Bismillaah ir Rahmaan ir Rahiim
In the name of Allah, The Merciful, The Compassionate
Metaphysics and Art in The Irfan of Ibn Arabi
By Nasrollah Hekmat
Translation and Commentary by Fleur Nassery Bonnin
This article consists of sections from the chapter on the Heart from the book titled "Metaphysics and Art in the Irfan (gnosis) of Ibn Arabi", written by Nasrollah Hekmat, professor of philosophy in Iran. His familiarity with Ibn Arabi's work throws some light on Ibn Arabi's profound yet dense writing so that more people can benefit from it.
In the following quotes we use certain Persian and Arabic terms which are common in the lexicon of Sufism. One of which is Irfan, which means gnosticism or mysticism.
Ma'refat, which means gnosis (direct knowing) of God or His manifest knowledge. Another term is Hadith Qudsi, which refers to what God has said directly to a prophet.
What is the Heart and Where is it?
Is this meaty cone shaped organ, which is on the left side of our chest and is constantly beating, the same heart that Ibn Arabi (known as Sheikh al Akbar, meaning the highest Sheikh) has called the house of God? In Ibn Arabi's magnum opus al Futuhat al Makiya (The Meccan Revelations) his response in short is: no, it is not that heart, but at the same time it is not without connection with that heart either. To make it more clear he calls the one beating in our chest Ghalbe Nabati, (vegetal heart), and the one which is the house of God and the place of descending knowledge and wisdom Latifeh Ensan which translates as human subtlety.
Heart in Ibn Arabi's irfanic view has a distinguished and prominent place and it plays a central role in the relationship between God and humans, as well as creation and Creator. In his view, the heart is the most vast created thing since God does not fit in anything in creation but He does fit in the heart of His believing servant, as well as it being said that the heart is the house of God.
In Ibn Arabi's famous book, Fusus al Hikam
(The Wisdom of the Prophets)
where each prophet manifests one aspect of wisdom that God has assigned to him, there is a chapter on the "Wisdom of the Heart" which is assigned to Prophet Shoayb, and in that chapter some of the secrets of the heart have been mentioned, but the vastness and might of the heart and its complexity makes understanding it quite difficult, or maybe it is not meant to be easily understood or revealed although that complexity does not stop the people who are in search of the truth in persevering and receiving from it.
In my last article I explained how important it is to have some real understanding and connection to the three parts of us through which we connect with our higher aspects and to our Creator.
From the point of view of Ibn Arabi, it is important to realise that the realm of real knowledge of reality is in constant correspondence "tataboq" with the outer knowledge. However, the human's faculty of intelligence cannot be open to this constant movement since, by its nature it needs to set parameters and find certainty therein.
The Human faculty of thinking and intelligence desires to be settled, and by having parameters, paints a calm and comfortable picture of the world so that one attempts to live a familiar and stable life. The problem is that this is not the reality of the journey of life. Therefore, this picture of false settling through one's understanding and its desire for comfort cuts the intelligence off from the Truth and Reality. There are aspects of the human being which get affected by this cutting off or rendering unaware. This situation also has affected the role of art from what it was meant to be to what it has become, as has been beautifully described in the book, but in this article we are only concentrating on the role and importance of the heart in the journey of life.
In order that humans not continually be trapped in the familiarity of the intellect which is cut off from the Reality, God the Creator has placed inside the human being these little holes facing toward the constant transmutation of the manifestations, so that man could see the light of Reality and the dance of the interchange, such that he becomes familiar with this dance. One of these holes, which is full of secrets, is dreams. They give the message to the sleeper, with all the faces they see, of the constant transmutation.
Heart's Constant Transition
Ibn Arabi enters exactly at this very point of the Divine constant transition, to introduce the heart as the centre of perception. Because the only area of the human being that is submerged in all sorts of forms and attributes and is constantly in the state of beating, turning, and becoming, is the heart. Despite this, throughout all these movements, it is in absolute compliance facing its Creator. As a result, the heart, having its face toward the constant transitions of the Divine transmutation, is also in constant movement and transmutation.
Compare the above to how we in life have turned the constant movement and transmutation of the heart toward senses and emotions due to interactions and events of life.
Transmutations occur in the heart due to Divine manifestations and transmutations in the created forms. The Heart is the place of reflecting these manifestations, since it is capable of receiving them. Therefore, knowledge of God (which is always from God) will only take place through the heart, not through the mind and intellect.
In the Qur'an, Sura Qaf 37, Allah says: "Truly in that is a reminder for whosoever has a heart, or gives ear as witness".
Ibn Arabi's read of the above verse is that the changes that take place in the world are a lesson and a reminder for the one who has the heart (not the one who has intellect) since the sentence also points to or reveals that not all people fall into the category of those who have such a heart. The condition that one can have such a heart is pointed to in the verse.
Since this heart is not the heart which is on the left side of the chest of human beings, if we were to ask Ibn Arabi: Where is the loci of all those interchanges and movements of the heart? He would clearly emphasise and retell the Hadith of the Prophet saying that it is between the two fingers of al Rahman and that He moves it in any way and form that He wants.
Since the heart of the human being is the mirror of God's manifestations (tajalli, pl. tajalliyat) and is directly in the hand of God, therefore one could understand why the Prophet said "Whoever knows his real self knows his Lord". This knowing is about the reality of the self and being aware of his inner interchange and familiar with his various modes of being in relation to his heart.
Lustre of the Heart
The mirror of the heart is receptive to the manifestation of the Divine, therefore it is very important to always be watchful so that no dust sits on the face of this mirror, since the clarity of the reflection of the tajalli
is in accordance with the clarity of the mirror.
One might wonder how could the face of this mirror get covered with dust?
Ibn Arabi's response is that the "heart is a shining and lustrous mirror and never becomes corroded". The mirror is always in the process of reflecting and showing a picture and this is exactly why the danger is so close, since a human being is constantly sitting on the border between his natural body and divine spirit, and is a mixture of dust and God. So whichever direction the mirror turns toward, it will show and reflect that clearly. It could keep showing the knowledge of secondaries (asbab) or the knowledge of God depending on what it is facing. All these make the situation for the heart unique and difficult as it is pulled in two opposite directions.
The real knowledge of the heart is the light that God throws to his special servants, or created beings, like prophets or awliya (friends of God) or mu'minoon (real believers). Whoever does not have revelations does not have real knowledge, and these revelations would only come about after spiritual journeying and passing through some difficult tasks. The interpretation of Ibn Arabi then is that if one lets go of turning towards God and gets involved and engaged with the issues and desires of the personality, these issues then fill the heart and the heart reflects only these secondaries. The mirror of the heart will be covered with a dark veil, since everything in the lower realm is dark. That is what is called the corroding of the mirror of the heart.
When someone asked the Prophet of Islam: "When a heart gets corroded, how can one change it and make it shining?" The Prophet answered: "The Zikr of God, continual remembrance takes the darkness away."
Therefore one needs to say that the corrosion or dust on the heart has various forms and in every person shows itself differently. The entire being of the heart which is located between the luminous fingers of al Rahman is lucid and transparent. The so called corrosion only occurs when veils come between it and al Haqq (God), the veils consist of attachment to various things in life which keeps the heart occupied and entertained, therefore it would present other than Haqq.
Spaciousness and Capacity of the Heart
Since the tajalliyat of al Haqq (manifestations of God) are infinite and the heart has the capability to receive them, this indicates the capacity and extent of the heart, as it is able to keep receiving the infinite manifestations of God. Ibn Arabi has explained this in his various books.
One of the names of God is الواسع
(which means the Expansive One).
Regarding the placement of God in the heart of the believer, Ibn Arabi refers to a famous Hadith Qudsi
, Allah Most High said: "The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me, but the heart of a true believer can"
. God, the expansive being who has created all of the creation within itself, has created something called The Heart, and this heart is more vast than the rest of His creation, since according to this Hadith
, nothing else in creation can contain Him except the heart.
Cognitive Contemplation versus Heart Contemplation
In relation to the contemplative ability of the heart regarding God almighty and containing Him in itself, Ibn Arabi says there is a secret here which he would just allude to and will not explain.
The secret that he is alluding to is the Hadith Qudsi, which is the backbone of Sufism, called 'the Hidden Treasure'. Abuala Afifi, who wrote the commentary on Ibn Arabi's famous book Fusus, called it the 'secret of creation'. Ibn Arabi has repeatedly referred to this Hadith of the Hidden Treasure in his various books and has explained it.
The translation of this Hadith
in which God is the speaker in answer to Prophet David's asking what was the purpose in the creation of the world, Allah responded
"I was a hidden and covered treasure and I loved to be known, I created the world so that I am known through that
If we gather all the various materials that Ibn Arabi has written in his various writings, we would be able to write a tremendous book on the "metaphysics of love", since from Ibn Arabi's perspective, existence, ma'refat, and love, all three are so intertwined that separation from one another is very difficult. Astonishingly however, is that the loci of the confluence of these three roaring rivers is the heart of the human being.
In relation to the Hadith
of the Hidden Treasure, Ibn Arabi points out that Allah tells us اعرفاناحببت
which means in Arabic that He loves to be known.
Therefore He created the world and He showed Himself to created beings, in order to be recognised and known. Therefore one could say the book of creation has been written with three words: love, creation, and ma'refat
. At the beginning there was "love" which created the "creation" in order to be "known" which is divine knowledge (ma'refat
So far we have explained the Hadith but we still have not explained the important point that Ibn Arabi has reached. That important point is that created beings could not know (recognise) God by themselves but only by God showing Himself to them, and by letting them recognise Him. If God did not have the desire and love of wanting to be known and recognised, the veils would not move out of the way and He would stay hidden and therefore creation would not have taken place. But now, for the love of being known, He pulls away the veils to be recognised. The person who reaches this knowing and manifestation of God through his heart, is the servant whom He allows to recognise Him.
So we can sum up that the recognition of the heart results in God showing and introducing Himself without complications, whereas philosophical or intellectual pursuit is like turning one's back to this direct looking and receiving. The intellect, due to its limitation, tries to go an indirect way of educating and understanding what could be.
Now we can say since God likes being recognised, He is constantly introducing or showing Himself, and transmitting knowledge so that He can be known, therefore whoever is after divine knowledge needs to choose the path on which God would show Himself, and that path is only the path of sincere real faith. Ibn Arabi emphasises that the path of divine knowledge, ma'refat can only go through real faith.
Also, in the Hadith Qudsi about al Haqq being contained in the heart mentioned above, Ibn Arabi points out that in this Hadith there is one condition mentioned as Allah says: the heart of My servant who is a mu'min (real believer) has the capacity of containing Me. That would exclude the servants who don't fall in the category of real believers.
Here lies the difference between religious belief versus having the love connection with God through the heart of the believer.
Heart is the House of Allah
"Neither My earth nor My sky have the capacity to hold Me but the heart of My believing servant has the capability of holding Me". (Hadith Qudsi)
When God created the land of your body, he placed a kaba
in it which is your heart, and He made this part to be the best part of the house of the mu'minoon
(the believers), due to its capability of receiving knowledge of God.
What Ibn Arabi is referring to is the mystical knowledge, not theoretical or scientific knowledge whose house is the mind and intellect.
In the land of the human being, there is a place called "heart" which is the house of Allah and can hold Him. The heart of the servant of God is the house of God, where He is.
The real meaning of the heart having the space to fit God in it, is that it is capable of knowing the vastness of God and His constant manifestations.
Also, in relation to the certainty of this knowledge in comparison to the possibility of errors in other kinds of knowledge, Ibn Arabi further adds that: since God has chosen the heart of His servant as His home and has placed the Irfanic, esoteric knowledge toward Himself in this place, He protects it and does not let "otherness" find its way into it.
We might ask the question about whether knowledge of the heart is solely related to God or whether through the heart one would have access to knowledge of things and the world?
The answer to this question is long and brings in more various human aspects but in short it is: When God appears for His servant, His appearance (manifestation) is in various and different forms and faces, and as was mentioned earlier, God Almighty is the protector of the heart of His servant and does not let other than Himself enter into it.
Therefore we can conclude from the two issues above that whoever through his heart reaches the realities of the Real, he would reach the real knowledge of everything and will not go astray, whereas the knowledge of mind and intellect is subject to errors.
Prostration of the Heart
On the one hand, as we have already covered, knowledge of the heart means reception of tajalliyat of Haqq
, and on the other, every one of God's Divine Names has got its own manifestation.
Therefore the heart needs to be constantly prepared to receive the Names. Ibn Arabi calls this reception, prostration (sujud
) and he says that the heart has to prostrate in relation to any of the Names at each given moment. Since the Names of Allah which are His attributes are infinite, the tajalliyat
are constantly happening one after the other. Therefore the heart needs to be constantly and without a moments lapse going from one prostration into another (this is different from the outward form of prostration which is more of a ritual prayer). From the point of view of Ibn Arabi there is no state higher than the prostration of the heart, because the prostration is the state of knowledge of the core of existence, and this knowledge contains the knowledge of everything in existence.
The base and core of existence is the oneness of the Creator, the same way as the base of all numbers is the number one. Existence of all the other numbers depends on the existence of the number one which is hidden in all the various numbers. So if someone does not believe in the oneness of the Creator, he submits to multiplicity and would therefore lose the reality of himself and in turn he would lose his recognition of his Creator.
In the prostration of the heart one can access and submit to the reality of the knowledge of the oneness of the Creator and the creation. This is the knowledge in which mistakes do not enter.
The outer explanation of the above inner reality is captured in a sentence regarding the ritual prayer which is: "While you are in the state of prostration you are safe from Shaytan, since in this state of prostration he cannot have power over you".
This is where Ibn Arabi says God has ordered prostration
not only for the apparent aspects of insan
(human being) but also for the hidden aspect of him. When the inward and the outward aspects of the human being are intertwined, without any doubt the path of wisdom is more available and easier to traverse.
The inner and outer aspects of the human being are facing towards the Kaba during prayer, the heart which is in the hidden part of the human also needs to prostrate to God.
Since at the time of creation, God divided the (knowledge of all things) into two parts, hidden and apparent, He has made the nafs of the salek
both hidden and apparent. 18
The journey of life is about the movement on the path from the apparent to the hidden.
As long as there are parts that are hidden, there are still parts of this journey not reached and he cannot stop moving and he cannot just put his bags down!
Jesus asked when he was with his companions, "Where does the seed grow?" They said "In the earth", Jesus said "knowledge is also like a seed that only grows in the land of the heart". Ibn Arabi says Jesus means that knowledge grows from the humility of the heart. In order to grow and become green and have fruit the humility of throwing himself on the ground in prostration is necessary.
If the seed wants to grow he has got no choice except to throw himself to the earth and become humble and prostrate towards the very thing that has created him and can make him grow. If the seed turns his face away from the dirt or soil and puts his back towards it, no matter where he goes and what position he is at, he would never grow and become green and fruitful.
Transmutation of the heart of the Aaref is that of one prostration after another because he is a follower of every changing transition of the tajalliyat of the divine Names. The hearts of the majority of the people are also in constant transformation and transmutation because the nature of the qalb (heart) is that it needs to be constantly reflecting, but the difference between the hearts of the majority of the people and the heart of the Aaref is that the former is constantly entangled with the thoughts that come from the manifestations of the life events. Truly how much there is a difference between these two stations! The latter with the transmutation of the heart transcends and reaches the light of perfection, the former descends into the dark veil of earthly life.
Ibn Arabi has said: "In the year 627 (hegira), in the city of Damascus, I saw the Prophet (s.a.) in a dream, and in his hand was a book and he said to me: 'This is the book of the Fusus al-Hikam. Take it and bring it out to the people who will benefit by it.' And I said I heard and obeyed God the High and His Prophet".
al Futuhat al Makiya Book 5, page 294
Futuhat Book 5, page 295
The Way Of Allah; Ibn Arabi, page 208
Futuhat Book 7, page 10
Afifi, Fusus Chapter 27
Futuhat Book 7, page 10
Futuhat Book 7, page 10
Articles of Ibn Arabi, Book 1, page 260
Futuhat Book 7, page 10
Futuhat Book 8, page 172
Articles of Ibn Arabi Book 2, page 233
Futuhat Book 6, page 16