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rise and fall

Left: Sunrise on Maui, March 14th 2022, over Mount Haleakala

Right: Sunset on Maui, March 15th 2022, from the peak of Mount Haleakala

on rise and fall

These pictures are of sunrise and sunset, respectively from the bottom and the peak of Mount Haleakala, the highest point on Maui, and one of the island’s two volcanic foundations. I cropped these photos so that the landmass appears to be continuous across the photos, despite their different vantage points.

Relating the work to concepts of Islam, on one level, there is the expression of light, which connects with popular Islamic imagery of the light of the prophets, Nur Muhammad, and the light verse in the Quran (24:45). However, what I am most interested in with this work is the concept of volcanoes, sunrise and sunset, and their ties to Sufi devotion and alast.

The day of alast, when God asked “Am I not your Lord?” and all of creation blinked into existence to respond “Yes, we witness it,” as Carl Ernst argues in The Shambala Guide to Sufism, is a day that creation became forever attached to God through love and devotion (Ernst 185). Alast is a cosmic reminder that we have come from nothing and upon dying, will return to the void space of our creation. While alive, then, we are separated from God, but connected to him through “a secret. . . in the human heart. . . which is concealed like a spark in stone but which blazes forth when struck with the steel of sama’” (ibid), sama’ being a Sufi ceremony for listening and longing for God and the created, a means to connecting with the divine. Summarily, as Ernst notes,

The source of sama’ is said to be the rapture or attraction (jadhb) of God, a kind of energy that irresistibly draws one towards him. (ibid)

In my work, this beautiful attraction is represented by the sunrise and sunset, which are beautiful bookends to the day that resemble a cyclical birth from, and return to, the darkness of night. Thus, the repetition of sunrise and sunset proves a physical demonstration of the transcendent beauty and inevitability of birth and death, the transcendent beauty of alast and the source of sama’ in one. Although you may not hear the photos, the mystic source of sama’ is there in the hypnotic beauty of the scene which forces you to attention.

More, as a volcano, Mount Haleakala is associated with the Hawaiian Goddess Pele — who is represented, in part, by the destructive and creative forces of volcanoes, with the power to raise islands from the sea, but also destroy life upon those islands when erupting. This association of creation and destruction happening simultaneously resonates strongly with conceptions of the day of alast and human life — a creative and mystical journey that temporarily destroys primordial unity.

Ultimately, alast and sama’ are represented in this piece in both the volcano and the sunrise/sunset, a reminder of the divine creation and divine end of all existence, and of the mystic beauty that lays in between, if only we pay attention to it.



note: the reflection is from Week 8 Section readings

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