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QA. 9A



of the Bāb.

Part  IX [9]

سورة السر  

 Sūrat al-sirr

(The Surah of the Mystery) 


Qur'ān 12:8

Introduction Stephen Lambden


Part IX-9 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 Súrat al-Sirr (The Surah of the Mystery). 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 of the QA is often uncertain. The Bāb himself stated that there should be forty + two verses in each surah of the QA as accords with the  abjad  nunmerical value of lī  meaning "before me"  in Q. 12:4b  (Ar. لۑ= l + ī = 30+10= 40) +2 for the "Sun" AND The "Moon" though I often cannot see quite how this figure is arrived at. In QA9 I  count ADD verses and retain versification for the sake of reference and commentary.

QA 9 opens with the basmala followed by the citation of Q.12:8 upon which it briefly comments in rewritten fashion in the course of the Surah of the Mystery (Súrat al-Sirr). Four isolated letters (ḥurufat al-muqaṭṭa`a) open the Surah proper; the letters A-L-M-N (Alif - Lām - Mīm- Nún, abjad 121). This succession does not occur in the Q. though A-L-M is found in six surahs of the Q (2+3+29+30+31+32). There are though two similar qur’anic occurrences of isolated letters which seem expansions of A-L-M. They are A-L-M-ṣ (Q.7) and A-L-M-R (Q. 13). In QA 9 and 97 (?) the isolated letter “N” (Nún) is added to the qur’anic series A-L-M. This letter “N” (abjad 50) also prefixes the 68th surah of the Q. which is named the Surat al-qalam (Surah of the Pen) or the Surat al-Nún (Surah of “N”). These four isolated letters (A-L-M-N) according to some mss. also appear before QA 97. In various writings the Bāb and Baha’u’llah have commented in some details upon the isolated letters A-L-M as well as the prefixed “N” (e.g. the L-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`ah. of Baha’-Allah). Aside from being creatively neo-qur’anic the exact significance of A-L-M-N in QA9 is unclear. For further details see my (unpublished) MESA., 2000 paper `Some Aspects of the Bābī-Baha’i interpretation of the Isolated letters (ṭṭ) of the Qur’an’ which deals in detail with the isolated letters of the QA and other writings of the Bāb (See HERE ADD).

QA 9:1 opens the Surah of the Mystery by declaring that God revealed the new Qur'an, as the QA or “Book” containing “an explanation of all things” (tibyān kull shay’). It is a mercy and an expression of Bushrā, good news, glad-tidings, cf. the exclamation of the Maddened who discovered Joseph according to Q. 12:19b. It is insightful about the Exalted Remembrance of God (dhikr Allāh) . In QA9:2 eleven of the twelve “letters” ( brothers) expressive of `There is no God but God' (lā ilāha illā Allāh ] are personified and address Joseph (= the letter “H”) as one “more beloved” (aḥabb) of their “father” Jacob because he excelled or outstripped them in the knowledge of God. He is the locus of the deeply mysterious letter “H”. The uniqueness of Joseph is expressed alphabetically and in relationship to the testimony of the divine unity. The secret mystery of Joseph’s superiority is related to “a letter concealed in the mystery which is enshrouded in the mystery veiled in the (alphabetical) row (al-sa*r) of letters further hidden in the concealed mystery. The qabbalistic locus of Joseph is something deeply hidden. The messianic secrets are deeply veiled.

According to QA 9:4 the “brothers” or letters are many, a group (`uṣba) though the Joseph is uniquely superior for he represents the Arabian Prophet Muhammad whose name or reality is inscribed in the vicinity of the celestial alphabetical row (line, al-saṭr). perhaps writings associated with the Divine Throne. Shī`ī traditions have that the shahada and name of Muhammad was written in primordial times around the Throne of God. It may be these concepts which the Bāb is drawing upon in the course of expounding his messianic, quasi- qabbalistic exegesis of the narrative of Joseph and his brothers, QA 9:5f exegetically rewrites and recontextualizes Q. 12:8b. Jacob, the father of Joseph and his 11 brothers, is accorded a special bounty divine grace, a superiority by virtue of His own Self (faḍḍa ābānā bi-faḍl nafsihi). The “brothers’’ accusation that Jacob was one “clearly deluded” (ḍalāli mubīn) is entirely negated by being something ascribed to the people who are ignorant about the deep imamological and messianic mystery expressed in alphabetical terms, relative to Joseph and his brothers. God decreed the concealed mystery “through the mystery of His command- Cause” which exposed the evident delusion of the people (ḍalāl an [mubīn]) (Q.12:8b) of the fire of hell. The secret mystery of the letter "B" (sirr al- bā' ; or, reading sirr al-balā', `mystery of the trial') was unknown to them. The position of the Bāb as agent of the Dhikr was obscure. QA 9:10 explains that God intended by the secret inner sense (ta`wil) of the mystery regarding the alphabetical row (line; al-saṭr) the “ Point of the Gate [Bāb] (nuqṭat al-bāb) , evidently the reality of the person of the Bāb. The mysterious associates (?? al-ajnabā') [text uncertain] min al-Bāb ) of the Gate (al-bāb) are ones manifest before the celestial Heights (li'l-a`rāf; cf. Q. 7:46,48). This is obscure. It may have something to do with the Bāb’s relationship with the occulted Imams.

QA 9:11ff exegetically -eisegetically rewrites a passage from the Súrat al-Maryam (Surah of Mary, Q.19). The servants of the All-Merciful! are instructed to “Shake... the trunk of this Palm-Tree which God established in the Mother Book as one Exalted (or `Alī) (`Alīyy).” This act is evidently designed to cause the “fresh ripe dates” of spiritual “food” to sustain the believers as happened to the virgin Mary according to Q.19:25. The Bāb seems to allude to himself as one named `Alī (cf. `Alīyy = Exalted) symbolically a “Palm-Tree” laden with the “fresh dates” of divine guidance. True seekers should shake this “Tree of Reality” for obtaining divine guidance. In certain Shi`i traditions (aḥadīth) and in the writings of such Sufi thinkers as Ibn al-`Arabi (d.638/1240), the palmtree (nakhla) is given a variety of esoteric significances. Traditionally created from the surplus clay from which Adam [Mankind] was made and being feminine in Arabic the nakhla is, for the Great Shaykh, symbolic of the Celestial Earth, the Divine Feminine, "Adam's Sister", the Mystic Eve. In his al-Futuḥat al-makkiyya (Meccan Openings) he writes: "Know that when God created Adam who was the first human organism to be constituted, and when he had established him as the origin and archetype of all human bodies, there remained a surplus of the leaven of the clay. From this surplus God created the palm tree, so that this plant [nakhla, palm tree being feminine] is Adam's sister; for us therefore it is like an aunt on our father's side. In theology it is so described and is compared to the faithful believer. No other plant bears within it such extraordinary secrets as are hidden in this one (trans. Corbin 1977: 136. Cf. on the palm tree mentioned in Q. 9:23ff p. 309.fn's 45. Schimmel has noted that the Divine Beloved is pictured as a marvelous palm tree in Sufi poetry (Schimmel,1980:88) (cited Lambden, 1983).

Baha'-Allah opens the 12th hemistich of his Rashḥ-i `amā’ (The Sprinkling of the Divine Cloud) with the imperative instruction, nakhla[t]-i  ṭúbā,  “Behold the Blessed Palm-Tree!". In describing himself as a "Palm tree" Baha’-Allah is probably alluding to Q. 19:23ff (cf. Q. 13:28) where it is narrated that the Virgin Mary retired to a distant place and gave birth to Jesus near a palm tree (nakhla) which subsequently (miraculously) provided her with ripe dates (cf. Gospel of Pseudo Matthew XX.lff). The "Blessed PalmTree" may be thought of as a symbol of prophethood; the tree of reality which proffers the `fruit' of spiritual nourishment. Thus, “Observe the Blessed Palm-Tree!” most likely indicates that the source of the sustenance of divine revelation is apparent in his person.

QA 9:15-17 is an interesting paragraph in which the Bāb counters criticisms of his youthful age of  twenty-five  in claiming divine revelation. He swears “ By the Lord of the heaven and of the earth!” that he is “a servant of God (`abd Allāh)” closely associated by God with the messianic “Remnant of God”. He affirms that the QA “is my Book” inscribed in the celestial “Mother Book in the presence of God”. He is blessed by God but still one who must obey the observance of the obligatory prayer and evince patience amidst his critical contemporaries. Like the Prophet Muhammad the Bāb claimed inimitability. His contemporaries cannot call on God and receive divine revelations like those his receives through the Baqiyyat-Allāh (QA 9:20): Do they reckon that they will be able to produce the like of this Book which manifestly, in very truth, cometh from God? (cf.Q.17:88). The concluding address to the “servants of God” in QA9:29f teaches that the pious are considered “chosen ones” in the light of their proximity to Bāb (al- bāb), God will instruct them about their “religious duties” which they “publicly disputed amongst themselves”. The Bāb will offer them suitable guidance in the light of the immanence of the eschaton, “which is near at hand”. He directs them that they should “love God” then follow him. In so doing they follow the Bāb who promotes the pure and unsullied ḥānīf an, a transmitter of the religion of neo-Abraham religion (al-millat Ibrahim) (cf. Q.2:135; 3:95; 4:124, etc.). Just as Muhammad called the people back to the pure, non-Judaeo-Christian monotheism of the religion of Abraham the Bāb in rewriting/ revealing such verses claims to transmit the same religion. The final verses of QA9 show that the Bāb was confident about the ultimate establishment of his relgious message.