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.

Space-Time and the Speed of Light

Space-Time and the Speed of Light:

 Although time does not appear to be like space, in the theory of Relativity it is treated as a real dimension just like any one of the other three dimensions of space (length, width, depth : x, y, z). In Relativity, as we explained in the preceding chapter, any point in the universe can be expressed in terms of its 4-dimensional space-time coordinates (x, y, z, t); we do not have time alone or space alone, but a single field called space-time.[1]

 Likewise, Ibn al-Arabi describes the physical universe as something that 'is confined in time and space' [I.121.22]. Furthermore, one of the most important results of Ibn al-Arabi's view of time is that he considers that we are living in 'Saturday', while the other six cosmic 'Days' from Sunday to Friday account for the creation of the world - which is now continuously being re-created by Allah (see also section V.6) - in space. Allah creates the three-dimensional world (actually six-dimensional/directional if we consider the two directions of each dimension) in six 'Days' from Sunday to Friday, but we human beings witness only Saturday because in the other six days of the week we (along with the rest of creation) are still being created. Ibn al-Arabi insists that this divine creative process is repeated every single moment as we shall explain in the following chapters.

However, the result of what we have just said is that time ('Saturday'), though it is special, is still just like any one of the other six Days that correspond to the six (or three) spatial dimensions. So indeed the world, for Ibn al-Arabi, is confined in those seven 'dimensions' of space-time (6 plus 1) that are similar - since all are 'days'. This is the ultimate meaning of the many verses in the Qur’an specifying that Allah created the heavens and the earth 'in six Days' (corresponding to space) and that then He mounted [i.e., on Saturday, in time] on the Throne (Qur’an 7:45, 10:3, 11:7, 25:59, 32:4, 50:38 and 57:4). This could also be easily comprehended if we recall that the actual meaning of time is reduced to the existence of the world in the present moment, not the past nor the future. Thus manifest existence is confined in space and time, so both space and time refer to existence, and they have no meaning when taken by themselves, without the things or events that happen in them. This new concept will add another aspect to the theory of Relativity that considers time as one dimension of the four dimensions of space-time, especially since Ibn al-Arabi gives exciting details about how those seven Days of the cosmic Week are interconnected, as we shall see in the following two chapters.

 However, there are still many obvious and hidden differences between space and time. At the beginning of chapter 59 and in the long chapter 559 (which summarizes the key contributions of each of the preceding chapters of the Futuhat), Ibn al-Arabi points out the similarities and differences between space and time. 'Time', he says, 'is just like space, an extension that has no (outer) limit' [I.291.6]. Then he adds:

Space is an attribute of something that exists, but time is an attribute of something that is confined but does not necessarily exist. Space is defined by who sits in it, and time is counted by breaths. The (ontological status of) 'contingent possibility' (imkan) affects both time and space. Time has an (ontological) foundation that it refers back to and is based upon, which is the divine Name 'the Age' (al-dahr). Space emerged by the 'establishment' (istiwa’) (of the All-Merciful on the Throne, 20:5), and time emerged by the 'descending down (of the Lord) to the (lowest) heaven' (referring to the hadith: 'Our Lord, may He be Praised, descends every night, in the last third of the night, to the lowest sky …' [Kanz: 3351, 3355, 3388], see also section 14 below.); But there was time in the Dust (‘ama’) even before the 'establishment'. …Time is a circumstance for an event just like meanings for letters, and space is not like a circumstance, so it is not like the letter. Time is confined through division by 'now' and does not necessarily require the existence of objects, but space can not be comprehended without objects (that occupy it), so it is a kind of (ontological) 'home' (for what is created in it).


On the other hand, the concept of using time to measure distance was already used by the ancient Arabs who used to measure distance by how it took them to travel through it, usually by camel. But Ibn al-Arabi uses this concept in a more abstract way that can be compared with the form of measurement that is now widely used in astronomy: the light year. In many places he repeatedly says that the distance between this particular celestial orb and that orb is a particular number of 'years', without specifying what speed or form of motion might be involved. For example, he says that the distance between the top and bottom of Gehenna is 'seventy-five hundred years' [I.297.15]. And in other places he says that Gehenna is (or 'will be', [I.297.17]) in the entire space situated from the earth to just below the orb of fixed stars (the constellations of the moon mansions) [I.303.9, III.440-441].

Now according to modern astronomy, the distance from the earth and our solar system to either extreme of the width of our Milky Way galaxy roughly equals the distance travelled by light in 7,500 years. So in effect one could argue that Ibn al-Arabi actually used the unit of a kind of 'light-year' to measure distance, more than seven centuries before modern astronomers, and that he gave a very accurate value of the width of what is now known as the Milky-Way galaxy.

Regarding the speed of light, Ibn al-Arabi declares that: 'nothing is faster than sight (basar) among the (human) senses; the time of opening the sight is the time of its seeing the fixed planets (stars) or what is above them or between them despite the large distance that could not be reached for thousands of years by foot.' [IV.431.34; see also: I.702.20, II.402.30]

Furthermore, in chapter 8 of the Futuhat Ibn al-Arabi mentions many extraordinary and mysterious facts about another 'earth of Reality' (ard al-haqiqa) - another world existing in the barzakh or 'divine Imagination', and accessible to spiritual travellers - which is: 'an earth so spacious that the Throne and what it includes, the Pedestal, the heavens, the earths, what is beneath the soil, all the Gardens and Gehenna, would all be just like a ring in (comparison to the vast extent of) the desert of this "earth"' [I.126.30].

He then talks about his and other Sufis' (spiritual) visits to this earth and that the life there is so extraordinary that many of the logically impossible things for us would normally exist there. One of the things that he mentioned about this earth is that 'the speed of their (people's) travel on ground or by sea is faster than the perception of sight when it sees things' [I.128.26].

It is perhaps relevant to mention here that one of the consequences of modern theories of high energy elementary particles is that each particle (such as electrons, protons and neutrons) has an anti-particle which, upon meeting with its counterpart, would annihilate and convert together into light or electromagnetic waves (Trefil 1938: 53-67). Likewise matter (atoms) have anti-matter that may exist somewhere under extreme circumstances, such as in the core of hot stars and galaxies, though it has also been made in laboratories (Schewe 1999: ???). Some scientists say that, like matter and anti-matter, there should be an anti-universe. In this anti-universe all the laws of physics would behave strangely. For example: the speed of light in our universe is a maximum terminal as we have seen above (the theory of Relativity), but in the anti-universe it would be a minimum terminal. Such a case, therefore, is predictable in Ibn al-Arabi's cosmology, as he mentions in regard to this mysterious 'earth of Reality'.


[1] For more detail about this subject, see Minkowski (1923) and ; and: Hinton (1980).

Please note that some contents are translated Semi-Automatically!