Cosmology And Architecture In Premodern Islam: An Architectural

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  • Cosmology andArchitecture in

    Premodern IslamAn Architectural Reading

    of Mystical Ideas

    Samer Akkach

  • Cosmology and Architecture inPremodern Islam

  • SUNY series in IslamSeyyed Hossein Nasr, editor

  • Cosmology and Architecturein Premodern Islam

    An Architectural Readingof Mystical Ideas

    Samer Akkach

    State University of New York Press

  • Published byState University of New York Press, Albany

    2005 State University of New York

    All rights reserved

    Printed in the United States of America

    No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoeverwithout written permission. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval systemor transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic, electrostatic,magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwisewithout the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

    For information, address State University of New York Press,194 Washington Avenue, Suite 305, Albany, NY 12210-2365

    Production by Marilyn P. SemeradMarketing by Michael Campochiaro

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Akkach, Samer.Cosmology and architecture in premodern Islam : an architectural reading of mystical ideas /

    Samer Akkach.p. cm. (SUNY series in Islam)

    Includes bibliographical references and index.IBSN 0-7914-6411-3 (hardcover : alk. paper)1. Islamic art and symbolism. 2. Symbolism in architecture. 3. Architecture, Islamic.4. Islamic cosmology. 5. Sufism. I. Title. II. Series.BP182.5.A34 2005726'.2'01dc22


    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  • Contents

    Illustrations vii

    Note to the Reader xi

    Preface xiii

    Introduction xvii

    Abbreviations xxv

    Chapter 1. Discursive Order 1

    Cosmology: An Overview 1

    Symbolism: A Critical Review 4

    History and Symbolism 13

    Sufism 18

    Symbolism: A Sufi Perspective 25

    Chapter 2. Metaphysical Order 55

    Being and Presence 55

    The Primordial Presence 63

    The Divine Presence 67

    The Human Presence 82

    The Presence of the Word 95

    The Geometry of Being 109


  • Chapter 3. Cosmic Order 113

    The Original Idea 113

    Creative Breathing 115

    The Cloud and Cosmic Forms 119

    The World of Command 120

    The World of Creation 124

    Chapter 4. Architectural Order 149

    Gazing at the Sky 149

    Ordering Spaces 151

    Architecture and the Sacred 162

    The Kaba: The First House 179

    The Mosque and the Spatiality of Prayer 193

    Afterword: Architecture and Cosmic Habitat 207

    Notes 211

    List of Arabic Manuscripts Cited 237

    Selected Bibliography 239

    Index 255

    vi Contents

  • Illustrations


    Photo 1.1 The complex of Shaykh Muh yj al-Djn atthe foothill of Qasiyun in Damascus. 23

    Photo 1.2 The dome over the tomb of Ibn Arabj inDamascus. 24

    Photo 4.1 The Umayyad Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. 152

    Photo 4.2 The central domed structure at Ibn Tulunmosque in Cairo showing the geometryand spatial order of the centralizedenclosed space model. 154

    Photo 4.3 The courtyard of the Sultan H asan schoolin Cairo showing the geometry and spatialorder of the centralized open courtyard model. 157

    Photo 4.4 The respondents platform (dikka) at theSultan H asan school in Cairo. 196

    Photo 4.5 The interior of the great Umayyad mosqueof Damascus. 199

    Photo 4.6 The tomb of the prophet Yahya inside theprayer hall of the great Umayyad mosqueof Damascus. 200


  • Figures

    Figure 1.1 The hierarchy of shadows according toIbn Arabj. 34

    Figure 1.2 Triplicity and quadrature underlying the orderof universal manifestation. 42

    Figure 2.1 The seven states of Being viewed from variousperspectives. 62

    Figure 2.2 The circle as a symbol of divinity in the state offirst determination. 68

    Figure 2.3 The world as divine business (shan), accordingto Ibn Arabj (Futuh at). 70

    Figure 2.4 The geometric representation of the divinecreative command according to Ibn Arabj. 72

    Figure 2.5 The first stage of manifestation according toIbn Arabj (Futuh at). 74

    Figure 2.6 The second stage of manifestation according toIbn Arabj (Futuh at). 75

    Figure 2.7 The third stage of manifestation according toIbn Arabj (Futuh at, a: Dar S adir ed.; b: MS. 1328). 77

    Figure 2.8 Pattern of proliferation according to Ibn Arabj. 79

    Figure 2.9 The human presence mediating between Godand the world. 85

    Figure 2.10 The three-dimensional cross as a symbol of thehuman presence. 86

    Figure 2.11 The three movements of spatial unfolding. 89

    Figure 2.12 The complementary movements of spatialexpansion according to Ibn Arabj. 92

    Figure 2.13 The correlation of the Arabic alphabet and thehuman body (Jawahir, MS. 7127). 99

    Figure 2.14 The natural qualities of the Arabic alphabet(Jawahir, MS. 7127). 100

    Figure 2.15 Diagrammatic representation of the formationof the word in Arabic. 107

    viii Illustrations

  • Figure 2.16 The fundamental order of being according to Ibn Arabj (Insha al-Dawair). 110

    Figure 2.17 Diagrammatic representation of the geometryof being. 111

    Figure 3.1 The geocentric cosmos and domains of beingaccording to Ibn Arabj. 114

    Figure 3.2 The form of the Cloud revealing the world ofcommand according to Ibn Arabj (Futuh at). 121

    Figure 3.3 The divine Throne and the Footstool accordingto Ibn Arabj (Futuh at). 125

    Figure 3.4 The bearers of the divine Throne according toIbn Arabj. 127

    Figure 3.5 The form of the Throne in the hereafter accordingto Ibn Arabj (Futuh at). 128

    Figure 3.6 The celestial Gardens according to Ibn Arabj(Futuh at). 131

    Figure 3.7 The duodenary structure of the atlas sphereaccording to Ibn Arabj. 133

    Figure 3.8 The heavens, the earths, the kingdoms, andUniversal Man as invisible support according toIbn Arabj (Futuh at). 135

    Figure 3.9 The formal correspondence between the letternun (N) and the world according to Ibn Arabj. 136

    Figure 3.10 The four nodal points of the moons monthlycycle according to al-Amilj (Tashrjh , MS. 3103). 140

    Figure 3.11 Differentiating the motion of the atlas sphereby reference to the divine Feet according to Ibn Arabj. 143

    Figure 3.12 The multilayered world according to Ibn Arabj(Futuh at). 146

    Figure 4.1 The geometry of the concentric composition. 153

    Figure 4.2 The formal order of the centralized enclosedspace model. 153

    Figure 4.3 The formal components of the centralizedenclosed space model. 155

    Illustrations ix

  • Figure 4.4 The centralized open courtyard model. 156

    Figure 4.5 The geometry of the linear composition. 158

    Figure 4.6 The point as the generative principle of rectilinearbodies according to the Ikhwan. 160

    Figure 4.7 The point as the generative principle ofspherical bodies according to the Ikhwan. 161

    Figure 4.8 The demarcation of the central space in thelayout of the early cities of al-Kufa andal-Bas ra according to early Islamic sources. 169

    Figure 4.9 The moving horizon in relation to the sunand the viewers position. 173

    Figure 4.10 The cube of the Kaba crystallizing thespatiality of the human presence. 180

    Figure 4.11 The Kabas axial relationship to the Polestaraccording to al-Kisaj. 184

    Figure 4.12 The correlation of the Kabas quadraturewith prophet-angel pairing. 186

    Figure 4.13 The Kaba as a cosmograph of quaternaryspatial structure (eighteenth-century Ottoman sourcecited in King, 1993, 8:308). 187

    Figure 4.14 A plan of the Kaba showing the h i jir(eighteenth-century Ottoman source cited inKing, 1993, 8:308), and the form of the celestial archetype, al-durah according toIbn Arabj (Futuh at). 189

    Figure 4.15 Triplicity and quadrature as expressed in theimplicit and explicit forms of the Kabaaccording to Ibn Arabj. 190

    Figure 4.16 The geometry of al-f atiha (Mirat,MS. 4865). 197

    Figure 4.17 The bodily postures and associated spatialtendencies of the Islamic prayer. 201

    Figure 4.18 The spatiality of Islamic prayer as it unfolds inthe bodily act of praying. 203

    x Illustrations

  • Note to the Reader

    Unless otherwise stated, all translations from Arabic sources are mine. Wheretranslations of the same texts by others have been consulted or used, appropriatereference is given in the notes.

    Unless otherwise stated, all translations from the Quran are adapted fromthose of M. Pickthall, A. J. Araburry, and N. J. Dawood and A. Y. Ali. Theadaptations vary in extent according to the demands of the interpretive con-text and consistency.

    In transliterations I have followed the system of IJMES. Diacritical marksare used consistently on italicized technical terms and book titles and where ap-propriate on personal and place names. Except where h indicates hijri date, alldates are of the Common Era (CE).

    Due to space limitation, I have identified sources in the notes by their date ofpublication. Full details are given in the selected bibliography. For ease of recog-nition, I have identified premodern Arabic sources by short or abbreviated titles.


  • Preface

    When I was a little boy I used to love the snowfall in Damascus. Playing withfriends in the street was fun, of course, but the real joy was in the gazing trick Ihad discovered and thought no one knew. Raised on a couch placed under thekitchens window that opens onto a large light well, I used to stand up motion-less gazing at the snow flakes silently and gracefully falling down. In a magicalmoment, as I concentrated hard on the falling motion, the situation switched: thesnow flakes suddenly became