The story of Dust in mysticism begins with a mirror which represents the heart. The mystics embody/conceive of the heart as a clear mirror which is pure in the beginning. If, for some reason, this mirror starts to matte over due to the density of dust or sin, not only its surface but its nature, starts to change and will rust from within. When a mirror gets rusted than there is no other way to turn the mirror back to its polished and original pure state. Apparently, in the mystics’ view, the negative aspect of this interpretation is rather weighty. There is no way to clear the layers of dust, and the rusted heart does not return to its genesis. The importance of the heart in mysticism is so high that it could not be exposed to dust for a long time and at the moment when it is touched by dust, it is encouraged to purify the heart the longer it sits there, it gets more and more impossible to cleanse of the thick layers of the stain.

Ibn Arabi[1], in Fusus al-Hikam [The Bezels of Wisdom] depicts the world “as a mirror where the divine attributes and names belong, and humanity is another mirror in which the faces and the world motifs of the universe get reflected.

Ibn Arabi sees the universe and humankind as two symmetrical mirrors reflecting each other, everything that exists in the world also appears in humankind and every aspect of the human has its equivalent counterpart in the universe as well. So, if a layer of dust appears on the heart of a human soul it will be mirrored in the whole universe and if the dust is up in the universe all humankind are affected by it or involved. So, the outer and inner cleansing should be done simultaneously as these two mirrored images require each other to exist. Ibn Arabi sees the universe without humans as an empty soul and considers the human to be the heart of the universe, and the heart should be clear of the dust, so the mirrors can remain shiny and pure.

In chapter six, of Kimia-ye Sa'adat [The Alchemy of Happiness], Mohammad Ghazali[2], regards the heart as the ruler of humans and even goes further in his articulation of the heart and says: the brain is created for the heart. The brain could not function without the heart, he considers the brain to be the servant of the heart. He says, in the form of an expression, that they create humans and then they gave them a body and contribute the whole body to the heart and then the heart became an instrument that is able to travel in the world free of dust and soil. In Ghazali’s the interpretation of the heart, it has the capacity for not remaining in the dusty world. He believes that the heart extends beyond this earthy setting, and he understands the heart as the essence of humankind, even though the human body dwells in dust and soil, the heart travels and wanders to leave the world of dust reaching for what’s beyond. The heart has a window where the light gets in, the dust particles coming into the light can become a way to explore the inner source of light in the heart. Ghazali goes further: humankind inevitably runs from dust and the earthy world, but he believes humankind is beyond this earthy being and even if it is exposed to dust (veiling him/her from the truth), it can discover its own lights.

When it comes to a mystic interpretation of Islam and its representation, the first image that comes to mind is a Sufi who is wandering in the desert. Where does this picture come from?
Islamic Sufism is rooted in Islam, and a part of these Islamic thoughts is the pilgrimage, and Tawaf around the Kabaa. At that time, the only transportation means to reach Mecca were to go by cattle, the path to Mecca was a desert pathway; the dust would have been an inseparable part of it. But for a Sufi, this was not the path to reach the house of God, the whole desert becomes the destination for him/her. In many stories of mysticism, Mecca is much closer than its geographical position, and in the various stories of Sufis, they see Mecca along their path before they reach its physical location in Mecca. It seems they believe that no matter whether the Sufi reaches Mecca or not, this desert path is an extension of the earthly body of the human who has to walk in order to reach his/her completion and unity, that’s why the House of God appears in front of the Sufi’s eyes in the middle of the road as his/her encounter with eternal love.

In this reading of dust, the Dust becomes a signifier of the progress of the human soul on the path of truth and its struggle to resist and persist along the way, as if the dust is a test, examining the purity of the heart. So, the dust becomes a positive aspect of the journey, the hardship it brings with it; and the Sufi’s efforts are rewarded by the appearance of the Kaaba along the way.

The dust also experiences its ups and downs in the realm of mysticism, sometimes it manifests itself in particles reaching out of the light, and some other moments create a scene: appearing as a mirage of Kaaba in the eye of a mystic, and sometimes All the Beings in the Universe when they find a tiny bit of this particle inside themselves, feel that they are trapped in an apocalyptic dust storm worldwide.


Nebras Hoveizavi was born in Ahavaz in June 1985 and has lived in the United States since her 20s. She graduated from the California Institute of the Arts with a B.F.A. in Photo‐Media in May of 2014 and got her M.F.A. from the same university in May of 2016. With her background in photography, she started working with the moving image as her medium along with performance and installation.

Incorporating elements of photography, sculpture, architecture, and installation, her current work is more distanced from that of a traditional photographer. Her art explores issues of identity, culture, and dislocation among other things. In 2012, Nebras joined Virtual Verite, a performance troupe established by renowned Los Angeles‐based artist, Harry Gamboa Jr. She has taught in Community Art Partnership in Valencia, California and photography and criticism in Tehran. Recently she joined the New Media Society‐Tehran, a project space, archive and library. She currently divides her time between Tehran, Ahvaz, and Southern California.

* Coverphoto: Nebras Hoveizavi, 2017.

[1] Mystic, philosopher, poet, sage, Muhammad b. ‘Ali Ibn’ Arabi is one of the world's great spiritual teachers. Known as Muhyiddin (the Reviver of Religion) and the Shaykh al-Akbar (the Greatest Master). He wrote over 350 works including the Fusûs al-Hikam, an exposition of the inner meaning of the wisdom of the prophets in the Judaic/ Christian/ Islamic line.

[2] Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058–1111) was one of the foremost intellects of medieval Islam. Personal discontent with scholastic orthodoxy led him to mysticism and the writing of a monumental work which harmonized the tendencies of both orthodoxy and mysticism within Islam.

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