Selections from al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya
Category: Islam
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The Meccan Illuminations (Al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya), Ibn ʿArabi's largest work in 37 volumes originally. It is a vast compendium of metaphysics, cosmology, spiritual anthropology, psychology, and jurisprudence.

Selections from al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya

by Shaykh Muhyiddin Ibn al-‘Arabi

Chapter Three

On Allah being disconnected from any connection (tashbih) or embodiment contained in the words which designate Him in His Books or on the tongue of His Messenger

“Allah is Greatly exalted over what the wrongdoers say.” (17:43)

In the slave’s looking at his Lord
in the purity and disconnection of strength,

And his height from the tools which you connect to “how” and likeness

Is an indication which gives an absolute judgement on the
position of the slave and his praise.

The soundness of knowledge and its affirmation, and
rejection of allegation and distortion.

(All known things were borne by the First Intellect)

Know that the bearer of all known things, celestial and terrestial, is the Intellect which takes from Allah without intermediary. None of the knowledge of higher and lower being is hidden from it. The self's gnosis of things comes from His giving and generosity, and from His manifestation to it, His light and His purest overflowing. The Intellect learns from Allah and teaches the self. The self learns from the Intellect and action comes from it. This applies to all that knowledge of the Intellect connects to things below it. We are limited by “what is below it” in respect of the learning we mentioned. Be careful when you ponder, remembering that Allah said, “until We know” (47:31). He is the All-Knower, so recognise the proper ascriptions!

(..except the Bewildered World)

Know that the Bewildered World does not learn anything from the First Intellect and the First Intellect has no power over those who are bewildered by love. They and it are on the same rank, like individuals among us who are outside of the jurisdiction of the Pole (Qutb), even though the Pole is one of the individuals. But the Intellect was selected to inform as the Pole is selected for appointment among the individuals.

(…and except the science of the isolation ( tajrid ) of tawhid )

The principle of the Intellect teaching those below it is transpires in all that the knowledge of the Intellect is connected to — except for ‘the isolation of tawhid’. The science of the isolation of tawhid is different from all known things in all aspects since there is no relationship at all between Allah and His creation, even if the ‘relationship’ is applied to it on a certain day as was done by Imam Abu Hamid al- Ghazzali in his books, and other people. That is a sort of mannerism and very far from the realities. What relationship is there between the in-time and the timeless? Or how can a likeness be made of the One Who does not accept a likeness with someone who does accept a likeness? This is impossible as Abu’l-‘Abbas ibn al-’Arif as-Sanhaji said in Mahasin al-Majalis, “There is no relationship between Allah and the slaves except concern. There is no cause except judgement and no time except pre-Time. Whatever else is blindness and deceptive ambiguity.” One variant has “knowledge” in place of “blindness”. See how excellent these words are and how complete this gnosis of Allah is and how pure this contemplation (mushahada)! May Allah give us the benefit of what he said!

(The intellect’s incapacity for gnosis of Allah)

Knowledge of Allah is too difficult for the faculty of perception of the intellect and the self except for the fact that He exists and is holy! In its reflection and preservation, the sound intellect knows that Allah is different from what is said about Him in respect of creatures or imagined in compounds and other things. That illusion is not permissible in respect of Him nor can that verbal expression be logically applied to Him in the same manner as that which created things accept. If it is applied to Him, it is only used in an manner to facilitate the listener’s understanding of the firmness of existence in a manner comprehensile to the listener, not to establish the the reality which the Real possesses. Allah says,“There is nothing like Him. “ (47:19)

Knowledge of Allah, however, is obligatory for us in the Shari’ a since Allah said to His Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “Know that there is no god but Allah.” (47:19). So He is saying, “Know Me from My reports which are in harmony with your reflection so that your belief will give you sound knowledge as your knowledge without belief which comes from definition may be sound.” So that matter is like that.

Because of this matter in the view and opinion of certain people, we looked to see how gnosis of Him can be attained. We investigated in a fair and balanced manner. The perfect intellect does not obtain it after effort and striving. We only attained to gnosis of Him by the incapacity to recognise Him because our quest to recognise Him is like our quest to recognise all things in respect of the reality which known things have. When we know that there is something in existence which has no likeness and which cannot be conceived in the mind nor perceived, how then can the intellect master this? This is not permissible even though knowledge of His existence is affirmed. We know that He exists and is One in His essence. This is the knowledge demanded of us, not that we know the reality of His essence which He knows that He has. This is knowledge of the lack of knowledge which is demanded of us. He does not resemble any creature in the view of the intellect nor is any of them like Him. It was obligatory for us, first of all, when it was said to us, “Know that there is no god but Allah” to know what knowledge is. We have learned it and we have learned what it was first obligatory for us to know of what knowledge is.

(Matrices of the demands of knowledge)

The matrices of the demands of are four: is?, what?, how? and why?. ‘Is?’ and ‘why?’ are single spiritual demands accompanied by what it is. ‘Is?’ and ‘why?’ are the two sound roots of simple elements because ‘what is it?’ is a sort of complex one. In these four demands there is no demand which should be asked of Allah in respect of what the reality accords since it is not correct that any of the science of tawhid be recognised except by the negation of what exists except for Him. Therefore He said, “There is nothing like Him” (42:11) and “Glory be to your Lord, the Lord of Might, above what they describe. (37:180)

(Knowledge of negation is knowledge of Allah)

Knowledge of negation is knowledge of Allah. Similarly we are not permitted to ask “How?” about spirits (arwah). They are too pure for that because their realities are different from this expression. The tools by which one questions are not applied to the spirits, nor is it permitted that they be applied to Allah. The realised unifier who is deprived of the presence of his Originator and Creator must not apply these expressions to Him. The Real is not ever known by these demands.


(What is perceived by its essence, what is perceived by its action and what is not perceived at all)

Then we also looked into all that it other than Allah and found it in two categories: one category is perceived by its essence — which the dense, sensory category; and one category that it is perceived by its action, which is intelligible and subtle. The intelligible is higher than the sensory by this station: it is too pure to have its essence perceived, but its action is perceived. Since these are the qualities of creatures, Allah is too pure to be perceived by His essence like the sensory or by his action like the subtle because there is no relationship at all between Him and His creation. His Essence is not perceived by us so as to be like the sensory nor is His action so as to be like the subtle. The action of the Real is to originate the thing, but not from a thing. The spiritual subtle achieves a thing from other things. So what relationship is there between the two of them? When the relationship is impossible in the action, then it is more fitting that similarity in the essence be impossible.

If you wish to achieve realisation of some of this area, look at the effect (maful) of this action according to the ranks of the effects, for instance the effect of handicraft like the shirt and chair. We find that the artisan is not recognised unless he himself has indicated the existence of its maker and his knowledge of his craft. It is the same with the effect of the formation of being — the sphere and stars — which do not recognise their fashioner nor the one who compounded them. That was the Universal Self which encompasses them. It is also the same with the natural effect — like the products of minerals, plants and animals, who effect a nature which was one of the effects of formation into being. But they do not grasp who acts for them, namely the sphere and the stars.

So knowledge of the spheres is not what you see of their mass and what the senses perceive of them. Where is the mass of the sun in relation to itself in the eyes of one of us who sees it? Knowledge of the spheres comes from their spirit and meaning which Allah brought into existence for them from the encompassing Universal Self which is the cause of the spheres and what is in them.

It is the same with emanating effect which is the Universal Self, emanating from the Intellect as the Dihya form came from the Jibrilian form. The Universal Self does not know what it emanated from at all because it is in its care and encompassed by it as it is one of its thoughts (khawatir). So how can the Universal Self know what is above it when what is in the Self from what is above it is only what is in it? It only knows what it has of it. So its knows its self, not its cause!

It is the same with the effect of origination which we call the Muhammadan Reality, and others call the First Intellect. It is the Highest Pen which Allah originated from nothing. It is even more incapable and prevented from perceiving its Doer than every effect already mentioned since between every effect and its doer which have been mentioned there is a sort of relationship and resemblance. So it must know of it according to the amount of relationship there is between them, either in respect of substantiality or otherwise. There is no relationship between the first thing originated and the Real — glory be to Him! It is the most incapable of the effects of causes of recognising its Doer from others. Then the incapacity of the effect, which resembles its active cause from some aspects, is incapable of perceiving it and knowing it. So understand this and realise it. It is very beneficial indeed in the area of tawhid and the inability to connect temporal knowledge to Allah the Great.


(The five faculties and their real perceptions)

What we mentioned confirms that man perceives all knowables by one of the five faculties: the senses which are five — smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight. Sight perceives colours, coloured things and individuals according to the known limit of proximity and distance. What he perceives a mile away is not what he perceives at two miles, and that what he perceived at 20 spans is not what he perceives a mile away. What he perceives close to him, like his hand is not what he perceives at 20 spans. At two miles, he perceives an individual shape and does not know whether it is a man or a tree. At one mile, he recognises that it is a man. At 20 spans he recognises that he is white or black. Face to face, he recognises whether it is blue or navy blue. It is like that with all the senses in their perception up close or from afar.

The Creator is not sensed, i.e. He is not perceived by the senses by us while we are seeking to recognise Him. We do not know Him by the means of the senses.

The imaginative (khayaliyya) faculty only takes what the senses give it, either in an image or a mental form, from what the senses give to each other. The path of the people of thought in gnosis of Allah ends here (by way of the imaginative faculty). It is their language, not our language. Even if their path is true, we ascribe it to them and it is quoted from them. This imaginative faculty continues as long as it has perception from the senses. We consider any connection of the senses to Allah to be invalid, so the connection of the imagination to Him is also invalid.

As for the meditative faculty, man only ever reflects on things that exist with him which he learns from the senses and the precepts of the intellect and from how thoughts work on them in the repository of the imagination which accords it another knowledge between it and these things in which he conceives of a relationship. There is no relationship between Allah and His creation. Thus knowledge of Him is not valid by way of reflection. Therefore scholars forbid thinking about the Essence of Allah.

As for the faculty of the intellect, it is not valid for the intellect to perceive Him. The intellect only accepts what it knows spontaneously or what reflection accords us. It is invalid for thought to perceive Him, so it is invalid for the intellect to perceive Him via reflection. But whatever the intellect is, its limit is to understand and grasp what what it obtains. So it may be that the Real will give it gnosis of Him and it will understand it, but not by means of reflection. This is not impossible. Allah gives this gnosis to whomever He will of His slaves. The intellect does not have sole possession of perception of gnosis, but it accepts it. So neither proof nor demonstration is based on it because gnosis is beyond the scope of the perceptions of the intellect.

These essential attributes cannot be designated because they are beyond exemplification and analogy. “There is nothing like Him.” (42:11) Every intellect which does not have some of this gnosis unveiled to it questions another intellect which has had some of it unveiled to it. But it is not in the power of this questioned intellect to express it nor is it possible. That is why Abu Bakr as-Siddiq said, “The inability to perceive is perception.” This statement has two ranks, so understand! Whoever seeks Allah through his intellect by means of his thought and investigation is astray. However, his preparation may be enough to receive what Allah gives him of that, so understand!

As for the faculty of memory, there is no way for it to perceive knowledge of Allah. It remembers what the intellect knew before and then was heedless of or forgot unwittingly. So the faculty of memory has no way to Him.

So man’s perceptions are limited to what man is, what his essence gives him and he can acquire. All there remains is the preparation of the intellect to accept what Allah gave it of His gnosis. Man will never recognise the Real by deductive proof — except for recognition of existence and that He is the only One who is worshipped. So perceiving man is not capable of perceiving anything at all unless something like the perceived thing already exists in him. If it had not been for that, he would not have perceived it at all nor recognised it. Since man does not recognise anything unless he has something like that recognised thing, in reality man only recognises what resembles him and is like him. There is nothing like the Creator and nothing has anything like Him, so He will never be recognised!

(Natural things only accept nourishment from their own sort)

Part of what supports what we mentioned is that natural things only accept food from things of their own sort, and absolutely do not accept food from other than their sort. An example of that is that products of minerals, plants and animals are compounded of the four humours, and the products do not accept food from any other source. That is because a portion of them is from them. If a creature had wanted to make the food of his body, which is compounded of these elements, from other than these elements, or what is compounded of others, he would not have been able to do so.

As as it is only possible for natural bodies to accept food from something that is compounded of the same elements as they are, so it is not possible for anyone to know anything unless he has something like it. Don’t you see that the self only accepts from the intellect what it shares with it and what resembles it? It does not know what it does not share with it at all. None of Allah is in anyone and it that is not permissible in any aspect, so no one recognises Him from his self and reflection. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Allah is veiled from the intellects as He is veiled from the eyes. The Highest Assembly seek Him as you seek Him.” So the Prophet reported that the intellect does not perceive Him by its reflection nor by its inner eye nor does the eye perceive Him. This is what we indicated earlier in the chapter. Praise belongs to Allah for His inspiration and for teaching us what we did not know. The bounty of Allah is immense.

(Disconnection (tanzih) and negation of exemplification and connection (tasbih))

So there must be disconnection and negation of exemplification and connection. Whoever among those who use connection and go astray only go astray by allegorical interpretation and applying what the ayats and traditions bring us which we have not understood without looking into the disconnection which Allah made obligatory. That led them to pure ignorance and clear disbelief. If they had sought soundness and left the traditions and ayats as they had come without modifying anything in them to something else and entrusted the knowledge of that to Allah and His Messenger and said, “We do not know”, that would have been better for them.

The words of Allah should be enough for them, “There is nothing like Him.” (42:11) When a hadith comes to them which contains connections so that Allah is made like something, He negated the likeness in respect of Himself. So all that remains is that that tradition has one of the aspects of disconnection which Allah recognises and it is brought to Arab understanding in whose tongue the Qur’an was revealed.

Actually there is not to be found a single phrase in a tradition or ayat at all which is a text for connection. What you find with the Arabs is that it supports many aspects, one of which leads to connection and one of which leads to disconnection. The allegorical interpreter applies that phrase to the aspect which leads to connection by wronging that phrase since he does not recognise its proper due given to it by what its place in the language demands. He infringes on Allah when He applies to Him what is not proper for Allah. Allah willing, we will present some of the hadith which have come with connection and which are not really a text for it. “To Allah belongs the far-reaching proof. If He had willed, He would have guided you all.” (6:149)

(Connection (tasbih) and anthropormorphism in the expressions of the Sunna)

An example of that is when the Prophet said, “The heart of the believer is between two of Allah’s fingers.” [at-Tirmidhi] The intellect looks at what the subject demands of reality and metaphor and that a ‘limb’ is impossible for Allah! ‘Finger’ is a sharted expression which can be applied to the limb or applied to blessing. The shepherd said:

Weak of staff, of Bedouin origin, you see him over them when people have not had their blessing end in drought.

He said, “You see him over them” is a good indication of blessing by looking after them well. The Arabs say, “What an excellent finger so-and-so has over his property” meaning that his effect on it is to make his property grow because of his good management of it.

The swiftest turning over of things is what is turned over by the fingers because of their small size and perfect capacity for that. So their movement is swifter than the hand and other things. When Allah turns over the hearts of the slaves, it is the swiftest thing. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was most eloquent to the Arabs in his supplication, using what they understood. Because for us, things are only turned over by the hand, he used turning with ‘the fingers’ because the fingers are part of the hand and are quicker. Thus the Prophet said in his supplication, “O Overturner of hearts, make my heart firm in Your deen!” [Ibn Majah] Allah’s overturning of the hearts is what He creates in them of concern for good and interest in evil. When man senses the succession of thoughts which come to him in his heart, this is referred to as ‘Allah turning the heart’. Man’s knowledge cannot turn this away from himself. That is why the Prophet said, “O Overturner of hearts, make my heart firm in Your deen!

Regarding this hadith, one of his wives said to him, “Do you fear then, Messenger of Allah?” He, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, replied, “The heart of the believer is between the fingers of Allah,” so the Prophet indicated the swiftness of the turning from belief to disbelief and what they both contain. Allah said, “He inspired them with their depravity and godfearing.” (91:8) This inspiration is the turning and the fingers are for speed. The fact that they are two (‘two fingers’) is the thought of good and the thought of evil.

So ‘fingers’ should be understood as we have stated. ‘Fingers’ can mean the limb and it can mean the blessing and good effect. So which of the two aspects will you connect to the limb when these disconnected aspects demand it? Either we will be silent and entrust knowledge of that to Allah and to the one whom Allah has acquainted with it — a sent messenger or an inspired wali as long as the limb is negated, or we are overcome by inquisitiveness which takes control of us, although we ascribe that to an assimilating anthropomorphising innovator. It is not by inquisitiveness, but it is obligatory for the knower in that to clarify the aspects of disconnection in that expression so as to invalidate the argument of every disappointed anthropormorphist. May Allah turn to us and him and provide him with Islam! If we discuss that word which must give rise to tashbih, its explanation must be modified to an aspect which befits Allah — glory be to Him! This is the portion of the intellect in the linguistic convention of the phrase.

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