Ibn ‘Arabī

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Muyī al-Dīn ibn Arabī, Islamic philosopher; b. Murcia, Spain, 1165; d. Damascus, 1240. Making use of the contribution of his predecessors in all branches of religious and philosophical science, and guided by his own unique spiritual experience, Ibn Arabī conceived a vast theosophical synthesis, monistic in inspiration, which he set forth in many writings. Although his work was severely criticized by orthodox sunnites, it had a decisive influence on the subsequent development of Muslim mysticism and of esoteric speculation in the East and the West, e.g., Dante.

Life. Ibn Arabī's family, of Arabic origin, had ties with sufism. When he was eight years old he was sent from his birthplace in southeastern Spain to Lisbon to study the qurĀn and Muslim law. He then went to Seville, where he pursued his studies in the philosophical and religious sciences. His education kept pace with his initiation into the mystical life, which was greatly influenced by his filial friendship with two venerable Sufi women. On a journey to Cordova, his father, a friend of Averroës (ibn-Rushd), arranged an interview for his son with the famous philosopher, who was amazed at Ibn Arabī's genius.

In 1200, when he was 35, Ibn Arabī had a vision. Because of it, he left Spain permanently for the Orient in the hope of finding a more favorable reception for his symbolical exegesis. This was the beginning of an itinerant life that took him to Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Asia Minor, and continued until 1223, when he settled permanently in Damascus. There he spent the last 17 years of his life, working in tranquility. An encounter he had in Mecca in 1201, during his first sojourn there, influenced the orientation of his thought. The daughter of his host seemed to him the earthly manifestation of eternal Wisdom. She became for him what Beatrice would be for Dante later on.

Works. Ibn Arabī's writings, unequal in length, number in the hundreds. Three of them deserve to be mentioned as the foundation of his fame. His Tarjumān al-ashwāq (The Interpreter of Eager Desires) is a collection of love poems composed in honor of his Meccan Beatrice; it is dated 1215. At Aleppo a few months later, the author prepared an esoteric commentary on these poems. His Futuāt al-makkiyah (The Revelations Received at Mecca concerning the Knowledge of the Secrets of the King and of the Kingdom) constitutes a summa of mystical theosophy, at once theoretical and experimental, developed as inspiration dictated. The editing of these works, begun in 1230, was to occupy Ibn Arabī for many years. Finally, the Fuu al-ikam (The Gems of the Wisdoms of the Prophets, 1230) summed up the author's esoteric doctrine. It should be noted that the style of this last-named work is particularly difficult. It is marked by discontinuity, permutation of contrary and complementary terms, a taste for paradox, and fluctuation of a vocabulary borrowed from disparate sources. These qualities are a challenge not merely for the translation, but even for the comprehension of the author's thought.

Teaching. Ibn Arabī's doctrine, which is very complex, is never explained by him in systematic fashion. The terms "pantheism" and "existential monism," which are usually used to describe it, are equivocal and could mask its originality. H. Corbin rightly prefers the term kathenotheism, which means: the presence of the divine Being, total each time and in each being, an epiphanic form, in which it manifests itself as clothed with one or several of its Names.

"I was a hidden Treasure and I loved to be known. Therefore I created creatures so as to be known by them." Meditation on this adīth brought Ibn Arabī to the conception of an eternal cosmogony, "a sequence of manifestations of being, by the intensification of a growing light, within the primordially undifferentiated Divine"; strictly, a succession of tajalliyāt, "theophanies" (Corbin, 88). The divine Essence conceals many attributes, designated by the divine Names, which have meaning only for beings that are its epiphanic forms. In a "compassionate sigh" for his unnamed Names, God conceives in Himself the latent individualities of these forms (archetypes, angels, Islamic Reality). These individualities are concretized in creatures, in which and through which God reveals Himself to Himself, contemplating Himself in them as in a mirror. Each divine Name is the Lord of the being that manifests it. Each being manifests the divine Essence only as particularized in its own particular lord; hence the diversity of individual vocations, as well as of religions. The Perfect Man, the final cause of creation, is the epiphany of the totality of the divine Names. To speak of union with God is a snare, presupposing an illusory duality. The good and heaven consist in consciously realizing ever more perfectly the epiphany of God in Himself and in creatures. Evil and hell consist in conferring an illusory autonomy upon created things. The Prophets, manifestations of the divine wisdoms, guide men toward Reality. Their messages, which are also epiphanic, are to be interpreted symbolically. Muhammed is the most perfect of the Prophets.

Bibliography: a. e. affifi, The Mystical Philosophy of Muyid Dín-Ibnul Arabī (Cambridge, Eng. 1939). r. landau, The Philosophy of Ibn Arabī (London 1959). m. asÍn palacios, El Islam cristianizado (Madrid 1931), stresses the Christian influences. h. corbin, L'Imagination créatrice dans le soufisme d'Ibn Arabī (Paris 1958), stresses the Oriental esoteric influences.

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