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Between Historiography,

Hagiography and Polemic


The Relationship between Ab af Umar
al-Suhraward and Ibn Arab 1

Erik S. Ohlander
In the collective textual memory of the Su tradition, the
period spanning the late sixth/twelfth through the seventh/
thirteenth centuries constitutes a particularly resonant narrative
space. In later congurations of Su hagio-historiography which
look back on this time such as Ibn al-Mulaqqins abaqt
al-awliy (d.803/1401); Abd al-Ramn Jms (d.897/1492)
Nafat al-uns min aart al-quds; al-Munws (d.1030/1621)
al-Kawkib al-dhurriyya; or Mamalshhs (d.1344/1926)
ariq al-aqiq 2 this period is presented as one of incredible
fecundity; for it is during this time when the grand masters
of the major Su lineages, their disciples and successors, engaged
1. A shortened version of this article was presented at the Muhyiddin
Ibn Arab Societys 15th Annual US Symposium, 1213 October 2002, at
The University of California, Berkeley. I would like to thank the organizers
of the symposium for their enthusiasm, generosity, and hospitality, especially Jane Carroll, Juliette Farkouh, and Janice McAllister, as well as those
who discussed this work with me at various times and in various places, in
particular Professors Alexander Knysh, Luce Lpez-Baralt, Pablo Beneito,
M. Erol Kili, and Necdet Tosun, Jane Clark, and Stephen Hirtenstein.
2. Ibn al-Mulaqqin, abaqt al-awliy, ed. Muaf Abd al-Qdir A
(Beirut: Dr al-Kutub al-Ilmiyya, 1998); Abd al-Ramn Jm, Nafat aluns min aart al-quds, ed. Mahd Tawdpr (Tehran: Sad, 1336 sh.
[1968]), which is now superseded by Mamd bids excellent critical
edition (Tehran: Intishrt Ialt, 1380 sh. [1992]); al-Munw, al-Kawkib
al-dhurriyyat f tarjim al-sdat al-yya [= abaqt al-Munw al-kubr],
4 vols., ed. Muy al-Dn Db Mist (Damascus: Dr Ibn Kathr, 1993);
Mamalshh Shrz, ariq al-aqiq, 3 vols. ed. Muammad Jafar
Majb (Tehran: Kitbkhna-yi Brn, 1950).

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in a project whose scope and subsequent importance cannot


help but be described in superlatives. As the hagiographers are
quick to remind us, it was during this period when the great
eponyms of the major Su lineages formalized a tradition characterized above all by linkages, a tradition which simultaneously
looks back to a single point of beginning and departure while
at the same time projecting itself through time and space by way
of various initiatic chains (salsil) which serve as the supporting chain (isnd) of a particular Islamic science whose domain
happened to be sulk (wayfaring) and taawwuf (mysticism).
In the critical overlay which modern scholars have placed
upon this period, similar sentiments are easily discernible, and
for those familiar with the broader historical contours of this
transitional period in central and eastern Islamdom, the signicance of this episode in the development of key Su institutions
cannot be understated. From the institutionalization and proliferation of Su institutions, such as the rib/khngh and the
Su brotherhoods which lled them, to the solidication and
subsequent canonization of self-referential metaphysical and
exegetical systems, such as the school of Ibn Arab, this period
was nothing less than a watershed in the history of the Islamic
mystical tradition. As has been discussed in various places, it was
during this period when Susm underwent a certain institutionalized and socially regulated systematization, and through the
conuence of broader networks of organized sectarian movements, socio-religious factionalism, physical institutions and
intentional communities, an expansion and redenition of the
masterdisciple relationship, and a general growth in patronage
by wealthy supporters, arqa-based Susm began to reach a level
of organization by which it would be characterized thenceforth.3
3. The loci classici of this analysis is expressed collectively in various studies, most notably in: Fritz Meier, Khursn und das Ende der klassischen
k in Atti del convegno internazionale sul tempa: La Persia nel Medioevo
(Roma, 31 marzo 5 aprile 1970) (Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei,
1971), pp.|54570; J.S. Trimingham, The Su Orders in Islam (rpt. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1998), pp.|31104; Jacqueline Chabbi, Notes sur
le dveloppement historique des mouvements ascetiques et mystique au
Khurasan, IIIe/IXe sicle IVe/Xe sicle, Studia Islamica 46 (1977), pp.|571;

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And while a strong current of individuality and a relatively elite


form of religiosity reminiscent of its formative articulations
would remain enshrined within the arqa tradition, the collective and hierarchical nature of a newly organized arqa-based
Susm would serve to secure it an enduring presence in the
social, political, and cultural life of diverse Muslim societies up
until the present day.
When looking back upon this period, it is useful to recall that
on the level of the individual, the sixth/twelfth and seventh/
thirteenth centuries served as a stage for the activities of a
number of Susms most consequential players. In the western
and west-central lands of Islam, Muy l-Dn Ibn Arab (d.638/
1240) would develop a teaching which would come to irrevocably change the course of Su theorizing in the centuries to come;
in the north, the celebrated Persian versier and pr-i shiqn
Jall al-Dn Rm (d.672/1273) would lend his name to a poetic
and pedagogical tradition whose presence overshadowed all later
expressions of the Su tradition in its Persianate articulations;
and in the central and eastern Islamic lands, the paradigmatic
shaykh al-shuykh of an institutionalized, arqa-based, expression
of Su religiosity, Ab af Umar al-Suhraward (d.632/1234),
would help to consolidate a tradition which would not only

Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam (Chicago: University of


Chicago Press, 1974). vol.|2, pp.|20154; Richard Gramlich, Die schiitischen
Derwischorden Persiens (Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 19651981), vol.|2, passim;
Les voies dAllah: Les ordres mystiques dans le monde musulman des origines
aujourdhui, ed. Alexandre Popovic and Gilles Veinstein (Paris: Librairie
Arthme Fayard, 1996), pp.|2767 and 195250; Claude Cahen, Mouvements populaires et autonomisme urbain dans lAsie musulmane du Moyen
ge (rpt. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1959), esp. pp.|2856; Margaret Malamud,
Su Organization and Structures of Authority in Medieval Nishapur, IJMES
26 (1994), pp.|42742; and ibid., Susm in Twelfth-Century Baghdad:
The Su Practices of Abu Najib al-Suhrawardi, Bulletin of the Henry Martyn
Institute of Islamic Studies 13 (1994), pp.|618; ric Geoffroy, Le sousme
en gypte et Syrie sous les derniers Mamlouks et les premiers Ottomans
(Damascus: Institut Franais de Damas, 1995), pp.|145204; Alexander
Knysh, Islamic Mysticism: A Short History (Leiden: Brill, 1999), pp.|11649
and 169238.

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change the face of Susm itself, but indelibly mark Islamicate


socio-religious landscapes from the Maghrib to South Asia.
NARRATING NARRATIVES
Undoubtedly, each of these three paragons would have characterized themselves as being in the service of love, and from our
privileged position as distanced, critical observers looking back
upon their individual legacies, it is easy perhaps too easy to
select and privilege those dimensions which resonate with our
own expectations of what such service entails. Much like the
aforementioned hagiographers, it is natural for us to construct
narratives which minimize cognitive dissonance, to nd solace
and comfort in reproductions of the past characterized by facile intersections and all-too-convenient interconnections for,
as readers of and participants in such retellings, we not only
have full control over the sources themselves but, perhaps more
importantly, are privileged in being able to choose our own
hermeneutic, however arbitrary and idiosyncratic that mode
of critical gaze may be. In my case I have chosen above all
not to de-emphasize conict and contention for, if there is one
thing which I have noticed in my reading of pre-modern Islamic
religious discourse, it is this: wherever we nd genuine and consequential development and creativity in a particular tradition
of discourse or praxis we also nd contention, argument, and
struggle.
The present article offers a reading of one such episode of
contention in this vital period of Su history: the relationship
between Ibn Arab and Ab af Umar al-Suhraward. While
there is much to say about possible interconnections between
the Akbarian tradition and the Suhrawardiyya, and while there
is much to discuss about Akbarian inuence among certain
members and afliates of this particular Su brotherhood such
as Fakhr al-Dn Irq (d.688/1289), Sad al-Dn al-Farghn
(d.695/1296), and Abd al-Razzq al-Qshn (d.730/1330),4 the
4. Despite the existence of much textual evidence, the issue of the
relationship between the early Suhrawardiyya and the school of Ibn Arab

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issue of a relationship between the eponyms of each tradition


is all too unclear. Did they meet? And if so, when and where?
Did they read each others works? And if so, how did they respond to them? Can we take at face value the reports of later
hagio-historiographers which place these two paragons together?
If not, then what can we do with such narratives? Are there
alternative ways of making sense of such material? If so, to what
end?
In my estimation, examining the interactions between
these two paragons serves a dual purpose: rst, it provides us with
an excellent example of the way in which struggle and contention played out in the history of one such tradition of premodern Islamic religious discourse, for the manner in which
these two remarkable individuals did or as we will see, did not
interact can teach us a great deal about the broader contours
of the development of the Su tradition, especially in terms of
how key players of the sixth/twelfth and seventh/thirteenth
centuries helped to shape the course of that tradition in the
centuries to follow; second, it allows us to engage in a useful
meta-critical exercise, namely to try to dene what we can and
cannot do with the sources at our disposal. Accordingly, this
article is divided into three parts, exploring in three broad sweeps
the manner in which the lives and legacies of Ibn Arab and alSuhraward have come to intersect in a discrete yet inextricably
overlapping body of pre-modern Arabic and Persian texts,
namely historiography, hagiography, and polemic specically
Ibn Arabs comments about al-Suhraward in his al-Futt almakkiyya and al-Suhrawards supposed criticism of the Shaykh
in his polemics against the falsifa.

has been discussed only in passing and there remains much work to be
done. For one such source see: Pablo Beneito, An Unknown Akbarian of
the Thirteenth-Fourteenth Century: Ibn hir, the Author of Laif al-Ilm,
and His Works, ASAFAS Special Paper, No.|3 (Kyoto: ASAFAS, 2000).

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FIGURATIONS: AL-SUHRAWARD, IBN ARAB,


AND SEVENTH/THIRTEENTH-CENTURY SUFISM
In the simplest of terms, I see in the gures of Ibn Arab and
Ab af Umar al-Suhraward paradigmatic representatives of
two differing approaches to mysticism prevalent during the
sixth/twelfth to seventh/thirteenth centuries; two powerful
articulations of the Su tradition which would in turn resonate
throughout the centuries to follow. On the one hand, we have
al-Suhraward who was heir to a strain of Islamic religiosity selfconsciously reaching out to broad sectors of the Islamic community; a thoroughly community-oriented mode of mystical praxis
emphasizing the cultivation of moral and ethical virtues, a
tradition which not only can be squarely placed within the fold
of the broader Jam-Sunn social and intellectual milieux from
which it arose, but one which programmatically attempted to
assert its presence within the very socio-religious landscapes
constituting those milieux. On the other hand, we have Ibn
Arab who was representative of a gnostic and elite form of
mystical expression, one which, while no less embedded in the
intellectual substrate undergirding classical and medieval Islamic
intellectual traditions, self-consciously distanced itself from the
seemingly pedantic concerns of Jam-Sunn communalism.
Although apparently antithetical to its counterpart, curiously
enough this particular tradition would come to exist both alongside and within organized, arqa-based Susm, woven into the
very fabric of the great salsil by generations of the Shaykhs
admirers and champions, many of whom would expend a great
deal of energy in trying to negotiate their encounter with the
Shaykhs teachings in the face of steady opposition from both
within and without.
lim, mystic, statesman, polemicist, and eponym of the
Suhrawardiyya brotherhood, Shihb al-Dn Ab af Umar b.
Muammad b. Abd Allh b. Ammya al-Suhraward (539/1145
632/1234) not only played a key role in the consolidation of
arqa-based Susm in the central and eastern Islamic lands but,
perhaps more importantly, systematically pursued a program

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aimed at the dissemination of his system, a project which a


number of erstwhile and very able disciples would carry on
after his death.5 Coming to Baghdad during his youth, alSuhraward attached himself to his famous uncle Ab l-Najb
Abd al-Qhir al-Suhraward (d.563/1168), who formally initiated
him into Susm and bequeathed to him the system which Ab
af would further develop and systematize over the course
of his long career. Following his uncles lead, al-Suhraward
performed a singular service in advancing the consolidation
of Su institutions. Through his association with the caliph alNir li-Dn Allh (r.575/1180622/1225) and his involvement
in the caliphs program of reconsolidating the authority of the
caliphate, al-Suhraward was able to solidify the hold which his
uncles rib-based Susm had over Baghdadi Su landscapes.
In fact, the caliph al-Nir not only funded the construction of
two new ribs for al-Suhraward but also appointed him director over a number of Baghdads most important Su cloisters.6
5. For cursory overviews of this legacy, see Arif Naushahi, Awrif almarif dar shubba qrra, Marif 16.2 (1999), pp.|7481; Florian Sobieroj,
Suhrawardiyya, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition (Leiden: E.J. Brill,
1954), vol.|9, pp.|78486; Nr Amad Khn Fard, Tazkire-ye arat Bah
al-Dn Zakariyy Multn (Lahore: Muammad Ysuf Grya, 1980),
passim; Abd l-usayn Zarrnkb, Dunble-ye justuj dar taawwuf-i rn
(Tehran: Amr Kabr, 1362 sh.), pp.|21520; Sayyid Athar Rizvi, A History
of Susm in India (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 19781983), 2 vols.,
passim; Qamar-ul Huda, Striving for Divine Union: Spiritual Exercises for
Suhraward Sus (London and New York: Routledge-Curzon, 2003),
pp.|10935.
6. To the rst group belong the Rib al-Mamniyya which was built
by al-Nirs mother Zumurrud Khtn in 579/1183, al-Suhraward being
installed as its director thereupon; the Rib al-Marzubniyya, which al-Nir
built specically for al-Suhraward in 599/1203; and, the Rib al-arm alhir, which was founded by al-Nir in 589/1193, al-Suhraward being
installed as its director sometime after 614/121718. In addition, the Caliph appointed al-Suhraward director over at least two other pre-existing
ribs, including the Rib al-Bism and the Rib al-Zawzan. See Jawd
Muaf, al-Rubu al-baghddiyya, Sumer 10 (1954), pp.|2389, 242;
Jacqueline Chabbi, La fonction du ribat Bagdad du Ve sicle au dbut
du VIIe sicle, Revue des tudes islamiques 42 (1974), pp.|11719.

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As a powerful Su shaykh and a trained member of the ulam,


al-Suhraward possessed a measure of spiritual and religious authority which was of great value to al-Nir, and from his secure
position in Baghdad, he vigorously promoted his arqa through
extensive correspondence, travel, the reception of distinguished
visitors, and the bestowal of the khirqa on numerous important
individuals.
Al-Suhraward enshrined his particular vision of organized,
arqa-based Susm in his extremely inuential Su manual, the
Awrif al-marif.7 In terms of Su theory, the Awrif al-marif
should be considered as reecting a mode of religiosity rmly
situated in a Jam-Sunni vision of Shar revivalism, a practical and somewhat activist ideological orientation which looks
back to an idealized past when the unity of the entire Muslim
community was maintained through a strict adherence to the
Prophets sunna and self-conscious obedience to revealed law.
Much like today, the society of al-Suhrawards time was one in
which such appeals for spiritual regeneration were often heard,
and the arqa-based mode of Su religiosity which he set out to
offer was deeply informed by the Sunni revival of the previous
century. The basic argument of the Awrif al-marif is, in
essence, that the ideal and most perfect life which a Muslim can
live is one which is grounded in a constant awareness of the
rights and demands which God has made upon him, namely
to remain ever conscious and aware of his being bound to divine
law. It is, in fact, only through this awareness that the Su can
safely traverse the mystical path, a way which aims at its goal
through the cultivation of the moral, ethical, and spiritual
virtues embodied in the Prophets sunna; for al-Suhraward, the
adab of the Su rib is the sunna of the Prophet, and it is the
Sus who are his heirs.
The focus and direction of this work, much unlike the
conceptually dense and esoteric speculation of Ibn Arab, looks
7. On the margins of al-Ghazls Iy ulm al-dn, ed. Muammad
Abd al-Laf al-Khab (Cairo: al-Mabaat al-Azhariyya, 1294 [188889] and
1316 [1898]), of which there are numerous reprints. German translation
by Richard Gramlich as Die Gaben der Erkenntnisse des Umar as-Suhraward,
Freiburger Islamstudien, No.|6 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1978).

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towards a relatively broad audience of interested participants


who are drawn, as al-Suhraward himself asserts, from all those
who love the Prophet and heed his message.8 While the
spiritual elite (khaw) are upheld as paragons of virtue, piety,
and mystical attainment, they come to serve as exemplars and
models whose attainments are put within the reach of the murd
by virtue of his adherence to the same strict code as theirs. This
is why, in contrast to the overriding theoretical nature of the
speculative works of Ibn Arab, the regulated and structured
mode of religiosity enshrined in the Awrif al-marif cannot be
divorced from the praxis of a spiritual method. Although Ibn
Arab grounded his discourse in the language of the Qurn,
adth, Ashar kalm, the written and oral traditions of Susm,
as well as producing certain practical works, his remained a
gnostic and elite mode of religiosity which, in the nal analysis, looks beyond the mode of religiosity advocated by alSuhraward.
HISTORIOGRAPHY
As those of us who study the history of Susm are undoubtedly
aware, monographic treatments of individual Sus such as those
by Louis Massignon, Margaret Smith, Fritz Meier, Bernd Radtke,
or more recently Carl Ernst on Rzbihn-i Baql and Jamal Elias
on al-Simnn 9 exemplify the extent to which such detailed
8. Awrif al-marif (Cairo: al-Mabaat al-Almiyya, 1358 [1939]),
p.|242.
9. Massignon, The Passion of al-Hallj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam, 4 vols.
trans. Herbert Mason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982); Smith,
An Early Mystic of Baghdad: A Study of the Life and Teaching of rith b. sd
al-Musib (London: The Sheldon Press, 1935); and, idem., Rbia the
Mystic and Her Fellow-Saints in Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1928); Fritz Meier, Ab Sad b. Ab l-Khayr (357440/9671049):
Wirklichkeit und Legende (Leiden-Tehran-Lige: E.J.Brill, 1976); Radtke, Alakm at-Tirmidh: ein islamischer Theosoph des 3./9. Jahrhunderts (Freiburg:
Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1980); Elias, The Throne Carrier of God: The Life and
Thought of Al ad-Dawla as-Simnn (Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1995); Ernst, Rzbihn Baql: Mysticism and the Rhetoric of Sainthood
in Persian Susm (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996).

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studies can contribute to wider debates and varying levels of


concern in the study of the Islamic Middle Periods, oftentimes
yielding conclusions of direct interest to social and political
historians, literary scholars, and students of religion. In the
study of Ibn Arab in particular, the works of Claude Addas
and Stephen Hirtenstein10 have shown how useful detailed biographical studies can be in understanding the extent and scope
of the Shaykhs teachings vis--vis the historical and intellectual
vicissitudes of his day. From my vantage point there is, in fact,
little use in studying the Shaykhs teachings without having a
context, for, however much one may want to believe otherwise,
both life and texts live in time and place.
THE FIRST MEETING
According to Osman Yahia, Ibn Arab met al-Suhraward in
Baghdad in 608/121111 although, as Claude Addas has quite
rightly pointed out, the passage from Ibn al-Imds Shadhart
al-dhahab which he cites provides neither place nor date for such
a meeting.12 In the introduction to his excellent German translation of al-Suhrawards Awrif al-marif, the ever fastidious
Richard Gramlich points out that: the meeting between this
renowned and uncontested representative of speculative mysticism with his twenty-year elder Suhraward carries certain legendary elements, much like the meeting between Ab Sad b.
Ab l-Khayr and Ibn Sn.13 Such sentiments have also found
a place in the works of another German scholar of al-Suhraward,

10. Addas, Quest for the Red Sulphur, trans. P. Kingsley (Cambridge: The
Islamic Texts Society, 1993); and, ibid., Ibn Arab et le voyage sans retour
(Paris: ditions du Seuil, 1996); Hirtenstein, The Unlimited Mercier (Oxford:
Anqa Publishing, 1999).
11. Histoire et classication de loeuvre dIbn Arab (Damascus: IFEAD,
1964), vol.|2, p.|98.
12. Quest for the Red Sulphur, p.|240; cf. Ibn al-Imd, Shadhart aldhahab f akhbr man dhahab (Damascus and Beirut: Dr Ibn Kathr, 1986
1993), vol.|7, p.|337.
13. Die Gaben der Erkenntnisse, p.|4.

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Angelika Hartmann who, along with Gramlich, has discounted


the story entirely.14
In preparing this article, I took it upon myself to go and revisit the standard medieval Arabic and Persian biographical and
historiographical sources in order to search for any clues which
may shed some light on this conundrum. After interrogating the
usual suspects and turning up empty-handed, I broadened my
search to include progressively more obscure works such as travel
accounts, local biographies of scholars, regional and municipal
chronicles, lists of adth transmitters, specialized necrologies,
extracts, addendums, supplements and even a number of
bio-bibliographies, all in hopes of turning up something which
would provide evidence of personal contact between these two
seventh/thirteenth century luminaries. While I found plenty of
interesting biographical information on both al-Suhraward and
the Shaykh, I found next to nothing on the supposed relationship which the later Su tradition is so keen to emphasize. Given
the prominence of both al-Suhraward and Ibn Arab in debates
of their age as well as the frequency and extent of their appearance in later biographical literature, it seems quite curious that
they really never met on the printed page. How can we account
for this?
Although it is yet to be critically narrated, the biography of
al-Suhraward is very well documented in the medieval sources.
As a visible player in the politics of his day, his activities are
discussed oftentimes in rich detail in a variety of sources. Recently, I have been working on constructing a critical biographical narrative of al-Suhraward and have been able to collate it
with those provided by Addas and Hirtenstein for Ibn Arab.
Unfortunately, the results have not been good. Not only have I
found no mutually veriable points of intersection between the
two but more importantly have been able to determine that they
only could have met during a rather limited window of time:
14. An-Nir li-Dn Allh (11801225), Politik, Religion, Kultur in der
spten Abbsidenzeit (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1975),
pp.|2367; and, idem., al-Suhraward, Shihb al-Dn Ab af Umar,
Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1954), vol.|9, p.|779.

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either in Baghdad during the latter part of the year 608/1212 or


almost ten years later in Malatya during the year 618/1221,
around the same time when al-Suhraward met Najm al-Dn alRz Day (d.654/1256) during the course of one of his ofcial
missions on behalf of the Abbasid Caliph. Despite the reception
which Ibn Arab received in Baghdad in 608/1212 having
been interviewed by the important Iraqi historiographers Ibn
al-Dubayth (d.636/1239) and Ibn al-Najjr (d.642/1245), who
incidentally was invested with the khirqa by al-Suhraward
some years earlier and the well-documented receptions which
al-Suhraward received during his journey to Asia Minor in
618/1221, I have been unable to nd any corroborating evidence
which places the two together during either of these times.
There is, in fact, only one narrative which places the two
shaykhs together at all and, for reasons which will become clear
shortly, it provides no real clues as to time or place. The earliest
occurrence of this story which would serve as the template for
all to follow is found in the Mirt al-jann wa-ibrat al-yaqn
of the famous eighth/fourteenth-century Sh jurist and hagiohistoriographer Abdullh b. Asad al-Y (d.768/1367). His
account runs as follows:
I have been informed by some righteous ulam that a man of
experience and praiseworthy understanding said that the words of
Ibn Arab are possessed of extensive metaphorical interpretation.
It has been said that he met with Imm Shihb al-Dn alSuhraward and that during this meeting everyone was looking at
one another in expectation, but the two departed without saying
a word. Later, Ibn Arab was asked about Shaykh Shihb al-Dn and
he replied: he is lled with the Sunna from head to toe. Likewise,
Shihb al-Dn was asked about him and he said: he is an ocean
of divine realities (bar al-haqiq). As I have mentioned in some
of my books, everyone disagrees over the question of declaring him
[Ibn Arab] a heretic, but my personal opinion in the matter is to
withhold judgment and entrust his affair to God Most High.15

15. Mirt al-jann wa-ibrat al-yaqn (Hyderabad: Dirat al-Marif


al-Nimiyya, 1918), vol.|4, p.|101.

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The same report, with various accretions and inclusions, can


be found in later biographical works such as, for example, the
Shadhart al-dhahab of the eleventh/seventeenth-century anbal
biographer Ibn al-Imd:
It is reported that al-Y used to censure him by saying that
he was a heretic. One day some of his companions said to him:
I want you to point out the qub to me, and he said it is he. It
was said to him: but you normally censure him, to which he responded: I maintain the exotericity of the revealed law, although
in his Irshd he has described it in terms of gnosis and its verities.
And he said: the two shaykhs, these two imms both of them
gnostics, veriers of divine realities, and respected divines alSuhraward and Ibn Arab met; and during this meeting each of
them sat in silence for an hour after which they departed without
saying a word. Later, it was said to Ibn Arab: so, what do you
say about al-Suhraward?, to which he replied: he is lled with
the Sunna from head to toe. Likewise, it was said to al-Suhraward:
so, what do you say about him?, and he replied: he is an ocean
of divine realities.16

To me it is very clear from the outset that the issue here is not
whether or not Ibn Arab and al-Suhraward actually met, but
rather that their meeting serves a polemical agenda, namely to
position one or another biographer or historiographer in terms
of his stance on the issue of takfr (declaring someone a
heretic). As Alexander Knysh has shown us in his recent book
Ibn Arab and the Later Islamic Tradition, the controversy over
Ibn Arab consumed a great deal of the collective energy of
medieval Muslim thinkers from the seventh/thirteenth century
onwards, it being something of a standard obligation to dene
ones own position vis--vis the controversial Su master.17
As he has convincingly argued, in fact, the manner in which
the gure of Ibn Arab was re-imagined and reproduced in
later Muslim intellectual history can in many ways be better
16. Shadhart al-dhahab, vol.|7, p.|337.
17. Ibn Arabi in the Later Islamic Tradition (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1999), p.|1.

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understood when viewed as a literary discourse; as a series of


narratives both masking and reecting broader theological
tensions and controversies of concern to a particular discursive
community at any given time and place. What this amounts to,
then, is the production of a body of literature which for all
intents and purposes engages the legacy of the Shaykh only
inasmuch as pronouncements or more often than not, equivocations on that legacy serve, to quote Knysh,
as a convenient rallying point for various religio-political
factions vying for power and supremacy. This, in turn, leads to
the historical Ibn Arab becoming ctionalized into a polemical
image, for once the rules of the debate had been established by a
few authoritative scholars, they were, some exceptions and variations apart, meticulously observed by both parties to the debate,
leading, as it were, to the routinization and stabilization of the
polemical discourse.18

In the case of al-Y, the intention is clear, namely that in


his well-known personal disagreement over negative assessments
of the Shaykh by vituperative critics such as Ibn Taymiyya
(d.728/1328) or less-than-attering biographical portraits such
as that of al-Dhahab (d.749/1348), the learned Sh scholar
and Su sympathizer self-consciously and programmatically set
out to vindicate although in rather ambivalent terms Ibn
Arab from charges of indelity, grave sin, and even heresy. By
coupling Ibn Arab with a well-known and by then paradigmatic
representative of a creditable, thoroughly Jam-Sunn, essentially unimpeachable, Islamically-correct and ulam-sanctioned tradition of organized, arqa-based Susm, al-Y was
able to mitigate questions over the Shaykhs standing vis--vis
the very tradition which he claims. What better way to rehabilitate the image of a potential kr than to place him squarely in
the lap of an unquestionably unobjectionable and, especially
during the eighth/fourteenth century, authoritative icon of
all that is right with the Su tradition such as Ab af Umar
al-Suhraward? Interestingly enough, however, by no means did
18. Ibid., pp.|2745.

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al-Ys guration do much to soften potential polemics, and


the use of such face-saving narratives did not go unnoticed by
Ibn Arabs critics, one such critic in fact later remarking that
the al-Suhrawardi story was transmitted from one anonymous
[narrator] to another, and that al-Ya mentioned it because,
as an advocate of Sus, he was keen on nding excuses for them
no matter how far-fetched they may be.19
HAGIOGRAPHY
The production of pre-modern Su hagiography is framed by
both the larger Islamic biographical tradition as well as the
peculiarities of the Su tradition itself. The oft-cited tradition
bi-dhikra al-ula tanzil al-rama (divine mercy descends
by mentioning the righteous) in many ways encapsulates the
impetus behind the production of such works during Susms
classical phase, and certainly constitutes a leitmotif, for example, in the foundational Su hagiographies of Abd al-Ramn
al-Sulam (d.412/1021) and Ab Nuaym al-Ifahn (d.429/
1038). Among historians, the usual criticism of such material is
that it is categorically unreliable as a historical source. To me,
however, this is only of limited concern in that dismissing such
material categorically dismisses entire histories. What better
way to get a picture of certain strands of the Su tradition on
the ground than to examine how it goes about writing its own
history, constructing its own self-image as it were.
On one level we have a group of people bound together by a
shared historical and textual experience, a group who have singled themselves out in certain ways vis--vis larger conglomerations or groupings. On another level, we have the broader historical context within which such groups moved, a context with
certain meaningful reference points shared by all: it being the
manner in which a groups relationship to these reference points
are articulated which are telling, and which allow us as textual
19. Ibid., p.|119 (here quoting the vituperative Yemeni critic of the
Shaykh, Ibn al-Ahdal in his Kashf al-ghi an aqiq al-tawd wa l-radd
al Ibn Arab al-faylasf al-f [Tunis, 1964], p.|274).

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scholars to add depth and meaning to our own tellings. Reading such works closely and with an attentive ear allows us access
to, in a sense, the minds of our authors; it allows us to revivify
and re-animate texts which have been removed and separated
from their original contexts. Authors such as Sulam, Ar, or
Jm had certain aims in mind when composing their works, and
they not only present us with an encapsulated picture of the
historical, social, cultural, and religious contours of the particular
strand of the Su tradition which they represent, but they also
tell us a great deal about the larger milieux in which their authors moved: it is like studying the paintings of Monet, we cannot learn everything about Impressionism from his works alone
but we can in some sense come to understand the way in which
he viewed the world in which he lived and worked, what he
considered meaningful and worthy of attention, and in turn
how such things were translated into something lasting, something meant to transcend time yet paradoxically inextricably
bound to the time and space within which it was produced.
THE SECOND MEETING
In later Su hagio-historiography, the meeting between our
shaykhs which we rst encounter in al-Y became something
of a trope, a trope at least inasmuch as it came to take on a
certain ideological weight vis--vis whatever partisan leanings
guide the narrative vision of this or that hagiographer. Although
there are a number of interesting and worthwhile examples of
this process in pre-modern Su hagiology, in the interest of space
I will limit my comments to only one such example.
Within Su hagio-historiography the locus classicus of the
supposed meeting between Ibn Arab and al-Suhraward is found
in the Nafat al-uns min aart al-quds of Nr al-Dn Abd alRamn b. Amad al-Jm. A masterpiece of Persian Su literature, the Nafat al-uns is comprised of 614 biographies arranged
more or less chronologically and preceded by a lengthy introductory treatise on Susm in which the author charts both
the theosophical landscape of the Akbarian tradition as well as
practical matters of mystical praxis as understood in his own

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Naqshband tradition. A respected member of the illustrious


court of the Timurid ruler Suln usayn Byqar at Herat (r.873/
1469911/1506) and close friend of the Chagatay poet Mr Al
Shr Nav (d.906/1501), Jm was a disciple of the school of Ibn
Arab as well as a loyal member of the Naqshband order. He
espoused a moderate Su doctrine which sought something of
a middleway between the theosophy of Ibn Arab, Naqshband
mystical praxis, and the drunken love-centered mysticism of
Rm and his school. Although he was not known as a teaching shaykh, he was deeply respected as an authority on Susm
during his own lifetime and was sought out for his authoritative knowledge on various aspects of the tradition, especially in
the interpretation of Ibn Arabs works.
Although he quotes al-Y as a source, in Jms retelling of
the meeting the tables are turned. Here, a paradigmatic Ibn
Arab is put in service of al-Suhraward, lending, it would seem,
a measure of credibility and importance to the eponym of one
of the most active Su brotherhoods of Jms time. Curiously
enough, this connection does not appear in his entry on Ibn
Arab 20 where he simply repeats the episode we nd in al-Y
but rather is programmatically embedded within his account
of al-Suhraward where he quotes from al-Simnns Chihil majlis:
In the Risle-ye iqbliye 21 it is mentioned that Shaykh Rukn al-Dn
Al al-Dawla said that Shaykh Sad al-Dn ammya was asked
how do you nd Shaykh Muy l-Dn? to which he said [in
Arabic]: he is a surging ocean without a shore. It is also said
that he was asked: How do you nd Shaykh Shihb al-Dn
Suhraward? to which he replied [in Arabic]: the perpetual light
of the Prophet may God bless and greet him shines upon his
forehead, and that is something else indeed!22

Here, Jm makes two interesting connections. The rst is


between Ibn Arab and two silsilas: the Kubrawiyya and the
20. Nafat al-uns, ed. M. bid, p.|546.
21. That is, the Chihil majlis; see: Chihil majlis, ed. by Abd al-Raf
aqqat (Tehran, 1378 sh.), p.|215.
22. Nafat al-uns, ed. M. bid, p.|474.

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Suhrawardiyya, both of which underwent a rapid expansion in


the eastern Islamic lands of Jms time, each in fact vying for
patronage and legitimacy vis--vis the other as well as nding
themselves in competition with Jms own Naqshband lineage.
In choosing al-Simnns quote, and thus placing the disciple of
the celebrated Najm al-Dn Kubr, Sad al-Dn ammya (d.650/
1252), alongside al-Suhraward, Jm is able to effect, in one fell
swoop, an immediate connection between two contemporary
arqa-based Su traditions, both of which were not only very
active in the Persianate milieu for which Jm was writing, but
were also known for their mutual hostility to the school of Ibn
Arab. By having both of these iconic representatives of their
respective brotherhoods praise Ibn Arab, Jm is able to further
solidify his vision of what he sees as constituting an authentic mystico-theosophical Su tradition, a vision which he programmatically lays out in the Nafats sizeable introduction.
The second connection concerns the nr muammadiyya, an
image which is integral not only to Ibn Arabs system, but one
which came to gure prominently in certain Naqshband appropriations of the Akbarian tradition. For Jm, al-Ys ocean
of divine realities ultimately cannot serve his agenda well
enough, for, although the most obvious meaning of the gure
of speech which the speaker is made to employ in this account
is quite intelligible without reference to the nr muammadiyya,
for those attuned to such imagery as indeed most of Jms
audience would have been the allusion is unmistakeable.
POLEMIC
As we have already mentioned, the centrality of polemic in premodern Islamic intellectual history cannot be underestimated.
In many ways, the history of the Muslim religious sciences and
this is especially true of jurisprudence and dialectical theology
is a history of polemics. It is fair to say, in fact, that those works
which had the greatest impact on the development of these
disciplines were almost invariably informed and ultimately
sustained by a dynamic discourse of polemics and intellectual
struggle. Although I have not been able to touch on it here, the

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classical Su tradition itself owes a great deal to such processes,


and when one closely examines the trajectory of the institutionalized, arqa-based Su tradition which followed the so-called
classical age, one would be hard pressed not to assign polemic
a central place as a major determinative force in its history. Be
that as it may, we have also seen that polemics have indelibly
characterized the legacy of Ibn Arab himself, and the great
Shaykh, in fact, was no stranger to criticism during his own
lifetime. In this nal portion of this article, I would like to look
briey at how polemics played a role in the relationship between our two shaykhs for indeed, it is in this particular space
where the most intimate part of this relationship transpired.
THE THIRD MEETING
The nal meeting between Ibn Arab, al-shaykh al-akbar, and
Ab af Umar al-Suhraward, al-shaykh al-shuykh, is in fact
both the earliest and the latest of the three. It is a meeting which
in the rst place differs from all others, a meeting which takes
place not in the texts of historiographers and hagiographers, not
in the narratives of the Other, but rather in a world within which
both subjects appear on equal footing, a world within which
both were equally immersed, a world which is comprised of
narratives of the self or so it would seem.
This is the universe of the authorial text, a eld of experience
and self-immortalization within which both Ibn Arab and alSuhraward were undisputedly prolic. It was in this world where
the two Shaykhs did in fact meet each other, at least one of them
interrogating the other through the medium of pen and ink,
inserting themselves into the broader discursive elds which
each shared by default. It must be said however that, as tantalizing as this sounds, this meeting was but a brief, eeting,
encounter; for both Ibn Arab and al-Suhraward devote little
or no space to his contemporary, and from what I have been
able to determine neither had much interest in the other, certainly not to the extent to which the historiographical and
hagiographical narratives would lead us to believe. It is also, in
the second place, a contemporary meeting, for this particular

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relationship much like the other two is a product of later


narrators, of texts and contexts far removed from those of our
two shaykhs themselves. The present article, in fact, can be understood as being just another part of an ongoing meeting.
Let us start at the beginning. In his al-Futt al-makkiyya, Ibn
Arab refers to al-Suhraward twice. Both of these references
occur within the context of the Shaykhs thoughts on the ontological differentiation between divine witnessing, or Gods selfunveiling (al-mushhada), the divine word or speech (al-kalm)
and the primordial polarity of the divine will, namely its bifurcation into two modes: the engendering command, al-amr altakwn, and the prescriptive command, al-amr al-taklf.23 In both
cases, the Shaykh employs the gure of al-Suhraward, or in the
following case that of his uncle Ab l-Najb, as an example of
an individual for whom the two are wholly undifferentiated; one
whose spiritual state has not yet matured to a point which would
allow him to distinguish between these two modalities. Thus,
in chapter 550 on the subject of knowing the state of the qub,
Ibn Arab writes:
It is inevitable that he who has directly tasted the two commands
becomes aware of their distinction. It has reached me on the authority of the aged shaykh Shihb al-Dn al-Suhraward, that his
cousin [sic!] Ab l-Najb, maintained the unity between divine
witnessing and the divine word. Although I know his station and
his tasting in regards to this, I do not know if he advanced after
this or not. I do know, however, that he was at the level of
imaginalization (al-takhayyul) and this is a common station
widespread among the generality of Sus; but as for the elect, they
know it and through a certain affair have surpassed that which the
generality of Sus have tasted. This is what we, al-Sayyr, and
anyone who follows the same route of realization have alluded to.24

23. See William Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), pp.|25051.
24. Al-Futt al-makkiyya, photo-reproduction of the Cairo 1867 edition (Beirut: Dr dir, 1968), vol.|4, p.|192.

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Likewise, in chapter 71 on the mysteries of fasting, in a section dealing with the question of whether or not the faster is
allowed to kiss or be kissed by someone, Ibn Arab once again
mentions al-Suhraward, saying:
With regard to this question of kissing: among the doctors of the
law there are those who approve of it unconditionally, those who
disapprove of it without exception, and those who disapprove of
it for the novice but approve of it for the shaykh. The answer to
this question is the opposite of the issue of Moses peace be upon
him for he requested the vision (al-ruya) after experiencing the
divine word. As for divine witnessing and the divine word, the two
do not occur simultaneously save in the isthmithic theophany (altajall al-barzakh). This was the station of Shihb al-Dn Umar alSuhraward who died in Baghdad may God be merciful to him
for it has been narrated to me about him by a transmitter from
among his companions whom I trust, that he maintained the unity
of the vision and the divine word, and for this reason I know for
certain that his witnessing took place in the isthmithic theophany,
and there is no doubt about it, for without that, it could not have
been so.25

Interestingly enough, in the entry on al-Suhraward in his


Kawkib al-dhurriyya, the eleventh/seventeenth-century Egyptian
scholar and mystic al-Munw not only quotes the passage
from this chapter in his account, but misconstrues its meaning,
saying that: it should be pointed out to you that the gnostic
Ibn Arab praised him by saying this.26 For Ibn Arab, however,
al-Suhraward, as with many other similar individuals whom
he uses to support such points, serve only as examples of lesser
attainments on the path towards realization, and not as praiseworthy exemplars of the perfect man.
So what about al-Suhraward? As was mentioned earlier, it
is common scholarly knowledge that al-Suhraward harshly
criticized the Shaykh on the grounds that he had somehow
adulterated or sullied the pure and simple mystical experience
25. Ibid., vol.|1, p.|609.
26. Al-Kawkib al-dhurriyya, op. cit., vol.|2, p.|517.

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of the classical Su tradition by introducing the abstract and


speculative language of Islamic philosophy into the once venerable tradition of Prophetic taawwuf or did he? While later
Muslim thinkers such as Ibn Khaldn (d.780/1382) made such
a charge against the Shaykh,27 it is unclear if al-Suhraward
should be counted among them. In her entry al-Suhraward
in the new edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the otherwise
careful German scholar Angelika Hartmann states:
Though referring to the doctrine of the pious forefathers, alSuhraward in his mystical ideas went far beyond this, up to the
point of even accepting, be it in a limited way, the an l-aqq of
al-allj. Yet the freedom which al-Suhraward permitted himself
in his judgment of the executed mystic did not bring him into
agreement with the doctrines of contemporary freethinkers.
In strong words, he turned against the pantheism of his contemporary Ibn al-Arab. According to al-Suhraward, the latter had
started to establish a despicable connection between taawwuf and
elements of Greek philosophy.

This statement, as with much of her entry, is in fact nothing


but a direct translation of some passages in her 1975 German
monograph an-Nir li-Dn Allh: Politik, Religion, Kultur in der
spten Abbsidenzeit,28 this statement itself being based upon
some rather confusing evidence provided by Massignon in his
monumental La passion dal-allj 29 which, incidentally,
Hartmann does not cite in the above quoted entry. In fact, this
is the only place in her rather sizeable oeuvre on al-Suhraward
where she mentions this fact. Be that as it may, I as well as
others who have quoted Hartmanns statement on al-Suhraward
in various publications have always assumed that this was true,
and I recently read through the manuscripts of al-Suhrawards
works, hoping to nd his polemic against the Shaykh. Having
already read his rst polemic against the falsifa, the Rashf alnai al-mniyya wa-kashf al-fai al-ynniyya,30 I assumed
27.
28.
29.
30.

Ohlander.p65

See Knysh, op. cit., pp.|1907.


Ibid., pp.|2367.
Paris, 1922, vol.|1, pp.|4256.
Kashf al-fai al-ynniyya wa-rashf al-nai al-mniyya, ed.

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that such a diatribe must for sure be contained in his second


such work, the Idlat al-iyn al l-burhn.31 Unfortunately, I
had no such luck with this text either and after searching
through the rest of al-Suhrawards texts, consisting of some sixty
or so individual works, was unable to nd even one word about
Ibn Arab throughout the entire corpus!
Is this then another ction to be dismissed? Another instance of authors and their texts being something other than
they purport? In all fairness, and in deference to the guiding
vision or perhaps hermeneutic presented at the outset of this
article, it is, as the Shaykh might say that and not that, for
in fact what we have been dealing with all along is a narrative
tradition most aptly characterized by its inherent uidity, malleability, and essential ambivalence; changeability being its only
real continuity. We have seen that both our historiographers and
hagiographers tend to see only what their own weltanschauung
allows them to see, what the pressures and constraints of the
ever-so contextually bound discursive elds within which they
moved might have exerted upon their texts. We have also seen
that this narrative tradition, and I am inclined to include this
retelling within it, draws its energy, its sustenance and even its
stability, from polemic; for and this bears repeating wherever
we nd genuine and consequential development and creativity
in a particular tradition of discourse or praxis, we also nd contention, argument, and struggle.
CONCLUSION
As I hope to have made clear in the foregoing remarks, these
two great servants of love did indeed meet, not once, but three
times, and not in person, but in other people and in texts.

ish Ysuf al-Man (Cairo: Dar al-Salm, 1999); cf. MS. Sleymaniye
Library, Esad Efendi 35276 , fol.|120b160a, and, Reislkttap 4651, fol.|1b
109a.
31. MS. Bursa, Ulu Cami, Tas. 15974 , fol.|82a137b; Kprl Library
1589, fol.|74a97b (on the margins); and Sleymaniye Library, Hamidiye
144727 , fol.|131a150a.

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Although their lives intersected, such connections are but later


ctions; and although ctions can sometimes be disappointing
or at worst, terribly disorienting, as Borges so often reminds
us they seem to always manage to tell us something about ourselves, to either leave us with something which we did not have
before or, in the best of circumstances, to allow us to carry away
something which we brought with us, something which has
been changed, recongured, transmuted by the encounter. In
the end, the narratives of our historiographers and hagiographers can never be ours, and indeed it may be the case that they
were never theirs in the rst place. As we have seen, the encounter between our two shaykhs is itself inherently malleable, by its
very nature resistant to solidication and veridical pronouncements.
On a more critical note, as evinced in this exercise in reading
and retelling, we have seen that paradigmatic or iconic gures
constitute a special class of persons within pre-modern biographical literary traditions. Functioning as loci of broader networks of values, ideologies, and religio-philosophic discourses,
the way in which the biographies of such gures are written
often tell us much more about those who wrote them than
about the biographee himself. In the case of Muy l-Dn Ibn
Arab and Ab af Umar al-Suhraward we have seen that their
iconic value was easily capitalized, coming to serve as a sort
of discursive unit of exchange in the economy of medieval
Muslim polemic; although the concerns of al-Y and Abd alRamn Jm differed considerably, both were able to make good
use of a common legal tender. Not to be left out either is the
intratextual encounter between the two shaykhs, both of whom
decided to meet apparently quite independently in either a
real or imagined, but nonetheless, polemical context, a context
within which these two key players in the history of Susm
during the sixth/twelfthseventh/thirteenth centuries were
steeped, within which they moved, and by which they would
be continuously re-imagined and redeployed throughout the
course of pre-modern Islamic intellectual history as well as its
retellings in modern western scholarship.

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