Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi

acrylic, ink and collage on canvas
40" x 30"
Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi

Ibn Arabi (1165-1240 C.E.), born to a wealthy family, experienced a deep,
mystical "spiritual
awakening" when he was 15 years old. He spent the rest of his life refining
this original, ecstatic event, ultimately studying with more than 90 different
Sufi masters and penning over 850 books! Where al-Ghazali was known as the "Renovator
of Islam," Ibn Arabi was the "Distiller," taking 500 fertile
years of Sufi thought, borrowing liberally from Jewish antecedents and creating
a unified vision of Islamic mysticism, influencing virtually all of Islamic spirituality
that postdated his fertile life span - and much of Jewish mysticism,
as well.

The Sufi Ibn Arabi and the Jew Solomon Ibn Gabirol shared the same mystical
heritage, both building their ideas from the earlier Sufi mystic, Ibn Masarra
(d. 931 C.E.).
As scholar Miguel Asin Palacios stated: "the reality and concept of spiritual
matter, which is the true key to the Masarrian system, are presented in the Futuhat(of Ibn Arabi) with the very same outline as that of the Fount of Life (Ibn Gabirol)." Like
Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Arabi taught that "all revelations through prophets
and lawgivers were revelations of the same Reality; all men worshipped the
same God
in different forms."

Perhaps due to his own open-minded attitude, Ibn Arabi's mystical theology
porously veered between Jewish and Muslim antecedents, and slipped easily into
the stream of Jewish Kabbalistic learning. Such ideas as his theory of the mystical
import of language; the concept that man is a complete microcosm of the macrocosmic
God and specific interpretations of grammar and prayer - all of which became
central to the Kabbalah - were eagerly ingested from Ibn Arabi by Jewish
mystics, translated into Hebrew and recast as specifically Jewish ideas, either "long
lost" or recently elucidated.

Ibn Arabi's ideas can be traced to Jewish precursors, as well. In addition
to borrowing specific ideas from Moses Maimonides' Guide for the
he also used Jewish history to justify his own Sufi ideas. When he was called
before the Islamic judicial authorities to defend himself against the charge
of "nonconformity," he turned to the Jewish scriptures, and specifically
Solomon's "erotic" Song of Songs, to prove that his ecstatic
language of mystical love not only had precedent, but also was officially viewed
as metaphor (and thereby non-threatening) by the Jewish authorities of ancient