Articles and Translations

Three Dimensions of the Ruh

Huzayfa Mangera

Articles by Huzayfa Mangera

Three Dimensions of the Ruh


Ibn ‘Arabî’s “hagiographical” work, the Ruh al-Quds fî munâsahat al-nafs, opens with the rather emphatic declaration “it is rare, these days, for companionship (suhba) to be based on anything save flattery (mudâhana)”. [1] What follows in his introduction is a vicious attack on contemporary Sufism, mentioning the adoption of Sufi dress, the khânaqâh system, and a twice-iterated “ban” on the Sufi practice of samâ’. However, self-criticism by “Sufi” authors is in no sense a new genre initiated by Ibn ‘Arabî. Indeed, the Shaykh tells us here that al-Qushayrî “most severely rebukes them at the beginning of his Risâla“. (p. 42) It remains to be seen then, what positive contribution Ibn ‘Arabî offers in his criticisms and in particular: if companionship is now “flattery-based”, how is it that in this corrupt age, Ibn ‘Arabî himself manages to form over fifty meaningful companionships of which, moreover, he has recorded some but “kept quiet” concerning most? (p. 139)

The work is naturally divided into three sections of roughly equal length by those biographical accounts. More fundamentally, however, as we shall see, there is a thematic division corresponding to the classic Sufi itinerary of mi’râj (ascent), pp. 31-88; the ruju’ (return), pp. 139-176; and the divine sphere (mushâhada) where these multiple mirâjs and ruju’s actually take place, pp. 88-139.


Part 1: Mi’râj


Directly paralleling the Qur’ân’s apparent address of the Prophet, Ibn ‘Arabî throughout this epistle addresses his Tunisian friend Abd al-‘Aziz al-Mahdawî.[2] Like the prophet, al-Mahdawî is rarely identified as the unambiguous target of this address, preferring instead second person forms especially “my intimate friend” (yâ walî) and various forms of the pronoun “you”. Very occasionally, as with such memorable Qur’ânic passages as 29: 56 or 2: 152, this façade is completely abandoned with the disconcertingly personal “so it is necessary for you, the reader of this epistle, to…” (p. 149) which inevitably forces the reader to re-evaluate the addressee of this letter as well as his rhetoric more generally.[3] Following on from this point, the enumeration of al-Mahdawî’s qualities very early on (p. 33) serve as a kind of foundational ideal which it is the author’s overall aim to both explain and instil in his reader, much like the various Prophetic virtues or Divine attributes scattered throughout the Qur’ân. It is then only after reading the work that we may fully appreciate the import of this etymologically “rightly guided one’s” (Mahdawî) virtues:

You have gained, my brother – may God make me and you of those who have gained in this age of yours – in a manner such that I don’t expect to see them (these spiritual gains, fawz) from any other than you. Of them (the fawzs) is your acknowledgement of the rank of knowledge and those possessing it (al-‘ilm wa ahli-hi), the lack of aspiration, on your behalf, to miracles and states. Of them, is your submission to God, your humility and compliance to Him in respect of who you find, regardless of whether he is one whom people notice or nobody cares about. Also, you do not consider your worldly position that is, peoples’ praising of you, kissing your hand or the coming of Sultans to your door. This is the height of just treatment, may God keep you firm. Of them is your saying, when you don’t know something, “I don’t know” and when you do know, “I would like to hear it from other than me“.[4] By God, you have gained, my friend, qualities which cause heads to soar from necks, a station (maqâm) which is unaffected by the states (al-ahwâl), whose brilliance is not exceeded by supererogatory works.[5] Then your search, which I haven’t seen from other than you, concerning knowledge of humankind and of time, and your belief that it is of divine necessity…[6] (pp. 33-4)

“The Cleanliness of their Rags” (muraqa’a)

Immediately following al-Mahdawî’s qualities, separated by no more than “as for the people of your age”, we have the first of Ibn ‘Arabî’s criticisms of Sufism, or as he more commonly calls it “the Way” (al-tarîq). These criticisms may be divided into two; those concerning various Sufi symbols/practices (khânaqâh, muraqa’a, ‘akâkiz, samâ’ etc.) dealt with in this the first one-third of the Rûh. The second strand is alluded to here with the rather hyperbolic “if you accidentally step on one of their prayer mats he will punch you, a punch that may well comprise your death” (p. 35), but is left unexplained, for reasons to be discussed, until the concluding part of this work.

His remarks on Sufism in the introduction may in turn be divided into two. The first part, dealt with on pp. 34-40, in many ways follows in the footsteps of Qushayrî’s remarks in the very short introduction to his Risâla alluded to by Ibn ‘Arabî several times (pp. 34, 41-2 etc.). Here he bewails the degenerate states of contemporary Eastern Sufism as he found it during his first trip to the Islamic East with a marked emphasis on the corruptness of the present age (ahl zamânak, al-zamân, al-yawm etc.), quoting poems by Qushayrî and Junayd to that effect. Of particular vehemence are his remarks concerning the various Sufi symbols (p. 34), and later on:

Those who stitch it (the muraqaa) according to a set pattern, in a pre-organized way which is intended to result in large donations. Then they patch it up, calling it a “muraqaa“. (p. 36)

The institutionalization of Sufism (symbolized here in the key image of a tall, wide khânaqâh) can result in an excessive attachment or even idolatry of that form masking an interior deterioration or corruption: we have here the familiar Akbarian distinction between “self-identifying” belief and “self-surrendering” true faith.

Like Qushayrî, the crux of Ibn ‘Arabî’s censures revolves around abandonment of the foundations (al-usûl). Thus on p. 34 “They are prevented from arriving at the Reality (al-haqîqa) by forsaking the bases (al-usûl) which is the Way (al-tarîqa)”; and “They have no knowledge of the prohibited (al-harâm) to make them return”; and again on p. 39 “They don’t know the conditions of the sunna or the obligatory works, they aren’t even fit to serve as a servant in the toilets.” Now these remarks take on a key qualification when we compare them to the descriptions of the true ahl al-tarîqa, those for whom the Qur’ân has intermingled with their flesh and blood (p. 38), which Ibn ‘Arabî intersperses throughout this section. These are descriptions of a pre-eminently ascetic group, “those who fast when people eat, keep night-vigils while others sleep, the Qur’ân is placed on their hearts, a part of their breasts (p. 38),…   sitting in dog-pens, struggling (mujâhadatan)” (p. 39). Those who have maintained the “foundations” are those who subject themselves to a kind of constant self-questioning of their inner aims and motives, the reasons behind these forms, and why one is attached to them. The true wayfarers are those who maintain the “Sufi” or “Holy” spirit (Rûh al-Quds), who maintain this indispensable self-interrogation (muhâsaba, ijtihâd),[7] whence the title, fî muhâsabat/ munâshat[8] al-nafs.

Ibn ‘Arabî completed the Rûh in Rabî’ al-awwal, 600 (Rûh, p. 176). During one of the several readings (samâ‘) in subsequent years, he added corrections to the script in his own hand.[9] Among these points which he felt the need to clarify is a rather long section placed in the key position halfway through the middle section of the Rûh (covering pp. 114-18 of Cairo edn).[10] Here the Shaykh tells us, in a very personal tone, that his criticisms of the fuquhâ’ or of Sufis are not inspired by a dislike of fiqh or al-tasawwuf per se, but rather, “when I blame the fuqahâ’ in this book, I only intend those types who have followed their desires and the wishes of the soul, commanding to evil (Qur’ân 12: 54), and similarly for my censure of al-sûfîyya” (p. 115). “I don’t intend the sincere (al-sâdiqîn), but those who adorned themselves by their dress in front of people, for their hearts (al-bâtin) are not with God.”

In light of this passage, it would be misleading to restrict the Shaykh’s comments here to twelfth- to thirteenth-century Eastern Sufism. His comments on the muraqaa, for example, equally apply to anyone self-consciously identifying themselves with a given outwardly religious act. Similarly ijtihâd, self-interrogation, is indispensable for everyone travelling on the Way – al-tarîq, in the widest sense of that term, as explained by the Prophet, “The ways to God are as many as the souls of all creatures”.


“The Children of Adam curse the Age (dahr), but I am the Age”

The fact of the above postscript added to the Rûh al-Quds points to the presence of textual information of the same order, though perhaps in a slightly more subtle form. Ibn ‘Arabî’s first critique of the Sufi practice of samâ is a good example of this. According to the Shaykh, those who practise samâ‘,

… have taken their religion as an amusement (Qur’ân 7: 51 etc.), that you only hear them saying “I saw God” and “He said to me” and “He did this and that”,[11] but then if you ask him for a reality, or an inner meaning from his ecstasy (shath) which has benefitted him, you will find nothing but egotistic pleasure and Satanic desire. (p. 40)

This leads him to declare that it is necessary for every one “‘who has realized’ (muhaqqiq) not to agree with samâ‘ and to completely disassociate from its practice.”

The Shaykh proceeds to recount that when he voiced these remarks in Mecca, a certain “self-defined Sufi” (al-muntasibîn li-l-sûfîyya) took exception to him. However, his protest only served to “confirm to me that this is the truth, precisely because of his taking objection (li-kawni-hi thaqil alayhi). But he was blind to the principles (‘ûsûl) I used in doing this” (p. 41). As for these principles that are meant, presumably, to corroborate his remarks on samâ‘, what he actually supplies is a chain of eminent spiritual figures each of whom bewail the spiritual degradation of their time. Thus we start with Abû Bakr, followed by his daughter ‘A’isha, al-Qushayrî (d.465); then returning back in time, al-Hallâj (= Abû Mugîth, d.308), followed again by Abû Bakr, and finally the Prophet himself telling a complaining Khabbâb before the hijra, “By God, those who came before you used to endure… ” (p. 42)

As beautifully captured in the famous hadîth qudsî heading this section, access to God does not depend on the particular age to which we are born. The alleged superiority of bygone eras, and the corresponding corruption of the present age, pertains rather to the individual perception of these phenomena. Directly preceding the (auto)biographical section, the Shaykh al-Akbar says, “We have met Masters, brothers and women for whom if you record their states, taking it to heart as I have taken it to heart, you would see that the hâl is the hâl and the ‘ayn is the ‘ayn[12] (p. 87). The numerous references to the age’s corruption refer to the state of ghafla (heedlessness) which encompasses one’s entire being, from the religious (samâ etc.) to the less overtly so, which makes one ignorant of the Divine Presence in that and every other moment (dahr).

Returning to the issue of samâ‘, the Shaykh says:

By God, everyone who objects to this speech [lit. “those for whom it is heavy”], is of that attribute we described. It is for that reason he became uneasy, for if he was innocent he would have been unaffected, as he was unaffected by our censure of stealing… this wasn’t, in fact, the first opposition he raised. Rather he was always like this every time someone discussed the faults of the soul, explaining its shortcomings, censuring its affairs, explicitly or less so, in every age, because this doesn’t correspond with the souls’ [nufûs = plural] desires. (p. 43)

That “attribute” turns out to refer to the term with which we began, al-mudâhana (flattery): “Are you content for your soul to be a hypocrite, a flatterer?”[13] Samâ‘ is thus equated with attempts to merely impress rather than to genuinely transform (“The Truth hasn’t left for ‘Umar a single friend”(p. 31), “or an inner meaning which has benefitted him” (p. 40). Considering, moreover, Ibn ‘Arabî’s recent exposition of the intention underlying his critique of the age (zamân), it should be clear that his comments transcend the limited question of the permissibility of samâ‘. Instead, it points to the vital necessity of this omnipresent state of self-interrogation of one’s motives, aims and true intentions in every area of one’s life, not least – as Ibn ‘Arabî is about to vividly describe – during the prescribed forms of prayer.


“What takes place between me and myself”

As if to give some idea of what he intends by this process of ijtihâd, the Shaykh begins a very long dialogue with his own soul (starting on p. 43 and formally ending only at the end of the introduction on p. 87, though there are numerous digressions). This extraordinarily sincere conversation is initiated when the Shaykh finds that he has no way of “testing” whether his strivings are truly of Divine origins (al-mawâhib), or merely his own deceiving nafs (al-hâl allatî ‘anâ alayha), a concern which causes him to go through “what no-one but God knows of” (p. 44). To briefly summarise pp. 43-6, Ibn ‘Arabî finds that the only way of testing (al-tamhîs) his soul is “by God’s Book and His Prophet’s example” (p. 45). However, if she (the soul, nafs, is feminine in Arabic) falls short of this, he will guide her using the ahl al-suffa [14] as a model.

To this proposition the soul agrees, with the condition that “you cannot oppose me by the Qur’ân… or by the Prophet’s example”. Theoretically – and the theoretical element in hypocritically constructed belief systems is important – this is what Ibn ‘Arabî had himself asked for. However, he realizes that his soul is deceiving him (makr wa khidâ‘), “picking out what doesn’t actually harm her” (p. 46). He accordingly proceeds with “Plan B”, recounting ten of these so-called ahl al-suffa, covering (with digressions) pp. 47-69.

Nothing short of a full transcription would be able to convey the intricate connection between each choice of quotation from these sahâba (Companions) and the soul’s corresponding progression from an initially conceited state on p. 48 (hypocritically talking of the Qur’ân as an ocean whose bottom cannot be reached), to her speech on p. 63 beginning “I now know, and have truly realized that I am nothing, not fit for anything… ” For illustrative purposes though, let us consider the sixth of these, ‘Uthmân b. ‘Affân:

I said to her, “Yes, this is ‘Uthmân b. ‘Affân… (isnâd), he used to feed people the food of Princes, whilst in his own house he would be eating bread with oil. I adjure you by God! (O soul), Have you ever done this with your friends? Preferring to give them the good, whilst taking for your-self the coarse (food)?” She said “No, by God, rather I would be in one of two situations: if I didn’t have any other food, I would share whatever they had seen with them. But if I had something better, I would eat that by myself… saying ‘this good food is for me’. I would thus deceive myself with these hoaxes so that I am not disturbed whilst eating, telling myself ‘these brothers are being trained, it is necessary, therefore, not to plant desires in their hearts by my feeding them.’ As for me (maqâmî), I am not affected by it, so it’s okay if I eat it… and no doubt ‘Uthmân wasn’t like this at his beginning, so you have freedom of action, but rather he did this only after having gained control.” I said to her, “May God bless you, you have been truthful with me.” She replied, “The truth has to be followed.” (p. 50)

Now the important point here – and especially in respect of the samâ‘-based discussion midway through these ten stories – is that each of these sahâba embodies a particular Qur’ânic virtue. Thus ‘Uthmân encapsulates the hundreds of Qur’ânic verses on the need to spend in the way of God, on poverty to God rather than wealth (Qur’ân 2: 273 etc.), and satisfaction with not partaking in the “goods of this world”. Similarly, the comments of ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ûd (number three, on p. 48) beautifully  illustrates the majestic indifference of Qur’ân 4: 6 with regard to economic and social standing in this world.[15] In the following section (i.e. after the particular sahâba) Ibn ‘Arabî turns to the equivalent examples of these virtues (and lack of them) in his own life, sincerely asking himself how he would act in similar circumstances.

As for the role of these ten sahâba in terms of our central itinerary – from the declarations on the first page, to the fifty shaykhs of the Rûh – it is worth considering Ibn ‘Arabî’s soul’s confessions at the conclusion of this mini-section, and especially the Qur’ânic verse quoted here:

Are you satisfied, O soul? She said “Yes.” I continued, “These ten witnesses (shuhûd) – I have fulfilled my pledge in recounting to you – from the best of ages, from the companions of the Messenger of God, but I didn’t find you comparable to [lit: “to have a foothold with”] any one of them.[16] So who did you follow and who did you find solace with?” She replied, “I followed my desire and found solace with Satan, claiming knowledge (marifa) but in fact bent over the world… and may God protect me from being of those of whom He said When Our plain signs come to them, they say ‘This is clearly magic’. They denied them (Our signs) whilst their souls were convinced by them – darkening, rising above (with pride) (Qur’ân 27:13-14). If I oppose and deny (the signs), I would only be committing a crime against myself.” (p. 69)

Suhba, then, is not so much situated on the level of hearing such masters, or associating with them alone (as would be done in a khânaqâh), but rather on the active response: self-criticism and inner awareness.

Now if we conceive of the “signs” above, or elsewhere in the Qur’ân, as a never ending epiphany, then it is clear that in order to engage that active response, certain prerequisites are required. Of these, mostly captured in al-Mahdawî’s qualities mentioned above, the most evident, both here (p. 69) and throughout the soul’s development, is the vital need of a kind of humble smallness. This is not to be confused with modesty, in the sense of publicly belittling oneself, but the much more demanding inner submissiveness and receptivity, needed in connection with these never ending “signs”.[17]


“Whoever maintains the practice of samâ‘ but doesn’t ‘hear’ (yusma) the sound of birds, the squeaking of the door, or the whistling of the wind, he is a pretentious person who has nothing”[18]

As mentioned above, it is at the heart of this milieu of embodied Qur’ânic virtues – and more specifically, in between Abû Bakr, Salmân al-Farsî and Abu Dardâ’s testimonies which all centre explicitly on the Qur’ân – that we have Ibn ‘Arabî’s second attack on the practice of samâ‘. We have (on pp. 53-4) the soul’s confession that she should often “relish” poetry, but when the Qur’ân was recited, she would become tired, find it “heavy, spit it out”. The Shaykh proceeds to recount his own youthful experiences of such samâ‘ gatherings.[19] After a long night of dancing and singing, he proceeds, “with the minimum state of poetry”, to the Mosque:

During my prayer, I would be thinking about my previous night, how good it was, how beautiful was the reciter and his poetry. I would pass all of my prayer in this fashion, unaware of what the Imâm was saying. I rather saw people doing something, so I copied them. They would bow down, so I would bow down, prostrate so I would prostate, stand so I would stand, sit so I would sit. Or, on the other hand, I would feel sleepy, waiting for the Imâm to conclude the prayer, finding the recitation long and tiresome, cursing the Imâm… Are you not ashamed of God, O soul? That last night you were a toy for the Devil, a play for him… then the greatest calamity, the huge disaster, the incurable disease from which there is no relief except through God (Qur’ân 53: 58) I would say in this situation, “I was with God, in God, through God I stood, in God was my ecstasy”, that “I have arrived at God”, that “I said to God”, and “God said to me.” (pp. 54-5)

Few other passages of the Rûh bring together so many of the themes that the Shaykh raises. For here we have his own autobiographical description of that stagnant soul whose faith consists of an outward aping of others, believing – and, where the disease is situated, not questioning that belief – that her state is of Divine origin, when that Divinely appointed “meeting” and the Divine speech itself is ignored. There is an emphasis here on the transitory nature of such samâ‘-induced states “losing his state (hâl) when he loses it (the samâ‘)” (p. 57), as opposed to the ever-present Divine Speech that is the Qur’ân. Both here and in the succeeding pages the practice of samâ‘ is, indeed, set up in direct comparison with the Qur’ân. Discussing the nature of each, he says:

The root of inspiration (asl al-inbi’âth) from the Qur’ân is God’s sacred Speech, which is never received by the soul’s shortcomings or its impurity. Indeed this is not possible, for it (the Qur’ân) only gives in accordance with one’s purity (tahâra). As for poetry, it arises from created speech, deficient, impure, for which perfect purity is not required. (p. 60)

The idea of the Qur’ân only “giving'” in exact accordance with one’s state of purity, in contrast with poetry and music, is explained on the following page: “The (spiritual) Men only know through the Real, the Real is not known through them.” Now if the whole world is conceived of as “divine Speaking” – as is the case for Ibn ‘Arabî – it would be infinitely more economical, pedagogically speaking, to awaken our hearing of this ever-present, highly individualized music, rather than someone else’s composition, however accomplished, which is by comparison restricted and distant.

It would be a serious mistake to read Ibn ‘Arabî’s criticisms of samâ‘ as a puristic rejection of the Islamic humanities as such, in which case we would have to reject his own writings. (By Islamic humanities I mean: the incredibly wide range of spiritual practices – recitations, music, rituals, prayer manuals etc. – most often conceived of as centrally “Islamic” by their practitioners.) Ibn ‘Arabî’s intentions are, rather, to delineate the proper role of these humanities, that is to say, always as a means to awakening our awareness and never as the end in itself.[20]

The last of these ten testimonies doesn’t actually contain the words of the witness himself, ‘Uthmân b. al-Maz’ûn, but rather the grieving Prophet’s address to him “O ‘Uthmân, you were never harmed by the world (dunyâ) and it wasn’t harmed by you” (p. 64). In the next ten pages the importance of poverty is established in the context of Sufis “in this age” who have after their earlier asceticism (zuhd, taqashuf, say) taken to “drinking delicious things, wearing the best of clothes, constructing buildings” (p. 64). This, the soul says, is because “Gardens don’t veil from God.” As she explains, the prophets in Heaven who are enjoying food, clothes, marriages etc., aren’t, for that, veiled from God. Nevertheless, the Shaykh retorts with several Prophetic examples, the Prophet himself lived and actively chose a life of poverty. Indeed, “God didn’t desire it (luxury of this world) for His Prophet, neither did the Prophet desire it for his daughter” (p. 68).

The interiorization above, from the “Sufi’s” to his own soul is crucial. For the leaving of the more overt objects of idolatry (money, food, position etc.) is now replaced by a more subtle idolatry of those new forms (khânaqâ’, samâ‘, muraqaa etc.). As the Shaykh sincerely asks his own soul: “In what sense/through what are you distinguished from them (‘the commoners’, al-âmma) in your outer being as you claim to be in your inner?” (p. 68)

Clearly, then, the aim of this poverty-based rhetoric here, as with the rest of his introduction is, precisely, these questions he asks of himself, that there can be no end to this process of ijtihâd. That the outward state of poverty is not to be taken as the end in itself is then illustrated by a comparison of Uways al-Qaranî and al-Hallâj (pp. 69-73), the latter of whom, after a long twenty-day fast seeks to give away his only food to someone else, is shown to be pursuing the state of poverty as such (since truly impartial charity gives to the first needy soul which is, of necessity, his own, p. 72): “They are like wild animals, not knowing the inner workings of the world, striving to impress and be praised.” This passage is surely indicative of that most subtle of hypocrisies, how even unostentatious acts of self-denial are prone to inner forms of hypocrisy.


“Whoever worshipped Muhammad, Muhammad has now died, but whoever worships God, God is living and never dies”

The penultimate section of the introduction deals – in a remarkably terse and systematic fashion – with the universal role of suffering as a Divinely placed means for returning to God.[21] The discussion takes the form of an extended commentary of a hadîth in which a man asks the Prophet to save them from drought by praying to God for rain, a prayer promptly answered. The next year, however, the man returns with the same request to which the Prophet now refuses (pp. 73 and 79). The Shaykh notes that it is precisely at such times of loss and need that the “broken hearts” turn “sincerely to the All-Merciful” (p. 75):

God said to me in my heart (sirrî) “My servant and son of My community. By My Power, My Magnificence, My Glory, the Greatness of My Power, and by the height of My Glory – no one will reach My Knowledge or achieve My Promise, until he is qualified in this worldly abode by what the miserable ones are in the hereafter in terms of humility, lowliness, poverty, weeping… as well as finding life loathsome and difficult. It is through this that I have adorned My Prophets and Friends. (p. 75)

If the fire of the next world is equated with the suffering of this, then the Paradisial states of that world can similarly be achieved in this lower domain; “The people of heaven (‘illiyyûn) are only the people of hearts” (p. 80). Thus suffering in this world and the heart’s happiness, far from being accidental elements of an insignificant world (as the man in the hadîth supposes them to be; see also the commentary on ‘Ali b. Abî Tâlib’s testimony, pp. 50-1), are tailored elements of a Divine Order.[22] “The phrase ‘taking away of cloth’ was mentioned (by the Prophet) to show what is in the unwitnessed realm (al-ghayb), by the ‘taking away’ of desire, raising uncertainty and doubt” (p. 76). As a universal object of this process of muhâsaba, we need to turn, too, to our own experiences, and more specifically to the moments of pain and loss to see why this causes pain or what has been lost.

The Prophet’s refusal is then a refusal to administer a spiritually ineffective “quick-fix” that ignores the profound reasons underlying this suffering:

He – May God’s blessing and peace be upon him – was “jealous” [ghâr, striving to achieve the rights of self/other] lest we take a partner other than God, that we would rely totally on him [i.e. the Prophet] in our needs. This because God is for all creatures (‘abîd) closer than the jugular vein (Qur’ân 50: 16). (Rûh, p. 76)

Whereas previous objects of this ijtihâd concerned overtly religious phenomena, Ibn ‘Arabî now turns our attention to the unambiguously universal and unavoidable Divine “intrusion” into our lives. The corresponding irreducibly individual, and therefore unique, responsibility to reflect, search and resolve these “fires” precludes any relief arising from an outward imitation (taqlîd) unaccompanied by this inner ijtihâd.[23]

* * *

As to the larger journey so far made into the Rûh, it should now be clear in what sense this introduction can be understood as the ascent (mirâj). For here we have the central element of ijtihâd, surrounded by all the subtleties of al-tawba, al-faqr, al-murâqaba, al-hayâ’, al-adb etc. enumerated as stations (maqâmât) in standard Sufi manuals.

The Shaykh concludes this section by quoting the example of “the best of followers”, Uways al-Qaranî (pp. 84-7). Now recognizing that these examples are to be understood as individual lessons, the soul says: “‘Assign me types of striving (mujâhada), for I am ready and agreeing.’ I thanked God for her request.” (p. 81)

Finally let us reconsider the Shaykh’s closing words of this section:

We have met Masters, brothers and women for whom if you record their states, taking it to heart even as I have taken to heart the states of those who have preceded [i.e. the ahl al-suffa], you would see that the hâl is the hâl and the ‘ayn is the ‘ayn. (p. 88)

Part 2: Mushâhada

Whose Rûh

At the very end of this second section the Shaykh says “I am addressing you, my friend, but I intend, By God, myself” (p. 139). Similarly on p. 167, “My nasîha is for myself and for you”, and the full title of the Durra on p. 133, “The Precious Pearl concerning the mention of those by whom I benefitted in the way of the hereafter.” [See next section for full explanation of meaning of nasîha.] Thus the majority of this second part can be said to be a single autobiography, rather than fifty or so biographies. For Ibn ‘Arabî does not stop at a mere profile, or even quotation of a given spiritual teacher, but rather chronicles, in each of these examples, his own very personal relationship with that teacher.[24] On evidence of virtually the entire introduction, moreover, and particularly those words on p. 88, it is impossible to separate the mention of these spiritual masters from Ibn ‘Arabî’s adjuration (nâshdtu-ki bi-Llah yâ nafs!) of his own soul which he tirelessly delineated as the means by which to read one’s experiences.

This section, then, is primarily a record of Ibn ‘Arabî’s own Rûh, chronicling his own experiences. This is not to say that the shaykhs of the Rûh al-Quds are devoid of any significance for his readers; indeed the section on the ahl al-suffa should put all doubt to rest on that account. There is nevertheless a certain sense of inaccessibility one receives in reading these accounts; for example, towards the end of Ya’qûb al-Kumî’s section we find the unexplained assertion that this Shaykh “‘benefitted me’ with the meaning of the hadîth ‘When God loves a servant, He tries him'” (p. 94). Now whilst it is true that Ibn ‘Arabî’s writings frequently expound the meaning of this and similar points, the comprehension of these metaphysical issues carries no true efficacy when located on the purely intellectual level. The exposition of this spiritual “issue” lies in the individual realization (tahqîq) of this single Rûh, Muhammad Ibn al-‘Arabî, facilitated by his teacher, al-Kumî. Ibn ‘Arabî’s reticence here forces his readers to (ideally) confront their own Rûh, and to find/recognize their own teachers.[25]



In explaining the term nasîha, the classical Arabic dictionaries concentrate on the crucial component of sincerity, honesty, faithfulness (khâlis) in the process of giving advice by works, speech or otherwise. The verb nasaha (to give sincere council) is not confined to a verbal admonition – to act benevolently, to show good faith are equally forms of nasîha.[26]

Turning to the nâsihûn of the Rûh, we find nothing if not diversity. We have here old and young, women and men, bookish and illiterate, ascetic and employee of the Sultan – called nothing less than “supporters of the Real” (a’wân al-haqq, p. 98) – famous and anonymous, philanthropist and reclusive, constant traveller and sedentary, we have an extraordinarily diverse collection of vocations. Now we need to recall that the link between this diverse group – sometimes dispensing, on the Shaykh’s own admission, conflicting nasîha (p. 104) – is the individual soul of Muhammad Ibn ‘Arabî, for whom each of these was a teacher (nâsih). Nor is this account exhaustive: throughout the Rûh, and especially in this middle section, the Shaykh complains about the lack of time for chronicling his experiences (e.g. pp. 86, 91, 95, 119, 125, 133, 136, 164, 168 etc.). Moreover, concerning the shaykhs that are recorded, Ibn ‘Arabî says:

O nafs! I have recounted to you the state of those who have preceded[27] and the state of some of those whom I met, men and women. But I have kept quiet concerning most of whom I met. I didn’t find you comparable [lit: “to have a foothold with”] to any one of them.[28] (p. 139)

These final words directly parallel his findings for the ahl al-suffa on p. 68 (above), thereby intimately connecting his previous muhâsaba, ijtihâd and adjuration of his own soul throughout the introduction with his own experiences. The anonymity of these shaykhs – most of whom are otherwise unknown to us – is accountable to an individual soul reflecting, analysing and questioning her own experiences, people she has seen and met. The process of seeing and taking the whole world as a nâsih depends precisely on this process of ijtihâd, self-comparison, interrogation.[29]

I have recounted these to you in happiness, knowing that the age (zamân), praise be to God, is not without (spiritual) Men (rijâl) on the way of those who have preceded, despite their different states. So we have recounted some of them to the extent that this has achieved the aim in respect of benefit and conciseness. (p. 139)

As in the case of the ahl al-suffa, our everyday encounters with these “bearers of the Qur’ân” call for certain prerequisites; most importantly, the outward and inward adab (spiritually appropriate attitude) as the indispensable ingredient to enable the whole process, as illustrated throughout this section.


Part 3: Rujû’

When I realized that those who (truly) enter the Path are rare indeed, I lost courage and decided to devote my efforts to myself alone and abandon men to their fate… I was standing in front of my Lord, head lowered and fearing that he will punish me for my negligence. But He said to me: “Servant of Mine, fear nothing! All I ask of you is that you counsel My servants.” After being given this I taught men, pointing out to them the plain way and the dangers to be found, addressing myself to all – jurists, dervishes, Sufis and simple believers.[30]

“What keeps you from prostrating to whom I created with My Two Hands?”

The entire conclusion of the Rûh can be considered as a comprehensive and systematic commentary of the above vision. Indeed, of this exposition the author of the Futûhât says: “As to the extent to which we have alluded to it, it is unlikely that you will hear it, other than in this Risâla, to this degree of precision. You will, rather, find it scattered in many different things; we allude to it without explaining ourself the like of this explanation.” (p. 162)

Unlike the rest of His creation, God created humans (al-insân) with “two hands“, Qur’ân 38: 75, Rûh, pp. 139-40. However, of those created with one hand we have the angels of whom the Qur’ân tells us, “They praise Him all day and all night, not letting a single moment pass by them” (21: 20), “They fear their Lord above them, doing what they are commanded to do” (16: 50), “They do not disobey God when He commands them” (66: 6 and Rûh, pp. 148-9). Similarly there are the other natural kingdoms: the Mineral (p. 156), “There is nothing higher than it” (p. 160), the Vegetative (p. 156), Animal (p. 157), and Angelic (p. 160). Now each of these “communities” has their own assigned ‘ibâda (service, worship, adoration). For example, concerning the animals the Shaykh says:

As for their ‘ibâda, it is astounding, the falcon, cat, dog, lynx, bee and others. I have never been able to describe their ‘ibâda at the level that they are at. Indeed, it is beyond me to do so, for in each moment they are, despite their belief of my superiority over them, rebuking me… (p. 158)

In addition to their own ‘ibâda, the “higher” communities are responsible for the services or “realities” (haqâ’iq) of those below them. The plants, for example are “responsible for two realities; that which separates them from the mineral, and that which they share with the mineral” (p. 160). As for humans, Ibn ‘Arabî says: “and you my friend, being human, are responsible in your ‘ibâda for five realities; the Angelic reality, for it is within you, the reality of sensation (al-hisâs), the vegetative reality, the mineral reality and the reality which joins these together (al-jamiya)” (p. 160). Now whilst this last reality is what distinguishes humans from the rest of creation – considered either as a “test” (p. 142), or “an honour” (p. 148) – it is also “what veils you from your state of servitude” (p. 161). This discussion is tersely expressed on p. 142:

He attributed humans to His two hands, appointing his (insân) affairs to himself, “entrusting to him everything in the heavens and earth (Qur’ân 45: 13 etc.), [thereby] veiling him from relying on Him. Man then appeared to himself as a leader (imam). So the happy one is [he] who persists beside the door to lift this veil, whereas the wretched one is [he] who abandons that door behind him.

“The Writer of this Risâla doesn’t know my situation or who I am”

To raise the veil one needs to dissolve it, or from another point of view invest it, in the Divine. “We should use it as God Himself has used it in His Creation. ‘He is Caring to His servants‘ (42: 19) so be like that! He is the Loving, Forgiving, so be like that! This is how he described his Prophet, ‘Kind and loving to the faithful (9: 128)”, Rûh, p. 162. The adoption of God’s Names, or in terms more prominent in this work, the manifestation of nasîha – for in its widest possible sense, every description of the second section was a form of nasîha – is the way to handle this uniquely human responsibility. What we have here is an extremely precise definition of al-khilâfa, vicegerency, for “the Breath of the All-Merciful preserved wujûd (existence) until the appearance of man (insân)” (p. 143). Man’s responsibility then encompasses nothing less than the preservation of the world through the manifestation of rahma (loving mercy): “That is human’s lovingness, and for this reason if humans don’t remain, rahma would disappear with his (insân‘s) disappearance, its essence would become non-existent, destroyed” (p. 143).

Much of the rhetoric found in this conclusion deals with whoever believes – either because he is too high, low, or for whatever other reason – that the rujû‘ or nasîha is not necessary for him. He who declares: “I won’t eat with them nor will they eat with me, they won’t visit me, nor I them. All this is the soul’s suggestion and satanic deception, for the Prophet used to visit and was visited” (p. 145).[31] Neither is the rujû‘ a neutral decision, or a kind of supererogatory act: “… the other type whose (passionate) soul has overcome him after her subordination, that is, he who imagines that this won’t affect her station, nor subtract from her position”.[32] (p. 146)

Such discussion of the rujû‘ may give the impression that Ibn ‘Arabî’s discussion here concerns those accomplished Sufi saints – perhaps like himself in the above vision – who are considering whether or not to sit with their legion of disciples. This though would be a mistaken conclusion, for immediately after the quoted section on the Breath of the All-Merciful, the Shaykh says:

So understand! And don’t limit this to Adam alone. For every upright (sâlih) person from the faithful, as well as the others in existence are Qutb.[33] There remains nothing save an unjust khalîfa and a just one. It is either to pain without end or everlasting happiness. It is from this point of view that the khalîfas feel fear, and you and I are of them! (p. 143)

The responsibility of nasîha, far from being incumbent on one given person,[34] is rather the absolutely universal completion of every act. It is in fact from this perspective that we have Ibn ‘Arabî’s criticisms of the Sufis in this section, alluded to earlier, “By God, my friend, if you see them in their prayer they leave spaces in their rows, not making them straight, such that a thousand Devils could pass between them! And if you accidentally step on one of their prayer mats he will punch you… ” (p. 35). Those Sufis have failed to appreciate the irreducible universality of this responsibility, that every soul has been entrusted with the “fifth reality” – in Qur’ânic terms, amâna (33: 72), khilâfa (2: 30), and the covenant (7: 172). “Here is a great ocean in which many of our Way have perished… their superiority has veiled them from fulfilling the service (khidma)” (p. 164). The hermetic nature of Sufi groups, as he found them in the East, fails to address this universal need. We have here Ibn ‘Arabî’s absolute rejection of the idea that each soul doesn’t share in this “trust” and consequently partakes in these “ascents” and “returns”. It is in no way reducible to certain persons or groups, “As if everyone didn’t have a Creator, and this Messenger was the One Provider” (p. 77).

Human beings, let us recall, are required to realize five realities, including the angelic who aren’t “ever absent from God”. It is in fact impossible to match this “constant presence” (hudûr) without recourse to this distinctly human ability (p. 157):

Then, know that each of these communities, the mineral, plant, animal and angelic have two ‘ibâdas: one which encompasses the whole community, and one for the individuals of the community… and I am not asking of you the ‘ibâda of (certain) persons but the ‘ibâda which everyone of that community partakes in. (pp. 157-8)

The command to return is not, then, a specific temporally identifiable event, but is rather the assumed norm:

How ignorant he is of inspiration (khâtir) from God! The true knowers only do that (refuse to help) with him who feigns he doesn’t need anything, that he is rich, when he is in fact poor, and that is an unveiling (kashf). As for him whose situation is obvious, and his poverty is clear, then that is the “inspiration” (khâtir) that God has given you, but you don’t realize! (p. 147)

Much as in the situation first-time parents find themselves in, the care of that child (which most assuredly is a form of nasîha) is a responsibility which every parent must unavoidably bear, rather than an elect few. To this effect the Shaykh quotes Qur’ân 57: 10: “Not similar are those of you all who spend (charitably) before the opening ‘fath‘ and fight – they are of a higher level than those who spend afterwards and fight.”

Having established nasîha as a universal responsibility, the Shaykh is quick to underline the importance of sincerity in this process. Of the recurrent prophetic leitmotif in the Qur’ân, that “we don’t ask of you any reward”, the Shaykh says, “indeed it doesn’t even occur to them to ask for a reward” (p. 154). It is in this context, moreover, that we have the Shaykh’s criticism of the fuquhâ’in the Rûh, whose “ruling is in order to subjugate” (p. 154); “their hearts are sealed by their desires”, “they look left and right in their prayers” because “of the lack of purity in their hearts”; when they pass a ruling “they imagine nothing in creation is above them only because they have memorized the hadîth and fiqh, and people say ‘O faqîh, what do you say concerning… ‘” However, “their hearts are sealed because of their love of the world, and their looking at God’s Friends scornfully, as if they are ignorant because they don’t know (the legal ruling for) issues like emancipation, or marriage and divorce” (pp. 154-5).

Now, whilst Ibn ‘Arabî’s comments may well reflect a certain discontent with thirteenth-century fuquhâ’, they cannot be reduced to that narrow framework. At the end of these criticisms, he inserts the curious remark that “the fuquhâ‘ are still, and in every age, in relation to those who have realized, as Pharaoh is in relation to the prophets”. His comments, thus, hold a much more universal import, since they make it clear that the process of nasîha does not deserve the name if it is done for financial, social or legal reasons whilst ignoring the spiritual premises. Instead those Qur’ânic models, which don’t even consider asking for a reward, should be followed, those whose aim is none other than their own state of perfect servitude (p. 154). “We only feed you for God’s Face, we don’t want from you a reward or thanks” (Qur’ân 76: 9).

As was the case of Uways in the introduction, Ibn ‘Arabî concludes this section with a long hadîth on pp. 169-72, where the Prophet advises his companion Usâma b. Zayd. Just as was the case in the introduction, the extreme ascetic practices mentioned here are now read in the light of what preceded, namely, in light of the responsibility of the rujû‘, understood always in the widest possible sense. This very beautiful hadîth also expresses something of the thankless task this entails:

People have lost the ways of the Prophets and their morals, whereas they have kept them. The one who desires God, desires like them, and the loser is the one that differs from them. The earth itself cries when it loses them, and God’s wrath is on every country without them. O Usâma, when you see them in a village, know that they are the protectors of that village; God will not punish a people which contains them… You will see them with unkempt hair, dusty faces; people think they have a disease, but they haven’t. People think they have some kind of disorder, but [it is] the people [who] have!… “It is through them that earthquakes and trials are averted.” Then the Prophet cried, his wail increased until the people thought something had befallen them from heaven, then he said: “What is wrong with this community? When they meet someone (willingly) obeying God, his Lord, how they kill him! How they lie about him! Only because they (al-awliyâ’) obey God.” (pp. 170-71)

As noted above, the middle section of this epistle must be considered primarily as Muhammad Ibn ‘Arabî’s own spiritual autobiography; unlike most Muslim authors, he has openly recorded his own youthful experiences in writing the Rûh al-Quds. However, it is true that each of us, too, has both our own autobiography and our own Rûh (spirit). Now, to sanctify (q-d-s) that Rûh, or again to see this autobiography as holy, it is necessary to address this tension between the Rûh and the nafs, which is always situated in that middle section (fî munâshat al-nafs). It is in the reflection of those experiences of inner conflict and struggle (ijtihâd) that we may find our teachers, and in that communication that we, in turn, become the teachers. As the Shaykh says, in the following saying “there is a great secret, [which] I fear to reveal… so search for the inner meaning: ‘The rich one visits the ascetic whereas the sincere rulers visit the poor'” (p. 148):

So beware of your soul saying to you “Brother, the writer of this Risâla doesn’t know my situation or who I am”. For I haven’t specified you in my address but have spoken about what the realities require. I have brought it together in an all-encompassing way and revealed it in a safeguarding manner. However, there is not one, be it a Messenger, Prophet, Saint or anyone else but enters into this group. So it is incumbent (lâ budda) for you, the reader of this Risâla, to be one of these people and of this spiritual level. (p. 149)

Finally, let us consider “the writer of this Risâla” himself, not forgetting the declarations made on the opening page. There the Shaykh al-Akbar introduced himself as “the one commanded to give nasîha more so than anyone else in his age”, but also told us that companionship, these days, is based on mudâhana (flattery). Whilst considering these two assertions we may recall also that according to the Qur’ân (49: 10), all of the faithful are brothers:

So this, my brother, is my nasîha for myself and for you. When I saw that you were similar to me, and I loved you in God, and your justice astounded me, I passionately desired your company. I long for the day that I may be with you, and you would advise me, and I would advise you, you would rebuke me, and I you. We would be two loving friends until we die. How much it is that I love you! And how concerned I am for you, may God be pleased with you! I yearn to be with you… (p. 167)

* I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Prof. James Morris for his important suggestions and remarks to this paper.


Reprinted from the Journal of the Muhyddin Ibn Arabi Society, Vol. 38, 2005.

An extract from the biographical section of the Ruh al-Quds can be found on the web site of the publishers of Sufis of Andalusia. Pen-pictures of Al-‘Uryani, Abu Ya’qub, and Nunah Fatimah.


[1] Risâla Rûh al-Quds (Cairo, 1989), p. 31. Reference to this edition of the Rûh will be made simply by giving the page number in brackets or the page number preceded by "Rûh". The significant title may be translated as "The spirit of holiness in counselling the soul". As we shall see, the concept of nasîha ("sincere counsel"; the opposite of mudâhana) is crucial in the Rûh. As for translations, R.W.J. Austin has excellently translated the biographical section in its entirety, entitled, perhaps misleadingly, Sufis of Andalusia (London, 1971; covering pp. 88-139 of Cairo edn). R. Boase and F. Sahnoun have translated approximately half of the introduction (covering pp. 31-45, 70-2 (abridged), and 81-6) and the end of the conclusion (covering pp. 169-76) in Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabî: A Commemorative Volume, edited by S. Hirtenstein and M. Tiernan (Shaftesbury, 1993) – the merits of this translation will be discussed later. Translations in this article, unless otherwise stated, are mine.

[2] For a summary of Ibn ‘Arabî’s relationship with al-Mahdawî, based mainly on Ibn ‘Arabî’s works, see Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Mahdawî, Ibn al-‘Arabî’s Mentor by Gerald Elmore in The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 121 (2001), pp. 593-614.

[3] This point is most evident in Ibn ‘Arabî’s own frequent exhortations to his readers to reconsider the actual addressee of the Qur’ân. Quoting Qur’ân 11: 102, for example, he would say "You haven’t got a ‘village’ apart from your own self". Or here in the Rûh, the soul’s need to take the same oath of allegiance that the Prophet took from his wives (e.g. Qur’ân 33: 32) (Rûh, 86).

[4] "The Prophet said to ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ûd, ‘Read to me (the Qur’ân)’"; he asked, "should I read it to you when it has been revealed to you?" The Prophet replied, "I would like to hear it from other than me." (Muslim, Kitâb Fadl istimâ’ al-Qur’ân)

[5] Rawâtib al-‘amal. Basing himself on the following hadîth al-qudsî, "My servant doesn’t approach Me with anything more beloved to me than that which I have ordained for him, and My servant continues to come near to Me through supererogatory works until I love him…" (Bukhârî, kitâb al-tawâdu’), Ibn ‘Arabî sees supererogatory works as inevitably contaminated by choice proceeding from the unsubdued nafs, as opposed to an unlimited identification with the Divine Will (the farâ’id). For references see M. Chodkiewicz, Seal of the Saints (Cambridge, 1993), particularly Chapter 7. This point is constantly referred to in the Rûh; here it is important to note that al-Mahdawî’s nasîha is not contaminated by the ego.

[6] For the ‘âyân al-thâbita (al-thâbita isn’t actually used, probably due to the rhymed prose briefly adopted here) see al-Hakîm, al-Mujam al-Sûfî (Beirut, 1981), pp. 834-9. Here, Ibn ‘Arabî is stressing that the great diversity in peoples’ ability to intellectually and spiritually understand is a "super-naturally natural" phenomenon, that is, resulting directly from the Divine Will. For al-Mahdawî (the nâsih), it is necessary to adapt to this natural diversity summed up in the convenient adage "al-khitâb âlâ qard al-aql" (Rûh, 153).

[7] For muhâsaba, see Shaykh Qassûm (Rûh, 99) and, from the Durra, Ibn Mujâhid (Sufis of Andalusia, p. 146). The most important term of this process, however is ijtihâd (or forms of the same root). No fewer than seven of his shaykhs listed here are of the ahl-ijtihâd (according to Austin’s numbering, Shaykhs 2, 5, 11, 21, 24, 37, 41). Ibn ‘Arabî’s conception of the Law (sharî’a) is inseparable from this process of ijtihâd; for this issue in the Futûhât see J.W. Morris, "Ibn ‘Arabî‘s ‘Esotericism’: The Problem of Spiritual Authority", in Studia Islamica LXXI (1990), pp. 37-64.

[8] For variant titles see O. Yahya, Histoire et classification de l’oeuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabî, II (Damascus, 1964), p.  446.

[9] For full references see the introduction of Sufis of Andalusia, p. 18. It is this (corrected) manuscript that Austin uses for his translation.

[10] For full references see Sufis of Andalusia, p. 104 (n. 5).

[11] These remarks should not be misconstrued to be a rejection of Divine Inspiration – in all its degrees, from the Qur’ân’s descent to individual dreams – as such, in which case Ibn ‘Arabî’s own life and works would be quite incomprehensible.

[12] Al-hâl may be translated here as the outward situation, whereas al-ayn is the inner. I have taken a little liberty in the translation here as Ibn ‘Arabî refers to a passage not yet covered. We shall return to this passage later.

[13] The translation mentioned at n.1 above (Shaftesbury, 1993), unfortunately translates this key term, mudâhana, using two different words. Aside from such minor issues, however, the translation suffers most from its abridged nature. The section covering pp. 45-70 (untranslated), for example, gives a crucial insight into what Ibn ‘Arabî intends by this idea of ijtihâd as well as the significance of this "definition" for Part II of the Rûh. The very short excerpt from the concluding part gives little idea of the nature of this conclusion or the issues raised. In this respect, it is unfortunate that the numerous footnotes do not attempt to fill in these major gaps.

[14] The group of Companions who gathered outside the Prophet’s mosque. The ahl al-suffa, along with the woollen (sûf) frock donned by the Sufis – an explanation which is widely considered to be the origin of the term sûfî. His reason for using the ahl al-suffa here is to bring out something of the original, the primordial, behind the fossilized social institution of Sufism – a very common procedure elsewhere in the Shaykh’s writings, especially in respect of his "etymological" approach to the Qur’ân.

[15] It must be remembered that it is precisely these originally Qur’ânic virtues which were later expanded and elaborated as maqâmât. For example, ‘Uthmân here demonstrates the station of îthâr (preferring others over oneself), or ‘Abd Allah b. Mas’ûd the station of ridâ (absolute satisfaction/contentment), as may be found in manuals by such authors as Qushayrî or Muhâsibî.

[16] Directly paralleling here the soul’s pretentious comments on the Prophet on p. 45.

[17] This point is most evident in Ibn ‘Arabî’s use of the Arabic Qur’ân in the above passage, which may be more liberally paraphrased as:

When Our signs come to them – signs which they instinctively see, through inner vision, they say "This is something to entice, beguile, coax us". They refuse, reject, deny Our signs. Yet their own souls are convinced of their own truth. They have been unjustly rising above Our signs, which (i.e. the zulm and ‘ulû) is what obscures Our signs from them.

[18] Abû ‘Uthmân al-Maghribî, quoted in the chapter on samâ‘ in Qushayrî’s Risâla. As mentioned, Ibn ‘Arabî was very familiar with this work, copying Qushayrî’s own sentiments at the start of that chapter, "For we are not prohibiting it but are permitting (abhnâ) poetry and singing, to the degree the Sharî’a has" (Rûh, 61). Nevertheless, of the variety of views presented by Qushayrî, Ibn ‘Arabî clearly inclines to that held by al-Maghribî and others in that chapter.

[19] Claude Addas, recounting this incident in her excellent biography, doesn’t make the connection to a particularly "Sufi" practice: Quest for the Red Sulphur (Cambridge, 1993), p. 31. Certainly a more profane interpretation of the events cannot be ruled out, but on the basis of both the proceeding and succeeding discussions, pp. 54-7, it seems that the dancing and singing is of a Sufi sort. This is, of course, assuming that the incident can be taken literally, which is by no means certain.

[20] In this connection see the telling case of Shaykh 16 (Austin’s numbering), al-Qattân, who rejects all books but the Qur’ân, "He didn’t speak except by the Qur’ân, he didn’t see anything else, he didn’t own a single book" (p. 119). Similarly Abû Madyan on p. 56: "A murîd is not a murîd until he finds in the Qur’ân everything he wants." Here and elsewhere we should not lose sight of the larger context where this discussion is situated: the actualized Qur’ânic virtues in the "ten witnesses" of the ahl al-suffa.

[21] The author tells us "We have written without scattering" (p. 78). As we shall see, this is not the only time he expresses this opinion on the Rûh al-Quds. The "scattering" of meanings is a very prominent technique elsewhere in the Shaykh’s writings, closely resembling Qur’ânic discourse. James Morris discusses this feature of the Shaykh’s writings in "Ibn ‘Arabî’s Rhetoric of Realisation: Keys to Reading and Translating the Meccan Illuminations", Part II, JMIAS, Vol. XXXIV (2003), pp. 103-44. Ibn ‘Arabî’s discussion here, covering pp. 73-80, is distinguished by the beautiful saj‘ (rhymed prose) which the Shaykh repeatedly slips in and out of, as well as the Divine "I" similarly used.

[22] Symbolized here by rainfall "that the fall of rains is directly controlled by God" (p. 79).

[23] The responsibility of ijtihâd is largely dealt with implicitly in this discussion, though there is the out of context return to the ahl al-suffa on p. 78, "For each of these ten there is a portion, the person whose ultimate course is aimed at God will see it (echo of Qur’ân 75: 30). So you need pure faith on the purest level! If not, By God, the covenant has been spread, and you will be taken by intolerable suffocation." The Shaykh immediately proceeds, after this, to requote a second version of the hadîth with which he started (found in the canonical collections: e.g. Bukhârî, Kitâb al-istisqâ’).

[24] Numerically (and the Arabic text is not numbered), this autobiographical approach is used for about half of the shaykhs mentioned. However, the other "biographical" half typically dedicates no more than three lines to a given shaykh (one of which is the name!) and thus covers only four pages of the Cairo edn, pp. 133-7, compared to the first twenty-six who cover pp. 89-133. Even those "biographical" accounts cannot signify a lack of a similarly personal relationship, in light of Ibn ‘Arabî’s protestation on the lack of time on p. 133 and, indeed, throughout this work, pp. 119, 125, 164 etc.

[25] It is worth noting that the process is often the precise opposite when he brings in autobiographical points in the Futûhât, where each autobiographical incident is often surrounded by and subjected to profound metaphysical explanations. This reticence of the Shaykh here may account for the apparent "easiness" of the Rûh in his oeuvre. But his intentions, it can be appreciated, are ultimately the same.

[26] E.W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Beirut, 1968). As usual, it is useful to keep the scriptural context in mind. The root is used a dozen or so times in the Qur’ân, almost always in connection with a given prophetic mission but twice by slightly more dubious parties: Joseph’s brothers at 12: 11 and Satan, 7: 21. As for the hadîth, few virtues are praised as highly in the canonical collections, summed up in the terse "Religion (al-dîn) is nasîha". (Bukhârî, Kitâb al-imân etc.)

[27] I.e. the ahl al-suffa, exactly repeating his form of reference to them on p. 88.

[28] Directly after concluding the final biography, there is a similar assertion at the start of this section on p. 89.

[29] The various discrepancies between the twenty-six overlapping shaykhs of the Rûh and Durra, easily noticeable in Austin’s edition, can be attributed to this principle. Each individual shaykh’s perspective depends not so much on the objective "facts", but on the lessons he is taking from these phenomena (âyât). For example, the conversion of the Shaykh’s uncle, in the Rûh, is at the hands of a young boy who knows nothing of the Way himself. In the Durra, however, his uncle is converted to the Way by a "handsome boy who bore the signs of worship". But as this mysterious boy says, "My ignorance in this matter (the colour of nigella) will do me no harm in the sight of God, while your heedlessness of God will do you much harm", Sufis of Andalusia, pp. 99-100 (including translation).

[30] From the Kitâb al-mubashshirât, quoted here – including translation – from Quest for the Red Sulphur, p. 218. This vision is referred to twice in the Rûh, on the very first page (p. 31), and on p. 44.

[31] To underline this point Ibn ‘Arâbî explains several times in this section that the eminent spiritual figures are always those who have returned, "Those who have preceded you are the Prophets, Messengers, the ‘prominent’ Angels, the Knowers and the good-doers from the faithful" (p. 157; see also p. 146).

[32] Directly mirroring here the language in his Introduction with respect to those who have been allured by the world (dunyâ) after rejecting it (pp. 51, 64 etc.), though now to different purposes. Whilst considering the Introduction it is worth mentioning that despite the relative rarity of references to nasîha made there, the soul’s declaration on p. 63, "I have now realized that I am nothing…" nevertheless only comes after a reference to this concept of "return".

[33] Few terms in the Sufi lexicon carry such an emphatically Sufi meaning. The Qutb is normally considered as the one person through whom God maintains the world, thus one often reads "so and so was the Qutb of his age" (Qutb zamâni-hi).

[34] On the first line of the Rûh the Shaykh tells us he has been "pressed" to give nasîha more so than anyone of his age. Later, on the same page, he says "My brother, al-nash is what two good friends should cooperate in and establish their friendship by."