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Ibn Al Arabi (ra): a Controversial Mystic - Part Three - at Damascus, Shaikh-The Man and His Works


By S. M. Pasha for New Age Islam

Chapter IV

At Damascus

Shaikh al Akbar Ibn al Arabi left Makkah al Mukarramah in 608 {1211/12 C.E} and went to Baghdad. Thence he travelled throughout Mesopotamia and Syria {the areas which we now call the Middle East}.  After visiting Mosul, he returned to Makkah al Mukarramah in 612 H.  It is said that the Governor of Asia Minor – a CHRISTIAN – received the Shaikh al Akbar with great respect and even gave him a large house to live. His stay there was comfortable but still the Shaikh wandered from place to place in search of a suitable location where he can do his work in peace.

At last, he chose DAMASCUS. He did have a few opponents there too. But those opponents were weak. The Chief Quazi of Damascus Mufti Shamshuddin Al Khuwai gave the Shaikh his daughter in marriage and s loved and respected him that he served him as a sort of a slave, The Governor of Hemns sent him a hundred Dirhams a day and Ibn al Azki – a rich merchant – gave him thirty Dirhams a day.

Whilst at Damascus, the Shaikh devoted his time in writing his intricate work It is said that the Shaikh used to write at the rate of Three Karats {which we now call Quires} a day!  His works in Arabic were freely translated into Persian and circulated.  In Damascus, he enrolled many disciples. Even reputed scholars from far and near sought his audience to seek his blessings and to learn from him “”the truths of the upper world and the realities of the lower one.”

At the ripe old age of SEVENTY THREE YEARS, SEVN MONTHS and NINE DAYS, according to the lunar calendar, at the zenith of his hard and rightly earned glory, whilst imparting Islamic knowledge to one of his Mureeds, the Shaikh al Akbar, the Shamsh ul Ulema, Rais ul Aareefeen Muhiyuddin Ibn Arabi migrated from his temporary here to the permanent one on the night of the Youmul Jummah {Friday} the 28th of Rabius Sani  638 H { 1240 C.E.} . INNA LILLAHI O INNA ELAYHI RAJEEOON”

“To abstain from anything for the sake of human beings is HYPOCRISY, whilst to do anything and everything for the sake of human beings is nothing but idolatry”  _ Shaikh Shaqih of Balkh


Chapter V

Shaikh – The Man

Shaikh al Akbar Ibn al Arabi, who was the pillar of RATIONALISM and FREE THOUGHT, left behind him a large follower drawn from all walks of life.  The secret of his popularity  was his marvellous character, his catholic outlook, his deep insight into the realities of existence and his immense piety – to say the least.  The Shaikh could have, if he so desired, amassed a fortune but he cared a tuppence for worldly wealth. He gave away, in the name of Allah Subhan Ta’ala, whatever wealth he obtained from Him.  But, mind you, my noble readers, he was NOT against wealth as such for he believed that wealth is one of the means of endearing one’s self to Allah (swt). It is that, in Damascus a beggar approached him for charity. The Shaikh did not have any money to give. All that he possessed was the house in which he lived. Lo! The Shaikh gifted his house,{  which was gifted to him by the Governor of Asia Minor}  to the beggar and when the begat accepted the gift, the Shaikh gladly and promptly vacated the house and gave him vacant possession of the house. MASHA’ALLAH!

Ibn al Arab either was actually or pretended to be a firm believer in DREAMS; in their utility  and utilization.  In most of his works, one will come across references to many a dream in which the Holy Prophet ( s.a.w,a) appeared to him and conversed with him.  By DREAMS may be the Shaikh meant VISIONARY SIGHTS in the world of “meethaal” or ideas” or “mental forms”.  His DREAMS even if taken to be mere DREAMS, have “INNER SIGNIFICANCE” and a PERCETION into REALITIES of things as perceived by him. The Shaikh al Akbar was, no doubt, a full-fledged RATIONASLIST yet he claimed KNOWLEDGE through SUPER NATURAL means.  This might appear to you, dear readers, as PARADOXICAL.  In the opinion of this humble writer, the Shaikh al Akbar claims that he got KNOWLEDGE through DREAMS only with the best of intentions for the benefit of his followers.  In one of his works, he declares,   “ it is NOT improper ,on the part of a “peer’ { teacher} to tell his “Mureeds” { disciples} that he knows EVERYTHING and that  the knowledge which he is imparting  cannot b had anywhere else and adds that such a declaration  is proper because it inspire strong confidence in the greatness of the teacher which helps the student to acquire knowledge quickly and with deep interest.”

“Total ignorance of God Almighty is sure knowledge of God Almighty and complete supplication to the Almighty is the marrow of worship.”  - Shaikh Ibn al Arabi.


Chapter VI

His Works

 The Shaikh was a prolific writer. His own inventory – drawn about five years before his demise – enumerates TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTY NINE BOOKS. Syedina Jami

(may Allah be pleased with him) , in his   “NAFHATHUAL UNS” credits the Shaikh with FIVE HUNDRED BOOKS.

Alas! Only about a HUNDRED and ODD books exist in the various libraries in the world.

In this connection, it is quite appropriate to bring it to the notice of the noble readers that the Shaikh ul Akbar wrote a COMMENTARY of the Holy Quran in FIFTEEN volumes. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete the work because Death lay its deadly hands on him before he could complete the work.

“AL FUTHUHATH AL MAKKIYAH” was printed in 1274 C,E at Bultak in Egypt.  It contains FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY CHAPTERS dealing with a variety of subjects such as: the question of GOD ALMIGHTY and His Nature; PREDESTINATION; DAY OF JUDGEMENT; THE THRONE OF ALLAH; THE CREATION OF THE HOLY PROPHET ADHAM [puh} and Prophet Muhammad ( s.a.w.s). Besides, it is about the PRINCIPLES of” FIQH” {jurisprudence} and about THEOLOGY. In Chapter 559, he expounds his PERSONAL VIEWS on religion and faith,

“FUSUS al HIKAM’   which means “ BAZELS OF WISDOM” or “ MOSAIC OF PRECEPTS” contains TWENTY SEVEN  chapters  each  of which is named after one of the Messengers of Allah ( peace be on them}  Just as he  did in his “FUTHUHATH”, the Shaikh expounded some of his momentous doctrines of mystical philosophy.  Prof. R.,A. NICHOLSON  in his “  STUDIES OF ISLAMIC MYSTICISM” has written valuable notes  on the FUSUS.  Khaja Khan’s ‘WISDOM OF THE PROPHETS”  is a brief translation of the “FUSUS”

Both the “FUTHUHATH’ and the “FUSUS”, it is said, were written by the Shaikh ul Akbar after the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s) appeared to him {in his DREAM or VISIONARY SIGHT}.  In his INTRODU CTION to his “FUTHUHATH” he states thus:   “AS I WA S WRITING THIS INTRODUCTION, I SAW THROUGH ILLUMINATION MUHAMMAD {Sallal Lahu Alaih Wa Sallam) in the world of REAL IDEAS near the GREAT PRESENCE.  When I saw him there as the Chief, he welcomed me and said: “THIS IS THE SACRED PLACE OF MUHAMMAD [,w,s} HE, WHO, MOUNTED IT, INHERITED THE CUSTODIANSHIP OF TRUTHS AND SHARIATH.”   At that place, I was given WISDOM and endowed with concise speaking.  I thanked Allah Subhan Ta’ala and mounted the pulpit till I reached the place of the Holy Prophet (s.a,w,s). Several pieces of white cloth were placed on the place so that my feet might not touch that sacred place,”  The Shaikhul Akbar  further narrates a long dialogue between him and the Holy Prophet ( s.a.w,s)

 “INSHA AL DAWAIR” – this book explains human being’s place in creation and cosmogony.

 “THUFATHUL SAFARA” –deals with the mystic’s journey in search of TRUTH and REALITY.

 “HIYATHUL ABDAL” – The Shaikh ul Akbar claims it to be an ‘” ORNAMENT OF THE ASCETICS” and a “GUIDE T O HAPPINESS”

 “UQHLATHUL MUSTAWFIDH”   describes the denizens of the upper and the lower worlds, the spirits, the Throne of Allah, the stars, the earth and many other things,

 “IFADA’ – This book claims to be a “mine of information” dealing with Allah Subhan Ta’ala and the world of sense.

 Al Keemiya Al Sa’adah’ discusses the Formula of the Belief in One God.

 Tarjuman Al Ashwaaq” – a collection of Sufistic Poetry.

 “AL FAIDA” - treats the subject of Divination through the Arabic Alphabetical Letters.

 Kithab Al Akhlaaqh’” is a sort of Code of Good Conduct.

 “Muhadarath Al Abraar” deals with Literary And Historical topics.

 Majma A Rasail Al Ilklahiyah” a collection of treatises on Allah Subhan Ta’ala.

“Mawaqaual Nujum” –deals with Occult Science.

Al Jamiul Wal Tafsil Fi Haqiqah Al Tanzil” – Seeks To Explain The Details Regarding Realities.

Some of his other major works are: “Al Jadhwath Al Muqathabisath”, “Al Ma’aarif Al Illahiyah”, “ Al Asra La Mujqaam Il Asna Anqa Al Maghrib”.  “Dadail Abdul Aziz Al Mawduw”, “Amr Mukhakkam”

The works of the Shaikh ul Akbar are, honestly speaking, too numerous to be mentioned and too abstruse to be analysed in  a small book of this kind by a writer with a very limited knowledge of SUFISM. Whatever has been written may please be taken as a cursory glimpses, presented with a view to inducing the readers to go through the original works of the Shaikh ul Akbar or their translations and commentaries by eminent  Ulema  and  scholars – Muslims as well as non-Muslims . In this connection, it is but fit and  proper  to quote  Prof. E,G.Browne, whi, in his ‘ LITERARY HISTORY OF PERSIA”  writes : “ So far as I am aware, no adequate study of his [the Shaikh ul Akbar’s}  works  and doctrines has been made in Europe  though  a few fields of greater promise offer themselves to the aspiring Arabist, who is interested in the characteristic aspect of Eastern Thought.”


“In this dark world, it is incumbent to serve the needy by the pen,  tongue,  wealth and positive prayers, fasting and voluntary worship are good as far as they go but are not useful as making others happy,” – Shaikh Sharfuddin Yahya Munairi

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