A note upon the messianic year 1260 / 1844 and the Bābī-Bahā'ī interpretation of the isolated letters of the Qur'an.
Stephen N. Lambden UC Merced.
Under revision and expansion 2021 - last updated 30-12-2020.
Contemporary Bahā'īs show considerable interest in prophecies of the date of the commencement of the Bābī-Bahā'ī dispensation, 1844 of the Christian/common era, which corresponds with 1260 AH of the Islamic lunar calendar. Prophecies within the Bible are contained in a number of western publications including the very popular Thief in the night or, The Strange Case of the Missing Millennium (1st ed. George Ronald,1961) by the American Baha'i writer William Bernard Sears (d. March 25, 1992). Important Islamic chronological prophecies however, though of great importance, remain relatively little known.
The Bāb, himself, in His writings drew attention to chronological prophecies rooted in the Qur'ān, enshrined in Islamic traditions or contained in his own voluminious writings. An example is that based upon an interpretation of a succession of certain of the isolated or disconnected letters (al-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa'āt) of the Qur'ān.
Before 29 of the 114 (= 6x19) chapters (sūras) of the Qur'ān, `isolated', `detached' or `disconnected' (muqaṭṭa'a) letters - single letters of the Arabic alphabet - are set down in varying numbers. Either single letters or groups of 2 to 5 letters are recorded at the beginning of select chapters or sūras of the Qur'ān. Fourteen different letters are used, e.g. "N" (sūra 68), "T.S" (sūra 27), "A.L.M" (sūras 10, 11, 12, 14, 15).
Such disconnected letters are, it may be noted here, set down prior to the main text of the chapters (sūras) within the Bāb's first major work, the Qayyūm al-asmā' (mid. 1844 CE). Their exact significance is currently unknown.
In ancient semitic alphabets (e.g. Phonecian, Hebrew, Aramaic) letters of the alphabet represented numbers. An ancient order of letters is reflected in the Arabic abjad system which allots a numerical value to every letter of the Arabic/Persian alphabets beginning, a = 1, b = 2, j = 3, d = 4, etc. The disconnected letters of the Qur'ān could thus be understood to be representative of numbers. Some early Islāmic traditions interpret them as chronological prophecies about the time of significant events in early Islām or indications of the date of the death of certain of the Twelver Shī'ī Imāms.
In His Dalā'il-i sab'ih, Persian Seven Proofs , the Bāb refers to an Islamic tradition transmitted through Abī Labīd Makhzūmī from Imām Abū Ja`far (= Muhammad al-Bāqir d. 126/743) in which the year 1260/ 1844 is indicated in the disconnected letters of the Qur'ān. This is a tradition was by relayed by `Ayyāshī and is recorded, for example, by Fayḍ al-Kāshānī in his Qur'ān Commentary, Tafsīr al-sāfī (on Q. 2:1). The Bāb refers to this tradition in which it is indicated that the year of the coming of the Islamic promised one (the Qā'im) can be calculated from the realization of the numerical value of the first seven sets of isolated or disconnected letters, those which occur between A.L.M (in sūra 2) and A.L.M.R (in sūra 13). These seven sets of disconnected letters, along with their respective numerical values, are as follows:
1. Sūra 2: "The Cow" A.L.M 1+30+40 total = 71
2. Sūra 3: "The family of Imrān A.L.M 1+30+40 total = 71
3. Sūra 7: "The Heights" A.L.M.S 1+30+40+90 total = 161
4. Sūra 10: "Jonah" A.L.R 1+30+200 total = 231
5. Sūra 11: "Hūd" A.L.R 1+30+200 total = 231
6. Sūra 12: "Joseph" A.L.R 1+30+200 total = 231
- 7. Sūra 13: "Thunder" A.L.M.R. 1+30+40+200 total = 271
Overall total = 1, 267
The total value of all the disconnected letters from A.L.M. to A.L.M.R is thus 1267. It is evident that, taken as years of the Islamic lunar calendar (this calculation is based on the lunar , not solar calendar) yields 1267 which is 7 years in excess of 1260 (1260/1844 ). This seeming discrepancy can be resolved in the light of the Bāb's presupposing that the public commencement of the mission of the prophet Muhammad was about 7 years prior to the flight to Medina (Hijra, 1 A.H. = 622 C.E.) when the Islamic calendar begins. Account must then be taken of the fact that Muhammad did not proclaim his mission publicly for a number of years after his call to Prophethood at the time of his encounter with the angel Gabriel on Mount Hira (c. 610 CE or later?).
These details were early on utilized in Bābī-Bahā'ī teaching activity. The great Bahā'ī apologist Mīrzā Abu'l-Faḍl Gulpāyigānī, for example, clarified and used this Islamic proof text in several of his writings including his early Sharḥ-i āyāt-i muvarrikhih ("Commentary upon the chronological proof texts") which was written in Hamadān (Irān) around 1888 CE.
There exist numerous other chronological prophecies of interest to students of Bābī-Bahā'ī prophecy. As time goes on these will become better known in the western world, just as certain of them are in the orient.