Cosmology & Architecture in Premodern Islam

Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam
An Architectural Reading of Mystical Ideas  (2005)
Samer Akkach 

        Four-fold Symmetrical Photograph (Garage)
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I highly recommend this book, which is available for free online (click here).  It offers a thorough and clearly written detailed examination of the worldview of premodern Islam (10th - 18th century) by focusing on the writings of the great Sufi Mystic Ibn al-'Arabi (1240).  The world described in the premodern Islam was round, finite, symmetrical and hierarchical.  Symbolism is at the heart of the book.  Samer Akkach writes:  

Symbolism provides the main conceptual tools that enables one's mind to journey between the divine and the human domains and to maneuver through the multiple states of being they involve.  The principles of universal order are traced through the religio-philosphical reasoning of how Being emerged from non-Being, and how original Unity gave birth to an inexhaustible multiplicity.  Here I explore specifically the generative "move" from unity to triplicity and quadrature.       

I found this statement and the material presented in the book fascinating in relationship to how my past work had "moved" from single images, to the Triadic repetition imagery (2003-2010) to the four-fold symmetrical-unitary imagery of the past 15 months, i.e., since my trip to Turkey.

All of the following quotes are from Samer Akkach's book:

The primary mode of expression is shown to be traditional symbolism.  /  the ultimate aim is to allow the particular to be seen and understood in light of the universal and not only in its own sociological context.  Where the particular bares no relation to the universal it is considered to be insignificant, since it does signify anything beyond its particularity.  

The meanings of symbols are not intentionally constructed but rather discovered or revealed through reflections on transcendental realities, and consequently the efficacy of a symbol does not depend on its being understood.  A symbol speaks to the whole human being and not only to the intelligence.  Symbols are multivalent.  They can simultaneously express a number of meanings whose continuity is not evident on the plane of immediate experience.  The significance of a symbol lies in revealing the unity and continuity between the different levels it reveals.  Symbols imbue human existence with significance by pointing to a more profound, more mysterious side of life, to the miraculous and sacramental dimensions of human existence.

The perennialists approach the question of artistic production . . . primarily on the ideas, rituals, and cosmology within the matrices of which an artefact is produced. 

     "We shall show them our symbols on the horizons and within themselves util it will be     
     manifest unto them that it is the Truth." (Qur'an 41:53)

All created things are symbols, Ibn 'Arabi explains; they are "dwellings" that enable us to reflect upon such things as divine unity, first Intellect, divine Throne, the science of representation, God's wonders, and so on.  But symbols have a double function: guiding and misguiding, revealing and concealing.  Ibn 'Arabi says God founded the world for people to seek him, but they instead became preoccupied with the world itself, so they misunderstood the intention of the creation...

Definition of symbol 
. . . from Greek sym+ballo: "to throw together",  "expression", "to cross" and "to interpret",  "lesson" and "wonder".   Regarding "the expounder"- "one who crosses",  since in expounding one crosses from the outward to the inward side of the subject in order to reveal its hidden meaning,  Ibn 'Arabi says that to every sensible form God has attached a spiritual meaning toward which one should cross by interpretation.

The concealed meaning or significance of a symbol is often referred to as "secret" or "mystery" thus pointing to the intellectual effort required for the discovery of what is not immediately available.

The Seen and the Unseen
Religious world views hinge on an axiomatic premise that the world is made up of physical and spiritual realities, of visible and invisible entities.  This premise underlies the fundamental beliefs in God, prophets, and holy scriptures that presuppose a kind of unseen, supranatural presence.   The Quran stresses this polarity, describing God as "the Knower of the unseen and the seen" (13:9) and to him "belongs the unseen of the heavens and the earth" (16:77).  Yet aspects of the unseen can be revealed.  The Quran demands that Muslims believe in the unseen and strive to gain knowledge of it my means of the seen . . . the world of the outward that is readily accessible to everyone.  

Ephemeral, transient, and perishable, the seen derives meaning and subsistence from the unseen, and its real value lies in being the necessary pathway to the unseen.  The unseen can only be grasped by the imagination.  To help human imagination gain insight into the unseen, religious teachings have resorted to analogy and metaphor.  The efficacy of analogy hinges on the ontological link between the the embodied and the abstract.  By means of analogies human imagination is given access to the abstract throught the mediation of the embodied.

Ibn 'Arabi says God alludes to his symbolic presences in all created things.  These symbols are available to humans in their daily experience of sensible things, be they "within themselves" or  "on the horizons," that is, in the outside world.  Their function is to give clues to direct the mind toward that which lies beyond the immediate attractions of the sensible and the visible.

Distance and Deficiency
A symbol is a call from a distance and a disclosure of an essential deficiency.  The ontological difference between the creator and the creature is what manifests the polarizing distance that separates God and humans.  God transcends human deficiencies and limitations, and it is this transcendence that makes the language of symbolism a necessity.  Much of revealed knowledge is beyond linguistic grasp and hence communicable directly through language.  The efficacy of the language of symbolism derives from the symbol's capacity to translate divine situations into human terms and vice versa thereby bridging the gap created by distance and deficiency.  Participating in both the divine and the human realms, symbols establish the necessary continuity between the order of the divine presence and that of human existence.  

The significance of symbolism lies no in the symbol itself but in the meanings it communicates, the reality it unveils.  Symbols are, therefore, not sought for themselves but for what they symbolize, for the the insights they instil, the possibilities they disclose, and the meanings they deliver.  In a hierarchically ordered universe, the unseen, while setting itself apart from the seen by ontological distance and deficiency, projects a universal medium with an immense revelatory power, the medium of symbolism.

Shadows of the Immutable
If we are to think of the creative process in terms of shadow projection, then the "object" can be taken to represent absolute Being, the "ground" on which the shadow falls to represent the archetypal essences of all possible beings, and the "light" that projects the shadow to represent the divine outward presence.  In the same vein of thinking Ibn 'Arabi views the world as the exact shadow of the Absolute . . .  When the shadows of the immutable essences come into existence in the form of heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, mountains, trees, beasts, and every other being, he says, they naturally reflect the tendency of their archetypes. 

The symbol's efficacy lies in its capacity to bring into the phenomenal world a quality of the Absolute.  The ontological link that ties all levels of existence together into a continuous chain is reflected in the premodern Islamic view of making, wherein sensible objects take their final shape through an ontological sequence of differentiation, making it possible to trace a sensible form back to its original source.

Imagination, Knowing, Making
The Sufi viewed imagination as the creative cause of our existence and the powerful agency that enables us to remain in contact with the infinite and the Absolute.  Ibn 'Arabi differentiates the concept of imagination into "absolute Being" (the unrestricted existence of God)  "absolute non-Being" (the non-Self existent) and barzakh or "mediator" (that which delimits the two; and is the intermediary domain of archetypes of all possible existents).  The barzakh is the medium through which the delivery of the world from potentiality to act is effected.  The world becomes, as it were, the "child" born from the fruitful marriage of absolute Being and absolute non-Being.

The world of imagination is the level of existence where this duality is resolved: where the pure is embodied and the body is purified.  Imagination is the world where meaning and form marry, generating a new world that is at once uniting and separating its parental domains, just like the twilight zone, which unites and separates light and darkness.

"Know that you are an imagination," Ibn 'Arabi says, "and everything that you perceive, and of which you would say "this is not me," is also an imagination.  So the whole being is an imagination within an imagination."  The notion of  imagination, however, designates two different, yet related, things:  Detached imagination, explains Ibn 'Arabi, is divine imagination, God imagining the world; Attached imagination is human imagination, man imagining the forms of existents brought into existence by the creative poser of divine imagination; it is the presence of things in the human mind.

The Sufis associate art with knowledge.  Knowing they say is nothing but "the soul imagining the form of the known"; and "knowledge is nothing but the form of the known (retained) in the soul of the knower"; whereas "art is nothing but the bringing out of this form, which is in the soul of the artificer, the knower, and placing it in matter."  Thus the artificer has necessarily to be a knower if he is to claim possession of any form in his mind.  Such view makes art and knowledge an indissoluble whole.  It also assigns to imagination an essential role in the human act of knowing, whereby the known becomes identical with the imagined forms of information imprinted in the knower's soul."

When  a human artefact  reflects or corresponds to the qualities of a natural artefact, not only would it resonate with the universal order, but also the maker would be measuring up his work against the work of divinity.

Divine Paradigms
Designing, producing, and form giving can be seen as forming the core activities of the creative process be it divine or human.  The Sufis say that human achievements are at their best when they are in the likeness of the divine's.  To emulate God's work in the practice of art is to imitate the patterns and qualities of the divine's artifacts, for he is the best artificer, the one who knows best, the wisest, and the noblest.  By imitating God's work, the Sufi Ikhwan adds, one would be attempting to draw nearer to him.

The notion of presence refers to the complex web of physical, mental, and spiritual relationships a being spawns by its very existence and the influences it exerts through this web of connectedness.  A thing is perceived to have a presence insofar as it impacts other presences, influences their course of existence, and becomes part of their world.  In other words, it is not the mere existence of the thing that matters but rather its level of impact and domain of influence.  This is what what makes it effectively present.

Unity of Being
This doctrine, which the Sufis advocate, emphasizes that there is only one modality of Being and that Being proper is none other than God in his most transcendental state.  Everything else depends in their existence on this Being who is externalized in many colorful manifestations.  As  al-Nabulusi reflects: "Being is me, while a being is other than me, because beings are by me and I am by my Self."

Another Sufi writes: "Each thing has two faces, a face of its own, and a face of its Lord; in respect of its own face it is nothingness, and in respect of the Face of God it is Being.  Thus there is nothing in existence save only God and his Face."

The doctrine of the Unity of Being can also be seen as an outward expression of the mystical experience.

The Geometrical Point & Primordial Presence
The primordial presence, as distinct from the divine presence, is the presence of divinity that precedes conceptually all qualifications and determinations, including those of firstness, absoluteness, and unity.  It is the presence associated with the first state of Being which is characterized by existential absence, as our comprehension of it is based on the denial of all comprehensible definitions and conditions.  It is the presence of the Essence that the Sufis compare to the geometrical point, which is referred to by one Sufi as "the meaning of unity, but not Unity."

The sensible point is the smallest spatial entity in Euclidian geometry whose repetition produces a line, the repetition of which produces a plane, the repetition of which produces a volume.

However, the repetition of a dimensionless point cannot produce a dimension any more than  the addition of zeros can produce a number.  The point can be seen to be the basis of spatial compositions in the same way that Being is considered to be the inner reality of all beings.  All bodies in space can be geometrically reduced to a point: it is both the whole and the part. 

The meaning of the point is that it is seen as a potent symbol of the ultimate Reality, a graspable geometrical principle capable of revealing the relationship the divine Essence bears to the world.  The point is a nonspatial principle that has no parts.  All that is manifested in the bodily world is divisible; the point cannot be determined by sight because it is indivisible.  The perceived point is an expression of its reality, a mental concept, the definition of which is "a single, indivisible substance."

The ungraspability and incomprehensibility of the point renders it a potent symbol of the ineffable divine Essence or God in the state of nondetermination.  One Sufi writes:  "the Point is a symbol of God's essence that is hidden behind the veil of his multiplicity."

The Divine Presence
The divine presence, as distinct from the primordial presence is the presence where in God is known through his names and attributes.  It is the state in which the unity of the Essence becomes associated with the multiplicity of the names and attributes.  The Sufis teach that in his primordial presence God desired to be known, to reveal the mysteries of his inner treasure, so he descended from his incomprehensible supremacy, the state of Transcendent Unity, through the state of Solitude, to the state  of Uniqueness.  Therein he revealed his names and attributes as a mean whereby he may become knowable.  

Unity and Multiplicity
The paradox of the one becoming many and at the same time remaining one: How could the simple unity produce the rich and complex multiplicity?  

The key to understanding this paradox, the Sufis teach, is the double negation: to think of external beings as neither God himself nor other than himself.  It is like looking in a mirror and seeing your image: the reflected image is neither yourself, since your are standing apart from the mirror, nor other than yourself, since it is your own and not anyone else's.  What are the mirrors? and where do they come from?  In this analogy the mirrors are non other than the created beings, the things of the world, whose appearance coincides with the manifestation of the divine reflections or realities.

The Circle & the Point-Center
The Circle becomes the symbol of the first comprehensible form of unity the Essence takes on.  The circle's inherent geometrical  qualities are thus conditioned by the metaphysical reality it embodies.  The Quran teaches that the world depends in its existence on God while God is self-sufficient.  The circle offers effective cues that help us understand the paradox of unity and multiplicity.  Although the circle and the center are mutually dependent on each other's presence, in the sense that circularity demands a center just as centrality demands a domain, the center, as a point, remains autonomous and self sufficient on its own.  The circle, by contrast, has no state wherein it can dispense with its dependency on the center.  Just like the points of the circumference, they are all alike and equally related to the original point-center.   An indefinite number of geometrical configurations can be inscribed within a circle, each as it were crystalizing one of the divine patterns.  Ibn 'Arabi states: "The world in its entirety is circular in form, within which are then differentiated the forms of all figures, such as quadrature, triplicity, hexad, and so on indefinitely.   

Quadrature: Pattern of Proliferation
In order to be able to produce anything, one must 1) be alive;  2) know what one is intending to produce; 3) must have the will for production; 4) must be able to produce.  This is the creative quadrature according to human logic.  It's roots lie in the metaphysical world.

Nature, between the Soul and Universal Matter, is an intelligible reality, a force that has no essence.  We know it through its effects in the physical world, which manifest through the agency of four realities: heat, cold, dryness, and moistness.  This set the stage for the four simple and ideal elements: Fire,m Air, Water, and Earth.

Ibn 'Arabi syas that every part of the world may cause the existence of another smaller world similar to it.  Likewise, "every point may cause the existence of a circumference whose condition is the same as the first one, and so on ad infinitum."  The pattern of proliferation at once follows and inscribes the law of unity and multiplicity or the whole and the parts, according to which every part reveals the same order of the whole and as such it forms a whole on its own.

Triplicity: Pattern of Formation
Ibn 'Arabi says that the moment God knew himself, he knew the world.  Although knowing is a creative act, it is not necessarily a physically productive one.  Things may be created in the imagination, without being brought into existence physically.  Triplicity is the primary pattern of creation with regard to physical production.  The divine creative command is based on the triplicity of the Essence, Will, and the Word.   Triplicity corresponds to the three dimensions of lenght, width, and depth.  The process of universal manifestation reveals triplicity and quadrature as complementary divine paradigms:  one crystallizes the designative aspects of the creative act  and the other crystallizes the productive aspects.  In this process quadrature underlies the pattern of proliferation and deployment, whereas triplicity underlies the pattern of synthesis and formation.  [Again, I encourage you to see my photography project entitled Triadic Memories, and for quadrature you could visit Celestial Paradise or any of the other symmetrical photography projects.]                           

The Human Presence
Ibn 'Arabi says man is to god what the pupil is to the eye, the instrument of seeing.  So, if God is the light whereby the Eye sees, man is the instrument of "vision" that makes "seeing" possible.  Man is insan (pupil) because God "sees" his creatures through him, and it is the comprehensiveness of his reality that makes such vision possible.

The Epitome of Creation
The human presence is but the other side of the divine presence.  The logic of this hinges on the religious concept, which is not peculiar to Islam, that God created man in his image.  Adam was at once the "lens" through which God viewed all beings and the "mirror" in which he viewed his own Being.  The human presence becomes the outer face of divinity, while the divine presence becomes the inner face of humanity.  In brief, the Sufi concept of the "human presence" is based on three principles.  First, man as an idea, was the first to be conceived by God in the creative process; second, man, an an embodied form, was the last creature to be brought into existence; and third, man, in both the ideal and embodied form, constitutes the comprehensive epitome of all manifest states of Being and the sum total of all divine and cosmic realities.

Universal Man
This is the state of Being that can be attained through an ascension, whereby one retraces the process of manifestation back to it original source.  Such ascension causes all states of Being with the expanded knowledge they entail to unfold within the individual self, resulting in transcending the limits of individuality and recognizing the universality of one's presence.

Man's Nature
As a whole constituted from the four natures, man reflects the primary divine quadrature of the first and the last, the outward and the inward in different ways.  With regard to God, he is the inward; with regard to the world, he is the outward; with regard to to God's intention in the creation, he is the first; and with regard to his existential formation, he is the last.  Thus man is first in intention, last in existence, outward in form, and inward in spirit.  Holistically, "he is to the world as the point is to the circumference."

The World as a Book
A popular treatise on the meanings of the Quran's opening chapter opens by saying "Praise be to God who externalized from the nun (ink well) what he internalized in the Pen, and brought out into being by benevolence what he treasured in non-Being . . .  And glory to him who . . . unrolled the parchment of the world and inscribed the archetypal book by the ink of existence, which manifests all that is latent within the speaker in the form of letters and perfect words."

The metaphor of the world as a book is common in premodern Islam.  The Quranic imageries of the pen, the ink-well of nun, and the divine act of writing provide the basic conceptual tools used by Sufis and other theologians in the development of their metaphorical interpretations.  The concepts of the "Pen" and the "Preserved Tablet", the analogy of the trees as pens and the seas as ink, of the word as a tree, and so on, form the foundation of the alphabetical symbolism of Islam.

In the parallels Sufis draw between the world and the Quran, letters and words acquire individual presences just as other beings do.  

The Alif
The letter Alif (A), written as a vertical stroke, is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet.  According to Islamic mythology the alif became the origin of all letters.  "Indeed the Alif is non other than the Point itself which is an eye that wept or a drop that gushed forth and which in its downpour was named Alif."  Numerically the alif is number 1; geometrically, it is the line; and calligraphically, it is the diameter of the circle within which the other letters are differentiated.  Accordingly, the alif represents the first definable form of unity that emerged from the undefinable point.

The analogy between the manifestation of the world and the differentiation of the letters is a common theme in the Sufi literature.  In the same way the manifestation of the divine presence was not caused by anything other than the irradiation of Essence itself and its inward love to be known, so was the manifestation of the alif caused by the overflowing of the point.

The Ba'
The letter ba' (B) written as a horizontal line with a point underneath it is the second letter of the Arabic alphabet.  It is the first letter of the first word in the Quran, bism, "in the name" with al-basmala considered as the first verse.  The ba' is taken to stand for the human presence, the Universal Man, that is, the outward mode of the divine presence.  
As a horizontal extension the ba' grafts the shadow of the vertical alif standing before the radiating light of the point.  As the shadow of the alif, the ba' carries within it a visible trace of the original source, which is the point that appears beneath it.  The point of ba' becomes the shadow of the higher point that resides "in its hidden-treasurehood" before its first self-disclosure as an alif.  The transcendental point that lies above the alif descends to appear underneath the ba', just as divinity images itself in the human form.  The Sufis see in this a reaffirmation of the universal realities and a clear illustration that the things of the lower worlds are manifestations of the things of the higher worlds.  The point beneath the ba' becomes the seal of divinity in the created world, a constant reminder of the origin whence everything proceeds.

In the Sufi tradition there is a dialogue that takes place between the letter itself and the point that lies beneath it.  "The point says to the ba':  O letter I am your origin because you are composed of me. . . Without you I would not have been the point of the ba' and without me you would not have been the ba' with a point.  How many symbols have I struck for you so that you may understand my unity with you, and know that your expansion in the world of the seen and my concealment in the world of the unseen are two modalities for our same essence. . . If you want to conceive of me, imagine yourself, the letters, all of them, and the words, small and large, than say point, that totality is none other than myself, and myself is none other than that totality."

The Formation of the Word
This process corresponds to to the initial stage of the cosmogonic process, when the world is disengaged from the stillness of the primordial chaos, the state in which the possibilities of manifestation, still virtual, are lost in the indifferentiation of its materia.  Ibn 'Arabi writes: "God first brought the entire world into existence in the form of a well-prepared, yet lifeless, ghost.  It was like an unpolished mirror.  But it is a rule in the divine business to prepare no place without it being able to receive a divine spirit, an act referred to as the 'blowing of spirit into.'  Letters are matter for words, just as water, earth, fire, and air are matter for the formation of our bodies.  The promptings unto utterance wee set in motion according to the demands of the Point's attributes which lay hidden in its Essence."

The Tree of Being
Kun (Be!) was God's first uttered word, and kawn (the world) was the immediate outcome of this utterence.  Ibn 'Arabi 's treatise 'The Tree of Being' is a fascinating exposition on his mystical reflections on the relationship between the command and the outcome, the word and the world.  Among the poetic imageries he constructs is the correspondence between the spatial structure of the human presence (the three dimensional cross) and the "tree" of realities that grows from the "seed" of the divine word kun.  In Sufi terminology "tree" is defined as "the Universal Man who governs the structure of the Universal Body."  The Sufis identify the tree with the Universal Man because both embody the pattern of the three-dimensional cross, which expresses notions of both verticality and opposition.  The seed whence the seed grows corresponds to the center, the heart of Universal Man, which is the place where all complements are united and all opposites are reconciled.  Ibn'Arabi writes:  "I have looked at the universe and its design, at what was concealed and its inscription, and I saw that the whole universe (kawn) was a tree, the root of whose light is from the seed 'Be!' (kun)."

The Original Idea
The sadness of primordial solitude made God yearn to reveal himself: "I was a hidden Treasure, I yearned to be known.  That is why I produced creatures, in order to be know in them."   The Sufis believe Man is at once the center, the model, and the ultimate aim of existence.  When God thought of revealing his "hidden treasures" the first thing that occurred in his mind was the idea of humanity.  To fulfill this idea, he first had to bring the entire world into existence to form the foundation for human existence.  In the metaphysical order the human presence was presented as a mediation between God and the world.  Acting as a link between God and Man, the cosmos comprises the formal, imaginable, the communicable vocabularies which constitute the alphabet of the language of symbolism. 

God's Throne, Footstool & The Celestial Gardens
The Quran describes the Throne as the divine seat, "The all-Compassionate sat himself upon the throne" and his Footstool "as encompassing the heavens and the earth."  Four celestial rivers are described as being laid out about the Throne: a river of sparkling light, a river of blazing fire, a river of shining white snow, and a river of water.  

Ibn 'Arabi explains that forms are of two kinds: luminous like those of the "angels ecstatic with love" and sensible like those in the natural world (including imaginary forms) . . . and the status of every being is polarized into happiness and suffering, which have many sensible and spiritual forms in this world and in the hereafter.  Within the realm of the Throne and Footstool, Ibn 'Arabi locates the Celestial Gardens (there are eight of them), the faithfuls' promised abode of eternal happiness, in a cosmic domain that will not be subject to destruction and recreation. 

Quadrature and Triplicity is revealed in the various structures and levels of the eight Gardens; centrality and axiality, however, are revealed in the tree of tuba, which stands at the center of the Gardens.  The tree represents Universal Man, designating, as it were, his place in the Gardens.  It relates to the rest of the trees in the Gardens as Adam relates to humankind.  God planted it with his own hand in the same way he created Adam.  He also breathed the spirit into it, rendering the most splendid of all trees.  It rises above the fence of the Garden of Eden, where God planted it, and its branches spread over other Gardens. It's roots are in the soil of our world and its fruits in paradise.

Heaven and Earth, Center and Axiality
Regarding the sensible world, according to Abn 'Arabi, God ordered an angel to descend in the depth of the space to its innermost point to form the center.  This center was to the world what the sacrum was to the animal body: the birthplace and the foundation of its formation.  "It is the place of attention of the supreme element, from whose brief attention the Intellect is created."  As directed, the angel descended to the center of the world and positioned the rock.  Another Sufi writer says that "in the center of this rock there is a spring called "Life" whose water renders alive whatever it reaches."  These stories reaffirm the divine order of things wherein the center is always the source from which things proceed forth and to which they will eventually return.

Axiality is equally significant.  A tradition says that God has a pillar of light whose base is below the seventh earth and whose top is below the Throne.  The pillar vibrates whenever one testifies to God's unity.  This pillar of light connects heaven and earth, acting as a channel  of communication that is exteriorized through the pillar's vibration.  This pillar echoes the concept of Muhammad as a column of light.  Penetrating the seen layers of the earth and the seven vaults of heaven, this pillar acts as axis mundi around which existence revolves.  It is a direct spatial expression of the axiality of the human presence.  When Adam was brought down from paradise, a tradition tells, he was so tall that his head was in heaven, and his feet were on the earth.  The notion of axiality ensures continuous communication between the higher and the lower worlds and harmony between Man's parental domains: his celestial fathers and terrestrial mothers.

Time and Space
In Ibn 'Arabi's cosmological scheme, the atlas sphere with the rock as its center, imagined independently of the planetary skies, gives the image of an all-encompassing sphere that represents space as an undifferentiated totality.  Thus imagined, the atlas provides the cosmic model for the geometric sphere, the spatial expression par excellence of the divine presence.  Its empty vastness signifies the divine's all possibility and immutability, while the inexhaustible multitude of its directions signifies the multiplicity of the divine names and attributes.

The primordial motion of the atlas sphere generates a pure duration of time that is, as is the pure extension of space, indefinite, unqualified, and undifferentiated.  This mode of time mirrors divine eternity, as time is to us what eternity is to God.  

In that cosmic manifestation coincides with the utterance of the primordial word, the differentiation of the pure spatio-temporal modality of the atlas sphere corresponds to the articulation of the primordial sound, the medium through which the primordial word was externalized.  The hamza, the threshold between silence of nonexistence and the sound of existence, corresponds to the Universal Intellect and coincides with the spring equinox.  The hamza represents the unpronounceable alif, not a sound but the principle of sounds.  

Architectural Order
In his final chapter, Samer Akkach writes:  In the preceeding, I have explored the "contents" of the divine exemplar from the mystical perspetive, focusing on what the Sufis consider to be the consistent, underlying order of the universe, the thread that ties together all divine, cosmic, and human manifestations.  So far, my focus has been on the divine side of the analogy; here I will turn to the architect's side to discuss the tectonic embodiment of the universal order in architecture. 

A simple examination of a range of surviving premodern Islamic buildings reveals a discernible preference for geometrically ordered spaces with isotropic spatial qualities.  There was a tendency to organize spaces symmetrically around a central point and to identify, in one form or another, the cross of directions, regardless of whether or not the cross is aligned  with the cardinal points.   spatial order is concerned primarily with individual spaces that are pictorially and experientially unified.

Concentric composition represents all architectural designs that are laid out about a stationary center expressing the spatial order of the three-dimensional cross in a static manner.

The linear composition is a variation on the concentric composition involving repetition . . . creating a number of individual concentric spaces or "spatial pulses."

Cosmology and architecture meet on sacred grounds, and forms that embody cosmological ideas invoke the scared.  The sacred constitutes the complex religious context of spatial ordering.

Ritual Space
Sacred places, Eliade argues, are not "chose but rather discovered by religious man."  "The sacred place in some way or another reveals itself to him."  In the absence of a direct revelation, holiness can still be invoked by human consecration through the enactment of certain religious rituals.  Once consecrated, a sacred space becomes a defined, qualified, significant, ordered space.  The act of ordering with reference to to cosmic paradigms, Eliade argues, invokes God's blueprint of the world, the universal pattern of creation, and the principal elements of determination that emerged out of the primordial chaos. 

Orienting a built form toward the qibla (sacred center) means positioning one's self and space on the grid of the divine map of holiness.  Facing the Ka'ba can thus orient one's mind toward the celestial archetypes that lie directly above it.  . . . establishing a horizontal link with the center of the world and a vertical link with the celestial centers marking the axis of the world.  Orientation, in this sense, is an act of integration that establishes a way of return from the fragmented to the unified,  from the complex to the simple, from the accidental to the essential, and from the many to the one.

The Land of Reality
Ibn 'Arabi writes when God created Adam, and his sister, a very small remnant of the clay was left over, the size of a sesame seed.  Within this speck god spread a vast lad, so vast indeed, that it included all creations, even the divine Throne and what it contains--the Footstool, the skies and the earths, all that is below the earth and all the levels of heaven and hell.  The proportion of all of these to the vast lad is as a ring thrown in a limitless desert.  This is the Land of Reality.  Access to this land has certain protocols . . .

The Land of Reality is the qibla (sacred center) of the Sufis, the place in which their active imagination is anchored.  Those who visited this land reported what they had observed and learned there.  They say that unlike things in our world, all things on that land are alive and endowed with a rational faculty.  Once can converse with, and learn from, gardens, animals, and minerals.  "He passes near no stone, no tree, no village, nothing whatsoever," Ibn 'Arabi reports after a visitor, "without talking to it, if he wishes, as a man speaks with his companion."

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The Ka'ba, Center of the World
In Sufi terms, the Ka'ba's cube-like form is a crystallization of the cube of man.  It is an embodiment of the human as well as cosmic spatial structure and a visible manifestation of the three-dimensional cross.  The Ka'ba denotes the idea of "centrality" and "peace."  The name Al-sakina, the divine agent that selected the sacred site and deliveered the heavenly model of the Ka'ba, derives from sukun, literally "stillness" and has been used in the Quran to denote the ideas of "repose," "peacefulness," and "certainty."  As a visible embodiment of the sakina, the Ka'ba become the heart of the world, the house of stillness, the locus of great peace, and the immanence of divinity at the center of the world, the navel of the earth, the sacrum of the body of the world.

Note:  There is so much more in Samer Akkach's remarkable book Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam which I cannot touch on here.  I highly recommend it.  SF


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