Introduction to the Charts

The Charts which follow were prepared by me in 1975 while at Berkeley, California. They were laid out with the help of Hajj 'Abdalaziz Redpath and the distinguished translators Hajj 'Abdalhaqq Bewley and his wife A'isha. They are quite simply and somewhat crudely a graphic gloss of one chapter of the 'Futuhat al-Makkiya' of the Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyid-din ibn al-'Arabi. These chapters have always been interpreted by that lamentable group of orientalists who have had the arrogant illusion that they could colonise the Shaykh al-Akbar in the same way that their political counterparts had colonised the Islamic homelands. They have made the same mistakes as those half-crazed rabbis who fell upon these writings convinced that this was the esoteric heart of that Muslim power which was so potent that it extracted from them a slightly higher rate of taxation than the Zakat of the Muslims. They searched among the meanings of the letters, in vain, to escape what was for them life's greatest punishment – to have money taken from them – which was the opposite of their own philosophy. From this they invented the Kabbala pretending it had ancient levitical roots. Primitive esotericism of a cabbalistic nature was never the intention of this, the greatest of the Sufi Masters.

According to Ibn al-'Arabi there were two ways to apprehend the universe. He had said: 'To understand Allah is easy, to understand the universe is difficult.' He identified two basic ways in which modern human beings tried to make sense of the world. One was by mathematics and the other by language, it must be remembered, this was when mathematical evolution was in full spate and in the hands of the great Muslim intellectuals, many of whom were his contemporaries. From this it follows that there are two instruments of comprehension. One is numbers and the other is letters. He saw that while the equation or the calculation could have enormous complexity, it in the end was dependent on a simple mathematical mode. And so, in the same way, however complex the sentence, it was dependent on the phoneme.

The Pythagoreans had stated that the numbers themselves had meaning. The end result of that extraordinary imaging was nothing less than to have created the foundation of the whole western polyphonic musical tradition. Under the Pythagoreans numbers became music. Shaykh al-Akbar declared in the same way that the sentence could not have meaning if the letter itself did not have meaning. The effect of this was to map out an extraordinary pattern of spiritual states and stations. Therefore we could say that the study of the letters as having meaning led to complex Sufism, which is the science of states and stations. That in itself would seem an overwhelming achievement yet the matter goes much further.

As a fruit of his visions Ibn al-'Arabi had stated: 'If you make a model of the universe you will only arrive at making a model of yourself.' One could clarify this by a modern reference. One of today's most distinguished scientists and astrophysicists evolved a theory of the universe dependent on the concept of the Black Hole, the Black Hole being an astral zone of anti-matter which sucked up cosmic material into itself, thus making it non-existent. The author of this vision of the universe himself suffered from an incurable motor-neurone disease which involved the slow loss of peripheral power and function in the limbs which inexorably moved in towards the vital centres of life, rendering him speechless, immobile and eventually dead. However persuasive the mathematics, he had made a model of himself.

It was on this sufic understanding that Ibn al-'Arabi conceived, or more correctly, perceived that the correct language for understanding the cosmos was not mathematics but linguistics, that the only understanding of the universal possibility was one which bonded the slave into the cosmic process. Allah, glory be to Him, in Qur'an, referring to the human self, states: 'The creation of the worlds is greater, if you only knew.' (40.57) Put in crude modern language he considered a cosmology or a cosmogony more important than an astronomy. What he is recognising is that the cosmic heavens are heavens, therefore they are an unseen immediate reality as well as a distant perceived reality. While the miserable Christian philosopher, Pascal, said that the infinite spaces of the heavens frightened him, the radiant sufic master understood that fear belonged to Allah, for his creation of the worlds, and not to the worlds themselves. In his vision, all the worlds are harmonic in the Pythagorean sense but are shot through with meanings of the one who perceives them. Thus the first stage of the journey of the seeker is to internalise the total cosmic phenomenon inside himself.

'Abdalqadir al-Jilani, may Allah be pleased with him, said: 'Here is a strange thing. The boat within the ocean! Look! The ocean is within the boat!' False mysticism tries to eliminate the self. The path of Tawhid is this, in the words of Moulay al-'Arabi ad-Darqawi: 'If the world disappears Allah has to appear'. In this matter the universe is before the self as mirror – whatever is in the self must appear in the universe. Thus the universe disappearing is both a swallowing up of the world and at the same time the vanishing of the perceiver. This is the door to the vanishing of the perceiving subject in the light of the Seer, of the only one who sees, Allah, glory be to Him.

While at Berkeley I visited a friend there who was a physicist. As we talked in the corridor another scientist came out with a chin-high pile of computer printouts. He stopped in front of us with a look of desperation. He declared: 'Look at this. It is data from one telescope beamed on one constellation. We have a basement full of this stuff. Every observatory in America has a basement full of this stuff. The trouble is there is not one guy who knows how to understand it.'

These charts may awaken the heart of someone and at least save them the trouble of trying to approach Ibn al-'Arabi through the orientalists of France and America, but rather encourage them, after their Shahada, to make their Salat, pay the Zakat, having given allegiance to an Amir, fast the fast, and take the Hajj. The Messenger, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, said: 'Hajj is 'Arafat.' In other words, the key rite of Hajj is to stand, if only for a moment, on the plane of 'Arafat. Therefore to do this is to be an 'Arif, and Allah is the only Knower. 'Arif, and Allah is the only Knower.


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