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.

The Significance of the Week in Theology and Astronomy

The Significance of the Week in Theology and Astronomy:

In most Islamic books that talk about cosmology, we find many diagrams and tables that associate each day of the seven days of the week with specific letters of the alphabet and specific divine Names of Allah, in addition to certain planets and constellations or zodiacal signs. For example, Ibn al-Arabi explained in the long chapter 198 of the Futuhat [II.390-478] the creation of the world by Allah and the role of His divine Names on the different parts of Heavens and earth, and then he relates each divine Name and the thing He creates to a letter from the Arabic alphabet, a mansion from the twenty eight lunar mansions (constellations), a day of the seven days of the week, and one of the seven circulating heavenly bodies (five planets, sun and moon). This type of symbolic association based on the days of the astronomical week is also found in many other cosmological books of other religions and cultures dealing with astrology and related mythology.

The Egyptians once divided their 30-day months into three 10-day weeks, in the same manner as Greeks of the same period (Goudsmit 1966: 24), but later they changed it back to seven days.[1] More recently, the French (during the Revolution, in 1792) tried to make their week 10 days instead of 7; and the Russians also tried (in 1929) 5-day and (in 1932) 6-day weekly systems, although they all later restored the 7-day week (Goudsmit 1974: 24).

So what is the importance of the week, and why does it apparently have to be seven days in particular, while most other attempted systems making the week 3, 5, 6 or 10 days did not persist, with few exceptions such as the Maya who used weeks/months of 20 days (Aveni 1990: 101, 185-252). Even some micro-organisms clearly adopt a 7-day biological cycle (Aveni 1990: 100, and: Coveny 1990: 220-59). And yet, unlike the day, the year and the month, there is no any apparent astronomical significance to the week; nothing cosmic happens in the heavens in seven days.

The Babylonians and the ancient Egyptians believed that each hour of the day was ruled by one of the five then-known planets plus the sun and the moon, and they named the days of the week after the names of these seven circulating planets, as they are now being used in both the Latin and Anglo-Saxonic languages and cultures (Aveni 1990: 102-6). They considered that the planet that ruled the first hour of the day governed the entire day, so they gave the name of this planet to the corresponding day. The same doctrine was also part of earlier Persian cosmology and theology (Bickerman 1968: 59). Ibn al-Arabi also refers to the same hypothesis [III.203.31].

It is interesting to note that these celestial bodies, in the same sequence, were also used to name the days of the week in ancient India, Tibet and Burma (Parise 1982: 172). This is also true for the names of Japanese (who used the Chinese sexagenary cycles) (Parise 1982: 215-18) days of the week, but the custom there has been traced back only a thousand years. Adherents of the cult of Sin at Harran, who were known as Harranians or 'Sabeans' by Arabic and Syrian authors, also named their days after the same solar system members (Langdon 1964: 154). Like Ibn al-Arabi, the Babylonians, the Chinese, ancient Egyptians and most ancient civilisations considered the day named after Saturn to be the seventh day, so they began their week with a day named after the sun (Sunday), a practice which was affirmed in the Bible[2] and later by Prophet Muhammad.[3]

In the Arabic linguistic usages followed in Islam, however, the names of the days of the week do not relate to the names of any pagan gods or celestial bodies. Before Islam, different names were used in Arabic, which were mostly derived from certain actions people usually performed on those particular days of the week, though some of those Arabic names might also have been derived from the names of the planets (Al-Marzuqi 2002: 238-44). But in the later standardized Islamic usage, apart from the day-names Jum'a (Friday) which means 'gathering' and Sabt (Saturday) which means 'rest', the names of the other five days are merely numbered from one (al-ahad which means 'the first' or 'the one', for Sunday) to five (al-khamis which means 'the fifth' for Thursday). These names, however, clearly suggest that Sunday (al-ahad) is the first day of the week, as was the case with the earlier Babylonians and Egyptians - a fact which Ibn al-Arabi and some other Muslim authors normally take for granted, based on many related prophetic narrations, as we shall see further below (section 5).

Given their centrality in Qur’anic accounts of the creation, the seven days of the week (and their standard Arabic names) play an essential role in Ibn al-Arabi's cosmology. His cosmological understanding of the week clearly has its basis in the scriptural accounts of divine creation, but also assumes throughout that there must be some kind of corresponding deeper effects of that (i.e., the divine creation of the seven Days of the Week) in the wider cosmos.

Finally, although there are many similarities between Ibn al-Arabi's doctrine about the origin of the divine creative Week and its Days, and the cosmological perspectives and understandings of earlier ancient (mostly pagan) cultures, he also takes great pains to stress that this cosmological schema should not be understood as a deviation from the fundamental monotheistic teachings of Islam, and to indicate the ways that conception is rooted in indications in both the Qur’an and many hadith. Although Ibn al-Arabi's cosmology, for example, relates the seven days of the week and the orbs of the seven moving planets, as in many ancient cosmologies, he carefully emphasizes that he does not consider these planets as 'gods' at all. Thus he goes on to explain, in his explanation of the above poem (at the beginning of this chapter) opening chapter 60 of the Futuhat, that the planets and/or the angelic spirits associated with them 'are servants, and the servant does not deserve the name "ruler" (or "king": malik). And the "seven" mentioned (there) are the seven planets in the seven orbs that appeared by the seven Days of the Week.' [I.293.4]

Following repeated indications in the Qur’an and hadith, Ibn al-Arabi understands that those planets, along with other constellations associated with signs of the zodiac and lunar mansions, are associated with or inhabited by certain spirits (ruhaniyyat) or angels whom Allah appointed and organized in a specific hierarchy to look after the whole cosmos beneath them, including the earth [III.433-434]. This is different from earlier cosmological doctrines, because the pagan astrologers believed that these spirits were deities and gods, while Ibn al-Arabi stresses that they are nothing but servants created and appointed by Allah.[4]


While Ibn al-Arabi considers the Week (of Creation) to be the primary time cycle, only the week among these four cycles does not seem to have any apparent astronomical significance. We can only say that the week is one quarter of the divine lunar month (28 = 4´7). From the observed astronomical point of view, the day should be the primary time cycle, because it is the smallest standard period of time as far as the solar system and the earth are concerned, and all other three cycles (as defined by Ibn al-Arabi) are integer multiples of the day, while the year is not an integer multiple of the week. However, we shall see that Ibn al-Arabi does not consider the day to be the primary cycle because the Days of the divine Week are not similar to each other, as they might appear to us. Since each Day of the Week is based on one of the seven fundamental divine Attributes of Allah, so these Days are not identical because those seven divine Attributes are not identical. Therefore the Week, rather than the day, is the primary cycle of divine time, and each day of the seven Days of that Week is ruled by one of the seven fundamental divine Attributes.

However, in keeping with Ibn al-Arabi's essential understanding of the 'ever-new creation', this does not mean that any particular day of this week is identical to that of another week. They are only 'similar' to each other because they are originated from the same divine Attribute. Ibn al-Arabi says:

Nothing is actually repeated, because of divine vastness (ittisa‘); so (everything) is in ever-new, not renewed, existence. Thus if we call the new (thing) 'renewed', that is because it is extremely similar (but not identical) to its counterpart, so that they can not be distinguished from each other. …and the daytime and night are called 'the two-new' (al-jadidan), and not 'the two-renewed' (al-mutajaddidan), because Saturday is not Sunday and it is not Saturday from the other week, or from another month or from another year.


This is clearly evident in modern astronomy, because whatever periodical motions we see locally in our solar system are actually part of a more global motion that, in the end, never repeats itself in the same way, because everything is moving (see sections I.1 and I.4). In fact, Ibn al-Arabi always stresses that there can not be any two identical forms in the world, and that this is because: 'Allah never manifests in the same form twice, nor in the same form to any two persons' [III.127.33].

Therefore Ibn al-Arabi maintains that 'although there are many days, the real order of events reduces them into seven days' [Ayyam Al-Sha’n: 6], which are the seven days of the week; and then these days iterate in months and years. And as we showed, this is due to the fact that '(the main) divine Attributes are seven, not more, which made the Age not more than seven (distinctive) Days' [II.437.30].

However, the observed, earthly week and its days that we witness and live through does not seem to be distinctive in any natural way; as noted earlier, it appears to be purely conventional. The reason for that is the 'intertwining' between the underlying divine seven 'Days' of creation and the days that we live. This intertwining of the two kinds of days is a complicated concept that Ibn al-Arabi explained partially in his short book Ayyam Al-Sha’n, and in a few passages in the Futuhat. We shall devote Chapter IV to explaining the real flow of time as viewed by Ibn al-Arabi, by defining three different types of days: the normal days, and the 'taken-out' days and the 'intertwined' days.



[1] See: Herodotus: The Histories, ed. Walter Blanco, Jennifer T. Roperts, trans. Walter Blanco (New York, London: W.W.Norton & Company, 1992), 2.82 [fifth century B.C.].

[2] Sunday is the first day of the week according to the Jewish method of reckoning, but for Christians it began to take the place of the Jewish Sabbath in Apostolic times.

[3] In one hadith [Kanz: 15120] that we shall translate below, Prophet Muhammed clearly specified that Allah started the Creation on Sunday.

[4] See also Ibn al-Arabi's book al-Asfar ('the Journeys') in Rasa’il Ibn al-Arabi (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, n.d.) pp. 12-15. This book was edited and translated into French by Denis Gril in 1994 under the title Le dévoilement des effets du voyage Ibn Arabi, France: Combas.

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