The Greatest Master Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi
The Greatest Master Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi

Most of these introductory articles are exracted from Volume I of the Single Monad Model of the Cosmos: Ibn al-Arabi's View of Time and Creation... more on this can be found here.



So we have seen in this chapter that time is in fact imaginary and exists only as the Creator's 'Days' and are indeed indivisible moments, while all other divisions of time are conventional. For this reason we find that in the Qur’an the word 'time' is never used, while a great deal of attention is given there to mentioning different sorts of 'daytimes' and 'nights' and the relations between them. Likewise, we find that Ibn al-Arabi pays considerable attention to describing the actual meaning of the days and the relation between their different types.

As usual, the terms 'daytime' (nahar) and 'night' (layl) are used by Ibn al-Arabi to measure time, where the daytime extends from sunrise to sunset, while the night (layl) is from sunset to sunrise: both of those together - always beginning with the night-time - are called a 'day' (yawm), which is conventionally divided into twenty-four hours. We must notice, however, that the above conventional definitions are only approximate for our practical use here on earth, since considerable differences appear as soon as we begin to measure the length of the day, for example, with relation to the sun or to distant stars.

In the following passage Ibn al-Arabi gives a precise definition of various units of time such as the day, the daytime, the night, the month and the year. Some of these definitions are, however, simply for practical use for the purpose of determining prayer times. More accurate variations will be discussed below and in section III.2. At the very beginning of the extremely long chapter 69, in which Ibn al-Arabi talks about 'the secret meanings of prayer (salat)', he devoted a full section to detailed explanations about timing. For the purpose of demonstration and simplification, Ibn al-Arabi employs a hypothetical observer who is considered as a frame of reference. He says there:

'Timing' (al-waqt) is an expression for (our approximate) estimation concerning a thing that does not accept the actual reality (‘ayn) of what is estimated. So it is an (approximate) supposition, just like we suppose and estimate a beginning, middle and an end in a spherical shape which in itself and in its actual reality does not accept a beginning, middle or end. So we construe all of this in it (only) by what we construe through the effect of our supposition and estimation concerning it.

Likewise, timing (waqt) is an estimated supposition with regard to time (al-zaman), since time is circular, as Allah created it in its beginning, so it is like a circle. The Prophet Muhammad, may Allah have peace and mercy upon him, said: 'time has circulated [i.e., has come back to the same point] like its form was on the day when Allah created it' [Kanz: 12357]. So he mentioned that Allah created it circular (See section 10 above [Circular and Cyclic Time]), and timings are (only) estimated with regard to it.

So when Allah created the Isotropic Orb and it moved, the 'day' was not specifically determined and no (temporally defining) reality had (yet) appeared in (that Orb). It was like the water of the pitcher when it is (still) in the river, before it comes into the pitcher. Then when the twelve (equal zodiacal regions) were supposed in it (i.e., in the Isotropic Orb, and subsequently appeared in the second orb of the fixed stars, which has in it the zodiacal constellations), it was given specific timings, and He called them the '(zodiacal) constellations' in that (isotropic) orb - which is Allah's saying: by the heaven - (swearing by it) because of its loftiness above us - that has the constellations (buruj) (85:1). So they are these suppositions for timing.

So (when) a person stands (on the earth) and this orb rotates around him, and this person has been given sight to look at these (spatial) suppositions, through the distinguishing signs (of the zodiacal constellations) that were determined in (the outermost sphere), then (that person) can distinguish some of its parts from others, by these distinguishing signs that are made to be references pointing to it. So (this person) fixes his eye on one supposed (area) of it, I mean on the distinguishing sign (of this or that constellation), and then the (zodiacal) orb rotates with this supposed distinguishing sign that this observer has fixed his eye on, until it disappears (from his sight). This continues, as long as he continues standing in his place, until (eventually) this sign comes back to him (in the same position). Then at that point he knows that this (zodiacal) orb had completed one cycle with respect to this observer - not with respect to the orb itself (because the orbs’ real motion takes much longer time than a day, see section I.4). Then we called this cycle a 'day' (yawm, defined here according to the far-away sphere of the zodiacal stars and not according to the sun, which is the day known in Astronomy as the 'sidereal day').

Then after that, Allah created in the fourth Heaven (celestial sphere) of the seven Heavens a lighted planet that has a huge body, and it was called in the Arabic tongue 'Shams' [i.e. the Sun; but the Arabs used to call both the planets (kawakib) and the stars (nujum) as kawakib; 'planets' (s. kawkab), but Ibn al-Arabi clearly distinguishes between them]. Then it rose in the sight (of this observer) from behind the veil (/horizon) of the earth where this observer stands, so he called this place of rising 'the shining-place' (or 'east/orient': mashriq), and he called the rising a 'shining-forth' (shuruq), because this bright planet rose up from it and lighted up the atmosphere where this observer is.

So the sight of this observer kept following the motion of that planet (the sun) until it was opposite him (in the middle of the sky), so he called this (state of) opposition 'the meridian' (al-istiwa’). Then the planet began to descend from its meridian with respect to this observer, seeking the right side of him - not with respect to the planet itself. So he called the beginning of this descending from its meridian a 'decline' (zawal) and disposition (duluk). Then the sight of this observer kept following it until the body of this planet went down, so he called its going down 'setting' (ghurub), and he called the place where his sight saw that it went down its 'setting-place' (or 'west': maghrib).

Then the atmosphere became dark for him, so he called the duration of the lightning of the atmosphere, from the rising of this planet till its setting, a 'daytime' (nahar). (This name is) derived from 'al-nahr' (the river), because the spreading out of the light in (that daytime) is like the spreading out of water in the bed of the river.

So this observer remained in the dark until that planet that is called the sun (again) rose from the place that he called the orient, in the sight of this observer - (but) from another (different) place, close to this place that it rose from yesterday, (by a distance) which is called a 'degree' (daraja). So he called the duration of the darkness in which he was from the time of the setting of the sun till its rising a night (layl). So the day (yawm, the conventional rotational day and not the sidereal day) is the sum of the daytime (nahar) and the night (layl). And he called the positions where this planet rises everyday 'degrees' (darajat).

Then he saw that this bright planet, that is called the sun, moves between those estimated suppositions (marked by the different zodiacal signs) in the (Isotropic) circumferential orb, one degree after another, until it cuts through that (first supposed position) through these risings called days, such that when it completes cutting through one supposed (position), it starts cutting through another supposition, until it completes (going through all) the twelve suppositions by cutting (them). Then it starts another cycle by cutting through these supposed positions (again). So he called (the time) from the beginning of cutting each supposed position till the end of cutting that (particular zodiacal) supposed position a 'month' (shahr); and he called (the sun's) cutting through all those (twelve zodiacal) suppositions a 'year' (sana).

Thus it has become clear to you that the night, daytime, day, month and year, are called 'timings' (awqat), and (also) it gets shorter till what is called hours and less - that all that does not have (real) existence in its essence, but that they are only relations and relative connections (nisab/idafat). But what is (actually) existing is (only) the essence of the orb and the planet, not the essence of the timing and time, since they, I mean the times, are only suppositions within it. So thus you see now that 'time' is (only) an expression for something (humanly) imagined, in which these 'timings' are only supposed.


So the day (yawm) for Ibn al-Arabi like our usual day: i.e., the full revolution of the heavens as we see it from the earth, which is conventionally measured according to the motion of the sun. This definition of the day works perfectly for practical issues, such as determining prayer times. But if we want to be more accurate, the day indeed is the full revolution of the orb of the fixed stars [Ayyam Al-Sha’n: 6] - which is in reality (i.e., as we know today), a single full cycle of the motion of the earth around itself with relation to far-away stars, not with relation to the sun. That is why Ibn al-Arabi affirms that the 'day' (yawm) actually existed even before the creation of the seven planets including the sun and the earth, while the earthly daytime and night-time (nahar and layl) were defined only after the creation of the earth and the sun. He says that:

When Allah caused these higher orbs to rotate, He created 'days' in the first orb (that is the isotropic orb, because it is the first orb to be created in Nature) and defined it in relation to the second orb (that is the orb of fixed-stars or the zodiacal constellations) which has the apparently fixed planets (stars). …Then He created also the sun, so the daytime and night are caused by the creation of the sun (that appears) in the day. But the 'day' [i.e., the sidereal day; defined by the rotation of the highest sphere(s)] existed before (the sun's creation) …so when the orb of the zodiac rotates one cycle, it is called the 'day' in which Allah created the heavens and the earth (in six days).


As we also showed in the previous chapter, Ibn al-Arabi showed on many occasions that all the stars are moving at very high speeds. He also showed that the stars that form the zodiac signs are, like other stars, very far away, which is why we do not realize their motion. So practically we consider these stars as fixed and therefore as a reference, but in fact the reference should be the Isotropic Orb, because it is the one that encompasses all other (material) orbs. However, because this orb has no any distinguishing sign, it can not be used as a reference. Therefore, to be more accurate, we have to measure the day not relative to the sun but relative to stars, the constellations 'from Nath to Nath, from Butayn to Butayn or from Thurayya to Thurayya'[1] [Ayyam Al-Sha’n: 6] - since it is not possible to measure it relative to the Isotropic Orb which does not have any distinguishing feature. In astronomy, this is called the 'sidereal day', which is about four minutes longer than the normal (rotational) day. The difference is due to the earth's rotation around the sun at the same time it spins around its axis, which causes the sidereal day to become slightly longer. Although Ibn al-Arabi accepts the usual concept of the day that is our normal day (from sunrise to sunrise) for daily needs, such as knowing the time of prayers [I.388.14], he clearly distinguishes between the sidereal day and the normal day when it comes to critical issues such as the 'intertwined days' and the 'taken out days' that we shall explain in Chapter IV.

The real meaning of 'day' comes from the fact that in this day Allah creates the whole manifest world - i.e., the whole 360 degrees of the orb or the outermost celestial sphere, the 'Pedestal' - in it. This does not at all contradict the many verses in the Qur’an and other holy Books stating that Allah created the Heavens and the earth 'in six days' (and then - on the seventh day - He mounted on the Throne) (see the Qur’an: 7:54, 10:3, 11:7, 25:59, 32:4, 50:38 and 57:4) because we only witness the last day ('Saturday', al-sabt) out of these seven days, while the other six days of creation are actually included in it as space (see section III.6). Therefore, unlike some other Muslim theologians, Ibn al-Arabi does not find any difficulty in explaining those verses in the Qur’an that talk about Allah's creating the Heavens and the earth in six days. Most religious scholars suggested that Allah meant 'assumed days', such that if days had actually existed then, then the time of this creation would have been six days, because they could not conceive of days before the creation of the sun and the earth. But Ibn al-Arabi affirms that the creation of the sun only divided the day (yawm) into daytime and nighttime. So he gives a dramatically different cosmological meaning to the process of creation in a 'Week' (six days plus Saturday) - as the creation of space-time at every moment - and not the commonly understood meaning that it took Allah a current earthly week to finish the creation.

 However, as already noted, Ibn al-Arabi did observe that there was a difference between the Arabs and some non-Arab (‘ajam) groups in their conventional definitions of the 'day', in that the Arabs considered the day to extend from sunset to sunset, while others considered it to extend from sunrise to sunrise. So for the Arabs, the night precedes daytime, while for non-Arabs it is the reverse. This matter has no effect on the length of the whole day itself, but its implications do have an effect on the actual unit of day and especially on its spiritual and symbolic meanings, because:

For the Arabs and the Arabic timing, it has been traditionally agreed that the night precedes daytime, since originally the Creator of time, Allah the Exalted, says: and a token unto them is night; We strip the day out of it… (36:37). So He made the night as the origin and took the day out of it, just as the skin is stripped off the sheep. So the (initial) appearance is to the night, and the day was hidden in it, just as the skin of the sheep appears and covers the sheep until it is stripped off. So the witnessed world (‘alam al-shahada) was stripped off the unseen realm (al-ghayb), and our existence was stripped off the non-existence. So the knowledge of the Arabs advanced that of the non-Arabs, because the (i.e., the non-Arab) calculations are solar-based: they consider that the daytime precedes the night, and they have some right (to maintain that) in this (same Qur’anic) verse, which continues …then they are in darkness, for 'then' here refers to the present time or the future time, and the thing will not be in darkness until the coming of the night, in this verse. So (from their perspective), the daytime was like a cover on the night and then it was taken out or removed, so they are in darkness; so the night appeared which causes darkness, so the people are in darkness.

[I.716.9, also in Ayyam Al-Sha’n, 7]


[1] Nath (or al-shartayn: the two signs of Aries), Butayn (the belly of Aries) and Thurayya (Pleiades) are houses of the moon.

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