Articles and Translations

Divine Calling, Human Response

Scripture and Realization in the Meccan Illuminations : Part 2

James Winston Morris

James W. Morris (Boston College) has taught and published widely on Islamic and religious studies over the past 40 years at the Universities of Exeter, Princeton, Oberlin, and the Institute of Ismaili Studies in Paris and London, serving recently as visiting professor in Istanbul, Paris, and Jogjakarta. He has lived and studied in regions from Morocco to Indonesia, and he lectures and leads workshops in many countries on Islamic philosophy and theology, Sufism, the Islamic humanities (poetry, music, and visual arts), the Quran and hadith, and esoteric Shiism. Recently he has led interfaith study-abroad programs centering on sacred sites, pilgrimage, sainthood, and related arts and architecture in Turkey and France.

His publications include: Openings:From the Qur’an to the Islamic Humanities (forthcoming); Approaching Ibn ‘Arabi : Foundations, Contexts, Interpretations (forthcoming); Ma‘rifat ar-Rūh in Nur Ali Elahi's Knowing the Spirit (2007), and The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn ‘Arabī’s "Meccan Illuminations"(2005).


Articles by James W. Morris

Introduction to The Meccan Revelations

Ibn ‘Arabi’s “Short Course” on Love

How to Study the Futuhat: Ibn Arabi’s Own Advice

Hur Man Studerar Futuhat: Ibn Arabis Egna Råd (Swedish)

Ibn Arabi: Spiritual Practice and Other Translations – Overview of the ten following articles:

Some Dreams of Ibn Arabi (PDF)

Body of Light (PDF)

Introducing Ibn Arabi’s “Book of Spiritual Advice” (PDF)

“Book of the Quintessence of What is Indispensable for the Spiritual Seeker” (PDF)

Ibn Arabi on the Barzakh – Chapter 63 of the Futuhat (PDF)

The Spiritual Ascension: Ibn Arabi and the miraj – Chapter 367 of the Futuhat (PDF)

The Mahdi and His Helpers – Chapter 366 of the Futuhat (PDF)

Ibn Arabi’s ‘Esotericism’: The Problem of Spiritual Authority (PDF)

Communication and Spiritual Pedagogy: Methods of Investigation (tahqiq) (PDF)

Rhetoric & Realisation in Ibn Arabi: How Can We Communicate Meanings Today? (PDF)

Listening for God: Prayer and the Heart in the Futuhat | Part 1

Listening for God: Prayer and the Heart in the Futuhat | Part 2

Listening for God: Prayer and the Heart in the Futuhat | Part 3

Listening for God: Prayer and the Heart in the Futuhat | Part 4

Divine Calling, Human Response – Scripture and Realization in the Meccan Illuminations | Part 1

Divine Calling, Human Response – Scripture and Realization in the Meccan Illuminations | Part 2

Opening the Heart: Ibn Arabi on Suffering, Compassion and Atonement

Ibn Arabi and his Interpreters – Overview of 28 articles and reviews in this section

Ibn ‘Arabi and his Interpreters I – Four overviews, description of the following:

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 — Introduction:
Historical Contexts and Contemporary Perspectives (overview of 28 articles and reviews in this collection)

Ibn Arabi and His Interpreters — Grouping I:

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 (PDF) | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 1 (HTML)

Ibn Arabi and His Interpreters — Grouping II:
Influences in the Pre-Modern Islamic World (all the following 7 articles in one 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

Ibn Arabi and His Interpreters — Grouping III:
Later Muslim Critics and Polemics (all the following 4 articles in one 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 Arabi and His Interpreters — Grouping IV:
Reviews of More Recent Works by and about Ibn Arabi (1985–2002)

Ibn Masarra: A Reconsideration of the Primary Sources (PDF)


Podcasts and Videos by James W. Morris

Beyond Belief: Ibn ‘Arabi on the Perennial Challenges of Realization

Inspiration and Discernment: Ibn Arabi’s Introduction to the Challenges of Spiritual Sensitivity and Judgement

“As for your Lord’s blessings, recount them!”: Ibn ‘Arabi’s Storytelling and Spiritual Communication

Becoming Real: Realization and Revelation in Rumi and Ibn Arabi

Whose calling, whose response? Ibn 'Arabi on Divine and Human Responsiveness

Opening the heart in the Futuhat

The “Instruments of Divine Mercy”

“Whoever knows himself...” in the Futuhat

Go to Part 1 of this article.


The Completing [1] Chapter 520: Concerning the inner knowing of the state of the Pole whose spiritual waystation is ‘Only those respond fully who are (truly) listening. [And (as for) the dead, God raises them up; then to Him they are returned.]’ (6:36)

Certainly I jealously guard my Heart. So I ask Him
not to be disturbed by any mortal creature (khalq min al-bashar), within itself.

For we have a Heart within which He roams about/is madly in love in every state,
of transcendence and of (His Self-manifestation through) the forms.

When I heard the urgent calling of the Real/God (al-Haqq) through me,
I responded to Him, guarding against the influence/domination
of any other (than Him).

So I said: ‘What?’ Then He said: ‘God, The Right/Due/Real
(al-Haqq)!’ So I said to Him:
‘What do You want?’ Then He said: ‘Be on guard against all guardedness!’ [2]

Henceforth I have lived/enjoyed Life in good spirits, [3] wherever I am,
and I do not fear the occurrence of any harm or damage!

Know – may God support us and you with a spirit from Him – that we remained in (the spiritual state and influence of) this dhikr [4] for three days when God bestowed on us the success of employing it, in Seville in the country of Andalusia in the year 586 (1190 ce). And we experienced that it brought a special spiritual blessing in those days. There were three of us in that (state of this dhikr): myself, Abdullah al-Nazhūnī – a noble qadi, ‘upright servant‘ (25:31; etc.), governor, and jurist – and a third person from the people of that country.

[Ibn ʿArabi begins by explaining that the verb for ‘listening’ or ‘hearing’ (samʿ) in this verse 6:36, as elsewhere in the Quran, clearly means ‘really listening and truly understanding’ – not just the outward act of sensible hearing.]

So ‘listening,’ in this (verse of) dhikr, is the very same thing as understanding (ʿaql) what the ear has perceived…

So if he (really) knows what he heard, then (his action) is in accordance with what he knows. For (real spiritual) knowledge is dominating and controlling in its influence; that is necessarily the case. And if (a person) is not like that, then it is not real knowing at all, since a knower who (truly) knows the punishment for his committing an act of disobeying God absolutely never disobeys God. And of course that (genuinely inspired spiritual knowledge) necessarily includes knowing that (that particular action) really is an act of disobedience against the true divine judgment (rather than simply against a human convention or supposition falsely imagined to be ‘divine’).

[… Ibn ʿArabi continues here with a long explanation of the different ways that the person of rote faith (without the inspired insight of the spiritual Knower) cannot really know the ultimate destiny – whether that be of punishment or of divine forgiveness and illumination – which awaits the person who apparently ‘disobeys’ God, even when that person dies without having outwardly repented. Although he adds that certain individuals (as he explains of himself and other mubashsharūn, [5] in various other places) may be given a special inspiration regarding their own personal destiny and ultimate divine forgiveness. Having reviewed these possibilities, he again concludes that:]

No one disobeys God while knowing the punishment / consequences (for that disobedience). Now God had already called us to that service and worship of Him for which He created us. So we (truly) heard and listened; and when we listened, we responded (to Him).

So in this dhikr (verse 6:36) is a reminder of the all-encompassing scope of God’s Lovingmercy toward His creatures. For He informed (us all) that only the person who truly listens fully responds. So (through that verse) the person who does not truly listen has found their excuse, just as the person who has not been informed about the divine Calling has found their excuse. And the spiritual status (hukm: of the person who does not really listen to God’s ever-present ‘calling’) is like the state of the person to whom God has not sent a messenger… So when we see someone who has not responded, we know – by God’s informing us – that that person has not really listened.

[… Ibn ʿArabi continues his argument here in reference to the following Quranic verse (5:109): On a Day God brings together the Messengers, then He says: ‘How did (your people) respond to you?’ They said: ‘We have no knowledge (of that). Surely You, You are All-Knowing of the Hidden Things!’]

So we learned from (the Messengers’) saying (here at 5:109) that knowledge of people’s responsiveness (to God) is among that ‘knowledge of the Unseen’ (revealed only by God). So we knew that this (true) listening is from the Unseen, so that no one knows who has (truly) responded except for the one who has been given the Unseen – and that is only (from) God. Hence God has only set up this excuse for His servants because in Himself (is the deeper intention) that He have mercy on them.

Thus God has had mercy on some of the people through causing them to listen, so that they respond to their Sustainer… And as for those who did not respond, God has sought an excuse for them in that they did not listen!

[… Ibn ʿArabi goes on here to explain in detail the wisdom underlying this resulting universality of divine forgiveness and God’s concealment of that condition, pointing to the many Quranic verses in which God takes the responsibility for the spiritual ‘deafness’ (and ‘blindness,’ muteness, etc.) of those who do not respond to His Calling, ‘because they do not understand what their ears have heard.’]

So how immense is God’s Lovingmercy toward His servants, while they are not even aware (of that)! Indeed I saw one group of those who were vainly disputing about the vast extent of God’s Lovingmercy and restricting it to only one special sect. So they restricted and narrowed down what God had vastly extended. Indeed were God not to have mercy on someone particular among His creatures, then He would remove His Lovingmercy (precisely) from whoever says that! But instead God has refused everything but the universal inclusiveness of His Lovingmercy.

So among us are those who receive (that Lovingmercy) by way of dutiful merit (wujūb), those who are pious and give the required alms, who have faith and follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet. And among us are those who accept (God’s Lovingmercy) by way of His freely-bestowed bounteous Grace (imtinān), from the very essence of the divine Grace and Bounty.

So by God, I am not – thanks be to God! – among those who love (witnessing) mutual torment and vengeance against the servants of God. Instead, God created me as a Lovingmercy, and He made me an heir to the Lovingmercy of the one to whom it was said (by God): ‘We have only sent you as a Lovingmercy to all the worlds!‘ (21:107). For (in that description of the universal extent of His Lovingmercy) He did not specify some (particular) person of faith over against any other.

So realize that! And open the eye of your understanding to what you read!

And say (like Muhammad): [6] ‘My Sustainer, increase me in Knowing’ – which is to say, (ask) that He increase you in your understanding. (When you do so), then each time that you repeat your recitation (of verses in dhikr and prayer), you will increase in your awareness of (a newly inspired spiritual) knowing you did not have before. And whenever you reflect deeply and seek the deeper meaning (of things), you will increase in knowing.

For God speaks the Truth, and He guides rightly to the Path.


Quranic verses and hadith on divine and human ‘calling’ and response [7]

In order to limit the length of this section, we have given only the most basic indications of the wider context where needed, and only the immediately pertinent portion of certain longer verses. As with all Quranic verses quoted or simply alluded to in Ibn ʿArabi’s writings, it is always advisable to study carefully the entire context of each particular verse or related semantic theme in question.

I. Verses on God’s response to human callng/praying/pleading

And whenever My servants ask you about Me, surely I am Near: I respond to the call/prayer of the one who is calling/praying, whenever he calls upon Me. So may they respond to Me and may they have faith in Me, so that they might be guided rightly! (2:186)

Is not He (Best) Who responds to the oppressed one, when he calls upon Him, and takes away the wrong, and (Who) places you all as stewards upon the earth?! (27:62)

[In response to Moses’ (and Aaron’s) prayer for God to harden the hearts of Pharaoh and his nobles] He said: ‘Your call has already been answered! So the two of you stand up straight and do not follow the path of those who are not knowing.’ (10:89)

[In responding to the entreaty of the faithful ‘People of Hearts’ (ūlū’l-albāb) to grant them what He has promised through His messengers]: So their Sustainer has responded fully to them: ‘Surely I do not lose the acting of anyone acting (for God) among you all, whether male or female. Some of you are from others. So those who were exiled and driven from their homes and were harmed in My Path, and who fought and were killed, certainly shall I take their wrongdoings away from them (in atonement); and I shall certainly cause them to enter Gardens under which flow rivers, as a recompense from God – and with God is the best/most beautiful of recompenses!’ (3:195)

[As part of a long list of God’s promises and actions surrounding the early battle of Badr]: When you all asked for the saving-support of your Sustainer, so He answered you all: ‘Surely I am supporting you all with a thousand angels, drawn up in ranks.’ (8:9)

[In reference to Joseph’s prayer for prison, rather than falling subject to the plotting of the Egyptian women]: So his Sustainer answered him and turned aside from him their plotting: surely He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. (12:34)

And Noah, when he cried out [8] beforehand, We responded to him, and We rescued him and his family from the great affliction. (21:76)

[In response to Job’s crying out to God]: Then We answered him, so We took away the affliction that was with him, and We brought back to him his family and their like along with them, as a Mercy from what is with Us and as a reminder for those who are worshipping/serving (God). (21:84)

[In response to Jonah’s ‘crying out in the darkness’]: Then We answered him, and We rescued him from the painful distress – and that is how We rescue those who have faith! (21:88)

[Responding to Zachariah’s plea for a child and heir]: Then We answered him, and We bestowed on him Yahyā (John) and healed his wife for him: Surely they were striving with each other in good deeds and calling upon Us with supplication and awe, and they were humbly submitting to Us. (21:90)

And certainly Noah cried out to Us, for (We are surely) the Best of those-who-respond! (37:75)

And He it is Who accepts repentance from His servants, and pardons the wrongdoings, and knows what you all are doing. / And He responds fully to those who have faith and do what is appropriate, and He increases them from His Bounty… (42:25–26)

[The prophet Salih, speaking to his tribe of Thamūd]: …He said: ‘O my people, serve/worship God! You have no god but Him: He brought you all forth from the earth and He settled you upon it. So seek His forgiveness, and then turn to Him (in repentance)! Surely my Sustainer is Near, Responding!’ (11:61)

II. Verses on people’s response to God and His messengers (and to others upon whom they call instead)

And on a Day He calls them forth, and He says: ‘What was your response to the messengers sent?’ (28:65)

And warn the people of a Day the torment is coming to them. Then those who were oppressors are saying: ‘O our Sustainer, hold off from us for a short while! We will respond to Your call and we will follow the messengers!’ (14:44)

[Spoken by ‘a group of the jinn‘ asking their fellows to follow the Quran]: ‘O our people, respond to God’s caller and have faith in Him. He will forgive you your sins and protect you from a painful torment.’ / And whoever does not respond to God’s caller has no way out on the earth, and he has no protecting-friends other than Him: those are clearly astray! (46:31–32)

On the Day when God gathers together the Messengers, then He says: ‘What was the response (to you all)?’ They say: ‘We have no knowledge (of that). For You, You are All-Knowing of the Hidden Things!’ (5:109)

[Of those wounded at the battle of Uhud]: …Those who responded fully to God and His Messenger after they were injured: for those who do good among them and are aware (of God), (theirs is) an immense reward. (3:172)

[Of ‘those you all call upon instead of Him’]: If you all call upon them, they do even not hear your calling. And if they heard, they would not respond to you all… (35:14)

And those who respond fully to their Sustainer, and uphold the prayer, and whose matter is consulting among themselves, and who spend of what We have bestowed upon them. (42:38)

[Satan’s explanation at the Judgment]: ‘…And there was no authority for me over you all, except that I called you and you answered me. So don’t blame me, but blame yourselves…’ (14:22)

On a Day when He calls you all, and you respond with praising Him – and you all are supposing that you only waited a short while! (17:52)

Only those respond who are hearing. And (as for) the dead, God raises them up; then to Him they are returned. (6:36)

Who is more astray than those who call upon/pray to – instead of God – (someone) who does not answer them, until the Day of Rising, and who are unaware of their calling?! (46:5)

And whenever My servants ask you about Me, surely I am Near: I respond to the call/prayer of the one who is calling/praying, whenever he calls upon Me. So may they respond to Me and may they have faith in Me, so that they might be guided rightly! (2:186)

Surely those you all call upon instead of God are servants like you. So call upon them and let them answer you, if you all are speaking truthfully! (7:194)

O those who have faith, respond to God and to the Messenger when He calls you to what gives you life! And know that God passes/shifts/intervenes between the person and his Heart, and that it is to Him that you all are being gathered up! (8:24)

…Say: ‘Then bring ten suras like (the Quran), made up (by you), and call upon whoever you are able to, besides God, if you all are truthful!’ / So if they do not answer you, then know that it has only been sent down with God’s Knowledge, and that there is no god but He… (11:13–14)

To Him is the Calling/Prayer of Truth. And those they call upon besides God do not respond to them with anything – except like someone stretching out his hands toward water (hoping) that it will reach his mouth, but he is not able to reach it. So the prayer/calling of the rejecters is only gone astray. (13:14)

For those who responded fully to their Sustainer, the very Best (al-husnā)! And as for those who did not respond to Him: if they had everything that is in the earth, and its like together with it – they would offer all that up as ransom… (13:18)

And on the Day He says: ‘Call forth the “partners (with God)” that you all asserted!’ And they call upon them, but they do not answer them; and We have set a place of destruction between them. (18: 52)

[Of those who refuse the Prophet’s revelation and can bring no guidance like it]: So if they do not answer you, then know that they are only following their own cravings. And who is more astray than whoever follows his craving without any right guidance from God?! (28:50)

[At the Day of Rising]: And it will be said: ‘Call upon your partners (with God)!’ And they will call upon them, but they will not answer them, and they will see the torment… If only they had been rightly guided! (28:64)

And those who are arguing regarding God, after He has been responded to, their arguing is void with their Sustainer; and Wrath is upon them, and theirs is an intense torment. (42:16)

Respond fully to your Sustainer, before there comes from God a Day that cannot be warded off… (42:47)

III. Related Hadith [9]

‘Whoever responds to the greeting (salām), that is (counted) for him; and whoever does not respond, that is against (the person who fails to respond).’

‘The noble one, even if he is called to the taunting of the north wind, still responds.’

‘Whoever responds to Him [or: him?] enters the Garden…’

‘If he calls upon Me, I respond to him…’

‘Even if I were languishing in prison, …I would respond to the one who calls…’

‘Even if I were called to an arm or a leg, I would respond…’

‘Whenever they are called, they respond.’

‘So whichever of them calls upon you (for help), receive that from them and refrain (from harming) them.’

‘The Messenger of God used to respond (even) to the calling of the slave (mamlūk).’

‘Whoever does not respond to the call disobeys God and His Messenger.’

‘He responds to whoever calls upon Him…’

‘If one of you is invited to a (wedding)-banquet, he must respond…’

‘Say “Amen” and God responds to you.’

‘Call, and it will be answered; ask, and it will be given.’

‘…Is there anyone calling? Then I respond to him…’ [Divine Saying]

He says: ‘whoever responds to the Messenger of God, O my God, help/support him…’

‘Respond to the one who calls…’

‘Surely you all are calling upon (One Who is) Near and Responding.’ [cf. Quran 13:16]

‘And you must know that God does not respond to the call of a heedless, neglectful heart.’

‘Verily He responds to the person secretly/spiritually (“from the Unseen”).’

‘Keep on striving in your calling/prayers, then you will deserve for them to be answered…’

‘Verily prayers are answered upon completing (khatm) the reading of the Quran.’

‘… Is there anyone praying, that they might be answered?’ [part of a famous Divine Saying often cited by Ibn ʿArabi]

‘He will continue to be answered… as long as he does not call/pray for a sin or for estrangement/separation.’

‘Whoever calls upon Me, I will respond to him…’

‘Surely the calling in that land will be answered…’

‘Verily the prayer/calling of one treated unjustly will be answered!’


This article first appeared in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Vol. 54, 2013.


[1] Most unusually, this chapter is qualified as ‘completing’ or ‘fulfilling’ (al-bāb al-muwaffī), apparently highlighting its integral connection with the preceding chapter 519.

[2] There are several possible meanings to this caution: for example, a warning against avoiding right action (or any action at all) due to cautious worldly considerations; an exhortation to remaining open to the often mysterious and puzzling spontaneity of our direct perception or spiritual inspiration of the actual meaning of and proper response to particular unusual and unexpected divine callings; an encouragement to trust in our immediate spiritual intuition and sense of significance of particular happenings and events; and so on.

[3] Or ‘with a good and happy soul’ (tayyib al-nafs).

[4] A formula or litany of divine Remembrance, like each of the ‘spiritual mottoes’ (hijjīr) underlying each of these concluding chapters (note 2 above): in this case, Ibn ʿArabi is referring to the Quranic verse 6:36 which provides the title and underlying subject of this chapter.

[5] This technical term, based on Muhammad’s reassurances about the heavenly reward of certain early martyrs, is applied to those rare spiritual figures whom God has given a special inspired knowledge and assurance of their ultimate (good) spiritual destiny.

[6] This is one of Ibn ʿArabi’s most frequently cited hadith, which he usually cites to highlight the model of Muhammad’s unique degree of active spiritual openness (hayra) to the bewildering profusion of divine ‘calls,’ messages and instruction that – as these two chapters (see JMIAS 53 (2013), pp. 1–24 for Chap. 19) make so clear – are being sent our way at every moment.

[7] This list is restricted here only to Quranic verses including the verbal forms of the j-w-b root (to reply, respond, answer, etc.), as with the two verses of dhikr providing the titles of Chapters 519 and 520.

[8] In this and the following four verses, instead of speaking of simply ‘calling’ or ‘praying’ (daʿā), the somewhat stronger verb nādā (‘crying out’ or ‘fervently pleading’) is used to describe the particular actions of each of these five prophets.

[9] Quoted here simply in their shorter mnemonic forms as summarized in Wensinck’s Concordance of the major Sunni hadith collections, vol. II, pp. 395–6 (Arabic root j-w-b only). With each of these hadith, of course, these short summary expressions are only part of a longer story context that is more fully recounted in the original hadith.