Cosmology is the science of the cosmos—its origin, structure, components, order, and governing laws. Its complex and multifaceted inquiry unfolds at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and natural sciences and is sustained by the human curiosity to know how we have come to exist and what happens to us when we die.
Until the triumph of modern physics, cosmology was the prerogative of theologians, mystics, and philosophers, forming the core of religious sciences. All world religions provide their followers with a “logical” explanation of the creation, with a description of the cosmic landscape and order, and, most important, with a projection of what is awaiting them in the hereafter.
Cosmological doctrines were thus significant not just for their scientific validity but also for the enforcement of moral and religious codes of conduct. Reward and punishment, the potent instruments of religious law and authority, can only work within a current cosmological system of popular appeal; hence the sensitive and volatile relationship religion has often had with science.
In Islam, the main sources of cosmological ideas were naturally the Quran and the had ith (prophetic sayings). The Quran presents many references to cosmic elements—the Throne, the Footstool, the Pen, the Tablet, heaven, and earth—to the creation and resurrection, to paradise and hell, and so on, but mostly in an abstract way without weaving a complete and coherent cosmic picture.
It is the had’ith that provide much of the information needed to piece the Quranic elements together into a coherent architecture.
In broad terms, two distinct modes of cosmological thinking can be traced in the Islamic tradition: theorized and untheorized. The untheorized mode was concerned with a collected body of statements made by the Prophet and his immediate companions, which provided, as it were, the nonnegotiable Islamic truths, the foundations necessary for cosmological reflections and speculations. The theorized mode was concerned with making sense of the Quranic and prophetic material and was cultivated in three different intellectual spheres: theology and polemics, philosophy and science, and hermeneutics and mysticism.
Related though they may be, the two modes of cosmological thinking developed, rather curiously, independent of each other. The untheorized mode, which appealed to mainstream religious authorities, formed part of the hadith reporting science that was concerned with the authenticity of the statements and the credibility of the reporters. In this context, cosmological statements were transmitted and perpetuated in the hadith books alongside statements concerned with daily matters, such as, prayer, ablution, marriage, divorce, pilgrimage, and so on. Early had’ith scholarship must have provided an effective way of appropriating and authenticating pre-Islamic cosmological conceptions and popular narratives that seemed to be in harmony with the new religion.
Over the history of Islamic cosmological thinking, the hadith corpus proved to be a powerful tool in the hands of clerics, who grew more and more suspicious and intolerant of “foreign sciences,” until they prevailed in the sixteenth century when a hadith-based genre of cosmological writing dominated over scientific and philosophic curiosity. Al-Suyuti’s popular treatise al-Hay.a al-Saniyya f i al-Hay.a al-Sunniyya, which deals with what would have been perceived and presented as religiously “factual” and “authoritative” cosmological data, is a key text that represents this mode of cosmological thinking.
The theorized modes flourished in the early periods, producing a rich spectrum of trends and ideas. With the kalam movement, described as Arabic scholasticism, which emerged in the ninth century, we have the early rationalists and polemicists who developed sophisticated cosmological arguments concerning such difficult issues as the existence of God, anthropomorphism, creation, nature of existence, free will, and determinism. This was led by the Mutazilites who were challenged and later succeeded by the Hanbalites and Asharites. The kalam practitioners were theologians concerned with the understanding and interpretation of the divine revelation within rigorous linguistic context, taking the Islamic truths as the basis of their polemical engagements.
In this they differed from early philosopher-scientists, such as al-Kindi (d. c. 866), al-Razi (d. c. 925/935), and al-Biruni (d. c. 1051), who were more inclined to start from observational knowledge and human reason in their cosmological thinking. And Ibn al-Rawandi (d. c. 910), who attempted to forsake the religious truths altogether, points to the breadth of ideas that emerged in early Islam.
Within the intellectual sphere of philosophy and science Muslims made remarkable achievements in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, geometry, optics,geography, medicine, and alchemy. The new findings contributed significantly to the development and sophistication of their cosmological thinking.
Persian, Indian, and other Near Eastern influences were absorbed into the Muslim worldview; however, it was Greek knowledge—a combination of Ptolemaic astronomy and Aristotelian philosophy and physics—that ultimately prevailed in the Islamic world.
Philosophers and scientists maintained a rather precarious relationship with mainstream religious authorities, who were ready to attack whenever the Islamic dogma was being challenged. Al-Ghazali’s forceful attack on philosophy and Ibn Taymiyya’s on Sufism and other schools are but two eminent examples.
Motivated by spiritual fulfillment rather than scientific curiosity, the mystics cultivated a hermeneutical mode of cosmological thinking that wove together all aspects of available knowledge into a comprehensive whole. Mystics included Gnostics such as Ikhwan al-Safa, al-Sijistani, and al-.Amili and Sufis such as al-Hallaj, Rumi, and al-Ghazali.
Islamic mysticism reached its zenith in the work of Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), whose multilayered and complex cosmology has since dominated the Islamic world. Unlike the philosopher-scientists who did not engage the hadith literature, the Sufis elaborated the Quranic-prophetic model and integrated its terminology into their cosmological doctrines.
In doing so, they provided a sophisticated,yet popular, framework for the hadith-based cosmology, grounded in interwoven layers of hermeneutical interpretations that extended to every aspect of daily life. This, in a way and despite the tenuous relationship the Sufis had with mainstream Islam, assisted in the triumph of the al-Suyuti’s unspeculative version of orthodox cosmology once the scientific thrust had abated. It is this trend of cosmological thinking that is explored in this study.
Underneath these different modes of cosmological thinking, there lay basic consistencies. The Platonic-Aristotelian duality of the sensible and the intelligible,the physical and metaphysical, along with the Ptolemaic geocentric model were uncontested. For over a millennium, from Mujahid b. Jabr’s (d. 722) very basic cosmography to Haqqi’s (d. 1780) most elaborate Ma’rifat-name, a remarkable consistency can be traced in the cosmic form and structure.
The Islamic cosmos consisted of the seen and unseen, the divine and human domains, with each having its own inhabitants, landscape, and order. The seen world was constructed of nine concentric spheres, seven planetary ones encompassed by the sphere of the fixed stars (the divine Footstool) and the utmost encircling sphere without stars (the divine Throne). The seven heavens rest on seven earths in the form of domed structures decreasing in size and positioned one within the other.
As for the workings of the cosmos, it was seen to be regulated by a quaternary natural order of the four elements, mediated by many sets of four—four seasons, four natures, four humors, four directions, and so forth. Another consistency can be traced in the popular narrative of the creation that formed the starting point of many Islamic chronicles, integrated into many literary sources, and appeared in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ottoman genre of architectural writings.
Risale-i Mi.mariyye, the treatise on architecture, opens with a cosmological recount of the creation and structure of the world, followed by poetic reflections, whereas the Selimiyye Risalesi includes many references to the correspondence between a building and the cosmos.
Yet neither text provides theoretical articulation of the relationship between cosmology and architecture, nor indeed do other premodern Islamic sources. The discursive relationship was mainly the work of modern theorists working with the notion of symbolism.
- Modernism and Spiritual Decline
European modernism, founded on humanism and a preoccupation with aesthetics and profane sciences, the perennialists argue, has shifted the focus from God to man, thus breaking the continuity of tradition, eclipsing the spiritual pursuit, and consequently, marking the beginning of the decline of human civilization.
This is a central theme in almost all of their writings, backed by a relentless attack on many aspects of modern ideals, sciences, and most important here, modes of artistic production. Guénon devoted much effort to initiate such a systematic attack, which he presented in East and West, The Crisis of the Modern World, and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. Both Coomaraswamy and Schuon maintained in almost all of their works the intensity of Guénon’s criticism, taking every opportunity to remind their readers of how psychologically corrupt, intellectually deranged, and spiritually bankrupt modern life has become.
This ideological position has led to a sharp distinction between modern and premodern modes of thinking and making, which has theoretical and methodological implications. The perennialists present the distinction between modern and premodern as synonymous with that of West and East and of antitraditional and traditional. Guénon passionately argues that the rift dividing East from West, as “one of the most noticeable features of the modern world,” has emerged from the antitraditional sentiment and associated mentality promoted by the “modern West.”
So long as there were “traditional civilizations,” that is, peoples in tune with tradition as in premodern times, Guénon argues, “no ground for a radical opposition between East and West existed.”
But when the West took the turn toward humanism and profane sciences it began to distance itself from the East, which remained steadfast on the traditional path. Thus, a multifaceted opposition between two geo-mentalities was constructed, forming the basis for a range of binaries, such as knowledge and action, sacred and profane, rational and intuitive, egocentric and anonymous, and so on.
In Light on the Ancient Worlds, Schuon explains this opposition by reference to what preoccupies each of the modern and traditional sciences. He writes: “Modern science, which is rationalist as to its subject and materialist as to its object, can describe our situation physically and approximately, but it can tell us nothing about extra-spatial situation in the total and real Universe . . . Profane science, in seeking to pierce to its depths the mystery of the things that contain—space, time, matter, energy—forgets the mystery of the things that are contained.”
Traditional science, by contrast, is viewed to be preoccupied with metaphysical realities, with the mysteries that are contained. Preoccupation with metaphysical truths, the object of perennial philosophy, and the applicability of these truths across different religious contexts formed the basis of the perennialist discourse on “traditional” art and architecture. In this discourse the adjectives traditional, medieval, oriental,and even true were all used synonymously to define a condition that is distinct from that of the modern West. The sharp distinction between modernity and tradition was drawn on the basis of religious efficacy and the presence of spirituality.
In medieval theocentric societies when religion was effective, the perennialists maintain, spirituality was intensely present in people’s lives and clearly visible in their modes of thinking and making. Modernism, ushered in by the so-called European Renaissance, has introduced new living conditions and modes of thinking that led to systematic erosion of religious values. Against the millennial presence of tradition, however, the brief history of modernity can only appear as a peculiar abnormality.
“We are peculiar people,” Coomaraswamy writes, “I say this with reference to the fact that whereas almost all other peoples have called their theory of art or expression a ‘rhetoric’and have thought of art as a kind of knowledge, we have invented an ‘aesthetic’ and think of art as a kind of feeling.”
In this context, studying medieval or traditional art and architecture requires not only an awareness of the changes modernity has introduced but also the use of an appropriate approach to uncover their spiritual content and to facilitate a proper understanding of their meanings. The approach is, of course, that of perennial philosophy mediated by traditional symbolism.
In his forward to Ardalan and Bakhtiar’s The Sense of Unity, Nasr summed up the ultimate aim of the perennialist project: “There is nothing more timely today than that truth which is timeless, than the message that comes from tradition and is relevant at all times. Such a message belongs to a now which has been, is, and will ever be present. To speak of tradition is to speak of immutable principles of heavenly origin and of their application to different moments of time and space.”
- Metaphysical Order in sufism
From Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam
An Architectural Reading of Mystical Ideas
By Samer Akkach
- Being and Presence
A form giver, al-Ghazâlï tells us, is one who has conceived of sürat al-wujüd in its entirety. He would have comprehended well the form and order of the universe so that its image becomes vividly present in his soul as though he is constantly observing it. Once this is achieved one descends down to the details.1
Sürat al-wujüd, the “image of being,” externalizes al-Ghazâlï’s nuskhat al-‘âlam, the “blueprint of the world” referred to earlier, materializing it in a visible form. Considering the in-stantaneous nature of the creative act, nuskhat al-‘âlam and sürat al-wujüd should be understood as separated only by a conceptual distance. Here we will begin to explore sürat al-wujüd in both its holistic form and underlying order, focusing on God, Man, and the Word, that is, the creator, the idea, and the creative tool.
Presence and Absence
When dealing with the Sufi conceptions of reality, physical or metaphysical, it is important to recognize the essential difference between their approach and the Cartesian view that conditions our modern understanding.
Sufis do not see the world through the Cartesian polarity of subject and object, mind and extension, conscious soul and extended bodies.
In fact the subject-object polarity finds neither linguistic nor conceptual support in Arabic. Instead, Sufis present an understanding of the world through the polarity of presence (hudür) and absence (ghiyâb). Every existent has a presence that matches its mode of being. Even nonexistence has a notional presence.
The Quranic polarity of the seen (shahada) and the unseen (ghayb) is but an expression of presence and absence. 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 makes it effectively present. Absence is the lack of such efficacy despite physical existence.
From the human perspective, what matters is not what exists out there but what has a presence in, and an impact on, one’s world. In formal correspondences, it is still a common practice in the Arab world today to address the presence of the addressee.
In the following, I will be introducing four presences: the primordial, divine, and human presences and the presence of the word. In this context, a “presence” (hadra) refers to a modality of being with all the realities it entails, the relations it involves, and the influences it commands.
- The Presence of Geometry
In Sufi metaphysics, numbers and geometry are indispensable tools that aid the reflection on the nature of divinity and illustrate the order of being. Within the bounds of the Euclidean tradition, geometrical principles, such as the point, the line, and the circle, were consistently used to reason about metaphysical realities.
As early as al-Hallaj (d. 922) we can trace the agency of geometry as a sophisticated hermeneutical tool. Geometrical principles, as will be shown here, are employed to illustrate the initial stages in the creative process, which coincide with the states of universal manifestation.
These are the states through which God becomes manifest in various modalities, corresponding to the various levels of differentiation in his creative act. Familiarity with the basic principles of premodern Islamic geometry is therefore necessary, not only to appreciate the agency of geometry in metaphysical sciences but also to gain insights into the spatial reasoning in premodern Islam.
Following the Greek model, premodern Muslim scientists considered geometry to be a part of the mathematical science, which comprises four divisions: the science of number, whose principle is unity or the number one; the science of geometry, whose principle is the point; the science of astronomy, whose principle is the movement of the sun; and the science of music, whose principle is proportion or the equality of two ratios.
Along with this structure, geometry contained profound mystical dimensions that survived from the times of its Greek masters, such as Pythagoras, Nicomachus, Euclid, and Plato. The philosophical distinction between the sensible and the intelligible that underpinned the hierarchy of the world was extended to geometry.
In their Rasa’il, the Ikhwân defined geometry as the science that deals with “measures” (maqadir) and “dimensions” (ab’ad), in their quantitative and qualitative aspects.
Distinguishing two kinds of geometry, they wrote:
“Know, Oh brother … that the study of sensible geometry (al-handasa al-hissiyya) leads to proficiency in all the practical arts, while the study of intelligible geometry (al-handasa al-‘aqliyya) leads to proficiency in the intellectual arts, because this science is one of the gates that leads to knowing the substance of the soul, which is the root of all sciences, the element of wisdom, and the origin of all intellectual and practical arts.”
Sensible geometry was described as the science that deals with sensible measures and configurations, those that can be sensed by sight and touch, whereas intelligible geometry was seen as the science that deals with abstract, immaterial concepts, those that can only be known and understood by the intellect.
By virtue of its intellectual nature, intelligible geometry was considered to be the foundation of designing. “When, in his craft, an artisan designs (qaddara) before commencing work,” the Ikhwân write, “this act involves a kind of intelligible geometry.”
This shows the utility of geometry as a design tool. Designing, the Ikhwân explain, involves dealing with measures, which are of three kinds: lines, planes, and bodies. These three sensible measures can be conceived of mentally by the qualities of length, breadth, and depth.
Length is the intelligible quality of the one-dimensional line;
length and breadth are the intelligible qualities of the two-dimensional plane;
and length, breadth, and depth are the intelligible qualities of the three-dimensional body.
All measures in space can be known by means of these three intelligible qualities. “It is a part of the art of the erudite thinkers (al-muhaqqiqin),” the Ikhwân say, “to contemplate these dimensions divested of bodies.”
Geometry was also conceived as being based on the imaginary movement of the point, its generative principle. I will return to this later on. The point was seen as a geometrical reflection of the number 1, with both sharing the same ontological condition. The point was viewed as the principle of dimension, while itself having no dimension, just as the number 1 was seen as the principle of numbers, while itself not being a number. As generative principles both were seen to transcend the domain they manifest, disclosing a mode of reasoning that plays a central role in metaphysical reflections.
Unity of Being
In religious thought, the relationship between the creator and the creatures, God and the world, has always been a central theme. The perplexing questions of why and how God created the world, and what was he doing before creation, have engaged the religious imagination throughout history. The debate on these issues often leads to a sharp distinction between two modalities of being; one belongs to God, the other to the world.
In Islam, this debate has continued to unfold a diversity of positions, ranging between the most hermeneutical and the most literal. In this debate the Sufis advocate the doctrine of the Unity of Being (wahdat al-wujüd). Often misunderstood as blurring the boundary between God and the world, this doctrine emphasizes that there is only one modality of Being (wujüd) 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.”
The philosophical reasoning behind this complex concept is rather simple.
If God in his primordial presence, before the creation of the world, absurd as this premise may be, is necessarily conceived of as mawjüd (is), then al-wujüd (being) must either be identical with or other than himself. Otherness implies duality that contradicts the Islamic doctrine of unity, therefore, al-wujüd and God must be one.
This is only the starting point though, and more complex reasoning is involved when the creation is taken into account. Some important linguistic issues must be considered when dealing with wahadt al-wujüd in English. To begin with, the polarity of “being” and “existence” or “Being” and “being” has no linguistic support in Arabic.
There is only one term wujüd, with no lower and upper case, that accounts for all shades of meanings and conceptual nuances. The etymological root of this term is wa-jada, “to find,” whose passive form, “to be found,” means “to exist,” and the derivatives awjada and ijâd mean “to bring into existence” and “bringing into existence” respectively.
In the Latin-based languages, where the linguistic and conceptual distinction between Being and being, on the one hand, and Being and existence, on the other, has both historical and philosophical depths, the concept of wahdat al-wujüd appears confusing and loses much of its immediacy and transparency. This is reflected in the range of translations available: “unity/unicity/oneness of being/Being” and “unity/oneness of existence/Existence,” with all being unsatisfactory equivalents for tending to emphasize either the divine or the worldly side of things, whereas the Sufi concept is clearly about the oneness of both. For simplicity and want of a better expression, I have used the term Unity of Being.
In al-Tuhfa al-Mursala, “a brief tract on illustrating the science of truths” that entertained wide popularity, Fadl Allah al-Barhanburi al-Hindi (d. 1620) explains wahdat al-wujüd succinctly:
“Know, O brothers, may God bring you and us happiness, that God (al-haqq),praised and exalted, is Being (al-wujud); and that this Being has neither shape nor limit nor confinement. Yet, in spite of that it has manifested and appeared in shape and limit but without changing from what it was, having no shape and limit: it is [now] even as it was. And [know] that Being is one, while the “clothings” (albâs) are many and different; that this Being is the reality and inner essence of all be-ings (mawjüdât); that all beings (kâ’inât), even the atom, are not devoid of it; and that this Being is not understood in the infinitive sense of realization or happening (suggesting a duality of a subject and a state), for there are no two kinds of Being in the external world. Yet Being cannot be applied to external beings in the same sense as it applies to God, transcendent be he above that. Rather, by Being we mean the Real who is qualified by these qualities, I mean, its self-existence, the existence of everything else by it, and the absence of any other externally. And know that in respect of its inner reality (kunh) this Being cannot be revealed to anyone, nor can the intellect, the imagination or the senses conceive of it, nor can it be grasped by analogy. For all these are novelties, transcendent be his essence and attributes above that. And whoever wants to know God in this respect and goes after it is wasting his time”.
Thus understood, wahdat al-wujüd sees God as the inner reality of all beings. The oneness of the inner reality in relation to the many and different manifestations is often explained analogically by reference to natural phenomena, such as the invisible, colorless light and its visible, colorful refractions.
The concept is usually traced in numerous Quranic verses, such as, “wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God” (2:115); “We are nearer to him than his jugular vein” (50:16); “And in yourselves. Can you not see?” (51:21); “We are nearer unto him than you are, but you cannot see” (56:85); and “He is with you whereso-ever you may be” (57:4).
The Unity of Being becomes a contentious concept once the created world is entered into the equation. Conditions of worldly existence—space, time, and change—cannot be said to apply to the divine, hence the need to distinguish two modes of being, one of Being, the other of becoming, as in the Platonic-Aristotelian metaphysics.
According to wahdat al-wujüd, however, there is no need for such a distinction, for the differentiation occurs in the states or modalities that Being takes on at different levels of manifestation. Such differentiation, however, remains external, as the one and same Reality always resides at the very core of things. Viewing wahdat al-wujüd from the point of view of the distinction between Being and becoming, an unnecessary discontinuity between the divine and human modes of existence confuses the concept. While Being may still be seen as the inner reality of all existents, God remains distinct from everything else in the realm of existence. This is often the cause of misunderstanding.
Wahdat al-wujüd is commonly attributed to Ibn ‘Arabi, who articulated it as a central theme in his writings and teachings. Its historical origin, however, cannot be so clearly defined, for there are many Sufi texts from the earliest period of al-Basri, al-Kharráz, and al-Halláj that clearly express similar conception, though not at the same level of sophistication. `Afifi, in his introduction to Ibn `Arabi’s most famous text Fusus al-Hikam, stresses that the radical doctrine of wahdat al-wujud is entirely the fabrication of Ibn `Arabi’s imagination and that earlier Sufis had nothing to do with it. In the best light, `Afifi’s remark reveals the stance of contemporary Islamic orthodoxy that is eager to show Ibn `Arabi as an anomaly in an otherwise well-respected, orthodox Sufi tradition.
Such a view fails to see the historical depth of the concept, to understand the true nature of the doctrine, and to discern the intrinsic link between the concept itself and the nature of the mystical experience.
Sufi literature presents ample references to wahdat al-wujud. The ninth-century Sufi al-Kharráz is often reported as quoting the Prophet’s companion `Ubayda (d. 639), saying: “I have never looked at a single thing without God being nearer to me than it.”
In Mishkat al-Anwar al-Ghazáli wrote: “The Truth of all truths: from here the Gnostics rise, from the lowlands of metaphor to the peak of the truth; and at the fulfillment of their ascent they see directly face to face that there is naught in existence save only God.” He adds, “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.”
This is similar to what `Abd al-Karim Al-Jili wrote three centuries later: “Being has two aspects: one is pure Being, which is the Essence of the creator, the other is [relative] being associated with nothingness, which is the essence of the creatures.”
This conception resonates with Ibn `Arabi’s teachings: “In relation to the forms of the world, ‘everything will perish,’ but in relation to its realities, the world will not perish, nor is it possible to perish.” There is no doubt that since Ibn `Arabi wahdat al-wujud has become a foundational concept in Sufi metaphysics. As a reflection of an intense spiritual love of God and a burning desire to know him, the doctrine of the Unity of Being can also be seen as an outward expression of the mystical ex-perience. If the affirmation of the absolute unity of God is the cornerstone of the Islamic religion, then the concept of wahdat al-wujud can be said to be its mystical expression.
The States of Being
While Being in its highest state is identical with the unknowable Essence, this does not mean that it is totally inaccessible by the human mind. Al-Hindi explains that Being has other states whereby it can be known. These states represent degrees of qualification or definition, referred to as “essential determination” (al-ta’ayyun al-dhâtï), meaning the knowable conditions whereby the divine Essence becomes determined. These states also correspond to the modalities of “universal manifestation” (al-zuhür al-kullï), meaning the knowable conditions whereby the world becomes determined. The hierarchy of these states can be considered from a number of standpoints; however, they are often categorized into seven levels. In al-Tuhfa al-Mursala al-Hindi defines the seven states of Being as follows:
1.Transcendent Unity (al-ahadiyya): the state of “nondetermination” (al-lâta’ayyun), “absoluteness” (al-itlâq) and “pure Essence” (al-dhât al-baht), not meaning “that the limits of absoluteness and negation are affirmative in this state, but that al-wujüd in this state transcends the addition of qualities and attributes, and is too sacred to be defined by any limit, even the limit of absoluteness.” It is the state of the ineffable Essence that “refuses human understanding”; the state of “nonqualified” and “nondetermined” existence that lies beyond human conception. As such, it cannot be the object of any distinctive knowledge, and is, therefore, inaccessible to the human mind.
2.Divine Solitude (al-wahda): the state of “first determination” (al-ta’ayyun al-awwal) that represents God’s knowledge of his Essence, attributes, and all existents (mawjüdât) in their nondifferentiated, indistinctive mode of being. Ontologically, it mediates between al-ahadiyya and al-wahdâniyya and is also referred to as the state of “Muhammadan Reality” (al-haqïqa al-muhammadiyya).
3.Divine Uniqueness (al-wahdâniyya): the state of “second determination” (al-ta’ayyun al-thânï) that represents God’s knowledge of his Essence, attributes, and all existents in their differentiated, distinctive mode of being. It is also referred to as the state of “Human Reality” (al-haqïqa al-insâniyya). The first three states of Being concern Being in the primordial stage, yet, primordiality as well as precedency and succession in the above states must be understood as intellectual and not temporal qualifications.
4.The World of Spirits (‘âlam al-arwâh): the state of simple, abstract cosmic entities, those “in the likeness of which, and in accordance with whose essences, manifestation is fashioned.”
5.The World of Similitude (‘âlam al-mithâl): the state of subtle, composed cosmic entities, those which are not susceptible to division, portioning, separation, or conjunction.
6.The World of Bodies (‘alam al-ajsam): the state of dense, composed cosmic entities, those which are susceptible to division, portioning, separation, and conjunction.
7.Man (al-insan): the last and the sum total of all manifest states, the bodily and the spiritual as well as the states of divine uniqueness and divine solitude.
Fig. 2.1 The seven states of Being viewed from various perspectives.
Viewing the states of Being from different standpoints, there is only one state of nonmanifestation (al-lazuhur), that of Transcendent Unity, and six states of universal manifestation.
The first three represent the states of Being in the Platonic sense, while the other four represent the states of becoming. In terms of the creative process, there are internal and external modes of differentiation. Internally, the second state is the state of first determination, while the third is the state of second determination. The other four states are concerned with external existence.
These states also identify, as al-Hindi puts it, three distinct modalities or “homes” (mawatin) of the world. The first home is in the first determination wherein the world is designated as divine “business” (shu’un), in the sense that the world is God’s own concern: “He creates what he will” (30:54). The expression comes from the Quranic verse “every day he is engaged in a divine business (sha’n)” (55:29). The second home is in the second determination, wherein the world is designated as “immutable essences” (a`yan thabita). The third home is in the “exterior” (al-kharij), in the realm of existence, wherein the world is designated as “external essences” (a`yan kharijiyya).
In terms of al-Ghazali’s analogies, the three mawatin of the world can be compared to the stages of architectural production. The first two modalities, the divine business and immutable essence, correspond to the stages of design (taqdir), wherein the designed object is still contained in an unmanifest mode within the designer’s mind. The architectural drawing, which equates al-Gha-zali’s nuskhat al-`alam, the blueprint of the world, corresponds to the world of spirits, the first state of the external essences (a`yan kharijiyya), which includes both the blueprint and its embodiment. Al-Hindi’s hierarchy of the three homes forms the basis of the following analyses of the process of universal manifestation.
- The Primordial Presence
The primordial presence (al-hadra al-qadima), as distinct from the divine presence (al-hadra al-ilahiyya), 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 (al-ahadiyya) from the verse: “Say: He is God, the One (ahad)!” (112:1). Although it has a conceptual presence, this state 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.
In the Tawasin, al-Hallâj refers to the point as “the meaning of unity, but not Unity.” He presents several mystical and graphical references to the symbolism of the point, the line, the circle, and the alphabet. “The circle has no door,” he writes, “and the point in the middle of the circle is the meaning of truth.” see also Tawasin
In the Sufi teachings, the symbolism of the point (nuqta), literally “drop,” “dot,” is a consistent and recurrent theme. In Kitab al-Nuqta (The Book of the Point), al-Jïlï presents a sophisticated exposition of the meaning of the point, seen as a potent symbol of the ultimate Reality (haqiqat al-haqa’iq), a graspable geometrical principle capable of revealing the relationship the divine Essence bears to the world.
In their fascinating discourse on the symbolism of the point, Sufis often quote a prophetic tradition that reduces all human knowledge to the dot of the Arabic letter ba’ (B). I will discuss this later.
To understand the ontological relation Sufis draw between the point and the first state of Being, we need to reinvoke the Ikhwân’s distinction between the sensible and intelligible geometry, which they extend to the point. The sensible point (al-nuqta al-hissiyya), they explain, is a physical entity that has parts, whereas the intelligible point (al-nuqta al-‘aqliyya) is a nonspatial principle that has no parts.
In a treatise on the alphabetical symbolism, al-Jïlï reiterates this differentiation: “Know that, in reality, the point cannot be determined by sight, because [it is indivisible while] all that is manifested by it in the bodily world is divisible. So the perceived point is an expression (‘ibara) of its reality, the definition of which is a “single, indivisible sub¬stance” (jawhar fard la-yatajazza’).”
Thus understood, the sensible point is the smallest spatial entity in the Euclidian geometry whose repetition produces a line, the repetition of which produces a plane, the repetition of which produces a volume. This spatial entity has a dimension, however indefinitely small. For the repetition of a dimensionless point cannot produce a dimension any more than the addition of zeros can produce a number. By contrast, the in-telligible point is a mental concept, denoting the dimensionless, indivisible principle that lies beyond the confines of spatial conditions. The sensible point is the physical embodiment of the intelligible point, which not only escapes space and spatial conditions but also defies our affirmative comprehension. We are unable to attribute to the point any essential qualities whereby it may become affirmatively graspable. When we describe the point as indivisible, formless, dimensionless, without extension or duration, and so forth, we are in fact negating its spatio-temporal qualities. Negative attributes can only tell us what a thing is not. Although negating is a form of knowing, an entity can only be grasped by means of its affirmative attributes. As Ibn ‘Arabï explains that “negation is not an essential attribute (sifa dhatiyya), for all essential attributes of beings are affirmative (thubutiyya).”
Furthermore, when we try to define the intelligible point by negative attributes, we are forced to employ spatio-temporal qualities, which the intelligible point transcends. By such definitions we reveal our tendency to presume that such sensible qualities are potentially latent in it. However, neither can these negative attributes determine, limit, or define the quality of the intelligible point nor can they render it graspable.
The ungraspability and incomprehensibility of the point renders it a potent symbol of the ineffable divine Essence (al-dhat) or God in the state of nonde-termination. “Whenever I speak of the Point I mean the Secret of the Essence,” says the twentieth-century Sufi Al mad al-‘Alawï in his treatise on the symbolism of the Arabic letters.
Note: see also The so-called Risalat al-huruf (Epistle on Letters) ascribed to Sahl al-Tustari and Letter Mysticism in al-Andalus
And al-Jïlï says that “the point is a symbol (ishara) of God’s essence that is hidden behind the veils of his multiplicity.” The point stands for the Essence because it is just as ungraspable and incomprehensible to say that the point is formless, dimensionless, indivisible, and so forth, as the Quranic description of God: “Naught is as his likeness” (42:11). Negation is the only way to know of the divine Essence and, by extension, of its symbol, the point.
Ibn ‘Arabï explains the state of divinity to which the point is ontologically tied: “Praise be to God before whose oneness there was not a before, unless the Before was He, and after whose singleness there is not an after, except the After be He. He is, and there is with Him no after nor before, nor above nor below, nor far nor near, nor union nor division, nor how nor where nor when, nor time nor moment nor age, nor being nor place. And He is now as He was. He is the One without oneness, and the Single without singleness . . . He is the First without firstness, and the Last without lastness. He is the Outward without outwardness, and the Inward without inwardness.”
Sufis teach that the point is the principle of geometry just as 1 is the principle of number. Here the correspondence can be observed on two levels. In Arabic “unity” is denoted by two terms: ahad, as in “Say: he is God, the One (ahad)” (112:1); and wahid, as in “Your God is One (wahid) God” (2:163). The conceptual difference between these two terms can be traced in the Sufi teachings. The unmanifest state of Transcendent Unity is designated by the term al-ahadiyya, from ahad, while the two manifested states of the divine Solitude and Uniqueness are designated by the terms al-wahda and al-wah-daniyya, respectively, from wahid. The two manifest states of Being share the same etymological root with the number 1, wahid, whereby they are deliberately distinguished from al-ahadiyya, whose root, ahad, though it connotes the idea of unity, signifies unity without likeness, not even in numbers. In geometrical terms, the sensible point, as the principle of sensible geometry, corresponds to the 1, as the principle of numbers. For just as the number 1 is a reflection of the unmanifest Unity (ahad) in the realm of numbers, so the sensible point is a reflection of the intelligible point in the realm of geometry.
The unmanifest Unity, however, is that which lies beyond both realms of number and geometry altogether. It can be analogically equated with the 0 or the pure “whiteness” (bayâd) in Ghazâlï’s example. Whiteness and 0, as Unity unaffirmed, are symbolic expressions of that which lies beyond the first comprehensible affirmation of Being, expressed by the sensible point and the number 1. Zero is to 1 what the whiteness is to the point and what possibility is to actuality: the state of inconnumerable unity and infinite multiplicity.
In al-Tuhfa al-Mursala, al-Hindï takes this analogy a step further. He says that Being (wujüd) is to beings (mawjüdât) as light is to colors and figures. Being is the reality whereby things become conceivable just as light is the condition whereby colors and figures become perceivable. But unlike light, he says, Being in its manifestation is ceaseless and more intense, and, therefore, only the elites are aware of its presence.
He further explains that all beings (mawjüdât), in respect of Being (wujüd), are none other than the Real (al-haqq), but in respect of determination are other than the Real. Oth-erness is a relative matter. In reality, he adds, even the shape is none other than Real. To illustrate this view, al-Hindï uses the example of the various objects made out of water, such as hail, waves, and ice in the form of a cup. In reality, he says, all of these are none other than water, but in terms of their specific forms they are obviously other than water. Likewise is the mirage, which is air appearing in the form of water; in reality, it is none other than air, but in appearance it is other than air.
Relating this to space, the geometrical point in its two modalities, the sensible and the intelligible, may be taken to represent the ubiquitous presence of Being in both its determined and undetermined states. Viewed from al-Hindï’s standpoint, 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. Ibn ‘Arabï develops this argument considering the point in its own right and in what it causes to appear in the form of spatial composition. In reality, Ibn ‘Arabï says, a spatial object is none other than the point, but in determination it is other than the point. Explaining the nature of the radius, he writes: “A line terminates at a point. Its beginning and its end are and are not parts of it, as you may wish to say. What should be said of the line is this: neither are the points the line it-self nor other than itself . . . The line is made up of points, it cannot be con-ceived in any other way. The plane is made up of lines, so it is made up of points, and the body is made up of planes, so it is made up of lines, which are made up of points.”
In summary, the point, itself undetermined and unmanifest, is the principle of determinate manifestation. It is to space what the divine Essence is to the world: the unmanifest principle of manifestation. In its intelligible mode, it encompasses the entirety of space, for potentially all is conceived within it. In its sensible mode, it is the generative principle of space, for all bodies in space can be geometrically reduced to a point: it is both the whole and the part.
- The Divine Presence
The divine presence (al-hadra al-ilahiyya), as distinct from the primordial presence (al-hadra al-qadima), is the presence wherein 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 means whereby he may become knowable. By this descent the nonqualified and undetermined Being becomes manifest in two qualified and determined states— first and second determination—revealing the divine presence.
Unity and Multiplicity
The act of manifestation is associated with a perplexing philosophical question: how could the simple unity produce the rich and complex multiplicity?
The tradition that says, “God was and nothing with him; and he is now even as he was,” raises other related questions.
How could God remain as he was after creating the world? How could God, the one, when there was nothing with him remain the same one when the multitude of existents is associated with him? This is the paradox of unity and multiplicity implicit in the act of manifestation, the paradox of the one becoming many and at the same time remaining one, of God being at once the name and the named.
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 you are standing apart from the mirror, nor other than yourself, since it is your own and not anyone else’s.
If you imagine that you are able to look in a number of mirrors simultaneously and see your reflected images in all of them at once, then the paradox of unity and multiplicity is partially resolved. And if you imagine these mirrors to be infinite in number, reflecting infinite aspects of your personality, then the paradox is almost resolved. What remains to be explained is the “mirrors”: what are they and where do they come from? In this analogy, the mirrors are none other than the created beings, the things of the world, whose appearance coincides which the manifestation of the divine reflections or realities. At the first level of determination, these realities are described as divine business (shu’ün ilâhiyya), whereas at the second level of determination they are designated as immutable essences (a’yân thâbita).
Al-ta’ayyun al-awwal, the state of the first determination, al-Hindi explains, designates God’s knowledge of his Essence, attributes, and all beings (mawjü-dât) in an undifferentiated, indistinctive mode. This state is often likened to the existence of a tree in the seed prior to its physical materialization. The act of knowing is the first affirmative attribute that determines the Essence. Knowing implies a triplicity: knower, known, and knowledge, affirmatively differentiating among the Essence (knower), the names (known), and the connection (knowledge); or among unity, multiplicity, and affinity. In geometrical terms, this initial order can be traced in the ternary structure of the circle seen as the first qualification of the point: the unity of the center (knower), the mul-tiplicity of the points of the circumference (known), and the connecting radii (knowledge).
Sufis see the revealment of the divine’s infinite names from the incomprehensible Essence as analogous to the projection of the circumference’s indefinite number of points from the indivisible center and to the reflection of God’s “forms” in the mirrors of beings. Through this ontological relationship, 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 circle, therefore, offers effective cues that help us understand the paradox of unity and multiplicity. Ibn ‘Arabï explains:
Every line projecting from the center to the circumference is equal to its companion and terminates at a point on the circumference. In itself the center neither multiplies nor increases despite the multitude of lines that project from it to the circumference. The point of the center relates to every point on the circumference by its same essence. For if it were to relate to one point on the circumference by other than that by which it relates to another, it would be divisible, and it would not be true that it is one, yet it is. So it relates to all the points, in spite of their multitude, by none other than its essence. It is certain then that multiplicity manifests from the one Essence without this Essence being multiplied.
The Quran teaches that the world depends in its existence on God: “O mankind! It is you who are in need of God”; while God is “the selfsuffi-cient, the glorified” (35:15). He is “independent of all creatures” (3:97). Ibn ‘Arabï sees in the circle a confirmation of this. Although the center and the circle 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 an image in a mirror: its existence depends upon the presence of the one whose image is being reflected while the one remains independent on its own.
In the state of first determination, al-Hindï explains, the world is designated as divine business (shu’un ilahiyya), a modality that, according to Ibn ‘Arabï,differentiates three things: Being (al-wujud), non-Being (al-‘adam), and the possible (al-mumkin)
Fig. 2.3 The world as divine business (sha’n) according to Ibn ‘Arabi (Futuhat).
. This corresponds to the ternary structure of the knower, known, and knowledge and its geometrization in the circle. Ibn ‘Arabi explains: “The divine business (al-sha’n) in itself is as the point in relation to the circum-ference and that which is in between. The point is Being (al-haqq), the space outside the circumference is non-Being (al-‘adam), or, say, darkness, and that which is in between the point and the space outside the circumference is the possible (al-mumkin) . . . We have been given the point because it is the origin of the existence of the circle’s circumference that was manifested by the point. Like-wise, the possible does not manifest except by Being and the circumference of the circle.”
The differentiation of Being, non-Being, and the possible at the first level of determination is also described as God descending from the level of absolute oneness to the level of singleness (fardiyya, from fard, “odd”). Singleness is the level of the affirmative differentiation of the act of knowing, which is coincidental with the creative act. Knowing presupposes the existence of the known, the possible world. The nature of the divine creative act is in harmony with the initial structure of determination. Ibn ‘Arabi explains:
Know, may God guide you, that the creative order is in itself based on singleness (fardiyya), wherein triplicity (tathlïth) is implicit, since singleness begins from the number 3 upward. Three is the first single (fard, “odd”) number. It is from the presence of singleness that the world has come into existence. God says: “and our word unto a thing, when we intend it, is only that we say unto it: Be! and it is” (16:40). Here is an Essence, one with a Will and a creative Word. Without this Essence, its Will, which is its turning towards bringing something in particular into existence, and its uttering of the word “Be!” to that particular thing at the moment of turning, that thing would not have come into existence.
In the Futühât Ibn ‘Arabi translates this creative triplicity into a geometrical form. He illustrates the triplicity of the divine creative act with reference to the circle: the center stands for the Essence, the radius for the Will, and the circumference for the coming into being by the word Be!
The line projecting from the central point to a single point on the circumference represents the predestination each creature has from its creator-most transcendent. It is his saying: “and our word unto a thing, when we intend it, is only that we say unto it: Be! and it is.”
Will here is that line we assumed as projecting from the point of the circle to the circumference. It is the divine orientation (al-tawajjuh al-ilâhï) that determines the existence of that point of the circumference. The circumference is the same “circle of potential beings” (dâ’irat al-mumkinât), and the point in the center, which determines the points of the encompassing circle, is the necessary, self-sufficient Being (wâjib al-wujüd li-nafsihi).
Thus viewed, the circle’s inherent order provides an immediate expression or materialization of many Quranic concepts. Referring to the verse, “he is the first and the last, and the outward and the inward” (57:3), Ibn ‘Arabi says: “The world is between the center and the circumference: the center is the first, and the circumference is the last.” He adds: “every point of the circumference is an end to a line, while the point out of which a line projects to the circumference is the beginning of that line, so he is the first and the last. He is the first of every pos-sible being just as the point is the beginning of every line.”
And with reference to the verses, “And God, all unseen, surrounds them” (85:20), and “Verily, he is surrounding all things” (41:54), Ibn ‘Arabï writes: “If you assume lines project-ing from the point to the circumference (muhit), these will terminate but unto a point. The whole circumference bares the same relationship to the point, which is his saying: ‘And God, all unseen, surrounds (muhit) them,’ and his saying: ‘Is not he surrounding (muhit) all things?”
Fig. 2.4 The geometric representation of the divine creative command according to Ibn ‘Arabï.
The Arabic word for “circumference,” muhit, which also means “surrounding” and “encompassing,” provides a linguistic support for the mystical interpretations.
The symbolism of the circle is also used to illustrate and confirm some theological dogmas, such as the ultimate return to God at the end of the world. The lines projecting from the point of the center to the points of the circumference that stand for all possible beings remind us, according to Ibn ‘Arabï, of our ultimate destination, as stated in the Quran: “and unto him the whole matter will be returned” (11:123); “As he brought you forth, so you shall return” (7:29); “God initiates the creation, then the recreation, then unto him you will be returned” (30:11).
Ibn ‘Arabï sees in the circle and the spherical form of the cosmos a constant reminder of this ultimate return.
Know that since the world is spherical in shape, man longs at the end of his life to his beginning. Our springing forth from nonexistence to existence was by Him, and to Him we shall return, as he says: “and unto Him the whole matter will be returned” . . . Do you not see how when you start drawing a circle you keep encircling the line until it terminates unto its beginning: then it is a circle. Had the matter been otherwise, had we sprung forth from him in a straight line, we would not have returned unto Him, and his saying: “then unto Him you will be returned” would not have been true, but He is the truthful.
The circle, the symbol of the state of first determination, is the first comprehensible form unity takes on in the process of manifestation. It represents the first polarization that differentiates the unity of the Essence from the multiplicity of the names, but without distinguishing the names from one another. Just like the points of the circumference: they are all alike and equally related to the original point-center. At the state of second determination (al-ta’ayyun al-thani), the divine names become differentiated and distinguished from one another, manifesting an infinite number of patterns. These patterns crystallize the infinite sets of relationships and combinations that bind various divine names together. Geometrically, these patterns can be seen as an indefinite number of geometrical configurations that can be inscribed within a circle, each as it were crystal-lizing one of the divine patterns. A square, for example, can be seen to geometrically crystallize the pattern of quadrature, which in turn crystallizes the relationship that binds any four distinct yet related divine names, such as the Living, the Knowing, the Willing, and the Powerful. Ibn ‘Arabi assimilates this process to the differentiation of geometrical forms within a circle: “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.”
For Sufis, combinations of the divine names constitute the regulating patterns of existence, varying according to the subjects they designate. The creation of the world, for example, requires a pattern different to that required for the subsistence of the world after it has been created. Likewise, different modalities of the divine reveal different patterns. A different combination of attributes is needed to know God as the creator of the world than the ones needed to know him as the self-sufficient. Sufis discern a structure in these infinite varieties of patterns, based on a perceived hierarchy in both single and combined divine names. Quadrature and triplicity occupy, with regard to the creative process, primary positions in this hierarchy.
Quadrature: Pattern of Proliferation
Sufis teach that God’s manifestation and becoming knowable coincides with the creation of the world. For this creative emergence to be fulfilled a certain combination of divine names is necessary. According to Ibn ‘Arabi, this is achieved through four principal names: the Living (al-hayy), the Knowing (al-‘ilim), the Willing (al-murïd), and the Powerful (al-qadïr), which manifest the attributes of Life, Knowledge, Will, and Power.
There are several Quranic references to these names: “God! There is no God save him, the Alive, the Eternal” (3:2); “He creates what he will. He is the Knower, the Powerful” (30:54). The logic that brings these four names together is based on human creativity that necessitates these four indispensable attributes. In order to be able to produce anything, one must, first of all, be alive, must know what one is intending to produce, must have the will for production, and must be able to produce.
This is the creative quadrature according to human logic. It might derive from the physical order, but its roots lie in the metaphysical world. The physical order of existence, as Ibn ‘Arabi affirms, is necessarily rooted in divine realities.
If this is the way we naturally conceive of the creative act, it is because divine realities structure our modes of thinking according to the original order of things. This creative quadrature reveals the first trace of order, the exemplar of all quadratures in the created world. The nearest cognate pattern to the creative quadrature is that which binds the divine names mentioned in the verse: “He is the First and the Last, and the Outward and the Inward” (57:3). Already linked to the structure of the circle, this combination describes the position of the creator in the created world.
Fig. 2.5 The first stage of manifestation according to Ibn ‘Arabi (Futühit).
Within the creative quadrature Ibn ‘Arabï traces a hierarchy. Life, he says, is the primary attribute since it is the necessary condition for all other attributes. Knowledge follows Life in the hierarchy. Al-Qâshânï considers Knowledge to be the leader of the attributes, on the basis that although one’s creative ability hinges on being alive, being alive does not presuppose the other creative attributes.
For Ibn ‘Arabï, however, Life is the very condition of existence, including the existence of Knowledge, hence its primacy. Most Sufis, however, concur with Ibn ‘Arabï on the primacy of both Life and Knowledge over Will and Power. The logical basis of Ibn ‘Arabï’s hierarchy concerns the domain of influence and the limits of the realm to which the presence of each of these attributes extends in the creative process. Being the very condition of all attributes Life occupies the highest position in the hierarchy. Knowledge follows, since its domain of influence extends to both the realm of necessary Being and the realm of possibility, which includes what can and cannot exist (al-mumkin wa al-muhal). Then follows Will, whose domain of influence is restricted to the realm of the possible by exercising a preference as to what may and may not exist. Power is the last in the hierarchy, being the most restricted, since its function is confined to bring into existence the possibility already given a preference for existence.
This hierarchy is conducive to another kind of differentiation, in which each attribute acquires an active or passive generative quality. The primary attributes of Life and Knowledge are considered to be active, acting upon the secondary attributes of Will and Power, which are passive. Ibn ‘Arabï considers that just as Life is the condition of Knowledge, Will is the condition of Power. So Will is to Power as Life is to Knowledge. Accordingly, Life draws Will into its state, and Knowledge draws Power into its state. The articulation of the creative quadrature’s original hierarchy into active and passive, conditioning and conditioned, form the divine model for all other creative orders that rely on the agency of active or passive qualities. “The created world, in its entirety, is passive in relation to God,” Ibn ‘Arabï says, “while in itself is active in parts and passive in others.”
The creative quadrature of divinity is novel since it occurs without a preceding model. Every quadrature that follows, in this as well as in other domains, is but a reproduction of this novel order. With reference to the prophetic tradition, which says that creation started with the Intellect (al-‘aql) followed by the creation of the Soul (al-nafs) from the Intellect, Ibn ‘Arabï traces the second stage of manifestation: “God brought into existence the first Intellect from the attribute of Life and the Soul from the attribute of Knowledge. So the Intellect was the condition for the existence of the Soul as Life was the condition for the existence of Knowledge. The two passive realities in relation to the Intellect and the Soul were Universal Matter (al-habâ) and Universal Body. These four were the origin whence all forms in the world were manifested.”
At this stage Ibn ‘Arabï introduces a new element, “Nature” (al-tabï’a), between the Soul and Universal Matter. Nature, as Ibn ‘Arabï describes it, is an intelligible reality, a force, that has no essence (‘ayn). We know it through its effects in the physical world, which manifest through the agency of four realities—heat (harâra), cold (burüda), dryness (yubüsa), and moistness (rutüba).In our bodily experiences we sense the effects of these four forces of Nature in the phenomenal world, not Nature per se. The working of Nature, Ibn ‘Arabï explains, displays a quaternary structure that resonates with the original creative quadrature:
Between the Soul and Universal Matter there is the state of Nature. It, too, is based on four realities, two of which are active, and two are passive. Yet all are in the state of passivity with regard to the source whence they proceeded. These are heat, cold, moistness, and dryness. Dryness is passive in relation to heat, and moistness is passive in relation to cold. Heat is from the Intellect, and the Intellect is from Life; hence the nature of life in the sensible bodies is heat. Cold is from the Soul, and the Soul from Knowledge; hence knowledge, when settled, is usually described by the “cold of certainty” and by “snow” . . . As dryness and moistness are passive with regard to heat and cold, Will demands dryness because it belongs to its state, and Power demands moistness because it belongs to its state. And since Power is restricted to bringing-into-existence in particular, it is duly charged with imprinting the nature of life, that is, heat and moistness, in the bodies.
Ibn ‘Arabi says that all forms (suwar) and figures (ashkal) are manifested in the Universal Matter and the Universal Body. The form of our world is one of these “forms and figures.” Referring to the Quranic verse, “the heavens and the earth were of one piece (martuqa), then we parted them, and we made every living thing of water” (21:30), he says, heaven and earth were first manifested in the form of an undifferentiated, indistinctive mass (martuqa, literally “stitched together”). “Then God turned to unstitching the sewn mass in order to distinguish between their (i.e., heaven and earth) essences (a’yan). Water was the principle of their existence, and that is why he said: We made every living thing of water.” This provides the key for the third stage in the creative process, the stage of manifesting the four simple and ideal elements, Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.
Water is the principal element, just as Life, to which it relates, is the principal divine attribute. Ibn ‘Arabi explains the working of the quaternary order at the third stage of manifestation:
First of all, God ordered these four natural realities in a particular pattern (nazm makhsus). He joined heat and dryness, and there was the simple and ideal Fire. He manifested its ruling (hukm) in three places of the Throne’s body (al-‘arsh), which is the “utmost sphere” (al-falak al-aqsa) and the “Universal Body” (al-jism al-kull). He called the first place “Aries,” called the second place, which is the fifth of the designated places, “Leo,” and called the third place, which is the ninth of the designated places, “Sagittarius.”
Then he joined cold and dryness, and there was the simple and ideal Earth. He mani-fested its ruling in three places of this sphere: He called the first place “Taurus,” the second “Virgo,” and the third “Capricorn.”
Then he joined heat and moistness, and there was the simple and ideal Air. He manifested its ruling in three places of this utmost sphere: He called the first place “Gemini,” the second “Libra,” and the third “Aquarius.”
Then he joined cold to moistness, and there was the simple and ideal Water. He manifested its ruling in three places of the utmost sphere: He called the first place “Cancer,” the second “Scorpio,” and the third “Pisces.”
This is the division of the sphere of the constellations: there are twelve designated divisions determined by the twenty-eight planets. All is set by the design (taqdir) of the Mighty, the Knower.
This pattern of quaternary manifestation also represents the basic pattern of the cosmogonic proliferation of the many from the maternal source, the point. As the unmanifest source that precedes the manifestation of the many, the point signifies the feminine, progenitive origin wherein all things are conceived as an undifferentiated totality. “Whatever may be the term that you do choose for the first entity,” Ibn ‘Arabi explains, “it will always be feminine.” Geometrically, the unity of mother-point proliferates into the multiplicity of the circumference. The points of this circumference represent the genera of existents.
Fig. 2.8 Pattern of proliferation according to Ibn ‘Arabi.
In the same manner that the mother-point first burst open to give birth to the first circumference, the multiplicity of genera, so likewise each genus may in turn proliferate into a multiplicity of species, species into kinds, and kinds into individuals.
Ibn ‘Arabi says that every part of the world may cause the existence of another smaller world similar to, but in no way more perfect than, it; and so 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 principle of all this is the first point,” he writes, “for a line extending from the point-center to a determined point on the circumference may also extend from it to the points of the half-circle that lies out-side the first circle.”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
Reflecting on the nature of the creative act, Ibn .Arabi says that we can only say that God “designs” (yuqaddir) things eternally but not “brings into existence” (yüjid) eternally, because it is not possible.
Accordingly, he distinguishes two modes of creation: creation by “designing” or “determination” (taqdïr) and creation by “bringing into existence” (ïjâd) or “forma-tion” (takwïn). The former is an eternal, creative act that does not involve physical production, whereas the latter is an act that does. The former coexists with God’s knowing of the nonexistent world in its potential state, whereas the latter coexists with the bringing of the world from nonexistence into existence, from potentiality into actuality.
The distinction between these two creative modalities is traceable at the linguistic level. In Arabic ‘âlam and kawn are the two distinct terms translated as “world.” The former derives from ‘ilm, “knowledge,” with reference to which Ibn ‘Arabï says that the moment God knew himself, he knew the world. The latter derives from the trilateral root k.w.n., literally, hadath, that is, “something new,” “a novelty,” “an unprecedented thing,” “occurrence,” from which comes the terms muhdath and hudüth, “ephemeral existence” and “newness,” as opposed to qadïm and qidam, “primordial” and “eternity.”
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. Takwïn, however, is necessarily a physically productive act, causing the designated thing to exist. The verb kawwana means “to bring into existence,” “to synthesize,” the imperative of which kun (Be!) is the divine creative word.
Thus creation has two complementary modes: designative through knowledge and design (taqdïr), and productive through bringing into existence and formation (takwïn). This conception further supports al-Ghazâlï’s analogies already discussed.
If quadrature can be viewed as the primary pattern of creation with regard to taqdïr, then triplicity is the primary pattern of creation with regard to takwïn. This can be traced in the Sufi conceptions of the creative act and of the divine model for bodily formation. The divine creative command, as we have seen, is based on the triplicity of the Essence, Will, and Word. This is considered to be an active triplicity in response to which a passive triplicity appears in the created thing.
It is the union of both that causes this thing to exist. In response to the creative command, Ibn ‘Arabï explains,there arises in the thing to be created, too, a singleness, a triplicity, by which the thing, on its part, properly partakes in its own formation and its being brought into being. This is its thingness (shay’iyya), its hearing (samâ’), and its obeying (imtithâl) the command of the creator concerning its coming into being.
So the thing matches the [creative] triad with a triad: its affirmative, though nonexisting, essence corresponds to the Essence of its creator; its hearing corresponds to the Will of its creator; and its obedient acceptance of what has been commanded concerning its formation corresponds to the creator’s utterance of Be!
Formation (takwin) presupposes embodiment that demands a pattern of divine names to be realized. This pattern determines the spatiality of embodiment through the three dimensions and six directions.
Sufis distinguish two complementary modalities whereby God may be known: the creative modality in which God is attached to the world and the self-sufficient modality in which “God is independent of all creatures” (3:97).
Both are known through two sets of four names. The creative set consists of the Living, the Knowing, the Willing, and the Powerful, while the self-sufficient set consists of the Living, the Speaking, the Hearing, and the Seeing. The latter relates to the Quranic verse: “Naught is as his likeness; and he is the Hearer, the Seer” (42:11). “For if he hears his speech and sees his Essence,” Ibn ‘Arabi writes, “surely then, his Self-existence without being related to the world is complete.”
Together, the two modalities reveal the following seven divine names: the Living, the Speaking, the Knowing, the Hearing, the Seeing, the Willing, and the Powerful. These are unanimously accepted by traditional Islamic schools as the seven principal di-vine names, from which all other names derive. In premodern theological and mystical literature, they are known as the “mothers of all names” (ummahat al-asma). For Sufis, the seven principal names constitute the fundamental order of the divine presence.
Triplicity is inscribed in the seven principal names as the divine pattern of formation that complements quadrature in the creative process.
Here triplicity corresponds to the three dimensions of length, width, and depth, which Ibn ‘Arabi considers as embodying the productive triplicity of the creative command “Be!” The triplicity of the dimensions is revealed numerically through the seven principal names together with the Essence, adding up to eight, the first cubic number, being the minimum number of points required for the production of bodies in space. Explaining the structure of this pattern, Ibn ‘Arabi writes:
The ultimate aim of synthesis is the body. The body is eight points only, and what is known from the Real is just the Essence and the seven attributes. Neither are these God himself nor other than himself; likewise, neither is the body other than the points, nor are the points other than the body, nor are the points the body itself. We say that the least of bodies is eight points because the original line arises from two points up; the original plane arises from two lines up, hence the plane arises from four points; and the original body arises from two planes up, hence the body arises from eight points. The body acquired the name of the length from the line, the name of the width from the plane, and the name of the depth from the synthesis of two planes. Thus the body is established upon triplicity, just as the structure of syllogistic reasoning is established on triplicity,and as the origin of being, the Real, becomes manifest by bringing into existence through three Realities: his Essence (huwiyyatuhu), his Turning (tawajuhuhu), and his Uttering (qawluhu).
The seven principal divine names also determine the six directions—up and down, left and right, front and back—further qualifying the bodies already formed on the triplicity of dimensions. Of these seven names, Ibn ‘Arabï says, only six relate to the possible being, while the seventh, the Living, does not. Insofar as the Living is the condition for the existence of the other six names, it is the point where they all meet. The other six divine names—the Speaking, the Knowing, the Hearing, the Seeing, the Willing, and the Powerful—determine the six directions, while the living Essence marks the point where all coincide.
Thus viewed, 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.
- The Human Presence
“I am the Truth,” cried al-Hallâj, a fatal cry that was said to have led to his prosecution and tragic execution.Yet the great Sufi martyr was only stating boldly what had later become the object of a sophisticated Sufi theory. That man is the mirror image of God became a central theme in Sufi thought, while tasting the divine reality humans embody became the prime object of the mystical experience.
In the Fusus Ibn ‘Arabï wrote: “I praise him and he praises me, I worship him and he worships me.” Earlier, I referred to al-Hamawï’s metaphor of God’s Eye that never sleeps. In Arabic insan, “humankind,” is also translated as “pupil.” The term insan is taken to designate humankind, Ibn ‘Arabï explains, because 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” (basar) that makes “seeing” possible.
Man is insan because God “sees” his creatures through him, and it is the comprehensiveness of his reality that makes such vision possible.
The Epitome of Creation
In al-Hindi’s multiple states of Being, the first state of determination is also designated as the Muhammadan Reality (al-haqiqa al-muhammadiyya), whereas the second state is designated as the Human Reality (al-haqiqa al-insaniyya). In the same way these two states of Being are taken to constitute the divine presence, they are taken to constitute the human presence (al-hadra al-insaniyya).
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. This being so, man becomes the ultimate aim of the creation and the first thing God conceived. As God’s conception of man’s creation coincides with his self-manifestation, the human presence goes through the same stages of determination already discussed. These two stages can be thought of as identifying the idea of man in its ideal and particular determination.
For Muslims Muhammad is the ideal model of humankind, just as Christ is for Christians, whereas Adam is the first incarnation of this perfect model. This is what the Muhammadan and Human Realities represent in the constitution of the human presence.
In the Fusus Ibn ‘Arabi explains, using numerical symbolism, the structural similarity and concordance between the divine and human presences. When the undetermined unity subjected itself to the process of determination, triplicity was the first order it revealed: unity, multiplicity, and affinity.
Thus 3 was the first comprehensible form unity took. Three is also the first odd (fard) number, since 1 is not a number but the origin of numbers. Fard also means “single” and “individual,” of which farid means “unique.” Ibn ‘Arabi plays on the semantics of fard to show how the human presence mirrors that of the divine.
In being the first object of divine knowledge, man becomes synonymous with the universe, and the articulation of the concept of ‘man’in the divine mind coincides with the manifestation of the names and attributes.
Thus the idea of Muhammad, in being the model in the likeness of which man was to be fashioned—according to the hadith: “I was a prophet when Adam was still between water and clay”—equates the divine knowledge in the indistinctive state. This is the wisdom of Muhammad’s prophethood, as Ibn ‘Arabi puts it, revealing the triplicity of the state of Being with which he is identified.
In his exposition of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Fusus, al-Qashani explains that the notion of the Muhammadan Reality designates the first self-determination with which the primordial Essence qualified itself. This included the determination of the hierarchy of genera, species, kinds, and individuals, the entirety of which Muhammad comprised in his constitution. In this sense, Muhammad was unique. Above his reality there was only the ineffable transcendent Essence.
The Muhammadan Reality was particularized through the idea of Adam, with the creation of whom the human presence was realized. Adam was at once the “lens” through which God viewed all beings and the “mirror” in which he viewed his own Being. The otherness of the reflected image externalized divinity in a unique way, revealing the realities of the names in an embodied form.
If the divine presence is God revealing his names and attributes, then the human presence is the incarnation of these names and attributes in the human form. In this sense, the human presence becomes the outer face of divinity, while the divine presence becomes the inner face of humanity.
Al-Qâshânï explains the sense in which man is seen to epitomize the realities of the creation. Being last in the creative process, man was as it were the conclusive act, summarizing all the ontological degrees that unfolded in the process of self-determination and refocusing the colors of the ontological spectrum.
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, as 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.
The Sufi notion of the human presence is synonymous with that of the Universal Man (al-insan al-kamil/al-kulli). According to al-Hindï, Universal Man is the state of Being that can be attained through an ascension (‘uruj), whereby one retraces the process of manifestation back to its 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.
The notion of the Universal Man is central to Ibn ‘Arabï’s writings, which he articulates into a highly sophisticated theory in most of his texts, and specifically in Insha’ al-Dawa’ir, al-Tadbirat al-Ilahiyya, Futuhat, and Fusus.
It is al-Jïlï, however, who is well known for his comprehensive book on Universal Man. Introducing the book, al-Jïlï says that “since it was the Real (al-haqq) who is sought in the writing of this book, it is mandatory that we deal in it with the Real-most transcendent, in regard to his names first, because they directly point to him, then in regard to his attributes because of the diversity of essential perfections they express, and because they are the first manifest forms of his revealment.”
In sixty-three chapters, al-Jïlï goes through a wide range of metaphysical, cosmological, and eschatological themes, unfolding the dimensions of the Universal Man. Far from being confined to the domain of humanity, the concept encompasses all the realities of Being—spiritual, imaginal, and corporeal—as well as the cosmic structure in its current complexity and its reformation in the here-after. “The Universal Man,” al-Jïlï writes, “is the pole around whom revolves the spheres of Being from its beginning to its end.”
The Two Exemplars
The human presence, Ibn ‘Arabï explains, comprises two “exemplars” (nuskhatan): outward and inward.
The former, temporally produced, is homologous to the whole world; the latter, eternally conceived, is homologous to the divine presence.Through this dual structure man becomes at once the most universal entity and the most effective mediator between God and the world. The duality of the creator-creature is rendered interactive through the agency of man’s two exemplars, since no other worldly being admits the quality of divinity, nor can the divine admit the quality of worldliness, al-‘ubudiyya. Ibn ‘Arabï writes:
Man alone possesses two perfect relationships, by one he enters into the divine presence, and by the other he enters into the cosmic presence (al-hadra al-kayaniyya). So he is called a “slave” with regard to his being an obligated creature that was not and then became, just like the world, and he is called “lord” with regard to his being a vicegerent, to his form, and to his being created in the best stature. Thus, he is, as it were, a mediator between the world and the Real, bringing together the created and the creator. He is the dividing line between the divine and the cosmic presences, as the dividing line between the shadow and sunlight. This is his reality: he has the perfection of both eternity and newness.
Fig. 2.9 The human presence mediating between God and the world.
Ibn ‘Arabi articulates his two-exemplar concept by detailing the way in which the ternary and quaternary patterns of the divine presence are reflected in man’s constitution. Here he identifies man by three essential components: nature (tabi’a), body (jism), and figure (shakl). The state of nature embodies the generative pattern of quadrature; whereas the states of body and figure crystallize the formative pattern of triplicity.
The three-fold structure—nature, body, and figure—constitutes the manifest exemplar, the inner face of which corresponds to the three-fold structure of divinity—Essence, attributes, and actions. Ibn ‘Arabi explains:
In his essence, this individual man corresponds to the divine presence. God created him, in respect of his figure and organs, with six directions. These were made manifest through him because he is to the world as the point is to the circumference . . . God also created him, in respect of his nature and the form of his body, from four, so he has quadrature according to his nature, being the sum of the four elements (arkan). And he structured his body (jism) as to have three dimensions, length, width, and depth. Thus he resembles the divine presence in regard to its Essence, attributes, and actions. These are three states: the state of his figure, which is none other than his directions, the state of his nature, and the state of his body.
The two-exemplar concept allows us to see the agency of the human presence appearing in different modalities. The outward modality becomes identical with the world; whereas its inward modality becomes identical with divinity.
In bringing God and the world together the human presence itself tends to dissolve, just as the dividing line between shadow and sunlight that exists only through the existence of the neighboring domains.
The three states that constitute the outward exemplar of the human presence may be synthesized in the form of the three-dimensional cross, its symbol par excellence. The four arms of the horizontal cross mark the quadrature of man’s nature; the three axes express the three-dimensionality of his body; and the six arms of the cross projecting from the center graphs the directionality of his unique figure. All are reconciled in the central point, which represents man’s centrality in the world.
When God breathed His Spirit into Adam, Ibn ‘Arabi says, the profusion of the Breath generated the quadrature of his nature through the four humours: yellow bile, black bile, blood, and phlegm. These four natures of the human biological structure derive from the four principal elements (arkin): Fire, Earth, Air, Water. The yellow bile came from Fire, the black bile from Earth, blood from Air, and phlegm from Water. In addition, God provided man with four natural forces—attractive, fixative, digestive, and repulsive—to enable the functioning of these natures. This quaternary pattern reflects the divine creative quadrature—Life, Knowledge, Will, and Power—the model for all created quadratures.
These four natures, as the four principal elements, are referred to as “arkin,” plural of rukn, a “corner” or “corner pillar,” giving the imagery of a quadrangular “structure.”
According to Ibn ‘Arabi, this is the primary “struc-ture” of being: “God established being upon quadrature and made it for himself as a house standing upon four arkan, for he is the first, the last, the outward, and the inward.”
These four attributes formed the primary quadrature that necessitated the establishment of the “house” of being upon four corner pillars, within the structure of which the world of spirits and the world of bodies were manifested. From the world of divinity this structure prompted the creative attributes of Knowledge, Will, Power, and Utterance, which generated the world of spirits, which is beyond nature, as well as the natural world. The manifestation of the natural quadrature of heat, cold, moistness, and dryness followed and was employed in the generation of the world of bodies, dense and subtle. Before forming the bodies, however, God laid out the spiritual world of “writing” (tadwïn) and “inscription” (tastïr) that produced the original blueprint, al-Ghazâlï’s exemplar. This included the quadrature of the Intellect, the Soul, Nature, and Matter, through the agency of which the four elements (arkân) of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth were generated. It is in this divine and cosmic hierarchy that the four humors of the animal body and the four functioning forces were eventually created.
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 God’s intention (al-qasd) in the creation, he is the first; and with regard to his existential formation (al-nash‘), 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.”
Regarding the spatial formation of an animal body, Ibn ‘Arabï quotes a curious hadïth in which the Prophet is reported to have said that “the formation will be established upon the sacrum (al-nash’a taqüm ‘alâ ‘ajb al-dhanab).”
Al-nash’a is a specific Quranic term that designates at once the creation and the for-mation of the world—its structure, spatio-temporal conditions, and sensible forms.
The Quran refers to the “first creation” (al-nash’a al-‘ülâ, 56:63), meaning the world in its current formation, and to the “other creation” (al-nash’a al-‘ukhrâ, 53:47), meaning the world as it will be reformed in the here-after. The expression ‘ajb al-dhanab refers, according to the renowned eighth-century lexicographer and grammarian al-Farâhïdï, to the lowest point of the spine wherefrom the animal’s tail originates.
In humans this is known as the sacrum, the triangular-shaped bone wedged between the fifth lumbar vertebra and the coccyx (tailbone), consisting of the five sacral vertebrae fused together. The sacrum is the heaviest bone of the pelvis and the center of gravity of the skeletal structure. The term comes from Latin, os sacrum, meaning “sacred bone,” which points to its significance in medieval Europe, when it was known as the resurrection bone, from which a person will be reborn in the hereafter. The Islamic tradition seems to have preserved this Christian conception.
Note: The notion of the sacred bone was present in many ancient and premodern traditions.
The sacrum is the large, triangular bone at the base of your spine. It consists of usually five initially separate vertebrae which begin to fuse at about age 16–18, and are usually completely fused by your mid-30s.
The sacrum sits like a wedge between your two hip bones (ilium), forming the sacroiliac joint (SI-joint). Below the sacrum is your tail (coccyx). The whole sacro-iliac area is incredibly interesting when it comes to movement, yoga, and our energetic system.
The name “sacrum” originates from the Latin os sacrum, a translation of the Greek hieron (osteon), meaning sacred or strong bone.
Rresearching this history of the term , Oscar Sugar found that in European/Middle-Eastern tradition the sacrum is associated with resurrection, identifying it as the “almond” or luz of the Hebrews and the ajb of the Arabs. The idea goes that the sacrum is the last bone in the body to disintegrate after death (it’s one of the hardest bones in the body) and is therefore necessary for resurrection – it seems there are a few mentions of this in the Bible, for example in Psalms 34, 21 it says “He watches over all the bones; one of them shall not be broken“. He concludes that the word ultimately derives its conceptual meaning from the ancient Egyptians who associated it with Osiris, the god of the afterlife, the underworld, and the dead.
Some Mesoamerican Indian languages also named this bone using words referring to sacredness and deity, meaning that they must have independently come up with this concept. See the paper of Stroos about Sacrum
Another reason given in a few studies why it’s called ‘sacred’ is that it’s located next to the reproductive organs, which are obviously historically, culturally and symbolically highly significant! It looks like their proximity has led to people thinking that they share similar life-giving or spiritual qualities. Several cultures around the world (including the ancient Egyptians and some Indian cultures) have even believed that the sacrum channels seminal fluid through the spinal column to the penis (apparently because spinal fluid and semen are very similar in form).
In Indian spiritual practices, the area around the sacrum is seen as the seat of Kundalini. The word kundalini comes from the Sanskrit word ‘kundal’ meaning coiled up. It is seen as the primordial dormant energy present at the base of the spine in the sacrum – often visualised as a coiled snake. According to the texts, Kundalini is associated with the Divine Mother (Shakti, or the earth). One of the primary goals of traditional yoga practice is the uncoiling (release) of this feminine energy at the base of the spine, which can then travel up the central energy channel (susumna) to unite with the masculine energy of Divine Father (Shiva/Shakta, or the universe) in the seventh (crown) Chakra. This union of opposites is the essential meaning of yoga (to unite or yoke, bring together), and is a powerful symbol in pretty much all cultures.
“The word Kundalini is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Kundal’ meaning coiled up. It is the primordial dormant energy present in three-and-a-half, coils at the base of the spine in a triangular bone called the Sacrum –
In East Asian practices, the sacral area is associated with the lower Tan Tien (or Dan Tian; Chinese, Tanden; Japanese) literally translated as “field of elixir”, and your ‘hara’. They use the word ‘elixir’ to refer to the same kundalini energy. In practices such as Qigong, Taoist yoga, and Zen, instead of awakening that energy and just allowing it to rise up the spine, they practice balancing both the rising and descending energies (yin and yang) by learning how to move it up the back and down the front of the body in a complete circle (the snake swallows its tail). This is known as the microcosmic orbit.
–Back to Metaphysical Order in Sufism:
The Quranic term al-nash’a and its link to the sacrum deserve some attention. Etymologically, it derives from the trilateral root n.sh.‘, “to grow,” “to be alive,” of which ansha’a means “to create,” “to invent,” “to produce,” and “to compose.” The Quran says: “He brought you forth (ansha’akum) from the earth” (11:61). Ansha’a also means “to begin,” “to start,” and “to commence doing something.”
Hence the verse, “He it is who produces (ansha’a) gardens trellised and untrellised” (6:142) means that “he invented them and commenced their creation.”
The term ansha’a has many applications in poetry and architecture. In poetry, ansha’a means “to compose a poem” and “to commence reciting it”; in architecture, it means “to commence setting up a structure.” Therefore, insha’ is associated with building a structure.
The above hadith, which many religious authorities quote, reveals a concern with the spatiality of formation: how the human body is structured and in what form it will be reconstructed in the other world.
Seen as the only non-perishable (la yabla) component of the body, the sacrum provides the element of continuity between the two creations. Ibn ‘Arabi interprets the hadith as concerning the spatial structure of the body. He explains that the sacrum represents the center whence the body springs forth and upon which it is symmetrically established.
It is the focal point of growth, which occurs through three centrifugal movements: downwards, upwards, and outwards.
In humans, the downward movement unfolds the lower part of the body, from the sacrum to the feet; the upward movement unfolds the upper part of the body, from the sacrum to the head; and the outward movement unfolds the body in the four directions of right, left, front, and back.
Thus the state of man’s body refers to his spatial structure in the form of the three-dimensional cross, the divine pattern of formation.
Fig. 2.11 The three movements of spatial unfolding.
Premodern Muslim physicians did not seem to have shared this view. Ibn Sïnâ, for instance, describes in detail how the human body originates from the heart, the first organ of an embryo to develop in the mother’s womb.
From the spatio-comogonic perspective, however, the sacrum seems to have been considered the center of the body. The proportional system of the human body devel-oped by the Ikhwân in their epistle on music adds support to this idea.
A well-developed body, free of any kind of deformation, they posit, has a definite proportion based on its hand-span. The height from the feet to the top of the head should measure eight hand-spans, which equals the distance between the tips of the fingers when the arms are opened wide in opposite directions as a bird opening its wings.
This position defines a square, the center of which is a point that lies at the top of the thigh, which the Ikhwân consider to be the midpoint of the body. If the center of the square thus defined does not coincide with the sacrum, since the Ikhwân do not refer to it, it is nonetheless associated with a term that connotes the concept of ‘centrality.’
The Ikhwân refer to the top of the thigh bone where it joins the hip, the level on which falls the midpoint of the body, by the term al-huqq, from haqqi, “the middle of a thing.” This term derives from the tri-lateral root h.q.q., “true” or “real,” from which comes God’s name al-haqq, “Truth” or “Real.” This term correlates the notion of centrality with that of reality and permanence, resonating with the hadith of the sacrum that describes it as the only component of the human body that does not decompose (la yabla).
The state of the body of the human presence exemplifies the way in which natural bodies expand in space from their source, the point-center. Expansion occurs through physical movements of growth, which reflect the intelligible movements of manifestation, whereby the divine Essence disengages itself from primordial stillness and “moves” into the world of existence.
Ibn ‘Arabï describes this creative movement as the “movement of love,” that is, God’s passion to be known, without which the world would not have been manifested.
Al-Qâshânï expounds on the notion of intelligible movements (al-harakat al-ma’qula), ex-plaining the way in which they mediate cosmic existence (al-wujud al-kawni). Just as the sensible movements of upward, downward, and horizontal, he says, the intelligible movements designate three conceptual orientations.
First is the reversed movement of “productive creation” (al-takwin): it is God’s turning downward in order to bring the lower world into existence.
Second is the rectilinear movement of “innovative creation” (al-ibda‘): it is his turning upward in order to bring the worlds of the divine names and attributes as well as the worlds of spirits and souls into existence.
Third is the horizontal movement of unfolding, turning toward the heavenly bodies, which mediate between the other two from horizon to horizon.The intelligible movements of cosmic creation provide the model according to which the human body unfolds from ‘ajb al-dhanab.
The three sensible movements of spatial unfolding are also the movements of growth tendencies.
The Sufis differentiate the four kingdoms—human, animal, plant, and mineral—according to the most expressive movement in their growth tendencies. The tendency of humans is to grow upward, of the animal to grow horizontally, of plants to grow downward (their nutritive organ being the root), and of minerals not to grow, to be still. Thus humans are distinguished by their upward, ascending spatial expansion through the “rectilinear movement” (al-haraka al-mustaqima). The animal is distinguished by its horizontal spatial expansion through the “horizontal movement” (al-haraka al-ufuqiyya). And the plant is distinguished by its downward spatial expansion through the “reversed movement” (al-haraka al-mankusa). The synthesis of these three movements, together with the stillness of the mineral, reveals the three-dimensional cross as the pattern of spatial unfolding.
Along this common view, Ibn ‘Arabï offers another interpretation of growth tendencies and spatial formation of natural bodies, one that is closer to the hadith of the sacrum and al-Qâshânï’s intelligible movements. He says that plants embody the reality of Growth (numuww); animals embody the realities of Growth and Sensation (al-his); and humans embody the realities of Growth, Sensation, and Reason (al-nutq).
Thus all embody the reality of Growth; however, since plants cannot intrinsically move except by way of their growth tendency, they are considered representative of the move-ment of growth in all natural bodies. This means that growth movement occurs in an animal body insofar as it is a plant, for other movements relate to other realities, namely, Sense and Reason.
Accordingly, no distinction between movements of growth as such can be made, because the body of a plant grows from the seed in the upward, downward, and outward directions exactly in the same way as an animal body grows from the sacrum. All movements of growth can thus be referred to as “rectilinear.” The “reversed” movement, then, becomes the forcible movement (al-haraka al-qasriyya), which is contrary to the movement intrinsic to a natural object according to the law of nature, as, for example, a stone thrown in the air moving upward while its natural movement by gravity is downward. In this view, growth that leads to the formation of bodies in space is considered to occur through the following movements: first, movement from the center (haraka min al-wasat), that is, the simultaneous, centrifugal movement or spatial expansion from the origin in all directions; second, movement to the center (haraka ila al-wasat), that is, the simultaneous, centripetal movement of divine sustenance that determines the extent of growth in each direction; and third, movement within the center (haraka fi al-wasat), that is, the essential enlivening movement whereby the essence of the origin subsists.
Fig. 2.12 The complementary movements of spatial expansion according to Ibn ‘Arabi.
In the well-known story of Adam’s creation, the Quran tells how God informed the angels and the jinn that he was about to set on earth a viceroy before whom they were to prostrate themselves in deference to his superiority. Somewhat baffled, they all did except Iblis who, taking pride in his fiery nature, unrepentantly refused.
Having been expelled from paradise because of his rebellious, disobedient attitude, Iblis revealed his sinister intentions: “Now, because you have sent me astray, verily I shall lurk in ambush for them on your right path. Then I shall come upon them from before them and from behind them and from their right hands and from their left hands, and you will not find most of them grateful” (7:16–17). The reference to man’s directions in this dialogue is rather curious.
Why is man identified by his directions? Why only the four horizontal directions? What about the above and the below? What does it mean for Satan to approach man through these directions? Why is Satan’s attack spatially referenced?
These questions lead us to consider man’s figure. The three-dimensional cross identifies at once the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the human presence. The state of man’s body (jism) has led us to consider the quantitative aspect, the dimension, now the state of man’s figure (shakl) leads us to consider the qualitative aspect, the direction.
In themselves, directions in space are indifferent. The sphere as a spatial expression of all possibility contains all possible directions, which are determined by extensions from the center to the surface. Indefinite in number, all directions are also equal in significance.
The human figure, however, in being structured upon six qualitatively different directions, qualifies space by rendering its directions significantly different. Commenting on the Quranic verse, “The originator of the heavens and the earth” (2:117), Ibn ‘Arabi says that heaven is what ascends and earth is what descends, and man is the one who dis-tinguishes between what is above and below because he is the one with the di-rections.
The spatial formation of man distinguishes six main directions: front and back, right and left, up and down. This differentiation is based on bodily attributes and functions. Front is the direction of vision toward which man naturally moves; back is the direction of the unknown, of vulnerability; right is the direction of strength, being naturally the stronger side; left is the direction of weakness, being naturally the weaker side; up is the direction of man’s head, pointing heavenward; and down is the direction of his feet, pointing earthward.
Identifying man by his directions in the above verse assumes certain links between directions and one’s virtues and beliefs.
So Satan’s approach from the front is understood as making people indulge in the pleasures of the world they see, whereas his approach from the back is understood as making people doubt the reality of the world they do not see, the hereafter. His approach from the right is the corruption he may bring to the soul through its good virtues and from the left through its bad virtues.
The above and down were inaccessible by him, for they designate the vertical channel of God’s direct communication and mercy.
Ibn ‘Arabi takes this understanding further. First, he sees in Satan’s spatial reference an indication of human superiority.
Satan’s reference to four directions only, he says, is an expression of the limitation of his formation and of his world. Lacking the reality of transcendence that grants him access to the vertical axis, he remains inferior to man.
Man’s upright bodily formation generated by the rectilinear movement, as we have seen, sets him apart from all other creatures. This awareness of the uniqueness of verticality has a spiritual significance in the mystical experience. The concept of ‘verticality’ is viewed to be a spatial expression of the Muhammadan Reality in its eternal presence.
The ninth-century Sufi Sahl al-Tusturi (d. 896) speaks of the differentiation of the “light of Muhammad” (nur Muhammad) from the divine light in spatial terms. When God intended to create Muhammad, he says, he projected from his own light a distinct light (azhara min nurihi nuran). “When it reached the veil of the Majesty (hijab al-‘azama) it bowed in prostration before God. God created from its prostration (sajda) a mighty column (‘amud) like crystal glass (zujaj) of light that is outwardly (zahir) and inwardly (batin) translucent.”
It is from this Muhammadan light, al-Tusturi adds, that the human race originated. Adam was the first to be manifested in this way: “God created Adam from the light of Muhammad.”
Before this, the Muhammad of preexistence had stood as a column before God for a million years “without body (jism) and form (rasm).”
“When the preexistential and temporal universe as well as the prophetic and spiritual prototypes had completed the emanation of light ultimately from Muhammad’s light, Muhammad was shaped in a body (jasad), in his terrestrial form, from the clay of Adam (tin Adam). This clay of Adam in turn had been formed from the column of light in which Muhammad had served his Lord in preexistence.” This column of light, which is “as thick as the seven heavens,” is the archetype man’s upright posture embodies.
The notion of the ‘column of light’ emphasizes the significance of the vertical axis and its exclusive association with man. The state of the human figure is concerned with the meaning of this spatial uniqueness. The Quran speaks explicitly of the human superiority over all creatures and especially over the other two rational creatures, the jinn and the angels.
As a living, rational creature with a sensible body, man gathers together in his formation the qualities of two kinds of creatures: creatures endowed with the rational faculty but lacking a sensible body and those with a sensible body but lacking the rational faculty.
The former includes the jinn and the angels, and the latter includes the animals and the plants. None of these creatures shares with man one single quality: his verticality. Animals are characterized by their horizontality, plants by their down-wardness, and humans alone by their upwardness. Humans share the qualities of horizontality and downwardness with animals and plants, whereas their verticality renders them distinct. Lacking the rational faculty, animals and plants cannot become consciously aware of the significance of their spatial structure, even if it were the same as that of humans. Humans’ superior spatial structure gains further significance when coupled with their rationality.
In Satan’s attack on man through the four horizontal directions, Ibn ‘Arabi sees a metaphor for depraving and corrupting human psychic characteristics that are associated with these directions. The front is the direction of vision, of the known, so it is associated with confidence and certainty as humans are in command of what happens in front of them. Satan attacks them from this direction by making them skeptical and uncertain, so they may doubt the oneness of God and become polytheists (mushrik). The back is the direction of the unseen, of the unknown, so it is associated with ignorance and fear.
Satan attacks people from this direction by exploiting their ignorance and making them disbelievers or making them believe only in the incomparability of God (mu’attil, one who refuses the analogical relationships between God and the created world).
The right is the direction of strength, so it is associated with power and authority. Satan attacks people from this direction by weakening them, and by exploiting human authority to make them arrogant (mutakabbir). The left is the direction of weakness, so it is associated with pretence and dependence. Satan attacks people from this direction by exploiting their pretentiousness to make them hypocrites (munafiq).
The Satanic attack finds support in human earthly nature and sensuous desires. Therefore, Ibn ‘Arabï says, people are ordered to fight him from these directions, which should be fortified according to what the law (al-shar’) has ordered them to fortify them with, so Satan would not find a way to approach them.
The fortification of these directions takes on cosmic dimensions in the Sufi teaching, wherein four spiritual masters (awtad, “pegs” or “pillars”) are identified with the four directions—east, west, north, and south. By these four “pillars,” Ibn ‘Arabï explains, God preserves the four cardinal directions, one pillar for every direction. And by these four pillars together with the “pole,” al-qutb, the greatest master who represents the cosmic axis, God preserves the existence of the world.
Satan has no access to the upward and downward directions because of his limitation.
The exclusive verticality people have constitutes their transcendental dimension. It is the dimension that enables them to transcend the horizontality of their animality, to communicate with heaven, and to receive divine pure inspirations free from satanic contaminations. The above, Ibn ‘Arabï says, “is the direction that leads toward the spirit, from which comes truthful inspirations and angelic revelations, and from which knowledge and spiritual realities emanate.”
In the context of Sufi teachings, verticality is a spatial expression of human uniqueness, while the six directions comprise an expression of the comprehensiveness of the human reality. By giving meanings to the directions in space, such teaching engenders a particular spatial sensibility based on an awareness of the psycho-religious significance of directions. The three dimensions and six directions are the spatial conditions that were seen to govern the entire natural world. Along with human nature, one’s body and figure exemplify these conditions, providing a constant reminder of the foundational order of spatial existence.
- The Presence of the Word
In al-Ghazali’s analogy, God did not draw the blueprint of the world; he wrote
it. Although drawing might appear to us as more universal than writing and an image more expressive than a word, inscribing, in a sense, conflates drawing and writing, the image and the word. In Ibn ‘Arabï’s cosmogony, as we have seen, it is the enunciation of kun that brought the world into existence: in the beginning was the word. The transcendent Essence that affirms its unity through the numerical one and the geometrical point also reveals itself as the word. The primordial word, the divine logos, in its uttered and inscribed modes, is the primary means by which the world was actualized. This archaic view has continued to thrive within the Islamic tradition taking on new dimensions.
In Islam the divine word was seen as being incarnated in the sacred text of the Quran; hence it is only natural to speak of the presence of the word. Schuon draws our attention to the ubiquity and profound influence of the Quranic text when he says: “The verses of the Quran are not only utterances which transmit thoughts; they are also, in a sense, beings, powers, talismans. The soul of the Muslim is as it were woven out of sacred formulae; in these he works, in these he rests, in these he lives, in these he dies.”
This certainly resonates with the Sufi perspective, which views the language of the Is-lamic revelation, Arabic, in both its written and oral forms, as an embodiment of the primordial word, a materialization of the creative enunciation. The underlying patterns of divine realities, discussed above, find immediate expressions in this domain. The concept of the Unity of Being and all the states it contains, the divine and the human presences, all find immediate correspondences in various aspects of the Arabic language.
In the world of utterance and inscription, beings take on, so to speak, a linguistic guise. They become, as Ibn ‘Arabï puts it, “letters inscribed in the spread parchment of existence wherein writing is ceaseless and endless.” The Sufi teachings on the sym-bolism of the letters have survived well into the twentieth century through figures such as the Algerian shaykh Ahmad al-‘Alawï (d. 1934), who wrote in the true spirit of the Sufi tradition. His tract on the symbolism of the letters reveals the profundity of Ibn ‘Arabï and al-Jïlï.
The World as a Book
Mir’ât al-‘Arifin, a popular treatise on the meanings of the Quran’s opening chapter (al-fâtiha) attributed variably to al-Qünawï, Ibn ‘Arabï, and even imâm al-Hussayn, opens by saying: “Praise be to God who externalized from the nün (N) 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 (al-raqq al-manshür) and inscribed the archetypal book (al-kitâb al-mastür) 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. There are numerous Sufi treatises devoted to the science of letters, ‘ilm al-huruf, whose origin is often attributed to the fourth caliph and the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali bin Abi Talib. 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’ (al-qalam) and the ‘Preserved Tablet’ (al-lawh al-mahfuz), the analogy of the trees as pens and the seas as ink, of the word as a tree, and so on, along with the prophetic traditions that corroborate these Quranic ideas all form the foundation of alphabetical symbolism in Islam. There are also the fourteen mysterious disjointed letters that appear at the beginning of several Quranic chapters. These received great attention in premodern Islam and contributed significantly to the science of alphabetical symbolism.
Forming exactly half of the twenty-eight letters of the Arabic alphabet, these fourteen disjointed letters are seen as representing the spiritual dimension of the alphabet, corresponding to the world of spirits. They are called the “luminous letters” (huruf nuraniyya), in contrast to the other fourteen that are taken to represent the corporeal dimension and are, therefore, called the “tenebrous letters” (huruf zalmaniyya). The science of the letters, Ibn ‘Arabi explains, concerns both the “length” and the “breadth” of the world.
The “length of the world” (tul al-‘alam) refers to the spiritual world, the world of meanings, whereas the “breadth of the world” (‘ard al-‘alam) refers to the physical world, the world of bodies.
This resonates with his interpretations of the spatiality of the human body already discussed.
In the parallels Sufis draw between the world and the Quran, letters and words acquire individual presences just as other beings do. Everything is brought forth through the creative enunciation mediated by the “Breath of the Compassionate” (al-nafas al-rahmani), the substance of life pervading the universe.
In this sense, each letter or sound becomes an entity in its own right, determining and articulating the undifferentiated “sound” of the creative enunciation.
Their manifestation coincides with the utterance of the creative command “Be!” (kun) and the exteriorization of the “cosmos” (kawn) in the forms of letters, words, sentences, and texts. The presence of the word thus emerges from seeing all cosmic entities as phonetic articulations manifested through the articulation of the divine Breath. Mir’at al-‘Arifin says:
Every being is a letter (harf) in a sense, a word (kalima) in a sense, an isolated, disjointed letter (mufrad wa muqatta’) in a sense, a composed utterance (alfaz murakkaba) in a sense, and a sura in a sense.
When we consider only the essence (dhat) of every being without considering its aspects (wujuh), properties (khawas), accidents (‘awarid), and concomitants (lawazim), as dissociated from the whole, we call it, with reference to this dissociation, a “letter.”
And when we consider its aspects, properties, accidents, and concomitants in association with the essence, we call it, with reference to its association with the whole, a “word.”
And with regard to the abstraction of every being from the additions and relations, and to the distinction from one another, they are called “isolated, disjointed letters.”
And with regard to the nonabstraction of beings from the additions and relations, and to the nondistinction from one another, they are called “composed utterances.”
And with regard to the distinction of the universal states of Being from one another, and to every being falling under one state, they are called “chapters” (sura).
The attribute of knowledge, as already discussed, is the first determination of the divine Essence. In the context of alphabetical symbolism, manifestation becomes the “book” that contains the divine knowledge.
Here Sufis articulate two concepts concerning the detailed and summarized versions of the “book.” “Know O well-supported son that the world is two-fold, the world of command and the world of creation, and that each is a book from God’s many books, and that each has an opening, and that all that is detailed in the book is summed up in the opening. So with regard to summing up what is detailed in the book, the opening is called the ‘mother of the book’ (umm al-kitab), and with regard to unpacking what is summed up in it, this state of detailing is called the ‘clear book’ (al-kitab al-mubin).”
Both concepts derive from the Quran, which is referred to as the “clear book” and its opening chapter (al-fatiha, “that which opens”) as the “mother of the book.”
A hadith takes this process of miniaturization further to the point of the first letter. The opening chapter comprises seven verses that are seen as corresponding to the seven principal divine names, which are called the “mothers of the names.” Just as these seven names contain all the divine names, so likewise al-fatiha contains in synoptic form all the truths revealed in the book.
Understood as signifying the potential and actual modes of being, the Sufis have applied both concepts at various levels of existence. Consistently, the “mother of the book” refers to the maternal source wherein all is potentially latent, whereas the “clear book” refers to the projected state where the undifferentiated totality is revealed in differentiated forms.
At the divine level, the Essence, in that all divine realities are latent within it, is designated as the “mother of the book,” whereas God’s knowledge of himself, which reveals these realities in the form of the names, is designated as the “clear book.” In the world of archetypes, the Pen, in that all cosmic realities are latent within it, is designated as the “mother of the book,” whereas the Preserved Tablet, which reveals these realities as cosmic forms, is designated as the “clear book.” In the world of nature, the Throne (al-‘arsh), in that all the realities of the physical world are latent within it, is designated as the “mother of the book,” whereas the Footstool (al-kursi), which reveals these realities in the forms of the heavens and the earth, is designated as the “clear book.”
The twenty-eight letters of the Arabic alphabet are viewed to correspond to the “human formation” (al-nash’a al-insaniyya) in both its bodily and spiritual constitution. “Jawâhir al-Sirr al-Munïr,” a Sufi treatise on the symbolism of the letters attributed to Ibn Sab’ïn, shows in a diagrammatic way how every letter corresponds to one part of the human body. While the outward forms of the letters correspond to the human body, the “Jawâhir” says, their inner meanings correspond to the human spirit. The twenty-eight letters of the Arabic alphabet are God’s secrets in the world. “They are formed in the image of a human figure, as a person standing upright, whose creation is perfect, that is, composed of two parts: spirit and body.”
The “Jawâhir” divides the letters into four kinds: intellectual (fikriyya), uttered (lafziyya), written (raqamiyya), and numerical (‘adadiyya). Two of these kinds, the uttered and the written, are considered to be manifest, and the other two, the intellectual and the numerical, to be hidden.
Fig. 2.13 The correlation of the Arabic alphabet and the human body (“Jawâhir,”
Fig. 2.14 The natural qualities of the Arabic alphabet (“Jawahir,” MS. 7127).
Thus, the latter are seen to be “in the state of the spirit,” and the former “in the state of the body.”
In addition to expressing the bodily and spiritual dimension of the human presence, the Arabic letters are also viewed to have different natures, whereby they embody the creative quadrature and correspond to the four arkân—Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.
For example, the letter alif(A) is considered to be hot and dry, corresponding to Fire; bâ’ (B) is cold and dry, corresponding to Earth; jim (J) is hot and moist, corresponding to Air; and dâl (D) is cold and moist, corre-sponding to Water. There are several systems that classify the letters according to their natural qualities.
With regard to their calligraphic forms, the letters are seen as being composed of the primary geometric forms: the point, the line, and the circle.
The alif (A), for example, is a vertical line; the bâ’ (B) is a horizontal line with a point underneath; the nün (N) is half a circle with a central point; the lâm (L) is half a circle with a vertical line on one end; and so on.
In this way the Sufis extend their geometrical symbolism to the alphabet, thereby conflating writing and drawing under the notion of inscription as well as relating the spatial order of the letters to that of the divine and the human presences.
The Arabic letters also have numerical values that play a significant role in the Sufi interpretations.
The geometrical point or the alphabetical dot (nuqta) is where it all begins. The Sufis teach that just as all existents are conceived within the primordial Essence, so likewise all letters, words, sentences, and texts are contained within the primordial “dot.” And just as all beings are manifested and differentiated from the incomprehensible Being, so likewise all the letters, words, sentences, and texts are manifested and differentiated from the impenetrable point.
The first two letters of the Arabic alphabet, the alif(A) and the ba’ (B), present in the presence of the word the traces of the universal realities and order of Being as revealed in the divine and human presences.
The letter alif (A), written as a vertical stroke ( | ), is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. The term alif derives from the root a.l.f., “thousand,” the verb of which, allafa, means “to bring together,” “to attune,” “to harmonize,” and “to compose.” The nouns ilf and ilfa mean “familiarity,” “intimacy,” and “harmony.”
Al-Jïlï relates the meaning of alifto the human feeling of closeness and familiarity (ilfa). The first letter was named “alif,” he says, because, just like ilfa brings people closer together, it brings all the letters together by forming their shared inner substance. Here al-Jïlï refers to the names and pronunciation of the Arabic letters, which, in one form or another, contain the alif. Insofar as the alif is a geometrical line, all letters, as geometrical shapes, can also be reduced to it. Al-‘Alawï explains how the spatial formations of the letters are no more than a transformation of the alif.
The ha’ (H), he says, is simply a hunch-back alif, while the mim (M) is a circular alif.
The alif is what all the letters have in common.
Islamic mythology provides many interesting narratives on the creation of the alif. The “Jawâhir” says that God first created the Pen from a green emerald and the Tablet from white light and then ordered the Pen to inscribe onto the Tablet the destiny, or his knowledge, of the created world. Upon this divine order a “drop” (nuqta, “point”) fell from the nib of the Pen. It overflowed inscribing a line standing upright. When God saw this he decided to make it the first letter of his exalted name Allah. The alif thus became the origin of all the letters just as God’s generosity was the source of all existents.
Al-‘Alawï overlays the same narrative with a poetic imagery: “Indeed the Alif is none 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.”
According to Ibn ‘Arabi, the alif has two forms: one in writing as a vertical stroke, the other in utterance as the hamza (hiatus). For him the alif is not a letter but the origin of all letters, just as 1 is not a number but the origin of all numbers. In utterance, the alif is the unobstructed breath emanating from the heart, whose various guttural, palatal, dental, and labial articulations manifest the letters of the alphabet.
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. Unlike all other letters, al-Jili says, the alif is “only one degree distant from the point, for two points together make an alif.”
It is the “first definable appearance” of the point. By appearing in the form of the alif the point qualifies itself with firstness. Thus the alif stands for the state of first determination, for divinity in its first knowable state.
As the first affirmation of unity, the alif corresponds to the Muhammadan Reality, the “column of light,” in al-Tusturi’s terms. Al-Jili finds reference to this in the hadith that says that the first thing God created from his Essence was the spirit of Muhammad, and from this spirit he then created the entire world. Here the alif becomes a visual evidence of the first stage in the creative process. “Every letter is composed from the point, so the point is as a simple substance (jawhar basit), while the letter is as a composed body (jism murakkab).
The alif, in that every letter is shaped from it, represents the point. So in its composed form, the alif represents the simple substance of the point, because all the letters are shaped from it . . . And so likewise the Muhammadan Reality from which the entire world is created.”
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 original alif was “not traced by the pen, nor was it dependent upon it, but sprung from the outward urge of the Point in its principal centre.” The act of overflowing brings out the alif without any detriment to the integrity of the flawless dot that remains transcendent in its eternal incomparability.
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. Two traditions frequently quoted by the Sufis form the basis of alphabetical symbolism in general and the ba’ in particular.
The first says: “All that is in the revealed books is in the Quran, and all that is in the Quran is in the fâtiha, and all that is in the fâtiha is in bism Allâh al-rahmân al-rahïm”; the other says: “All that is in bism Allâh al-rahmân al-rahïm is in the letter bâ’, which itself is contained in the point that is beneath it.”
The bâ’ is seen to represent the first differentiation of the alif. It is its first articulated form with which the alifuniquely appears. Thus the bâ’ is taken to stand for the human presence, the Universal Man, that is, the outward mode of the divine presence. The bâ’, the Sufis teach, is nothing but man, the “first man,” who is “the spirit of being,” created in the image of God, the alif.
As a horizontal extension, the bâ’ graphs the shadow of the vertical alif standing before the radiating light of the point.
As the shadow of the alif, the bâ’ carries within it a visible trace of the original source, which is the point that appears beneath it.
The point of bâ’ 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 bâ’, 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. They refer to the prophetic tradition that says: “If you lower a rope unto the nethermost earth it would light upon God,” to show how the bâ’ discloses the truth that underlies all things. They also refer to the verse that says that “everything perishes but his Face,” to illustrate how the alphabetical symbol of the human presence at one veils and reveals in its form the unperishable face of divinity.The point beneath the bâ’ becomes the seal of divinity in the created world, a constant reminder of the origin (asl) whence everything proceeds.
Despite its veiled appearance in the bâ’ the point remains essentially distinct from the letters, in the same way that Being, despite manifesting in all other beings, remains “nothing is as his likeness” (42:2). Al-‘Alawï writes: “The point was in its principal state of utterly impenetrable secrecy where there is neither separation nor union, neither after nor before, neither breadth nor length, and all the letters were obliterate in its hidden Essence.”
And even though it reveals itself in the form of all the letters, the point remains above “all that is to be found in the letters by way of length and shortness and protuberance,” and beyond the grasp of vision, aurality, or literacy.
The Soliloquy of the BA’
A Sufi tradition says that “by the bâ’ Being manifests; and by the point the adoring is distinguished from the adored.” In “al-Kahf wa al-Raqïm,” al-Jïlï reflects on the spatial form of the bâ’, presenting a dialogue between the letter itself and the point that lies beneath it. The conversation reminds us of al-Nâbulusï’s soliloquy, while presenting the doctrine of the Unity of Being in a geometrical guise. On the one hand, al-Jïlï’s soliloquy illustrates the meaning of the above Sufi tradition, and on the other, it expresses in a reflective, symbolic manner the bounding relationship between God and man, the divine and the human presence. He writes:
The point says to the bâ’: “O letter, I am your origin (asl) because you are composed from me. Yet, in your composite form, you are my origin, because every part of you is a point, so you are the whole (al-kull) while I am the part (al-juz’): the whole is the origin while the part is the branch (farr). In reality, however, I am the origin, because your composition is none other than me (rayn). Do not look at my appearance behind you and say: ‘This manifest thing is other than me,’ for I regard you to be none other than my-self and my identity (huwiyya). And had I not existed in you I would not have had such a relationship to you. Until when will you turn your perception (shahâda) away from me, leaving me behind your back? Make your hidden mysteries be your perception and your perception be your hidden mysteries by realizing my unity with you. Without you I would not have been the point of the bâ’, and without me you would not have been the bâ’ 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 (inbisât) in the world of the seen (râlam al-shahâda) and my concealment (istitâr) in the world of the unseen (râlam al-ghayb) are two modalities for our same essence. No one participates in my relationship to you, nor in your relationship to me. You are not ‘you,’ because your name is novel compared to mine. Can you not see how the first part of you is called ‘point,’ the second part is called ‘point,’ the third part is called ‘point,’ and so are the rest of your parts, point by point. I am you; you have no I-ness in yourself. Rather, my identity is your I-ness whereby you are what you are. Had you, when saying in yourself I, imagined my essence, I, too, would have, when saying he, imagined my face (wajh). Then, you would know that ‘I’ and ‘he’ are two expressions for one essence.”
The bâ’ said: “O master, it has become certain to me that you are my origin, and I have realized that the branch and the origin are the same. This is my body extended and composed; I cannot exist except within it. I am a gross body (jism kathif) bound to one place only whereas you are a subtle substance (jawhar latif) that can exist in everything. So how could I have the reality of yours? How could I be you? How would your conditions be the same as mine?”
The point answered the bâ’ and said: “perceiving your corporeality and imagining my spirituality is a form and a modality of mine. And since all the various letters and words, in their entirety, are none other than me, how could there be a distance? And even though the ten cannot be regarded as the name of the sum of these five units, where, in the reality of the ten, would the difference between the five and the ten be except in the name-ness (al-ismiyya)? You are, with all your aspects, being a modality and a glance of mine; where would the polarity between you and me be? and how? while I am not only the origin of this dialogue between you and me but also of all of that which comes out of you and me. All of this is none other than myself: an order of a divine wisdom. So if you want to conceive of me, imagine yourself, the letters, all of them, and the words, small and large, then say point, that totality is none other than my-self, and myself is none other than that totality.”
Note: Compare in English: the difference between I and i, seeThe Path from I to i, a journey of a Western man, in words and mirrors, through metamorphoses… on his way to Reality:
The Formation of the Word
Describing the creation of Adam, the Quran reports: “So, when I have formed him (sawwaytahu) and have breathed into him of my spirit” (15:29). With reference to this verse, Ibn ‘Arabi compares the formation of man to the formation of the word, that is, to the way in which letters are joined together to form meaningful, utterable words. A brief clarification of the nature of the Arabic is necessary here. Unlike the Latin-based alphabets, the Arabic alphabet does not contain, properly speaking, letters that are designated as vowels. The twenty-eight letters of the Arabic alphabet are consonants and unutterable on their own. The letters a, w, and y, which are usually referred to as “long vowels,” are in Arabic huruf al-‘illa, literally, “the letters of weakness,” of “deficiency,” or of “cause” (the philosophic expression al-‘illa al-‘ula means the “prime cause”). There are countless words in Arabic in which these letters form no part; hence, they are not vowels in the literal sense of the word.
Instead, there are six harakat, literally “motions,” marked on words in the form of diacritical notations that play the role of vowels in Arabic. They are not letters, however, nor do they form part of the alphabet. In a word such as DaRaBa, “to strike,” for example, the only letters that are written are those of the trilateral root D.R.B.; to put this same verb in a passive form DuRiBa, “is struck,” changes nothing in the word’s spelling. The only things that change are the unwritten “phonetic motions” (harakat), without which the root is unpronounceable, meaningless, or “dead,” so to speak.
Utterance that causes a word to exist, to assume a presence, to be alive, is effected through the application of the harakat. The letter is unutterable if not mobilized by the vocalizing motions.
From this perspective, the consonant letters of the alphabet are viewed to constitute the word’s lifeless body whereas vowelling to act as the animating spirit. It is from this perspective that Ibn ‘Arabi compares the addition of the phonetic motions onto the letters, after their being prepared (taswiya) to receive these motions, to the formation of Adam as described in the above verse. Through the agency of motions, Ibn ‘Arabi says, the letters are brought forth in a new formation (nash’a) called “word” (kalima), just as any individual of us is called “man” (insan) only after receiving the divine spirit.
This process also corresponds 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 ‘Arabï writes: “God first brought the entire world into existence in the form of a well-prepared (musawwa), yet lifeless, ghost. It was like an un-polished 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 it.’This is none other than the already prepared form reaching a state of readiness (isti’dad) to receive the incessant, radiating effusion (al-fayd) that has been and will always be.”
The phonetic system of the Arabic language forms the basis of the Sufi notion of the formation of the word. The letters of the Arabic alphabet are seen to represent, insofar as they are all consonants, a homogeneous substratum that does not yet include any qualitative or differentiated imprint.
The addition of the vocalizing motions (harakat) to the letters symbolizes the blowing of the spirit into this homogeneous substratum, an act that disengages the letters from the stillness of their primordial consonance, bringing them forth into the audible world of sound.
In grammatical terms, the six phonetic motions are divided into two correlated sets of three. One is harakat al-i’rab, literally, “motions of expression”; the other is harakat al-bina’, literally, “motions of building.” They are correlated in the following order:
A consonant letter that is not subject to any of these phonetic motions is grammatically identified with sukun, “stillness.”
The pattern of formation constituted by the three phonetic motions—“unfolding” (fath), “raising” (raf’), and “bringing down” (khafd), together with “stillness” (sukun) as the common center whence these “motions” emanate—retraces the Sufis’ pattern of cosmic existence, spatial unfolding, and natural growth already discussed.
Ibn ‘Arabï says the fath signifies the unfolding of existence, raf’ signifies transcendence, and khafd signifies corporeality. They correspond to the horizontal, rectilinear, and reversed movements respectively, revealing the three-dimensional cross, the pattern of triplicity.
In the Fihrist, the tenth-century scholar and biographer Ibn al-Nadïm quotes the ninth-century scholar Sahl b. Hârün as saying: “Al-i’rab is made up of three motions (harakat)—al-raf’, al-nasb, and al-khafd—because the natural movements are three: (1) movement from the center, like the movement of fire; (2) movement to the center, like the move-ment of earth (movement caused by gravity); and (3) movement about the center, like the movement of a sphere.”
The act of adding these phonetic motions to the letters is called in Arabic “tashkil,” literally, “giving shape, morph or figure,” and “forming.” It derives from shakl, literally, “shape,” “morph,” and “figure.” Thus the act of transforming the consonant letters into pronounceable words connotes the idea of forming or shaping, giving, as it were, sonic-audible forms to the synthesis in the same way the human body receives its spatial-visual form when brought into existence.
Ibn ‘Arabi says: “Such is the way the world of words and utterances is formed from the world of letters. The letters are matter for words, just as water, earth, fire, and air are matter for the formation of our bodies.”
And just as nothing moves in the world except by the order of the immovable principle, so likewise in the world of letters, no phonetic motion may ever manifest except by the order of the principial stillness. “The promptings unto utterance,” Al-‘Alawi writes, “were set in motion according to the demands of the Point’s attributes which lay hidden in its Essence.”
Fig. 2.15 Diagrammatic representation of the formation of the word
Note: The notion of the point can be compared with Christian Medieval pilosophy for example in Dante:
- Dante and the Vowel I
In the Divine Comedy Dante explains that El is already a derived, falling name, and (i) is more original. It is a more original name of God. It’s not even the bar but the point, and writing an “i” is writing God. God is not in the sign under the point but in the point itself. There is an inner rhythm to the story of the divine word, the ages of the divine, which are independent of what the Bible makes us understand. Guénon asks what are the traditions that make it possible to explain the age of God (i) and that of God El. He answers that we must turn to the Vedas, the great cycles (mavantara) of humanity. These are the great cycles of the history of humanity, and Dante attests that his attachment to the primordial tradition goes back to the most singular point, the (i)
- Dante Convivio book 4 Chapter 6
…Above, in the third chapter of this book, a promise was made to discuss the loftiness of the imperial and philosophic authorities. Therefore having discussed the imperial authority, I must continue my digression and take up the subject of the authority of the Philosopher, in keeping with my promise. Here we must first observe what this word “authority” means, for there is a greater necessity to know this in discussing the philosophic as opposed to the imperial authority, which by virtue of its majesty does not seem open to question. It should be known, then, that “authority” is nothing but “the pronouncement of an author.”
This word, namely “auctor” without the third letter c, has two possible sources of derivation.
One is a verb that has very much fallen out of use in Latin and which signifies more or less “to tie words together,” that is, “auieo.” Anyone who studies it carefully in its first form will observe that it displays its own meaning, for it is made up only of the ties of words, that is, of the five vowels alone, which are the soul and tie of every word, and is composed of them in a different order, so as to portray the image of a tie.
For beginning with A it turns back to U, goes straight through to I and E, then turns back and comes to O, so that it truly portrays this image: A, E, I, O, U, which is the figure of a tie.
Insofar as “author” is derived and comes from this verb, it is used only to refer to poets who have tied their words together with the art of poetry; but at present we are not concerned with this meaning. The other source from which “author” derives, as Uguccione attests in the beginning of his bookDerivations, is a Greek word pronounced “autentin” which in Latin means “worthy of faith and obedience.” Thus “author,” in this derivation, is used for any person deserving of being believed and obeyed. From this comes the word which we are presently treating, namely “authority”; hence we can see that authority means “pronouncement worthy of faith and obedience.” Consequently, when I prove that Aristotle is most worthy of faith and obedience, it will be evident that his words are the supreme and highest authority.
- This tie is call “Lac d’Amour “in French (“love knot”)
The symbolism of the Knots of Love
The LoveKnot is a decorative pattern representing a cord (or lace) folded over itself and thus forming a layered 8.
Symbol of Infinty : Infinity is something we are introduced to in our math classes, and later on we learn that infinity can also be used in physics, philosophy, social sciences, etc. Infinity is characterized by a number of uncountable objects or concepts which have no limits or size. This concept can be used to describe something huge and boundless. It has been studied by plenty of scientists and philosophers of the world, since the early Greek and early Indian epochs. In writing, infinity can be noted by a specific mathematical sign known as the infinity symbol (∞) created by John Wallis, an English mathematician who lived and worked in the 17th century.
Chivalrous symbolism: in the Middle Ages, the Knots of Love is a sign of true and indissoluble friendship, of sworn and therefore unalterable faith. It was the insignia of the Order of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Node, founded in 1352 by Joan of Naples, for the coronation of her second husband, Louis of Taranto.
Philosophical Symbolic: Interlacings are a motive, omnipresent in Celtic art, which underlines the endless movement of evolution, of involution through the entanglement of cosmic and human facts. He then takes up the principle of ouroboros, a snake that bites its tail and symbolizes a cycle of evolution closed on itself. This symbol contains at the same time the ideas of movement, continuity, self-fertilization, eternal return. It is the union of the terrestrial and celestial worlds, signifies the union of two opposing principles (dichotomy): heaven / earth, good / evil, night / day. He is the infinite, the perpetual evolution.
Religious symbolism, Christianity: its infinite movement symbolizes the eternity, the immortality of the knight’s soul, the durability of the spirit of the Order. The necklace by itself, at least according to its simplest formula, offered three Lakes of Love; three as the divine number, three as the Trinity of God, at the same time Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct “beings” but yet One (this is the Christian mystery of the “Three in One”), again reminiscent of the perfect equality of all, between them, and before God.
back to Metaphisical order in Sufism:
The Tree of Being
Kun (Be!) was God’s first uttered word, and kawn (the world) was the im-mediate outcome of this utterance. Ibn ‘Arabï’s treatise Shajarat al-Kawn (The Tree of Being) is a fascinating exposition of his mystical reflections on the relationship between kun and kawn, 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 the Ta’rifat, a dictionary of Sufi terminology, al-Jurjânï defines the term shajara, “tree,” as “the Universal Man who governs the structure of the Universal Body.” The Arabic term shajara, “tree,” literally means “every plant that stands vertically with a trunk.” It derives from tashajur, “fighting,” “quarrel,” and “opposition.”
Sufis identify the notion of the tree with that of the Universal Man because both embody the pattern of the three-dimensional cross, which expresses notions of both verticality and opposition.
The trunk represents the vertical axis, and the branches represent the two horizontal axes. The seed whence the tree grows corresponds to the center, the heart of Universal Man, which is the place where all comple-ments are united and all opposites are reconciled. The Sufi master Abü Sa’ïd al-Kharrâz was once asked, “Whereby do you know God?” He replied, “By the fact that he is the coincidentia oppositorum.”
Kun is the imperative of kawn, which means “cosmos” or “universe,” “the world of becoming”; kawn also means “coming into existence” and is “used as a noun for ‘existence’ as a whole, and so the ‘universe’ as containing all existing things.”
Kun is the principle of takwin (formation), the divine order that can be interpreted as “become” or “come into existence.” So the Tree of Being is nothing other than the cosmic tree, and the seed whence it grows is the divine Essence. In Shajarat al-Kawn Ibn ‘Arabï writes:
I have looked at the universe (kawn) and its design (takwin), at what was con-cealed (maknun) 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 K of the creation (kawniyya) was fecundated by the seed of “We created you” (56:57), from which was formed the fruit of “We have created every thing by measure” (54:49) . . .
The first things to grow from this Tree, which is the seed of kun, were three shoots. One shoot thereof went to the right; this was “the fellows of the right hand” (56:27). Another shoot went to the left; this was “the fellows of the left hand” (56:41). And yet another shoot, well-balanced in shape, went straight up in a rectilinear way, from which were “the preceders,” “those who draw near” (56:11).
As it became firm and high reaching, there came from its high and low branches the worlds of meaning and form. What came from the external bark and visible covers was the world of earthly kingdom. And what came from inner cores and concealed meanings was the world of heavenly kingdom. And what came from the sap that runs in its arteries and veins whereby its growth, living, and rising occur, its flowers blossom, and its fruits ripe, was the world of dominating power, which is the secret of the word kun.
Then God set a wall around the tree, determined its limits, and drew its forms. Its limits were the directions; they were up and down, right and left, before and behind. So what was highest was its upper limit, and what was lowest was its lower limit. As for its forms they were the spheres, the planets, the angels, the rules, the effects, and the people. So he rendered the seven layers as the leaves sought for their shade, the shining planets as the flowers in the horizons, and the days and nights as two different garments: one was black worn to be veiled from sights, the other was white worn to appear unto those with insights . . .
When the trunk of this tree and its branches stood firm, its two limits met, as its end reached unto its beginning: “Unto your Lord is its termination” (79:44) to its initiation. For whatever begins with kun (Be!) it ends with yakun (will be). Thus no matter how many its branches are, and of how many kinds it may be, its origin is one, the seed of the word kun, and its end will be one, the word kun.
The Geometry of Being
In Insha’ al-Dwa’ir (The Construction of Circles) Ibn ‘Arabi provides a two-dimensional diagram, geometrizing the basic structure of being. The diagram illustrates the relationship between the primordial, divine, and human presences, on which the presence of the word can also be mapped. The primordial presence is represented by the “whiteness,” the nondifferentiated background against which the diagram projects. The divine presence is represented by an all-encompassing circle, defining the outer limit of the circle of the human presence, which in turn defines the outer limit of the circle of the world. Mediating between the divine presence and the world, the human presence translates the original unity into the fundamental quadrature of being.
From Ibn ‘Arabi’s two-dimensional diagram of simultaneous unfolding we can reconstruct the process of universal manifestation in spatial terms. The spatial diagram illustrates the principles of centrality, axiality, circularity, triplicity, and quadrature, synthesized in one diagram to represent symbolically the underlying order of being.
Fig. 2.16 The fundamental order of being according to Ibn ‘Arabi (Insha’ al-Dawa’ir).
This pattern spatialises the realities of the three manifest presences. Although the order of this pattern is revealed in each one of these manifest presences, specific aspects may be taken to represent each presence. Centrality and circularity, in that they reflect the order of unity and multiplicity, may be taken to designate the divine presence, whereas triplicity and quadrature, in that they reflect the three dimensions and the six directions, are taken to designate the human presence. As the creative instrument, the presence of the word mediates between the divine and the human presences by expressing the realities of both. All presences coincide in the central point, the expression par excellence of coincidentia oppositorum.
Fig. 2.17 Diagrammatic representation of the geometry of being.
Note: Please compare with other Traditions where the same principles are seen
Hildegarde of Bingen ( Christianism):