Dreams, Visions and Revelation Prophets

Ibn’ Arabi – Sufi and Savant

36 The Review of Religions – August 2007 Muhiyyud Din Ibn Arabi was a renowned mystic, poet, sage, and philosopher of Islamic Spain. During his lifetime he was acknowledged as one of the most important spiritual teachers within Sufism, renowned for his great visionary capacity as well as being an excellent teacher. He signed his name: Muhammad Bin Ali bin Muhammad Ibn al- Arabi al-Tai al-Hatimi. He was born in the Muslim Spanish city of Madinatula Mursiya (Murcia) in August 1165. His Arab family traced its roots to Hatim al-Tayy who was legendary for his generosity. His father Ali Ibn al-Arabi was a man of influence as he considered Cordoba’s chief judge Ibn Rushd among his intimate friends and was attached to the royal court of Muhammad Bin Saeed Mardanish. When Ibn ’Arabi was 8 years old, the occupation of Murcia led his family to Seville via Lisbon. The Emir of Seville, Abu Yaqoob Yousuf had offered his father an important position in his royal court, so this is where Ibn ’Arabi spent the next 30 years of his life. Seville was also an important centre of Sufism, with a record number of Sufis living in the city. He met two women saints here who had a strong influence on him, Yasamin of Marchena, and Fatimah of Cordova. About Yasamin, he observed: ‘In her spiritual activities and communications she was among the greatest. She had a strong and pure heart, a noble spiritual power and a fine discrimination… she would often reveal something of it to me, as she knew of my own attainment, which pleased me.’1 IBN ‘ARABI – Sufi and Savant (1165-1240) By Zakaria Virk – Canada 37The Review of Religions – August 2007 IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) Ibn ‘Arabi completed his basic education in Murcia, and Lisbon. In Seville he studied the Qur’an, Hadith, Shariah (Law), Arabic grammar and composition. He did so well in his studies that he was employed as a secretary by the governor of Seville. Ibn Arabi’s spiritual attainments were evident from an early age. He spent most of his time in the company of Sufis, because Tasawwuf was already practised in his family. By the age of 20, he entered upon the Sufi path. Sufism in the family His family, in addition to its cultural connections was inclined to religious tendencies. Two of his mother’s brothers were Sufis, Abu Muslim al-Khawlani and Yahya ibn Yoghman. al- Khawlani used to spend his entire night standing in prayer and would beat his legs with sticks when he became tired from standing. The second brother Yahya Bin Yoghman was at one time ruler of the city of Tlemcen until he met a holy man Abu Abdullah al- Tunisi, a Gnostic, and he gave up his kingship, and became his disciple. When people requested Ibn ’Arabi for his prayers, he would tell them: ‘go to Yahya ibn Yoghman, because he was a King and became a gnostic. If I was put into such a tribulation as he was, perhaps I would not have succeeded.’ Initiation into Sufism Ibn ’Arabi states that he became a Sufi in 1184 when he was twenty. It is stated that Ibn Arabi was invited to a party at the house of a prominent leader of Seville, along with other civic leaders. They started having a drink, when it reached Ibn Arabi, he heard a voice saying: ‘O Muhammad, did we create you for this?’ He put down the drink and left the party immediately. Outside the house he met a shepherd and went with him to the outskirts of the city and exchanged clothes with him. After wandering around he arrived at a graveyard where he devoted himself to Dhikr Ilahi (Remembrance of Allah) for four days. Finally when he came out, 38 The Review of Religions – August 2007 IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) he was blessed with immense knowledge of numerous disci- plines. After this life-changing experience, he spent 9 months in total solitude under the guidance of his master Shaikh Yousuf bin Yukhlaf al-Kumi. Ibn Arabi says: ‘my solitary stay started at the time of Fajr, by the time the sun started to rise; the secrets of the unseen world “ghaib” were unravelling on me. I stayed in this retreat for 14 months and all those secrets that were told to me I have penned them down.’ His first employment in the civil service was as a scribe which was an important position in the cabinet. His father was a minister of state and his family was well known throughout the country. After his spiritual experience, he gave up his employment. He preferred to live as a dervish (faqr). Meeting with Ibn Rushd Due to Ibn ‘Arabi’s extraordinary scholarship and spiritual insights, his fame spread throughout Spain. The master interpreter of Aristotle, Cordoba’s Qadi Ibn Rushd (1126-1198) requested his father for a meeting with Ibn ‘Arabi. This meeting is important in that of the two illustrious men, one was a follower of the edicts of reason, who became the most influential thinker in the West. The other was a Gnostic for whom knowledge meant ‘vision’, who became a towering personality in Sufism. Ibn ’Arabi related this visit in his own words: ‘One day I went to see Qadi abu Walid Ibn Rushd in Cordova as he wanted to meet me on account of what he had heard of the revelations which God accorded me during my retreat. Anyone who heard about these secrets used to wonder. I was still a beardless young man. Ibn Rushd was my father’s close friend. As I entered the room, he stood up out of respect for 39The Review of Religions – August 2007 IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) me. He embraced me. Then he said to me “Yes”. I in turn replied Yes. He was pleased with this response thinking that I understood him. I on the other hand being aware of the motive for his pleasure, replied, “No”. Upon this, Ibn Rushd drew back from me, his colour changed and he seemed to doubt what he had thought of me. He then asked me, “What solution have you found as a result of mystical illumination (Kashf) and divine inspiration. Does it coincide with what is arrived at by speculative thought?”. I replied, “Yes and No. Between the Yea and Nay the souls take their flight beyond matter, and the necks detach themselves from their bodies.” At this Ibn Rushd became pale and I saw him shaking as he muttered, “La Haula wa la Quwwat”, (there is no power Allah”). This was because he had understood my insinuation. In cryptic language, the young boy had informed Ibn Rushd that rational investigation was not sufficient to attain complete knowledge of God and the world. On another occasion, he asked my father to interview me so that he could tell me about things (knowledge) which he was in possession of. As he was one of the foremost intellectuals he thanked Allah for having met a person who went into solitude while he was ignorant but came out of it full of knowledge without having any discussions, Statue of Ibn Rushd, Cordoba 40 The Review of Religions – August 2007 IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) lectures, research or studying under a teacher. He said, “Glory be to God that I have been able to live at a time when there exists a master of this experience, one of those who opens the locks of His doors. Glory be to God to have made me the personal favour of seeing one of them with my own eyes.”2 In this encounter, the young mystic gained the upper hand, leaving the aged Peripatetic philosopher dumbfounded. It shows his philosophical thinking and mystical experience, how mysticism and philosophy were intertwined. Mysticism, in this case overcame philosophy because Ibn ’Arabi was also a master of philosophy. His travels In 1193, Ibn’Arabi made his first foreign trip aged 30. He travelled to Tunis where he met Abdulaziz bin Abu Bakr al-Quraishi al- Mahdawi on whose request he wrote a biography of 55 Sufi saints of Andalus with whom he had been in contact. It was called Ruhul Qudus. Perhaps because of civil war in North Africa, Ibn ’Arabi returned to Andalus. In 1194, he travelled to Fez where he foretold the victory of the Almohad ruler Yaqub al-Mansur (1160-1199) over Christian armies at Alarcos. By 1195, he was back in Seville where he spent most of his time in study and discussion. It appears that by this time his reputation for spiritual authority had made others deferential towards him. In 1196 he returned to Fez to attend the lectures of Abdul Karim, Imam of the Azhar Mosque. He frequented the garden of Ibn Hayyun to meet men of the spirit. During his stay here, his reputation drew many disciples. His own spiritual state was of the highest order as he tells us that he attained knowledge of the Seal of Muhammad’s Sainthood (Khatim al-Auliya). In 1198 he made his way back to Murcia via Granada. He attended the last rites of Ibn Rushd in Cordoba who had passed away in Marrakesh but 41The Review of Religions – August 2007 IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) his remains were brought to his birthplace for burial. On this occasion he composed the following lines: This is the Imam and these are his works, Would that I knew whether his hopes were realised. In 1200 he went to Marrakesh, where he spent some time with Abu al-Abbas of Ceuta, Keeper of the Alms. Here he had two experiences which brought him to an even higher spiritual level. Then he journeyed to Bugia and Tunis on his way to the East. Life in the East He pursued his journey to the East with his companion al- Hasar. After spending a short time in Cairo and Alexandria, he arrived in Makkah in 1201. Once in Makkah he enjoyed the hospitality of Zahir bin Rustum of Isphahan who was himself a Sufi and occupied a high position in society. Zahir had a daughter Nizam Ain al-Shams whose striking looks inspired Ibn ’Arabi to write Map of travels of Ibn ’Arabi 42 The Review of Religions – August 2007 Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, a fine collection of love poems. Nizam was blessed with stunning beauty, intellectual calibre and profound spiritual experiences. ‘Her dazzling beauty, graceful modesty of her bearing, and the soft melody of her speech, were such that her presence enchanted all those around her’, wrote Ibn Arabi in Tarjuman al-Ashwaq. While in Makkah, he performed the Hajj. During the circum- ambulation (tawaf) of the Ka’aba he saw a vision on passing the Black Stone. This vision marked a critical stage in his spiritual maturity.4 In Makkah, he started the writing of his magnum opus Futuhat al- Makkiyya. In 1204 he left Makkah and travelled to Baghdad and then Mosul. Here he composed a book al- Tanazzulat al-Mawsiliyya (Revelations at Mosul) which described the significance of ablution and prayer (salat). He arrived in Hebron in 1206 on his way back to Cairo where he was accused of heresy by the authorities, but the ruler Nasir al- Din al-Malik al-Adil intervened having received a letter of commendation from Abu al- Hassan of Bugia. Life in Konya Ibn’Arabi was discouraged by his reception in Cairo and in 1207, returned to Makkah. After a year long stay he made his way towards Asia Minor (Turkey). On his arrival in 1210, he was well received by the Saljuq Sultan of Rum, Kay Kaus (1210- 1220) and the people of Konya. Here, Sadr al-Din was his faithful disciple who later became a major exponent of his teachings, and left many large commentaries on his works. Sadr al-Din was a close associate of Maulana Jalal al-Din Rumi and was also the teacher of Qutb al- Din Shirazi (1236-1311), a notable Sufi of 13th century. In 1211, he left Konya with a few of his disciples and travelled to Baghdad. Here he had a meeting with Shihab al-Din Suharwardi, a great Sufi master. In 1212 Ibn ’Arabi wrote a letter to Sultan IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) 43The Review of Religions – August 2007 Kay Kaus who had asked him regarding the treatment of Christians as his subjects. Ibn’Arabi advised him to adopt strict measures in his dealings and prevent them from harming the cause of Islam in his Kingdom. This was perhaps due to the Crusades that were going on at the time. In 1213, he travelled to Makkah and two years later he journeyed once more to Turkey where he met Kay Kaus and foretold his victory at the battle of Antioch. He went to Aleppo where he stayed to 1221. In 1223, he decided to settle in Damascus, as he wanted to spend the rest of his eventful life in relative peace, and was treated very respectfully by the ruler al-Malik al-Adil. In 1240 he breathed his last and was laid to rest at Salihiyah, near Mt. Qasiyun, north of Damascus. A Mausoleum was built for him in the 16th Century and is still a place of pilgrimage for Sufis. His Children Ibn’Arabi got married three times, in three countries. During his stay in Seville, he married Maryam, the daughter of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdun, who shared his aspiration to become a Sufi. The second wife, Fatimah, was daughter of Sheriff of Makkah who was mother of Imad al-Din. He finally also married the daughter of Qadi al- Qaza in Damascus.5 He had two sons, Sa’d al-Din Muhammad (1221-1258) an accomplished poet, and Ima’d al- Din Muhammad (d.1268). His Works Among the Sufis, Ibn Arabi is referred to as Al-Shaikh Al- Akbar, the greatest Teacher. The reason for this is that he was the first person to express in writing doctrines which had been confined to oral transmission and allusions. By doing so he compiled an enormous corpus on various subjects such as metaphysical doctrines, ritual ablution, cosmology, numer- ology, oneirology, mystical states and Sufi doctrines. Ibn’Arabi himself listed 251 IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) 44 The Review of Religions – August 2007 works in his list of books. Although few of these have been printed or translated, around 110 works are known to have survived in manuscripts, of which 18 are in Ibn ‘Arabi’s own hand. Some 71 have been printed and 33 have been commented on by Muslim scholars. He was as much at home with the Holy Qur’an and Hadith scholarship as with philology, letter symbolism, philosophy, alchemy and cosmology. He could write with equal facility in prose or poetry. The rhymed prose (saj), which is found in the Holy Qur’an abounds in his works. Futuhat al-Makkiyya, is a veritable encyclopaedia of Sufism (spiritual knowledge) which unites and distinguishes the three strands of tradition, reason and mystical insight. It was conceived and undertaken on his first visit to Makkah in 1201, and completed in Damascus in 1237. It covers mystical experiences, meta- physical theories, visions, cosmological doctrines, Sufi doctrines and speculation. In 560 chapters, it is a work of tremendous size, a personal encyclopaedia extending over all the subjects in Islam as Ibn’Arabi understood and had experienced them, together with valuable information about his inner life. He asserts in the book that it was not the result of free choice, or reflection but: ‘God dictated to me everything that I have written through the angel of inspiration.’ More than 100 commentaries have been written on this great work. Fusus al-Hikam (The Bezels of Wisdom) was composed by him in 1229, as an exposition of the inner meaning of the wisdom of the prophets in the Judaic/ Christian/ Islamic line. Each of the 27 chapters is devoted to the basic doctrines of Islamic eso- tericism. It was inspired by a vision about the Prophet IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) 45The Review of Religions – August 2007 Muhammad(saw) holding a book in his hand which he ordered Ibn’Arabi to take and transmit to the world. This book came under heavy criticism and he was declared a heretic (Kafir) by many religious scholars (Ibn Taimiyah). Many commentaries have been written on Fusus, notably that of Sadr al- Din al-Konawi, and Abdul Ghani al-Nablusi. It is studied in those Islamic countries where Sufism flourishes as the most masterly text on gnosis (Irfan). Ruh al-Quds and al-Durrat al- Fakhirah were translated by Dr R.W. Austin, and published in 1971 in a single volume. Life sketches of 71 Sufis of Andalusia have been given in Sufis of Andalusia. Some smaller works were translated into Spanish by Asin Palacios in 1931.6 Only 18 of his works survive in his own hand, many exist in copies made with his authority. Many autographed manuscripts are stored in libraries in Baghdad, Istanbul and Konya. His sayings There are many quotes of Ibn’Arabi preserved which give us a sense of his views: ‘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 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 IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) 46 The Review of Religions – August 2007 knowledgeable one see his own knowledge, for he basks in its light.’ ‘The movement which is the existence of the universe is the movement of love.’ Addressing his close associates he once said: ‘For every type of know- ledge, there are certain people. Everyone cannot master themselves for every type of knowledge, nor is there enough time to do it. Therefore, it is incumbent, that there should be every type of people in any community. There should be people with different bent of mind, although their objective should be the same’.8 Unity of Being He is generally known as the major exponent of the concept of Wahdat al-Wujud, though he never used this term in any of his books. Like every mystic, his emphasis lay rather on the true potential of the human being and the path to realising that potential, which reaches its completion in the Perfect Man (al-insan al-kamil). Wahdat al- Wujud is a peculiar type of philosophy meaning ‘that while God is absolutely transcendent with respect to the universe, the Universe is not completely separated from Him; that the Universe is mysteriously plunged in God.’9 Ibn’Arabi shows how ‘A Perfect Man’ is the complete image of this reality and how those who truly know their self know God. His writings provide ample exposition of the Unity of Being, the single and indivisible reality which transcends and is manifested in all the images of the world. For this theory he was accused of being a pantheist, which implies a substantial continuity between God and the Universe, whereas Ibn ’Arabi believed in God’s absolute transcendence over every category.10 IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) 47The Review of Religions – August 2007 His ideology Ibn ‘Arabi exerted a strong influence upon his friends and disciples, many of whom were spiritual masters in their own right. He considerably affected the whole course of spiritual thought and practice in the Islamic world. His books were studied by followers of Sufism. His poems were chanted in centers of various Sufi orders (Tariqah). In recent years his writings have also become increasingly the subject of interest and study in the West, leading to the establishment of an academic Society in his name. Ibn ‘Arabi believed in the continuous existence of non- legislative (anbiya la tashri’a lahum) prophecy. He also believed that the Sufis are able to receive instructions from the Holy Prophet(saw) through the mediation of the angel Gabriel. He is reported to have thought that cessation of prophecy would amount to the death of Islam.11 He explained the relationship between a muhaddath (person who is spoken to) and the non- legislative prophet. A muhaddath is different from a legislative prophet (anbiya tashri’ee) in so far as the imposition of new Sharia law is concerned. He is considered Rai’sal auliya wa jami al-muqamat (head of the saints and all the stages on the spiritual path are gathered in his personality). He has a share in the non-legislative prophecy and there seems to be little difference between him and the non- legislative prophet.12 The cardinal idea in his thought is that persons who attained the spiritual rank of prophecy will never cease to exist in the Islamic umma (community). It is based IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240) Ahl al-tariqah follower of a Sufi order Fana self-annihilation Faqir follower of a Sufi path Mutasawwif one who particip-ates inSufism, dervish in Persian Shaykh Master Silsilah spiritual chain Sufi person who has realised the goal and achieved the state of supreme identitiy Tariqah Sufi Order Dhikr repetition of Divine Name 48 The Review of Religions – August 2007 on the hadith of Prophet Muhammad(saw), in which he asked Allah to ‘pray for Muhammad and for the family of Muhammad as You prayed for Ibrahim and the family of Ibrahim’. There were prophets among the descendants of Ibrahim(as) (Abraham), hence it is implicit in the supplication that Allah will bestow the rank of prophecy on Muslims as well. Ibn ‘Arabi says that no law will ever abrogate or add to the Prophet’s Law. This is the meaning of the Prophet’s statement that ‘mission and prophecy ceased and there will be no messenger after me and no prophet.’ There would be no more law-bearing prophets after the Holy Prophet(saw), and any future prophets would be subject to his law. It is future laws that had ended, not the rank of prophethood.13 The greatest numbers of Ibn’Arabi’s adherents are to be found in modern Iran. Even today his metaphysics together with Suharwardi’s (1155-1191), forms the basis of the world-view of Iranian intellectuals. References 1. Sufis of Andalusia, translated by R.W.J. Austin, London, 1971, page 142 2. Sufis of Andalusia, Ruh al-Quds, page 100, London, 1971, 3. Futuhat Makkiya, Vol.I, pages 153/154 4. ibid, pp.47-8 5. Futuhat Vol.IV, page 559 6. Sufis of Andalusia, R.W. Austin, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1971, page 123 7. Mawaqi al-Nujum, – an ocean without shore, by Michel Chodkiewicz, 1993, NY, page 102 8. Futuhat Makkiya, Vol.I, page 153 9. Three Muslim Sages, S.H. Nasr, Caravan Books, NY, 1969, pp 106 10. ibid, pp 104/105 11. Malfoozat, Roohani Khazain, Vol. 10, page 281 12. Futuhat al-Makkiyya, Cairo, Vol.2, page 103 13. Futuhat al-Makkiyya, Cairo, Vol.2, p.3 – vide Prophecy Continuous, Y. Friedmann, University of California Press, 1989, page 74. IBN’ ARABIC – SUFI AND SAVANT (1165-1240)