The Palace of Blessing and Grace

Robert Abdul Hayy Darr

Discovering Spiritual Symbolism in the Court of Lions at the Alhambra in Spain


d e l i g h t f u l f r a g r a n c e rides the spray scattered by the great fountain. The courtyard’s visitors are cooled and refreshed by the

zephyr laced with roses, jasmine, and herbs. Defying the day’s relentless heat, the chilly water flows unimpeded to the fountain through channels and reaches the melting snows of the distant Sierra Nevada. The flowing water nurtures this courtyard and the other royal palaces built atop a promontory looking out over a wide, fertile valley. From the ancient city below, the formidable walls of the royal enclave appear majestic and for-

bidding. Few from the town have seen the luxurious beauty hidden within the palaces above, but the palaces’ renown reaches far beyond the snows of these mountains. Across the reaches of Europe and through the various lands of North Africa and the Near East, stories are told of the Alhambra’s unmatched splendor and elegance.
Robert Abdul Hayy Darr was raised in Tahiti and California. After graduating from high school, he studied north Indian music. He later began studying Persian poetry with Ali Zulanvar and continued studying with the late renowned Afghan poet, Ustad Khalilullah Khalili, whose quatrains Darr translated into English and published in 1988. He later studied poetry and Islamic mysticism with Raz Mohammad Zaray, whose poetry he also translated into English. In addition, Darr studied Persian miniature painting with Ustad Homayon Etemadi, the court painter and royal librarian for the last king of Afghanistan, Zaher Shah. Darr frequently speaks about Muslim culture and spirituality. He also serves as the founding director of the Afghan Cultural Assistance Foundation. His recent publications include a new translation of the Garden of Mystery by Mahmud Shabistari (1998). The Spy of the Heart, a book describing his travels and spiritual journey in Afghanistan during the 1980s, will soon be published, God willing. His work in progress, The Islamic Science of Letters and Numbers, will include a number of essays, including a complete version of this paper.


seasons | spring 2006 |

There is a felicitous harmony in the overall impression of the courtyard. Their Moor- around the fountain in this courtyard. These and the cupolas of the delicate pavilions are supported by fine marble pillars that appear suspended from the arches they support. Other colors could be found in what was then a thriving garden. It is perhaps the grandest artifact from an age of splendor that manifested at many levels of culture. The fine geometrical perforations covering their surfaces suggest a lattice of cascading water and light. The channels drain small fountains whispering nearby in the royal halls at the north and south sides of the courtyard. forming a large cross. fragrant and full of birdsong. Water flows gently from the smaller pools through the marble channels toward the central foun- ish horseshoe arches are substantial but do not seem massive. PHOTOGRAPHER : ROBERT ABDUL HAY Y DARR Robert Abdul Hayy Darr THE COURT OF LIONS | spring 2006 | seasons tain. sci- 38 . dressed in gold. Graceful patterns of light and shadow invade the obscurity of the chambers at each side of the courtyard. Here the main jet’s silver spray falls into a massive basin that nurtures twelve water-spewing lion statues. All of the surfaces are covered with intricate designs and several styles of calligraphy. under two stunning pavilions. and smaller pools to the east and west of it. literature. The delicate pavilions startle the senses. This palace. The carved plaster arches and wall designs were originally painted and. now called the Court of Lions. It is an austerity celebrating an abundance of life and joy. represents the epitome of Nasrid architecture and craftsmanship in Andalusia during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.The fountain is at the center of a rectangular garden-courtyard quartered by water channels. the finest music. here and there. The courtyard is bordered by covered walkways that connect the royal chambers.

but remind us of the rich life beyond the responsibilities of government which took place at the royal court: the appreciation of poetry and music. whole walls covered with this word and its naturalistic emblems: the pinecone. Even more striking is the invocation of the word barakah found in hundreds of places throughout the palaces. presentations on religion and mysticism. It is helpful to reflect on this full range of cultural expression when visiting the Alhambra palaces today. and many other arts and crafts came together in Islamic Spain. Barakah means “blessing” or “divine grace. leaf sprout. and seashell. Perhaps it was with this sense of the ephemeral nature of things that the dynasty adopted the slogan. They had also survived an outbreak of plague in the early fourteenth century. The poems on the walls express not only the sensibilities of that time. “There is no victor but God” (L¥ gh¥lib ill¥ All¥h).” Scholars 39 seasons | spring 2006 | . The Nas- rids had somehow survived the endless threats as well as the frequent strife occurring within their own dynasty. acorn. CAN BE FOUND ALL OVER THE PALACES IN THE SAME CURSIVE CALLIGRAPHY VISIBLE AT THE TOP AND SIDE BORDERS OF THESE ARCHES. Careful alliances with their Christian neighbors and the support of the Marinids in Morocco secured their existence for a time. medicine.PHOTOGRAPHER : ROBERT ABDUL HAY Y DARR The Palace of Blessing and Grace “THERE IS NO VICTOR BUT GOD. with their help. conversations about metaphysics and astronomy. ence.” THE FAMOUS SLOGAN OF THE NASRIDS. This phrase is repeated throughout the walls of the palace. Their own ancestors had been vassals of the Christian powers that had. in fact. There are. The Nasrid rulers were well aware both of the splendid refinement of their court and the precariousness of this last foothold of Islamic power in Spain. conquered the Muslim domains of Seville and its surrounding territories.

These are all ancient symbols of bounty and fertility as well as good fortune. bounty. the importance that this concept of divine grace must have had in the minds of the palace designers.and art historians have noted this word in the Sala de la Barca. in fact. The word has been carved in many striking forms of Kufic and cursive calligraphy. Barakah also refers to manifes- who covered whole surfaces of walls and arches with calligraphic representations of the word barakah along with the pinecone and other seed and sprout forms emblematic of it. What greater earthly blessing could there be than this reflection of paradise. the divinely revealed law. This word barakah has an interesting range of meaning. These are invariably accompanied by carvings of the pinecone and acorn. as well as unity which comprehends multiplicity. this home of the sultan? Consider. protective. such as the abundance. flower buds and seashells. but only “sultan” (the [Arabic word] root s-l-t conveys the notion of delegated authority). and blessings of the good life. and some of the walls. the entry chamber to the Ambassador’s Hall. where it ornaments arches. indeed it was the | spring 2006 | seasons 40 . Yet the word barakah is. A proper Muslim ruler never styled himself “king. The pinecone represents the principle of multiplicity within unity. The Court of Lions was a retreat from the tiresome responsibilities of governing. capitals. It has been used to indicate the spirituality of certain saints as well as of sacred places. but also was and still remains a constant reminder of the beauty and joy found in God’s manifestations of mercy. he recognized that his power derived from the SharÏ¢ah. The word seems not only meant to be an invocation of blessing upon the royal inhabitants. The pinecone. is an apt symbol of this aspect of God’s merciful nature and creativity. for a moment. far more ubiquitous in the Court of Lions. But as James Dickie notes. PHOTOGRAPHER : ROBERT ABDUL HAY Y DARR Robert Abdul Hayy Darr THE WORD BARAKAH IN MIRRORED KUFIC CALLIGRAPHY tations of spirit. a place for the intimacy of family and social life. It is the singular bearer of many seeds of life. which is the most common emblem of barakah at the Alhambra. leaves and sprouts. and nurturing. each of which contains all the potentials of each stage in the growth of a new life. Many of the inscriptions1 on the walls of the Alhambra palaces celebrate the rule of various sultans of the Nasrid dynasty. This spirituality is thought to be enlightening. We often see this use of the word on Andalusian coins and other artifacts from the period.” which would be an encroachment on God’s sovereignty.

of divine manifestation. In the Qur’an. an ancient tradition about the fountain of eternal life. There is.” “fountain. The word for “essence” in Arabic is ¢ayn. or showplace. the center of existential awareness in a human being. in many cultures. His essential.” the water source that sustains all life. The great poets. borrowing frequently from the allegorical references of the Qur’an. and pools. while the mystic sees the garden as a reflection of the spiritual relationship—while yet alive—with God. In the heart of the mystic. Allah frequently speaks of nature and its forces as symbols of spiritual realities. This heart is thought to be a mirror. The Qur’anic description of paradise tells of a garden watered by fountains. rivers.2 Islam is staunchly unitarian in its conception of God as unique and transcendent.PHOTOGRAPHER : ROBERT ABDUL HAY Y DARR The Palace of Blessing and Grace THE WORD BARAKAH IN CURSIVE CALLIGRAPHY application of this law that legitimized his rule. unique determination and divine identity that has no partner. It is the refuge from man’s amnesia about his origin and high purpose. This word ¢ayn also means “spring. artists. the fons 41 seasons | spring 2006 | . the walled garden represents the sanctuary of the heart. God might manifest His transcendental unity or His diversity of expression in symbols. The fountain represents God’s oneness. Yet God is also thought to display His3 beauty and complexity in this world. and calligraphers of that golden age were often members of Sufi fraternities whose spiritual journeys were recorded in the artistic media of the time. The ordinary Muslim believer tends to understand the garden as a symbol of the afterlife. This is God’s manifestation of mercy and peace upon those whose hearts are free from strife and opposition to the truth of their origination by Him and their return to Him. For the Sufi.

There is even a poem by Ibn Gabirol (d.4 As mentioned. the lions represent divine power manifesting in the world of multiplicity and diversity. Poets and | spring 2006 | seasons 42 . 425/1034). springs and fountains immediately invoke Qur’anic descriptions of paradise where underground rivers nourish a fountain called salsabÏl. which is one of the delights of the dwellers of paradise. laid out the original gardens of the Alhambra palaces two centuries before the creation of the Court of Lions. This is the Essence/Fount of Being/Witnessing in the nature of God percieved to some degree by the mystic’s heart.PHOTOGRAPHER : ROBERT ABDUL HAY Y DARR Robert Abdul Hayy Darr THE WORD BARAKAH IN MIRRORED KUFIC CALLIGRAPHY vitae. in this mystical exegesis. It is certainly true that this was not the first fountain with lions. It may surprise the reader to learn that the word has yet another meaning. therefore.” Arabic is a remarkable language that is given to multiple entendre. Whatever the truth of their provenance. For the Muslim. 450 AH/1058 CE) extolling a majestic fountain with lions in eleventh-century Cordoba. It is also described as a fountain of eternal freshness or youth. Some of this symbolism was shared by Jewish and Christian mystics. the life-source of being. that of “eye. and perception or awareness. The Court of Lions. as we now call this place. Nagrila (d. It should. the word ¢ayn also means “essence” in Arabic. The courtyard fountain drains into a basin that provides water to twelve waterspewing lion statues that support it. it is thought that Joseph b. not be surprising to find special language and symbol- ism in the structures that survive. is evocative of the divine manifestation of the human heart. The lion statues are thought by some scholars to have been brought to the Alhambra from the nearby residence of an eleventh-century Jewish vizier. In fact. son of the Jewish vizier of the Muslim Granadan lords of the eleventh-century. It should be noted that there was a strong connection between Jewish and Muslim mystical expression during this period. whose religious stories reappear in the Qur’an. We now see combined in this one word the concepts of essence. The word immediately evokes the idea of the unlimited Source of Existence.


stalactite (muqarnas) construction in the world. According to a Sufi doctrine quite current at that time. Near Eastern. “ins¥n al-¢ayn” the “person in the eye. Poets often played on the multiple meanings of the word ¢ayn. and aesthetic cultures of the ancient world. who was thought to have viewed the gardens from the Mirador. An example by Ibn Zamrak in the Court of Lions complex can be found in the Mirador de Lindaraja. By Nasrid times. Truly. like the imperial Abbasids of Baghdad. James Dickie writes. even if these were not built on the expansive scale of classical imperial residences. the dynasty’s finest poet. I am a garden adorned by Beauty. scientifically and technologically unsophisticated. means an immediate sense of connection and even a feeling of being absorbed into the existence of the surroundings. “Intimacy. It reads. is usually taken to mean the sultan. Mu^ammad V (r. and because of the word associations already mentioned. A poem there opens with the verse. “Upward of five thousand cells cascading downward produce in their disciplined descent domes within a dome the most complex ceiling in the Muslim world and the apogee of Islamic art on the peninsula. Islamic palace and garden design had reached its apogee at the Alhambra. and Mediterranean antecedents. Although the Arabs borrowed fountain and garden designs from Persian. it is possible to understand the stanza in a different light and to take the meaning of “lord” quite differently. a glance at my loveliness reveals my soul! What appears on the surface as worldly literature was often equally meant as praise of God and could even have been meant as an allusion to mystical experience. The words used in the line. compared with their Persian and Roman neighbors. it is actually God who is the ultimate Seer in all seeing. In this garden I am an eye filled with delight And the pupil of this eye is none other than our lord. such as the Medinat al-Zahra near Cordoba.” here.”5 On the walls of this hall are some lovely verses by Ibn Zamrak (d.” here. The ceiling in the Hall of the Two Sisters is the most complex expression of the Persian architectural Robert Abdul Hayy Darr THE TREASURE TROVE OF MYSTICAL SYMBOLISM AND ALLUSION HIDDEN THROUGHOUT THESE PALACES HAS SCARCELY BEEN TAPPED. | spring 2006 | seasons 44 . It is thought that these spaces were primarily used for musical performances and the recitation of poetry. technological. 755–760/1354– 1359 and 763–793/1362–1391). The Nasrids cultivated a refinement of the earlier forms and specialized in the evocation of intimacy in the smaller spaces they created. both because of the well-known Qur’anic descriptions of paradise as a garden with fountains and rivers.mystics have a long tradition of making full use of the poly-suggestive nature of this language. became the synthesizers of the scientific.6 “Lord. 796/1393). The pre-Islamic Arabs were. The Andalusian Arabs. This psychological effect can be contrasted with the inspiring sense of awe and the uplifting awareness of one’s insignificance evoked within many huge palaces and religious buildings all over the world. philosophical. With that in mind.” meaning the pupil. these took on special meaning in imperial Arabian culture. The aesthetic of intimacy reaches its height of achievement at the Court of Lions in the stunning Hall of the Two Sisters and the Hall of Abencerrajes at the north and south side of the fountain respectively.

” are precisely the words used by the Sufi gnostics when alluding to seeing through the eyes of the “true human. who could neither conceive of nor accept the existence of a direct personal confirmation of scriptural revelation. and Nasrid clerics were generally opposed to the Sufis and the philosophers. that which is beyond the senses and the mind. art. Much of the literature and art of this period was dedicated to this endeavor.PHOTOGRAPHER : FANELIE ROSIER The Palace of Blessing and Grace MORE ARCHWAYS INSCRIBED “THERE IS NO VICTOR BUT GOD. Mystical and cosmological symbolism. and must be referred to through metaphor and analogy. This art seeks to communicate. mysticism has often been opposed by conventional religionists. It is not surprising that special languages would have evolved to veil the realities of mystical experience. and is revealed in the experience of the senses and the mind. through the senses and through the mind.” the vicegerent of God. The Almohad. whether found in literature. Throughout Islamic history. and the mind becomes clothed in the entities of the cosmos. Marinid. created a context for understanding and attuning oneself to the spiritual world. It further communicates how that which is beyond the senses WHAT APPEARS ON THE SURFACE AS WORLDLY LITERATURE WAS OFTEN EQUALLY MEANT AS PRAISE OF GOD AND COULD EVEN HAVE BEEN MEANT AS AN ALLUSION TO MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE. Enigmatic reference to mystical experience has a long tradition in Islam where mystics were not infrequently put to death for claiming a direct experiential knowledge of God. or architecture. Art historians often cite the Alhambra as an example of Islamic architectural symbolism because of the cosmological 45 seasons | spring 2006 | .7 Ineffable mystical experience cannot directly be described.

lighting. We should remember that. It has been quite credibly demonstrated that this ceiling depicts the cosmological hierarchy of the Throne of Allah set above the seven heavens of the created world. he was accused of heresy and of being a supporter of philosophy and Sufism. he describes and makes use of numerology and other forms of number symbolism. It should not then come as a surprise to find PHOTOGRAPHER : JEAN-CL AUDE GALL ARD | spring 2006 | seasons Robert Abdul Hayy Darr 46 . In this manner.8 The impact of the room’s proportions.9 The use of abjad has a long history in Islamic Spain where it was employed in literature and art. awed. are found in Arabic dictionaries and grammar books. 638/1240) and Ibn Rushd (d. words and concepts with the same number totals can be identified with each other. the impact of the Sufi Ibn al-¢ArabÏ on mysticism was without precedence in the whole of the Islamic world where he is still called the “Greatest Teacher” (al-shaykh al-akbar). These men had in common a love of evocative symbolism that has the power to keep the mind attuned to its fundamental relationship with True Reality.references evident in the ceiling of the Hall of the Ambassadors. and protected under this walled heavenly dome. numerology was also used by mystics and metaphysicians to communicate the fundamental realities of existence and cosmology. Each letter of the alphabet is assigned a number. The fundamentals of this system. and surface detail allow one to viscerally experience the message illustrated in the vaulted ceiling.10 He was the statesman who tutored Mu^ammad V in his youth and who would have had a strong influence on all of the activities at the court. talismans. In his major work. Ibn al-Kha~Ïb (d. One of his famous books was the Raw\ah al-ta¢rÏf bi al-^ubb al-sharÏf (The Garden of Knowing the Noble Love). far from being esoteric. The impact of Andalusian writers like Ibn al-¢ArabÏ (d. Although commonly used in chronograms. at the time of the building of the Court of Lions during the reign of Mu^ammad V. It is easy to imagine some may have felt a sense of divine authority acting through the sultan whose throne once sat under this representation of the cosmic hierarchy. Yet the treasure trove of mystical symbolism and allusion hidden throughout these palaces has scarcely been tapped. was eventually put to death in Fes. The symbolic language must be known before the communication can be understood. 595/1198) in educated circles cannot be overemphasized. 774/1374). In fact. Mu^ammad V’s brilliant minister who was also a lover of poetry. and even magic. One of the symbolic languages of the Sufis is a form of numerology generally called abjad in the Islamic world. philosophy. and mysticism. A good deal of debate has taken place concerning the symbolism of this and other structures at the Alhambra. al-Futu^¥t al-makkiyyah (The Meccan R e v e l a t i o n s ) . One feels at once dwarfed. there existed an unparalleled body of mystical and cosmological literature replete with number symbolism. allowing words to have specific numerical assignations through the addition of their letter-numbers.

14 numerologically forming the sentence in each of the stars. called Huwa11 in Arabic. is the Absolute Existence. and architecture. is numerically synonymous with the divine unity. of the number one. First. This double aspect of True Reality may be conceived of as the “Unity of the Essence. or H‰. Muslim artists made wide use of star geometry but rarely of the more difficult eleven-pointed star arabesques. medallion carpets. through numerical equivalence. These semispherical arabesques were designed with a very interesting geometry. of course.” Heart. The stars are arranged in three levels of four stars each.that even numerology was employed in the Alhambra palaces where there is already so much symbolic language in evidence. we see this symmetry highlighted by the protrusion of the mirrored pavilions at the east and west ends of the courtyard. might well be translated into contem- 47 seasons | spring 2006 | . CREATED A CONTEXT FOR UNDERSTANDING AND ATTUNING ONESELF TO THE SPIRITUAL WORLD. especially under cupolas sheltering fountains and generally out of view. in which a mirrored singularity creates multiplicity. Forty-four.13 This divine Oneness of Being does not Itself become multiple through the appearance of the particularities of created existence any more than light becomes plural in the various colors and shadings in which it is manifested. Huwa. These. A subtlety in the symbolism of the divine Identity. as earlier pointed out. such as book cover designs. thanks to the dry climate of the region. OR ARCHITECTURE. The aesthetic appeal of monoformal symmetry.” and its other aspect may be called the “Unity of the Names. The number eleven. Huwa. of course.15 an Arabic word that has the double meaning of “heart” and “transformation. Each cupola shelters twelve eleven-pointed stars connected to each other by minor star polygons. The unity of God is. whether conceived of as beyond the particularities of the created world or as the source and very existence of those particularities. “He is the One” (Huwa al-A^ad)! An important aspect to the overall message of the cupolas is the fact that the totality of the twelve stars (each with eleven points giving an aggregate of 132 points) indicates the word qalb. contain virtually identical domes with the same unitarian symbolism. is synonymous with the Divine Self or Identity. One must wonder why they went to such trouble. ART. There also happen to be forty-four floral shapes decorating each eleven-pointed star. WHETHER FOUND IN LITERATURE. is that the number eleven results from the mirroring The Palace of Blessing and Grace MYSTICAL AND COSMOLOGICAL SYMBOLISM. al-A^ad. Mystically important truths are alluded to in this geometry. invoked at each level of four eleven-pointed stars. is expressed in many Islamic arts. there is the most obvious symbolism of each eleven-pointed star. These are wooden arabesques that have survived the centuries with little decay. In the Court of Lions. a fundamental belief of Islam and a fundamental experience of the mystics. One out of many outstanding examples of the architectural usage of abjad employed at the Alhambra palaces is the geometric designs on the underside of the cupolas within the pavilions at the east and west sides of the Court of Lions.”12 The Names of God and the multiplicity arising from them in the cosmos are only experienced as multiplicity in a consciousness that cannot apprehend their fundamental unity mirrored in the cosmos and only perceives their diversity of meaning as manifested in the forms.

or consciousness. a¢y¥n. “My earth and My sky do not contain Me.” In other words. existential vastness in the consciousness of the individual who has let go the defenses of the strife-ridden kingdom of the self.18 And if I may strain the reader’s credulity. but the heart of My faithful servant contains Me. In this last instance. are thought of as divine self-manifestations conforming to noumenal potentials called “essences. of the mystic. The foregoing is only a partial exegesis of the symbolism of these domes. These overlays of numerological and other symbolisms are meant to broaden the impact we already receive directly from the aesthetics PHOTOGRAPHER : ROBERT ABDUL HAY Y DARR | spring 2006 | seasons Robert Abdul Hayy Darr PILLARS WITH THE WORD BARAKAH AT THE COURT OF LIONS 48 . which according to the root meaning of the word.16 also have an abjad of 132. an anomaly that aids in joining all of these concepts together. It is the “Mu^ammadan heart” that embraces the double aspects of Unity—God’s transcendental unity—beyond the multiplicity of creation. whether experienced in the world or in the mind. “There is no victor but Allah.19 the Prophet of Islam s. and God’s unity of being within the ever-changing diversity occurring at all levels of existence. Experientially.” as the verse repeated on the walls throughout the palace reminds us.porary English as “mind” or “consciousness. The cupolas artistically express the meaning of one famous saying where God announces. These potentials.” The particularities of existence.” a¢y¥n. 132 is also the abjad equivalent for Mu^ammad. It is in this citation that one can understand the Sufi conception of true Islam. The potentials remain in a state of non-manifestation while Being is thought to manifest according to various characteristics of their latencies. This is an Islam. The abjadist sees clear linkage in these concepts in the striking coincidence that the word “Islam” itself also has a numerology of 132. The attuned reader could find many more spiritually evocative and metaphysically useful representations in their geometry. the Islam of submission to God’s word and ordinances. it is commonplace among abjadists to count the doubled “m” in his name. Islamic mysticism is firmly grounded in the scripture of the Qur’an as well as in the divinely inspired sayings (hadith) of the Prophet Mu^ammad s. This meaning of Islam is the origin of the faith’s earthly shadow.17 leads to a surrender—a surrender of the personally constructed worldview of the instinctdominated person to the unlimited and infinite source of existence. as Islam is more commonly understood. this means the opening of a luminous. as well as in other areas of the palaces. it is as though God says that He is not known—not as the Singular and transcendental Divinity nor as the self-manifesting Divinity bestowing existence upon the limitless potentials of the noumena—except in the purified human heart-mind which is vast enough to comprise His vastness. We can derive from the symbolism of the cupolas that the mystery of Divine Unity and the appearance of multiplicity at their most fundamental level can be experienced in the properly attuned heart.

The origins of numerology are a bit unclear. Muslim rulers of the Timurid era also brought together the best artists and poets of the day. Sacred numerology has been reserved primarily for the expression. In art and literature.of this place. Both have left us with artifacts that still bear witness to the beauty and complexity of Islamic culture. The Palace of Blessing and Grace THE COURT OF LIONS PROVIDES A GLIMPSE INTO THE RICH LIFE OF THE NASRID MONARCHS WHO BUILT AND ADORNED THE ALHAMBRA PALACES WITH THE BEST OF ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURAL AND ARTISTIC EXPRESSION. Both cultures especially treasured the meaning of life. These individuals. The survival of the Court of Lions gives us the opportunity to better understand this form of subtle communication. and for their verification by mystics of the great spiritual traditions. Part of the genius of this time was a result of the sharing and borrowing of ideas and symbols across time and culture. applied themselves to discovering the capacities of the human spirit and Additional Notes on Numerology Sacred alphabetical numerology. busy preparing long commentaries on the writings of the Andalusian mystic. instruction. the communication of mathematical relationships between philosophical and metaphysical concepts through the use of letter/number identity systems. thousands of miles from each other. The Court of Lions provides a glimpse into the rich life of the Nasrid monarchs who built and adorned the Alhambra palaces with the best of Islamic architectural and artistic expression. they have left behind their thoughts and visions concerning the true meaning of the human being. 49 seasons | spring 2006 | . Mystics and thinkers of the Timurid courts of Central Asia were. meta-analytical capacities of the mind and spirit. in the same period. It is important to distinguish sacred numerology from the widespread use of numerology in the talismanic and magical arts. Shaykh Ibn al-¢ArabÏ. as well as in administrative documentation. In the same period in faraway Khorasan. giving us a fairly clear sense of their ideas on cosmology and spirituality. but systems for its use were extant in ancient Phoenicia and Greece. Hence. There has been extensive study of the literature from both regions. is far older than Islamic Arabic culture. Yet it is precisely in these presentations that metaphysical concepts can be absorbed by the non-linear. Art and literature were then dominated by members of Sufi organizations in both regions. metaphysical and mystical writings and works of art that were esteemed by the rulers and the great thinkers of their day. the most sophisticated example of the Persian stalactite dome is found in Spain at the Alhambra. and codification of metaphysical concepts. Why are we so moved by these palaces? What do we experience from the proportions and symmetries of this special courtyard? The majestic fountain and the patterns of light in the shadows continue to delight us. People today are less familiar though with the possibility of expressing these insights in the realms of the visual and musical arts.

I will introduce just one example of this in order not to deny the earnest reader a deeper appreciation for this subtle language. 791/1389): There is naught on my heart’s tablet but the Friend’s letter “A. The reader will notice that in forming the eleven-pointed stars.In the West. as the Master has taught me no other letter. where alphabetical letters had also served as numbers (as was the case in other Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures). Most educated readers of the great poetry in Arabic and Farsi are still aware of this. Each star has eleven of these.” an “obscurity hidden by its very obviousness. Numerology is widely used in the mystical literature of Islam. which would yield additional metaphysical meaning. and that he experiences mystical oneness with God because his heart (consciousness) has been wiped clean of duality.” among others. of such communication. and it was inevitable that important concepts and ideas came to have number identities. from its inception. have a double intention of revealing and hiding the communication. and I propose to give a bit more detail to help guide anyone interested in pursuing this topic. but let’s just examine the larger hexagons that form the actual points of the stars. as is allegorical and metaphorical language. Arabs automatically made numerological associations between letters and numbers. equivalent to the number one. Not all mystics make use of numerology. As a clear and simple example. here is a couplet from one of Hafiz of Shiraz’s ghazals20 (d. or even the existence. at least to some extent. I have pointed out that through the use of a set of eleven-pointed stars. Many mystics find themselves with an enhanced capacity for using puns and apprehending the connections between concepts and events that had not been evident prior to their spiritual transformations. Each hexagon could be described as having six | spring 2006 | seasons Robert Abdul Hayy Darr 50 . made use of numerology. There are other important polygon shapes within each star. what are now called Arabic numerals were imported from India into Arabia. The letter A (alif in Arabic/Farsi) is. Some of these mystics of the Islamic world have found the language of abjad useful for such associative exploration and communication. Islamic culture has.” What can I do. This accords perfectly with the paradoxical reality of mystical experience which has been variously described as “a bright midnight.” an “open secret. in abjad. The example of numerology employed in the cupolas that I have explicated in this paper is quite straightforward. There is often a secondary form of counting used in geometrical abjad that can be applied to these arabesques. All of these expressions. one could communicate certain metaphysically fundamental concepts about the nature of unity and multiplicity. I used the simplest abjad form—that of counting just the number of points of the star arabesques and the number of floral forms contained by them. Prior to the introduction of Indian numbers. some of the mystical orders of Sufism actually barred its use because of the inherent danger of obsessive thinking and inappropriate systematization taking over the minds of aspirants who struggle with the uncertainties of mystical experience. for many poems containing numerological expression are deliberately quite obscure. Anyone without such an associative capacity may be unable to support or acknowledge the benefit. hexagons make up the largest polygons of each star. Moreover. Hafiz indicates that God alone is present in his heart. including the calligraphy itself.

Jerrilynn D. 1992). 13 a=1 + l=30 + a=1 + ^=8 + d=4. typically on the theme of love. E. 12 For an explication of this doctrine. Brown and Company. See the chapter entitled “Adam” in the Fu|‰| al-^ikam by Ibn al-¢ArabÏ for this doctrine and its language. this gives a total of 44. W. is beyond such concepts of gender. “La Alhambra de Granada: Poder. Ibid. God. MD: Iranbooks.  51 . 139. 1987 seasons | spring 2006 | 2 James Dickie. Arte y Utopia. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. connected lines or six points of line intersection.” Cuadernos de la Alhambra 23. 105. 16 a=1 + ¢=70 + y=10 + a=1 + n=50. in itself.1 6 1 2 2 3 3 4 4 Maria Rosa Menocal. DIAGRAM OF THE ELEVEN-POINTED STAR SHOWING TWO WAYS OF COUNTING FOR ABJAD 9 See.” in Al-Andalus. 2002). 3 Although divinity. “The Palaces. The Palace of Blessing and Grace 11 PHOTOGRAPHER : ROBERT ABDUL HAY Y DARR 5 5 4 Dickie. An Introduction to Koranic and Classical Arabic (Bethesda. ed. So the metaphysical communication about divine Unicity and multiplicity is further unveiled in yet another layer of abjad communication. The Ornament of the World (New York: Little. New York: Oxford University Press. 245. representing the Divine as both the formless Essence and the totality of the cosmos-engendering Divine Names explored in the essay. ed. 416–417. Six times the eleven hexagons gives sixty-six.” NOTES 21 1 See Jose Miguel Puerta Vilchez. 15 q=100 + l=30 + b=2. 2003). Dodds. “The Palaces of the Alhambra. 19 m=40 + ^=8 + m=40 + m=40 + d=4. and normally set to music. for example. gives 132. Thackston. 2005. “We will guide them in Our ways. 17 From s-l-m come the meanings of surrender and wholeness. the active aspect of God is identified in masculine terms in the Qur’an. The Art of Islamic Spain. see the chapter entitled “Joseph” in Ibn al-¢ArabÏ’s Fu|‰| al-^ikam. either way giving the number six. 11 h=5 + w=6 gives a total of 11. This word not only means God in the general sense but has a particular significance in Islamic mysticism. 14 See the close-up of the eleven-pointed star on this page. 18 a=1 + s=60 + l=30 + a=1 + m=40. (New York: Routledge.” (The New Oxford American Dictionary. 10 See Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia. gives 132.) 21 Qur’an 29:69. 20 Editor’s note: A ghazal is “a lyric poem with a fixed number of verses and a repeated rhyme. 1994). 6 7 10 5 9 6 8 7 8 The ceiling depicts the Qur’anic verses “Blessed is He in whose hands is the sovereignty” (67:3) and “He created the seven heavens layered upon each other” (67:5). 2nd ed. M. gives a total of 132. Doubled letters are not normally counted twice. Michael Gerli. the abjad for Allah.” 146. gives 132.

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