Articles and Translations

Towards a Biography of Sadr al-dīn al-Qūnawī

Jane Clark

Jane Clark is a Senior Research Fellow of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society and has worked particularly on the Society’s Archiving Project as well as looking after the library.

She has been studying Ibn Arabi for more than forty years, and is engaged in teaching courses and lecturing on his thought both in the UK (including Oxford University and Temenos Academy) and abroad (including Egypt, Australia and the USA), and in research and translation of the Akbarian heritage. She has a particular interest in the correlation of Ibn Arabi’s thought with contemporary issues. She organises the MIAS Young Writers Award.

Jane Clark was a co-founder of The Journal of Consciousness Studies and is currently editor of the Beshara Magazine [/]. She has presented many courses as part of the program of the University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education. A list of the freely available resources created or selected by her as a tutor can be found here: [/]


Articles by Jane Clark

Establishing Ibn Arabis Heritage: First Findings from the MIAS Archiving Project | with Stephen Hirtenstein (PDF)

Early Best-sellers in the Akbarian Tradition (PDF)

Towards a Biography of Sadruddin al-Qunawi

Fulfilling our Potential: Ibn Arabi’s Understanding of Man in a Contemporary Context

Universal Meanings in Ibn Arabi’s Fusus al-hikam: Some Comments on the Chapter of Moses

Some Notes on the Manuscript Veliyuddin 51 | with Denis McAuley

The Preface to the Tarjuman al-ashwaq (PDF)

Symbol and Creative Imagination | Event Report

Spiritual Realisation: Knowledge and Practice | Event Report


Podcasts and Videos by Jane Clark

Ibn ‘Arabi Counsels His Own Soul: Guidance and Deception in the Ruh al-Quds

Narrative and Mystical Perception: the two prefaces to Ibn Arabi’s Tarjuman al-ashwaq

“He Governs the World through Itself” – Ibn Arabi on Spiritual Causation

Sadr al-din al-Qunawi and His Relationship with Jalal al-din Rumi

“As If You Saw Him”; Vision and Best Action (ihsan) in Ibn Arabi’s Thought

Introduction to the 2018 UK Symposium “The Alchemy of Love”

The road to union is not what we imagined;
The world of the soul is not as we thought.
The source from which Khidr drank the water of life
Is in our own home, but we have buried it. [1]


In 1978, William Chittick wrote:

Although usually recognized by specialists as Ibn ‘Arabī’s most important disciple and the primary intermediary through whom his school gained influence, Sadr al-Dīn Qūnawī (d.673/1273–74) is still virtually unknown and unstudied in the West. Stéphane Ruspoli’s recent Ph.D. thesis concerning him is still unpublished, and as far as I know there is no other long study of him or any of his works in a western language.[2]

If this was notable then, it is even more notable that more than thirty years later this statement still stands. Not only is there no major published study of his ideas, but it is still the case that the only published translation into a western European language of any of Qūnawī’s major works is Michel Valsan’s French version of R. al-Tawajjuh al-atamm, which appeared in 1968.[2a] However, there are signs that the situation is changing. Much work has been taking place below the surface, and in 2008, the first international conference on al-Qūnawī’s life and thought took place in Konya,[3] drawing together scholars from all over the world to pool their knowledge. Hopefully these efforts will now begin to manifest publicly as books, articles and translations, and this volume of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society journal, the first publication in English devoted entirely to his work, will be just one step in a process which will bring the genius of this important figure to a much wider audience.

The neglect of al-Qūnawī is all the more curious given the high position that he occupied in his own lifetime. He was not only Ibn ‘Arabī’s designated successor, who assiduously consolidated his heritage in his teaching and writings. He was also a spiritual master in his own right, whose many revelations and spiritual experiences as recorded by his students and in his own journal show him to have reached the highest degrees of realisation. At the same time, he was a master of the exoteric sciences; he was considered the foremost teacher of hadith of his day, and was well-versed in philosophy and science, corresponding on equal terms with Nasīr al-dīn al-Tūsī, the famous astronomer and commentator upon Ibn Sīnā. The great akbarian Jāmī (d.898/1492) was later to say of him: ‘He gathered together all of the sciences, both exoteric and esoteric, both transmission-based and rational.’[4] Alongside this, he was a nobleman who inherited his father’s position in the Seljuk court and in the aristocratic futuwwa orders – therefore a man of wealth and standing with much influence upon his immediate society. In the description of his death by one of the earliest sources, the 14th-century historian al-Aqsarāyī, he is given the honorifics:

… the great shaykh (al-shaykh al-kabīr)… the shaykh al-Islām who was the lord of men, the leader of the Sufi masters and the guide of the ‘ulamā’ of his time, the Abū Hanīfa of his age, the wonder of his epoch in the sciences of hadith and the secrets of the treasures and subtleties, who was nick-named in the Sultans’ courts ‘the Caliph of Arabs and non-Arabs’.[5]

It is clear, however, from a study of his life that his activities in all these diverse spheres did not take him away from the task to which he had been dedicated from an early age, which was the dissemination and perpetuation of Ibn ‘Arabī’s vision. In this, he was extraordinarily successful. His reformulation of his master’s thought in his teaching and writing was so effective that within two generations Ibn ‘Arabī had become a major influence throughout the Islamic world, whilst he used his wealth and position to support his students and, after his death, to endow the famous waqf, or charitable foundation, which was so important in preserving the written heritage of Ibn ‘Arabī. At the same time, through his instruction in hadith, which was, as can be seen from Stephen Hirtenstein’s article in this volume,[6] imbued with akbarian insight, his sphere extended beyond Sufi circles.

Given the dearth of published information, this introductory article will attempt to draw together some of the recent research to sketch out a basic account of his life. In the process, it will discuss briefly the major written works and their subsequent influence. However, it is clear that writing was not al-Qūnawī’s first priority, as it was only in the last decade of his life that he produced the major written works for which he was to become famous. Both before Ibn ‘Arabī’s death and after, his energies were largely directed towards lecturing and teaching, and his gift for this attracted a group of highly able students whose work in both poetry and prose were major vehicles for the preservation of his teaching. The account will therefore also consider some of the most important figures in this circle, although in such a short article the treatment will have to be extremely brief.

I will be drawing upon both published and unpublished sources. Of the former, the most important are, firstly, the snippets of autobiographical material left by Sadr al-dīn himself and his early followers in their writings, and secondly, the work of William Chittick, whose series of books and articles, in some cases with collaborators, appeared during the 1970s and ’80s and still constitutes the most comprehensive study of al-Qūnawī and his circle to date.[7] In addition there are the two major biographies of Ibn ‘Arabī by Claude Addas and Stephen Hirtenstein[8] and Aflākī’s biography of Rūmī, Manāqib al-‘ārifīn, which, despite exhibiting the bias characteristic of the genre, nevertheless gives a vivid picture of spiritual life in 13th-century Konya.[9] Of the unpublished sources, the two most important are Ph.D. theses by Omar Benaïssa entitled ‘L’ére de l’homme parfait: L’école d’Ibn ‘Arabî en Iran, aux 13ème et 14ème siècles (Les transmetteurs et la doctrine)’,[10] and Richard Todd, entitled ‘Writing in the Book of the World: Sadr al-dīn al-Qūnawī on Man’s Existential Journey’.[11] Both of these, as well as providing excellent analyses of al-Qūnawī’s thought and influence, have accessed sources which shed new light on the biography. In addition, I have drawn upon the work that Stephen Hirtenstein and I have done on the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabī Society archiving project, in which we have studied and catalogued many of the earliest manuscripts of the akbarian tradition. From the samā’ certificates on these texts, recording the place and date on which works were written, or the company in which they were read out, it is possible to glean information about Sadr al-dīn’s contact with Ibn ‘Arabī as well as details of his own writing.[12] This account does not claim to be definitive; on the contrary, as will be seen, the attempt to create a coherent picture immediately throws light upon many areas where further clarification and research are needed. What is presented here is therefore merely a first step towards establishing a view of al-Qūnawī as an independent figure, stepping out from the shadow of his great master.[12a]


Early Life (605–26 / 1209–29)

The life of Sadr al-dīn – or to give him his full name, Abū al-Ma’ālī Sadr al-dīn Muhammad b. Ishāq al-Qūnawī – is of interest, according to Todd:

not only because of his crucial role in the intellectual milieu of his day and his close association with many of their outstanding figures, but also his proximity to the geographical and political stage on which some of the most significant events of his epoch unfolded.[13]

Here he refers to Anatolia where Sadr al-dīn was born and lived for most of his life, which at that time was under the rule of the Seljuks of Rūm. This was an enlightened and vigorous dynasty which prospered both economically and culturally, experiencing a flowering in the first half of the 13th century in art and architecture, literature, religion and science as well as social policy (hospitals and commerce). In addition, he spent substantial stretches of time in Damascus and Cairo, which were the centres of the Ayyubid dynasty. Within a wider context, he lived at a time when Islamic culture was in many ways at its peak: there was a large educated elite and established modes of communication which allowed for a high level of intellectual exchange; in the sciences, al-Tūsī (d.672/1273) was working on astronomy in the great observatory at Maragha, and Ibn Nafīs (d.687/1288) was extending the understanding of anatomy in Cairo; poets such as Ibn al-Fāriḍ (576–632 / 1181–1235), ‘Attār (d. c .638/1241) and Jalāl al-dīn Rūmī (d.672/1273) were contributing to a golden age of literature, and spiritual masters such as Najm al-dīn Kubrā (d.620/1221), Abū Hafs al-Suhrawardī (d.631/1234) as well as Ibn ‘Arabī (d.638/1240) himself were establishing new modes of spirituality.

At the same time, it was an era of great uncertainty and instability. In the far west, Islamic Spain was under attack, and within Sadr al-dīn’s lifetime the great cities of Seville and Cordoba would fall to the Christians. In the middle regions, it was the era of the crusades; Sadr al-dīn’s life coincided with six separate crusades (4th–9th), with Jerusalem changing hands twice. Even more dramatic were the Mongol invasions, which were terrorising the eastern regions of Islam. There were large population movements as people fled from attack in both the east and the west, and places like Konya became a melting pot where people from different cultures met. Ibn ‘Arabī, one of the many men of learning who left Andalusia at this time, and Rūmī, whose family had fled from Balkh under the threat of the Mongols, were both brought to Anatolia through the force of these events. Sadr al-dīn himself would see the fall of his hometown, Konya, in 1243, and of the seat of the caliphate, Baghdad, which in 1258 was sacked by Hulagu Khan and its great library destroyed.

Sadr al-dīn’s father, Majd al-dīn Ishāq b. ‘Alī b. Yūsuf al-Qūnawī, was deeply involved in these events in the middle regions. An aristocrat – some sources even maintain that he was a prince – and a man of great standing in spiritual circles, he was also one of many teachers who at that time also became advisors to rulers. He had a particular relationship with the Seljuk sultan Kaykhusraw I (r.588–92 / 1192–96 and 601–07 / 1205–11) and his son and heir ‘Izz al-dīn Kaykā’ūs (r.608–16 / 1211–20), and was also one of the leaders of the programme initiated by the ‘Abbāsid Caliph al-Nāsir in Baghdad in order to strengthen and unify the Dār al-Islām through the establishment of the futuwwa (chivalric) orders.[14]

It was through Majd al-dīn that Ibn ‘Arabī had come to live in Anatolia in about 602/1205, finding it to be a secure place to settle his young family. The two men had met in Mecca during Ibn ‘Arabī’s first visit there in 600/1204[15] and became firm friends; the strength of their affection for each other is mentioned again and again by commentators, and clearly informed Ibn ‘Arabī’s relationship to Sadr al-dīn throughout his life. For example, in the extant ijāza (or permission to teach) for the books Sadr al-dīn was later to study with him, he is referred to as ‘the son of Majd al-dīn, my kindly (or righteous) companion’.[16] When Majd al-dīn died, Sadr al-dīn came under the guardianship of Ibn ‘Arabī, who raised him and educated him as part of his own family, which according to what we know consisted of at least two sons – ‘Imād al-dīn, and Sa’d al-dīn who was younger than Sadr al-dīn (born 618/1221[17] ) – and a daughter. Some biographers, such as Jāmī,[18] maintain that Ibn ‘Arabī married Sadr al-dīn’s mother, and this would be supported by references on the manuscripts to Sadr al-dīn as ‘a son’ or ‘the righteous son’.[19]

We do not know the exact dates of Sadr al-dīn’s birth, or the death of his father. Of the former, the sources agree that it was somewhere in the region of 604–08 / 1207–11. For the purposes of this article, the date given by al-Aqsarāyī, 22 Jumādā II 605 / 1 January 1209, will be taken, with the proviso that it is subject to debate.[20] He was probably born in Konya, where the Seljuk court moved towards the end of his father’s life, for later commentators always refer to this as his ‘home town’. The sources tell us that he was seven or eight years old when his father died, which would mean that it was about 613/1216 when he came under Ibn ‘Arabī’s direct care. The first definite information that we have is that when Sadr al-dīn was an estimated 14 or 15, he was with Ibn ‘Arabī in Egypt when the Shaykh entrusted his education for a time to his friend Awhad al-dīn Kirmānī (d.635/1238). One of the early sources, Manāqib Awhad al-dīn Kirmānī, relates a touching speech made by Ibn ‘Arabī as he passed Sadr al-dīn into Kirmānī’s care:

You know the goodwill and affection I feel for Sadr al-Dīn. He is like a real son to me. What am I saying? He is far dearer to me than a son by the flesh. We are linked to each other by various kinds of kinship – first he was a child, then a disciple, then a student – and by a companionship which has spanned several years. I have fulfilled all the proper duties of a father towards his son, of a master towards his disciple, and of a teacher towards his student, and I have obtained for him the fruit of companionship and understanding of such a kind that no further obstacles remain. I have adorned his outer being with knowledge and with virtue; as for his inner being – that is, as regards the secrets of Reality and the method of following the Way – that also has been well and truly accomplished, thanks to guidance and good direction.[21]

Kirmānī, who had also been a companion of Majd al-dīn, was a great spiritual master in his own right, originally the son of a Seljuk prince in the town of Kirmān in Persia and a disciple of Rukn al-dīn al-Sijāsī of the Suhrawardiyya order. He was also a poet in the Persian manner, and his knowledge and affiliation with the traditions of Iran gave Sadr al-dīn a knowledge which complemented the instruction he received from Ibn ‘Arabī. According to the Manāqib, Sadr al-dīn himself used to say: ‘I have tasted the milk from the breasts of two mothers’,[22] which Benaïssa interprets to mean that he combined in himself ‘the eastern and the western, the Arab and Persian, the way which produces drunkenness and ecstasy, and the way which produces science and sobriety’.[23] The immediate cause of the transfer to Kirmānī seems to have been a journey to the Hijāz which Ibn ‘Arabī wished Sadr al-dīn to make – presumably to do the pilgrimage. Subsequently, the two of them visited Shīrāz in Iran, which was the home of Sadr al-dīn’s ancestors, staying for a period of around two years.[24]

We do not know the date when these events happened, although Addas argues convincingly that it must have been before 620/1223, when Ibn ‘Arabī moved to Damascus.[25] It is known, however, that in 624/1227 Sadr al-dīn was back with Ibn ‘Arabī in Damascus studying hadith with him, as there is a series of samā’ over a period of two months on a collection compiled by the great Maghribī muhaddith Abū Muhammad al-Azdī al-Ishbīlī.[26] In the following two years, Sadr al-dīn, no doubt under the direction of his master, continued to build on his knowledge of the traditional sciences: there are records of study sessions with Kamāl al-dīn al-Qafsī, known as al-Iskandarānī, in 624/1227 in Malatya, and an ijāza for Muslim’s Sahīh from Shaykh Sharaf al-dīn al-Sulamī in Aleppo in 626/1229.[27] According to al-Safadī, who is the earliest bibliographical source for his life, he also studied the Jāmi’ al-usūl by Ibn al-Athīr (d.606/1210) under the tutelage of Sharaf al-dīn Ya’qūb al-Hadhbānī (d.653/1225),[28] who had studied under the compiler himself. It was this, above all, that assured him of a prestigious position in the field of hadith scholarship, and he would subsequently pass on his knowledge to other scholars.[29]


Study with Ibn ‘Arabī (626–29 / 1229–32)

It is not until 626/1229, when he would have been around twenty-one, that we have any evidence of Sadr al-dīn studying Ibn ‘Arabī’s own works. The first manuscript on which his name appears, along with six other people, is K. al-‘Abādila in 22 Dhu’l Hijja 626 / 11 November 1229, in what was quite possibly the first reading of the work.[30] He then proceeded, in the following four or five years, to undergo an intense period of study under the direct supervision of Ibn ‘Arabī at his house in Damascus. This involved him reading more than forty works, including the first recension of the Futūhāt al-Makkiyya in Ibn ‘Arabī’s handwriting, comprising twenty volumes.[31] Remarkably, we have a detailed record of at least some aspects of this total immersion in the form of a series of study lists, dated between Muharram 627 / November 1229 and Jumādā II 629 / March 1232, written out by himself and signed by Ibn ‘Arabī, who gave him an ijāza, or permission to teach, the listed books.[32] In addition, several manuscripts have survived which give information about the individual sessions that made up this education: for example, readings of K. al-‘Aẓama with Ibn ‘Arabī in 627/1229,[33] and of K. al-Mu’ashsharāt in 630/1232.[34]

The study of these works seems to have consisted largely of reading them aloud to Ibn ‘Arabī (as he states, for example, in the case of al-Tanazzulāt al-Mawsiliyya and Mawāqi’ al-nujūm in Rabī’ II 628 / February 1231) or the Shaykh reciting to him (as with Tarjumān al-ashwāq in the same month).[35] In some cases, he also made copies, as with K. ‘Anqā’ mughrib and K. al-Isrā which he wrote out and had verified in 629–30 / 1232–33,[36] or the Fusūs al-hikam which he copied in 630/1233.[37] There is also an extant copy of al-Fihris dated 627/1230,[38] and an undated copy of Mawāqi’ al-nujūm in his handwriting, which it would be reasonable to assume also came from this period.[39]

There are several things to note about this period of training. Firstly, it is clear that Sadr al-dīn was already being prepared as Ibn ‘Arabī’s spiritual heir. The works on the study lists, whilst numbering only about half of the Shaykh’s verified output, include all the major long works, such as Rūh al-Quds, ‘Anqā’ mughrib, al-Tanazzulāt al-Mawsiliyya, K. al-Tajalliyāt and Dīwān, as well as the texts already mentioned. Further, Ibn ‘Arabī’s permissions include a general ijāza certifying that

Sadr al-dīn Muhammad, son of the late, kindly companion Majd al-dīn Ishāq … al-Qūnawī … has studied under me all the books named above and I grant him certification to freely relate them on my authority, along with all of my writings and the entirety of my authorised transmissions of every different type.[40]

This clearly presages Sadr al-dīn’s role as Ibn ‘Arabī’s principal heir, one aspect of which was his role as his literary executor. It seems that many of the original texts of the Shaykh’s works eventually came into Sadr al-dīn’s care; for instance, al-Habashī’s (d.618/1221) copy of Rūh al-quds carries a note indicating that it ended up in Konya,[41] presumably bequeathed to him after his companion’s death, and a note in Ibn ‘Arabī’s hand on the title page of the autograph Futūhāt tells us that the original of the second recension was specifically gifted to him.[42] These books, along with many others, and including the precious copy of the Fusūs written in his own hand, were preserved through a waqf (endowment) which he established. After his death they were kept in the mosque next to his tomb in Konya until the dispersion of the private foundations by Atatürk in 1927.[43] This waqf played an essential role in the passing down of Ibn ‘Arabī’s heritage, acting for more than 750 years as a centre which was visited by generations of followers in order to make copies of the works. The importance of this can only be understood if it is also remembered that, unlike Europe, the Islamic world did not embrace the printing press until the 19th century, and so direct copying from manuscript was the only means of dissemination.[44] Our work on the early manuscripts reveals that there are an exceptional number of texts from Ibn ‘Arabī’s lifetime which have survived compared to other comparable authors of his day,[45] and this is without doubt due to the arrangements which Sadr al-dīn put in place.

Secondly, there is the attention shown by Ibn ‘Arabī himself to the annotation of these study lists, evidenced by the precise listing and dating to the very day of the ijāza s. This is another unique feature of the akbarian tradition which is also seen on the manuscripts, where the dates and places of writing or subsequent copying, plus the names of all those attending readings, were meticulously recorded. The habit was continued by Sadr al-dīn himself, who even employed it when recording his own spiritual experiences in al-Nafahāt al-ilāhiyya, drawing the comment from Todd that ‘his precise chronicle of epiphanies and intuitions is quite unlike anything else in the annals of Sufi literature’.[46] Two conclusions can be drawn from this: firstly, that in this tradition, the written text has a very important place, in contrast with other ways in which the oral transmission from teacher to student is given priority; and secondly, that both Ibn ‘Arabī and Sadr al-dīn had their eyes on the future, when the verification of the texts would be required.

In fact, the hand of destiny was over their relationship from its very beginning. Sadr al-dīn was later to reveal to his closest disciple, Mu’ayyid al-dīn al-Jandī (d.700/1300), a vision which Ibn ‘Arabī related to him, which had happened even before the latter left the Maghrib:

God … showed me all my future states, both internal and external, right through to the end of my days. I even saw that your father, Ishāq b. Muhammad, would be my companion, and you as well. I was made aware of your states, the knowledge you would acquire, your experiences and stations, and of the revelations, theophanies and everything else with which God was to grace you.[47]

It is also from al-Jandī that we learn something of the interior nature of the instruction that Sadr al-dīn received from Ibn ‘Arabī, the manner of which was clearly continued with Sadr al-dīn’s instruction to some of his own students. This is also from al-Jandī’s Sharh al-Fusūs, which was the first and most influential of the detailed commentaries:

While my master and guide Muhammad b. Ishāq b. Yūsuf al-Qūnawī was giving me a commentary on the prologue to the book (i.e. the Fusūs), the inspiration of the world of the mystery manifested its signs upon him and the Breath of the Merciful (nafas al-rahmānī) began to breathe in rhythm with his breathing. The air from his exhalations and the emanations of his precious breaths submerged my inner and outer being. His ‘secret’ governed my ‘secret’ (bātinī) in a strange and immediate manner and produced a perfect effect upon my body and my heart. In this way, God gave me to understand in the commentary on the prologue the contents of the entire book, and in this proximity inspired in me the preserved contents of its secrets. When the shaikh [Qūnawī] realised what had happened to me … he related to me that he too had asked our master, the author [of the Fusūs ], to provide him with a commentary on the book which … had produced in him a strange effect by virtue of which he had understood the contents of the entire work.[48]

This passage makes clear that the reading, copying and annotating of Ibn ‘Arabī’s works was only the outer face of the instruction that was taking place. This reveals another distinct aspect of the akbarian tradition, which was that it was always a matter of drawing directly from the same essential source as Ibn ‘Arabī himself had. For instance, Sadr al-dīn wrote in the preface of his own commentary on the Fusūs, al-Fukūk, that his understanding of the work came not from formal teaching but by the grace of God who ‘granted me the [privilege] of sharing with him [Ibn ‘Arabī] in realising that which was revealed to him … and of taking from God without causal intermediary but rather from the purity of Divine providence and essential binding’.[49] Thus the apparently rather intellectual form of teaching and transmission through texts, which was to be the characteristic methodology of Ibn ‘Arabī’s followers, concealed or was complemented by this interior dimension of direct imbibing from the source.

It is interesting in this respect to note that it was also through al-Jandī, to whom Sadr al-dīn seems to have confided many secrets of both his own and Ibn ‘Arabī’s interior states, that Ibn ‘Arabī’s position as Seal of Muhammadian Sainthood, which was rarely mentioned in his own lifetime, became well known in the following centuries. In his own work, for instance, al-Jandī refers to Sadr al-dīn, as ‘the Perfect Man of his age, the Pole of Poles of the time and the khalīfa (successor) of the Seal of Muhammadian [Sainthood]’.[50] Thus we gather that there were aspects of his heirship which were not book-based at all. This is reinforced by information gleaned from both al-Jandī and Sadr al-dīn’s own works that indicates that in his own intimate spiritual experience he was following a trajectory in some ways similar to that of his master. For instance, like Ibn ‘Arabī, he seems to have been one of those special people who are taken to the very highest state of knowledge at the beginning of their entry onto the spiritual path, and who then, for the sake of teaching and advising others, go through the different states and stages one by one.[51] This following of the Shaykh’s own evolution is also illustrated by passages where Sadr al-dīn relates how on one occasion he went through a difficult experience which was identical to one undergone by Ibn ‘Arabī when he was about the same age.[52]


Middle Period (629–49 / 1232–51)

After this very intense period of study with Ibn ‘Arabī, Sadr al-dīn experienced a period of ‘asceticism and spiritual wandering’.[53] It is known that he went first to Anatolia,[54] and then to Egypt in 630/1233 with the purpose of visiting the famous Arab poet Ibn al-Fāriḍ (d.632/1234), whose Tā’iyya or ‘Poem of the Way’ he greatly admired.[55] But he was disappointed, as the great man was ill and was soon to die. Instead, he met a man who was to be a close companion for the rest of his life, the mystic and poet ‘Afīf al-dīn al-Tilimsānī (d.690/1291), and together they paid a visit to Ibn Sab’īn (613–69 / 1217–70), the famous peripatetic philosopher and Sufi.[56] When Sadr al-dīn returned to Damascus some time before 633/1235, he seems to have taken al-Tilimsānī with him and the latter subsequently studied with Ibn ‘Arabī.[57] It seems from the manuscripts that Sadr al-dīn spent more time with Ibn ‘Arabī in Damascus over the next two years,[58] but then there is no definite information until 639/1241.[59] There is some evidence that during most of this period he divided his time between Damascus and Konya[60] where, as his father’s heir, he would have had family property and possibly, having inherited Majd al-dīn’s position within the futuwwa orders,[61] duties at court; he also seems already to have started teaching.[62] By this time, he would have been in his early thirties.

It seems that Sadr al-dīn was not with Ibn ‘Arabī at the time of his death in Damascus in 638/1240. The evidence for this is the note, mentioned above, on the autograph copy of the Futūhāt in Ibn ‘Arabī’s own hand, which gives the book into the care of Sadr al-dīn as a riwāya (gift), mentioning an intermediary to the delivery, Majd al-dīn Abū Bakr b. Bundār al-Tabrīzī.[63] This would indicate that Ibn ‘Arabī was unable to pass it to Sadr al-dīn personally, and therefore had not seen him in the period between the last samā’ on the manuscript (637/1239[64] ) and the end of his life. Certainly he is not included in the list of people present at Ibn ‘Arabī’s burial.[65] The next information concerning Sadr al-dīn[66] is that he was in Aleppo in 639–40 / 1241–42 in the company of Ibn Sawdakīn and al-Tabrīzī, when the three men, occasionally joined by Muhyī al-dīn Surāqa, read substantial sections of the Futūhāt together at Ibn Sawdakīn’s house.[67] The implication must be that the book passed into Sadr al-dīn’s hands at this time. We also know that he studied with two hadith masters in Aleppo in 640/1242,[68] and that he experienced the first of three visionary events (wāqi’) in which Ibn ‘Arabī appeared to him posthumously and gave him instruction. On this occasion, he was advised to start writing down his own intuitions and experiences,[69] which he did until the last months of his life, and this record became one of his most important works, al-Nafahāt al-ilāhiyya.

Konya at this time was in turmoil, under attack by the Mongols, and in 641/1243 the Seljuk ruler Kaykhusraw II (r.634–44 / 1237–46) was defeated at the battle of Köse Dagh and had to flee to Antalya, where he died a few years later. Konya only avoided attack due to a settlement negotiated by the vizier, Muhadhdhab al-dīn. These events brought the 150-year-old dynasty of the Seljuks of Rūm to an end, and for the next decades the city was ruled by Mongol overlords.[70] We have little information about Sadr al-dīn’s whereabouts during this difficult period. Todd believes that he was unable to return to the city because of the disruption, and was thus in exile in Egypt or elsewhere.

We know for certain, however, because we have it on his own account, that in 643/1245–46 he travelled from Damascus to Cairo, where he had a meeting with the famous Abū al-Hasan al-Shādhilī (d.656/1258), founder of the eponymous order[71] and gave classes on Ibn al-Fāriḍ’s al-Tā’iyya (Poem of the Way).[72] He explains that when he returned to Egypt, he was approached by a number of ‘sufi masters’ to elucidate the meaning of this great poetic work, which would indicate that he had by this time already established a reputation and a following. These were the first of many lectures he gave on the subject, and over the next decades he continued them in Syria and Anatolia. There are at least two descriptions of their content, which is in itself a measure of the impact they had. The following is given by Shams al-dīn al-Īkī (d.672/1274), the one-time head of the Salāhiyya khāniqāh in Cairo who was part of Sadr al-dīn’s close circle.[73]

In the sessions of our Shaykh, the possessors and seekers of knowledge used to attend. The shaykh would speak about different sciences. Then he would end the session with one verse from the ‘Poem of the Way’ upon which he would comment in Persian. He expounded marvellous words and God-given meanings, but only the possessors of tasting (dhawq) could understand him. Sometimes on another day he would say that a different meaning of the verse had become manifest to him, and he would explain a meaning even more wonderful and subtle than before. He often used to say: ‘One must be Sufi to learn this poem and to be able to clarify its meaning for others.’ Shaykh Sa’īd Farghānī would devote all his attention to understanding what our shaykh said, and then he would record it. He wrote an explanation of the poem first in Persian, then in Arabic. This was all because of the blessing of our shaykh, Sadr al-dīn.[74]

These notes were eventually developed into a full commentary, Mashāriq al-darārī, to which al-Farghānī (d.699/1299) added a metaphysical introduction, the Muqaddima, which summarised the main features of Sadr al-dīn’s exposition. This book would become a major ‘best-seller’ in the following generations and was a crucial component in the wider dissemination of Ibn ‘Arabī’s vision.[75]

As in the works that he would write later, the Muqaddima makes it clear that Sadr al-dīn did not simply transmit Ibn ‘Arabī’s teachings as he found them, but was very much his own man, reformulating the ideas into a logical and coherent metaphysical system which was much more compatible with the modes of discourse amongst the intelligentsia of the time. One of the striking features of his mode of expression is that he rarely quotes from Ibn ‘Arabī, and his style is very different; Ibn ‘Arabī’s work tends to be interspersed with poetry, revelatory disclosures and references to earlier Sufi masters, and expressed in dense allegorical language. In contrast, Sadr al-dīn’s exposition is much more level and scientific in its tone and he did not on the whole use literary forms such as poetry – although we must not assume from this that his exposition was in any way dry, for, as we shall see, his classes were to inspire some of the most accomplished poets of his age.


Konya Years (649–68 / 1251–69)

By 649/1251, it seems that Sadr al-dīn had returned to Konya, as there is an extant manuscript containing four texts by Ibn ‘Arabī copied in the city, almost certainly under his supervision.[76] Then in 653/1255, again specifying that he was in Konya, he recorded another encounter with Ibn ‘Arabī which initiated him into the very highest spiritual degree.

I saw the Shaykh (may God be pleased with him) in the night of 17 Shawwāl 653 / 19 November 1255 in a long event. There passed between me and him many words and I told him in the course of the conversation that the effects of the Names derive from the predications (ahkām), and the predications from the states, and the states are particularised from the Essence in accordance with the predisposition, and the predisposition is an order which is not caused by anything else. He was extremely delighted by this explanation, and his face beamed with joy and he nodded his head. He repeated some of my words and said: ‘Excellent, excellent.’ I said to him: ‘Master, you are the excellent one as you have the ability to make the human being arrive at the point where he can perceive such things. By my life! If you are a human being, the rest of us are nothing.’

Then I came close to him and kissed his hand, and said to him: ‘There remains one thing I need.’ He said: ‘Ask.’ I said: ‘I desire realisation (tahaqquq) in the manner of your witnessing of the self-revelation of the Essence continually and eternally.’ I meant by that the attainment of that which came upon him from the essential self-disclosure, beyond which there is no veil and without which there is no establishment for perfection. He said: ‘Yes …’[77]

From this point, which must have marked Sadr al-dīn’s coming to complete maturity spiritually, he seems to have settled in Konya, although he records at least one further visit to Damascus in 666/1267.[78] Having been spared destruction, Konya was now under a secure Mongol protectorate, and it was flourishing, its population boosted by the influx of refugees fleeing the Mongol advance in the east. The Parvāna, Mu’īn al-dīn Sulaymān (d.675/1277) who was the de facto ruler, showed great reverence to masters of tasawwuf, and it seems that Sadr al-dīn was granted a large house. He is popularly considered to have had great wealth and to have lived the life of a nobleman.[79] Little is known about his family situation, beyond the fact that he had a son, Fakhr, and a daughter Sakīna, who are mentioned in his will.[80] He used his house, referred to as his zāwiya, for his teaching, and it is clear that during this period he was occupied with instructing students in Ibn ‘Arabī’s works, for we have several texts which were copied by students in Konya, as well as descriptions of his classes in Fusūs and Futūhāt .[81] It was in this period that he also rose to prominence as a teacher of hadith, and his house became the centre of the intellectual life of the town. Aflākī describes how:

it was the Shaykh’s custom that after the Friday prayers all the religious scholars, [Sufis] (fuqarā’) and commanders … would gather together in the lodge (zāwiya) and the shaykh would mention a problem or a subtle point for them to discuss and to examine. There would be a great tumult and the shaykh would not speak at all. In the end, he would say a few words to bring the discussion to a close.[82]

This was the period when Jalāl al-dīn Rūmī (d.672/1273) was also teaching in the city, and the presence of two such great shaykhs made Konya a centre for seekers of knowledge and spiritual guidance. The major concern of Aflākī, the earliest biographer of Rūmī, in his Manāqib al-‘ārifīn was to establish Rūmī’s status as teacher and founder of the Mevlevi order, sometimes, unfortunately, to the detriment of Sadr al-dīn. Nevertheless, his account makes it clear that the two men were close friends, with great respect and consideration for each other, and he paints a vivid picture of both the cultural milieu in which they were operating, and their interaction. For instance, they are portrayed as meeting often either in the mosque, at civic functions overseen by the Parvāna and attended by the a’yān, or important men of the town, or Rūmī is described as visiting Sadr al-dīn’s zāwiya for teaching sessions. There has been much speculation about the relationship of Rūmī to Ibn ‘Arabī and particularly to the concept of wahdāt al-wujūd,[83] but every indication is that these were Sadr al-dīn’s hadith and tafsīr classes, rather than classes on Ibn ‘Arabī’s work. Benaïssa, for instance, points out that in his writings Rūmī never mentions Sadr al-dīn as a teacher, nor makes mention of Ibn ‘Arabī, and vice versa .[84] This would tend to indicate that neither man took the other as a shaykh in the sense normally meant by the term, and if any transmission of Ibn ‘Arabī’s thought took place, it was not at a public level. However, as Semih Ceyhan points out in his article in this volume, it seems that the two men did spend significant amounts of time in private conversation and contemplation.[85]

Aflākī also mentions the remarkable group of people that Sadr al-dīn gathered around him. There is little information about who these were, as the manuscript tradition for Sadr al-dīn is less rich than that of Ibn ‘Arabī and has been much less studied. Also, the fact that he wrote his own works so late means that we have little information about the middle period of his life in particular. One of the earliest sources is a list given in Yusuf Ağa 5049–57, a nine-volume manuscript of Ibn Athīr’s Jāmi’ al-usūl, which records readings in 666/1267 – about eight years before his death – with Sadr al-dīn and sixteen other people.[86] There is also a record of the same work being read in the last year of his life (672/1273), this time with the brilliant polymath Qutb al-din al-Shīrāzī (634–710 / 1236–1311),[87] who was famous for his work on medicine, astronomy, mathematics and philosophy as well as the traditional sciences. He came to study hadith with Sadr al-dīn after having been working with Nasīr al-dīn al-Tūsī at the great observatory in Maragh, where he had been instrumental in solving the notorious ‘Mercury problem’.[88] He seems to have sought out Sadr al-dīn after a philosophical disagreement with al-Tūsī, looking for clarification, perhaps as a result of the correspondence between the two men (see below).

We also have some information about the followers whose works became well known in later centuries. Amongst the most important of these was Sa’īd al-dīn al-Farghānī, whose Mashāriq al-darārī, based, as already mentioned, upon Sadr al-dīn’s lectures, is one of the masterpieces of Islamic mystical writing; al-Farghānī also wrote an Arabic version of the commentary, Muntahā al-madārik, and a more general work, Manāhij al-‘ibād ilā al-ma’ād, which became incorporated into Qutb al-dīn al-Shīrāzī’s highly influential philosophical encyclopaedia, Durrat al-tāj.[89] Another important follower was Mu’ayyid al-dīn al-Jandī who joined Sadr al-dīn in the last decade of his life and became one of his closest companions; he went on to write the first detailed commentary upon the Fusūs as well as one on Mawāqi’ al-nujūm, plus seven other significant works.[90] Also mentioned above is ‘Afīf al-dīn al-Tilimsānī, who studied with both Sadr al-dīn and Ibn ‘Arabī, writing a Sharh al-Fusūs which may have preceded al-Jandī’s as well as commentaries upon al-Tā’iyya based upon Sadr al-dīn’s lectures and on Niffarī’s Mawāqif based upon classes with Ibn ‘Arabī. He was best known, however, for his poetry, writing a famous Dīwān which brought him eminence in his own right during his lifetime.[91]

Another poet who was drawn into the circle was Fakhr al-dīn ‘Irāqī (d.688/1289), the ‘drunken’ former qalandar (wandering dervish), who was a middle-aged man and a highly respected teacher with a substantial following of his own when he came to Konya. He arrived when Sadr al-dīn was giving lectures on the Fusūs and was inspired by it to write his Lama’āt, which has been one of the best-loved poems of the Persian tradition to the present day.[92] It seems that he took instruction from Sadr al-dīn, also studied al-Futūhāt with him, and remained devoted to him for the rest of his life.[93] Reference must also be made to Sa’d al-dīn al-Hamawayh (586–649 / 1191–1251) because of his great influence upon the Persian tradition. He studied with both Ibn ‘Arabī and Sadr al-dīn, and went on to be a prolific writer (with more than 400 books attributed to him). Towards the end of his life, after his return from Konya to the East, he taught ‘Azīz al-Nasafī (d. 700/1300) who was to become one of the great popularisers of wahdat al-wujūd in the next generation.[94]

Of these men in his close circle, only al-Jandī took Sadr al-dīn as his only master; all the others had been initiated by one of the many other great shaykhs of the Kubrawiyya or Suhrawardiyya teaching in the Middle East at the same time. It is therefore through al-Jandī that any silsila s arising from Sadr al-dīn pass.[95] Chittick raises the question of whether Sadr al-dīn had other students who took him as their shaykh and received their main spiritual education from him, and concludes that it is highly likely that he did;[96] this would therefore have been one of his major occupations during the last period of his life.


Final Years (668–72 / 1269–73)

It seems that it was not until his last decade that Sadr al-dīn, at the request of his students, began to put his ideas into written form. The earliest known copy of a work by him is his commentary upon the Fātiha, I’jāz al-bayān, written by a student in 668/1269.[97] In the following year, we have a copy of the same work transcribed by al-Farghānī, with an ijāza,[98] and in 670/1271 an authenticated copy of a smaller work, Nafthat al-masdūr with an ijāza to al-Jandī.[99] There are also copies of some other major works written during the last years under his supervision,[100] but for others, notably al-Fukūk and al-Nusūs, the earliest dated copies are nearly twenty years after his death.[101] The manuscript situation for his own works is therefore markedly less substantial than that for the works of Ibn ‘Arabī, and whilst Ibn ‘Arabī’s works were gathered together in Konya and preserved as a collection, Sadr al-dīn himself dispersed his writings by specifying in his will that they should be put into the care of al-Tilimsānī, who was already living in Damascus, ordering him ‘not to be niggardly in giving them to those in whom he sees the qualifications to profit from them’.[102]

No definitive bibliography of his works has yet been done, but there are probably about twenty-five overall, many of them short works of instruction to students, plus a number of rasā’il and letters.[103] There is some debate about the attribution of several of these, but a detailed overview lies outside of this brief review, which must be content with a mention of the most important long works, which are given below in possible order of composition.[104] Although Sadr al-dīn seems to have taught mostly in Persian, he wrote in Arabic, except where mentioned.

(1) Miftāh ghayb al-jam’ wa al-jūd (The Key to both the unmanifest aspect of synthesis and sheer generosity). An exposition on the ontological rank and defining characteristics of the Perfect Human Being (al-insān al-kāmil), this was perhaps the most influential of Sadr al-dīn’s works. It became a basic text in both Ottoman and Persian domains, read by both Sunni and Shi’i followers, and attracted a number of commentaries, the most famous being Misbāh al-uns by al-Fanārī, the first shaykh al-Islām of the Ottoman Empire. The correct title is subject to debate; here we have followed that given on the earliest manuscript, Yusuf Ağa 4865, written in Sadr al-dīn’s lifetime,[105] but in later manuscripts the work is referred to simply as Miftāh al-ghayb.

(2) I’jāz al-bayān fī ta’wīl Umm al-Qur’ān (Exposition on the interpretation of the Mother of the Qur’ān). Perhaps Sadr al-dīn’s master work, certainly the longest, it is from this book that Todd takes the title of his thesis ‘Writing in the Book of the World’, explaining that for Sadr al-dīn, ‘the cosmos is made in the form of a book which bears the forms of God’s names and the forms of the relations of His Knowledge which are stored in the Sublime Pen’.[106] In this ‘book of existence’, God has placed successive synopses, each of which is a perfect distillation of the one preceding it. The first of these synoptic copies is the Perfect Human; the second is the Qur’ān and the third is the Fātiha, in which is contained all that precedes it. The commentary is preceded by a long introduction setting out the doctrinal foundations of Sadr al-dīn’s exposition, including the theory of the ‘five Divine presences’ which he had developed based on Ibn ‘Arabī’s ideas.[107]

(3) al-Nusūs fī tahqīq al-tawr al-makhsūs (Texts on the verification of the distinguished degree). This consists of 20 metaphysical expositions or ‘texts’ of varying lengths, some of just a few lines. It is one of the most popular of Sadr al-dīn’s works, considered to contain the quintessence of his teaching. Some of the passages are taken from other works selected on the basis, he explains, that they represent the specific hallmarks of all his works, that is, they express those insights that derive from the knowledge given to him particularly.[108]

(4) Mufāwaḍāt (The correspondence with Nasīr al-dīn al-Tūsī). Some time before 672/1274 when the great philosopher died, Sadr al-dīn sent a series of letters to him by messenger, questioning him on various philosophical questions. Al- Tūsī replied, and in response Sadr al-dīn wrote back to him again. The resulting correspondence, consisting of up to seven parts, was much copied in the following centuries, either separately or altogether, to the extent that it can be considered a work in its own right. The underlying theme of the discussion is the on-going debate between the Sufis and the philosophers about whether true knowledge can be obtained through the ‘unaided intellect’ or through revelation/illumination from the Supreme Intellect.[109] The superiority of the latter, of what he called ‘the science of metaphysical revelation’ was one of the great themes of Sadr al-dīn’s writings and, like his master before him, he claimed that all his work came about through this, not through speculative thought. At the same time, he shows great familiarity and mastery of philosophical ideas both here and throughout his work; the source of this knowledge, like that of Ibn ‘Arabī, is unexplained, as neither man left any record of receiving instruction in philosophy.

(5) Nafthat al-masdūr wa tuhfat al-shakūr (The Sigh of relief of the tight-chested and the gift of the grateful) . This shortish work is part of the al-Tūsī correspondence but by accident because the student delivering the letter decided to include it, so it is also considered to be a work in its own right. It stands out stylistically from the rest of Sadr al-dīn’s writings, being partly in verse, and consisting of an ‘intimate discourse’ between the two chief aspects of his being, necessity and contingency, which correspond to the ranks of lordship and servanthood.

(6) R. al-Murshidiyya (The Treatise of Spiritual Guidance). Also known as R. al-tawajjuh al-atamm, this is a teaching text which deals with the matter of ‘spiritual orientation’ (tawajjuh), that is, the practice of total and continual concentration upon the Real. Sadr al-dīn attached particular importance to this work, as he refers to it in his will, urging his students to concentrate upon this practice. There was also a Persian translation entitled Maqālāt made during Sadr al-dīn’s lifetime.

(7) Al-Nafahāt al-ilāhiyya (The Divine Breaths). The second longest work, this is a chronicle of some of the epiphanies, visionary events and intuitions that Sadr al-dīn experienced over a period of thirty years, giving precise dates and times, plus some metaphysical elaboration upon the experiences. One of the principles which he expounds upon is a statement for which he was to become famous: kullu shay’in fī kulli
shay’in – everything is in everything.[110]

(8) al-Fukūk [ fī asrār mustanadāt hikam al-Fusūs ] (The breaking open [of the mysteries related to the wisdoms of the Fusūs ]).[111] This was the last completed work, written at the request of his disciples. It is not a detailed line-by-line commentary, as was done by later authors, but aimed at uncovering and dealing with questions which may have been left unanswered in the very dense exposition of the Fusūs . It is almost certainly a response to the many study sessions that he had held on the Fusūs over the years .

(9) Sharh al-hadith al-arba’īn (Commentary upon 40 Prophetic sayings). This is the very last work and is unfinished, as it contains only 29 of the intended 40 hadith. In the introduction, Sadr al-dīn comments upon people who limit themselves in their commentaries to the outer form of the hadith, or to notions of grammar, etc. saying that ‘…what is important, by contrast, is knowing what he [the Prophet] means thereby, and elucidating the wisdom and mysteries which his words contain’.[112]

It is clear from the texts that these last three works were being written simultaneously in the last few months of his life.[113] In 672/1273, Rūmī died, and he designated Sadr al-dīn to deliver the khutba at his funeral, which was considered to be a great honour. Al-Aqsarāyī recounts that:

Immediately upon finishing the funeral prayer, the Shaykh al-Islām fell ill and had to be carried back to his zāwiya. Eight months later he too passed into God’s mercy. When the sun of his benefit was eclipsed within the sphere of spiritual guidance … the group of scholars, masters, learned men and eminent personalities who had gathered round him split up and went their separate ways.[114]

Al-Aqsarāyī gives the date of his death as 16 Muharram 673 / 22 July 1274. He was buried next to his house, and in accordance with his own request that ‘no building should be built over my grave nor should any roofing be erected’, his grave was left open.[115] It can still be visited today in Konya. Next door is the mosque which for more than seven hundred years housed the collection of books held in his waqf (or foundation).

The reason why the group broke up is that in his will Sadr al-dīn had instructed them to leave Konya, saying: ‘Let whoever is single undertake to emigrate to Syria, for in this land turmoil will occur in which the safety of the majority will be endangered’.[116] This latter probably refers to the events surrounding the battle of Elbistan in 676/1277, when the Karamanlı Turks captured Konya and the Mongols took revenge on the city, with the Parvāna, who had been such a friend to Sadr al-dīn and Rūmī, being executed for treason.[117]

Whether this was the only reason, the effect was that, unlike Rūmī’s followers who remained in Konya and over the next generation established the Mevlevi order, Sadr al-dīn’s companions dispersed. Several, including Farghānī and eventually, ‘Irāqī, went to Damascus, where al-Tilimsānī had settled and offered them safe haven, having found such favour with the Mamlūk rulers that he had been made treasurer for the dominion of Damascus.[118] Al-Jandī went first to Tabrīz,[119] then to Baghdad where he occupied himself transcribing Sadr al-dīn’s works as well as writing his own books. It was here that he taught one of the most important commentators on – and defenders of – Ibn ‘Arabī’s doctrine in the next generation, ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Qāshānī (d.730/1329), who was to write a famous Sharh al-Fusūs[120] and eventually teach Dā’ūd al-Qaysarī, who would be so influential in introducing Ibn ‘Arabī’s ideas into the Ottoman empire. Many others, such as al-Hamawayh, returned to their homelands in Iran.

The other striking aspect of Sadr al-dīn’s will is that he did not appoint a successor in the teaching of Ibn ‘Arabī’s ideas, but urges his followers:

… not to take up after me the problematic questions in the intricacies of the intuitive sciences. Rather, they should limit themselves to pondering that which is unambiguous and clearly determined, without trying to interpret what is not plain and unambiguous, whether in my words or the words of the Shaykh. For after me, these are closed passages.[121]

The result was that whilst Rūmī’s teachings were preserved by a tarīqa and passed down from shaykh to shaykh, the akbarian tradition was transmitted in a different way, through books and commentaries, and through interior imbibing, as has been discussed in other places.[122] It was, however, no less influential and far-reaching because of this, and by the 18th century, as Todd notes, Sadr al-dīn’s works and those of his master ‘were being studied from the Balkans to the isle of Java’.[123] His importance in the preservation and formulation of Ibn ‘Arabī’s vision cannot be overstated and this has been long acknowledged within the Islamic world. As for the present day, as Ibn ‘Arabī’s work increasingly finds a wide audience in the western world, so it is possible that al-Qūnawī will once again find a role as a mediator and facilitator for his ideas. One of the aspects of this is that his mode of expression, being more philosophical than that of Ibn ‘Arabī, is especially attractive to modern readers without a religious background; another is that, as William Chittick has expressed it, he concentrates upon the essential teachings of Ibn ‘Arabī, especially regarding our humanity, asking: What is the reality of the human being? From what, in what and how did he/she come into existence? What is the goal of his/her existence?[124] These are questions which deeply engage us in the contemporary world, and Sadr al-dīn is well-poised to help us shed light upon them.



Transcription of names from Yusuf Ağa 5049–57, recording readings done in 666/1267 with Sadr al-dīn who heard the work from beginning to end:

  • Zayn al-dīn Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad b. Abū Bakr b. ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Rāzī
  • Taqī al-dīn Ahmad b. al-As’ad al-Sanjārī
  • Raḍī al-dīn Yūsuf b. Ismā’īl b. Ibrāhīm al-Tal’afarī
  • Najm al-dīn Ya’qūb b. Yūsuf al-Qarāghājī
  • Mu’īn al-dīn ‘Abd al-Majīd b. ‘Alī al-Jīlī
  • Shihāb al-dīn Abū Bakr b. Muhammad al-Hamadānī
  • Jamāl al-dīn Muhammad b. ‘Alī b. Abū Nasr al-Isfahānī
  • Kamāl al-dīn Ismā’īl b. ‘Abd al-Malik al-Tabrīzī
  • Shams al-dīn Muhammad b. ‘Umar al-Qūnawī
  • al-hāfiẓ Zayn al-dīn Muhammad b. Mas’ūd
  • al-hāfiẓ Sharaf al-dīn Ishāq b. ‘Alī al-Qūnawī
  • ‘Alā’ al-dīn ‘Alī b. ‘Umar
  • al-hāfiẓ Amīr al-din ‘Abd Allāh al-Sūfī
  • Sharaf al-dīn ‘Umar b. al-Ghazzāl
  • Shaykh Kamāl al-dīn ‘Alī b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz
  • Shaykh Lahm al-dīn ‘Umar b. As’ad al-Tabrīzī
  • mawlānā wa sayyidunā Sadr al-dīn musmi’
  • kātib Asaf b. ‘Abd Allāh

Various dates (17 Jumādā II, 2 Rabī’ II, 20 Safar) ah 666 in Konya, with a certification by Sadr al-dīn himself at the bottom.


Reproduced from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Volume 49, 2011.


[1] An nîst rah-e vasl ke angâshte-îm vân nîst jâhân-e jân ke pandâshte-îm ân chesme ke Khezr khorde z-ou âb-e hayât dar khâne-ye mâst lîk anbâshte-îm.

One of the very few verses attributed to al-Qūnawī. See O. Benaïssa, ‘L’ére de l’homme parfait: L’école d’Ibn ‘Arabî en Iran, aux 13ème et 14ème siècles (Les transmetteurs et la doctrine)’ (Ph.D. thesis, Sorbonne, 1992), p. 129; translation courtesy of Denis McAuley.

[2] W.C. Chittick, ‘The Last Will and Testament of Ibn ‘Arabī’s Foremost Disciple, and some notes on its author’, Sophia Perennis, vol. 4, no. 1 (1978), p. 43.

[2a] Valsan, M. "L’Epitre sur Orientation Parfaite (R. al-Tawajjuh al-atamm) by Sadr al-dīn al-Qunâwi" in Etudes Traditionelles, Vol. 67, pp. 241-268.

[3] First International Sadr al-din al-Qunawi Symposium, 20–21 May 2008, in Konya. A second symposium is to be held again in Konya on 6–8 October 2011.

[4] Nafahāt al-uns, ed. Tawhīdīpur (Tehran, 1336/1974), p. 556; translation courtesy of Denis McAuley.

[5] Karīm al-dīn Mahmūd al-Aqsarāyī, Musāmarat al-akhbār wa musāyarat al-akhyār, cited in Omar Benaïssa, ‘The Diffusion of Akbarian Teaching in Iran during the 13th and 14th Centuries’, JMIAS 26, p. 90.

[6] Pages 69–82.

[7] See for example William Chittick’s articles, ‘The Five Divine Presences: from al-Qūnawī to al-Qaysarī’, The Muslim World, 72, 1982, pp. 107–28; ‘Mysticism versus philosophy in earlier Islamic history: the al-Tūsī, al-Qūnawī correspondence’, Religious Studies 17, 1981, pp. 87–104; ‘Spectrums of Islamic Thought’, in The Legacy of Medieval Persian Sufism, ed. L. Lewisohn (London, 1992), pp. 203–17.

[8] Claude Addas, Quest for the Red Sulphur (Cambridge, 1993); and Stephen Hirtenstein, The Unlimited Mercifier (Oxford, 1999).

[9] Shams al-dīn Ahmad al-Aflākī, Manāqib al-‘ārifīn, translated by John O’Kane as The Feats of the Knowers of God (Leiden, 2002).

[10] Omar Benaïssa (see n. 1 above).

[11] Richard Todd (Ph.D. thesis, Oxford, 2004).

[12] I have not been able to access Ruspoli’s thesis, La Clef du monde suprasensible (Sorbonne, Paris, n.d.), mentioned by Chittick above, or Nihat Keklik’s Sadreddin Konevi’nin felsefesinde Allah-Kâinât ve Insan (Istanbul, 1967), but both Todd and Benaïssa refer to them and it is hoped that information relevant to the biography will therefore have been covered.

[12a]. Footnote: Anthony Shaker’s comprehensive exposition of al-Qūnawī’s ideas had not appeared at the time when this article was originally written. See Shaker, A. F. Thinking in the Language of Reality, XLIBRIS, 2012.

[13] Todd, Writing in the Book’, p. 7.

[14] When Kaykhusraw was succeeded by Kaykā’ūs, Majd al-dīn was appointed head of the delegation sent to Baghdad to seek the Caliph’s blessing and his initiation into the futuwwa order, which gives some sense of the status he had in the Konya court. See Ibn Bībī (d.684/1285), al-Awāmir al-‘Alā’iyya (Ankara, 1956) in Addas, Quest, p. 226.

[15] Majd al-dīn, referred to as Ishāq b. M. al-Rūmī, appears on samā’ on Veliyuddin 1759, fol. 103a, and University A79, fol. 102a (samā’ 4).

[16] See Yusuf Ağa 7838, fols. 347a–349a. G. Elmore, ‘Sadr al-dīn al-Qūnawī’s Personal Study List of Books by Ibn al-‘Arabī’, in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1997, 161–81, pp. 166 and 171.

[17] Addas, Quest, p. 228.

[18] Jāmī, Nafahāt al-uns, p. 556; see Addas, Quest, p. 228, but also Chittick ‘The Central Point’, JMIAS 35, 2004, pp. 25–6, n. 6, who feels that the manuscript evidence is not definitive.

[19] For example, Shehit Ali 2826, fol. 15b, dated ah 626; Veliyuddin 1759, fol. 22a, dated ah 633 where both Sadr al-dīn and Sa’d al-dīn are called ‘sons’, and fol. 144b, dated ah 633.

[20] Al-Aqsarāyī, Musāmarat ; see Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, p. 110.

[21] Manāqib Awhad al-dīn Kirmānī, ed. Foruzanfar (Tehran, 1347/1969), p. 85; translation in Addas, Quest, pp. 228–9. This anonymous Persian text was written in the 7th century hegira, either during al-Qūnawī’s lifetime or shortly afterwards. Like all manāqib texts, it is a collection of anecdotes designed to elevate the subject rather than to create an accurate historical record, and this speech shows every sign of having been amended in hindsight.

[22] Manāqib, p. 87; translation in Addas, Quest, p. 230.

[23] Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, p. 98.

[24] Addas, Quest, p. 230.

[25] The death of Kaykā’ūs in 1221 and the ascension of his much less sympathetic brother, ‘Alā al-dīn Kaykūbād, forced Ibn ‘Arabī to leave Anatolia and settle in Damascus at this time; as far as we know, this marked the end of his travelling.

[26] Yusuf Ağa 5059, part of the Qūnawī waqf, now kept in the Yusuf Ağa library in Konya. This is a work in six volumes which Ibn ‘Arabī had written out in his own hand some ten years earlier (613–14) in Malatya.

[27] See Yusuf Ağa 7838; see Elmore, ‘Study List’, pp. 166 and 176.

[28] al-Wāfī bi al-Wafayāt by Salāh al-dīn Khalīl al-Safadī (d.764/1363), (Wiesbaden, 1962), vol. 2, p. 200, n.572; see Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, p. 111. According to Benaïssa, this shaykh lived east of Mosul in Iraq, an area where Ibn ‘Arabī himself had travelled, but it is not known when Sadr al-dīn made the journey to visit him.

[29] Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 14.

[30] Shehit Ali 2826, fol. 15b.

[31] See Elmore, ‘Study List’, pp. 175–6.

[32] Yusuf Ağa 7838, fols. 247a–249a; see Elmore, ‘Study List’, pp. 169–76, for a detailed description of this section.

[33] Veliyuddin 1759, fol. 146b.

[34] Halet 245, fol. 260b.

[35] Elmore, ‘Study List’, p. 175.

[36] Ragip Paşa 1453, fols. 81a–132a/133a–180b.

[37] Evkaf 1933; see samā’ and verifications on fols. 1a and 78a.

[38] Yusuf Ağa 7838, fols. 188b–193b.

[39] Yusuf Ağa 5001; fols. 1a–165a, see samā’ on 155a.

[40] See Elmore, ‘Study List’, p. 171.

[41] See University A79, which was the riwāya of al-Habashī and possibly written in his hand. On fol. 1b, there is a samā’ in Damascus dated 634/1236 involving Sadr al-dīn, and in the top margin the waqf note indicating that it became part of the collection of Ibn ʿArabī’s books preserved in Konya.

[42] See Evkaf 1845, fol. 2a. The note also specifies the intermediary in the delivery (see the discussion below). According to Osman Yahya (see Histoire et Classification de L’oeuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabī, Damascus, 1964, p. 202), the second recension was dedicated to Sadr al-dīn but in our research we have found no evidence of this; the dedication at the end of the 37th volume (Evkaf, 1881, fol. 112a) is clearly to ‘Imād al-dīn, Ibn ‘Arabī’s eldest son.

[43] Many of the books were transferred to the Yusuf Ağa library in Konya, and most collections with the reference ‘Yusuf Ağa’ in this article came from the Qūnawī waqf. See the article by Bekir Şahin in this volume, pp. 147–54.

[44] When the third edition of the Futūhāt was printed nearly 600 years later in 1329/1911, Emir ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jazā’irī sent an envoy to Konya to check the text.

[45] For instance, we have discovered in the course of the MIAS Archiving Project, 28 Ibn ‘Arabī autographs and a further 23 written in his lifetime by close associates such as Sadr al-dīn, Badr al-Habashī, Ibn Sawdakīn and Ayyūb b. Badr. By contrast, his contemporaries such as Najm al-dīn Kubrā, Abū Hafs al-Suhrawardī and Ibn al-Fāriḍ have no extant manuscripts at all from their lifetimes.

[46] Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 7.

[47] From Sharh Fusus al-hikam, ed. Ashtiyānī (Mashhad, 1982), pp. 215–20; translation by Addas, Quest, p. 111.

[48] Sharh al-Fusūs, pp. 9–10; translation by Addas in Quest, p. 284.

[49] al-Fukūk, ed. Muhammad Khwājawī (Tehran, n.d.), p. 181.

[50] Nafhat al-rūh (mss. sources only); see Chittick, ‘Last Will’, p. 46.

[51] See Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 57, n.68.

[52] See Addas, Quest, p. 243.

[53] His own words, in preface to Mashāriq al-darārī, ed. Ashtiyānī (Mashhad, 1978), p. 5; see Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 17.

[54] See a reference in Miftāh al-ghayb to an intuition received in ‘the land of Turks’ in 630 or 631, cited by Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 18.

[55] Mashāriq, pp. 5–6. See Giuseppe Scattolin, ‘The Key Concepts of al-Farghānī’s Commentary on Ibn al-Fāriḍ’s Sufi Poem, al-Tā’iyyat al-Kubrā’, JMIAS 39, 31–83, p. 37, n.9.

[56] Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 17; and Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, p. 125.

[57] See Yahya, Histoire, p. 209, samā’ 12.

[58] In 633/1235, there was a reading of K. al-Mīm (Veliyuddin 1759, fol. 13a), Tāj al-Rasā’il (fol. 144b) Ayyām al-sha’n ; in 634/1236 a samā’ on Rūh al-Quds (University A79, fol. 1b) and Futūhāt samā’ 13 (see Yahya, Histoire, p. 209).

[59] The best source of information about the people around Ibn ‘Arabī in this last period of his life is the numerous samā’ on the autograph Futūhāt (Evkaf 1845+) of which there are at least 57 between 633/1235 and 636/1238. But Sadr al-dīn’s name does not appear on any of the later lists as far as we currently know. However, for this article, I have relied largely upon Osman Yahya’s listing of the manuscript (see Histoire, pp. 205–8) and it is possible there is further information not yet transcribed.

[60] See for example the reading on University A79 dated 634/1236 in Konya (n.41 above), and Benaïssa (‘L’ére’, p. 114), who tells us that Amulī’s Nass al-nusūs, eds. Corbin and Yahya (Paris, 1975), p. 109, states that Ibn ‘Arabī sent the second recension of the Futūhāt to him in Konya. However, there is good reason to doubt the information, as it seems unlikely that such a large and precious manuscript would have been sent on a long journey, and the alternative outlined in the next paragraph is much more probable.

[61] See Addas, Quest, p. 226 and Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, pp. 117–21.

[62] Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 18.

[63] See Evkaf 1845, fol. 2a.

[64] See Yahya, Histoire, p. 220, samā’ 39.

[65] See Addas, Quest, p. 288.

[66] A samā’ on Veliyuddin 1759, fol. 30a, at the end of K. al-Tajalliyāt, seems to give the additional information that he was in Damascus in ah 639. But the writing is very faint and hard to read, so the reading of it must at this stage be tentative.

[67] See Yahya, Histoire, pp. 229–31, samā’ 58–71. It seems that they read 14 of the 37 volumes.

[68] See Elmore, ‘Study List’, p. 165; Yusuf Ağa 7838, fol. 217b.

[69] Al-Nafahāt al-ilāhiyya, p. 127.

[70] Ibid., p. 19.

[71] See Ibn ‘Atā’illāh (d.709/1309) Latā’if al-minan, p. 63, in Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, p. 126, and Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 19. Todd even suggests that he might have been sent to Cairo initially on a mission for the embattled sultan, in order to raise support, as Ibn ‘Atā’illāh describes Sadr al-dīn as an ‘envoy’. If true – and Todd points out that there is no corroborative evidence apart from this one reference – this would indicate that Sadr al-dīn had taken up a position in the Seljuk court very similar to that of his father in the previous generation.

[72] Introduction to al-Farghānī’s Mashāriq al-darārī, pp. 5–6; see Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 20.

[73] The other is by the 17th-century biographer, Kātib Celebī; see Homerin, From Arab Poet to Muslim Saint (Cairo, 2001), pp. 29 and 105, n.49.

[74] From Jāmī, Nafahāt, p. 452; translation by Chittick, ‘Spectrums’, p. 208, n.6. There is a question about the dating of the lectures referred to: the reference to al-Farghānī (629–99 / 1231–99) makes it unlikely that these were the early Cairo events, as al-Farghānī would only have been 14 in 643 if we are to believe the birth date given by some biographers. Chittick, however, in his Encyclopaedia of Islam article (‘Sa’īd al-Dīn Muhammad b. Ahmad Farghānī’, EI 2, vol. 8, p. 860) does not give a birth date so the question remains open.

[75] The Muqaddima became one of the foundational teaching texts in the madrasa s of Iran and Ottoman Turkey, often taught before the Fusūs itself. See Chittick, ‘Spectrums’; Clark, ‘Early Best-sellers in the Akbarian Tradition’, JMIAS 39, pp. 22–53; and for a summary of the main ideas , Giuseppe Scattolin, ‘The Key Concepts of al-Farghānī’s Commentary’.

[76] Ayasofia 4817, see notes on fols. 61b, 69a, 94b. This manuscript was one of the many Ibn ‘Arabī works which found its way into Mehmet II’s library. There is no mention of Sadr al-dīn in the text, although Gerald Elmore (‘A Selection of texts on the theme of praise from some gnomic works by Ibn ‘Arabī’, in JMIAS 23, pp. 58–85) believes that the fihris or list of contents is in his hand. Whether or not this is the case, it is still highly likely that he was the source, although there were other close companions of Ibn ‘Arabī in Konya at this time, in particular al-Hamawayh, who could have transmitted texts.

[77] Al-Nafahāt al-ilāhiyya, pp. 125–6.

[78] Ibid., p. 11.

[79] See Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 21; Aflākī, Feats, pp. 70–1.

[80] Chittick, ‘Last Will’, p. 54.

[81] For manuscript collections, in addition to Ayasofia 4817 mentioned above (see n. 76), see Köprülü 713 containing three Ibn ‘Arabī works copied from autographs, dated 663/1264: Veliyuddin 1686, which contains 14 works by Ibn ‘Arabī copied ‘in the house of my master in Konya’ in 667/1268; Milli 571 containing 10 Ibn ‘Arabī works, 2 copied from autographs, dated 668/1269. None of these mention Sadr al-dīn explicitly but it is more than reasonable to assume that they were written under his supervision as part of a teaching programme.

[82] Aflākī, Feats, p. 220 (see n. 9 above).

[83] See for example Chittick, ‘Rūmī and wahdat al-wujūd ‘ in Poetry and Mysticism in Islam, ed. Amin Banani (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 70–111.

[84] Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, p. 123.

[85] See the article by Semih Ceyhan in this volume, pp. 35–68.

[86] See the Appendix for a complete list of these people.

[87] Feyzullah 300 with an ijāza for al-Shīrāzī, written in Sadr al-dīn’s house in Konya in 673/1274; see Helmut Ritter, ‘Autographs in Turkish Libraries’, Oriens VI, 1953, pp. 63–90.

[88] See Esan Masood, Science and Islam (London, 2009), p. 135.

[89] See Chittick, ‘Sa’īd al-Dīn Muhammad b. Ahmad Farghānī’, EI 2, vol. 8, p. 860.

[90] Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, p. 178, for a complete list of al-Jandī’s works.

[91] See F. Krenkow [M. Yaloum], ‘al-Tilimsānī’, EI 2, vol. 10, p. 500.

[92] See W.C. Chittick and P. Lamborn-Wilson, Divine Flashes (New York, 1982), pp. 43–6.

[93] Ibid., pp. 46–9, translates a letter written to Sadr al-dīn whilst ‘Irāqī was in Medina, expressing his great love and longing for him.

[94] H. Landolt, ‘Sa’d’, EI 2, vol. 8, p. 703.

[95] See Addas, Quest, pp. 315–21 for some of the silsila s concerning Ibn ‘Arabī and Sadr al-dīn; and Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, p. 124.

[96] See Chittick, ‘Last Will’, p. 46.

[97] See Milli A571, fols. 1a–165b.

[98] Köprülü 41, fols. 1–143b.

[99] Leiden OR 544; see Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 57.

[100] For example, Yusuf Ağa 5865 is a copy of Miftāh al-ghayb written in 672, whilst Yusuf Ağa 5468, a copy of al-Nafahāt al-ilāhiyya, and Esad Ef. 1413, containing four parts of the al-Tūsī correspondence, are undated but under his supervision.

[101] See Shehit Ali 1351, fols. 167a–213a and 213b–299b, written in Iran in 690/1291. Husein Celebī 477, a collection which has not been studied until very recently, contains copies of al-Nusūs, al-Fukūk and Miftāh al-fusūs, which appear to be in a very early hand, possibly even al-Qūnawī’s, but is undated.

[102] See Chittick, ‘Last Will’, p. 53.

[103] For a relatively complete listing of works and editions, see Betül Güçlü, ‘The Writings of Sadruddin Qūnawī’, in The Meryam Book (Istanbul, 2008), pp. 187–98.

[104] See Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, p. 135. The titles and summaries in the list below are largely based upon Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, pp. 41–64.

[105] Yusuf Ağa 4865, written 672/1274 (see fol. 1a). Todd has Miftāh al-ghayb al-jamī’ wa tafsīlihi, (see ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 46), whilst Güçlü has Miftāh ghayb al-jamī’ wa al-wujūd fī al-kashf wa al-shuhūd (see The Meryam Book, p. 190). Clearly some further clarification is needed.

[106] See Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 48.

[107] See Chittick ,’The Five Divine Presences’ for a more detailed exposition on this.

[108] See the article by Hülya Küçük and Stephen Hirtenstein in this volume, pp. 107–16; Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 58.

[109] See Chittick, ‘Mysticism’, pp. 87–104.

[110] Al-Nafahāt al-ilāhiyya, p. 126.

[111] See the article by Laila Khalifa in this volume, pp. 83–106.

[112] Sharh al-ahādith, MS Leiden OR. 920, fols. 2b–3a; Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 64. See the article by Stephen Hirtenstein in this volume, pp. 69–82.

[113] See Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, pp. 132–4.

[114] Al-Aqsarāyī, p. 432, in Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 30.

[115] Chittick, ‘Last Will’, p. 53.

[116] Ibid.

[117] See Benaïssa, ‘L’ére’, pp. 116–17.

[118] Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 18, n.40. The quarter he lived in is still popularly known as ‘al-‘Afīf’. All three men were eventually buried in al-Sālihiyya in the graveyard next to Ibn ‘Arabī’s tomb, and there are reports of people visiting the tomb of al-‘Irāqī in particular in the 16th century; see Chittick, Divine Flashes, p. 66, n.33.

[119] See Fatih 293, a copy of I’jāz al-Bayān written in al-Jandī’s hand in Tabrīz in 677/1278.

[120] See Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, pp. 30–1.

[121] Chittick, ‘Last Will’, p. 53.

[122] See Clark, ‘Early Best-sellers’; Benaïssa, ‘Diffusion’; and Chittick, ‘Ibn al-‘Arabī and his School’ in Islamic Spirituality, vol. 2 (Manifestations), (New York, 1991).

[123] Todd, ‘Writing in the Book’, p. 40, n.31.

[124] See Chittick, ‘Sadr al-Dīn Muhammad b. Ishāq al-Qūnawī’, in EI 2, vol. 8, p. 753.

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