Arabic Language Blog

العيـــــــــن مرآة النَّفــــــــــس (The Eye is the Mirror of the Soul) Posted by on Apr 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

« The eye is the true outrider and faithful guide of the soul; it is the soul’s well-polished mirror, by means of which it comprehends all truths, attains all qualities, and understands all sensible phenomena. It is a well-known saying that hearing of a thing is not like seeing it; this was already remarked by Poleron, the master of الفِـــــراســـــــة (physiognomy), who established the eye as the most reliable basis for forming judgment.

Here, if you will, is a sufficient proof of the eye’s power of perception. When the eye’s rays encounter some clear, well-polished object, be it burnished steel or glass or water, a brilliant stone, or any other polished and gleaming substance having lustre, glitter and sparkle-whose edges terminate in a coarse, opaque, impenetrable, dull material, those rays of the eye are reflected back, and the observer then beholds himself and obtains an ocular vision of his own person. This is what you see when you look into المِــــــــــــرآة (a mirror); in that situation you are as it were looking at yourself through the eyes of another.

A visual demonstration of this may be contrived in the following manner. Take two large mirrors, and hold one of them in your right hand, behind your head, and the other in your left hand, in front of your face; then turn the one or the other obliquely, so that the two meet confronting each other. You will now see قِفــــــــاك (the back of your neck) and the whole of your backward parts. This is due to the reflection of the eye’s radiation against the radiation of the mirror behind you; the eye cannot find any passage through the mirror in front of you, and when it also fails to discover an outlet behind the second mirror, its radiation is diverted to the body confronting it. Though Salih, the pupil of Abu Ishaq al-Nazzam, held a contrary view on the nature of perception to this which I have advanced, his theory is in fact قــــــــولٌ سَــــــــــاقِطٌ (dismissable claim), and has not been accepted by anyone

Even if all this were not due to any superior virtue in the eye itself, yet the fact remains that the substance of the eye is the loftiest and most sublime of all substances. For the eye is نُــــــــــــورية (possesses the property of light), and by it alone may colours by perceived; no other organ surpasses it in range and extent, since by the eye the bodies of the stars themselves in their distant spheres may be observed, and the heavens seen for all their tremendous elevation and remoteness. This is simply because the eye is united in the nature of its constitution with the mirror of which we have been speaking. It perceives those things, and reaches then as in a single bound, needing not to traverse the intervening distance by stages, or to alight at halting-places en route. The eye does not travel through space by laboured movements.


These properties belong to none of the other senses. The الذَّوق (taste) and اللَّمـــــــــــــس (the touch), for instance, perceive objects only when they are in their neighborhood, and السَّمــــــــــع (the hearing) and الشَّم (the smell) apprehend them solely if they are close by. As proof of that immediate perception of which we have spoken, consider how you see an object that produces a sound before you hear the sound itself, for all that you may try to see and hear that thing simultaneously. If ocular and aural perception were one and the same, the eye would not outstrip the ear. »

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This is (an occasionally free) translation based on the work of the well-known orientalist Arthur John Arberry, “The Ring of the Dove, by Ibn Hazm, 994-1064. A Treatise on the Art and Practice of Arab Love“, Luzac, 1953.

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  1. Edwide Guerrier:

    How do you say,”Happy New Year in Islamic”