Sufi Women

Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi has invested a number of people with his khirqa. He provides 14 names in the beginning of his Diwan, whereof 13 are women. He has applauded all of these women – with the exception of Zumurrud, because of her abandoning the khirqa he had passed to her – as genuine aspirants on the Sufi path.

This is the poem he wrote for his murid Fatimah who received one of these khirqa’s:

You adorned Fatimah with the garment of piety and guidance,
I do not see anyone more deserving of the apparel of virtue.
You clothed her with the exalted and supreme mantle,
Casting all ills from her heart.

Between substance and accident she learned virtue from me,
Suffering, by God, in discipleship.
I asked God to give me a daughter
And he obliged me with her.

I beseech nothing for her, except Him,
So let her give thanks for the providence of the Compassionate.

This is the poem he wrote for his murid Dunya who received one of these khirqa’s:

I adorned my daughter Dunya
With the garment of faith and reverence.
Perchance I will see her grow by what God had compelled.
Surely this world of yours
Is an abode of trials and tribulation.

If you drink the water of life to quench your thirst.
Instead, if you merely breathe it in,
It will be more joyous and nourishing,
Truly slaking your thirst.

This is the poem he wrote for his murid Safiyya who received one of these khirqa’s:

Wearing this cloak of the mendicants
Safiyya adorns herself with the raiment of trust,
Surpassing all her peers in virtues acquired,
Discarding all vices.

Sanctified by the harmony of character and creation,
She embodied the epitome of the names.
‘Little sister of the Virgin’
Angels to her sanctuary announced.

Untouched by suspicion, chaste,
Honoured as the sister of the ‘red-cheeked one’.
Nightly tidings from angels descending,
Bequeathed the legacy of the prophets to her.

This is the poem he wrote to another of his female murids who received one of these khirqa’s:

A maiden was wrapped at our hand
In a khirqa with which she attained
The essence of perfection.
An exalted religious khirqa,
Elevating her to the station of men.

God wrapped her in a robe of glory, acceptance and beauty,
Illumination, radiance, temperance, splendour and majesty.
Whenever I see her, I perceive her beauty and charm,
So that it transports me away from myself.

May God help her in her pledge!
And it is incumbent on us to sustain her
Through the difficulties of the path.

This is the poem he wrote for his murid Siti al-‘Aysh who received one of these khirqa’s:

I wrapped Siti al-‘Aysh
In the same khirqa of God’s friends,
Which the people of piety and bounty
Had enveloped me within.

The one who wears the honourble khirqa
Of God’s friends
Is beyond reproach,
On condition that she wears it
In the manner of the virtuous ones.

Her station is one
That reaps felicity, success and prosperity
In all that she seeks.

This is the poem he wrote for his murid Zumurrud who received one of these khirqa’s:

Zumurrud requested to wear the khirqa
After I responded to her appeal, she wore it.
Then she went to Egypt with her daughter,
Desiring to satisfy her need.

After she was gratified, she deserted the khirqa,
Seeking the land of Jillaq [Damascus]
In a state of abasement.

On her return, her state
Was characterized by misconduct.
She thought herself too proud [to return],
Since she had indulged her whims.

This is the poem he wrote for his murid, the daughter of Zaki ad-din, who received one of these khirqa’s:

We invested our mantel
In the daughter of Zaki ad-din.
After a refining discipleship
Cultivated in divinity
She burnished her tributaries
And sanctified her essence
From all uncertainty.

Suffused with knowledge, you its quintessence
Derived from a sincere teacher and father
So let us bestow the daughter our mantle,
Spreading His will,
Having reached the divine names
And an exalted lineage
To all humans and jinns who in discipleship
Follow the teachings in my books.

This is the poem he wrote for his murid Jamilah who received one of these khirqa’s:

Jamilah is unparalleled:
Adorned by an exalted garment
I bestowed on her a momentuous khirqa.
When she turned to me as her trustee
Since accompanying us [on the Sufi path],
She has cultivated the good [qualities].
Now her actions are all beautiful.

If truth be told, it is not my teaching,
That is the catalist.
Since I am not in reality the responder [to her inner needs]:
Truly my Lord is the Caretaker.

This is the poem he wrote for his murid Safari who received one of these khirqa’s:

I bestowed on my daughter Safari
A khirqa possessed by the people of adab.
I clothed her in a robe of piety.
Comprising of every pleasing virtue.

‘O daughter!’ I said, ‘Follow my path and my madhhab [legal school].
My way is the Shari’ah of the Arab Hashemite Prophet’.
Thus the garment that I bestowed on her
Encompasses [the knowledge] of every noble teacher.
I say this and I am Muhammad Ibn al’-Arabi.

Bestowing ‘the most illumined of garments’ implies a great gift from the shaykh to his murids. Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi has of course bestowed his khirqa to more than 14 people, and many of them have been men. My source for the translation of the above poems (less than 13) is Sa’diyya Shaikh in her “Sufi Narratives of Intimacy” which deals with shaykh Ibn al’Arabi, gender and sexuality.

And now the conclusion. Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi has a final thing to say. The following poem is without the name of the woman who received a khirqa. By the way, the fact that the ‘you’ changes in ‘her’ is a common rhetorical technique in Arabic poetry known as ‘iltifat’:

When you, the ultimate point of my pain,
And you, the best of people in meaning and form,
Adopted my good qualities […]
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 [adab]
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.