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QA. 5A

Joseph and Zuleikha


in the

 Qayyūm al-asmā'

Stephen N. Lambden UCMerced.

Last revised 04-04-2015

In the Qayyūm al-asmā' the archetypal figure of Joseph  is linked by the Bāb with both himself as the representative of the messianic Qā'im ("Ariser") or Dhikr (Remembrance) and with the Qayyūm (Self-Subsisting Deity) who is equated with the third Imam Ḥusayn who was expected to return at the eschaton  (he was martyred in 61/680) This latter identification is made in the fifth Surah of the QA which in some mss. is entitled either the Surah of Ḥusayn as opposed to the Surah of Joseph. This fifth surah is the first surah of the QA which deals directly with the allegorical interpretation of the story of Joseph (QA.5). What follows is a few introductory words about Joseph, the biblical patriarch and qur'ānic prophet. 

The person and story of Joseph is important in both the Bible (Genesis 37-50) and the Qur'ān (surah 12:1-111). In these sacred books the account of this patriarch- prophet is the longest biblical / qur'ānic narrative, an aspect of the "best of stories" (aḥsan al-qaṣaṣ). In Sunnī and Shī`ī Islamic sources Joseph is pre-eminently a model of righteous piety (al-ṣiddiq) and a paragon of handsome beauty (husn, jamāl). Among numerous other Abrahamic sources, this latter hagiographical motif is, for example, indicated in the Shī`ī Tafsir Nūr al-thaqalayn (`Commentary [expressive] of the Light of the Twin Weights') of al-Huwayzī (d. 1112/1700). Therein it is recorded that the sixth Twelver Imam, Abī `Abdu'llah, Ja`far al-Ṣādiq (d. c. 126/743) stated,

Whoso reciteth the Surah of Joseph each day or during every night will be raised up by God on the Day of Resurrection such that their beauty (jamāl) will be consonant with the beauty of Joseph..." (II:408).

Qur'an 12:4 records the dream-vision of Joseph:

"Behold, Joseph said to his father: `O my father! I saw eleven stars,  and the sun and the moon, I saw them bowing down before me!'".

Among the interpretations of this verse are the following words ascribed to one of the twelver Imams,

The inner sense (al-ta'wīl) of this dream-vision (al-ru'yā) is that he [Joseph] will rule Egypt; and there shall enter before him his father [Jacob-Israel] and his brothers. As for the "sun" (al-shams) it is Rachael (Rahil) the mother of Joseph while the "moon" (al-qamar) is Jacob (Ya`qub). Now the eleven stars (al-kawākib) are his [eleven] brothers. When they entered before him they prostrated in gratitude before God alone; the moment they caught sight of him was that of the prostration before God" (cited Baḥrānī, Kitāb al-burhan, II:243).

The Shī`ī imamological understanding of the Joseph narrative is registered in various authoritative traditions (aḥadīth; khabar) and tafsīr works. Aspects of its sometimes non-literal (allegorical-typological... ) exegesis had messianic implications relative to the ghayba ("occultation") and eventual advent or "return" of the expected (hidden 12th) Imam. This provided the background to the non-literal Bābī-Bahā'ī interpretation of the Joseph narrative which often has eschatological, messianic and theophanological implications.

The Bāb's interpretation of the motifs in the dream of Joseph go way beyond this Shī`ī  interpretation expressed by Imam Ja`far al-Ṣādiq.  In QA V, the dream-vision of Joseph (Q. 12:4) is cited and commented upon. There, among other things, it is asserted that God intended by Joseph the nafs, the "Logos-Self" of the Messenger (= Muhammad) and the "fruit of the [womb of the] the Virgin" (thamarat al-baṭūl)  by which Fāṭimah's son, the martyred and expected to "return" [Imam] Ḥusayn (4/626-61/680) is intended. The "sun", "moon" and eleven "stars" seen by Joseph in his vision, symbolize Fāṭimah (= "the sun"), Muhammad (= "the moon") and the [twelver] Imams (the first Imam  `Alī  (d. 40/661) until the 11th Imam Ḥasan al-Askarī (d. 260/874) are kawākib, "the stars" of Q.12:7.

For the Bāb the twelve Imams are also representative of the 12 letters of the important kalimat al-tawḥīd, the Islamic affirmation of the Divine Unity, (the 12 letters of)  la ilāha ilā Allāh ("There is none other god [Deity] but God'). This phrase is very important in the Bāb's writings, at times expressing the twin categories of negation ("There is no God") and affirmation ("but God").


Word of the Divine Unity





The kalimat al-tawhīd

12 letters

    اللّه   Allāh

4 letters

  الا ّ  illā

3 letters

اله   ilāha

3 letters

لا lā

  2 letters

Four words made up of 12 letters

       God     except

 deity  [God]

 [There is] no

  "Letters of Affirmation"

"Letters of Negation"

 Aside from the many allusions to this schemata in the QA., the Bāb, states towards the beginning of his early Kitab al-fihrist (Book of the Index, 1845):

 و اشهد بعد رسول الله في حكم الولاية في احرف الاحدية لا اله الا الله و كل له مسلمون

And I bear witness after the Messenger of God unto the decree of the wilāya  (the locus of divine providence) relative to the [abjad value] of the (12)[supreme] letters of the Divine Unity  (= لا اله الا الله  aḥraf al-aḥadiyya = the twelver Imams) before whom all are accounted Muslims.

اشهد ان اسمآئهم في كتاب الله عليّ و الحسن و الحسين و عليّ و محمد و جعفرو موسی و عليّ و محمد و عليّ  و الحسن و محمد  امام العدل لمسطور

I testify that their (12) names  in the Book of God are [Imams]:  [1] `Alī and [2] Ḥasan and [3] Ḥusayn [4] `Alī (Zayn al-Abidin) [5] Muhammad (al-Baqir) and [6] Ja`far (al-Ṣādiq) [7] Mūsā (al-Kāẓim) [8] `Alī (al-Riḍā'), [9] Muhammad (al-Taqī) [10] `Alī (al-Nāqī) [11] Ḥasan (al-`Askarī) and [12] Muhammad (al-Mahdī),  the Imam of [who will establish] Divine Justice,  assuredly one divinely inscribed [in the Book]".

 Surah 32 from the Kitāb al-Rūḥ

(The Book of the Spirit)

of the Bāb : 

    بسم اللّه الرّحمن الرّحيم

طه ذكر ربّك فی الورقاٌ البيضاٌ ثمّ من شجرة الصّفراٌ اللّه لا اله الا هو ان اذكر فی الكتاب يوسف عبدنا

فانه لدينا فی ام الكتاب لمن السّاجدين و انا لنكشف فی المنام ايات ربّك ثم اوحينا اليه ان انظر الی وجه السماٌ تری

 الشمس و القمر و النجوم لديك لمشهود فلما رای الحكم من لدّی قد اوحی اللّه من شطر البيت ان اذكر ليعقد  عبدنا

 لتكون من الموقنين

قل فلما سمع حكم ربّك نوحی اليك ان اذكر حكم ربّك و لا تقل لاحد من اخيك فان الشّيطان ليس الانسان من حكم

ربّك و انه لعدوّ مبين و كذلك قد اوحينا اليك ان اتبع ذكر ربّك و لا تقل لاحد حرفا من ذكر البدع ليعرض الناس

من اياتنا و كانوا علی واد  بعيد


In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate


The Remembrance of thy Lord is [evident from] within the snow-white Bird (al-warqā'), then from the Yellow Tree (shajarat al-ṣufrā'), `God, no God is there except Him'. So recall in the Book Our servant Joseph for he was indeed, One before Us [reckoned] in the  Mother Book (umm al-kitab) among such as are indeed prostrate (al-sajidin). And We unveiled through  the Divine Benevolence (fi al-mannān) the verses of thy Lord. Then We revealed unto him that he should direct his gaze unto the firmament of heaven (ila wajh al-sama') [so as to] behold the Sun, the Moon and the Stars before Thee [prostrate and] bearing witness. Then when he sees the  decree from before Thee God will assuredly enable him to receive divine revelation (waḥy) from the threshhold of the House (shaṭr al-bayt). So of a certainty recollect  ye the summoning of Our servant that he might be counted among the believers.

Say: When he heard the decree of thy Lord We revealed unto him that he should [always] recollect the decree of thy Lord such that no one should utter [anything false as if from] Thy brothers.  Indeed! Satan himself, in line with the decree of Thy Lord,  is not [reckoned] among those human (al-insān). He is assuredly a manifest enemy. Wherefore did We reveal unto thee that thou should follow the Remembrance of Thy Lord to not disclose unto anyone ever a letter from the Remembrance who is  innovative  (dhikr al-bid`) such that he might mislead the people from Our verses,  inclining them to a vale remote.