The Greatest Name [ism al-a‘ẓam] and Āṣaf ibn Barkhiyā

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The Greatest Name [ism al-a‘ẓam] and Āṣaf ibn Barkhiyā   

ثمّ إنّ سَيِّدنا موسى بنَ جعفرٍ عليهما السلام دَعا بالمُسيِّب، وذلك قبلَ وفاته بثَلاثة أيّام، وكان موَكَّلاً به، فقال يا مُسيِّبُ! قال لَبَّيك يا مولاي. فقال: إنّي ظاعِنٌ في هذه اللَيلة الى المَدنية مدينةِ جَدّي رسولِ اللّه صلّى اللّهُ عليه وآله، لاَِعهَدَ الى علىٍّ ابني ما عهِدَه إلىَّ أبي وأجعَلَه وصِيّيي وخَليفَتي وآمُرَه بأمري! قال المسيّبُ: فقلتُ يا مولايَ كيفَ تَأمُرُني أن أفتَحَ الأبوابَ وأقفالَها، والحَرَس مَعي على الأبواب! فقال: يا مسيِّبُ ضعُف يَقينُك باللّه عزَّ وجلَّ فينا. قلتُ: لا سَيِّدي. قال: فمَهْ! قلتُ يا سيّدي اُدعُ اللّهَ أن يُثَبِّتني! فقال: ألّلهمَّ ثَبِّتْه، ثمَّ قال: إنّي أدعُو اللّهَ عزَّ وجلَّ باسمِه العَظيم الَّذي دَعا به آصَفُ حتّى جاءَ بسَرير بِلقَيسَ ووضعَه بين يدَىْ سُليمانَ عليه ‌السلام، قبلَ ارتداد طَرْفِه اليه، حتّى يجمعَ بيني وبين ابني عليٍّ بالمدينة! قال المسيِّبُ: فسمِعتُه عليه ‌السلام يَدعو، ففقَدتُه عن مُصَلّاه، فلم أزلْ قائماً على قَدَمي حتّى رأيتُه قد عادَ الى مَكانه وأعادَ الحَديدَ الى رِجليه.

‘Uyūn al-Akhbār al-Riḍā, Section [bāb] 8, adīth 6

Translation   

Then our Master Mūsā ibn Ja‘far (‘a) summoned Musayyib who was his prison guard. This happened three days before his death.

The Imām (‘a) said: “O Musayyib!” He responded: “Yes, my Master!” The Imām said: “Tonight I will be going to Medina, the city of my grandfather the Messenger of Allah () in order to instruct my son ‘Alī [al-Riḍā] (‘a) according to what my father had instructed me to do, and designate him as my Trustee [waṣī] and Successor [khalīfah], and delegate my affairs to him!”

Musayyib said: “O my Master! How do you order me to open the doors for you while these are guarded also by other prison guards?”

The Imām (‘a) said: “O Musayyib! Your unflinching faith [yaqīn] in God, the Honorable and Exalted, regarding us has become weak.”

He said: “It is not so, O my Master!”

The Imām (‘a) said: “Then wait and keep quiet for a while.”

He said: “O my Master, please pray to Allah for me to get more firmly established [in faith].”

So, the Imām (‘a) said: “O Allah, make him firm.”

Then the Imām (‘a) said: “I invoke God, the Honorable and Exalted, by His Greatest Name—by which Āṣaf [Balkhī] had invoked Him, and miraculously brought Bilqīs’ (Queen of Sheba) Throne there and placed it in front of Prophet Sulaymān (Solomon) (‘a) in the wink of an eye (from Yemen to Jerusalem) to bring me and my son ‘Alī together in Medina.”

Musayyib said: “Then I heard him (‘a) praying and suddenly he (‘a) was no longer where he was standing to pray. As I was standing there for sometime, I saw him (‘a) reappear there again, and tie the chains to his own feet.”   

Exposition   

Here we have to explain some points:

1. Musayyib ibn Zuhayr [مُسيِّب بن زُهَير]: one of the guards of Sindī ibn Shāhik, warden of the prison cell of Baghdad. Musayyib was one of the Shī‘ah and lovers of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) and secretly fond of the Imām (‘a).

2. Āṣaf ibn Barkhiyā [آصَف بن بَرخِيا]: These two words are apparently Hebrew in origin. In Hebrew language, Āṣāf means “comprehensive” [jāmi‘] while Barkhiyā means “blessed” [mubārak].

And it had been a collective name during the time of Prophet Dāwūd (David) and Prophet Sulaymān (Solomon) (‘a) as indicated in Bible dictionary.

3. Bilqīs [بِلقَيس]: the queen in Yemen whose characteristics and way of ruling are mentioned in history books.  

4. Alladhī da‘ā bihi āṣafu attā jā’a bi-sarīr [ألّذي دَعا به آصَفُ حتّى جاء بسَرير]: As written in some books of Qur’anic exegesis [tafsīr] and history, Āṣaf was one of the nearest ones to Prophet Solomon (‘a) as well as his deputy and successor. Naturally, he was a perfect man of God who deserved the station of successorship [wiṣāyah] and prophethood [nubuwwah].

As it becomes clear from the noble words of the Seventh Imām (‘a), his action is a product of supplication, inner attention and sincere request, and not through a show of power and authority, as exemplified by the statement of the jinn ‘Ifrīt: “Indeed I have the power for it and am trustworthy.” (Sūrat al-Naml 27:39)

5. The actions done by every creature is within the limit of its power and ability such as the movements of grazing animals, birds or the human being. So is the difference in their faculties of sight, hearing and smelling.

This difference is tangible in the realms of physical worlds. In the metaphysical worlds, the levels of difference in power and ability are more intense. For instance, ‘Ifrīt who belongs to the lower kingdom [malakūt-e adnā] could bring within a short moment the Throne of Bilqīs in front of Solomon (‘a).

And on top of this, there was a person who possessed knowledge of the Divine Book. He was occupying a high spiritual station and was able to bring the Throne in a moment.  

6. Kitāb [كتاب]: It means to externally document or record a thing by means of writing, issuing a decree or ordinance, collection and arrangement, and the like. So, by ‘writing’ [kitābah] two points are meant, viz. expression [ihār] and documentation [tathbīt].

And it is different from kitāb with its noun in the genitive case [muḍāfun ilayh], viz. book of the soul [kitāb-e nafs], book of sciences [kitāb-e ‘ulūm], book of guidance [kitāb-e hidāyat], book of laws [kitāb-e akām], and others.

In all these cases, the expression of what is related to noun in the genitive case and the collection and recording of what is about it is documented.

Regarding the statement “he had knowledge of the Book” [‘indahu ‘ilmun min al-kitāb], as indicated by modal context, “the Book” refers to Divine truths, Attributes and gnosis which emanate and manifest from the Essence of the Absolute Necessary Being, and externally it is recorded, implied and documented.

Since “knowledge” [‘ilm] is related to a certain person while “the Book” is related to God, the Exalted, the former is mentioned as indefinite noun and the latter as definite noun. The indefinite signifies contempt [taqīr] while the definite signifies glorification [tajlīl].

So, this description points to the high station of gnosis, luminosity and spirituality of that person, although in relation to the station of majesty and glory of God, the Exalted, he is in utmost contempt.  

7. Bi-ismihi ’l-‘aẓīm [باسمِه العظيم]: In the book Al-Taqīq, it is stated that the word ism is derived from the root-word shimā in Hebrew and Aramaic. The hamzah being superfluous is meant for connection and the last letter, wāw or yā, is omitted for ta‘rīf.

The Most Beautiful Names [asmā’ al-usnā] of God, the Exalted, are ninety nine, each of which is a great name in its own right.

أللّهمَّ إنّي أسألُك مِن أسمائِك بأكْبَرِها وكلُّ أسمائِك كبِيرة.

“O Allah! I ask You of Your Names by the Greatest of them and all Your Great Names.”

But the Greatest Name of God, the Exalted, is the Name which signifies more on the Absolute and Infinite Necessary Essence, or more perfectly or comprehensively on the Essential Attributes emanating from the Essence.   

And the greatest of the Names of God is the word huwa [He] which refers to the Unseen, Infinite-by-Essence and Absolute Essence. And after it is the Noble Name Allāh which is the Proper Name of the Necessary Essence from which the Attributes of Beauty, Perfection and Glory emanate. After it are the Most Beautiful Names such as the All-living [al-ayy], the Able [al-qādir], the All-knowing [al-‘ālim], and the Desirous [al-murīd].

8. Fasami‘tuhu yad‘ū [فسمِعتُه يَدعو]: The essence of du‘ā is to invite or call God, the Exalted, and not to recite customary lines of supplication.

And rationally, conventionally and evidentially, the essence of calling depends on the essence of connection, link and removal of the veils between the caller and the Called so that understanding and conversation would take place between the two parties and it would end up in a completely desirable result.

The attainment or realization of this connection between the servant [‘abd] and the Object of Worship [ma‘būd] depends on the removal of the barriers and veils of darkness and animalistic or evil traits embedded in the inner being of man, illumination of the heart by the light of faith, certainty and tranquility, and vision of the heart’s eye by the manifestation of Divine Lights. In sum, it is the attainment of the spiritual station of annihilation and removal of I-ness [anāniyyah] so that in supplicating God, the Exalted, one could ask for something from Him according to [his] duty, the demands of servitude, and His will and supplication would be answered.

Of course, in this way, he is aware that both the ability to supplicate and answer it come from Him.   

9. Fafaqadtuhu ‘an muallāh [ففقَدتُه عن مُصَلّاه]: Yes, as man attains the station of perfect annihilation, transcends beyond his I-ness and is effaced in the Light of the Divine Precinct, nothing can be seen except the Light of the Real and His Power and Might. His will becomes God’s will; his eyes become His eyes; his hands become His hands. All his limbs and faculties are effaced in the power and will of the Real.

It is at this juncture that the wayfarer [sālik] becomes wary, for the first time, of the Light, Power, Might and encompassing Knowledge of God, the Exalted, and then he becomes attentive to himself and puts himself along the passage of His penetrating Light and all-encompassing Power.

In Nawāfil Wasā’il al-Shī‘ah, Imām al-Bāqir (‘a) is reported to have said [that God said, thus]:

فاذا أَحبَبْتُه كنتُ سَمعَه الّذي يَسمعُ به وبَصَرَه الّذي يُبصِرُ به ولِسانَه الّذي يَنطِقُ به ويَده الّتي يَبطِشُ بها… الرواية.

“Thus, as I love him, I become his ears with which he hears, his eyes with which he sees, his tongue with which he speaks, and his hands with which he shows his harshness.”

10. Man is a microcosm of other realms or worlds. In the beginning of his creation, he has no power of his own as do the plants and inanimate objects. He naturally grows by the influence of other factors. Then, like other animals, he acquires perception and senses. After sometime, he gains intellect to discern material and spiritual affairs, effects and interests, and moves in order to attain natural results or spiritual objectives. If his spiritual orientation overwhelms his physical programs, he employs the physical power for a spiritual life, and the spiritual rules over his being, he will reach a celestial station in wayfaring and his entire being will become pure, clean and luminous. Since in this station he is connected to the Divine world [ālam-e lāhūt], becomes a manifestation of the Divine Attributes and Lights, discerns the Divine truths and knowledge which are the essence of the Book of Allah, and becomes annihilated in the Divine Grandeur, Glory and Beauty, he will be placed in the realm of the Invincible [jabarūt].

11. So, the case of Āṣaf’s supplication and greater than that, the supplication and will of the Seventh Imām (‘a) to immediately go to Medina and return back is totally a real and logically explainable and defendable happening.

Yes, for those who are yet to transcend beyond the realm of nature and physical life and are not informed of the effects, realities and movements of the spiritual [malakūt] and Invincible [jabarūt] worlds, this happening is unbelievable.

Interestingly enough, they want to compare and evaluate these happenings with natural or physical events which are customary.

This is while in the physical world there is need for time, space, means, tools, limbs, bodily members, and other intermediaries. In the Invincible and Divine [lāhūt] worlds, however, all affairs are done, realized or come into being by means of will or irādah only—“When He wills something, He says to it ‘Be,’ and it is.”[1]

12. In Baṣā’ir (volume 5, section 1), it is thus recorded concerning Imām al-Ṣadiq (‘a):

Then, he (‘a) said: “O Sudayr! Have you read this [verse] in the Holy Qur’an:

قالَ الَّذي عندَه عِلمٌ مِن الكِتابِ أنَا آتِيك به قبلَ أن يَرتدَّ إليك طَرفُك؟

“The one who had knowledge of the Book said, ‘I will bring it to you in the twinkling of an eye’”?”[2]

I said: “Yes, I have read it.” The Imām (‘a) asked: “Do you know what he possessed?” I said: “Please tell me.” He (‘a) said: “It was to the extent of a raindrop that falls into the ocean ull of the knowledge of the Book.” I said: “How little it is!” The Imām (‘a) said: “It is too much if accounted for by itself.” He (‘a) continued: “Have you also read this verse of the Noble Qur’an:

قُل كفَى باللّهِ شهيداً بَيني وبينَكم ومَن عندَه عِلمُ الكتابِ

“Say, ‘Allah suffices as a witness between me and you, and he who possesses the knowledge of the Book’”?[3]

The Imām (‘a) then pointed to his chest and said: “By God, the Exalted! The knowledge of the Book is entirely with us.”[4] And it is thus narrated in another tradition: “We (i.e. the infallible Imāms) are referred to in this verse, and ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib is the first and superior to us.” ?


[1] Sūrat Yā Sīn 36:82. [Trans.]

[2] Sūrat al-Naml 27:40.

[3] Sūrat Ibrāhīm 13:43.

[4] It refers to the Book as a whole [‘ilm al-kitāb] and not just part of the Book [‘ilmun min al-kitāb] as in the previous verse.

(An excerpt from ‘Allamah Hasan Mustafawi, Esoteric Traditions: An Exposition of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far’s (‘a) Mystical and Philosophical Traditions,” trans. Mansoor Limba (ElziStyle.com, 2020), pp. 75-81.)

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