Articles and Translations

The Quranic Inspiration of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Vocabulary of Love

Etymological Links and Doctrinal Development

Maurice Gloton

Dr. Maurice Gloton (1926–2017) was a well known translator of Islamic spiritual works, including the Quran. His innovative translation of the latter focuses on the grammar and syntax of Arabic to bring out the deeper meaning of the book. For several decades, he devoted himself to spreading awareness of Islamic spirituality, notably through translations of works by great figures of Sufism and theologians, and through lectures and television broadcasts.


Articles by Maurice Gloton

The Quranic Inspiration of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Vocabulary of Love


The Shaykh al-Akbar’s work has at the same time the density of the metaphysical Point and its radiance.

What he has written – in prose or in verse – only portrays dazzling discontinuities which appear in order to clarify, for the gnostic lover, the dense and impenetrable continuity of the Divine Essence. He himself has remarked that what he has transmitted in his work, even though it is immense, concerning the divine Secrets, only represents very little compared to the exceptional knowledge with which he has been favoured by Allah, the One who is absolutely Rich, beyond need of the worlds as well as beyond need of the beings contained in them, and who possesses infinite Knowledge. We are the ones who make outward, artificial discontinuities out of the divine Permanence. The very perspective of “tajdīd” or of constantly renewed creation, proves the permanence of the Source of everything.

When we consider Revelation as oral tradition, sound is the principle of every word. It has this density of the metaphysical Point that we mentioned earlier, which was described by the Prophet receiving divine Inspiration by way of sound as a ringing Bell, heard even with his physical hearing – the Word uttered, with a wounding split, possessing an intensity which he could hardly bear.

On bursting into hierarchical creation and echoing there indefinitely, this Sound gave birth to the sublime Letters, which are creative in their turn, being the keys to the most differentiated names which will progressively give form to all the realities of the worlds, or the sign-beings synthetically encompassed in the Divine Foreknowledge.

In this semantic perspective of the inexhaustible Divine Words,[2] each term which God utters in His Act of sending down (tanzīl) His Words, cannot be confused with another. Therefore there are no true synonyms. However, human incapacity, which conducts itself by means of relationships in a world made up of a unity of relationships, tends to describe a manifested reality by means of a form of an approximate word or expression. Translation therefore conveys an initial powerlessness to discern wholly the Divine Word, followed by a subsequent inability to reconstruct it in a manner which is contingent on another language, since the result has to go beyond the expression through an intuitive grasp of the ineffable underlying reality. This assertion sets forth an aspect of the incommunicable Secret of Divine Words in their indefinite modalities of expression.

These observations should not, however, discourage us from following our stated intention! How is the Shaykh al-Akbar, who has been nourished by the Quran and has assimilated innumerable secrets from it, going to reconstruct for us, in his work in general, and more particularly in his poetry, the fundamental Quranic themes of Love which we are going to develop in greater detail in the first part of our paper? For if the roots which give rise to the words used in the Quran are the expression of “the Divine Love to be known” – according to the words of a Holy Tradition (hadīth qudsī), in which God speaks through the mouth of the Prophet in the first person and on which Ibn ‘Arabi has commented numerous times in his work – certain ways of expressing this love are more immediately accessible to us through their semantic, structural and intelligible evidence. These terms form by themselves a whole, essential, coherent, doctrinal perspective, some of them having a real, conceptual breadth more obvious than others. We are therefore going to tackle first of all those terms which describe Love in a new way, which is sometimes disconcerting even for an experienced “Akbarian”, and depart, for a moment, from the conventional framework of habitual interpretations – even though they may also have their reasons for being – given by orientalists and commentators both oriental and western. That will allow us to restore to them a meaning both original and new, an interpretation not deformed or altered by a long tradition of translations containing resonances often borrowed from a different revealed perspective, and to try and reinterpret these fundamental notions without departing from the linguistic framework given by the Islamic Revelation in clear Arabic language.

In the second part, we will present some examples of etymological connections concerning some of the major themes of Akbarian metaphysics and cosmogony which we have presented briefly in the introduction or notes of some of our translations.

But how many obstacles must be overcome, one must admit, to go against the tide of common usage in translations more than one hundred years old, and against habits of language which it will be necessary to break, or which must be rectified or even refuted! The boldness of Ibn ‘Arabi’s semantic explanations must not remain his prerogative alone. Sometimes, the freedom of our age permitting, we must also venture some bold interpretations which, admittedly, only involve us and that greater or lesser number of people who adhere to his school and to his implicit or explicit way of treating the sacred Arabic language in order to extract from it its underlying power.

*   *   *

The principle of autogenesis and cosmogenesis is Love. Most masters of Tasawwuf, and Ibn ‘Arabi in particular, develop the inexhaustible richness of a holy hadīth which they consider authentic. Allah said through the mouth of His Prophet: “I was a (hidden) treasure: I was not known. Now, I loved [or according to a variant, I wanted] to be known. So I created the creatures so that I might be known by them. Then they knew Me.” From the lexical viewpoint which concerns us at the moment, what should we understand by “Love”? There are many Arabic terms, mainly Quranic, to express it, as we shall soon see, but it is often represented by the root h-b-b as is the case in the hadīth which we have just quoted (I loved – ahbabtu). This root connotes two principal, lexical meanings which ultimately form only one: love (hubb) and grain or seed (habba). However, the Master makes it clear that love cannot be defined. Let us quote him on this point:

Definitions of Love have been proposed, but I do not know anyone who has been able to define what it is in itself. One cannot even imagine that it is worthwhile giving them. Whoever might try to define it could only do so by means of the fruits that it produces, the traces it leaves and the consequences that are inherent in it since it remains a quality of the perfect and inaccessible Power which is God Himself… [3]

It is likely that the Shaykh’s assertion regarding the impossibility of defining Love is rooted in the hadīth that we have just quoted. In fact, one can only define something according to two perspectives:

1) According to Aristotelian logic in which things are defined by means of their class and their specific difference; therefore God, and so also Love, which cannot be placed in a class nor be subject to a specific difference, cannot accept definition.

2) According to another more Semitic logic which puts forward the definition of a reality by reference to another which allows one to bring them together.

Now, at the degree of divine Oneness, as at the degree of the essential Unity, a relationship with Allah does not exist. Such a relationship can only be understood, then, at the degree of His Presence in the universal Manifestation, but then Love is envisaged by way of relationship in the effects which it necessarily entails and which can be discerned and apprehended. Consequently, Love as such can only be postulated, never defined.

Although indefinable, according to Ibn ‘Arabi, Love can be considered as the internal movement, the interior attraction which allows a reality – the Divine Being or any other entity – to exteriorize its possibilities, to open up the seed of which it consists and to become a fully developed tree capable of reproduction and bearing fruit in the image of the divine Life to which it is intimately bound. From this well-founded lexical and Quranic perspective, al-Hubb is the loving Seed or the seminal and generative development which is inseparable from divine Life and the voluntary movement which it implies. Al-Mahabba, according to the pattern on which this term is constructed, is the locus, the support where this love is actualised.

The term hubb used to signify Love has a generic meaning and may be applied to the different nuances which Love takes on. Ibn ‘Arabi, at the beginning of Chapter 178 of the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, which we have translated under the title Traité de l’amour[4] makes it clear that the Station of Love has four names:

[1] Hubb, germinal, seminal or original love, whose purity penetrates the heart and whose limpidity is not subject to accidental changes.
[2] Wadd, affection or the faithful attachment of love, a word to which the Divine Name Wadud is related, the constantly lovable and loving. The faithful attachment of love is one of the divine characteristics. [According to the dictionary], it is to remain in something constantly. The noun Wadd, post, permanent tie, has been given to anything which is fixed in the earth.
[3] ‘ishq, the spiralling of love or distraught love, extreme love or overwhelming love. This term comes from the same root as ‘ashaqa, convolvulus or bindweed [which winds itself in a spiral round a support which it succeeds in smothering or causing to disappear; unlike the other three, this term is not Quranic].
[4] Hawā, the sudden inclination of love or unexpected passion of love.


According to this quotation, one can easily obtain a thorough understanding of the meaning in relation to etymology, either by considering a connection in meaning between two words which derive from the same root:

1) Hubb = love; Habba = grain or seed (seed of love), the two meanings being indissociable from one another: love produces the seed and the seed develops due to the effect of the seed of love which it contains.

2) ‘Ashaqa = convolvulus (which grows in a spiral around a support); ‘ishq = growing love, spiroidal like bindweed. The two senses are still indissociable: ‘ishq represents Love in an ascending, spiroid form like one of the aspects of movement belonging to the Spirit (ruh) and like convolvulus.

Or by considering the polysemy of the root of a single word:

1) Wadd = stake, nail, peg; Wadd = love. The Love designated by the term Wadd is a solid, rooted and faithful love.

2) Hawā = passion; Hawā = love. The Love designated by the word hawā is the surge of love, the passion of loving.

Here we have four names and so four different connotations of Love, although in the translations one often finds only this one, same word “love” for all four aspects.

Furthermore, we may point out that the third aspect of Love that Ibn ‘Arabi qualifies by ‘ishq implies an ascending movement whilst the fourth, hawā also signifies, in the dictionary, “to fall from above to below” and gives rise to the expression: air, atmosphere. Thus the Blowing of the Divine Breath in its double movement of expansive and contractive spiralling, circulates or evolves in the divine Economy or in the creature according to an ascending and descending movement after the fashion of air heated by the sun or cooled by night.

It is evident that in his poetry, the Shaykh often uses the four terms outlined above and we may therefore observe that attraction (mayl) is the motive of love. On these occasions, he shows us the multiple relationships that this term mayl has with our subject. The examples that best illustrate this perspective are to be found in poems 11, 20 and 25 of the Turjumān al-Ashwāq.[5] Let us quote, for example, in translation, from poem 25 and the commentary by the Shaykh who describes this universal tendency which love assumes, by means of a vocabulary rich in polysemic implications:

Yā bānata l-wādī arinā fananā
Rīhu saban yukhbiru ‘an ‘asrin
Fī līni a’tāfin lahā aw quduba
bi Hājir aw bi Minan aw bi Quba
O ban arbre de la vallée, fais-nous voir une branche
Brise venue d’orient qui parle du temps de la jeunesse
ou encore des tiges semblables à la soupless de sa cambrure.
Que l’on passe a Hājir, à Minā ou encore à Qubā.
O ban tree of the valley, show us a branch
The zephyr’s breeze tells of the time of youth
or some twigs that can be compared with her tenderness!
spent at Hājir or Minā or Qubā [6]
Oh ban del valle! muéstrame tus ramas
Narra la brisa la juventud
y brotes suaves como las lineas de su cuerpo
pasada en Hājir or Minā or Qubā. [7]

The Shaykh comments on these two verses as follows:

It is a matter, here, of the propensity of the created being (mayl al-kawn) to orient himself towards the Real by saying: Indeed, the attraction (mayl) that I have for you [my beloved] and the grace that you accord me come from the inclination (mayl) of the Presence of the Real towards you and the blessing which it confers and the manifestation of its lights affect you. For your attraction (mayla-ka) towards her is due to need (iftiqār) and deriving benefit (istifāda), whilst her attraction (mayla-ha) towards you is due to sufficiency (ghinā’) and bestowing benefit (ifāda). Now, there is no relationship except through contrast (naqīd).

The mention of the branch (fanan) is connected to the lexical root f-n-n which also gives the word fann, plural funūn, class, category, species. It is a matter of different sorts of knowledges. The expression long twigs (qudūb) contains the meaning of a flexible stick, cane or bow (qadīb). . .

The word “cambrure”/”curve” [translated by Nicholson as “tenderness”; ‘atf, pl. a’tāf – side (of the body), curvature, fondness/affection] refers to the divine inclination or sympathy (‘atf ilāhi) implied in the mercy or irradiating love which is all-encompassing (shāmila) and universal (mutlaqa) which embraces everything [according to Q.7:156, “. . . and My irradiating Love embraces everything (or: self-willed reality)”].

In the commentaries on the Turjumān al-Ashwāq, which all deal with the Love for the Beloved and where Nizam symbolizes as much the Divine Essence as Its incessant and always new theophanies, the Master constantly has recourse to the polysemy of the Arabic roots he uses. We shall therefore limit ourselves to the quotations we have just used to illustrate this first part of our paper. One may observe also that Ibn ‘Arabi explains divine and created realities by means of the commentary whilst sometimes avoiding, no doubt for good reason, mention of the roots although he refers to them implicitly. One of the motives which seems most obvious to us is the explanation of a root which is rich in lexical meaning, but whose fundamental and primary significance has been progressively hidden by common usage and the cultural evolution of the language.

We have just observed how the translator who is scrupulous and takes pains to render the interconnected acceptations of the Arabic roots discovers thereby an astonishing doctrinal richness which he attempts to let his reader share. That is why we would now like to demonstrate all the benefit we can gain from examining certain Arabic roots linked to the theme of Love expressed in the hadīth qudsī quoted above, as well as those of other words lexically connected either to a particular root or to a group of terms relating to Love. It will be a question of giving etymological connections coupled with some doctrinal development, as Pablo Beneito understands this in his study on “Intratextuality in Akbarian Hermeneutics” which he presented at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in February 1997, at a conference on the theme of love in the work of Ibn ‘Arabi.

Now, by applying the procedure which Ibn ‘Arabi uses constantly and which we have just explained, we would like, first, to analyse semantically the following terms: kalam and kalm, dhikr and dhakar, nafas and nafs, rahma and rahim, hubb and habba, all linked directly in a complex evolutionary and involutionary process of Love. Then, secondly, we shall show the connection which exists between the different divine, essential Names brought into play so that the loving Seed develops in order to form the macrocosmic and microcosmic Branching in the divine, totalising Manifestation. This may consist of an illustration of etymological links accompanied by additional doctrinal information.

Thus the root k-l-m, which contains the meanings of wounding, and uttering or articulating, gives rise to the two nouns kalm = wound and kalam = word or speech, which apparently have no immediate connection. However, the Word, by being manifested or uttered, entails sacrifice and generation in universal suffering. Allah exteriorizes His Word by breathing out or uttering the infinite possibilities contained in His Knowledge just as the blood of life escapes from the body, wounded by a sharp instrument, for example. However, unlike the blood of a created being, the words of Allāh are not exhausted as He says in His Book: “If all the trees on earth were pens (aqlām), and the sea were swelled by seven seas (of ink) besides, the Words of Allāh would not be exhausted. Indeed, Allāh (is) Powerful and Wise” (Q.31:27).[8] This is so because Allah is the One who splits asunder the heavens and the earth (Q..35:1) and it is through these cracks or wounds that He makes the Words escape unceasingly. The Qalam (calamus) which is phonetically connected to the term kalam (word) is the instrument or channel which is going to spill, or convey into universal Manifestation, the Divine Words articulated by the divine “Dhikr”, the bearer of the loving seeds or semen, the real “Logos spermaticos”. Moreover, one could observe that the Calamus engraves the letters on a support which it therefore metaphorically wounds.

If we next analyse the root dh-k-r we see that it has the two following main acceptations: 1) to strike in the male organ, to sharpen to a point, to make masculine, to give birth to males; 2) to remind, mention, remember, invoke, chant…

The Dhikr, before being a simple “mention”, is the divine, articulated Word which is conveyed through the channel of the calamus. These are Divine Words or seeds contained in the divine Consciousness. It has, therefore, an eminently fecund power, whether it is articulated by God Himself according to an Islamic perspective, or whether it is formulated by the human being. It is a divine characteristic, an attribute related to Allah in His Oneness. It expresses the generative powers of the masculine active Principle (dhakar = male) which interpenetrates universal Manifestation, the Womb or Matrix of all the forms of the Universe or the feminine principle (unthā = female), by ordering it through the action of the seeds of wisdom and love. With its executive power, the Dhikr, the sharp and illuminating fine point, assails the darkness of the human constitution which is not yet harmonised and revivifies it with its uterine seed. Allah speaks of this in the following way in His Holy Scripture, “He is no other than a Dhikr for the sign-beings [the worlds/creatures] (in Huwa illa Dhikrun li l-‘ālamīn)”(Q..38:87). “We sent down the Dhikr and We shall certainly preserve it.” (Q. 15:9) One can also observe the complementarity of the two principles in the following verse: “O human beings! We have created you from a male (dhakar) and a female (unthā) (Q.49:13).”

The Divine Words thus spoken by the divine, impregnating Dhikr and conveyed by the divine Calamus, are brought to life by the All-Radiating Breath of Love (nafas al-Rahmān). This expression derives from the following hadīth of the Prophet: “I feel the Breath of the All-Radiating Love coming from the Yemen [or: from the Right].” His first term nafas (breath) and the term nafs (soul), both come from the root n-f-s meaning breath, sigh, relaxation, opening out, soul, precious thing, and also the influence, be it more or less positive, connected to the look. His second term, that is to say the Divine Name Rahmān (All-Radiating Love) – which is constructed according to a pattern with an intensive meaning, reminiscent of the dual form – comes from the root r-h-m which means to have mercy, to die in childbirth, but whose deeper meaning is surely “to radiate with love” since one has, elsewhere, deriving from the same root, the noun rahim (uterus, womb, blood relationship), and the noun rahma (radiating love, and by extension, mercy of a feminine kind). The universal Womb/Matrix dilates as far as the infinite confines of divine Possibilities under the influence of the Seed of Love which is contained in its most secret centre. The Divine Name ar-Rahmān, by the generative power of Divine Love which it transports, opens out the possibilities contained in the Divine Names and immutable essences squeezed into the “metaphysical Point” of the Divine Oneness and disseminates them in the informal Substance of universal Existence to form the universal macrocosmic Tree and the microcosmic branchings which result from it. By this relationship of extension and development, the Name ar-Rahmān both dilates and manifests all the other Divine Names and embraces them at the same time, according to this divine Saying: “Say, Invoke Allāh or invoke ar-rahmān. Whichsoever you invoke, to Him are the excellent Names (Q. 17:110).” It is this very animated Breath which carries the inexhaustible Words of God, composed of innumerable cosmic Letters, through the multiple hierarchical degrees of universal Manifestation.

These significant examples show to what extent etymological connections and doctrinal development are intimately linked in order to form, in many cases, an indissociable whole. We can illustrate this etymological and contextual perspective with many other examples that have a bearing on essential doctrinal and spiritual aspects. However, to avoid prolonging this paper, we shall finish our reflections by briefly studying what the theologians and certain Masters of the Tasawwuf meant to suggest by the expression as-Sifāt an-nafsiyya or the (seven) essential (Divine) Qualities.

In the holy Prophetic news that we quoted at the beginning of our talk, God makes clear the whole Process of universal Manifestation starting from Love, and the knowledge of God that results from it for the creatures born of essential Love. God said through the mouth of His Prophet: “I was a (hidden) Treasure; I was not known. Now, I loved to be known. So I created the creatures so that I might make Myself known to them. Then they knew Me.” Here, God is expressing Himself in the first person singular. It is not therefore a question of God, envisaged as the absolute, unconditioned Essence, to which this other authentic hadīth alludes: “God was and there was not with Him a thing (shay’) …” By expressing Himself in the first person singular, God affirms His Oneness, at which degree the Divine Names and Attributes are already differentiated although not yet manifested, acting through the beings which they will later qualify or characterize by giving them their existential norms. This is why we find in this holy hadīth: “I was a Treasure …” the fundamental Qualities of the Divine “Person”, the essential attributes (as-sifāt an-nafsiyya): those of life, knowledge, ability, will, speech, hearing and sight.

In the divine Life, the first internal and continuous ontologi-cal movement of Love, all the divine possibilities are in an essential equilibrium; they are the things (ashyā’), that is the divine essential Realities contained in All Possibility (mashī’a = the place of all divine volitions). They represent the infinite elements of Divine Knowledge, composed of all these possibilities which constitute so many signs (‘ālamāt), or sign-beings (‘ālamīn) identified by Ibn ‘Arabi by means of the technical expression al-a’yān ath-thābita, the permanent prototypical essences. The Divine Name “the Infinitely Knowing (‘ālim)”, by this ontological relationship, rules them all. Divine Knowledge (‘ilm) consists therefore of knowing them all ontologically, in themselves and in the modalities of interconnection and conjunction that God has placed in them from all eternity. They can only be described by the intervention of the excellent Divine Names, the universal relational norms necessary for the identification and characterization of these permanent prototypical essences which, without them, could never be known. The Divine Name al-‘Alīm, the One who Infinitely Knows the sign-beings, is linked to the root ‘a-l-m: to sign, to give something its distinguishing mark, and secondly to know by means of signs or symbols.

We can note, in passing, the following etymological links:

Firstly, the root ‘a-l-m: ‘alama = to be the sign of; ‘alima = to know; ‘alama, pl. ‘alamāt = signs; ‘ālamūn, regular plural = beings of the world, sign-beings; ‘ilm = knowledge (science), the entirety of interlinked signs; ‘alīm = knowing or more precisely “knowing-known”.

Then with the root sh-y-‘ = to will synthetically; shay’, pl. ashy a’ = thing or synthetic reality which is the object of the divine essential Will; mashī’a = metaphysical place where these ashya’ are, that is the place of the divine essential volitions.[9]

To continue our doctrinal study, we may say that the evaluation of these ontologically permanent sign-beings by God within the divine Life takes place through the divine Function which is called Qudra, a divine faculty which evaluates or assesses the value of each thing in itself according to its essential possibility, and which assigns the measure of things in relation to each other. This function of determination and evaluation is exercised by the Divine Name al-Qadīr, the One who has the ability to evaluate everything.

This interpretation follows directly from the meaning of the root q-d-r, to appraise, assess according to its value, that one finds in the word qudra and the Divine Names al-Qadīr or al-Qādir, which is much more explicit than the meaning of Powerful which is very often used to translate these two Divine Names.

In the order of enumeration of the Divine Qualities of the Essence, the Name the Self-Willed (al-Murīd) is sometimes given after al-Qadir. The root of this term r-w-d means: to go from here to there, the will (irāda) being the faculty of the Soul or animated Breath which allows self-determination by going from a known thing to another which is not actually realised, the movement of attraction which results from it in order to go towards the object thus desired is often called love.

Endowed with these four essential attributes of Life, Knowledge, Ability and Will, the Divine Being which loves to be known, expresses or utters this Love of being known, by articulating through His Word (kalam) all the possibilities contained in the permanent prototypic essences. This divine Function is called al-Mutakallim, the One who expresses Himself through Himself. The root of this term k-l-m has the double meaning of to utter and to wound. As we have already pointed out, the enunciated word, which is an articulation, actualises all the possibilities of the divine Being. This may provisionally be symbolically represented by a Point in an interior and spiroidal movement due to the action of the Movement linked to the Principle of Love, which is the Spirit of this interior motion in its two principal aspects of attraction and re-absorption. If we “amplify” this metaphysical Point without dimension, it takes on a symbolic, spherical form, at the interior and outer borders of which all the divine possibilities of which we have just spoken are expressed. This illusory outflow may be depicted as the many wounds by which the sap of Life produces the metacosmic and cosmic universal Tree.

The last two attributes of Hearing (Samī’) and Seeing (Basīr), or Hearing and Sight – often deemed to be the two final attributes which constitute the seven attributes of the Essence – make these principial possibilities radiate throughout the limitless, divine Sphere, constantly opening up and closing in on Itself, by the action of the essential Word in the resounding immensity where it is received. The divine Hearing, ontologically speaking, perceives the Words and the divine Sight scatters them infinitely in an internal movement of essential spiralling.

This ontogenetical outline is clearly not as linear and schematic as this too-condensed and brief paper might lead one to believe. The seven Qualities of the Essence, and all the other Attributes or Divine Names, coexist ontologically and co-operate in the Genesis of universal Existence. They interact and are incessantly correlative.

Thus, the meaning of the organisation and the correlation of these Divine Qualities, which are often difficult to explain, becomes more obvious and accessible as soon as one considers the etymological connections, in a given context of words stemming from the same root. Moreover, this method very often opens up an immense intuitive field which seems seldom to have been explored.



The advantage that can be gained from such a study is that linguistic symbolism and its numerous implications, which allow one to assimilate the principles of these etymological links within a specific context, both generally and more particularly as applied to the technical vocabulary of love used by Ibn ‘Arabi in his prose as well as in his poetry, have an almost inexhaustible richness. All the expressions of the language reveal traces of the universal Love of Allah in Himself and in the creation, for they are connected to the production of the divine possibilities which are manifested by differentiating themselves, from the informal principal up to the most elaborate and displayed form.

One of the immediate consequences which ensues from this is that it clearly obliges one to review, in many cases, both the over-conventional lexical meanings that are frequently retained and their applications, demonstrating habits of translation that often succeed in giving a diminished, and sometimes even a distorted, meaning. Moreover, we might add that it seems totally regrettable that the current tendency is to favour the edition of Arabic lexicons and dictionaries by classifying the words according to their alphabetical order, because even if this method has the advantage of being convenient for students, it rather quickly risks losing completely the fundamental elements of etymological science. In fact, if one excludes the richness of meaning of the roots, one will progressively descend into a vocabulary which only contains words which offer a precise meaning, without preserving the connection to the different connotations that their original root contains, and therefore into a significant lack of comprehension of the founding texts of Islam as well as of ancient Arabic literature.

To avoid that, it is necessary that pure Arabic semantics no longer consists of approaching the Arabic language used by the Quranic Revelation and the authentic Masters who explain it, as a simple conventional tool which is definitively fixed, but rather as an ever-new and living means for a profound and illuminating understanding of the facts of this Revelation. This method produces a fertile intellectual intuition, which is the source of a marvellous interior enrichment. May God give us strength, discernment, and serious and competent people to facilitate and develop the diffusion of this enriching discipline!


Translated from French by Cecilia Twinch.

Reprinted from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Vol. XXVII, 2000.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at “The Poetry of Ibn Arabi”, the Fifteenth annual symposium of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society in the UK, held in Oxford on 3–5 April 1998.


[1] An earlier version of this paper was presented at "The Poetry of Ibn ‘Arabi", the fifteenth annual symposium of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society in the UK, held in Oxford on 3-5 April 1998.

[2] Cf. Q.I8:109.

[3] Traité de l’amour ("Treatise on Love"), translated by M. Gloton, Paris, 1986, p. 54.

[4] See n. 3.

[5] Turjumān al-Ashwāq, poems 11, 1.4, 20, 1.1 and 25 1.16 & 17. (French translation: M. Gloton, L’Interprète des Désirs, Paris, 1996.)

[6] English translation: R.A. Nicholson, The Tarjumān al-Ashwaq: A Collection of Mystical Odes by Muhyi’ddīn ibn al-‘Arabī, London, 1978, p. 98.

[7] Spanish translation: V. Cantarino, Casidas de amor profano y místico: Ibn Zaydun, Ibn Arabi, S.A. Mexico, 1988, p. 157.

[8] See also Q.I8:109.

[9] A more complete commentary on this root is given in n.17, p.5 of the French version of Ibn ‘Arabi’s treatise, entitled Inshā ad-Dawā’ir, Paris, 1996, which I translated in collaboration with Paul Fenton.