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 Greatest Element

The Greatest Element:

As we have seen above, although for Ibn al-Arabi the monad/atom (jawhar fard) is an indivisible physical unit, it is understood to be composed of even more elementary constituents. This means that there are smaller - but not necessarily physical - 'constituents' that somehow underlie and help manifest the atoms or monads, even though the monad itself is not physically divisible into those metaphysical constituents, but can only exist in manifestation as a substance created through those underlying constituents. So what are these ultimate constituents of the Single Monad?

In his book ‘Uqlat al-Mustawfiz ('the Bolt for the Restless), Ibn al-Arabi speaks about the 'Greatest Element' (al-‘unsur al-a‘zam) from which Allah has created the 'Absolute Unseen' which may not be disclosed to any creature, and he indicates there that the creation or 'origination' of this Greatest Element is all at once, without any intermediate or associated causes, as we have seen in section II.16 above (see also: ‘Uqlat al-Mustawfiz: 38). So this original, metaphysical 'Greatest Element' that is in some mysterious way the substrate of all subsequent manifest creation - whether purely spiritual, imaginal, or physical - is the only thing that in some way underlies, constitutes, or gives rise to the physical monads. The individual monad/atom, however, remains the basic indivisible structure in the physically manifest world.

In the ‘Uqlat al-Mustawfiz, Ibn al-Arabi also mentions that there are 46,656,000 subtle luminous links (raqa’iq nuraniyya) between the First Intellect and the Greatest Element that is their origin (‘Uqlat al-Mustawfiz: 40). That number is in fact the cubic power of 360 (3603=46,656,000), which is no doubt symbolically associated with the traditional division of the circle (and the divine year, see section III.2) into 360 degrees and the historical sexagenary system attributed to the Babylonians (see also section IV.7 above).

Now the resulting relation between the manifest world, the Single Monad (First Intellect) and the Greatest Element can be conceived by analogy to the relation between a building, the bricks and the clay: i.e., the building is made up of similar unit bricks, but the brick itself is made from fine clay. Ibn al-Arabi also says:

… the noble Greatest Element is in relation to the sphere of the world like the (indivisible) point, and the Pen is like its circumference, while the Tablet (i.e., the world-Soul) is what is in between (the point and the circumference). So just as the point meets the circumference with its (whole) entity, so does this Greatest Element meet with its (whole) entity all the aspects of the Intellect, which are the subtle links (the 46,665,000 raqa’iq) that we mentioned before. They are unique 'one' in the Greatest Element, but in the Intellect they become multiple and manifold, because of the manifold receptivity (of the Intellect for knowledge) from the Greatest Element. So there is (only) one 'close attention' (iltifata) for the (Greatest) Element, but there are many faces of receptivity for the Intellect, that is why this (Greatest) Element is more realized in the unity of Its Creator.[1]

Ibn al-Arabi affirms that this Greatest Element is the most perfect thing in existence and that everything other than Allah (including, as we can see, the First Intellect) is somehow derived from it. However, he does not give much information about It, and he even says that he would explain the reality of this Element if he was not sworn not to disclose it. However, does explain, as we have just seen, that this Greatest Element has a special attention (iltifata, like the divine 'special Face' discussed in section V.2) to the metaphysical 'world of writing and recording' (‘alam al-tadwin wal-tastir), when the (manifest, including physical) world was still not yet existing in reality (but only in Allah's fore-knowledge), and that Allah created the First Intellect (that is the Single Monad) through this special attention (‘Uqlat al-Mustawfiz: 39).

In the summary cosmological chapter 60 of the Futuhat, Ibn al-Arabi alludes more symbolically, in a metaphysical exegesis of Qur’an 68:1 ('Nun and the Pen, and what they are recording…'), to the 'Greatest Element' when he speaks of the mysterious figure of 'Nun' whom Allah appointed as the divine 'chamberlain' (al-hajib) and gave all His Knowledge of His creation, so that Allah - with regard to His Name 'the All-Knower' - never hides from the Nun. And Allah appointed another angel, the Pen - who is the Single Monad/First Intellect/Perfect Human Being - as the 'scribe' for the Nun, 'writing out' all of the divine Knowledge of His creation [I.294.33].


[1] It has to be noticed, however, that for Ibn al-Arabi, this 'al-haqq al-makhluq bihi' is not other than the Real, Allah, but he is also not Allah; he is the most perfect manifestation of Allah. See also Chapter V above (especially section V.3). See: ‘Uqlat al-Mustawfiz: 59. See also: Al-Mu‘jam Al-Sufi: 828.

Please note that some contents are translated Semi-Automatically!