Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Alif-Bā': The Primordial Image




God has made one hundred and four books descend from Heaven. The knowledge contained in one hundred of these books he stored in four of them: the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel, and the Koran. The knowledge contained in the first three of these four books, he set down in the fourth, the Koran. He set down this knowledge in the Mufassal. This he set down in the Fatihah. Lastly, he set this down in the bā‘ of the Basmallah.

- Prophet Muhammad

All that is in the world is in the Qur'an, and all that is in the Qur'an is condensed in the Fátiha of the Book, and all that is in the Fátiha is in the basmala, and all that is in the basmala is in the bá' and I am the point under the bá'.

- Imam Ali

When the blissful fire shone for the Bā’ on the tree of its soul, it penetrated the darkness of the invisible canopy of its night, away from its own world, so as to acquire fire for its constitution, or to find within itself direction in its journey from itself to itself. It was carved out of an upright portion of the tree of the Alif that is the name of God.

Remove your shoes - that is, your character and your being - for indeed, you are at the Blessed Valley, and you are occasion of doubt and defilement. There is no place for you in the Blessed Valley of the dot unless you rid your being and your character of doubt and defilement until nothing is left in this sacred place except the Most Holy God. Under His direction the Bā’ grasped the hand offered as a sign of concord.

- Abd al-Karim al-Jili, The Cave and the Inscription

... they say that existents were made manifest through the bāʾ of bismillāh, since it is the letter that comes after the alif which [itself] is analogous to the Essence of God. Thus it [the bāʾ] is an allusion to the First Intellect (al-ʿaql al-awwal), which is the first thing that God created and the one to whom God’s statement, “I have not created anything more beloved to Me or more noble in My eyes than you: through you I grant, through you I seize, through you I reward and through you I chastise” is addressed [as per] the ḥadīth.

- Tafsir Al-Kashani, 1:1

Glory be to him who has made the letter alif, alone , the origin of All and the symbol of the pure and absolute Essence; who has made the letter bā‘ the cipher of the First Determination, the First of all limited beings beneath absolute being, the first of its epiphanies; and who has made the other letters the symbols, respectively, of the other existences. He has written the entirety qua entirety on the pages of the invisible universes with the Pen ofthe primordial Will. He has given the name of The Mother of the Book (the archetype of archetypes) to the letters of the eternal quiddities and individuations. He has composed its Verbs, perfect and imperfect, of the existence of beings. He has ordained the Signs of the universes of the Invisible and of the Visible in the Book of Horizons, to which refer the verses: "By Mount Sinai! By a Book written on an unrolled parchment (52:1-3)."

- Haydar Amuli, al-Muhit al-A'zam

Whenever I speak of the Point I mean the Secret of the Essence which is named the Oneness of Perception (Wahdat ash-Shuhūd), and whenever I speak if the Alif I mean the One Who Alone is (Wāhid al-Wujūd), the Essence Dominical, and whenever I speak of the Bā‘ I mean the ultimate Manifestation which is termed the Supreme Spirit ...

- Ahmad al-Alawi, The Book of the Unique Archetype

According to the traditional doctrine of the 'science of letters', Allah created the world not by the alif, which is the first of the letters [of the Arabic alphabet], but by the bā‘, which is the second; and, in fact, although unity is necessarily the first principle of manifestation, it is duality that manifestation immediately presupposes, and it is between the two terms of this duality as between the two complementary poles of manifestation represented by the two extremities of bā‘, that all the indefinite multiplicity of contingent existences will be produced. It is therefore bā‘ which is properly the origin of creation, and the latter is accomplished by it and in it, that is to say it is both the 'means' and the 'place,' according to the two meanings that the letter has when taken as the preposition bi [i.e., 'by' and 'in']. The bā‘ in this primordial role represents ar-Rûh, the Spirit, which one must understand as the total Spirit of universal Existence, and which is essentially identified as Light (an-Nûr); it is produced directly by 'divine commandment' (min amri 'Llah), and after it is produced, it is in every way the instrument by which this 'commandment' brings about all things, which are thus all 'ordered' in relation to it; prior to it, there is then only al-amr, the affirmation of pure Being and the first formulation of the Supreme Will, since before duality there is only unity, as before the bā‘ there is only the alif. Now the alif is the 'polar' letter (qutbâniyyah), of which the very form is that of the 'axis' through which divine 'order' is carried out; and the upper point of the alif, which is the 'secret of secrets' (sirr al-asrâr), is reflected in the dot of the bā‘, inasmuch as this dot is the center of the 'first circumference' (al-dâirah al-awwaliyyah) that defines and envelopes the domain of universal Existence, a circumference, moreover, which seen in simultaneity in all possible directions, is in reality a sphere, the primordial and total form from which all particular forms will be born through differentiation.

- Rene Guenon, Ar-Rûh

The supreme Qutb is attended by the two Imams of the right and of the left, and the ternary thus formed is represented in the pyramid by the triangularity of each of its faces. On the other hand, the unity and the binary which constitute this ternary correspond to the letters alif and ba, according to the respective numerical values of these letters. The letter alif has the form of a vertical axis; its upper point and the two ends of the horizontal letter bā‘ form (according to a schema of which one could find equivalents in various symbols pertaining to other traditions) the three angles of the initiatic triangle, which in fact must be considered as one of the 'signatures' of the Pole.

- Rene Guenon, A Hieroglyph of the Pole

'Heaven covers, Earth supports.' So runs the traditional formula that defines with the greatest of precision the roles of these two complementary principles and symbolically demarcates their positions, respectively above and below, in relation to the 'ten thousand beings' - that is, the totality of universal manifestation. Here we find postulated on one hand the 'actionless' quality of the activity of Heaven, or Purusha; and on the other hand the passivity of Earth, or Prakriti, which strictly speaking is a 'ground' or 'support' for manifestation, and consequently also a plane of resistance and halting for the celestial forces and influences acting downwards from above. Furthermore, this is applicable at any level of existence, for essence and substance can always be envisaged as principles that in a relative sense - that is, in relation to each particular state of manifestation - correspond to universal Essence and universal Substance in their relation to the totality of manifested existence ...

It is common knowledge that in the case of a complementary relationship between two terms where one is viewed as active and the other as passive, the active term will generally be represented symbolically by a vertical line and the passive term by a horizontal line. At times Heaven and Earth are also depicted symbolically in this way; but in this particular case the two lines do not cross each other to form a cross as they usually would, because it is obviously appropriate that the whole of the symbol of Heaven should be placed above the symbol of Earth. This gives us a perpendicular with the horizontal at its foot, and these two lines can beviewed as the altitude and base of a triangle, the sides of which descend from the 'pinnacle of Heaven' to determine the real extent of the surface ofthe Earth-that is, to mark offthe 'ground' that serves as the support for manifestation. [A similar arrangement of the two letters alif and bā‘ in the Arabic alphabet also corresponds to the same symbolism.]

- Rene Guenon, Heaven and Earth

The letter alif (ا) by its very verticality symbolizes the Divine Majesty and the Transcendent Principle from which everything originates. That is why it is the origin of the alphabet and the first letter of the Supreme Name of God, Allah, whose very visual form conveys the whole of Islamic metaphysical doctrine concerning the nature of Reality ...

He who loves God empties his heart of all but Him; the alif of Allah pierces his heart and leaves no room for anything else. That is why Hafiz sings in a famous verse,

There is no trace upon the tablet of my heart save the alif of the stature of the Friend.

What can I do, my master taught me no other letter.


One need only 'know' this single letter in order to know all that is to be known, for the Divine Name is the key to the Treasury of Divine Mysteries and the path to the Real. It is that Reality by virtue of the essential identity of God and His sanctified Name.

As for the bā‘ (ب), the second letter of the alphabet, it's very horizontality symbolizes the receptivity of the maternal and passive principle as well as the dimension of beauty which compliments that of majesty. The intersection of the two letters constitutes the point which stands below the bā‘ and which symbolizes the Supreme Center from which everything issues and to which everything returns. In fact all manifestation is nothing other than that point for how can the One bear otherness to that which would compromise it's oneness? That is why the alif and bā‘ themselves together with all the letters of the Arabic alphabet constituted of that point which, while being one in itself, is seen as many in the mirror of multiplicity.

- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Spiritual Message of Islamic Calligraphy

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