The works of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi [part 1]

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi is often called Ibn ‘Arabi. This is done because of two reasons. The first one is to differentiate him from a contemporary Qadi with the name Ibn al-’Arabi. The second reason is the renown of the shaykh in Turkey, Iran and the subcontinent of Indo-Pakistan and Bangladesh, where it is more natural to leave the article al. But as his name is Ibn al-‘Arabi why not use his name?

We’ve made several journeys in Europe with a Chishti pir from Ajmer. These were mystical, magical journeys, during the first of which we have been attracted by the birthplace of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, while during the second we actually arrived in Murcia, Spain. This is however not the focus of this article. My intention is to discuss several of the books of this shaykh of the West. 

A book which is easy to read, is Sufis of Andalusia, which is the partial translation of two books of the shaykh about Sufi masters in Andalusia, i.e. the Ruh al-Quds and the Durrat al-Fakhirah.

The Ruh al-Quds was written in response to the comments of a friend who lamented the spiritual degeneracy of the times in which they lived. During his travels in the Arab world shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi was at times confronted with absurd opinions like that the people in the West (Maghrib) are the people of haqiqa and not the people of tariqa, while they are the people of tariqa and not haqiqa. By writing a book about the Sufi shaykhs in Andalusia the shaykh intended to show the real state of affairs.

Roger Boase and Farid Sahnoun have translated excerpts of the Ruh al-Quds not included in Sufis of Andalusia. In the following part shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi examines his own soul (nafs):

My friend (may God grant you long life), I now wish to inform you about something which occurred between me and my self [i.e. which greatly disturbed my soul]. In this land I find my soul imprisoned and downtrodden, and, as my friend knows, I am one who believes in the positive existence of the soul, and I do not consider it correct to say that it can die in relation to its qualities because I know its realities and its place.

Having found that God had opened to my heart the door of wisdom (hikma), and had let the seas of wisdom flow into it and had let my secret swim in their depths, by God I found that I was looking at a great expanse of sea, whose waves were high and roaring, whipped up by hurricane winds, to the point that when again I contemplated the surge of the sea of gnosis and mysteries within my bosom, I suddenly found that the great expanse of that turbulent ocean was calm and motionless in comparison with the sea of wisdom splashing within my bosom. It was above all in the sanctuary of Mecca that I was overwhelmed by terror, anxiety and dread. So I vowed not to sit and instruct people any more. However, I was given strict orders by God to sit and offer people advice, and since this injunction was enjoined as though by compulsion, I sat with eloquence sharp as a drawn sword.

Then I retired alone to my dwelling place and began to compare the mystical gifts that God had bestowed upon me in the light of my real state. But since I could find no link between the two, nor any cause to explain them, I swear by God, my friend, that I became afraid that God had laid a trap to test me. So I retired alone, obsessed by this thought, as God alone knows, finding no way to examine my soul.

All access had become blocked to the primordial truths and intuitive knowledge. Finally, by God’s grace, I had a vision, which enabled me to prevail over my soul (nafs), and I was able to assess its merits. In this vision I saw myself entering paradise, and having gained admittance without seeing either hell-fire, or the reckoning, or any of the horrors of the Day of Judgement, I experienced immeasurable rest and gladness, and I praised God.

When I woke up, I realized that my state was somewhat unbalanced, and that my soul, with regard to the gift of knowledge bestowed by God, had claimed a higher rank than that which corresponded to its proper station. If my soul had perceived the Reality [of God] with divine awareness, it would have lost itself and then it would not have experienced any pleasure in being admitted to paradise, nor that feeling of calm, since its absorption in God’s Majesty would have made it oblivious to its own sense of calm and oblivious to its release from the terrible trials of the Day of Judgement. But my soul then sought to refute me by protesting that man has different faculties and hierarchies [so that it is possible to experience pleasure and, at the same time, to witness the Reality of God]. I did not heed this objection, and hence my argument was still valid. I continued to remind my soul of its imperfection and the absurdity of its claims.

After this I thanked God for having granted me victory over my soul, and I said to her: “O my soul! By the power of Him Who gave you a nature inclined to rebellion and made you susceptible to all kinds of blameworthy traits, I swear that I shall not leave you in peace until you live up to the teachings of the Book of Allah and the way of the Prophet (s.a.w).

The only complete translation of the Ruh al-Quds is the one in French by Sakhr Benhassine, which also contains the Arabic text: L’Esprit de Sainteté dans le Conseil de l’âme.

To be continued in part 2