The Unlimited Mercifier: The Spiritual Life and Thought of Ibn 'Arabi Stephen Hirtenstein.
Oxford, Anqa Publishing, 1999; pp. 289.
Review by James Morris in The Expository Times, vol. 111, no. 2 (August 2000), page 395
The Spanish mystic and philosopher Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240) was arguably the most influential Islamic thinker of the last millenium, while more recently his ideas on spirituality and the transcendent unity of religions have been widely adapted by leading contemporary authorities on comparative religion. Hirtenstein's new book is the first study of his life (and popular introduction to his teachings) designed directly for the English-speaking audience: the result is an absorbing, impressively comprehensive overview which is accessible to the first-time reader while offering new rewards for those already familiar with his work.
Based on years of study of Ibn 'Arabi's works and travel to most of the places where he lived and taught, this is certainly the best general introduction to his fascinating life and teachings for readers just discovering him. The author has alternated biographical and historical chapters with sections introducing key aspects of Ibn 'Arabi's thought. This primarily biographical (and often dramatically autobiographical) focus often throws new light on the decisive interplay of history, spiritual experience, and literary expression in Ibn 'Arabi's writing. The author's artful use of dozens of photos of mosques, shrines and historical sites directly connected with Ibn 'Arabi's journeys throughout the Islamic world also provides an invaluable accompaniment to the extensive translations from his writings, helping to bring alive the constant upheavals that marked the Shaykh's life and eventually spread his teachings from Andalusia to the Eastern world of Rumi, Suhrawardi and other great saints, poets and statesmen of his time. Finally, the careful discussion of Ibn 'Arabi's autobiographical accounts of his spiritual illuminations helps bring out the inspired - and often highly controversial - personal dimension of his self-conception and mission in a way which has often been lost in more abstract accounts of his metaphysical teachings.