Ibn ‘Arabi is considered by many to be the greatest Sufi philosopher. His was more of a structured approach to Sufi mysticism directed toward gnosis, in contrast to Rumi’s mysticism which was more directed toward ecstatic annihilation in Love. Ibn ‘Arabi was one of the most prolific of Sufi writers, having composed an immense volume of work in his lifetime in both prose and verse, influencing philosophical and mystical thought, not only in the Muslim world, but also in Christian Europe.
Born in Murcia, in Moorish Spain, Ibn ‘Arabi could trace his ancestry back to ancient Arabia. When he was a boy, his family moved to Sevilla (Seville) where he began his studies. During a childhood illness, he had a transformative vision that set him firmly on the mystical path.
Ibn ‘Arabi traveled throughout the Islamic world — Spain, North Africa, the Middle East. He spent the last ten years of his life in Damascus.
Among his many writings, perhaps his most influential philosophical works are Spiritual Victories (al Futuhat al Makkiya) and Facets of Wisdom (al Fusus al Hikam). Many of the poetry selections here are excerpts from his long poem The Interpreter of Desires. The Interpreter of Desires is a multi-layered love poem that, like the Song of Songs in the Bible and many of the courtly love songs of the Troubadours, reveals itself to ultimately be an exploration of the soul’s yearning for God. It is a tale of a holy pilgrimage to Mecca, in which the hero meets a young Persian woman of pure beauty named Nizham (Harmony). This encounter with such a perfect embodiment of harmony inspires an ardent quest that becomes a quest for the True Beloved, for God.