Ibn ‘Arabi / Heir to the Prophets [1]

Ibn ‘Arabi’s followers often called him “the Seal of Muhammadan Sanctity” or, a bit more literally, “the Seal of Muhammadan Friendship.” It seems rather clear that he laid claim to such a rank, at least in some of his poetry. But what exactly would the expression have meant to him and to the tradition that he represents?

The expression is derived from a title that the Qur’an gives to Muhammad, “the Seal of the Prophets.” This is typically understood to mean two things: first, that Muhammad was the last of the 124,000 prophets sent by God to the human race; and second, that the Qur’an, the revelation received by Muhammad, brings together and synthesizes all the knowledge given by God to all previous prophets.

“Friendship” derives from the Quranic term “friend” (wali). This Arabic word has a range of meanings, any or all of which may be meant when it is used: friend, someone close, someone given authority, benefactor, protector. The Qur’an makes it one of God’s names, and it also speaks of God’s friends and the friends of Satan. The friends of God are those whom he has brought near to himself, those whom he protects, and those to whom, on the basis of their special closeness, he has given a certain authority and rulership, if only over their own egocentric tendencies.

By the time of Ibn ‘Arabi, “friend” was a standard epithet for those Muslims of the past who had come close to embodying the model of human perfection established by Muhammad. Western scholars have commonly translated wali as “saint,” but this word should be used with caution, since it has specifically Christian connotations that do not necessarily apply in the Islamic context.

The idea of friendship with God is a major theme in Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings. In brief, he follows the mainstream of the Islamic tradition by asserting that God chooses as his friends those who embody the best qualities of the human race. God’s friends are first and foremost the prophets. His revelations to the prophets then make it possible for others to become his friends as well. Each prophet is a source of guidance and a model of human goodness and perfection.

Those who achieve the status of friendship with God by following a prophet may then be given an “inheritance” from that prophet. The inheritance has three basic dimensions: works, or proper and appropriate activities; states, or inner experiences that manifest noble character traits; and stations of knowledge, or firm rootedness in the true understanding of reality in its diverse modalities.

From: Ibn ‘Arabi. Heir to the Prophets by William C. Chittick