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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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Figure I.4: The orb of the constellations and what it contains down to the earth. This diagram is translated from Ibn Arabi's drawing in chapter 371 [III 424].


Then beneath the seven Gardens comes the orb of the (apparently) fixed stars, the constellations, and the 'houses' or 'mansions' (manazil) of the moon. However, Ibn Arabi maintained that those stars are not fixed at all, but that our human time-scale is too short to notice their motion [II.441.33].

The orb of the fixed stars is (also conventionally) divided into twenty eight constellations or 'houses' through which the moon appears to pass. Then inside this sphere of the stars, Allah created the 'seven (visible) heavens' (al-samawat) and the earth. And here Ibn Arabi again points out that in relation to the divine 'Pedestal' (Kursi), the dimensions of our earth together with the seven visible heavens are like a ring in a vast desert just as the Pedestal stands in that same relation to the immensity of the divine Throne.

Then Ibn Arabi speaks at length (chapter 371 of the Futuhat) on the states and levels of the Gardens and Gehenna and other descriptions of the other world (al-akhira). Here, however, we shall restrict ourselves to this very short summary of a few general relevant cosmological points, because of our focus on the concept of time.

First, we should note that Ibn Arabi, following normal Arabic usage, also calls the sun and the moon 'planets'. But at the same time he clearly distinguishes between the nature of the planets (including the moon) and the sun itself, observing that the sun alone 'is responsible for illuminating all other planets above and below' [II.170.22]. As is normal in Arabic writings (including astronomical ones), he also calls the stars by the same term as 'planets' (s. kawkab), yet he also knows that those stars are like the sun in that they emit their own light [I.217.18].

A first quick reading of Ibn Arabi's texts about the world might reveal the same traditional Aristotelian (geocentric) cosmological worldview because, like most other ancient cosmologies (and apparently the Qur an and Hadith), he talks about 'seven (celestial) heavens' around or above the earth, each inhabited by a planet (including the sun and the moon, as shown in his Figure I.4). But Ibn Arabi stresses in many places [III.548.21, I.123.17, II.441.33] that this is only the apparent view for a person who is sitting on the earth, thus distinguishing between this apparent earthly view and the actual motion of the planets and stars themselves. So, for Ibn Arabi, Aristotle's view is a view of the world 'as we see it while in itself it cannot be described like that' [III.548.31]. He stresses the central position of the sun which he considers to be in the 'heart' (centre) of the seven heavens, and he emphasizes the superiority of the sun over other planets that are even above it with relation to the earth: 'So the elevation of this place (the sun's orb) comes from its being the heart of orbs, so it is a high place for its status and the orbs that are above it in distance with relation to our heads, are still below it in status' [III.441.33]. His actual view of the (local) world is therefore in some sense 'heliocentric', at least in relation to the unique central status or 'rank' (makana) of the sun.

As for those areas of the sphere of the fixed stars and the visible constellations normally specified by the twelve signs of the zodiac or the twenty eight houses of the Moon, Ibn Arabi considers them as a mere convention, which do not necessarily relate to the actual positions of those particular stars. He says: 'The zodiac (constellations) are approximate positions, and they are houses for the moving planets' [III.37.27]. And for the moon he says that 'those stars are called "houses" because planets move through them, but otherwise there is no difference between them and other stars that are not houses. They are only assumptions and proportions in this body (of the sky)' [III.436.30].

On the other hand, we cannot strictly separate the material world from the abstract or spiritual world, as they are really overlapped or rather, all of the material worlds (of the 'Pedestal' and the visible heavens and earth below) are effectively contained within the immaterial divine 'Throne'. This is why Ibn Arabi sometimes mixes the two views: for example he drew a pillar to refer to the Perfect Human Being, whom he considers to be the 'image of the Real' (i.e., of God) in the cosmos, so that without him the cosmos would collapse. He also speaks, following scriptural symbolism, about the seven heavens as being 'supported' on the seven (levels/regions of the) earths. But Ibn Arabi does not consider that to be the actual physical picture of things, because he clearly states that the earth is spherical and that it rotates around its centre: 'but the motion of the earth is not apparent for us, and its motion is around the middle (centre) because it is a sphere' [I.123.17]. He even nicely explains why we don't feel the motion of the Earth and the cosmos in general (stars). For example he says that people and most other creatures don't feel the motion of the cosmos because it is all moving so the witnessed dimensions don't change, and that is why they imagine that the earth is stationary around the centre [II.677.21].



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