The Arabic alphabet comprises 29 letters. However, in the Abecedarian alphabet there are 28 because there is considered to be no difference between Hamza and Alif. What concerns us about this Abecedarian order is the link between it and the Jum’mal numerical values of the letters (the NVL) mentioned in the previous chapter.
As mentioned above the system is common to both Hebrew and Arabic but the Hebrew and Abecedarian Arabic systems only coincide up to the letter ت. After that, Arabic has the extra letters ث, خ, ذ, ض, ظ and غ which can be combined in the mnemonic (though meaningless) phrase thakhath dathagh.
It is not easy to trace the origin of the Abecedarian order and the calculation associated with it in Semitic languages. This is because views on it have diverged in such a way that it is difficult to decide which is correct or to even make a choice between them. The Jewish clergy use it extensively, Muslims have used it in historical dating, Sufis have overused it, and fortune-tellers, magicians and sorcerers have used it too. Thus, although the calculation may have had a religious basis, it has been later distorted, altered and abused.
The Abecedarian order in North Africa differs slightly from the well-known order which is used in the East. In mnemonic form the latter consists of the following letters: Abjad Hawaz Hutti Kalamun Saa’fas qurishat thakhath Dathagh. Each letter has a as shown in the table below:
In the Jum’mal (the NVL) it is noticed that there is no difference between the numerical values of Alif and Hamza, because it refers to the Abecedarian, rather than the Alphabetical, letters. This calculation has been used for various purposes – Muslims have used it to date battles, deaths, buildings, etc, as mentioned above.
Examples of use
When Sultan Barquq, a Burji Mamluk, died, a phrase was coined indicating the date of his death. This phrase was في المشمش (fil-mishmish). [It means, literally: “In the apricot (season)” which is very short, so the implication in current usage at least is of transience]. It seems that they chose a humorous phrase, but also the numerical values of the phrase are 80+10+1+30+40+300+40+300. The total is 801, and thus Sultan Barquq died in 801 AH.
Another example is, when a poet called Dalenjawi died, his friend eulogized him in general verses and at the end dated his death with the phrase مات الشعر بعده (maat a-sha’oru ba’da) which means: “Poetry died after him.” This came after the words “I dated…” which indicated the point at which to begin counting – i.e. after “dated”. Thus, the date of Dalenjawi’s death is: 40+1+400+1+30+300+70+200+2+ 70+4+5=1123 AH.
It is clear that this use of calculation in chronology is thus not objectionable from a religious viewpoint because it is a matter of convention and is thus permissible. However, the misuse of this system in the areas of fortune telling, magic and sorcery has created negative associations with a system that is not intrinsically negative.
Muhammad Ben Omar Nuwawi Al-Jawi, an interpreter, Sufi and Shafi’i jurist, migrated to Makka and died there in the year 1316 AH. He produced many works, one of which is a two-volume interpretation of the Qur’an in which he said in the introduction: “I have titled this book to confirm to its date” – مراح لبيد لكشف معنى قرآن مجيد. It is clear from these words that he chose a title to conform to the Jum’mal system to show the date he began writing his book (1304 AH).
I have cited this particular example to give evidence of a Muslim scholar’s attitude towards the question of the Jum’mal system and to show that nothing was found to be wrong in using such a system, even for a book on Qur’anic interpretation.
We have used it for generations so why don’t we reconsider using it again since we have found it to be beneficial.
Another famous Qur’anic commentator, Baidawi, says in his interpretation of the opening of Surat Al-Baqara that the Prophet (PBUH) was approached by the Jews and he recited to them the opening of Al-Baqara.
They calculated the numerical values of the letters of the opening and said: “How can we enjoin a religion that will last only seventy-one years?” The Prophet (PBUH) smiled. They said: “Is there anything else?” He said: المر, الر, المص and they replied that he had confused them and they know longer knew which Faith to follow. Baidawi comments on this Hadith by saying: “His reciting to them in this order and his confirmation of their inference…” Thus, Baidawi considers that the Apostle (PBH) confirmed their inference.
In Shihab’s commentary on Baidawi’s interpretation he says: “This Hadith was verified by Bukhari in his history and by Ibn Jarir through Ibn Issac Al-Kalbi… Its chain of narrators is weak.” Thus we cannot rely on Baidawi’s conclusion, though on the other hand the Prophet never said anything that denied that Jum’mal had a religious basis.
What matters is that there is neither evidence for denial nor confirmation. Although we must be careful not to assume that we are building on absolutely solid foundations we find that confirmation is more likely in the light of this weak Hadith. We can prove by induction that the Qur’an has kept some secrets in certain words and clauses and therefore, we assume that the Qur’an has used this linguistic convention of the Semitic languages. After all, the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic!
Since language suggests meanings there is no reason to prevent it from suggesting numerical values. The question is: How can we know that a certain phrase in the Qur’an carries such a numerical secret? Our answer to this is that this has to be proven either through Islamic legal methods or by reasoning.
The reader will find that our approach to this question is new and has nothing to do with the Sufis or others, whether they did the right thing or erred and deviated. We are satisfied that the reader will be convinced by the examples of the Jum’mal system that we will give that are based only on induction and not hearsay.
The following are examples that open the door for a new direction in Jum’mal, examples that simply involve calculation based on Qur’anic vocabulary. It should be pointed out that in our research we are dealing with the Qur’anic script called Ottoman script, which is regarded by the majority of scholars as a revelation (Tawqifi) in itself, because it was supervised by the Prophet as revealed to him.
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