Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240) on the Noble Rank of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (d. 634)

The following are some excerpts from a book by Muhyiddin ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240) about his view on Abu Bakr (RAA) in relation with the Mahdi and Jesus (A.S.); the notes at the bottom are particularly important in clarifying each statement. It is definitely an interesting and unique perspective. For the complete book, see: http://www.ibnarabisociety.org/articles/anqamughrib.html


…Were it not for the Caliphate of the true Friend (khilāfat al-sadīq; i.e. Abu Bakr), the people would have turned aside from the Path[81] because of the absence of the ongoing process of Revelation and because of the Gnosis of God’s Turning-away [the evildoer]’ (ma’rifat al-sarf).[82]

…The Sun of the West [viz., the mahdī] ranks below the Station of the ‘Faithful One’ (rutbat al-siddīq) – but keep that a secret! – even as the Faithful and, therefore, he who is below him, is under the Banner of the Seal [of the Saints] (liwā’ al-khatm).[86] That is to say that the Lights of the Transcendent Mysteries shining in the hearts, which we alluded to earlier, might still be attained unto by one who is not a Greater ‘Faithful-One’ (siddīq akbar) and who has not achieved that most-important Station. Indeed, even one utterly deluded, duped and deceived can attain unto them – the Secret of this being in God’s saying (Be He Exalted!): “We shall lure them step by step from whence they know not”[87] – whereas the Station of Supreme Faithfulness (al-siddīqīyah) is attained only by the People of Sainthood (ahl al-walāyah) and he to whom it is foreordained by God from Pre-eternity. For Faithfulness is the Way of Salvation for one who possesses it and proceeds according to its way.

This, then, is the reason we made the Western Sun (i.e. the Mahdi) to be beneath the Faithful One (i.e. Abu Bakr) and dependent upon him, even as the Seal is above the Station of the Faithful: The Mahdī is the one who paves the way (al-mumahhid li-l-tarīq) upon which a Noble One (‘atīq)[88] will walk. But the Seal is Prophetary in origin (nabawī al-mahtid), Heavenly in appearance (‘alawī al-mashhad). Therefore, we have placed him above the Station of Faithfulness (al-sidq), even as the Real had placed him. For he who takes his light from the Lamp of Prophecy (mishādt al-nubūwah)[89] is greater than one who takes it from the Lamp of Faithfulness (mishkāt al-siddīqīyah) – the relationship between the Follower (al-tābi’) and the Companion (al-sāhib) being as that of one who is present (al-shāhid) to one who is absent (al-ghā’ib).

When it was established that the Seal would be the Head of the Community (muqaddam al-jamā’ah) on the Day of the coming of the Hour (qiyām al-sā’ah), it was determined that he would have two Congregations,[90] being Master of the Two Seals. But whereas the ‘Winged One’ (dhū l-ajnihah) [viz., the Angel Gabriel] will share with the Seal the task of gathering the two Congregations,[91] the Seal is alone in charge of his two Signet-seals. The ‘Winged One’ in Man is he in whom spirituality (al-rūhanīyah) predominates and who is devoted to the purification of his soul by virtue of the Angelic Station (al-rutbah al-malakīyah). Incontestably, in our view, as regards this Station there is no putting off its power…

76. Raf’u sitrin wa-mujahadatu bikrin. ‘Unpierced (virgin) pearl’ is one of the several meanings of bikr which resonates with the imagery of the present work. Another possibility would be ‘first-born’, in the sense of first ‘successor’, since the allusion is surely to Abu Bakr as the Prophet’s successor, the caliph par excellence. Mujāhadah : “holy struggle” (e.g., against bodily desires).

81. The caliphate of Abu Bakr was occupied by the wars of apostasy (hurūb al-riddah) fought against Arab tribes that attempted to secede from the Islamic confederation after the death of the Prophet (in 11-13/632-4). (I take this to be the exoteric referent of the phrase, mujāhadat bikr, in the heading.)

82. Other possible translations of sarf here might be ‘evasive artifice, cunning’ (cf. Q. 25:19), ‘repentance’, and ‘supererogation’, etc. I have opted for the sense of the cognate verb in Q. 9:127: “God turns away (sarafa) their hearts, for they are a people who know not”; and 7:146: “I shall turn away from My Signs (ayat-ī) those who wrongfully magnify themselves in the earth, so that [even] if they see every Sign, they will not believe it, and if they see the way of righteousness, they will not adopt it; while when they see the way of error, they will take it as their way.”

86. Here we have Ibn al-‘Arabī’s first explicit ranking of the walāyah-grades with respect to each other.

87. Q. 7:182 and 68: 44. AI-Maqaābirī adds a note of caution to this sanguine pronouncement, quoting Q. 6:121: “Indeed, the devils inspire their followers (awliyā’u-hum)…”

88. ‘Atīq Allah (freed by God) is another epithet of Abu Bakr, who stands here for the Siddīq. Al-Maqaābirī glosses ‘atīq as the intellect (al-‘aql), in accordance with the tradition, “The first thing created by God was the intellect” (see Abu Da’ud, Sunnah, 16, et at.), for it ‘became precedent’ (‘atīq) in the sense of existential priority (sābiqīyat al-wujūd).

89. The Seal, as the one who takes his light (al-akhidhu nūra-hu) from the lamp of prophecy, might well be assumed to rank below prophecy. This, however, is not the case, as the saints are themselves endowed with ‘general prophecy’ (nubūwah mutlaqah) in Ibn al-‘Arabī’s full-blown doctrine, and in the same clause we learn that the siddīq takes his light from the lamp of his own proper station. Mishkāh: properly, ‘a niche in the wall’ where a lamp gives off more light than elsewhere (d. the famous ‘Light-verse’, Q. 24: 35).

90. AI-Maqaābirī glosses the “two congregations” (and the “two seals”, below) as being of the “tangible and the heavenly worlds (‘ālam al-mulk wa-l-malakūt)”. In the margin, however, another commentator has given the better interpretation: “This is indicative of Jesus (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him!), for he has two congregations – that is, one of his own people, the children of Israel [that is, the Christians], in respect to his own prophethood, and another with our Prophet Muhammad (May God bless and keep him) and his community” (cf. Futūhāt, II, 9 [9-10] and 49 [20-1]). The final Judgment is known as the ‘Day of Congregation’.

91. Gabriel is the angel who will blow the trumpet heralding the beginning of the Resurrection.


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