The Universal Tree and the Four Birds (Mystical Treatises)
Ibn ʿArabi
3:15 h Islam
Through thestory of the universal tree, representing the complete human being, and the four birds, representing the four essential aspects of existence, Ibn 'Arabi explains his teaching on the nature and meaning of union with God.
The Universal Tree
and the Four Birds
Translated by Angela Jaffray

I am in love with no other than myself,
and my very separation is my union...

I am my beloved and my lover;
I am my knight and my maiden.

Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī


I owe special thanks to my friend Rafi Zabor, who suggested several years ago that I translate the Ittiḥād al-kawnī for the Web journal Words without Borders, and supplied the illuminating introductory essay.

Thanks, also, to Words without Borders who published an early version of the translation in their August 2004 issue.

I couldn’t ask for more responsive and meticulous editors than Stephen Hirtenstein and Michael Tiernan at Anqa Publishing. Stephen’s learned comments enriched my commentary immensely, and Michael’s design and careful editing are each, in their own domain, things of beauty.

Without the sublime French translation, sagacious notes, and expert edition of the Ittiḥād by Denis Gril, I would have found myself frequently at a loss. Lovers of Ibn ‘Arabī owe a tremendous debt to him and other pioneers in the enterprise of Ibn ‘Arabī translation for their deep knowledge of the Shaykh’s words and works.

Jim Robinson, eagle-eyed companion in devoir, has accompanied this translation from fledgling stage to final flight. He has given me many helpful suggestions, kept me from colossal mistakes, and offered unflagging encouragement all the way.

tawfīq illā bi-llāh


It is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every
sign, gazed upon by every eye, worshipped in every
object of worship, and pursued in the unseen and
the visible. Not a single one of His creatures can fail
to find Him in its primordial and original nature.

Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī

Ibn ʿArabī or Abū ‘Abd Allah Muḥammad ibn al-‘Arabī at-Ṭā’ī al-Ḥātimī at-Ta’i al-Hatimī, also called Muḥyiddīn, the Revivifier of the Faith— was born in 1165 CE in the city of Murcia in Muslim Andalusia, and died seventy-five years later in Damascus: a narrative traversal of the Islamic world more than mirrored by his encompassment of its internal, esoteric aspect. Called within the Sufi tradition the Shaykh al-Akbar, or Greatest Master, and seen as its ultimate exemplar of esoteric Knowledge, he was, among many other things, the author of approximately three hundred books, some of them no longer than a pamphlet, others comprising several volumes. The best known and doubtless most important of these are the Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam, in many ways the crystallization of a lifetime’s gnosis, and the enormous Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya, which combines the functions of a spiritual encyclopedia and intimate autobiography. The work translated here (Risālat al-ittiḥād al-kawnī, likely written before the author’s arrival in Mecca circa 1203 CE), combining verse, prose, and rhymed prose, is certainly one of Ibn ʿArabī's most beautiful and, while quite unlike any other of his books so far translated into English, it is wholly characteristic of his genius.

In it the reader will encounter a work of extraordinary literary and spiritual artistry, followed by a commentary whose lucidity and acuity of articulation will introduce the neophyte— its thoroughness should also please the specialist— to some of the details of the cosmological order to which our author’s imagery, in this work and elsewhere, belongs; but there ought also to be room for a few general words of introduction for the general reader who might happen by.

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