Reflections on Ibn ‘Arabi – “I Follow the Religion of Love”
O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
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 Kaa’ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.
Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi is arguably the most controversial scholar within Sunni Islam, the only other individual to cause as much commotion within our tradition was his spiritual adversary, Shaykh al-Islam Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya. As Shaykh Hamza mentions, much of the work of Ibn ‘Arabi is outwardly kufr, and the snippet of poetry above from his collection of poetry Tarjuman al-Ashwaq can be interpreted as being such.
However as is with the nature of poetry, it cannot be taken at face value. Poetry at its pinnacle is a manifestation on the tongue on what the heart contains, and the nature of the heart is different to that of the mind, in that it is not necessarily comprised of things that are wholly logical and bound by the limits of the world (“My heavens and My earth cannot contain Me but the heart of My believing servant contains Me“). If we look at Ibn Arabi’s work in the context of orthodoxy we will find our way through ‘the sea without a shore’ that is the work of the ‘greatest Shaykh’.
In the creed of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’al Jama’ah we hold that all actions, good and evil, are created by Allah (“Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak, from the evil which He created” 113:1-2), it is through a human being’s free will and choice that he or she acquires the action they choose to perform. When one comes to this realisation, it leads one to understand the statement of the Prophet (ﷺ) “to worship Allah as though you see Him”, for if everything around you is by the will and decree of Allah, then the means you see fade away and manifest to the heart the cause of all that is real, which in reality is al-Haqq, the Truth or the Ultimate Reality, that is Allah. Even the idol worshipper, who commits the gravest sin, can only do so because Allah has left that person to the choice they have made, and for the one who has become annihilated in the remembrance of Allah, even that is a reminder of Him, for it is a manifestation of the divine wrath, a single piece in the ephemeral world that serves its purpose simply to reflect the eternal.
So where does love fit into all this? In a hadith qudsi, Allah tells us through the words of His messenger (ﷺ): “I was a hidden treasure and loved to be known“, to this end Ibn ‘Arabi writes: “None but God is loved in existent things. It is He who is manifest within every beloved to the eye of every lover—and there is nothing which is not a lover. So all the cosmos is a lover and beloved, and all of it goes back to Him.” Once the aspirant sees Allah in everything, even seeing disbelief for him is a sign towards love of Allah, for it is a reminder of when his or her existence was not driven towards seeking the Ultimate Reality. Without witnessing wrath how would we know mercy? Without knowing misguidance (dalala) how we would we know what is guidance (huda)? For Ibn ‘Arabi, Islam is love, and love is his religion, for true love can only exist for Allah, and all exists by, for and through Allah.