Ibn al-ʿArabi in the Later Islamic Tradition

The Making of a Polemical Image in Medieval Islam

By Alexander D. Knysh

Subjects: Religion
Series: SUNY series in Islam
Paperback : 9780791439685, 449 pages, December 1998
Hardcover : 9780791439678, 449 pages, January 1999

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Table of contents

The Making of a Polemical Image in Medieval Islam
Alexander D. Knysh


List of Tables



A Note on Transliteration and Dates


1. Defining The Approach

Ibn 'Arabi in Recent Western Scholarship

2. The Biographical Prelude

Ibn 'Arabi's Biography: From Early Accounts to Later Interpretations

Ibn 'Arabi in the Biographical Works of Western Muslims

The Account of Ibn al-Musdi

The Anecdotal Evidence From al-Qazwini

A Sufi Perspective: Ibn Abi 'l-Mansur

Al-Qastallani's Polemical Twist


3. Between Damascus And Cairo: The Affair Of Ibn 'Abd Al-Salam

The Historical Setting

Sufism and Sunni Islam: Concord or Expediency?

Religion and Politics in the Mamluk State

Defending the Purity of Islam in the Mamluk State

Ibn 'Arabi's Opponents in Search of Precedents

Enter Ibn 'Abd al-Salam al-Sulami

Ibn 'Abd al-Salam and Sufism

Ibn 'Abd al-Salam's Denunciation of Ibn 'Arabi: An Essay on Contextualization

Ibn 'Abd al-Salam on the Hierarchy of the Sufi Gnostics

Sufi Responses to Ibn 'Abd al-Salam's Censure

Ibn 'Abd al-Salam on the Relationship Between the shari 'a and the haqiqa

Some Later Elaborations


4. Ibn Taymiyya's Formidable Challenge

Structure, Method, and Contents of Ibn Taymiyya's Antimonistic Writings

Ibn Taymiyya's Personal View of the Greatest Master

Argumentum ad hominem

An Argument from Metaphysics

Ibn Taymiyya on the Doctrine of Sainthood

Ibn Taymiyya's Antimonistic Critique sub specie aeternitatis

5. Ibn 'Arabi In The Biographical Literature From The 8th/14th-9th/15th Centuries

Shaping an Ambiguous Image: al-Dhahabi

Apologetic Uses of al-Dhahabi's Ambivalence: al-Safadi and al-Yafi'i

Al-Fasi: Between Biography and Polemic

Ibn 'Arabi Through the Eyes of an Admirer: al-Qari al-Baghdadi's 'Al-Durr al-thamin"


6. The Metaphysical Argument Revisited: Al-Taftazani

Historical and Intellectual Background

Al-Taftazani's Refutation of Ibn 'Arabi

The Metaphysical Argument

The Problem of "Pharaoh's Faith"


7. Ibn 'Arabi In The Muslim West: A Prophet in His Own Land?

Ibn 'Arabi in Western Islamic Historiography

Ibn 'Arabi Through the Eyes of Ibn al-Khatima

Ibn al-Khatib The Vizier

Ibn al-Khatib on Love Mysticism

Ibn 'Arabi in Rawdat al-ta'rif

Ibn Khaldun and Islamic Mysticism

Ibn Khaldun on Monistic Philosophy

Ibn Khaldun and the People of tajalli


8. Egypt: The Polemic Continues

Ibn 'Arabi in Mamluk Cairo

Al-Bukhari versus al-Bisati: A Public Dispute over Ibn 'Arabi's Unbelief

Al-Biqa'i's "Destruction" of Monistic Philosophy


9. Ibn 'Arabi in Yemen

Yemeni Society in the Later Middle Period


9. Ibn 'Arabi in Yemen

Yemeni Society in the Later Middle Period

Sufism in Medieval Yemen

The Rasulid Kingdom

The Rasulids and Islamic Learning

Ibn al-Ahdal on the Rise of Monistic Sufism in Yemen

Al-Jabarti and the Sufi Community of Zabid

Al-Jabarti's Associates: Ibn al-Raddad and al-Jili

Scholarly Disputes over Ibn 'Arabi: The fuqaha ' versus the sufiyya ?

Ibn al-Muqri versus al-Kirmani: Final Episodes of the Long Struggle


General Conclusion



General Index

Index of Terms

Index of Book Titles

Examines the fierce controversy over the legacy of Ibn 'Arabi, the great Islamic mystic.


This book examines the fierce theological controversy over the great Muslim mystical thinker Ibn 'Arabi (1165–1242). Even during his lifetime, Ibn 'Arabi's conformity with the letter of the Muslim dogma was called into doubt by many scholars who were suspicious of the monistic (unitive) tendencies of his metaphysical teaching, of his claims to be the Prophet's successor and restorer of the true meaning of the Islamic revelation, and of his allegorical interpretation of the Qur'an.

Following Ibn 'Arabi's death, these misgivings grew into an outright condemnation of his teachings by a number of influential thirteenth through fifteenth century theologians who portrayed him as a dangerous heretic bent on undermining the foundations of Islamic faith and communal life. In response to these grave accusations, Ibn 'Arabi's advocates praised him as the greatest saint of Islam who was unjustly slandered by the bigoted and narrow-minded critics.

As time went on, these conflicting images of the mystical thinker became rallying points for various political and scholarly factions vying for lucrative religious and administrative posts and ideological denomination. In thoroughly analyzing the heated debates around Ibn 'Arabi's ideas throughout the three centuries following his death, this study brings out discursive strategies and arguments employed by the polemicists, the hidden agendas they pursued, and the reasons for the striking longevity of the issue in Islamic literature up to the present day. On the theoretical level, this book reassesses the validity of such common dichotomies as orthodoxy versus heresy, mainstream versus mystical interpretations of Islam, and communalism versus individualism as well as other issues related to the history of Islamic thought.

Alexander D. Knysh is The Sharjah Professor of Islamic Studies, Department of Arabic and Middle East Studies, University of Exeter, United Kingdom.


"Knysh has looked at exactly who were the supporters and opponents of Ibn 'Arabi for several centuries after his death, where they were getting their information, why they should have taken the position they took, and so forth. The author brings together a lot of tidbits in the secondary literature that people have not connected, and he does so with careful attention to the primary texts. " -- William C. Chittick, author of The Self Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn 'Arabi's Cosmology