The Single Monad Model of the Cosmos
|The Single Monad Model of the Cosmos: Ibn Arabi's Concept of Time and Creation|
These articles are extracts from The Single Monad Model of the Cosmos: Ibn Arabi's Concept of Time and Creation, by Mohamed Haj Yousef
Beginning in the twelfth century, Arab scholars, scribes and various translators gradually introduced Europe to the science of astronomy as it had developed in Islamic civilisation, based on earlier Hellenistic models (primarily Ptolemy and Aristotle). But once the Catholic Church had decided to adopt the Ptolemaic/Aristotelian geocentric cosmological model as a theological principle, it considered scientists who criticized this model as heretics. Therefore, the Polish scientist Nicolai Copernicus (1473-1544 AD) circulated his heliocentric model anonymously, and his book De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestrium ('On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs'), was not published until 1543, just one year before his death. In this model, Copernicus postulated that the sun and the stars are stationary and the earth and the planets circulated around the sun in circular orbits.
It was not until 1609, when Galileo invented the telescope, that Aristotle's and Ptolemy's geocentric model of the universe was completely discarded by knowledgeable researchers, and replaced by the heliocentric model (Drake 1990: 145-63). At around the same date (1609-1619), the scientist Johannes Kepler formulated three mathematical statements that accurately described the revolution of the planets around the sun. In 1687, in his major book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton provided his famous theory of gravity, which supported the Copernican model and explained how bodies more generally move in space and time (Hall 1992: 202).
Newton's mechanics were good enough to be applied to the solar system, but as a cosmological theory it was completely false insofar as it still considered, like Aristotle, the stars to be fixed and the universe outside the solar system to be static. Although a dynamic universe could easily be predicted according to Newton's theory of gravity, the belief in the Aristotelian static universe was so deep and strong that it persisted for some three centuries after Newton (Seeds 1990: 86-107).
In 1718, Edmund Halley compared the positions of stars recorded by the Babylonians and other ancient astronomers with the latest observations and realized that the positions of some of the stars were not the same as they had been thousands of years earlier. Some of the stars were in fact slightly displaced from the rest by a small but noticeable amount. This is called 'proper motion', which is the apparent motion of the star (perpendicular to the line of sight) in relation to the background stars that are very far away. In 1783, William Herschel discovered the solar motion, the sun's motion relative to the stars in its galactic neighbourhood. Herschel also showed that the sun and other stars are arranged like the 'grains of abrasive in a grindstone' (Ferguson 1999: 162-5), which is now called the Milky Way galaxy. More than a century later, in 1924, Hubble was able to measure distances to some stars (based on the 'redshift'), and he showed that some bright dots that we see in the sky are actually other galaxies like ours, although they look so small because they are very far away (Hartmann 1990: 373-5).
The Aristotelian theory of a static universe (i.e., of all the stars) had to be reviewed after Hubble's discovery of the redshift of light coming from all distant stars, which indicated that everything in the universe is actually moving; just as Ibn ‘Arabî had said many centuries before. In his bestselling book of the eighties, Stephen Hawking says:
Even Einstein, when he formulated the general theory of relativity in 1915, was so sure that the universe had to be static that he modified his theory to make this possible, introducing a so-called cosmological constant into his equations.
(Hawking 1998: 42)
This of course was soon proved to be wrong, and everybody now knows that the cosmos is in continuous motion. Einstein himself later considered this to be one of his greatest mistakes. Ibn ‘Arabî, however, declared plainly that the stars can't be fixed at all, and he even gave numbers and units to the speed of their proper motion [III.548.28, II.441.33], which are consistent with the latest accurate measurements.
After these developments, and with the advent of new technologies employed in making even more accurate observations, in addition to accelerated research in physics and astronomy, a whole new view of the cosmos finally replaced the ancient short-sighted ones. However, we cannot ever claim that all the questions have been answered and that we have drawn a fully correct picture of the cosmos. On the contrary, new sets of even more profound questions are still a riddle, such as dark matter and the Einstein- Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paradox (see section VII.6).
Along with the vast amount of data collected by telescopes and space shuttles in recent decades, many new theories have arisen to try to explain those observations. The mere concepts of 'time' and 'space' were in focus especially after the strange and courageous ideas of Einstein about relative and curved spacetime were proved by Eddington through the observation of the total eclipse of the sun in 1918 in South Africa. Since then, other theories including Quantum Mechanics, the Field Theory, the Superstrings Theory and Quantum Gravity Theory, have tried to discover and describe the actual relation between material objects and energy, on one hand, and between space and time on the other hand. Yet no fully convincing view has ever been achieved.
 The geocentric view considers the earth to be in the centre of the universe, while the heliocentric view considers the sun to be in the centre. Modern cosmology, however, asserts that the universe, being a closed spacetime arena, doesn't have a centre; any point may be considered a centre, just as any point on the surface of the earth may be considered a centre (with regard to the surface, not to the volume). So whether the earth or the sun is in the centre of the universe is a valid question only with regard to the solar system which was the known universe in early cosmology, but it is no longer valid after discovering the galaxies and the huge distances between stars outside the solar system. It is worth mentioning here that Ibn ‘Arabî clearly asserted that the universe doesn't have a centre [II.677.19].
 For more information about this subject see: Bieńkowski, B. (1972), 'From Negation to Acceptance (The Reception of the Heliocentric Theory in Polish Schools in the seventeenth and eighteenth Centuries)', in The Perception of Copernicus' Heliocentric Theory: Proceedings of a Symposium Organized by the Nicolas Copernicus Committee of the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science, ed. Jerzy Dobrzycki, Boston: D. Reidel Pub.: 79-116.
 The redshift is the displacement (towards the red side) of the spectral lines of the light emitted by stars when it is received on the earth, and this is due to the high speed of the motion of stars away from us. The amount of the shift towards the red is directly proportional to the distance of the star away from us, and this is how distances to far-away stars and galaxies are calculated with a high degree of accuracy.
Since Copernicus' time, our view of the cosmos has grown both larger and more accurate. It is not our purpose here to explain the modern complicated theories of cosmology, but simply to summarize the present picture of the cosmos as seen by scientists. Our modern picture of the cosmos dates back only to 1924, when Edwin Hubble showed that our galaxy is not the only one in space; many of the faint spots of light that we see in the sky are in fact other galaxies as large as our own, but we only see them so small because they are extremely far deep in space.
Due to the force of gravity, everything in the sky is moving or orbiting around some point in space. The moon orbits around the earth, and the earth and other planets orbit around the sun, which also orbits—along with other hundreds of thousands of millions of stars—around the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, which is in turn one of thousands of millions of galaxies all flying through the vast distances of space.
In order to give a clear spatial view of this immense universe, it is better to use big units of distance instead of using big numbers. The best accepted units of distance in cosmology are the 'light year' (9,500,000,000,000,000 meters), which is the distance travelled by light in one year, and the 'parsec', which equals 3.26 light years. Light travelling at 300,000 km/sec can go seven times around the earth (which has a circumference of approximately 44,000 km) in one second, but it takes 8.33 minutes to reach us from the sun (150,000,000 km). Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to us apart from the sun, is about 4.24 light years away. Our galaxy, like most other galaxies, is a collection of about 200 billion stars plus thousands of clusters and nebulae that form together a disc of more than 100,000 light years in diameter, and that is about 15,000 light years thick. The nearest galaxy to us lies in the Andromeda constellation, and it is about 2.9 million light-years away. Then galaxies are grouped in somewhat irregular clusters that greatly differ in size between millions to hundreds of millions of light years. The most distant objects discovered so far are about 13 billion light years away. These numbers above are simply approximate, just to give an idea of where we are (Hartmann 1990: 413).
It is now also well established that everything in the world is moving: nearby stars have proper motion, because they are pulled towards the centre of the galaxy, and galaxies are moving away from us, because the universe is expanding. On the other hand, and despite these various motions, the universe doesn't have a centre or edges. It is hard to imagine, but the universe is contained or curved around itself so that if you fly straight in one direction and keep moving in a straight line you will one day, if you could live long enough, come back from the opposite direction to the same point (supposing no gravitational fluctuations), just as it would happen to a person travelling around the earth.
The stars that we see in the sky are, just like our sun, huge nuclear fusion reactors that are constantly converting hydrogen into heavier elements and hence producing heat and light. But not all stars are the same: some are big and some are small; some are young and some are old; some are bright and some are faint. Also, many stars are dying and many others are born all the time in a process of very complicated evolution (Seeds 1990: 134-281).
So how is all this explained according to the new cosmological theories? We can't discuss here all the different theories in physics and cosmology, but we want to note a quick summary of the basic principles of the different models of the cosmos so that we can understand the potential importance of the 'Single Monad model' which we are going to propose in the last chapter of this book, based on Ibn ‘Arabî's unique understanding of time and his famous theory of the oneness of being.
Summary of Modern Theories of Cosmology:
After the amazing discoveries and the enormous amount of data obtained by telescopes and space shuttles, and with the success of the theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, scientists tried to build new cosmological models to explain the structure and origin of the universe based on the new information. We shall give here a very short summary of the major theories of cosmology that have developed recently.
Scientists up to the beginning of the twentieth century believed in a stationary universe outside the solar system, but this was soon proven to be wrong. Actually the same theory that Einstein first tried to make fit a steady universe and fixed stars later proved that the universe is expanding. This implied that the universe had started at one moment, about fifteen billion years ago, from a very small point, but with very high density, and then it expanded to its present state. This was called the 'Big Bang', and many cosmological models were developed based on this view (Narlikar 1995: ch.2, ch.5).
The 'Steady State' theory tried to explain the expansion of the universe by supposing a continuous creation of matter that filled the space produced by the expansion, but the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1965 by Penzias and Wilson caused the Steady State model to be completely discarded. The background radiation was interpreted as the faint afterglow of the intense radiation of a 'Hot Big Bang', which had been predicted by Alpher and Hermann back in 1949, although some people also attribute it to Gamov back in 1946 (Dolgov 1990: 11).
The problem with the background radiation was that all measurements showed it to be very uniform in all directions. This isotropy of the background radiation was a riddle because with homogeneity no stars or galaxies could be produced (Taylor 1993: 194). It was only in 1992 that NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer satellite (COBE) detected the first anisotropies in this background radiation: one part in a hundred thousand, which may indicate the seeds from which galaxies formed (Schewe 1992: 1).
The Big Bang model was very good in explaining many of the observations, yet on the other hand there were many contradictions (Linde 1990: 4). Many of these theoretical contradictions were resolved by the 'inflationary scenario' devised by Alan Guth in 1979. Guth looked at a very early stage in the development of the universe from about 10-32 to 10-43 of a second after the initial creation. During this period matter was in very highly excited states, causing the most extreme conditions of high density and pressure which made the cosmos expand exponentially, filling the universe with an intense dense fire of particles and photons (Linde 1990: 42).
In classical (Newtonian) mechanics, one could predict the behaviour of a system if one exactly knew its initial state. But in Quantum Mechanics, we can only calculate the probability of how the system will evolve (White 1966: 29). In either case, however, the main problem in cosmology is to determine the initial state that the laws should be applied to. One successful approach to get round this problem is to work backwards by using the observed properties of the universe to deduce what it was like in an earlier state.
The problem with the inflationary theory is that, in order for inflation to have occurred, the universe must have been formed containing some matter in a highly excited state, but the next question is why this matter was in such an excited state. To overcome this, some scientists tried to apply Quantum Mechanics to the whole universe, and the result was the theory of Quantum Cosmology. This may sound absurd, because typically large systems (such as the universe) obey classical, not quantum, laws. Einstein's theory of General Relativity is a classical theory that accurately describes the evolution of the universe from the first fraction of a second of its existence up to now. However it is known that General Relativity is inconsistent with the principles of Quantum Theory, and is therefore not an appropriate description of the physical processes that occur at very small length scales or over very short times. To describe such processes we require the theory of Quantum Gravity.
In non-gravitational physics, the approach to quantum theory that has proved most successful involves mathematical objects known as 'Path Integrals' that were introduced by the Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman. In the Path Integral approach, the probability that a system in an initial state A will evolve to a final state B is given by adding up a contribution from every possible history of the system that starts in A and ends in B. For large systems, contributions from similar histories cancel each other in the sum and only one history is important. This history is the history that classical physics would predict. At any moment, the universe is described by the geometry of the three spatial dimensions as well as by any matter fields that may be present. Given this data, one can in principle use the Path Integral to calculate the probability of evolving to any other prescribed state at a later time. However, this still requires knowledge of the initial state.
Quantum Cosmology is a possible solution to this problem. In 1983, Stephen Hawking and James Hartle developed a theory of Quantum Cosmology which has become known as the 'No Boundary Proposal'. In practice, calculating probabilities in Quantum Cosmology using the full Path Integral is formidably difficult and an approximation has to be used. This is known as the 'semi-classical approximation', because its validity lies somewhere between that of classical and quantum physics. In the semi-classical approximation, one argues that most of the four-dimensional (spacetime) geometries occurring in the Path Integral will give very small contributions to the Path Integral and hence these can be neglected, so we can deal only with three dimensions (space). The Path Integral can be calculated by just considering a few geometries that give a particularly large contribution. These are known as 'Instantons' (from 'the instant', because it aims at omitting time, so it is like a snapshot that takes into account only the three coordinates of space), which describes the spontaneous appearance of a universe from literally nothing. In this way we don't have to think about the cosmos as something that takes place inside some bigger spacetime arena. Once the universe exists, Quantum Cosmology can be approximated by General Relativity, so time appears.
Research in these areas is still ongoing, but one of the many outstanding problems in trying to construct a quantum field theory of gravitation concerns the appropriate interpretation of quantum states for configurations that make no overt reference to 'time'. We shall see by the end of this book that Ibn ‘Arabî's understanding of time could be a key to eliminating these peculiarities, because he simply views the world as an eternal existence that is perpetually being re-created. He also unified space and time in a manner that has apparently never been thought of before or since.
 For more information about the principles of quantum cosmology, see: Linde, A. D. (1990), Inflation and Quantum Cosmology, San Diego: Academic Press: chapter 3 [Quantum Cosmology and the Stochastic Approach to Inflation].
Everybody feels time, and most people do not question it because they experience everyday and it is so familiar (Fraser 1987: 17-22). But if we want to understand the nature of time we have to answer many basic questions such as:
· What really is time?
· Can we stop it?
· Can we reverse it?
· Is the flow of time universal or is it related to the observer?
· When was the beginning of time, and does it have an end?
· Does time exist objectively, or is it only a construct of our imagination?
· What is the relationship between time and space?
· What is the structure of time?
· Is time continuous or discrete?
· What does the word 'now' or 'moment' mean?
· Why does time move into the past?
· What is the reality of the future?
These and many other similar questions have been the subject of philosophy, physics and cosmology for many centuries, with little progress in finding convincing answers. The question: 'What is time?' is more like the question: 'What is love?', because it is something that everybody can feel it, but no one can give an exact definition of it. If you ask this question to many people, you will certainly get as many answers. St. Augustine, in his Confessions, asks, 'What is time?' When no one asks him, he knows; when someone asks him, however, he doesn't know (EP, 'Time', VIII, 126).
The understanding of time was very important for early man from both the practical view, where he needed to anticipate major events such as floods and harvest time, and from the philosophical view, which is based on sheer curiosity and love of knowledge. Many religions and ancient philosophies, therefore, have tried to answer some questions about time. Some of these religions and philosophies consider time as circular with no beginning or end, some consider it as linear with infinite extension in the past and in the future, and others consider it as imaginary, while real existence is for motion or moving bodies only.
The concept of time is necessary when we ask about the chronological order of things and the duration of events. And because our life is full of events of all types, so time has its signature in all aspects of life. Some examples are: the aging process in biology, timekeeping in mechanics, the arrow of time and entropy in thermodynamics, and the radically varying psychical time that one feels when waiting for something or in other circumstances. Therefore, in order to understand the reality of time, one needs to explore many closely related fields like physics, biology, psychology and cosmology.
In recent centuries, with the revolutionary new concepts in physics and cosmology in addition to modern technology, increasing accuracy of time became very important because it is the reference for the extremely complicated motions—of the different parts of a machine for example—that have to work together in coherence. The critical importance of timing events both on earth and in space was enhanced by precise time-keeping machines like electronic clocks, atomic clocks, and pulsars which are fast-rotating stars that emit short radio pulses at regular intervals with extremely high precision. But despite the new abstract concepts about time like 'time travel' and the 'curvature of time' brought about by the theory of Relativity, our modern concept of time has usually remained quite practical because everything has to be done according to the clock. In fact, the modern theories of physics and cosmology have added more questions and paradoxes about time than they answered (Grünbaum 1971: 195-230).
In general we can detect two major opposing views in the philosophy of time:
1- the rational (realistic) view based on the physical understanding of the world,
2- the idealistic (perhaps apparently 'irrational') view based on metaphysics.
Rationalists believe that the mind is the most powerful force of man and is able to understand everything in the world, while the irrationalists consider the world, including time, as something beyond the capabilities of our minds. For the idealist, nothing, including time, exists independent of the mind. Therefore the idealist believes that time is a construct of our mind and doesn't have a separate existence.
Ibn ‘Arabî (560-638AH/1165-1240AD) 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.
Ibn ‘Arabî's two most famous and influential works are al-Futûhât al-Makkiyya ('The Meccan Illuminations'), an encyclopaedic discussion of Islamic wisdom (Nasr 1964: 92-8), 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 print, 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 29 shorter treatises 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 titles, which increase to 317 confirmed works when added to other titles he mentioned throughout his various books. More than 850 books have been attributed to him.
Ibn ‘Arabî was not an astronomer, and 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 Hadith (Prophetic sayings), he talks about planets and orbs and their motion as a structure Allah created on His Image (see section III.2) and relates them to the divine Names. He uses cosmology to refer to the ways we acquire more knowledge of Allah. Apart from a few short treatises where he talks about some astronomy subjects mixed with philosophy and theology, Ibn ‘Arabî didn't devote any special book to describing the heavens. Nevertheless, in his major book al-Futûhât al-Makkiyya ('The Meccan Illuminations' - henceforth 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 don't see their motion. 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 [III.548.28, II.441.33]; indeed he even used exactly the same unit of measurement now being used (Smart 1977: 249) at a time when no such measurements were possible at all. 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 [II.443.24, III.203.21]. But most important in this regard 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 don't realize the motion of the earth around its centre [I.123.17, II.441.33, III.548.21].
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 called "The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn al-‘Arabi's Cosmology" (this will be abbreviated as ‘SDG’) specifically to Ibn ‘Arabî's cosmology and ontology, in addition to some chapters of other books like "The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-‘Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination" (this will be abbreviated as ‘SPK’), 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 (Crbin 1969: 184). Here we 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. We 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 book. Also we will leave the discussion of the ontological aspects of his cosmology to the following chapters (see in particular section II.3). Here in the following we shall use the same figures Ibn ‘Arabî drew in chapter 371 of the Futûhât, and the following broad cosmological account is mainly drawn from that chapter [III.416-448], along with a few paragraphs taken from the long chapter 198 [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 'Hadith of the Hidden Treasure') 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 would appear. Following indications in another Prophetic Hadith, Ibn ‘Arabî calls this abstract place al-‘amâ’ ('the Cloud'). 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 didn't know about him.
Through this epiphany, the First Intellect saw himself composed of himself and of his further ability to realize or 'intelligize'. 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 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' of Allah that are produced through 'the Breath of the All-Merciful'. We shall see in section V.8) 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, and those words are continuously being written by the Highest Pen (the First Intellect) in the Highest Tablet (the Universal Soul). Figure I.1 shows this Cloud and its contents down to the 'establishing Throne' (‘Arsh al-Istiwâ’), which is different from the usual cosmological meaning of the divine (normal/usual) 'Throne'. The 'establishing throne' is the throne on which 'Allah established His authority', alluding to the verse: 'ar-Rahmân ‘ala al-‘arsh istawâ' (20:5).
Figure I.1: 'The Cloud' and what it contains, down to the 'establishing Throne'. This diagram is translated from Ibn ‘Arabî's drawing in chapter 371 [III 421].
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 I.1: 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' and the 'Chaos' (al-habâ’: literally 'the Dust') or 'the Prime Matter' (al-hayûlâ al-ûlâ) [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 Dust. Then Nature and Dust 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) [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.
As in Figure I.3, 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. In addition to that, 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 possibility 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. The first thing which was formed in (or by) the Universal Body was the 'Throne' (al-‘Arsh) on which Allah established his authority (istiwâ’) 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 Figure I.2.
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 Figure I.3 and Figure I.4.
Figure I.2: The establishing Throne and what it contains down to the Pedestal. This diagram is translated from Ibn ‘Arabî's drawing in chapter 371 [III 422]. We put the title as it is in the original text, though we notice that the diagram shows the Prime Matter and the Universal Body, in addition to the Throne down to the Pedestal.
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. According to the diagram in Figure I.3 and Ibn ‘Arabî comments on it in chater 371 of the Futûhât, it is evident that he was ware of the large distances between the galaxies because the fixed stars are in our galaxy while the zodiac signs are other galaxies placed very far away. In this fast space Allah created the seven paradisiacal 'Gardens' (al-jinân, s. janna) named in the Qur’an, with their different states and levels marking the symbolic 'meeting-place' between the purely spiritual realities of the divine Throne and the 'sensible' realities in the realm of the Pedestal.
Figure I.3: The (divine) Pedestal and what it contains down to the constellations. This diagram is translated from Ibn ‘Arabî's drawing in chapter 371 [III 423].
The specific names of each of the seven Gardens are taken from related verses in the Qur’an and Hadith, and they are different from the Seven Heavens or Skies (samawât) which are, for Ibn ‘Arabî, the same seven celestial spheres where the five known planets plus the moon and the sun are, as shown in Figure I.4 and Figure I.3. 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' [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' [II.87.9].
Figure I.4: The orb of the constellations and what it contains down to the earth. This diagram is translated from Ibn ‘Arabî's drawing in chapter 371 [III 424].
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, Ibn ‘Arabî maintained that those stars are not fixed at all, but that our human time-scale is too short to notice their motion [II.441.33].
The orb of the fixed stars is (also conventionally) divided into twenty eight 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 speaks at length (chapter 371 of the Futûhât) on the states and levels of the Gardens and Gehenna and other descriptions of the other world (al-âkhira). Here, however, we shall restrict ourselves to this very short summary of a few general relevant cosmological points, because of our focus on the concept of time.
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' [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 [I.217.18].
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 Hadith), 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). But Ibn ‘Arabî stresses in many places [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' [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 emphasizes 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' [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.
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 twenty eight 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' [III.37.27]. And for the moon he says that '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 only assumptions and proportions in this body (of the sky)' [III.436.30].
On the other hand, 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'. This is why Ibn ‘Arabî sometimes mixes the two views: for example he drew a pillar to refer to the Perfect Human Being, 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 the earth is not apparent for us, and its motion is around the middle (centre) because it is a sphere' [I.123.17]. He even nicely explains why we don't feel the motion of the Earth and the cosmos in general (stars). For example he says that people and most other creatures don't feel the motion of the cosmos because it is all moving so the witnessed dimensions don't change, and that is why they imagine that the earth is stationary around the centre [II.677.21].
 For more information about Ibn ‘Arabî's life and intellectual background, see: Addas, C. (1993) Quest for Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn ‘Arabî, Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society. See also: The Unlimited Mercifier - The spiritual life and thought of Ibn ‘Arabî, by Hirtenstein, S. (1999) Oxford: Anqa Publishing/Oregon: White Cloud Press.
 For a full list of books and manuscripts attributed to Ibn ‘Arabî', see: O. Yahya, Histoire et Classification de l'oeuvre d'Ibn ‘Arabi (Damascus, 1964). In this book Othman Yahya mentions over 900 books (with about 1395 titles) attributed to Ibn ‘Arabî. Most of them however, as Yahya shows, are not really by him, and also many of his genuine books are lost or not available. For a list of Ibn ‘Arabî's printed 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 book.
 In this hadith Allah says: '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 [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 Chittick pointed out, Ibn ‘Arabî believes that this hadith 'is sound on the basis of unveiling, but not established by way of transmission (naql)' [II.399.28]. See also: SPK: 391: 250-2, and SDG: 21, 22, 70, 211, 329.
 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: 125, and SDG: 118, 153, 360. Ibn ‘Arabî discusses this hadith very often in the Futûhât: [I.148.17, I.215.33, II.62.36, II.150.21, II.310.3, II.391.28, III.304.5, III.506.5].
 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).
 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 Exalted 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 doesn't have real separate existence. So how strange is its state and how high its effect!
 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.
Since the age of Homer, the Greek word chronos was used to refer to time. Chronos was a Greek god who feared that his sons would take over his kingdom, so he ate them one after the other—just like time, which brings things into existence and then overtakes them.
We can already detect two clearly opposing views about time in the contrast between Plato's and Aristotle's schools of thought. Plato considers time to be created with the world, while Aristotle believes that the world was created in time, which is an infinite and continuous extension. Plato says: 'Be that as it may, Time came into being together with the Heaven, in order that, as they were brought into being together, so they may be dissolved together, if ever their dissolution should come to pass.' (Cornford 1997: 99)
Aristotle, however, believes that Plato's proposition requires a point in time that is the beginning of time and has no time before it. This notion is inconceivable for Aristotle, who adopts Democritus' notion of uncreated time and says: 'If time is eternal motion must also be eternal, because time is a number of motion. Everyone except Plato has asserted the eternity of time. Time cannot have a limit (beginning or end) for such a limit is a moment, and any moment is the beginning of a future time and the end of past time.' (Lettinck 1994: 562)
Thus time for Aristotle is a continuum, and it is always associated with motion; as such, it can not have a beginning (Lettinck 1994: 241-59, 361). Plato, on the other hand, considers time as the circular motion of the heavens (Cornford 2004: 103), while Aristotle said that it is not motion, but rather the measure of motion (Lettinck 1994: 351, 382, 390). Aristotle clearly relates rational time and motion, but the problem that arises here is that time is uniform, while some motions are fast and some slow. So we measure motion by time because it is uniform—otherwise it can't be used as a measure. To overcome this objection, Aristotle takes the motion of the heavenly spheres as a reference, and all other motions, as well as time, are measured according to this motion (Badawî 1965: 90). On the other hand, Aristotle considers time as imaginary because it is either past or future, and both don't exist, while the present is not part of time because it has no extension (Lettinck 1994: 348).
We shall see in Chapter II that Ibn ‘Arabî shares with Aristotle the idea of a circular endless time and that it is a measure of motion, but he does not consider it as continuum. On the other hand, Ibn ‘Arabî agrees with Plato that time is created with the world. In fact Plato was right when he considered time to be created, but Aristotle refused this because he could not conceive of a starting point to the world nor to time. Only after the theory of General Relativity in 1915, that introduced the idea of 'curved time', could we envisage a finite but curved time that has a beginning. By this we could combine Plato's and Aristotle's opposing views. However, Ibn ‘Arabî did that seven centuries before, and he also explicitly spoke about curved time long time before Einstein.