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.