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Sufic/Islamic Symbolism

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.sufism,alt.islam.sufi
From: (haramullah)
Subject: Sufic/Islamic Symbolism
Date: 27 May 1997 19:38:40 -0700

49970518 AA1  (one of my favorite subjects of exchange: symbolism)

assalam alaykum, my kin.

#...religious symbols. Can you tell me what do the moon and the star mean? 

it should be said that expression regarding symbolism is necessarily
incomplete and subjectively-biased.  beyond this, there are some very
important popular and esoteric conceptualizations associated with
symbols of many different types.

the crescent is a symbol associated with Islam.  typically in the West it 
is portrayed in a "waxing" orientation -- as moving toward greater light, 
fullness, toward the Full Moon.  this is in the form of the letter 'C', 
'(', rather than as its reverse ')', and implies forward movement, healing, 
progress, growth and creation.  Moon is often but not always considered a 
feminine symbol, sometimes (such as in alchemical iconography) combined 
with Sun to imply the Heiros Gamos or Mystical Union (for some sufis, 
with Allah).

Muslim calendars are lunar, and Moon therefore has an additional meaning
within such cultures as implying 'the number of years and the measure of
time' (_Qur'an_), indicating a movement and growth in time as well as
the cycles of life, growth and decay.

in combination with this, the star symbolizes the penultimate or supremity
of the divine, an extremity of light and perfection implying the infinities
of the categories of Allah and the unbounded and supranormal experience of
an encounter with this majesty.  for this reason the two together, and
especially when one understands that Sun is also a star, are beautiful
symbols in association with Sufism, since they imply the goal that gnosis
or heart-knowledge which only an Encounter with the Beloved may make 
possible.  more below from previous posting. for [moon/star] being "symbols" of Islam, I doubt that.  A symbol 
#is something that is like a door that opens up into a reality on a
#higher plane.  We can distinguish symbols from emblems.  An emblem is
#something that points to something else on the same plane....

#I am not aware of any such symbolic dimension for the crescent and star in

perhaps I have explained one or two? :>

#IMHO they are an emblem....

certainly they *were* (and continue to be) emblems.  whether this is all 
they are depends on the individual, it seems.

#There is real symbolism in Islam.  The Ka`bah is the supreme symbol of Islam
#as a religion, a symbol that encapsulates all the doctrine of Islam. 

there is tremendous symbolism in Islam, agreed, though I would say that this
symbolism is mostly popular and traditionally it is eshewed as iconographic
or idolatrous, especially when in association with the mosque.  exception to
this appears to be certain Arabic writings, such as "Allah" or any of Allah's
glorious titles/offices, sometimes inscribed in beautifully-complex and
artistic fashion and hung on simple frames on the mosque wall.  I have also
seen intersecting squares on the *outside* of mosque architecture.

in direct relation to this last (since the squares imply the perfection of
the earth element, perhaps translated into the physical dimension as a cube),
there is Allah's House, the sacred "Cube" (the apparent significance of the
Arabic "Ka'aba").  centered in the area of First Pilgrimmage in Mecca within
a glorious stadium, a great cube of perhaps 2-story height is draped in black
cloths and surrounded by a glorious arena wherein pilgrims circumambulate and
approach the black stone at its corner.

that this is the location of focus for Muslim salat (prayer) and presents
the faithful with the destination for the hajj (pilgrimmage, the Pillar to
be undertaken at least once in the life of the devout) indicates its
importance to Muslim tradition, symbolizing the Straight Path, the Sure
Path of the Pilgrim, hosted by that site associated with the delineating
Abrahamic succession: Mecca.

that the focus is a large, black cube within a white circular construction
implies ancient and central esoteric principles dear to Muslim tradition.
primarily and perhaps most obviously the cube symbolizes stability, the
perfect stasis of eternal primacy: the Creator, whose residence in the
Ground of Being is changeless and reliable against all adversity.  more
than this abstraction, the cube indicates the importance of earth energies,
the world, as the realm wherein the divine manifests most clearly and 
directly to the faithful.

the circle surrounding the cube (and the ever-shifting sea of pilgrims,
both revolving about it in a cosmic and spiritual parallel to the Pole
Star, as well as pausing and paying tribute to this central and life-giving
divinity at various key solar-referents) implies the beginning of that
which is movement, the world, immanence, emanating from and returning to
that perfect and changeless stability of the God (Al Lah).

symbolizing the meeting-point betwixt these black and white, stationary 
and animated, cube and circle, is the Ka'abah Stone, a black rock set into
a silver vesica piscis, which pilgrims traditionally approach and kiss.
this is symbolic not only of an affirmation of the Source of All Things, 
but also the veneration of that intersection between the God and Humanity, 
the perfect Image in which likeness humans have been intended. a /symbol/, a 'pointer' to a subtler reality, there is a way the
#emblem of the star-and-crescent can be used in conjunction with the 
#dhikr, but I am not at liberty to disclose the technique.  

perhaps the symbolism relates to the relationship of LIGHT to both of
these, the star a source and origin (Allah) for the light (love,
consciousness, perfection, beauty, etc.) which reflects in remembrance
(dhikr) beyond the Moon (the faithful) to all who have eyes to see.

#...[from] the published writings of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan:


#    The symbol of the Order is a heart with wings....

oh yes I remember this well.  we have had it posted here to Tariqas at
least once before.  I offer my previous commentary on it, for your
consideration.  compare how it relates to the above.

~From: (Haramullah)
~Subject: Symbolism (Wing/Heart/Moon/Star)
~Date: Tue, 30 Jan 1996 10:02:22 -0800 (PST)


Peace be with you, my kin.

Hazrat Inayat Khan was quoted by as saying:

|...the heart is between soul and body, a medium between spirit and matter. 

This is very very wonderful!  As I understand it in my ignorance, spirit
and matter are twin visions of the Paradise in which we live (subjective
and objective realms respectively).  That the heart (qalb) lies *between*
these and (as HIKhan later says) is responsive in an insightful way fits 
very nicely with what I have been taught about its function in coming to 
hear the guidance of Allah.

| in Egyptian symbology wings are the symbol of spiritual progress, 
|so the heart with wings expresses that the heart reaches upward towards 

I feel that the metaphorical use of 'up' and 'down' as indicative of
heaven and earth is very important.  And yet if we are not careful
we may be misled by it.  Wings allow one to *leave* the earth in flight,
and yet they only allow us to fly to the uppermost reaches of our
planet's atmosphere (where they may push against gasses and elevate us).

However, they also allow us to *return* to earth, or fly *downwards*,
and I do not personally feel that heaven is a place at the outermost
extreme (even in analogy of this metaphor) of upward flight.  I would
suggest to you that a place *between* up and down is where heaven truly
lies, and the only way to reach that spot is to somehow acquire wings
and fly there, consistent with this symbolic teaching that HIKhan may
be pointing out.

|The crescent in the heart suggests the responsiveness of the heart. 
|The crescent represents the responsiveness of the crescent moon to the 
|light of the sun, for naturally it receives the light, which develops 
|it until it becomes the full moon. 

It was difficult to find a reproduction of this flying heart with 
crescent and star in the Haus library (though I did find it in 'The Sound'
and I would mention that we do now have a very wonderful s/Sufism section
which the public is welcome to use for research and an introduction to
tasawwuf -- contact me if you live in the SFBay Area and wish to visit
and/or use this to your advantage in learning of it).

In any case, HIKhan's description as rendered here is quite beautiful, and 
I think one might also infer the common Western notions of the heart and 
crescent in terms of emotions (some Sufis apparently do this quite readily).  

Not only do the emotions lie between the conscious and subconscious mind 
(usually somatically restimulated massage), but the crescent is 
typically associated with the feminine, though usually in left-or-right
orientation (indicating waxing or waning as is applicable) which is also,
in the West, associated with the feminine.

That the crescent supports the star is perhaps of great importance in
the examination of the relationships which exist amongst the heart which
contains these and the star and crescent themselves.

The crescent is, within the most common versions of this symbol I have
seen (and it varies a little), in the shape of a cup, filled by the
star of brilliance.  The position of the crescent does not indicate
to us whether it is of the waxing or waning variety therefore, though
many teachers will no doubt favor the waxing- or light-orientation.

The star rests atop this, slightly above the center of the heart
which surrounds them.  It is a five-pointed star in most renditions
I've seen, and it is drawn as a foreground object rather than as a
geometric pentagram.  

To me these represent the conscious and unconcious processes, and
their containment within the spiritual growth that is made possible
through love and the qalb, uniting these psycho-spiritual energies
into a dynamic and potent force of gnosis and liberation.

|The principal teaching of Sufism is that of learning to become a pupil, 
|for it is the pupil who has a chance of becoming a teacher, and once a 
|person considers that he is a teacher, his responsiveness is gone.  

I have not heard this said before.  Usually I have heard that the
principle teaching was knowledge of the heart, gnosis (ma'rifa).  That
said, Stoddart maintains that in comparing Christianity with Islam:

	As far as the spiritualities of the two religions
	is concerned, Christian mysticism tends by and large
	to be characterized by the 'Way of Love' (*mahabbah*
	in Islamic terminology), whereas Islamic mysticism
	(i.e. Sufism) comprises both the 'Way of Knowledge'
	(*ma'rifa*) and the 'Way of Love' (*mahabba*).

	(_Sufism_, William Stoddart, Paragon House, 1985, p. 48)

Perhaps HIKhan intends to convey both of these through an instruction
in the tariqas (orders) as a part of what is called the Golden Chain
(lineage succession from the prophets) and the value of community

|...the crescent in the heart signifies that the heart which is 
|responsive to the light of God is illuminated.

Note that the two closest bodies (sol, a star; and luna, a satellite)
to our planet are here indicated, and between them we may locate our
present state of the sufi (again the 'between' realm of the conscious-
subconscious pair).

|The five-pointed star represents the Divine Light. 

I have heard various attributions for five-pointed stars and have made
a fairly broad study of its symbolic association in at least occult
but in some cases religious traditions in the West.  This one (divine 
light) is very common, especially among the luminaries (pun intended) 
of JCI (Judeo-Christian-Islamic) traditions.

However, I have personally found value in associating the 5-pt star
with 'Bios', life, perhaps related to the Egyptian notions of the
ankh and its 'goingness' or 'vivacity'.

|For when the light comes, it has five points; 

In reference to the Western '5 senses' or perhaps even the 5 Pillars? :>

|when it returns, it has four, 

In reference to the coffin or perhaps to the Ka'ab, returning to the Source?

|the former suggesting creation, the latter annihilation. 

If this is the case, then the symbol under discussion is only
creation-based and therefore unbalanced in many ways (indicative
of its movement, progression, escalation).

|The five-pointed star also represents the natural figure of man, 

Yes, this is a popular occult tradition and is seen in the famous
sketchings of Leonardo da Vinci.  Typically it is ascribed a number
of pentads, such as the Greek or Indian elements (earth/air/fire/water
and Spirit or Space respectively).

For more on the history and significance of the pentagram (which is
somewhat different than the 5-point star I find in sSufi graphics),
see the following file:

|though that with four points represents all forms of the world. 

This conforms to my understanding of traditional symbolism, in that
the quadalateral (square/rectangle/etc.) is typically associated with 
the material and earthly.  This takes on very great meaning when we
come to think of cubes (al Ka'aba), for example, or double-interlaced
squares (as I have seen associated very often with Islam -- even as
above the door of a mosque I have visited).

|The heart which by its response has received the Divine Light is liberated,
|as the wings show. In brief, the meaning of the symbol is that the heart
|responsive to the Light of God is liberated."

Very beautiful.  Notice that angels are often depicted with wings of the
type drawn attached to this heart of which HIKhan speaks.  My favorite
symbolism reference indicates:

	_Wings_  Wings are almost entirely exclusive to Western
	and Middle Eastern representations of divinities and
	supernatural beings.  Wings are solar and depict divinity;
	spiritual nature; the moving, protective and all-pervading
	power of the deity; the power to transcend the mundane
	world; the never-weary; the ubiquitous; the air; wind;
	spontaneous movement; the flight of time; the flight of
	thought; volition; mind; freedom; victory; swiftness.

	Wings are attributes of swift messenger gods and denote
	the power of communications between gods and men.  Out-
	spread wings are divine protection, or the shrouding
	of the heavens from the fierce heat of the sun....

	(_An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols_,
	 J.C. Cooper, Thames and Hudson, 1990, p. 193)

Note the additional solar reference here, supporting HIKhan's
focus on illumination (especially in association with the
heart, below).  I also enjoy the connections to the Messenger
and to the Protector (of the faithful? :>).

	_Heart_  The centre of being, both physical and spiritual;
	the divine presence at the centre.  The heart represents
	the "central" wisdom of feeling as opposed to head-wisdom
	of reason; both are intelligence, but the heart is also
	compassion; understanding; the 'secret place'; love;
	charity; it contains the life-blood....

	*Islamic*: The Centre of Being; the 'eye of the heart'
	is the spiritual centre; the absolute intellect;

	(Ibid, p. 82)

I had not deeply contemplated the symbolism of heart-as-center 
before, though it makes a great deal of sense.  The heart is very
important to a number of Western religious traditions (recently
I saw Catholic icons of Jesus and Mary pointing to their chests,
where was to be seen a flaming heart, apparently symbolic of the
centers of both the cosmos and the individual).

This fits in nicely with some of Stoddart's text:

	...the pilgrimmage (*hajj*) to the Ka'ba in Mecca 
	is the outward symbol of the inward journey to the
	'heart' (*qalb*), which is the seat of Intellect
	(*'aql*) and is the mysterious centre where the
	Divine Spirit (*ar-Ruh*) touches the human soul.

	(Stoddart, p. 63)

But as to the rest of the symbol:

	_Crescent_  The crescent moon is, par excellence,
	the symbol of the Great Mother, the lunar Queen
	of Heaven, and is the attribute of all moon
	goddesses; it is the passive, feminine principle
	and is both the Mother and Celestial Virgin....

	*Islamic*: The crescent with the star depicts
	divinity, sovereignty.

	*Sumerian*: Attribute of the moon god Sin.  The
	emblem of Byzantium, Islam and the Turks.

	(Cooper, p. 44)

I would also note that in Hindu tradition such a crescent
apparently refers to the 'cup of immortality' and in Celtic
tradition two crescents back to back also indicate immortality.
Perhaps this is a subtle teaching referencing the soul and her
immortal perfection (not sure if this is traditional Islam 
instruction).  It appears to pair quite nicely with the star, 
below ("the undying"):

	_Star_  The presence of divinity; supremacy; the eternal;
	the undying; the highest attainment; an angelic messenger
	of a god; hope (as shining in darkness); the eyes of the
	night.  Stars are attributes of all Queens of Heaven,
	who are often star-crowned.  The star is pre-eminently
	the symbol of Ishtar or Venus, as morning and evening
	star.  The pole star marks the pivotal point in the sky
	and is thus the Gate of Heaven at night....  The five-
	pointed star, upwards, is aspiration; light; the
	spiritual; education....

	*Islamic*: Divinity; supremacy.  The star is depicted
	with the crescent.

	(Ibid, p. 159)

Note the commonalities amongst the symbols here in 'messenger'
and 'eternality', as well as the potent symbolic feminine of
moon and star together.  The associations here with instruction 
and illumination support very well HIKhan's testimony on its meaning
(esp. as regards 'aspiration' and 'education').  The focus on
'the spiritual' in both moon and star imply the result of the
wings which bear them up in the container of the heart.

As a final note I saw within my brief scan of the library
archives a graphic of the heart containing a *6*-pointed
star surmounting a crescent which joined its barbs at the top of
the star inside it at a small circle.  The wings curve upward to 
meet a *5*-pointed star outside and above the heart.  I found 
this symbolism quite intriguing, though imagine variation is
quite common.  

The symbol was in one of the periodicals I perused ('The Sound', 
based in San Rafael, CA, USA) and was part of a graphic inviting 
the reader to a celebration of the wedding night ("Shebi Arus") 
of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (issue 124, December 1993, p. 11).  

The symbol also contains other graphics which I am hesitant to
attempt to interpret.  Within the 6-pointed star appears to be
some form of character or linear symbol (like a elongated small 
Roman 'i').  Atop the heart rests what seems like a ball of yarn 
or string, and atop that is one of those cylindrical hats depicted 
as worn by many sufis (please forgive my ignorance of its name).  

The 5-pointed star at the top of the graphic is a great many Arabic 
letters, perhaps criss-crossed, fabricating the body (no outline 
to) the star.

I'd love to hear more about these other symbols as well as
your reflections on what I've dug up in association with what
must be one of the more popular Sufi symbols.  I leave you
for the nonce with a bit of text which Allah was kind enough
guide to my wandering eye concernin the heart:

	My heart has opened unto every form: it is a pasture
	for gazelles, a cloister for Christian monks, a temple
	for idols, the Ka'ba of the pilgrim, the tables of
	the Torah and the book of the Qur'an.  I practice the
	religion of Love; in whatsoever directions its
	caravans advance, the religion of Love shall be my
	religion and faith.

		*Muliyi 'd-Din ibn 'Arabi*

	(Quoted in Stoddart, p. 82)

Peace and love be upon you, my kin!



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