This article attempts to explore the septenary approach in the Islamic traditions by interpreting the texts of Al-Quran and Hadiths (Prophet’s narrations) from a hermetic perspective.
The number 7 can be characterised as the most universal symbol to be represented as the common denominator in all the mystery teachings of ancient religions. It is essentially considered to be the fundamental principle of creation through which the omnipotent Creator expresses the beauty of His designs in the universe. Therefore, man as being the representative of the divine attributes is considered to embody the essence of this principle which permeates and expresses throughout nature. The use of this number is also to recognize the consciousness in every kind of material or psychic phenomena, whose association with it would then justify the purpose of their existence. The number 7 thus represents the height of aspirations, the purity of intents, and the models of perfection in the order of existence.
In regards to the Islamic traditions, the number 7 constitutes a central theme for the fulfilment of Islamic thoughts. It is mentioned symbolically on many occasions with the highest connotations to its qualities in the Quran as well as in the Sahih Hadith books (the narrations of Prophet Muhammad). For instance, I have explained the septenary version of fundamental Islamic rituals and archetypal personalities in the context of hermetic principles in the article “Islam, the Great Hermetic Tradition”. The ascension of prophet Muhammad (the Miraj) through the seven heavens is also discussed profusely in Islamic literature with a great symbolic significance, which I have investigated from a hermetic standpoint in the article “The Legacy of Ascension; Al-Quran:17 (The Children of Israel)”. Also, the story of the seven sleepers of Ephesus is mentioned in the chapter 18 of Quran, whose hermetic symbolism is described in the article “Astrotheology in Al-Quran, Chapter:18 (Al-Kahf)”. In addition to my previous work on Islamic symbolism, I would be presenting here more evidences of the septenary model of Islamic teachings from a hermetic perspective.
The Septenary Teachings in the Quran
The Quran states,
Say: Who is Lord of the seven heavens, and Lord of the Tremendous Throne? (23, 86)
The hermetic metaphors that abound in the Quran symbolize the epitome of human consciousness and the ultimate goodness which it can offer. The metaphor for the ‘seven heavens’ represents the orbits of seven astrological planets, and the ‘Throne’ is allegorical to the ecliptic of zodiac signs around which the planets constantly traverse their paths. The Quran also mentions the following verse in a similar metaphorical fashion,
We have given thee seven of the oft-repeated (verses) and the great Qur’an. (15, 87)
The consciousness of these patterns exalts the human beings above rest of the creatures by imparting to them greater vision for their existence beyond baser animal instincts. In other words, this consciousness of the heavens releases humans from the bondages of fear, greed, lust, and pride that actually result from their ignorance, and the darkness of their unknown destinies on account of which the nobler attributes of humanity would not come forth to fruition. It apprises humans of the sublime possibilities of their choices that may result in the lives of greater dimensions and more beautiful forms. The Quran states,
See ye not how Allah hath created seven heavens in harmony. (71, 15)
And We have created above you seven paths, and We are never unmindful of creation. (23, 17)
He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth. Then turned He to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens. And He is knower of all things. (2, 29)
The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving. (17, 44)
Similar allegories consisting of the septenary arrangements can also be found in some sequences of the structure of Quran. For instance, there are seven chapters of Al-Quran that begin with the Huroof-al-Muqattaat of Ha-Mim in a straight sequence from chapter 40 to 46; and each of them individually expresses a planetary archetype alongside the theme of ‘Ha-Mim’ which I have discussed in the article “The Mystery Letters of Quran (Huroof-al-Muqattaat)”. The Ha-Mim symbol of Huroof-al-Muqattaat represents the combination of the astrological signs of Libra and Gemini respectively, which can approximately be translated into the phrase ‘the message of justice’. Therefore, the Ha-Mim chapters form the Quranic message of justice from the standpoint of seven planetary archetypes. I shall mention the first few verses of these chapters here to explain this concept.
The chapter 40 states,
1. Ha. Mim.
2. The revelation of the Scripture is from Allah, the Mighty, the Knower,
3. The Forgiver of sin, the Accepter of repentance, the Stern in punishment, the Bountiful. There is no Allah save Him. Unto Him is the journeying.
The chapter 40 is entitled ‘The Believer’, and it symbolically represents the archetypal qualities of Saturn, which also occupies the greatest orb in the heavens. Saturn is astrologically known for the actions of ultimate finality as it denotes the judgement time. It expresses the highest state of consciousness, the greatest realization of facts, and the inevitable passage into the realms of destiny. The verses 2–3 of this chapter indicate that it is a message of justice from the Saturn’s attributes of purification and judgement.
The Chapter 41 states,
1. Ha. Mim.
2. A revelation from the Beneficent, the Merciful,
3. A Scripture whereof the verses are expounded, a Lecture in Arabic for people who have knowledge,
This chapter is entitled ‘They are Expounded’, and it represents the qualities of planet Jupiter. Jupiter is astrologically considered to be the most beneficent planet because it expresses the consciousness of philosophers and mystics. It rules knowledge and mysticism, the combination that results in the greatest refinement of human attitudes. It brings about the effects in human understanding of the truth of existence, the realities of nature, and the profound depths to appreciate the causal characters of all activities in the harmonization of phenomena. Therefore, Jupiter’s prime quality is in the recognition of natural laws, and the integrity to accept ones position in the great plan of nature as an associated component of noble principles and moralities. The verses 2–3 of this chapter encapsulates the theme of knowledge and philosophy by symbolically referring to ‘a Lecture in Arabic’, thus the use of proficient language in order to enhance the human consciousness.
The Chapter 42 states,
1. Ha. Mim.
2. Ain. Sin. Qaf.
3. Thus Allah the Mighty, the Knower inspireth thee (Muhammad) as (He inspired) those before thee.
This chapter is appropriately entitled ‘Counsel’, because it expresses the archetypal character of Mercury in its verses. The first and second verses end with the mystery letters of Mim and Qaf, thereby denoting respectively the signs of Gemini and Virgo, both ruled by Mercury. The astrological Mercury is responsible for the knowledge of symbols for communications and technologies. It imparts the discipline of sciences such as chemistry and mathematics that are highly dependant on objective and detached analyses of material phenomena. Therefore, the verse 3 refers to the inspiration caused by the objective understanding and knowledge of the physical sciences that makes a person to ponder on the inherent order of the universe, and to determine ones place in the great sphere of the infinite realm of consciousness.
The Chapter 43 states,
1. Ha. Mim.
2. By the Scripture which maketh plain,
3. Lo! We have appointed it a Lecture, in Arabic that haply ye may understand.
The title of this chapter is ‘Ornaments of Gold’ which allegorically relates it to the astrological planet Sun. Since Sun is a luminary among the planets alongside the Moon, the second verse of this chapter is peculiarly in contrast to the second verses of the chapters that do not represent luminaries (Sun and Moon), thereby stating its objective to make things visible or obvious. The Sun astrologically represents the wisdom and intelligence of a just king, who would rule the hearts of his subjects with loyalty and fairness. There cannot be any ambiguity in the statements made by a king or else his subjects would be confused, and his kingdom questioned. The words of a king must not only be plain, but also clearly understood and appreciated by the subjects because they should dispel all doubts in everyone’s minds. The verse 3 therefore states, ‘in Arabic that haply ye may understand’ referring to the message as being from the Sun.
The Chapter 44 states,
1. Ha. Mim.
2. By the Scripture that maketh plain.
3. Lo! We revealed it on a blessed night — Lo! We are ever warning –
This is the other chapter which mentions ‘Scripture that maketh plain’ in its second verse, and therefore it represents the luminary planet Moon. It is entitled ‘Smoke’ because in astrological symbolism, Moon causes the illusions of physical appearances that lead to characteristics of vanity. The verse 3 is also important here due to its mention of the ‘blessed night’ and ‘warning’. The Moon makes it possible for humans to travel in nights without fear of total darkness, and similarly ‘warnings’ may help one to survive at times of utter ignorance. The Moon brings light into the consciousness through symbolism which can only be understood by the humans with authentic self-realization, and the capacity to look beyond the veneer of materialism.
The chapter 45 states,
1. Ha. Mim.
2. The revelation of the Scripture is from Allah, the Mighty, the Wise.
3. Lo! in the heavens and the earth are portents for believers.
The title ‘Crouching’ of chapter 45 is very indicative of the astrological qualities of planet Mars. Mars rules the astrological signs of Aries and Scorpio that have to deal with wars, conflicts, and power games. Therefore, Mars represents the transformation which is forced upon the human consciousness through urgency of conditions, or by providing the impetus to undergo radical changes in a situation. Any form of change that is violent, abrupt, and incisive can be characterised by the Mars archetype. Thus, the message of justice in this chapter is about reforms or changes in the status quo resulting in more appropriate conditions for the spiritual growth of humanity.
The chapter 46 states,
1. Ha. Mim.
2. The revelation of the Scripture is from Allah the Mighty, the Wise.
3. We created not the heavens and the earth and all that is between them save with truth, and for a term appointed. But those who disbelieve turn away from that whereof they are warned.
The title ‘Wind-Curved Sandhills’ of chapter 46 represents the interaction of two distinct physical phenomena, wind and sand. The planet Venus rules the signs of Libra and Taurus that correspond to the hermetic elements of air and earth respectively. The astrological Venus signifies the objective values of material or intellectual properties, and therefore determines ones interests in people or activities. It considers the environments surrounding a person to be always in resonance with the needs of the inner self by creating a harmonious coordination between the subject and his environment. If humans respect the inhabitants of their environment in nature, then that would be tantamount to preserving the harmony of their own beings, whilst otherwise the destruction of environment would actually result in their own annihilation from the planet. The verse 3 of this chapter thus emphasizes the need to keep harmonious coordination with the natural environment of earth.
The structure of Quran is also divided into seven equal portions called the ‘Manzils’, so that the recitation or reading of the whole book can be undertaken within a week. This division is very symbolic of the septenary approach of the religion’s outlook. The Manzils or seven divisions of the Quran are detailed in the following.
1. Al Fatihah (chapter 1) through An Nisa’ (chapter 4) consisting of 4 surahs.
2. Al Ma’ida (chapter 5) through At Tawba (chapter 9) consisting of 5 surahs.
3. Yunus (chapter 10) through An Nahl (chapter 16) consisting of 7 surahs.
4. Al Isra’ (chapter 17) through Al Furqan (chapter 25) consisting of 9 surahs.
5. Ash Shuara’ (chapter 26) through Ya Seen (chapter 36) consisting of 11 surahs.
6. As Saaffat (chapter 37) through Al Hujarat (chapter 49) consisting of 13 surahs.
7. Qaf (chapter 50) through An Nass (chapter 114) consisting of 65 surahs.
The Septenary Teachings in the Hadith (the Quotes of Prophet Muhammad)
The ‘Sahih Hadiths’ are the authentic statements made by the Prophet of Islam during his ministry as a messenger of God. I have included some Hadiths in the following to describe the septenary version of teachings in them.
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, “Seven people will be shaded by Allah under His shade on the day when there will be no shade except His. They are: (1) a just ruler; (2) a young man who has been brought up in the worship of Allah, (i.e. worship Allah (Alone) sincerely from his childhood), (3) a man whose heart is attached to the mosque (who offers the five compulsory congregational prayers in the mosque); (4) two persons who love each other only for Allah’s sake and they meet and part in Allah’s cause only; (5) a man who refuses the call of a charming woman of noble birth for an illegal sexual intercourse with her and says: I am afraid of Allah; (6) a person who practices charity so secretly that his left hand does not know what his right hand has given (i.e. nobody knows how much he has given in charity). (7) a person who remembers Allah in seclusion and his eyes get flooded with tears.” Sahih Bukhari (Book #24, Hadith #504)
In the stated Hadith, the metaphorical use of seven planetary symbols is clearly evident. (1) a just ruler, symbolizes the Sun; (2) a young man who has been brought up in the worship of Allah, (i.e. worship Allah (Alone) sincerely from his childhood), symbolizes the Mercury; (3) a man whose heart is attached to the mosque (who offers the five compulsory congregational prayers in the mosque), symbolizes the Moon; (4) two persons who love each other only for Allah’s sake and they meet and part in Allah’s cause only, symbolizes the Venus; (5) a man who refuses the call of a charming woman of noble birth for an illegal sexual intercourse with her and says: I am afraid of Allah, symbolizes the Mars; (6) a person who practices charity so secretly that his left hand does not know what his right hand has given (i.e. nobody knows how much he has given in charity), symbolizes the Jupiter; and (7) a person who remembers Allah in seclusion and his eyes get flooded with tears, symbolizes the Saturn.
Narrated Salim’s father: The Prophet said, “Any person who takes a piece of land unjustly will sink down the seven earths on the Day of Resurrection.” Sahih Bukhari (Book #54, Hadith #418)
Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace he upon him) as saying: One should not take a span of land without having legitimate right to it, otherwise Allah would make him wear (around his neck) seven earths on the Day of Resurrection. Sahih Muslim (Book #010, Hadith #3924)
The above mentioned Hadiths suggest that the iniquitous actions of human beings would result in the fall from heavenly grace. The septenary arrangement of Quran is described in the following Hadiths.
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas: Allah’s Apostle said, “Gabriel recited the Qur’an to me in one way. Then I requested him (to read it in another way), and continued asking him to recite it in other ways, and he recited it in several ways till he ultimately recited it in seven different ways.” Sahih Bukhari (Book #61, Hadith #513)
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr: Allah’s Apostle said to me, “Recite the whole Qur’an in one month’s time.” I said, “But I have power (to do more than that).” Allah’s Apostle said, “Then finish the recitation of the Qur’an in seven days, and do not finish it in less than this period.” Sahih Bukhari (Book #61, Hadith #574)
The Prophet Muhammad had also incorporated the septenary pattern of behaviour even in his mundane activities. The following Hadiths demonstrate this point exquisitely.
Narrated Abu Huraira: Once the Prophet distributed dates among his companions and gave each one seven dates. He gave me seven dates too, one of which was dry and hard, but none of the other dates was more liked by me than that one, for it prolonged my chewing it. Sahih Bukhari (Book #65, Hadith #322)
Narrated Sad: Allah’s Apostle said, “He who eats seven ‘Ajwa dates every morning, will not be affected by poison or magic on the day he eats them.” Sahih Bukhari (Book #65, Hadith #356)
Abu Huraira reported the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) to have said: When a dog licks a utensil belonging to any one of you, (the thing contained in it) should be thrown away and then (the utensil) should be washed seven times. Sahih Muslim (Book #002, Hadith #0546)
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: When a dog drinks out of a vessel belonging to any one of you, he must wash it seven times. Sahih Muslim (Book #002, Hadith #0548)
Ibn Abu Aufa reported: We went on seven expeditions with Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and ate locusts. Sahih Muslim (Book #021, Hadith #4801)
The greatest ritual of Islam is considered by Muslims to be the pilgrimage to Mecca, where Muslims perform their Hajj ritual. The following Hadiths give an account of this ritual.
Abdullah b. ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with them) reported: I saw that when Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) came to Mecca and kissed the Black Stone, (in the first circumambulation) he moved quickly in three circuits out of seven circuits. Sahih Muslim (Book #007, Hadith #2895)
The above mentioned Hadith states that the Prophet performed circumambulation by moving quickly in three circuits, representing the three faster moving planets (Moon, Mercury, and Venus); whilst moved normally in the rest of the four circuits out of seven, thus representing the four slower moving planets (Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn).
The End Note
The septenary symbols had always been used by the ancient mystery schools to represent the universal consciousness. It is the language of order in the existence of nature that depicts beauty, harmony, and integrity in the overall scheme of the universe. It is the dimension through which the Divine consciousness manifests its accord in the realm of matter, and human beings get to receive the message of the Supreme providence. I should conclude this article by stating the following verse from the Quran.
Who hath created seven heavens in harmony. Thou (Muhammad) canst see no fault in the Beneficent One’s creation; then look again: Canst thou see any rifts? (67, 3)