This clay tablet is meant to represent the seven levels of heaven, and each of the prophets Muhammad encountered in the respective levels.  As even this little piece represents some form of “Islamic art” we will approach its significance as such, through the lens of Prof. Nasr’s appreciation of art, piecing apart the significance of each aspect (and hopefully ignore the context of a unskilled college student trying to produce meaningful art).  The respective layers are explained as follows:

 

First sphere: Adam—Dusty white: He was the first of the prophets chronologically, made from the dust of the earth, and so, as the first of a line of prophets, he is a dusty reflection of the inner, white circle wherein lies God.  The lack of other markings is another mark of his purity or proximity to God.

 

Second sphere: Isa and Yahya (Jesus and John the Baptist)—Blue with a cross: Jesus was a healer, and thus, associated with the healing power of water, around which many of his miracles occurred.  In addition John the Baptist’s profession centered around water.

 

Third sphere: Yusuf (Joseph)—Purple with ten stars:  On account of his nobility of character and ever-praised beauty, his color is purple.  The ten stars call to mind one of his earliest dreams, where he foretold that his ten brothers, seen as ten stars in the dream would bow before him.  This was later fulfilled when he was second in command in Egypt.

 

Fourth sphere: Idris (debatably Enoch)—Tan with black markings:  Comparatively little is said about this prophet, and his correspondence with the Biblical Enoch is still debated, but he supposedly ascended to heaven before his death, as referenced in when the Qur’an says that he was “exalted to a high station”(19, 57).  He was exceedingly pure, and devout, and according to Leila Azzam, in “Lives of the Prophets,” was “one of the first men to use the pen.” Thus, he is represented by a color that mimicked the pure white of the center, but whose only difference was a shading that made it resemble a skin tone, marking his humanity.   Along with that, one may make out the faint markings, meant to represent writing for the “prophet of the philosophers.”

 

Fifth sphere: Aaron—Red with small tablets:  As he is of the same blood as Moses, though more passionate, he mirrors Moses’ circle to a degree, though, he was father of his own lineage.

 

Sixth sphere: Musa (Moses): Grey/Dark Silver with tablets and five green dots:  Here, the color of stone and the golden slabs are meant to bring to mind the tablets containing the commandments, and more abstractly, the law itself.  As Moses is so closely associated with the law, this only seems fitting.  The five green dots are meant to call to mind the famous story where Moses insisted that the Prophet continue to ask God to reduce the required number of daily prayers until the Prophet (represented by green), would not reduce past five daily prayers.  The silver, is meant to mark the proximity to the precious center that is God’s residence.

 

Seventh sphere: Ibrahim (Abraham)—Gold  with black Kaaba: The gold here serves the dual purpose of marking the splendor of last stop before God’s residence and the characteristics that come with the Prophet who is its denizen.  The later meaning should be conveyed as he was the father of a rich and full tradition, and so close to God, he was willing to sacrifice his own son. The Kaaba is a direct reference to his legacy, and central position in Islam.

 

Green trimming: Muhammad: as the completion of the prophets, is not a normal sphere, but may be seen as the innermost of the prophets, their completion, and the closest of them to God.  In reference to his actual ascent, some green may be seen in the innermost circle, as he was the only one to have ever entered this realm.

 

The Center: White with God’s name and a tree: The white signifies the absolute purity of this realm, the Name is to prevent any doubt about who/what the center represents, and the tree references Sidrat al-Muntaha, the tree seen just before or in the actual ascent at this point.

 

This piece , and its explication, is meant to be reflective of  Nasr’s interpretation of Islamic art, as it takes the simplicity of spheres,dots, and so forth, and draws forth deep meaning from them as, in this context, they are more representative.  Drawing on the symbolism of the colors, and the numerology accounting for their number and appearance, these additions are meant to be reminders only.  They, and the artwork they are embedded within, are meant to be mediators to a Divine ideal, and to point to something beyond themselves.  Thus, this simplistic piece, which, from a pragmatic point of view, cannot be seen as more than an amalgamation of colorful circles, portrays something far more significant.

 

 

For further reading on the significance of color in Islam, see:

http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/color-pers-rang

http://henrycorbinproject.blogspot.com/2012/04/color-symbolism-and-mystic-quest.html
For some better artwork on the Mi’raj, see below:

Divine Love (Week 2)

March 14th, 2014

“”He Loves them, and they love Him”(5:54)

 

Love is a powerful thing.  Love is an integral part of the Islamic faith, and to some Sufis, it is the fundamental aspect of nature in that Divine love is the cause of human existence.  To many, Love is the force behind our descent from God, and also the force driving man’s return to him.

 

William Chittick has this to say on the matter:

 

“Most discussions of divine love look at the universe as love’s fruit, and the human return to God as its final goal.”(Divine Love, 8)

 

Professor Asani explores how some Sufis take this to mean that the lover and the beloved are, in fact, one and the same.  He cites a poem by Al-Hallaj, which says:

 

“I am He whom I love,

and He whom I love is I,

We are two spirits dwelling in one body.

If you see me,

You see Him,

And if you see Him,

You see us both.”(Infidel of Love, 75)

 

In light of this, I saw fit to write my own poem on Divine love.  I took my inspiration from two poems by the Persian poets, Rumi and Jami, reproduced below:

 

“God and Love are as body and soul,

God is the mine, Love is the diamond,

They have been together,

Since the beginning….

In every beat of every heart”

(poem n. 3064, Jami)

 

“The minute I heard my first love story,

I started looking for you, not knowing

How blind I was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,

They’re in each other all along.”

(Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks)

 

With these two poems in mind, and the idea of man’s love as being a mirror image of God’s love, I wrote this poem:

 

Long have I loved,

Long have I chased shadows,

Long have I listened

To a half-lost rhythm

My Beloved awaits me

My Beloved grants me shade

My Beloved opens His heart

To drum me a lullaby

Love without a beloved is a stream without a source.

A man without love is a ship without a sail….

In this poem, I try to reproduce a type of religion expression, which is not a part of the common American conception of Islam (writing poetry).  In this, I attempt to reflect the deep love that is such an integral part of Islam.  The esoteric intimations of Islam are especially beautiful in the context of such poems, though they are only one of many forms of expression.  Both of these authors come from a similar cultural context (medieval Persia).