Today on the 16th of November in 1240 CE, famous Arab Andalusian Islamic scholar, theologian, philosopher, Sufi and poet Muhiy al-Din Ibn Arabi died in Damascus, Ayyubid dynasty (now in Syria). He was born in Spain on July 26, 1165 CE.
Known as Muhiy al-Din (reviver of the faith) and Sheikh al-Akbar (the greatest master), Ibn Arabi provided an understanding of Islam from its most literal to its most profound meaning. His influence upon later generations of spiritual masters can be seen in countries as far apart as Spain and Indonesia.
The nineteen-year-old Ibn Arabi met the renowned philosopher Ibn Rushd (d. 198 AD) whom the West knows as Averroes. The philosopher asked the young mystic, “Do the fruits of mystic illumination agree with philosophical speculation?” Ibn al Arabi replied, “Yes, and no. Between the yes and no, the spirits take their flight beyond the matter.” Impressed with the answer Ibn Rushd exclaimed, “Glory to Allah! I have lived at a time when there exists a master of this experience, one of those who open the locks of His doors.” Fourteen years later when Ibn Rushd died, Ibn al Arabi attended the funeral and referred to him as a great leader.
Ibn Arabi, one of the most influential Sufi authors of later Islamic history is known as Shaykh al Akbar, the Greatest Master. Born in the town of Murcia in Spain, Ibn al Arabi moved to Seville where he studied religious sciences. Since his father was a devotee of the renowned Sufi scholar Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad, Ibn al Arabi grew up in Sufi circles. Arabi was educated by two women, one being Fatima of Cordova, and later traveled to many countries studying alchemy, astrology, the Hermetic tradition, and neo-platonic philosophy.
Ibn Arabi spent many years in Andalusia and North Africa. While in Morocco, he dreamt that he should travel to Fez where he would meet a certain Muhammad al Hasar with whom he should travel east. The two men met and traveled together to Tunis, Alexandria, and Cairo where Hasar died. Ibn al Arabi then traveled alone to Makkah where he joined a group of Sufis, Here he met Nizam, a beautiful woman who created a lasting impression on him.
Ibn al Arabi finally settled in Damascus where he taught and wrote till his death. A prolific writer, he wrote Fusus al-Hikam, an exposition of the inner meaning of the wisdom of the prophets in the Judaic / Christian / Islamic line, and the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, a vast encyclopedia of spiritual knowledge which unites and distinguishes the three strands of tradition, reason and mystical insight.
Ibn al-Arabi’s works on Cosmology have been recognized throughout the world. He is said to have written a total of 850 works, out of which 700 are considered to be the authentic ones while over 400 are still extant.
He authored numerous books on Sufi philosophy asserting that perfect knowledge of Allah needed both the eye of reason and the eye of imagination. He coined the term Insaan al Kaamil, the Perfect Man, that became the central theme of Sufism. His theories brought out the nature of human perfection and the means to achieve it.
Ibn al Arabi’s philosophy and articulation of Wahdat al Wujood remains the most celebrated and controversial idea throughout the Muslim world influencing Sufi ideologies forever. Among the Sufi Master’s best-known works are Fusus al-Hakim (Bezels of Wisdom) and Futuhat al Makiyya (Meccan Revelations). Ibn al Arabi believed that the ultimate goal of love is to recognize it as God’s essence.
Excerpt from Sadia Dehlvis’s Sufism: The Heart of Islam
Love history? Become one of our patrons by pledging just $1/month and support the historical gems of Islamicate history and Muslim culture we uncover on a daily basis.