Divine Calling, Human Response – Scripture and Realization in the Meccan Illuminations, by James W. Morris. Part 1. From Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Vol. 53, 2013.

In Part 2: Translation from Ch. 520 of the Meccan Illuminations and Appendix of Quranic verses and hadith on divine and human 'calling' and response.

See also

Listening for God: Prayer and the Heart in the Futûhât, also by James Morris.

"There is no Word in the World that does not Indicate His Praise", Denis Gril

"Il n'est de Mot dans l'Univers qui n'Indique Sa Louange" (French), Denis Gril

Ibn al-ʿArabī in Egypt – The speech of things Denis Gril

Divine Calling, Human Response

Scripture and Realization in the Meccan Illuminations : Part 1

by James W. Morris

And whenever My servants ask you about Me, surely I am Near: I respond to the call of the one who is calling, whenever he calls upon Me. So may they respond fully to Me and may they have faith in Me, that they might be guided rightly! (Quran 2:186)

The two chapters (519–520) of the Meccan Illuminations which are entirely devoted to Ibn ʿArabi's reflections on the full extent and demands of our human responsiveness to God's 'Calling' are part of the long concluding sixth division[1] of the Futūhāt devoted to 'the spiritual mottoes[2] of the Muhammadan Poles and their spiritual stations.'[3] In introducing this immense yet profoundly intimate treasury of spiritual wisdom, Ibn ʿArabi explains the particular phenomenological focus of these final 96 chapters as follows:

So let's begin with the spiritual Poles and the spiritual 'mottoes' they manifest. I mean by that those distinguishing indicators[4] such that whoever acts according to them finds/experiences what (those 'Poles') found and witnesses what they witnessed. Because I constructed this book of mine – or rather God constructed it, not I! – in order to help and fully inform the people. For all of it is a spiritual illumination (fath: a sudden spiritual 'opening') from God.

And I also followed in it the path of summary exposition, according to this servant's asking his Sustainer regarding that, because our state only required setting forth what the Real ordered to be set forth...[5]

Before taking up translated selections from these two key chapters, it is important to highlight that the inner connection between the guiding Quranic verses concerning our response to God's Calling that Ibn ʿArabi takes as his point of departure in each chapter here has to do above all with the fundamental contrast between two alternative ways of responding to that Call – an awareness which, he soon makes clear, is prompted both inwardly and through all the outward circumstances of earthly existence. The first way encompasses those responses which 'give you all Life' (8:24), discussed in Chapter 519. The second alternative, the subject of Chapter 520, is the condition of those who are instead described by the Quran (at 6:36) as inwardly 'dead' (mawtā), because they failed to truly listen and thus to respond appropriately to that ever-present appeal. While these concluding phenomenological chapters of the Futūhāt have to date been rarely translated and studied, they are in many cases the most directly accessible and humanly universal passages in the entire Meccan Illuminations – beautifully illustrating Ibn ʿArabi's challenging assertion here that 'whoever puts these guideposts into action will experience what (earlier Friends of God) had found and witnessed.'

At first glance, the central practical issue in both these chapters is how we human beings can come to know and discern what are the truly divine 'Calls' we encounter – as somehow distinguished from all the other unending and urgent solicitations coming from the world and people around us? And secondly, once we are able to discern and recognize the nature of those particular divine summons (or spiritual lessons and tests), how do we then discover and come to understand our proper response, and how must we then go on to carry it out in appropriate inner and outward action? Here, as in so many other contexts in the Futūhāt, the juxtaposition of these two complementary chapters, together with their keynote Quranic verses, immediately makes it clear that our discovery of these spiritual realities and their inner dynamics necessarily unfolds from our ongoing educational experience of and reflection upon the dramatic, eventually indelible contrast between the ongoing outcomes of both our appropriate actions and our relative failures, as the rippling waves of those consequences gradually unfold in the wider course of life itself.

Toward a Deeper Commentary on the Fusūs al-Hikam

Students of Ibn ʿArabi familiar with his influential late Bezels of Wisdom (Fusūs al-Hikam) and its long line of subsequent commentators will immediately recognize that these two chapters of his Meccan Illuminations briefly introduced and partially translated here provide a detailed, practically focused spiritual commentary on the famous opening chapter of the Fusūs on Adam – and at the same time, a genuinely revealing companion to that powerfully condensed later work which pointedly outlines and highlights those individual processes of combined reflection and spiritual realization (tahqīq) that are so essential for understanding Ibn ʿArabi's vocabulary, symbolism, rhetoric and deeper intentions there. The same is true of a number of other equally significant and illuminating chapters of the Futūhāt, which together provide indispensable keys for grasping the meaning and intended aims of the Fusūs: elaborate and fully developed keys which were, we may safely assume, already intimately familiar to those close disciples and longtime students of the Meccan Illuminations who were also the original readers and listeners of the Fusūs during Ibn ʿArabi's final years.

Given the profound historical influence of the Fusūs and its almost millennial line of influential philosophical and theological commentaries, together with the notoriety engendered even today by its initially unfamiliar and often intentionally confounding symbolism and provocative rhetoric, we may hope that increasing familiarity with these and other equally instructive key chapters of Ibn ʿArabi's Futūhāt will begin to make clear to today's much wider, global audiences something of the deeper justification of Ibn ʿArabi's poignant personal claim – and even more pressing challenge to his readers – here at the end of Chapter 520:

... So by God, I am not – thanks be to God! – among those who love (witnessing) mutual torment and vengeance against the servants of God. Instead, God created me as a Lovingmercy, and He made me an heir to the Lovingmercy of the one to whom it was said (at 21:107): We have only sent you as a Lovingmercy to all the worlds![6] For (in so emphasizing the universal extent of His Lovingmercy) He did not specify some (particular) person of faith over against any other.

The Framework of Realization: Ibn ʿArabi's 'Guideposts' in Chapters 519–520

In Chapter 519 here, just as in the opening chapter on the Wisdom of Adam in his Fusūs al-Hikam, Ibn ʿArabi begins by distinguishing clearly between those divine 'Calls' which come to us inwardly, from the divine Spirit-breath that is the ground of our own self or soul (from what he here calls 'God' and the divine Word); and outwardly, from what he here calls 'the Messenger' (or in the Fusūs, 'the most holy Self-Manifestation' mediating the universal 'Muhammadan Reality' that is the knowable ground of all creation), a term which here encompasses all the other forms and levels of all existence. But what is much more clearly stated in these two chapters of the Futūhāt is that these basic cosmological/ontological distinctions are intended simply to clarify the ultimate phenomenal framework within which each of us is obliged to discover gradually – always in uniquely 'personalized,' challenging, and ultimately revealing spiritual circumstances – the deeper dimensions of the divine Reality and Intention underlying this cosmic human situation.[7] Ibn ʿArabi's intensely personal and practical spiritual focus here richly translates into more direct and comprehensible terms the focus of the famous Quranic verse that provides the illuminating backdrop to all these 'Meccan Openings': We shall continue to show them ('cause them to see') Our Signs on the horizons and in their own souls so that/until it becomes clear/shines forth to them that Hū[8] is the truly Real (al-Haqq)...(41:53).

In that light, these two late chapters of the Futūhāt are an especially poignant and unambiguous reminder of the practical centrality of what the Shaykh usually calls tahqīq – the quintessential human process of experiential 'realization,' actualization, and verification of our individual nature and destiny – and of the particular personal, concrete, and unique, never-repeated nature of that providentially arranged series of 'private lessons' and predicaments which constitute each human being's earthly life, and beyond. From that practical spiritual standpoint, reading these chapters requires the constant active, probing recollection of all the corresponding specific, necessarily unique and personal illustrations of that universal process which Ibn ʿArabi seeks to evoke in each of his readers. So it is no accident that the subject, title and guiding theme of each of these two key chapters is a particular process of dhikr: a simultaneous 'reminder' and ever-deeper 'recollection.'

Among those crucial reminders here are the following fundamental practical themes, which recur with different emphases on virtually every page of Ibn ʿArabi's mature writings:

•  The practical necessity, for those who seek inspired and actualized spiritual knowing, of focusing clearly on those particular forms of divine 'Calling' and messages that are unmistakably addressed directly to one's own self – with all the cautions and limitations that challenge involves regarding the natural human temptation to seek instead to correct or improve the more visible shortcomings of others. Or in a more positive direction, he offers here a powerful reminder of the multiple ways that these uniquely personal practical foundations of each soul's spiritual realization, so clearly outlined in these two chapters, dictate both the operative forms of, and the inevitable limitations on, effective spiritual communication.

•  The vital practical role in all spiritual growth and learning of the profusion of alternative 'callers,' tempting distractions of every sort, and apparently conflicting messengers and messages – and therefore of intrinsically painful and educational 'mistakes' (at all the key stages Ibn ʿArabi carefully outlines here) in the ongoing, ever-renewed process of discerning, understanding, and finally properly responding to each divine Call. The absolutely essential illuminating role in this process of human perfection of the ensemble of all those at first apparently 'negative' elements (the endless expressions of our spiritual deafness, blindness, and muteness, as the Quran constantly reminds us) is summed up – here in the opening poem of Chapter 519 – in the recurrent Quranic term makr: that is, the providential unfolding contrast, and productive interaction, of divine and human 'cunning' throughout the dramatic temporal unfolding of each person's spiritual education and ultimate destiny.

•  The pivotal importance, for any serious student of Ibn ʿArabi's works, of a constant awareness of the spiritual immediacy and present reality of the puzzling 'eschatological' symbols and processes alluded to in the Quran and hadith. For modern readers initially unfamiliar with the depths and intricate references of that elaborate phenomenological symbolism, this is one of many reasons that the deeper understanding of those scriptural eschatological symbols so beautifully conveyed by the classical Sufi poets makes their masterworks still such indispensable companions for the study of Ibn ʿArabi's intentionally challenging Arabic prose.

•  Finally – as Ibn ʿArabi so pointedly and repeatedly emphasizes here at the beginning of Chapter 519, and again in the concluding lines of Chapter 520 – the actual ongoing spiritual reality of all effective 'revelation,' and of the actual recognition and realization of that ever-present Call, is inseparably rooted in and illuminated by concretely universal realities shared by all human beings (insān), throughout all dimensions and levels of being, in all times and places.

Scripture and Realization: The Hermeneutical Web of Quran and Hadith

As is almost always the case with Ibn ʿArabi's works, from the mysteriously encoded symbolic narratives of his youth in the Maghreb to the mature writings typified by these late chapters of the Futūhāt and his Fusūs al-Hikam, any deeper understanding of his writing presupposes in his readers (whether past or present) a comprehensive, detailed, and fully nuanced awareness of the relevant web of complex scriptural allusions – always including both related Quranic verses and multiple hadith, and often as well key background stories provided by the literature of the 'tales of the prophets,' 'occasions of revelation' (asbāb al-nuzūl), Arabic proverbs and poetry, earlier Sufi tradition, and other extra-scriptural materials – that are normally taken for granted (i.e., as being actively provided by his originally intended audiences) in virtually every page of these works. For serious translators or teachers, in particular, this means that contemporary readers and students must be carefully supplied with an active awareness of all of these essential interrelated hermeneutical elements that were taken for granted by the author and his original disciples, students and intended readers. And this richly complex implicit background is not required as an optional, supplementary 'commentary' or exegesis, but rather as an intrinsic and essential contextual element of the original text.[9] Unfortunately, there is no easy or unobtrusive way to convey this indispensable contextual information.

In the case of Chapters 519–520, for example, the central underlying problematic is twofold. First, how can we human beings come to know and discern what are the truly divine and essential 'Calls' we encounter both inwardly and outwardly – as distinguished from all the other endless solicitations coming both from within ourselves and from the world and people all around us? And secondly, once we have somehow recognized those particularly compelling spiritual appeals, how do we then discover and actualize the proper nature of our own creative response? Put so simply, these fundamental questions already highlight the familiar, unavoidable practical role of repeated 'mistakes' and inadequate approximations within that existential process by which each person gradually discovers and develops all the elements of that requisite spiritual intelligence.

In regard to both these key challenges, Ibn ʿArabi's opening Quranic verses here immediately highlight (and certainly assume) a number of closely related Quranic passages involving both divine and human calling and responding,[10] which together elaborate and fill out – in the broadest possible meta­physical and spiritual terms – the full range of challenging contexts and situations to which Ibn ʿArabi is alluding. They likewise suggest a similar spectrum of Prophetic hadith that often more concretely illustrate (for example, in regard to the exchange of everyday greetings) the endless types of particular testing situations in which we all encounter these challenges. We have placed the translation of those underlying Quranic verses and hadith as an Appendix at the end of this essay, so as not to overshadow these two chapters of the Futūhāt themselves.

Here are a few of the basic practical parameters of this recurrent spiritual challenge of 'responding to God' that are already clearly developed in these related Quranic passages – and which would therefore be immediately assumed by Ibn ʿArabi's original readers and listeners:

•  To begin with, the best-known (and perhaps the most complex) Quranic expression of this theme is found in the familiar verse of our opening epigraph above (2:186), which manages to evoke not only the constant ongoing interplay of divine and human calling and corresponding responses, but also the spiritually significant intermediary role of Muhammad (the mysterious singular 'you' of this particular verse) – and by extension, of all the inspired messengers, prophets and 'Friends of God' (awliyāʾ Allāh) to whom people so often turn at the most difficult points in the course of this process.

•  More commonly, the Quran clearly distinguishes between God's response to human or prophetic pleading (some l3 other verses), on the one hand; and the wider range of human or other responses (including those of the jinn and Satan) to God's direct or indirect Calling (some 24 verses).

•  Those verses focusing on the divine Response (always ultimately beneficent) to human pleading often emphasize God's spiritual proximity and readiness to respond (as here in the verse 8:24 that provides the title of Chapter 519), but also the necessary human conditions for that Response to be effectively perceived and actualized: for example, having true faith, remaining upright and attentive, following God alone, fulfilling our responsibilities, doing good deeds, and so on.

•  The descriptions of the divine Response, depending on the circumstances in question, refer sometimes to visible, outward historical events and occurrences, but at least equally often to apparently spiritual consequences and recompenses bestowed upon the particular individuals or groups concerned.

Most strikingly, almost all the verses concerning God's Response highlight the bitterly unpleasant human circumstances and dilemmas that actually lead people to cry out and to call upon Him: that is, dramatic situations (often involving Muhammad or earlier prophets) of palpable suffering, fear, injustice and oppression, loss, sinfulness and repentance, and so on. Thus the highlighting of those particularly compelling under­lying circumstances immediately suggests a much wider circle of closely related Quranic terms and concepts – such as the interplay of divine and human 'turning' (t-w-b root) and 'attention' or right direction (w-j-h), and so on – that are all likewise deeply embedded in Ibn ʿArabi's discussion of calling and response in these two paired chapters of the Futūhāt. As these two chapters also make clear, those same troubling circumstances likewise point to the often unimaginably complex manifestations of the divine Response: that is, to the very concrete individual and communal mystery-stories of providential divine arrangement (makr) through which the apparent 'evil' and unavoidable suffering of life in this world is gradually discovered to be inseparable from the deepest dimensions and ultimate intentions of God's all-encompassing Love and Compassion (rahma).

In contrast, the more numerous (24) verses focusing on the response of people (and other morally responsible creatures) to their Calling by God and His messengers – who are often inseparably associated, as here in verse 8:24 – highlight a somewhat different set of practical spiritual considerations:

•  The first of these is the necessity of distinguishing between those appeals which are truly, intrinsically divine, and the vast spectrum of (ultimately illusory) suggestions and solicitations constantly coming to us from Satan and a long array of self-styled potential 'friends,' rescuers, and protectors.

•  A different set of inner spiritual obstacles is evoked by the frequent references to those who apparently 'hear' the divine Call, but who (as at 6:36, providing the title of Chapter 520) are not really listening – due to a wide array of distractions, momentary preoccupations, and other inner and outer impediments – and who therefore fail to respond to those divine appeals in a timely and appropriate manner. (This is of course another case where the initial problematic of calling and response leads directly to a much wider circle of related Quranic themes and illustrations.)

•  Likewise, many of these verses contrast the particular revealing signs and tell-tale proofs and evidence of God's actively transforming response and support, whether in this world or beyond, with the ultimately empty, non-existent responses (or mute silence) of other illusory guides and protectors. At the same time, in more than half of these verses it is only in an eschatological setting that the ultimate futility and impotence of those illusory 'gods' is fully revealed to those who had responded to them. In other words, only an illuminated awareness of our spiritual reality and destiny – or other instruments of divine protection and guidance – can make possible the necessary discernment of the sources and intended meanings of life's often conflicting 'calls.'

•  Finally, as just mentioned previously, these verses likewise often highlight the considerable range of necessary individual human preconditions for an effective and appropriate response to the complex spectrum of divine and prophetic Calls.

As for the hadith on this theme that are partially translated in the Appendix at the end of this essay, they likewise fall into two groups, focusing either on God's 'response' to our calling and pleading, or to particular situations and challenges that the Prophet suggests are immediately demanding our own appropriate spiritual response. And while both these sets of hadith closely parallel the broader teachings of the Quranic verses just mentioned, they are also characterized by that directness of expression (often more evident in the original Arabic), simplicity and concreteness of their particular illustrative contexts which are all typical qualities of the hadith more generally.

Chapter 519: The World as Divine 'Messenger'

The focus of Ibn ʿArabi's reflection in this chapter is on the following Quranic verse (8:24), which we first translate here in full, because the emphasis in its second half on God's constant transforming and illuminating Presence – as the ever-present active mediator between our imagined 'self' and our own Heart (qalb: each human being's essential spiritual reality) – constantly underlies Ibn ʿArabi's emphasis in these twinned chapters on the complex challenges of properly recognizing and appropriately responding to the endless succession of unique divine 'messengers' and their inward and outward divine 'Signs' (verse 41:53 above) that together constitute every moment of our unfolding earthly experience:

O those who have faith, respond fully to God and to the Messenger when He calls you all to what gives you Life! And know that God passes/shifts/is transformed/intervenes between the person and his Heart, and that it is to Him that you all are being gathered!

The complex Arabic verb (h-w-l root) used here to describe God's constantly shifting Presence within each human soul also immediately evokes the central theme in this Chapter 519 – and indeed in much of Ibn ʿArabi's work – of God's tahawwul, or ongoing transformation and Self-manifestation, throughout literally all the forms and levels of existence and creation. Ibn ʿArabi's favorite dramatic illustrations of that cosmic reality of divine Self-manifestation are two well-known 'Divine Sayings' (hadīth qudsī), both set against the eschatological backdrop of a particular human soul's revelatory 'unveiling' to the actual omnipresence of the divine, as depicted in the symbolic setting of that person's final Judgment and Rising (qiyāma). The first of these dramatic stories is what he usually calls the 'hadith of the transformation through the forms,' where a group of self-righteous souls, about to cross the Bridge (sirāt) from this world to the beyond, fail to recognize the divine Presence manifesting Itself to them in many different forms, except for the very restricted form of their own particular limiting beliefs[11] as to what is 'divine.' The second Divine Saying on our persistent human failure to recognize the full reality of the divine Presence and Signs, which he sometimes calls the 'hadith of (the true nature of) Gehenna,' is one in which God reveals to another self-righteous human soul at the Last Day its repeated profound failures to recognize – and to compassionately respond to – the divine Presence in all the endless forms and levels of 'hunger,' 'thirst,' and 'illness' or loneliness experienced by other human beings in this life. (See the full literal translations of both these key longer hadith in The Reflective Heart, Chapter 3.)

Since each chapter of the Meccan Illuminations opens with a complex, multi-dimensional metaphysical poem that carefully summarizes the subject and ultimate import of that particular spiritual 'Doorway' (bāb), we begin with a full translation of the opening poem in Chapter 519.

Translation

Chapter 519: Concerning the inner knowing of the state of the Pole whose spiritual waystation is '...respond fully to God and to the Messenger when He calls you all to what brings you to Life!' (8:24)

When you are called, respond, since God is calling you: For He does not call, but that He is (also) giving you.[12]
You are the fully sufficient one:[13] so bestow generously, from what He has brought to you,
what is in harmony with what is Right/Due/Real (al-Haqq). For the All-Loving follows[14] you.
And every thing that is (apparently) contrary to the Right/Due/Real,[15] ponder it with
deep consideration,[16] for thoughtful reflection (fikr) is also calling you.
Don't say: 'That's not from my Lord!' and skip over it:
for the All-Knowing, by way of fact/command,[17] is bringing (that) to you.
So take it[18] and examine it deeply, with the instrument[19] you know:
for surely everything in manifest existence (kawn) is in you!
Do not blame in any way[20] anything that you, you are ignorant of!
Nor (should you ever criticize) each (divine) 'Address'[21] that is bestowed upon you.
Surely 'the God' has a 'cunning way'[22] with a group among His creatures:
so strive to realize[23] this in your essential/good qualities[24]!
And never ever say: 'This does not enter into the Scale of Intelligence!'
For Its[25] current/present (also) flows/carries/applies to you!

Know – may God inspire and support us and you with the Holy Spirit![26] – that there is no clearer indication in the Quran indicating that the Complete Human Being[27] is created according to the (divine) Form (of the All-Compassionate, al-Rahmān)[28] than this reminder (in verse 8:24), through [God's inclusion of the definite article before 'Messenger', indicating an equivalent role, rather than a subordination, and through the insistence in this verse on the divine commandment that we should respond to both God and the Messenger].[29]

... For God and His Messenger are only calling us to what brings us to Life. Thus the response is (required) of us in every state when those two call us, since there is not any state but that it is from Him. Therefore we must necessarily respond to Him whenever those two call us, since He is sustaining us in (all) our states! Hence He only distinguished here between God's Calling and the Messenger's Calling in order that we might come to realize and actualize,[30] through that (inspired response of ours), the Form of the Real/God that the Messenger occupies – while He is the Caller to us in both those states.

So when He calls us through the Quran, informing (us) and translating (its meanings to us in human terms), then that call is God's Calling, so that our response is to God, while the Messenger is causing us to truly listen. But when He calls us through other than the Quran, then that calling is the Messenger's Calling (us), so that our responding should be to the Messenger (that is, to that particular human or other creaturely instrument or form and situation through which that Calling actually reaches us). So there is no difference at all between the two Callings, as far as (the obligation of) our responding – although each Calling is distinguished from the other by the difference of the Caller.

[Ibn ʿArabi then goes on to explain that the Calling of 'the Messenger' (that is, of everything other than Quran itself) is 'even more numerous or more multiple' (akthar), in the sense that it is more real and tangible and varied in its apparent origins, when viewed from our ordinary ego-perspective.]

Indeed (the constant particularized 'Calling' of the universe to each person) is undoubtedly 'more numerous,' since we only hear it through all the concretely individualized particulars of multiplicity.[31] And (this Calling) coming from the Messenger (that is, through all of creation) is more closely corresponding to our hearing, because of the correspondence of form [between our bodily senses and the 'Messenger'-world of outward manifestation] – just as the Calling (directly) from God more closely corresponds to our inner spiritual realities (haqāʾiq).

[Ibn ʿArabi then continues to highlight other Quranic verses further emphasizing – just as in the second half of the verse 8:24 that is the title and keynote of this entire chapter – God's ultimate 'Closeness' to our souls, contrasted with the very human location (in time and space) of each particular outward 'messenger' and 'message.']

Thus (in accordance with the second half of this verse 8:24) God is closer to us than ourselves. But He is not closer to the (created) thing than itself – since this (divine) closeness is one in which we have faith, but which we do not know or even witness; though if we witnessed it, we would also know it.[32]

[Throughout this complex section, we are meant to understand that – as many related Quranic verses also cited here indicate – we human beings are constantly being solicited as well by other people and tempting, but illusory figures (such as 'the Satans among the human beings and jinn,' at 6:112) that we unfortunately treat as though they were God, or at least effective intermediaries and 'associates' of God. Hence the decisive practical importance of the experiential processes of spiritual discernment and discovery that are the shared subject of the rest of this chapter and Chapter 520.]

Thus we must reflect about who is being called upon, in what we are being called to do. Then if we find and experience an additional Life of spiritual knowing (hayāt ʿilmiyya zāʾida) in the state we are in, which brings us to Life through that very Calling itself, we are obligated to respond to whoever calls us, whether (that is) God or the Messenger. For we are only being ordered to respond when we are called to what brings us to Life – since God and His Messenger do not call us to anything but what brings us to Life! So if we do not find/experience the 'tasting' of that strange additional life (al-hayāt al-gharība al-zāʾida), then we don't really know Who is calling us. For our ultimate aim here is nothing but the real attainment of that through which we are brought to Life, and it is for the sake of this that we hear and willingly obey.

• So what is indispensable is that the person called must (first) actually perceive this effect/influence through which the (appropriate) response for him to this Call is particularized and specified.

• Next, if the person of this description (who actually perceives this initial divine, life-giving quality of this particular Calling) responds to It, then he attains, through (the Call) he heard, yet another life through which the heart of this listener is brought to Life.

•  And if what this person heard from Him requires of him a certain action, and he actually carries out that (right) action, then he has a third Life.[33]

So reflect on all that the servant deprives himself of whenever he does not listen to the Calling of God and the Messenger! For all of being[34] is God's Words, and the 'fresh spiritual inspirations/insights that reach (our soul)'[35] are all of them messengers from God's Presence. That is how they are experienced by the Knowers of and through God,[36] since for them every speaker is nothing but God, and every saying is a (new) knowing of God.

So that the only shaping/wording that remains (to be understood or discovered) is the (intended) form of what is heard from that (particular situation of divine 'Speaking' and Calling). Because in that (process of hearing, followed by the 'listening' of discernment and understanding, then by right action) there is the speech of conforming to the divine pathway (leading to Life); and there is also the speech which is trial and affliction.[37] So all that is left is the understanding through which the difference in relative eminence (between those two possible human responses, and their respective consequences) takes place!

Now those who are learned in the external traces[38] restricted themselves to the particular 'Speech of God' called the Furqān ('Separation')[39] and Qurʾān ('Connecting') and to the particular (historical) messenger named Muhammad. But the Knowers (of God) generalized the 'Listening' (implied here in verse 8:24) to all (divine) Speaking, and they heard the Quran as Connecting[40] (all people and all created things with their Source, the divine Real), not as separating; and they generalized (God's) sending of messages (risāla) to the category (of all forms of divine 'Speaking' and creation) and to (its) universal inclusivity, not to a (particular historical) era. So (for those true Knowers), every calling (person/situation) in the world is a (divine) 'messenger' inwardly and spiritually, even if they are separated outwardly.

[...Ibn ʿArabi goes on to point out here how the Quran also carefully describes Iblīs/Satan – and by extension, all the 'sorcery' of his 'agents' and manifestations – as likewise being 'sent' and allowed to have their particular essential influences only through God's permission, a point whose far-reaching practical spiritual implications he repeatedly highlights throughout the Futūhāt.]

...So the Knower is happy and blessed in receiving the message (risāla) of Satan, since he knows how to receive that, while others are pained and miserable through that: they are the people who lack this spiritual Knowing. (Of course) all of the people of faith, together with the Knowers among them, are happy with the message of the (divine) messengers. But the person who is acting in accordance with (a genuine spiritual awareness of) what was brought in that (apparently 'bad,' painful or otherwise 'Satanic') message is happier than the person of faith who has faith in that (divine Message) in (outward verbal) agreement and words, while disobeying it in action and speech.

Therefore everything that is moving (or changing) and shifting in the world is a divine messenger, whatever that motion/change may be. For nothing moves, not even an atom, without God's permission. So the Knower looks for what is brought about through its motion/change, and from that he seeks to draw the benefit of a knowing that he did not have (before). To be sure, what the Knowers take from those (endlessly renewed) 'messengers' is different according to the (particular) messengers: so what they take from those messengers who are among the 'people of (divinely) guiding indications' (ashāb al-dalālāt) is not like the way they take from those messengers who are (acting) by (God's) permission, but without actually being aware themselves of that permission [...and its deeper divine purpose, such as Iblīs/Satan].

[Ibn ʿArabi goes on to give a long illustration here of how the Knowers know how to deal with Satan: for example, in their knowing to intentionally conceal someone's wrongdoing (the divine virtue of being sattār) which would do greater harm or discord if it were publicly known, thus accomplishing the opposite of what Satan directly intended. The paradoxical spiritual implications of this basic insight are again highlighted in some of the more notorious passages of the Fusūs al-Hikam.]

So the whole world, for the Knower, is a Messenger from God to him. And that Messenger and His message – I mean the whole world – with respect to that Knower, is a lovingmercy (rahma), because the messengers are only sent as a lovingmercy.[41] So if they were sent with an (apparent) affliction, that would actually be a divine lovingmercy in concealment, because the divine 'Lovingmercy encompasses every thing.'[42] Indeed there is nothing at all there (in all existence) that is not within this divine Lovingmercy: Surely your Sustainer is All-encompassing in Forgiveness (wāsiʿ al-maghfira)... (53:32).

Divine Calling, Human Response – Scripture and Realization in the Meccan Illuminations, by James W. Morris. Part 1. From Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Vol. 53, 2013.

Part 2 of this article

Translation from Ch. 520 of the Meccan Illuminations and Appendix of Quranic verses and hadith on divine and human 'calling' and response.


Notes

[1]. Fasl VI, Chapters 462–558: volume IV, pp. 74–325. The final Chapters 559–560 together basically form a separate concluding part devoted to the meanings and deeper spiritual and ethical lessons of the entire book.

[2]. Hijjīrāt: in the titles of all of these chapters, this term refers to key Quranic phrases and litanies of prayer and spiritual 'remembrance' (dhikr), as is well illustrated in the two chapters discussed in this essay.

[3]. Throughout many earlier chapters of the Futūhāt, the titles include repeated mysterious allusions to certain 'Moses-like' and 'Jesus-like' spiritual waystations, while others are termed 'Muhammad-like': the latter epithet seems to refer here to particularly universal and inclusive spiritual stations, which fully integrate the contrasting perspectives (in our initial stages of spiritual realization) of divine Mercy and Wrath, or Beauty and Majesty. Aqtāb (plural of qutb), is a common Sufi term normally referring to central figures among the spiritual hierarchy of the awliyāʾ or 'Friends of God.' In these concluding chapters of the Futūhāt, however, this term seems to refer simply to the particular spiritual 'types' exemplifying the defining insights, states and stations explored in each chapter.

[4]. Or 'guideposts' for the spiritual traveler: aʿlām. (The italicized emphasis is ours.)

[5]. The brief introduction to this entire sixth and final division (fasl) of the book translated here is from vol. IV, p. 74. The concluding paragraph of this preface to all the final chapters of the Futūhāt – not translated here – intentionally echoes a number of Quranic verses insisting that the responsibility of Muhammad (and of earlier prophets) is only for the transmission and communication (balāgh) of the divine Message, not for its proper reception and spiritual comprehension among those to whom it is delivered.

[6]. This is of course a particularly revealing allusion to Ibn ʿArabi's mature conception of his wider mission as the 'Seal of Muhammadan [i.e., universal] Walāya (divine proximity and guidance),' a notion carefully explained in each of his recent biographies, and perhaps most fully developed in M. Chodkiewicz's foundational Seal of the Saints.

[7]. In the opening Fass of Adam, as throughout the Fusūs, these two facets of God's Self-manifestation correspond to the essential twofold meaning of al-khalq – as all of creation, and as human beings in particular – in the famous Divine Saying that frames and structures all of that work: 'I was a hidden Treasure, and I loved to be known: so I created creation/people, so that I might be known.'

[8]. The reference here is to the ultimate, all-encompassing divine Essence, to what is most Real and Present, not to any sort of abstraction, vague concept or distant reality.

[9]. The same essential full contextualization is equally indispensable, of course, for modern translations of any of the masterpieces of later Islamicate spiritual poetry, such as the Dīwān of Hafiz and that poet's subsequent imitators or competitors in Persian and many other Islamic languages.

[10]. The verses and hadith briefly cited in the Appendix to this essay (in Part II), from which the following general observations are drawn, are limited to those involving forms of the usual Arabic root for answering, responding or replying to a request (j-w-b, in both the IVth and Xth verb forms). The corresponding notions of calling, requesting, pleading, praying for, and so on are expressed in the wider family of Quranic expressions (including the Arabic roots s-ʾ-l, d-ʿ-w, n-d-w, etc.).

[11]. Or in fact, much more broadly, all of their – for the most part, deeply unconscious and automatic – 'inner spiritual knots,' unquestioned judgments and presuppositions, as Ibn ʿArabi explains in his famous discussions of this constraining role of each person's deeply unconscious iʿtiqād and the resulting 'gods-created-in-belief' that recur throughout his Fusūs al-Hikam.

[12]. That is, giving being and life, and thereby bestowing the constantly renewed opportunity for fuller life and deeper spiritual understanding, as the rest of this chapter makes clear.

[13]. The 'you' addressed frequently here and throughout these two chapters is usually both each individual reader and the ultimate reality of humanity as the 'Complete Human Being' (insān kāmil): the latter reality is identified, throughout this and all of Ibn ʿArabi's works, with the entirety of all creation as divine Self-manifestation (tajalliyāt). As Ibn ʿArabi states more explicitly throughout his Fusūs, this means that each of the divine Names or Attributes can only be fully known – to us, and even (more controversially!) ultimately to God – through their actual manifestation in creation, and above all in each realized human being. One of the most familiar of those Names recalled here is al-Ghanī, 'the All-Sufficient' or 'Self-Sufficient.' In the Futūhāt, this final series of 96 chapters on the spiritual stations of the Poles concludes with a long Chapter 558 devoted specifically to each of the 'Most-Beautiful' divine Names (as classically enumerated in a famous hadith) and to what they demand of and make possible for their corollaries in human experience.

[14]. Or: 'is reciting you.' This play on words highlights Ibn ʿArabi's understanding – deeply rooted in imagery of the Quran and hadith – of the fundamental nature of all creation and humanity (insān, again) as divine 'Speech' and 'Words,' or the 'Breathing of the All-Compassionate' (nafas al-rahmān). This image of all creation, manifestation, and experience as the eternal divine 'recitation' of the cosmic 'Quran' is developed in the rest of this poem and throughout the remainder of this chapter.

[15]. Or simply 'God': Al-Haqq. This is a direct allusion to the two key dramatic Divine Sayings mentioned just above highlighting our chronic failure to recognize God's Presence in all things and situations – or in other words, our frequent naïve human tendency toward a profound metaphysical dualism holding the divine Names (and their created manifestations) as being somehow either 'good' or 'evil.'

[16]. Iʿtibār: that is, use that experience of what is initially challenging and disturbing to our egoistic expectations and judgments as a kind of 'bridge' to 'cross over' to its actual intended meaning and necessary role in the intimate transforming process of spiritual realization and growth discussed throughout these two chapters.

[17]. The Arabic phrase bi-wajh al-amr here alludes both to all the divine 'commandments' connected with this challenge of realization, and more deeply, simply to 'the way things are' or the 'nature of created reality itself.'

[18]. That is, every situation and experience that we may initially perceive as somehow 'contrary' or 'opposed' to (what we initially consider or unconsciously conceive of as) the 'divine.'

[19]. It rapidly becomes clear from later contexts in this chapter (and elsewhere throughout the Futūhāt) that this undefined 'tool of Investigation' is the 'Scale' (Quranic mīzān) of the divine/human Intelligence (ʿaql), which is itself the 'Complete Human Being' (insān kāmil) and 'Muhammadan Reality' that Ibn ʿArabi goes on to mention in the first prose line immediately following this opening poem.

[20]. The poet's language here intentionally echoes the most intense negative imperative form that is used almost exclusively in Quranic rhetoric (extremely rarely in ordinary Arabic prose), which might be more adequately translated as 'Don't even think of blaming or criticizing...!'

[21]. Khitāb: in Ibn ʿArabi's technical language, this grammatical term refers to all the ways in which God's 'Speech' (i.e., all of manifest existence) is specifically directed to and received by each human being, through all the uniquely particular unfolding forms of each soul's experience and existence.

[22]. Makr: using this same term, the Quran frequently contrasts the all-encompassing divine providence manifested in all the – ultimately beneficent – 'accidents' of fate and destiny with the pervasive human tendency to try to control and manipulate others, including the manifold 'god(s) created in our beliefs' and unconscious suppositions. That is why the poet here pointedly refers to 'the (real) God' (al-ilāh) instead of to the more familiar (and often profoundly misunderstood) substantive form 'Allāh.'

[23]. The imperative verb form used here is drawn from the most common Arabic root (tahqīq, muhaqqiq, etc.) that Ibn ʿArabi uses to convey the distinctive practical spiritual and metaphysical focus of all his work, that spiritual intelligence which combines the fundamental role of individual experiential 'realization' or actualization of the Real with that further necessary 'verification' and reflective comprehension which he understands – as he carefully goes on to explain below – to be practically inseparable from each stage of spiritual growth and maturation.

[24]. Maʿānī: referring to the inner spiritual realities and actualized qualities of character (haqāʾiq, makārim al-akhlāq) actively manifesting the divine Names/Attributes, which are the eventual spiritual fruits of the process of realization.

[25]. 'It' here refers to the cosmic universal Intellect (ʿaql), which Ibn ʿArabi understands throughout his works as an equivalent to the 'Muhammadan Reality,' 'Light of Muhammad,' divine 'Speech,' the 'Complete Human Being,' and so on. Needless to say, none of these symbols or their cumbersome translations effectively convey by themselves a real sense of the full mystery, complexity, and inherent dynamic unfolding interconnection of that cosmic reality they are meant to point to here.

[26]. The opening prose phrase of the majority of chapters of the Futūhāt begins (as in Chapter 520 immediately below) with a similar brief invocation, for both the author and his singular reader, requesting the divine aid of '...a spirit from Him.' However, the extreme rarity of this particular prayerful request here in Chapter 519 for 'the Holy Spirit' (rūh al-qudus: usually identified with the archangelic messenger Gabriel and universal Intellect) in particular may suggest the unique comprehensiveness of the spiritual vision and perspective required to grasp the full dimensions of those spiritual lessons that are the specific focus of this chapter.

[27]. Al-insān al-kāmil: as at note 25 just above, a few other recurrent symbolic equivalents of this key cosmological term in Ibn ʿArabi's works include the 'Muhammadan Reality,' the Logos (divine 'Speech' or 'Recitation' of the cosmic Quran, at note 14 above), the universal, cosmic Intelligence (ʿaql), or the 'Light of Muhammad.'

[28]. Alluding – here and throughout the rest of this chapter – to the specific wording of the famous hadith that 'Adam [that is, the Complete Human Being] was created according to the form of the All-Loving, al-Rahmān.' This is the divine Name which the Quran pointedly insists (at 17:110) is equivalent to that of the comprehensive divine Name (that is, the Name including all the other more specific divine Names and Attributes) of 'God' (Allāh).

[29]. In other words, the longer prose passage briefly summarized here in brackets sets out the ontological and theological framework that is the subject of the opening chapter on Adam in Ibn ʿArabi's famous Bezels of Wisdom (Fusūs al-Hikam), stressing the two inseparable dimensions of the divine Self-manifestation (tajalliyāt): that is, through all the realms of creation (= 'The Messenger' here) and inwardly through the human Heart (= 'the Quran' below) – both together constituting and manifesting the 'Complete Human Being.'

[30]. li-natahaqqaq: this is the active, reflexive form of the same verbal root usually translated as 'realization' in this essay. But given Ibn ʿArabi's frequent emphasis here and throughout his writings on the more openly universal and comprehensive al-Haqq ('the Truly Real', 'Right,' 'Obligatory,' and so on) as synonymous with (or even more comprehensive than) 'God' (Allāh), this verbal form also suggests that spiritual realization is also a kind of gradual 'divinization' or drawing closer to God – or of 'taking on the divine qualities of character' (takhalluq bi-akhlāq Allāh), to use a favorite expression of earlier Sufi teachers.

[31]. ʿAyn al-kathra: this same expression here can also be read literally as 'the eye of multiplicity.' Ibn ʿArabi's intentional pun here also highlights the essential contrast between our bodily senses adapted to perceive the multiplicity of created things, and our 'spiritual vision' (basīra and shuhūd) which must be awakened in order to perceive the meanings and ultimate Unicity (wahda) and Reality (al-Haqq) underlying those ever-flowing forms of our experience.

[32]. The paradox stated here – that we cannot somehow 'know' or witness (as though from some imagined 'outside' viewpoint) the actual divine reality of our Sustainer (rabb) which ultimately is our sensing, perceiving, knowing, acting self – is of course the central subject of Ibn ʿArabi's entire Fusūs al-Hikam, more particularly elaborated in the chapters on Adam, Abraham and Hud, among others.

[33]. We have separately highlighted here these three distinct, successive stages of every human situation of spiritual realization because Ibn ʿArabi frequently highlights, throughout his Futūhāt, the inherent spiritual benefit (thawāb) and manifold lessons which flow simply from each person's initial 'listening' and paying attention to God's Calling, and then from our efforts to actively respond to that Call – even when our initial understanding and/or our attempted responses are so often incorrect or inadequate. Indeed, as he stresses again and again, here and elsewhere, it is only through the ongoing, lifelong repetition of those efforts at truly listening and appropriately responding, with all their inevitable failures and mistakes – whether in our initial perception, understanding, or subsequent right action – that spiritual learning and realization is actually possible.

[34]. Or 'everything that we find/experience': wujūd (and related forms of the w-j-d root), throughout Ibn ʿArabi's own works, almost always expresses both those very different meanings of the Arabic.

[35]. Wāridāt: this key Sufi phenomenological term is usually understood in implicit contrast to the much larger category of 'random impulses' or 'mental noise' (khawātir) that happen to pass through our mind and consciousness. That underlying contrast highlights the practical necessity of the essential processes of spiritual discernment that are the focus of the remainder of this chapter. See also the earlier passages (at note 14) on the related dimensions of Reality perceived as divine 'Speaking.'

[36]. Al-ʿārifūn bi-llāh: that is, the highest category of realized spiritual 'Knowers,' who simultaneously perceive all things with, through, and as God, in their inseparability from the Real (al-Haqq) that is their common Source.

[37]. In this sentence, Ibn ʿArabi pointedly contrasts our experiences of following and conforming to the divine 'prescription' and intention embedded in each moment (imtithāl sharʿ) – signified by the probative experience of new 'Life' that spontaneously flows from that realization – with the (equally revelatory) 'painful testing' and subjective 'dying' or separation and loneliness that is the subject of following Chapter 520 (and its opening verse 6:36), in particular.

[38]. ʿulamāʾ al-rusūm: a familiar Sufi expression for those scholars learned in the disciplines of historically transmitted religious traditions and other outward religious forms.

[39]. Both Furqān (from the Arabic root for 'separating' and 'distinguishing') and Qurʾān are among several Quranic terms applied to different dimensions (many of them clearly metaphysical and trans-historical) of the revelation brought by Muhammad. Here Ibn ʿArabi is alluding to a familiar playful usage, which he frequently adopts throughout his works, that assumes the root of 'Qurʾān' (actually from q-r-ʾ, 'to recite') to be from the Arabic q-r-n, 'combining' or 'joining.' This allows him to contrast these two terms in referring to that distinctive combination of metaphysical 'distinguishing' (farq) and unitive 'conjoining' (jamʿ) which is the experiential fruit of accomplished spiritual realization.

[40]. See the preceding note.

[41]. Alluding to the famous Quranic verse We have only sent you as a Lovingmercy to all the worlds! (21:107), whose wider universal dimensions and implications – identifying this 'Muhammadan Reality' with the cosmic 'Complete Human Being' – are dramatically developed in the concluding section of Chapter 520 below.

[42]. Paraphrasing the words of a famous verse (7:156) which is one of the most constantly repeated leitmotifs of Ibn ʿArabi's thought and writing.