Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Published Articles
TAGS: Interfaith dialogue; Interpretation; Islam; Quran; Tafsir (Exegesis)
> add tags
Tafsír (traditional Qur'an commentary) and the writings of the Bab.

The Dangers of Reading:
Inlibration Communion and Transference in the Qur'an Commentary of The Bab

by Todd Lawson

published in Scripture and Revelation, pages 171-216
London: George Ronald, 1997
[page 171]

      One of the major literary genres used by the Báb in the corpus of his works is that of commentary on the Qur'án. To gain an appreciation of the manner in which the Báb used this genre and the effect that this would have had upon those who read his works, it is necessary to look more closely at the nature of Qur'án commentary. This genre of Islamic literature is not just the dry scholarly activity that one may assume it to be.

Qur'án Commentary

      Qur'án commentary — tafsír — is amongst the most venerable intellectual activities in the Islamic tradition. The tafsír genre has engaged a number of Western scholars of Islam since the beginnings of the history of Western interest in the subject. Correctly judging that there was nothing more important in Islamic religion than the Book, these scholars went about surveying the contours of the continuous history of Qur'ánic commentary in order to discover something about Islam, or at least Muslims. The task is still in process not only because the genre of tafsír is superabundantly represented in the languages of Islamic culture but also, given the ineffably high status of the Qur'án in Islam, it is

[page 172]

thought that the study of the way Muslims read it will help answer basic questions about Islamic piety or spirituality, religion, history, sociology and culture in general. Primarily of course, the language is Arabic. But very well represented also are Persian, Turkish and Urdu not to mention the vast number of other languages from Indonesia to North Africa to Europe even to North America. Pausing to assess the results so far of the academic study of Qur'án commentary, one is mightily impressed by the collective achievement. Much light indeed has been shed upon Islamic religion, history, sociology and thought through the many excellent, assiduous studies of tafsír. It is likely that the continued study of the subject will also shed more light on these as well as other as yet unidentified topics.

      My reading of both the commentaries themselves and studies of them suggests to me that a factor that is frequently taken for granted, if it is recognized at all, is precisely the sacred and the holy connection that binds the commentator to the text. This factor is potentially of such a significance that it deserves to be privileged. I am speaking of the kind of relationship that is suggested in the stories about the great Sunní commentator al-Tabarí, the first encyclopedic Qur'án commentator who died 923 CE, and his almost ritualistic preparations for his daily work in the form of ablutions and special prayers for protection from error in setting out his massive commentary — a commentary whose comprehensiveness and relative antiquity have combined to bestow upon it a place in Islamic letters that is impossible to overestimate. al-Tabarí's commentary is the flagship of Sunní scriptural exegesis. Shí'í Islam has its own classics of scriptural exegesis and its own traditions which differ in many important ways from Sunní commentary. Nonetheless, there is between the two approaches to scripture a common veneration of the text which communicates across sectarian borders.

      What is the Qur'án exactly? The Word of God, of course; but from a purely historical point of view, it is in fact the

[page 173]

Word of God as communicated to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel and finally uttered aloud, intoned, chanted and spoken forth by the Prophet to His audience over a period of 20 and more years in a very particular time and place: 7th-century Western Arabia. So-called orthodox Islamic doctrine sees Muhammad's role in this revelatory act as supremely passive: He was the unlettered prophet mentioned in the holy book (al-rasúl al-nabí al-ummí: Qur'án 5:157-8). Without dwelling here on the numerous controversies surrounding the interpretation of this Qur'ánic designation, I mention it to emphasize a positive fact:

      However variously Muslims may understand the Prophet's illiteracy, whether it refer merely to the fact that He was not a professional religious scholar, a priest or a rabbi, or whether it meant He could not read and write, all Muslims not only recognize but cherish the hypothesis that the text of the Holy Book as we have it today was first delivered here in the sub-lunar realm on the breath of the most precious being who ever lived: Muhammad ibn 'Abd Alláh ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib al-Háshimí al-Qurashí. So, in the course of reading — whether silently or aloud — the reader hears the Word of God but he does not hear God — a possibility that is thought of as blasphemous. When a voice is supplied for the text, it is, in some measure, the voice of the Prophet and so it is Muhammad's voice that becomes the voice of the reader. That such is likely to be an important factor in the reading act is doubtless self-evident; it is comparable to the encounter of a Christian with the red-letter passages in the New Testament. Of course, each believer's 'voice of Muhammad' will be highly distinctive and personalized.[1] Nonetheless, this voice is potentially very powerful not only because of any purely divine involvement, but also because of the status Muhammad has in Islam. Such characterizations of Muhammad as those published by highly respected scholars of religion as the 'St Paul of Islam'[2] are woefully deficient because they ignore the adoration that is accorded to the Prophet not only in works of scholarship medieval

[page 174]

and modern, but also in the thousands of poems, songs and gestures that enliven the religious life and culture of the Islamic world. And, this adoration is not restricted to the so-called 'folk' level. No less sophisticated a Muslim than Ibn Síná (d. 1037) spoke of the Prophet Muhammad in the following terms: 'Whoever in addition to [having combined theoretical wisdom with justice] wins prophetic qualities becomes almost a human god. Worship of him after worship of God, becomes almost allowed. He is indeed the world's earthly king and God's deputy in it.'

      The reader 'hears' the Words of God given auditory shape through the blessed tonalities of Muhammad's own voice — a voice as individual, distinctive and intimate as the face or the fingerprint; a voice that is in a sense the very heart of a person in audible form. That I am not exaggerating here is supported by the name which Muslim tradition favors over scores of other possibilities for its textual theophany, namely Qur'án — an intensive noun form built on the root idea of utterance or speech and which we often translate with characteristic anemia as 'recitation'.[3] So, the Qur'án is the uncreated divine word[4] borne on the breath of Muhammad. Imagine being a believing Muslim and knowing this with more certainty than you know that the sun will rise tomorrow in the East and then setting about reading these words on a page[5] — and then in turn setting about explaining these words probably in the first instance for yourself and then for others. The intensity of the reading act may then be heightened and sustained through the analytical maneuvers of the exegete who may be seen fairly to luxuriate in the textual charisma of the verses, words and letters of the Holy Book.

      In this connection, I quote from a more or less standard Muslim guide to reading the Qur'án:
Be fully convinced that it is God's revelation.
      Be aware that you are always in God's presence.
Feel as though you hear the Qur'án from God.

[page 175]
Feel as though the Qur'án addresses you directly.
      Consider each verse as relevant today, not as a thing of the past.
Remember how the Prophet and his Companions reacted to the Qur'án.
      Take each passage of the revelation as addressed to you.
Strive to live by the teachings of the Qur'án, since it is God's guidance for mankind.
      This is the way to get close to the Qur'án and to grasp its meanings. To know about the Qur'án in application, observe in everyday life the way of the Prophet Muhammad, who is described by 'Á'isha his wife, as 'the living Qur'án'.

With this quotation we are introduced to another dimension of the place of scripture in Islam, one having to do with the social realm. Islam is distinctive not only for the emphasis it puts on the idea of the holy book but also for its emphasis on community life. The Prophet is seen not only as a divine messenger but also as the perfect citizen. Thus proper behavior and comportment are achieved by imitating Him. Islamic ethics (akhláq) and true civilized behavior (adab) can be seen, then, as the personification or dramatization of the Qur'án — a kind of living exegesis. This idea seems to have been first mentioned in connection with the Prophet in the above statement by his wife 'Á'isha (d. 678) but this was certainly not the last such mention. The Prophet Muhammad, by virtue of His special vocation is seen as a living embodiment of the Qur'án, or as the living Qur'án — the Word made Flesh, if you will. Thus Muhyi al-Dín Ibn al-'Arabí (d. 1240), the greatest of Muslim mystics, spoke of Him being suffused with the Qur'án. He refers to the Prophet as the 'brother of the Qur'án'[7] and elaborates elsewhere: 'He who. . ., wishes to see Muhammad, let him look at the Qur'án. There is no difference between looking at it and looking at God's Messenger. It is as though the Qur'án had clothed itself in a form of flesh named Muhammad ibn 'Abd Alláh ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib.'[8]

[page 176]

Shí'í Qur'an Commentary

Reference was made above to the differences between Sunní and Shí'í Qur'án exegesis. It is necessary now to return to this topic in order to provide a context for the remainder of this discussion. Shí'ism, however it may be characterized, represents an attempt on the part of its leaders and followers to extend the presence of divine authority in the Islamic community beyond the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Of course, other non-Shí'í leaders and groups also attempted this: the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Sufis and so forth. But in Shí'ism we see perhaps the most explicit and uncompromising assertion that divine authority — waláya/wiláya — was passed on by the Prophet Muhammad, first to His cousin and son-in-law 'Ali (d. 661), who then passed on this special divine vocation to, according to Ithná-'Asharí (Twelver) Shí'ism, each of the remaining eleven Imams. The Prophet's death meant to the Shí'ah the end of divine legislative authority, prophethood (nubúwa), but divine authority as such, waláya, was considered to have continued through the Imáms. Some sources speak, for example, of the cycle (dawr) of prophecy ending and the cycle of guardianship (waláya) beginning with the death of the Prophet. Included in this special charismatic group of 'bearers of waláya' (the awliyá', sing. walí, derived from the verbal noun waláya) is Fátima. While not recognized as an Imám, she is certainly seen as one of the awliyá', sometimes translated as 'Friends of God' but carrying the meaning, in Shí'ism, of saint, friend, guardian and absolute authority in all matters worldly and spiritual. So, for Twelver Shí'ism there are fourteen holy figures, the Family of God: the twelve Imáms, Fátima and the Prophet, who in addition to being a nabí or exponent of nubúwa is also a walí, or exponent of waláya. The logic is that all prophets are also guardians, but not all guardians are prophets.

      It is through the contemplation, elaboration and systematizing of the central problem of religious authority that

[page 177]

      Shí'ism has acquired its most distinctive features. This authority, which has its own special characteristics, is wiláya (Persian form: viláyat). There is, in Shí'ism no more important a doctrine. For example, in recent times Khomeini rose to prominence in large measure through his doctrine of 'The Spiritual Authority of the Jurist' (viláyat-i-faqíh) in which he demonstrated to the satisfaction of many of his readers that the decisions and directives of the properly devout jurist (faqíh) are to be seen as identical with the ruling of the Hidden Imám.

      By invoking the term waláya, both denotations and connotations are stimulated to life. In Shí'ism this life is pre-eminently tragi-historical, from the betrayal of 'Ali's waláya after the death of the Prophet to the cheating of Fátima out of her inheritance, to the most tragic event of all, the martyrdom of the third Imám, Husayn, in 680 CE. But all of the Imáms, according to strict doctrine, were betrayed and murdered and all are martyred heroes of the very highest degree. They are also bearers of the divine substance known as the Muhammadan Light or Spirit. This has given them all supernatural knowledge in all spheres, particularly Qur'ánic exegesis. Thus Shí'í Qur'án commentaries are replete with quotations from this group known as the Friends of God, or the Bearers of the Divine authority — the awliyá'.

      Much of the interpretation of the Qur'án, and this always on the authority of one Imám or another, seeks to demonstrate that their authority is fully validated in the Qur'án text. Recognition of this authority is essential in upholding the divine covenant which was first established, according to the Qur'án (7:172-3), before the creation of the world. The importance of this authority and the covenant is so great that, for example, certain otherwise unlikely words and ideas are said to be references not merely to the authority of the Imáms but to the Imáms themselves. Thus 'prayer', 'fasting' and 'pilgrimage' are said to be code words for the Imám whom the believer is being commanded to

[page 178]

observe religiously in the Qur'án.[9] Thus runs an important stream of Shí'í esoteric or bátiní interpretation (ta'wíl) as distinct from Sunní exoteric or záhirí exegesis (tafsír).

      In the Shí'í exegetical tradition, the text is inhabited not only by the Prophet but by the Imáms, and whereas the Prophet, insofar as He is the bearer of prophethood (nubúwa), is superior to the other thirteen holy figures, insofar as they are all bearers of waláya, they are all equal. In the words of Shí'ism the Fourteen Holy Ones represent a sacred fire of fourteen flames. And as the text is inhabited by the awliyá', so it is also said, as we saw above, to inhabit (in a sense 'be incarnated by') them. For example, the 9th-century mystic (and, as it happens a student of the sixth Imám Ja'far al-Sádiq), Dhú'l-Nún al-Misrí (d. 859), is quoted as having said of the Friends of God: 'The Qur'án has mingled with their flesh and blood.'[10]

      It is also important to note for the present discussion that Shí'ism and mysticism, particularly the mystical vision associated with Ibn al-'Arabí which is referred to as the vision of the oneness of being (wahdat al-wujúd) had, since at least the 15th century and probably earlier, been applied to Shí'í theology so that the all-important Perfect or Universal Man, who is the centerpiece of Ibn 'Arabí's ontological mysticism, comes to include for the Shí'ah the entire family of God, the fourteen pure ones.[11] In acquiring this doctrine, Shí'ism also appropriated the basic metaphysics which made it sensible: God is best thought of as Absolute Existence and that the rest of creation represents levels of existence at varying degrees of intensity or 'distance' from Him, from the material world up through the divine world. These worlds or presences are thought of as four or five and they will figure prominently in the following discussion.[12]

The Bab and the Declining Day

      To illustrate the dangers of reading, then, I will take the

[page 179]

example of a special kind of written commentary produced in the mid-l9th century in Iran by a young man not yet 30 years of age, a merchant by profession and training. At the time the Báb was writing, the Shí'í world in Iran and elsewhere was beset by a number of dislocations and tensions religious, economic, political and social. Foremost among these tensions or moods was messianism; it was, after all, the Shí'í millennium (the twelfth Imám had disappeared in the year 260/873-4 and it was now the Islamic year 1260/1844-5, the thousandth anniversary of this disappearance).[13]

      Among the Báb's writings there are numerous works of Qur'án commentary — tafsír. Most of the commentaries are on either a complete súra of the Qur'án or one of its more notable verses, such as the Light Verse (24:35) or the Throne Verse (2:25 5). These commentaries present a broad range of ideas and exegetical techniques, despite the fact that they all seem to come from the same general period, usually referred to as early Bábism.

      Of the numerous titles in this genre of Qur'án commentary, four stand out as major works. In chronological order they are the commentaries on al-Baqara (súra 2), Yúsuf (súra 12), al-Kawthar (súra 108), and Wa'l-'Asr (súra 103). Indeed, the second, the commentary on the súra of Joseph is where the Báb first put forth His claim to be the sole focus of religious devotion for not only the Shí'í world but the entire world. Here the reading act culminated in a spiritual or mystical experience of such profound impact that interpretation became revelation.[14]

      The last two works, the commentaries on the súras of al-Kawthar and Wa'l-'Asr, both exhibit one of the more distinctive exegetical procedures of the Báb: both of these commentaries, which are on two súras that are among the shortest in the Qur'án, are explained by the Báb not only verse by verse, or even word by word, but also letter by letter. In this way the Qur'ánic material is 'exploded' by the commentator in an attempt to mine it for as much meaning

[page 180]

as possible. Both commentaries, despite the brevity of their subjects, are quite long: the earlier of the two on the Súrat al-Kawthar or Chapter of the Abundance (the shortest súra in the Qur'án) runs to 115 folios in the Cambridge ins. (Browne F. 10, 19 lines per page), while the other commentary on Qur'án 103 (Browne F. 9) consists of 87 folios.

      Both commentaries share another common element in that they were both written for specific high-ranking religious scholars, in their presence, and according to the accounts, in one sitting. The Tafsír Súrat al-Kawthar was written for Sayyid Yahyá Dárábí (d. 1850), a junior religious official at the court of the Shah (and the son of the illustrious Ja'far Kashfí,[15] d 1851) who had been sent by Muhammad Sháh (r. 1834-48) to investigate the Báb and who, as a result of reading this tafsír became a follower of the Báb. The commentary on Wa'l-'asr, The Chapter of the Declining Day, was written for the powerful Sultánu'l-'Ulamá, the Imám-Jum'ih of Isfahán, Mír Siyyid Muhammad, sometime between September 1846 and March 1847.

The Bab's Commentary on the Súra of Wa'l-'Asr

      We will restrict our discussion to the commentary on Wa'l-'Asr, which, in addition to demonstrating the 'dangers of reading', is a good source for the Báb's religious views wherein distinctions are made, for example, between His teachings and the ideas of the above-mentioned Muhyi al-Dín Ibn al-'Arabí (d. 1240).[16]

      The Báb arrived in Isfahán at the end of the summer of 1262/1846 and was welcomed by the Sultánu'l-'Ulamá himself, whose home was then opened to Him. Since the powerful religious office of Chief judge or chancellor had been abolished by Nádir Khán (or Sháh; r. 1736-47), the Imám Jum'ih was at the time the principal religious figure in the city. During His stay under the roof of this important personage, which lasted 'forty days', the Báb met many of

[page 181]

the religious scholars of Isfahán. The commentary He produced for His illustrious host has not been published but several manuscripts exist.[17] In this paper, I am using only the Cambridge ms. It is of medium length, extending to 87 folios of 14 lines per page (the number of the members of the Pure Ones, mentioned above) with an average 100 words per page. The entire work was completed in one sitting. According to one account, one evening after dinner the Báb's host requested Him to comment on the Súra of Wa'l-'asr. The scene is described as follows:
      His request was readily granted. Calling for pen and paper, the Báb, with astonishing rapidity and without the least premeditation, began to reveal, in the presence of His host, a most illuminating interpretation of the aforementioned súra. It was nearing midnight when the Báb found Himself engaged in the exposition of the manifold implications involved in the first letter of that súra. That letter, the letter váv', upon which Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsá'í had already laid such emphasis in his writings, symbolized for the Báb the advent of a new cycle of Divine Revelation, and has since been alluded to by Bahá'u'lláh in the 'Kitab-i-Aqdas' in such passages as 'the mystery of the Great Reversal' and 'the Sign of the Sovereign'. The Bab soon after began to chant, in the presence of His host and his companions, the homily with which He had prefaced His commentary on the súra. Those words of power confounded His hearers with wonder. They seemed as if bewitched by the magic of His voice. Instinctively they started to their feet and, together with the Imám-Jum'ih, reverently kissed the hem of His garment. Mullá Muhammad-Taqíy-i-Harátí, an eminent mujtahid, broke out into a sudden expression of exultation and praise. 'Peerless and unique,' he exclaimed, 'as are the words which have streamed from this pen, to be able to reveal, within so short a time and in so legible a writing, so great a number of verses as to equal a fourth, nay a third, of the Qur'án, is in itself an achievement such as no mortal, without the intervention of God, could hope to perform.

[page 182]
Neither the cleaving of the moon nor the quickening of the pebbles of the sea can compare with so mighty an act."[18]

      Why this particular súra was chosen by the Imám Jum'ih can be speculated upon with relative confidence. Three separate but intimately related factors emerge:

      1.       Its brevity which would commend it as an appropriately limited yet self-standing and complete portion of the Qur'án as a subject for the somewhat impromptu 'after dinner' ambiance of the setting;

      2.       Its indeterminate or mysterious language, which would commend it as a fitting challenge for the young spiritual prodigy who had been acquiring such notoriety in recent months and with which the religious leaders could 'test his mettle';

      3.       Finally, and this is possibly the most important factor, apart from the various Traditions which treat the word 'asr as indicating either the time of the afternoon prayer or the lifetime of the Prophet, such as those found in Tabarí and some Shí'í commentaries, there is a tradition which speaks of the Asr or time of the Qá'im — the Shí'í messiah. The Báb quotes, for example, from the famous Tafsír al-Sáfí, compiled by Muhsin Fayd Káshání (d. 1680), which preserves many of these traditions. But there can be little doubt that the one which inspired him was one preserved by Ibn Bábúyah (d. 991) on the authority of the sixth Imám Ja'far al-Sádiq (d. 765). For the convenience of the reader, I will quote the entire súra and the Tradition from the Imám:
      Qur'án text:

      In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate [I swear] by the declining day
      Indeed, mankind is in a state of loss
      Except those who believe and do good works, and exhort

[page 183]
      one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.


      {The Declining Day} is the declining day of the coming forth from hiding of the Qá'im, upon whom be peace. As for the words {Indeed, mankind is in a state of loss} they refer to our enemies. {Except those who believe} means in Our signs/verses (áyátuná). {And perform good works} means consoling/being charitable towards the brethren. {And exhort one another to accept the truth} means [to accept] the Imámate. {And exhort one another to be steadfast} means [in their devotion to] the Holy Progeny.[19]

      It is important to observe that this interpretation of the text is highly sectarian and relies upon extra-Qur'ánic references, analogies and even allegories typical of Shí'í Qur'án commentary. It is thus a prime example of what would be called in Sunní anti-Shí'í polemic bátiní interpretation, that is, an esoteric interpretation which is seen to corrupt the plain meaning of the text to the point of questioning the catholic Sunní ethos. It is, in short, heresy from the Sunní point of view. For the Báb, and His fellow Shí'í Muslims, this interpretation is quite orthodox and unexceptionable (perhaps even uninteresting) and represents merely the most obvious or elementary (záhir) reading of the sacred text. The Báb will proceed to interpret this lowest level of 'hidden meaning' and discover within it other hidden meanings for His reader/audience.

      The text of the Báb's commentary may be divided into five sections of varying lengths. It opens with a doxology of the Imáms, followed by an introduction, in which it is stated that this work is by the command of Sultán al-'Ulamá', and an explanation of the way in which the commentary is to be written, which includes various statements on the nature of tafsír itself. The Báb says that He plans to comment on the verse letter by letter according to the inner or esoteric meaning (bátin) of the súra, and that this is the

[page 184]

most important way of reading the Qur'án but it depends upon a special kind of spiritual knowledge which He calls here 'actual knowledge' ('ilm al-wáqi', a term used by A'lá al-Dawla Simnání).[20] This is so, He says, because the forms in this world are confusing and the only way for anyone to distinguish between them in this world of multiplicity is to turn to the Divine Essence through the disavowal of all allusions and veils of glory and arrive at the world of principles by the disavowal of all names and attributes.

      The remaining three sections are the actual commentary, the first part of which is a letter by letter commentary comprising folios 19a to 50b. The next section is more conventional in that the various interpretative statements are centered on the key words of the verse being commented upon. The final section is the simple citation, mentioned above, of the commentary on this verse from the highly regarded Shí'í Tafsír al-Sáfí of Fayd Káshání.

      The letter by letter commentary takes up more than 30 folios. In it each of the 69 letters of chapter 103 are commented upon, sometimes with the aid of other Qur'ánic verses and holy Traditions.[21] The content of the commentary is centered on a few major themes: advent (zuhúr), religious authority (waláya), the pillars of religion (arkán), the Imáms, God's self-manifestation (tajallí), and the amr or cause of God. Such typical Islamic subjects as salát (ritual prayer) are discussed, together with more mystical and philosophical topics, ranging from the various levels of existence mentioned earlier to the colors of the pillars supporting the divine throne. The exposition employs the technical terminology of what Corbin calls theosophy and includes such motifs as the coincidence of opposites, a particularly powerful 'trope' in Islamic mystical discourse typically concerned with eschatology, whether of the purely personal 'interior' type or the more historical type.

      Each letter is commented upon in turn and each letter, though it might be duplicated in the súra itself, is given special consideration in its various respective places. The

[page 185]

basic pattern of explanation is to treat each letter as the initial for a word which represents a concept important to the overall message (for example, wáw — the 'w' — is almost always related to waláya); or, as the initial of an attribute of God (for example, rá' is usually related to rahma, divine mercy); or, as the initial of a substantive which is transformed into a metaphor for pointing to the substance of some divine operation (lám is frequently interpreted as standing for pearls, lá'lí). That such words appear in different interpretative contexts producing distinct further meanings is not to be mistaken for inconsistency. Rather, this phenomenon underscores the importance of one of the Báb's most cherished hermeneutic principles: a given word, and indeed a given letter, is susceptible of an infinite number of interpretations.

      These elements or key words are typically assigned four different modes or levels of significance which correspond to the four worlds of the cosmos: láhút, jabarút, mulk/malakút and finally násút. These four worlds represent a metaphysical or ontological hierarchy, in which none of the levels is void of the particular quality being discussed. Using this 'device' the Báb illustrates the interdependence or unity of creation by describing the way in which a given quality or attribute pervades it and connects it to the other worlds.[22]

      This quaternary structure accomplishes a number of ends. First of all, with reference to the Báb's immediate audience and His own work, it is related, however tacitly, to the Shaykhi doctrine of the Fourth Support which was one of the most challenging teachings of Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kázim Rashtí (d. 1843). Briefly, Shí'ism had heretofore recognized five pillars of belief: tawhíd (unity of God), nubúwa (prophethood), the resurrection, the imamate and justice. The Shaykhíya joined divine unity with justice and prophethood with the resurrection and added the principle of the Perfect She'd or Shí'í.[23] Thus for the Báb Shí'ism or true religion was based upon four supports, not

[page 186]

five. His quaternary discourse no doubt reflects a doctrinal position, particularly as the fourth level, the Fourth Support (al-rukn al-rábi'), could be interpreted to posit the necessity of a single holy soul (i.e. Himself) as a required element in true religion. The four-part structure would not be lost on any intelligent and informed reader or hearer of the time, especially as the doctrines associated with the Shaykhis had been percolating, with some success, through Iranian religious culture for over 20 years at the time of the Báb's composition of this tafsír.

      Another feature of this structure has been alluded to above. This is the general metaphysical doctrine of the oneness of being (wahdat al-wujúd) which seeks to demonstrate the non-dualistic nature of reality. (It is partly on the strength of such an implicit hypothesis that 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and many Muslim spiritual teachers before Him, can speak of the non-existence of evil.) The origin of this highly controversial doctrine is found in the writings of Ibn al-'Arabí and because much of Ibn al-'Arabí's language scandalized the 'orthodox' guardians of religion, he had, by the time the Báb was writing, been demonized by the establishment — whether Sunní or Shí'í. However, the compelling power and beauty of the idea was also seen to be remarkably satisfying on the religio-philosophical level and many who would eschew some of Ibn al-'Arabí's more imaginative formulations (e.g. the world is simultaneously both God and not-God) sought to preserve what they considered useful in his thought while purging it of its doctrinal flaws. In this regard, we have already mentioned Simnání[24] and there have been many others.

      By the time the Báb was writing, a definite technical terminology had evolved with some variation on the original doctrine of wahdat al-wujúd. One of the most frequently encountered examples of this was based on the famous Tradition (hadíth qudsí) which runs 'I was a hidden treasure and desired to be known, therefore I created creation in order to be known'. The mystical philosophers of Islam,

[page 187]

beginning with Ibn al-'Arabí, reasoned that such a statement must involve a gradual process of knowledge (and love) which emerged from its mysterious source in the Divine Essence (al-dhát) eventually to suffuse all of creation. The Báb Himself quotes this Tradition in this commentary but for the purpose of pointing out the correct interpretation which He distinguishes from wahdat al-wujúd (f. 68b). Since the most universally-applicable common denominator of all creation is precisely its 'being there' or existence — its 'isness', these mystics would speak of God as Absolute Existence, or Absolute Truth. These usages were employed in the absence of more precise terminology and those who used them also warned against coloring them in with merely human fancy. Indeed, they would sometimes speak of God as that which was above both existence and nonexistence; but for the purposes of making such a metaphysics intelligible they would speak of four levels of existence, as follows:

      1.       The Essence of existence (Dhát al-wujúd) — existence itself in its absolute, unconditioned purity.

      2.       Exclusive oneness or unity (ahadíya) — absolute Oneness; existence without any articulation.

      3.       Inclusive oneness or unity (wáhidíya)the unity of multiplicity; existence with inner articulations; the stage of the eternal Archetypes (analogous in some ways to platonic ideas).

      4.       Phenomenal existence.

According to Izutsu, each of these stages correspond to a specific mode of existence:

      1.       Existence as absolutely non-conditioned

      2.       Existence as negatively conditioned

      3.       Existence as conditioned by being something

[page 188]

      4.       Existence as relatively non-conditioned[25]

      While this structure is certainly not followed slavishly in the Báb's commentary, the vocabulary appears with enough frequency and in sufficiently appropriate contexts to conclude that He endorsed some version of the oneness of being theory but one in which God would be kept rigorously and unambiguously separate from creation. This is in perfect harmony with the teachings of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim who were also highly critical of what they perceived as the blasphemy (shirk — associating partners with God, in this case by violating divine and absolute transcendence) inherent in less sober discussions of the ontological structure of the universe. Nonetheless, the explanatory power of the basic model remained useful to them. This will become clear in the excerpts translated below.

      Surprisingly absent from this tafsír is the kind of abjad or numerological speculation associated with the writings of the Báb, in which the numerical value of the letters plays an important role, particularly since it is precisely the individual letter that is of interest to our author. Only in one or two places does the Báb actually mention the numerical value of the letters under discussion. One occurs in His discussion on the joining of the letter wáw to the letter há' (to produce the third person masculine pronoun, huwa, i.e. God). He says that the wáw (abjad value = 6) exceeds the value of the há' (abjad value = 5) by one, which paradoxically represents the divine unity, wahda or tawhíd (ff. 16b-1 7a). Another instance of concern with the numerical value of the letters occurs in His discussion of the letter lám (abjad value 30) which is brought to fulfillment by the letter yá' (abjad value = 10). This gives the prepositional phrase to me' as found in the fifth verse in the Qur'ánic Chapter of Joseph (Súra 12), where Joseph says: '0 my father, I saw eleven stars and the sun and the moon, I saw them bowing down to me.' These two letters total 40, which is, among

[page 189]

other things, the number of nights which God appointed for Moses' seclusion in the wilderness — a numerical symbol of fulfillment and simultaneous submission or acknowledgement of the covenant, as implied in the story of Joseph.[26]

      The third section of the work is the commentary on the letters, from the wáw to the rá' (see Appendix 1). As mentioned above, each letter is considered as an initial of a concept, attribute or substantive which is usually discussed with reference to the four 'worlds', the metaphysical levels of láhút, jabarút, mulk/malakút and násút. In this order, it is suggested here, they correspond to the levels and modes of existence mentioned above together with the previously described four supports. In this way the Shí'í theological innovation associated with the school of Shaykh Ahmad al Ahsá'í is demonstrated to have both doctrinal and metaphysical or philosophical consistency. In the context of this commentary, which was, in effect, an oral presentation, it should be noted that these four designations rhyme.

      Altogether there are 73 letters[27] commented upon and while the average commentary to each letter is brief, some are much more extensive. One of the longer commentaries on an individual letter is indeed the one on the first letter, wáw (mentioned above in the long quotation from The Dawn-Breakers). I offer the following provisional translations of excerpts from this first letter followed by excerpts from the Báb's commentary on the next two letters, the lám and the alif. These will be followed by four more-or-less randomly chosen examples of commentary on four other letters.[28]

Guardianship, Waláya, The Covenant

(Commentary on first wáw, letter no. 1; abjad value 6; ff. 12b-19a)

      In this section the Báb's main objective (after some words of formalistic introduction in which the recipient of the commentary is praised) is to demonstrate that the reality

[page 190]

of the covenant, represented by the word waláya, permeates all creation and is in fact the essence of creation. It is the basis for the reciprocity and mutuality of the various 'components' of the cosmos.
      I will now comment on the first letter of this súra, that it may be a path (sabíl) to the understanding ('irfán) of all the holy verses and words of the People of Vision.[29] It is this: the first letter is the wáw, and it has levels [of meaning] without end[30] . . . (ff. 12b-13a)

      I will now take up the pen in commenting on the hidden meaning of this letter. And I will mention in this writing[31] one of the teachings of the divine philosophers (hukumá al-haqq), by which the learned may discern the principle of the hidden meaning of the verses and traditions from the superficial meaning. It is this, that God has established creation according to [the following four levels]:

      1. The first level (literally: mashhad = 'place of testimony and/or martyrdom') for the remembrance of His divine unity, then in

      2. the second mashhad for the prophethood of Muhammad, the messenger of God, may God bless him and his family, then in

      3. the third mashhad for the guardianship of the [14] Immaculate Ones (ahi al-'isma), may God bless them, then in

      4. the fourth mashhad, the following of the learned in the religion and the summons to certitude.

      This understanding [of the wáw] is appropriate only to the cosmic movement of Descent.[32] If, however, someone wanted to properly understand the hidden knowledge, they must observe the principle commensurate to these matters and interpret each verse in the mode of Ascent, by means of the hidden of the hidden, and according to its complement, the hidden dimension of the manifest [aspects of these verses], as is indicated in the famous

[page 191]
hadíth which is related by Kulayni in al-Káfí[33] on the authority of al-Sádiq, upon him be peace, and which [the Imám] al-Kázim, upon him be peace, quoted to [unclear: one of his followers] that the hidden knowledge is very difficult for most of mankind — they cannot bear it...

      But for your honor [understanding this hidden knowledge] would, of course, be very easy, if I wanted to expound it for you. God, however, wants me to explain, by means of this commentary on the wáw, some of the principles of religion (din) . . . (if. 1 5b-16b)

      Indeed, the first letter is the wáw, and is an allusion to the various stages of universal waláya in [first] the world of divinity (`álam al-láhút), then [secondly] concerning the throne of jabarút, then [thirdly] concerning the directives of the world of mulk and malakút, and finally [fourth] concerning the allusions to the stages of the waláya of every soul which the knowledge of God has encompassed. Beyond these allusions none of the wise, save God, has any knowledge. Exalted be He above what they attribute to Him.[34]

The Blessings of Paradise, Álá' al-firdaws

(Commentary on the first alif letter no. 2; abjad value 1; ff. 19a-19b)
As for the second letter, it is the alif, and it is an allusion to the stations of the blessings of paradise álá' al-firdaws), and the commandments of the Merciful (awámir al-rahmán). It is the letter which gives rise to all other letters and before which, by the permission of God, every hidden meaning is testified to. And none knows the reality of the secret of this holy preordained cause[35] except him whom God wills. . . If a person were to comment [only] on this alif truly it would exceed the length of the Qur'án itself in bringing forth the hidden significances of the obscurities of the divine words and allusions. This alif has many grades, as your honor readily perceives, which indicate in their reality the permeation of the Divine Cause
[page 192]
throughout both the [cosmic movements of] Origin and Return.

The Banner of Comprehensive Divinity, Liwá'

(Commentary on the first lám, letter no. 3; abjad value = 30; ff. 19b-20a)
As for the third letter, it is the letter Lám, and it is an allusion, in the hidden dimension, to the banner (liwá') of the comprehensiveness — the ever-expanding universal oneness — under the shadow of which God made everything [else]. And the bearer of this banner is 'Ali, upon him be peace, in every stage of the worlds of Beginning and Ending. It is the banner of the Exclusive Divine Unity (ahadíya), which God ordained would have no shadow nor any quality apart from the appearance of its vastness (sa'tihá).

[Next, this letter] then indicates the banner (liwá') of Mercifulness, then next the banner of the name of Divine Unicity (wáhdáníya), then the banner of the Divine Inclusive Unity (wáhidíya), and whatever it indicates in its essence according to whatever God ordained for it in the world of reality (al-'álam al-wáqi').[36]

Apart from this explanation, the lám has many other qualities. One of these is that the letter Lám represents the number of nights (30) that God appointed for Moses in the wilderness ... God has also made it the middle of the name of 'Alí, upon him be peace, because its rank is to be completed by [the addition of the letter yá'; abjad value = 10] in order to give the number 40. And he, may my spirit be his sacrifice, is the Qá'im, by the permission of God, in all the worlds and the Judge between the Two Gulfs (al-tatanjayn) and the one to whom the knowledge of the hidden was given.

      This last sentence represents a good example of the way in which the holy Arabic alphabet is thought to mirror divine truth. The Two Gulfs mentioned here refers to a sermon

[page 193]

ascribed to the first Imám 'Ali called the Sermon of the Two Gulfs (Khutbat al-Tatanjíya or Tutunjíya, or Tatanjíya; the vowelling, and indeed the spelling, is uncertain). This sermon was the topic of a lengthy commentary by Sayyid Kázim Rashtí and it is referred to many times in the Báb's writings. The contents are extremely esoteric and gnomic. The basic message is that the Imám is the source, and meeting point, of all of the pairs of opposites in creation: right/wrong, saved/damned, ascent/descent and so on. It is only in relation to the Imám and his teachings that these oppositions may be rightly understood. The guiding image of the Imám as the one who stands between the 'two gulfs', belief and unbelief, is indicated here. The graphic representation of this happens to be the letter wáw when it is spelled out: wáw alif wáw. Symmetry occurs when the second wáw is reversed. The alif thus stands for the Imám himself who stands as judge over the two gulfs represented by the two wáws. This figure also denotes the cyclical theory of the Shaykhíya which is known to Bahá'is as progressive revelation. The first wáw stands for the previous cycle of prophecy and the second stands for the cycle of fulfilment.[37]

      To conclude this sampling from the Báb's commentary, I present four short commentaries on the letters nún, khá', sín and rá'. In the first, the Báb designates the key word to be light (núr). There is surely no image more widely used in Islamic religious literature to represent divine truth, guidance, holiness, love and a host of other spiritual principles. Indeed, it was the substance and reality of light, as expounded in Qur'án 24:35, that became for the mystical philosophy Suhrawardí (d. 1191), the center of his extremely influential teachings. In His commentary the Báb wishes to demonstrate how light in its transcendent mode eventually suffuses all of creation by descending through the four stages. His language here closely resembles the language of wahdat al-wujúd. Here is also mentioned the subject of the colors of the pillars of the divine throne; in

[page 194]

hierarchical order they are white, yellow, green and red. Each color represents one of the four supports mentioned above. The lowest level mentions the Lamp or misbáh (Qur'án 24:35). This should be understood as a figurative name for the bearer of waláya, that is the Imám (or his representative) in the earthly realm.

Light, Núr

(Commentary on the letter nún, letter no. 12; abjad value = 50; ff. 23a-b)
      1. The twelfth letter is the nún [indicating] the Pure Holy Light (Núr) in the rising of the appearance of the presence of the Divine Essence;

      2. Then the light that has been individuated (al-núr al-muta'ayyan) suffusing the world of names and attributes;

      3. Then the light that is dependent (al-núr al-muta 'allaq) on the third pillar of the throne which is yellow — opposite the first white pillar

      4. Then the light which God placed in the Lamp which speaks about the appearances of the colors of the throne, from yellow after white then green before red.

      And that is the light of God in the horizons, the souls and the greatest worlds, by which are connected the separated things and by which the connected things are separated in obedience to what God willed and ordained in the Beginning, and then in the Day of Return.

      In the next passage, the Báb identifies the key element as seclusion (khalwa). Apart from indicating the mystical practice of retreat from the world, it is also used here to indicate God's complete absence from the world, emphasizing transcendence. But because it is an attribute of God, it also operates in the world in other instances. The last three stages are concerned with typically Islamic technical theological questions. The main point, however, is that

[page 195]

something 'of' God permeates the world in an orderly fashion as an instrumentality of divine authority and presence.

Divine Seclusion, Khalwa

(Commentary on the letter khá' letter no. 19; abjad value = 600; f. 25a)
      The nineteenth letter is khá' [having to do with] the true nature of seclusion.

      1. the seclusion (khalwa) of the Exclusive Unity (ahadíya) from whatever is other than it. This means the necessity of the separateness of the attribute [from the Essence], not the remoteness of whatever God created through the primordial act of Origination from whatever is other than Him.

      2. the seclusion of the act from the acted upon

      3. the seclusion of the cause from the caused

      4. the seclusion of whatever God created in the higher realm from the lower realm.

      In the next section the image splendor is derived from the Arabic letter sín. Thus, another form of light becomes the key element of the commentary. The four stages are given as four worlds, beginning with the highest, the realm of the Cloud ('amá') and ending with the lowest, the realm where the divine is finally transmitted. It is called by the Báb the world of 'authorization' (imdá', literally 'signature'). The word 'amá' was frequently used both by Ibn al-'Arabí and his commentators to indicate the realm of 'existential obscurity'[38] before creation, analogous perhaps in some ways with the time of the primordial covenant mentioned above. This word is also important in the works of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh.[39] An important feature of this commentary is its consistent rhyme, one of the more frequent musical aspects of the style of the Báb in general and this commentary

[page 196]

as a whole. The rhyme underscores the important aural aspect of this work, which may be seen to reach something of a climax in the next and final example to be offered here. Rhyme also emphasizes the coherence and unity of the presentation, adding to its rhetorical power.

Splendor, Saná'

(Commentary on the letter sín, letter no. 20; abjad value = 60; f. 25a)
      Concerning the twentieth letter, the sín, it stands for:

      1. the splendor (saná') of God in the world of the Cloud ('amá');

      2. then the splendor of God in the world of Glory (bahá');

      3. then the splendor of God in the world of the Divine Decree (qadá');

      4. then the splendor of God in the world of Authority (imdá').

      The next and last example is, formally and stylistically, a particularly complex section and one that demonstrates well the appositeness of the improvisational and musical model as a means for studying this commentary. The 'key note' is the Arabic letter rá' ('r') of the Qur'ánic word khusr — loss. Here the Báb chooses the word rannát, 'cries, voices, moans' as the controlling image in the first level, but abruptly changes to another key word, ajamma, in the three remaining levels. This change of controlling image is unique in this commentary and is thought to be the result of the Báb's sensitivity to the sound of His words. The use of the word rannát is an unusually sensual and, in this case, violent image which produces a great deal of dramatic and aural tension. The sudden shift to ajamma as the key word in the next level of interpretation represents the Báb's wish to lessen this tension for aesthetic reasons. The content is

[page 197]

equally striking and dramatic. The apparently fanciful image of the army of the bees is actually dependent upon a venerable Shí'í Tradition which defines the bees mentioned in Qur'án 16:68 as the Imáms.[40]

The 'Bee Loud Glade' of God

(Commentary on the letter rá', letter no. 21; abjad value —200; if. 25a-b)
      1. The cries (rannát) of the troops of the Bees of láhút in the thicket (ajamma) of jabarút.

      2. then the thicket which God created that does not admit of the multifarious things being connected

      3. then the thicket in which God apportioned the rule of justice and which none arrives at except by means of divine grace

      4. then the thicket which God purposed for all that He created and originated, which is encompassed by His knowledge, and He is the Mighty, the Powerful.

Inlibration, Improvisation and Transference

      I have referred to the method used here by the Báb as 'exploded commentary' as mentioned above. This characterization applies only to the formal aspects of the composition. It represents an attempt to neutralize the frustration which results from the experience that teaches the subject, surrounded by a universe of many levels of discourse, including a Holy Language, the ineffability of spiritual reality. Exploded commentary represents an attempt to mine words for more than the meaning which is bound to them by usage and etymology. Most importantly, exploded commentary is, in this case, improvisation. It is as if the Qur'án text were being read as a musical notation (for example, a 'chart' in the technical terminology of the

[page 198]

classical American musical tradition known as jazz) which the commentator/artist then reads as so many key words or 'chords' which he then feels moved to explore through his performance or commentary. This musical metaphor has been used in discussions of a similar approach to texts in the Kabbalistic tradition.[41] It seems clear that it was at least partly this musical aspect that affected the Báb's audience so profoundly.[42] By its insistence on the unitary or integral and interdependent structure of the several levels of metaphysical being, together with an analysis of the major theme of the súra, the appearance of the Qá'im, the Báb's commentary seeks to reconcile the life of the individual soul to the process of history, by asserting the potential and ultimate meaningfulness of all created things, from the highest to the lowest. In the process of the composition, the commentator encounters the spiritual reality enlivening the text.


      I would like to stress this factor or dimension of an encounter with the Qur'án, that it is a meeting with the Islamic Logos that may occur across a spectrum of intensity depending upon the task of the reader and his or her own personality. I think, however, it would be a grave error to consider the act of Qur'ánic exegesis in any context or milieu — no matter how obscurantistic, scholastic, grammatical, sophistic, pilpulistic, to be completely empty of this mindfulness of the real presence and encounter with Meaning that I have been attempting to describe.

      By using the word transference in my title I wish not so much to psychologize or Freudianize Qur'ánic studies, although there is doubtless room for this. Rather, I wish to draw attention to the little-studied phenomenon that occurs in, through and during the act of reading the Qur'án by a believer. It is also doubtless true that similar phenomena occur, or can occur, in any act of reading,[43] but here one

[page 199]

is concerned with the Qur'án. What happens to the reader who communes so deeply with the text? Does transformation occur? I think the case of the Báb provides some answers to this question. We have already alluded to the phenomenon whereby cultivating the verities and moral values of the Qur'án may be seen as an act of embodying the text. And we have tried to draw attention to the idea that the text of the Qur'án involves also the holy persona of the Prophet so that in the act of embodying the text Muhammad Himself is also, however imperfectly, embodied and encountered along the lines of the imitation of Christ so familiar to the Christian tradition, and to such an extent that a kind of transference of identity may ensue. Indeed the whole doctrine of sharí'a, it has been observed, as mentioned at the beginning of this paper, represents an imitatio that goes far beyond that which Christianity ever envisioned.[44]

      Wolfson invented the word 'inlibration' in an attempt to account for the profoundly logocentric — or perhaps better — bibliocentric piety of Muslims.[45] This piety focuses, in varying degrees of intensity, on the Book as the central religious authority within the community. The Book is for Muslims the uncreated (that is to say co-eternal with the divine essence) Word of God — just as the words of an individual can represent the most intimate, characteristic, distinctive identity of a given individual; the more so as they are borne upon a person's very breath or soul.[46] In the communication of these words something of the soul of the individual is also expressed and communicated. So it is with God and the Qur'án — His Word. In the presence of His Word a believer feels, in a sense, that he or she is as close to God as possible and He is as close to them as possible. As the Qur'án itself has it: 'We are closer to him than the jugular vein.'[47]

      The auditory experience of the Qur'án is felt in a rarified realm in which time and place are transformed and the very atmosphere or air surrounding the listener becomes a new

[page 200]

reality filled with the divine presence in the form of the Divine Peace (sakina) mentioned so frequently in the Qur'án[48]and the experience of which is adduced by believers as an irrefutable proof of the divinity of the Qur'án. God, therefore, is made present to the believer in the Qur'án; He is inlibrated there just as He was incarnated in Jesus. Thus to partake of the Qur'ánic experience is to partake' of divinity — in Tillich's terms, to participate in the Divine through a symbol that is utterly drenched in divinity. In the title of this paper I have used the word communion to stand for the dynamics of this participation.[49]

      Communion in the usual context involves the ultimate act of appropriation, participation, interiorization, internalization through the agency of the symbolic ingestion of the body and blood of Jesus. Such a sacrament serves the participant by opening a door to the divine through an extraordinary covenant played out in extraordinary circumstances. What happens to the accidental bread and wine once ingested is a matter of some debate within the Christian tradition and one that need not detain us here. We mention it only to point out the possibilities for comparison that exist in Islam in the analogous act of 'reading' — ingesting — the 'body and blood' of God, the Qur'án. It goes, of course, without saying that pristine Muslim religiosity could be profoundly scandalized by such language. Nonetheless, one asks for patience here in the belief that by making such a comparison something heretofore under-stressed in the study of Islamic religion may be presented. All too frequently, and the more so from the outside, students of Islamic religion are content to interpret the so-called 'stark' monotheistic universe of Islam as a kind of mechanistic construct in which the divine names of God function more as cogs in the cosmic gears than as channels of grace between the Absolute Reality and the individual believer. Certainly there are no such things as 'sacraments' in Islam, much less 'communion'. But this is not to say that there are not structures, activities and relationships through which

[page 201]

the divine is recognized to work. The absence of 'sacraments' in Islam is more a function of the absence of a priesthood qualified to 'negotiate' divine grace than anything else.

      The holiest thing in Islam is the Qur'án. By participating in this Qur'án, one 'touches' holiness and holiness 'touches' one.[50]Such participation may take many forms: reading; listening; copying in calligraphy; viewing calligraphy for its harmonic and rhythmic beauty, its literal content or both; citing the Qur'án in the course of discussion or argument; uttering passages at times of joy, sorrow or danger; giving a copy of the Book or receiving it; cherishing it and caring for it; protecting it through memorization or otherwise; teaching it; learning it; studying it; contemplating it; intoning it; and, of course, commenting upon it. This last activity can combine all of the above and therefore may be seen as something of a virtuoso gesture of engaging the numinous. In the case of the Báb, the act of encountering the text is enriched in important ways by virtue of the distinctive tradition — that is to say mystical, messianic Shí'ism — which provides the immediate and overwhelming context for the act of reading. The scriptural tradition to which the Báb belonged heard and read not only the Prophet Muhammad in the words of the Holy Book but also the chorus of the remaining 13 members of the Family of God, the Infallible Immaculates. Nonetheless, the fire is the same. This fire must always be seen — if not felt — to be there, otherwise something essential will be lost in our studies.

The Dangers of Reading
      Danger: power of a master [obsolete], dominion (xiiith cent.); (hence) liability to punishment, etc. [obsolete]; ... liability to injury (Ch. xiv) Anglo-Norman daunger, OF dangier, related to domnus, dominus. Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.

[page 202]

      By using the somewhat provocative title 'The Dangers of Reading' I wish to draw attention to the utter seriousness which the reading act has in the context we have been discussing.

      1.       The danger of losing oneself in the text;

      2.       the danger of contacting and communing with a mysterious power without being sure of what the consequences might be, and

      3.       of reading so intensely that one in fact becomes that power which, in the case of the Báb, as we know, led to

      4.       His eventual martyrdom in July 1850. It is as if He Himself was consumed by the fire He had encountered, and so it is really Truth that represents the danger here.

Appendix 1

      The following is a list of the separate letters and their corresponding key words.

1 wáw waláya/guardianship 12b-19a
2 alif álá'/blessings 19a-19b
3 lám liwá'/banner 19b-20a
4 'ayn `ulúw//loftiness 20a-20b
5 sád samadániya/everlastingness 20b-20b
6 rá' rahma/mercy 20b-21b
7 alif annáya/identity 21b-21b
8 nún núr/light 21b-22a
9 alif iráda/purpose 22a-22b
10 lám la'áli/pearls 22b-23a
11 alif ibdá'/origination 23a-23a
12 nún núr 23a-23b
13 sín saná'/splendour 23b-23b
14 alif áyát/signs 23b-24a

[page 203]

15 nún núr 24a-24a
16 lám liwá' 24a-24b
17 fá' fardániyá/singleness 24b-24b
18 yá' yamm/sea 24b-25a
19 khá' khalwa/solitude 25a-25a
20 sín saná' 25a-25a
21 rá' rannát/cries 25a-25b
22 alif asl/root, source 25b-25b
23 lám lawh/tablet 25b-26a
24 alif áya/sign 26a-26b
25 alif amr/thing, command, cause 26b-27a
26 lám limam/derangement 27a-28a
27 dhál dhurwa/summit 28a-28a
28 yá' ends 'Alí 28a-28b
(breaks pattern)
29 nún núr 28b-28b
30 alif amr 28b-29a
31 mím majd/glory 29a-29a
32 nún núr 29a-29b
33 wáw waláya 29b-30a
34 alif azalíya/pre-eternity 30a-32a
35 wáw waláya 32a-32a
36 'ayn 'ayn/source, spring, essence, eye 32a-32a
37 mím majd 32a-32b
38 lám limam 32b-33a
39 wáw wadd/love 33a-33a
40 alif imdá'/signature 33a-33a
41 alif a'mál/actions 33a-33b
42 lám liwá' 33b-33b
43 sád salát/prayer service 33b-34a
44 alif asrár/mysteries 34a-34a
45 lám la'áli 34a-34b
46 há' halál, harám, hukm, lawful, forbidden,ordinance 34b-34b
47 alif amr 34b-35a
48 tá' turba/dust 35a-35a

[page 204]

49 wáw waláya 35a-35b
50 tá' turba 35b-35b
51 wáw waláya 35b-36a
52 alif áyát 36a-36b
53 sád salát 36b-36b
54 wáw waláya 36b-37a
55 alif alif/the letter 37a-37a
56 bá' balá'/affliction 37a-37a
57 alif amr 37a-37b
58 lám la'áli 37b-37b
59 há' hadd/law, limit 37b-38b
60 qáf qadar, destiny 38b-39a
61 wáw waláya 39a-40b
62 tá' turáb/dust 40b-40b
63 wáw wadd 40b-41a
64 alif álá' 41a-41a
65 sád sabr/patience 41a-41a
66 wáw waláya 41a-41b
67 alif áyát 41b-42b
68 bá' birr/righteousness 42b-44b
69 alif alif 44b-45a
70 lám liwát' 45a-45b
71 sád samadáníya 45b-48b
72 bá' buhbúha/midst, comfort 48b-49a
73 rá' rahma 49a-50b

[page 205]

Appendix 2

      The following is an extended excerpt from Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, pp. 130ff, in which he analyzes the 'doctrine of the search for ecstasy and for prophetic inspiration' of the famous Spanish Kabbalist Abraham Abulafia (b. 1240 in Saragossa, d. after 1291).
      Its basic principles have been upheld with varying modifications by all those among the Kabbalists who found in Abulafia a congenial spirit, and its characteristic mixture of emotionalism and rationalism sets its seal on one of the major trends of Kabbalism.

      Why is the soul, as it were, sealed up? Because, answers Abulafia, the ordinary day-to-day life of human beings, their perception of the sensible world, fills and impregnates the mind with a multitude of sensible forms or images (called in the language of the medieval philosophers, 'natural forms'). As the mind perceives all kinds of gross natural objects and admits their images into its consciousness, it creates for itself, out of a natural function, a certain mode of existence which bears the stamp of finiteness. The normal life of the soul, in other words, is kept within the limits determined by our sensory perceptions and emotions, and as long as it is full of these, it finds it extremely difficult to perceive the existence of spiritual forms and things divine. . . All that which occupies the natural self of man must either be made to disappear or must be transformed in such a way as to render it transparent for the inner spiritual reality, whose contours will then become perceptible through the customary shell of natural things...

      Abraham Abulafia is, therefore, compelled to look for an, as it were, absolute object for meditating upon; that is to say, one capable of stimulating the soul's deeper life and freeing it from ordinary perceptions. In other words, he looks for something capable of acquiring the highest importance, without having much particular, or if possible any, importance of its own. An object which fulfils all these conditions he believes himself to have found in the Hebrew

[page 206]
alphabet, in the letters which make up the written language. It is not enough, though an important step forward, that the soul should be occupied with the meditation of abstract truths, for even there it remains too closely bound to their specific meaning. Rather is it Abulafia's purpose to present it with something not merely abstract but also not determinable as an object in the strict sense, for everything so determined has an importance and an individuality of its own. Basing himself upon the abstract and non-corporeal nature of script, he develops a theory of mystical contemplation: The Name of God, which is something absolute, because it reflects the hidden meaning and totality of existence; the Name through which everything else acquires its meaning and which yet to the human mind has no concrete, particular meaning of its own. In short, Abulafia believes that whoever succeeds in making the Great Name of God, the least concrete and perceptible thing in the world, the object of meditation, is on the way to mystical ecstasy.

      Starting from this concept, Abulafia expounds a peculiar discipline which he calls Hpokhmath ha-Tseruf, i.e. 'science of the combination of letters'. This is described as a methodological guide to meditation with the aid of letters and their configurations. The individual letters of their combinations need have no 'meaning' in the ordinary sense; it is even an advantage if they are meaningless, as in that case, they are less likely to distract us. True, they are not really meaningless to Abulafia, who accepts the Kabbalistic doctrine of divine language as the substance of reality. According to this doctrine ... all things exist only by virtue of their degree of participation in the Great Name of God, which manifests itself throughout the whole Creation. There is a language which expresses the pure thought of God and the letters of this language are the elements of both the most fundamental spiritual reality and of the profoundest understanding and knowledge. Abulafia's mysticism is of course in this divine language.

      The purpose of this discipline then is to stimulate, with the aid of methodical meditation, a new state of consciousness; this state can best be defined as an harmonious

[page 207]
movement of pure thought, which has severed all relation to the senses. Abulafia himself has already quite correctly compared it with music. Indeed, the systematic practice of meditation as taught by him, produces a sensation closely akin to that of listening to musical harmonies. The science of combination is a music of pure thought, in which the alphabet takes the place of the musical scale. The whole system shows a fairly close resemblance to musical principles, applied not to sounds but to thought in meditation.


      'Abdu'l-Bahá. Makátib, vol. 2. Cairo: Matba' Kurdistán al-'Ilmíya, 1330 A.H., pp. 2-55.

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

      Arkoun, Muhammad. 'Logocentrisme et Verité religieuse dans la Pensée Islamique...' Essais sur la Pensée islamique. Paris: Editions Maisonneuve et Rose, 3rd edn. 1984, pp. 185-231.

      Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975.

      Chodkiewicz, Michel. Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn Arabi (trans. from the French by Liadain Sherrard). The Islamic Texts Society: Cambridge, 1993.

      Conrad, Lawrence I. 'Abraha and Muhammad: Some Observations apropos of chronology and literary topoi in the early Arabic historical tradition', Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 57 (1987), pp. 225-40.

      Corbin, Henry. En Islam iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques, 4 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1971-2.

      Cox, Harvey. Many Mansions: A Christians Encounter with Other Faiths. Boston: Beacon Press, 1988.

      Ibn al-'Arabí, Muhyi al-Din. Fusús al-hikam (edited with a commentary and indexes by Abú al-'Alá `Afífí). Beirut: Dár al Kitáb al-Arabí [1365/1946].

      ___. al-Futúhát al-makkiya. 'Uthman Yahyá (ed.). Cairo: al-Hay'ah al-misriyah al-'ammah li'l-Kitáb, 1972.

      Isfahání, Abú Nu'aym, al-. Hilyat al-awliyá' wa-tabaqát al-asfiyá', 10 vols. Beirut: Dár al-Kutub al-'Ilmíyah, 1988.

[page 208]

      Izutsu, Toshihiko. 'An analysis of wahdat al-wujúd', in Creation and the Timeless Order of Things. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 1994, pp. 66-97.

      ___. Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

      Jeffery, Arthur. Islam: Muhammad and His Religion. Indianapolis: The Liberal Arts Press, Inc., 1958.

      Karamustafa, Ahmet T. God's Unruly Friends. Dervish Groups in the Islamic Later Middle Period, 1200-1550. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994.

      Káshání, Mullá Muhammad Muhsin Fayd. Tafsír al-sáfí. 5 vols. Beirut: Mu'assasat al-A'lami, 1402/1982.

      Kulayni, Muhammad ibn Ya'qub. al-Usúl min al-káfí. 'All Akbar Ghaffárí (ed.). 2 vols., Tehran: Maktabat al-Saduq, 1381/ 1961.

      Lambden, Stephen. 'An Early Poem of Mirzá Husayn 'Alí Bahá'u'llah: The Sprinkling of the Cloud of Unknowing (Rashh-i 'Amá')', Bahá'i Studies Bulletin, vol. 3, no. 2 (1984), pp. 4-114.

      Landolt, Hermann. 'Simnání on wahdat al-wujúd', in Collected Papers on Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism. Mehdi Mohaghghegh & Hermann Landolt (ed.). Tehran: Institute of Islamic Studies, Wisdom of Persia Series no. 2, 1971, pp. 91-1 11.

      Lawson, B. Todd. 'Akhbárí Shí'í Approaches to tafsír', in Approaches to the Qur'án. G.R. Hawting & Abdul-Kader A. Shareef (eds.). London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 173-210.

      ___. 'The Dawning Places of the Lights of Certainty in the Divine Secrets Connected with the Commander of the Faithful by Rajab Bursi', in The Legacy of Mediaeval Persian Sufism. Leonard Lewisohn (ed.). London: Khaniqahai Nimatullahi Publications and SOAS Centre of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, University of London, 1992, pp. 261-76.

      ___. 'Exploded Commentary', a paper presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Anaheim, CA, 1985.

      ___. 'Interpretation as Revelation: The Qur'án Commentary of

      Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Báb', in Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur'án. Andrew Rippin (ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 223-53.

      ___. 'Qur'án Commentary as Sacred Performance' (forthcoming).

      ___. 'The Surat al-nahl: Translation and Commentary for a Chapter from the Qayyúm al-asmá'' (forthcoming).

      MacEoin, Denis. 'Some Bahá'í and Shaykhí Interpretations of "the Mystery of Reversal"', Bahá'i Studies Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 1(1982), pp. 11-23.

[page 209]

      ___. The Sources for Early Bábi Doctrine and History: A Survey. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992.

      Marmura, M.E. 'Avicenna: Healing: Metaphysics X', in Medieval Political Philosophy. Ralph Lerner & Muhsin Mahdi (eds.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986.

      Momen, Moojan. "Abdu'l-Bahá's Commentary on the Islamic Tradition: "I was a Hidden Treasure..."' Bahá'i Studies Bulletin, vol. 3, no. 4 (Dec. 1985), pp. 4-64.

      ___. An Introduction to Shí'í lslam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shí'ism. Oxford: George Ronald, 1985.

      Nabil, Mullá Muhammad Zarándí. The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'i Revelation (trans. and ed. Shoghi Effendi). Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'i Publishing Trust, 1974.

      Ormsby, Eric L. 'The Taste of Truth: The Structure of Experience on al-Ghazálí's al-Munqídh min al-dalál', Islamic Studies Presented to Charles J. Adams. Wael B. Hallaq & Donald P. Little (eds.). Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1991, pp. 133-68.

      Proust, Marcel. On Reading. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

Radtke, Bernd and John O'Kane. The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 1996.

Rafati, Vahid. 'The Development of Shaykhi Thought in Shí'í Islam', PhD dissertation, UCLA, 1979, Ann Arbor University Microfilms.

      Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York: Schocken, 1965.

___. 'A Note on a Kabbalistic Treatise on Contemplation', in Mélanges offert à Henry Corbin. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (ed.). (Wisdom of Persia Series: IX) Tehran: Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Tehran Branch, 1977, pp. 665-70.

      Smith, Wilferd Cantwell. 'Some Similarities and Some Differences Between Christianity and Islám', in Understanding Islam: Selected Studies. The Hague: Mouton, 1981.

      Von Denffer, Ahmad. 'Ulúm al-Qur'án: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'án. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1983.

      Wolfson, Harry Austryn. The Philosophy of the Kalam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976.

[page 210]


1.       Incidentally, we may see in this connection, with reference to so-called Islamic iconophobia, an attempt to preserve a very private, personal and even secret spiritual communion that runs the risk of profanation through a proliferation of graphic and therefore to some extent standardizing, not to say 'institutionalizing' images of the Prophet.

2.       e.g. Cox, Many Mansions, p. 26: 'Both [Christianity and Islam] received an enormous early impetus from an apostle — Paul for Christianity and Muhammad for Islam — who translate a more particularistic faith into a universal one.'

3.       Despite obvious differences in the history and application of the word in its normal cultural context, I suggest 'hymn' better represents the significance of the word Qur'án.

4.       This is a theological formulation which actually reflects living faith. Early in Islamic history, Muslim scholars argued about the exact status of the Qur'án. The two main camps were the Rationalists and the Scripturalists. The Rationalists held that the Qur'án had to have been created, otherwise true belief would entail a logical impossibility —the existence of two eternals — and religion must obey the laws of reason. The view that ultimately prevailed, that of the Scripturalists, was that the Qur'án was the uncreated speech of God. Quite apart from the theological problems this solution also engenders, its triumph is noteworthy as a symbol of the unparalleled veneration which the Qur'án enjoys.

5.       An act which would have been, in any case, quite rare until the second century of Islam.

6.       Taken from Ahmad von Denifer, 'Ulúm al-Qur'án, pp. 180-1. The author has taken this from a 1978 edition of Yusuf Alí's translation of the Qur'án.

7.       Al-Futúhát al-makkíya, vol. 3, p. 94 quoted in Chodkiewicz, Seal of the Saints, p. 71.

8.       Al-Futúhát al-makkíya, vol. 4, p. 21 quoted in ibid.

9.       See examples of this in Lawson, `Akhbárí Shí'í Approaches to tafsír'.

10.       Quoted in Chodkiewicz, Seal of the Saints, p. 37 from Abu Nu'aym, Hilyat al-awliya, Beirut, 1967, vol. I, p. 14. It is highly improbable, for historical reasons, that Dhu al-Nún meant the Shí'í Imáms by his use of the word awliyá'. Rather, it is likely that he was referring to sanctified persons

[page 211]

in general. On the early history of spiritual waláya, see Radtke and O'Kane, Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism.

11.       On the work of Haydar Ámulí (d. after 1385), see, for example, Corbin, En Islam iranien, vol. iii, pp. 149-213.

12.       For a brief analysis of this vision (as distinct from system), see Izutsu, 'An analysis of wahdat al-wujúd'.

13.       On this pervasive mood, see Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, pp. 70-105.

14.       Lawson, 'Interpretation as Revelation: The Qur'án Commentary of Sayyid 'All Muhammad Shirazi, the Báb'.

15.       See Corbin, En Islam iranien, vol. 3, pp. 215-16, for a discussion of this non-Shaykhí theosopher and his hermeneutics. See also Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 134 where it is said that the Báb admired Kashfí's method and knowledge.

16.       The discussion is based on Ms. Cambridge, Browne 9 (6). The reference to Ibn al-'Arabí is at f. 7 1a: 'Muhyi al-Dín al-'Arábí (sic) said some wondrously strange words in his Fusús, "I am the holy one that is veiled in the exalted singleness."' The Báb comments: 'There can be no doubt that such words, if one interprets them positively (bi-husni zann), have spiritual meaning. However, I do not like this, nor do I so interpret; nay, rather, I beg of God to make known the truth as He desires it. Verily He is the Mighty, the Most High.' I have been unable to locate this statement ascribed to Ibn al-'Arabí in the Fusús (see bibliography).

17.       MacEoin, Sources for Early Bábi Doctrine and History, p. 202 lists ten mss.

18.       Nabil, Dawn-Breakers, pp. 201-2.

19.       Káshání Tafsír al-sáfí, vol. 5, p. 372.

20.       f. 5b. This term is interesting insofar as it may indicate the way in which the Báb used the technical terminology of not only Shí'í Islam but also Sufism. The word is used by the Sunní mystic A'lá al-Dawla Simnání (d. 1336), a staunch critic of Ibn al-'Arabí's 'oneness of being' (wahdat al-wujúd) to which he opposed a theory known as 'oneness of visionary experience' (wahdat al-shuhúd). Simnání is one of the great authorities of the Kubrawí Sufi order, which is a distinctively Iranian (not necessarily Shí'í) order. Indeed, the Kubrawíya acquired certain elements of Shí'ism in

[page 212]

order to survive in Iran. It exists today as the Dhahabíya order. Simnání's use of the word wáqi' has been discussed as follows:

By 'reality' or 'factual truth' (wáqi'), Simnání most probably means in the first place the Sharí'at or exoteric truth of Islam; but it is quite clear from the context and also from his use of the term wáqi' for 'real' or 'factual', that he also means to say that his views are in perfect agreement with his mystical experience, because wáqi' is closely related to wáqi'a, literally 'event' or 'happening', which in Simnání's mystical school is a technical term for 'mystical experience' and more particularly 'visionary experience (Landolt, 'Simnání on wahdat al-wujúd', pp. 96-7).

It may also be of some interest to observe that the Dhahabíya order had its spiritual center in Shiraz during the Báb's lifetime (Momen, Introduction to Shí'í Islam, p. 212).

21.       The usual term in specifically Shí'í parlance for the kind of material known as hadíth in Sunní discussions is akhbár (sing. khabar). It is from this technical term that the loosely-defined group known as the Akhbárís came to be known in contradistinction to their opponents, the Usúlís. Much of the difference between the two groups has to do with the place these Traditions were to have in legal theory (Momen, Introduction to Shí'í Islam, pp. 117-18, 222-5).

22.       These worlds also figure prominently in a commentary by 'Abdu'l-Bahá on the Tradition of the Hidden Treasure mentioned above (Makátíb, see bibliography). This commentary has been translated by Moojan Momen ("Abdu'l-Bahá's Commentary on the Islamic Tradition: "I was a Hidden Treasure..."').

23.       This is a topic which requires more research. Some Shaykhí texts speak of a single being as the Perfect Shí'í while others speak of the whole collective of true believers as the Perfect Shí'a (Momen, Introduction to Shí'í Islam, pp. 225-8).

24.       See note 21. Most notably (and influentially) was the Naqshbandí Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindí as well as Ahmad al-Ahsá'í, and of course the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh

[page 213]

whose writings are replete with the technical terminology of wahdat al-wujúd but who constantly point out the utter otherness of the godhead as if in direct debate with Ibn al- 'Arabí. An earlier Shí'í admirer of Ibn al-'Arabí, Sayyid Haydar Amuli was also anxious to adjust or correct Ibn al-'Arabí's otherwise perfectly admirable teaching by identifying the khatm al-awliyá' as 'All, instead of Ibn al-'Arabí's Jesus.

25.       Izutsu, 'An analysis of wahdat al-wujúd', p. 96.

26.       Ff. 19b-20a. Cf. Qur'án 7:142. See also Lawson, Interpretation as Revelation', p. 244, n. 66. On the symbolic value of the number 40, see Conrad, 'Abraha and Muhammad'.

27.       Cf. also the celebrated Tradition of the Prophet who foresaw that Islam would be eventually divided into 73 (sometimes 72) sects, only one of which would be saved from damnation. I have seen no mention of this Tradition by the Báb.

28.       All translations here are provisional.

29.       Ahl al-'iyán = the Fourteen Holy Ones?

30.       The wáw, for example, is the center of an abstruse controversy over the interpretation of the meaning of one of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í's works on the meaning of a particularly gnomic representation of the Greatest Name. The 'reversed wáw' is thought to represent the notion of cyclical progress (MacEoin, 'Some Bahá'i and Shaykhí Interpretations of "the Mystery of Reversal"', pp. 11-23).

31.       Dhálika'l-kitáb. This is a subtle allusion to the Báb's divine inspiration. The controlling referent is the use of this demonstrative in Qur'án 2:2: 'this book has nought of dubiety in it'.

32.       The twin movements of ascent (su'úd) and descent (nuzúl) describe in Islamicate mystical philosophical discourse the universal creative movement of Existence from Origin to Return. It is referred to as 'the two bows lengths' mentioned in Qur'án 53:9 which is thought to refer to the ascension of the Prophet and specifies the proximity to God attained by Muhammad. On the Shaykhi interest in this topic see Rafati, 'The Development of Shaykhi Thought in Shí'í Islam'.

33.       Muhammad al-Kulayní (d. 939 or 940), al-Usúl min al-káfí, is one of the foundational works of Shí'í tradition.

[page 214]

34.       Qur'án 6:100; f. 19a.

35.       Dhálika al-amr al-mastúr. The controlling reference is Qur'án 52:2; 17:58; 33:6 and the Book of Destiny, sometimes associated with the Mother Book (umm al-kitáb, Qur'án 3:7; 13:39; 43:4) and the Preserved Tablet (lawh mahfúz; Qur'án 85:22). It is important to note the pun, especially in Persian pronunciation with the word al-mastúr ('concealed').

36.       See above note 20.

37.       See above, note 30. For some translated excerpts of the Khulba al-tatanjiya see my 'The Dawning Places of the Lights of Certainty in the Divine Secrets Connected with the Commander of the Faithful by Rajab Bursi', pp. 269-70. It should be mentioned that from the very earliest of His writings the Báb refers to this khutba. One of the more remarkable instances in the chapter 109, Surat al-'abd, of the Qayyúm al-asmá' where it leaves the reader in no doubt about the claims the Báb was putting forth at this time. I am now working on a translation and commentary of this material.

38.       Or 'abysmal Darkness' (Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism, p. 119).

39.       See Lawson, 'Interpretation as Revelation: The Qur'án Commentary of Sayyid 'All Muhammad Shirazí, the Báb', p. 251, n. 95 and Lambden, 'An Early Poem of Mírzá Husayn Alí Bahá'u'lláh.

40.       See my translation of and commentary on chapter 93, the Surat al-nahl of the Qayyúm al-asmá' (online at

Students may also be referred to the following study for remarks on other imagery in the Qayyum al-asma and its similarity with the Khutba al-tutunjiya:

41.       In 'Exploded Commentary' I discussed the similarities between the Kabbala and the Báb's method. It is known that the Kabbala was indeed practised in Shiráz in the 19th century but this need not imply any direct contact between the Báb and the Kabbalists. Indeed, the works of Joseph Dan point out that the Ashkenazi Kabbalists of Europe trace their lineage to a Baghdadi Jewish scholar of the 9th century, suggesting that the Kabbala itself may have derived much inspiration from the 'logocentric' thought world of Islamicate culture to begin with. Nonetheless, it is interesting to study both the Islamic tradition of letter commentary, which begins with the very birth of the Islamic lettered tradition, and that of the Kabbala. See Appendix 2 where I have reproduced a particularly

[page 215]

apposite passage from Scholem, 'A Note on a Kabbalistic Treatise on Contemplation'. I am grateful to my colleague Gershon Hundert for the reference to Dan and also to Eliot Wolfson's study of the erotic Kabbala of Joseph of Hamadan.

42.       See my 'Qur'án Commentary as Sacred Performance," in Der Iran um 19 Jahrhundert und die Enstehung der Bahá'í Religion. Edited by Johann-Christoph Bürgel & Isabel Schayani. Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim, 1998, pp.145-58.

43.       Barthes, Pleasure of the Text; Proust, On Reading.

44.       Jeffery, Islam: Muhammad and His Religion, p. 3.

45.       Wolfson, Philosophy of the Kalam, pp. 263-303; Arkoun, 'Logocentrisme et Verité religieuse', pp. 185-231.

46.       In Arabic the words for breath (nafas, pl. anfás) and soul (nafs, pl. nufús or anfas) are intimately related.

47.       Qur'án 50:16: wa nahnu aqrab ilayhi min habl al-waríd.

48.       48:4; 18; 26.

49.       As far as I know, W C. Smith was the first to call attention to the structural similarities between Christian communion and reading the Qur'án in his essay 'Some Similarities and Some Differences Between Christianity and Islam, p. 244. This essay was originally published in 1959. My thanks to M. G. Carter for this reference.

50.       A favorite metaphor in the Islamic tradition is 'taste' (Ormsby, 'The Taste of Truth').
Back to:   Published Articles
Home Site Map Links Copyright About Contact
. .