An Introduction to [bn ‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Unity


For the study and an understanding of esoteric knowledge as expressed most completely by Ibn ‘Arabi, it is necessary to become acquainted with some of the terminology which he uses in his exposition of the way of the mystic in his esoteric advance.


An Introduction to Ibn ‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Unity

Extracts from The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul Arabi by A. E. Affifi


Edited extracts from The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul Arabi by ALE. Affifi © Cambridge University Press 1938

This edition published by Beshara Publications c/o Chisholme House Roberton, nr Hawick Roxburgh TD9 7PH Scotland 1998

ISBN 0 904975 20 7

Printed in Great Britain


Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, one of the greatest mystics of all time, was born in Murcia in 1165 of an ancient Arab family. His intellectual ability and spiritual aptitude were apparent from an early age, and he studied assiduously under many teachers in Andalusia and the Maghrib. After extensive travels in the Islamic world, he died at Damascus in 1240. He left more than 400 writings, in which the primordial principle of the Absolute Unity of Existence is expressed with unique clarity and fullness. To many he is known simply as al-Shaykh al- Akbar ‘the Greatest Teacher’.

The text of this book consists of edited highlights from A.E. Affifi’s The Mystical Philosophy of Muhyid Din Ibnul Arabi, originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1938. The extracts presented here as a continuous text were first put together more than twenty years ago by Bulent Rauf, Consultant to the Beshara Trust until his death in 1987. His intention was to provide a complete introductory guide to the language and thought of Ibn ‘Arabi, particularly those aspects of his doctrine which refer to the Unity of Being and the Perfectability of Man. It should be noted that Affifi’s original work was in some respects not favourable to Ibn ‘Arabi’s point of view, though the author understood well enough what he was disagreeing with. Indeed, Affifi has done a great service by providing the raw material for what is perhaps the most lucid and thorough introduction to Ibn ‘Arabi’s metaphysics of perfection.

Long known simply as the Twenty-Nine Pages from the for- mat of its original printing, this text has been a foundation for study at the Beshara School of Intensive Esoteric Education for many years, where it has been read prior to Ibn ‘Arabi’s own more demanding works such as the Fusiis al-Hikam. The clarity of the exposition and depth of meaning make it an invaluable reference work for all students of mysticism and the spiritual life, whatever their background. The only

agreement required from the reader is to the premise that Reality is One. This accepted, Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine is shown, like all expressions of the highest wisdom, to be universal in its implications, and immediate in its address.

The Twenty-Nine Pages has been reprinted at least seven times for the use of the School, with minor editorial changes. This edition has been divided into sections to provide a better sense of the structure of Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought and to allow easier reference for the student. At the Beshara School it is always studied in groups, forming the focus for intensive discussion and acting as a mirror for the students’ questions concerning their relationship with Reality. This is the first edition to be made available to the public, in the sincere hope that many will benefit from its grand yet essentially simple message.



The One & the Many Immanence & Transcendence Causality

The Divine Names

The A ‘yan al-thabita

The Self-Revelations of the One The Reality of Realities

The Perfect Man



The Heart

The Soul


Fana’ & Baga’


Good & Evil

Love & Beauty

Index of Names & Arabic Terms


Ibn ‘Arabi’s premise is the bird’s-eye view looking down upon a pyramid from above its apex, rather than viewing the pyramid from its base and looking up towards its apex. The apex of Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought is the point which is the ‘Absolute Being’.

Ibn ‘Arabi uses the term ‘Absolute Being’ (al-wujiid al-mutlaq) or ‘Entire Being’ (al-wujiid al-kulli) to denote the Reality which is the essence of all that exists.

Reality is ultimately One, and Being (existence as a concept) is identical with the One Existing Reality which is the source of all that has existence. It follows that Absolute Existence, which cannot be anything but a ‘universal concept’, and ‘Absolute Reality’ (al-haqq al-mutlaq) are identical.

Reality (Being) is one and a unity, and Existence is one and a unity. Reality which is Absolute Being is actually one with Absolute Existence, though they may be separated in thought. Absolute Existence is the source of all limited existences. Ibn ‘Arabi says, “Were it not for the permeation of God, by means of His form, in all existents, the world would have no existence; just as were it not for the intelligi- ble universal realities, no predications (ahkam) of external objects would be possible.”

The real source of all beings is ‘Absolute Being’: a Reality or Being whose existence is identical with its Essence a Being whose existence is necessary (wajib al-wujidi li dhatihi). This Essence is at once all the realised and the realisable quiddi- ties (mahiyyat) in the external world with all their properties and accidents, and upon this Essence, with its existence and manifestations, the human mind bases its notions of abstract existence.

Absolute Being, or Absolute Existence, or Absolute Reality, which is Entire, Indivisible, Universal and Infinite, is the Origin of all that follows.

Being becomes existent when particularised either as an in- ternal mentation at the level of the Absolute Being, or as an extension of that being in the external manifestation. How- ever, aS we shall see, extension in this case is an extension without extension, although for our purposes the extension into manifestation is better considered as an existent in the world. Everything that has being may be said to have exist- ence if manifested in one or other of what he calls ‘awalim (universes) or maratib (degrees) of being. The word ‘alam (universe) is often used in esoteric language to denote a global, unlimited, in-depth system.

As we will see elsewhere, there are considered to be 18,000 universes, though their number is infinite. This universe is both finite and infinite, immanential and spiritual, temporal and eternal, and above all, both existent and non-existent. It both exists in the knowledge of God as permanent and eter- nal, and in the phenomenal world as temporal and finite. What applies to the Universe also applies to Man. For in- stance, the Universe is sometimes called the Big Man, and Man is sometimes known as the small Universe.

Ibn ‘Arabi uses the term ‘not-being’ to denote either:

1. things that do not exist in any of the universes or degrees of being the pure non-existent (al-‘adam al-mahd), about which nothing further can be said;

2. things that exist in one plane but not in another, under which we may class: a. things which exist only as ideas or concepts in a mind and cannot possibly exist in the external world;

b. things which are possible or even probable existents, but which do not actually exist in the external world.

The ‘pure not-being’ can never itself be an object of our thought; other non-existents can and actually are. When we imagine we know a pure not-being, what we really know is


its opposite (its logical contradictory), or the reason for its non-existence.

By a necessary being is meant a being whose existence is self- necessitated, i.e. it exists per se: and this is God alone. A possible (or contingent) being is that for whose existence there is no essential or necessary reason, i.e. its being or non- being are equally possible. An impossible being is one whose non-existence is necessitated by some formal reason. The philosophers deny the category of the contingent on the ground that all that exists is either necessary in itself or made necessary through another being whose existence is neces- sary in itself (wajib al-wujudi bi l-ghayr). However Ibn ‘Arabi adds, “But the gnostic (‘drif) admits contingency and knows its real place and what the contingent means and whence it is contingent, and the fact that it is essentially identical with wajib al-wujidi bi l-ghayr.” In fact, he emphatically denies the existence of the contingent per se, and admits only two cate- gories: the necessary (as explained above) and the impossible.


According to Ibn ‘Arabi there is only one Reality in exist- ence. This Reality we view from two different angles, now calling it Haqq (the Real) when we regard it as the Essence of all phenomena, and now Khalq (the Immanence), when we regard it as the manifested phenomena of that Essence. Haqq and Khalq, Reality and Appearance, the One and the Many, are only names for two subjective aspects of One Reality: it is areal unity but an empirical diversity. This Reality is God. “If you regard Him through Him”, Ibn ‘Arabi says, “then He regards Himself through Himself, which is the state of unity; but if you regard Him through yourself then the unity vanishes”.

The One is everywhere as an Essence, and nowhere as the Universal Essence which is above and beyond all ‘where’


and ‘how’. “Unity has no other meaning than two (or more) things being actually identical, but conceptually distinguish- able the one from the other; so in one sense the one is the other; in another it is not.” “Multiplicity is due to different points of view, not to an actual division in the One Essence (‘Ayn).”

The whole of Ibn ‘Arabi’s metaphysics rests on this distinc- tion and there is not a single point in his system where it is not introduced in some form or other.

Owing to our finite minds and our inability to grasp the Whole as a Whole, we regard itasa plurality of beings, as- cribing to each one characteristics which distinguish it from the rest. Only a person possessed of the vision of a mystic, Ibn ‘Arabi would say, can transcend, ina supra-mental state of intuition, all the multiplicity of forms and ‘see’ the reality that underlies them. What seem to multiply the One are the ahkam (predications) which we predicate of external objects ~ the fact that we bring them under categories of colour, size, shape, and temporal and spatial relations, etc. In itself the One is simple and indivisible.

To express it in theological language, as Ibn ‘Arabi some- times does, the One is al-Hagq (the Real or God), the Many are al-Khalq (created beings, phenomenal world); the One is the Lord, the Many are the servants; the One isa unity (jam‘), the Many are a diversity (farq); and so on.

Now we are ina position to understand the apparent para- doxes in which Ibn ‘Arabi often revels, such as “the creator is the created”; “Iam He and He is I’; “lam He and not He”; “Haqq is Khalg and Khalq is Haqq”; “Haqg is not Khalg and Khalg is not Haqq”; and so on and so on. Explained on this relative notion of the two aspects of Reality, these paradox- es are no paradoxes at all. There is a complete reciprocity between the One and the Many as understood by Ibn ‘Arabi, and complete mutual dependence. Like two logical correla- tives, neither has any meaning without the other.


The relation between the One and the Many is often ex- plained by Ibn ‘Arabi by means of metaphors, and the utmost care should be taken in understanding them correctly.

The metaphor of the ‘mirror’ and ‘images’ is closely allied to that of the ‘object’ and its ‘shadow’. The One is regarded as an object whose image is reflected in different mirrors; the images appearing in different forms and shapes according to the nature of each mirror (locus). The Many (phenomenal world) is the mirror-image, the shadow of the Real object beyond. The whole world is like a shadow play. “We are sufficiently far”, he says, “from the screen on which the phe- nomenal objects are reflected to believe that what we see (on the screen) is all that is real.” To rule out any implication of duality, he definitely states that the source of the shadow and the shadow itself are one.

The metaphor of ‘permeation’ and ‘spiritual food’: the Many permeates the One in the sense in which qualities, colour say, permeate substances. The One, on the other hand, permeates the Many as food permeates a body. God is our sustaining spiritual food because He is our essence. The phe- nomenal world is also His food because it is through it that God is endowed with Attributes (ahkam).

Ibn ‘Arabi holds that the spiritual governs and controls the material everywhere: the One Universal Substance abides in all and governs all. “The Many are to the One like a vessel (ind) in which His Essence subsists.” According to Ibn ‘Arabi, spirit is ‘materia’ to matter. The whole Universe may be One Universal Spirit possessing even a higher degree of unity than that of ahuman mind. The ultimate solution of the prob- lem rests with the supra-mental intuition of the mystic, which alone perceives the unity as a unity.

Ibn ‘Arabi warns us that should we maintain a distinction between the Real and the Phenomenal (Haqq and Khalq), thus explained as Essence and Form, or Reality and Appearance,


etc., we should not, even on his doctrine, predicate of one what is predicable of the other, except in the strict sense of regarding them as ultimately and essentially One (Haqq). The One Essence transcends all the forms and whatever characteristics belong to them.


We have already seen that the duality of Haqg and Khalq is not, in Ibn ‘Arabi’s view, a real duality of beings but a duality of what we might call differentiating aspects. Differentiat- ing aspects are identified in his philosophy with what he calls transcendence and immanence (tanzih and tashbih). In Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine of transcendence and immanence, imma- nence is not understood to mean that God possesses hearing, or sight, or hands etc., but rather that He is immanent in all that hears and sees, and this constitutes His immanence (tashbih). On the other hand, His Essence is not limited to one being or a group of beings that hear and see, but is man- ifested in all such beings whatever. In this sense God is transcendent because He is above all limitation and individ- ualisation. As a universal substance, He is the Essence of all that is. Thus Ibn ‘Arabi reduces tanzih and tashbih to abso- luteness (itlaq) and limitedness (taqyid).

Ibn ‘Arabi emphatically denies anthropomorphism and cor- porealism, and the Christian doctrine of incarnation (hulil). To say that Christ is God is true, he says, in the sense that everything else is God, and to say that Christ is the son of Mary is also true, but to say that God is Christ the son of Mary is false, because this would imply that He is Christ and nothing else. God is you and I and everything else in the universe. He is all that is perceptible and imperceptible; material or spiritual. It is infidelity (kufr) to say that He is you alone or I alone or Christ alone, or to limit Him in any form whatever, even in a conceptual form. When a man says


that he has seen God in a dream with such and such a col- our, size or form, all that he wishes to say is that God has revealed Himself to him in one of His infinite forms, for He reveals Himself in intelligible as well as in concrete forms. So what the man has really seen is a form of God, not God Himself.

Ibn ‘Arabi holds that transcendence and immanence are two fundamental aspects of Reality as we know it. Neither of them would be sufficient without the other if we want to give a complete account of Reality. The Haqq of whom tran- scendence is asserted is the same as the Khalq of whom immanence is asserted, although (logically) the Creator is distinguished from the created.

Although Ibn ‘Arabi asserts that everything and all things are God (the immanent aspect), he takes care not to assert the converse. God is the Unity behind the multiplicity and the Reality behind the Appearance (the transcendent aspect). He says that it is not transcendence as asserted by man which explains the real nature of God as the Absolute. Even the most abstract transcendence (conceived by man) is a form of limitation, because it implies, at least, the existence of an asserter besides that of God. Further, to assert anything of anything is to limit it; therefore, the assertion even of abso- lute transcendence of God is a limitation. The assertion, made by the intellect, of the transcendence of God is only a con- venient way of contrasting the two aspects of Reality as we understand it, but it does not explain its nature.

Tawhid (unification, union) belongs to the Muwahhid (the Unifier), not to God, since God is above all assertions. No- one except God Himself knows His real transcendent aspect. The perfect Sufi, in his ecstatic flight, might have a glimpse of this unity, not through the intellect but by means of a su- pra-mental intuition which belongs only to such a state. This higher form of transcendence is independent of all assertion. It belongs to the Divine Essence per se and 4 se, and. it is what


Ibn ‘Arabi calls the transcendence of the unity (tanzih al- tawhid). The absolute unity and simplicity of the Divine Essence is only known to the Divine Essence there is no duality of subject and object, knower and known.

God is in everything, yet above all things, which is a descrip- tion rather than a definition. But even such a definition (ora description) would contain, Ibn ‘Arabi urges, definitions of all beings, actual and potential, physical and spiritual, and since a complete knowledge of everything is an impossibili- ty for man, a complete definition of God is therefore impossible.

Ibn ‘Arabi concludes by saying that the so-called attributes of transcendence (sifat al-tanzih) should be predicated of the Godhead (al-haqq) not of the Essence, for the Essence, in its bare abstraction, is attributeless. The attributes of transcend- ence are summed up in what he calls absoluteness (itlaq), as contrasted with the limitedness (taqyid) of the phenomenal world. To the Divine Essence explained above, Ibn ‘Arabi sometimes applies the pronoun ‘He’, for the Essence alone is the absolute ghayb (unseen).

In short, Ibn ‘Arabi says that we must distinguish two fun- damentally different kinds of transcendence:

1. That which belongs to the Divine Essence per se and a se - the absolute simplicity and unity of the One the state of the ahadiyya.

2. Transcendence asserted by the intellect, which must always be coupled with immanence and which may assume the following forms:

a. God may be called transcendent in the sense of being Absolute; or

b. He may be called transcendent in the sense of being a necessary being, self-begotten, self-caused, etc., in contradistinction to the contingent, created or caused beings of the phenomenal world; or


c. He may be called transcendent in the sense that He is unknowable and incommunicable and beyond all proof.

The second kind of transcendence Ibn ‘Arabi condemns if taken by itself (i.e. without immanence) to be an explana- tion of the whole truth about Reality. Reality as Ibn ‘Arabi understands it has both aspects: transcendence and immanence.


“The movement of the creation of the world is an intelligible one”, Ibn ‘Arabi says. In consideration of this, ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ are mere appellations, two subjective categories.

As there is only one Reality, regarded in one aspect as a cause and in another as an effect, cause and effect are identical and every cause is an effect of its own effect; a conclusion which Ibn ‘Arabi says would be pronounced impossible by the unaided intellect, but which, according to the mystic intui- tion, is an explanation of what actually is. The question is understood by the mystic as follows: every cause, on account of its being both an essence and a form, is both a cause and an effect, an agent and a patient; and every effect, on account of its being an essence and a form, is also both a cause and an effect, or an agent and a patient. And since Reality is One, now regarded as an essence, now as a form, it follows that It is both a cause and an effect at the same time, and that every- thing that is called a cause, on entering into a causal relation with anything else which is called an effect, is at the same time an effect of its own effect, on account of that effect be- ing (by virtue of its essence) a cause. What it all amounts to is that God, who is the only cause, is immanent in both causes and effects, so it is immaterial whether we call a particular cause a cause of a certain effect, or an effect of this effect (itself being regarded as a cause).


According to Ibn “Arabi, all changes in the phenomenal world, in fact all that he calls creation, is nothing but ‘be- coming’. He denies that the relation between God and the universe is a conditional relation on the ground that a con- dition (shart) does not necessarily entail the existence of the thing of which it is a condition. For him, the existence of the universe is necessarily entailed by that of a necessary being. He argues that to be alive is a condition for being able to acquire knowledge and to have legs is a condition for being able to walk, but the existence of life does not necessarily entail that of knowledge, neither does the existence of legs necessarily entail walking. We can never say that the condi- tioned must exist, although we say that if it did, its condition must exist.

But unlike a condition, a cause, by itself, Ibn ‘Arabi says, does entail the existence of its own effect. The universe is regarded by the Ash‘arites and the ancient philosophers as a necessary consequence of a certain cause. Ibn ‘Arabi agrees with both, saying that we may say, following the Ash‘arites, that the divine knowledge of God, or the Essence, according to the philosophers, is the cause of the universe, if and only if this does not imply any temporal priority of God to the universe. It would be meaningless, he says, to talk about a temporal interval or a gap between the One and the Many, or God and the Universe, or the Necessary and the Contin- gent, if necessity and contingency are regarded (as he regards them) as only two aspects of the One. If we must say that the universe is caused or created at all, it must not be under- stood in the sense of the universe originated or created in time or from nothing. Ibn ‘Arabi does not admit creation ex nihilo.

The world was never at any time a non-existent and then became an existent. The universe is eternal, infinite and everlasting, because it is the outward expression of the eter- nal, infinite and everlasting One. He says, “The end of the world is something unrealisable neither has the world any


ultimate goal”. The so-called next world is something forev- er in the making. What people call this world and the next world are mere names for the ever new process of creation, which is a continual process of annihilation and recreation. There never is an interval in time. We cannot say that any- thing was not, then (thumma) was. ‘Then’ (thumma) does not mean an interval of time, but it indicates the logical priority of the cause to its effect. Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn ‘Arabi’s contemporary and fellow countryman, explains creation as “renewed existence every instant in a constantly changing world, always taking its new form from the preceding”. The universe as a whole is one big, contingent being. Neither the universe nor anything in it has an acquired existence in the sense of being created from nothing. Acquired existence is a mental fiction. What things acquire are the ahkam (predica- tions) of external existence.

Everything is an eternal existent in its state of latency (thubit) and a temporal existent in its manifestation in the external world (zuhir). He goes on to say that in saying that an object is created or caused to exist we mean no more than what we mean when we say that “a man has appeared in our house today”, which does not imply that he had no previous exist- ence before coming into our house. He says that God does not create anything; creation (takwin) which, according to him, means the coming into concrete manifestation of an al- ready existing substance belongs to the thing itself. “It comes to being” means that it manifests itself of its own ac- cord. The only thing that God does in the matter is to will a thing to be (concretely manifested), and God wills nothing and commands nothing, the existence of which is not made necessary by the very nature and laws of things themselves. Were it not in the nature of a thing to be at the moment of God’s command, it would never be. Nor even would God command it to be. So, nothing brings a thing into existence (i.e. makes its existence manifest) except itself.


He explains ‘causality’ in terms of two triads which corre- spond to one another, the one expressing one aspect of reality (God); the other, the other aspect (the phenomenal world). The first triad stands for God as a trinity of Essence, Will, and Word; the second stands for the phenomenal world, also a trinity, of essences characterised by obedience and hearing.

In this sense and this sense only does Ibn ‘Arabi regard the universe as created or caused, just as it is in this sense that he calls it eternal. But there remains one fundamental point, which is that he denies the eternity of the world in one defi- nite sense: that is in the sense that it is co-eternal with God in the form in which we know it. What is co-eternal with God, or what is God Himself, is the essence of the world, not the form. He says, “God predestines things in eternity but does not bring them into existence (i.e. in eternity), or what is the sense in calling Him a creator if the created things are co-eternal with Him?” In this sense, he calls the universe hadith (originated) and contingent and not-being, and he adds that it always is and always will be.

It is idle, he concludes, to ask when the world was created. ‘When’ refers to time, and time has always been regarded as a product of the phenomenal world itself. There is no tem- poral succession between creator and created, but there is a logical order of ‘before’ and ‘after’, not in time. Ibn ‘Arabi adds that the relation between God and the universe is anal- ogous to that of yesterday and today. “We cannot say that yesterday precedes today in time, since it is time itself. The non-existence of the world was never at any time.”



Ibn ‘Arabi calls the Divine Names the causes of the universe. He regards the Divine Names as lines of force. As names of the Godhead, they demand by their very nature their logical correlatives, which can only be found in an outward expres- sion or manifestation in the external world. The Knower, for example, demands something known; the Creator something created; and so on. Besides this, Ibn ‘Arabi speaks of them as being instrumental causes (like tools) which God uses in all the creative activities in the world. Our knowledge of the Divine Names, he says, and of their hierarchical order their classification into principal and subordinate is the clue to our knowledge of the categories manifested in the spiritual and the physical worlds. In everything, no matter how com- plex it is, every ‘aspect’ (wajh) and every ‘reality’ (haqiqa) corresponds and owes its very existence to a Divine Name, which is to this ‘aspect’ or ‘reality’ like a prototype. This is just repeating, in a different way, what he says about the phenomenal world being the attributes with which God is described. “God was, while the world was not, and He was named by all the Divine Names.”

The Divine Essence is the One Universal Substance, identi- fied with Absolute Reality. A Divine Name is the Divine Essence in one or other of its infinite aspects: a determinate ‘form’ of the Divine Essence. An Attribute is a Divine Name manifested in the external world; it is what Ibn ‘Arabi calls a ‘theatre of manifestation’ for the Divine Substance to man- ifest itself in different degrees (maratib). In its absolute indeterminateness, the Divine Essence is a ‘thing in itself’. It is indivisible, independent and unchanging. It is not a sub- stance, but the One Substance which, in itself, embraces all substances, so-called material and non-material. What are fleeting, divisible and changeable are the ‘accidents’, the ‘forms’, the manifestations. The Attributes, according to him, have no meaning apart from the Divine Essence.


As forms and particularisations of the Divine Essence, the Divine Names are a multiplicity, each possessing unique characteristics by virtue of which it is distinguishable from the others, but essentially they are identical with the One Essence, and with one another.

Reality, which is ultimately one and indivisible in Ibn ‘Arabi's doctrine, seems to be regarded from three different points of view in relation to our knowledge:

1. Reality as we know it, i.e. Reality as manifested in the ex- ternal world. As such, it is subject to the limitations of our senses and intellects. We know it as a multiplicity of ex- istents, and we assert of it relations of al] kinds, causal or otherwise. This he calls the Phenomenal World, ‘Appear- ance’ and ‘Not-Being’, etc. But though an apparent multiplicity, the Phenomenal World is an essential unity, each part of which is the Whole and capable of manifest- ing all the realities of the Whole.

2. Reality such as we do not directly know or perceive, ex- cept by mystical intuition, but whose existence we logically infer (following our reason).

Of this, he maintains, we predicate attributes characteristic only of a Necessary Being, and Ibn ‘Arabi chooses to call it God in a theistic sense God as ‘created in our beliefs’. This is only a fictitious and a subjective God and our conception of Him varies according to different individuals and com- munities, but according to Ibn ‘Arabi any conception which deprives God of His absoluteness and universality, or renders His unity in any way incomplete by admitting the reality of any other deity or even of the Phenomenal World, is poly- theistic. A complete conception of God, therefore, is one which comprises the two aspects of Reality (immanence and transcendence), i.e. of God as being both in and above the universe. This is the starting point in Ibn ‘Arabi’s Philoso- phy of Religion, as we shall see later.


We are forced to do this, he goes on to say, because the attributes we predicate of the Phenomenal World demand their logical correlatives: contingency demands necessity; rel- ativity demands absoluteness; finitude demands infinity and so on. These logical correlatives can only be applied to a Reality thus conceived. “The key to the mystery of ‘Lord- ship’ is thou” (the phenomenal). The fundamental difference between Reality as conceived in (1) and in (2) is that in (1) the transcendental Attributes of God (sifat al-tanzih), which are the logical correlatives of the immanent Attributes (sifat al-tashbih), have no application. Attributes which express any relation between God and the Universe (in the orthodox sense) are explained away by Ibn ‘Arabi, so we are really left with only two types of Attributes: transcendent, which are characteristic of God, and immanent, which are charac- teristic of the phenomenal world; each type explaining an aspect of Reality. We must not, therefore, predicate of God such attributes as ‘green’ or ‘circular’ or ‘hearing’ or ‘see- ing’, etc., although His Essence is the essence of all that is green, circular and all that hears and sees.

What Ibn ‘Arabi means by saying that, “we ourselves (in- cluding the phenomenal world) are the attributes with which we describe God”, and, “there is not a single Name or At- tribute with which He is characterised, the meaning or the spirit of which is not found in the phenomenal world” is, on the one hand, that the phenomenal world possesses unique characteristics which explain God’s immanent side; and on the other, that through these characteristics we are formally led to ascribe to Him Attributes which explain His transcend- ent side. But regarding Reality as the Essence of All, all attributes whatever, transcendent and immanent, may be predicated of it. Ibn ‘Arabi says, “He, may He be exalted, is (actually) named by all the names of the objects of the phe- nomenal world”; “Glory to Him who is ‘meant’ by all the attributes of the Godhead and created objects”; “Our names are His Names”; “He is called Abu Sa‘id al-Kharraz”; etc., ete.


3. Reality such as we do not directly know or perceive, but which, following our reason, we logically infer as we in- fer the existence of a substance when we perceive its accidents.

This is the Divine Essence, of which we can predicate noth- ing except bare existence. It is unknowable and incommunicable when regarded in abstraction and apart from any relation or limitation whatever. It is ultimately in- definable and, like a substance, it can only be described in terms of its ‘states’ which, in this case, are the phenomenal world. Its nature admits of no opposition or contradiction (didd) or comparison (mithl), yet it unites in itself all oppo- sites and similars. It has no qualities or quantities, yet it is the source of all qualities and quantities. It is generally re- ferred to as ‘Pure Light’, or ‘Pure Good’, or ‘the Blindness’ (al-‘ama).

This is the state of Uniqueness (ahadiyya), which admits of no plurality whatever. As such, it is not an object of wor- ship. The object of worship is the Lord (al-Rabb), not the Unique (al-Ahad). But such unity becomes intelligible once we admit the other aspect, i.e. multiplicity, for, in itself, it transcends all multiplicity. It is the state of the ‘One to Whom belong the burning splendours’ (al-subuhat al-muhriga); that is, the One, the manifestation of Whom would cause all the multiplicity of phenomena to vanish, so that nothing would remain except the Real. He says, “The veil of the Unity (al- ahadiyya) will never be removed; limit your hope, therefore, to the attainment (of knowledge) of the Oneness (al- wahidiyya), i.e. the unity of the Divine Names”. No-one knows God as He really is (i.e. His Essence) except God, not even a mystic, for a mystic belongs to the multiplicity.

Ibn ‘Arabisometimes identifies the Divine Names with what he calls the hadarat (Divine Presences), using the term hadarat in a different sense from that in which it is used in connec- tion with the five Divine hadarat (Five Planes of Being). He


enumerates only some of these, for according to him they are infinite in number. The ‘Presence of the Godhead?’ (al- hadrat al-ilahiyya), for example, is the state in which God is revealed as Allah; the ‘Presence of the Merciful’ is that in which He is revealed in the Name of the Merciful; and so on.

The only distinction Ibn ‘Arabi makes between the One and the Many, or God and the Phenomenal World, which has already been explained, is expressed in a different way by what he calls the two aspects of the Divine Names. Regard- ed as a unity and as essentially one with the Divine Essence, the Names are said to be ‘active’ in the sense that each Name indicates one or other of the infinite lines of activity of the One. As a multiplicity manifested in the external world, i.e. regarded as the external world itself (for the external world is nothing other than the Divine Names) they are ‘passive’ and receptive. The former aspect he calls tahagqug (the point of view of the Real), the latter takhallug (the point of view of the Created), and the relation between the two, through which actual manifestation is effected, is called ta‘alluq. The Divine Names are also active when considered in relation to the a‘yan al-thabita (established potentialities), for these are nothing but the phenomenal world in latency; and in their turn, the a‘ yan al-thabita are active in relation to the external world. It is all a hierarchy of higher and lower; the higher is active in relation to the lower and passive in relation to the one higher than itself.

There is but One Reality, which however much you multi- ply it (in thought) or try to conceive it, now as a multiplicity of existents, now as One Essence characterised by innumer- able attributes and Names, remains in itself ultimately inconceivable and unalterable. All our knowledge of it is subjective and vain. There is no multiplicity, not even of Attributes or Names —- no passivity or activity. These are terms which we ourselves have coined and found convenient to use for expressing what we choose to understand by Reality.



Ibn ‘Arabi was the first to use the term a ‘yan al-thabita which may be rendered ‘fixed prototypes’, or ‘latent realities of things’, or ‘established potentialities’ in a more or less de- termined sense, and to give it a prominent place in a metaphysical system.

Before coming into concrete existence, things of the phenom- enal world were in a state of potentiality in the Divine Essence of God and were as ideas of His future ‘becoming’ the content of His eternal knowledge, which is identical with His knowledge of Himself. God revealed Himself to Himself in a state of self-consciousness (not at any point of time) in what Ibn ‘Arabi calls God’s First Epiphany or Particularisation (al-ta‘ayyun al-awwal), in which He saw in Himself and for Himself an infinity of these a‘ydn as deter- minate ‘forms’ of His own Essence - ‘forms’ which reflected and in every detail corresponded to His own eternal ideas of them.

These ‘forms’ are what Ibn ‘Arabi calls the a‘ydan al-thabita. We may therefore define them as the latent states, both in the Mind and in the Essence of God, of His future ‘becom- ing’; states which can only be expressed in terms of the Divine Names and all the possible relations which hold between them. The two-fold nature of these a‘yan, i.e. their being in- telligible ideas or concepts in the mind of God on the one hand, and particular ‘modes’ of the Divine Essence on the other, is explained by the fact that Ibn ‘Arabi and his school use the terms mahiyya and huwiyya as equivalent to the term ‘ayn al-thabita. The one (mahiyya) explains the first aspect of the ‘ayn, i.e. its being an idea or a concept; the other (huwi- yya), the second aspect, i.e. its being an essential ‘mode’.

We can no more say that these a‘ yan, these potential ‘modes’ of the Essence, are other than the Essence or can have any existence apart from it, than say that mental states of our


own minds are other than our minds, or can have any sepa- rate existence apart from them; or indeed, the states of any other substance whatever. Mentally, however, we may dis- criminate between the Essence and the a‘yan, or the mind and its states, and think of them as apart. The a‘ yan al-thabtta are in reality one with the Divine Essence and the Divine Consciousness. Yet, as ‘states’ or ‘modes’ they are no more the Divine Essence itself than our mental states are our minds.

Ibn ‘Arabi calls them non-existent; not in the sense that they have no reality or being whatever, but in the sense that they have no external existence, or any existence apart from the Essence of which they are states. “Let it be known like this”, Ibn ‘Arabi says, “that the a‘yan al-thabita are the images of the Divine Names and Qualities and ‘things’ of the Ipseity, in the Presence of Knowledge of the Ipseity, in whose image the Divine Essence is particularised and revealed in the Presence of Knowledge with specific individuation; they are established according to non-existence and they are not qual- ified by existence”. There is only one Reality and a non-existent subjective multiplicity and non-existent sub- jective relations which limit and determine the One.

The a‘yan al-thabita are what Ibn ‘Arabi calls the logical cor- relatives (mugtadayat) of the Divine Names; but they are also potential essences. An interesting passage from Ibn ‘Arabi’s Futahat al-Makktya will explain his own view on the subject. “Ts that”, he asks, “which we call existent and perceive by our senses, the ‘ayn al-thabita ‘transferred’ from a state of non-existence to a state of existence? Or is it only its hukm (subjective determination) brought into an intelligible rela- tion with the ‘ayn of the Real Being (God) - as a mirror image is related to a mirror the so-called thing (external object) itself being a non-existent as it always was in its state of latency? (If the latter is the case), the a‘yan of contingent be- ings must perceive each other only in and through the ‘ayn of the mirror of the Real Being; the a‘ yan al-thabita (these fixed


prototypes) remaining as they always were in a state of non- existence.”

“Or is it”, he goes on to say, “that God manifests His being in (the forms of) these a‘yan, which are to Him like theatres, so that each ‘ayn perceives the other when God manifests Himself in this other, a fact which is usually described as a thing having acquired existence (istafada’l-wujid) but which is nothing other than the manifestation or appearance of God in the form of that thing. This (second explanation) is nearer the truth in one respect; the other (explanation) is nearer the truth in another respect; but in both cases the ‘ayn al-thabita of the thing in question is a non-existent (externally) and still remains in its state of latency.”

As potentialities and as intelligible ideas in the mind of God, they certainly are mere subjectivities; but as essences, they are all that is, since they are the Divine Essence Itself as par- ticularised or determined. He says that God revealed Himself to Himself in ‘the Most Holy Emanation’ (al-fayd al-aqdas) in the forms of these a‘yan. The ‘Most Holy Emanation’, with