By Muhammed Shafeeq Muhaimid
Recently, some academic debates voluntarily discussed the belief of veteran Sufi saint Muhyudheen Ibn Arabi. Apart ascending him, the writers are trying to expel him from the religious circle, alleging misconstrued theories of Kufr (infidelity). The oriental approach on his texts had well calibrated non ethical things, controversy to the religious authentic theories. Even, the well applauded book ‘Sufi narratives of intimacy’ of Sa’diya Sheikh, had tried to interpret his words for establishing some dogmas of Islamic feminism. Here, it is inevitable to look upon the scholastic comments on the orthodoxy of Ibn Arabi and his books.
Definitely, Ibn ‘Arabi was a controversial mystical scholar born at Spain on July 1165. He has the inheritance of ancient Arab tribe of Tayy – a fact which explores that Islamic mysticism is not only sanctioned to Persians. His family was well known for their piety. His father and two uncles were renowned Sufis of that epoch. He took early education in a milieu where knowledge reached in its apex position. Rom Landau describes this era as an intellectual zest of Cordova and Seville surpassed those of Paris and possible even Constantinople.
Indeed, the esoteric mystical language of Ibn Arabi around metaphysical things often explicated defamation among knowledge seekers. The way he used to depict monotheism from pantheistic ideologies was rigid and complex. This discursive expression is vividly remarked in his magnum opus ‘The Bezels of wisdom’ (Fusul Al Hikam) and ‘The Mecca openings’ (Futuhat Al Makkiyya). Moreover, the book ‘The interpreter of desires’ (Tarjuman Al Ashwaq) and Diwan may mislead readers to depict him as a pure lover of nature and Persian women Nisam disregarding the perspicacious Sufi insights hidden amidst those lines.
Heeding his observation, one may not able to interpret the polemic topics as it is enriched with heavenly imagination than orthodox findings. He argues that the book ‘The Bezels of wisdom’ was a gift from the prophet, offered to whom the book is useful. The mystical philosophy often explicated with digressive character totally lack apparent logical connections in its journey from one topic to another. Amazingly, he left the task of assembling those scattered statements to an intelligent reader.
There are no alternatives for a Sufi saint like Ibn Arabi whose faith has so much questioned in Islamic history. The controversies on the orthodoxy of Ibn Al Arabi are not a newly sprouted phenomenon amidst Muslim. But there are so many traces for it, even founded in new-gen academic discourses. In 1979, some members of the people assembly, the lower house of Egyptian bicameral parliament ban the teachings of Ibn Arabi. He was well influenced in terms of philosophical and mystical ideas than his knowledge bank dealing with the fundamental teachings of Islam.
There are enormous quoting of scholars regarding his works and the matter of its authenticity. For some Ibn ‘Arabi is believed as one of the greatest figures of Islam in terms of author and a Sufi, while some others misinterpret him as a heretic and impostor. Verily, the ambiguity of his language and complexity of his thoughts made his ideas intractable, particularly to those who are not familiar intricate ways of expression in Islamic mysticism. In real, he was a mystic who expresses his great experience through enigmatic language. Indeed, enigmas are tough to understand.
Some class of scholars has no passion to have a talk on his moral or religious life. They bravely escaped from those negotiations leaving Ibn Arabi as a Sufi saint. It is highly believed that the controversies upon his religious beliefs started when Jamal al-Din b. al-Khayyat from the Yemen made an appeal to the `ulema’ of different parts of the Muslim world seeking to have their opinion on Ibn ‘Arabi. Some scholars simply excluded him from the religious circle and others defended him with great passion. The letter reached in the hands of many prominent scholars like Firuzabadi, Siraj al-Din al-Makhzumi, al-Siraj al-Balqini, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, Qutb al-Din al-Hamawi, al-Qutb al-Shirazi, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, and many others. Interestingly, both Makhzumi and Suyuti wrote books on this subject. Siraj ad-Din al-Makhzumi said: “Likewise Shaykh Taqi ad-Din as-Subki, our sheikh Bulqini also used to criticize the Shaykh (Ibn al-‘Arabi) in beginning, then they changed their position realizing what he was saying the explanation upon his intention”.
Furthermore, Suyuti ranked him in the position of Junaid-Al-Baghdadi and named him as the instructor of the Gnostics (`arifin). When Burhan al-din Ibrahim Bin Umar Al-Biqai attacked Ibn Arabi through his book entitled ‘Tanbih Al Ghabi ila Takfir Ibn Arabi’ (warning to the ignorant concerning Ibn Arabi’s disbelief), Al Suyuthi countered with another book ‘Tanbih Al Ghabi fi Thakhthia Ibn Arabi’ (warning to the ignorant that faults Ibn Arabi). In this book Al suyuthi ascents Ibn arabi as a Sufi saint. Controversially, he banned believer to read the texts of Ibn Arabi. He criticized that people who assigned infidelity on him are verily moving in the path of those who adjoined hands for Allah erroneously interpreting the textual meaning of Quran. As infidelity deals with soul, it will be better to keep mum from such denotations. Moreover, Al-Suyuthi proclaims that those who put effort to interpret the words of Ibn Arabi have done a great sin which may lead hundreds of people to notify Ibn Arabi as an apostate. Al suyuthi expounds lots of narrations of certified scholars regarding his Karamath (Miracles). One of the servants of Ibn arabi, namely Abdul Ghaffar well explains the smiling attitude of Sheikh towards the accusers amidst the ways he travelled. In brief Al Suyuthi says that reading the texts of Ibn Arabi is a heavy task which can only be managed by scholars equalizing his class in mystical findings. Sometimes the words may have said in unconscious mind.
Here the Fathwa (legal opinion) of the veteran jurist Imam Ibn Hajar Al Hythami has a remarkable position in the academic readings. In his book, Fathawa Al Hadeesiyya he says “many scholars concords that Ibn Arabi was a scholar who assembled both knowledge and practice. The world had already agreed his position in terms of knowledge, work and asceticism. We want to believe that he had these features until his death. It is a brutal step to interpret him from the ground of mere calculations.” Like what Al suyuthi did, Ibn Hajar also elucidates the dangerous side of interpreting his text. Even though there are statements like ‘Farova was a Muslim’ that cannot be interpreted from any religious sources, we have no power to name infidelity (Kufr) upon his head but can say that his findings were wrong.
In oppose to Biqa’i’s terrible allegations, it should be better to cite the words of Balqini who had the highest opinion of Ibn ‘Arabi. He says “You should take care not to deny anything that Shaikh Muhyi al-Din has said, when he – may God have mercy upon him – plunged deep into the sea of gnosis and the verification of truths, mentioned towards the end of his life in the Fusus, the Futuhat, and the Tanazzulat – things which are fully understood only by people of his rank. We seek refuge in Allah from saying that Ibn al-‘Arabi affirms hulul and ittihad! He is far above that. Rather, he is one of the greatest Imams and among those who have probed the oceans of the sciences of Qur’an and Hadith” (History of Muslim Philosophy by M. M. Sharif).
Despite the allegations his teachings not only survived the attacks, but also exercised a prominent role in the development of Islamic mysticism. His was applauded in the East, where he spent the greater part of his life, with the title Al-Sheikh al-Akbar (the Greatest Doctor), which has never been conferred to any Sufi saint.
He propounded his ideologies in a time where speculative Sufism reached its culminating point. Then after the world witnessed a rapid spread of Sufi orders all over the Muslim world; and thus Sufism became the popular form in Islamic creed. Thus Ibn Arabi’s theosophy and mystical philosophy remained unchallenged. In nutshell, a Muslim scholar has the utmost right to interpret his words. If they instruct to keep mum on him, then the findings on academic intellects cannot be applauded.
• Sufi narratives of intimacy by Sa’diya Sheikh
• Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi by Henry Corbin.
• An Ocean without Shore – Ibn ‘Arabi, the Book and the Law by Michel Chodkiewic
History of Muslim Philosophy by M. M. Sharif
• ‘Tanbih Al Ghabi fi Thakhthia Ibn Arabi’ (warning to the ignorant that faults Ibn Arabi) of Imam Al Suyuthi
• Fathawa Al Hadeesiyya of Ibn Hajar Al Hythami.
[Muhammed Shafeeq Muhaimid is a freelance writer and columnist. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org]