Ibn 'Arabi Heir to the Prophets [3]

Ibn ‘Arabi tells us that effort can take seekers only as far as the door. Having reached the door, they can knock as often as they like. It is God who will decide when and if he will open the door. Only at the opening of the door can complete inheritance occur. This explains the sense of the word “opening” in the title of Ibn ‘Arabi’s al-Futuhat al-makkiyya, “The Meccan Openings.”

The title announces that the knowledge and understanding contained in the book were not gained by study or discursive reasoning. They were simply given to the author when God opened the door to him. The whole Futuhat, in other words, represents a massive series of unveilings and witnessings, or “mystical visions” if you prefer.

It is important to keep in mind that Ibn ‘Arabi does not confuse unveiling, witnessing, and opening with “revelation,” which applies properly to prophetic knowledge. It is precisely the special nature of revelation that makes it necessary for God’s friends to follow the prophets. As Ibn ‘Arabi often tells us, the basic distinction between a prophet and a friend is that the friend is a “follower” (tabi‘) and the prophet is the one “followed” (matbu‘).

If one wants to achieve opening, the way to do so is to engage in the practices set down by one’s prophet and to follow the instructions of a shaykh or spiritual master, who, in the ideal case, will be a full heir to that prophet. Among the practices that a shaykh will prescribe are retreat (khalwa), which is seclusion from others in order to devote oneself fully to meditation and prayer, and remembrance (dhikr), which is the constant invocation of a Qur’anic divine name or formula.

When the aspiring traveler clings to retreat and the remembrance of God’s name, when he empties his heart of reflective thoughts, and when he sits in poverty at the door of his Lord with nothing, then God will bestow upon him and give him something of knowledge of Him, the divine mysteries, and the lordly sciences.

Notice that it is the “heart” (qalb) that needs to be emptied of thought. In the usage of the Qur’an and Islamic sources in general, the heart designates not the emotive and affective side of human nature, but the center of consciousness, awareness, and intelligence. The heart is the human faculty that can embrace God in the fullness of his manifestation. In Ibn ‘Arabi’s terms, the heart alone can know God and the realities in a synthetic manner embracing both rational understanding and supra-rational unveiling.

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