After Ibn Arabi

After his death in 1240, Ibn Arabi’s writings (and teachings) quickly spread throughout the Islamic world. A central figure in the process was Sadr al-Din Qunawi, his foremost student, to whom he bequeathed his collection of books. Sadr al-Din wrote in both Arabic and Persian, and attracted a group of very influential students to Konya, in Seljuk Turkey, where he lived at the same time as Mevlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, author of the renowned Mathnawi.

Ibn Arabi’s writings have been very influential – chiefly among elites and Sufi tariqas. Although his name was widely recognized, only a minority of people could have read his works directly. But many of his ideas reached ordinary people through the Sufis, and through popular poetry.

So far studies of Ibn Arabi’s influence have been limited in scope to particular periods or regions, as any comprehensive study would need to take into account the intellectual history of Islam across the Muslim world. As one example, see Mustafa Tahrali’s article about the Ottomans on this page.

Ibn Arabi’s impact outside the historic Muslim countries is not easily traced. Miguel Asin Palacios in the 1920s caused a furore when he suggested that Dante had drawn on Ibn Arabi’s writings for his Divine Comedy. Orientalists began to study Ibn Arabi’s works relatively late, and the first response was frequently frustration. The first work to be translated into English appeared in 1911. Recognition of the depth and richness of his writings has extended to new audiences over the past century, particularly since the 1970s. At the same time there has been a great revival of interest and publishing in the Islamic world.

 

Articles

Sadr al-Din Qunawi

The last will and testament of Sadr al-Din Qunawi | William Chittick
Including notes on Sadr al-Din Qunawi, his commentaries on Ibn Arabi and other works. After a discussion on the importance of this last will and testament, William Chittick provides a translation.

The Central Point – Qunawi’s Role in the School of Ibn Arabi | William Chittick
Including information on Sadr al-Din Qunawi and Ibn Arabi, the term wahdat al-wujud (Oneness of Being), and the Station of “No Station”. It has translated passages from Qunawi’s al-Nafahat al-ilahiyya (The Divine Inblowings), and I’jaz al-bayan.

Commentary on a Hadith by Sadr al-Din Qunawi | William Chittick
An introduction and then translation of Qunawi’s discussion of the 21st hadith in his work “Commentary upon Forty Hadiths”.

Qunawi on the One Wujud | William Chittick
This article includes a translation of the first chapter of Qunawi’s book Miftah al-ghayb, often considered the most complete exposition of his metaphysical and philosophical position. Qunawi also included it in his treatise al-Nusus (The Texts), which is a short book in which he gathered some twenty passages from his previous writings.

Towards a Biography of Sadr al-Din Qunawi | Jane Clark
Although usually recognized by specialists as Ibn Arabi’s most important disciple and the primary intermediary through whom his school gained influence, Sadr al-Din Qunawi (d.673/1273–74) is still virtually unknown and unstudied in the West. Not only is there no major published study of his ideas, but there is still no published translation into a western European language of any of al-Qunawi’s major works. However, there are signs that the situation is changing. He was not only Ibn Arabi’s designated successor, who assiduously consolidated his heritage in his teaching and writings. He was also a spiritual master in his own right, whose many revelations and spiritual experiences as recorded by his students and in his own journal show him to have reached the highest degrees of realisation.

Early Best-sellers in the Akbarian Tradition (PDF) | Jane Clark
The dissemination of Ibn Arabi’s teaching through Sadr al-Din Qunawi. Ibn Arabi’s connection with Sadr al-Din Qunawi, biography and a discussion of the spread of Ibn Arabi’s teaching in the Seljuk period.

Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi’s al-Nusus | Hülya Küçük and Stephen Hirtenstein
The Nusus consist of twenty sections entitled nass (text), with two extra parts called fasl. The root of the word n-s-s means to “specify”, “designate”, “raise”, “elevate something so that it is visible to all”. The term nass (plural nusus) in terms of Quran and Hadith refers to a relatively small number of clear injunctions in the words of the Quran or Sunna, where there is no need to resort to any interpretation. In many ways it is a discourse on the Absoluteness of Truth (haqq), and Its ramifications from the point of view of knowledge and realization (tahqiq). Although at first sight it may seem quite philosophical and intellectual, al-Qunawi constantly stresses the centrality of “taste” or direct experience (dhawq) as the real touchstone of what he is examining. In a way the book can be described as a hymn to “taste” and “realization”.

The Key Concepts of al-Farghani’s Commentary on Ibn al-Farid’s Sufi Poem “al-Ta’iyyat al-Kubra” (PDF) | Giuseppe Scattolin
Sa‘id al-Din al-Farghani (d. 699/1300) wrote a very influential commentary on Ibn al-Farid’s great poem “al-Ta‘iyyat al-Kubra”. Al-Farghani was a student of Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi, and said that he took his explanation of Ibn al-Farid’s poem directly from his master Sadr al-Din. The Introduction to his commentary was long considered to be one of the clearest early expositions of Ibn Arabi’s ideas. The extended summary in this paper is the first substantial exposure of al-Farghani’s Introduction in a European language.

The Image of Guidance – Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi as Hadith Commentator | Stephen Hirtenstein
As a Hadith scholar al-Qunawi was considered supreme in his day. The focus here is on the last book he wrote: his commentary on forty hadiths, known as Sharh al-Arba‘in hadithan, although in fact only the work was never completed, only reaching twenty-nine hadiths, with commentary. In perhaps the longest section of the collection, the twenty-second hadith, al-Qunawi cites a tradition recorded by Ibn Masʿud that the Prophet said: “Whoever sees me in a dream has really seen me. For the Satan cannot impersonate me.” The the prophetic image and the reality of interpretation is the subject of al-Qunawi’s commentary, which runs to some twenty-seven pages of Arabic in the printed edition (compared to a mere four lines for the versions of the hadith text). It includes a full discussion of the imaginal world (al-mithal), the intermediate world where meaning takes form and form is endowed with meaning

 

Sitt ‘Ajam

‘Ajami Mysteries of Sitt ‘Ajam Bint al-Nafis: A Feminine Hermeneutic of an Heiress of Ibn Arabi | Fatima Az-Zahra’ Ahmad Langhi
Sitt ‘Ajam, a Sufi woman living in the thirteenth century, tells us in her work that she had a vision in which Muhyi al-din Ibn Arabi appeared to her, asking her to write a commentary on one of his earliest works, Mashahid al-asrar al-qudsiyya wa matali’ al-anwar al-ilahiyya (The Witnessing of the Holy Mysteries and the Rising of the Divine Lights)

 

‘Abd al-Rahman Jami

Jami on Divine Love and the Image of Wine | William Chittick
An introduction with notes on symbolism and meaning, and translations

 

The Ottomans

A General Outline of the Influence of Ibn Arabi on the Ottoman Era | Mustafa Tahrali
This paper reflects the great respect accorded to Ibn Arabi by the Ottoman state, and includes short descriptions of some thirty people whose writings reflected his influence in the course of six centuries.

Ibn Arabi and Ottoman Dervish Traditions: The Melami Supra-Order (Part one) | Victoria Rowe Holbrook
In general, melamet has been defined as a kind of deprecation of the self, whether this is taken as a denial of being to the self in a philosophical sense, or as a practice of behaving in such a way as to conceal one’s advanced spiritual states and draw upon oneself the censure of others. The Melami are said to have emerged as a Turkish tarikat or Sufi “way” when Emir Sikkini walked into a blazing fire and came out having lost only his dervish robe and crown. – Read also part two of this article.

Molla Fanari and the Misbah al-Uns: The Commentator and the Perfect Man (PDF) | Alan Godlas
Molla Fanari (1350–1431), the first Ottoman Shaykh ul-Islam, is significant because of central ideas that he contributed to Ottoman intellectual life. Like Davud-I Kayseri before him, he worked to introduce major Arabic works into Turkish, while making Ibn Arabi’s ideas on the unity of existence the basis of the philosophical and religious systems being developed among the ulema in training for the emerging Ottoman state. His famous commentary on the Miftah al-ghayb of Sadr al-din Qunawi is still studied. In spite of his importance, and his renown in Turkey and Iran, he has until recently largely been ignored by Western scholars. The paper is reproduced with the kind permission of the editors of the Proceedings of the International Symposium on Molla Fanari, held in Bursa, 4–6 December 2009.

The Enigma of the Shajara al-nu‘maniyya fi’l-dawla al-‘Uthmaniyya, attributed to Ibn Arabi | Denis Gril
The text entitled Shajara al-nu‘maniyya fi al-dawla al-‘Uthmaniyya is written in coded language, and its author remains so far unknown. The prevailing view in the Ottoman era was that the authorship was Ibn Arabi, but Denis Gril shows how this attribution cannot be right, and also how the two main commentaries on the work, one of which is attributed to Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi, are clearly apocryphal. This kind of clarification is important. The Emir ‘Abd al-Qadir put is forcefully when he said, “All works on alchemy and command of this world that are attributed to our master, the seal of sainthood, Muhyi al-Din Ibn Arabi, and to other saints who call men to God, is but lies and calumny. It is not possible for one of God‘s saints to teach God’s servant that which will distance them from God.”

 

Other

On Two Books Attributed to Ibn Arabi – Kitab al-mabadi wa l-ghayat li ma‘ani l-huruf and Kitab mahiyyat al-qalb | Claude Addas and Michel Chodkiewicz
A good deal of the writings ascribed to the Shaykh al-Akbar raise questions as to their authenticity. This article examines publications of two works attributed to Ibn Arabi, which on examination can be seen not be by him, and some general criteria for making attributions of a work to Ibn Arabi. It concludes by making a recommendation to researchers wishing to explore what Ibn Arabi says.

The Diffusion of Ibn Arabi’s Doctrine | Michel Chodkiewicz
Many authors have pointed out for a long time the extent in Moslem geographical space – from the Maghreb to the Far East – of the influence of Ibn Arabi. In this article Michel Chodkiewicz underlines, beginning with some examples taken in the main from the Arabic-speaking Moslem world, the depth of this influence. The stamp of akbarian teaching is not only printed on “intellectual” Sufism, but may also be detected in a world of brotherhoods which embrace the most diverse social classes and cultural levels.

“At the distance of two bows’ length or even closer” – The Figure of the Prophet in the Work of ‘Abdal Karim Jili, Part 1 | Part 2 | Claude Addas
For many Muslims the implementation of the Sunna consists, first and foremost, of reproducing the outward behaviour of the Prophet as he was in his daily life, and to model their eating and dressing habits, etc., on his. Claude Addas shows how conformity to the Muhammadan model is the keystone of “initiatic training” in Islam through the study of a brief pamphlet Qab Qawsayn by ‘Abd al-Karim Jili (d.811/1409).

Ibn al-Arabi: The Doorway to an Intellectual Tradition | William Chittick
By “intellectual tradition” I mean the branch of Islamic learning that puts its primary effort into actualizing the intellect (‘aql), understood as a living awareness of the way things actually are. Those who can be classified as members of this tradition have usually been looked back upon as philosophers or Sufis. They held that the final goal of all Islamic learning – and, indeed, of all religion – is to awaken people to their own intellectual and spiritual nature, which is the divine image found in the heart.

The Unity of Being in Liu Chih’s “Islamic Neoconfucianism” | Sachiko Murata
From the middle of the seventeenth down to the end of the nineteenth century, the school of Ibn Arabi had a significant presence in the Chinese language. The first Muslim scholar to explain Islamic teachings in Chinese was Wang Tai-yü, who published his major book in 1642. He tells us that his ancestor had come to China three hundred years earlier. He himself was educated in the traditional Islamic manner, and only when he was old did he begin to learn classical Chinese. His intention was to explain Islamic teachings to fellow Muslims educated in the Chinese manner and ignorant of the literatures of their own languages. As far as we can tell, up until this time most Islamic learning in China had been transmitted in Persian, though of course the Arabic Qur’an played the same basic role in China as it did elsewhere.

Physical Sustenance in Sufi Literature: A Case-study of a Treatise by ‘Abd Allah al-Busnawi | Stephen Hirtenstein and Hülya Küçük
Physical sustenance is a topic dealt with in many books on Sufi terms and spiritual etiquette. It may be mentioned under headings such as knowing oneself (including the body), eating and drinking less as part of ascetic austerities, earning lawful (halal) food, patience (sabr), being thankful to God (shukr), entrusting oneself to God (tawakkul), fasting, healthy nutrition (physical and spiritual). In this article the authors give brief preliminary notes on the subject in various Sufi books, and then examine a short treatise by ‘Abd Allah al-Busnawi (d.1054/1644), entitled “The Kernel of the kernel regarding the explanation of eating and drinking” (Lubb al-lubb fi bayan al-akl wa l-shurb).

Malatyan Soil, Akbarian Fruit: From Ibn Arabi to Nyazi Misri | Stephen Hirtenstein
Malatya is a settlement in Eastern Anatolia close to the upper Euphrates, lying at the intersection of ancient trade routes. It has long been a border town between competing powers, Roman and Persian, Byzantine and Muslim. Ibn Arabi lived there for at least six years from 1215 before finally moving to Damascus. The famous Turkish poet and mystic Nyazi Misri was born there in 1618, 400 years later. This article traces the connection between Ibn Arabi and Niyazi not only in relation to the town of Malatya, but more importantly in terms of their thought.

God and the Perfect Man in the Experience of ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza‘iri | Itzchak Weismann
Itzchak Weismann is the author of Taste of Modernity: Sufism, Salafiyya and Arabism in Late Ottoman Damascus, Brill, 2001.

Reflections of Ibn Arabi in Early Naqshbandi Tradition | Hamid Algar
It is often assumed that the Naqshbandi tariqa has formed a singular case of imperviousness to the almost universal diffusion of the teachings and concepts of Ibn Arabi. The imaginary antithesis between the Naqshbandiya and Ibn Arabi also derives, perhaps, in a more general sense, from the obstinate notion that Sufism and shari’a have represented polar opposites throughout Islamic history.

Reality and Image in the Tafsir of Kubra and Razi | Paul Ballanfat
“We have never been so surrounded and permeated by images as we are at the beginning of the twenty-first century.” In a study of a Quranic commentary attributed to Najm al-din Kubra, a great contemporary of Ibn Arabi, Paul Ballanfat reflects on man in the image of God, and the question of vision. In doing so he asks questions about the nature and function of images, which “seems to be an urgent need in our time of extreme confusion.”

The Occult Tradition of the Tarot in Tangency with Ibn Arabi’s Life and Teachings (PDF) | Jereer El-Moor
Most researchers today would probably agree that playing cards were introduced to Christian Europe as an importation from the Arab world, however, the details of this are not well-established. In the first part of this long article, the author reviews the known facts of the history of playing cards (and the related history of the Tarot). He sets out to present “a credible case for regarding the Tarot as of Near Eastern provenance”, and gives a personal view of its interpretation through the centuries. In the second part he goes on to interpret one of the trumps in the light of Ibn Arabi’s ‘Anqa’ mughrib.

Originality Under the Guardianship of Ibn Arabi | Gamal al-Ghitani
This is an account by the Egyptian journalist and novelist Gamal al-Ghitani (1945–2015) of the profound place in his life and writings of Ibn Arabi. One of his novels (published between 1983 and 1986) takes its title from Ibn Arabi’s Kitab al-tajalliyat. For this novel he won the Laure Bataillon in 2005, a French award for translated literature, and one of the highest French awards to be bestowed on non-French writers. His last novel, Ren, was published in 2008 and also received international recognition, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award. From 1993 to 2011, he was the editor-in-chief of Akhbar Al-Adab, one of Egypt’s primary literary magazines

 

Ibn Arabi and His Interpreters – Articles by James Morris

Ibn Arabi: Historical Contexts and Contemporary Perspectives

Ibn Arabi; in the “Far West” (PDF)

Except His Face: The Political and Aesthetic Dimensions of Ibn Arabi’s Legacy (PDF)

Situating Islamic ‘Mysticism’ (PDF)

“Ibn Arabi and his Interpreters”, JAOS article 1986, Part I (PDF)
Recent French Translations:

M. Asin Palacios’ classic study L’Islam christianisé: Étude sur le Soufisme d’Ibn Arabi de Murcie, tr. B. Dubant, 379 pp, Paris: Guy Tredaniel / Editions de la Maisnie, 1982.

Ibn Arabi’s Kitab al-fana’ fi al-mushahada (O.Y. 125), Le Livre de l’Extinction dans la Contemplation, tr. Michel Valsan, 57 pp (translation pp. 25–50), Paris: Les Editions de l’Oeuvre, 1984.

La Niche des Lumières, tr. Mumammad Valsan, 156 pp, Paris: Les Editions de l’Oeuvre, 1983.

Stephane Ruspoli’s translation of chapter 167 of the Futuhat, L’alchimie du bonheur parfait, tr. S. Ruspoli, 151 pp, Paris: Berg International (collection «L’île verte»), 1981.

M. Gloton’s translation of the Shajarat al-kawn (O.Y. 660), L’Arbre du Monde, tr. Maurice Gloton, 230 pp, Paris: Les Deux Oceans, 1982.

Prof. D. Gril’s translation of the Risalat al-ittihad al-kawni (O.Y. 319), L’Arbre et les Quatre Oiseaux, tr. Denis Gril, 73 pp, Paris: Les Deux Oceans, 1984.

La Doctrine Initiatique du Pèlerinage à la Maison d’Allah, tr. C.-A. Gilis, 331 pp, Paris: Les Editions de l’Oeuvre, 1982, based loosely on chapter 72 of the Futuhat (“On the Hajj and Its Secrets”).

Le Coran et la Fonction d’Hermès, tr. C.-A. Gilis, 226 pp, Paris: Les Editions de l’Oeuvre, 1984.

Part II: Influences and Interpretations (PDF)
Part II of this article surveys some representative lines of interpretation and influence of Ibn Arabi’s work among subsequent Islamic mystics and thinkers (and their critics) as they are revealed in recent translations. Their comparison with Ibn Arabi’s own writings brings out (1) the intellectual and institutional conditions underlying the creative aspects of the Shayk’s work and accounting for its phenomenal spread; (2) important aspects of his writing and teaching often neglected by his later interpreters; and (3) the remarkable diversity, selectivity, and autonomous development of subsequent Sufi traditions as they transformed and adapted his works in light of their own concerns. This half deals with a famous treatise (by Balyani) representing the “monistic” Sufism of Ibn Sab‘in (and its many critics); an interesting apocryphal work (actually by a later Qadiri writer); the influential Persian works of Nasafi; and the decisive role of the metaphysically oriented teachings of Ibn Arabi’s disciple and son-in-law S. Qunawi and his successors.

Part III: Conclusion (PDF)
The final section deals with representative figures in the more philosophic ‘school’ founded by Qunawi (Kashani, H. Amuli and Jili); in mystical poetry (Jami, ‘Iraqi and others) and philosophy (Mulla Sadra and his successors); and with the more recent Sufi writings of ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri, who recapitulates and integrates many of these traditions while returning to the spiritual sources and intentions underlying Ibn Arabi’s own work and teaching.

Influences in the Pre-Modern Islamic World – Introduction to the seven articles in this section (PDF)

Theophany or “Pantheism” – The Importance of Balyani’s Risalat al-Ahadiya

The Continuing Relevance of Qaysari’s

Thought: Divine Imagination and the Foundation of Natural Spirituality

Review: La destinée de l’homme selon Avicenne: Le retour à Dieu (maad) et l’imagination by Jean Michot

Review: Kitab al-inbah ‘ala Tariq Allah de ‘Abdallah Badr al-Habashi

Review: La Risala de Safi al-Din ibn Abi l-Mansur ibn Zafir

Review: Manjhan, Madhumalati: An Indian Sufi Romance

Review: Mirror of the Intellect: Essays on Traditional Science and Sacred Art

Later Muslim Critics and Polemics – A Collection of four articles (PDF)

An Arab “Machiavelli”? – Rhetoric, Philosophy and Politics in Ibn Khaldun’s Critique of “Sufism”

Review: Islamic Mysticism Contested: Thirteen Centuries of Controversies and Polemics

Review: Ibn Arabi and the Later Islamic Tradition: The Making of a Polemical Image in Medieval Islam

Review: Theodicy in Islamic Thought: The Dispute over al-Ghazali’s “Best of All Possible Worlds”

Ibn Masarra: A Reconsideration of the Primary Sources (PDF)
Ibn Masarra (born in Cordoba in 883 AD/268 AH) was an Andalusi Muslim ascetic and scholar. He is often considered one of the first Sufis as well as one of the first philosophers in al-Andalus. He is sometimes quoted by Ibn Arabi, and two passages from the Futuhat are included in this unpublished study. Undertaken at Harvard in 1973, it remains a useful reference in this field, and includes copies of two of his works from a rare edition.