Birthday: July 26, 1165
Died At Age: 75
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī ibn Muḥammad ibnʿArabī al-Ḥātimī aṭ-Ṭāʾī
Born Country: Spain
Born in: Murcia, Spain
Famous as: Scholar
father: Ali Ibn Mohammed
Died on: November 16, 1240
place of death: Damascus, Syria
Ibn Arabi was a Muslim philosopher, poet, writer and mystic who is widely regarded as one of the most important teachers of Islamic philosophy and Sufism. A prolific author, he has produced more than 400 bodies of work that range from one to two folios and extend to entire volumes covering thousands of pages. And it is not just commentary on the Koran, but a whole range of Islamic subject matters that include the commentary on the Hadith, jurisprudence and its principles, theology, mysticism and most importantly philosophy. However, unlike other outstanding representatives of Islamic literature like Ibn Rushd or al-Ghazâlî, he chose to synthesize and integrate the different sciences through his thematic works rather than writing for specific genres. It is perhaps for this same reason that even his collection of poems bears similar resemblance in terms of their esoteric yet profound meanings for otherwise unfathomable ideas such as the human soul or God Almighty for that matter. Ibn Arabi through his profound understanding of Islamic spirituality not only influenced his immediate circle of listeners and disciples but also successive generations of spiritual thinkers, practitioners and scholars in the Arabic, Persian and Turkish speaking worlds.
Childhood & Early Life
Ibn Arabi was born on the 26th of July 1165 AD in Murcia, in south-eastern Andalusia, then part of Moorish Spain.
His father, Ali Ibn Mohammed, initially served in the army of the ruler of Murcia, Ibn Mardanīš, and re-entered government service later in 1172 AD after pledging his allegiance to Abū Ya’qūb Yūsuf I. As a result, his family relocated to Seville.
Around 1180, his father introduced him to the famed Andalusian philosopher and judge, Ibn Rushd. With Rushd as his mentor, he was introduced to Sufism; a spiritual path that he adopted for the rest of his life.
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Having grown up in the ruling court circle, Ibn Arabi began his career serving as secretary to the governor of Seville for a few years before deciding to leave for Tunis in 1193. He remained there for a year before returning home.
After the death of his parents, he went to Fez in Morocco with his two sisters in 1195. There he met Mohammed Ibn Qasim al-Tamimi who became his spiritual mentor.
In the years that followed, he travelled across the Islamic West (Maghreb) from Andalusia to Tunis, interacting with scholars and mystics. He wrote the ‘Rūḥ al-quds’ as a treatise on the soul during this period, which also includes a distillation of his experiences of interactions with various spiritual masters across the Maghreb.
By the age of 35, Ibn Arabi was already regarded as a spiritual master in and around Andalusia blessed with a high order of knowledge. That year in 1200, he decided to leave Moorish Spain for the last time.
Crossing from Gibraltar, he spent another year in Tunis before making his way eastwards in 1201 into the lands of Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Iraq, which were under one flag, albeit flimsily, at the time.
He reached Mecca in 1202 to perform the ‘Hajj’ (holy pilgrimage). He spent three years in the holy city, learning from and interacting with the most learned and influential families there. This was also the period when he began work on his magnum opus ‘Al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya’ (The Meccan Illuminations).
In 1202, while still living in Mecca, he published the ‘Tarjumān al-Ashwāq’ (The Interpreter of Desires), a famous collection of love poems expounding on the spiritual path. However, his critics alleged that certain ‘nasībs’ or love-songs provided a rather erotic imagery, to which he then published a commentary to explain and defend his work.
Over the next few years, Ibn Arabi travelled throughout Palestine, Syria, Anatolia and Iraq. During one such visit in 1205 to a friend’s house in Mosul, Iraq, he spent the holy month of Ramadan there, composing three different works, one among them being the the ‘Kitāb al-Jalāl wa’l-Jamāl’ (The Book of Majesty and Beauty).
He returned to Mecca in 1207 and was invited to stay at his friend Abu Shuja bin Rustem’s place. There, he spent most of his time, studying and producing more of his seminal literary works. Upon completion, he set out again on his travels across the Middle East to hold reading sessions of his works.
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He finally settled down in Damascus some time in 1223, where the last seventeen years of his life were consumed in prolific writing and training of his disciples.
In his lifetime, Ibn Arabi wrote more than 700 works, out of which 350 to 400 of them are still in existence. The ‘Fusûs al-Hikam’ is a grand exposition on the inner connotations of the three major tenants of Abrahamic faith namely, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Similarly, ‘Futûhât al-Makkiyya’, which consists of 37 volumes, is an encyclopaedia of spiritual knowledge which discusses the intersection (and differences) between reason, tradition and mystical insight in detail.
Through ‘Tarjumān al-Ashwāq’ and ‘Diwan’, he produced collections containing some of the finest poetry in the Arabic language.
Such far-reaching and widespread was his fame and influence that Ibn Arabi came to be known as ‘Shaykh al-Akbar’ (The Great Master) by Sufi thinkers and scholars of the Arab World at the time.
Owing to his body of religious and philosophical works surrounding spirituality in Islam, he was also named ‘Muhyiddin’ because he breathed new life into the religion.
Family & Personal Life
During his time, serving as secretary to the governor of Seville, he married Maryam who belonged to an influential family in the city.
Unafraid of getting actively involved in social and political life, he often invited the wrath of religious authorities. At one point, he was accused of heresy during his stay in Egypt and had to leave the land to escape possible execution.
He passed away in Damascus on the 16th of November 1240 AD at the age of 75. His tomb in Damascus is visited by people to this day.
Despite Ibn Arabi belonging to the ‘Sunni’ denomination of Islam, his work on the twelve Imams has been well received by Shia Muslims.