Articles and Translations

The Mystery of Destiny (sirr al-qadar) in Ibn ‘Arabi and al-Qunawi

Bakri Aladdin

Bakri Aladdin originates from Damascus; he studied under Henry Corbin in Paris and went on to write his doctoral thesis on the life, works and doctrine of al-Nabulusi, who has been the subject of his three main published works. He has since researched and taught on subjects related to tasawwuf ans Islamic Studies in France and Syria. As well as being the author of many journal articles and books, in 2004 he edited with Souad Hakim a commentary on a book by Ibn Arabi, the Sharh a-Mashahid al-Qudsiyya.


Articles by Bakri Aladdin

The Mystery of Destiny (sirr al-qadar) in Ibn Arabi and al-Qunawi

Oneness of Being (wahdat al-wujud) – The Term and the Doctrine


Muslims have differed regarding the question of destiny, and traditionally they have been divided into three groups:

1. The Traditionalists (ahl al-sunna wa al-ḥadīth), who held that it is necessary to believe that destiny, whether good or evil, is entirely from God;[1]

2. the Mu’tazilites, who explained the human capacity to act on the basis of the Quran and gave a rational interpretation of the verses that were in conflict with their views;

3. the Ash’arites, who adopted a third solution by using the Quranic term ‘acquisition’ (kasb),[2] which opens the door to a compromise and to what became known as ‘the middle determination’ (al-jabr al-mutawassaṭ). Amongst the Shi’ites and Murjiʾa Kharijites, some adopted the Mu’tazilite position, while others rejected it.

The seriousness of the issue of destiny made it one of the major controversies in Islamic theology (‘ilm al-kalām) because of its connection to the first Islamic article of faith: the doctrine of tawḥīd. Muhammad b. Shihab al-Zuhri, who was one of the early representatives of the Sunni stream, says ‘Belief in destiny is an integral part of tawḥīd: whoever believes in tawḥīd but not in destiny, his tawḥīd is incomplete’.[3] The Mu’tazilites also linked tawḥīd with justice (‘adl), i.e. Divine justice based on righteousness and holding man responsible for his actions and his fate.[4] As for the Sufis, they paired tawḥīd with tawakkul (reliance on God). Al-Ghazali showed in his Iḥyāʾ ‘ulūm al-dīn (Revival of the Religious Sciences) that tawḥīd is the basis of tawakkul. Qadar, according to Ghazali, is

a mystery which puzzles the majority, and those who are granted insight into it are prevented from revealing it. One may conclude that good and evil have been decided, and what has been decreed is bound to happen as it has been wished [by the Divine]. There is no objection to His judgement or obstacle to His Decree (qaḍāʾ) and Command.[5]

This deep faith in tawakkul suggests determinism. Al-Ghazali, however, does not accept blind determinacy, which would nullify reward and punishment, but bases tawakkul on having absolute confidence in the Divine ‘Agent’ (wakīl). The Sufi sees through this that ‘there could be no more beautifully created universe than that which exists’. This is a tawḥīd based more on love than on reason. In spite of the expansion in the understanding of destiny within the circle of love and faith, al-Ghazali did not say that it is possible to read the unseen or unseal the mystery of destiny. Destiny, as reported in a prophetic tradition, is ‘the secret of God’[6] and it is part of the completeness of a Sufi’s spiritual courtesy (adab) that he should refrain from disclosing this secret. The first to speak of the possibility of revealing this secret is the great Sufi Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d. ah 571), who says:

When the saints (awliyāʾ) reached destiny they all found it to be a solid wall, except me: a window opened in it for me, and I entered through it, so that I mastered the destinies of God (ḥaqq) through God.[7]

The city of Konya and the mystery of destiny

If ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani was proud of having overtaken his saintly predecessors by being the one to enter the world of destiny through a small window, Ibn ‘Arabi entered this world through its wide door, on the basis of his philosophical theories and unique spiritual experience. No one after him claimed to have reached an understanding of ‘the mystery of destiny’, and that he tasted it through his sufi experience, except his student and protégé Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi and al-Qunawi’s student Muʾayyad al-Din al-Jandi, the commentator on Fuṣūṣ al-ikam (see note 16). The city of Konya holds a privileged position in overcoming the obstacle of qaḍāʾ and qadar at the level of sufi experience.

It is known that Ibn ‘Arabi stayed in Konya several times between the years ah 602 and 620 (that is, when he was over forty years of age, and before reaching sixty.) In his Futūāt al-Makkiyya[8] Ibn ‘Arabi provides us with several details of the ‘spiritual abode’ (manzil) which he experienced in Konya and the state (āl) in which he received it, ‘during a night which was the hardest I have ever experienced because of the force of the determination (ukm), what it provides and the authority it exercises’. He thanked God that this state was limited to a single night and did not continue. Ibn ‘Arabi says that after he had regained his self-control and his senses: ‘I made a distinction between His decree (qaḍāʾ) and His destiny (qadar) in things.’ It so happened that one of his friends named Shihab al-Din had asked him to explain in writing his spiritual states and experiences. Ibn ‘Arabi immediately wrote him two poems to inform him what mystical knowledge this ‘abode’ contains. Here let us mention two verses from the second poem:

In the vast sea of this world

float your bodily vessels,

There is no shore for you

except qaḍāʾ and qadar

And then he lists in prose the sciences contained in the aforementioned ‘abode’, which number nearly thirty,[9] and states that God asks nothing of the human being except what his existence demands, and He does not give save from this aspect.[10]

Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi tells us that he had the same experience as his master Ibn ‘Arabi when he reached the same age as that of his teacher. They both passed through the same obstacle at the same stage of their lives and in the same city, i.e. Konya. Al-Qunawi describes what happened with him on

… a day of wonder and a strange state after certain obstacles… I had been waiting for it since arriving in the city… Our Shaykh … experienced two extraordinary events here in this city when he was this age, which he described as an obstacle. Regarding one of them he wrote his poem which is mentioned in the Futūḥāt [volume II of the first version], where he says: ‘I encountered an obstacle in the middle of the road of the travel, and it was in Konya…’ When I realised the truth of what happened to him, I waited to discover something similar to what he had hit upon.[11]

Unfortunately we are unable to determine the date of the two experiences.

The extent of Ibn ‘Arabi’s influence on al-Qunawi

Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi also tells us in Risālat al-Nuṣuṣ that he is speaking about universal texts. They are, as we understand, key texts dealing with Realities or metaphysics, in the style of Ibn ‘Arabi or the Zubdat al-aqāʾiq by ‘Ayn al-Qudat al-Hamadhani, where the text is brief in dealing with one of the key issues in the philosophy of Sufism. These texts that were singled out by al-Qunawi in his treatise were written or composed independently, without relying on others or clarifying the words of a previous thinker or wise man (‘ārif). He was proud that God had enriched him by making him free of taking from others. Here is the exact text: ‘Some of the universal texts are texts that I have mentioned in the book Miftā al-Ghayb (The Key to the Unseen) … and in other works that I composed without adding in the words of other people, as that is not my approach.’[12] The concern of al-Qunawi (like his shaykh and spiritual father) is focused primarily on revelation (ilhām) or the Divine gifts, which do not leave him in need of books by others. Al-Qunawi says in this regard: ‘God has saved me from that, and enriched me with His exclusive gifts with no external earthly debt attached to them.’[13] This means being completely fulfilled in the mystical vision (kashf), which lights up the path of knowledge, and drinking directly from the Divine source without need for any external intermediary.

In spite of this tendency to look for the originality of his character, we cannot deny the creative spiritual relationship between them. Through the study of the mystery of destiny, we can highlight certain independent aspects of the student vis-à-vis his master.

Ibn ‘Arabi’s view of the ‘secret of destiny controlling human beings’

Ibn ‘Arabi declares that ‘the secret of destiny’ is a great mystery,[14] which ‘the intellect cannot really have any access to by thinking, but only by Divine Prophetic revelation’.[15] It is well known that the problem of destiny is a very old one in theology (kalām). There was general agreement that the knowledge of qadar and the unseen is purely a Divine matter. No one before Ibn ‘Arabi had dared to claim that he could know his destiny or predict the unseen except al-Jilani.[16] However, the Shaykh al-Akbar offers an authentic solution in the history of Arab–Islamic thought to knowing the ground of the structure of destiny. Once we know the metaphysical mechanism of destiny, we gain a sense of psychological comfort and a hope that a Sufi can know his destiny and the future in fine detail. The theme of the ‘mystery of destiny’ in Ibn ‘Arabi is based on two main ideas: (a) the notion that ‘Knowledge is subject to the known’, and (b) the concept of the ‘established entities’ (al-a’yān al-thābita).

In fact, these two ideas are interrelated and can only be separated theoretically. The idea that knowledge is subject to the known was raised and discussed by Ibn ‘Arabi, and also by the Mu’tazilites and Ash’arites.[17] It seems, however, that the Shaykh al-Akbar was not aware of the details of the theory of knowledge preceding his. This is evident from his words: ‘Knowledge is subject to the known, and what is known is subject to knowledge, so understand! This is a great and subtle matter, which to my knowledge no one has mentioned before, or if they have, it has not come to my attention.’[18] Our author is proud of his own creative ability in this matter, saying: ‘If there were no other matter in this book except this question, it would be sufficient to those with clear thinking.’[19] Ibn ‘Arabi distinguishes two states for the established entities, which are (1) that which is known, and (2) all the forms of existing things prior to their existence. Their state prior to creation can be understood on the basis of ‘simultaneity’, which means that ‘The Real’s knowledge of Himself is the same as His knowledge of the world’.[20] That is to say, they exist in the eternal Divine knowledge as possible things, and every thing includes its own independent personality and its own specific destiny. As for its subsequent state after being created, or after its existence in the external world, knowledge of it flows from itself. Thus God’s knowledge of things, or of the known things after they were created, will be connected with the known things as they are in themselves.

Above ‘the mystery of destiny’

The problem of the mystery of destiny, then, lies between the two states of the established entities: in the first state they have no independent existence, only a non-existent thingness; after appearing in the external world, they remain in their state of non-existence, or as Ibn ‘Arabi expresses it, ‘they have never smelt the breath of existence’[21] because true ‘existence’ applies to nothing but God, and the possible thing’s existence is only a borrowed one. Thus, God’s knowledge of these entities does not change, and He knows them in the same way before and after their coming into existence. Ibn ‘Arabi says:

Know that the entities always remain in their original state of non-existence. They never go outside the Presence of Knowledge, and they have never smelt the breath of existence. The only existence they have in the external world is the existence of God (aqq) clothed in the forms of the states of the possibles. So no one takes delight in or is pained by His revelations except Him. Know that suffering and enjoyment are attributes of the universe, so that attributing them to Him is based on two considerations: firstly, He takes on the attributes of the universe in the station of descending; and secondly, the universe and its attributes return to Him. As for the consideration of Uniqueness (aadiyya) all are consumed by it. There is no pleasure or pain. This secret is beyond the secret of destiny, because it is the secret of aadiyya, which has no need of the multiplicity.[22]

Here we are confronted with two secrets, one above the other. Ibn ‘Arabi emphasises the level of aadiyya, in which he denies the existence of the creatures and recognises nothing but one existence, that things are annihilated in the Divine Essence. Likewise, the creatures after being created do not possess their existence, ‘but they belong to Him who brought them into manifestation … there is nothing but Him’.[23]

Discovering the mystery of destiny

If we go back to the mystery of destiny, we find that Ibn ‘Arabi does not exclude the possibility of finding its secret, in contrast to those who follow traditional fiqh. He shows us this possibility when he says: ‘He who finds out the mystery of destiny is one who knows that God’s knowledge of him in all his states is the same as what he was in the state of the establishment of his ‘ayn prior to his existence.’[24]

There is a higher degree than this in finding out this great mystery, as it is possible for the great Sufis, and Ibn ‘Arabi is one of them, ‘to have his ‘ayn revealed to him together with all the states that it undergoes to infinity, and this is higher. His knowledge of himself would be like God’s knowledge of him, since the source is the same. But for the servant, it is a prior providential blessing to him from God.’[25] One of the most important texts on this subject is what Ibn ‘Arabi wrote in Chapter 14 of the Fuṣūṣ al-ikam, ‘the faṣṣ of the wisdom of destiny in the word of ‘Uzayr’, where he directly addresses the problem of qaḍāʾ and qadar, with a greater emphasis than is the case in the Futūāt. He defines them as follows: qaḍāʾ is the ‘judgement of God over things … according to His Knowledge of them and in them’, and qadar is ‘the appointment in time of what the things are in their ‘ayn and nothing more’. He states the following opinion:

The judgement of qaḍāʾ over things only occurs from these things themselves … To God belongs the decisive proof. The judge in reality is subject to the reality (‘ayn) of the matter under judgement, according to what is required by its nature. The thing which is judged, according to what it is, is judge over the judge to judge him as required: so every judge is judged by the judgement he gives out and the matter being judged.[26]

Therefore, the question of destiny can be solved, and ignor­ance of this matter stems from the intensity of its obviousness. Note that the demand and urgency in this regard are great. We understand on the basis of Ibn ‘Arabi’s viewpoint that the mystery of destiny is one of the highest sciences, and in spite of its simplicity and appearance it cannot be resolved except by those whom God has chosen for this purpose. It cannot be reached by mental effort and sufi training. God does not transmit it and explain it except to one upon whom ‘He has bestowed complete knowledge’.[27]

The problem of Ibn ‘Arabi’s determinism

Scholars may conclude that Ibn ‘Arabi believes in determinism, and we can find some texts that support this trend in his thought. This is related to ‘the impossibility of rebelling against God or rejecting His command’ according to the opinion of Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi himself, who cites a poem by Ibn ‘Arabi where he says:

You made in me what You made

and You said to me: ‘you are the one who acted’

But You know that my being

contains nothing but what You put there

Everything You see me do

it is You, my God, who did it![28]

However, we should pay attention to the context in which the idea of determinism came about: that is, the ‘Existentiating Command’ (al-amr al-takwīnī), which is distinguished by Ibn ‘Arabi from the ‘Prescriptive Command’ (al-amr al-taklīfī).[29] The former cannot be resisted because it is tied to the command ‘Be’. As for the Prescriptive Command, it can be obeyed or disobeyed by the believer.

In another area we see that Ibn ‘Arabi commended a student of his, Ibn Sawdakin, who found a significant sufi interpretation of the ability of the believer to choose. Ibn ‘Arabi says:

Isma’il Ibn Sawdakin discussed this matter with me. He said: ‘What stronger proof could there be in attributing the actions to the servant and relating it to him and the theophany in him?! It was part of his attribute since God “created man in His own image”. If he didn’t have action attributed to him, it wouldn’t be true that he is in His image and he wouldn’t have accepted being qualified by the Names. But it is accepted by you, and all the people of this Way, without doubt, that man was created in the [Divine] image and it is right that he is qualified by the Names.’[30]

Ibn ‘Arabi was impressed by the intelligence of his close student, and was overwhelmed by an indescribable feeling of happiness, he says, that his student was so creative and such an advocate of human freedom in the choice of his actions.

Here we can conclude that Ibn ‘Arabi does not have the same determinism as was traditionally conceived, as Abu al-‘Ala ‘Afifi tried to portray him for us, noting that he has some verses and ideas that clearly confirm this trend,[31] and others that state the opposite, as is the case with Quranic verses. The distinction between the two types of Divine command or resorting to interpretations that preserve freedom of choice is in line with an open mind, as was the mind of Ibn ‘Arabi, which should make us rather cautious in passing final judgement on him, such as stating that ‘reward, in the religious sense, does not exist in the dictionary of his terms’.[32]

On the other hand, Ibn ‘Arabi addressed the problem of action to finalise his discussion of qadar, ideas which are not found in the writings of al-Qunawi. These are original ideas to which there is no counterpart in the theological (kalām) heritage, either before or after Ibn ‘Arabi. Ibn ‘Arabi accepts that the question of whether actions should be attributed to God or man is something we cannot ultimately resolve. It must be accepted as an insoluble dilemma. This is because followers of religions prior to Islam and philosophers such as the ‘Causationists’ (aṣāb al-‘ilal), ‘Materialists’ (al-dahriyyīn) and ‘Naturalists’ (al-ṭabī’iyyīn) did not find any magic formula for the problematic nature of this subject. In Ibn ‘Arabi’s opinion, the solution is to accept that there is no solution or what he calls ‘no way-out’ (‘adam al-takhalluṣ, i.e. aporia). He prefers to adopt the idea of ‘participation’ (ishtirāk) in the act by both God and human being. Quranic texts do not resolve the matter in favour of one party, although out of courtesy they do attribute the acts to God, according to the verse: ‘Say, all is from God’.[33] Ibn ‘Arabi says that ‘In acts there must be aqq and khalq’, and in Chapter 350 of the Futūāt that ‘the correct opinion regarding this is that it is linked to both aqq and khalq, without being exclusive to either side’.[34] This original solution to the issue confirms that Ibn ‘Arabi is not a determinist. He states elsewhere in the Futūāt that ‘the issue of the act that cannot be attributed solely to one of the two sides is similar in its ambiguity to the letter of association, which is Lām-Alif … That is because if anyone attributes the action to one side and not the other, that is not true.’[35]

Then: ‘There is no conclusion regarding who the apparent action by the creature belongs to. If you say: “to God”, you are right. And if you say: “to the creature”, you are equally right. If it were not like this, there would be no responsibility.’

Common sense attributes the apparent act to man, and this is supported by the principle of responsibility. It is unimagin­able that a wise omniscient God would issue a command to worshippers, telling them to pray and fast and to be patient, and not give them the ability to act.[36]

Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi and the mystery of destiny

The relationship between al-Qunawi and Ibn ‘Arabi is a spiritual paternal relationship, and we do not want here to examine this relationship in scholarly terms. The wish of Sadr al-Din in his will as to how his body was to be washed and shrouded when he died is enough to understand this relationship at the symbolic level. This son of the city of Konya stated in his will that his body should be washed after his death according to the books of Hadith in order to avoid any conflict with the followers of the jurists. This idea must have reached al-Qunawi through the influence of Ibn ‘Arabi, who was contemporary in Andalusia with the Almohad Caliph al-Mansur, who around ah 580 did away with books of fiqh because of the differences scholars had amongst themselves. He ordered them to go back to the books of prophetic Hadith, asking the scholars themselves to expend their effort in understanding the Quran and prophetic Hadith, without reference to any other ideas. Al-Qunawi also stipulated[37] that he should be wrapped in the clothes of Ibn ‘Arabi, which he had inherited from him after his death. This dedication, loyalty and love for his shaykh is what we should focus upon, far more than saying that al-Qunawi agrees with his master here but disagrees there, and elsewhere he goes beyond him and parts company with him. It seems reasonable to suppose that it did not cross al-Qunawi’s mind to do with his master what Aristotle had done to Plato. The world of Ibn ‘Arabi as inherited by al-Qunawi is full of love and the search for spiritual perfection in order to achieve the state of the Perfect Man. Thus we may understand al-Qunawi’s comment in his summary of the chapter on ‘Uzayr in the Fuṣūṣ (which as we have seen contains Ibn ‘Arabi’s most important ideas on the mystery of destiny): ‘Our Shaykh, may God be pleased with Him, discussed this extensively, and there is no need to attempt to go over it again. I have already talked about it in detail more than once in this book and my other works, and I completed what I have to say on the matter.’[38] He summarises for us in the same book, ‘the key to the mystery of qaḍāʾ and qadar’. The origin of recompensing, i.e. reward and punishment, as presented by al-Qunawi, is specified ‘as the general existentiating mercy (of God), which encompasses all things’, in accordance with the capacity and readiness of the creatures.[39] The cause of creation is the mercy for the created on the one hand, and that the creatures serve as mirrors for the appearance of Being (wujūd) in them and of the effects of the Creator. For the manifestation of the Divine effects is that which the Names of God were dependent upon in the creation of the world. Each creature has an established entity in the eternal knowledge of God, and their appearance in the world conforms to their eternal state; the qadar of these creatures comes out of them, in accordance with the creative command (al-amr al-takwīnī) – it is God (aqq) who makes them appear ‘in the existential revelation as they were known to Him, and this secret is the key to the mystery of qaḍāʾ and qadar’.[40] We can find the idea that ‘knowledge is subject to the known’ in the same book at the beginning of the breaking of the seal of the ‘Uzayri ringstone (Fukūk, p. 217). However, al-Qunawi concentrated on the completion of his own knowledge until he had reached the Sufi experiences that his teacher achieved. One of the most important among them is the disclosure of the mystery of destiny, where the mystic is able to see the established entities of things before they appear in the created world. That is to say, they ‘can see the non-existent possibilities before they are dressed in the existence which is effused over them from the aqq, and how and when they are clothed in existence’.[41] This is one of the highest degrees of knowledge of things, which ‘you come to know through a knowledge that will enable you in the end to see it in the aqq’s knowledge completely’.[42]

Al-Qunawi tells us about one of the ‘universal Divine gifts’ (al-nafaāt al-ilāhiyya al-kulliyya), which occurred in the later part of the month of Safar in the year ah 663, that God made him witness, see and know directly the mystery of destiny ‘more than once’.[43] So al-Qunawi not only found out his destiny several times, but his ambition was to see things exactly as they are in the Divine knowledge, and to flow ‘with his essence in everything, in the same way as the Being flows in the realities of things that are commonly called possibilities, an everlasting flow according to eternal determinations’.[44] It seems that the aim of this flow into the realities of the creatures is associated with reaching the degree of the ‘Perfect Man’, which al-Qunawi discusses separately at the end of his Miftā al-ghayb.[45]

On the other hand, al-Qunawi distinguishes between two kinds of destiny, and this distinction is similar to what Ibn ‘Arabi mentioned about the difference between qaḍāʾ and qadar. Ibn ‘Arabi says: ‘The term qaḍāʾ relates to the universal command, while the term qadar relates to the particular command.’[46] This is described by al-Qunawi as ‘the kind appropriate to the universals and the kind specific to the particulars’.

After recounting the prophetic Hadith narrated by Umm Habiba, one which prevents her from praying that God allow her to enjoy life with her husband the Prophet, her brother Mu’awiya, and her father Abu Sufyan, al-Qunawi comes back to suggesting from another point of view that she should ask God to protect her from the torment of the grave and the torment of Hell. Al-Qunawi describes this report as ‘a problematic Hadith’. However, it provides us with a clue to the solution by distinguishing between two types of qadar, one of which is a destiny from which there is no escape because it is related to universals. These universals are confined, as al-Qunawi says, to four things: life, livelihood, death and misery/happiness. These inevitable decrees seem to be what Ibn ‘Arabi means when he speaks about the creative command (al-amr al-takwīnī). According to al-Qunawi, ‘this is the result of God’s qaḍāʾ and qadar as demanded by His precedent knowledge, which is an established order eternally and for ever in accordance with its relation to that which is known.’[47] As for what he calls the ‘requisites of the detailed particulars’ (al-lawāzim al-juzʾiyya al-tafṣīliyya), amongst which are prayer, acquisition, effort and application, ‘this is the difference between what was forbidden [by the Prophet] in terms of prayer and what was recommended’.[48] In spite of the differences between Ibn ‘Arabi and his student in terminology and certain details, they both drank from a single spring. For Sufis, unlike philosophers, do not give credence to the existence of differences amongst themselves; criticism, conflict and opposition remain as the hallmark of philosophical endeavour.


We should remember that Ibn ‘Arabi distinguishes between two existential levels of the relationship between God and human. The first level is Uniqueness (aadiyya), where the Divine Essence is severed from any relationship with the external world. At this level, there is a kind of essential revelation which Ibn ‘Arabi calls the ‘Holiest Theophany’ (al-tajallī al-aqdas). The second level is referred to as the ‘Holy Theophany’ (al-tajallī al-muqaddas), in which the relation between divinity (ilāh) and worshipper (maʾlūh), or aqq and khalq, is established in the world of Oneness (wāḥidiyya). The first level is distinguished by absolute incomparability (tanzīh), while the second is characterised by similarity (tashbīh) and ever-new creation.

Divine knowledge in the first level is absolute and eternal (azalī) and has nothing to do with change; the world, which is created anew with the ‘breaths’, does not affect the purity of God’s eternal knowledge and its establishment. Hence we may understand the relationship between the established entities in the eternal knowledge and the created things that appear in the external world in temporal succession. The mystery of destiny is that which makes manifest this relationship that confirms that ‘the established entities are eternally co-related to the One whose Being is Necessary (wājib al-wujūd)’.[49] This means that eternal knowledge is identical to God’s knowledge of the world, as we have seen, and this is the basis of qaḍāʾ. Qadar is nothing but the inauguration of created things in limited time without ever departing from the requirement of what it really is. Ibn ‘Arabi says:

The secret of destiny is what God the Exalted knows eternally of each entity in terms of the states that it will pass through during its existence. He does not pass judgement over a thing except through what He knows from its ‘ayn in the state of its establishment [in the Divine Knowledge].[50]

This statement of Ibn ‘Arabi can only be understood as an uncompromising existential determinism, but we must remember that this vision is in regard to the ‘existentiating Command’ or the ‘universal Command’. As for the ‘Prescriptive Command’ or ‘the Detailed Particular Command’, we expect there to be complete freedom of choice in line with the principle of the legal obligation itself. In order to resolve this dilemma, Ibn ‘Arabi did not resort to the idea of ‘acquisition’ (kasb) that had been put forward by the Ash’arites in the early fourth century of the Hegira. Instead, he came up with a new term, ‘the capacitating cause’ (al-sabab al-iqtidārī),[51] which means to attribute the act to the creatures in the apparent sense, despite the fact that the act is in reality God’s, or as he puts it, it is an action that exudes ‘the perfume of participation’.[52] It is also that there is nothing of his Creator in the human being or incarnated in him; he is only a place of theophany and manifestation for the Creator. Ibn ‘Arabi resorts to illustrating his views on this by the analogy of sunlight being reflected in the moon. In his comment on this, Ibn ‘Arabi says: ‘If the matter between the sun and the moon is so hidden, and is not understood by everyone, what are you to make of the Divine order in this matter with the creatures? (It is) more hidden and even more hidden!’[53] We can understand from the ‘Divine Breath’ in which al-Qunawi explained the distinction between attributing the action to God and to human beings, that he also does not adopt a theory of determinism. As he says, ‘If some deluded person becomes duped by determinism, he should picture it as something of the known with regard to his own self.’ As for the Divine choice, al-Qunawi places it between determinism and free choice as understood by ordinary people. But all of the known entities, those destined to enter existence and those not destined to do so, are pictured in the presence of His knowledge, praise be to Him eternally and for ever, and the picture of each individual thing is uniquely depicted, in an eternal order more perfect than which there cannot be.[54]

However, we have not found any specific text of al-Qunawi’s in which he speaks of a ‘capacitating cause’ like his master, as in the case of Isma’il Ibn Sawdakin who pointed out to Ibn ‘Arabi the necessity of the human being having free choice because God ‘created man in His own image’. Consequently, freedom of choice in the Prescriptive Command is a necessary ramification at the level of both worship and action; otherwise, the principle of compensation in terms of reward and punishment would have no meaning.

Translated by Abdul Rahim Hassan


[1] Their doctrine was that ‘there cannot be good or evil except what God wills’. See al-Ash’ari, Maqālat al-Islāmiyyīn wa ikhtilāf al-musallīn (Wiesbaden, 1980), p. 291.

[2] Al-Ghazali says: ‘Man’s action is a middle position, for he has been obliged to choose. The people of God looked for a third term, and they called it kasb’, Iḥyāʾ ‘ulūm al-dīn (Cairo, ah 1306), vol. 4, p. 179. Ibn ‘Arabi’s opinion on this distinction can be found in his Futūḥāt (Cairo edn, ah 1329), III.211 (henceforth Fut.).

[3] Al-Dhahabi, Siyar a’lām al-nubalāʾ, the biography of Muhammad b. Shihab al-Zuhri, vol. 5, pp. 326–43.

[4] See Ahmad Amin, Ḍuhā al-Islām, 10th edn, vol. 3 (Beirut, 1965), pp. 44ff.

[5] Iḥyāʾ ‘ulūm al-dīn, vol. 4, p. 200.

[6] Narrated by Abu Nu’aym al-Isfahani in Ḥilyat al-awliyāʾ, 2nd edn, vol. 6 (Beirut, 1967), p. 182, from a hadith by Ibn ‘Umar with these words: ‘Don’t talk about qadar. It is the secret of God, so don’t divulge God’s secret.’ It is also related in Taʾrīkh Baghdād by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, vol. 2, p. 388, on the authority of Anas, and in the Mu’jam of al-Tabarani, vol. 10 (Baghdad, n.d.), p. 262, related by Ibn ‘Abbas. However, Nasir al-Din al-Albani in his Saḥīḥ al-Jāmi’ al-ṣaghīr (Damascus, 1969, no. 8561) considers it to be weak.

[7] This quote is from Salah al-Din al-Tijani, Zubdat al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya (Cairo, 2006), p. 159.

[8] Fut.III.112.

[9] Fut.III.115.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Al-Nafaḥāt al-Ilāhiyya, ed. M. Khwajawi (Tehran, 1413), pp. 208–9.

[12] Muhammad b. Ishaq al-Qunawi, Risālat al-Nuṣūṣ, ed. Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani (Tehran, 1983), p. 22.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Fut.IV.16.

[15] Fut. 4, ed. Osman Yahia (Cairo, 1979), pp. 148–9.

[16] We do not know if the experience of Muʾayyad al-Din al-Jandi comes close to the experiences of Ibn ‘Arabi and al-Qunawi. He states in his commentary on Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam: ‘When God opened for me the reality of the secret of destiny, and gave me the realisation of it, I saw in a vision (mubashshira) as if I was in a mosque or a temple’, ed. Ashtiyani (Mashhad, 1982), p. 486.

[17] Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, al-Irshād, ed. M. Yusuf Musa (Cairo, 1950), pp. 12–13.

[18] Fut.IV.16.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Fut.I.90–1.

[21] Souad al-Hakim: al-Mu’jam al-Ṣūfī (Beirut, 1985), section ‘al-‘ayn al-thābita’. For more information see Abu ‘Ala ‘Afifi, ‘Al-a’yān al-thābita in the Philosophy of Ibn ‘Arabi’, in al-Kitāb al-Tadhkārī (Commemorative Volume), ed. Dr Ibrahim Madkur (Cairo, 1969), pp. 209ff. In a different context, we find the opinion of al-Qunawi: ‘The a’yān al-thābita, which are called by the philosophers “essences” (māhiyyāt), in respect of being delineated within the knowledge of God, are not created… and in their entity, in respect of their becoming entities and manifest in knowledge of other than Him, they are created’; Nafaḥāt, p. 143.

[22] Kitāb al-Ma’rifa, ed. Sa’id ‘Abd al-Fattah (Paris/Beirut, 1993), p. 85 (problem 91).

[23] Fut.II.404.

[24] Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam, ed. ‘Afifi (Alexandria, 1947), p. 60.

[25] Ibid. p. 61.

[26] Ibid. p. 131.

[27] Ibid. p. 132.

[28] Nafaḥāt, pp. 73–4; also Fut.IV.485. Cf. the two verses (315–16) of his Taʾiyya:

If my action cannot resist His qaḍāʾ,

then my way-out is to forgo my way-out

Submit, give up and accept the whole affair

because that is what noble souls do.

[29] Al-Hakim, al-Mu’jam, p. 95.

[30] Fut.IV.681.

[31] Fuṣūṣ, part 2, p. 22.

[32] Ibid. p. 102.

[33] Q. 4: 78.

[34] Fut.III.211–12.

[35] Fut.I.177.

[36] See Fut.II.681.

[37] The text of this will has been published at the end of Khwajawi’s introduction to his edition of K. al-Fukūk (Tehran, 1427).

[38] Fukūk, p. 128.

[39] On the relation of the established entities and the idea of preparedness according to Ibn ‘Arabi, see our article, ‘La notion de prédisposition (isti’dād) selon Ibn ‘Arabī et ses disciples’, Cahiers d’Études Arabes, no. 1 (Paris, 1987), pp. 69–99.

[40] Fukūk, p. 187.

[41] Nafaḥāt, p. 171.

[42] R. al-Nuṣūṣ, edited by Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani (Tehran, 1362), p. 48.

[43] Nafaḥāt, p. 37 (para. 6/6).

[44] Ibid. p. 120. In this Divine Nafḥa (22), al-Qunawi promises to indicate the secret of destiny, see p. 118.

[45] Miftāḥ al-ghayb, ed. Khwajawi, with commentary by al-Fanari (Tehran, 1426), pp. 99–122.

[46] K. al-Ma’rifa, p. 85.

[47] Sharḥ al-arba’īn ḥadīthan, ed. Dr. Hasan Kamil Yilmaz (Istanbul, 1990), p. 118.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Fut.III.429.

[50] K. al-Ma’rifa, p. 126.

[51] Fut.II.659.

[52] Fut.III.211.

[53] Fut.II.659.

[54] Nafaḥāt, p. 82.