Monday, June 27, 2011

The Greatest Name

I'm so glad there are more and more people writing blogs about the Faith. It's kind of exciting to read so many well-informed and guided ideas about the Faith. There are many things that I'm learning that I never would have considered before.

One thing that came up recently was a post about the use of the Greatest Name. While I have thought about the use of this symbol in the past, I never really gave it a great deal of thought until someone else wrote an article on it. You can read it here.

As you may know, the Greatest Name, "Ya! Baha'u'l-Abha" is an invocation that means "O Thou Glorious of the Most-Glorious", and is considered by Baha'is as the greatest Name of God. And while some people have dismissed it as looking like it says "evil", they forget to take into account that it is to be read from right to left, making it say "live".

From here, I could go on about the history of the Name, the origin of the calligraphy, or even the variations of it, but that is all common knowledge, and I don't want to bore you.

Instead, I will write a bit about my own reaction to this symbol, or phrase (or word, or Name, or however you want to refer to it). After all, this blog is not a history lesson, but is, instead, about my own meager thoughts on these ideas (remember?). Oh, and, as usual, it's nothing official, so you can take or leave what I write. Of course, comments are always welcome. That's another way that I learn. After all, you, dear Reader, have corrected me many times in the past, and I hope you will continue to do so in the future.

To start, I think of the Greatest Name as a mantra. I mean, let's not forget that "Allah'u'Abha" is a variant of it, and we're supposed to say that 95 times a day, which, if you see a lot of Baha'is every day, is fairly easy to do. (Just in case you don't know, Baha'is use "Allah'u'Abha" as a general greeting, as in "Allah'u'Abha! How's it going?" or the more casual, often heard at youth conferences, "Allah'u'Abha! 'Sup?" Of course, that latter sounds really weird to my ears if they don't seperate the two words. If often comes out as "lowbasup".) But for me, it is my mantra, fulfilling the same need that a Catholic friend of mine has when she uses her Hail Mary's, or my Buddhist buddy when he uses his mantra, "om mani padme hum" or "nah myoho renge kyo". (I don't really know any Hindu's who chant "om" on a regular basis, but you get the idea.) (Come to think of it, are there any atheists out there who chant "ohm"? I would think that would get you wired up.) (Of course, many would probably resist such chanting.) (That was a science joke, in case you missed it.) (That's another aspect of the harmony of science and religion: I'll make jokes with both.)

I've also been given a very nice enamel pin with the Greatest Name on it. But I don't feel comfortable wearing it.

"Why not?" I'm not sure. I think it is that I feel it is too sacred a symbol to be on my person, but that's just me.

Aside - There was one time that I did wear it on a vest I had. I was walking around town and noticed a new shop that sold leather goods. As I work in chain-mail, I often look at leather pieces to see if I can do some funky embellishment. I went in and was warmly greeted by the store owner, a man from the Middle East. I told him what I was looking for and he showed me some really nice pieces that had lots of little leather bits that I could work with. We were having a good conversation when, all of a sudden, he stiffened. "What", he said, pointing to the pin and practically spitting out each word, "is that?"

I looked at the lapel pin and said, "Oh, it's a Baha'i symbol. It says..."

"I can read it. Why are you wearing it?"

"Well," I said, as sweetly and innocently as I could, "I'm a Baha'i."

Without another word he turned and walked right out of his own store. I was left there thinking, "Wow, that was kind of cool." I was really impressed with the power of that little pin. Not one to be daunted by such behaviour, I looked around a bit more and then headed on out. As I left, the man was standing out front having a smoke. I smiled at him, and held out my hand to shake his. Instinctively, he took it before he realized what he was doing, and I thanked him very much for his kind hospitality, and said that I looked forward to coming to his store again.

I then headed off before he could get over his shock.

Suffice to say, I don't feel comfortable wearing such a powerful symbol on my own person.

I've seen people wearing it embroidered on the back of jean jackets, or leather jackets. I've seen it displayed all over the place. And I don't criticize anyone for that, for I really hope that my own comfort level is not binding on anyone else. It's kind of like the mustard made with white wine. Just because I don't use it doesn't mean that nobody else should.

But I do like raising the awareness.

Are we, as Baha'is, really conscious of the power of that Name?

And if so, how are we using it?


  1. I generally wear my ring or necklace for special Baha'i occasions. Both pieces are gold and feel tasteful and classy. I keep them in a special place when not wearing them.

    I am not comfortable at all with Baha'i jewelry displaying, for example, Abdul-Baha's face. But that's me.

  2. I was LED to comment on this post because of the science jokes. Usually I have very little capacitance for such puns (I find they are more suited to people less grounded). I realized I shouldn't blow a fuse over something so small. So, I figured I would just go with the flow.

    (Electrical Engineering student, here)

  3. Thanks for this. I have heard a bit about the discomfort of the English reading of this, and the note that Arabic is written from right to left...reading "live" is a perspective I hadn't heard before.

  4. Alláh'u'Abhá,
    I hope you are fine.
    I would like to enquire why do we recite Alláh'u'Abhá 95 times- why is it not 80 times or 100 times?
    Your response is greatly appreciated.

    1. Because it is 5 groups of 19 Alláh'u'Abhás, with both 5 and 19 being sacred numbers in the history of the Faith.