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TTNJ Bab Comm

شرح خطبة الطتنجية

The Commentary of the Bāb upon a statement of Sayyid Kāẓim Rashti (d. 1843) in his Sharḥ al-Khuṭba al-Ṭutunjiyya

Stephen Lambden 2006-10

This brief commentary of the Bāb on a phrase of Sayyid Kazim Rashti's in his Sharh Khuṭbat al-Tutunjiyya (“Sermon of the Gulf”) is extant in at least four mss. sources (see MacEoin, Sources, 198), including:

  • [1] Iran National Baha'i Archives mss 4014C : 171-176,
  • [2] Iran National Baha'i Archives
  • [3] Iran National Baha'i Archives
  • [4] Iran National Baha'i Archives Manuscript Collection 67:125-9.

The Opening of the Sharḥ al-Khuṭba al-Ṭutunjiyya of the Bab in INBMC 67:125


The al-Khuṭba al-Ṭutunjiyya


        The Khutbat al-Tutunjiyya or (loosely) “Sermon of the Gulf” is a five or six page oration, sermon or discourse attributed to Imam `Ali (d. 40/661) who is considered by Shi`i Muslims to be the divinely inspired first Imam or successor to the Arabian Prophet Muhammad (d. 632 CE). Though considered ghuluww (“extremist”), heterodox or inauthentic by some Muslims on account of its high imamology and other doctrinally unique and unusual cosmological, theological and related statements, It was regarded very highly by the fountainhead of Shaykhism (al-Shakhiyya) Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa’I (d. 1241/1826) and his immediate Persian successor Sayyid Kāẓim Rashti (d. 1243/1844). The latter wrote a lengthy Arabic commentary upon about half of the Khutbat al-tutunjiyya which was published in a lithograph edition in Iran 1270/1854.


        The Khutbat al-Tutunjiyya derives its name from the five times occurring (in singular and dual forms) Arabic quadrilateral طتنج (Ṭ-T-N-J= tutunj? or تطنج = T-Ṭ-N-J = tatanj?). The exact etymology, spelling and meaning of this word are unknown although Sayyid Kazim Rashti specifically identified it with the synonym (also found in the this Sermon) خليج khalij which indicates a “gulf”, “bay” or perhaps a watery channel or river. A few paragraphs into the Khutbat al-Tutunjiyya Imam `Ali makes the following elevated, cosmological declaration:

انا الواقف على الطتنجين

“I [Imam `Ali] am the one presiding [standing upright] over the two gulfs (al-tutunjayn).

The reference to two gulfs here is understood in early Shaykhi literatures to be indicative of two cosmic streams generated from the primordial “Water” (al-mā’) as two watery expanses reminiscent of those spoken about in Genesis 1:6f . On one level this syzygy like duaIity is indicative of (1) the “Divine Mercy” (rahmat) and (2) the “Divine Wrath” (ghazb) or of other related yet antithetical dimensions like “Paradise-heaven” and “The Fire-hell”.

 In the Mashāriq anwār al-yāqīn fi asrār Amīr al-mu'minin (“The Dawning-Place of the Lights of Certainty respecting the mysteries of the Commander of the Faithful”) of Rajab al-Bursī (d. c. 814 /1411) the Khutbat al-Tutunjiyya is introduced in the following manner:

"And among the Sermons deriving from him [Imam `Alī] -- upon him be peace -- is that named Taṭanjiyya [Tuṭunjiyya]. While its outward dimension (ẓāhir) is delightfully elegant (anīq) its inward dimension (bāṭin) is profoundly deep (`amīq). So let its reciter beware about adopting a low opinion thereof for therein are negated the anthropomorphisms of the creatures (tanzih al-khāliq) in ways which cannot be adequately encompassed by anyone within the domain of created beings. The Commander of the Faithful [Imam `Ali] delivered this sermon between Kufa [now in Iraq] and Medina [now in Saudi Arabia]" (al-Bursi, Mashariq, 166).”

 We learn from these words that al-Bursī thought that the "Sermon of the Gulf" was delivered by the first Imam between Kūfa (now in Iraq) and Medina (now in Saudi Arabia) (Mashariq: 166-170). The Khutba (sermon) is declared deep and profound to the degree that it is something way beyond accusations of anthropomorphism (“making God of human form”), or of having an over elevated or high imamology or other apparently ghuluww ("extremist") theological components.

 From the very beginning of his prophetic mission which spanned a six year period (1844-1860), the Bab showed a knowledge of the Khutbat al-Tutunjiyya. He may have become intimately aware of this work when he attended the classes of Sayyid Kazim for some months in the early 1840s. He regarded this Shaykhi leader with great affection and reverence. In his Risala fi’l-suluk (“Treatise on the Path”) the Bab referred to Sayyid Kazim as “my Lord (sayyidī), my firm support (mu`tammad) and my teacher (mu`allim)”. A few months before he declared his mission before Mulla Husayn Bushru’i (d. 1849) in mid. 1844 he wrote his Tafsir Surat al-baqara (Commentary on the Surah of the Cow) in which he cited the following line about a vision of God and Paradise from Khutba al-Tutunjiyya,

رأيت الله والفردوس رأي العين

With the vision of [mine own] eyes did I see [the Mercy of] God (Allāh ) and Paradise (al-firdaws).

The recent printing of the Mashariq anwar of Rajab al-Bursi referred to above does not read "I saw God" but has "I saw the Mercy of God" for direct vision of God is generally regarded as impossible in the Abrahamic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It appears that this is a pious toning down of a controversial line in the Sermon of the Gulf for the text cited by the Bab in his early Tafsir Surat al-Baqara (Commentary upon the Surah of the Cow) (Qur’an 2) and other writings does not have vision of the “mercy of God” (rahmat Allah) but has `Alī declaring his direct vision of God. On a history of religions level this is obviously designed to express Imam `Ali's superiority to Moses and Jesus who, in Jewish and Christian scripture and tradition, are expressly denied the request for a direct vision the Godhead (see Exod 33:18-23; John 1:18, 4:24; Qur’an 7:143f). In several of his works including the Tafsīr al-hā' (Commentary on the Letter "H" ) I and II , the Tafsīr Sūrat al-ḥamd (Commentary on the Surah of Praise", Q. 1) and the al-Lawāmi' al-badī` ("The Wondrous Brilliances") dating from about 1846-7, For ther Bab the reference to the vision of God in the Khutbat al-Tutunjiyya was essentially a vision of the Mashiyyat (the Primal Will of God) focused in his divine Manifestation (mazhar ilahi).

 In expressing his own claims in sometimes cryptic though elevated terms in his lengthy Arabic Qayyum al-asma' ( [Deity] Self-Subsisting among the Divine Names", mid. 1844 CE) and elsewhere the Bab often used “I am “ proclamations and dual formations echoing sayings ascribed to `Alī in the Khutbat al-Tutunjiyya. Thus, for example, in his claim, “I am one presiding over the tutunjayn ... al-khalijayn (“the two gulfs... the twin bays”) (QA. 93:374-5; 109:434-5). In the following passage from QA 54 (on Qur'ān 12:53), the Sūrat al-Ghulam (The Surah of the Youth), the Bab appears to express his superiority to the first two Shaykhs of Shaykhism (al-Shaykhiyya) Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim and underlines his authoritative exposition of the "mystery of the two Gulfs" (sirr al-tutunjayn) as the then locus of Shi`I walaya (“guidance”) through the hidden Imam:

و لقد نطقت بالحرفين و لا انطق حرفا من النّفسين الاوّليين

و لا يوجد حرفا من سرّ الطتنجين الّا بنفسی الحقّ حامل الاسمين

"We did speak forth through two letters although there was not divulged even a [single] letter through the two foremost souls [= ? Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa’i and Sayyid Kāẓim Rashti]. Not even a single letter shall be discovered of the mystery of the two Gulfs (al-tutunjayn), save through My Logos-Self (nafsī) the True One, which is the bearer of the Two Names (hamil al-ismayn )” [= [1] `Alī + [2] Muhammad = the Bab?]”.

 Several of the most important references and interpretations of the twin gulfs cosmology of the Kh-T in the Qayyum al-asma' are found in Surah 109, the Surat al-`Abd (Surah of the Servant). Witin a very long verse we find an esoteric, imamological expression of the claims and eschatological function of the Bab as the one (like Imam `Ali) presiding over those now recreated spheres of existence which are the "twin gulfs" etc. There we again find aspects of the Bab's eschatologically charged development of Sayyid Kāẓim Rashti's exegesis of the twin-gulfs cosmology. The motif of [Imam]`Ali presiding over (waqif `ala) the "twin gulfs", for example, is associated with the Bāb operating (with the permission of God) as the eschatological Judge (ḥākim) throughout all existence as encompassed by the twin "gulfs" of (loosely) "heaven" and "hell".

The Sharḥ al-Khuṭba al-Ṭutunjiyya of of the Bab

 This probably early, short, roughly 5-6 page Arabic work of the Bāb, opens with the basmala and straightway refers to the Kh-ṭutunjiyya of “Our mawlānā (“Lord”) [Imam] `Alī who, the Bab declares, opens this sermon with a “statement expressive of a thousand degrees of praise and salutation” (ālāf al-thanā’ wa’l-taḥiyya), namely, “Praised be to God, who hath cleft the firmaments asunder, etc”. He then refers to what the al-mu`allim (“the teacher”), apparently his one time teacher Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī (or Ahmad al-Ahsa'i or Imam `Ali ??)...

Trans. Stephen Lambden 2006, 2010.

The text translated here is that in INBMC 67:125-9 (see above).


In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

 Our Master [Imam] `Alī said (upon him be peace) in the Khuṭbat al-Tutunjiyya (“Sermon of the Gulf”) according to his statement expressive of a thousand degrees of praise and salutation (ālāf al-thanā’ wa’l-taḥiyya), “Praised be to God, who hath cleft the firmaments asunder, etc”. And the teacher (al-mu`allim) [Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī] said -- may my spirit be a sacrifice for him -- `I indeed do say, `In the Name of God’ and `Praised be to God’, for `I seek commencement in God'" in commenting upon a mystery of the utterance (fī sharḥ sirr min al-kalimat) which hath been commented upon by the Word of Truth (kalimat al-ḥaqq) (= Sayyid Kāẓim himself) – may my spirit be a sacrifice unto him – through the Khuṭbat al-Ṭutunjiyya (“Sermon of the Gulf”) that he might instruct the people [about] the [alphabetical] Script of the All ["Universal Script"] through the decree of the Book (kḥaṭṭ al-kull min ḥukm al-kitāb) as befits the portion so merited (kalimat al-thawāb) and in accordance with what God had willed respecting this Snow-White Leaf (al-waraqat al-bayḍā’).

 Now as for the allusion (al-ishāra) unto the utterance (kalimat) of the Imam -- may my soul be a sacrifice for him -- "There is indeed no Path for anyone; neither [attainment] through allusion (al-ishara) nor through its Logos-Self (nafs)!" So when the utterance (al-kalimat) was related unto God they were silenced such that there was no comprehension (ma`rifat) for anyone about [the meaning of] his utterance (kalimat) since his utterance (kalimat) --upon him be peace -- was a narrative expressive of His station (maqam) for none is able to know what He is except He Himself. Praised be unto Thy Lord, the Lord of Power (rabb al-quwwat) above whatsoever they describe.

 Now as for the allusion (al-ishāra) unto the deeper sense of the saying of the bāb [gate to Imami guidance = Sayyid Kāẓim ?] (buṭūn kalām al-bāb)  -- may my Spirit be a sacrifice unto him -- for he cried out the Truth (al-haqq) according to the    Point (al-nuqtat al-

Now as for the allusion (al-ishāra) unto the

Now as for the allusion (al-ishāra) unto the

Now as for the allusion (al-ishāra) unto the

Now as for the allusion (al-ishāra) unto the ...