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 Structure of the Monad



The Structure of the Monad:

At the beginning of the first chapter of al-Tadbirat al-Ilahiyya, Ibn al-Arabi says: 'The first existent originated by Allah is a simple spiritual single monad, embodied according to some doctrines and not-embodied according to others…' (Tadbirat: 87)

As this remark indicates, Ibn al-Arabi was well aware that there has long been a debate amongst philosophers whether the monad is a physical or metaphysical entity, or whether it is embodied or not [see also I.47.22]. Although he mostly prefers the second choice (Al-Durrat Al-Bayda’: 134), Ibn al-Arabi sometimes does not rule out either case, perhaps because the argument should be meaningless - i.e., the reality must necessarily encompass all manifestations of creation, both spiritual and manifest - if we recall that there is in reality only one Single Monad. Many times, though, he affirms that the Single Monad is embodied and indivisible, especially when the manifest world is concerned [II.438.2]. On the other hand, the essences of the spirits and souls are not likely to be embodied [II.309.25], though both (the manifest and spiritual) are only reflections of the Single Monad that itself can neither be described as (solely) physical nor as metaphysical, because it is necessarily the whole of creation. In the very long chapter 198 of the Futuhat, in which Ibn al-Arabi talks in detail about the various aspects of divine creation, he summarizes the various divisions or types of physical and metaphysical entities. He also states the difference between the essences (monads) and their accidents (forms). This is shown in the following long passage in which Ibn al-Arabi also shows the basis of the Single Monad model, while pointing out the difference between the approaches of the Sufis and of the philosophers that we discussed at the top of Chapter V. There he says:

Now you must know that every knowable thing that may be classified must unavoidably enter into (the category of) what exists in thought (wujud dhihni). But this thing that exists in thought may either belong to what can receive real existence (wujud ‘ayni); or to what may not receive real existence, like the things that are impossible (al-muhal). And that which can receive real existence either subsists by itself, which is called 'not-in-a-substrate' (la-fi-mawdu‘); or else it does not (subsist by itself). And that which subsists by itself is either embodied (or more strictly speaking, 'localized in a place', mutahayyiz), or not embodied.

As for that (self-subsistent reality) which is classified as not-in-a-substrate and not embodied, it must necessarily be either what necessarily exists by its own essence (wajib al-wujud li-dhatihi), and He is Allah the Exalted; or what necessarily exists through (the determination by) something other than itself, and that is what is contingent (al-mumkin: i.e. the whole created world). And this (category of what is) contingent is either embodied (in-a-place), or not embodied. As for the division among the contingent things of what is self-subsistent, that is either not embodied - like the rational souls (al-nufus al-natiqa al-mudabbira) that govern the substance of the (spiritual) world of Light, the natural world, and the elemental world, or else (the self-subsistent contingent things) that are embodied are either compound with parts, or without parts. So if it has no parts, it is the (simplest) 'single monad';[1] and if it has parts, it is a (natural, elemental) body (jism).

As for the category (of knowable things) that are in a substrate which are not self-subsistent and embodied - except by way of being dependent (on their substrate), this category are either necessary concomitants of their substrate, or they are not (necessary concomitants). Or rather, that is how it seems to ordinary vision, since in the fact of the matter nothing that does not subsist by itself (i.e., everything but the Creator) actually continues (in existence) for more than the instant of its existence; it may either be followed by (new creations that are) similar (amthal), or by that which is not similar to it. As for what is followed by (new creations that are) similar, that is what are imagined to be the 'necessary concomitants' of a thing, like the yellowness of gold or the blackness of ebony. As for (those characteristics) which are not followed by similars, they are called 'accidents' (al-‘arad), while the necessary concomitant is called an (inherent) attribute (sifa).

So the knowable things that have actual existence are not more than those we have mentioned.

Now you must know that the world is one in substance and many in form (appearance). So since it is one in substance, it does not transmute (from one thing into another entirely different one: la yastahil). And also the form itself is not transmuted, since otherwise this would lead to 'reversing the realities' (qalb al-haqa’iq) - for heat may not (at the same time) be coldness, dryness may not be wetness, whiteness may not be blackness, and the triangle may not be square. But something that is hot can come to exist as cold, though not at the same time when it is hot; and also what is cold can come to exist as hot, but not in the same time when it is cold. Likewise what is white may become black, and the triangle may become a square.

So there is no transmutation (la istihala), but the earth, water, air, the (celestial) orbs (al-aflak), and all the generated existents (of the sublunar world: al-muwalladat) are (only) forms in the (Single) Monad. So (certain) forms are bestowed upon it and that (process of bestowing forms) is called, with respect to their specific shape (hay’a) 'generation' (kawn). Or (certain) forms are taken off of it so that a (particular) name (i.e., attribute or property) is removed, and that is (called) 'corruption' (fasad). So in fact there is no transmutation, in the sense that the actual entity of a thing changes into another (entirely different) actual entity, but it is only (by an entirely new re-creation) as we have explained.

So the world is continually being generated and corrupted (destroyed) at every single instant of time (zaman fard). And there would be no persistence for the actual entity of the substance (Monad) of the world, were it not for its receptivity to this 'creative formation' (takwin) in itself. So the world is always continually in need (faqr: of the divine creative force). As for the forms, they are in need (of Allah's creation) in order to come out from non-existence into existence. And as for the Monad, it (is in need) of preserving its existence through that (creative Act), because its existence is unavoidably conditioned upon the existence of the creative formation of that (i.e., the infinite forms) for which it is a substrate.

Likewise (with the dependency on the Creator) of the (purely spiritual) self-subsistent contingent (existent) that is not embodied: it is (still) the substrate for the spiritual attributes and perceptions that it supports, so that its own individual reality may not continue without them. But those spiritual attributes and perceptions are continually renewed in that (spiritual existent) just like the accidents (forms) are continually renewed in the bodies.

In the same way the contingent that exists by itself and is not embodied is the substrate of what it carries of spiritual descriptions and perceptions (that is the bearer of meanings) that its essence may not remain without them. And they are renewed on it just like the renewal (i.e. re-creation) of the forms in the bodies; the image of the body is a form in the monad but the terms (hudud: by which the object is described) are related to the images (of the body, not to the body itself). So the images are the ones which are termed (mahduda), and one of these terms is the monad in which these images appear. That is why they (the philosophers) call the images monad(s) because they take the monad in the term of the image.

This is possibly the main barrier that prevents us from witnessing the reality of the world; we always try to assign an image to every concept, and then we discuss the terms of this image such as its shape, colour, size … etc. The Single Monad, however, may not be captured into image, not to mention the Real Himself. Therefore, approaching these matters in any way other than the path of (experiential) divine unveiling will not lead one to the truth of the matter as it really is. No wonder that they (those who rely on their own unaided theorizing) never cease to be in disagreement (about this). That is why the group of the blessed, who are supported by the Holy Spirit, turned to purifying themselves from their own thinking, and to liberating themselves from the bonds of their (natural, animal) forces, so that they became connected with the Greatest Light and saw for themselves (the reality of) the matter as it really is in itself! Because the Real - may He be cherished and glorified - is their vision [Kanz: 21327], so all what they see is the Real (Morris 2002: 116-24). As the righteous one (Abu Bakr al-Siddiq) said: 'I have seen nothing but I have seen Allah before it.' So he sees the Real, then he sees His effect in the world; that is to witness how the world emerged as if he witnessed the possible things in their determination state when (Allah) threw what He has thrown on them from His greatest light so they became described by existence after they were described by non-existence [Kanz: 548, 1314]. So this (person), who has got this state, the veil of blindness and misleading has been removed for him: now We removed thy veil, and sharp is thy sight this day! (50:22), Lo! therein verily is a reminder for him who hath a heart (not only an intellect, see also section V.1), or gives an ear and he is witnessing (the truth) (50:37). So (Allah) made knowledge available in witnessing, because the judge judges based on his best guess while the witness witnesses with knowledge not by guessing.


According to this passage, the following diagram summarizes the different types of things in existence.

Figure VI.1: Summary of the different types of knowable things.


Also in his Insha’ al-Dawa’ir ('Constructing the Circles'), Ibn al-Arabi explains the different categories or types of existence in the same way, which he represents schematically in Figure VI.2.

Figure VI.2: The Different Divisions of Existence (from Insha’ al-Dawa’ir, page 19). The numbers 0 and 1 in the inside circle describe whether the corresponding division is localized (1) or not localized (0); and (second number) whether it is self-subsistent (1) or not self-subsistent (0). The spirit is self-subsistent but not localized, while colour is localized and not self-subsistent.


[1] Here Ibn al-Arabi is using the term al-jawhar al-fard in its original sense in the physics of kalam, to refer to the 'atom' or the simplest physical substance, whose compounds form natural bodies (jism). This is the opposite extreme from the all-encompassing creative Single Monad.

Please note that some contents are translated Semi-Automatically!