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 Four Main Time Cycles

The Four Main Time Cycles:

Ibn al-Arabi stresses that 'everything in the world has to be based on (specific) divine Attributes' [I.293.5]. Although some Muslim scholars, following a famous hadith [Kanz: 1933, 1937], believe that the basic divine Names or Attributes of Allah can be limited to ninety-nine, Ibn al-Arabi considers them to be countless [III.146.35], while the ninety-nine Names that are referred to in some prophetic narrations are simply the main most Beautiful Names (al-asma' al-husna) of Allah. Of these many divine Names, there are four fundamental Attributes - Life (hayat), Knowledge (‘ilm), Ability (qudra) and Will (irada) - that are necessary and sufficient for Allah to be described as God. Therefore those are considered to be the ultimate sources or 'mothers' (ummahat) of all other divine Attributes [I.469.25]. In relation to creation, however, three more Attributes are also necessary for Allah to be Creator: Hearing (sam‘), Seeing (basar) and Speaking (kalam). Together, that makes the principial divine Attributes of Allah to be 'seven mother attributes…: Life, Knowledge, Ability, Will, Hearing, Seeing and Speaking' [I.525.32].

Figure III.1: The Divine Quadratic Rule. This figure is translated from the Futuhat [I 260].




Because Allah created (the perfect) Human Being 'according to His Image' [I.163.20], these same divine Attributes are potentially manifest in every fully human person (such as Adam and the prophets). Also, as Ibn al-Arabi says, Allah created the world and everything in it on the image of (the Perfect) Human Being [II.652.25], and so the world with the Human Being is 'on the Image of the Real' - but without the Human Being it would not have this perfection [III.343.25]. So these same attributes should be available and essential in the world as well. That is why, he explains, the numbers four and seven play a central role in the world: the four elements in nature (earth, water, air, and fire, already mentioned in his poem opening this chapter), the four time-cycles, the seven heavens, the seven days, and so on. The two cosmologically fundamental four-fold groups that emerged out of the four 'mother' Attributes (Life, Ability, Will and Power) that are the four aspects of the divine Presence of the Essence (al-Dhat) are the four earthly elements (earth, water, air and fire) and the primordial cosmological principles of the Intellect, Soul, Dust and Nature, as in Figure III.1.

This quadratic cosmological rule was also reflected in relation to time. Therefore, Ibn al-Arabi points out, there are four main time cycles within the domain of manifest nature: the day, the week, the month and the year. These four natural time cycles have their origin in the effects of those four elements of Nature (fire, air, water, earth) that are originally derived from the above-mentioned four principial divine Names ('the mothers'). As Ibn al-Arabi says:

…and time is restricted to the year, month, week and day. Time is divided into four divisions because the natural seasons are four, because the origin of the existence of time is Nature, whose level is below the (universal) Soul and above the 'Dust' (haba’) that philosophers call the Universal Matter (hayula). The influence of this (principial) quaternity (tarbi‘) in Nature is from the influence of the (same principle of) quaternity in the divine influences from (the fundamental Names) Life, Knowledge, Ability and Will. For by these four (Names), godship is confirmed for the God.

So the quaternity (first) became manifest in Nature. Then the (divine) Command descended until the (principle of quaternity) appeared in the 'biggest time' (cycle), which is the year, so that it was divided into the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. This was brought about by the motion of the sun through the stations (of the zodiac), which have been divided by Nature into their (seasonal) divisions according to the (natural) elements that are the 'basic principles' (of fire, air, water and earth)…

[chapter 390, III.548.17]

The Day:

We have already discussed Ibn al-Arabi's concept of the 'day' in Chapter II, where we showed that he defines the 'day' as all that is included within the revolution of the Isotropic Orb, which encompasses all of material existence. This day is astronomically defined by the rotation of the earth and it is conventionally divided into smaller units such as hours, minutes and seconds (see also section IV.6). The divine Day, however, is the corresponding effects (manifestations) of each of the seven fundamental divine Names on the entire cosmos, as we shall see further below (section 4). This unique divine Day is in fact the smallest indivisible unit of time, though it equals in length the normal day as we discussed in section II.15.

The Week:

The second time cycle is the week, which Ibn al-Arabi - following the detailed Qur’anic indications - considers to be the main cycle of Creation. The week (which is seven days) has its origin in the seven main Attributes of Allah, but until now it does not seem to have any particular astronomical significance. However, Ibn al-Arabi's unique view, as explained below, gives a profound and essential significance to the Week in terms of astronomy/cosmology as well as the theology of creation. This will be the main focus throughout this chapter (see in particular section 3 below).

The Month:

Ibn al-Arabi distinguishes between the witnessed lunar month, which is from new moon to another new moon, and the 'divine Month' which is the time needed for the moon to perform one full revolution in the orb of the zodiac: that is, as Ibn al-Arabi says, twenty-eight days [III.548.28]. He also recognizes the solar 'month' as the sun's observed motion throughout the zodiac, where the zodiac is conventionally divided into twelve parts, each corresponding to one month [I.388.20], though he does not give any details about the length of solar months in terms of their days.[1]

The Year:

The year, for Ibn al-Arabi, is the time needed for the sun to perform one full revolution in the orb of the zodiac [III.548.28], as witnessed from the earth. Like the Babylonians,[2] Ibn al-Arabi considers the year to be 360 days [III.434.9], and not like our calendar year of 365.25 days.

Ibn al-Arabi regards our solar year and the solar (and lunar) month as conventions set up by human observers, while the 360-day year, the twenty-eight day month, the (seven-day) week/Week, and the (sidereal) day/Day are divine periods of time set up by Allah when He created the heavenly orbs and made them move [III.548.27]. It is noteworthy in this regard that the 360-day year does not equal twelve of the twenty-eight-days months. These four time cycles that Ibn al-Arabi talks about are not meant for calendar purposes; they are said to be the actual measures of time set up by Allah when He created the world. Moreover, Ibn al-Arabi shows that this non-integer ratio is preordained and essential for the vastness of creation, because the creation is built upon the act of generation (takwin), and with complete ratios no generation could happen; so there have to be integers and fractions [II.440.7].

The differences between the witnessed lunar month (synodic lunar month = 29.53 days) and the divine lunar month (of twenty eight days), and between the witnessed year (365.25 days) and the 360-day year, might be because of the interference of the different motions of the sun, the earth and the moon. As the earth spins around its axis it also rotates around the sun, and as the moon rotates around the earth it also moves with the earth around the sun. These interfering motions may account for the difference. For example, if we measure the period of the moon relative to those stars that are apparently fixed (this is called sidereal lunar month), we get only 27.32 days (and not the usual 29.53 days, the observed lunar month). The divine lunar month for Ibn al-Arabi is twenty eight days because he measures that period in relation to the zodiac (far-away galaxies) or actually the Isotropic Orb, and not the orb of the sun or the constellations [I.656.13], because those constellations are not actually fixed [III.549.3]. Also we have to know that the length of the observed earthly day varies from one place to another on the earth and from summer to winter throughout the year, and that the normal solar year and the normal lunar month slightly vary from time to time due to the influence of gravitation of other planets and stars that change their positions inside and relative to the solar system, respectively. Thus the mean solar day in the year 2000 is about 1.7 milliseconds longer than it was in 1900, and is slowly getting longer. There is a possible allusion in the Qur’an to such long-term changes in the length of the year and the month, where Allah says: The quantity of months with Allah is twelve months (in a year) by Allah's ordinance in the day that (when) He created the Heavens and the earth (9:36): in other words, it could be that the year started as twelve months each of twenty-eight days, but that this then changed with time as the motion of the earth slowed down and as the solar year became longer, and also as the lunar month became longer than twenty-eight days.

In this regard, we should also notice that in Arabic there are two names for the year which do not appear to have identical meanings: sana and ‘am. Although both terms are currently used to refer to the year, it seems from the etymological meaning of those two names and from Ibn al-Arabi's and Qur’anic usage that the word sana means the original 360-day year, while ‘am - which literally means 'entire' or 'full' - is the time needed for the earth to make a full revolution around the sun, which is the slowly lengthening conventional year now observed on earth. In the Qur’an, Allah distinguishes between these two Arabic words in one verse that declares the time that Prophet Noah stayed with his folk: And verily We sent Noah unto his folk, and he continued with them for a thousand years (sana) save fifty years (‘am); and the flood engulfed them, for they were wrong-doers (29:14).


[1] See also the long passage translated in section II.12 where Ibn al-Arabi defines the different timing periods including the solar month and year.

[2] The Babylonians originally used a combination solar-lunar calendar like the one Muslims use nowadays (i.e., the Hijri Calendar with varying 29/30-day months), though they made adjustments from time to time to make it fit with motion of the sun. Later (during the reign of the Chaldean king Nabonassar; 747-734 BC), the Babylonian astronomers switched to the 30-day, twelve-month calendar, again making adjustments for the actual 365-day year (Parise 1982: 5).

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