Following the guiding light
Ibn Arabi

By Christian Jambet

This meditation of Michel Chodkiewicz on the works of the great theosophe is also a thesis on the destiny of the Muslim Community.

An ocean with no limits
Ibn Arabi
The Book and the Law

By Michel Chodkiewicz
Paris, Le Seuil, 1992.

The works of the great Andalucian theosophe Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) have an exceptional value. This does not mean that they are well-known. Despite translations, their immensity discourages the efforts, and it is necessary to refer back, sometimes, to those who dedicated their lives to read Ibn Arabi exhaustively to grasp, in a nutshell, the ultimate spirituality deployed in these thousands of pages. Michel Chodkiewicz has again, in his latest book, put forward a question concerning the integral interpretation of Ibn Arabi, by multiplying tiring readings of precision and knowledge. Let's dig in further: In this [latest] meditation he explores further meanings of the spiritual conquests of Mecca, this "ocean with no limits" of the gnosis which corresponds to the unlimited ocean of Quranic scripture. Michel Chodkiewicz proposes, for those who know how to read it, a thesis on Islam and the destiny of its Community. Thence we have at our hands a guide to access the writings of Ibn Arabi, and command a most instructed, authoritative, judgement on the essence of "submission" or "obedience" to God, the ultimate attitude of whoever wants to be a Muslim.

It is astounding that of the numerous authors who commented on Ibn Arabi, and those who cited him, and those who praised him, in Sunni Islam and in Shiism, never conceived the project to elucidate, publically, the scheme of Ibn Arabi's major work. Michel Chodkiewicz discovers that this
[the absence of such a general review] is neither due to ignorance, nor is the consequence of some amateurism, but is due to an esoteric reading [of Islam] guarded in secrecy. One must note that this dangerous word has a very precise meaning: Reading Ibn Arabi is not throwing words haphazard with an arbitrary meaning which might mean love. This is a manifestation of hidden and complex relations [with the One] which consider [in their expressions] the veiled structures of the Book and thought.

Here is what Michel Chodkiewicz proves in detail: The structure of thought is always governed by the rigourous structures, infinite in power, of the Quranic text. Put in other words, there exists a conscious homology, a munitious correspondence between the order of the Surahs, cut into verses, the pauses in the reading of such verses, sometimes even between isolated words in the Quran and the order of the chapters, their themes, the intention that guides them or the inspiration that they yield. The structure of these spiritual Conquests (Futuhat) is the same as that
of the Holy Quran.

What are then the results? First, we have to renounce the claim that "Ibn Arabi's method, the method of this grand Soufi, is equivalent in the Sunnite understanding to the exegesis of extremist Shiites: The Ta'wil (interpretation)." If the Ismailites of Alamout, for exemple, conceived that exegetic understanding of the holy book amounts to transgression and an abrogation of the letter of the faith [the french text here is very confusing] the same does not hold in Ibn Arabi's understanding. In fact,
Ismailite Shiites value the letter of the faith by easing the symbol of the haqiqa, essential reality of the divine expression. [This understanding] makes it necessary [for Ismailites] to effect a metamorphosis of the [original meanings of the Quranic text], and bring about, under the guise of apparent meanings, a series of hidden understandings, sometimes out of touch with the spirit of the original text. In such a view, the haqiqa is no longer Law (the Sharia) itself, it is not even the legal body of the religion ordaining private and public obligations. [Haqiqa] is then the antithesis: the abolition of this same religious legal binding.

The [Quranic] text identifies Law

The view of Ibn Arabi is then the complete opposite: Text, mystical inspiration, and "devoilement" (Kashf - "Divine Unveiling") are rigourously put to the ultimate judgement of the Quranic text. The text is the norm in this quest. The letter of the book governs the order of the symbols (thence the sequence of theophanies is dictated by the verses of the second surah). [sic -- actually third]. In the final analysis, it is the letter, identified with the law, that formulates the essential truth of the verbium, "Law is not the symbol of the haqiqa, it is the haqiqa." Let's stress here that Michel Chodkiewicz includes a remarkable critique of allegorism, targetting Philon of Alexandria, paralleling the works of Benny Levy, a Jewish scholar, in his "le Logos et la Lettre". This yields
a second consequence, namely that the gnosis of Ibn Arabi is a call to a "state of childhood" which is the condition for a testing of litteral interpretation, to a practice that is based on the verses [of the Quran].

This richness of Parole yields a realisation of the whole architecture of the spiritual states of prayer, or the [complete] submission of the faithful to his Lord, expressing the eternal state of mankind.

More than a legalism, reverting to Law (Shari'a) is a discovery of the ontological status, the 'Ubudiyyah, which constitutes as such the state of the servant ('abd). We will read [in "Oceans with no limits"] vibrant pages where Michel Chodkiewicz relates the silence of free-will, the silence of intelligence, and the silence of the being. Such will be the authentic mystical experience, where the beings join the "unique being" (Ittihad). Law (Sharia) is then the vehicle. Michel Chodkiewicz proposes, in Ibn Arabi, a modal of the Islamic conscience, between two perils of pseudo--litteralism of exoterist doctors of the faith ([official] Saudi Islam ?) and messianic Shiite exigesis. In this
understanding, Ibn Arabi is viewed at the origin of an irenic [conducive to or operating toward peace or conciliation] legality. Is it true that the whole debate [in Islam] revolves around this [central] theme: The spiritual realization of Islam. Does is essentially pass through Law (Sharia) or does it suppose the antithesis of the Law (the Imam for Shiites for exemple) ?


Original French Article not featured as per copyright restrictions. Adapted from French by MSANEWS Editors.

Le Monde, 22 mai1992
SECTION: Le Monde des livres
TITRE: A la lumiere d'Ibn Arabi
CHAPEAU: La meditation que propose Michel Chodkiewicz sur l'oeuvre du grand
théosophe est aussi une thèse sur le destin de la communauté islamique.

Ibn Arabi,
le livre et la Loi
de Michel Chodkiewicz.
Paris, Le Seuil, 1992.

L'oeuvre du grand théosophe andalou Ibn Arabi (1165-1240)


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