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IBNAL-`ARABI, MUHYI AL-DIN (1165-1240),’Abū ‘Abdillāh Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn `Arabī (أبو عبد الله محمد ابن علي ابن محمد ابن عربي ) was born in Murcia, Taifa of Murcia on the 17th of Ramaḍān 561 AH (27th or 28 July 1165 AD). He went by the names al-Shaykh al-AkbarMuḥyiddin ibn Arabi, influential Sufi mystic and writer. Ibn `Arabi is known as “the greatest shaykh” (al-shaykh al-akbar). His thought and terminology have formed the foundation of most subsequent Sufi intellectual discourse, and his voluminous literary output as famous for its abstruseness as for its content, has been the subject of numerous commentaries in many languages. His ideas, controversial even in his own time, continue to be an object of attack in the contemporary Muslim world.

Born inMurcia,Spain, into a prominent family that included a number of Sufis, Ibn `Arab! spent his first thirty years inSpainbefore traveling east, where he spent the last forty years of his life and composed his major works. After traveling through North Africa and much of the Middle East, he finally settled inDamascus, where he is buried. Although he founded no Sufi order, his ideas had a profound impact on Sufism throughout the Muslim world. He is credited with creating a systematic Sufi philosophy, but his writings do not present this philosophy in a logical exposition. Rather, they reflect his mystical impulses and present ideas in an often unconnected fashion that some readers find self-contradictory. His interpretations of Qur’anic verses and sayings of the Prophet utilize an associative word analysis that is unconventional and, to some Muslims, blasphemous. His most comprehensive work, The Meccan Revelations, is dauntingly long and dense. Ibn ‘Arabi’s ideas have been largely disseminated by his commentators, such as his disciple Sadr al-Din alQunawi (1210-1274) and `Abd al-Karim al-Jili (d. early fifteenth century); in the Arab world his ideas have been popularized by the widely read Sufi writer `Abd alWahhab al-Sha’rani (d. 1565).

The hallmark of Ibn ‘Arabi’s system is his doctrine of the “oneness of being.” The only truly Real is God himself, who was, according to a saying of the Prophet, a hidden treasure desiring to be known. The Qur’an says that the signs of God are contained in nature. Ibn `Arab! takes this idea further by saying that God’s names are manifested in the cosmos, which functions as a mirror in which God sees himself. While all of creation manifests the names of God, the perfect man, who is the only person to attain full humanity and is represented by a single person in every age, contains the totality of these names. The perfect man is therefore a microcosm and God’s most perfect mirror. The individuals who are the perfect men are each exemplifications of an eternal spiritual essence called the “Muhammadan reality,” which is the articulating and mediating principle through which the creation comes into existence. God is the source of all love and beauty; our love for objects and people and our contemplation of beauty in other things are in fact a love for God and a witness of his beauty. Because the perfect man alone manifests the comprehensive divine name of God, he alone is able to worship God in reality. Ibn ‘Arabi’s famous poem-in which he affirms that he is capable of worshiping God in any form, whether through the tablets of the Torah, a temple of idols, or the Ka’bah-has sometimes been interpreted as advocating religious tolerance, but it is better seen as a proclamation of his own high spiritual standing.

Ibn ‘Arabi’s philosophy has been criticized variously as pantheistic, as deifying Muhammad, making all religions equal, creating an idol out of woman (because he affirms that man’s contemplation of God in woman is the most perfect contemplation of the divine), and interpreting the Qur’an in an unconventional and dangerous manner. His Sufism is widely regarded as extremist, and even in his own life some scholars inEgyptwanted him executed as a heretic. InEgypttoday there are continuing attempts to ban his works. The banning of his works would not, however, put an end to his ideas, which continue to be disseminated in a simplified and popular form through the Sufi orders.

[See also Sufism, article on Sufi Thought and Practice.]


Works by

The Bezels of Wisdom. Translated by R. W. J. Austin.New York, 1980. Ibn’Arabi’s most widely studied work, written near the end of his life, which sums up his philosophy most succinctly. In it each prophet represents a certain wisdom contained in the divine name he embodies.

Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyah (The Meccan Revelations). 4 vols.Beirut, n.d. His major work, which alone is more than most authors write in a lifetime. An edited version of this is being produced inCairoby `Uthman Yahya, who published the first volume in 1972. Sufis ofAndalusia: The Ruh al-quds and Al-Durrat al-fakhira. Translated by R. W. J. Austin.London, 1971. The lives of various Sufis of Spain, with many of whom Ibn `Arabi had personal contact.Austin’s introduction details the life of Ibn `Arabi through quotations from Ibn ‘Arabi’s own writings, offering a fascinating insight into his mystical experiences.

The Tarjuman al-ashwdq: A Collection of Mystical Odes by Muhyi’ddin ibn al-`Arabi. Edited and translated by Reynold A. Nicholson.London, 1911. Poems inspired by a beautiful and spiritual Persian woman he met inMecca. Ibn `Arabi later wrote a commentary to show that they were not mere love poems, but had an underlying mystical meaning.

Works about Ibn `Arabi

Chittick, William C. The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-`Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination.Albany,N.Y., 1990. Thematically organized introduction to Ibn `Arabi’s thought that includes large portions translated from AI-Futuhat al-Makkiyah.

Chittick, William C. “Ibn `Arabi and His School.” In Islamic Spirituality: Manifestations, edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, pp. 49-79.New York, 1991. Possibly the best succinct introduction to Ibn ‘Arabi’s life, thought, and influence, by a well-informed scholar with a gift for clear exposition.

Corbin, Henry. Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn `Arabi. Translated by Ralph Manheim.Princeton, 1969. Important work by the famous French scholar of Islamic esotericism.

Homerin, Th. Emil. “Ibn Arabi in the People’s Assembly: Religion, Press, and Politics in Sadat’sEgypt.”Middle EastJournal 40.3 (1986): 462-477. Account of the enduring controversy over Ibn ‘Arab-i’s ideas and its relevance in contemporary politics.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/ibn-al-arabi-muhyi-al-din/

  • writerPosted On: April 5, 2014
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