Poetry of Ibn Arabi from the Diwān

Four Poems from “Wearing the Cloak of Honor”

Translated by Eric Winkel

“Wearing the cloak of honor” (Libs al-khirqah, The clothing of the khirqah) is a section of the the Dīwān of Ibn al-ʿArabī, which in the critical edition of ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Sulṭān al-Mansūb, begins at Volume 3, p. 391.

Wear the clothing of honour!

Wear the clothing of honor! The best clothing for a person is his God-fearing,
and establishing the religion in this world, and strengthening it.

They are God-fearing only, each one possessing sure sight
aimed at the chosen one. God has singled out this one!

He traverses the night passing beads through his hands –
before him his Master – with eyes shedding tears in the darkness.

He cries out, O my Master! O my last hope!
Devoted slaves have none but their Master to be most merciful.

God honors this one whose innate character is most merciful,
as is his epithet. When you beseech him, he responds, Here I am, at your service!

If not for him! No Earth would beam with her adornment,
nor would her clouds weep merciful tears [1] – if not for him! if not for him!

God graced him with goodness, God made him beautiful,
God made him rightly directed, God fashioned him in His Hands.

O Purity of the religion – you are the true religion entirely!
Veins and mouths grow sweet-perfumed in remembering you.

[1] For the “clouds weeping”, manuscript Q has ‘marrying’ – alluding to the marriage of father sky and mother Earth.

Introduction to the poem

The following translation is of the first poem in the collection of poetry ‘Wearing the cloak of honor’. The khirqah is a cloak or gown donned as a sign of honor. Ibn al-ʿArabī was bestowed this honor by Khaḍir, and in his recounting he tells us that the process was spontaneous. When Ibn al-ʿArabī gave the khirqah as a sign of honor to those to whom he had passed on knowledge (the wealth they inherited, as they were inheritors), he says the process was highly variable and already becoming more formal in his lifetime. Then and in later centuries, the investiture of the cloak in the Ṣūfī tradition became a formal ceremony. A similarity is seen also in the first universities in North Africa in matriculation ceremonies, marking the passing on of knowledge from teacher to student (with the sash conferred, and the gown).

We respect the spontaneity and informality of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s style in our translation to English, using words such as ‘wear’ and ‘clothes’, but it should be borne in mind that investiture is still the sacred passing on of inheritance – that is, passing on knowledge about God and His kingdom, through investiture and hand-taking from teacher to aspirant.

As the seal of the universal teaching of the Light of Muḥammad, Ibn al-ʿArabī addresses humanity, you, me, in this first poem, wishing us to be invested with honor and receive the inheritance of knowledge. The Light has been and always is embodied in prophets and their inheritors, in every generation, language, and location. In this first poem, we consider the look into the mirror of our prophet (an emissary of the Light of Muḥammad). With this look, our image and the prophet’s image begin to merge; hence the titles are for you, the person in the poem, and for Muḥammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

Now I have counseled you, and I have done my utmost for you in this counsel. Therefore, do not seek a vision of the True except in the mirror of your prophet ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam, and beware of witnessing Him in your mirror; or witnessing the prophet and whatever is radiating brilliantly in his mirror of the True in your mirror – because this will send you down from the ladder step of the high regions.

So stay close to emulation and following, and do not tread in a place in which you do not see a footprint of your prophet. Thus set your foot flush against his footprint, if you desire to be among the family of the higher steps and the complete and perfect vision, in the position of utter nearness. I have done my utmost for you with this counsel, just as I was commanded. And God guides whoever He wishes to the rightly tending path (al-baqarah 2:213).

From Chapter 355 of al-Futūḥāṭ al-Makkīyah (Book 23, p. 450 in the critical edition of ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Sulṭān al-Mansūb).

Arabic transliteration

albas fa-khayr libās al-marʾi taqwāhu
waʾqwamuʾd-dīni fīʾd-dunyā waʾqwāh(u)

mā yattaqī ʾllāha illā kullu dhī naẓari(n)
musaddādin mujtabā qad khaṣṣahu allāh(u)

yuqaṭṭiʿuʾl-layla biʾt-tasbīḥi bayn yaday
mawlāhu dāmiʿatun fīʾl-layli ʿaynāh(u)

yaqūlu yā sayyadī yā muntahā amalī
mā liʾl-ʿubaydi raḥimun ghayr mawlāh(u)

allāhu karrama man hadhī sajjīyatuhu
wa nuʿtuhu faʾidhā yadʿūhu labbāh(u)

law lā hu mā ḍaḥikat arḍun bi-zahratihā
wa lā bakat suḥbūhā law lā hu law lā hu

allāhu faḍḍalahu allāhu jammalahu
allāhu ʿaddalahu allāhu sawwāh(u)

yā ṣafwatuʾd-dīn antaʾd-dīna ajmaʿahu
ṭābata bi-dhikrāk aʿrāqa wa afwāh(u)

Arabic text

إلبس فخير لباس المرء تقواه

وأقوم الدين في الدنيا وأقواه

ما يتَّقي الله إلا كلُّ ذي نظر

مسدَّد مُجتَبى قد خصَّه اللهُ

يقطعُ الليلَ بالتسبيح بين يدي

مولاه دَامعةٌ في الليلِ عيناه

يقول يا سيدي يا منتهى أملي

ما للعبيدِ رحيمٌ غيرُ مولاه

الله كرَّمَ من هذي سجيَّته

ونعته فإذا يدعوه لَّباه

لولاه ما ضحكت أرضٌ بزهرتها

ولا بَكتْ سُحبها لولاه لولاه

الله فضَّله الله جمَّله

الله عدَّله الله سوَّاه

يا صفوةَ الدينِ أنت الدينِ أجمعه

طابتْ بذكرك أعراق وأفواه

I am the knower who is the most stingy of them all

Oh yes indeed, I am the knower who is the most stingy of them all;
my religion is not for sale, and I withhold my wealth – so I am unhonored.

But this is not a real stinginess. No,
it is a virtue, and a generosity most honorable.

I descend into this place as often as
my most knowledgeable heart verifies reality for itself.

I am the Sun! I rise with my true self when
I wish to, and the ties arise to bind me.

Whenever I wish for this, for what my station requires,
and the stars make me appear;

Whenever the night utterly covers my unseen,
and the dark, light-blocking world loses me completely;

Behold! His dhāt f is clothed with my cloak of honor.
Arab and Persian, all are dazzled by Her!

Arabic transliteration

a-lā innanīʾl-ʿālim al-abkhalu
bi-dīnī wa mālī fa-lā akramu
[for my wealth, mālī, ms. K has my secret heart, sirrī]

wa mā dhāk bukhlun wa lakinnahu
huwaʾl-faḍal waʾl-karam al-akram

unazzilu manzilahu kullamā
yuḥaqqaqahu qalbī al-aʿlam
[In K, ʿilmī, my knowledge, for qalbī, my heart]

anā al-shams abdū bi-dhātī idhā
ashāʾu wa yaẓharunī
[or yuzhirnī] al-azmam

idhā shiʾta dhāk li-mā yaqtaḍiya
maqāmī wa taẓharuʾl-anjum

idhā mā dajā al-layla min ghaybatī
wa yafqidunī ʾl-ʿālam al-muẓlim

idhā lubisat khirqatī dhātahu
taḥāra lahā al-ʿurbu waʾl-aʿjam

I clothed Umm-Muḥammad

I clothed Umm-Muḥammad
with the garment of the ṣūfī Way; marked

By its essential, firmly bounded
on her part – she made for that! Reinforcing

Whatever it requires. And she was made secure –
so I bestowed the robe of honor on her. She is sincere,

Belonging to God for whatever she did
with that robe; and richly blessed

For intercession of the two traits – lo!
The Guardian, blessing her

With these two, guarding over His possessions.
And the two are these, these –

Virtues; and comprehensive knowledge.
The ṣūfī Way is derived from these two.

So all praise belongs to God, the One for
whom this one is based on these two.

And all praise belongs to God, the Most-High.
A robe of honor, of an obscure figure.

She is in a long, wide robe of honor,
a Pen of the Divine reinforced –

In her a marked letter; her key text,
‘The kingdom belongs to God!’ Lo,

I have never seen a marked letter like it,
in all the world – a palimpsest garment!

Arabic transliteration

albastu umm muḥammadin
thawabaʾt-taṣawwuf muʿlimā

bi-shurūṭihi mustawthiqan
min-hā li-dhāka wa muḥkimā

mā taqatḍīyahi wa sallāmat
fa-minḥatuhā mustaslimā

li-llāhi fīmā qad faʿlat
min al-libāsi wa munʿimā

li-shafāʿati ʾṣ-ṣifatayni idh
kāna ʾl-muhaymanu anʿumā

bi-humā ʿalā mamlūkahi
wa humāʾl-latān humā humā

khuluqun wa ʿilmun jāmiʾun

waʾl-ḥamdu (K waʾl-mulku) li-llāhiʾl-ʿaliyyi
libāsu shakhṣin mubhamā (K minhumā)

fī khiraqtin farjīyatin
qalamuʾl-ilāha qad aḥkamā

fīhā ruqūman naṣṣuhā
al-mulku li-llāhi famā

ʿāyantu raqman mithluhi
fīʾl-ʿālimīna munamnamā

Rāḍīyah, well-pleased with God

Rāḍīyah,[1] well-pleased with God; from our hand
a clothing of honor by which she was granted perfect completion;

A clothing of honor by which she was raised high in elevation and in religion.
She reached the stations of the great Men.[2]

In this way God has invested her with
a garment of exalted honor, and receptivity, and beauty;

And illumination, and brilliance, and lightning flashes;
and handsome proportion,[3] and stunning radiance, and great majesty.

As much as she was seen, what we saw in her made us lose ourselves!
Such fineness, such confidence in deportment!

God preserve her in her covenant!
Guarding her is on me – through the long dark nights.

Arabic transliteration

labisat Rāḍīyah min yadinā
khirqata nālat bi-hā ʿaynaʾl-kamāli

khirqata ʿulūwīyata dīnīyat
alaḥaqat-hā bi-maqāmāt al-rijāli

wa ka-dhāk allāhu qad albasa-hā
thawab ʿizzin wa qabūlin wa jamāli

wa ḍīyāʾin wa sināʾin wa sanā
wa aʿtidālin wa bahāʾin wa jalāli

kullumā ubṣiruhā ghayyabanī
mā narā min ḥusni dallin wa dalāli

ḥafaẓa allāh ʿalayhā ʿahdahā
wa ʿalaynā ḥifẓahā ṭūl al-layāli.

[1] The serene soul (rāḍīyah, and the woman Rāḍīyah) is told: Return to your Cherisher – you who are well-pleased with Him, He well-pleased with you (al-fajr 89:28)

[2] Men are a degree (higher) over women; men have more religious requirements than women (and so women are ‘less in religion’); and rijāl are the great Men – who ‘may be women or men’. alḥaqa is reach but also overtake – the image is the great women (like Mary, the consummate ‘perfectly complete’ human being) starting the race from way behind the men but then overtaking even the best men (who had the head-start). In the chapter on fasting in the Futūḥāt, Mary is said to have recognized that women are ‘less in religion’, which clearly means required to do less tasks than men are; and so she fasted twice as much as men did and ‘overtook’ them.

[3] This speaks to beauty in human faces as symmetry; and Gabriel was a ‘well-proportioned man’ when he met Mary in the Annunciation. I use ‘handsome’ because her beauty is not female beauty as judged by males.