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An Introduction to 
[bn ‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Unity 


For the study and an understanding 
of esoteric knowledge as expressed most 
completely by Ibn ‘Arabi, it is necessary to 
become acquainted with some of the 
terminology which he uses in his exposition 
of the way of the mystic in his esoteric 


An Introduction to 
Ibn ‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Unity 

Extracts from 
The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul Arabi 
by A. E. Affifi 


Edited extracts from 
The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul Arabi 
by ALE. Affifi 
© Cambridge University Press 1938 

This edition published by Beshara Publications 
c/o Chisholme House 
Roberton, nr Hawick 
Roxburgh TD9 7PH 

ISBN 0 904975 20 7 

Printed in Great Britain 


Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, one of the greatest mystics of all time, 
was born in Murcia in 1165 of an ancient Arab family. His 
intellectual ability and spiritual aptitude were apparent from 
an early age, and he studied assiduously under many teachers 
in Andalusia and the Maghrib. After extensive travels in the 
Islamic world, he died at Damascus in 1240. He left more 
than 400 writings, in which the primordial principle of the 
Absolute Unity of Existence is expressed with unique clarity 
and fullness. To many he is known simply as al-Shaykh al- 
Akbar — ‘the Greatest Teacher’. 

The text of this book consists of edited highlights from A.E. 
Affifi’s The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul Arabi, 
originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1938. 
The extracts presented here as a continuous text were first 
put together more than twenty years ago by Bulent Rauf, 
Consultant to the Beshara Trust until his death in 1987. His 
intention was to provide a complete introductory guide to 
the language and thought of Ibn ‘Arabi, particularly those 
aspects of his doctrine which refer to the Unity of Being and 
the Perfectability of Man. It should be noted that Affifi’s 
original work was in some respects not favourable to Ibn 
‘Arabi’s point of view, though the author understood well 
enough what he was disagreeing with. Indeed, Affifi has 
done a great service by providing the raw material for what 
is perhaps the most lucid and thorough introduction to Ibn 
‘Arabi’s metaphysics of perfection. 

Long known simply as the Twenty-Nine Pages from the for- 
mat of its original printing, this text has been a foundation 
for study at the Beshara School of Intensive Esoteric Education 
for many years, where it has been read prior to Ibn ‘Arabi’s 
own more demanding works such as the Fusiis al-Hikam. The 
clarity of the exposition and depth of meaning make it an 
invaluable reference work for all students of mysticism and 
the spiritual life, whatever their background. The only 

agreement required from the reader is to the premise that 
Reality is One. This accepted, Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine is shown, 
like all expressions of the highest wisdom, to be universal in 
its implications, and immediate in its address. 

The Twenty-Nine Pages has been reprinted at least seven times 
for the use of the School, with minor editorial changes. This 
edition has been divided into sections to provide a better 
sense of the structure of Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought and to allow 
easier reference for the student. At the Beshara School it is 
always studied in groups, forming the focus for intensive 
discussion and acting as a mirror for the students’ questions 
concerning their relationship with Reality. This is the first 
edition to be made available to the public, in the sincere hope 
that many will benefit from its grand yet essentially simple 



The One & the Many 
Immanence & Transcendence 

The Divine Names 

The A ‘yan al-thabita 

The Self-Revelations of the One 
The Reality of Realities 

The Perfect Man 



The Heart 

The Soul 


Fana’ & Baga’ 


Good & Evil 

Love & Beauty 

Index of Names & Arabic Terms 


Ibn ‘Arabi’s premise is the bird’s-eye view — looking down 
upon a pyramid from above its apex, rather than viewing 
the pyramid from its base and looking up towards its apex. 
The apex of Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought is the point which is the 
‘Absolute Being’. 

Ibn ‘Arabi uses the term ‘Absolute Being’ (al-wujiid al-mutlaq) 
or ‘Entire Being’ (al-wujiid al-kulli) to denote the Reality which 
is the essence of all that exists. 

Reality is ultimately One, and Being (existence as a concept) 
is identical with the One Existing Reality which is the source 
of all that has existence. It follows that Absolute Existence, 
which cannot be anything but a ‘universal concept’, and 
‘Absolute Reality’ (al-haqq al-mutlaq) are identical. 

Reality (Being) is one and a unity, and Existence is one and a 
unity. Reality which is Absolute Being is actually one with 
Absolute Existence, though they may be separated in 
thought. Absolute Existence is the source of all limited 
existences. Ibn ‘Arabi says, “Were it not for the permeation 
of God, by means of His form, in all existents, the world 
would have no existence; just as were it not for the intelligi- 
ble universal realities, no predications (ahkam) of external 
objects would be possible.” 

The real source of all beings is ‘Absolute Being’: a Reality or 
Being whose existence is identical with its Essence — a Being 
whose existence is necessary (wajib al-wujidi li dhatihi). This 
Essence is at once all the realised and the realisable quiddi- 
ties (mahiyyat) in the external world with all their properties 
and accidents, and upon this Essence, with its existence and 
manifestations, the human mind bases its notions of abstract 

Absolute Being, or Absolute Existence, or Absolute Reality, 
which is Entire, Indivisible, Universal and Infinite, is the 
Origin of all that follows. 

Being becomes existent when particularised either as an in- 
ternal mentation at the level of the Absolute Being, or as an 
extension of that being in the external manifestation. How- 
ever, aS we shall see, extension in this case is an extension 
without extension, although for our purposes the extension 
into manifestation is better considered as an existent in the 
world. Everything that has being may be said to have exist- 
ence if manifested in one or other of what he calls ‘awalim 
(universes) or maratib (degrees) of being. The word ‘alam 
(universe) is often used in esoteric language to denote a 
global, unlimited, in-depth system. 

As we will see elsewhere, there are considered to be 18,000 
universes, though their number is infinite. This universe is 
both finite and infinite, immanential and spiritual, temporal 
and eternal, and above all, both existent and non-existent. It 
both exists in the knowledge of God as permanent and eter- 
nal, and in the phenomenal world as temporal and finite. 
What applies to the Universe also applies to Man. For in- 
stance, the Universe is sometimes called the Big Man, and 
Man is sometimes known as the small Universe. 

Ibn ‘Arabi uses the term ‘not-being’ to denote either: 

1. things that do not exist in any of the universes or degrees 
of being — the pure non-existent (al-‘adam al-mahd), about 
which nothing further can be said; 

2. things that exist in one plane but not in another, under 
which we may class: 
a. things which exist only as ideas or concepts in a mind 
and cannot possibly exist in the external world; 

b. things which are possible or even probable existents, 
but which do not actually exist in the external world. 

The ‘pure not-being’ can never itself be an object of our 
thought; other non-existents can and actually are. When we 
imagine we know a pure not-being, what we really know is 


its opposite (its logical contradictory), or the reason for its 

By a necessary being is meant a being whose existence is self- 
necessitated, i.e. it exists per se: and this is God alone. A 
possible (or contingent) being is that for whose existence 
there is no essential or necessary reason, i.e. its being or non- 
being are equally possible. An impossible being is one whose 
non-existence is necessitated by some formal reason. The 
philosophers deny the category of the contingent on the 
ground that all that exists is either necessary in itself or made 
necessary through another being whose existence is neces- 
sary in itself (wajib al-wujudi bi l-ghayr). However Ibn ‘Arabi 
adds, “But the gnostic (‘drif) admits contingency and knows 
its real place and what the contingent means and whence it 
is contingent, and the fact that it is essentially identical with 
wajib al-wujidi bi l-ghayr.” In fact, he emphatically denies the 
existence of the contingent per se, and admits only two cate- 
gories: the necessary (as explained above) and the impossible. 


According to Ibn ‘Arabi there is only one Reality in exist- 
ence. This Reality we view from two different angles, now 
calling it Haqq (the Real) when we regard it as the Essence of 
all phenomena, and now Khalq (the Immanence), when we 
regard it as the manifested phenomena of that Essence. Haqq 
and Khalq, Reality and Appearance, the One and the Many, 
are only names for two subjective aspects of One Reality: it 
is areal unity but an empirical diversity. This Reality is God. 
“If you regard Him through Him”, Ibn ‘Arabi says, “then 
He regards Himself through Himself, which is the state of 
unity; but if you regard Him through yourself then the unity 

The One is everywhere as an Essence, and nowhere as the 
Universal Essence which is above and beyond all ‘where’ 


and ‘how’. “Unity has no other meaning than two (or more) 
things being actually identical, but conceptually distinguish- 
able the one from the other; so in one sense the one is the 
other; in another it is not.” “Multiplicity is due to different 
points of view, not to an actual division in the One Essence 

The whole of Ibn ‘Arabi’s metaphysics rests on this distinc- 
tion and there is not a single point in his system where it is 
not introduced in some form or other. 

Owing to our finite minds and our inability to grasp the 
Whole as a Whole, we regard itasa plurality of beings, as- 
cribing to each one characteristics which distinguish it from 
the rest. Only a person possessed of the vision of a mystic, 
Ibn ‘Arabi would say, can transcend, ina supra-mental state 
of intuition, all the multiplicity of forms and ‘see’ the reality 
that underlies them. What seem to multiply the One are the 
ahkam (predications) which we predicate of external objects 
~ the fact that we bring them under categories of colour, size, 
shape, and temporal and spatial relations, etc. In itself the 
One is simple and indivisible. 

To express it in theological language, as Ibn ‘Arabi some- 
times does, the One is al-Hagq (the Real or God), the Many 
are al-Khalq (created beings, phenomenal world); the One is 
the Lord, the Many are the servants; the One isa unity (jam‘), 
the Many are a diversity (farq); and so on. 

Now we are ina position to understand the apparent para- 
doxes in which Ibn ‘Arabi often revels, such as “the creator 
is the created”; “Iam He and He is I’; “lam He and not He”; 
“Haqq is Khalg and Khalq is Haqq”; “Haqg is not Khalg and 
Khalg is not Haqq”; and so on and so on. Explained on this 
relative notion of the two aspects of Reality, these paradox- 
es are no paradoxes at all. There is a complete reciprocity 
between the One and the Many as understood by Ibn ‘Arabi, 
and complete mutual dependence. Like two logical correla- 
tives, neither has any meaning without the other. 


The relation between the One and the Many is often ex- 
plained by Ibn ‘Arabi by means of metaphors, and the utmost 
care should be taken in understanding them correctly. 

The metaphor of the ‘mirror’ and ‘images’ is closely allied to 
that of the ‘object’ and its ‘shadow’. The One is regarded as 
an object whose image is reflected in different mirrors; the 
images appearing in different forms and shapes according 
to the nature of each mirror (locus). The Many (phenomenal 
world) is the mirror-image, the shadow of the Real object 
beyond. The whole world is like a shadow play. “We are 
sufficiently far”, he says, “from the screen on which the phe- 
nomenal objects are reflected to believe that what we see (on 
the screen) is all that is real.” To rule out any implication of 
duality, he definitely states that the source of the shadow 
and the shadow itself are one. 

The metaphor of ‘permeation’ and ‘spiritual food’: the Many 
permeates the One in the sense in which qualities, colour 
say, permeate substances. The One, on the other hand, 
permeates the Many as food permeates a body. God is our 
sustaining spiritual food because He is our essence. The phe- 
nomenal world is also His food because it is through it that 
God is endowed with Attributes (ahkam). 

Ibn ‘Arabi holds that the spiritual governs and controls the 
material everywhere: the One Universal Substance abides in 
all and governs all. “The Many are to the One like a vessel 
(ind) in which His Essence subsists.” According to Ibn ‘Arabi, 
spirit is ‘materia’ to matter. The whole Universe may be One 
Universal Spirit possessing even a higher degree of unity 
than that of ahuman mind. The ultimate solution of the prob- 
lem rests with the supra-mental intuition of the mystic, which 
alone perceives the unity as a unity. 

Ibn ‘Arabi warns us that should we maintain a distinction 
between the Real and the Phenomenal (Haqq and Khalq), thus 
explained as Essence and Form, or Reality and Appearance, 


etc., we should not, even on his doctrine, predicate of one 
what is predicable of the other, except in the strict sense of 
regarding them as ultimately and essentially One (Haqq). The 
One Essence transcends all the forms and whatever 
characteristics belong to them. 


We have already seen that the duality of Haqg and Khalq is 
not, in Ibn ‘Arabi’s view, a real duality of beings but a duality 
of what we might call differentiating aspects. Differentiat- 
ing aspects are identified in his philosophy with what he calls 
transcendence and immanence (tanzih and tashbih). In Ibn 
‘Arabi’s doctrine of transcendence and immanence, imma- 
nence is not understood to mean that God possesses hearing, 
or sight, or hands etc., but rather that He is immanent in all 
that hears and sees, and this constitutes His immanence 
(tashbih). On the other hand, His Essence is not limited to 
one being or a group of beings that hear and see, but is man- 
ifested in all such beings whatever. In this sense God is 
transcendent because He is above all limitation and individ- 
ualisation. As a universal substance, He is the Essence of all 
that is. Thus Ibn ‘Arabi reduces tanzih and tashbih to abso- 
luteness (itlaq) and limitedness (taqyid). 

Ibn ‘Arabi emphatically denies anthropomorphism and cor- 
porealism, and the Christian doctrine of incarnation (hulil). 
To say that Christ is God is true, he says, in the sense that 
everything else is God, and to say that Christ is the son of 
Mary is also true, but to say that God is Christ the son of 
Mary is false, because this would imply that He is Christ 
and nothing else. God is you and I and everything else in 
the universe. He is all that is perceptible and imperceptible; 
material or spiritual. It is infidelity (kufr) to say that He is 
you alone or I alone or Christ alone, or to limit Him in any 
form whatever, even in a conceptual form. When a man says 


that he has seen God in a dream with such and such a col- 
our, size or form, all that he wishes to say is that God has 
revealed Himself to him in one of His infinite forms, for He 
reveals Himself in intelligible as well as in concrete forms. 
So what the man has really seen is a form of God, not God 

Ibn ‘Arabi holds that transcendence and immanence are two 
fundamental aspects of Reality as we know it. Neither of 
them would be sufficient without the other if we want to 
give a complete account of Reality. The Haqq of whom tran- 
scendence is asserted is the same as the Khalq of whom 
immanence is asserted, although (logically) the Creator is 
distinguished from the created. 

Although Ibn ‘Arabi asserts that everything and all things 
are God (the immanent aspect), he takes care not to assert 
the converse. God is the Unity behind the multiplicity and 
the Reality behind the Appearance (the transcendent aspect). 
He says that it is not transcendence as asserted by man which 
explains the real nature of God as the Absolute. Even the 
most abstract transcendence (conceived by man) is a form of 
limitation, because it implies, at least, the existence of an 
asserter besides that of God. Further, to assert anything of 
anything is to limit it; therefore, the assertion even of abso- 
lute transcendence of God is a limitation. The assertion, made 
by the intellect, of the transcendence of God is only a con- 
venient way of contrasting the two aspects of Reality as we 
understand it, but it does not explain its nature. 

Tawhid (unification, union) belongs to the Muwahhid (the 
Unifier), not to God, since God is above all assertions. No- 
one except God Himself knows His real transcendent aspect. 
The perfect Sufi, in his ecstatic flight, might have a glimpse 
of this unity, not through the intellect but by means of a su- 
pra-mental intuition which belongs only to such a state. This 
higher form of transcendence is independent of all assertion. 
It belongs to the Divine Essence per se and 4 se, and. it is what 


Ibn ‘Arabi calls the transcendence of the unity (tanzih al- 
tawhid). The absolute unity and simplicity of the Divine 
Essence is only known to the Divine Essence — there is no 
duality of subject and object, knower and known. 

God is in everything, yet above all things, which is a descrip- 
tion rather than a definition. But even such a definition (ora 
description) would contain, Ibn ‘Arabi urges, definitions of 
all beings, actual and potential, physical and spiritual, and 
since a complete knowledge of everything is an impossibili- 
ty for man, a complete definition of God is therefore 

Ibn ‘Arabi concludes by saying that the so-called attributes 
of transcendence (sifat al-tanzih) should be predicated of the 
Godhead (al-haqq) not of the Essence, for the Essence, in its 
bare abstraction, is attributeless. The attributes of transcend- 
ence are summed up in what he calls absoluteness (itlaq), as 
contrasted with the limitedness (taqyid) of the phenomenal 
world. To the Divine Essence explained above, Ibn ‘Arabi 
sometimes applies the pronoun ‘He’, for the Essence alone 
is the absolute ghayb (unseen). 

In short, Ibn ‘Arabi says that we must distinguish two fun- 
damentally different kinds of transcendence: 

1. That which belongs to the Divine Essence per se and a se - 
the absolute simplicity and unity of the One — the state of 
the ahadiyya. 

2. Transcendence asserted by the intellect, which must always 
be coupled with immanence and which may assume the 
following forms: 

a. God may be called transcendent in the sense of being 
Absolute; or 

b. He may be called transcendent in the sense of being a 
necessary being, self-begotten, self-caused, etc., in 
contradistinction to the contingent, created or caused 
beings of the phenomenal world; or 


c. He may be called transcendent in the sense that He is 
unknowable and incommunicable and beyond all proof. 

The second kind of transcendence Ibn ‘Arabi condemns if 
taken by itself (i.e. without immanence) to be an explana- 
tion of the whole truth about Reality. Reality as Ibn ‘Arabi 
understands it has both aspects: transcendence and 


“The movement of the creation of the world is an intelligible 
one”, Ibn ‘Arabi says. In consideration of this, ‘cause’ and 
‘effect’ are mere appellations, two subjective categories. 

As there is only one Reality, regarded in one aspect as a cause 
and in another as an effect, cause and effect are identical and 
every cause is an effect of its own effect; a conclusion which 
Ibn ‘Arabi says would be pronounced impossible by the 
unaided intellect, but which, according to the mystic intui- 
tion, is an explanation of what actually is. The question is 
understood by the mystic as follows: every cause, on account 
of its being both an essence and a form, is both a cause and 
an effect, an agent and a patient; and every effect, on account 
of its being an essence and a form, is also both a cause and 
an effect, or an agent and a patient. And since Reality is One, 
now regarded as an essence, now as a form, it follows that It 
is both a cause and an effect at the same time, and that every- 
thing that is called a cause, on entering into a causal relation 
with anything else which is called an effect, is at the same 
time an effect of its own effect, on account of that effect be- 
ing (by virtue of its essence) a cause. What it all amounts to 
is that God, who is the only cause, is immanent in both causes 
and effects, so it is immaterial whether we call a particular 
cause a cause of a certain effect, or an effect of this effect 
(itself being regarded as a cause). 


According to Ibn “Arabi, all changes in the phenomenal 
world, in fact all that he calls creation, is nothing but ‘be- 
coming’. He denies that the relation between God and the 
universe is a conditional relation on the ground that a con- 
dition (shart) does not necessarily entail the existence of the 
thing of which it is a condition. For him, the existence of the 
universe is necessarily entailed by that of a necessary being. 
He argues that to be alive is a condition for being able to 
acquire knowledge and to have legs is a condition for being 
able to walk, but the existence of life does not necessarily 
entail that of knowledge, neither does the existence of legs 
necessarily entail walking. We can never say that the condi- 
tioned must exist, although we say that if it did, its condition 
must exist. 

But unlike a condition, a cause, by itself, Ibn ‘Arabi says, 
does entail the existence of its own effect. The universe is 
regarded by the Ash‘arites and the ancient philosophers as 
a necessary consequence of a certain cause. Ibn ‘Arabi agrees 
with both, saying that we may say, following the Ash‘arites, 
that the divine knowledge of God, or the Essence, according 
to the philosophers, is the cause of the universe, if and only 
if this does not imply any temporal priority of God to the 
universe. It would be meaningless, he says, to talk about a 
temporal interval or a gap between the One and the Many, 
or God and the Universe, or the Necessary and the Contin- 
gent, if necessity and contingency are regarded (as he regards 
them) as only two aspects of the One. If we must say that the 
universe is caused or created at all, it must not be under- 
stood in the sense of the universe originated or created in 
time or from nothing. Ibn ‘Arabi does not admit creation ex 

The world was never at any time a non-existent and then 
became an existent. The universe is eternal, infinite and 
everlasting, because it is the outward expression of the eter- 
nal, infinite and everlasting One. He says, “The end of the 
world is something unrealisable — neither has the world any 


ultimate goal”. The so-called next world is something forev- 
er in the making. What people call this world and the next 
world are mere names for the ever new process of creation, 
which is a continual process of annihilation and recreation. 
There never is an interval in time. We cannot say that any- 
thing was not, then (thumma) was. ‘Then’ (thumma) does not 
mean an interval of time, but it indicates the logical priority 
of the cause to its effect. Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn ‘Arabi’s 
contemporary and fellow countryman, explains creation as 
“renewed existence every instant in a constantly changing 
world, always taking its new form from the preceding”. The 
universe as a whole is one big, contingent being. Neither the 
universe nor anything in it has an acquired existence in the 
sense of being created from nothing. Acquired existence is a 
mental fiction. What things acquire are the ahkam (predica- 
tions) of external existence. 

Everything is an eternal existent in its state of latency (thubit) 
and a temporal existent in its manifestation in the external 
world (zuhir). He goes on to say that in saying that an object 
is created or caused to exist we mean no more than what we 
mean when we say that “a man has appeared in our house 
today”, which does not imply that he had no previous exist- 
ence before coming into our house. He says that God does 
not create anything; creation (takwin) — which, according to 
him, means the coming into concrete manifestation of an al- 
ready existing substance — belongs to the thing itself. “It 
comes to being” means that it manifests itself of its own ac- 
cord. The only thing that God does in the matter is to will a 
thing to be (concretely manifested), and God wills nothing 
and commands nothing, the existence of which is not made 
necessary by the very nature and laws of things themselves. 
Were it not in the nature of a thing to be at the moment of 
God’s command, it would never be. Nor even would God 
command it to be. So, nothing brings a thing into existence 
(i.e. makes its existence manifest) except itself. 


He explains ‘causality’ in terms of two triads which corre- 
spond to one another, the one expressing one aspect of reality 
(God); the other, the other aspect (the phenomenal world). 
The first triad stands for God as a trinity of Essence, Will, 
and Word; the second stands for the phenomenal world, also 
a trinity, of essences characterised by obedience and hearing. 

In this sense and this sense only does Ibn ‘Arabi regard the 
universe as created or caused, just as it is in this sense that 
he calls it eternal. But there remains one fundamental point, 
which is that he denies the eternity of the world in one defi- 
nite sense: that is in the sense that it is co-eternal with God 
in the form in which we know it. What is co-eternal with 
God, or what is God Himself, is the essence of the world, not 
the form. He says, “God predestines things in eternity but 
does not bring them into existence (i.e. in eternity), or what 
is the sense in calling Him a creator if the created things are 
co-eternal with Him?” In this sense, he calls the universe 
hadith (originated) and contingent and not-being, and he adds 
that it always is and always will be. 

It is idle, he concludes, to ask when the world was created. 
‘When’ refers to time, and time has always been regarded as 
a product of the phenomenal world itself. There is no tem- 
poral succession between creator and created, but there is a 
logical order of ‘before’ and ‘after’, not in time. Ibn ‘Arabi 
adds that the relation between God and the universe is anal- 
ogous to that of yesterday and today. “We cannot say that 
yesterday precedes today in time, since it is time itself. The 
non-existence of the world was never at any time.” 



Ibn ‘Arabi calls the Divine Names the causes of the universe. 
He regards the Divine Names as lines of force. As names of 
the Godhead, they demand by their very nature their logical 
correlatives, which can only be found in an outward expres- 
sion or manifestation in the external world. The Knower, for 
example, demands something known; the Creator something 
created; and so on. Besides this, Ibn ‘Arabi speaks of them 
as being instrumental causes (like tools) which God uses in 
all the creative activities in the world. Our knowledge of the 
Divine Names, he says, and of their hierarchical order — their 
classification into principal and subordinate — is the clue to 
our knowledge of the categories manifested in the spiritual 
and the physical worlds. In everything, no matter how com- 
plex it is, every ‘aspect’ (wajh) and every ‘reality’ (haqiqa) 
corresponds and owes its very existence to a Divine Name, 
which is to this ‘aspect’ or ‘reality’ like a prototype. This is 
just repeating, in a different way, what he says about the 
phenomenal world being the attributes with which God is 
described. “God was, while the world was not, and He was 
named by all the Divine Names.” 

The Divine Essence is the One Universal Substance, identi- 
fied with Absolute Reality. A Divine Name is the Divine 
Essence in one or other of its infinite aspects: a determinate 
‘form’ of the Divine Essence. An Attribute is a Divine Name 
manifested in the external world; it is what Ibn ‘Arabi calls 
a ‘theatre of manifestation’ for the Divine Substance to man- 
ifest itself in different degrees (maratib). In its absolute 
indeterminateness, the Divine Essence is a ‘thing in itself’. It 
is indivisible, independent and unchanging. It is not a sub- 
stance, but the One Substance which, in itself, embraces all 
substances, so-called material and non-material. What are 
fleeting, divisible and changeable are the ‘accidents’, the 
‘forms’, the manifestations. The Attributes, according to him, 
have no meaning apart from the Divine Essence. 


As forms and particularisations of the Divine Essence, the 
Divine Names are a multiplicity, each possessing unique 
characteristics by virtue of which it is distinguishable from 
the others, but essentially they are identical with the One 
Essence, and with one another. 

Reality, which is ultimately one and indivisible in Ibn 
‘Arabi's doctrine, seems to be regarded from three different 
points of view in relation to our knowledge: 

1. Reality as we know it, i.e. Reality as manifested in the ex- 
ternal world. As such, it is subject to the limitations of our 
senses and intellects. We know it as a multiplicity of ex- 
istents, and we assert of it relations of al] kinds, causal or 
otherwise. This he calls the Phenomenal World, ‘Appear- 
ance’ and ‘Not-Being’, etc. But though an apparent 
multiplicity, the Phenomenal World is an essential unity, 
each part of which is the Whole and capable of manifest- 
ing all the realities of the Whole. 

2. Reality such as we do not directly know or perceive, ex- 
cept by mystical intuition, but whose existence we logically 
infer (following our reason). 

Of this, he maintains, we predicate attributes characteristic 
only of a Necessary Being, and Ibn ‘Arabi chooses to call it 
God in a theistic sense — God as ‘created in our beliefs’. This 
is only a fictitious and a subjective God and our conception 
of Him varies according to different individuals and com- 
munities, but according to Ibn ‘Arabi any conception which 
deprives God of His absoluteness and universality, or renders 
His unity in any way incomplete by admitting the reality of 
any other deity or even of the Phenomenal World, is poly- 
theistic. A complete conception of God, therefore, is one 
which comprises the two aspects of Reality (immanence and 
transcendence), i.e. of God as being both in and above the 
universe. This is the starting point in Ibn ‘Arabi’s Philoso- 
phy of Religion, as we shall see later. 


We are forced to do this, he goes on to say, because the 
attributes we predicate of the Phenomenal World demand 
their logical correlatives: contingency demands necessity; rel- 
ativity demands absoluteness; finitude demands infinity and 
so on. These logical correlatives can only be applied to a 
Reality thus conceived. “The key to the mystery of ‘Lord- 
ship’ is thou” (the phenomenal). The fundamental difference 
between Reality as conceived in (1) and in (2) is that in (1) 
the transcendental Attributes of God (sifat al-tanzih), which 
are the logical correlatives of the immanent Attributes (sifat 
al-tashbih), have no application. Attributes which express any 
relation between God and the Universe (in the orthodox 
sense) are explained away by Ibn ‘Arabi, so we are really 
left with only two types of Attributes: transcendent, which 
are characteristic of God, and immanent, which are charac- 
teristic of the phenomenal world; each type explaining an 
aspect of Reality. We must not, therefore, predicate of God 
such attributes as ‘green’ or ‘circular’ or ‘hearing’ or ‘see- 
ing’, etc., although His Essence is the essence of all that is 
green, circular and all that hears and sees. 

What Ibn ‘Arabi means by saying that, “we ourselves (in- 
cluding the phenomenal world) are the attributes with which 
we describe God”, and, “there is not a single Name or At- 
tribute with which He is characterised, the meaning or the 
spirit of which is not found in the phenomenal world” is, on 
the one hand, that the phenomenal world possesses unique 
characteristics which explain God’s immanent side; and on 
the other, that through these characteristics we are formally 
led to ascribe to Him Attributes which explain His transcend- 
ent side. But regarding Reality as the Essence of All, all 
attributes whatever, transcendent and immanent, may be 
predicated of it. Ibn ‘Arabi says, “He, may He be exalted, is 
(actually) named by all the names of the objects of the phe- 
nomenal world”; “Glory to Him who is ‘meant’ by all the 
attributes of the Godhead and created objects”; “Our names 
are His Names”; “He is called Abu Sa‘id al-Kharraz”; etc., 


3. Reality such as we do not directly know or perceive, but 
which, following our reason, we logically infer as we in- 
fer the existence of a substance when we perceive its 

This is the Divine Essence, of which we can predicate noth- 
ing except bare existence. It is unknowable and 
incommunicable when regarded in abstraction and apart 
from any relation or limitation whatever. It is ultimately in- 
definable and, like a substance, it can only be described in 
terms of its ‘states’ which, in this case, are the phenomenal 
world. Its nature admits of no opposition or contradiction 
(didd) or comparison (mithl), yet it unites in itself all oppo- 
sites and similars. It has no qualities or quantities, yet it is 
the source of all qualities and quantities. It is generally re- 
ferred to as ‘Pure Light’, or ‘Pure Good’, or ‘the Blindness’ 

This is the state of Uniqueness (ahadiyya), which admits of 
no plurality whatever. As such, it is not an object of wor- 
ship. The object of worship is the Lord (al-Rabb), not the 
Unique (al-Ahad). But such unity becomes intelligible once 
we admit the other aspect, i.e. multiplicity, for, in itself, it 
transcends all multiplicity. It is the state of the ‘One to Whom 
belong the burning splendours’ (al-subuhat al-muhriga); that 
is, the One, the manifestation of Whom would cause all the 
multiplicity of phenomena to vanish, so that nothing would 
remain except the Real. He says, “The veil of the Unity (al- 
ahadiyya) will never be removed; limit your hope, therefore, 
to the attainment (of knowledge) of the Oneness (al- 
wahidiyya), i.e. the unity of the Divine Names”. No-one knows 
God as He really is (i.e. His Essence) except God, not even a 
mystic, for a mystic belongs to the multiplicity. 

Ibn ‘Arabisometimes identifies the Divine Names with what 
he calls the hadarat (Divine Presences), using the term hadarat 
in a different sense from that in which it is used in connec- 
tion with the five Divine hadarat (Five Planes of Being). He 


enumerates only some of these, for according to him they 
are infinite in number. The ‘Presence of the Godhead?’ (al- 
hadrat al-ilahiyya), for example, is the state in which God is 
revealed as Allah; the ‘Presence of the Merciful’ is that in 
which He is revealed in the Name of the Merciful; and so on. 

The only distinction Ibn ‘Arabi makes between the One and 
the Many, or God and the Phenomenal World, which has 
already been explained, is expressed in a different way by 
what he calls the two aspects of the Divine Names. Regard- 
ed as a unity and as essentially one with the Divine Essence, 
the Names are said to be ‘active’ in the sense that each Name 
indicates one or other of the infinite lines of activity of the 
One. As a multiplicity manifested in the external world, i.e. 
regarded as the external world itself (for the external world 
is nothing other than the Divine Names) they are ‘passive’ 
and receptive. The former aspect he calls tahagqug (the point 
of view of the Real), the latter takhallug (the point of view of 
the Created), and the relation between the two, through 
which actual manifestation is effected, is called ta‘alluq. The 
Divine Names are also active when considered in relation to 
the a‘yan al-thabita (established potentialities), for these are 
nothing but the phenomenal world in latency; and in their 
turn, the a‘ yan al-thabita are active in relation to the external 
world. It is all a hierarchy of higher and lower; the higher is 
active in relation to the lower and passive in relation to the 
one higher than itself. 

There is but One Reality, which however much you multi- 
ply it (in thought) or try to conceive it, now as a multiplicity 
of existents, now as One Essence characterised by innumer- 
able attributes and Names, remains in itself ultimately 
inconceivable and unalterable. All our knowledge of it is 
subjective and vain. There is no multiplicity, not even of 
Attributes or Names —- no passivity or activity. These are 
terms which we ourselves have coined and found convenient 
to use for expressing what we choose to understand by 



Ibn ‘Arabi was the first to use the term a ‘yan al-thabita — which 
may be rendered ‘fixed prototypes’, or ‘latent realities of 
things’, or ‘established potentialities’ — in a more or less de- 
termined sense, and to give it a prominent place in a 
metaphysical system. 

Before coming into concrete existence, things of the phenom- 
enal world were in a state of potentiality in the Divine 
Essence of God and were — as ideas of His future ‘becoming’ 
— the content of His eternal knowledge, which is identical 
with His knowledge of Himself. God revealed Himself to 
Himself in a state of self-consciousness (not at any point of 
time) in what Ibn ‘Arabi calls God’s First Epiphany or 
Particularisation (al-ta‘ayyun al-awwal), in which He saw in 
Himself and for Himself an infinity of these a‘ydn as deter- 
minate ‘forms’ of His own Essence - ‘forms’ which reflected 
and in every detail corresponded to His own eternal ideas 
of them. 

These ‘forms’ are what Ibn ‘Arabi calls the a‘ydan al-thabita. 
We may therefore define them as the latent states, both in 
the Mind and in the Essence of God, of His future ‘becom- 
ing’; states which can only be expressed in terms of the Divine 
Names and all the possible relations which hold between 
them. The two-fold nature of these a‘yan, i.e. their being in- 
telligible ideas or concepts in the mind of God on the one 
hand, and particular ‘modes’ of the Divine Essence on the 
other, is explained by the fact that Ibn ‘Arabi and his school 
use the terms mahiyya and huwiyya as equivalent to the term 
‘ayn al-thabita. The one (mahiyya) explains the first aspect of 
the ‘ayn, i.e. its being an idea or a concept; the other (huwi- 
yya), the second aspect, i.e. its being an essential ‘mode’. 

We can no more say that these a‘ yan, these potential ‘modes’ 
of the Essence, are other than the Essence or can have any 
existence apart from it, than say that mental states of our 


own minds are other than our minds, or can have any sepa- 
rate existence apart from them; or indeed, the states of any 
other substance whatever. Mentally, however, we may dis- 
criminate between the Essence and the a‘yan, or the mind 
and its states, and think of them as apart. The a‘ yan al-thabtta 
are in reality one with the Divine Essence and the Divine 
Consciousness. Yet, as ‘states’ or ‘modes’ they are no more 
the Divine Essence itself than our mental states are our 

Ibn ‘Arabi calls them non-existent; not in the sense that they 
have no reality or being whatever, but in the sense that they 
have no external existence, or any existence apart from the 
Essence of which they are states. “Let it be known like this”, 
Ibn ‘Arabi says, “that the a‘yan al-thabita are the images of 
the Divine Names and Qualities and ‘things’ of the Ipseity, 
in the Presence of Knowledge of the Ipseity, in whose image 
the Divine Essence is particularised and revealed in the 
Presence of Knowledge with specific individuation; they are 
established according to non-existence and they are not qual- 
ified by existence”. There is only one Reality — and a 
non-existent subjective multiplicity and non-existent sub- 
jective relations which limit and determine the One. 

The a‘yan al-thabita are what Ibn ‘Arabi calls the logical cor- 
relatives (mugtadayat) of the Divine Names; but they are also 
potential essences. An interesting passage from Ibn ‘Arabi’s 
Futahat al-Makktya will explain his own view on the subject. 
“Ts that”, he asks, “which we call existent and perceive by 
our senses, the ‘ayn al-thabita ‘transferred’ from a state of 
non-existence to a state of existence? Or is it only its hukm 
(subjective determination) brought into an intelligible rela- 
tion with the ‘ayn of the Real Being (God) - as a mirror image 
is related to a mirror — the so-called thing (external object) 
itself being a non-existent as it always was in its state of 
latency? (If the latter is the case), the a‘yan of contingent be- 
ings must perceive each other only in and through the ‘ayn 
of the mirror of the Real Being; the a‘ yan al-thabita (these fixed 


prototypes) remaining as they always were in a state of non- 

“Or is it”, he goes on to say, “that God manifests His being 
in (the forms of) these a‘yan, which are to Him like theatres, 
so that each ‘ayn perceives the other when God manifests 
Himself in this other, a fact which is usually described as a 
thing having acquired existence (istafada’l-wujid) but which 
is nothing other than the manifestation or appearance of God 
in the form of that thing. This (second explanation) is nearer 
the truth in one respect; the other (explanation) is nearer the 
truth in another respect; but in both cases the ‘ayn al-thabita 
of the thing in question is a non-existent (externally) and still 
remains in its state of latency.” 

As potentialities and as intelligible ideas in the mind of God, 
they certainly are mere subjectivities; but as essences, they 
are all that is, since they are the Divine Essence Itself as par- 
ticularised or determined. He says that God revealed Himself 
to Himself in ‘the Most Holy Emanation’ (al-fayd al-aqdas) in 
the forms of these a‘yan. The ‘Most Holy Emanation’, with 
which we shall have to deal more fully later, is a continual 
process — in that it had no beginning and will never have an 
end — and potentialities in the One Essence are continually 
and unceasingly becoming actualities without any lapse in 
time, and they will continue to do so forever. 

The Divine Consciousness embraces all the intelligible forms 
of the a‘yan; the Essence, all their potential essences. Ibn 
‘Arabi often calls these essences spirits, and attributes to 
them functions and activities. God becomes conscious of 
Himself through the First Intellect, the Rah (the Spirit), but 
He becomes conscious of each of the a‘yan (each spirit) 
through the essences of the a‘yan themselves, i.e. through 
the spirits which are particular ‘modes’ in the Universal 

Tbn ‘Arabi’s view about the identification of the knowledge 
of the One with the a ‘yan of things (the things themselves) is 


substantially the same as that of Plotinus. He identifies the 
Divine Knowledge with the Divine Essence, from which it 
follows that the Divine Knowledge is identical with all the 
potential ‘modes’ of the Essence, and that each ‘mode’ be- 
comes identified with an idea of itself in the Divine 
Consciousness. In other words, each ‘mode’ must be at the 
same time a state in the Essence and a state in the Divine 
Knowledge, and the two states coincide and are in reality 
one in what Ibn ‘Arabi calls the ‘ayn al-thabita. 

He calls the a‘yan al-thabita the ‘keys of the Unseen’ (mafatih 
al-ghayb) and the ‘first keys’ (mafatth al-awwal) because they 
were the opening chapter in the history of creation (although, 
strictly speaking, creation has no beginning or end); i.e. the 
revelation of the One to Himself as the Creator, contemplat- 
ing in Himself the infinity of His creatures (His future 
manifestations). This particular state is known only to God 

Ibn ‘Arabi holds that it is not so impossible for a true mystic 
to obtain knowledge of the a‘ydn al-thabita themselves, par- 
ticularly his own ‘ayn. He says, “Or it may be that God reveals 
to him (the mystic) his ‘ayn al-thabita and its infinite succes- 
sion of states, so that he knows himself in the same way that 
God knows him, having derived his knowledge from that 
same Source.” 

The a‘yan al-thabita have the unique characteristic of being 
both active and passive (or ‘receptive’). Inasmuch as they 
are, in one sense, ‘emanations’ from the One and ‘forms’ of 
the Divine Names and potential ‘modes’ in the Divine 
Essence, they are passive and receptive (qabil). “The recep- 
tive (beings) come from nothing except His Most Holy 
Emanation”, by which he means the a‘yan al-thabita. This 
Most Holy Emanation he also calls the Presence of Oneness, 
the Merciful Presence (al-hadrat al-Rahmaniyya), the First 
Epiphany (al-ta‘ayyun al-awwal), the Presence of the Names 
(hadrat al-asma’), the sphere of the spirits (‘alam al-arwah); 


etc., etc. And in respect of their essences, that is by virtue of 
their possessing within themselves all the potentialities of 
becoming what the external existents of the phenomenal 
world are, they are regarded as active. 

But activity and passivity here mean nothing more than log- 
ical determination (hukm). The a‘yan are passive in relation 
to the Divine Names because of the ahkam (determinations) 
which the Divine Names exercise over them; a state very 
analogous to the determination by a universal of its particu- 
lars. They are active in relation to the phenomenal objects in 
the same sense as a potentiality is active in relation to the 
actuality it becomes; i.e. in both cases it is only logical 


In his own few words, “Glory be to God Who created things, 
being Himself their essences”. “He alone is proof of His own 
existence which is manifested in the a‘yan of contingent 
beings.” “There is nothing but God; nothing in existence oth- 
er than He. There is not even a ‘there’ where the Essence of 
all things is one.” “From whom dost thou flee and there is 
nought in existence but He?” “My eye sees nought but His 
Face (Essence), and my ear hears no other than His speech.” 

“Base the whole matter of your seclusion (khalwa) upon fac- 
ing God with absolute unification, which is not marred by 
any (form of) polytheism, implicit or explicit; and by deny- 
ing with absolute conviction all causes and intermediaries, 
whole or part; for verily if you are deprived of such tawhid, 
you will be bound to fall into polytheism.” He denies be- 
coming one with God. There is no ‘becoming’ whatever, but 
there is the realisation of the already existing fact that you 
are one with God. 


“So on Him alone we depend for everything; our depend- 
ence on other things is in reality dependence on Him; for 
they are nothing but His appearances. Bayazid once asked 
God, “O Lord, with what can I draw nigh to Thee?”, where- 
upon God replied, “With that which does not belong to Me”, 
to wit, servility and dependence. 

“For He, glory to Him”, Ibn ‘Arabi says, “has no resemblance 
whatever to His creation. His Essence cannot be apprehend- 
ed by us, so we cannot compare it with tangible objects, 
neither are His actions like ours.” “The movement of all ex- 
istence is circular; it returns where it begins.” He says that 
the ‘movement’ of the creation of the world originated 
through the essential love of the One to manifest Itself in 
external realities. “I was a hidden treasure, and I loved to be 
known so I created the world that I might be known”. 

The tajalliyat (self-revelations or manifestations) are the 
different ways in which the One manifests Himself to us in 
the course of our knowledge of Him. Tajalli is “the eternal 
and everlasting self-manifestation”; the “overflowing of ex- 
istence from the Essence to the forms; not in the sense of two 
vessels pouring, the one into the other, but in the sense of 
the One conceived now as an Essence, now as a form”. That 
the universe is related to Him as an emanation is contrary to 
the nature of the Absolute. Absoluteness implies freedom 
from all relations. 

There is One Reality which reveals or manifests Itself in an 
infinity of forms; not one that produces or creates, or one 
from which anything other than Itself emanates. Even the 
phrase ‘manifestation in forms’ is misleading, for the Essence 
and forms never stood apart, except in our thought. The First 
Intellect, Universal Soul, Universal Nature, etc., are not sep- 
arate existents or in any way independent of one another, 
but different ways of viewing the One: i.e. the One regarded 
as Universal Consciousness; the One as Active Principle in 


the universe; the One as Life-giving Principle; the One as 
concretely manifested in the Phenomenal World; and so on. 

The self-revelations of the One (al-tajalliyat), thus understood, 
are as follows. When we conceive the One as apart from all 
possible relations and individualisations, we say that God 
has revealed Himself in the state of Unity (al-ahadiyya) or is 
in the Blindness (al-‘ama, non-communication) — the state of 
the Essence. When we regard it in relation to the potential 
existence of the phenomenal world, we say that God has re- 
vealed Himself in the state of the Godhead (al-martaba 
al-ilahiyya). This is the state of the Divine Names. And when 
we regard it in relation to the actual manifestations of the 
phenomenal world, we say that God has revealed Himself 
in the state of Lordship (al-rubabiyya). 

If regarded as the Universal Consciousness containing all 
intelligible forms of actual and potential existents, we say 
that Reality revealed Itself in the First Intellect; and God re- 
vealed Himself as the Inward or the Unseen, and we call this 
state hagiqat al-haqa’iq (Reality of Realities). But if regarded 
as actually manifested in the phenomenal world, we say that 
God has manifested Himself in forms of the external world, 
and we identify Him with the Universal Body (al-jism al-kulli). 
When we think of Him as the Universal Substance which 
receives all forms, we say that God revealed Himself as Prime 
Matter (al-hayila), which Ibn ‘Arabi sometimes calls al-kitab 
al-mastur (the Inscribed Book); and so on and so on. 



The Logos may be understood from many different points 
of view. As a purely metaphysical category it is called the 
First Intellect. From the mystical point of view it is called 
the Perfect Man, regarding it as the active principle in all 
divine and esoteric knowledge. In relation to Man, the Logos 
may be identified with the Real Man, while in relation to the 
universes it may be called the Reality of Realities. As a reg- 
istry of everything it is called the Book (al-kitab) and the Most 
Exalted Pen (al-qalam al-a‘la). As the Essence whence every- 
thing takes its origin, it is called the hayila and the First 
Substance. The greatest danger is to forget that these terms 
refer to different aspects of the One Being, rather than to 
different beings. 

The objects of all our knowledge, Ibn ‘Arabi says, fall under 
three metaphysical categories: 

1. Absolute Being which exists per se and is the origin of all 
that exists; 

2. Contingent being which exists through the Absolute Being 
— otherwise it is ‘not-being’; this is the universe; 

3. Being which is neither existent nor non-existent, neither 
eternal nor temporal; it is co-eternal with the eternal and 
temporal with the temporal. Of this category of Being we 
can no more assert that it is prior to the universe than say 
God Himself is. It is prior to the universe, but its priority 
is only logical — without time priority. It is the inward as- 
pect of the Godhead and the Godhead is its outward 
aspect. This is the ‘Reality of Realities’ or ‘Idea of Ideas’, 
the Summum Genus, the First Intellect and so on. It com- 
prehends all ideas and all existing things absolutely. It is 
neither a whole nor a part, neither does it increase nor 
decrease. It is indefinable. It stands as near as possible to 
Matter. It multiplies with the multiplication of existents 
but does not divide (except in thought). 


One could say it is God or the universe, but one could also 
say that it is neither. From it the universal proceeds as a par- 
ticular proceeds from a universal. It contains the realities 
(ideas being identified with realities, haga’iq) of diverse ob- 
jects; yet in itself it remains homogeneous. It stands in the 
closest relation to God’s knowledge. It is known to God 
through itself, i.e. it is the consciousness of God. It is not the 
divine knowledge itself, but rather the content and substance 
of such knowledge. In it the knower, the known and the 
knowledge are one. Through it the universe is brought to 
manifestation. It is the ‘store’ of intelligible and archetypal 
ideas of the world of ‘becoming’. 

The Reality of Realities thus described is no more other than 
God than a potentiality, which under certain conditions be- 
comes an actuality, can be called other than this actuality. It 
is God conceived as the Self-revealing Principle of the uni- 
verse; God as manifesting Himself in a form of universal 
consciousness, at no particular time or place, but as the Re- 
ality which underlies all realities, and as a Being whose 
consciousness is identical with His Essence. 

The Reality of Realities is completely manifested in the world 
which ‘reflects’ its positive being. It is perfect, and the uni- 
verse which manifests its perfection is perfect. But while the 
universe manifests this perfection analytically, Man alone 
(the Perfect Man; not Animal Man) manifests it synthetically. 
Ibn ‘Arabi attributes to this Reality of Realities (or First 
Intellect, etc) a creative activity which is very much analo- 
gous to the volitional activity of Man — but we have already 
seen what he means by creation and God as the Creator. It 
has, he says, the same relation to the latent realities of things 
(al-a‘ yan al-thabita) as that which our minds have to their vo- 
litional states. Besides this creative activity, Ibn ‘Arabi 
attributes to the Reality of Realities rationality. It is through 
it, as we have already seen, that God becomes conscious of 
Himself. Like Plotinus, Ibn ‘Arabi believes that “to think it- 
self belongs to the mind (which is hagigat al-haga’iq) not to 


the One”. This consciousness has reached its highest point 
in the Perfect Man, in whom the object of creation is realised 
_ the love of God to be known; and it is in the Perfect Man 
that God knows Himself perfectly. 

The Reality of Realities marks the first step by which the 
Absolute is removed from its absoluteness in the process of 
‘ts descent (to our knowledge). It is the First Epiphany of 
God, to whom God addressed Himself — as the Tradition of 
the Prophet says — “I have not created a creature dearer to 
Me than thee; with thee I give and with thee I take and with 
thee I punish”. 


No treatment of Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine of the Logos is com- 
plete which does not take into consideration his views of the 
Perfect Man, for this explains the practical aspect of his 
Logos: its relation to and manifestation in Man. His theory 
of the Logos therefore, presented in its completest form, com- 
prises the following elements: 

1. The Logos as the Reality of Realities: the metaphysical 

2. The Logos as the Reality of Muhammad: the mystical 

3. The Logos as the Perfect Man: the human aspect. 

The Principle of Universal Reason is immanent in everything 
and constitutes, as it were, the Divine Consciousness, hith- 
erto identified with the Reality of Realities and the Reality 
of Muhammad; but is not present in all beings in an equal 
degree. Man is the only being in whom this Principle is man- 
ifested in so high a degree that he deserves to be called the 
Viceregent of God (al-khalifa) and the Image of God (al-siira) 
and the Microcosm (al-kawn al-jami‘); or the mirror which 
reflects all the perfections and Attributes of God; or even 


God Himself. Ibn ‘Arabi puts it all very boldly in the follow- 

ing passages: 

a. Only two beings rightly call themselves God: God Him- 
self who calls Himself Allah in His Books; and the Perfect 
Man (al-‘abd al-kamil) like Bayazid; and 

b. “When God, glory to Him, in respect of His Most Beauti- 
ful Names which are beyond enumeration, willed to see 
their a‘yan, or if you like you may say, His ‘ayn, in a uni- 
versal being (kawn jami‘) which contains the whole matter 
(of creation) inasmuch as it is endowed with all aspects of 
existence, and through which the mystery of God is man- 
ifested to Himself, for the vision which consists of a thing 
seeing itself by means of itself is not the same as that of 
the thing seeing itself in something else which serves as a 
mirror for it...” Adam is the very ‘polishing’ of this mirror 
and the spirit of this form (in which God manifested Him- 
self, i.e. Man) and the Angels are some of the ‘powers’ of 
that form, i.e. the universe, which the Sufis call the ‘Great 
Man)’ (al-insdn al-kabir). 

This is not the ‘animal’ man (al-insan al-hayawdni) but the 
‘rational’ man — the Perfect Man in the strict sense in which 
Ibn ‘Arabi uses the term - the class under which all Prophets 
and Saints are included, or the ‘Gnostics’ in the fullest sense 
of the word. 

Everything manifests the Universal Rational Principle in a 
measure proportionate to its capacity. Even the so-called 
inanimate beings manifest this hidden rationality inasmuch 
as they obey their own inner laws. The whole creation is a 
rational structure from the lowest mineral to the highest type 
of man (the Perfect Man). 

“No-one”, Ibn ‘Arabi says, “knows the dignity of Man and 
his place in the universe except those who know how to con- 
template God perfectly.” He is the only creature in whose 
power lies the possibility of knowing God absolutely. In fact 
it is through him that God knows Himself, for he is the 


manifested consciousness of God. Other beings know as 
much of the nature of God as they do of themselves, for the 
phenomenal objects are nothing but His Attributes. Their 
knowledge is imperfect and incomplete compared with that 
of Man, who sums up in himself all of God’s Attributes. 

Even the Angels’ knowledge of God is imperfect. They know 
God as a transcendent Reality which has no relation to the 
phenomenal world. Man alone knows God both as the Real 
(haqq) and the phenomenal (khalq), for Man himself (the 
Perfect Man) is the Real and the phenomenal, the internal 
and the external, the eternal and the temporal. The heart of 
the Perfect Man is the seat of the manifestation of the Uni- 
versal Logos (the Reality of Realities or Reality of 
Muhammad, etc.) and in it alone the activities of this Logos 
find their fullest expression. The Perfect Man is in immedi- 
ate contact with Reality and through him the essential unity 
of the universal and the particular are realised. 

Ibn ‘Arabi, as well as Jili who follows him very closely on 
this subject, says that through the Perfect Man alone all God’s 
perfections are revealed. “Perfect Man is”, Ibn ‘Arabi says, 
“the Divine unity (al-jam‘iyya al-ilahiyya), i.e. all the 
Attributes pertaining to the Divine Presence (al-janab al-ilahi) 
and the Reality of Realities and the World of Nature.” 

A Perfect Man is not perfect, in his theory, unless he realises 
his essential oneness with God. This is what distinguishes 
any man from a Perfect Man. Every man is a microcosm in 
this sense, but only potentially so. The Perfect Man does 
actually manifest all God’s Attributes and perfections, and 
such manifestation is incomplete without the full realisation 
of his essential unity with God. It follows, therefore, that 
every Perfect Man must be a mystic, in Ibn ‘Arabi’s sense, 
since in mysticism alone can such realisation be attained. 

We have already seen that Ibn ‘Arabi calls the Perfect Man 
the inward and the outward aspects of Reality. The essence 
of the Perfect Man is a mode of the Divine Essence. His spirit 


is a mode of the Universal Spirit. His body is a mode of the 
Universal Throne (al-‘arsh). His knowledge is a reflection of 
the Divine Knowledge. The heart of the Perfect Man corre- 
sponds to the celestial archetype of al-Ka‘ba (al-bayt 
al-ma‘ mir). His spiritual faculties correspond to the Angels; 
his memory to Saturn; his understanding to Jupiter; his 
intellect to the Sun; and so on and so on. 

Like the Universal Logos which the Perfect Man manifests, 
the Perfect Man is called by Ibn ‘Arabian intermediary stage 
(barzakh); not in the sense of being an entity between God 
and the Universe, the Divine and the Human, but in the sense 
of being the only creature which unites and manifests both 
perfectly. Ibn ‘Arabi explains the mystery of creation by say- 
ing that it was due to the essential love of the One to be 
known and to be manifested that God revealed Himself in 
the forms of the phenomenal world. 

This eternal love of the One to behold His own Beauty and 
Perfections manifested in forms, and above all things to be 
known to Himself in and through Himself, found, Ibn ‘Arabi 
says, its completest realisation in the Perfect Man, who alone 
knows Him and manifests His Attributes perfectly. He knows 
Him “in a manner which surpasses all doubt; nay, he 
perceives Him in the innermost ‘eye’ of his soul”. 

“He is to God what the eye-pupil is to the (physical) eye... 
and through him God beholds His creatures and has mercy 
upon them, i.e. creates them.” It is in this sense that Ibn ‘Arabi 
calls the Perfect Man the cause of creation, for in the Perfect 
Man alone the object of creation is realised. Were it not for 
Man (the Perfect Man) creation would have been purpose- 
less, for God would not have been known; so it was for the 
sake of the Perfect Man that the whole creation was made, 
i.e. that God manifested Himself both in the world and in 
the Perfect Man. 

The dignity of Man, therefore, cannot be overrated in Ibn 
‘Arabi’s view. Man is the highest and most venerable creature 


God ever created. He should be guarded and honoured, for 
“he who takes care of Man takes care of God”. Ibn ‘Arabi 
also says, “The preservation of the human species should 
have a much greater claim to observance than religious big- 
otry, with its consequent destruction of human souls, even 
when it is for the sake of God and the maintenance of the 
law.” “God has so exalted Man”, Ibn ‘Arabi adds, “that He 
placed under his control all that is in the heavens and the 
earth, from its highest to its lowest.” 

Not only does Ibn ‘Arabi regard Man (the Perfect Man) as 
the cause of the creation of the universe in the sense just ex- 
plained, but also as the preserver and maintainer of the 
universe. “The universe continues to be preserved so long 
as the Perfect Man is in it.” “Dost thou not see that when he 
departs and is removed from the treasury of the present 
world, there shall not remain in it (in the world) that which 
God has stored therein, and that which was in it shall go 
forth and each part shall become one with each other and 
the whole affair shall be transferred to the next world and 
shall be sealed everlastingly?” 

It seems that when Ibn ‘Arabi calls the Perfect Man the pre- 
server and the controller of the whole universe ina real sense, 
he means either the Perfect Man as identifying himself with 
the Nous in the mystic experience of fana’, i.e. the Divine Man; 
or the Nous (the Reality of Realities) itself, i.e. God as the 
Creative and Rational Principle. 

Ibn ‘Arabi was the first to put forth a synthetic and system- 
atic theory, or rather a group of theories, derived from 
different sources and brought into one unity. Not only was 
he the first to expound such a doctrine, he was also the last 
to produce a Logos-doctrine of any importance. All those 
who came after him simply reproduced his ideas in some 
form or another, sometimes even verbatim et litteratim. 

The emphasis laid on the trinity as the fundamental Principle 
in all the productive or creative activities of the Universal 


Logos bears a Christian stamp. But it was not Christianity 
itself which influenced Ibn “Arabi, rather that all manifesta- 
tion requires three relationships. Ibn ‘Arabi’s trinity was only 
a trinity of relative aspects, not of three Persons. Even the 
reality of Muhammad is threefold ; Syllogistic reasoning must 
have three elements; and he expresses this idea very daringly 
in the following line, “My Beloved is three, although He is 

There is a striking resemblance between the philosophy of 
the Logos as described by Philo of Alexandria and that of 
Ibn ‘Arabi. Ibn ‘Arabi uses the term Logos (kalima), to mean 
both eternal wisdom (as the term originally meant in Greek 
philosophy) and the ‘Word’ (or ‘speech’ as the term means 
in Hebrew). 

Philo’s terminology Ibn ‘Arabi’s terminology 
The High Priest imam or qutb 
The Intercessor al-shafi‘ 
The Glory of God The Man who is the Reality 
(insanu ‘ayn al-hagq) 
The Shadow of God The Image of Truth 
(haba or siirat al-haqq) 
Idea of Ideas Reality of Realities 
(haqigat al-haqa’ iq) 
The Intermediary The Isthmus (barzakh) 

Principle of Revelation Reality of Muhammad 

First Born Son of God First Epiphany 
(ta‘ayyun al-awwal) 

The First of the Angels The Spirit (riih) 

Viceregent khalifa 

Divine Man Perfect Man 



Wilaya (sainthood), according to Ibn ‘Arabi, and indeed 
according to a great majority of Sufis, does not mean holi- 
ness or piety, although such characteristics may be found in 
a saint. The distinguishing mark of wildya, as Ibn ‘Arabi un- 
derstands it, is ‘gnosis’ (ma‘rifa). In other words, a man is a 
saint if he is what Ibn ‘Arabi calls a Perfect Man. Ibn ‘Arabi 
extends the meaning of the term saint (walt) so as to include 
the following: 

1. All prophets and apostles 

2. Some Sufis 

3. The ‘Singular Men’ (al- afrad) like ‘Abd al-Qadir al- 

4. The Guards (al-umana’) 

5. The Beloved (al-ahbab) 

6. The Heirs (al-waratha) etc. 

He also uses the term wali (saint) to include all apostles and 
prophets. An apostle, according to him, is pre-eminently a 
saint who is charged with the external duty of delivering a 
message from God, and a prophet is a saint who is distin- 
guished from the rest of the sainthood on account of his 
possessing unique knowledge of the Unseen Worlds. 

Wilaya (sainthood), thus explained, is the basis of all spiritu- 
al ranks and the only element common to all of them. It is, 
Ibn ‘Arabi adds, originally a Divine Attribute, for God calls 
Himself al-Walt, and if we apply the term to men it is only to 
those who have realised their essential oneness with Him. It 
is more general than either Prophecy (nubuwwa) or Apostle- 
ship (risala): Prophecy and Apostleship are particular grades 
of it. It is a permanent state, while Prophecy and Apostle- 
ship are only temporary. The knowledge which belongs to it 
is infinite, for it is identical with God’s Knowledge and with 
that of the Spirit of Muhammad; whereas prophetic and 
apostolic knowledge is finite. 


The Universal Logos, as identifying itself in Ibn ‘Arabi’s 
Logos-doctrine with the Spirit or Reality of Muhammad, 
explains what is meant by the General Viceregency. The real 
Viceregent (khalifa) of God is the Muhammedian Spirit, which 
is forever manifesting itself in the form of prophets and saints 
(the class of people coming under the category of the Perfect 
Man), each of whom may be called a khalifa. They all mani- 
fest this General Viceregency. We may call them all saints, 
for according to Ibn ‘Arabi, every prophet and every apostle 
is, in one of his aspects, a saint. All these saints (using the 
term in the widest sense), Ibn ‘Arabi says, ‘derive’ such 
knowledge as constitutes their sainthood (i.e. esoteric know- 
ledge) from the Spirit of Muhammad. In addition to this, 
wilaya is more perfect. Ibn ‘Arabi does not mean that any 
saint whatever is more perfect than, or superior to, any 
prophet or apostle, but rather that the saintly side of a 
prophet or an apostle is superior to his prophetic or apostolic 

In this way all apostles, prophets and saints belong to one 
and the same group, with one common element uniting them 
all — this element being the active principle in all revelation 
and inspiration: the Logos, the Muhammedian Spirit. He 
even goes so far as to say that all religions (shara’i‘) of the 
prophets from Adam to Muhammad are nothing but tempo- 
ral manifestations, according to the requirements and needs 
of the human race at different times, of the one universal 
religion which he calls Islam (using the term to mean all 
religions, including Islam itself). 



Not only does knowledge vary in kind, but the channels 
through which knowledge is obtained are different. Ibn 
‘Arabi gives a classification of propositions (or judgements 
expressed in propositions) based on this principle. He holds 
that normally all knowledge is obtained through six facul- 
ties: the five senses and the intellect, counting the intellect 
as a faculty. They are, he says, numerically different, but es- 
sentially one. But there are, he adds, people who do not obey 
this normal law of things: they acquire all kinds of know- 
ledge through only one or other of the senses, and some 
acquire it through no sense or faculty whatever. He regards 
as abnormal the knowledge resulting from clairvoyance, 
telepathy, hypnotism, and, above all, the kind of knowledge 
he calls intuitive or esoteric. 

Broadly speaking Ibn ‘Arabi divides all propositions or 
judgements into two main classes: 

1. Necessary judgements, under which he includes: 

(i) All perceptual judgements (purely perceptual, i.e. with- 
out the interference of the understanding); 

(ii) Some intellectual judgements, by which he seems to 
mean the a priori self-evident propositions of pure 
mathematics and formal logic; 

(iii) All intuitive judgements (esoteric judgements). 
2. Contingent judgements, under which he includes judge- 
ments based on the understanding and the senses together. 

By necessary judgements Ibn ‘Arabi means judgements 
which are necessarily true. Contingent judgements may be 
true, but their truth is not necessary. Perceptual judgements, 
he would say, may be regarded as false on the ground that 
they do not correspond to objective realities, but he still calls 
them necessarily true in the sense that they correspond to 


something. When a man asserts that he is seeing a pink rat, 
his judgement is true, in Ibn ‘Arabi’s view, in the sense that 
the man must have seen something; i.e. the man’s percep- 
tion must have been conditioned by something objective. To 
call this ‘something’ a pink rat is not the fault of the senses, 
but of the understanding. All illusions, like the phenomenon 
of the mirage, would be explained by Ibn ‘Arabi in this way. 
Judgements which do not correspond to external realities, 
and are not conditioned by any external objects whatever, 
are fabrications of imagination, and are therefore necessari- 
ly false. 

Now if we imagine, Ibn ‘Arabi goes on to say, a mental power 
which would govern the intellect in the same way as the 
understanding governs the senses, it would be conceivable 
that such a power might err with regard to the intellect, in 
the same way as the understanding errs with regard to the 
senses; i.e. that such a power would be likely to pronounce 
some of the self-evident propositions of the intellect to be 
false, when they appear to the intellect to be necessarily true. 
Ibn ‘Arabi does not tell us whether there is such a power, 
but what he wishes to emphasise is the fact that necessary 
knowledge of the kinds mentioned above is true in itself, 
and that it is due to the erring judgement of the understand- 
ing, or some other ‘judge’ (hakam), that it is sometimes 
pronounced false. 

Of the three kinds of necessary knowledge the third, intui- 
tive knowledge, is the most important. It forms the kernel of 
Ibn ‘Arabt’s mystical philosophy of knowledge. Like the rest 
of the mystics, he believes in the possibility of a kind of know- 
ledge most unlike that of discursive reason. It is the 
immediate perception, not of an external object this time, but 
of the Truth Itself; i.e. knowledge of the realities of things as 
they are, as contrasted with the probable and merely conjec- 
tural knowledge of the intellect. 


Hallaj asserted long before Ibn ‘Arabi that the human 
intellect is incapable of comprehending realities. “Thoughts 
are mere ideas of relations.” True knowledge proceeds di- 
rectly from the Universal Soul to the particular souls, or as 
Hallaj puts it, “from the Light to the light.” Hallaj draws a 
distinction between knowledge of the Real and knowledge 
of the phenomenal, which correspond to what he calls Length 
(tal) and Breadth (ard). To know the Real is to see for your- 
self; knowledge of the understanding is limited and indirect. 
It is very much similar to Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge 
(Scientia intuitiva) which, as Spinoza says, is a state in which 
the human consciousness is absorbed in the Amor intellectualis 

The Sufis themselves were wise in calling this kind of know- 
ledge ‘taste’ (dhawq), an act of cognition. Sometimes they call 
it the Divine Knowledge (‘ilm ladunnt) and knowledge of the 
Mysteries (‘ilm al-asrar) and knowledge of the Unseen (‘ilm 
al-ghayb) and “knowledge of the people who, in this world, 
possess the nature of the next world”, like prophets and 
saints, etc. The unseen (al-ghayb) is of two kinds: the Abso- 
lute ghayb, i.e. the Divine Essence which is unknowable; and 
the relative ghayb, knowledge of which is possible for some 
and impossible for others. 

Ibn ‘Arabi divides knowledge into three kinds: knowledge 
of the intellect (‘ilm al-‘aql), knowledge of the states (‘ilm al- 
ahwal) and knowledge of the Mysteries (“ilm al-asrar). Under 
divine knowledge, or knowledge of mysteries, he includes 
such things as instinctive knowledge and knowledge of in- 
animate beings, since he believes that even inanimate beings 
know God and glorify Him. 

We may therefore use the terms intuition, or insight, or im- 
mediate perception of the truth, or indeed any other term 
for divine knowledge, provided we distinguish it from other 
kinds, particularly reflective thinking. 


The following seem to be the most outstanding characteris- 
tics of esoteric knowledge as understood by Ibn ‘Arabi: 



Esoteric knowledge is innate; that of the intellect is 
acquired. It belongs to the Divine Effulgence (al-fayd al- 
ilahi) which illuminates the very being of all creatures. It 
manifests itself in man under certain mystical conditions, 
e.g. perfect passivity of mind. The mystic is advised to be 
so passive in his thinking that he reaches the state of inan- 
imate things. It is not the outcome of any practice or 
discipline: it lies dormant in the deepest recesses of the 
human heart. 

It is beyond reason, and we should not invoke the author- 
ity of reason to test its validity. On the contrary, if reason 
and intuition should conflict, the former should always 
be sacrificed to the latter. If what prophets and saints tell 
us seems incompatible with our reason, we should take 
the word of the prophet and the saint for granted; reason 
is no judge of such truth. Reason may be right sometimes, 
but Ibn ‘Arabi holds that its rightness is accidental. Rea- 
son should not interfere with divine knowledge or attempt 
to interpret it. 

- It manifests itself in the form of light which floods every 

part of the heart of the Sufi when he attains a certain de- 
gree of spiritual purification. Discipline is necessary only 
insofar as it helps to remove the ‘veils’ which pertain to 
the animal soul, and which prevent the heart from reflect- 
ing its eternal knowledge and perfections. 

- Esoteric knowledge materialises itself only in certain men. 

“There is none amongst us but has his appointed place.” 
So all that is meant by kashf (revelation), according to Ibn 
‘Arabi, is simply the unveiling. When the veils are lifted 
up, the “eye of the heart’ sees all things — eternal and tem- 
poral, actual and potential — as they really are in their state 
of latency (thubit). 


5. Unlike speculative knowledge, which at most yields prob- 
ability, intuition yields certain knowledge. The former has 
for its object the shadow of the Real, the phenomenal 
world; the latter, Reality itself. The only way of obtaining 
such knowledge is by means of ‘immediate vision’ (shuhiid) 
of realities. God’s knowledge is shuhiid and so is the know- 
ledge of those whom He favours. 

6. It is essentially identical with God’s knowledge, and 
though it appears to be of various kinds, it is essentially 
one. That it is essentially God’s knowledge is proved by 
the fact that no-one attains it unless he has already attained 
the mystic station wherein esoteric knowledge is revealed 
and wherein he realises his essential oneness with God, 
i.e. the state of fana’, in which God becomes (without any 
prior severance) the hearing, sight and all the other facul- 
ties of the mystic. This is God’s knowledge, obtained in 
and through God. It is also our knowledge of Him, through 
Him. This point will be treated more fully in connection 
with Ibn ‘Arabi’s theory of fana’. As for its being essen- 
tially one kind, Ibn ‘Arabi holds that although it appears 
to come through different channels, it springs from one 
common source. The knowing substance which is the es- 
sence (huwiyya) of all human faculties is one and its 
knowledge is therefore one. Pure Light (which is also Pure 
Being) is the source of all knowledge. The senses and all 
other human faculties are media through which this Light 
manifests itself. Light is the only apprehending (mudrik) 
Principle in all conscious beings; the only thing that is 
visible in itself and makes other things visible. 

7. Esoteric knowledge is ineffable. It is like sense perceptions 
and feelings, i.e. it cannot be known except by immediate 
experience. You can no more explain the knowledge re- 
vealed by a mystical experience to a person who has not 
gone through the experience, than you can explain what 
‘red’ means to a blind man. No-one but a mystic can real- 
ise the full meaning of such knowledge, and the only way 


to describe it is to explain it, as mystics have always done, 
by means of ambiguous and misleading metaphors. “The 
vision is there”, Plotinus says, “for him who will see it.” 

8. Through it the mystic gains perfect knowledge of Reality. 
The unaided intellect asserts absolute transcendence of 
God. The mystic asserts both transcendence and imma- 
nence. He sees through the Divine tajalli how the One 
permeates the Many, and knows in what sense the One is 
different from the Many. This, Ibn ‘Arabi believes, is the 
doctrine preached in all divine religions and sanctioned 
by awham (conjecture). The transcendence which the mys- 
tic asserts of God is not the same as that of the 
philosophers. It is the absoluteness of the One which is 
revealed to the mystic in his vision. It is not based on in- 
ference or logical deduction. “It is”, as Jami says, “like 
knowing Zayd personally - the other is like knowing him 
by name.” 

The philosopher can never hope to know more about cau- 
sality than what he observes or infers from observation of 
causal happenings in the external world. The believer, on 
the other hand, sees for himself how the One Cause operates 
in all. Again, the philosopher cannot go beyond asserting 
the absolute transcendence of God; the believer knows by 
taste (dhawq) both aspects of Reality, i.e. transcendence and 
immanence. In one of his mystical states, the believer (who 
is also a mystic) realises his essential oneness with the Real, 
a state in which the knower and the known become one; this 
is beyond the reach of the philosopher altogether. 



Like the rest of the Sufis, Ibn ‘Arabi metaphorically calls the 
human ‘heart’ the instrument through which esoteric know- 
ledge is transmitted, or the centre wherein it is revealed. It 
is not the heart itself (ie. not the hollow and the conic piece 
of flesh situated in the chest) that is meant by this instru- 
ment; it is something else which, “though connected with it 
physically and spiritually, is different from it and other than 
it”. The word ‘heart’ is only a symbol for the rational aspect 
of Man - the Spirit. It is not identical with the intellect (as 
understood by the philosophers), which Ibn ‘Arabi definitely 
regards as phenomenal and dependent on the body; but rath- 
er it is an inseparable ‘part’ of the Principle of Universal 
Reason which, though it functions through a body, is nei- 
ther the body itself, nor dependent on a body for its existence, 
nor bound in any way by material limitations. 

This mysterious power has, he says, a more mysterious fac- 
ulty that he calls the ‘inward eye’ (‘ayn al-basira) which, like 
the physical eye, perceives things, but the object of its per- 
ception is Reality itself. The things that blind this inward 
eye are the evil thoughts harboured by the animal soul, and 
all that pertains to the material world. Once freed from such 
veils, the heart of the mystic begins to comprehend the Real 
and communicate directly with the Rational Principle of the 

The heart of the mystic is the same as the ‘particular intelli- 
gence’ of the philosophers, a term which Ibn ‘Arabi 
sometimes uses to mean the rational soul and not the intel- 
lect. A particular intelligence, in his view, is a mode - or as 
he puts it a ‘particularisation’ — of the Universal Reason. It is 
essentially identical with the Universal Soul but conceptual- 
ly different from it. The relation between the two is the same 
as that between a universal and its particulars, or a continu- 
ant and its occurrents — rather the latter than the former. What 
multiplies the one soul is the same as that which multiplies 


the One Essence, i.e. subjective relations (nisab); otherwise, 
souls are not divisible. The particular souls are no more parts 
of the Universal Soul than mental states are parts of a mind. 
Ibn ‘Arabi uses a similar analogy when he calls particular 
intelligences ‘powers of the Universal Soul’. 

The term ‘union’ must always be taken in a metaphorical 
sense. How can there be a real union in a mystical experi- 
ence when all particular souls are already united with the 
Universal Soul, which is God Himself? (God — the Rational 
Principle of the Cosmos). The so-called ‘union’, therefore, is 
but a state of ‘waking up’ for the particular soul and the re- 
alisation of the already existing union between itself and 
All-Soul, rather than an amalgamation of two different souls. 
According to Ibn ‘Arabi the final achievement of the mystic, 
and the ultimate goal of his endeavours, is not to become 
one with God, for he already is, but to realise the meaning 
of such oneness. It follows that: 

1. There is no real becoming at all: man never becomes God 
nor God man. The “Anda’l-Haqq” (Iam the Truth) of Hallaj 
is literally true in Ibn ‘Arabi’s view. 

2. The so-called esoteric knowledge of the Sufis springs di- 
rectly from the individual soul itself. It is not revealed or 
inspired in any real sense. All such terms as transmission 
and communication of knowledge must be understood 
metaphorically. The symbolic language used in this sub- 
ject is here, as it is everywhere else, a great source of 
danger. If taken literally, it would suggest a duality of a 
revealer and a revealed to, a giver and a receiver of know- 
ledge, and so on, whereas there is only the One. Ibn ‘Arabi 
describes the First Intellect (a term which he uses as equiv- 
alent to the Universal Soul) in such a way, and attributes 
to it such characteristics, that it appears fundamentally 
different from particular intelligences. But we know that 
according to him the Universal Soul differs from particu- 
lar souls only in the sense in which a whole differs from 
its ‘parts’. He also speaks of the Spirit (al-Rah), meaning 


Gabriel, as identical with Universal Soul, as the only 
revealer of esoteric knowledge (al-mulqi), and brings nu- 
merous passages from the Qu’ran to bear on this point. 
What he really means, as he himself admits, is that it is 
the Rih in its particular ‘modes’ that is the sole revealer; 
that revelation is the announcement of the soul (the 
particular soul) itself. 

The mystic is said to receive knowledge in all the hadarat 
(presences), but the giver of such knowledge is the self, which 
appears in different ‘forms’ according to the nature of each 

Like Plotinus, whom he follows closely, Ibn ‘Arabi believes 
in the essential unity of rational souls with the Universal Soul. 
The heart of the Sufi, or the rational soul thus conceived, is 
the eye, so to speak, whereby God sees Himself, and the in- 
strument whereby He knows Himself in the forms of His 
manifestations. Man (the Perfect Man) is the focus of the di- 
vine consciousness of God; God is the focus and the essence 
of the consciousness of Man. 

Reality, which is forever manifesting itself in an infinity of 
forms and in all planes of existence, is reflected, as if ina 
mirror, in the heart of the true Gnostic, who follows Reality 
everywhere and recognises it in everything. Every state of, 
or change in, the one eternal substance, corresponds to a state 
of, or a change in, the heart of the Gnostic. This is what Ibn 
‘Arabi means by saying that God is “contained in the heart 
of the Gnostic”. It contains Him in two ways: 

1. It reflects all the divine perfections which are separately 

manifested in the Macrocosm but collectively manifested 
in the Microcosm (Man). 

2. It also contains God in the sense that it contains the divine 
(the essential or spiritual) aspect of Man, the only aspect 
by virtue of which Man may be called God. 


But Ibn ‘Arabi lays more stress on the former of these two 
senses, saying that this is the true meaning of the Prophetic 
Tradition, “whoso knows himself knows his Lord”. 


Ibn ‘Arabi recognises three distinct elements in Man, which 
he calls body, soul and spirit. He defines body as a material 
form which has extension in space and duration in time, and 
which is perishable and changeable. It is a particular ‘mode’ 
of the Universal Body (al-jism al-kulli). Soul, on the other 
hand, is defined by him as the vital principle — the animal- 
life in the human organism. It is a particular ‘mode’ of 
Universal Soul (al-nafs al-kulliya). And lastly, he defines spirit 
as the rational principle, the purpose of which is to seek true 
knowledge. It is a ‘mode’ of Universal Intellect (al-‘aql al- 

Ibn ‘Arabi speaks of three distinct aspects of the soul: the 
vegetative, the animal and the rational. He definitely asserts 
that the vegetative and the animal souls are the body itself. 
They function through it, and depend for their very exist- 
ence upon it. The rational soul, he says, is identical with 
neither the intellect nor the body, although intellect is one 
of its subordinate ‘powers’ and, during its association with 
body, it functions through it. It is independent of the body; 
it can actually exist apart from it, as it did before ‘joining’ it, 
and as it will do after parting with it. 

“T do not mean by the spirit”, he says, “the food-seeking in- 
stinct which resides in the liver; or that human power which 
responds to anger and passion; or the life-generating power 
lodged in the heart, a power usually called the animal soul, 
which manifests itself in sensations and movements and 
passions, etc; but I mean that perfect and simple substance 
which is living and active, whose sole activities are remem- 
bering, retaining ideas, comprehending, discriminating and 


reflecting.” (Yet he does not identify it with the intellect.) “It 
is capable of receiving all kinds of knowledge and never be- 
comes weary of receiving abstract ideas. This substance is 
the ‘chief’ of all the three souls and the prince (amir) of all 
the powers which serve it and obey its commands.” But he 
goes on to say, “It is neither a body nor an accident (‘arad), 
but a substance belonging to the ‘world of command’ (al- 
‘alam al-amr, the spiritual world); and the Divine command 
is neither a body nor an accident, but a power like the First 
Intellect and the Universal Soul and other Pure Spirits. It is 
the reality signified by the word ‘T’.” 

Death is no destruction, but a dissolution of ‘parts’ of the so- 
called material form. All ‘frames’ (or forms) are regarded by 
him as mere nothing —- passing shadows — with a reality be- 
hind them which constitutes their very being. The human 
body is no exception to the rule. All the so-called three souls 
and the body are ultimately one. But the occult is more per- 
fect and more venerable than the manifest; the rational soul 
in this case, being the hidden aspect of Man, occupies this 
honourable position. It is the ‘part’ of Man to which God 
addresses Himself, and the one that is expected to fulfil moral 

Essentially, Ibn ‘Arabi believes, the apprehending reality is 
one. This he calls the Light (al-niir) without which nothing 
can apprehend or be apprehended. In Man this Light takes 
the form of the rational soul which we have already ex- 
plained. Ibn ‘Arabi insists on the unity of this principle 
(Light) not only in its cosmic functions as the operating 
‘Mind’ in all spheres of intellection, but even in every indi- 
vidual being wherein it abides. Man hears, feels, tastes; he 
thinks, memorises, imagines; and above all receives know- 
ledge of the unseen world, etc., by means of senses and 
faculties which people call by different names, but which, 
according to Ibn ‘Arabi, are essentially one, i.e. this Light. 
“If you apprehend sound you call the apprehending Light 


‘hearing’; and if you perceive by sight, you call it ‘seeing’; 
and so on to the end of the senses and faculties.” 

In short, Light, according to Ibn ‘Arabi, is everything through 
which apprehension takes place. Not only that, but every- 
thing that is apprehended must have a special relation to 
the apprehending Light which is God. To put it in other 
words, God is all that apprehends and all that is apprehend- 
ed. If a thing cannot be apprehended by a mind of some sort 
(not necessarily by a human mind) it cannot be reality at all. 
On this remarkable theory Ibn ‘Arabi bases, with no incon- 
sistency, both his empirical and his mystical psychology, 
normal and abnormal. The very Light which apprehends 
colours and sounds and conceives ideas and forms and im- 
ages, etc., is the same as that which directly and immediately 
perceives Reality itself. 

Ibn ‘Arabi maintains that, though there is a difference be- 
tween the intellect (al-‘aql) and the rational soul (al-rih), and 
between reflective thinking and immediate intuition, the dif- 
ference cannot possibly be regarded as ultimate. If there is a 
difference at all, it is in the different ways in which this Light 
manifests itself. While the apprehending Light is perfectly 
free in mystical intuition, it is comparatively limited in re- 
flective thinking and more tied down still by the limitations 
of the senses in sense perception. 

The senses perceive through the agency of the apprehend- 
ing Light, which forms their very essence and the essence of 
the objects perceived. Perceptual situations can be appre- 
hended by the heart even in the absence of perceptible 
objects. It ‘sees’ them in itself as copies of the eternal Ideas 
of the Soul. 

Concepts are innate ideas in the soul. “The soul is essentially 
a knowing substance”; soul is already born with these in- 
nate ideas. He speaks of the soul’s forgetting its eternal 
knowledge during its temporary association with the body. 


The so-called acquired knowledge is knowledge remembered 
by the soul. Some souls, like those of prophets and saints, 
never forget their knowledge and never experience that 
sickness (marad) which befalls other souls. 

Universal ideas are a common property of every human soul: 
Ibn ‘Arabi maintains that they are innate in the human soul. 
He reduces all conceptual knowledge — all knowledge of the 
external world — to a simple relation between the already 
knowing soul (or its concepts) and the objects of the exter- 
nal world on the one hand; and to a process of relating these 
concepts themselves on the other. For example, to formulate 
the proposition ‘a body is standing’ is to relate in mind the 
notion of ‘body’ with that of ‘standing’, both of which are 
unchangeable ideas. The relation between them, taken in its 
universality, is also an unchangeable concept. Even the par- 
ticular relation, i.e. that this body is standing now, is 
unchangeable in the sense that it (itself) cannot be asserted 
of any other body to which it does not belong. If we say that 
the particular relation does change, since the standing body 
might move the next moment, Ibn ‘Arabi would answer that 
the body has entered into another relation altogether, and 
the previous relation has not changed. There are, therefore, 
four elements in ali conceptual thinking: 

1. Abstract relation (nisba mutlaqa), 

2. The object to which a relation is made (al-mansub ilayhi), 
3. The attribute related (al-nisba), 

4. The particular relation (al-nisba al-shakhsiyya). 

The great hindrance to clear conceptual thinking, Ibn ‘Arabi 
says, is the understanding, because it is always accompa- 
nied by images which tend to limit the universality of the 
universal concepts we have just explained. 

Ibn ‘Arabi draws a distinction between ‘desire’ (shahwa) and 
‘will’ (irdda) by defining the former as the mere striving to- 
ward the gratification of some natural appetite or other. This 
striving is usually determined by the nature of its object. Will, 


on the other hand, for him, means a divine and spiritual 
power whose object is never an existing one (i.e. a concrete 
object in the external world). Will has an important bearing 
on what the Sufis call the mystic yearning or longing for their 
Beloved (God). Ibn Farid and Ibn ‘Arabi have talked about 
Absolute Beauty and Absolute Perfection as being the object 
(not in a concrete sense) of their love and contemplation, but 
no-one except a mystic can fully understand what love in 
abstraction or contemplation of the Absolute means. 


Khayal is used to mean any intermediary between two stages. 
He calls the Blindness (al-‘ama) khayal (illusory) because it is 
an intermediate stage between the Absolute Essence and the 
Phenomenal World. Mental images are khayal because they 
are an intermediate stage between the spiritual and the vis- 
ible world. Dreams are khaydl because they are a stage 
between the Real and the phenomenal life. Mirror images 
are khayal because they are a species of their own: they are 
neither concrete objects nor abstract ideas. 

We must be on our guard in understanding what Ibn ‘Arabi 
says about khayal, and we must also distinguish between at 
least two different kinds of it: 

1. The psychological kind, i.e. mental images which are only 
seen in, and have no existence apart from, a mind. Under 
this category we may class dreams, illusions and ordinary 
normal images of waking life. 

2. What we may call the metaphysical kind. 
The first is divided by Ibn ‘Arabi into two kinds: 

a. Separable (munfasil) which is seen in the plane of imagi- 
nation (al-hadrat al-khaya@l) as having an external 
corporeality; like the forms of Gabriel seen by Muhammad, 
and the serpent which was seen in place of Moses’ staff. 


For Ibn ‘Arabi this is a different type of imagination from 
optical illusions (understood in a strictly psychological 

b. Inseparable (muttasil) by which he seems to mean ordinary 
mental images. This he divides into two more sub-classes: 

1. images which are consciously recalled to the mind by 
the process of takhayyul, and 

2. images which come to the mind of their own accord 
under certain conditions, e.g. in dreams. 

Ibn ‘Arabi’s theory of khayal is not purely psychological. 
Khayalat are not only mind-dependent products which have 
no being in themselves, as a psychologist would say. There 
is a definite place allotted to them in Ibn ‘Arabi’s (and even 
in Ghazalt’s) theory of being. Some khayalat, e.g. the separa- 
ble ones, belong, he says, to the ‘Essential Presence’ (al-hadrat 
al-dhatiyya) and are always ready to receive meanings 
(ma‘ani) and spirits (arwah). They are forms in which Reality 
reveals Itself to the human mind, and he even regards them 
as higher forms than those of the sensible world. 

It would be desirable to recall what has been said about the 
inward ‘eye of the heart’ (al-‘ayn al-basira), for it is, accord- 
ing to Ibn ‘Arabi, the only key to the spiritual world in Man’s 
possession. Revelations and inspirations, which we have 
hitherto explained as springing directly from the heart, are 
sometimes, he says, given to the mystic or the prophet in the 
form of a dream. This is a veridical dream (al-ru’ yd al-sadigqa), 
but there are other dreams which belong to a different class 

Ibn ‘Arabi holds that the faculty of imagination is always 
active, whether in waking life or in sleep. During waking 
hours this faculty is too distracted by sense impressions to 
do its work properly, but in sleep, when the senses and other 
faculties are ina state of rest, the imagination fully awakes. 
Sometimes it acts on images connected with ordinary events 


of the everyday life of the individual and presents them to 
the ‘inward eye’ of the heart, which reflects them and 
magnifies them like a mirror. In this way ordinary dreams 
are caused. They are just associations of ideas and images 
connecting themselves with some objects of desire. 

But sometimes the ‘Guarded Table’ (by which Ibn ‘Arabi 
means the Universal Soul) reveals itself, with all it contains 
of archetypal ideas, to the rational soul of man. What he 
means here is that the rational soul of man, which is a mode 
of the Universal Soul, is revealing itself to itself. The imagi- 
nation seizes such ideas and acts upon them even in such a 
state. The heart (now in immediate contact with the Univer- 
sal Soul) becomes, Ibn ‘Arabi says, like “a running yet 
undefiled stream, wherein are reflected illuminated objects 
of all descriptions”. The person to whom such a dream is 
revealed only sees the reflections in this stream, which are 
symbols of realities that lie behind them. 

Ibn ‘Arabi holds that although such dreams are veridical, 
they must be interpreted because they are symbolic. It is the 
imagination that supplies the symbols, and we must not take 
symbols for realities. When the Prophet saw milk ina dream, 
he only saw a symbol. The reality behind it was knowledge. 

Ibn ‘Arabi gives us one more kind of veridical dream in 
which there are no symbols. Here the imagination does not 
interfere. The heart reflects directly the spiritual impressions 
(ma‘ani ghaybiyya, meanings from the unknowable) before 
the imagination can read into them any symbolic meaning. 
Dreams of this kind need no interpretation. They are revela- 
tions of the Real itself, and they correspond in every detail 
to things seen (later) in the external world. To this class of 
dreams belong some kinds of wahy (revelations) and ilham 
(inspiration), which spring directly from the individual soul. 

Gnostics create by means of a mysterious power that Ibn 
“Arabi calls al-himma (spiritual will), which can produce 


changes and create objects in the external world wherever it 
is concentrated. 

To understand what he means by khaydl it is necessary first 
to understand what he calls the hadarat-i khamsa (the Five 
Presences) of the Divine devolution. The hadrat al-shuhiid (the 
Presence of Witnessing and of the Senses) is regarded as the 
devolvement of the higher Presence of Similitudes (hadrat 
al-mithal), which is often referred to as the Presence of Angels 
(hadrat al-malakiit); which is a devolvement of the Presence 
of Compelling (hadrat al-jabariit); which is a devolvement of 
the Presence of the Unknowable (hadrat al-ghayb). The fifth 
hadra is that of the Perfect Man, which englobes all the others. 

Once the meaning of these hadarat is grasped, many obscure 
points of Ibn ‘Arabi’s theory become more intelligible. 
Nothing is really created anew either by God or Man, but 
things may be said to be preserved by God in one or other 
of these planes of the Five Presences. 

Creating, therefore, in the sense of preserving what already 
exists in one or other or all of these hadarat, may be attribut- 
ed to Man. The heart of Man (the Perfect Man) is a centre for 
all the divine activities. It reflects, like a mirror, all the forms 
in which Reality reveals Itself. By concentrating on the form 
of anything in one or more of these hadarat by means of the 
himma (which is a power of the heart), the mystic has a per- 
fect control over that thing, and through this control the thing 
is preserved in one hadra or another so long as the concen- 
tration of the himma is maintained. 

The difference between the creation of God and that of Man 
(the Perfect Man), on this theory, is that God’s ‘creations’ 
are preserved at all times and in all the hadras, because God 
never becomes forgetful of His creations; while those of Man 
are preserved only at one time or other, and in one hadra or 
other, and never in all the hadarat. As soon as Man becomes 
forgetful of his creations, they disappear — not from exist- 
ence altogether, for nothing disappears from existence, but 


from the hadarat of which Man has become forgetful. It is 
not like recalling mental images and preserving them in a 
mind: it is ‘preserving’ what has existence outside the place 
of the himma. Ibn ‘Arabi says that although the gnostic pos- 
sesses this mysterious power called himma, and is able to 
dispense it (tasarruf), a true gnostic would refrain from 
exercising it for two reasons: 

a. He realises his state as a mere servant (‘abd) of God and 
therefore he prefers to leave creation to his Lord. 

b. He knows that the dispenser and dispensee are essentially 
one. Ibn ‘Arabi mentions the two Shaykhs, Aba-l Su‘td 
Ibn Shibl and Abii Madyan, as belonging to this class of 
mystics who abandoned tasarruf in disdain. But a Sufi may 
exercise his tasarruf, Ibn ‘Arabi adds, if God bids him to 
do so. This was the case with ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani. 


The mystic does not become God, for there is no becoming: 
he is essentially one with God in the sense that everything 
else is. What the mystic knows, he experiences here. The di- 
vine is already there: it is you — not even an element, as Hallaj 
calls it, in your nature, but an aspect. Ibn ‘Arabi himself re- 
pudiates the idea that a mystic passes away from his own 
‘self’, or becomes God. He cannot be contemptuous enough 
of people who make such assertions. 

According to Ibn ‘Arabi, fana’ may mean either of two things: 

a. Fana’ in a mystical sense, by which he means the ‘passing 
away’ of ignorance, and the ‘remaining’ (baqa’) of infalli- 
ble knowledge (gained by intuition) of the essential 
oneness of the Whole. The mystic does not pass away from 
his ‘self’, but he realises its essential non-existence as a 


b. Fana’ in a metaphysical sense, by which he means the 
‘passing away’ of the forms of the phenomenal world, and 
the continuance of the One Universal Substance. This is, 
as Mr. Winfield puts it, the eternal process of “phenome- 
na being constantly annihilated in the Universal 
Noumenon”: the new creation (al-khalq al-jadid) explained 
before. It is summed up by Ibn ‘Arabi’s own words; “The 
disappearance of a form is its fand’ at the moment of the 
manifestation (fajallt) of God in another form”. 

The mystical fand’, he says, is imperfect. The mystic realises 
that he, as a form, has no existence per se, but, owing to the 
very nature of the form, he cannot completely pass away from 
it. How can it be possible even for a mystic, he asks, to die to 
‘self’ and be at the same time conscious of God as the all- 
embracing Reality? Consciousness itself means persistence 
of ‘self’. 

Ibn ‘Arabi makes a fundamental distinction between two 
mystical states which, he believes, have been confused by 
other mystics: 

1. The passing away from all traces and characteristics of 
‘self’ or personality. This state is similar to sleep. “The 
mystic is neither with his ‘self’ nor with his Lord; he is 
asleep, he is ignorant.” 

2. The passing away of ‘self’ in a state of intuitive know- 
ledge in which the essential unity of the Whole is revealed. 
This is the aspect of the mystical experience which Ibn 
‘Arabi emphasises. It is knowledge of an infallible nature 
that Ibn ‘Arabi is after. To say that I have become God, or 
died to ‘self’ in any real sense, is ignorance; and to see 
your ‘self’ alone in a mystical experience is polytheism. 
The perfect mystic, therefore, is one who sees God and 
‘self’ in the mystical experience, both by mystical know- 
ledge and feeling, i.e. the perfect mystic is the one who 
recognises both Essence and form, but realises their es- 
sential unity and the absolute non-existence of the form. 


The particular soul which contemplates the One as itself, 
or in itself, never left the One. 

According to Ibn ‘Arabi, fand’ is a gradual process of various 
stages (one does not go through each necessarily) in which 
the mystic knows by intuition (dhawgq — taste) his real place 
in relation to God. 

Some of these stages are as follows: 



The passing away from all actions whatever. In this stage 
the mystic realises that God alone is the absolute and the 
only agent in the universe. The real agent is God Himself. 

. Passing away from one’s own personality (dhat), by which 

he means that the mystic realises in such a state the non- 
existence of his phenomenal ‘self’ and the subsistence 
(baqa@’) of the unchangeable, unperishable substance which 
is its essence. 

. Passing away from the whole world, i.e. the cessation of 

contemplating the phenomenal aspect of the world, and 
the realisation of the real aspect which underlies the phe- 

. Passing away from all that is ‘other than God’, even from 

the very act of passing away. One of the conditions of this 
stage is that the mystic must cease to be conscious of him- 
self as a contemplator. It is God Himself that contemplates 
and is contemplated. He is seen in every one of His infi- 
nite ‘states’ (shu’iin) i.e. manifestations. 

The passing away from all the attributes of God and their 
‘relations’, i.e. the contemplation of God as the Essence of 
the universe rather than the ‘cause’ of it, as the philoso- 
phers say. The mystic then does not regard the universe 
as an effect of a cause, but as ‘Reality in Appearance’ (haqq 
fi zuhur). He realises the meaninglessness of causality and 
such Divine Names as the Creator, the Designer, the Giv- 
er and so on. This last stage is the ultimate goal, and is 


what Ibn ‘Arabi calls the station of absolute transcend- 
ence of the unity. 

In every one of the so-called mystical stages of fand’, the 
essential unity of being is realised by the mystic. To every 
stage of fana’ corresponds a stage of baqa’ (subsistence): that 
which passes away is the phenomenal and that which en- 
dures is the Real. The ultimate goal of Ibn ‘Arabi’s mysticism 
is the attainment of what he calls ‘true knowledge’. 

Fana’ and baga’ are two complementary aspects of one and 
the same experience, in which the Real is ‘seen’ to persist, 
the phenomenal to pass away. Fana’ is characteristic of all 
that is ‘other than God’; baga’ of God alone. In every one of 
these stages one of the ‘veils’ — i.e. the characteristics of the 
so-called phenomenal world as we know it; all that is called 
other than God — is removed, and the mystic is brought one 
step nearer to the Truth. When all the ‘veils’ are lifted up, 
Reality appears in its absolute nakedness, and absolute free- 
dom of the soul is reached. The mystic is then said to have 
arrived (wasala) at his goal, where lies his happiness. This 
goal is not God, for how can it be God, Ibn ‘Arabi says, when 
He is the very one that arrived at the goal? 

The supreme happiness of the mystic is in realising, by 
means of mystic intuition, his essential unity with God. 
What was for him knowledge of certainty (‘ilm al-yagin) is 
now the very ‘eye’ or vision of certainty (‘ayn al-yaqin); and 
when he transcends the stage of the duality of the knower 
and the known, he reaches the highest stage of mystical life 
in which he is face to face with the reality of certainty (haqq 




There are three ways in which beliefs regarding God are 

1. The way of the follower of a prophet 
2. The way of the philosopher and free-thinker 
3. The way of the gnostic (al-‘arif) 

The believer, or follower, fashions his beliefs after the man- 
ner of his prophet; the thinker bases his on reason; the gnostic 
— who may be said to have no definite belief like the other 
two — is guided by his immediate perception (dhawg — taste) 
of the Truth. Each of them has a conception in which he finds 
his God, “and each will, when the truth is revealed in the 
next world, recognise the object of his belief (i.e. his God) in 
the infinite Being who will then appear in all the forms of 
belief”. Only then will they fully apprehend the meaning of 
their beliefs, when they obtain an immediate ‘vision’ of 
Reality as it really is. Only then shall we see for ourselves, 
with keenness of sight that will never be dimmed, the One 
object which reflects Itself on the infinite mirror of our be- 
liefs, and know what the meaning of God’s huwiyya (Essence) 
is. People who believe that God is limited to any particular 
form will recognise Him in that particular form and no oth- 
er; and people like the Mu‘tazilites, who believe in the 
fulfilment of His threat, will not recognise Him in His abso- 
lute Mercy which embraces all things; and so on. Only 
gnostics, Ibn ‘Arabi says, will recognise Him in all the forms 
of belief in which He will reveal Himself, as they now recog- 
nise Him in all His manifestations; for the gnostics are the 
hayila of all beliefs. 

The forms of belief in God vary according to the nature of 
the objects of those beliefs, but any belief which deprives 
God of His absolute universality, or falls short of explaining 
His full nature as being both a transcendent and an imma- 
nent Reality, is partial and imperfect. To worship a star ora 
tree is to worship a god who is but a partial manifestation of 


the Real God, but to worship Him in all forms is to worship 
Allah, who is the only true object of worship. All other gods 
are ‘intelligible objects of beliefs’. We create them in our 
minds. Everyone is right in his belief, no matter how partial 
it is, but wrong in asserting that the object of his belief is 
(when it is not) Allah. 

Gnostics alone worship the true God whose Name (Allah) is 
the most universal of all the Divine Names. They are called 
‘Worshippers of Time’ (‘ubbad al-waqt), because they wor- 
ship God at every moment of Time in a fresh manifestation. 
Their position is a peculiar one: they combine the belief of 
the philosopher, who asserts pure transcendence of God, 
with that of the polytheist, who asserts pure immanence; for 
neither transcendence alone nor immanence alone explains 
the full nature of Reality. Immanence alone leads to a form 
of polytheism which Ibn ‘Arabi denounces, and transcend- 
ence alone leads to a duality of God and universe which Ibn 
‘Arabi rejects. The only religion left for him is the universal 
religion, which includes all religions and which is Islam. Islam 
is not only the religion of Muhammad, but the embodiment 
of all religions and beliefs. 

Ibn ‘Arabi maintains that love is the basis of all forms of 
worship, and that the only true form of worship is Love. To 
worship is to love the object worshipped. But ‘love’ is a prin- 
ciple which pervades all beings and binds them together. It 
is one universal kind, although it appears to be a multiplici- 
ty in forms. It is an essential unity: the Divine Essence itself. 
Therefore the highest and the truest object of worship, the 
highest manifestation (majla@) in which God is worshipped, 
is love. “I swear by the reality of Love that Love is the cause 
of all Love; were it not for Love (residing) in the heart, Love 
(God) would not be worshipped.” 

People’s beliefs are determined by, and vary according to, 
their own aptitude (isti‘dad). This, Ibn ‘Arabi says, is what 
Junayd meant by saying, “the colour of water is the colour 


of the vessel which contains it”. The part that God plays in 
the matter is that of an Omniscient Being who knows from 
eternity what every individual belief is going to be, but even 
His knowledge is determined by the nature of the beliefs and 
that of the people to whom they belong. Commenting on the 
Qur’anic verse, “Verily God is not unjust to His servants”, 
Ibn ‘Arabi says, “I (i.e. God) did not ordain polytheism which 
dooms them to misery, and then demand of them what lay 
not in their power to perform. No, I dealt with them only 
according as I knew them, and I knew them only by what 
they ‘gave’ me from themselves, of what they themselves 
really are. Hence if there is any wrong, they are the wrong- 
doers. I said to them nothing but what my Essence decreed 
that [should say to them, and my Essence is known to me as 
it is... It is mine to say and it is for them to obey or not to 

The ultimate goal is the realisation of the essential Unity of 
the One Reality which is the All, and the full recognition of 
the Principle of Love — for God is Love — which pervades 
and unites the Whole. In this ‘religion’ God is impersonal, 
but those who are incapable of conceiving Him as such may 
worship Him in any form they please, provided they know 
what the real object of their worship is. To worship the Real 
God is to contemplate Him in everything, including 

Goopb & Evi. 

If we say we are responsible, we are right, and if we say God 
is responsible, we are equally right: but we must always re- 
member the point of view. God does not will in the sense 
that He chooses, but in the sense that He decrees what He 
knows will take place. That the thing or action which God 
has decreed should take place depends entirely on its own 
necessary laws. Logically, Ibn “Arabi argues, a ‘possible’ 
thing or action may be one or other of many alternative things 


or actions, but actually it is only one: the one God knows 
will take place. It is impossible for God to will what lies not 
in the nature of things. The intrinsic laws of Man are the 
deciding factor in all that he does, good or evil. 

Evil, for Ibn ‘Arabi, is not a positive quantity. Pure evil is 
the same as pure not-being and pure darkness, and pure good 
is pure being and pure light. According to him and 
Suhrawardi al-Muqtial, the difference between ‘light’ and 
‘darkness’ is not one of contrariety, but one of existence and 
non-existence. Ibn ‘Arabi, for example, includes such things 
as physical pain, failing health, animal cruelty, and so on, in 
what he calls evil. For him, all evil, ethical or otherwise, is 
relative. There is nothing that is evil in itself, and God never 
creates any evil. Things and actions are called evil for one or 
other of the following reasons: 

1. Because one religion or other regards them as such; 

2. Relative to a certain ethical principle or customary 
standard approved by a community; 

3. Because they are incongruous with some individual 

4. Because they fail to satisfy some natural, moral or 
intellectual desires of an individual; and so on. 

Apart from these and other similar standards by which we 
measure the goodness or evilness of things or actions, there 
is nothing, Ibn “Arabi says, except the bare essence of things 
(a‘ yan al-mawjidat) which we cannot describe as good or evil. 

In addition to things which have already been mentioned as 
coming under Ibn ‘Arabi's category of evil, we may include 
ignorance, falsehood, disharmony, disorder, sin, infidelity, 
incompatibility of temper and so on. In all these things there 
is something lacking; some positive being or quality which, 
if added to the things or actions we call evil, would convert 
them into good. Nothing is evil: all that is, is good. In other 
words, what we call evil is subjective, not an objective reality. 


But even good as contrasted with evil is subjective and rela- 
tive. The only good that is absolute is Pure Being (God, the 

Our judgement of the goodness and evilness of things is rel- 
ative to our knowledge. We call a thing or an action evil 
because of our ignorance of the good that is hidden therein. 
“Everything”, he says, “has an external and an internal as- 
pect. In its internal aspect lies the purpose of the Creator, 
and if we are ignorant of such purpose, we are apt to pro- 
nounce such a thing to be evil”. 

Ibn ‘Arabi gives medicine as an illustration of what he wishes 
to say. Here is a case of an apparent evil (e.g. the unpleas- 
antness resulting from tasting a repugnant medicine) and of 
a positive good of which the patient, who condemns his 
medicine as evil, may be ignorant. A thing like medicine, 
therefore, is regarded as evil for two reasons, and it is a 
relative evil in each case: 

1. It lacks some positive qualities, on account of the absence 
of which it does not appeal to the taste of the patient, who 
regards it as evil; 

2. It is considered an evil relative to the knowledge of the 
patient, who is ignorant of the good that is in it. 

In itself medicine cannot be described as good or evil, and 
the same may be said of all other goods and evils. Ibn ‘Arabi 
adds that ultimately both good and evil come from God. To 
put it in other words, all things are manifestations of God 
and all actions are His actions, only we call some of them 
good and others bad. The Mercy of God is shown in all things 
and actions, for it is through His Mercy that everything has 
come to being. 

Ibn ‘Arabi makes a distinction between two kinds of Divine 

1. The mashi’a, by which he means something like the Di- 
vine Consciousness which is present in all things: the 


eternal Power of God which decrees that things (potential 
or actual) should be what they are. Ibn ‘Arabi means by 
mashi’a the Divine Essence Itself. He calls it al-wujiid (Being 
or God) and approves of Abu Talib al-Makki’s calling it 
al-‘arsh al-dhat (the throne of the Essence). 

2. The creative Will (irada), by which he means a power by 
means of which God brings into external manifestation 
potential existents. 

“Sin is disobedience, not to the Divine Will, not to the crea- 
tive command of God (al-amr al-takwini), but to mediate 
religious command (al-amr bi-l-wasita, or al-amr al-taklift).” 
In Ibn ‘Arabi’s view, also that of Hallaj, this Divine Command 
(amr) is not a real command (amr) but is what they call ibtila’ 
(trial). It would have been against God’s wisdom if He had 
not created things which we call evil, or decreed actions 
which we call sins. The world would not have been com- 
plete or perfect, for it is a part of the perfection of the world 
to include what we call imperfection. God’s complete per- 
fections would not have been manifested; the manifested 
world is the relative world and in a relative state ‘the more’ 
or ‘the less’ are of the nature of the relative state. He also 
adds that we are enjoined to accept not that which God has 
decreed (al-maqdi bihi), but the Decree itself (al-qada’). “Prayer 
for removal of evil should be submitted to God”, Ibn ‘Arabi 
says; “ behoves a person in pain to pray to God to re- 
move it, because by so doing God removes it from Himself”. 
On the contrary, Ibn ‘Arabi argues, to try to refrain from 
complaint to God when you are afflicted with pain is to defy 
Fate, and this is ignorance. 

This, in outline, is Ibn ‘Arabi’s Ethics. The pivot round which 
it all turns is self-realisation. Every thing and every action 
has one ultimate aim which it is bound to achieve, and this 
is to realise itself; and in so doing it realises one or other of 
God’s infinite perfections, which include the so-called 
imperfections according to Ethics or Religion. 


His descriptions of Heaven and Hell are merely “allegorical 
representations of states” and “corporealisations of ideas”. 
“What we learn from tradition”, he says, “is mere words, 
and it is left to us to find out what such words mean.” Para- 
dise, he says, comes from the verb janna, to conceal, and the 
janna of all is the Divine Essence in which all multiplicity 
will be ‘concealed’. On the other hand, Hell (jahannam) means 
distance or farness (bu‘d), and the real hell lies in imagining 
that there is a real chasm between you and God and not re- 
alising your essential oneness with Him. - 

The ‘Day of Grief’ (yawm al-hasra) he understands as the ‘Day 
of Unveiling’, from hasara, to unveil; i.e. the day on which 
the One Essence will be revealed in Its absolute universality. 
Heaven and Hell are two subjective states. Hell is selfhood. 
Heaven, on the other hand, is the realisation of the divine 
aspect of his being. Of life after death Ibn ‘Arabi has no doubt 
whatever, for life, according to him, is continuous and un- 
ceasing. There is only One Being in existence and there is 
therefore but one life. “Though the damned”, Ibn ‘Arabi says, 
“will enter the abode of misery, they will experience therein 
happiness which will be different from that of Paradise.” The 
only kind of torment the damned will experience is a nega- 
tive one; they will be deprived, for a time, of the greatest 
happiness of all, ie. the realisation of their inseparable unity 
with God. The One whence all things come is the One to 
which they will all return. When we return to the One, we 
will realise the truth or falsity of our beliefs, and our posi- 
tion relative to Him will be determined entirely by the nature 
of such beliefs. The gnostics alone will be in immediate con- 
tact with Him, and this will constitute the highest happiness 
in Heaven. Souls in the spiritual world will be an essential 
unity, yet preserving a degree of consciousness that will en- 
able them to enjoy their various grades of spiritual happiness. 



The One is the all-embracing Being — the ultimate ground of 
all existence. It is identified with the all-active and the all- 
willing Principle. It is the all-pervading Consciousness; the 
same Reality as the all-prevailing Love and Beauty. 

The fundamental factor underlying all these manifestations 
of the One Reality is, according to Ibn ‘Arabi, Divine Love. 
He recognises three kinds of Love: natural love, spiritual love 
and Divine Love. The first two are species of the third. Di- 
vine Love means the essential Love of the One — the eternal 
love which is the source of all other kinds. Before any form 
of modalisation, the One, in His supreme isolation and sim- 
plicity, loved Himself for and in Himself, and loved to be 
known and to be manifested. This was the cause of creation. 
In loving Himself, the One loved all the a‘ydn of things la- 
tent in His Essence, and hence they are impregnated with 
love that they now manifest in different ways. “The love of 
the a‘yan began”, Ibn ‘Arabi says, “when they were still in 
the Blindness (al-‘ama), when they first heard God’s creative 
word (Be).” 

Spiritual love means mystical love, of which the ultimate aim 
is realisation of the essential unity of the lover and the 
Beloved. Divine Love, in refinding itself, realises its affinity 
as a ‘form’ with the Universal Love of the Whole. This is the 
most perfect kind of love. It is the love of the Whole as a 
Whole (as an Essence) and as a part (as a particular mode of 
the Essence). It is what the Sufis mean by rapture (hayaman). 
Ibn ‘Arabi says that the ultimate goal of love is to know the 
reality of love and that the reality of love is identical with 
God’s Essence. Love is not an abstract quality superadded 
to the Essence. It is not a relation between a lover and an 
object loved. This is the true love.of the gnostics, who know 
no particular object of love. It is the profane that love forms. 
Nothing is loved except God, just as nothing is worshipped 
except Him. When we say that we love x, y or z, what we 


really mean is that we love God in the form of x, y or z; and 
it is ignorance to say that we love x, y or z themselves, just 
as it is ignorance to say that we worship x, y or z themselves. 
When we say we love God, or anything, we mean that God 
loves Himself in us or in any other form. 

The third kind of love is natural love, the object of which is 
self-satisfaction, regardless of the object loved. In spiritual 
love, the ‘self’ and all its desires are sacrificed in the interest 
of the Beloved. In natural love the object is sacrificed. Ibn 
‘Arabi includes under natural love what he calls elemental 
love (al-hubb al-‘unsurt), under which all physical, psycho- 
logical, and even mechanical attractions can be classed. Even 
this he regards as a manifestation of the Divine Love in its 
lowest and crudest form. 

According to Ibn ‘Arabi, love is not an end in itself; it has no 
intrinsic value. The basis and cause of all love is Beauty. 
We love God because God is Beautiful, and He loves us and 
all His creation because He loves the Beautiful. God’s Beauty 
is the source of all types of Beauty. It is the source of all spir- 
itual and intellectual beauty as well as beauty of form, 
although in itself God’s Beauty is above all form and shape. 
God loves beauty of form because form reflects His own 
Beauty, as it reflects His Being. In abstract beauty as well as 
in beauty of form, therefore, God ought to be loved and 
worshipped, and this is how a perfect Gnostic knows Him, 
loves Him and worships Him. 

Love is the cause of creation (or self-manifestation of the One 
in His infinite Forms), but it is also the cause of the return of 
all the manifestations to the One. “Does not God say,” Ibn 
‘Arabi asks, “O David, My yearning for them is greater than 
their yearning for Me?” Love is the working principle in all 
manifestations of the One, from the highest to the lowest. It 
reaches its zenith in Man, the Perfect Man, who above all 
creation experiences all the three kinds of Love. Through 
Love, the Whole is bound together and through it the object 
of creation is realised. Thus the whole system is perfectly 




‘abd 60 

‘abd al-kaémil 36 

‘Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani 41, 60 
Abti Madyan 60 

Abu Sa‘id al-Kharraz 23 

Abu Talib al-Makki 69 

Abii-l Su‘td Ibn Shibl 60 
Adam 36, 42 

‘adam al-mahd 10 

Affifi, A.E. 5 

afrad 41 

Ahad 24 

ahadiyya 16, 24, 32 

ahbab 41 

ahkam 9, 12, 13, 19, 30 
‘alam 10 

‘alam al-amr 53 

‘alam al-arwah 29 

Allah 25, 65 

‘ama 24, 32, 56, 71 
amir 53 

amr 69 

amr al-taklifi 69 
amr al-takwini 69 
amr bi-l-wasita 69 
Ana‘l-Hagq 50 
‘aql 54 

‘aql al-kulli 52 
‘arad 53 

ard 45 

‘arif 11, 64 

‘arsh 38 

‘arsh al-dhat 69 
arwah 57 
Ash‘arites 18 


‘awalim 10 

awham 48 

a‘yan 26, 27, 28, 30, 36, 71 
a‘yan al-mawjudat 67 

a‘yan al-thabita 25, 26, 27, 29, 34 
‘ayn 12, 27, 36 

‘ayn al-basira 57 

‘ayn al-basira 49 

‘ayn al-yaqin 63 


baqa’ 60, 62, 63 
barzakh 38, 40 
Bayazid 31, 36 
bayt al-ma‘mtr 38 
bu‘d 70 


dhat 62 

dhawq 45, 48, 62, 64 
didd 24 


fana’ 39, 47, 61, 62, 63 
fargq 12 

fayd al-ilahi 46 

Fusiis al-Hikam 5 
Futthat al-Makkiya 27 


Gabriel 51, 56 
ghayb 16, 45 
Ghazali 57 


haba 40 
hadarat 24, 51, 59 
hadarat-i khamsa 59 


hadith 20 

hadra 51, 59 

hadrat al-asma’ 29 
hadrat al-dhatiyya 57 
hadrat al-ghayb 59 
hadrat al-ilahiyya 25 
hadrat al-jabartt 59 
hadrat al-khayal 56 
hadrat al-malakuat 59 
hadrat al-mithal 59 
hadrat al-rahmaniyya 29 
hadrat al-shuhtid 59 
hakam 44 

Hallaj 45, 50, 60, 69 
haqa’iq 34 

hagigqa 21 

haqigat al-haqa’iq 32, 34, 40 
haqq 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 37 
haqq al-mitlaq 9 

haqq al-yaqin 63 

haqq fi zuhtr 62 
hayaman 71 

hayula 32, 33, 64 
himma 58, 59, 60 

hubb al-‘unsuri 72 
hukm 27, 30 

hulal 14 

huwiyya 26, 47, 64 


Ibn Farid 56 

Ibn Rushd (Averroes) 19 
ibtila 69 

ilham 58 

‘ilm al-ahwal 45 

‘ilm al-‘aql 45 

‘ilm al-asrar 45 

‘ilm al-ghayb 45 

‘ilm al-yaqin 63 


‘ilm ladunni 45 
imam 40 

ina‘ 13 

insan al-hayawani 36 
insan al-kabir 36 
insanu ‘ayn al-haqq 40 
irada 55, 69 

Islam 42, 65 

istafad al-wujud 28 
isti‘dad 65 

itlaq 14, 16 


jahannam 70 

jam‘ 12 

jam ‘iyya al-ilahiyya 37 
Jami 48 

janab al-ilahi 37 

janna 70 

Jili 37 

jism al-kulli 32 
Junayd 65 


Ka‘ba 38 

kalima 40 

kashf 46 

kawn al-jami‘ 35 
kawn jami‘ 36 
khalifa 35, 40, 42 
khalq 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 37 
khalq al-jadid 61 
khalwa 30 
khayal 56, 59 
khayalat 57 

kitab 33 

kitab al-mastr 32 
kufr 14 



ma‘ani 57 

ma‘ani ghaybiyya 58 
mafatih al-awwal 29 
mafatth al-ghayb 29 
mahiyya 26 
mahiyyat 9 

majla 65 

manstib ilayhi 55 
maqdi bihi 69 
marad 55 

maratib 10, 21 
ma‘rifa 41 

martaba al-ilahiyya 32 
mashi‘a 68 

mith] 24 

mudrik 47 
Muhammad 35, 37, 40, 41, 42, 56, 65 
mulqi 51 

munfasil 56 
muqtadayat 27 
Mu'tazilites 64 
muttasil 57 
Muwahhid 15 


nur 53 

nafs al-kulliya 52 
nisab 50 

nisba 55 

nisba al-shakhsiyya 55 
nisba mutlaqa 55 
nubuwwa 41 


Philo of Alexandria 40 
Plotinus 29, 34, 48, 51 



qada’ 69 

qabil 29 

qalam al-a‘la 33 
Qur’an 51 

qutb 40 


Rabb 24 

risala 41 

ru’ya al-sadiga 57 
rububiyya 32 
Rth 28, 40,50 


shafi* 40 

shahwa 55 

shara’i‘ 42 

shart 18 

shuhtd 47 

shu’tin 62 

sifat al-tanzih 16, 23 
sifat al-tashbih 23 
Spinoza 45 

stira 35 

subuhat al muhriqa 24 
Suhrawardi al-Muqttl 67 
stirat al-haqq 40 


ta‘alluq 25 

ta‘ayyun al-awwal 26, 29, 40 
tahaqquq 25 

tajalli 31, 48, 61 

tajalliyat 31, 32 

takhalluq 25 

takhayyul 57 

takwin 19 


tanzih 14 

tanzih al-tawhid 16 
taqyid 14, 16 
tasarruf 60 
tashbih 14 

tawhid 15, 30 
thubat 19, 46 
thumma 19 

tal 45 


‘ubbad al-waqt 65 
umana’ 41 


wahidiyya 24 
wahy 58 

wajh 21 

wajib al-wujtid 9, 11 
wali 41 

waratha 41 
wasala 63 

wilaya 41, 42 
wujiid al-kulli 9 
wujtid al-mutlaq 9 


yawm al-hasra 70 

zuhtr 19 


Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, one of the greatest mystics of 
all time, was born in Murcia in 1165, of an ancient 
Arab family. His intellectual ability and spiritual 
aptitude were apparent from an early age, and he 
studied assiduously under many teachers in 
Andalusia and the Maghrib. After extensive travels 
in the Islamic world, he died at Damascus in 1240. 
He left more than 400 writings, in which the 
primordial principle of the Absolute Unity of 
Existence is expressed with unique clarity and 
fullness. To many he is known simply as al-Shaykh 
al-Akbar — ‘the Greatest Teacher’ 

This book consists of edited highlights from A.E. 
Affifi’s The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul 
Arabi, originally published by Cambridge University 
Press in 1938. The extracts presented here as a 
continuous text were first put together more than 
twenty years ago by Bulent Rauf, Consultant to the 
Beshara Trust until his death in 1987. His intention 
was to provide a complete introductory guide to the 
language and thought of Ibn ‘Arabi, particularly 
those aspects of his doctrine which refer to the Unity 
of Being and the Perfectability of Man. 

Long known simply as the ‘Twenty-nine pages’ 
from the format of its original printing, this text has 
been a foundation for study at the Beshara School of 
Intensive Esoteric Education, where it has been read 
prior to Ibn ‘Arabi’s own more demanding works 
such as the Fusus al-Hikam. The clarity of the 
exposition and depth of meaning make it an 
invaluable reference work for all students of 
mysticism and the spiritual life, whatever their 


ISBN 0 904975 20 7