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THE SINGLE MONAD MODEL OF THE COSMOS:

Ibn al-Arabi's Concept of Time and Creation

by Mohamed Haj Yousef



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4. Preliminary Outline of Ibn Arabi's Cosmology:


Ibn Arabi (560-638AH/1165-1240AD) was a great sufi thinker of the Middle Ages and one of the most influential authors in islamic history, whose writings have deeply influenced Islamic civilisation for centuries, and have more recently attracted wide interest in the West. The full name of Ibn al- Arabi (more commonly referred to in English without the definite article) is Abu Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn al- Arabi al-Hatimi al-Ta i. He was born in Murcia (in eastern Andalusia), into a very pious and cultured family. When he was seven they moved to Seville, and at the age of 16 he 'entered on the path' (of sufism). Then he travelled throughout and between Andalusia and Morocco for some years before a vision compelled him to go to the East. In 1201 he travelled to Cairo, al-Quds (Jerusalem), and finally to Mecca for pilgrimage. His many works eventually brought him fame, and sometimes notoriety, so that he was eventually sought out by Seljuq and Ayyubid princes and accompanied by a group of disciples. Later on he came to be popularly called Muhyi al-Din ('The Reviver of Religion') and al-Shaykh al-Akbar ('the Greatest Master'). He continued travelling throughout the Middle East until he settled in Damascus in 1224, where he remained until his death in 1240.[5]

Ibn Arabi's two most famous and influential works are al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya ('The Meccan Illuminations'), an encyclopaedic discussion of Islamic wisdom (Nasr 1964: 92-8), and the shorter Fusus al-Hikam ('The Bezels of Wisdom'), which comprises twenty-seven chapters named after prophets who characterize different spiritual types. But Ibn Arabi also wrote many other lesser known works, many of them now available in print, such as the Kitab al-Tajalliyyat, Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, Mashahid al-Asrar al-Qudsiyya, Mawaqi al-Nujum, Uqlat al-Mustawfiz, Insha al-Dawa ir and al-Tadbirat al-Ilahiyya, in addition to 29 shorter treatises published in the Hyderabad collection commonly known as the Rasa il Ibn Arabi, and many other shorter books and treatises. In one of his treatises, Ibn Arabi himself listed 289 titles, which increase to 317 confirmed works when added to other titles he mentioned throughout his various books. More than 850 books have been attributed to him.[6]

Ibn Arabi was not an astronomer, and was never interested in astronomy as a science. But as a sufi and mystical theologian constantly inspired by the cosmological teachings and symbolism developed throughout the Qur an and in a number of related Hadith (Prophetic sayings), he talks about planets and orbs and their motion as a structure Allah created on His Image (see section III.2) and relates them to the divine Names. He uses cosmology to refer to the ways we acquire more knowledge of Allah. Apart from a few short treatises where he talks about some astronomy subjects mixed with philosophy and theology, Ibn Arabi didn't devote any special book to describing the heavens. Nevertheless, in his major book al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya ('The Meccan Illuminations' - henceforth referred to as 'the Futuhat'), for example, we find many paragraphs that can be used to illustrate his profound view of the cosmos.

It can surely be said that Ibn Arabi's view of the cosmos is truly challenging, even as compared to the latest modern theories. For example, he clearly declared that the stars are not fixed at all, more than seven centuries before this was scientifically known, and he explained why we don't see their motion. Moreover, he gave numbers to the average velocities of the proper motion of stars as 100 years per arc degree, which is quite consistent with the measurements taken only few decades ago [III.548.28, II.441.33]; indeed he even used exactly the same unit of measurement now being used (Smart 1977: 249) at a time when no such measurements were possible at all. He also explained the observed 'retrograde motion' of some planets and the formation of the planets in the solar system in a similar manner to what is widely accepted today [II.443.24, III.203.21]. But most important in this regard is that his view of the world is heliocentric, similar to what Copernicus suggested many centuries afterwards. He also clearly affirmed that the earth is spherical, moving and rotating, and he also explained why people don't realize the motion of the earth around its centre [I.123.17, II.441.33, III.548.21].

Ibn Arabi's unique understanding of the process and reality of ongoing creation has been discussed by many scholars in some details. Ibn Arabi himself mentioned in particular a number of key cosmological developments in chapter 371 and in the very detailed chapter 198 of the Futuhat, as well as in other cosmological books such as Insha al-Dawa ir, al-Tadbirat al-Ilahiyya and Uqlat al-Mustawfiz. William Chittick has devoted an immense volume called "The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn al- Arabi's Cosmology" (this will be abbreviated as SDG ) specifically to Ibn Arabi's cosmology and ontology, in addition to some chapters of other books like "The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al- Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination" (this will be abbreviated as SPK ), and also Henry Corbin discussed some aspects in his pioneering study, now entitled in English Alone with the Alone, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi (Crbin 1969: 184). Here we want to give a very short summary of Ibn Arabi's cosmology, in a way somewhat different from the approach followed by Chittick and Corbin. We only want to give a general description of his cosmological views, without too much further analysis and explanation, so that we can concentrate on the central subject of time in the rest of the book. Also we will leave the discussion of the ontological aspects of his cosmology to the following chapters (see in particular section II.3). Here in the following we shall use the same figures Ibn Arabi drew in chapter 371 of the Futuhat, and the following broad cosmological account is mainly drawn from that chapter [III.416-448], along with a few paragraphs taken from the long chapter 198 [II.390-478] of the same work.

Ibn Arabi's universe comprises both the material and the abstract, spiritual or noetic ( aqli) worlds. He says that the main reason for creating the cosmos is 'Love'. In explaining this underlying principle he often refers to a famous divine saying (the 'Hadith of the Hidden Treasure')[7] which states that Allah 'loved' to be known in order to grant the creatures the privilege of coming to know Him. Thus Allah's love to be known is a Mercy (rahma) from Him that He wanted to grant to all His creatures. This Mercy is the first state of the presence of Allah with regard to the world to be created, and hence it formed the abstract place (or 'space') in which creations would appear. Following indications in another Prophetic Hadith, Ibn Arabi calls this abstract place al- ama ('the Cloud').[8] According to his account, the reality of al- ama accepted the forms of the 'Roaming Spirits' (al-arwah al-muhayyama) that Allah created directly, without any intermediaries. This direct creation caused these angelic Spirits to roam in the presence of Allah, knowing nothing but Him. They did not even know about themselves (i.e., they had no self-consciousness). Allah appointed one of these spirits and granted him a special epiphany of divine Knowledge (tajalli ilmi) that engraved in him all what Allah wants to create in this entire cosmos until the Last Day. The other primal Spirits could not know about that. This initial epiphany caused this Spirit that is then called the 'Universal Intellect' (al- aql al-kulli) or the 'First Intellect' (al- aql al-awwal) or also, using a central Qur anic symbol, the 'Higher Pen' (al-qalam al-a ala) to become aware both of himself and of the other Spirits, while they didn't know about him.

Through this epiphany, the First Intellect saw himself composed of himself and of his further ability to realize or 'intelligize'. He also saw that he has an ontic 'shadow' caused by the Light of that special epiphany, which was realized through the divine Name 'the Light' (al-nur). This shadow is his 'soul', which is called the 'Universal Soul' (al-nafs al-kulliyya) or the 'First Soul' (al-nafs al-ula), or also the 'Highest/Protected Tablet' (al-lawh al-a ala/al-mahfuz), in which he is going to write what he knows is going to happen until the Last Day. The entire universe, then, is to use a central Qur anic symbolism the 'letters' and 'words' of Allah that are produced through 'the Breath of the All-Merciful'. We shall see in section V.8) that the fundamental 'blocks' in the universe are 'strings' or vibrations ('sounds' or 'notes'), which is similar to Ibn Arabi's notion of the hierarchy of the 'men of breaths (rijal al-anfas). Therefore it is not only a symbolism to say that the entire universe is the 'letters' and 'words' of Allah,[9] and those words are continuously being written by the Highest Pen (the First Intellect) in the Highest Tablet (the Universal Soul). Figure I.1 shows this Cloud and its contents down to the 'establishing Throne' ( Arsh al-Istiwa ), which is different from the usual cosmological meaning of the divine (normal/usual) 'Throne'. The 'establishing throne' is the throne on which 'Allah established His authority', alluding to the verse: 'ar-Rahman ala al- arsh istawa' (20:5).



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  • ... Gave Numbers =>:

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  • ... Influential Work =>:

  • ... the Greatest Master'). He continued travelling throughout the Middle East until he settled in Damascus in 1224, where he remained until his death in 1240.[5] Ibn Arabi's two most famous and INFLUENTIAL WORK s are al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya ('The Meccan Illuminations'), an encyclopaedic discussi ...


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The science of Time is a noble science, that reveals the secret of Eternity. Only the Elites of Sages may ever come to know this secret. It is called the First Age, or the Age of ages, from which time is emerging.
Ibn al-Arabi [The Meccan Revelations: Volume I, page 156. - Trns. Mohamed Haj Yousef]
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