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2 Chapters of Futuhat; W. Chittick

2 Chapters of Futuhat; W. Chittick

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Published by: Tahir Ali on Jun 04, 2011
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Two Chapters from the
Futûhât al-Makkiyya
WILLIAM C. CHITTICKIbn al-'Arabi's magnum opus,
al-Futûhât al-Makkiyya,
'The Meccan Openings', is known at leastby name to all students of Sufism. In spite of its importance for Islamic thought in general, andIbn al-'Arabi in particular, few scholars have taken advantage of its enormous riches because of the numerous difficulties connected with reading and understanding the text. Some of thoseinterested in the Greatest Master have made necessity into a virtue by suggesting that, in anycase, everything important is contained in Ibn al-'Arabi's
Fusûs al-Hikam.
This statement has agrain of truth to it in the sense that the
or 'undifferentiated' level contains within itself the
or 'differentiated' level, much as a seed contains the tree.One also hears the opinion that the
is more 'esoteric' than the
and therefore, itseems, more valuable. But this opinion could hardly be expressed by anyone who has carefullystudied both texts, since there is hardly an idea in the
not to be found expressed moreclearly and in more detail somewhere in the
Of course, by 'more esoteric' one maysimply mean that the
is often more difficult to understand. To the extent this is true, thereason goes back to the point just made: the
is composed largely of brief allusions, whilethe same doctrines are exposed in full detail in the
Moreover, there are certain sectionsof the
(one thinks in particular of the 128-page Chapter 559, which is several times aslong as the
which is more 'esoteric' in every sense of the word than anything found in the
itself.The real problem facing the student of Ibn al-'Arabi is that the full significance of hisundifferentiated teachings as found, for example, in the
cannot be grasped withoutclarification from those works which express the same teachings in differentiated and explicitdetail. Those who desire to gain a serious understanding of these teachings, even if they maintainthat the esoteric marrow is found in the
have no choice but to study the
and otherworks to grasp the
full implications.Some of those unfamiliar with the text of the
and the development of the extensivecommentary literature on the
might argue that this or that
commentator gives us allthe elucidation that we need, but this is to ignore the fact that the commentary tradition of the
took on a life of its own, much more concerned with contemporary developments inIslamic thought than with the actual content of Ibn al-'Arabi's teachings. Then, as now, authorskept their audience in mind; the
commentaries tell us as much about contemporaryintellectual concerns as about the text itself.Careful study of this literature suggests that different aspects of the
are stressed indifferent periods and places, and that some of the central discussions of the work are oftenpushed into the background. It is only by going back to Ibn al-'Arabi's own works that we canbring out the significance of the
for Ibn al-'Arabi and his immediate disciples. Naturally,we are still faced with the problem that 'commentary' is determined as much by thecontemporary intellectual situation as the content of the work; moreover, in English there is theadded and indeed major problem of 'translation', which needs to be understood in the widestsense, as 'carrying over' a particular world view into an alien intellectual universe. By avoidingthe intermediary links in the commentary literature and going directly to the source, we certainly
have something to gain.
 Until recently only a small number of passages from the
were available in Westernlanguages, mainly French.
This situation has now changed significantly by the publication,under the direction of Michel Chodkiewicz, of an anthology called
 Les illuminations de La Mec-que / The Meccan Illuminations: Textes choisis / Selected Texts.
In addition, my own recentwork,
The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-'Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination,
consists mostlyof passages translated from the
But the task of presenting the
to Westernreaders has barely begun. The original text is enormously long and extraordinarily full of difficulties. My purpose here is to offer two short chapters as a minor contribution to thisongoing project.The two chapters below deal with several themes. Among these, two of the central ideas of Ibn al-'Arabi's spiritual universe stand out: the 'Oneness of Being'
(wahdat al-wujûd)
and 'PerfectMan'
(al-insân al-kâmil).
I originally translated the chapters in 1985 during the preliminarystages of preparing my contribution to Chodkiewicz's anthology. Later we decided that thematerial they deal with was covered sufficiently by other chapters or was not as central to theconcerns of that work as we had hoped. As a result I put the chapters aside for some other occa-sion, which has now presented itself. In what follows I have thoroughly revised the translationsand added brief introductions along with minimal notes. Since many of the topics discussed arecovered in some form in the two works mentioned above, I usually refer the reader to thoseworks for clarification or elaboration. Most of the themes notexplained in the introductions or notes are discussed in those works in some detail.CHAPTER 317CONCERNING THE TRUE KNOWLEDGE OFTHE WAYSTATION OF TRIAL AND ITS BLESSINGS
Like many chapters in the
Chapter 317 deals with a number of topics whoseinterrelationship is hardly clear at first glance. One might tie together the major subjects asfollows: 'Trial'
is the testing to which God puts human beings and
the jinn.
It resultsfrom 'prescription'
i.e. the fact that God has made incumbent upon them worship
as set down in the Shari'a (the revealed Law). Prescription in turn depends upon life in thepresent world
which arises from the connection between the spirit
and the body
However, there is another kind of life intrinsic to all things which also entails a kind of worship, since, in the words of the Qur'an (in one of many similar verses): 'There is nothing that
We will also lose something, and I am the first to acknowledge this. Much of my earlier research was devoted toIbn al-'Arabi's most influential disciple, Sadr al-Din Qunawi, as well as other commentators like 'Abd al-RahmanJami. I still consider study of these figures to be of great importance for understanding the full significance of Ibnal-'Arabi's teachings - especially in their historical extension. The various commentators have much to teach us formany reasons, not the least of these being their involvement with the oral transmission of Ibn al-'Arabi's teachings,their 'verification'
of his teachings through the spiritual practices which accompanied the oral transmission,and the monumental intellectual effort they devoted to putting Ibn al-'Arabi's teachings into logical and coherentorder.
See M. Notcutt, 'Ibn 'Arabi: A Handlist of Printed Materials: Part I',
 Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society
III, 1984, p.58
III 65-8.
does not glorify Him in praise, but you do not understand their glorification' (l7:44).
 The fact that the life which demands prescription derives from the spirit brings up thequestion of death, which occurs when the spirit leaves the body, and this in turn calls to mind the
(the intermediary stage of existence between death and resurrection) and the 'next world'
properly so-called, in both of which the spirit is once again attached to the body,though the body is manifest in an 'imaginal' rather than corporeal mode.Ibn al-'Arabi then connects God's trial of mankind with human understanding of the afterlife,i.e. with the question of correct faith and true knowledge. For faith in 'God, the angels, theprophets, the books, and the Last Day' is incumbent upon all Muslims, and if this faith is to besound, it must be based upon correct knowledge.Finally Ibn al-'Arabi turns, as he usually does, to the 'divine root'
(al-asl al-ilâhî)
of thediscussion at hand, i.e. the divine name or names which manifest their properties through thereality being discussed. In this section of the chapter his particular concern is to show that thespirit manifests the names Living
and Light
and that, in the last analysis, GodHimself is the spirit of the cosmos, while the cosmos is His body. Hence he concludes thechapter by illustrating the nature of the Oneness of Being, although, of course, he does not usethe expression
wahdat al-wujûd,
since it was coined by his followers.Ibn al-'Arabi's not infrequent discussions of 'trial'
in the
usually have in viewthose Quranic verses which discuss the trials and tests to which God puts His creatures, such asthe following: 'We have made all that is on the earth an adornment for it, and that We may trywhich of them is fairest in works' (18:7); 'He has raised some of you in rank above others, thatHe may try you in what He has given you' (6:165), and 'We shall assuredly try you until Weknow those of you who struggle and are steadfast' (47:3 l).
 In the present chapter, Ibn al-'Arabi takes up specifically the relationship between thefollowing two Quranic verses: 'Blessed be He in whose hand is the Kingdom, who is powerfulover everything, who created death and life, that He might try you, which of you is fairest inworks' (67:1-2); and 'His Throne is upon the water, that He might try you, which of you is fairestin works' (11:9). In both verses God is alluded to as 'King'
in the first because Heowns the Kingdom
and in the second because He sits upon the Throne
Whatneeds to be explained is why the King's Throne rests upon the 'water' and what His kingship hasto do with trial.God's argument against human beings depends upon the messages which He sends throughthe prophets, whereby He prescribes
for them the commands and prohibitions of theShari'a. The word
means literally 'to impose a burden': God tries people by placing uponthem the burden of the revealed Law. Human beings along with the
are unique amongcreatures in having this responsibility placed upon them. Even that which appears outwardly as apure blessing
is in fact a trial, since the servant must react to blessings in accordancewith prescription. As Ibn al-'Arabi writes:
The blessings with which God blesses His servants in this world are not free of trial, since thanksgiving (shukr)is prescribed for the servants, and this is the greatest of trials, since blessings are a greater veil over God thanafflictions. (III 209.21)
Ibn al-'Arabi often formulates these two kinds of worship, known
intrinsic worship and accidental worship, interms of the 'engendering command' and the 'prescriptive command' (cf.
Sufi Path
pp. 291-4, 311-12).
The last of these verses is especially interesting, since the words 'until We know' imply that God does not knowuntil He tries us. Ibn al-'Arabi points out, however, that since God in His infinite knowledge knows all things indetail, what is really at issue here is His argument
against us on the Last Day.We will not be able to make any claims of innocence, since we will recognize that we have failed in the fair trialthrough which He tested us (cf. the
III 134:21).

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