Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Ruh of al-Quran

Michael Sells' book "Approaching the Qur'an" evokes a slice of life on a public bus in Egypt, as passengers scramble aboard and jockey for position. There is standing room only and its hard to breathe. But at a certain moment when the bus begins its journey, a tape cassette of al-Quran is played and "a meditative calm begins to set in. People relax. The jockeying for space ends. The voices of those who are talking grow quieter and less strained. Others are silent, lost in thought. A sense of shared community overtakes the discomfort. What seemed at the beginning like a long ordeal is suddenly over. As the bus pulls into its destination, the spell is broken and the passengers disembark."

Sells then asks a question that points to the physiological and psychological benefits of the recitation of al-Quran and this, of course, includes al-Fatiha:

"What was the spirit that came over these passengers? In asking such a question, I use a word, spirit, from everyday language that is also at the heart of the world's religious traditions. Among the common meanings of the word are: "an animating or vital principle; a supernatural being; a temper or disposition, especially when vigorous or animated; the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person; and an inclination, tendency, mood." The English word derives from the Latin spirare (to blow, breathe) and the related word, inspiration, means etymologically, a breathing into. There is no doubt that Qur'anic recitation is based on patterns of breath and has an effect on the breathing patterns of those who hear it. The slowing down of breathing is an essential aspect in almost all meditative traditions, and Qur'anic reciters are trained rigorously in breath control. As they recite the Qur'an in long phrases based on deep, slow exhalations, and as they leave a meditative silence during inhalation, those hearing such patterns begin to breathe more slowly and deeply.

Beyond the effects of breathing, there is a particular quality to the sound of the Qur'an that anyone familiar with it in Arabic will recognize. For centuries, Qur'anic commentators have discussed the power and beauty of this sound, what they call the nazm of the Qur'an, the composition, or more loosely but perhaps more richly translated, the Qur'anic "voice." In turn, nazm, is one of the key concepts in i'jaz al-Quran (analysis of the inimitability of the Qur'an) which is a standard feature of Qur'anic commentary. Yet, while we have a rich history of testimonies to the power and the beauty of the Qur'anic voice, few explanations have been offered for how that voice works in relationship to the sound of the Qur'an. Here I will discuss the elusive relationship of sound to meaning in the Qur'an by focusing on the Qur'anic understanding of spirit (ruh), a word that in Arabic is also related to breath. Much of the discussion of spirit in the Qur'an, in both classical commentaries and modern scholarship, is an attempt to define it as a particular being - as Gabriel, or another great angel, or yet another delimited entity.
~ excerpt from "Approaching the Qur'an" by Michael Sells, pp. 183-184

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Banner of Praise - Michel Chodkiewicz

The Banner of Praise

God ‘began the creation of man from clay... Then He fashioned him harmoniously and blew into him of His spirit.’ (Q. 32: 7–9.) The first man then uttered his first words – those which established human language – by saying: al-hamdu li-llâh rabbi l-'âlamîn.[1]
These same words constitute the second verse of the Fâtiha, the sûra which ‘opens’ the Qur'ân and which is often called, for this reason, the sûrat al-hamd. In each of the five ritual prayers, every Muslim recites the Fâtiha several times, thereby echoing the words of Adam until the end of time.

How should one understand – and therefore translate – al-hamdu li-llâh rabbi l-'âlamin? Should one consider it to be a performative (inshâ'î) or declarative (khabarî) utterance? In the first case, the praise of God is carried out by man and it should be translated: ‘Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds.’ In the second case, the praise does not happen at the time we pronounce it since it belongs to God from all eternity: when we recite this verse, we are merely recognizing that it is His property by right. We are adding nothing to it. The latter interpretation is the only metaphysically correct one for Ibn 'Arabî.

The Shaykh al-Akbar tackles this problem in particular in the section of Chapter 558 of the Futûhât al-makkiyya devoted to the Divine name al-hamîd.[2] This name is constructed on the linguistic pattern fa'îl, which is ambiguous in Arabic. In fact, it has both an active meaning (which the fâ'il form expresses) and a passive meaning (which corresponds to the maf'ûl form). In calling Himself al-hamîd, God lets us know that He is ‘the One who praises’ and ‘the One who is praised’ (al-hâmid wa l-mahmûd). The Qur'ânic revelation states that, ‘The seven heavens and the earth and all that they contain praise Him’ (Q. 17: 44), but for Ibn 'Arabî it is God Himself who praises Himself with the tongue of His creatures – including those, like minerals and plants, which seem inanimate to us.

As far as human beings, in particular, are concerned, Emir 'Abd al-Qâdir al-Jazâ'irî explains this aspect of Akbarian doctrine, in his commentary on the prologue (khutba) of the Futûhât,[3] by distinguishing three attitudes amongst the faithful when they recite al-hamdu li-llâh: the majority (the 'âmma, the common believers), illusioned by their ego, praise God – or, rather, believe that they praise Him – bi-anfusîhim, ‘by themselves’. More clear-sightedly, the élite (al-khâssa) praise God bi-llâh ‘through God’ since those who make up this élite know that they derive their ability to act from Him. This is an inadequate avowal since it does not refute the affirmation of an ‘I’ who acts. According to the Emir, these two categories are those of the bâ'iyyîn, the ‘People of bâ'’ (an allusion to the instrumental preposition bi). The third, and most perfect, category is that of the lâmiyyîn, the ‘People of lâm’ (an allusion to the preposition li which expresses possession). These are the ‘élite of the élite’ (khâssat al-khâssa). They are the theophanic locus of the name al-hamîd. Their praise is li-llâh; it is ‘God’s’ since He is the One who offers it and receives it.

Like the praise of other creatures, man’s praise is universal and never ceases since, as Ibn 'Arabî writes in the passage cited above, ‘there is no word in this world which is not praising God.’ A word of blame, whatever its object may be, is always in fact the implicit praise of another object perceived to be, on the contrary, praiseworthy. Now every attribute which, in whatever thing, justifies that it should be praised – the beauty of a woman, the flavour of a fruit, the splendour of a landscape – is in reality a Divine attribute because God is ma'dan kulli khayr wa jamîl, ‘source of everything that is good and beautiful’. In Him resides the kallon kai agathon. In the same way that God is ‘He who is worshipped in all that is worshipped’ (al ma'bûd fî kulli ma'bûd),[4] He is therefore ‘He who is praised in all that is praised’ (al-mahmûd fî kulli mahmûd).

An exhaustive overview of Ibn 'Arabî’s teaching concerning the notion of hamd would need to be supported by the analysis of numerous texts. The passages in the Shaykh al-Akbar’s writings which fall directly within the province of Qur'ânic exegesis merit attention from this viewpoint. Thus, in Chapter 22 of the Futûhât, he divides the 114 manâzil (‘spiritual abodes’), that is, as I have shown elsewhere,[5] the 114 sûras of the Qur'ân, into several groups. One of these groups comprises, he says, five manâzil al-madh (madh being, in Arabic, a synonym of hamd). These five ‘abodes’ correspond to the five sûras which begin with al-hamdu li-llâh, that is, al-Fâtiha, al-An'âm, al-Kahf, Sabâ, and Fâtir. The chapters of the Futûhât which correspond to these sûras, and particularly to the Fâtiha,[6] therefore contain precious information.
Another text, which has not been edited and which seems very important, is a short treatise entitled Natâ'ij al-adhkâr,[7] ‘The results of invocations’. In this, Ibn 'Arabî explains the effects which the various kinds of dhikr have on those who practise them. Two sections of this treatise concern the different effects of the hamdala, the expression of praise, according to its recitation in the usual way or with a variant of prophetic origin. Several chapters of the Futûhât also deserve careful examination concerning this form of invocation: Chapter 198 (section 6)[8] and Chapters 467 and 468[9] which are to be found in the last part of the work, where Ibn 'Arabî describes the ‘stations’ (maqâmât) of the successive ‘poles’ (aqtâb). The ‘poles’, as one knows, are the saints who hold the highest function in the initiatic hierarchy. The two chapters which I have pointed out are those about the ‘pole’ whose dhikr is al-hamdu li-llâh and the one whose dhikr is al-hamdu li-llâh 'alâ kulli hâl (‘praise is God’s in every state’).

Leaving the task of tackling these matters to others, I would like to devote what follows to a different – but complementary – aspect of the Akbarian doctrine on praise: by which I mean the passages where Ibn 'Arabî places the notion of hamd within an eschatological perspective.

To Adam’s initial praise, at the moment when humanity enters history, corresponds Muhammad’s praise, when humanity leaves history to enter into eternity. The scriptural basis to what the Shaykh al-Akbar imparts about this matter may be found, on the one hand, in the Qur'ânic verse (Q. 17: 79) where the Prophet is told that he will be resurrected in a ‘praiseworthy station’ (maqâm mahmûd) and, on the other hand, in a series of hadiths some of which refer to this maqâm mahmûd and others of which relate to the liwâ al-hamd, the ‘Banner of Praise’ which the Prophet will hold in the future life.[10]

The verse in the Sûra al-Isrâ' which announces the Prophet’s entry into the maqâm mahmûd connects the attainment of this station with the practice of tahajjud, i.e. nocturnal prayer. This relationship is strongly emphasized in Chapter 18 of the Futûhât which specifically deals with the rules of this supererogatory practice and its effects.[11] But what does this ‘praiseworthy station’ reserved for Muhammad consist in? For the majority of commentators, two privileges will be granted to the Prophet by it: that of interceding with God on the Day of Judgement and that of carrying the ‘Banner of Praise’ under which ‘Adam and those who come after him’[12] will be ranked. A third privilege is mentioned, however, in an isolated viewpoint which the majority of authors who cite it vehemently reject. I shall refer to it later.

For now, I would like to look at Ibn 'Arabî’s writings. The most important passages are in Chapter 73 of the Futûhât where the replies to the famous questionnaire by Hakîm Tirmidhî are to be found. In this case, questions 73 to 77[13] are particularly relevant. ‘What is the praiseworthy station? ’ asks Tirmidhî. Ibn 'Arabî replies:

It is the station where all stations end up, the one for which all the Divine names belonging to the stations are intended. It belongs to the Envoy of God and that will be apparent to all creatures on the Day of Resurrection. Because of that, sovereignty over all creatures will return to him on the day of their Presentation [to God for judgement]... This is the station in which Adam dwelt when the angels prostrated before him. It belonged to him here below, and in the life to come it belongs to Muhammad. It consists in the Perfection of the Divine Presence. The father of men (Adam) only appeared there because his body included the humanity of Muhammad... In this station the Door of intercession will be opened.[14] He (the Prophet) will first intercedewith God in favour of those who in their turn have the ability to intercede: angels, messengers, prophets, saints, animals, plants, and minerals. The Envoy of God will intercede for them all so that then they may themselves intercede in favour of other men. For this reason, Muhammad will be praised (mahmûd) in every language and with every word. Allah will then say: ‘The angels have interceded, the prophets have interceded, the faithful have interceded. There remains only the Most Merciful of the Merciful.’[15] The sequence of words in this hadîth involves the intercession of the Most Merciful of the Merciful. Now it is absolutely necessary that He intercedes with someone, even though only He subsists. Know then that Allah will intercede through the relationship of His names: His name ‘the Most Merciful of the Merciful’ will intercede with the names ‘the All-Conqueror’ (al-qahhâr) and ‘He whose punishment is terrible’ (shadîd al-'iqâb) so that the punishment which oppressed those beings subjected to these names will be taken away, so that those who never did any good will be taken out of the fire.

One sees, therefore, a major theme of the Akbarian doctrine expressed in this reply, that of the universality of Mercy and of apocatastasis, ‘the restitution of all things’,[16] at the end of a process of intercession established by the Prophet in the maqâm mahmûd, which makes him worthy of the praise of all creatures.

The following question (no. 74) is ‘By virtue of what did he obtain this maqâm? ’ Each prophet may make a request of God which will be granted, Ibn 'Arabî replies. But, whilst the other prophets used this privilege in this life, Muhammad kept it for the life to come in order to intercede at that time on behalf of the great sinners of his community. This community, according to the Shaykh al-Akbar, is not limited, as one knows, to the umma in the historical sense of the word: ‘All men, from Adam until the Day of Resurrection, make up his community’, he declares at the end of Chapter 73.[17]

‘What is the difference between Muhammad’s portion and that of other prophets? ’ Tirmidhî then asks. The difference, says Ibn 'Arabî, lies in the fact that Muhammad totalizes in his person what is divided amongst all the other prophets.[18]

Questions 76 and 77 relate to the ‘Banner of Praise’ (liwâ al-hamd). This banner is the one the Prophet said he would hold in his hands on the Day of Resurrection and that under it ‘Adam and all those who come after him’ would be ranked. A complementary hadîth declares that on that day the Envoy of God will praise God with praise unknown to him in this world. The liwâ al-hamd, says Ibn 'Arabî, relying on these two prophetic traditions, represents the sum total of the most perfect praise. This perfect praise cannot be anything else but the names with which God Himself qualifies Himself. God taught them to Adam in Paradise (Q. 2: 31) but only niyâbatan 'an Muhammad, insofar as he was the substitute for Muhammad, to whom alone they belong by right (bi hukm al-asâla) since the clay of Adam is only the envelope of the Muhammedian Reality (al-haqîqa al-muhammadiyya). However, as the Shaykh al-Akbar points out elsewhere,[19] the unfurling of the Banner consequently symbolizes the glorious epiphany of the infinity of Divine attributes of which the names known by men are only the signs. One could also say – as happens with the reply to question 77 [20] – that the unfurling of the Banner is the manifestation of everything that was contained in a synthetic way in the Qur'ân and, in particular, in the initial expression of praise of the Fâtiha, which is the ‘Mother of the Book’ (umm al-kitâb).[21]

Other information may be found in a passage of the Futûhât far from the one just mentioned, since this time it concerns Chapter 338. Ibn 'Arabî writes:

Know that in the praiseworthy Station where the Envoy of God will be standing on the Day of Resurrection in respect of his name al-hamîd, there are seven banners, which are called ‘Banners of praise’. With these banners, names of God will be given to the Envoy and his heirs, the Muhammedians, with which he will praise his Lord when he stands in the maqâm mahmûd on the Day of Resurrection. This is what he was referring to when he was asked about his intercession, ‘I will praise God with praise such as I do not know at present.’

After having stated, then, that the Banner is actually made up of seven different banners, Ibn 'Arabî adds ‘that he was told’ that on each of them there would be ninety-nine names, except for one of them on which there would be seven hundred and seventy.[22] These numbers, which at first sight seem very mysterious, have a relatively easy explanation. Chapter 338 and the six following chapters belong to the ‘section on the spiritual abodes’ (fasl al-manâzil) and correspond (in inverse order) to sûras 40 to 46, i.e. to what Islamic tradition calls ‘the seven hawâmîm’ because they all begin with the letters hâ mîm. The numerical value ‘resulting’ from these two letters (that of the name of each of them: hâ; mîm) is 99. But among the sûras under consideration, there is one, Sûra 42 (al-Shûrâ) which, besides the letters hâ mîm which it shares with the six others, contains three other letters in its first verse: 'ayn, sîn, qâf: the value resulting from these five letters is 770. A more special connection with a particular group of sûras may therefore be added to the general relationship between the liwâ al-hamd and the Qur'ân. But the encoded message which the seven hawâmîm contain cannot be deciphered in this world. Ibn 'Arabî himself does not know the names of praise which the banners will reveal. ‘I know that I do not know these names and that God will not let me know them,’ he says, ‘because they make up the praise reserved for the Prophet on the Day of Resurrection. When we hear him praise God by these names in thepraiseworthy Station and when the banners on which this praise is written unfurl, only then will we know them.’

For want of penetrating this mystery, it is, however, possible to glimpse the meaning of the eschatological event in which the maqâm mahmûd and the liwâ al-hamd represent two complementary aspects. As we have seen, in one of the texts I have quoted, the Shaykh al-Akbar applies the Divine name al-hamîd to the Prophet. I shall now turn to 'Abd al-Karîm al-Jîlî (d. 1408–9) to clarify this remark. Jîlî is the author of an unedited work, al-Kamâlâtal-ilâhiyya fîl-sifât al-muhammadiyya (‘The Divine Perfections [manifested] in the Muhammadian Attributes’)[23] in which he shows – in a way evidently inadmissible to theologians – the legitimacy of applying all the names of God to the Prophet. ‘Know’, he writes, ‘that Muhammad is qualified by all the Divine Names and attributes and has realized them.’[24] By way of scriptural proof Jîlî most notably mentions the verse of the Sûra al-Fath (Q. 48: 10), ‘Those who make the covenant with you [Muhammad], in reality make the covenant with Allah’ and the verse from the Sûra al-Nisâ (Q. 4: 80) according to which ‘he who obeys the Envoy obeys God.’[25] But Jîlî also finds confirmation of this interpretation in a vision which he had in Medina during the month of Dhû l-hijja 812 (July 1400) in which the Prophet appeared to him as the perfect manifestation of the Divine plenitude (mutahaqqiqan bi ulûha kâmila jâmi'a).[26] Moreover, other similar visions preceded that one: in another of his works, al-Kahf wa l-raqîm, Jîlî relates that at Zabîd, in 795 AH, he saw the Prophet dressed in the seven attributes of the Divine Essence, and then identified with the Essence itself. In accordance with the programme set forth in the complete title of the Kamâlât ilâhiyya, Chapter 3 of this treatise successively enumerates the 99 Divine Names whilst demonstrating that each of them also names the Envoy. As for the name al-hamîd – which is the only name which concerns us here – one may easily understand that due to its ambivalence, which has already been mentioned, it necessarily means, when applied to the Prophet, that he is both ‘he who praises’ and ‘he who is praised’.

This meaning may seem identical to the one given by the classical commentaries according to which Muhammad praises God (which is what the Banner of Praise symbolizes) and is praised by the creatures on whose behalf he has interceded.27 But the context of the Kamâlât clearly shows that, without calling into question this exoteric interpretation, which is true at its level, Jîlî leads his reader towards a horizon where the distinction between God and His Envoy seems to disappear. To be convinced of this, it is enough to pick out one sentence, from among many, which is to be found at the end of Chapter 3 about the huwa, which is the name of the Divine Self: ‘Know,’ he says, ‘that the Muhammedian Reality is a name of the Divine Ipseity’ (al-haqîqa al-muhammadiyya 'ibâra 'an al-huwiyya al-ilâhiyya).[28] One should not therefore be surprised to learn that the publication, some years ago, of a work containing extensive extracts from the works of Jîlî provoked violent controversy in Egypt, the major accusation against these texts being that of ‘divinifying the Prophet’.[29]

'Abd al-Karîm al-Jîlî, who died at the beginning of the 15th century, is a late author. One might think that the boldness of his statements is unprecedented or that at least it only exists among some Sufis whose orthodoxy is extremely suspect to the 'ulamâ'. Now, in fact, the eschatological status that Jîlî assigns to the ‘Muhammedian Reality’ has its roots in a very ancient exegesis of the verse which mentions the maqâm mahmûd: the one to which I alluded when I stated that it was rejected by the majority of commentators – which nevertheless does not at all diminish its importance.

Moreover, this exegesis is quoted – with visible embarrassment – in the classic tafsîr by Tabarî. Tabarî attributes it to Mujâhid, who died at the end of the first century of the Hegira. But it is known that it was, furthermore, vigorously defended by the Hanbalis who supported it with two hadîths – of disputable authenticity – transmitted by Ibn Mas'ûd and Ibn 'Abbâs. Besides, it was under the threat of a riot by the popular Hanbali circles of Baghdad that Tabarî, who was initially hostile to Mujâhid’s thesis, must have resolved to pronounce it acceptable. One can understand his hesitation in making this concession: what Mujâhid says, in fact, is that Muhammad’s entry into the maqâm mahmûd means that God ‘will make the Prophet sit on His Throne’ (ijlâs al-nabî 'alâ l-'arsh).

How should one interpret these remarks which are obviously scandalous to the doctors of the law? One may assume that the majority of these Hanbalis, who threw stones at Tabarî’s house to force him to change his mind, understood them literally: they were not used to facing theological problems.[30] As for Ibn 'Arabî and Abd al-Karîm al-Jîlî, they do not, to my knowledge, make explicit reference to Mujâhid’s position. It would however be surprising if they did not know of it. In any case, for them and for their disciples, the Prophet’s access to the divine Throne could only appear as a symbolic expression, bold but fitting, of the nature and function of the haqîqa muhammadiyya.

God can only be praised with a praise worthy of Him by His names. But, as Ibn 'Arabî writes in one of his replies to Tirmidhî’s questionnaire, the ‘supreme Name of God’ (al-ismal-a'zam), which contains all the names – both those we know now and those which will only be revealed to us after the end of time – is the insân kâmil, the ‘Perfect Man’[31] of whom Muhammad is the unsurpassable example. In other words: it is the very being of the Prophet which constitutes the ‘Banner of Praise’. On the other hand, this ‘Perfect Man’ (and not the ‘animal man’) is the one whom God created ‘according to His form’ ('alâ sûratihi):[32] he is the image of God (nuskhat al-haqq) or, to use a symbol which Ibn 'Arabî often employs, he is the ‘mirror of God’.[33]

It is, in fact, this symbol of the mirror which allows us to understand what, from a strictly theological point of view, seems to be a blasphemous ‘divinification’ of the Prophet. In the lux perpetua of the eternal Day, Muhammad will be ‘the one who praises’ since he will be entirely pure praise. And he will equally be ‘the one who is praised’ since his praise will be addressed to the reflection of the Divine perfections in his person. Just as he will appear at that time as the liwâ al-hamd, he himself will also be the maqâm mahmûd: through him and in him the praise which belongs only to God will be endlessly performed.

1. Tabarî, Tar'îkh, Cairo, undated, I, 47; Tha'labî, Qisâs al-anbiyâ', Cairo, 1371 AH, 18.
2. Futûhât al-makkiyya, Bûlâq, 1329 AH, IV, 286–7. See also Ijâz al-bayân (ed. M. Ghurâb, Damascus, 1989, p. 23). On the interpretation of the name al-hamîd by the theologians, see D. Gimaret, Les Noms Divins en Islam, Paris, 1988, pp. 222–3.
3. Kitâb al-mawâqîf, Damascus, 1967, Ch. 366, III, pp. 1290–1.
4. Fut., III, 353.
5. Cf. Un Océan sans Rivage, Paris, 1992, Ch. 3 (An Ocean without Shore, Albany, 1993).
6. Concerning the Fâtiha, see Chapters 5 and 383; cf. also the paper by D. Gril (9th Symposium of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabî Society in the USA, Berkeley, 28–9 October 1995), ‘Presence of Being in the Recitation of the Fâtiha’. For the four other sûras see Chapters 378 (al-An'âm), 366 (al-Kahf), 350 (Sabâ'), and 349 (Fâtir). The ‘knowledge of praise’ ('ilm al-thanâ' ) characteristically appears amongst the spiritual knowledges belonging to these ‘abodes’.
7. Fâtih manuscript 5322 (see ff. 54b–55).
8. Fut., II, 403.
9. Fut., IV, 96–8.
10. On the maqâm mahmûd, see the hadîths quoted in Dârimî, raqâ'îq, 80; Tirmidhî, salât, 43. On the liwâ' al-hamd, see Tirmidhî, manâqib, 1; Ibn Majâh, zuhd, 37; Bukhârî, tawhîd, 19 and 36 and tafsîr s. 17, no. 5. On the different types of commentary relating to the mention of the maqâm mahmûd in the Qur'ân, see the tafâsir by Tabarî (Cairo, 1954–7) XV, pp. 141–8; Fakhr al-din Râzî (Tehran, undated) XXI, p. 32; Qurtubî (Cairo, 1939) X, pp. 309–12; Qâshânî (Beirut 1968, under the name of Ibn 'Arabî) I, p. 728.
11. Fut., I, 164–5. Ibn 'Arabî’s assertion that the Prophet’s attainment of the maqâm mahmûd, as a result of his nocturnal prayers, is a certainty may seem to contradict some translations of verse 17:79 where the word 'asâ is rendered by ‘perhaps’ (‘perhaps your Lord will resurrect you in a praised station’). Let us remember that 'asâ – as well as la'alla – never has this hypothetical meaning in the divine speech. This fact, which is to be found, moreover, in all the commentators of the Qur'ân, is repeated several times in the Fut. (I, 164; II, 276; III, 264; etc.).
12. These words are taken from the hadîth reported by Tirmidhî, manâqib, I.
13. Fut., II, 86–8. The questionnaire by Tirmidhî (died between 905 and 910) forms part of a work commonly known by the title, Khatm al-awliyâ' but whose original title, according to B. Radtke, was Sîrat al-awliyâ'. It was first published by O. Yahia (Kitâb khatm al-awliyâ', Beirut, 1965; see pp. 238–42 for the text of the five questions which concern us here) then by B. Radtke (Drei Schriften des Theosophen von Tirmidh, Beirut, 1992; see pp. 20–9). B. Radtke and J. O’Kane have made an English translation of Tirmidhî’s book (The Concept of Sainthood, Richmond, 1996; see pp. 71–86). The various versions of the questionnaire give different variants on the numbering of the questions and on their format.
14. This part of the reply to question 73 has as scriptural support the numerous hadîths relating to the intercession of the Prophet, about which see Wensinck, Concordance, III, pp. 151–2.
15. This is a hadîth qudsî (where God speaks in the first person). See W. Graham, Divine Word and Prophetic Word, La Haye-Paris, 1977, p. 190, no. 62.
16. The term apocatastasis originates from the New Testament (Acts 3: 21). For Christians, the doctrine which it designates – and which is most notably expounded by Origen – was condemned by the council of Constantinople in 453.
17. Fut., II, 138 (question no. 155).
18. I shall confine myself here to summing up the substance of the replies to questions no. 74 and 75, where Ibn 'Arabî develops the idea of ‘totalization’, by stating that Muhammad is the only prophet to have practised the works corresponding to all the ‘branches of faith’ (shu'ab al-îmân). He also emphasizes the special relationship between Adam and Muhammad, which is that of the zâhir (‘the apparent’) and the bâtin (‘the hidden’): in this world, Muhammad is the bâtin of Adam, his most interior aspect; in the other world, it is Adam who will be the bâtin of Muhammad, which means that the whole of humanity will be reabsorbed into the person of the Prophet. This relationship will be mentioned again in the reply to question 76.
19. Fut., II, 122 (question no. 139).
20. This question is formulated in the following way, ‘By what does (the Prophet) praise his Lord such that he merits the Banner of Praise? ’
21. Here, as on many occasions,Ibn 'Arabî reminds us that etymologically the word qur'ân expresses an idea of gathering together or synthesis.
22. The total number of Divine Names of the seven banners, that is (99 x 6) 770, is therefore 1364. The Bulaq edition gives an obviously erroneous total of 1664. One cannot exclude the possibility that it is question of a lapsus by the author but it is more likely to be a copyist’s mistake or a typographical error. I have not been able to consult this passage in the autograph manuscript of the Fut., which would be the only means of resolving this problem.
23. This work, which was begun in Gaza in 803 AH and finished in the Yemen, at Zabid, in 805 AH, six years before his death in 811 AH, is therefore one of the last of Jîlî’s writings. I am grateful to Riyad Atlagh, who is is preparing an edition of it based on ms. Dâr al-kutub 18454, for having sent me the text.
24. Jîlî, Kamâlât, f. 43b.
25. Ibid., f. 44a.
26. Ibid, f. 50b; al-Kahf wa l-raqîm, ms Berlin we 1631, ff. 212–26.
27. For the paragraph relating to the name al-hamîd, see Kamâlât,f. 57b. In this passage, Jîlî emphasizes that all the traditional names of the Prophet (Muhammad, Ahmad, Mahmûd, Hâmid) derive from hamd. About these names of the Prophet, see Bukhârî, tafsîr s. 61; Dârimî, raqâ'îq, 59, etc. See also A. Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1985, Chapter 6.
28. Kamâlât, f. 62a. This passage on the divine name huwa is particularly important. The sentence about the verse, Qul: huwa llâhu ahad (Q. 112:1) should be related to the vision which Jîlî had in 795 as described in Kahf (see n. 26).
29. This refers to the Tabri'at al-dhimma, by the Sudanese shaykh Muhammad 'Uthmân al-Burhani (died 1983). On this subject, see M. Chodkiewicz, Le Modèle Prophétique de la Sainteté en Islam, Al-Masâq, Leeds, 1994, Vol. 7, pp. 201–26.
30. On this episode in Tabarî’s life and the controversy provoked by Mujâhid’s commentary, see Cl. Gilliot, Exégèse, Langue et Theologie en Islam, Paris, 1990, pp. 249–54.
31. Fut., II, 120 (question no. 131). In the reply to the following question, the numbers (‘twenty and thirty between which there is one and forty’) by which Ibn 'Arabî cryptically designates the ‘spiritual meaning’ (ma'nâ) of the Supreme Name correspond to the numerical value of the letters in the word kâmil. Those which appear in the following sentence, and whose total number is 294, correspond to the value of the letters in the word hurûf (‘letters’).
32. On the interpretation of this hadîth (to be compared with Gen. 1:27), see in particular Fut., II, 123–4.
33. On the multiple uses of this symbol of the mirror see, among other passages, Fusûs al-Hikam, ed. A. E. 'Afîfî, Beirut, 1946, I, 48; Fut., I, 112; III, 80, 116, 131, 134, 290, 370; IV, 211, 316. ‘The manifestation of God in the mirror of Muhammad is the most perfect, the most harmonious and the most beautiful’, he writes for example in Chapter 355 of the Fut. (III, 251). See also IV, 184 where Ibn 'Arabî declares that ‘our vision of God in the Muhammedian form through the Muhammedian vision is the most perfect that we could attain.’
Translated from the French by Cecilia Twinch
This article first appeared in Vol. 21 of the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society (1997), published as a special issue under the title, Praise.