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Illustrating the Forms: Ibn al-ʿArabī’s (d. 638/1240) Images in al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya

Karjoo-Ravary, Ali

This study analyzes the 28 images that appear in Ibn al-ʿArabī’s (d. 1240) al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya in order to sketch out his theory of visual representation. This theory avoids simple bifurcations between text and image by differentiating between multiple forms of each, arguing that each form remains complementary to but independent of the others. From this perspective, he asserts that even the subtlest of alterations change the affect of an image. This study then introduces and analyzes all 28 images in order to consider the metanarrative of the Futūḥāt’s visual representation. It argues that Ibn al-ʿArabī uses these images to root visual representation in the Qurʾan and Sunna, depicting three journeys through them that illustrate the cosmology of Islam as one that is constantly subject to perspective. Throughout the sequence, he emphasizes “seeing with two eyes,” one that sees similarity and another that sees difference, until culminating in a visual representation of the cosmos as two eyes. Through this, he complicates the identity of seer and seen and emphasizes that none sees but God. By the end of the sequence, visual representation is used to induce a realization of cosmos-as-icon; the cosmos is nothing but God seeing God endlessly.


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Visualizing Sufism: Studies on Graphic Representations in Sufi Literature (13th to 16th Century)

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February 6, 2023