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Ibn al-Arabi Biography


Born in the Spanish township of Murcia on 17th of Ramaḍān 561 AH (27th or 28th of July 1165 AD) with respectable family roots of Banū Ṭayy,[1] this unique mystic of Islam, Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn al-‘Arabī al-Ṭā’ī al-Ḥātmī is universally known as al-Shaykh al-Akbar (The Greatest Master).

His father, ‘Ali ibn Muḥammad served in the Army of Ibn Mardanīsh, and later when Ibn Mardanīsh died in 1172 AD, he swiftly shifted his allegiance to the Almohad Sultan, Abū Ya’qūb Yūsuf I, and became one of his military advisers. While still a lad of eight years the family of Ibn ‘Arabī left Murcia and took Seville for their home. In Stephen Hartenstein’s words: “Ibn ‘Arabī spent his youth age in the most advanced city of that time, an atmosphere steeped in the most important ideas – philosophical, scientific and religious – of his day. For the young Ibn ‘Arabī, twelfth century Seville was no doubt the equivalent of today’s London, Paris and New York.”[2]

[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]  Hirtenstein, Stephen. Unlimited mercifier the spiritual life and thought of Ibn ‘Arabī. Oxford: Anqa Pub., White Cloud, 1999, p 36.


Ibn ‘Arabī’s dogmatic and intellectual training began in the cultural and civilized centre of Muslim Spain as Seville was known in 578 AH. Most of his teachers mentioned in the ijāza wrote to King al-Muẓaffar were the ‘ulamā’ of the Almohad era and some of them also held the official posts of Qāḍī or Khaṭīb.[1] He was just a young boy when his father sent him to the renowned jurist Abū Bakr ibn Khalaf to study Qur’ān. Ibn ‘Arabī learnt the recitation of the Qur’ān from the book of Al-Kāfī in the seven different readings (qirā’āt). The same work was also transmitted to him by another muqrī, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Ghālib ibn al-Sharrāt.[2] At the age of ten, he was well-versed in the Qira’āt; afterwards he learned the sciences of Ḥadīth and Fiqh from the famous scholars of  the time. He studied Ḥadith and Sīra with the muḥaddith (Traditionist) ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Suhaylī, who taught him all of his works. He also attended lectures of Qāḍī Ibn Zarkūn, who transmitted to him Kitāb al-Taqaṣṣī of Al-Shāṭibī and issued him an Ijāza (permission of transmission to others.)

Later he studied under ‘Abd al-Ḥaqq al-Azdī al-Ishbilī his works on Ḥadīth; these are Aḥkām al-Kubrā, al-Wuṣṭā and al-Ṣughrā. In addition to his own works, he also transmitted to Ibn ‘Arabī the writings of the famous Ẓāhirī scholar, Ibn Ḥazm al-Andalusī.[3] The complete list of his teachers and masters can be found in a scholarly certificate Ijāza given to Sultan al-Ashraf al-Muẓaffar, in this document Ibn Arabī mentioned 70 of his teachers and masters.[4]

[1] Addas, Claude. Quest for the Red Sulphur The Life of Ibn 'Arabi (Islamic Texts Society). Lahore: Suhail Academy, p 97.

[2] Ibid. 44.

[3] Ibid. 45.

[4] Ibn ‘Arabī. Rasā’il Ibn ‘Arabī (Ijāza li Malik al-Muẓaffar). Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah. P, 7.

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!”[1] 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!”[2]

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.” [3]

[1] Addas, 36.

[2] Addas, 41.

[3] Ibn Arabī. Al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya, Vols. 1–14, editor: Osman Yahya. Cairo: al-hay’a al-miṣriyya al-‘āma lil kitāb. (Futūḥāt. 2:372)

Spiritual Masters

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[1] of ‘Ulya[2] 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.” [3] 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.

[1] 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 Futūhāt al –Makkiyya and manuscript sources of Rūḥ al-Quds clearly mention the nisba as Al-’Uraybī.

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

[3] Futūḥāt. 3:361-2 (OY)

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!”[1] 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.[2] 

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.  

[1] Futūḥāt, Ch 366.

[2] Futūḥāt, 3:182 (OY)

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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.”[1] 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.[2]

Stephen Hartenstein 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[3] (Divine Governance) in Mawrūr (Moron[4]) for Shaykh Abū  Muḥammad al-Mawrūrī.”[5]

[1] Ibn, Al-‘Arabī. Sharḥ Risālat Rūḥ Al-quds Fī Muḥāsabat Al-nafs. Compiled by: Mahmud al-Ghurab. 2nd ed. Dimashq: Naḍar, 1994. Print. P 116.

[2] Addas, 76 with reference to Mu'ayyad al-Din Jandi, Sharḥ Fuṣuṣ al-Ḥikam.

[3] 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.

[4] A town near Seville.

[5] Hirtenstein, 91.

Ibn ‘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.[1] 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).”[2] 

[1] Ibid. 110.

[2] See Futūḥāt, Ch 69 and 206.


The Mi’raj

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 its 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

These lines have no possible room for doubt: Ibn ‘Arabī is identifying himself categorically and explicitly with the Muhammadan Seal like Jesus (AS).

اسرا ابن العربي

[1] Futūḥāt 4:71 (OY), Elmore, Gerald T. Islamic sainthood in the fullness of time Ibn al-‘Arabī's Book of the fabulous gryphon. Leiden: Brill, 1999. P 56.

A Lifetime Friend

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.”[1]

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 (The Setting of the Stars) 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.”[2]

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.” Later Ibn ‘Arabī finds Abū ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī[3] in it and he told Ibn ‘Arabī that this station is called, the station of proximity (maqām al-qurba) .[4]

[1] Futūḥāt, 1:72 (OY), Hirtenstein, 123.

[2] Hirtenstein, 127.

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

[4] 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.[1] 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[2] 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.[3]

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).

[1] Ibn ‘Arabī. Kitāb al Bā’. Cairo: Maktabat Al-Qāhira, 1954.                                                                                                                         

[2] 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.

[3] Ibn ‘Arabī, Rûh Al-Quds.

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;[1] it was in Makkah that the love of women was first evoked in his heart by the beautiful Niẓām,[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] It is believed that after wearing this Khirqa Ibn ‘Arabī formally joined the Qadriyya Traīqa.

[1] Hirtenstein, 148.

[2] Hirtenstein, 149.

[3] Hirtenstein, 150.

[4] Elmore, Gerald. "Ibn Al-‘Arabī’s Testament on the Mantle of Initiation (al-Khirqah)." Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society XXVI (1999): 1-33. Print. A copy of the Mss dated 814, copied from Ibn ‘Arabī’s hand is present at Ibn ‘Arabī Foundation.

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.” [3] 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[4] 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.”[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 

[1] Hirtenstein, 148.

[2] Futūḥāt, 1:218 (OY) That book was al-Futūhāt 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 Futūhāt, 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.

[3] Addas, 213. 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. (Claude Addas)

[4] 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.

[5] Addas, 216.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

Counsel my Servants

The message was clear and it was from God; in a passage of Kitab al-Mubashshirāt[1] 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.” 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.”

[1] Ibid. 218.


Journeys to the North

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 Arabi 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 Jīlānī. Shaykh 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-Mawṣiliyya, Kitāb al-Jalāl wa’l-Jamāl and Kunh mā lā Budda lil-MurīdMinhu.[1] 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.[2]

 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.

[1] Hirtenstein, 176.

[2] Ibid. 179.

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).[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.  

[1] Yousef, M. H. Shams al-Magrib (Biography of Ibn ‘Arabī). Aleppo: Dâr al-Fuṣṣilat, 2006, p 307.

[2] Ibid, p 309.

[3] Ibid. 311.

[4] Futūḥāt 2:376. Hirtenstein, 181.

Baghdad, The city of 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[1] 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).

[1] Osman, Yahya. Histoire et classification de l'oeuvre d'Ibn 'Arabî. Damascus, 1964. Originally written in French and later rendered in Arabic.

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 (Interpreter of Desires). 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.[1]

[1] Yousef, 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.”[1]

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.[2] Lastly his close companion and valet, friend and fellow, traveller on the way of God Badr al-Ḥabashī died.  

[1] Hirtenstein, 188

[2] Ibid, 189.

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-Yaqīn, Al-Maqsad al-Asmá, Kitāb al-Mīm wal-Wāw wal-Nun, Mafātīh 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.”[1] 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.[2] 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.”[3] In the same year just over two months after receving 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.  

[1]Addas, 275 with reference to Kitāb al-mubashshirāt. MS. Bayazid 1668. dated 667H and read before Qūnawī. f 61. And MS. Fatih 5322. f 92. Cf. also Futūḥāt., I, 527.

[2] Futūḥāt Ch 49

[3] Addas, 277.

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]

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.[2] 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.  

 Later in the same year he wrote an Ijāza for Sultan Al-Ashraf al-Muẓaffar, and a booklist; the Fihrist al-Mu’allafāt. These two documents contain lists of his works. The Ijāza was a teaching certificate in which Ibn ‘Arabī listed 290 works alongside 70 of his spiritual teachers.[3] According to Osman Yahia, who compiled the first detailed study of Ibn’Arabī’s works in 1964 AD, there are 317 works cited by Ibn ‘Arabī in his books of which only one-third are known in manuscript form at present. [4]

[1] Ibid, 215.

[2] Addas, 286. 

[3] Hirtenstein, 217.

[4] Ibid.

Departing this world

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]

[1] Ibid. 220.