In Fez 594 AH, ‘Abdallāh Badr al-Habshi first met Ibn ‘Arabī and for the rest of his life became a soulemate and a faithful friend, accepting Ibn ‘Arabī as his master and guide. Al-Shaykh al-Akbar said about him in Futūḥāt:
“[He is a man] of unadulterated clarity, a pure light, he is a Ḥabashī named ‘Abdallāh, and like a full moon (badr) without eclipse. He acknowledges each person’s right and renders it to him; he assigns to each his right, without going further. He has attained the degree of true discrimination. He was purified at the time of fusion like pure gold. His word is true, his promise sincere” (OY: I, 72; Hirtenstein 123).
In the year 595 AH Ibn ‘Arabī returned to the Iberian Peninsula for the last time and it seems he had two intentions: to introduce al-Habashī to his friends and masters and to depart finally from the land of his birth. In December 595 AH, Ibn ‘Arabī was in Cordoba, at the funeral of Ibn Rushd, whom once he met some 18 years earlier. When the coffin was loaded upon a beast of burden, his works were placed upon the other side to counterbalance it. Ibn ‘Arabī said the following verse on that day:
Here the master, there his works – هذا الإمام و هذه أعماله
Would that I know if his hopes have been fulfilled! يا ليت شعري هل أتت آماله
From Cordoba they travelled to Granada and met with ‘Abdallāh al-Mawrūrī and Abū Muḥammad al-Shakkāz. From Granada to Murcia, the town of his birth and stayed with an old friend Abū Ahmed Ibn Saydabūn, a famous disciple of Abū Madyan who at the time of their meeting was evidently going through a period of fatra or suspension. They travelled again to Almeria, where they spent the month of Ramadan in 595 AH and Ibn ‘Arabī wrote Mawāqi‘ al-Nujūm over a period of eleven nights. Perhaps in Almeria also, he started writing ‘Anqā’ Mughrib where full explanation about the Seal of Saints can be found.
These were his last days in the West, where he started visiting his masters for the last time, and he collected his writings and ensured that he must at least have a single copy of all of his works as now he was departing toward the East forever. When he left Andalusia for the last time he appeared to have a vision of his future destiny at the shores of the Mediterranean as he later told his stepson Ṣadr al-dīn al-Qūnawī:
“I turned towards God with total concentration and in a state of contemplation and vigilance that was perfect: God then showed me all of my future states, both internal and external, right through to the end of my days. I saw that your father, Isḥāq ibn Muḥammad, would be my companion and you as well” (Hirtenstein 127).
In the year 597 AH/1200 AD, he was in Morocco and took his final leave from his master Yūsuf al-Kūmī, who was living in the village of Salé at that time. This shows that he had finally completed his training under the teachers of his early years and was now ready to go to a new world. On his way to Marrakesh of that year he entered the Station of Proximity (maqām al-qurba).
“I entered this station in the month of Muḥarram in 597 AH… In joy I began to explore it, but on finding absolutely no one else in it, I felt anxiety at the solitude. Although I was realized in [this station], but I still did not know its name” (II, 261).
Later Ibn ‘Arabī finds Abū ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī in it and he told Ibn ‘Arabī that this station is called, the station of proximity (maqām al-qurba) (Hirtenstein 128).
Voyage to centre of earth
Having left behind all the traces of his past, Ibn ‘Arabī began his long journey to the East from Marrakesh where he had a marvellous vision of the Divine Throne. In that vision, he saw the treasures beneath the Throne and the beautiful birds flying about within them. One bird greeted Ibn ‘Arabī, saying that he should take him as his companion to the East. This companion was Muḥammad al-Haṣṣār of Fez. He started travelling with his friends towards the East. After visiting the tombs of his uncle Yaḥyā and Abū Madyan in ‘Ubbād near Tlemcen, he stopped at Bijāya (Bougie) during Ramaḍān and saw a remarkable dream about the secrets of letters and stars. He saw himself united like the union in marriage with all the stars of heavens, after the stars the letters were given his union, and he united with all of them (Ibn ‘Arabī, “Kitāb al-Bā’” 10-11). This dream was later interpreted as the great Divine knowledge which was bestowed upon Ibn ‘Arabī.
His next stop was Tunis 598 AH where he happened to see Syakh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Mahdawī whom he had met about six year ago. At the same time he continued writing works like Inshā’ al-Dawā’ir for his friend al-Ḥabashī. Resuming his travels, he arrived in Cairo in 598 AH/1202 AD where he met his childhood friends, the two brothers, ‘Abdallāh Muhammad al-Khayyāt and Abū al-Abbās Aḥmad al-Ḥarrārī and stayed at their house in the month of Ramaḍān. That was a period of great devastation, terrible famine and plague for Egypt. Perhaps the death of his companion Muḥammad al-Haṣṣār was due to this plague. Ibn ‘Arabī saw this devastation with his own eyes and a passage of Rūh al-Quds tells us that when people made light of Allāh’s statutes He imposes the strictures of His Law upon them (yūsuf 240).
Ibn ‘Arabī resumed travelling toward Palestine, and his route took him to all the major burial places of the great Prophets: Hebron, where Abraham (AS) and other Prophets are buried; Jerusalem, the city of David (AS) and the later Prophets; and then Madīna, the final resting place of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Ibn ‘Arabī was about sixteen when he went into seclusion. He himself never explicitly mentioned the reasons behind it. Yet the following factors are worth considering:
There goes a story, heard after 150 years of his death, Ibn ‘Arabī was at a dinner party which rounded off with wine. As he took the wine cup to his lips, he heard a voice: “O Muḥammad, it was not for this that you were created!” (Addas 36). This gave him an urge to quit worldly pursuits and to embark upon the search of God.
Another important cause of this retreat was a vision of the three great Prophets, Jesus, Moses and Muḥammad (PBUT). Ibn ‘Arabī says: “When I turned to this path, it was accomplished through a dream-vision (mubashshira) under the guidance of Jesus, Moses and Muḥammad (PBUT). In it, Jesus urged him to take to asceticism (Zuhd), Moses divulged to him that he would get to the infused knowledge called “al-‘ilm al-ludunnī” and the Prophet Muḥammad advised him to follow him step by step; “Hold fast to me and you will be safe!” (Addas 41).
As a consequence of this retreat and the spiritual insights granted to him, two things seem to have happened: firstly, he began to study Qur’ān and Ḥadīth and secondly, Ibn ‘Arabī was sent by his father to meet the great philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1126-98). The meeting was very significant in the sense that Ibn ‘Arabī answered his questions in ‘Yes’ and ‘No;’ and Ibn Rushd declared: “I myself was of the opinion that such a thing (i.e. spiritual knowledge without learning) is possible, but never met anyone who had experienced it” (OY: II, 372).
Ibn ‘Arabī’s contact with spiritual masters began in Seville. At that time the pursuit of the spiritual life normally involved keeping company with many different masters instead of only one master. Ibn ‘Arabī has described brief biographies of his masters in his book Rūḥ al-Quds. Al-‘Uryabī of ‘Ulya was one of those masters who visited Seville nearly in 1184, and Ibn ‘Arabī met him at that stage of his life when he had already embarked on the Path. One can call al-‘Uryabī as his first teacher (al-murshad al-awwal), a relationship which is always of significance in Sufism. Shaykh al ‘Uryabī had reached the high spiritual state of total servitude (‘ubūdiyya), which in Ibn ‘Arabī’s eyes surpass all others. Later on meetings with his Shaykh transformed Ibn ‘Arabī’s life so quickly that he wrote in Futūḥāt: “While our Shaykh al-‘Uryabī was ‘Isawī at the end of his life. I was ‘Isawī at the beginning of my life on this path. I was then taken to the states of Mūsawī sun illumination. Then I was taken to Hūd, and after that to all the Prophets, there after I was taken to Muḥammad. That was the order for me in this path” (OY: III, 361-2). Some of his masters are:
- 1. Abū al-Abbās al-‘Uryabī
- 2. Abū al-Ḥajjāj al-Shubarbulī
- 3. Abū Ya’qūb Yūsuf al-Kūmī
- 4. Abū Yaḥyā al-Ṣanhājī
- 5. Abū ‘Abd Allāh Ibn Qassūm
- 6. Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Sharafī
- 7. Abū ‘Abbās al-Kashshāb
- 8. Abū ‘Imrān al-Mīrtulī
- 9. Ṣāliḥ al-‘Adawī
- 10. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Mahdawī
- 11. ‘Abd Allāh al-Mawrūrī
- 12. Abū Madyan al-Ghawth
Detail about his masters and their relationship with Ibn ‘Arabī can be found in Rūḥ al-Quds, Durrat al-Fākhira and Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya.