Articles and Translations

The Endless Voyage

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


Even a brief semantic analysis is sufficient to show how Islam’s religious vocabulary constantly reminds man of his condition as viator, pilgrimage being the ritual expression of this condition. A number of times in each of the five daily prayers – a total of seventeen times per day – the Muslim asks God to lead him along the straight path (sirât mustaqîm): in the Fâtiha, the first sura of the Qur’an, the recitation of which is mandatory, it is as a matter of fact the only request that is made. The word sirat occurs over 40 times in the Qur’an; sabîl, its synonym, appears 176 times. The first meaning of the very word to denote Divine Law – sharî’a – is the road that leads to the watering place; in Arabian cities, the word for ‘street’ comes from the same root. The term that normally is translated by ‘brotherhood’ or ‘mystical order’ – tarîqa – belongs to the same semantic domain: a tarîqa is a road and, more specifically, a road to perfection, an itinerarium in Deum. He who sets out on the road, the sâlik – the ‘walker’ – does so under the direction of a murshid, a ‘guide’.

The Muslims were travellers, in the literal sense of the word, from very early on. Piety, military expeditions, business, in addition to the search for knowledge (‘Seek it, even as far as China’, said the Prophet), led them to the far corners of the Earth. Even Ibn ‘Arabi – as was the case for countless spiritual masters before and after him – tirelessly travelled through the Islamic world for nearly forty years, first in his native Andalusia, then in the Maghreb, and finally in the Middle East before settling down in Damascus, where he died in 1240.

Siyâha -the life of the wandering ascetics – can sometimes be one phase of initiatory training. For some individuals, siyâha can eventually represent a permanent form of sainthood. But it is generally not considered to be the most perfect one, and caveats against the dangers it presents are frequent in the teachings of the sufis. Among the rules that ‘Abd al-Khaliq Ghijduvani (d. 1220), one of Ibn ‘Arabi’s contemporaries, left to the tarîqa naqshbandiyya was his sixth, which states: safar dar watan, ‘travel in your own country’. Of course this rule has a symbolic meaning, but it must also be taken literally. Najm al-din Kubra (d. 1200), who was living in the same period, is the author of a short work in which he outlines the principles that the traveller must observe. But if he speaks of the safar zâhir, the ‘exterior’ voyage whose spiritual dangers he emphasizes, he first describes the aspects of the safar qalbî, the ‘voyage of the heart’, the ten conditions of which he defines.[1] Ibn ‘Arabi, like Kubra, looks at both the interior and the exterior. The reader nevertheless has the idea that he is more interested in the safar qalbî, particularly in a number of chapters from the Futûhat al Makkiyya.[2] A thorough analysis of Ibn ‘Arabi’s numerous writings about the voyage would require considerable time. For this reason I will limit my remarks to a treatise dedicated exclusively to this theme, the Kitâb al-isfâr ‘an natâ’ij al-asfâr; the ‘Book of the Unveiling of the Effects of the Voyage’. Up until now there has been but one, less than satisfactory, edition of this work, published in Hyderabad in 1948. Fortunately, my colleague and friend Denis Gril has just carefully completed a critical edition and French translation of the work, and we now have a reliable text with which to work.[3] Although I make no claims to dealing with the totality of the richness that the Kitâb al-isfâr offers, I will attempt an analysis of the work’s major themes.

If man is indeed tied to what in the writings of the French School of Spirituality in the seventeenth century was called ‘la vie voyagère’, the travelling life, it is first of all because he belongs to a universe that is itself a perpetuum mobile. ‘Existence begins with movement’, writes Ibn ‘Arabi. ‘Thus, there can be no immobility in it, for, if it remained immobile, it would return to its original state, that of nothingness.’ It follows that ‘the voyage never ends, neither in the world above nor in the world below.’ (§3) The course of the heavenly bodies, the rotation of the celestial spheres, the trajectory that, from the time of the sowing of his father’s seed, leads man through the four seasons of life followed by the stages of his fate after death are, among others, examples of this perpetual movement of the cosmic bodies. Nor is this all: God Himself ‘is travelling’ from the ‘Cloud’ (al-‘amâ), that is, from what the Latin translations of pseudo-Dionysius call the divina calligo. If He is immutable in His Essence, He propagates Himself through His Names in an inexhaustible procession of theophanies, as seen in the Qur’an and the hadith:He ‘sits’ on the Throne, He ‘goes down’ to that Heaven that is closest to the Earth, He extends his creative activities in all directions of the universe. His Word Itself is directed from on high to down below and, from the lowest of the heavens it rains stars (nujûman) into the heart of man (§18). Each verse of revelation, from the last to the first, in turn becomes one of the successive abodes (manazil) that the son of Adam will inhabit in his ascension toward God.[4]

Thus, willingly or not, knowingly or not, each creature is travelling on a path. But, as an untranslatable play on words in the Arabic title suggests, this path cannot properly be called a ‘voyage’ (safar) unless it is also a disclosure or an unveiling (isfar): in Arabic, the verb safara is used to denote the action of a woman uncovering her face (§17). We will presently see the ultimate consequence of this taking off of the veil, without which the voyage cannot bear fruits of spiritual knowledge. However, it is first of all important to know that there are three kinds of voyage (§2). The first is that which leads toward God ‘by land or by sea’ (Q.10: 22); the route ‘by land’, which has its origin in faith in revelation, is the surer of the two, while the route by sea, that of speculative thought, is uncertain and even dangerous. The second is the voyage in God; there the traveller is plunged into interminable bewilderment (hayra).[5] He is no longer in via; he is in patria, but the voyage continues endlessly because God is always new. The word hayra is usually translated by ‘perplexity’. In Ibn ‘Arabi’s work, however, it is closer to the epektasis that Gregory of Nyssa describes in his sixth homily on the Song of Songs: that infinite progression that leads the soul ‘from beginning to beginning through beginnings that never end’. ‘God’s gifts are never ending’, says Ibn ‘Arabi (§55), ‘and there is no last gift to end them all.’ The third kind of voyage (§7) takes place from God. This return to the creatures might be considered as a rejection; on the other hand, it can also be taken as a sign of divine election, as in the case of the prophets and the saints, where there is no separation implied. Actually, for Ibn ‘Arabi, perfect sainthood – walâya – just as its etymology suggests, is ‘proximity’, but this proximity is twofold: close to men, the walî never ceases being close to God, and it is for this reason that he ‘joins together heaven and earth’.[6]

In a number of places the Qur’an recalls the wanderings of the prophets (a word which, in Islam, is of course also used for what the Biblical tradition refers to as ‘patriarchs’). It is with these prophetic models as a starting point that the Shaykh al-Akbar attempts to describe the rules and modalities of the voyage. One comment should be made at this point. For his adversaries – and there are still a number of those today who regularly attempt to put a stop to the diffusion of his books – Ibn ‘Arabi is nothing more than a philosopher in disguise, and his teachings are no more than neo-Platonic prattle vainly camouflaged by twisted quotations from scripture. In an inane work, but one quite representative of this kind of polemical interpretation, an Indian author, a few decades ago, spent his final lines inviting Muslims to get hold of themselves again, with his anguished call: Away from Plotinus and his host and BACK TO MUHAMMAD, these last three words being in capital letters.[7] It is not difficult to see in the Kitâb al-isfâr, as is the case with all of Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings, that the contrary is true: his teaching is drawn entirely from the substance of the Qur’an, and his entire work can actually be read as an immense, penetrating exegesis whose boldest interpretations always remain scrupulously attentive to the letter of the revealed Book. By the word ‘exegesis’ in this particular case, I am not referring, however, to tafsir in the usual sense of the word, that of commentary’.[8] Ibn ‘Arabi is quite clear about this: ‘When I speak about a voyage, I am speaking only as my own essence is concerned; I make no attempt here to comment on any events that happened to the prophets.’ (§45)I shall return to this point in a moment.

What Ibn ‘Arabi means in this passage should not be taken as opening the door to free interpretations, using the Qur’an as a pretext. Quite the contrary. It can be seen that in each case it is in analysing the vocabulary of the verses in question, in sticking to their grammatical peculiarities (and, for example, even to the literal meanings of the technical terms that denote desinential inflections) that he manages to bring out the meaning of the voyages undertaken by the prophets.

Even though Ibn ‘Arabi mentions the voyages of Jonas, Saul, and Jesus in his prologue, he never returns to them in the book itself. The Qur’anic episodes that he does deal with are those that concern Muhammad and then, successively, Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Joseph, and Moses. Before looking in depth at the section where the Shaykh alAkbar deals with the celestial ascension of the Prophet of Islam, I would first like to make a few observations regarding passages about the individuals just mentioned.

Adam’s ‘voyage’ (§26-31) is a fall, and therefore appears to be (fi mâ yazhar) a distancing. This is only in appearance, for this fall, far from being a ‘downfall’, ends up being an ennoblement (hubût tashrîf) like that spoken of in a number of Ibn ‘Arabi’s other texts.[9] According to the Qur’an (3:191; 38:27), God did not create the world in vain (bâtilan). Under the Law, knowledge of the world is part and parcel to knowledge of God. This is likewise a theme characteristic of Ibn ‘Arabi’s teaching.[10] Thus, although it differs markedly from the way it is seen in the patristic tradition, Adam’s ‘mistake’ is a felix culpa, and it is one that is essential in order that the divine promise (Q. 2:30) be carried out for man to be God’s ‘Lieutenant’, his representative (khalifa) on earth. One important point to be mentioned about this passage (§27) is that the idea of what might be called ‘original sin’ appears there, although for lack of a clearly defined doctrine the concept of original sin is considered to be absent in Islam. For Ibn ‘Arabi, Adam’s ‘disobedience’ is quite real: but it is actually the disobedience of the progeny that he was carrying in his loins at the time. Thus, we were all a party to it: original sin is not some fatality that we unjustly inherited. Sub specie aeternitatis, the transgressions in which I am involved today had already been committed when the history of mankind began.

Idris (§32-6), the Biblical Enoch, he who ‘disappeared because God had taken him’ (Gen. 5:24), is mentioned only twice in the Qur’an, and quite briefly. In contrast to that of Adam, his voyage is upward: ‘We have raised him up to a high place’, says the verse which is the starting point of this section of the Kitâb al-isfâr (Q. 19:57). Ibn ‘Arabi, who dedicates Chapter 4 of the Fusûs to Idris, also speaks of him at some length in Chapters 14 and 15 of the Futûhât, although in this case instead of being named, he is referred to emblematically as mudâwî l-kulûm ‘he who heals wounds’. This reference to a therapeutic role is connected to a long tradition, to be found for example in Tha’labi’s Qisâs al-anbiyâ’, or in the Rasâ’il Ikhwân al-safâ, which identifies Idris-Enoch with Hermes (or rather, with the first Hermes, Hirmis al-awwal) and ascribes to him all cosmological knowledge.[11] Carried off into the celestial spheres, he is taught the mystery of their revolutions, of the links between what is above and what is below, and of how, step by step, divine commandments come down through the great chain of beings. He resides in the middle heaven, where the sun also is, the ‘heart’ of the Cosmos, and he possesses the knowledge of time and of its rhythms that order the cadenced flow of history.

Noah (§37-40) begets post-diluvian humanity, and thus preserves the future of Adam’s progeny. He is, for us, as Ibn ‘Arabi says in the Futûhât, al-âb al-thânî, the second father.[12] His voyage in the Ark – horizontal this time, as opposed to the vertical plane of the preceding voyages – is the voyage of salvation (safar al-najât). The appropriate Qur’anic ‘sign’ for Noah, the miracle that establishes him as a prophet, is the athanor (al-tannûr, Q. 11:40; 23:27), the huge alchemical furnace wherein the great waters of the deluge churn. The athanor associates water with fire. In these two opposing elements Noah knows how to see what the infidels were not able to see: accidental forms of the unique substance of the universe in perpetual metamorphosis. He thus discovers the laws of transmutation and the mysteries of the ‘Great Work’, what Ibn ‘Arabi elsewhere refers to as ‘the alchemy of happiness’.

‘I go toward my Lord, He leads me’ (Q. 37:99): this Qur’anic verse is, in a sense, the reply made by Abraham (§41-3) to the Biblical command ‘Leave your country and go toward the land that I shall show to you.’ (Gen. 12:1) Abraham’s peaceful confidence in divine guidance appears to be unfounded, since it ends up exposing him to the sacrifice of his son.[13] This trial is nevertheless justified: one should ask nothing of God but God Himself. Abraham, however, had asked God to send him a son (Q. 37:100); it is, consequently, in the very object of his request that he is smitten. Nevertheless, the trial consists not in the fulfilment of the sacrifice, but rather in the order to perform it; after all, a ram is substituted for the presumed victim. This substitution is in appearance only: from all eternity, only the ram was destined to be sacrificed and, in Abraham’s vision, it is the ram that appeared in the form of his son.[14] In this sense, Abraham’s voyage is a failed voyage: he did not know how to interpret the vision; that is, he did not know how to take the path that led from the perceived image in the world of images to the reality that this image represented. The Arabic verb that I am here translating by ‘interpret’ is extremely expressive, since it is used to describe the action of fording a river or crossing a bridge; we will see it again shortly.

Etymologically, Lot’s name (§44-5) calls to mind the idea of ‘adherence’, and this is why, in Chapter 14 of the Futûhât where, like Idris, the prophets before Muhammad are referred to in emblematic terms, Lot appears under the pseudonym of al-mulsiq, ‘he who sticks’: he is totally tied to God and, when faced with idol worshippers, he seeks refuge only in God. Fleeing Sodom with his gaze fixed ahead, he walks toward a place that bears the name al-yaqîn, ‘certitude’, and where there still stands today a mosque (visited by Ibn ‘Arabi) erected in his memory. Lot’s wife does turn around to look. For Ibn ‘Arabi, she is a figure of the impassioned soul who, even in the highest contemplation, still attempts, through a reflex movement, to reach out and grasp spiritual joys and hold on tightly.

The long section (§50-70) regarding Moses, and which ends the work, entails six episodes from the Qur’an. The first concerns Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai (Q. 7: 143)[15] at the end of a waiting period of forty nights. This number is related to the quaternary structure of the macrocosm and the microcosm, and particularly to the human body, whose four humours bile, choler, phlegm, and blood) are the products of combinations of the four simple principles: cold, heat, dryness, and humidity.[16] But this voyage, where Ibn ‘Arabi defines Moses’ attitude through his rigorous observance of appropriate behaviour (adab) and service owed to God, is first and foremost a prototype of spiritual retreat (khalwa), especially the one called arba’iniyya, the forty-day retreat regarding which the Prophet said: ‘He who devotes himself exclusively to God for a period of forty mornings, the fountains of wisdom will spring forth from his heart and upon his tongue.’[17] But, as Ibn ‘Arabi warns, just as Moses, before departing, had left Aaron in charge of looking over his community, ‘the man who undertakes this journey must leave his substitute with his people.’ For, like Moses on Mount Sinai, he will collapse, struck down (sa’iqân) by the power of the theophany: his ‘people’ – his own human nature – who have remained at the foot of the mountain, must remain under the guard of Divine Law.

The following two episodes relate directly to the preceding one, and are tied together by a common theme, that of haste (‘ajal). ‘Why did you hasten to leave your people? ‘, God asks Moses when he arrives at Sinai. ‘I hurried toward You, Lord, so that You might be satisfied’, he replies (Q. 20:83-4). Moses’ haste is ruled by the sole consideration of God’s pleasure. In no way did it conflict with his obedience: Moses goes before his Lord only after a certain, set amount of time: the elapse of the forty nights of waiting and preparation that had been required of him. His haste is an expression of the zeal with which he submits to the Lord’s call.

But all haste is not necessarily good. When he comes down from the mountain and returns to the creatures, Moses discovers the idol worship of the Bani Isra’il, and it is for their impetuousness that he rebukes them. ‘Did you wish to hurry the commandment of your Lord? ‘ (Q. 7:150), he asks them. Another verse from the Qur’an is helpful in understanding why haste, so praiseworthy in one case, is just the opposite in the other. It states that ‘Man is made of haste’, to which God immediately adds: ‘I will show you My signs. Do not rush Me’. Moses, the kalîm Allâh, he who speaks with God, was late in coming back. His community became impatient, just as each of us does when God is silent, when we are forced to wait for a sign of His Presence. We do not desire God, we desire to enjoy God, to receive his sensible graces without delay; we wish to set the time and the place of the meeting ourselves. We refuse the forty-day trial period which, in our case, might end up being forty years or longer. We are not in a hurry so that God, and God alone, might be satisfied. Man creates a substitute God because this impatient greed is disappointed. Let it be noted that the very name of the Golden Calf reveals the cause of this false worship: the calf, ‘ijl in Arabic, is actually related to the same root as ‘ajal, haste, and the spelling of these two words is rigorously identical.

This quite significant linguistic relationship between the first mistake, impatience, and its consequent crime of idol worship, is not sufficient to explain the Golden Calf. According to the Qur’an (20:85, 87, 95), it was an individual named al-Samiri who first took the initiative of carving the idol. This Samiri, for Ibn ‘Arabi, is not a common, run-of-the-mill idol worshipper. In a development that he will later continue in the Futûhât,[18] the Shaykh al-Akbar states that this man had been blessed with a vision in the course of which he saw one of the angels that carry the Throne of God. There are four of these angels. According to a very old Muslim tradition – one that goes back probably as far as Wahb b. Munabbih,[19] and where there is obviously some similarity with the Biblical accounts of both Ezechiel’s vision (Ez. 1:10) and the Book of Revelations (4:6) – they take the forms of a man, a lion, an eagle, and a bull. The Samiri, seeing the bull, thought he could recognize in it Moses’ God. Thus, it was a small bull that he sculpted with the Egyptians’ gold. Via a premature interpretation of an incomplete spiritual experience he, too, attempted to anticipate divine acts: an inexcusable haste which, here again, is cause for major sin.

I think the commentaries that these few examples from the Kitâb al-isfâr have inspired me to make are sufficiently illustrative of the pedagogical character of Ibn ‘Arabi’s spiritual interpretations. His intention is emphasized in a number of sentences: ‘He who, like Idris, travels toward the world of his heart…’ (§36); ‘Set out on your ark…’ (§39); or, even more patently, ‘these [prophetic] voyages are bridges and passageways constructed so that we might cross over them toward our own essences and our own beings’ (§45). The lesson is clear: each of us should construct an ark, like Noah; each of us, like Moses, is called to the Sinai of vision and each of us must come back down to our ‘people’, toward our own corruptible nature always tempted by infidelity, and which can only be saved by observance of the Sacred Law.

Of all these ‘bridges’ that lead us to our essential reality, the story of the celestial ascension of Muhammad is the most important. It is in the pages where Ibn ‘Arabi invites his reader to meditate upon this story (§22-5) that the central theme of his work can be seen.[20] Word by word, the first verse of sura 17 (Al-isrâ) is meticulously analysed. This voyage, which is to lead the Prophet to the threshold of the Divine Presence, is a nocturnal one: thus, it takes place ‘in that moment that is the dearest to lovers’.[21] The Prophet is not named, rather he is referred to in the verse as a ‘servant’ – ‘the noblest of names’, Ibn ‘Arabi notes – and, more precisely, as ‘His servant’ (‘abduhu), that is to say, the servant of the transcendent Self, and not of any particular aspect of God. This absolute servitude (‘ubûda) does not only represent the purest state of abandonment that man is capable of. The extinction of all individual will in that of God completely lays bare the real status of the creature, that is, its radical ontological poverty (and it is thus that the voyage, safar, is isfâr, unveiling). This status is of course recognized by each and every Muslim when the Fatiha is recited. Saying yâka na’budu wa yâka nasta’în is admitting that we possess neither being nor the power to act. But this admission can be only verbal. For the Prophet, on the other hand, it involves the totality of the human constitution. This is why, when the saints know only ‘voyages of the spirit’ (isrâ’at rûhâniyya),[22] that of Muhammad is in body. His body has already, in this world, acquired the privileges of the glorious body of the resurrected. Moreover, it is by reason of this perfect servitude that the Qur’an does not say that ‘he travelled’, but rather that ‘He’ – God – ‘had him travel’. There is no movement on his part. He is moved by God: the ‘endless voyage’ is a motionless voyage.[23]

Are the admirable teachings of the Kitâb al-isfâr nothing more than a subject for learned papers, a pretext for scholarly discussion? This is the question that needs to be raised after this brief look at the work. In this iron age, are the spiritual sciences of which Ibn ‘Arabi gives us a glimpse still accessible? The Shaykh al-Akbar’s work is entirely oriented toward the horizon of the eschata: revelation is sealed by the Qur’an, prophecy is finished, the Last Judgement is imminent. ‘We are presently’, he says in the Futûhât, ‘in the third third of the night of the universe’s sleep’ – a sleep that began ‘with the death of God’s Messenger’.[24] In this universe, corrupt and on the road to dissolution, soon to be inhabited solely by men ‘like unto animals’,[25] is sainthood not any more than a golden legend, and the knowledge of God a mirage forever in retreat before him who pursues it?

One superb page of the Kitâb al-isfâr (§8) offers a paradoxical reply to these questions. If, for God’s servants, the human condition is harder today, the reward is also greater: ‘just one rak’a performed by us (in the ritual prayer) is worth what in earlier times a whole life of worship was worth.’ In the last third of the night, the dawn approaches: the future world is but an infinitesimal distance from the one in which we are presently spending our mortal existence. The attraction that it has is consequently stronger than it has ever been. As a result, ‘these unveiling breakthroughs are prompter, visions are more frequent, gnosis is more abundant.’ And, since there are presently few human beings prepared to receive them, all the greater is the portion for those who are worthy. The spiritual sciences also, Ibn ‘Arabi avers, will continue to grow, to the benefit of these men. They will continue to grow until the return of Jesus, the Seal of Universal Sainthood, whose parousia will announce the end of time. For whoever is ready to observe the rules of the voyage and face the risks, the way is still open.


This article first appeared in Volume XIX the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society (1996), a special issue entitled “The Journey of the Heart”.


[1] K. adâb al-sulûk, ed. M. Molé, Annales Islamologiques, IV, 1963, 61-78.

[2] On the theme of the voyage in the Fut., see especially Chs 174, 175, 190, 191.

[3] Ibn ‘Arabi, Le Dévoilement des Effets du Voyage. Arabic text ed., trans., and presented by D. Gril, Combas, 1994. Subsequent references to the K. al-isfâr are from the paragraph numbers of this critical edition.

[4] On Ibn ‘Arabi’s establishment of a correspondence between Qur’anic verses, taken in inverse order from where they appear in the Qur’an, and the manâzil that span the path of man’s ascent toward God, see M. Chodkiewicz, Un Océan sans Rivage, Paris, 1992 (An Ocean without Shore, Albany, 1993), Ch. 3.

[5] On the idea of hayra in Ibn ‘Arabi’s works, see, e.g., Fut., I, 270, 420; II, 137, 607, 661; III, 490; IV, 43, 196-7, 245, 280; K. al-tajalliyât, Taj. nums. 21 and 94 (ed. O. Yahia, Tehran, 1988).

[6] See M. Chodkiewicz, Le Sceau des Saints, Paris, 1986 (Seal of the Saints, Cambridge, 1993), Ch. 10.

[7] Burhan Ahmad Faruqi, The Mujaddid’s Conception of Tawhid, Lahore, 1940, p.127. As the title suggests, both this work and a number of other Indian publications see Ahmad Sirhindi as a spokesman for an orthodox sufism incompatible with Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine. I. Friedmann put an end to these outrageously simplistic views in his Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, Montreal/London, 1971.

[8] Ibn ‘Arabi sometimes sticks to tafsîr stricto sensu – as, for example, in his Ijâz al-bayân, ed. M. al-Ghurab, Damascus, 1989. But, as he points out, for example, in Ch. 54 of his Fut. (Bulaq, 1329, I, 279), his attention is most often drawn to the ishârât (‘allusions’), i.e. to what the Qur’an allows to be unveiled for him who recites it ‘within himself’ (and not ‘in the horizons’). See also K. al-isfâr (§40) where Ibn ‘Arab stresses that what he is doing is not tafsîr.

[9] E.g., Fut., II, 141; III, 50, 143.

[10] See Ch. 22 of the Fusûs al-Hikam, ed. A.’Affifi, Beirut, 1946, p.181, and Fut., Ill, 349.

[11] Islamic tradition ascribes the construction of the pyramids to Idris/Hermes. Foretold of the imminence of the great flood, he is to have represented there the arts and the sciences, as well as the instruments of both. See The Travels of Ibn Battuta, trans. H. A. R. Gibb, Cambridge, 1958, I, pp. 50-2.

[12] Fut., II, 10.

[13] This son is here identified by Ibn ‘Arabi as Ismaël. Current Islamic interpretation of verse 37:102 is that the son is Ismaël, even though his name is not specified. Ibn ‘Abbas and Ibn Mas’ud, on the other hand, believe that the son in question is Isaac. In the Fusûs, it is nevertheless in Ch. 6, dedicated to Isaac, that Ibn ‘Arabi brings up Abraham’s sacrifice, and not in Ch. 7, the ch. on Ismaël.

[14] Cf. Fusûs, I, 85-6.

[15] This important episode was dealt with in my presentation to the tenth annual symposium of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arab Society in the UK at Durham in March, 1993 (‘The vision of God according to Ibn ‘Arabi’, published in Prayer and Contemplation, ed. S. Hirtenstein, Oxford, 1993, pp. 53-67).

[16] In Islam, the number 40, which is the value of the letter mîm, is endowed with substantial symbolic importance; it deserves a much more thorough study than it has been given in this cursory presentation. As the example from the arba’iniyya cited below suggests, it is frequently associated with the period that precedes the infusion of the spirit into the body, or, on the other hand, with the length of time after which the spirit is separated from the body.

[17] On khalwa, see Fut., Chs 78, 79 (II, 150-2). Ibn ‘Arab composed an independent treatise on the subject, the Risâla al-khalwa al-mutlaqa (for the manuscripts identified, see O. Yahia, Histoire et Classification de l’Oeuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabi, Damascus, 1964, R. G. num. 255), of which one edition is extant, Cairo, n.d., Maktaba ‘âlam al-fikr. On the practical rules of the forty-day retreat, there is a detailed description in Suhrawardi’s ‘Awârif al-ma’ ârif, Chs 26-8.

[18] Fut., I, 149 (Ch. 1 3 on the hamalat al-‘arsh). Ibn ‘Arab explains in this ch. just why there will no longer be four, but rather eight angels that carry the Throne on the Judgement Day (Q. 69:1 7). We might point out that the Samiri can appear to be a positive symbolic figure. In the Tarjumân al-ashwâq (poem num. 30, line 12, Beirut, 1961, pp. 136-7) Ibn ‘Arabi exclaims: ‘My heart is the Samiri of the moment…’

[19] Suyuti, Al-durr al-manthûr, Beirut, n.d., VI, p.261 (on v.69:17).

[20] The Quranic verses that refer to the mi’raj (17:1, 53:1-18) were inspirational for a number of pages in Ibn ‘Arabi’s works (Chs 167 and 367 of the Fut., K. al-isrâ, Risâlat al-anwâr, K. mashâhid al-asrâr al-qudsiyya). See Seal, Ch. 10, and Ocean, Ch. 4.

[21] This nocturnal characteristic is emphasized in the verse, as Ibn ‘Arabi notes, through the redundant use of the word laylan with the word isrâ; which itself already denotes a night journey.

[22] Fut., III, 342.

[23] Cf. Fut., II, 382, where Ibn ‘Arabi speaks of sâlik lâ sâlik, voyaging without voyaging.

[24] Fut., Ill, 188.

[25] Fusûs, I, 67.