The Sufi Path
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.
Meetings with Khiḍr
Factually speaking, Shaykh al-‘Uryabī initiated Ibn ‘Arabī’s contact with Khiḍr in Seville, when he was only a youth. Ibn ‘Arabī says: “I met Khiḍr in Qūs al-haniyya in Seville, and he said to me: “Accept what the Shaykh says!” I immediately turned to the Shaykh [‘Uryabī] and before I spoke he said: “O Muḥammad, does that mean that every time you contradict me, I will have to ask Khiḍr to instruct you in submission to the masters?” I replied: “Master, was that person Khiḍr?” He answered: “Yes!” (I, 331; Addas 63). That was his first meeting with Khiḍr. Later Ibn ‘Arabī met Khiḍr several times. In 1193 at the age of 28 Ibn ‘Arabī visited Tunis and the main intention behind this visit was to meet with the great disciples of Abū Madyan, notably ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Mahdawī and Abū Muḥammad ‘Abdallāh al-Kinānī. He stayed there for less than a year during which he realized the station of pure servant-hood and the Muhammadian inheritance. On return from Tunis, he met Khiḍr for the second time; it happened when he was returning from Tunis by boat, on a lunar night he saw a man walking on the water towards him. On reaching the boat, Khiḍr stood on the sea and showed him that his feet were still dry. After that Khiḍr conversed with Ibn ‘Arabī in a language which is peculiar to him (OY: III, 182).
On reaching Andalusia in late 590 AH, Ibn ‘Arabī had his third meeting with Khiḍr, this time Khiḍr performed a miracle to provide evidence to a companion of Ibn ‘Arabī who denies the existence of miracles. A common feature of all these meetings with Khiḍr was that they took place in the presence of a high rank spiritual master initiating Ibn ‘Arabī into the knowledge of Divine mysteries.
Great vision in Cordoba
In the year 586, Ibn ‘Arabī had a rare vision in Cordoba, in which he met all the Prophets from the time of Adam to Muḥammad (PBUT) in their spiritual reality. Prophet Hūd (AS) spoke to him and explained him the reason for their gathering. We can trace what Hūd told him in Rūḥ al-Quds when Abū Muḥammad Makhlūf al-Qabā’ili – a saint of Cordoba – died, the Prophet Hūd said: “We came to visit Abū Muḥammad Makhlūf al-Qabā’ili” (Ibn ‘Arabī, “Rūh al-Quds” 116). According to a tradition among the direct disciples of Ibn ‘Arabī, Hūd (AS) explained that the real reason for their gathering was to welcome him (Ibn ‘Arabī) as the Seal of Muhammadan Sainthood (khatm al-wilāya al-muḥammadiyya), the supreme heir (Addas 76).
Stephen Hirtenstein writes in Unlimited Mercifier: “It is from his return from Tunis, we find the first evidence of Ibn ‘Arabī beginning to write; later in 1194, he wrote one of his first major works, Mashāhid al-Asrār al-Qudusiyya (Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries) for the companions of al-Mahdawī and perhaps around the same time, in a space of four days, also composed the voluminous Tadbīrāt al-Ilāhiyya (Divine Governance) in Mawrūr (Moron) for Shaykh Abū Muḥammad al-Mawrūrī” (91).