The works of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi [part 9]

Sa’diyya Shaikh has translated a number of poems wherein shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi tells that he has transmitted a khirqa to a female murid, like Dunya, Siti al-’Aysh, de daughter of Zaki al-Din, Zumurrud, Jamilah, Safari, Fatima, Safiyya and other women (Sufi Narratives of Intimacy – Ibn ‘Arabi, Gender and Sexuality; pp. 102, 137-138, and 229-231). Here is an example:

When you, the ultimate point of my pain,
And you, the best of people in meaning and form,
Adopted my good qualities
And you, the best of people in meaning and form,
And her qualities had already possessed my heart,
And if you wanted to verify that
In itself it would be a piece of news.
From the most illumined of garments
I wrapped her in the raiment of piety,
That raised her above gender.
She received from the very robes of al-Khidr
All beautiful qualities and character
As well as the morals embedded
In the verses and chapters of the Qur’an.
The pledge between us is that
She does not reveal [these gifts] to any other person.
This will allow her growth in sincerity and singular dedication
And protect her from harm.

Various references in The Openings Revealed in Makkah indicate that shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi had at least two wives. His first wife was Maryam and his second wife was Fatima. About Maryam he writes: 

“My saintly wife, Maryam bint Muhammad b. Abdun al-Bija’i, said, ‘I have seen in my sleep someone whom I have never seen in the flesh, but who appears to me in my visions. He asked me whether I was aspiring to the Way, to which I replied that I was, but that I did not know by what means to arrive at it. He then told me that I would come to it through five things, trust (tawakkul), certainty (yaqin), patience (sabr), resolution (‘azima) and sincerity (sidq).’ Thus, she offered her vision to me for my consideration and I told her that was indeed the method of the Folk (qawm, i.e. the Sufis). I myself have never seen one with that degree of mystical experience.”

Several of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi’s spiritual teachers and guides were women, like the admirable Nuna Fatima from Seville, who was one of the People of the Fatiha (Ahl al-Fatiha). She was given the opening chapter of the Qur’an and was able to wield its power in any matter she wished. She may have been the source of inspiration to shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi for his love of the Fatiha.

Shams, ‘Umm al-Fuqara’, i.e. ‘mother of the poor’, was among the greatest in regard to her acts and her gnosis. She had a fine sense of discernment. She usually concealed her spiritual state.

The shaykh also stated (see the translation in The Tao of Islam p. 180): “The messenger of God said: ‘Many have reached perfection among men, but among women only Mary the daughter of Imran and Asiya the wife of Pharaoh’.”

“Hence,” continues shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, “men and women come together in the degree of perfection. But men are more excellent in the degree of most-perfectness (alakmaliyya), not that of perfection. For though men and women are both perfect through prophethood (nubuwwa), men are more excellent through messengerhood (risala) and being sent (ba’tha), since no woman has had these two degrees.”

It appears that shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi is attributing prophethood to Mary and perhaps Asiya as well. Here his position would differ from most authorities, though the idea that Mary was a prophet was supported by his fellow Andalusians Ibn Hazm (d. 1064) and al-Qurtubi (d. 1273).

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi has written the Tarjuman alAshwaq (tr. by R.A. Nicholson as “The Interpreter of Desires”) being inspired by meeting a young woman, Nizam, near the Ka’ba. He has written a commentary on this book in order to demonstrate its inner meanings. Maurice Gloton has presented a complete French translation of the “Interpreter” and its commentary. 

In order to give an example, here are the remarks given in the commentary of shaykh Ibn al-’Arabi himself on line 11 of poem 11:

And one of the most wonderful things is a veiled gazelle, 
who points with red fingertip and winks with eyelids.

And one of the most wonderful things is a veiled gazelleor a Divine subtlety (latîfa ilahiyya), veiled (mubraqa) or hidden because of the effect of a state of the soul (hala nafsiyya).

Thus are the states of the gnostics, which remain ignored!

Contrary to those beings who have been gifted with spiritual states, the people who have been the verifiers of the Truth amongst the Sufis (ta’ifa muhaqqaha), may have a similar outward appearance as the common people (‘amma). It is not possible for those familiar with this station to divulge (tasrih) their spiritual states, as contestation is possible because the fact remains that they could not find anyone who could testify (on their behalf about) their realisation. That is why they express themselves by means of allusions (ishara) and subtle signs (ima’) to certain persons who experience the premises of the spiritual states.

“who points with red fingertip”; Maurice Gloton translated this in a different way: “showing a jujube”.

Gloton adds a footnote explaining among several things that the jujube has red fruits, which because of their colour, can be compared to eyelids but also to the tip of the finger, which has been painted red because of the henna mentioned in the previous verse. Because of their shape, these fruits can also be compared to the stones that the pilgrims collect in Muhassab during the hajj in order to stone the representation of the evil one.

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi appears to comment on the last mentioned possibility: By jujube one has to understand the same thing as Muhassab, where one collects in one’s hand the stones that one finds near to oneself.

“and winks with eyelids.” (al-ima’ bi al-ajfan): this expression represents the speculative proofs (adilla al-nazhar) dealing with the dispositions (ahkam) affecting those who hold this station, which presents itself to those who experience in themselves the premises of spiritual realisation. This knowledge becomes actual for them and in them to the point that if one would confound them with the ordinary people because of their outward disposition, then they are different from them because of the very principle of their secrets. There exists a great difference between the one who talks because of himself and the one who expresses himself by his Lord, although the language is the same for the one listening thereto.

Idries Shah even wrote a complete book with the title A Veiled Gazelle. Its subtitle is Seeing how to See.

He comments on it thus: “The veiled gazelles, or shrouded deer (dhabiyun mubarqa’un) referred to by (shaykh) Ibn (al-‘) Arabi are the perceptions and experiences indicated by those who have some inkling of them. ‘Veiling’ in Sufi parlance, indicates the action of the subjective or ‘commanding’ self, which partly through base aspirations prevents higher vision. 

Sufi poetry, literature, tales and activities are the instruments which, when employed with insight and prescription rather than automatically or obsessively, help in the relationship between Sufi and pupil, towards the removal of the veils”.

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi informs us in the beginning of the Fusus al-hikam, i.e. The Ringstones of Wisdom that he “saw the Messenger of God (s.a.w.) in a dream which I had during the last ten days of Muharram within the walls of Damascus […]. In his hand was a book, and he said to me: ‘This is the book The Ringstones of Wisdom. Take hold of it, and with it go out to the people so that they may benefit from it’.”

Ismail Lala writes about The Ringstones of Wisdom:

“In the most important chapter of this work – on Muḥammad – Ibn al-ʿArabi writes of the true significance of women, showing the exceptionally high regard in which he holds them. Ibn al-ʿArabi is keen to underscore that it is the metaphysical significance of women, and not their physical form, that was made beloved to Muḥammad. This was due to the complementarity of their respective essences, which are the passive receptacles of the divine creative breath. This passivity is then transformed into activity when both actively transmit the Divine breath in their own creative capacities and their manifestation of the Divine Names. It is this amalgamation of feminine passivity and activity – reflected in Muḥammad’s own passivity and activity – that establishes an ontological connection between them.”

In case you like to learn more about shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi’s vision regarding women, I advise you to read (source checked on the 27th of December 2022): 

The witnessing or contemplation of God in women is the most perfect mode of witnessing. Shaykh al-Qaysari writes this in his Commentary on The Ringstones of Wisdom:

This is why the Prophet loved women: Because of the perfection of witnessing the Real within them. For the Real can never be witnessed disengaged from some material, since God in His essence is independent of the worlds. Since the situation is impossible in this respect, and witnessing takes place only in some material, then the witnessing of the Real in women is the greatest and most perfect witnessing.