Articles and Translations

On Two Books Attributed to Ibn ‘Arabî

K. al-mabâdî wa l-ghâyât li ma‘ânî l-hurûf and K. mâhiyyat al-qalb

Michel Chodkiewicz

Michel Chodkiewicz (1929–2020) was a French author and a scholar of Sufism, especially of Akbarian teaching. He was Director General then President and CEO of Editions du Seuil from 1977 to 1989 and director of studies at the École des Haute Études en Sciences Sociales, where he conducted seminars on Ibn 'Arabi.

Among his major books in translation are The Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn Arabi (1986), Ibn Arabi: The Meccan Revelations (translation of selected chapters, 1988) and An Ocean Without Shore: Ibn Arabi, the Book, and the Law (1992).


Articles by Michel Chodkiewicz

The Vision of God

The Endless Voyage

The Banner of Praise

The Diffusion of Ibn Arabi’s Doctrine

The Futuhat al-Makkiyya: Some Unresolved Enigmas

“We Will Show Them Our Signs…”

Miraj al-kalima – From the Risala Qushayriyya to the Futuhat al-Makkiyya

On Two Books Attributed to Ibn Arai – Kitab al-mabadi wa l-ghayat li maani l-huruf and Kitab mahiyyat al-qalb | with Claude Addas

The Paradox of the Ka‘ba

A good deal of the writings ascribed to the Shaykh al-Akbar raise questions as to their authenticity. In many cases, one must admit that no clear-cut verdict can be reached: a typical example would be that of a text based on no “reliable manuscripts”, yielding no personal indications on its author and bearing no references to any other writing known to be authentic – and yet, clear akbarian overtones are detectable, both in its form and in its content (i.e. in the doctrinal themes developed as well as in the wording and expression). In such instances, doubt will prevail pending the purchase or procurement of a more dependable manuscript.

More often than not, though, long acquaintance with Ibn ‘Arabî’s writings will help detect doctrinal formulations that are alien to the Shaykh al-Akbar’s teachings – or in total opposition with his doctrine – or words and expressions that do not belong in the akbarian context, ruling out his authorship. Some cases in point would be the Shajarat al-kawn (RG 666), published 15 times under Ibn ‘Arabî’s name and really a work by Ghânim al-Maqdisî (ob. 678/1280) [2], or the Tahdhîb al-akhlâq (RG 745), identified as early as 1974 [3] by S. Khalîl as a work by Yahyâ Ibn ‘Adî. Although famously apocryphal, these texts enjoy uninterrupted publication in Cairo and in Beirut under the “Ibn ‘Arabî” label – a highly sought-after trademark, apparently.

As far as one can tell, the two books under scrutiny here – S. ‘Abd al-Fattâh’s 2006 edition of the K. al-mabâdî wa l-ghâyât and Qâsim Muhammad ‘Abbâs’ 2009 edition of the Mâhiyyat al-qalb – fall into this second category.


1) The Kitâb al-mabâdî wa l-ghâyât li ma‘ânî l-hurûf, edited by S. ‘Abd al-Fattâh, Beirut 2006 [4]

Let us first examine what the akbarian corpus has to say on the composition of this work. The K. al-mabâdî is mentioned in Ibn ‘Arabî’s two inventories of his writings, viz. the Fihrist [5] where it appears under the section of the works “made public” (bi aydî al-nâs) and, more precisely, among the works dealing with the “subtle realities” (al-haqâ’iq) and the Ijâza [6], with no further indication than its full title: K. al-mabâdî wa l-ghâyât fî mâ tahwî ‘alayhi hurûf al-mu‘jam min al-‘ajâ’ib wa l-âyât; it does not appear, however, in the Ijâza conferred on Qûnawî [7].

In the K. al-mîm wa l-waw wa l-nûn [8], Ibn ‘Arabî informs us that he addressed the subject of the science of Letters in three works: a “medium length” chapter (bâb wasît) of the Futûhât; an extended chapter (bâb basît) of the Fath Fâsî titled al-Mabâdî wa l-ghâyât bimâ tatadammanahu hurûf al-mu‘jam min al-‘ajâ’ib wa l-âyât; and a long book (kitâb basît) dedicated to the Isolated Letters opening certains suras of the Qur’ân, whose title he does not mention [9].

In the Futûhât (that Ibn ‘Arabî began to write upon his arrival in Mecca at the end of 598h), the K. al-mabâdî is mentioned in nine instances – each interestingly located early in the book: eight of them in chapter 2 (cf. Bulâq ed, 1329h: p. 53, three times; then pp. 58, 65, 77, 87, 88), and the ninth in chapter 26 (p. 190). We learn from the three mentions p. 53, first that the composition of this book is at an early work-in-progress stage when Ibn ‘Arabî writes the beginning of this second chapter of the Futûhât – thereby dating this period to 599h at the latest – and, second, that in those few “disunited pages” (awrâq mutafarraqa) the text amounts to at the time, he explores the interaction between letters nûn, sâd, dâd, man-related, and alif, zay, lâm, letters that pertain to the Divine Presence [10]; p. 58, Ibn ‘Arabî notes that Letters fall into over 500 sections (fusûl), in which several degrees (marâtib) can be observed, and declares that he will limit himself here to the essential, referring readers to the K. al-mabâdî for a more thorough examination of the subject; p. 65, the K. al-mabâdî is correlated to the K. al-jam‘ wa l-tafsîl, Ibn ‘Arabî’s ample qur’anic commentary, still unfound to this date, and p. 77, he adds that he has a copy of this work in his hands and restates his intention to deal with the secrets of Letters in more detail in this book; p. 87, he reiterates his intention to tackle the science of Letters more thoroughly in the K. al-mabâdî; p. 88, he states having mentioned the subject of the graphic appearance or non-appearance, depending on the cases, of vowels in the K. al-mabâdî; last, p. 190, he declares that he has presented the operative properties of Letters in the K. al-mabâdî.

What conclusions can be drawn from this inventory? The main indication is the one offered by the K. al-mîm: the Fath al-fâsî is mentioned nowhere else in the akbarian corpus as it is known today, not even in the Fihris or in the Ijâza, but from the title used by Ibn ‘Arabî to designate it, we can infer that this work, like the K. al-isrâ, is the fruit of the major spiritual event occurred in Fez in 594h – his “spiritual ascension” – and that the writing of the Mabâdî, originally not conceived as a an autonomous book, started in the Muslim West, long before his arrival in the East. But from the Futûhât, we also learn that the project evolved over the years: the K. al-mabâdî has now grown into a book in its own right (perhaps eventually eclipsing the Fath al-fâsî) that Ibn ‘Arabî expands and ultimately completes. Or does he? The absence of any other mention to this work in the following sections of the Futûhât (a 560-chapter monument finished in 629h for the first edition, 636h for the second) legitimates the question.

In either case, the K. al-mabâdî, as described by Ibn ‘Arabî in the Futûhât, cannot be mistaken for the sequence of poems published at the end of the Rûh al-quds, also present in chapter 2 of the Futûhât, and appearing under the title al-Mabâdî wa l-ghâyât […] in the Damascus edition [11]. These poems do appear in the oldest copies of the Rûh, the one dated 600h, in particular, that bears several reading certificates [12]; however, in the lines that precede the recension of these verses, Ibn ‘Arabî clearly presents those poems appended to the Rûh as an addendum to this epistle directed to shaykh Mahdawî, and explains that he has presented the secrets of Letters “in the Kitâb al-mabâdî and in a chapter of the Futûhât […]; I thus copied them down in this letter that you may acquaint yourself with them” [13].

Let us now turn our attention to the text edited by Fattah. This edition is based on a late and single manuscript, dated 1303h, emanating from a private collection (p. 22). However, it is totally similar, in form and content, to ms. Dâr al-kutub 24551 (including the title page and the marginalia), paginated by the copyist from 1 to 117 and later foliated from 1 to 58a. There is one difference, though: ms 24551’s colophon mentions that the work was completed in Rabî‘ II 1101h. by ‘Alî b. Sâlim b. Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Shâfi‘î, whereas in Fattâh’s edition, the name – or rather a pseudonym – of the copyist reads “Husayn Shams” [14].

On the title page of the manuscript, after the title of the treatise and its author’s name [15], a note appears stating that the author of the K. al-washâ al-masûn wa l-durr al-maknûn fî ma‘rifat al-khatt bayna l-kâf wa l-nûn declared : « He who wishes to solve the enigmas (rumûz) of my book should turn to Ibn ‘Arabî’s Mabâdî wa l-ghâyât ». This note, as the two verses that follow, are in the same hand as the rest of the manuscript. It either must have been authored by ‘Alî b. Sâlim b. Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Shâfi‘î, the copyist, who, having read the K. al-washâ al-masûn, picked from it this indication by the author, or have been reproduced by him from the copy he was working on – the former being the more probable since a marginal note (appearing p. 82 in the ms and mentioned by Fattâh p. 130), penned by the same copyist, also makes reference to the K. al-washâ. Be that as it may, Hajjî Khalîfa mentions the K. al-washâ al-masûn in the Kashf al-zunûn [16], saying that the author, “Ahmad b. Muhammad” (sic) died in 637h and that his treatise on the science of Letters (‘ilm al-hurûf), containing “623 sciences”, had been written to the attention of “Malik Muzaffar” (two ayyubid sultans bore this laqab at that time: the monarch of Damascus, and the sovereign of Mayâfâriqîn, addressee of Ibn ‘Arabî’s Ijâza). The author then must be a contemporary of Ibn ‘Arabî, and his mention of the Mabâdî wa l-ghâyât clearly indicates that he had direct knowledge of the content of Ibn ‘Arabî’s real treatise [17], and that this treatise is distinct from the text edited by Fattâh – a text whose attribution to Ibn ‘Arabî simply doesn’t pass scrutiny.

Let us first remark that the book is devoid of any autobiographical references (tellingly, the author never writes in the first person). Nor does it refer to any works by the Shaykh al-akbar. More generally, the standard islamic authorities on that science are nowhere mentioned – only vague allusions are made to the “ahl al-mukâshafa”.

  • The author quotes several traditions asserting Alî’s preeminence with respect to religious science (p. 87), notably the one that harbors the characteristic motif of Shi‘i gnosis: “anâ madînat al-‘ilm wa ‘Alî bâbuhu” (pp. 40, 87) [18], a tradition never mentioned by Ibn ‘Arabî.
  • Ibn ‘Arabî’s idiosyncratic terminology, ubiquitous in his disciples’ writings as well as in his, is absent from this text. Equally missing are the major underlying concepts of his metaphysical and hagiological doctrine of which the Shaykh al-akbar considers the “science of Letters” to be an integral part and that he defines, in chap. 20 of the Futûhât, as a specifically Christic science (“al-‘ilm al-‘îsâwî huwa ‘ilm al-hurûf”) [19]. In one instance (p. 42–43), instead of resorting to the clear notion of “inheritance” (wirâtha/wârith) a household item in the akbarian hagiological terminology – the author is compelled to think up his own abstruse circumlocution. Granted, the author does assert the Prophet’s spiritual supremacy and ontological precedence, but these notions are by no means exclusive to Ibn ‘Arabî.
  • One will also notice the uncharacteristic order in which the Letters are listed. Most are presented in connection with a Divine name beginning with this Letter. A standard practice with most commentaries of the Isolated Letters, but never resorted to by the Shaykh al-akbar [20].

Even more decisively, one doctrinal element introduced by the author is in clear contradiction with Ibn ‘Arabi’s tenets:

  • What strikes as being the core characteristic of this treatise on the science of Letters is its recurrent use of the phrase “âl Muhammad” – the Prophet’s Family”, understood by the author in its usual meaning: the Prophet’s carnal descent (e.g. pp. 40, 57, 88, 89, 114, 121, 128, 131, 133, 138, 145, 148, 150–152, 159), and to which he assigns a major cosmical function (e.g. p. 145: “al-kawn min Muhammad wa âlihi”), adding (p. 151–152) that the Prophet’s biological descendants’ magistracy outranks that of the qutb or that of any other members of the spiritual hierarchy in charge of sustaining the universe (a hierarchy described at great length in chap. 73 of the Futûhât). For the author of this text, the science of Letters properly belongs to the Prophet’s carnal descendants (see particularly pp. 114, 121, 128, 133, 159). An opinion, needless to say, totally alien to the Shaykh al-Akbar’s own conceptions on the subject. [21]

In short, this book is not the work of Ibn ‘Arabî, or of any member of the akbarian school stricto sensu; its author should be sought in other circles. Some elements strongly point to the Egyptian wafâ’iyya [22], several of whose books have been misattributed to Ibn ‘Arabî [23]; a passage of the text edited by Fattâh (p. 133), in which the author mentions the appearing, in the mid 8th century [24], of a man holding a major sigillary function (khitâm), is interesting in this respect since several members of this tarîqa have claimed the status of “Seal of the Saints”, among them Muhammad Wafâ’ (702/1302–765/1363) and ‘Alî Wafâ’ (759/1357–807/1405) – the latter, in his K. al-masâmi’ al-rabbâniyya, making explicit reference to the manifestation, in the course of that same 8th century, of a man exerting a high magistracy [25]. Similarly, the invocation opening the text (p. 39), just after the tasliya:yâ Mawlâya, yâ Dâ’im, yâ Mawlâya, yâ Wâhid, yâ ‘Alî”, is associated with the wafâ’iyya of Egypt [26]. However, one should refrain from attributing the book to Muhammad Wafâ’ or to his son ‘Alî, who, in their writings, never seem to credit the ahl al-bayt (in the common acceptation of this phrase) with any special magisterial function in the sphere of walâya, and whose vocabulary distinctly bears the mark of the Shaykh al-akbar [27].


2) The Mâhiyyat al-qalb , edited by Qâsim Muhammad ‘Abbâs, Damascus 2009

In 2009, a treatise titled Mâhiyyat al-qalb and attributed to Ibn ‘Arabî by its editor, Qâsim Muhammad ‘Abbâs, was published in Damascus. In 1998 the same ‘Abbas, with Husayn Muhammad ‘Ujayl, had coedited and published in Abû Dhabî a collection of 10 Rasâ’il also attributed to Ibn ‘Arabî. To anyone somewhat familiar with the akbarian corpus [28], the apocryphal character of these 10 treatises is blatant, and the same goes for the Mâhiyyat al-qalb (RG 249) – significantly absent from the Fihris and the Ijâza, whether under that title or under the title of R. al-hulal, as it is sometimes named (cf. RG 249).

The Mâhiyyat al-qalb falls within the literary genre of tasawwuf by its themes, notably that of the mi‘râj, central to this book and understood here as the ascension of the heart during a gradual purification process eventually leading to the maqâm al-hurriyya (p. 108); the author orders this journey in three main stages: extinction to the world of forms (al-fanâ’ ‘an ‘âlam al-suwar), extinction to the world of the intelligibles (al-ma‘ânî), and, finally, the “extinction to extinction” (al-fanâ’ ‘an al-fanâ’) .

The diction draws on the koinè of tasawwuf (fayd, fanâ’, ‘ayn al-yaqîn, insân kâmil), without being typically akbarian: when the author conjures up the figure of Khadir and mentions the science bestowed to him, he refers to this science as a “ta‘lîm rabbânî” (p. 95) where, if written by Ibn ‘Arabî, one would have expected “‘ilm ladunnî”; “fayd ‘aqlî”, recurrent here, and – more peculiar – “ru’ya jibiliyya (pp. 99–101) do not belong to the akbarian lexicon; and the relation between walâya and nubuwwa is discussed here in untypically vague terms (pp. 91–93).

Obviously, the author has a curiosity for the science of dreams. Ibn Sîrîn appears to be his main source on this theme (pp. 100–101), and in his discussion, he refers the readers to one of his own books named… Kitâb al-mabâdî wa l-ghâyât (pp. 101 et 104).

The definite differences between those two works in their expression, style (the Mâhiyyat al-qalb is punctuated by poems, and his author lets us hear his own voice), wording and doctrinal arguments, and the absence of any references to the magisterial status of the âl Muhammad in the Mâhiyyat preclude their ascription to one sole author – and the fact that Fattâh’s edition of the Mabâdî explores the science of Letters but does not approach the topic of dream interpretation is another clue in this direction.

Regarding the authorship of Mâhiyyat al-qalb, an important indication is provided by Julian Cook, who has for years been sifting through and deciphering Ibn ‘Arabî’s vast poetical repository: if the first poem quoted in this book (p. 42) appears in the Futûhât (Fut. II, p. 20), the second (pp. 79–80) is borrowed from Shushtarî’s Diwân [29] . However, the author presents this poem, and only this poem, as being his (“lidhalika qultu […]”, p. 79). The poem does appear in Shushtarî’s Diwân, edited in Alexandria by Sâmî al-Nashshâr in 1960 (p. 78), but it must be noted that the reconstruction of Shushtarî’s poetical œuvre – like Ibn ‘Arabî’s and even more so – is made difficult for want of reliable manuscripts (his prose remains unexplored).

There is hope that these attribution issues will soon be addressed, and satisfyingly so, by Yousef Casewit’s announced edition of Shushtarî’s K. al-ma‘ârij and by José Bellver’s forthcoming critical edition of Ibn ‘Arabî’s Mabâdî wa l-ghâyât.

In the meantime, researchers wishing to explore Ibn ‘Arabî’s doctrinal views will be well advised to rely on the vast corpus of works whose authenticity leaves no doubt, first of all the “spiritual testament” that is his Futûhât makkiyya, “the majestic synthesis of the secrets of the world above and the world below that he transcribed and commented on throughout his life [30] ”.


[1] These two works are listed in O. Yahia’s Répertoire Général (Histoire et classification de l’œuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabî, Damascus, 1964), the first under RG 380, the second under RG 249.

[2] Cf. Younes Alaoui Mdaghri, “Critical Study of the Erroneous Attribution of the Book Shajarat al-Kawn to Ibn ‘Arabī Instead of to Ibn Ghānim al-Maqdisī”, The Journal of Rotterdam Islamic and Social Sciences, 1, 1, jan. 2010,

[3] Cf. “Le T ahdhîb al-akhlâq de Yahyâ b. ‘Adî attribué à Gâhiz et Ibn ‘Arabî”, Arabica, 1974, 21, 2, pp. 118-138; ibid, “Nouveaux renseignements sur le Tahdhîb al-akhlaq”, Arabica, 1979, 26, 2, pp. 158-178.

[4] This work is followed by ‘Iqd al-manzûm fîmâ tahwîhi min al-khawâs wa l-‘ulûm, another improper attribution to Ibn ‘Arabî, who could by no means be the author of the text presented in Fattâh’s edition.

[5] Cf. Afîfî, “The Works of Ibn ‘Arabî in the Light of a Memorandum Drawn up by Him”, Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts 8 (1954), p. 199, n° 47.

[6] Cf. Badawî, “Autobiobliograf ía de Ibn ‘Arabî”, in Quelques figures et thèmes de la philosophie islamique, Paris, 1979, p. 182, n°46.

[7] Cf. G. Elmore, “Sadr al-Dîn al-Qûnawî’s Personal Study-List of Books by Ibn al-‘Arabî”, Near Eastern Studies, 56, 3, juil. 1997, pp. 161-181.

[8] Cf. Hyderabad ed, 1948, p. 2.

[9] This book could be the one referred to in n°111 of the Fihris, where other works related to the science of Letters are mentioned, such as the K. al-madkhal ilâ l-‘amal bi l-hurûf (n°59) and the K. al-raqm […], n°103.

[10] Cf. D. Gril, “La science des lettres”, in Les Illuminations de La Mecque, textes choisis, M. Chodkiewicz (ed.), Paris, 1988, pp. 442-444, translated as “The Science of Letters” in The Meccan Revelations, New York, Pir press, 2004, pp. 105-219.

[11] Cf. Damascus ed, 1970, p. 164; the error is noted and rectified by H. Tâhir in his edition of the Rûh, Cairo, 2005, p. 184.

[12] Cf. O. Yahia, RG 639.

[13] Cf. Damascus ed, 1970, pp. 16-17 and p. 164; Cairo ed, 2005, p. 412.

[14] Informations from private sources lead to believe that S. ‘Abd al-Fattâh has taken precautions to keep a veil on the precise origin of this manuscript.

[15]  In Fattâh’s edition, this folio is reproduced in facsimile p. 29, and in print p. 32.

[16] Cf. Kashf al-zunûn, II, col. 2012.

[17] The very title of the K. al-washâ, “al-khatt bayna l-kâf wa l-nûn”, echoes a theme often developed by Ibn ‘Arabî (e.g. Fusûs, Afîfî edition, 1980, chap. 11, pp. 115-117; Futûhât makkiyya, Bulâq edition, 1911, I, pp. 168, 170-171, II, pp. 331-332), and according to which the takwîn always and necessarily originates from “3” – in reference, among other things, to the waw, invisible yet present, that connects the kâf to the nûn in the existentiating “Kun” (Qur. 36:82).

[18] On this tradition, see Amir Moezzi, Le guide divin dans le shi’isme originel, Paris, 1992, p. 175 ; translated as : The Divine Guide in Early Shi’ism: The Sources of Esotericism in Islam, Amir Moezzi , SUNY Press, 1994, p. 70; see also Rajab Borsî, Les Orients des lumières, translated by H. Corbin, Paris,1956, p.59.

[19] Cf. Fut., I, p. 168 ; on this topic, see M. Chodkiewicz, “Une introduction à la lecture des Futûhât makkiyya”, p. 51, and D. Gril, “La science des lettres”, p. 408, in Les Illuminations de La Mecque, respectively p. 26 and p. 124 in the English translation, The Meccan Revelations.

[20] We are grateful to D. Gril for bringing this point to our attention.

[21] Cf. Gril, “La science des lettres”, op. cit. pp. 385–487 (english translation : op. cit. pp. 105-219), the most complete exposition of Ibn ‘Arabî’s views on the science of Letters to this day ; on the notion of the “Prophet’s Family” and the role of the Prophet’s spiritual posterity according to Ibn ‘Arabî, see Addas, La Maison muhammadienne, aperçus de la dévotion du Prophète en mystique musulmane, Paris, 2015, chap. 8.

[22] Cf. McGregor, Sanctity and mysticism in medieval Egypt, The Wafâ’ Sufi Order and the Legacy of Ibn ‘Arabî, New York, 2004.

[23] This is the case for the texts listed as 148, 417, 519, 663, 803, 815 in O. Yahia’s Répertoire Général. On this subject, see McGregor, ibid, chap. 4.

[24] The author then specifies that this advent will occur “early in the tenth hour”, a possible intimation of ‘Alî Wafâ’s birth in 759h.

[25] Cf. McGregor, Sanctity and mysticism in medieval Egypt, p. 151.

[26] We thank R. McGregor for drawing our attention on this. Regarding this invocation (also present in the Mabâdî in a slightly variant form), see his study: “Is this the End of Mediaeval Sufism ?”, in Sufism in the Ottoman Era, 16th-18th Century, IFAO, 2010, pp. 94-99.

[27] In support of these elements, it should be added that this text is absent from the repertory of their works, as R. McGregor indicated to us.

[28] See G. Elmore’s review, JMIAS, 37, 2004, pp. 109-115; M. Chodkiewicz in Bulletin critique des annales islamologiques, 17, 2001, pp. 50-52.

[29] Cf. MIAS, Archive Project in comment RG 249.

[30] M. Chodkiewicz, An Ocean Without Shore, SUNY Press, 1993, p. 18.