Transcript: 179 - Mohammed Rustom on Philosophical Sufism

Peter is joined by Mohammed Rustom in a discussion about Sufi authors including Ibn 'Arabī, al-Qūnawī, and Rūmī.
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Note: this transcription was produced by automatic voice recognition software. It has been corrected by hand, but may still contain errors. We are very grateful to Tim Wittenborg for his production of the automated transcripts and for the efforts of a team of volunteer listeners who corrected the texts.

PA: Today's episode will be an interview about philosophical Sufism with Mohammed Rustom, who is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Carleton University. So I guess the obvious first question here is, what do we mean when we talk about "philosophical Sufism"? Obviously, it must have some relationship to philosophy on the one hand and Sufism on the other hand, but I suppose maybe it is a more specific idea than Sufism in general, it is some specifically philosophical kind of Sufism. Is that the idea? 

MR: Yes. Well, the term "philosophical Sufism" is somewhat problematic because it can take in Sufis or Muslim mystics who are well-trained in the formal discipline of philosophy, and as well as philosophical theology in the later period. And it can also relate to authors who had a penchant for philosophical modes of expression, but who were not really philosophers in any way at all. So with that in mind, we can kind of say that philosophical Sufism broadly refers to the theoretical or doctrinal attempt on the part of Sufis to articulate some of these more central topics in Islamic thought pertaining to things like cosmology, ontology, theology, so on and so forth, but within the framework of what we can call their spiritual vision. This means that at minimum we encounter in philosophical Sufism a more concrete kind of articulation of any given abstract philosophical or theological problem or position. 

While it is true that philosophical Sufism and philosophy are conceived here from one perspective as two sides of the same coin, I would not wish to indulge in the simplistic characterization that we sometimes find that says that philosophical Sufism is simply philosophy clothed up in mythic form or symbolic garb or something like that. Philosophical Sufism presents itself by virtue of its emphasis on the lived and concrete understanding of revelation as, if you like, a kind of improved version of philosophy or philosophical theology, but one in which the philosophical vision and revelation are kind of complementary and articulated in something like a highly symbolic form. 

Now, often philosophical Sufism refers to the school of Ibn ʿArabī in particular, so there's that added nuance there. And this is because an increasingly systematic and more philosophical understanding of Ibn ʿArabī's own teachings eventually come to take center stage in the writings of his followers, particularly Qūnawī, who was, of course, his stepson and his most important direct disciple. Thus the term "school of Ibn ʿArabī" describes a particular approach largely colored by the thought of Ibn ʿArabī himself to the major philosophical and religious issues which confronted medieval Islamic thought. 3.30 But it should also be noted that the term normally used in Arabic and Persian to characterize the perspective of Ibn ʿArabī on the one hand, but also kind of philosophical Sufism more generally, is 'irfān naẓarī, or in Persian ʿirfān-i naẓarī, which is normally translated as something like "theoretical Sufism" or even "speculative Sufism", I guess, would work. This is a fairly helpful designation in terms of what's happened in philosophical Sufism, conceived in the widest possible sense, but with the caveat that by the term "theoretical Sufism" we mean here the wedding of philosophical activity and lived practical aspect of Islamic spirituality. There are thus, if you like, no armchair philosophical Sufis in classical Islamic civilization, if you will. 


PA: So it sounds like in a way we could think about philosophical Sufism either as part of the history of philosophy in the Islamic world or as part of the history of Sufism in the Islamic world, and either one would be legitimate. 

MR: Yes, on one level this is correct, especially as we move further into the East and down the historical unfolding of the Islamic intellectual tradition, where the lines start to get blurred in so many different places. Philosophers of, you know, Aristotelian kind of peripatetic bent now writing as illuminationists on the one hand and then engaging people like Rūmī and Ibn ʿArabī on the other hand. So that kind of ambiguity, I think, that you're drawing on, or the kind of universal applicability of this term, really it is kind of symptomatic of the more eclectic nature of the Islamic intellectual tradition in the post-Avicennan phase of Islamic history. 

PA: So you've already mentioned in passing the most important figure in history of philosophical Sufism and maybe the second most important, Ibn ʿArabī and his follower Qūnawī. Do you think it would be fair to say that Ibn ʿArabī was the first philosophical Sufi or the first to do philosophy within Sufism? 

MR: I would not say that. On the one hand, as the tradition develops later, it is, of course, greatly indebted to him. But, you know, we find that Ibn ʿArabī is really following an intellectual trend within Sufism that largely was made popular probably by Ghazālī's time, especially by Ghazālī, in which of course a greater attention is paid to issues in cosmology and ontology primarily, but now within the framework of Sufi discourse. So one of the key figures in the integration of philosophy and Sufism, someone who was actually like a younger Andalusian contemporary of Ibn ʿArabī, is Ibn Sab'īn, who was much better trained actually than Ibn ʿArabī in the formal discipline of philosophy. 

Probably the single figure who was the most pivotal in terms of the harmonization of philosophy and Sufism and when we can really start speaking about a kind of philosophical Sufism as such, is that the great Persian Sufi martyr ʿAyn al-Quḍāt Hamadānī, who died in 1131 of the common era, and who was put to death by the Seljuk government at the age of 33 ostensibly on charges of heresy. Not only was 'Ayn al-Quḍāt important because he was the student of Aḥmad Ghazālī, Ghazālī's famous younger brother, who himself was a major figure in the Persian world, but he was also very well-read in Avicenna and of course in Ghazālī himself. He thus brings together over a century before Ibn ʿArabī two really important strands in Islamic thought, kind of like a careful synthesis between philosophy, theology, mysticism in a manner which is more explicit than Ghazālī in terms of his reliance on philosophy, but which conscientiously seeks to address certain perceived limitations in Avicenna because of his noncommittal stance on mysticism. So ʿAyn al-Quḍāt kind of stands as a seriously overlooked figure in this later Islamic intellectual tradition, as someone who, you know, for the first time articulates a number of concepts that would become kind of stock expressions and ideas in both Persian and Arabic language Sufism. 7.45 

For example, you have the concept of "Muhammadan Reality", the ḥaqīqa Muḥammadiyya, which after ʿAyn al-Quḍāt, as far as I could see, and particularly actually in Ibn ʿArabī and his followers, it really takes center stage, but the idea we find in ʿAyn al-Quḍāt explicitly, the Muhammadan Reality is identified with the First Intellect of Neoplatonic Islamic cosmology, there is in fact some kind of indication in ʿAyn al-Quḍāt's main theoretical work in Arabic. He wrote pretty much all of his works in Persian, but he has one Arabic book called Zubdat al-ḥaqāʾiq, or the Quintessence of Reality. And if we read between the lines there, it seems that even if Ibn ʿArabī's most unique doctrine of the nature of the divine names may have, at least in part, been influenced by ʿAyn al-Quḍāt, but that whole question remains to be answered in further investigation. 8.40 

PA: Okay, that is really interesting. So it sounds like Ibn ʿArabī is not coming out of a void in terms of the effort to integrate philosophy with Sufism. He's rather responding to something that was already an ongoing process. 

MR: Yes. 

PA: And I think it is also interesting, by the way, that Avicenna was already central at this very early stage of philosophical Sufism. And that is something we'll see carrying on through the later Sufi tradition. 

MR: Yes, indeed. 

PA: So to what extent would you say that Ibn ʿArabī is actually doing philosophy in a systematic way? I mean, I've covered him already, right? So there's clearly a lot of philosophical ideas in Ibn ʿArabī, but he writes these incredibly long sprawling discussions of all sorts of things, right? And really, from what I've read, it seems like usually attempts to cobble together a philosophical system from Ibn ʿArabī have to take texts from here and there, bring them together, and then do quite a lot of interpretation. 

MR: Right. 9.45 

PA: So is that unfair, or do you think that is basically right, that he's not a systematic thinker, but that he has philosophically interesting things to say unsystematically? 

MR: Yeah, I think that is actually an excellent characterization. What makes Ibn ʿArabī, of course, so interesting is that, as you've noticed, I'm sure, in reading him, one of the things that jumps out is that there isn't a direct kind of engagement with the discipline of philosophy. In fact, we don't even have a record of him ever having read Islamic philosophy. I mean, he never mentions Avicenna, for example, explicitly. But as you've demonstrated in your previous podcast, Ibn ʿArabī says that he met Averroes and his writings do evince on one level a deep familiarity with a host of philosophical terms and concepts. But, you know, the likeliest place Ibn ʿArabī would have learned of these was through his formal training in Kalām or philosophical theology. Of course, he was very well versed in Mu'tazilite and Asha'rite thought. And given the fact that that is not such a surprise anyway, because Islamic theology was thoroughly Avicenna-ized by Ibn ʿArabī's time, we're just not surprised that, you know, his ontology, its broad outlines, is even quite Avicennan. That was standard fare in Islamic theology by Ibn ʿArabī's time, of course. 

So Ibn ʿArabī is not technically speaking a systematic thinker, so you're correct definitely to say that. And I would say that he's not systematic in that he does not try to, like, fit things neatly into an order and worldview. He will continuously, refine his position, he'll affirm concepts from one different and even antithetical angle on one point, and then he'll go on later to deny it from another point. In fact, this is one of the reasons why Ibn ʿArabī in early modern scholarship was characterized as a madman. And even today you will have people call him, I remember, at least one book has been written which tries to demonstrate how Ibn ʿArabī was kind of like a proto-postmodernist. 11.45 

Of course, there is a certain degree of coherence in Ibn ʿArabī's worldview as well. I wouldn't say a certain degree, I would actually say a great degree of coherence. But it is far from being systematic in any real sense of the term. I mean, sometimes in the middle of a sentence in one of his books he'll insert a pair of antithetical comments. He'll say something like, you know, the current topic under discussion would actually have come before the topic that preceded this discussion. But then he'll tell us that his ordering of the material is a result of divine unveiling or kashf, and that is not the result of his own intellectual efforts at systematizing. So the kind of anti-systematic spirit, if we can call it that in Ibn ʿArabī's writings, and indeed the vast ocean of symbolism, as you mentioned, visionary experiences, arcane kind of mysterious references, that was clearly imbibed by Qūnawī, interestingly enough. And Qūnawī was, of course, very much a philosopher in a way that Ibn ʿArabī was not. And so Ibn ʿArabī trains Qūnawī. He is a stepson. And the same individual ends up becoming so different in so many ways from Ibn ʿArabī. I mean, Qūnawī, you know, we have, for example, a handwritten copy in his own handwriting of Suhrawardī's Ḥikmat al- ishrāq, Philosophy of Illumination. And he initiates, of course, a very serious correspondence with Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī after having read Ṭūsī’s already famous commentary of Pan-Avicenna's Isharāt

So Qūnawī represents a unique turning point in the history of philosophical Sufism in a way that Ibn ʿArabī does not, because we have here for the first time a first-rate philosopher, a theologian, but somebody who is trained by none other than Ibn ʿArabī himself. And he's got kind of a foot in the peripatetic and the Ishrāqi traditions, and he's also, for better or worse, we can call him an Akbarian or someone who belonged to the so-called school of Ibn ʿArabī. And Qūnawī's own writings are quite different from Ibn ʿArabī's often in terms of, you know, their modes of expression, their form, and even to some extent their content. They're far more systematic, logical, they're ordered, they're less, if you like, baroque in style. And there's an element of the visionary there, but we now encounter a visionary who kind of crafts Sufi discourse to sound more logically rigorous and more philosophically inclined in terms of the language, too. It can certainly be said that Qūnawī is the single individual most responsible for the more reified kind of abstract manner of expression that characterizes the school of Ibn ʿArabī. And he intended to emphasize, as did every major follower in the school after him, especially Dāwūd al- Qayṣarī, he wouldn't necessarily have given pride of place to certain aspects of Ibn ʿArabī's thought, whereas Qūnawī does. And in many ways this is interesting, because Qūnawī is commenting on in many ways what is important or what he finds to be important in Ibn ʿArabī's own articulation of his vision of things. And Qūnawī's necessarily leaving out a lot of key kind of mythological, cosmological discussions you find in Ibn ʿArabī. Things that Ibn ʿArabī would say over 30, 40 pages in the Futūḥāt, Qūnawī will have a one-page dense explanation of what is going on there, and in a language that I think his intention is to really speak to audiences whose ears, so to speak, were not as well trained as his were in understanding his stepfather. 15.15 

PA: Right, so sort of "Ibn ʿArabī for Dummies"! 

MR: Yeah, in many ways a kind of dumbed down version of Ibn ʿArabī. In fact, a teacher of mine once said to me, you know, we should stop calling it the school of Ibn ʿArabī, we should just call it the school of Qūnawī, because largely all the followers after Qūnawī, or after Ibn ʿArabī, are in one way or another influenced by Qūnawī. And he's really seen as kind of like the filter to interpret Ibn ʿArabī. Even Jāmī, the famous Persian poet who died in 1492, who was very much a follower of the school of Ibn ʿArabī, says in one of his books that if you want to understand Ibn ʿArabī, you can only do it through reading Qūnawī. So you kind of have this acknowledgement, even into the 15th, 16th century, that this person is really the prism through which Ibn ʿArabī is to be interpreted. 16.05 

PA: So let me ask you about a couple of the philosophical issues that seem really central, I think, both for Ibn ʿArabī and Qūnawī, and of course, they're both going to have to do with God and God's relationship to the world, since it doesn't get more central than that. And maybe we can go straight to what might be the most obvious worry that someone could have about these philosophical Sufis, which is that they seem to be describing the created universe as nothing but a manifestation, maybe an illusory manifestation, of God. And so this might make you think that they're some kind of monists - in other words, they actually think only God exists, or maybe they're pantheists - in other words, they think that everything is God. Do you think they can be defended against these charges? 

MR: Ah, now that is a trick question. In a sense, the easiest way to reply to your question would be to say yes, and since there are plenty of passages in Ibn ʿArabī in particular that can be read as exclusively a kind of form of monism or pantheism or panentheism, or even as something that brings together one or all of these "isms", like pantheistic monism or something like that. The problem here, as I see it, really has to do with whether these kinds of terms, reductive as they must necessarily be, can really do justice to Ibn ʿArabī's vision, which stresses in the same breath really, oneness and unity, but there's alongside that multiplicity, otherness and even relationality. 17.40 

So let's take, for example, the question of pantheism. Does Ibn ʿArabī say that there's an essential identity or some kind of identity with God in the cosmos? Yes, he certainly does speak like this. That was enough, of course, to drive Ibn Taymiyya mad. I mean he liked Ibn ʿArabī to a point, but after a while he just lost patience with him, and then he decides to refute him and called him an incarnationist and all kinds of things. He was an ittiḥād - someone who didn't really distinguish between the creator and the creature. Ibn ʿArabī would tell us that that does not in any way explain the entire picture. So while he'd say, yes, that is true, God and the cosmos are one, or something like this, God as identified with the world or being in the world, or part of the world, he'd say bespeaks God's givenness or his revealedness or manifestness in the cosmos, which points up to what he called his immanence or tashbīh. 18.40 

And at the same time, Ibn ʿArabī places just as much, even more, actually, emphasis on how the cosmos is not God in any sense of the term, how God is so utterly beyond and distinct from the world and stands above it by virtue of his inaccessibility or hiddenness or non-revealed face, if you like. And that points up his transcendence or his tanzīh. So Ibn ʿArabī commonly refers to the cosmos as he, not he, huwa lā huwa. And that does away with the kind of simplistic either-or kind of scenario in which the explanation of the cosmic situation and God's relationship to it tries to trap God and is it like this or is it like that? - huwa lā huwa seeks to really retain both. I would be very cautious to use any of these terms - pantheism, monism, so on and so forth - if we were to use them, we would have to add a great degree of qualification. And by the time these qualifications can be made, you know - if you want to say Ibn ʿArabī is a monist, sure, but then all the other stuff, the very terms in question would then really not carry much weight because we would have to add so many caveats and so many explanations, we would have to really gloss these terms that they really just lose much of their significance. 

So I mean, from this perspective, even a term that is used often to explain the perspective of Ibn ʿArabī and his followers, waḥdat al-wujūd, or the oneness of being, even that phrase, I mean, it is something that Ibn ʿArabī doesn't use himself, and it only becomes a technical term three or four decades after his death. But that term also has certain major limitations to it, because it can be perceived as emphasizing only the he aspect of the he-not-he formula. And that is certainly how Ibn Taymiyya understood the term, and many other later detractors of Ibn ʿArabī as well. For example, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī, the famous Indian Sufi who died in 1624. 20.50 

PA: It seems like what you're saying is basically that Ibn ʿArabī gives us this interesting dialectical idea where the world is both God and not God. 

MR: Yeah 

PA: And so it would be overly simplistic to just take one side of this polarity. But on the other hand, I mean, as philosophers, we're probably not too happy with someone saying, well, the solution is to just contradict yourself all the time. And so it seemed to me, and this is something I talked a bit about in the episode on him, but I wanted to get you to say something more about it. It seemed to me that one of the most promising moves he makes to explain this position without just saying, you know, P and not-P are both true, is to describe the world in terms of divine attributes or the names of God. 

MR: Yes 

PA: Because it seems like a name plausibly is both in a sense the same thing as the named thing and in a sense not the same as the named thing. But on the other hand, it is hard to understand how something like a name could metaphysically be the same as the created universe. So do you think the point he's trying to make there, is that more of an analogy? So is he saying that created things relate to God the way that names might relate to the bearer of the name, or is it actually that we are literally the names of God as created things? 22.20 

MR: This too is a trick question. You know, Ibn ʿArabī's most common way of speaking about what the names are, or really what they're not, is by speaking to them as relationships. So this is something that he does which seems, at least from one perspective, quite revolutionary in the history of Islamic thought, because, I mean, the way we speak about the divine names in classical Islamic theology was to maintain that they somehow inhere in God, or God's essence, what they've called qāʾima bi-dhātihi, but not in a way that kind of gave them independent ontological status such that they could be said to be superadded to it. 

So for many medieval Muslim theologians and presumably some philosophers, the objective kind of ontological status of the divine names was never really called into question. It was a given, even if their modality could not be easily understood or explained. Ibn ʿArabī comes on the scene and he vehemently rejects this common type of picture of the divine names. He says that the divine names do not inhere in God in any way, and he says that they're not ontological entities, which is like one of his main points, and he really tries to explain things from that perspective. He says they're not umūr wujūdiyya or ontological things. So instead he says that they are, technically speaking, relationships, nisab, between what we can call God as revealed or manifest and the objects of God's knowledge that do enter into concrete existence, so what Ibn ʿArabī and the later tradition call loci or self-disclosure or manifestation, maẓāhir in Arabic. 24.00 

So the divine names come about as a result of God's self-disclosure or manifestation, and they thus make the God-world relationship for Ibn ʿArabī possible. Yet the cosmos is nothing other than a conglomeration of the divine name, as we can say, as displayed through the existential aspects of God's knowledge. So the universe is impregnated ultimately with the divine attributes, and the very multiplicity in the cosmos, therefore as we see it, because it manifests the attributes, obviously point to the divine names. So by the same token, since the divine names are relationships for Ibn ʿArabī and not actual ontological entities, the multiplicity in the cosmos is in actuality not any real kind of plurality. So this kind of move that Ibn ʿArabī is making here, where he's emphasizing their reality on one level and then because they are relationships, they are ultimately unreal, has posed the greatest, I think, philosophical challenge for his later interpreters. How do we understand these names? Because the names allow for multiplicity to emerge, and at the same time, they are paradoxically the very reason for the world's relative unreality. 

PA: So actually I find that very helpful philosophically, because I mean, if the names really denote relationships or relations, it does seem like a relation is a real thing without being an entity in its own right, which is kind of what he wants, right? 23.35 

MR: Yes. 

PA: So let me ask you something rather different now, just about the later historical influence of Ibn ʿArabī. And actually, maybe we can start with a contemporary of Qūnawī, namely Rūmī, who's maybe the most famous Sufi, even more famous than Ibn ʿArabī because of his poetry and the popularity of his literary outputs. Qūnawī and Rūmī were friends - they are even buried near each other in Konya - and it seems a little bit hard to wrap our minds around, right? So Qūnawī is, as you were saying before, systematic, even sort of technical approach to Sufism, Rūmī - this kind of ecstatic poet. So how do we reconcile two such different authors as being two outgrowths of the same Sufi tree, as it were? 

MR: Right. Well, that is, again, another very, very important question. There's a really nice anecdote, and there are all kinds of anecdotes in which Qūnawī figures. But this one in the later tradition, tells us that one day Qūnawī and Rūmī are sitting together in Kunya, and one of Rūmī's students comes up to him and asks him a question that had been bothering him. And Rūmī gives him, in characteristic fashion, a couplet in Persian, and the student is happy, and he walks away, and he's very pleased with his answer. So Qūnawī turns to Rūmī, and he says to him, "how is it that you can make such difficult ideas seem so simple?" And to this Rūmī responds, "how is it that you can make such simple ideas sound so difficult?" 

So what is important to keep in mind here is that neither Rūmī nor Qūnawī saw a problem with each other's different modes of expression. I mean, Rumi's thought evinces some of the theoretical, philosophical tendencies which characterize Qūnawī. I mean, Rūmī was a Māturīdī theologian also. But Qūnawī's thought also evinces some of the more poetic tendencies that we find in Rūmī. And judging from the plain sense of Rumi's reply to Qūnawī, he probably did think that Qūnawī was unnecessarily complicating things, if you like. So having said that, there is a caveat here that we need to introduce, at least where Rūmī is concerned. He is often seen as kind of being an anti-intellectual or anti- philosophical person. I mean, there's plenty of verses in his poetry to corroborate that kind of a position. 28.10 The most common verse, surely, is the one in which he says that "the leg of the philosophers is wooden. A wooden leg is terribly un-sturdy." 


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But one contemporary scholar, at least one that I've seen, emphasizes here that Rūmī doesn't say the philosophers don't have a leg to stand on. He says that they do, but that it is just wooden. So it is not enough to allow them to, in Rūmī's language, fly up to the heavenly imperium. So in order to do this, Rūmī would emphasize love. And that is, of course, the thing that he's known best for. But I get the feeling that Qūnawī would not necessarily disagree. I think that ultimately they see their goals essentially similar, even if their modes of expression and intellectual types really were not the same. 

PA: Maybe we could even say that, in a sense, they take on two different sides of Ibn ʿArabī's thought, because obviously Ibn ʿArabī is full of poetic imagery. And also, you know, there's the earlier sort of tradition of love poetry in Sufism, so Rūmī is taking that on. And Qūnawī is taking on the more technical, philosophically influenced aspects of Ibn ʿArabī. 

MR: Yes. 

PA: And how appropriate that he was uniting these two apparently contradictory tendencies in himself. 

MR: Yes, yes, exactly. 

PA: Just one last question, looking ahead a bit to where we're going in future episodes. Obviously Sufism has this massive influence across the Islamic world, really down to the present day. But can you say something a little bit more specifically about philosophical Sufism? So what was the geographical spread of philosophical Sufism? I mean, obviously we've been talking about people who wrote in Persian, as well as Arabic. So certainly there's this philosophical Sufi tradition in Persia. What about, for example, in India or elsewhere in the Islamic world in the, let's say, the early modern period? 30.15 

MR: Right. So what's particularly interesting here is that, like you said, the philosophical Sufism or Sufism of a more kind of theoretical kind really spreads throughout the eastern lands of Islam, like wildfire. I mean, this is a phenomenon for at least over the next 500 years. You have people in the Ottoman period, for example, writing in sometimes Persian, but often Ottoman Turkish, like Ismāʿīl ʿAnqarawī, who's directly bringing together Ibn ʿArabī's thought, and actually he was a commentator on Rūmī, too. And the Ottoman world was so vast that you have authors in that universe who lived in places like today, would be Bosnia, Turkey, Syria, so very, very vast geographical expanse, of course Persia and Central Asia. 31.10 

In India, where the school of Ibn ʿArabī in particular, had a very important second wind, if you like, the writings tended to be in Persian, because most Indian Sufis in the later period wrote in Persian. And there the aforementioned Shaykh Aḥmad al- Sirhindī was very important for at least responding to Ibn ʿArabī, even though he wasn't necessarily always on board with his central thesis. Shāh Walī Allāh al- Dihlawī was a major figure also who was working in the Indian context and who had a very important role to play in bringing Ibn ʿArabī's thought and bringing philosophical Sufism into something like a more mainstream intellectual discourse, because he was a very well-respected scholar who went to the ʿulamāʾ class as well. 32.00 

So India's case is interesting, and many other minor figures in India, Khwāja Khurd, Muḥibb Allāh Ilāhbādī, people like this, all of whom their writings really evince a very deep kind of penetration, if you like, of the central tenets of the school of Ibn ʿArabī, and who, like Qūnawī and like his later followers, all try their hand at systematizing this worldview. And what happens in India is you have many practical Sufi manuals written by Sufi masters, you know, guides of how to get there, so to speak, but which conscientiously engage the school of Ibn ʿArabī. 32.40 

One of the most interesting later developments in which philosophical Sufism has yet another sphere of influence is actually in China, which is quite surprising. I mean, research into this is only being done today in a more sustained fashion. But, you know, by the 17th century you have very important Chinese ʿulamāʾ or Chinese scholars, Wang Daiyu, Liu Zhi, people like this, who in order to attempt to explain Islam to their Chinese counterparts, most of whom were Neo-Confucians, drew on the writings of Ibn ʿArabī and his followers, usually through Persian translation. But they did so by crafting the Chinese language now to speak the language of Neo- Confucianism. So you have Chinese Muslim authors drawing on Ibn ʿArabī's ideas, but recasting them in Chinese in such a way that a Neo-Confucian could kind of understand it, and also some of their Buddhist colleagues as well. And that is a trend that in many ways characterized the later intellectual life of the Chinese Muslim. In many ways it is also symptomatic of what's happening in North America and Europe in the 20th century and even into now the 21st century, where you have many authors who for one reason or another espouse the cause of Ibn ʿArabī or the school of Ibn ʿArabī or philosophical Sufism or the wedding of philosophical Sufism, and who seek to refashion even the English language, for example, to speak these things, or French. 34.20 

So that is the influence of the school of Ibn ʿArabī on Sufism proper. But it also has a very important sustained influence on the discipline of Islamic philosophy as well. And this is most clearly seen, of course, in the writings of Mullā Ṣadrā. The entire school of Isfahan read into, again, the 20th century. Even until today you have many authors in Iran who are followers of Mullā Ṣadrā or espouse his views, but who have a vested interest in Ibn ʿArabī. So in Mullā Ṣadrā you have the wedding of several different strands of Islamic thought - Shīʿite theology of course, a very deep engagement with the philosophical tradition, and a response to Ibn ʿArabī obviously - and he takes Ibn ʿArabī extremely seriously to the point that he's even himself accused at some points in his career of being too pro-Ibn ʿArabī or too pro-Sunni. 

So all of these trends, if we look at them together in terms of the geographical dispersion of the tradition, we have a very, very wide expanse in which Ibn ʿArabī's ideas and the systematization and articulation of his ideas go into so many different modes, so to speak. You have them in practical manuals. Now they're in Chinese, speaking Confucian Chinese. They're in philosophical texts, of course, the poetic tradition is greatly indebted to Ibn ʿArabī, and actually, ʿAyn al-Quḍāt and Ibn ʿArabī actually meet up in the Persian poetic tradition as well, where you have ʿAyn al- Quḍāt speaking theoretically about many of these ideas in Persian, and then Ibn ʿArabī's school articulating some of the same ideas in Arabic and then in Persian. And then you have poets like ʿIraqī, who died in the 13th century, or Maḥmūd Shabistarī, who died in the following century, trying to bring them together now within the medium of the poetic tradition. And so Persian poetry also is given a new life because of the school of Ibn ʿArabī. 

PA: Thanks. that is really remarkable and amazing. I mean, obviously, the later history of Sufism is so vast that it could be the subject for its own series of podcasts. So someone should really do that, Mohammed. 

MR: Yes. 

PA: Just saying! 

MR: Oh, we're taking hints! 

PA: Right. Exactly. Thank you very much. You also mentioned a lot of things that I'll be getting on to look at, so philosophy in the Ottoman tradition, in the Mughal period of India, and especially, I guess, the Safavids. But more proximately, next week I'll be moving on to something very different, which will actually be the ongoing tradition of logic in this period. So I hope the audience will join me for that. For now, I'll just thank you, Mohammed, for coming on the podcast. 

MR: Thank you very much for having me.


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