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Basmala - Huwa - Huwiyya ...

“Huwa-Hiya" / "He–She-It is”, the Huwiyya (Divine Ipseity) and some aspects of re-created Basmalas within Babi-Baha’i Literary Commencements.

Stephen Lambden, UC-Merced.

In Progress - Last updated and still being substantially rewritten 11-06-2021. 

This is NOT yet finalized.


The Islamic  and Babi-Baha'i Basmalas


“In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

“In the Name of God, the Inaccessible, the Most Holy”

بِسْمِ اللهِ الامنع الاقدس

“In the Name of God,   the Glorious, the All-Glorious”

بِسْمِ اللهِ بهي الابهى

“The Greatest verse of the Qur’an is the basmala ” (Ibn `Abbas relayed in al-Suyuti, al-Itqan, 91)

“The Basmala is closer to the Greatest Name (al-ism al-a`zam) than the black of the eye is to its white” (words attributed to the 8th Imam `Ali al-Rida’ [c. 148/765- d. 203/818] as narrated in the `Uyun al-akhbar and the Tafsir al-`Ayyashi, etc).

For the theologically minded, every sacred text has a deeply significant literary commencement. This often means a meaningful opening, sacred phrase, oath or text incorporating a Name or Names of God. Various Islamic traditions have it that no qur’anic verse is of greater magnitude than the Basmala (which is cited above). This Arabic Islamic term indicates the five or so word, nineteen letter Arabic invocatory Qur’anic verse, “Bi-smi’llah al-Rahman al-Rahim” which is often translated, “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” Islamic tradition also views the basmala as the sacred Fatiḥa (“Opening”). This phrase, invocation or verse opens most of the surahs (chapters) of the the Qur’an and, according to a prophetic tradition, all past Abrahamic sacred books such as the Torah and Gospels (al-Alusi, Tafsir 1:41 referring to al-Suyuti, Itqan etc). It is generally agreed among Islamic experts and western academics that the key roots of the basmala are to be found in Abrahamic (Jewish, Christian and related traditions), biblical or post-biblical literatures.

Over a more than 1,000 year period, hundreds if not thousands of learned Muslims have written commentaries on the opening basmala within the first Surah of the Qur’an and other places within this over 6,000 verses sacred text. Babi-Baha’i alwah (sacred Tablets) or Books and other expressions of wahy (divine inspiration) open in such ways though there is no standard literary commencement.The central figures of the Baha’i religion all commented on the Islamic Basmala and recreated it in new forms as a prefix to thousands of their sacred writings. The basmala was renewed in hundreds of different, creative ways in Babi-Baha’i literatures both Arabic and in Persian and sometimes in a mixture of these two languages. The intimately related sometimes neo-Shi`i, Babi and Baha’i religions have an extensive sacred literature within which a post- or meta-Islamic basmala is of great moment. The Bab (1819-1850 CE) and Baha’-Allah (1817-1892 CE)  frequently refashioned, recreated and reinterpreted this sacred literary  commencement in line with their new post-Islamic theology, theophanology and  addresses to a host of individual devotees.  

In this summary paper dimensions of the evolving Babi-Baha’i basmala recreations and select related huwa (“Ipseity related” = “He-She-It is”) incipits, will be commented upon and analyzed from a number of vantage points. It will be seen that the Bab explicitly recreated the Islamic basmala on apophatic (“God beyond all”) lines and that Baha’-Allah further utilized it in new ways so as to underline his elevated claims and global religious outreach. 


Huwiyya (The Divine Ipseity, “Selfness”)

“Huwa-Hiya" / "He–She-It is”, the Huwiyya (Divine Ipseity), and some aspects of re-created Basmalas within Babi-Baha’i Literary Commencements.

Stephen Lambden 2014.

What follows is work in progress rooted in a summary powerpoint presentation with extracts from related papers on the Babi-Baha'i basmala recreations. Something of the Islamic and Babi-Baha'i theology of the (Arabic) huwa ("He is") and huwiyya ("The Divine Ipseity") will be the centre of attention. This recreated paper, in other words, will be concerned with aspects of the Huwa   هو  "He is", Hiya   هى  She-It is”, the  هوية Huwiyya (Divine Ipseity = “Selfness”), and various re-created basmala  formulations in Babi-Baha’i sacred literary commencements regarded by Baha'is as divine revelations (wahy).

For the religiously minded every sacred text has a deeply significant literary commencement. This often means a meaningful opening sacred phrase, oath or text incorporating a Name or Names of God, something to indicate the sanctity of the Deity and actualize His-Her-Its beatitude. Babi- Baha’i alwah (sacred Tablets) or Books and other expressions of wahy (divine inspiration) open in such ways though there is not always a fixed or standard sacred literary commencement. There are thousands of varieties of the Abrahamic, Islamic and Babi neo basmala. Other pronouns, words or phrases also have their place in Babi-Baha'i literary commencements of a revealed (wahy) or sacred nature. 

An interesting example of multiple sacred commencements is seen at the beginning of the Arabic Surat al-kifaya (pre-1855?) of Baha'-Allah which opens as follows :


This is the Sūrat al-kifāya  (Sura of the Sufficiency).

It was assuredly sent down on the part of the True One (min al-ḥaqq) regarding the question of knowledge  (fī jawāb al-`ilm).

In the Name of God, who, no God is there except Him.


And He is God who was Powerful over all things.

O people of the letter "H" (al-hā')!

Hearken unto the melody of the Crimson Leaf  (waraqat al-ḥamrā')  in the Paradise of the Divine Cloud (jannat al-`amā')  for He, verily, is the Light  [of] the Radiant Temple [Sinaitic] (haykal al-sa[i]nā') Who acteth on behalf of God, as a Manifest Light unto the worlds  (nūr an mubīn an).

This early writing of Baha'-Allah  exhibits the following multiple commencements : (1) the title identification expressive of a revealed text (Surah, cf. the Qur'an) and its content (cf. Qur'anic Surah titles), (2) a partial basmala with an indication of the oneness or singularity of God, (3) A Huwa phrase expressive of the overarching Power of God and (4) a direct though symbolic address and the commencement proper. 

This may be compared with the beginning of the Lawḥ-i Riḍvān al-`adl (`The Tablet of the Riḍwān of Justice’, Edirne c.1867), though there is no Huwa at the commencement here (cf. other mss.?).


This is the [Tablet of the] Riḍwān of Justice! It was indeed made manifest through the Divine Bounty (al-faḍl) and by virtue of the Ornamentation of God (zayyinat Allāh), an expression of  Mighty and Transcendent (`izz wa munī`) scriptural traces (al-āthār).


In the Name of God,  

the Promoter of Justice (al-`ādil), the All-Wise (al-ḥakīm).


 [1] This is a Tablet (lawḥ) in which God raised up His Name, the Promoter of Justice (al-`Ādil).  [2] Therefrom did He breath forth the Spirit of Justice (rūḥ al-`adl) within the temples of the totality of created things (hayākil al-khalā’iq). [3] This to the end that all might assuredly rise up for the sake of pure Justice (al-`adl al-khāliṣ) and might, of their own selves, decree the same as well as [decree it] for the selves of the servants [of God]. [4] Such persons should in no wise fear this [just decree] even to the extent of the pit of a date-stone (naqīr an qiṭmīr an).

Once again then, we have a prescript identifying the name and theological implications of the scriptural Tablet followed by a neo-basmala formula closely related to the main theme of this Tablet. Though there are numerous variations, similar literary commencements open a good many of the thousands of alwah ("Tablets") of Baha'-Allah. Babi-Baha'i sacred and related writings usually commence with or are headed by the oft-repeated  هو huwa ("He is") with or without an attached Divine Attribute or by a recreated basmala usually commencing in standard Qur'anic-Islamic fashion, "In the Name of...". This initial, semi-basmala oath commencement in Babi-Baha'i sources, is often followed by a succession of Divine Attributes especially such as are listed among the ninety-nine "Most Beautiful" Names of God (al-asma' al-husna)  rooted in a prophetic hadith found in Sunni and other Imami Shi`i hadith and related sources - a version of the 99 Names list is attrinuted to the first Imam `Ali (d. 40/661). One such tradition commences:

 God, the Most High, has ninety-nine names. He who retains them in his memory will enter paradise. He is [1] God [Allāh] than whom there is no God, [2] the Compassionate (al-Rahman), [3] the Merciful (al-Raḥim), [4] the King (al-Mālik), [5] the Holy (al-Quddūs), [6] the source of Peace [the Flawless] (al-Salām), [7] the Preserver of security [the Faithful] (al-Mu'min), [8] the Protector [Guardian] (al-Muhaymin), [9] the Mighty (al-'Azīz)…

References to the al-asma’ al-husna (Most Beautiful Names) and to various of the ninety-nine Names of God they include, are common the Babi-Baha'i sacred writings. In his Arabic Seven Proofs, for example, the Bab at one point refers to:



… God, Lord of the worlds. With Him are the al-asma’ al-husna (Most Beautiful Names) [both] from the past and in subsequent times. All are but servants before Him, and those before Him are in a state of servitude ...

Similarly, towards the beginning of the abovementioned Lawḥ-i Riḍvān al-`adl, Baha'-Allah addresses the Name of God al-`adl/-`ādil (the Just One) as follows : 

O this Name (al-ism)!  

We made thee to be a Sun among the Suns of Our Most Beautiful Names (asmā’inā al-ḥusnā) betwixt earth and heaven. Shed then illumination upon all things (al-ashyā’) such as were created at the genesis of creation (al-inshā’) through Thy Mighty (al-`azīz) Wondrous (al-badi`) Lights (al-anwār)." (Athar-i Qalam-i A`la vol. 4: 300).

It is often the case, however, that Babi-Baha'i primary sources introduce neo-basmala adjurations inclusive of Divine Names or Attributes which are either non-Qur'anic or not  included among the standard lists of God's allegedly ninety-nine Names. An example of such a neo-basmala within the writings of the Bab is his Bismi’llah al-ajmal al-ajmal (In the Name of God, the Most Beautiful, the Most Beautiful) found in the  late Kitab-i Panj Sha’n VII.5 (Persian section). In fact this work, `The Book of the Five Modes' commences with a neo-basmala in which the superlative of Allah occurs several times :

"In the Name of God, the Deity Most Divine (al-a'lah), the Supreme Deity (al-a'lah).  Through God is God (bi-Allāh Allāh), the Deity Most Divine (al-a'lah), the Supreme Godhead (al-a'lah) (Kitab-i Panj Sha’n 1:1).

It is well known that the Bab altered the standard quranic or Islamic basmala on high theophanological, apophatic lines. The divine transcendence was made ultra-transcendent, God is the `wholly other'. The move in this direction was given impetus when the Bab, in his Persian and Arabic Bayans ("Expositions", mid. 1840s) instructed that :