Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabi
On True Knowledge

How can true knowledge be obtained? What do we usually depend on when we want to know things, especially the reality of existence, and what is the role of sense perception and rational consideration? Can the spiritual seeker gain insight by what is generally called independent reasoning?
Shaykh Al-Akbar shows that whatever knowledge is acquired, reason is always bound to follow an authority, for it cannot do otherwise. So what then is the best course to follow, that is which authority can be trusted, if any?

“The eye is never mistaken, neither it nor any of the senses. . . . The rational faculty perceives in two modes: through an inherent (dhāti) perception in which it is like the senses, never being mistaken; and by a non-inherent perception. The second is what it perceives through its instruments (āla), which are reflection and sense perception.

Imagination follows the authority (taqlīd) of that which sense perception gives to it. Reflection considers imagination and finds therein individual things (mufradāt). Reflection would love to configure a form to be preserved by the rational faculty. Hence it attributes some of the individual things to others. In this attribution it may be mistaken concerning the actual situation, or it may be correct. Reason judges upon this basis, so it also may be mistaken or correct. Hence reason is a follower of authority, and it may make mistakes.

Since the Sufis saw the mistakes of those who employ consideration, they turned to the path in which there is no confusion so that they might take things from the Eye of Certainty (ʿayn al-yaqīn) and become qualified by certain knowledge. (II 628.27)

Reason is full of meddling because reflection governs over it, along with all the faculties within man, since there is nothing greater than reason in following authority. Reason imagines it has God-given proofs, but it only has proofs given by reflection. Reflection's proofs let it take reason wherever it wants, while reason is like a blind man. No, it is even blinder in the path of God. The Folk of Allah do not follow the authority of their reflections, since a created thing should not follow the authority of another created thing. Hence they incline toward following God's authority. They come to know God through God, and He is as He says about Himself, not as meddlesome reason judges.

How is it proper for an intelligent man to follow the authority of the reflectivtive faculty, when he divides reflective consideration into correct and corrupt? Necessarily, he has need for a criterion (fāriq) with which to separate the correct from the corrupt, but he cannot possibly distinguish between correct and corrupt reflective consideration through reflective consideration itself. Necessarily, he has need for God in that.

As for us, when we want to discern correct reflective consideration from the corrupt so that we may judge by it, we first have recourse to God, asking Him to bestow upon us knowledge of the object without the use of reflection. The Tribe depends upon this and acts in accordance with it. This is the knowledge of the prophets, the friends and the possessors of knowledge among the Folk of Allah. They never transgress their places with their reflective powers. (II 290.14)

No one can have knowledge unless he knows things through his [its] own essence. Anyone who knows something through something added to his own essence is following the authority of that added thing in what it gives to him. Nothing in existence knows things through its own essence other than the One. The knowledge of things and not-things possessed by everything other than the One is a following of authority. Since it has been established that other than God cannot have knowledge of a thing without following authority, let us follow God's authority, especially in knowledge of Him.

Why do we say that nothing can be known by other than God except through following authority? Because man knows nothing except through one of the faculties given to him by God: the senses and reason. Hence man has to follow the authority of his sense perception in that which it gives, and sense perception may be mistaken, or it may correspond to the situation as it is in itself. Or, man has to follow the authority of his rational faculty in that which it gives to him, either the incontrovertible (darūra) or consideration. But reason follows the authority of reflection, some of which is correct and some of which is corrupt, so its knowledge of affairs is by chance (bi'l-ittifāq). Hence there is nothing but following authority.

Since this is the situation, the intelligent man who wants to know God should follow His authority in the reports He has given about Himself in His scriptures and upon the tongues of His messengers. When a person wants to know the things, but he cannot know them through what his faculties give him, he should strive in acts of obedience (tāʿāt) until the Real is his hearing, his seeing, and all his faculties [see hadith]. Then he will know all affairs through God and he will know God through God. In any case there is no escape from following authority, but once you know God through God and all things through God, then you will not be visited in that by ignorance, obfucations, doubts or uncertainties. Thus have I alerted you to something which has never before reached your ear!

The rational thinkers from among the people of consideration imagine that they know what consideration, sense perception, and reason have bestowed upon them, but they are following the authority of these things. Every faculty is prone to a certain kind of mistake. Though they may know this fact, they seek to throw themselves into error, for they distinguish between that within which sense perception, reason, and reflection may be mistaken and that within which it is not mistaken. But how can they know? Perhaps that which they have declared to be a mistake is correct. Nothing can eliminate this incurable disease, unless all a person's knowledge is known through God, not through other than Him. God knows through His own Essence, not through anything added to It. Hence you also will come to know through that through which He knows, since you follow the authority of Him who knows, who is not ignorant, and who follows the authority of no one. Anyone who follows the authority of other than God follows the authority of him who is visited by mistakes and who is correct only by chance.

Someone may object: "How do you know this? Perhaps you may be mistaken in these classifications without being aware of it. For in this you follow the authority of that which can be mistaken: reason and reflection."

We reply: You are correct. However, since we see nothing but following authority, we have preferred to follow the authority of him who is named "Messenger" and that which is named "the Speech of God." We followed their authority in knowledge until the Real was our hearing and our sight, so we came to know things through God and gained knowledge of these classifications through God. The fact that we were right to follow this authority was by chance, since, as we have said, whenever reason or any of the faculties accords with something as it is in itself, this is by chance. We do not hold that it is mistaken in every situation. We only say that we do not know how to distinguish its being wrong from its being right. But when the Real is all a person's faculties and he knows things through God, then he knows the difference between the faculties' being right and their being mistaken. This is what we maintain, and no one can deny it, for he finds it in himself.

Since this is so, occupy yourself with following that which God has commanded you: practicing obedience to Him, examining (murāqaba) the thoughts that occur to your heart, shame (hayā) before God, halting before His bounds, being alone (infirād) with Him, and preferring His side over yourself, until the Real is all your faculties, and you are { upon insight } (Sura 12 verse 108) in your affair.

Thus have I counselled you, for we have seen the Real report about Himself that He possesses things which rational proofs and sound reflective powers reject, even though they offer proofs that the report-giver speaks the truth and people must have faith in what he says. So follow the authority of your Lord, since there is no escape from following authority! Do not follow your rational faculty in its interpretation (taʿwil)! (II 298.2)

By following the authority of God, the wayfarer thereby passes beyond mere following authority, for then the knowledge he has received through the revealed Law can be "verified" within himself. Thus "verification and realization" (tahqīq) (of what he has learned) completes and perfects following (taqlīd).

This Tribe works toward acquiring something of what the divine reports have brought from the Real. They start to polish their hearts through invocations, reciting the Koran, freeing the locus [of God's self-disclosure] from taking possible things into consideration, presence (hudūr), and self-examination (murāqaba). They also keep their outward manifestation pure by halting within the bounds established by the Law, for example by averting the eyes from these things such as private parts which it is forbidden to look upon and by looking at those things which bring about heedfulness and clear seeing [?]. So also with the hearing, tongue, hand, foot, stomach, private parts, and heart. Outwardly there are only these seven, and the heart is the eighth. Such a person eliminates reflection from himself completely, since it disperses his singleminded concern (hamm). He secludes himself at the gate of his Lord, occupying himself with examining his heart, in hopes that God will open the gate for him and he will come to know what he did not know, those things which the messengers and the Folk of Allah know and which rational faculties cannot possibly perceive on their own.

When God opens the gate to the possessor of this heart, he actualizes a divine self-disclosure which gives to him that which accords with its own properties. Then he attributes to God things which he would not have dared to attribute to God earlier. He would not have described God that way except to the extent that it was brought by the divine reports. He used to take such things through following authority. Now he takes them through unveiling which corresponds with and confirms for him what the revealed scriptures and the messengers have mentioned. He used to ascribe those things to God through faith and as a mere narrator, without verifying their meanings or adding to them. Now he ascribes them to Him within himself, with a verified knowledge because of that which has been disclosed to him. (I 271.27)

True knowledge cannot be other than unveiled by God to His creature, and this is a knowledge without the intermediary of reflection or any other faculty. It is a given, according to the saying, "Knowledge is a light which God throws into the heart of whomsoever He will."

Sound knowledge is not given by reflection, nor by what the rational thinkers establish by means of their reflective powers. Sound knowledge is only that which God throws into the heart of the knower. It is a divine light for which God singles out any of His servants whom He will, whether angel, messenger, prophet, friend, or person of faith. He who has no unveiling has no knowledge (man lā kashf lahu lā ʿilm lahu). (I 218.19)

From Chittick's translation and comment on parts of the
Futuhat al-Makkiyya by Ibn ʿArabi:

"The Sufi Path Of Knowledge -
Ibn ʿArabi's Metaphysics of Imagination"

next page





latest update: 2020-04-15


* living Islam – Islamic Tradition *