Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ibn Arabi on al-Fatiha

We are fortunate to find in The Qur’an and its Interpreters, Mahmoud Ayoub’s rendition of Ibn Arabi’s detailed theophanic commentary of al-Fatiha. Ibn Arabi observes that the names of God, as a mode of self-disclosure, are manifestations (mazahir) of the Divine attributes or actions by which the Divine is known. Of the first verse, Ibn Arabi writes:

“‘Allah’ is the name of the divine Essence as it is in Itself absolutely. ‘Al-Rahman’ is He Who causes existence and perfection to flow upon all things in accordance with the dictates of [divine] wisdom and according to the capacities of the receivers to bear it in their primary stages. Al-Rahim is He Who causes ideal perfection [in the Platonic sense] to flow upon the human species, which is proper to it in its final stages. For this reason it is said [in invoking God], ‘O Rahman of this world and the next and Rahim of the hereafter!’ This means, in the perfect human all-encompassing form, general and specific mercy, which is the manifestation of the divine Essence as well as of the Truth of supreme exaltation with all His attributes. It [the name of Allah] is the greatest name of God; it is to this name that the Prophet referred when he said, ‘I have been given comprehensive speech [jawami’ al-kalim – The Qur’an, which is of a finite number of words but infinite number of meanings}, and I was sent to complete the excellences of morals.’ For words are the realities of existents and their concrete substances. That is why Jesus was called ‘a Word from God’ [see example Q. 3:45]. The excellence of morals are the states of existents and the special properties which are the sources of their actions and which are all contained in the comprehensive human microcosm. Prophets placed words side by side with the ranks of existence. I found things at the time of Jesus and that of the Prince of the Faithful ['Ali] and some of the Companions which point to this truth.” (1984, p. 50)

Ibn Arabi argues that the Divine Word is the source of all being and contained in the basmallah through the eighteen pronounced letters is the reference to the eighteen thousand worlds. This is a reference to the all the realms of existence. Depending on our human capacities and spiritual faculties, all of these attributes, actions and realms are potentially apprehensible:

“He to whom attributes manifest themselves with the removal of veils of created universes trusts [in God]. He to whom attributes manifest themselves with the removal of the veils of actions submits and is content. But he to whom the essence manifests itself with the removal of the veils of the attributes becomes annihilated in the unity and thus becomes an absolute proclaimer of divine oneness no matter what else he does or recites.” (1984, p. 51).

Ibn Arabi concludes that in the first verse alone of al-Fatiha, the unity of the Divine essence is manifested in the name ‘Allah’, the unity of Divine attributes is manifested in the name ‘Al-Rahman’ and the unity of Divine actions is manifested in the name ‘Al-Rahim.’

In the second verse, the verse of praise, Ibn Arabi defines praise as a function of word and deed -- no matter what condition one finds oneself in -- because the act of praise is a manifestation of higher perfections. He argues that praise is the teleological direction of all creation: “All existents with all their properties and special stations glorify and praise Him as they seek to fulfil their ends and bring forth their perfections from the state of potentiality to that of actuality” (1984, p. 52).

How different are these spiritual and deeply proprioceptive experiences from Maslow’s notion of self-transcendence and self-actualization or Jung’s notion of individuation.

For Ibn Arabi, the fourth verse’s reference to the Sovereign of the Day of Reckoning is a spiritual certitude “that all things shall return to Him” because no other power is able to recompense each soul than the One who is worshipped. It is through a process of self-effacement and self-annihilation that one can surrender fully to divine attributes and divine actions. In the fifth verse which is related to worship of the One and our plea for divine succour, this is taken to its logical conclusion: “Were they to be in the divine presence [that is, the mystical presence of the servant of God] then all their movements and quietudes would be acts of worship of Him and in Him. They would be constant in their prayers, praying with the tongue of love as they behold His beauty on every countenance and in every mode” (1984, p. 53).

The Straight path in the sixth verse is for Ibn Arabi the path of unity, “which is the way of him upon whom You bestowed the special favor of mercifulness, which is gnosis and love and the guidance of the divine [haqqani] essence” (1984, p. 53). It is the way of the prophets, the martyrs, the righteous and the friends of God “who behold Him as the First and the Last, the Outer and the Inner, and therefore disappear in their beholding of the radiance of His eternal countenance from the existence of the perishing shadow” (1984, p. 53). Here, the shadow for Ibn Arabi is but the world of creation which is merely a shadowy reflection of the Divine Face of God.

Finally, in that context, Ibn Arabi is forthright in his interpretation of Q 1:7. Surprisingly, he agrees with the traditional commentators that there is an implied reference to the Jews as incurring God’s wrath and the Christians as being astray, but he goes beyond the innuendo of religious bigotry and the full text of his commentary bears recording:

‘Not of those who have incurred Your wrath’ means those, such as the Jews, who remained simply with appearances, veiling themselves with the favour of mercifulness [rahmaniyya], corporeal bliss, and sensory pleasures from the realities of the spirit, the inner bliss of the heart, and intellectual pleasure. This is because their call was to appearances such as gardens, houris, and palaces [These words are not to be taken literally because hur and qusur are commonly used in rhyme to indicate wealth and pleasure.] Thus God became wrathful with them. Because wrath demands expulsion and removal, remaining at the level of appearances, which are the veils of darkness, constitutes the greatest distance away [from God].

‘Or those who have gone astray’ refers to those such as the Christians, who remain at the level of inner dimensions which are veils of luminosity, thus veiling themselves with the favour of compassionateness [rahimiyya] from the favour of mercifulness. They therefore become oblivious to the manifestation of the truth and go astray from the straight way. They are deprived of beholding the beauty of the Beloved of all things. This is because their call was only to their inner dimensions and to the lights of the realm of holiness. The call of the Muhammadans who profess divine oneness is to both; it is combining love of the beauty of the essence with love of the beauty of the attributes. (1984. Pp. 53-54)

This is clearly a call for a path of unity balanced between the zahir or exoteric dimensions of the way and the batin or esoteric dimensions of the Siratal Mustaqim. It is not surprising that the two prior Abrahamic traditions are considered as incomplete representations of the Divine Will by Ibn Arabi, because for him Islam is the completion and the perfection of both traditions. What is significant is that for Ibn Arabi the perfection of the way requires both the Inner and the Outer dimensions. This points to an integral approach.

~Excerpted from the doctoral dissertation by Jalaledin Ebrahim titled:
"Al-Fatiha - Towards an Integral Psychology of Islam"

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