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The Inner Apartments

"Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam", Willy Pogany (1882 – 1955), Hungarian

The conservative thought that has come to emergence on the Internet, the one that loves quotes of Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, and Roger Scruton, loves to speak of architecture and beauty suggesting that architecture should not be separate from beauty. The sentiment has given birth to countless Twitter and Instagram accounts with thousands of followers. And while their approach has brought a discussion about these, many of those who run these Internet platforms, fail to philosophically engage with their assertions. This leads to "Beauty will save the world" quotes shared with random photos of Florence - the wise insights that we may have gained reading the aforementioned thinkers are lost, and beauty, and therefore architecture is reduced to "it looks nice". While beauty (as in symmetry) may be observable to everyone, different people, obviously, have different ideas of what "looks nice". Sensorial perception therefore cannot be the source of knowledge about the phenomena - senses observe & the Intellect knows.

Traditional architecture - be it Balinese villages (x) built in accordance to ideas in Balinese Hinduism, temples, churches, mosques, all have rules by which they are built, and those rules are metaphysical, in a sense that mircocosm mirrors the macrocosm. Indeed, they often do "look nice", as beauty magnetises, invites and initiates into the mystery. Beauty wants to be gazed at so it could be seen through. The sensorial bliss we experience from interaction with it is but reflection of the spiritual bliss.


The Harem

"Ladies of Kabul showing unveiling in zenana areas", James Rattray (1818 – 1854), English

The word "harem" is known to the West as a place where concubines and slave women in Muslim courts would dwell - but that's not the only use. Harem is any space reserved only for women, but courtyard (usually walled) of the mosque is also known as harem. The word "haram", meaning forbidden comes from the same Arabic root h - r - m, and depending on where and what vowels we place, we get slightly different meanings - some of those can be sacred, forbidden, it can also mean a cloak.

In my own culture, a traditional Bosnian Muslim house was built carrying the same idea - the first door, and door that are going out to the street, are an entrance into the male yard, and male rooms are usually there too. Then, through the hallway (known as "hajat" or "divanhana", depending on the floor it is on, and a traditional Muslim house usually had a ground floor and a second floor) or through the door in the garden, one reaches female parts of the house and female parts of the garden. Female part of the house usually had a window in the upper floor, on which women could sit and look at the street. The female parts are the inner areas of the house and the yard, while the male ones are those through which one goes into outer world (road) or into inner world (female part). This segregation may seem offensive to us, but it reflects a core idea within Muslim thought, shared probably by both the most orthodox kalam theologians and the most heterodox of qalandariya Sufis - that God is both manifest and hidden, both present in the world and completely outside of it, both imminent and transcendent and at the same time, unity of every contradiction.

The inner, or the esoteric realm is usually associated with the feminine, as is the external, illusionary world or Maya that we engage with. The two door in the male part of the house, that male part being the consciousness & knowledge within each of us, give an option whether we choose to engage with the Illusion, or whether we open the gate to the inner apartments and go into the Night. The Illusion is alluring, beautiful and inviting, as it allows the great drama of life to play out on its stage, it gives wealth, glory, and everything else we desire. The Night may offer the bliss and beauty of the intimate embrace, and may make one wish for death and hereafter more than they wish for life, as engaging with life may seem meaningless and pointless after.


The Freedom of the Night

"It is the Night of Power, the scroll

Of loss is rolled away.

 Salam. All through the night is peace.

Peace until break of day.

My heart in travel on the path

Of love, be strong and true.

You are to be requited for

Each step along that way.

And even though you wound me with

Disdain and banishment,

I'll not repent of what I am:

A wanton debauché.

My heart is gone. I caught not one

Sight of its sweet thief's face.

Such tyranny! Such heartlessness!

What else is there to say?

Dear Lord, O Lord! Restore the light

Of morning to my heart.

The dark of separation's night

Has wiped my sight away.

Hafiz, endure this faithless torment

If you seek love and faith.

Profit in any business means

An up-front cost to pay." - Hafiz (Ghazal 246)

It is our general assumption that the night is when the most crime and debauchery happens. Hidden from the light, in the shadows, it is easier to hide - the night permits and allows that which daylight forbids.

The external world and life is full of restrictions, limits, rules, and laws - so that things do not dissolve into chaos and threaten our comforts. The inner life, however, offers us boundless and limitless freedom - in our imagination, projecting ourselves into the emptiness of our minds, we can be anything and anyone. The physical world cannot impose its limits there, and we may exist as a pure consciousness, enjoying the dance and play with our own emptiness. Likewise, in the harem, or the inner rooms, sometimes, the things that the law and theology forbid would happen - revelry, pleasures, dance, intoxicants - everything was allowed as long as it remained hidden in the night's secret and never be known to the external world or other people. It is in those inner apartments that the sometimes arrogant, proud, and for the orthodox theology, blasphemous poetry of those like Ghalib and Al Hallaj appears. The Night allows for greater closeness and intimacy, and in that intimacy, more is permitted than it is forbidden. The Night shows no judgement or restriction, it allows everything to express its innermost essence so that they may know themselves. By allowing that which is deemed forbidden, Al-Ghafūr (الغفور) - "The All Forgiving" and Al-Ghaffār (الغفار) - "The Forgiving", is able to manifest into the lives of His slaves. How else is a human to be perfectly obedient and a perfect slave to His Lord, if a human denies His Lord to manifest one of His attributes by which He is known?

While the Night allows, it also hides. Perfect intimacy manifests only when hidden from the vulgar gaze of the masses. Would you speak of a perfect night you spent with your lover, of the ecstasy experienced, of the wine and sherbet that flew, of the music that played? It would deprive others from knowing of it after being lured into the inner apartments.


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