1: Revelation, Reason and Intuition
The most important question to ask in regard to the Perfect Individual is: how does an individual gain this state?
Perfection, in this context, necessarily involves knowledge. The definitions of perfection from the Introduction were concerned with knowledge; therefore, this section seeks to understand what type or types of knowledge are important for Ibn al- `Arabi, and how they contribute to the perfection of the individual. Implicit in this is the further concern of how the Perfect Individual is related to some of the different modes of thought within Islam. To address these issues two elements must be explored:
the relationship between kalam/theology,falsafa/philosophy, and Sufism; and how the
individual utilizes the various types of knowledge used by each faction to become the Perfect Individual. The three factions, for the purposes of this chapter, will be viewed as each emphasizing a specific type of knowledge: wahy/revelation to kalam, `aql/reason to falsafah, and ilham/intuition to Sufism. However, this does not mean that the other two types of knowledge do not hold an important role within each of the three factions. The emphasis given in this chapter is not meant to suggest that this separation of knowledge is an actual dividing point among these three schools of thought, but to emphasize how Ibn al-‘Arabi understands them in a distinct manner.
Definitions for each type of knowledge will be given, and the following discussion will show that no faction can use one type of knowledge to the exclusion of the other two. Each faction relies on all three modes of knowledge. Understanding this will help to clarify the manner in which the individual should acknowledge the types of knowledge, and how he/she should use them to attain perfection.
- Definitions of Kalam/revelation, Falsafa / reason, and Sufism/intuition
To begin the discussion, the terms and concepts being used must be defined. A qualification will be given for each faction, followed by a brief definition of each mode of knowledge. Kalam nominally refers to Muslim theology in general, but here it will specifically be represented by al-Ghazali, referring to his work On the Boundaries of Theological Discourse in Islam. Falsafa, the Arabic rendering of the Greek philosophia, envelops a diversity of Muslim, Christian and Jewish thinkers who flourished in the regions associated with the Near East. Although the term does not represent all philosophical thought within Islam, it does represent those thinkers who were concerned with understanding and interpreting the Greek philosophy they came into contact with. These are the philosophers this chapter will deal with, and they are primarily represented by Ibn Rushd and Ibn Tufayl. Sufism will refer to the thought of Ibn al- `Arabi.
Wahy, Revelation, can be defined as the knowledge or wisdom that was given by God to the prophets, culminating in the final revelation given to Muhammad, i.e., the Qur’an. This definition is far from adequate, for it requires a deeper understanding of all elements involved. Revelation implies that something which was hidden or unknown became clear or known. The prophets were chosen by God to transmit a message to humanity, a message that was previously not understood correctly, thus the Torah and the Bible. The sum of all revelatory knowledge, as expressed in the Qur’an, can be summed up as follows: a) there is one God; b) this God created the world and everything in it; c) there is a gulf between God and humanity; and d) there is a way to breach this gulf. The last is the core of this revelation. This knowledge is supra-human, which means that no amount of human effort can enable one to deduce on his/her own the truths that God gave to Muhammad and the prophets. It is knowledge given to an individual, by God, not through any effort on the individual’s own part.
‘Aal, reason, as distinct from revelation, is the mind’s ability to explore the world and to form abstract concepts and categorize the empirical data it collects. Reason employs logic and critical analysis. The truths gained through these means are universal, not subject to time or place. The philosophers, especially Ibn Tufayl as will be explored later, saw rational reflection as a means, outside of revelation, to reach Truth. In fact, it will become clear that these philosophers were concerned with the ability of the human mind to gain Truth.
Ilham, intuition is one of the cornerstones of mysticism. Mysticism is generally understood as the belief in and experience of the unity between ultimate Reality, the One, and the finite many, the individual selves. Margaret Smith explains that:
All Mysticism affirms that Reality, in its highest form, cannot be understood by intelligence, but only by something above it, that inner sense which is called intuition, by which a man can receive direct knowledge and revelations of God, and perceive things hidden from reason.I4
Intuition, like revelation, is knowledge that cannot be communicated or discovered via reason; it is an experiential form of knowledge. Just as revelation is special knowledge handed down to a chosen individual by God, intuition is direct experience and knowledge given to an individual by God. While revelation proper was given to only a select few individuals, intuition is open for anyone to experience. The individual “feels” the intimate connection between his/herself and the Divine One, a “feeling” that cannot be adequately communicated to those who have not experienced such for themselves.
14 Margaret Smith, An Introduction to the History of Mysticism (New York: Gordon Press, 1976; reprint, London, 1930), 4.
With this basic understanding, the use of these forms of knowledge by the different factions can be explored in greater detail.
Kalam relies on revelation to the extent that any particular theology relies on its religion’s “divine” message. Revelation, as defined above, claims to be a divine message given to an individual apart from any intellectual or physical striving. However, the exact means through which this is done was unclear. Oliver Leaman claims that revelation is understood through the faculty of the heart (galb):
There are two kinds of knowledge: `i/m, which describes the `alam al-shahada, the world with which we are familiar and which is described by natural science, and ma’rifa, which describes the ‘alam al-ghayb, the hidden world, and which is more than propositional knowledge. The way to attain this knowledge is through revelation, and the relevant faculty is the heart.I5
15 Oliver Leaman, A Brief Introduction To Islamic P hilosophy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999), 58.
The physical world is understood through science and reason, but the knowledge of revelation deals with something science and reason cannot access. The content that revelation reveals “is more than propositional knowledge,” which means that it cannot be logically derived from any proofs formulated from demonstration or experience. The being of God and the order that God imposed on the universe are all things outside the realm of finite human understanding. By merely observing the effect (creation) one cannot discover the cause (God); for example, when looking at a painting the observer cannot discover the physical characteristics of the painter. The observer may deduce that some agent created the painting, but he/she cannot, with any amount of certainty, piece together the characteristics or purpose of the painter. The only way the observer can learn any of these things is if they are given a picture of the painter along side the painting, or the painter leaves behind a statement of intent for the painting.
Now imagine that this statement of intent was only verbally given to one person. The observation of the painting on its own is the intellect trying to discover God by rationalizing empirical data, while the use of the picture and statement of purpose is analogous to the heart being given revelation to understand the purpose of existence. Revelation is not a knowledge that can persuade people through rational argument, but through a deeper “knowing,” for faith is based on the assurances of the heart/soul.
Revelation is important for kalm because its knowledge contains the ultimate measure of truth. Rivaling schools of theology arise, but as al-Ghazali points out, all schools still accept the message of the Qur’an in its entirety. The animosity between the schools is based on a misunderstanding of what true unbelief is. He says:
“Unbelief (kuier)” is to deem anything the Prophet brought to be a lie. And “faith (iman)” is to deern everything he brought to be true… Hence, every Unbeliever deems one or more of the prophets to be a liar. And every one who deems one or more of the prophets to be a liar is an Unbeliever. This is the criterion that should be applied evenly across the board.16
Every theological school that accepts the entirety of the Qur’an and all of the sayings of the Prophet Muharnmad is a Believer.’7 Any school that fits into this category cannot be labeled with “unbelief’ simply because of a disagreement about interpretation. From this, it can be gathered that revelation is a source of truth that, although subject to interpretation, gives a core set of values and propositions that are true. Therefore, this truth lies beyond any arguments of the intellect.
16 Al-Ghazali, Faysal al-Tafriqa bayna al-Islam wa al-zandaqa quoted in Sherman Jackson, On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerante in Islam: Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s Faysal al-Tafriqa bayna al-Islam wa al-zandaqa (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002), 92- 93.
17 Al-Ghazali went on to outline the proper method for interpretation, with the aim of ending all discord among rival schools. He was also concemed with eradicating wrong interpretations that would lead the masses astray, but this will not be analyzed here. What is important is the fact that he identifies revelation as the certain foundation for all theological truth.
Where does this truth of revelation stand for falsafa? These Islamic thinkers were concerned with how pagan philosophers, coming long before the final and ultimate revelation of Islam, were able to deduce certain truths that are inherent within Islam, truths which first became known to the Arab and Persian people through the Qur’anic revelation. For these Muslims, philosophy, at its roots, relies on the truth of revelation as a foundation for its exploration and enquiry. The goal of the falasifa was to formulate how knowledge of God and the world could be gained through reason. They read the various Greek treatises that were available and adopted their tools of rational argumentation and logic. Aristotelian and Platonic thought provided them with proofs of God’s existence, and arguments for the existence of a soul and the creation of the world. The conclusion that the Muslim philosophers came to was that all rational truth comes from the same source. Seyyed Hossein Nasr expounds on this idea:
For the falasifah. . the truth was one; therefore they were certain that the truth, wherever and whenever it might be discovered, would conform to the inner teachings of Islam, simply because the instrument of knowledge for bothfahafah or hikmah and religion was the same, namely the Universal Intellect or Logos, which plays such an important role in the theory of knowledge of the Islamic philosophers.I8
18 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “The Meaning And Role Of `Philosophy’ In Islam,” Stadia Islamica 37 (1973): 75.
The revelation of the Qur’an, according to this passage, was still the guideline of truth for the philosophers. The Universal Intellect or Logos, that is God, as the Creator of the universe, is the source of both revelation and rational thought. Thus, the argument of the Muslim philosophers can be summed up as follows:
- If the Qur’an is the totality of Truth, then all truths come from the source of this Truth.
- If all truths come from the source of this Truth, then the truths found in ancient philosophy are also truths found in the Qur’an.
- If the Qur’an is the totality of Truth, then the truths found in ancient philosophy are also truths found in the Qur’an.
- The Qur’an is the totality of Truth….
- The truths found in ancient philosophy are also truths found in the Qur’an.
The argument’s soundness relies on the statements in premises one and four. Working backwards, the devout Muslim would accept premise four as (intuitively) true, that is, it would be the most basic tenet of faith. The Qur’an is the completed word of God given to humanity. Since it comes from God who is the ultimate measure of truth, and God would not deceive humanity, it is the most perfect source of truth for the world. If premise four is true, then the consequent of premise one could be positively affirmed as valid due to modus ponen, however this still does not prove premise one as true. The argument’s soundness relies on the assumption that God and Truth are equivalent. If Nasr’s passage is taken into consideration, then God is equivalent to the Universal Intellect, the provider of all rational Truth in the world. If this is accepted as true, the argument is sound.
Revelation, having been shown as the measure of truth for kalam and falsafa, can now be considered in relation to Sufism. Sufism as a branch of Islam necessarily accepts the truth of Qur’anic revelation, but in what manner? The heart is the instrument through which revelation is communicated and understood, and is distinct from the intellect. Sufism, being the interiorization of the revelation of Islam, also relies on the heart. Even in the Qur’an the opening of the heart was not asked solely of Muhammad, but is asked of every believer in the true Faith. The Qur’an, in the first Sura, says: “And [those] who believe in the Revelation sent to you, and sent before your time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter… As to those who reject Faith… Allah has set a seal on their hearts… In their hearts is a disease.”I9 Qur’an 2: 4-10
The “heart” was not just the instrument God used to speak and reveal Truth to Muhammad, but is the instrument that God uses to communicate “revelatory” knowledge to every individual. Those who have opened their hearts to this knowledge, and relationship, become the chosen of God, but those who have a “disease” in their hearts cannot relate to God. Whether or not one becomes a believer of Islam is due to the specific condition of one’s heart. Sufism takes individuals who have an open heart, a heart that has accepted the truth of revelation, and seeks to further transform it. This is the transformation into the Perfect Individual, the mirroring of the attributes of God. The poet Farid Attar explains:
If you would glimpse the beauty we revere Look in your heart- its image will appear. Make of your heart a looking-glass and see Reflected there the Friend’s nobility; Your sovereign’s glory will illuminate The palace where he reigns in proper state. Search for this king within your heart; His soul Reveals itself in atoms of the Whole.2°
20 Farid Un-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds, trans. and ed. Alkham Darbandi and Dick Davis (London: Penguin Books, 1984), 54.
The transformation can only begin by looking into the heart, which requires a purifying based on the truths found within revelation.
The reasoning of falsafah is grounded by the truth of revelation. Some philosophers create an intellectual hierarchy between philosophy/reason and religion/revelation. Good philosophical reasoning, and its necessary tools, must be cultivated. An intellectual is not bom, but is created; this means that it takes particular types of education and enquiry to develop the rational tools necessary to deduce truths about God and the world. Thérèse-Anne Druart describes the hierarchy that this creates: “Falsafa … is absolutely and universally true, but accessible only to a smalt intellectual elite. The masses need something they can relate to, that is religion, which must be adapted to particular cultures.”21 Reason’s attainment of universal truth is an avenue open to only a few. The majority of people are not a part of this elite group of intellectuals, yet they still have a means of accessing Truth, the means to this is religion. The revelatory knowledge of Islam then, is the knowledge of true philosophical enquiry “watered down” into a form the average intellect can grasp. This implies that revelation is a necessary form of knowledge, since only a small percentage of humanity can gain access to philosophical Truth.22 It is clear that this is a hierarchy where philosophy is placed ahead of religion. Philosophy is for the most capable minds in society, those that can reach Truth unaided by any guide other than their own reasoning, while religion presents the Truth of the Qur’anic revelation for the weaker minded, i.e., individuals who need a guide. The philosophers who arrive at this Truth relying only on reason and their own intellectual capabilities are developmentally “better” and “more capable” than the rest.
This belief, that intellectual enquiry can lead to the truths of religion, is best illustrated by Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzan. Hayy grows up on an island completely cut off from humanity. He relies on reason alone to learn about the world, himself, and God. When discovered by a Muslim/Sufi hermit, he is brought to a fictional, Muslim, civilization to teach them the inner truths he has learned without ever reading any religious text. The people do not listen to him, and disillusioned by civilization he returns to his island and solitary reflection.
21 Thérèse-Anne Druart, “Philosophy in Islam,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy, ed. A. S. McGrade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 104.
22 Revelation is necessary, because only a few can be true philosophers. The Truth of Islam was meant for all of humanity, not just a select handful of philosophers.
The argument in Ibn Tufayl’s book relating to reason can be summed up as follows: If revelation was the only means to truth, then only people aware of the Qur’an could arrive at truths about the world, the self, and God. Hayy is an example of someone who arrived at these truths without knowledge of the Qur’an. Therefore, revelation is not the only means to Truth. Leaman affirms this: “Some thinkers… suggest that an individual who is sufficiently well developed intellectually and personally can do without a guide-indeed, can guide himself. The famous example is the story by ibn Tufayl of Hayy ibn Yaqzan.”23 This well developed individual has the capacity to discover Truth separate from all revelation. An Imam or Shaykh acts as a religious guide for most Muslims, without whom they could not obtain knowledge about God; however, there are a select few who do not need such a guide, for their own rational faculties are enough of a guide. In Ibn Tufayl’s story, Hayy is one of these latter types of people. As Hayy grows up, he begins to cultivate his reasoning capabilities. This is accomplished by adopting a type of solitary empiricism. At first, this entails merely trying to stay warm and have a full belly, but as his experiences expand, he begins to reflect on death, self-identity, and creation. Eventually Hayy is led to postulate a God and begins a quest to reach Him. Through intense yearning and reflection, after many long years, Hayy finally reaches God in a state of spiritual ecstasy.24 Thus, he reaches the truths of Islam without ever having read the Qur’an. It could be argued that Hayy did not actually reach the truths on his own, because eventually he was introduced to society and the Qur’an, which told him that the knowledge he had gained on his own was true.
23 Leaman, 58.
24 That this is a mystica] experience, and the truc verifier of knowledge for Hayy will be discussed in the section on Sufism and intuition.
This is not a refutation, for Hayy never questioned the truthfulness of his knowledge. He knew that it was truc through the use of his own reason, and, it might be argued, through intuition. The Qur’an served only as verification, and finding other people living this religion only affirmed the Truth he had gleaned.
The intellectual power of reason in relation to Sufism can be discussed by looking at Ibn al- `Arabi’s autobiographical account of his meeting with the philosopher Ibn Rushd. Although some scholars have disputed the authenticity of this encounter, this does not detract from its illustrative importance. The supposed meeting between Ibn al-`Arabi and Ibn Rushd happened while Ibn al- `Arabi was still a boy. He was sent to the great philosopher’s house on a feigned errand, and the encounter had a profound impact on both individuals. Claude Addas translates Ibn al- `Arabi’s account of the event:
As I [Ibn al- `Arabi] entered, the philosopher [Ibn Rushd] rose from his seat and came to meet me, showing me every possible token of friendship and consideration and finally embracing me. Then he said to me: “Yes”. I in turn replied to him: “Yes.” Then his joy increased as he saw that I had understood him. But next, when I myself became aware of what it was that had caused his joy, I added: “No”. Immediately Averroes [Ibn Rushd] tensed up, his features changed colour and he seemed to doubt his own thoughts. He asked me this question: “What kind of solution have you found through illumination and divine inspiration? Is it just the same as what we receive from speculative thought?” I replied to him: “Yes and no. Between the yes and the no spirits take flight from their matter and necks break away from their bodies”. Averroes turned pale; I saw him start to tremble. He murmured the ritual phrase, “there is no strength save in God”, because he had understood my allusion.25
25 Ibn al- `Arabi in Claude Addas, Quest For The Red Sulphur: The Life Of Ibn ‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi. Trans. and ed. Peter Kingsley (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1993), 37.
In this passage Ibn al- `Arabi sets up a clear distinction between himself as a “knower” or gnostic, a true Sufi, and Ibn Rushd as a philosopher. The meeting begins with Ibn Rushd seeking affirmation that the great store of knowledge and wisdom the young Ibn al-`Arabi possesses is identical to his own as a seasoned philosopher. The first “yes” given by Ibn al- `Arabi signifies the similarity of the knowledge. It can be outlined in the following manner: Truth for revelation/Islam and reason/falsafah comes from the same source; the unveiling of Sufism is the personalization of the revelation of Islam. Therefore, the Truth of unveiling is the same as the Truth of reason. But Ibn al- `Arabi does not end with this, for the “no” that comes afterwards is likewise asserting that it is also not the same. The knowledge of unveiling stands in-between the paradox caused by the answers of “yes” and “no”. An earlier argument pointed out that although the Truth revealed to philosophy (reason) and Sufism (intuition/unveiling) is the same, the means are different. These differing means speak to individuals through different experiences and develop different characteristics or qualities within them. The difference for the “knower” is that he/she understands, or more properly experiences, Truth more intimately and esoterically than the philosopher ever can, that is, the “knower” experiences it through intuitional encounters while the philosopher gleans it from his/her rational deduction.
The differences between the “knower” and the “philosopher” become clearer by analyzing the second “meeting” between the Ibn al ‘Arabi and Ibn Rushd. Ibn al- `Arabi says:
Subsequently I had the wish to meet him a second time. He was shown to me-God have mercy on him!- in a vision (waqi ‘a), in a certain form. A light veil had been placed between him and me so that I could see him although he could not see me and was unaware of my presence. He was so absorbed that he paid no attention to me, and I said to myself: “This is not someone who is destined to follow the same path as me.”26
26 Ibn al- `Arabi in Claude Addas, Quest For The Red Sulphur: The Life Of Ibn ‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi. Trans. and ed. Peter Kingsley (Cambridge: The lslamic Texts Society, 1993), 107.
Importantly, the “knower” is the one who transcends physical limits and travels through the world of imagination. Ibn al- `Arabi sees Ibn Rushd, but the philosopher, absorbed in his thoughts and contemplations, does not see Ibn al- `Arabi. Ibn Rushd was so immersed in the intellect that he could not transcend it and attain the special knowledge of the “knower.” The “knower” can see multiple layers of reality, leading to the unveiling in the Presence of God Himself, but the philosopher is stuck in the physical world and cannot transcend this.
Sufis, such as Ibn al- `Arabi, saw problems within the Islamic religious structure that were detracting from the inherent message of the Qur’an. The theologians and authorities of religious law were shaping Islam into a set of strict mies and rites that every devout Muslim was expected to follow and obey. Ibn al- `Arabi saw this version of Islam as lacking the personal and experiential elements that define the Sufi goal of unveiling and fano lextinction27. Ibn al- `Arabi’s critique of the religious authorities, is nicely summarized by James W. Morris:
The essential motivation of Ibn Ibn al- `Arabi’s criticism of the assumptions underlying the religious paradigm of the fiqaha’, however, is not any sort of liberation’ from religious (or legal) constraints, but rather his consistent stress is on the individual’s inalienable responsibility in realizing the spiritual intentions of revelation, along with the freedom which is the prerequisite of that responsibility and the diversity and openness that are its inevitable consequences.28
27 Both of which the individual must experience to become the Perfect Individual, and will be discussed in the last section of this Chapter and in the later half of Chapter Two.
28 James W. Morris, “Ibn ‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi’s ‘Esotericism’: The Problem of Spiritual Authority,” Stadia Islamica 71 (1990): 56.
Ibn al- `Arabi is not trying to undermine the religious institutions of his day, on the contrary, he aims to make them aware of the necessity of allowing the individual to interpret and understand the Qur’an for him/herself. To do this does not mean that the religious institutions or laws must be destroyed, for, he explicitly says, those individuals content to simply follow the prescripts of the religious authorities should be allowed to do so. But this does mean that the ulama/religious authorities should be open to diverse interpretations, by giving all individuals the complete freedom and responsibility to understand on their own the essence of the Islamic revelation. Ibn al- `Arabi is saying that the current mind-set hinders individuals from taking on responsibility and exploring this freedom. The attitude offiqh, or legalism, leads to conformism and solidification of interpretation. The authorities have declared the “correct” interpretation, with which the community is to conform. Such an environment hinders the exercise of personal faith. The community views any divergente from accepted theological interpretation as blasphemous, thus any unique interpretation or perspective of the individual is viewed as suspect. In sum, Ibn al- `Arabi is criticizing the religious authorities for suppressing the individual’s responsibility of interpretation.
How is religious authority supposed to be esoteric, the responsibility of the individual? The heart/qa/b is the means by which the prophets received revelation and by which the individual accepts revelatory truth. Ibn al- `Arabi emphasizes this to support the individual’s responsibility for understanding revelation. In one of the appendixes to Ibn al- `Arabi’s Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries, Twinch and Beneito explain:
He [Ibn al- `Arabi] says, “When the High God wishes to grant his servant some of these [special] knowledges, He disposes the mirror of his heart towards success, He looks at it with the eye of benevolence (lut!) and help (tawfiq), and supports it with the sea of strong backing (ta ‘yid).” He then describes how the various facets of the heart are each polished in turn, so that the mirror of the heart becomes clear and free from the rust of otherness. Then the revelation which appears in the heart varies according to the heart’s readiness to receive forms.29
According to this passage, Ibn al- `Arabi believes that the heart is a transformative tool that becomes open to personal “revelation”.30
291bn lbn al- `Arabi, Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries and the Rising of the Divine Lights, trans. and ed. Cecilia Twinch and Pablo Beneito (Oxford: Anqa, 2001), 118-9.
3° The transformation of the heart is explained as analogous to polishing a mirror, and will be expanded on in the next chapter.
The heart, when polished, is “free from the rust of otherness;” it becomes detached from all selfish desire and egotism. This detachment is realized by fully embracing the tenets of Islam, seeking knowledge of the self s connection to God, and using this knowledge to actualize the attributes associated with God. The way this transformation is accomplished can be found in another passage by Ibn al- `Arabi; in one of his early works, about saintship and religious authority, Ibn al- `Arabi says: “Thus, [the Prophet] (May God bless and keep him!) established the Imamate for every human being in himself, making him one who is to be rightly Sought, both in the World of his transcendent [being] and of his sensual.”31 This is followed by the poem, “Be Your Own Ruler”, which further explores this idea. Ibn al- `Arabi here points directly to the problem between systematized religious authority and the differing understandings by the individual. Ibn al- `Arabi claims that every individual is his/her own Imam, meaning that only the individual can truly guide him/herself because only he/she, other than God, can see within him/herself and change the status of his/her heart-mirror. Only the individual can improve their spiritual self and actualize the essence of revelation.
The emphasis in Sufism is personal understanding. To what extent then is reason utilized? As illustrated by Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, the philosophers believed that reason could lead an individual to a perfect understanding of the world and God.32
31 lbn al- `Arabi quoted in Gerald T. Elmore, Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time: Ibn Al-lbn al-“Book of the Fabulous Gryphon” (Leiden: Brilt, 1999), 241.
32 Although, this was later qualified, saying that only some individuals could use philosophy. An example in lbn Tufayl’s text: When he [Haft] finally understood the true nature of people and that the majority are in a state similar to that of dumb animals, he realized that all wisdom and guidance and the only chance of success lies in what the messengers have conveyed and what the religious law has provided and that nothing more is possible.[Ibn Tufayl, Journey of the Soul, trans. and ed. Riad Kocache (London: Octagon, 1982), 59.]
Near the end of the book, however, there is evidence that Ibn Tufayl believed that the mystical state provides an intuitive knowledge that outweighs the rational. Hayy finds teaching the community frustrating, and the reader is told:
But although they were a people who loved the good and wanted the truth, Hai’s teaching seemed only to induce more and more discord among them. Owing to their lack of native good sense, they did not want to seek the Truth in the way He had indicated nor by experiencing Him nor entering by the door He had provided. They did not want to come to Him through His exponents.33
The majority of people, who may desire to understand truth, do not want to discipline themselves in the search for it. They would rather have it handed to them, without any personal striving, and follow its dictates. What is of special interest is the idea of “experiencing Him[God]” that Ibn Tufayl places in the passage. This can be interpreted as referring to mystical experience. If this is so, then the philosopher for Ibn Tufayl is also a mystic, i.e., a Sufi. W.M. Watt supports this interpretation:
For Ibn-Tufayl philosophy is seen to be incapable of directing the lives of the inhabitants of the state. It can only lead a few selected individuals to the highest felicity, but to reach this they must retire from active life. In other words the summum bonum of the philosopher has become mystical ecstasy.34
Reason, although it can lead an individual to the highest truth, cannot necessarily be taught to every person. In many ways it can be considered to parallel mystical intuition, which can also lead to Truth, and which also cannot be concretely shared with another person. They are both internal mechanisms relying on the capacity of the individual. Reason can be utilized to the capacity the individual has developed his/her intellect, and intuition can be utilized to the extent that the individual has developed his/her spiritual insight or awareness. Any knowledge given to the individual from either mode then is
33 Tufayl, 60.
34 W. M. Watt, Islamic Theology and Philosophy (Edinburgh, 1962), quoted in Michael E. Marmura, Probing In Islamic Philosophy: Studies In The Philosophies of Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali And Other Major Muslim Thinkers (Binghamton: Global Academic Publishing, 2005), 421.
Any knowledge given to the individual from either mode then is tailored to suit the capacity of the individual; and therefore cannot necessarily be meaningful to anyone else. Watts, however, suggests that there is not just a parallel, but that the philosopher becomes a mystic. Since the true philosopher must divorce him/herself from society in order to practice philosophical contemplation, and the mystic/Sufi, in solitude, must seek God through internal reflection, then both strive for the same goal. Thus, the philosopher and the mystic/Sufi become the equivalent. Intuition, like reason, is a “tool” that can be utilized by only a select few. Both sets of individuals have attained the highest knowledge available to humanity. They are given direct access to Truth, or God.
Philosophy/reason coupled with Sufism/intuition leads to God. However, what about those philosophers who are not mystics/Sufis, such as Ibn Rushd? Ibn al- `Arabi says of these individuals that:
As for the theorists and thinkers among the ancients, as also the scholastic theologians, in their talk about the soul and its quiddity, none of them have grasped its true reality, and speculation will never grasp it. He who seeks to know it by theoretical speculation is flogging a dead horse.35
35 lbn al- `Arabi, 153.
The search for knowledge of the divine, the eternal, and the soul cannot rely solely on reason. There is some transcendental truth in these that lies beyond the limits of the intellect. Ibn al- `Arabi says the people who look for such only from within the conflnes of reason are “flogging a dead horse.” They are looking at something lifeless that will never reveal the inner essence of the matter. Ibn Rushd, who could not see past the veil of existence and commune with Ibn al- `Arabi, illustrates this. Reason can show the outer, but never the inner; this is why Ibn al- `Arabi says complete knowledge can only come from personal revelation. He says:
Thus, perfect knowledge is to be had only through a divine Self-revelation or when God draws back the veils from Heads and eyes so that they might perceive things, eternal and ephemeral, non-existent and existent, impossible, necessary, or permissible, as they are in their eternal reality and essentiality.36
36 Ibid., 166.
The knowledge that is “unveiled” to the heart shows the individual the spiritual, transcendental nature of things, which reason can never ascertain. This unveiled knowledge is the verg knowledge of God. It can only be understood through direct and intuited experience. That is why Ibn Rushd could never fully understand the “knowing” that Ibn al- `Arabi had been given.
Ibn al- `Arabi believes that every individual should be allowed to interpret and understand the Qur’an and hadith on his/her own. But what is the basis for this? Sufism’s knowledge proper of intuition/unveiling is the personalization of revelation. This conclusion is reached through two premises. The first is that the Sufi desires to commune directly with the source of all revelation, that is God, and is therefore more concerned with the source than the knowledge or revelation itself. Secondly, the Sufi believes that the way to reach this communion is to “re-live” Muhammad’s “Night of Ascension,” to experience the revelation for him/herself. Martin Lings illustrates this when he describes the relationship between Sufism and Islam in terms of waves on an ocean and the pools of water left behind: “The mystic is one who is consequently more preoccupied by the ebbing wave than by the water which it has left behind.”37 The wave is the revelation coming from God, the pools of water left behind are the form the revelation takes, in this case, the Qur’an and Islam as a whole. The ocean, the source, is God.
37-Martin Lings, What is Sufism, 2″ ed. (London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1981), 12.
Islam is occupied with the revelation left behind, how to interpret it and how to follow its dictates, while Sufism views the revelation as a “drop from the Ocean” that is a path leading backwards to its source, God. Sufism seeks this source. Keeping with the wave, pool, and Ocean analogy, this means that Islam is focused on the effects of the revelation, the pool and what it means, while Sufism is concerned with finding the wave and understanding who the source, the Ocean, i.e., God, is; that is, Sufism wants to know the cause rather than the effect. Kalam seeks to interpret what the waves left behind, the message of the revelation that has been given. In contrast to this, the Sufis seek to go back to the source, to experience the process of the wave as it returns to the Ocean.
The second premise regarding communion suggests the means whereby the Sufi can go from pool, to wave, to Ocean. This means is the re-living of the revelatory experience, the one given to the Prophet Muhammad. Exemplifying or duplicating this experience need not be followed in its empirical sense, each individual does not have to travel to Mount Qaf and wait in solitude for the revelation of the Qur’an. Rather, this should be done metaphorically. In this way the exemplification or duplication means striving for an intensely personal “embodiment” of the knowledge of revelation.38 Schimmel’s definition of Sufism in relation to Islam illustrates this: “Sufism meant, in the formative period, mainly an interiorization of Islam, a personal experience of the central mystery of Islam, that of tawhid, ‘to declare that God is One.'”39 The Sufi does not merely follow the prescripts of the faith, but strives to embody them.
38 It can be argued that Islam itself fosters, or at least claims to foster, an individualized relationship with God. This could be called a type of “personalization” similar to that advocated by Sufism; however, this is constructed under the auspices of a rule-based, systematized religion. Sufism, and especially Ibn al-`Arabi’s philosophy (as will be discussed later), is not a static system that applies uniformly to all.
39 Schimmel, 17.
In conclusion, the above explorations can be used to determine the manner in which the Perfect Individual utilizes the knowledge of revelation, reason, and intuition. Ibn al-`Arabi says of the Perfect Individual:
The Perfect Man- who denotes his Lord by his very essence in an a priori manner (min awwal al-badiha)- and only the Perfect Man, is the Crown of the King… He gathers together nature (al-tab) and intellect (al- `aql), so within him are the grossest (akthaf) and subtlest (altaj) of compositions in respect of his nature, and within him is disengagement (al-tajarrud) from substrata (al-mawadd) and the faculties (al-quwa) that govern bodies… Through the Perfect Man the Divine Judgment (al-hukm al-ilahi) concerning reward and punishment in the world becomes manifest. Through him the order (al-nizam [i.e., of the universe]) is established and overthrown; in him God decrees, determines, and judges.”
The first thing Ibn al- `Arabi explains is that the Perfect Individual, before he/she achieves perfection, i.e., as a normal human being, already signifies God within his/her essence41, therefore, perfection is achieved by gaining knowledge of this state. Next Ibn al- `Arabi explains that the Perfect Individual combines nature or creation and intellect or reason. He/She is a rational being, and as such he/she analyzes the natural world around him/her. The Perfect Individual uses rational knowledge, philosophy, to explore and understand the world. However, the Perfect Individual also disengages him/herself from the physical world, he/she practices ascetical renunciation and mystical contemplation. This individual is similar to Ibn Tufayl’s philosopher who must leave society for solitary reflection, i.e., mystical intuition, but unlike Ibn Tufayl’s philosopher the Perfect Individual returns to society. He/she, as denotative of God, manifests the knowledge of revelation within the world. Not only does the Perfect Individual need to practice the right combination of the three modes of knowledge, using revelation as the foundation for truth, reason as a limited mode of discernment, and intuition as the transformative means of understanding, but he/she must also use these three in his/her capacity as the Perfect Individual. Thus, knowledge is tied to the attaining of and the sustaining of perfection.
4° Ibn Ibn al- `Arabi, The Meccan Revelations: Volume I, trans. and ed. Michel Chodkiewicz, William C. Chittick, and James W. Morris (New York: PIR Press, 2002), 43-4.