Article based upon the account given by Claude Addas in 'The Quest for the Red Sulphur'

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Ibn 'Arabi in Fez, a holy city

During the time of Ibn 'Arabi, Fez was under the rule of the Almohads who made it into an important religious and intellectual centre, with poets, literati and religious thinkers coming there from all over the Almohad empire to practice their crafts. It was also what Claude Addas has called 'the citadel of Moroccan Sufism'. It had been the place where the great Maghrebi Sufi, Abu Madyan (d. 1197) had chosen to pursue his training, and had met his two masters, Abû 'Abd Allah al-Daqqâq and Ibn Hirzihim (d. 1165), and it had become a great centre of spiritual teaching.

Ibn 'Arabî visited the city three times, once in 1195, in 1197-8, and finally in 1201, when he called in on his journey East. It seems that he met many of the important Sufis and muhaddith of the city (there is much research required into who these people were) and it was the scene of some of his most important spiritual experiences, so much so that he regarded second only to Mecca as a 'holy city'.

His first visit was marked by his meeting with 'Abd al-Rahman al-Tamîmî al-Fâsî (d. 1206), a well-known muhaddith and Sufi who was the Imâm of the al-Azhar mosque in the Ayn al-Khail district. During this time, he attained to the 'Abode of the pact made between plants and the Pole', through which he was able to predict the crucial Almohad victory at Los Alarcos. He also attained for the first time the 'Abode of Light' where he was instructed in the difference between sensible and subtle bodies.

His second visit was longer, lasting between 2 and 3 years. He travelled there with his family, (his mother and his two sisters, plus a maternal cousin), settling them in Fez and so releasing himself from his domestic obligations so that he could pursue the spiritual path unhindered. It is during this visit that he is said to have lived near to the Al-Azhar Mosque, and that he spent many hours there is contemplation. This was the period of intense spiritual experience, including:

-- his second investiture of the khirqa of Khidr at the hands of al-Tamîmî

-- his second attainment of the 'Abode of Light' which he describes as follows:

I obtained this station in 593 at Fez, during the 'asr prayer at the al-Azhar Mosque in the 'Ayn al-Khail. It appeared to me in the form of a light that was if anything more visible than what was in front of me. Also, when I saw this light the status of the direction 'behind' ceased for me. I no longer had a back or nape of a neck, and while the vision lasted I could no longer distinguish between different sides of myself. I was like a sphere; I was no longer aware of myself as having any 'side' except as the result of a mental process - not an experienced reality.

(Futûhât, 2/486).

-- He encounterd the Pole of his time in the garden of Ibn Hayyûn's garden in Fez.

-- He underwent his mi'râj, or spiritual ascension, in which he was taken to each of the celestial heavens in turn, and met there the Prophet associated with the sphere. He wrote the first account of this journey (Kitab al Isrâ) in Jumâdâ 594H whilst still in Fez.

-- He also came to know the identity of the Seal of Muhammedian Sainthood who he said was 'living in our age'. "I saw the sign of his function, a sign which God has hidden from his servants but which He revealed to me at Fez." Addas has shown that although he would not reveal the name at this stage, he already knew it to be himself. His function was to be confirmed later, in the great vision of the 'gold and silver bricks' in Mecca.

-- He met his one of closest disciples, Badr al-Habashî, who was to stay by his side from this time on, travelling with him to the east and eventually dying in 618H in Malatya.

The final visit to Fez took place as he travelled East, never to return. We assume that he took the time to say goodbye to his mother and his sisters, but through his writings we know only that he met up with Muhammed al-Hassâr, whom God had instructed him to take East with him in dream whilst he was in a Marrakesh. They travelled together to Cairo, where al-Hassar died of the plague.

Jane Clark

The Light and the Fish

As we descended down the narrow streets of the old city of Fez, the conversation was of how it could be that 'knowledge is subject to the known', a matter that had puzzled our companion Abd ar-Rahman, a professor of physics and long time student of the Shaykh al-Akbar, for many years. We had breakfasted sumptuously with him and his brother Muhammed, a distinguished calligrapher, in their guest room off the garden courtyard not far from the Bab Bou-Jeloud, which is now the main tourist entrance to the city. This is also the place where the river through Fez is diverted into many rivulets which pass through unseen channels. The city of Fez, we had discovered, was filled with secret watercourses and springs that only recently are being put on the map. It was to one such spring that we were on our way - to the Ayn al-Khayl, the 'Spring of the Horse'- and more specifically to the mosque that stands beside it, known in the 12th century as the al-Azhar Mosque and now known simply by the district in which it is found. We passed through the winding streets, past the shops crowded together selling dates, herbs, spices and honey from wild desert bees, past the Koranic school where the shouts of the small children could be heard in chorus reciting the sacred words, past the small shop with painted shutters where a vision of the Prophet had made it a place of special pilgrimage.

Hands reached up to the street sign tracing the Arabic letters, indicating that we had arrived close to our destination. The mosque is a little way off the main street, in a quiet residential area through which horses and mules travel carrying their wares into the bustling commerce of the main thoroughfare. It must have been this that gave the spring its name, as a watering place for the beasts of burden. The minaret is remarkable being one of the few octagonal ones in Morocco, and even more remarkably, the minaret is built directly over an arch through which the people and their animals pass on the road below. Such integration of the spirit life and the worldly life as 'no other' is still so visible a presence in Fez, whose spirit and life has remained unbroken and ceaseless since it was founded by the saintly Idris and his son in the 8th century.

The significance of this small mosque in a quiet residential street, away from grander places of worship, was that this was the mosque that Ibn Arabi frequented during his stay in Fez during the period 1197-8 and where famously he inherited the station of Light, the same station held by the Prophet. This was the place where life is experienced spherically and where all the six directions are seen as one, the manifestation of which in Ibn Arabi's own words "I saw it as a light which was almost more visible than what was in front of me, except that I had lost all sense of behind [or in front]. I no longer had a back or the nape of a neck." (trans. Stephen Hirtenstein, Unlimited Mercifier p.115)

Keys were found for the modest entrance and we were let directly into the recitation room, which is currently used for worship. Donning sandals, we were led down some steps to the lower level where the distinctive Maghrebi horseshoe arches, and the simple niche indicated the ancient mosque. We stood in the presence of wonder. But alas, the present day actualité imposed its ugly face. The clean ground was stained and the air was fetid with the smell of detritus. Prayers are no longer held here, since the overburdened sewers from the overcrowded houses where families live one atop another, had conspired together to render the space unclean. Compounded with this, or perhaps because of it, the mosques itself is threatened by a tall house whose outside wall is cracked from top to bottom and whose imminent collapse threatens the very fabric. There are plans afoot, under the auspices of UNESCO, to mend the wall, and possibly even convert the house above into a library and study centre for the works of the Ibn Arabi. But in a city where there is so much demand for international aid and precious local resources, there is no knowing when or whether this might be achieved.

And lastly we found the spring, gushing up vigorously fresh from the Atlas mountains that tower over the city, and where snow can fall even into late May. The spring rises up into the centre of a pool, lined not with the intricate zellij of the mosque, madrasas or even the city fountains, but with clear blue and white tiles in a simple chequerboard pattern. Here another miracle had taken place - more recent than the first, and remembered and seen clearly by the two brothers Muhammed and Abd al-Rahman who had grown up in this district. About thirty years ago, when they were boys, a huge fish had appeared in the pool. Nobody knew where it had come from - though presumably the intricate elaboration of springs and waterways had allowed a denizen of the wide, deep river to penetrate the labyrinths to arrive at the spring. History does not recall what happened to the fish at the Ayn al-Khayl. But its spirit lives on fresh in the memory, and helps to make tangible that earlier miracle by way of al-Nur in the qibla of the venerated Shaykh al Akbar.

Richard Twinch
First appeared in the Society Newsletter, Autumn 2001

Ibn 'Arabi et la mosquée Aïn Al-Khaïl

Le Sheikh Al-Abkar Ibn Arabi, la plus grande figure de la pensée arabomusulmane et du soufisme, a atteint la station de lumière au sein de la mosquée Aïn Al-Khaïl de la médina de Fès, au XIIème siècle. Ce fut le thème d'une conférence de Jaâfar Kansoussi donnée récemment dans le ryad Fès Hadara, à la médina de Fès.

Aïn Al-Khaïl

From the brochure of Association Nida'fes

In Fez (Morocco), the Aïn al-Khail mosque, where Ibn ‘Arabî received the vision of his 'Miraj' in the 12th c., is now in peril. Two bordering houses are near to crumble on the mosque itself.

The Aïn al-Khail mosque, where Ibn 'Arabî prayed when he was in Fez, is in peril. The interior of the mosque needs some renovations, but the immediate danger is coming from the two bor-dering houses, which are near to collapse. The first (and the cheapest) thing to do is to put up a scaffolding to avoid major damage. The second most effective thing to do (and the best option), would be to demolish these houses, which cannot be saved.

One of these houses one belongs to the Awqaf Ministry (Habous). When contacted, the ministry gave consent to its demolition, and agreed to pay for this.

The second house is a private one. The occupant claims legal ownership of the house. He is requesting compensation in order to find alternative - and safer - housing. He is asking for 30000 Dhs (about 3000 euros).

A survey of the site must be done immediately. As the two buildings have a wall in common, the removal of this wall will affect the neighbou-rhood. Leaving the wall as it is, however, may have dire consequences.

The space created could be used as a garden, for instance, attached to the mosque. If enough money is raised, another option could be to create a small library, dedicated to the Sheykh Ibn 'Arabî. This would be a meaningful addition, in the heart of the Fez Medina.

See: Aïn Al-Khaïl, brochure with photographs (pdf 480KB).

En Français

À Fès (Maroc), la mosquée Aïn al-Khail où, au 12 è s., Ibn ‘Arabî eut la vision de son 'Miraj', est actuellement en danger. Deux maisons voisines menacent

La Mosquée Aïn al-Khail, où Ibn 'Arabî se recueillit lors de son séjour à Fès est en danger. Si l'inté-rieur pourrait nécessiter quelques travaux de restauration, l'urgence vient de deux maisons voisines menaçant de s'écrouler sur la mos-quée.

La première (et la moins chère) des choses à faire serait la mise en place d'un échafaudage qui permettrait, en cas d'accident, d'éviter le plus gros des dégâts prévisibles. La seconde, plus efficace, pourrait-être de mettre à bas ces maisons dont l'état n'offre aucun espoir de restauration.

L'une de ces maisons appartient au ministère des Awqaf (Habous). Contacté, le ministère nous assure vouloir faire son possible et s'engage à abattre lui-même la maison lui appartenant.

La seconde est une maison privée dont l'actuel habitant affirme posséder les titres, en règle. Conformément aux us et coutumes de la Médina, il demande un dédommagement de 30000 Dhs (soit environ 3 000 euros) pour pou-voir partir et se reloger. Ce qui ne serait pas sans le mettre à l'abri lui-même.

Il reste à réaliser de toute urgence l'étude technique concernant ce mur partagé par les deux mai-sons, ainsi que les conséquences pour les bâti-ments attenants. Si rien n'était fait, l'effondre-ment total risquerait d'avoir des conséquences bien plus graves pour l'ensemble du quartier.

L'espace urbain ainsi dégagé pourrait devenir, pourquoi pas, un petit jardin attenant à la mos-quée. Si les fonds recueillis le permettaient, la création d'une bibliothèque consacrée au Sheykh Ibn 'Arabî, au coeur de la Médina de Fès, serait un projet porteur de sens.

Sad news concerning the mosque, February 2005

This is the gist of an e-mail received from Matt Warren who visited Fez in February 2005:

"I don't know if you're aware - the 'Ayn al-Khayl mosque here in Fez got its roof caved in during Friday prayers several weeks ago. 11 people died according to a resident of the area I asked. One of the two buildings finally collapsed onto it. The site is barred-up, so likely no more getting in there for a long while."