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Feb 01 2012

Born in the Spanish township of Murcia on 17th of Ramaḍān 561 AH (27th or 28th of July 1165 AD) with respectable family roots of Banū Ṭayy,[1] this unique mystic of Islam, Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn al-‘Arabī al-Ṭā’ī al-Ḥātmī is universally known as al-Shaykh al-Akbar (The Greatest Master). Murcia Spain

Youth age

His father, ‘Ali ibn Muḥammad served in the Army of Ibn Mardanīsh, and later when Ibn Mardanīsh died in 1172 AD, he swiftly shifted his allegiance to the Almohad Sultan, Abū Ya’qūb Yūsuf I, and became one of his military advisers. While still a lad of eight years the family of Ibn ‘Arabī left Murcia and took Seville for their home. In Stephen Hartenstein’s words: “Ibn ‘Arabī spent his youth age in the most advanced city of that time, an atmosphere steeped in the most important ideas – philosophical, scientific and religious – of his day. For the young Ibn ‘Arabī, twelfth century Seville was no doubt the equivalent of today’s London, Paris and New York” (Hirtenstein 36). 


Ibn ‘Arabī’s dogmatic and intellectual training began in the cultural and civilized centre of Muslim Spain as Seville was known in 578 AH. Most of his teachers mentioned in the ijāza wrote to King al-Muẓaffar were the ‘ulamā’ of the Almohad era and some of them also held the official posts of Qāḍī or Khaṭīb (Addas 97). He was just a young boy when his father sent him to the renowned jurist Abū Bakr ibn Khalaf to study Qur’ān. Ibn ‘Arabī learnt the recitation of the Qur’ān from the book of Al-Kāfī in the seven different readings (qirā’āt). The same work was also transmitted to him by another muqrī, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Ghālib ibn al-Sharrāt (Addas 44). At the age of ten, he was well-versed in the Qira’āt; afterwards he learned the sciences of Ḥadīth and Fiqh from the famous scholars of the time. He studied Ḥadith and Sīra with the muḥaddith ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Suhaylī, who taught him all of his works. He also attended lectures of Qāḍī Ibn Zarkūn, who transmitted to him Kitāb al-Taqaṣṣī of Al-Shāṭibī and issued him an Ijāza (permission of transmission to others.)

Later he studied under ‘Abd al-Ḥaqq al-Azdī al-Ishbilī his works on Ḥadīth; these are Aḥkām al-Kubrā, al-Wuṣṭā and al-Ṣughrā. In addition to his own works, he also transmitted to Ibn ‘Arabī the writings of the famous Ẓāhirī scholar, Ibn Ḥazm al-Andalusī (Addas 45). The complete list of his teachers and masters can be found in a scholarly certificate Ijāza given to Sultan al-Ashraf al-Muẓaffar, in this document Ibn Arabī mentioned 70 of his teachers and masters (Ibn ‘Arabī, “Ijāza li Malik al-Muẓaffar” 7).

Feb 01 2012

Ibn ‘Arabī was about sixteen when he went into seclusion. He himself never explicitly mentioned the reasons behind it. Yet the following factors are worth considering:

There goes a story, heard after 150 years of his death, Ibn ‘Arabī was at a dinner party which rounded off with wine.  As he took the wine cup to his lips, he heard a voice: “O Muḥammad, it was not for this that you were created!” (Addas 36). This gave him an urge to quit worldly pursuits and to embark upon the search of God.

Another important cause of this retreat was a vision of the three great Prophets, Jesus, Moses and Muḥammad (PBUT). Ibn ‘Arabī says: “When I turned to this path, it was accomplished through a dream-vision (mubashshira) under the guidance of Jesus, Moses and Muḥammad (PBUT). In it, Jesus urged him to take to asceticism (Zuhd), Moses divulged to him that he would get to the infused knowledge called “al-‘ilm al-ludunnī” and the Prophet Muḥammad advised him to follow him step by step; “Hold fast to me and you will be safe!” (Addas 41).

As a consequence of this retreat and the spiritual insights granted to him, two things seem to have happened: firstly, he began to study Qur’ān and Ḥadīth and secondly, Ibn ‘Arabī was sent by his father to meet the great philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1126-98). The meeting was very significant in the sense that Ibn ‘Arabī answered his questions in ‘Yes’ and ‘No;’ and Ibn Rushd declared: “I myself was of the opinion that such a thing (i.e. spiritual knowledge without learning) is possible, but never met anyone who had experienced it” (OY: II, 372).

Spiritual Masters

Ibn ‘Arabī’s contact with spiritual masters began in Seville. At that time the pursuit of the spiritual life normally involved keeping company with many different masters instead of only one master. Ibn ‘Arabī has described brief biographies of his masters in his book Rūḥ al-QudsAl-‘Uryabī[2] of ‘Ulya[3] was one of those masters who visited Seville nearly in 1184, and Ibn ‘Arabī met him at that stage of his life when he had already embarked on the Path. One can call al-‘Uryabī as his first teacher (al-murshad al-awwal), a relationship which is always of significance in Sufism. Shaykh al ‘Uryabī had reached the high spiritual state of total servitude (‘ubūdiyya), which in Ibn ‘Arabī’s eyes surpass all others. Later on meetings with his Shaykh transformed Ibn ‘Arabī’s life so quickly that he wrote in Futūḥāt: “While our Shaykh al-‘Uryabī was ‘Isawī at the end of his life. I was ‘Isawī at the beginning of my life on this path. I was then taken to the states of Mūsawī sun illumination. Then I was taken to Hūd, and after that to all the Prophets, there after I was taken to Muḥammad. That was the order for me in this path” (OY: III, 361-2). Some of his masters are:

  1. 1.           Abū  al-Abbās al-‘Uryabī
  2. 2.           Abū  al-Ḥajjāj al-Shubarbulī
  3. 3.           Abū  Ya’qūb Yūsuf al-Kūmī
  4. 4.           Abū  Yaḥyā al-Ṣanhājī
  5. 5.           Abū  ‘Abd Allāh Ibn Qassūm
  6. 6.           Abū  ‘Abd Allāh al-Sharafī
  7. 7.           Abū  ‘Abbās al-Kashshāb
  8. 8.           Abū  ‘Imrān al-Mīrtulī
  9. 9.           Ṣāliḥ al-‘Adawī
  10. 10.       ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Mahdawī
  11. 11.       ‘Abd Allāh al-Mawrūrī
  12. 12.       Abū  Madyan al-Ghawth

Detail about his masters and their relationship with Ibn ‘Arabī can be found in Rūḥ al-Quds, Durrat al-Fākhira and Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya. 

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