Thomas Ramey Watson

The Mystical Side of Music

Ali Z. Hussain writes:

Lately, I have noticed that the only moments during the day when I can maintain an absolute silence is when my fingers are hosting my feelings and the piano in a conversation. Perhaps one might be inclined to think that this is the reason why my lips are sealed shut, because my hands are the ones participating in a dialogue with the instrument. Perhaps that is so, but I think there is another subtle power to music that only becomes evident once we compare this medium of communication with its writing counterparts, prose and poetry.

For Muslim mystics, such Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-ʿArabi (d. 1240), prose is the ideal medium for communicating divine law; a body of knowledge that requires a definitive and non-ambiguous set of terminology and syntax. On the other hand, it is poetry alone that can satiate the passion of the mystic to express the ambiguous and perplexing nature of the mystical experience; where clear boundaries of the law give way to the paradox of the supra-rational. We may posit this distinction as one where prose operates within the realm of the intellect, with its abstract concepts and categories and where poetry rules supreme in the land of the qalb (heart) and rūḥ (spirit); where a constant taqallub (fluctuation) and murāwaḥa (vascillation) is the definitive state of reality.

However, anybody familiar with Ibn al-ʿArabi’s thought and the larger discourse on cosmo-ontology and saintology in Islamic mysticism knows that there is yet another ‘beyond’ to these two realms of the intellect and spirit. In the human microcosm, this third aspect of the laṭīfa rabbāniyya (lordly subtlety) that forms our cognitive faculties is called al-sirr (the secret). Alongside the intellect, heart, soul and spirit the secret constitutes the human communication center with the divine; it is God’s throne in our being and is, sine qua non, the divine trace in the human body.

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