The Bab's Qayyuma'l-Asma Notes

Jul 2017
Kettering, Ohio USA
Unit 1 The Báb’s Artistry in His Commentary on the Súrih of Joseph

The Qayyumu’l-Asma [QA] is actually not the first work by the Bab. There was an earlier work in homage
to Siyyid Kazim Rashti on the Suratu’l-Baqara which He began after Rashti’s passing. He referred to
Rashti as his “beloved teacher.” It appears the Bab intended to write a commentary on all 114 surihs of
the Qur’an. Typically such a commentary runs around 30 volumes. But the plan was interrupted by a
series of events. One was a vision where he was informed of Siyyid Kazim Rashti’s death and the entire
holy land (of southern Iraq) came to Shiraz, to His house. This probably occurred in January 1844.
Another was when He dreamed of the severed head of the Imam Husayn and He drank a few drops of
his precious blood. This vision occurred in April or early May; He began the commentary in January
1844. The Bab said the second vision gave Him a new set of abilities.

The Qayyumu’l-Asma is difficult to translate literally. It means “He who is beyond all names and
attributes.” Qayyum has the same numerical value as Joseph in Arabic, so the title itself is connected to
the story of Joseph.

The QA is responsible for the birth of the Babi dispensation. It inspired Mulla Husayn; it inspired the
other Letters of the Living as well to arise. Siyyid Kazim did not appoint a successor; he told his students
to go out and find the Hidden Imam. The young men who came to Shiraz were all deeply learned men of
Islam. They were utterly overwhelmed by the QA; they were profoundly and eternally impressed. They
were quite sure of themselves; Nabil’s narrative makes this clear. The Bab’s announcement He was the
Promised One shocked Mulla Husayn, who was incredulous. The disciples of Siyyid Kazim asked him to
write a commentary on the Surih of Joseph but he refused and said it was beyond him. That was
surprising in itself. He said the Promised One will produce such a commentary unasked. This is what the
Bab did.

Everything in the QA is quite familiar to learned Muslims. It has no new information. But it has a brand
new approach to the Qur’an, however. There is nothing like it in the history of Arabic literature. It stands
completely alone in the history of Arabic letters. It does not enunciate any new laws. So, what captured
the hearts and souls of the Letters so profoundly? It was its artistic intricacy and power.
Todd shows a talisman, a five-pointed star, a symbol of the human being made out of the text of a
prayer. It is an intricate piece of artistry by itself. The QA is an artistic work as well, though not in the
form of calligraphy. It is a work of literary art. That was why they recognized Him as the Return of the
Hidden Imam.

The Qur’anic Surih of Joseph has a beginning, middle, and end, because it talks about the story of
Joseph. Todd recounts the entire story and stresses its importance. The Bab focuses on Joseph’s
forgiveness of his brothers as a revisioning of the entire Qur’an. He puts the story of Joseph at the heart
of the Qur’an message.

The Qur’an is a book of over 6,000 verses. The Bab uses these verses as if he were playing a piano with
6,000 keys, recombining that which was familiar, but in utterly new ways. Much of the Qayyuymu’lAsma consists of passages from the Qur’an, but combined and used in utterly new ways. In a sense, it is
a re-revelation of the Qur’an itself. Many people were never able to make sense of the QA; they thought it was utter nonsense. They missed the incredible artistry it represented. The Bab’s work is comparable to the spontaneous
recombinations of jazz. An apt comparison is with James Joyce, who took the story of the Odyssey and
utterly rewrote it to produce Ulysses. At first it was criticized, but eventually Joyce came to be
recognized as the founder of modernist literature. That was true of the Bab from the point of view of
the Letters of the Living, who gave their lives for Him. But the rest of society rejected the Bab’s artistry
and He was executed

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