Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ibn Arabi on the Art of Making Du'a (Supplications)


These are excerpts from Sheikh Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi's (1165 -1240 CE) 'Al-Awrad al- yawmiyya' (Daily Prayers). The du'as composed by Ibn Arabi are crafted in such a manner that they reflect the intimate relationship between the one who asks and the One who answers. In other words, the essence of union or tawhid. Hence, it is important to understand and be certain that we are not far from the One we are asking and here Ibn Arabi explains the nature of the relationship between the one who makes the du'a and the One who responds. The awrad is translated by Pablo Beneito and Stephen Hirtenstein who elucidate on this point in the introduction of the book:

They (Ibn Arabi's du'as) are founded upon the detailed exposition of spiritual Union, expressing the most intimate of converse with the Divine Beloved, and situating the one who prays as the true adorer. Here the reciter and the one recited to are understood to be two sides of the same reality. What is recited is that which 'arrives in the heart' (warid) and 'is received' by the adorer, on the one hand, and the request that reaches the Real (al-Haqq) and is responded to, on the other.

God's response is as inherently necessary as the asking of the creature. With the injunction: 'Call upon Me and I shall answer you.', God has promised to respond to the constant request of the creatures, and this in itself is a request: He asks the servants to call Him, while the servant ask Him to respond. Thus both are asking and asked for (talib wa matlub).

The response is equally mutual:
'Whoever responds when he is called is responded when he himself calls. He responds when he calls Him, since he has responded to Him, until he actualises the language of the Envoy of God. If someone responds to the call of God when He calls him by the language of Revealed Law - and He does not call him except through it - God responds to him (favourably) in whatever he has asked for. Do tell His faithful servants to "listen to God and His Envoy when they call you...", since neither He, glory to Him, nor his Envoy call you except 'towards that brings you life.'

Given that there is always a divine response to our request, it is essential to become conscious of what is actually being asked for.
"In respect of His attributing to Himself closeness in listening and responding, this is analogous to His describing Himself as being 'closer' to man than 'his jugular vein'. Here he compares His closeness to His servant with the closeness of man to his own self. When man asks himself to do something and then does it, there is no time-gap betweeen the asking and the response, which is simply listening. The moment of asking actually is the very moment of responding to His servant is (identical to) the closeness of the servant in responding to his own self. Then (we can say that) what he asks of his self in any state is akin to what he asks of his Lord as a specific need."

The capacity of the heart to 'see' is precisely what transforms prayer from a repetitive act into meaningful conversation.
"Since (prayer) is a secret intimate converse, it is thus an invocation or remembrance (zikir) and whoever remembers God finds himself sitting with God and God sits with him, according to the Divine tradition: 'I sit with whosoever remembers Me.' Whoever finds himself sitting with the One he remembers, and is capable of inner vision, sees his 'sitting-companion' . This is witnessing (mushahada) and vision (rukya). If he does not have this inner capacity, he will not see Him. It is from this actuality or absence of vision in the prayer that the one who prays will know his own spiritual degree."

The three worlds and the three persons
Throughout the prayers there are references to two fundamental aspects of existence: on the one hand: the visible or witnessed (shuhud) realm, the world of Creation (khalq) and of the Kingdom (mulk); on the other: the invisible or unseen (ghayb) realm, the world of Command (amr) and of Kingship (malakut). These correspond to 'day' and 'night' respectively. Between the two realms, in Ibn Arabi's teaching, there lies an isthmus (barzakh) or threshold which both joins them together and keeps them separate: it is the place where meanings take on form and forms are given meaning. He calls it the world of Compelling Power (jabarut) or Imagination (khayal). It is a realm where the Magnificence of the Divine Presence is witnessed by virtue of inner sight, and where the one who prays is invited for converse. Real player takes place in this isthmus between the visible and invisible worlds.

These two realms can equally be viewed as that which is present to us here and now (shuhud), as opposed to that which is absent (ghayb). Ibn Arabi defines the unseen or absent (ghayb) as 'that of you which God has concealed from you, though not from Himself, and thus it indicates Him'. The third person (he) denotes someone who is not here, while the first and second persons (I and you) refer to those present and visible. The contemplation of this distinction opens up a different realm. To enter into converse with God is to step from apparent absence into His Presence. This renders the absent One ('He') into the One present ('You'), so that He may be addressed. At the same time here is always that aspect of 'Him' which remains unseen and eludes 'my' comprehension, for He is too majestic to be encompassed. Nonetheless, within the ultimate mystery of Union, the 'You' who listens is not other than the 'I' who speaks. God is thus simultaneously present and absent, I/You and He.

A late 16th Century Persian miniature, Safavid period, representing Ibn 'Arabi on horseback with two students. Courtesy of the Bodleian Library, Oxford. - From Ibn Arabi Society.

'How can I know You when You are the inwardly Hidden who is not known? How can I not know You when You are the outwardly Manifest making Yourself known to me in every thing?'
- Sunday Morning Prayer.
O son,
I know Ibn Arabi's teachings may be a little complex but the point here is that when making du'a, address Him intimately as 'You' who is near to you and who is ever waiting to hear your call to Him so that He could respond to you.
'Whosoever is in the heavens and the earth is in request of Him; everyday He is at work.' 'Yas aluhu man fissama watiwal ardh, kulli yaumim huwa fi sha'nin' - Quran 55:29.
This verse indicates that He will be working on your du'a, in fact everyday He is at work fulfilling all our du'as. So ask from Him and have certainty that He listens and that He will fulfill all requests in the best manner. Bi-iznillah.


  1. Alhamdulillaah wa shukrulillaah, all writings of Sayyidina 'Ibn al-'Arabi have something special. The feeling that this is true hidden knowledge.
    Thank you!

  2. Ask for what is REAL and ask HIM to help in fleeing from ignorance into Knowledge of the Real and what HE Bestows .