Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time. Ibn 'Arabi's book 'The Fabulous Gryphon'
Translation and study by Gerald Elmore of the Anqa' al-Mughrib. Brill, 1999
A full translation of one of Ibn 'Arabi's earliest surviving works, Kitâb 'Anqâ' Mughrib. This has already been reviewed in detail by Michel Chodkiewicz in Volume 26 of the Journal, and so needs only a brief introduction here.
Written before he left Andalusia and the Maghreb, probably during the 'lost year' of 596H (1200AD), this work lays out in detail Ibn 'Arabi's understanding of sainthood (walâyah) and its hierarchies, in particular introducing the theme of the Seal of Sainthood which takes three forms - Jesus, who is the Seal of Universal Sainthood, the Mahdi who precedes him at the end of time, and the Seal of Muhammedian Sainthood. Although presented in the form of an historical unfoldment, the emphasis, as Michel Chodkiewicz has pointed out, is on the realisation of these aspects - on 'the signs of the times" - within each person. Ibn 'Arabi says (p. 461):
As for the Seal of the Saints with regard to Man, it is actually an expression for the station at which you will end up, and before which you will be brought to stand - it being each mystic traveller wherever he may arrive, his station wherever he may come to light. For there is no specific place at which to stop, but only the place one reaches - the gnostic himself disclosing to us its limit.
This substantial volume - reaching more than 700 pages - is a highly scholarly work. There is a long introduction covering the life and thought of Ibn 'Arabi, particularly the early period in the Maghreb, as one would expect, and detailed notes to the text. There are also extensive appendices, including notes on commentaries to the work and a selection of texts on related themes - mostly from the Futuhât - by Ibn 'Arabi himself. Elmore is a meticulous scholar, so his sources, his translation and his interpretations are carefully presented at every stage. This is a highly allegorical work, using symbolism which is abstruse and no longer familiar to most modern readers, so we must be grateful to Elmore for his careful annotation of the text which at least begins to make the complex the cosmology intelligible. His translation is in clear English, and I myself appreciate the extent to which he includes the original Arabic in parenthesis, although I suspect that it may interrupt the reading for some non-Arabic speakers.
In short, a very valuable book, which may be too forbidding for the general reader - especially as Brill has priced it at £155!