Preliminary Note : the al-ism al-a`zam (Mightiest Name of God) in Islamic literary history and modern western scholarship.

   اسم الله الأعظم 

Stephen Lambden UCMerced.

In progress 1980s-2017.

Preliminary Note : the al-ism al-a`zam (Mightiest Name of God) in Islamic literary history and modern western scholarship.

Under revision - last updated 20-02-2017.

 

The subject of  these portions of my website touching upon the ism Allāh al-a`ẓam (Mightiest Name of God) attempt to deal with a hitherto somewhat neglected area of academic research as well perhaps as an Islamic  subject  often dealt with hesitatingly or in passing. The Ottoman Turkish historian and bibliographer Muṣṭafā ibn `Abd-Allāh Kātib Chelebī or Kâtip Çelebi, Ḥajjī  Khalīfa (d. 1067/1657) listed  only two works on the al-ism al-a`zam or  ism Allāh al-a`ẓam (Mightiest Name of God) in his Kashf al-ẓunūn 'an asāmī al-kutub wa al-funūn (“The Uncovering of the Shadows from the designations of the Books and Diverse Scientific [Treatises]”), a bio-bibliography of  learned  men and their writings throughout the Islamic centuries. In this book he first states that the subject of the al-ism al-a`zam was included by the Master Abu Khayr - presumably the Sufi poet Abū Saʻīd ibn Abī al-Khayr (967-1049 CE ) - as "among the branches of the science of Tafsir (Qur'an Commentary). He cites this Mawla, this eminent person as writing,

"And he said, `

(Kashf al-ẓunūn, vol. 1: 428).

  • Kashf al-zunūn ʹan asāmī al-kutub wa'l-funūn. 2 vols. Cairo, Ministry of Education Publication No. 21, 1310-11/1892-93.
  •   كشف الظنون عن اسامي الكتب والفنون  =  Kashf al-ẓunūn ʻan asāmī al-kutub wa'l-funūn. [6 vols.] vol.1  ed Muhamnmad `Abd al-Qadir `Ata. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyya,  1429/2008.

Despite these onimous words of Kātib Chelebī, Ḥajjī  Khalīfa,   there have existed numerous Islamic sources which make passing mention of the al-ism al-a`zam or alegedly intimnate its mystery. Various devotional compilations set forth prayers which claim to give temtimony to its power or express its magnitude.  Books dealing the al-asmā’ wa’l-ṣifāt (“The Names and Attributes of God”),  may contain paragraphs or sections upon the theologically important though neglected subject of the al-ism al-a`zam (see Gimaret, 1988 below).

From time to time in the modern Muslim world books about the ism Allāh al-a`ẓam (Mightiest Name) are printed. An example being the 1982/1402 book of Muhammad al-Gharawī entitled al-Ism al-a`ẓam aw ma`ārif al-basmala wa’l-ḥamdala (“The Mightiest Name or Gnosis of the basmala and the laudation”) and the 1419/1998 work of  `Abd-Allāh ibn `Umar al-Dumayjī entitled Ism Allāh al-a`ẓam (“The Mightiest Name of God”).

Though to some degree testimonies to Iranian Qajar period theological polymathism and esoteric obscurantism, important Shī`i-Shaykhī coverage of this subject has been little penetrated as it relates to the graphical form of the Mightiest Name. MacEoin’s 1982 paper on the inverted letter wāw in the opening issue of the (now online periodical) Bahā’ī Studies Bulletin  ( Newcastle upon Tyne, 1982) touched upon an aspect of this subject in Shaykhī and Bābī-Bahā’ī sources.

Few modern western academic books or articles dealing in part or wholly with the Islamic theological  phenomenon, the al-ism al-a`zam, include the now over 85 year old German book by the (German ) orientalist Hans Alexander Winkler (1900-d. 20th Jan 1945)  entitled  Siegel und Charaktere in der Muhammedanischen Zaubere  (in the German series, `Studien zur geschichte und kultur der islamischen Orients ... 7 hft.' ) printed Berlin ; Leipzig : W. de Gruyter &​ co., 1930; x p., 1 l., 187 p. : illus., 3 pl., diagr. ; 26 cm.) *

PDf. Extracts from the 1930 Siegel und Charaktere:

* Hans Alexander Winkler  or (Arabic) Hans Aliksandar Fīnklar's 1930,  Siegel und charaktere in der muhammedanischen zaubereias was fairly recently in 2013 translated into Arabic with the title al-Rumūz wa'l-ṭalāsim al-siḥrīyah ʻind al-muslimīn al-khawātim wa'l-tamāʻim  by Naḥmīd Kabībū being published in Baghdad: Bayt al-Warrāq, 2013 (304 pp.). Cf. also the earlier German reprints ed. Geheimes Wissen c. 2009 etc.:

Then also there is the important 1966 (67) French article by Georges C. Anawati   (b. Alexandria, Egypt, June 6th 1905, d. Cairo, Egypt, January 28, 1994) entitled `Le Nom Supreme de Dieu'  (in Atti del Terzo Congresso Di Studi Arabi e Islamici)  presented at a conference in Italy in 1966. These German and French volumes stand virtually alone in 20th century western attempts to encompass aspects of this the fascinating  theological theme of the Islamic al-ism al-a`zam, the Mightiest or Greatest Name of God.

PDf. Extracts from the 1966.7 article of Anawati :

  •  

On Anawati see further :

MacEoin, Denis M.

In 1982 when conducting doctoral researches at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and  at Durham University,  I loaned to Dr. Denis MacEon copies of these two aforementioned German and French books, mentioning their imporance for the study of the background to the  Babi-Baha'i doctrine of the Greatest Name of God. This led him to write his 1982 article ‘Some Bahā’ī  and Shaykhī Interpretations of the Mystery of Reversal’    which was largely occupied with this theme.  I published his essay in the then emergent periodical, The Baha'i Studies Bulletin (BSB., 1982-1995) See  MacEoin, Denis M.,

  • 1982 = ‘Some Bahā’ī  and Shaykhī Interpretations of the Mystery of Reversal’ in  BSB  1:1 (1982), 11-23.
  • PDf.

Daniel Gimaret

Daniel Gimaret in his important, almost 450 page, 1987 volume Les noms divins en Islam : exégèse lexicographique et théologique (in the series Patrimoines Islam ; rep. Paris ed. du Cerf, 2007) includes much of interest about the theology and history of the Names of God in Islam. In fact chapter V,  `Le Question du Nom Supreme', is about the mightiest or greatest Name of God (al-ism al-a`zam; see 1988 ed. pages 85-94).