Ibn Arabi and the Metaphysics of Creation


Adam is a paradigm by which, Ibn Arabi explains what one may call the metaphysics of creation. [1] By metaphysics of creation, I mean the account that he gives of creation, its reason, and and. To Ibn Arabi, Adam shows the possibility of human relationship and its nature with God. The possibility of human relationship with God started with Adam and has transmitted through him to human being. This possibility started with the creation of Adam; hence, it is eternal, azali. Indeed, Adam represents his notion of the Perfect Man. Therefore, the description that he gives of human being represents the Perfect Man not necessarily the existing human being.

Ibn Arabi makes a distinction between God’s Reality and Essence. The paradigm of Adam explains how the Reality wanted to see itself. The Reality desired to reflect on its Names and Essence; therefore, he created Adam. God without creating Adam was able to reflect on itself. In fact, Ibn Arabi believes that there are two types of self-reflection. The first is reflecting on oneself without mediate and the second is self-reflection through a medium. It seem that he believes each way of reflection will result in distinctive findings. Hence, God’s self-reflection without a medium would not be the same as his reflection through creation of Adam. The Cosmos in general and Adam in particular are the medium through which God reflects on itself. He uses the mirror as a metaphor and an anthropomorphic description to justify God’s reflection through a medium. He believe when one tries to see oneself without a mirror, his perspective is confined by his position. Indeed without employing a mirror one, for example, cannot see his back. However, a mirror, if it is polished enough, may give a comprehensive image of oneself. It also helps the viewer to see parts of himself that without using a mirror would be hidden from him. Hence, a mirror not only makes self-reflection possible but also gives a comprehensive and more precise image of the self. By the same token, Cosmos and Adam function as media through which God will have an all-inclusive perception of himself. As Ibn Arabi states, “For the reality, he is as the pupil is for the eye through which the act of seeing take place. Thus he is called insan [meaning both man and pupil], for it is by him that the Reality looks on His creation and bestows the Mercy [of existence] on them” (51). This perception of human being places human being above all existing things. No being, even angel, have a closer place to God than human being.

However, this extraordinary position of human being mostly refers to the human’s potentiality rather than to his actuality. In fact, Ibn Arabi, by referring to the Quran (XXI:91)[2] maintains that God has given human being potentiality to ascend to the divine realm by becoming the Perfect Man, insan al-kamel. It is for the Perfect Man that God has created the universe. Adam, as representation of the Perfect Man, Ibn Arabi believes, is the seal of God’s creation; “Even so is the Cosmos preserved so long as the Perfect Man remains in it.” As a result, it is Adam as the Perfect Man that make the relationship of God possible for human being.

Ibn Arabi in the most chapters of his book The Bezels of Wisdom deals with the same concerns; however, in each chapter he gives new explanations for each problem. In chapter twenty three he is responding to his fundamental guiding questions that reflected in the majority of his work. He once again returns to questions of the relationship between God and Cosmos, his knowledge of the particulars, oneness of God, and plurality in the world. The chapter starts with a short poem that explains God and the human being need each other. The simile that he uses is food. To Ibn Arabi, we are food for God as God is food for us. We need God to nourish our soul. In fact, not only us, as human being, is food for God, but “Should the deity wish for Himself sustenance, Then the whole of existence is food for Him.” In fact, Ibn Arabi’s God is close and accessible to the human being not inaccessible deity that his greatness merely evokes awes in his worshipers. His God is actually a mystic’s lover.

After the first passage, he introduces the hakim Luqman. Ibn Arabi quotes form the Quran that Luqman’s wisdom is God given. Introducing Luqman’s wisdom is an introduction to the problem of God’s knowledge of particulars. He believes since Luqman had a God given wisdom he was given the greatest divine boon. Wisdom, Ibn Arabi believes, is a potentiality. When the wisdom is expressed, it becomes an actual wisdom; however, when it is unexpressed remains a potentiality. For instance when Luqman gives his son advise, he is showing his expressed wisdom. Ibn Arabi quotes the Quran when he is giving advice to his son, “O, my son, consider this tiny mustard seed, which God would bring forth were it to be [hidden] in a rock, whether in heaven or earth” (XXXI: 16). This expressed wisdom, even is uttered by Luqman, is God’s beliefs that in fact have been expressed by Luqman. God has knowledge of the smallest objects in the material world. His knowledge is not only of the universals by knowing the nature of a master seed, heaven and or earth. Nothing is hidden from him. Responding to the problem of God’s knowledge of particulars leads his discussion to God’s relationship to the world.

Since God knows everything about even the smallest object, He must be the essence of everything. He maintains, “By what was expressed and what was unexpressed, Luqman realized that God is the essence of everything known, ‘the known’ being a more general term than ‘the thing,’ being as indefinite as possible” (236). Since Luqman was taught wisdom by God, “expressed or unexpressed” he comprehended that God is the essence of everything. Ibn Arabi maintains since the essence of everything is God, then plurality in world is compatible with oneness of God.

In fact, God exists in the essence of everything; therefore, all existing things reflect His existence. The plurality that we see in the world is, in fact, the manifestation of the One, since there is a unity of Essence. The plurality in the world is the plurality of the essence but the plurality of its attributes and accidents. However, he makes a distinction between his account on nature of God and reality. According to Ibn Arabi’s account, Asharites believed the essence of things even it is reality it is not Reality; therefore, God cannot be the essence of things. However, if the essence of the things were not God, then an abstracted God from reality would be hard to experience. Since God omnipresence by being the essence of every existing thing, including the essence of human being, it is possible to experience him in every existing thing as well as within us.

[1] By paradigm, I mean its classical meaning. In ancient Athens, to make columns faster sculptures used a model that helped them to make many pieces of columns simultaneously.

[2] “the breathing into him”


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