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The Alphabetical Locus as the Nuqṭah (Point) within Abrahamic and Islamic Literatures... Pt. I.

The Arabic Letter "B" with its lower Diacritical Nuqtah (Point/ Dot).

أنا النقطة التي تحت الباء ...

"I am the Point (   al-nuqtah) beneath the letter B"

The Alphabetical Locus as the Nuqṭah  (•) "Point" within  Abrahamic and Islamic Literatures. 

Stephen Lambden UC Merced

In progress 07-06-2019.

It is the purpose of these notes to examine the scriptural theology of the Bab (d. 1850) and Baha'-Allah (d. 1892) with respect to the alphabetical, diacritical  dot or point which is fundamental to their messianic claims and to modes of  letter mysticism within their voluminous Persian and Arabic writings. Special attention will be given to the Arabic-Persian letter "B" which can be written with the conjunction of an upper, slightly curved line underneath which is subdot or point which is fundamental to its spelling (cf. note its threefold forms initial, medial and final). One or more superscripted or subscripted dots characterize several of the Arabic-Persian shapes of the letters of the alphabet. A mysticism surrounding these letters and their various forms, has long, for more than a millennium. played a part in the esoteric  interpretation of the Arabic Qur'an and of the twenty-eight or so Arabic letters which spell it out. The Arabic and Persian alphabets use  the same 28  letters though the latter Persian language adds four extra letters making a total of  thirty-two (28+4 = 32).

In Arabic and Persian the subdot of the letter "B" is referred to as the nuqtah, the "dot" or "point". It has been considered the locus of creation or generative reality as well as  the scribal origin of all of the other twenty-six (or more) letters of the alphabet. The Alphabetical Locus as the Nuqṭah (Point)  has its place in Jewish mysticism as well as many  religious movements born out of or relating thereto. Islamic and other Abrahamic literatures contain thousands of interpretations of the letters of the alphabet and their place in the spelling of sacred words and ideas. The  theology of the Bab (d. 1850) and Baha'-Allah (d. 1892) often looks back to this scriptural, cosmological and etiological mysticism. From the first major 1260/1844 work of the Bab, the Qayyum al-asma' (see below, QA1), to the Lawh-i Nuqtah (scriptural `Tablet of the Point', mid-late 1860s) and numerous other later writings of Baha'u'llah,  letter symbolism and numerology play a significant role. This is well illustrated by the Arabic word Baha' which is composed or three or four letters (= B-H-A'-'  =  2+5+1+1 = 9) having a numerological value of nine (the highest intiger). This is considered the al-ism al-a`zam (Mightiest/Greatest Name of God) as the quintessence of the Name and Person of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri entitled Baha'-Allah (the Splendour/Glory of God). The letter B is the first letter of the titles or name of the Bab (B+a+b) and Baha-Allah and of the Torah or Hebrew Bible (Be-reshit = "In the beginning..." Gen. 1:1a) and the opening basmala of the Arabic Qur'an, the Bismillah = In the Name of God ... Q.1:1.

At this point we may cite from the 1987 article of Schimmel.

But there is still a more interesting tendency in letter mysticism. Among the letters, it is particularly the alif [Arabic letter A], with the numerical value One, about which the Sufis speculate, and the relation of this single letter, which points to the Divine Unity and Unicity, to the first letter of the Koran, that is the ba' of the basmala with its numerical value Two, was as deeply pondered among the Sutis as the role of the [Hebrew letter B] bēth in the be-reshith [Heb. Gen. 1:1a "In the beginning..."] by the [Jewish] Cabalists, because, for the Sufis, the b, which can be united with the other letters, is the "letter of the created worlds", humble and obedient besides the unconnected "Divine" alif" [letter A] (see Schimmel 1987: 352).

The same writer concludes her 1987 article by writing :

One can, of course, also refer to the dot beneath the bā', which corresponds, according to an old tradition, to the position of `Alī, and expresses once more the descent from the pure Divine world into the world of matter, of duality, as expressed by the b. However, it seems to me that the image of the primordial dot should be understood, in the first line, as a calligraphic symbol typical of lslamic culture, and as such, it shows how practical calligraphy and mystical interpretation could be combined to form a meaningful symbol which, in its simplicity, yet expresses beautifully the whole secret of creation (Schimmel 1987: 356).

Some Aspects of the Abrahamic - Islamic Background

Terminological, conceptual and other parallels certainly exist between works of the Bāb and certain Jewish qabbalistic writings. Such echoes of Bābi terminology as exist in these qabbalistic mystical texts are also echoed and paralleled in the works of lslamic mysticism, gnosis and theosophy which have themselves been subject to Jewish influence. Notable in this respect is al-Bunī's Shams al-ma'ārif  which at certain points has a definiate Jewish substrate (Vajda, XX:XX). The question is whether the Bāb is predominantly influenced by lslamic irfānī literature or by Jewish mystical texts. It will be argued here that it is the lslamic writings which form the most direct and central background to the Bāb's esoteric, qabbalistic type style. Aspects of the Jewish roots of these ideas are worthy of investigation.

The Hebrew Bible, Judiams and the nuqṭa ("Point") motif.

The Zohar or `Book of Splendour' was known to Jews and others in 19th century (Qajar) Iran. The Zoharic doctrine of emanation from a   AAAAA (Aram. Noqteh), a "primordial point" (Zohar 1. 25a.f. etc) furnishes a good example of a motif that is common to both the Bāb and the qabbalistic mysticism of the Sepher ha-zohar. The following extracts from this 'Book of Splendour' must suffice to indicate the terminological parallels regarding the Bāb's concept of the "Primordial Point" as the dot (•) beneath the Arabic letter "B" (al-bā' = cf. Heb.    beth , the first letter of the Torah). ln the Zohar we read:

"ln the beginning" (Genesis 1:1a) - At the very beginning the king made 1 The dot (•) in some respects corresponds to the locus of smallest Hebrew letter yod ' ("Y") which is the first letter of the tetragrammaton, YHWH engravings in the supernal purity. A spark of blackness emerged in the sealed within the sealed, from the mystery of En-Sof... It penetrated, but did not penetrate ... until from the pressure of its penetration a single point shone, sealed, supernal. Beyond this point nothing is known, and so it is called reshit (beginning): the first word of all.. Zohar [brightness] is that from which all the words were created, through the mystery of the expansion of the point of this concealed brightness ... thus did En-Sof  burst out of its air and reveal a single point:    [cf. the Hebrew letter yod =   ] …" (Zohar 1, 15aff. in Tishby 1 : 309-315).

Islamic  traditions and the Cosmology and Theology of The Nuqta (Point).

أنا النقطة التي تحت الباء ...

I am the Nuqtah (Point) beneath the Letter B.

The above line comes from an Islamic Tradition (hadith) often (though not always) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and/or the first twelver Imam,  Imam `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 40/661). One form of the tradition reads as follows :

The Arabic text cited above may be translated thus:

All that is in the Qur'an is in the [Surat] al-Fatiha (`The Opening', Q.1) and all that is in the [Surat] al-Fatiha is in the Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim ("In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate", Q.1:1) and all that is in the Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim ("In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate", Q.1:1) is in the [1st letter] ba' ("B") of Bism ("In the Name..."), And I am the Point (•) [Dot] (al-nuqtah) which is beneath the [letter] B (al-ba')" (trans. Lambden as cited from    text above).

Imam 'Ali' then, the cousin, son in law and (for the Shi`a) immediate successor of the Prophet Muhammad (d.632 CE), allegedly uttered the above words to the effect that the whole of the Arabic Qur'an (114 surahs and over 6,000 verses) is indicated in its opening Surat al-Fatiha (`The Surah of the Opening', Q.1) which contains seven verses, the first of which is the basmala  or Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim (In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate) which is spelled out in  19 letters of the Arabic alphabet. All that is in this opening invocatory basmala is in its intial letter "B" (Ar. al-ba')  and Imam `Ali adds, "I am  the Point [Dot] (al-nuqtah ) beneath the letter "B" (al-ba')". 

Forms of this tradition are cited in numerous Sunni and Shi`i sources, especially Sufi writings and those of an esoteric nature. They are not always attributed to Imam `Ali. Early versions include those cited by Abū Ḥamid Muhammad al-Ghazâlî (c. 448/1056–505/ 1111), "one of the most prominent and influential philosophers, theologians, jurists, and mystics of Sunni Islam" (Frank Griffel, SEP., al-Ghazâlî, Winter 2016 Ed.). This in his massive forty book, the well-known Ihyâ’ ‘ulûm al-dîn (The Revival of Religious Sciences). This reads :

 وجاء رجل إلى الشبلي رحمه الله فقال له ما أنت وكان هذا دأبه وعادته فقال أنا النقطة التي تحت الباء

A man came unto al-Shiblī - may God be merciful unto him - and said to him,`What [manner of person] are you?' for such was his habit (da'b) and practice (`ada). He [al-Shibli] replied. `I am the Nuqtah (the Point) which is beneath the [Letter] B (al-ba')" (Ihya `ulum al-din. vol. III : 342).

The person referred to above by al-Ghazali as al-Shiblī is the early Maliki Sunni Sūfī mystic and theorist Abū Bakr al-Shiblī (b. Baghdad or Samarra, 247/861 -  d. 334/946). He was among those who joined the Sufi circle of the `sober' or balanced love-mystic Abu al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn al-Junayd (d. 298/ 910) and had an interest in the `ilm al-huruf' (gnosis of the letters). We shall see below that Ibn al-`Arabi also connects the claim to be the point of the letter B with al-Shiblī and others.

Ibn Mansur al-Hallāj (al-Ḥallāj (d. 304/922) and the Dot-Point ( ) of the Letter B.

"The Koran contains the knowledge of everything. Now the science of the Koran is in its initial letters! The science of the initial letters is in the lam-alif [L-A]  the science of the  lam-alif [L-A] is in the alif [= letter A]; and that of the alif [letter A] is in the point [ of the letter B]" (cited Schimmel, 1987: 355 and translated from Massignon, "La philosophie orientale",10).

Schimmel comments on the above passage from al-Hallāj as follows making reference to the ideas of al-Hārith ibn Asad al-Muhāsibī (b. Basra, c. XXX /781 - d. Baghdad, 243/847):

"Why that? The alif [letter A] develops out of the point and is measured by the point... Hallāj's lifetime (d. 922) coincides with that of the vizier lbn Muqla (d. 940), who invented the method of measuring the letters by means of points according to the size of the pen, and by geometrical construction of the letters through circles and semi-circles. He made the alif [letter A] the first and most important letter in calligraphy, for according to its length and width every other letter is measured. It is, indeed, the Divine letter, and all the other letters are created 'alā  suratihi, "according to its shape", as Adam was created "in His shape". This idea of Muhāsibī was elaborated by `Attar and remained a standard topos of Suti poetry in the Persianate world" (cited Schimmel, 355 and  referring to Nwyia, Exegese coranique et langage mystique, 166).

The Nuqta in the Kitab Tāwasīn (the Letters Ta and Sin) of al-Hallaj.

lslamic mystical statements about the 'B" and its •  point or dot have a long history within lslam going back beyond the time of the Suti martyr Manṣūr al-Ḥallāj (d. c. 304/922) who had some important foundational observations about the letter B and its subdot.  The fourth section of Ḥallaj's Kitab Tāwasīn (The Book of the "T" [Ṭā] and "S"[Sīn]) is about the Tā-Sin of  al-Da'ira, `The T S of the Cosmic Circle of Reality'. Here al-Ḥallāj sets out a graphic image of the surat of al-haqiqa ("the Form/Image of Reality"), its determinents (tallab), its gates (abwab) and its  causal aspects (asbab) :

Commenting on a portion of this graphical diagram, al-Ḥallaj states "The al-da'ira (circle) which has its associated Gate (bab) and the nuqta ( ) (Point-Dot) which is in the centre of this circle, has the meaning al-haqiqa (Reality) (p.126 line 3).

ln the fifth section of al-Ḥallaj's Kitab Tāwasīn which is headed `The Book of the "T" [Ṭā] and "S"[Sīn]) about the Tā-Sin  al-Nuqta' ( the "T"-"S" of the Point/Dot) there are some cryptic statements about this nuqṭa (•  Point). al-Hallaj states that it is something supremely subtle or focused (adaqq) in that it is a basis or foundation (al-asI) beyond any notion of augmentation, diminution or passing away (Hallāj, Dīwān, [Tā'wasīn],127). 

Massignon, in dealing with the 'Metaphysical data' of Hallāj, translates the following passage from Hallāj's Akhbar (No. 4) in illustration of his the "notion of the point, nuqta"  ():

The point [ ] is the origin of every line, and the entire line is nothing but points joined together. Now, the line cannot do without the point [ ] nor the points without the line. And every line that one draws, perpendicular or oblique, departs, by a movement, from this same point [ ]. And everything on which a person's look falls is a point [ ], between two other points. This indicates clearly that God makes Himself explicit through everything which is perceived and considered; everything that one sees face to face signifies Him. And this is why I have said: "I have seen nothing in which I have not seen God" (tr. Massignon, Passion III: 68).

Here Hallāj relates the nuqṭa [ ] to the writing of a line; a line being a succession of conjoined points. Human perception of God is a vision of directness in a context of multiplicity. That God makes himself "explicit" in everything perceived "face to face", is almost mathmatically anthropocentric  or expressive of the nearness of the Divine when closely observed. In his Persian Bayan and elsewhere, the Bab makes some very similar observations about the Nuqta (see below Pt. II).

Ibn Shahrāshūb al-Māzandarānī, Muhammad ibn `Alī  (d. 588/1192).

In the second volume of the imamocentric compilation of Ibn Shahrāshūb, entitled  Manāqib Āl Abī Ṭālib, there is interesting reference in a section relating to knowledge or gnosis (`ilm), to a statement of one of the ancient philosophers. It reads,

Among them stand the philosophers (al-falasifa). He who is among their most eminent  stated: `I am the Nuqta ( )  Point, Dot), I am the Script [Line] (al-khatt); I am the Script [Line] (al-khatt), I am the Nuqta  ( ) Point, Dot); I am the Nuqta ( ) Point, Dot) and I am the Script [Line] (al-khatt)'.  And thus a group (jama`a) stated: `If the  Power / All-Powerful (al-qudrat) is the foundation (al-asl) and the body (al-jism) is its veil (hijab) and the form (al-surat) is the veil of the body (hijab al-jism), then the Nuqta ( ) (Point, Dot) is the Foundation (al-asl) and the script [Line] (al-khatt) is its Veil and its Positioning (maqam); the  veil (hijab) then is other than its [my] worldly [corporeal] body (al-jism al-nasuti) (Manaqib, 2:60).


Aḥmad ibn `Alī, Muḥyī al Dīn, Abū’l `Abbas ibn al Būnī (d. Cairo c. 622/1225)

The Shams al-ma`ārif and other writings,

A recension of his four volume (500pp) Kitāb shams al ma`ārif wa laṭā’if al awwārif (`The Book of Sun of Gnosis and the Subtleties of .. Cairo, 1904) is fairly well known in various of its three or more recensions of varying length. It was certainly known in Qajar, 19th century Iran. This work makes creative use of abjad and other number correspondences, (magic) number letter squares and deals with jafr and the construction of amulets and circles of astronomical, talismanic and magical import.

Examples of Jewish influence are not uncommon in the Shams al-ma`ārif  where we find a number of obscure though obviously Hebraic angelological names with the genitive 'EI= [`of God'] termination). Apart from the usual four archangels (Jibrīl, Mī kā'īl, lsrāfil and 'Azrā'īl, Shams, 76, etc) there is mention , for example, of Asyā'il, Dunyā'il, Hizqiyā'il, Dardiyā'il, Maxmā'il and Surā'īl (Shams, 52-52, 57, 71). Certain of these names derive from the Jewish pseudepigraphical, angelologically  intensive incantation textbook, the Sepher Ha-Razim (Book of Mysteries, 4th cent.CE?). This latter source presents itself as having been revealed to Noah by the angel Raziel (The Mystery of God) before he entered the ark. Thereafter it came to be in the possession of the lsraelite king Solomon whose famed wisdom encompassed all secrets (Shams, 117, 52- 55; Vajda 1948:400; Morgan, 1983; Gruenwald, 1980:224f; cf. Dietrich, El2 Supp., 56-7).
The Shams al-ma`arif has a very high opinion of the Qur'an and the Arabic language in which is it written:

Know .. that the secret of every [religious] community is in its Book and that the secret of the Book of God is in the letters (al-(hurūf) [in which it is written]. The letters express a diversity of forms (mukhtalafa al-ashkāl) . When Our prophet [Muhammad] appeared the Qur'ān was sent down unto him which was the secret of this [Muslim] community. It abrogated the law of every [existing] body of laws and the letters of this mighty Book [the Q.] are Arabic. When he [Muhammad] was asked about the letters of the alphabet he spoke [the 28 letters] which are curved in Arabic hence he called it Arabic (al- `arabiyya). Within it are the secrets of all the revealed [sacred] Books and Scolls (al-kutub wa'l-suhuf) [ of the past] and others besides them. As for abjad, it is Sryiac (al-suryāniyya) which was the medium of revelation unto Adam, Enoch (ldrīs), Noah, Meses and Jesus ... " (Al-Būnī, al-Shams, 31 :3-4).

The Basmala and the ( ) Nuqtah in the writings of Muhammad Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-`Arabi (d. 638/1240).

We were lofty letters not yet pronounced,
Latent in the highest peaks of the hills.
I was you in Him, and we were you, and you were He
And the whole is He in Him - ask those who have attained! (Ibn al-`Arabi, cited Schimmel 1987: 353).

Ibn al-`Arabi wrote a great deal about the concrete and esoteric meanings and mystries of the letters of the arabic alphabet; both individual letters and their shapes and components as well as the letters making up key grammatical and  theological terms in the massive universe of Qur'anic vocalulary and post-Qur'anic terminology. A number of his books are specifically focused in this area and many pericopae (`paragraphs') within his 300-500 or more volumes  of his writings deal with the `ilm al-huruf (gnosis of the letters) and related subjects. For Ibn al-`Arabi the meanings of the Arabic alphabet encompass theological, cosmological, ethical and mystical dimensions of Reality. Key texts authored by Ibn al-`Arabi include,

  • Kitab al-Alif (Book of the Letter "A");
  • Kitab al-Ba' (Book of the Letter "B");
  • Kitab al-Mim wa'l-Waw wa'l-Nun (The Book of "M" and "W" and "N")
  • Kitab al-Ya' (The Book of the letter "Y").
  • Inshā’ al-dawā’ir (The Genesis of the Circles).
  • Kitab al-Jalala wa huwa kalimat Allah (The Glorious Book about the word Allah),

These and numerous related works were foundational and highly influential in the evolution of Islamic mysticism and gnosis, both Sunni and Shi`i. The al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya  contains many sections and sub-sections on the Letters of the alphabet; especially those nineteen letters comening with the letter "B" making up the basmala or the Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim ("In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate"). The al-Futuhat, the massive magnum opus of the Greak Shaykh, early on contains a fifth section entitled, `On the gnosis of the mysteries of the basmala and of the [Surat al-) Fatiha (Q.1) and of a Countenance (wajh) which is not like other faces (wujuh) / according to a perspective unlike other perspectives' (al-Futuhat 1:101-103). A few extracts from this section may be tentatively translated here.

From al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya (Meccan Illuminations)

`Section five on the gnosis (ma`rifa) of the mysteries of Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim (In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate) and the [Surat] al-Fatiha (the Opening, Q.1), an aspect thereof among its numerous aspects'. 

This summary heading is followed by an Arabic poem in  9 verses in 18 hemistichs (cf. the letters in the basmala). Loosely translated it reads as follows:

  • [1] The Basmala of the Names is indicative of [sublime] panoramas (du nanzarin)! Tis betwixt Eternality [Preservation] (ibqa') and Annihilation (ifna'), [save for a] Glimpse [Eye, Essence] thereof (`ayn)!
  • [2] Save that is, for whomsoever Thou do not assent thereto, though it be for but a moment (hin)!  Fearful thereat was even the ant (al-naml) on account of the possibility of being shattered in twain!
  • [3] Wherefore in jest did it exclaim : `How can but a trace (athar) [ant] go in search thereof given [the consequences of] such a Glimpse (`ayn)!'
  • [4]

We do indeed desire that we might divulge the gnosis of Existence (ma`rifat al-wujud) and the origin of the World [Universe] (ibtida' al-`alam) for such is with us the  Mighty Codex [Book]  (al-mushaf al-kabir) which the Real One [God] (al-haqq) has recited unto us

(al-Futuhat, 1:101)

In her article on the `Primordial Dot', Schimmel sums up aspects of Ibn al-`Arabi's ideas about the primordial point :

When one realizes that this dot is the place beyond which nothing can reach - as there would be no harmoniously shaped letters unless they could grow out of and be mcasured by the dot, and when one recalls that in Ibn `Arabī's thought, this primordial dot can be equated with the haqiqa muhammadiyya [Muhammadan Reality], which forms the suture between the primordial and the created world, the necessary and the contingent existence, one can fully appreciate a poem by Jamī, perhaps the most ingenious interpreter of letter mysticism in the Persian language. It is well known that, while alif [the Arabic letter A] is the letter of Divine Unity and Unicity, mīm [the Arabic letter M] is the letter typical of Muhammad, and the mystics' speculations about it are almost endless" (Schimmel 1987: 355)

Abū Sālim al-Naṣībī, Kamāl al-Dīn Muhammad ibn Ṭalḥah ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Qurayshi al-`Adawi  al-Naṣībī al-Shafi'i (b. XXX, 582/1186 - d. Aleppo, 652/1254 or 5).

The above named Muhammad ibn Ṭalḥah al-Naṣībī was a Sunni and Sufi Muslim thinker with a special interest in Tafsir (Qur'an Commentary) and  the `ilm al-huruf (letter mysticism), talismans and associated esoterica as is evident from his several books on these subjects (listed by Ibn ibn Aḥmad al-ʻAṭīyah in his bio-bibliographical note in his edition of the al-Durr al-muntaẓam, 1425/2004 p.10-11). al-Naṣībī or al-Shafi'i also had a special interest in  twelver Imami messianism and apocalyptic and was influential in both the Sunni and Shi`i worlds. He closely associated the expected messianic Mahdi with the twelver Shi`i 12th Imam (see al-Durr,   Madelung,    in EI2 XX).

Among his nine or more books is one entitled الدر المنتظم في السر الأعظم : بحث أهل الكشف والعرفان في علامات مهدي آخر الزمان al-Durr al-muntaẓam fī al-sirr al-aʻẓam : baḥth ahl al-kashf wa-al-ʻirfān fī ʻalāmāt Mahdī ākhir al-zamān (The Well-Orgaized Pearls regarding the Most Great Mystery...). Some have it that Muhammad ibn Ṭalḥah was the first to cite the hadith associating the claim to be the nuqtah ( ) (Point) under the Arabic letter "B" with the fourth Caliph and / or the  first twelver Imam,  `Ali ibn Abi Talib. The text as cited in the 2004 edition of the al-Durr al-muntaẓam reads as follows :

So know that all of the mysteries of God, exalted be He, are contained in the heavenly books. And everything that is in the heavenly books is in the Qur'an. All that is in the Qur'an is in the al-Fatiha (Surah of the Opening, Q1) and everything that is in the al-Fatiha  (Q.1) is in "In the Name" (Bism) and "God" (Allah). And all that is in the Bismillah (In the Name of God) is in the [1st letter] ba' ("B") of the Bism ("In the Name...") and Allah (God).  And all that is in the Bismillah (In the Name of God) is in the [letter] B (al-ba')". And all that is in the [letter] B (al-ba') the Bismillah (In the Name of God) is in the ( ) Point [Dot] (al-nuqtah) which is beneath the [letter] B (al-ba'). He, Imam `Ali said, "And I am the ( ) Point [Dot] (al-nuqtah) which is beneath the [letter] B (al-ba')" (trans. Lambden as cited from  al-Durr al-muntaẓam, 58).

Among the many other passages in the al-Durr al-muntaẓam of al-Naṣībī al-Shafi'i bearing upon the letters Alif (A), al-Ba' (B) and the Nuqta (Point-Dot) are the following :

Know that the mystery of God (sirr Allah), exalted be He, is in the Book (al-kitab), And the mystery of the Book (sirr al-kitab) is in the Letters (al-huruf). And the mystery of the Letters (sirr al-huruf)  is in the Alif (A). And the mystery of the Alif (A) (sirr al-alif) is in the al-nuqta ( )(the Point). And the mystery of the al-nuqta ( ) (the Point) is in al-wahdaniyya (the Unicity). And the mystery of the al-wahdaniyya (the Unicity) is in al-ahadiyya (the Oneness). And the mystery of al-ahadiyya (the Oneness) is in the al-huwiyya (the Divine Ipseity), And the mystery of the al-huwiyya (the Divine Ipseity) is in the Unseen (al-ghayb). And the mystery of  the Unseen (al-ghayb) is in the Unseen of the Unseen (ghayb al-ghayb) (trans. Lambden as cited from  al-Durr al-muntaẓam, 63).

Amīr al-Muminīn [Imam] `Alī ibn Abi Ṭālib said : “The first thing that God created was the ( ) Point-Diacritical Dot (al-nuqtah) [of the letter B] and the first thing He caused to be made manifest was [the imperative exclamation] “Being!” (al-kun), by means of the [letter] alif (A). ( Al-Durr, 130).

Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī (d. 673 /1274-5) 

al-Qūnawī was the Great Shaykh’s disciple and stepson through whom Ibn `Arabī’s teachings "reached the Persian speaking world" (Chittick, ibid 666). He also commented upon the prophetogical-theosophical chapter headings of the Fuṣūṣ al-Hikam in his Kitab Fakk al-fukūk ("The Unsealing of the Constituents").

Rajab al-Bursī (d. c. 814 / 1411).

The letter alif  (A) is upstanding (qāi’m an) by virtue of the mystery [interiority] of the Intellect (sirr al-`aql).  And the Intellect (al-`aql) is upstanding (qāi’m an) on account of it (Rajab al-Bursi, Mashariq, 23).   

Through these [Arabic] letters (al-huruf) came about the sending down [revelation] of the Qur'an. They are expressive of the interpretive configuration (tarjuman) of the Persona [essence] of the Lord (dhat al-rabb), glorified be He! The Qur'an has an outward (zahir) and an inward (batin) level ... (Mashariq, 35).

Among the numerous often `irfānī (esoteric-gnostic) collections of tradition significant in esoteric Shiism and the Bābī-Bahā’ī religions, is that revolving around traditions ascribed to Imām `Alī in the Mashāriq anwār al-yaqīn fī asrār Amīr al-mu’minīn (The Dawning-Places of the Lights of Certitude in the mysteries of the Commander of the Faithful’) of Rajab al-Bursī (d. c. 814 / 1411). This roughly 250 page work contains, towards its beginning, in its third section, half a dozen or so lines about the letters Alif (A) and Ba' (B) which may be loosely translated as follows:

Now as for the outstretched [letter] Alif (A). It is [in reality] the [letter] al-ba' (B). Such is the commencement of divine [Qur'anic] revelation (wahy) which was sent down unto the Messenger of God  [Muhammad]. It was [also] the first of the scriptural writings (sahifa pl. suhuf) of Adam, Noah and Abraham, their interiority [mystery] (sirr).  This as a result of the extended nature of the [letter] Alif (A) which was  [implicit] within it, the secret of  [its] uprising (qiyamat) on account of the elevation of its [constricted]  tip [the outermost locus of the point] (taraf). It is the mystery of the Genesis [Origination]  (sirr al-ikhtira') and the Lights (al-anwar) as well as the secrets (al-asrar) which constitute Reality (al-haqiqa) expressed through the [extension of the] Point-Dot ( ) of the [Letter] al-ba' (B). Of this there is allusion in the statement of Amir al-Muminin (`The Commander of the Faithful'[ = Imam `Ali) :

 I am the Point [Dot] ( ) (al-nuqtah) which is beneath the outstretched [letter] B (al-ba' al-mabsuta)  which, in its essence (dhat), is indicative of a mode of the outstretched, upright [letter] A (al-alif al-qa'im  al-mabsura), veiled away therein".

Thus did Muhyi al-Din al-Ta'i  [Ibn al-`Arabi] state, "The [letter] al-ba' (B) is the Veil of Lordship (hijab al-rububiyya). And if the [letter] al-ba' (B) be in its upraised state, the people would indeed witness their Lord (al-rabb), exalted be He" (trans. Lambden as cited al-Bursi, Mashariq, 20-21).

Scattered throughout the rest of al-Mashariq are many further comments about the nuqta (Point) ( ) and the  letters Alif (A) and al-Ba' (B) and their  scribal, mystical and numerological relationships. Some ten sections or paragraphs after the above translated passage al-Bursi includes a section about the "knowledge of the Point ( ) (`ilm al-nuqtah) and the circle (al-dawa'ir). The text and translation are as follows:

Now as for the knowledge of the Point" (`ilm al-nuqtah) ( ) and the circle (al-dawa'ir). This is among the most glorious of sciences (al-`ulum) and the abstruse level of the mysteries (ghawanid al-asrar) since the ultimacy of speech (muntaha al-kalam) is realized through the letters (al-huruf) and the ultimacy of the letters is realized through the [letter] al-alif (A). The ultimacy of the [letter] al-Alif (A) is within the diacritical Point [Dot] ( ) (al-nuqta). Relative to the foregoing, the diacritical Point [Dot] (al-nuqta) ( ) is indicative of the descent of Absolute, Outward and Inward Existence (nuzul al-wujud al-mutlaq al-zahir bi'l-batin). This from the Beginning unto the Culmination [End] (al-ibtida' bi'l-intiha'). That is to say, from the manifestation of the Divine Ipseity (zuhur al-huwiyya) which is the very genesis of existence (mabda al-wujud) for which there is neither intimation or allusion (al-Bursi, Mashariq, 23).

After a further extended set of sections or paragraphs about the mystical senses of various letters of the Arabic alphabet and associated esoterica (see ibid. pp. 23-37), al-Bursi  sets forth a  further section which includes important materials relating to the nuqta (Point-Dot) and its related Letter B : 

The Basmala and the Nuqtah in the writings of `Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī (d. c. 832/1428) 

The Insān al-kāmil (The Perfect Human) and al-Kahf wa'l-raqim of the Shī`īte Sufi of the school of Ibn al-`Arabī, `Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī (d. 832/1428) contain much of interest to the subject discussed here.

In his al-Kahf wa'l-raqim fi sharh Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim ("The Cave and the Inscription in Commentary on the "In the Name of God the Merciful. the Compassionate") al-Jīlī cites from the Prophet Muhammad, a shortened version of the tradition cited above and ascribed to the 4th Caliph or 1st Imam `Ali which is further supplemented with a further report.  It reads as follows :

The Prophet [Muhammad] said: `Everything that is in the revealed Books is in the Qur'an and all that is in the Qur'an is in the al-Fatiha (Q.1). And all that is in the al-Fatiha  is in the Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. [Additionally] It has been reported [from Muhammad or `Ali] `Everything that is in the  Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim is in the [letter] B (al-ba') and all that is in the [letter] B (al-ba') is in the Point [Dot] ( al-nuqtah) which is beneath the [letter] B (al-ba')" (Translated from the text in  Lo Polito, 144; see also Lo Polito trans, p, 172).

Having cited this still incomplete  - there is no claim `And I am the Nuqtah ( ) beneath the Letter B - composite tradition al-Jīlī writes a lengthy and interesting commentary. According to Lo Polito, it will be convenient to further note, "Al-Jili [in the al-Kahf wa'l-raqim]  identifies in the Prophet the privileged embodiment of the manifestation of the Absolute. The nuqta is Al-Haqiqa al-muhammadiyya, and Muhammad is Al-Haqiqa al-nuqtiyya (p. 36), describing as a “white nuqta” the small space in the letter Mim of the Prophet’s name (p. 45).

Nur al-Dīn `Abd al-Raḥman Jāmī (d. 898 /1492).

"And Jāmī, again in the succession of lbn `Arabī, has composed a longish qasida about the basmala, which is the Greatest Name of God, and whose 18 letters give blessings to the 18,000 worlds" (Schimmel 1975: 353 fn. 13 = Jāmi, Diwan-i kamil, 68). Schimmel also notes that `Abd al-Rahman Jāmī  "devotes a highly interesting poem to the name of Ahmad, which was always considered to be the heavenly name of the Prophet", and that he writes as follows "in the encomium for the Prophet in his Tuhfat al-albrār, dedicated to the successful Naqshbandi leader `Ubaydullāh Ahirār:

(trans, Schimmel 1987: 356 from Haft Aurang, ed. Gilanī, 376).

Summing Jami's perspective (indicated above) Schimmel further notes,

"Jāmī offers an absolutely correct pictuŗe of the construction of the alif: the primordial dot, the first thing to appear on the blank sheet of Divine lpseity, grows into an alif, which, as calligraphy demands it, forms the exact diameter of the Divine circle, and thus the Prophet's position as barzakh lā yabghiyān [a barzakh-"barrier" which cannot be overcome", Q. 55:20]  ... is secured." (ibid 1987: 356).

 An extract from the 1980s Lamden 1980s Pd.D
The Bāb’s view of pre-qur’ānic sacred scripture is very much in line with that of `Abd al-Raḥman Jāmī (d.898/1492) and other Sufīs of the school of Ibn `Arabī including `Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī (d. c. 832/ 1428 ; al-Insān,1:111-4). The 28th section of al-Jāmī’s composite Arabic-Persian Naqd al-nuṣūṣ (The Deliverance of the Texts), which comments upon aspects of Ibn al-`Arabī’s Naqsh al-fuṣūṣ (The Imprint of the [235] Bezels) focuses upon the mysteries of the bezel relative to “the peerless wisdom in the Muhammadan word”. Here the Q. is equated with the Logos-like nafs (“Self”) and ḥaqīqa (Reality) of Muhammad. It is seen as “a singular expression (aḥadiyya) of the combination of the entirety of the divine books (jam` al-jamī` al-kutub al-ilāhiyya).”

The Q. Jāmī continues,

came about through the Prophet [Muhammad]... He said, “God revealed one hundred and four books from heaven”. Wherefore did he deposit the knowledge of these one hundred in these four; that is, [1] Tawrāt, (Torah), the [2] Injīl (Gospel[s]), [3] the Zabūr (Psalter) and the [4] Furqān (“Criterion” = the Q.). Then he deposited the knowledge of these four in the Q. He then deposited the knowledge of the Q. in the substance (mufaḍḍal) of its [114] sūrahs. Then he deposited the substance of its surahs into al-Fātiḥa, (= Q.1). Whoso has a knowledge of the commentary on the [sūrah of the] Opening (tafsīr al-fātiḥa) has a knowledge of the commentary (tafsīr) upon all the revealed books of God. Whomsoever recited it [Q.1 the Fātiḥa ] it is as if he had recited the Tawrat, the Injīl, the Zabūr and the Furqān [= Q.] (Jāmi`, Naqd, 275).

This conflation of the substance of the revealed books into the first sūra of the Q. is probably inspired by the tradition that the whole of the Q. is in the point (•) of the letter “b” ( ب) of the basmala of the first surah, al-Fātiḥa (Q.1), a tradition well-known to the Bāb. Jāmī`s mystical conflation of all previous revealed books into the first surah of the Q. reflects exactly the way that the Bāb viewed pre-Islamic revelations. The reality of the Bible as the Tawrāt , Zabūr and Injīl were spiritually subsumed within the essence of the Q. Its mysteries were implicit within the Islamic sacred book, more or less rendering the citation, direct knowledge (of translations) of the HB ( Psalms) and Gospel / NT unnecessary. It has likewise been noted how Sayyid Kāẓim  Rashtī expressed a similar opinion in his Sharḥ al-Qāṣida al-lāmiyya.



Jewish and Christian sources.

Sepher ha-Zohar (The Book of Splendour)

Tishby trans.

Islamic sources.

Atlagh, Ridha,

  • `Le Point et la Ligne, Explication de la Basmala par la science des lettres chez 'Abd al-Karīm al-Gīlī (m. 826 h.); in  `Bulletin  D'Študes Orientales Siences Occultes et Islam Tome XLIV (1992), Damas: 1993, pp. 161-186.

al-Ghazalī, Abū Ḥamid Muhammad (d. 505/1111).

  • Ihya `ulum al-din  4 vols. Beirut: Dār al-Ma`rifah.

al-Hallaj, Mansur

  • Kitāb al-tawāsin. Dīwān, ed. M. KamiI al-Shaybī, Bagbdad: al-Nahlja, 1973.
  • Diwan-i kamil, ed. Hāshim Rizā, Tehran (Payrūz) 1341 sh/1962.

Ibn al-`Arabi

  • al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya. 4 vols.  Beirut: Dār al-Ṣādir  np. nd. (1911? + rep. XXXX).
  • Inshā’ al-dawā’ir (The Genesis of the Circles).
  • Journey to the Lord of Powers: A Sufi Manual on Retreat [n.d.], trans. Rabia Terri Harris. New York: Inner Traditions International Ltd. 1981.

Ibn Shahrāshūb al-Māzandarānī, Muhammad ibn ʻAlī (d. 588/1192).

Mashīr al-Dīn Abī ʻAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ʻAlī ibn Shahrʹāshūb ibn Abī Naṣr ibn Abī Ḥubayshī al-Sarwī al-Māzandarānī

  • Manāqib Āl Abī Ṭālib,  5 vols. ed.  Yūsuf Biqāʻī. Beirut : Dār al-Murtaḍá, Dār al-Aḍwāʼ, 1427/1385 Sh. / 1991 + 2007.

  • Mathalib al-nawasib

  • Maʻālim al-ʻulamāʼ fī fihrist kutub al-Shīʻah wa asmāʼ al-muṣannifīn minhum, qadīman wa-ḥadīthan.   Beirut: Dār al-Maḥajjah al-Bayḍāʼ ; Karbalāʼ : Dār ʻulūm al-Qurʼān, 2012.

  • Mutashābih al-Qurʼān wa-mukhtalifuh. 2 vols. ed. Muʼassasah al-Imāmīyah lil-Thaqāfah wa-al-Baḥth al-ʻIlmī bi-Māzandarān, Markaz al-Darāsat va Iḥyāʼ Āthār Ibn Shahrāshūb al-Māzandarānī al-Sarwī ; zīr-i naẓar-i Shirkat-i ʻIlmī va Farhangī ; eds.   ʻAlī al-Ṭabāṭabāyī al-Yazīdī, Sayyid Muḥammad Riḍā al-Jalālī, ʻAbd al-Mahdī al-Ithná ʻAsharī, Muḥammad al-Ṭabāṭabāyī al-Yazdī, Sayyid ʻAbbās al-Hāshimī, ʻAlīriḍā Āl Būyah, Muṣṭafá al-Ṣadūqī al-Māzandarānī.  Tehran : Shirkat-i Intishārāt-i ʻIlmī va Farhangī, 1393 /2014 or 2015.

Jāmī, Nur al-Dīn Abd al-Rahmān (XXX/1414-XXX/1492).

  • Diwan-i kamil, ed. Hāshim Rizā, Tehran (Payrūz) 1341 sh/1962.
  • Haft Aurang, ed. Aqa Musaffar-Mudarris Gilanī, Tehran (Sa'di) 1351 sh/ 1972,

al-Jīlī, `Abd al-Karīm ibn Ibrāhīm ( d. c. 832/1428).

  • al-Insan al-Kamil = al-Insān al-kāmil fī ma`rifat al-awākhir wa'l-awā'il. 2 vols in 1. Cairo: Musatāfa al-Bābī al-Ḥalabī, 1375/1956.
  • al-Insān al-kāmil ... Dar al-Fikr, XXXX/1975.
  • al-Kahf wa'l-raqim fi sharh Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim
  • al-Kahf wa'l-raqim. [n.d.], 2nd ed. Hyderabad, India: Maba‘at Da’ira al-Ma‘arif. 1918.
  • al-Kahf wa'l-raqlm fi šarh bismillāh al-rahmān al-rahim. 4th ed. 1406/1985.
  • al-Kahf wa'l-raqim fi sharh Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. Clément-François’ French trans.  2002,
  • al-Kahf wa'l-raqim fi sharh Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. Text and Trans in LoPolito PhD (see below), pp.       (Ar. text), pp.      (English trans).
  • Haqiqa al-haqa’iq allati hiya li'l-haqq min wajh wa min wajhih li'l-khala'iq. [n.d.] ed. Badawi Taha `Allam. Cairo: Dar al-Risalah. 1982.

Jurjani, ‘Ali Ibn Muhammad

  • Ta‘rifat [n.d.]. Istanbul: Maba‘a Ahmad Kamil. 1909.
  • Kitab al-Ta‘rifat [n.d.]. Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi.1985.

Kāshānī, Mullā Muḥsin Fayḍ (d. 1091/1680).

  • T-Safi = Tafsīr al-ṣāfī. 5 Vols., ed. Shaykh Ḥusayn al-A`lam. Mashhad: Sa`āda n.d.

Knysh, Alexander D.

  • 1999: Ibn Arabi in the Later Islamic Tradition: The Making of a Polemical Image in Medieval Islam. New York: State University of New York Press.
  • 2000: Islamic Mysticism: A Short History. Leiden-Boston-Köln: Brill.

Lo Polito, Nicholas.

  •  `Abd al-Karīm  al-Jīlī  :  Tawhid, Transcendence and Immanence. A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Department of Theology and Religion, School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion, College of Arts and Law, University of Birmingham, September 2010. This excellent thesis includes the editing and translation with commentary, on one of al-Jili’s The Cave and the Inscription  [al-Kahf wa'l-Raqim...].

MacEoin, Denis.

  • XX

Massignon, Louis

  • La philosophie orientale d'Ibn Sinā et son alphabet philosophique", Memorial Avicenna IV, Cairo: Institut d'Archēologie Orientale, 1954, pp. 1-18.

Nwyia, Paul

  • Exegese coranique et langage mystique, Beirut : Dār al-Mashriq,1970,

Rajab al-Bursī (d. c.814/1411),

  • Mashāriq anwār al-yaqīn fī asrār Amīr al-mu’minīn (The Dawning-Places of the Lights of Certitude in the mysteries of the Commander of the Faithful’).

Schimmel, Annemarie.

  • 1975, Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, N.C. 1975.
  • 1984 Calligraphy and lslamic Culture. New York University Press 1984, esp. Chapter III.
  • 1987. `The Primordial Dot. Some Thoughts about Sufi Letter Mysticism' in Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam JSAI 9 (1987), 350-356. "One of the most fascinating themes in Islamic mysticism is its "cabalistic" aspect, which seems to belong to the oldest layers of mystical interpretation of the Koran. At least the art of jafr, prognostication by means of letters and their numerical value, is ascribed to lmam Ja'far al-Sādiq (d. 765), and its knowledge was connected, originally, with the family of the Prophet" (opening paragraph, 1987:350). 

al-Shāfiʻī / al-Naṣībī, Muḥammad ibn Ṭalḥah Abū Sālim  (d. Aleppo       ).

ابي سالم محمد بن طلحة

al-Shāfiʻī, Abū Sālim Kamāl al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Ṭalḥah ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Qurashī al-ʻAdawī al-Naṣībī al-Shāfiʻī.

  • al-Durr al-muntaẓam fī al-sirr al-aʻẓam : baḥth ahl al-kashf wa-al-ʻirfān fī ʻalāmāt Mahdī ākhir al-zamān', ed. Mājid ibn Aḥmad ʻAṭīyah. Beirut: Dār al-Hādī, 2004.
  • Maṭālib al-suʼūl fī manāqib Āl al-Rasūl. al-Najaf : Maktabat Dār al-Kutub al-Tijārīyah, [1951?].
  • al-Durr al-muntaẓam fī al-sirr al-aʻẓam : baḥth ahl al-kashf wa-al-ʻirfān fī ʻalāmāt Mahdī ākhir al-zamān =by Kamāl al-Dīn Muhammad ibn Ṭalḥah al-Shāfiʻī ; ed. Mājid ibn Aḥmad al-ʻAṭīyah. Beirut: Dār al-Hādī, 2004.
  • Kitāb al-ʻiqd al-farīd lil-malik al-Saʻīd, [Cairo] : Maṭbaʻat al-Waṭan, 1306/1888 or 1889.
  • Kitāb Jafar al-jāmiʻ va'l-nūr al-lāmiʻ ... min imlāʼ Rasūl Allāh va imr bi-tadvīnah, fakutbah ʻAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib ... ma ʻmiftāḥ al-istikhrāj [taʼlīf Mahmūd Dihdār]. [Bombay] : [Muhammad Malik al-kitāb], 1326/1908.

Select Internet and E sources

A useful, though dismissive, apparently anti-Sufi `Islamic revival' webpage, rejecting the authenticity of the hadith attributed to Imam `Ali, is discussed here :