Quranic Architecture: Overview

The whole Quran arrangement in one image, beginning with Al-Fatiha, literally ”the opening” of the architectural ”shell.”

Because the size of the image is too small to fit the surah names, you can download or view their names by number above to see which surah fits where by its name. Also a chart below shows the correspondence between the “houses”: the first 12 surahs each determine the “house” number, the circled numbers on the outside corresponding to both Hijri calendar month names and zodiac constellation associated with that month. Think of the “house” as a “piece” of the whole “pie” or circle. It includes all the “chambers” within that section. Please check my Summary on the subject, as well as my posts on the Chambered nautilus as a symbol and the Quran as a calendar.

“Quranic Architecture,” as a term, refers to how the Quran is arranged and presented, which includes structural, stylistic, and graphic elements, with the goal of presenting the Quran as a whole in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of its meaning and our relationship to it as readers. By close structural analysis, using ayat from the Quran itself, of visual, sonic, and other graphic elements in the Quran, such as the order of Suras or the placement and frequency of key words and phrases, we provide a method to contribute a deeper understanding of the message and assist in both interpretation and memorization of the Quran.

This blog is concerned with how analysis of these elements in the context of the Quran as a whole revelation, without reliance on traditional interpretations or hadeeths, can contribute toward an understanding of Quranic priorities, message, and the meaning of faith itself, by avoiding the contradictions in tafseer or interpretation that in turn create divisions between Muslims. To that end, this is only a unique framework for study of the Quran available to all who are interested in studying the Quran, but not a new “school” or “sect” at all. It is not presented as a “Quran Alone” site so much as a Quran-centered site, with a mind to unite and include the whole Muslim world in a broader understanding of Allah, of the role of the Prophet, and of Islam itself. A summary of Quranic Architecture can be found here.

As an example of how the graphic and sonic elements in words can be examined to discover greater truths, please check out this article from this site, analyzing the amazing phrase “La illaha illa Allah” which means “there is no god but God” in Arabic, for English-speakers. It uses only 3 unique Arabic letters, the same 3 unique letters used to form the name Allah in Arabic, with the total Arabic letter count for the phrase as 12. Also the name of Allah (glory to Him in the highest) in Arabic, when studied in this way, reveals its letter placement as well as sonic properties as miraculously and powerfully elucidating the deepest meaning of Allah’s Might and Mercy, and the depth of meaning in our relationship to the Creator as His creatures/ worshippers. Both examples also show how the Arabic text can be understood in the sense of the original to people who do not speak or understand Arabic, by presenting key words and phrases in the universal language of visual images and what the Quran terms mathal, or examples/ parables/ symbols/ graphics/ metaphors/ etc, comparing profound truths to what we know or experience in ourselves and the world around us.

Quranic Architecture also refers to how all the Surahs of the Quran, which are arranged roughly from the largest in the beginning to the smallest at the end, fit into a spiral shape, reminiscent of the chambered nautilus shell in a cutaway view, but of course much larger to accommodate all 114 Surahs. This gives us a view of the Quran analogous to the earth as seen from space: we can see the whole (shape/ image) but not the particulars (text, content). One can then “zoom in and out” to examine the words as they are meaningfully placed in the whole. In fact, this arrangement, shown above, forms a symbolic calendar. There is thus a meaningful order to this arrangement, forming a textual “ark”, analogous to Noah’s ark in the sense that only those who “board” (in this case read) the “ark” will be saved from the ultimate cataclysm/ “flood” of the Day of Resurrection/ Judgment Day, for which the story of Noah’s ark was in fact an allegory.

This is confirmed in the “match” between the number of “turns” or complete circles are in this “shell” calendar, expressed as 9.5 years, and the correlating number of years Prophet Noah stayed with his people being 950 years (Quran 29:14). This match, made by moving the decimal point two spaces to the left, reflects a direct mathematical relationship revealed by placing 12 Surahs (each surah in a chamber representing one month) in each full turn of the spiral — forming a 12-month year as the Quran describes “12 months in the book of Allah” (Quran 9:36), and certainly the Quran is a “book of Allah”. It takes 9.5 circles/ years to “fit” 114 “months” (surahs/ chambers) into this spiral shape, or simply one can say 114 Surahs divided by 12 months = 9.5. A simple mathematical correlation embedded into significant meaning (you can “enter” the Quran’s guidance by reading to understand it) and message (there is an inevitable coming catastrophe ordained and known fully only by Allah the Creator of all things, and by reading/ boarding/ acting-upon that Quranic guidance, you will be saved from that catastrophe, Judgment Day).

The Quran states that water is the origin of all life, making the nautilus shell a perfect metaphor for the Quran’s protection against both the “sea” of life and the more cataclysmic “sea change” to the end of time as we know it, the next life or Hereafter.

Considering that each “chamber” contains one Surah, with the first Surah, Al-Fatiha, being on the open end of the shell, hence in a position that identifies its meaning, “The Opening,” we can envision the significance of Al-Fatiha as representing prayer as our “opening” to life and protection against its dangers.

Hence the importance of salat prayer is expressed at the very entrance into the Quran, suggesting that we “enter” its “gate” or opening sujadan or “prostrating” as Allah commanded, in other allegorical yet also real events (Quran 2:58, 4:154, 7:161), the children of Israel (Jacob) to enter prostrating through the gate of a city in the “promised land” (also symbolizing paradise, noting the reference to the promised land as “flowing with milk and honey” later describing Paradise using the same words in the Quran). The word for prostrate is usually translated “bowing humbly” because it is hard to visualize people actually entering or moving forward while in that position, but to “bow” is a different word ruku’a which was not used. The use of this word here rather refers to both the attitude of prostration, the body language of sincere worship and complete submission, and the actual position as a word and act associated powerfully with salat, the obligatory daily prayer. They did not do as Allah commanded, “changing the statement” Allah told them to say and thus disobeying Him, an act of arrogance/refusal directly opposite to prostration. We now have the best “statement” in Al-Fatiha, the best of prayers.

Thus you can see how this nautilus architecture helps illustrate and reveal the direct allegorical relationship between actual events described in the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran, with the final urgent warning the Quran presents again, this time in the fusion of narratives and other textual elements with its wondrous architecture, revealed in the geometry suggested by closely analyzing the text.

In the beginning of our journey through the Quran, there is prayer, or as a “chamber” one could call it the “house of prayer”. And the final Surah, Al-Nass (pronounced “An-nass”) which in English means “people,” refers to the Quran’s intended audience or readers: us, the people. In this shell architecture, the final Surah named “people” referring to us, is in the center, because by reading the Quran we “activate” it in our hearts, providing the ultimate protection against “the retreating whisperer,” our nemesis Satan whose reference is in the “heart” or 4th aya position in that final Surah 114. This means that our hearts, where our souls reside, have been a battleground between good and evil, but over our very survival/ hoped-for success in the Hereafter; the final Surah then can “seal” our hearts from the devil/ evil to the side of Allah/ paradise if we maintain our prayers throughout the journey. The last 3 ayat then re-connect us to the beginning Al-Fatiha “opening” or gate, completing the 4th position of salat which is prostration, making us “Re-enter” the 7 ayat of Al-Fatiha, bypassing the 7 “gates” of hell (by entering the gate prostrating) and thus entering Allah’s acceptance or paradise. But to understand this and be properly guided, we need Quranic guidance. And the word “Quran” means “recitation” or “reading”, unequivocally telling us in its very title why it was sent: to be read by people.

It is our hope that this site (which is also a project relating to the larger study to be presented in more comprehensive ways) will encourage Muslims, and all people of faith interested in finding the truth, to actually read the Quran to discover its overwhelming and mind-blowing, beautiful, and simply all-important, meaning.