Ibn al-'Arabi - the Sufi mystic

A history of pantheism and scientific pantheism by Paul Harrison.

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The existence of all created things is His existence. Thou dost not see, in this world or the next, anything beside God.

Rooflight, Mahan, Iran.

Just as Mohammed is the most uncompromising of monotheists, so Ibn al-'Arabi is the most rigorous of panentheists. Everything that exists is a part of and a manifestation of the Oneness of God. Humans are part of God. The idea of a separate self is the result of ignorance.

Ibn al-'Arabi was born in Murcia, Spain, in AH 560 [AD 1165]. At the age of twenty he was initiated into Sufism. From the 1190s he engaged in three decades of travels as a wandering scholar, poet and mystic, visiting the Maghreb, Egypt, Arabia, Syria and Asia Minor. In 1223 he finally settled in Damascus.

One source of Ibn al-'Arabi's panentheism is Sufism, which seeks to efface the self in mystical union with God.

The other is Islamic theology. Panentheism is already strongly present - in the Quran: "Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God." [Quran, II.115.] And in Islam shirk - association - is one of the gravest sins: "God does not forgive anyone for associating something with him." [Quran, IV.48] This bans the linking of other divinities with God, as in polytheism and the Christian trinity.

But Ibn al-'Arabi applies it more rigorously. To associate anything at all with God would be shirk. Therefore nothing can exist except God.

However, Ibn al-'Arabi believed that God had a transcendental as well as an immanent aspect. He was manifested in, but also extended beyond the material universe. He had a hidden, veiled side.

The texts are from The Bezels of Wisdom [BW], translated by R.W.J Austin, Paulist Press, New York 1980, and The Treatise on Being, [TB] translated by T. H. Weir, Beshara Publications, London 1976.

The true authorship of the Treatise on Being is not known. It was probably written by a disciple of Ibn Al'Arabi. It reflects his thinking, but perhaps in a more ecstatic, intense and uncompromising way.

Selected statements from The Bezels of Wisdom and The Treatise on Being.

Oneness and uniqueness of God.

Praise be to God, before whose oneness there was not a before, unless the before were He, and after whose singleness there is not an after, except the after be He. He is, and there is with Him no after nor before, nor above nor below, nor far nor near, nor union nor division.[TB]

For He will not have anything to be other than He. Indeed, the other is He, and there is no otherness.[TB]

God is all things.

The Cosmos is His form. The forms of the Cosmos are the manifest Reality, He being the manifest. He is also their inner essence, being also the unmanifest. He is the first, since He was when they were not, and also the Last, since in their manifestation He is the Essence. [BW X]

The eye perceives naught but Him. We are in His presence at all times, in all states. [BW X]

God is essentially all things. He permeates through all beings created and originated. [BW X]

He is Being itself, the Essence of Being, He is the Preserver of all. In preserving all things, He is preserving His form, lest anything should assume a form other than His Form, which is not possible. [BW X]

The existence of all created things is His existence. Thou dost not see, in this world or the next, anything beside God. [TB]

God is observer and observed.

He is the observer in the observer, and the observed in the observed. [BW X] None sees Him, save Himself. None perceives Him, save Himself. By Himself he sees Himself, and by Himself he knows Himself. His Veil is part of his Oneness; nothing veils other than he… His Prophet is he, and his sending is He, and His word is He.[TB]

The knower and that which he knows are both one, and he who unites and that with which he unites are one, and seer and seen are one. [TB]

Identity of self and God.

Thou art not thou: thou art He. Thou never wast nor wilt be, Thou art neither ceasing to be nor still existing. Thou art He. [TB]

Thou art not what is beside God. Thou art thine own end and thine own object in thy search after thy Lord. [TB]

He who knows himself understands that his existence is not his own existence, but his existence is the existence of God. [TB]


is the belief that the universe and nature are divine.
It fuses religion and science, and concern for humans with concern for nature.
It provides the most realistic concept of life after death,
and the most solid basis for environmental ethics.
It is a religion that requires no faith other than common sense,
no revelation other than open eyes and a mind open to evidence,
no guru other than your own self.
For an outline, see Basic principles of scientific pantheism. Top.

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Pantheist pages: index.
Basic principles of scientific pantheism.
The divine cosmos.
History of pantheism.

Suggestions, comments, criticisms to: Paul Harrison, e-mail: pan(at)(this domain)
© Paul Harrison 1996.