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Particle-Wave Duality: from Time Confinement to Space Transcendence

by Mohamed Haj Yousef



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2.2.7 Circular Time and Cyclical Time


Ibn al-Arabi repeatedly describes time as a “circle” , [I.387.33], which does not have a beginning or an end, but when we specify a point on this circle (the present; the point in time in which we exist now) and look in one direction, whether to the past or future, we do set a relative beginning and an end. So the present (now) joins together the two ends of time in a circle [I.387.32, III.546.30].

It is very difficult to imagine this, as it was initially very difficult to convince people that the earth is spherical when this idea was first introduced, precisely because most everyday activities show us only a small portion of the earth’s surface which appears flat to us. Yet time is not like space. In the case of the earth it was relatively easy to prove that it is round because we can view its curvature, from space, or from a great height, all at once. But the problem with time is that we can only normally witness the present moment of it, not the future nor the past; we can only imagine them. Therefore, in order to understand the meaning of “circular” time, we have to imagine that the whole of all existence (what we perceive as future, present and past) exists all at once. This whole existence is then like a circle: i.e., a curve that does not have a visible beginning or an end when we look at it from outside. When we sit on the circumference of this circle and look in one direction, we set a beginning and an end. In the same way: the present moment in which we exist is a point on the circle of the whole existence, this point defines the future and the past and it also defines an imaginary beginning and an imaginary end of time: imaginary because the whole circle of existence (of “the Age” ) is infinite. The imaginary beginning is the eternity a parte ante and the imaginary end is the eternity a parte post [IV.266.3].

This cosmic notion of “circular time” is quite different from “cyclical time” , and the two ideas should not be confused in Ibn al-Arabi’s writings. “Cyclical” or periodic time, such as the day, the week, the month and the year, is a duration of time in which the same kind of events should be happening in the different repeating cycles of time. For example, the sun sets every evening to start a new day (because the “day” for the Arabs was considered to start from sunset, not from sunrise), and the moon is born approximately every four weeks to start a new lunar month. We should again note, however, that in reality, according to Ibn al-Arabi, there is never any repetition at all [II.432.12, III.282.21]. Those cycles of time are “similar” to each other but never identical, as the terms “period” or “cycle” mean in modern physics. For Ibn al-Arabi, the cycles of time are similar because they are ruled by the same divine Names, which is why we expect to see similar events. But the reason why we do not see identical events or true repetition is because of the interaction between different cycles of different divine Names, [III.201.14]. For example he says that: “the motion of Sunday appeared from the (divine) attribute “the All-Hearing” ..., and the motion of Monday appeared from the (divine) attribute “the Living” [II.438.9].

Therefore the cycle of Sunday is different from the cycle of Monday, although they are both days in which the Sun rises and sets in the same way. On the other hand, and based on the same statement above, Sunday from this week should be identical with Sunday from the previous week, because they both appeared from the same divine Attribute. But they are not, because they do not have the same position in the month or the year, or in other cycles that are ruled by other divine Names and Attributes, so there is never any repetition. The significance of the “Week” is discussed in Chapter III of Volume I and also in Chapter IV of Volume II, where we also discussed the different Kinds of days



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The time of anything is its presence; but I am not in time, and You are not in time; so I am Your time, and You are my time!
Ibn al-Arabi [The Meccan Revelations: III.546.16 - tans. Mohamed Haj Yousef]
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