Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Seven hundred and eighty-six

A throwaway reference in Adiga's The White Tiger (in the Indian cinema, before the film begins 'the number 786 would flash against the black screen -- the Muslims think this is a magic number that represents their god', p.8) sent me to Wikipedia:
The Arabic letters of the opening phrase of the Qur'an sum to the numerical value 786 in the system of Abjad numerals. Not all Muslims place emphasis on this numerological analysis; however, some — mostly in Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh — use 786 as a substitute for the phrase بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم bism illāh ir-raḥmān ir-raḥīm ("in the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate")
There is something satisfying-looking about '786', I'd say. Maybe it's that it starts on a holy number (seven), then steps up one (as it might be, into the trans-holy) before falling back respectfully to one below. You can imagine a musical phrase following that cadence; and indeed, the the key phrase itself starts on the holy 'name' (bism), before reaching higher to the actual name itself (illāh) and then falling gracefully backwards to divine attributes ('ir-raḥmān ir-raḥīm')

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