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Whoso Knoweth Himself
Cherub

Ibn ’Arabi

Known as Muhyiddin (the Revivifier of Religion) and Shaykh al-Akbar (the Greatest Master), Ibn ’Arabi was born in 1165 in Spain, which at that time had been an Arab country for more than four hundred years, and whose flourishing culture was greatly influenced by the healthy co-mingling of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Exposed to Sufism from early childhood, Ibn ’Arabi traveled and studied extensively. He was a prolific poet and writer. He was and is an inspiring and extremely powerful Teacher. A search of his name at any of the internet search engines yields numerous responses. Idries Shah’s book The Sufis includes a chapter about him. A complete, if sometimes a little heavy to read, biography is Quest for The Red Sulphur by Claude Addas. For other books by and about Ibn ’Arabi, please see the website of the Ibn ’Arabi Society.

We were introduced to “Whoso Knoweth Himself” by a longtime friend of The Zoo Fence who sent us the extended excerpt that appears here. The complete book is twenty-seven pages in length, and is itself apparently an excerpt from a longer work, called “Treatise on Being” (which some websites suggest may have been partly the work of a disciple of Ibn ’Arabi). The sources on the internet we found for “Whoso Knoweth Himself” report it as being out of print; it is available at Amazon.com, evidently from a private seller, at what by our measure is a prohibitively high price. Happily, a nearby public library was able to obtain a copy for us through the inter-library loan system.

When he sent us this excerpt, our friend observed that, in his mind, this booklet offers the most powerful consideration of the singleness of the Universe that he had ever come across. We agree. Our experience suggests that it is hard, perhaps even impossible, for a seeker to immerse himself or herself in these pages, and not come away with a vivifying realization that nothing exists except God.

The copyright on “Whoso Knoweth Himself” is held by Beshara Design Centre Ltd in London, England. The publisher is Beshara Publications, whose web address is http://www.besharapublications.org.uk/, and the printer is Ithaca Press; both are in London, England. We sent email and hard copy letters to Beshara Design Center Ltd requesting copyright permission to post this excerpt on The Zoo Fence, but we received no response.

On the original pages of this excerpt, there are six footnotes. We have included three of them here. We have omitted the other three because they are in Arabic, which we are unable to read (and for which we do not have a font). The brackets and parentheses that appear here are in the original text, except those in black, which are ours.

 

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In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, and Him we ask for aid: Praise be to God before whose oneness there was not a before, unless the Before were He, and after whose singleness there is not an after, except the After be He. He is, and there is with Him no after nor before, nor above nor below, nor far nor near, nor union nor division, nor how nor where nor when, nor times nor moment nor age, nor being nor place. And He is now as He was. He is the One without oneness, and the Single without singleness. He is not composed of name and named, for His name is He and His named is He. So there is no name other than He, nor named. And so He is the Name and the Named. He is the First without firstness, and the Last without lastness. He is the Outward without outwardness, and the Inward without inwardness. I mean that He is the very existence of the First and the very existence of the Last, and the very existence of the Outward and the very existence of the Inward. So that there is no first nor last, nor outward nor inward, except Him, without these becoming Him or His becoming them.

Understand, therefore, in order that thou mayest not fall into the error of the Hululis (see Note 1): — He is not in a thing nor a thing in Him, whether entering in or proceeding forth. It is necessary that thou know Him after this fashion, not by knowledge, nor by intellect, nor by understanding, nor by imagination, nor by sense, nor by the outward eye, nor by the inward eye, nor by perception. There does not see Him, save Himself; nor perceive Him, save Himself. By Himself He sees Himself, and by Himself He knows Himself. None sees Him other than He, and none perceives Him other than He. His Veil is [only a part of] His oneness; nothing veils other than He. His veil (See Note 2) is [only] the concealment of His existence in His oneness, without any quality. None sees Him other than He — no sent prophet, nor saint made perfect, nor angel brought nigh (See Note 3) knows Him. His Prophet is He, and His sending is He, and His word is He. He sent Himself with Himself to Himself. There was no mediator nor any means other than He. There is no difference between the Sender and the thing sent, and the person sent and the person to whom he is sent. The very existence of the prophetic message is His existence. There is no other, and there is no existence to other, than He, nor to its ceasing to be, nor to its name, nor to its named.

And for this the Prophet (upon whom be peace) said: “Whoso knoweth himself knoweth his Lord”. And he said (upon him be peace): “I know my Lord by my Lord”. The Prophet (upon whom be peace) points out by that, that thou art not thou: thou art He, without thou; not He entering into thee, nor thou entering into Him, nor He proceeding forth from thee, nor thou proceeding forth from Him. And it is not meant by that, that thou art aught that exists or thine attributes aught that exists, but it is meant by it that thou never wast nor wilt be, whether by thyself or through Him or in Him or along with Him. Thou art neither ceasing to be nor still existing. Thou art He, without one of these limitations. Then if thou know thine existence thus, then thou knowest God; and if not, then not.

And most of “those who know God” make a ceasing of existence and the ceasing of that ceasing a condition of attaining the knowledge of God, and that is an error and a clear oversight. For the knowledge of God does not presuppose the ceasing of existence nor the ceasing of that ceasing. For things have no existence, and what does not exist cannot cease to exist. For the ceasing to be implies the positing of existence, and that is polytheism. Then if thou know thyself without existence or ceasing to be, then thou knowest God; and if not, then not.

And in making the knowledge of God conditional upon the ceasing of existence and the ceasing of that ceasing, there is involved an assertion of polytheism. For the Prophet (upon whom be peace) said, “Whoso knoweth himself,” and did not say, “Whoso maketh himself to cease to be”. For the affirmation of the other makes its extinction impossible, and [on the other hand] that of which the affirmation is not allowable its extinction is not allowable. Thine existence is nothing, and nothing cannot be added to something, whether it be perishing or unperishing, or existent or non-existent. The Prophet points to the fact that thou art non-existent now as thou wast non-existent before the Creation. For now is past eternity and now is future eternity, and now is past time. And God (whose name be exalted) is the existence of past eternity and the existence of future eternity and the existence of past time, yet without past eternity or future eternity or past time ever existing. For if it were not so He would not be by Himself without any partner, and it is indispensable that He should be by Himself without any partner. For His “partner” would be he whose existence was in his own essence, not in the existence of God, and whoever should be in that position would not be dependent upon Him. Then, in that case, there would be a second Lord, which is absurd: God (whose name be exalted) can have no partner nor like nor equal. And whoever looks upon anything as being along with God or apart from God or in God, but subject to Him in respect of His divinity, makes this thing also a partner, [only] subject to God in respect of divinity. And whoever allows that anything exists side by side with God, whether self-subsisting or subsisting in Him or capable of ceasing to exist or of ceasing to cease to exist, he is far from what smells of a breath of the knowledge of the soul.

Note 1: In the text, the note at this point reads, “Who believe in incarnations of God”. Return to text.
Note 2: In the text, the note here reads “That is, phenomenal existence”. Return to text.
Note 3: In the text, this note directs the reader to “Koran, IV, 170”. Return to text.

Editor’s Note: For Brother Theophyle’s take on this passage by Ibn ’Arabi, please click here and here.

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