Ritual Prayer

Islamic Ritual Prayer: 

Ritual Center

"Seeing" & "Imaginative Visualization"
Hearing and Auditory Space 
Every point in space a "center"
Rhythmic bodily movements,  postures & the "Three-dimensional Cross"
Existential unfolding & Circumambulation

  click on image to enlarge

I created this page especially to compliment the introductory text for my photography project Infinite Beauty (see image above).   Embedded in these repetition field images are many ideas and concepts associated with Traditional Islamic sacred art.  After reading and then re-reading Samer Akkach's sections on Islamic prayer in his book Cosmology and Architecture it occurred to me that the repetition of the Call to Prayer five times a day, and the repetition of the prayer texts themselves and the repetitions of the body movements and postures for each cycle of prayer and the relationship of the body movements and positions to the idea of an "unfoldment into existence of boundless space" . . . and the Three-Dimensional Cross had some very interesting relationships to my photographs.  

I also found the idea "every point in space is a center sufficient unto itself" quite relevant to the Infinite Beauty photographs since the repetition image fields are made up of Four-fold symmetrical photograph "building blocks," each with it's own center point (where the vertical and horizontal mirroring images pairs cross and intersect each other).

It may not be appropriate to detail all the relationships I am aware of  for you.  Perhaps the pictures should be given some space so they can also "speak for themselves".  But I am fascinated with the creative process and how the intuitive nature of what "I" do in the making of the photographs parallel so many concepts I am learning about in the sacred art traditions of Islam.  

The list of ideas and topics above, and the bolded words and phrases in the text excerpts below, are intended to point out some of the things that interest me especially in relationship to my Infinte Beauty photographs.   Also see the links to related materials following the quotes. 


All italicized text excerpts below are taken from the following book:
Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam by Samer Akkach  

As prescribed by the Prophet, Islamic prayer is an act of worship performed toward a liturgical center, the Ka'ba, that lies beyond the boundaries of all mosques, except for the one that contains the Ka'ba.  

The Prophet further teaches: "adore God as though you do see him, for if you do not see him he does see you."  Thus viewed, the Islamic prayer is not primarilya pictorial experience or a visually oriented act, for the object of "seeing" is that which cannot be seen.  In the Islamic prayer "seeing" takes on a different meaning, especially when viewed from the Sufi perspective.  

From the moment the call to prayer is heard, Muslims engage in aural-oral correspondence, repeating certain phrases and acting in certain ways.   In the recitation of "al-fatiha", the hadith depicts the prayer as a dialogical act, a direct intimate conversation between God and Man.  Ibn 'Arabi (a great Sufi mystic) teaches that to achieve such a dialogue, one must place oneself in the presence of God, imagine God as being resent in the qibla [direction toward Mecca and the Kaba], visualize his presence in his heart, and hear his voice vibrating in all manifested things.   "Shuhud" "vision" or "visualization," the key Quranic concept in such experience, refers to imaginative visualization.

Since closing the eyes in prayer is undesirable in Islam, they searched for ways to reduce visual distraction.  Whereas vision is regarded as distracting in prayer, hearing is considered to be engaging.  Sufis associate hearing with invocation (dhikr), an act that creates a sense of divine presence necessary for prayer.  Dhikr becomes the recalling and remembering of God in order to converse with him.   . . .  Hearing engenders the experience of a presence, and the oral-aural participation activates the inner sense of vision, enabling one's visualization.

Sound suggests presence without location, a presence that occupies the entire space rather than being located in it.  This is very much like God's presence without location, a presence in the qibla of the faithful, which, though physically in front of him, is in reality everywhere around him.  

Unlike visual space auditory space is not spread out before us with a fore, middle, and background but is diffused around us as a boundless bubble, as a sphere that has no precisely defined boundaries.   Every point in the space is a center sufficient to itself, and every spot entertains the sense of spatial entirety.  In an acoustic space every participant is situated in the center of his or her own acoustic field.  Theoretically, every Muslim praying constitutes an independent center directly connected to the supreme center, the Ka'ba.

Thus viewed, the spatial characteristics of the hypostyle mosque prayer hall allows every point in the space to be a center of equal significance.  Such an ambience tends to generate an encompassing sense of presence that is consistent with the Islamic ideas of a universal sanctuary.

In the course of prayer, each individual defines a spatial field by his or her bodily movements that have spiritual significance.  Islamic prayer comprises a prescribed set of gestures and recitations performed in the same way individually or collectively while standing at a fixed point in space.  It involves a series of bodily postures rhythmically repeated in one place with no precessional rituals.  There are four principal postures: standing, bowing, sitting or resting, and prostrating.  The movements associated with these bodily postures reveal four tendencies: upward (standing), horizontal (bowing), downward (prostrating), and stillness (rest).  When repeated in a certain sequence these postures constitute the so-called ruk'a, the prayer's repeated unit or cycle.

For complete details visit  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salah  

Sufis see in the spatial tendencies of the prayer an expression of the three-dimension cross, the underlying divine structure of both human and cosmic formation, and the basis of spatial ordering.   

Thus viewed, the three movements of their prayer reenact the primordial process of existential unfolding.  Accordingly, by the tendencies of their bodily movements, a Muslim in prayer unfolds--in principle--a sphere that defines the spatiality of the boundless bubble of their acoustic field.  

The postures of prayer together with their associated tendencies are seen to correspond to the threefold origin of humanity . . . and to the form of the Arabic letters.

Considering the ritual prayer during the pilgrimage, which requires seven laps around the Ka'ba, in the very act of circumambulation, according to Ibn 'Arabi, one assumes the role of the revolving planets in generating and ruling over the earthly conditions.  In reenacting the "days" of the week, the ritual circumambulation assumes the function of the celestial agents.

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Click here  for more excerpts related to the Three-Dimensional Cross

click here  to see additional text excerpts on other topics from Samer Akkach's book 

Infinite Beauty

Sacred Art, Sacred Knowledge

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.