Circular Time and Cyclical Time:
Ibn ‘Arabî repeatedly describes time as a 'circle' (dâ’ira), [I.387.33], which does not have a beginning or an end, but when we specify a point on this circle (the present; the point in time in which we exist now) and look in one direction, whether to the past or future, we do set a relative beginning and an end. So the present (now) joins together the two ends of time in a circle [I.387.32, III.546.30].
It is very difficult to imagine this, as it was very difficult to convince people that the earth is spherical when this idea was first introduced, precisely because most everyday activities show us only a small portion of the earth's surface which appears flat to us. Yet time is not like space. In the case of the earth it was relatively easy to prove that it is round because we can view its curvature—from space, or from a great height—all at once. But the problem with time is that we can only normally witness the present moment of it, not the future nor the past; we can only imagine them. Therefore, in order to understand the meaning of 'circular' time, we have to imagine that the whole of all existence (what we perceive as future, present and past) exists all at once. This whole existence is then like a circle: i.e., a curve that does not have a visible beginning or an end when we look at it from outside. When we sit on the circumference of this circle and look in one direction, we set a beginning and an end. In the same way: the present moment in which we exist is a point on the circle of the whole existence, this point defines the future and the past and it also defines an imaginary beginning and an imaginary end of time: imaginary because the whole circle of existence (of ‘the Age', al-dahr) is infinite. The imaginary beginning is the eternity a parte ante (al-azal) and the imaginary end is the eternity a parte post (al-abad) [IV.266.3].
Circular time has yet another important meaning which is not possible to explain fully at this point, because it needs additional premises that we shall discuss in the following chapters, so we can only refer to it briefly here. As described above, Ibn ‘Arabî views the world as being continuously re-created, and time is reduced to the present moment because the past and the future are only imaginary. Therefore time, or the present moment, goes in ever repeated circular motion with the re-creation of the world. In other words, the presence, which is time, goes round the world continuously and repeatedly to create it and re-create it again; so it is circular (and cyclic) in this distinctly metaphysical respect.
Moreover, this cosmic notion of 'circular time' is quite different from 'cyclical time', and the two ideas should not be confused in Ibn ‘Arabî's writings. 'Cyclical' or periodic (dawrî) time, such as the day, the week, the month and the year, is a duration of time in which the same kind of events should be happening in the different repeating cycles of time. For example, the sun sets every evening to start a new day (because the 'day' for the Arabs was considered to start from sunset, not from sunrise), and the moon is born approximately every four weeks to start a new lunar month. We should again note, however, that in reality, according to Ibn ‘Arabî, there is never any repetition at all [II.432.12, III.282.21]. Those cycles of time are 'similar' to each other but never identical, as the terms 'period' or 'cycle' mean in modern physics. For Ibn ‘Arabî, the cycles of time are similar because they are ruled by the same divine Names, which is why we expect to see similar events. But the reason why we do not see identical events or true repetition is because of the interaction between different cycles of different divine Names, [III.201.14]. For example he says that: 'the motion of Sunday appeared from the (divine) attribute 'the All-Hearing' (al-sam‘)…, and the motion of Monday appeared from the (divine) attribute 'the Living' (al-hayât) [II.438.9].
Therefore the cycle of Sunday is different from the cycle of Monday, although they are both days in which the sun rises and sets in the same way. On the other hand, and based on the same statement above, Sunday from this week should be identical with Sunday from the previous week, because they both appeared from the same divine Attribute. But they are not, because they do not have the same position in the month or the year, or in other cycles that are ruled by other divine Names and Attributes, so there is never any repetition. Ibn ‘Arabî nicely refers to this fact in his prayers al-Salawât al-Faydiyya, a short text found at the end of Tawajjuhât al-Hurûf (Cairo: Maktabat al-Qâhira, n.d.), when he says: '(He, i.e. Prophet Muhammed, is) the Dust (hayûlâ) of forms which does not manifest in one form to any two (persons), nor in any one form to anyone twice' [also in I.679.7, II.77.27, II.616.3].
We shall devote Chapter III to the significance of the 'Week' in Ibn ‘Arabî's view, where we shall see that the week is the primary cycle of time, not the day. We shall also see that Ibn ‘Arabî's fundamental notion of 'no repetition' forms the basis of a unique view of time and the cosmos, which will be discussed in the following chapters. However, if we accept the approximation that different cycles of time are defined by similar events, we then find that Ibn ‘Arabî defines many important cycles other than the usual day, week, month, the seasons and the year. In general, every divine Name of Allah has Its own 'day' (cycle), which is a cycle of time that has a corresponding daytime and a night in the world below it (see Table II.1).
A correlation can also be made here between Ibn ‘Arabî's view of cyclic time and astrology. Knowing these cycles and their lengths and the specific Names that rule them may give us some insight into what kind of events may happen in the future, but it is not easy to tell exactly what is going to happen. The issue is more like weather forecasting; by studying all the parameters we can tell with a good probability how the weather may be in the near future.
Circular Time and Cyclical Time
Circular Time and Cyclical Time: