Did Ibn al-Arabi marry Nizam ?

His wife Nizam (extracts from The Discloser of Desires: turjuman al-ashwaq, translated by: Books by Mohamed Haj Yousef):
We know that Sheikh Muhyiddin had married more than once, but we cannot determine exactly when that happened and how many times. However, it seems most likely that he preferred initially to stay away from women and family links so that he can travel and move easily without worrying about family burden, and he has been successful in this regard; almost two years after his parents passed away, his two sisters were married, so he is free to roam over the continents and travel from one country to another, as we have seen above.

 The Spanish researcher Miguel A. Palacios (1871–1944) stated in his book about the life of Ibn Arabi that he presumably married to Maryam daughter of Mohammed bin Abdoun, even before entering the path of Sufism. However, this seems to be not logical because it is assumed that he entered Sufism in the year 580 AH as he described: "and I obtained these stations in short time when I entered this path in the year five hundred and eighty", so he was just 20 years old. And then in another place he says that he used to hate women and intercourse when he first entered mysticism and remained on this mandate for eighteen years, that sums up to 38 years, exactly in the year 598 AH - 1201 AD when he arrived to Mecca.[1]
Although this may not utterly exclude that he was married before, but certainly in that year he completely changed his mind about woman when he met Nizam, the daughter of Sheikh Zahir bin Rustam al-Isfahani (d. 609 AH – 1212 AD) who was the imam of the Ibrahimi Haram, and with whom Ibn Arabi had a distinct company and a close relationship.
He is being famous and she is being very young, apparently Nizam knew Ibn Arabi before he knows her, so one day, he recalls in his introduction to the Turjuman, he was performing his rituals of circumambulating the Kaaba when he suffered a familiar spiritual state, so he went out of tiles away from the people, and continued circumambulating on the sand, and he started reciting verses of poetry, so quietly that no one would hear but himself, or someone just following him, if any. He chanted:
If only they know what heart they possessed!
If my heart only knows what route they followed!
Are they safe, or are they lost?
I lost my mind in love, and become entangled.
Then he adds: "I then felt a hand patting between my shoulders, whose palm softer than silk… I had never seen a woman more beautiful of face, softer of speech, more tender of heart, more spiritual in her ideas, more subtle in her symbolic allusions." She was this young lady Nizam (lit. Harmonia) who then asked him to repeat what he was saying. He repeated the first verse, but she halted him momentarily, and said: "How strange of you! You are the Gnostic of your Time, and you speak like this!" And then she discussed with him all the verses, one by one, explaining to him that the state of the truly-perished lover is not as he described, but rather he does not even have a tongue to describe his state nor a heart to be confused.
Sheikh Muhyiddin asked the young lady: "O daughter of my aunt, whats your name?"
She said: "qurrat-ul-ayn (darling)."
Instantly he then replied: "to me!"
At that quick sudden proposal she greeted him farewell and withdrew with silence. Ibn Arabi then adds that he later knew who she was, and describes how their relationship developed, but he did not elaborate further on this, and he did not mention here whether and when he married with her.
Her name was not actually "qurrat-al-ayn", but this was maybe one of her nicknames and it is normally translated as: "darling", but it literally means: "the comfort of the eye, or: that makes the eye rests"; in other words: "look no further". And so she was, because his instant reply means: "will you marry me!" Or we can even say that this instant reply means: "Yes", because he understood her answer "qurrat-al-ayn" as: "I am the comfort of your eye, I am your darling, look no further!" And the fact that she coyly withdrew without answering him when he said: "to me!" indicates her official acceptance.
It is clear that Nizam had already known Sheikh Muhyiddin, possibly through his frequent visits to her family, and his fame in the learned community in which she was raised also under the aegis of her father and aunt, who were also known highbrows, so she is also equally literate and eloquent as it is clear from her discussion and her outstanding statements in response to his song, in addition to her natural brilliant beauty and harmony, carnal and spiritual, which attracted him and urged him into this unique everlasting friendship and timeless relationship of pure spiritual love, that ended with marriage, as we shall see further below.
Ibn Arabi clearly fell in love with Nizam, at first sight. We can also equally say that she may have been already in love with him, not least because she knew him before, but she was actually "following him" when he went away from the people to the sand and chanted the verses. Then also her answer "qurrat-al-ayn" was a clear proposal that understood at once, and approved by saying: "to me!"
This passionate love was a kind of theia mania, whose arrows pierced directly into the black core of his unadulterated heart and overwhelmed him with spiritual desire and heavenly longing. He expressed his first impression by saying that he has never seen a woman more beautiful of face, softer of speech, more tender of heart… and he further elaborates on the image she created in his heart and the souls of her family and friends: "a lissome young girl who captivated the gaze of all those who saw her, whose mere presence was the ornament of our gatherings and startled all those who contemplated it to the point of stupefaction. Her name was Nizam and her surname: ayn al-shams wal bahâ (eye of the sun and of beauty). Learned and pious, with an experience of spiritual and mystic life, she personified the venerable antiquity of the entire Holy Land and the candid youth of the great city faithful to the Prophet. Her glance; the grace of her conversation was such an enchantment... If not for the paltry souls who are over ready for scandal and predisposed to malice, I should comment here on the beauties of her body as well as her soul, which was a garden of generosity... And I took her as a model for the inspiration of the poems... although I was unable to express so much as a part of the emotion which my soul experienced and which the company of this young girl awakened in my heart, or of the generous love I felt... since she is the object of my quest and my hope, the virgin most pure...".[2]
Nevertheless, many researchers[3] have imperfectly looked at this mysterious relationship between Ibn Arabi and Nizam as an example of "love outside marriage" in such a renowned Muslim community that happened in the Holy City of Mecca and right at the Kaaba, the very center of Islam, and from such a famous Sheikh such as Ibn Arabi, which would have been certainly outrageous, as it had also been naturally regarded by some contemporary Muslim scholars who criticized Ibn Arabi when they read the Turjuman and before he wrote the above-mentioned commentary.
In addition to what we have mentioned above, a closer look at Ibn Arabi's related books, however, clearly removes any doubts that he and Nizam were actually married. For example, in his book of Musamarat-ul-Akhyâr (Entertaining the Righteous), where he mentions some of the poems from the Turjuman, he explains the occasion of these poems saying: "I had had ahl (lit.: family, i.e. wife) with whom my eye is comforted, but Time had separated us, and now I remember her, and her home is in Hillah of Baghdad."[4] We even notice here how he used the same expression derived from her nickname qurrat-ul-ayn (the comfort of the eye). And although they met initially in Mecca but in many of the poems in this book below he clearly indicates that Nizam was living in Baghdad, for example in poem 37:
1.      The dearest place on Gods Earth to me after Tayba and Mecca and the Farther Temple is the city of Baghdad.
2.      How should I not love the (City of) Peace, since I have there an Imam who is the guide of my religion and my reason and my faith?
3.      And it is the home of a daughter of Persia, one whose gestures are subtle and whose eyelids are languid.
4.      She greets and revives those whom she killed with her looks, and she conferred the best (gift) after beauty and beneficence.
Also in the thrird poem below, he even gives some details on the road they took when they departed Mecca via Medina heading to Ħâjir until they reached to the River of 'Isa in Baghdad.
Furthermore, in the Futuhat, he comments on the criticism he had heard from those scholars in Aleppo who criticized him for the Turjuman, and he says that their criticism is not justified because they dont know his relationship with her, and he adds that if they knew for example that they were engaged they would not have said what they did say.
Hence it looks very clear that Ibn Arabi and Nizam have actually married, maybe engaged for some time and later got married, but Time separated them, since he used to travel a lot and probably because of the death of her father who died in 609/1212, so she had to move to Baghdad at some point. Moreover, in other poems below he describes in some detail the place in Baghdad where Nizam and her father lived, so it is quite possible that he went there with them, maybe in 608/1211 just one year before his friend Sheikh Zahir bin Rustam passed away, or even as early as 601/1204 when he travelled north to Turkey passing by Basra, Baghdad and Mosul.
But the question that may be legitimate is that if they had actually married or engaged, why did he not mention that so clearly and plainly, for example in his commentary on the Turjuman, so as to ward off suspicion and backbiting! The answer is that we really dont have all his books since most are still missing, so this might have been elaborated in other later books or editions. On the other hand we know that he rarely speaks about his personal life and family affairs, for example he does not talk about his mother; he only accidentally mentioned her name once. He has also very rarely mentioned the names of his other wives or anything about his family and his personal life.
 


[1] See Appendix 1 in Shams-l-Maghrib, Mohamed Haj Yousef, (Fussila-Aleppo, 2006).
[2] Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, Henry Corbin, (Routledge, 1970), pp. 136-137
[3] Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam, Peter Lamborn Wilson‏ (City Lights Books – California, 1993), p. 115.
[4] Muhâdarat al-Abrâr wa Musâmarat al-Akhyâr, (Beirut: Dâr Sâdir, n.d.), Vols. 2, p 58.

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