1) ABJAD AND THE RISE AND DECLINE OF ALPHANUMERIC SYSTEMS
The word abjad is an acronym derived from the first four
consonantal shapes in the Arabic alphabet -- Alif, Bá, Jim, Dál. As
such abjad designates the letters of the Arabic alphabet (also known
as alifbá') in the phrase hurúf al-abjad. An adjective formed from
this, abjadí, means a novice at something. Nowadays the Arabic alphabet
does not follow the sequence a-b-j-d, but rather the order:
A-B-T-Th-J-H.-Kh-D (the basic shapes of the letters A-B-J-D without their
diacritical dots do, however, occur in that order, insofar as T and Th are
distinguished from B only by dots, and the H. and Kh from the J only by
dots). However, the order A-B-J-D is quite ancient, insofar as the
word abjad is not of Arabic origin, but comes from earlier written
alphabets, perhaps from Phoenician though the sequence may be as old as
Ugaritic. In any case, it certainly predates the writing down of Arabic,
as can be seen by comparison of Hebrew (Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth) and
Greek (Alpha Beta Gamma Delta).
The Arabic alphabet and the corresponding numerical values known as
abjad are therefore derived from earlier prototypes, as the following
Hebrew: Aleph = 1 Beth = 2 gimel = 3 daleth = 4
Greek : alpha = 1 beta = 2 gamma = 3 delta = 4
Arabic: alif = 1 bá' = 2 jím = 3 dál = 4
The so-called Arabic numerals that we use as ciphers to represent our
numbers (1,2,3,4, etc.) were invented in India c. 600 A.D. They were
first used in the Middle East by the mathematician al-Khwarazmi (c. 875),
along with the zero. Though some Europeans were aware of these "Arabic"
computational symbols as early as the 10th century, they did not come into
general use until the 13th century in Europe. The point being that up
until this time, written texts in Greek, Latin, Hebrew/Aramaic,
Arabic/Persian, etc. used letters of the alphabet to represent numbers
(the Latin equivalent is Roman numerals).
The Arabic numerals proved far superior for computational purposes
to the previous systems (it is not possible to do positional computation
with roman numerals, nor did they come with the zero, another gift of
India). The older letter/numbers gradually fell out of use,
except in certain contexts (specifically the use of Roman numerals and
Abjad numerals to mark the page numbers of the introduction of a book and
the use of Roman numerals to record the publication date of books until
the 19th century and the production date of motion pictures until the
1960s). However, just because the letters were no longer generally used as
numbers, this does not mean that the numerical associations died out.
Among poets the numbers were used to write chronograms (a word that
contains a numerical value; poets frequently tried to find words with a
numerical equivalent to the year of someone's death to write an elegy, for
example). Theologians and mystics invested the letters and their
associated numberical values with mystical significance. I have never
studied the matter, but the Bab perhaps took one of his cues for the use
of gematria from Fazl Allah Astarabadi, founder of the Horufi sect (Todd
Lawson would, I am sure, be able to speak in an informed manner on what is
mere speculation on my part).
2) ABJAD SYSTEM AND HOW IT WORKS
There are two principle variations in the Abjad system as to the value
of certain letters; the Arabs of North Africa and Spain gave a different
alpha-numeric order to some of the letters in the 100s than was common in the
Levant and the Islamic east. However, this variation does not affect the
values of letters under 100, which have always and everywhere been the
same, so far as I know.
The Abjad values and their mnemonic groupings are as follows. Short
vowels have no value (except in the beginning of a word, where they are
necessarily accompanied by alif/hamza). Note that hamza (') and `ayn (`)
are different letters with different values, as are the letters followed
by dots (which would be underdots in printed versions of texts rendered in
accord with the romanization system used by Shoghi Effendi for Bahá'í
texts). For the details of why hamza and alif have the same value (i.e.,
á = ' = 1), see section #4 below:
abjad: hawwaz h.ut.t.i kalaman sa`fas.
á/ ' 1 h 5 h. 8 k 20 s 60
b 2 w/v/ú 6 t. 9 l 30 ` 70
j 3 z 7 y/í 10 m 40 f 80
d 4 n 50 s. 90
qarashat thakhidh d.az.agh
q 100 th 500 d. 800
r 200 kh 600 z. 900
sh 300 dh 700 gh 1000
In the maghrib (Spain and North Africa), the following variant values
obtained, to wit: s.= 60, d.= 90, s= 300, z.= 800, gh= 900, sh=1000.
N.B.: Certain phonemes which require two letters to represent in the roman
alphabet (e.g., Th, Kh, Dh, Gh, Sh) are each rendered by a unique letter
in the Arabic alphabet. In the system of Bahá'í transliteration as used
by Shoghi Effendi, these letter combinations are written with an underline
(I can't quite render it in ASCII text, but: _sh_, _kh_, etc.) . Do not
count the "h" of underlined letters for the purposes of calculating abjad
values if you are working from an English transliteration. _Kh_ál would
be Kh= 600 á= 1 l= 30 for a total of 631.
Likewise, doubled consonants (hurúf mushaddada) are counted only once.
For example, though in transliteration we write Muhammad, in the
Arabic script, the doubled consonant "mm" is represented by a diacritical
mark (tashdid) over a single "m", which is therefore only written once
and only counted once. Hence the numerical values of Muhammad and Nabíl
are identical (remember not to count the short vowels, which are any
vowels in transliteration which lack the accent mark):
M + h. + mma + d
40 8 40 4 = 92
N + b + i/y + l
50 2 10 30 = 92
The word Rid.wán totals to 1057: R= 200, d.= 800, w= 6, á= 1, n= 50.
Mustagháth equals M=40, s=60, t=400, gh=1000, á= 1, th= 500 for a total of 2001.
3) SPELLING THE WORD BAHA'
The numerical value of Baha' (bahá'
) would in either eastern or
western Islamic version of abjad total to nine (9), as follows: b= 2,
h= 5, á (a with accent in transliteration)= 1, hamza (')= 1 TOTAL: 9
Although Persians do not generally pronounce hamza after final alif
(which occurs only in words of Arabic origin), this does not mean that the
letter does not exist. The existence of the final hamza is extremely
important for Arabic declension, because only with that final short vowel
is it possible to distinguish the nominative (bahá'u), accusative
(bahá'a) or genitive (bahá'i) forms of the word from one another. This
is of utmost importance for the correct vocalizing of an Arabic sentence
or phrase with the word Bahá' in it, and may also play a role in
correctly comprehending the meaning. Persian has no noun declension, so
the elision of the final hamza in words of this pattern (e.g., saná' bahá' shay' ridá' a`dá' qurrá' `ulamá'
, etc.) does no
great harm (except that sometimes it creates homonyms; e.g., bahá =
price, bahá' = glory). In neither Persian nor Arabic is Bahá'
spelled with an alif maqsúra (this would give bahiyy, as in
Bahiyyih Khanum), a dagger alef (which would not change the abjad value,
anyway), with two alifs, or any of the other variations which have been
proposed, in so far as I am aware (though the Bab has a long tablet with
various permutations of the root B-H-Y and he sometimes produced
morphologically possible forms which, though theoretically
meaningful, had never actually been used by anyone).
Incidentally, the value of kull shay'
should be 361 (k= 20, l = 30,
doubled or mashdudd consonants are not counted twice, sh = 300,
y = 10, hamza = 1). Persians sometimes elide the final hamza when
writing this word in Persian (sometimes an extra "y" is also incorrectly
added), which could lead to the value of 360, but the Bab was using an
Arabic term which should always have the value 361 (except in Northwest
Africa, where it would have been 1061).
4) NUMERIC VALUE OF HAMZA AND ALIF ARE THE SAME
As Iskandar Hai pointed out, alif and hamza have the same numerical
value. If we stop to consider how the word "abjad" is written and
pronounced in Arabic or Persian, this fact should not come as a great
surprise. The initial sound in abjad
is a short "a." In any
language a word beginning with a vowel is proceeded by a glottal stop
(quickly pronounce the words "a apple" and you will hear and feel the
glottal stop in between them). The letter which marks the glottal stop in
Arabic is the hamza.
It is true that the word abjad begins with an alif, but the alif in
this case is merely a place-holder for the initial hamza. This is because
according to the rules of Arabic orthography, word-initial hamza, the
phonetic value of which is a glottal stop followed by a vowel, must be
written with an alif. This is true for any word beginning in a short vowel
-- a, u, i. In word-initial position a short vowel rests upon a hamza,
which in turn rests upon an alif.
But alif is used not only as a place-holder for initial short
vowels. It also has other purposes, and this is where the confusion comes
about. In the middle of a word, and sometimes at the end, alif represents
the long vowel "á" (in Arabic, fatha and long alif have the same vowel
quality in most phonetic environments, the difference being one of
quantity--the alif is pronounced twice as long; in Persian, however, the
long alif [á] sound is not only held longer, but is also qualitatively
different from the fatha [a], having the value of the "a" in "law" as
opposed to the "a" in "hat").
Technically speaking, the alif that represents the long "á" is a
doubled or elongated fatha (a), and consists of a fatha combined with a
hamza. Neither the fatha nor the hamza are written in this case, however,
but instead the combination is marked by an alif. So the long vowel "á,"
represented in writing by the letter alif, does contain a hamza, even
though that hamza isn't written out. Though modern Arabic orthography
does not call for the hamza to be written with the alif of the long vowel,
it can be found written out in some ancient manuscripts and inscriptions
(it would be far easier to explain this if we could write Arabic
characters in electronic form; those of you interested in actually
seeing what I'm talking about can check Wright's extremely detailed
explanation in Grammar of the Arabic Language, in the first section, under
hamza and alif).
One might argue that it is not actually because of the alif, but rather
because of the unwritten hamza that usually accompanies the alif, that
the letter has the numerical value of one. Due to the conventions of
writing Arabic, the hamza occurs everywhere an alif has a phonetic value
(the alif is written in some cases without a phonetic value, such as in
the alif wasl or as a soundless marker at the end of the 3rd person masc.
pl. verb ending). So, for most purposes, where there is an alif with a
phonetic value, it actually contains within it a hamza. However, the
hamza can also occur without the alif. Hamza is written as a separate
symbol (without the alif) when two vowels fall next to each other (e.g.,
), when an unvowelled consonant is followed by a
short vowel (e.g., mas'ala;
in words like qur'án, mir'át,
syllabic break occurs with a consonant, followed by a long vowel "á", the
hamza is written as a madda stroke above the alif, and not usually in the
form of hamza); or when a short vowel occurs at the end of a word
immediately after a long vowel (bahá', shay'
The long and short of it is that both alif and hamza are counted as
one in Abjad. Where there is both an alif and a separate hamza in a word,
as in Bahá', you count them separately. á = 1 , ' = 1.
5) METHODOLOGICAL MEDITATION
This brings to mind a methodological/epistemological question, or
perhaps an observation on the nature of internet discussions. There are
many reference works, such as the Encyclopedia of Islam and Encyclopeadia
Iranica, the Arabic Lexicon of Lane, the Dictionaries of Mo'in and
Dehkhoda, that contain information on the Abjad system. Most of the
dictionaries explain that alif and hamza have the same numerical value.
I have not checked it to see whether it specifies the value
of hamza and alif, but I seem to recall that Marzieh Gail's Bahá'í
had an abjad chart with explanation of the numerical value of
certain key words. I would not be surprised if an explanation also shows
up in one of the volumes of Bahá'í World or even in Star of the West. How
is it that so many well-informed people could have been discussing a
pseudo-problem (the calculation of the numerical value of Bahá') for
several days on H-Bahá'í, before it was pointed out that Bahá' does
indeed equal nine?
Does it not seem unlikely in the extreme that something this elementary
(and theologically important) could have escaped the notice of the Babis
or their enemies? If the word Baha' was supposed to total nine but
according to the normal mode of calculation it had totalled eight, would
this not have cast some doubt on the Bab's writings? (Karim Khan or the
orthodox Shíte ulama would have certainly added this charge to that of
ungrammaticality of the Bab's Arabic)? It is easy with the benefit of
hindsight or in the light of subsequent scientific knowledge, to develop
a sense of hubris about the superior understanding of matters of history
we have compared to the actual participants in the events had. However,
those participants had as much common sense and often more specific
knowledge than we, so that when confronted with a question of this nature,
as part of our procedural methodology, we would do well to ask ourselves
if we are correctly understanding what we read or if one of our
assumptions or premises might not be amiss.