Ibn ‘Arabi in Istanbul
A light-filled room, on one of the ‘Princes Islands’ in the Marmara Sea. The opening words of the first chapter of Muhyiddin ibn ‘Arabi’s Fusus-al-Hikam are being read, talked about, read and re-read. This circle is that of Metin Bobaroglu, Melami/ Bektashi. It is completely modern, of this time. This group has interests in and knowledge of many traditions; Sunni, Alevi, Sabatian, Kabbalist, Masonic, Christian, Rocicrucian (R+C) and visitors and members come from many backgrounds. In appearance these are normal secular people; one sees that no traditionally dressed ‘Muslims’ are present, but the conversation is to do with a deeper understanding of a harmonic balance between religious traditions, better the Source of all religious traditions, the ‘Reality’ underlying the enculturated Islam that is known. I have attended some meetings of this group for over a year… This particular circle is by invitation only…
This piece of writing is assembled from brief notes and has a broken quality- it is not a continuous logical narrative; but I hope conveys a flavour and taste of this Sohbet.
Today is the first reading of the Fusus-al-Hikam…”Of the Divine Wisdom (al-hikmat al-ilahiyah) in the Word of Adam”…What is ‘Divine’; al-ilahiyah? What is ‘Wisdom’, hikmat? What is ‘Word’? and what is meant by ‘Adam’? We begin from ball-park, rough images, rapidly refined; with Metin questioning and accepting nearly every answer but always we are looking for more…because answers are accepted we quickly meld as a non-hierarchic group busily investigating as a group.
Before this Metin abi (simply used as ‘friend’, in colloquial Turkish, more literally, ‘elder brother’, titles of any kind are not used) had talked to introduce certain concepts…”Ibn ‘Arabi is important because he shows us Principles. Watching the nafs…like dog, nafs. If the Divine sees a kind if immorality it veils itself. Morality is very important. Everyone knows this…but not everyone is aware of it. You can see this.”
“The film ‘Agora’ …follows principles. There are Pagan, Christian, Jewish philosophies … the conflict between them is the root of modern problems. An order, a tariqat that loses contact with philosophy (= principles) becomes empty…Moses and Isa…freedom from slavery, separation, in Egypt; Moses the freedom of the physical slavery; Isa, Jesus, the freedom of the Spirit. Christians bring to the table we are nourished from love of freedom, and morality…self-sacrifice.
“Law” with Rome became tyranny. “Spirit”, Christ, Jesus…with ‘Christianity’ became tyranny. “Tradition”…with the Jewish people became tyranny. Pagan, Christian, Jewish are none of them a solution for us except as a harmony of all three. Muhammed harmonic unity of all three. But the Arabs took over Muhammed and made him a racist…
The question is “What can we bring to the table?”
Enlightenment is both Light and Heat. Light a fire. Ibn ‘Arabi explains the Archetypes typographically…a big service to us…Mevlana…to melt the heart.
No principles, means no intention, no aim, no god. Aim, the Will of ‘me’…to build my temple, come to the complete one, maturity – our maturity. Our maturity always calls us towards itself. It is our God”.
We read again “Of the Divine Wisdom (al-hikmat al-ilahiyah) in the Word of Adam”. The conversation will continue for the next 8 hours…the room lit by not only the luminescence of the Sun but another light, the Numinous. The room perceptibly brightens. Seeming elliptical remarks begin to bind together…into a substance of knowledge.
Adam…’adam, al-‘udum, equals in one meaning…nothingness. ‘The absence’, the non-being, the non-existence. Non-manifestation, “the fundamental state being situated beyond the existence or even beyond the One”. This body is the seed of Adam… Adam is ‘kufr’, covered, you cannot see a person in their feet, or their face; the real person is concealed, covered. It looks through their eyes…only there is it visible. “If I look at your leg I don’t see you…your soul…I see your leg. If I look at your hand, I see only a hand, not ‘you’. Only if I look into your eyes do I see your soul, you”.
Ilah…’Divinity’ equals completeness. ‘La ilaha illallah’, Kalam Tawhid, ‘word of unity’. Ilah is a cateogory. La ilah; pure concept, not images…Variable X of the function; then you can replace ilah with anything…it becomes a function of the Unknown. La…no unknowing.
To become a shepherd, you have to learn the attributes of the sheep. Allah equals here, shepherd. To understand the attributes, the quintessence of a subject…equals Hakim. The Wise, Wisdom. Hikmet. The existence of Adam as a project…a project of Allah’s…in Adam there were faults, Jesus has no fault and he repairs; in Muhammed, the project is completed.
The human being cannot be known by reason; the human being is a celestial being. Human body is a connection with universe. The idea of ‘Ratio’. Nature has a reason and it is manifested- it is not human. But it is the seed for building a human, the spiritual temple.
Ilah- ‘Causa’, implies to be connected with Causa; the first relation, first binding, umbilical cord. Cut the bond with nature and be born into the word…Not the others, you. Nature has no Spirituality. Body born of body; Spirit born of Spirit…then you are El ilah…”The One who can build himself with his own hands”.
Aim…Abu Jahil (The prophets relative, Abu Hikma, Father of Knowledge, was called by Muhammed, Abu Jahil, ‘Father of Ignorance’) had many knowledges but no intention…all theory but for what? No aim, no Qiblah…Aql, the First Intellect, analogous to the Supreme Pen, (al-kalam), and ar-ruh, Spirit, has a meaning of bonding…
Spiritual connection; aim. Jesus, born from future, The Spirit. Seed is the aim. Human is related to aim. No aim, no human.
All existence has a name and its name is human. Tassaruf is the way not the end. If Adem is emptiness, Allah is the opposite.
The Word of Adam equals…The Essence of Adam. Adam is the self-revelation of God.
The island is beautiful, natural, full of fine houses built for foreign merchants out of ornamentally designed wood, old churches, forest. When there is something to be discussed, or a decision has come about to look at ibn ‘Arabi, calls go out and people come and gather at one of the houses on the island. Everything at these meetings is consciously beautiful; flowers, constant service with water, tea, coffee; wonderful food, as a self-service buffet. Sometimes we pause and eat and drink and then carry on the conversation. The writing above was from brief notes…hence its broken character…but I hope a certain quality, a taste, has been transmitted. Metin is from the Bektashi tradition, and in this tradition (as I have personally experienced many times) it is often the case that the Dede or Baba begins the Sohbet with “What is ‘God’ ” or seeks loose, but evolving, mutually acceptable definitions of key terms. Another characteristic Bektashi element is the pointing out that if I look at your hand, I don’t see you; I see your hand. Only if I look into your eyes do I see ‘You’. The soul of a person appears in their eyes, the light of the eyes. This was and is so important in Bektashi thought that one Bektashi will address another as ‘Nazarim’; ‘my glance’, ‘my favour’, as well as ‘Sultanim’, ‘my Sultan’. Historically almost identical terms were used by the Mevlevi (‘Nazarin’…’your glance’) though the revived Mevlevi seem to have lost this knowledge. It is known and accepted by knowledgable Bektashi that ‘something’ is directly transmitted eye to eye; a form of ‘direct mind transmission’, irradiation, ‘Fayd’, Tajalli, Rabita. And that a single glance from one of ‘The Great Ones’ has been known to utterly transform.
My wish in this case was to briefly open a window into another way of understanding the ‘study’ of Ibn ‘Arabi. Of course it is quite different to what one might find in Europe, because this is an introductory Sohbet for people of a certain tradition and background, and as it must be, the introduction begins from elements known to this particular group. It is nevertheless of interest that Metin at the end of the Sohbet said that future meetings will require of us more discipline, and that our aim is to hear what ibn ‘Arabi has to tell us, which in Metin’s normal mode of exposition means something like ‘to die in ibn ‘Arabi’, because he says that to really listen to anyone it is necessary to ‘die in them’. To ‘sing their song’, not our song. To come to the particular taste that they ‘bring to the table’ of Sohbet, for us all to taste.
Sohbet continues…RBB, Rabb, Rabbita, Rabubiya…BB equals “Father”, R equals Fire. So, not just ‘Lord’ as Rabb ( also hebrew rabbi) is often translated, but something much more immediately meaningful, an action…”The Fire of The Father”. Metin says as a prayer-form; “Let me know by my own Divine Essence…you must give to me by me”. In a crucial sense gnosticism is the passing of this flame from eye to eye, from matured one to prepared one, simply as a fact; I doubt anyone in this room cares whether in the setting of tariqat, formal Murshid/ Murid relationship, or not. All these considerations are secondary. What matters is the passing of the flame.
In brief explanation…the ‘lighting of the candle’ is another Bektashi element of great importance. The ‘dervish’ is symbolised by the candle, the flame as ‘the Light’. The candle burns away…the ‘dervish’ as sacrifice to the Light. This is so central an idea that on the death of a Bektashi very little is normally said beyond “May his/her Light shine through the universes…may his/her candle be lit”. In the Bektashi Meydan (sacred ritual space) is a throne of candles…’the throne of Muhammed’. Whilst the Bektashi respect for women and humanitarianism is important it is noticeable that the man most often described by Metin as his Murshid was attached to no Tariqat (he described himself in jest as “of the Order of Pepper-Eaters” when queried); the poet Ismail Emre, who wrote his poems in a state of ecstatic revelation (he had to be told later what he had written). The prayer used by Bektashi for lighting the candles is “Basmala/ Bismi Shah, Allah, Allah, Batin ikin ceragi veliyat Shams-i-Nur i Muhammed’. Roughly, “For the interior the candle of the saints The Light of The Sun of Muhammed” (ie Haqqiqa Muhammed, ‘The Reality of Muhammed’). This is a little of the background to the meaning in tradition of ‘passing the flame’.
Colin Azim Looker