Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi
Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi
Career . Born in Murcia, Spain, Ibn al-’Arabi moved at a young age to the large Andalusian metropolis of Seville, where he received his education. At the age of eight, he experienced his first mystical vision, which eventually led him to seek out inspired Sufi shaykhs. After the year 1193, he traveled frequently between Spain and North Africa, until he set out for the East for good in 1202. Traveling via Egypt he made the hajj pilgrimage to Makkah, where he stayed until 1204. He traveled around the Near East, visiting Syria Iraq, and Turkey, where he settled at Malatya, circa 1215. Around 1220 he returned to Syria and settled in Damascus, dying there in 1240.
Writings . Ibn al-’Arabi wrote some four hundred works, of which many survive. Most of his works are short treatises, but a few are works of considerable length, especially al-Futuhat al-Makkiyyah (The Makkan Revelations). This multivolume masterworkof Sufi theology was begun in 1202 at Makkah, completed in Damascus in 1231, and revised 1233-1237. The Futuhat is an enormous encyclopedia of mystical and philosophical knowledge (comprising seventeen thousand pages in a modern critical edition). His controversial Fusus al-hikam (The Bezels of Wisdom), which discussed the inner wisdom of each of the Islamic prophets, was written in Damascus in 1232 and 1233. Ibn al-’Arabi also produced a book of mystical love poetry, Tarjuman al-ash-waq (The Interpreter of Desires), circa 1201-1213. This work was inspired by a Persian girl who was the daughter of one of his associates during his stay in Makkah.
The Greatest Master . Ibn al-’Arabi’s deep Sufi thought has led his followers to describe him as “The Greatest Master.” In all his teachings, he was careful to insist on strict practice of Islam according to the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. He taught that what can be learned through reason or the senses is extremely limited and that those with a special aptitude may journey to new levels of knowledge through another, more intuitive means. The ultimate goal of the Sufi way is the effacement of the self and the immediate knowledge of God, who cannot be defined in worldly language. God can be known only through enlightenment, which is attainable only through the Sufi path. Ibn al-’Arabi had a major impact on Islamic mystical thinking, but he was also quite controversial. Some Sunni doctors of the law accused him of harboring heretical ideas—in particular his claim that al-Futuhat al-Makkiyyah had been revealed to him in a dream.
Claude Addas, Quest for the Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn ‘Arabi, translated by Peter Kingsley (Cambridge, U.K.: Islamic Texts Society, 1993).
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Three Muslim Sages: Avicenna, Suhrawardi, Ibn ‘Arabi (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964).