A Brief Biography of Ibn el-Arabi
Muhyiddin Ibn el-Arabi is considered one of the most influential Sufi thinkers and writers of the Middle Ages. He was born in Murcia in 1165, in the culturally advanced Al-Andalus region of Spain. Ibn el-Arabi spent the first three decades of his life in Iberia and North Africa studying law, theology and mysticism, and distinguishing himself as a poet.
His talents as a great thinker became evident early on in life. While Ibn el-Arabi was a teenager, his father took him to meet his friend, the philosopher Ibn Rush (also known to Europeans later as ‘Averroes’). Years later Ibn el-Arabi recounted an esoteric conversation in which he explained to the philosopher the limits of rational perception. That meeting was a watershed moment, which consolidated for Ibn el-Arabi the difference between formal and intuitive knowledge.
In 1202, Ibn el-Arabi set off on a journey to the Eastern lands of Islam, from which he would not return to his homeland. His travels took him to Mecca by way of Egypt, and later to Iraq, Anatolia and the Levant. He settled down in Damascus in 1223. There, Ibn el-Arabi accepted and taught disciples and wrote prolifically until his death in 1240.
Among his many writings, his major works written in those later years, are the monumental Al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyyah (The Meccan Revelations) and Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam (The Bezels of Wisdom).
Ibn el-Arabis’s mission Idries Shah writes, ‘was to create Sufi literature and cause it to be studied in order that people might enter into the spirit of Sufism—discover the Sufis through their being and expression, whatever their cultural background might be.’