[2] The Alpha Beta Logion - Islamic and Babi-Baha'i

 

 

 

[2]

The Alpha Beta Logion - Islamic and Babi-Baha'i

 

Bahā’ī theology and intimiations of the  word بهاء  Bahā’ in the sacred literatures and prophetology of the Pre-Islamic era. The Alpha-Beta logion and Islamic and Pre-Islamic literatures.

Stephen Lambden UCMerced.
In progress 1980s-2017.

 

 Following various statements of Bahā’-Allah and `Abd al-Bahā’ Bahā’ī apologists have found many intimations of the person and title of bahā’/ Bahā’-Allāh or cognates in various world scriptural languages, in Islamic and pre-Islamic sacred writings; including, for example, various books of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as well as associated Israelite-Abrahamic literatures. Allusions to the person and titles of Bahā’-Allāh have likewise been foiund in Hindu, Zoroastrian and Buddhist scriptures and related sacred literatures.  One example of this in the developed forms of the alpha-beta (= “A”-“B”) logion in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Of particularly important for Bahā’īs are the Islamic versions of child Jesus expounding the alphabet or the basmala and the significance of the  letter “B” as Bahā’-Allāh,            

A well-known and much cited Islamic tradition ascribed to the prophet Muhammad himself has it that Jesus interpreted the (prepositional) letter “B” (ب ) meaning "In" of the basmala  (= بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم In the Name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate”) as indicating Bahā’-Allāh. The words, "In" and "the Glory of God" both commence with the letter "B". Various Islamic Tafsīr (exegetical) writings and Qiṣaṣ al-anbiya’ (Stories of the Prophets) literatures and related writings contain traditions (ḥadīth) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad or the twelver (or other) Imams recording versions of the story of Jesus’ first day at school. Jesus interacts with his schoolteacher when the meaning of the alphabet is raised. In many traditions the child Jesus is asked to expound the letter ب “B” or the first and other  letters of the Islamic  basmala. He states that this first letter of the basmala   indicates bahā’-Allāh, ( = the Glory-Splendour-Beauty of God).  The following are a few examples from key Tafsīr literatures.

The Tafsir and Tarikh of Muhammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/922).

One of the most important early Sunnī Tafsīr works registering the abovementioned  tradition is the massive and highly important Qur’ān Commentary (tafsīr) entitled Jāmi’ al-bayān ‘an ta‘wīl āy al-Qur ‘ān (The Comprehensive Exposition of the interprertation of the verses of the Qur’ān) of Abū Ja‘far Muhammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/922). In the course of commenting on the بسم bism ([first letter = b] ═ “In the Name of”) of the basmala of the Sūrat al-fatiḥah (Surah of the Opening = Q.1) the following tradition is related through a long list of authorities ending with Abī Sa`īd going back to the Prophet Muhammad himself:

حدثنا به إسماعيـل بن الفضل، قال: حدثنا إبراهيـم بن العلاء بن الضحاك، قال: حدثنا إسماعيـل بن عياش، عن إسماعيـل بن يحيى عن ابن أبـي ملـيكة، عمن حدثه عن ابن مسعود، ومسعر بن كدام، عن عطية، عن أبـي سعيد، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم:

  إن عِيسى ابْنَ مَرْيَـمَ أسْلَـمَتْهُ أُمُّهُ إلـى الكُتَّابِ لِـيُعَلِّـمَهُ، فَقالَ لَهُ الـمُعَلِّـمُ: اكْتُبْ بِسْمِ فَقَالَ له عِيسَى: وَما بِسْمِ؟ فَقالَ لَهُ الـمُعَلِّـمُ: ما أدْرِي فَقالَ عِيسىَ: البـاءُ: بَهاءُ اللَّهِ، وَالسِّينُ: سَناؤُهُ، وَالـمِيـمُ: مَـمْلَكَتُهُ    

He said, the Messenger of God [Muhammad] said, `Jesus, the Son of Mary was taken by his mother [Mary] unto the Teacher (al-kuttāb) that he [the teacher] might instruct him [Jesus]. So he [the teacher] said to him, `Read bism [“In the Name]!’ Jesus replied to him and said, `And what is bism ?’ The Teacher replied to him and said, `I do not know’. So Jesus said, `The [first letter] “b” (al-bā’) is Bahā’-Allāh (the Splendour of God); the [second letter] “s” (al-sīn) is His Radiance (sanā’) and the [third letter] “m” (al-mīm) is His sovereignty (mamlakat).

Having cited this prophetic tradition al-Ṭabarī dismissively doubts its veracity, fearing that it is something "erroneous" (ghalat an) transmitted from the unreliable narrators (muḥaddith).  He fears that it is an erronous hadith expounding the first letters of the basmala (B-S-M) in a childlike fashion expressing the`Book of the Letters of Abjad' ....

فأخشى أن يكون غلطاً من الـمـحدث، وأن يكون أراد: «ب س م»، علـى سبـيـل ما يعلـم الـمبتدى من الصبـيان فـي الكتاب حروفَ أبـي جاد. فغلط بذلك، فوصله فقال: «بسم» لأنه لا معنى لهذا التأويـل إذا تُلـي «بسم الله الرحمن الرحيـم» علـى ما يتلوه القارىء فـي كتاب الله، لاستـحالة معناه عن الـمفهوم به عند جميع

Towards the beginning of his Tarikh al-Rusul wa'l-muluk

Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyuṭī

A Few Tradition from the twelver Imams

In Shī`ī literatures it is often the sixth Shī'ī Imām, Ja`far al-Ṣādiq (d.765 CE) who states that the child Jesus, explained the first letter, the letter "B" of the basmala, to his bewildered schoolteacher, in terms of "The letter "B" signifiying Bahā’-Allāh". One of the most important early Shī`i Qur'ān Commentaries is the Tafsir of Abi al-Ḥasan `Alī ibn Ibrāhīm al-Qummi (d. / ). In its comments on the basmalah (of Q. 1:1a) following a long and complex isnad (see below) tracing the hadith back though a certain Abi Baṣīr it is stated that Ja`far al-Ṣādiq said:

" I say regarding the Tafsir of the بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم (Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahmin (In the Name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate ...... (long isnad).... [relayed] from Abi Baṣīr from Abi `Abd-Allah (= Ja`far al-Sadiq), He said, "I asked him about the Tafsir of the بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم (bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahmin) and he [Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq] said, " The [letter] "B" (bā') is Bahā’-Allāh ("the Glory of God"), the [letter] "s" (sīn) is Sanā'-Allāh ("the Brightness of God") while the [letter] "M" (mīm) is the Mulk-Allāh ("the Dominion of God") and Allāh is [is indicative of] the God of everything. "The Merciful" الرحمن is [pertinent to] the totality of His creatures and "the Compassionate" الرحيم [pertains to] such as are specifically believers (al-mu'minīn)...". 

Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsā'ī (d. 1826) on the basmala, B and Bahā' in his Tafsir Surat al-Tawhid.

The fountainhead of al-Shaykhiyya (Shaykhism), of the Shaykhi school of Shi`i Islam (see further below), Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsā'ī (d. 1826) in his Tafsīr sūrat al-tawhīd (Commentary on the Sūra of the Divine Unity) quotes Imām Ja`far al-Ṣādiq in exposition of the letters of the basmala; with an alternative explanation of the letter "M" as majd (Radiance) which is normally mulk (Dominion, see above)

"I [Shaykh Ahmad] say that the reality of the Surat al-Tawhid (= Q. 112) relative to its befitting exposition has many facets such that our level of knowledge proves incapable of penetrating its depth... it is relayed from Imam al-Sadiq -- upon him be peace --- that "The [letter] "B" (al-bā') is Bahā’-Allāh ("the Glory of God"), the [letter] "s" (al-sīn) is Sanā'-Allāh ("the Brightness of God") and the [letter] "m" (al-mīm) is the Majd-Allāh ("the Radiance of God")". It is [normally] relayed [in the tradition] that it [the letter "m"] is the Mulk-Allāh (Dominion of God) for [in reality] this corresponds to His (God's) Logos-Self (nafs) for such is indeed possessed of Bahā'' (Glory...) which is the [reality of the Divine] Splendor (al-ḍiyā'). And the intention of this is what precipitated His-its [the Logos-Self's] Genesis (ibtidā') from existence by means of the Divine Will (min al-wujūd bi-mashiyyatihi). It [the Logos-Self, etc] is allusive of the Universal Intellect (al-`aql al-kullī) as is indicated through His [God's]-- exalted be He-- [qur'anic] saying, مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ "The likeness of His Light is as [light streaming from] a Niche (mishkat) containing a Lamp (al-miṣbāḥ), etc." (=Q. 24:35a) as well as what is before it of the Masters ( ) or of Intellect generated Existence (?) (al-wujud al-`aqliyya).... ADD (T-Tawhid, 3-4).

`Abdu'l-Bahā' in his Arabic commentary on the Basmala printed in the compilation Makātib-i ḥadrat-i `Abdu'l-Bahā' (Vol.1: 46) [15]) also cites this tradition from Ja`far al-Ṣādiq. ADD TEXT HERE

Another tradition from the sixth Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq (d. c. 148/765) is worth citing at this point:

 بباء البهاء الإبتداء اللهم إني آسألك  بالفقال و فيه الاسم الأعظم،  تدعو به كل صباح وهو على حروف المعجم   

"And in it is the Mightiest [Greatest] Name [of God]. Every morning thou should supplicate thereby for it is in line with the [supplication of the] letters of the alphabet [as expressed in], "O my God! I beseech Thee through the [letter] "A" of الإبتداء ( al-ibtidā' ), the Genesis, and the [letter] "B" of البهاء =( al-bahā') the Splendor-Beauty".

This statement highlights the Islamic affirmation of the supreme power of the Mightiest Name of God

A well-known and much cited Islamic tradition ascribed to the prophet Muhammad himself has it that Jesus interpreted the (prepositional) letter “B” (ب ) meaning "In" of the basmala  (= بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم In the Name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate”) as indicating Bahā’-Allāh. The words, "In" and "the Glory of God" both commence with the letter "B". Various Islamic Tafsīr (exegetical) writings and Qiṣaṣ al-anbiya’ (Stories of the Prophets) literatures and related writings contain traditions (ḥadīth) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad or the twelver (or other) Imams recording versions of the story of Jesus’ first day at school. Jesus interacts with his schoolteacher when the meaning of the alphabet is raised. In many traditions the child Jesus is asked to expound the letter ب “B” or the first and other  letters of the Islamic  basmala. He states that this first letter of the basmala   indicates bahā’-Allāh, ( = the Glory-Splendour-Beauty of God).  The following are a few examples from key Tafsīr literatures.

The Tafsir and Tarikh of Muhammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/922).

One of the most important early Sunnī Tafsīr works registering the abovementioned  tradition is the massive and highly important Qur’ān Commentary (tafsīr) entitled Jāmi’ al-bayān ‘an ta‘wīl āy al-Qur ‘ān (The Comprehensive Exposition of the interprertation of the verses of the Qur’ān) of Abū Ja‘far Muhammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/922). In the course of commenting on the بسم bism ([first letter = b] ═ “In the Name of”) of the basmala of the Sūrat al-fatiḥah (Surah of the Opening = Q.1) the following tradition is related through a long list of authorities ending with Abī Sa`īd going back to the Prophet Muhammad himself:

حدثنا به إسماعيـل بن الفضل، قال: حدثنا إبراهيـم بن العلاء بن الضحاك، قال: حدثنا إسماعيـل بن عياش، عن إسماعيـل بن يحيى عن ابن أبـي ملـيكة، عمن حدثه عن ابن مسعود، ومسعر بن كدام، عن عطية، عن أبـي سعيد، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم:

  إن عِيسى ابْنَ مَرْيَـمَ أسْلَـمَتْهُ أُمُّهُ إلـى الكُتَّابِ لِـيُعَلِّـمَهُ، فَقالَ لَهُ الـمُعَلِّـمُ: اكْتُبْ بِسْمِ فَقَالَ له عِيسَى: وَما بِسْمِ؟ فَقالَ لَهُ الـمُعَلِّـمُ: ما أدْرِي فَقالَ عِيسىَ: البـاءُ: بَهاءُ اللَّهِ، وَالسِّينُ: سَناؤُهُ، وَالـمِيـمُ: مَـمْلَكَتُهُ    

He said, the Messenger of God [Muhammad] said, `Jesus, the Son of Mary was taken by his mother [Mary] unto the Teacher (al-kuttāb) that he [the teacher] might instruct him [Jesus]. So he [the teacher] said to him, `Read bism [“In the Name]!’ Jesus replied to him and said, `And what is bism ?’ The Teacher replied to him and said, `I do not know’. So Jesus said, `The [first letter] “b” (al-bā’) is Bahā’-Allāh (the Splendour of God); the [second letter] “s” (al-sīn) is His Radiance (sanā’) and the [third letter] “m” (al-mīm) is His sovereignty (mamlakat).

Having cited this prophetic tradition al-Ṭabarī dismissively doubts its veracity, fearing that it is something "erroneous" (ghalat an) transmitted from the unreliable narrators (muḥaddith).  He fears that it is an erronous hadith expounding the first letters of the basmala (B-S-M) in a childlike fashion expressing the`Book of the Letters of Abjad' ....

فأخشى أن يكون غلطاً من الـمـحدث، وأن يكون أراد: «ب س م»، علـى سبـيـل ما يعلـم الـمبتدى من الصبـيان فـي الكتاب حروفَ أبـي جاد. فغلط بذلك، فوصله فقال: «بسم» لأنه لا معنى لهذا التأويـل إذا تُلـي «بسم الله الرحمن الرحيـم» علـى ما يتلوه القارىء فـي كتاب الله، لاستـحالة معناه عن الـمفهوم به عند جميع

Towards the beginning of his Tarikh al-Rusul wa'l-muluk