"And say:'My Lord, Increase me in knowledge" Qur'an 20:114.As this book has walked with me throughout my first year as a Muslim, that verse has become my prayer, and Ibn Al-Arabi has very much been a Sheikh and guide in the faith.
Two key words in the title of this book are "Knowledge" and "Imagination".Chittick interprets imagination according to Al-Arabi as designating "the intermediary realm between the spiritual and corporeal worlds.But sometimes he means existence per se."Throughout, the distinction between nondelimited imagination (existence as such) and delimited imagination (the imaginal world) becomes of vital importance when referring to transcendent concepts.
As to knowledge, it "is more excellent than love, which is why God commanded His Prophet to seek increase in it from Him.It is identical to the divine friendship whereby God takes charge of His servants and ennobles them.Through knowledge they come to know that He cannot be known." (380).
Islam is the religion of knowledge.Knowledge is often described as light, and there is no knowledge manifested in the universe but that of God.God is in all and through all.Ibn Al-Arabi talks of God/not-God in the sense that the cosmos are manifestations of the divine - reflections of God.God is in all we see, all we do, yet not God in that the creation is not the Real in its essence.We can know God through the divine names or attributes that are mentioned in the Qur'an.But this concept of "not-God" is where the ego inserts itself - through created free will and our ability to step away from the divine law.Put another way, Al-Arabi states that we cannot BUT worship God as all is God behind the world of forms.Yet "the mistake of him who associates others with God is that he devises for himself an original form of worship which God did not set down for him in a law, so he worships something he has created."(350)
Hence why Chittick carefully addresses how much Ibn Al-Arabiemphasizes the sacred law.God will take a different form for every individual being, a different manifestation, a different attribute, but the common reference points are the Qur'an and Sunna (which contain the divine law).These comprise the foundation of both the human and the cosmos.
The book is divided into eight main sections:
1.Introduction (to Al-Arabi's life and an intellectual history of his work in Islam as well as the West)
2.An Overview of his thought
Ibn Al-Arabi is known as "The Great Sheikh" in Sufi circles, and is also known as one of the primary expositors of the doctrine of Tawhid or "Oneness of God". He places great emphasis on the Islamic concepts of "veils" between us and The Real, both through describing the veils, and how they're removed through self-disclosure of The Real, which is accomplished through the knowledge of the attributes or Divine Names.
This is a book which requires effort to internalize and/or study, but the effort is nowhere close to what it would take to individually research the canon of Ibn Al-Arabi's work.Chittick has done the English-speaking world a huge favor by compiling the thought of this great Sufi into an accessible format, which is incredibly rewarding for the reader.
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