The Qayyúm al-Asmá' of the Báb, with special reference
to the Súrat al-Mulk (QA.1 'The Surah of the Dominion') and the Surat Husayn
(QA. 5 'The Surah of Husayn')
Stephen N. Lambden
The Qayyúm al-Asmá' is the first major work of Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad
the Báb (1819-1850 CE) which he commenced at the time of his declaration
to Mulla Husayn Bushrui, his first disciple or Letter of the Living. It is wholly
in Arabic, extending for more than 300 pages and divided up into 111 surahs, because
each surah except the first comments usually in rewritten form upon one of the
111 surahs in the Qur'an.
The phrase Qayyúm al-Asmá' , when literally translated, would
mean 'the Self-Subsisting of the Divine Names,' and this most probably indicates
the centrality of the divine Joseph to this important revelation, because the
word 'Qayyúm ' and the name 'Joseph' both have an identical abjad, or numerical
value, of 156. Within the text of the Qayyúm al-Asmá' itself, many
claims of the Báb are directly or indirectly voiced. At this time, he held
a 'messianic secret' only obliquely indicating his very exalted status. He represents
himself as a servant (`abd) of the Hidden Imam, otherwise occasionally known as
the Dhikr (Remembrance), who both symbolizes the messianic and divine persona
of the Báb and as the Most Great Remembrance, for Bahá'ís
an allusion to the person of Bahá'u'lláh. The Qayyúm al-Asmá'
is a fascinating kaleidoscope of messianic, cabalistic, theological and other
dimensions of the inner meanings of the Qur'an itself. It represents itself as
the ta'wil (inner, esoteric dimension) of the Qur'an, which would be divulged
in the new age initiated by the theophany of the Qa'im (promised messianic 'ariser')
spoken about in various Shi'i traditions.
The first chapter of the Qayyúm al-Asmá' was entitled 'Surat
al-Mulk' or the Surah of the Dominion, by the Báb himself. The reason for
this title relates to the fact that mulk (dominion or kingdom or sovereignty,
etc.)the Arabic word has several shades of meaningenshrines meanings which are
indicative of global rulership of the earth, which the Báb proclaimed was
now returning to the custody of God Himself through the custody of the messianic
Twelfth Imam, Dhikr, or their servant the Báb. A common Qur'anic
and Islamic expression, al-mulk li-llahi (the Kingdom belongeth to God), indicates
that the Kingdom of God (to use a Biblical expression), the rulership of the world
and of human hearts, is being or will be established in its fullness. The well
known Bahá'í prayer "God grant that the light of unity..."
includes the words 'and the seal the kingdom is God's may be stamped on the brow
of all its peoples' makes the hopes of the Báb also the aim of the followers
of Bahá'u'lláh, namely global ascent to the sovereignty of God part
of the divine plan. These themes and other aspects of the Surah of the Dominion
(QA.1) will be detailed in this presentation.
The first chapter of the Qayyúm al-Asmá' which deals with the
story of Joseph, is the fifth surah, which is known as the Surat Husayn. A few
words about the Biblical patriarch and Qur'anic prophet Joseph follow. The person
and story of Joseph is important in both the Bible (Genesis 37-50) and the Qur'an
(surah 12, 111 verses) where the account of this patriarch-prophet is the longest
qur'anic narrative an aspect of the "best of stories" (ahsan al- qassass).
In Sunni and Shi`i Islamic sources Joseph is pre-eminently a model of righteous
piety (al-siddiq) and a paragon of handsome beauty (husn; jamal). The latter hagiographical
motif is, for example, indicated in the Shi`i Tafsir nur al-thaqalayn (`Commentary
[expressive] of the Light of the Twin Weights') of al-Huwayzi (d. 1112/1700) where
it is recorded that the sixth Twelver Imam, Abi `Abdu'llah, Ja`far al-Sadiq (d.
c. 126/743) stated that "Whoso reciteth the Surah of Joseph each day or during
every night will be raised up by God on the Day of Resurrection such that their
beauty (jamal) will be consonant with the beauty of Joseph..." (II:408).
Qur'an 12:4 records the dream-vision of Joseph; "Behold, Joseph said to his
father:`O my father! I saw eleven stars, and the sun and the moon, I saw them
bowing down before me!'". Among the interpretations of this verse are the
following words again from one of the Twelver Imams, "The inner sense (al-ta'wil)
of this dream-vision (al-ru'ya) is that he [Joseph] will rule Egypt; and there
shall enter before him his father [Jacob-Israel] and his brothers. As for the
"sun" (al-shams) it is Rachael (Rahil) the mother of Joseph while the
"moon" (al-qamar) is Jacob (Ya`qub). Now the eleven stars (al-kawakib)
are his [eleven] brothers. When they entered before him they prostrated in gratitude
before God alone; the moment they caught sight of him was that of the prostration
before God." (cited Bahrani, Kitab al- burhan, II:243).
The Shí'í imamological understanding of the Joseph narrative
is registered in various authoritative traditions (ahadith; khabar) and tafsir
works. Aspects of its non-literal (allegorical-typological... ) exegesis had messianic
implications relative to the ghayba ("occultation") and eventual advent
or "return" of the expected (hidden 12th) Imam. This provides the background
to the Bábí-Bahá'í interpretation of the Joseph narrative,
which is often eschatological, messianic and theophanological.
The Báb's interpretation of the motifs in the dream of Joseph go way
beyond this Shi'i interpretation expressed by Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq. In QA V, the
dream-vision of Joseph (Q. 12:4) is cited and commented upon. Among other things,
it is asserted that God intended by Joseph the nafs, the "Logos-Self"
of the Messenger (= Muhammad) and the "fruit of the [womb of the] the Virgin"
(thamarat al-batul) by which Fatimah's son, the martyred and expected to "return"
[Imam] Husayn (4/626-61/680) is intended. The sun, moon and eleven stars seen
by Joseph in his vision symbolize Fatima (= "the sun"), Muhammad (=
"the moon") and the [Twelver] Imams (presumably 'Ali ... > Hasan
al- Askari = "the stars"; see Q.12:7). The twelve Imams are also representative
of the 12 letters of the kalimat al-tawhid, the Islamic affirmation of the Divine
Unity (= the 12 letters of la ilaha ila Allah = 'There is none other god but God').
In certain of his later writings such as his Kitáb al-Asmá' '
("Book of Names") the Báb associated the beauteous Joseph (Yúsuf
al-bahá) with the Bábí messiah figure manyuzhiruhu'llah ("He
Whom God shall make manifest") as well as with an expected theophany of Imam
Husayn. It was in this light that Bahá'u'lláh came to claim to be
the `True Joseph', the returned Husayn and an incarnation of baha as that `beauty-glory'
which he identified with the greatest Name of God (al-ism Allah al-a`zam).
Bahá'u'lláh frequently expressed his claims through an allegorical-mystical
use of Joseph motifs. He referred to himself as the "Ancient [Pre-existent]
Beauty (jamal al-qidam) and frequently, for example, (directly or indirectly)
highlighted his theophanological Joseph-like "Beauty" (baha, jamal,
husn, ) and associated resplendent "Garment[s]" diffusing an exquisite,
captivating eschatological scent. One of the major features of many of the Tablets
of the Edirne [Adrianople] period (1863-68 CE; e.g. Lawh-i Sarráj; Lawh-i
Sayyáh and Súrat al-Qamís) is the presence of Joseph motifs;
often rooted in Persian poetry and the Qayyúm al-Asmá'. Numerous
elevated proclamatory claims are framed in terms of a new Joseph theophany.
For Bahá'ís Joseph was a Manifestation of God. His life story
pre-figures and reflects that of Bahá'u'lláh. Just as Joseph was
abandoned by his jealous brothers and subsequently imprisoned so was Bahá'u'lláh
rejected by his half-brother Mirza Yahya Nuri (c.1830-1912) and incarcerated by
the Ottoman authorities for several decades of the nineteenth century. In this
paper these and related themes and motifs including that of the Joseph's (traditionally)
"coat of many colours" (Heb. ketnot passim; Gen. 37:3b; so AV [KJV]
of 1611) or scent diffusing "garment" (Arabic, qamis) will be sketched