In the teachings of Ibn al-‘Arabi there is a central position to the perfect man (al-insan al-kamil). That is why Qutb ad-din bin Ibrahim Abd al-Karim al-Jili (d. 1403 according to Titus Burckhardt and ca. 1428 according to Richard Gramlich) has written a complete book dedicated to this subject. In this book of al-Jili the 60th chapter is the central one. In his own words: “This chapter is the real subject of all the chapters in this book, yes the whole book, from its beginning to its end, is an explanation of this chapter. Therefore understand the meaning of these words!”
I hope to give some attention to this important chapter. Titus Burckhardt has given a partial translation to the whole book and in his introduction of ‘Universal Man’ he pays some attention to this chapter by quoting parts of it. Richard Gramlich in his ‘Islamische Mystik’ is much more complete. From his rendering of the 60th chapter I hope to make a translation.
THE PERFECT MAN
60th Chapter: About the perfect man and that he is Muhammad and that he is a corresponding opposite to the Creator and the creation.
You should know that this his chapter is the real subject of all the chapters in this book, yes the whole book, from its beginning to its end, is an explanation of this chapter. Therefore understand the meaning of these words!
Every individual of the human species is completely a copy of the others. In no one of them there is any lack in regard to what the others have and limitations are but accidental like when someone may have lost his hands or his feet or someone may be born blind because of what happened when he still was in the womb of his mother. When there are no intervening accidental conditions, then individuals are like two opposing mirrors, in which each one fully reflects the other. It so happens that there are people in whom you can find things present in potential while in others these are actually there. The last mentioned ones are the more perfect amongst the prophets and the friends of God. And also among them there are differences in degree of perfection: you can find perfect ones and more perfect ones, but no one of them has been gifted in this world with more of perfection than Muhammad [Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him]. His personal qualities, his inner stations, his deeds and several of his words testify to this. He is the perfect man. The other perfect prophets and friends of God connect themselves to him like perfection to a higher perfection… When you read in my books the expression ‘the perfect man’ 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 man 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 honarary title is Shamsaddin. 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 Sharafaddin 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 his 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.
Know that the perfect man comprises in himself correspondences with all the realities of existence. He corresponds to the translunar (higher) realities by his own subtle nature and he corresponds to the sublunar (inferior) realities with his crude nature. There are several correspondences with the realities of created beings. His heart corresponds to the divine throne as the prophet has said: “The heart of the believer is the throne of God”;
his I (aniyah) corresponds to the divine pedestral,
his station corresponds to the Lotus tree of the seventh heaven,
his intellect corresponds to the supreme pen,
his soul correspond to the guarded table,
his nature corresponds to the elements,
his receptivity corresponds to matter,
his judgment corresponds to the starless 9th sphere.