Articles and Translations

Nothing But Animals

The Hierarchy of Creatures in the Ringstones of Wisdom

Pasha M. Kahn

Pasha Khan is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Canada. He works on South Asian literatures, including literature in Urdu-Hindi, Persian, Punjabi and Arabic. He received his PhD at Columbia University, where he held fellowships from the SSHRC and the ACLS. His dissertation, completed in 2012 under the supervision of Prof. Frances Pritchett, was entitled “The Broken Spell: The Romance Genre in Late Mughal India” and dealt with romances (dastans/qissahs) and storytelling (dastangoi), mainly in Urdu and Persian. As holder of the Chair in Urdu Language and Culture at McGill University, he is responsible for teaching Urdu language courses, and performing research in the history and literature of the Urdu-speaking peoples of South Asia, and other areas, including Canada. [/]


Articles by Pasha M. Khan

Nothing But Animals – The Hierarchy of Creatures in the Ringstones of Wisdom


One of the concepts that has long filled the imagination of Sufis and academics is the anthropology of Muhy’al-Dīn Ibn al-‘Arabī. The quest for the Perfect Human (insān kāmil) has driven many authors, from ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī[1] to Masataka Takeshita,[2] and there is little doubt that this concept occupies a central place in Ibn ‘Arabi’s texts. But it is surprising that so few readers of Ibn ‘Arabi have taken seriously his ideas about non-human animals, especially given that they are so arresting and so explicitly bewildering.

The Ringstones of Wisdom (Fusūs al-hikam), upon which the present study will focus for the most part, is animated by Ibn ‘Arabi’s “zoological” concerns,[3] while his gigantic chef d’oeuvre, the Futūhāt al-makkiyya or Meccan Openings, repeats and in some cases clarifies these concerns, without mitigating their strangeness. As far as I know, no author has attempted to deal with the question of the animal in the Ringstones in detail, although there are at least a few who pay attention to it. I have consulted the commentary on the Ringstones by the fourteenth-century Sufi ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Qāshānī,[4] who treats the passages on animals with some seriousness. However, Qashani is not as much a close reader of Ibn ‘Arabi as an explicator, and it is not always clear how his explications derive from the text. James Morris points out that Qashani was a consummate logician and that his commentaries are often couched in Avicennian philosophical terms, so that they are better read as a reconciliation of Ibn ‘Arabi’s and Ibn Sīnā’s thought.[5] Toshihiko Izutsu, who relies heavily on Qashani’s commentary, restates the most important of the Ringstones‘ ideas on animals with great clarity, but ultimately reverts to an axiomatic privileging of the Perfect Human. Finally, William Chittick, whose translations of portions of the Meccan Openings in The Sufi Path of Knowledge and The Self-Disclosure of God are quoted in this paper to supplement the Ringstones,[6] is generally uncompromising in his readings of animal-related ideas in the Meccan Openings, but his potent remarks are scattered across his two large studies.

The aim of this study is to outline some aspects of Ibn ‘Arabi’s response to the question “what is an animal?” without making any grand claims about how his ideas might be inserted into the modern debate over the rights of animals or ethics with regard to animals. It is true that in the “Ringstone of Aaron” Ibn ‘Arabi rejects the idea of a one-sided subjugation (taskhīr) of animals by humans, in the same way that he questions the idea that adults subjugate children, or that God subjugates creation. Although this is related to the issues of hierarchy that I will discuss below, to unravel this issue would require another paper at the very least. And despite the “Ringstone of Aaron”, there is little doubt that Ibn ‘Arabi would not consider it unethical for a human to eat an animal, sacrifice it to God, make it carry loads, or kill it if it is considered noxious. There are in any case untranslated sections of the Meccan Openings in which Ibn ‘Arabi deals with animal-related Law in the Qur’an; a full study of his attitude toward animals in an ethical sense would need to take these into account. It is certainly necessary to answer the question of how Ibn ‘Arabi defined the animal (if definition is what he was after) before taking up questions of ethics.

“The Ringstone of Isaac” opens with a poem touching upon the “great sacrifice” of the ram that was substituted for Abraham’s son according to the Qur’an.[7] Regarding Abraham’s son, verse 37.107 of the Qur’an states, “We ransomed him with a great sacrifice [dhibhin ‘azīmin].”[8] Predictably, the ram is a piece of property and an item of exchange in an economy – the very word for “goat”, ghanam, is a paronym of the word ghanīma, meaning booty or a spoil of war.[9] But it is an unusual economy in which the transactors are God and Abraham, and in which the good is the life of a prophet. In the first hemistich of the poem, Ibn ‘Arabi echoes the Qur’anic terminology by using the term “ransom”, immediately signaling the economic thread that runs through the poem:

A prophet was ransomed by a victim’s slaughter in sacrifice.
What is the bleating of a ram compared to a human’s cry [nawsi insāni]? [10]
God the Great made it great [‘azīm] out of solicitude –
for us, or for it/Him, and by what scale, I don’t know.
No doubt cattle are greater in worth,
but they were devalued against the slaughter of a ram in sacrifice.
If only I knew how it is that a fat little ram
itself became the deputy of the Vicegerent of the Merciful! [11]

The second verse expresses the difficulty of fixing the scale of the “ransom” in relation to the one being ransomed. That is, it is unclear whether the ram’s being a ransom means that it is equal in worth to Isaac, the Vicegerent of God, or whether Abraham got the best of the bargain, as it were, the ram being worth less than Isaac, as one would expect. Expressing bewilderment and possibly mirth at the transaction, Ibn ‘Arabi emphasizes the apparent lowliness of the ram (in terms of its voice and its size), and states that the ram is the “deputy” of the vicegerent, suggesting that the ram stands in the same relation of deficient substitution as does the human vis-à-vis God. According to this reading, what is bewildering is simply that the ram is elevated so far above its insignificance, not that it attains equivalence with the prophet.

It is possible to read it differently, however, in a way more consistent with the subsequent verses. Consider these comments from the chapter of the Meccan Openings dealing with the giving of goats as alms:

God has made the goat [or “the chief of the goats”] stand in the station of the Perfect Human [less literally, “God has substituted the goat for the Perfect Human”]. It is his price [qīma, derived from the verb meaning “to stand”]. Behold how perfect is the rank of goats, since one of them was the ransom for an honoured prophet! […] It became a deputy [or “substitute”] for this honoured prophet, and stood in his station [“took his place”].[12]

This passage, which is immediately followed by the greater part of the poem under scrutiny, casts a different light on the ram’s deputyship. Although the political language of the poem leads me to insist on the verb nāba as “to act as deputy”, this passage juxtaposes “nāba” with “stood in his station”, a less ambiguous statement of equivalence with none other than the Perfect Human, the pinnacle of creation.[13] The word nāba, according to Lane, can simply refer to a substitution of any sort and need not be used in the restricted sense of deputyship. If equivalence is being suggested, then Ibn ‘Arabi’s bewilderment at the “scale” is not confusion over the extent of the ram’s greatness. It is rather a puzzlement over what kind of scale – in the concrete sense of a beam balance – is being used to weigh the two creatures such that the weights on each plate balance out.

In some sense the question remains open. The “metaphysics of perplexity”[14] (hayra) occupy a privileged place in Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought, and as we shall see, the intellect’s need to make a decision – to interpret something away – in a perplexing situation is a sign of its deficiency. The amazement expressed by Ibn ‘Arabi cannot be entirely ignored even when he appears to regain his confidence and gives us an answer.

The decision that he makes appears to be that the ram is not merely equal to, but worth more than the human, and therefore God profits from the transaction: “But do you not think that there is an order to the affair, a fulfillment of profit and minimization of loss?”[15] The substitution is made out to be a good deal for God because of the unexpected way in which creatures are ranked according to Ibn ‘Arabi. It must be kept in mind that Islamic philosophers and those influenced by them (including Abū Hāmid Al-Ghazzālī, whose Incoherence of the Philosophers [Tahāfut al-falāsifa] set out to prove the heresy of a number of philosophical assertions[16]) often subscribed to the hierarchy set out in Aristotle’s De Anima, according to which the rational human soul is most perfect, followed by the animal soul, and lastly the vegetable soul. Abū Walīd Ibn Rushd’s commentary on De Anima[17] and Nasīr al-Dīn Al-Tūsī’s Nasirean Ethics[18] present impressive elaborations of this system – see for instance the Nasirean Ethics 1.4, “Showing how man is the noblest of the existent beings in this world”. Ibn Rushd and Tusi were, respectively, older and younger contemporaries of Ibn ‘Arabi, so that the inverted order in which Ibn ‘Arabi places the creatures is very unusual for his time:

For there is no creature higher than an inanimate thing, and after it
a plant – according to a certain value and weights –
and sense-possessors after plants. All of them know
their Creator by unveiling and clear proof.
But as for the one named “Adam”, he is one who delimits[19]
by means of an intellect and reflection, or by the collar of faith.[20]

The criterion behind the hierarchy is clearly set forth. Humans are lesser than other creatures because of their possession of an intellect (‘aql). This assertion stands in direct opposition to the convictions of philosophers like Tusi, for whom the intellect is the faculty that gives humans the potential to rise above all other creatures: “Man’s perfection and the ennobling of his virtue were entrusted to his reflection, reason, intelligence and will.”[21] This is a far cry from Ibn ‘Arabi’s view that God “afflicted” humans with reflection and the intellect.[22]

The reason for the deficiency of the intellect has been alluded to above, but since it is so crucial for understanding the lowly rank of the human in the creatural hierarchy, it seems necessary to discuss it at greater length. Let us take Ibn ‘Arabi’s Qur’anic hermeneutics as a starting point. There are at least two kinds of interpretation, according to Ibn ‘Arabi. The important one for our purposes is ta’wīl, which is intellectual interpretation. Lane’s lexicon explains the term very well: “although it may often be rendered by interpretation, […] it more properly signifies (1) the rendering in a manner not according to the letter or overt sense […], (2) reducing a thing to its ultimate intent […], or (3) reducing one of two senses or interpretations, which an expression bears […] to that which suits the apparent meaning.” Definitions 1 and 3 are apparently in opposition because they correspond to esoteric and exoteric interpretation respectively, but they share the sense of a reduction of a multivalent expression to a single value. As William Chittick establishes in Sufi Path of Knowledge, Ibn ‘Arabi generally looks upon ta’wīl (henceforth “reductive interpretation”) with disfavour.[23]Instead of choosing between literal and non-literal meanings, any reading of a Qur’anic verse must work through its literal meanings, affirming them to the end. This is far from saying that Ibn ‘Arabi’s literalism is equivalent to a belief that Qur’anic expressions have single meanings. Ibn ‘Arabi draws the listener’s attention to the polysemy of Qur’anic expressions by dint of his expositions of their etymologies and amphibologies. The reader must not abandon any one of the multiple literally grounded meanings of an expression, even if they contradict one another. The faculty that wrongfully enforces the logic of noncontradiction is the intellect:

Among His servants are those deprived of unveiling and faith, that is, the intellective thinkers [al-‘uqalā’], the slaves of their powers of reflection, those who halt with crossing over. They pass from the outward sense to the inward sense and separate themselves from the outward sense. […]. As for the faithful, […] they cross over, taking the outward sense with them. They do not cross from the outward sense to the inward sense, but they take the letter itself to the meaning […].[24]

The word for intellect, ‘aql, is from the same root as the word ‘iqāl, meaning a “fetter”.[25] In tune with this sense, Ibn ‘Arabi sees the intellect as the faculty that binds a form to a single meaning. Through reductive interpretation it discards the form in favour of the exclusive meaning that it prefers. It is improper to use the intellect to understand the divine, because the signs of the divine (the Qur’an, the self-disclosure of God, etc.) present the intellect with situations that the intellect cannot accept. For instance, God possesses contradictory pairs of Names and Attributes,[26] one of which the intellect must reductively interpret away. Again, the problem of divine self-causation challenges the intellect:

Among those things which will show you the weakness of intellectual reflection is that the intellect judges that a cause cannot be caused by that of which it is a cause. […] Now, there is nothing in the science of [divine] self-disclosure but this: that the cause is caused by that of which it is a cause.[27]

But most importantly for our purposes, the intellect cannot accept the central thesis of Ibn ‘Arabi’s metaphysics: that God is both comparable (mutashabbah) and incomparable (mutanazzah) to what is other than God; this joining of opposites can be thought of loosely as the affirmation of both the cataphatic and apophatic modes of understanding God. The intellect can only operate in the mode of the incomparable, so that it constantly denies that anything could be similar to God. Therefore, it is impossible for it to accept the validity of divine self-disclosures, for to rely solely on an apophatic understanding of God is to deny that God could ever be disclosed in any form. Given the intellect’s propensity for reductive interpretation in the apophatic mode, it is clear that the “intellective thinker” cannot accept either the literal polysemy of the Qur’an or the bewildering unveiling of God’s Names and Attributes.

By way of its deficiency, the intellect becomes the factor that determines the lowly place of the human in the hierarchy of creatures. The difficulty is that the “intellect” (‘aql) appears to be different from “reason” (nutq) in Ibn ‘Arabi’s terminology, so much so that although animals other than humans and jinn[28] do not possess the intellect, they are repeatedly described as possessing nutq. One can divine something of the distinction made between the two overlapping terms from the fact that whereas “intellect” almost always refers to the intellect in the philosophical sense, “reason” or “rational speech” often does not. The situation is slightly different in the case of related philosophical terms such as “rational animal” (hayawān nātiq) and “rational soul” (nafs nātiqa), which are used in their philosophical sense, but tinctured with the Qur’anic sense in which Ibn ‘Arabi understands “reason”. There is a certain amount of thorniness to the problem of translating nutq into English. The word ‘aql was used to translate the Greek nous, whereas the etymology and connotations of nutq make it parallel to logos in that its root verb means “to speak articulately”. Chittick compromises by translating it as “rational speech” when he believes that the Qur’anic sense is being emphasized. I have decided to follow his terminology for the most part rather than insisting upon “reason” all the time, since such an insistence would make me responsible for explaining in more detail what relation nutq has to reason in the philosophical and now everyday sense. Nor can I simply render it as “articulate speech”, since Ibn ‘Arabi clearly makes the sense of “speech” parasitize the philosophical sense, doing justice to the fact that the term has at least two irreducible literal meanings.

Among mortal creatures, only humans and the jinn were “afflicted” with the intellect and with the power of reflection. Yet all animals speak rationally (nataqa), so that it is incorrect to separate humans and jinn from other animals on the basis of their exclusive possession of reason or rational speech, setting up nutq as the “constituting differentia” (fasl muqawwim), as Ibn ‘Arabi puts it. This notion is attested to too many times in the Meccan Openings to be explained away, and it has an origin in the literal sense of a Qur’anic verse which states that on the Day of Judgment, testimony will be borne against the hellbound by their own eyes and their skins.[29] I must pre-empt one of the upcoming denouements of this study to reveal that there is an important sense in which, according to Ibn ‘Arabi, all creatures are animals; until I detail this idea further, the reader must suspend his or her disbelief. According to the Meccan Openings, because the eyes and skins and other organs and faculties making up the human configuration are not in themselves intellective, they witness God essentially like any other non-intellective creature, and furthermore, they speak rationally like any other such creature, as is evidenced by their bearing witness against humans.[30] Lest there should be any doubt that this testimony occurs via rational speech, the Qur’an describes the skins as saying to the humans, “God, who has made everything speak rationally [antaqa], has made us speak rationally.”[31] Commenting on this verse, Ibn ‘Arabi says, “The skins made this speech all-inclusive [that is, they attributed rational speech to everything], so they have a better knowledge of the affair than those who make rational speech a constituting differentia only for human beings and who consider others devoid of the totality of their definition in animality and rational speech.”[32] Given that he refers critically to the dominant philosophical denial of nutq to non-human mortal animals, it is doubtful that the word nutq as Ibn ‘Arabi uses it does not encompass its very common philosophical sense of logos. Further diminishing the likelihood that he is referring to nutq as non-rational speech, he makes the same point again in a comment on the concept of the human as “rational animal”: “Rational speech pervades the whole cosmos. It is not the specific characteristic of man as imagined by those who make his constituting differentia the fact that he is a rational animal [hayawān nātiq]. Unveiling does not allow that man possess this definition exclusively.”[33]

The most coherent way in which Ibn ‘Arabi’s idea of the rational speech of all animals can be understood is to see it as a necessary consequence of his metaphysics. A verse from the “Ringstone of Hud” expresses the doctrine succinctly: “There is no existent thing in being that you will see without rational speech.”[34] Commenting on this verse, Qashani gives his version of the metaphysical explanation: “There is no existent that does not speak rationally about the Real, because He does not disclose Himself in any locus of manifestation if not in the form of one of the Names.”[35] An existent thing speaks insofar as it is a Name that signifies God, and forms part of the Great Qur’an of the cosmos,[36] which is made up of God’s verses, according to the Qur’an.[37] Each of God’s Names is strictly speaking synonymous with all of the others because all of the Names signify God. Insofar as the Name is not the named, or insofar as the creature is not God, what the creature (or the existent, or the Name) names is itself. In doing so, it signifies the incomparability of God to the qualities that make up its unique being.[38] For example, when a beetle speaks, what it signifies is that it is a beetle thanks to the fact that God is incomparable to and independent of its beetle-ness. Inasmuch as this is not the case – inasmuch as God is comparable and is the true possessor of beetle-ness – the beetle’s identity is drowned and effaced in the oneness of existence, because the beetle is not a beetle, but the ipseity (huwiyya) of God. The rational speech of animals is possible only because God “veils Himself […] out of mercy toward us [the creatures] for the sake of the subsistence of our identities.”[39] Rational speech is therefore in one sense an expression of incomparability.

The term that Ibn ‘Arabi uses for this aspect of rational speech is “glorification” (tasbīh), because in the Qur’an glorifying utterances are usually apophatic, as for example “Glory be to God above what they describe”[40] and “They say, ‘He has taken a son.’ Glory be to Him! He is the Independent.”[41] Ibn ‘Arabi often refers to the Qur’anic verses that describe non-humans praising God. The most important of these is 17.44: “The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them – there is nothing that does not glorify Him with its praise. But you do not understand their glorification. He is Clement, Forgiving.”

The connection of rational speech with incomparability recalls the similar connection between incomparability and the intellect. If it is the case that the intellect is blamed by Ibn ‘Arabi for its obdurate denial of the comparability of God and its disavowal through reductive interpretation of the signs of comparability, then how is it that the fixation on incomparability is characterized as a defect only in intellective animals and not in non-intellective rationally-speaking animals? One answer may be that while the intellect lays down the law of noncontradiction, rational speech as apophatic glorification is the site of both incomparability and comparability, given that the creature as Name simultaneously signifies itself and God, as Qashani’s commentary has already hinted. The Name’s signification of God occurs when God’s self-veiling ceases and the divine self-disclosure begins. Or rather, since this is not an event but a difference in the perceiver’s mode of perception, and since God is both comparable and incomparable and reveals and veils simultaneously, it must be said that the Name signifies God insofar as God does not veil Himself. The unveiling or divine self-disclosure adds the sense of comparability to the sense of incomparability in the rational speech of the creature.

In “The Ringstone of Noah”, Ibn ‘Arabi draws attention to the ambiguity of the particle in the phrase al-hamdu li-allāh. Because the particle li can have either a dative or a genitive sense, the phrase can mean either “praise is to God”, meaning that God is the recipient of praise; or “praise is God’s”, meaning that God is the owner and originator of praise. The ambiguity of the referent of the pronoun in verse 17.44 (quoted above) produces the same effect. “There is nothing that does not glorify Him with its praise [bi-hamdi-hi].” The third person pronoun can be read as either “it” or “him”, so that it is permissible to read the verse as “There is nothing that does not glorify Him with His praise.” Therefore, according to Ibn ‘Arabi, “They [the creatures] are all tongues [or languages] of the Real speaking rationally about the Real in laudation. […] He [God] is the one who lauds and the one lauded”, which is to say that God declares Himself incomparable to none other than Himself.[42] To restate the example of the beetle speaking rationally in glorification of God, the beetle expresses its beetle-ness and declares God to be incomparable to it, but insofar as it, like all non-intellective animals, witnesses the self-disclosures of God, it must see that a tadpole’s declaration of God’s incomparability is a declaration of comparability because of the sameness of the glorifier and the glorified. The tadpole glorifies God in that it speaks rationally of its own definition (its tadpole-ness), which rational speech constitutes its praise. But the content of the praise – the being of the tadpole – is the same as God’s ipseity, and therefore in naming itself in glorification of God, the tadpole names itself as the ipseity of God. Rational speech participates in both the incomparability and the comparability of God, and for this reason it seems possible to say that, unlike the intellect, it does not err by declaring incomparability exclusively.

Humans and jinn, the intellective animals, use their intellects to interpret away divine self-disclosures by means of an exclusive focus on incomparability. It follows that any creature that does not possess an intellect is better suited to accept the self-disclosure of God “by unveiling and clear proof”, as the proem to “The Ringstone of Isaac” states. However, what is the nature of the “unveiling” (kashf) that is granted to non-intellective animals and other non-human creatures, but which is denied in its immediacy to humans? “The Ringstone of Solomon” contains an important passage referring to the veil:

There is nothing but Life, except that this is hidden in this lower world from the perception of some people. But it will become manifest in the Last Abode to all humans, for it is the Abode that is Life. That is also the case in this lower world, except that its life is veiled from some of God’s slaves.[43]

In the above passage, the Qur’anic verse 29.64 is being referred to by Ibn ‘Arabi: “The life of this lower world is a trifle and a sport. But the Last Abode is Life. If only they knew.” We will soon scrutinize the word translated as “Life” (hayawān), which commentators usually understand as an intensive verbal noun from the verb “to live” (hayya), with the sense of true life, eternal life, life not followed by death (see Lane). In this sense, the passage asserts the sameness of the lower world and the Last Abode, the here-and-now and the Hereafter. Characteristically, what is unveiled is an apparent paradox of the type that the intellect must interpret away, according to Ibn ‘Arabi. The reason for the paradoxical sameness of the lower world and the Hereafter, whose identities are differentially founded on one another, can perhaps be approached obliquely by reference to the significance of the veil and its relation to death. The Qur’an says to the dead person on the Day of Resurrection, “now We have unveiled your covering from you, and today your sight is piercing.”[44] However, as Izutsu observes, death is not necessarily identical with “death as a biological event”.[45] In his Masnavī, Rūmī comments upon an injunction attributed to the Prophet, “Die before you die”,[46] a saying that distinguishes between a prior and a posterior death: biological death and the annihilation (fanā’) of the self in the divine, which is possible before biological death occurs. Insofar as death before death is possible, the unveiling of the covering referred to in the Qur’an can happen while the person inhabits the lower world. In the case of our passage, the reality that is unveiled is that the lower world, like the Last Abode, is the Abode that is Life. This is because the one to whom the unveiling has occurred – the animal, for instance – has already experienced death in its non-biological sense, and its life will therefore not be followed by this aspect of death.

It will be useful at this point to take what will seem like a detour in order to explain the words that Ibn ‘Arabi uses to designate animals. Aside from the names of specific animals, there are several words in the Ringstones referring to animals as a genus. The Qur’anic word dābba, meaning roughly “a creature that moves”, is used many times, most notably in “The Ringstone of Hūd”, which takes as its starting point a Qur’anic verse using this word. In the second chapter, “The Ringstone of Seth”, the denizens of the world in the last days are compared to bahā’im, singular bihīma, a word usually rendered into English as “beast” or “brute”.[47] The most common term, however is hayawān, which we have seen above in its Qur’anic sense of “eternal life”. In Ibn ‘Arabi’s time, hayawān is likely to have been the most common word for “animal”, as it still is in the twenty-first century. This apparently mundane word is shot through with ambiguities. Hayawān appears only once in scripture, in the verse already presented, and one would be hard-pressed to find a commentator who reads the word in this context as anything but “eternal life” or something similar.[48] (The word rendered “animal” in English translations of the Qur’an is not hayawān, but dābba.) To begin with, the number of the word hayawān is ambiguous; which is to say that it can be understood either as singular (“animal”) or plural (“animals”). A special “plural of paucity”, hayawānāt, exists, and like other plurals of this class it is not used strictly in cases of paucity, so it is possible for Ibn ‘Arabi to use it to distinguish “animals” from “animal”, as he does from time to time in the Meccan Openings, but never in the Ringstones as far as I have seen.

Given this widely accepted meaning of the word hayawān, it becomes necessary to review the passage from “The Ringstone of Solomon” to see whether “Life” cannot be replaced with “animal” or “animals”. This is in fact how the passage has been treated by its English translators, although they differ over the number of the problematic noun. Austin’s translation has the following: “There is always some living creature [hayawānun correctly understood as indefinite] in the world hidden from the awareness of some men, which will be manifest in the Hereafter to all men, it being the Abode of the Living [al-hayawān correctly understood as definite].”[49] We must note that through the perfectly legitimate gesture of using two different words (“living creature” and “Living”) to translate hayawān, Austin covers over the repetition of the word in the Arabic text. Dagle avoids this translative antanaclasis, and renders the passage thus: “There is naught but animals, except that this is hidden in this lower world from the perception of some men, but it will become manifest in the Hereafter to all men, for it is the abode of animals [capturing the repetition of the word].”[50] Leaving Austin aside for a moment, Dagle’s translation, with hayawān rendered as plural, seems absurd and unthinkable. Could Ibn ‘Arabi be saying that every thing in existence is an animal?

Of course, this is exactly what he says. Every existent thing, according to Ibn ‘Arabi, is an animal. To fully explain this idea would require a separate discussion – and a lengthy one at that – because of the multiplicity of ways in which Ibn ‘Arabi tries to demonstrate the animality of all things, by attesting that all things possess life, movement, spirits, sense perception, and rational speech, to name a few qualities. Here I will resort to a shortcut. Assuming a division of genera of creatures along the lines of De Anima or the Nasirean Ethics, one would have to show how Ibn ‘Arabi can contend that inanimate objects like stones possess life, and how both they and plants possess sensory perception, these qualities being the criteria whose lack normally sets these genera of things apart from the genera that are understood to be above them. The question of sensory perception will be raised shortly; in brief, the excellence of inanimate objects and plants requires that they possess senses, since the witnessing of the divine self-disclosures occurs through the sharpening of the senses. Dagle[51] and Izutsu[52] put the idea that all things possess life down to a simple identification between existence and life: because everything is existent, everything lives, an equation that apparently derives from Qashani’s commentary on the passage from “The Ringstone of Solomon”: “insofar as there is existence, there is life.”[53] Somewhat more thoroughgoing is the connection that Ibn ‘Arabi himself draws in “The Ringstone of Job”, in which he demonstrates the life of all creatures via a syllogism containing the premise that if things were non-living, they would not be capable of rational speech and glorification: “there is not a thing that does not glorify by the praises of God […]. Only something that lives can glorify, and thus everything lives.”[54] The relation between rational speech and life is repeated in the Meccan Openings a number of times, taking the same syllogistic form in at least one instance in which rational speech is mentioned in place of glorification.[55] All things are indeed animals in Ibn ‘Arabi’s view, on the basis of their rational speech. But as the Solomonic Ringstone attests, this is a matter that is only verifiable after the veil is lifted from one’s sight.

There remains the equally bewildering possibility of understanding hayawān as singular, “an animal”. Recalling the passage from “The Ringstone of Solomon”, we might re-translate it a third time as: “There is nothing but an animal, except that this is hidden in this lower world from the perception of some people. But it will become manifest in the Last Abode to all humans, for it is the abode that is the animal.” This version of the passage identifies all that there is as a single animal. That is, what would be affirmed following the unveiling after death is the created world’s being an animal itself, rather than its being made up of many individual animals. At the end of “The Ringstone of Elias”, there is another relevant passage that I will consider shortly. For the time being, what is important to note is that it instructs the Sufi aspirant to become an “absolute animal”.[56] If it is the case that the idea of the absolute animal (hayawān mutlaq) in Ibn ‘Arabi is related to the parallel idea presented in Plato’s Timaeus, then it is probable that the absolute animal is the animal that is identified with the lower world and with the Last Abode.

In the Timaeus, the eponymous philosopher represents the Demiurge as having created the cosmos in the form of an animal (zotn) possessing a body, soul and an intellect (nous), each of these elements being dependent upon the other for their existence. Subsequently he refers to the cosmos as “one visible animal comprehending within itself all other animals of a kindred nature”.[57] That the Islamic philosophers knew of the Timaeus is beyond doubt. Ibn al-Nadīm’s tenth-century Fihrist mentions a translation written by either Ishāq ibn Hunayn or by Ibn al-Bitrīq,[58] and Ibn Hunayn was also the translator of Galen’s epitome of the dialogue, which, unlike the Arabic Timaeus itself, has survived.[59] It is likely that they also had access to a commentary by Proclus.[60] In the Introduction to his translation of the Middle Commentary on De Anima, Alfred Ivry notes that Ibn Hunayn also translated Themistius’ paraphrase of the work.[61] Whether or not Ibn ‘Arabi was familiar with the Arabic translation, it is likely that the idea of the Platonic animal reached him via a chain of texts that probably culminated in the works of Ghazzali, or in the books of Ibn ‘Arabi’s older contemporary Ibn Rushd, or both.

In the eleventh century, Ghazzali, to whose ideas Ibn ‘Arabi often responds,[62] writes of the philosophical characterization of the heavens – apparently not the cosmos – as an animal in his Incoherence of the Philosophers. The doctrine, which seems to be related to the one in the Timaeus, is probably traceable to Ibn Sina, given that it is Ibn Sina and Al-Farābī who are the main targets of the Incoherence;[63] Ibn Rushd also mentions Ibn Sina as the author of the idea in his response to Ghazzali entitled Tahāfut al-tahāfut or Incoherence of the Incoherence.[64] Of the twenty errors of the philosophers recounted in the Incoherence, Ghazzali denounces three of them as unbelief, and the other seventeen as heresy.[65] But the palatability of the idea of the heavens as animal to Ghazzali can be gauged by Ghazzali’s comments on the idea in Discussion 14 of the Incoherence:

They [the philosophers] had said:

Heaven is an animal, and it has a spirit whose relation to the body of heaven is similar to the relation of our spirits to our bodies […]. [T]he purpose of the heavens in their essential motion is to worship the Lord of the world, in a manner we will be mentioning.

Their doctrine in this question is one of those whose possibility is not to be denied, nor its impossibility claimed. For God is capable of creating life in every body. For neither does the largeness of the body prevent its being alive, nor does its being circular.[66]

Ghazzali’s objection to the idea of the heavens as an animal does not lie in its inherent falsity. In his view it is possible that the philosophers to whom he refers are correct. What is incorrect and tantamount to heresy is the argument used by the philosophers to establish the truth of this idea.[67] Against this argument based on the motion of the heavens, Ghazzali pits three hypothetical alternatives that he claims are equally unfalsifiable, and on this basis pronounces the doctrine to be merely arbitrary and heretical in some of the presuppositions of its supporting argument, which I will not rehearse here.[68] This does not bar the possibility that another non-heretical proof for this assertion might be brought to light: “Yes, it is not improbable that the likes of this may become known through a proof, if proof were to be found and is helpful.”[69] In this manner he leaves the door open to a future reconciliation of this idea with Islam as he envisions it in the event of the discovery of a logically sound proof for the animality of the heavens.

When Ibn ‘Arabi’s older Andalusian contemporary Ibn Rushd writes the Incoherence of the Incoherence in refutation of Ghazzali, he notes that Ghazzali was refuting Ibn Sina – whose formulations Ibn Rushd finds problematic himself – and claims that “the ancients have a more efficient and clearer proof”, which he neglects to detail.[70] The Timaeus‘ representation of the cosmos as an animal also comes down to Ibn Rushd through Aristotle’s mention of it in the De Anima. In his Middle Commentary on De Anima, Ibn Rushd refers to the Timaeus when he presents Aristotle’s mention of its idea of the cosmos as animal. Ibn Rushd calls the animal in question the “absolute animal” or hayawān mutlaq – using precisely the same Arabic phrase that Ibn ‘Arabi uses in “The Ringstone of Elias”.[71] He also refers to it as “the universal intelligible animal”,[72] echoing Themistius.[73] Ibn Rushd’s Long Commentary on De Anima is extant only in its Medieval Latin translation; there Ibn Rushd specifically identifies the source text as the Timaeus and writes of “the simple absolute animal [animal simpliciter absolutum], which is the genus of particular animals and their principle”.[74] The Latin simpliciter likely corresponds to the Arabic mah‰, in which case it is revealing that the philosophically-trained Qashani glosses Ibn ‘Arabi’s “absolute animal” as “a simple animal [hayawān mah‰]”,[75] indicating that he may have been familiar with the Long Commentary or some other text in which the absolute animal was described as “simple”.[76] ‘Afīfī’s edition of the Ringstones tantalizes us with the further information that one of the manuscripts has a variant that might conceivably have put “the animal itself” in the place of al-dār al-hayawān, “the animal abode”,[77] which hearkens to Plato’s autozoon, “the animal itself” of the Timaeus[78] and of Themistius’ paraphrase of De Anima.[79] Given the shared milieu in which Ibn ‘Arabi and Ibn Rushd lived, and Ibn ‘Arabi’s comments regarding Ibn Rushd, it seems very likely that the Spanish Sufi understood the idea of the absolute animal through the work of the Spanish philosopher.

Ibn ‘Arabi’s own criticism of philosophers, which is comparable to Ghazzali’s to some extent, does not prevent him from having a high opinion of Plato as a sage who was privy to divine unveilings.[80] Whether or not he was directly familiar with the Timaeus is a moot point, but it is quite likely that he was aware of the work of Ibn Rushd, to whom he offers unusually lofty – but qualified – praise, claiming to have met him while Ibn Rushd was chief judge of Seville and Ibn ‘Arabi was a youth.[81] The important caveat, however, is that in his use of philosophical terms, Ibn ‘Arabi does not always conform to the strictures that shape the meaning of these terms in philosophical texts, so that the absolute animal’s roundness, limblessness, and possession of intellect need not be assumed simply because they are present in the Timaeus.

To return to “The Ringstone of Solomon”, it seems that if there is a distinction in Plato, Aristotle and Ibn Rushd between the universal absolute animal and the particular animal, such as an individual snail or crow, the border between them is porous in the Ringstones. Timaeus looks upon any association of the universal and the particular animal with some repugnance: “In the likeness of what animal did the Creator make the world? It would be an unworthy thing to liken it to any nature which exists as a part only […].”[82] But according to “The Ringstone of Solomon”, there is a sense in which “Each part of the world is the entire world; that is to say, each is receptive to the realities of the distinct parts of the entire world.”[83] The sameness of the part and the whole is comprehensible through the idea of the two modes in which rational speech signifies. Insofar as the rationally speaking animal names itself in apophatic glorification of God, it expresses its particular being. But insofar as it names and bears witness to God, its signification is identical to that of all other creatures. This expression of the idea that God’s comparable aspect manifests itself in all things sets the stage for the text’s play on the ambiguous meaning and number of hayawān, which can refer to both the particular animal and the absolute animal encompassing all particulars. It follows that every existent is both a particular animal and the absolute animal, both of which are identified with the two abodes of the lower world and the Hereafter.

In another related sign of the Ringstones‘ divergence from the Timaeus, the quality of the absolute animal that is emphasized by Ibn ‘Arabi is the quality of sensory perception that sets animals as a species apart from other living beings. Plato’s universal animal is formed by the Demiurge as a perfect sphere without any organs at all, bereft of limbs as I have mentioned, but also of eyes and ears. It does not stand in need of sensory organs because it encompasses the world of sense, so that there is nothing outside of it that could be an object of hearing or seeing.[84] In spite of the perception that Sufism is heir to an otherworldly Neoplatonist idealism,[85] the Ringstones do not brush the senses aside by emphasizing their deceptiveness, but stress that God is described in the Qur’an as having sense perception. Immediately before the passage on animals, Ibn ‘Arabi says in “The Ringstone of Solomon”, “[God] says, ‘There is nothing like Him,’ thus negating, ‘and He is the Hearing, the Seeing,’ thus affirming through a quality that applies universally for every hearing and seeing animal.”[86] This verse from the Qur’an (42.11) is often cited by Ibn ‘Arabi as incontrovertible proof that God is both incomparable and comparable. Insofar as God is comparable to creatures, it may be said that hearing and seeing are divine Attributes that are secondarily assumed by creatures. This is made clearer by a tradition that Ibn ‘Arabi recounts, according to which God says, “When I love him [i.e., the servant of God], I am his hearing through which he hears, and his sight through which he sees.”[87] The Sufi’s realization of the divine nature of the senses does not imply the negation of their animality; indeed, as the reference to animals as “sense-possessors” in “The Ringstone of Isaac” indicates, Ibn ‘Arabi accepts that animals as a genus among the genera of creatures are characterized by their possession of sensory perception. The one who realizes the divine origin of the animal senses realizes that sensory perception is common to all animals.[88] Since this is true of animals as a genus, Ibn ‘Arabi’s insistence upon the animality of all things means that all things must possess sensory perception. The one who witnesses the unveiling would in this case witness that everything hears and sees. And given that the particular animal is the absolute animal, the absolute animal must also be possessed of senses such as hearing and sight.

To comprehend the sentience of the absolute animal, one must understand that the absolute animal is not merely the content of the perceived unveiling; the one perceiving the unveiling is also an absolute animal that perceives through the senses. This is evident from Ibn ‘Arabi’s description of unveiling in “The Ringstone of Elias”. Here Ibn ‘Arabi reiterates the idea that one who is able to perceive the unveiling must have died and entered the Hereafter, which is not different from the lower world: “None of those who know God by self-disclosure lack the configuration of the Hereafter.” The gnostic or perceiver of the self-disclosure is made according to what Ibn ‘Arabi terms the “lower-worldly configuration” as well as the “other-worldly configuration”, these being represented by the prophets Elias and Enoch respectively.[89] These two were in Ibn ‘Arabi’s view one and the same person.[90] In order to possess this dual configuration and witness the unveilings, the Sufi must cease to be subject to the intellect that disallows the coincidentia oppositorum that manifests itself in God’s self-disclosures, and become like any non-intellective animal. Thus, Ibn ‘Arabi suggests, the Sufi must “alight [as from a horse] from the determination of his intellect to his lust. He will become an absolute animal [hayawān mutlaq], so that what has been unveiled to every moving creature [dābba], except for the two weighty ones [humans and jinn], will be unveiled. Then he will know that he has realized his animality.”[91] It is evident from this passage that the absolute animal is the perceiver of the non-intellective unveiling that combines the lower world and the Last Abode. As we have seen, unveiling is described as sensory: it is the result of a sharpened sensory perception as per the Qur’an 50.22. So the absolute animal possesses senses through which it is able to perceive the self-disclosures of God – and what is thus perceived by the absolute animal is al-hayawān – Life, animals, an animal, or the absolute animal itself.

A few caveats before concluding: first, any conclusions that I have reached regarding Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought must be provisional. This is always the case, of course, but there is a practical reason for the provisionality of any study of “Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought”, namely the enormous volume of his writings, particularly the Meccan Openings. Given Ibn ‘Arabi’s emphasis on ambiguity, amphibology, etymology, and other aspects of language, as well as his constant allusions to the Qur’an and Prophetic Traditions, it is also difficult for anyone to gauge the depths of his texts without an excellent grasp of Arabic and a masterful knowledge of Islamic source texts, whereas the present author has neither of these.

My final caveat is that Orientalist scholarship has tended to emphasize elements of Islamicate cultural production (particularly Ibn Sina/Avicenna and Ibn Rushd/Averroes) that bear some sort of genetic relationship to ideas and texts understood as being Western, in order to celebrate the notion of an enlightened medieval Islamdom, in touch with the Greek fountainhead of Western civilization while Europe itself languished in the clutches of the so-called Dark Ages. Of course, not only does this well-meaning narrative underestimate the richness of the medieval Christian West, it is furthermore propelled by the telos of the return of classical knowledge to Europe, so that the Islamicate world turns out to be little more than a glorified vehicle. It is likely that this emphasis has the effect of making ideas with Greek forebears glaringly obvious in Islamicate texts such as the markedly Aristotelian Nasirean Ethics, while other possible influences – South Asian, Persian, African or Jewish, for instance – go unnoticed. My paper partakes in that epidemic blindness; a blindness which is, however, necessary for the argument to work or even to begin.

Such are the limitations of this study. Nevertheless, it is possible to be quite certain of the triple manner in which the word hayawān may be understood in “The Ringstone of Solomon”. And its polysemy has its consequences. It destabilizes the inverted hierarchy that “The Ringstone of Isaac” outlines, for if it is the case that everything is an animal, particular or absolute, then one cannot speak unambiguously of an order in which plants are lower than inanimate objects, or animals lower than plants – or vice versa. In order to be able to discern an ethics toward the animal in the Ringstones, it is necessary to understand the parameters within which this hierarchy or its opposite can be true: to fully answer, in other words, Ibn ‘Arabi’s question of the scale by which the hierarchy is established. The scale according to which the ram and any other non-human animal is greater than the human is clearly the scale that weighs unveiling against the intellect; this is ostensibly not the problem. The problem that must background any discussion of the possibility of deriving an Ibn ‘Arabian ethics toward the non-human animal is the question of how and by what scale one would distinguish between a rabbit, a rose, a gram of salt and a toenail. It is perhaps telling in this regard that, as Michel Chodkiewicz points out, the ideal fatà (“young man” or “knight”) of the Meccan Openings must show generosity to every existent, whether it is an inanimate object, a plant, or an animal.[92] I have by no means exhausted the proem to “The Ringstone of Isaac”; a separate study will be needed to rigorously follow its economic and political logic in particular. Furthermore, the questions of the scale and of hierarchy are undoubtedly tied to the problem of height, lowness and direction in general that appears, for instance, in “The Ringstone of Enoch”. At any rate, studies with an ethical thrust could arguably do with a look at the question of how we are to think of the very objects of their ethics.

But the problem of an ethics toward the animal is not the only and perhaps not even the primary problem that chases the question of animality in the Ringstones. I hope that this study has hinted at the need to understand animality in order to speak of Ibn ‘Arabi’s hermeneutics. I have been able to give only a preview of the chapter that deals most extensively with the animal, “The Ringstone of Elias”, but it is this chapter that must be read thoroughly, alongside the Qur’an 8.22 (also alluded to in the proem on Isaac), in order to understand more clearly the nature of Ibn ‘Arabi’s hermeneutics in the state of animality.

More generally, the Ringstones are marked by an interplay of philosophical and Qur’anic texts having to do with animals, and it seems fairly clear that Aristotelean notions of psychological hierarchy and the superiority of the human soul have much to do with the way in which many Islamic philosophers and Sufis understood the creaturial order. It is largely Ibn ‘Arabi’s literal reading of the Qur’an that allows him to question this order, and one sees a similar emphasis on the Qur’an in the other important Islamicate text criticizing the exaltation of the human over animals: the Ikhwān al-Íafā’s Case of the Animals Versus Man Before the King of the Jinn. Yet I pit Athens against Mecca with some apprehension, in the knowledge that such a position fits all too neatly into the dream of the Islamic authenticist, who would have Islam cleaned pure of the dross of “external” – and especially Western – influence. In this sense, the Platonic genealogy of the idea of the absolute animal is valuable, even if it is heavily modified in the process of transmission.

Nothing in this study necessarily cancels out the importance of the Perfect Human; it is difficult not to resign oneself to the idea that the human ultimately comes out on top, particularly once one has read the passages that Chittick has selected from the Meccan Openings, in which Ibn ‘Arabi often contradicts “The Ringstone of Isaac” by pointing to the superiority of the Perfect Human. But it is the concept of the absolute animal that raises at least the shadowy possibility of the sameness of the animal in its absolute form and the Perfect Human – for both entities appear to be identified with the cosmos or created world. If the “little ram” with which God ransoms Isaac acts as a substitute for the Perfect Human, what is the precise nature of this substitution? Does the ram rise to the universality of an absolute animal, and does it stand side-by-side with the Vicegerent of God?

This article first appeared in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society, Volume 43, 2008.


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This article first appeared in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Volume 43, 2008.


[1] Jīlī, ‘Abd al-Karīm. Universal Man. Trans. Titus Burckhardt. Sherborne, Gloucestershire: Beshara, 1983.

[2] Takeshita, Masataka. Ibn ‘Arabī’s Theory of the Perfect Man and Its Place in the History of Islamic Thought. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 1987.

[3] Ibn al-‘Arabī, Muhy’al-Dīn. Fusūs al-hikam. Ed. Abū al-‘Alā al-‘Afīfī. Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘arabī, 1980. The Fusūs has been translated as The Ringstones of Wisdom by Caner Dagle (Ibn al-‘Arabī, Muhy’al-Dīn. The Ringstones of Wisdom. Trans. Caner Dagle. Chicago: Great Books of the Islamic World, 2004). This is by far the best translation that I have seen, but I have also referred to R.W.J. Austin’s older translation, The Bezels of Wisdom (Ibn al-‘Arabī, Muhy’al-Dīn. The Bezels of Wisdom. Trans. R.W.J. Austin. New York: Paulist Press, 1980). The translations presented in this paper are either Dagle’s or my own modifications of Dagle. The original Arabic has been provided only when necessary, but my citations refer to the page number of the Arabic text as well as Dagle’s translation. Non-English names are transliterated rigorously only where they first appear.

[4] Qāshānī, ‘Abd al-Razzāq. Sharh fusūs al-hikam. Egypt [Cairo?]: Al-matbū’āt al-maymāniyya, 1903.

[5] Morris, James W. "Ibn ‘Arab’and His Interpreters Part II" Journal of the Oriental Society 106 (1986). 733–756. p. 739.

[6] Chittick, William C. The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn al-‘Arabī’s Cosmology. Albany: SUNY Press, 1998. Chittick, William C. The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-‘Arabī’s Metaphysics of Imagination. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989. Abbreviated as SPK and SDG in the citations. As for the Arabic of the Meccan Openings, when the citations begin with Roman numerals, they refer to the four-volume edition (Ibn al-‘Arabī, Muhy’al-Dīn. Al-Futūhāt al-makkiyya. 4 vols. Beirut: Dār Íādir, 1968), whereas those beginning with an "Arabic" numeral refer to the critical 14-volume edition (Ibn al-‘Arabī, Muhy’al-Dīn. Al-Futūhāt al-makkiyya. 14 vols. Cairo: Al-hay’at al-misriyyat al-‘āmmiyya li al-kitāb, 1972–1983).

[7] The Qur’an does not mention the name of Abraham’s son. Ibn ‘Arab’is one of a minority of commentators who identify the son in question as Isaac rather than Ishmael.

[8] Most of the renderings of the Qur’an in this essay are my own modifications of Arberry’s translation (The Koran Interpreted. Trans. A.J. Arberry. Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1998), henceforth "Qur’an".

[9] Lane, E.W. Arabic-English Lexicon. 2 vols. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1984.

[10] The import of the term "naws", which I have grudgingly translated as "cry", is not entirely clear. Qashani waveringly glosses it as "the voice of a camel driver […] and also a pendulous motion – and perhaps what is intended here is the first […]" (Qashani 81). I had a strong suspicion that this word was in fact the Greek nous borrowed into Arabic, but Professor Dimitri Gutas convinced me that since nous had a perfectly good Arabic equivalent (‘aql), there is little reason to think that it would have been borrowed into the language. I thank him for his advice.

[11] Fusūs 67/84.

[12] Futūhāt 9.54.11. Clearly there is an etymological play in this passage (and the next) on the verb qāma, "to stand".

[13] I thank Professor George Saliba for pointing this out, and for guiding me through the passage.

[14] The term is Toshihiko Izutsu’s (Izutsu, Toshihiko. Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Chapter 9).

[15] Fusūs 67/84.

[16] Ghazzālī, Abū Hāmid. Tahāfut al-falāsifa / The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Ed. and trans. Michael E. Marmura. 2nd edn. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young U.P., 2000.

[17] Ibn Rushd, Abū al-Walīd Muhammad ibn Ahmad. Tahāfut al-tahāfut [The Incoherence of the Incoherence]. Beirut: Markaz dirāsāt al-wahdat al-‘arabiyya, 1998.

[18] Tūsī, Nasīr al-Dīn Muhammad. The Nasirean Ethics. Trans. G.M. Wickens. London: Allen & Unwin, 1964.

[19] The final word in this hemistich is translated by both Dagle (67) and Austin (98) as a passive participle (muqayyad, "delimited"), but given that the intellect is the delimiting faculty, I believe that the word is more likely to be active (muqayyid, "delimiter").

[20] Fusūs 67/85.

[21] Nasirean Ethics. p. 47.

[22] SDG 162/Futūhāt I.125.33.

[23] SPK 200–203.

[24] SPK 246/Futūhāt III.257.16.

[25] SPK 107/Futūhāt III.198.33.

[26] Fusūs 54/77.

[27] Fusūs 234/185.

[28] Ibn ‘Arabī notes in several places that, like humans, the jinn are intellective animals, but there are times when he appears to forget them, as in the proem to the "Ringstone of Isaac".

[29] Qur’an 41.19–20.

[30] SPK 404/Futūhāt II.78.20.

[31] Qur’an 41.21. The Qur’an also has Solomon say, "O mankind, we have been taught the speech [mantiq] of the birds […]" (27.16), mantiq being a cognate of nutq that came to have the specific meaning of "logic". I failed to find any commentary on this verse in the (incomplete) critical edition of the Meccan Openings.

[32] SDG 285/Futūhāt III.393.23.

[33] SPK 276/Futūhāt III.154.18.

[34] Fusūs 106/107. In a footnote to this verse, Dagle’s version expresses the translator’s view that (contrary to the thrust of this paper) nutq in this verse cannot be anything like human nutq or reason.

[35] Qashani 125.

[36] See SPK 70–72.

[37] Qur’an 40.53.

[38] SPK 71/Futūhāt III.77.19.

[39] SDG 155/Dhakhā’ir 144.

[40] Qur’an 23.91, 37.159.

[41] Qur’an 10.68.

[42] Fusūs 40/69. It seems strange that the creature is both a word and a language, but this is probably a result of the fact that creatures are multiple in themselves, like the human whose skin and sight are each divine Names speaking separately. The rather important question that remains is whether the fact that creatures speak rationally and are languages means that they express themselves using syntax.

[43] Fusūs 181/154.

[44] Qur’an 50.22.

[45] Izutsu 8.

[46] Rūmī, Jalāl al-Dīn. Masnavī-i ma’navī. Ed. R.A. Nicholson. 8 vols. London: Brill, 1926–1940. 6.23ff.

[47] The word is cognate with the Biblical "behemoth". Chapter 378 of the Meccan Openings has to do with the "beastly community" (al-ummat al-bihīmiyya) referring to the Qur’anic characterization of animals as being members of communities (Qur’an 6.38).

[48] I have been unable to slake my curiosity regarding the history of the word hayawān. It would be interesting to know in what senses it was used in pre-Islamic poetry, and whether "animal" is a connotation that it developed in the post-Qur’anic period.

[49] Austin 191.

[50] Dagle 181. Austin and Dagle understandably read "al-dār al-hayawān" as "dār al-hayawān," and have therefore translated it as a genitival construct ("the abode of the animals"), whereas what the text has is an (unusual) apposition of the two nouns, meaning "the abode/the animal", or "the abode which is the animal". Al-Qashani himself glosses it as "the abode of animals" (dār al-hayawān).

[51] Dagle 181.

[52] Izutsu 194.

[53] Qashani 295.

[54] Fusūs 207/170.

[55] SPK 157/Futūhāt III.263.16.

[56] Ringstones 235/186.

[57] Plato. Timaeus. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. New York: Macmillan, 1985. 1.4.

[58] Al-Nadīm, Abū al-Faraj Muhammad ibn Ishāq. The Fihrist: A 10th Century AD Survey of Islamic Culture. Ed. and Trans. Bayard Dodge. Chicago: Great Books of the Islamic World, 1998. 246.14–16.

[59] Published in Badawī, ‘Abd al-Rahmān. Platon en pays d’Islam: Textes publiés et annotés. Tehran: McGill University Montreal Institute of Islamic Studies, 1974. 85–119.

[60] D’Ancona, Cristina. "The Timaeus‘ Model for Creation and Providence". Plato’s Timaeus as Cultural Icon. Ed. Gretchen J. Reydams-Schils. Notre Dame, Indiana: U. of Notre Dame Press, 2003. 206–240. p. 211.

[61] Talkhīs kitāb al-nafs. xv. Themistius. On Aristotle’s On the Soul. Trans. Robert B. Todd. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U.P., 1996.

[62] See for instance Ringstones 60–61.

[63] Ghazzālī, Abū Hāmid Muhammad. Al-Munqidh min al-‰alāl. Ed. Rashīd Ahmad Jālandharī. Lahore: Hay’at al-awfāq, 1971. 20.

[64] Ibn Rushd, Abū al-Walīd Muhammad ibn Ahmad. Tahāfut al-tahāfut. Beirut: Markaz dirāsāt al-wahdat al-‘arabiyya, 1998. 465.

[65] Munqidh 26.

[66] Tahāfut al-falāsifa 147.

[67] Tahāfut al-falāsifa 147.

[68] Tahāfut al-falāsifa 149–151.

[69] Tahāfut al-falāsifa 147.

[70] Tahāfut al-tahāfut 465.

[71] Talkhīs kitāb al-nafs 1.2.27.

[72] Talkhīs kitāb al-nafs 1.2.28.

[73] Themistius 11.19–20.

[74] Timaeus 26.23–26.

[75] Qashani 235.

[76] I thank the translator of the Middle Commentary, Alfred Ivry, for seconding my suspicion that animal simpliciter absolutum is a translation of hayawān mah‰ mutlaq. I must also thank my colleague Arthur Dudney for taking me through the Greek and Latin passages.

[77] The variant manuscript has al-dhāt al-hayawān, which poses the same problem as al-dār al-hayawān (see the footnote above). If it is meant as a genitival construct, then "the animal itself" is an acceptable translation.

[78] Timaeus 1.5.

[79] Themistius 11.19–20.

[80] SPK 203/Futūhāt II.523.2.

[81] SPK xii/Futūhāt I.153.34.

[82] Timaeus 1.4.

[83] Fusūs 180/Futūhāt 153.

[84] Timaeus 16.

[85] See, for instance, Muhammad Iqbāl’s poem to this effect in his Asrār-i khwudī (Iqbāl, Muhammad. Asrār-i khwudī. kulliyāt-i Iqbāl-i fārsī. Lahore: Shaikh Ghulām ‘Alī ain‰ sanz, 1973. 1–170. pp. 32–34).

[86] Fusūs 181/154.

[87] SPK 325.

[88] Fusūs 181/154.

[89] Fusūs 235/186.

[90] Fusūs 227/181.

[91] Fusūs 235–236/186.

[92] Chodkiewicz, Michel. Introduction. The Way of Sufi Chivalry. By ‘Abd al-Rahmān Muhammad Ibn al-Husayn al-Sulamī. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1991. 16–28. p. 26.