Ibn al-Arabī in Fez
The next five years were a time when Ibn ‘Arabī entered into a different world. Having been brought up under the instruction and guidance of various spiritual masters of the West, he now came into his own as a Muhammadan heir. As from this point the real genius of Ibn ‘Arabī began to emerge and he became universal. Shortly after his return to Andalusia from North Africa in 1194 AD, Ibn ‘Arabī’s father died and within a few months his mother also died. Now the responsibility of the upbringing of his two young sisters fell upon his shoulders. His cousin came to him with the request that he should take up his wordly duties, and give up the spiritual life (Hirtenstein 110). It was a time of great uncertainty for Seville because of War. The third Sultan, Abū Yūsuf Ya’qūb al Manṣūr offered him a job but Ibn ‘Arabī refused both the job and an offer to marry off his sisters and within days he left Seville heading toward Fez, where they settled.
In Fez Ibn ‘Arabī met two men of remarkable spirituality, one of them was a sufi Pillar (awtād), his name was Ibn Ja’dūn and the second one known as al-Ashall (literally, “the withered” for the reason that he had a withered hand) who was the Pole (quṭb) of his time. It was a happy period of his life, where he could utterly dedicate himself to spiritual work. In Fez in 593 AH, he entered a new degree of vision in the form of light. In that vision, when he was leading a Prayer in the al-Azhar Mosque, he saw a light which was more visible than what was in front of him, he says:
“I lost the sense of behind [or front]. I no longer had a back or the nape of a neck. While the vision lasted, I had no sense of direction, as if I had been completely spherical (dimensionless).” (II, 486)
This light vision is a kind of foretaste of his great journey of light; in 594 AH at the age of 33, Ibn ‘Arabī was taken on one of the most extraordinary journeys of all: the ascension (al-mi‘rāj). Ibn ‘Arabī wrote a book named Kitāb al-Isrā (Book of the Night Journey) immediately after this spiritual experience. Some sections of Futūḥāt and Risālat al-Anwār (Epistle of Light) also elaborate the hidden meaning of these ascensions. It is quite interesting that Ibn ‘Arabī’s (the Muhammadan heir) ascension is an exact and faithful replication of the Prophet Muhammad's ascension; while the Prophet’s ascension took place bodily, his ascension was a dream, vision of a heart or the vision of forms. These divine events are determining the way forward for his ultimate role as the Seal of Muhmmadian Sainthood. Ibn ‘Arabī tells us that in 594 AH, in Fez Allah laid bare to him it’s true import and showed him the signs of his function. In al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya Chapter 43 starts with an open claim to the Seal of Muhammadian Sainthood, he says:
I am the Seal of Sainthood without any doubt, أنا ختم الولاية دون شك
by virtue of the inheritance of the Hashimite, لورثي الهاشمي مع المسيح
along with the Messiah (OY: IV, 71; Elmore, “Islamic Sainthood” 56).
These lines have no possible room for doubt: Ibn ‘Arabī is identifying himself categorically and explicitly with the Muhammadan Seal like Jesus (AS).
Pilgrim at Makkah
At the end of his long journey he finally arrived at Makkah, the mother of all cities, in 598 AH (July 1202 AD). The Makkan period of Ibn ‘Arabī’s life can be viewed as the fulcrum of his earthly existence; he spent 36 years of his life in the West and the upcoming 36 years in the East, with about 3 years in Makkah in between. This three year period both connects and differentiates the two halves of his life. It was in Makkah that he started writing the very best of his works Al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya, It was in Makkah that his status as Seal of Muhammadian sainthood was confirmed in the glorious vision of the Prophet; it was in Makkah that he had the dream of the two bricks and his encounter with the Ka‘ba; it was in Makkah that the love of women was first evoked in his heart by the beautiful Niẓām, who became the personification of wisdom and beauty. It was in Makkah that he first savoured the pleasures of married life, marrying and becoming a father. His first wife was Fāṭima bint Yūnus and their first son Muḥammad ‘Imāduddin was probably born in Makkah (Hirtenstein 148-150). Again it was in Makkah that he produced the very best of his works, like the first chapters of Futūḥāt, the Rūḥ al-Quds, the Tāj al-Rasā’il, the Ḥilyat al-Abdāl and a collections of hadīth qudsī named “Mishkat al-Anwār”. It is also worth mentioning that in Makkah he met some of the eminent scholars of Ḥadīth of his time. Amongst them was Abū Shujā’ Ẓāhir bin Rustam, father of the beautiful Niẓām and Yūnus ibn Yaḥyā al-Ḥāshimī, who had been a pupil of the great ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī in Baghdad. He not only introduced Ibn ‘Arabī to the Prophetic tradition but also transmitted to him the teachings of the most famous saint in Egypt in the ninth century, Dhū’l-Nūn al-Miṣrī. Yūnus ibn Yaḥyā also invested him in front of the Ka‘ba with the Khirqa (Mantle) of ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī. (Ibn ‘Arabī, “Nasab al-Khirqa”; Elmore “Mantle of Initiation” 1-33). It is believed that after wearing this Khirqa Ibn ‘Arabī formally joined the Qadriyya Traīqa.
Visions at Ka‘ba
Apart from all this, several visions were granted to him in Makkah. The first took place at night during his circumambulations of the Ka‘ba when he met a young beautiful girl Qurrat al-‘Ayn (Hirtenstein 148). In the second vision, during his circumambulations of the Ka‘ba, he met the mysterious figure who had appeared at the beginning of his ascension and here at Makkah. He said to Ibn ‘Arabī, you should circumambulate in my footstep and observe me in the light of my moon, so that you may take from my constitution that which you write in your book and transmit to your readers (OY: I, 218). The third vision also occurs at Ka‘ba in a spiritual conversation with the Ḥaram and the Zamzam stream; Ka‘ba ordered him to circumambulate it and the Zamzam told him to drink this pure water but a soft refusal made Ka‘ba angry and he took revenge on a cold and rainy night in the year 600 AH. Shaykh heard the voice of Ka‘ba loud and clear; later in a meditation God taught him the lesson and to express this gratitude Ibn ‘Arabī composed a collection of letters in rhymed prose, entitled the Tāj al-Rasā’il, in homage to the Ka‘ba. The next vision is also related to Ka‘ba, in the year 599 AH in Makkah Ibn ‘Arabī saw a dream which confirms once again his accession to the office of the Seal of the Muhammadian Sainthood. He saw two bricks – one of Gold and the other of Silver – were missing from two rows of the wall of Ka‘ba. He says: “In the mean time I was observing that, standing there, I feel without doubt that I was these two bricks and these two bricks were me …. And perhaps it is through me that God has sealed sainthood” (Addas 213). In the year 599 AH during circumambulating the Ka‘ba, he encountered the son of Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd, who had been dead for four centuries and was famous for choosing Saturday for work to gather food for rest of the week. Ibn ‘Arabī asked him: “Who are you?” He replied: “I am al-Sabtī ibn Hārūn al-Rashīd.” Later Ibn ‘Arabī asked him: “What was the reason of choosing Saturday for work?” He replied: “As God has made this universe in six days from Sunday to Friday, and he rested on Saturday, so I, as His servant worked on Saturday and devoted myself to worshiping Lord for the rest of the week.” In another glorious vision at Ka‘ba Ibn ‘Arabī saw his forefathers and asked one of them his time, he replied he had been dead around forty thousand years ago. Finally, at Ka‘ba, behind the wall of Hanbalites, Ibn ‘Arabī was granted the privilege of being able to join a meeting of the seven Abdāl (Addas 216).
Counsel my Servants
The message was clear and it was from God; in a passage of Kitab al-Mubashshirāt Ibn ‘Arabī admits that one evening in Makkah he experienced a brief spell of despondency on the face of his disciples, he thought of leaving all counselling, abandon men to their fate and to devote his future efforts to himself alone as those who truly enter the Path are rare. On the same night, he saw himself in dream facing God on the Day of Judgment. In that dream, He said: “I was standing in front of my Lord, head lowered and fearing that He would punish me for my short comings but he said to me: “Servant of Mine, fear nothing! All I ask of you is that you should counsel My servants” (Addas 218). Faithful to this assurance he would spend the rest of his life giving advice to people from all walks of life, direct disciples, religious authorities and political rulers. This vision probably occurred in the year 600 AH at Makkah, as the very first page of the Rūḥ al-Quds, written following this revelational order mentions it vividly. According to Osman Yahia; Ibn ‘Arabī produced 50 of his works after this Divine order, some of which are short epistles of less than 10 pages but all of these are rooted in the Divine order: “Counsel My servants.”