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image of Religion and the Arts

Recent studies of Islamic mysticism have unearthed and developed the central role of "imagination" in Sufism and mystical philosophy. This has been done in conscious contrast to the perceived "degradation of the image" in Western thought. Imagination is said to be both a cosmological and a noetic realm in the midst of a hierarchy of universes that mark, at the same time, different stations on the initiatory path of human beings on their way to God. Into these well laid-out plans of worlds and images, my paper introduces a component that is found very rarely in these studies and occurs, rather, in Islamic hagiographic texts about the lives of Saints or the "Friends of God" (awliya'). This component is the motive of "following," or obedience to the Prophet (sequela prophetae). In one particular account of a meeting of two "Friends of God," reference is made to the incapacity of imagination to contain—i.e. to imagine—one of them. The remedy for this incapacity is, strangely enough, expressed by a word (imtathala) which itself contains the element of imagination and means "obedience." The sequela prophetae appears, thus, not as an addition to imagination, something like its guide, but as a way of imagining that is unthought.

Affiliations: 1: The American University in Cairo


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