriving at its place whereupon the end returns unto the beginning," then the Primal Call is raised again, heralding the birth of a new revelation. This bears on the common theme in Bahá'u'lláh's writings that his Revelation brought with it a new creation, explaining that this creation was brought about through the rearrangement of the disconnected letters. In another passage, he also refers to this:

I testify that no sooner had the First Word proceeded, through the potency of Thy will and purpose, out of His mouth, and the First Call gone forth from His lips than the whole creation was revolutionized, and all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth were stirred to the depths. Through that Word the realities of all created things were shaken, were divided, separated, scattered, combined and reunited, disclosing, in both the contingent world and the heavenly kingdom, entities of a new creation, and revealing, in the unseen realms, the signs and tokens of Thy unity and oneness. Through that Call Thou didst announce unto all Thy servants the advent of Thy most great Revelation and the appearance of Thy most perfect Cause.

It is important to remember that the alif is also one of the disconnected letters and is therefore subject to this same process, although it also drives it. Therefore the temple of the Manifestation in creation is determined also by the arrangement of the letters in creation. For this reason, both the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh are both the Pen and the Point, both being the Reality of the Manifestation, however, in creation they take on different temples, ones determined by a new arrangement of disconnected letters in creation.

It is interesting to note the concept of separating (disconnecting) and reuniting in a new form, which the letters go through at the beginning of each cycle. There are parallels between this process and the processes basic to alchemical theory. In alchemy, the human soul is described as going through a separating and reuniting process throughout its progression from its encumbered state of 'lead' to its enlightened state of 'gold'. In order to progress to the state of enlightenment, the two powers within the soul, the pure soul (passive) and spirit (active), interact in a kind of romance:

1. The two lovers are unaware of each other. This is the soul embroiled in material life; the powers of the soul and spirit are hidden.

2. The two lovers meet. This causes a creative tension in which the soul and spirit grow and are liberated from each other and material encumbrances. They then embrace.

3. The two lovers unite on a higher plane. Here, the opposition of the two powers, "which previously had bound the soul, now becomes a fruitful complementarism, by means of which the soul achieves dominion over the entire world."

It is possible to see that this process replicates on the plane of the soul a similar process that the disconnected letters go through at the beginning of each cycle - their process being differentiation, separation, disconnection, gathering together, reconciling and linking together. In the same way that God brings about effects in the world through the potent combination of letters, humans can effect change in the world by perfecting their souls and becoming the alchemical elixir.

The letters and the Manifestation

Bahá'u'lláh says that the letters are "signs" in which are "[spiritual] significances" that have been hidden, but that their significance is revealed in this Day, so that those capable of understanding might testify that "everything exists by virtue of an embodied Reality [Divine Manifestation], who, in very truth, crieth out [Divine Guidance] for around Him circumabulateth all the Elevated Letters and the compounded words..." And as we have seen, all the letters are dependent on that Reality and are arranged by it.

Bahá'u'lláh goes on to describe the Self of the Manifestation as a Book that is the source of all mysteries and of creation. Interpreting the first two lines of the second sura (quoted above), Bahá'u'lláh says that by "alif, lam and mim" God meant to refer to Muhammad, and by the word "Book" God meant to refer to the Self of Muhammad. This Book derives from a "Hidden Preserved Book", which can be understood only by God. It contains all the past and future knowledge and guides the righteous; all scripture is but a letter of it. "Everything," Baha’u’llah goes on, "is capable of being registered on the level of description except this Hidden Book, which is abstracted beyond all that can be characterised... And He creates from it all that hath been and will be through His saying 'Be! And it is!'"

The Book of the Self of Muhummad contains all the mysteries written by the Pen so that we might testify that "there is no God except Him". Bahá'u'lláh then quotes the verse: "Read! The Book of thine own Self" (Q 17:15) and adds that the word "Book" can also refer to the Qur'an. We can see here a reiteration of the theme that the primary proof of the Manifestation is the Book of His Self, with the Book of the Qur'an being only a secondary proof. In another passage on this theme, Bahá'u'lláh states: "Say: The first and foremost testimony establishing His truth is His own Self. Next to this testimony is His Revelation. For whoso faileth to recognize either the one or the other He hath established the words He hath revealed as proof of His reality and truth." We also have here a reiteration of the theme that we recognise the Manifestation through our own selves. For this reason, Bahá'u'lláh is interpreting the word "Book" to refer also to our selves, for it is through our own Book that we read the Book of the Manifestation. That the "Book" refers to the self of each of us is implicit in this passage: "One must, then, read the book of his own self, rather than some treatise on rhetoric. Wherefore He hath said, "Read thy Book: There needeth none but thyself to make out an account against thee this day."

God named Muhummad using the disconnected letters, so that people would testify that His Name contains all the Beautiful Letters and Beautiful Names and that these were created for Him "such that nothing appeareth from the Beloved One [Muhammad?] except that He hath thereby intended His Beloved." It is not clear what exactly Bahá'u'lláh intended by the words "His Beloved." In a number of other places in the tafsir, the words "Beloved One" refers to Muhummand, and so I suggest that by "His Beloved", Bahá'u'lláh meant God, and in this instance, Bahá'u'lláh being the Manifestation of the Self of God, he therefore is referring to himself. For he continues in the next sentence to say: "And this indeed is His Beloved One as thou would realize if thou should observe with the eye of the spirit."

Using the disconnected letters, God also created "aspects of a Name of His Beloved One [Muhammad] which is an expression of the essential realities of the extendedness and of the subtle, elevated, pristine characteristics the like of which thou witnesseth in the Mirrors which reflect the Muhammadan Sun." The "Mirrors which reflect the Muhummadan Sun" are most probably the Imams, but could be all the Chosen Ones of Islam. I think Bahá'u'lláh is saying that God uses the disconnected letters to create aspects of the Reality of the Beloved One, and that these "aspects" express various characteristics of that Reality, such as its extendedness, subtlety and so forth. Embodied examples of the "aspects" that contain these characteristics are the Imams and Chosen Ones of Islam. In this way, Bahá'u'lláh says, God used the "Sacred Words" to create in Muhummad's Name the "Blessed Definitive Temples from the Elements of Singularity..." Bahá'u'lláh then asks his readers to "ponder upon the creation of the heavens and of the earth" so that they will come to realise that all Names and Attributes are "but a shadow" of Muhummad’s Name and His Attributes and that "everything lieth within the grasp of his power and is created from the Letters of his Name."

The idea that creation is a "shadow" is found in Sufi light mysticism; for example, it is said: "Light is God's shadow". According to light mysticism, the phenomenal world is complete non-existence and therefore, also complete darkness; at the same time, God is absolute existence and pure light. This base schema is complicated by the fact that phenomena must on one level be said to exist and contain light. This is explained by the fact that the light of the Absolute is reflected in the non-existence of phenomena, which acts like a mirror to the light of God, in the same way that the sun might be reflected in water. It is only through the agency of this "mirror of non-existence" that we are able to experience phenomena at all and think of it as having light. Because the light of the phenomenal world is only a reflection of the Light, it is also referred to as a shadow. In the same way that any shadow is brought about, the shadow of the light of phenomena is produced by the Light shining in the Names and Attributes of God or the Letters.

Interpretations of alif, lam and mim

In what follows, Baha’u’llah gives a commentary on the three disconnected letters alif (A), lam (L) and mim (M). In summary, he puts forward the following interpretations:

• A represents the Absolute Divinity; L represents the Absolute Trusteeship [wilaya]; and M represents the "Muhammadan Actuality [Beingness]". 'Trusteeship' refers to the spiritual guidance that is provided, for example, by the Imams. The Imam 'Ali is commonly known as the "Guardian", the Arabic word for this being "wali". This word comes from the same root as the word waliya, which is translated here as trusteeship. Trusteeship does not refer to the guidance that is given in the form of law and so forth, but rather the guidance that comes from a friend who helps the believers to walk their spiritual journey.

• The letters also refer to the "endless mysteries [indicative of the chronological fulfillment of prophecy] by means of which He alludes unto the period of the concealment of the [expected eschatological] Beauty behind pavilions of Glory." In other words, the letters refer to the mystery in the prophecies or signs of each Manifestation regarding the One that is to follow. Bahá'u'lláh cites the following tradition as an example of such a verse from the Imams: "With the expiration of 'Alif-Lam-Mim-Sad' through to 'Alif-Lam-Mim-Ra' the Mahdi[Bab] shall rise up."

• A is a "herald of His Greatest Name", Allah (A being the first letter of the word Allah); L represents part of God’s hidden knowledge; and M indicates God's Name, the Bestower. If the three letters are put together with these meanings, they add up to the sentence: "I am God, the Most-Informed, the Bestower". By asserting this at the beginning of the Qur'an, God ordains as He pleases and no-one can ever know what he desires and knows.

• A represents "the [Exclusive] Oneness of His Essence"; L represents the "Custodianship[wilaya] of His Overseer[wali]" for "the letter L is ... indicative of Custodianship"; and M indicates the Prophethood [nubuwwa] of Muhuammad, whose name begins with the letter M. 'Prophethood' means bearing the responsibility of bringing a revelation from God to humanity. Bahá'u'lláh goes on to point out that in the ordering of the letters A, L and M as they appear at the beginning of the Qur'an, the L comes before the M. He argues that this is a proof of the station of the Bab, because in his name, 'Ali Muhummad, the "Name of Custodianship ['Ali, as explained above] precede[s] the name of Prophethood". Bahá'u'lláh says that this interpretation is supported by the first verse of the second sura: "That is the Book, wherein is no doubt, a guidance to the godfearing who believe in the Unseen.." He argues that the word "Unseen" refers to the dispensation of the Bab, not that of Muhummad, and in using the word "Unseen" God established within the "atoms" of the Qur'an a covenant with humanity that it will recognise the Bab.

Bahá'u'lláh points out that the "lam" contains the three disconnected letters within itself, so that what can be said of the realities of A, L and M is also true of the lam. The fact that the M is in the lam is proof of the lam's "self-containedness" or "self-sufficiency", such as in the verse "He, verily, no God is there save Him." Bahá'u'lláh notes that the alif is placed between the L and the M in the lam and says that this is a mystery that none can comprehend.

The central role of the alif

Bahá'u'lláh then devotes several paragraphs to a discussion of the centrality of the alif and its relationship to the other letters. It is in this section that Bahá'u'lláh plays creatively with the letters and produces fascinating conclusions.

He says that if the alif is made to revolve about itself, this results in two alifs; that is: l and l. If these alifs are raised to the "value of the tens", this results in "the number of twice ten". This means that if you take the two alifs, which are side by side (l l) and add them, you get 1+1=2, the abjad value of the alif being 1 (see Appendix One). If you raise the 2 to the level of the tens, this gives 20. The Arabic letter with the abjad value of 20 is the letter kaf (K). This is the first letter of the word, in Arabic, "Be", which is the word "kun" from the phrase "Be! And it is." Bahá'u'lláh says that it is by means of the K that the "Manifestations of Singleness and the loci of abstracted reality were called into being". In fact, the "K actualised the 'it is' before it was associated with the supportive letter N", as in the word 'kun'. When the K and the N were joined together, "the modalities were created in the worlds of limitation as well as the concrete [worldly] testimonies in the worlds of constructed reality."

I think the idea of the alif revolving around itself alludes back to the cycles that Bahá'u'lláh refers to in the section discussing the creation of the letters. It will be recalled that the complete revolution of the alif about itself constituted the cycle of one dispensation, after which creation is renewed by the rearrangement of the disconnected letters. And it would appear that this new creation comes about through the functioning of the letter K, which calls the Manifestations of Singleness into being and then joins with the N to make the word 'kun' and to create the parameters of the new revelation in creation.

At this point, Bahá'u'lláh states that all the disconnected letters and words "return unto the all-eternal A ... It assuredly is a manifestation of the Letters without it being [in the least] alluded to." I think he means by this that the alif is responsible for creation and is at the heart of it, but at the same time is beyond description or comprehension. In the same way, Bahá'u'lláh asserts, God sends down his knowledge. The implication is that God's knowledge is the cause of creation and at the heart of creation, but is also beyond understanding. Bahá'u'lláh devotes the rest of section 3 of the tafsir to explaining and giving examples of how the alif works in, and is at the heart of, creation while remaining sanctified from it.

There are theophanies of the A in all the letters. For example, from the alif comes the Arabic letter ba (B). The ba takes the shape of a slightly flattened half circle that lies on the line, with a dot under it. Bahá'u'lláh says it is the alif prostrating itself on the dust before God. In a similar way is the letter dad made from ba, and the letter sad made from dad. "Wherefore," Bahá'u'lláh asserts "all the letters and all of the creatures are in this light subject to theophany on account of the theophanies of this A, which is manifested within diverse receptacles." A theophany is a "visible manifestation of God to humankind," so through the action of the alif, which is expressive of Absolute Divinity and the Exclusive Oneness of His Essence, changing itself into the various shapes of the different letters, all the letters thereby become manifestations of the alif.

Bahá'u'lláh explains that when God wanted to "manifest the theophanies of this A, there radiated forth upon the [primordial] letters a theophany of His likeness." By the action of the letter K, which we have seen is the creative letter, the disconnected letters took on existence and shape or form. If they were to shed those forms, "they would one and all [exist] in the form of the A". This can also be seen if the alif is looked upon in terms of its numerical value. For example, if the value of the alif, which is abjad 1, is "submerged in the oceans of decads", the result is the letter Ya (Y), which has the abjad value of 10. Again, if the alif ascends "into the heaven of the hundreds", the result is the letter Qaf, which has an abjad value of 100. Similarly, the alif can change into the letter Ghayn, which has the value 1000. In Arabic script, the zeros are written as points. Bahá'u'lláh is saying that these various letters are manifest by adding the required number of points to the alif, the point in this case representing the Primordial Point. But all these letters, in their abjad values, are still built on the alif.

Consequently, when the alif became, in this way, both the first and the last letters of the alphabet, "there appeared in its essence through the tongue of its inmost reality [the words] 'He is the First and the Last, the Seen and the Hidden'". The letters were thus all one in as much as they all came from the alif and they were all "prostrate" before God. By transforming the alif into all the other letters, God "appropriated to this A all the [other disconnected] Letters and thus was the theophany of this letter A [made manifest] through its own Self upon [all] the [other] Letters". Therefore, Bahá'u'lláh continues, "what applieth to the [letter] A is truly affirmed of the letter B and the reverse also may be observed." He explains that the alif is turned into these various shapes in accordance with the capacity of the people, and if it did not do this, the people would be unable to comprehend its mysteries.

The self-manifestation of the alif in humans

Bahá'u'lláh then goes on to show how the alif is manifest in human beings.

He asks the reader to look within himself and note how he is able to perform at will any action he desires. He says that if a person looks inside himself "with pure, [unblemished] vision" and allows himself to experience a Divine Name, such as the Hearer, that person is able to experience at the same time all the other Names, such as Seeing and so forth. Almost in passing, Bahá'u'lláh then notes that, "all of this relative to [Divine] Attributes which all the people up till this moment return unto their Creator for they lack [insightful] awareness [comprehension]." I think Bahá'u'lláh is saying here that those who do not witness the Divine Names operating within themselves, and therefore have not acquired Divine Attributes, lose the grace of the presence of those Names in them and this grace returns to God.

This idea is carried through into the next paragraph, in which Bahá'u'lláh begins by asking the reader to testify within himself that the Divine Attributes "hath been created in His dominion and He casteth out upon such of His servants as He willeth." God, he continues, cannot be comprehended by our using our own way of understanding. Rather, in order to understand the way God works, we need to experience that work within ourselves. Hence, Bahá'u'lláh says, God "created these [various] abilities in the realities of His servants" so that they might understand that God created the Names and Attributes but is, at the same time, sanctified from them.

Bahá'u'lláh asks his reader to strive to "attain this station", that is, strive to experience within himself the Names and Attributes in the way described, so that the reader might not be a person who disregards these evidences and becomes a person who has eyes but cannot see, whose hearing does not work, and whose heart does not understand. He challenges the reader to witness how he is capable of doing many different actions like walking, sleeping and eating, but is still the same one person. A person then can express the various Names and Attributes and "submit" to them within himself. Again, these Names and Attributes are placed in us in diverse ways so that by their means we might "ascend within [ourselves] through the [experience of the] celestial ascents of [mystic] gnosis (ma`arij al-irfan). This is a clear statement, as discussed earlier in relation to the creation story, that we are asked to look at out own functioning in order that we might grasp something of how God functions and thereby attain to mystical insight (irfan), the purpose of our creation.

To give an example of what he is referring to, Bahá'u'lláh asks the reader to observe how he is able to perform an action, which is "but a single thing" and yet we might use a number of Names of God to describe or identify that action. "In reality" he says the action is "abstracted" from whatever we say about it. For example, a person might focus an action in the tongue and manifest speech, which is a "trace" or an attribute of that action, but no matter what name we give that trace or what attributes result from the action, this does not alter the action itself. This is brought about by our "turning towards" the various bodily functions that are given to humans. Bahá'u'lláh continues by saying that the same is true of the inner working of ourselves. If we focus our inner vision on the parts of our inner body, such as the mind or heart, the interplay between these parts and the various Names produces effects like "the intellect, the spirit, and the inmost heart."

In this way, God 'manifests' the letter A in us in many different ways within ourselves even though the A is one reality. From this one alif, God is able to manifest "changeable [human manifestations of the divine] Names and the variegated effects [traces]." And an apprehension of these leads a person to the station of mystical insight or gnosis [irfan]. Such a person sees how God creates diversity by altering the locus of the A and the traces that come about as a result. Despite the diversity, the "Manifesting Reality" remains One and the "thing manifested" remains One. This is something people would readily see if they did not block out the evidences of it within themselves.

The alif in all the worlds

Baha’u’llah says that the alif has a "similitude" in all the worlds of God. "Everything" in creation and everything that will be created is a "[direct] result of its uprightness or its [power of] uprising or a result of its [diverse modes of being solidly] established or its power or might." It will be recalled that in the creation story the Pen stood up between the hands of God. When Bahá'u'lláh refers to the uprightness of the alif, I think of the Pen between God's hands writing the script of being.

The alif also contains within it all the mysteries of the sciences. God has bestowed on it "the wonders of His bounty" for within it is knowledge sufficient for what has past and what will be. Bahá'u'lláh follows with a complex verse suggesting that if various computations, as he outlines them, are performed on the letters, the result would "bedazzle intellects". A person who did this would understand the science of jafr and "attain unto the genesis of the sciences". The definition of jafr is: "The art of divination. Characters written by Imam 'Ali upon a camel's skin that contain all events past, present and future." The tradition says that Gabriel and Muhammad slaughtered a buffalo in paradise and inscribed on its hide various secrets. These were passed from Gabriel to Muhummad to 'Ali, who hid them and said that they would be explained by the Qa'im. The unveiling of these secrets is then a sign of the Qa'im. So in this passage, Bahá'u'lláh is claiming to know the secret of the science of jafr and says he would reveal it if he was to meet someone who could understand it.

The letters of love

Before launching into his interpretation of the alif in terms of alchemical theory (section 4), Bahá'u'lláh states that the disconnected letters are "an intimate link between the enraptured soul and the Beloved One, the lover and the Loved One."

In centuries to come, many volumes will be written in commentary on this one verse. I can't presume to even be able to imagine its meaning, but I will conclude this overview by making the following comment.

The creation story is a love story. The Pen expresses its spirituality by being desperately in love with God, and as a result of its sacrifice in being separated from God's cry, it weeps the Point. This takes the shape of the alif, which manifests itself in all the disconnected letters, and these, through various potent combinations, manifest themselves as creation.

On the level of the human being, we all hold this mystery in ourselves through the multiple theophanies of the alif in the disconnected letters and their operation in creation as God's Names and Attributes. In this way, we can see how the disconnected letters provide an "initimate link" between us and the Manifestation, our Best Beloved. The Pen writes the script of the letters, they combine to write the script of creation, and the perfected souls read the script of their own book, by eternally bearing witness to the alif within their selves. In all cases, that script is "There is no God but God".

But for the sign of the Unity of God within them, they would have never acknowledged the truth of the words, "There is none other God but God.
Bahá'u'lláh


Appendix One

List of disconnected letters in the Qur'an

Sura number and name

Letters

II

The Cow

Alif Lam Mim

III

The House of Imran

Alif Lam Mim

VII

The Battlements

Alif Lam Mim Sad

X

Jonah

Alif Lam Ra

XI

Hood

Alif Lam Ra

XII

Joseph

Alif Lam Ra

XIII

Thunder

Alif Lam Mim Ra

XIV

Abraham

Alif Lam Ra

XV

El-Hijr

Alif Lam Ra

XIX

Mary

Kaf Ha Ya Ain Sad

XX

Ta Ha

Ta Ha

XXVI

The Poets

Ta Sin Mim

XXVII

The Ants

Ta Sin

XXVIII

The Story

Ta Sin Mim

XXIX

The Spider

Alif Lam Mim

XXX

The Greeks

Alif Lam Mim

XXXI

Lokman

Alif Lam Mim

XXXII

Prostration

Alif Lam Mim

XXXVI

Ya Sin

Ya Sin

XXXIX

Sad

Sad

XL

The Believers

Ha Mim

XLI

Distinguished

Ha Mim

XLII

Counsel

Ha Mim Ain Sin Qaf

XLIII

Ornaments

Ha Mim

XLIV

Smoke

Ha Mim

XLV

Hobbling

Ha Mim

XLVI

The Sand-Dunes

Ha Mim

L

Qaf

Qaf

LXVIII

The Pen

Nun


Appendix Two

Abjad values of the Arabic letters

alif

1

ba

2

ta

400

tha

500

jim

3

Ha

8

kha

600

dal

4

dhal

700

ra

200

zay

7

sin

60

shin

300

Sad

90

Dad

800

Ta

9

DHa

900

’ayn

70

ghayn

1000

fa

80

qaf

100

kaf

20

lam

30

mim

40

nun

50

ha

5

waw

6

ya

10

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