notes on the Arabic term al-Mashiyya
(“The Divine Will”) and associated cosmogonical-theological hypostases
Shī`ī-Shaykhī and Bābī-Bahā’ī literatures.
This Note was originally posted on the list serve Talisman in the
mid 1990s and is now being revised and extended (2009-10).
اِنّي اَسْاَلُكَ مِنْ مَشِيَّتِكَ بِاَمْضاها وَ كُلُّ مَشِيَّتِكَ
اِنّي اَسْاَلُكَ بِمَشِيَّتِكَ كُلِّها
O my God!
I beseech thee by Thy
mashiyyat (Will) at its most conclusive (amḍā) for all of thy Will (mashiyyat) is truly conclusive (māḍiyat). I, verily, O my God!
beseech Thee by the totality of Thy Will (mashiyyat).
The various cosmogonic, cosmological and theological senses of
mashiyya (= Per. mashiyyat) in Arabic and Persian literatures are
centrally important to any consideration of the Shī`ī-Shaykhī,
Islamic background of the Babi and Baha'i religions. Babi-Baha’i
doctrines pertaining to creation, prophetology-theophanology and the
maẓhar-i ilāhī (Divine Manifestation) seen as the Locus of the
primordial, divine Will, are closely related to the Islamic nexus
of ideas associated with or related to
mashiyya understood as indicating the "Will" of the supreme and
transcendent Godhead. Babi-Baha’i doctrines are set forth in a
voluminous and still little studied 19th century Arabic and Persian
sacred scripture. It was set forth in early Qajar Iran by the Bab
(d. Tabriz 1850 CE) and throughout the Ottoman dominions --
spanning (modern) Iraq, Turkey and Palestine-Israel -- by Mirza Husayn
`Ali Nuri Baha-Allah (d. Acre, 1892 CE) who claimed to be the Bab's
successor and the widely expected universal eschatological messiah
there are important Arabic traditions about al-mashyiyya in the
important early Shi`i compendium of traditions (aḥadīth) of Muhammad al-Kulaynī
(d.c. 329/920) known as al-Kāfī fī `ilm al-dīn (The Sufficient for the
understanding of Religion). In its Kitāb al-tawḥīd (Book of the Divine
Unity) the centrality of mashiyya as a theological-cosmological concept
is evident. References to al-mashiyya in Bābī-Bahā'ī scripture are most
centrally rooted in a number of key Shī'ī traditions deriving from
various of the the (twelver) Imams. Among them the following tradition
related from Abī `Abd-Allāh [= Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq] (d. c. 148/765)
which is frequently cited and commented upon by the Bāb:
"There is not a
single thing in the heavens or on the earth but came to be through these
seven factors (khiṣāl) :
("the [Divine] Will");  irāda ("the [Divine] Intention"); 
qadar ("the [Divine] Foreordainment");  qiḍā' ("the Divine
Accomplishment");  idhn ("the Divine] Authorization")  kitāb
("the [Cosmic] Book");  ajal ("the [Divinely] alotted Time"). And
whoso claims to be able to violate this unitative schemata is assuredly an
infidel." (Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 1:149).
identical hadīth to the above, narrated through Abū'l-Ḥasan Mūsā ibn Ja`far,
"There is not a
single thing in the heavens or on the earth but came to be through these
("the Divine Accomplishment");
("the [Divine] Foreordainment");
("the [Divine] Intention");
("the [Divine] Will");
("the [archetypal-cosmogonic] Book");
("the [Divinely] alotted Time");
("the Divine] Authorization").
And whoso supposes
[the centrality of] other than this [schema] assuredly attributes a lie unto
God or disputes with God who is to be exalted and glorified (ibid
these two traditions (cited above) there is a section in al-Kāfī
entitled, bab al-mashiyya wa'l-irāda ("Section on the Divine Will and
the Divine Intention") which contains six traditions (see ibid
1:150-152). In the first of them Abī `Abd Allāh [=Imām Ja`far al-Ṣādiq]
is cited as having said,
"There is naught
that hath come into being save that which God hath willed (sha`a Allāh) and
intended (cf. irāda) , foreordained (cf. qadar ) and accomplished (cf. qiḍā').
I enquired, `What is meant by `He [God] hath willed?' He [the Imam] replied,
`It is the commencement of action'. I then enquired, `What is meant by His
foreordaining'. He [the Imam] replied, `It is the determining of something
in terms of its length (tūl) and its width (`arḍ).' I further enquired,
`What is meant by the [Divine] accomplishment?' He [the Imam] replied, `When
something is ordained such is [assuredly] carried out. This then is what
cannot be annulled.' (ibid).
The next tradition set down in al-Kāfī
is unusual in that it records Imam Ja`far reporting that God had no
particular liking when He was involved in willing, intending, foreordaining
and accomplishing (cf. 1->4 in the first tradition cited). This enigmatic
ḥadīth is probably intended to indicate God's remoteness, his abstraction
from these processes in the light of His transcendence and
al-Mashiyya (The divine
Will) in the writings of the Bāb (d. Tabriz 1850)
The occurrence of mashiyya ("the [Divine] Will") as the first (or fourth) of
the seven realities giving rise to existing things lies behind many of the
Bb's references to the Divine Will (al-mashiyya) as the primordial creative
reality. The transcendent, unknowable God, Who is abstracted from creation
and direct involvement in the creative process, did not Himself call
existence into being but accomplished this through the Logos-Reality of the
Manifestation of God who is the locus of al-mashyiyya ("the [Divine] Will").
There are a very large number of references to the al-mashiyya or al-mashiyya
al-awwaliyya (The Primal Will) in the Bāb's writings. Only a few such
passages can be noted and commented upon here.
Dating to early 1844, the Bab's (pre-declaration) Tafsīr sūrat al-baqara
("Commentary on the qur'anic sura of the Cow = Q. 2) contains an
interpretation of the first couple in which Adam is related to al-mashiyya
("the Divine Will") and Eve to al-irādah ("the Divine Intention"). The
scriptural reference to Eve's being created from Adam's rib is interpreted
in terms of the of the secondary or derivative nature of al-irāda ("the
Divine Intention"), a secondary reality dependent upon the primary reality
which is al-mashiyya ("the Divine Will"). These two primordial hypostatic
realities are also symbolic of the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632 CE) (= al-mashiyya)
and his son-in-law and successor `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/664) (= al-irādah).
In his Risāla fī’l-nubuwwa al-khaṣṣa (Trestise on the Specific Prophethood
[of Muhammad]" 1847) the Bāb at one point extols the uniqueness of the name
Muhammad since, like the Arabic word Mashiyya ("Divine Will"), it begins
with the letter "M" (mim): "there is nothing in the created realms
comparable to the name Muhammad since the letter "M" (mīm) is the first of
the letters of the divine Will (al-mashiyya). So when that letter appeared
is his [Muhammad's] name it was a proof that he is in the Pillar of the
element Fire (rukn `unṣār al-nār)..." (INBAMC 14:338). For the
Bab in this work, “the appearance of the body of the Prophet Muhammad in the
world zamān (“time” in this world) is "the appearance of the Divine Will
(al-mashiyya) in the Primal Creation (al-khalq al-awwal)." (Ibid, 344).
There are quite a large number of the Bāb's works in which the theological
role of al-mashiyya ("the divine Will") is celebrated as the locus the
divine theophany, the primordial foundation or basis of the Reality and
“Person” of the Divine Manifestation.
The Bab opens his Fī al-jasad al-nabī
(On the Body of the Prophet [Muhammad]) as follows :
In the Name of
God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Praise be to God
Who hath manifested Himself (tajallī) within and through existing realities
by virtue of the theophany of His Divine Will (bi-zuhūr al-mashiyyatihi).
This to the end that He might inform all existing things (mumkināt) that God
made the realities of the essences of their beings (ḥaqā'iq dhātiyyāt
kaynūniyatihum) through the modes of the Divine Activity (maqamāt al-fi`l)
and the manifestations of passive receptivity (ẓuhūrāt al-infi`al)."
Towards the beginning of the Persian
Dalā'il-i sab`ah ("Seven Proofs") the Bāb clearly states that all created
things originated through the mashiyyat
If thou art
sailing upon the sea of God's Names, which are reflected in all things,
know thou that He is exalted and sanctified from being known through His
creatures, or being described by His servants. Everything thou beholdest
hath been called into being through the operation of His Will. How can
such a created thing, therefore, be indicative of His essential oneness?
God's existence in itself testifieth to His Own oneness, while every
created thing, by its very nature, beareth evidence that it hath been
fashioned by God. Such is the proof of consummate wisdom in the
estimation of those who sail the ocean of divine Truth.
following paragraph make a clear identification of the Dhikr-i awwal ("First
Remembrance"), the locus of the divine manifestation, with the mashiyyat,
the Primal Will of God:
If, however, thou art sailing
upon the sea of creation,  know thou that the First Remembrance,
which is the Primal Will of God, may be likened unto the sun. God hath
created Him through the potency of His might, and He hath, from the
beginning that hath no beginning, caused Him to be manifested in every
Dispensation through the compelling power of His behest, and God will,
to the end that knoweth no end, continue to manifest Him according to
the good-pleasure of His invincible Purpose.
And know thou that He indeed
resembleth the sun. Were the risings of the sun to continue till the end
that hath no end, yet there hath not been nor ever will be more than one
sun; and were its settings to endure for evermore, still there hath not
been nor ever will be more than one sun. It is this Primal Will which
appeareth resplendent in every Prophet and speaketh forth in every
revealed Book. It knoweth no beginning, inasmuch as the First deriveth
its firstness from It; and knoweth no end, for the Last oweth its
lastness unto It.
In the time of the First
Manifestation the Primal Will appeared in Adam; in the day of Noah It
became known in Noah; in the day of Abraham in Him; and so in the day of
Moses; the day of Jesus; the day of Muhammad, the Apostle of God; the
day of the 'Point of the Bayan'; the day of Him Whom God shall make
manifest; and the day of the One Who will appear after Him Whom God
shall make manifest. Hence the inner meaning of the words uttered by the
Apostle of God, 'I am all the Prophets', inasmuch as what shineth
resplendent in each one of Them hath been and will ever remain the one
and the same sun. 127
(The Bab, Selections from the
Writings of the Bab, p. 125)