A Letter to Imām al-Rāzī
Translated by Mohammed Rustom 1
Over five decades ago, Michel Vâlsan produced a French translation of Ibn ʿArabī’s important letter to the famous theologian and philosopher Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d.606/1210). Since then, it has been translated into Persian twice, and parts of it have been translated and/or discussed in passing by a number of scholars, including William Chittick, Franz Rosenthal, Nasrollah Pourjavady, and Ayman Shihadeh. However, we still lack a complete English translation of this text, whose overall message is very much pertinent to the modern situation. I therefore offer here, for the first time in English, a translation of Ibn ʿArabī’s letter to Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī.
Thanks to the MIAS, a number of manuscript copies of Ibn ʿArabī’s letter to Rāzī, dated from 690/1291 to 950/1543, are in my possession. Upon close examination, one discovers that there are no substantial textual differences amongst these manuscripts and the various printed editions of the letter. On account of this fact, and since Maḥmūd Ghurāb’s text is the most widely available, I have based my translation of the letter on his edition. I have nevertheless drawn attention to the few noteworthy (albeit minor) instances in which the three earliest (and most authentic) manuscripts of the letter differ with Ghurāb’s reading.
In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the Compassionate
This is the letter by the master, the leader, the firmly rooted in knowledge, the unique, the verifier (muḥaqqiq), the unveiler of reality (kāshif al-ḥaqīqa), the reviver of the community and the religion, Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. al-ʿArabī al-Ṭāʾī al-Andalusī al-Maghribī (God sanctify his soul); to the leader, the learned, the adept, the erudite, the pride of the community and the religion, Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Khaṭīb al-Rāzī (God grant him peace and make Paradise his abode).
Praise is for God and peace be upon His chosen servants, and upon my dear friend in God, Fakhr al-Dīn Muḥammad (God elevate his aspiration (himma) and shower His mercy and blessings upon him).
Now, to proceed: Before you I praise God, other than whom there is no God. The Messenger of God (God bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘When one of you loves his brother, let him know about it.’ And I love you. God says, [those who] exhort one another to truth [Q.103:3].
I have come across some of your writings, and [have witnessed] the imaginative faculty (al-quwwa al-mutakhayyila) with which God has assisted you and the sound thinking that it evinces. When a soul seeks nourishment through its own acquisition (kasb) it does not find the sweetness of generosity (jūd) and bestowal (wahb), and is amongst those who eat from beneath themselves. But a spiritual man (rajul) is one who eats from above himself, as He says, Had they observed the Torah and the Gospel and that which was sent down unto them from their Lord, they would surely have received nourishment from above them and from beneath their feet [Q.5:66].
My friend (God grant him success) should know that the complete inheritance (al-wirātha al-kāmila) is that which is [complete] in every respect, not in some respects, for ‘The knowers are the heirs of the prophets.’ An intelligent person (ʿāqil) should strive to be an heir in every respect and not be deficient in aspiration. My friend (God grant him success) already knows that the beauty of the human subtle reality (al-laṭīfa al-insāniyya) can only be [attained] through the divine knowledge (al-maʿārif al-ilāhiyya) that it bears, while its ugliness is the opposite of this.
A person with lofty aspirations (ʿālī al-himma) should not waste his life with contingent things (muḥdathāt) and their exposition, lest his share from his Lord escape him. He should also free himself from the authority of his reflection (fikr), for reflection can only know from its own point of reference; but the truth that is sought after is not that.
Knowledge of God is contrary to knowledge of God’s existence. For the intellect knows God insofar as He is existent and by way of negation (salb), not affirmation (ithbāt). This is contrary to the [view of the] majority of sound-minded people (ʿuqalāʾ) and the theologians (mutakallimīn), except our master (ustādh) Abū Ḥāmid (God sanctify his spirit), for he is with us on this issue.
God (great and glorious) is too exalted to be known by the intellect’s [powers of] reflection and rational consideration (naẓar). An intelligent person should empty his heart of reflection when he wants to know God by way of witnessing (mushāhada). The one with high aspiration should not learn this [kind of knowledge] from the world of imagination (ʿālam al-khayāl), which contains embodied lights (al-anwār al-mutajassada) that point to meanings beyond them. For imagination causes intellectual meanings (al-maʿānī al-ʿaqliyya) to descend into sensory forms (al-qawālib al-ḥissiyya), just as knowledge [appears] in the form of milk, the Quran in the form of a rope, and religion in the form of a shackle.
A person with lofty aspirations should not have, as his teacher and witness, a female (muʾannath) who is given to taking from the Universal Soul (al-nafs al-kulliyya), just as he should not be given to taking [something] from one who is, fundamentally, poor (faqīr). Whatever does not have perfection except through what is other than itself is poor. Such is the condition of everything other than God (exalted is He). Thus, elevate your aspiration so that you only take knowledge from God by way of unveiling (kashf)!
According to the verifiers (muḥaqqiqīn), there is no agent (fāʿil) but God, and for this reason they only take [knowledge] from God – however, by way of ‘knotting’ (ʿaqd), not unveiling. But the people of God (ahl Allāh), disdaining to subsist in the knowledge of certainty [Q.102:5], do not attain their goal except through arrival (wuṣūl) at the eye of certainty [Q.102:7].
Know that when the people of reflection attain the furthermost goal, their reflection takes them to the state of being deaf imitators. But the matter is too exalted for it to halt at reflection! So long as there is reflection, it will be impossible for one to repose and be at rest. The intellect has a limit at which it halts with respect to its reflective powers, for it has the quality of receiving [only] what God bestows upon it. Therefore, an intelligent person should expose himself to the divine breaths of generosity (nafaḥāt al-jūd) and not remain enslaved by the shackle of his rational consideration and learning (kasb), for he is liable to doubt (shubha) because of these.
It has been reported to me from one of your brothers – whom I trust, and who is amongst those sincerely disposed towards you – that he saw you weeping one day, and so he and those present asked you why you were weeping. You replied, ‘A position to which I have adhered for the past thirty years has become clear to me thanks to a proof which has just dawned upon me. [It turns out that] the [truth of the] matter is contrary to my previous position. So I cried and said to myself, “perhaps that which has occurred to me is also like the first position!”’ This, then, is what you said.
It is impossible for the one who knows through the scope (martaba) of the intellect and reflection to be at rest or tranquil, especially when it comes to knowing God; and it is impossible for him to know His quiddity (māhiyya) by way of rational consideration. So, my brother, what ails you that you remain in this predicament and not enter upon the path (ṭarīq) of self-discipline (riyāḍa), inner struggle (mujāhada), and spiritual retreat (khalwa) – which have been instituted by the Messenger of God (God bless him and grant him peace) – so that you can attain what was attained by the one about whom God said, [a servant] from among Our servants whom We had granted a mercy from Us and whom We had taught knowledge from Our Presence [Q.18:65]? It is indeed the likes of you who [should] take up this noble function and majestic and lofty rank.
My friend (God grant him success) should know that every existent (mawjūd) exists by virtue of a cause (sabab). That cause is temporally originated (muḥdath) like the existent thing, which has two aspects: an aspect that looks towards its cause, and an aspect that looks towards its Existentiator (mūjid), namely God. All of the [common] people, philosophers, and others look towards the causes of existent things. But not those who are realized amongst the folk of God (ahl Allāh), such as the prophets (anbiyāʾ), the friends of God (awliyāʾ), and the angels (malāʾika) (upon whom be peace). Despite their knowledge of the causes [of existent things], they look towards the other aspect, to their Existentiator.
Amongst them is one who looks to his Lord from the perspective of His cause but not from His perspective. Thus he says, ‘My heart narrated to me from my Lord.’ But the other one, who is perfect (kāmil), says, ‘My Lord narrated to me.’ It is this to which our gnostic (ʿārif) companion alluded when he said, ‘You take your knowledge as traces, dead from the dead. But we take our knowledge from the Living One who does not die.’ According to us, he whose existence is derived from other than himself is nothing. So for the gnostic, there is absolutely none to rely upon except God.
Moreover, my friend should know that even though God is one, He has many different faces (wujūh) turned towards to us. Thus, be wary of the places of divine arrival (al-mawārid al-ilāhiyya) and the self-disclosures (tajalliyāt) of the faces in the sense discussed here! God’s ruling property (ḥukm) insofar as He is a Lord for you is not like His ruling property insofar as He is Guardian, nor is His ruling property insofar as He is Merciful like His ruling property insofar as He is Vengeful. Such is the case with all of the divine names (asmāʾ).
Know that the divine face, namely ‘Allāh,’ is a name for all of the names, such as Lord, the Powerful, and the Grateful. The sum total of the names are like the Essence (dhāt) which brings together all of the attributes (ṣifāt) contained in It. But the name Allāh takes in all of the names, while they guard it from ever being witnessed. Thus, you cannot witness the name Allāh in any way whatsoever. Since He addresses you through the name Allāh – as it is all-comprehensive (jāmiʿa) – consider in what manner He speaks to you, and the station (maqām) that this intimate discourse (munājāt) or witnessing demands. So consider which divine name is looked upon, for that is the name which addresses you or is witnessed by you. That name is what is expressed by the transmutation in forms (al-taḥawwul fī l-ṣūra), as is the case with a drowning man. When he says ‘O Allāh!,’ it means, ‘O Helper!,’ ‘O Rescuer!,’ and ‘O Deliverer!’ And when a man who is in pain says ‘O Allāh!,’ it means, ‘O Healer!,’ ‘O Curer!,’ and the like.
That which I said to you about the ‘transmutation in forms’ [refers to] what Muslim [d.261/875] has mentioned in his Ṣaḥīḥ, namely that the Creator (bāriʾ) will disclose Himself [to His servants on the day of Resurrection] but will be denied, and refuge will be sought from Him. So He will transmute Himself for them into a form in which they will recognize Him. Then they will acknowledge Him after having denied Him. This is what is meant by ‘witnessing’ in this context, as well as ‘intimate discourse’ and ‘divine addressing’ (al-mukhāṭabāt al-rabbāniyya).
An intelligent person should only seek to know that through which his essence is perfected and which will depart with him when he departs. And this is nothing but knowledge of God by way of bestowal (wahb) and witnessing. Your knowledge of medicine, for example – you only need it in a world where there is illness and sickness. When you depart to a world in which there is neither sickness nor illness, whom will you cure with that knowledge? An intelligent person does not strive [to know medicine] insofar as there is no wellbeing [in it] for him. And if he acquires [knowledge of medicine] by way of bestowal, as was the medical knowledge (ṭibb) of the prophets (upon whom be peace), he should not stop there. Rather, he should seek knowledge of God. Likewise is the case with geometry – you only need it in a world where there are surfaces (misāḥa). When you depart, you will leave it in the world appropriate to it, for the soul will leave empty-handed (sādhija), accompanied by nothing. In this way will the soul leave behind preoccupation with every science at the time of its departing to the next world (ʿālam al-ākhira).
Thus, an intelligent person should only acquire knowledge that is absolutely necessary (al-ḥāja al-ḍarūriyya) for him. Let him, then, strive to acquire that with which he will depart when he is made to depart. This is nothing other than two types of knowledge, specifically speaking: knowledge of God, and knowledge of the homesteads of the next life (mawāṭin al-ākhira) and what is demanded by its stations (maqāmāt) so that he may walk therein as though he would walk in his own home, thus denying absolutely nothing. For he should be one of the people of gnosis (ʿirfān), not one of the people of denial (nukrān)! These homesteads [of the next life] are homesteads of distinguishing (tamyīz), not homesteads of admixing (imtizāj), which bestow error. When he attains this station [of the homesteads of the next life], he will be free from being distinguished by that group [in the aforementioned ḥadīth] who, when their Lord discloses Himself to them, will say, ‘We seek refuge in God from you! You are not our Lord. We will wait until our Lord comes to us.’ And when He comes to them in the form in which they recognize Him, they will acknowledge Him. There is no state of perplexity (ḥayra) greater than that!
An intelligent person should discover these two [aforementioned] types of knowledge by way of self-discipline, inner struggle (mujāhada), and spiritual retreat under specific conditions (ṭarīqa mashrūṭa). I wanted to discuss, step-by-step, the spiritual retreat, its conditions, and what is disclosed in it, but the present moment (waqt) prevents me. I mean by ‘present moment’ the scholars of evil (ʿulamāʾ al-sūʾ) who deny that of which they are ignorant, and who are shackled by bigotry (taʿaṣṣub) as well as love of publicity and leadership on account of their obedience and submissiveness to God, even though they do not have faith (īmān)!
This is the last part of the letter. God suffices, and praise is His – firstly and lastly, inwardly and outwardly. Prayers upon His Prophet, in gratitude and remembrance.
1. This slightly modified translation originally appeared as part of a larger study: ‘Ibn ʿArabī’s Letter to Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī: A Study and Translation,’ Oxford Journal of Islamic Studies 25, no. 2 (2014): 113–37. Special thanks go to Stephen Hirtenstein and Ayman Shihadeh for their helpful suggestions and comments.
2. See Michel Vâlsan (trans.), ‘Épître adressée à l’imâm Fakhru-d-Dîn ar-Râzî,’ Études Traditionnelles 366–7 (1961): 246–53.
3. See Taqqī Tafaḍḍulī, ‘Barrasī wa-taḥqīq dar bāra-yi nāma-yi Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī ba-Imām Fakhr-i Rāzī,’ Maqālāt wa-Barrasī-hā 19, no. 2 (1975): 146–88; Mīrzā Faḍl Allāh Kurdistānī (trans.), ‘Risāla ilā al-Imām al-Rāzī,’ in Ibn ʿArabī, Rasāʾil Ibn ʿArabī, ed. Najīb Māyil Hirawī (Tehran: Intishārāt-i Mawlā, 1997), pp. 181–92.
4. Chittick, In Search of the Lost Heart: Explorations in Islamic Thought, eds. Mohammed Rustom, Atif Khalil, and Kazuyo Murata (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012), pp. 103; 348, n. 12.
5. Rosenthal, ‘Ibn ʿArabī Between “Philosophy” and “Mysticism”,’ Oriens 31 (1988): 1–35, at 21–2.
6. Pourjavady, Dū mujaddid: pizhūhish-hāʾī dar bāra-yi Muḥammad-i Ghazzālī wa-Fakhr-i Rāzī (Tehran: Markaz-i Nashr-i Dānishgāhī, 2002), pp. 473–5.
7. Shihadeh, ‘The Mystic and the Sceptic in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī,’ in Ayman Shihadeh (ed.), Sufism and Theology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007): pp. 101–22, at p. 102.
8. I list them in chronological order: (1) Shehit Ali 1351 (c.690/1291), fols. 240a–1a; (2) Ayasofia 2063 (c.703/1303 or 708/1308), fols. 69a–73a; (3) Shehit Ali 1341 (724/1324), fols. 146b–8a; (4) Ayasofia 4875 (c.753/1352), fols. 203b–5b; (5) Veliyuddin 1826 (c.824/1421), fols. 43b–5a; (6) Shehit Ali 1342 (c.837/1433), fols. 204b–5a; (7) Shehit Ali 1344 (c.949/1542), fols. 176a–7b; (8) Fatih 5332 (c.950/1543), fols. 109b–10a. The remaining fourteen mss. in the MIAS archives are all of late provenance, i.e., c.900/1494 to 1333/1914. I also have (9) a copy of a ms. of the letter (similar to the others in my possession, most notably Shehit Ali 1344) that was given to me by Atif Khalil in the Fall of 2010, who received it from the personal library of Shaykh Maḥmūd Abū’l-Hudā al-Ḥusaynī of Aleppo.
9. Ibn ʿArabī, ‘Risāla ilā Imām al-Rāzī,’ in Ibn ʿArabī, Rasāʾil, ed. Maḥmūd Ghurāb (Beirut: Dār Ṣādir, 1997), pp. 239–43.
10. That is, Shehit Ali 1351, Ayasofia 2063, and Shehit Ali 1341, which respectively correspond to numbers (1), (2), and (3) in n. 8 above.
11. The terms muḥaqqiqūn (pl. of muḥaqqiq) and kashf (the noun from which the active participle kāshif derives) come up in the context of the letter. See n. 34 and n. 33 respectively.
12. For the nature and provenance of the various titles, names, and nisbas associated with Ibn ʿArabī, see Stephen Hirtenstein, ‘Manuscripts of Ibn ʿArabī’s Works: Names and Titles of Ibn [al-]ʿArabī,’ Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabi Society 41 (2007): 109–29.
13. Lit. ‘The soil of his grave be watered.’
14. Tirmidhī, Zuhd 54.
15. This verse and the one preceding it read: ‘Truly mankind is in loss, save those who believe, perform righteous deeds, exhort one another to truth, and exhort one another to patience.’
16. Spiritual stations (maqāmāt) are earned through human effort (makāsib), while spiritual states (aḥwāl) are bestowed upon one directly by God (mawāhib). Here, Ibn ʿArabī is relating this distinction to a more general discussion concerning knowledge of God – one can either come to know God through his own intellectual efforts, or God can cause him to know Him directly from Himself (i.e., without any intermediary). In this sense, knowledge that is bestowed upon one by God, which Ibn ʿArabī will advocate to Rāzī throughout the letter, is a synonym for ‘unveiling’ (kashf) and ‘tasting’ (dhawq), although that does not necessarily preclude the need for human effort. See Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Metaphysics of Imagination (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), p. 222. For Rāzī’s understanding of the same phenomenon, see n. 45.
17. For Ibn ʿArabī as well as many other Sufis, the technical term rajul (pl. rijāl) is a synonym for the realized Sufis or the people of God (ahl Allāh), and can equally apply to men and women. See Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Cosmology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), p. 400, n. 24; Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 395, n. 16; Sachiko Murata, The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), pp. 266–8.
18. Tirmidhī, ʿIlm 19.
19. This is a reference to the soul (nafs). I take the translation of this term from Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 159.
20. In strictly-speaking theological and philosophical contexts, muḥdathāt (pl. of muḥdath) refers to ‘originated things,’ and can alternatively be translated as ‘contingent things’ on the logic that all things that are originated are contingent. It can also be noted here that Shehit Ali 1351, Ayasofia 2063, and Shehit Ali 1341 have maʿrifa before muḥdathāt, thus rendering the construction, ‘in knowing novelties.’
21. That is, al-Ghazālī (d.505/1111). For Ibn ʿArabī’s view of Ghazālī, see Binyamin Abrahamov, Ibn al-ʿArabī and the Sufis (Oxford: Anqa Publishing, 2014), pp. 117–34. There is also an excellent unpublished paper on the topic by Abdel Baki Meftah, ‘al-Ghazālī fī naẓar al-shaykh al-akbar Muḥyī al-Dīn b. al-ʿArabī.’
22. Cf. the famous saying of Abū Saʿīd al-Kharrāz (d.c.286/899) (which has many cognates in earlier Islamic thought), ‘None knows God but God.’ Ibn ʿArabī tells us elsewhere that Ghazālī was amongst those who adhered to this principle. See Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 62.
23. Lit. ‘by the intellect with its [powers of] reflection and rational consideration (naẓar).’ For Ibn ʿArabī’s understanding of these terms and their limitations in knowing God, see Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, pp. 159–66, as well as the discussion throughout Rosenthal, ‘Ibn ʿArabī between “Philosophy” and “Mysticism”.’
24. For Ibn ʿArabī, mushāhada is a near synonym for kashf or ‘unveiling’ (for which, see n. 33). For one of his definitions of mushāhada, see Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 227.
25. Despite the exalted status of imagination, for the one who aspires to know God, imaginal forms can be a distraction. This seems to be the basis of Ibn ʿArabī’s caution to Rāzī. Also consider this passage from al-Futūḥāt al-makkiyya (Beirut: Dār Ṣādir, 1968), 3:361: ‘Yet in spite of this tremendous wideness by which it exercises its properties over all things, imagination is incapable of receiving meanings disengaged from substrata as they are in themselves…. Hence imagination is the wide/narrow, while God is the “Wide” absolutely’ (cited, with slight modifications, from Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 122). For Ibn ʿArabī’s treatment of imagination, see, inter alia, Chittick (trans.), ‘The World of Imagination,’ in Ibn ʿArabī, The Meccan Revelations, ed. Michel Chodkiewicz (New York: Pir Press, 2002–4), 1:170–80; Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, chap. 7; Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Ṣūfism of Ibn ʿArabī (trans. Ralph Manheim; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), part 2; Ibn ʿArabī, Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam (Cairo: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Kutub al-ʿArabiyya, 1946), pp. 99–106; Toshihiko Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 7–22.
26. One of the properties of imagination is that it causes spiritual meanings to become corporealized. By the same token, it also allows corporeal forms to become spiritualized.
27. A reference to a ḥadīth (Bukhārī, Taʿbīr 15) in which the Prophet interprets the milk given to him in a dream (which he drinks and also gives to ʿUmar to drink) as symbolizing knowledge.
28. Cf. Q.3:103, where the ‘rope of God’ is understood to be a reference to the Quran. See Caner Dagli’s commentary upon this verse in Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Caner Dagli, Maria Dakake, Joseph Lumbard, and Mohammed Rustom (eds.), The Study Quran: A New Translation with Commentary (New York: HarperOne, in press).
29. In Bukhārī, Taʿbīr 26, a shackle seen in a dream is said to symbolize firm-footedness (thabāt) in religion. It can also be noted that at Futūḥāt, 3:361 (translated in Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 122), Ibn ʿArabī makes a point similar to what is found in this paragraph.
30. ‘Witness’ (shāhid) is absent from Shehit Ali 1351, Ayasofia 2063, and Shehit Ali 1341.
31. Ibn ʿArabī is alluding here to his earlier point concerning what is meant by being a man or rajul (see n. 17). In Islamic cosmology, the Universal Soul is feminine, as it is purely passive, whereas the Intellect (ʿaql) is masculine, as it is purely active. These terms are synonymous with two other symbols met with in theoretical Sufism and later Islamic philosophy, namely the Tablet (derived from Q.85:22) and the Pen (derived from Q.68:1) respectively: the Pen ‘acts’ on the Tablet by writing upon it. See Murata, The Tao of Islam, pp. 153–8. The point Ibn ʿArabī is thus making is that the person seeking God should take his knowledge and testimony from someone who is spiritually ‘virile’ (i.e., who is active and can give), not someone who is spiritually ‘non-virile’ (i.e., who is passive and can only receive).
32. For Ibn ʿArabī, all attributes at root belong to God (see, for example, Futūḥāt, 3:147). Unlike God, who is Absolute Being, we possess a relative type of being, but one which is fundamentally characterized by non-existence (ʿadam). For an explanation of this point, see Mohammed Rustom, ‘Philosophical Sufism,’ in Richard Taylor and Luis López-Farjeat (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Islamic Philosophy (New York: Routledge, in press). See also Ibn ʿArabī, Futūḥāt, 4:263, as well as the pertinent discussion in Denis Gril, ‘Ibn ʿArabī et les catégories,’ in Dominik Perler and Ulrich Rudolph (eds.), Logik und Theologie: Das Organon im arabischen und im lateinischen Mittelalter (Leiden: Brill, 2005): pp. 147–66.
33. The literal rendering of this sentence slightly obscures the point at hand, ‘Thus, elevate your aspiration so that you do not take knowledge except from God by way of unveiling (kashf).’ By kashf or ‘unveiling,’ Ibn ʿArabī is referring to knowledge taught directly by God, without the need of human, intellectual effort (see also the note on ʿilm ladunī in n. 45). Since Ibn ʿArabī insists that it is only kashf that can bring about true knowledge of God, he is famously known for having said, ‘He who has no unveiling has no knowledge’ (Futūḥāt, 1:218; cited in Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 170).
34. Normally, Ibn ʿArabī reserves the term muḥaqqiq for a Sufi who is thoroughly realized in his knowledge of God. Here, however, he is using the term in the sense of one who is realized in the intellectual sciences such that he is able to (at least theoretically) relate all things back to God.
35. Ibn ʿArabī seems to be implying that although the verifiers in question understand God as the sole agent or efficient cause (fāʿil) and can thus relate all manner of secondary causation back to Him, their understanding of the actual situation remains merely theoretical. Since the ʿ-q-l root connotes the idea of shackling a camel, Ibn ʿArabī likes to relate this point to the finite nature of the intellect (ʿaql) – the intellect can only tie down and ‘knot’ (from the ʿ-q-d root) that which can come under its purview, and is therefore ultimately confined in what it can know. That is to say that the intellect can come to know that there is no agent but God, but can only do so by virtue of a knowledge which is ultimately fettered by its own limitations.
36. For the identity of the ‘people of God,’ see n. 17. It should be noted that Shehit Ali 1351 and Ayasofia 2063 read ‘people of aspiration’ (ahl al-himma), while Shehit Ali 1341 gives it as an alternative to ahl Allāh.
37. The Quran also speaks of ‘the truth of certainty’ (56:95). Generally, these three terms are taken to refer to the different levels of realization of certainty in God. Thus, ‘the knowledge of certainty’ is tantamount to hearing of a fire, ‘the eye of certainty’ to seeing the fire, and ‘the truth of certainty’ to being consumed by the fire (see Joseph Lumbard’s commentary upon Q.56:95 in Nasr et al. (eds.), The Study Quran). In this passage, Ibn ʿArabī treats ‘the knowledge of certainty’ as a synonym for knowledge afforded to one by means of reflection and rational consideration, and ‘the eye of certainty’ as a synonym for knowledge acquired by way of unveiling. See also Futūḥāt, 2:628.
38. Shehit Ali 1351, Ayasofia 2063, and Shehit Ali 1341 have the subject here as ʿaql, thus rendering the sentence as, ‘So long as there is reflection, it will be impossible for the intellect to repose and be at rest.’
39. Ibn ʿArabī is alluding to a ḥadīth, ‘Verily your Lord has breaths of His mercy in the days of your time – so expose yourselves to them’ (cited in Chittick, In Search of the Lost Heart, p. 349, n. 12). Ibn ʿArabī also cites a version of this ḥadīth in his Risālat rūḥ al-quds (ed. Maḥmūd Ghurāb; Damascus: Dār al-Īmān, 1994), p. 60.
40. Lit. ‘is amongst those who have a beautiful intention towards you.’
41. More literally, this passage would mean that Rāzī was found in a state of grief, having just cried, ‘He saw you one day and you had just wept (wa-qad bakayta). So he and those present asked you why you had been weeping.’
42. Cf. Fathalla Kholeif, A Study of Fakhr al-Din al-Rāzī and His Controversies in Transoxiana (Beirut: Dar El-Machreq, 1965), p. 18. For an alternative translation of this paragraph, see Shihadeh, ‘The Mystic and the Sceptic in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī,’ p. 102.
43. Ibn ʿArabī dedicated an entire treatise to the khalwa (Kitāb al-Khalwa al-muṭlaqa), as well as two chapters of the Futūḥāt (i.e., chapters 78 and 79). See the insightful discussion in Michel Chodkiewicz, Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn ʿArabī (trans. Liadain Sherrard; Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1993), pp. 151–3.
44. A reference to Khiḍr, the mysterious figure who is taught directly by God and appears as Moses’ teacher in Q.18:66–82 (although he is not named in the Quran). For this narrative in Sufi Quranic exegesis, see H. Talat Halman, Where the Two Seas Meet: The Qurʾānic Story of al-Khiḍr and Moses in Sufi Commentaries as a Model for Spiritual Guidance (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2013).
45. The special kind of knowledge ‘from Our Presence’ is referred to as ʿilm ladunī in Sufi texts. In his tafsīr upon Q.18:65, Rāzī explains that, for the Sufis, it refers to ‘the sciences obtained by way of unveilings’ (al-ʿulūm al-ḥāṣila bi-ṭarīq al-mukāshafāt). He then divides knowledge into two types: self-evident knowledge and acquired knowledge on the one hand, and ladunī knowledge on the other (cf. his other, similar divisions of knowledge outlined in Shihadeh, ‘The Mystic and the Sceptic in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī,’ pp. 113–15). Rāzī then gives his own definition of what ʿilm ladunī is. It entails that ‘man strive by way of self-discipline and inner struggle (riyāḍāt wa-l-mujāhadāt) in order for the sensory and imaginative faculties to become weakened. When they become weakened, the intellectual faculty (al-quwwa al-ʿaqliyya) will become stronger and the divine lights (al-anwār al-ilāhiyya) will illuminate the substance (jawhar) of the intellect. [Divine] knowledge (maʿārif) will then be obtained and the forms of knowledge perfected, without the need for effort (saʿy wa-ṭalab) through reflecting (tafakkur) and pondering (taʾammul)’ (Rāzī, al-Tafsīr al-kabīr (Cairo: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Bahiyya al-Miṣriyya, 1934–8), 21:149–50). Cf. this passage with what Rāzī says about the practice of the remembrance of God (dhikr) in his al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliya, translated in Shihadeh, ‘The Mystic and the Sceptic in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī,’ p. 114.
46. For an alternative translation of most of this paragraph, see Shihadeh, ‘The Mystic and the Sceptic in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī,’ p. 102.
47. For an alternative translation of this paragraph, see Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God, p. 124.
48. The speaker here is the great early Sufi figure Abū Yazīd Basṭāmī (d.c.260/874) (see Ibn ʿArabī, Futūḥāt, 4:412). I follow Chittick’s translation here in The Self-Disclosure of God, p. 106.
49. Ibn ʿArabī is likely referring here to the Prophet, and perhaps to the phenomenon of the ḥadīth qudsī, that is, extra-Quranic reports narrated by the Prophet from God (concerning which, see William Graham, Divine Word and Prophetic Word in Early Islam (The Hague: Mouton, 1977)). For Ibn ʿArabī’s collection of ḥadīth qudsīs, see his Mishkāt al-anwār, trans. as Divine Sayings by Stephen Hirtenstein and Martin Notcutt (Oxford: Anqa Publishing, 2008).
50. A famous statement by Basṭāmī, which Ibn ʿArabī cites quite often. See Futūḥāt, 1:31; 2:253; 3:140, 413.
51. Lit. ‘his ruling, according to us, is the ruling of nothing.’
52. For an alternative translation of this paragraph, see Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God, p. 124.
53. Reading ilāhiyya instead of ilhiyyāt (sic).
54. For an alternative translation of this paragraph, see Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God, p. 124 (in the second sentence of this paragraph I closely follow Chittick’s rendering). The point that Ibn ʿArabī is trying to make here relates to his teaching that God’s self-disclosures continuously present Him in a new mode to the servant, and hence demand from the servant an appropriate response depending on which aspect or face of God is revealed to him at that moment (see also n. 60 and Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God, p. 124). This teaching of Ibn ʿArabī’s is intimately tied to the famous Sufi dictum, lā takrār fī l-tajallī (‘There is no repetition in self-disclosure’). For more on this point, see Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, pp. 103–5.
55. That is, since the divine name Allāh is an all-gathering name (ism jāmiʿ), it brings together all of the divine names. The cosmos being the theatre for the display of God’s names, each name therefore connotes a different aspect of the reality of the name Allāh.
56. For an alternative translation of the first two lines of this paragraph, see Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God, p. 124.
57. In other words, although all of the names are witnessed in the cosmos, the name Allāh as such is never displayed or witnessed. Cf. the saying of Kharrāz cited in n. 22.
58. Lit. ‘what it is through which He speaks to you.’
59. The well-known Sufi term maqām (lit. ‘standing place’), translated as ‘station,’ here refers to the manner in which one should ‘stand,’ that is, how one should be positioned vis-à-vis the divine self-disclosure at the particular moment in which God is addressing him, or when he is witnessing Him.
60. Ibn ʿArabī’s admonishment here is not simply a theoretical point. Rather, it is intimately related to the fundamental Sufi notion of adab or correct comportment/etiquette. For Ibn ʿArabī, being able to discern God’s self-disclosures is of utmost importance, since by virtue of this one can observe the correct adab that is demanded by each self-disclosure (recall here the famous early Sufi maxim, ‘All of Sufism is adab’). For Ibn ʿArabī’s concept of adab, see Gril, ‘Adab and Revelation or One of the Foundations of the Hermeneutics of Ibn ʿArabi,’ in Stephen Hirtenstein and Michael Tiernan (eds.), Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabi: A Commemorative Volume (Shaftesbury: Element, 1993), pp. 228–63.
61. For Ibn ʿArabī’s teaching on the manner in which God takes on different forms in accordance with the receptivity of the individual to whom He is disclosing Himself (both in this world and the next), see Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, pp. 99–103.
62. For the ḥadīth in question, see Muslim, Īmān 83. For Ibn ʿArabī’s use of this ḥadīth, see Futūḥāt, 1:305; 2:81, 311, 610; 3:48, 485, etc. See also Ibn ʿArabī, Divine Sayings, p. 27.
63. Alternative translations of this paragraph can be found in Chittick, In Search of the Lost Heart, p. 103; Rosenthal, ‘Ibn ʿArabī between “Philosophy” and “Mysticism”,’ 21–2.
64. Lit. ‘Thus, an intelligent person should not acquire knowledge except [in terms] of what is occasioned by way of absolute necessity for him.’
65. In Ibn ʿArabī’s writings (and in the works of his followers), mawṭin (pl. mawāṭin) stands as a synonym for maẓhar or ‘locus of manifestation.’
66. That is, the correct adab that is to be observed in accordance with what is demanded by each of God’s self-disclosures. See also nn. 54 and 60 respectively.
67. Although literally aqarrū here should be rendered ‘they will acknowledge,’ I add ‘Him’ since this is clearly demanded by the context. Shehit Ali 1351, Ayasofia 2063, and Sehit Ali 1341 all have the more natural aqarrū bi-hi.
68. For an alternative translation of this paragraph, see Chittick, In Search of the Lost Heart, p. 103; p. 348, n. 13. See also Rosenthal, ‘Ibn ʿArabī between “Philosophy” and “Mysticism”,’ 22, for a part of this paragraph in translation.
69. Shehit Ali 1351, Ayasofia 2063, and Shehit Ali 1341 all have ‘īmān bi-hi,’ thus rendering the last clause, ‘even though they do not have faith in Him!’
This article first appeared in Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Volume 56, 2014. Please refer to the printed text if citing.
An extensive article on the subject by Mohammed Rustom appeared in the Oxford Journal of Islamic Studies, 2014, Ibn ‘Arabi’s Letter to Fakhr al-Din al-Razi: A Study and Translation, and can be viewed here mohammedrustom.com