Samir Mahmoud



Color, Symbolism, and the Mystic Quest: the Spiritual Exegesis of Color in Sufism in the Works of Henry Corbin

This paper is an attempt to elucidate one aspect of the phenomenology of color in Islam, namely that found in the works of some mystics. To achieve this it will draw on various mystical commentaries on those Quranic verses that explicitly refer to color. Particular reference will be made to the Sufi commentaries. It will then explore how some of these verses and the nature of color were discussed by Sufis like Najumddin Kubra and `Alludawlah Simnani in their phenomenology of colors. Particular attention will be paid to Henry Corbin’s groundbreaking work on these authors in his The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism and other essays where he elucidates the supra-sensory modes of perception associated with mystic perception and where he explores parallels between these Sufis and Goethe’s Farbenlehre. Some of the questions that will be asked are: What are the implications of these theories of color photisms on our scientific theories of light and color? What can they reveal about the nature of reality? Can the theories of the Sufis on color symbolism as revealing the various states of the mystic quest reveal anything about color in Islamic art? It is not our intention to resolve the problem in this paper but to contribute to the debate. The paper is intended as an introduction to the topic and will rehearse many of the arguments put forward by Henry Corbin with the intention of placing his work on color theory back in the limelight after years of neglect.

SAMIR MAHMOUD is a Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, where the focus of his research is aesthetics in Ibn ‘Arabi. Mr. Mahmoud has won numerous awards from the University of New South Wales and from Cambridge University. His publications include “The Space of Soul: Towards a Phenomenology of Sacred Space,” in Sacred Species and Sites: Guardians of Biocultural Diversity (2008) and “From Heidegger to Suhrawardi: An Introduction to the Thought of Henry Corbin” (2006), published on the official website of Henry Corbin, Mr. Mahmoud has worked previously as a researcher at the Australian Museum, Sydney and as a designer at CIVITAS, an urban design and architecture firm based in Sydney, and has taught courses at the Centre for Muslim-Jewish Relations in Cambridge, UK.

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