Mansoor Dahri, UK
Who will solve the secret sequence?
In the tiny village of Qadian, India, over 100 years ago, God revealed a mysterious code to an Indian-born prophet of Persian descent. His name was Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas.
These were the numbers revealed to him:1
Mysterious indeed. But before we get to the mystery of the numbers, we must ask: who was Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas?
In order to answer that, we must consider that many major world religions have predicted the coming of a great prophet in the latter days – a Messiah and reformer. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas declared in 1891 that he was that Promised Messiah that the world had been waiting for.
He taught that the second coming of Jesusas was metaphorical, not literal; that Jesusas had passed away, not on the cross, but many years later in India; that the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa was the greatest prophet, but not the last; and that any new prophets would bring no new law but operate within the laws brought by the Holy Qur’an. Moreover, he taught that God is a living God, Who still listens and speaks. He received countless signs and revelations, many of which have already been fulfilled.
But back to the revelation. This mystifying sequence of numbers was not accompanied by any explanation whatsoever. Alongside the numbers, there was just the following hand-drawn symbol, which is equally perplexing:
Appended to these inscriptions are the following words of encouragement, translated from Arabic into English as follows:
‘Peace be upon the one who fathoms our mysteries and follows the guidance.’
The implication is crystal clear; there is a mystery here worth fathoming and a guidance to be followed. Yet as I write this, it has been over 100 years since this challenge was first issued and the code still hasn’t been solved.
This article hopes to draw wider public attention to this fascinating thread in the tapestry of the history of religion and Messianic claims. So far no one has been able to provide a clear solution to this mystery, and who knows when it will be ultimately solved, but I hope that you, dear reader, will succeed in solving this sequence (or at least pass it on to someone who can) and at long last put this mystery to rest.
Let’s begin with the very basics, such as why the visual arrangement of the sequence is peculiarly uneven. It has been ordered in a very specific way; the sixty-five numbers were written down in five rows, with the fourth and longest row containing twenty numbers whereas the fifth and shortest row is only comprised of five numbers. Then there’s also the fact that, throughout the entire sequence, there are only fifteen individual numbers; these repeat themselves to give us a total of sixty-five. Arranged in order from smallest to largest, these fifteen unique numbers are as follows: 1, 2, 5, 7, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 23, 26, 27, 28, 34, 47.
Each number is followed by a dash, though the last numbers of the second and third row do not end in dashes but rather are left blank. The other three rows do end in dashes. At the bottom of this page is the earliest printed version of the revelation.
The earliest available version of the revelation noted down in the writings of the Promised Messiahas.
As can be seen from this version, the numbers were originally written by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas in the Urdu variant of the Islamic style of numerals.2 It is important to note that the numbers are written right to left (in the ‘opposite’ direction to English) just like the Arabic language itself. Confusingly, however, the digits within each number are written left to right, as in English. For instance, the numbers ‘28–27–14’ would be ordered ‘14–27–28’ and not ‘41–72–82’ which you might expect if you were purely reading them right to left in one straight direction.
This system was the standard used in Muslim countries before the twin advents of Westernisation and globalisation caused its usage to be restricted primarily to traditional, cultural, religious and aesthetic domains, as is the case with Roman numerals in the Western world (e.g., church inscriptions or fancy watches).
Unlike Roman numerals, however, Islamic numerals use a place-value decimal system exactly like the modern global system of numerals. In fact, the Islamic system is the ancestor of the current system, which is why numbers are often referred to as ‘Arabic’ numerals in the West (to distinguish them from the West’s traditional ‘Roman’ numerals), since European mathematicians first learned of this system through Muslim scholars.
However, it must be noted that the Muslims in turn borrowed this system from Indian mathematicians, who were the first to come up with it – which is why the system is now officially referred to as the ‘Hindu-Arabic’ numeral system, in acknowledgement of the original inventors as well as those who helped propagate it.
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the various numeral systems that have been mentioned so far. Note that the code uses the Urdu variant of the Islamic style of numerals.
The final row of the fourth column has been left blank on purpose because there was no way of depicting the concept of zero in Roman numerals, unlike in the other systems. One can clearly see the resemblance between the related numbers in the first three columns and how distinct they are from the numeric figures in the fourth column, which are wholly unrelated to the others.
Hopefully, you should be able to use the second column of the table to decipher the sequence’s original Urdu numerals. However, if you are new to learning Urdu numbers, then the image of the original edition provided earlier might be a little difficult to read clearly. On this page we present an image of those numbers that is easier to read.
Aside from the equally mysterious symbol and the inspiring words of encouragement, there is really nothing else to go on in terms of solving the sequence. However, one of the publishers has added the following note: ‘The knowledge of numerical values is used in Arabic and Urdu but not in English.’
Could this be a clue? But what do these words even mean? To my knowledge, there is only one thing that they could possibly mean: abjad numerals. What are those, you might be wondering? Abjad numerals are a system whereby each letter of the Arabic alphabet has a numeric value. For instance, in English, the letter A is often valued as 1, B is 2, C is 3 and so on until you get to Z, which is 26. However, in abjad numerals the sequence follows a slightly different pattern; instead of each letter being one more than the letter before it, the value of the letters jumps suddenly after every ten letters. Below is a table to show you what I mean (note that the numbers are written right to left so that they follow the direction of the Arabic letters written above them).
As you can see, you start with one and each letter has a value of one more than the letter before it, until you reach ten and from then on each letter is ten more than the previous letter, until you reach one hundred and then each letter is one hundred more than the previous one. Eventually, you reach 1,000 and it could have gone on to 2,000; 3,000; 4,000; etc., but the Arabic alphabet has 28 letters so it stops very neatly with the last letter having a nice round value of exactly one thousand.
You might be wondering at this point why the numbers increase in this way. The answer is sheer necessity. The abjad numeral system dates back to a time before the decimal system. Letters were all that people had to denote numbers. Naturally, your range would be quite limited if you only had 28 letters and the last one had a value of only 28. How would you write the number 100 or 1,000? But if you increase suddenly at certain points then your range is greatly expanded. Why have a letter that represents 28 when you could just write 28 as a combination of two letters (one equal to 20 and the other equal to 8)? The 28th letter could instead be freed up to denote one thousand. Arabs used this system exclusively until a few centuries after the advent of Islam, when they first learned the decimal system from the Indians. The abjad numeral system then fell out of practical everyday use but it still retained certain ceremonial purposes and was often used by religious mystics.
The relationship between letters and numbers in abjad numerals predates Arabs and goes all the way back to Jewish scholars who used it for the Hebrew language while studying the Torah and Tanakh. They studied their holy scriptures deeply and realised that certain words had the same numerical values as other words if you counted the value of each letter in a word and added them up; they felt that this had some sort of deep mystical significance when it came to theological study. They called this system gematria. Since the Hebrew alphabet only has 22 letters, the highest number they could manage in their system was 400, as can be seen in the table on this page.
This tradition carried on with the Ancient Greeks, who had their own version of gematria. The Ancient Greek alphabet had 24 letters (plus three more archaic letters used in gematria), which overall is five more than Hebrew, so the highest number they could manage was 900. Only with the advent of the 28-letter Arabic alphabet did the system finally manage to reach 1,000. Continuing the same tradition of theological mysticism, some Muslim scholars also attributed significance to words or sentences having certain numerical values. For example, to this day, many Muslims attribute special significance to the number 786 because it is the abjad value of the Qur’anic verse ‘In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful’ in Arabic.
So while no real tradition of gematria or abjad numerals exists in English, it has always existed in Arabic, and, by extension, in Urdu, which is written in a variant of the Arabic script.
It’s unsurprising that abjad numerals are one of the first things that would occur to anyone trying to solve this code; for centuries abjad numerals were synonymous with mysticism and secret codes in the Islamic world. It’s therefore no wonder that if God reveals a mysterious numerical code to one of His prophets, one of the first things that an educated Muslim might assume is that it could have something to do with abjad numerals.
But the question remains: do abjad numerals actually have anything to do with the sequence of sixty-five numbers that God revealed to the Promised Messiahas in 1891? My educated guess is that it would be difficult to find a solution this way. You can use abjad to turn words and sentences into numbers, but it’s hard to turn numbers back into sentences. One number could produce many possible words or sentences.
Let’s use the English alphabet as an example (with A=1, B=2, etc.), and look at the word ‘cat’: C=3, A=1, and T=20, so C+A+T=3+1+20=24. Thus, ‘cat’ has one numerical value in this system, which is 24. But let’s suppose you just saw the number 24 – how would you know which word it came from? Many English words add up to 24 – ‘sad’, ‘caked’, ‘babble’, and ‘Canada’ all have the same value as ‘cat’. It gets even trickier if you allow a number to represent more than one word. For example, the phrase ‘I am a…’ also has a value of 24. Similar problems arise when you try to derive Arabic and Urdu words from numbers using the abjad system. Simple attempts at deciphering the sequence so far have been unsuccessful. If the code does indeed involve abjad numerals, then it’s likely that only the brute force of a computer will be able to generate lists of all the potential words or phrases for each number and detect if there are any possible combinations that might make sense.
But what if the abjad approach yields no result? What could the solution be? Will we ever know? There is one further note. It was written by Maulana Jalal-ud-Din Shamsra, a companion of the Promised Messiahas. The note reads as follows:
‘These numbers and the symbol accompanying them are all a part of the revelation. Allah the Almighty alone knows their import, which will, insha’Allah [God willing], be manifested at its appropriate time.’
Some might interpret this note to mean that the solution will only arrive at a certain point in time and that all attempts to solve it before then are futile at best and that Allah will decide when to reveal the truth. However, we must remember the Promised Messiahas explicitly encouraged people to fathom the mystery and follow the guidance. Clearly, we must not give up in our attempts to solve it or throw our hands up in the air and leave it all to God.
Instead I feel that the note has a deeper significance; the code is related to some scientific or mathematical discovery that was to be revealed at a certain point in the future. In that case, the solution could either be found as the result of a technological breakthrough or even be the source of one and thereby advance the progress of the human race. I have heard various theories being propounded: from the coordinates of the location of life in a faraway galaxy to the genetic code of some organism. Perhaps it’s the answer to the whereabouts of Noah’s Ark or it holds the key to other prophecies made by the Promised Messiahas. At any rate, I certainly hope that scientists and mathematicians will look into it. Perhaps it could even herald the next great discovery. And as the revelation itself says, Peace be upon him who fathoms our mysteries and follows the guidance.
If you have any ideas or possible solutions, please let us know in the comments section below and help us solve this mystery.
About the Author: Mansoor Dahri is an online editor for The Review of Religions. He graduated from UCL with a B.A. in Ancient Languages.
1. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, The Heavenly Decree (Tilford, UK: Islam International Publications Ltd., 2006), 72.
2. I’ve used the term ‘Islamic system of numerals’ instead of ‘Eastern Arabic’ because these days they’re almost exclusively used for religious and aesthetic purposes by Muslims all over the world. I feel the term better conveys the ethnic diversity of the mathematicians during the Islamic Golden Age.