#18 The Metaphysics of Arabic Grammar and the Fusus al Hikam of Ibn Arabi with Dr Hany Ibrahim

Host: Saqib Safdar

Speaker: Dr Hany Ibrahim


Liberation rests in clarity and clarity springs from a knowledge of the message that’s been handed over to humanity as a trust. In the holy Qurʿān, Allāh (الله) reveals to us that Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qurʿān that you might understand (Q. 12:2).

Language presents itself to us juxtaposed, both bridge and barrier to comprehension. Holding this contrasting feature in mind, we speak to Dr Hany Taalat Ibrahim. Our objective is to address the best way a person can begin to understand the Arabic language; to decipher meaning and assist the soul in its journey towards accessing metaphysical knowledge in a palpable and real way that prepares the heart to receive revelation in the Qurʾānic recitation, anew every time.

Dr Hany is the author of Love in the Teachings of Ibn al-ʿArabī and a professor at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University. He specializes in Arabic, pre-modern Islāmic thought, Arabic Ṣūfī literature and Islām.

In answering the question, “Why did God choose Arabic as the language of His final message to humankind?”, we are introduced to the vast richness of the Arabic language and from the outset, Dr Hany demonstrates how diacritical marks on a word, in Arabic tashkīlāt (تشكيلات), not only change the pronunciation but also impact meaning and out-turn.

Dr Hany walks us through the invocation of the greatest name, Allāh, al-ism al-aʿẓam (الاسم الاعظم), with different diacritics. Each diacritical mark will have a distinct and varying esoteric effect on the heart and a person’s psychology, physiology, and spiritual ecology. This knowledge, inherited from the ʿārifūna-bi-llāh (العارفون بالله), the knowers of God, is shared in this ṣoḥbet (صحبة), conversation, to illustrate a shaykh’s role as a physician of the heart. It brings to the limelight the importance diacritical marks have when it comes to meaning and vibrational resonance.

The education of spiritual seekers is a process of tarbiyyah (تربية) through which language collaborates with sound to return us into the ocean of unity and Divine intimacy. When approaching the Qurʾān we are to do so humbly, so we may witness its miracle as a living Qurʾān. Dr Hany talks about letting the meanings of the Qurʾān reveal and open themselves through the Arabic language, its grammar, and diacritics, validating the continuation of the miracle of the Qurʾān and God’s self-disclosure to his creatures through the heart. It’s not through thinking or rationalizing and he cautions us about the various perspectives that might input their own ideologies onto the sacred text. The Prophet (ﷺ), peace and blessings be upon him, never left a complete commentary or interpretation of the Qurʾān. What he left the companions and the umma (أمة‎) with was the guidance for each person to understand the Qurʾān directly through God.

Creation are words of God, fashioned into sentences through structured order and Divine law.  There is nothing random when it comes to creation and the grammatical syntax that organizes them. Together in conversation we begin to touch on the metaphysics of Arabic grammar as inspired by the works of Ibn al-ʿArabī. We look at examples of how the shaykh al-akbar derives the highest esoteric and metaphysical meanings through etymology, syntax, and grammatical structures. The sacred language of classical Arabic offers us the possibility of gatheredness, especially in a time where human suffering is at its peak from seeing and being in a constricted, divided, subjugated way. It offers the soul a meeting point for unification to access worlds inaccessible before and ultimately, connect the dots required to immerse ourselves in the spirit and realization of al-tawḥīd (التوحيد).

We move on to discuss the Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam (فصوص الحكم) and the various commentaries available from Muʾayyid al-Dīn al-Jandī (مؤيد الدين الجندي), Dāwūd al-Qayṣarī (داود القيصري), ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulsī (عبد الغني النابلسي), Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī (صدر الدين القونوي) to ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Kāshānī (عبد الرزاق الكاشاني) and the importance and relevance of their texts in the study of Ṣūfīsm, Islāmic spirituality, and the stories contained within the Qurʾān.

In comparison to the Futūḥāt al-Makkiyyah, a magnum opus and the best book on the meanings of realities according to Dr Hany, the Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam is a condensed book that examines 27 prophets and is a book of great importance for all-mankind. Dr Hany points out that each one of the prophets represents a specific manifestation of a divine meaning and a divine name, the adornments. Like the 99 names of God every traveler’s encouraged to learn, the study of the Fuṣūṣ serves as a pointer to the Divine Reality, kindling one’s baṣīra (البصيرة), spiritual insight, to begin to recognize and see the manifestation of God’s qualities and attributes as part of the One Reality. The content of the book, according to Ibn al-ʿArabī, came through a vision of direct spiritual witnessing from the Prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ), peace and blessings be upon him.

Dr Hany counsels: reading and critiquing metaphysical books without prior permission, ithin (اذن), from a shaykh is a grave mistake. That is to ensure that people do not misread the texts and go astray. Spiritual succor is a gift that comes from within the Ṣūfī tradition. There's a direct lineage from shaykh to shaykh going back to shaykh Sīdī Muḥyiddīn Ibn al-ʿArabī. The texts themselves serve as confirmation for a traveler on the path, a sālik (سالك), that spiritual experiences are attainable, but the ultimate objective is to become steeped in maʿrifa (معرفة), gnosis, and al-haqīqa (الحقيقة), the Divine Reality, where words give rise to witnessing theophany.

As we continue to knock on the door of gnosis and Divine favor, we are excited to announce that in collaboration with Dr Hany Ibrahim, The Ḥikmah Project is launching two upcoming courses:

The first course offered is a beginner’s level 1 course on classical Qurʾānic Arabic. Al-ṣarf (الصرف) and al-naḥu (النحو), morphology and grammar, will be taught in an easy to learn structure that builds up on the previous week. It’ll include the application of the grammar in texts such as the waẓifa of Ibn Mashīsh (الوظيفة ابن مشيش), Ibn al-‘Arabī’s prayers of the week, the wird (وِرْد) and the al-ṣalāt al-fayḍiyya (الصلاة الفيضية) and such spiritual text.

The second course offered will be a line-by-line reading of the Fuṣūṣ with commentary.

We are invited to tap into the world where words handed over by spiritual inheritors of the truth begin to open-up their intended meanings to us. Everyone is welcome!


Transcript and Sufi Terminology

ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulsī: a Syrian mystic prose and verse writer on the cultural and religious thought of his time. He has more than 200 written works that can be divided into three categories: Sufism (Islamic mysticism); travel accounts; and miscellaneous subjects. The main component in his original Ṣūfī writing, as distinguished from his commentaries on the works of others, is the concept of waḥdat al-wujūd (the “divine existential unity” of God and the universe and, therefore, of man).

ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Kāshānī: one of the most influential ṣūfī authors in Islāmic history. He wrote disseminated commentaries and important treatises rooted in Ibn al-ʿArabī’s ontological discourse. His writings are in both Arabic and Persian. From his works is Ta’wilat al-Qur’ān, believed to have been written by Muḥyiddīn Ibn al-ʿArabī, and considered to be one of the masterpieces of Ṣūfī exegesis,. Although little is known about the life of ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Kāshāni it is accepted that he studied under Mu’ayyid al-Dīn al-Jandī, who himself had studied with Saḍr al-Dīn Qunāwī, the stepson of Ibn al-‘Arabī and leading exponent of Akbarian doctrine. Al-Kāshānī is recognised for the significant contribution he made to the school of Ibn al-‘Arabī and his influence in the systemization of the ideas and thoughts of Ibn al-‘Arabī.

ʻAbd al-Salām ibn Mashīsh al-ʻAlamī: regarded as the quṭb (spiritual pole) of his time, Ibn al-Mashīsh was a Moroccan Ṣūfī saint who lived during the reign of the Almohad Caliphate. He was the spiritual guide of Abū Ḥassan ash-Shādhulī.

Abū Ḥassan ash-Shādhulī: also known as Shaykh al-Shādhūli was an influential Moroccan Islāmic scholar and Ṣūfī, founder of the Shādhulī Ṣūfī order. He was the disciple of ʻAbd al-Salām ibn Mashīsh al-ʻAlamī. 

Abū Ḥassan ʿAlī Ḥassanī Nadwī: shaykh Abū Ḥassan ‘Alī Ḥassani Nadawī was a leading Islāmic scholar, thinker, writer, preacher, reformer, and a Muslim public intellectual of 20th century India. He is the author of numerous books on history, biography, contemporary Islam, and the Muslim community in India. 

Akbarism: a branch of Ṣūfī metaphysics based on the teachings of Ibn al-ʿArabī, al-shaykh al-akbar, meaning “the greatest master”, from which the name is derived. It is used to refer to all historical or contemporary Ṣūfī metaphysians and ṣūfī’s influenced by Ibn al-ʿArabī’s doctrine waḥdatu ʿl-wujūd, pantheistic monism based on the Unity of God (tawḥīd).

Ashʿarī theology or Shʿarism: one of the main Sunnī schools of Islamic theology, founded by the Arab Muslim scholar, Shāfiʿī jurist, reformer, and scholastic theologian Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī in the 9th–10th century. 

Baṣīra: spiritual insight; the words baṣar/baṣīra refer to vision and insight, to seeing things clearly outwardly and inwardly and knowing all there is about something. 

Dāwūd al-Qayṣarī: an early Ottoman Ṣūfī scholar, philosopher, and mystic. He was the student of the Iranian scholar, ʿAbd al-Razzāq Kāshānī and the author of over a dozen philosophical texts, many of which are still important textbooks in Shīʿite religious schools. Dāwūd al-Qayṣarī is considered the pioneer of the school of Ibn al-ʿArabī in the fourteenth century having authored many of his works as commentaries on the classics of theoretical mysticism, such as Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam (The Bezels of Wisdom) by Ibn al-ʿArabī, Tafsīr al-Basmala (The Commentary on the Basmala) by al-Kāshānī, and al-Qaṣī da al-Tāʾiyya (a mystical poem) by Ibn Fāriḍ.


Dhawq: in Ṣūfīsm dhawq (tasting) is an experiential, direct, first-hand experience of the One Divine Reality. Dhawq synonymously refers to spiritual tasting. 

Dhikr: a form of Islāmic prayer where phrases or prayers are repeatedly chanted plays a central role in Ṣūfīsm. Dhikr is the practice of the remembrance of God.  

Ḥaqīqa: the truth, reality, stemming from the Divine Name of the Absolute Reality al-Ḥaqq.

Ibn al-ʿArabī: an Andalusian Muslim scholar, mystic, poet, and philosopher, extremely influential within Islamic thought. Muḥammad bin ʿAlī Ibn al-ʿArabī is also known as Muḥyiddīn (the “reviver of religion”) and shaykh al-akbar (the “greatest master”). Of the several hundred works attributed to him, the most famous are the Futūḥāt al-Makkiyyah and the Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam.

Ījāza: An ījāza is a license authorizing its holder to transmit a certain text or subject, which is issued by someone already possessing such authority. It is particularly associated with transmission of Islamic religious knowledge.

Islām: "Submission [to the will of God]") is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion centered on the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad. 

Ithin: receiving permission. In ṣūfī context, ithin opens the disciple to spiritual assistance and Divine guidance.  Ithin given by a shaykh to a murid or sālik for a spiritual undertaking is based on their readiness.

Imān: al-īmān denotes faith. In Islāmic spirituality īmān is the second degree or the middle part of the path on the figurative mountain a person climbs in their spiritual evolution.

iḥsān: iḥsān, spiritual excellence, is to worship God as if you see Him and if you don’t see Him know that He sees you. It is based on the ḥadīth of Gabriel who came to the Prophet (ﷺ), peace and blessings be upon him, to teach humanity about Islām.

Maʿrifa: means gnosis and it represents the mystical understanding of the Divine Reality. A true sign of maʿrifa is stability and perpetuity of the contemplative vision where the heart is enraptured with the constant witnessing of Allāh and His Divine Lights.

Muʾayyid al-Dīn al-Jandī: al-Qūnawī’s principal disciple whose commentary on the Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam is generally considered the formative work in that genre.

Muṣṭafā al-Khin: one of the true luminaries of Damascas, also known Shaykh Muṣṭafā al-Nadawī. Within university circles he was known for his intelligence and the ability to explain complex matters. From the ʿulama he studied with are Shaykh ‘Alī b. ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Daqr, Shaykh Muḥammad Amīn Suwayd, Shaykh Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad al-Ghalāyīnī and Shaykh Abu al-Ḥasan ‘Alī al-Nadwī.

Muʿtazilism: from the Arabic word muʿtazilah, meaning to withdraw or stand apart, the term had come to refer specifically to an Islamic school of speculative theology (kalām)  that flourished in Basra in Baghdad (8th–10th century).


Sālik: a traveller on the ṣūfī path.


Shīʿa: a term that stems from shī'atu ʿAlī, Arabic for “partisans of Ali,” who believe that ʿAlī and his descendants are part of a divine order.


Sunni: meaning followers of the sunna, or “way” in Arabic, of the Prophet (ﷺ), peace and blessings be upon him. Sunni Islam is the largest branch of Islam, followed by over 85% of the world's Muslims, and simultaneously the largest religious denomination in the world.

Ṣalāt al-fayḍiyya: one of the most remarkable prayers ever composed in praise of the reality of the Human Being, known as The Blessing-Prayer of Effusion upon the Reality of Muhammad (al-Ṣalāt al-fayḍiyya al-Muḥammadiyya).

Sīdī: also known as sayyid is a title of respect.

Ṣirāt al-mustaqīm: the straight path, alluding also to the Prophet (ﷺ), peace and blessings be upon him.

Tarbiyyah: is a process of spiritual education instilling in a person the values and resources that will help them attain righteousness and felicity. In Ṣūfīsm, tarbiyyah is the process of spiritual training where a shaykh figuratively takes one by the hand to the final destination.

Tashkīlāt: diacritical marks in the Qurʾān and Arabic language are put above or below the letter to affect its pronunciation and carry grammatical and often syntactical meaning These marks include ḍamma, fathḥa, kassra, shadda, sukūn, madda, etc.

Tawḥīd: Islāmic spirituality is founded on the concept of tawḥīd, the assertion of the indivisible oneness of God. It is the central concept of monotheism in Islām.

Wird: is a regular litany and a mystical invocation practiced in Islāmic Ṣūfīsm.

Waẓīfa (Ibn al-Mashīsh): a spiritual litany that serves as a deep prayer for opening the soul. From Music of the Soul Sīdī Muḥammad al-Jamal ar-Rifāʿi ash-Shādhulī says:

“The Waẓifa al-Mashishiyya is an exercise of deep spiritual importance.  Revealed by the Prophet Muhammad  (ﷺ), may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, it is the only piece of writing from the hand of Sidi ‘Abd as-Salām Ibn al-Mashīsh.  The knowledge of the secret of the Prophet (ﷺ), may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, is the key to the door or the knowledge of God.”

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