This story dates back to several thousand years ago when man used to countthings or events on his fingers. The Latin word for finger is â€˜digiti.â€™ That has given us the English word â€˜digitâ€™ for a numeral.
Then man learned to use symbols for each number he needed to represent. TheArabs used the alphabets of their language to denote numbers. Since the Arabicalphabet consists of 28 letters, the Arabs were able to count up to 1000 - lucky for them.
The discovery of zero was yet some five thousand years ahead in thefuture. The Arabs devised two lines of poetry for that system as follows;
Consequentlythe numbers assigned to each letter came out to be as follows:
Ha (round) 5
HA (guttural) 8
That gave the Arab poetsa tool for recording significant events in history. They were brilliant poets.So, they would compose a few lines of poetry in such a way that a line or anumber of lines together would represent the exact date of the event. Thecalculation of the date would be done just by adding the numbers assigned eachone of the alphabets employed in that line of poetry by applying the valuesgiven above.
When Islam came the holy Qurâ€™an became the standard Arabic text in thecommunity for all reading and writing.
The Prophet of Islam sent out letters of invitation to the surrounding areas.Each letter that the Prophet dictated to his scribes would always begin with BismillahAr- Rahman ar-Raheem.
That also became the standard for all letter writing for Muslims. However,there was a downside to that practice. Not all letters were of greatsignificance to a reader. Some were of great importance and the reader of theletter would want to keep it. Others, on the other hand, were not important.They had to be disposed off. Now, here was a problem. You cannot, as a believingand practicing Muslim throw a piece of paper in the dust bin if Allahâ€™s name iswritten on it.
Then someone found a brilliant solution to the problem. If instead of writingthe full â€˜bismillahâ€™ one could write a symbol which would remind thereader so that he would immediately recite â€˜bismillahâ€™ before begin to read thetext of the letter, that would really solve the problem.
What better symbol could there be than depicting a number that would representâ€˜bismillah.â€™ The formula was already there. So, â€˜bismillahâ€™ waswritten in long hand and each letter used in that phrase was ciphered to depictthe exact number from the ABJAD.
That gave us the number 786.
Hence the practice of starting a letter with that number. The â€˜786â€™ written atthe head of a letter is a reminder to the reader to recite â€˜bismillahâ€™ beforestarting to read the text of the letter.
There is neither any superstition in it nor is their any hidden black magic.
Curiously enough, I have not seen that practice among the Arabic speaking Muslims.It is though very common among the Muslims of India and Pakistan.
New comers to Islam, and even some of the Arabs think that it is an innovation(bidâ€™ at). Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is a very intelligent way to save a Qurâ€™anic verse from desecration bycarelessness and lack of concern.