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Voyages and vists

Ibn Arabī’s life, spanning between 600 to 617 AH is full of journeys, he frequently kept crossing and re-crossing Syria, Palestine, Anatolia, Egypt, Iraq and the Ḥijāz, yet this physical activity stood in no way in his spiritual pursuits and obligations. The two dimension activity had indeed the same spiritual provenance and was motivated by the sublime purpose of higher life unrelated to egocentricity. The year 600 AH witnessed a meeting between Ibn ‘Arabī and Shaykh Majduddīn Isḥāq ibn Yūsuf, a native of Malatya and a man of great standing at the Seljuk court. This time Ibn ‘Arabī was travelling north; first they visited the city of the Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH) and in 601 AH they entered Baghdad. This visit besides other benefits offered him a chance to meet the direct disciples of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir JīlānīShaykh al-Akbar stayed there only for 12 days because he wanted to visit Mosul to see his friend ‘Alī ibn ‘Abdallāh ibn Jāmi’, a disciple of Qaḍīb al-Bān. There he  spent the month of Ramaḍan and composed Tanazzulāt al-MawṣiliyyaKitāb al-Jalāl wa’l-Jamāl and Kunh mā lā Budda lil-MurīdMinhu (Hirtenstein 176). Here he was invested with the khirqa of Khiḍr (AS), transmitted to him by ‘Alī ibn ‘Abdallāh ibn Jāmi’. Later the group travelled north and arrived at Malatya, Majduddīn’s hometown and then to Konya. In Konya Ibn ‘Arabī met with Awḥaduddīn Ḥamīd Kirmānī, who became his friend like Majduddīn. He transmitted to Ibn ‘Arabī teachings and stories of the many great spiritual masters of the East. Over the next 20 years Ibn ‘Arabī and Kirmānī remained close friends and companions (Hirtenstein 179).

 After spending 9 months in Konya, he returned to Malatya where Kaykā’ūs, one of the Kaykhusraw’s sons, had been made ruler of Malatya. Majduddīn was appointed as his tutor and Ibn ‘Arabī also became involved in the young prince’s education.

Return to South

In the year 602 AH he visited Jerusalem, Makkah and Egypt. It was his first time that he passed through Syria, visiting Aleppo and Damascus. In Jerusalem, he continued writing, and 5 more works were completed. These are: Kitāb al-Bā’Ishārāt al-Qur’ān. In May 602  AH he visited Hebron, where he wrote Kitāb al-Yaqīn at Masjīd al-Yaqīn near the tomb of Prophet Ibrāhīm (AS) (Yūsuf 307). The following year he headed toward Cairo, staying there with his old Andalusian friends , including Abū al-‘Abbās al-Ḥarrār, his brother Muḥammad al-Khayyāt and ‘Abdallāh al-Mawrūrī. In Cairo Rūḥ al-Quds and Kitāb Ayyām al-Sha’n were read again before Ibn ‘Arabī, with the reader  this time being a young man named Ismā’il ibn Sawdakīn al-Nūrī (Yūsuf 309). Like Badr al-Ḥabashī, Ibn Sawdakīn attached himself to Ibn ‘Arabī forever. He left value-oriented commentaries on the works of Ibn ‘Arabī notably Mashāhid al-Asrār, Kitāb al-Isrā’ and the Kitāb al-Tajalliyāt. His house in Aleppo was often used for the reading of Ibn ‘Arabī’s works over the next 40 years (Yūsuf 311).

Later in 604 AH he returned to Makkah where he continued to study and write, spending his time with his friend Abū Shujā bin Rustem and family, including the beautiful Niẓām (II, 376; Hirtenstein 181). The next 4 to 5 years of Ibn ‘Arabī’s life were spent in these lands and he also kept travelling and holding the reading sessions of his works in his own presence. 

Baghdad, city of the Saints

In the year 608 we find him in Baghdad with his friend Majduddīn Isḥāq and there he met the famous historian Ibn al-Dubaythī and his disciple Ibn al-Najjār. In Baghdad, he had a terrifying vision regarding the Divine deception (makr), In which he saw the gates of heaven open and the treasures of Divine deception fell like rain on everyone. He awoke terrified and looked for a way of being safe from these deceptions. The only safe way he found is by knowing the balance of the Divine law.

According to Osman Yahia in Baghdad Ibn ‘Arabī met with the famous Sufi Shihābuddīn Suharwardī (d. 632), author of the ‘Awārif al-ma’ārif who was personal advisor to Caliph al-Nāṣir. In this meeting, they stayed together for a while, with lowered heads and departed without exchanging a single word. Later Ibn ‘Arabī said about Suharwardī: “He is impregnated with the Sunna from tip to toe” and Suharwardī said about Ibn ‘Arabī: “He is an ocean of essential truths (baḥr al-Ḥaqāiq).

Tarjumān al-Ashwāq

 In the year 611 he was again in Makkah, where his friend Abū Shujā had died two years before. Ibn ‘Arabī performed Ḥajj and started compilation of his most famous poetic work the Tarjumān al-Ashwāq. After Ḥajj Ibn ‘Arabī left Makkah, travelling north towards the Roman lands, probably Konya or Malatya and in the year 610/611 he returned to Aleppo. In Aleppo this work caused uproar and consternation in certain quarters, since he came under the blame of writing erotic verses under the cover of poetic allusions. The jurists from Allepo severely criticized the claim that this poetry was a mystical or expresses Divine realities, which made his disciples very upset. Later on the request of his two disciples, Ibn Sawdakīn and Badr al-Ḥabashī he wrote a commentary on these poems by the title of “Dhakhā’ir al-A’lāq” in a great hurry. It was completed in Anatolia in 612. When the jurists heard this commentary, they felt sorry for unjustly exposing Ibn ‘Arabī to scathing criticism (Yūsuf 335).

In Sivas and Malatya

The period of extensive travelling came to an end and for the next few years he seems to have made his home in the Seljuk Kingdom. In the year 612 AH, at Sivas he had a vision anticipating Kaykā’ūs victory at Antioch over the Franks. He wrote a poem in which he enlightened the Sultan of the vision and his future victory. Later Ibn ‘Arabī returned to Malatya and according to Stephen Hartenstein he met Bahā’uddīn Walad, father of the famous Persian Poet Jallaluddīn Rūmī. the famous Persian poet of that time. Little Rūmī was with his father and after the meeting when Bahā’uddīn left with his son tagging along behind him, Shaykh al-Akbar said: “What an extraordinary sight, a sea followed by an ocean!” (Hirtenstein 188).

His reading and writings continued in Malatya, where in 615 AH, we find hearings of Rūḥ al-Quds, finalization of The Tarjumān al-Ashwāq and compilation of a short epistle on the technical terms of Sufism: the Iṣṭilāhāt al-ṣūfiyya. The year 617 was the year of mourning for him as he lost one of his best friends Majduddīn Isḥāq, Ibn ‘Arabī took charge of the upbringing of the young Ṣadruddīn and married the widow as it was necessary according to the customs of the time. (Hirtenstein 189). Lastly his close companion and valet, friend and fellow, traveller on the way of God Badr al-Ḥabashī died. 

Damascus, the last days

After criss-crossing the east for a period of 20 years Ibn ‘Arabī now decided to settle in Syria and spent the last 17 years of his life in Damascus, the city was already known quite well to him, he had several contacts with leading notables there. He was greeted in Damascus as a spiritual master and a spacious house was provided to him by the Grand Qadi of the town Ibn Zakī. In Damascus, he devoted himself to writing and teaching to fulfil the commandment of his Lord: “Counsel My servants.” The first thing he did was to collect and disseminate the works which had already been written, copies were made and reading sessions took place in his house. Kitāb al-Tajalliyāt was one of these first books to record such a certificate (sima‘) in the presence of his disciple Ibn Sawdakīn. In the year 621 AH eight more works bore these hearing certificates, among these were: Kitāb al-YaqīnAl-Maqsid al-AsmáKitāb al-Mīm wal-Wāw wal-NunMafātīh al-Ghayūb and Kitāb al-Ḥaqq. At the same time, Ibn ‘Arabī devoted his attention to complete the lengthy Futūḥāt, many volumes of this book came into being in this period.

During this period of his life, he imparted direct instructions to many of his disciples including Ṣadruddīn al-Qūnawī. He brought up alongside Ibn ‘Arabī own family in Malatya and after the death of his real father Qūnawī joined Shaykh al-Akbar in Damascus. He accompanied and served Kirmānī on his travels in Egypt, Hijaz and Iran. In his private collection Ṣadruddīn wrote that he had studied 10 works of Ibn ‘Arabī under him and later Ibn ‘Arabī gave him a certificate to freely relate them on his authority. He studied and discussed with Ibn ‘Arabī no less than 40 works, including the whole text of Futūḥāt in 20 volumes. 

Visons at Damascus

Ibn ‘Arabī had several visions of the Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH) at Damascus. In 624 AH he had been told by the Messenger of Allah that angles are superior to men. In the same year, he had another discussion with the Prophet, this time Prophet replied to him regarding the resurrection of animals: “Animals will not be resurrected on the Day of Judgement.” (I, 527; Addas 275) In the third vision he was ordered by the Prophet to write a poem in favour of al-Anṣār. In this vision Ibn ‘Arabī was informed that his mother was from al-Anṣār’s tribe (I, 267). In the fourth vision, at the end of Muḥarram 627 AH the Prophet came to him once again and handed him the book Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam (The Bezels of Wisdoms). Ibn ‘Arabī started writing this book with all the purity of his intentions and his deepest aspirations. He said: “I state nothing that has not been projected toward me; I write nothing except what has been inspired in me. I am not a Prophet nor a Messenger but simply an inheritor; and I labour for my future life” (Ibn ‘Arabī, “Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam” 47). In the same year just over two months after receiving the book of the Fuṣūṣ he had a vision of Divine Ipseity, it’s exterior and interior which he had not seen before in any of his witnessings.

The Futuhat al-Makkiyya

In 629 AH the first draft of al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya was completed. The book has hundreds of manuscript in various libraries of the world, the most important of them is the manuscript of Konya, written by its author. This book had taken the best part of his thirty years and Ibn ‘Arabī dedicated it to his eldest son, ‘Imāduddīn Muḥammad. It contains 560 chapters of esoteric knowledge and is truly the encyclopaedia of Islamic Sufism. The book is divided into six sections and these are:

  1. Spiritual Knowledge  (al-ma‘ārif)
  2. Spiritual Behaviour (al-ma‘lūmāt)
  3. Spiritual States (al-aḥwāl)
  4. Spiritual Abodes (al-manāzil)
  5. Spiritual Encounters (al-munāzalāt)
  6. Spiritual Stations (al-maqāmāt)

Chapter 559 contains the mysteries and secrets of all the chapters of the book, so we can say that it is like a summary of the whole Futūḥāt. In the 48th chapter of the Futūhāt, he says that the content of the message and the form of its presentation have been determined by Divine Inspiration.

Three years later in 632 AH, on the first of Muḥarram, Ibn ‘Arabī embarked on a second draft of the Futūḥāt; this he explained, included a number of additions and a number of deletions as compared with the previous draft. This revision completed in the year 636 (Addas 286). After completion of this 2nd draft, he started teaching it to his disciples. Dr. Osman Yahia has mentioned hundreds of these hearings or public readings that occur between the year 633 AH and 638 AH. These hearings show that the Futūḥāt was a primary document of his concepts and was widespread in his life in comparison with the Fuṣūṣ al-Hikam, which has only one Samā’ given to only Ṣadruddīn al-Qūnawī. 

Death 

Finally on 22 Rabī‘ al-Thānī 638 AH at the age of seventy-five, Ibn ‘Arabī’s terrestrial life came to an end. He was present at the house of Qaḍī Ibn Zakī at the time of death, Jamāluddīn ibn ‘Abd al-Khāliq‘Imād Ibn Naḥḥās and his son ‘Imāduddīn performed his funeral rites. He was buried in the family tomb of the Banū Zakī in the small beautiful district of Ṣāliḥiyya at Jabal Qāsiyūn.



[1] An important Arab tribe of Yemenite origin, related to which was Ḥātim at-Ṭā’ī who was famed for his generosity in pre Islamic age. 

[2] There are two version of his nisba mentioned in the books some says it Al-‘Uraynī and other Al-‘Uraybī but the autograph copy of Futūḥāt al –Makkiyya and manuscript sources of Rūḥ al-Quds clearly mention the nisba as Al-’Uraybī.

[3] Now a days called Loulé, near Silves in Portugal.

[4] We can say that he started writing this work or wrote it in this year but some evidences like the name of other later works – i.e. Insha’ al-Dawā’ir written in 598 according to OY mentioned – in it supports this argument that Ibn ‘Arabī reviewed and amended his works years after they were written.

[5] A town near Seville.

[6] Famous Sufi and the author of the Tabaqāt al-Awliya’. who died in 421/1030.

[7] Risāla Inshā’ al-Dawā’ir describes the fundamentals of his metaphysics, discussion about existence and nonexistence, manifestation and nonmanifestation and the rank of human being in this world.

[8] A copy of the Mss dated 814, copied from Ibn ‘Arabī’s hand is present at Ibn ‘Arabī Foundation’s digital archive.

[9] That book was al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya, a faithful transcription of all the things he was allowed to contemplate on that particular day in the form of the Spirit he encountered. It has been claimed by Ibn ‘Arabī that in the Futūḥāt, the content of the message and the form of its presentation has been determined by Divine Inspiration. Regarding Chapter 88 he writes that: “it would have been preferable to place this chapter before the one I wrote on the ritual acts of worship, but it was not of my choosing” (II, 163).

[10] Addas says that to understand we need to remember that 599 was the year when Shaykh Akbar entered in the 40th year of his life which is quite similar to Prophet Muḥammad, as he received his first revelation in the 40th year of his life (213).

[11] Ibn ‘Arabī explained his name to be called al-Sabtī because he worked only on Saturday (al-Sabt) to gather food for the rest of the week.

[12] A short work about glad tidings and visions that Ibn ‘Arabī had in dreams. 

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