Dr. Averroes, I presume…

There is an account – by Ibn al-‘Arabi self – of his meeting with Ibn Rushd (Averroes). His father was a close friend of the philosopher, who had heard a great deal of the young man and who was curious to meet him. So, on some pretext his father sent him to the house of Ibn Rushd. I have always wondered about the meaning of their curious meeting. In several books different explanations have been offered, but none was really satisfactory. In the Journal of the Ibn al-‘Arabi society I read an article dedicated to this meeting. Therein it was stressed that it is important to ask yourself about the meaning of this meeting between the young mystic and the elderly philosopher. But again no real explanation…

Some time ago however I’ve read an explanation by Rodrigo de Zayas, which is by far the best explanation I have come across. I have in mind first to give the account of their meeting as translated by Henri Corbin (with small changes) and in a later post give the commentary of Rodrigo de Zayas thereon.

“And so, one fine day, I went to Cordoba, to the house of Abu’l Walid Ibn Rushd (Averroes). He had expressed the desire to meet me personally, because he had heard of the revelations that God had accorded me in the course of my spiritual retirement, and he had made no secret of his astonishment at what he had been told. For this reason my father, who was one of his intimate friends, sent me to his house one day, pretexting some sort of errand, in reality to enable Ibn Rushd to have a talk with me. At that time I was still a beardless youth. When I entered, the master arose from his place, received me with signal marks of friendship and consideration, and finally embraced me. Then he said: ‘Yes.’ And I in turn said: ‘Yes.’ His joy was great at noting that I had understood. But then taking cognizance of what had called forth his joy, I added: ‘No.’ Immediately Ibn Rushd winced, the colour went out of his cheeks, he seemed to doubt his own thoughts. He asked me this question: ‘What manner of solution have you found through divine illumination and inspiration? Is it identical with that which we obtain from speculative reflection?’ I replied: ‘Yes and no. Between the yes and the no, spirits take their flight from their matter, and the necks are separated from their bodies’. Ibn Rushd turned pale, I saw him tremble; he murmured the ritual phrase ‘There is no power save in God’ – for he had understood my illusion.”

What is the meaning of the curious dialogue of the philosopher and the mystic? They understood each other without too many words or even in an almost telepathical way. The subject matter has to do with the question in the last verse of the 75th sura of the Qur’an dealing with the resurrection: ‘Has not He the power to give life to the dead?’

Ibn Rushd had understood the allusion of Ibn al-Arabi. It so happened that the young mystic (who is also nicknamed the son of Plato) paraphrased from a work of Plato which would surely be familiar to Ibn Rushd: ‘But fearing in this way to soil the divine principle and in the measure wherein this soilure cannot be absolutely avoided, they (the living who are divine who produce the living who are mortal) separate the mortal principle from the immortal soul and place it in another part of the body. This has the effect that a sort of barrier between the head and the stomach has been created. They placed the neck in between the two in order to separate them’.

The ‘necks are separated from their bodies’ (see the text of the meeting in the previous post) in order to free the divine essence from the living who are mortal. The meeting deals with the problem of the resurrection and the final destiny of the spirit. Is it not true that the resurrection only concerns the spirit and has nothing to do with the body, the material covering of the spirit?
Ibn Rushd deals with it as a logician. Ibn al-Arabi deals with it by making use of a metaphor of Plato. In response to the question of the last verse of the sura dealing with the resurrection: ‘Has not He the power to give life to the dead?’ the answer would be ‘Yes’ for the spirit and ‘No’ for the corporal material, the prison for the soul in exile.

To quote once again from their meeting: ‘spirits take their flight from their matter, and the necks are separated from their bodies’. The flight of the spirit, free from material constraints, implies a return to its first origin by separating (by means of the neck) the ‘Yes’ from the ‘No’. This implies the realization of unity for the spirit with God.

The opinion of Ibn al-‘Arabi is thus one of origin and destination and is an exclusively spiritual opinion. The material integrity of the body, necessary for the corporal resurrection, has no SPIRITUAL importance.

This is different from the theological opinions of Ibn Rushd, who is at least a nominal defender of the opinions of the Maliki school of law. The things revealed to the young mystic, took place without an intermediary like the angel in the case of the prophet or the active intellect as would be necessary according to Ibn Rushd. This caused the paleness with Ibn Rushd and made him tremble, he who was familiar with Maliki opinions and who hold the opinion of the central importance of speculative reflection in this case. The two disagreed, although they understood each other, about the destiny of the spirit.

The opinion of Rodrigo de Zayas (only partly represented in the above) is expressed in his ‘Ibn ‘Arabi ou le Maître d’amour’; Atlantica; Paris; 1998.

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