Denis Gril

Reproduced from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Volume 50, 2011.

Hadith in the work of Ibn ʿArabī

The uninterrupted chain of prophecy

by Denis Gril

Within the corpus of Ibn ʿArabī's work hadith take on an importance second only to the Qurʾān, in keeping with a general movement of spirituality in Islam, in which the person of the Prophet becomes more and more prominent. This study will show the usage our Andalusian Master makes of these prophetic traditions: transmission, quotation and exegesis. Above all, it will highlight some of his views regarding the Sunna, which are partly explained by the status of the revealed word which he attributes to hadith. One of the paradoxes of Islam lies in the radical distinction made on the one hand between the Qurʾān, the Divine word, and hadith, causing the Prophet to speak or speaking through him, and on the other hand in the almost identical authority accorded to each of these two sources. Certainly in matters of jurisprudence the text of a hadith does not carry exactly the same weight of obligation or prohibition as the Qurʾān, and a prophetic tradition, unlike the latter, can be subjected to critical analysis in terms of its text and especially its chain of transmission. However, if one seeks to weigh up the respective importance of the Qurʾān and the Sunna in the establishment of Muslim norm and practices, the balance leans rather in favour of the Sunna.

One of the interesting aspects in Ibn ʿArabī's work is the questioning of the relationship between the two scriptural sources of Islam.[1] Several recent studies have shown how much his work takes its inspiration and structure from the Qurʾānic text. The hadith, a vast body of independent and diverse texts, could not exercise the same structural function. They nonetheless occupy a significant position, whether quoted in support of the Qurʾānic commentary or as objects of interpretation in their own right. This fact has in itself no specific importance, no more than the attention paid to the chain of transmitters (isnād) and the transmission. As we will see, this latter is both magnified and relativised. Subject to the hazards of human weakness, it nevertheless serves as a vehicle for the inspired word and a presence perceived by unveiling (kashf), which is the foundation of esoteric knowledge.

The personal journey of the Shaykh al-Akbar equally contributed to his growing interest in hadith. After his first spiritual experiences he followed the traditional way of acquiring knowledge and became the disciple of many shaykhs, several of whom were traditionists. After his arrival in the Mashriq, his interest in hadith did not diminish – indeed, rather the reverse.

Ibn ʿArabī and the study of hadith

Coming from an aristocratic family in the service of the rulers in Andalusia, Ibn ʿArabī received in his youth a literary rather than spiritual education. From his twentieth year, when he was favoured with numerous visions and spiritual openings, he received a vast amount of inspired knowledge on the meta≠physics of Being, cosmology and hagiography, even though he had not as yet studied the traditional sciences or even taṣawwuf. It was only later, for example, that he studied Qushayrī's Risāla under one of his masters.

It was due to many masters in Andalusia, the Maghrib and in the Mashriq that he first discovered the science of hadith and also to a certain degree kalām.[2] It was really a matter of rediscovery, since for him these acquired knowledges only confirm the knowing received by illumination in the course of retreat (khalwa). For Ibn ʿArabī, as for other Masters of taṣawwuf, kashf confers a knowing that embraces the whole field of knowledge and gives certainty in all domains, and in particular in that of hadith.

In all sciences thus studied, it was to hadith that he devoted most time and on which he wrote the most, reflecting the cultural and religious context prevailing in the Maghrib of the Almohads and the Mashriq of the Ayyubids and Seljuks, which especially encouraged the study of this tradition. From Ibn ʿArabī's autobiography, the al-Ijāza li-l-Malik al-Muẓaffar, and drawing also on the numerous isnāds cited in the Muḥāḍarāt al-abrar, Claude Addas draws up a list of Ibn ʿArabī's masters, and shows that a large number transmitted prophetic traditions to him.

In both the Ijāza and the Fihris al-muʾallafāt,[3] where the shaykh recorded from memory a large part of his works, we can see that he compiled collections of hadith. Most résumés of the best-known collections of the Ṣaḥīḥ of Bukhārī and Muslim or the Jāmiʿ of Tirmidhī have disappeared.[4] His Mishkāt al-anwār fīmā ruwiya ʿan Allāh min al-akhbār[5] is a collection of ḥadīth qudsī, of which the first forty are preceded by an isnād, while for the others the reference is generally indicated. Another work should also be noted, al-Maḥajjat al-bayḍāʾ fī al-aḥkām al-sharʿiyya, written in the style of aḥādīth al-aḥkām. According to the Fihris, the work was composed of two volumes with a third unfinished. The Yusuf Ağa library in Konya[6] until recently had an autographed example of the second volume, beginning with a general chapter on prayer, more precisely on the respective merits of the differing ranks for men and women (abwāb ṣifāt al-ṣalāt: bāb tafāḍul al-ṣufūf fī al-ṣalāt li-l-rijāl wa al-nisāʾ), and ending with a chapter on the military display on the feast-day in the Prophet's Mosque (bāb al-laʿib fī yawm al-ʿīd bi al-ṣilāh fī masjid al-nabī). Thus we can assume that the author, who was in Mecca in ah 600, intended to compose for himself a vast collection of hadith, serving as a reference in matters of jurisprudence. The flyleaf bears, in Ibn ʿArabī's own handwriting, five isnād ending with the famous traditionalist al-Silafī, who was born near Shiraz and died in Alexandria in 570 (ḥaddathanā Abū al-Ṭāhir al-SilafīÖ) and going back to Bukhārī, Abū Dāʾūd, Muslim, Nasāʾī and Tirmidhī. This isnād poses an evident problem, given the date of Silafī's death. Silafī is known, however, to have given an ijāza ʿamma (full licence) to several scholars, authorising them to disseminate the hadith under his authority.[7] It is very possible that Ibn ʿArabī himself received this authorisation through the intermediary of a disciple he does not name. From this work let us consider on the one hand the importance accorded to the transmission as the preliminary isnād demonstrate, and on the other, the composition of a work of fiqh based solely on the hadith. This choice places the author in a certain stream of juridical thought: as we will see later, he accorded great respect to Ibn Ḥazm as a traditionist.

We may mention here the Kitāb al-Mubashshirāt min al-aḥlām fīmā ruwiya ʿan al-nabī min al-akhbār fī al-manām, which, as the title indicates, includes traditions heard directly from the Prophet in dreams. As we shall see later, Ibn ʿArabī considers this mode of reception of hadith, whether in dream or in a waking state, as the most certain for one who is so favoured. He mentions this work in the Fihris as being one of those that he had been ordered to compose but not disseminate.[8] In major works, the Futūḥāt in particular, hadith have a quite prominent place, although quantitatively less important than the Qurʾān. It emerges from a more or less systematic list that the majority of hadith come from the 'six books', to which must be added the Sunan of Bayhaqī and the collection of Tabarānī. We also find traditions not existing in the canonical collections but frequently quoted in taṣawwuf, such as the famous sentence 'Whoso knows his self, knows his Lord', regarding which the shaykh states that it is authenticated by meaning (maʿnā), not by transmission (riwāya).[9] He very often gives as a hadith of the Prophet 'Neither My heaven nor My earth contain Me, but the heart of My believing servant contains Me', whereas this tradition is mentioned elsewhere as being a tradition of the 'People of the Book'.[10] He also uses a less precise formula: 'In the tradition of making God speak thus (wa fī al-khabar al-mutarjim ʿanhu), ìI am with those whose heart is broken because of Meî'.[11] Thus Ibn ʿArabī takes a middle way with regard to traditions, respectful of authenticity and yet open to traditions of a more uncertain origin when they convey an indisputable spiritual teaching. For the body of hadith quoted in the Futūḥāt, we suggest the following thematic classification, in order of frequency:

1. Attributes and descriptions of God (particularly anthropomorphic expressions)

2.The relationship of man to God (often expressed in the form of a ḥadīth qudsī)

3. The prophet and his supra-temporal reality

4. Founding traditions of Islam in general

5. Juridical traditions (especially in the chapters on ritual)

Finally, we should remember that the Futūḥāt ends with a chapter of advice, al-waṣāya, principally inspired by hadith quoted as such, or commented on in a very accessible style, which contrasts strongly with the rest of the book and quite particularly with the penultimate chapter. This chapter is followed by a sequence of invocations taken from the Sunna and the Qurʾān. The message is clear: this vast amount of esoteric knowledge leads towards the source, i.e. prophetic inspiration received by Divine revelation.

The weakness and grandeur of the isnād

After the opening words (khuṭba) the Futūḥāt begins with an introduction (muqaddimat al-kitāb) vindicating esoteric knowledge and inspired learning. In support the author cites two well-known hadith.[12] In the first, reported by Bukhārī, Abū Hurayra declares: 'I retained from the Envoy two sorts (literally containers) of knowledge. I exposed one, but if I had exposed the other, they would have cut my throat.'[13] It is remarkable that Ibn ʿArabī insists on reporting this tradition by three different paths, all leading back to Bukhārī. He got it from his hadith master al-Hajarī in Ceuta in ah 589, from the nephew of the Qāḍī, Abū Bakr Ibn al ʿArabī, in Seville in ah 592, and from Yūnus b. Yaḥyā al-Hāshimī in Mecca in ah 599. The importance of this tradition in the apologetics of Sufism does not really account for the abundance of isnād, since its authentification by Bukhārī is sufficient guaranty. The second tradition in the word of Ibn ʿAbbās concerning Q. 65:12, 'God is He who equally created the earth and the seven heavens, the Divine Order descends among them', 'If I gave the interpretation you would stone me' and in another version 'you would say I am an infidel'. Here Ibn ʿArabī merely states that he got this saying from Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad Ibn ʿAysun, who had it from the qāḍī Abū Bakr Ibn al ʿArabī, who had it from Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī. Scattered throughout the Futūḥāt there are hadith preceded by such isnād, a sign that the Shaykh accords them particular importance.

The importance of the chain of transmission is not only limited to its role in authentification. It leads towards the source of authority and invokes the presence of a sacred being, whether it be the Prophet, a Companion or another personage connected to the prophecy. The following rather strange story, reported as an isolated hadith (gharīb), particularly illustrates this. Ibn ʿArabī said that he heard in his house in Aleppo a story told by a blind man, Ibrāhīm b. Sulaymān, who heard it himself from a woodcutter, 'a man of confidence' (thīka). This latter recounted that one day, having killed a snake, he was carried off by some Jinn, taken to their chief and accused of killing one of their relations. The Shaykh of the Jinn told them: 'Free him and take him home, since I heard the Envoy of God – peace and blessings be upon him – tell us "Whosoever amongst you takes on another form and is killed, for him neither vengeance nor blood money can be demanded." Now your relation took on the form of a serpent, who is man's enemy.' He then explained to the astonished woodcutter that he was one of the last survivors of the Jinn of Niṣībīn,[14] and that he purveyed justice to his people according to what he heard from the Prophet. Ibn ʿArabī clearly considers this marvellous anecdote as a hadith. Not only does he relate it to two of his companions but, on his return with them to Aleppo, he sends them to the man so they can hear it directly from his mouth. He concludes thus: 'And he related it to them in the same way he related it to me' (fa-ḥaddatha-humā kamā ḥaddatha-nī).[15] The unusual character of this story thus emphasises the value given to hearing and direct transmission, which brings the receiver as close as possible to the source.

Ibn ʿArabī's liking for reception and transmission is not limited to hadith. He also received, as was normal, all sorts of works of which he drew up a long list at the beginning of the Muḥāḍarāt al-abrār. He explains that he mentions them 'by reading and audition, or receiving a copy or by letter' (rawaytu-hā samāʿan wa qirāʾatan aw mudāwalatan aw kitābatan). The use of these technical terms shows a certain familiarity with the rules of transmission found concerning a hadith unusual enough to need authenticating with an isnād. This tradition recounts how Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ, on ʿUmar's orders, sent Naḍla b. Muʾāwiya al-Anṣārī to fight in Iraq. On his way back this companion did the call to prayer facing a mountain, and heard a voice in reply. Out of the mountain came an extraordinarily long-lived disciple of Jesus who lived in hiding there. He transmitted to Naḍla a teaching on the end of time.[16] The shaykh points out that according to al-Ḥākim (al-Nīsābūrī) the weakness of the isnād is due to one of its transmitters. He adds, 'This hadith, even if its way of transmission is criticised, is authenticated for us and for our fellows by unveiling (kashf).' This position, which occurs often in Ibn ʿArabī's works, gives a first idea of the difference in viewpoint which distinguishes him and his 'fellows' from normal traditionists.

In the hadith related by Bukhārī, 'God has created Adam in his/His image' (or, according to his form),[17] which is often quoted by the Shaykh, the pronoun can refer to God or to Adam. A variant resolves the difficulty, although its authenticity is doubted by specialists. Ibn ʿArabī explains it thus: 'In a version authenticated by unveiling (fī riwāya yuṣaḥḥiḥu-hā l-kashf), even if it is not firmly established by the masters of transmission (aṣḥāb al-naql), it is said: ìin the image of the All-Merciful (al-Raḥmān)î, which removes the ambiguity. This teaches us that each variant that removes ambiguity is authentic, even if it is weak from the point of view of transmission.'[18] A certain concurrence is thus noted, not between two forms of knowledge, but between two ways of receiving and transmitting the same knowledge. Despite the importance that he gives to the isnād, Ibn ʿArabī is aware of the uncertainty which may arise from a mode of authentification subject to the hazards of human transmission. Here he notes:

Many a 'weak' (ḍaʿīf) hadith is rejected due to the weakness of its transmission, because a traditionist is alleged to have forged the hadith, whereas in reality the hadith is authentic, and in this case the 'fabricator' (wāḍiʿ) was correct and invented nothing. Such a hadith is rejected by traditionists because of doubts about its transmission, particularly when this 'fabricator' is the only one to report it or when it occupies a central place in his transmissions.[19]

On the other hand, as we shall see, a saint endowed with unveiling and in contact with the prophetic Presence, will be able to know the non-authentic character of a hadith previously held to be impeccable from the point of view of the isnād. Thus it is that kashf may just as well invalidate as authenticate a tradition, finally casting doubt on all the efforts deployed by traditionists to establish a body of certain and reliable references. On this subject Ibn ʿArabī speaks not only of unveiling but of the authentification of hadith by the men of God:

We have not, nor will we, mention anything of the different elements in the universe without referring to a prophetic tradition authenticated by unveiling, even if this tradition has been criticised for its line of transmission. We only base this on that which the hidden saints teach us (rijāl al-ghayb).[20]

In the case of a fabricated (mawḍūʿ) hadith, Ibn ʿArabī proposes an explanation which allows one to understand, to a certain extent, a surprising phenomenon when one considers the prophetic warnings against such a practice. In a chapter of the Futūḥāt on the khawāṭir, thoughts inspired by God, by the angels, by the self or by Satan, he reminds us that in the last category one of Satan's ruses is to suggest a false idea from a true premise. As an example he cites masters or ascetics who, having heard the Prophet's word 'He who establishes a good way will have its reward and that of those who follow it',[21] wish to benefit from this reward. Afraid of not being followed in the way or practice they have established, they attribute their innovation to the Prophet. When the angels remind them of the word of the Envoy, 'He who intentionally attributes to me lying words, may he seek his place in the fire',[22] they interpret this as applying to words which lead into error. The condemnation applies equally to those belonging to sects of all sorts (ahl al-ahwāʾ wa al-bidaʿ), the Shiʿis in particular; or again those who, having received an imperfect spiritual opening, attribute to God the words they believe they have heard from Him, when what they have heard in fact comes from their own souls.[23] If the historical critique finds other reasons for the fabrication of hadith, this explanation, which takes into account the phenomenon of the interior, allows us to see how such a practice was able to spread in the ascetic or sectarian circles at the beginning of Islam.

Nevertheless, Ibn ʿArabī does not display an overly critical tendency with regard to his treatment of hadith. As we have seen, he accepts traditions from diverse sources as long as they express an indisputable truth. Nor does he question the normal way of acquiring knowledge in Islam, based on transmission or reason, or both at the same time, but he gives greater importance to the direct knowing of the heart – which alone leads to certainty. In his own way he reiterates, not the opposition of exoteric and esoteric knowledge, but their hierarchisation, just as Abū Yazīd al-Bisṭāmī had expressed it in his own time: 'You have received your knowledge dead, from a dead person, while we have received our knowledge from the Living One who never dies. One of us says: ìmy heart reported to me from my Lord,î and you say, ìsuch-and-such a person told meî – ìwhere is he?î [we ask], ìdead,î is the reply.' Even more evocative is the saying of Abu Madyan, whom Ibn ʿArabī regarded as his master: 'When someone said to him ìsuch-and-such a person said according to that person,î he would reply, ìwe do not wish to eat cold (qadīd) meat; go bring me fresh meat!î'[24]

Such downplaying of the isnād is nonetheless compensated for by its main function – transmission. Is it not, above all, a matter of communicating a message (balāgh or tablīgh), which is one of the essential aspects of the prophetic mission? Here again we find Ibn ʿArabī's doctrine of sainthood and its relationship to prophethood. For Ibn ʿArabī, God has subjected the saint to a terrifying ordeal by calling him by a Divine Name, walī (close friend, ally but also chief), while a prophet is primarily qualified as servant (ʿabd) and messenger (rasūl), terms that can only apply to man and consequently denote his true perfection. Indeed the perfection of man lies in his servanthood (ʿubūdiyya), in other words his non-resemblance to God. He (God) has left the saint, however, with the possibility of realising an aspect of prophetic perfection by causing His Prophet to say: 'May the present transmit to the absent' (li-yuballigh al-shāhid al-ghāʾib).[25] With this word he entrusted to his Companions, and their successors, a part of this human function of transmission. The saying of the Prophet, 'May God have mercy on him who has heard my word, remembered it and re-transmitted it as he heard it',[26] makes it clear that the hadith must be reported literally (ḥarfan ḥarfan) and not only in meaning (maʿnan). Given that the saying of the Prophet is inspired, Ibn ʿArabī places 'transmitters of the Revelation' (naqalat al-waḥy) on the same level as reciters of the Qurʾān or traditionists, on condition however that these latter respect the literal transmission. Only these two categories of scholars will be resurrected with the Envoy, since they will have fully transmitted the text of the revelation from the time of the Prophet to the end of time. He again explains why the transmission and reception of hadith assumes such importance for him or his masters:

As long as a man does not transmit the hadith with its continuous, uninterrupted chain of transmission, he will not have attained this spiritual station and will not have breathed the slightest perfume of it. He will only be one of those saints in competition with God over the name walī. Inasmuch as he takes on this name, he loses his quality of servant, and this is why the name muḥaddath[27] is preferable to walī.[28]

From this point of view, it makes complete sense to have the least number of intermediaries between the last transmitter and the source (al-qurb fī al-isnād or al-ḥadīth al-ʿālī).[29]

The two faces of Revelation

The hagiological significance of the isnād brings up another question: the similarity, in terms of revelation (waḥy), between the Qurʾān and the prophetic word. In commenting on the verse in which it is said to the Prophet: 'Say: I impose on you only one thing, that you act for God doubly or singly' (Q. 34:46), Ibn ʿArabī states that 'doubly' means by God and by His Envoy, for he who obeys the Envoy, obeys God, whether in applying the Qurʾān or the Sunna; 'singly' means by God or by the Envoy, to the extent that each has an equal authority. In support of this view, he quotes the following hadith: 'Let me not see one of you leaning on your bench, saying, when one of my words comes to him: "I'd rather you spoke to me from the Qurʾān". By God, these words are as the Qurʾān or even more!'[30]

This last statement, 'as the Qurʾān or even more', is explained by the inner isnād of the hadith: the word of the Prophet is directly inspired within him, without Gabriel as an intermediary; being closer to God, it is therefore worthier of being taken into consideration immediately. The Shaykh al-Akbar finds the idea of double revelation validated again in this other verse: 'Do not hasten the coming of the Qurʾān until its revelation to you is decreed and say: Lord, increase me in knowledge' (Q. 20:114). On the one hand, the Prophet must await the Revelation, while on the other he must demand an increase in knowledge that God may inspire in him without intermediary (bi-rafʿ al-wāsiṭa): 'the hadith which is not called qurʾān'. It is not a question of a ḥadīth qudsī inspired by the Holy Spirit, but of a direct inspiration, which is equally applicable to the muḥaddathūn, 'those to whom God speaks'.[31]

Elsewhere, in a passage on the various modes of revelation and the angels who transmit it, Ibn ʿArabī develops a principle of distinction between the Qurʾān and the hadith, different but equally ending up at the same divine origin. 'If that which is shown is attributed to God as attribute (bi-ḥukm al-ṣifa), it is called Qurʾān, Furqān, Torah, Psalms, Gospel and Scripture (ṣuḥuf). If it is attributed to God as act (bi-ḥukm al-fiʿl), it is called ḥadīth, khabar, raʾy or sunna.'[32]

Whether it be a word of quality or a word of action, the difference is fundamental from a textual or existential point of view, but from the standpoint of those whose knowledge is a prophetic heritage, it expresses the double face of reality which is borne by the Prophet and by his heirs. According to a hadith, that 'The people of the Qurʾān are the men of God and His elite', the hadith is as the Qurʾān, since as the latter says of the Prophet, 'He does not speak from passion, it is only inspired inspiration' (Q. 53:3-4). For Ibn ʿArabī these verses are not to do with the Qurʾān, but with the directly inspired word, as is suggested by the passive voice (waḥyun yūḥā), which is transmitted to men.[33]

To become the transmitter of the Divine or prophetic word is to be the envoy of the Envoy, a perfect transmitter and servant; it is an escape from the impossible resemblance to God, and hence the human imperfection of walāya, in order to realise the perfection of servanthood. The isnād, despite all its imperfections, bears this secret within it: the presence of the first speaker in the word of his transmitter. The fervour for reciting and transmitting can be explained in no other way.

The epistemological status of the khabar

Hadith, or the inspired word, concerns prophecy (nubuwwa) and its transmission of the prophetic mission (risāla). If the cycle of prophecy was completed at the death of the Seal of the prophets, the inspired knowledge which characterises it, has been received as inheritance by the knowers/scholars (ʿulamāʾ). The tradition that 'the knowers are the heirs of the prophets' constitutes one of the principal foundations of akbarian hagiology. The reception of this knowledge comes in the same way as that of the hadith, although there is a difference of degree between the transmission by men and that which is received or confirmed by unveiling. Such a vision places the receiver in a position analogous to that of the Prophet's Companions.

There are saints who exchange words (ḥadīth) with the Prophet in the course of an unveiling, stand with him in the world of unveiling and contemplation and receive from him his words. They will be gathered with him like the Companions, in the most noble of places and the most sublime of states. Such a vision must take place in a state of wakefulness (yaqaẓa). This saint receives directly from the Prophet, who confirms for him the authenticity of certain hadith whose transmission has been criticised.[34]

This bringing together, virtual in the case of the ordinary man and real in the case of the saint, confers on the hadith or khabar (which are equivalent terms) an epistemological status and a cognitive effectiveness according to the receptivity of the one who hears it. There is in this case a certain analogy between this reception and that of revelation. Furthermore, listening to the khabar temporarily replaces direct vision (ʿiyān), until it accompanies it, doing away with the adage 'hearing is not like seeing' (laysa al-khabar ka-l-ʿiyān). This is what emerges from the introduction to the Futūḥāt, where the author classifies the ways of knowledge as:

(a) Rational (or intellectual) knowledge (ʿilm al-ʿaql).

(b) Knowledge of spiritual states (ʿilm al-aḥwāl): this is the knowledge of taṣawwuf or of the Way, which can only be grasped by direct experience or taste (dhawq).

(c) Knowledge of secrets (ʿilm al-asrār): a supra-rational kind of knowing (fawq ṭawr al-ʿaql), it is inspired by the Holy Spirit (nafath rūḥ al-quds fī al-rūʿ)[35] and reserved for prophets and saints. This superior knowing is found according to three ways. The first is like the knowledge of reason, although it is not acquired by speculation; the second is like the knowledge of states, but at a higher level; the third, which is termed 'knowledge of information' (ʿulūm al-akhbār) concerns the inspired information or traditions in which one can believe or not believe, just like any transmitted information (khabar) – for example, all that is taught by the prophets regarding the Hereafter and which one believes because the transmitter is a sure witness (ʿadl).

Each prophet's message is fundamentally a khabar authenticated by their impeccability, just as the hadith is verified by the integrity of its transmitters. As for the saints, they teach 'hidden knowledge and words of wisdom'. Stemming from the secrets of the Holy Law and going beyond the capacity of reflective thought and individual acquisition, they can only be received through contemplation and inspiration (al-mushāhada wa al-ilhām) or something similar. This is what the Prophet meant by saying 'If there are in my community inspired men (muḥaddathūn), ʿUmar is one of them.'[36]

The khabar or the hadith convey an inspired and esoteric knowing, but one that can be received and transmitted in the most exoteric manner. Like the Qurʾān, they are in their most literal meaning the expression of a truth to which everyone has access, but which is only fully understood by those who, following the prophets, have had direct experience of them through hearing and vision.

The Prophet-Saints

The Qurʾān and the Sunna are the two principal sources of Law, and the saints, drawing directly from them, have certain knowledge of its statutes. The cognitive virtue of the khabar continues in its legislative function. However, according to Ibn ʿArabī, the saints do not all perceive the essential identity of the Law and the Supreme Reality (ʿayn al-sharīʿa ʿayn al-ḥaqīqa) in the same way.[37] In his typology of sainthood, he distinguishes those whom he calls prophet-saints (anbiyāʾ al-awliyāʾ), because they receive the Law in a manner which is analogous, though not identical, to the prophets.

[The prophets among the saints in this community] are those individuals whom God has established in one of His theophanies. He then makes the manifest form (maẓhar) of Muhammad or Gabriel stand before him, and this angelic form allows him to hear as he addresses Muhammad, peace and grace be upon him, with the rulings of the Law (khiṭāb al-aḥkām al-mashrūʿa). Once the address is completed, and the heart of the saint who has been witness of that recovers [from fright], he understands all the legal rulings concerning the Muhammadian community which this discourse contains. The saint receives them in the same way as this Muhammadian form (al-maẓhar al-Muḥammadī), due to the extreme concentration produced by such a presence and because of the order to transmit (tablīgh) to the community, which is given by this form. He returns to himself, fully conscious of the discourse addressed by the Spirit to the form of Muhammad, grace and peace be upon him. He knows its authenticity by virtue of the knowledge of certainty, or rather by the eye of certainty.[38] He takes for himself the legal ruling received by this prophet and puts it into practice.[39]

This passage[40] refers indisputably to a personal experience and emphasises most particularly the analogy between this mode of the reception of the Law and the state of the Prophet at the time of the revelation, described in several traditions.[41] The shaykh describes later the attitude these saints should maintain with regard to other learned men: they must in no way seek to refute the doctors of the Law, even if due to certain knowledge they are convinced they are wrong. They find themselves in the same position as the mujtahid who must practise what his proof (dalīl) indicates, without ever criticising someone who holds another opinion. Furthermore, they exercise a function of preserving the Law, analogous to that which the prophets of the Sons of Israel assured for the Law of Moses, hence the prophetic word, 'The knowers of this community are the prophets of the Sons of Israel',[42] which justifies the designation of these saints. In this category Ibn ʿArabī places the scholars among the Companions and those who succeeded them, Followers and Followers of Followers, such as al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, Ibn Sīrīn, Sufyān al-Thawrī, Ibn ʿUyayna, Mālik, Ibn Abī Rabāḥ, Abū Ḥanīfa and their successors, such as Shāfiʿī and Ibn Ḥanbal, as well as all those who worked for the preservation of the legal statutes (ḥifẓ al-aḥkām). He distinguishes them from those who, from the Companions up to the masters of taṣawwuf, inherited 'the knowledge of the spiritual states of the Envoy and of the secrets of his sciences' (aḥwāl al-rasūl wa asrār ʿulūmi-hi). Such a distinction, very specific to akbarian hagiology, allows us to understand to what extent the question of hadith is linked to that of jurisprudence.[43] The authentification of hadith by unveiling has, as we have seen, an immediate effect on its juridical position. Regarding the possibility of accomplishing the circumambulation of the Kaʿba at any time of day, he cites the dream-vision of his own hadith, which he says confirmed the report of Nasāʾī, of which he had not been certain.[44] The parallel that he establishes between vision and transmission is not exclusive to him, but he is the only one to have argued it with such clarity and force. His favoured reference to hadith in its juridical context and his rejection of all automatic imitation of Malikism or other schools led him, as well as some of his contemporaries, to be accused of Ẓāhirism. If this term is meant as a juridical school, this would contradict this tendency in general and the position of Ibn ʿArabī in particular.[45] On the other hand, it is true to say that the personality and work of Ibn Ḥazm did exert an influence on him and others of his contemporaries, such as the Almohad caliph Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqūb, who was a great admirer of the Andalusian scholar.

Ibn ʿArabī followed the teachings of several masters who had studied with Shurayḥ al-Ruʿaynī, one of the main disciples and transmitters of Ibn Ḥazm.[46] Not only did he study the latter's Muḥallā bi'l-āthār,[47] but he even did a résumé: al-Muʿallā fī mukhtaṣar al-Muḥallā.[48] He also composed a résumé of the Ibṭāl al-qiyās wa al-raʾy wa al-istiḥsān wa al-taqlīd wa al-taʿlīl.[49] However, it was at least as much through direct vision in the imaginal world as through books that Ibn ʿArabī most often entered into relationship with his predecessors. The respect he gives to the memory of Ibn Ḥazm is explained in part by a vision in which he saw his being dissolving into that of the Prophet, because he was one of the ahl al-ḥadīth.[50] As polemic he sometimes gives a harsh indictment of the jurists (fuqahāʾ) of his time and reproaches them for, among other things, preferring the opinion of their juridical school to the Sunna.[51] This explains why he might have been regarded as one of the apologists of the Ẓāhirism of Ibn Ḥazm in the East.[52]

Indeed, in matters of jurisprudence, the Shaykh al-Akbar gives absolute preference to hadith, considering that even a weak tradition is always preferable to the words of an imam.[53] In general he allows very diverse categories of hadith, such as the mursal, if the Follower who reports it transmits the hadith according to a Companion. For him, the authority of traditions transmitted in a single way (āḥād) does not fundamentally differ from those transmitted by numerous ways (mutawātir), as long as there is no contradiction between the two. More generally, from the point of view of the legal qualification of acts (ḥukm), the authority of the Qurʾān and that of the Sunna are equal.

He shares these views with a number of the practitioners of the science of uṣūl al-fiqh. Like many, he allows weak traditions that encourage the practice of pious works. He even considers that one of the specific traits of an heir of the Prophet is to apply hadith, in as broad a way as possible, whether they be authentic or weak, by regularly practising the former and, even if only once, the latter, taking into account all the nuances brought out by the different versions, without attaching himself solely to the exterior criteria of the validity of the hadith, except obviously when it is a matter of licit or illicit. He counsels the mufti to always advise the easiest way, while choosing for himself the most rigorous. The imitation of the prophet in conformity to the Sunna leads in effect, according to the Qurʾān, to Divine Love: 'Say: if truly you love God, then follow me, God will love you' (Q. 3:31).

The hermeneutic of hadith

Its status as revealed word confers on hadith not only an authority almost identical to that of the Qurʾān as regards legal matters, but equally a treatment comparable to that of the Book as regards exegesis. For either of these scriptural references, the Arabic language, as understood by its first speakers, remains the first criterion for comprehension. However, the polysemous nature of the language requires a further criterion: conformity to the fundamental principles of Islam, which must regulate any interpretation. Theodicy must in particular answer to this double requirement: full attention to the literal expression of the divine realities as well as absolute respect for transcendence (tanzīh). It is on this double principle that Ibn ʿArabī bases his interpretation of the mutashābihāt, those Qurʾānic or prophetic expressions where God appears to resemble creatures. The title of Chapter 3 of the Futūḥāt, 'The transcendence of the Real from all similitude or anthropomorphism which might be implied by the words with which He designates Himself in His Book, or those spoken by His Envoy, on him grace and peace', shows once again that the Sunna has the same value as the Qurʾān, here in the domain of belief. In fact, except for the question of the 'forgetfulness' of God, all the examples quoted are taken from hadith. After mentioning the capacities and limits of human intelligence, Ibn ʿArabī establishes the rules of interpretation:

The envoy of God, on him be grace and peace, said: 'God is veiled from the intelligences just as He is veiled from vision, and the Highest Assembly[54] seeks Him just as you all seek Him.'[55] Thus he informed [us] that the intellect does not perceive Him by thought or by the eye of inner vision (ʿayn al-baṣīra), just as the external eye does not perceive HimÖ So must it be for transcendence and negating resemblance and similarity. The anthropomorphists lost their way because of interpretation (taʾwīl) and the immediate meaning given to verses and traditions without taking into account the transcendence required by God. That has led them to pure ignorance and patent unbelief. If only they had sought salvation by leaving such traditions and verses as they were, without taking a position on what they mean, and by restoring knowledge of these expressions to God and His Envoy and saying, 'we do not know'. The word of God, 'Nothing is like Him', should have been sufficient for them. When a hadith expresses the similarity or resemblance of God to something, even though He has denied all resemblance, then such a tradition must comprise an element of transcendence known to God and expressed in these terms because of an understanding of the Arabic language in which the Qurʾān was revealed. There will never be found any term, whether in a tradition or verse, which could be a scriptural argument (naṣṣ) in favour of similarity. The term as used by Arabs may convey several meanings, some leading to similarity, some to transcendence. One who interprets it [only] in the sense of similarity, commits an injustice towards this term by not giving it the right conferred on it by the way it is used in the language (waḍʿuhu fī al-lisān), as well as transgressing with regard to God by imputing to Him what is not proper for Him.[56]

The first example given by the author gives some idea of his rigorous attachment to the letter of revelation as well as to divine transcendence:

One of these expressions is that 'the heart (qalb) is between two of the fingers of God'.[57] Reason affirms that, in the real sense of the term, it is impossible to attribute a limb to God. However, 'finger' is a polysemous word designating the limb, on the one hand, and benefit (niʿma) on the other... The Arabs say: 'how excellent is so-and-so's finger on his goods', meaning how well he manages his affairs. Furthermore, the quickest turning (taqlīb) is done by the fingers, due to their small size and perfect dexterity. Their movement is quicker than that of the hand or any other member. Since God's turning of the hearts is the quickest thing imaginable, the Prophet, on him be grace and peace, eloquently expressed it in his invocation in a manner well-understood by Arabs. He described the turning as being done by the fingers, since turning is always carried out by the hand, of which the fingers are a part, and the speed of it is most clearly marked in the fingers. The Prophet would also pray to God, saying: 'O You who are the turner of hearts, strengthen my heart in Your religion' (yā muqallib al-qulūb thabbit qalbī ʿalā dīnik).[58] God's turning of the hearts is what He creates in them as intention to do good or evil. Man is aware of the succession of contradictory thoughts in his heart, that is to say God's turning of the hearts, and he cannot escape from this knowledge. Hence the Prophet used to say: 'O You who are the turner of hearts, strengthen my heart in Your religion'Ö[59] God the Exalted said: 'He inspired in it [the soul] its disobedience and its pious fear' (Q. 91: 8). This inspiration is the turning of the hearts; the fingers show how fast, and the twoness shows the thoughts, good and bad. If we understand the meaning of 'finger' as signifying at the same time the member, benefit and beneficial effects, how then can it be taken solely as the limb of a physical body? The other meanings, which are compatible with transcendence, are what we seek. We should either remain silent and leave the determining of the meaning of this to God and to those to whom God has given knowledge of it, whether sent envoy or inspired saint, given that we deny the literal meaning of 'limb', or we should perceive its blessingsÖ[60]

In addition to this theological commentary Ibn ʿArabī offers a metaphysical description, stating that in the two fingers lies 'the secret of essential perfection, which when revealed on the day of Resurrection, causes man to take hold of his father, if he is an unbeliever, and throw him into the fire, without feeling either distress or compassion, by the secret of these two fingers whose meaning is single and expression is double.' The duality of these two fingers thus symbolises the original duality of manifestation, as heaven and hell, which comes from the Divine Names being in opposition to one another, whilst non-dual in a numerical sense. The secret of the two fingers lies in the letter of the khabar as in true belief; it may only be uncovered by unveiling or in the hereafter. The interpretation is really a taʾwīl, in the Qurʾānic sense of the word, i.e. the advent of the final meaning, which is foreseen by inspiration, and not the illegitimate taʾwīl of individual opinion.

Ibn ʿArabī reads and understands hadith in the same way as the Qurʾān, by finding within the letter of the text the meaning which the metaphysical orientation of his hermeneutics allows him to discover. The philological process constitutes the first step in an exegesis that proceeds by symbolic transposition to arrive at a doctrinal explanation. In the chapter in the Futūḥāt on fasting, regarding the prayer preparing for the 'Night of Destiny', he cites a tradition reported by Tirmidhī,[61] according to Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī. This recounts that the Prophet prayed with his Companions on the twenty-third night of Ramadan until the end of the first third of the night, then on the twenty-fifth for half the night. On the twenty-seventh night, he called all his people and prayed so long that, according to Abū Dharr, 'we were afraid we would miss al-falāḥ'. When asked about the meaning of al-falāḥ (which generally means happiness), the Companion stated that he understood by this expression al-saḥūr, the meal taken at the end of the night, just before dawn, before beginning the fast. The Shaykh wonders at the expression chosen by Abū Dharr to designate al-saḥūr. Falāḥ, he points out, means permanence (baqāʾ).[62] The return to one of the ancient, pre-Qurʾānic, meanings of falāḥ is a way of plumbing the eschatological and metaphysical depths of the expression. For Ibn ʿArabī, Abū Dharr wished to draw the attention of his hearers to the fact that man is only found in a state of fasting in an accidental way (bi'l-ʿaraḍ), since fasting in its essence belongs only to God and is halted for man with death. In the hereafter, the domain of permanence (baqāʾ), man eats and drinks according to the Qurʾān. The one who is fasting remembers this paradisial permanence at the moment of saḥūr, a word from the same root as saḥar, the last part of the night, just before dawn. This time has a face turned towards the night and another towards the day, symbolising the existential condition of man between the Necessary Being in Itself and not-being, in other words his condition of being possible (mumkin). Even if man becomes endowed with divine qualities, as represented by the fast, he must for ever remember that he is 'permanently' a possible being; as he is reminded by saḥar being called falāḥ. Technically Ibn ʿArabī carries on no differently to most of the Qurʾānic commentators: by first resorting to a meaning established by the language (fī al-lugha) and then by the symbolic drawing together of terms from the same root. But only the acuteness of his metaphysical vision and his doctrine of absolute servanthood allow such a reading of hadith.[63]

The transposition of meaning from an immediate understanding towards a spiritual interpretation is accomplished in many ways, with the aid of the language itself, but also by deduction or by considering the theological or spiritual order. This is the case in the hadith attributed to ʿUkāsha. When the Prophet spoke of the 70,000 who will enter paradise 'without reckoning', ʿUkāsha asked him to pray that he be one of them, which he did. These 70,000 were defined by the Prophet as 'those who neither seek formulas of healing nor practise cauterisation nor read omens, but give themselves up entirely to their Lord'.[64] Regarding those who do not seek formulas of healing (lā yastarqūn), Ibn ʿArabī points out that the Prophet himself practised this type of care, for he is a model for the strong and the weak and a mercy to the world. The fact that the Prophet had recourse to formulas of healing (ruqya) in no way undermines his station, which in itself is unknown to the rest of mankind. 'Those who read not omens' (lā yataṭayyarūn) is explained thus: the bird (ṭāʾir, from which one reads an omen) represents the lot (ḥaẓẓ) which has fallen to each (ṭayyara meaning to divide into lots). These beings have renounced the 'lot' of their souls and occupy themselves solely with the works that God has charged them to do, for Him and not for any reward. They 'do not practise cauterising' (lā yaktawūn) on themselves, for that necessitates fire, and God has protected them, without their knowledge, against the fire. They 'give themselves up to their Lord' (yatawakkalūn), taking God as their attorney (wakīl), 'a median knowledge proceeding from the second aim' (maʿrifa wusṭā jāʾathum min al-qaṣd al-thānī). He comments on this expression:

These men see that God has created things for them, and that He has created themselves for Him. So they take Him as attorney over that which He has created for them, and they devote themselves to that for which God has created them. This attitude constitutes an intermediary rank, above which there is a superior rank which corresponds to the first aim. According to this God created nothing in the whole world except for Himself, that it might glorify Him with His praise, from which we benefit providentially and consequently. The second aim is that of which we have just been speaking: when God created us and subjected to us all that is in the heavens and the earth, He wished that in the human and non-human worlds, there be beings who would subjugate themselves totally to Him and believe that God has a face in everything, which only a true believer may professÖ[65]

The shaykh then explains the relationship between faith and relying upon God (tawakkul). The knowledge of the real being in things requires that we take God as attorney, without concerning ourselves that we entrust to Him what belongs to us as property (milk). Goods are only attributed to man by God as a dependency (istiḥqāq), like a saddle belongs to a mount or the door to a house. The men described in this hadith are not necessarily aware of all the depth implied by their facing, but enter into paradise 'without reckoning', that is without having realised the full cognitive scope of their position as believers, but rather by Divine providence. 'They are not blessed with inner vision, but their acts are comparable to those who do benefit from such a vision.'

Having connected two words from the same root (yataṭayyarūn-tāʾir) or a word and a connected meaning (yaktawūn-tair), Ibn ʿArabī continues with developments of a metaphysical order which lead him to uncover unaccustomed but linguistically acceptable meanings. This is the case of the expression bi-ghayri ḥisāb, occurring often in the Qurʾān and generally understood as 'without any reckoning being demanded of them'. Ibn ʿArabī, faithful to its literal meaning, understands 'without reckoning' as 'without them expecting it', as a pure grace; an interpretation based on kashf, a sure science, not for others but for oneself. Ibn ʿArabī does not write for the community in general but for himself and 'our fellows', according to his own expression, those for whom knowledge arises from within, and who perceive the meaning and metaphysical import of what others only realise through [written] works.

One of the best examples of hadith commentary that Ibn ʿArabī has left us is surely in the 27th and concluding chapter of the Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam on the Muhammadian word. It consists of a commentary on the hadith, 'Three things of your world have been made worthy to me of love: women, perfume and the "freshness of my eye" given in prayer.'[66] The analysis of this text would merit a study in itself, so we will content ourselves by simply recommending it to the reader.[67] We may note simply that the choice of the hadith to illustrate a 'Muhammadian word' shows that this one has for Ibn ʿArabī the status of a revelation and that like the Qurʾān but as a human word, it synthesises the totality of revelations and the previous prophetic words. The study of hadith in the works of Ibn ʿArabī cannot but lead us to the doctrine of Universal Man (al-insān al-kāmil), the intermediary between the created and the uncreated, since hadith is both from the side of the contingent being (ḥādith) and the inspired word, revealed by God, for the Qurʾān names itself ḥadīth. The exceptional importance given to the Sunna, in Islam and by Ibn ʿArabī in particular, as the necessary accomplishment of the Divine Word, resides thus in its unifying and separating function of the Word with two faces, divine and human.


Finally, we might ask ourselves in what way Ibn ʿArabī's views on hadith, their transmission and interpretation, are original to him. On the level of Law he shares with a number of his contemporaries, as well as many others before and since, the idea that a jurist's opinion, however prestigious he may be, can never prevail over the prophetic tradition. By repeatedly affirming the superiority of inspired awareness over that of ordinary scholars, he only expresses the conviction of all masters of taṣawwuf. The importance he accords to the isnād, less as a means of authentification than as a transmission of presence, is certainly not just applicable to him, as is amply demonstrated by the fact that many spiritual masters were equally muḥaddithūn, both in the early days of Sufism as well as in his own.

The role of Ibn ʿArabī, in the domain of hadith as in others, was not to put forward new ideas, but to juxtapose domains which had never previously been considered together, at least not explicitly. He brings together respect for the formal rules of transmission with requirements of seemingly another order, by extolling absolute respect for the literal meaning whilst holding the direct vision of the Prophet as the ideal of perfect transmission, or by underlining the virtue of servanthood which is linked to the very act of transmitting, making the ahl al-ḥadīth, whoever they may be, the true heirs of prophecy.

Has the relationship between the Qurʾān and the Sunna been set out and resolved clearly enough? Certainly theologians and jurists have often placed the authority of both on the same level, there being several Qurʾānic passages which point to this meaning. But have we returned, as does Ibn ʿArabī, to the very source of the inspiration? As we have already said, the status of hadith lies within the scope of his prophetology and thus his hagiography, and raises the question of the complex relationship between prophecy and sainthood.

It is not his way of dealing with any particular point which is his biggest contribution to Muslim thought, but the convergence of his different orientations towards a single axis. Going beyond the opposition between maʿrifa and ʿilm, between inspired knowledge and the knowing of scholars, he links the one to the other, making literal transmission the support of the highest spiritual realisation and khabar the most perfect form of knowledge. Some people, fearing a confusion of levels, have rejected such an undertaking, while others on the contrary have found therein a most fruitful inspiration. To seek the word of God in hadith, which is the word of men, is this not the raison d'Ítre of every religion and every spiritual way?

Translated by Alan Boorman


[1]. William Graham brings up the question in relation to ḥadīth qudsī in his Divine Word and Prophetic Word in Early Islam (n.p., 1977). He quotes the Mishkāt al-anwār of Ibn ʿArabī, which, however, has little or nothing to say on this particular form of hadith.

[2]. On his masters, especially in hadith, see Nyberg, Kleinere Schriften des Ibn al-Arabi (Leiden 1919), pp. 24-6, as well as the list drawn up by Claude Addas in Quest for the Red Sulphur (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 97-100 and 312-14.

[3]. It is striking that Ibn ʿArabī begins the two parts of this work, the books in his library and those circulating in his time, with his résumés or anthologies of hadith. See Kurkīs ʿAwwād, 'Fihrist muʾallafāt Muḥyīddīn Ibn ʿArabī' in Majallat al-Majmaʿ al-ʿilmī al-ʿArabī (Damascus, 1954-55), vols. 29-30, pp. 356 and 527-8.

[4]. For Ibn ʿArabī's particular interest in the Jāmiʿ of Tirmidhī, see Dominique Urvoy, Le monde des Ulémas andalous du VI/XIe au V11 /X111e, p. 139, quoted by Gerald Elmore, Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time (Leiden, 1999), p. 120, n.59.

[5]. Ed. Abū Bakr Mahyūn (Cairo, ah 1369). This collection has been critically edited and translated by Stephen Hirtenstein and Martin Notcutt as Divine Sayings (Oxford, 2004), in which he lists Ibn ʿArabi's works relating to hadith (pp. 10-11), as well as those who transmitted to him, amongst whom we find Abū al-Ṭāhir al-Silafī (p. 108).

[6]. Old classification 5216 and new 4986, 325 fols. The flyleaf bears the isnād previously mentioned. The title page bears the following: al-sifr al-thānī min kitāb al-Maḥajjat al-bayḍāʾ fī al-aḥkām al-sharʿiyya wa al-adab al-rabbāniyya al-thābita ʿan al-nabī ʿalayhi al-salām al-manqūla ʿan al-aʾimmat al-aʿlam ahl al-ʿadāla wa al-riḍā min al-sunan wa al-āthār wa madhāhib ʿulamāʾ al-amṣār mimmā ʿuniya bi-takhrīji-hā wa taṣnīfi-hā al-ʿabd al-faqīr ilā 'llāh taʿālā Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. M. Ibn al-ʿArabī al-Ṭāʾī al-Ḥātimī al-Andalusī bi-ḥaram Makka zāda-hu 'llāh tashrīfan kharraja-hā li-waliyyi-hi al-masʿūd ʿAbd Allāh Badr b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥabashī muʿtaq Abī al-Ghanāʾim b. Abī al-Futūḥ al-Ḥarrānī raḍiya 'llāh ʿan-hum wa ʿan al-muslimīn ajmaʿīn. Further down Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī notes that the work became his property. A note written upwards on the right of the page attests that the work was given as waqf by al-Qūnawī for the library attached to his tomb. We give all this information because the work has since been stolen, along with a hundred or so other manuscripts, including autographed works of Ibn ʿArabī and Qūnawī as well as chancellery letters of the Seljuk period. An incalculable loss.

[7]. See EI2, 'Silafī', 9/630-2 (Claude Gilliot).

[8]. See Fihris no.173, O. Yahya, Histoire et classification, II.394, RG 486. This work should not be confused with the Risālat al-Mubashshirāt (RG 485). There are several manuscripts of the text, which has been edited by Yūsuf al-Nabhānī in his Saʿādat al-dārayn fī al-ṣalāt ʿalā sayyid al-kawnayn (Beirut, n.d.), pp. 472-8. The contents of these visions most often concern the practice of the Sunna.

[9]. On this hadith and its commentary by Ibn ʿArabī, see Michel Chodkiewicz's introduction to Awḥad al-Dīn Balyānī, épitre sur l'Unité absolue (Paris, 1982), pp. 27-31.

[10]. Sakhāwī, al-Maqāṣid al-ḥasana, p. 589, no. 990, and ʿAjlūnī, Kashf al-khafāʾ, II.195, no. 2256. This tradition is quoted by Abū Ṭālib al-Makkī, Qūṭ al-qulūb, I.240, and by Ghazālī in al-Iḥyāʾ, following Sakhāwī, in the form lam yasaʿ-nī, whereas Ibn ʿArabī always uses the accompanying mā wasiʿa-nī.

[11]. Sakhāwī, al-Maqāṣid al-ḥasana, p. 169, no. 188, and ʿAjlūnī, Kashf al-khafāʾ, I.203, no. 614.

[12]. Fut. I.32.

[13]. Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, ʿilm 42, I.40.

[14]. According to tradition, the Prophet on his return from Ṭāʾif, before the Hijra, received a visit from seven Jinn who came from Niṣībīn or Naṣībīn (Nisibe), a Mesopotamian town now in Turkey. See Ibn Hisham, Sīra (Cairo, 1375/1955), I.422; and Ṭabarī, Jāmiʿ al-bayān (Būlāq, n.d.), XXVI.20 (commentary on Q. 46:29).

[15]. Fut. III.49, Chapter 312.

[16]. Fut. I.223, Chapter 36.

[17]. Bukhārī, istiʾdhān 1, VIII 62; Muslim birr wa ṣila 115, commentary by Nawawī, XVI 165; Ibn Ḥanbal, Musnad II 244, 315 etc. Nawawī challenges the authenticity of this variant 'according to the form of the All-Merciful', but Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī seems to allow it (see Fatḥ al-bārī, XI.2). On the various versions and resultant controversies, see Daniel Gimaret, Dieu ‡ l'image de l'homme (Paris, 1997), pp. 123-36.

[18]. Fut. I.223, Chapter 36.

[19]. Fut. I.150, Chapter 14.

[20]. ʿUqlat al-mustawfiz, ed. Nyberg (Leiden, 1919), p. 50.

[21]. Ibn Māja, Sunan, muqaddima 14, ed. M. Fuʾād ʿAbd al-Bāqī, I.74, no. 203, and Wensinck, Indices et concordance (Leiden, 1992), II.552.

[22]. Ibn Ḥanbal, Musnad, III 39 (slightly different version).

[23]. See Fut. I.282, Chapter 55.

[24]. Fut. I.280, Chapter 54.

[25]. At the time of the farewell Pilgrimage, Bukhārī, ʿilm 9, I.27, and Concordance, I.216.

[26]. See Concordance, VII.261.

[27]. One to whom God speaks, or one to whom a hadith is reported.

[28]. Fut. I.229, Chapter 38; see also III.50, Chapter 313.

[29]. See Fut. III.561, Chapter 398.

[30]. We find in the Sunan three versions quite different to this, but with the same meaning. See Ibn Māja, muqaddima 2, hadith 12, I.6; Abū Dāwūd, sunna 5, IV.200; Tirmidhī, ʿilm 10 in Tuḥfat al-aḥwadī, III.374; see also Ibn Ḥanbal, Musnad IV 131, and Concordance, I.57 (arīka). In his commentary on Tirmidhī, Tuḥfat al-aḥwadī, Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Mubārakpūrī adds: 'Dārimī reports according to Yaḥyā b. Kathīr: ìGabriel caused the Sunna to descend just as he caused the Qurʾān to descendî. This is also quoted in the Durr [al-manthūr of Suyūṭī] as well as by al-Qārī in the Mirqāt.' The commentator is referring to Dārimī, Sunan, muqaddima 49 (I.144-5), bāb al-sunna qāḍiya ʿalā kitāb Allāh ('the authority of the Sunna prevails over the book of God'), who begins by quoting this hadith (the same version as Ibn Māja, who reports it from al-Miqdām b. Maʿdīkarib al-Kindī). He adds these words attributed to Yaḥyā b. Abī Kathīr by al-Awzaʿī: 'The Sunna prevails over the Qurʾān and not the reverse', and the words of Ḥassān, also according to al-Awzaʿī: 'Gabriel caused the Sunna to descend just as he caused the Qurʾān to descend.' This tradition is reported by Dārimī, Sunan, muqaddima 49 (I.145) as a hadith from Ḥassān (b. ʿAtiyya al-Muḥāribī), a Follower of the Followers from Syria (d. between ah 20-30), according to Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, Tahdhīb al-tahdhīb (Hyderabad, ah 1325, repr. Beirut), II.251. In support he also quotes Saʿīd b. Jubayr who, having reported a hadith, was objected to by a companion: 'In the Book of God there is something which contradicts that.' Saʿīd replied: 'I bring you a saying of the Prophet and you oppose it with the book of God? The Envoy of God, peace and grace be upon him, knows God's book better than you!' These three traditions from the generation following the Companions show that the status of the prophetic word was already a preoccupation of the first scholars of Islam. The position they demonstrate is clearly not limited to matters of jurisprudence.

[31]. See Fut. III.561, Chapter 398.

[32]. Fut. III.561, Chapter 398. We may compare Ibn ʿArabī's point of view on the relative difference between the Qurʾān and the hadith with that of Imām al-Haramayn al-Juwaynī, quoted by Suyūṭī in al-Itqān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān (Cairo, 1370/1951), I.44: 'The revealed word of God (kalām Allāh al-munzal or al-munazzal) is of two kinds. According to the first, God says to Gabriel: ìTell the prophet to whom you are sent: 'God says to you: do such and such a thing, order such a thing'.î Having understood what his Lord said to him, Gabriel descends to bring it to the Prophet and repeats to him what his Lord has said. The way of expression is not necessarily the same, like a king might say to his confidant: ìSay to so-and-so: 'dedicate yourself to my service and gather your army for combat'.î If the messenger says ìThe king says: 'do not neglect my service, do not let your army be dispersed and urge it to fight',î this cannot be described as a lie or as a lack in the transmission of the message. According to the second, God says to Gabriel: ìrecite (iqraʾ) this written word (kitāb) to the Prophetî. Gabriel then descends to bring a word from God without changing anything, just as a king writes a letter (kitāb), gives it to a trustworthy man and tells him: ìread this to so-and-soî, which he does without changing a word or even a letter.'

In contrast to Ibn ʿArabī, Suyūṭī draws from this distinction an argument in favour of the transmission of hadith according to meaning and not word. He adds that certain early scholars, such as al-Zuhrī, are of the same opinion. The latter, when questioned on revelation (waḥy), defined it as 'Öthat which God reveals to one of His prophets and which he confirms in his heart. The latter then transmits it orally and in writing; it is the word of God. There is also a revelation that the prophet does not transmit in writing, which he writes for no one and which he orders not to be written, but which he relates to men (yuḥaddithu bi-hi al-nās ḥadīthan), at the same time making them know that it is God who has ordered him to explain it to men and to transmit it to them.'

[33]. Fut. I.230, Chapter 38.

[34]. Ibid.

[35]. This is the same expression as is used for ḥadīth qudsī.

[36]. Fut. I.31.

[37]. See Fut. II.563, Chapter 263, trans. by Michel V‚lsan in études Traditionelles (1996), vols. 396-7, pp. 206-12.

[38]. These Qurʾānic expressions (see Q. 102:5-7) were used as technical terms in taṣawwuf. For their meaning in Ibn ʿArabī, see the references quoted by Suʿād Ḥakīm, al-Muʿjam al-ṣūfī (Beirut, 1981), pp. 1250-2.

[39]. Fut. I.150, Chapter14. This passage precedes the one quoted previously, where doubt is thrown on judgements of non-authenticity or authenticity in the case of a great many hadith.

[40]. Quoted by William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn ʿArabī's Metaphysics of Imagination (Albany, NY, 1989), pp. 251-2.

[41]. See particularly Bukhārī, badʾ al-waḥy 2: 'O Envoy of God, how does the revelation come to you?' 'Sometimes it comes to me as the ringing of a bell, and this is the most trying for me. When it breaks off, I have retained what was said. Sometimes the angel takes the form of a man: he speaks to me and I retain what he told me.'

[42]. According to Sakhāwī, following his master Ibn Hajar, this hadith has no basis (lā aṣla lahu) (see al-Maqāṣid al-ḥasana (Beirut, 1985), p. 459, no.702). According to al-ʿAjlūnī, however, several later authors, such as Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī or Ibn Qudāma al-Maqdisī, regard it as a word of the Prophet (ḥadīth marfūʿ); see Kashf al-khafāʾ, II.64, no.1744.

[43]. On the madhhab of Ibn ʿArabī, see Michel Chodkiewicz, Un Océan sans rivage (Paris, 1992), pp. 76-80.

[44]. Fut. I.706, Chapter 72, on pilgrimage, fī waqt jawāz al-ṭawāf.

[45]. Ibn ʿArabī completely rejects any idea that he belongs to a particular madhhab. He states this forcefully in several places, in particular in his poetry:

'They link me to Ibn Ḥazm, but I am not one of those who say ìIbn Ḥazm saidî.

No, neither him nor any other. I profess the text of the Book – such is my science.

Or else: the Envoy says, or yet again, all join me in saying – such is my judgement.' (Dīwān, Būlāq, p. 47). See M. Chodkiewicz, Océan, p. 78.

[46]. See Fut. II.302, Chapter 177, where he mentions Ibn Ḥazm's detailed account of the divine Names, based on authentic hadith, according to the Shaykh. He reports this information from ʿAlī b. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Firyābī, from ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Ishbīlī, from Shurayḥ al-Ruʿaynī, from Ibn Ḥazm.

[47]. A hadith on the pilgrimage reported by Ibn Ḥazm in the Muḥallā, with an isnād, is quoted in Fut. I.747. We know from elsewhere that, when in Damascus, Ibn ʿArabī lent his own copy of the Muḥallā to ʿIzz al-Dīn Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām (see Gerald Elmore, The Fabulous Gryphon Leiden, 1998, p. 45, n.170).

[48]. Quoted by G. Elmore, Ibid. p. 42, n.156; see O. Yahya, Histoire, p. 307, n.275.

[49]. Ibn ʿArabī received this polemical work from a Tunisian, who had it from Shurayḥ al-Ruʿaynī (Elmore, p. 47, n.178). I. Goldziher notes a manuscript of Ibn ʿArabī's summary in Gotha no. 640 (The Zahiris: Their doctrine and their History, Leiden, 1971, pp. 170-1).

[50]. Fut. II.519, Chapter 223; see also K. al-Mubashshirāt, pp. 473-4: 'I saw in a dream the Envoy of God – on him be grace and peace – embrace the imam, the traditionist Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī b. Aḥmad b. Saʿīd Ibn Ḥazm, the author of the Muḥallā, who was an imam in the field of hadith, knowledgeable and putting it into practice. Light enveloped the person of the Envoy of God and that of Ibn Ḥazm, so that they became one, as one body. This was through the blessing of hadith.'

[51]. See for example Fut. III.68-70, Chapter 318, eloquently entitled 'On the station of the abrogation of the Muhammadian and non-Muhammadian law by individual self-interest' (fī manzil naskh al-sharīʿa al-Muḥammadiyya wa ghayr al-Muḥammadiyya bi-l-aghrād al-nafsiyya). This chapter has been translated by Cyrille Chodkiewicz in Ibn ʿArabī, Meccan Revelations, vol. 2 (New York, 2004), pp. 77-85. Two visions reported in the Mubashshirāt also show this attitude towards the fuqahāʾ.

[52]. See Ibn Khallikān, Wafayāt al-aʿyān, VII.1, quoted by Elmore, Gryphon, p. 45.

[53]. Fut. II.162, Chapter 88, on 'the basis of legal rulings' (uṣūl aḥkām al-sharʿ), trans. C. Chodkiewicz, Meccan Revelations, vol. 2, pp. 62-76. These passages are also quoted, but without references, by Maḥmūd M. Ghurāb, al-Fiqh ʿinda al-Shaykh al-Akbar Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-ʿArabī (Damascus, 1401/1981), pp. 56-60.

[54]. Of angels, al-malaʾ al-aʿlā.

[55]. We have not managed to find the origin of this tradition.

[56]. Fut. I.95.

[57]. In the Būlāq edn, I.122 (2nd edn in 8 volumes): 'Between two of the fingers of the All-Merciful (Raḥmān); He turns it as He wills'; see Muslim, Saḥīḥ, qadar 7 (Istanbul, 1329 ah), VIII.51: 'All the hearts of the sons of Adam are found between two of the fingers of the All-Merciful, as a single heart; He turns it wherever He wishes'; or Ibn Māja, Sunan, muqadimma 13, I.72, hadith no. 199: 'There is no heart that is not found between two of the fingers of the All-Merciful; if He wishes, He sets it aright; if He wishes, He leads it astray.'

[58]. See Tirmidhī, Jāmiʿ daʿawāt, 89 with the commentary Tuḥfat al-aḥwadī, IV.266: 'Ö I would ask Umm Salama: ìO mother of the believers, what was the most frequent invocation of the Envoy of God when he was with you?î ìHis most frequent invocation,î she replied, ìwas: O You who are the turner of hearts, strengthen my heart in Your religion.î She added: ìI asked him: how is it that your most frequent invocation is 'O You'? 'O, Umm Salama,' he replied, 'there is no man whose heart is not to be found between two of the fingers of God. He whom He wishes, He sets aright, he whom He wishes He misleads.'î' For other references to the hadith, see Concordance, V.459.

[59]. Ibn ʿArabī then mentions variants of this hadith.

[60]. Fut. I.95-6.

[61]. Jāmiʿ, commentary Tuḥfat al-aḥwadī, II.72-3. For other versions see Concordance, V.196.

[62]. This is one of the meanings given by the Lisān al-ʿArab (repr. Būlāq), III.380-1, which cites in support an expression such as falāḥ al-dahr ('for ever and ever'), two lines of pre-Islamic poetry and the hadith of Abū Dharr.

[63]. See Fut. I.660.

[64]. Bukhārī, Saḥīḥ, ṭibb 17, 42 and Concordance, II.292.

[65]. This whole passage can be found in Fut. III.219-20, Chapter 348.

[66]. Nasāʾī, Sunan, ʿishrat al-nisāʾ 1 (Cairo, 1348/1930, repr. Beirut), VII.61-2; Ibn Ḥanbal, Musnad, III 128, 285.

[67]. Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam, ed. Abū al-ʿAlāʾ ʿAfīfī (Cairo, 1365/1946), pp. 214-26; French trans. as La Sagesse des proph`tes by Titus Burckhardt (Paris, 1955), pp. 181-206, or Le livre des chatons des sagesses by Charles-André Gilis (Beirut, 1418-9/1997-8), II.687-713; and English trans. as The Bezels of Wisdom by R.W.J. Austin (London, 1980), pp. 272-84.