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Reviewed by:
  • Ibn ʿArabī: Vida y enseñanzas del gran místico andalusí by Fernando Mora, and: Ibn al-ʿArabī and Islamic Intellectual Culture: From mysticism to philosophy by Caner K. Dagli
  • Brian Welter
Ibn ʿArabī: Vida y enseñanzas del gran místico andalusí, by Fernando Mora, 2011. Barcelona: Kairós, 456 pp., €18.75. isbn: 978-8-49988-023-5.
Ibn al-ʿArabī and Islamic Intellectual Culture: From mysticism to philosophy, by Caner K. Dagli, 2016. (Routledge Sufi Series, ed. Ian Netton.) Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, x + 158 pp., £90.00. isbn: 978-1-13878-001-9.

Taken together, Ibn ʿArabī: Vida y enseñanzas del gran místico andalusí and Ibn al-ʿArabī and Islamic Intellectual Culture offer readers a fairly complete introduction to the life, teaching, and legacy of the medieval mystic. While Dagli focuses on the school of thought that developed from followers of Ibn ʿArabī, Mora discusses the Shaykh’s place in the lively spiritual landscape of the medieval Muslim world from Spain to the Near East.

Mora interweaves and connects his hero’s physical and spiritual journeys, tying ‘decisive spiritual revelations’ (62) in 1195 to the city of Fez, where the Spaniard was staying at the time. Of particular importance is the non-stop movement around 1204-5 in Iraq, Anatolia, Syria, and Palestine. The physical centre or place of return of these later excursions mirrored the inner reality: ‘One characteristic of all these voyages was the periodic return to the sacred city of Mecca, as if all this touring could be described as a circular itinerary around the same centre’ (82). Certain spiritual writings are often associated with specific locales on these voyages, as in 1205, when a brief stay in Jerusalem was marked by five works in one month.

Instead of such biographical meanderings, Dagli does not discuss Ibn [End Page 222] ʿArabī so much as the intellectual culture in which his thought came to be and was later developed by followers. The Shaykh stands as one thinker in the flow of ideas, over which he had much influence. Later Akbarians used his writings to develop their own philosophy. Ibn al-ʿArabī and Islamic Intellectual Culture is neither a biography nor an analysis of one man’s thought, but rather a dissection of a certain school of Sufism in the Islamic world over a few centuries.

Dagli spends much time fine-tuning the distinctions among kalām, falsafah, and taṣawwuf, highlighting where modern scholarly imprecision has caused confusion. Despite much interplay among these terms, their separate agendas and technical denotations must be respected to provide clarity to Islamic intellectual history, he argues.

This historically broader approach to Ibn ʿArabī turns to the influence of Avicenna, Ghazālī, and Suhrawardī on the Islamic intellectual landscape in Ibn ʿArabī’s time. The advocates of kalām, falsafah, and taṣawwuf jostled with each other for supremacy:

[A]fter Ghazālī, no conceptual system could become broadly accepted in Islam if the summit of the hierarchy were to be occupied by mere reason, or espoused the notion that prophethood only provided what could be found through the fully realized rational faculty on its own.


Such insights provide us with a sense of the wider implications of Ibn ʿArabī. They also show how certain Islamic trends, in turn, worked on him.

In the chapter, ‘Metaphysical preliminaries’, Dagli discusses certain terms such as ʿayn and ta ʿayyun as used by the relevant medieval authors, and how these concepts have been translated into the Western world by Thomas Aquinas. Dagli emphasizes how easily mixed up such lexis becomes. Making matters worse, words such as equivocal have shifted in meaning in English. This has led to a lack of clarity, as exemplified with yet another term:

The main challenge in rendering tashkīk into English as ‘equivocal’ is that if we rely on the medieval sense of ‘equivocal,’ then equivocality is not a good rendering of tashkīk, but if we rely on a more contemporary sense of ‘equivocal,’ it is.

(65) [End Page 223]

Such points reflect how Dagli keeps his reader in many places at the same time, including but not limited...


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