The works of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi [part 7]

Laila Khalifa in her Ibn Arabi – L’initiation à la futuwwa; published by Albouraq, dealing with the teachings of the shaykh concerning futuwwa, also gives a deep commentary on the shaykh’s concept of the path of blame. He does not treat it as a historical movement, but exposes the doctrine and the station of the malamiyya: “They have reached the highest station among the friends of God, that of proximity (qurba), after which prophecy comes. They are the masters of the people on the path of God. The Prophet, the master of the world, is one of them.”

The malamiyya are in this world to help others without being recognized. Their goal is to remain unknown and they are not first of all wishing to receive blame. “But”, tells shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, “in case they are blamed, this is because their spiritual station is unknown. If the people would have knowledge of their spiritual station, they would be considered to be gods.”

The people of blame are those who know and are not known.” “The malamiyya are the unknown, those whose spiritual stations are unknown. No divine affair dominates over them such that it might be known that God has a special solicitude towards them. Hence, they flow with the ordinary people in respect of the outward acts of obedience which the ordinary people perform.” 

No act becomes manifest from them which would distinguish them from the ordinary people. This contrasts with the supernatural breaking of habits through states displayed by some of the friends of God.

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi describes a number of malamiyya he has met in person, like e.g. “two brothers from Seville with whom I kept company.” Both of them could not be distinguished from ordinary people as one was a tailor and the other was a potter. He also writes about meeting a certain shaykh al-Kumi who “followed, for the most part of his life the rule of the malamiyya.” This shaykh lived in accordance with Qur’an 5:54 which says: “They fear no blame from anyone.”

The malamiyya tailor performed unwitnessed acts of kindness. He attended to the needs of the poor in Seville. He was a most kindly and sympathetic man. His brother, the potter, was mighty in his contemplation, pleasing in company, helpful in all things and gentle. Levinas quotes Grossman about the value of unwitnessed acts of kindness:

“Yes, as well as this terrible Good with a capital ‘G,’ there is everyday human kindness. The kindness of an old woman carrying a piece of bread to a prisoner, the kindness of a soldier allowing a wounded enemy to drink from his water-flask, the kindness of youth towards age, the kindness of a peasant hiding an old Jew in his loft. The kindness of a prison guard who risks his own liberty to pass on letters written by a prisoner not to his ideological comrades, but to his wife and mother. The private kindness of one individual towards another; a petty, thoughtless kindness; an unwitnessed kindness. Something we could call senseless kindness. A kindness out-side any system of social or religious good. But if we think about it, we realize that this private, senseless, incidental kindness is in fact eternal. It is extended to everything living, even to a mouse, even to a bent branch that a man straightens as he walks by. Even at the most terrible times, through all the mad acts carried out in the name of Universal Good and the glory of States, times when people were tossed about like branches in the wind, filling ditches and gullies like stones in an avalanche – even then this senseless, pathetic kindness remained scattered throughout life like atoms of radium.

“The malamiyya are the masters and the leaders of the folk of God’s path. Among them is the master of the cosmos, i.e. the Messenger of God, Muhammad (s.a.w.). They are the sages, those who put things in their proper places.”

When we see the Prophet as the city of knowledge (a very free translation of jawami alkalim) and Hazrat ‘Ali as the door (bab) to that city, then shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi is the doorman (bawwab). And isn’t it good to know that this door is always open!

There are three kinds of friends of God to be found among those who follow the path of blame:

  1. The ‘umana’
  2. The ‘afrad
  3. The rukban

Ad 1 The ‘umana’ (the trustworthy ones) are the guardians of the sirr (secret). They never reveal their secret, i.e. the level of purity of their inmost consciousness they have attained, except when they receive the command of God to do so. They represent the highest level among the malamiyya.

Ad 2 The ‘afrad (the unique ones) are hidden. They are outside of the influence of the spiritual axis (qutb); the qutb is one of them. They are similar to the cherubs, as they are always submerged in the contemplation of the Divine majesty. Their capacity to understand the words of God by means of their soul is another of their characteristics. This special expertise is why ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas was called ‘the Ocean’ (al-Bahr).

Ad 3 There are two categories among the cavalry of the invisible world, called the rukban (riders on dromedaries). The first category consists of a contemplative knighthood and the second category is devoted to practical activity. 

Supernatural powers have been entrusted to the knights of the first category. That’s why they conceal themselves beneath the veil of the invisible or hidden under the veil of ways that are contrary to their state. They are malamiyya in a sense that they are volunteers of disapprobation when they judge it expedient to preserve their incognito. Their dhikr is la hawla wa-la quwwata illa bi-llah,there is no force and no power except with Allah’.

A characteristic of the second group is tadbir, i.e. they are quite able to manage their affairs by means of the Divine names al-Mudabbir, al-Mufassil (the One Who manages and controls all of creation and the One Who details the signs). Their invocation is Qur’an 13:2 yudabbiru-l-‘amra yufassilu-l-‘ayati, ‘He manages the order (and) details the signs’. They are able to make the crossing from the forms perceived during the day and the visions they have in their dreams during the night to the inward meaning of their appearance.

A relatively recent development of the malamiyya began with shaykh Nur al-‘Arabi (1813-1887-8). He was influenced by shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi and shaykh Niyazi Misri. In the malamiyya system of shaykh Nur al-‘Arabi, as with all malamiyya, there are no path of blame centres, no ceremonies of initiation, no community rituals of dhikr, and no particular robes or specific insignia. 

Yannis Toussulis tells much more about shaykh Nur al-‘Arabi on pp.  118 -138 of his Sufism and the Way of Blame – Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology. Chapter 8 of Yannis’ book describes twentieth-century representatives of shaykh Nur al-‘Arabi who were the shaykhs of several Sufi orders. These representatives often continued to teach the outward practices of their individual tariqas, while reserving the ‘inner’ malamiyya teachings for their more advanced murids.