Spiritual Realisation - Advice By Ibn Arabi

Advice For Spiritual Realisation

Muhyiddin Ibn `Arabi

From M. Ibn `Arabi's Letter To Fakhr Ad-Dín Razi

Edited by Omar K Neusser from M Rustom’s presentation

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1. Intro

This text is a description regarding one specific, though general occurring obstacle to spiritual realization (tahqíq ). Presented here is a short résumé1 of M Rustom’s article on Muhyiddin Ibn `Arabi’s letter to Fakhr Ad-Dín Razi, the famous Muslim philosopher, in which Ibn `Arabi suggests the latter should not come to know Allah through abstract thinking alone - which at most - can just be a starting point.14 Razi serves as an example for all those employing a similar intellectual, but deficient approach,15 but Allah knows best and most!

M. Rustom writes, that the letter deals ”with the nature of adoration [ of God or the Ultimate Reality ] and what a life of lofty aspirations [ towards realizing this goal ] entails.”

In this context he highlights an important difference, which will be described in what follows:

- knowledge of God's existence
- knowledge of God.(a)

2. Aspire To Know God On God's Terms!

Aspire to know God on God's terms - in light of Quran 47-38: { God is the rich and you are the poor. }

Allah says:

spaceSura 47-39
                 { God is the rich and you are the poor… }

Ibn Káthir: Allah is in need of nothing, whereas everything is ever in need of Him.
Jalál ad-Dín Rúmí: No man has ever found the way to Him save through servanthood (`ubudiyya )… He bestowed life and spirit upon a handful of dust, all out of pure disinterest and without any precedent. All parts of the world have their share from Him.12

”These aspirations [ to know God ] whether rational proofs for the existence of God or other, should only be dealt with according to the measure of need.
They have importance and efficacy in this world, where rational proofs and intellectual arguments are meaningful and necessary.

”Yet the only kind of science that requires all of our aspiration and thus demands that we give all of ourselves to it (by realizing our nothingness) is that science which will remain valid when we die, namely knowledge of God.13

”Even if one can attain knowledge of God through the use of the intellect alone, ... one is still liable to obfuscation or doubt. [Ch.3]

[ Therefore, the way to this knowledge, i.e. to witnessing God, is through ] kashf, unveiling.

3. From Muhyiddin Ibn `Arabi’s Teaching

Ibn Arabi's teaching as follows (in the words of the author of the presentation M. Rostom):

”A life devoted to God but exclusively in terms of theoretical knowledge4 (even a deep theoretical knowledge of mysticism) would result in unrest [ and spiritual confusion, which is worse ], and will lead to serious shortcomings in attaining one's object of aspiration. This calls to mind Quran 13-28, which speaks of the attainment of tranquility5 through the remembrance of God.

spaceSura 13-28

{ Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured. } 13-28

”That is to say, constant remembrance of God naturally engenders a state of repose and ease. It can be thus said that the realization of one's utter poverty before God is tantamount to the emptiness or nothingness of the heart (qalb ), which is the seat of human consciousness6."

”This state of emptiness paradoxically acts as the catalyst for the heart's beholding the Object of its aspiration.”3

”Beholding this Object and being in constant remembrance of It thus renders the one who comes to God through his poverty as, in fact, actually rich, since he is with the Source of all aspirations and the End towards which all people tend.”7

Ibn Arabi called ”Razi to the spiritual path itself. He insists that it is only by entering the Sufi path that Razi will be able to free himself from his predicament of doubt, confusion, ignorance, and restlessness.”

”Ibn Arabi also seems to want to tell Razi8 that, without spiritual realization, it will only perpetuate his incorrect understanding of God and His self disclosures, both in this life and the next life.”

4. Muhyiddin Ibn `Arabi Direct Quotes On This Matter

”When a soul seeks nourishment through its own acquisition (kasb )9 it does not find the sweetness of generosity (júd ) and bestowing (wahb ), and is amongst those who eat from beneath themselves.10

”But a spiritual man (rajul ) is one who eats from above himself, as Allah says,” in Quran 5-66:


{ And if only they upheld (the message of) … what has been revealed to them from their Lord, they would have consumed (provision) from above them and from beneath their feet… } 5-66

”The complete inheritance (al-wirátha al-kámila ) is that which is (complete) in every respect, not in some respects, for 'The knowers are the heirs of the prophets.'2 An intelligent person (ˋáqil ) should strive to be an heir in every respect and not be deficient in aspiration.”11

“The beauty of the human subtle reality (al-laṭífa al-insániyya ) can only be (attained) through the divine knowledge (al-maˋárifa al--iláhiyya ) it bears, while its ugliness is the opposite of this."

Thus, an intelligent person should only acquire knowledge that is absolutely necessary (al-Hája aḍ-ḍarúriyya ) for him. (not stopping at a sort of knowledge, such as geometry, only for world of surfaces.)

2 kinds of knowledge necessary for when he departs:

1 knowledge of God
2 knowledge of the homesteads of the next life (mawátin al-ákhira ) and what is demanded by its stations (maqámát ) so that he may walk therein as though he would walk in his own home, thus denying absolutely nothing. For he should be one of the people of gnosis (ˋirfán), not one of the people of denial (nukrán )!


5. Last Words of Ibn Arabi In His Letter

An intelligent person (has) to discover these two aforementioned types of knowledge by way of self-discipline, in a straight path?? and spiritual retreat under specific conditions.

The scholars of evil (ˋulamá' al-sú' ) who deny that of which they are ignorant, and are shackled by bigotry (taˋaṣṣub ) as well as love of publicity and leadership on account of their obedience and submissiveness to God, even though they do not have faith (in Him)! fn114


2016-11-10 vs.1.5; from 2016-10-22
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Disclaimer: First of all it is Islam that reigns (see Sura 5:3). Traditional Islam does not accept the notion that the world-religions (and even less so any man-made belief system) would be equally valid paths to God, these are perennialistic interpretations. Even so, they (their laws) still reflect some sacred truth, so they did not turn into falsehood by being abrogated. These are 2 (two) different points to be kept in mind.

• In the words of Muhyiddín Ibn `Arabi: ”The religious laws are all lights, and the law of Muhammad MHMD among these lights is as the sun's light among the light of the stars…”

”So all paths return to look to the Prophet's path MHMD : if the prophetic messengers had been alive in his time, they would have followed him just as their religious laws have followed his law.…” [further reading]

  1. These are quotes from Mohammad Rustom’s text, then quoting Ibn `Arabi from:
    Ibn ‘Arabi’s Letter to Fakhr al-Din al-Razi: A Study and Translation, (Oxford Journal of Islamic Studies, 2014)

    Omar's comments are in grey, [styled as such].
    The pdf is linked here: [link]

    Quoted books or articles:
    CI: Creative Imagination In Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi; H. Corbin; chapter IV: Theophanic Imagination And Creativity of The Heart, p. 216 ff
    TT: Tafsir Al-Tustari
    FMF: Fihi Ma Fihi, Rumi
    DTIT: forthcoming
    SPK: See Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-`Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination; Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989, p.222; p.203

  2. Al-Tirmidhí, Sunan, k. (37) al-ˋIlm, b. (19) má já'a fí faDl al-fiqh ˋalá-l ˋibáda

    إِنَّ الْعُلَمَاءَ وَرَثَةُ الأَنْبِيَاءِ إِنَّ الأَنْبِيَاءَ لَمْ يُوَرِّثُوا دِينَارًا وَلاَ دِرْهَمًا إِنَّمَا وَرَّثُوا الْعِلْمَ فَمَنْ أَخَذَ بِهِ أَخَذَ بِحَظٍّ وَافِرٍ
    “The scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.”

    [seekershub.org] Related by Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Maja, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, and others; Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Zayla`i, Ibn Hajar, and others seemed it sound (hasan ) or rigorously authentic (sahih ).

    When Fudayl ibn Iyad (Allah be pleased with him) heard this hadith, he commented, “The people of spiritual wisdom (hukama’ ) are the inheritors of the prophets,” Ibn Nu`aym, Hilyat al-Awliya, 8.92, explaining the nature of knowledge that is ultimately sought.

  3. see: Creative Imagination In Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi; H. Corbin; chapter IV: Theophanic Imagination And Creativity of The Heart, p. 216 ff CI

  4. It seems that ”Razi's knowledge of Sufism was quite theoretical (which explains) the tone of, and … underlying argument in Ibn `Arabi’s letter to him.” (Mohammed Rustom, p. 122)

  5. تَطْمَىِنّ - tranquility (to be satisfied, to be secure),

    Sahl At-Tustari: In remembrance (dhikr ) with knowledge (`ilm ) there is tranquil repose (sukun ), and in remembrance with intellect (`aql ) there is profound peace (ṭuma`nína ). TT100

  6. See also related text: ”What Is Consciousness?” from a talk by S. H. Nasr.

  7. This kind of knowledge [of Sufism] ”only becomes active aspiration when one does does something about it.” As a first step to divest oneself of one’s psychological attachment to one’s discursive abilities. (M. Rustom, p. 123)

  8. to tell Razi: ~ and in extension every sincere seeker of truth.

  9. through its own acquisition: Ibn `Arabi wrote this even though he attested Razi some degree of the imaginative faculty (al-quwwa al-mutakhayyilla ) and ”sound thinking.”

  10. [ Nourishment from above one-self: that what is bestowed upon the spiritual man from above, from the divine realities, so] ”here, Ibn `Arabi is relating this distinction to a more general discussion concerning knowledge of God - one can either come to know God through his own intellectual efforts [but then it is a knowledge beset with doubts and uncertainties or only a kind of rational knowledge, here in the sense of reflective consideration], or God can cause him to know Him directly from Himself (i.e., without any intermediary).” [ God-given knowledge (ladunní) - Quran 18-65 ]
    ”In this sense, knowledge that is bestowed by God(b), which Ibn `Arabi will advocate to Razi throughout the letter, is a synonym for ‘unveiling’ (kashf ) and ‘tasting’ (dhawq ), although that does not necessarily preclude the need for human effort.” (M. Rustom, p. 126)

    (b): bestowed by God are the states (aḥwál ), ”which one may experience upon the path to God.…These states are divine ’bestowals’ (mawáhib ),” while the stations (maqámat ), which one must pass in order to reach Him, are ’earnings’ (maqásib ). Similarly, ”knowledge acquired through tasting is a bestowal,” which does not mean that it is given to just anyone. ”The servant must first have exerted himself and made himself worthy of it.” SPK222

  11. Prophet Muhammad saws is the foremost example of an enlightened, perfect human being, in constant communication with the Divine Reality – primary exemplifier for all of life’s affairs: aspire to his station!


    { There is certainly for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and (who) remembers Allah often. } 33-21

  12. Jalál ad-Dín Rumi: [ But at the same time ] God is mighty nigh unto you. Every thought and idea that you conceive, thereto God it closely attached, for it is He who gives being to that idea and thought and presents them to you. Only He is so exceedingly near that you cannot see Him. What is so strange in that? In every act you perform your reason is with you and initiates that action; yet you cannot see your reason. Though you see its effect, you cannot see its essence… FMF178/9

  13. This argumentation seems to evince a dichotomy between the ’necessities of this life’ (dunyá ) and those of/ for the next, greater life (ákhira ), which is unnecessary and unhelpful.

  14. Razi ”should not occupy himself with ways of coming to know God and understanding Him which are not appropriate to Him except in a limited sense.” p.120
    also see next note 15.

  15. deficient knowledge: even if it guarantees salvation in the next life. DTIT14

    ”The human mind can discover God Almighty, as well as God's basic character, such as His Perfection, that He is The First and The Last. An intelligent, alert mind can come on its own to the conclusion that there is a God, a Creator and a Sustainer.” (unknown)
    This is a knowledge which the human mind can attain, and it is a start, but there is something else which has to happen.

    IA: ”If, while loving wisdom, they had sought it from God, not from reflection, they would have hit the mark in everything. …” SPK203