Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ibn al-Arabi & The Universal Soul or The Reality of the Perfect Man

Ayesha L. Saeed

The articulated words of God result in the creation of all that is, including the Supreme Barzakh/ Universal Nature. 

Ibn al-‘Arabi discusses Universal Nature as a reality that is primarily receptive. He places Nature in a polarity with the Spirit, which is primarily active and masculine in essence.  He makes it clear that this active dimension of the Spirit is inseparable from the receptive dimension of Nature. Just as the relationship between the Creator and creation is reciprocal for without creation there would be no Creator, similarly Nature has an effect on the Spirit. The realm of the Spirit is also known as the world of Command (‘alam al-amr).

Ibn al-‘Arabi says: A woman in relation to a man is like Nature in relation to the Divine Command, since the woman is the locus for the existence of the children, just as Nature in relation to the Divine Command (al-amr al-ilahi), is the locus of manifestation for the entities of the corporeal bodies. 

Ibn al-‘Arabi employs the terms wife and husband to explain the underlying relationship between Nature and the World of the Command.

When a natural form that has the receptivity to be governed becomes manifest and when a particular soul becomes manifest governing it, the form is like the female, while the governing spirit is like the male.  Hence the form is the wife while the spirit is the husband.

Human beings are permeated by the qualities of both the masculine principle i.e., the world of the command or spirit and the feminine principle i.e., the world of the soul or Nature.  Ibn al-‘Arabi explains how these two principles interact in the context of the male principle being represented by the father and the female principle being represented by the mother. “The spirits are all fathers, while Nature is the Mother, since it is the locus of transmutations” Ibn al-‘Arabi believes that Nature is the “highest and greatest mother, (al-umm al-‘aliyat al-kubra)”[8] through whom the birth of everything in the cosmos takes place, whereas she herself remains unseen.

The Supreme Barzakh is also called by various other significant names or synonyms, such as the Reality of the Perfect Man and Muhammadan Reality. The Reality of the Perfect Man and the Muhammadan Reality are realities that are completely submissive (muslim) to the Will and Command of Allah. But within the attributes of Universal Nature/ the Universal Soul/ the Reality of the Perfect man and Muhammadan Reality is also the attribute of being active and therefore masculine with respect to everything else in creation because everything else in creation is submissive towards it.

Ibn al-Arabi [1165-1240]: 
Muhammad Muhyi al-Din al-Andalusi al-Dimashqi Ibn 'Arabi: A scholar of Arabic letters at first, then tafsir and tasawwuf, nicknamed al-Qushayri and Sultan al-'Arifin in his time for his pre-eminence in tasawwuf, known in his lifetime for his devoutness to worship, asceticism, and generosity, Ibn 'Arabi was praised by al-Munawi as "a righteous friend of Allah and a faithful scholar of knowledge" (waliyyun salihun wa 'alimun nasih), by Ibn 'Imad al-Hanbali as "the absolute mujtahid without doubt," and by al-Fayruzabadi as "the Imam of the People of Shari'a both in knowledge and in legacy, the educator of the People of the Way in practice and in knowledge, and the shaykh of the shaykhs of the People of Truth through spiritual experience (dhawq) and understanding."

His greatest and best-known is his last work, al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya ("The Meccan Conquests") which begins with a statement of doctrine - translated in forthcoming posts - about which al-Safadi said: "I saw that from beginning to end it consists in the doctrine of Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari without any difference whatsoever.

The name of Ibn 'Arabi remains associated with controversy because of those who criticized him severely for the work attributed to him under the title Fusus al-Hikam ("The Precious Stones of the Wisdoms"). 

Al-Suyuti's attitude and what he reports from al-Munawi is echoed by Imam al-Safadi who said of Ibn 'Arabi: "He was a very great man, and whatever can be understood from his words is excellent and upright; as for what we find difficult, we leave its matter to Allah, for we were not tasked with following him nor with doing all that he said.

Biography Dr. Ayesha L. Saeed:

Dr. Ayesha L. Saeed has a PhD in Philosophy of Education from the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Melbourne University, Australia. She is a member of the Academic Advisory Committee, at Virsa College of Arts, Islamabad and of the Council of Social Sciences, Pakistan

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