Ibn al-'Arabi

24 September 2011
Shaykh al Akbar : Muhammad Ibn al-'Arabi, Muhiy al-Din [d.637H -1240CE] 'alayhi al-rahmah wa'l-ridwan

Muhammad ibn 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-'Arabi, Abu Bakr Muhyi al-Din al-Hatimi al-Ta'i al-Andalusi al-Mursi al-Dimashqi, known as Ibn 'Arabi to differentiate him from Abu Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi the Maliki jurist. A scholar of Arabic letters at first, then tafsir and tasawwuf, nicknamed 'al-Qushayri' and 'Sultan al-'Arifin' in his time for his pre-eminence in tasawwuf, known in his lifetime for his devoutness to worship, asceticism, and generosity, Ibn 'Arabi was praised by al-Munawi as "a righteous friend of Allah and a faithful scholar of knowledge" (waliyyun salihun wa 'alimun nasih), by Ibn 'Imad al-Hanbali as "the absolute mujtahid without doubt," and by al-Fayruzabadi as "the Imam of the People of Shari'a both in knowledge and in legacy, the educator of the People of the Way in practice and in knowledge, and the shaykh of the shaykhs of the People of Truth through spiritual experience (dhawq) and understanding."1

His Teachers

He travelled East and West in the study of hadith, taking knowledge from over a thousand shaykhs, among them Abu al-Hasan ibn Hudhayl, Muhammad ibn Khalaf al-Lakhmi, Ibn Zarqun, Abu al-Walid al-Hadrami, al-Silafi, 'Abd al-Haqq al-Ishbili, Ibn 'Asakir, Ibn al-Jawzi, and Ibn Bushkuwal.His principal shaykhs in tasawwuf were Abu Madyan al-Maghribi, Jamal al-Din Yunus ibn Yahya al-Qassar, Abu 'Abd Allah al-Tamimi al-Fasi, Abu al-Hasan ibn Jami', and al-Khidr alayhis asalam.2

He became known first as al-Shaykh al-Kabir ("The Great Shaykh") then al-Shaykh al-Akbar ("The Greatest Shaykh") with specific reference to the sciences of tasawwuf in which he authored hundreds of books.3

His Doctrine ('Aqida)

His greatest and best-known is his last work, al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya ("The Meccan Conquests") which begins with a statement of doctrine - translated in forthcoming posts - about which al-Safadi said:

"I saw that from beginning to end it consists in the doctrine of ABU AL-HASAN AL-ASHARI without any difference whatsoever."4

His Rank of Mujtahid Mutlaq

In jurisprudence Ibn 'Arabi is often said to follow the Zahiri school, but this is incorrect since he himself denies it, as quoted by Ibn 'Imad from Ibn 'Arabi's two poems al-Ra'iyya and al-Nuniyya, which state respectively:

Laqad harrama al-Rahmanu taqlida Malikin
wa Ahmada wa al-Nu'mani wa al-kulli fa'dhuru

The Merciful forbade me to imitate Malik, Ahmad,
Al-Nu'man [Abu Hanifa] and others, therefore pardon me.

Lastu mimman yaqulu qala Ibnu Hazmin
la wa la Ahmadu wa la al-Nu'manu

I am not of those who say: "Ibn Hazm said"-
Certainly not! Nor "Ahmad said" nor "al-Nu'man said."5

Some of Ibn 'Arabi's Sayings

It is remarkable that there were very few contemporaries of Ibn 'Arabi among his accusers, although he travelled and taught all over the Islamic world and, as Ibn Hajar stated, "he made his mark in every country that he entered"15  while his admirers among the authorities of Islam lived both in his own lifetime and later. Among the Shaykh's sayings:

- "Whoever is truthful in something and pursues it diligently will obtain it sooner or later; if he does not obtain it in this world, he will obtain it in the next; and whoever dies before victory shall be elevated to the level of his diligence."

- "The knower of Allah knows through eyesight (basar) what others know through insight (basira), and - he knows through insight what virtually no-one knows. Despite this, he does not feel secure from the harm of his ego towards himself; how then could he ever feel secure from what His Lord has foreordained for him?"

- "The knower's declaration to his student:

'Take from me this science which you can find nowhere else,' does not detract from the knower's level, nor do other similar declarations that appear to be self-eulogy, because his intention is only to encourage the student to receive it."

- "The discourse of the knower is in the image of the listener according to the latter's powers, readiness, weakness, and inner reservations."

- "If you find it complicated to answer someone's question, do not answer it, for his container is already full and does not have room for the answer."

- "The ignorant one does not see his ignorance as he basks in its darkness; nor does the knowledgeable one see his own knowledge, for he basks in its light."

- "Whoever asks for a proof for Allah's oneness, a donkey knows more than him."

His Tarjuman al-Ashwaq ("The Interpreter of Desires") is a masterpiece of Arabic poetry translated in many languages. The following poem to the Ka'ba is taken from the Futuhat.a

1. In the Place of refuge my heart sought refuge,
shot with enmity's arrows.

2. O Mercy of Allah for His slaves, Allah placed His trust
in you among all inanimate forms.

3. O House of my Lord, O light of my heart,
O coolness of my eyes,b  O my heart within,

4. O true secret of the heart of existence,
my sacred trust, my purest love!

5. O direction from which I turn from every quarter and valley,

6. From subsistence in the Real, then from the height,
from self-extinction, then from the depths!

7. O Ka`ba of Allah, O my life,
O path of good fortune, O my guidance,

8. In you has Allah placed every safety
from the fear of disaster upon the Return.

9. In you does the noble Station flourish,
in you are found the fortunes of Allah's slaves.

10. In you is the Right Hand that my sin has draped
in the robe of blackness.c

11. Multazam is in you - he who clings to love for it,
will be saved on the Day of Mutual Cries.d

12. Souls passed away longing for Her,
in the pain of longing and distant separation.

13. In sorrow at their news she has put on
the garment of mourning.e

14. Allah sheds His light on her court,
and something of His light appears in the heart.

15. None sees it but the sorrowful
whose eyes are dark from lack of sleep.

16. He circumambulates seven times after seven,
from the beginning of night until the call to prayer.

17. Hostage to endless sadness, he is never seen
but bound to effort.

18. I heard him call upon Allah and say, beside the Black
Stone: "O my heart!

19. Our night has quickly passed,
but the goal of my love has not passed!"

Ibn 'Imad said: "He died - may Allah have mercy on him! - in the house of the Qadi Muhyi al-Din ibn al-Zaki and was taken to Qasyun [Damascus] and buried in the noble mound, one of the groves of Paradise, and Allah knows best."16