Articles and Translations

Interreligious Dialogue: Ibn ‘Arabi and Meister Eckhart

Ghasem Kakaie

Ghasem Kakaie teaches at Shiraz University in Iran. His research interests include Islamic mysticism, comparative mysticism, Islamic philosophy and theology, and comparative theology. His book The Unity of Being According to Ibn al-Arabi and Meister Eckhart won a significant literary prize when it appeared in Iran in 2002, where it has been republished twice. Among his other publications is a translation into Persian of Imaginal Worlds by William Chittick.


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Interreligous Dialogue: Islam and Christianity, Ibn Arabi and Meister Eckhart


This article is concerned with dialogue among religions in general, and between Islam and Christianity in particular, as the greatest and most popular Abrahamic religions.

First of all we should note that it is not religions that enter into dialogue, but religious people. For, unlike debate, dialogue is aimed at bringing about changes that result from attempts to understand one another. It is obvious that it is not religions and civilizations that will change, but rather religious and civilized people whose cultural and religious understandings will change or evolve, and thus pave the way to an increased mutual understanding.

Currently, in the great global village, all religions – and especially the Abrahamic religions – are, on the one hand, facing attacks which are not aimed at any particular religions but at the essence of religiosity and spirituality – among which secularism, modernism and postmodernism are neither the last nor the worst attacks. On the other hand, those religions whose stated purpose is to guide and save humanity, need to find solutions for the moral, psychological and spiritual problems and anomalies with which humanity today is faced. Another problem faced by religions is the issue of fanatical religious wars fought to the extremes of savagery; we have witnessed these even in the twentieth century, although they are not specific to the contemporary world and carry with them a long history.

If we were to succeed in discovering a single essence for religions – and particularly for Abrahamic religions – a dialogue between these religions based on that single essence could then be employed, both to strengthen the united front of religions against the attacks made in the modern world and as a step towards cooperation in solving the problems of humanity. This could also act as a background against which religious conflicts could be attenuated. At the same time, since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, and because of some other events in recent decades which have resulted in the association of Islam with political issues, Islam is regarded as an actual danger for today’s human culture and civilization, both on the political scene as well as in the media. The successful realization of this dialogue is therefore, now, more than ever necessary for Muslims.

Finding a Single Essence for Religions

As the last major world religion, Islam has continually compared itself with other religions and, more than any other, it seeks opportunities for dialogue and addresses in particular the followers of other Abrahamic religions, i.e. the people of the Scripture. As the basis for this dialogue, Islam refers to the same thing that we consider to be the essence of religion. And that essence has to do with faith, belief and content and not with the act and the form:

Say: O people of the Scripture! Come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah and that we shall ascribe no partner to Him, and that none of us shall take others for Lords beside Allah. (The Holy Quran, 3:64)

And argue not with the people of the Scripture unless it be in [a way] that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender. (Q. 29:46)

The one idea that religions have in common, and on the basis of which they can enter into dialogue, is “God” – and a belief in Him, which lies at the heart of the religion, and is behind all the apparently different forms of Divine Law. As Jelaluddin Rumi suggests, it is this very essence which is hidden behind the apparent world.[1]

This single essence not only paves the way for dialogue but satisfies the contemporary human as well. It is this very essence which permeates human nature and is at the root of the human soul. It can be reached through Friendship (wilaya), which is personified in Christianity as Jesus Christ, and it occupies an important place in Islamic mysticism. Consequently, in the dialogue between religions, we should start from the perspective of religious mysticism. For, according to some scholars, “of all kinds of human thought, mysticism is almost always and everywhere the same.”[2] And this is why others have also regarded mysticism as a solution to today’s problems, claiming: “Never before in history was it more urgent for all of us to learn the language of the mystics than in our time, when division threatens to destroy us. The mystics of every tradition speak a language that unites.”[3] Equally it is claimed that: “Mysticism is the same in all ages and in all places; timeless and independent of history it has always been identical. East and West and other differences vanish here… For one and the same experience speaks here, only by chance in varying dialects East is west and West is east.”[4]

Therefore, in order to find the essence of religion, one has to approach the interior meaning of the Divine Law. That which humans have lost can be found there – where the single God is discovered, who is untainted by forms. And this essence can be found in religious mysticism. Huston Smith writes:

How many men and women today feel themselves driven to atheism because the only version of theism they have encountered is too anthropomorphic…? As the theism they see seems childish and sentimental, some in this camp accept materialism as the only way to live without lying… No task is more important for the Church than to let such persons know that behind its outer doors that are always open, stands another that is closed – closed though accessible to those who knock. When it opens, only to close again immediately for this inner door never remains ajar, Meister Eckhart will be among those waiting to welcome those who enter.[5]

In my opinion, it is in this way that mystics are enlightened by the light of friendship of the prophets and the friends of God. Here we find people such as Ibn ‘Arabi, at the heart of all Abrahamic religions.

Religious Tolerance

As mentioned above, more than any other religion, Islam takes the initiative for opening dialogue with other religions; taking into consideration the fact that Islam is more recent than other religions, this is natural. Islam refers to Jews and Christians as “the people of the Book” and regards their Scriptures to be true. It considers even the Gospels and the Old Testament that were available to Jews and Christians in the Prophet Muhammad’s era, as containing truths.[6] However, Islam has a more positive attitude towards Christians of the earlier Islamic era, because of the strength of aspects of spirituality in the Christian divine law of that time. As stated in the Quran, of the Christians there “are a portion that… rehearse the signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration”.[7] In this way, Islam finds a more consonant ground for dialogue with Christians. Also, there are many prophetic hadiths in Islamic traditions reported of Jesus Christ, and this is again a sign of spiritual aspects in Christianity which are confirmed by Islam.

However, Christianity ordains tolerance and love towards other nations and even maintains that other nations should be called to God through acts of kindness and not through verbal invitations: “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation”.[8] In spite of this, five centuries after the advent of Islam, history witnessed one of the greatest, most savage and longest religious wars between Christians and Muslims. These wars, the Crusades, lasted nearly two hundred years (1100–1300 ad), and were the result of nothing less than fanaticism and insistence on religion’s outward appearances, which can easily be misused by politicians and other such people of this world.

It was during the time of these Crusades that the greatest Christian and Muslim mystics appeared and set in motion dialogue between religions, calling for religion to return to its essence. The distinct exemplary figures were Ibn ‘Arabi (d.1240) and Meister Eckhart (d.1328). Ibn ‘Arabi lived in Andalusia and travelled extensively through the western part of the Muslim world, the borderlands of the Crusades, and witnessed these wars very closely. He was a contemporary of, and even had contact with, Selah al-Din Ayyubi[9] and referred to him as “al-Malik al-Nasir”. He was also on friendly terms with his son, “al-Malik al-Zahir”.[10] Ibn ‘Arabi predicted the conquest of Jerusalem in 1203 as well as the victory of the Muslim Army, which he called the Army of Tawhid and fighters for faith (ghazi), in 1213 ad.[11] We would therefore expect Ibn ‘Arabi to regard Christians as unbelievers since they were waging war against Allah, and as polytheists since they believed in the Trinity and revered the Cross. Surprisingly enough he says:

But it may be hoped that the people of the Trinity, because of the state of being odd, which is hidden in the Trinity, will be saved. For odd is among the attributions of the One. They are therefore monotheists through the tawhid of combination. And it is to be hoped that they will be covered by combined mercy… it is likely that the people of Trinity will be included among the monotheists because they hold to this oddness in God and not because they hold to the oneness of God. I found them in this way through intuition and I was not able to make a distinction between monotheists and the people of the Trinity.[12]

Even with respect to form, Ibn ‘Arabi does not blame the Christians but rather tries to find some reasons for this, and thinks that these forms are to be found in another form in Islam:

Among the principles of Christians is tawhid of abstraction through form. For [the] Jesus’ being was not caused by human masculinity but through objectification of spirit in human form. That is why belief in form became dominant in the nation of Jesus, Son of Mary – and not in the other nations. They drew pictures in their churches, and taking them into account went to worship in their own souls, for their prophet was caused by objectification and this fact has prevailed on his nation until today. When Muhammad’s divine law came, it forbade them forms, for the Holy Prophet contained the reality of Jesus and the divine law of the former replaced the latter’s. Thus, he made it legitimate for us to worship God as if we see Him. So, he introduced Him to our imagination, and this is the meaning of image. The difference is that he forbade this with respect to the senses lest this become a matter of external sense in this nation as well.[13]

Ibn ‘Arabi’s tolerance towards Christianity was as a result of his general approach to the various concepts of God. He believed that God, although He will not be forcibly constrained, will accept every constraint. Ibn ‘Arabi calls this “Divine expansion”. According to him, the mystic (he who knows God) possesses this same expansion of the heart as well, and because of this he does not easily reject those who speak of God:

The folk of unveiling have been given an all-inclusive overview of all the positions, the tenets, the sects, and the doctrines concerning God. They are not ignorant of any of these…. Some of these contradict others, some disagree, and some are similar. In every case the companions of unveiling know from where the doctrine, the sect, or the creed is taken, and they ascribe it to its site. They offer an excuse for everyone who holds it and do not declare him in error. They do not consider his words to be in sport, for God did not create any heaven nor any earth and what is between the two for the unreal [Q. 38:27] and He did not create human being for sport [Q. 23:115]. On the contrary, He created him alone in His form. Hence everyone in the cosmos is ignorant of the whole and knows the part except only the perfect human being [who is aware of the whole].[14]

Thus, the perfect human being has the ability to understand the essence of religion, which is in relation with Friendship, and finds a ray of truth in every idea about God. This results from Ibn ‘Arabi’s belief that “Everyone in being is God, and everyone in intuition is creation.”[15] Thus, he finds some harmony between the real world and what appears in mystical intuition:

The Folk of Allah know the doctrine of every sect and creed concerning God, in order to witness Him in every form and in order not to stand in the place of denial. For He permeates existence, so no one denies Him except those who are limited. But the Folk of Allah follow Him whose folk they are, so His property flows over them. And His property is the lack of delimitation. Hence He possesses all-pervading Being (wujud) and they possess all-pervading witnessing (shuhud). The person who delimits His Being delimits his own witnessing and he is not one of the Folk of Allah.[16]

As a priest of the Roman Catholic Church during the Crusades, Meister Eckhart certainly followed the pope and the Church with respect to political issues, and consequently he had to oppose the Muslim East. Going beyond the appearances of religion, however, he sought the essence of religion. For this reason, although he was a peaceful and courteous mystic, the only place that he could be seen to be diverging from the path of moderation is with respect to sanctimonious Christians, who sacrifice the truth of religion for its appearances:

There are some people who do not understand this [poverty] well. They are those who are attached to their own penances and exercises, which seem important to people. God help those who hold divine truth in such low esteem! Such people present an outward picture that gives them the name of saints; but inside they are donkeys, for they cannot distinguish [the real meaning] divine truth.[17]

These Christians eventually tried Meister Eckhart in the name of the Church, and banned his works. In a similar way, during the Crusades sanctimonious Muslims killed al-Shaykh al-Ishraq for the crime of irreligious thought on the orders of the commander, Selah al-Din Ayyubi and his son, al-Malik al-Zahir.

Like Ibn ‘Arabi, Meister Eckhart believes that there is only one origin of the truth. Both the creation and propagation of divine legislation come from this same origin.[18] Non-Christian philosophers, including the muslim Avicenna, Moses, and then Christ, all taught the same truth in different ways.[19] And, once again like Ibn ‘Arabi, he also recognizes the perfect mystic as the one who tolerates different ideas:

All people are not called to God by the same road… our Lord gave the saints a pattern and also the strength to follow it as they understood it and therefore that was the way they could do their best; but God never tied man’s salvation to any pattern. Whatever possibilities inhere in any pattern of life inhere in all, because God has given it so and denied it to none. One good way does not conflict with another… We ought rather to observe the ways of other good people and despise none of them. Let each keep his own way and absorb into it the good features of other ways.[20]

Absolute Truth and Believed Truth

Ibn ‘Arabi and Meister Eckhart’s tolerance for different ideas originated, as mentioned above, from their knowledge of God, for God is too great to be contained in a view that is the product of limited human thought.

Presence of Sovereignty is indifferent
Transcendent from imaginary syllogisms.[21]

According to Ibn ‘Arabi, everyone worships a god who is a product of his own imagination; in other words, he determines what God is in his own beliefs:

God is created in the belief of His bondsmen. For, when a person rationally considers God, he creates what he believes in himself through his consideration. Hence he worships only a god which he has created through his consideration. He has said to it “Be!”, and it has come into existence. That is why God commanded us to worship the God brought by the Messenger and spoken of in the Book. For if you worship this God, you will be worshiping your creator, and you will have fully given worship its due.[22]

Evidently, the God of whom the prophets speak is not more than a single God. Meister Eckhart expresses himself in ways that are in perfect agreement with Ibn ‘Arabi:

A man ought not to have a God who is just a product of his thought, nor should he be satisfied with that, because if the thought vanished, God too would vanish. But one ought to have a God who is present, a God who is far above the notions of man and of all created things.[23]

However, it should be noted that the gods who appear in human ideas and in whom human beings believe, and whom Ibn ‘Arabi calls “believed gods”, are the manifestations of the same One God in various thoughts and constitutions.[24] It is not wrong to believe in such a god: the mistake is committed when this “believed Truth” is regarded as the absolute Truth, and anything else is denied. The perfect mystic is aware of this very point and believes in God in all His manifestations.

The fact that human beings determine who and what God is by their beliefs, and deny other manifestations of God in other beliefs, is the content of hadiths in which it has been said that on the Day of Resurrection, God will appear to His servants and these servants will accept only that form of God which is in harmony with their constitutions, natures and reasons, and they will deny other forms. In Ibn ‘Arabi’s words:

At the Resurrection, the Real (God) will disclose Himself and say, “I am your Lord”. They will see Him, but nevertheless they will deny Him and not acknowledge Him as their Lord, despite the existence of vision because of the lifting of the veil. When He transmutes Himself for them into the mark through which they recognize Him, they will say to Him, “Thou art our Lord”. Yet He is the one in whom they were seeking refuge, and He is the one they confessed to and recognized.[25]

Elsewhere he states that the reason behind the denial and the acceptance is that everyone sees God through the image of his own belief and does not see in God’s mirror other than himself and his own ideas:

Everyone has a kind of belief in his Lord through which he approaches Him, and Him in that belief. Thus, if the Real (God) discloses Himself to him according to it, he recognizes Him and affirms Him, whereas if He discloses Himself in any other form, he denies Him, flees from Him and treats Him disrespectfully, while at the same time imagining that they are acting towards Him politely. So, every believer believes in God only through what he creates in his own soul. Thus in their beliefs, God is made. That is, they see not other than their own souls and what they have made within it.[26]

To explain how the one God, who is free from all colors and determinations, takes on the hues of various ideas according to the individual’s capacity, nature and constitution, Ibn ‘Arabi quotes Junayd’s words: “The water’s color is the color of its container”:

Junayd was asked about knowledge and the knower. He replied, “The water takes on the color of its cup”. In other words, the container displays its effects in what it contains. Junayd said this to let you know that you will never judge your object of knowledge except by yourself, since you will never know anything but yourself. Whatever may be the color of the cup, water becomes manifest in that color. The person without knowledge judges that the water is like that, since sight gives that to him.[27]

Elsewhere Ibn ‘Arabi likens God’s manifestations in different beliefs to a single mirror in which everyone sees his own image:

Thus, it is as if a single Essence plays the role of a mirror, so if a believer sees his own believed form in God, he will know and acknowledge it, and if he happens to see the form believed by the others he will deny it. It is as if someone sees in the mirror his own image or the image of the others. In both cases, the mirror is a single object and the forms are many for the seer.[28]

Meister Eckhart is of a similar opinion and believes that we should not impose limitations on the absolute God through our limited beliefs:

The person whose attitude varies from one thing to another, to whom God is dearer in one form than another, is crude, uninstructed, and a child. To see God evenly in everything is to be a man.[29]

Ibn ‘Arabi’s recommendation is exactly the same:

Beware lest you restrict yourself to a particular tenet [concerning God] and so deny any other tenet, for you would forfeit much good, indeed you would forfeit the true knowledge of what [the reality] is. Therefore be completely and utterly receptive to all doctrinal forms, for God is too All-embracing and Great to be confined within one creed rather than another, for He has said: Whithersoever ye turn, there is Allah’s Countenance” (Q. 2:115).[30]

Meister Eckhart is of precisely the same view and makes the same recommendation:

There are persons who enjoy God indeed in one way but not in the other, and they insist on possessing God only in one way or recollection and not in the other. I bear it, but it is entirely wrong. If a man wants to receive God in the right way, he must accept him in all things equally… Therefore you should not insist in any form, for God is in no form, neither this nor that,…[31] Whoever seeks God in a definite mode accepts the mode and misses God, who is hidden in that mode. Whoever seeks God without a mode, however, grasps him as he is in himself.[32]

It is here that the meaning of Meister Eckhart’s famous supplication, “I pray God to rid me of God”,[33] becomes clear. That is, Meister Eckhart seeks a God that is superior to God, in the same way that Ibn ‘Arabi seeks behind “the believed Truth”, a God Who is “the Absolute Truth”. Obviously, as Meister Eckhart said, this God appears in the Church, as well as on the farm, in the same way.[34] And His manifestation for a man who is meditating or who is in a temple is nothing more than His manifestation beside the stove or in the animals’ stable.[35] He is a God who manifests Himself in the same way, both in the mosque and the synagogue. “He who finds God equally in everything has the highest knowledge of Him.”[36] And this is the same as Ibn ‘Arabi’s “religion of love” described in his famous poem as follows:

My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
And a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Ka’ba and the tables of the Tora and the book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take, that is my religion and my faith.[37]

Unity of Religions and Diversity of Divine Laws

From what has been said, one might expect that Ibn ‘Arabi and Meister Eckhart are seeking One God behind the various gods which religious people believe in, and that they are searching for a single religion in the innermost part of the divine laws. It is here that Ibn ‘Arabi’s poem makes sense:

The creatures knotted / various beliefs concerning God;
and I bear witness to everything they believe.[38]

And, by way of explanation, he adds:

The perfect gnostic recognizes Him in every form in which He discloses Himself and in every form in which He descends. Other than the gnostic recognizes Him only in the form of his own belief and denies Him when He discloses Himself to him in another form. He never ceases tying himself to his own belief and denying the belief of others.[39]

Thus, the unity of the Divine religion that Ibn ‘Arabi intends is not the same as that intended by the pluralist thinkers. If we take the metaphor of “elephant-ology”, or coming to know an elephant in darkness, for a group of people who have never seen one, this can only happen through feeling with their hands, and they will know the elephant only insofar as their own hands can tell them, and each will compare the elephant to something different. This is likely to result in dispute. But if they seek knowledge in the light of Friendship (al-wilaya), all dispute will be resolved.[40] For Ibn ‘Arabi, Islam is nothing other than the essence of the wali‘s experience. All the various divine laws are manifestations of this same essence. Equally, he believes that what has been brought by the Holy Prophet, Muhammad, as the final version of the Islam, contains the truth in the most perfect manner.[41]

Differences among religions result from differences among individuals and their constitutions. The color of water is the color of its container. That is, manifestation takes place through many different colored receptacles.[42]

Thus, on the one hand, religion is one, and on the other hand, the divine laws are various. That is why, in commenting on the noble verse “And We sent no messenger before thee but We inspired him, (saying): There is no God save Me (Allah), so worship Me” (Q. 21:25), Ibn ‘Arabi states:

In this verse God mentions “worship”, but no specific practices, for He also said: “For each [of the prophets] We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way” (5:48), that is We have set down designated practices. The period of applicability of the practices can come to an end, and this is called “abrogation” (naskh) in the words of the learned masters of the Law (Shari’a). There is no single practice in each and every prophecy, only the performance of the religion, coming together of it, and the statement of the monotheism (tawhid). This is indicated in God’s words, “He hath ordained for you that religion which He commended unto Noah, and that which We inspire in thee (Muhammad), and that which We commended unto Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying: Establish religion, and be not divided therein” (42:13). Bukhari has written a chapter entitled “The chapter on what has come concerning the fact that the religion of the prophets is one,” and this one religion is nothing but tawhid, performing the religion and worship. On this, the prophets have all come together.[43]

Accordingly, Ibn ‘Arabi knows the religion to be one, and the divine laws to be various. “The religion of the prophets is but one and there is nothing else involved. And as regards divine laws, though they are various, there is a comprehensive thing… and that is establishment of the religion and non-disunity in it.”[44] But this single religion, which is called at the beginning of the Fusus “the unique and direct path”,[45] turns into various religions. The reason behind this diversity is the variability of nations in terms of understanding, nature, constitution and capacity: “The sects and religions may vary because of the variety of the nations”.[46] To explain these diversities, Ibn ‘Arabi says:

God did not create people with a single constitution. On the contrary, He made them disparate in constitution. This is obvious and self-evident to anyone who looks, because of the disparity among people in rational consideration and faith.[47] … It is impossible for people to have a single constitution and since constitutions are various, there are knowing, more knowing, virtuous and more virtuous ones in the world. That is why some people know God free of limitations, others are not able to obtain a knowledge of God save through attributes which do not associate with new arrival (huduth) but require the perfection of the Attributed, and there are yet others who cannot gain a knowledge of God save through limiting Him by attributes of huduth and who put Him in the container of time, space, limits and quantity. Since God’s work concerning the world and the origin of creation is in accordance with these natural constitutions, He revealed the divine laws in accordance with this order so that Divine generosity may embrace all people.[48]

Thus, within the goal of religions, which is to lead human beings to know God and to guide them towards Him, differences between their constitutions and capacities have been taken into account. Based on these differences, different divine laws have put their emphasis on different aspects of theism. For, the constitutions of some people seek the Absolute God which has no name and no definition; others are familiar with the attributes of Glory and put more emphasis on the aspect of transcendence (tanzih); and still others are drawn to the attributes of Beauty and know God mainly through anthropomorphism (tashbih). The God of all of them, however, is the same. This is in complete harmony with Ibn ‘Arabi’s notion of wahdat al-wujud (unity of being). For, according to the unity of being, various gods are manifestations of the Absolute God. Everyone worships God in an ideological form specific to himself.[49] Everyone has his own Lord to worship. These differences, as already mentioned, result from differences among constitutions and capacities. Divine religions satisfy this need and capacity of human beings:

So, divine laws contain all that is sought by the constitutions of people and no believer is free from one of these kinds [of above-mentioned theisms]. But the one who has a perfect constitution is the one who encompasses all these beliefs and knows the locus of their origin and their beginning and none of them is absent in him.[50]

This viewpoint is the belief in all beliefs. It should not, however, be identified with pluralism as we usually understand it. Ibn ‘Arabi believes in the truth of all divine laws but maintains hierarchical levels between them. These levels result from the descent of the same truth into different spatial, temporal, and constitutional containers. Here, Ibn ‘Arabi again makes use of the analogy of the mirror. He says that the constitution of every person is like a mirror in which God is reflected. But since constitutions and natures are different, they manifest God differently:

The mirrors are diverse in shape and they modify the object seen by the observer according to their own shapes, whether they be tall, wide, curved, bent, round, small, large, numerous, and so on – whatever form may be given by the shape of the mirror. It is known that the messengers are the most balanced of all people in constitution, since they receive the messages of their Lord. Each of them receives the message to the measure of the composition. There is no prophet who was not sent specifically to a designated people, since he possessed a specific and curtailed constitution. But God sent Muhammad with an all-inclusive message for all people without exception. He was able to receive such a message because he possessed an all-inclusive constitution which comprises the constitution of every prophet and messenger, since he has the most balanced and most perfect of constitutions and the straightest of constitutions…. So the manifestation of the Real (God) within the mirror of Muhammad is the most perfect, most balanced, and most beautiful manifestation, because of the mirror’s actuality. When you perceive Him in the mirror of Muhammad, you will have perceived from Him a perfection which you could not perceive in respect of considering your own mirror.[51]

Thus, if we take the religion of Muhammad to be comprehensive of all religions (and not as invalidating them), all religions are manifestations of this single religion in various spatial and temporal forms, in accordance with particular capacities and constitutions. Equally, all prophets are a single light manifested in the forms of perfect men at different times, and this is the meaning of the Prophet Muhammad’s words, that “Adam was still between water and clay, when I was prophet”,[52] or the words of Jesus when he said: “Verily, Verily… before Abraham was, I am” (St. John 8:58).

The light of the Prophet was the great sun;

Manifested sometimes in Moses and at other times in Adam.[53]

That is why Ibn ‘Arabi says:

Every prophet, from Adam until the last of the prophets, derives what he has from the Seal of the prophets, even though he comes last in his temporal, physical manifestation, for in his [essential] reality he has always existed. The Prophet said, “I was a prophet when Adam was between water and the clay,” while other prophets became such only when they were sent forth [on their missions].[54]

This article first appeared in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Volume 45, 2009.


[1] Know that the outward form passes away, (but) the world of reality remains forever.
How long will you play at loving the shape of the jug? Leave the shape of the jug; go, seek water.
You have seen its (outward) form, you are unaware of the reality; pick out from the shell a pearl, if you are wise.
(Mathnawi of Jelaluddin Rumi, II.1020–22, trans. R.A. Nicholson, London, 1972)

2] Oliver Davis, God within, the Mystical Tradition of Northern Europe (New York, Paulist Press, 1988), p. 1.

3] David Steindle-Rast, Meister Eckhart from Whom God Hid Nothing, Foreword, ed. David O’Neal (Boston and London, Shambhala, 1996), p. x.

[4] Rudolf Otto, Mysticism, East and West, A Comparative Study of the Nature of Mysticism, trans. Bertha L. Bracy and Richena C. Pane (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1976), p. 13.

[5] Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, Commentaries and Defence, ed. Edmund College and Bernard McGinn (Paulist Press, New York, 1981), p. xvi.

[6] See Ghasem Kakaie, “Agential tawhid in the Holy Quran and in the Bible”, Keyhan-e Andisheh, 58, 1373 (1994), pp. 59–60.

[7] See, for example, Q. 3: 113–114; 3: 55; 5: 82–83; and 57:27.

[8] Peter, I, 2:12 (Bible, New Testament, King James Version).

[9] See Ibn ‘Arabi, Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad Ibn ‘Ali, Al-Futuhat al-makkiyah [Meccan Revelations] (Beirut, Dar Sader, n.d.), II.264 and IV.490.

[10] Fut. III.69–70.

[11] Fut. IV.220.

[12] Fut. III.172.

[13] Fut. I.223.

[14] Fut. III.398.

[15] Fut. III.306.

[16] Fut. III.161.

[17] Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, p. 199.

[18] Ibid., p. 27.

[19] Oliver Davis (ed.), Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings (Penguin Books, 1994), p. xvii.

[20] Meister Eckhart, Meister Eckhart, A Modern Translation, trans. Reymund Bernard Blakney (New York, Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1941), pp. 23–24.

[21] Poem is quoted from Shaykh Mahmud Shabistari, Gloshan Raz [Garden of Secrets], ed. Husayn Ilahi Qumshei (Intesharat-e Ilmi va Farhangi, Tehran, 2004/1384 A.H.S), verse 576, p. 78.

[22] Fut. IV.142–3.

[23] Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, p. 253.

[24] In this context, Ibn ‘Arabi says: “God is too extensive, high, and great to be limited in an attribute which makes Him constrained, and to be with some servants and not to be with the others. Divine expansion avoids this. God, the Exalted, says: “and He is with you wheresoever ye may be.” (Q. 57:4), and “whithersoever ye turn, there is Allah’s Countenance” (2:115). And everything’s countenance is its essence and reality. If God was with some servants and not with the others, the one with whom God was not would worship his own imagination and not his Lord, whereas God, the Exalted, commanded no one worship other than God really or genetically, thus says: “Thy Lord hath decreed, that ye worship none save Him” (17:23); Fut. I.405.

[25] Fut. III.540–41.

[26] Ibn ‘Arabi, Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad Ibn ‘Ali, Fusus al-hikam [Bezels of Wisdom], ed. Abul ‘Ala ‘Afifi (al-Zahra Publications, 1366/1997), vol. 1, p. 113.

[27] Fut. III.161.

[28] Fusus I.184.

[29] Meister Eckhart, Meister Eckhart, A Modern Translation, p. 235.

[30] Fusus I.113.

[31] Jeanne Ancelet-Hustache, Master Eckhart and the Rhineland Mystics, trans. Hilda Greaf (London, Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., 1957), p. 106.

[32] Meister Eckhart, Breakthrough, Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality in New Translation, Intro. and Commentaries by Matthew Fox (New York, Image Books, 1991), p. 201.

[33] Ibid., p. 45.

[34] Ibid., p. 144.

[35] Robert K.C. Forman, “Eckhart, Gezuchen and the Ground of the Soul”, in The Problem of Pure Consciousness, Mysticism and Philosophy, ed. Robert K.C. Forman (New York, Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 113.

[36] Meister Eckhart, Breakthrough, p. 139.

[37] Muhyi¤ddin Ibn al-‘Arabi, The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, trans. R.A. Nicholson (London, Theosophical Publishing House, 1911), Poem XI.

[38] Fut. III.132.

[39] Fut. III.132.

[40] Because of each perspective their descriptions were different:

One man entitled it “dal”, another “alif”.
If there had been a candle in each one’s hand, the difference would have gone out of their words.
The eye of sense-perception is only like the palm of the hand: the palm hath not power to reach the whole of him (the elephant).
(Mathnawi of Jelaluddin Rumi, III.1267–69)

For pluralist thinkers, the metaphor of “elephantology” is like that of blind people drawing conclusions through the palm of their hands and as a result there is no way in which the elephant may be known. Thus all of them should be equally regarded as being truthful. But for those such as Rumi, the metaphor is “elephantology” in darkness for people who have never seen an elephant. That is, if there is the light of a friend of God (wali) and the light of a guide, perfect knowledge will be possible, and all those particular kinds of knowledge may be regarded, in some sense, as wrong.

[41] R.W.J. Austin (trans.), Ibn al ‘Arabi, The Bezels of Wisdom, Introduction (Lahore, Suheil Academy, 1988), pp. 37–8.

[42] William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge (New York, State University of New York Press, 1989), p. 229.

[43] Fut. II.414.

[44] Fut. IV.444.

[45] Fusus, I.47.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Fut. III.251.

[48] Ibid., 2:219.

[49] Toshihiko Izutso, Sufism and Taoism (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983), p. 83.

[50] Fut. II.219–20.

[51] Fut. III.251.

[52] Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar (Dar Ihya Thurat), 16:402; 18:287.

[53] Shaykh Mahmud Shabistari, Golshan Raz [Garden of Secrets], verse 405, p. 65.

[54] Ibn ‘Arabi, Fusus, I.63–64.