Part  II

سورة العلماء

  Sūrat al-`ulamā' 

(The Surah of the Divines)


Qur'ān 12:1 


Prov. trans.  Stephen N. Lambden 

 In Progress 1982-2014


The second part of my ongoing provisional translation of  the Qayyūm al-asmā’ (= QA) of the Bāb (mid. 1844/1260) with selected notes was begun in the early 1980s and is now corrected. I have not translated from a critical edition but consulted several good mss. The versification of the surahs is sometimes uncertain. The Bāb himself stated that there should be forty-two verses in each surah of the QA as accords with the  abjad  numerical value of lī   meaning "before me"  in Q. 12:4b  (Ar. لي = l + ī = 30+10= 40) and another two representative of "the sun and the moon" (40+2 = 42). This figure is explicitly confirmed in the Bāb's Khuṭba al-dhikriyya (" The Sermon of the Remembrance") where it is stated in the context of an imamologically numbered categorization of the early works (dating from 1260-1262 AH):

"The Fourth [revelational categorization] is the Ḥusaynid Book (kitāb al-ḥusayniyya)  which is the Commentary upon the Surah of Joseph  (sharḥ Sūrat Yūsuf = Tafsīr Sūrat Yūsuf = Qayyūm al-asmā') -- upon him be peace -- which is divided up into one hundred and eleven firmly established [clearly delineated] ( muḥkamat) surahs. Every one of them is made up of forty two verses. These constitute a sufficient [messianic] testimony unto whomsoever exists  upon the earth or lieth beneath the Divine Throne (al-`arsh)..." (cited Afnan 2000: 472; cf. 445).

The same 42 mode of surah versification of the QA., is evident in certain mss. of this work; most notably the early 1261  (QA ms. 1261) Muhammad Mahdī ibn Karbalā'ī, mss.   where  QA1 and 2 (and other surah headings) have following words after the surah title and  in between the basmala,     wa hiya ithnā' [tāni] wa arba`ūn "and it [the Surah] has forty two verses". Yet, having said this,  in QA2 I have versified very tentatively at 41 and retain this versification for the sake of reference and commentary.

This second surah is named the Surat al-`ulamā’ (The Surah of the divines / clerics...) containing an address to the religiously learned in Islam as well as to the learned among the "people of the Book" (Jews and Christians...). Like the surahs of the Q. this surah commences with the basmalah (Bismillah al-raḥman al-raḥim , `In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate’). The neo-qur’anic dimensions of the QA are again evidenced when the Bāb includes the isolated letters A-L-M, a pattern found in several surahs of the Q. including the second surah. The three isolated letters A-L-M open both Q2 and QA2. Q2 (al-Baqara, the Cow) commences with A-L-M as does QA2 (al-`ulamā’, the divines). The isolated letters A-L-R in Q. 12:1a are allusively commented upon in the last paragraph of QA2 (QA2: 32-34). Following these isolated letters the rest of the first verse of surah 12 (= the Surah of Joseph) is cited, "These are the verses of the Manifest Book".

In neo-qur'ānic fashion then, QA 2 opens with the basmala  followed by the citation of Q.12:1 upon which it briefly comments in rewritten fashion in the course of the Sūrat al-`ulamā'  (Surah of the Divines). Three isolated letters (al-ḥurufāt al-muqaṭṭa`a) are cited by the Bāb since they open the first cited verse of the Surah of Jospeh, namely,  the letters الر = Alif + (=1) + Lām (=30) + Rā' (=200), abjad  numerical value, 231. These 3 letters also occur five more times at the opening of qur`ānic surahs 10, 11, 12, 14 and 15 of the Q.  though they  (A-L-R) are not found anywhere else in the QA.  QA 2 itself opens with the three neo-qur'ānic isolated letters    الم  = A (=1) + L (=30)+ M (=40), abjad  total = 71. In certain Shi`ite sources these three isolated letters have been understood in connection with the advent of the third of the imams, Imam Ḥusayn who was martyred near Karbalā in 6/680. Such interpretations are also given by Bahā'-Allāh in various of his alwāḥ  (scriptural Tablets).

Aside from being neo-qur’anic in opening, the 2nd Surah of the QA (cf. Sūrat al-baqara,  Q. 2) the exact significance of the 3 isolated letters A-L-M  in QA2 is unclear although the final pericope of QA2 is a succinct exposition of the significance of the  three Arabic isolated letters (al-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt), A-L-R as they  occur at the very beginning of the Surah of Joseph (Q12:1a). The final pericope of QA2 is a succinct exposition of the significance of the three Arabic isolated letters A-L-R  and mirrors or reflects their occurrence at the very beginning of the Surah of Joseph (Q121a).

In his exegesis of the first letter "A" the Bāb may presupposes an apophatic theology. This if he has it that the letter "A" is something created subsequent to himself, to the Logos-Self. The "A" would seem to be beyond the primordial, first created, hypostatic mashiyya (the Divine Will), in later writings also the Primordial Dhikr (Remembrance). It is not the uncreated Reality of God Himself which is something `Wholly Other’. 

The uncreated God, the Bāb continues in QA 2, decreed that the letter "L" is expressive of the divine Ḥikma ("Wisdom") which is in line with the dictates (ḥukm) of the divine Book (li-ḥikma `ala ḥukm al-kitāb). Finally, the letter "R" (Rā' ) indicates the extension (li-inbisat) of the dictates of the divine command in accordance with what is evident in the Archetypal or Mother Book. It is thus implied in QA2:32f that the A-L-R of Q. 12:1 indicates that,

  • [1] "A" = the created Reality which was created for the Bab or something  other than him, a realm `Wholly apart’,
  • [2] "L" = the divine Ḥikma ("Wisdom") encapsulated in the Mother Book and
  • [3] the "R" = the further extension of the divine Logos-Command (al-amr).

These three interpretations are suggestive of [1] the first created Reality, the Dhikr or reality of the maẓhar-i ilahi, [2] the "Wisdom" evident in the archetypal revealed Book and [3] the further realization or extension and making known of the divine Will. The later Bahā'ī  teaching of the three "worlds" of [1] the unfathomable "Essence of God" (dhāt Allāh), [2]  the maẓhar-i ilahi "Manifestation of God" and [3] the "world of creation" would seem to be echoed in these last verses of QA2 (see `Abd al-Baha' cited Ma'idih, XX:XX; Mufawadat, ADD).       

QA 2:3a is inspired by Q.12:1b. which non-literally understands the term kitāb ("Book") as the Qayyūm al-asmā’ itself, as a "Book from God" centering upon the occulted, messianically charged person of the Dhikr (Remembrance). It is clear at QA2:15 that his advent is immanent as is also indicated several times in the Bible and the Qur'ān.

In QA 2:3 the Qayyūm al-asmā’  is addressed in the imperative as a bushra (a "good news"), a "good tidings!" Interestingly bushrā is the feminine imperative uttered by that wandering Midianite who discovered Joseph hidden in the "pit" (Q12:19).

In QA2:4, The Bāb praises those servants who exhibit respectful humility before their parents. He seems to liken parents controlling their respectful offspring to a just sovereign (sulṭan) in control of his rebellious dominions. As in his later Dalā’il-I Sab`ih (Seven Proofs, c. 1847-8) the Bāb’s very early QA 2:7 clearly states that the ability to reveal verses is a major proof of the truth of a claim to prophethood. In stating this, the Bāb follows the teaching of the Q. and anticipates a few lines in Bahā'-Allāh’s famous Arabic Tablet of Aḥmad.

A significant address to the Muslim divines is found in verses 9-15 of QA2. Personal opinion (ra’y) is not regarded as a trustworthy attribute in attaining true faith in the Dhikr, the messianic Remembrance of God who can at times be thought of as both the occulted messianic imam and the person of the Bab himself who, at this time (mid 1844)  to some degree  remained in "messianic secrecy". In QA 2:11 the Bab even refers to zann, personal religious speculation of the kind indulged in by the ‘ulamā’, as a "manifest sin" in all earlier scriptural tablets (al-alwāḥ) or pre-Islamic revelations.

    Ijtihād, independent jurisprudential or theological reasoning outside of a [proto-] Bābī  religious consciousness rooted in affirmation of the new divine revelation, is forbidden. Human avenues to religious truth are interdicted. The ‘ulamā’, with their multifarious opinions, are severely warned. The ijtihād of the mujtahid is something out of bounds in evaluating the new universe of religious discourse actualized by the revelations of the Bāb.

        The paragraph commencing at QA 2:16 is addressed to the ahl al-kitāb, the people of the book, primarily indicating members of the Abrahamic religions who find authority in a divinely revealed "book", a sacred scripture such as the tawrat, (Torah), Hebrw Bible or Injīl (original Gospel[s]). The scriptural learning of Jews and Christians should not withold them from the truth. The book from which the `people of the book ’ should take guidance from is the "Book" of the Remembrance of God, the messianic Dhikr. This "Book" encapsulates all previous scripture. Interestingly, in QA2:26, the mission of the Bab would appear to be of cosmic import, by virtue of his divine light. It is a mission addressed to "all the worlds." In QA2:29 the Bāb identifies true Muslims as those who have responded to the call of the Dhikr-Allāh, articulting his own semi-secret proclamation.