Ornaments of the Abdal

In regard to ascetic practices here are some observations of Ibn al-‘Arabi. These remarks are to be found in his ‘Ornaments of the Abdal’, which has been translated into French by Michel Valsan. Ibn al-‘Arabi sees silence, solitude, hunger and wakefulness as the four cornerstones of the way. Each of them has not only a physical aspect but also (and this is of interest!!!) a spiritual reality.

The physical aspects:
1. Silence of the tongue (little speaking)
2. Solitude from other people (little meeting with the people)
3. Fasting (little food)
4. Little sleep

The spiritual realities:
1. Silence of the heart
2. Solitude of the heart
3. Hunger of the heart
4. Vigilance of the heart.

These last 4 aspects are not the ascetic practices dealing with physical deprivation and self-abnegation, but they deal with the attempt of negating everything but the divine presence. Each of these 4 negations are then connected with a further degree which consists of the abandoning these negations, so the maqam of silence is followed by the maqam of speech, the station of wakefulness by the station of speech, etc.

So different practices for different purposes. A practice serves its purpose for a certain time and then it should be abandoned according to what is relevant for that person.


Solitude is a means of realising the silence of the tongue. If you live isolated from people and if you have no one to keep yourself occupied with, then in a natural way this leads to the renunciation of words.

Solitude is of two kinds: the one of those who are aspirants (al-muridun) which consists of evading to mix in a material sense with others and the one of the verifiers (al-muhaqqiqun) which consists of inwardly evading the contact with things concerning creatures.