Panel Presentation on "Qayyúmu'l-Asmá'"

By Muin Afnani and Stephen Lambden, and Habib Raizati

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #46
Bosch Bahá'í­ School: California, USA
May 1–4, 2003
(see list of papers from #46)


    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 and analysed.


this paper is not yet online