Bab Tafsir Hadith `Ama'

The Commentary of the Bab on the `Hadith of `Amā'

written for Sayyid Yahya Darabi, Vahid.

Tafsir hadīth of al-`amā' (the Theophanic Cloud).

Introductory Note

Stephen Lambden UCMerced.

Tradition has it that the Prophet Muhammad was asked, `Where was our Lord before He created the creation [or, `the heavens and the earth']? He is said to have replied, `He [God] was in a Cloud (`amā'), above it [or Him] air (hawā') and below it [or Him] air". [48] This reply probably originally expressed the conviction that God was hidden and self-subsisting in His own Being; dependent upon nothing. It perhaps indicated that before His work of creation, God was in obscurity, enshrouded in the mysterious "cloud" of His own abstracted Being, wrapped in a dark mist.  For Sufis like `Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī (1365-1420) `amā' indicated the absolute hiddenness of the transcendent Godhead. It signifies, "Being sunk in itself, bare potentiality. … the eternal and unchangeable ground of Being", the "absolute inwardness (buṭūn) and occultation (istitar)" of the transcendent Divine Essence (so Nicholson, 1967: 94-6).

 Influenced by  religio-philosophical (`irfani) Shi`i though as related to theosophical Sufism, both the Bāb and Bahā'-Allāh used Sufi terminology extensively. They made considerable use of the term `amā' though they rejected the monistic ontology that sometimes informed and determined certain attempts to locate the mystery of `amā'. In Bābī-Bahā'ī scripture `amā' has numerous senses such that it is not always indicative of the hidden and unknowable essence of God.

 In one of his early epistles the Bāb commented in some detail on the `tradition of `amā'. [49]  In it he states that this tradition indicates God's isolated independence. The term al-`amā' ("the cloud") only inadequately indicates the Divine dhāt ("essence"). On another level `amā' ("cloud") and hawā' ("air") indicate the created  nafs ("Self") of God, as opposed to the mystery of His transcendent and uncreated reality. God's being in `amā'  is expressive of the station (maqām)  of the manifestation (ẓuhūr)  of the "First Dhikr" (dhikr al-awwāl), the primal divine manifestation and locus of prophethood).

 In his interpretation, the Bāb seems to underline God's absolute otherness to such an extent that the term `amā' only indirectly hints at his transcendent unknowability. God's nafs ("Logos-Self") and dhāt ("Essence") are probably to be thought of as created and hypostatic realities indicative of, yet ontologically distinguishable from, His uncreated and absolute Ipseity.

 The manner then in which the Bāb expounds the ḥadīth of al-`amā' outrules those theosophical interpretations that are monistically oriented. The term `amā' indicates God's absolute otherness. It is derived from al-`amā or al-`amān ("blindness", "unknowing") for vision is blinded before God's Face and eyes are incapable of beholding His Countenance. `Amā' is indicative of a Reality that is "Unconditioned" (muṭlaq), "Absolute" (irf), "Uncompounded" (bat) and "Definitive" (? bātt ?).

 For the Bāb the `ḥadāth of al-`amā' enshrines subtle and bewildering mysteries surrounding the Sinaitic theophany (see Qur'ān 7:142). It was not the unknowable essence of God (dhāt al-azal) that appeared in the "Kingdom of `amā' (malakāt al-`amā') and radiated forth from the Divine Light on Mount Sinai" but an amr (= lit command; here loosely `Logos' which God created from nothing). The theophany on the Mount was not the manifestation of `amā' as God's absolute essence or a monistic type `theophany or the Divine Essence' (tajallī al-dhāt) but the disclosure of the Divine Light (nār) "unto, through and in His Self (nafs)." In abstruse language the Bāb counters the monistic type interpretation of the relationship between `amā' and the `theophany of the Divine Essence' (tajallī al-dhāt) found in certain Sufi treatises. [50]

The Commentary of the Bab on the `Hadith of `Ama'.

Translation Stephen N. Lambden