Sufi Detractors: Anti-Ibn Arabi Polemic in the Muslim World

Thursday, March 26th, 2020, 10:57 WIB


Wednesday Forum Report

Written By: Jekonia Tarigan

With the help of digital technology, Wednesday Forum continues amid efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing. Live presentations can be viewed through the YouTube channel, CRCS UGM.

On March 18, 2020, Leila Chamankhah, Ph.D., lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, University of Dayton, Ohio presented “Sufi Detractors: Anti-Ibn Arabi Polemic in the Muslim World.”  Chamankhah argues that while there have been many studies of Ibn Arabi’s theoretical mysticism, there are few which focus on the attitudes and perspectives of Ibn Arabi’s detractors.

Chamankhah finds that the most controversial component of Ibn Arabi’s mysticism is the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud, which unlike the doctrines of wilaya and al-insan al-kamil, is novel to his though. Ibn Arabi’s wahdat al-wujud explains two things: (1) the oneness of the divine essence and (2) the multiplicity of its self-manifestations. Wujud (being) never becomes plural, but reflects itself in diverse appearances. The theory uses Islamic texts, the Qur’an and Hadith, and attempts to reconcile the unity of the divine Essence and the multiplicity of reflections through divine naming and attributes.

Opposition to Ibn Arabi began during his lifetime, though the polemical discourse against him did not form until two decades later, in the second half the seventh century. Ibn Arab’s first detractors criticized him regarding his claims of dreams and visions and mingling them with reality. Chamankhah argued that the main issue Ibn Arabi’s opponents had with the wahdat al-wujud doctrine is that it propagated incarnation and the unification between God and creature, discrediting the classical Islamic perspective of creation (creation ex nihilo or khalq) and replacing it with manifestation or theophany.

The most serious opponent of Ibn Arabi was Ibn Taymiyyah who saw Ibn Arabi’s Sufism as a deviation from the right path (according to shari’ah). Ibn Taymiyyah also believed that the doctrine of wilaya (sainthood) came from Shi’i influence rather than Sufism. Ibn Khaldun was another important opponent of Ibn Arabi, particularly in terms of the wilaya doctrine due to its Shi’i origins and its role in the formation of messianic movements. According to Ibn Khaldun, these movements were Shi’i because of the concepts of wali and mahdi within them.

Photo Illustration By: Diaz-Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,