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Qayyūm al-asma'

Part  IV [4]

سورة  المدينه 

Sūrat al-madīnah

(The Surah of the City) 

  on  Qur'ān 12:3

Stephen Lambden UCMerced. Under revision 2009-15.


 Part IV of the provisional translation of the Qayyūm al-asmā’ (=QA) of the Bāb (mid. 1844/1260) with brief introduction and selective notes consists of a full versified English translation of the Sūrat al-madinah (Surah of the City). This translation was done in the early 1980s though not from any critical edition. I simply 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". In QA4 I have with difficulty, very  tentatively versified  at  42 and retain this versification for the sake of reference and commentary. It is under revision after consultation of further QA mss.

QA 4 opens with the basmala followed by the citation of Q.12:3 upon which it briefly comments in rewritten fashion at the outset of the Surah of the City (Surah al-madina). Four isolated letters (ḥurufāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt) open the Surah proper; the 3 letters A-L-M (abjad 71) which occur six times in the Q. (Q.2+3+29+30+31+32 ) to which is added the isolated letter Ṭ (al-ṭā’ = abjad 9). The fourfold group of isolated letters A-L-M-Ṭ does not occur in the Q. These letters have an abjad value of (1+30+40+9 =)  80. Aside from being neo-qur’anic their significance in the QA is unclear.

QA 4:3-4f rewrites Q. 12:3 and indicates that the qur’anic narratives or stories (al-qaṣaṣ) are explained or made clear for such as lovingly and attentively identify with the Gate (al-Bāb), doubtless the person of the Bāb himself. Through him a "Book" was revealed for every people in their own language (cf. Q.14:4). Its universal language is the Arabic language of the Remembrance (bi-lisan al-dhikr) which is described as novel or wondrous (badi`an). In the next verses it is clear that the Bāb is referring to his own considerable facility in Arabic. In the heavenly and archetypal "Mother Book" (umm al-kitab) he is recorded as "the most Arab of [pure blooded] Arabs (a`rab al- `arba'). He is an absolute Arabic especially skilled in Arabic (al-faṣīḥ) one a`rab  [an] al- 'arubā' for he is reckoned "among the most eloquent of those possessed of eloquence (iblagh al-bulagha'). These early claims to a mastery of Arabic are repeated in other early letters and works. The Bab was especially consciious of his Arab lineage as a Sayyid and one who devoted himself to the beauty of the Arabic Qur'ān and its language.

Not only this but the Bāb is described as  al-tilism al-a`ẓam  "the Supreme Talisman" (a claim echoed relative to Muhammad in the Khutba al-tutunjiyya of Imam`Alī) again endowed with a power decreed in "Mother Book" where he is inscribed as one possessed of talismanic power. He we find early reference to the Bāb’s  early, very marked,  interest in the science of talismans which were small scrolls inscribed with sacred words, letters, scripts and diagrams designed to protect and sanctify the person who wears them. In later Bābīsm they came to encapsulate prophetic, divine, messianic and other secrets. The implication of the description of the Bāb as the "Supreme Talisman" may be a highlighting of his talismanic powers centered upon his divinely revealed Arabic locutions or verses.

QA 4:7ff includes some interesting early titles of the Bāb and verses 14f are an address to the "servants of God" as to the veracity of the Bāb’s being one promised and his power of revelation. QA 4:18f would appear to be addressed to the Muslims of the city of Medina whose faith in Islam is questioned in the light of a failure to acknowledge the truth of the Bāb. QA 4:20f addresses the same persons and the non-believing `Arabs surrounding Medina questioning their failure to accept the universal Shī`ī covenant regarding the successorship of Alī b Abi Ṭālib, the first Imam of the Shī`ī Muslims. QA 4:23ff again expresses the dire result of rejecting the messianic person of the Dhikr or Remembrance. The need to reflect deeply upon the Q. And its new, inner, ta`wil senses provided by the Bab is advised.

QA 4:36ff has to do with a symbolic parable of al-nafsayn, two archetypal "Persons". It is perhaps addressed to Sunni Muslims  and /or or to archetypal  "Persons" allotted to  twin archetypal zones (cf. the twin waterways or gulfs") such as are allusively indicated in the Khuṭbat al-Ṭutunjiyya through  Sayyid Kazim's commentary on Rajab al-Bursi's introduction to it (in the Mashariq anwar al-yaqin). Bursi mentions ther sermon as  being delivered by  Imam  `Ali between Kufa [now in Iraq] and Medina [now in Saudi Arabia]  (al-Bursi, Mashariq, 166). Aspects of this twin city imagery is related to dual soteriological aspects (Mercy + Wrath, etc) of twin gulf cosmology and to the primacy of Imam `Alī as well for the Bab in QA IV  to the veracity of the eschatological mission of the Bāb.  The references in 4:37f to "two rivers", "two Wests" and "two gulfs" (khalījayn) confirm the allusions to the  Khuṭbat al-Ṭutunjiyya through  Sayyid Kazim's commentary thereon. The khalījayn ("twin gulfs") are explicitly mentioned in the Khuṭbat al-Ṭutunjiyya in association with the tutunjayn (also "twin gulfs") often understood in Shaykhi-Babi exegesis as two rivers (nahrayn). We thus read in QA 4: 37

و  علی الاخر نهرين فی ارض المغربين و قد كان له حيتان فی احدی الخليجين

For the latter [of the two] were [provided] two rivers (nahrayn) in the land of the "two Wests" (fi arḍ al-maghribayn);  having two gardens (jannatayn) in one of  the two gulfs (khalījayn).

 As elsewhere in the QA Arabic dual formations are common. They are in part inspired by the deep senses that the Bāb found in key lines of the Khuṭbah al-ṭutunjiyya, the ‘Sermon of the Gulf' ascribed to Imam `Alī (d. 40/661). In many of his works the Bāb draws on this Sermon and upon Sayyid Kāẓim Rashti’s partial commentary upon it. Details cannot be gone into here though Sayyid Kāẓim understood the two Ṭ-T-N-J s (an Arabic quadriliteral loanword of unknown etymology) as "two gulfs-bays-channels" (khalījayn) using exactly the same word in the dual as the Bāb uses here in QA 4:37f.