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AYESHA L. SAEED CREATIVE ENCOUNTERS
he Andalusian Sufi master, Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn al-‘Arabi (1165-1240 CE), known as al-Sheikh al-Akbar, has been revered throughout the Muslim world as “one of the greatest Sufis of Islam.”1 He was able to elucidate Islamic spiritual concepts in a masterly and incisive form. He wrote extensively but the two treatises for which he is famous are the encyclopaedic Futuhat al-Makkiyah (The Meccan Revelations) and the shorter Fusus al-Hikam (The Wisdom of the Prophets). The first of these works is the aggregate of the Islamic esoteric sciences as understood by the Sufi master. The latter is a compact book detailing the wisdom that was personified and brought forth by the twenty-seven prophets mentioned in the Qur’an. These prophets form a direct lineage starting with the prophet Adam and ending with the last prophet, Muhammad 2.
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. The author wishes to extend acknowledgement and thanks to Mr. Emran Akhtar for his critical appraisal and guidance.
Insight | 33
Winged Heart; original art, Lonnie Hanzon
thus. the heart of the one to whom it is sent down comes alive. This knowledge can prove invaluable for researchers interested in spiritual elevation of human beings irrespective of their religious background. Sound knowledge is only that which God throws into the heart of the knower. the “esoteric science”. but also between various sects from the same religion. Ibn al-‘Arabi’s doctrine reveals the importance of the role of the heart in the process of spiritual transformation so that human beings can reach their true stature. The focus on outward differences between religions and the overbalanced importance given to formal rituals can lead to serious misunderstandings. to use Corbin’s words. such as the belief in the Prayer of the Heart.3 Discussing the qualities of people who reject Divine guidance the Qur’an states. achieves gnosis (ma‘rifa) of God.7 According to this “subtile [sic] physiology”. or person of faith.4 It is the gateway. He who has no unveiling has no knowledge (man la kashf lah la ‘ilm lah). receives and accepts the truth of intuition. It is a Divine light for which God singles out any of His servants whom He will. 34 | V5 N1 January2007 . not just among people from different faiths.6 The belief in a special. The Spirit’s connection with the heart is made clear by Ibn al-‘Arabi: When the Spirit descends upon the heart of the servant through the sending down of the angel of the casting and revelation of God. The Qur’an.. This is the organ that comprehends true knowledge. “They have hearts with which they understand not.. the “charisma of cardiognosis” held by Oriental Christianity.The Role of the Heart in Ibn Al-‘Arabi’s Doctrine This article will explore the concept of the “heart” in Ibn al-‘Arabi’s doctrine to see what role it plays in the growth and spiritual actualization of the human being. messenger. the mystic’s “subtile ORGAN OF COMPREHENSION A ccording to Ibn al-‘Arabi. makes it clear that the true organ of comprehension of spiritual truths and understanding of Divine guidance is the heart. the reality of which is known only to the adept. and perceives the Divine mysteries. whether angel. prophet.5 It is essential to realize that “the heart” mentioned here is not the physical organ of flesh found under the ribs. Ignorance regarding the inner significance of various articles of faith and of the symbolic significance of religious rituals can further cause disharmony and discord. – nay more misguided: for they are heedless” (Qur’an. friend. 7:179). even though there is a certain connection. so to speak. the heart (al-qalb) plays a crucial role in the spiritual actualization of the individual human soul. that of the “representative of God” on earth. The need for understanding the role of the heart in the process of spiritual growth arises when we become cognizant of the bent of the times. They are like cattle. “subtile [sic] physiology” has been given utmost importance by mystics of all times. of the special knowledge termed in Arabic the ilm al-batin.
“They have hearts with which they understand not. which transforms spiritual potentiality into reality.8 For Ibn al-‘Arabi. 2: 6-7). The heart’s role is an exten- sion of the functions of the sensory capacities to a higher level of functioning. eyes with which they see not. they will not believe. which transforms spiritual potentiality into reality. the heart is one of the most important centres of this “subtile physiology”. The Qur’an mentions the perceptions of seeing and hearing most often. ears with which they do not hear” (Qur’an. Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing and on their eyes is a veil. Evidence is given in the Qur’an of how a person in such a condition has mere sensations. and truth and falsehood. [sic] body” is composed of psycho-spiritual organs or centres. devoid of their true and wholesome worth. which need to be distinguished from the concrete physiological organs. The present and future generations who inherit wealth and power are warned that if they reject and rebel INTERRELIGIOUS Insight | 35 . 7:179). If the heart is not functioning properly.Bells. it is the same to them whether thou warn them or do not warn them. Cetta Kenney The heart is the quality within human nature. great is the penalty they (incur)” (Qur’an. right and wrong. even the sensory organs start to lose their true functions. “As to those who reject faith.9 The heart is the quality within human nature. photo. People whose hearts are locked towards Divine guidance are described in the Qur’an as. Corbin explains this concept of the function of the heart as the “eye” with which the mystic has a vision of the Divine form (surat al-haqq). The heart is able to perceive into the depth of sensory perceptions such as sight and sound. It is these perceptions that become dulled because the heart is not alive to their inner meaning. When it performs its proper function it is able to distinguish between reality and illusion.
10 The spiritual heart transcends the physical heart. which comprehends Divine realities and spiritual knowledge. Intuition takes place in the heart when Divine self-disclosures take place in 36 | V5 N1 January2007 the heart through the creative power (al-himmah) of the heart. The Prophet used the following words to describe this experience: “I have seen my Lord in the most beautiful of forms. dhawq means the transcendence of consciousness to a . The form of God is reflected. just as the mind transcends the grey matter of the brain. It is the heart that is the organ of intuition (al-kashf) and also the point of identification (wajd) with being (wujud). and seal up their hearts so that they could not hear” (Qur’an. the potential for spiritual growth within human beings is also unlimited. The heart is the locus of Divine self-disclosures within human existence. and 16: 106-108). CREATIVE POWER OF THE HEART: AL-HIMMAH T he secret hidden power of the heart is called al-himmah in Arabic. as in a mirror. Such an experience is not to be confused with the physical function of sight. It is this ability of the heart that has perception of Divine consciousness. The heart is where the Divine Presence is felt because this is the limitless organ where the Spirit is known to dwell. 22:46). It is a secret force or energy (quwwat khafiya). therefore the ability of human beings to experience unveilings as a result of the heart’s openness is infinite as well. 4: 155.The Role of the Heart in Ibn Al-‘Arabi’s Doctrine against the guidance of Allah then. His Self-disclosures are infinite. In reality. which then have the effect of directing human beings to a life of righteousness (Qur’an.12 Analysis of the concept of al-himmah in Ibn al-‘Arabi’s philosophy reveals that it is the creative ability of the heart to project into an external plane that which was conceived by the heart. This quote makes it clear that using the ears for listening to the ayats (signs) of the scriptures is not enough. “We could punish them (too) for their sins. Divine self-disclosures are the manifestation of Divine creativity. 63: 3. Al-himmah is a spiritual quality of the heart.”13 This vision of the Lord through the power of the al-himmah is known in Ibn al-‘Arabi’s and Sufi terminology as an experiencing of dhawq. meaning an intimate taste or touch. therefore. in the heart of the human being when it undergoes unveiling. The potential of the heart is unlimited.11 “It is not the eyes that are blind but the hearts” (Qur’an. The term al-himmah signifies a powerful creative force that includes the intentions and desires of the heart. God is Infinite. It is this perceptive ability of the heart that enabled the Prophet Muhammad to experience the highest of all spiritual goals. the vision of the Lord. The key to true guidance lies in the openness of the heart in allowing for a cognitive comprehension of the outer and inner meanings of the scriptures. Vision of the Divine Presence can be attained through the eye of the heart. This subtle spiritual heart has also been defined as the organ of transcendental intuition.e. just as thought has a correspondence with the brain. which has a correspondence with the physical heart. an intention of the soul so powerful that it has the ability to engender into existence that which was only a possibility amongst the infinite possibilities of Unmanifest Being. 7: 101). i. Instead.
and revels to the gnostic that God is constantly manifesting Himself in new theophanies (tajalli). This power of al-himmah has an integral role in the whole creative process. Saeed height where God intimately pervades the seeker’s consciousness.Ayesha L.” who are the people who possess “the psycho-spiritual organ” designated as the heart (ashab al-qulub)16. there is an “unbridgeable gulf ”. religions and traditions. as He never reveals Himself twice in exactly the same manner. Al-himmah is in “its practical aspect. On the grounds of this verse He divides human beings into three categories: (a) “the disciples of the science of the heart. a simple believer can develop into a mystic of the heart. and he/she experiences a radiant union with the Divine Beloved.”14 Who is here and what there? Who is here is what is there. 50:36).”17 These are the “perfect human beings” (insan al kamil) and the “representatives of God” on earth (khalifatullah). Those who know in this world will know in the Hereafter. He who heeds these words will not Fall into confusion. this group includes the rational theologians who give uncompromising emphasis to understanding religion from a rational standpoint alone. (b) “the disciples of the rational intellect” (ashab al-‘uqul). the free disposal of things (tashkir al-ashya). the Reality is [always] known and not [ever] denied. Under a spiritual guide. (c) the third group comprises the simple believers (mu’minun). But between the mystics and the rational theologians18.19 CREATIVE POWER OF LOVE THROUGH SPIRITUAL POWER (AL-HIMMAH) T he gnostic’s20 heart is the “eye” through which God reveals Himself to Himself. Ibn al-‘Arabi proclaims that each self-disclosure of the Lord is absolutely unique. take place within the heart of the mystic through the unveiling that has been arduously desired with this powerful quality of al-himmah. For the gnostic.15 Ibn al-‘Arabi gives an in-depth explanation of a verse in the Qur’an: “Surely in this is a lesson for him who has a heart and who gives ear and is an eye-witness” (shahid) (Qur’an. For this reason He INTERRELIGIOUS Insight | 37 . God’s self-disclosures in as much as He wills them. The light of the Essence being also darkness. In truth. He who is universal is particular. the folk of God know God in whatever form of belief He discloses Himself. They do not deny His divinity as it is manifested in other creeds. And He Who is particular is universal. while in its cognitive aspect it is an extraordinary power to penetrate the secret of Being which lies beyond the grasp of reason. only he knows what we say Who is possessed of spiritual power [al-himmah]. Therefore. “these are the mystics the more perfect among the Sufis. There is but one Essence.
He is the Identity Itself. According to this belief.The Role of the Heart in Ibn Al-‘Arabi’s Doctrine says. now or in the future. Human beings. concerning the gnostic. a lover’s secret and intensely individual desire for his Lord and the Lord’s totally unique response that results in God’s creative self-disclosures. as also no [determined] being. a substance can truly see and know its 38 | V5 N1 January2007 . creative response of the heart. by transcending the limitations imposed by their material nature.24 Once the creative power of the heart becomes an intense yearning and thirst for the Divine Beloved.”23 This is the principle that sets in creative movement the relationship between the human lover and the Divine Beloved. Lonnie Hanzon In order to understand Ibn al‘Arabi’s views regarding the importance of the heart there is a need to grasp a basic principle of Sufism: like seeks to unite with like. 50:37) namely. so that from [or by] himself he knows the Self. This is verified by the principle of the “renewing of creation at each moment. original art. “[In truth].22 Ibn al-‘Arabi says. and taste (dhawaq) being a particle of this Divine light through the creative power of love in their hearts. What is sought in this great creative endeavour is the Divine Being. there is a corresponding desire of the Divine Beloved towards His lover.25 The seeker is himself / herself a spark lit by the light of the Divine Being. and the Divine Lover and the human beloved. one who understands the formal transformations of the Reality by adapting himself formally.21 own like. The seeker is himself / herself a spark lit by the light of the Divine Being. These creative self-disclosures of God (tajalli) take place because of the Lord’s intense and totally specific yearning for His beloved (‘abd) and the beloved’s totally unique. for one who is possessed of a heart (Qur’an. Divine Spark.” Ibn al‘Arabi keeps reiterating that the Lord never manifests Himself twice in the same manner. This process is creative in nature because it is brought about by a totally unique phenomenon. and it can itself be truly seen and known by its like. his self is not other than the Divine Identity Itself. is other than His Identity. can become fully aware.
of concentration. since satisfaction with what comes from Him cuts of the Men [human beings] from their aspirations (himmah). God’s infinity and vastness do not allow for limitations of any kind.. “the God with whom we are present is determined by our ability to encompass Him: we can never encompass God. since that which is sought from Him is infinite and hence has no end where we should come to a halt. GREATEST CREATIVE FORCE I t is worth mentioning Ibn al-‘Arabi’s standpoint with regard to Divine self-disclosures and their relationship to the level of aspirations within human being. but when it is aroused by the spiritual will and aspirations (al-himmah). one should be satisfied with Him. In reality. who accepts no limitations. so we are only present with ourselves. if you are among those who know God! And since the vastness of the possible things accepts no finitude.”29 The power of love for the Divine Beloved. For him. Whoever holds a belief regarding God (i‘tiqad) holds it in accordance with his own preparedness. INTERRELIGIOUS Insight | 39 . and so the belief is absolutely unique. This creative power of the heart exercises its influence on the imaginal (al-khayal) realm of the soul in human beings.”27 In the same manner.. is the greatest creative force within human beings. not through Himself. Although Ibn al-‘Arabi usually discusses the doctrine of “perpetual creation” from the metaphysical standpoint of God’s creativity. Rather. even if human beings should attain the state of presence (hudur) with God. what do you suppose of the Divine Vastness?”26 Ibn al-‘Arabi believes in the power of human aspirations (al-himmah) and it is through this power that human beings can strive towards infinity. God is much vaster than that a person should be satisfied with a little of what comes from Him. “the object of our belief is only ourselves. So make your seeking of increase vast.Ayesha L. but not with what comes from Him. whose goal is to strive towards infinity and not to accept any limitations on the way. The imagination (al-khayal) is common to all human beings in its passive mode. To seek love from the Lord is to seek from an infinitely vast and creative Being. So there is nothing too great to be sought from God. Saeed The heart is the organ of perception. it creates lasting forms.” 28 Ibn al-‘Arabi explains this concept in the following words: “The Real does not return to you except through you. For it is not in the capacity of the creature to endure Him. since God stands far beyond our capacity to conceptualize or understand. This quality of al-himmah encompasses the ideas of the power of spiritual decision. he does give some very interesting points to show how human beings can seek to come closer to God through the use of their own aspirations (al-himmah). all things existent are different because each can only receive the Divine self-disclosure only to the extent of its own level of realization. which is actualized through al-himmah.
illusion. Ibn al-‘Arabi makes a clear distinction between the imagination that is accompanied by spiritual will and imagination without spiritual will. one who has been through the various spiritual trials and stages to reach the level where he/she can save the seekers from the many pitfalls of the imaginable realm. To differentiate 40 | V5 N1 January2007 between these two imaginable realms it is essential to find the right spiritual guide. Such guides have themselves tasted of the Divine realities through their own himmah and therefore they have an insight into the states of the seeker’s heart and are able to direct the course of their spiritual journey. The latter is nothing but fancy and fantasy. . It is the opposite of wahm. Lonnie Hanzon and of aspiration towards God. conjecture or opinion. It is important to note here that many a seeker on the spiritual path has been led astray for want of proper guidance in distinguishing between the two kinds of imaginable realities.Mystic Heart. original art.
I 218. Although Ibn al‘Arabi is aware of the controversy surrounding the hadith. 1. 221. 17). Saeed It is through the power of the heart. Nicholson (London: Theosophical Publishing House.Ayesha L. 1 May the peace and blessings of God be upon all the prophets. 10 11 12 Ibid.2. force of will. No limitations can be set regarding how God chooses to disclose Himself in the heart of His true believer. the intense longing of love for the Divine Beloved. 1999. Creative Imagination. that Divine realities are manifested in the heart. 5 6 7 8 9 Corbin. Martin Lings. Creative Imagination. My heart has become capable of every form. Reynold A. “Permanent Archetypes. desire. The Tarjuman Al-Ashwaq: A Collection of Mystical Odes.19. 1978). and upon his feet sandals of gold" (Dhakha’ir. 221. This hadith has been transmitted from Ikrima. projection. as God reveals Himself in myriad of ways. See Muhy’iddin Ibn al-‘Arabi. Ibid. I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take. What is Sufism? (Lahore: Suhail Academy. Ibn al-‘Arabi. Such a person realizes that Divine selfdisclosures are limitless. 48. here we will concentrate on the aspect that encompasses all the others. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Edition v. Creative Imagination. 1969. According to Henry Corbin himmah is an “extremely complicated notion which cannot be translated by any one word. Ibid. ATES. The complete hadith is: "I saw my Lord in the form of a beardless youth. Many equivalents have been suggested: meditation. To the one who attains a vision of God through the “eye of the heart” all religions and all creeds have their own beauty. CD-ROM. upon his head a crown of gold. Futuhat. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV. III 356. Translated by Ralph 3 Toshihiko Izutsu. trans. Its authority has been disputed by the ulama. 277. It is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks. 13 NOTES A. 220. intention.” In Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical 14 INTERRELIGIOUS Insight | 41 . Sufi Path of Knowledge. he alludes to it in his commentary of the Tarjuman al-ashwaq. And a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Ka‘ba And the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur’an. Ibid. that is my religion and my faith. the “creative power of the heart”. 170. quoted in Chittick. 4 Ibn al-‘Arabi. According to Ibn al-‘Arabi the spiritually mature person seeks God through the creative power of the heart known as al-himmah. 1999). and ed.30 Manheim. their own uniqueness and importance. “IN AL’ARABI” IN Encyclopaedia of Islam.0. Corbin. quoted in Corbin. 2 Corbin. Futuhat. wearing a cloak of gold. Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn al-‘Arabi. Henry. 55-56.
230. limited. II 213. The term “rational theologians. Creative Imagination. tasting and touching. Muhyi-d-Din Ibn ‘Arabi.. 20 21 22 Ibn ‘Arabi. 151. 25 26 Ibid. blind reason used by people who have not been able to raise their mental abilities from a state of concrete level of consciousness. 16 17 18 Corbin. 1999. “The Experience and Doctrine of Love in Ibn al-‘Arabi. Chittick. not direct research and experiencing of the spiritual realities. smelling. Ibn al-‘Arabi. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. Nancy Pearson (London: Shambala. For a comprehensive understanding of Ibn al-‘Arabi’s concept and experience of love see Claude Addas. 15 The term “gnostic” is here used for those adepts who have achieved a certain level of spiritual actualization and have gained insight into esoteric spiritual sciences. rendered into English by Angela Culme-Seymour. Knowledge of the unseen world of Spirit is rejected outright as it cannot be grasped through their physical organs of sight.105. Partial French translation by Titus Burckhardt. Futuhat. Such people use their reason and intellect as a tool to gain further understanding of the Divine realities. 1978). II589.” in my opinion. 23 24 Ibn ‘Arabi.ibnarabisociety. the most powerful organ for spiritual insight is the heart and the creative power of the heart to apprehend spiritual realities and to take part in creativity is called al-himmah in Arabic.151. Ibid.The Role of the Heart in Ibn Al-‘Arabi’s Doctrine Concepts. Here. 150. The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. Revised edition of A Comparative Study of the Key Philosophical Concepts in Sufism and Taoism.” translated from the French by Cecilia Twinch on behalf of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society for the Symposium at Worchester College Oxford May 4-6th 2002. Lahore: Suhail Academy. Ibn al-‘Arabi. Sufi Path of Knowledge. hearing. for those who have had a vision of their Lord.. Henry Corbin. 68. quoted in Chittick.org/. 27 28 29 Ibid. Sufi Path of Knowledge. trans. For further understanding of Ibn al-‘Arabi’s concept of love see William C. 1983). 104. Ibn al-‘Arabi. 42 | V5 N1 January2007 . Futuhat. the use of the word “reason” is to denote the concept of the kind of common. 279. 1984.23. Such knowledge is based on given dogmatic doctrines and second-hand learning. The Seals of Wisdom from the Fusus al Hikam. Journal of the Muhyiddin ibn ‘Arabi Society 17 (1995): 55-78. But. 105. Fusus. 25.28. 19 Ibid. refers to dogmatic literalists whose qualities are discussed in note 16. accessed 4 August 2002. available from http:// www. The Wisdom of the Prophets: (Fusus al-Hikam). 30 It is my understanding that the term “disciples of the rational intellect” used here denotes dogmatic. Fusus. quoted in Chittick. their intellect and reason are raised to an infinitely higher state of consciousness. literalists whose minds and hearts are closed to higher spiritual truths. Raghvan Iyer (New York: Concord Grove Press. “The Divine Roots of Human Love”. In contrast.
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