The Imagination and the Soul

Recently I spoke to Imam Luqman Ali about his activity as artistic director of the Khayaal Theatre Company. The following are the answers he gave to my questions and illustrate the relevance of the company’s work in today’s world.

An Interview with Imam Luqman Ali
Artistic Director of the Khayaal Theatre Company

Brother Luqman, I visited your website and was fascinated by the work you do. It is very encouraging to see Muslim creativity presented in this way as it takes us into the many-dimensional world of the imagination. The name of your theatre company is Khayaal, the Arabic word for imagination. The role of the imagination in the arts is obvious but do you also relate this name to Ibn ‘Arabi’s concept of an intermediate world, the ‘Alam al-Khayaal, or realm of the imaginal, which is said to be the world of the soul?

Luqman Ali
Yes, we do relate the name of our company to the conception of khayaal as expounded by Ibn Arabi. But then everything is khayaal as a statement of Ibn Arabi asserts:

‘Everything engendered in existence is imagination – but in fact it is Reality. Whoever understands this truth has grasped the mysteries of the Way.’

The world of khayaal, or Aalamu ‘l-khayaal is of numerous ascending gradations. At the lower end, we have the dense and shadowy and at the higher end the translucent and luminous. But ultimately from the perspective of the Divine, it is all akin to a dream, for if we dream, that activity must reflect and be rooted in some Divine act. This metaphorical dream of God is alluded to in a statement made by the great Taoist master Chuang Tse:

‘Confucius and you are both dreams, and I who say you are dreams am a dream myself. This is a paradox. Tomorrow a wise man may explain it; that tomorrow will not be for ten thousand generations.’

By working with literature that explores universal virtues and sacred
symbolism, we aspire to align the cascading signs of meanings and forms and in such a manner as to give people a glimpse of the imaginal, which we believe will stimulate reflection and contemplation.

I find your answer very exciting, Brother Luqman as I have been reading Ibn ‘Arabi for some time and I often ask myself whether this contact with the imaginal is sorely lacking in the world today, especially in education, and that a greater immersion into the imaginal world of many layered meaning and sacred symbols, as you say, would also act as an enrichment for those who tend to a literalist and two dimensional way of thinking. Do you see the arts of storytelling and performance as a way to break through to that immense world of the soul, especially important in today’s often bleak cultural landscape that is offered young people?

Luqman Ali
The cultural landscape is bleak because the connections of its language, symbols and metaphors with the world of cosmological and spiritual meaning have largely been severed or so obfuscated that popular culture seldom truly liberates one from the confines of the sensory. ‘Liberal’ in the term liberal arts originally meant that the intention of these arts was to liberate one from the ephemeral so that one might reflect upon the eternal or from the finite so that one might reflect upon the infinite.
Provided storytelling and performance re-establishes and illustrates the connections between form and meaning, the physical and metaphysical, the sensory and the spiritual, then they can provide an opportunity for people to break through to a greater appreciation of the world of the soul and thereby find a greater sense of equilibrium and fulfilment. At a time when the prevailing popular and universal cultural language is drama, it will inevitably be the most effective means of achieving this, especially in the case of young people who have by and large been hemmed in and rendered desacralised by the secular dream of material success to such an extent that traditional means of spiritual edification have become ineffective.

At a time when all shadow points deeper into the pitch of darkness,
Shadows pointing towards the light are akin to light itself.

To visit the Khayaal Theatre Company website click here:

7 thoughts on “The Imagination and the Soul

  1. Salaam Edward, yes I live in Spain, I’ve been here for 3 years. It has a fascinating heritage, both marvellous and sad.

  2. Salaam Edward, yes I live in Spain, I’ve been here for 3 years. It has a fascinating heritage, both marvellous and sad.

  3. Katherine, this is such a fascinating conversation. I would love to hear more about how story telling can illustrate the connection between the spiritual and sensory…Was this part of a longer interview or is this from pvt correspondence?

  4. Hi shahnazzz, the interview was done simply by email. I hope to be seeing Luqman in May so I’ll see if I can get some reading tips from him. I’ll do a bit of research myself and get back to you. I think the novel ‘Master of the Jinn’ by Irving Karchmar is very much along these lines and if you go to you can find a lot of work about and by Ibn ‘Arabi on the ‘alam al-mithal or barzakh, which is that intermediary world where the spiritual and the sensory meet, the world of the imaginal.

  5. Katherine, thanks for the prompt response! Will chk out all the links and the blog you suggested. also, I have been reading your diairy entries on life in an Andalusian village. I enjoyed them very much and now am curious about your comment that it is not a completely smooth ride. Want to hear about the rough parts!

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