The works of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi [part 6]

From shaykha Fatima of Nishapur, the teacher of shaykh Dhu’n-Nun, it is a small step to continue with the subject of futuwwa in the teachings of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi.

The word futuwwa implies in the Arabic language notions like chivalry (forusiyya), generosity (karam), youthfulness (being a fata) and maturity (rujuliyya). It plays a major role in Sufism and has become an eminent way of spiritual initiation. Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi explained that although legislative prophecy has been sealed with the arrival of the prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), still inspiration can be received by means of the path of futuwwa.

The path of futuwwa consists essentially of the journey to the ka’ba alwojud (the ka’ba of existence), the divine sanctuary, which is the human heart. In case you complete this journey you have renewed the original covenant wherein all souls have been asked: “Am I not your Lord?” After fulfilling all the conditions of this journey, you both have knowledge of your self and your Lord. You’ll then have reached the station of the fata, the chivalrous ‘youth’.

A model par excellence of a fata was the prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). According to shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, it is by entering the door of this fata, whose nature is that of the Qur’an, that the initiate will meet three other prophets who are at the heart of the initiation into futuwwa: Jesus, Abraham and Moses. Each of these prophets will teach you something.

Abraham is the shaykh of the chivalrous persons, the manifest (zahir) axis (qutb), while Jesus is the chivalrous person (fata), the hidden (batin) axis.

The characteristics of the futuwwa of Abraham are:

  1. The tender-rigorous one (al-layyin al-qasi)

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi calls him this in regard to the firm attitude he had towards the idolatry of his people. According to the Sufis, an idol symbolizes the lower self (nafs) and its desires (hawa). Abraham is the one who breaks the idol into pieces, i.e. transforms our egoistic tendencies.

  1. Hospitality (qira) and preference of others over yourself (‘ithar)

Abraham started the tradition of hospitality. When shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi ascended to the seventh heaven, he received the hospitality of Abraham. He asked Abraham: “What is my part in your being?” Abraham answered him: “In the preferring of others to partake of your food. O my son, don’t you know that because of generosity (jud), existence (wujud) appears and because of preference of others, secrets appear.”

  1. Courtesy (adab)

Abraham expresses himself in a courteous way. He ascribes only good and beautiful acts to God, while evil and ugly acts must be ascribed to human beings. Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi gives an example based on Qur’an 26:80) in “the words of Abraham who said ‘He heals me.’ But concerning illness, he said: ‘When I am sick.’ He didn’t say: ‘When He makes me sick,’ even though nothing made him sick but God.”

The characteristics of the futuwwa of Jesus are:

  1. Healing by means of the breath

Chapter 20 of The Openings Revealed in Makkah deals with Jesus-based knowing:

Jesus knowings -the one whose measure the creation is ignorant of.
By it he revived him whose grave was the earth.
The breathing-into took the place of the One
Who was unseen in him, and commanded him. […]

Learn, may God assist you”, says shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, “that Jesus-knowledge is knowledge of the letters, and for this the breath was provided, and this is the air exiting from the well of the heart, which is the spirit of the life-force. When the air is clipped along the exit path, towards the bodily mouth, the sites of its clipping are called letters, and the entities of the letters appear.” […].

“Al-Haqq has informed me that the reason for the life in the forms born procreatively is in the fact the Divine breath in his word (Qur’an 15:29): Then, when I have fashioned him and blown into him of My spirit. He (the Prophet Muhammad – s.a.w.) said: ‘A breath of ar-Rahman comes to me from Yemen’. So by this breath are made alive a form of faith in the heart of the faithful […].”

“Jesus was given knowledge of this Divine breath and its relation to him. He used to breathe into the form placed in the grave, or into the form of a bird, which he had made from clay, and they stood up alive by Divine permission, suffused by this breath and by that breeze.”

  1. Moon-based experience

Here are some other lines from the poem opening this chapter 20:

He is a spirit, an exemplar;
God brings out his inner secret.
Coming from an unseen presence,
His full moon has been effaced by God.

“As Jesus is a spirit, as God called Him (Qur’an 4:171) […] he used to give life to the dead by means of the breath. Then he supported the revived person with a holy spirit.”

According to shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, spiritual chivalry is lunar. The moon is a spiritual knight, i.e. the servant which travels in the night to illuminate the way of a human being in order to offer guidance. The moon grows in size and then its light diminishes, which resembles the phases in our life. 

  1. Strength (quwwa)

When preference of others over yourself (the manifest kind of chivalry) represents the heart of futuwwa, the strength of the hidden fata is its kernel. The word rih (wind) is the root meaning of the word ruh: “The spirit is hidden in entity, manifest in property”, states shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi. According to him, the wind is the strongest element in nature. The subtle faculty of the spirit imparts strength to the body, so that it can move. As for the inner strength of Jesus, he is the only one among the prophets who is designated as spirit (ruh) in the Qur’an. 

Speaking about the fata ruhani, Jesus, shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi points to the moon. The moon represents the station of strength between two weak periods (youth and old age).