by Souad Hakim

First published in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Volume XXXI, 2002, pp. 1-29

Further reading:

The spirit and the son of the spirit
A reading of Jesus according to Ibn 'Arabi

God has spoken to mankind in several different ways. He has spoken to people through revelation or from behind a veil, and His speech has sometimes carried orders and prohibitions and sometimes not. Likewise, God's messages have been brought down to people either in the form of a Word, like the Qur'an and the Bible (Old and New Testament), or in the form of an "event" like the birth of Jesus, portrayed as a sign (âya) from God in the Qur'an, and the death of Pharaoh, also described in the Qur'an as a sign (âya) from God, and so on and so forth.

Furthermore, we can deduce from man's religious history that everything God has sent or brought down has a function and a role in the lives of people, either an active role for a specific population at a specific time, or for all humankind and for all times, up until the day of Judgment and even beyond.

From this quick introduction to the variety of contacts from the Superior World to the world of man, let us turn now to Jesus, to the fact that his "person" is in itself a message to people in the form of an "event", in addition to his being a messenger and a prophet to his people. The mental concern behind this paper that seeks guidance in the texts of Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabî in order to gain knowledge and provide answers might be summed up in the following question: what is the knowledge we can attain if we contemplate the person of Jesus and his function and role in the world of man?

In order to allay this concern, and to attain the requisite knowledge, I shall divide this research of mine into five interrelated, complementary parts covering our subject: firstly, the creation of Jesus and his "person"; secondly, the dialectic relation between spirit and body, under the title: "Jesus a Sign (âya) from God"; thirdly, the knowledge of Jesus and his devotions; fourthly, Jesus as the Seal of Sainthood (walâya); and fifthly, the friends of Jesus, namely: Jesus and John the Baptist (Yahyâ), Jesus and Ibn 'Arabî, and finally Jesus and the Îsâwiyyûn (the people whose sainthood is Jesus-like).

I. The Creation of Jesus, his body, and his spirit

The creation of Jesus has been a stumbling block for the intellect both at his time and in later times. This is because the intellect has organized its set of "conceivables" according to a specific theory of causality, in such a way that if this causality theory should be shaken, the human intellect gets disrupted. Regarding reproduction, the human intellect has accommodated itself to one causal theory, rejecting all other causes, namely that a child is born from a union between two parents, one male and the other female.

Now since people did not see Jesus as having two parents, his creation has created great intellectual controversy and a host of divergent factions: deniers, believers, doubters, defenders, those that have decided to keep silent about the issue, and others who have analyzed the person of Jesus and his nature or natures.

As I have already mentioned, the creation of Jesus has been a stumbling block for the intellect - for the intellect (fikr) but not for the mind ('aql). The mind, according to Ibn 'Arabî, is capable of accepting infinitely, whereas the intellect, which is one of several instruments of the mind, a tool that assembles parts of experience into a coherent logical whole, is limited in the frame of its concrete and analogical experiences, whether on the individual or collective level.

Thus the mind is capable of accepting a type of human creation along the lines of Jesus, just as it can accept other types of human creation, provided that the intellect does not stand as a barrier and veil to this mental belief, i.e. if the intellect does not stop the mind from considering it to be true. [2]

If we want to remove the veil of the intellect from the face of the mind, if we want the intellect to go back to what it was in the origin of existence, i.e. if we want it to bring back an open space for the mind with no strings to bind it to a materialistic logic and the limitations of human capacity, we will have to let the intellect take another look at all its previous conceivables. We will have to let it reorganize its logical theories that are ruled by the Aristotelian "conceivables", broadening its way of inferring from concrete experience, drawing analogies between the seen and the unseen, and paying close attention to the divine text.

Only then will the human intellect be in the best state to form theoretical knowledge about God, man and the world, on the one hand. And on the other hand, the divine text will no longer be seen from behind the human intellect and acceptable only by faith, but it will be placed before the intellect and accepted by the logic of human conceivables.


After having mentioned in the introduction the apparent causality and its effects on our theoretical knowledge, we notice that the muslim sufi, and Ibn 'Arabî specifically, insists that causality must remain in the world, and sees that those who say that causality should be removed have no knowledge whatsoever. The sufi does not get imprisoned in his understanding of the order of causality in an apparent materialistic causality, but he elevates causality to a higher level of consciousness, higher than the materialistic awareness - a consciousness opening into the spiritual world. Thus, for him the cause could belong to the world of matter, or it could belong to the world of the spirit.

In the same way, there is Divine Wisdom behind the great variety of different causes, because God wants to show man that the production or multiplication of a thing, i.e. the effect, does not go back to the specific action of the cause but originates from God Himself, the real Doer behind the images of causes. When this Divine Wisdom is applied to our human world, we find that Ibn 'Arabî affirms that human bodies, although one according to definition, reality and image - both exteriorly and interiorly - are different with respect to the causes of their composition. He states this in order to prevent us from imagining that their composition goes back to the action of the cause, and to reveal to us that it goes back in reality to God, the Doer, the One who chooses. [3]

Therefore, when Ibn 'Arabî breaks the apparent chain of cause and effect, he makes the effect produced by several different causes, known and unknown to us. Consequently, he opens up before the human intellect a wider range of thinking and knowledge, especially in the field of reproduction and multiplicity, the two pillars of our human world.


If the divine text had told us that Jesus was an angel, sent from God as a messenger to his people, we would have understood that Jesus was like Gabriel (Jibrîl), a messenger from the angels to humankind. The only difference would be that Gabriel was only sent to prophets and messengers, whereas Jesus was sent to his people among humans. Therefore, he would have been seen and heard without having a body like other human bodies.

However, the divine text did not tell us that Jesus was an angel sent to people. It tells us that he was born human, with a body, without a father, from a pure virgin. Thus, the divine text has put before the human intellect the difficult question of how a human body is created without a father. Although the majority of mankind believe in this event in human history, reflection about this issue is nonetheless necessary and does no harm. Indeed, it makes it palatable both intellectually and in terms of faith.

In order to make the "event" of the creation of Jesus comprehensible to us, Ibn 'Arabî reverts to comparison; or rather, he tries to give us a complete picture of the creation of all human bodies. For the bodies of humans, although one species, belong to four different types: the first type is the body of Adam; the second is the body of Eve; the third is the body of the children of Adam and Eve; and the fourth is the body of Jesus. Thus, there are four different types of body, though they all belong to one species. God has created the body of man through several different causes, so that the causes do not claim that the action is theirs, because God is the only Doer. God has created (a human body) without male and female (as cause), and that is the body of Adam; He has created from male without female, and that is the body of Eve; He has also created from male and female, and those are the bodies of the descendants of Adam and Eve; and He has created from female without male, and that is Jesus.

I shall relate, in brief, the story of the creation of the four bodies according to Ibn 'Arabî: [4]the first human body is the body of Adam, and its creation resembles, if we want to take an example from our visible world, the bodies that the potter makes out of clay. Thus the body of Adam is the first kind of human body, a creation from earth-dust, that appeared without a marriage between male and female. [5]

As for the creation of the body of Eve, it is similar, in our world, to the images a carpenter sculpts out of wood. Thus the body of Eve is a second kind of human body, a female that sprang forth from a male. When God created the body of Eve from the body of Adam, her going out of his body created an emptiness in the space that she had occupied in him. Since the law of nature determines that there is no emptiness in space, the emptiness she had left behind was filled, in the body of Adam, with desire for her. Then, when he "covered her" (i.e. when they were united), and filled her with his "water", a third body was composed, different in its creation from the bodies of Adam and of Eve. God took charge of the evolution of this body, in the womb, state after state. After these states, when the "animalistic" creation [6]of this body was brought to completion, God gave it a new creation, blowing into it the human spirit. Thus, the third human body is the body of all the children of Adam, which is born of male and female waters.

As for the fourth kind of body, it is the body of Jesus. It is different in its creation from the three previous bodies, yet it is similar to them in many respects. The body of Jesus resembles in its creation that of Adam since both have been created without a father. [7]It also both resembles and opposes Eve at the same time, since it appeared from only one human origin: Eve was created from a male only while Jesus was created from a female only. Finally, it resembles in its creation that of the children of Adam, since it was composed in the womb and was born according to the norm. [8]

The body of Jesus is different in its creation from the other three bodies, which makes him distinct from everyone as well as a fourth type. The difference lies in the fact that the constitution of the body and the blowing of the spirit are normally two successive events in the creation of a human, ie they do not both happen at the same time. "When God arranges the human body - as He said in the Qur'an: "when I fashioned him (in due proportion) [al Hijr, 29] - He blew or breathed into him from His spirit". [9]Also, as we have mentioned when we spoke of the creation of the bodies of the children of Adam, after the body is created in the womb and after its "animalistic" constitution is completed, God breathes into it the human spirit. However, in the creation of Jesus, this is not the case because "the constitution of his body and his human image were included/incorporated in the blowing of the spirit into him." [10]In other words, Jesus's body was not constituted before the breathing of the spirit unto him, it was constituted at the very moment of the breathing of the spirit.

From here Ibn 'Arabî makes several deductions, which might help the development of human knowledge concerning this unique person, Jesus. Perhaps this new knowledge may even open up for us a new reading of the person of Jesus. This is what I shall propose in the following sections.


After learning from Ibn 'Arabî that the constitution of Jesus's body and the breathing of the spirit into him happened at the same time, let us stop with him at this "same time", andsearch the texts of Ibn 'Arabî to see how he explains the creation of Jesus, and what is, for him, the reality of the body of Jesus.

In the Fusûs al-Hikam, [11]he says that the Spirit, the Trustworthy One, Gabriel appeared to Mary (Maryam) as a (complete) man, and told her that he was a messenger sent from her Lord to bestow on her a faultless son, then he blew Jesus into her. [12]Therefore, Gabriel was the carrier of God's word to Mary, just as a messenger carries God's word to his people, and Jesus was created from the concrete waters of Mary, and from the imaginary waters of Gabriel. [13]So he emerged with the form of a human because his mother was human, and because Gabriel took the form of a human, and therefore the constitution in this human type happens according to the norm.

In the Futûhât al-Makkîya, Ibn 'Arabî says that Jesus sprang from a "spiritual male", an angel in the form of a human, which was Gabriel. Therefore Jesus combined the human image and the spirit, and his creation was perfect: externally a human and internally an angel. [14]In another passage, Ibn 'Arabî says: "Jesus is half human and half spirit". [15]

This special relation between Gabriel and Jesus, which is like the relation between father and son, causes Ibn 'Arabî to state that Jesus came into the world of man in the image of Gabriel, and in one event the human [Jesus] joined the spirit and the spirit [Gabriel] joined the human form, and this is the abode of perfection (manzil al-kamâl). [16]Therefore, Jesus is in the image of Gabriel. This means that Jesus's life is no other than his essence, i.e. that his spirit is his essence; he is not a creature possessing a spirit, he is spirit. He is spirit manifesting in the immutable image of the human being, just as Gabriel appeared to the Prophet and his companions in the mutable and temporary image of an Arab. [17]

This means that Jesus is not like other men, according to Ibn 'Arabî, since they are composed of two bodies: a dark, dense body and a light one, which is carried within the dense one and is its spirit, like a vapour emanating from the cavities of the heart and spreading to the rest of the body. [18]Ibn 'Arabî intimates that Jesus's form is imaginary, [19]or that his form is an incarnation of his spirit. Jesus "is closer to being a form (jasad) than a body (jism). His case is thus like that of the angelic and fiery spirits who take form and become visible to the eye, so that the eyes see these bodies, while he [i.e. each individual spirit] remains in himself a spirit". [20]

Therefore, the relation between Jesus's body and his spirit is an intimate relation, a relation of correspondence, the body being attracted to the world of the spirit, [21]making Ibn 'Arabî somewhat perplexed as to how to describe it. He describes him sometimes as an imaginary form, sometimes as spirit incarnate, or as one born between the spirit and the human, [22]or as one who is closer to being a form (jasad) than a body (jism).

These multiple approaches of Ibn 'Arabî to the body of Jesus push us to look further into his conception of the two words: body (jism) and form (jasad). He differentiates between bodies and forms, taking "bodies" to be those that are commonly known, whether dense, light or transparent, both visible and invisible. "Forms", on the other hand, are what the spirits manifest in, in order to be seen by people, "either in the waking state, taking the image of bodies, or in sleep, taking shapes that are similar to bodies according to the senses, though they are not bodies in themselves". [23]Based upon the differentiation made by Ibn 'Arabî between body and form, it becomes easier for us to understand what he means by: "the constitution of Jesus is closer to being a form than a body".

To sum up all that we have mentioned, we find that Ibn 'Arabî is close to annulling the physical-natural dimension of Jesus, to the profit of the spirit. Jesus is spirit, son of spirit, and his form apparent in the world of forms is only an incarnation of the spirit in an apparent human form, and he is a form more than a body. Jesus is a spirit incarnate, not a form into which a spirit has been breathed.

II. Dialectic of Spirit and Body: Jesus as a sign (âya) from God

The way Jesus was created is a living message to people, an active message. What is the divine message that our human understanding can grasp from this event, and how can we receive it and translate it? I shall present three answers to this question, and even though these answers do not cover the whole of the subject, yet they will be sufficient with regard to what concerns us here.


When Ibn 'Arabî is asked about the quiddity of a certain thing, the "what is", he often moves away from giving the definition of what the thing is and instead answers by giving the definition of the characteristics or effects of the thing in question. [24]The same applies for the definition of spirit. Ibn 'Arabî speaks of the characteristics of the spirit and not of the spirit itself. This step away from defining the essence to defining the effects, is one of the signs of the 'Îsâwiyyun. [25]

The first characteristic of the spirit is that life is its essence, i.e. that life and spirit are inseparable. [26]If a spirit touches a thing, or steps on a thing, this thing is brought to life. [27]Ibn 'Arabî gives proof of this characteristic of the spirit from a verse (âya) in the Qur'an: al-Samiri, knowing that one of the characteristics of the spirit is to give life, grabbed some of the soil where the messenger Gabriel - who is spirit - had left his trace, and threw it at the calf, "which gave forth a lowing sound". [28]

Jesus is spirit and since life and spirit are inseparable, Jesus could revive the dead by breathing into them; i.e. he was a carrier of life blowing it - with God's permission (biIdhni-llah) - into whoever and whatever he chose. [29]The spirit is thus alive on its own, and can offer life, and since, in this world, no "doer" is independent from God in his action, therefore every action is by God's permission, and this is the meaning of vicegerency (istikhlâf), being chosen as God's vicegerents on earth (khulafâ'). So, Jesus - with God's permission - blew into a bird or the dead, and from his breath life flowed into them. Therefore, all that appears as the powers of the person of Jesus are the powers of the spirit with which God has invested the characteristic of giving life.

The second characteristic of the spirit is that it has the power to take the shape of human form. Ibn 'Arabî's proof for this is the fact that Gabriel took the form of a man when he appeared to Mary. She did not recognize him because she did not have an insight into what spirits looked like when they took form. [30]As we have already mentioned, Gabriel also took the form of an Arab when he appeared to the Prophet.

The third characteristic of the spirit is that the human spirit appears only when there is a physical body. [31]From this we can come to an understanding of the relationship between the body and spirit of anyone, and the dependence of the spirit on the existence of a body. The spirit of Jesus also did not have a proper appearance in the world of man until he had a physical body.

The fourth characteristic of the spirit is that God made it rule over the body, the body being under the control of the spirit which is the vicegerent (khalîfa) of God on earth. [32]


The existence of Jesus and his action in the world of man is one of the proofs that God gave as a sign to inform us of the characteristics of the spirit. When we know the characteristics of the spirit, we can differentiate between the spirit and the divine. Therefore, when a human appears with the characteristic of reviving the dead, he does not share this characteristic with God, but shares in one of the spirit's specifications, because revivification is a characteristic of the spirit, rather than a divine one specifically. Therefore, he who revives the dead is not necessarily a god but could be a spirit. For example, God gave fire the characteristic of burning, and gave all causes a capacity to act by His permission, and likewise, God gave the spirit the speciality of revivification. Ibn 'Arabî states "Jesus is the spirit of God, i.e. through him life appeared in whoever he breathed into". [33]

As for association (shirk), or associating God with one of His characteristics, that is association with respect to Being (wujûd), according to Ibn 'Arabî. God alone possesses Being, and all existence belonging to other than God is a borrowed existence, not essential to it.

In short, no existent has an independent existence, just as no agent can be independent as it is a cause for what appears through its action.


Discussion concerning the characteristics of the spirit and the relation between Jesus's spirit and his body clarifies for us the reason why the Sufis have founded their way upon the dialectic between the body and the spirit. Most of the Sufis, Ibn 'Arabî among them, understand that, although the spirit is appointed by God as His vicegerent (khalîfa), and as governor over the body, yet it is imprisoned by nature and its elements; and there is no way to free the spirit from the prison of nature except through exercises and effort.

This is why the Sufis depict a path with stations and abodes, around which revolves the exercises of the body and the struggle with the soul (nafs). The more the person advances on the way, the more he grows in spirituality and the more he detaches from the density of the body, until only what the body needs to stay alive remains. [34]However, according to Ibn 'Arabi, even though exercises and effort produce effects such as illuminations, these effects are not necessarily a sign that "the one on the way" has reached or entered the abodes of the divine proximity.

The action of "the one walking on the way", his effort and exercises, end at the "divine door". We can even say that he doesn't reach the "divine door" except through exercises and effort. When he reaches the door that all "the ones who walk on the way" reach through merit, the door is opened and divine gifts are bestowed upon him, through divine care and allotment. This divine door is open to all: no-one that reaches it returns empty-handed, unlike the doors of the creatures. Ibn 'Arabî relates his own story to us: when he reached this divine door, along with a group of those who attained among the people of his time, he found it open with no guard or vigil posted on it; and he stood there until he received the garment of prophetic heritage [35]meaning the general prophecy that does not carry divine law.

Here we are today, at the gates of the third millennium, and we sense that the human race is turning towards the spiritual dimension in man, trying to regain the spirit. I have made two observations, drawn from following people's interests in world communication:

1. The interest of intellectuals today, and even the interest of ordinary people in the spirit, is different in its formulation from the interest the previous generations took in the spirit. Man today tries to regain the spirit and its power, but with a centredness on man, not a centredness on God, as was the case in the experiences of the Sufis of the past. In other words, the man of today is trying to discover the spirit and profit from its characteristics, in a human sphere. This is a new era for the spirit, learning from the past but not repeating it, and instead reformulating it anew.

2. This new emergence of interest in the spirit does not marginalize the body, nor does it push it away. On the contrary, it is as if, on a world scale, man is trying to regain body and spirit together. This is also a new era for the body, different in its formulation from previous eras. We are at the gates of an age that links the body to the spirit, loosening the bodily ties to the ego (nafs). It is as if there is a global direction towards freeing the body from the desires of the nafs and from the slavery of pleasures, towards working on purifying the body, on a clean, sane body.

Thus, in my opinion, we are at the gates of an age that is preparing itself to regain body and spirit together, in order to join them in one direction, one path, towards a better life for mankind.

III. The Knowledge of Jesus and his Devotion


We will not delimit here Jesus's science and knowledge. Such a task is beyond our capacity, even if Ibn 'Arabî has mentioned many of the sciences. [36]What we mean here by the knowledge of Jesus is the knowledge that specifically appertains to action and effectiveness. We shall illustrate this knowledge with a story taken from the Qur'an about an event that happened in Solomon's court. When Solomon asked those present if anyone could bring him the throne of Bilqis, a "stalwart of the Jinn" presented himself and said that he would bring it before Solomon arose from his place, i.e. before sunrise. Then one who had knowledge of the Book, whose name was �saf, said: "I will bring it to you before your gaze returns to you, i.e. in the blinking of an eye." [37]This knowledge of �saf, which was the reason for his being effective and capable of action in the concrete world, is the knowledge we hope to delimit here. Thus our discussion will revolve around what God has given specifically to Jesus of active knowledge in the universe.

Having explored the numerous sciences of Jesus mentioned by the Greatest Shaykh, Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabî, we can arrange them into two major sciences, encompassing all other sciences. The two sciences specific to Jesus are: the science of breathing [alchemy] and the science of letters [semiotics].

1. The science of breathing (nafkh) or alchemy (kîmîyâ')

Jesus appeared in the world of bodies through the breathing of Gabriel into Mary, and he was given the knowledge of the manner of his own creation - he was given the science of breathing. For example, he breathed into clay, which he had fashioned in the form of a bird, and it came to life, with God's permission. Ibn 'Arabî calls this science the science of breathing or the science of the secret of creation. He also affirms that Jesus combines two branches of the science of alchemy, which are: creating (inshâ'), and the removal of accidental defects ('ilal). [38]Jesus created from clay the likeness of a bird, and in the same way he healed the blind and the leper. [39]

Here we must stop and mention, based upon Ibn 'Arabî's texts, that no creature can know the secret of formation, the secret of creation, for it is not for any man to see or know how Divine Power creates. What we can perceive here is that God gave Jesus the science of breathing, so that he could give life without him knowing the secret of revivification and how it happens. In other words, the science of breathing was at the same time a cause of giving life and a veil for creation [40](as to how creation took place). This brings me to what Ibn 'Arabî says of Sayyida Fâtima bint Ibn al-Muthannâ, namely that her Beloved, God, gave her the Fâtiha (the opening sura of the Qur'an) as a servant. She used to read the Fatiha in a specific way, and from that reading therewould appear in the concrete world what she had asked for. Thus the reading of the Fatiha was a cause and at the same time a veil as to how the Divine Power works in bringing about what is asked for.

2The science of letters (hurûf) or semiotics (sîmîyâ')

Ibn 'Arabî explains that the knowledge of Jesus is the knowledge of letters, and that this is why he was given the science of breathing. If we look at the action of blowing, we realize that it is the action of "breathing", and letters are a result of the stopping of the air (i.e. the breath) on its way out from the cavities of the heart to the mouth. Therefore, the breath of a human is the substance in which all letters appear.

Just as Ibn 'Arabî relates breath, letters and blowing, likewise he supports his theory by the fact that creation happens through blowing and by the word "kun" (be). The relationship between the letters, breath and blowing is through the word "kun". The science of letters is "the science of semiotics based on action through letters and names, not on incense and blood". [41]It is a science related to the "length of the world" i.e. the spiritual world, and to the "width of the world" i.e. the world of creatures and nature and bodies. If we hear a gnostic saying that letter x is this long and this wide, he means by length the action of that letter in the world of spirits, and by width its action in the world of bodies. [42]

Ibn 'Arabî makes a distinction between two types of person: one creates something with his knowledge of the reality of "kun", and that is the science of Jesus; the other creates something not from his knowledge of the reality of "kun", but with his "spiritual energy" (himma). Action through spiritual energy does not belong to the science of letters, nor is it of the science of Jesus. [43]


It is clear from the Qur'anic text and from the tradition of the Prophet (hadîth), that fasting and praying are two devotions imposed by God on all past communities. God said to Mary: "Bow and prostrate with those who prostrate", and the Prophet told us that the fasting of David (Dâwûd), who used to fast every other day, is the best kind of fasting. Ibn 'Arabî reaffirms this prophetic text, stating that fasting one day and not fasting the next and so on is the best effort, the best way to struggle with the ego (nafs). This was the way David fasted: one day for himself and one day for his Lord. [44]

As for Jesus, he joined and adhered to his Lord in this world: he used to "fast all the time (al-dahr), never breaking the fast, and stay up during the night, never sleeping". [45]From Ibn 'Arabî's expression "stay up during the night" and his use of the verb "staying up" (iqâma), we understand that Jesus not only spent the nights awake, but he also spent them in devotions. For "staying up during the night" means nightly devotions, the most important of which is prayer. Considering the fact that he fasted continually and stayed up during the night, Jesus was manifest in the world with the divine name, Time (al-Dahr) [46]during the day, and with the divine name, The Self-Subsisting (al-Qayyûm), He who "is neither overcome by sleep nor slumber", [47]during the night. [48]

Therefore, during the two phases of a day, day and night, Jesus manifested two devotions, two Divine Names.

IV. The Seal of Sainthood (walâya)

Taking into consideration and adopting what my friend Professor Michel Chodkiewicz has written about Jesus as the Seal of Sainthood, I should like to add some clarifications to what he wrote in his book The Seal of the Saints, [49]and I hope that these points will help to resolve the issue of the "Seal of Sainthood", as seen by Ibn 'Arabî.

The first person to ask the question about the existence of someone being the Seal of Sainthood was al-Hakîm al-Tirmidhî (the Prophet was the Seal of Prophethood and Envoyship). [50]In response to al-Tirmidhî's question: "who deserves to be the Seal of Sainthood? ", Ibn 'Arabî says that Jesus is the Seal of Sainthood, just as Muhammad was the Seal of Prophethood. From this answer, several points arise, derived from premises, and I shall present in brief, in what follows, the premises and the issues.


First premise: everything in this world has a beginning and a seal, because the world has a beginning and an end. [51]

Second premise: The seal encompasses the station of "joining together" (jam'îya), i.e. he joins together, in himself, all the different qualities in the genre he seals. The Seal of Prophethood, for instance, gathers in himself what was dispersed from among the images of all prophetic perfections that had appeared before him. [52]

Third premise: He who appears in time after the Seal and is of the same genre as the Seal, must be under the rule of the Seal and his followers. For example, Muhammad is the Seal of Prophethood, and therefore there is no prophet after him. If a prophet appears in the world, he must be under the authority of his prophethood. This is why, when he descends at the end of time, Jesus will be under the authority of Muhammad's prophethood.

Fourth premise: sainthood is higher in station than law-giving prophecy. This means that the sainthood of a prophet is superior to his prophecy, but not that the saint is better than the prophet - the saint never surpasses the prophet. [53]


From Ibn 'Arabî's answer, indicating the specification of Jesus as the Seal of Sainthood, and the previous four premises, several issues result, two of which are fundamental:

First issue:- if the Seal has the station of joining-together and has authority over all those he seals of his genre who preceded him and who are to follow him, and if the sainthood of a prophet is better than his prophethood, then it follows that the Seal of Sainthood (i.e. Jesus) ought to be greater than the Seal of Prophethood (i.e. Muhammad).

Second issue: -although Ibn 'Arabî differentiates between the Muhammadian sainthood and the sainthood of others from among the prophets and envoys, and even though he makes the Muhammadian sainthood a particular sainthood, having a specific person to seal it other than the Seal of general Sainthood, still this distinction does not resolve the first issue. In addition to that, there is the consideration of the relationship between the Seal of general Sainthood and the Seal of particular Sainthood. Also, who is the person who seals the particular sainthood?

We will try now to present a concept that will, we hope, remove any remaining ambiguity left by the texts. This concept is based upon the answer we shall give to one question, namely: why isn't Muhammad the Seal of Sainthood as well as the Seal of Prophethood? Then we would not have to deal with the problem of superiority between the Seal of Sainthood and the Seal of Prophethood. The answer comprises three brief parts: firstly, we shall highlight Ibn 'Arabî's conception of the spiritual history of humanity (i.e. the philosophy of history according to Ibn 'Arabî); secondly, we shall ask why Muhammad did not seal sainthood; and finally, what are the genres of sainthood and their respective seals.

1. Ibn 'Arabî's conception of the history of human spirituality

Ibn 'Arabî views the spiritual history of humanity in cycles, each cycle having a beginning and a seal. He also groups all these cycles into one sphere encompassing all cycles. This one sphere that encompasses all is the spirit of Muhammad, and it has mastery over everything. The first human cycle starts with Adam and finishes with Jesus: it is called the Adamic cycle, or the cycle of the kingdom. [54]Every prophet sent during this Adamic cycle is a delegate of Muhammad, and he appears in his time with the law and sciences which come to him from the assistance (imdâd) of this pure spirit [55](Muhammad). Thus all prophets were the successors (khulafâ') of the master successor (al-khalîfa al-sayyid), [56]Muhammad.

After the cycle of the kingdom or Adamic cycle is sealed with Jesus, there comes a period of rest, where no prophet is sent, until the appearance of Muhammad, [57]and time revolves. The cycle of time for the divine name the Hidden (bâtin) ended with the coming of Muhammad, and thereafter we enter the cycle of the name the Apparent (zâhir). [58]

Thus begins the second cycle, the Muhammadian cycle, and it is the cycle of sovereignty in succession (al siyâda fî'l-khilâfa). [59]In this cycle Muhammad has authority in an apparent way, whereas it had been in a hidden way before. "He [Muhammad] is the greatest leader (imâm), the one who rules whether present or absent (ghayban wa shahâdatan)." [60]

Then the signs of the end of time start to appear: among them the coming-down of Jesus from heaven to earth, and bit by bit, as the "Hour" of the end gets closer, the earth loses its saints and venerable ones, and the time of the Resurrection (al-qiyâma) occurs when there is not one believer or virtuous man left on earth, when people are "scum like the husk of barley, God not caring for them". [61]

2. Why didn't Muhammad seal sainthood?

Sainthood (walâya) is proximity and knowledge. A saint (walî) is one who is brought close by God, who gives him inspiration, talks to him, appoints tasks for him and puts him before the people of his time. [62]If Muhammad had said: "I am the Seal of Sainthood", that would mean that after him there would have been no saint, no close-one to God, nor any inspired-one, and the communication between heaven and earth would have been broken.

If we look at the 50 or so pages in the Futûhât, [63]we find that Ibn 'Arabî is close to saying that prophethood started with Muhammad and was sealed by him. [64]Therefore "he possesses prophethood before the existence of other prophets, who are his deputies in this world". [65]The law-giving prophecy is one: it started with Muhammad and was sealed by him, and each new legal prophecy abrogated the law of those prior to it, and all of them were abrogated by the Law (sharî'a) of Muhammad. Even though the previous laws were abrogated by him, they are still laws coming from him, the proof being that this abrogation is mentioned in the Qur'an and the tradition (sunna), and both Qur'an and sunna are the Law of Muhammad.

Therefore, Muhammad sealed the legal prophecy which had begun with him. As for sainthood, it has remained open to all those "walking on the way" and to the common believers, as a sign of the beginning of a new cycle, because when sainthood is sealed, time will prepare to revolve again, and the end will start.

3. The genres of sainthood and their respective seals

From the numerous texts of Ibn 'Arabî concerning sainthood and its seals, we can say that there are four genres that need to be distinguished when we speak about the Seal of Sainthood. [66]These four types are:

1) The sainthood of prophets and messengers;

2) The sainthood of the saints which is inherited [67]from the prophets and envoys;

3) The sainthood of Muhammad;

4) The sainthood of the saints which is inherited from the sainthood of Muhammad, in other words the Muhammadian sainthood.

Let us look now at the seals. Jesus is the possessor of two seals: [68]Firstly, he seals the sainthood of the prophets and envoys from Adam until his own time. That is the time of his own prophecy and message and his being the seal of the Adamic cycle. Secondly, he seals the sainthood of the saints which is inherited from the prophets and envoys, and which is when he will come down as asaint at the end of time. [69]

Since Jesus appears in the two cycles, the Adamic and the Muhammadian, he will be resurrected twice, one resurrection with the prophets as a prophet, and another resurrection with the community of Muhammad as a saint, with a place at the head of the people on the Day of the Rising. [70]

As for the sainthood of Muhammad, we tend to speak of it in the same way as his prophethood. He is unique in his sainthood as he is in his prophethood. The seal of the Muhammadian sainthood, even if he takes his sainthood from that of Muhammad, does not seal it. Instead, he seals the sainthood of the Muhammadian saints.

I would like to conclude this fourth part of my research by saying that on numerous occasions I have repeated a certainty that I have arrived at from my readings of Sufis and others, and also from my experience in life, and I shall transmit this certainty as follows: the spiritual world and the material world are parallels. The laws of the spiritual world are mirrored by similar laws in the material world, and the spiritual "institutions" are mirrored by similar institutions in the material world. For example, the hidden state and the hidden vicegerency (khilâfa) that assist the apparent vicegerency, [71]and so on. From this we can say that spiritual globalization has preceded or is a mirror to the direction the apparent world is taking today towards concrete globalization. Or rather, that spiritual globalization has gone further than material globalization, because it has rendered the world as a unified whole, alive and interactive, over time and space. Ibn 'Arabî lived in a world ruled by one basic order, which provides the other secondary orders with their terms, rules and regulations. At the same time the outward aspects of these secondary orders are both included and different from the aspects of the one order. This is clear in what we have said about the philosophy of history according to Ibn 'Arabî.

V. Jesus's Friends

I shall talk in this section about three special relations between Jesus and others from the world of humans: firstly, Jesus and John the Baptist (Yahyâ); secondly, Jesus and Ibn 'Arabî; and finally, Jesus and the 'Îsâwiyyûn.


The relationship between Jesus and John, if we put aside the closeness of kin (Jesus's grandmother and John's mother being sisters) is the relationship between spirit and life, Jesus being the spirit and John a symbol of life, and, as we have seen, spirit and life are inseparable. They actually both dwell in the same heaven, the second heaven. [72]

John also came into this world in the image of Mary, due to the effect of the power of Zachariah's imagination. For, when Zachariah entered the holy shrine where Mary used to dwell, as a pure virgin, and when he saw there nourishment from God, he asked Him to grant him a son because he witnessed her state and was taken by it. Then the angels visited him while he was praying in the shrine, because he had seen her in the shrine, and they brought him the good news concerning John who was "to confirm the word of God, and be lordly". [73]"Lordly", meaning perfection, because Mary was perfect and John became perfect with prophethood, and "chaste", that is, one who abstains from approaching women, for Mary was a virgin. Also, he was "a prophet of the righteous", as he never ever trespassed God's orders. [74]

Despite the very strong link between Jesus and John, Ibn 'Arabî tells a story and comments on it. The story goes: God was asked: "whom do You love more: Jesus or John? " God answered: "The one who thinks better of Me." Ibn 'Arabî adds that the one referred to is Jesus, because John used to fear God. [75]


We know from Ibn 'Arabî's texts about the stations through which he passed on his spiritual path, that he started at the station of Jesus (maqâm 'Îsâwî), and ended at the station of Muhammad (maqâm Muhammadî). In between, he passed through the stations of Moses, Hud, and then all the prophets. [76]Therefore, in his beginnings, Ibn 'Arabî was 'Îsâwi, Jesus-like, and we notice that his 'Îsâwiyya manifested in two aspects: not desiring women, and preferring poverty to riches. Then, after he moved from the station of Jesus, he desired women and did not care about money, taking it or leaving it.

Ibn 'Arabî has a special relationship with Jesus. He states that he had many meetings and encounters with him, and that it was at the hands of Jesus that he "converted". [77]When contemplating the conversion of Ibn 'Arabî at the hands of Jesus, it is to be understood that conversion here is not like the conversion of the common people from sins, but that it is the conversion of the spiritual elite from having thought that others than God possess Being. This insight represents a key for the reading of the chapter concerning Jesus in the Fusûs al-Hikam. During the meetings Ibn 'Arabî had with Jesus, Jesus used to call Ibn 'Arabî beloved; he also ordered him to perform two disciplines, namely: asceticism and self-denial (tajrîd). [78]

We also encounter in the stories of Ibn 'Arabî's spiritual ascensions (ma'ârij) meetings with Jesus in the second heaven, which is the heaven of assistance (madad) for public speakers and writers but not for poets. He also gained sciences there. In the Isrâ' ilâ'l-maqâm al-asrâ Ibn 'Arabî speaks of how Jesus ordered his scribe to record for Ibn 'Arabî a decree for sainthood, resembling in its formula the official papers promulgated by the state to appoint a position with a job description. [79]


We shall not discuss the first 'Îsâwiyyûn, the apostles, disciples of Jesus, but we shall focus here on the secondary 'Isawiyyûn. [80]These are the spiritual inheritors of Jesus, but in reality, they are the inheritors of the 'Îsâwi face of the Muhammadian reality. [81]Two heritages have been combined for the 'Îsâwi pole: the spiritual inheritance, through which action in the world takes place, and the Muhammadian inheritance but according to the taste of Jesus. [82]

The sainthood of the 'Îsâwi saints is, in most cases, clear and apparent to ordinary people. We can even say that he is the saint par excellence in people's minds, or in the collective unconscious, or in the social consensus. We need only pronounce the word 'saint', and people immediately connect it to the image of an ascetic man, tolerant, never hurting others although getting hurt himself, whose prayers are accepted by God, and who possesses strong spiritual powers. Therefore, the sainthood of the 'Îsâwi saint cannot be hidden, in contrast to that of the Muhammadian saint who can pass unseen.

Some of the signs of the 'Îsâwi saint are: a strong effective energy, a prayer accepted by God and mercy towards people. [83]One of his secrets is that he can give a spiritual state (hâl) by touching, embracing, or kissing, or by passing it on through a garment. [84]He also possesses eloquence of speech, [85]and a knowledge of characters and how they are composed, as well as the science of healing by potions. [86]The 'Îsâwi saint also works miracles: he walks on water, but not on air [87]like the Muhammadian saint. Furthermore, he has ascensions, although he can reach no further than the second heaven or the Lote-tree of the Extreme Limit (sidrat al-muntahâ). [88]


In conclusion I would like to draw attention to something that caught my attention during the research for this paper. I shall summarize it in the form of the following question: what is the secret behind the recurrence of the number two with regard to Jesus?

Jesus is born of two species, the spirit and the human. He has two names, the Spirit of God and the Son of Mary. He has two sciences, the science of blowing and the science of letters. He worships God in two ways, through fasting and wakefulness. He manifests in the world with two Divine Names, Time and Self-Subsistence; during the day with two aspects, morning and night. He seals both sainthood and the cycle of creation, and is involved in two cycles, the cycle of Adam and the cycle of Muhammad. He dwells on earth for two lifetimes - the time of his creation and the time of his coming at the end of time. He has two deaths, before his ascent from earth and after his descent to earth. He is resurrected twice, with his people and with the community of Muhammad; or in other words, he is resurrected as an envoy and as a saint. Furthermore, he resides in the Second Heaven and ordered Ibn 'Arabî to practise two spiritual exercises, asceticism and self-denial, similar to the manifestation of the two aspects of the 'Îsâwiyya of Ibn 'Arabî, poverty and non-desire of women.

I leave this question of the secret of the relationship of Jesus to the number two without an answer for two reasons - the number two on my part. The first reason is because I want to leave this observation open to several, varied readings without limiting it to any number of readings. The second reason is because of my wish to open a Sufi dialogue across time and space, akin to al-Tirmidhî, who asked his questions on the Seal of the Saints in the world of God's people, and Ibn 'Arabî's questions in Risâlat alIntisâr. The question opens a dialogue between people of one time and people across time.

Paper originally presented at the MIAS Symposium in 2000 held at Chisholme House, Scotland, translated from the Arabic by Daniel Hirtenstein


[*] This title is taken froma poem by Ibn 'Arabî in which he calls Jesus: Spirit and son of Spirit. Seethe Futûhât al-Makkiyya, Dar Sader, Vol. IV,p. 195.

[2] See our paper: "Knowledgeof God in Ibn 'Arabî" published in MuhyiddinIbn 'Arabi: A Commemorative Volume. ed. S. Hirtenstein and M. Tiernan,Element Books 1993.

[3] See Futûhât,ed. Othman Yahya, Vol. 2, p. 248.

[4] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, pp. 248-50.

[5] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. II, pp. 456-457.

[6] Ibn 'Arabî differentiatesbetween animalistic and bestial: animalistic in the sense of the acceptanceof life. In Arabic "hayawânî"(animalistic) comes from the word "hayât"(life).

[7] Ibn 'Arabî observes thatthe similarity stated in the Qur'an between Adam and Jesus is because bothhave been created without a father. In the verse: "Lo! The likeness ofJesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust" (Q.3:59), the "him" according to Ibn Arabî refers to Adam only. [SeeFutûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 2,pp. 250 and 299.] See also Kitâb al-Alif,in the Rasâ'il, p. 8, whereIbn 'Arabî says that God said "created him from dust" and not "createdthem", and that the pronoun refers to the last mentioned.

[8] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, p. 248ff, where Ibn 'Arabî discusses the position of thenaturalists and observes that the creation of Jesus from the waters of a womanand from a blowing without water is an answer to the naturalists.

[9] See Fusûsal-Hikam, Vol. I, p. 142, lines 9 and 10, where Ibn 'Arabî pointsto the fact that the constitution of the body precedes the blowing of thespirit for all humankind except Jesus.

[10] Fusûs, Vol. I, p. 142, line 11.

[11] See Fusûs,Vol. I, pp. 128-9.

[12] Ibn 'Arabî says, in Kitâb al-Alif, p. 8, about the Qur'anic verse: "that Jesuswas to Mary as the spirit of Adam to Adam, but he took on the shape of a bodybecause he was manifested in the world of bodies".

[13] Ibn 'Arabî says in the Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 10, p. 146,that he who was born from a mother and an imaginary abstract father, wouldresemble his maternal grandfather, if he has no father like Jesus, or he wouldbe lower than the degree of his father if he has a father but no mother likeEve. And since Jesus has an imaginary father, he resembles his maternal grandfatherwho is Adam.

[14] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 11, p. 439.

[15] Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. IV, p. 195.

[16] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, p. 426.

[17] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, pp. 88ff. As for the mention of the Arab man in whose imageGabriel appeared, see the hadith of islâm,îmân, ihsânBukhârî1/192; Muslim 1/18, etc.]

[18] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. III, p. 156.

[19] Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. II, p. 333.

[20] Kitâbal-Alif, p. 8.

[21] See Bukhârî 3216, wherethere is a hadith that points out Jesus's specification: "All the sonsof Adam are stabbed by Iblis' fingers on their sides when they are born, exceptJesus son of Mary."

[22] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 11, p. 327, where Ibn 'Arabî remarks that the man of thebarzakh (the intermediary world), this saint that is born betweenthe spirit and the humans, resembles Jesus.

[23] Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. III, p. 186.

[24] See, for example, Ibn 'Arabî'sdefinition of love: "love, according to those who know it and speak ofit, is one of the things that cannot be defined; he who has it knows it, i.e.he who possesses love as a personal attribute, but he does not know what itis, even if the reality of the existence of love is for him undeniable."[Futûhât, II/325].

[25] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 13, p. 296, where Ibn 'Arabî says: "If [the 'Îsâwwiyûn]are asked about something, they do not answer with a definition but replywith how this station affects the one who is qualified by it. Their answeritself shows that they have reached that station..."

[26] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. II, p 274.

[27] See Fusûs,Vol. I, p. 128.

[28] Q.20: 88. Also see Fusûs, Vol. I, p. 128.

[29] See Fusûs,Vol. I, p. 139.

[30] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. II, p. 333, where Ibn 'Arabî mentions, in addition to thepower of the spirit to take on forms in the image of humans, the capacityof the spirit to transform its image in the eye of the beholder, while keepingits own image.

[31] Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. II, p. 272.

[32] Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. II, p. 273.

[33] Fusûs, Vol. I, p. 142.

[[34] Futûhât, Dar Sader,Vol. II, p. 273.

[35] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. III, p. 513.

[36] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, pp. 88-99. See also Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. II, pp. 274ff.

[37] See Q.27: 38-40.

[38] See 'Anqâ'Mughrib, p. 32.

[39] See Q.3: 49.

[40] Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. II, p. 274.

[41] Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. II, p. 274.

[42] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, pp. 88-95. As for the termswidth and length, they come from al-Hallâj, as Ibn 'Arabî points out.

[43] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, p. 99.

[44] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 9, p. 298.

[45] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 9, p. 299.

[46] See the hadith: "Theson of Adam does Me wrong: he curses Time (Dahr) and I am Time (Dahr)." [Muslim Vol. 15, p. 31].

[47] See Q.2: 255.

[48] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 9, p. 299.

[49] Michel Chodkiewicz, Le sceau des saints.

[50] See question number 13 amongal-Tirmidhî's 157 questions, and see also the questions and their answersby Ibn 'Arabî in the Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. II, pp. 40-138.

[51] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. II, p. 50.

[52] See the Mu'jamal-Sûfî, section "al-Khatm", pp. 373ff.

[53] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. II, p. 252. See also the Mu'jam al-Sûfî, section "walîwalâya",pp. 1231ff.

[54] Ibn 'Arabî says in the Futûhât (ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, p. 342) thatthis cycle's time is 78,000 years.

[55] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, pp. 292-3.

[56] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, p. 298.

[57] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, pp. 205-307 (the stations ofthe people of the period of rest).

[[58] Futûhât, ed. Yahya,Vol. 2, p. 331.

[59] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, pp. 333-46.

[60] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, p. 295.

[61] See Hadithin Sahîh Ibn Habbân, Vol. 6, p. 272.

[62] Cf. Chodkiewiecz, Le sceau des saints, pp. 41-64, 65-78, and 79-94.

[63] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, pp. 291-346.

[64] Alluding to the well-knownhadith, "I was a prophet while Adam was between water and clay".

[65] Futûhât, ed. Yahya, Vol. 2, p. 331.

[66] These four types do notencompass all the types of walâya,yet they are the ones that are relevant for the question of theseals.

[67] The inherited walâyais the prophecy of the saints, or the absolute prophecy, and noneof the saints is heir of a prophet unless God grants him one of His revelations,in which he sees the angel actually handing the message to the messenger. If he does not see that or hear an address, he is not among the prophets ofthe saints or a saintly heir of a prophet. (See Fut�hât, Dar Sader, Vol. I, p. 150.)

[68] Ibn 'Arabî says in 'Anqâ' Mughrib, p. 19: "and he [i.e. the seal] possessestwo seals".

[69] See Futûhât,ed. Othman, Vol. 3, pp. 174ff., (Jesus is the highest in rank among the saints,and there is no saint after him except from his followers) and Vol. 13, p. 126 (Jesusis better than Abû Bakr, even though Ibn Arabî says that AbûBakr is the highest, the most superior among the saintsof the nation ofMuhammad).

[70] See 'Anqâ'Mughrib, p. 19, and Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. I, p. 150 and Vol. III, p. 507.

[71] See the Mu'jamal-Sûfî, "khilâfa"article.

[72] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. III, pp. 246-7, and Vol. II, p. 274. Also see: AlIsrâ'ila'l-maqâm al-asrâ. Although John dwells in the second heavenwith Jesus, he visits Aaron because his aunt Mary is Aaron's sister, his sisterin faith not in kinship (Futûhât, III. 347).

[73] Q.3: 39.

[[74] -See Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. II, p. 509.

[75] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 8, pp. 53-4.

[76] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. I, p. 224.

[77] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 12, p. 122.

[78] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 12, p. 122.

[[79] -See the Isrâ' ila'l-maqâm al-asrâ, pp. 82-94 and199. See also Futûhât, Dar Sader, Vol. II, pp. 274-5, and Vol. III, pp. 246-7.

[80] See Futûhât,Dar Sader, Vol. I, p. 223.

[81] See our paper: "Theheritage of the awliyâ'" (unpublished, MIAS Symposium),and also Chodkiewicz: Le sceau des saints, pp. 95-110.

[82] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, p. 380.

[83] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, p. 375.

[84] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, pp. 380-3.

[85] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, p. 384.

[86] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, p. 395.

[87] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, p. 372.

[88] See Futûhât,ed. Yahya, Vol. 3, p. 389.