miriam cooke

The Barzakh of Ecstacy

PUBLICATION: Journal of the Institute for Sufi Studies (2022)


This article examines the ways in which Syrian poet and artist Huda Naamani expresses the inexpressible of ecstasy. In a Sufi epic poem entitled Kitāb al-wajd wa al-tawājud (The Book of Ecstasy and its Indicators), she acknowledges the impossibility of recording the ecstatic experience in words on a page. The only medium open to such a semantic articulation is tawājud or the indicators, feeble linguistic signposts to the ineffable. Beyond tawājud is the wordlessness of the experience of the silence of God. Invoking the Qur’ānic term barzakh, a state in which two elements behave as one, she uses sound and color to draw the reader into an experience that cannot be described but only intuited and felt. In her modernist, mystical lyrics she creates the soundscape of dhikr rituals. The staccato repetitions and the arrangements of letters on the page compel the reader to recite and hear the sounds of the words beyond their lexical meanings. In so doing, the reader is invited to share in the creative act. Interspersed in the pages of this magical, confessional text are Huda’s cloud paintings that document her ecstatic experience from explosion into the barzakh of ecstasy to fanā’ or dissolution in the divine. Hers is an idiosyncratic imagining of the encounter with the divine.