SYMBOLISM OF THE NUMBER SEVEN IN ISLAMIC CULTURE AND RITUALS
Most cultures of the
world hold certain numbers to be especially significant, even symbolic, and
this is reflected in their religions. In the Abrahamic traditions, which originate
in the Middle East, the number seven is of particular importance. Some of its
significance stems from the ancient Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations, which
identified seven planets and framed seven days of the week around them. Very
early among Middle Eastern peoples, seven became known as a "perfect"
number, symbolic of completeness and goodness. This essay will examine particularly
the significance of seven-symbolism in Islamic culture and religion.
The miraj or Ascension story of the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632 C.E.), the Prophet
of Islam, is of particular importance in reference to the miraculous nature
of the number seven. According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended
into the seven heavens during his lifetime in Jerusalem, either physically or
spiritually, and came into direct contact with the divine. This is the reason
why Jerusalem is one of the three important holy sites for Muslims (in addition
to Mecca and Medina), and why The Dome of the Rock, a commemorative octagon
building divided into seven separate panels, was built to honor the event. This
story, also mentioned in the Qur'an is a favorite among Muslims, and may be
one of the reasons for the popularization of the number seven in Islamic societies.
Numerous examples may be cited to illustrate how Muslims reinforce the significance
of the number seven in practice and belief. For example, when Muslims perform
the tawaf or circumambulation around the Ka'ba in Mecca, they walk around it
seven times. During the yearly Muslim pilgrimage, or Hajj, Muslims stone the
statues of the devils three times using seven stones in each round. Also in
the Hajj, the seven-fold run between Safah and Marwah indicates its importance.
The fundamental expression of Muslim faith, the shahada, testifying to the fact
that "There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God"
is composed of seven words in Arabic.
There are seven styles of Arabic calligraphy. omit that -it's contentious among
Muslims The number seven is important to the belief system and cyclical view
of time held by the Ismaili Shi'a Muslim sect, also known as the Seveners. In
Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, ascetics model their sevenfold path to enlightenment
after the Prophet Muhammad's Ascension into the seven heavens. The number seven,
in addition to being incorporated into art and children's stories, such as "The
Seven Voyages of Sinbad" from the popular Arabian Nights, also turns up
time and again in rite of passage ceremonies to protect oneself from evil spirits.
For example, a wedding ritual in Pakistan involves seven happily married wives
touching the bride's wedding dress to ensure a happy marriage.
The number seven is a key symbol in many Muslim cultural productions, both secular
and religious, including art, architecture, folklore, literature, and ritual
practices. There are approximately twenty-five references made to the number
seven in the Qur'an the sacred text of Muslims. These references usually concern
the seven heavens, the seven periods of creation, seven groups of things, or
seven individuals, such as the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. An allusion made to
the number seven in the Qur'an typically includes references to God as the all-powerful
creator. Thus, the number seven is directly linked to the power of the divine
and has great symbolic value as an expression of Muslim belief and the miracles
Comparisons to Other Religions
The importance of the number seven can be seen in numerous cultural and religious
traditions worldwide, such as the near-ubiquitous seven-day week which comes
from the ancient Near East and has been spread throughout the world by the three
Abrahamic religions.. In Judaism and Christianity, there are the seven days
of creation, and in Christianity seven deadly sins and seven cardinal virtues.
In Judaism, the Sabbath, or seventh day of the week, is considered a sacred
day, and seven is also a key number in Jewish mysticism. The number seven is
also important for Zoroastrians because it is seen as the perfect union between
man and woman and the spiritual and material (the number three in reference
to the masculine tri-part spiritual-soul, body, mind-and the number four in
reference to the feminine material elements--earth, air, fire and water).
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