In the sea of divine manifestations (VI-VII/XII-XIII) – Starting from the III/IX century, many currents in philosophical and religious thinking such as Platonism, Gnosticism and Hermetism had become part of Islamic thinking. Especially during the VI-VII/XII-XIII centuries, their influence is seen more clearly in Sufi thought. Sufism was increasingly the character of a sort of philosophical speculation oriented towards monism, expressed in various ways: the All is One; only God is the Real-True; the world and the created universe are nothing but the total manifestations of the divine Essence which, while remaining unknowable and unreachable, unfolds and manifests itself in an infinite variety and multiplicity of forms that make up the various levels of the being.
In short, the Being is the All – One. In such a vision, the human being is conceived as the microcosm, a reflection of all the divine attributes and the sum of all the cosmic qualities: finally, it is the synthesis of all the divine manifestations. This speculation reaches its greatest expression in the idea of the ‘Perfect Man’ (al-insân al-kâmil) who would be the object of Sufi research and reflections in the centuries that followed, up to the present day.
The most outstanding representative of this philosophical Sufism is, without doubt, the Andalusian Sufi (from Andalusia, Arabic Spain), Muhyî al-Dîn Ibn ‘Arabî (m. 638/1240) who, for the depth and breadth of his synthesis was nicknamed ‘the Greatest Sufi Master’ (al-sheykh al-akbar). By means of his enormous literary works, Ibn ‘Arabî intended to give the most complete and authentic description of the world of the divine manifestations at all levels: ontological, cosmological and anthropological.
Lastly, knowing how comprehensive and deep his synthesis was, he did not shrink from proclaiming himself ‘the seal of supreme holiness’, the highest grade in the world of the Gnostic-Sufi (‘ârifûn) in Islam.
An important aspect of the Sufi vision of Ibn ‘Arabî is the universalism of love and the knowledge of the Gnostics. The Gnostic, in the vision of Ibn ‘Arabî, is the one who sees in everything, especially in the multiplicity of religions, the flowing of the divine manifestations. In that vision, also Sufi love becomes a cosmic, universal love that embraces the all, because all is, at different levels, the manifestation of the same divine Essence. Ibn ‘Arabî expressed such a vision in famous verses that constitute the emblem of anyone wishing to open themselves to all the religions on the basis of universal love: “Now my heart is able to accept all forms: it is convent of the monks and temple of the idols; It is the meadow of the gazelles and the Ka’ba of the pilgrim, the tablets of the Torah and the text of the Koran. My religion is Love, no matter where its mounts may lead: love is my religion and my faith”.
Nevertheless, that universalist vision did not prevent Ibn ‘Arabî (contradictions in the story that must never be ignored!) to advise his friend Kaykâ’ûs II, Prince of Konya (ancient Iconium), to adopt the most stringent discriminatory measures given in Islamic law (sharî’a) against non-Moslems, especially Christians, on the basis of the famous ‘Capitulations of Umar’, the centre of all Islamic legislation in that field.
Ibn ‘Arabî had great influence on later Sufism up to the present day, so much so that there is a widespread tendency to consider the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabî as the synthesis of all Sufism, or rather the quintessence of all mysticism of all religions. The same is said of many contemporary western scholars who embraced, more or less openly, the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabî as a style of life and of study such as Réné Guénon, Frithjof Shuon, William Chittick and Michel Chodkiewicz.
In reality, this sort of Sufism can be qualified, in our view, as the ‘Sufism of the meditations’. The manifestations of God always conceal the face of God himself. The Sufi remains, in the final analysis, its prisoner, unable to raise itself up to the ‘face to face’ vision of the Face of God.
The doctrine of Ibn ‘Arabî has been broadly adopted, often esoterically, by the numerous Sufi confraternities, orders and ways (turuq sûfiyya), that constitute, up to the present day, one of the most popular manifestations of Islam. (J.S.)