This is a concise introduction to the life and thought of Ibn ‘Arabi, who is considered as the ‘Greatest of Sufi Masters’. Written by the author of a best-selling biography of Ibn Arabi, Ibn Arabi: The Voyage of No Return traces the major events of Ibn Arabi’s life: his conversion to Sufism; his travels around Andalusia and the Maghreb; his meetings with the saints of his time; his journey to Mecca; his travels in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Syria; his most important books. The events of Ibn Arabi’s ‘inner voyage’, however, are far more spectacular than those of his outer life and are here presented directly from the many auto-biographical sections found in his writings. Through her detailed analysis of Ibn Arabi’s works and her profound understanding of his ideas, Claude Addas gives us a comprehensive insight into the major doctrines of this most influential of Sufi, masters: the doctrine of prophethood and sainthood, of inheritance from the prophets, of the ‘imaginal world’, of the ‘unicity of Being’, of the ‘Seal of the Saints’, and many others. Addas also introduces the main disciples of Ibn Arabi down to the nineteenth century and traces both his unequalled influence on the course of Sufism and the controversies that still surround him till today. Ibn Arabi: The Voyage of No Return is essential reading for anyone interested in Islamic mysticism and is a genuine contribution to scholarship in this field.
‘... there can be no question as to the comprehensive scope and scholarly reliability of this work: the author has included all the major themes of Ibn Arabi’s writings, for the most part expressed in his own words, and has placed them carefully in the context of his major writings and both their immediate and wider historical settings .’James Morris (Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society)
Table of Contents
Should Ibn Arabi Be Burned?
The Prince’s Prayer
“Flee towards God”
The Masters of the Way
“When what has never been disappears ...”
“The distance of two bows, or closer”
The Meccan Illuminations
“God is, and nothing is with Him”
“Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God”
The Two Horizons
“Benefit from my existence”
Opinions of Ibn Arabi
Claude Addas is a scholar of Ibn Arabi and the author of Quest for the Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn Arabi (published by The Islamic Texts Society, 1993).
The Prince’s Prayer
"Since I was old enough to wear a sword-belt, I did not cease mounting steeds, ... examining sabre blades, parading in military camps(al-asakir),instead of pouring over the pages of books.” It is doubtful that any of those who knew him well would have been able to predict that this boy who was so attracted to the clanking of military armour would soon devote himself to the strict renunciation of the ascetic. Everything pointed the young Ibn Arabi toward a military career. The Spirit that blows where it wills had decided otherwise.
Ibn ‘Arabi’s family was descended from one of the oldest Arab lineages in Muslim Spain. His ancestors, Arabs from the Yemen, emigrated toward the Iberian peninsula at quite an early date; most likely, during the ‘second wave’ of the conquest, the wave that, in 712, brought several thousand Yemenite horsemen into Andalusia. In any case, they were listed among the “great Arab families” that were living in Andalusia in the census that took place during the reign of the first Umayyad amir (756-788). Thus, they belonged to the khassa, the ruling class that occupied the highest offices in the administration and the army.
Proud of his Arab origins, Ibn Arabi would recall, mostly in his poems, the name of his ancestor the famous Hatim al-Ta’i, the pre-Islamic Arabian poet whose chivalrous virtues are proverbial. On the other hand, he alludes on a number of occasions to the important position of his father, who, he states, “was one of the Sultan’s companions”—a phrase that has given rise to much conjecture, and one which some recent biographers have used to conclude that he was at the very least a minister. A document published a few years ago now allows us a much clearer view. According to its author, Ibn Sha’ar (d. 1256), who met the Shaykh al-Akbar in Aleppo on 27 October 1237 and asked him about his youth, Ibn Arabi “was from a military family in the service of those who govern the country”. Although it is elusive, the phrase reminds us that the career of Ibn Arabi’s father evolved within the framework of the political vicissitudes that accompanied the collapse of the Almoravid regime in Andalusia.
A Dazzling Metamorphosis
There is nothing that could have predicted that the life of this adolescent destined for a military career would go through such a radical change from one day to the next. We may never know exactly what happened, or precisely when. The famous text where he describes his interview in Cordoba with the philosopher Averroes provides at least one piece of chronological information. Ibn Arabi describes himself as a still beardless young man, but one who had been granted illuminative knowledge during the course of a recent retreat.
From this account it can be deducted that the event took place when he was about fifteen. What follows in Ibn Sha’ar’s account adds one more detailed piece of information regarding the circumstances of this short and precocious metanoia.“What led me to leave the army, on the one hand, and to take up the Path on the other hand,” Ibn Arabi told him, “was this: I had gone out one day with Prince Abu Bakr [b.] Yusuf b. Abd al-Mu’min in Cordoba. We went to the great mosque and I watched him while he bowed and prostrated himself in humble and contrite prayer. I then remarked to myself, ‘If someone like this, who is no less than the sovereign of this country, is submissive and humble, and behaves in such a way towards God, it is because this lower world is nothing!’ I left him that same day, never to see him again, and undertook the Path.”