A Summary of Quranic Architecture


Unlike most studies of the Quran including studies of its form and structure, this is a vision for the whole Quran in one image, developed using the Quran as a guide, fitting the 114 Surahs in a spiral shell shape like that of the chambered nautilus, in which each surah (the word surah meaning “enclosure”) is envisioned as a separate “chamber,” with 12 surahs per completed “turn” or circle of the spiral, making 9 complete circles and one half-circle. This spiral shape forms a symbolic calendar where each chamber/ surah is one “month”, for a total of 9.5 years. This corresponds to the symbolism of Noah’s ark as his message or Divine revelation whose construction was guided by Allah’s revelations in the same way sacred books were sent. The ark’s being a vessel that protected those who boarded it from the cataclysmic flood symbolically correlates to the Quran as our “ark” protecting those who “board” it—that is, read and be guided by it—from the greatest cataclysm of them all, Judgment Day. The Quran describes Noah as having lived among his people “a thousand years minus fifty years,” or 950 years. Move the decimal point 2 spaces to the left, and you have a match between the time period Noah spent with his people, a kind of “testing” period, and the time period embodied in the Quran’s Architecture as envisioned here, a nautilus-shaped “ark” carrying within it a complete guidance system to safely bring those it “carries” through this life and the coming cataclysm to gardens of unimaginable delight.

The “yearly” cycle represented in this design is not just a shape, but a meaningful symbolic calendar, utilizing the most important cosmic guideposts to ancient civilizations, the timepiece we see in the night sky, and the ecliptic in particular. To this day, we still use stars and other celestial bodies for navigation, and in fact it’s called celestial navigation, a necessary backup to modern technology. It is from this connection to time and navigation that we correlate the “months”/ chambers of our nautilus shell with the constellations of the zodiac, which lie along the ecliptic. Each surah then correlates with a constellation, to which group of 12 is also added the 12 hijri calendar months, giving the placement of the Quran’s surahs and textual elements a way of being visualized as a whole graphically rather than in a linear fashion.

The months, associated here both with cosmic/ astronomical (the zodiac) systems and traditional/ historical (hijri calendar associated with Islamic practices) ones, are not just geometric constructs but rather guide or illuminate the interpretive value of these placements within the spiral.

Of course, people will read the same Quran in the same way, using the many resources already available to help appreciate, understand, and apply its message. The difference lies in seeing how such structural elements as the placement of surahs and ayat contribute to and reinforce the meaning of the text. Patterns of text as well as sonic and visual properties are part of this architecture when studied in closer detail.

One could say the Quran’s architecture shows us a “journey” through the surahs, each of them a kind of sanctuary showing the various placements/ situations in our lives. Our most valuable “worldly” resource being our lifetime, the Quran reveals the meaning and purpose of that lifetime, and how to “spend” it to reach its highest and best outcome.

Although the zodiac is today associated with horoscopes and divination, ancient Arabs used the zodiac “signs” as a timepiece and map, along with their knowledge of the planets, as well as solar and lunar cycles, as evidenced on “tens of thousands of inscriptions” on basalt rocks in a desert region called the Harrah using an ancient Semitic “alphabet” called Safaitic, much different from the Quranic script, but conveying much the same Arabic language understandable to Bedouins now living in the region 2,000 years later.

It should also be noted that “astrology” was once also “astronomy,” and the two were conjoined to the point where scientists in prior eras had to be expert in both. Empiricism, the view, now incorporated with modern science, that the search for truth (now limited to “fact”) must be based on what one can verify using one’s limited senses in a methodical way, has produced technological advancements but also sometimes ignores the necessary leaps of intuitive sense and connection that give context to those facts, making them more comprehensive, thereby inspiring the greatest inventions and advancements in knowledge.

It is that intuition to which the Quran speaks, using “every mathal,” a word which means example, symbol, comparison, metaphor, simile, allegory, parable, and graphic comprehensively. This use of mathal gives the Quran its multiplicity of meaning, layer upon layer. One of the most subtle layers is the graphic produced by this simple and even rather obvious single whole-Quran architecture and image.

With it we can see the Quran in its totality, with the placement of the surahs clearly visible, analogous to seeing the earth from space, where we cannot see life as we know it on the ground (analogous to reading the text), but rather see what it looks like “outside” from a distance. Thus we can see the final surah, An-Nass which means “people”, in the center rather than at the end, showing people in the center of the Quran as both the recipients/ intended audience and focus of attention and responsibility. We can see how Meccan and Medinan surahs are distributed throughout the Quran, as well as surahs that begin with the symbolic letters/ Quranic initials, and other elements. We visualize the Quran as a whole whose placements illuminate and elucidate its text. Even, as with the “blue marble,” our lifetimes can be visualized in the Quran’s structure, with meaning and purpose therein. Connected to our Creator and His greater vision, we return to the Quran’s words again, like astronauts returning to earth, with a renewed appreciation of their wisdom and grace.

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