The works of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi [part 2]

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi tells something very impressive when he was writing chapter 558 of The Openings Revealed in Makkah, dealing with the most beautiful names of Allah. He makes it clear that alMomît, the One Who causes death, is necessary for you in order to avoid being among those who have killed their hearts by neglecting to do the remembrance (dhikr) of God. The shaykh tells this when writing about al-Momît:

“I was busy writing this chapter […] when I heard someone reciting a poem, who was standing at the corner of the house wherein I was. Although I could hear his voice, I could not see him. I don’t know who was reciting these lines:

Pass on your heritage, because you’ll soon depart
To the house (of eternity) where you’ll find your profit,
Which you have earned because of belonging to those
Who have followed good council.

Next to your place
Someone has already announced your death.
He has invited you to come into His presence,
So don’t respond by crying.

A messenger has come from Him
With the greatest gift,
Wherein the meeting with your Lord has been announced
And therein is all that is good.

The shaykh has written a separate book on the divine names, the Kashf al-Ma’na, which has been translated into French as Le Secret des Noms de Dieu.

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi discusses each name seen from three points of view:

  1. Dependence (ta’alloq)
  2. Realization (tahaqqoq)
  3. Adoption or characterization (takhalloq)

The first section (ta’alloq) explains what you are asking for, when you invoke a certain name of God, the second explains its meaning with regard to the divine reality (alHaqq) and the third (takhalloq) explains how or in what sense, you – as a creature (khalq) – can be clothed in the characteristics of the name in question.

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi comments on alAwwal (the First) and alAkhir at the same time.

1. Dependence (ta’alloq)

He – glory be to Him – is necessary for you for turning you into the first to be occupied with the prescribed religious practices and the last to abandon them, while there are boundaries as for space, time and structure, like when entering the mosque or leaving it and shortening the prayer or prolonging it.

The shaykh also comments on the 99 most beautiful names of Allah in chapter 558 of his The Openings Revealed in Makkah. He uses the well-known traditional list of Walid bin Moslim ad-Dimashqi according to the version of Tirmidhi, but without conforming himself stricktly to it.

He adds some names not found in it (ar-Rabb, al-Ghafir, al-Jawad, al-Sakhi, al-‘Alim, al-‘Allam) and suppresses other names (Mâlik al-Molk, Dhu’l Jalâl wa’l-Ikrâm); he at times changes the usual order compared to the traditional list (al-Wâli, al-Mota’âli, al-Badi’, al-Mâni’) and mentions in pairs several names who are given individually in the list of Walid, like, among others, al-Awwal and alAkhir

He is al-Awwal al-Akhir, the First and the Last. The First by necessity, because of being pre-eternal necessary (wajib alwodud) and the Last, because everything finally returns to Him.

To comment on His being pre-eternal necessary it can be said that in the Arabic Neoplatonic philosophy God is called wajib alwojud, a term also adopted by shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi. He uses it here when referring to the necessity of the First, the necessary being. Jorjani has defined this concept in his Ketab at-Ta’rifat thus: “The One Whose existence comes from His essence and Who is absolutely in need of nothing.”

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi reports the following words of shaykh Dhu’n-Nun of Egypt: “When the lover of God has attained a high degree, things become unbearable for him. He cannot associate with coarse people or accept gross food, but only good food and he can only wear soft fabrics”.

You may remember that there was a time in the life of shaykh Abu Sa’id bin Abi’l Khair that he lived in luxury, had rich clothes and partook of excellent food.

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi comments on this privileged station (maqam alikhtisas), which is inherited from Solomon, by adding:”The spiritual station of the wise (hakim) is higher than this and that is the station of Muhammad (s.a.w.), the most perfect of humankind and the most subtle meaning, the purest in his inmost consciousness (sirr), endowed with the finest heart, the most perfect in state and the highest in station. He could tolerate unrefined food and endure course people due to the aptitude of his spiritual state, the fineness of his benevolence (latafa) and his amplitude (ittisa’).

The person who inherits from Solomon has a known station and allotted nourishment, and this is an approved state, may God be satisfied with those who possess it, but the noble Muhammadan inheritance leads us from this to the most subtle spiritual station.”

A desert Arab met the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and took hold of his clothes in such a rough way that its collar in part tore off and that he thereby wounded the neck of the Prophet. The Prophet, however, had an understanding of the coarseness of desert Arabs. That is why he only smiled.

Idries Shah tells a story that a visitor to a Sufi shaykh unknowingly pressed the point of his walking stick in the foot of the shaykh. The shaykh showed noting of his pain and said nothing in order not to embarrass his guest and only fainted after his departure.

2. Realization (tahaqqoq)

After having shown above what the shaykh tells about dependence (ta’alloq) let us now turn to what he says about the second point of view, i.e. realization (tahaqqoq):

“It now concerns the First, Who is He Whose existence has no beginning with starts (muftatah) it and the Last is He Whose existence has no end to conclude (nihaya) it.

There is no existing being (mawjod) which can be described by two opposites (didd) which coincide in one unique sense (wajh wahid) except for the divine reality (alHaqq), may He be exalted. Abu Sa’id al-Kharraz was asked: “By what means have you known Allah, may He be exalted?” He answered: “By His reunion of two opposites”. Then he recited the verse (Qur’an 57:3): “He is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden.”

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi frequently quotes the famous Sufi shaykh Abu Sa’id al-Kharraz (d. ca. 899) for whom he has a high regard and whom he mentions as being among the renowned people who follow the path of blame (malamatiyya). About the synthesis of opposites (jam’ aldiddayn) see Henri Corbin: “Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi”; pp. 160-165.

3. Adoption or characterization (takhalloq)

The third point of view is adoption or characterization (takhalloq):

“The hadith says: ‘He who knows his self, knows his Lord.’ Being first (awwaliyya) in knowledge (ma’rifa) belongs certainly to the servant, because he is the indicator (dalil) and being last (akhiriyya) belongs in this sense to the Real One (alHaqq), because He is the One indicated (madlul). And, inversely, being the first in existence belongs to the Real One, because He is the One Who brings about existence (alMujid) and being last belongs to the servant, because he is the one who is brought into existence.

That is why the servant who knows his self is both the first and the last.”

The murid of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, shaykh Ibn Sawdakin, comments that you cannot have knowledge of the divine before you know your self. This is because the knowledge of the servant is the origin for the knowledge of the divine. I’ll return to Ibn Sawdakin later on, because he is the embodiment of the teachings of his spiritual guide. A major part of the work of a spiritual guide is to teach his students.

To be continued in part 3