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Outline of Ibn al-Arabi's Cosmology:
[extracts from The Single Monad Model of the Cosmos: Ibn Arabi's Concept of Time and Creation]

Ibn ‘Arabî (560-638/1165-1240) was a great Sufi thinker of the Middle Ages and one of the most influential authors in Islamic history, whose writings have deeply influenced Islamic civilisation for centuries, and have more recently attracted wide interest in the West. The full name of Ibn al-‘Arabî (more commonly referred to in English without the definite article) is Abû ‘Abd Allâh Muhammad Ibn al-‘Arabî al-Hâtimî al-Tâ’î. He was born in Murcia (in eastern Andalusia), into a very pious and cultured family. When he was seven they moved to Seville, and at the age of 16 he 'entered on the path' (of Sufism). Then he travelled throughout and between Andalusia and Morocco for some years before a vision compelled him to go to the East. In 1201 he travelled to Cairo, Al-Quds (Jerusalem), and finally to Mecca for pilgrimage. His many works eventually brought him fame, and sometimes notoriety, so that he was eventually sought out by Seljuq and Ayyubid princes and accompanied by a group of disciples. Later on he came to be popularly called Muhyî al-Dîn ('The Reviver of Religion') and al-Shaykh al-Akbar ('the Greatest Master'). He continued travelling throughout the Middle East until he settled in Damascus in 1224, where he remained until his death in 1240.[1]
Ibn ‘Arabî's two most famous and influential works are al-Futûhât al-Makkiyya ('The Meccan Illuminations'), which is an encyclopaedic discussion of Islamic wisdom,[2] and the shorter Fusûs al-Hikam ('The Bezels of Wisdom'), which comprises twenty-seven chapters named after prophets who characterize different spiritual types. But Ibn ‘Arabî also wrote many other lesser known works, many of them now available in printed versions, such as the Kitâb al-Tajalliyyât, Tarjumân al-Ashwâq, Mashâhid al-Asrâr al-Qudsiyya, Mawâqi‘ al-Nujûm, ‘Uqlat al-Mustawfiz, Inshâ’ al-Dawâ’ir and al-Tadbîrât al-Ilâhiyya, in addition to about 29 shorter treatises more recently published in the Hyderabad collection commonly known as the Rasâ’il Ibn ‘Arabî, and many other shorter books and treatises. In one of his treatises, Ibn ‘Arabî himself listed 289 works, but as many as 350 books have been attributed to him.[3]

Ibn ‘Arabî was not an astronomer, and he was never interested in astronomy as a science. But as a Sufi and mystical theologian constantly inspired by the cosmological teachings and symbolism developed throughout the Qur’an and in a number of related Hadîth (Prophetic sayings), he talks about planets and orbs and their motion as a structure Allah created in His Image and relates them to the divine Names. He uses cosmology to refer to the ways we acquire more knowledge of Allah. Apart from few short treatises where he talks about some astronomy subjects mixed with philosophy and theology, Ibn ‘Arabî did not devote any special book to describing the heavens. Nevertheless, in his main book al-Futûhât al-Makkiyya ('The Meccan Illuminations': henceforth abbreviated as 'FM' and usually referred to as 'the Futûhât'), for example, we find many paragraphs that can be used to illustrate his profound view of the cosmos.
It can surely be said that Ibn ‘Arabî's view of the cosmos is truly challenging, even as compared to the latest modern theories. For example, he clearly declared that the stars are not fixed at all, more than seven centuries before this was scientifically known, and he explained why we see them as fixed. Moreover, he gave numbers to the average velocities of the proper motion of stars as 100 years per arc degree, which is quite consistent with the measurements taken only few decades ago [FM: III 548.28, II 441.33]; indeed he even used exactly the same unit of measurement now being used.[4] He also explained the observed 'retrograde motion' of some planets and the formation of the planets in the solar system in a similar manner to what is widely accepted today [FM: II 443.24, III 203.21].[5] But most important in this regard, as we shall explain at the end of this section, is that his view of the world is heliocentric: similar to what Copernicus suggested many centuries afterwards. He also clearly affirmed that the earth is spherical, moving and rotating, and he also explained why people do not realize the motion of the earth around its centre [FM: III 548.21, I 123.17, II 441.33].
 Ibn ‘Arabî's unique understanding of the process and reality of ongoing creation has been discussed by many scholars in some details. Ibn ‘Arabî himself mentioned in particular a number of key cosmological developments in chapter 371 and in the very detailed chapter 198 of the Futûhât, as well as in other cosmological books such as Inshâ‘ Al-Dawâ’ir, Al-Tadbîrât Al-Ilâhiyya and ‘Uqlat Al-Mustawfiz. William Chittick has devoted an immense volume (The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn Al-'Arabi's Cosmology)[6] and some chapters of other books[7] specifically to Ibn ‘Arabî's cosmology and ontology, and also Henry Corbin discussed some aspects in his pioneering study, now entitled in English Alone with the Alone, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabî.[8] Here I want to give a very short summary of Ibn ‘Arabî's cosmology, in a way somewhat different from the approach followed by Chittick and Corbin. I only want to give a general description of his cosmological views, without too much further analysis and explanation, so that we can concentrate on the central subject of time in the rest of the thesis. Also I will leave discussion of the ontological aspects of his cosmology to the coming chapters. Here I shall use the same figures Ibn ‘Arabî has drawn in chapter 371 of the Futûhât, and the following broad cosmological account is mainly drawn from that chapter [FM: III 416-448], along with a few paragraphs taken from the long chapter 198 [FM: II 390-478], of the same work.
 Ibn ‘Arabî's universe comprises both the material and the abstract, spiritual or noetic (‘aqlî) worlds; he says that the main reason for creating the cosmos is 'Love'. In explaining this underlying principle he often refers to a famous divine saying (the 'Hadîth of the Hidden Treasure')[9] which states that Allah 'loved' to be known in order to grant the creatures the privilege of coming to know Him. Thus Allah's love to be known is a Mercy (rahma) from Him that He wanted to grant to all His creatures. This Mercy is the first state of the presence of Allah with regard to the world to be created, and hence it formed the abstract place (or 'space') in which creations will appear. Following indications in another Prophetic Hadîth, Ibn ‘Arabî calls this abstract place al-‘amâ’ ('the Cloud').[10] According to his account, the reality of al-‘amâ’ accepted the forms of the 'Roaming Spirits' (al-arwâh al-muhayyama) that Allah created directly, without any intermediaries. This direct creation caused these angelic Spirits to roam in the presence of Allah, knowing nothing but Him. They did not even know about themselves (i.e., they had no self-consciousness). Allah appointed one of these spirits and granted him a special epiphany of divine Knowledge (tajallî ‘ilmî) that engraved in him all what Allah wants to create in this entire cosmos until the Last Day. The other primal Spirits could not know about that. This initial epiphany caused this Spirit—that is then called the 'Universal Intellect' (al-‘aql al-kullî) or the 'First Intellect' (al-‘aql al-awwal) or also, using a central Qur’anic symbol, the 'Higher Pen' (al-qalam al-a‘alâ)—to become aware both of himself and of the other Spirits, while they did not know about him.
Through this epiphany, the First Intellect saw himself composed of himself and of his further ability to realize or 'intelligise'. He also saw that he has an ontic 'shadow' caused by the Light of that special epiphany, which was realized through the divine Name 'the Light' (al-nûr). This shadow is his 'soul', which is called the 'Universal Soul' (al-nafs al-kulliyya) or the 'First Soul' (al-nafs al-ûlâ), or also the 'Highest/Protected Tablet' (al-lawh al-a‘alâ/al-mahfûz), in which he is going to write down what he knows is going to happen until the Last Day. The entire universe, then, is—to use a central Qur’anic symbolism—the 'letters' and 'words'[11] of Allah that are produced through 'the Breath of the All-Merciful',[12] and those words are continuously being written by the Highest Pen (the First Intellect) in the Highest Tablet (the Universal Soul). The following figure I 1 shows this Cloud and its contents down to the 'establishing Throne' (‘Arsh al-Istiwâ’).[13]
Figure I 1: 'The Cloud' and what it contains, down to the 'establishing Throne'.[14]
 
According to this account in chapter 371, the universe appeared in the Universal Soul through the Universal Intellect as the result of what Ibn ‘Arabî calls an 'abstract (or 'spiritual') marriage' (nikâh ma‘nawî). This is because everything that happens due to a particular cause is like a 'son of this cause, who is considered its 'father', and its 'mother' is the object where this 'son' appears or happens. Just as we are all (in our outer bodily dimension) the 'children' of Adam and Eve, all other things in the universe can be considered the 'children' of the Universal Intellect and the Universal Soul.
The Universal Soul has two forces mentioned in the figure above: the 'intellective force' (quwwa ‘ilmiyya) by which it perceives knowledge, and the 'active force' (quwwa ‘amaliyya) by which it preserves its existence through motion. The first thing the Universal Soul gives rise to, as indicated in the same figure, is twofold: 'the level of Nature'[15] and the 'Chaos' (al-habâ’: literally 'the Dust') or 'the Prime Matter' (al-hayûlâ al-ûlâ) [FM: I 140.14]. From here on, Ibn ‘Arabî uses the symbolic conjugal imagery of the 'wedding' of generative elements and of 'birth', at each successive level of creation or manifestation. Thus the Universal Soul first begets Nature and then Prime Matter or Chaos. Then Nature and Chaos in turn beget their first 'son', which is called the 'Universal Body' (al-jism al-kull). This symbolic process of cosmic 'births' continues in a long and defined series of causes and results until it reaches the 'soil' (turâb) [FM: I 140.17] which refers to physical matter in general. So the physical world appeared 'after' this Universal Body, while before that all was only spiritual.
 The first thing which was formed in (or by)[16] the Universal Body was the 'Throne' (al-‘Arsh) on which Allah established his authority (istiwâ’)[17] from His Name 'the All-Merciful' (al-Rahmân), which means that all creatures beneath the Throne are to be granted the creative Mercy of their existence from Him. Therefore the first thing that the Highest Pen or First Intellect wrote in the Higher Tablet (the Universal Soul) was this 'Throne' in which the entire creation (the cosmos) is to appear. All this is shown in the following figure I 2.
Fig. I 2: The establishing Throne and what it contains down to the Pedestal. [18]


Inside (or 'beneath') the divine Throne there appeared the 'Pedestal' (al-Kursî), whose relative dimensions and plenitude, in comparison to the infinitely vast noetic or spiritual dimension of the 'Throne', Ibn ‘Arabî compares here to ‘a tiny ring in a vast desert’. And within this 'Pedestal' is the 'Isotropic Orb' (al-falak al-atlas), which is shown to contain the sphere of the divisions of the zodiac (falak al-burûj) and the sphere of the stars (al-falak al-mukawkab), including beneath them the separate orbs of the five planets, sun, moon, and the earth. All this is shown in figures I 3 and I 4.
Fig. I 3: The (divine) Pedestal and what It contains down to the constellations.[19]


The Isotropic Orb or sphere is so called because it contains no stars yet nor any distinguishing feature; it is homogenous in all directions. The sphere of the zodiac was the first orb to be created inside the Isotropic Orb, and its surface was divided by human convention into the twelve equal parts that are traditionally assigned to the various zodiacal signs. (However, the actual physical stars of the zodiacal constellations are themselves situated in the lower, more strictly physical sphere of the fixed stars at the bottom of this diagram..) After that and below the zodiac orb, there is the vast space[20] in which Allah created the seven paradisiacal 'Gardens' (al-jinân, s. Janna)[21] named in the Qur’an, with their different states and levels which mark the symbolic 'meeting-place' between the purely spiritual realities of the divine Throne and the 'sensible' realities in the realm of the Pedestal.[22] The specific names of each of the seven Gardens are taken from related verses in the Qur’an and Hadîth. The word 'al-Wasîla' that twice crosses all the seven Gardens (in figure I 3) corresponds to 'the highest level in (the highest Garden of) Eden, and it belongs (specifically) to the Messenger (Muhammed) of Allah' [FM: I 319.14, also see I 658.30]. It is also known as 'al-maqâm al-mahmûd' ('the commendable station'), and it was called 'al-Wasîla' ('the Intermediary', or 'the Way (of Approach to Allah)') because 'through It Allah may be approached' [FM: II 87.9].
Then beneath the seven Gardens comes the orb of the (apparently) fixed stars, the constellations, and the 'houses' or 'mansions' (manâzil) of the moon. However, as we have already indicated above, Ibn ‘Arabî maintained that those stars are not fixed at all, but that our human time-scale is too short to notice their motion [FM: II 441.33].
The semi spherical skies that seem to be supported on the seven earths are to show the spiritual relation between heaven and earth. Otherwise, Ibn Arabî is fully aware of the spherical shape of earth. And the Pillar has also a spiritual meaning and it is the Perfect Man.
Fig. I 4: The orb of the constellations and what it contains down to the earth.[23]
 The orb of the fixed stars is (also conventionally) divided into 28 constellations or 'houses’ through which the moon appears to pass. Then inside this sphere of the stars, Allah created the 'seven (visible) heavens' (al-samawât) and the earth. And here Ibn ‘Arabî again points out that in relation to the divine 'Pedestal' (Kursî), the dimensions of our earth together with the seven visible heavens are like a ring in a vast desert—just as the Pedestal stands in that same relation to the immensity of the divine Throne.
Then Ibn ‘Arabî goes on to speak at length here (chapter 371 of the Futûhât) on the states and levels of the Gardens and Gahanna and other descriptions of the other world (al-âkhira). Here, however, we will restrict ourselves to this very short summary of a few general relevant cosmological points, because of our focus on the concept of time:
1-      First, we should note that Ibn ‘Arabî, following normal Arabic usage, also calls the sun and the moon 'planets'. But at the same time he clearly distinguishes between the nature of the planets (including the moon) and the sun itself, observing that the sun alone 'is responsible for illuminating all other planets above and below' [FM: II 170.22]. As is normal in Arabic writings (including astronomical ones), he also calls the stars by the same term as 'planets' (s. kawkab), yet he also knows that those stars are like the sun in that they emit their own light [FM: I 217.18].
2-      A first quick reading of Ibn ‘Arabî's texts about the world might reveal the same traditional Aristotelian (geocentric) cosmological worldview because, like most other ancient cosmologies (and apparently the Qur’an and Hadîth), he talks about 'seven (celestial) heavens' around or above the earth, each inhabited by a planet (including the sun and the moon, as shown in his Figure I 4 above). But Ibn ‘Arabî stresses in many places [FM: III 548.21, I 123.17, II 441.33], that this is only the apparent view for a person who is sitting on the earth, thus distinguishing between this apparent earthly view and the actual motion of the planets and stars themselves. So, for Ibn ‘Arabî, Aristotle's view is a view of the world 'as we see it, … while in itself it cannot be described like that' [FM: III 548.31]. He stresses the central position of the sun which he considers to be in the 'heart' (centre) of the seven heavens, and he emphasises the superiority of the sun over other planets that are even above it with relation to the earth: 'So the elevation of this place (the sun's orb) comes from its being the heart of orbs, so it is a high place for its status and the orbs that are above it in distance with relation to our heads, are still below it in status' [FM: III 441.33]. His actual view of the (local) world is therefore in some sense 'heliocentric', at least in relation to the unique central status or 'rank' (makâna) of the sun.
3-      As for those areas of the sphere of the fixed stars and the visible constellations normally specified by the twelve signs of the zodiac or the 28 houses of the Moon, Ibn ‘Arabî considers them as a mere convention, which do not necessarily relate to the actual positions of those particular stars. He says: 'The zodiac (constellations) are approximate positions, and they are houses for the moving planets' [FM: III 37.27]. And for the moon he says:
And those stars are called 'houses' because planets move through them, but otherwise there is no difference between them and other stars that are not houses.… They are assumptions and proportions in this body (of the sky) [FM: III 436.30].
Historically speaking, this remark was only confirmed very recently, when (as noted above) the spatial distribution of stars was determined and scientists discovered that the individual stars of constellations are not linked in any way other than by the 'figures' people perceive in the sky viewed from the earth. (See also Appendix IV for a detailed account of Ibn ‘Arabî's descriptions of the zodiac and the houses of the moon.)
4-      We cannot strictly separate the material world from the abstract or spiritual world, as they are really overlapped—or rather, all of the material worlds (of the 'Pedestal' and the visible heavens and earth below) are effectively contained within the immaterial divine 'Throne'. That is why Ibn ‘Arabî sometimes mixes the two views: for example he draws a pillar to refer to the Perfect Man, whom he considers to be the 'image of the Real' (i.e., of God) in the cosmos, so that without him the cosmos would collapse. He also speaks, following scriptural symbolism, about the seven heavens as being 'supported' on the seven (levels/regions of the) earths. But Ibn ‘Arabî does not consider that to be the actual physical picture of things, because he clearly states that the earth is spherical and that it rotates around its centre: 'But the motion of earth is not apparent for us, and its motion is to the middle (centre) because it is a sphere' [FM: I 123.17]. He even nicely explains why we don't feel the motion of the Earth and the cosmos in general (stars):
But people and most other creatures don't feel the motion of the cosmos because it is all moving so the witnessed dimensions does not change. And (also) that is why they imagine that the earth is stationary around the center [FM: II 677.21].
5-      We shall see later (in Chapter V, section 6) that this entire complicated system of the universe that is contained in space and time is continuously being re-created every single moment. That is to say that everything in the world lasts only for the instant of its existence, and then it is re-created again. This process of ongoing creation takes one full cosmic 'Week': six 'Days' for creating space, and Saturday for creating time. But we only witness of this Week our own time of creation which is the moment, the 'now'. We shall explain these distinctive ideas in more detail in Chapter III below.
This, then, is a brief summary description of Ibn ‘Arabî's cosmological view of the different dimensions of the world. But in order to understand how all of that is built up, we also need to explain Ibn ‘Arabî's unique conception of time—and that will emerge more clearly in its contrast to other conceptions of time in both Islamic and Western philosophy and science.

[1] For more information about Ibn ‘Arabî's life and intellectual background, see: Claude Addas, Quest for Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn ‘Arabî, (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1993). See also: The Unlimited Mercifier - The spiritual life and thought of Ibn ‘Arabî, by Stephen Hirtenstein, (Oxford: Anqa Publishing/Oregon: White Cloud Press, 1999).
[2] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Three Muslim Sages: Avicenna-Suhrawardi-Ibn ‘Arabî (NY: Caravan Books, 1964), pp. 92-98.
[3] For a list of Ibn ‘Arabî's works, see Appendix 1 in: The Unlimited Mercifier, by Stephen Hirtenstein, (Oxford: Anqa Publishing/Oregon: White Cloud Press, 1999). See also the list of his Arabic and translated works in the Bibliography at the end of this thesis.
[4] W. M. Smart, Textbook on Spherical Astronomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1977), p. 249.
[5] The 'retrograde motion' is a known phenomena that happens to some planets such as Saturn where at some times it appears moving in the sky from west to east and then suddenly it starts to move from east to west. Ptolemy devised a nice mathematical solution to explain this strange motion; although the suppositions he made were false, the model worked quite nicely which caused it to be accepted for over 1400 years until Copernicus proposed his heliocentric model.
[6] William C. Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn Al-'Arabi's Cosmology (Albany: State University of New York, December 1, 1997). From now on this will be abbreviated as SDG.
[7] William C. Chittick, Ibn al-'Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination: the Sufi Path of Knowledge (Albany: State University of New York, 1989), pp. 77-144. From now on this will be abbreviated as SPK.
[8] Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabî, trans. Ralph Manheim (New Jersey: Princeton University, 1969), Chapter III, p. 184.
[9] 'I was a hidden Treasure, so I loved to be known; so I created the creatures/creation so that I might be known.' This famous hadith qudsî ('divine saying') is not found in standard hadith collections, but is widely quoted by Sufis and especially Ibn ‘Arabî [FM: II 112.20, II 232.11, II 310.20, II 322.29, II 330.21, II 339.30, III 267.10, IV 428.7]. Some scholars of hadith therefore consider it a fabrication, but as William Chittck has pointed out, Ibn ‘Arabî believes that this hadith 'is sound on the basis of unveiling, but not established by way of transmission (naql)' [FM: II 399.28]. See also: SPK, p. 391, pp. 250-2, and SDG, pp. 21, 22, 70, 211, 329.
[10] In this hadith Prophet Muhammad was asked: 'Where was our Lord before He created the creatures?' He answered: 'He was in a Cloud (‘amâ’)' [Kanz 1185, 29851]. See also: SPK, p. 125, and SDG, p. 118, 153, 360. Ibn ‘Arabî discusses this hadith very often in the Futûhât: [FM: I 148.17, I 215.33, II 62.36, II 150.21, II 310.3, II 391.28, III 304.5, III 506.5].
[11] We shall see in Chapter V (section 00 [Superstrings]) that the fundamental 'blocks' in the universe are 'strings' or vibrations ('sounds' or 'notes'), which is similar to Ibn ‘Arabî's notion of the hierarchy of the 'men of breaths’ (rijâl al-anfâs). Therefore it is not only a symbolism to say that the entire universe is the 'letters' and 'words' of Allah.
[12] See: 'The Language of the Angels', by Pierre Lory, from 'The Breath of the All-Merciful' symposium held at Berkeley, 1998. Available as audio tape from the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabî Society, Oxford.
[13] This is different from the usual cosmological meaning of the divinenormal/usual) 'Throne', as we will see below. The 'establishing throne' is the throne on which 'Allah established His authority', alluding to the verse: 'Ar-Rahmân ‘ala al-‘arsh istawâ' (20:5).
[14] This diagram is translated from Ibn ‘Arabî's drawing in chapter 371 [FM: III 421].
[15] Nature here actually means 'the level of Nature' (martabat al-tabî‘a) (i.e., the four foundational elements) and not nature in the physical sense, which is the material world. Ibn ‘Arabî explains that the level of Nature does not have a separate physical existence:
so (God) the Glorious estimated the level of nature that if it has (real) existence it would be below the Soul, so even though it does not really exist, it is witnessed by the Real there. That is why He distinguished it and determined its level. It is with regard to natural beings just like in regard to the divine Names: they can be known and imagined, and their effects can appear and cannot be ignored, while in general they don't have any (separate) essence. Likewise, (the level of) Nature gives what is in its potential of sensible forms that are assigned to it and that have real existence, while it does not have real separate existence. So how strange is its state and how high its effect! [FM: II 430.8]
 See also: SPK, p. 139.
[16] As in figure I 3 above, the Universal Body seems to contain everything beneath it including the zodiac (with all the stars and galaxies). Alternatively, we can consider that the physical world is formed by (not 'in') the Universal Body because, like the Universal Intellect and Soul, this Body can be called the First Body because it was the first body to be created. As we shall see in Chapters V and VI below, the world both as material and spiritual is formed by the Single Monad through the continuous manifestations of this Monad. If we then consider that the First Body was the first 'elementary particle' to be formed by the Single Monad then the physical world is formed 'by' this First Body. The other possiblity is that the Universal Body is some sort of a huge cloud of matter in primary form, which then developed into stars and galaxies, in which case we could say that the physical world is formed 'in' the Universal Body.
[17] From the Qur’anic verse the All-Merciful mounted (established His authority) on the Throne (20:5) and other similar verses such as He created the Heavens and the earth in six days and then He mounted on the Throne (7:54, and the same meaning in other verses: 2:29, 10:3, 25:59, 32:4, 57:4). We shall see in Chapter III that, according to Ibn ‘Arabî the six directions of space were created by the process of God’s 'mounting' (istiwâ’) on the Throne in six days from Sunday to Friday.
[18] This diagram is translated from Ibn ‘Arabî's drawing in chapter 371 [FM: III 422].
[19] This diagram is translated from Ibn ‘Arabî's drawing in chapter 371 [FM: III 423].
[20] According to this diagram ….
[21] The Seven Heavens or Skies (samawât), for Ibn ‘Arabî, are the same seven celestial spheres where the five known planets plus the moon and the sun are, see figure I 4 below. These are different from the seven Gardens (jannât) of Paradise that are shown in figure I 3 above.
[22] Barzakh ???
[23] This diagram is translated from Ibn ‘Arabî's drawing in chapter 371 [FM: III 424].

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