They were victims of their own limitations when they said, with regard to the creation (of Adam on earth); 'Wouldst Thou, then, create therein a being that sows corruption?'. Now, this corruption, what is it if not precisely the revolt that they themselves were manifesting? That which they were saying about Adam applies to their own attitude towards Allah. Moreover, if such a possibility (of revolt) was not in their nature, they would not have unconsciously affirmed it with regard to Adam; if they had had the knowledge of themselves they would have been exempt, by this very knowledge, from the limits to which they were submitted; they would not have insisted (in their accusation of Adam) so far as to draw vanity from their own 'praise' of Allah and from that by which they 'proclaimed' Him 'Holy', where as Adam realised Names of which the Angels were ignorant, so that neither their 'praise' (tasbîh
) nor their 'proclamation of Divine Holiness' (taqdîs
) were the same as those of Adam.
This, Allah describes to us so that we should be on our guard, and that we should learn the right attitude towards Him - may He be exalted! - free from pretentiousness on matters which we have realised or embraced by our individual knowledge; moreover, how could we think we possess something which surpasses us (in its universal reality) and which we do not really know (essentially)? So pay attention to this Divine instruction on the way Allah punishes the most obedient and faithful of His servants, His closest representatives (according to the general hierarchy of beings).
But let us return now to the (Divine) Wisdom (in Adam). We can say of it that the Universal Ideas (al-umur al-kulliyah
which evidently have no individual existence as such, are none the less present, intelligibly and distinctly, in the mental state; they always remain interior with respect to individual existence, yet determine everything that pertains to this. Much more, that which exists individually is no more or less than (the expression of) these Universal Ideas without these latter ceasing, for all that, to be in themselves purely intelligible. They are, then, external in so far as determinations implied in the individual existence and, on the other hand, interior in so far as they are intelligible realities! Everything which exists individually emanates from these Ideas, which remain, however, inseparably united to the intellect and could not individually be manifested in such a way as to be removed from the purely intelligible existence, whether it is a question of individual manifestation in time or out of time30
for the relation between the individual being and the Universal Idea is always the same, whether or not this being be subject to temporal condition. Only, the Universal Idea assumes in its turn certain conditions pertaining to individual existences following the realities (haqâiq
) which define these same existences. Thus for example is the relationship which unites the knowledge and he who knows, or life and he who lives; knowledge and life are intelligible realities, distinct from one another; so, we affirm of Allah that He knows and lives and we affirm equally of the Angel that he knows and lives, and we say as much of man; in all these cases, the intelligible reality of knowledge or that of life remain the same, and its relationship to he who knows and to he who lives is identical each time; and yet one says of Divine Knowledge that it is eternal, and of man's knowledge that it is ephemeral; there is then, something in this intelligible reality which is ephemeral by its dependence with regard to a (limiting) condition.
Now, consider the reciprocal dependence of ideal realities and individual realities:31
in the same way that knowledge determines he who participates in it - for one calls him knowledgeable - so he who is qualified by knowledge determines in his turn the knowledge, so that it is ephemeral in connection with the ephemeral, and eternal in connection with the eternal; and each of these two sides is, in relation to the other, at once determining and determined. It is certain that these Universal Ideas, in spite of their intelligibility, have not, as such, (their own) existence but only a principial existence; likewise, when they apply themselves to individuals they accept the condition (hukm
) without however assuming thereby distinction or divisibility; they are integrally present in everything qualified by them, like humanity (the quality of man), for example, is present integrally in each particular being of this species without undergoing the distinction nor the number which affects individuals, and without ceasing to be in itself a purely intellectual reality.
Now, as there is a mutual dependence between that which has an individual (or substantial) existence, and that which has not and is, to tell the truth, but a non-existent relationship32
as such, it is easy to conceive that beings are bound between themselves; for in this case there is always a common denominator, meaning existence as such, while in the former case the mutual relationship exists in spite of the absence of a common denominator.
Without doubt, the ephemeral is not conceivable as such, that is in its ephemeral and relative nature, except in relation to a principle from which it derives its own possibility, so that it has no being in itself, but derives it from another to whom it is tied by its dependence. And it is certain that this principle is in itself necessary, that it is subsistent by itself and independent, in its being, of any other thing. It is this principle, which by its own essence, confers the being to the ephemeral which depends on it.
But since (the principle) demands on its own account the (existence) of the ephemeral (being), this proves itself in this respect as (not only 'possible' but also) 'necessary'. And since the ephemeral depends essentially on its principle it must also appear in the (qualitative) 'form' of the latter in everything that it derives from it, like the 'names' and the qualities, with the exception however of the principial autonomy which is not applicable to the ephemeral being, even though it be 'necessary'; that is, it is necessary by virtue of another, not of itself.
Since the ephemeral being manifests the 'form' of the eternal, it is by the contemplation of the ephemeral that Allah communicates to us the knowledge of Himself: He says to us (in the Quran) that He shows us His 'signs' in the ephemeral: ('We will show them Our signs to the horizons and in themselves...' Sura 41, 53). It is from ourselves that we conclude that He is; to Him we attribute no quality without ourselves having that quality with the exception of the principial autonomy. Since we know Him by ourselves and from ourselves, we attribute to Him all that we attribute to ourselves, and it is because of that, again, that the revelation was given by the mouth of the interpreters, (that is to say the prophets) and that Allah described Himself to us through ourselves. In contemplating Him we contemplate ourselves, and in contemplating ourselves He contemplates Himself, although we are obviously numerous as to the individuals and types; we are united, it is true, in a single and essential reality, but there exists none the less a distinction between individuals, without which, moreover, there would be no multiplicity in the unity.
In the same way, although we are qualified in every respect by the qualities which come from Allah Himself, there is (between Him and us) certainly a difference, that is to say our dependence towards Him, in so far as He is the Being, and our essential conformity to Him, because of our very possibility; but He is independent of all that which constitutes our indigence. It is in this sense that one should understand eternity without beginning (al-azal) and the antiquity (al-qidam
) of Allah, which abolishes moreover, the Divine Primacy (al awwaliyah
) signifying the passage from non-existence to existence; even though Allah be the First (al-awwa
l) and the Last (al-âkhir
) He cannot be called the First in the temporal sense, because then He would in that sense be the Last; but the possibilities of manifestation have no end: they are inexhaustible. If Allah is called the Last, it means that all reality returns finally to Him after having been brought to us: His quality of the Last is thus essentially His quality of First and inversely. We also know that Allah has described Himself as 'Exterior' (al-zâhir
) and as 'Interior' (al-bâtin
) and that He manifested the world at the same time as interior and exterior, so that we should know the 'interior' aspect (of Allah) by our own interior, and the 'exterior' by our exterior.
In the same way He has described Himself by the qualities of mercy and of anger, and He manifested the world as a place of fear and hope, so that we should fear His anger and hope for His clemency. He has described Himself by Beauty and Majesty and endowed us with a reverent awe (al-haybah
) and intimacy (al-uns
). It is thus for everything concerning Him, and by which He has designated Himself He symbolized these couples of (complementary) qualities by the two hands which He held out towards the creation of Universal Man; this latter reunites in himself all the essential realities (haqâiq
) of the world in his totality, just as in each of his individuals. The world is the apparent, and the representative (of Allah in it) is the hidden. It is for this that the Sultan remains invisible and it is in this sense that Allah says of Himself that He hides behind the veils of darkness - which are natural bodies - and the veils of light - which are subtle spirits;33
for the world is made of crude (kathîf
) and of subtle matter (latîf
(The world) is to itself its own veil and thus cannot see Allah, due to the very fact that it sees itself; it can never by itself get rid of its veil, in spite of knowing that it is attached, by its dependence, to its Creator. The fact is the world does not participate in the autonomy of the Essential Being, so much so that it can never conceive Him. In this respect Allah remains always unknown, to the intuition as well as to the contemplation, for the ephemeral has no hold on that (that is to say the eternal).
When Allah says to Iblis 'What is it that prevents you from prostrating yourself before that which I have created with My two Hands?',34
the mention of two Hands indicates a distinction for Adam; Allah thus makes allusion to the union in Adam of the two forms, that is the form of the world (analogous to the passive Divine Qualities) and the Divine 'form' (analogous to the active Divine Qualities) which are the two Hands of Allah.35
As for Iblis, he is nothing but a fragment of the world; he did not receive the synthesised nature, by virtue of which Adam is a representative of Allah. If Adam had not been manifested in the 'Form' of the One who entrusted to him His representation towards the others, he would not be His representative; and if he did not contain all that which is needed by the herd that he has to guard -it is on him that this herd depends, and he must suffice to all their needs - he would not be representing Allah for the other (creatures).
The representation of Allah belongs only to the Universal Man, whose exterior form is created of realities (haqâiq
) and of the forms of the world, and whose interior form corresponds to the 'Form' of Allah (that is to say to the 'total' of the Divine Names and Qualities). Because of that Allah has said of him 'I am his hearing and his sight'; He did not say 'his eye and his ear', but distinguished the two 'forms', one from the other.36
It is the same for all beings of this world with regard to each their own (transcendent) reality; however, no being contains the synthesis similar to the one which distinguishes the Representative and it is only by this synthesis that this one surpasses the others. If Allah did not penetrate existence by His 'form'37
the world would not be; in the same way as individuals would not be determined if they had not the Universal Ideas. According to this Truth, the existence of the world resides in its dependence with regard to Allah. In reality each depends (on the other: the 'Divine Form' on that of the world and inversely); nothing is independent (of the other); this is the pure truth; we are not expressing ourselves in metaphors. On the other hand when I speak of that which is absolutely independent thou wilt know what I mean by it (that is to say the infinite unconditioned Essence). Each, (the 'Divine Form' as the world), is then tied one to the other and one cannot be separated from the other; understand well what I tell thee!
Now, thou knowest the spiritual meaning of the creation of Adam's body, that is to say of his apparent form, and of the creation of his spirit, which is his interior 'form'. Adam is, then, at the same time, Allah and creature. And thou hast understood that which is his (cosmic) rank that is to say the synthesis (of all the cosmic qualities), synthesis by virtue of which he is the Representative of Allah.
Adam is the 'unique Spirit' (an-nafs al-wâhidah
) from which was created the human species according to the Divine Word, (in the Quran); 'O you, mankind, fear your Lord, who hath created you out of one soul and out of him created his wife, and from them hath deployed many men and women' (Sura 4, 1). The words 'fear your Lord' signify: make of your apparent form a safeguard for your Lord, and make of your interior - that is to say of your Lord - a safeguard for yourselves; every act (or every Divine Order) consists in blame or in praise (in negation or in affirmation); then be His safeguard in the blame (that is to say as limited creatures) and take Him for safeguard in the praise,38
so that you have, amongst all beings, the most just attitude (towards Allah).
After He had created him, Allah showed Adam all that He had put into him; and He held it all in His two Hands: one containing the world and the other Adam and his descendants, then He showed these the ranks that they occupied in the interior of Adam.39
Since Allah made me see that which He put in the primordial generator I have transcribed in this book the portion which was assigned to me, and not everything that I have realised; for that, no book in the present world could contain. But, among the things that I have contemplated and which could be transcribed in this book, as far as was assigned to me by Allah's Messenger ﷺ may Benediction and Peace be on him! - was the Divine Wisdom in the Word of Adam: it is that which this chapter discusses.
1 A'yân is translated here as 'essences', since it concerns the essences of the Names as opposed to their verbal or thought forms. The object of the divine 'vision' resides in the essential possibilities which correspond to the 'Most Perfect Names', meaning the universal and permanent 'aspects' of the Being. When one speaks of the one and single Essence of all the Divine Names and Qualities, one employs the term adh-dhât.
2 The word al-'ayn (singular of a'yân) contains the meanings of 'essential determination', 'personal essence', 'archetype', 'eye', 'source'. This sentence signifies then, that Allah wanted to see Himself, with the restriction that His vision does not refer to His Absolute Essence (adh-dhât), which transcends all determination, even principial, but to His immediate determination ('aynah), His 'personal aspect', which is precisely characterized by the Perfect Qualities of which the Names are the expression.
3 Or of the Being, the term al-wujûd having the two meanings. Some manuscripts give the variant: '. . . being endowed with faces (aI-wujûh) ...' that is to say with multiple 'planes of reflection' differentiating the Divine irradiation (at-tajallî).
4 The Divine Order is symbolized by the word 'be!' (kun); it identifies itself then, to the principle of existence.
5 The allusion to the Divine Word (hadîth qudsî) revealed by the mouth of the Prophet ﷺ: 'I was a hidden treasure; I loved to be known (or: know) and I created the world'.
6 The visual act is here taken as the symbol of Knowledge in its universal nature.
7 Literally: 'the thing' (ash-shay). Ibn Arabi sometimes employs the term 'thing' to designate a reality which he does not want to define in any way; he does not say 'the Essence' (adh-dhat), so as not to affirm to the transcendence and the non-manifestation of that which is in question, and neither does he say the 'Being' or 'the Existence' (al-wujûd), so as not to emphasize thereby the immanence and the manifestation.
8 Or 'homogeneous' (musawwî), that is to say not yet including the qualitative and differentiated imprint of the spirit.
9 Rawh: 'grace', liberty; some read rûh, 'spirit'.
10 It is the primordial chaos, where the possibilities of manifestation, still virtual, are lost in the indifferentiation of their materia.
11 'When I shall have formed him, and I shall have breathed my spirit into him' (Quran XV, 29).
12 The image of an 'effusion', of an 'overflowing' or of an 'emanation' of the Being (al-wujûd) or of the divine Light (an-nûr) in the receptive 'forms' of the world must not be understood as a substantial emanation, for the Being - or the increated divine Light - does not proceed outside of Himself. This image expresses on the contrary the sovereign superabundance of the divine Reality, which deploys and illuminates the relative possibilities of the world, although It be 'rich in Itself' (ghanî binafsih) and the existence of the world adds nothing to His infinity. - The symbolism of the divine 'effusion' (al-fayd) refers to this word of the Prophet ﷺ: 'Allah has created the world in darkness, and then He poured (afâda) on it of His light'.
13 At-tajallî signifies 'revelation' in a general sense, 'unveiling' and 'irradiation': when the sun, covered by clouds is 'unveiled', its light 'irradiates' over the earth.
14 From the cosmological point of view, this receptacle corresponds to the passive substance, the 'materia prima' or the plastic principle of a world or of a being. From a purely metaphysical point of view, the receptacle which opposes - in a manner entirely principial and logical - the incessant 'effusion' of the Being, is reduced to the principial possibility, the archetype or the 'immutable essence' (al-ayn ath-thâbitah) of a world or a being.
15 This passage is explained as follows by the Persian Sufi Nur ad-din 'Abd Rahmân Jâmî: 'The Majesty of Allah (al-haqq) reveals itself in two ways; one of them, which corresponds to the interior revelation, purely intelligible, which the Sufis call the most-saintly Effusion (al-fayd al-aqdas), consists in the self-revelation of Allah manifesting Himself from all eternity to Himself in the form of archetypes and that which they imply of characters and capacities; the second revelation, is the exterior manifestation, objective, which is called saintly Effusion (al-fayd al-muqaddas); it consists in the manifestation of Allah by means of the imprint of the same archetypes. This second revelation is consecutive to the first; it is the theatre where the perfections appear, which, according to the first revelation, are virtually contained in the characters and the capacities of the archetypes'. (Lawaih, ch. XXX; Persian text edition and English translation by E. H. Whinfield and Mirza Muhammed Kazvini: Oriental translation Fund, New series, Vol XVI Royal Asiatic Society). In this text the expressions 'forms' or 'characters', which refer to the archetypes, should be understood as simple 'allusions', for the archetypes or 'immutable essences' are evidently beyond all individualization or formal distinction.
16 The word amr signifies primarily 'order', 'commandment', but contains also the sense of 'reality' and of 'act'. The Divine Order 'be!' corresponds to the pure Act.
17 'His is the kingdom of heaven and earth; and unto Allah shall all realities return' (al umûr, that is to say increated realities of creatures) (Quran LVII, 5).
18 In the original text, all the first part of the chapter, until the above words, form one sentence, with several incidental propositions; it is a logical whole describing all the essential aspects of the Divine Manifestation.
19 'When thy Lord said unto the angels: Verily, I am going to place a representative on earth, they said: Wilt thou place there one who will sow corruption therein, and shed blood?, whereas we celebrate Thy praise, and sanctify Thee. He answered: Verily I know that which ye know not; and he taught Adam the Names of all things, and then showed them to the angels, and said: Declare unto Me the Names of these things if you say the truth. They answered, Praise unto Thee, we have no knowledge, but what Thou teachest us, for Thou art Knowing and Wise! He said: O Adam, let them know their names! And when he had let them know their names, He said: Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know that which you discover and that which you conceal? And when We said unto the Angels prostrate yourselves before Adam, they all prostrated themselves except Iblis (the devil) who refused, and was puffed up with pride, and became of the number of unbelievers'. (Quran II, 28).
20 The expression 'form' (sûrah) is one of those which the Sufi authors use in a very free way, for it is susceptible of various transpositions beyond the closest significance, that of 'delimitation'; the form of a thing contains a purely qualitative aspect, the quality being of essential nature; on the other hand, in so far as the form of a being is opposed to its spirit, it symbolically returns to the receptive function of the materia.
21 According to the Sufi adage: 'Man is a little cosmos, and the cosmos is like a big man'.
22 Divine Uniqueness by virtue of which every being is unique.
23 The 'Divine Side' is the sum of the Divine Qualities, the Divinity in so far as It produces and dominates the world, (the 'creature side').
24 The 'Reality of Realities' or 'Truth of Truths' corresponds to the Word (Logos) as 'place' of all the possibilities of manifestation. It is the eternal mediator, the 'Reality of Muhammed' (al-haqîqat al-muhammadiyah), the 'Isthmus' (barzakh) between the pure Being and relative existence, the same as between the non-manifestation and the manifestation. It is the prototype of everything; there is nothing which does not bear its imprint.
25 Universal Nature is the universal receptive power, the 'matrix' of the cosmos. According to the Hellenistic cosmologists, Nature is reduced to the plastic principle of the formal world, to the root of the four elements and of the four sensible qualities which rule all the changes of the physical order. Ibn Arabi, transposing the elements in the total cosmic order, attributes to Nature a far vaster function, co-extensive with all manifestation, including the angelic states. It is thus analogous to that which the Hindus designate as Mâyâ or as the universal Shakti, maternal and dynamic aspect of Prakpiti, the Substance or 'Materia Prima'. Let us add nevertheless that this principle does not play, in the teaching of Ibn 'Arabi, the same fundamental role that it assumes in the Advaitic doctrine, since Islam considers the productive functions of the universe in an eminently 'theocentric' manner.
26 The creature 'claims' then, to the totality by virtue at once of his Divine origin, of his universal prototype, and of his natural root.
27 'Abd ar-Razzaq al Qashani specifies that reason, which is itself engendered by the polarity of the active and passive, of the Divine Order (al-amr) and of Nature (at-tabî'ah) cannot exceed this polarity and comprehend it 'from above.
28 These are the two aspects of all revealed words, to which refer the two designations of the Quran as 'Recitation' (al-qur'ân) and as 'Discrimination' (al-furqân) .
29 The 'universals' according to scholastic terminology.
30 According to the language which Ibn 'Arabi uses here, the idea of 'individual existence' (wujûd 'aynî) may be symbolically transposed beyond the formal condition, which is the domain of individuation correctly speaking. Thus, for example, an Angel is not an 'individual' because he does not represent a variant within the interior of a species; however, the argument stated above applies equally to the Angels.
31 Al-mawjûdâh al-'ayniyah; the existences - or realities - individual or substantial; see preceding note.
32 This is to say non-manifested.
33 According to the word of the Prophet ﷺ: 'Allah hides Himself by seventy thousand Veils of light and darkness; if He lifted them, the brilliance of His face would consume whomsoever looked at It.'
34 Quran XXXVIII, 75.
35 The symbolism of the two hands of Allah is found again in the Kabbala, particularly in the Zohar, where they are compared to the Heaven and the Earth in so far as the active and passive principles of the manifestation.
36 According to the divine Word, revealed through the mouth of the Prophet ﷺ (hadîth qudsî) 'My servant can only approach Me with something which pleases Me more than that which I impose on him. My servant approaches Me ceaselessly by free acts until I love him; and when I love him, I am the hearing by which he hears, the sight by which he sees, the hand with which he takes hold, and the foot with which he walks: If he prays to Me, I give to him certainly, and if he looks for My help, I help him certainly' (Cited by al-Bukhari according to Abu Hurayrah).
37 The expression 'form' is analogous here to the peripatetic notion of 'forma' (eidos), that is to say the qualitative mark; we remember that the quality can be transposed into the pure universal. With reference to the word of the Prophet ﷺ: 'Allah created Adam in His "form" (sûrah).' Sufism calls 'divine Form' the total of perfect Qualities by which Allah reveals Himself in the Universe.
38 According to Al-Qashani: Take Him as safeguard in praise by attributing the limitations to you and all the positive qualities to Allah, conforming to the Quranic word: 'What ever good befalleth thee it is from Allah, and whatever evil befalleth thee, it is from thyself'. Quran IV, 81.
39 According to the Quranic saying: 'And when thy Lord drew forth their seed from the loins of the sons of Adam, and took them to witness against themselves, saying: Am I not your Lord? They answered: Yea: we do bear witness. This was done lest ye should say, at the day of resurrection, Verily we had neglected this'. Quran VII, 171.
Courtesy of Beshara Publications: xL =broken link 2020-10-02: http://www.besharapublications.org.uk
The Wisdom of the Prophets, Twelve chapters of the Fusus al-Hikam of Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi, translated from Arabic to French by Titus Burkhardt and from French to English by Angela Culme-Seymour.