Islamic Seven

THE SYMBOLISM OF THE NUMBER SEVEN IN ISLAMIC CULTURE AND RITUALS
Mehnaz Sahibzada


Introduction

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.

History
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.

Religious Significance
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 of God.


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).

References

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Menninger, Karl. 1991. Number Words and Number Symbols. New York: Dover Publications.

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Sahibzada, Mehnaz. "Islamic Numerology: Numerical Symbols in Cultural Productions, Ritual Practices, and Cosmological Doctrines." M.A. Thesis, University of Texas, 1999.

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Web Links

http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/index.htm

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