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Sufi Aesthetics

Beauty, Love, and the Human Form in the Writings of Ibn 'Arabi and 'Iraqi

Cyrus Ali Zargar

Publication Year: 2013

Sufi Aesthetics argues that the interpretive keys to erotic Sufi poems and their medieval commentaries lie in understanding a unique perceptual experience. Using careful analysis of primary texts, Cyrus Ali Zargar explores the theoretical and poetic pronouncements of two major Muslim mystics, Muhyi al-Din ibn al-'Arabi (d. 1240) and Fakhr al-Din 'Iraqi (d. 1289), under the premise that behind any literary tradition exist organic aesthetic values. The complex assertions of these Sufis appear not as abstract theory, but as a way of seeing all things, including the sensory world. In this study Zargar responds to a long-standing debate in the study of Sufi poetics over the use of erotic language to describe the divine. He argues that such language results from an altered perception of Muslim mystics in which divine beauty and human beauty are seen as one reality. The Sufi masters, Zargar asserts, shared an aesthetic vision quite different from those who have often studied them. Sufism's foremost theoretician, Ibn 'Arabi, is presented from a neglected perspective as a poet, aesthete, and lover of the human form. Ibn 'Arabi in fact proclaimed a view of human beauty markedly similar to that of many mystics from a Persian contemplative school of thought, the "School of Passionate Love," which would later find its epitome in 'Iraqi, one of Persian literature's most celebrated poet-saints. Many in this school advocated the controversial practice of gazing at beautiful human faces, a topic Zargar also discusses. The examination of central Sufi texts in Persian and Arabic establishes that the profundity attributed to mystical encounters with the sensory and supersensory has far-reaching extensions in evaluations of that which is seen, that which is deemed beautiful, and that which is expressed as a result. Through this aesthetic approach, this comparative study overturns assumptions made not only about Sufism and classical Arabic and Persian poetry, but also other uses of erotic imagery in Muslim approaches to sexuality, the human body, and the paradise of the afterlife described in the Qur'an.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: Studies in Comparative Religion


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Series Editor's Preface

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pp. vii-9

This study addresses Sufi mystical poetry within the conceptual universe of the poets themselves, which is a world of aesthetic awareness rooted in love and connected to ontology and humans in relation to divine reality. The author addresses love and beauty as understood and celebrated by two great Sufi poets who created their art in a most productive era of such discourse. Of particular significance is the author’s ...

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pp. ix-xi

The following book considers closely the writings of two thirteenth-century Sufis, Muhyi al-Din ibn al-‘Arabi and Fakhr al-Din ‘Iraqi. Patience is the reader ’s only prerequisite, for a study of the “aesthetics” of vision and the human form in the complex thought of these mystics often requires extensive explanation until we can finally reach the interpretive heart of the matter toward the end of the book. If you, ...

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pp. 1-10

Less bounded by logic and the expectations of reason, dreams seem to create their own rules. A friend might appear in the form of someone else—and yet the dreamer never hesitates to recognize her. A person might even change forms in the duration of a dream, or fly, or experience non sequitur shifts in health, or meet those who have died. Abstract concepts such as “strife” might appear in tangible forms such as animals or the wind. Yet while often strange and unpredictable, ...

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1 Perception according to Ibn 'Arabi: God in Forms

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pp. 11-30

Before any discussion can take place regarding divine beauty and its expression in amorous poetry, it is necessary to establish the experience of divine beauty. Because the poetry of Ibn ‘Arabi and ‘Iraqi concerns itself with encounters and observations that they refer to as a vision, this segment asks an important preliminary question: What exactly is it that the person accomplished in esoteric knowledge of God, the gnostic ...

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2 Perception according to 'Iraqi: Witnessing and Divine Self-Love

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pp. 31-44

In many important ways, the writings of Fakhr al-Din Ibrahim ibn Buzurjmihr ‘Iraqi differ from those of Ibn ‘Arabi. While Ibn ‘Arabi’s copious prosaic output in Arabic often sounds scientific, ‘Iraqi, whether in verse or in that which remains of him in prose, writes in the language of love, mostly in Persian, and concisely so. It is for this reason that the congruity found in the writings of these two mystics deserves mention. Beyond that which resulted from ‘Iraqi’s association with ...

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3 Beauty according to Ibn 'Arabi and 'Iraqi: That Which Causes Love

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pp. 45-62

One of the pivotal concerns of this discussion is beauty and its relationship to the human form. To explore the concept of beauty in Ibn ‘Arabi demands that the reader be disengaged from equating one particular Arabic word, often jamal, with the English word “beauty.” Ibn ‘Arabi’s discussion of this power of attraction, this alluring quality or this beacon to perfection, spans a series of words, including jamal, husn, and tibah, all of which are translated variously but which indicate one ...

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4 Ibn 'Arabi and Human Beauty: The School of Passionate Love

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pp. 63-84

One of the most distinctive, fascinating, and certainly poetically prolific movements in classical Sufism is that known in Persian as the “School of Passionate Love” (madhhab-i ‘ishq). The word madhhab (school or way), often indicating a jurisprudential or theological allegiance within the various Islamic denominations, reveals the development of this identity for certain Sufis, an identity by which they considered themselves distinct from those outside of their tradition. In some cases, ...

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5 'Iraqi and the Tradition of Love, Witnessing, and Shahidbazi

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pp. 85-119

Sufi writers in the time of ‘Iraqi more or less concurred that the human form is the apex of media that allow witnessing, even if they did not always state such explicitly. While the term shahid at times did refer to the remnants of an en - counter with the divine names in the heart, and only metaphorically to the human form, a movement within Sufism increasingly began to associate the shahid with the ...

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6 The Amorous Lyric as Mystical Language: Union of the Sacred and Profane

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pp. 120-150

With discussions of vision and beauty now behind us, we proceed to study the pertinence of these phenomena to the amorous lyric, an artistic form favored by Ibn ‘Arabi, ‘Iraqi, and other Muslim mystics. The phrase “amorous lyric” aims to be an equivalent for certain versified genres used by both saints, lyrical forms concerned with love. Very often, mystics did not create new genres to convey their experiences, working ...

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pp. 151-156

Extending beyond Ibn ‘Arabi and ‘Iraqi, and even beyond Sufi love poetry, the aesthetic outlook studied here matters because it increasingly altered the way poetry was written and read, for all love poetry fell within its purview. Unfortunately research concerning the topics of beauty and the human form in Islamic mysticism has been often plagued by either vague generalizations or mistaken analogies. ...


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pp. 157-208

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 209-221

Index of Qur'anic Verses

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pp. 223-237

Index of Traditions

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pp. 225-226

General Index

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pp. 227-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171839
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570039997

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Studies in Comparative Religion