the cube - history

The subject matter of this website (and its corresponding book publication) is derived from "The Most Sublime Purpose in Explaining the Attributes of Divine Perfection", the treatise by Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (450-505 AH / 1058-1111 AD). The text, reproduced in Arabic and English translation, is complemented by the art-work of the prominent Arab artist and scholar, Dr. Ahmed Moustafa, whose work The Attributes of Divine Perfection reproduced on this page is also presented as a three dimensional artifact accompanying the book.
It should be stated from the outset that Dr. Moustafa's representation of The Attributes Of Divine Perfection is not a merely subjective or imaginative illustration but an objective representation of the inherent relationship between the One and the Many, and, more specifically, an embodiment of the well known hadith qudsi*: "God has ninety-nine names, one hundred minus one. Whoever enumerates them enters Paradise."

The phrase "one hundred minus one" is not simply a poetic or rhetorical expression synonymous with "ninety-nine". Superficial counting of the inner cubes might lead one to believe that there are a hundred, not ninety-nine, but the diagrams in the "home" section (The Cube) clarify how a comprehensive view of the artifact (and the various interrelationships between segments derived from different diagonals) demonstrate that what appears to be the hundredth inner cube of one segment is actually the cornerstone of the opposite segment which has been opened in a complementary direction. In other words, the apparent hundredth cube forming the base cube of any opened segment needs to be subtracted from the superficial count of one hundred cubes within that segment because it does not belong to it but to a complementary segment. Thus, it becomes evident that the phrase "one hundred minus one" is not a rhetorical embellishment but a precise reference to a mathematical reality.

Dr. Moustafa's depiction of The Attributes Of Divine Perfection is therefore not in any sense a personal conception, invention, speculation or conjecture but is rather a disclosure, unlocking or unveiling of sacred knowledge, an objective rationale uniting the meaning of the hadith qudsi with a form which explains, expresses and illuminates it. Its impact lies in the fact that its form is perfectly wedded to its meaning.

The ninety-nine names are sometimes referred to as the "universal names" to distinguish them from the innumerable names which are manifested in Creation. The visual key provided by Dr. Moustafa's artifact unlocks and illuminates the relationship between the ninety-nine "universal names" and the All-Comprehensive Name (al-Ism al-jamic) or All-Embracing One Reality. It also points to the existence of the innumerable names through the fact that each smaller cube within the main cube can be opened up into more sub-cubes, ad infinitum. Furthermore, there are two opposite yet complementary openings of each of the twelve edges of the cube, either in a north-south (vertical) or east-west (horizontal) direction, giving a total of twenty-four possible openings. Thus, the cube embodies both space and time, the four cardinal points of the compass and the twenty four hours of the day, signifying the omnipresence of the All-Embracing Reality. "Wherever you turn, there is the face of God" (Qur'ân 2:115).

Of course, only one opening of the cube from the various options will be sufficient to reveal the ninety-nine names, but it is important to bear in mind the multifaceted nature of the cube in terms of its various possible openings and their interrelationships. We have seen how this "comprehensive view" is essential if we are to count the number of inner cubes correctly, and we have also seen how it enables us to grasp the omni-presence of God and the exponential and limitless expansion of His attributes in His creation.

Dr. Moustafa's visual depiction of The Attributes Of Divine Perfection makes the relationship between Unity and Multiplicity immediately accessible and palatable to us through its concrete and tangible form, even though there are many layers of meaning which will only reveal themselves to us through prolonged study, contemplation, devotional practice and action. To this end the artifact will assist believers to enumerate their portion of the divine attributes in the conduct of their own lives, while remembering that the perfection of all the Names belongs to God alone, for the servant assumes the attributes and names as his traits and becomes adorned by them only to a specific limit. Even then, it needs always to be borne in mind that, given the limitations of man, it is his conscious intentions that will be judged, for "nought shall be accounted unto man but what he is striving for" (Qur'ân 53:39).

By demonstrating visually that the ninety-nine names are encompassed by the All-Comprehensive Name, Dr. Moustafa's artifact is an exhortation to embody the names as far as possible in our lives and yet always to acknowledge that "No human vision can encompass Him, whereas He encompasses all human vision" (Qur'ân 6:103).

On another level, it reminds us, in the words of another hadith qudsi, that "Neither my heavens nor My earth encompass Me, but the Heart of My believing servant does encompass Me." The Heart of the believing servant, emptied of the lower self, may be likened to the empty space within the Kacbah (a word which means "cube" in Arabic), within which every orientation faces the qibla, hence "And God's is east and west; and wherever you turn, there is the face of God. Behold, God is infinite, all-knowing" (Qur'ân 2:115).

Dr. Moustafa's artifact illuminates the paradox of the simultaneous Absence and Presence of God, "utterly remote in His limitless glory" (Qur'ân 59:23), yet "closer to you than your jugular vein" (Qur'ân 50:16).

Muhammad Jamil Thomas (Jeremy Henzell-Thomas)

* Hadith qudsi is a direct revelation from God to the Prophet but expressed in the words of the Prophet, whereas the Qur'ân is the revealed word of God.

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