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Ibn al-Arabi Studies in Urdu Before Ibn al-Arabi Foundation [Feb 2012]

For those caring about religious and intellectual matters in Pakistan an indifference to Ibn 'Arabî is not an option. First, the national poet-philosopher, Iqbal (1939), had an ambivalent intellectual relation to the Shaikh and his major philosophical contribution is considered a reaction against what he made out of him. Second, the attempts to relate wahdat al-wujûd andwahdat al-shuhûd, the official doctrine of naqshbandiyyah mujaddidiyyah, continue to the present. Third, a major part of the polemic on Sufism focuses on the Shaikh. Thanks to these factors we are able to talk about Ibn 'Arabî studies in Urdu.

Ashraf 'Alî Thânavî (d. 1943), one of the most influential Sufi masters of the twentieth century, wrote a defence of the Shaikh, largely based on Sha'rânî, Tanbîh al-tarabî ilâ tanzîh Ibn 'Arabî. He contributed two little commentaries upon some difficulties of Fusûs, Khusûs al-kilam and Al-hall al-aqwam and a refutation of the claim that Ibn 'Arabî allowed the coming of Prophets after Muhammed, peace be upon him.Mehr 'Alî Shâh (d. 1937), an equally influential Sufi, delivered daily lectures on Fusûs, published as Maqâlât al-mardiyyah. His conversations (Malfûzât) and correspondence abound with reference to the Shaikh. Mehr 'Alî wrote Tahqîq al-haqq, a highly philosophical response to the claim that every Muslim must believe in wahdat al-wujûd.

Fusûs al-hikam

The first translation, by 'Abd al-Ghafûr Daustî (Hyderabad Dakkan: 1889c), was revised by Maulavî Barkatullah (Luknow: 1903c). The introduction contains a biographical sketch, defence of the Shaikh and explanation of the basic concepts of his thought.Seyyed Mubârik Alî's translation was published as Kunûz asrâr al-qidam (Kanpur: 1894). We also have a translation with introduction and summary of each chapter by Abdul Qadîr Siddîqî (Hyderabad Dakkan: 1942) which is most widely circulated.There are at least three commentaries on the Fusûs. In addition to Mehr Alî's Maqâlât MardiyyahSeyyed Mubârik Alî wrote a commentary titled Khazâ'in asrâr al-kalim published along with his translation (Karachi: 1994). In the detailed introduction, the translator has attempted to find rational and traditional proofs of wahdat al-wujûd, discussed concepts such as tanazzulât and al-insân al-kâmil and given an alphabetical glossary of important Sufi terms. This is the most important work on Fusûs. As its language is a bit archaic, this work must be presented in contemporary jargon.Zahîn Shâh Tâjî (d.1978), a famous Sufi who had some prominent Pakistani philosophers among his disciples, published his commentary on the Fusûs in Al-tâj, the journal he edited, during 1971-75. This commentary, based largely on Qaysarî, has been published in a separate volume (Karachi: 1981). Another commentary Tahqîq al-amam is by 'Atâullah Qâdrî (Peshawar: 1990). Though the worth of this contribution remains to be seen, the translation seems rather careless at certain crucial points.

Al-Futûhât al-Makkiyyah

The first attempt to render Futûhât into Urdu by Maulavî Fadhl Khan (d.1938) continued from 1913 to 1927. The translations appeared as tracts of 100 pages each. Most probably it was due to lack of readership that the project was abandoned after 30 chapters had been translated. For most of the early chapters extensive commentaries are provided but in a manner that makes it difficult to differentiate between translation and commentary. Anyway, this is the most accurate translation so far and has served as a foundation for later attempts.In 1987 Sâ'im Chishtî published a four-volume translation, with Arabic text at the end of each volume. The terrible inaccuracy of this translation is clear even from the very first sentence translated as '…Allah who created things ex nihilo and then destroyed it'. This work is completely unreliable.Fârûq al-Qâdirî has started translating Futûhât. The volume containing the first two chapters appeared in 2004. He has written a very good introduction in which he has tried to extenuate the Shaikh from charges of unorthodoxy. This translation equals Fadhl's in accuracy but is more accessible as the language used is contemporary. One can only wish for the completion of this project.


Four small works of the Shaikh have been translated (Lahore: 2001): Shajarat al-kawn, Al-kibrît al-ahmar, Al-amr al-muhkam al-marbût, and Kitâb al-akhlâq. Al-amr, first translated by Muhammed Shafî', the Grand Mufti of Pakistan, contains some explanatory notes by Thânavî.In addition there are some translations of works on Ibn 'Arabî from other languages, books attacking him, and research papers in renowned journals. Compared to other languages, however, work in Urdu is meagre. This is thanks to a lack of interaction and organization among scholars interested in Ibn 'Arabî. I do believe that the Ibn 'Arabî Society can be instrumental in this regard.

by: Qaiser Shahzad, Research Associate, IRI.