Who Is Ibn Arabi?
Ibn ʿArabi (26 July 1165 – 16 November 1240) was an Andalusian Muslim scholar, mystic, poet, and philosopher, whose works have grown to be very influential beyond the Muslim world. Of the over 800 works which are attributed to him, 100 survive in the original manuscript. His cosmological teachings became the dominant worldview in many parts of the Islamic world.
‘Abū ‘Abdullāh Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn `Arabī al-Ḥātimī aṭ-Ṭāʾī (أبو عبد الله محمد ابن علي ابن محمد ابن عربي الحاتمي الطائي) was a Sufi mystic, poet, and philosopher born in Murcia, Spain on the 17th of Ramaḍān (26 July 1165 AD). He is renowned among practitioners of Sufism by the names al-Shaykh al-Akbar (“the Great Shaykh”), Muḥyiddin ibn Arabi, and was considered a saint. He was also known as Shaikh-e-Akbar Mohi-ud-Din Ibn-e-Arabi throughout the Middle East.
Ibn Arabi was Sunni, although his writings on the Twelve Imams were also popularly received among Shia. It is debated whether or not he ascribed to the Zahiri madhab.
After his death, Ibn Arabi’s teachings quickly spread throughout the Islamic world due to the soundness of his arguments. His writings were not limited to the Muslim elites, but made their way into the lower ranks of society through the widespread reach of the Sufi orders. Arabi’s work also popularly spread through the poetic languages of Persian, Turkish, and Urdu. Many popular poets were trained in the Sufi orders and were inspired by Arabi’s concepts.
Ibn Arabi was of mixed parentage. His father was an Arab who belonged to the prominent Arabian tribe of Tayy. His mother came from a noble Berber tribe originating from North Africa. In his writings, Al-Arabi mentions a deceased maternal uncle, Yahya ibn Yughman, who was a wealthy prince of the city of Tlemcen, but had left that position to lead a life of spirituality after encountering a Sufi mystic.
His father, ‘Ali ibn Muḥammad, served in the Army of Muhammad ibn Sa’id ibn Mardanish, the ruler of Murcia. When Ibn Mardanīš died in 1172 AD, his father shifted his allegiance to the Almohad Sultan, Abū Ya’qūb Yūsuf I, and again went into government service. His family then relocated from Murcia to Seville. Ibn Arabi grew up among the ruling court and received military training.
As a young adult Ibn Arabi was secretary to the governor of Seville. He had married a woman by the name Maryam who was from an influential family.
His spiritual mentor in Fes was Mohammed ibn Qasim al-Tamimi.
In the year 1200, he was in Morocco and took his final leave from his master Yūsuf al-Kūmī, who was living in the village of Salé at that time.
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Ibn Arabi left Spain for the first time at age 30 and arrived at Tunis. While there, he received a vision in year 1200 instructing him to journey east, arriving for the Hajj in 1202. He lived in Mecca for three years. It was in Mecca that he started writing his work Al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya (الفتوحات المكية, “The Meccan Illuminations”).
Journeys to the North
The year 1204 witnessed a meeting between Ibn Arabi and Shaykh Majduddīn Isḥāq ibn Yūsuf (شيخ مجد الدين إسحاق بن يوسف), a native of Malatya and a man of great standing at the Seljuk court. This time Ibn ‘Arabī was travelling north; first they visited Medina and in 1205 they entered Baghdad. This visit besides other benefits offered him a chance to meet the direct disciples of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir Jīlānī. Ibn Arabi stayed there only for 12 days because he wanted to visit Mosul to see his friend ‘Alī ibn ‘Abdallāh ibn Jāmi’, a disciple of Qaḍīb al-Bān (قضيب البان). There he spent the month of Ramaḍan and composed Tanazzulāt al-Mawṣiliyya (تنزلات الموصلية), Kitāb al-Jalāl wa’l-Jamāl (كتاب الجلال والجمال, “The Book of Majesty and Beauty”) and Kunh mā lā Budda lil-MurīdMinhu:176
Return to South
In the year 1206 he visited Jerusalem, Mecca and Egypt. It was his first time that he passed through Syria, visiting Aleppo and Damascus.
Later in 1207 he returned to Mecca where he continued to study and write, spending his time with his friend Abū Shujā bin Rustem and family, including the beautiful Niẓām.:181
The next four to five years of Ibn Arabī’s life were spent in these lands and he also kept travelling and holding the reading sessions of his works in his own presence.
On 22 Rabī‘ al-Thānī 638 AH (8 November 1240) at the age of seventy-five, Ibn ‘Arabī died in Damascus.
Although Ibn Arabi stated on more than one occasion that he did not prefer any one of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, he was responsible for copying and preserving books of the Zahirite or literalist school, to which he has been ironically and erroneously ascribed. Ibn Arabi shared Ghazali’s views that Islamic law was only a temporary means to a higher goal, eschewing the heavy focus on worldly matters such as financial transactions and regulations regarding clothing.
Ibn Arabi did delve into specific details at times, and was known for his view that religiously binding consensus could only serve as a source of sacred law if it was the consensus of the first generation of Muslims who had witnessed revelation directly.
Main article:The Universal Man
The doctrine of perfect man (Al-Insān al-Kāmil) is popularly considered an honorific title attributed to Muhammad having its origins in Islamic mysticism, although the concept’s origin is controversial and disputed. Arabi may have first coined this term in referring to Adam as found in his work Fusus al-hikam, explained as an individual who binds himself with the Divine and creation.
Taking an idea already common within Sufi culture, Ibn Arabi applied deep analysis and reflection on the concept of a perfect human and one’s pursuit in fulfilling this goal. In developing his explanation of the perfect being, Ibn Arabi first discusses the issue of oneness through the metaphor of the mirror.
In this philosophical metaphor, Ibn Arabi compares an object being reflected in countless mirrors to the relationship between God and his creatures. God’s essence is seen in the existent human being, as God is the object and human beings the mirrors. Meaning two things; that since humans are mere reflections of God there can be no distinction or separation between the two and, without God the creatures would be non-existent. When an individual understands that there is no separation between human and God they begin on the path of ultimate oneness. The one who decides to walk in this oneness pursues the true reality and responds to God’s longing to be known. The search within for this reality of oneness causes one to be reunited with God, as well as, improve self-consciousness.
The perfect human, through this developed self-consciousness and self-realization, prompts divine self-manifestation. This causes the perfect human to be of both divine and earthly origin. Ibn Arabi metaphorically calls him an Isthmus. Being an Isthmus between heaven and Earth, the perfect human fulfills God’s desire to be known. God’s presence can be realized through him by others. Ibn Arabi expressed that through self manifestation one acquires divine knowledge, which he called the primordial spirit of Muhammad and all its perfection. Ibn Arabi details that the perfect human is of the cosmos to the divine and conveys the divine spirit to the cosmos.
Ibn Arabi further explained the perfect man concept using at least twenty-two different descriptions and various aspects when considering the Logos. He contemplated the Logos, or “Universal Man”, as a mediation between the individual human and the divine essence.
Ibn Arabi believed Muhammad to be the primary perfect man who exemplifies the morality of God. Ibn Arabi regarded the first entity brought into existence was the reality or essence of Muhammad (al-ḥaqīqa al-Muhammadiyya), master of all creatures, and a primary role-model for human beings to emulate. Ibn Arabi believed that God’s attributes and names are manifested in this world, with the most complete and perfect display of these divine attributes and names seen in Muhammad. Ibn Arabi believed that one may see God in the mirror of Muhammad. He maintained that Muhammad was the best proof of God and, by knowing Muhammad, one knows God.
Ibn Arabi also described Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all other prophets and various Awliya Allah (Muslim saints) as perfect men, but never tires of attributing lordship, inspirational source, and highest rank to Muhammad. Ibn Arabi compares his own status as a perfect man as being but a single dimension to the comprehensive nature of Muhammad. Ibn ‘Arabi makes extraordinary assertions regarding his own spiritual rank, but qualifying this rather audacious correlation by asserting his “inherited” perfection is only a single dimension of the comprehensive perfection of Muhammad.
Ibn Arabi described Jesus as the spirit, and simultaneously a servant, of God. Jesus is held to be “one with God” in whole coincidence of his will with God’s will. Due to the spirit of God dwelling in Jesus, God spoke and acted through him. Ibn Arabi describes Jesus as a person within God’s word and spirit and a manifestation of God’s attributes, like a mirror.
Muslim scholars have often held strong, polarized views regarding the viewpoints and character of Ibn Arabi. Many have declared Ibn Arabi to be the foremost spiritual leader and Sufi master in Muslim history. Others regarded him as a heretic or even an apostate.. Very few scholars have had neutral or lukewarm reactions.
The reaction of Ibn ‘Abd as-Salam, a Muslim scholar respected by both Ibn Arabi’s supporters and detractors, has been of note due to disputes over whether he himself was a supporter or detractor. All parties have claimed to have transmitted Ibn ‘Abd as-Salam’s comments from his student Ibn Sayyid al-Nas, yet the two sides have transmitted very different accounts. Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Dhahabi and Ibn Kathir all transmitted Ibn ‘Abd as-Salam’s comments as a criticism, while Fairuzabadi, Al-Suyuti, Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari and Yusuf an-Nabhani have all transmitted the comments as praise.
Some 800 works are attributed to Ibn Arabi, although only some have been authenticated. Recent research suggests that over 100 of his works have survived in manuscript form, although most printed versions have not yet been critically edited and include many errors.
- The Meccan Illuminations (Al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya), his largest work in 37 volumes originally and published in 4 or 8 volumes in modern times, discussing a wide range of topics from mystical philosophy to Sufi practices and records of his dreams/visions. It totals 560 chapters.
- The Ringstones of Wisdom (also translated as The Bezels of Wisdom), or Fusus al-Hikam. Composed during the later period of Ibn ‘Arabi’s life, the work is sometimes considered his most important and can be characterized as a summary of his teachings and mystical beliefs. It deals with the role played by various prophets in divine revelation. The attribution of this work (Fusus al-Hikam) to Ibn Arabi is debated and in at least one source is described as a forgery and false attribution to him reasoning that there are 74 books in total attributed to Sheikh Ibn Arabi of which 56 have been mentioned in “Al Futuhat al-Makkiyya” and the rest mentioned in the other books cited therein. However many other scholars accept the work as genuine.
- The Dīwān, his collection of poetry spanning five volumes, mostly unedited. The printed versions available are based on only one volume of the original work.
- The Holy Spirit in the Counselling of the Soul (Rūḥ al-quds), a treatise on the soul which includes a summary of his experience from different spiritual masters in the Maghrib. Part of this has been translated as Sufis of Andalusia, reminiscences and spiritual anecdotes about many interesting people whom he met in al-Andalus.
- Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries (Mashāhid al-Asrār), probably his first major work, consisting of fourteen visions and dialogues with God.
- Divine Sayings (Mishkāt al-Anwār), an important collection made by Ibn ‘Arabī of 101 hadīth qudsī
- The Book of Annihilation in Contemplation (K. al-Fanā’ fi’l-Mushāhada), a short treatise on the meaning of mystical annihilation (fana).
- Devotional Prayers (Awrād), a widely read collection of fourteen prayers for each day and night of the week.
- Journey to the Lord of Power (Risālat al-Anwār), a detailed technical manual and roadmap for the “journey without distance”.
- The Book of God’s Days (Ayyām al-Sha’n), a work on the nature of time and the different kinds of days experienced by gnostics
- The Fabulous Gryphon of the West (‘Unqā’ Mughrib), a book on the meaning of sainthood and its culmination in Jesus and the Mahdī
- The Universal Tree and the Four Birds (al-Ittihād al-Kawnī), a poetic book on the Complete Human and the four principles of existence
- Prayer for Spiritual Elevation and Protection (‘al-Dawr al-A’lā), a short prayer which is still widely used in the Muslim world
- The Interpreter of Desires (Tarjumān al-Ashwāq), a collection of nasībs which, in response to critics, Ibn Arabi republished with a commentary explaining the meaning of the poetic symbols.
- Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom (At-Tadbidrat al-ilahiyyah fi islah al-mamlakat al-insaniyyah).
- The Four Pillars of Spiritual Transformation (Hilyat al-abdāl) a short work on the essentials of the spiritual Path
The Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya
Three years later in 632 AH, on the first of Muḥarram, Ibn ‘Arabī embarked on a second draft of the Futūḥāt; this he explained, included a number of additions and a number of deletions as compared with the previous draft. This revision completed in the year 636 (Addas 286). After completion of this 2nd draft, he started teaching it to his disciples. Dr. Osman Yahia has mentioned hundreds of these hearings or public readings that occur between the year 633 AH and 638 AH.
Urdu translation of al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya
The first successful attempt at translating al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya was made by Muhammad Fazal Khan Changwi (1868–1938), who started publishing his translation in 1913 in installments of 100 pages each, which had to be stopped in 1927 due to lack of funds. By then 18 Parts which comprise 30 Chapters had been published. The second impression of this translation is available. The second volume of this translation was published in 2013 under the title: Futuhat-i Makkiyya. Part 2. From Parah 18 to Parah 27 (Bab 30 to Bab 63).
Commentaries and translations of Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam
There have been many commentaries on Ibn ‘Arabī’s Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam: the first, al-Fukūk, was written by his stepson and heir, Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qunawī, who had studied the book with Ibn ‘Arabī; the second by Qunawī’s student, Mu’ayyad al-Dīn al-Jandi, which was the first line-by-line commentary; the third by Jandī’s student, Dawūd al-Qaysarī, which became very influential in the Persian-speaking world. There were many others, in the Ottoman world (e.g., ‘Abdullah al-Bosnawī), the Arab world (e.g., ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nabulusī) and the Persian world (e.g., Haydar Āmolī). It is estimated that there are over fifty commentaries on the Fuṣūṣ, most of which only exist in manuscript form. The more famous (such as Qunawī’s Fukūk) have been printed in recent years in Iran. A recent English translation of Ibn ‘Arabī’s own summary of the Fuṣūṣ, Naqsh al-Fuṣūṣ (The Imprint or Pattern of the Fusus) as well a commentary on this work by ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Jāmī, Naqd al-Nuṣūṣ fī Sharḥ Naqsh al-Fuṣūṣ (1459), by William Chittick was published in Volume 1 of the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society (1982).
The Fuṣūṣ was first critically edited in Arabic by ‘Afīfī (1946). The first English translation was done in partial form by Angela Culme-Seymour from the French translation of Titus Burckhardt as Wisdom of the Prophets (1975), and the first full translation was by Ralph Austin as Bezels of Wisdom (1980). There is also a complete French translation by Charles-Andre Gilis, entitled Le livre des chatons des sagesses (1997). The only major commentary to have been translated into English so far is entitled Ismail Hakki Bursevi’s translation and commentary on Fusus al-hikam by Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, translated from Ottoman Turkish by Bulent Rauf in 4 volumes (1985–1991).
In Urdu, the most widespread and authentic translation was made by Shams Ul Mufasireen Bahr-ul-uloom Hazrat (Muhammad Abdul Qadeer Siddiqi Qadri -Hasrat), the former Dean and Professor of Theology of the Osmania University, Hyderabad. It is due to this reason that his translation is in the curriculum of Punjab University.Maulvi Abdul Qadeer Siddiqui has made an interpretive translation and explained the terms and grammar while clarifying the Shaikh’s opinions. A new edition of the translation was published in 2014 with brief annotations throughout the book for the benefit of contemporary Urdu reader.
A new Critical Edition of Fusus al-Hikam has been published by Ibn al-Arabi Foundation in 2015, this edition is based on the beautiful manuscript written by Shaykh Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi and verified by Shaykh al-Akbar Ibn al-Arabi himself. Along with this the editor also consluted 6 of the most ancient and historic manuscripts of Fusus available today. This new Edition also contains one of the best available translation of Fusus al Hikam in Urdu, by Abrar Ahmed Shahi, who has consulted more than 7 Commentaries and several other previous translations in order to translate the ideas correctly. He has also translated and published more than 25 works of Ibn al-Arabi.
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It is well known that Ibn ‘Arabi, from the point of view of his madhhab was a Sunni…but it is also known that he wrote a treatise on the twelve Shiite imams which has always been popular among Shiites.
- Chodkiewicz, Michel (1993). An Ocean Without Shore: Ibn Arabi, the Book, and the Law. SUNY Press. p. 55. ISBN978-0791416259.
- Chittick 2007, p. 2-3.
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- Chittick 2007, p. 4.
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- Islaahe Nafs ka AAiena e Haq
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For Ibn Arabi, the Logos or “Universal Man” was a mediating link between individual human beings and the divine essence.
- Fitzpatrick and Walker 2014, p. 445
- Fitzpatrick and Walker 2014, p. 446
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