The Sufi Path of Knowledge

Ibn al-ʿArabi's Metaphysics of Imagination

By William C. Chittick

Subjects: Islam
Paperback : 9780887068850, 504 pages, June 1989
Hardcover : 9780887068843, 504 pages, June 1989

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Table of contents



The Life and Works of Ibn al-'Arabi
The Meccan Openings
Koranic Hermeneutics
The Study of Ibn al-'Arabi in the West
The Present Work


1. Overview


1. The Divine Presence
Finding God
Worlds and Presences
Being and Nonexistence
The Divine Attributes
The Divine Acts
The Macrocosm
The Microcosm
Cosmic Dynamics
The Return to God
Assuming the Traits of God
Theomorphic Ethics
The Scale of the Law
Seeing Things as They Are
Human Perfection


2. Theology


2. The Names of God
Names, Attributes, and Relationships
(1) The Names of the Names
(2) Relationships
(3) The Two Denotations of the Names
(4) Realities, Roots, and Supports
(5) Properties and Effects
The Names of Engendered Existence
Secondary Causes

3. The Divine Roots of Hierarchy and Conflict
Hierarchy in the Names
Ranking in Degrees
The Names Personified
The Divine Conflict
The Unity of the Essence
Names of Incomparability and Names of Acts

4. The Essence and the Divinity
The Divinity
The Unkowability of the Essence
The Independence of the Essence
The Name "Allah"
The Disputes of the Angels
Incomparability and Similarity
Combining Incomparability and Similarity


3. Ontology


5. Existence and Nonexistence
Being/Existence and the Existent: Wujud and Mawjud
Possible Things
Loci of Manifestation
Self-Disclosure and Receptivity
Oneness of Being and Effects of the Names

6. The New Creation
Infinite Possibility
Perpetual Renewal
Divine Tasks
Breaking Habits
Transmutation and Transformation
Never-Repeating Self-Disclosures
The Heart

7. Cosmic Imagination
He/Not He
The Manifestation of the Impossible

8. The Supreme Barzakh
The Cloud
The Breath of the All-Merciful
Relief Through Mercy
The Real Through Whom Creation Takes Place
The Universal Reality


4. Epistemology


9. Knowledge and the Knower
Knowledge and Knowledge
The Usefulness of Knowledge
Limits to Knowledge
The Infinity of Knowledge

10. Acquiring Knowledge
The Rational Faculty
Following Authority

11. The Scale of the Law
The Revealed Law
The Scale
Wisdom and Courtesy
The Scale of Reason
Affirming Similarity
Reactions to the Revelation of Similarity


5. Hermeneutics


12. Faith and Rational Interpretation
The Rational Thinkers
Acts of God and Acts of Man

13. Knowing God's Self-Disclosure
Finding Light
The Lights of Self-Disclosure
Naming the Perception of Light
Witnessing and Vision

14. Understanding the Koran
The Goal of Rational Inquiry
Reason versus Unveiling
The Character of Muhammad
The Context of the Koran
The Commentary of the Folk of Allah
Commentary by Allusion
Knowledge of Hadith


6. Soteriology


15. Weighing Self-Disclosure
Knowledge and Practice
The Inviolability of the Law
Spiritual States
Spiritual Mastery

16. Names and Stations
The Divine Form
The Stations of the Path
Assuming the Character Traits of God
Noble and Base Character Traits

17. Pitfalls of the Path
Good and Evil
The Two Commands
The Perfection of Imperfection
God's Conclusive Argument
The Straight Path
Nobility of Character

18. Safety in Servanthood
The Servant's Worship of his Lord
The Perils of Lordship
The Exaltation of Lowliness
The Perfect Servant
Worship Through Free Will Offerings
Obligations and Supererogations


7. Consummation


19. Transcending the Gods of Belief
The Roots of Belief
Worshiping God and Self
Knowing Self
Paths of Belief
Belief and the Law
The Belief of the Gnostic
Beatific Vision

20. Seeing with Two Eyes
Duality and the Signs of Unity
The Possessor of Two Eyes
Being With God Wherever You Are
Two Perfections
Serving the Divine Names
The People of Blame
The Station of No Station




Ibn al-'Arabi is still known as "the Great Sheik" among the surviving Sufi orders. Born in Muslim Spain, he has become famous in the West as the greatest mystical thinker of Islamic civilization. He was a great philosopher, theologian, and poet.

William Chittick takes a major step toward exposing the breadth and depth of Ibn al-'Arabi's vision. The book offers his view of spiritual perfection and explains his theology, ontology, epistemology, hermeneutics, and soteriology. The clear language, unencumbered by methodological jargon, makes it accessible to those familiar with other spiritual traditions, while its scholarly precision will appeal to specialists.

Beginning with a survey of Ibn al-'Arabi's major teachings, the book gradually introduces the most important facets of his thought, devoting attention to definitions of his basic terminology. His teachings are illustrated with many translated passages introducing readers to fascinating byways of spiritual life that would not ordinarily be encountered in an account of a thinker's ideas. Ibn al-'Arabi is allowed to describe in detail the visionary world from which his knowledge derives and to express his teachings in his own words.

More than 600 passages from his major work, al-Futuhat al-Makkivva, are translated here, practically for the first time. These alone provide twice the text of the Fusus al-hikam. The exhaustive indexes make the work an invaluable reference tool for research in Sufism and Islamic thought in general.

William Chittick is a Professor of Religious Studies at State University of New York, Stony Brook. He is author of The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi and nine other books.


"For the first time in the history of Orientalism, a thorough study of Ibn al-'Arabi's thought is now available. William Chittick has given us a translation of numerous passages from the work of the Magister Magnus and placed them in their theological context, thus removing many misunderstandings that have prevailed both among Muslims and in the West when interpreting Ibn al-'Arabi's mystical worldview. Chittick has done this with admirable clarity, and his book will always remain a most important milestone in the study of Islamic mystical theology. " -- Annemarie Schimmel, Harvard University