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Islamo-Biblica in the Writings of Muḥyī al‑Dīn Ibn al‑`Arabī (d. 638/1240) and his devotees


Hallāj-- Ishrāqī thought and mystical‑irfānī ("theosophical") literatures

Muḥyī al‑Dīn  Ibn al‑`Arabī (d. 638/1240)

Born Taifa of Murcia (Spain) 17 Ramadan, 560 = 26 July 1165 d. District of Ṣāliḥiyya at Jabal Qāsiyūn, Damascus, 28 Rabi' al-Thani, 638  / 16 November 1240.


Stephen Lambden UCMerced.

1980s - In progress and under revision.

Last posted 10-01-2017.

◆ Muḥyī al‑Dīn  Ibn al‑`Arabī (d. 638/1240), the Great Shaykh and his school

          One can hardly underestimate the influence of the prolific and original mystagogue Ibn al‑`Arabī. Up to  500 works were written by and/or attributed to him.  He has been  characterised by Chittick as "  

 A number of the numerous works of Shaykh Muḥyī al‑Dīn Ibn al‑`Arabī (d. 638/1240 ) compile, draw upon or interpret Isrā’īlīyāt often in the form of qur’ānic verses, extra‑qur’ānic revelations (ḥadīth qudsī)  or ḥadīth texts. His previously referred to Muḥadarāt  al‑abrār   ("Conference of the Pious and the Conversations of the Perfect")  is largely made up of all manner of Isrā'īlīyāt [‑Qiṣaṣ al‑anbiyā’]  and, among other things "..chronicles of times gone by, the lives of the Ancients and of the Prophets, the history of kings both Arab and non‑Arab.." (Muḥāḍarat,  I:2, trans. Addas, 1993:100).

Biblical and Islamo-biblical  citations

There seems to be little evidence of any direct knowledge or citation of the Bible on the part of Ibn `Arabī . He doubtless knew of  but seems to have held back from directly citing   biblical texts available amongst contemporary religionists. On  numerous  occasions, however, he does  cite the Tawrat - Torah and the Injil - Gospel(s) texts in non‑canonical, conflated, rewritten, novel  or Islamized versions.

Kitāb al‑jalāl wa’l‑jamāl  ("Book of [the Divine] Majesty and Beauty")

            In his  Kitāb al‑jalāl wa’l‑jamāl  ("Book of [the Divine] Majesty and Beauty"), in the course of commenting upon Qur’ān 51:56, Ibn al‑`Arabī  refers to an extra‑ qur’ānic type revelation (ḥadīth qudsī) allegedly contained  in "His [God’s] Torah" (tawrāt),

"Allusion (al‑ishāra): If  you desire that you might comprehend the parameters of gnosis (ḥadd al‑ma`rifa) which  have been sought from you in this verse then gaze upon what  He has created for your sake.. within yourself..  And if you prove unable to accomplish this.. then realize it by means of what God ‑‑ exalted be He ‑‑ revealed  in His Torah"  (tawrāt), "O Son of Adam. I created everything (al‑ashyā’)  for your sake and I created you from My sake. So do not subjugate what I created from My sake to that which I created for your own sake" (Affifi, Rasā’il, 15).

al‑Futūḥāt al‑makkiyya (`The Meccan Openings [Inspirations]’

 Begun in Mecca in 598/1201 Ibn al‑`Arabī’s massive (560 chapter) theosophical compendium  al‑Futūḥāt al‑makkiyya (`The Meccan Openings [Inspirations]’ spanning some 2,500+ pages; completed 629/1231 [636/1238‑9]). Within this work are many mystical interpretations of both qur`anic and post‑qur’anic Isrā’īliyyāt.  At one point in the Futūḥāt  Ibn `Arabī actually comments on the prophetic ḥadīth, "  ,,,

Fuṣūṣ al‑ḥikam  (Ringstones  of Wisdom, 627/1230).

Among the most influential and important of Ibn `Arabī’s later works is his relatively brief (around 200 pp.) yet "incomparably vast in content and philosophical significance" (Izutsu, Eir. 5:554), Fuṣūṣ al‑ḥikam  (Ringstones  of Wisdom, 627/1230).  Its author claimed that each of its twenty‑ seven chapters were handed to him in a vision of the Prophet Muḥammad. They revolve around one of the aforementioned 27 prophets   each of whom enshrines a divine attribute, mode (maqām) or wisdom central to coming to engage with aspects of  the  divine reality (cf. Chittick, EIr. VII:665). It is the quintessence of Ibn al‑`Arabī’s prophetology that:

.. every Qur’anic prophet, beginning with Adam, is qualified in his relations to certain divine names and attributes and appears in his "spiritual" state.." (Izutsu, Enc.Rel. V:554).

In Islamic esoterica a good deal was made of mystic significances enshined in the traditional succession of twenty‑eight messengers of God. Allegedly communicated in visions of the Prophet Muhammad the twenty‑seven chapters (around 200pp)  of  Ibn al‑`Arabi’s late, vastly influrential and much commented upon Fuṣūṣ al‑ḥikam ( "Bezels [Ringstones] of Wisdom" 627/1230) revolves around a philosophical‑esoteric commentary upon a version of the largely traditional succession of the twenty‑seven prophets (see further below 0:0). Certain  works of Ḥaydar ºmulī (d.  after 787 /1385), for example, attemept to establish a relationship between the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, the basmalah (= 19 letters),  esoteric cosmology, heirohistory and prophetology (see Corbin, [Temple] 1986:55ff).3

 In excess of one hunndred Arabic and Persian  commentaries have been written upon the quintessence of his work, the Fuṣuṣ al‑ḥikam.  The first and especially influential being the  Sharḥ fuṣūṣ al‑ḥikam   of Mu’ayyad al‑Dīn Jandī (d. c. 700 /1300).   Ibn al‑`Arabī himself wrote a summary, brief exposition of its essential ideas entitled  Naqsh al‑fuṣūs.. ("The Imprint of the Ringstones  of Wisdom" see Chittick, JMIAS I:31‑93; HIP 1:516) which also came to be much commented upon in Arabic and Persian an example, being that of the commentator, poet and  mystic `Abd al‑Raḥman Jāmī (d. 000/1492 ).

            The Great Shaykh’s  important disciple and stepson  Ṣadr al‑Dīn al‑Qūnawī (d.673 /1274‑5),  through whom Ibn `Arabī’s teachings "reached the Persian speaking world" (Chittick, ibid 666).  He commented on the prophetogical‑theosophical chapter headings of the Fuṣūṣ  in his al‑Fukūk..  ("The XXXs). Key prophet figures are given multi‑faceted interpretations in the writings and treatises of Ibn al‑`Arabī and those representative of his school. They  had a wide‑ranging theosophical, prophetological impact.  Joseph son of Jacob, for example, is associated with that bright luminosity which is the Logos of Light and Beauty (see Ibn `Arabī, Fuṣūṣ,  00; Naqsh  [trans. Chittick] 58). In the words of al‑Qūnawī the Fuṣūṣ

"brought the quintessence of the  tasting [dhawq]  of our Prophet.. concerning the knowledge of God. It points to the source of the tasting of the great prophets and friends of God mentioned within it.." (al‑Fukūk, 184 trans. Chittick in HIP 1:515).

This influence of this often mystically oriented prophetology is markedly evident in  the non‑literal, allegorically oriented  prophetology of Bābī‑ Bahā’ī scripture.   

 The bold openness of the great Shaykh towards major pre‑Islamic religious pathways is strikingly echoed in the Bahā’ ī doctrine of the essential "oneness of religion" and that of the unity and equality of the great founder prophets of past religions. On the methodological‑hermeneutical level, the Great Shaykh’s harmonizing of "reason" (aql) and "unveiling"  (kashf) (so Chittick Eir. VII:665)  as with other Islamic mystics, philosophers and writers infuenced by him, to some extent prefigues the later Bahā’ī principle of the harmony of "science" and "religion" which leads to a sometimes radical demythologization (twelfth Imām never existed; Jesus had a non‑bodily resurrection)  of the outwardly miraculous yet fundamentally  illogical event (see 0:0).

There seems to be little evidence of any direct knowledge or citation of the Bible on the part of Ibn `Arabī. He doubtless knew of it but seems to have held back from citing any text available amongst contemporary religionists. On a number of occasions, however, he does  cite the Torah and the Gospel in non‑canonical, conflated, rewritten, novel  or Islamized versions. An example occurs in his  Kitāb al‑jalāl wa’l‑jamāl  ("Book of [the Divine] Majesty and Beauty") where, in the course of commenting upon Qur’ān 51:56, Ibn al‑`Arabī  refers to an extra‑ qur’ānic type revelation (ḥadīth qudsī) allegedly contained  in "His [God’s] Torah" (tawrāt),

"Allusion (al‑ishāra): If  you desire that you might comprehend the parameters of gnosis (ḥadd al‑ma`rifa) which  have been sought from you in this verse then gaze upon what  He has created for your sake.. within yourself..  And if you prove unable to accomplish this.. then realize it by means of what God ‑‑ exalted be He ‑‑ revealed  in His Torah"  (tawrāt), "O Son of Adam. I created everything (al‑ashyā’)  for your sake and I created you from My sake. So do not subjugate what I created from My sake to that which I created for your own sake" (Affifi, Rasā’il, 15).

 It should not noted here that like the architects of Shaykhism, the Bāb occasionally cited Ibn al‑`Arabī. 

Shaykh Aḥmad commented    

An example of Sayyid Kāẓim’s referring to Ibn al‑`Arabī is evident, for example, in his Sharḥ al‑qaṣida al‑lāmiyya..

The Bab did not, however,  sanction anything that even hinted at a pantheistic or ḥulūl (`incarnationalist’)  mysticism. Sufi and other proponents of waḥdat al‑wujūd  ("Oneness of Being") - apparently not an expression used by Ibn al‑`Arabī himself (see Chittick, 1994:72) - . were  viewed unfavourably.  Critically commenting, for example, on the concepts of basṭ al‑ḥaqīqa  ("undifferentiated reality") and waḥdat al‑wujūd in his Risāla Dhahabiyya (II) he writes that, "All of this is unadulterated heresy (`idolatry’; shirk maḥad)  in the estimation of family of God, the Imams of Justice.."). Such viewpoints were to some degree based upon material in the Fuṣuṣ al‑ḥikam  (INBMC 86:96‑7).

The Tafsir of Abd al-Razzaq al-Kashani or [pseudo-] Ibn al‑`Arabī (d. 638/1240).


Biblical influence and the esoteric sciences.

The `ilm al‑ḥurūf  aspect of Ibn al‑`Arabī’s teachings as set forth towards the beginning of his al‑Futūḥāt  and in other writings directly or indirectly influenced the Bāb and aspects of his talismanic cosmology, prophetology and gnosis. In terms of the positive aspects of shakl al‑tathlīth (threefolnesss, `triplicity’) quite frequently mentioned by the Bāb, one is reminded of Ibn al‑`Arabī’s doctrine of the "third entity"  in such writings as his Inshā’ al‑dawā’ir  (The Genesis of the Circles). In this work the Great Shaykh elaborates al‑shay’ al‑thālith  (`the third entity’) which, as a cosmological principle, is centered upon the relationship between God and man (Takeshita, [JNES 41 (1982)1982:243f‑260).

Elmore, Gerald T.

  • Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time: Ibn Al-‘Arabī's Book of the Fabulous Gryphon. Leiden: Brill, 1999.


◆ Sharaf al‑Dīn Dāwūd al‑Qayṣarī (d.751/1350)

 A student of `Abd al‑Razzāq Kashānī Qayṣarī wrote an important commentary on the Fuṣuṣ al‑ḥikam of Ibn al‑`Arabī. Within this massive and dense work  Qayṣarī several times uses the prophetological terminology al‑nubūwwa al‑khāṣṣa (specific prophethood) as differentiated from al‑nubūwwa al‑`amma  (general prophethood). The former relates to dimensions of the prophethood of a specific, comissioned prophet figure (nabī)  while the latter is the explication of general principles of the eternal nature, office and rank of  prophethood. At the opening of the section of his commentary upon the `Ringstone of the wisdom (ḥikma)  of prophecy  (nubūwiyya) in the utterance [Word] of Jesus (kalimat `isawiyya). Qayṣarī writes:

Now as regards the attribution of the wisdom of prophecy (nubūwiyya)  relative to the word of Jesus (kalimat `isawiyya)  he [Jesus] is a prophet (nabī) according to general prophethood (bi‑al‑nubuwwa al‑`amma) which is eternal without beginning  and everlasting without end  (azal an abad  an ) as well as according to the specific prophethood (bi‑al‑nubuwwa al‑khāṣṣa)  which is actualized at the moment of arising with the [time of the prophetic] commission (ḥīn al‑ba`th). Wherefore did he [Jesus] announce his prophethood from the cradle through his saying, "He has given me the Book and he made me a prophet (nabiyy  an)" (Q. 19:30b) and he [also] made announcement from the womb of his mother (fī baṭn ummuhi)  on account of his eternal sovereignty (siyāda azaliyya) by means of His saying, "Grieve not for thy Lord has made beneath you [Mary] a rivulet" (Q.19:24), that is to say a sovereign [sayyid  an = Jesus] over the people. Thus was he [Jesus] granted supremacy over the [other] prophets (al‑anbiyā ’) through the instrumentality of  the spiritual ones (aḥwāl al‑ruḥāniyyīn) . His proclamation (du`a) was thus centered upon the interior realities  (al‑bāṭin) which are  supremely ascendent  (aghlab)... [spefic] legalistic prophethood (al‑nubūwwa al‑tashrī`ayya) is the collective concern of various [specific] prophets (al‑anbiyā’) .. (Qayṣarī, Sh. Fuṣuṣ, 843).

It is clear from this passage that al‑nubūwiyya al‑khāṣṣa (specific prophethood) has it earthly genesis at the time of the prophetic call while al‑nubūwiyya al‑`amma  (general prophethood) is al‑azaliyya, an all eternal phenomenon. The bearer of the  office (ṣāḥīb hadha maqām) of general prophethood holds it eternally. Eternal realities are communicated by the prophets and the al‑awliyā’ (intimates of God, saints) for al‑nubūwiyya al‑`amma  (general prophethood) results in wilayā  (divine guidance).

Is is possible if not probable that the Bāb wrote and entitled his Risāla fī al‑nubuwwa al‑khāṣṣa (Treatise on the Specific Prophethood [of Muhammad]) as a result of the earlier infuence from the prophetological terminology  of the school of Ibn `Arabī.

`Abd al‑Karīm al‑Jīlī ((d. .832/1428).

            An important commentator on the al‑Futūḥāt  of Ibn al‑`Arabī `Abd al‑Karīm al‑Jīlī authored around thirty books, the best known being his al‑Insān al‑kāmil.. ("The Perfect Human.."). This work includes many interesting sections including discussions of the divine Essence (al‑dhāt), of key theological terms and various divine Names and Attributes. Among others he discussed senses of as al‑dhāt  (The Divine Essence),  al‑huwiyya (The Ipseity, "He‑ness"), al‑Jamāl  (the Divine Beauty) and  al‑`amā’  (the Abyssmal Cloud  ). This later he, unlike the Bāb,  understood to indicate the Non‑manifet Divine Essence.  Other sections cover, for example,  the Sidrat al‑muntahā (Lote‑Tree of the Boundary, II:12‑13) and al‑`aql al‑awwāl (The Primal  Intellect, II:27‑30) as well  as the significance of  Tawrah (Torah) and the Zabūr ("Psalter") and the  Injīl  (Gospel) (II:114‑127).

            In the  section on the tawrat  it is stated that this is a revelation which God sent down to Moses in "nine Tablets" (tis`a alwāh) but commanded him to divulge only seven of them. Two were made of "Light",  the Lawḥ al‑rubūbiyya (Tablet of Lordsdhip) and the Lawḥ al‑qadr  (Tablet of Destinty) and were set aside. The other seven were made of marble (ḥajar al‑marmar) each exemplifying a particular divine quality, save the seventh which had to do with guidance on the religious path:

Tablet 1 = al‑Nūr (Light).                             Tablet 2 =  al‑Hudā (Guidance) (cf. Q. 5:44)

Tablet 3 =  al‑Ḥikma (Wisdom)                  Tablet 4  =  al‑Taqwā   (Piety/Fear of God)

 Tablet 5 = al‑Ḥukm (Justice)                     Tablet 6  = al‑`ubūdiyya (Servitude)

Tablet 7  = "The explication (wuÞūḥ)  of the way of felicity  (tarīq al‑sa`āda) as opposed to the way of misfortune [distress] (tarīq al‑shaqāwā) and the clarification of what is foremost"  (1:114‑115). This is the substance of what God commaned Moses to instruct the people

            al‑Jīlī explains Zabūr  as a Syriac (lughat al‑suryāniyya) meaning "book" (al‑kitāb). It was sent down for David, allegedly  the most sensitive of the people (alṭaf al‑nās)  and one especially good and virtuous. Hardly appearing before his people he  only made the zabūr  known to a select group. It mostly consist of religious exhortations (mawā’i¥)  and praises of God. It is without a religious law (al‑sharī`a) save for a few specified verses (1:121‑4).

            Of the Injīl `Abd al‑Karīm al‑Jīlī explains.

"God sent down the Injīl  unto Jesus in the Syriac language (bi’l‑lughat al‑suryāniyya) and it is recited in seventeen languages. The beginning of the Injīl is `In the Name and the Father and the Mother and the Son’  like the beginning of the Qur’ān, "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate". His community take this utterance (al‑kalām) according to its outer sense. They suppose that the Father and the Mother and the Son are tantamount to the Spirit, Mary and Jesus. Thus they say: "God is the third of three (thālith al‑thulātha , Q. 5:73) and they do not realize that the intention of "the Father" (al‑ab)  is  the name Allāh (God). And the "Mother" (al‑umm)  is His Being, the Divine Essence (al‑dhāt)  which is expressive thereof  through the substance of the Realities (bi‑māhiyya al‑ḥaqīqa).  And in the "Son" (al‑ibn)  is the "Book" which is indicative of  Absolute Existence (al‑wujūd al‑muṭlaq)  for he is the subsiduary (al‑far`)   and outcome of the substance of His Being. Hence God, exalted be He says, "and with Him is the Archetypal Book (umm al‑kit āb) (Q. 13:39b) (al‑Jīlī, al‑Insān 1:143‑4).   

 The Kashf al‑raqīm fī sharḥ bismillah al‑raḥman al‑raḥīm  of  al‑Jīlī is an important gnostically inclined commentary upon the basmalah in the light of the mystical gnosis of the Arabic Alphabet (`ilm al‑ḥurūf). The diacritical point of the letter ADD)  signifies the primordial reality from which nuqṭa  ("Point") all the others letters originate  (min al‑nuqṭa.. Atlagh, 1993:165f; Schimmel, etc). This doctrine is frequently attested in the writings of the Bāb ...