The Bab's Commentary on the Ultimate Reality

By Stephen Lambden

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #48
Center for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 10–13, 2003
(see list of papers from #48)

    The Hadíth al-haqíqa ("Tradition concerning Ultimate Reality") or Hadíth Kumayl is the record of an alleged (Arabic) conversation between the first Shí`í Imam, `Alí b. Abí Tílib (d.40/661) and his Shí`í associate, the one-time governor of Hít (Iraq, 130 miles from Baghdad), Kumayl ibn Ziyíd ibn Nahíd ibn Haytham ibn Sa'd ibn Malik ibn al-Nakhí'í. (d. c.81 / 701) whose shine is located at wadí al-salím near Najaf (Iraq) (al-Mufíd, K. al-Irshíd). It has to do with the nature and definition of of al-h*aqíqa which is often (loosely) translated "Reality" or "Ultimate Reality". The hadíth al-haqíqa is a well-known tradition much discussed and highly influential in Shí`í Islamic philosophy and mysticism as well as many times registered in Babi-Baha'i scripture. It has been commented upon by the early Shaykhi leaders as well as many gnostic (irfani) or esoterically minded thinkers among them Hajji Mullí Hídí Sabziwírí (d. c.1295/ 1878). He had occasion to comment upon the Hadíth al-haqiqa in various of his works including the recently republished (new edition) of his `Commentary on the Most Beautiful Names of God'. The hadíth al-haqíqa has several times been (partially) translated into English, once by the Cambridge orientalist Edward G. Browne (d.1926) and again by the American Presbyterian missionary Dwight M Donaldson (d.1976) whose article has been published in the periodical Muslim World . In his commentary on the hadíth al-haqíqa the Bab introduces it as follows: In commentary upon the `Tradition about Reality' (hadith al-haqiqa) which has it that Kumayl ibn ZiyAd al-Nakha`i was riding one day behind [imam] `Ali (upon Him be peace) on his she-camel (naqa). And Kumayl said `O my Master, what is al-haqiqa ("Reality")?' [Imam] `Ali upon Him be peace replied, `What have you to do with Reality?' He [Kumayl] responded, `Am I not a custodian of thy secret (sahib al-sirrika)? He [`Ali] said, `Yes! but what merely sprinkles down upon thee overfloweth abundantly through me.' Subsequently `Ali gives several somewhat cryptic definitions of al-haqiaq (Reality). The final definition refers to the subh al-azal ("Morn of Eternity") and is the ultimate source of the title of Mirza Yahya (c. 1834-1912) (Per.) Subh-i Azal Among the imamological and other senses given the Hadith Kumayl by the Bab is that it revolves around the high station of Imam `Ali, whose Logos-Self is represented as the creative genesis of Being and a divine effulgence which mediates divine realities in the world of creation. The Bab from very early in his mission cited and gave importance to the Hadíth Kumayl. He cited it in his early Risíla 'l-suluk ("Trestise on the Path") as he did later in his Sahifa bayn al-haramayn (Epistle between the two shrines) and his (Persian) Dala'il-i sab`ih (Seven Proofs) where it is also given an interesting imamological exegesis.

    In this presentation an attempt will be made to sum up the Bab's interpretations of al-haqiqa (Ultimate Reality") in the light of their Shi'i-Shaykhi background. A few of Baha'u'llah's interpretations of passages in the Hadith al-haqiqa will also be briefly summed up.

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