Articles and Translations

‘Ajamī Mysteries of Sitt ‘Ajam Bint al-Nafīs

A Feminine Hermeneutic of an Heiress of Ibn ‘Arabī

Zahra’ Langhi

Zahra’ Langhi is a researcher in Islamic history, Sufism, metaphysics, and female spirituality in comparative religions. She has an MA from the American University in Cairo on Sitt Ajam’s Commentary of Ibn Arabi’s Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries and the Rising of the Divine Lights. She is also the co-founder of of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, a socio-political movement which aims at peace building, inclusivity and gender equality. Her MA thesis Sitt Ajam, A Muslim Woman Gnostic of the Middle Ages, is to be published by Fons Vitae.


Articles by Zahra’ Langhi

Ajami Mysteries of Sitt Ajam bint al-Nafis: A Feminine Hermeneutic of an Heiress of Ibn Arabi


Podcasts by Zahra’ Langhi

“And My Mercy Encompasses All”: Peace in light of Akbarian metaphysics of Compassion

Selected Readings from the Poetry of Ibn Arabi


Sitt ‘Ajam, a Sufi woman living in the thirteenth century, tells us in her work that she had a vision in which Muhyī al-dīn Ibn ‘Arabī appeared to her, asking her to write a commentary on one of his earliest works, Mashāhid al-asrār al-qudsiyya wa matāli’ al-anwār al-ilāhiyya (The Witnessing of the Holy Mysteries and the Rising of the Divine Lights). This is reminiscent of Ibn Arabī’s own meetings with prophets, saints and spiritual masters in the Imaginal World, in which he had conversations discussing certain Sufi themes with masters such as al-Hallāj (d.922), Abū Madyan (d.1198), Dhu’l-Nūn al-Misrī (d.861), Sahl al-Tustarī (d.896), etc.[1] She states:

I closely examined his name and his biography, for a way to draw from him the definition [for my state], but I found that the similarity between us is in receiving the very same “hātimī gifts”, that leads to attraction (jadhb). This, despite not having the same state of distinction, nor following the same path, nor having the same life; similarity is [only] that of character and of [divine] bestowal, which is the privilege of the saints (awliyā’). Thus, his luminous form could not but be witness to the knowledge of union that exists between us.[2]

The Mashāhid is considered to be one of the earliest of Ibn ‘Arabī’s works, written long before his other major works: Fusūs al-hikam (The Ringstones of Wisdom) and al-Futūhāt al-Makkiyya (The Meccan Revelations). The Mashāhid, like his other works, may also be viewed as a collection of metaphorical allusions, inspired by Ibn ‘Arabī’s mystical experiences. In an allegorical style, reminiscent of al-Niffarī’s Mawāqif, Ibn ‘Arabī’s Mashāhid deals with a series of “stations of witnessing” and fourteen “places of witnessing”, each representing an intimate dialogue between the Divine and the human subject. In this text, paradox is used to blur the distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped, the servant and the Master. Ibn Sawdakīn (d. AD 1248), Ibn ‘Arabī’s disciple and intimate friend, was the first to write a commentary on Ibn ‘Arabī’s Mashāhid,[3] some thirty years before Sitt ‘Ajam wrote hers; and much later, in the seventeenth century, a third commentary on the Mashāhid was written by the Egyptian Sufi Zayn al-‘Abidīn ‘Abd al-Ra’ūf al-Mināwī (d.1621).[4]

Sitt ‘Ajam’s manuscript, Sharh al-Mashāhid, is about three hundred pages long. It does not include a clear reference as to when exactly it was written. What we know is what she tells us in her commentary, that when Ibn ‘Arabī appeared to her in a vision he told her that the mystery of the Mashāhid had not yet been unlocked, and conveyed to her that he considered her to be the only one capable of unlocking its mystery.[5]

In addition to her commentary on Ibn ‘Arabī’s Mashāhid, Sitt ‘Ajam appears to have authored two more works. The first is Kashf al-kunūz (Unveiling the Treasures), which is mentioned in Osman Yahia’s catalogue of Ibn ‘Arabī’s works, where he corrects the confusion of attributing the work to Ibn ‘Arabī himself.[6] The manuscript of Kashf al-kunūz is juxtaposed together with Sharh al-Mashāhid. Sitt ‘Ajam’s third work is Kitāb al-Khatm (The Book of the Seal), which she refers to in her commentary but which has so far not been found.

For several centuries, scholars who came after Ibn ‘Arabī continued to explore and interpret his Sufi concepts and world-view. His scholarship has had a tremendous influence on these later Sufis who looked upon him as al-Shaykh al-akbar, and his ideas directly or indirectly influenced their writings. Though Ibn ‘Arabī did not establish a specific Sufi order, he had many spiritual disciples who “consciously rooted their perspective in their own understanding of his theoretical framework … (and) referred to their specific way as ‘verification’, and called themselves ‘the verifiers’.[7] However, the Akbari school was not structured in an institutionalized fashion like other Sufi orders. Members of this school did not adhere to a specific set of doctrines, or follow the same set of Sufi rules. As James Morris observes, uniformity was not held among the followers of Ibn ‘Arabī.

The real philosophic and theological unity and diversity of these writers have not begun to be explored in modern research … none of the writers are mere “commentators” of Ibn ‘Arabī … As with “Aristotelianism” or “Platonism” in Western thought, Ibn ‘Arabī’s writings were only the starting point of the most diverse developments in which reference to subsequent interpreters quickly became at least as important as the study of the Shaykh himself.[8]

Thus, one may argue that the ample literature of commentaries, including that by Sitt ‘Ajam, also involves a creative process of interpretation and reinterpretation of the original text. However, I would like to argue that, in contrast to male Sufi commentators, such as Ibn Sawdakīn, Sadr al-dīn al-Qūnawī (d.1274) and his disciples, who write in a rather systematic conceptual metaphysical language, Sitt ‘Ajam’s commentary makes expert use of Sufi metaphysical concepts interspersed with personal experiences. Thus, what makes the study of Sitt ‘Ajam’s commentary fascinating is this artful combination of abstract metaphysical analysis and scriptural allusions with personal anecdotes and accounts of her own spiritual milieu and experiences. Her style of writing takes off with a theological beginning, proceeds to a cosmological elaboration, then turns into an increasingly personal mystical unveiling.

The availability of Sitt ‘Ajam’s manuscript, Sharh al-Mashāhid, offers us the rare possibility to examine women’s contribution to the Sufi conceptual tradition. The common view in Sufi scholarship acknowledges women mainly as transmitters of the mystical experience, but not as contributors to its conceptual vocabulary. The Sufi hagiographical tradition does acknowledge the fact that women have pursued the Sufi path, and that some of them were pioneers in exploring some of its experiential dimensions: Rābi’a al-‘Adawiyya (d.801), for instance, has been recognized as an important adherent of the experiential path of “Divine Love”. Furthermore, women Sufis appear as teachers in the Sufi literature, a fact acknowledged by Ibn ‘Arabī himself, whose works identify numerous shaykhasas his teachers. Also, the role of female worshippers in conveying wise Sufi sayings is equally acknowledged by the Sufi tradition. However, in the field of formulating and analyzing the conceptual horizons of the mystical experience, the role of women Sufis still remains unrecognized. Rkia Cornell in Early Sufi Women (the recent translation of Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami’s hagiographical work, Dhikr an-niswa al-muta’abbidāt as-sūfiyyāt), attempts to reveal a “veiled tradition” of female Sufi gnostics. She notes that “Sulami [an eleventh-century scholar] seldom portrays his subjects as miracle-workers. [Rather] he does attempt to demonstrate that Sufi women possess levels of intellect (‘aql) and wisdom (hikma) that are equivalent to those of Sufi men.”[9] Cornell shows that Sulami – unlike the readings of Ibn al-Jawzi and others, who used to portray Sufi women merely as ascetics and adherents of divine love – “downplays love-mysticism in favor of less emotional themes … Sulami’s portrait of Rābi’a provides a more ‘masculine’, and hence more balanced image of this major Sufi teacher.”[10] Comparing the two portraits of Rābi’a by Sulami and Ibn al-Jawzi, Cornell shows the following:

Sulami’s Rabi’a is quite different from the highly-strung and emotional recluse portrayed by Ibn al-Jawzi. Rather, she is a rational and disciplined teacher who demonstrates her mastery of important mystical states, such as truthfulness (sidq), self-criticism (muhāsaba), spiritual intoxication (sukr), love for God (mahabba), and gnosis (ma’rifa). Although Rabi’a has often been identified as the founder of Sufi love-mysticism, this is not a particularly important aspect of her teaching for Sulami. Instead, he concentrates on her intellectual abilities, detailing the spiritual advice she gives to Muslim scholars, her moral lessons to the jurist Sufyan ath-Thawri, and her reputation as a specialist in fiqh al-‘ibādāt,the jurisprudence of religious practice. For Sulami, Rabi’a is more of a thinker than a lover.[11]

Therefore, Sitt ‘Ajam’s commentary of al-Mashāhid becomes an important work to study for those scholars interested in the contribution of women to the history of Sufi ideas. Her commentary on al-Mashāhid offers us the opportunity to address the question whether a woman’s interpretation provides a different reading from that made by male Sufi scholars. It is noticeable that whereas Ibn Sawdakīn restricts his commentary to Ibn ‘Arabī’s own explanations, Sitt ‘Ajam seems to depend more on her own experiential knowledge in interpreting al-Mashāhid. In other words, one could argue that Sitt ‘Ajam’s commentary could be considered as a specifically “feminine hermeneutics”.


Sitt ‘Ajam’s biographical background

The historical information that is available on Sitt ‘Ajam is rather scarce. Her full name is Sitt ‘Ajam bint al-Nafīs ibn Abī al-Qāsim ibn Turaz al-Baghdādiyya. However, despite the scarcity of biographical information, we are able to glean some information about her educational and spiritual background from her commentary on the Mashāhid. In the final chapter, she reiterates the importance of direct intuition as opposed to acquired knowledge in the spiritual path:

I am an unlettered common woman who is deprived of all the sciences except for the knowledge of Almighty Allah. And I have not gained this knowledge of Allah by learning, nor from reading books, nor from a knower (‘ārif). But it is a gift from the Almighty Allah which led me out of ignorance to knowledge … [an experience] other interpreters may lack. And since I am of Arab origin, I offer this knowledge complete with its meanings in a work to be witnessed by both the predecessors from the ‘ārifīn and the successors from the ‘ulamā’.[12]

From the above statement, we can infer that Sitt ‘Ajam was an unlettered woman. However, though the word ummī is usually translated in modern usage as illiterate or unlettered, it is used in the Qur’an in a different sense. It is used several times in the Qur’an to refer to the Prophet himself as “al-nabī al-ummī” (7:157–58). It is also used in the Qur’an in the plural to refer to the community to which the Prophet was sent (62:2). Etymologically, according to Lisān al-‘Arab the word “ummī“is derived from the root umm, which means mother. So, in a sense the word ummī may signify, as Chodkiewicz points out, the person “who is as when his mother gave birth to him”.[13] Interestingly, Ibn ‘Arabī defines the word “ummī” in one of the chapters of the Futūhāt on the concept of “ummiyya” as follows: “Ummiyya consists in renouncing the use of rational speculation and judgement in order to give rise to meanings and mysteries”.[14]

This definition is also illustrated by an anecdote about the encounter of the famous theologian Fakhr al-dīn al-Rāzī (d.1209) with the great Sufi saint Najm al-dīn Kubrā (d.1221).[15] One day Fakhr al-dīn al-Rāzī went to Najm al-dīn Kubrā to ask him for initiation. Kubrā asked one of his disciples to take al-Rāzī to a retreat(khalwa), to stay there for a while to practise invocation. It is said that Kubrā stripped al-Rāzī, through his mystical powers, of the knowledge that the latter had acquired from books. Realizing that he was losing his hard-earned knowledge, of which he was so proud, al-Rāzī shouted for his release, and his spiritual experience ended there.[16] This anecdotal detour symbolizes the state of “ummiyya” or “spiritual illiteracy”. In Sufi hagiography, there are many examples of unlettered Sufi saints, such as ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Dabbāgh (d.1717), the Moroccan saint Abū Ya’zā (d.1177), who only knew the Fātiha and the last three Suras of the Qur’an. Indeed, two of the greatest Sufis, Ibn ‘Arabī and Abū Yazīd al-Bistāmī (d.874), are known to have had unlettered masters. Abū al-‘Abbās al-‘Uryabī, who was the first master of Ibn ‘Arabī, and whom the latter loved very much, was a farmer who could neither read nor write. Nonetheless, it was through him that Ibn ‘Arabī came to meet al-Khidr (the immortal spiritual figure mentioned in the Qur’an and whom Sufis with no shaykhs consider as their guide and claim to have been initiated into the path, that is, invested with the khirqa, by him).[17] Abū ‘Alī al-Sindī, who initiated Abū Yazīd al-Bistāmī, learnt the basic rules of rituals from Abū Yazīd himself later in his life. Al-Sha’rānī (d.1565) also speaks of two Sufis, Ibrāhīm al-Matbulī and ‘Alī al-Khawwās, who were ummīs and commoners, but could interpret obscure verses with such originality that learned exegetes were baffled.[18]

Thus, in order to be a receptacle of divine lights and secrets, one should be in a “state of infancy”.[19] To hear Him, man must thus return to [this] state of infancy. This state of infancy is basically a state of undifferentiated and simultaneous singularity or simplexity. It transcends the perception of opposites, which is created by language acquisition. It is the pre-verbal mental state, which is basically Silence who is the Umm al-Kitab from which the Kitab or the logos emanates.[20] The Prophet, al-nabī al-ummī, as he is called in the Qur’an, was as it were a “virginal receptacle of the Revelation”. Maryam, mother of Jesus, was also described in the Qur’an as the one who kept her “virginity” intact, and hence was able to receive and even conceive the divine word or “logos”. The legacy of Maryam is her virginity. And her virginity, corresponding to the Prophet’s ummīyya, is the symbol of this “state of infancy”. Hence, the ummīyya of Sitt ‘Ajam, if understood in this sense, may be perceived as a positive attribute of her spiritual knowledge and understanding.

The above lines by Sitt ‘Ajam also tell us that she was of Arab origin, and regarded herself as an unlettered commoner, lacking the knowledge of acquired sciences, except for the experiential knowledge of Allah. I believe that her stress on her Arab origin is not only to prove her command of the Arabic language, which would qualify her to understand and to author a commentary on Ibn ‘Arabī’s Mashāhid; but it also echoes Ibn ‘Arabī’s own stress of his Arab lineage (nasab) as he often asserts that he is al-tā’ī al-hātimī.[21] In his tabaqāt, al-Sha’rānī writes that according to a Shādhilī shaykh, “The language of the senses is ‘ajamī (obscure), while the language of the heart is ‘arabī (clear)”.[22] In light of this, we can understand Sitt ‘Ajam’s stress on her Arab origin.

In addition, though an unlettered woman, Sitt ‘Ajam demonstrates in her work that she was exceptionally knowledgeable in her field. Despite what she says, we can infer from her work that she must have received solid oral instruction in the religious sciences based on the Qur’an and Sunna. From her commentary, we can also infer that she was familiar with the teachings of earlier Sufi masters, such as al-Niffarī (d.965)[23] and Sahl b. ‘Abd Allāh al-Tustarī.[24] Moreover, she seems to have been knowledgeable of the Sufi classics. For she often mentions works such as ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Qushayrī’s (d.1072) writings,[25] especially his Risāla, and Abū Tālib al-Makki’s (d.996) book, Qūt al-qulūb.[26]

She also discusses the discourse of the “intoxicated” Sufis who are famous for their ecstatic utterances (shath), such as Abū Bakr al-Shiblī who is reported to have made the controversial statement: “nothing is under the gown except Allah”;[27] Abū Yazīd al-Bistāmī, who scandalized his contemporaries with his statement: “Glory be to me! How great is my nature! (subhānī a’¥am mā subhānī)”;[28] al-Hallāj, who eventually brought death upon himself by utterances such as the problematic statement: “I am the Truth (anā al-haqq)”.[29] Sitt ‘Ajam eloquently explains their shatahāt, both metaphysically and mystically. Metaphysically, she refers to these utterances as a result of a process through which the inward of the Sufi overtakes the outward, and since there is nothing in the inward of the heart but Allah, the Sufi is thus speaking from this vantage point, that is Allah. Mystically, the Sufi becomes immersed in a hāl in which the tools of expression are no longer adequate to transmit his/her ineffable experience.[30] As Claude Addas puts it in explaining the real meaning of wahdat al-wujūd, “If, from the point of view of spiritual realization, this saying shows the degree of perfection of the ‘pure servant’ who, engulfed in the Deity, no longer knows that he is, from a metaphysical point of view, it illustrates the idea that ‘existing beings’ (mawjūdāt) have no being of their own, that wujūd, ‘Being’, belongs only to God.”[31] What is more interesting here is Sitt ‘Ajam’s comparison of the intoxicated Sufi tradition with the sober ‘irfānī tradition initiated by al-Junayd (d.910), and continued by Ibn ‘Arabī. Here she classifies herself as a member of the sober tradition of knowledge, arguing that she is one of those who control themselves when they experience such a hāl. In this regard, she states that, “we are content with addressing Allah in secret since we have overcome the hāl“.[32]

Furthermore, Sitt ‘Ajam ably discusses the views of philosophers, such as the mysterious Alexandrian Hermes Trismagistus, the Pre-Socratic Thales, and those to whom she refers as sages (hukamā’).[33] For instance, in the “Eighth Witnessing” referring to “the light of the Rock as the star of the sea rises”, Sitt ‘Ajam makes reference to the view of Thales that “everything arises from water”,[34] and the view of ancient sages concerning the nature of water which they called the moon because of its humid nature.[35] She also refers to the views of Aristotle, mentioning him by name when she states that rationality and animal nature are conditions of the human state.[36] Also, in the “Third Witnessing” she discusses in a rather sophisticated manner, one of the most controversial philosophical issues in Islamic philosophy and theology, the eternity of the world.[37] As for the “Last Witnessing”, we find Sitt ‘Ajam discussing the views of the different philosophical discourses known during her time. For example, she severely attacks the externalists, the naturalist philosophers, the spiritualists, and the Mu’tazilites.[38] Like other Sufi masters before her, she is critical of the limiting approaches of kalām and philosophy, which bind all understanding and knowledge to reason (‘aql). Instead, she stresses, in her chapter of “the light of argument as the star of justice rises”, the fact that Sufi experiential knowledge is basically derived from the heart.[39] Furthermore, she argues that it is only this knowledge that can combine paradoxical truths in the endeavor to describe the highest states of spiritual contemplation and realization, whereas rational knowledge tries to explain paradoxical truths only externally, without taking enough account of the inward nature of things.[40] For Sitt ‘Ajam, a person can always generate by means of mystical unveiling (kashf) a full and deep knowledge.[41] What is important to underline here is that she was able to cultivate a sophisticated Sufi metaphysical vocabulary, through orally transmitted information, perhaps without having the skills of either writing or reading, which is rather remarkable in the tradition of philosophical Sufism, but not so surprising in an educational system which stresses personal ties in the transmission of knowledge from master to disciple. In the introduction to her other work, Kashf al-kunūz, she reveals more about her identity:

Since Allah the Almighty knew that I am an unlettered common woman, deprived of whatever is related to exoteric knowledge, even of writing and whatever pens draw, He provided me with a companion (sāhib) who is knowledgeable in the rules of calligraphy and its meaning. He made him my male guardian, having the precedence of masculinity over femininity. This is my spouse, my shar’ī companion. Therefore, he is always prepared whenever there is need to respond. So whenever Allah the Almighty throws in my heart any expression or emanation, I ask for his help, one that is out of intimate familiarity, and I recite to him what is being delivered. He responds to the call immediately without complaint or tedium. And that acceptance on his part is another gift of Allah’s gifts to me.[42]

The above lines not only introduce Sitt ‘Ajam’s identity but also reflect her special relationship with her husband and cousin, about whom we know nothing, except his name, Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Khatīb.[43] It seems that she was not merely concerned with revealing the identity of the person who helped her put down her thoughts in writing, but she wanted rather to reveal something of the special nature of the relationship that bound her to him, which helped her immeasurably in her spiritual quest.


Sitt ‘Ajam’s perception and experience of marital relationship (Nikāh)

Sitt ‘Ajam’s relationship with her husband reminds us of Ibn ‘Arabī’s with his wife, Maryam bint ‘Abdūn, and the tenth-century Sufi al-Hakīm al-Tirmidhī’s relationship with his wife. Al-Tirmidhī, the author of The Way of the Friends of God (Íirāt al-awliyā’), also wrote an autobiography entitled “The Beginning of the Matter” (Bad’ al-shā’n).[44] In it, he describes the most important events in his life, his spiritual quest, mystical experiences, including dreams. The role of his wife here cannot be ignored. He states:

Now my wife kept dreaming about me, dream after dream, always at dawn. It was as if she, or the dreams, were both messengers to me. There was no need for interpretation, because their meaning was clear.[45]

All have experienced a special mystical relationship between them, united in marriage as well as in the spiritual quest. What is interesting is that they all were essentially concerned with the concept of sainthood(walāya). Al-Tirmidhī is the first to theorize about the concept of the Seal of the Saints.

Sitt ‘Ajam as well not only discusses the concept of sainthoodand its differences from prophethood,but also declares that there is only one in their time (wāhid waqtihi munfarid fī ‘asrihi) who is able to know the slightest difference between walāya and nubuwwa, and hints that she is that “one”.[46] According to Ibn ‘Arabī, a Muhammadan saint can only reach the state of union with God through marriage. Thus, Sitt ‘Ajam, Ibn ‘Arabī and al-Tirmidhī all share this Sufi view of sainthood which was reflected in their lives as a whole and in their marital relationships in particular.

This special marital relationship, based on love, faith and vision, and which was experienced by al-Tirmidhī, Ibn ‘Arabī and Sitt ‘Ajam, has its roots in the Prophetic tradition. In this connection, the Prophet states that “al-nikāh (marriage) is my Sunna”.[47] He also said “when the servant marries, he completes half of his religion”.[48] Furthermore, the Prophet specifically named three things which were made lovable to him in the world: “Three things of this world of yours were made lovable to me: women, perfume and the coolness of my eye was placed in prayer.”[49] And since for the Sufi, the purpose of creation is to make the Hidden Treasure manifest, the marital bonding, and specifically the sexual act,[50]was seen as providing the occasion for what Ibn ‘Arabī calls “the greatest Self-disclosure”.

It is not a coincidence that Ibn ‘Arabī devotes the last chapter of his most celebrated book, Fusūs al-hikam, the ringstone of Muhammad, entirely to his interpretation of the above-mentioned hadith. Ibn ‘Arabī argues that the character of the Prophet can be legitimately summed up in this hadith. As Sachiko Murata explains, The Prophet, who is the Perfect Man,

manifests the divine name Allah, since he brings together all the divine names in a comprehensive unity. At the same time, his innermost reality, called by such names as the “Muhammadan Reality” and “the Reality of Realities”, is the principle that gives rise to the cosmos and is manifest in the Breath of the all-Merciful, the Supreme Barzakh, as well as in the Supreme Pen. Hence the Prophet’s innermost reality is identical with the marriage act that gives rise to the cosmos.[51]

Moreover, marriage for the Sufi seeker is the status in which one fulfills oneself. Man’s perfection lies in woman, and woman’s perfection lies in man. According to Frithjof Schuon, “Man stabilizes woman, woman vivifies man; furthermore, and quite obviously, man contains woman within himself and vice versa.”[52] According to Ibn ‘Arabī’s cosmogony, there is a polarity of Creator and creation, who are both in a perpetual downward and upward movement of attraction. Since Allah created the world because He loved to be known, He manifested Himself in concrete form (the creation) to Himself through the dynamic force of love.[53] Ibn ‘Arabī argues: “Through the inherent power of love to appear in concrete manifestation, the Absolute brings forth existence. In turn, these manifestations, driven by the same power of love, seek to return to their origin. The circle of creation is a never-ending one that perpetuates creation.”[54] Thus, Ibn ‘Arabī views the relation between Adam and Eve as one that is governed by the mutual longing to unite, culminating in sexual intercourse.

Parallel to the emanation of the ontological Adam from the Absolute who desired to see Himself in concrete form, “Eve was extracted from Adam to make Divine manifestation possible”.[55] Therefore, the love of the male for the female is the love for himself, since Eve is the inward part of Adam, and Eve’s love for Adam is the love for Allah, which is a longing to go back to his or her essence. Their mutual longing for each other, according to Frithjof Schuon, is “a search for the Essence and the lost paradise”.[56] Hence, through the dynamics of love the One becomes the many, and the many becomes the One. And it is only the Qutb (the Pole) who can undergo such an experience.

Through God’s self-disclosure in marriage, the Pole knows what encourages him to seek marriage and become completely enamored of it. For neither he nor any other gnostic realizes his servanthood more thoroughly than in what he realizes in the marriage act … The marriage act of the possessor of this station is like the marriage act of the people of the garden, strictly for appetite, since it is the greatest Self-disclosure of God.[57]

This special relationship that the gnostic experiences, which is based on complementarity, seems to be what Sitt ‘Ajam experienced with her husband. This is shown by the fact that her ideas could not have been exteriorized without the help of her husband. While she represents the interior, the inward dimension, her husband represents the exterior (outward) form. She has ‘ilm al-bātin, whereas her husband has ‘ilm al-¥āhir, through which her unveiling (kashf) was made manifest. According to Sitt ‘Ajam, woman is the inward reality whereas man is the outward reality.

Another important aspect revealed in the mentioned passage, which concerns her relationship with her husband, is what Sitt ‘Ajam describes as her husband’s “qayyūmiyya” over her. Here she echoes the Qur’anic verses which state that “men stand over women” (4:34), and that “men have a degree above women” (2:228).[58] But does Sitt ‘Ajam here intend the superficial meaning of the word, upon which the exegetes usually focus, the one concerned with a social interpretation? Or could it be that Sitt ‘Ajam was more concerned with the inward meaning of the term? Sitt ‘Ajam’s employment of the concept brings to mind al-Qushayrī’s interpretation of the concept in his commentary on the Qur’an, Latā’if al-ishārāt, in which he offers an esoteric interpretation of these verses:

They have [rights] similar to those over them, with honor. In other words, he has the obligation to expend property for her, and she has the obligation to serve him because of this. But the men have a degree above them in excellence, while the women have the advantage of weakness and the incapacity of mortal nature.[59]

Though al-Qushayrī does not ignore the shar’ī exoteric aspect, he alludes to a more esoteric dimension in interpreting the verse. In pointing to women’s weakness, he is alluding to the feminine receptive side of women, which is “the Yin quality” in the Taoist sense.[60] To be conscious of one’s weakness and incapacity is actualizing the Yin quality in relation to the Real, which is the state of servanthood.[61] Indeed, actualizing the Yin qualities that pertain to servanthood is a necessary step towards attributing to oneself the Yang qualities, which pertain to vicegerency (khalīfa).[62]Thus, al-Qushayri’s esoteric interpretation of the verse alludes to the great delusion men may be trapped in because of their “natural state” of actualizing the Yang attributes. So they claim authority and vicegerency, without having first attained to the state of servanthood. Unlike women, who due to their “natural” or “conditional” ‘weakness’ and ‘incapacity’, both of which are symbolic of positive qualities, attain naturally to the state of servanthood, which surpasses all other stations in the Sufi path. Hence, as one Sufi has put it: “one should have the soul of a woman in order to be a real seeker”.[63]

It is therefore incumbent on the gnostic to recognize the Yin qualities within himself or herself, in the face of Allah, as it helps him or her to attain the understanding of Truth. It is in this sense that Sitt ‘Ajam stresses twice, in her commentary on al-Mashāhid and in her other text Kashf al-kunūz, the nature of the relationship she had with her husband, who “stands above her”. She did not find it degrading to describe her husband as qayyūman ‘alayya. It seems that she may have been aware of the discourse of al-Qushayrī and of Ibn ‘Arabī on this matter.[64] Thus she knows that by her attaining to the Yin qualities in herself and actualizing the state of servanthood, it would in turn empower her to actualize the state of vicegerency, which she claims to have attained.[65]Hence, as we have illustrated, Sitt ‘Ajam belongs to a line of Sufi thought, like Ibn ‘Arabī’s and al-Tirmidhī’s, that views marriage from the vantage-point of its metaphysical and cosmological dimensions, an indispensable state in the realization of the gnostic quest.

As regards the complementary relation between men and women, Sitt ‘Ajam indulges in an interesting discussion with her husband in chapter 11,[66] where she identifies Adam as a manifestation of Divine Oneness (wāhidiyya) and identifies Eve as a manifestation of Uniqueness (ahadiyya). According to Sitt ‘Ajam, Divinity is perceived through two aspects: Uniqueness and Oneness. On the one hand, Oneness which is bound by delimitation, may only be attributed to a limited object. On the other hand, Uniqueness, which is bound by absoluteness, is attributed to an absolute; yet, it may also be attributed to a delimited absolute, on the condition that the delimitation is concealed. In this connection, Sitt ‘Ajam gives us a long account of a controversial question, which involved Sa’d al-dīn Hamawayh (d.1252).[67] The issue between Sitt ‘Ajam and Hamawayh concerned God’s image in Adam and Eve, and which of the two corresponds to Uniqueness and which to Oneness. Hamawayh held that Adam (the masculine element) corresponds to God’s manifestation of Uniqueness, while Eve (the feminine element) corresponds to God’s manifestation of Oneness. Sitt ‘Ajam, however, held the opposite view, and in defending her position she demonstrated her skill in the use of speculative Sufi language. For her, Adam corresponds to God’s manifestation of Oneness, whereas Eve [the female element] is God’s manifestation of al-ahadiyya. She bases her argument on the Prophetic hadith that states: “God created Adam according to His own image”. The image or the form, she argues, is by definition a delimitation. And given that Oneness is of the Names of delimitation, while Uniqueness is of the Names of absoluteness, Adam becomes God’s manifestation of Oneness, and Eve becomes God’s manifestation of Uniqueness. She further explains that when Adam was created, delimitation was manifest and absoluteness was hidden and even nonexistent; thus Adam is the image of Oneness. Eve, on the other hand, is the image of Uniqueness because when God created Adam and Eve, both of His attributes, absoluteness and delimitation, became manifest. According to Sitt ‘Ajam, given that Uniqueness contains at once absoluteness and delimitation, it follows that Eve corresponds to the Divine aspect of Uniqueness. Furthermore, she argues that the Essenceis feminine, and that Eve was created after Perfection. Sitt ‘Ajam concludes that Adam is the image of Oneness, since he only represents delimitation, whereas Eve is the image of Uniqueness, for she is the image of both delimitation and absoluteness. In Sitt ‘Ajam’s words, “Eve’s form is delimited, but her meaning is absolute.”[68]

In his Kitāb al-Alif which is also known as Kitāb al-Ahadiyya, Ibn ‘Arabī addresses the same question of Uniqueness (ahadiyya) and Oneness (wāhidiyya) and its correspondence to the creation of Adam and Eve. In Ibn ‘Arabī’s view, the human being (al-insān) is created upon the image of al-wāhidiyya rather than ahadiyya, for the ahadiyya is the Essence of the Essence of the Ipseity or He-ness (al-huwiyya) whereas wāhidiyya is only a name for It, denoting a duality or twoness (ithnayniyya). We must first notice that unlike Sa’d al-Dīn Hamawayh and Sitt ‘Ajam, Ibn ‘Arabī uses a more metaphysically nuanced language, for he uses the term insān rather than Adam to stress the androgynous nature of the first Adam or collective man. In light of this perspective, “Adam” in the prophetic hadith which states that God created Adam in His image, does not refer to the first Prophet, but “Adam” here is a collective noun and should be translated as “Humanity”. The hadith is paralleled word for word in Genesis 1:26–27, which teaches that this “Adam” or Primorial Humanity was androgynous, containing both male and female. Because God is inclusive of both male and female simultaneously, God creates Humanity in the divine androgynous image. To use Ibn ‘Arabī’s language, God created al-insān, who is the most perfect image and the most complete form, with His Two Hands.

Furthermore, Ibn ‘Arabī often talks of two different modalities of Uniqueness, which he refers to as “the Uniqueness of the One” (ahadiyyat al-wāhid) and the “Uniqueness of the many” (ahadiyyat al-kathra), which is equivalent to al-wāhidiyya. In some instances, he uses the terms “Uniqueness of the Essence” (al-ahadiyya al-dhātiyya) and the “Uniqueness of the Attributes” (ahadiyyat al-sifāt) to also express al-ahadiyya and al-wāhidiyya. Al-ahadiyya, which is derived from the Unique(ahad), denotes transcendence (tanzīh) and negation of multiplicity and of all that is other than Him; in a word, it is virginal. Wāhidiyya, on the other hand, is derived from the One (wāhid), and denotes similarity (tashbīh) and the affirmation of the many; in a word, it is maternal. Regarding this, he explains in Kitāb al-Alif:

The ahad does not accept association, and no worship is directed toward it. On the contrary, worship belongs to the Lord, so pay attention to giving the station of lordship its full due and leaving unity in the tanzīh to which we have alluded. The ahad is exalted, forbidden through its interchangeability, and it remains forever in obscurity. There can never be any self-disclosure through it, for its reality forbids that. It is the “face” that possesses the “burning glories”. What is it like?! So, my brothers, never hope to lift this veil! …

On the other hand, he states that:

The wāhid is not made two by any other than itself. Number and manyness become manifest through its free activity in levels that are intelligible but not existent. So everything in wujūd is a wāhid. Were a thing not a wāhid, it could not affirm that oneness belongs to God, for it can only affirm its Existence-giver in terms of what it has itself. Thus it has been said:

In each thing He has a sign
Signifying that He is One. [69]

It is therefore clear that Ibn ‘Arabī speaks of two modes of Uniqueness, the absolute Uniqueness of the Essence, which is inaccessible, and the Uniqueness of the many, which both Sitt ‘Ajam and Hamawayh have in mind when they use the term al-ahadiyya. Furthermore, Ibn ‘Arabī sometimes refers to this Uniqueness of the many as the “Uniqueness of totality” (ahadiyyat al-majmū’), which belongs on the one hand to Allah, “the All-Comprehensive Name” (al-ism al-jāmi’), to which the Qur’anic verse “There is no thing whose treasuries are not with Us” (15:21) alludes, and on the other hand, to the perfect human being, who is created upon or according to the image of Allah or al-rahmān, the All-Compassionate, according to another version of the hadith.

In an interesting passage in the Futūhāt, Ibn ‘Arabī expands on the concept of the Uniqueness of the many, drawing a parallel between the relationship of the All-Compassionate with His creation, and that of womb relatives. He writes,

Wherever creation may be, the Real accompanies it in respect of His name All-Compassionate (Rahmān), because the womb (rahm) is a branch of this name, and all people are womb relatives, for they are children of one father and one mother. After all, He created us from one soul, who is Adam, and He scattered abroad from Adam and Eve many men and women [4:1]… So we, in respect of the womb, are near kin, but in respect of the level, servants. So we trace our lineage to none but Him and we trace our origin to no one else.[70]

Ibn ‘Arabī seems to be asserting here that creation derives from the feminine. He then further develops his doctrine of the Creative Feminine when he points out that umm (mother) etymologically speaking suggests that the feminine is the origin of all things. It must be stressed, however, that the archetype of the Mother, according to Ibn ‘Arabī, combines agent and receptivity (jāmi’a bayn al-fi’l wa al-infi’āl). For he argues that:

Whatever may be the philosophical doctrine to which we adhere, we observe, as soon as we speculate on the origin and the cause, the anteriority and the presence of the Feminine. The Masculine is placed between two Feminines: Adam is placed between the Divine Essence (dhāt al-haqq) from which he issues and Eve, who issues from him.[71]

Hence, Eve, being an image of the All-Compassionate, is creatrix of the being of which she was created. This is also alluded to in al-Hallāj’s famous line: “My mother gave birth to her father; that is a marvel indeed.” The Shi’is also refer to this same reality when they speak of Fatima in the mode of Fātir (creator), for she is the mother of her father according to the hadith. As a result, the woman becomes the perfect locus for Divine witnessing. As Ibn ‘Arabī explains,

When the man witnesses the Real in woman, this is a witnessing within a locus that receives activity. When he witnesses Him in himself in respect to the fact that the woman becomes manifest from himself, then he has witnessed Him in an agent. When he witnesses Him in himself without calling to mind the form of that which was engendered from himself, then his witnessing takes place in a locus that receives the Real’s activity without intermediary.

Hence his witnessing of the Real in the woman is the most complete and the most perfect, since he witnesses the Real in respect of the fact that He is both agent and locus of receiving activity.[72]

In light of this perspective, we understand the powerful creatrix nature of the feminine, which Ibn ‘Arabī finds corresponding to al-wāhidiyya. However, according to Ibn ‘Arabī’s argument, just as everything including Uniqueness is of two kinds, the Uniqueness of the One and the Uniqueness of the many, cosmologically every state of being has two faces, including wāhidiyya, which is necessarily associated with twoness (ithnayniyya).

In this respect, in Kitāb al-Alif Ibn ‘Arabī provides an interesting account of how Singularity or Oddness (fardāniyya) is established. He argues that since wāhidiyya, or ahadiyyat al-kathra, became manifest in all being, it competed with the Uniqueness of the One (ahadiyyat al-wāhid). So in order to vindicate (which is the literal meaning of witr, the odd) the rights of the Uniqueness of the One, fardāniyya was established. Then he points out that the female (Eve) was created according to Oneness (wāhidiyya), for Adam was not awake during her creation, whereas the male (Adam) was created according to Singularity (fardāniyya). He further argues that Adam is singular (fard) while Eve is one (wāhid) and one in the singular. Therefore women, owing to wahidiyya, are much stronger in concealing love than men, and thus, they are considered the purest locus for divine manifestation. Here, Ibn ‘Arabī’s analogy is closer to Sitt ‘Ajam’s when she states that Eve is the image of Uniqueness, for she is the image of both delimitedness and absoluteness. Interestingly, Ibn ‘Arabī argues that even the creation of Jesus, who was created from a feminine without the mediation of a father, was created according to singularity. As Ibn ‘Arabī states in the Futūhāt when explaining the quality of singularity,

From this name becomes manifest every possible entity that becomes manifest. No possible thing becomes manifest from the One. It becomes manifest only from a plurality (jam’), and the smallest plurality is three, which is the singular. Hence every possible thing needs the name the Singular.[73]

As he concludes in Kitāb al-Alif, “Since it is not possible for the singular (al-fard) to exist except after establishing the two, it is weakened compared to the might of the wahdāniyya.” One consequence of this view, which Ibn ‘Arabī suggests, is that the question of inheritance was established upon this metaphysical and cosmological reality. For he argues that since the woman corresponds to wahdāniyya whereas the man corresponds to fardāniyya, she only inherits one-third while the man inherits two-thirds. This is because she is the stronger party while he is the weaker. Furthermore, as her nature accepts nothing but the One, she only inherits one-third. In the light of this, one could argue that Ibn ‘Arabī’s perspective is much closer to Sitt ‘Ajam’s than to Hamawayh’s.

In Ibn ‘Arabī’s writings, the feminine element appears to be an integral part of his ontological thought. To begin with, Ibn ‘Arabī speaks of two categories, the female element (Eve), which is maternal, and the Feminine Essence (dhāt), which is virginal. Ibn ‘Arabī’s view of the female element of Reality is well established in the last chapter of al-Fusūs, the Ringstone of Muhammad. He bases his chapter on the Prophetic hadith: “Three things of this world …”,[74] Ibn ‘Arabī explains that the Prophet, by using the triad form, gives precedence to the feminine gender as the masculine term, perfume, is placed between the two feminine terms, prayer and woman.[75]This microcosmic triad is but a reflection of a greater one pertaining to the Divine Reality. Allah, the Creator, the One (al-wāhid), is between “His own secret Essence which, from its eternal treasury of latency, provides Him with the content of His knowledge of Himself as creation and created Cosmos. And the world which comes from Him; or between His own latent wisdom, Sophia, and Universal Nature which is the theatre of His infinite Self-Manifestation and elaboration.[76]

As Seyyed Hossein Nasr explains, the masculine aspect of the Divine is that which is responsible for creation and revelation, whereas “the non-manifesting aspect of Divinity is seen as having a feminine character, the Divine Essence itself in Arabic being al-dhāt which is grammatically feminine”.[77] Moreover, in Sufi literature, al-dhāt is often referred to as Layla, which means “night” and has the connotation of the dark and mysterious (echoing the Song of Songs “black but beautiful”). Shaykh al-‘Alawī, an Akbari Sufi saint of the twentieth century, expresses this idea in his poem:

Full near I came unto where dwelleth Layla when I heard her call. That voice, would I might even hear it! She favored me, and drew me to her, took me into her precinct, with discourse intimate addresses me. She sat me by her, then came closer, raised the cloak that hid her from me, marvel to distraction, bewildered me with all her inmost self, until I thought that she was I, And my life she took as ransom.[78]

It is this hidden non-manifest aspect of the Divine, metaphorically referred to as Layla, that Sitt ‘Ajam alludes to and sees as corresponding to al-ahadiyya. However, seen from another point of view, it may be argued that the masculine element corresponds to that Divine aspect which excludes all otherness, whereas femininity corresponds to expansion. Eve (hawwā’) in the Arabic language derives from the verb h-w-y, to encompass. Therefore, infinitude (the maternal feminine element) has within itself potentialities of creation. I believe that it is this dimension of Reality that Sa’d al-dīn Hamawayh underlines when he argues that Adam is the image of al-ahadiyya that excludes all otherness, while Eve is the image of al-wāhidiyya, encompassing all potentialities of creation.

It should be noted that Adam and Eve are here used as symbols to express certain levels of Reality; however, as Lings remarks, “there is no single symbol which can possibly reflect all aspects of its Archetype”.[79] Moreover, he argues that the nature of the symbol is “… by definition fragmentary in that it can never capture all the aspects of its archetype. What escapes it in this instance is the truth that the centre is infinitely greater than the circumference. It therefore needs to be complemented at the back of our minds by another circle whose centre stands for this world and whose circumference symbolizes the All-Surrounding Infinite.”[80]

From the above, one can argue that the symbol of Adam and Eve may be equally inverted. Hence, Adam may be seen as a symbol of al-ahadiyya as Sa’d al-dīn Hamawayh holds, for he sees the matter in the light of absoluteness and transcendence. On the other hand, Sitt ‘Ajam inverts the symbol when she argues instead, that Adam is the image of wāhidiyya, and the source of manifestation and creation. As for Hamawayh, he considers Eve as the image of al-wāhidiyya in light of her maternal infinitude, while Sitt ‘Ajam considers Eve as the image of al-ahadiyya in light of her virginal infinitude.[81]

What is noticeable here is the difference in their interpretation of Ibn ‘Arabī’s view of al-dhāt (Essence) which he refers to as “She”, and which he considers to be greater than “He”![82] Here we have two Akbari disciples interpreting the Divine essence in different terms. Sa’d al-dīn Hamawayh stresses the aspect of maternal infinitude, which is outwardly radiating, whereas Sitt ‘Ajam stresses the aspect of virginal infinitude, which is the deepest inward dimension of al-dhāt. Sitt ‘Ajam tends to accentuate the virginal aspect rather than the maternal aspect of the feminine Divine, for the Divine Mother does not exhaust the presence of the various modes of the Divine Feminine, nor is it as primary as the divine Virgin. In other terms, the divine Maternity emanates from the divine Virginity. The divine Virginity is pure and solely Femininity, with no masculine component; this Virginity emanates the Maternal from which is born the masculine. The Virgin, not the Mother, is the Essence(dhāt).Moreover, it seems that Sitt ‘Ajam like Ibn ‘Arabī is accentuating Hiya which pertains to the Divine Essence and the Subject over Huwa which pertains to the Divine Principle and Object. This explains why she insists in the same chapter on describing the relationship between the Lord and the servant as one of unification (ittihād) rather than bond (irtibāt), as will be further discussed later in the paper. Sitt ‘Ajam’s discourse sounds here more intrinsic than that of Hamawayh. She thus tends to expose the exoteric dogmatic viewpoints, which exo-esoteric Sufis repeat suggesting thatthough the dhāt cannot be intellectually described, as Ibn ‘Arabī warns us against hoping to lift the veil, She could take us under Her veil and be known through unio mystica, that is through loving and uniting with Her. A question that may be raised here is whether their variant interpretations have to do with gender difference. It would be an oversimplification, and even erroneous, to reduce the nature of difference in the mystical hermeneutics of these two Akbari disciples (Sitt ‘Ajam and Hamawayh) to the question of gender, for one cannot undermine the great role that male Sufi figures, like Ibn ‘Arabī and Jalal al-dīn Rūmī, played in creating a whole treasure-trove of ideas and symbolism revealing the centrality of femininity. Both laid strong emphasis, through their experiential mystical vision, on the feminine dimension of Divine Reality, which permeated their understanding and hermeneutics of the Ultimate Reality. It is in this sense that the paper employs the term “feminine hermeneutic”. It is a hermeneutic that stresses the haqīqa (esoteric Knowledge), which is feminine. It is also a hermeneutic by virtue of its femininity that evokes the experiential (“being”), which transcends the theoretical (“thinking”).


Sitt ‘Ajam’s Doctrine of Divine Witnessing (shuhūd)

Sitt ‘Ajam explains the experience of shuhūd, in both a detailed and experiential manner, rich in technical terms, some of which may be considered innovative. She asserts that the experience of witnessing is based essentially on what she calls divestiture (khal’).[83] She explains this experientially as “casting off the outer body without pain in a state between death and life”.[84]

Sitt ‘Ajam gives us additional explanations of the experience of shuhūd by arguing that this divestiture is actualized by means of a “Divine attraction (jadhba ilāhiyya)”, or by a “human volition to depart from ordinary life”, until the witness reaches the state of staying in the image “which leads him to the inner world, until such a time as he is granted life’s very secret”.[85] In further exploring the experience of shuhūd, Sitt ‘Ajam points to the textual description of Ibn ‘Arabī’s experience of witnessing in al-Mashāhid: “He made me witness” as “He awakened consciousness in me by increasing a shadow-awareness (nā¥ir ¥illī) that penetrates the inward dimension so I witnessed His image.”[86]

Furthermore, she classifies the experience of shuhūd into three experiential states. The first state is gazing (ittilā’) or “beholding God”, which she defines as “what limits the perception in a near location”.[87] The second state is stopping (waqfa), which she defines as “looking for a glimpse”; however, this is a brief experience due to its limited horizon.[88] As for the third state, which is the highest, she refers to as “flowing on” (jarī). Sitt ‘Ajam defines this last state as “the penetration from one witnessing to another in one divestiture”.[89] This ability to flow or move on, she tells us, makes the horizon of the ‘ārif dynamic rather than static. Hence, the ‘ārif, at this stage of shuhūd, encompasses all of the Divine Names and Qualities. It is important to underline here that the concepts of jarī and khal’ seem to be used by Sitt ‘Ajam in an experiential manner, manifested in a sensory language, for she explains them in a way that suggests that she has experienced them herself. She even elaborates in explaining each witnessing, giving detailed accounts in sensory terms, a fact which led in some cases to more obscurity.

She also stresses that the place of this witnessing is the heart of the ‘ārif who is the witness, for it is the heart that plays the role of the mirror. The more the mirror of the heart is polished, the better chance the witness may have to become one with the witnessed. This seems to tally with Burckhardt’s explanation of that Sufi symbol: “The mirror is the most immediate symbol of spiritual contemplation [or witnessing], and indeed of knowledge (gnosis) in general, for it portrays the union of the subject and object.”[90] It is important to mention here that the symbol of the mirror was already used by many Sufis before Sitt ‘Ajam. Shihāb al-dīn Yahyā al-Suhrawardī of Aleppo (d.1191), known as al-Suhrawardī al-maqtūl and the master of the philosophy of Illumination, used the mirror as an important symbol in his philosophy of light. He explains that when the seeker journeys in the path of the Self, he comes to know that he has the entire world contained within him. Thus, he views himself as the mirror reflecting all “eternal prototypes that appear as ephemeral forms”.[91] He then comes to the conclusion that “…he himself has no existence; his ‘I’ disappears as the subject, and only God remains as the Subject of all knowledge.”[92] In his Fusūs, Ibn ‘Arabī also explains the metaphysical symbol of the mirror in the experience of shuhūd as follows: “God is the mirror in whichthou seest thyself, and thou art His mirror in which He contemplates His names. These, however, are naught other than He, so that it is merely a case of the analogy of relationships being inverted.”[93] While it is clear that Sitt ‘Ajam was highly influenced by Ibn ‘Arabī’s ideas, it is also easy to demonstrate that she was equally versed in the theosophical vocabulary of the Sufi tradition in general.


Concluding Remarks

Sitt ‘Ajam’s commentary is characterized by its highly complex metaphysical and experiential language. In her commentary, she tends to systematically discuss every point in the Mashāhid quite thoroughly. She defines every term used by Ibn ‘Arabī in a manner conducive to his and her purposes. She even coins new terms in order to express certain ideas or to define a particular concept, as she did with the experience of shuhūd. In her interpretation of this experience, she divides it into three states: “gazing” (ittilā’), “stopping” (waqfa) and finally “flowing on” (jarī), reflecting her deep and intimate knowledge of this mystical experience. We can argue that Sitt ‘Ajam’s commentary of the Mashāhid seems to be accomplished in the light of her own mystical experience of shuhūd. This is reflected in the many instances where she refers to her own experiences, which were also described in her earlier work al-Khatm. For instance, in chapter 12, entitled Uniqueness, she tells us that Allah has actually manifested to her in the station of Majesty. What is significant, however, in Sitt ‘Ajam’s experiential methodology is that she writes a commentary on a text written by another author, but which is partly accomplished and realized in the light of her own personal mystical experience. The details that she provides in her interpretation of al-Mashāhid indicate that she has actually been through the exigencies of the subjective experience of shuhūd. Here lies the difficulty of interpreting a kind of text such as the Mashāhid. In contrast to Ibn ‘Arabī’s Fusūs, which is more of a theoretical treatise, Ibn ‘Arabī’s Mashāhid is more about the inner mystical experiences of his shuhūd. Thus, even in Ibn ‘Arabī’s Mashāhid, the language appears in certain places incapable of incarnating the meaning. Hence, on one hand, when Sitt ‘Ajam makes an attempt to interpret it, she does so in what appears to be a subjective manner adding in some instances to its obscurity. Her language here is characterized by being elliptical and centripetal. Using the earlier line of thought, it may be seen as a “virginal female hermeneutic”. On the other hand, although the language of Ibn ‘Arabī was exceedingly condensed and cryptic, Sitt ‘Ajam tended to be more generous in explaining the inner states of the witnessing experience, whatever subtle nuances and difficult shifts it may take. Her language here is characterized by being detailed, vivid and centrifugal. Again, using the earlier line of thought, it may be seen as a “maternal (creative) female hermeneutic”.

As Sitt ‘Ajam seems to insinuate, this interpretation derives from her own mystical experience; therefore, it is a hermeneutic through experiential knowledge: “If it was not for inheritanceand gift, we would not have been able to solve this book”;[94] “We follow the path of the preceding saints such as Ibn ‘Arabī and his like”;[95]“The like of this witnessing happened to me and I wrote it down in Kitāb al-Khatm. Allah said to me: ‘I am the world and the world is not Me'”;[96] or when she says in chapter 12: “We experience this kind of witnessing so often”.[97] Such statements help us to understand some of Sitt ‘Ajam’s interpretive methods in explaining her doctrine.

Sitt ‘Ajam seems to put herself on a par with her own master. And while she gives Ibn ‘Arabī a very high spiritual status, describing him as “the Great Name of Allah in wujūd“, she does not hesitate to criticize him, or differ with him.[98] In chapter 12, entitled Uniqueness, she disagrees with Ibn ‘Arabī on how he views the relationship between the Lord and the servant(al-‘abd). Thus, whereas Ibn ‘Arabī defines this relationship as one of a bond (irtibāt) Sitt ‘Ajam gives preference to using the term unification (ittihād) instead. As she says in her own words, “We have spoken from the point of view of Reality, and this witness [Ibn ‘Arabī] has spoken from the point of view of the Outward … However, the Reality we mean was not hidden from him.”[99] She also criticizes Ibn ‘Arabī in two other instances. In the first, she declares that Ibn ‘Arabī’s statement is invalid regarding his differentiation between the inheritors and the gnostics, since she believes that “the gnostic cannot be considered as such, unless he is an inheritor”.[100] However, Ibn ‘Arabī refers to those who return (al-rāji’ūn) as being both gnostics (‘ārifūn) and knowers (‘ulamā’). But whereas the ‘ārifūn are those who come back for their own sake, the ‘ulamā’ are those who come back for others; thus, for him, only the ‘ulamā’ are the inheritors.[101] The second instance in which Sitt ‘Ajam criticizes Ibn ‘Arabī is in the first chapter of her commentary, where she asserts that his statement regarding the Divine Name, “The Truth” or “The Real” (haqq), as a Divine Quality, is “erroneous, as it is meant to conceal [a certain reality], either out of fear or out of a wish to make it mysterious”.[102] Instead, she considers al-haqq as a Name for the Essence that could be used interchangeably with Allah. It is interesting to note here that ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī, in his hāshiya (marginal commentary) on Sitt ‘Ajam’s commentary, criticizes in turn her critical views of Ibn ‘Arabī, arguing instead that it is Sitt ‘Ajam’s views that are erroneous.

As a Sufi thinker in her own right, Sitt ‘Ajam expressed critical views of some of the Sufis in her own times. She holds that she is the only one who knows the meanings of the Mashāhid, whereas others only undeservedly allege that they do so.[103] She even criticizes Sa’d al-dīn Hamawayh, as we have seen, regarding the symbolic reality of Eve and Adam, in terms of which of them correspond to the two Divine Names, Uniqueness and Oneness. In defense of her view, Sitt ‘Ajam, does not hesitate to inform us: “I have never considered him [Sa’d al-dīn Hamawayh] as one of the perfected ones.”[104] Her statement indicates that she was convinced that he was not qualified to have a thorough grasp of the question raised.

From the above, it may be argued that Sitt ‘Ajam stood on her own grounds in the views she expounded in her commentary on the Mashāhid. Indeed, it could be safely argued that even though Sitt ‘Ajam is a follower of Ibn ‘Arabī, she remains an independent thinker. She holds that “We are privileged with vicegerency (khilāfa), correspondence (muqābala), likeness (mumāthala), sharing (iqtisām) and assimilation (ittisāf), to the exclusion of servants other than us.”[105] This independence may be due to her adoption of ta’wīl as her methodology. Generally, the Sufi literary tradition is known for its preference to use esoteric language. Sufis distinguish between two kinds of interpretation, the outward (¥āhir) and the inward (bātin),which they base on the prophetic hadith: “Every verse has an external aspect and an inner aspect: every letter has its limited, definite sense; and every definition sense implies a place of ascent.”[106] Thus, on the one hand, we have tafsīr, derived from the root: fassara, which means to explicate, and is considered the outward interpretation. On the other hand, we have ta’wīl, derived from the root awwala, which means to interpret, and is considered the inward interpretation. According to Henry Corbin, ta’wīl is “the intuition of an essence or person in an Image which partakes neither of universal logic nor of sense perception, and which is the only means of signifying what is to be signified.”[107] In light of this definition, Sitt ‘Ajam adopts Ibn ‘Arabī’s own methodology of ta’wīl, shattering the rigidities of some of his interpreters, so as to extricate new meanings for Ibn ‘Arabī’s Mashāhid, based on her own metaphysical understanding, as well as her mystical experience. Thus, in contrast to Ibn Sawdakīn’s commentary, which is mostly an exegetical one (tafsīri), Sitt ‘Ajam’s commentary may be viewed as an interpretational one (ta’wīl). This distinction may correspond to the comparison which Hans-Georg Gadamer draws between exegesis and interpretation, as two quite distinct enterprises in dealing with a text. To Gadamer, exegesis presupposes that there is but one single certain meaning of a text of an author of rank, which may be discovered by applying a set of rules. Interpretation, on the other hand, denies that there is any single, univocal meaning of a text, and is rather concerned with understanding the meaning of a body of writing in terms of the interpreter’s own experience.[108] Sitt ‘Ajam, however, does not wish to do away with Ibn ‘Arabī’s textual subjectivity, but one may argue that she wants to be true to the Mashāhid, while at the same time maintaining her own experiential interpretation of it. This she attempts to do by appealing to the common referent of both her experience and to that of the interpreted text.

To conclude, Sitt ‘Ajam was both a learned metaphysician as well as a mystic. On one level, she successfully explains the metaphysical principles of Sufi doctrine in general terms, and that of Ibn ‘Arabī in specific terms. On another level, she interprets the metaphysical doctrines through her own mystical experience. Nonetheless, her hermeneutics is not merely governed by phenomena, following only her own inspiration. Rather, she reconciles her own mystical experience with her thorough knowledge of the metaphysical doctrines of the Sufi tradition of her times. Furthermore, Sitt ‘Ajam’s style of writing or her “feminine hermeneutic” of the Mashāhid, which is characterized by being experiential and detailed in a sensory language, corresponds to the nature of ‘ajamī (obscure) and sensory mysteries. In Ibn ‘Arabī’s terms, Sitt ‘Ajam’s “sensory unveiling” (al-kashf al-hissī) actualizes her “imaginal unveiling” (al-kashf al-khayāl). In Risālat al-anwār, Ibn ‘Arabī states that, “If you preoccupy yourself with remembrance (dhikr), you will move from ‘the sensory unveiling’ to ‘the imaginal unveiling’ and meanings pertaining to the intellect (al-ma’ānī al-‘aqliyya) will descend on you in sensory forms (al-suwar al-hissiyya); this is a difficult descent … Only a prophet or a man of truth (siddīq) may know [such an experience].”[109] I believe that Sitt ‘Ajam was one of those who realizes meanings pertaining to the intellect in sensory forms. Ibn ‘Arabī in Al-Tadbīrāt al-ilāhiyya discusses these two kinds of unveilings and refers to them as the ‘sensory presence’ (al-hadra al-hissiyya)and ‘the Heart presence'(al-hadra al-qalbiyya).[110]The former is characterized by being obscure(‘ajamī),whereas the latter is characterized by being clear (‘arabī).

In his Futūhāt, Ibn ‘Arabī explains that the Mosaic mysteries are ‘ajamiyya in the sense that they are obscure like the mutashābihat verses in the Qur’an: nobody knows their meanings except those who are chosen by God, who Himself teaches them the meanings of these ‘ajamī mysteries.[111]

So, in a sense the intellectual “imaginal unveilings” of Ibn ‘Arabī’s Mashāhid, which are of a Muhammadan provenance, had to be translated into a sensory language, which is ‘ajamī unveilings, of a Mosaic provenance, for the purpose of unlocking its mysteries and hence conveying them as a mercy to others. This need for “sensory unveilings” relates generally to the centrality of sensory and physical forms in the Muhammadan message.[112] Therein may lie the legacy of “feminine hermeneutics” which is of a musical poetical[113] nature, stressing the infinite experiential sensory ‘ajamī mysteries, surpassing the formal and delimited theoretical expositions. Frithjof Schuon eloquently describes this powerful nature of femininity, when he states that:

Femininity is what surpasses the formal, the finite, the outward; it is synonymous with indetermination, illimitation, mystery, and thus evokes the “Spirit which giveth life” in relation to the “letter which killeth”. That is to say that femininity in the superior sense comprises a liquefying, interiorizing, liberating power: it liberates from sterile hardnesses, from the dispersing outwardness of limiting and compressing forms. On the one hand, one can oppose feminine sentimentality to masculine rationality – on the whole and without forgetting the relativity of things – but on the other hand, one also opposes to the reasoning of men the intuition of women; now it is this gift of intuition, in superior women above all, that explains and justifies in large part the mystical promotion of the feminine element; it is consequently in this sense that Haqiqah, esoteric Knowledge, may appear as feminine.[114]

Interestingly, both names of Ibn ‘Arabī and Sitt ‘Ajam, who as a superior woman had the gift of intuition, correspond to the aforementioned order of ideas. Her name (Sitt ‘Ajam) and his name (Ibn ‘Arabī) correspond respectively to the nature of mysteries, which are by definition obscure, and to the nature of meanings, which are by definition explanatory and thus clear. According to Ibn ‘Arabī in Kitāb al-‘Abādila, “whoever obscures, clarifies (man ‘ajama afhama)“.[115] Hence, it is through Sitt ‘Ajam’s experiential sensory interpretation, namely her feminine hermeneutics, which corresponds mainly to the ‘ajamī mysteries, that the meanings of the Mashāhid are revealed.


Extract from Sharh Mashāhid al-Qudsiyya

by Sitt ‘Ajam



The Shaykh, may God be pleased with him, says:

The First Witnessing

In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful

The Real made me witness in the witnessing of the light of Existence as the star of direct vision arose.

I [Sitt ‘Ajam] say: His intention behind this revelatory descent (tanazzul) is to manifest the reality of his witnessing the Real, may He be exalted, in the state of his casting off the body, and his rising up in the opposite image, which is the image of the Inward. The meaning of his saying “made me witness” is that He awakened consciousness in me by increasing a shadow-awareness (nā¥ir ¥illī) that penetrates the inward dimension. So I witnessed His image in the locus where existence becomes distinct. And for that reason he says “in the witnessing of the light of existence”, because light is that which makes distinct, by which he means his witnessing in the locus of the distinguishing of existence, which is light. The form of this witnessing is that Allah, may He be exalted, makes His light a mirror, in which He sees His image and finds It imprinted thereon. For what is imprinted is the image of the witness, and the onlooker is Allah, may He be exalted. So observation happens for the witness in this beholding by virtue of a special attraction (jadhb), which Allah bestows upon him in a way that is particularly his own. Through this attraction, the witness becomes attentive to the gazing (ittilā’) as he looks at Allah, may He be exalted. As Allah says: “On that Day some faces shall be bright [with happiness] gazing at their Lord.”[116] This witness in the state of his casting off the body comes into the condition of “that Day”. The witnessing takes place by his stripping off the external body, either by means of volition (irāda) or by attraction, and by his staying in the imprinted shadow image in the world of the Inward. This [witnessing] pertains to the one who has not attained perfection.

As for the Perfect One (al-kāmil), his witnessing is not conditioned by any one Name. Rather, his witnessing encompasses all the Names, and that which is above them and that which is beneath them – these are the attributes (al-sifāt). That is why [the witness] penetrates whatever Name he wills or is wished for him during his divestiture (khal’), unlike the case of the other contemplatives, who cannot go beyond the Inward. For whatever is formal cannot surpass this Name.

As for our saying that the form of witnessing is a shadow image, it is because whoever speaks of the outward inevitably conceives of an opposite for it. This opposite is the locus of the inward imprinting, which is called the mirror. So witnessing in [this state] differs from the witnessing of the outward direct seeing even if it is its shadow. Yet, it is different from it in terms of consciousness and the intense luminosity of the manifestation.

Furthermore, witnessing includes gazing. Yet, gazing [in turn] is divided into stabilized gazing and non-stabilized gazing. The witnessing which recurs in his saying “made me witness” is a stabilized one. The ordinary lasting witnessing is the one lacking in stability, because outwardly, every living being is a witness. So if the living witness repeats his saying “He made me witness”, he does so to allude to a witnessing that is stabilized and certain. However, a witnessing cannot be called stabilized unless knowledge (ma’rifa) is fully realized. When he says “He made me witness”, it is not the same as saying “He stopped me” (awqafanī) or “He made me see” (atla’anī). This is because gazing refers to what limits perception to a near location. This is demonstrated by the fact that the eye has no power to limit whatever is far from its perception; in other words, it cannot encompass it. As the poet said regarding this:

Look again, for what you think is like the eye that cannot see distant bodies for what they are.

So witnessing (shuhūd) in his saying “He made me witness” differs from gazing (ittilā’).

It is also different from stopping (waqfa). Whoever says “he stopped me”, means stopping in a place which necessitates halting, and from which [the witness] is unable to escape, as he moves to his place of return in that divestiture. So stopping is limited due to its incompleteness. One who speaks of it is limited in his witnessing from flowing on (jarī) to another witnessing in the same divestiture.

This is contrary to the one who speaks of witnessing, as he is referring to a total [unrestricted] location that subsumes stopping, witnessing and gazing. His stopping occurs in the location appropriate to the all-inclusiveness of witnessing (umūm al-shuhūd). As [the Prophet] peace be upon him said: “The earth was contracted for me, so that I could see its east and its west.” His gazing is delimiting his perception to what encompasses his witnessing as stipulated in his saying “He made me witness”. His total witnessing, which is distinct from stopping, cannot occur except after gazing and stopping, until he reaches the all-inclusiveness of witnessing. It contains multifarious stations, and witnessing includes them all.

His saying “He stopped me”, taken on its own, is different from witnessing since [the person] is restricted from being able to flow on, as we have mentioned. For moving on is one of the conditions of witnessing, while stopping with the gazing which is particular to it is based on a time period. The one who stops differs from the one who flows on in the context of witnessing. The one who stops denies himself [the state of] flowing on by his very words “He stopped me”. In the same way, gazing is limited by the perception being confined, as we have mentioned. The one who speaks of witnessing flows on, as we said earlier, and he is witnessing as he moves. This is why his witnessing includes the aforementioned degrees.

His saying “He made me witness” means the witnessing of the one who flows on, since what the Perfect One says about witnessing is different from what is meant by the one who has not yet attained perfection, even though they use the same expression or term. The Perfect One speaks of his witnessing being in its proper place, whereas the one who has not yet attained perfection speaks of it as being shaken out of its proper place. It is in terms of knowledge that the Perfect One is distinguished from the incomplete, but this is not known to any but one who is stabilized in perfection.

When he says “the Real made me witness”, he means his witnessing of the image of the Real through this attribute in the state of the awakening of consciousness, as we have mentioned. The form of this consciousness is the provision of the aforementioned increase due to the concealment of outer consciousness when the inner consciousness manifests. This is because consciousness here in the outer world is partial, while consciousness in the inner world is universal(kullī), since theoutward is partial and the inward is unified (muttahid). Whoever has attained perfection and witnesses this universal witnessing is capable of being divested as he wishes.

The form that this divestiture takes is casting off the outer body without pain in a state between death and life, not between sleep and wakefulness. It is specific to the former state, the state between life and death, because the revelatory witnessing (al-shuhūd al-kashfī) has no meaning except to behold what is hidden, and this gazing is accompanied by the totality of witnessing. And being divested of the body (badan) has no meaning except to be stripped of the physical body through being able to depart from ordinary life.

Nothing can be said against one who attains such qualities if he says: “I have been given the secret of life”, on condition that they [the sifāt] are positioned in their proper place, illustrating their qualification and the cause of their being (limmiyyat kawnihā). In this state of witnessing, the mirror of the heart is so highly polished that the hidden union can almost be perceived therein. Perhaps even, due to the degree of its polishing, the two who are united in the degree called “oneness” (al-wāhidiyya) can become distinguished. Through its transparent sublimity can be seen things and their shadows, for the inner is the shadow of the outer. The mirror is one, and so in this witnessing one can see in three [separate] aspects. The world of the outer can be distinguished in a manner appropriate to manifestation, and the world of the inner in a manner appropriate to shadow interiority (butūn ¥illī), and the world of the hidden in a manner appropriate to similitude (al-mithāl). It is distinguished by three dimensions because the utmost in perfection lies in acceding to three degrees.


This article first appeared in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Volume 46, 2009.


[1] Michel Chodkiewicz, Seal of the Saints (Cambridge, 1993), p.18. See Ibn ‘Arabī, Kitāb al-Tajalliyāt (Hyderabad, 1948).

[2] Ibid., p.3.

[3] Ibn Sawdakīn al-Nūrī was "one of Ibn ‘Arabī’s closest companions. His name first appears in connection with Ibn ‘Arabī on a reading certificate for the Rūh al-quds in Cairo in 1206 and subsequently appears on numerous other certificates for readings, many of which took place at his house in Aleppo. Besides his commentary on the Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries, Ibn Sawdakīn wrote commentaries on the Kitāb al-Isrā’, with which it is closely linked, and the Kitāb al-Tajalliyāt. In these commentaries, he informs us, he simply wrote down what Ibn ‘Arabī told him" (English trans. by C. Twinch and P. Beneito, Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries and the Rising of the Divine Lights (Oxford, 2001), p.12.)

[4] ‘Abd al-Ra’ūf al-Mināwī is an Egyptian Sufi of the seventeenth century who wrote a famous hagiographical work called al-Kawākib al-durriyya (The Glittering Spheres).

[5] Sitt al-‘Ajam, Kashf al-kunūz fi Sharh al-Mashāhid al-qudsiyya (MS. Ayasofya 2019, Suleymaniye Library, Istanbul), p.3.

[6] Osman Yahia, Histoire et Classification de l’Oeuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabi (Damascus, 1964), p.527.

[7] William Chittick, "Ibn ‘Arabi’s School of Thought", History of Islamic Philosophy, ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman (London, 1996), p.497.

[8] James Morris, "Ibn ‘Arabi’s Interpreters", The American Journal for Social Studies 106 (1986), p. 752.

[9] Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami, Dhikr An-Niswa al-Muta’abbidāt as-Íūfiyyāt, ed. Rkia Cornell (Louisville, KY, 1999), p.50.

[10] Ibid., p.63.

[11] Ibid., p.63.

[12] Sitt ‘Ajam, Sharh al-Mashāhid al-qudsiyya, ed. Souad Hakim and Bakri Aladdin (Damascus, 2004), p.410.

[13] Ibn Manzur, Lisān al-‘Arab (Beirut, n.d.), vol.12, p.34; quoted in M. Chodkiewicz, An Ocean without Shore (Albany, NY, 1993), p.31.

[14] Ibn ‘Arabī, al-Futūhāt al-Makkiyya (Beirut, n.d.), vol.2, p.644.

[15] Najm al-Dīn Kubrā was a great Sufi master who was given the title Walī-Tarāsh (Sculptor of Saints) for he had many followers.

[16] Michel Chodkiewicz, Ocean, p.29.

[17] Claude Addas, The Quest for the Red Sulphur (Cambridge, 1993), p.62.

[18] Chodkiewicz, Ocean, p.32.

[19] Ibid., p.33.

[20] I am indebted to Samuel Tekin who has drawn my attention to this meaning.

[21] Fut. II.49.

[22] Sha’rānī, tabaqāt (Beirut, Dar al-kutub al-‘ilmiyya, 1988), vol.I, p.197.

[23] Sitt ‘Ajam, Sharh al-Mashāhid, pp.124, 250.

[24] Ibid., pp.22, 112.

[25] Ibid., p.131.

[26] Ibid., p.252.

[27] Ibid., p.261.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Claude Addas, The Voyage of No Return (Cambridge, 2000), p.80.

[32] Sitt ‘Ajam, Sharh al-Mashāhid, p.262.

[33] Ibid., p.297.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid., p.301.

[36] Ibid., p.238.

[37] Ibid., p.113.

[38] Ibid., pp.393–402.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., pp.42, 183.

[41] Ibid., p.226.

[42] Sitt ‘Ajam, Kashf al-kunūz (MS. Ayasofya 2019), fol.3.

[43] The title al-Khatīb may indicate that he had a fiqhī background.

[44] Both texts have been edited by Osman Yahia, and published together in the same book (Histoire et Classification de l’oeuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabi).

[45] Ibid., p.21. For the English translation see Sara Sviri, The Taste of Hidden Things: Images on the Sufi Path (Inverness, CA, 1997), pp.61–76.

[46] Sitt ‘Ajam, Sharh al-Mashāhid, p.272.

[47] Ibn Maja, Nikāh, 1; Al-Sunan, ed. M.F. ‘Abd al-Baqi (Cairo, Dar Ilhya’ al-Kutub al-‘Arabiyya, 1952).

[48] The Hadith is found in Suyuti, Jalal al-Din al-, Al-Jami’ al-saghir, in Munawi, Fayd al-qadir fi sharh al-jami’ al-saghir (Beirut, Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1972).

[49] The Hadith is found in Nisā’ī (Isharat al-Nisa’i) Nisā’ī, al-; Al-Sunan (Beirut, Dar Ilhya’ al-Turuth al-‘Arabi, 1348/1929–30).

[50] The Arabic word jimā’ literally means bringing together, or uniting.

[51] Sachiko Murata, The Tao of Islam (New York, 1992), p.188.

[52] Frithjof Schuon, Esoterism as Principle and as Way, trans. William Stoddart (London, 1981), p.139.

[53] Huda Lutfi, "The Feminine Element in Ibn ‘Arabi’s Mystical Philosophy", ‘Alif (1985), p.10. See Ibn ‘Arabī, ‘Uqlāt al-Mustāwfiz, ed. H.S. Nyberg in Kleinere Schriften des Ibn ‘Arabi (Leiden, 1919).

[54] Ibid., p.10.

[55] Ibid., p.13.

[56] Frithjof Schuon, Esoterism as Principle, p.38.

[57] Fut. II.574.

[58] Sitt ‘Ajam uses the term "qayyūmiyya" in the "Eighth Witnessing"(Sharh al-Mashāhid, p.307) to mean "isti’lā’" or hierarchical precedence.

[59] al-Qushayrī, Latā’if al-ishārāt (Cairo, n.d.), Vol.I, p.322.

[60] Sachiko Murata in The Tao of Islam eloquently constructs a whole theory of gender symbolism in Islam seen from the perspective of the Tao. She basically does so through the presentation of a rich anthology of Islamic perspectives on theology, cosmology, and spiritual psychology in regard to the polarity and complementarity of principles that are analogues to the Chinese doctrine of the yin/yang.

[61] Sachiko Murata, The Tao of Islam, p.177.

[62] Ibid., pp.177–178.

[63] Annemarie Schimmel, My Soul is a Woman: The Feminine in Islam (New York, 1999).

[64] Sitt ‘Ajam quotes both al-Qushayrī and Ibn ‘Arabī several times in her commentary, a fact which may demonstrate she was aware of their ideas. For more details on Ibn ‘Arabī’s discussion on this matter, see Ibn ‘Arabī, Fut. II.182.

[65] Sitt ‘Ajam, Sharh al-Mashāhid, p.272.

[66] Ibid., pp.354 ff.

[67] Hamawayh was a disciple of both Ibn ‘Arabī and Najm al-dīn Kubrā. Jandī (d.1300), who was the direct disciple of al-Qūnawī, refers to Sa’d al-dīn Hamawayh, in his commentary on Ibn ‘Arabī’s Fusūs,as shaykh al-shuyūkh (the master of masters). See Mu’ayyad al-dīn al-Jandī, Sharh Fusūs al-hikam, p.123.

[68] Ibid., p.355.

[69] K. al-Alif, Rasā’il (Hyderabad), pp.3–4.

[70] Fut. III.530, quoted in Self-Disclosure of God, p.170.

[71] Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi (Princeton, NJ, 1969), p.167, quoting Fusūs al-hikam (ed. Afifi), pp.219–20.

[72] Fusūs, p.217, quoted in Tao of Islam, p.192.

[73] Fut. III.126, quoted in Tao of Islam, p.151.

[74] Al-Nisā’ī (Isharat al-Nisa’i); Al-Sunan (Beirut, Dar Ilhya’ al-Turuth al-‘Arabi, 1348/1929–30).

[75] Ibn ‘Arabī, Fusūs al-hikam (Iraq, Dar al-thaqafa, n.d.), p.218. See R.W.J. Austin, "The Feminine Dimensions in Ibn ‘Arabi’s Thought", JMIAS 2 (1984), pp.5–14.

[76] R.W.J. Austin, "The Feminine Dimensions in Ibn ‘Arabi’s Thought", p. 7.

[77] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "God: The Reality to Serve, Love, and Know", Sophia vol.6, no.2 (Winter 2000), p.83.

[78] Martin Lings, A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century: Shaikh Ahmad al-‘Alawī: His Spiritual Heritage and Legacy (Berkeley, 1973), p.229.

[79] Martin Lings, Symbol and Archetype: A study of the Meaning of Existence (Cambridge, 1991), p.7.

[80] Martin Lings, What is Sufism? (Cambridge, 1993), p.22.

[81] Sitt ‘Ajam in the "Second Witnessing" refers to the Divine Essence’s Uniqueness (ahadiyyat al-dhāt) as darkness (¥ulmāniyya), whereas Its creative aspect and multiplicity (takaththur) is associated with light. In general, Sitt ‘Ajam tends to conceptualize the feminine as non-manifest and the masculine as the divine Infinitude, for infinitude implies manifestation; again seen from the perspective of Hamawayh, the inverse is also true. One must not be trapped and confined to arbitrary schematization in metaphysics.

[82] Ibn ‘Arabī, Fusūs al-hikam, ed. A. ‘Afifi (Beirut, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Arabi, 1946); trans. by R.W.J. Austin as Ibn ‘Arabi: The Bezels of Wisdom (Ramsey, NJ, Paulist Press, 1981), p.22.

[83] "To have been divested of all ‘otherness’ is to have attained the degree of Universal Man, who is also called the Sufi", Abu Bakr Siraj al-dīn (Martin Lings), The Book of Certainty (Cambridge, 1996), p.2.

[84] Sitt ‘Ajam, Sharh al-Mashāhid, p.27.

[85] Ibid., p.27.

[86] Ibid., p.25.

[87] Ibid., p.26.

[88] Ibid.

[89] Ibid.

[90] Titus Burckhardt, Mirror of the Intellect, trans. William Stoddart (Cambridge, 1987), p.117.

[91] Ibid., p.122.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Ibid. See also Ibn ‘Arabī, Fusūs al-hikam, trans. Austin, Bezels, p65.

[94] Sitt ‘Ajam, Sharh al-Mashāhid, p.85.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Ibid., p.245.

[97] Ibid., p.356.

[98] Ibid., p.237.

[99] Ibid., p.362.

[100] Ibid., p.16.

[101] Ibn ‘Arabī, Fut. II.318.

[102] Sitt ‘Ajam, Sharh al-Mashāhid, p.28.

[103] Ibid., p.250.

[104] Ibid., p.355.

[105] Ibid., p.272.

[106] See Omaima Abou-Baker, "The Symbolic Function of Metaphor in Medieval Sufi Poetry: The Case of Shushtari", ‘Alif 12 (1992), p.41.

[107] Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination, p.13.

[108] See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall (New York, 1993).

[109] ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī, Al-Isfar ‘an Risālat al-anwār fī mā yatajallā li-ahl al-dhikr min anwār (Beirut, 2004), p.112.

[110] Ibn ‘Arabī, Al-Tadbīrāt al-ilāhiyya fī islāh al-mamlaka al-insāniyya (Beirut, 2000), p.79.

[111] Ibn ‘Arabī, Fut. I.517.

[112] As mentioned earlier, Islam promotes sacral sexuality. This Shakti perspective of Islam, as Schuon explains, "is the ‘prolongation’ of the Divine Principle; Maya ‘prolongs’ Atma. To know woman – insists Ibn ‘Arabi – is to know oneself; and Whoso knows his soul, knows his Lord" (Frithjof Schuon, Roots of the Human Condition (Bloomington, 2002), p.40).

[113] Even though it may seem that Sitt ‘Ajam preferred a more ‘intellectual’ metaphysical approach to the Absolute, her approach cannot be described as a logical discourse. Rather, her discourse was like that of Ibn ‘Arabī and al-Niffarī, poetical in the sense that it is experiential, paradoxical and not hidden behind the veils of intellectual knowledge.

[114] Frithjof Schuon, Roots of the Human Condition, pp.40–41.

[115] Ibn ‘Arabī, Al-‘Abādila (Cairo, n.d.), p.181.

[116] Surat al-Qiyāma, Q.75.22–23.