MIAS education: MIAS voyagers

Feedback

Many thanks to the MIAS team for steering us on the ‘In each thing…’ journey. I loved the analogy of voyaging on the ocean. It gave the course an added dimension which took us from the technicality of Zoom into the imaginal realm – much more fitting for the subject of our study. It was an exciting, challenging and rich journey and I learned a lot from the process. I was delighted to have the opportunity to engage with texts that I’ve never read or studied before and it is always wonderful to meet and engage in shared enquiry with other Arabi enthusiasts. Wishing you well for your ongoing voyage.” — Patricia Taddei

Getting to know my ‘self’ is quite a big question right? I’ve been doing a bit of writing on it and I would say yes, to some extent, the course is providing this and is perhaps a gateway to going deeper. The group was amazing and I feel blessed and privileged to have been a part of it.” — Aishah Safdar

I think the MIAS team did a great job: in the right balance between guidance/facilitation and letting it happen, so to speak. I liked having a separate WhatsApp group that allowed for more informal give and take. I liked the participants a lot, some of whom seemed to know each other from other courses, and also already clearly had strong backgrounds in Sufi work. I am looking forward to more journeys together.” — Professor Nukhet Kardam

 

Contributions

In July 2018 the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society became an educational charity. Our symposia have always combined research as well as education, but it was not until Covid-19 swept away the forthcoming symposium, that ‘education’ came to the forefront – not just in intention but suddenly as action. In parallel with the online talks, the first experimental online course was underway using a 20th century hermeneutic approach pioneered by Paul Ricoeur to unlock Ibn Arabi’s meanings – an approach developed by MIAS Educational Director Rim Feriani in her doctoral thesis. Rim writes:

In May 2020, we launched our new MIAS course entitled “In each thing He has a sign: an introduction to Ibn Arabi’s spiritual openings”. As we embarked on our first online journey across the Ocean of Ibn Arabi, we were grappling with the uncertainty that Covid-19 brought into our lives. Eighteen voyagers signed up for our 10 week journey and we explored together the multi-layered meanings of spiritual openings in both Chapters 317 and 339 from The Meccan Openings. The course consisted of mini-lectures, group reading and discussions.

Aishah was amongst the voyagers and her reading of Chapter 317 reflected an ineffable interaction between her own personal experience and the ontological experience that can be encountered in Ibn Arabi’s works. As I was deeply touched by Aishah’s reading of Ibn Arabi and her understanding of Chapter 317, I asked her whether she would be willing to submit a blog post. Below is Aishah’s response.

Aishah’s reflections on Chapter 317 of Futuhat al-Makkiyya

Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem

Having attended the course “In each thing He has a sign” this Summer, I was asked to write my reflections on Chapter 317. Initially, I was not sure whether my writing would make sense to others, but I was assured this was not for academic purposes but rather an outpouring of ‘the heart speech.’ I decided to write the following reflection which I pray is of some benefit to someone.

Following the opening poem, Ibn Arabi starts the paragraph with the verb ‘Know’. Immediately, I felt that there is a need here to understand what Ibn Arabi is trying to say. This also takes me back to the first word revealed to our beloved prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ‘Iqra’ (Q. 96:1), recite/read. Here are my instructions! Ibn Arabi then continues, ‘God confirm you, O dear and noble friend!’. How inviting and encouraging it was to see these words, following the perplexity of the poem.

The comparison between life/spirit to brightness and the sun was something that attracted my attention. Although the brightness and the light of the sun are received by all things in the cosmos, they belong solely to the sun. So does that mean whatever becomes manifest through life is also emanating from the spirit? As Ibn Arabi states, “[…] so spirits do not become manifest to anything unless that thing comes to life […]”

Or rather is it like a reverse and cyclical process? Life is governed by the spirit and perhaps this is where the understanding (mentioned at the start) begins to take place as Ibn Arabi states, “from here one comes to know who is the spirit of the cosmos” which is linked to the Quranic verse “God is the light of the heavens and the earth” (Q. 24:35).

Ultimately, Ibn Arabi seems to emphasise the return to the Divine, the First and the Last. The spirit is then, no other than the Divine, reflecting and moving from the unknowable to the knowable, from the batin (inward) to the zahir (outward). However, I would say, it is the brightness of the sun, or the manifestations of the body (zahir) which have led me to the batin. Perhaps this is where the true unveiling takes place, as is stated in Ibn Arabi’s approach to study, “We empty our hearts of speculative thought and sit in remembrance[…]”

I reflected on how this one manifestation, is a play between body and spirit, between zahir and batin as though it were a circular motion. I realised that ALL the bodies and ALL the spirits are flowing organically in this way and perhaps this is the beginning of understanding. According to Ibn Arabi, “He [she] who understands this verse knows how God preserves the cosmos” as “He is at every moment in a different configuration” (Kernel of the Kernel, Beshara Publications, 2017, p. 40).

In conclusion, I would say it was the combination of the body and spirit that led me to a deeper understanding . Perhaps the following Qur’anic verse can sum this up: “He is the First, the Last, the Manifest, and the Unseen and He knows all things.” (Q.57:3).

“And God speaks the truth and He guides on the way” (Q. 33:4).

 — Aishah Safdar

For more contributions by MIAS voyagers, click on this link.

 

MIAS Interdisciplinary Research Hub (IRH)

IRH is intended for discussions related to Ibn Arabi’s teachings as well as interdisciplinary approaches to his works. It is a friendly space that provides students, researchers, and lecturers the opportunity to give presentations on topics of their choice followed by a Q&A session. To find out more, contact education.uk@ibnarabisociety.org

 

 

Meet the education team

Rim Feriani

Rim Feriani is Educational Director at The Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, UK. She had previously lectured in Arabic language at King’s College, London and taught Arabic language and cultural studies in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Westminster, London.

The title of Rim’s doctoral thesis is Symbols and Worlds: A Study of the Sacred in a Selection of Works by Assia Djebar, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Salman Rushdie. In her thesis, she demonstrates how the works of three internationally-acclaimed writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Algerian Assia Djebar, the Moroccan Tahar Ben Jelloun and the British-Indian Salman Rushdie creatively engage with the Islamic heritage. Combining Ibn Arabi’s Sufi thought with Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutic approach, it explores the symbolic and ontological underpinnings of the Sacred, providing a broader understanding of their literary works. In 2018, Rim presented some of her research key findings at the Annual General Meeting held by Ibn Arabi Society (MIAS). In February 2020 and in collaboration with The Beshara Trust [/], Rim delivered a seminar on the concept of the journey in the works of Ibn Arabi. In August 2020, Rim gave a talk entitled “Alif: the One and the Many”, which can be accessed online here [/]. Rim has also published on her research in The Maghreb Review’s journal and has recently published a book chapter (2020, co-authored with Professor Debra Kelly) entitled “Reading Signs and Symbols: From the Body to the Text”, which appeared in Postcolonialism and Transnationalism (Ed. Jane Hiddleston and Khalid Lyamlahy).

Richard Twinch

Richard Twinch, trained at Cambridge University and the Architectural Association. He studied Ibn ‘Arabi at the Beshara Schools in the 1970s and 80s.  He was a senior lecturer at the Prince of Wales’ Institute of Architecture and a tutor at Oxford Brooke’s University. He was External Examiner and then tutor to the Visual Islamic & Traditional Arts Department at the Royal College of Art (now The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts [/]). He practised architecture in Oxford for many years. He is currently a Trustee for the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society, Oxford.

Lucy Barratt

Lucy Barratt’s interests include the imagination, extending from Aristotle, through Kant to thinkers such as Henry Corbin.  Studies in 20th Century Continental Philosophy led to an M. A. concluding with a treatise on Heidegger and aesthetics. An interest in literary theory, especially the hermeneutic tradition stretching from Schleiemacher to exponents such as Paul Ricoeur, has informed her study of Ibn ‘Arabi.  She is currently a trustee of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society.

Ceciliy Twinch

Cecilia Twinch is a Senior Research Fellow of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society, Oxford. She studied Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge University. Besides working as a teacher, translator and editor, she has lectured on Ibn ‘Arabi and mysticism worldwide since 1990. She has had numerous articles and chapters in books published, many in Spanish, and her publications include an English translation from the Arabic, with Pablo Beneito, of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries and a translation of Know yourself: An explanation of the oneness of being (Ibn ‘Arabi/Balyani).