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Ibn al-ʿArabī


IBN AL-ʿARABĪ (11651240 ce), known throughout the Islamic world simply as the "greatest master" (al-Shaykh al-akbar), is acknowledged to be one of the most important spiritual teachers within the mystical tradition of Islam. A vastly prolific writer and visionary, he is generally known as the prime exponent of the concept of the Unity of Being (wahdat al-wujūd), even though that particular term, by which his teachings came later to be designated, was hardly used in his own milieu. His emphasis, as with any mystic, lay rather on the true potential of the human being and the path to realizing that potential, which reaches its completion in the Perfect or Complete Man (al-insān al-kāmil). Ibn al-ʿArabī wrote at least 300 works, ranging from minor treatises to the huge thirty-seven-volume Meccan Illuminations (al-Futūhāt al-Makkīya) and the quintessence of his teachings, The Bezels of Wisdom (Fusūs al-Hikam). Approximately 110 works are known to have survived in verifiable manuscripts, some 18 in Ibn al-ʿArabī's own hand. He exerted an unparalleled influence, not only upon his immediate circle of friends and disciples, many of whom were considered spiritual masters in their own right, but also on succeeding generations, affecting the whole course of subsequent spiritual thought and practice in the Arabic-, Turkish-, and Persian-speaking worlds. In recent years his writings have also increasingly become the subject of interest and study in the West, leading to the establishment of an international academic society in his name.

Ibn al-ʿArabī's thought is characterized by a profound visionary capacity, coupled with a remarkable intellectual insight into human experience and a thorough knowledge of all the traditional sciences. It has been tempting for scholars to characterize him as a mystical philosopher, a formulation that is rather at odds with his own teachings on the limitations of philosophical thinking. He was as much at home with Qurʾanic and adīth scholarship as with medieval philology and letter symbolism, philosophy, alchemy, and cosmology. He could write with equal facility in prose or poetry, and utilized the polysemous ambiguity of the Arabic language to great effectthe characteristic resonances of rhymed prose (sajʾ), which are to be found in the Qurʾān, abound in his works. In recent years Western scholars such as Michel Chodkiewicz have begun to explore the radical way in which Ibn al-ʿArabī's thought is underpinned and inspired by the Qurʾān. He adopts the rich vocabulary of spiritual phenomenology that previous mystics had built up, and gives it both a scriptural basis and an ontological grounding.

The complexity of his writings makes him one of the most demanding of authors, and difficult to comprehend, leading some Islamic scholars to oppose and even reject his positions. Among his admirers, his writing was always considered to be the most elevated exposition of mystical thought in Islam, and therefore unsuitable for the untrained mind. He combines a detailed architecture of spiritual experience, theory, and practice, with descriptions of the attainments of other masters he met and of his own personal visions, insights, and dreams. It is his propensity to recount stories from his own direct experience, primarily in order to make a teaching point, that allows readers to gain such a detailed insight into his inner world, and also allows us to reconstruct his life and times with some accuracy.

Ibn al-ʿArabĪ's Life

Born on July 28, 1165, in Murcia, Abū ʿAbdullāh Muammad b. ʿAlī b. Muammad Ibn al-ʿArabī al-Hātimī al-Tāʾī, as he signs himself (often shortened to simply Ibn ʿArabī), was brought up from the age of seven in Seville, the provincial capital of the Almohad Empire during the heyday of Andalusian Muslim culture. His father served as a professional soldier in the sultan's entourage, and for a time the son seemed destined to follow in his footsteps. Contrary to the romantic picture painted by later writers, the family was well-off, but neither noble nor very religious. He seems to have been blessed with an extraordinary visionary capacity from a very young age, and the seminal experience of his youth took place when he was about fifteen or sixteen years old. Without having had any formal training and apparently under the impulsion of an irresistible inner demand, he undertook a retreat alone just outside Seville, probably in the ruins of the old Roman city of Italica, where he had a remarkable dream-vision of the three major prophets, Jesus, Moses, and Muammad. According to his own testimony, each of them is said to have given him a piece of advice: Jesus, whom he referred to as his first teacher, exhorted him to follow the spiritual life, and instructed him to practice renunciation and detachment; Moses, whom Ibn al-ʿArabī regarded as epitomizing the reception of divine inspiration, promised that he would be given knowledge by God directly, without any intermediary; and, finally, Muammad, who rescued him from a host of assailants, told him: "Hold fast to me and you will be safe" (Hirtenstein, 1999, p. 55). As a consequence of this instruction, Ibn al-ʿArabī says, he began his study of adīth (reports of the prophet Muammad's words and deeds).

This triple vision also had one other direct result: the great Aristotelian philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroës), who was nearing the end of his life in Cordoba, asked to meet him, and their celebrated meeting included a most extraordinary exchange, touching on the very nature of the spiritual quest: in response to Ibn Rushd's question about whether mystical illumination produces the same results as rational inquiry, Ibn al-ʿArabī replied: "Yes and no, and between the yes and the no spirits take wing from their matter, and necks are separated from their bodies" (Futūhāt I.153), leaving the philosopher dumbfounded. This response not only indicates Ibn al-ʿArabī's understanding of the gulf between the philosophical and the mystical, between intellectual reflection and spiritual retreat, but also his appreciation of how mystical thought can include and accommodate apparently contradictory notions.

Within two years, Ibn al-ʿArabī had irrevocably dedicated himself to a rigorous spiritual life, turning his back on the military career that his father had wanted him to pursue, and entrusting everything he possessed into his father's keeping. From this time he began to frequent other spiritual masters. An account of the many ūfī teachers, male and female, that he met in Seville, Córdoba, and other major cities of Andalusia and North Africa is given in one of his most accessible books, The Spirit of Holiness (Rū al-quds fī munāsahāt al-nafs), which provides a wonderful insight into spiritual teaching in his time. Some of his teachers were poor and illiterate and referred to Ibn al-ʿArabī as their spiritual son, like his first master, al-ʾUryānī, who demonstrated a Christ-like spirituality, or one of his female teachers in Seville, Fatima bint Ibn al-Muthanna, who was already ninety-six years old when they met and appeared superficially as a simpleton, "though she would have replied that he who knows not his Lord is the real simpleton" (Austin, 1988, p. 143). Others were more apparently learned, and introduced Ibn al-ʿArabī to the teachings of the great saint of North Africa, Abū Madyan (11151198), and to central texts of Sufism. Perhaps the most crucial influence was his friend and mentor in Tunis, ʿAbd al-ʾAzīz al-Mahdawī, a master who seems to have shared Ibn al-ʿArabī's depth and subtlety of mind and with whom he spent two extended periods. In addition to these contacts, Ibn al-ʿArabī undertook a lengthy retreat of at least nine months, following which, in Cordoba in 1190, he experienced a remarkable vision of all the prophets and messengers, from Adam to Muammad. In many ways the fruition of the initial triple vision he had had in Seville, this vision would also presage the claim he would later make to being what he called the Seal of Muhammadian Sainthood, the saint who encompasses all the inner meanings of the prophetic message of Muammad.

After his first visit outside Andalusia to Tunis where he stayed with al-Mahdawī in 1194, Ibn al-ʿArabī composed probably his first major work, Contemplation of the Mysteries (Mashāhid al-asrār), a series of fourteen visionary episodes and dialogues with God, written specifically for the disciples of al-Mahdawī. His parents died soon after, and as the clouds of war gathered prior to the Almohad victory over the Castilian army at Alarcos in 1195, Ibn al-ʿArabī took his two sisters to the peaceful Moroccan city of Fez, where he arranged for them to be married. With all his family commitments completed, he spent another two years in Fez, where his reputation as a spiritual master in his own right grew. It was here that he experienced his mystical ascension in imitation of the Prophet, recounted in detail in The Night-Journey (Kitāb al-Isrā) : "I gained in this night-journey the true meaning of all the Divine Names, and I saw them returning to One Named and One Essence. This Named was my very object of contemplation; that Essence was my very being" (Futūhāt III.350).

In 1198 Ibn al-ʿArabī returned to the Iberian Peninsula for the last time, to bid farewell to the land of his birth. At the same time several other substantial works flowed from his pen, often in response to direct requests from friends and disciples, in particular his Ethiopian companion, friend, and servant, Badr al-Habashī. In Córdoba he attended the funeral of Ibn Rushd, which, poignantly, featured a donkey laden with the master's body in a coffin on one side, counterbalanced by his works on the other. His decision to leave Andalusia for good may have been partly in response to instability in the wake of the death of the Almohad sultan in 1199, which many saw as marking the end of an age. At the same time, his leaving was certainly also motivated by the desire to accomplish the pilgrimage to Mecca. As he traveled on his way to Marrakech in 1200, he again underwent a spiritual transformation. He had a vision in which a ūfī saint of two centuries earlier informed him that he had attained the highest degree of sainthood, known as the Station of Closeness.

After spending another six months in Tunis with his friend al-Mahdawī, Ibn al-ʿArabī visited all the major sites of pilgrimage: Hebron, where the Patriarchs are buried; Jerusalem, the city of David and later prophets; Medina, where Muammad is buried; and, finally, Mecca, where he arrived in mid-1202. For him, this pilgrimage was a physical reenactment of the ascension he had undertaken inwardly. Three episodes held special significance for him. The first was a meeting with a young girl, Nizam, who "surpassed all the people of her time in refinement of mind and cultivation, in beauty and in knowledge" (Nicholson, 1911, p. 14). The love that she evoked within Ibn al-ʿArabī's heart led to an outpouring of yearning, and she became the inspiration for his famous collection of poems, The Interpreter of Ardent Desires (Tarjumān al-ashwāq). In the style of the great Arabic qasīda, these poems express the poet's longing for the Divine Beloved, who is ever out of reach but whose traces can be found in the abandoned encampments of the caravan train. This was for Ibn al-ʿArabī the first awakening of love of women, characterized by the tradition that God made women worthy of love for His prophet, and as a consequence he married Fatima, the daughter of a Meccan notable. While Nizam personified wisdom and beauty, her father was a well-known muhaddith, or transmitter of prophetic traditions, and Ibn al-ʿArabī assiduously collected these, making one of his works, the Mishkāt al-anwār, a collection of 101 hadīth qudsī (divine sayings, in which God speaks through the mouth of the Prophet). Ibn al-ʿArabī also states that when he came to know the tradition that God had made women worthy of love for His prophet, he was awakened to love of women, and relinquished his near-monastic life to marry the daughter of a Meccan notable.

The second significant event took place at the Kaʿaba in 1202. During the circumambulation Ibn al-ʿArabī encountered a mysterious Youth, "both speaker and silent, neither alive nor dead, both complex and simple" (Futūhāt I.47), who described himself as Knowledge, Knower, and Known. The youth's being inspired in Ibn al-ʿArabī a series of insights, which he was told to write down and which became his Meccan Illuminations (Futūhāt).

Finally, while writing the Meccan Illuminations preface, Ibn al-ʿArabī had a vision of his own role as heir to Muammad's spiritual teaching and Seal of Muhammadian Sainthood: just as Muammad had been given the totality of prophetic messages and meanings, so Ibn al-ʿArabī saw himself being granted the "gifts of Wisdoms" in a solemn ceremony of investiture. This privileged status as one who summarizes and completes the spiritual dimension of Islam was confirmed in a dream in the following year, in which he saw himself as two gold and silver bricks that completed the walls of the Kaʿaba.

The momentous years in Mecca saw not only the completion of several works and the initiation of the Futūhāt, but also brought Ibn al-ʿArabī into contact with many well-known figures from the eastern lands of Islam. These included direct disciples of the great Baghdad ūfī ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (10771166), as well as the adviser to the Seljuk court of Anatolia, Majduddīn Ishāq al-Rūmī(died c. 1215). The latter became a close friend and patron of Ibn al-ʿArabī, and they traveled together to Konya to meet the Seljuk sultan. Typically for that time, Majduddīn was both a man of political power and a spiritual teacher: as adviser to the Seljuk royal family, he encouraged Ibn al-ʿArabī to settle in Majduddīn's native town of Malatya in southeastern Anatolia, to raise his growing family there, and to benefit people with his teachings. While Ibn al-ʿArabī did live a more settled life writing in Malatya for a time, he also traveled in the Levant, building relations with and serving as adviser to kings and princes throughout the region, from Konya to Baghdad, Aleppo, and Damascus. He had at least two wives and three childrentwo sons and a daughter. In addition, after Majduddīn died, he took on responsibility for Majduddīn's son, adr al-Dīn Qūnawī (d. 1274), who would become his heir and most influential disciple. Ibn al-ʿArabī's connections to Anatolia would have profound implications for the future course of Sufism there, as his teachings became part of mainstream Ottoman culture.

For the final seventeen years of his life Ibn al-ʿArabī lived in Damascus, under the patronage of a wealthy and influential judge, Ibn al-Zakī. If Tunis may be considered the fulcrum of his Western life as the place where his spiritual training was completed, then Damascus was certainly the axis around which his Eastern career revolved. The writing continued unceasingly, with the first draft of the Futūhāt being completed in 1231 and a second recension of the entire work in 1238. As was customary at that time, the whole book was read aloud in sections before a group of friends and disciples, sometimes as large as thirty or more, with the author himself checking that the handwritten text was correct and the names of those present meticulously recorded. These listening certificates (samāʾ) are testimony to the enormous respect accorded to Ibn al-ʿArabī by all sections of the spiritual and religious elite, in keeping with which he was named Muyī al-Dīn ("the reviver of the religion"), as was his great theological ūfī predecessor, Abū āmid al-Ghazālī (10581111), who had also taught in Damascus a century before.

It was not only the Futūhāt which sealed his reputation: there were other works, most notably a huge Dīwān of poetry completed in 1237, and the work that is perhaps his most influential masterpiece, The Bezels of Wisdom (Fusūs al-Hikam), which he states was received from the hand of the prophet Muammad in a dream in 1229. The Fusūs contains twenty-seven chapters, each related to a particular wisdom as exemplified by one of the prophets whose stories are told in the Qurʾān: for example, the Wisdom of Divinity in the word of Adam (who was created in the divine image, and thus, just as Allāh is the Name which includes all the Names, is the prototype who includes all humanity); or the Wisdom of Elevation in the word of Jesus (describing the elevated reality of Jesus, born of the water of Gabriel and the water of Mary, as spirit and son of spirit). These twenty-seven prophets represent the different modalities of human spirituality, facets displaying the jewels of divine wisdom, the full meaning of which is understood through the jurisdiction and collective wisdom of Muammad, the Seal of prophets. This book has had a perennial appeal, giving rise to at least one hundred commentaries over several centuries and in several languages, and these constitute a whole history of Islamic mystical thought in themselves.

Ibn al-ʿArabĪ's Thought

Ibn al-ʿArabī's writings reflect a comprehensive explanation of tawhīd, the "Unity of God," or the assertion that God is One. While this has often been taken to mean the doctrine of the Unity of Being (wahdat al-wujūd), the concept his school was later associated with, the crux of his teaching is perhaps better described as the perfectibility of Man, that is to say, the human potential for the fullest realization of Unity, the true nature of existence and the place and function of the human being within the universe. The one who asserts God's Unity and believes it to be true is capable of being transformed into one who knows what It means (ʿārif). It is becoming a "knower" or Gnostic that is the prime purpose of all of Ibn al-ʿArabī's teaching.

Ibn al-ʿArabī deconstructs all systems and reference points except for Being itself, the essence of the Real. This is the only absolute, the base for all phenomena, from which they have come and to which they return. At the same time, we may intellectually conceive of another absolute, pure nonexistence, even though this cannot actually exist, and it is this conception that allows us to distinguish different aspects of Being. Sheer Being or Light cannot be perceived, embraced, or understood by any other than Itself, so none knows God but God. In fact this Absolute One is a total negation of all things, without exception. It is absolutely non-manifest, undetermined, unarticulated: even Allāh, God, can only be considered as Its outward face with regard to things. Being is refracted as "things," which lie in the relative ambiguity of being both existent/light and nonexistent/dark. Thus the world of creation, which is everything other than God, from the highest spirits to the densest matter, can be viewed as either dark or light, relative nonexistence or existence. In one respect, the thing is He; in another respect, it is not Him. This plurality is one of aspects, not an ontological multiplicity. All aspects refer to God, the One who is named by all Names. "The creation is intelligible," Ibn al-ʿArabī writes, "and God is perceptible and visible, according to the people of faith and the people of unveiled insight and experience" (Austin, 1980, p. 108). He emphasizes the mutual dependence of God and the world: without the world of creation, God cannot be known as Creator; without living things, God cannot be recognized as the Living.

According to Ibn al-ʿArabī, these two mutually dependent sides must constantly be borne in mind, if the relationship between God and universe, Reality and appearance, is to be truly understood: on the side of nonexistence there are all the possibilities of being or immutable entities (al-aʾyān al-thābita), which he says "have never smelt the breath of existence" (Austin, 1980, p. 76); on the side of existence there are the divine names, attributes, qualities, and actions. It is because of nonexistence that God is described as transcendent (tanzīh), and because of existence that He is known as immanent (tashbīh). The first qualification is accomplished through the use of reason, whereas the second is made through the exercise of imagination. By employing both faculties, reason and imagination, together properly, the mystic becomes "the one with two eyes," that is to say, someone with perfectly balanced vision. The two aspects of God, transcendence and immanence, are summarized for Ibn al-ʿArabī by the Qurʾanic verse "There is no thing like Him, and He is the Hearer, the Seer" (Qurʾān 42.11).

Ibn al-ʿArabī's creed of rigorous Unity is at the same time one of supreme tolerance of diversity and openness to fresh understandings. Throughout his writings he frequently cites an earlier author who wrote that "in everything there is a sign pointing to the fact that He is One" (Futūhāt I.491). Each created thing is at once a "receiver" of Divine Being and a "place" where God is manifest (mazhar). Whether it is a gnat or an angel, every created thing has a particular dignity and closeness to God that demands respect. Insofar as it has no being of its own, its quality is what is implied by nonexistence, i.e., total dependence and humility; insofar as it manifests the Divine Being, it is imbued with divine qualities such as Knowing and Living.

The two fundamental aspects of all existence, which give rise to all the paradoxes and ambiguities of life, are reconciled for Ibn al-ʿArabī in the heart of Perfect or Complete Man, who is receptive to all possible manifestations at every level, and has no particular inclination to one side over the other. While everything in the universe manifests certain divine aspects, it is only in and to Man that God is fully revealed and the meaning of the universe is made clear. Ibn al-ʿArabī uses a Qurʾanic account to contrast, for example, the elevated glorification of God by which the angelic host praise Him with the divine command for them to prostrate before Adam. Although the angelic nature appears to be the closest to the divine, the angels do not possess the all-embracing nature of Man, who is created in the divine image and possesses knowledge of every level and degree.

Because the ordinary perception of the world is that of multiple existences, each self-subsistent and different from others, it follows that human beings are veiled from their true reality by ideas of self-existence. Revelation, in different forms at different times but culminating in the total revelation granted to Muammad, is needed to establish proper divinely guided modes of living. True fidelity to the essentials of religious law, however, is only possible for one who realizes its inner spiritual significance. To return to one's primordial nature voluntarily while in this world (rather than by the inevitable way of death) demands the shedding of illusions. This journey of awakening ends with the complete annihilation (fanāʾ) of all other than God, out of which arises a new kind of existence (baqāʾ, literally "remaining") in full consciousness. Here the true human being becomes "the one with two eyes," seeing the One and the many, God in the creature and the creature in God, without being veiled by either. The world is seen as the theater of divine theophanies (tajallī), renewed at each instant by the "breathing-out" of God. This Ibn al-ʿArabī calls "the Breath of the All-Compassionate," a loving outpouring relieving the Divine Names from their state of constriction in latency and allowing them fullness in expression. There is, he stresses, "no repetition in revelation": no two moments are the same for anyone, nor is one moment the same for two people.

Prophets and saints are those who have realized their essential nonexistence, and return again to the world as guides who act in accordance with the celebrated divine saying (hadīth qudsī) : "I was a Hidden Treasure and I loved to be known; so I created the world that I might be known." (Futūhāt II.399). For them God is forever manifest, as the veil of their own selfhood has been rent.

Continuity and Influences

The impact of Ibn al-ʿArabī's teachings is difficult to measure: although no dervish order was founded in his name, their influence has been at the heart of much of ūfī teaching ever since. Commentaries on well-known texts have sometimes used Ibn al-ʿArabī's terminology and teachings, as in, for example, the famous commentary on Rūmī's Mathnāwī by the Mevlevi shaykh, Ismāʾīl al-Anqarāwī (d. 1631). The list of those who can be considered his direct followers reads like a roll call of some of the most famous masters and authors in Sufism: from his adopted son and heir, adr al-Dīn Qūnawīwho taught in Konya at the same time as his friend, Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, successfully transmitting the heritage of Ibn al-ʿArabī to succeeding generations, and whose famous library preserved so many of his worksto Muʾayyiduddīn Jandī (d. 1300), ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Kāshānī (d. 1329), Dāʾūd al-Qaysarī (d. 1350), and ʿAbd al-Ramān Jāmī (d. 1492). Ibn al-ʿArabī's work also inspired poets, such as the wandering dervish Fakhr al-Dīn ʿIrāqī (d. 1289) and the author of the Gulshan-i-rāz (The rose-garden of mystery), Mamūd al-Shabistarī (d. 1320), as well as those of a more philosophical mind like Mullā adrā of Shiraz (d. 1640). There were many others who did not write books of their own but developed a very deep spiritual affinity with Ibn al-ʿArabī, such as Mehmet Uftade (d. 1580), one of the great Ottoman masters who numbered Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent among his disciples.

While Ibn al-ʿArabī's works have been publicly adopted at certain times by some Islamic governments, notably the Ottoman Empire and Iran, they have not been universally accepted within the Islamic world and have often been rejected as heretical. Later Muslim scholars have disagreed about the validity of his teaching: some were bitterly antagonistic to what they saw as heretical philosophizing endangering the moral framework of the whole community; others were equally keen to defend Ibn al-ʿArabī's religious orthodoxy and spiritual stature. This long polemic over Ibn al-ʿArabī's legacy, with all its ambiguities and shifting positions, has lasted until the present day, and reflects both the central importance of the issues he addressed, and the fascination that the multifaceted writings and personality of the "Greatest Master" have exerted.


Works by Ibn al-ʿArabī Available in English

Austin, R. W. J., trans. The Bezels of Wisdom. Preface by Titus Burckhardt. London, 1980; reprint, 1997. A complete translation of Ibn al-ʿArabī's Fusūs al-Hikam.

Austin, R. W. J., trans. Sufis of Andalusia. Reprint, Sherborne, U.K., 1988. Extracts from Ibn al-ʿArabī's Rū al-quds and Durrat al-fākhira, giving stories of the masters he knew in the Maghrib.

Bayrak, Tosun, trans. Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom. Louisville, Ky., 1997. A fairly free translation of al-Tadbīrat al-ilāhīya from Ottoman Turkish.

Chodkiewicz, Michel, ed. Meccan Illuminations. Translated by William C. Chittick and James W. Morris. New York, 2002. A selection of passages from Ibn al-ʿArabī's magnum opus, the Futūhāt al-Makkīya.

Elmore, Gerald, trans. Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time: Ibn ʿArabī's Book of the Fabulous Gryphon. Leiden, 1999. A fully annotated translation of the ʿAnqaʾ Mughrib, one of Ibn al-ʿArabī's most abstruse works, with a full introduction.

Hirtenstein, Stephen, and Pablo Beneito, trans. The Seven Days of the Heart. Oxford, 2000. A book of prayers for the days and nights of the week, with a full introduction.

Nicholson, Reynold, trans. The Tarjuman al-ashwaq: A Collection of Mystical Odes. London, 1911. A good translation of fifty-one celebrated love poems.

Rauf, Bulent, trans. Ismail Hakki Bursevi's Translation of and Commentary on Fusūs al-Hikam by Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabī. 4 vols. Oxford, 19861991. A translation of the most comprehensive Ottoman commentary on the Fusūs al-Hikam.

Twinch, Cecilia, and Pablo Beneito, trans. Contemplations of the Holy Mysteries and the Rising of the Divine Lights. Oxford, 2001. One of the earliest works, in the form of accounts of fourteen visionary experiences, with commentary by his student, Ibn Sawdakīn.

Winkel, Eric, trans. Mysteries of Purity: Ibn ʿArabī's Asrar al-tahārah. Notre Dame, Ind., 1995. A section from the Futūhāt.

Works about Ibn al-ʿArabī in English

Addas, Claude. Quest for the Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn ʿArabī. Translated by Peter Kingsley. Cambridge, U.K., 1993. A major biography covering the temporal and mystical life of Ibn al-ʿArabī.

Addas, Claude. The Voyage of No Return. Translated by David Spreight. Cambridge, U.K., 2000. A brief introduction to the life and thought of Ibn al-ʿArabī.

Chittick, William. The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-ʿArabī's Metaphysics of Imagination. New York, 1989. Over six hundred passages translated from the Futūhāt, with commentaries, organized by theme.

Chittick, William. The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn al-ʿArabī's Cosmology. Albany, N.Y., 1997. Based primarily on Ibn al-ʿArabī's Futūhāt, from which more than one hundred chapters and subsections are translated. The book is divided into three parts, dealing, respectively, with the relation between God and the cosmos, the structure of the cosmos, and the nature of the human soul.

Chodkiewicz, Michel. An Ocean without Shore: Ibn ʿArabī, the Book, and the Law. Albany, N.Y., 1993. An examination of the Qurʾanic roots of the writings of Ibn al-ʿArabī.

Chodkiewicz, Michel. The Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn ʿArabī. Translated by Liadain Sherrard. Cambridge, U.K., 1993. An exploration of Ibn al-ʿArabī's teachings on sainthood.

Coates, Peter. Ibn ʿArabī and Modern Thought: The History of Taking Metaphysics Seriously. Oxford, 2002. An examination of some of the central and defining ideas of modernity in the light of Ibn al-ʿArabī's writings on the unity of existence.

Corbin, Henry. Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sūfism of Ibn ʿArabī. Princeton, N.J., 1997. An original study with two complementary essays: "Sympathy and Theopathy" and "Creative Imagination and Creative Prayer."

Hirtenstein, Stephen. The Unlimited Mercifier: The Spiritual Life and Thought of Ibn ʿArabī. Oxford, 1999. Seventeen chapters alternating biography and commentary, with illustrations, photographs, and maps. Both an introduction and a further study.

Izutsu, Toshihiko. Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts. Berkeley, Calif., 1984. A groundbreaking analysis and comparison of the works of Ibn al-ʿArabī, Laozi, and Zhuangzi.

Journal of Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabī Society. Oxford, 1984present. A biennial journal comprising new translations and studies of Ibn al-ʿArabī and his school.

Knysh, Alexander D. Ibn ʿArabī in the Later Islamic Tradition: The Making of a Polemical Image in Medieval Islam. Albany, N.Y., 1998. An analysis of the heated debates around Ibn al-ʿArabī's ideas in the three centuries following his death.

Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabī Society website. Available at One of the best resources for up-to-date scholarship.

Nettler, Ronald L. Sufi Metaphysics and Qurʾanic Prophets: Ibn ʿArabī's Thought and Method in the Fusūs al-Hikam. Cambridge, U.K., 2003. An analytical commentary on the Fusūs al-Hikam closely following Ibn al-ʿArabī's arguments in their order and organization.

Yahya, Osman. Histoire et classification de l'oeuvre d'Ibn ʿArabī. 2 vols. Damascus, 1964. Still the most detailed and extensive survey of manuscript works written by or attributed to Ibn al-ʿArabī. Indispensable for all those who intend to study any aspect of his thought.

Stephen Hirtenstein (2005)

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"Ibn al-ʿArabī." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from

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Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.