Articles and Translations

“Ibn ‘Arabi’s Bequest” and Two Other Passages from the Kitab al-Wasâ’il by Isma’il Ibn Sawdakîn

Stephen Hirtenstein

Stephen Hirtenstein has been editor of the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society since its inception in 1982, and is a co-founder of Anqa Publishing [/].

He read History at King’s College, Cambridge, and then studied at the Beshara School of Intensive Esoteric Education in Gloucestershire and Scotland. After a teaching career, he began writing and giving talks on Ibn Arabi’s thought at conferences across the world.

In addition to lecturing and writing, he organises and leads tours "in the footsteps of Ibn Arabi".

He currently works as a Senior Editor for the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, and lives near Oxford.

 

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9. He (May God be pleased with him) said to me:

“I entrust to you a bequest and I wish [with all my heart] that you may safeguard it. It is my way with God, may He be exalted, and it is that you should never, ever, abandon your servanthood (‘ubûdiyya) and that there may never be in your soul a longing for any existing thing. The desire [for existing things] only rises up in you due to a compelling attribute (wasf qahrî) arising through you. As this overpowering attribute arises through you, it cannot compel itself [into existence] by itself – it must have a place in which its effect can be manifest, and that is the created world.

The quality of compulsion requires you to leave the Divine Presence for the creation. Thus you are removed from your servanthood, which is your reality and whereby God created you that you might be a devoted servant of Him, and the Face of the Real is veiled from you.

Take, for example, Abu Yazid al-Bistami, may God’s mercy be upon him: despite the fact that he had been given permission and been told, “Step out into My creation with My attribute”, yet when he did take one step, it was as if he had been struck by lightning. Then it was said, “Bring back My beloved to Me – he cannot bear to be away from Me”. All this, despite him stepping out in accordance with an order. So what then will be the judgment of stepping out with a compelling attribute?

Take note of His Word, “I have only created the jinn and mankind that they may adore/serve Me” (Q.51:56). Here he has brought the quality of servanthood, which is self-abasement (tadhallul) and being in need (iftiqâr). It is said “subjugated earth” which means [completely] abased.

Now if one breath passes you by without you being characterised by the reality of servanthood in it, then in that breath you are keeping company with something other than what you were created for and ordered to do. You will have missed the time appointed for attainment, and there is no way for you to ever rectify that, either in this world or in the next, because this world exists for the sake of the abode of results. Whenever there is preoccupation with [the world] in a way that does not lead to perfection, then the result is lack, regret and deviating from witnessing the [Divine] Face, sooner or later. The person of good sense (‘âqil) will occupy himself here and now with obtaining results, and then he may reach what he desires in that homeland.

I asked him, “My master, if the servant steps away from the [Divine] Face with the attribute of compulsion and contention, can he not also see the Face in this compulsion and contention? ”

Thereupon he – may God the Exalted assist him – replied, “Is there not manifest within his own being the attribute of compulsion and contention? It is an attribute that proliferates in the created world, diminishing servanthood. If [the servant] were truly realised in the vision of the Divine Face, then humility would be his inherent property and attribute. So verify this and work for it! That is my way with God, may He be exalted!”

 

“Leave your self and come!”

27. [He said to me:] Have you not heard the allusion made by Abu Yazid [al-Bistami], may God have mercy upon him, when he said, “I stayed with those who struggle with themselves, but I could not see a way with them; I stayed with those who fast and pray, through countless spiritual stations, partaking in each and every one, but I could not see a way with them. So I asked, “My Lord, how is the way to You? ” and He replied, “Leave your self and come!”

Thus He shortened the way for him, and this is the most benevolent and succinct address of its kind. When he left his self, the Real stood in his place, and this is the closest of ways.

61. [On another occasion] I asked him (May God be pleased with him) about the true meaning of the address which Abu Yazid reported came to him from God, “Leave your self (nafs) and come!”. I asked, “Did he mean the form of his self as such? ”

Thereupon he – may God the Exalted assist him – replied, “Yes, He called him from the form of his self to the image of the Real (sûratu-l-haqq), according to which God created Adam (Peace be on him). But the self only takes this latter form when it leaves behind any connection to other than God, glory to Him! If it were not thus, then the meaning would be: “Leave your essence (dhât) and come!”, but this is not the case.”

Then I asked, “My master, how is one to follow this special Path? ”

He – may God the Exalted confer honour on him – replied, “One must not allow oneself to be connected to any of the created things nor dwell with them, unless God becomes its point of reference. Peace through perfection!”

 

On Retreat

24. Part of his teachings and commentary regarding questions in his book called “Gnosis” (mârifa)[1]was the following: “The aim of retreat is emptiness and preparation of the place. Invocation (dhikr) should be done only for devotion, so that man is not involved in preparing for anything other than adoration and service. If a specific dhikr springs up in his interior, then the seeker should remain still without reinforcing it by his own action. Rather, he should maintain himself in stillness so that he may be the place of the One invoked, not the invoker. When the visitor has expressed itself, it leaves of its own accord. If the spiritual will reinforces it, then the servant is qualified by being an invoker, and that is the defined dhikr. Then the place becomes limited and departs from the total preparation, which brings unlimitedness. Verify this, and God knows best!”

56. [On another occasion] I asked him to clarify the aim and intention of one who is in retreat and seclusion from people. He (May God be pleased with him) said, “He aims to prepare the place for what is required by Lordship and the cutting of ties. When this happens to him, he can dispense with retreat, and his retreat and his unveiling (khalwa wa jalwa) become just like someone recited:

O you, who keeps company with me at night when all men sleep
and who converses with me during the day while I am among them.

Retreat and seclusion is all for the preparation of the place by cutting the ties. It is agreed [by the people of God] that the one who finds intimacy with God, may He be exalted, in retreat has really [only] become intimate with retreat, not with God (Allah). He is the Truth and the Peace of Perfection.”

 

From the Kitab al-Wasâ’il by Isma’il Ibn Sawdakîn, also known as Book of Questions (Kitab Masâ’il), edited and translated into German by Manfred Profitlich, Freiburg, 1973. It is the book of questions Ibn Sawdakîn asked his Master and the answers Ibn ‘Arabi gave.

These translations by Stephen Hirtenstein first appeared in the Newsletter of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Spring 1997.

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