The Kitâb al-inbâh of ‘Abdallah Badr al-Habashi
Denis Gril is a scholar, translator, and writer who teaches Arabic and Islamic studies at the Université de Provence in France, where he has been since 1981. He has devoted himself to the study of the work of Ibn Arabi, but also to the study of sainthood within Islam. His other research interests include Islamic spirituality and its scriptural foundations. His published works include translations (along with commentaries) of works by Ibn Arabi: Le Livre de l’Arbre et des quatre oiseaux and Le dévoilement des effets du voyage. Gril has also translated and published La Risala de Safi al-Din Ibn Abi l-Mansur Ibn Zafir: Biographies des maîtres spirituels connus par un cheikh égyptien du viie/xiiie siècle.
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The author of this treatise, ‘Abdallah Badr al-Habashi , would have remained unknown to us had he not been one of the closest disciples of the Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi , to whom we owe the little that we do know about him. The biographical and bibliographical compilations are almost totally unaware of this freed slave of Ethiopian origin . His humble background may explain the sources’ silence in relation to him, but it is also a reflection of the spirituality, in terms of humility and self-effacement, with which the Kitâb al-inbâh is stamped. It is significant that in his only work, the disciple stands aside completely for the master, and contents himself with quoting his words. Moreover, Ibn ‘Arabi responded to these qualities with deep affection  and lavish praise .
We do not know the date of his birth, nor where he came from, nor how and when he met the one he was to follow faithfully to the end of his life.
When he appeared in Fez in 595, for the first time it seems, at the side of Isma’il b. Sawdakin, both of them must already have been close disciples of the Shaykh al-Akbar, since they were present at their master’s accession to the position of ‘Seal of Muhammadian Sainthood’ . The same year, Ibn ‘Arabi returned to Spain in the company of ‘Abdallah al-Habashi. On an inspiration from the Holy Spirit (rûh al-quds), confirmed by a dream of ‘Abdallah’s, he wrote his important treatise, the Mawâqi’ al-nujûm, certain teachings from which are found in the Kitâb al-inbâh .
During this journey, he made a point of introducing to Badr his principal Andalusian teachers mentioned in the Rûh al-quds . Badr then followed his shaykh on all his peregrinations. In 598 in Tunis, Ibn ‘Arabi wrote the Inshâ’ al-dawâ’ir for him. Shortly after, he was in Mecca. In 599 in Ta’if he wrote the Hilyat al-abdâl, for Badr and another disciple . Still in the same year, he composed a collection of hadîth qudsî, in which he related certain traditions according to ‘Abdallah al-Habashi himself .
Several samâ‘ of copies of the Rûh al-quds tell us that he was at the side of his master in 600 in Mecca, in 601 in Mosul, in 603 in Cairo . Then in Aleppo in 611, at the request of ‘Abdallah and of Isma’il b. Sawdakin, Ibn ‘Arabi wrote his commentary on the Tarjumân al-ashwâq .
After accompanying his master for twenty-three years, ‘Abdallah Badr al-Habashi passed away in Malatya around 618 . Thus we can see how much his life intermingles with that of his shaykh and how much the latter involved him in his work.
The Kitâb al-inbâh ‘alâ tarîq Allâh is known to us through several manuscripts . For this edition we have used the following:
Veliyuddin 1800 (ff. 55–86b), copied in 715 AH. The text is part of a collection of small format and with a curious appearance. The leaves are attached at the top and one page consists of three different texts. This collection of 323 folios, copied in ordinary naskhi, thus comprises twenty treatises, some of which are by Ibn ‘Arabi. This edition is based on this manuscript of the Inbâh, the oldest and the most accurate.
Zahiriyé 5517 (ff. 48–59), copy dated 1196 AH, even and clear naskhi. The copyist points out (f.59) that his version includes a certain number of blanks. He suggests certain corrections in the margin and also indicates the paragraphs with the word: matlab. The following manuscripts seem to him to be related .
Dâr al-kutub, Tal’at Tasawwuf 832 (ff. 1–28), a recent copy dated 1320 AH, in careful ta‘liq. The rest of the volume contains Ibn ‘Arabi’s epistle to the Imam al-Razi (ff. 29–35).
Dâr al-kutub, Tal’at Tasawwuf 813 (ff. 5–32), an even more recent copy (1323 AH) in all probability reproduced from the previous one. The collection comprises the following treatises:
- (1)The epistle to the Imam al-Razi (1–4b)
- (2)al-inbâh (5–32)
- (3)K. al-yaqîn (32–43b)
- (4)al-tadbîrât al-ilâhiyya (44–152)
Izmirli Isma’il Hakki 3690 (95b–113b). This copy is the most recent (copied in Istanbul at the khânqa of Sayyid Ahmed Bukhari by M. ‘Ali ‘Abidin al-Izmirli). It is the eighth treatise in a collection consisting mainly of the epistles of Ibn ‘Arabi.
The significance of this text is first and foremost that it provides us with an example of Ibn ‘Arabi’s teaching for initiates just as he gave it out to his disciples. In this it can be distinguished from the various treatises or passages where the Shaykh al-Akbar sets out the rules of the way for novice or advanced disciples, even if the same concerns, the same pieces of advice, are sometimes found there .
Moreover, it is the work of one of his dearest and closest disciples. We can therefore be certain of finding in it a very direct, albeit incomplete, reflection of the most characteristic features of his spirituality.
‘Abdallah al-Habashi does not appear to have followed a strict structure in his compilation. The first instructions certainly concern the beginning of the way: restraint of the senses, mastery of the soul, the role of reason (1, 2), and the last ones wisdom, ultimate goal of the Way. Sometimes the instructions are in pairs, but it is rather to their actual content that one must look for the coherence of the whole. An analysis of the main subjects dealt with by the master will be found here.
In gathering together these instructions, ‘Abdallah Badr declares that he wishes to give freely some sincere (nasîha) advice to those who are following the path of Allah. He distinguishes the latter from the ‘ubbâd, pious persons or hermits dedicated to worship without seeking knowledge (16, 32, 33). The first category of initiate is the murîd, disciple, literally ‘he who desires’ to follow the path, whether he is a novice or has already acquired some experience. Most of the Shaykh al-Akbar’s advice and warnings are aimed at him. Sometimes the instructions are of a general nature, such as those regarding the duties (wazâ‘if) (29) of the disciple, sometimes precise such as those regarding the rules of retreat (khalwa) (63).
Three fundamental qualities emerge from the teachings of Ibn ‘Arabi. The disciple’s intention must be pure, his aspiration high and nothing must turn him away from Allah (1, 12, 63). He must submit totally to the words and instructions of his shaykh, and he must under no circumstances contradict him, (56, 61, 51) nor feel that he is worthy of replying to a question about the Way (60). He must regard himself as ignorant and must show total submission (taslîm) (50). Lastly, his detachment must be absolute. Poor and suffering through his state (19), he refrains from all resort to causes (asbâb) and divests himself of everything (34), abandoning all hope in this world in order to find it in the next (53).
Conversely, the bad disciple is conceited and restless and is not afraid of talking about the divine favours bestowed on him (14, 15).
By progressing along the path of stations and states (maqâmât–ahwâl), the disciple becomes a traveller (sâlik). Ibn ‘Arabi reminds him of what above all, his principal qualities should be: poverty and humility (13, 57). Through spiritual practice and struggle (riyâda–mujâhada) and what they achieve, contemplation and intuitive unveiling (mushâhada–mukâshafa) (9), the initiate grasps the Essential Reality (haqîqa). This knowledge of the Unity, or the Supreme Ipseity, leads him to the end of the path, union (wusûl). For the gnostic (‘ârif) however, union is only outwardly an end for the divine realities and their theophanies (tajalliyyât) are as limitless as Allah Himself (55, 71). The gnostic therefore is he whom nothing separates from Allah (18) but the man of knowledge (‘âlim bi-llâh) is beyond this state.
Whereas most of the writers on Tasawwuf regard the ‘ârif as superior to the ‘âlim, for Ibn ‘Arabi it is the other way round. He who has knowledge through Allah has, in addition to knowledge of the Unity, knowledge of the Duality. Thus he becomes the place or the instrument of the divine manifestation. The heir of the Prophet (wârith), he manifests the attributes of rigour and mercy (13). Unlike the gnostic, he does not oscillate between the haqq and the haqîqa, that is between the legal and cosmic status of beings and their essential reality, but goes beyond these two aspects and synthesizes them in himself (52). Whereas the disciple should refrain from resorting to secondary causes and the gnostic should return to them, the man of knowledge is beyond this distinction (31). For the latter poverty and wealth must be the same (35). In short, he who has knowledge through Allah has knowledge of both unity and multiplicity, of both the primary cause and manifestation.
Among the spiritual virtues to which initiates should conform, patience (sabr) and its counterpart satisfaction (ridâ‘) are high on the list (21, 22, 23, 28). Trust in God (tawakkul) (27), renunciation and acceptance (tafwîd–taslîm) (28), wealth and poverty (35, 58, 59), are equally virtues which allow one to progress along the path of knowledge, whether by assimilation of a divine quality, or by the rejection of all individual pretension. Along the way, the initiate may be tempted to become attached to a particular form of worship which becomes a veil (32). In this case the remedy is the surrender and extinction of the self (tabarrî–fanâ‘) (16) or the renunciation (zuhd) not only of this world but of everything other than Allah (17). All these qualities are in fact those of the servant (‘abd). Servanthood (‘ubûdiyya) is the path which leads most directly to Allah (37, 38), for by denying any divine aspect in himself, by affirming his own names of servanthood and poverty, the servant allows the Divine Names to manifest themselves in him (43, 44).
The path is therefore to discover all the initiatory and metaphysical significance of this idea of servanthood. Whether it is at the beginning or at the end, the conditions are the same (25). In a kind of digest of his teaching for initiates (46), Ibn ‘Arabi describes not so much spiritual progress itself as its necessary and inviolable elements. On the one hand, each person follows a path which is right for him; on the other hand, the path must not be seen as a linear development but as the completion of a cycle, in other words as a return to the source. In this sense there is no one who is not on the path of Allah (65, 66, 76, 70).
As if to underline its importance, the author concludes his treatise with some comments on wisdom (hikma), the culmination of the Path of the initiate. In metaphysical terms, wisdom is as much knowledge of manifestation and its primary cause, as it is knowledge of the symbols of the Primary Cause in manifestation. The truly wise man is he who contemplates the work of the Wise without allowing himself to be limited by any particular form. In terms of spiritual attitude, it is harmony, active or passive depending on the person, with the Divine Will.
It is not without reason, therefore, that ‘Abdallah Badr al-Habashi concludes this compilation with the teachings of his master on Wisdom. When he compares the latter with a king’s daughter in love with a man of lowly status, it is easy to see, beyond the religious forms, with which universal and gnostic tradition the teaching of the Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi is connected (69 and 73–79).
Denis Gril’s article first appeared in French in Annales Islamogiques, XV, 1979. This English translation by Karen Holding appeared in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Vol. XV (1994).
 His full name is al-Mas’ud Abu Muhammad ‘Abdallah b. Badr b. ‘Abdallah al-Habashi al-Yamani, the freed slave of Abu-l-Ghana’im b. Abi-l-Futuh al-Harrani. Cf.
Futûhât, Cairo edn, 1329 AH, I, p. 10; Mishkât al-anwâr, Cairo, 1369 AH, p. 7 etc…
 Born in Murcia in 560/1165 and died in Damascus in 638/1240.
 Recently the Mu’jam al-mu’allifîn (Vol III, p. 39) mentions him due to the existence of a manuscript of the Inbâh at the Zâhiriyé in Damascus.
 As demonstrated by this verse (Futûhât, I, p. 198, Ch. 29.):
For your love I love all the Abyssinians
As for your name I have become enamoured of the luminous full moon (badr).
 Ibn ‘Arabi dedicated the Futûhât al-Makkiyya to ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Mahdawi and to Badr whom he describes at this point in time as follows (Futûhât, I, p. 10.):
As for my companion, he is (a man) of unadulterated clarity, a pure light, he is an Abyssinian, called ‘Abdallah and like a full moon (badr) without eclipse. He acknowledges each person’s right and renders it to him, he assigns to each his right, without going further. He has attained the degree of ‘discrimination’ (tamyîz). He was purified at the time of fusion (sabk) like pure gold. His word is true, his promise sincere.
Elsewhere he calls him: ‘the most noble son, blessed, most pure, full moon of the faith…’ Mawâqi’ al-nujûm, Cairo, 1965, p. 7.
 Mawâqi‘ al-nujûm, p. 5. The following verses reveal the high spiritual degree of the disciple:
We are the secret of the ‘Pre-eternal’ (al-azalî)
Through the ‘Post-eternal’ existence (abadî)
We have raised ourselves up and established ourselves
At the most holy station
And we have given what we have received
To the inmost secret of Badr al-Habashi…
 Rûh al-Quds fî muhâsabat al-nafs, litho. Cairo edn, 1281 AH. These are ‘Abdallah b. Qassum (p. 54), ‘Abdallah al-Mawruri (p. 63), ‘Abdallah al-Baghi al-Shakka (p. 65), ‘Abdallah al-Qattan (p. 67), Ibn Ja’dun al-Hinnawi (died in Fez in 597 AH, p. 67), Muhammad b. Ashraf al-Rundi (p. 69) and Ibrahim b. Ahmad b. Tarif al-‘Absi (p. 74). Back to the text
 In KleinereSchriften des Ibn al-‘Arabi, ed. Nyberg, Leiden, 1919, p. 4:
When Allah – Glory be to Him – made known to me the realities of things as they are in their essence and He taught me through intuitive unveiling (kashfan) the realities of their relationship and attributions (nisab–idâfât), I wanted to pour these realities into the mould of tangible representation, so that they would be easier for my companion and friend ‘Abdallah Badr al-Habashi to grasp.
 Cf. Futûhât, ed. O. Yahya, I, p. 72, no. 1, Cairo, 1972; from the manuscript of al-Durra al-Fâkhira, Esad Efendi, 1777 (ff. 120–1216), which we have unfortunately been unable to consult. Ibn ‘Arabi records a remarkable occurrence, which he himself witnessed, concerning the death of Badr (Futûhât, I, Ch. 35, p. 221). Back to the text
 O. Yahya mentions four of them (see Histoire et classification, p. 311, no. 287.) We have not been able to consult the manuscript at Istanbul University nor that of Yusuf Aga in Konya, since the catalogue number indicated by O. Yahya currently relates to another work. O. Yahya does not mention the Zâhiriyé ms., nor the two Tal’at mss. Back to the text
 Among these treatises we should mention in particular:
- Kunh mâ lâ budda li-l-murîd minhu, Cairo, 1328AH, 1921 and 1967.
- Al-Amr al-muhkam al-marbût fî mâ yalzamu… , Istanbul, 1302 AH; Beirut, 1312AH (the sequel to Dhakhâ’ir al-a’lâq).
- Al-Anwâr fî mâ yumnaha sâhib al-khalwa min al-asrâr, Cairo, 1914 and Hyderabad 1948, in Rasâ’il, no. 12.
- Risâla lâ yu’awwalu ‘alayhi, Rasâ’il, no. 16.
- Kitâb al-wasiyya, ibid. no. 24.
- Kitâb al-wasâyâ, ibid. no. 25.
- ‘Advice to a friend’ transl. of an unedited text by M. Vâlsan in Etudes Traditionelles, Paris, 1968.
- ‘Advice to the aspirant’ transl. Ch. 22 of the Tadbîrât al-ilâhiyya, by M. Vâlsan, Et. Trad., 1962.
- Passages from the Futûhât al-Makkiyya, Ch. 53: ‘the work a disciple must undertake before finding a master’, I, pp. 277–8.
- Ch. 181: ‘on the veneration of spiritual masters’, II, pp. 364–6, transl. M. Vâlsan, Et. Trad., 1962, Paris. See also Ch. 560, IV, pp.444–553, etc.