In conversation with Jane Clark, we are reminded about the mysterious nature of الله سبحانه و تعالى (Allāh) as the source of Guiding Light. Jane, a Senior Research Fellow of the Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī Society, co-founder of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, and currently editor of the Beshara Magazine, an independent non-profit organization that serves as a platform for intelligent and thought-provoking material on unity in the contemporary world, first stepped onto the path of spirituality not as a seeker, but as a hardwired scientist agnostic raised as an atheist. Similar to Jane’s series of life events, we are taken alongside in recollection, from physics to Ibn al-ʿArabī’s metaphysics.

In 1974, Jane was at the brink of giving up her PhD, finding herself, like many of us do, in a profession (as a physicist) stuck at the fork of dissatisfaction. Around this time, she went on a car-ride to Gloucestershire—enticed by the country’s offering of stunning and varied countryside. Coincidently, she joined a study group at Swyre farm reading what came to be known as 29 pages: an introduction to Ibn al-ʿArabī. Although ungrounded in any kind of theology with little intellectual understanding of what was being said at the time, subliminally, she knew, a deeper calling and invitation. Three years later, after a serious motor bike accident, she enrolled in an intensive eight month course of study on Ibn al-ʿArabī  at the mystical grounds of Swyre farm.  

Jane’s foundational grounding was in Ibn al-ʿArabī, under the mentorship of Bulent Rauf, a Turkish Ṣufī with a strong connection toالشيخ الأكبر (al-shaykh al-ʾAkbar). Ibn al-ʿArabī’s teachings were the basis for the unified perspective. Intentionally, the study of metaphysics continued with the Christian tradition, Bhagavad Gita, Tao de Ching, and the like. A means of expansivity. Can one recognize the unity within other traditions? At the same time, let go or not get fixated on a belief?

With Jane, together we traverse the paved road of digital archives; the why and how there are now over 3,000 copies of manuscripts in digital form today. Our conversation highlights and distinguishes the role of books as a conduit to personal transformation, bridging each individual to receive directly from الوجه الخاص (al-wajh al-khāṣ),  the ‘particular face’ of God. Jane paints the imagery of a private umbilical cord between each person and the One Reality. There is no intermediary. The connection, the transmission, is direct. In context, what is fascinating, is the large number of original manuscripts that have been preserved, either written by or attested to by Ibn al-ʿArabī, from around 800 years ago! Almost 66 to count and the knowledge, as Jane reminds us, is in the books.

Enfolding and unfolding in discourse are Ibn al-ʿArabī’s renowned texts: الفتوحات المكية (Futūḥāt al-Makkīyah) and theفصوص الحكم (Fuṣuṣ al-Ḥikam), connecting us back to disciples including Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī, Moa'yyad al-Din al-Jandī, and ʿUsman Yaḥya.

Most pronounced is Jane’s exposition on Ibn al-ʿArabī teachings on love; “He and Rūmī are completely at one really on this matter.” Everything is underpinned by love.

We journey in and through with Jane, from the Beshara School back into the web of knowledge preservation and sharing, circling and backtracking, to the four elements constituting Beshara’s residential courses at the time: working with the mind; meditation; work as service to others and the world; and, devotional practice. Full embodiment of the human constitution of thoughts, emotions, and bodily feelings. Experiential knowledge beyond intellectual standing. Deepening integration. Connecting, receiving, directly from the One. Reminded, once again: “The written heritage has an extraordinary pedigree.”


SPEAKERS
Host: Saqib Safdar
Guest: Jane Clark

Saqib
Greetings,السلام عليكم  (as-salāmu ʿalaykum), welcome everyone. My name is Saqib Safdar and I'm your host and also the founder of the The Ḥikmah Project.

Today, we'll be speaking to Jane Clark on her journey from physics to metaphysics, and of ابن عربي  (Ibn al-ʿArabī) in particular. But before we get into that just a few updates. There's a new Ḥikmah Project site. It's still the same web address the www.hikmaproject.com Do pay us a visit, the podcasts are free. You can also click on subscribe and through the various podcasting platforms, subscribe to our podcasts; you can register as a free member so whenever there's a new post you'll be notified; but also, please do consider supporting the The Ḥikmah Project either through a one-off payment or by becoming a member. It's literally about a cup of coffee per month and you get access to all the posts in which there are good quality transcripts, summaries of the posts, as well as any accompanying material to the podcast and, you also get an invite to the weekly reading circle. We are currently reading Imam ʿAlī: From Concise History to Timeless Mystery and on chapter two; and that's held at 7:30pm to 9pm UK time every Thursday. The recordings are available as well if you can't make those times.

So today we speak to Jane Clark who’s a very interesting person. She is a Senior Research Fellow of the Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī Society and has worked particularly on the Society's archiving projects as well as looking after the library. She has been quite involved in preserving some classical manuscripts of Ibn al-ʿArabī, as she will explain. She first discovered Ibn al-ʿArabī when she was a PhD student studying quantum physics and was looking for a more comprehensive view of the world and stumbled across Ibn al-ʿArabī; and this was sort of being raised as an atheist or as an agnostic, and so she had no religious inclination or wasn't seeking the truth or, you know, exploring various religious traditions. But she came across Ibn al-ʿArabī and things changed and then she spent over 40 years studying Ibn al-ʿArabī and learning Arabic. She is engaged in teaching courses and lecturing on his thought both in the UK and abroad; and in researching and  translation of the Akbarian heritage (أكبرية). She organizes the Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī Society Young Writers Award award as well as being a co-founder of the Journal of Consciousness Studies and is also currently editor of the Beshara Magazine.

So without further ado, here’s the podcast.

بسم الله  (Bismi llāh). Welcome, Jane, lovely to have you on The Ḥikmah Project podcast.

Jane
Lovely to be here.

Saqib
So just to start off, could you tell us about your journey to Ibn al-ʿArabī, what led you to him?

Jane
In inverted commas, it was a kind of a coincidence because I had no initial interest in Ibn al-ʿArabī or in fact in any kind of spirituality. I came across Ibn al-ʿArabī in my mid-20s when I was a student at Warwick University, I was doing a PhD in Solid State Physics, which is a branch of quantum physics, and I was living in Leamington Spa and there was a lot of conversation about spirituality and people were looking at different gurus and such like but I was quite a hardware scientist actually and I wasn't particularly interested in this. But one day somebody said, as people did, you know, ‘Oh, it's a Sunday afternoon, we're driving down to this place in Gloucestershire, which was maybe an hour and a half away from Leamington and so I went along for the ride really good and, and we went to Swyre farm, which was the first of the centres for the Beshara School and was a beautiful place in Gloucestershire and they had a study group in the afternoon in which they were reading this introduction to Ibn al-ʿArabī, which became called the 29 pages because of its original length. And we joined in that study group and I had no idea what was being said, I was completely ungrounded in any kind of theology. I had been brought up by my parents to be an atheist. I didn't have a Christian background or anything like that over and above what you picked up through school and such like. So I had no idea what people were really talking about in that study group. But still, I got a sense that this was something that I wanted; less extraordinary to think back about that.

I wasn't happy. As a physicist, I was actually on the brink of giving up my PhD because I had a sense of looking—I wanted something that was, in a way, I can answer to everything I suppose you would say. I was looking for a really integrated theory and somehow rather I picked up that that was it. And then soon after that, I gave up my physics PhD and I went into community work. I became quite political for a few years. And I used to go back occasionally just Swire farm, because I'd liked it so much, but I was not at all serious about it. And then I had a little series of incidents and I had a car accident, in fact a motorbike accident.

I used to drive a little motorbike and somebody came out in front of me absolute point blank and nearly killed me; and I was unconscious and I had a certain kind of experience, then, which changed things for me I think. And then a few months after that, I was a long time in convalescence, my hands were completely smashed up by this accident so I was five-six months in convalescence, and during that time I went back down to Swire farm for a period and that's when it got serious.

So, you know, I had this initial introduction, and then when I went back after the motorbike accident it was clear that this was something that was opening up for me. So then I ended up going on the long intensive course which was run by the Beshara School. They used to do eight-month intensive courses of study.

Saqib
Oh wow.

Jane
That's when it got serious.

Saqib
And for listeners who might not be familiar with your background, how many years have been studying Ibn al-ʿArabī?

Jane
Well, I started, I wouldn't count my first encounter which was in about 1974 but I went on my first intensive course in 1977. And these intensive courses had been set up by a man called Bulent Rauf who was a Turkish man and he had come up through the Turkish Ṣufī tradition and his parents, his family, had a strong connection to Ibn al-ʿArabī. In fact, his grandfather is buried in Ibn al-ʿArabī’s tomb in Damascus because Bulent was quite an aristocratic kind of an Ottoman Turk.

So his family, his grandfather had been the governor of Damascus, but his mother, some of the material that we used on later courses had come through his mother. So Bulent had this strong connection to Ibn al-ʿArabī and in the UK he had initiated really the study of Ibn al-ʿArabī. And when he set these long courses up, the core curriculum at the beginning of these courses was the study of Ibn al-ʿArabī. So we read 29 pages and then we read chapters from theفصوص الحكم  (Fuṣuṣ al-Ḥikam) and then after that we moved on to look at some of the other traditions. So Beshara is not a denominational school, it's not an Islamic school.

So after we'd studied Ibn al-ʿArabī, we went on to look at the Christian tradition and we looked at Bhagavad Gita, Tao de Ching, and such like. But the fundamental grounding was studying of Ibn al-ʿArabī and metaphysics because Bulent said, well, ‘He lays out the unity of existence in the most explicit way so you start with that, that's your grounding,’ and then from there, you can look at all the other traditions, and you can study other things.’ But the perspective or the unified perspective is established through Ibn al-ʿArabī teachings.

Saqib
So I happen to have a background in physics; a physicists’ mind is obviously very mathematical, very calculated, obviously there's a lot of intuition which Einstein constantly sort of talks about and as you know, we have these sparks of creativity, but it's very different to—I mean, if you took the scientific mind and tried to critique metaphysics or religion, you often end up in the scenario similar to Richard Dawkins actually saying, ‘Where is the objective sort of evidence for X Y, Zed?’

Jane
Yeah.

Saqib
And so what happened when you were studying Ibn al-ʿArabī were these mere concepts you agreed with? Or was it more than just an academic study in which there was a level of intellectual agreement? Or disagreement?

Jane
Well, I think, well certainly at the Beshara School it's not academic study; these courses were not academic courses they were residential courses. We were involved in what was laid out into four aspects. So one of them was study of material, working with the mind; one of them was meditation; one of them was work, which is a service, serving the world, serving your fellow students, etc.; and the fourth one was devotional practice. So, those were the four elements of the course and the underlying aim of the courses was and is within because Beshara is still going. The same form of intensive course is no longer going but Beshara as an educational organization is still going, the aim is always self-knowledge. So it's not knowledge of the world and that's the distinction really I think between what you would say a physicist is trying to do, you're trying to find out about the external world, whereas what we were introduced to in the Beshara School was that knowledge is based on your own self-knowledge, not knowledge of who you are and so that includes all aspects of yourself and that's what did attract me initially, as I said, to Ibn al-ʿArabī, because you could see that physics was sort of edging towards a kind of unified perspective, you know, contemporary physics, it does this, but it's absolutely in the intellect and it's not integrating the rest of your human constitution, you know, your emotions, your actions, etc, etc. So, the Beshara School was aimed to that level of knowledge of actually being a personally transformative knowledge, not just facts or information about the world.

Saqib
I’d like to read out a passage from الفتوحات المكية  (Futūḥāt al-Makkīyah) which I know they use at Beshara, often at the beginning of reading text together, and it sets the intention. And this is from book one, chapter 89, from 26 to 30. “We empty our hearts of reflective thinking, and we sit together with God الحق (al-Ḥaqq) on the carpet of أدب (ʾadab) and spiritual attentiveness, مراقبة (murāqaba), and presence and readiness to receive whatever comes to us from Him, so that it is God who takes care of teaching us by means of unveiling and spiritual realization. So when they have focused their hearts and their spiritual aspirations on God, همم (himam), and they have truly taken refuge with Him, giving up any reliance on the claims of reflection and investigation and intellectual results, then their hearts are purified and open. Once they have this inner receptivity, God manifests Himself to them, teaching them and informing them through the direct vision of the inner meaning of those words and reports, in a single instant.”

Could you comment on that and elaborate on what that means to you and what Ibn al-ʿArabī might have meant by that?

Jane
Well, this might be an even larger subject than you think actually. So one thing that we're talking about the purpose of the Beshara courses and self knowledge; one of the things that was emphasized on those was each individual making a connection with reality, with the One Reality, making their own connection with that. So there are ways where spiritual paths, where in fact you would come under the influence of a teacher, or in many طريقة صوفية (Ṣufī ṭarīqas), you know there would be a شيخ (shaykh) and they would take you through different stages and such like, meaning that at least in the early stages, and I'm quite aware that this is a subtle matter of how this process of spiritual education works, but at least in the early stages, you're kind of under somebody else's order. But within the Beshara School, that was never, that was overtly explicitly never the case, it was set up as a place where there were no teachers or gurus but it was to do with each person making this private connection with the One Reality. And this is very, very much in line with where Ibn al-ʿArabī talks about it, I mean, the idea comes from Ibn al-ʿArabī really, and he calls this the ‘private face’ or the ‘particular face’, الوجه الخاص (al-wajh al-khāṣ). So this is like a sort of private umbilical cord between each person and the One Reality and there is no intermediary, in that, that connection it’s direct. And this is what this passage is pointing towards. That when you sit down, and you study a text like the فصوص الحكم (Fuṣuṣ al-Ḥikam), perhaps to say particularly the Fuṣuṣ al-Ḥikam, actually, I'll explain why I say that in a minute. But any text, any spiritual text, then from Ibn al-ʿArabī’s point of view, you're not receiving the knowledge, you're not imbibing the knowledge of the text as such, you're putting yourself into the place to receive knowledge, from the place from which that text originally came. When he would say this about القرآن (Qurʾān) as well that when somebody sits down to study the Qurʾān, then what they are doing is placing themselves in the situation of receiving that knowledge from the same place that it came to Muḥammad (ﷺ) so the Qurʾān does not become an intermediary in your knowledge of yourself or your knowledge of God.

I say particularly; there's a very, very vivid example of this, which I hope I can remember accurately. So there's a sort of little line of teaching from Ibn al-ʿArabī. So his chief, his principal disciple, was صدر الدین قونوی (Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī), who was probably his son in law, and as you know, had an establishment in Konya. And Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī  took on pupils, one of whom was called مؤيد الجندي (Moa'yyad al-Din al-Jandī) who was one of the earlier commentators upon the Fuṣuṣ al-Ḥikam and al-Jandī in a passage describes an incident where he studied Fuṣuṣ al-Ḥikam with Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī. And he describes and he says, ‘That he sat down, and they were reading the introduction and as he was reading the introduction, he received a kind of revelation,’ he went into a state in which he was sort of trembling and overtaken and in that instant the whole meaning of the Fuṣuṣ was revealed to him directly from the Source from which it was written.

So, the process of teaching for him, this what he is trying to point out is to this matter of this ‘private face’, that his imbibing, of the knowledge of the Fuṣuṣ from Qūnawī was not by means of going through it in an intellectual way sort of unpicking every single word but by a kind of revelation from the same Source. So he told Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī that and he says, ‘Look, this has just happened,’ and Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī said, ‘Huh,’ he said, ‘That's just the same as happened to me when I sat down to read it with the Shaykh.’ [laughing] So this is a specific teaching example of what of what this passage you've read out I think is pointing at that, that the knowledge is received directly from the Source, it doesn't really come down through a kind of line of transmission where you're receiving the book, and then you're sort of the knowledge of the book, etc, etc. It's coming directly from God. So that's how I would read what you're talking about.

Saqib
That's amazing and that actually reminds me about, I wouldn't say it's a controversial topic, but it's one that obviously people have very clear views on in the Ṣufī tradition, and that's around the role of text. And one school of thought is to do away with texts and engage in ذكر (dhikr) and practice, because it's the experience that will—the tasting, that will, give you what you need. But clearly Ibn al-ʿArabī has written books that were, in his perspective, he was not the author of them, they were given to him.

Jane
Yeah.

Saqib
And he will simply describe: he wrote down everything that came to him often in an instant.

Jane
Yeah.

Saqib
And I believe in the Fuṣuṣ, in the introduction he says, that this is for أهل الله (ahl Allāh) and the أصحاب القلوب (ʾaṣḥāb al-qulūb), the people of God and the people of the heart.

Jane
Yeah.

Saqib
So, clearly, there is a role of the text in his teaching, which is not just mere academic study, he's addressing an audience who are presumably quite spiritually evolved. But it's not a series of do's and don'ts or academic concepts, that there's something deeper going on there. So what would you say to this idea or the school of thought in which some mystics just put text aside, and by extension, I'd probably add جلال‌الدین رومی  (Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī, Rūmī) just because of the era and the volumes he wrote, in terms of Masnavi (مثنوی) and Divan-i-Shams (دﯾﻮان ﺷﻤﺲ).

Jane
Yeah.

Saqib
And you know, obviously it’s elaborating on love, but yet he has so much to teach and show. So what role does text play for a mystic?

Jane
Well, I mean with Ibn al-ʿArabī, within the Ibn al-ʿArabī tradition, he didn't set up a ṭarīqa in the normal way. I mean, the way that knowledge would be passed down normally would be from master to student through series of a kind of initial initiation or a transmission and Ibn al-ʿArabī didn't set that up, it was made explicit. He did do that with Qūnawī and then Qūnawī, there is a document that we have, which is his last will and testament, in which it's made quite explicit that this shouldn't happen.

Saqib
Although…

Jane
So this idea, Ibn al-ʿArabī did not set up a Ṣufī ṭarīqa, so I'm not being critical here I'm just saying it's a different matter.

Saqib
Yeah.

Jane
The knowledge was in the books, yes, so it was in an unusual situation maybe from the beginning that it was always a matter that the knowledge was put into writing and then the transmission is through the writing. So although you say the knowledge of the book came actually directly to the heart, it’s still the knowledge of the book that was happening here.

So, in the case of Ibn al-ʿArabī, it seemed to have been, I mean one can talk about you know I'm not going to say why this was the case, but it was the case that he didn't set up a ṭarīqa, he did not set up this—I mean to this day, a Mevlevi shaykh, can trace a line of lineage back to Rūmī, you know a Qādirī shaykh can trace a line of lineage back to عبدالقادر الجيلاني (ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī), but that's not the case with Ibn al-ʿArabī there is no ṭarīqa like that. What was preserved was the books.

So, to that degree, one would say that text has a particular place within the within the Akbarian tradition. But I think, you know, the weariness that people have about text, is this sort of subtle distinction that we're talking about, that again, what's required is not knowledge of the text, and the way we think there is a danger with Ibn al-ʿArabī because it's so fascinating and so difficult to understand in places [laughing] and it's so kind of—you know there's so much to get your teeth into with it at some sort of metaphysical level that I think that there is a danger of kind of over intellectualizing.

So, I think the weariness that's within the tradition of text is of this confusing knowledge about something, you know about a text, with actually knowledge of its reality, of what the reality of what it's speaking about. So, I think that sort of distinction still applies within Ibn al-ʿArabī but as I say there's a special role for books, and you're aware maybe that there has been a very sort of special there seems to have been a sort of special dispensation on Ibn al-ʿArabī books in the way that they've come down to us in the present day.

Saqib
Could you tell us about when you studied these other traditions, non-duality, Bhagavad Gita, Daoism, etc? Did they give you what you found in Ibn al-ʿArabī or does Ibn al-ʿArabī offer something far more comprehensive and universal?

Jane
I probably say both actually. For one thing, one of the points of realizing it, of looking at the other texts was because of the understanding, which is, of course, implicit to إسلام (Islām) anyway, there's only One, only One Reality. He appears in all sorts of different forms. So, you know, Islām recognizes both Christianity and Judaism, as being valid religions and acknowledge that these are places where, you know, the One has revealed himself in this form, you know revealed himself in Jesus (عیسى عليه السلام ; ʿĪsā ʿalayhi as-salām) revealed himself in Muḥammad (ﷺ), revealed himself in Moses (موسى عليه السلام ; Mūsa ʿalayhi as-salām), etc. So, one of the points of looking at the other traditions was to actually see this to recognize the unity within these other traditions and, besides, at the same time, I think every different revelation; if a different revelation, in general, didn't show you something new, there would be no point in the revelation [laughing]. So every different manifestation actually does show you something slightly different or enriches your understanding of what the unity is. So I think both things are simultaneously true there.

And so it's also a good exercise; Ibn al-ʿArabī is very, very strong on not getting fixed in a belief. So it's a very good exercise to look at another tradition, which might at least superficially when you first look at it might challenge some of your assumptions. You know whether it makes you look at something and think, ‘Well, I thought it was like this but this is saying it's different; how do I match those two?’ And very often you find that what happens in that process is that you're taken to a deeper understanding of what you thought you'd put a limit at; you understood something in a rather limited way. So it’s an expansive—that's the intention of it—it's an expansive exercise.

Does that answer your question?

Saqib
Yes, yes.

Jane
My father, oddly enough, became a Buddhist, later in his life, and I'd visited him in Samye Ling, which is close by what the present place of Beshara School or for many years was the place of the Beshara School at Chisholm House in Scotland, it's just down the road. But I hadn't taken to it and anything like the same way, when I had come across it. So when I suppose I'd been given a little bit of a choice between Buddhism and Ibn al-ʿArabī, Ibn al-ʿArabī just seemed like the right thing to do at that time.

But I didn't go looking, I was the opposite, really, because I wasn't a person who thought that I was a spiritual seeker and looked at all the traditions and thought, ‘Oh, look at this one. Look at this one,’ I was the opposite. I wasn't a spiritual seeker, I kind of got sort of dragged into this by a sort of backdoor rather to my surprise. So I discovered that whole side of life through Ibn al-ʿArabī.

I did this first course at the Beshara School where I was introduced to Ibn al-ʿArabī in my late 20s and then I spent several years, there were several layers of courses to do with Ibn al-ʿArabī, all the study that I did, and then in my early 30s, I, you know, got married, had a child, worked, you know, took on a mortgage, all that kind of stuff that you do; and I continued study but, I was not in a reserved kind of evening occupation. And then in my mid 40s, I had a period of illness, I was really, I was very chronically asthmatic I had to take time out of work and it turned into about four years I wasn't working and as I came out of that illness, I had the idea of actually going much deeper into Ibn al-ʿArabī and that's when I learned Arabic, when I started to learn Arabic. So all that time before then I've been using translation. But then in my late 40s, I developed this urge to actually read the text in the original. And fortunately, there was a little space; because I'd been ill, my husband's business was doing quite well and I went to Oxford to do a master's degree in mediaeval Arabic thought, which included learning mediaeval philosophical Arabic.

Saqib
Oh, wow.

Jane
So, that's when I really began doing much more serious work on Ibn al-ʿArabī and then that's how I began to do translation and my involvement in other projects. So that was a kind of second phase of involvement.

Saqib
Oh wow, so actually… I’m really glad you brought that up because something I wanted to ask you is around, you mentioned the grace around the text and how they've come to us. Could you tell us about the versions or the copies of the works of Ibn al-ʿArabī that we currently have and how they've come to us? And what sort of work you've been involved in, in terms of translation.

Jane
This was something that—one of the things I did to help me to learn Arabic was I became the librarian for the Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī Society which is based in Oxford, which had also been founded by Bulent Rauf who I've mentioned as the consultant to the Beshara School. So the two of the things were connected but the founding of the Muḥyiddīn Ibn ʿArabī Society was because Bulent had been brought up within the Akbarian tradition in Turkey and he wanted to introduce it to English speakers but he found that there were hardly any texts available. In fact, one of the reasons we had this strange thing called the 29 pages was that there was nothing actually in print at the time. So he had to sort of cobble together this kind of document in order to introduce us to the metaphysics.

So the purpose of the Ibn ʿArabī Society was to encourage scholarship and translation of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s works and that was founded something like 1977 and it's actually been, whether it has been hugely successful or whether it was just founded at a time when there was a particular movement going on, but I mean nowadays there are hundreds and hundreds of translations of Ibn al-ʿArabī texts and he's become very widely studied, both in the Middle East and in the West, in Europe, in America. So that was the foundation of the Ibn ʿArabī Society so I became more involved in that when I was wanting to learn Arabic. One of the projects that we began was called the Archiving Project because there are hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts of Ibn ʿArabī works and even then there were loads and loads of editions in Arabic, but many of them were very inaccurate because they were very late.

So translation, critical editions of Arabic works were being produced from very, very late manuscripts, which had all sorts of annotations and mistakes in them. So there was a kind of academic drive to go back to some of the earlier texts. All those earlier texts, most of them are in Turkey, they're still in Turkey, in the Turkish public libraries there. And something around 1998 or something like that, I can't remember, just before the millennia, there was a terrible earthquake in Istanbul. And some of the libraries were affected. And we almost lost a few of the most precious manuscripts of the Akbarian tradition. And at that point, the Turks, it's a different matter now, but at that point, the Turks were not very interested in their Ottoman heritage, and these manuscripts were being kind of neglected and there was also at one point a major theft from the principal library where Ibn al-ʿArabī works were kept in Konya. So, there was a thought that we needed to preserve this heritage, just in case it all disappeared in fire and flood [chuckling]. And so we set out to make digital copies. So we made a digital, the society, the Ibn ʿArabī Society, created a digital archive of the earliest manuscripts of Ibn ʿArabī works and that contains something like 3,000 copies of manuscripts now.

So, in order to do that, I did this with my colleague, Steven Hirtenstein, and in order to do this, we had to do a lot of research into which were the earliest copies, where were they, etc, etc. So that was a whole research project that's gone on for the last—we started in about 2001, so about 20 years we've been doing that. So that's what the Society did and that’s how my involvement came about.

And what we discovered was that there are an extraordinary number of these early manuscripts. The major works by Ibn al-ʿArabī, you’ve already mentioned the Futūḥāt al-Makkīyah, the Meccan Revelations. I mean the extraordinary thing about the Meccan Revelations is that we have a handwritten copy. We have Ibn al-ʿArabī’s original handwritten copy of the second recension of that book. Apart from one volume, there are 37 volumes, there’s one volume that's a facsimile, but the rest of it we have that copy in Turkey, in Istanbul, in the original hand of Ibn al-ʿArabī.

And we also have, not an original by Ibn al-ʿArabī, of the Fuṣuṣ al-Ḥikam, but we have a copy written by Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī, which was copied during the reading session with Ibn al-ʿArabī, in which Ibn al-ʿArabī signs in two places to attest to its accuracy. So we have the two major works of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s. We have actual attested or autographed copies of the original text. We have actually something, I didn't look this up before this interview, so I can't remember exactly figures, but we have something like 66 manuscripts which actually have Ibn al-ʿArabī’s handwriting, either written by him, or attested to by him.

Saqib
Wow.

Jane
So… and this is absolutely extraordinary if you compare it with comparable figures, if you takeشهاب الدين السهروردي  (Shihāb ad-Dīn Suhrawardī), for instance, who was a contemporary of his, there's one manuscript; that’s much more usual. I mean, we're talking about 1240CE when Ibn ‘Arabi died; we're talking about 800 years. So, the reason for this was that there were particular lines of preservation.

So Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī was the most important. He became Ibn al-ʿArabī’s literary executor, as already said the heritage was really in the books. So Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī who was a wealthy man who set up a special الوقف (waqf) in Konya where these books were kept and preserved. So the majority of them, of the major preserved copies came through that, and then they transferred in the late 20s when the circuses were all nationalized, they transferred to the Yusuf Ağa library, which is the little octagonal library at the gate of Mevlana’s tomb if you've ever been there. As you go in, there's this little octagonal building and that's the Yusuf Ağa library where Ibn al-ʿArabī’s heritage transferred to, but there were a couple of other lines of transmission. So it’s extraordinary how much of original text we have from Ibn al-ʿArabī, either written by him, or actually in his handwriting, or written by very close members of his circle who have attestations that they copied it accurately from the original. So the written heritage has an extraordinary pedigree.

Saqib
That's fascinating and so in terms of 20th century printed copies, I knowالشيخ عبد القادر الجزائري  (Shaykh Abd al-Qādir al-Jazaʾiri) who was deeply steeped in a Akbarian metaphysics had a copy made or works of a compiled and عثمان بن يحيى (ʿUsman Yaḥya) later on had obviously gathered various manuscripts to come up with a version. Could you tell us about the contemporary versions and why there was a need for that and whether they are as accurate as the original manuscripts that we can now access?

Jane
Yes. I mean, yes, you realize that one of the interesting things, the reason that, again, that the manuscript tradition is so important is you realize there was no printing in the Arabic world until mid 19th century. So this is 1887, or something like that, we get the Futūḥāt coming into print. The Ottomans didn't like printing, and there were considerable difficulties setting Arabic in, you know, lead type. And so whereas we don't care about whether we have Shakespeare's original writings because we have the printed copies going right back, there were no printed copies and so hand-to-hand manuscript writing went on until the 19th century; so that's 700 years.

When ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jazaʾiri supervised, I think it was the third print of the Futūḥāt, he sent it to Konya, which it was to the waqf of Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī in Konya, to have it checked against the original that was at that time kept there.

So over the centuries, when you do the research into the manuscripts, you see that it became a little bit of a centre, not so much of pilgrimage, but I suppose a kind of scholarly pilgrimage, that you know, this waqf in Konya, people would go there to copy the manuscripts, if they wanted to get the good ones.

So that first copy of the Futūḥāt was based on the original manuscript. What ʿUsman Yaḥya did in the 1960s and 70s he was preparing what's called a critical edition. So critical edition means that you take several manuscripts and you collate them to produce the best version. Normally, you would choose one version and then you'd annotate. And the reason for that is that although it's wonderful to have the original autographed copy of the Futūḥāt in Ibn al-ʿArabī’s hand he doesn't always put the diacriticals in [laughing] so it's not always exactly clear what he meant. Sometimes it's difficult to read his handwriting, he’s very clear but sometimes, nevertheless, things are difficult to read. So a critical edition is where you take different versions of the text and you compare and collate them so that somebody translating has got the best possible version to work from. And ʿUsman Yaḥya worked on the two recensions of the Futūḥāt, that was his work. Because, as you've mentioned, actually Ibn al-ʿArabī, Futūḥāt al-Makkīyah as you know was based on an original revelation that he had when he first went to the east in about 600. This is in الهجرة (hijra) and he had a revelation of the youth circumambulating the كعبة (Kaʿaba) and he describes that as the edge of the inspiration for the Futūḥāt. But the Futūḥāt is enormous. It's 9,000 pages long in the Arabic; that is seven volumes, 560 chapters—it's huge. He took 30 years to write it.

So he finished it in about six—the first recession in about 633. He produced a first version, complete version. And then he sat down and immediately rewrote the whole thing over the next three years, so I think that's about 636 that the final version is finished. And so we don't have the original of the first recension, but we have copies of it; copies that people took. So ʿUsman Yaḥya was doing a what's called a critical edition of comparing the two recensions.

Saqib
Oh I see.

Jane
He never completed it; he was intending it there would have been about 30 volumes and he got to about 14 I think.

Saqib
Right.

Jane
Something like that. We do have a good addition now, which is based on the Konya manuscript, which has been done by Shaykh al-Mansūb al-Maqtari in Yemen. So there's a group of scholars in Yemen who have done some wonderful work on Ibn al-ʿArabī texts and they have produced a really fine critical addition of the whole Futūḥāt.

Saqib
Wow and so just to be clear, two questions, why did Ibn al-ʿArabī write out of the Futūḥāt again? And I believe the second copy was done two years before he passed away.

Jane
Yeah, yeah.

Saqib
So he’s spent three intensive years to, you know, writing that. And are the manuscripts currently in Konya or have they now been moved to…?

Jane
They’re in Istanbul.

Saqib
Istanbul, yeah. Oh I see, right.

Jane
Both the Futūḥāt has and Fuṣuṣ are now in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in the centre of Istanbul where they are very well looked after I think.

Saqib
Right.

Jane
So that answer, yes. Why he did it? Oh you'd have to ask him in Ibn al-ʿArabī.

Saqib
[laughing]

Jane
I think people do find, I mean, not huge differences, but there are differences. Maybe, I don't know. I could imagine doing that if you'd put something together, I mean during that intermediate period when he was writing it, he was traveling a lot of the time. He settled in Damascus at the end of his life, but there's an intermediate period, there’s 20 years where he's constantly on the move, moving you know Cairo to Damascus to, you know, to Malachi, to all over the place to Mosul; so… and he was writing all the time when he was going so maybe he felt it was all a bit bitty? I don't know [laughing]. But that’s what he did.

It's an extraordinary feat because he was doing other things at the same period, the period when he rewrote it, he was also writing out other works; he was collecting his poetry; he was doing this he was doing that. I mean, it's an extraordinary feat of writing to have done that.

Saqib
Given the multitude of works, and it's really a shoreless ocean, as great French akbarian scholar, Michel Chodkiewicz rightly says, and it's very easy to turn it into an academic exercise, especially with Chittick’s books on, you know, and what I would like to know, is, often people cite Rūmi as the poem or the axis of love; but clearly, Ibn al-ʿArabī had a lot to say around that. So could you say something around Ibn al-ʿArabī's experience and perspective on—or teachings on love?

Jane
Oh! [chuckling] Oh, [chuckling], well..

Saqib
It's probably a podcast on its own [chuckling].

Jane
Absolutely. I mean it's a central concept to Ibn al-ʿArabī. It's often not so poetically put, as it is within Rūmi, but it's absolutely central.

Well, for one thing, one thing to say is that for Ibn al-ʿArabī love is the underlying motive for creation.

So love, everything is underpinned by love. So you know that he loves this particular حديث (ḥadīth), this divine saying, which came through the mouth of the prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ) but it's from God. And so it says, ‘I was a hidden treasure, and I love to be known. Therefore, I created the world that I might be known.’ So, for Ibn al-ʿArabī this is the central ḥadīth it's absolutely kind of it’s the foundational principle for his understanding of what the world is, and love is this motivating principle for it. So, for him, everything in creation actually has its basis in love; its beginning and also its movement. So everything in creation is this movement of love. So that's one thing to say about him.

I mean it's a wonderful vision [chuckling] that he has of this and secondly, he talks personally about love. There is, in fact the first book that was ever brought into English by him, is a book called ترجمان الاشواق (The Tarjumān Al-Ashwāq), the ّInterpreter of Desires, which is a cycle of poems addressed to the the divine beloved, mostly a female divine beloved, a female Sophia, in which he talks very intimately about the experience of love in a mystical sense.

So there's that aspect as well that he does talk about it and talk about himself as a lover. And he says, he says at one point, I mean some of this in the Futūḥāt when he writes about his own spiritual experience, and one of the interesting things about Ibn al-ʿArabī is how modern he is, in that he does talk about his own spiritual experience. It's unusual in mediaeval writers, they don't normally. But Ibn al-ʿArabī says a lot about the teachers that he had and the experiences that he had and at one point, he says he came to a point in his life where his Beloved's face was with him, meaning the Divine Beloved was always with him. And he’d said, ‘I'd want to eat, but I couldn't. Because there was my Lover’s face; I couldn't eat. Because there they were.’ And he doesn't say, in this experience, whether it was just like a kind of one of those things that happens for a short time or something, or whether it was something that happened for the rest of his life, he doesn't, you know, you're kind of left with the thought that it was for the rest of his life that he was brought into this state, where, you know, he always felt in the presence; that he was always in the presence of his Beloved. It's a strong undercurrent. And I think going back to your original question about the use of the intellect, and such like, Ibn al-ʿArabī is very hard to understand. He's very intellectually sophisticated. I'm sure you’d agree.

Saqib
Yeah.

Jane
And I think very often that clouds people's vision of what's really going on underneath in terms of what he's saying about love. And he and Rūmī are completely at one really on this matter.

Saqib
Jane, just a final question. If you could listen in on the conversation with Ibn al-ʿArabī and one more person.

Jane
[laughing]

Saqib
Who would that person be?

Jane
[laughing]

Saqib
And what would do you think they would say?

Jane
[laughing] I don't know. I’d probably say Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī actually because, you know, he regarded Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī as his spiritual heir and he treated him like a son. And there's a teaching, there is a document of their teaching sessions together, where Ibn al-ʿArabī… Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī wrote, ‘I studied this with the Shaykh’ and then Ibn al-ʿArabī  signs it, and says, ‘Yes, he did. He's studied this with me,’ you know, these were like university degrees, the equivalent of university to sort of attestation that you had studied this. I mean, yes, I would just love to be present at one of those teaching sessions where Ibn al-ʿArabī is going through the Fuṣuṣ with Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī. I mean I suppose that's… [laughing]

Saqib
Jane, thank you so much for your time today and I really look forward to picking up this discussion and maybe exploring other strands of Ibn al-ʿArabī.

Jane
But it's been a pleasure to talk to you again.

Saqib
Likewise, likewise, and until next time.

Jane
Until next time, okay, cheers. Bye

Saqib
Bye.