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Ibn Arabi's Life and Teachimgs

Ibn `Arabi (Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn al-`Arabi al-Hatimi al-Ta'i) (1165-1240) - entitled with the honorifics al-Shaikh al-akbar ("The Greatest Teacher") and Muhyi al-Din ("The Reviver of Religion") - was born in Mucia in the Andulusian regional of Southern Spain, in a family of pure Arab blood (hence his name), and educated in Seville.  When only twenty he already possessed profound spiritual insights.  There is a story of him at this age meeting the great Aristotlean philosopher Averroes, who was shaken by the encounter with such a divine teacher.

Until 1198 Ibn `Arabi spent his life in Andalusia and North Africa meeting other Sufis and scholars and occasionally engaging in debates.  All this time he had been having various mystical visions.  In that year he had a vision ordering him to depart from the East where he would spend the rest of his days.

After some years of traveling through Arabia, Egypt, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, and by now a teacher of great renown, in 621 he finally settled in Damascus where he spent the remainder of his life.  During this period he completed his magnum opus, the twelve volume al-Futuhat al-Makkiyah ("Meccan Revelations"), which was not only an extensive encyclopaedia of Sufi beliefs and doctrines, but also a thirty-year diary of his own spiritual experiences; a compendium of the esoteric sciences in Islam which surpasses anything of its kind written before or since [Nasr, Amazon com Three Muslim Sages, pp.92-98].

Ibn `Arabi's output was prodigious.  He is reported to have written 289 works, of which some 150 still exist.  With Ibn `Arabi we have for the first time a complete exposition of Sufi doctrine; a monumental synthesis encompassing theology, metaphysics, cosmology, psychology, spiritual practice and more.

And although earlier Sufi writers discussed metaphysical questions or cosmological doctrines, this was never on the same scale. For the most part the earlier Sufi writings are either practical guides or ecstatic expressions of transcendent or mystical states of consciousness.  It was upto Ibn `Arabi then to explicitly formulate what was only implicitly contained in the teachings of earlier Sufi masters.  Through him the esoteric dimension of Islam was for the first time expressed openly. [Nasr, Three Muslim Sages, p.90]




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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 26 June 1998, last modified 6 September 2004