by Erik Winkel

First published in Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Vol. 55, 2014.

Understanding, and translating, the Futūḥāt al-Makkīya

The first chapter

by Eric Winkel

The Futūḥāt al-Makkīya is a magnum opus of over 10,000 pages, written by Ibn al-ʿArabī (1165–1240), sometimes in his own hand but mostly dictated to a circle of friends. It records Ibn al-ʿArabī’s description of his extraordinary vision of an encounter while circling the Kaʿba in Mecca and his account of the experience and all its ramifications.

Despite the existence since 1985 of a partial critical edition of the original Arabic text (covering Books 1–14, of 37, produced in Paris by Osman Yahia) as well as a fairly accurate Arabic printed version from Egypt dating from the late 19th century, and the reputation of the work through the centuries as the most significant and profound reflection of Islamic thought, the Futūḥāt has never been translated from the original classical Arabic into English in its entirety. In fact the first complete critical edition in Arabic (in twelve volumes) was only produced in 2010 by Dr A. Mansoub, after eleven years of study of the original manuscripts. [1]

The level of expertise required even to understand this huge, complicated work has certainly been an obstacle to translation. The Futūḥāt is not a conceptually organized text, and key themes and terms are not explained when they first appear. Instead, Ibn al-ʿArabī seems to be speaking extemporaneously. Thus, in order to understand what Ibn al-ʿArabī is saying in any particular instance, the translator must know (and reference for the reader) the full context, drawn from the entire text. In a sense the Futūḥāt is an oral work, and explanations are needed to fill in the contextual gaps which a contemporary listener, in tune with Ibn al-ʿArabī and his subject matter, would not have needed.

The Futūḥāt describes a tangible vision Ibn al-ʿArabī experienced in Mecca. Although the work has been described as a vast compendium, it is much more than that; neither is it an encyclopedia of concepts. It is above all an integral transcription of a complex, wholly palpable, experienced vision. In order to depict what he saw, Ibn al-ʿArabī draws on different kinds of language: legal and poetic, geometric and theological. Because these languages are difficult, and especially so for readers removed by seven centuries in time (and in culture, religion, and worldview), scholars tend to emphasize the difficulty, even impossibility, of translating or managing to convey even portions of this text.

Despite being a written text, the work is oral in format. Generally, in a systematic written text, an author defines terms, makes arguments, and draws conclusions. The reader can move from page to page to re-read a definition or review the ramifications of an argument. However in the oral style of this work, we, the audience, might hear a description of, for example, how humanity’s dusty origins distinguish the human being from the fiery jinn, along with a narration of one or two of perhaps twenty stories related to fire and jinn. The origins-in-dust theme will reappear dozens of times throughout the work, and other stories will be told perhaps a few chapters later, with most of them recounted in a chapter devoted to the topic. Working with any of these passages in isolation, a translator or reader would find it very hard to find relevant connections, because the speaker is giving the audience just enough information to make his point. In fact many chapters end with ‘this is enough for this issue, because the chapter is getting long.’

Ibn al-ʿArabī tells his audience more than once that he is neither an author nor a composer: authors are only constrained by their chosen thesis and knowledge of their topic, or the parameters of the science they are discussing, he says. Ibn al-ʿArabī’s constraint is the injunction that he must convey to others his vision – what he saw imprinted throughout the body of the Youth at the Kaʿba, as he explains in Chapter 1. Neither the arrangement of topics, nor the choice, then, is in his hands, and the reader is expected to understand that. The translator, operating in some sense as commentator, must provide the context.

An example of the need to take Ibn al-ʿArabī’s words literally while understanding the total (vast) context occurs at the beginning of the Sermon, which is the physical start of the manuscript. (Chapter 1 is Ibn al-ʿArabī’s actual introduction, with the final line telling the reader that what follows, in Chapter 2, is what he saw imprinted throughout the body of the Youth). Scholars have had difficulty with the first sentence of the Sermon (khuṭba) at the start of the Futūḥāt. The phrase is ʿan ʿadamin wa-ʿadami-hi. As with much of the work, the words themselves are not difficult: [2] they are ‘from a void and [His or his or its] void.’ There are three possibilities for the pronoun. But even if the ‘right’ one is chosen, if the translator doesn’t understand what is happening in this passage, the reader certainly will not either. It turns out that the ‘right’ answer comes thousands of pages later, in the midst of a passage in which Ibn al-ʿArabī refers to ‘the first sentence of this book’ to illustrate a point he is making. We now find out what he means by these two voids. In timelessness, God has – knows – in His pre-knowledge the fact that there will be all these entities and beings. This process of entering into His pre-knowledge is in effect an exit from a lost emptiness into some kind of existence. This is the first stage. But these things have no being, and so the next stage is the verse from the Quran: ‘When We want some thing to be, We only say to it, Be!, and it is’ (Q.16:40). This is the second stage.

But (with a twist which Akbarian students will find familiar) in this passage thousands of pages later, Ibn al-ʿArabī gives three different interpretations of his own sentence! Then, immediately afterwards, he says, ‘You may argue this or that, but only after you have verified for yourself how the affair truly is.’ In fact, this kind of statement characterizes Ibn al-ʿArabī’s whole approach. He is transmitting (and then elaborating upon) his vision of and palpable experience with the Youth; it is up to the audience to experience and ‘verify for themselves’ (taḥqīq) the insights that he is conveying. The only way a translator can handle this is to know the complete work in Arabic, understand the multi-faceted methodology that Ibn al-ʿArabī uses, find the right words and appropriate sentence construction in English, and connect enough of the context through footnotes for the reader to proceed with understanding.

The translator must therefore read Ibn al-ʿArabī’s language in the actual text as illustrative, not as part of intellectual history. For example, when he talks about dhāt, it is almost never meant as ‘essence,’ and it certainly is not to be read in relation to Greek thought, as with Ibn Rushd or other contemporaries. His vision is unique; therefore his language is also unique. In his text, the words dhāt, ṣifa, and fiʿl don’t usually mean ‘essence’ and ‘attribute’ and ‘action.’ They often mean ‘substantive (personal noun),’ ‘adjective,’ and ‘verb.’ For example, he unpacks the equivalent of ‘Zayd son of ʿAmr runs’ in a poem. The substantive here (Zayd) is solid, but the adjective (son of ʿAmr) is much less solid and ‘runs’ is even less solid, even invisible. Grammar is being used to describe how the cosmos works, not to define philosophical concepts.

Given the astounding correspondence between current thinking on conceptions of the universe and some of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s descriptions, who knows what insights may await the scientific explorer of this work! This translator has, for example, uncovered connections with Julian Barbour’s atemporal physics [3] and Tim Palmer’s invariant set postulate. [4]

In order to encourage and facilitate use of Mansoub’s critical edition, the translation follows his twelve-volume division. Ibn al-ʿArabī’s divisions of folio (juzʾ), chapter, book (safar), and six-fold sections (e.g., maʿārif) are indicated in the translation.


The Translation of Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The fourth manuscript part (juzʾ) of the Fatḥ al-Makkī


Basmallah

[166] On maʿrifa [5] [which the mystic ʿārifūn will recognize, as they recognize God everywhere, always,] [6] of the Spirit [who took on a body to visit the Kaʿba, who would later reappear to me to support me with this book,] from whom I took hold of [after he told me to follow him and look at his internally moon-lit skin,] distinct portions [7] [segmented throughout his three-dimensional body, in six portions: head, two arms, torso, two legs,] of his cobbled whole [8] [as his bodily configuration was like the paving stones at the bottom and sides of a well,] which I recorded [9] [as a rubbing taken from his cobbled whole] in this book, [whose architecture is the six-fold segments I saw and recorded, with the interstices between the paving cobblestones being my own efforts to convey to you, the reader, what I saw] and what there was between me and him [10] of secret mysteries.

Some of this are these interlaced verses (naẓm):

I said upon circling [the Kaʿba, ṭawāf], how shall I circle, as it is blind to perceiving our inner selves?
Petrified, a rock with no intelligence of my [circling] movements. Then was said, ‘You are the confused one, you’re done for!
Look at the House; his light radiates to purified hearts, brilliantly exposed
Who see him by means of God without a veiling curtain, as his inner self appears, elevated, lofty.
He shines brilliantly [with tajallī] [11] to the hearts from a far horizon of a majestic true moon which never experiences eclipse.
If you saw the friend (walī) at the time he saw him, you would say about him, “Obsessed, heart-rent!” He kisses the inner secret in the Right-hand (Yemeni [12]) Black Stone.
Which inner secret, if it were a definite [noun],
Its Substantive (dhāt, essence) would be unknown, and it would be argued, “Coarse”, according to some people, and according to some people, “Fine.”’ [13]
He said to me when I asked why they are ignorant of him,
‘The panoramic recognize the panoramic.’ [14]
They recognize him and stay with him a time, and the Kind, Gentle [raḥīm, ra’ūf, that is, Muhammad] takes charge of them.
[167] They stand up straight [cf., mustaqīm], and never is any deviation in the circling of his Substantive seen with them.
Stand! and give good tidings from Me, neighbor of My House, of safety: ‘He will not give you cause to fear!’
If they die, I make them delighted with meeting Me,
Or if they have a long life, their garb is clean. [15]

translating-futuhat-2-Kaaba

Drawing of the Kaʿba. Labeled elements are as follows: 1 – The Black Stone; 2 – Door of the Kaʿba; 3 – Gutter to remove rainwater; 4 – Base of the Kaʿba; 5 – Al-Hatim; 6 – Al-Multazam (the wall between the door of the Kaʿba and the Black Stone); 7 – The Station of Ibrahim; 8 – Angle of the Black Stone; 8 – Angle of the Black Stone; 9 – Angle of Yemen; 10 – Angle of Syria; 11 – Angle of Iraq; 12 – Kiswa (veil covering the Kaʿba; 13 – Band of marble marking the beginning and end of rounds; 14 – The Station of Gabriel. (By M. Benoist at fr.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons.

Learn, dear, close, generous, sincere friend, that when I reached the Mecca of blessings, a treasure-trove of spiritual stillnesses and stirrings, and my situation was as it was, I circled His ancient House a number of times, and while I was circling and celebrating God [saying, subḥān Allāh] and saying He is Majestic, and He is Great, and saying, There is no god but God [lā ilāha illā-Allāh] sometimes kissing [the Black Stone, (1)] and touching [the Yemeni corner, (9)], and sometimes staying by the multazam, [16] suddenly, while I was before the Black Stone, astonished, I came upon the transient Youth, the silent speaker, the one who is neither living nor dead, the composite simple, the encompassed encompassing.

When I saw him circling the house, a circling (ṭawāf) of the Living [17] around the dead, I recognized ṭawāf’s truth and its metaphor, and I knew that circling the house is like the prayer over the dead. When I saw the Living circling the dead ones, I recited some verses (which the Youth I just referred to overheard): a poem.

When I saw the house, his being circled by persons having the Unseen inner secret of the Law (sharīʿa),
And circled by a people who are the Way (sharʿ) and the Intelligence; [18] they have kohl-lined eyes [19] opened; they are not blind to him;
I wondered at the dead being circled by a Living, Inaccessible, One in eternity, nothing like unto Him.
[Then] He shone a brilliance (tajallī) to us from a light of a Substantive, from his place of radiance. He was not one of the angels but rather he was human.
I was certain that the matter was something Unseen, and that he was, with kashf [20] and verifying for myself, Living, Seen.

(I said,) [21] When these verses occurred to me, and I was made to reach His honorable house from some direction, beside the dead ones, he wrenched something from me with a forcible wresting and he spoke to me a restraining word, [22] chiding: ‘Look at a secret of the house before departing [to the next world]. You will find him splendidly lit up by the circling guides and the circling pilgrims in his stone blocks, as he looks at them from behind his veil and his curtain.’ I did see him shining splendidly, as he said, and I made a good case for him in pure [formal] Arabic, and I recited it in the world of Exemplars [mithāl [23]] extemporaneously:

I saw the house splendid with the guides [24] circling around him, but the splendor was only from the Wise one who designed him.
[168] This stone does not feel and does not see, and he has no intellect nor does he have hearing.
But a person said, This is an obedience [fem.] [25] for us; the Law fixed her to be lifelong for us.
I said to him, This is a sufficient demonstration for you, so listen to an argument of the one who disclosed for him [me] the established wisdom.
I saw a stone not alive in its essence, and it had no ability to harm nor to benefit.
But in the eye of the heart there were scenes, if the eye did not have any weakness or rift;
He would be seen as majestic, if he shone brilliantly with his true Substantive (dhāt), but the creation is unable to bear his vastness.
So I was Abū Ḥafṣa [ʿUmar] and I was ʿAlī, [26]
On my part, the abundant gift, and constriction, and interdiction.

[Now let us make a connecting] link: Then I was informed about the station of that youth, and his being untouched by Where or When. When I recognized his station and landing place, and I saw with my own eyes his place in existence (wujūd), and his states, I kissed his Right hand, [27] and I wiped the ‘sweat [the Prophet used to get] from the revelation’ off his brow, and I said to him, ‘Look at the one who seeks to sit with you and desires to be intimate with you.’ [28] He pointed to me with an enigmatic gesture, [saying] that he was innately configured such that he speaks to no one except in metaphor and is only spoken to metaphorically. When you know him, and verify him for yourself, and you understand him, you know that the purest language of the pure speakers does not perceive him, and his articulation is not attained by the eloquence of the most eloquent.

I said to him, ‘You beautiful bearer of good tidings, this is a great good. Do teach me your vocabularies and instruct me in the hows of turning your opening keys, because I want to be your companion in night conversations and I love your relation. [29] Indeed with you there is the [suitable] partner, the likeness [m.] (he is the one who keeps coming down to confront your Substantive), and the imperator. [30] If not for what you have as a visible [feminine] ḥaqīqa, [31] no “beautiful and bright faces” would be raised to look eagerly at Him, “gazing.”’ [32] He made a secret gesture, [33] and I knew. Then he shone [cf., tajallī] to me a truth of his beauty and I was overwhelmed with passion. I was felled before him and the moment overcame me. When I recovered again after fainting, with trembling shoulder blades from [169] fear (khashya), he knew that knowledge of him had arrived, and he set down his walking stick and sat. His state [34] recited to me that [verse] which came to the prophets, and that [verse] which the angelic guardians descended with, [namely:] The ones who fear God, of His creatures, are the ones who know; [35] so he took khashya (reverent fear) as a proof [that I had gotten knowledge] and he deemed the reverent fear to be a way to recognize that knowledge had arrived [to me].

I said to him, ‘Show me some of your mysteries, so that I would be one to transcribe your beauties.’ [36] He said, ‘Observe the sectioned segments of my cobble-stoned whole and the ordered arrangement of my shape and you will find what you are asking of me to be imprinted throughout me, [37] for I am neither a mukallim [who speaks for himself] nor a kalīm [who speaks for another; an epithet for Moses], and my knowledge is not anything but me, and my Substantive (dhāt) is not different from my names (nouns). I am knowledge, the known, and the one who knows. I am the ḥikma (wisdom), the muḥkam (the fount of wisdom secured from ambiguity), and the ḥakīm (who decides wisely).’

Then he said to me, ‘Circle following my tracks, and look at me with my moon-light, so you may take from my cobbled-configuration what you will be recording in your book and dictating to your transcribing friends. True One (al-ḥaqq) has informed me of what you saw in your circling, the Fine [subtle, invisible] things, which not everyone circling sees, so that I would recognize your enthusiasm and [who you are in the dimension of] your Meaning. [38] This is what I learned of you there.’ [39]

I said, May I convey to you, O Seer of the Vision, some of what was shown to me of mysteries of being (wujūd), [that is,] trailings in the sheets of light [40] and the multitudinous things coming together as one well-spring (ʿayn) behind the curtains which True One configures [to veil Him] as a partition raised up and a sky [which is the canopy of the Earth] set down? The Verb, compared with the Substantive, [41] is something Fine; because it can’t be perceived, it is something strong, panoramic. [42]

His [the Youth’s] adjective is Finer than his Substantive [independent noun], and his verb is Finer still than his adjective.
He deposited the All in my Substantive essence, just as he deposited the meaning of the thing in its letter.
So the creation is something sought (searched for, intended) on account of meaning [that is, the sense of a word], just as the Substantive musk [in the vesicle of the musk-deer] is searched for from its scent. [43]

If not for what was deposited in me, which my truth required, and what connected my path to him, I would not have found a chance to drink deep with him [the Youth], nor felt attracted toward his maʿrifa (recognition, knowledge). Because of that [deposit], I was returned to myself [regained consciousness] in the end. Because of this [returning], the arm of the [draftsman’s] compass returns, during the opening of the circle, after reaching the end of the circle’s being, to the beginning point. Thus the last matter is connected to the first, and its endlessness curves with kindliness into its timelessness, and there is nothing but a wujūd continuous and a Vision stable, enduring. [44]

But the path [circumference] is long, on account of the perspective of the created being. If creatures [45] turned to face their adjacent neighbor, without indwelling there, they would gaze at the travelers as they arrived, with a look of Terrible, by God, what they did. [46], [47] But had the travelers recognized their spot, they would not have shifted. Instead, they were veiled by the even-numberedness of the truths [48] from the odd-numberedness (witr) of True One, [49] the Creator, the witr by which God created the Earth and the coursings [e.g., of planets].

They observe the staircase of the Names, and they seek routes for the Night-Ascensions, and they imagine them to be the greatest alighting place to pursue, and the most radiant state to proceed onwards to True One – exalted – therefrom, [170] and to be desired. They are given to journey along the routes atop [the horse] Burāq the truthful and his fluttering [silken] brocades. [50] He verifies for them what they see, of His signs (verses) and His Fine subtleties (invisibles).

And that is, when the sight [fem.] is Northerly, [51] and the innate nature of their configuration is wholly complete, then with her face toward the original sketched line she confronts the centerpoint of the circle. The directional portion of her heart-soul from the Right-hand side [forward along the circle] is veiled with a niqāb [with only eye slits toward the future], and from the Western side [behind], the veil has been swept off. If the sight were to sweep off the right side she would be given from the very first glance a stable footing in a vision of the individuations. [52] How strange! The ones at the highest of heights assume that they are at the lowest of the low! I take refuge in God that I not be one of the ignorant ones! [53] Her left (North) is the Right hand (South) of her mudīr, [54] and her standing [55] in the spot in which she finds herself is the end of her journey. When it is confirmed with the discerning people what I have secretly pointed out to them [one], [56] and they authenticate and really know that to Him is the return, then they do not quit (depart from) their standing place. But the hapless one presumes there is a knocking on and an opening [of the door], and asks, ‘Could there be facing (opposite) constriction and constraint anything but expansiveness and opening up?’ Then this hapless one recites that [sentiment] as a Quran, in the context of the antagonists, [57] ‘Whom God wants to be guided, He expands his chest toward surrender (al-islām), and whom He wants to be misguided, He makes his chest constricted, constrained, as if he were climbing to the skies.’ [58] But just as expansion happens only after constriction, so the sought-for goal is only reached after traveling along the path. Thus the hapless one disregards what comes from intuition (ilhām) in comparison with what is only gotten by thinking and evidence from the people of sharp minds and intellects.

Now what the hapless one said was true [from one perspective], because he is an observer with a Northern eye [vista]. They [the discerning ones] grant him his state (ḥāl) and they confirm him in his absurdity (muḥāl), and they double his strategy (miḥāl), and they tell him, ‘You need to seek help, if you want to reconnect with what you exited, no doubt (maḥāla).’ They conceal from him the neighboring regions, and they talk up the rewards of the mutual visit and the mutual visitor and the assistance [he will get in his journey]. He will grieve upon regaining what he had left, but he will rejoice in what he got on his path of mysteries, and things that will start to happen to him [along the way]. If the Messenger had not sought a Night-Ascension, he would not have journeyed, and he would not have ascended to the Heavens, nor would he have come back down. He was being given an experience of the Higher Angels and signs from his Lord in his own place, [so he didn’t ‘need’ to journey], just as the Earth was contracted [wrinkled and gathered together] for him [59] while he was in his bed. But it is a divine mystery, so whoever wishes may deny it, because he has not been given the foundation, and you believe in it if you wish, because you have brought everything together.

When I had been given this knowledge [above], which the intellect does not reach by itself alone (nor is it achieved by accomplishing intellectual understanding), he [the Youth] said, ‘You have told me a wondrous mystery, and you have disclosed to me a wondrous Meaning I had not heard before from such a Friend (walī) as you, and I have not seen anyone being so perfectly completed in these truths as you are. For me, though, they are well known, and they are throughout my self imprinted. It shall appear clearly to you upon the lifting of my veils and your close attention to my secret pointings (ishārāt). But He told me what He showed you when you visited His ḥaram (sacred precinct) and He informed you of His sanctities.’

[171] THE VISION OF THE SCENE OF DIVINE CONTRACTUAL HAND-TAKING

I said, ‘You, who are pure speech that does not converse but nevertheless is asked about what you know, do know that when I got to him [the Kaʿba] with faith (īmān), and I visited him in the presence (ḥaḍra) of sincerity (iḥsān), [60] he lodged me in His sacred precinct and He taught me His sanctities.’ And the Youth said, ‘I increased the number of times I did ritual acts [as part of the pilgrimage] eager in my search for you. If you had not found me here, you would have found me here [sic], and if I were veiled from you in Gathering [cf., Muzdalifa], [61] I would shine [with tajallī] to you in the Decreed moment [Minā, the place visited during the pilgrimage, and minā, the decreed moment]. However, I have already taught you in another one of your standing places [the standing halt at ʿArafat], and I have stirred [62] you toward it more than once in one of your abstruse languages: I am; and even if I am concealed by veils, it is a tajallī not every mystic (ʿārif) recognizes: only one who encompasses knowledgeably what you encompass of recognitions [maʿārif, the subject of the first of the six sections of the Futūḥāt].

‘Do you see me giving them tajallī on the day of Arising [63] in another form and emblem [ʿalāma, sign, distinguishing mark] than the one they recognize? [64] They deny my status as Lord. [65] They start taking refuge [66] from the form, [67] and in it, [68] but they are not aware of what they are doing. They are saying to this site of [Divine] tajallī, “We take refuge in God from you! We will wait here for our Lord!”

‘Then when I come out to them in the form which they had seen previously [in this world], and they confirm My status of Lord, and they confirm that they should indeed worship, [69] well then, they are worshipers based on the marks they recognized, and on the form which identified for them what they were seeing.

‘If someone among these says that he is worshiping Me, his statement is a lie; he is slandering Me! How could that be true? – when I give him tajallī he denies Me! The one who constrains Me in one form and not in another, it is his image formed [in his imagination] that he worships, and that is the truth deeply-rooted in his heart, deeply covered over. He imagines that he worships Me, but he is actually renouncing Me.

‘The ones who recognize [Me, the Divine] (the ʿārifūn), nothing in existence is hidden from their sights because they are concealed from creation and their inner selves. Nothing ever appears to them except Me, and they never understand anything to exist except My names. To everything that appears to them and shines in tajallī they say, “You are the One to be celebrated! The Exalted!” That’s all they do. But these people are between the Absent and the Present – and both are, for them, the same thing!’

When I heard his words and I understood his secret gestures and his signals, he pulled me to him as close as possible, possessively, and he stood me up before him.

EDUCATING ADDRESSES, AND GENEROUS GIFTS GIVEN BY THE SECRET KAʿBA FROM JUST BEING THERE, AND CIRCLING

[1. ḥayy, Living] The Right hand stretched out and I kissed her, [70] and the form which had been made to be passionately loved by me was linked up to me, and she [the feminine form the Youth took on] transformed [71] for me into a form of Life, and I transformed for him into a form of something Dead. [72] The form [fem., here Ibn al-ʿArabī] sought allegiance [73] from the [other] form, but she said to her, ‘You have not done the course well.” [74] So, she withdrew her Right hand from her, and she said to her, ‘I do not acknowledge her in the Seen world as something true and solid.’ [75]

[2. baṣīr, Seeing] Then, he transformed for me into a form of Sight, and I transformed for him into a form of one whose sight has been Blinded. That was after the ending of a circuit [around the Kaʿba] [76] and a supposed breach of a stipulation. The form sought allegiance from the [other] form, but she said the same thing again to her [‘you have not done the course well’].

[172] [3. ʿalīm, Knowing] Then he transformed for me into a form of Universal Knowledge, and I transformed for him into a form of the Completely Ignorant. The form sought allegiance from the [other] form, but she repeated the [now] familiar statement.

[4. samīʿ, Hearing] Then he transformed for me into a form of the Hearer of the Call, and I transformed for him into a form of the Deaf to the Invitation. The form sought allegiance from the [other] form, and True One draped His curtains between the two. [77]

[5. mutakallim, Speaking] Then he transformed for me into a form of the Addressor, and I transformed for him into a form of the Silenced From Answering. The form sought allegiance from the [other] form, and True One sent between them a Tablet inscribed and etched on.

[6. murīd, Wanting [78]] Then he transformed for me into a form of Wanting, and I transformed for him into a form short on Gist and Practice. The form sought allegiance from the [other] form, and True One made overflow between the two His abundant illumination and His light.

[7. qādir, Powerful [79]] Then he transformed for me into a form of Able and Capable, and I transformed into a form of Unable and Destitute. The form sought allegiance from the [other] form, and True One displayed to the creature his [my] shortcomings. [80]

After I saw that, the various happenings, and there hadn’t come to me a fulfillment of hopes and dreams, I said, ‘Why did you refuse me and not honor my covenant [with you]?’ He said to me, ‘You refused me yourself, my dear creature. If you had kissed the Stone during every circuit, O circler, you would have kissed my Right hand here [at the pillar] in these Fine forms, because my house there corresponds to the Substantive, and the rounds of the circlers correspond to the Seven Adjectives – attributes of the whole, not attributes of the Majestic, because they are attributes for contacting you, and reflexive attributes.’ [81] So the seven circuits are the Seven Adjectives, and the House [the Kaʿba] standing in front of you [really] points to a Substantive; however, I sent him [the Kaʿba] down on my carpet unfurled, and I said to the people, “For you this corresponds to my Throne [encompassing the universe]. My khalīfa [82] on the Earth has settled thereon and encompasses [the universe].”

‘So look at the angel with you, circling and standing at your side.’ I looked at him; then he returned to His throne, and he gloriously rose over me in his palanquin rising high. I smiled with happiness and spontaneously spoke:

O Kaʿba, the dispatched messengers circling her, [83] after the honored ones have circled her.
Then after them came a world (people), circling her, among them the high and the low.
He sent her down as an exemplar of His throne, and we are her honored circlers.
If one would say, ‘The greatest encircles him [the Throne]; indeed, I am the better one!’ do they hear?
By God, he didn’t come with a clear text, and he came to us only with something not explained.
[173] Isn’t that only the Light their [84] lights encircle, while we are despicable fluid [i.e., born from semen]?
The thing gravitates to its like, and we are all a creature, hidden at His side.
Why won’t they see what they didn’t see? They circle what we circle, but they are not made of clay [as Adam is].
If the Finest [the verb, ‘finer still’] of us were stripped off (abstracted), [85] he would settle [as He settles on the Throne] on that which they are circling.
Declare them too holy to be ignorant of the truth of the one to whom God subjugated the worlds, for his sake.
How is it for them? Their information is that I am a child of the one to whom they were bowing down [Adam].
And they acknowledged, after opposing our parent [Adam], that they had been ignorant.
The individual who had refused, felt despair [ublisa, Iblīs], and
he was the most excessive of the deniers.
Holy are they, holy are they; they are protected from making the slip-ups of the ones who do wrong when meaning to do right.

I [Ibn al-ʿArabī] say: Then I turned a facet of my heart away from him, and I drew near with my heart to my Lord. He [the Youth] said to me, ‘You gave succor to your father [Adam]; my blessing is loosened to you [so farewell]. Hear of the station [fem.] of the one you were praising and what you sent ahead of goodness before her. [86] What is your level compared to the level of the angels made closest? – blessings of God on all of you, and all of them, and peace.

‘This My Kaʿba is a heart of wujūd (being). My Throne [ʿarsh, encompassing the universe] with respect to this heart is a bounded body. But neither one of them encompasses Me, and not reported about Me is what is reported of them. [87] My house – which is vast and spacious enough to encompass Me – is your heart sought out [and an aspiration intended, maqṣūd], placed in your Seen body. Thus the circlers of your heart are the inner secrets, and they correspond to your bodies while circling these stones. The circlers encircling Our encompassing Throne are like the ones circling within you, in the written [88] world. Thus just as the body with respect to you is arranged [composed], unlike your elemental (simple) heart, in the same way is she, the Kaʿba, with regard to the encompassing Throne. [89]

‘The circlers of the Kaʿba correspond to the circlers of your heart because both the Kaʿba and your heart share in being hearts. The circlers of your body are like the circlers of the Throne because of their having in common the adjective of encompassment. So just as the world of mysteries circling the heart which is vastly spacious enough for Me is the most radiant mansion compared to others (and the highest), in that way, you [pl.], with the quality of panoramic nobility and mastery, are – compared to the circlers of the encompassing throne – the best. You are the ones circling the heart of the wujūd of the universe, and you correspond to the mysteries of the ones who truly know. They are the ones circling the body of the universe, and they correspond to water and air. How can they be otherwise? Other than all of you nothing is vastly spacious enough for Me, and I do not give tajallī in a complete form except in your Meaning [dimension]. [90] Therefore recognize the measure of what you have been gifted from the highest panoramic post. And after that, well then, I am the Great (al-kabīr), the Elevated Over (al-mutaʿālī); no boundary bounds Me, and no master recognizes Me, nor [174] slave.

‘Divinity [fem.] is too holy and too transcendent for her to be perceived, and for any to share with her in her place.

translating-futuhat-3

[91]

‘You [sing.] are the vessel and I am I.

‘So do not seek Me within yourself, imposing on yourself difficulty and distress, nor externally, to no good end. But don’t give up searching for Me, or you will be wretched. Search for Me until you meet Me; therefore ascend onwards, but be courteous in your search, and be present from your very start with your practice (madhhab). [92]

‘Distinguish between Me and you, because you do not see Me but rather you see your core self (ʿayn). So stop short at the attribute of commonality, certainly, and just be a creature, and just say [as Abū Bakr did], “The inability to perceive what is to be perceived is perception.” Stay with that, as did the ʿatīq, [93] and you will be an honored ṣiddīq.’

Then He said to me, ‘Leave My presence, as people like you are not suited for My service.’ So I left, banished. Then the presence shouted and said, ‘Leave Me with the one I created alone.’ [94] Then He said, ‘Bring him back,’ and I was thrown back, and I found myself in front of Him [literally, ‘between his hands’] for a short while. It was as if I never ceased being in the midst of His vision, and never left a ḥaḍra [fem., presence] of His wujūd.

Then He said, ‘How would one come to Me, in My presence, who is not suited for My service? If you do not have the sense of the sacred that necessitates service, the ḥaḍra will not come near to you, and she will toss you away at the first glance. You were there! You saw some of her kindness to you and her generous welcome which increased your sense of the sacred, and at the moment of her tajallī, your sense of shyness.’

Then He asked, ‘Why did you not question Me about My ordering you to leave, and returning you to your Ascension? I know you are an expert in proof and language. How fast you forget, O human being!’ I replied, ‘The greatness of the vision of Your Substantive blinds me. I was at a loss because of Your gripping the Right hand of fealty in your tajalliyāt [pl.] to me.’ I continued to look again and again – what might come suddenly of good from the Unseen? If I had turned at that moment into me, I would have known that from me it was being brought to me. But Presence made it so nothing but She was seen, and that no honored face would be seen but Her honored face. [95]

He said, ‘You are right, O Muḥammad [ibn al-ʿArabī], so stay fixed in the stance of the Unique [96] – and beware quantity (number), because in quantity is everlasting destruction.’

Then there came to pass addresses and reports; I shall discuss them in the chapter on pilgrimage and on Mecca [Chap. 72], with all the mysteries.

LINK

The friend entrusted [with my secrets] said, ‘O generous and sincere friend, you haven’t told me anything that I am not a knower (ʿālim) of, and it has been made into an inscription that is visible, preserved in my Substantive.’ I replied, ‘You have filled me with the desire of eager yearning for you, from you, so that I would be predicated (affirmed) by you.’

He said, ‘Yes. You, the exiled arriving; and you, the distant [175] near, enter with me the Kaʿba of the ḥijr.’ [97] This is the house elevated over the veil and the curtain; it is the entrance point of the ʿārifīn, and in there the circlers rest.

Thus it was that I entered with him a House of the ḥijr all at once, and he put his hand on my chest [98] and said, ‘I am the seventh step-level of the encompassing of the cosmos and of mysteries of the thing itself and the where. True One made me a segment of encompassing light primitive (plain), and He made me with respect to the wholes blended in.’

While I was eagerly waiting for what was being cast (taught) to my side, or coming down to me, suddenly the teacher, the Highest Pen, came down onto my dhāt (being) from his high place, riding a charger that was standing on three legs. [99] The charger lowered his head toward my dhāt and scattered the lights and the darknesses and blew into my heart [100] all of the worlds, and cleaved my earth and my heaven, and taught me all my names. I recognized myself, and others, and I distinguished between my bad and my good and I sundered what was between my Creator and my truths. Then that angel turned away from me and said, ‘Learn that you are in the presence of the king.’

I prepared myself for descent and the advent of the messenger. The angels came near to me and the orbits circled around me, and the All was at my Right hand, arriving from the South (right), coming towards my presence. I saw no king come down, nor angel shifting from standing in front of me. I regarded some of my ‘sides’ and I saw the [circular] shape of timelessness, and I knew that descending was impossible, so I stayed fixed in that condition. I [later] informed some of the special ones about what I had seen, and I poured out for them from myself everything I had found.

[The Youth said] ‘I am the mature garden, the universal harvest, so lift my veils and recite what is contained etched in my lines; what you learn from me, put it in your book, and speak directly in it to everyone dearest to you.’ I lifted his veils and I observed his etched lines, and there shone to my eyes his light that was deposited on him, whatever he contained and encompassed of hidden knowledge. The first line I recited and the first mystery from that line which I learned are what I shall cite now in this second chapter [following]. And God, exalted beyond, is the guide to knowledge and to an evened path. [End of Chapter 1]


Translator's Note


The tight semantic connections of the words Ibn al-ʿArabī uses reward a close and literal reading of his vision. Based on Chapter 1, the Youth, who is the Spirit from whom Ibn al-ʿArabī takes the Futūḥāt al-Makkīya, displays on his body the entire body of the work. What Ibn al-ʿArabī sees is either the 560 chapter headings or the 539 chapters which have the word maʿrifa in them. After these headings, the poems and the rest of the chapter will be Ibn al-ʿArabī’s efforts to convey to us, his readers, the particular topic (topos, surface).

The Youth is sectioned into six parts, and the architecture of the work is in six parts. We may be able to assign some numbers and proportions here, but there are too many variables to be exact. Taking the proportion of the number of chapters to each of the six parts as a percentage of the Youth’s body in which they are etched in light (photo-graphed), we may assign parts of the Futūḥāt to the Youth’s bodily parts. The Lund-Browder chart (below) is used to describe the portion of skin affected by burns. If the portion that Ibn al-ʿArabī reads from the head of the Youth is thirteen percent, then the body of the Youth is older than a child and younger than an adult.

translating-futuhat-4

Footnotes


First published in Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Vol. 55, 2014.

1. Unless otherwise stated, Futūḥāt references in this article are to the Mansoub edition. For a discussion of the new critical edition, see Eric Winkel, ‘Review of ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Sulṭān al-Manṣūb (ed): al-Futūḥāt al-Makkīya,’ Journal of Islamic Studies, 24, no. 1 (January 2013), 80–2. The second edition of this invaluable work is being published by the Supreme Council for Culture, El Gabalai Street, Opera House, El Gezira, Cairo. The hope is that this edition will be readily available through book dealers in Cairo.

2. At least two translation efforts, one into English and another into Turkish, tend to translate word by word; as a result, they do not actually convey the meaning of the text. Since Arabic is polysemous, word-by-word translation does not work. The Turkish translation for the first sentence of the Sermon gives Hakk for the word ḥaqq. The Turkish reader takes Hakk in the contemporary meaning of ‘right’ (as in rights and responsibilities), but while this meaning is found in the classical Arabic word, its other meanings of ‘real’ and ‘truth’ and ‘true’ (as in the true God) are what is meant here. Meanings of Arabic words in Muslim languages have drifted, and modern standard Arabic meanings have drifted from classical meanings. That is why the translator must use classical lexigraphical sources such as Lisān al-ʿArab and Tāj al-ʿarūs.

3. Eric Winkel, ‘Time is not Real: Time in Ibn ʿArabi, and from Parmenides (and Heraclitus) to Julian Barbour,’ Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, 51 (2012), 77–101.

4. Eric Winkel, ‘Gut Bacteria and Geometric Algebra: Finding Referents to Translate Visions Described in the Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya,’ JMIAS, 54 (2013), 61–93.

5. maʿrifa is what the ʿārif recognizes: understanding and recognition of the Divine. From ‘ʿaraf-tu-hu, I found, or experienced, its ʿarf, i.e., odor’, E. W. Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, London, 1863. This first of the six sections of the work is on maʿārif (the plural of maʿrifa), from Chap. 1 to Chap. 73; in the critical edition, 1:166–5:72.

6. Round parentheses generally are direct translations or transliterations of the original Arabic, and Ibn al-ʿArabī’s remarks which the translator takes to be parenthetical, while square brackets are the translator’s interjections.

7. tafṣīl, from faṣṣala ’l-naẓma, ‘He put between every two of the strung beads (or pearls) a bead such as is termed fāṣilat’; faṣṣal-tu ’l-shayʾa, infinitive noun (maṣdār), tafṣīl, ‘I made the thing to consist of distinct portions or sections’; faṣṣala ’l-shāta, ‘He (a butcher) divided the sheep, or goat, into limbs, or members.’ Lane, Lexicon.

8. nashāʾa or nashʾa, what is seen when the well or cistern is empty, the flooring stones on the bottom interlaced with clay (cited in Ibn Manẓūr’s Lisān al-ʿArab), and ‘a creation; an original production’; nashīʾa, ‘The stone that is placed in the bottom of a tank, or cistern. The earth that is behind the stones that are set up around the tank, the interstices between which stones are filled up with kneaded clay: or it is said to signify what is constructed around the tank’; nashīʾatu ’l-biʾri, ‘the earth that is taken forth from the well,’ Lane, Lexicon. And note the description of the poem following – it is called a naẓm, which is the interlacing of pearls and beads.

9. In his critical edition, Dr A. Mansoub provides a doubling mark; that is, suṭṭirtu, ‘I was made to write.’ The doubled, second form of saṭara creates a semantic field which includes saṭṭār, the butcher with a cleaver which cuts the meat into parts, ‘sectioning.’ Also, misṭara, ‘an instrument with which a book is ruled (yusṭaru) made of a piece of pasteboard with strings strained and glued across it, which is laid under the paper; the latter being ruled by being slightly pressed over each string’; and musaṭṭar, ‘Written.’ Lane, Lexicon.

10. This follows the classical Arabic convention of addressing the ‘closest’ neighbor (which is the self) and is not impolite as it may sound in English. The oft-heard statement in the Friday sermon is ‘and I ask God the Great for forgiveness, for me and for you (lī wa-lakum).’

11. The tajallī is the shining brilliance shone, a display and a disclosure, from the Divine to all beings in creation, whether they perceive it or not. The usual effect of the perceived tajallī, Ibn al-ʿArabī will tell his audience later, is for the recipient to be thunderstruck, erased, eclipsed, and to lose consciousness.

12. Here, yamīnī is right-hand, right-side, South, and Yemen. Yemeni is the adjectival form, like Makkī, pertaining to Mecca. Later in this chapter, and in Chap. 72, Ibn al-ʿArabī will speak of that corner being the Right-hand of the Divine, stretched out for taking-hand, the oath of fealty.

13. The maʿrūf here is the ‘active voice,’ also called the maʿlūm. Typically, this is called the ‘action of which the agent is known,’ but here, if the Substantive – which should be the ‘known’ – is actually unknown or unknowable, then the question is, will the Substantive be ‘coarse’ (more solid, less abstract) or ‘fine’?

14. The word sharīf means noble (in English lofty, superior, a noble view), but also the commanding, panoramic scouting post. When Ibn al-ʿArabī speaks of knowledge being the most noble thing, the picture is the vast panorama seen by the person with knowledge.

15. thawb, clothes, is figurative and otherwise; recall wa-thiyābak fa-ṭahhir, ‘Your clothes, make them pure’ [al-Muddaththir, Q.74:4], and the Prophet calling for new clothes on his deathbed: ‘Verily the dead will be raised in his garments in which he dies.’ The last word, naẓīf, in Lisān al-ʿArab, among other meanings, is ‘beautiful, splendid.’

16. From the Muwaṭṭā, ‘Ibn ʿAbbās used to say that between the corner [of the Black Stone] and the door [of the Kaʿba] is the multazam.’

17. ḥayy is a Divine name (noun) and attribute (adjective).

18. The ḥijā is sagacity, the sheltering veil which prevents one from acting badly.

19. The dark circles around their eyes are from staying up at night praying.

20. The sudden lifting of the veil revealing what is behind, and truly is.

21. Omitted in manuscript B.

22. qawla, ‘as if from the Qurʾān’ implied.

23. The translator explores this and the related dimensional realms in the ‘Translator’s Note’ below. Using a contemporary metaphor, this world is the tip of an iceberg, with the bulk existing in the much larger realm of the pre-image, or exemplar. The exemplar-space has dimension, distance, ratios; in short, it is a geometry.

24. Local Meccans who are guiding the pilgrims.

25. This translator tries to preserve some of the gendered voice of classical Arabic. When readers see [fem.] or [fem.], that is a signal that the Arabic noun in question is grammatically in the feminine gender. The pronoun, the next ‘her,’ for example, then refers to that feminine noun.

26. Mansoub notes that these are ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb and Imām ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib. The ḥadīth is as follows: ‘When we entered for ṭawāf, we faced the Stone, and he said, “I know you are a stone that cannot harm nor benefit, and if I had not seen Messenger of God kissing you, I would not kiss you”; then he kissed it. And ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib said to him, “No, Leader of the Believers, he can harm and benefit.” Then he said further, “It is in God’s blessed Book.” He said, “Where is that in the Book of God?” He said, “God said, When your Lord took from the progeny of Adam from their backs their offspring, and they testified about themselves, Am I not your Lord, they said, Yes. God created Adam and rubbed his back and they confirmed that He is the Lord, and they are creatures, and He took their promise and their covenant from them, and He recorded that in a parchment, and this stone has eyes and tongue, and He said to him, Open your mouth.” He said, “Then he opened his mouth and swallowed that parchment, and he said, I testify for the one who fulfills his loyalty to You on the day of judgment. And I testify, I heard Messenger say, The Black Stone will come on the day of judgment – he has a tongue, and an articulate one at that – to testify to the one who kisses him in tawḥīd. So, Leader of the Believers, he can harm and he can benefit.” ʿUmar said, “I take refuge in God that I should have to live among a people among whom there is not you, father of Ḥasan!”’ The tension between the two is reflected in Shiʿa and Sunni and Sufi and ‘orthodox.’

27. yamīna-hu also means, His Yemeni pillar (corner).

28. The pair here is mujālasa (cf., jalsa, majlis) and muʾānisa (cf., uns).

29. The pair here is musāmira and muṣāhara. Citing classical lexicons, Lane has aṣhara ilayhim; ‘He took to himself a wife from among them, and so he connected himself with them, and became, or made himself, an object of inviolable respect, by a covenant of mutual protection, or by relationship, or consanguinity, or by marriage.’ Lane, Lexicon. This translator finds seven possible interpretations. The muṣāhara could refer to a consanguinity as well as to the hair of the Prophet which is the sulṭāna of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s core being. (See khuṭba, Fut.1:71). She could also be a daughter, as shaʿra is hair and a metonym for daughter.

30. The kufʾ is the suitable partner for marriage. The naẓīr looks at you and corresponds to you; also mithl. The amīr is the one who commands: cf., amr, the imperative. Here, the ‘likeness’ is whatever noun we use to ‘confront’ the Substantive; for example, God who is karīm, when creatures may be generous too, is a confrontation of a likeness to God.

31. The ḥaqīqa is the gist, but also the one it behooves one to defend, or protect, ‘of the people of one’s house, or such as the wife, and the female neighbor.’ Lane, Lexicon.

32. See al-Qiyāma, Q.75:22–3: ‘Faces on that Day, beautiful and bright, looking toward their Lord.’ Tirmidhī records, ‘and the most honored [of the people of the Garden] by God is the one who gazes at His face morning and night; then Messenger of God recited, “Faces on that day beautiful and bright, toward their Lord gazing.”’ Consider also that the two may be the kāf and the nūn, the two letters of kun which are joined by ‘marriage.’ The question here is how can Something with no partner (as in the Ikhlāṣ, He has no partner) and no likeness or equal ever be gazed at.

33. The secret gesture is the ishāra which the people in the know use to communicate with each other when hostile forces are around. There is nothing especially communicative about this mode, so when they are among themselves, the people who know speak directly again. However, the Youth (who is the silent speaker) only speaks in this mode; not to guard the secret but because there is no speech which captures him – even the ‘purest language of the pure speakers.’

34. Later, Ibn al-ʿArabī will explain that while the door of prophethood is bolted shut, there is access by grace to the site (maẓhar) of the revelation of each verse of the Quran. Such a visitor attends the provision of a verse given to the Messenger of God and hears it as if directly, for the first time. This visitation to the site of the moment of revelation is the istiẓhār in the famous statement about Abū Yazīd al-Bisṭāmī not dying until he had istaẓhara the Quran completely; that is, until he had visited each site of each verse of the Quran. The Youth put himself in a state, or moment, of the revelation of the verse below and recited from ‘there’ to Ibn al-ʿArabī.

35. al-Fāṭir, Q.35:28. The ‘ones who know’ are the ʿulamāʾ.

36. Mansoub notes that another handwriting in the margin has anṣārik, ‘Your helper,’ for aḥbārik. The word aḥbār is a plural of paucity and means calligraphy and ink, ‘because it is one of the means of beautifying writings.’ Lane, Lexicon. The helpers would be the friends who help Ibn al-ʿArabī transcribe the vision into the Futūḥāt.

37. Something that is marqūm is stamped, imprinted, impressed upon. The animal is called marqūma when he has a raqm, a small mark of cauterization, on the leg. And the Quran describes a record which is a kitāb marqūm, in al-Muṭaffifīn, Q.83:9, 20. For a visualization, see ‘Translator’s Note’ below; an imprint is two-dimensional, but this is n > 2 dimensional.

38. Ibn al-ʿArabī is describing two realms, one this conventional world and the other the world where things have their ultimate meaning. For example, the widow’s mite here may be a few pennies, but the value of her charity in the other world is immense. Here, Ibn al-ʿArabī is recognized for having seen these invisible ‘Fine things.’

39. That is, what he learned of Ibn al-ʿArabī in the bulk universe of the exemplars, or image-forms, which we may take to be the invisible bulk of the iceberg below the surface. And recall above, ‘I made an argument for him in pure [formal] Arabic, and I recited it in the world of Exemplars extemporaneously.’ That is the ‘there’ where the Youth learned about Ibn al-ʿArabī.

40. In Chap. 8, Ibn al-ʿArabī describes these trailings as rays traveling to and from the other world, and as the dream images that come to us in this world.

41. The ismu dhātin is a substantive, a noun that is independent in its meaning, as opposed to a ṣifa (adjective, quality), which is not independent or ‘stand-alone’ in its meaning.

42. Consider that in the phrase ‘Zayd runs,’ we see the substantive (Zayd), but we cannot perceive his ‘running,’ that is, the verb. The tripartite cosmological grammar that Ibn al-ʿArabī is developing here is substantive, adjective, and verb. ‘Zayd, son of ʿAmr, runs.’ The ‘son of ʿAmr’ is intangible and minute (Fine), almost invisible, compared to the substantive ‘Zayd.’ His running is ‘Finer still than his adjective.’

43. Consider these images carefully, because they will inform Ibn al-ʿArabī’s descriptions of the Divine and creation for the next ten thousand pages. The reader may imagine how meaning is deposited in letters the way the scent is deposited in the perfume. Creation is sought after not for its skeletal frame but for its life and blood – but the question that Ibn al-ʿArabī asks us to consider is whose wujūd and breath animate creation.

44. The visualization is of a two-armed compass, the one arm fixed on a centerpoint. Keeping the pencil on the paper, the other arm is stretched out to ‘open’ the circle. There is now a line from the centerpoint to the arc of the circle. The pencil goes around and joins back to the circle – it is now ‘continuous being’ – thereby joining the last to the first. Following the pencil trace, one travels endlessly around the circle, and/or one gazes at the Seen centerpoint, which remains fixed and stable without regard to the journey along the circumference.

45. For ʿabd, with Ibn al-ʿArabī, the word ‘servant’ is wrong, because a servant chooses to serve; the word ‘slave’ is often correct (Ibn al-ʿArabī will speak about slaves and masters), but without many of the connotations of the word for English-speakers. The archaic ‘creature’ should evoke a despicable lowliness. In Arabic, ʿabd is the one who worships (ʿabada) the object of worship (maʿbūd). We have something of that in English in the ‘creature created by the Creator.’

46. al-Māʾida, Q.5:79.

47. That is, for their overstepping, al-Māʾida, Q.5:78. The picture Ibn al-ʿArabī is making is of the circle of existence, the circumference paved with stepping-stones along which all beings, the travelers, travel. Ahead is the future as if behind a veil and behind is the past, unveiled. Everyone is moving onwards to ‘find’ something, but the movement is along the circumference, from creation (and this idol) to creation (and that idol). How terrible (wrong) is each movement!

48. The even-numberedness here is duality, as in the duality of ‘do and don’t do,’ and ‘secondary causes,’ and ‘cause and effect.’ The fault of the people cited in al-Māʾida, Q.5:78 above, is worshiping others than God, and not recognizing the oneness of the Creator.

49. ‘God has ninety-nine names, one hundred less one; who holds them goes to the Garden, and He is witr and loves the witr.Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (Book of Prayers), Chap. 68.

50. For the very precise imagery of rafārafa, see the end of Chap. 8. Lane cites the imagery for rafrafa, ‘He (a bird) moved, or agitated, his wings in the air, (or fluttered in the air), without moving from his place.’ Lane, Lexicon. The dove, for instance, which flutters the wings while remaining in one place also has a shivering movement which would cast off the last water droplets or fluff up the down. Other descriptions used by Ibn al-ʿArabī throughout the Futūḥāt include foliations, rays, streaks, and vibrating strings.

51. Standing on the circumference of the circle (corresponding to the counter-clockwise circling of the Kaʿba) facing the Northerly direction the centerpoint is seen; the right-hand direction is forward along the circle, and the left-hand direction (West) is backward along the circle.

52. It is the individuations, the particulars (taʿayyunāt, from ʿayn) along the circumference that detract the sight from the One.

53. al-Baqara, Q.2:67.

54. The mudīr is the leader in the center of the circle; His right-hand from the center ‘reaches’ the circumference of the circle at her left-hand. This positioning is a theme Ibn al-ʿArabī connects to the right-hand of God that is the Yemeni pillar of the Kaʿba.

55. Wuqūf, standing. The ‘ones who stand’ (al-wāqifūn) in their place are in the highest spiritual station, as Ibn al-ʿArabī will explain later, but they are also lost to themselves and to others – precisely because they do not function in the realm of secondary means and causes and effects (along the circle’s circumference). They go to the deep part of the ocean and are lost, while prophets and others keep close to the shore so as to be useful to others.

56. As the reader will find, Ibn al-ʿArabī’s third person masculine is truly gender non-specific (and therefore ‘he’ may be used to describe someone menstruating, for example). However, in English ‘he’ typically does mean a man. Hence, the pressure in spoken language is to make plural references to singular indefinite pronouns to avoid specifying gender. In this translation, the plural is sometimes used (‘they picked up their books’), as here, and ‘one’ is often used to make sure the reader does not simply assume Ibn al-ʿArabī is talking about a man. But if neither device works, or if the sentence becomes too awkward, the masculine pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ are used as pronoun references. In other cases, when number is irrelevant, a singular ‘creature’ may become plural: ‘creatures’ or ‘people,’ to allow plural referents.

57. They are referred to as akābir, ‘leaders’, in al-Anʿām, Q.6:123. They seem to be the ‘discerning ones’ who are arguing with the hapless one.

58. al-Anʿām, Q.6:125.

59. zuwiyat liya’l-arḍ, ‘The Earth was wrinkled (and contracted altogether) for me and I saw her Easts and her Wests’ (Sunan, Ibn Majah, 36th Book, on fitan, ninth chapter).

60. These recall Gabriel’s ḥadīth (which will figure throughout this work) of the pillars of islām, īmān, and iḥsān, the last of which is ‘worship as if you see Him.’

61. In Lisān al-ʿArab, the meaning of azlaf-nā is ‘we gathered together.’

62. Making an ishāra is making a sign or indication, ‘as when one asks another’s permission to do a thing, and the latter makes a sign with his hand or with his head, meaning that he should do it or not do it’, but also ‘stirring up the fire, or making it to burn up.’ Lane, Lexicon.

63. The word qiyāma is usually translated as ‘Day of Judgment,’ but ‘Arising’ is perhaps better here, because the people will arise, resurrected, for their judgments.

64. A long ḥadīth from Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim is referenced throughout this book (and especially Fut.1:349), in which the Divine appears to people after they die who send Him away because He is in a form they do not recognize. He returns in the form they recognize and they rejoice, but their earlier inability to perceive the Divine in whatever form He may take is clearly a shortcoming on their part.

65. In contrast to ‘Am I not your Lord? And they said, “Yes”.’ al-Aʿrāf, Q.7:172.

66. I take refuge in God from the accursed Satan.

67. I take refuge in God from this form.

68. I take refuge in this form from this form.

69. The glosses are for ʿubūdīya, the state of creaturely-lowliness which is appropriate for the creatures, and rubūbīya, Lordliness, which is appropriate for the Divine.

70. This kiss is ritualistic and does not give Ibn al-ʿArabī what he hopes for: he complains (just below), ‘Why did you refuse me and not honor my covenant [with you]?’

71. The word taḥawwala is to shift from one place to another, transmute, and transform, as in taḥawwala-hu bi’l-mawʿiẓa, ‘He sought to avail himself of the state in which he might be rendered prompt, or willing, to accept admonition.’

72. We have just heard in the ḥadīth from Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim of the inability to recognize the Divine in different forms. The following seven forms are ‘reflexive’ adjectives: see note 82.

73. This is the Yemeni corner (the Right-hand) which is ritually touched during the seven laps of ṭawāf around the Kaʿba. It is a taking of the hand in fealty (allegiance), tabāyuʿu, ‘“The making a covenant … as though each of the two parties sold what he had to the other, and gave him his own special property, and his obedience, and all that pertained to his case. Hence, he promised, or swore allegiance to the prince” … in doing which, it was usual for the person making this covenant to place his hand in the hand of the prince, in confirmation of the covenant, like as is done by the seller and buyer.’ Lane, Lexicon.

74. This is echoed in [174], ‘Leave My presence.’

75. Ibn al-ʿArabī says he (his form) does not recognize the Kaʿba as anything but a rock. He is telling us that he did not see the circling as being really a funeral prayer of the Living around the Dead.

76. The seven circuits, Ibn al-ʿArabī says, are the seven attributes, or adjectives: Living, Seeing, Knowing, Hearing, Speaking, Wanting, Powerful.

77. Now, True One intervenes directly, with the draped curtains being this world (dunyā), which should be a sign pointing to the Divine but is for most people instead a veil hiding the Divine.

78. This is irāda, one of the six plus one adjectives (where all depend on the plus one, Life), and one of perhaps the three most important themes in the book, in which if God wants something to be, He says to it, Be! and it becomes. The verse is innamā qawlu-nā li-shayʾin idhā aradnā-hu an naqūla lahu kun fa-yakūn, in al-Naḥl, Q.16:40.

79. inna-Allāha ʿalā kulli shayʾin qadīr (al-Baqara, Q.2:20) for Ibn al-ʿArabī is that each thing (see note 79 above) that God wants to be is commanded to Be, and it becomes; what becomes is measured and apportioned, and the power of that becoming persists in each being. A gloss: ‘Indeed God measures out every thing with power.’

80. The final intervention is incapacity, which should have evoked Abū Bakr’s statement, ‘The inability to perceive what is to be perceived is perception.’

81. The seven qualities (see note 77) are complete and whole because they are shared by creation and Creator; they are not to be understood as Divine only, jalāl and exalted beyond a creature ‘owning’ them. For ‘reflexive,’ Lisān al-ʿArab has infiṣāl, the muṭāwiʿ [compliant, passive] of the part.

82. This is the one behind – min khalfi – whom One acts.

83. Note how the Kaʿba for Ibn al-ʿArabī has gone from a stone (translated here by the neuter in English, even though the Arabic has no neuter), to a ‘he’ with personality, and now to a she.

84. The argument is concerning angels and humankind, in al-Baqara, Q.2:30.

85. Recall in the khuṭba that the Prophet was stripped off the orbit of the khulafāʾ [Fut.1:71].

86. This is the testimony furled up that the Kaʿba promises she will guard and present on the Day of Judgment for Ibn al-ʿArabī, in Chap. 72 (Fut.4:87).

87. That is, that ‘not vastly spacious enough for Me are My Heavens and My Earth, but vastly spacious enough for Me is the heart of My faithful creature.’

88. The universe of takhṭīṭ, the mapped, drawn world, is described next in Chap. 2.

89. The composite body has a simple heart; the composite universe has a simple heart – the Kaʿba. The simple being is substantive.

90. The meaning dimension is the bulk of the iceberg. As tajallī is visual, its truth is always a slice, a sharp and particular facet; it is therefore not visually comprehensive, here in the tip of the iceberg.

91. Visually, the written vessel al-ināʾ looks like al-anā (the I). Taken visually, the writing suggests that ‘you are the I, and I am I.’

92. The legal school, e.g., Mālikī, Ḥanafī. Courtesy is adab, a crucial concept on the spiritual path. Being ‘present’ connects semantically to ḥaḍra which is the feminine force we will encounter soon, below, and the SufI gathering.

93. This and the following are two honorifics of Abū Bakr, relating to his maturity and handsomeness and then to his affirmation of the Prophet’s statements concerning his Night-Ascension.

94. al-Muddaththir, Q.74:11.

95. The muḥayy is the face to which one gives greetings of blessing and long life.

96. The Divine epithet al-awḥad, the ‘One who is not susceptible of division into parts or portions, nor of duplication, and who has no equal nor like.’ Lane, Lexicon.

97. Kaʿbat al-ḥijr, where ḥijr is the sacred enclosure, with the wall called al-Ḥaṭīm. See Chap. 72, 4:96 for details about this mysterious place unperceived by most.

98. Recalling the ṣadr opened up for Muhammad, al-Sharḥ, Q.94:1.

99. This detail may be connected to Ibn al-ʿArabī’s description of angels, who beat their wings to stay in a particular dimension and return by not flapping; the horse walks with three feet on the ground and one lifted. He says, ‘When the angels descend to the earth, they descend flying with these wings … such that if they didn’t make their wings move, they would ascend to their settling place and their station, automatically. But with bodies of the organic birds, he makes his wings move for the ascent, and if he stopped moving his wings, or spreading them out, he would fall to the Earth by his nature’ (Chap. 357, 8:475). Thus, a three-legged horse is staying in this dimension by walking; when he rests on four feet, he will return to the other dimension.

100. In Lisān al-ʿArab, ‘In a ḥadīth, the holy spirit blew into my core/heart (rūʿī)’.