Skip to content

QA. 29A



Part  XXIX (29)

سورة حورية

Sūrat al-huriyya

(The Surah of the Maiden)

on Qur'ān 12:28

Introduction Stephen N. Lambden

Under correction and complerion 2015.

There follows the twenty ninth part of my provisional translation of  the Qayyūm al-asmā’ (= QA) of the Bāb (mid. 1844/1260) with selected notes. I began these translations in the early 1980s though I have not translated from a critical edition but consulted several good mss. The versification of the surahs of the QA is sometimes uncertain though the Bāb himself stated that there should be around forty-two verses in each (of the 111) surahs 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 early Khuṭba al-dhikriyya ("The Sermon of the Remembrance") where it is stated in the context of an imamologically numbered categorization of the early works of the Bāb  dating from between 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 forty-two mode of surah versification of the QA., is evident in certain mss. of this work; most notably the early 1261 ms. of Muhammad Mahdī ibn Karbalā'ī where  QA1 and 2 (and other surah headings) have following words after the surah title (e.g. Surat al-mulk) and  in between the basmala,     wa hiya ithnā'[tāni] wa arba`ūn "and it [the Surah] has forty two verses". In the following translations I retain this sometimes uncertain versification for the sake of reference and commentary.

    Though the versification of the surahs of the QA is often uncertain, the rhyming prose accusative endings are the primary indication. The Bāb himself stated that there should be forty-two verses in each sūrah of the QA as accords with the  abjad  numerical value of the Arabic lī  meaning "before me"  in Q. 12:4b  (Ar. لي = l + ī = 30+10= 40) though it is not always clear how this figure can be arrived at. I have counted everything -- (surah title +) basmala  + isolated letters -- up till the isolated letters as 2 verses though this is bracketed and 40 verses until the end of any given surah.

In QA1 the  42 verses seem clear enough though such sometimes seems "symbolic" rather than a clear setting down of 40 bayts (verses) of rhymed prose (saj`) --  although this seems to hold good for   QA1 and for example, QA5.  Elsewhere the "forty-two" configuration cannot easily be configured. It should also be noted that some verses of the QA are fairly short while others extend for occasionally very long pericopae ("paragraphs") as is also the case in the Qu'rān itself with which the  QA has a great deal in common especially respecting its form, style  vocabulary  and Arabic in rhyming prose etc. In QA 29 I tentatively count (40-) 42 verses as set forth below : 42 apparently being  indicated in the 1261 mss (?).

In neo-qur'ānic fashion QA 29 opens with the basmala  followed by the citation of Q.12:26 upon which it briefly comments in rewritten fashion in the course of the Sūrat al-`huriyya (Surah of the Maiden). Four (5?) isolated letters (al-ḥurufat al-muqaṭṭa`a)  commence the Surah of the Maiden, namely,  the letters  Kaf-Ha-Ya'-`Ayn  which are all but one of the 5 isolated letters prefixing Q. 19 the Surat al-Maryam, namel Kaf-Ha-Ya'-`Ayn-Ṣad. 

A small section of this exquisite and foundational surah is translated in  Selections From the writings of the Bab  ( trans. Haifa: Baha'i World Centre, 1976 pp. 54-55). Other portions of it will be very provisionally translated and commented upon here.

The Maiden

QA 29 contains the earliest divine maiden periocope in Babi-Baha'i scripture. This surah of the QA  is, according to (most mss of ) the Bab's Kitāb al-fihrist  ("The Book of the Index"; June 21st 1845 CE), entitled Surat al-huriyya  ("The Sura of the Maiden").

The QA is an extremely important background text for the study of Baha'-Allah's early Arabic Tablets; especially those Tablets of the often mystically oriented Iraq period (1853-1863). It is well-known that Bahā-Allāh himself referred to the QA in his  Kitāb-i īqān  ("The Book of Certitude" c. 1862 CE) as "the first the greatest and the mightiest of Books" (KI: trans. ). The immediate religious background to the motif of the divine Maiden in Baha'i scripture is then, to be found in the 29th Sura of the QA which is partly a commentary on Qur'an 12:27 which literally concerns the act of a woman (traditionally Zulayika daughter of Potiphera) tearing Joseph's shirt or robe (qamīṣ). It was perhaps the female figure's role in this qur'anic verse which led the Bāb, along with other factors such as the role of feminine beauty in Persianate poetry, to speak of the heavenly Maiden, who also figures significantly in other sections of surahs ("chapters") the QA. It is then in the first major work of the Bab, the QA (mid 1844) where paragraphs are found in which the figure of the heavenly Maiden is highly significant. They have obviously inspired, along with Sufi and other literatures, the maiden motif in a number of the writings or alwah  ("Tablets") of Baha'-Allah such as the Surat al-qamīṣ (Surah of the Garment) and Lawh-i Ru'ya (Tablet of the Vision) along with other writings of the earlier Iraq period.

In QA 29 the Bab seems to be called upon to authorize the beautiful and unique heavenly maiden (hurriya) to emerge from her celestial palace or mansion (qaṣr) and appear on earth. This to the end that drunken or negligent human beings might be awakened by the raptuous  sight of but one of the hairs located at the back of her locks. It appear that the spiritual Cause the Maiden personifies  the messianic figure of the  Bāb / Babism as well for Baha'is as the person of Baha'-Allah, and is of such beauty that a mere intimation of it would suffice to resurrect the wayward. The Bāb as well as Baha'-Allah only gradually unveiled the wonders of their religious message.

There are many passages in the writings of Baha'-Allah which echo and seem to be mirror  aspects of the imagery of the Surat al-huriyyah of the QA. Important in this respect is the following paragraph from the Surat al-haykal  (c. 1873)

O Maid of inner meanings! Step out of the chamber of utterance by the leave of God, the Lord of the heavens and the earth. Reveal, then, thyself adorned with the raiment of the celestial Realm, and proffer with thy ruby fingers the wine of the heavenly Dominion, that haply the denizens of this world may perceive the light that shone forth from the Kingdom of God when the Daystar of eternity appeared above the horizon of glory. Perchance they may arise before the dwellers of earth and heaven to extol and magnify this Youth Who hath established Himself in the midmost heart of Paradise upon the throne of His name, the All-Sufficing Helper -- He upon Whose countenance shineth the brightness of the All-Merciful, from Whose gaze appear the glances of the All-Glorious, and in Whose ways are revealed the tokens and evidences of God, the omnipotent Protector, the Almighty, the All-Loving. (BWC tr. ¶ 22).

In an Arabic Tablet `Abdu'l-Baha identifies the Maiden spoken about in QA 29 with Baha'-Allah (see Ma'ida  ADD ).

The spiritual Being or Cause which the Maiden personifies  is of such ravishing beauty that a mere intimation of it would suffice to resurrect the wayward. It may be implied that the Bab only gradually unveiled the wonders of his religion; such is explicitly stated in Bab's ("Seven Proofs"). Alternatively, from the Baha'i perspective it might be indicated that the celestial Promised One (occulted Husayn = the veiled Maiden = Baha'-Allah) could not at this stage be identified (cf. Baha'u'llah's `messianic secret').

The Maiden is to put on a new "garment" in her own house. At the sight of her plaited locks heavenly beings are astonished. This may signify that a new religion or "garment of faith" is to be donned by a celestial figure Maiden possessed of astonishing but veiled spiritual beauty, a new messenger of God dressed in a new "garment", like a new Joseph in the scent diffusing garb of Paradise.

In a subsequent paragraph  of QA. 29  there is reference to a vision (al-ru'ya') though it is not clear if it has anything to do with the earlier Maiden sections in QA 29.