Dr Hany Talaat Ibrahim, author of Love in the Teachings of Ibn ʿArabī and professor at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University Canada, walks us into the world of Ibn al-ʿArabī and the Metaphysics of Love in face of some Islamic scholars’ criticism of the great saint. Acknowledging that such criticism might scare off seekers, like it initially did for Dr Hany, this conversation is significantly pertinent to our times.
Specializing in pre modern Islāmic thought, Arabic Ṣūfī literature and Islāmic art and architecture, Dr Hany speaks to all spiritual seekers in a language that is clarifying and comprehensive. He addresses, perhaps, many of us, at different stages on our journey—cautious in our spiritual undertaking—to open the ears and eyes of our hearts. Although not explicitly mentioned as such, this interview is highly relevant to persons coming from a traditional Islāmic schooling and upbringing, underpinned by a limited understanding of what Ṣūfism, the mystical dimension of Islām, is.
In context, Dr Hany emphasizes the station of Ibn al-ʿArabī, a ‘ārif bil’Lāh (عارف بالله), gnostic, and an ʾimām (إمام), spiritual leader, for all times. He says, the knowledge conveyed to us through him was received directly from God. He reached al-’ijtihād al-muṭlaq (الاجتهاد المطلق) and discerned fiqh (فقه), jurisprudence. We are advised to take heed of this. To receive our understanding of spiritual openings according to the teachings of Ibn al-ʿArabī, and not the opposite.
Dr Hany extends a gnostic’s gentle embrace, inviting the wayfarer, hesitant or not, to sharpen understanding in three dimensions of Islām: expanding on what it means to fulfill the obligations of submission—ʾislām (إسلام), the obligations of faith—ʾīmān (إمان) and the obligations of spiritual excellence—ʾiḥsān (إحسان) in light of exerting personal effort, juhd (جهد), and the process of purifying the soul, an-nafs (النفس), in order to attain the level of witnessing to the Oneness of Being. Meaning is reinforced through Qur’ānic passages, marrying the three distinct but intertwined stages of spiritual development to the declaration of unity, tawḥīd (توحيد), with a discernible Qur’ānic definition of the two paths to God: those who are chosen, al-mujtabūn (المجتبون), and those who are guided to repent and seek Him, al-munībūn (المنيبون).
Witnessing, the backbone of unification, is talked about as an oxymoron; witnessing behind a veil, the ḥijāb (حجاب); annihilation, fanā’ (فناء); and, what it means when gnostics speak about Oneness, that is, God who witnesses God through the Muḥammadan Light—Nūr Muḥammad (نور محمد).
Dr Hany elaborates on the subject of incarnation and Ibn al-ʿArabī’s position on the importance of strictly adhering to the sharīʿa (شريعة). Other concepts and frameworks discussed include the absence of a lineage in the Akbarian heritage; the role of a living shaykh (شيخ); the relationship between the Ṣūfi order, at-ṭarīqa (الطريقه), the educational litany, wird at-tarbiyya (ورد التربيه), and the disciple’s progression, the murīd (مريد) that is, toward the witnessing of God and an affirmation of Creator and creation.
Furthermore, we explore the three stages of fanā’ together as elucidated in the story of Mūsa (Moses, موسى) and al-Khidr (the Green man, الخضر) ‘alayhim as-salām in the Holy Qur’ān. Firstly, there’s annihilation in action, al-fanā’ fīl af‘āl (الفناء في الافعال); secondly, annihilation in attributes, al-fanā’ fīl ṣifāt (الفناء في الصفات); and thirdly, annihilation in the essence, al-fanā’ fīl dhāt (الفناء في الذات). His shared words of wisdom remind us: “If you are God-fearing, if you are pious, God Himself will teach you.”
In closing, we are reminded of the richness and multifaceted nature of the Arabic language. Etymological roots gather both negative and positive connotations to birth different meanings. All strings come together to weave an exquisite tapestry rooted in the seeds of love. Indeed, one of the meanings of the Arabic word for love, ḥubb (حب), means seed; and the root of kufr (كفر) is to cover—as in, veil. Dr Hany concisely wraps up the underlying meaning that Ṣūfism as a path to God embodies: “This is the path on reaching annihilation and witnessing God; it is not you, it is only Him.”
Supplementary resources and transcript can be found through the link below