"He-She-It Is" (Huwa):
The re-created Basmala in Babi-Baha'i Literary Commencements

By Stephen Lambden

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #130
Bosch Bahá'íญ School: Santa Cruz, California
May 22–25, 2015
(see list of papers from #130)


    "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate"

    ุจูุณู’ู…ู ุงู„ู„ู‡ู ุงู„ุฑู‘ูŽุญู’ู…ู†ู ุงู„ุฑู‘ูŽุญููŠู…ู

    "In the Name of God, the Inaccessible, the Most Holy"

    ุจูุณู’ู…ู ุงู„ู„ู‡ู ุงู„ุงู…ู†ุน ุงู„ุงู‚ุฏุณ

    "In the Name of God, the Glorious, the All-Glorious"

    ุจูุณู’ู…ู ุงู„ู„ู‡ู ุจู‡ูŠ ุงู„ุงุจู‡ู‰

    "The Greatest verse of the Qur'an is the basmala" (Ibn `Abbas relayed in al-Suyuti, al-Itqan, 91) "The Basmala is closer to the Greatest Name (al-ism al-a`zam) than the black of the eye is to its white" (words attributed to the 8th Imam `Ali al-Rida' [c. 148/765- d. 203/818] as narrated in the `Uyun al-akhbar and the Tafsir al-`Ayyashi, etc).
    Every sacred text has a deeply significant literary commencement. This often means a meaningful opening, sacred phrase, oath or text incorporating a Name or Names of God. Babi-Baha'i alwah (sacred Tablets) or Books and other expressions of wahy (divine inspiration) open in such ways though there is no always standard literary commencement. Various Islamic traditions have it that no qur'anic verse is of greater magnitude than the Basmala (which is cited above). This Arabic Islamic term indicates the five or so word, nineteen letter Arabic invocatory Qur'anic verse, "Bi-smi'llah al-Rahman al-Rahim" which is often translated, "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate." Islamic tradition also views the basmala as the sacred Fatiแธฅa ("Opening"). This opens most Suras of the the Qur'an and, according to a prophetic tradition, all past Abrahamic sacred books such as the Torah and Gospels (al-Alusi, Tafsir 1:41 referring to al-Suyuti, Itqan etc). It is generally agreed among Islamic experts and western academics that the key roots of the basmala are to be found in Abrahamic (Jewish, Christian and related traditions), biblical or post-biblical literatures.

    Over a more than 1,000 year period, hundreds if not thousands of learned Muslims have written commentaries on the opening basmala within the first Surah of the Qur'an and other places within this over 6,000 verses sacred text. The central figures of the Baha'i religion all commented on the Islamic Basmala and recreated it in new forms (see above) as a prefix to thousands of their sacred writings. The basmala was renewed in hundreds of different, creative ways in Babi-Baha'i Literatures both Arabic and in Persian and sometimes in a mixture of these two languages. The intimately related sometimes neo-Shi`i, Babi and Baha'i religions have an extensive sacred literature within which a post- or meta-Islamic basmala is of great moment. The Bab (1819-1850 CE) and Baha'-Allah (1817-1892 CE) frequently refashioned, recreated and reinterpreted this sacred literary commencement in line with their new post-Islamic theology, theophanology and addresses to a host of individual devotees.

    In this summary paper dimensions of the evolving Babi-Baha'i basmala recreations and select related huwa ("Ipseity related" = "He-She-It is") incipits, will be commented upon and analyzed from a number of vantage points. It will be seen that the Bab explicitly recreated the Islamic basmala on apophatic ("God beyond all") lines and that Baha'-Allah further utilized it in new ways so as to underline his elevated claims and global religious outreach.


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