One of the most informative studies to appear on Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 638/1240) and the earliest architects of his ‘school’ is Caner Dagli’s Ibn al-ʿArabī and Islamic Intellectual Culture. A work that compares the foremost commentators of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s oeuvre is long overdue and Dagli’s presentation is a brilliant contribution to the genre. His work, firstly, highlights the interaction between Sufism, philosophy and theology by juxtaposing Ibn al-ʿArabī’s ideas with those of Ibn Sīnā (d. 428/1037), Ghazālī (d. 505/1111) and Suhrawardī (d. 587/1191), the towering intellectual figures of Islam. He then traces the development of the first four generations of students, beginning with Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī (d. 673/1274) and ending with Dāwūd al-Qayṣarī (d. 751/1350). Thus, there are two themes interwoven in this study, one which looks at Ibn al-ʿArabī’s mystical doctrine outwardly vis-à-vis the key philosophical positions of the time, and another which tracks the internal development of his school. Another facet of the study, implicit in the choice of authors and the structure of the book, is the importance of the master–disciple relationship, which is the touchstone of Sufism. In other words, Qūnawī, Jandī (d. 691/1292), Kāshānī (d. 730/1330), and Qayṣarī are not simply scholars, more or less, contemporaneous with the Greatest Master (al-shaykh al-akbar), but also represent a spiritual lineage that transmits sacred knowledge from one heart to another. Once received by the heart’s transmission, it is written down and produced as scholarly output, coloured by the vessel of its author. While Dagli presents the material more as intellectual history, one may also read into the text a spiritual history, a proverbial descent from the pen of gnosis to the tablets (hearts) of the disciples. We find in the Ibn al-ʿArabī commentarial tradition, more so than any other branch of Sufism, an obvious philosophical tenor that intimates the mutually providential relationship between mysticism and philosophy. However, the approach of mysticism is fundamentally different from philosophy, given that it is not the rational mind that discloses reality but mystical intuition and spiritual ‘unveilings’, and at the highest level, divine self-disclosure. Even though his disciples were practising Sufis, immersed in personal piety and spirituality, they wished to engage with the larger scholarly community and therefore expounded Ibn al-ʿArabī’s mystical doctrines in philosophical terminology. That the earliest proponents of the ‘Akbarian’ school developed his ideas while engaging with current philosophical and theological discourse and incorporating them into their writings is the key point of the philosophy–mysticism convergence. Describing the crucial role of Ibn Sīnā and Ghazālī, the preeminent representatives of philosophy and theology, respectively, Dagli sets the stage (in ch. 2) for the reception of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s doctrines in mainstream Islamic thought. He also cites passages that shows their mystical proclivities and the cross-fertilization between Sufism and philosophy. In the next chapter, he begins to discuss some metaphysical preliminaries, namely the ideas of taʿayyun (‘identification’) and tashkīk (gradation). These are important concepts to define, especially in the context of a mysticism–philosophy dialogue, although perhaps not the first choice for grasping Ibn al-ʿArabī’s metaphysics as a whole. In any case, the following chapter develops Qūnawī’s philosophical treatment of Being and its related concepts such as reality (ḥaqīqa), self-disclosure (tajallī), emanation (fayḍ), manifestation (ẓuhūr), essence (dhāt), and the difference between the spreading (inbiṣāṭ) and flowing (sarayān) of Being. Dagli’s vast scope in this study investigates eight towering figures of Islamic civilization. However, starting from ch. 4 to the end of book, he restricts himself to the first four generations in Ibn al-ʿArabī’s school. The brief intellectual biographies are captivating and bring new insights into the lives of these great masters. For example, Qūnawī, Ibn al-ʿArabī’s son-in-law, was in philosophical correspondence with Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 672/1274) and also good friends with Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 672/1273). Ṭūsī was an important reviver of Peripatetic philosophy and Rūmī was the pinnacle of the Persian Sufi tradition. This sort of historical context sheds light on Qūnawī’s critical role in the dissemination of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s teachings beyond regional and linguistic boundaries. In ch. 5, Dagli turns our attention to Jandī, Qūnawī’s disciple of ten years and the first commentator on the Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam. The absence of studies on Jandī’s thought in English, is made up for in this chapter by linking the Fuṣūṣ commentary tradition to its prototype. Dagli argues that Jandī continued to develop Akbarian metaphysics in the same manner as Qūnawī, appealing to scholars and philosophers from the outside. In the next chapter, Dagli highlights Kāshānī’s place both as second-generation disciple of Ibn al-ʿArabī and preeminent scholar of Islam. Kāshānī’s commentary on ʿAbdullāh al-Anṣārī’s (d. 481/1089) Manāzil al-sāʾirīn is the archetypical manual of wayfaring. He also wrote a brief but important Sufi commentary on the Qurʾān known as Tafsīr Ibn al-ʿArabī and wrote the most comprehensive lexicon of Sufi terminology titled Iṣṭilaḥāt al-ṣūfiyya. As a lexicographer, one might expect Kāshānī to be meticulous in the systemization of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s thought; this is indeed the case. Dagli also spends considerable time exploring the way in which Kāshānī’s understanding of ‘entification’ (taʿayyun), discussed in his chapter on ‘Metaphysical Preliminaries’, differs from the levels of Being in Mullā Ṣadrā and his interpreters. Kāshānī’s approach is more sophisticated than his predecessors, and ‘a real advance in the understanding between philosophy and mysticism’ (p. 117). The culmination of Dagli’s study concerns Kāshānī’s student Qayṣarī, who wrote one of the most influential and accessible commentaries on the Fuṣūṣ. His influence spread beyond Anatolia and was key to the reception of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s ideas in the Persianate world. Given that there are over 120 commentaries on Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam alone, it is worthwhile to ask why this work has received the attention that it has. The answer lies in Qayṣarī’s Prolegomena (al-Muqaddima) to his full-length commentary on the Fuṣūṣ, titled Maṭlaʿ khuṣūṣ al-kalim fī sharḥ Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam, which crystallized Ibn al-ʿArabī’s metaphysics in twelve masterfully written, all-inclusive chapters. Dagli notes that Qayṣarī’s Prolegomena is a primer for serious students of mysticism and bridges the ‘conceptual space between falsafah and taṣawwuf to an extent no one had done before.’ He says, ‘Qayṣarī represents the outcome of a trajectory begun by Qūnawī…[using] the prevailing metaphysical language of Islamic culture.’ With the passage of time, the distinction between mystic, philosopher and theologian becomes increasingly unclear, and as Chittick notes, ‘impossible to classify a particular thinker as only a philosopher, or a theologian, or a Sufi’ (p. 144). Dagli’s well-founded thesis is that it was Ibn al-ʿArabī’s strand of Sufism that ‘added a discourse that was “analytical” to a literature that was predominantly “poetic” or didactic’. Alternatively, it can be said that it was the very nature of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s ideas that lent themselves to philosophical exposition, in addition to the fact that his students were trained in Islamic and scholastic disciplines and ready to engage with the current discourse of their time. Ibn al-ʿArabī’s teachings appealed to the analytically minded seekers of spirituality. His was a type of knowledge-based Sufism rather than exclusively a devotional one, as evidenced in the writings of Mullā Ṣadrā, who—relying heavily on Ibn al-ʿArabī’s ideas—merged the three epistemic modalities of revelation (Qurʾān), reason (burhān) and mysticism (ʿirfān). Overall, Dagli’s study is a superb introduction to the first and major exponents of the Ibn al-ʿArabī tradition. He also underscores the attitude and receptivity of Ibn Sīnā and al-Ghazālī towards mysticism, insofar as we find in their later works, a yen for the spiritual life and a high regard for Sufi masters. While not specifically addressed in this review, Dagli engages with many philosophical and mystical ideas in each chapter. In this regard, his thoughts are clear, carefully written and excellently argued. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Islamic Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 30, 2018
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