(The Surah of the Divine Cloud)
On Qur'ān 12:9
Introduction Stephen N. Lambden
1982-2015 - under revision.
Part X (10) of the provisional translation of the Qayyūm al-asmā’ (= QA) of the Bāb (mid. 1844/ 1260) with brief introduction consists of a full verse by verse English translation of the Sūrat al-`amā' (The Surah of the Divine Cloud). 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 numerical value of lī meaning "before me" in Q. 12:4b (Ar. لۑ = l + ī = 30+10= 40+2 for the "Sun" and the "Moon" = 42) though I often cannot always see quite how this figure is arrived at. In QA10 I tentatively count ADD verses and retain versification for the sake of reference and commentary.
QA10 opens with the basmala followed by the citation of Q.12:9 upon which it briefly comments in rewritten fashion in the course of the Sūrat al-`amā' , the Surah of the Divine Cloud or Surah of the Theophanic Cloud. Four isolated letters (Ḥurufāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt) open the Surah proper, the letters المغ= A-L-M-` (Alif - Lām - Mīm- `Ayn = abjad 141). This succession does not occur in the Q. though A-L-M is found in six qur’anic surahs (= 2+3+29 +30+ 31+32) and there are occurrences of isolated letters which seem expansions of A-L-M, such as A-L-M- Ṣ (Q.7) and A-L-M-R (Q. 13). The fourfold isolated letters المع = A-L-M-` occur in Surah 10 in the 1261/1845 mss.
The QA. ms. 1323 has the fourfold isolated letters المغ = A-L-M-Gh which occur eight or nine times in the QA., prefixing surahs 5+10+30+43+72+82+103 and also perhaps QA107. The isolated letter ﻉ (`ayn) only occurs as an isolated letter in the qur’anic quintuple group of isolated letters K-H-Y-`-Ṣ which letters prefix Q. 19 (Mary). The addition of this `ayn to the A-L-M in various surahs of the QA., might be seen to extend them with this letter `ayn in that this is the first component of the Bāb’s parentally bestowed name, `Alī (also that of the first Shī`ī Imam ) – not that this the “correct” or the only possible explanation of these isolated letters. Aside from being creatively neo-qur’anic the exact significance of A-L-M-` in QA10 is unclear. For further details see my (unpublished) MESA., 2000 paper `Some Aspects of the Bābī-Bahā’ī interpretation of the Isolated letters (al-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt) of the Qur’ān’ which deals in detail with the isolated letters of the QA and other writings of the Bāb.
QA10:4-6 opens the Surah of the Divine Cloud by declaring that the messianic “Most Great Remembrance of God” (dhikr Allāh al-akbar) is praised through the ”Remembrance of Our Lord”. Devotionalistic dhikr ultimately revolves around the glorification of the quasi-messianic “Most Great Remembrance”. QA 10:4 states that the divine Bounty was bestowed upon Joseph and his brothers through manifest signs which are expressive of the mystery (sirr) of that Mighty Gate (al-bāb). This perhaps indicates that the quasi-qabbalistic relationships and permutations of the various letters of the alphabet enshrined in the kalimat al-tawhīd (= the 12 sons of Jacob) indicate the messianic secret of the Bāb and perhaps also allude to the eschatological “return” of Imam Ḥusayn.
In Q. 12:8 the “brothers” plan to kill Joseph (cf. Ḥusayn’s martyrdom) or banish him so that Jacob’s love will be focused upon them. The Bāb seems to reconfigure this as an allegory of the “brothers” conspiring to hide or “veil” the “sign” of Joseph’s true greatness (= the letter ﻫ “h”?). Acting like his unreceptive contemporaries, the “brothers”, it may be implied, desired to inhibit any sign of the messianic parousia of the Bab-Dhikr and/or the returned messianic Ḥusayn (= Joseph). Alternatively, according to QA10:8 the “brothers” sought to “banish” Joseph “to the land of the Divine Unicity” (ard* al-aḤadiyya), the domain of the alphabetical locus of the divine unity where God alone is manifest in the monotheistic theophany.
The special individuality of Joseph (the ﻫ “H”) is subsumed into the one Deity (Q. 2:9). God, however, in line with the messianic realization, singled out Joseph as a messianic figure who cannot be theophanologically subsumed into the pleroma of the other “letters” (= "brothers"). In QA 10:9, in other words indicates that God did not keep Joseph “hidden” in meaningless occultation but explicitly manifested him from among his “brothers”. He did not conceal Joseph even though his position is deeply veiled from the unworthy. His messianic, eschatological role cannot be negated, nullified or absolutely concealed: “And We, verily, made him a noble herald of good tidings”. Occultation must give way to theophay; becloudedness to luminosity. The Joseph of divine guidance cannot be either “killed” or “hidden”. Divine providence will not allow this.
At QA10:17 it is stated that God relinquished his providence unto those like Joseph’s “brothers” who, symbolic of unbelieving enemies (?), abandoned Joseph, the “concealed letter” ( ﻫ “H” = 5 = the Bāb ?) of the Book of God. The shrouded mystery of Joseph cannot remain hidden. Such abandonment and concealment by the ungodly cannot succeed. God and Joseph cannot be excelled or providentially outstripped (QA 10:18). Rather than permitting the sorry fate of Joseph, his being abandoned and concealed, God declares that He will “manifest Our servant unto you in a Divine Cloud of Light (`amā' min nūr). The messianic secret will be emblazoned in the Sinaitic realm of the divine theophany, the “Divine Cloud of Light” (`amā' min nūr). (QA 10:19).
This secret, however, will only be evident to those that watch out for the advent of the messianic dhikr Allāh) “Remembrance of God”, in both the morning and in the evening: “ (QA 10:19b). God hath made such watchful persons to be clear sighted in His Pure Religion and upright upon the True Path. The celestial realm of `amā’ (lit. Cloud) in the esoteric cosmology of the Bab seems a theophanological realm closely related to the sphere of the Sinaitic theophany of divinity. Like the “pit” into which Joseph was cast by his “brothers” it is a concealing “cloud”, though the brilliancy of the messianic reality transmutes it into an `amā' min nūr a “cloud of Light”. Having written 40 or more pages on `amā in my commentary upon the Rashh-i `amā' of Baha’-Allāh (cf. my Website) I shall not repeat details here (cf. also my Sinaitic Mysteries SBBH 5 paper).