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Love Letters to the Ka’ba – A Presentation of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Tâj al-Rasâ’il
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.
Articles by Denis Gril
Love Letters to the Kaaba – A Presentation of Ibn Arabi’s Taj al-Rasa’il
The Kitab al-inbah of Abdallāh Badr al-Habashi | Introduction
The Kitab al-inbah of Abdallah Badr al-Habashi | Translation
“There Is No Word in the World that Does Not Indicate His Praise”
«Il n’est de mot dans l’univers qui n’indique Sa louange» (French)
The Journey through the Circles of Inner Being According to Ibn Arabi’s Mawaqi al–nujum
Adab and Revelation – One of the Foundations of the Hermeneutics of Ibn Arabi
Adab och uppenbarelse – eller en av grundvalarna för hermeneutiken hos Ibn Arabi (Swedish)
Commentaries on the Fatiha and Experience of the Being According to Ibn Arabi
The Enigma of the Shajara al-numaniyya fī al-dawla al-Uthmaniyya, Attributed to Ibn Arabi
Hadith in the Work of Ibn Arabi: The Uninterrupted Chain of Prophecy
Ibn Arabi in Egypt – The Speech of Things
Jesus, Mary and the Book According to Ibn Arabi
The Quranic Figure of Pharaoh According to the Interpretation of Ibn Arabi
Michel Chodkiewicz (1929-2020) - A Legacy
Podcasts by Denis Gril
“And He taught Adam all the Names”: the Foundation of the Spiritual Caliphate
The Tâj al-Rasâ’il wa-Minhâj al-Wasâ’il,The Crown of Epistles and the Path to Intercessions, in which Ibn ‘Arabi addresses eight love letters to the Ka’ba, contains all the variations that Arabic literature has to offer on the theme of love. This is an unusual love, for a being made of stone, but oh so sacred, situated in an intermediate world between the human and the divine. The following is only a first version, to make known a treatise, as rich as it is difficult, which must take its place beside the Tarjumân al-Ashwâq and the chapter on Love in the Futûhât.
The Circumstances Surrounding the Composition of the Tâj
It is in connection with the ritual circuits around the Ka’ba, in Chapter 72 of the Futûhât, dealing with the pilgrimage and its secrets, that Ibn ‘Arabi reveals the circumstances in which he composed this remarkable work.
One day I was looking at the Ka’ba; it asked me to fulfil the circuits around it, and Zamzam asked me to drink of its water, out of a desire for friendship with the believer. I was able to hear one and the other with my ears. I was afraid of being veiled by them, given their immense stature in the eyes of God, and of being thus turned away from my state of divine proximity which is fitting for this place according to our knowledge. I addressed this poem to them in order to make them aware of this and to speak to them about the perfect believer:
Oh Ka’ba of God, oh Zamzam, how strongly you demand my friendship, but no, no!
If I must get involved in a friendship with you, it is through compassion and not desire towards you.
The Ka’ba is nothing other than our essence, the essence of curtains of pious fear.
The True One is not contained by sky nor earth nor any word.
He appeared to the heart and said to it: Be patient! For it is the Qibla established by Us.
From Us to you and to your heart, towards the encounter with My house; how magnificent it is.
It is a duty for Our Ka’ba to love you and to love Us is a duty for you.
No other is more magnificent than the temple but you, My Servant, when you attach yourself to it.
Your ritual circumambulations have illuminated the Ka’ba, while the houses of men remain in darkness.
The Temple could not bear the idolatry of men; if it were not for you their lot would be disastrous.
But in your mutual encouragement towards patience and compassion,
So profoundly has the heart become attached to My Essence, that its love is strong and its science great!
Between the Ka’ba and myself, at the time of my sojourn in Mecca, there took place a correspondence, with requests for intercession and continual reproaches. I have recorded some of the speeches that I addressed to it in a booklet entitled The Crown of Epistles and the Path to Intercessions. It contains, I think, seven or eight letters, corresponding to the seven circuits. In it I address a letter to the divine quality whose theophany appeared to me on each of the circumambulations. A certain specific event led me to compose these letters and to address them to the Ka’ba. The fact was that I considered my constitution (nash’a) to be more excellent than that of the Ka’ba and its rank, and that as a place of theophany of divine realities it was inferior to mine. I spoke of it as of a mineral constitution, on the first level of engendered beings. If I neglected in this way the very high rank with which God favoured it, it was to elevate its spiritual aspiration and so that the circumambulation of the envoys and the great saints around it and the kissing of the Black Stone might not act as a veil for it. I am, of course, aware of the elevation at each breath of all the beings of the universe, both superior and inferior, and that it is impossible for any entities to remain unchanged in the same state. The origin towards which all existing things return, God, described Himself as being engaged in a task every day (cf. Q. 55:29). No object in the universe can therefore persist in the same state for two instants. These states change according to the theophanies of the divine works. My conduct towards the Ka’ba was due to a spiritual state which dominated me, and without any shadow of doubt God wished to warn me about this state of inebriation.
He incited me to arise from my bed one cool night with a full moon and a slight dew. I did my ablutions and went out to accomplish the ritual circuits, profoundly disturbed. It seemed to me that just one person was carrying out the circuits. I began by kissing the Stone and then started to circumambulate. Having arrived at the Gutter, behind the enclosure (Hijr), I looked at the Ka’ba. I then saw it, as perceived by the faculty of my imagination, raise the skirts of its robe and maintain itself thus hovering above its foundations. It had the intention of turning me back when I reached the Syrian corner, to prevent me from circling around it. It threatened me, using words which my ear could hear. I felt deeply afflicted on account of this, and for His part God displayed to me such irritation and fury, that I was unable to move from where I was standing. I sheltered behind the Enclosure to fend off its blows and took hold of it as a shield. By God, I heard it saying to me: “Keep coming on and we shall see what I will do with you! How you underestimate my value and overestimate that of the Sons of Adam, and consider that those who have knowledge are superior to me. By the almighty power of Him alone to whom it belongs, I shall not allow you to circle around me!” I came back to my senses and realised that God wished to correct me. I thanked Him for this, and the affliction which I had felt vanished. As for the Ka’ba, it seemed to be hovering above the ground, lifting the skirts of its robe like one who pulls up his clothes before jumping. I had the impression that it had gathered up its veils, ready to jump on me. It had taken the form of a young girl such as I had never seen and of a beauty that cannot even be imagined. On the spur of the moment I improvised some verses which I addressed to it in order to calm its irritation towards me. Gradually as I began to praise it with these words, it grew bigger and fell back onto its foundations. It displayed its satisfaction at what I was reciting to it, until it returned to its initial state. It assured me of its safeguard and entreated me to complete my circumambulations. I then threw myself upon the spot where one asks for protection; there was not a single part of my body that was not trembling due to my state, until the moment when I began to feel relieved. I reconciled myself with it and entrusted it with the testimony of divine unity as I kissed the stone. The testimony came out as I pronounced it. I saw it with my own eyes in the form of a thread. An opening appeared in the Black Stone and I was able to see right inside: it was a cubit in depth. I later asked someone, a resident in Mecca who had seen it at the time of the fire in the Temple, about this. It had then been mounted in silver and repaired, and he confirmed to me that he had seen that it was of this size. I saw the testimony roll up into a ball and tuck itself into the back of the stone. As I watched, the hole closed up. “This is a pledge”, the Ka’ba assured me, “which I shall keep and give back to you on the Day of Resurrection. I shall present it to God in your name.” Thus spoke the Stone and I was able to hear it. I gave my thanks to God and then to the Ka’ba, and from that moment the Ka’ba and I were reconciled. I addressed these seven letters to it, increasing its happiness and rejoicing. Some good news reached me through the voice of a pious man who was blessed with the gift of clairvoyance and who had no information about what had come to pass between the Ka’ba and me. He told me that the day before he had seen the Ka’ba in dreams. It had said to him: “Oh ‘Abd al-Wahid, glory be to God! There is therefore nobody to walk around me except So and So”, and it named me and added: “Where have the men gone? ” “You appeared after that and I could only see you circumambulating. The Ka’ba said to me: ‘Look at him! Can you see anybody else walking around me? ‘ No, By God, I cannot.” I thanked God for this good news, come to me by way of this man, and remembered the word of God’s Envoy – may grace and peace be upon him – with regard to the holy vision of a Muslim, seen through him or by him.
These are the words with which I invited the Ka’ba to come back down:
My heart took refuge in the sanctuary when it was struck by the arrows of the enemy.
Oh, clemency of God towards his servants, God placed you among the minerals.
Oh, House of my Lord, light of my heart, freshness of my eye, intimate friend of my heart.
Oh, heart’s secret of true existence, oh my inviolability, purity of my love.
Oh, Qibla towards which I have turned each time I have camped, in each valley,
Of permanence, then of heaven; of extinction and of the cradle.
Oh, Ka’ba of God, oh my life, path to happiness and justice,
You are God’s depository of the only safeguard against the terror of the final return.
The noble Station shines brightly in you, in you resides the servants’ happiness.
In you is the Right Hand which my mistake has covered with a black mark.
In the place where we attach ourselves to you, he who perseveres with his amorous passion will know happiness on the Day when we are called.
Souls have died because of their desire for it (the Ka’ba), through the pains of longing and exile.
Because of its affliction for them it donned a mourning blanket.
God makes a light shine on its summit, which shines on the heart.
Only the afflicted whose eyes have suffered the Kohl of insomnia can perceive it.
It turns, seven after seven, after the fall of night to reply to the call.
It weeps endless tears, received in token by its passion, without weakening.
I heard it call out to the Stone for help: oh heart of mine!
The night quickly passed but my amorous passion was not appeased.
(Futûhât, I, 700-1)
This passage supplies us with a certain number of clues when we come to read the Tâj al-Rasâ’il.
The Ka’ba appears there above all as a majlâ: a place where theophanies (Tajalliyât) occur. Ibn ‘Arabi recognises the high rank occupied by the Ka’ba in the hierarchy of levels of Being, since he considers it to be the heart of existence (qalb al-wujud; cf. Futûhât, I, 50). On a higher plane he even converts it into a symbol of the Essence, where the seven ritual circumambulations correspond to the seven major divine attributes.
This immediately brings us to ask a first question: if the Ka’ba symbolises the heart, that is, the centre of the universe, what connection exists between it and the heart of the believer? Ibn ‘Arabi responds, through the mouth of God, in these terms:
My Ka’ba here before us is the heart of existence
And My Throne is, for this heart, a limited body.
My House, the one who contains Me, is your heart which
I am watching, Deposited in your body, through which I bear witness.
Ibn ‘Arabi is here alluding to the Hadith: “Neither My sky nor My earth contain me; only the heart of my believing servant contains me.” For this reason, he proclaimed the superiority of the believer with respect to the House of God. The beginning of the text shows a kind of master-disciple relationship between it and himself. He indeed proposes to “raise the aspiration (himma)” of this being which he treats in every way as if it were a living being. He in fact wishes to make it participate in his personal vision of the world, a world in permanent motion from one state to another, like divine Reality which is “each day engaged in a task” (Q. 55:29). We already know the rest. Ibn ‘Arabi admits to having been in a state of spiritual inebriation which made him speak the way he did. The terror inspired in him by the threatening Ka’ba has the virtue of teaching him a lesson (ta’dîb) and bringing him back to a state of humiliation and poverty, two of the principal qualities of the servant of God.
This event leads him to reconsider his links with the Ka’ba. He equally reaffirms his own choice of it when reporting the vision of the holy man. Choice, but also dependency with respect to that which he looked upon as a being of stone. The poem translated above denotes a far more intimate relationship with the Ka’ba. Does he perhaps even go so far as to identify it with his own heart?
It has been pointed out before that the word heart reappears once and again as soon as we begin to talk about the Ka’ba. The heart, seat of the higher perceptions, is also that of love. Love for whom? For the divine Essence, as the last line of the first poem makes clear. But then, why that feeling of dissatisfaction expressed in the last two lines of the second poem?
All that therefore now remains is to pose these questions to the Tâj al-Rasâ’il. What does the stone Temple represent? Divine Essence, the believer’s heart? Why this dramatic staging? What, moreover, is the meaning of the amorous relationship between the Shaykh al-Akbar and this seductive, threatening, feminine mineral being, which appears before him in this way in the coolness of a moonlit night?
The Tâjal-rasa’il: Presentation and Analysis
The book, of medium length, was edited in Cairo in 1328/1910 at the end of a collection of miscellaneous texts, probably reproducing the contents of a manuscript compilation (pp. 553-630). It consists of eight letters, each one corresponding to a theophany of a divine Name which appeared in the course of the ritual circumambulations, being included in the symbolic name of the sender:
- The divine epistle sent by ‘Abd Allah (Servant of God)
- The holy epistle sent by ‘Abd al-Hayy (Servant of the Living One)
- The epistle on union sent by ‘Abd al-‘Alim (Servant of the Knowing One)
- The ‘Syriac’ epistle sent by ‘Abd al-Shakur (Servant of the Grateful One)
- The contemplative epistle sent by ‘Abd al-Basir (Servant of One Who Sees)
- The paradisiac epistle sent by ‘Abd al-Sami’ (Servant of the One Who Hears)
- The Platonic epistle sent by ‘Abd al-Wadud (Servant of the One Who Loves)
- The existential epistle sent by ‘Abd al-Qadir (Servant of the Powerful One)
These divine names therefore only partially cover the seven attributes. The connection between the names and the titles of the epistles is not always easy to establish. But it is reasonable to assume that the last epistle, described as existential, incorporates for that very reason the remaining divine aspects and even transcends the distinction between the human and the divine. The text is written in rhymed prose, with a beautiful assonance and with a great richness of vocabulary. The introduction and each epistle are addressed to “the Ka’ba of beauty and the garden watered by a shower of rain”. The latter expression perhaps recalls the light rain evoked by Ibn ‘Arabi in the recital of the Futûhât, and emphasises, more than anything else, by this alliance of mineral and vegetable, on the one hand the crystallisation and occultation of the supreme Reality, and on the other, its efflorescence through the life and compassion which are propagated from it.
The Ka’ba: One and Multiple
To what being is Ibn ‘Arabi speaking through this double heavenly vision (the stones and the plants), through the image of the woman (her body and her ways)? The answer is all the more complex due to the fact that he addresses the Ka’ba sometimes in the feminine and sometimes in the masculine, now praising it without reserve and declaring his love, now giving advice as if to a disciple or reproaching it like a deceived lover.
Charles-Andre Gilis has pointed out that in the Islamic tradition the Ka’ba symbolises the centre of every state of Being, as is demonstrated by the tradition recorded by Ibn ‘Abbas according to which there exists a Ka’ba, similar to the one belonging to our world, in each of the seven heavens and seven earths (cf. La Doctrine Initiatique du Pélerinage, Paris, 1982, pp. 45-6). In the introduction to the Tâj, Ibn ‘Arabi refers to the Visited House (al-bayt al-ma’mûr), situated in the seventh heaven, the celestial prototype of the Ka’ba (p. 557).
As Gilis also observes, the Ka’ba is perceived by Ibn ‘Arabi as a manifestation of the divine Essence (Tâjallî dhâtî). However, he situates it, due to its mineral nature, in the lowest level of Being. But it is precisely the inferior character of its external aspect that allows it to sustain the ladder of beings and to identify itself on each level. It is thus described as “celestial constitution, angelic reality, young girl with formed breasts, level of the perceptible realm, and Meccan dignity (at the same time this constitutes an excellent example of the assonances of his rhymed prose: nash’a falakiyya wa haqîqa malakiyya wa jâriya falkiyya wa martaba mulkiyya wa rutba makkiyya) (p. 555).” Ibn ‘Arabi himself is astonished at the number of contradictory aspects that this being is able to bring together: “Oh marvel: divine constitution, simil (mithliyya), angelic, human, superior and inferior in which we find validity and deficiency, multiplicity and scarcity.” (p. 556)
The Ka’ba is also identified, as we have seen, with the heart of existence and of the believer, in the sense of the perfect or universal Man who synthesises all the levels of Being. What difference is there, then, between it and the person who circumambulates around it in search of its/his heart? Especially since we are talking about the Shaykh al-Akbar. Is he not really speaking to himself when he offers it advice of this kind: “Attach yourself, oh Ka’ba of beauty, to unending sadness and suffering, to total destruction and a higher union.” (p. 560) All the passages in which this identity is evoked refer to a particular state: the reunion of the being with himself (ittihâd). We will return to this subject later, and also to the question of the Ka’ba as a double feminine.
This relationship of identity in fact usually breaks down into a lover and a loved, into one who gives and one who receives. Ibn ‘Arabi constantly alternates between a tone of advice-giving, as a master to his disciple or the spirit to the soul, and a tone of expression of obedience and subjection, even asking for forgiveness. He can just as soon declare the Ka’ba to be unique in the whole of existence as place himself with respect to it on a level which would ordinarily belong to God, saying: “You are the last third of the night, because of my descent; you are divine desire because of my transmutation into different forms.” (p. 629) A Temple of stone, the Ka’ba becomes, under the pen of Ibn ‘Arabi, a being of such plasticity that it can be identified with any reality. It would also be surprising if a dispute were to close these dialogues, or rather monologues, for it is only on rare occasions that the turn of speech is given to the Ka’ba.
The Language of Love
This last remark brings us to the question: what is the nature of the amorous relationship between the temple enveloped in its black veil and the Shaykh al-Akbar? And why should he have expressed it in these terms?
In fact there are few terms and images that Arabic literature, poetry or prose, employs to describe the loved one and the relationship between lovers, that we do not rediscover in the Tâj. Here is an example:
… gentle and enticing, beloved and familiar, of startling beauty, of a superior majesty, fresh and luminous, full of a rare spirit, with an open forehead and aquiline nose, an elegant gait, smooth of cheek, a watered garden, neither boring nor bored, with large eyes and magnificent aspect, hips that swing from side to side and a slim waist, all white… her breath exhaling the finest musk, her hand generous, eyelids that make you feel ill and perfume of amber, her words gentle and her mouth delicious, docile in love and stubborn; a source of trials, her memory does not allow you to sleep, taking control of your thoughts, bewitching your gaze, melting your body and annihilating your spirit… (p. 555).
Elsewhere we find a true declaration of love: “May my soul be your ransom, oh Ka’ba of beauty, in all things against which it needs to be guarded and protected. By the path of love between my flanks, by the passion which has taken control of my members, my intimate heart has become your love slave and my heart is madly in love with you…” (p. 600). Devastating love is equally evoked (cf. p. 618) and even sexual union, for he claims on two occasions that he has been with it under the same garment. The watching guardians (ruqabâ’) of the Beautiful One are jealous of this union (cf. pp. 558, 576). No doubt he has in mind those who aspire to such a condition.
Sometimes the Ka’ba displays its power, for example in the following passage of the Futûhât: “I am the Ka’ba before which tyrants bow their heads… How many crowns have I toppled from the heads of those who wore them! (p. 573)” But whatever the meaning may be, it is always presented as a feminine being. As a spouse when the Shakyh is speaking to it: “Did you not come out of the Left-Hand Side, are you not the bent rib? I am the living one from whom you were created, and after that you were associated with me to the extent that I have been designated by your name.” (p. 570) Or on the contrary, as a maternal principle, perhaps he alludes to the universal Soul when he says: “Praise be to God who reunited me through you and made you unique through me, like my mother with respect to my father. She is his essence and she is his wife… she is his part and his whole.” (p. 579) It is therefore an androgynous entity that Ibn ‘Arabi forms with the Ka’ba. However, the complexity of their relationship arises out of the fact that masculine and feminine can interchange on their passage from one plane to another. The divine Essence has the feminine gender, and so too has the celestial Adam in the Qur’an, called “unique Soul” before the apparition of his feminine double. We might therefore think that when it comes down to it the Shakyh al-Akbar’s love is really directed only towards the divine Essence, when he says to his reader: “What have you got to sing other than His word, for He formed youharmoniously… What is there for you to fall in love with apart from His beauty? ” Certainly Ibn ‘Arabi perceives only reflections of divine beauty in beings, nevertheless solely the notion of ittihâd, union reflected upon itself, as is indicated by the verbal form of this term, allows us better to discern the complexity of this relationship between the temple, this place of contemplation, and Man. Ibn ‘Arabi dedicated an epistle to this subject: al-ittihâd al-kawnî wa-l-ishhâd al-‘aynî: the re-union of the creaturial being through the contemplation of his own being. This idea is developed there through the axial symbolism of the tree and the four birds, forming complementary pairs and representing the beginnings of manifestation. Ibn ‘Arabi and the Ka’ba had therefore to meet in order to reveal themselves to each other: “As God wished you well, oh Ka’ba of beauty, He made us come to know each other. He made you contemplate my being and me yours.” (p. 593) Can true love leave any room for duality? “I am the lover and the loved, the seeker and the sought, the one in love and his beloved… show yourself equitable, oh me, towards me; I for my part have taken pity on myself. This requirement is too holy to tolerate separation, too majestic to be only creaturial, because of the secret of union with oneself (ittihâd), at the origin of existentiation (ijâd).” (p. 604) This last clarification leaves no doubt that for Ibn ‘Arabi ittihâd leads man to the love of God for creatures, the origin of manifestation. Thus the only thing that remains between God and man, when all is said and done, is overwhelming love (sabâba). And yet the cycle of love does not stop there, for it demands perpetual improvement. It is in this sense that Ibn ‘Arabi takes up the theme of dissatisfaction and reproach, but stronger still is that of love for love’s sake which leads to the neglect of its object, like Layla rejecting Majnun in these terms: “Get away from me for my love for you has turned me away from you.” (p. 569)
On the Frontier between the Human and the Divine
Here, under the form of images, we touch upon one of the essential aspects of Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine. At least two reasons justify his resorting to the language of love. On the one hand, the one in love inevitably suffers humiliation and this
Love Letters to the Ka’ba leads man towards perfection in servitude, as God reminds Abu Yazid al-Bistami: “Come close to Me through those things which are not mine: humiliation and poverty.” (p 589) Even Ibn ‘Arabi humiliates himself before the Ka’ba and asks for its forgiveness. On the other hand, separation, one of the principal themes of love poetry, illustrates the necessary dynamics of spiritual progression: the return to the creation after union. The fluctuation of sentiments between the Temple and Man therefore reflects the incessant movement from one state to the other, provoking the Shakyh’s complaint: “How much longer will this constant changing from one state to another go on? ” (pp. 560-1) For one who has travelled beyond the spiritual stations, progression rests on the theophanies that the heart receives and which are echoed in these epistles. On this subject Ibn ‘Arabi speaks of the comings and goings of the “messengers of the divine names” (rusûl al-asmâ’) who intercede to establish a total union between him and the Ka’ba (cf. p. 557). He is therefore in a receptive state with respect to divine transmutation in forms (al-tahawwul fî l-suwar). This in no way limits the divine Essence, but on the contrary reveals its infinite possibilities of manifestation and, for the servant, of perfection.
Perpetual transformation, but also ambivalent relation, as we have seen. Praise without reserve for the Ka’ba, which he covers with that which only belongs to God: “What other beloved one, oh Ka’ba of beauty, is equal to you? ” (p. 618) Praise for himself, for the humiliation of love and servitude do not prevent him from affirming: “It is indeed rare to see a being like me circumambulating around you!” (p. 566) The Ka’ba, theophany of the Essence under its black veil, and the Shakyh in love and proud of his rank, together constitute a point in which opposites are resolved and all possibilities meet (cf. p. 560), on the frontier between the eternal and the contingent (cf. p. 558) or even the image of the Whole. This, therefore, brings to mind a representation of what Ibn ‘Arabi calls the haqîqa kulliyya, total or universal reality, through which beings exist or do not exist: “it is in them and they are in it, without being aware of this fact.” (pp. 566-7) He is, therefore, indeed speaking of an immutable principle: “The Ka’ba of beauty could not disappear, for it is the Whole and one cannot imagine a part of it.” (p. 571)
We thus find ourselves drawn towards another notion, that of barzakh, the isthmus between the two seas – the eternal and contingent ones – and participating in both “like the line that separates shadow from sunlight” (p. 572). There is no surprise when we find attributed to the Ka’ba all the qualificatives of the being which participates in the two aspects of Reality, the universal Man, in its Muhammadian form. Neither is it surprising that the love for the Ka’ba should be one of the privileges of the Muhammadian heir. Did the Prophet not set out from the holy Mosque on his nocturnal Journey and his heavenly Ascension (cf. p. 567)? Following in the footsteps of the Prophet, the spirits aspire to this elevation (cf. p. 626). Allusions to the qualities of this Muhammadian being abound: his magnificent character (p. 596), the pre-existence of his luminous reality: “I loved you before the existence of your determined being” (p. 597), his close connection with the Qur’an, the science of Writing and the ‘Syriac’ language. It is remarkable that the last feature should have been mentioned in this epistle which emanates from the divine name The Grateful One, also a quality of the perfect servant. Many other aspects of the doctrine of the universal man could still be mentioned, particularly its relationship with the Imaginal plane (khayâl), very discreetly pointed out in the passage from the Futûhât and in the text of the Tâj (pp. 564, 616). We will just take note of the fundamental role that this plane of existence and this faculty play in the representation of the love relationship. It is this faculty which allows us to bring out into the open that which would otherwise remain hidden, as Ibn ‘Arabi points out: “Be it known to you, oh Ka’ba of very great beauty, that there is in existence a bridge of which many intellects are unaware: man, when he is inside something, can neither see its reality nor its significance, but when he becomes foreign to it, he can see it” (p. 583). Could the reason for the existence of love and of all this representation be better expressed?
The amorous progression of these epistles, which almost end in dispute, clarifies one further aspect of the universal Man. The latter marks the end of creation, but not in the sense of a static, cosmic completion. “Let us not say that the worlds are known, that the spiritual stations are established… All of that is just dust in comparison with that which is not manifest” (p. 571), and, addressing the Temple, symbol of Man: “Have you seen how He gave you harmonious form, until the moment when your corners and your strength collapsed? ” (p. 570) Love destroys and separates in order to reconstruct and unite, ever changing, ever unappeased.
Between the Ka’ba, crystallisation of the divine Form, and the adorer, bearing witness to his faith by kissing the Right Hand of God, which will in turn bear witness for him, a bond of love is sealed, a love relationship with two faces.
The first reflects the Beauty of which Man is the most beautiful mirror: “If you knew”, replies the Shakyh to a supposed contradictor, “what I have achieved thanks to my love for it, you would have taken me as your adored Lord… but give praise to God that he preserved your faith by veiling me from you, after you had knowledge of me… for it is that which has been the perdition of the Christians with their Messiah.” (p. 602) But in reality all risk of confusion between the human and the divine is unfounded for anyone who has understood the meaning of this line which concludes the Tâj: “And your Lord has decreed that you shall only worship Him” (Q. 17:23).
By the second face of love, that of separation and nostalgic longing, Man fulfils an even greater perfection. This is why the Ka’ba’s Lover invites us (p. 575) to reflect upon the words of the Prophet when, having returned to Mecca, he was preparing to kiss the Black Stone:
“It is here that tears must be shed.”
First presented, in French, to “Amor Divino, Amor Humano”, the 3rd International Congress on Ibn Arabi, in Murcia, 2–4 November 1994.
Reproduced from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Volume XVII,1995.