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The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, by Ibn al-Arabi, tr. Reynold A. Nicholson, [1911], at

p. vii


Whatever view may be taken of the respective merits of Arabic and Persian poetry, I think it will generally be allowed by those familiar with the mystical literature of both nations that the Arabs excel in prose rather than in verse, while the Persian prose-writers on this subject cannot be compared with the poets. Farídu’ddín ‘Aṭṭár, Jalálu’ddín Rúmí, Ḥáfiẓ, and Jámi—to mention only a few of the great Persian poets whose works, translated into various languages, have introduced the religious philosophy of Ṣúfiism to a rapidly widening circle of European culture—are as much superior to their Arab rivals, including even the admirable Ibn al-Fáriḍ, as the Futúḥát al-Makkiyya and the Fuṣúṣ al-Ḥikam are superior to similar treatises in Persian. The Tarjumán al-Ashwáq is no exception to this rule. The obscurity of its style and the strangeness of its imagery will satisfy those austere spirits for whom literature provides a refined and arduous form of intellectual exercise, but the sphere in which the author moves is too abstract and remote from common experience to give pleasure to others who do not share his visionary temper or have not themselves drawn inspiration from the same order of ideas. Nevertheless, the work of such a bold and subtle genius deserves, at any rate, to be studied, and students will find, as a reward for their labour, many noble and striking thoughts and some passages of real beauty. The following lines are often quoted. They express the Ṣúfí doctrine that all ways lead to the One God.

'My heart has become capable of every form; it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
And a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Ka‘ba and the tables of the Tora and the book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take, that is my religion and my faith.' 1

p. viii

The present edition was designed in the first instance for the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, and is now published in its original shape. I will not repeat or expand what I have said in my brief introduction concerning the date of composition, the different recensions of the text, the method of interpretation, and the general character of these remarkable odes, but it may be useful to indicate in a few words some of the principal theories which are shadowed forth symbolically in the text and revealed more explicitly in the author's commentary. Although the Tarjumán al-Ashwáq affords material for an essay on Ibn al-‘Arabí's theosophy, I feel, speaking for myself, that further study of his works is necessary before such a task can be attempted with advantage. Much valuable information is contained in a treatise on Monism by Ali b. Sultan Muḥammad al-Qárí al-Harawí 1—a polemic directed against Ibn al-‘Arabí and his followers who held that all Being is essentially one with God, notwithstanding its apparent diversity. This pamphlet was written in answer to a champion of Ibn al-‘Arabí, who had collected under twenty-four heads various passages in the Futúḥát and the Fuṣúṣ to which objection was taken by orthodox theologians, and had endeavoured to justify the author against his critics. ‘Alí al-Qárí regards Ibn al-‘Arabí as a dangerous infidel and gives him no quarter. Of course the offending passages admit of more than one interpretation, and the author would doubtless have repudiated the construction put upon them by theologians. Their pantheistic import, however, cannot be explained away. I have classified the following examples for the sake of convenience and have added a few references to the commentary on the Tarjumán.

1. God and the World. Ibn al-‘Arabí says in the Futúḥát, 'Glory to God who brought all things into existence, being Himself their substance (###). He is the

p. ix

substance of every object in manifestation, although He is not the substance of objects in their essences.' 1 And again, in the Fuṣúṣ, 'God manifests Himself in every atom of creation: He is revealed in every intelligible object and concealed from every intelligence except the intelligence of those who say that the Universe is His form and ipseity (###), inasmuch as He stands in the same relation to phenomenal objects as the spirit to the body.'

2. God and Man. 'Man is the form of God and God is the spirit of Man.' 'Man is to God as the pupil to the eye: by means of him God beholds the objects which He has created.' 'Man's origin is both temporal and eternal; he is an organism durable and everlasting.' 'Man is the substance of every attribute wherewith he endows God: when he contemplates God he contemplates himself, and God contemplates Himself when He contemplates Man. Hence Abú Sa‘íd al-Kharráz said that he was a face and tongue of God, who is called by the name of Abú Sa‘íd al-Kharráz and also by other temporal names, because God unites all opposites in Himself.'

God dwells in the heart of Man (vi, 1), and Man, invested with Divine qualities, is a mirror which displays God to Himself (x, 2). Divine qualities may justly be attributed to anyone who is so transported from himself that God becomes his eye and his ear (x, 1). Although union with God is not possible while the body exists (v, 2), Ibn al-‘Arabí, like Plotinus, holds that 'deification' is attainable (xxiv, 3). 2 Elsewhere he says that knowledge of God is the utmost goal that can be reached by any contingent being (xvii, 5). This knowledge is gained solely by means of Faith and Contemplation, which Reason may serve if it consents to lay aside its reflective faculty (iii, 2, 5). What, then, is the end of knowledge? Apparently, a state of Nirvana or transcendental unconsciousness, ###

p. x

[paragraph continues] (v, 6). The phenomenal vanishes in presence of the Eternal (xx, 19).

3. Religion. Since all things are a manifestation of the Divine substance, it follows that God may be worshipped in a star or a calf or any other object, and that no form of positive religion contains more than a portion of the truth. 'Do not attach yourself,' Ibn al-‘Arabí says, 'to any particular creed exclusively, so that you disbelieve in all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. Let your soul be capable of embracing all forms of belief. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed, for He says, "Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah" (Kor. ii, 109); and the face of a thing is its reality.' It is vain to quarrel about religion. 'Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently he blames the beliefs of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance. If he knew Junayd's saying—"the water takes its colour from the vessel containing it"—he would not interfere with the beliefs of others, but would perceive God in every form and in every belief.' 1 The Divine substance remains unchanged and unchangeable amidst all the variety of religious experience. 'Those who worship God in the sun behold a sun, and those who worship Him in living things see a living thing, and those who worship Him in inanimate objects see an inanimate object, and those who worship Him as a Being unique and unparalleled see that which has no like' (xii, 13). In a noteworthy passage Ibn al-‘Arabí seeks to harmonize Islam with Christianity. The Christian Trinity, he says, is essentially a Unity which has its counterpart in the three cardinal Names whereby God is signified in the Koran, viz. Allah, ar-Raḥmán, and ar-Rabb (xii, 4). Islam is peculiarly the religion of Love (xi, 15), and God's mercy is denied to none, be he Moslem or infidel, who invokes Him in the extremity of his need. Even if it

p. xi

so be that the unbelievers shall remain in Hell for ever, they will at last feel its fiery torments a pleasure and delight. Ibn al-‘Arabí is said to have claimed that he was the Seal of the Saints, as Muḥammad was the Seal of the Prophets, and also that the Saints are superior to the Prophets, but it is very doubtful whether these accusations are well founded. He seems to have maintained that the Prophets, in so far as they are Saints, derive their knowledge from the Seal of the Saints, and that the Prophets in virtue of their saintship are superior to the Prophets in virtue of their prophetic dignity (cf. iv, i; xviii, 8). He does assert, however, that he had reached a spiritual degree which was not attained by any of his peers (xxiv, 4).

I desire gratefully to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Sir Charles Lyall, who read the text and translation in manuscript, and made a number of suggestions, nearly all of which I have inserted in the book while it was passing through the press. The fact that it has undergone his criticism enables me to offer it to students of Arabic poetry with more confidence than would otherwise have been possible. My thanks are due also to the Librarian of the University of Leiden, who caused two MSS. of the Tarjumán to be sent to Cambridge, and allowed them to remain there as long as they were required.


vii:1 xi, 13-15

viii:1 Brockelmann, ii, 394. The work in question is entitled ###. It appeared, together with several other tracts on the same subject, in a volume published at Constantinople in 1294 A.H., a copy of which was given to me by Dr. Riẓá Tevfíq.

ix:1 Cf. xx, 25: 'The Divine attributes are manifested in creation, but the Divine essence does not enter into creation.'

ix:2 Cf. xxv, 7.

x:1 Cf. xiii, 12.

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