#Article (Archive)

The Holy Quran and the Metaphysics of Ibn al-Arabi. (Part 6)

Jan 21, 2011, 2:22 PM

Without possessing or manifesting an aspect of finitude, God cannot be regarded as infinite; without assuming a mode of delimitation. He cannot be non-delimited; without the relative, He cannot be Absolute. Without the innumerable manifestations of these apparent contradictions of His own uniqueness, without such multiplicity within unity, and unity within multiplicity, ‘He is not He’. The very infinitude of the inner richness of unity overflows as the outward deployment of inexhaustible self-disclosures; this process is described as the tajalli or zuhur (theophanic revelation/manifestation). It is a process wherein on repetition is possible (la takrar fi al-tajalli); each phenomenon is unique in time, space and quality. In this complex and subtle conception of wujud, there is no contradiction between asserting the uniqueness of each phenomenon-each distinct locus for the manifestation of Being, each mazhar for the zuhur or tajalli of the one and only Reality-and the all-encompassing unity of being which transcends all phenomena. Multiplicity is comprised within unity, and unity is display by multiplicity.

This ontological perspective is to be applied on the plane of religion: there is no contradiction between asserting the uniqueness of a particular religion, on the one hand, and affirming the all-encompassing principle of religion which transcends the forms assumed by religion, on the other. The transcendence in question leaves intact the formal differences of the religions; for, these differences, defining the uniqueness of each religion, are by that very token irreducible; the formal differences can only be transcended in spiritual realization of the Essence, or at least, an intuition of this Essence. They cannot be abolished on their own level in a pseudo-esoteric quest for the supra-formal essence. For these differences are divinely willed; religious diversity expresses a particular mode of divine wisdom, which man must grasp if he is to do justice both to the formless Essence of religion, and the irreducible uniqueness of each religious form.

Ibn al-Arabi's conception of al-din, or religion as such, a religious essence that at once transcends and abides at the heart of all religions is in complete accord with the Quranic perspective on religious diversity; it helps one to see that an orientation towards this quintessential religion does not in the least imply a blurring of the boundaries between religions on the plane of their formal diversity. For one does not so much conceptually posit as spiritually intuit this essence of religion-in other words, one sees this 'heart' of religion with one’s own 'hear', rather than one's mind:      


My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's ka'ba and the tables of the Torah and the book of Koran. I follow the religion of love: whatever way Love's camels take, that is my religion and my faith. (Emphasis added)


The defining sprit of principled universality thus pertains to inner vision and does not translate into any modification of one's outer practice; it is on the basis of this religion of love, perceived by spiritual intuition, not formulated by rational speculation, that Ibn al- Arabi can issue the following warning to narrow-minded exclusivists:


Beware of being bound up by a particular creed and rejecting others as unbelief! If you do that you will fail to obtain a great benefit. Nay, you will fail to obtain the true knowledge of the reality. Try to make yourself a Prime Matter for all forms of religious belief. God is greater and wider than to be confined to one particular creed to the exclusion of others. For He says: 'To whichever direction you turn, there surely is the Face of God' (2:115).


One should note that this counsel resonates with Quranic warning to the same effect. This verse comes just before 2:115, quoted in the pervious citation from Ibn al-Arabi. Here, the attitude of religious exclusivism is censured, and the Muslim is told to transcend the level of inter-confessional polemics and focus on the essential pre-requisites of salvation: not belonging to such and such a religion, but submitting to God through one's religion, and manifesting the sincerity of that submission through virtue:


And they say: None entered Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. These are their own desires. Say: Bring your proof if ye are truthful. Nay, but whosoever surrendered his purpose to God while being virtuous, his reward is with his Lord; and there shall be no fear upon them, neither shall they grieve. (2:111-112)


The Quran excludes this kind of chauvinistic exclusivism by virtue of an implicit, and occasionally explicit, inclusivism; but it also includes its own mode of exclusivism, both implicitly and explicitly, in affirming the need to follow the particular religion of Islam. The Akbari principle of paradoxical synthesis of two apparently contradictory principles can clearly be seen at this level of revelation, and is indeed the ultimate source of Ibn al- 'Arabi's elaborate metaphysics. In keeping with the spirit of this metaphysical perspective, one must assert: I is only on the basis of the vision of the region of love that one can be 'liberated' from the limitations of one's own faith, for then, the escape is upwards, towards the essence of one's own, and every, faith; any attempt to loosen the bonds of one's own belief system, in the absence of this upwardly and inwardly essentialising movement of consciousness, is tantamount to simply dissolving the roots of one's religious identity, and leaving nothing in its place on the level where one cannot do without a sense of identity, that is, the human personality. The consciousness which is alone capable of transcending the formal limitations of religion is supra-personal: it has nothing to do with the empirical ego.


In passing, on might note that it is this dissolution which postmodern deconstruction engenders, deliberately or otherwise; one aspires to be liberated from the 'constructions' of belief, language, history, tradition, etc. by systematic demolition of these elements. But, in stark contrast to the spiritual 'deconstruction' of an Ibn al-'Arabi, there is no reconstruction of thought, belief and identity on a higher plane of being. Here it would be appropriate to return to the spiritual ascent, or mi’raj of Ibn al- 'Arabi mentioned earlier. It is important to note that in the course of this ascent, he undergoes a process of dissolution by means of which he is divested of various aspects of his being, such that he becomes aware that 'his' consciousness is no longer 'his', and the Real is realized as the essence of all consciousness and being. The degrees leading up to this unitive state are given in a description of the 'journey; of the saints to God, within God. In this journey the composite nature of the saint is dissolved,' first through being shown by God  the different elements of which his nature is composed, and the respective domains to which they belong; he then abandons each element to its appropriate domain:


The form of his leaving it behind is that God sends a barrier between that person and that part of himself he left behind in that sort of word, so that he is not aware of it. But he still has the awareness of what remains with him, until eventually he remains with the divine Mystery (sirr), which is the "specific aspect" extending from God to him. So when he alone remains, then God removes from him the barrier of the veil and he remains with God, just as everything else in him remained with (the world) corresponding to it.


The constitutive elements of human nature are ‘dissolved’ (or deconstructed) through being absorbed but those dimensions of cosmic existence to which they belong. Consciousness becomes rarified, purified and disentangled from matter and its subtle prolongations. As seen above, the 'culminating revelation' coming just before the experience extinctive union, was given in relation to the essence of all religions. Just as this realization of the essence of all religions does not entail any diminution of adherence to the form of one’s own religion, likewise, as regards consciousness as such, the realization of the essence of the Real in no way entails any diminution of one’s slave hood before the Real: ‘The slave remains always the slave’, according to a saying often repeated in Ibn al- 'Arabi's works. The ego remains always the ego, and this level of personal specificity cannot but entails what Ibn al-'Arabi refers to as' ubudiyya, slave hood…


To be continued