Articles and Translations

The Image of Guidance – Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī as ḥadīth Commentator

Stephen Hirtenstein

Stephen Hirtenstein has been editor of the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society since its inception in 1982, and is a co-founder of Anqa Publishing [/].

He read History at King’s College, Cambridge, and then studied at the Beshara School of Intensive Esoteric Education in Gloucestershire and Scotland. After a teaching career, he began writing and giving talks on Ibn Arabi’s thought at conferences across the world.

In addition to lecturing and writing, he organises and leads tours "in the footsteps of Ibn Arabi".

He currently works as a Senior Editor for the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, and lives near Oxford.


Articles by Stephen Hirtenstein

The Image of Guidance – Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi as Hadith Commentator

Establishing Ibn Arabi’s Heritage: First Findings from the MIAS Archiving Project | with Jane Clark (PDF)

“I entrust to you a bequest” – Ibn Sawdakin | Translation

Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi: The Treasure of Compassion

Selected Major Works of Ibn Arabi

Seleção das maiores obras de Ibn Arabi (Portuguese)

De Volta a Deus (Ibn Arabī 1182–1184) – Capítulo 5 de O Compassivo Ilimitado (Portuguese)

Some Preliminary Notes on al-Diwan al-kabir

The Brotherhood of Milk – Perspectives of Knowledge in the Adamic Clay

“O Marvel!” – A Paradigm Shift towards Integration

The Mystic’s Kaaba – The Cubic Wisdom of the Heart According to Ibn Arabi

Physical Sustenance in Sufi Literature: A Case-study of a Treatise by Abd Allah al-Busnawi | with Hülya Küçük

Malatyan Soil, Akbarian Fruit: From Ibn Arabi to Nyazi Misri

The Prayer of Blessing [upon the Light of Muhammad] by Abd al-Aziz al-Mahdawi | with Pablo Beneito| Part 1, the Introduction

The Prayer of Blessing [upon the Light of Muhammad] by Abd al-Aziz al-Mahdawi | with Pablo Beneito| Part 2, the Translation

Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi’s al-Nusus | with Hülya Küçük

Names and Titles of Ibn [al-]‘Arabi

Kitâb al-fâna' fi-l mushâhadah, by Ibn 'Arabi | with Layla Shamash

The Great Dīwān and its offspring: The collection and dispersion of Ibn 'Arabī's poetry | with Julian Cook

The library list of Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī | with Julian Cook

Malik MS 4263: A Manuscript Case-study


Translations by Stephen Hirtenstein

Kitâb al-fâna’ fi-l mushâhadah by Ibn ‘Arabi


Podcasts and Videos by Stephen Hirtenstein

The Healer of Wounds: Interpreting Human Existence in the Light of Alchemy and Ascension

Reviving the Dead: Ibn Arabi as the Heir to Jesus

Introduction to the “Light & Knowledge” Conference

The Mystic’s Kaaba – The Wisdom of the Heart According to Ibn Arabi

“O Marvel!” – A Paradigm Shift towards Integration

Spiritual Life, Living Spirit – Ibn Arabi’s Meeting with Jesus and John

The Secrets of Voyaging


Sadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī, or to give him his full name, Abū al-Maʿālī Muḥammad b. Isḥāq b. Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. ʿAlī al-Qūnawī, son of the vizier Majd al-Dīn Isḥāq who served the Seljuk sultans in Konya, appears to have been known in his own lifetime as al-shaykh al-kabīr, ‘the great spiritual master’. There is no evidence that this was done to contrast him with Ibn ʿArabī, who was later known in the Ottoman world as al-shaykh al-akbar, ‘the greatest master’. Rather, it seems likely that this epithet was to enhance al-Qūnawī’s status at a time when others were prominent in Konya. The honorific titles bestowed upon him by those who knew him directly are exceptional, even by the prolix standards of thirteenth-century Konya: ‘leader of the leaders who are the knowers of God in the worlds, most perfect of the heirs of the prophets and messengers’ as one manuscript puts it.[2] This firstly affirms al-Qūnawī as the premier spiritual master of his time, a brilliant era that included Mawlānā Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī. However, one should remember that while this view of al-Qūnawī is one expressed by his students, who were no doubt quite partisan, at the same time they and he himself considered Rūmī to be the ‘master of Muhammadian (or mystical) poverty’.[3] The second phrase ‘most perfect of the heirs of the prophets and messengers’ also clearly situates him within the line of Ibn ʿArabī, indeed as the akbarian heir par excellence.

My focus here is on the last book he wrote: his commentary on forty ḥadīths, known as Sharḥ al-Arbaʿīn ḥadīthan. The work was never completed, only reaching twenty-nine ḥadīths, with commentary, before al-Qūnawī’s death in 673/1274. As a ḥadīth scholar al-Qūnawī was considered supreme in his day, ‘the King of Traditionists’ as Aflākī called him.[4] In this respect he was faithfully following in the footsteps of his master Ibn ʿArabī, who was himself a consummate muḥaddith and had also compiled several works of ḥadīth. However, there is also a marked difference. Ibn ʿArabī never wrote a formal commentary on ḥadīth: in his Mishkāt al-anwār, for example, he gathered 101 ḥadīth qudsī in two sections of forty, plus an extra twenty-one, without further elaboration, as a way of adhering to the advice of the Prophet himself that ‘whoever preserves for my community forty ḥadīths of which they stand in need, God shall put him down as learned and knowing.’[5] Al-Qūnawī also quotes this ḥadīth (with a slight variation) at the beginning of his text as his justification for compiling his own collection of forty. However, well aware of other authors’ compilations, he seems to have chosen to add a commentary on each of the forty ḥadīths specifically to show how akbarian thinking explains the inner meanings of the prophetic tradition. This is borne out by the very first lines of the introduction to the work, written in an elegant Arabic rhyming prose (sajʿ) reminiscent of his master:

Praise be to God who adorned the heaven of the Hanifian Way (al-milla al-ḥanīfiyya) with the stars of divine rulings, and religious commands and counsels, and who thus guided the one whose chest was opened up for true submission (islām), and was liberated from the calamities of doubt and the veils of darkness; who beautified the deepest interiors with the shining lights of faith (īmān); who made visible on the dawning horizons of that heaven the moons of right guidance to direct the people of the degrees of right action (iḥsān); who in the easts of His Providential Grace disclosed the suns of experiential certain knowledge to the hearts of the best of His creation, the people of pure soul and prophetic aspiration;[6] who from the best of this quintessence extracted a people whom He selected for His own Self, revealing Himself to them in the form of His Knowledge, which is dependent on His Essence and on each thing, and thus describing them with an essential everlasting quality,[7] so that they uncover the divine and worldly realities and mysteries that are hidden to others.[8]

From the outset of this densely allusive passage al-Qūnawī establishes the Prophet Muhammad within the panoply of the prophetic tradition, as one whom God guided with the light of submission, faith and right action. He restored the true monotheism (tawḥīd) of Abraham who is known in the Qurʾan as ḥanīf (a word variously translated into English as true believer or orthodox, but which means one who ‘inclines’, ḥanafa, to the true God, away from anything other, according to Ibn ʿArabī[9]). In the Qurʾanic usage this epithet is usually contrasted with the one who attributes partners to God (mushrik), and for many Muslims the religion of the ḥanīfiyya became a synonym for Islam, as the monotheistic religion par excellence. The Abrahamic connection here is also conveyed in the images of stars, moon and sun, recalling the famous Qurʾanic passage of Abraham’s journey to becoming ḥanīf.[10] Muhammad is thus first and foremost one who is guided (mahdī) by the Light of God, and it is only through his being divinely guided that he can be the guide or director to others.

Al-Qūnawī is also here directly employing classical terminology in a typically akbarian outlook: he refers to the three tenets of islām, īmān and iḥsān, which were the subject of Gabriel’s famous questioning of the Prophet, and were discussed in detail in Ibn ʿArabī’s Mawāqiʿ al-nujūm, where the same imagery of stars, moon and sun is also used to distinguish different degrees or levels. In addition, al-Qūnawī couples islām to the cleansing of Muhammad’s chest (‘whose chest was opened up for submission’), when his heart was taken out and washed by angels to cleanse it of the blood-clot of human deviation; thus he situates islām at its highest degree, not as formal practice or creed but as something entirely intrinsic to the human reality. By describing īmān as illuminating the inmost parts of the soul and iḥsān as the pure actions which flow from being rightly guided, al-Qūnawī also makes an implicit reference to the Qurʾanic verse (41:53) ‘We shall show them Our Signs upon the horizons and in themselves until it is clear to them that He is the Real’. In short, in this condensed passage al-Qūnawī is describing the Prophet as the full exemplar and manifestation of the Complete Human Being (al-insān al-kāmil), created in the Divine Image, simultaneously the most perfect servant of God and the place where God can manifest Himself most completely. Thus Muhammad is guided by not attributing anything to himself, by being surrendered to God, and he is the guide because it is through him that the Divine Qualities and Names find their fullest expression.

This particular collection, all of which shows al-Qūnawī’s rich experience of Qurʾan and ḥadīth, having been personally taught by muḥaddith experts in Syria, is part of a well-known genre. Forty-ḥadīth collections by earlier Sufis include those by Abū ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (d.412/1022), ʿAbd Allāh al-Anṣārī (d.481/1089) and Aḥmad al-Rifāʿī (d.578/1182). Amongst al-Qūnawī’s contemporaries we may mention Muḥammad b. Abū Bakr al-Rāzī al-Usfūrī (d.666/1268), who wrote a Sharḥ Ḥadīth Arbaʿīn, and perhaps most famously of all, Yaḥyā b. Sharaf al-Nawawī (d.676/1277), whose al-Arbaʿūn was extensively commented on and translated into other languages. Al-Qūnawī’s collection has largely been unstudied in the West, perhaps partly because it was unfinished, but more likely as part of the general tendency to overlook his writings that has lasted until the present day. As he explains in his introduction, it sprang from a direct request from his friends and companions:

When a group of religious, erudite people from earlier generations became convinced, by virtue of the soundness of various chains of transmission, of the authenticity of the ḥadīth in which the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, said: ‘Whosoever preserves for my community forty ḥadīths on the prescriptions of religion (dīn), God shall raise him up on the Day of Resurrection as learned and knowing’, then they were keen to bring out collections of forty ḥadīths in various different ways. Some like Ibn Wadʿān[11] selected ḥadīths that include religious advice as found in the Prophet’s sermons; others chose ḥadīths that concentrate on [legal] rulings (aḥkām) or those that discuss the meeting [with God] or long ḥadīths,[12] and so on. Some of my friends and companions happened to notice and discover that my stock of knowledge of ḥadīth is, by the grace of God, abundant, and that my dealings in the inner knowledge of its mysteries bring profit, not loss. So they begged me to compile a set of prophetic ḥadīths and discuss them in the manner of some of those who came before… Then God opened up my chest for the bringing out of a collection of prophetic ḥadīth that originate from the station of synthesised speech (jawāmiʿ al-kalim), and for the unveiling of their mysteries which include gems of wisdom, with chains of transmission, all of which are proven and have been verified by my hearing them from pious masters, who combined a full literal understanding and the highest authority for transmission…[13]

Here we can see how meticulous al-Qūnawī is in establishing the correctness of the ḥadīths that he is going to discuss, as well as his own credentials in what was a well-established field with its own demanding criteria. Unlike his master Ibn ʿArabī, whose Mishkāt al-anwār is a collection of divine sayings (ḥadīth qudsī), al-Qūnawī sets himself to focus on the other main grouping, accounts of the sayings and actions of the Prophet (ḥadīth nabawī). In each case he gives the text of the ḥadīth followed by a commentary on it in the form of ‘unveiling its mystery and elucidating its true meanings’ (kashf sirrihi wa īḍāḥ maʿānīhi), quoting liberally from the Qurʾan and other ḥadīth in explanation (there are some 100 ḥadīths in total mentioned in these twenty-nine chapters). The ḥadīths deal with such diverse subjects as cleanliness and purity, lawful ways of earning a living, remembrance and glorification of God, the greatest name of God, upholding the ties of kinship, the superiority of the congregational prayer over individual prayer, the creation of Adam in the Divine form, and so on. Rather than focusing on the literal meaning of the ḥadīth, as had been done before, he sets himself to link tradition directly with the science of Sufism. His concern, he says, is with ‘the inner knowledge (maʿrifa) of what the Prophet meant, and explaining the wisdoms and mysteries that his words contain’.[14]

We may cite two brief examples of al-Qūnawī’s method before looking at one in more depth. The third ḥadīth is reported by Rifāʿa b. Rāfiʿ:

One day we were praying behind the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him. When he raised his head from the bowing (rukūʿ), he said: ‘God hears the one who praises Him’ (samiʿa Allāh liman ḥamida). A man behind him continued: ‘Our Lord, praise be to You, with a praise that is good and full of blessing’ (rabbanā laka al-ḥamd ḥamdan ṭayyiban mubārakan fīh). After completing the prayer, the Messenger asked: ‘Who was it who said that?’ and the man replied ‘Me’. [The Prophet said:] ‘I saw just over thirty angels rushing to be the first to write it down!’[15]

In his commentary al-Qūnawī points out that every form must have a spirit, which may be more or less evident. This is so with words and letters just as much as with physical forms. The mystery of the apparently vague number of angels can thus be explained by the specific number (33) of Arabic letters in the additional prayer, each of which has a spirit or angel that establishes it and preserves its pronunciation. This doctrine is of course prominent in the writings of Ibn ʿArabī, who views the science of the letters as one specifically given to the saints (awliyāʾ).

The tenth ḥadīth is taken from the Ṣaḥīḥ:

The child of Adam receives recompense for all his expenditure, apart from what he invests in water and clay.[16]

Al-Qūnawī comments on this in terms of buildings, as this is one way of understanding ‘water and clay’, although the subtext of his discussion is that water and clay symbolise the whole material world. He explains that ‘The form of an action is an accident, whose substance is what the doer intends, the knowledge they possess, what they believe in and what they aspire to.’ While building a mosque or some kind of prayer-house brings a sure reward, the kind of building meant in the last part of the ḥadīth, which receives no recompense, is one

where the owner only wants it to be bigger and better than others, more luxurious and so on. When the goal and intention of the builder is like this, then it does not go beyond this world, and so this construction cannot bear fruit or reward in the Hereafter. This is because in what he does, the person seeks nothing more than this worldly abode. So his acts are simply accidents destined to vanish. There is no way by which they can pass from here to the other world. They bear no fruit, they bring in no recompense.[17]

The Image of Guidance

In perhaps the longest section of the collection, the twenty-second ḥadīth, al-Qūnawī cites a tradition recorded by Ibn Masʿūd that the Prophet said: ‘Whoever sees me in a dream has really seen me. For the Satan cannot impersonate me.’ He gives three other versions of the ḥadīth for clarity and comprehensiveness: ‘The Satan cannot represent himself in my form’; ‘The Satan cannot make himself into me’; and finally ‘Whoever sees me has seen the Truth (ḥaqq), for the Satan cannot present himself as me’.[18] The second version is close to that reported by Ibn ʿArabī from the Andalusian muḥaddith Baqī b. Makhlad, in the chapter on Isaac (Isḥāq) in his Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam, where he discusses which aspects of a dream can be taken at face-value and which require interpretation: ‘Whoever sees me in a dream has seen me in waking, for the Satan cannot represent himself as my form’.[19]

The same theme of the truth of the prophetic image and the reality of interpretation is the subject of al-Qūnawī’s commentary, which runs to some twenty-seven pages of Arabic in the printed edition (compared to a mere four lines for the versions of the ḥadīth text). It includes a full discussion of the imaginal world (al-mithāl), the intermediate world where meaning takes form and form is endowed with meaning.

Al-Qūnawī begins his discussion with an illuminating framework:

Know that the Prophet manifested with all the properties of the Names and Qualities of God, both in their manifestation in the servant and in their spiritual realisation (takhalluqan wa taḥaqquqan).[20]

Immediately the frame of reference is again akbarian: both takhalluq and taḥaqquq and their complement taʿalluq (connection) were the basis of Ibn ʿArabī’s exposition of the Divine Names.[21] Here the focus is on the Prophet as the place where all the Divine Names and Qualities are in full expression. He is simultaneously one who has realised the human divine image, i.e. the Complete or Perfect Man (al-insān al-kāmil), and the fullest manifestation of that principle. This being the prerequisite for someone who acts as messenger and director to the Truth, then the primary quality that is visible to others in such a person must be guidance. Quoting the Qurʾanic verse ‘Indeed you shall guide to a straight path’,[22] al-Qūnawī adds:

[The Prophet] is the image of the name Guide, and the place of manifestation of the quality of guidance, while the Satan is the place of manifestation of the name Misleader and appears with the quality of misleading… The Satan in fact is the opposite of the Prophet, upon him be peace. And opposites cannot be united, nor can one of them appear in the form of the other. God created the Prophet for guidance.[23]

Since the Prophet can only appear with the attribute of guidance, it is impossible for the Satan to mimic this in any way. The form of the Prophet is thus also protected from error or deviation (maʿṣūm). While the historical Prophet is buried in Medina, his spiritual form is capable of manifesting to the believer across time and space, in the imaginal realm of the mithāl, i.e. in dreams or visions, although al-Qūnawī does add the important proviso that anyone who dreams of a different form to the one the Prophet had in his physical life – for example, as someone very tall or very short, fair-haired or old etc. – has not seen him. In addition, he states that one should understand the appearance of the Prophet allegorically, i.e. as the image of spiritual truth and guidance, rather than literally:

In fact, what the person sees in the dream is the form of the revealed law (sharʿ), which is related to the belief of the dreamer or his state, or to a quality or property of Islam or to the place in which the person has such a dream, all the while believing it to be the form of the Prophet himself. We have experienced this for ourselves several times and in others, and we have also often heard this confirmed by our shaykhs.[24]

To clarify how the Prophet or the image of guidance might appear, al-Qūnawī goes on to recount three very interesting dreams, two of which were told to him by Ibn ʿArabī and one that he experienced himself.[25]

Our shaykh, the most perfect imām, Muḥyī al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. al-ʿArabī, may God be pleased with him, told me a story concerning this. He had several dreams when he was a child, in which he was in the mosque in Ishbīliya (Seville), a town in the land of al-Andalus, and the Prophet was dead, covered in a winding sheet, in one of the corners of the mosque. When he was older, the shaykh joined the way of the people of God and abandoned his possessions, so that he had nothing of this world to own or occupy himself with, and God opened up a portion for him. He found himself in that same mosque with one of the people of distinction and good in that land… The shaykh said: ‘As I was entering the mosque with this friend of mine, I said: “I cannot pass the mosque without praying two prayer-cycles in it”. He told me: “You should pray in that corner”, pointing to the one where I had seen the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, dead and in the winding sheet. When I said I couldn’t, he told me I really shouldn’t refuse to do the prayer there. I replied: “But I once saw the Prophet in a dream in this spot, and he was dead and shrouded. So I find prayer [here] abhorrent.” He was astonished and said: “Actually you have seen the truth. Let me tell you the secret of your dream. That place used to be my house. The ruler of the Maghrib wanted to extend the mosque, and so he had one of the walls knocked down. He bought up the houses behind it, so that they became part of the mosque. The only one that remained was my house: they haggled with me over it and wouldn’t give me what I thought it was worth, so I refused to sell. They took it from me without my consent, just because they wanted it. What you saw in your dream was not the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. It was his Law, which was dead in relation to that place: it was concealed in the form of the sale, and it was not a proper transaction. In fact the place was acquired illegally. But now, I testify to you that I have relinquished my rights in favour of the Muslims, and we should pray in it.” So we went in and prayed there.’[26]

The appearance of the Prophet in an apparently negative form is thus transposed to reveal something universal about the nature of what is good and right. Interestingly it is through the intervention of Ibn ʿArabī that the situation is restored to rights. The same principle is also clear from the second dream that Ibn ʿArabī described:

He [Ibn ʿArabī] mentioned to me in Damascus that one of the righteous dreamed that he had slapped the Prophet, upon him be peace, and woken up in a state of terror. When the man asked for an explanation from one of his shaykhs, he was told: ‘The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is far too great for you or anyone else to raise a hand against him. The person you saw was not the Prophet – it was his Law, for you have violated one of its statutes (aḥkām). The slap in the face points to the fact that you must have done something forbidden, one of the great sins.’[27]

As the man couldn’t remember anything he might have done, he went home dejected and very concerned. His wife asked him what the matter was, and when she heard about the dream and the shaykh’s interpretation, she was taken aback and told him that she had broken a solemn promise she had made to him not to visit a certain person, but had been too afraid to tell him because it meant that they were actually divorced. The man was most repentant, and they made amends by observing the prescribed post-marital waiting period (ʿidda) and redoing the marriage contract.

This dream-image of the Prophet in a negative light is equally echoed in the third dream, the one that al-Qūnawī himself had:

As for myself, on the night that Baghdad was taken [by the Mongols], in the early morning I dreamt that the Prophet, peace be upon him, was covered in a winding sheet, lying on a bier, with crowds of people all around him. His head was uncovered, and his hair almost touching the ground. I asked someone what they were doing, and he told me: ‘We’re going to carry him off and bury him.’ Then it came to me that the Prophet was not actually dead, and I said to them: ‘But his face doesn’t look like the face of a dead man – wait a moment until we have found out the truth of the matter.’ Then I went close to his mouth and nose, and found that he was still breathing faintly. So I made them aware of this and prevented them from carrying out what they had intended. I woke up in a state of great distress and alarm.[28]

As al-Qūnawī explains, he came to understand that the dream concerned the catastrophe that had afflicted Baghdad on February 10, 1258, when the city surrendered to the Mongols. It was a huge psychological blow to Islam, from which it never recovered according to some: the greatest intellectual centre of the day was obliterated in a week of massacre, looting, rape and destruction. Al-Qūnawī states that he independently verified that the time of his dream coincided exactly with the taking of Baghdad.[29] Here the figure of the Prophet is clearly identified as land under Muslim rule (Dār al-Islām), or rather, the heartland of Islam, as Baghdad was the seat of the caliphate. What al-Qūnawī does not mention specifically is the fact that this disaster was not to be seen as terminal: he knew the Prophet was not dead and he prevented people burying him. The dream is thus not only a warning but also a message of hope in a time of great despair. The import of the dream as an example, however, is that ‘anyone who dreams of the Prophet, on him be peace, in his original form and is informed of something, has been informed truly’.[30]

Dreams, as we know from modern psychology, reflect the state of the dreamer, and al-Qūnawī goes on to describe in some detail the ways in which this happens, and the nature of the world of similitude (mithāl). He is particularly interested in the meaning contained within dreams of the Prophet or of the Real (ḥaqq) and how these are received. At the same time he holds out a much grander possibility of a reception free of the colouring of the self: that the dream can have an objective import by virtue of the purity of the human subject who receives it. This of course can be seen in prophetic dreams such as Abraham’s vision of himself sacrificing his son, but it may equally apply to anyone who reaches the degree of true humanity (insān). He speaks of how a dream may impress itself upon the imaginative faculty without any interference from the psychic level, and this may not only be something that occurs occasionally in the state of sleep, but as a constant awakened state, where the human becomes the divine epitome represented by the Prophet, where the human realises his true condition at the centre of the circle of all things and conditions, as the ‘Exact Middle’ (ḥaqq al-wasaṭ) in the station of no station.[31]

[For such people] God has put a living stamp upon their hearts, so nothing comes to their hearts from their souls which has been engraved within the soul previously or for the first time, except but rarely, accidentally, fleetingly. Rather perhaps, nothing from the unseen of the high world, as well as what is above that, is engraved in their soul due to a total lack of attribute or any kind of inclination away from the central point of equilibrium.[32]

Here the human being is liberated from any limitations, bonds or constraints that could define or impair full receptivity to the Divine. There is no deviating from the human as image of the Divine, no falling away into a lesser than total degree, no partiality for one aspect over another. In our modern world where writers and film-makers provide ever-changing images of goodness, as benign witches take the place of angels and animals become heroes, it is heartening to see that the human image still retains its primary focus of true virtue.[33] But what Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī points us to is the infinitely more heroic and precise picture of the human, an actualisation of all the Divine Names and Qualities in their plenitude and a total realisation of servanthood and non-ability before Divine Guidance. The epitome of this is the figure of the Prophet himself, whose appearance always demonstrates and guides to the ‘central point of equilibrium’.

Al-Qūnawī ends his commentary on the twenty-second ḥadīth with the following Qurʾanic verse of praise-giving:

All praise be to God, who has guided us to this. For we would not have been guided, were it not for God guiding us.[34]


Reprinted from Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Vol 49, 2011.


[1] A version of this article was presented at the First International Symposium on Sadreddin Konevi, Konya (May 20–21, 2008).

[2] imām al-aʾimma al-ʿālimīn billāh fī al-ʿālamīn, akmal waratha al-anbiyāʾ wa al-mursalīn (Miftāḥ al-ghayb, Yusuf Ağa 4865, ah 672). This wording, which was chosen during his lifetime, is not uncommon among his direct students.

[3] Quoted in Jāmī’s Nafāḥāt al-uns (Tehran, 1373), entry 495.

[4] See Shams al-Dīn Aḥmad-e Aflākī, The Feats of the Knowers of God (Leiden, 2002), trans. John O’Kane, p. 193.

[5] See Divine Sayings, text and translation of Ibn ʿArabī’s Mishkāt al-anwār (Oxford, 2004), p. 23.

[6] Ar: al-himam al-sunniyya, literally aspirations that follow the norm of the Prophet, i.e. aspiring to be like the Prophet in what he said and did.

[7] Ar: taḥliya, being described as having a particular quality, state or condition. The word is related etymologicaly to taḥallī, which Ibn ʿArabī defines as ‘the appearance of the characteristics of true servanthood, despite being endowed with the traits of the Divine Names’ (Fut.II.128). Here it designates that these people are described as ‘knowers’, since they know themselves through the Divine Knowledge.

[8] Sharḥ al-Arbaʿīn ḥadīthan, Arabic text by Hasan Yilmaz (Istanbul, 1990), p. 1.

[9] It is worth noting that some scholars derive the word from Syriac, where its primary meaning is ‘heathen’ or ‘pagan’. It was used by Christians to describe the idol-worship of Abraham’s people, and did not designate Abraham himself.

[10] See Q. 6: 76–79.

[11] Ibn Wadʿān (d.494/1101), whose full name was Abū Naṣr Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-Mawṣilī, wrote a compilation entitled al-Arbaʿūn al-Wadʿāniyya (English translation by Assad Nimer Busool as Sermons of the Prophet Muhammad (Goodword Books), 2002).

[12] Note that Ibn ʿArabī himself wrote two collections of forty ḥadīths (now lost) on these last two subjects – see Divine Sayings, p. 95.

[13] Sharḥ, pp. 2–3.

[14] Sharḥ, p. 3.

[15] See Bukhārī, Adhān 126, and Ibn Ḥanbal, 3/158.

[16] Sharḥ, p. 39.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Sharḥ, pp. 122ff.

[19] Fuṣūs al-ḥikam, ed. Abū ʿAlā al-Afīfī (Beirut, 1946), p. 86.

[20] Sharḥ, p. 122.

[21] See Ibn al-ʿArabī, Kashf al-maʿnā ʿan asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā, ed. and trans. Pablo Beneito (Murcia, 1997), where each Divine Name is treated under three headings, taʿalluq, taḥaqquq and takhalluq.

[22] Q. 42: 52.

[23] Sharḥ, p. 123.

[24] Sharḥ, p. 124.

[25] We may note the spiritual courtesy (adab) al-Qūnawī exhibits here since the number 3 is particularly associated with the Prophet.

[26] Sharḥ, pp. 125–6.

[27] Sharḥ, pp. 126–7.

[28] Sharḥ, pp. 127–8.

[29] He states that he was careful to check the timing without letting anyone know about his dream until after the news had been confirmed (a necessary precaution in the time before mass media and telephones!).

[30] Sharḥ, p. 128.

[31] See Chittick, ‘The Central Point’, JMIAS 35 (Oxford, 2004), pp. 25–45.

[32] Sharḥ, p. 146.

[33] As shown, for example, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books and Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.

[34] Q. 7: 43; Sharḥ, p. 150.