The Zahuri Web Site - Article:
The following article was received from Muhammed Siraj Elschot, a founder member of this
website who lives in Holland. Siraj was a devoted disciple of Dr Zahurul Hassan Sharib for over
twenty five years and has made great contributions to the spiritual life of Holland.
'Alam al-khayal (the world of imagination)
You may have seen the movie "What Dreams May Come". It gives a depiction of what happens to
a husband and his wife after death. When the two of them were still alive, then the place where
they first met became a place of their happiest memories, a place they often fondly remembered, a
place they wanted to return to. After the death of the husband he sees and visits this place of his
dreams. In his afterlife his former thoughts, ideals, etc. have become his actual surroundings. So
the afterlife shows a reversal: his inner processes when he was still alive have become his outside
surroundings. This is a depiction of what the sufis say about the 'alam al-khayal, the world of
imagination where we'll be after death. I have been told that sufis have been helping in the design
aspects of the aforementioned movie.
It so happened that a painter exhibited his latest painting. It was a partridge. All visitors admired
the quality of the painting. When a cat saw the painting it was so realistic that the cat wanted to
attack the partridge. Then Ibn al-'Arabi entered to see the painting. The artist asked him what he
thought of it and he said that he thought it to be very beautiful, but… 'But what?' - asked the
painter. Then the sufi pointed out a mistake in regard to the proportions of the painting. The
painter then kissed the hand of the shaykh and said that he had made the mistake on purpose to
see if anyone would notice it.
Not only is this a reference to the creative name of Allah, the Fashioner, but it is also showing
something that an artist and a sufi have in common: the faculty of imagination (khayal). It is
tempting to say more about Persian miniatures which depict the world of the imagination or to
compare the music of the Sufis with aspects of this world, but then this would call for a separate
Imagination is the key to the world of imagination ('alam al-khayal). This world has been created by
Allah as an intermediary between the world of the spirit and the world of the body. Why? Because
of the fact that the power of governing of the body has been given to the spirit and as the
essences of spirits and bodies are completely different it is impossible to have a direct relationship
between them. So a barrier (barzakh) has been created between the two.
The journey that 'we' make has a descending and an ascending mode. Descending: before birth
the soul travels through the world of the spirit and the world of imagination. Ascending: returning to
Allah through the world of imagination and the world of the spirit. This returning does not only take
place after death, but also during dreams and it is part of your spiritual development.
The world of imagination partakes of the attributes of both worlds next to it. That is why in dreams
we can have access to this world as spiritual realities which cannot be perceived in themselves are
'clothed' in subtle matter, so that is why we can see things in this world. There are two levels in this
'alam al-khayal. One of them is closer to the world of the spirit and the other is closer to the world
of the body. The imagination in the highest level is absolute while the imagination at the other level
is limited. Everything manifested in the higher level of the world of imagination corresponds totally
and correctly to the world of the spirit from which it gains its existence.But the lower level is
coloured by the nature of the receptacle, e.g. by the mental faculties of the person who perceives
In exercising their imagination most people see images which are delimited by their own selves and
circumstances. In contrast the perfect men have overcome their individual limitations; what they
contemplate at the lower level corresponds exactly to the higher level. Therefore what they see is
So if we have a dream wherein it is made clear to us that we should sacrifice our oldest son, then
we should be careful with its interpretation. When the prophet Abraham had such a dream its
meaning was different.
You may remember that the prophet Muhammad (Allah's blessings and peace be upon him) got a
visit from a man dressed in very white clothes who asked him about Islam, iman (faith) and ihsan
(excelling in virtue). How could his clothes be so white as he must have made a long travel through
the desolate hot areas around Mecca? It was in fact the angel Gabriel whose body was an
When he asked about ihsan, the prophet said that ihsan is 'to worship Allah AS IF you see Him, for
if you do not see Him, He sees you'. The use of the words AS IF make it clear that imagination is
the instrument used in this contemplation of God.
As the eye - or better said the purification of the faculty of seeing - is the key to contemplation ,
likewise the faculty of imagination is the key to the 'alam al-khayal. There are in fact seven
faculties of the soul:
1. Common sense
6. Irascible appetite
7. Concupiscible appetite.
So you should not think that imagination is the same as fantasy. As there is more beyond the world
of imagination, likewise imagination should not overpower all the other faculties. The 'king' of the
inner senses should be the common sense and then imagination (under the domination of the
common sense) will be used in a balanced way.
The experiences of the 'alam al-khayal are in a way the opposite of those of the ordinary world. In
our everyday world you have a fixed exterior and changing thoughts and states. In the world of the
imagination you experience the reverse thereof. Your changing states create an ever-changing
outward surroundings. This can be experienced after death, but the truth hereof is also known
during dreams. In case you are afraid in your dream, you will find yourself in a situation wherein
you will be attacked. Your first seeing of thorns and later on roses are the outside manifestations
in the dream-world of your alternating states. This almost fluently and quickly changes into
different situations you have to face in your dreams originating in your lusts, hopes, certainty, love,
It is interesting to read what Jean During, the foremost Western authority in the field of sufi music
has to say about the world of imagination in connection to sufi music. A musical note can be seen
as something that has the same properties as the images of the world of the barzakh, the world of
You may also visit in your dreams, in your visions, before this life or in the life hereafter one of the
two cities in the world of imagination which are called Jabalqa and Jabarsa:
Jabalqa is the world of archetypes (mundus archetypus) located to the East and turned towards
the spiritual entities; it is the interworld (barzakh) between the supra sensory world and the world
visible to the senses. It contains all the archetypes of the universe and thus of necessity is an
immense city. Jabarsa, to the West, is the world of the image, the interworld in which the spirits
dwell when they have left the world of earthly existence.
It deals with an intermediary world, so the city is not found by means of ordinary geography. One
can visit it in dreams, when awake by means of the faculty of imagination (but in both cases it is
better to travel with a visa) and after death.
Mohammed Siraj Holland, November 1999.
Published by The Zahuri Sufi Web Site: November 1999