Saturday, April 21, 2012

I am the Dot Under the Ba


I have been asked a question via the Contact Us form of the blog regarding the famous phrase attributed to Imām `Alī (عليه السلام), “I am the dot which is under the bā’”


Question:

Have you ever heard or read Imam Ali said:

"I am the dot under the letter BA'

What is the source to this saying? And is this saying by Imam Ali authentic?

Answer:

This is not a ḥadīth of Imām `Alī (عليه السلام), rather this is a saying of Sūfīs that has been attributed to Imām `Alī (عليه السلام). This saying is not found in our classical books of Islām, either Sunnī or Shī`ah.

When looking through the books of both the Shī`ah and Sunnī, you actually find this phrase “I am the dot which is under the Bā’”[1] being attributed to another person and not Imām `Alī (عليه السلام). The earliest book that I could find that has this phrase is a book by the famous Sūfī, al-Ghazālī (b.450/1058-d.505/1111)[2]. In his book Iḥyā’ `Ulūm al-Dīn (Rebirth of the Sciences of Religion), which is said to be authored when he was influenced by the Sūfīs, he states:

وجاء رجل إلى الشبلي رحمه الله فقال له ما أنت وكان هذا دأبه وعادته فقال أنا النقطة التي تحت الباء
A man came to al-Shiblī[3], may Allāh have mercy on him, and he said to him, ‘Who are you?’ and this was his habit and custom. So he (al-Shiblī) said: ‘I am the dot (nuqṭah) which is under the bā’’[4]


The next time that this phrase[5] has been seen is by the extremist Sūfī, Ibn `Arabī (b.558/1164-d.638/1240), he is commonly known as Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn `Arabī. Ibn `Arabī in his al-Fatūḥāt al-Makiyyah, his magnum opus, has related the same story that al-Ghazālī has mentioned.[6]


The first time that this phrase has been attributed to Imām `Alī (عليه السلام), is by the Sūfī Sunnī scholar Muḥammad b. Talḥah al-Shāfi`ī’s (b. 582/1186-d.652/1254)[7] book called al-Durr al-Mandham fī al-Surr al-A`dham[8]. He does not give a chain of narrators of this saying, nor does he give a source to where he got this from.

About Ibn Ṭalḥah al-Shāfi`ī

He is a Sunnī scholar with Sūfī leanings. This can be easily seen when reading through his works. al-Dhahabī (b. 673-d. 748) in his Tārīkh al-Islām  says, “And he entered in things from delirium and misguidance, and he acted on the circles[9], and claimed that he derived from it, knowledge of the unseen (al-ghayb) and knowledge of the Hour (Day of Judgment)”[10]

al-Dhahabī also says in his Siyar A`lām al-Nabulā’, “but he entered into the delirium of the knowledge of the letters (`ilm al-hurūf)”[11]

Ibn Kathīr in his Ṭabaqāt al-Fuquhā’ al-Shāfi`īn says, “And it is attributed that he occupied himself with the knowledge of the letters and patrimony, and that he would derive from that things from the unseen. And some say: ‘That he returned from that’. And Allāh Knows best.”[12]

About al-Durr al-Mandham fī al-Surr al-A`dham

As you read through this book, you can see what al-Dhahabī and Ibn Kathīr was talking about when they said “he occupied himself with the knowledge of the letters”. Throughout the book, he goes on-and-on about the different letters in the Qur’ān and what they mean. He even tries to do tafsīr (commentary) on the hurūf al-Muqaṭi`ah[13]

This book is still extant, and an old written manuscript of this book has been uploaded by Kind Saud University. In this old manuscript of Ibn Ṭalḥah’s al-Durr al-Mandham, you can see the famous saying that is attributed to Imām `Alī (عليه السلام), “I am the dot which is under the bā’”.

(Scanned Image of Old Manuscript of Ibn Ṭalḥah’s al-Durr al-Mandham)
(Click image to enlarge)


و اعلم أن جميع أسرار الله تعالى في الكتب السماوية و جميع أسرار الكتب السماوية في القرآن ، وجميع ما في القرآن في الفاتحة ، وجميع ما في الفاتحة في بسم الله، وجميع ما في بسم الله في باء بسم الله، وجميع ما في باء بسم الله في النقطة التي هي تحت الباء . قال الإمام علي : أنا النقطة التي تحت الباء
And know that all of Allāh’s (تعالى) secrets are in the heavenly books, and all of the secrets of the heavenly books are in the Qur’ān. And all of which is in the Qur’ān is in al-Fātiḥah, and all of which is in al-Fātiḥah is in bismillah, and all of which is in bismillah is in the bā’ of bismillah, and all of which is in the bā’ in bismillah is the dot (nuqṭah) which is under the bā’. Imām `Alī (عليه السلام) said: “I am the dot which is under the bā’”


This is the first time in history that this phrase “I am the dot which is under the ba” has been attributed to Imām `Alī (عليه السلام). As you can see, he never gives the source or the chain of narrators to allow us to see how he got this phrase. This is not uncommon when reading through this book as he never gives the source or complete chain of narrators to the ḥadīth he mentions.


The first Shī`ah source that mentions this phrase is from the Sūfī[14] Shī`ah scholar Rajab al-Bursī (d. 813), who is also into the knowledge of the letters (`ilm al-Hurūf)[15], in his Mashāriq al-Anwār.[16] Rajab al-Bursī has been linked with the ghulāt (exaggerators)[17]. And al-Majlisī has said that he does not rely on what he puts in his book, unless it is in other authentic books.[18] Since this phrase is not added in al-Majlisī’s Bihār al-Anwār, it is safe to assume that al-Majlisī thought that this phrase was da`īf (weak)al-Bursī does not also give a source, nor does he give a chain of narrators to this phrase.


(Taken from my personal copy of al-Bursī’s Mashāriq al-Anwār, (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-`Alamī lil-Maṭbū`āt), pg. 21)
 (Click image to enlarge)


All the scholars that mention this phrase quote from either Ibn Ṭalḥah’s al-Durr al-Mandham or al-Bursī’s Mashāriq al-Anwār. For example, Sulaymān b. Ibrāhīm al-Qundūzī (d. 1294) quotes this phrase from al-Durr al-Mandham.[19] Or, al-Sayyid al-Mar`ashī al-Najafī (d. 1411) quotes this phrase attributed to Imām `Alī (عليه السلام) from al-Durr al-Mandham.[20]


In conclusion, this phrase is fabricated and misattributed to Imām `Alī (عليه السلام). This is not so surprising, since Sūfīs have been known to attribute false things to our A’immah (عليهم السلام), especially Imām `Alī (عليه السلام).


And Allāh Knows Best.

_________________________
Nader Zaveri
Jamadi’ al-Awwal 29, 1433
April 21, 2012


[1] أنا النقطة التي تحت الباء – Tr. “I am the dot which is under the bā’”
[2] Abū Ḥāmid, Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Ghazālī (450/1058-505/1111), he is known as the mujaddid (reviver) of the 5th century. It is stated that he has authored about 457 books. al-Ghazālī most famous books, which he has authored during his Sūfī days, is Iḥyā’ `Ulūm al-Dīn (Rebirth of the Sciences of Religion).
[3] This could be a reference to the Sūfī Abū Bakr al-Shiblī (b. 247/861). It is stated that he adhered to the Sūfī way, but was of the Mālikī madhhab.
[4] al-Ghazālī, Iḥyā’ `Ulūm al-Dīn, 4 vols., (Beirut: Dār al-Ma`rifah), vol. 3, pg. 342
[5] “I am the dot which is under the bā’”
[6] Ibn `Arabī, al-Fatūḥāt al-Makiyyah, 4 vols., (Beirut: Dār al-Ṣādir), vol. 1, pg. 102
[7] Abū Sālim, Muḥammad b. Ṭalḥah b. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan, known as Kamāl al-Dīn, al-Shāfi`ī. He died in the city of Aleppo (Ḥalab) on the 27th of Rajab.
[8] الدر المنظم في السر الأعظم
[9] al-Dhahabī is most likely alluding to Ibn Ṭalḥah’s circular patterns with writings in them, which can be seen through his book al-Durr al-Mandham
[10] al-Dhahabī, Tārīkh al-Islām, ed. `Umar `Abd al-Salām Tudmirī, (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-`Arabī, 1st ed., 1407), vol. 11, pg. 44-45 (ARABIC TEXT):
وقد دخل في شيءٍ من الهَذَيَان والضّلال ، وعمل دائرةً وادّعى أنّه يستخرج منْها علِم الغيب وعلْم السّاعة
[11] al-Dhahabī, Siyar A`lām al-Nabulā’, 25 vols., ed. Shu`ayb Aranā’ūt, (Mu’assasah al-Risālah, 3rd ed., 1405), vol. 23, pg. 293, person # 199
[12] Ibn Kathīr, Ṭabaqāt al-Fuquhā’ al-Shāfī`īn, 2 vols, 2004, Tenth Class of Shāfi`ī Scholars (ARABIC TEXT)
وقد نسب إلى الاشتغال بعلم الحروف والأوقاف ، وأنه يستخرج من ذلك أشياء من المغيبات ، وقيل : إنه رجع عنه ، فالله أعلم
[13] Lit. ‘The Segmented Letters’ – These are the letters that Allāh (سبحانه و تعالى) has put in the beginning of some sūrahs (i.e. Alif-Lam-Mīm; Kaf-Ha-Ya-`Ayn-Sād)
[14] Muḥsin al-Amīn (d. 1371) calls Rajab al-Bursī a Sūfī. (See: Muḥsin al-Amīn, A`yān al-Shī`ah, (Beirut: Dār al-Tā`rif), vol. 6, pg. 465)
[15] Muhsin al-Amīn says that Rajab al-Bursī is into `ilm al-Hurūf and that it is nothing but a delusion, assumption and deceptive (See: ibid, pg. 466)
[16] al-Bursī, Mashāriq al-Anwār, ed. al-Sayyid `Alī Āshūr, (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-`Alamī lil-Maṭbū`āt, 1st ed., 1419), pg. 29
[17] al-Hurr al-`Āmulī, Amal al-Āmul, vol. 2, pg. 117, person # 329
و في كتابه إفراط و ربما نسب إلى الغلو
“And in his book is excessiveness and it maybe that he is linked to ghuluww
[18] al-Majlisī, Biḥār al-Anwār, (Tehran: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyyah, 4th ed., 1362)  vol. 1, pg. 10 (ARABIC TEXT):
و لا أعتمد على ما يتفرد بنقله لاشتمال كتابيه على ما يوهم الخبط و الخلط و الارتفاع و إنما أخرجنا منهما ما يوافق الأخبار المأخوذة من الأصول المعتبرة
“And I do not rely on what he includes in his book alone,  and what is mislead, mixture, wrong and ghuluww. I only narrate from it what is agreed upon narrations taken from authentic fundamental (sources)”
[19] al-Qundūzī, Yanābī` al-Muwaddah, 3 vols., (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-`Alamī lil-Maṭbū`āt, 1st ed., 1418), vol. 1, pg. 81-82
[20] al-Mar`ashī al-Najafī, Sharḥ Iḥqāq al-Haqq, 33 vols., (Qum: Maktabah Mar`ashī al-Najafī), vol. 7, pg. 208

15 comments:

  1. I think it could be dismissed without even engaging with the isnad, in elaboration:

    1) An Infallible says things for a reason and has a purpose
    2) Therefore it is commonly known that they address people according to their level of understanding.
    3) Since arabic letters had no diacritical marks in Imam 'Ali's (A) time - none would have understood this Khutba, hence it would have been obscure and purposeless and would have caused further enquiry.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Assalaamu `Alaykum Yaya,

    Exactly, but seeing the origin and analyzing it, helps us understand who is the originator of this phrase. Plus, it is hard to engage in an "isnad" topic, when the phrase doesn't have an isnad or source. Just a bunch of Sufis talking.

    Wa `Alaykum Assalaam

    ReplyDelete
  3. Salamu Alaikom Brother,

    Excellent post.

    I really enjoy and like the fact that you take the time to research thoroughly and answer the questions that others ask.

    May Allah bless you and your family.

    Salamu Alaikom

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mashallah, excellent analysis

    ReplyDelete
  5. Salaams & Greetings: Thank you very much for this well-researched information. I would say, however, that not everything comes down to sahih and dhaeef -- unfortunately there really is no consistent reliability in ilm al-rijal. We end up affirming what we want to affirm and leaving aside what we don't. We really need to inject the entire enterprise of analyzing isnad with a big shot of uncertainty.

    When it comes to Bursi, of whom I am a big fan, it is less important to consider sources and reliability and rather examine the philosophical system he is building. You can't isolate his (obviously apocryphal) statement of the Imam concerning the dot under the ba' -- it is part of a comprehensive way of looking at Imamate, and one that is more consistent with the ideas of the Imams themselves than that of the muqassareen and the bakri-appeasers.

    Just one fool's thought, feel free to attack at will ;)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Salaamun Alaikum

    Brother Yahya, you said:
    Since arabic letters had no diacritical marks in Imam 'Ali's (A) time - none would have understood this Khutba, hence it would have been obscure and purposeless and would have caused further enquiry.

    What about the Khutba of Imam Ali[as] in which he did not use any letter having a nuqta under it? This invalidates your remark that the arabic letters had no diacritical marks in Imam Ali's[as] time.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Masha Allah...............

    ReplyDelete
  8. Keeping all the above things in mind and your great efforts for analysis about this subject I have a question
    Did Sir Muhammed Iqbal have mentioned anywhere about it by referring Imam e Ali alysalam as First word of Quran (Bismillah).
    Dr. Allama Muahammad Iqbal said: “O’ Allah, what an exalted position Imam Husayn(a.s) possessed, as his illustrious Father (Imam Ali) was the #first_letter of the #Quran(بسم اللہ)

    What is the relevance of Dr. Iqbal by referring Imam e Ali a.s. as first word of Quran.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Keeping all the above things in mind and your great efforts for analysis about this subject I have a question
    Did Sir Muhammed Iqbal have mentioned anywhere about it by referring Imam e Ali alysalam as First word of Quran (Bismillah).
    Dr. Allama Muahammad Iqbal said: “O’ Allah, what an exalted position Imam Husayn(a.s) possessed, as his illustrious Father (Imam Ali) was the #first_letter of the #Quran(بسم اللہ)

    What is the relevance of Dr. Iqbal by referring Imam e Ali a.s. as first word of Quran.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Allah Allah Baey Bismillah pidar

    Ma'niye zibh-e-azim amad pisar

    ReplyDelete
  11. Allah Allah Baey Bismillah pidar

    Ma'niye zibh-e-azim amad pisar

    ReplyDelete
  12. this is quoted by sunni Imam Qundozi Alhanfi and you are blaming shia shame on you man !!!!

    ReplyDelete
  13. You should at all times check the positioning of your supports to ensure that|to make sure that} they won’t trigger moving components to lock in place. Using water-soluble help materials will solve this concern, however you will want a multi-material printer for this to work. A famous comic best shower caps books’ superhero, Spider-Man, is at all times one of the prime 3D printer initiatives for your shelf show or gift to someone. The variety of Spider-Man figurine STL files can impress each fan of this character.

    ReplyDelete