The life cycle of the Greatest Master, Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi, and his personality, is analogous with the daily voyage of the Sun; slowly rising from the orient and then climbing up towards the dome of the sky, before setting down to hide behind the mountains and distant hills, disappearing temporarily from our sight, in order to surprise us again the next morning.
Ibn al-Arabi, however, took a different path, and a special way, where he rose from the west, from Andalusia, then, unlike the Sun, he journeyed to the east, until he settled in Damascus, for his spirit to rest there, in the Mount Qasyun, known as the Mount of the Righteous.
This idiosyncratic journey was reflected in his life and his performance, for he was also different and distinct from all fellow scholars of jurisprudence and interpretation, as well as philosophers and theologians. Without any exaggeration, we can confidently say that he combined all these diverse disciplines and surpassed their experts. Anyone studying his books, after digging through their precious gems, shall undeniably find the right answer to every question and the straight path to every bolted door. We never exaggerate, therefore, and Ibn al-Arabi himself is not boasting, when describing himself as the Sun. He is undeniably the greatest scholar, widely recognized amongst the specialists, although those who were able to dive into the oceans of wisdom dispersed in his phenomenal books are still very few.
In this regard Ibn al-Arabi says:
As the sun of souls exposes its morn, the hearts are increased for what followed.
You see her there, time after time; manifesting in the crescent that followed.
In my innermost, through His Reality, I am like the Sun, as it spreads the glare.
In my being, in essence, I am none other than Him, and they are, in our existence, not any other:
This is our sky that He built, and this is our earth that He spread;
For my own sake, Allah is in tasks, whose fruits are now just ready, (as He said in Quran 55:31) We shall be free, from you, for you, out of generosity. To give your souls what they are demanding.
To be connected, through some essence, with Him. Just when they knew that they were vain (perished)!
In the day He labored us, in vain, yet in the night we are arduous with its dew.
To be shielded by the darkness of my being, to be manifest in the day, but never revealed. [Diwan, p. 163]
This analogy, or similarity, between Ibn al-Arabi and the Sun, is not only in the outward form and motion, but a profound resemblance in sense and reality, which applies to the profound details, as we shall see later in each subsequent chapter. In fact his journey started, like the Sun, from the East, from the Arabian Peninsula, the spring of Islam, and the origin of all civilizations; but he was hidden in the back of his ancestors of the tribe Tay, famous, like the Sun, for their charity and generosity. The Greatest Sheikh then moved through his fathers from Yemen to the West, to Andalusia, as if he was on a date there to be born in the paradise-on-earth; to be nurtured with purest milk and to breath the freshest breeze, so that nature can grant him the most precious wisdom and teach him the pearls of knowledge, in order to bring back to the East, where the Sun shall rise again, crawling with more light and raging with more affection.
Therefore, unlike the journey of the Sun, the sun of the reviver of religion ( extitMuhyiddin) rose up from the West, pursuing the trace of the path he took when he was yet in the back of his ancestors, taking this reverse journey in order to reveal to us the secret of wisdom; the very mystery that forms the basis of the relationship between the Real and the creation, between Being and nothingness (that manifest outwardly in the imaginable existence), between spirit and body, between day and night, and between light and darkness; for Allah is the One Who (created the heavens and earth by the Real. He wraps the night over the day and wraps the day over the night, and has subjected the Sun and the Moon, each running on its course for a specified term. [Quran, 39:5]) where the hidden and the manifest exchange roles, all going through cycles, (each swimming in some orb [Quran, 36:40]), so that the hidden appears and manifest hides again, the first travel to the last and the last returns back to the first (and He is the First and the Last, and the Manifest and the Hidden [Quran, 57:3]) because (indeed, He begins the creation, and then He repeats it [Quran, 10:4]), i.e. He Himself begins and He Himself repeats, (Say, “Are there of your extitpartners anyone who begins creation and then repeats it?” Say, “Allah begins creation and then He repeats it, so how are you deluded?” [Quran, 10:34]).
This knowledge of the beginning of creation and bringing it back again, and this periodic motion in general, is the origin of the mysterious science that was revealed by the Grand Sheikh, as he briefed us on that in some of his books, but he kept silent for most of it, except by way of reference, to open the way before the disciples. He says:
I was allotted with the knowledge no one else obtained, right from the Merciful, to Whom belong the Throne and the Chair,
I was made to witness the weird things, from the knowledge of the unseen, saved from being revealed in the world of sense.
How strange, I go out among people, and return, scarce, alone in existence, with no parallel.
People denied my words, and criticized me, for this knowledge that I don't ascribe to myself.
They are not even living, in the light of what I see, nor they are among the dead in the darkness of tombs.
Glory is to the One Who revived my heart with His Light, yet made them loose real guidance, and be blind.
Our knowledge spread in the world, from the far West to the place of sunrise.
Obtained by those having immaterial minds, saved from assumption, speculation, illusion and (even) intuition.
So I became on the pure (light), like myself, white, and tribune, a leader, when other people are still confused. [Diwan, p. 49]
Hence, Ibn al-Arabi's journey went in this direction, contrary to the revolution of the Sun, and distinct from all other scholars, in order to teach us this knowledge, and the secrets and signs that we are not aware of, although we are living through them every day and every moment, indeed!
But if Ibn al-Arabi had no role in selecting the place of his birth, there is no doubt that he chose Damascus from all other cities, as the oldest inhabited city in history, and the Levant, among other countries, where Jesus shall descend before the day of resurrection. He chose this city to settle there and sets, just as the Sun is setting every day. The Sheikh chose the Levant precisely because it is “the finest (or best) of Allah's lands, wherein He brings the finest of His slaves (and: Allah has guaranteed me the Levant (al-shaam) and their people)” [Kanz: 35020, see also other narrations related to the preference of Shaam: 35012-35025, in volume 12, pp. 273-6]. But since the Sun would soon rise again after setting out, to swim again in its orbit in the sky, day and night, so is Muhyiddin, the “possessor of time” and the “pole of time”,footnoteThis description is based on his famous poem in which he says: In every era there is someone by which it excels, and I am that one for the rest of time [Diwan, p. 149]. and the “seal of the cycle of Muhammadan sainthood”; his sun is still shining in the East and in the West, and in the South and the North; because his words and his works have enlightened the minds, and his secrets are still fluctuating in the hearts and spirits. As he was hidden since ancient times in the foreknowledge of Allah, and then the emergence of his grandparents one after the other, he is still alive in the hearts of his disciples and followers, fans and lovers, Allah willing, forever!
I don't know if this book is the first to describe the Greatest Sheikh, Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi, may Allah be pleased with him, as the “sun from / of the west”, but I believe that this name applies properly, and fits him graciously, depending on the indications that we have mentioned above, for he is really a unique personality, indescribable, and almost beyond imagination, like the Gryphon.footnoteThe griffin, griffon, or gryphon is a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and sometimes an eagle's talons as its front feet. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of birds by the Middle Ages the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Since classical antiquity, Griffins were known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions. He himself has used this name for a magnificent book: extit‘Anqâ’ Mughrib fî Ma‘rifati Khatm al-Awliyâ’ wa Shams al-Maghrib (The Fabulous Gryphon on the Seal of the Saints and the Sun from the West)footnoteThis book was translated by Gerald Elmore, and published by Brill, in 1999, under the title: Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time citepelmore1999islamic., which will be described inside this book. As Michel Chodkiewicz mentioned in the “Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn al-Arabi”, and as the Greatest Sheikh himself declared, that he is the seal of Muhammadan sainthoodcitepchodkiewicz1993seal, thus he is meant by “the sun of the west”, although this name might also refer to the Mahdi, peace be upon him, as we will discuss in Chapter IV, when talking about this title.
In fact, I hesitated a little in selecting the title of this book, between “the Sun from the West” and “the Journey of the Phoenix”, though these two names might be equivalent, for our purpose. The reason why I chose the first is in order to stress the fact that although such unique characters may seem to us unrepeatable in human history, the truth is that they always exist, in all times, but they are not always visible to all, and often forgotten, and not lent any attention, just like the Sun that spreads its light and warmth to everyone, but maybe no one feels its continued existence, unless we request them to look for it and follow it in the sky. Sometimes it is obscured by land, or behind the Moon, and sometimes behind the mountains, or the clouds, but often manifested in the plain, but no one is aware and no one is interested in it, because they have become accustomed.
This is also the case of phoenix, which is another name for the Pole, as well as all other saints, such as the two Imams, the four Awtâd and the seven Abdâl and the eight Nujabâ’, and many other friends of Allah; all are normally known only by few people, while others don't know anything about them, apart from ambiguous stories and narrations expressed in ancient books. But the fact is that they are living amongst us, and for anyone to be able to find them, one has to make some sincere efforts and search for them and find out their abodes. Time never lacks people like Ibn al-Arabi, and who are also maybe higher in knowledge and state, but the difference between him and them is that he wrote down his knowledge and wisdom. In fact, he stated that he used to pray for Allah to keep him unknown, such as his friend Ibn Ja‘doun al-Hinnâwiy who was in a high state, but he was unidentified and no one cares about him, to the point that if he spoke no one would even listen to him, as we shall mention inside the book. The Greatest Sheikh Muhyiddin also says that he once met with one of the Men of Allah, who was at the age of ten years, and he found himself with regard to him like a false dirham!