Islamic Calligraphy

THE SINGLE MONAD MODEL OF THE COSMOS:

Ibn al-Arabi's Concept of Time and Creation

by Mohamed Haj Yousef



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FOREWORD


Students of the world s religious traditions, together with specialists in the history of pre-modern science and philosophy, are well aware of the centrality within the scriptures and theologies of the major world religions, over many centuries, of detailed symbolic accounts of cosmology and metaphysics (including the intricate problematics of creation) and of the crucial role played within each of those religious traditions by corresponding philosophical and scientific schemas of astronomy and cosmology that often provided a common language and framework of understanding shared by their educated elites. In pre-modern times, this key interpretive function was particularly important in the case of that complex of Hellenistic philosophic and cosmological disciplines largely shared by educated proponents of each of the three Abrahamic faiths. Given today s widespread journalistic stereotypes about the supposed opposition of science and religion, this book is a salutary reminder and an extraordinarily rich and detailed illustration of the complex interpenetration of philosophical and scriptural elements throughout the central traditions of later Islamic thought, prior to the recent scientific revolutions. At the same time, Dr. Haj Yousef s training and expertise as a modern physicist allow him to suggest, in his provocative final chapter, intriguing ways in which the earlier cosmological and theological speculations of Ibn Arabi carefully outlined in this study may also parallel very recent developments and insights in the cosmological theories (especially string theory) of modern physics. In that sense, this study provides a more demanding, Islamic parallel to such recent popular works such as F. Capra s Tao of Physics.

While the prolific Andalusian Sufi writer Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) is most widely known today as a mystic and spiritual teacher, his voluminous writings and particularly his immense magnum opus, the Meccan Illuminations, which is the primary source for this study constantly refer to the insights, theories, and cosmological schemas of earlier Muslim philosophers and scientists, such as Avicenna and the popular spiritual treatises of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Safa ). For that reason, this book begins with a helpful survey of the standard theories of cosmology and time found in earlier Hellenistic thinkers, which were largely taken over into the succeeding traditions of Islamic philosophy and science. However, the most creative and unfamiliar aspects of Ibn Arabi s cosmological ideas especially his distinctive conception of the ever-renewed, ongoing and instantaneous nature of the cosmic process of creation (tajdid al-khalq) are carefully woven together from what have always been profoundly mysterious, problematic, and complexly interwoven symbolic formulations in the Qur an. Thus the main focus and novel scholarly contribution of the central chapters of this volume lies in the author s careful unfolding and clarification of the intended meanings and references of this dense Qur anic cosmological symbolism of time and creation, as that multi-dimensional world-view is systematically expounded in elaborate accounts scattered throughout several of Ibn Arabi s major works. Every reader who engages with this demanding discussion will come away, at the very least, with a heightened appreciation of the symbolic richness and challenging intellectual dilemmas posed by this unduly neglected yet arguably quite central and unavoidable dimension of the Qur an and its metaphysical teachings.

In the penultimate chapter of this study, before taking up possible analogies to Ibn Arabi s ideas in modern physics, the author turns to the language of ontology and to a subject the paradoxical relations of the divine One and the many far more familiar to students of Ibn Arabi, or of comparable forms of thought in earlier Neo-Platonism and the metaphysics of other world religions. Despite the initial unfamiliarity (for non-specialists) of some of Ibn Arabi s Qur anic symbolism and technical terminology here, his approach to conceiving and intellectually explaining the mysterious relationship between the divine Source and its infinite manifestations clearly mirrors Plato s classical dialectical enumeration of the alternative ontological hypothesis outlined in his Parmenides. Today, of course, no one is used to thinking of those recurrent metaphysical problems in terms of the theological language of creation. But by this point Dr. Haj Yousef has outlined just how Ibn Arabi, by carefully elaborating the complex literal indications of the Qur an itself, is able to illuminate both the temporal and ontological dimensions of the divine cosmogonic Origination of all things.

The fascinating phenomenology of the human psychological and experiential dimensions of this cosmic creative process, we might add, is also the subject of even more fascinating discussions in Ibn Arabi and later Islamic philosophers (as well as earlier Sufis and mystical thinkers). But the elaboration of that closely related topic would require another, equally wide-ranging and original study. So the author has prudently set that related issue aside while focusing on those dimensions of ontology and time most directly connected with the analogous approaches of modern theoretical physics that he outlines in his concluding, more speculative chapter.

This constantly challenging and thought-provoking study is clearly the fruit of years of research on one of the most difficult subjects to be found in the writings of one of Islam s most seminal, creative, inspired, and notoriously difficult thinkers. So even those who may find Ibn Arabi s language and speculations difficult to follow will surely come away from their reading with a heightened appreciation of the relative poverty, thoughtlessness, and lack of sophistication in today s dominant public discourse about religion and science, and in our prevailing ways of conceiving and approaching these fundamental human issues of cosmology, ontology and theology.

Prof. James W. Morris (Boston College)




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I have no doubt that this is the most significant discovery in the history of mathematics, physics and philosophy, ever!

By revealing the mystery of the connection between discreteness and contintuity, this novel understanding of the complex (time-time) geometry, will cause a paradigm shift in our knowledge of the fundamental nature of the cosmos and its corporeal and incorporeal structures.

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Mohamed Haj Yousef


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