The Metaphysics of Light in Iranian Islamic sacred geometry
A Light Illuminating from the Dawn of Pre-Eternity and shedding its traces upon the Talismanic-Temples of Unicity!
~ Imām ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (a.s.), the ḥadīth kumayl/ḥadīth al-ḥaqīqa (my trans.)
O God of all gods, come to the aid of the people of Light, give the victory to the people of Light, and guide the light unto the Light!
~ Shihābuddīn Yaḥyā Sohravardī (d. 1191 CE), the Book of Spiritual Influxes and Sanctifications (al-wāridāt wa al-taqdīsāt) (my trans.)
Iranian Islamic civilization, as a deeply pious, traditional civilization, is primarily theocentric in its intrinsic worldview and as such approaches all elements of high culture (such as art and architecture) from this pivoting perspective. Resonating with the most ancient pre-Islamic Iranian ontologies of the universe, the Qur’ān itself proclaims God to be “the light of the heavens and the earth” (24:35). Given this, it is in reference to light –- or more precisely, rather, the metaphysics of light -- as the initiating premise, as well as conclusion, that discussions of Iranian sacred geometry need to proceed. Within Iranian Islamic metaphysics, from Sohravardī to Mullā Sadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1640), light and existence (vojūd, hastī) are often juxtaposed as interchangeable concepts. It is only in their analytic definitions as to whether light constitutes a definable essence (ʿayn, māhīyat), or transcends such categorization, where these philosophers and their successors sharply differ amongst each other. But nevertheless all are agreed that light is existence and existence is light.
That stated, the entire spectrum of Iranian Islamic art and architecture, in all of its assorted periods and facets is, from first to last, firmly rooted in a gnosiology; that is, the esoteric, the mystical and theosophical approach to the religious life. Without an adequate grasp of this fundamental guiding axiom and approach, Iranian Islamic art and architecture would otherwise remain an opaque and hermetically sealed subject matter to any intelligent discussion. Light (Avestan uštra/raoša, Arabic nūr) –- being that primary reality, image, symbol and metaphor which is the most central and polar leitmotif informing the whole trajectory of Iranian spirituality from Zarathushtra to Sohravardī, Hāfez and beyond, and throughout posited as the divine substance itself –- becomes in the sacred geometry of Iranian Islamic art and architecture (whether immediately grasped or not) the central narrative (nay, the key) to its explanation: it is its tavīl, the inner hermeneutic revealing its ultimate source and origins. In other words, looked at another way, those dazzling patterns and absorbing geometric tapestries of sacred geometry constituting the formal ornamentation of Iranian Islamic art and architecture are to be taken as fractals of light, as it were descending (or, cascading, rather) from eternity, and instantiated into forms within the space-time continuum of material manifestation and recorded into those frames of iconic representation. If the actual structural composition of a given piece is to be taken as its proper form (ṣūrat), then its patterns of intricate geometric designs are to be seen as its meaning (maʿnā): the hallmark or imprint of its luminosity and radiance as such.
Now, the science of sacred geometry, as an initiatic scientia sacra (sacred science) par excellence, is intended to orient its subject towards the eternal and by so orienting this subject to rip off the veils of mundane reality and reveal and manifest thereby the already-always transcendent in the here-and-now. In this Iranian Islamic gnosiological worldview, such orientation is always towards the Orient of Light (mashriq-i-nūr), that dawning place of the divine illuminations, which in the Iranian Islamic metaphysical diction is designated as being the angelic world (malakūt), the realm of communication between the material and divine realms. At base, these intricately beautiful patterns and designs seek to communicate deeply the dematerialization of matter and the perceptibility of the immaterial.
Simultaneously to such orientation towards the great beyond, this sacred geometry also then reveals the mathematical ratios and geometric harmonies imprinted by the atemporal within the temporal material realm of nature itself as those archetypal principles imminently animate within it; such that contemplation of such patterns, together with the verities behind them, now becomes the nexus and intersection (a situs) between the imminent and transcendent that then provides a veritable ladder to the soul’s elevation into eternity. Art and architecture, therefore, and sacred geometry specifically, are here both perceived and utilized as an amphibolous vehicle for the spiritual ascent into these realms beyond as well as simultaneously to garner information about the actual nature and inner mechanics of the universe itself, not to mention the harmonies and connections between these realms and worlds connected with each other. As such this sacred geometry is in all cases meant to illuminate and so to guide to its fundamental principle, which is light, whether in its material manifestation or in its principial transcendence.
An architectural structure from its top looking down appears completely organic, literally like a flower. From the bottom looking up to its dome, we are present to the expanses of the universe (or, multiverse, rather) in its ascending and expanding layers and hierarchies which finally converge into a single point in the dome’s center. From the top down we witness the worlds descending into being from this first principle, the Light of lights, while from the bottom we behold the return back to this principle. Such structures, from within and without, convey within architecture the entire emanationist metaphysical narrative and principles of the sophisticated Iranian Islamic gnostic mind. Here in such architecture the complexity and simplicity of the reality of light is captured in an eternal moment and etched into matter as a veritable contemplative device where sacred geometry becomes the locus revealing the ultimate.
To the positivist, linear and flat-land consciousness of contemporaries, architecture and sacred geometry functioning as the situs and locus for divine revelation and theophany is an absurd proposition, not because it is irrational but precisely because it is hyper-rational. But that is only so because such contemporary worldviews only straddle minds into certain circumscribed perspectives regarding the world, enclosing them into epistemic prisons of sorts, whereas the Iranian gnostic, by virtue of their perpetual orientation reinforced via such cultural artefacts, continues to perceive the theophanies of light “in the horizons and in themselves” (Qur’ān 41:53).