Themes in Ibn Arabi’s Writing
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Themes in his writing
On this page, there is a selection of articles from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society. Although these do not represent an analytical treatment of Ibn Arabi’s teachings, they do reflect the breadth of subjects in his writing.
In what I have written, I have never had a set purpose, as other writers. Flashes of divine inspiration used to come upon me and almost overwhelm me, so that I could only put them from my mind by committing to paper what they revealed to me. If my works evince any form of composition, that form was unintentional. Some works I wrote at the command of God, sent to me in sleep or through a mystical revelation.
Ibn Arabi’s writings are broadly concerned with divine reality, and the human being’s experience of it. In the quotation above, he stresses that what he wrote was not a personal matter. It can be said that the ideas he communicates do not allow themselves to be reduced to a system, and in this sense there is no one, definitive, way to pick out the themes that run through his works.
One approach has been seen since the time of Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi’s great student, Sadruddin al-Qunawi [/], who responded to requests from people for help understanding Ibn Arabi’s Fusus al-hikam. A superlative example of this is the introduction to the 18th century Ottoman translation of the Fusus, rendered into English by Bulent Rauf [/]. This introduction has twelve sections, called “origins” (usul). For example, Origin three “explains the Divine Names and Qualities”, Origin four the ayan-i-thabita, Origin ten “is an explanation of the fact that the station of Love is higher than all other stations”.
In the 20th century William Chittick has published two large studies, based on selections from the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, a work which was often quoted by traditional scholars, but did not attract commentaries. These studies are a survey of certain areas or aspects of the Futuhat, and an attempt to convey themes running through the work in Ibn Arabi’s own words. In these books he organized the extracts under six headings: the names of God, existence and non-existence, transcendence and immanence, modes of knowing, human perfection, and the barzakh, the “in-between”.
Perhaps the most important thing to say is that though there are clear, recognizable, themes running through Ibn Arabi’s writings, there is no end to the variety in them, especially if one considers them in depth. On this site, we suggest some thematic groups which may offer an indication of the wonderful breadth of Ibn Arabi’s teachings.
Choose a theme from the dropdown menu
Creation and Creatures
Ibn Arabi devotes Chapter 198 of al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya, one of the longer chapters of the book, to the Breath of the all-Merciful. He takes the Arabic alphabet as representing twenty-eight primordial divine letters. In order to create the cosmos, with all its invisible and visible levels, God composes words and sentences and books employing those twenty-eight letters. The passage on the twenty-fifth cosmic letter bears on Ibn Arabi’s understanding of the role of animals in creation. It is an extraordinary exposition.
In the Anqa Mughrib Ibn Arabi devoted a chapter to “An Eternal Conference on an Everlasting Figure”. In this he explained the cause of the world’s emergence in an allegory, through the description of a debate between the Divine Names. He referred to and summarised this passage in a another early work (Kitab inshaʼ al-dawaʼir, “Description of the Encompassing Circles”) and subsequently developed the theme in two chapters of the Futuhat. One of these passages provoked a controversy in the Egyptian National Assembly in 1980, but there is obviously much more to this imagery than its capacity to shock.
When the Companions of the Prophet heard the rock glorifying God in the Prophet’s hands, it was not the glorification of the rock which was out of the ordinary, but rather the fact that the Companions could hear its glorification. It is not usual for human beings to hear the speech of objects, because hearing and understanding this kind of speech belongs to the conditions of the hereafter, not to the conditions of this world. Indeed, the limbs of a human being have a tongue that cannot be heard except in the hereafter, as is related in the Sura of Ya-Sin (Quran 36:65). A human being may fabricate lies and deny things about God and about himself, but the tongue of things is always truthful, it neither lies nor errs. In this sense, it is closer in degree to its Lord than the speech of most human beings.
Pasha M. Khan
One of the concepts that has long filled the imagination of Sufis and academics is the anthropology of Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi. The quest for the perfect human (insan al-kamil) has driven many authors, from ‘Abd al-Karim al-Jili to Masataka Takeshita, 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.
Ibn Arabi’s conception of language and the mystical science of the letters that is its corollary are certainly one of the central, and at the same time the most synthetic and abstruse, parts of the Shaykh al-Akbar’s work. With a word, God brings into being an indeterminate multitude of creatures and these creatures become “words” in the immense divine discourse that is the universe.
Dialogue and Integration
Currently, in the great global village, all religions – and especially the Abrahamic religions – are, on the one hand, facing attacks which are not aimed at any particular religions but at the essence of religiosity and spirituality – among which secularism, modernism and postmodernism are neither the last nor the worst attacks. On the other hand, those religions whose stated purpose is to guide and save humanity, need to find solutions for the moral, psychological and spiritual problems and anomalies with which humanity today is faced. Another problem faced by religions is the issue of religious wars fought to the extremes of savagery. If we were to succeed in discovering a single essence for religions – and particularly for Abrahamic religions – a dialogue between these religions based on that single essence could then be employed, both to strengthen the united front of religions against the attacks made in the modern world and as a step towards cooperation in solving the problems of humanity. This could also act as a background against which religious conflicts could be attenuated.
No-one can deny that human activities leave a great deal to be desired. However, that view alone would ignore the essential capacity we have for self-transcendence, for going beyond apparent limitations, for working in harmony with others and not against them, for assuming the dignity of the complete human being which lies in the potential of each and every one of us.
The Muhammadian vision provided by Ibn Arabi gives an overview which is not tied to any particular belief, or property, or attribute. Essentially the self is unbounded. If we impose our own limitations and constraints on it, we are prevented from fully receiving each new revelation.
God and Man, Lord and Servant
Concerning “You shall not see Me!” (lan tarana), the divine reply to Moses’ request “Let me see, so that I can behold You” (arini unzur ilayka) (Quran 7:143).
The heart is a supra-rational rather than an anti-rational faculty, and in his work, Ibn Arabi gives a comprehensive account of the way in which all the different faculties – dhawq, imagination, reason and sensory perception – operate and inter-relate. This is perhaps especially valuable to us in the present day, when secular rationalism has become so prevalent that it sometimes seems as if our capacity for mystical insight and creative imagination has been forgotten, or if remembered, not afforded validity. He gives us a map to a lost land, which is the complete human potential.
“The adib – the one who knows and respects adab – is the wise man (hakim).” This statement begins Chapter 168 of the Futuhat al-Makkiyya on the maqam of adab, and this article has extended translations from the Futuhat as well as other sources. “The first thing God gave to His servants as an order is the meeting (jam). This is nothing other than adab, a word derived from maduba (banquet) or the act of meeting for a meal (al-ijtima‘ ‘ala ’l-ta‘am), just as adab is the meeting together of all good (jima‘ al-khayr kullihi). The Prophet, upon him grace and peace, said, “God instilled adab in me [i.e. has brought together in me all forms of good] and He made it perfect in me [i.e. has made of me the place of all perfection].” – This article is also available in Swedish.
This article includes translation from Chapters 519 and 520 of the Futuhat, from the long concluding sixth section which is devoted to “the spiritual mottoes (hijjirat) of the Muhammadan Poles and their spiritual stations.” These two chapters are concerned with calling and response between God and his servants, essential relationship, as encapsulated in the Quranic verse, “And whenever My servants ask you about Me, surely I am near: I respond to the call of the one who is calling, whenever he calls upon Me. So may they respond fully to Me and may they have faith in Me, that they might be guided rightly!” (Quran 2:186).
The second part of the article has as an Appendix a list of verses in the Quran and hadith referring to the Arabic root for answering, responding or replying to a request (j-w-b, in both the IVth and Xth verb forms). The corresponding notions of calling, requesting, pleading, praying for, are expressed in the wider family of Quranic expressions (including the Arabic roots s-’-l, d-‘-w, n-d-w etc.)
Some Aspects of the Unity of Being in Ibn Arabi with reference to Platonic thought. From the viewpoint of the history of ideas, this is a survey of old, mainly Greek elements occurring in the first Chapter of the Fusus. The elements are not only to be found also elsewhere in the writings of the great sheikh but also in those of many of his forerunners. However, the basic elements Greek or Arabic are one thing, their combination into constituents of a system is another. It is in the way he combines the elements into constituents of a system that we find the truly impressive originality of Ibn Arabi.
This is a reading of Ibn Arabi’s teachings on the important Sufi concepts of qurb (proximity) and bu‘d (distance), as laid out in chapters 260 and 261 of al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya. In these relatively brief chapters Ibn Arabi engages his predecessors’ meditations upon these concepts, while offering his own unique interpretations of their meaning and significance. The hadith al-nawafil plays a crucial role in Ibn Arabi’s teachings here, as do a number of key Quranic passages.
Journey, Voyage, Pilgrimage, Travel
As a notion, the station of no-station appears very frequently in the writings of the masters under different names (mawqifma wara al-mawaqif, maqam al-maqamat, maqam al-tawhid, maqam al-qurba etc.). But as an expression, it appears very rarely. Ibn Arabi used it in the Futuhat al-Makkiyya in a technical sense, crediting Abu Yazid al-Bistami and others with having attained it, as though he wanted to suggest the rarity and also the measure of it.
This is a translation into Arabic by Mahmud Yunus of Chapter 7 of Imaginal Worlds (State University of New York Press, 1994). Teachings about death and the afterlife pertain to the “return” to God (ma‘ad), the third principle of Islamic faith, after divine unity (tawhid) and prophecy (nubuwwa). In his writings Ibn Arabi dealt with both the “voluntary return” (al-ruju‘ al-ikhtiyari) and the “compulsory return” (al-ruju‘ al-idtirari), and the perspectives he raised had a great influence on subequent treatments by Sufis, philosophers and theologians. Based on extensive passages from the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, this article is concerned with Ibn Arabi’s teachings on the compulsory return.
If we follow Ibn Arabi’s own terminology, we cannot move toward the “Presence of Being” because we are already there. What we are really striving for is presence with specific self-disclosures of God in ourselves, self-disclosures that derive from divine names such as “Guide”, “Compassionate”, “Forgiving” and “Pardoning”. Thus, the goal of the Sufi path cannot be to achieve the “Presence of Being”. It is rather to achieve permanent happiness through following the guidance brought by the prophets.
This starts with the observation that Islam’s religious vocabulary constantly reminds man that he is a traveller, a pilgrim. “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 (sirat mustaqim); in the Fatiha, the first sura of the Quran, the recitation of which is mandatory, it is as a matter of fact the only request that is made.” This text includes a presentation of Ibn Arabi’s Kitab al-isfar.
That Jesus is a spirit and being “the word proceeding from God” makes him the paradigm of another quality: that of the pilgrim of God, of the spiritual traveller who comes from God and returns to God without ever having left the presence of God. This spiritual journey is the reflection of a cosmic movement of a creation which is constantly leaving God and returning to Him. Jesus is the model of both movements because he realises in himself this cosmic journey by being the manifestation of the Word arising from the divine Breath, and by walking through the world in the constant presence of God. – This paper is also available in German: »Der akbarische Jesus: Das Vorbild eines Reisenden in Gott« (PDF).
“The paths to God” is a phrase which carries within it a paradox because, firstly, it gives the reader the impression that God (praise be to Him) is far away, absent, or even the expectation that the seeker (salik) travels the path to arrive at the Holy Threshold. However, according to the scriptures, God (praise be to Him) is close to His servants – He is with them wherever they are. In truth, He is the Seeker in the one who reaches out to Him (praise be to Him), and He hastens towards the one who walks towards Him. This begs the question as to why the Sufi seeks a way to reach God (praise be to Him), all the while being certain that God is with him and close to him.
“You should know that man has been on the journey ever since God brought him out of non-being into being” – The Shaykh al-Akbar, Ibn Arabi, describes the state of being of the man on the journey in his Risalat al-anwar and points out that it is only possible for man to cease journeying in the fifth abode (mawtin), namely in Paradise or in hell.
Love, Beauty, Perfection
Claude Addas is the author of Quest for the Red Sulphur and The Voyage of No Return. Delivered at the 2002 Society Symposium in Oxford, The Service of Love. – The same paper is available in French: «Expérience et doctrine de l’amour chez Ibn Arabi».
Ibn Arabi met in Mecca the young daughter of Abu Shaja Zahir. He says in the introduction to the Tarjuman al-ashwaq, “This shaikh had a virgin daughter, a slender child who captivated one who looked upon her, whose presence gave lustre to gatherings […] her name was Nizam (Hamony) and her surname ‘Ain al-shams (Eye of the Sun). She was religious, learned, ascetic, a sage among the sages of the Holy Places […] I took her as a model for the inspiration of the poems […] although I was unable to express so much as a part of the emotion which my soul experienced and which the company of this young girl awakened in my heart.”
We are going to deal with a mystical conception of Beauty in its ethical and metaphysical forms, that is to say, with the human relationship with the divine attribute of Beauty; an aesthetics of the spirit, an art of contemplation.
In this article there are translations of two passages by Ibn Arabi on the Divine Name al-Wadud. The first is from the treatise entitled Kashf al-ma‘na, and the second is from the second-to-last chapter of The Meccan Illuminations.
This article reflects the profundity and richness of Ibn Arabi’s writings on the subject of Love (mahabba) in the Futuhat. To mention just one quotation from it, “The divine love derives from God’s names “Beautiful” and “Light”. Light goes forward to the entities of the possible things and dispels from them the darkness of their gaze upon themselves and upon their own possibility. It occasions for them a seeing that is Light’s own seeing, because light alone allows anything to be seen. Then God discloses Himself to the entity through the name “Beautiful”, and it falls in love with Him” (Futuhat II 112.33).
The couplet from Ibn Arabi’s poetic work the Tarjuman al-ashwaq is very well known: “I practice the religion of love, wherever its camels turn their faces. // This religion is my religion and my faith.” William Chittick sets it within a historical context generally and the teachings of Ibn Arabi. That is, he stands in a long line of teachers who spoke in similar terms, and that his “religion of love” is not quite what most people imagine it to be. It certainly implies openness to the beauty of God’s creation along with love and compassion for all of God’s creatures, but more than anything else it is a program of action.
The Quranic Inspiration of Ibn Arabi’s Vocabulary of Love – Etymological Links and Doctrinal Development
Ibn Arabi, at the beginning of Chapter 178 of the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, makes it clear that the Station of Love has four names: hubb, germinal, seminal or original love, whose purity penetrates the heart and whose limpidity is not subject to accidental changes; wadd, affection or the faithful attachment of love, a word to which the Divine Name Wadud is related, the constantly lovable and loving; ‘ishq, the spiralling of love or distraught love, extreme love or overwhelming love; and hawa, the sudden inclination of love or unexpected passion of love.
Selections from Chapter 73 of the Futuhat (the concluding chapter in the opening Fasl al-Ma‘arif of that work) – comprising Ibn Arabi’s brief response to four successive items in Tirmidhi’s famous “mystical questionnaire” related to the theme of divine Love – provide a concise introduction to virtually all of the ideas and perspectives concerning love that are developed at much greater length in Chapter 178. Moreover, near the very end of the Futuhat (in the penultimate Chapter 559, largely devoted to revealing the “inner meanings” of each of the preceding chapters of that monumental work), Ibn Arabi returns to this theme in a short, but highly challenging and evocative description of the central role in human and divine existence of Love as the all-encompassing force of cosmic “desire” (hawa). His concluding remarks on love there are expressed in ways that will recall both Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus, as well as some of the most humanly revealing – and often memorably provocative – stories and teachings about the indispensable motivating and revelatory power of love and desire that are scattered throughout Rumi’s spiritual Masnavi.
God is the “Hidden Treasure” which longs to express itself and be known. God/Truth is Beauty and the property of beauty is to shine forth. He is Love whose nature is to give of itself. The divine theophanies are essentially the outpouring of His Beauty, His Perfection and His Love which are expressed in the immense theatre of the universe.
Man and Woman
“It is astonishing that a colossal Islamic scholar, Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (560–638 AH), who lived more than eight centuries ago, should have declared that woman and man are absolutely equal in terms of human potentiality.” It is a vision which deals with gender in terms of the essential qualities of humanity, and so provides a foundation for the reassessment of notions and concepts about women in Islam, or without reference to religion at all.
According to the Quran, “God is the light of the heavens and the earth.” In this article Sachiko Murata suggests why femininity is essentially luminous, why, in other words, it reflects directly the divine light that fills the universe. She talks about what can be called “the light of woman” and how women – and men as women become “women of light.” She begins by quoting one of the most famous Sufis of history, Rabi‘a. Her sayings are often quoted by the Sufis, and she is respected as one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the early tradition. One of the shortest of the many sayings that have come down from her is this: “Everything has a fruit, and the fruit of recognition is coming forward to God.”
Mercy and Compassion
On the Divine Names al-Rahman al-Rahim and other terms with the lexical root r–h–m in the work of Ibn Arabi. On the one hand, in Akbarian thought the term rahma retains the meaning which it has in ordinary language, where it is associated with pity (shafaqa), benevolence (ra’fa) etc. In this sense one could say that God has compassion on the essences (a‘yan) which yearn to be manifested in actual existence. In another sense Ibn Arabi assimilates rahma to its effect, and given that the effect of the compassion of God for the essences is actual existence, rahma is existence (wujud). – This paper is also online in Spanish: «La presencia de la compasión superlativa».
Ibn Arabi has commonly been called al-Shaykh al-Akbar, “the Greatest Teacher”, not least because he explained in unprecedented detail and at the highest level of discourse all the implications of the Islamic worldview. The result was a vast synthesis of the basic fields of learning, including Quran, Hadith, language, law, psychology, cosmology, theology, philosophy, and metaphysics. In delving into these subjects, he wanted to show how each can act as an aid in the actualization of true human nature. But what exactly is true human nature? This is what I am calling “anthropology” – the science of the anthropos – the explication of which lies at the heart of Ibn Arabi’s writings.
This study carefully follows Ibn Arabi’s own development of a key theme, sadr, through the Fasl al-ma‘arif (on “Forms of Spiritual Knowing/Awareness”) of the Futuhat. This long opening section includes includes the first 73 chapters (roughly one-quarter of the entire book). The Arabic word sadr literally means “chest”, but in almost all contexts more meaningfully translated in English by the word “heart”.
Mohamed Haj Yousef
Ibn Arabi often states that the world was originated from absolute mercy, and to mercy it shall return; any pain or wretchedness is therefore temporal and apparent. We shall discuss in this article the origin of the world and its destiny, and the role of mercy, based on Ibn Arabi’s cosmological model of creation.
Prayer, Praise, Practice
The prayer rite is at one and the same time the most common and yet the most special of rites, everywhere known and public and yet the occasion of and opportunity for the profoundest communication with God. It is also unique in two other ways. Firstly, it is the only rite which God Himself may be said to perform, since He is said to salla ‘ala (pray over) the Prophet and us. Secondly, alone of all the rites it incorporates the essential spirit of the other four. For example, it is the frequent occasion of the pronouncing of the creed; it is a time of reservation and abstention from unnecessary and superfluous talk and activity, like the fast (Mary in the Quran).
God “began the creation of man from clay […] Then He fashioned him harmoniously and blew into him of His spirit” (Quran 32:7–9). The first man then uttered his first words – those which established human language – by saying: al-hamdu li-llah rabbi l-‘alamin. In following Ibn Arabi’s writings on the superlative station of praise, this essay includes passages from the Futuhat al-Makkiyya in which he replies to the questions posed long before by Hakim Tirmidhi.
This important article contains passages on the subject of praise translated from four works by Ibn Arabi, namely from Chapter 558 of the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, from the Kitab al-‘Abadilah, the Kitab al-Shawahid and the Kitab Taj al-tarajim.
This paper begins, “Praise represents both the beginning and the end of existence and the principal reason for the existence of the universe. One begins a meal with bismillah (“in the name of God”) and finishes the meal with al-hamdu li-llah (“praise be to God”). These two formulas hold, just like the meal, our whole existence.” – The same paper is available in French «Il n’est de mot dans l’univers qui n’indique Sa louange».
Souad Hakim points out that before Ibn ‘Arabi the interest of the Sufi was focused on acquisition through action, which explains their many writings on spiritual exertion and struggle. The stations of the Way increase from seven to a hundred, to a thousand and one. Here she recapitulates with great clarity Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings on a complementary path, that of invocation.
What is it about the “heart” – or rather, how is it? – that can so miraculously transform perception into contemplation, everyday experience into theophany, the words and movements of ritual into the ineffable reality of prayer? As the Quran repeatedly insists, each of us surely has “had a heart” – but what is it that so rarely and unforgettably makes that heart shahid, actively and consciously contemplating the Truly Real, so that our transient awareness is transformed into true prayer and remembrance of God?
This is a collection of eight translations of shorter treatises by Ibn Arabi (such as his “Book of Spiritual Advice”) and partial translations of chapters from the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, e.g. “The Spiritual Ascension: Ibn Arabi and the miraj” [= Chapter 367 of the Futuhat]. The translations have been listed on the page “Online articles”:
Practical Sufism and Modern Thought
If, in his primordial form, man possesses all the divine characteristics, the fact remains that in the animal man (al-insan al-hayawani) they are buried under the mountain of the ego; it is therefore incumbent upon the salik, he who makes his way towards God, to revive these akhlaq which are sleeping in the deepest part of his being. Ibn Arabi says, “The men of God are those who, though they have been created according to His Form, do not allow themselves to be diverted from poverty, humility and servitude. And when they are obliged – and it is unavoidable – to demonstrate the power inherent in their original form, they demonstrate it on the occasions that God has arranged for them. […] Restore His Names to His Form, not to yours!”
Modern philosophy, sociology and psychology have been much influenced by the scientific and technological world-view of modernity, both in their theorizing and their preferred methodologies. There can be little doubt that the findings of (and debates within) these academic perspectives, both collectively and separately, raise serious questions about the whole concept of rationality and its epistemological credentials which have implications far beyond the disciplines themselves. These are questions which make it pertinent and timely to ask how these preferred epistemologies of modern thought look in the light of the metaphysics of wahdat al-wujud.
Although it would be a mistake to consider all Sufis “liberal” or “open-minded”, Sufi thinkers were more inclined than their exoteric counterparts to view Islam from a wider perspective and deal meaningfully with religious difference. In part, this was because they understood theology in its original sense as “the study of the nature of God” and followed their inquiries wherever this definition took them. Some of the most perceptive Sufi writings on religious difference came from the school of Ibn Arabi.
The Arabic terms that Ibn Arabi uses to describe responsibility vary. The closest he comes to our modern understanding of the meaning of responsibility is probably the concept of taklif – a term that denotes the sum total of religious obligations that God has imposed on His servants. Throughout the text of the Futuhat, Ibn Arabi often refers to his fellow believers as mukallafun, namely, those burdened with Divine Command. The other semantic cluster pertaining to responsibility is associated, in the Futuhat, with the Arabic roots talaba (“to demand”, “to demand back”, “to reclaim” etc.) and sa’ala (“to ask”, “to demand”, “to claim” etc.). According to Ibn Arab, the whole universe is held responsible (tuliba) by God.
Is there even any material for a study of Ibn Arabi’s fiqh (legal discourse/jurisprudence)? Few people realize that Ibn Arabi had a fiqh! And yet a translation of just the extended fiqh section of the Futuhat would run over two thousand pages. Yes there is an Akbarian fiqh: I have chosen here three particular cases he investigates and argues from a fiqh perspective.
The world has entered a period of rapid climate change, and we are being compelled to look at ourselves and our actions in the light of the intrinsic unity of this global system in which we, mankind, are such major players. This paper is a timely rememberance of the real place of man, where he is neither a disease with regard to the rest of the world, nor is he diseased.
Prophets and Quranic Figures
Ahlu bayti aman li ummati (“The people of my house are a safeguard for my community”). Although it is not included in any of the canonical collections, this saying attributed to the Prophet is one of the innumerable traditions which in Islam are the basis of the respect which the faithful have towards the ahl al-bayt, the “Family of the Prophet”, understood here in the broader sense and including the shurafa’, the direct descendants of the Prophet from his daughter Fatima. It goes without saying that the question of knowing exactly to whom the expression ahl al-bayt refers in this verse has given rise to endless debate. Claude Addas considers understandings of this hadith drawing on passages from the writings of Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi.
Ibn Arabi’s aim in writing was not to inform about cosmology, philosophy or even to elucidate the details of the religion; it was to bring each person to self-knowledge, in conformity with the prophetic hadith which he himself often quotes: “He who knows himself knows his Lord.” It is the ability of the Sheikh to directly address this potential for human perfection in each person, which makes him relevant to everyone, regardless of their race, gender, education, religious belief or historical era.
The role of Ibn Arabi, in the domain of hadith as in others, was not to put forward new ideas, but to juxtapose domains which had never previously been considered together, at least not explicitly. He brings together respect for the formal rules of transmission with requirements of seemingly another order, by extolling absolute respect for the literal meaning whilst holding the direct vision of the Prophet as the ideal of perfect transmission, or by underlining the virtue of servanthood which is linked to the very act of transmitting, making the ahl al-hadith, whoever they may be, the true heirs of prophecy.
What place do Jesus and Mary occupy in the Quranic revelation, or more precisely, how does the relationship between these two prophetic figures shed light on the very reality of universal revelation that the Quran calls “the Book” or “the Scripture” (al-kitab)? To what extent does our Sheikh allow us to penetrate the meaning of this relationship? In trying to respond to these questions we will begin by citing a passage from Chapter 5 of the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, a commentary on the basmala then on the whole of the Fatiha. The rather enigmatic character of the established parallel between the Fatiha and the Book on the one hand and between Mary and Jesus on the other, can only encourage us to search for a deeper significance within it.
This article is about Ibn Arabi’s interpretation of the Quranic information given in numerous statements about the Pharaoh, in particular, “the faith of Pharaoh” (iman Fir‘awn). What Ibn Arabi wrote on this matter was often misunderstood or distorted, and attracted violent criticism from his adversaries.
The paper falls into five parts: firstly, the creation of Jesus and his “person”; secondly, the dialectic relation between spirit and body, under the title: “Jesus, a Sign (aya) from God”; thirdly, the knowledge of Jesus and his devotions; fourthly, Jesus as the Seal of Sainthood (walaya); and fifthly, the friends of Jesus, namely: Jesus and John the Baptist (Yahya), Jesus and Ibn Arabi, and finally Jesus and the Isawiyyun (the people whose sainthood is Jesus-like).
Ibn Arabi refers to Jesus as “symbol of engendering” (mathalan bi-takwin). It is my intention in this paper to show that, in the metaphysical perspective of Ibn Arabi’s school, one of the most important principles of which the ‘Quranic’ Jesus stands forth as a ‘symbol’, sign and concrete embodiment, is the following: mercy and compassion are the fruits of the realization of the True Self – or Self of the Real, the Nafs al-Haqq, as Ibn Arabi calls it.
Saints and Sainthood
In the section of the Ruh al-quds which Ibn Arabi dedicates to one of his earliest masters, Abu Yaqub Yusuf b. Yakhlaf al-Qummi, he mentions that the risala of al-Qushayri was the first book of its kind that he ever encountered. In this important article, Michel Chodkiewicz relates one of the six fundamentals sections of the Futuhat, containing 115 chapters, to that risala. The initial section of the Futuhat is the fasl al-ma‘arif, and the purpose of this study of fundamental doctrinal knowledge is indicated by the very long chapter 73 which concludes it; we find therein an extremely detailed analysis of the nature, function, modes and degrees of sainthood. The teaching dispensed in the preceding chapters has the clear objective of preparing the disciple to embark upon the path which will lead him to walaya. Furthermore, he will have to put into practice the knowledge that he has received. It is this moving into the experiential stage that the fasl mu‘amalat will be dedicated to, the latter word having here a very different sense from that which it normally has in works on fiqh. As soon as we consider the order of the contents, that is to say, the actual structure of the fasl, it very quickly becomes clear that this structure is rigorously based on the Risala Qushayriyya.
This article draws on accounts of stigmata in Christian saints, such as St Frances of Assisi, the contemporary of Ibn Arabi, and considers how the interior state of people in the Islamic universe manifests itself outwardly.
Sainthood or “friendship of God”. From readings from the Futuhat, The Way of Conduct and the The Way of Witnessing: Seeing the One in the manifestations of His different states. “It may be noticed, through studying Sufi experiences, that Sufism can be classified according to two aspects. The first is represented by outstanding luminaries like Abu Talib al-Makki, al-Qushairi, al-Tusi, Suhrawardi and finally, in its perfection, by Ghazali. It is a safe course based on conduct and considers the Sufi experience to be an exercise for the fulfilment of a ladder of ranks that are already known and determined […] The second aspect is represented by individuals like Abu Yazid al-Bistami, Shibli, Junayd, Hallaj and finally, in its perfection, by Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi.”
Time and Eternity
This article concerns a remarkable reflection by Ibn Arabi on one kind of change in humanity during the Islamic era. He says the time that we live in is not the same as the past, since now is closer to the Abode of the Hereafter, and that the people of our times have access to unveiling more rapidly and enjoy a greater capacity for inner contemplation (shuhud). By contrast, their deeds (or ritual works) are less numerous than the deeds of those who lived in times past (al-zaman al-mutaqaddim).
Ibn Arabi, whose writings never leave the realm of the timeless, was nevertheless born into a religion which reveals itself according to a linear progression in time. Many of the great masterpieces of western art tell this story: Milton and Dante in verse, Chartres Cathedral in stone and glass, Michaelangelo has laid it out on the walls and the ceiling of the Sistine chapel where the whole event is depicted, from the first moment God divided light from darkness, through the old testament prophets to the life of Christ and the inevitable conclusion with the Last Judgement. Ibn Arabi himself has a specific role in time as the Seal of the Mohammedian saints. His appearance at a point in time relative to what came before and what comes after has significance. What is it the unfolding of this story tells us of who we are now and to what we are invited at this moment? – Delivered in 2000 at the US and UK Symposia, and reprinted in various magazines and on other web sites.
Caner K. Dagli
Physics used to teach us that space is a kind of absolute container, separate from the flow of time. In this classical or Newtonian conception, objects traveled through or remained stationary in space, which itself was not subject to change or to internal variations. But what does the reality of time mean for the spiritual journey of the soul?
Ancient thinkers fall, roughly, into two groups. Some are interesting only from an academic point of view, as objects of study for the historian of philosophy. Others, however, remain relevant to modern readers as well. They need to be studied not only as part of the history of human thought but also as contemporary thinkers. Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) belongs without doubt to this second group. One of his central concepts is ‘ayn thabita; there is a striking resemblance between some concepts of modern physics and the immutable entities (a‘yan thabita). For me, this is an interesting example of how similar conclusions may be reached from widely different starting points.
The physicist Fotini Markopoulou says, “There are two kinds of people in quantum gravity. Those who think that timelessness is the most beautiful and deepest insight in general relativity, if not modern science, and those who simply cannot comprehend what timelessness can mean and see evidence for time in everything in nature.” Perhaps the fullest description of timelessness and contemporary physics is found in Julian Barbour’s work, e.g. his 1999 book The End of Time. Eric Winkel draws on some passages from Ibn Arabi’s Futuhat, in which he describes a week, a month and a year, all of these periods having no real being – they are only relations, one celestial body in comparison or relation to another. “If we carry this description of time being relational to its conclusion that there is no ontological reality to time, we enter a battle that has raged from the ancients until today.”
Our existence does not extend in time, but is renewed at each moment, and our present moment is the gift, or present, of existence in the form of our possibility. Thus for both senses of the word “present” – “present” as “now” and “present” as “gift” – there is no time like the present: not because the present exists in time, but because time exists in the Present.
Union and Unity, the One and the Many
One might say that this theme of Theophany and Imagination (the title of the Society symposium in 1992, where this paper was presented) relates particularly well to the second verse of that quintessential chapter of the Quran, the 112th sura, which posits the two great poles of the divine Being, that of ahadiyyah or unicity and aloneness, and that of samadiyyah or creativity and manifestation. Thus, as al-Ahad, God rejects all other, all “us and Him”, while as al-Samad He is the affirming source of all our becomings and destinies.
The first chapter of the Quran, “the opener” of the book (Fatihat al-kitab), expounds the aspects of unicity and of differentiation of the Being, in the sense that, according to a tradition, it finds itself divided between the Lord and the servant whilst at the same time uniting them. This same tradition calls the Fatiha “prayer” (salat). Prayer is therefore union (sila), but also distinguishes, as with any rite of worship, between the worshipper and the worshipped. Ibn Arabi devoted a number of commentaries to the Fatiha, either in the form of independent treatises, or as part of other works such as the Futuhat. Three commentaries representative of the orientations of the Akbarian doctrine have been selected here: the metaphysics of Self and of divine names; cosmogony and its microcosmic accordances; and sanctification through the rites.
For as long as man has been thinking and putting his ideas and visions into writing, a three-dimensional structure of knowledge has been evident. The passing of time has proved that this tripartite knowledge expresses an original and living human need, the need for a healthy and just life. This structure includes individual self-knowledge, knowledge of the surrounding world and knowledge of what is beyond the visible world. In modern societies, these three dimensions have become a human right, which is claimed and safeguarded…
Though God is one, the vision that dominates human existence is of a world of graded hierarchies, levels, specific faces, veils, and Names. A cosmos of dualities, oppositions, complementarities, contraries, rivals, counter-forces, and tensions. Tawhid does not begin with unity, since that needs to be established. Rather, it begins with the recognition of diversity and difference. Water as a symbol holds a powerful clue to explaining Ibn Arabi’s notions of the one and the many.
Kautsar Azhari Noer
Concerning the encompassing heart, it is necessary to remember two points. The first is that the heart of the gnostic possesses a unifying function. The heart’s ability to encompass, embrace or include can be understood as its ability to unify, unite or integrate because of its unlimited vastness. The second is that love is the power of unifying or combining. The locus of love is the heart. When the heart is filled by and with love, it possesses the power of unifying since love is itself the power of unifying. The encompassing heart that is filled by and with love unifies vision, or makes it unified.
For Ibn Arabi and many that think like him, Tawhid or Union is not a matter of knowing what it means, but the act of progression towards the fulfilment of that action and knowledge, to feel an irresistible desire to reach, consciously, that state of being where one is in Union or in Tawhid.
The basis of the all-important “Universality” of Ibn Arabi: The Oneness of the self-existing One-and-Only Unique Essence and the One-and-Only Infinite Existence.
Khalwah and jalwah, “retreat” and “society”, and dhikr, “remembrance”, “invocation” of God. The return to the quiet centre where in the emptiness of the heart the Beauty of Oneness may be witnessed.
The place and value of Ibn Arabi, both at this time and for the future. On the unfolding of the simple kernel of his legacy: knowledge of the unity of existence and the possibility of attaining to a universal perspective.
Wisdom of the Heart, (Self-)Knowledge, Spiritual Realization
Gerald Elmore is author of Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time – Ibn Arabi’s book “The Fabulous Gryphon”, Brill 1999.
This is a meditation on the meaning of al-tahqiq (verification or realisation) which is central to the writing of Ibn Arabi, and drawing on the writings of Sufis before Ibn Arabi, such as Junayd (d. 911 AD, the “Leader of the Sufis”, sayyid al-ta’ifa), and others after him, such as Shaykh al-‘Alawi. Junayd said, “I have achieved al-tahqiq by staying in the presence of God for thirty years under these stairs”, by which he meant the stairs of his house.
This article begins with a dream in which Ibn Arabi saw the Prophet Abraham, and concludes with a translation from Chapter 167 of the Futuhat al-Makkiyya covering the whole section on the seventh heaven.
There are two distinct complementary and apparently opposed (in intellectual terms) aspects regarding the Way to Truth. On the one hand, it is a journey to the Heart-Ka‘ba, a journey that can only be achieved through purification and polishing. As Ibn Arabi writes, “The Real seeks from you your heart and gives to you all that you are. So purify and cleanse it [the heart] through presence (hudur), watchfulness (muraqaba) and reverential fear (khashya).” Sometimes he uses the traditional metaphor of the heart as a reflective mirror which needs polishing – the mirror emphasising the ultimate nature of the heart as completely and infinitely receptive to the Divine revelation. At the same time, it is a journey of the heart (safar al-qalb) to the Heart, of the mystic’s heart to the reality of Heart. It is a movement, therefore, away from considerations of “I”, “me”, “my heart” to concentration on God alone, His Heart, away from the usurper to the true Owner, from ignorance to witnessing and Knowledge. It can also be described as a journey from being a limited vessel to becoming what is depicted in the Christian tradition on the walls of the Chora Church in Istanbul as “the container of the Uncontainable”. For Ibn Arabi the “journey” is really the heart facing towards God in remembrance.
Dom Sylvester Houédard
These notes look at some pre-Islamic instances of the saying, “He who knows himself [or his-self, his soul, his mind] knows his Lord” and at 16 contexts where Ibn Arabi introduces the hadith in ways that indicate the importance of its theology for understanding the double paradox of continuous creation and of epectasy (of the perpetual advance or taraqqi of mind to God through God’s perpetual advance to us).
It is necessary, therefore, to define the limits of Hikma (Wisdom) to the action of pronouncement, otherwise known as “invitation” to the pronouncement – (You are only sent to invite: Quran) – because Wisdom does not coerce in any way except by exposition of Truth and its modal applicability to the time-space defined state […] There is only a de-facto statement manifesting in exposition as Wisdom – given, where “given” only refers to the ability in the subject receiving the gift to perceive that which is proffered, and more intensely, to recognise it as what it is meant to be, with all the appertaining intrinsic and extrinsic consequential activity of complete and absolute vision and equally, complete inaction (“The Wise man does not act”, Lao Tsu). Yet we should note that the action of the name does not make the person performing the action, the actor. It is rather the meaning of the action which identifies with the man who is performing the action. The Wise is such a name and Wisdom, as we have seen, is the identity of the man through whom Wisdom is promulgated. All the Words who are Wisdoms defile through our conceptual time, sometimes in accordance with our temporal procedure and sometimes metachronically, till a consequence of complete exposition of the non-coercive judgement in accordance with Essential knowledge is reached.