The term `Amā' عَمَاء
in the writings of the Bāb and Baha'-Allah 1
An Appendix to the Commentary upon the Rashh-i `Amā' of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha'-Allah (1817-1892). Rev. and expanded from BSB 3:2 (1984).
From Notes Written in the early 1980s, Last Revised Jan. 9th 2006 - being completed and further revised 2015
`Amā' in the writings of the Bāb and Bahā'-Allāh, Part 1.
The Bāb and Bahā'-Allāh were both significantly influenced by the `tradition of amā' ' and its interpretations in `irfani- theosophical Sufism. Bahā'-Allāh's earliest extant work is entitled, Rashḥ-i `amā' ("The Sprinkling of the Divine Cloud" 1269/ late 1852) after its opening words. The term `amā' (loosely = "cloud") is quite frequent in their writings. In Bābi -Bahā'i scripture ( as in Sufi interpretations) `amā' is sometimes (though not always) indicative of the hidden and unknowable essence of the Godhead. Such complex theosophical speculations as to the significance of `amā' as are summed up abobe were drawn on by both the Bāb and Bahā'-Allāh. They were both influenced by theosophical Sufism which often gave mystical interpretations to cosmological hadīth. They both used Sufi terminology extensively. Though they rejected the monistic ontology that informs and determines certain attempts to locate the mystery of `amā' this term is frequently found in the massive corpus of Bābī and Bahā'ī scripture. Therein it takes on a wide range of meanings; its semantic field embraces key theological, cosmological and prophetological terms. It is not always indicative of the hidden and unknowable essence of God. In line with the late Bābī and Bahā'ī tendency to apply terms expressive of the transcendent Godhead to realities and persons representative of the new cycle of Divine disclosure, `amā' is sometimes `de transcendentalised'; it is sometimes given meanings that lie within the knowable Bābī-Bahā'ī universe of discourse -- as opposed to being indicative of the absolute essence of the Godhead. The classical senses accorded `amā' in Islamic literatures do not always lie behind the Bābī Bahā'ī use of this term.
The Bāb on the Ḥadith of `amā'.
Add selection from the Arabic text of the Bab's commentary
It will be apropriate to begin these notes on al-`amā' by focusing on an important early epistle of the Bab to the prominent Babi Sayyid Yaḥyā Darābī (d. / ) which in part contains detailed comments on the `Hadith of `amā' It is contained in Tehran Baha'i Archives MS 6007 C. pp. 1-16. That it was written in reply to questions posed by Siyyid Yahya Darabi, Vahid (a leading disciple of the Bab) is clear from Fadil i Mazandarani's Asrar al-athar vol. 4: 391 where the text is partially quoted. The Hadith of `ama' is early on cited in the following slightly paraphrased form:
الله في العماء ADD
"God was in `amā' (a "cloud") above it air and below it air".
The Bab states that this tradition indicates God's isolated independence. The term al-`amā' ("the cloud") only inadequately indicates the divine dhāt ("Essence"). In his interpretation, the Bāb seems to underline God's absolute otherness to such an extent that the term `amā' only indirectly hints at His transcendent unknowability. God's nafs ("Logos-Self") and dhāt ("Essence") are probably to be thought of as created and hypostatic realities indicative of, yet ontologically distinguishable from, His uncreated and absolute Ipseity. For the Bāb `amā' ("cloud") indicates God's absolute otherness. It is derived from al-`amā or al-`amān ("blindness", "unknowing") for vision is blinded before God's Face and eyes are incapable of beholding His Countenance.
For the Bāb the `ḥadīth of `amā' enshrines the mysteries surrounding the Sinaitic theophany (see Qur'ān 7:142). It was not the dhāt al-azal, the eternal unknowable Essence of God that appeared in the malakūt al-`amā' (celestial realm of `amā' ) and radiated forth through the Divine Light on Mount Sinai, but an amr (= lit. "command", "reality" or "Logos-Event" which God created from nothing. The theophany on the Mount was not the manifestation in `amā'` as God's absolute essence, not a monistic type theophany of he Divine Essence' (tajallī al-dhāt) but the disclosure of the Divine Light (nūr) "unto, through and in His Logos-Self (nafs), the Manifestation of God. The Bāb clarifies his interpretation of the modes of the divine theophany including the `theophany of the Divine Essence' (tajallī al-dhāt) found in certain Sufi treatises. Such a theophany does not involve a manifestation of the Divine Essence understood as a "cloud" or anything else.
For the Bab the sublime truth expressed in thie `hadīth of `ama'' is apparent to such as consider it with the "eye of the divine unity" (bi `ayn al tawḥīd). It is indicative of Allāh (God) inasmuch as He has ever been alone and without relationship to anything. His nafs ("Logos-Self") is al azal ("eternity withour beginning"); His dhāt ("essence") al-`amā' ("Beclouded") and His kaynūnīya ("being") al qidam ("Pre-Existent") though these terms are inadequate testimonies to God's essential and absolute isolatedness. `Amā' and hawā' ("air") really pertain to the created nafs ("Logos-Self") of God, as opposed to the mystery of His transcendent and uncreated essential Reality. Just as God's resting or settling down upon the celestial "Throne" (arsh) (cf. Qur'an, ADD) has to do with the realization of an exalted theophany (tajallī) and not the enthronement of the absolute Godhead) so God's being in `amā' is expressive of the station (maqām) of the manifestation (ẓuhūr) of the "First Dhikr" (dhikr al awwāl) a term indicative of the primal divine manifestation and locus of prophethood. As with `amā' the Bāb equates the heavely Throne (`arsh) with God's Knowledge (`llm) and His Power (qudrat) which are expressive of His nafs ("Logos-Self")
Even the perception of `amā' is not the vision of the unknowable God. The term `amā' indicates God's absolute otherness. The Bāb seems to underline God's absolute otherness to such an extent that the term `amā' only indirectly hints at his transcendent unknowability. God's nafs and dhāt are probably to be thought of as created and hypostatic realities indicative of, yet ontologically distinguishable from, His uncreated and absolute Ipseity. The manner in which the Bāb expounds the `Hadīth of al `amā' outrules those theosophical interpretations that are monistically oriented. `Ama' is derived from al `amī (or al `amān= "blindness", "unknowing") for vision is blinded before God's Face and eyes incapable of beholding His Countenance. It is expressive of a reality that is "Unconditioned" (mutlaq), "Absolute" (ṣirf), "Uncompounded" (baḥt) and "Definitive" (? bātt ?) though one of the created Names of God (?).
For the Bāb the `Hadīth of al `amā' also enshrines subtle and bewildering mysteries surrounding the Sinaitic theophany (see Qur'ān 7:142). It was not the unknowable essence of God (dhāt al azal) that appeared in the "Kingdom of `amā' (malakūt al `amā') and radiated forth from the Divine Light on Mount Sinai" but an amr (= lit command), here loosely `Logos' which God created from nothing. The theophany on the Mount was not the manifestation of `amā' as God's absolute essence or a monistic type `theophany or the Divine Essence' (tajallī al dhāt) but the disclosure of the Divine Light (nūr) "unto, through and in His [God's] Self [nafs]. " In abstruse language the Bāb counters the monistic type interpretation of the relationship between `amā' and the `epiphany of the Divine Essence' (tajallī al dhāt) found in certain Sufi treatises. It might be noted here that various modes of the Divine theophany (tajallī) are mentioned in Sufi treatises; i.e. (1) tajallī al dhāt (`the theophany of the Divine Essence'); (2) tajallī al ṣifāt (`the theophany of the Divine Attributes') and (3) tajallī al af`āl (`the theophany of the Divine Actions'). See for example, Shihāb al Dīn `Umar al suhrawardī, `Awārif al Ma`ārif (Per. trans, Mahmūd ibn `Alī al Kāshānī) translated into English by H. Wilberforce Clarke (1891; reprint ed. Octagon Press London 1980), p. 79ff.
The individual letters of the key terms in the `Hadīth al‑`amā' including those `amā' and hawā' are interpreted by the Bāb on the level of various meanings alotted to their component Arabic letters. Without going into details it may be noted that amā' is described as an "exteriorization from God" (al‑ẓāhir `an Allāh) and a "guide unto Him" (? al‑dall alayhu) and associated with that which rose up between the "two commands" (amrayn) and stood up between the "two gulfs" (ṭutunjayn) probably indicating the letter alif indicative of aḥadiyya ("Divine Unicity") the l2th Imam and Muhammad. Here the Bāb draws on imagery derived from Imam `Alī's Khutbat al-ṭutunjiyya (`Sermon of the Gulf'). The fact that hawā' is said to be both above and below al‑`amā' was perpaps among the factors which him to use Arabic dual forms (common also in similarly abstruse pericopae of his Qayyūm al‑asmā). This disclosure took place in the "realm of interiority" (ghayb al‑buṭūn) not the "exterior plane" (`alam al‑shuhūd) and appeared at the beginning of a name (ism) which God singled out for His Logos-Self (nafs)  This name may be the name Muhammad as the following lines indicate or the names ( `Ali(iyy) = the Exalted) or al‑`azīm (= the Mighty) ‑‑ both of which, like amā' begin with the letter ayn. Note also that the creative Qur'ānic imperative كن "Be!" (kun) the first letter ( ع) of `amā' has a gematric value of 70 it is representative of the "First Dhikr" (dhikr al‑awwal) and the creative and primordial reality of the Prophet Muhammad. Such are the mysteries of the "surface level of the inner meaning" (al‑zāhir al‑bāṭin) of this hadith. On the innermost level of esoteric exegesis (bāṭin al‑bāṭin) it enshrines the mystery of "the [letter] alif which standeth erect between the two Points" (al‑alif al‑qā'im bayn al‑nuqṭatayn).  This, probably, inasmuch as it is said in the hadīth that hawā' is both above and below `amā' .i.e. `amā' = alif between 2X hawa' = the letter bā' ( ب ) or the point beneath it. cf. باب which has an alif between two letter bā's (or two `points') and the fully written out letter waw (= واو ) of alphabetical-qabbalistic and eschatological importance in Shaykh and Bābī‑Bahā'ī teaching.
Before turning his attention to the qabbalistic secrets "air" (hawā') and concluding his epistle the Bāb states that the servant who is desirous of fathoming the mysteries of Divine Unity perceives that the outer sense of the `Ḥadīth al‑`amā' is expressive of the "inner senses of al‑`amā'" (buṭun al‑`amā'); perhaps that just as the Ḥadīth outwardly states that God was in `amā' compassed about by air (hawā') so does `amā' inwardly indicate the realities enveloping the Divine Being.
The Bāb's comments on "Air" (hawā') are abstruse. The theophany (tajāllī) on Sinai mentioned in Qur'ān 7:142 (which is quoted) is understood to signify the manifestation of God's "image" (sūrat) as the "image of the fifth" (sūrat al‑khums) and His "shape" (shakl) as the "form of the sixth" (shakl al‑suds); that is, the theophany of the letters ه (= abjad 5) and و (= abjad 6). When joined up these two letters form the third person singular masculine personal pronoun, "huwa" =هو "He is", indicative of God. These two letters are also the first two letters of "air" (hawā'= هواء = ه + و + ا [+ ء ). The first letter of hawā' ( ه ) is furthermore, the last letter of وجه = "[God's] Face". The interpretation of hawā' is thus, as with `amā, discussed in the context of the mysteries of the theophany on Sinai. On an esoteric level hawā' is also related by the Bāb to the disclosure of the "greatest name" (of God; al-ism al‑a`zam) the "Book of (Imam) `Alī and Qur'ān 53:24-5.
Partly written before the Bāb claimed to be in communication with the Hidden 12th Imam in May 1844, the Tafsīr Sūrat al‑Baqara (Commentary on the second sūra of the Qur'ān) contains a few passages in which the term `amā' occurs. In his preface to this major work he, at one point, addresses those who "orient their gaze towards that Luminous Dove of the Sinaitic Tree" (= himself or the hidden Imam) and exhorts them to fear God and keep silent in the light of the imminent fulfiIment of catastrophic eschatological events. He would have them beware at a time when "the Rooster sings in the land of `amā', the birds cry out in the firmament of the air (jaww al‑hawā') and the Peacock screeches at the rising [place] of [the zodiacal sign] Cancer (`inda maṭla` al‑saraṭān).. ". i.e. beware of the imminent advent of the hidden Imam being announced in the heavenlv realms (? Tafsīr Sūrat al‑Baqara [TBA MS 6014 C], p. 5.). Commenting on the meaning of the word "angels" (malā'ika) in Qur'ān 2:30 he seems to teach that they exist in the sphere of `amā' (and have their own `amā'‑ here "cloud" ?) (T-Baqara, 121). Explaining the last words of Qur'ān 2‑41, he writes:
"The servant [of God] hath not perfected the degree of his piety (al‑taqwā) until he hath risen up in the `amā' of Perpetuity (istiqām fī `amā' al‑ṣamadiyya)" (T-Baqara, 170)
A hierarchy of cosmological, theosophical and imamological meanings are given to the "House" (al‑bayt) mentioned in Qur'ān 2:125 (outwardly the Meccan Ka`ba). On the ninth and highest level of the esoteric senses of this edifice it signfies the "House of the Divine Ipseity (bayt al‑huwīya) in which the primordial Divine theophany (tajallī) took place while on the eighth level it represents the "House of Divinity" (bayt al‑ulūhīyga), the "first House" which was erected in the "absolute `amā'" (bi'l‑`amā'' al‑muṭlaq) ( T-Baqara, p. 276.)
-  The Bāb draws on imagery derived from Imam `Alī's Khutbat al-ṭutunjiyya (`Sermon of the Gulf'). The fact that hawā' is said to be both above and below al‑`amā' was perpaps among the factors which him to use Arabic dual forms (common also in similarly abstruse pericopae of his Qayyūm al‑asmā).
-  Probably the name Muhammad as the following lines indicate or the names ( `Ali(iyy) = the Exalted) or al‑`azīm (= the Mighty) ‑‑ both of which, like amā' begin with the letter ayn.
-  This, probably, inasmuch as it is said in the hadīth that hawā' is both above and below `amā' .i.e. `amā' = alif between 2X hawa' = the letter bā' ( ب ) or the point beneath it. cf. باب which has an alif between two letter bā's (or two `points') and the fully written out letter waw (= واو ) of alphabetical-qabbalistic and eschatological importance in Shaykh and Bābī‑Bahā'ī teaching.