The works of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi [part 11]

The doctrine of the Perfect Human Being (alinsan alkamil), in its technical Sufi metaphysical sense, has roots in Sufi thought prior to shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, e.g. in the earlier concept of ‘the Universal Servant’ (‘abd al-kullī) as formulated by Ibn Barrajan (d. 1141): A human being is identified as the Particular Servant (ʿabd aljuzʾi) in relation to the universal servant (ʿabd alkulli). 

All things unfold as a consequence of the reality of the Universal Servant. Thus al-ʿabd al-kullī was created in the best of forms and the noblest of measurings (taqdir); the form of God’s form (ṣurat alḥaqq). Man, on the other hand, was created upon the form of the form of God. That is, man was created upon the form of alʿabd alkulli. Ibn Barrajan calls the Adamic form, or the archetypal man, the Particular Servant (alʿabd aljuz’i). Adam is Particular since he is a “part” (juzʾ) of the Universal Servant, created in its form.

The term al-ʿabd al-kamil (The Perfect Servant) was commonly used by shaykh Ibn al-ʿArabi as a synonym for the Perfect Human Being (al-insan al-kamil), while ʿabd al-kulli is also occasionally employed in his writings. 

The description below of the Universal Servant is taken from the PhD thesis of Yousef Casewit. According to Ibn Barrajan, the Universal Servant is the first creation of God as one totality and one harmony. It is the initial, all-comprehensive reality that brings together all things. But, Ibn Barrajan insists repeatedly that it can neither be categorized as a created existent, nor as part of the Divine essence per se, since it occupies an intermediate station between God and the world of creation. 

This intermediate station between God and the world of creation is called Bindeglied (link) by Fateme Rahmati in her study Der Mensch als Spiegelbild Gottes in der Mystik Ibn ‘Arabis (i.e. The Human Being as mirror of God in the mysticism of Ibn al-‘Arabi). The haqiqa al-muhammadiyya is the link connecting God and the world. Lloyd Ridgeon (‘Aziz Nasafi; p. 174) sees the haqiqa al-muhammadiyya as a cosmological reality which is manifested in the world as the Perfect Human Being.

As a unifying meta-cosmic entity, the Universal Servant contains all realities of creation (macrocosm) and man (microcosm), and stands sublimely as the archetype of both: The Universal Servant is the one that emerges from the One, and by virtue of its all-embracing oneness encompasses all existent things known by God in His knowledge. At root, al-‘abd alkulli is a way of conceiving of the relationship between God and creation, between the immutable transcendent One and the world of multiplicity and decay, without introducing multiplicity in the divine order. 

Alʿabd alkulli is comparable to the very first rays that emerge from the sun. These initial rays are so close to the source of light that they resist clear-cut categorization as pure sun or ray. The quasi-incomprehensible ontological in-between-ness of the Universal Servant stands as a solution for the classical philosophical conundrum of how the One relates to multiplicity. 

Adam’s creation upon the form of the Universal Servant is the meaning behind the Qurʾanic verse 2:31 in which God taught Adam all the names. Adam, by virtue of that knowledge, was able to teach the angels (Q 2:30-38). The angels, unlike Adam, are not created in the image of God’s form, the Universal Servant. The names and qualities of God do not permeate their form as fully as they do in Adam. 

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabī uses the term the Perfect Human Being in the opening chapter of his The Ringstones of Wisdom, which is devoted to Adam. He writes about the centrality of mankind within his conception of the Divine manifestation within creation. Creation, he explains, is a mirror that allows God to see Himself, and Adam, the first and archetypal man, is the very polishing of that mirror and the spirit that gives life to the shapeless form of the universe. 

Man (insan), he goes on, exploiting the dual meaning of the Arabic word insan, is thus to God like the pupil (insan) is to the eye. Man is His viceregent (khalifa) upon earth and the seal on the treasure chest that is the world, whose presence ensures the preservation of the world. This sets up Adam, whom Ibn ‘Arabī here identifies as the Perfect Human Being (al-insan al-kamil), as the perfect locus of manifestation (maẓhar) for the Divine names and attributes, an idea which shaykh Ibn ‘Arabi, like Ibn Barrajan, links to the Qur’an 2:31 that explains that God taught Adam the names of all things. 

The term the Perfect Human Being occurs seven times in The Ringstones of Wisdom and four times in the description of Adam (see p. 50 of Masataka Takeshita’s Ibn ‘Arabi’s Theory of the Perfect Man and its Place in the History of Islamic thought. This is how shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi describes the Perfect Human Being in the chapter about Adam:

“Iblis is a part of the world, and doesn’t attain to this synthesis (i.e. the jam’iya of Adam, see below). Adam was the vicegerent. Were he not manifest in the Image of Him Who entrusted him with vicegerency, within that over which he was made vicegerent, he would not have been vicegerent. And if there were not in him everything required by his subjects, over whom he is appointed the vicegerent, because of their dependency on him, it is necessary that he provides them with everything they need. Vicegerency is therefore only for the Perfect Human Being. The makeup of his outward image (sura zahira) is made up of the realities (haqa’iq) of the universe and its forms, and his inward image (sura batina) is modelled on the Image of God Most High.”

Ibn ‘Arabi’s Theory of the Perfect Man and its Place in the History of Islamic thought

Adam is characterized as synthesis. He is the synthesis of the Image of God and the image of the universe:

“God only gathered Adam together between His two hands as an act of ennoblement. Regarding this He said to Iblis (Qur’an 38:75): ‘What has prevented you from prostrating to what I have created with my two hands?’ This is nothing else but His very act of bringing together the two images (Adam’s very synthesis), the image of the universe and the Image of God.”

Iblis is only the manifestation of the Divine name the Misguider (alMudill, while Adam represents the synthesis of all the realities of the universe and all the names of God as found in the name Allah. Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi explains this in the chapter about Moses:

“For this reason (the Prophet Muhammad as recorded in the Sahih Bukhari) said, with regard to the creation of Adam, who is the synthetic exemplar (al-barnamaj al-jami‘) of the qualities of the Divine presence, which is the essence, the attributes, and the acts: ‘God created Adam according to His form (khalaqa Allah Adam ‘ala ṣuratihi).’ And His form is nothing other than the divine presence. So He brought into existence within this noble summary (al-mukhtasar ash-sharif), who is the Perfect Human Being (al-insan al-kamil), all of the Divine names as well as all the realities found outside of him in the macrocosm. He made him the spirit (ruh) of the universe.”

Sufis like shaykh Sadruddin of Konya, the stepson of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, have occupied themselves with the following question: If the source of existence is one, then how can we explain the existence of multiplicity in the phenomenal world?

The aspect of synthesis in the Perfect Human Being of the multiple levels of existence returns in their teachings. By means of tajalli the One manifests Itself in concrete forms. The nature of the relationship of the One and the many, or of God and His creatures, depends upon which of the ‘levels of existence’ (maratib al-wujuud) you look at. 

While the idea of a hierarchy of ontological levels is broadly Neoplatonic, the Sufis use the idea of the Divine ‘presences’ (hadrat). This term appears in the writings of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, where it is often used as a synonym for worlds (‘awalim), so that the spiritual, imaginal, and corporeal ‘worlds’ are referred to as ‘presences’. 

Shaykh Sadruddin of Konya and his followers elaborated a system of five or sometimes six hadrat to explain the emergence of the many from the One, or, as they put it, the entification (ta‘ayyun), descent (tanazzul), or manifestation (tajalli) of the Divine existence. 

The aspect of synthesis can also be found in these teachings. The Perfect Human Being forms the synthesises all these Divine presences wherein al-Haqq (Reality; the Absolute Being) manifests Itself:

  1. The Presence of the Essence (hadrat al-dhat) – the unseen of the unseen (ghayb al-ghayb), or unqualified or exclusive oneness (al-ahadiyya). 
  2. The Presence of the Divine attributes and names (hadrat al-ṣifat wa-al-asma’) – the presence of Divinity (al-uluhiyya). This is inclusive oneness, wahidiyya, or God as the Divine qualities and names.
  3. The Presence of the acts (hadrat al-af‘al), that is, of lordship (al-rububiyya). 
  4. The Presence of the images (hadrat al-amthal) and Imagination (al-khayal). 
  5. The Presence of the senses (hadrat al-ḥiss) and the Visible (ash-shahada). 
  6. The Presence of the Perfect Human Being (hadrat al-insan al-kamil), who synthesises all of the levels within himself. Al-Haqq, in its self-revealing aspect, reaches perfection in the Perfect Human Being. 

Is there no difference between the Perfect Human Being and al-Haqq? Of course, there is, and a very essential one. The difference lies in the necessity of existence. The necessity of existence which is peculiar to al-Haqq alone. Due to this necessity, al-Haqq has certain attributes which are not shared by anything else. Toshihiko Izutsu in his Sufism and Taoism; pp. 239-40, presents these quotes from The Ringstones of Wisdom:

“You must know that since, as we have said every temporal thing appears in His Form, clearly God has so arranged that we should, in trying to know Him, resort to studying carefully the temporal things. Thus, He Himself tells us (“We shall show them Our signs on the horizons and in ourselves.”) in the Qor’an, XLI, 53) that He shows us His signs in the temporal things, so that we ourselves are that very quality. The only exception from this is the ‘essential necessity’ (wujub dhatiy) which is peculiar to God alone.”

“Since we come to know God, in this way, by ourselves, it is natural that we should attribute to Him whatever we attribute to ourselves. This is confirmed by that of which God Himself has informed through the tongues of the interpreters (i.e. the prophets). In fact, He has described Himself to us through us. Thus, whenever we observe Him (through some attribute) we are observing (through the same attribute) our own selves. And whenever He observes us, He is observing Himself.”

“No one will doubt that we are many as individuals and species. Certainly, all of us have in common one and the same ‘reality’ (or ‘essence’) which unites us, but we know definitely that there is also a distinction by which are distinguished all the individuals one from another. If it were not for this distinction there would not be multiplicity within the unity. Likewise, though God describes us precisely with what He describes Himself with, there must be a distinction (between us and God). And that distinction can consist only in our essential need (for Him) regarding our existence, and the dependence of our existence upon Him because of our ‘possibility’, and in His being absolutely free from all such need.”

Thus, the Perfect Human Being, in respect of being His most perfect manifestation, is He, while he is different from Him because of a fundamental distinction, i.e. the necessity of existence (wujub al-wujud) is peculiar to Him alone.

The Perfect Human Being can be seen as a metaphysical concept, but also as a Sufi master.

Chapter 60 of shaykh al-Jili’s Insan al-Kamil is enterily devoted to the Perfect Human Being (see: ). The following extract of this chapter shows the several garbs of the Perfect Human Being: 

“When you read in my books the expression ‘the Perfect Human Being’ in an unlimited sense, then I refer only to Muhammad [Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him], this out of deference to his elevated spiritual station and his most perfect realisation…

You should know – may God protect you – that the Perfect Human Being is the pole (qutb) around which evolve the spheres of existence/being from the first to the last. He is unique from the beginning of existence until eternity. He puts on different forms and appears in many places of worship and that is why he is given a name according to his garb of the time and not corresponding to different garbs.” 

“The original name that belongs to him is Muhammad, his nickname is Abu’l-Qasim, the name showing his qualities is ‘Abdallah and his honorary title is Shamsuddin. In regard to other garbs, he has other names. In every epoch, he has the garb which corresponds to his garb of the time. It is thus that I discovered him in the form of my master shaykh Sharafuddin Isma’il al-Jabarti. I did not know that he was the Prophet, but I knew he was my shaykh. That is one of his forms in which he appeared and in which I saw him in Zabid (in Yemen) in the year 796/1393-4. The secret behind this matter is that Muhammad (Allah’s blessings and peace be with him) can adopt each form he likes. When the initiate sees him in the shape he had during his own life, then he calls him by means of his own name. When he is seen in another outward form and he knows he is Muhammad (Allah’s blessings and peace be with him) he calls him with the name of that outward form. The name Muhammad is only used for the reality of Muhammad.”

“Don’t you know that when he showed himself in the shape of Shibli, Shibli said to his disciple: ‘Testify to the fact that I am the messenger of God!’ This disciple was a man of mystical disclosures and that is why he recognised him and said: ‘I testify that you are the messenger of God!’ There is nothing to remark. It can be compared to the situation when a dreamer sees A in the shape of B. The lowest stage of inner disclosure is this that with him in his waking consciousness the same is possible as when in sleep.” 

“There is a difference however between sleep and inner disclosure and it is this one: The name of the form in which one sees Muhammad in dreams is not used – when being awake – for the reality of Muhammad, because the explanation is based on the world of similitudes and that is why when being awake one speaks of the reality of Muhammad as the reality of the form (seen in dreams).”

“In case of an inner disclosure, it is different. When it is disclosed to you that the reality of Muhammad reveals itself in the shape of a certain person, then you must give to the reality of Muhammad the name of this figure. You have to deal with the owner of this form with the same good manners as with Muhammad, as it has been disclosed to you that Muhammad has assumed this outward shape. After recognising him you cannot behave in the same way as before.”

“But do not imagine that there is, in my words, some allusion to metempsychosis. May God keep us from that idea! And may the messenger keep me far from such intentions! It is more like this that the messenger of God is able to assume all kinds of outward shapes to reveal himself therein. And it is his habit to assume at each epoch the shape of the most perfect among the people in order to raise the position of this person and restore those things which need to be restored. They are his outward representatives and he is their inner realty.”

The Perfect Human Being is endowed with taskhir. Toshihiko Izutsu writes (Sufism and Taoism; p. 282): “Taskhir literally means forcing somebody to compulsory service, controlling something at will.” Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi mentions two kinds of taskhir in The Ringstones of Wisdom in his chapter about Aaron, i.e. subjugation by state (at-taskhir bi’l-hal) and subjugation by function (at-taskhir bi’l-martaba). Solomon combined these two, because of his overpowering state as Perfect Human Being and his function as a king who didn’t strive for himself. 

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi informs us that “the taskhir which was peculiar to Solomon, which made him superior to others, and which God had given him as (an essential) part of the kingship never to be given to anybody after him – this taskhir was characterized by his ‘command’. God says: ‘Thus have We subjugated to him (i.e. Solomon) the wind so that it might blow by his command (Qur’an 21:81)’.”

“(That which is really characteristic of Solomon’s case) is not the simple fact that he could exercise taskhir. For God says concerning all of us without any discrimination: ‘And We have subjugated to you all that are in heaven and in earth (Qur’an 31:20)’. Thus, He speaks of having put under our control winds, stars and others. But (in our case) the taskhir occurs not by our command, but by the command of God.”

“So you’ll find by reflection that what was peculiar to Solomon was (not the taskhir itself) but in fact that (the taskhir) could be exercised by his own command. In order to do that, he didn’t need any mental concentration or himma; all he had to do was ‘to command’.”

“I mention this point specifically because we all know that the things of the world can be affected and influenced by a particular mental force when the latter happens to be in a heightened state of concentration. I have witnessed this phenomenon in my own (mystical) life. Solomon, however, had only to pronounce the word of command to anything he wanted to control, without there being any need for himma and concentration.”

Although each individual thing is God’s mirror, it is the Perfect Human Being who is His perfect mirror. The Perfect Human Being is the goal of creation by acting as a link between God and creation. The Perfect Human Being is the mirror whereby God sees Himself and the form in which the creatures can see God’s perfect creation.

The Perfect Human Being always exists, the Perfect Human Being is the heart of existence and, as there is only one heart, there is only one Perfect Human Being at a given time. Lloyd Ridgeon in his ‘Aziz Nasafi; p.34, makes it clear that the thirteenth-century shaykh ‘Aziz Nasafi holds the opinion that since God’s attributes always exist, it necessarily follows that the Perfect Human Being who manifests perfection is always in the world.