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.


Time, therefore, is necessary to describe motion. But the answer to the question 'what is motion?' may not be as obvious as it might at first appear. Matter is in continuous motion, and objects require a cause to move; this is undisputable philosophical fact. But the basic issue in the philosophy of motion is whether the matter-in-motion can be itself the cause of its motion? The dialectical explanation considers that matter is the most primary source of the development of completion, and therefore it can be itself the cause and subject of motion. Metaphysical philosophy, on the other hand, insists on differentiating between that which moves and the mover. This is because motion is a gradual development and completion of a deficient thing, which can not by itself develop and complete gradually - and therefore can not be the cause of completion.

Osman Yahya listed a book with the name 'kitab al-haraka' ('the book of motion') (OY: #223), but just like the case of 'kitab al-zaman' this book is also not found. However, Ibn al-Arabi talks about motion in some details in the long chapter 198. There, [II.456-458], he affirms that: 'everything in the world that moves and rests does not move and rest by itself, but by a mover and a rester', but he adds that: 'this mover either moves the object by itself or by its will to move it; so those who believe the mover moves the object by itself say that motion is "created" in the object, so motion by itself - when it is in the object - causes it to move.' And the same can be said regarding rest. 'But if the mover moves the object by its will, it will do that either by an (intermediate) means or without a means.' Then he adds that if the mover is the object itself, then it has to have a will 'like the motion of the human being who moves under his will in the (six physical) directions'.

Ibn al-Arabi then differentiates between the regular circular motion of the orb (al-falak, the celestial sphere of each planetary heaven) and the motion of objects, where: 'the motions of the orb are tidy and in a sequential manner like the motion of the millstone; so each part does not depart from its neighbouring (part), while the motion of (the four sub-lunar) elements is different.' Then he explains that 'the motion of the elements is entwined, where the part departs from the neighbouring part and occupies new places different from the ones it was in.' He also adds that:

the motion of the orb - for us (the Sufis) - is like the motion of the human being in the directions … the orb moves by (its) 'will' in order to give out what is (inspired) in its heaven by the divine Command which causes the things (to occur) in the (earthly) elements (‘anasir) and the generators (of earthly changes, the muwallidat); so as a result of this (orbs') motion, time emerges. So time has no effect in its (the orbs') appearance, but rather it affects (only) what is below it. Time does not affect the appearance of the orb, because it is itself the appearance (the result in the lower elemental realms) - whereas the things that happen and appear in the orbs, the heavens, and the higher world have causes other than time.


We have to admit that physicists habitually accept a very naive concept of motion, usually expressed by the formula 'velocity is distance per time' (v=s/t), which is usually used for a simple uniform motion on a straight line though other complicated motions have more complicated equations that are all based on this simple concept of distance per time. Such a simplified concept of motion has been working nicely for many centuries and although modern theories slightly corrected these classical (Newtonian) equations, they did not address the more philosophical question about the nature of motion itself. To answer this question, one has to verify whether space and time are discrete or continuous, an issue that (as we saw in Chapter I) still persists and is unsettled even in the latest theories. However, we find some philosophers, like Zeno, who argued that - whether we consider this way or the other - we shall inevitably end up with some irresolvable paradoxes (see section VII.4).

Ibn al-Arabi, based on his theory of the oneness of being and the principle of continual re-creation (see section V.6 below), gives a clear and far more extensive definition of 'motion' (Haraka: Ibn al-Arabi's wider definition here reflects the fact that this Arabic philosophical term refers to not just physical motion, but far more extensively to all kinds of 'change' in general) which is utterly different from the simple notion of just a distance in time. In the same chapter (198) that we just quoted above, he says:

Then you have to know that the truth about motion and rest is that they are two states of the natural embodied (mutahayyiz) things ... And that is because the embodied thing will necessarily need a volume (hayyiz) to occupy by itself in the time of its existence. So it may either be in the same place (hayyiz) in the next time, or times, which is called 'rest', or it is in the next place in the next time and in the following place in the third time. So its appearing in and occupying these places one after another can happen only by 'changing' from one place to another, and this may only be due to a cause. So it would be fine to call this change 'motion', although we know there is nothing but the embodied thing itself, the place, and the fact that it occupied a place next to that which it occupied before. But those who claim that there is some (real) thing called 'motion', which got into the embodied thing and caused it to change from one place to another, they have to prove it!


With the above definition of motion, Ibn al-Arabi has in mind his basic principle of the 'ever-renewed creation', which suggests that the entire world is continuously being re-created every single moment of time, which we shall discuss in detail in Chapter V. Therefore there is no real motion like that which we habitually perceive in the human 'common sense' or 'estimative' faculty (wahm); in reality there is only a 'change of place': i.e., the thing that is the subject of motion is being re-created in different places (not moved between them), so we imagine motion. At the end of his short book al-Durrat al-Bayda’ ('The White Pearl') (Al-Durrat Al-Bayda’: 142), Ibn al-Arabi wonders how (the general) people (not to mention physicists and philosophers) do not so easily realize the delusion of motion and space. He says that 'everything that moves does not move in occupied space (mala’), but it moves in a void (khala’).' Then he explains that the thing may not move into a new place until this new place is emptied. So by simple logic, this (false) assumption would lead to the conclusion that the result of an action would occur before the action itself. For example when you fill a cup with water, the air already in the cup will have to be gradually evacuated as water pours in. At any instance (the smallest duration of time), before the water (the cause) can replace the air, the air has to be displaced (the result). So the result happens before the cause. One may argue that in this case both the cause and the result could happen at the same time. This, however, is also prohibited according to Ibn al-Arabi who asserts that the entities of the world can only be created in series one after the other (see sections V.6 and VII.3). Thus this radically different conception meticulously challenges Newton's law of action/reaction - which practically speaking always holds true, but which seems to be philosophically deceiving. So the mere concept of motion apparently violates causality, the most fundamental principle of physics, and common sense. Actually, Ibn al-Arabi (following earlier radical theories in kalam theology) even questions causality itself - as we shall see again in Chapter VII - where he affirms that Allah says: 'I create the things next to the causes and not by them' [II.204.13]. Though this does not deny causality itself (i.e the appearances of regular 'natural' causes), it does suggest a radically new type of strictly divine causality.

Ibn al-Arabi concludes, therefore, that motion is only a new creation in different neighbouring places; there is no actual 'path' of the object between its start and the destination points when taken on the smallest scale of time (i.e., when time itself is quantized). Based on this novel definition of motion, we shall be able to resolve Zeno's famous paradoxes that are discussed in Chapter VII. But this is also what happens, according to modern physics, in the atom where the electrons 'jump' between the energy levels (that have different distance from the nucleus) without any possible existence in between. The reason for this is that the energy of the atom is quantized, and when this energy changes either by absorbing or emitting photons, the distance of some of its electrons from the nucleus will change correspondingly. So because the energy is quantized, this distance has to be quantized too; the electron therefore may not stay in between the orbits at all, nor even smoothly jump between them; it may exist only in this orb or in the other orbit that is at a discrete distance from the first (Wehr 1984: 72). In the Qur’an, it is also said that this is what happened to the throne of the queen of Sheba when it refers to the unnamed man 'who has knowledge from the (divine) Book' moving her throne from Sheba to Solomon's court 'in a blink of the eye' (see section VII.2).

Please note that some contents are translated Semi-Automatically!