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Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam

An Architectural Reading of Mystical Ideas

Samer Akkach

Publication Year: 2005

This fascinating interdisciplinary study reveals connections between architecture, cosmology, and mysticism. Samer Akkach demonstrates how space ordering in premodern Islamic architecture reflects the transcendental and the sublime. The book features many new translations, a number from unpublished sources, and several illustrations. Referencing a wide range of mystical texts, and with a special focus on the works of the great Sufi master Ibn >Arabiµ, Akkach introduces a notion of spatial sensibility that is shaped by religious conceptions of time and space. Religious beliefs about the cosmos, geography, the human body, and constructed forms are all underpinned by a consistent spatial sensibility anchored in medieval geocentrism. Within this geometrically defined and ordered universe, nothing stands in isolation or ambiguity; everything is interrelated and carefully positioned in an intricate hierarchy. Through detailed mapping of this intricate order, the book shows the significance of this mode of seeing the world for those who lived in the premodern Islamic era and how cosmological ideas became manifest in the buildings and spaces of their everyday lives. This is a highly original work that provides important insights on Islamic aesthetics and culture, on the history of architecture, and on the relationship of art and religion, creativity and spirituality.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Islam

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x

Note to the Reader

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xv

When I was a little boy I used to love the snowfall in Damascus. Playing with friends in the street was fun, of course, but the real joy was in the gazing trick I had discovered and thought no one knew. Raised on a couch placed under the kitchen’s window that opens onto a large light well, I used to stand up motionless gazing at the snow flakes silently and gracefully falling down. In a...

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pp. xvii-xxiii

In many ways, this book is a commentary on, and an exposition of, this statement, an attempt to explore the philosophical and theological contexts that give sense to such an analogy in premodern Islam. In broad terms, the book is concerned with the question of art and religion, creativity and spirituality, with how religious thought and ideas can provide a context for understanding the meanings of human design and acts of...


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pp. xxv

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Chapter 1. Discursive Order

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pp. 1-53

A study of cosmology and architecture from a premodern Sufi perspective presupposes some knowledge of the trends in Islamic cosmological thinking, of the sense in which cosmology can be related to architecture and of the terrains of mystical thoughts in which the relationship is grounded. This chapter presents a brief overview of cosmology in premodern Islam, a critical review of...

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Chapter 2. Metaphysical Order

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pp. 55-111

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.2 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...

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Chapter 3. Cosmic Order

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pp. 113-147

When God thought of revealing his “hidden treasures,” the first thing that occurred in his mind was the idea of humanity. To fulfill this idea, he first had to bring the entire world into existence to form the foundation for human existence. Although last in existence, humanity was the original idea.1 Humanity could not have existed without the world, just as the canopy cannot stand up without the foundations...

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Chapter 4. Architectural Order

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pp. 149-206

Al-Ghāzalī’s analogy that served as the starting point of this excursion into premodern Islamic cosmology and metaphysics was concerned with the procedural aspects of the creation, with how God and an architect alike first produce a written or drawn exemplar in accordance with which an object is then brought into existence. The analogy does not tell us much about the...

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Afterword: Architecture and Cosmic Habitat

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pp. 207-209

Al-Ghāzalī’s analogy that has guided us through the preceding journey conceals hitherto unexamined assumptions concerning the act of designing. First is the predictability of God’s way of designing and our ability to read God’s mind by reflecting on his design work. Second is the architect’s responsibility to emulate the predictable aspects of God’s design. The analogy has led us to explore what it...


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pp. 211-236

List of Arabic Manuscripts Cited

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pp. 237

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 239-253


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pp. 255-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780791483442
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791464113
Print-ISBN-10: 0791464113

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 8 b/w photographs, 49 figures
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: SUNY series in Islam