Muhiyyudin Ibn Arabi, What do classical scholars say about him and is it advisable to stay away from his books?
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Assalaamu `alaykum waRahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
Shaykh Muhyiddīn Ibn Arabi was a scholar of the seventh century. He hailed from Spain and was a leading scholar of his era. He excelled in all sciences of Islāmic knowledge. He had authored hundreds books on different topics. He was recognized for his piety and profound knowledge in Tasawwuf. He is counted amongst the great Sufis and was given the title ‘Shaykhul Akbar’ (the great Saint) and ‘Muhyiddīn’ (the reviver of dīn). Allāmah Sha’rāni in his Al-Tabaqāt al-Kubrā, ‘Izzuddīn ibnus Sallām, Safiyyuddīn bin Abil Mansūr, Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yāfi’ī and other Scholars, have praised him.
Ibn Hajar Al-Makki says regarding him:
“There is unanimity that Ibn Arabi was the most knowledgeable Scholar of his era, as he mastered every science of Islāmic knowledge….And there is unanimity that he was the most pious in his era, most staunch on the Sunna and the greatest in self-sacrifice”.
(Al-Fatāwā al-Hadīthiyya, pg 210, Al-Fikr)
Ibn Arabi held a high rank in Ilm (knowledge) and Tasawwuf. However, some Scholars expressed doubts concerning his Aqīda (belief), especially concerning the concept ‘Wahdah Al-Wujūd’. Amongst them were Imām Ibn Taymiyya Al-Harrāni, Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhāb and Imām Dhahabi. Ibn Taymiyya Al-Harrāni was amongst the first that expressed doubt. In fact, some labelled him as Kāfir (wana ‘ūzubillāh).
However, it is important to point out that these doubts concerning Ibn Arabi were due to misunderstanding the writings and terminologies used by Ibn Arabi. The writings of Ibn Arabi are profound, intense and philosophical. Many terminologies used by Ibn Arabi were not understood by all. It was mainly the Sufis and those involved in spiritual exercises that really understood his writings. Therefore, it was the misunderstanding of these scholars that lead them to doubt the legitimacy of Ibn Arabi.
Ibn Arabi stated:
“It is not permissible for those that do not understand our terminologies to study our books” (Al-Fatāwā al-Hadīthiyya, pg 211, Al-Fikr)
The late Grand Mufti of Deoband, Mufti Mahmūd Al-Hasan Ganghohi had stated that there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding Ibn Arabi.
Allāmah Sha’rāni and Mawlāna Ashraf Ali Thānwi had written Al-Yawāqīt wal Jawāhir and Al-Tanbih al-Turba respectively, to clear the doubts and reservations held against Ibn Arabi. Many other books have been authored in support of Ibn Arabi. Therefore, Ibn Arabi was an accepted Scholar.
The books of Ibn Arabi are of two types:
1. Basic books:
These are straight forward and simple books to understand. For example, books that discuss Ahlāq (character), Tarbiya (upbringing) etc. It is advisable to read these books.
2. Complex books:
Those that discuss the concepts of Tasawwuf and other intricate issues. These books should not be studied alone. The tutelage and guidance of a competent Scholar should be sought. Ibn Hajar Makki has warned against studying these books alone.
Al- Fatāwā al-Hadīthiyya, pg 210, 211, Dar Al-Fikr)
Al-Tabaqāt al-Kubrā of Sha’rāni, vol 1, pg 260, Dar Al-Fikr)
Fatāwā Al-Mahmūdiyya, vol 4, pg 469, Fārūqiyya)
And Allah knows best
Ml. Talha Desai,
Student Darul Iftaa
Checked and Approved by:
Mufti Ebrahim Desai
Darul Iftaa, Madrassah In'aamiyyah