Before Alif ما قبل الألف

"The Alif is a symbol of the One who Alone is, of Him whose Being no being precedeth."
— Sheikh Ahmad al-Alawi

Acrylic on paper, cut and assembled on mount board. 50x100 cm framed.

Date3 November 2014
Category, ,

Alif is the first letter in the Arabic alphabet, and possesses deeper symbolism than any other letter. Relevant to this piece, Sheikh Ahmad al-Alawi writes:

“Moreover, thou shouldst know that the appearance of the Alif from the Point was not caused, but the Point overflowed with it. Thus was the primal Alif not traced by the pen, nor was it dependent upon it, but sprung from the outward urge of the Point in its principial centre…. The Alif is a symbol of the One who Alone is, of Him whose Being no being precedeth.”

In other words, the Alif signals the appearance of the first dimension, out of a reality of no dimension, and in this mono-dimensional reality it resides entirely alone, as anything other than a straight line has moved to a two-dimensional plane of reality. Can anything be said, let alone shown, about what came before, this unimaginable zero-dimensional Point?
As it happens, unmanifested reality, or “the place of God before creation”, has also been discussed at length. It is called ‘Ama عماء, the “Blindness”, and is much vaster and fuller than the known world, since it contains all possible potentials.

I had long thought this notion was too transcendent to depict, in response to which an image (sketch below) dropped ready-made into my mind, which I translated into the final piece without any alteration. It evokes the richness and scale of what is hidden in ‘Ama with a geometric pattern layered in different levels, black on black, that crystallizes into the primordial Alif – sharply defined, but flat in comparison.

2 Replies

  • I can’t express how much I love this work. I found you through this piece years ago and I am thankful to you for it. If ever a work of art embodied the distinction between form and the formless perfectly it was this. Using one letter you have captured all the teachings of truth that have ever or will ever be written.

A penny for your thoughts...