Articles and Translations

The Diffusion of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Doctrine

Michel Chodkiewicz

Michel Chodkiewicz (1929–2020) was a French author and a scholar of Sufism, especially of Akbarian teaching. He was Director General then President and CEO of Editions du Seuil from 1977 to 1989 and director of studies at the École des Haute Études en Sciences Sociales, where he conducted seminars on Ibn 'Arabi.

Among his major books in translation are The Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn Arabi (1986), Ibn Arabi: The Meccan Revelations (translation of selected chapters, 1988) and An Ocean Without Shore: Ibn Arabi, the Book, and the Law (1992).


Articles by Michel Chodkiewicz

The Vision of God

The Endless Voyage

The Banner of Praise

The Diffusion of Ibn Arabi’s Doctrine

The Futuhat al-Makkiyya: Some Unresolved Enigmas

“We Will Show Them Our Signs…”

Miraj al-kalima – From the Risala Qushayriyya to the Futuhat al-Makkiyya

On Two Books Attributed to Ibn Arai – Kitab al-mabadi wa l-ghayat li maani l-huruf and Kitab mahiyyat al-qalb | with Claude Addas

The Paradox of the Ka‘ba


Some years before the last world war, Nicholson suggested to one of his Egyptian students that he should read the works of Ibn ‘Arabi. This student – it was Abû l-Alâ Afîfî to whom we owe, amongst others, a well-known book: The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul ‘Arabî[1] – confessed later[2] that after several readings of the Fusûs, and its commentary by Qashani, he still understood nothing of the text: each word taken separately was clear, but the meaning of most of the phrases escaped him. “It’s the first time”, he declared to Nicholson, “that I have experienced so much difficulty in understanding a book written in Arabic.” Many orientalists experienced no less perplexity when confronted by the writings of the Shaykh al-Akbar: Clement Huart does not hide the trouble that their “disordered fantasy”[3] inspires in him; Arberry deplores the “confusion of the mental universe of Ibn ‘Arabi”, and “his heterogeneous and incoherent technical vocabulary”[4].

The subtlety of a doctrine which embraces, in a vertiginous synthesis, all the domains of the traditional sciences, from fiqh to metaphysics, the often paradoxical or enigmatic turns of phrase that the Shaykh al-Akbar gives them, the immensity, in short, of a work which comprises tens of thousands of pages, seems a priori well suited to discourage the diffusion of akbarian doctrine. But this massive corpus does not only have a reputation for obscurity. For more than seven centuries, it has also been very regularly denounced as heretical in Islam, and this controversy is still going on today with the same vigour as at the time of Ibn Taymiyya. Among the masters of tasawwuf themselves, the warnings are frequent. Apparently – and I underline that – the reading of the Fusûs and the Futûhât is often advised against for the murid-s. Conditions seem to conspire to restrict the knowledge of Ibn ‘Arabi’s ideas to narrow circles of scholarly Sufis, who are intimidated neither by the complexity of the work nor the condemnations of the fuqahâ’.

Many authors have pointed out for a long time the extent in Moslem geographical space – from the Maghreb to the Far East – of the influence of Ibn ‘Arabi. I myself would like to underline, beginning with some examples taken in the main from the Arabic-speaking Moslem world, the depth of this influence: despite the obstacles which I have just pointed out, the stamp of akbarian teaching is not only printed on “intellectual” Sufism, but may also be detected in a world of brotherhoods which embrace the most diverse social classes and cultural levels.

In the book which he has dedicated to the Moroccan Sufi Al-Yusi (d. 1691),[5] and where he insists on the considerable debt of this latter to Ibn ‘Arabi,[6] Jacques Berque draws attention, in this connection, to the intermingling in this seventeenth century Moroccan of “two currents of popular hagiology and scholarly thought”: “the mysticism of the time”, he writes, “combines the most scholarly tradition from Andalusia and the Orient with a rural influence”.[7] My own feeling is that these pertinent remarks are not only valid with regard to Al-Yûsî and the Moroccans of his time, but must no doubt be general, as the very wide circulation of fundamental ideas which have their origin in the work of the Shaykh al-Akbar demonstrates. An exhaustive study of the ways and means of this diffusion would call for the analysis of innumerable texts belonging to various linguistic domains and a great deal of field-work. With a much more modest documentary base, it does however seem to me possible to illustrate certain aspects of this phenomenon, and to suggest some methodological guidelines to those who would propose to decipher the signs – often discreet – of this “akbarian impregnation”, and to elucidate some of its mechanisms. The problem, obviously, does not only concern Ibn ‘Arabi specialists: apart from considerations touching on the history of ideas, the question asked -and to which I do not pretend to provide anything more than an element of a reply – is how far “scholarly” Sufism is divided from “popular” Sufism.

Researchers whose work relates to the Shaykh al-Akbar and his intellectual followers have, quite naturally, favoured the study of “noble” literature – that of his great disciples or commentators: Qûnawî, Jîlî, Qâshânî, Jâmî, etc. Such study is not to be disregarded in the perspective that I have just mentioned: the geographical dispersion of these authors’ manuscripts, the number, date and locality of the printed editions of their works bring important information to bear on the possibility of access to the akbarian doctrine at such and such a time, or in such and such a place. But it is essential to take into account, above all, more modest writers, whose reputation is purely local, and indeed anonymous writers or authors who are difficult to identify. It is in fact from this “second-rank literature” or from conversations with those who are its regular readers, that I have been led to tackle the subject dealt with here.

A word of caution is necessary straight away: the absence of explicit reference to Ibn ‘Arabi, or even the presence of negative references, is not a priori significant. On the first of these two points, I will only cite at the moment one very illuminating example. In the tarîqa alawiyya (a branch of the Shâdhiliyya-Derqawiyya founded by Shaykh Ahmad b. Aliwa of Mostaghanem, who died in 1934) the writings of the founder are, now as before, read and commented on by the fuqarâ’ many of whom are Algerian workers living in Europe. Amongst these writings there is a (partial) commentary on the Qur’an which is called Al-bahr al-masjûr fî tafsîr al-qur’ân bi mahd al-nûr. This tafsîr, after having been circulated in the form of handwritten copies, was finally printed in Mostaghanem. The Shaykh comments in particular on verses 5-6-7 of the sûrah, Al-baqara. He does it first of all in the traditional way, in an exposition dealing with five aspects of these verses – after which he adds what he calls an ishâra (allusion, hint)[8] where he develops an interpretation that Ibn Taymiyya, among others, denounced as unprecedented blasphemy in Ibn ‘Arabi’s work, but which the Shaykh Ben Aliwa effectively borrows directly and almost literally from Chapter V of the Futûhât.[9] The kâfirûn described in these verses are, for Ibn ‘Arabi, the awliyâ’ of the highest degree; if God has put “a seal on their hearts”, it is so that no other than He might enter. They are blind and deaf because they only see and hear Him, etc. Shaykh Ahmad b. Aliwa does not mention Ibn ‘Arabi, although he cites other authors by name in his tafsîr, and the reason is not difficult to guess when one knows the violence of the polemics which opposed him to the leaders of the islâhî (reformist) movement, and in particular to Shaykh Ben Bâdîs. To add a reference to the Shaykh al-Akbar in a text scandalous in itself would have been a useless provocation. I might add, without putting too fine a point on it, that this tafsîr, like, as a matter of fact, the majority of the works of Shaykh Ben Aliwa, contains many further employments of characteristic akbarian notions, not noted as such, which it would take too long to enumerate here.

If, deliberately or not, the themes of Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine can be presented without any mention being made of their source – we shall see other cases of this sort – it also happens that in the same text, or in the utterances of the same speaker, one may observe simultaneously a denunciation of Ibn ‘Arabi, and the recurrence of specifically akbarian ideas and terms. This ambiguity, be it dictated by reasons of spiritual expediency or political caution, is in fact a very old and extremely widespread attitude: if one is to believe an anecdote apparently attributed to Fîrûzabadi,[10] the famous shafi’ite jurist Izz al-dîn b. Abd al-Salâm kept silent when, in his presence, someone called Ibn ‘Arabi zindîq. But, questioned by his khâdim that very evening, he declared that the author of the Fusûs was the qutb of his time.

In certain turuq – I am thinking particularly of the Khalwatiyya and its different branches – the influence of the Shaykh al-Akbar is acknowledged. But in many others there are frequent instances of mashâyikh who have expressed reservations about Ibn ‘Arabi, criticised his attitudes or forbidden their disciples to read his works. It may be a case of simple rhetorical admonitions intended to divert the censure of the fuqahâ’. More often, however, these warnings or prohibitions are prompted by a concern to avoid the circulation of ideas which, although intrinsically true, would be ill understood by disciples whose spiritual qualifications are insufficient, and would put the orthodoxy of their faith in danger. It is thus, in my opinion, that the position of Zarruq, in his Qawâ’id al-tasawwuf,[11] and other masters of the Shadhiliyya, should be understood. This same prudence leads a Sha’rânî to advise the murîd on how to interpret the discreet signal that his shaykh gives him in order to direct him immediately to interrupt his reading out loud when uninstructed people appear[12]: a simple reminder, under the circumstances, of a rule which is very generally applied as one can equally well ascertain by reading ancient texts or by observing the behaviour of present-day shuyûkh. In a passage in the Rashahât ayn al-hayât – one of the fundamental works on the history of the Naqshbandiyya up to the beginning of the 16th century – the author relates that the Shaykh Ubaydallâh Ahrâr was in the process of commenting on the Fusûs for him when some visitors arrived. The shaykh fell silent immediately and hid the book. The same Ubaydallâh Ahrâr often quoted Ibn ‘Arabi elsewhere, and at the time of his famous encounter with Jami at Tashkent in 1469 explained to the latter a point of doctrine that he had not been able to understand in the Futûhât al-Makkiyyah.[13] The prejudice and the criticisms directed against Ibn ‘Arabi, that one finds penned by Naqshbandi authors of various times, is in fact accompanied, as Friedmann has very well shown in connection with Ahmad Sirhindi, by an extreme dependence with respect to his teaching.[14]

A practical inference may be drawn from what has been said: to decipher in the texts — be they renowned or obscure – an influence, which may be unconscious, or voluntarily hidden, or even vigorously denied; a knowledge of Ibn ‘Arabi’s ideas is not enough. It is necessary to add to that a complete familiarity with his technical vocabulary, with the particularities of his style, with certain characteristic turns of phrase whose frequent use in his writings bears witness to their importance. This familiarity with the istilâhât, the rhetorical method, the recurrent motifs of the akbarian work is, moreover, indispensable in discerning in the writings of such an author what has its origin in the joint heritage of the tasawwuf, and what constitutes Ibn ‘Arabi’s own contribution; indeed, the strong originality of the latter must not allow us to forget that he is also the heir and the transmitter of a rich tradition which went before. Similarities with his thought can consequently be explained in some cases by direct recourse to the very sources which were his own. But the presence in a written work of symptomatic technical terms – nqfas rahmâni, al-fayd al-aqdas, al-fayd al-muqaddas, khatm al-awliyâ’, tajdîd al-khalq, etc. – is usually an indication which is unmistakable: even if certain of these expressions sometimes appear incidentally in texts prior to Ibn ‘Arabi, it is the work of the latter which has given them a precise usage, and has given them acceptability in the language of Sufism. By way of example, I refer on this point to what I have explained elsewhere on the subject of the doctrine of sainthood, and, in particular, on the notion of khatm al-walâya (which, as one knows, appears in Hakim Tirmidhi in the 3rd century of the Hegira, but is only made explicit in a coherent way in Ibn ‘Arabi, and thereby becomes a fundamental element of later hagiology).[15]

A profound knowledge of the “forms” of the akbarian discourse, and not only of its content, allows one to locate its “echo effects” which otherwise would pass unnoticed, and which are very revealing. Some months ago, I was made aware, by one of his disciples, of an unedited poem by the Algerian Shaykh Muhammad Belkaid who currently directs the Hibriyya tarîqa, a contemporary offshoot of a branch of the Shadhiliyya whose founder was Shaykh Muhammad al-Hibrî (d. 1939). A verse immediately struck me, where the author declares: “Wa sab’ al-mathânî haqîqatu amrî.” Every reader of the Futûhât thinks immediately of a verse of Ibn ‘Arabi’s which appears at the beginning of the book,[16] and which one finds repeated on several occasions in his writings: “Anâ l-qur’ân wa l-sab’ al-mathâni.” That this was a deliberate and very significant allusion did not seem in doubt to me. The information I received in response to enquiries allowed me to learn that Shaykh Belkaid and his son have studied the work of Ibn ‘Arabi at length, and even had in their hands, at the time of a trip to Syria, the autographic manuscript of one of his treatises which was considered lost.

I have emphasised the necessity – in order to verify the influence of the Shaykh al-Akbar beyond literary circles, and identify the stages of transmission – of examining carefully what I have called “second-rank literature”. I mean by that especially elementary manuals written for the use of novices, but also regional chronicles, many unedited; collections of qasâ’id used in the brotherhoods; the mawâlid composed in honour of local saints; the ijâza-s and the silsila-s of obscure mashâyikh whose renown has never gone beyond the bounds of their village or their tribe. The diffusion of these texts – which are often only short pamphlets hastily printed, and sold cheaply – explains many things.

The influence of Ibn ‘Arabi is easily observed, for example, in a book well-known in the Tijaniyya, the Mîzâb al-rahma al-rabbâniyya fî l-tarbiyya bi l-tarîqa al-tijâniyya of Shaykh Ubayda b. Muhammad al-Saghîr al-Shinqîtî (d. 1284 H.). It is even more evident in a compendium of rules of the Rahmaniyya (which was without doubt the most popular brotherhood in Algeria) published in Tunis (1351 H.) on the orders of Muhammad b. Belkacem, shaykh of the zâwiya of Bû Sa’âda. There, Ibn ‘Arabi is expressly quoted, and defended against his adversaries. Equally clear is the Wasiyya kubrâ by Abd al-Salâm al-Asmar al-Fîtûrî (founder of a Libyan branch of the Arusiyya, itself derived from the Shâdhiliyya) published at Beirut in 1958, and where the author declares (p. 60): “Ikhwânî, wa alaykum bi-mahabbati Muhyî l-dîn b. al-‘Arabi wa ta’zîmihi.” Another case worthy of note is supplied by a slim booklet published for the first time at Alep in 1351 H, and which is still in circulation in Syria. It is entitled Risâlat al-sulûk al-khâdima li-jamî’ i l-turuq. It is a very cursory treatise on the stages of the way (seven in all), along with some particular forms of dhikr, and with the subtle centres (latâ’if) which correspond to them successively. The authors point out explicitly that the rules set forth in this text have been extracted min mu’allafât al-Shaykh al-Akbar – which is not very surprising, considering that one of the authors is called Muhammad Rajab al-Ta’î and presents himself as a descendent of Ibn ‘Arabi’s.

All the works of this kind, it must be made clear, put the accent on the practice of the Way and its stages, rather than on doctrinal principles. The key-words to look for then are those which, in the lexicon of Ibn ‘Arabi, relate to the suluk and the walâya, rather than those which characterise his metaphysical teaching. A systematic analysis of these manuals shows, however, that the few cases mentioned above are not at all exceptional, and any astute researcher will have no difficulty in discovering many others.

But, as I have said, many other writings whose role is considerable, be it on a lesser scale, must be taken into account. Such is the case with the tabaqât, or various chronicles, for which one is indebted to local scholars. It is interesting, for example, to point out the references which can clearly be traced to Ibn ‘Arabi’s work in a book well-known by historians of Morocco, the Salwat al-anfâs fî man uqbira min al-ulamâ’ wa l-sulahâ’ bi-Fâs of Muhammad b. Ja’far b. Idrîs al-Kattânî (1857-1927). Rene Basset and Lévi-Provençal, among others, have made use of this work which is rich in precise details of the topography of Fez. But what caught my attention in particular in the Salwat al-anfâs is that its author, in order to define the spiritual status of the awliyâ’, to whom he devotes a brief section, has recourse to akbarian terminology: such a saint is mûsawî l-maqâm, such another isawî l-maqâm. The very characteristic notion of khatm al-awliyâ’ is mentioned several times.[17] What must be considered, in the circumstances, is less the fact – and it is not surprising as we shall see – that Al-Kattani is evidently familiar with the hagiology of Ibn ‘Arabi, than the transmissive role that a work like his can play with regard to readers, who certainly do not all have either the desire or the possibility of access to the Futûhât al-Makkiyya. By an often unconscious phenomenon of impregnation, the technical vocabulary of a difficult and somewhat suspect author becomes, thanks to books of this sort – and they are many – the lingua franca in which one speaks of the sainthood of the saints.

Even if it is not destined only for an intellectual elite – and has not only been read by one – the Salwat al-anfâs obviously does not belong to “popular” literature either. The case is quite different with a book which is connected to a famous genre whose public has always been broad, that of the collections on the “virtues” (khasâ’is) of certain surâh-s of the Qur’an, and which has its origin therefore in the domain of what one might call “everyday theurgy”. I mean the Na’t al-bidâyât wa tawsîf al-nihâyât, published several times (at Fez and in Cairo), and very widespread in the Maghreb and the Near East. Other similar texts would justify similar remarks, and I only favour this one with a mention because of the personage of its author, and because it was written in the present age, bearing witness thereby to the continuing diffusion of akbarian ideas. The Na’t al-bidâyât is the work of the famous Mâ’ al-Aynayn, a colourful figure whom colonial French propaganda (wrongly) held respon­sible for the assassination of Xavier Coppolani.[18] Now, the writings of this Mauritanian “marabout” (and one may suppose that it was the same with his oral teachings) teem with explicit references to Ibn ‘Arabi, and various writers of his school, such as Abd al-Razzâq Qâshânî, Abd al-Wahhâb Sha’rânî, and Ismâ’îl Haqqî.[19] What is, at first glance, only a compilation of pious formulae shows itself to be, on examination, soundly nourished from an exegetic tradition going back to the Shaykh al-Akbar. He gives an impoverished version of this rich inheritance, it is true, but it is not at all unfaithful. But I could say the same for that best-seller Shams al-ma’ârif by Bûnî (who mentions Ibn ‘Arabi in his chains of authorities), or for the Kanz al-asrâr by Muhammad al-Nâzilî (d. 1884), who often quotes Ibn ‘Arabi and even reproduces a long extract from his Tadbîrât ilâhiyya.

Certain commentaries on the Qur’an have also, without any doubt, contributed to Ibn ‘Arabi’s renown, and the circulation of his ideas. The first example which comes to mind is that of the Rûh al-bayân of Isma’il Haqqi, where the quotations from Ibn ‘Arabi are numerous. This tafsîr is very widespread, and I was even able to note the presence of a complete collection of its ten volumes in a bookshop in Mecca about fifteen years ago: the vigilance of the Wahhab-ite censors had evidently been caught out.

One can without hesitation assign the same transmissive function to one of the most widespread texts coming from the Tijaniyya tarîqa. The text in question is the Jawâhir al-ma’ânî of Alî Harâzim, the reading of which is practically obligatory for all the members of this brotherhood, but which has also found a very wide readership outside. My copy of the Jawâhir is studded with marks showing the innumerable passages where I have noted references to Ibn ‘Arabi,[20] or allusions to such and such a theme in his works. Besides many borrowings, declared or not but always recognisable, from the akbarian hagiology,[21] Ahmad Tijânî, in the conversations and letters scrupulously recorded by Alî Harâzim, includes in his teaching many other features of Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine, and in the very terms used by the latter: nafas rahmânî,[22] the notion of the fivehadarât[23] haqîqa muhammadiyya,[24] the universality of the divine rahma which encompasses even the ahl al-nâr,[25] etc. It is equally from Ibn ‘Arabi, and more precisely from Chapter 8 of the Futûhât, that the evocation of what Tijani calls ard al-samsama, a symbolic denomination of the ‘alam al-khayâl, comes.[26]

What is even more interesting is that after Alî Harâzim, or rather Ahmad Tijânî himself, practically all the authors of the Tijâniyya will draw from the akbarian source, and contribute to the dissemination of what they have collected. That is the case especially with Muhammad al-Shinqîtî in his Bughyat al-mustafîd[27] as also with al-Hajj Umar in his Kitâb al-rimah[28] where one finds repeated references to the Shaykh al-Akbar, and above all, once more a systematic use of his doctrine of walâya (sainthood).[29]

A name which comes up often in these last two books – that of Sha’rânî (d. 1565) – leads me to underline an important fact. The various writings – generally quite recent and in any case still in circulation today – that I have chosen to designate as probable vectors of Ibn ‘Arabi’s influence constitute in some way a kind of popularisation. But they can often in their turn be suspected of relying on previous popularisations; in other words, the quotations, paraphrases or summaries of Ibn ‘Arabi which one observes there do not necessarily testify that their authors have personally read the works of the Shaykh al-Akbar. Muhammad al-Shinqîtî claims to have had in his hands the ‘Anqâ’ mughrib, but acknowledges that he did not understand a great deal. Evidently his borrowings from Ibn ‘Arabi passed through a more accessible intermediary which he also cites: the Yawâqît wa l-jawâhir of Sha’rânî, a book which is presented as a “commentary” on the Futûhât al-Makkiyya, but which is, rather, a handy summary: all sorts of questions (whose classification roughly conforms to the headings of a traditional aqîda) receive a reply derived from the Futûhât, along with a note of the chapter it came from.[30] Several successive editions of the Yawâqît exist and the development of Arabic printing has very obviously contributed to their diffusion. But their popularity is very much older: we know, from Sha’rânî himself and from his biographer Malîjî that hardly were they finished than copies of his works went in all directions of the Moslem world, from North Africa to India, a fact which, furthermore, the wide dispersion of catalogued manuscripts corroborates.[31]

Al-Hâjj Umar, for instance, certainly often relies on Sha’rânî, but no doubt he also had a direct knowledge of the Futûhât. Such is perhaps not the case, on the other hand, with another black African sufi, the Senegalese Ibrâhîm Nyass (d. 1975), who founded his own brotherhood, then created the African Islamic Union whose debt to Ibn ‘Arabi has been stressed by Mervyn Hiskett.[32] A dissident of the Tijâniyya, Ibrâhîm Nyass could assuredly find many elements of akbarian origin in the masters of this tarîqa. But I am led to believe that his eschatological beliefs owe a lot to the Yawâqît, and very little (or more likely nothing) to an assiduous familiarity with the works of Ibn ‘Arabi. I have the same suspicion with regard to Muhammad b. Abdallah, the Sudanese “Mahdi”. The latter had, as one knows, belonged to the Sammaniyya tarîqa, whose founder was a disciple of Shaykh Mustafâ Kamal al-dîn al-Bakrî, pupil of Nâbulusî. The writings of Shaykh al-Bakrî bear witness, which under the circumstances is not at all surprising, to a strong influence by Ibn ‘Arabi (very marked also in all branches of the Khalwatiyya tarîqa, to which he was attached: Alî Qarabash, who is mentioned in his silsila, was the author of a commentary on the Fusûs). That the Mahdi had acquired, in this way, a certain familiarity with ideas coming from Ibn ‘Arabi is likely. Does that suffice to explain the passages of the Manshurât[33] which quote the Shaykh al-Akbar, or draw their inspiration from him (again with a particular emphasis on his eschatology)? Madame Nicole Grandin was kind enough to inform me that the Mahdists of today mention the ‘Anqâ’ mughrib as the principal source of the doctrine of the Mahdi.[34] Chapter 366 of the Futûhât, which deals with the wuzard al-mahdi (the Mahdi’s ministers), has no doubt also been used by the Mahdists. But is it a question of a direct use of these sources or of a judicial employment of the chrestomathy (anthology) ad usampopuli which Sha’rânî provides in the Yawâqît, or in one of his other books? I myself incline to the second hypothesis.[35] Sha’rânî is not, of course, the only first-hand populariser from whom later writers drew their information. I have cited Nâbulusî. Now, although the latter, whose voluminous work has not yet been exhaustively studied,[36] may be in fact much more original than has been stated, part of his writings are undoubtedly a simplified presentation of Ibn ‘Arabi’s propositions: such is the case, amongst others, of a short treatise published at Damascus in 1969 under the explicit title of Idâh al-maqsûd min wahdat al-wujûd. It is this treatise, and others like it, rather than the original texts of the Shaykh al-Akbar, which constitute the basic material of many later formulations right up until now. But many less illustrious authors than Nâbulusî have also been influential mediators. I have had the opportunity, in a recent article, of considering a significant example of this literature: the Tuhfa al-mursala ilâ l-nabî by Muhammad b. Fadlallâh al-Burhânpûrî (d. 1620), who in a few pages sets out Ibn ‘Arabi’s metaphysics, cosmology and anthropology in a very systematic way.[37] This piece of writing by a Gujarati shaykh, which is somewhat to akbarian doctrine what the Aqîda sughra of Sanûsî is to the Ash’arite kalâm, was quickly translated into Persian and Turkish, and has provoked numerous commentaries (one of them by Nâbulusî himself) in the Ottoman empire. It was read in the circles of the Emir Abd al-Qadir in Damascus, and among the disciples of Shaykh Abd al-Rahmân Illaysh in Cairo.[38] It is still in circulation in India and in Indonesia, as well as in Turkey and in most Arabic-speaking countries. This “akbarian breviary” is far from being the only one of its kind. Amongst the influential popularisers nearer to us, one should not forget to mention Yusûf al-Nabhânî (d. 1931) whose books have always been widely read in circles hostile to the salafiyya and the wahhâbites. The introduction to his famous Jâmi’ karamât al-awliyâ’ is no more than a resume of Chapter 73 of the Futûhât, and all his books make abundant reference to Ibn ‘Arabi, whom he defends against the accusations of Ibn Taymiyya and his followers.[39] Even today in Damascus, a Syrian shaykh, Mahmûd Ghurâb, has undertaken the publication of a series of books – a dozen so far – each of which, on a particular theme (Al-insân al-kâmil, Al-khayâl, Al hubb al-ilâhî, etc.) is an assemblage of quotations from Ibn ‘Arabi – a process which recalls that used by Sha’rânî, and rapidly allows one to assess the position of the Shaykh al-Akbar on the subjects treated.[40] I would not be surprised if this collection of chosen fragments, briefly commented on, were itself to engender a popularisation of the second degree.

Without being, properly speaking, deliberate and methodical accounts of Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought, many other texts belonging, in particular, to the hagiographic genre have been and continue to be efficient vehicles of his thought. There is scarcely a library in any zâwiya in the Arabic-speaking world where the famous Kitâb al-Ibrîz is not to be found in its manuscript or printed form.[41] The author, Ahmad b. al-Mubârak, was the disciple of, and the successor to, a great saint of Fez, Abd al-‘Azîz b. al-Dabbâgh (d. 1717) whose life he retells, and whose autobiography and sayings he transcribes in this book. Now, if Al-Dabbâgh was illiterate, Ibn Mubârak was a scholar, and an assiduous reader of Ibn ‘Arabi, and one may verify that implicitly or explicitly the ideas of this latter frequently constituted the subject of the conversations between the two men. Faced with the murîd, whose knowledge was still all acquired from books, it is the ummi master who, as an inspired visionary, resolved the mushkilât al-Futûhât. The renown of the Kitâb al-lbrîz which, focused as it is on a charismatic personality whose short life was characterised by mirabilia, is obviously less intimidating than the works of Ibn ‘Arabi, or his disciples, makes it a very probable source of oral and written diffusion of certain aspects of akbarian doctrine. It is also interesting to note in passing that the most recent edition (1984) is preceded by three prefaces signed by Syrian religious authorities, which both attests to the importance of this book, and helps to reinforce its influence.

Besides the hagiographic literature of which the Kitâb al-lbrîz is, from our point of view, a remarkable but far from unique specimen, a place must be made for some writings which, though more austere, are ubiquitous in the libraries of the turuq. The works of Ibn Ajîba (d. 1809), a shâdhili-derqawî writer whose readership greatly exceeds the members of his tarîqa, provide a good example. He does not intend to expound Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine systematically either, but it underlies his thought, and, in particular, influences in a very clear way everything that he says about the Essence, the Divine Names and their theophanies, and it is also reflected in his definitions of istilahât.[42]

The allusion I have made on two occasions to the libraries of the zâwiya leads me to emphasise the importance, for a study such as this, of collecting all the available information on their contents. In Algeria, the administrators of Indigenous Affairs had catalogues drawn up by their interpreters at an early date, allowing one to verify that various works by Ibn ‘Arabi (most often the Futûhât), and many of his commentators and popularisers were to be found there at the same time. Surveys carried out in Damascus and Cairo confirm that this situation is the rule rather than the exception. To be sure, the presence of these titles in a zâwiya does not mean that they are read, and even less that they are read by all. It provides, however, at least a presumption of interest on the part of the successive shuyûkh and the more studious of their disciples, and informs us in any case about the accessibility of material which could be incorporated into the oral teaching of the masters, or into their literary output.

I will not dwell on the role – for a long time discerned by some researchers – of the qasâ’id in the transmission of the akbarian inheritance. Easy to memorise, even by the illiterate, they also have the advantage of giving an acceptable impression, because they may be attributed to poetic licence, of ideas which, set out in a discursive form, would seem suspect or blasphemous. The verses of an Algrian shaykh whom I have mentioned above, are a striking example of this brazenness forbidden to prose. One would find more examples in the diwân of the Moroccan shaykh Al-Harrâq (d. 1845) who was, like Ibn Ajîba, one of the disciples of Shaykh Al-Arabî al-Darqawî.[43] The poems of the Egyptian Sufis of the 7th century of the Hegira, studied by Alî Sâfî Husayn,[44] likewise present abundant examples. Annemarie Schimmel, in several of her works, has clearly shown the considerable influence of Ibn ‘Arabi and his school on mystical poetry in the Turkish, Persian and Urdu languages.[45] Now, the majority of these works, if not all of them, continue to be listened to at the meetings of the turuq, in the very place where a familiarity with theoretical works inspired by Ibn ‘Arabi is exceptional or even completely improbable, either through lack of adequate intellectual qualifications, or because of the opposition that Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought arouses.

A recent anecdote illustrates this last point. One of my Moroccan friends sent me the transcriptions of tape-recorded conversations which he had had, during the Summer of 1986, with various eminent religious men, within the framework of an investigation into the “spiritual geography” of Fez. Amongst the people questioned there is a former teacher of the Qarawiyyîn, who is presently a supervisor of undergraduate studies, Sî Abd al-Hayy al-Amrawî. Questioned about Sufism, he declared himself to be very hostile to the ghulât (extremists) amongst whom he counts Hallâj, Ibn ‘Arabi, Ibn Sab’în and Muhammad al-Kattânî, the author already cited of the Salwat al-anfâs. But he avers at the same time that he enjoys the poems of Ibn al-Fârid, of Shushtarî or Al-Harrâq which are recited in the meetings: “They contain”, he says, “such subtle, such spiritual meanings!”[46] The cohabitation in the same man of these two logically contradictory attitudes is a fact which I have often observed in Moslems who, touched by reformist currents, present themselves as hostile to Sufism or, at the very least, as partisans to a “moderate” Sufism from which Ibn ‘Arabi is evidently excluded.

Even if the methods of transmission are more easily observable in written work, whether in prose or in verse, they are not necessarily the most important, and, in addition, perhaps they themselves find their explanation in other phenomena which are less easy to discern, and which on this account have scarcely held our attention until now. By this remark I am alluding to another historical tradition, uninterrupted up until now: that of the silsila akbariyya. Despite certain confusions, which are easy to explain, there has never been, properly speaking, a tarîqa akbariyya in the sense of a formally constituted “order”.[47] But the khirqa akbariyya or hâtimiyya – that is to say, in other words, the baraka of the Shaykh al-Akbar – has never stopped being regularly transmitted, and it still is today. This ritual investiture of the khirqa akbariyya has been received in the course of time by people belonging to the most diverse turuq. Because it was on the whole very discreet, and in any case hidden by the much more visible affiliation of the individuals concerned to one or several of the traditional brotherhoods, this attachment by initiation to an akbarian line often goes unnoticed. A more careful look allows one to discover that it usually has the effect (beyond the eventual appearance of the nisba “al-akbarî” joined to the name of such and such a shaykh) of a more particular emphasis, conveyed by these people and their disciples, on the precepts which define what one might call a tarîq akbarî, a. “way”, a “method”, inspired by the teaching of the Andalusian Master.

Now, a meticulous analysis of many silsila-s makes it clear that a number of those who have played a major role in the diffusion of Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought have received the khirqa akbariyya; and I have good reason to believe that on a more modest level many other less well-known men who appear in these silsila-s have likewise been efficient agents of the propagation of his thought. As for the known figures, one discovers for example in the chains of transmission of the khirqa akbariyya the names of Suyûtî, Sha’rânî, Ibn Hajar al-Haytamî, Zakariyya al-Ansârî, Qushâshi,[48] and, at the end of the Ottoman dynasty, Shaykh Ahmad Gumushkhanevi. The relationship with Ibn ‘Arabi through books is then duplicated by a spiritual affiliation which must be borne in mind in any attempt to interpret the intellectual activities of these writers.

In a work published some years ago,[49] I became interested in another example, which for many reasons deserves to be noted, that of the Emir Abd al-Qâdir al-Jazâ’irî, who had the first edition of the Futûhât al-Makkiyya printed at his own expense, and under his supervision, and who shows himself to be, in his Kitâb al-mawâqif, a profound and subtle commentator on Ibn ‘Arabi. This akbarian vocation, which blossomed in Damascus when he was mature, can better be explained if one knows that he had received the khirqa akbariyya in his youth from his father, who obtained it from his own father, who in his turn had been invested by Murtadâ al-Zabîdî (d. 1791). One will note the astonishingly circuitous route by which, from Murcia where Ibn ‘Arabi was born, his spiritual inheritance travelled as far as India, birthplace of Murtadâ al-Zabîdî, to be taken to Maghreb, and finally brought to Damascus where both the Shaykh al-Akbar and the Emir finished their days.[50] These circuits are not unusual: I personally know an Egyptian, an economist by trade, who was joined to the silsila akbariyya by an Egyptian shaykh (reputed to know the Futûhât by heart), who had obtained his investiture from a Syrian, who received it from a Maghrebian.

I shall cite one last example of these unobtrusive meanderings which make the emergence of akbarian facts in a text, a priori banal, understandable. At the time of the study carried out in Fez in 1986 which I spoke of above, Shaykh al-Mahdî al-Saqallî (who claims to possess nearly sixty books of Ibn ‘Arabi’s) stated that he had been attached to the Hâtimiyya in three different ways, and in particular by Sîdî Abd al-Hayy al-Kattânî: there we find once more this famous family of shurfâ to which belongs the author of the Salwat al-anfâs who, like many of his ancestors and descendants, had received the khirqa akbariyya.

Being unable to dwell on it here, I would only add that many indications lead me to believe that the end of the nineteenth century saw the beginning of an “akbarian renaissance” marked both by more numerous links with the silsila akbariyya, and by particularly intense intellectual activity with regard to the works of Ibn ‘Arabi.[51] The phenomenon of diffusion, some significant aspects of which I wanted to throw into relief in this brief paper, is not then, to my mind, a mere archaeological curiosity. It has its place in our present and in shâ’a Llâh in our future.

At the end of this brief overview, one may ask oneself why the work of Ibn ‘Arabi has, more than others which also present the “learned tradition” of Sufism, exercised directly or indirectly such a considerable influence. As I have pointed out, it did not happen as a matter of course, since Ibn ‘Arabi was more than other Sufi authors difficult and controversial. No historian, obviously, can pretend to have the solution to a problem of this kind. Certainly there are some definite explanatory factors, like, for instance, the patronage which the Ottoman dynasty accorded to the Shaykh al-Akbar. He is reputed to have predicted (in a sibylline text of uncertain attribution, Al-shajara al-nu’maniyya fî l-dawla al-Uthmâniyya) the rise of the Ottomans, and in particular their conquest of Syria. That made him worthy of particular veneration by many sovereigns, and hence of a status which, without any doubt, rendered invalid the attacks aimed at his doctrine. This Ottoman patronage appeared very soon – it was Sultan Selîm the First who, at the time of his entry into Damascus, had Ibn ‘Arabi’s mausoleum built – and it endured it seems until the end of the dynasty. I do not think, however, that it is necessary to overestimate the importance of this imperial protection which, after all, would not suffice to account for the influence of Ibn ‘Arabi on Indian or Malayan Sufism, for example.

A more satisfying explanation (but one whose proof would involve work which largely remains to be done) would be found, I think, in the history of Sufism, and its institutions from the thirteenth century onwards. The progressive establishment of the turuq, their evolution towards the kind of brotherhoods by which we know them later, created in some way a doctrinal “up-draught”. The eponymous founders — Abd al-Qâdir al-Jilânî, Abu 1-Hasan al-Shâdhilî, Ahmad al-Rifâ’î, Ahmad al-Badawî, etc. – trace a way, and imprint a certain spiritual orientation on their initiated heirs. They do not expound an organised body of doctrines. They rarely leave, moreover, substantial writings. Their oral teachings, recorded by their disciples, usually consist only of a discontinuous series of concisely worded principles and precepts. From this Sufism, which is gradually building new structures and attracting a wider flock of followers, something would be missing if it were not precisely for the work of Ibn ‘Arabi (who, I must emphasise, is not the founder of a tarîqa, nor can he be claimed exclusively, or in priority, by any one tarîqa more than another, and therefore belongs to the common heritage). His work, in distinction to all that preceded it – including in my opinion that of Ghazali – has a distinguishing feature which the method chosen by Sha’rânî in his Yawâqît has demonstrated well: it has an answer for everything. Ontology, cosmology, prophetology, exegesis, ritual, it encompasses without exception all the domains on which the ahl al-tasawwuf need a trusted guide. In the muqaddima of his famous Lisân al-arab, Ibn Manzûr (who was born a few years before Ibn ‘Arabi’s death) explains that he composed this work in order to store all the words of the lugha nabawiyya (the prophetic language): “as Noah built the Ark, whilst his people laughed at him”. If the Lisân is the “ark of the words (alfâz)”, the Futûhât are the “ark of their spiritual significations (ma’ânî)”.

It is not, moreover, by chance, that of all the writings of the Shaykh al-Akbar, it is this Summa magna — I mean of course the Futûhât al-Makkiyya – which is most often read, and most often quoted: the Futûhât, the second edition of which Ibn ‘Arabi finished two years before his death, represents the majestic synthesis of the asrâr mâlikiyya wa mulkiyya which he transcribed, and commented on over thousands of pages throughout his life. This role of supreme reference which the surname of “Shaykh al-Akbar” given to Ibn ‘Arabi later on illustrates, is not, besides, a posthumous accident. He who laid claim to the dignity of “Seal of Muhammedian Sainthood”, seems, quite deliberately, to have assumed this function, enclosing untiringly in his work, for the sake of those who would live in darker ages than his own, the amâna, the sacred trust, of which he wished to be guardian.


Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris.

Translated into English by Cecilia Twinch.

This article first appeared in Vol. IX of the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society (1991).


[1] Cambridge, 1939; 2nd edn, Lahore, 1964.

[2] Fusûs al-hikam, Beirut, 1966, introd., p. 21.

[3] Clement Huart, Litterature arabe, Paris, 1932, p. 275.

[4] A.J. Arberry, Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam, London, 1950.

[5] J. Berque, Al-Yousi, Paris-La Haye, 1958. On this sufi, cf. also C. Geertz, Islam Observed, Chicago, 1968 (index s.v. Liyusi); P. Rabinow, Symbolic Domination, Chicago, 1975; E. Gellner, Muslim Societies (chap. 10), Cambridge, 1981.

[6] See op. cit., pp. 40, 121-6.

[7] Ibid., pp. 123 and 126.

[8] Al-bahr al-masjûr, Mostaghanem, undated, p. 69.

[9] Al-Futûhât al-Makkiyya, Cairo, 1329H., I, 115.

[10] Al-Qari al-Baghdadi, Al-durr al-thamîn fi manâqib Muhyi l-dîn, Beirut, 1959, pp. 27-8; Maqqari, Nafh al-tib, Beirut, 1968, II, p. 178.

[11] Abu 1-Abbas Muhammad Zarruq, Qawâ’id al-tasawwuf Cairo, 1328/-1968 (on Ibn ‘Arabi, see pp. 35, 41, 52, 129). Cf. also Ali F. Khushaim, Zarrûq the Sûfî, Tripoli (Libya), 1976, pp. 14 and 148.

[12] Abd al-Wahhab Sha’rânî, Al-anwâr al-qudsiyya fî ma’rifat qawâ’id al-sûfiyya, 2nd edn, Beirut, 1985, II, p. 28.

[13] Fakhr al-dîn Ali b. Husayn Wa’iz al-Kashifi, Rashaât ayn al-hayât, 2 vols., Teheran, 2356, I, pp. 249-50. The references to Ibn ‘Arabi by the Naqshbandi masters quoted in this work are extremely numerous; see amongst others (index following) those of Burhân l-dîn Abû Nasr Parsâ and Muhammad Shams al-dîn al-Kûsawî.

[14] Y. Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindî, Montreal/London, 1971. It is interesting to note, with regard to the widespread opinion that the Naqshbandi, an orthodox tarîqa, would be generally hostile to Ibn ‘Arabi, that what is true of old masters is also true of more recent shuyûkh. Shaykh Khalid is described as akbarî l-‘irâdn in a work which appeared at the end of the last century (Al-sa’âda al-abadiyya, by Abd al-Majîd al-Khânî, Damascus, 1313H., p. 2). Another work from the same time (Al-hadîqa al-nadiyya by Sulâyman al-Hanafî al-Baghdâdî in the margin of the K. asfâ al-mawârid, Cairo, 1313H., pp. 60-1) relates that on the death of Khâlid one of his disciples had a vision of Ibn ‘Arabi coming out of his tomb to embrace him. Shaykh Ahmad Kaftarû, leader of a Syrian branch of the Naqshbandi and general mufti of the Syrian Republic, possesses a deep knowledge of the works of Ibn ‘Arabi, and, although he rarely makes reference publicly to the latter in his durus (held in front of huge audiences), he is evidently inspired by him. On the attitude of the first Naqshbandi masters towards Ibn ‘Arabi, many complementary details may be found in the contribution by Pr. Hamid Algar at the Ibn ‘Arabi Symposium which was held at Noto (Sicily) in April 1989: Views of Ibn ‘Arabi in early Naqshbandi tradition (to be published).

[15] M. Chodkiewicz, Le Sceau des Saints, prophêtie et saintetê dans la doctrine d’lbn ‘Arabi, Paris, 1986. On the technical vocabulary of Ibn ‘Arabi, we refer to the valuable work by Su’âd Hakîm, Al-mu’jam al-sûfî, Beirut, 1981, which for this purpose constitutes an indispensable tool for the researcher. Numerous examples testify that the akbarian typology of walâya is used by many writers to interpret retrospectively the position of sufis prior to his time. I have mentioned (op. cit. p. 104) the case of Ayn al-Qudât al-Hamadhanî (d. 1131). One might cite also that of Ahmad al-Rifâ’î (d. 1182), whose grandson, to characterise the spiritual type of his grandfather and some of his contemporaries, also refers – without stating it – to the criteria and expressions of Ibn ‘Arabi, as well as to the idea of the “seal of sainthood” (cf. M. Tahrali, Ahmad al-Rifâ’î, sa vie, son oeuvre et sa tarîqa, thèse de 3ème cycle, Paris III, 1973, pp. 134–5; the passages in question appear in the citâb al-ma’ârif al-muhammadiyya fî l-wazâ’if al-ahmadiyya d’lzz al-dîn Ahmad al-Sayyâd, Cairo, 1888, pp. 59-60).

[16] Futûhât, I, 9.

[17] Al Kattani, Salwat al-anfâs, Fez, ed.lith. 1316H., see for example the 2nd part, pp. 241, 288, 332-3, 340.

[18] On Mâ’al-Aynayn, see El, s.v. and B.G. Martin, Muslim Brotherhoods in 19th century Africa, Cambridge, 1976, chap. 5.

[19] Na’t al-bidâyât, Cairo, undated. Examples of references to Ibn ‘Arabi are to be found on pp. 91, 92; to Qâshânî, pp. 67, 120; to Ismâ’il Haqqî, pp. 69, 70, 74, 77, 80; to Sha’rânî, pp. 98, 103, 167.

[20] Jawâhir al-ma’âni, Cairo, 1384H. Ibn ‘Arabi (by this name or by the name Al-Hatimi) is expressly quoted on several occasions (see for example I, pp. 66, 75, 126, 147, 151, 183, 245-7; II, pp. 7, 70, 84, 116, 117, 150). But many obvious borrowings are not designated as such: for instance the anecdote (the one about Al-Jawhârî) quoted I, p. 241, which comes directly from the Futûhât (II, p. 82).

[21] For a characteristic passage relating to the doctrine of sainthood (with mention of the khatm) cf. Jawâhir, II, pp. 21, 84–5.

[22] Jawâhir, II, p. 37.

[23] Ibid., II, p. 39.

[24] Jawâhir, I, p. 147; II, p. 143.

[25] Ibid., I, pp. 183-4; II, p. 30.

[26] Ibid., II, p. 25.

[27] Bughyat al-mustafid, Cairo, 1380/1959. See for example the exposition on the hierarchy of the awliyd? pp. 187-94. Ibn ‘Arabi is quoted several times in the work.

[28] Printed in the margin of the Jawâhir]

[29] See II, pp. 4, 15, 16.

[30] Sha’rânî, Al-Yawâqît wa l-jawâhir, Cairo, 1369H. Another compendium of the Futûhât, Al-Kibrît al-ahmar fî bayân ulûm al-Shaykh al-Akbar, appears in the margin of this work, which is itself abridged from a third work by Sha’rânî, the Lawâqih al-anwâr al-qudsiyya. On Sha’rânî and his bibliography, consult the work by Michael Winter, Society and Religion in Early Ottoman Egypt, New Brunswick, 1982.

[31] Cf. Winter, op. cit., p. 2, and note 2, p. 9.

[32] Cf. Mervyn Hiskett, The Community of Grace and its opponents, African Language Studies, London, XVII, 1980, pp. 99-140.

[33] Manshûrât al-Imâm al-Mahdî, ed. lith. 4 vols, Khartoum, 1963. References to Ibn ‘Arabi appear right from the beginning of the book (I, pp. 5-6, 13; II, pp. 49, 62).

[34] Letter dated 29.11.88. Mme Grandin adds that the ‘Anqâ’ mughrib is -for this reason – well-known in the well-read Mahdist circles of present-day Sudan.

[35] The several mentions to be found in the Manshûrât of “the commentary on the Qur’an by Ibn ‘Arabi” have sometimes been understood as referring to the famous tafsîr the exact title of which is Al-jam’ wa-l-tqfsîl fi asrâr ma’ânî-l-tanzîl. This commentary which, according to Ibn ‘Arabi himself, comprised 64 volumes and went as far as verse 65 of surah 18, seems to have mysteriously disappeared at the end of the nineteenth century. But the brief quotation given by the Mahdî (and repeated almost verbatim in several passages) is not in fact taken from this tafsîr or from any of Ibn ‘Arabi’s works: it is a quotation from Abd ar-Razzâq Qâshânî whose own tafsîr has been very often (and still is in recently published editions) wrongly attributed to Ibn ‘Arabi. The sentence quoted by the Mahdi is in the Beyrouth edition, 1968, vol. II, p. 460 (surah 18, verse 187).

[36] I have in my possession at the moment a serious bio-bibliographical study on Nâbulusî, thanks to the doctoral thesis of Bakri Aladdin, Abdalganî an-Nâbulusî. oeuvre, vie, doctrine, University of Paris I, 1985, the first part of which is a catalogue of his works. The role played by Nâbulusî in transmitting Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought is perhaps not limited to the Moslem world: a fatwa delivered by him in 1712 in response to a question posed by a melkite patriarch (probably Athanase Dabbs, d. 1724) makes reference to the ideas of wahdat al-wujûd, a’yân thâbita, etc. This fatwa will soon be published by B. Aladdin.

[37] M. Chodkiewicz, “L’offrande au Prophète” de Muhammad al-Burhânpûrî, Connaissance des Religions, vol. IV, no. 1/2, June-Sept. 1988, pp. 30-40.

[38] It was by the intermediary of a European disciple of Shaykh Illaysh that it arrived in the West, where it was translated in 1911 into a questionable French version which has nevertheless been reprinted several times since (the last edition is dated 1977).

[39] Nabhânî, Jâmi’ karamât al-awliyâ, Cairo, 1329/1911, reprinted Beirut, undated. For the references to Ibn ‘Arabi see in particular 1, 18, 21-5, 36-55 along with the note which is devoted to him, 1, 118-25. Cf. also his Shawâhid al-haqq, Cairo, 1394/1974, pp. 418-42 (where, moreover, he has recourse to long quotations from Sha’rânî; but his direct knowledge of Ibn ‘Arabi’s works is not in doubt).

[40] Cf. our appraisal of one of these works (the Sharh Fusûs al-hikam) in Studia Islamica, fasc. LXIII, 1984, pp. 179-82.

[41] The Kitâb al-Ibrîz has been edited several times, appearing in one volume in Cairo (1278H, 1292H, 1317H, 1380H.) and more recently – and more scientifically – in Damascus (1404/1984) in two volumes. An extract from the account of the fath of Abd al-Azîz al-Dabbagh appears in Les Confréries religieuses musulmanes by Depont and Coppelani, Paris, 1897, pp. 539-41. A complete translation of that remarkable spiritual document, the Kitâb al-Ibrîz, would be extremely desirable.

[42] One may find characteristic examples in the two treatises which J.L. Michon has analysed in Le Soufi marocain Ibn Ajîba et son Mi’râj, Paris, 1973, pp. 91-104, and in the annotated translation of the Mi’râj, ibid., p. 173. The influence of Ibn ‘Arabi is equally present, in a more diffuse but very identifiable way, in the commentary written by Ibn Ajîba on the Hikam by Ibn Atâ’ Allah (Iqâz al-himam, Cairo, 1972). On Ibn Ajîba one might profitably consult, despite its partiality, the book by Abd al-Majîd al-Saghîr, Ishkâliyyat islâh al-fikr al-sûfi, Rabat, 1988, chap. 2.

[43] There are several undated Moroccan editions of this diwân. On Al-Harrâq, see also the work by Abd al-Majîd al-Saghîr referred to in note 42, chap. III. Contrary to this author, who claims to see the expression of wahdat al-shuhûd in these poems, it seems evident to me that it is here a question of wahdat al-wujûd]

[44] All Safi Husayn, Al-adâb al-sûfî fî Misr fî l-qarn al-sâbi’ al-hijrî, Cairo, 1964.

[45] Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Chapel Hill, 1975; And Muhammad is His Messenger, Chapel Hill, 1985; Pain and Grace, Leiden, 1976; Islam in the Indian Subcontinent, Leiden, 1980 (cf. index s.v. Ibn ‘Arabi).

[46] I owe the transcription of this conversation to the kindness of Mr Fawzi Skali, along with that which he had with Sîdî al-Mahdî al-Saqallî, which will be reported later on.

[47] Contrary to the argument maintained by Dr Abû 1-Wafâ Taftâzâni in an article featured in the commemorative collection published in Cairo for the eighth centenary of Ibn ‘Arabi’s birth (Al-kitâb al-tadhkarî, Cairo, 1969, pp. 295-353).

[48] This information is drawn from, amongst other sources, the Simt al-majîd by Qushâshî, Hayderabad, 1367H., p. 105; from the Iqd al-jawhar al-thamîn and the Ithâf al-asfiyâ’ by Murtada al-Zabidi (ms.belonging to a private collection); from the Salsabil al-mu’în by Muhammad al-Sanusi, Cairo, 1353H., pp. 70-2; and from various manuscript silsila-s belonging to private libraries including that of M. Riyâd al-Mâlih (Damascus).

[49] Emir Abd el-Kader, Ecrits spirituels, Paris, 1982, introduction.

[50] The name of the Emir appears in the majority of the contemporary Near Eastern or Maghrebian silsila-s that I have been able to examine, underlining his wholly central importance in the propagation of the akbarian heritage since the end of the nineteenth century.

[51] This activity finds expression notably in numerous publications in Arabic. One should mention first of all the editions or new editions (often mediocre) of authentic works by Ibn ‘Arabi (e.g. the Tanazzulât mawsiliyya, Cairo, 1961; the Kitâb al-abâdila, Cairo, 1969, both unpublished until then) or titles which have wrongly been attributed to him (e.g. Tuhfat al-safara, Beirut, ca. 1975; or the inevitable tafsîr by Qâshânî, reprinted in Beirut in 1968 under the name of Ibn ‘ Arabi); the monumental critical edition of the Futûhât by O. Yahia (13 volumes have appeared so far) merits a special category; add to that the equally critical edition of the Kitâb al-isrâ’ by Su’âd Hakîm, Beirut, 1988; to which must also be added the appearance of works about Ibn ‘Arabi, ranging from superficial popularisation (e.g. Muhyi l-dîn b. ‘Arabi by Tâhâ Abd al-Bâqî Sûrûr, Cairo, 1975; the series of books by Shaykh Mahmûd Ghurâb mentioned above, etc.) to the scholarly studies (e.g. Al-khayâl wa l-shi’r fî tasawwuf al-Andalus, by Sulayman al-Attâr, Cairo, 1981; Falsafat al-ta’wÞl… inda Muhyi l-dîn b. ‘Arabi by Nasr Hâmid Abû Zayd, Beirut, 1983; the Mu’jam by S. Hakim already mentioned in note 15, etc.). A fairly complete bibliography covering the last three decades would contain several dozen titles, and would be considerably lengthened if one added to it the works by or about authors belonging to the akbarian school: Qûnawî, Sha’rânî, Nâbulusî, Abd al-Qâdir al-Jazâ’irî, etc. One should also take into account articles (published in journals, but also in the general press, particularly on the occasion of the controversy engendered by the critical edition of the Futûhât; on this controversy see the article by Th. Emil Homerin, Ibn ‘Arabi in the People’s Assembly, Middle East Journal, vol. 40 no. 3, 1986, pp. 462-77) and many unpublished theses produced in the universities of the Arab world. I am leaving aside here the publications in Western languages or by Western authors, although they too are not without some bearing on the “akbarian renaissance” evoked in my final remarks. Concerning these, one could refer to the article by James W. Morris, Ibn ‘Arabi and His Interpreters, JAOS vol. 106, III, IV and 107, I.