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Ryan's Imaginary Thesis: Ibn Arabi

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Title: Ryan's Imaginary Thesis: Ibn Arabi
Author: Ayache, Ryan
Advisor: Sells, Michael A.; Kosman, Aryeh
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Philosophy
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Running Time: 10208896 bytes18 bytes
Issue Date: 2001
Abstract: A few weeks ago, I went out for dinner with a friend. We ate and drank copiously, as you'd expect, and explored a variety of topics in our conversation. She said something striking, and I wish to refer to it here because it is significant to my thesis. My friend said that she objected to the idea of there being a God, on the somewhat puzzling grounds that God is politically suspect. What I think that she meant is that God is used as a means to an end. Throughout the ages, people have invoked the notion of God to justify actions on the grounds that the will of God is at stake. God has verily become a political force in popular [religious] discourse through the medium of rigidly institutionalized religions. Examples of this abound. Simply watch the news or read a history textbook. God has been such a potent political force that He has become a shield behind which to hide in the event of conflict, and a banner to raise in the event of victory. Clearly my friend was right. Such a God is politically suspect. A key aspect of Ibn Arabi's thought is that the heart encompasses Reality. Here Reality means more than God as the Deity. It means God in His relation to creation, creation is relation to God, and the continually unfolding possibilities of this relation. That the heart encompasses Reality suggests that our heart is the locus of these continually unfolding possibilities. In his writings, Ibn Arabi frequently warns against taking what our belief of God reveals about God to exhaust the possibilities of His manifestations. These possibilities are infinite, and the Divine is continually transformed in new and unfolding forms. What one belief may reveal should therefore not be mutually exclusive with other beliefs, but complimentary. This is certainly a critique of the God of beliefs, for the Divine is manifest in all beliefs, yet never encompassed by any one belief. Dogmatic belief is in this way liable to critique because it is rigid. Because our intellect has a tendency to divide, categorize and order what we experience, we run the risk of locking the Divine in beliefs that, while certainly valid in many ways, forfeit the ever changing and ever unfolding aspect that characterize it. This is not to say that we should appeal to extra-reasonable notions to apprehend God, or that God is categorically beyond knowledge. Rather Ibn Arabi is suggesting that any one form encompassed in people's beliefs is not the full story, but only one aspect of it. The bottom line is that we should be aware that the Divine is beyond the linguistic, cultural and other types of moulds that we use to describe it. Because these modules are the fabric of our beliefs, these beliefs are limiting. This aspect of Ibn Arabi's thought is connected in no small way to the issue of Imagination. As we will see, imagination is the very state by which the full possibilities of creation are given. The continual transformation referred to above occrus in the imagination. Because at the time when Ibn Arabi was writing the imagination was seen chiefly as the medium of the masses to understand Reality, it was seen as inferior to the intellect, used by those whose understanding required no symbolic representations. Ibn Arabi fought against the notion that the imagination is subordinate to the intellect as a means of understanding God. To the present day there is a great deal of controversy surrounding his teachings. His mystical interpretation of Quranic truths was dissonant to the religious establishment, to whom God was only thus and so. He was accused of heresy by those whose beliefs were too narrow to accept another conception of the Divine. The importance of the imagination in his work is a testament to his unwavering commitment to the mystery of the Divine.
Subject: Ibn al-‘Arab¯i, 1165-1240
Subject: Imagination -- Religious aspects
Subject: Theism
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Ayache, Ryan. "Ryan's Imaginary Thesis: Ibn Arabi". 2001. Available electronically from

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