Sayyid Kāẓim Rashti on the Shī`ī graphical forms of the al-ism al-a`zam (the Mightiest Name of God).


Sayyid Kāẓim  Rashti on the Shī`ī graphical forms of the al-ism al-a`zam (the Mightiest Name of God).

Extracted from a version of the Lambden Phd thesis 1980s/2002.

Like Shaykh Aḥmad and other Shī`ī writers, Sayyid Kāẓim commented upon one of the poetical and graphical representations of the al-ism al-a`ẓam ("Mightiest Name of God") of the kind illustrated below (Fig.1). It sometimes refers to the graphic form of the mightiest Name the components of which are also given detailed explanations. Such is the case in Sayyid Kāẓim’s Sharḥ al-ism al-a`ẓam (Commentary on the [Graphical form of the] Mightiest Name [of God]).

Both Sunnī and Shī`ī sources and various esoteric Islamic writings contain traditions which purport to set forth graphic, sometimes talismanic forms of the ism Allāh al-a`ẓam (Mightiest Name of God). A dozen or more variant alphabetic, qabbalistic, cryptographic representations of this all-highest Name are found in the aforementioned Islamic literatures (Winckler, 1930; Anawati,1967). Shī`ī representations of this mightiest Name are often based upon directives spelled out in a tradition relayed by Ibn `Abbās from the first Imam `Alī. It is cited among others by Muḥyī al-Dīn al-Būnī the occult initiate of arcane computations surrounding the Names and Attributes of the Godhead, in his Shams al-ma`ārif : 1

1 On the al-ism al-a`ẓam ("Greatest Name of God") see al-Būnī, Shams al-ma`ārif al-kubrā , sect. 12: 86ff; 99ff. On page 89-90 of the Shams there is a poem allocating 4 portions of the ism al-a`ẓam to the Torah and 4 to the Injīl. Then, on page 93 a prayer is included which commences, "O our God! I beseech thee by the al-hā’ (letter "h") of Thy Mightiest Name and through the three Rods (al-`uṣiyy) and the alif (Letter A)...". This prayer spells out a different pattern of letters associated with the ism Allāh al-a`ẓam, the mightiest Name of God (cf. Winckler, 69).

[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) []

[7] then an inverted [letter] waw ' like the syphon of a phlebotomist  (ka-anbūb ḥajjām, "tube of the cupper") though not a cupping glass (miḥjam) = 

This is [poem 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). 2

2 Arab. text cited 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] = 1992:93-97 = App. XXIII. I have adapted MacEoin’s translation in the light of the other translations and al-Būnī’s Shams

The graphic insert (= Figure 1 above) to the right of the poem translated above is an example of the diagrammatic working out of this tradition from Imam `Alī describing seven though incorporating thirteen (or fourteen) graphical elements making up the representation of God’s Mightiest or Greatest Name. This al-ism al-a`ẓam has been the subject of complicated exegesis- eisegesis by Muslims, Shaykhīs, Bābīs and Bahā'īs. 3 Details cannot be registered here though it will be relevant to mention a few statements made in the Isrā’īliyyāt/ Islamo-Biblica  influenced Shams al-ma`ārif of al-Būnī and in select
Bābī- Bahā’ī primary texts before turning briefly to the commentary of Sayyid Kāẓim.

3.  On some Shaykhī and Bahā’ī speculations and BA* and `AB* cited Ma’idih 1:12ff (cf. Vol.3:4-5); Raḥiq l:669-690. cf. idem, Qāmūs 4:1642f; Māzandarānī, Asrār al-āthār 5:238-41., MacEoin 1982:11-23.
In his Shams al-ma`ārif al-Būnī associates portions of the poetical-graphical representation of the Mightiest Name of God with the Bible seen as Jewish and Christian scripture, the Tawrat (Torah, Hebrew Bible) and the Injīl ("Gospel[s]"). He states that six portions (letters, aḥraf) of the Mightiest Name ( al-ism al-a`ẓam ) are found in the Torah: namely (1) the deformed letter "h" [= 6 above], (2) the inverted "w" ' [= 7 above] and (3) the four finger-like lines IIII [ = 5 above] (total = 6 elements). Two portions (aḥraf) of the Mightiest Name allegedly derive from in the Injīl ("Gospel"), (1) the "blind mīm م without a tail [= 3 above] and the "ladder" sign [= 4 above]. The five qur’ānic parts of the mightiest Name are (1) the initial pentacle ☆ or "seal" and (2) the "three sticks" (`aṣa) ||| with a line above like a "straightened lance"
[= 1 and 2 above = 5 elements).

Both the Bāb and Baha'-Allah were influenced by traditions to the effect that elements or portions of the al-ism al-a`ẓam go back to the Hebrew Bible and the Injīl (Gospel) or derive from pre-Islamic Isrā’īliyyāt traditions. In his Tafsīr laylat al-qadr (Q. 97) the Bāb refers to 3, 4, and 5 portions of the "Mightiest Name", existing in the Hebrew Bible [Torah] (tawrat), Gospel[s] (injīl) and Q. respectively (INBMC 69:17). Similarly, in a Tablet commenting on the basmala 4 and first verse of the Sūrah of the Pen (Q.68),
4 The Basmala is an Arabic word indicating the oft-repeated qur'ānic phrase "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate" (Ar., Bismi'llāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm). Baha'-Allah mentions that God divulged something (a "letter" ḥarf an) of the "Mightiest Name" understood as bahā’ ("splendour") in every religious dispensation. In the Islamic era it is alluded to through the letter ( ("B") which is the first letter of both the basmala and of the word bahā’. In the injīl it is through the word  = āb meaning "Father" in Arabic translations of the Gospels, that two of the letters of the word bahā’ are located. Baha'-Allah also states that it the al-ism al-a`ẓam as the word bahā’ is clearly intimated in the Bābī scripture (= "the Bayān" lit. "Exposition"). The Arabic verbal-noun Bahā’ as the Mightiest Name, it is added, is representative of the nafs ("Logos-Self") of God in the Bahā'ī dispensation (INBMC 56:25).
Sayyid Kāzim’s imamologically oriented commentary on the poetical and graphic Isrā’īliyyāt rooted traditions regarding the symbol of the Mightiest Name 5 cannot be discussed in detail here save to note that he also draws upon allegedly pre-Islamic dimensions of traditions about the Mightiest Name of God. Rashtī commences his commentary by acknowledging his indebtedness to the upright, pious and sagacious master named Shaykh Muhammad Aḥmad (= Shaykh Aḥmad?/ Al-Būnī?). Through him he was informed that "certain of the religious communities (al-millī) are aware of portions of the words (al-kalimāt) constituting the Mightiest Name (al-ism al-a`ẓam)". It is stated that they are evident in "fourteen temples" (hayākil), apparently indicating the Shī `īte pleroma of Muhammad, Fāṭima and the 12
Imams. Differentiated or subdivided into thirteen "letters" after the thirteen individual elements constituting the seven graphic sigla which make up the mightiest Name of God (counting from the initial pentacle (☆) to the inverted wāw ) eight portions out of the 13 were known to the pre-Islamic communities.

5 The diagram of the Mightiest Name at one point in the SOAS ms. of Sayyid Kāẓim’s commentary (Sh-Ism, f.271b) has an extra pentalpha (☆) to the left of the inverted wāw.
Four elements ("letters") derive from the Tawrat, (the Torah, Hebrew Bible) and four from the Injīl ("Gospel"), the other five derive from the Q. (4+4+5 =13). Sayyid Kāẓim’s explanations of these components of the al-ism al-a`ẓam are distinctly imamological. (Rashtī, Sh-Ism, 271aff).  The Sayyid further explains how it is that the Torah has four "letters" of the Mightiest Name. He explains that this is so in the light of the following well-known prophetic ḥadīth , "O [219] `Alī you are to me after the manner of Aaron to Moses". A typological relationship is thus set up between Moses and Muhammad. Moses [=
Muhammad], it is explained, is foundational (aṣl an), the Reality (al-ḥaqīqa), while the Torah (al-tawrat) before him is his essential persona (aṣāla dhāt an). Moses the prophet (al-nabī) is essentially the Moses of the gate of reality upon reality (ḥaqīqa). In a metaphorical sense the reality of the Torah which was revealed before him consists of four letters which are the four lettered personal name Muhammad (=
M-Ḥ-M-D). The manifestation of the name Muhammad before Moses took place at the Sinaitic theophany (tajallī) of the Lord (= Q. 7:143). The agent of this theophany isagain said to have been an individual from among the cherubim (rajal min al-karubiyyīn) evidently one associated with the name Muhammad (Rashtī, Sh.Ism, 273b).
That four letters of the al-ism al-a`ẓam are found in "the Injīl of Jesus son of Mary" is also commented upon by Sayyid Kāẓim. He states, "And he [Jesus] is the likeness (mithāl) of [Imam] `Alī." This typological equation also has to do with the letters of the mightiest Name being imamologically realized. That Imam `Alī is equated with Jesus finds echoes in the writings of the B āb (See P-Bayan. VIII:2). Five "letter" components of Mightiest Name are also allotted to the Q. They are imamologically understood as representing four twelver Imams, Ḥasan, Ḥusayn, Ja`far Ṣādiq, Mūsā and the prophet’s daughter Fāṭima. At one point in his commentary on the Khuṭba al-ṭutunjiyya Sayyid Kāẓim also interprets the seven graphic sigla of the Mightiest Name imamologically, as [1] Muhammad, and six of the Imams, [2] `Alī, [3] Fāṭima [4] Ḥasan, [5] Ḥusayn, [6] Ja`far and [7] Mūsā. These seven are indicative of the fullness, the pleroma of the fourteen immaculate ones (Sh.Ttnj : 53).

It is also interesting to note that Sayyid Kāẓim gives the seventh item, the inverted letter wāw, a messianic significance stating that it "alludes to the [messianic] Proof (al-ḥujjat), the son of Ḥasan [al-Askarī, the 11th Imam, d. c. 260/874]". The central (hidden) letter "A" (alif) of the three letters of wāw when spelled out in full (= ' ) represents the Qā’im [messianic Ariser]) as one "stationed between the two gulfs (ṭutunjayn), the isthmus (barzakh) between the two worlds".  This mode of exegesis is also taken up in Bābī-Bahā’ī scripture, most notably in the Qayyūm al-asmā’ of the Bāb and, for example, the al-Kitāb al-aqdas ( "Most Holy Book" c. 1873) and Lawḥ-i Hartik of Baha'-Allah. 7).

 The Commentary on al-Qaṣīda al-lāmiyya of `Abd al-Bāqī Afandī al-Mawsulī (d.1278/1861)
It is worth noting that certain early Shaykhī writings were understood by Baha'-Allah and Abd al-Baha' to anticipate the word bahā’ being the Mightiest Name. These opening words of Sayyid Kāẓim’s commentary upon al-Qaṣīda al-lāmiyya of `Abd al-Bāqī Afandī al-Mawsulī (d.1278/1861), are perhaps the best example,

Praise be to God Who hath ornamented the brocade of existence with the mystery of differentiation (sirr al-baynūnat) by virtue of the ornament of the emergent Point (ṭirāz al-nuqṭat al-bāriz) from whence cometh the letter "H" (al-hā') through the letter "A" (bi'l-alif), without filling up (ishbā`) or segregation (inshiqāq)" (Sh-Qaṣīda,1)

This passage is referred to by BA* in a Tablet to Mullā `Alī Bajistānī (Ma’idih 7:139) and by `Abdu'l-Bahā' in his Commentary on the Basmala (Maka’tib 1:33ff). In somewhat cryptic fashion Sayyid Kāẓim mentions the "Point" (•) interpreted as alluding to the hidden letter "B" (cf. its dot  ) and related to the letters "H" ( !) and "A" ( ا) which combine to spell Bahā’ . Also worth noting here is Sayyid Kāẓim ’s comments on ḍiyā’ (splendour) in his Commentary on the Sermon of the Gulf. It is associated with Bahā’ as “the light of lights” explained by Jesus as the first letter of the basmala (     ) signifying Bahā’ -Allah, the “Splendour of God” which Sayyid Kāẓim also relates to the Du`a al-Saḥār (see Sh-TTNJ: 20).

 In his Sharh al-Qaṣīda furthermore, Sayyid Kāẓim, also comments on the `Light Verse' (24:35) explaining that this "Light" is synonymous with the al-ḍiyā' (radiance) and al-bahā’ (splendour) adding that "the bahā’ ... is the "Primordial Light" and the "Mightiest, Greatest Name" (al-ism al-a`ẓam al-a`ẓam) through which God created the "heavens and the earth" and whatsoever is therein. Shaykhī theology at times anticipated aspects of the centrality given in Bābī-Bahā’ī theology to the word Bahā’ as a luminous phenomenon and a  Logos-like creative, dynamically powerful Word