About the Author
Claude Addas is a scholar of Ibn Arabi and the author of Ibn Arabi: The Voyage of No Return, published by the Islamic Texts Society.
Read an Excerpt
WHEN? How? Why? These are the questions the 'ordinary' man asks himself every time he is confronted with the case of an individual who, all of a sudden, chooses God.
Sometimes he has a detailed autobiographical account, such as Saint Augustine's Confessions, to help him find the answers. But even in the most favourable circumstances, even in the case of a completely 'naked' account which has managed to stay free from the pious conventions to which this literary genre so often falls a victim, is that enough for us to fathom the inmost depths of a soul and understand this strange, disconcerting course of events? Most of the time, as if to force us to follow him down the same path he has already trodden, the saint keeps silent and history remains dumb. This, in effect, is what has happened in the case of Ibn 'Arabi: his writings offer nothing in the way of systematic account, including dates, of the stages of his conversion. However, among the thousands of pages that make up his work, he often happens to corroborate a point of view he has just been elaborating on by citing his own spiritual experience. On those occasions he allows extremely valuable autobiographical details to slip out in a few brief words or phrases. By gathering these scattered pieces of information and supplementing them with the reports of his disciples and his biographers, an attempt can be made to provide the answers to the questions posed above.
In those passages from his books in which Ibn 'Arabi refersexplicitly or implicitlyto his 'return to God', one notes immediately the recurrence of certain key terms: khalwa ('retreat'), fath ('illumination'), mubashshira or sometimes waqi'a ('vision'), tawba ('conversion') and ruju' ('return'). These terms represent so many asymmetrical pieces which, once brought together and arranged in a coherent manner, will allow us to reconstruct a plausible account of the successive phases in Ibn 'Arabi's 'return to God'.
One of the most famous passages in the Futuhat provides the answer to the question, 'When?'. This is the passage which describes the notorious meeting between Ibn 'Arabi and Averroes. O. Yahia, on the basis of another passage in the Futuhat where Ibn 'Arabi mentions the date 580/1184 in connection with his 'entering the Path', places this interview between the saint and the philosopher in around the same year. However, the account in question contains certain details which appear to contradict such an assumption. Ibn 'Arabi describes how 'One fine day I went to Cordoba to visit the qadi Abu l-Walid Ibn Rushd (Averroes). He wanted to meet me, as he had heard of the illumination which God had granted to me during my retreat (ma fataha llah bihi 'alayya fi khalwati): he had expressed amazement on learning what he had been told about me. My father was one of his friends, and accordingly sent me to him on the pretext of doing some errand or other, although his real purpose was to allow him to speak with me. At that time I was still just a boy (sabiyyun) without any down on my face or even a moustache (ma baqala wajhi wa la tarra sharibi)… '.
Table of Contents1. Home Land
4. Ibn Arabi and the Savants of Andalusia
5. God's Vast Earth
8. The Great Pilgrimage
9. 'Counsel My Servants'
10. Damascus, 'Refuge of the Prophets'
Appendix I: Chronological Table of Ibn Arabi's life
Appendix II: Ibn Arabi and his Links with the Various Sufi Currents in the Muslim West
Appendix III: The Teachers in Traditional Religious Discipline Frequented by Ibn Arabi in the Muslim West
Appendix IV: The Men of Letters Frequented by Ibn Arabi in the Muslim West
Appendix V: The Four silsilas of the khirqa akbariyya