Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, one of the greatest mystics of any age, was born in Murcia in the year 1165, and from his earliest youth displayed remarkable intellectual and spiritual aptitude. He travelled extensively throughout the Islamic world, conversing with mystics, divines and philosophers. His teaching is based on the primordial principle, which underlies all spiritual traditions, of the absolute unity of existence. In more than 100 books the meanings and expression of this principle are set down with extraordinary clarity and fullness. Ibn ‘Arabi died in Damascus in 1240. His influence is pervasive and profound, and he is known to many as al-Sheikh al-Akbar – ‘the Greatest Teacher’.
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From the Introduction by Cecilia Twinch to Know Yourself.
Ibn ‘Arabi was born in Murcia, Spain in 1165 and spent half his life in the West and half in the East. When he was eight years old he moved with his family to Seville, where he was based for the remainder of his time in Spain, although he travelled a great deal both in Andalusia and North Africa. As a young teenager, he felt a strong calling from God and went into retreat. Here he had a spiritual vision, under the guidance of the three prophets of the Abrahamic religions, Jesus, Moses and Muhammad. He studied Islamic scriptures and all the sciences, learning from many spiritual masters and began to write books (see Sufis of Andalusia). Throughout his life, he continued to have innumerable mystical experiences, visions and realisations and had countless encounters with extraordinary individuals engaged on the spiritual way.
In 1200 he started his journey to the East, passing through North Africa, Egypt, Hebron (the burial place of Abraham) and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem on his way to perform the pilgrimage in Mecca. He settled for a while in Anatolia where he educated Sadruddin al-Qunawi as his spiritual heir – Sadruddin al-Qunawi was a contemporary of Rumi and later, in Konya, the two became close friends and colleagues. Ibn ‘Arabi continued to travel extensively in Anatolia, Iraq and the major cities of the Middle East. All the time he was writing and giving spiritual advice to those who sought it. Finally he settled in Damascus where he is buried.
Ibn ‘Arabi wrote more than 300 books of which about 93 have survived to the present day. Many more works have been attributed to him, but recent research has shown that many of these were not in fact written by him. His principal works are the Ringstones of Wisdom (Fusus al-hikam) and the Meccan Revelations (Futuhat al-makkiyya). His work is becoming increasingly well known in the West as more translations, studies and articles about him become available.
He is most famous for his teachings on the oneness of being (wahdat al-wujud) and human perfection. Ibn ‘Arabi describes the world as the exteriorisation of a single hidden reality. All that we see as creation is a divine self-revelation which is constantly renewed in different forms at every moment. Of all creation, human beings have the capacity to receive the complete revelation since they encompass all levels of existence. Every human being has the potential to become a complete mirror to Reality, therefore integrating all aspects of life in a balanced and appropriate way. Above all, the movement of existence is the movement of love for the sake of the revelation of beauty.
Ibn ‘Arabi remains one of the most influential figures in the Islamic world. As S. H. Nasr has said: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that Ibn ‘Arabi is the most influential intellectual figure in the Islamic world during the past seven centuries, if the whole world is considered.”
Today, his work is once again becoming increasingly well-known in the West where he was born, due to the universal aspect of his thought. There is now a wealth of information about his life and work emerging from research and scholarship , and many translations of his works into English and other European languages.