Articles and Translations

The Journey through the Circles of Inner Being according to Ibn ‘Arabî’s Mawâqi’ al-nujûm

Denis Gril

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 Journey through the Circles of Inner Being According to Ibn Arabi’s Mawaqi alnujum

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The life and work of Ibn ‘Arabî are marked by a series of terrestrial, celestial or inner journeys. Even in their titles, many of his works reflect the memory of these horizontal and vertical journeys, such as Isrâ’ ilâ l-maqâm al-asrâ, “The night-journey towards the sublime station” [1] or Isfâr ‘an natâ’ij al-asfâr, “The unveiling of the effects of the journey”. [2] In what is unquestionably his masterpiece, Futûhât al-makkiyya, we find the culmination of the journey par excellence, the pilgrimage to Mecca, the return to the centre and its reconquest, through inner enlightenment, near the Ka’ba, the heart of existence (qalb al-wujûd).

Every spiritual path, starting from the corporeal and ordinary being and extending to the spiritual and sanctified being is, in fact, a whole life’s journey. In the text studied in this article, Ibn ‘Arabî points out to the impatient disciple that when Junayd, the great master of Baghdad Sufis in the third/ninth century, was questioned as to how he had acquired his status, he merely answered: “sitting on this staircase (in his house) for thirty years”. Regarding Abû Yazîd al-Bistamî, the great master of Khurâsân at the beginning of the third/ninth century, Ibn ‘Arabî reminds us that: “he worked as the blacksmith of his soul for twelve years and the fuller of his soul for fifty years more; then he needed eight more years to cut the belt surrounding his outer being, and one more year to cut the one surrounding his inner being, and he still had to overcome even more obstacles”. [3]

In Mawâqi’ al-nujûm, “The twilight of the stars”, [4] Ibn ‘Arabî tells us about this progressive journey, through lights and shadows, happiness and sadness, success and danger. We will soon come back to the full title of this book and its meaning. Thanks to the author, we know that the book was composed for his disciple Badr al-Habashî, a freed Ethiopian, during the Ramadan of 595/1199 in the city of Almeria, one of the main centres of spirituality in Andalusia, under the influence of Ibn al-‘Arîf and his successors. Ibn ‘Arabî was thirty-five years old and had attained full spiritual and intellectual maturity, having travelled throughout Andalusia and all of the Maghrib in order to receive the teachings of several masters. This work is undoubtedly one of the last from the first part of his life, and was apparently followed shortly after by ‘Anqâ’ mughrib fî sifat khatm al-awliyâ’ wa shams al-Maghrib, “The Astounding Phoenix regarding the Seal of Saints and the Sun of the West”. This work which, according to Gerald T. Elmore, was also composed in Almeria in 596, [5] deals with two people through whom sanctity will be sealed and brought to completion at the end of time, the Seal of Saints and the Mahdî that must appear in the West, not only in their eschatological dimension, but also in a microcosmic and inner dimension.

Mawaqi’ al-nujûm repeatedly alludes to the initiatic hierarchy and the highest degrees of knowledge. However, this work is intended for a wider public than ‘Anqâ’ mughrib, and belongs to the genre of treatises concerning spiritual paths. In this sense, it refers to the inner journey, according to a particular rhythm which is quite different from that of classic Sufi texts, as we will see later. At the time it was written, Ibn ‘Arabî had just received this inheritance from his masters. It is striking that he names several authors such as Qushayrî or Sulamî, [6] whilst also declaring, as he usually does, the inspired nature of this work: “I receive from the King, what the Angel gives to me”. [7] He repeatedly mentions and praises Ghazâlî, whose teachings had been transmitted to him by his masters. However, his model and principal reference is Abû Madyan, who died near Tlemcen in ah 594, the year before the composition of Mawâqi’ al-nujûm, “master of the Western masters” (shaykh shuyûkh al-Maghrib), just as Abû Yazîd had been the master of the Eastern masters. At a crucial point of his life, before the move from the West to the East, where he would be recognized as “the greatest of masters”, Ibn ‘Arabî sums up his experience of the Path and transmits it to Badr, his closest disciple. He gave particular importance to this book, as can be seen in several passages of Futûhât al-Makkiyya. In the chapter on purity, he also states, in relation to the eight members concerned by it:

We have spoken about this issue exhaustively and explained the lights, charismas, spiritual residences, secrets and theophanies [which are linked to each one of these members] in our work, The twilight of the stars. As far as we know, nobody has previously written about this way of arranging it. We wrote it in eleven days during the month of Ramadan in the city of Almeria, in the year 595. This book dispenses with the master, or rather the master himself also needs it. [8] For among masters, one will be higher than another, and this book is on the highest level that the master can reach. There is no station higher in this sacred Law through which we are devoted to the worship of God. Those who own this book will find sustenance in it, with the help of God, since its benefits are immense. What has made me teach you about this level is the fact that I have twice seen God in my dreams telling me: “Give advice to My servants!” This book is some of the best advice that I can give you, but it is God who is the helper and in His hand is all guidance. We have no part in this matter (laysa lanâ min al-amr shayî). Iblîs, the Liar, told the truth to the Messenger of God – grace and peace be with him – when he met him. The Liar was asked: “do you have anything to say (mâ ‘indaka)?” “Know, oh Messenger of God,” replied Iblîs, “that God created you to be a guide but this guidance is not in your hands, and God created me for misleading but misleading is not in my hands.” Without another word, he turned around and the angels came between him and the Messenger of God. [9]

This brief conversation between the Prophet and Iblîs shows quite clearly the first condition for every inner journey. Thanks to two other texts which the author wrote in 597 at Bijâya, where Abû Madyan lived and taught, we know about an addition to the Mawâqi’ concerning the heart. He states that this addition cannot be found in all of the copies of the book which had already been widely published. [10] This statement leads to two interesting reflections: one concerning the swift and widespread influence of the book, the other concerning the last Western journey of Ibn ‘Arabî, who travelled that same year through several cities of Morocco before arriving in Tunis where he met Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azîz al-Mahdawî and finally abandoned the West. [11]


The Order of the Book

The full title is Mawâqi’ al-nujûm wa-matâli’ ahillat al-asrâr wa-l-‘ulûm, “The twilight of the stars and the rising of the crescent moons of secrets and sciences”, and alludes to the cyclical evolution of the heavenly bodies, while the alternation of the twilight and the dawn suggests two modes of knowledge, since the journey only has true meaning if in each stage it generates a new science.

The order of the book, as the author announces after its preface (khutba), is presented in the following way:

First level (martaba): assistance granted by divine providence (tawfîq al-‘inâya)

First twilight (mawqi’): assistance or divine grace: the star of the divine request which is established in the heart of the imam reacting to the visible world = first sphere: surrender (islâm)

First dawn (matla’): conformity (wifâq or muwâfaqa), the last crescent: (hilâl mahâq) this rises in the soul of the imam reacting to the higher world (jabarût and malakût) = second sphere: faith (îmân)

First divine dawn: the first crescent (hilâl irtiqâb), this rises in the spirit [12] of the Pole of the intermediate world of Mercy and Rigour (barzakh al-rahamût wa l-rahabût) = third sphere: perfection (ihsân).

Second level: the science of guidance (‘ilm al-hidâya)

Second twilight, science (‘ilmî): the guiding star which rises in the heart of the imam reacting to the visible world = fourth sphere: (islâm)

Second dawn, direct vision (‘iyânî), the last crescent which rises in the soul of the imam reacting to the higher world = fifth sphere (îmân): dawning of the eight holy lights: sun, crescent, moon, full moon, fixed star, lightning, fire, lamplight.

Second transcendental and divine dawn (al-illî wa ilâhî): the first crescent which rises in the spirit of the Pole of the intermediate world of Mercy and Rigour = sixth sphere (ihsân).

Third level: the science of sanctity (‘ilm al-walâya) [13]

Third twilight of science: [14] the star of sanctity which is established in the heart of the imam reacting to the sensitive world = seventh sphere (islâm): the twilight of the spheres of the eight lights: hearing, sight, tongue, hand, stomach, sex, feet and heart.

Third dawn of virtue (khuluqî): the last crescent which rises in the soul of the imam reacting to the higher world = eighth sphere (îmân).

Third transcendental and divine dawn: the first crescent which rises in the spirit of the Pole, in the intermediate world of Mercy and Rigour = ninth sphere (ihsân).

From this structure, we can initially establish a triple hierarchy of levels or stages of the Path: ‘inâya, hidâya, walâya, consciousness by divine providence, without which no progress would be possible, guidance and, finally, sanctity. This triple division can be found in the interior of every level in the terms of the well-known Hadith where Gabriel successively asks the Prophet of Islam, defined by the five fundamental obligations of this religion concerning outer behaviour; about faith (îmân) and its inner perspective; and about perfection (ihsân) consisting of replacement of the vision of God which the servant seeks by the vision of God himself and the achievement of the absorption of the contingent being in the real Being. This triple division involves nine stations corresponding to the nine spheres of traditional Islamic cosmology: the seven planets, the sphere of the fixed and the starless sky. [15] One should also note the voluntary repetition of the same expressions: twilight, dawn of the first and last crescent. This suggests that every level starts with the occultation of a stellar light in the visible or sensitive world of the body, followed by the dawn of the moonlight at the end of its cycle and the appearance of the first crescent which marks the arrival of a new lunar cycle, the symbol of human perfection. The triple division also corresponds to the division of the three worlds which are related to the three dignitaries of the initiatic dynasty: the imam on the left, corresponding to the kingdom or the sensible world, the imam on the right, corresponding to the celestial world (jabarût and malakût, according to the order generally preferred by Ibn ‘Arabî) and finally the Pole (qutb). Due to its central and axial position, it brings together opposing divine aspects (here rahamût and rahabût). Therefore we can understand the precision of the Futûhât: the book concerns both the master and the disciple. Indeed, we can find several developments which can be useful for all those who walk towards God, at any level, but also some passages, usually in rhymed prose or in verse, intended, as usually happens in the works of the Shaykh, only for the spiritual elite.

Finally, it is necessary to point out that, even if Ibn ‘Arabî does not explicitly express this intention, the beginning of the title Mawâqi’ al-nujûm is a Quranic expression [16] which symbolically means, according to Ibn ‘Abbâs, [17] the successive and fragmented descent (nujûman) of the Quranic verses into the heart of the Prophet in the course of his earthly mission. We will show below the place that the Quran, and particularly its recitation, has in this text. Crescent moons are mentioned in the Quran in relation to the pilgrimage, [18] the journey par excellence in Islam, as we have seen. According to Ibn ‘Arabî, this particularity is related to the fact that the pilgrimage, more than any other act of adoration, is the place for divine theophany. [19] The first crescent of the moon (here hilâl irtiqâb), its observation and its vision in order to establish the beginning of the month of fasting, symbolizes, according to Ibn ‘Arabî, “the dawn of the crescent elements of knowledge on the horizon of the hearts of the wise, proceeding from the divine name Ramadan”. [20] The crescent elements are, therefore, related to the sciences and the secrets made by the journey towards God.

From this first analysis of the title, it appears that the initiatic journey which Ibn ‘Arabî proposes to his disciple does not follow a linear path, but rather a cyclical and ascendant one, following a ternary rhythm, due to a series of correspondences between the different stages of spiritual progression. The use of astronomic symbolism places the reader, and therefore the traveller, at the heart of a three-dimensional reality: Humanity, the Book, the Cosmos, in their interdependence and their relationship with God. The dawn and twilight of the lights take place respectively in the heart, the soul and the spirit of each imam placed in the centre of the nine spheres. Each man has to be able to find in himself the projection of these lights. As the three stages of each level (islâm, îmân and ihsân) show, the vision of the Adored becomes possible by the progressive interiorization of the practice of the Law by faith in the Revelation. Interiorization and union, or rather extinction through contemplation, constitute the viat-icum of the traveller towards God. Let us now see in further detail what this consists of.


The Content of the Book

The order of the book, although regularly structured, only gives a vague idea of the actual content of Mawâqi’ al-Nujûm. Indeed, the respective length of the nine chapters is quite disproportionate, according to the importance that the author gives to each development. We will come back later to the notions of tawfîq and muwâfaqa, God’s assistance and conformity to His commandment, which make up the first and second chapters. We will not comment on the third chapter, which is written in rhymed prose, nor on the two poems which would require a more detailed analysis. At most we can point out that it alludes to Muhammadan perfection and the Pole, which is a possible explanation for its hermetic style. This first level (martaba) is relatively brief (pp. 8–24).

However, the fourth sphere concerns science in all of its aspects: its relation with the creation of divine unity (tawhîd), its nobility, the difference between knowledge and science (ma’rifa and ‘ilm), which is a question that Ibn ‘Arabî deals with on several occasions, mainly in the Futûhât, alluding to the Mawâqi’, and which occupies an important place (pp. 24–47).

The section called “The sciences of eternal happiness necessary in the House of Peace” gives to science the role of the viaticum in the path of the afterlife. It introduces a new rhythm, such as the octet in this case. There will be eight objects of knowledge (the necessary, the possible, the impossible, the Essence, the Attributes, the Acts, the science of happiness and the science of misfortune). From the point of view of the sacred Law, the five legal statutes (obligatory, prohibited, advisable, inadvisable and licit) are joined by the three sources of the Law (Quran, Sunna and consensus). [21] Legal obligations (wazâ’if al-taklîf) are imposed on the eight members (hearing, sight, tongue, hand, stomach, sex, feet and heart). Each of these sciences in the shape of eight lights is given the name of a luminary. The different categories of spiritual men correspond to these lights, the stations or cosmic places indicated and illuminated by these lights and their opposites, the darkness and defects which these lights seek to dispel. The result is shown in the table below.

LightsSpiritual menStationsDarkness
sunlightpeople of knowledgespiritual qualitiesdarkness of the soul
light of the dawnpeople of vigilanceminor tormentdoubt
moonlightpeople of meditationmajor tormentdistraction
light of the full moonpeople of night-converseon the major earthbetrayal
astral lightpeople of observanceon the minor earthignorance and confusion
lamp lightpeople of retreatmajor paradiseobsession
fire lightpeople of spiritual combatminor paradiselack of wisdom and generated world
light of lightningpeople of sciencequalities of the soulradical affirmation of transcendence

Structured in a different order, that of spiritual progression, other lights, those of spiritual men, are related to spiritual works represented as spheres evolving from the West to the East or vice versa. These lights glorify God in eight spheres, each one evolving according to its own movement and possessing its own twilight, equator and dawn. The highest of these spheres, the light of lightning, symbolizes the creation of the purest tawhîd and corresponds, from a macrocosmic point of view, to the sunrise in the West at the end of the world, and, from a microcosmic point of view, to extinction through contemplation (al-fanâ’fî l-mushâhada). This whole passage requires a detailed study. We will point out its position in relation to sciences or inner lights which come from progress on the path, according to the dual macrocosmic and microcosmic dimension of being, until its absorption in the essential, dazzling and fleeting light, like that of lightning.

Why is there such insistence on the number eight? The author says nothing about this, but we can find an explanation in a Quranic verse of the sura al-Hâqqa. When the cosmic order collapses at the end of the world, heaven will open, “and the angels will be in their places, and on that day eight of them will hold up the Throne of thy Lord”. [22] Regarding this verse, the Prophet made the following comment: “And today there are four”. The change from four to eight, or from the square to the octagon, represents the change from earth to heaven, from this world to the other or, from the point of view of the initiatic path, from the exterior to the interior.

In the fifth sphere, the author makes each light deliver a sermon in rhymed prose, followed by a poem. The sixth sphere, in the same way, alludes, like the third, to the different categories of the initiatic hierarchy (pp. 41–50).

The seventh sphere, which inaugurates the level of sanctity, is consecrated to the acts of adoration whose validity is assured by the science used in the first sphere of the preceding level and covers the main part of the book (pp. 50–178). By relating all works to their Quranic base, Ibn ‘Arabî firstly points out that the praise given by God to different beings in his Book, in terms of their works, are in fact the merit of God. He then points out that every work is related to the Quran by a certain station (maqâm). The journey through these works means passing through all of these stations. Moreover, these works are undertaken by the eight members that constitute the eight spheres. For each member there are corresponding signs (‘alâmât) which make it possible to recognize those used in their specific works, as well as the spiritual residences (manâzil) and the charismas (karâmât) of the sensible or spiritual order, witnesses of the inner progression of their use. We will return later to this question of the interiorization of works, in which the essence of the initiatic work lies and, therefore, the inner journey. Regarding sight, we will merely mention an important passage concerning the eight modes of revelation; regarding hearing, listening not only to the Divine Word but to all of the beings in the world; regarding language, a vital development in the recitation of the Quran, both by the servant and by God. The sphere of the heart evidently constitutes the centre of the work, because the heart is the point of departure and the ultimate goal of all spiritual journeys and guidance. This passage deals with superior knowledge, the initiatic hierarchy and the relation between the heart and the universe. It also deals with the various residences in which the secret of the likeness between God and the world lies, the celestial ascension and the inheritance of the prophets who gratify the pilgrims who seek God, concluding with the idea that the heart of wise men, after these journeys and ascensions, becomes the Ka’ba where divine secrets converge. Travelling, the heart becomes the goal of the journey. Likewise, the cyclical time of weeks and months is structured according to this heart, the heir to prophecy and the place of all manifestations of spiritual realities and divine presences.

This long chapter is completed by a return to a more accessible discourse for each disciple regarding the heart of the invocator. The invocation (dhikr) is established here as the journey par excellence, from the practice of the different forms of dhikr, to the extinction of the invocator in the Invoked, and then that of the Invoked in the Invoked, since this is an endless journey.

The eighth and ninth spheres are dealt with more briefly, and the text is completed with some recommendations and advice from the Quran and called Mawâqi’ al-nujûm al-furqâniyya. For Ibn ‘Arabî, Quranic Revelation always brings the traveller back to his origin, which is the same as that of the Word placed in the heart.


Between God and Servant: Providential Help and Conformity to the Divine Order

The return, at the end of the text, to the advice from the Quran prefigures the conclusion of the Futûhât al-makkiyya, which also ends with a chapter of advice inspired by the Quran and the Sunna and with invocations drawn from the Revelation or the prophetic tradition. This conformity of Akbarian writings to Divine and Muhammadan models coincides with the first principle of the path expressed at the beginning of Mawâqi’. According to Mawâqi’, nothing is possible, at any moment of the journey, without divine help (tawfîq). This word, of Quranic origin, expresses the combination of all things in such a way that the conditions for success are guaranteed. God’s servant, or the traveller, finds himself united (muwâfaqa) [23] to the divine will, whether it be that expressed in the Quran, the Sunna, the Law or in an inner universe. The movement which directs the adorer and itinerant towards God does not proceed from his own decision, but from the realization, by providence or divine solicitude (‘inâya), of the conditions necessary to embark upon this journey. Therefore, the mere wish to be helped by God comes from this very help (fa-inna irâdat al-tawfîq min al-tawfîq) (p. 12).

In its most perfect way, help is always with the servant, in “his belief, his thoughts, his inner secret, the dawn of the lights, his revelations, his contemplations, his intimate conversations and all of his acts” (p. 12). The tawfîq is more precisely defined as “a spiritual reality present in the soul when a man is about to perform an act, whatever it may be, which prevents him from disobeying a fixed limit established by the Law while performing this act.” It is, therefore, linked to the observance of the sacred Law, to conformity to it (muwâfaqa) by opposition to its contrary (mukhâlafa) and, as the dialogue between the Prophet and Iblîs reminds us, it only proceeds from divine grace.

These apparently simple concepts actually contain all the stages of the journey and the highest levels of ascension, since none of the stations can be passed through without the tawfîq, “the key to eternal happiness, guiding the servant on the prophetic path, leading him to acquire divine virtues”. It begins with the learning of the Law and finishes with the fulfilment of the tawhîd, of divine unity, not by itself but by the Unique Himself. The tawfîq is thus then placed next to the works which man acquires thanks to his own effort (‘amal, makâsib), even though he is assisted by God, while its corollary, the muwâfaqa, is related to science and divine gifts (‘ilm, mawâhib). Knowledge of this divine help teaches man to recognize the effect of grace in himself, such as the recognition of his own defects, or through others, such as Islam received through his parents (p. 17). Therefore, we can see the effectiveness and universality of such awareness, developing a constant presence of God, in himself and in all things, to the extent that only the Pole can contain in one look and one consciousness the effectiveness of the divine tawfîq in the world (p. 18).



Since we are conditioned by time and space, we can only conceive the journey as movement from one point to another, in a determined period of time. Revelation is “brought down” in human language, just as the Prophet speaking to every human being does not speak in a different way. Ibn ‘Arabî, adapting himself to the prophetic model, refers to his ascensions in terms of space, since the expression of these inner affairs is necessarily metaphorical. Nevertheless, the inner journey differs from the nature of the corporeal journey, even if the same analogy is apt for both cases. Indeed, just as we need our legs or a vehicle in order to travel, the initiatic journey needs a specific medium in order to pass from one stage to another, from one level of consciousness to another. The tawfîq plays its part here, since etymologically it means “to find an agreement between two things”. But it is the correspondence between two levels or the affinity between two beings (munâsaba) which makes this passage poss-ible, through the analogy of a form between different levels. “The whole book,” says Ibn ‘Arabî regarding the Mawâqi’, “is based upon correspondence; it does not point out the spiritual station, unless there is in it a form whose correspondence allows us to reach it” (p. 135). At the highest level, this is what makes human perfection possible through analogy or the similarity (mudâhât) between the divine and human form, due to which the tawfîq is applied to everything (cf. p. 20). At the level of the initiatic journey, the principle of correspondence is illustrated in the long passage on the seventh sphere, where the virtues and the charismas (karâmât) corresponding to each organ are enumerated. The internalization of the look, through the analogy between the corporeal eye and the heart’s eye, reaches all modes of perception: revelation (kashf), perspicacity (firâsa) and contemplation (mushâhada). A virtue such as scrupulousness (wara’) is related to the stomach, through the mediation of abstinence. This is also the case for a spiritual entity such as the Archangel Mikâ’îl, traditionally known as the one responsible for the distribution of the sustenance granted by God to every being. In the same way, nourishment, following this correspondence, can be related, beyond its ordinary meaning, to what everything needs to subsist and, finally, to the absolute Essence or even to works of adoration and the practice of virtues, considered to be the nourishment of happiness (see pp. 119–20). Knowledge of this organ also shows the multiplication of nourishment by the prophets and saints. Sex, since it requires a masculine and feminine partner, corresponds to the writing of the Pen on the Tablet and therefore to the origin of the world and the revealed books, to the fertile relationship between master and disciple or to any other form of spiritual marriage. This is not speculation regarding symbols but, on the contrary, a matter of the operative ways of inner transformation. The capacity of some beings to walk on water, to “shorten” distances or to fly is a consequence of advance in the suprasensible world (malakût). Therefore, correspondence takes place in both senses: first, from the exterior to the interior and then vice versa, as long as charisma is accompanied by a science related to its own domain. A miracle without knowledge is just an illusion. Ibn ‘Arabî advises those who have the gift of walking on water without having acquired all the knowledge related to the secrets of water, to ask themselves about the virtue that this charisma has given them and to be aware of its imperfect fulfilment, so that both levels, cognitive and sensible, are in perfect harmony (see p. 131). It is clear that for the Shaykh miracles have no meaning unless they provide or reveal a science based on the correspondence between the different levels and degrees of Being. Therefore, in relation to the charismas of the heart, he evokes certain knowledge related to the initiatic hierarchy, based on the evident analogy between the centre of being and the centre of the world (see p. 152).

The heart is the archetypal place of all correspondences since Man is a “noble summary” (mukhtasar sharîf) of the whole universe and is, through the analogy with the Book, the meeting-place of everything dispersed throughout the macrocosm (pp. 72–3). These examples of correspondences allow us to understand that the inner journey is not linear but cyclical, i.e. it constantly comes and goes and leads towards a new stage. For this reason, the traveller cannot walk without a guide until he becomes his own master. Ibn ‘Arabî repeatedly points out the necessity of a master, taking into account all the risks of illusion and dispersion for those who dare to undertake such a journey on their own, without controlling their mount, i.e. their soul (see pp. 56, 165). When he says that Mawâqi’ al-nujûm is a book that dispenses with the master, immediately adding that even the master needs it, he means that it contains all of the science of the path towards God. The real master is he who has managed, through his own heart and the intermediation of his body and his correspondences, to establish that

in all existence nothing is in harmony with anything else, and nothing is related to anything else, without an outer or inner correspondence between them. When the wise one, the keen observer, seeks it, he finds it. We are told that the imam Abû Hâmid al-Ghazâlî – God’s mercy be with him – one of the chiefs and lords of this path, who defended and stood up for the principle of correspondence, saw one day in Jerusalem a dove and a crow joined together by mutual sympathy. He said to himself that this union was due to a correspondence between them. He waved to them and they both fled. Then he could see that they were both limping. (p. 96)

Ibn ‘Arabî also cites the example of Abû Madyan, whose thoughts were joined in one moment to God’s. In that moment, someone was walking next to him. He felt quite dismayed, and so he asked him and he realized that this man was an associator. Understanding the correspondence between this man and his thoughts, he left him (pp. 96–7). Only a master fully aware of this principle and of the innate vulnerability of the soul is able to guide himself in a situation like the one described.


On the Path to Perfection

The fact that the text is intended both for the master and the disciple shows that it can give access to several paths of perfection, through all the spheres of Being. The appeal to the symbols of celestial light reminds us that in every stage of this circular and ascending journey, the heart receives innumerable sciences and knowledge. As an example, Ibn ‘Arabî undertakes the daunting task of counting the residences of theophany of the divine name al-Samad (the universal sustainer), and all of the levels and lights that those who have had this experience have received. Nobody, he says, has spoken of this journey which one cannot enter without fasting, invoking throughout the night, during a retreat of twenty to thirty days, waiting for sacrosanct inspiration and the breath of the Merciful (al-wârid al-aqdas wa nafas al-rahmân al-anfas). [24] Ibn ‘Arabî seeks neither to impress his disciple or his first reader, nor to challenge his fellows. He merely points out that the path is made up of works and gifts, and that the latter cannot be compared to the former. He does not use in this text, as in most writings of the Andalusian period, the term universal or perfect Man (insân kâmil), but all the elements of his doctrine regarding sanctity are in place in this work, although it was necessary to wait for the Futûhât al-makkiyya and then the Fusûs al-hikam for this doctrine to be expressed in all its glory.

Sanctity is made, firstly, by the men who have covered the paths to perfection before the author, who have dived into the celestial oceans and brought back the pearls shown to us by Ibn ‘Arabî. We have mentioned earlier the special place occupied in this text by the Eastern and Western figures, Abû Yazîd al-Bistâmi and Abû Madyan. It is significant that it was Abû Yazîd who revealed to the author, in a vision, that Abû Madyan was invested with the qutb function one or two hours before his death (p. 152). Sahl al-Tustari also has a special place in this assembly of saints. Ibn ‘Arabî takes from him this lesson:

The servant is not known by God until he becomes a wise man and he will not become a wise man until he becomes mercy for creatures. Sahl adds: heaven is mercy for the earth, the inside of the earth is mercy for everything on its surface, the other world is mercy for this world, wise men are mercy for the ignorant, the tall are mercy for the small, the Prophet – grace and peace be with him – is mercy for humans and God – His glory and majesty be proclaimed – is all-merciful towards all His creation. (p. 27)

Does not this sentence sum up the essential? Sahl shows the hierarchical relation between knowledge (ma’rifa) and science (‘ilm), which are obtained by God and not by oneself. Knowledge informs us of the reality of everything, but science also provides knowledge about the relations between things and levels of reality. The perspective of correspondence, is it not announced here? The saint is the one who, like al-Khadir, brings together divine attributes and embraces everything in science and mercy (cf. Q. 18: 65). The saint is also the heir to the prophets and the Prophet, until he becomes the “accomplished muhammadan” (al-muhammadî al-mukammal, p. 154). This fundamental fact appears throughout the text and in all Akbarian writings. The quote from Sahl also suggests the inclusive character of sanctity, just as Revelation embraces all reality in its dual dimension, divine and creaturial. Herein lies the importance, as Ibn ‘Arabî tells his readers, of knowing all the aspects of the Quran, as its varied descriptions reveal, the same as all the ways of writing (tilâwa) can only be performed by the total or universal servant (al-‘abd al-kullî) (pp. 87–94). Only immersion in the Quran and imitation (ittibâ’) of the Prophet can confer the appropriate attitude in every element, particularly in the order of knowledge. Spiritual tact (adab) also has an important role in this text, as equivalent to the notion of muwâfaqa, since it is characteristic of those enlightened by God and the prudent ones who know how to put everything in its place. Finally, we must emphasize the question of sanctity, both in this work and in the rest of the writings of Ibn ‘Arabî. As it is endless, this sanctity creates the unity of this book in so many directions, and the author himself visibly embraces and even exceeds the sum of knowledge which causes our profound admiration, our vertigo and maybe also an immense feeling of weakness which overtakes the reader who seeks to enjoy, albeit in just a small portion, the fruit of this tree.

So this text speaks to us and touches us. It works outside and inside us. The reason is twofold. The function of the Master, just as Ibn ‘Arabî received the order, is to advise. This duty of advising (nasîha) comes from an inheritance and a prophetic assignment: to transmit the message (tablîgh al-risâla), an expression that he uses (p. 19), and to categorize all those who are sent to Man in the presence of distinction (hadrat al-tafrîq), in order to help men to distinguish in themselves and around them what is and what is not. A Man like that is, from the point of view of essential reality, in a state of perfect rest (sâkin), and from the point of view of the world, in continuous movement (mutaharrik) (p. 39). The reality of this man, as the author reminds us, is inaccessible: it is the red Sulphur and the supreme Elixir (al-kibrît al-ahmar wa l-iksîr al-akbar) (p. 138), elusive and active. Moreover, Ibn ‘Arabî does not only write about the saints of the past but he establishes a parallel between those of the past and those of his own day: Râbi’a al-‘Adawîya, Junayd and Abû Yazîd on the one hand and “in our days Abû l-‘Abbâs Ibn al-‘Arîf, Abû Madyan and Abû ‘Abdallah al-Ghazzâl (the successor of Ibn al-‘Arîf at Almeria)” (p. 171). He writes extensively about his contemporaries in the Rûh al-quds, composed in Mecca in order to teach the people of the East the value of the masters of the West. It is also remarkable that sanctity for him is always present, just as present as Revelation and prophecy, and the author of Mawâqi’ al-Nujûm.


Translated by Enrique Maldonado Roldán.

This paper was first presented at the conference “Between East and West, the spiritual journey: the significance and implications of Ibn Arabi’s teaching in today’s world”, held in Cordoba at the Biblioteca Viva Al-Andalus, Roger Garaudy Foundation, 24–26 September 2004.

The paper is reprinted from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Vol. XL, 2006.


[1] Su’âd Hakîm edition (Beirut 1988).

[2] Le dévoilement des effets du voyage, ed. and trans. Denis Gril (Combas 1994).

[3] Mawâqi’ al-nujûm, ed. M. Badr al-Dîn al-Na’sânî (Cairo 1325/1907), p. 112. A young scholar, Matt Warren, has already completed a critical edition of the Mawâqi’.

[4] This work is known by the Western public thanks to the extracts published in the work of Miguel Asin Palacios: El Islam cristianizado (Madrid 1931). Michel Valsan also translated one passage in Etudes Traditionnelles, no. 389–90 (1965), pp. 129–35.

[5] Cf. Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time (Leiden 1998), p. 78.

[6] Mawâqi’ al-nujûm, p. 30.

[7] Mawâqi’ al-nujûm, p. 6.

[8] Compare Futûhât al-makkiyya, ah 1329 edition, IV.263, regarding the divine name the Generous Dispenser (al-Sakhî): “We composed it in Almeria in 595 by a divine order. This is a noble writing useful to the master in the education of the disciple.”

[9] Futûhât, I.334, Chap. 68. See also II.319, Chap. 177; II.588, Chap. 272; II.636, Chap. 287; III.112, Chap. 330; IV.199 (on the name al-Rabb).

[10] Cf. Hilyat al-abdâl, p. 8 and Manzil al-qutb, p. 11 in Rasâ’il (Hyderabad 1948).

[11] Concerning the numerous copies of Mawâqi’ preserved until today, cf. Osman Yahya, Histoire et classification de l’oeuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabî (Damascus 1964), pp. 375–7, n. 443. Regarding the chronology of the author’s life, cf. the table established by Claude Addas in Ibn ‘Arabî ou la quête du Soufre Rouge (Paris 1989), pp. 346–62; trans. P. Kingsley, [ Quest for the Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn ‘Arabi (Cambridge 1993).

[12] The printed text gives this fact in three degrees, burûj as we can read, subject to verification in the manuscripts, bi-rûh, which seems to fit better in the context, all the more so as in the body of the text we find bi-l-rûh al-qutbî (see p. 21 for example).

[13] But in the corresponding passage, p. 50: the work (‘amal) of sanctity, which corresponds to the sense of the text.

[14] See the previous note, here al-‘ilmî but in the rest of the text al-‘amalî: concerning works or practice.

[15] On this subject, see Titus Burckhardt, Clé spirituelle de l’astrologie musulmane d’après Mohyiddîn Ibn Arabî (reprod. Milano 1974); Mystical Astrology according to Ibn ‘Arabi, trans. B. Rauf (Aldsworth, Glos. 1977).

[16] Cf: Quran 56:75–80: “But nay! I swear by the falling of stars; and most surely it is a very great oath if you only knew; most surely it is an honoured Quran, in a book that is protected none shall touch it save the purified ones. A revelation by the Lord of the worlds.”

[17] Cf. Tabarî, Jâmi’ al-bayân fî tafsîr al-qurîân, reprod. Bûlâq, XXVII.- 117.

[18] Cf. Q. 2:189.

[19] See the comments on the Q. 2:189 quoted by Mahmûd Ghurâb in Rahma min al-Rahmân fî tafsîr ishârât al-qur’ân (Damascus 1989), I.277.

[20] Cf. Futûhât, I.606, Chap. 71, on the secrets of fasting.

[21] Cf. p. 35. Ibn ‘Arabî does not admit in this work legal reason (qiyâs) as a source of the Law, perhaps due to the indirect influence of Ibn Hazm, unlike the the Futûhât where he includes it within the foundations of the Law. On the contrary, he accepts the imitation (taqlîd) of a learned man by those who are not learned.

[22] Q. 69:17. See the commentaries of Ibn ‘Arabî on this verse in Rahma min al-Rahmân fî tafsîr ishârât al-qurîân, IV.371–2.

[23] Tawfîq and muwâfaqa are two verbal nouns derived from the same root.

[24] On the extremely precise and grandiose enumeration of all the modes of knowledge which those gratified with such a theophany receive, see Mawâqi’, pp. 158–9.