Ibn El Arabi
Mohiuddin ibn El-Arabi (1165-1240) is one of the great Sufis of the Middle Ages whose life and writings are shown nowadays to have deeply penetrated the thought of East and West alike. He was known to the Arabs as Sheikh El-Akbar, ‘the Greatest Sheikh’, and to the Christian West by a direct translation of this title: ‘Doctor Maximus’. He died in the thirteenth century.
When Came the Title?
Jafar the son of Yahya of Lisbon determined to find the Sufi ‘Teacher of the Age’, and he travelled to Mecca as a young man to seek him. There he met a mysterious stranger, a man in a green robe, who said to him before any word had been spoken:
‘You seek the Greatest Sheikh, Teacher of the Age. But you seek him in the East, when he is in the West. And there is another thing which is incorrect in your seeking.’
He sent Jafar back to Andalusia, to find the man he named-Mohiudin, son on El-Arabi, of the tribe of Hatim-Tai. ‘He is the Greatest Sheikh.’
Telling nobody why he sought him, Jafar found the Tai family in Murcia and inquired for their son. He found that he had actually been in Lisbon when Jafar set off on his travels. Finally he traced him to Seville.
‘There,’ said a cleric, ‘is Mohiudin.’ He pointed to a mere schoolboy, carrying a book on the Traditions, who was at that moment hurrying from a lecture-hall.
Jafar was confused, but stopped the boy and said:
‘Who is the Greatest Teacher?’
‘I need time to answer that question’, said the other.
‘Art thou the only Mohiudin, son of El-Arabi, of the Tribe of Tai? asked Jafar.
‘I am he.’
‘Then I have no need of thee.’
Thirty years later in Aleppo, he found himself entering the lecture-hall of the Greatest Sheikh, Mohiudin ibn El-Arabi, of the tribe of Tai. Mohiudin saw him as he entered, and spoke:
‘Now that I am ready to answer the question you put to me, there is no need to put it at all. Thirty years ago, Jafar, thou hadst no need of me. Hat thou still no need of me? The Green One spoke of something wrong in thy seeking. It was time and place.’
Jafar son of Yahya became one of the foremost disciples of El-Arabi.
The Vision at Mosul
A Seeker well versed in inducing significant inner experiences still suffered from the difficulty of interpreting them constructively. He applied to the great sheikh Ibn El-Arabi for guidance about a dream which had deeply disturbed him when he was at Mosul, in Iraq.
He had seen the sublime Master Maaruf of Karkh as if seated in the middle of the fire of hell. How could the exalted Maaruf be in hell?
What he lacked was the perception of his own state. Ibn El-Arabi, from his understanding of the Seeker’s inner self and its rawness, realized that the essentials were seeing Maaruf surrounded by fire. The fire was explained by the undeveloped part of the mind as something within which the great Maaruf was trapped. Its real meaning was a barrier between the state of Maaruf and the state of the Seeker.
If the Seeker wanted to reach a state of being equivalent to that of Maaruf, the realm of attainment signified by the figure of Maaruf, he would have to pass through a realm symbolized in the vision by an encircling fire.
Through this interpretation the Seeker was able to understand his situation and to address himself to what he had still to experience.
This mistake had been in supposing that a picture of Maaruf was Maaruf, that a fire was hell-fire. It is not only the impression (Naqsh) but the correct picturing of the impression, the art which is called Tasvir (the giving of meaning to a picture), which is the function of the Rightly Guided Ones.
The Three Forms of Knowledge
Ibn El-Arabi of Spain instructed his followers in this most ancient dictum:
There are three forms of knowledge. The first is intellectual knowledge, which is in fact only information and the collection of facts, and the use of these to arrive at further intellectual concepts. This is intellectualism.
Second comes the knowledge of states, which included both emotional feeling and strange states of being in which man thinks that he has perceived something supreme but cannot avail himself of it. This is emotionalism.
Third comes real knowledge, which is called the Knowledge of Reality. In this form, man can perceive what is right, what is true, beyond the boundaries of thought and sense. Scholastics and scientists concentrate upon the first form of knowledge. Emotionalists and experientialists use the second form. Others use the two combined, or either one alternatively.
But the people who attain to truth are those who know how to connect themselves with the reality which lies beyond both these forms of knowledge. These are the real Sufis, the Dervishes who have Attained.
She has confused all the learned of Islam,
Everyone who has studied the Psalms,
Every Jewish Rabbi,
Every Christian priest.
A Higher Love
The ordinary lover adores a secondary phenomenon. I love the Real.
The Special Love
As the full moon appears from the night, so appears
her face amid the tresses.
From sorrow comes the perception of her: the eyes
crying on the cheek; life the black narcissus
Shedding tears upon a rose.
More beauties are silenced: her fair quality is
Even to think of her harms her subtlety (thought is
Too coarse a thing to perceive her). If this be
So, how can she correctly be seen by such a clumsy
organ as the eye?
Her fleeting wonder eludes thought.
She is beyond the spectrum of sight.
When description tried to explain her, she overcame it.
Whenever such an attempt is made, description is
put to flight.
Because it is trying to circumscribe.
If someone seeking her lowers his aspirations (to
Feel in terms of ordinary love),
-there are always others who will not do so.
Attainments of a Teacher
People think that a Sheikh should show miracles and manifest illumination. The requirement in a teacher, however, is only that he should possess all that the disciple needs.
The Face of Religion
Now I am called the shepherd of the desert gazelles,
Now a Christian monk,
Now a Zoroastrian,
The Beloved is Three, yet One:
Just as the three are in reality one.
My Heart Can Take on Any Appearance.
My heart can take on any appearance. The heart varies in accordance whit variations of the innermost consciousness. It may appear in form as a gazelle meadow, a monkish cloister, an idol-temple, a pilgrim Kaaba, the tablets of the Torah for certain science, the bequest of the leaves of the Koran.
My duty is the debt of Love. I accept freely and willingly whatever burden is placed upon me. Love is as the love of lovers, except that instead of loving the phenomenon, I love the Essential. That religion, that duty, is mine, and is my faith. A purpose of human love is to demonstrate ultimate, real love. This is the love which is conscious. The other is that which makes man unconscious of himself.
Study by Analogy
It is related that Ibn El-Arabi refused to talk in philosophical language with anyone, however ignorant or however learned. And yet people seemed to benefit from keeping compay with him. He took people on expeditions, gave them meals, entertained them with talk on hundred topics.
Someone aked him: ‘How can you teach when you never seem to speak of teaching?’
Ibn El-Arabi said: ‘It is by analogy:’ And he told this parable.
A man once buried some money for security under a certain tree. When he came back for it, it was gone. Someone had laid bare the roots and borne away the gold.
He went to a sage and told him his trouble, saying: ‘I am sure that there is no hope of finding my treasure.’ The sage told him to come back after a few days.
In the mean time the sage called upon all the physicians of town, and asked them whether they had prescribed the root of a certain tree as a medicine for anyone. One of them had, for one of his patients.
The sage called this man, and soon found out that it was he who had the money. He took possession of it and returned it to its rightful owner.
‘In a similar manner,’ said Ibn El-Arabi, ‘I find out what is the real intent of the disciple, and how he can learn. And I teach him.’
The Man who Knows
The Sufi who knows the Ultimate Truth acts and speaks in a manner which takes into consideration the understanding, limitations and dominant concealed prejudices of his audience.
To the Sufi, worship means knowledge. Through knowledge he attains sight.
The Sufi abandons the tree ‘I’s. He does not say ‘for me’, ‘with me’, or ‘my property’. He must not attribute anything to himself.
Something is hidden in an unworthy shell. We seek lesser objects, needless of the prize of unlimited value.
The capacity of interpretation means that one can easily read something said by a wise man in two totally opposite manners.
Straying from the Path
Whoever strays form the Sufi Code will in no way attain to anything worthwhile; even though he acquire a public reputation which resounds to the heavens.
From ‘The Way of The Sufi’ by Idris Shah
- The Sufi Path of Knowledge by William C. Chittick
- Alone with the Alone by Henry Corbin, Ralph Manheim (Preface)
The Self-Disclosure of God : Principles of Ibn Al-‘Arabi’s Cosmology (Suny Series in Islam) by William C. Chittick
- Imaginal Worlds : Ibn Al-‘Arabi and the Problem of Religious Diversity (Suny Series in Islam) by William C. Chittick
- Mystical Astrology According to Ibn ‘Arabi by Titus Burckhardt, Keith Critchlow
- The Tarjuman Al-Ashwaq : A Collection of Mystical Odes — Muhyiddin Ibn Al-Arabi, (June 1978).
- Journey to the Lord of Power : A Sufi Manual on Retreat — Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi, et al;
- Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries — Ibn ‘Arabi;
- Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom, Including What the Seeker Needs and The One Alone by Afadrat Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Al-Hatimi At-Ta’I, et al (December 1997)
- What the Seeker Needs : Essays on Spiritual Practice, Oneness, Majesty and Beauty (Threshold Sufi Classics) by Muhyiddin Ibn’Arabi, Shaikh Tosun Bayrak Al-Jerrahi, rab Al-Jerrahi (July 1992)
- Ibn-Al-Arabi : The Bezels of Wisdom (Classics of Western Spirituality Series)
by R. W. J. Austin (Editor)
- Mysteries of Purity : Ibn Al-Arabi’s Asrar Al-Taharah by Ibn Al-Arabi, Eric Winkel
- The Unlimited Mercifier : The Spiritual Life and Thought of Ibn Arabi
by Stephen Hirtenstein
- Meccan Revelations by Ibn’Arabi, Ibn Arabi, Michel Chodkiewicz (Editor), James W. Morris (Translator)