The World of Image
A life-long research into one of the most original developments of Islamic thought

عالم المثال: بحث مدى الحياة في واحدة من التطورات الأكثر تطورا في الفكر الإسلامي

'The world of image', ʿālam al-mithāl, also referred to as 'imaginal world', is a concept developed by medieval Islamic intellectuals. It is highly innovative and finds no direct ancestor in Greek philosophy, nor even a distant cousin in any other culture. Studying this notion is one of the key ways to dismantle the narrative that the Islamic world entered a dark age after the 11 th century, from which it supposedly never recovered.
It seems to me that the notion was picked up in four distinctly different ways. Each of these four ways will be subject to an investigation through a project. The first two projects are described below.


Eschatology and the World of Image in Suhrawardi and His Commentators

1. The first way is how the philosopher Suhrawardī (d. 1191) and his commentators developed the notion. They eventually propose this term to denote a world beyond our earthly world, to be reached in sleep, meditation or after death. This world of image consists of non-physical (imagined) bodies, providing a philosophical interpretation of bodily resurrection.

Ibn Arabi's Reshaping of the Muslim Imagination

2. Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240), the great mystic who had a tremendous influence on Islamic culture, together with his commentators, also uses the notion, but in a different way. For them, the world of image explains the multiplicity of creation and its characteristic of constantly going in and out of existence. If God alone truly exists, then the actual creation is a mere act of imagination of Him. Humans can therefore penetrate the truth of existence best through their imaginative faculty of imagination, not their intellectual faculty.

Patrons and Timeline

Suhrawardī project

European Research Council, Starting Grant #263308

I was part of a team from November 2011 to August 2014, as a doctoral researcher.

Ibn ʿArabī project

Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, Veni Grant #275-63-009

I am the principal investigator of a grant running from July 2018 until June 2022.

Additional funding acquired from the Open Access Fund and the IT Innovation Fund, Utrecht University.


Suhrawardī project

1 book
6 peer-reviewed articles
2 conference panels
10 talks

Ibn ʿArabī project

1 book in progress.
3 peer-reviewed articles in progress.
1 international conference planned.
4 talks given so far.