The Third Period

Establishment of the Doctrines and Theory of Sufism

The Al-Hallaj tragedy put a final point on mystic rapture; Sufism is recognized and understood by virtue of the high spiritual values that it propagates and because of the intellectual efforts of the great thinkers of this time. These scholars used all due discretion when they addressed matters of high spirituality. They respected the social and cultural hierarchies of their time and spoke to everyone according to their level of understanding.

This time was marked primarily by a proliferation in the number of treaties on Sufism and in particular by the personality of Ghazali (424/1050), considered by some as the greatest philosopher of Sufism. This famous Sufi was not however regarded as such by many others as he criticized Greek philosophy and the philosophers of his time, notably in his book ‘Tahafut Al Falasifat’.  Nevertheless that did not prevent him from influencing influential Western thinkers such as Kant. It is very probable that Kant benefited from the Muslim inheritance expressed in the thought of Al Ghazali. It is certainly no coincidence that the two most famous books of Kant, ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ and ‘ Critique of Practical Reason’  carry a point by point correspondence with Ghazali’s books, ‘ Mahak Nadhar’ (Critique of Theoretical Thought’ and ‘Mizane Al’a Amal’ (The Evaluation of Action).

Another Sufi, no less famous than Ghazali, lived across the second and third period.  This was of course Ibn Al Arabi; Shaykh Al Akbar (The greatest master,Kibrite Al Ahmar (The red sulphur), the man who wrote more than four hundred volumes on Sufism.  His monumental work draws its genius through a literal reading of Quranic text using a deep knowledge of the Arabic language and its subtitles. Ibn Arabi was a contemporary of the Andalusian philosopher Ibn Rushd ( Averroes).  The relations and relationship between this exceptional trio ( Ghazali, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Arabi ) is worthy of study.  Averroes is regarded as the Arab thinker who had a profound influence on Western thought during  the period of the Renaissance that was known as the Enlightenment. He is presented as a rationalist philosopher, an interpreter of Socrates and a proponent of the separation of science into disciplines????.  Averroes was originally a faqih(theologianand a lawyerThe richness of his thought came from his training in the Islamic sciences and contributions he received from the philosophers and Sufis of his time. Averroes was however much irritated by scholarship of Ghazali whom he reproached for being ‘ an Ashari with the Asharities’, a philosopher with the philosophers and a Sufi with the Sufis. He was particularly disconcerted by ‘ the formidable capacity of Ghazali to mix the various fields of knowledge… and to interlace their objects and their forms…’  Ibn Rushd.

A contemporary philosopher, Dr.Taha Abder Rahman, has commented,  ‘This complete introduction of logic is, in our opinion, an essential event  in interdisciplinary (Tajdid Al Minhaj edition m.t.a. Casablanca 1994)

Ibn Arabi met with Ibn Rushd and attended his burial.  During the first meeting of these two famous men Ibn Rushd (Averroes) was an elderly man renowned for his books of learning and Ibn Arabi was a young man known as a ‘wali’(saint).  Contrary to the traditional view that a man must pass through three stages (sharia, Tariqa and Haqiqah) to reach realization, Ibn Arabi received the‘fath’ (literally ‘the opening’ or direct Gnostic knowledge) when he was barely ten years old. It was only thereafter that he followed the Tariqa (the spiritual way) and acquired book knowledge.  In his work ‘Futuhat Al Makkiya’ he tells of his first meeting with Ibn Rushd:

He received with great courtesy, even though he was both a famous and an elderly man and I was only young. After a short interval of silence, he asked me:


I answered;’ Yes’.

His face then opened out in a broad smile of satisfaction.  Then I said: ‘No’.

His smile immediately disappeared and he asked in an anxious tone; ‘How?’

I answered; ‘Yes and no.’

He then became disconcerted.’

ExplanationIbn Rushd had invited Ibn Arabi in order to ask him a question about a theory, which he held dearly. The question was as follows: ‘The knowledge (gnosis) which you (i.e. the Sufis) have arrived at we (i.e. the scholars) can arrive at by reason and logic. Yes or no?’ In order to put Ibn Arabi’s understanding to the test he addressed him in a purely mental way i.e. without speaking.  Ibn Rushd reasoned that if Ibn Arabi was an authentic ‘wali’ (saint) then he would be able to read his thoughts.  Ibn Arabi guessed Ibn Rushd’s question but decided to answer it by leaving the debate open.

The debates between these three famous characters of the 3rd century AH/ 12th& 13th century CE related to such fundamental topics as ‘the independence and interdependence of sciences’ and ‘knowledge arising from rationalist thought and that inspired through the opened heart.’ It is worthy of note that these debates are still topical. Ibn Rushd is to some extent the ‘father’ of modernistic thought and Ghazali and Ibn Arabi the ‘fathers’ of post-modernist thought.