Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ibn 'Arabi on the Seven Sacred Verses

Bruce Lawrence, in his biography of the Qur'an shares Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi's perspective on Sura 15:87.

"Just as sincerity is marked by degrees - not all are equally sincere, so all seekers do not have the same potential for knowledge or insight. Ibn 'Arabi explains the stages of insight with reference to one of his favourite Qur'anic passages:

And we have given you

Seven verses for repetition,

And the Great Recitation. (15:87)

The Meccan Openings are an extended commentary on this verse. They were revealed to Ibn 'Arabi when he was on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Just as myriad insights derived from this single Qur'anic verse, so its truth was conveyed to Ibn 'Arabi in a single moment, through the apparition of a youth. The youth vanished before Ibn 'Arabi could meet him, but as he left he told Ibn 'Arabi: 'I am the Recitation (that is, the Qur'an), and the seven verses for repetition.' In other words, the youth claimed to be a divine emissary: 'I am the sum total of the Qur'anic revelation, characterized by seven repeated or doubled verses.' Like an earlier dream where Ibn 'Arabi saw himself united with the stars and with the letters of the Arabic alphabet, the youth personified for the mystic seer the sum total of meaning. He was the mediator of the (seven) doubled, whether they be the actual verses of the Qur'an or seven of the Divine Names or seven mystical states induced by those verses and names.

The seven verses to which the Qur'an itself is referring are likely to be the seven verses of the Opening Chapter of the Qur'an:

In the Name of God, Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate
Praise to the Lord of all Creation
Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate
Master of the Day of Determination.
You alone do we worship
And from You alone do we seek alleviation.
Guide us to the path of True Direction,
The path of those whom You favour,
Not of those who cause You anger,
Nor of those who took to the path of deviation. (1:1-7)

Ibn 'Arabi implies a parallel between the Meccan Openings given to him by the 'youth' and the Opening Chapter given by Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. Its three directives encode three stages or levels of sincerity. They are graded from lower to higher. The first or lowest is the sincerity of the masses. It requires sincerity in one's deeds and words ('You alone do we worship'). For the second or higher group, who are the elite, sinceity in deeds and words produces insight into the meaninbg of servitude and dependence ('From You alone do we seek alleviation'). Beyond the masses and the elite there is yet another group. They are the elite of the elite, not because of their social standing or their pious observance but because of their patience. The elite of the elite are sincere, like the masses, and nsightful, like the elite, but they also persist and persist and persist. They embody patience according the Qur'anic dictum:

Persist with truth, persist with patience. (103:3)

Patience is the third step. It derives from sincerity and insight, yet offers its own speciala reward. For th elite of the elite, the outcome of sincerity, insight and patience is awareness of spiritual states. The patient seeker becomes receptive to the full experience of the Divine and so to the meaning of technical terms reserved for those who cry out: 'Guide us on the Straight Path'.

Sincerity, insight and patience take one to the threshold of Ibn' Arabi's approach to Qur'anic truth. It discloses the notion of parallelism that pervades his approach to the Qur'an. Whatever seems to be a pairing or a doubling, such as the two names of God - Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate - or the two groups with God is angry or who have gone astray - such pairings are much more than a mere juxtaposition of similar words or themes. 'For every sign there is an outward and an inward, a limit and a potential,' according to a Tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. If the visible world is filled with signs, they remain mere signs, possible beacons of light but still dim or dark, until human creatures recognize their creatureliness as a potential to reflect the attribute of God as Creator. "

~Excerpted from "The Qur'an - A Biography' by Bruce Lawrence (2006), pp. 110-113

1 comment:

umsami said...

Assalamu Alaikum:

I love the translation you use for Al-Fatiha.... especially translating Maliki yaum id-deen (excuse my horrible Arabic) as "Master of the Day of Determination."

Can you tell me which translation it is...or is it yours?