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 Ibn Arabi Heir To The Prophets
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Ibn ‘Arabi’s Life

Abbreviations Used in the Text


  • Inheritance
  • Opening

The Muhammadan Seal Reading the Qur’an Understanding God Knowing Self God’s Wide Earth The Inheritor


  • Assuming the Traits of the Names The Divine and Human Form 8
  • Imperfect Love
  2. Wujud
  3. The Nonexistent Beloved The Entities
  4. The Genesis of Love Love’s Throne Human Love Felicity
  5. Poverty Perfection
  7. Remembrance Prophecy
  8. The Book of the Soul
  9. The Breath of the All-Merciful Knowledge of the Names 9
  10. All-Comprehensiveness Achieving the Status of Adam The Perfect Servant
  11. The House of God
  • Knowledge Benefit
  • The Form of God Reliable Knowledge Following Authority Realization
  • The Ambiguity of Creation Giving Things their Haqq The Rights of God and Man The Soul’s Haqq
  • The Methodology of Realization 10
  • Time and Space Location
  • Time Eternity
  • Constant Transformation Ethics
  • Lost in the Cosmos
  • Relativity
  • The Worldview of In-Betweenness Cosmic Imagination
  • The Soul
  • The Soul’s Root Controversies
  • The Gods of Belief
  • Self-Awareness 11
  • Death
  • Love


  • Interpreting the Qur’an Good Opinions of God
  • The Return to the All-Merciful
  • The Mercy of Wujud Mercy’s Precedence Essential Servanthood Primordial Nature Sweet Torment Constitutional Diversity
  • Surrender




Ibn ‘Arabi’s general approach to the Islamic tradition implies that seekers ascend the ladder to God primarily by means of knowledge and self-recognition, but he does not neglect the motivating power of love [01] hubb. So much does he stress it in fact that Henry Corbin would like to place him in the same category as Persian Sufis like Rumi. It is closer to Ibn ‘Arabi’s perspective, however, to say that he considered knowledge a more basic quality of the seeker. As he says explicitly, “Knowledge is more eminent than love” [02] F. II 661.10. God’s lovers possess exalted ranks in the hierarchy of saints, but the knowers or “Gnostics” rank even higher.

Although Ibn ‘Arabi discusses the qualities of knowers much more than he talks about lovers, the Futuhat is such a large work that he is able to provide a book-length explanation of what it means to be a lover in Chapter 178. In one long section of this chapter he lists forty-five of the lover’s major attributes and then comments on them in a treatise called “God’s Loci of Manifestation to the Gnostic Lovers within the Bridal Thrones: Explaining the Attributes of the Lovers in their Love.”

It is perhaps needless to say that Ibn ‘Arabi did not write about love as a compiler of mystic lore, but rather as a resident in the Wide Earth of God. What he has to say about love bubbles up from his own realization of the realities, his first-hand recognition of self, his “tasting” [03]dhawq of the way things are. He is describing his own unveilings and openings, but in the rational and didactic language of the scholarly tradition.

One incident drawn from autobiographical remarks in the Futuhat can serve as an illustration of Ibn ‘Arabi’s personal acquaintance with love. He is in the midst of explaining that love can carry the lover to a station on the path to God where he is deaf to every sound but his Beloved’s words, blind to every vision but his Beloved’s face, and dumb to every utterance but his Beloved’s name. Nothing enters his heart but love. Love’s power to transform is such that the lover “can no longer imagine anything but the form of his Beloved” [04]F. II 325.17.

Next Ibn ‘Arabi alludes to a famous hadith that he cites more often than any other in his works. The Prophet quotes the words of God concerning the fruit of the mutual love between God and man:

My servant keeps on seeking nearness to Me through voluntary works until I love him. Then, when I love him, I am his hearing through which he hears, his eyesight through which he sees, his hand through which he grasps, and his foot through which he walks.

This shows, says Ibn ‘Arabi, that “The lover hears Him through Him, the lover sees Him through Him, and the lover speaks to Him through Him.” By way of illustration, he describes his own situation at the hands of love:

The power of my imagination took me to the point where my love embodied my Beloved before my eyes in the outside world, just as Gabriel used to embody himself to the Messenger of God. I could not bear to gaze upon Him, yet He addressed me and I listened to Him and understood what He said. For several days He left me in a state where I could not eat.

Whenever the dining cloth was spread for me, He would stand at its edge, look at me, and say in a tongue I heard with my ears, “Will you eat while gazing upon Me?” I was prevented from eating, but I was not hungry, and He kept my stomach full. I even put on weight and became plump from gazing upon Him. He took the place of food.

My companions and family were amazed at my becoming plump without food, for I remained many days without tasting anything, though I became neither hungry nor thirsty. During all this time, He never left from before my eyes, whether I was standing or sitting, moving or still. [05]F. II 325.20

No points of reference are more recurrent in Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings than the names and attributes of God, which are mentioned profusely in the Qur’an and provide the basic givens of Islamic theology. A saying of the Prophet tells us that God has ninety-nine of what the Qur’an calls “the most beautiful names,” but different lists have been proposed and no general agreement as to their exact identity has been reached. Ibn ‘Arabi quotes approvingly the opinion of one authority that only eighty-three of the most beautiful names are known with certainty. But he also points out that the divine names are infinite in number, corresponding to the endless divine self-disclosures that fill the universe, the infinite faces of God that gaze upon the creatures. “Wherever you turn,” says the Qur’an, “there is the face of God” [06]Q. 2: 115.

All creatures become manifest by displaying God’s names and attributes. All are “signs” [07]ayat of God. To use the theological terms that Ibn ‘Arabi prefers, things make manifest the “properties” [08]ahkam and “traces” [09]athar of the divine names. Or, they “assume as their own the traits of the names,” an expression derived from a saying often ascribed to the Prophet.

The cosmos has become manifest as living, hearing, seeing, knowing, desiring, powerful, and speaking … The cosmos is His work, so it becomes manifest in keeping with His attributes … It is He/not He, and it is the unknown/ the known. “To God belong the most beautiful names” [Q. 7: 180], and to the cosmos belongs becoming manifest through the names by assuming their traits. [10]F. II 438.20

The word translated here as “traits” is akhlaq. Its singular, khuluq, can be translated as “character.” The most important scriptural use of the word is a verse addressed to Muhammad: “Surely you have a magnificent character” [11]Q. 68: 4, or, as Arberry translates it, “a mighty morality.” In English translations of Islamic philosophical texts, akhlaq is typically rendered as “ethics.” The Muslim philosophers use the term to designate the science that investigates virtue and vice, specifically how to acquire the former and avoid the latter. From the Sufi perspective, the virtues that people must acquire are precisely the divine names and attributes, for it is these that are latent in the human substance, created in the form of God.

Life in this world is a process through which the traces and properties of the divine names come to be actualized. Revelation is necessary if people are to become qualified by the names in proper harmony and equilibrium. To use the moral language, people need divine guidance if they are to actualize the traits of the names as virtues and avoid their deformation as vices.

If people display the traces of divine attributes such as severity and wrath and fail to keep them properly confined through justice, compassion, and generosity, they will be dominated by cruelty and arrogance. Only a perfect harmony of divine attributes can lead to the full blossoming of human nature, the realization of the deformity latent in the soul. Ibn ‘Arabi refers to the assumption of the traits of the divine names as the very definition of the spiritual life: “Assuming the character traits of God – that is Sufism” [12]F. II 267.11.

One of the most important and fundamental of the divine attributes that need to be actualized is love. God is called “the Lover” in both the Qur’an and the Hadith. For Ibn ‘Arabi, the objects of God’s love help delineate the qualities and character traits that human beings must acquire in order to gain perfection. Thus, God loves, among others, the repentant and the pure [13]Q. 2: 222, those who trust in him [14]Q. 3: 159, the patient [15]Q. 3: 146, the virtuous [16]Q. 2: 195, and those who fight in his path in ranks [17]Q. 61: 4.

Ibn ‘Arabi often quotes a famous hadith to show that God’s love plays an essential role in the origin and structure of the world. Significantly, the saying also highlights the importance of knowledge and recognition: The Prophet reported that God says [18]in the version cited by Ibn ‘Arabi, “I was a Hidden Treasure but unrecognized. I loved to be recognized, so I created the creatures and I made Myself recognized to them, so they recognized Me” [19]F. II 322.29.

In other words, God’s love brings the universe into existence, thereby opening up a gap between his uncreated Self and the created world. But the love that brings about separation also leads to union. God’s love for creation gives rise to creation’s love for him, and that love does not remain unfulfilled.

Ibn ‘Arabi points out that God created both human beings and the universe in his own form. Both man and cosmos display the traces of the divine attributes and assume as their own the divine character traits. The cosmos, however, discloses the full range of the divine names only when considered as a whole, along with perfect human beings. Without the prophets and the friends of God, the world would be dead, like a body without a spirit, and it would disintegrate and disappear. “If [Perfect] Man were to leave the cosmos, the cosmos would die” [20]F. II 468.12.

In contrast to other beings in the universe, humans are complete self-disclosures of the Divine Reality, for they manifest all God’s names and attributes and encompass the three basic levels of created existence – corporeal, imaginal [21]or psychic, and spiritual. Made in God’s form, they cannot fully satisfy their quest for fulfillment and completion except in God himself. Only God or another human being is adequate to their love.

Man’s love for God and for his own kind absorbs him totally, but no love for anything else in the cosmos can do that. When he loves one of the forms found in the cosmos, he turns to it with the corresponding part of himself, but the rest of him stays sober in its occupation.

As for his total absorption in love for God, this is because he is made in His form, as reported by the Prophet. He coincides with the Divine Presence through his whole essence, and that is why all the divine names become manifest within him. He who does not have the attribute of love will not assume the names as his own character traits. [22]F. II 325.29

When Ibn ‘Arabi talks about love for God, he means specifically God in respect of his all-comprehensive name, i.e., Allah, to which all other names refer and in the form of which human beings were created. It was God in respect of this name who created man in his own form, not God as Creator or All-merciful. If people love God because he is the Benefactor or the Provider or the All-powerful and not because he is God per se, they run the risk of failing to actualize the full range of divine attributes that determine human nature.

Imperfect love for God can be seen wherever we look. Whatever love’s object appears to be, in fact it is love for God, because all phenomena go back to the divine self-disclosures. Typically, people love God under the guise of one or more of the divine attributes that he has lent to the creatures. This is a major theme of the great Persian lovers like Rumi, and Ibn ‘Arabi expresses it just as clearly: “None but God is loved in the existent things. It is He who is manifest within every beloved to the eye of every lover – and there is nothing in the existent realm that is not a lover” [23]F. II 326.19.

All things come from God and return to him. The force that brings them into existence is the Hidden Treasure’s love to be known. Among all creatures, only human beings, made in God’s form, are given the gift of full and integral love in order to realize full and integral knowledge and recognition of the Hidden Treasure.

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In loving their Lord and thereby actualizing the form in which they were created, they burn away the veils of ignorance and illusion that keep them back from their eternal home. “The sincere lover is he who passes into the attributes of the Beloved, not he who pulls the Beloved down to his own level … He assumes as his own the traits of His names” [24]F. II 596.6.

We should not conclude that all lovers are equal in love. Although God is one, his forms are infinitely diverse. Perfect love for God is found only in Perfect Man, and each of the prophets and friends loves God in a unique mode of perfection. In Chapter 208 of the Futuhat, Ibn ‘Arabi explains something of the typology of lovers in keeping with their varied knowledge of God, for every lover knows God, because it is impossible to love what you do not know.

Ibn ‘Arabi tells us that some people are simply believers, and their knowledge of God comes by way of hearsay and prophetic reports. But reports invariably conflict, so the believers remain bewildered about God and are not able to have a clear conception of their Beloved. Among them, some prefer what they understand through their imagination, which recognizes God’s similarity and immanence. They conceive of God in a limited form and become attached to it. In their search for God they desire ecstasy, intimacy, and vision.

Some believers know God through their rational faculties. In contrast to those who depend on imagination, they impose no limits on him, but they miss great good. Despite the fact that “He is closer to them than the jugular vein” [25]Q. 50: 16, they fail to recognize that he is he. Their Beloved is always manifest to them, but they do not have the eyes to see him.

Those who gaze upon God by means of the eye of reason are divided into two sorts. One sort craves to see their Beloved. Here Ibn ‘Arabi probably has in mind the Ash’arite’s theologians, who affirmed that the vision of God in the afterlife was the supreme goal of man. The other sort declares, like the Mu’tazilites theologians, that it is impossible to see the Beloved, though it is possible to know Him. They despair of seeing and, as Ibn ‘Arabi puts it, “They remain in the bliss of despair, while the other group remains in the bliss of craving” [26]F. II 494.6. After all, as the Qur’an tells us, “Each party takes joy in what they have” [27]23: 53.

All these groups are ranked in degrees according to the level of their understanding. The greatest of the lovers, however, are those who constantly seek to augment their knowledge, in keeping with the Quranic command: “Say: ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge’” [28]20: 114. They increase their knowledge by never denying God’s presence in any phenomenon and by never affirming his presence in anything whatsoever. Seeing with both eyes, they constantly recognize that all is “He/not He.” They never let themselves fall into stasis and fixity, but flow with the constant unfolding of the universe. They recognize themselves and all things for what they are.


Ibn ‘Arabi begins his long chapter on love in the Futuhat as he begins most of the book’s chapters, by citing relevant Quranic verses and prophetic sayings. He points out first that love is a divine attribute, and he lists several of the Quranic verses in which God is the subject of the verb “to love.” Fourteen of these mentions those whom God loves, and the remaining twenty-three mention those whom God does not love.

In every Quranic verse where God’s love or lack of it is mentioned, the objects are human beings. In other words, the Qur’an associates love only with man among all creatures. Most other divine attributes mentioned in the Qur’an – such as life, knowledge, desire, power, speech, generosity, justice, mercy, and wrath – have no special connection with the human race. It follows that love is a key term if we are to understand what differentiates man from those creatures who are not made in the divine form.

The first prophetic saying that Ibn ‘Arabi mentions at the beginning of the chapter is the hadith of the Hidden Treasure, and the second is the hadith according to which, when God loves his servant, he becomes the hearing with which he hears and the eyesight with which he sees.

By citing Qur’an and Hadith at the beginning of the chapter, Ibn ‘Arabi wants to establish what he calls “the divine roots” or “the divine principles” of the discussion. On one level, this means simply that he wants to show that he is basing himself on the revealed texts. On a deeper level, he is saying that the Qur’an expresses the nature of love as it is found in the deepest roots of Ultimate Reality.

Ibn ‘Arabi’s first topic is always the truly Real, which is God. His second topic is the cosmos, which is defined as “everything other than God.” When employing the technical language of philosophy and theology, he typically calls God wujud, a word that is usually translated as “being” or “existence.”

In Arabic the word wujud is applied to God and to everything else as well. God has wujud, or rather, God is wujud, and everything else has wujud in one mode or another. Using a typical way of distinguishing between being and existence in English, we might say that wujud means Being when referring to God and existence when referring to anything other than God. But in Ibn ‘Arabi’s usage of the word, it is often unclear if he means God’s wujud, the world’s wujud, or simply wujud without specification.

If we translate wujud as “existence” or “being,” we meet another problem as soon as we look at its literal meaning, which is “finding” or “to be found.” True, from early times the word was used in philosophy and theology [29]and from somewhat later on in Sufism to mean existence/being.

But, the implications of the literal meaning were never forgotten, neither by the more insightful philosophers nor by the Sufis. Wujud is not simply the fact of being or existing – the fact that something is there to be found. Rather, wujud is also the reality of finding, which is to say that it is awareness, consciousness, understanding, and knowledge.

Throughout the early Sufi tradition, the word wujud was used primarily in the more literal sense of awareness and understanding. As a technical term, it was used to designate “finding God,” that is, coming to direct awareness and consciousness of the Divine Reality. It was practically a synonym of words like “witnessing” and “unveiling,” which also play prominent roles in Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings.

For Ibn ‘Arabi, the word wujud carries both the Sufi and the philosophical meanings. No matter how “ontological” his discussions may appear to modern readers, he never loses sight of the fact that wujud designates not only the incomparable and ineffable Reality of the Real, but also the immanent presence of God in the knower’s awareness. The Gnostics look with both eyes, and they perceive wujud as both absent, because it is none other than the Divine Essence, and present, because it is none other than God’s self-disclosure as the selfhood of the knower.

In Ibn ‘Arabi’s terminology, then, wujud means not only being and existence [30]the “objective” side of reality, but also finding and awareness [31]the “subjective” side of reality. He highlights the latter sense in expressions like ahl al-kashf wa’l-wujud, “the folk of unveiling and finding,” or ahl ash-shuhud wa’l-wujud, “the folk of witnessing and finding.” These are precisely the Gnostics, those who see with both eyes.

It hardly needs to be pointed out that in English neither “being” nor “existence” has the connotation of awareness and consciousness. Even when we talk about God as “Being,” we know that God has knowledge and awareness because we say so, not because the word itself demands it.

The results of disassociating being and consciousness become obvious when we glance at the history of Western thought, especially in recent times. Scientists, philosophers, and even some theologians look upon life and consciousness as epiphenomena of existence, latecomers on the cosmic scene. We moderns are happy to think that “existence” came before consciousness, or that living things gradually evolved from dead and inanimate matter. For Ibn ‘Arabi and much of Islamic

thinking [32]not to mention kindred visions in other traditions, no universe is thinkable without the primacy of life and awareness, the presence of consciousness in the underlying stuff of reality.

In itself, wujud is the non-manifest, the Hidden Treasure. However, wujud loved to be known, so it created the universe in order to be known. Those who recognize and realize wujud are true human beings, Perfect Man. But people cannot know and recognize wujud unless wujud makes itself known to them, and it does so by revealing itself in three basic modes: the universe, the human self, and scripture.

Scripture is the key that opens the door to the universe and the self. Self-expressive wujud employs scripture to stir up human understanding. Without recourse to it, people will not be able to fathom themselves and the cosmos. If they do not come to know and recognize themselves, they will not know God.

When Ibn ‘Arabi says that Quranic verses are the divine roots of things, he means to say that these verses manifest the very principles of wujud, the very sources of the existence that we find in our experience, the foundations of our consciousness and awareness. The Qur’an gives expression to the realities of wujud in the clearest possible manner. Among these realities, one of the most significant for understanding the divinely human form is love.

Love has many similarities with wujud, which is simply to say that God is the root of all love, and by experiencing love we experience something of him. Among the most salient similarities is that like wujud, love cannot be defined. Ibn ‘Arabi calls the understanding of love “a knowledge of tasting” [33]F. IV 7.2, which is to say that people will know love only when they experience it in themselves, but they will not be able to convey their understanding to others.

Wujud cannot be known in itself, but it can be known inasmuch as it discloses itself. Once wujud shows itself, we can summarize what we have learned about it by mentioning its attributes. Thus God, the Real Wujud, reveals his own nature in the Qur’an by mentioning his most beautiful names.

In a similar way, love cannot be known in itself, but its attributes and names can be known and described. For Ibn ‘Arabi, one of the most important of love’s attributes has to do with the nature of its object.

Whatever object it is that we love, he says, it is always nonexistent. This seems to fly in the face of common sense, since we like to think that we love a real person or a real object, not a nothingness. “Love’s object remains forever nonexistent, but most lovers are unaware of this, unless they should be recognizers of the realities” [34]F. II 337.17.

The point Ibn ‘Arabi wants to make is not difficult to understand. When people fall in love, they experience a desire to achieve nearness or union with the person they love. As long as they have not achieved the object of their desire, the object does not in fact exist for them. People love what they do not already have. They want to achieve something that they have not already achieved, or to be near to someone from whom they are far. “The love of the lover becomes attached only to that of the person which is nonexistent at the moment. He imagines that his love is attached to the person, but this is not so. Love incites him to meet and see his beloved” [35]F. II 327.7.

Ibn ‘Arabi continues this passage by answering an objection. You may say that you loved companionship, or kissing, or intimacy. Then, when you achieved your desire, you found that you still loved it. Therefore, you conclude, love exists along with its object. Ibn ‘Arabi replies that in fact the object still does not exist, because now love’s object is the permanence of what was achieved, not the achievement itself. Permanence is not an existing thing. “Love attaches itself only to a nonexistent thing … When love sees the thing, it is transferred to the permanence

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of that state whose existence it loves in that existent entity” [36]F. II 337.18.

All things are rooted in Real Wujud, and love is no exception. If it is universally true that the object of love is nonexistent, this must hold true for God’s love as well. In fact, the idea that God loves nonexistent objects is a corollary of tawhid, the assertion of God’s unity that is the first principle of Islamic thought and the governing theme of Ibn ‘Arabi’s works.

Tawhid is expressed most succinctly in the formula, “There is no god but God.” God is wujud, so “There is no wujud but God.” Everything other than God is not wujud and can properly be called “nonexistence” [37]adam. Wujud is the Hidden Treasure, and all things derive their existence from it, for they possess none of their own.

One of Ibn ‘Arabi’s best-known technical terms is ‘ayn thabita, “fixed entity.” The fixed entities are the things of the universe as known by God for all eternity. Given that “God knows everything” [38]Q. 2: 231 and given that his knowledge, like himself, is eternal and unchanging, he has always known everything and will always know it. The “things” that God knows are precisely the “entities.” They are “located” in the Hidden Treasure: “God’s words, ‘I was a Treasure,’ affirm the fixed entities” [39]F. II 232.12.

The entities are “fixed” because, despite their nonexistence in themselves, they are eternally known to God. They are “things” even before God brings them into existence. On the basis of his knowledge of them, he creates them and they become manifest as “existent entities” [40]a‘yan mawjuda. However, their existence is not their own, because wujud belongs to God. There is only one wujud, and that is the wujud of God, or rather, the wujud that is identical with God. “The fixed entities,” as Ibn ‘Arabi remarks in an often-quoted sentence, “have never smelt a whiff of wujud[41]FH 76, and they will never smell it, because they are nonexistent by definition.

The things that we perceive and experience in the world are called “existent entities.” This name is deceptive, however, because the “existence” that sustains them does not belong to them. In themselves, they are no different from the nonexistent, fixed entities. Whether we call them “fixed” or “existent,” it is not they that smell the whiff of wujud. Rather, Real Wujud itself is the hearing through which they hear and the eyesight through which they see.

Wujud and the nonexistent entities – the Real and the not Real

– are the two pillars upon which the universe stands. On one side, God alone is wujud. On the other side, the entities have no wujud. On its own Wujud simply is, and on their own, the entities simply are not. But love is an inherent attribute of Wujud, and love inherently strives for what is not. It expresses what is unexpressed, makes manifest what is hidden, and creates what has not been created. Love might be described as the innate tendency of Wujud to become manifest, or of light to shine. “God is the light of the heavens and earth” [42]Q. 24:35.

Through love, Wujud asserts its own reality by showing itself to everything that may possibly come to exist. The possibilities of existing are specified by entities that do not in themselves exist. If they did exist, there would be two wujuds, and that would contradict tawhid, “There is no wujud but God.” The entities are known to God as concomitants of his own Infinite Reality.

Each entity is a specific mode of not existing, or a specific possibility [43]mumkin, because each represents a mode in which the radiance of Wujud can be limited, defined, specified, and determined. When Wujud delimits its radiance through the entities, it discloses itself as less than its infinite self. In order for the blinding light of Real Wujud to become manifest, it must be

diminished by darkness, which is simply the lack of light, the lack of reality, the lack of existence.

In short, the “existent entities” of the universe are the infinite differentiations and delimitations to which the radiance of Real Wujud is susceptible. Each creature is a self-showing or a self-disclosure of Wujud, but it does not truly exist, because Wujud alone is Wujud. It follows that each creature is Wujud/not Wujud, He/not He, God/not God.

Why is love an inherent attribute of Wujud? In one passage, Ibn ‘Arabi answers this question in terms of two divine names, Beautiful [44]jamil and Light [45]nur. Light is that which is manifest [46]zahir in itself and makes other things manifest by bestowing light upon them. Wujud is precisely light, for it is manifest in itself and makes other things manifest. In contrast, the fixed entities are nonexistent and non-manifest, which is to say that they have no existence of their own and are known to none but God. When we say that God creates the universe, we mean that he brings the entities into existence, or he makes the non-manifest manifest, or he showers light upon darkness.

In and of themselves the entities remain fixed and immutable in nonexistence. God loves to be known, so he loves the creatures through whom he comes to be known. The objects of his love are by definition nonexistent, and they will always remain nonexistent, because his love for them is eternal. “The created thing … is nonexistent, so it is the object of God’s love constantly and forever. As long as there is love, one cannot conceive of the existence of the created thing along with it, so the created thing never comes into existence” [47]F. II 113.29.

If the created thing never gains true existence, then the existence that we perceive can belong only to God, who is Manifest

Wujud and who discloses his names and attributes as the existent entities. Ibn ‘Arabi calls the existent entity a “locus of manifestation” [48]mazhar, for it displays Wujud in specific and delimited confines. For our part, we see the confines, the delimited thing, the specific self-disclosure that is this thing and not some other thing. But in fact, Wujud alone is truly manifest, because manifestation belongs to light, not darkness; to existence, not nonexistence; to God, not creation.

In explaining why, the divine love derives from God’s names, Beautiful and Light, Ibn ‘Arabi says that Light shines upon the nonexistent entities and illuminates their gaze. It gives the uncreated things an eyesight that is none other than the eyesight of God, and then God sees through them and they see through God. Light alone allows things to see and to be seen. “Then God discloses Himself to the entities through the name Beautiful, and they fall in love with Him” [49]F. II 112.34.

Ibn ‘Arabi is saying that the Hidden Treasure is both beautiful and luminous. The nonexistent things have nothing of their own with which to perceive the divine beauty. In order to give them existence in the world, God must speak to them: “Our only word to a thing when We desire it, is to say to it ‘Be,’ and it comes to be” [50]Q. 16: 40.

If God speaks to the nonexistent entities, they must be able to hear his words. All perception presupposes manifestation, and light makes itself and others manifest by its very nature. God’s light, shining upon the nonexistent entities, gives them the ability to hear and to see, and they see what is there, which is God. The entities cannot see God without his light, for they have no light of their own. He must become the eyesight with which they see, which is simply to say that things can only come into existence through God’s wujud, the only wujud there is.

Once the Light of God becomes manifest and the entities come into existence – in a manner of speaking – then the entities see the Beautiful. “God is beautiful,” the Prophet said, “and He loves beauty.” This sets down a principle that is omnipresent in Muslim discussions of love: every beautiful thing is inherently lovable. Beauty is that which attracts love, just as love is that which is attracted by the beautiful. As Ibn ‘Arabi puts it, “The cause of love is beauty, for beauty is loved by its very essence” [51]F. II 326.24.

When the entities see the Beautiful, they become his lovers. Utterly engrossed in their beloved, they forget self and see nothing but him. What is really happening is that God is loving himself by means of the locus of manifestation that is the existent entity. Having become the entity’s eyesight and hearing, God loves what he sees and hears. Just as “There is no god but God,” so also “There is no lover but God” and “There is no beloved but God.” In the last analysis, “The servant is not qualified by this love, since love has no property within him. After all, nothing of the servant loves God but God, who is manifest within him. God alone is the Manifest” [52]F. II 112.34.

God loves the objects of his knowledge when they are nonexistent. As soon as they come into existence, he stops loving them, because love is directed only at nonexistence. Hence, he loves the next moment of the thing’s existence, which is to say that he loves the permanence of the thing’s existence. He never ceases loving the fixed entities for all eternity, because they remain forever nonexistent. At each moment, his love for the existence of the nonexistent things brings about a new creation.

In his chapter on the divine names in the Futuhat, Ibn ‘Arabi writes that the meaning of the name Loving [53]al-wadud is that God constantly brings the universe into existence for the sake of his creatures. Although we are fixed entities and remain forever nonexistent, the tongue of our own situation begs God to

bestow existence upon us, and he responds by doing so. Looking closely, we see that he is responding to himself, for he is the tongue with which we speak.

One of the two Quranic passages that mention the name “Loving” associates it with the divine Throne: “He is the Forgiving, the Loving, the Lord of the Throne” [54]85: 14–15. Elsewhere, the Qur’an tells us that it is God as the All-merciful who is sitting on the Throne.

The tradition typically understands the Throne to designate the outermost sphere of the heavens, which encompasses the whole cosmos. It follows that God’s mercy embraces everything, as the Qur’an says explicitly [55]7: 156.

God is generous and bountiful by nature, because Wujud is infinitely full and infinitely effusive. He gives to the creatures the best that he has, and that is Wujud, his own reality. The creature is by definition a lover, for the entity loves the Beautiful who discloses himself to it through the effusion of light. God’s mercy, then, is directed at his lovers, who are all the creatures of the universe.

He has mercy only on the ardor of the lover, which is a delicate yearning for the encounter with the Beloved. No one encounters the Beloved save with His attribute, and His attribute is wujud. Hence, He bestows wujud upon the lover. Had there been anything more perfect than that with Him, He would not have been stingy with it …, for God reported that He is “the Forgiving, the Loving,” which is to say that in His unseen reality He is fixed in love, for He sees us, so He sees His beloved. Hence, He delights in His beloved. [56]F. IV 260.6

God loves the nonexistent, fixed entities. They remain nonexistent, but his love brings them into existence forever.


one standpoint, he has a single object of love, which is the cosmos and everything it contains. From another standpoint, the universe itself is nothing but the manifestation of Wujud, so God loves himself, and in loving himself he brings the entities in the Hidden Treasure from nonexistence into existence.

As all-comprehensive forms of Wujud, human beings possess the attribute of love, and what they love remains forever nonexistent. When God and the universe are considered as two different realities, the object of human love may be God, or someone or something in the universe. But when we understand that the universe is nothing but God’s self-disclosure, then we see that the object of love can be nothing but God. The object of love, however, is always nonexistent, so God stays forever nonexistent in relation to his lovers. In other words, in his Essence he remains forever non-manifest, unknowable, and unattainable.

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Lovers and seekers strive to find God, but the God who can be loved and sought is the God who can be conceptualized and understood. That is not God in himself, but rather the God of belief [57]ilah al-mu ‘taqad, the God that we understand, who is none other than God as he shows himself to us. In himself God will never be found. And only the God who will never be found is truly the infinite God who is no different from Real Wujud.

If God in himself cannot be sought, what are the seekers seeking? What have the Sufis been singing about in their poetry if not love for God? Ibn ‘Arabi replies that they are not seeking God in himself, but God inasmuch as they understand and embrace him, that is, God as he shows himself to them. This God who discloses himself to them, however, is not Wujud. It is the radiance and manifestation of Wujud, not Wujud itself.

In respect of His Essence and His Wujud, nothing stands up to the Real. He cannot be desired or sought in His Essence. What the seekers seek and the desirers desire is only recognition of Him, witnessing of Him, or vision of Him. All of these are from Him. They are not He Himself. [58]F. II 663.9

Given that God himself cannot be sought, the Gnostics make no attempt to seek him. What they do seek is their own “felicity” [59]sa ‘ada, which is the Quranic term for the permanent happiness achieved in paradise. “God cannot be attained by seeking. The Gnostics seek their own felicity, not God” [60]F. IV 443.1. They seek the joy of participating with full consciousness and awareness in the ongoing renewal of the universe, the endless process whereby God loves the nonexistent entities and brings them into existence. They love God not for his sake, but for their own sake.

Although there are many lovers – or rather, everyone in existence is a lover – no one recognizes the object to which his love is attached. People are veiled by the existent thing within which their beloved is found. They imagine that the existent thing is their beloved, but, in reality, it is their beloved only indirectly. In reality, no one loves a beloved for the sake of the beloved’s self. Rather, he loves the beloved only for the sake of his own self. [61]F. II 333.21

Like Rumi and many other Sufi teachers, Ibn ‘Arabi frequently explains love in terms of “need” [62]iftiqar, a word derived from the same root as “poverty” [63]faqr. Poverty in turn is used much more often in Islamic texts than “Sufism” to designate the inner dimension of Islamic teaching and practice.

Poverty or need is an inherent attribute of creatures in face of God, who is the Wealthy, the Independent, the Unneeding

[64] al-ghani. “Poor” and “wealthy” are derived from several Quranic verses, especially 35: 15: “O people, you are the poor toward God, and God, He is the Wealthy, the Praiseworthy.” God possesses all good and all wujud. Whatever people possess comes from him, so he deserves the praise for it.

In Ibn ‘Arabi’s vocabulary, poverty is equivalent to the philosophical term “possibility” or “contingency” [65] imkan, which refers to the fact that things have no claim on existence and stand in need of Real Wujud if they are to come into existence. Wealth or independence refers to God’s “necessity” [66] wujub, the fact that he is and cannot not be.

Sufis sometimes debated as to whether the goal of the Sufi path was to be poor and needy toward God or to be wealthy and independent through God. For Ibn ‘Arabi, poverty and wealth are two sides of the same coin, but poverty deserves to be stressed, because it is the fundamental situation of every created thing. The entities are inherently poor, so their realities demand that they love and seek what they do not have. The object of their love and seeking is always nonexistent in relation to themselves. “He who is wealthy through God is poor toward Him. But relationship to God through the word ‘poverty’ is more appropriate than relationship to Him through wealth.’” [67] F. II 263.34

Although people are in fact poor toward the Real Wujud, their poverty and need become specified and focused on specific forms. When people recognize the true nature of their poverty, they strive to have no object of need other than God. Nonetheless, the object of seeking can only be nonexistent. Hence to love God means to love that which cannot be delimited, defined, constricted, or understood. It is to desire that which is nonexistent in relation to the limited and defined form that is oneself. The human soul may be an ocean without shore, but it can never be more than a shadow of Infinite Wujud.

In their states and beliefs, the Folk of the Path see being [kawn] and bliss [na‘im] as coming only from God, so they are poor toward Him in that and toward no one else. It would not be correct for them to be poor toward Him while they have wujud, for then they would already be existent. Rather, they have this poverty toward wujud in the state of their nonexistence, and that is why He gives them existence. [68] F. II 600.35

The true lover loves God alone, not any specific gift of God. Those who love specific objects are unaware that true love can focus only on what is absolutely nonexistent in relation to the lover. Only Wujud is absolutely other than the nonexistent thing, so only it can be the true object of love. This is why Ibn ‘Arabi advises his readers, “Attach your poverty to God in an absolute sense, without any specification” [69] F. II 264.20.

The hadith of the Hidden Treasure tells us that God loved to be known and recognized. The Qur’an and the tradition make clear that the knowledge God desired to actualize through creation can only be achieved by human beings, who alone are God’s forms and vicegerents. Only they were created in God’s form, so only they can recognize God by recognizing themselves.

The Qur’an tells us that God taught Adam all the names, and one of the interpretations of this verse is that these were the names of God, that is, the names that designate Real Wujud. This special knowledge taught to Adam explains his superiority over all other creatures. The goal of human life is then to actualize the knowledge taught to Adam, and it is this actualization that Ibn ‘Arabi calls “perfection.”

The underlying theme of Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings is not, as many would have it, wahdat al-wujud, “the Oneness of Being,” but rather the achievement of human perfection. He never mentions the term wahdat al-wujud, but he does refer repeatedly to Perfect Man. His focus on human perfection can be seen clearly in the very structure of his two most famous works, the Fusus al-hikam and al-Futuhat al-makkiyya. The first begins with a discussion of Adam, the original Perfect Man, and then describes the various modalities of human perfection in terms of its specific individuations in the prophets. As for the Futuhat, it is a vast compendium of depictions of the various stations of human perfection, viewed from diverse standpoints, though always in the context of the divine names and attributes.

The notion of perfection is closely bound up with the infinity and inaccessibility of Wujud. God in himself is “no thing,” which is to say that he is no existing thing, because he is Wujud itself, the Divine Reality that stands beyond all existent and nonexistent things. If human beings are to attain to the perfection of the divine form, they cannot be tied down by specific things. At one and the same time they must be all things and no thing, just as God is all things and no thing.

When we love specific people or things, we focus our aspirations and desires on defined and limited objects. By doing so, we turn away from an infinite number of other possible objects. For his part God loves all things. His love embraces everything that can possibly exist and brings the universe into existence moment by moment. Perfect Man is similar to God in that he loves all things and no specific thing, in contrast to ordinary people, who love this thing and that thing, this person and that person.

Ibn ‘Arabi sometimes calls human perfection “the station of no station” [70] maqam la maqam. Everyone other than Perfect Man stands in a specific station delimited and defined by the objects of his or her love and aspiration. Perfect Man alone stands in no station, because he alone has fully actualized a love that has no

specific object. Rather, the object of his love is the infinite Essence of God, which remains forever inaccessible.

Perfect Man is defined by his lack of definition. He loves the “nothing” that is the source of everything. He has perfected the divine form, for he is indefinable and unrestricted, just like the object of his love. By living in no thing and no station, he is free of all things and all stations. By being poor and needy toward all things, he is poor and needy toward nothing, which is to say that he is poor and needy only toward God and wealthy and independent only through him.

The mark of Perfect Man’s love is his universal poverty, that is, the utter annihilation of his egocentric self and his total focus on God in the infinite wealth of the divine self-disclosure. God’s self-disclosure is the universe in its entirety, in all its spiritual, imaginal, and corporeal dimensions. Through a love for God that is absolute and non-delimited, Perfect Man loves all. Others at best will experience only glimmers of non-specific love.

Ibn ‘Arabi calls the non-specific and non-delimited love that is realized by the Gnostics and Perfect Man “divine love,” since, like God’s love for the universe, it does not distinguish among the entities. The mark of this divine love is that the gnostic loves every created thing in every level of being and every world, whether the level be supraformal and spiritual, imaginal and psychic, or corporeal and sensory. For, every level of being “has an eye from His name Light through which it looks upon His name Beautiful, since it is this light that dresses it in the robe of wujud[71] F. II 113.6.

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References / Footnotes

01 hubb
02 F. II 661.10
04F. II 325.17
05F. II 325.20
06Q. 2: 115
10F. II 438.20
11Q. 68: 4
12F. II 267.11
13Q. 2: 222
14Q. 3: 159
15Q. 3: 146
16Q. 2: 195
17Q. 61: 4
18in the version cited by Ibn ‘Arabi
19F. II 322.29
20F. II 468.12
21or psychic
22F. II 325.29
23F. II 326.19
24F. II 596.6
25Q. 50: 16
26F. II 494.6
2723: 53
2820: 114
29and from somewhat later on in Sufism
30the “objective” side of reality
31the “subjective” side of reality
32not to mention kindred visions in other traditions
33F. IV 7.2
34F. II 337.17
35F. II 327.7
36F. II 337.18
38Q. 2: 231
39F. II 232.12
40a‘yan mawjuda
41FH 76
42Q. 24:35
47F. II 113.29
49, 52F. II 112.34
50Q. 16: 40
51F. II 326.24
5485: 14–15
557: 156
56F. IV 260.6
57ilah al-mu ‘taqad
58F. II 663.9
59sa ‘ada
60F. IV 443.1
61F. II 333.21
64 al-ghani
65 imkan
66 wujub
67 F. II 263.34
68 F. II 600.35
69 F. II 264.20
70 maqam la maqam
71 F. II 113.6