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Imam `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 40/661) and the al-ism al-a`zam.



Imam `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 40/661) and the al-ism al-a`zam.

Stephen Lambden UCMerced

Under revision and completion : 2018

Imam `Ali and Islamic esoterica : `Ilm al-Hurūf : The Science of Letters, جفر Jafr and Talismanry.

Centrally important are the Shīī representations of the Mightiest Name of God certain of which are based upon directives spelled out in a tradition ascribed to lmam 'Alī b. Abī Tālib (d.40/661 ), the son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad. A version of this hadith from 'Alī is cited by Muhyī al-Dīn Ahmad ibn 'Alī al-Bunī (d. 622/1225), author of the celebrated Shams a/-Ma 'ārif [al-kubrā] and a master of arcane computations surrounding the Names and Attributes of the Godhead. He reports this tradition from 'Alī on the authority of the greatly respected 'Father of lslamic exegesis' (tafsīr) 'Abd Allāh ibn 'Abbās (d. c.68 /687) which includes a reference to the inverted letter wāw  

This he above  letter Waw (W) described in the 7th depiction within lmam 'Afī's poetic and graphic description of the sevenfold sigla or cipher-letter-signs constituting one of the graphic representations of the Greatest Name of God. There follows two diagrammatic examples of the ism Allāh al-a `zam and a translation of the poem of lmam 'Alī upon which several representations of it are based:




`Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d.40/661) (attrib.)

  • Kitab al-Jafr al-Jami`wa'l-nur al-lawa'mi` li'l-Amir al-Mu'minin. Beirut: Dar al-Maktabah al-Turabiyya, 1987 (44pp.). *
  • Kitab al-Jafr lil-Imām `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib. al-Maktabah al-Hadithiyya. np. nd. [199?]  (143pp.). *
  • Kitab al-Mughaybat (":Book of Hidden Things"). Add (Sunni name)
  • Kitab `Alī. by Mustafa Qisayr al-`Amilī. Beirut: Dār al-Thaqalayn, 1410/1995. (126pp.)*
  • al-Jafrayn : al-akbar wa'l-asghar, al-mansub ilā Imam `Ali ibn `Abi Ṭālib. ed. Hāshim `Uthmān. Beirut: Mu`assat al-a`lami li-l-matbu`at. , 2002 (352pp.).



Sayyid `Ammar Sadr al-Din sharaf al-Din al-Musawi al-Amilī

  • Baḥth ḥawl al-jafr wa `ilm al-ma`ṣūm min khilal al-āthār. 1419/1998 (424pp.)*

Sayyid Ḥaydar al-Ḥusayni

  • al-Jafr wa Jawhar al-`aqīq fi sa`r al-tawfiq. Dār al-Muḥajjat al-Bayḍā' , 1419/1999. (337pp.)*

Shaykh Akram al-Barakat

  • Haqiqat al-Jafr `ind al-Shi`a. 4th ed. 1428/2007. 285pp. *

The Shaykhi al-ism al-a`zam sigla or configuration.

Treatises and statements on the significance of the "Mightiest Name of God" are found in the writings of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsā'i (d.1826 CE) and his successor  Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī (d.1843/4 CE), the two most innovative and important Muslim thinkers of the Qajar period. The charismatic and mystically inclined  Persian Shī`ī thinker Sayyid Kāẓim al-Husayni al-Rashtī  (c. 1212/1798--1259/1843) was the second head of al-Shaykhiyya, the so-called Shaykhī school of Shī`ī Islam which emerged during the early Qājār period. He succeeded the sage, philosopher and mystical thinker, the foundational figure for Shaykhism, Shaykh Aḥmad b. Zayn al-Din al-Ahsā'ī (1166-1241 =  1753-1826 CE) who was  born in the eastern Arabian province of al-Aḥsā (= Ḥasā ) though he lived most of his life in the Shī`īte shrine cites of Iraq (1790s – early 1800s) and in Iran (1806-1826). He passed away in 1826 in the Mecca-Medina region whilst on Islamic pilgrimage.

Sayyid Kāẓim al-Husayni al-Rashti cites the following sevenfold Arabic description of the al-ism al-a`ẓam. The graphical form of the al-ism al-a`ẓam  (Mightiest Name) is specifically said to have the above cited ṣūrat  (form) towards the beginning of his Risālah fī sharḥ wa tafsīr ism al-a`ẓam: Other sources do not have the intitial pentalpha :

Though an extra initial as well as the final pentalpha (☆) (as above) is not always represented in the  ten or more variant forms of the graphical representation of the Mightiest or Greatest Name of God, the seven (or more) sigla / components comprising it are collectively representative of the all-Powerful  divine “Name”. They are largely if not wholly derived from their graphical depiction ascribed to the first Shī`ī Imam, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Alī b. Abī  Ṭālib (d. 40 / 661) to whom a good deal of esoteric knowledge and sometimes Isrā’īliyyāt (loosely, “Israelitica”), Islamo-biblical and associated traditions are ascribed. Note for example, the al-Khuṭbah al-ṭutunjiyya  [or taṭanjiyya] (loosely, “Sermon of the Gulf”) contained in the  Mashāriq  anwār al‑yaqīn fī asrār Amīr al‑Mu'minīn (Beirut: Dār al‑Andalus, 1978, pp. 166-170) of  al‑Ḥāfiẓ Rajab, al-Bursī  (d. c. 814/1411) and the unpublished marginally written Persian treatise on (3X3 type) `Magic squares and talismanic devices’ attributed to this first Imam 'Alī which is held in the national Library of Medicine (mss. `On Magic Squares and Talismans’ MS P 29, marginal - item 15 ;   refer ).

  • [1] Three rods (`uṣiyy) in a row [ | | | ] after [2] a seal [khātam [ ☆ ]; above them the likeness of a straightened lance [‑‑].
  • [3] A blind [Arabic letter] M [mīm ﻡ ]  without a tail;
  • [4] then a ladder unto all that is hoped for, but which is not a ladder [].
  • [5] Four things like fingers in a row, pointing to good deeds, but without a wrist [ IIII ]
  • [6] And a [letter] "H" (hā' ) which is  cleft (shaqīq) [ھ ]
  • [7] then an inverted [letter] wāw    و   like the syphon of a phlebotomist  (ka‑anbūb ḥajjām, "tube of  the cupper") though not a cupping glass (miḥjam) :                

This is [representative] of the Mighty Name (al‑ism al‑ mu`aẓẓim); If you knew it not aforetime, then know it now! O bearer of the Mighty Name (ṣāḥib al‑ism al‑`aẓīm), take sufficiency in it, for you shall be preserved from misfortunes and kept safe thereby. It is the Name of God (ism Allāh) ‑‑ exalted be His glory ‑‑ unto all humankind whether pure Arab (faṣīḥ)  or non-Arab (a`jam). 1

1. Arab. text from  al‑Būnī, Shams, cited  Winckler, 1930: 69‑71 with German trans. 71 ; text and French trans. Anawati, 1967:24, 27; Eng. trans. MacEoin, 1982 [BSB 1/1:4‑14] = Rituals,1992: 93‑97  = App. XXIII. I have adapted MacEoin’s translation in the light of the other translations and al‑Būnī’s Shams and Sayyid Kazim Rashti's Sharh al-ism al-a`zam ...