Unity of Being vs. Unity of Experience: A Comparative Primer of Ibn ʿArabi’s and Ahmad Sirhindi’s Ontologies

hallaj

Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society 51 (2012)

All thou beholdest is the act of one

In solitude, but closely veiled is He.

Let Him but lift the screen, no doubt remains:

The forms are vanished, He alone is all.

(Ibn al-Farid)

Introduction

As an aspect of the Islamic faith in its own right, Sufism (taṣawwuf) emphasizes the importance of intuitive knowledge or gnosis (maʿrifa) as a means of directly ‘tasting’ (dhawq) divine reality. Given its largely ineffable experiential and cognitive environment and its controversial substance, knowledge of the Sufi Path was handed down only from master to initiate. Indeed, occasional public disclosures, most famously al-Hallaj’s cry ‘anā al-ḥaqq!’ were often met with censure and even execution. Still others have sought to approach mysticism from the standpoint of philosophy (e.g. Ibn Sina) or theology (e.g. al-Ghazali). As Peripatetic philosophy declined in the Arab world and shifted to Latin Europe, two somewhat parallel trends began taking its place: Suhrawardi’s philosophy of Illumination (Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq) and Ibn ʿArabi’s speculative theosophy. Yet only with the latter did the first explicit and systematic formulation of Islam’s esoteric aspect come into being. This article focuses on the central theme of Ibn ʿArabi’s ontology – variously known as unity of Being, unity of Existence, or Oneness of Existence – and its bearing on the Sufi worldview, and proceeds to contrast it against Sirhindi’s unity of Experience in the following section.

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