This article is also available in Portuguese: Seleção das maiores obras de Ibn Arabi
This article is also available in German (on the website of Chalice Verlag): Ausgewählte Hauptwerke von Ibn Arabi
Selected Major Works of Ibn ‘Arabi
Appendix 1 of The Unlimited Mercifier
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.
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Ibn ‘Arabi wrote at least 350 works, ranging from the enormous Futuhat al Makkiyya, which fills thousands of pages of Arabic, to innumerable small treatises no more than a few pages long. The folloowing selection has been made from what could be considered to be his major works, and may give the non-specialist an overview of the subject matter. It has been done on the basis of what is most often mentioned in his own writing and is commonly available in printed form, but it must be borne in mind that it is by no means exhaustive. The two-volume classification of works compiled by Osman Yahyia in 1964, Histoire et Classification de l’Oeuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabi,was the first, and to date the only, attaempt to assess the extent of Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings,but lack of time and resources meant that this inventory was necessarily full of ommissions.
The present selection is arranged under short titles and in approximate chronological order, although some of the works took many yyears to write and some were rewritten.
Mashahid al-asrar al-qudsiyya
(RG 432) Contemplations of the Holy Mysteries
Written in 1194 (590) in Andalusia, on returning from his first visit to Tunis, and dedicated to the disciples of Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azîz al-Mahdawl and to his paternal cousin, ‘Alî b. al-‘Arabî. It describes a succession of fourteen contemplations in the form of dialogues with God and epiphanic visions.
(RG 716) Divine Government
Written in the space of four days, this work was probably first composed before the Mashahid but reworked later. While staying with Shaykh al-Mawrûrî in Moron (Andalusia), he wrote this work as an answer to the former’s request that he should explain the real meaning of secular politics in terms of the Sufi exposition of the government of the human empire (i.e. the microcosm which summarises the macrocosm).
(RG 313) The Book of the Night-Journey
One of the most important early works, written after his great visionary experience in Fez in 1198 (594). It describes in rhymed prose his mystical ascension, meeting the spiritual realities of the prophets in the seven heavens and being brought to the fullest realisation of his own reality.
(RG 443) Settings of the Stars
Written in eleven days at Almeria in July 1199 (Ramadan 595), for his companion and disciple Badr al-Habashî. Said to be the book that explains what all spiritual masters need to teach, it describes the three degrees of surrender (islam), faith (iman) and true goodness (ihsan), according to three levels of realisation. It includes a detailed discussion of how all the faculties and members of man participate in Divine praise.
(RG 30) The Fabulous Gryphon of the West
Probably the last of the Andalusian works, written around 1199 (595) during his final year in Spain. It describes in rhymed prose the meaning of the station of the Mahdi and the Seal of the Saints, and the rank of the Muhammadian reality, and was intended as a companion volume to the Tadbîrat.
(RG 289) The Description of the Encompassing Circles
Written in 1201 (598) in Tunis for both Badr al-Habashî and al-Mahdawî, just before leaving the West for Mecca. It describes the fundamentals of his metaphysics, discussing existence and non-existence, manifestation and non-manifestation, and the rank of the human being in the world, using diagrams and tables.
(RG 480) The Niche of Lights
Composed throughout the year 1202/3 (599) in Mecca. It comprises a collection of 101 hadith qudsi (divine sayings) in three parts: 40 traditions with a full chain of transmission back to God, 40 divine sayings without a chain of transmission, and 21 others. The work itself conforms to the tradition that recommends the practice of preserving 40 hadiths for the community.
(RG 237) The Adornment of the Substitutes
Written in 1203 (599) in the space of an hour during a visit to Ta’if, for Badr al-Habashî. It describes the four corner-stones of the Way: seclusion, silence, hunger and wakefulness, how these appear in physical terms as a kind of abstinence, and how they are in their spiritual reality as conditions of the heart of the servant.
(RG 639) The Epistle of the Spirit of Holiness
Written in 1203 (600) in Mecca for Shaykh al-Mahdawî it is one of the best sources for our knowledge of Ibn ‘Arabî’s life in Andalusia and the people he knew. It contains three sections: a complaint about the lack of comprehension of many people practicing the Sufi Way, a series of biographical sketches of some fifty-five Sufis in the West and a discussion of difficulties and obstacles encountered on the Way.
(RG 736) The Crown of Epistles
Written in 1203 (600) in Mecca, it consists of eight love letters composed for the Ka’ba, each one corresponding to a theophany of a Divine Name which appeared in the course of the ritual circumambulations.
Kitab al-Alif, Kitab al-Ba’, Kitab al-Ya’, etc.
(RG 26) The Book of the Letter A [or Oneness], etc.
A series of short works, using an alphabetical numbering system, begun in Jerusalem in 1204 (601) and composed over three years or more. They discuss a range of different Divine principles such as Oneness (ahadiyya),Compassion (rahma) and Light (nûr).
(RG 761) Descents of Revelation at Mosul
Written in April 1205 (601) in Mosul, it describes the esoteric secrets of the acts of worship in terms of ablution and prayer, and how each phase of this everyday ritual is imbued with meaning.
Kitab al-Jalal wa’l-Jamal
(RG 168) The Book of Majesty and Beauty
Written in the space of one day in April/May 1205 (601) in Mosul, it discusses various Quranic verses in terms of two apparently opposing aspects, Majesty and Beauty, alluding to the third aspect which integrates them, the balance of Perfection.
Kitab Kunh ma la budda lil-murid minhu
(RG 352) What is Essential for the Seeker
Also written in April/May 1205 (601) in Mosul, it outlines the essential practices for someone embarking on the spiritual Way, in terms of holding fast to the Unity of God, having faith in what the Messengers have brought, practicing dhikr, finding a true spiritual teacher, etc.
(RG 33) Treatise of Lights
Written in 1205 (602) in Konya in answer to a request from a friend and companion that he should explain the journey of ascension to the Lord of Power and return to the creatures~ It describes the spiritual quest in terms of a non-stop ascension through the various levels of existence and knowledge, leading to the level of human perfection.
Isharat al-Qur’an fi ‘alam al-insan
(RG 303) (Allusions of Quran in the Human World)
Written in Jerusalem in 1206 (602), it was conceived as a companion volume to the Tanazzulat al-Mawsiliyya. Far more than a simple presentation of Quranic passages, this is an extended meditation on each Sura of the Book.
Kitab Ayyam al-sha’n
(RG 67) The Days of God’s Work
Composed sometime around or before 1207 (603), this work is a meditation on the structure of Time and the ways in which the hours and days of the week interrelate. It is founded on the Quranic verse “Every day God is at work”.
(RG 738) The Book of Theophanies
Written sometime before 1209 (606) in Aleppo, it describes a series of theophanic visions on subjects such as Perfection, Generosity and Compassion, based on insights into the second Sura of the Quran. These visions often involve dialogues with deceased saints such as Hallaj, Junayd or Sahl al-Tustarî. The purpose of the work is to instruct the seeker on events that might occur in his journey.
Kitab al-Fana’ fî’l-mushahada
(RG 125) The Book of Annihilation in Contemplation
Written in Baghdad, probably during his second stay there in 1212 (608). It is an extended meditation on the ninety-eighth Sura, describing the experience of mystical vision and the difference between people of real knowledge and people of intellect.
(RG 767) Interpreter of Ardent Desires
Compiled in 1215 (Ramadan 611) in Mecca, although written over a longer period, with a subsequent commentary composed later in the same year in Aleppo. It comprises sixty-one love-poems dedicated to the person of Nizam, alluding to the real secrets of mystical love and prophetic inheritance.
(RG ) Sufi Technical Terms
Written in 1218 (615) in Malatya in answer to a request from a dear friend and companion. It consists of 199 brief definitions of the most important expressions in common use amongst the people of God.
(RG 307) (The Unveiling of the Effects of Journeying)
The date and place of composition are not known. The work is a meditation on the meaning of the spiritual journey in general and the journeys of the prophets in particular. These journeys are without end, in this world and the next, and are described as “a reminder of what is within you and in your possession that you have forgotten”.
(RG 2) The Book of the Servants of God
Written sometime before 1229 (626), probably in Damascus. It consists of 117 sections devoted to individuals called ‘Abd Allah, each of whom is described as being the “son” of a particular Divine Name and of a prophet. Apparently the work conforms to a hadith that man possesses 117 characteristics, and explains the realisation of these characteristics in terms of the Divine Names.
(RG 150) Settings of the Wisdoms
Written some time after a vision of the Prophet in 1229 (627) in Damascus, and in accord with his (the Prophet’s) order that it be written. Considered to be the quintessence of Ibn ‘Arabî’s spiritual teaching, it comprises twenty-seven chapters, each dedicated to the spiritual meaning and wisdom of a particular prophet. The twenty-seven prophets, beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad, are like the settings of a ring, holding the jewel-stone of Wisdom, and represent all the different communities of humankind, under the spiritual jurisdiction of Muhammad, their Seal.
(RG 142) Catalogue of Works
Written in 1229/1230 (627) in Damascus for Sadruddin al-Qunawi, this is Ibn ‘Arabî’s own catalogue of the 248 works that he had written prior to this date.
Ijaza lil-Malik al-Muzaffar
(RG 269) Certificate for King al-Muzaffar
Written in 1234 (632) in Damascus for the Ayyubid ruler of the city, King Ashraf al-Muzaffar. It mentions some 290 works and seventy of his teachers.
Kitab Nasab al-khirqa
(RG 530) The Line of the Mantle of Initiation
The date and place of composition are uncertain, but probably 1236 (633) in Damascus. It describes his own spiritual affiliation and how he came to the Way. It also includes the initiations that he gave to others, most of those mentioned being women.
(RG 64) Prayers for the Week
The date and place of composition are not known, although they were probably composed over several years. Of the many different prayers attributed to Ibn ‘Arabî and still widely used today, these are perhaps the best known. They are organised for each day and night of the week, making a total of fourteen, written for private recitation and meditation.
(RG 102) The Great Diwan
Written over a period of many years and seemingly not completed until 1237 (634) in Damascus, this vast collection of poems was apparently intended to contain all the poetry he had written, and can be found in various differing manuscripts. Some, entitled Dîwan al-ma’arif, include an introduction describing the vision that led to his writing poetry, and a dedication to Badr al-Habashî. The printed edition, based on a different manuscript, seems to be a collection drawn up in chronological order by one of his close disciples or family.
(RG 135) Meccan Illuminations
His magnum opus, begun in Mecca in 1202 following a vision of the Youth, and completed in its first version of twenty manuscript volumes in December 1231 (629). A second version in thirty-seven volumes was completed in 1238 (636). It consists of 560 chapters in six sections, and it was evidently intended as a kind of “spiritual resume” of Islam, covering the whole 560-year period from the beginning of the Islamic era to his own birth. There are detailed expositions of every facet of the spintual life, including inspired commentaries on each Sura of the Quran, explanations of Hadith, jurisprudence, cosmology and metaphysics.
This article consists of Appendix 1 of The Unlimited Mercifier – The spiritual life and thought of Ibn ‘Arabi, by Stephen Hirtsenstein, Anqa Publishing, Oxford, and White Cloud Press, Oregon, 1999. It is reproduced with the permission of the author. Please cite the printed work if quoting.
© Stephen Hirstenstein, 1999.