Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh

views updated


IBN ʿAĀʾ ALLĀH (ah c. 650709, c. 12521309 ce), more fully Ahmād ibn Muammad ibn ʿAbd al-Karīm ibn ʿAā Allāh al-Iskandarī, was an Arab ūfī saint and sage of Egypt. He was the third great master of the Shādhilī order of Sufism founded by Abū al-asan al-Shādhilī (d. 1258) and the first shaykh of the order to reduce its teachings and practices to writing. Born in Alexandria into an illustrious dynasty of Mālikī religious scholars, he early evinced mastery in all of the religious disciplines and became an authority on Islamic law while professing antagonism toward Sufism. But a chance encounter with his future ūfī shaykh, Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Mursī (d. 1287), dramatically transformed him into an ardent contemplative, and he became an authority in both the law and the spiritual path in a relatively short time. Most of his life was spent in Cairo as a ūfī shaykh and as a teacher of the exoteric religious disciplines.

He wrote many works on Sufism and religious topics, a half dozen of which have been particularly popular in ūfī circles over the centuries and have gone through a number of reprints in recent times. The best known of these is his Kitāb al-ikam (Book of Aphorisms), a series of maxims of great beauty on ūfī spirituality that has produced many commentaries by ūfīs and become a classic in the field because its comprehensive and poetical formulations may easily be memorized. He defended Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240) and other ūfīs against the anbalī fundamentalist theologian Ibn Taymīyah (d. 1328), who objected to their monistic speculations.

In the course of time, some of the works of Ibn ʿAāʾ Allāh have become practically canonical among the Shādhilīyah; later masters constantly cite him. At his death his funeral procession was immense. He was buried in the Qarāfah cemetery of Cairo where his tomb, recently totally renovated with a new mosque and minaret, has for long centuries been visited by the pious. Lately he has become the object of a number of studies by scholars because of his preeminence in Sufism and the fact that the Shādhilī order has shown a continuing vitality down to the present.


Bibliographical references to Ibn ʿAāʾ Allāh in Arabic and European languages are to be found in Carl Brockelmann's Geschichte der arabischen Literatur (Leiden, 19371949), vol. 1, pp. 143144, and suppl. vol. 1, pp. 145147. An excellent critical edition of the Kitāb al-ikam, with introduction and notes, was done by Paul Nwyia with the title Ibn ʿAāʾ Allāh et la naissance de la confrérie šailite (Beirut, 1972). I have translated into English, with an introduction and notes, a collated version of several Arabic manuscripts of the Kitāb al-ikam, in The Book of Wisdom (New York, 1978). Al-qasd al-mujarrad fī maʿrifat al-ism al-mufrad, a text on the divine name Allāh, has been translated into French by Maurice Gloton as Traité sur le nom Allāh (Paris, 1981).

Victor Danner (1987)

About this article

Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article