Qasir Z Khan

World's Richest Living Artist #1 Damien Hirst

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British artist Damien Hirst has shocked and surprised the art world with his unusual works, including glass displays of dead animals and medicine cabinet sculptures.


Synopsis

A successful and controversial artist, Damien Hirst was born in Bristol, England, on June 7, 1965. He emerged as a leading figure in the Young British Artists movement in the late 1980s and 1990s. His works, which include dead animal displays and spin-art paintings, have sold for exceptionally high prices. Hirst is one of the wealthiest artists living today.


Estimated Worth: $1 Billion

P.S. The 2009 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Hirst's fortune to be $388 million, but apparently it's now over the billion mark in U.S. Dollars. In 2008, he raised $198 million by selling a complete show, "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever," breaking the record for a single-artist auction and solidified his rank in the art hierarchy as "Sell Out # 1" by bypassing his galleries and going straight to Sotheby's auction block. And who can forget For the Love of God, 2007, the diamond encrusted platinum skull for $77.9 million? I know Kanye was crushed he didn't get it, as it would have complimented his Jesus piece to a T. Hirst has also been accused of relying heavily on assistants to create his works and has faced several plagiarism accusations, which goes to show, that an original idea for Hirst doesn't necessarily make for good sales.


Early Years

Raised Catholic, Damien Hirst grew up in Leeds. His early religion education would later factor into his artwork. He showed an interest in the grisly and gruesome aspects of life early on. His mother would later describe him as a morbid child.

As a teenager, Hirst liked to look at illustrated pathology books, fascinated by the images of disease and injury. He also showed an interest in drawing, a passion his mother supported. His father, a car mechanic, left the family when he was only 12 years old.

Hirst got into trouble as teenager, and was caught shoplifting twice. Despite his sometimes wild behavior, he made his way to college. Hirst studied art at the Goldsmith's College at the University of London. While there, he put together a ground-breaking exhibit entitled "Freeze" in 1988. The show featured the works of Fiona Rae, Sarah Lucas, and others, as well as his own.

Hirst and his fellow students became part of an emerging movement known as the Young British Artists. They were known for their unusual materials and for their challenging art concepts. One of Hirst's early works, "With Dead Head," illustrates his interest in death and shaking up the art establishment. In the photograph the artist, with a huge grin on his face, poses next to a severed head in a morgue.

While not everyone was enthralled with his work, Hirst received support from Charles Saatchi, advertising titan and art collector. Saatchi lent financial assistance to Hirst, and also started collecting Hirst's pieces, which also advanced the artist's reputation. Saatchi bought two of Hirst's medicine cabinet sculptures, which one critic later said constituted "a constellation of still lifes that express and reflect the human body as a field of vulnerabilities and of hopeful medical interventions."


Career Breakthrough

In 1991, Hirst had his first solo exhibition at the Woodstock Street Gallery in London. He also participated in the Young British Artists show at the Saatchi Gallery the following year. There he displayed "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living," a 14-foot-long glass tank with a shark preserved in formaldehyde. The shark had been bought from an Australian fisherman.

Hirst continued to set the art world on fire with his work at the 1993 Venice Bienniale, a renowned international art exhibition. There he showed "Mother and Child Divided," an installation piece that featured a bisected cow and her calf displayed in four vitrines, or glass cases, filled with formaldehyde. With his controversial and sometimes gruesome works, Hirst soon became one of the best known artists in Britain. He won the prestigious Turner Prize in 1995. "It's amazing what you can do with an E in A-Level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw," Hirst said in his acceptance speech.

Even though his career was thriving, not every exhibit went as planned. He wanted to bring rotting cattle for an exhibit in New York City in 1995, but he was stopped by the city's health authorities. Hirst, however, enjoyed a warm welcome the following year with a show at New York's Gagosian Gallery.

In addition to his glass tank works, Hirst has made paintings and sculptures. He explored his interest in the pharmacological age with such canvases as "Controlled Substances Key Painting" (1994). The work was part of a series known as spot paintings, but Hirst only painted a few of them. He had other artists carry out his visions, much like Andy Warhol had done.


Most Shocking Moments

Damien Hirst has been pushing the boundaries of the art industry for his entire career, take a look back at some of his most shocking moments.


Damien Hirst, standing in front of his 2006 piece, “I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds” made from butterflies and household gloss on canvas. (The Telegraph)


1: In 1992, Hirst burst onto the scene when his work was included in the Young British Artists show at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

“The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of the Living” by (Damien Hirst)

Hirst immediately grabbed attention for his piece “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of the Living” – a 14-foot-long glass tank holding a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde. Originally commissioned in 1991 and sold in 2004 for an undisclosed amount (rumored to be $8 million), Hirst’s shark came to represent the epitome of British art in the 1990s. Praised by the New York Times for creating a “visceral experience” of life and death, the piece was also mocked and criticized by British newspapers calling it, “£50,000 for fish without chips.” (The Guardian, 2012)


2. “In and Out Of Love” installation at Tate Modern’s 2012 retrospective of Hirst contained thousands of live butterflies.


“In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies)” by (Damien Hirst)

Installed in two windowless rooms in London’s Tate Modern, visitors could observe thousands of live butterflies flying above their heads, resting on the walls and eating fruit from bowls. While initially praised by art critics, the death toll of 9,000 butterflies by the exhibit’s close, many of them stepped on or injured by swatting visitors, had animal rights groups up in arms. A spokesperson for England’s RSPCA said, “There would be national outcry if the exhibition involved any other animal, such as a dog. Just because it is butterflies, that does not mean they do not deserve to be treated with kindness.” (The Telegraph, 2012)


“It’s about love and realism, dreams, ideals, symbols, life and death. I worked out many possible trajectories for these things, like the way the real butterfly can destroy the ideal (birthday-card) kind of love; the symbol exists apart from the real thing. Or the butterflies still being beautiful even when dead. “ – Damien Hirst


3. In 2007, Hirst grabbed the attention of fans and critics alike when he created “For the Love of God,” a diamond-encrusted skull made of platinum. The asking price for the piece was £50 million.

hirst-for-the-love-of-god.jpg
“For the Love of God,” by (Damien Hirst).

The sculpture, made by Hirst for a whopping £14 million, consists of a platinum cast of a human skull, real human teeth and 8,601 flawless pavé-laid diamonds. While it’s still disputed whether or not Hirst was able to sell the piece for the full £50 million asking price, if he indeed had, it would be the most expensive single piece of artwork ever sold by a living artist. (The Guardian, 2010)


4. In 2008, Hirst unconventionally auctioned his work directly to the public through Sotheby’s Auction House. The sale brought in $200.7 million, breaking the record for a single artist auction.


“The Golden Calf,” by (Damien Hirst) On display. (The New York Times)


The prior record for a single-artist auction had been set in 1993 when 88 works by Picasso sold for a total of $20 million. Hirst’s top-selling piece, “The Golden Calf” a white bull in formaldehyde with 18-carat gold hoofs, horns and golden halo sold for $18.6 million. In the end, 223 works by Hirst were sold to collectors all over the world. (New York Times, 2008)


Business of Art

In addition to being a creative visionary, Hirst has proved to be a savvy businessman. He has parlayed his fame and notoriety into an art empire, becoming one of the wealthiest living artists today. Some compare him to Jasper Johns and Jeff Koons in his ability to command huge prices for his works.

In 2008, Hirst side-stepped his usual galleries to auction his work directly to the public. The auction, called "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever," was held at Sotheby's in London and brought in roughly $198 million. Hirst has also done well through selling prints and other items bearing some of his signature styles and images through his company, Other Criteria.


Later Works

Hirst continued to push the boundaries of art. In 2007, he unveiled "For the Love of God," a glittering, diamond-encrusted skull made of platinum. Many critics were less than impressed with this "celebration against death," as Hirst described. Others marveled at the anticipated selling price of $100 million. Perhaps a sign of declining interest in his work, no one initially bought the piece. It was later bought by a group that included Hirst and London's White Cube gallery.

In 2009, Hirst exhibited a group of paintings, No Love Lost, Blue Paintings, which provoked the ire of many critics who labeled the pieces "dull" and "amateurish." Many of these works drew inspiration from one of his favorite artists, Frances Bacon, which led to some unfavorable comparisons.

These days, Hirst shows no signs of slowing down. He participates in exhibits around the world. Again making art more accessible, Hirst launched his own skateboard line in 2011.


To see more provoking artworks by Damien Hirst, check out the video below where the artist and Tate Modern curator, Ann Gallagher, explore each of the pieces in his 2012 retrospective.


"In an artwork you're always looking for artistic decisions, so an ashtray is perfect. An ashtray has got life and death. I always feel like the art's there and I just see it, so it's not really a lot of work. But the answer to how to live is to stop thinking about it. And just to live. But you're doing that anyway. However you intellectualise it, you still just live." Damien Hirst



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Qasir Z Khan

What Kind of Art Do People Like to Buy Online?



Is the type of art that people buy online the same as the sort of art that people like to create?

This post is going to look at:

  • the similarities and differences between the type of art that British and American people buy online.

  • how this compares to the type of art that people like to paint.

It's important to realise at the outset that that neither the subjects that people search for or the subjects people like to paint are necessarily a sound indicator of the art that people like to buy. For example, different subject categories of an online art gallery may have been different "view" and "buy" behaviours.
That's why it's interesting to get a perspective from a website (Artfinder) that is prepared to share data on what sort of art people actually buy. The data in the charts below was collected by Artfinder and is based on sales figures from 1 January 2016 – 31 December 2016.


What type of art do people buy?


Based on sales data in 1 January - 31 December 2016 (Source: Artfinder)

Last week I was sent some charts and conclusions drawn by Artfinder - an art website that acts as an online gallery for people wanting to sell their original art on the Internet.


What do they like - and dislike?

People in the UK and USA are very similar in relation to:

Liking a Lot:

  • Landscapes, sea and sky (around 25% of all purchases)

  • Flowers and plants (around 9% of all purchases)

Liking Very Little:

  • Still Life c. 4%

  • Nudes etc c. 3-4%

  • Transportation and Maps c. 1%

Where they vary significantly is in relation to:

  • Animals and birds - Brits love these (19%)

  • People and portraits - much more an American interest (16%)

Conversely, Americans favoured portraits of people (17%) and abstract and conceptual work (19%) above animals and birds (15%).

On the other hand the top 5 search terms in the UK in 2016 were:

  • Horse

  • Nude

  • London

  • Beach

  • Dog


This is the first year that we have had significant enough data to support this kind of segmentation and the findings are fascinating! We’ve always known that animals have been a strong category for us across all markets.
Jonas Almgren CEO of Artfinder



What kind of art do people like to create?

I asked people what was their favourite subject to paint - see Genres and the results of "What's your favourite subject matter?"



I checked - and found discrepancies between what people liked as subjects for their artwork - and the subjects that the Artfinder data suggests people buy.

My explanation for the discrepancy on portraits is that the bulk of portraits will be commissions rather than purchases from online art galleries. Other than that the general trend is very similar with the only other significant discrepancy relating to conceptual/abstract art.
Obviously the artists who responded to this poll are different from those who provided the data for the artwork sold on Artfinder. Also this poll relates to all artwork made and the Artfinder data relates to art sold online. The discrepancies suggest further areas for exploration.


What kind of style of art do people like?

Interestingly there's a very close relationship between the style of artwork liked by purchasers in both the UK and USA.


Based on sales data in 1 January - 31 December 2016 (Source: Artfinder)


Recommendations

  • Impressionist Landscapes are a safe bet!

  • If you like doing portraits - you'd do better painting animals than people in the UK and/or stick to commissions as a source of income

  • Those submitting lots of still life paintings to open exhibitions might like to ask themselves if they might do better to get out in the fresh air and paint landscapes instead!

I think I'm going to try and see if can crunch some more numbers in future to see if the Artfinder data is a one off or whether it's replicated in other places.


Note: Artfinder is growing quickly. The owners sayes that they currently have over 500,000 subscribers worldwide with 180,000+ pieces of art from 6,000 independent artists around the world.



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Qasir Z Khan

Mi’raj – A Journey of the Soul

Miraj_by_Sultan_Muhammad.jpg
Nizami’s Khamsa’s Five Poems, Tabriz, Iran, 1539–43 depicting the Prophet’s ascent into heaven. (Persian Miniature: Wikipedia)


Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.
(Qur’an 17:1)



Miʿrāj, is the legend of the ascension of Prophet Muhammad into heaven, generally celebrated on the 27th day of Rajab, Laylat al-Miʿrāj (“Night of the Ascension”), although there is no unanimous opinion on the precise date The legend states that the Prophet was taken from Mecca to Jerusalem by Angel Gabriel on a winged, white horse, Buraq, from where he ascends through the seven heavens and is greeted by, and in effect validated by the previous Prophets (Adam, Joseph, Aaron, Moses, Abraham, and Jesus). At the culmination, he sees the lote tree, the Divine Throne, the “house of life” (al-bayt al-mamur – the celestial counterpart to the Kaba).

Amongst the esoteric traditions of Muslims, Mi‘raj is symbolic of the spiritual search leading the soul to the state of spiritual union with the Divine. The story of the journey has constituted a popular theme in Islamic art. “The story of the journey has further entered into universal literature; it is claimed by some scholars, such as Miguel Asin Palacios, that this was the model which inspired Dante’s Divine Comedy.”



In esoteric traditions, Mi’raj is the soul’s leap into mystic knowledge

The ascension of Prophet Muhammad into heaven, Mi’raj, is generally celebrated on the 27th day of Rajab, although there is no unanimous opinion on the precise date. In this legend, the Prophet was prepared for his meeting with God by the archangel Gabriel (Jibrīl) one evening while he was asleep near the Kaʿba, the sacred shrine of Mecca. The Prophet’s heart was purified by removing all traces of error and doubt, and was filled with wisdom and belief.

The site from which the Prophet ascended is now the shrine of the Dome of the Rock.

The Dome of the Rock "JERUSALEM" the holy city of the Jews, sacred also to Christians and Muslims. (Google Maps)

Amongst the esoteric traditions of Muslims, the legend of mi‘raj is symbolic of the spiritual search, describing the soul’s leap into mystic knowledge and eventually to the state of spiritual union with the Divine.

Sources:



Mi’raj – A soul’s journey towards true spiritual knowledge

The ascension of Prophet Muhammad into heaven, Mi’raj, is generally celebrated on the 27th day of Rajab, although there is no unanimous opinion on the precise date. In this legend, the Prophet was prepared for his meeting with God by the archangel Gabriel (Jibrīl) one evening while he was asleep near the Kaʿba, the sacred shrine of Mecca. The Prophet’s heart was purified by removing all traces of error and doubt, and was filled with wisdom and belief.
The legend states that the Prophet was taken from Mecca to Jerusalem by Angel Gabriel on a winged, white horse, Buraq, from where he ascends through the seven heavens and is greeted by, and in effect validated by the previous Prophets (Adam, Joseph, Aaron, Moses, Abraham, and Jesus). At the culmination, he sees the lote tree, the Divine Throne, the “house of life” (al-bayt al-mamur – the celestial counterpart to the K’aba).

The Prophet Muhammad’s Mystical Ascension to Heaven Iran; c. 1580 "Persian Miniature Painting" (The David Collection)

Amongst the esoteric interpretations of Islam, Mi‘raj is symbolic of the highest spiritual stage, leading the soul to the state of spiritual union with the Divine. The story of the soul’s journey towards true knowledge has constituted a popular theme in Islamic art and poetry.


The twelfth-century poet, Farid al-Din Attar expressed his reverence for the event:

“When he [Muhammad] perceived the end
in the beginning,
He heard a call, a message from the Friend.
A call came from the Essence of the All:
“Leave soul and body, transitory one!
You, O My goal and purpose, enter now
And see My Essence face to face,
My Friend!”


In awe, he lost his speech and lost himself –
Muhammad did not know Muhammad here,
Saw not himself – he saw the Soul of Souls,
The Face of Him who made the universe!”


Sources:

James W. Morris, The Mi’raj and Ibn ‘Arabi’s Own Spiritual Ascension


References:

Micheal A. Sells, “Early Muslim Spirituality and Mysticism,” The Muslim Almanac Edited by Azim A. Nanji, Gale Research Inc. Detroit, 1996.



The Mi’raj and the Prophetic Tradition ‘I Have a Time with God’ (li ma’a Allah waqt)

Abstract: Miraj-e-Rasul falls on the 27th night of the Muslim month of Rajab (which, in 2017, falls on Wednesday, March 29th). The Qur’an states that on this night,  the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) was transported from Mecca to Jerusalem, and then taken to the heavens until he came to the Lote Tree (see note 4 below) before finally reaching the Divine Throne. The Qur’an does not offer any more specific details, but the version of the event in the Hadith traditions is more detailed. They describe how the angel Gabriel came to the Prophet Muhammad at night, placed him on a winged beast called Buraq and took him to Jerusalem. From there the angel Gabriel guided the Prophet through the seven heavens introducing him to the angels and the prophets residing in each of them. Finally, when they reached the Lote Tree Gabriel could go no further. From here the Prophet was transported alone on a silk carpet to the Divine Throne.


"In this important piece, Interpretation: of this miraculous night journey from earth to heaven, and the well-known tradition of the Prophet li ma’a Allah waqt."


An illustrated and illuminated leaf from a Persian manuscript: The Night Journey of the Prophet Muhammad, Persia, Safavid, Isfahan, mid-17th century (Sotheby's)

While Muslim artists created marvellous miniatures depicting the Prophet’s mi’raj (ascension) between arrays of fanciful clouds in gold and radiant colours with delightful angels serving him, Muslim poets in their admiration of the event soared high into their imaginative world and portrayed the Prophet in all his glory, flying through the seven heavens to the Mysterious Beyond in the Holy Presence of his God. Over time, a considerable amount of literature grew around the mi’raj of the Prophet. The following is one such expression which can be found among esoteric circles in Islam:

God sent out Gabriel:

“My Muhammad shall come!” He said.
“Take Buraq, draw it before him,
My Muhammad shall mount!” He said.
“He shall go to the city of Medina,
In front of him angels shall fly.
The door of paradise shall open,
My Muhammad shall enter,” He said.
“My Muhammad shall come, shall come,
He shall see and look at My Throne;
He shall pluck the roses of Paradise,
My Muhammad shall smell them,” He said…’ [1]

The original theme of Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.s.) mi’raj upon which the wealth of mi’raj literature has grown, including the above excerpts, is referred to very briefly in the opening verse of chapter 17 of the Holy Qur’an entitled al-Isra (The Nocturnal Journey). [2] It says:

“Glory be to Him Who carried His servant by night from the Sacred Place of Worship (al-masjid al-haram) to the Far Distant Place of Worship (al-masjid al-aqsa) [3] whose precincts We have blessed, that We might show him Our signs. Lo! He alone is the Hearer, the Seer.”

The theme is further expanded in the first eighteen verses of Chapter 53, al-Najm (The Star):

“By the star when it sets, your compatriot errs not, nor is he deceived; nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is nothing save an inspiration that is inspired, which One of Mighty Powers has taught him, endued with Wisdom. And he grew clear to view when he was on the uppermost horizon. Then he drew near and came closer till he was at the distance of two bows-length or even closer.

“And He revealed unto His servant that which He revealed. His heart lied not (in seeing) what he saw.

“Do you then dispute with him concerning what he saw? And indeed, he had seen Him yet another time, near the Lote Tree (Sidrat al-muntaha) [4] of the utmost boundary, near which is the Garden of Repose (jannat al-ma’wa). When the Lote Tree was shrouded (in mystery), his sight swerved not, nor did it wander. Verily he saw the greatest of the signs of his Lord.”

While the Hoy Qur’an doesn’t speak of the event any more than what we have quoted, the version of the event in the books of Hadith is more detailed. However, the mysterious words and phrases mentioned in the quoted Qur’anic verses such as the Sacred Place of Worship (al-masjid al-haram), the Far Distant Place of Worship (al-masjid al-aqsa) , the Lote Tree of the utmost boundary  (sidrat al-muntaha), the Garden of Repose (jannat al-ma ‘wa) go unexplained, as do the references in the literary expressions and the Hadith to the mount of the Prophet (Buraq), the ladder (al-mi’raj) and so on. In this short essay, I wish to offer my interpretation about these terms.

Fragment from page 7 of the Bustan of Sadi. The last two lines of poetry on this page extol the Prophet’s miraculous ascension to the heavens (mi’raj): One night he sat (on his flying steed Buraq) and passed through the heavens. / In majesty and grandeur, he exceeded the angels. / So impulsive, he urged (his steed) into the plain of closeness (to God) / While Gabriel remained behind him at the Lote Tree (of the Limit). Wikipedia


There have been exoteric and esoteric interpretations of mi’raj among Muslims. According to the esoteric interpretation, the mi’raj was a spiritual journey; it was a fitting example of a mystical experience, a breaking through into the unseen world, and a symbol of the rise of the soul from the bonds of the material world to the heights of mystical knowledge through the temple of the heart as noted in the following verses:

“On the path of God
Two places of worship mark the stages.
The material temple,
And the temple of the heart,
Make your best endeavour
To worship at the temple of the heart”. [5]

The Ismaili missionary Pir Shams, in speaking of the heart, says:

…dil manhe deval pujiye
Ane dil manhe dev dwar;
Dil manhe sanhiya aap vasey,
Dil manhe apey didar-re.

Translation:

In the heart worship your Lord,
In the heart is the Lord’s abode;
In the heart the Lord dwells,
In the heart His Face unveils.

The fulfillment of ritual polishing and worshiping in this inner sanctuary of the heart is symbolized by the Prophet’s retirement from his prayers. The journey begins in the heart, the Sacred Place of Worship (al-masjid al-haram). Love is represented by the celestial steed (Buraq) that carries the Prophet to a place in heaven (at-masjid al-aqsa, the Far Distant Place of Worship) where the angels sing praises of Allah.

The Love that we speak of here is divine, and it reminds the soul of its eternal home and leads it to the overwhelming vision of the Divine Light. Rumi says:

Love entered the mosque and said:
“o master and guide,
Tear the shackles of existence — why are you still in
the fetters of the prayer rug?
Let your heart not tremble because of the blow of my sword;
Put down your head if you want to travel
from knowing to seeing!” [6]

Buraq, the heavenly mount of the Prophet, is the symbol of Love. It has strong wings which carry the lover toward the roof of the Beloved:

That is Love, to fly heavenward,
To tear a hundred veils in every moment….[7]

The Prophet enters the temple in heaven (al-masjid, al-aqsa) and sees the assembly of Angels and Prophets and receives the salute of welcome from each of them in turn. Then he is brought three vessels containing wine, honey and milk. He drinks the milk, upon which Gabriel said to him, “O Muhammad! You have been rightly guided.” The contents of the three vessels respectively represent the three states — the state of ‘intoxication’ as in the case of the mystics, the state of ‘annihilation’ (fana) as experienced by Moses who fell senseless to the ground while God revealed Himself at the mountain [8] and the state of ‘prophetic sobriety’ as shown by the Prophet who returns from the Divine Presence without fainting.

Now begins the ascension by means of a ladder (al-ma‘arij) of sublime beauty, to the seventh heaven and into the presence of God.

“I turned my face and looked upward;
I found a ladder (al-ma‘arij)
with alternate rungs of silver and gold” – Prophet Muhammad. [9]

The aspiring soul climbs the ladder that leads to the roof of the Beloved and instantly finds itself in a sate of awe and bewilderment as it recognises that:

“He (Allah) is the Lord of the Ways of Ascent (Dhu ‘l-ma‘arij) by which the Angels and the Spirits ascend unto Him in a day whereof the measure is fifty thousand years.” (Holy Qur’an, 70:3-4)

While ascent (al-ma’arij) in its simple meaning gives a clue to the upward direction of the Prophet’s journey, it proclaims very emphatically that if God has placed man on this earth, He has also set up a ladder for man to climb up to Him. No wonder Allah calls Himself the Lord of the Ways of Ascent (Dhu ’l-ma‘arij).

The rungs of ladder of silver and gold are spiritual stations which are interconnected, yet individually they are distinct and different from each other. Like each step of a ladder, each spiritual station is a rallying point in which the experience of the previous station finds its completion, but where at the same time there is a new level of development and a new departure. It would be wrong to assume each station as an entirely separate experience. There is interpenetration and, what is more, progress is an interrupted climb, it is oscillatory, swinging between the higher and lower spiritual stations:

“(He knows) all that comes down from heaven and all that ascends to it.” (Holy Qur’an, 57:4)

The Prophet and Angel Gabriel arrive at the ‘Lote Tree of the utmost boundary’ (sidrat al-muntaha) at which point Gabriel declares his inability to continue the journey. Rumi explains this as the weakness of the discursive reason which, though useful as a guide on the initial steps of the Path, becomes useless once the seeker has reached the Chamber of Union:

“Reason speaks, like Gabriel: O Ahmad, If I advance one step, He will burn me.” (Mathnavi, 1:1066)

Ibn al-Arabi, the great Muslim mystic and philosopher attributes ascension to the contemplation and love for the Divine, rather than reason. In his Futuhat (ii: 356-375), he makes a believer and a philosopher journey together, but the philosopher stops at the seventh whilst the believer journeys on to feast in the Divine Presence of His Creator.

Beyond the ‘Lote Tree of the utmost boundary’ the Prophet journeys alone. It is the precinct of God Himself. The Prophet experiences the Divine Presence as a column of infinite veils of Light, denied to Gabriel who says:

“Between me and Him (God) are 70,000 veils of Light.”

But soon, for the Prophet, the Supreme Mystery was to unfold Itself. A drama is enacted. The Prophet asks that the eye of the heart be opened in him, and like Moses, he supplicates:

“…My Lord! reveal Yourself to me, that I may look upon You.”

He is not to be denied the Vision. A Voice summons him:

“O soul at peace! Return unto your Lord, well-pleased, and pleasing in His Sight…” (Holy Qur’an, 89:27), and the Prophet enters the Garden of Repose (jannat al-ma’wa). But the Voice summons again: “Come yet nearer.”

He does not see, nor does he apprehend. There is Silence, all-engulfing Silence. There is nothing for him to do, but to draw near and go closer till he is at a distance of two bows-length or even closer. Again the Voice speaks:

“Ask,” and the Prophet prays again: “My Lord! reveal Yourself to me, that I may look upon You.”

And He, The Lord of Majesty and Reverence, reveals Himself unto His servant, that which He wishes to reveal. The Prophet’s eyes do not swerve and nor do they wander. He sees the greatest of the signs of his Lord — His Vision.

When the Prophet returns from this spiritual journey of the ‘Far Distant Place of Worship’ and the ‘Proximity of God’, the bed on which
he had laid was still warm. This explains the secret of the “Eternal Now in God.” In this connection the Prophet has said:

“I have a time with God” (li ma’a Allah waqt).

In spiritual life, serial time no longer exists. The moment a soul breaks through created time and reaches the ‘Eternal Now in God’, everything created is annihilated in its experience. The serial time is torn. Finally, the Prophet says:

“And He revealed to me secrets that I am not allowed to communicate to you.”

His yearning for the ‘exalted station’ becomes intense, and as often as he feels this longing he turns to Bilal and says:

“O Bilal, comfort us by the call to prayer.”

Thus to the Prophet every time of prayer is an ascension (mi’raj) and a new nearness to God.

The mystical interpretation of the mi’raj is all the more revealing, since:

“…The Prophet, although created as the most perfect being, still remains a servant…The opening words of Sura 17 – ‘praised be He Who travelled with His servant at night’ – indicate that even in the moment of rapture the Prophet is still called abduhu, ‘His Servant.’ That implies that ‘servant’ is the highest possible name for a human being who, however, is able to speak to God without being extinguished.” [10]

The Prophet’s journey beyond the ‘Lote Tree of the utmost boundary’, all by himself, is an affirmation of the exalted destiny of man:

“Although Adam had not got wings,
yet he has reached a place that was not destined even for angels.” [11]

And as by the verse “You have indeed in the Apostle of God a beautiful pattern of conduct,” (Holy Qur’an, 33:21), Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) is made an example to be followed; his mi’raj, to the believers, is indicative of the rise of the soul from the plane of material existence to the proximity of God.

“You have been in the station of dust, you have made a hidden journey:
When you have reached the state of Adam, be careful lest you establish yourself there;
You continue the journey, and you travel up to heaven,
And you move bit by bit so that God may give you freedom.” [12]


References:

[1] Yunus Emre, Divan, p575, CCLIV quoted in Poetry in Honour of the Prophet by Annemarie Schimmel in As Through a Veil Mystical Poetry in Islam, p.1 83, Columbia University Press, New York, 1982.

[2] The chapter gets its title ‘al-isra’ from the first verse itself Subhanal lazi asra hi abdihi lailan, “Glory be to Him Who carried His servant by night…”.

[3] al-masjid al-haram in its exoteric interpretation is the Holy Ka’ba at Makkah and al-masjid al-aqsa is the Mosque of Jerusalem which was the Qibla of the Muslims until about 16 months after Hijra when Ka’ba was established as the Qibla. While commanding the highest respect of all Muslims, they are also given an esoteric interpretation by many Muslims.

[4] In ancient times, Arabs often planted a tree to mark the end of a road. The cosmic tree or lote tree which is also called the “tree of the extreme limit” marks the end of the universe. The Prophet described the lote tree as a large tree not resembling any of the trees of paradise. The tree has an infinite number of branches, and every branch has an infinite number of leaves and an angel sits on each leaf. Springs of water, milk, wine and honey flow from the trunk. See The Islamic World edited by John Esposito and Abdulhussein Sachedina, p.117, Oxford University Press.

[5] The Persian Mystics, Wisdom of the East Series, p.35.

[6] Mawlana Rumi, Diwan-i Kabir, quoted in As Through a Veil Mystical Poetry in Islam by Annemarie Schimmel, p.129,130, Columbia University Press, New York 1982.

[7] ibid, p.130.

[8] “And when Moses came at the appointed time and his Lord had spoken to him, he said: ‘My Lord! reveal Yourself to me, that I may look upon You’. He said: ‘You will not see Me, but look upon the mountain; if it remains firm in its place, then only will you see Me.’ And when his Lord revealed His Glory to the mountain, He crushed it to fine dust. Moses fell down senseless, and when he came to himself he said: ‘Glory be to You! I turn unto You in repentance. I am the first of the believers.” (Holy Qur’an, 7:143)

[9] Henry Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, p. 1 74, Spring Publications, Texas.

[10] Mystical Dimensions, p.220.

[11] Khwaja Mir Dard, Urdu Diwan, ed. Khalil ur-Rahman Da’udi, Lahore, 1962 quoted in Mystical Dimensions.

[12] Mawlana Rumi, Diwan-i Kabir, v.2837, quoted in The Triumphal Sun by Annemarie Schimmel, East-West Publications, The Hague, 1978.



"This piece is a revision of the original piece which first appeared in the March 1985 issue of Ilm (Volume 9, Number 2) published by the Shia Imami Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the United Kingdom."



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