The Du`ā' al-simāt ("The Prayer of the Signs") with some Notes
on Medieval and later Commentaries thereon.
This several page Arabic supplication (commencing as above) is traditionally believed to have been transmitted through Imams Muhammad al-Bāqir ( d. c. 57/676) and Ja`far al-Ṣādiq (d. c. 148/765) though it allegedly has much earlier pre-Islamic roots being associated with the biblical figure of Joshua.for some Muslims the successor of Moses,
Stephen N. Lambden (UC Merced).
Some Introductory Notes 1982-2006, 2014, 2023.
Last updated 20-01-2023
Imami Shī`ī sources have it that the around seven page Arabic Du`ā' al-simāt "(Prayer of the Signs" = DS) was transmitted through or relayed from the persons of both the fifth Imam Muhammad al-Bāqir (d.126/743) and his son the sixth Imam Ja`far al-Ṣādiq (d. c. 148/765) though, as will be seen, its transmission history is complicated. It probably came to be designated the دُعاء الِسمَات Du`ā' al-simāt because of the implications of the Arabic wordسمة = sima (pl. سمَات simāt) which word can indicate an outward "sign", "mark" or "characteristic" and most likely refers to the "signs", "tokens" or evidences of the power of the الاسم الاَعْظَمِ ism al-a`zam, God's "Mightiest Name", which is specifically mentioned in the opening line and is powerfully indirectly evoked throughout this weighty devotional supplication.
The Du`ā' al-simāt exists in several versions or recensions. In Imami piety and tradition it is implied that the text dates back beyond the time of the first Imam `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661) and his wife Fāṭimah (d. c. 11/633), the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. These two foundational Shī`ī figures are both said to have recited the Du`ā' al-simāt though neither they nor the Prophet Muhammad or any of the twelver Imams are, as far as I am aware, specifically said to have composed or originated it. The implications are that it is of pre-Islamic antiquity and the Islamo-biblically informed text clearly implies this at several points. At times it seems that the Du`ā' al-simāt was a devotional vehicle for preserving aspects of Abrahamic-Jewish-Christian-Biblical piety in an Islamic devotional form. A tradition ascribed to the sixth Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq (d. c. 148/765) apparently has it that the powerful Du`ā' al-simāt was taught to the prophet Moses for his overcoming of his enemies! (refer note to the online text and translation; see bib.). Some of the pious among modern Shi`is apparently recite the Du`ā' al-simāt daily because it is believed to confound the enemies of the ahl al-bayt, the Shi`i `people of the House', and lead to the fulfillment of legitimate world desires. Believed to go back to the fifth or sixth Imams, the Shī`ī transmision of the Du`a al-simāt is registered with various isnads (chains of transmission). They are associated with Abū Ja`far Muhammad Ibn Uthmān ibn Sa`īd al-`Amirī (d. 304 /916), the second of the four deputies or "gates" to the hidden, eschatological twelfth Imam Muhammad al-Mahdī (d. 260/874). As noted, the Du`ā' al-simāt in Imami tradition is believed to predate the Prophet Muhammad and all of the twelver Imams tghough its transmission history is never spelled out for more than a few early Shīī generations spanning the 8th-10th centuries CE. The polymathic Shī`ī encyclopedist Muhammad Bāqir Majlisī (d. 1111 /1699-1700) registered a tradition about a version of the text of the Du`ā al-simāt (Prayer of the Signs) being uttered by Imam `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661) and also associated its recitation with his wife Fāṭimah, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632 CE). This perhaps hints at an early Imami Shī`ī adoption of the Du`ā' al-simāt and its legitimization by associating it with the first Imam `Ali who, as is well known, came to be viewed by the pious as the fountainhead of all religious and other branches of knowledge. It would be fitting for him to have recited this important devotional text. The authenticity of the Du`ā' al-simāt seems at times to have been challenged, especially in the light of its Jewish scriptural allusions. Majlisī recorded a complaint expressed by the Shi`i masses regarding of the Du`ā' al-simāt addressed to Ibn Sa`īd al-`Amirī (d. 304 /916), a key figure in debates about its veracity and transmission history. Many within the Shī`ī community imagined that they were confirming Jewish confusion in their devotional use of the Du`ā' al-simāt. al-`Amirī responded offering a ẓāhir (concrete) and a bāṭin (deeper) resolution despite negative attitudes towards the Jews expressed by Jesus son of Mary and Muhammad!
To summarize, al-`Amirī held that when something related to "the Names of God and His laudation" (asmā' Allāh wa madā'iḥ) is defective in the possession of others, it can yet be saḥīḥ ("sound") when transmitted through Shī`ī channels or within custodianship. He also came to spell out its isnad or transmission history going back from himself through, among others, the Kufan extremist client Abū `Abd-Allāh Mufaḍḍal ibn `Umar al-Ju`fi (d.170s/762-3?) who referred to the authority of Ja`far al-Ṣādiq in issues surrounding the Du`ā' al-simāt. Having given these transmission notes and other details in his Biḥār al-anwār, Majlisī himself expressed the following opinion, "I say that this Du`ā' [al-simāt] stands among the supplications (al-da`wāt) which are well-known among our [Shi`i] companions (aṣḥāb), exceedingly celebrated (ghayat al-ishtihār)! And this in all the ages and great cities (al-a`ṣār wa 'l-amṣār) [where] they were constantly utilizing it" (Majlisi, Bihar2 87:96).
The early Imami Shi`i discussion about the veracity of the Du`ā' al-simāt and its eventual adoption hints at an open attitude within emergent Imami Shi`ism towrads incorporating elements of pre-Islamic biblical scripture. The Du`a al-simāt certainly has significant biblically informed passages -- a few of its Islamo-biblical dimensions. will be summed up and pointed out in the translation and accompanying notes. The Du`ā' al-simāt is in places rich in both Qur'anic and Islamo-biblical allusions and scriptural motifs. It exhibits some definite Abrahamic-Isra'iliyyāt-Islamo-biblical or intertextual dimensions looking back to the sacred writ of the ahl al-kitab in an era of Shi`i symbiosis.
Arabic texts of the Du`ā al-simāt are found in various Shi`i literatures. It is found, for example, in the مصباح المتهجد Misbāḥ al-Mutahijjad [al-Kabir] ("The [Greater] Lamp of the Nightly Vigil") of Shaykh Abu Ja`far Muhammad ibn Ḥasan al-Tūsī (d. 460/1067), the جمال الأسبوع Jamāl al-usbū` fī [bi] kamāl al-`amal al-mashru` ("The Beauty of the [Islamic] Week") of the Shī`ī theologian Raḍī al-Dīn Ibn Tāwūs al-Ḥasani aI-`Alawī al-Hillī (d. 673/1274-5) (see Tehrani, Dhar`ia V 129 No. 534; GAL-S1:912 No.14; Kohlberg, 1992, p. 40 No. 22) and in the various devotional and related works of Taqī al-Dīn al-Kaf`āmī (d.900/1494-5): see, for example, his Miṣbāḥ (Beirut, 1414/1994, pp. 560-564+ Beirut, 1425/2004, pp. 537-541) and his al-Balad al-amīn wa'l-dir` al-ḥaṣīn ("The Secure Land and the Protective Armor") (Beirut, 1417/1997, pp. 134-140). The Du`a al-simāt is traditionally recited in Shī`ī devotional circles around the time of sunset especially during the last hour of Friday, the Islamic sacred day of the week. Fāṭimah, the daughter of the prophet Muhammad and wife of Imam `Alī (d. 40/661), is said to have recited it at sunset or around this time. A hadith from Imam Ja`far recorded in the Jamāl al-usbū` of Ibn Tawus states that it is preferred that the Du`ā' al-simāt is recited after sunset on Friday, the Yawm al-jum`a or day of Gathering (Ibn Tāwūs, Jamāl al-usbū`, 532-3 cited SDS:42; see also al-Kaf`āmī, al-Balad al-amīn, 134).
The fifth Imam Muhammad al-Bāqir (d.126/743) allegedly said of the Du`a al-simāt :
هذا من مكنون عميق العلم ومخزونه لمن يسأل الحاجة عند الله فادعوا به ولا تبدوه إلا لأهله
"This [Du`a al-simāt] is of what is hidden in the depths of knowledge, something treasured up for whoever requests intercession from God. So supplicate with it and do not disclose it except unto his [Shī`ī] people."
He is also reckoned to have stated:
لو حلفت أن في هذا الدعاء الاسم الأعظم لبررت
"If you should swear an oath to the effect that the Greatest Name (al-ism al-a`zam) [of God] is found in this prayer you would assuredly be vindicated".
It might be noted in conclusion here that the popularity of the Du`ā al-simāt was doubtless increased in the Muslim world as a result of its being included in the famous and much copied and printed literary compendium known as the Kashkūl or "Begging Bowl" of the renowned Bahāʾ al-Dīn, Muḥammad ibn ʻIzz al-Dīn Ḥusayn ibn ʻAbd al-Ṣamad ibn Shams al-Dīn (953-1030 AH = 1547-1621 CE) best known as Bahā' al-Dīn al-`Āmilī or Shaykh Bahā'ī. That he included this marvelous Arabic supplication bears eloquent testimony to his cultured good taste. See
- Kashkūl li-Muḥammad Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʻĀmilī. Beirut : Dār al-Kitāb al-Lubnānī - Maktabat al-Madrasa, 1403/1983. pp. 579-581.
The text of the Du`a al-Simat
This can be found, for example in,
Shaykh Abu Ja`far Muhammad ibn Ḥasan al-Tūsī (d. 460/1067).
- جمال الأسبوع Jamāl al-usbū` fī [bi] kamāl al-`amal al-mashru` ("The Beauty of the [Islamic] Week").
Taqī al-Dīn al-Kaf`āmī (d.900/1494-5):
Bahāʾ al-Dīn, Muḥammad ibn ʻIzz al-Dīn Ḥusayn ibn ʻAbd al-Ṣamad ibn Shams al-Dīn (953-1030 AH = 1547-1621 CE), best known as Bahā' al-Dīn al-`Āmilī or Shaykh Bahā'ī.
- Kashkūl li-Muhammad Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʻĀmilī. Beirut : Dār al-Kitāb al-Lubnānī - Maktabat al-Madrasa, 1403/1983. pp. 579-581.
- Zad al-ma`ad (Provisions for the Eschaton)
- Bihat al-anwar (The Oceans of Lights),
- Text and (not always reliable translation) : http://www.qul.org.au/library/duas-supplications/400-dua-al-simaat-the-s...
UTube recitations include :
Commentaries on the Du`ā' al-simāt
Around twenty five commentaries on the Du`ā' al-simāt have been written
The Commentary of Taqī al-Dīn al-Kaf`āmī (d.900/1494-5) is entitled :
Sayyyid Kazim al-Husayni al-Rashti (d. 1259/1843)