Sacred Architecture in Islam
...a Whiteheadian appreciation of the Mosque...
The primordial created fact is the unconditional valuation of the entire multiplicity of eternal objects. This is the primordial nature of God.
The Timeless Side of God
In the philosophy of Whitehead there is a side of God which transcends the categories of time and space and which contains within its horizons a multiplicity of pure potentialities. These potentialities include highly abstract mathematical forms as discovered by mathematicians and also deeply charged potentialities for emotion and feeling as discovered by poets. Whitehead speaks of this side of God as the primordial nature of God and speaks of the pure potentialities as eternal objects. They are eternal because they are timeless, and they are objects because they are felt by God.
This timeless side of God is God's immutability. It is not cold and un-feeling like a dictator but rather rich in wisdom like a deep Mind. Indeed we can speak of it as the Mind of the universe or the Wisdom of the universe, understood as a form of cosmic subjectivity that is more than we can imagine yet everywhere at once.
But of course a Mind without a Heart is empty and Whitehead thinks the same. He proposes that there is another side of God -- he calls it the consequent nature of God -- which perpetually feels and responds to all that is happening in the world all the time, with tender care and limitless compassion. This is the mutable or temporal side of God. It is the side of God which hears prayers and responds to sufferings, seeking to guide the world into goodness, truth, and beauty. If the primordial nature is higher than anything we can imagine, the consequent nature is more tender than anything we can imagine.
These two sides of God form a single, boundless whole which is timeless and temporal, transcendent and immanent, wise and compassionate, outer and inner, dimensionless yet everywhere. Whiteheadians sometimes speak of this as a di-polar understanding of God: that is, a God with two poles. Even as there are two sides of God there is only one God, and the unity of God is itself the unity of the universe. Our purpose as human beings, our divine vocation as stewards of a gorgeous planet, is to live from the unity.
Fortunately, we are not left to our own resources. In Whitehead's philosophy the divine unity is also a bridge between the realm of pure potentiality and the multiplicity of the actual world. This bridgemaking is how God creates the cosmos. Moment by moment, cosmic epoch by cosmic epoch, God calls the cosmos into existence not unlike the way God called Prophet Muhammad to recite.
The patterns we see in the cosmos – the laws of nature and the laws of the heart – are creative outcomes of God’s calling. The patterns are the pure potentialities as embodied in the world and qualified by the agency of the universe. Science offers one way of discerning these patterns, with special attention to their repetitive and quantifiable properties. Faith offers another way of discerning these patterns, with special attention to patterns that can help integrate a life in service to the well-being of life and the beauty of God. These two activities, science and faith, are complementary not contradictory.
Traditional Islamic architecture provides a context by which we can feel the patterns that dwell within the divine mind. Mere representational art cannot do this. It points a person toward the world of time and space, but not to the mystery in whose Mind the potentialities for temporal and spatial pattern dwell. It is in non-representational designs of the mosque that mathematics meets faith. For those with eyes to see and patterns to feel, the architecture reveals One in whose heart the pure potentials dwell and who, as an act of pure grace, decides to love and care for the world. It is from the mercy of this Mind that we have a patterned universe and an inner invitation, felt by everyone, to relinquish self-centeredness and live from love.
-- Jay McDaniel
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The Holy Qur'an: al-Baqarah 2:115
And God's is the east and the west: and wherever you turn, there is God's countenance. Behold, God is infinite, all-knowing.
وَلِلَّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ
Islamic Art and Spirituality