Mysteries of the Fast From the Futuhat
Posted Oct 6, 2005

In the following passage, Ibn `Arabi starts his section on the mysteries of fasting. I am starting to think that the mysteries he talks about are firmly fixed in the `arab language (the language of the people who heard the Quran). As I used Ibn ManzurҒs dictionary of the arab language (lisan al-`arab), I began to see that the mysteries Ibn `Arabi sets up for the reader reside in the language itself. In this passage, we will see that personal pronouns hold the tension between whom we are speaking of:  is it a person, the divine, a thing? Is the distinction not as fixed as it is in English and similar languages? If so, that is telling us something about the Qurђan, the divine, Islam, and the law. The most obvious conclusion is that modern Arabic, English, and other language understandings of Islam are suspect. In order to begin to see and hear the Quran as it is, we need Ibn `Arabi and the Futuhat, that massive text that gives us a window into the ґarab Quran and helps us leave behind the baggage we bring from our Arabic, English, Urdu, or other languages.

From the Futuhat volume 7, Critical Edition, Osman Yahya.

Knowҗmay Allah assist youthat sawm is imsak (stopping) [which everyone knows, so letגs go to the other description] and raising; one says saama [root of sawm] the noon sun, when it rises. Umru l-Qays said,

When the noon sun saama ҅

that is, becomes raised. So because the sawm is raised above all the acts of worship by a degree, it is called sawm.

Heexaltedחraised it by negating similarity from it and the worships [e.g., prayer, charity, pilgrimage], as I will mention. He removes it from his creatures, even though they take it as a worship act, and attaches it to himselfexaltedחand makes recompense for the one who is described by it, establishing it, by his hand; and he links it to himself in negating similarity.

So it is in reality an omission, not an act; and negating similarity is a nonӔ attribute, thereby intensifying the relationship between sawm and Allah. The exalted said about its self There is no thing his similar,Ӕ thereby negating that there would be something similar to him. Heexaltedחis No Similar to It/Him by both intellegible and revealed Law evidence. An-Nisai reported from Abu Umamah, ғI came to the messenger of Allah and I asked him, Give me something to do which I will do as coming from you. He said, Take sawm, because there is nothing similar to it. So he negated that any of the worships revealed by Allah for his creatures would be similar to it.

Whoever understands that it is a ԓnon attributeԗas it is omitting the opening-of-fast (that is, eating)knows certainly that it is No Similar to It/Him, as it has no essence which is intellegibly attributed to existence; because of this, Allah said, דThe sawm is for Me. So it is, in reality, not a worship, nor an action. The name ԓaction, when it is attached to sawm, is permissible [we may say I fast], just as attaching the word ԓexistence to Haqq is permissible, according to us, as he is the one whose existence is its essence; the relationship of existence to him is not similar to the relationship of existence to us, because he is ԓThere is no similar to him.

Muslim reported in the Sahih from Abu Hurayrah who said, The messenger of Allah said Allah said, ԓEvery action of the offspring of Adam is his/her own, except sawm, because it is li (Mine, to Me, for Me), and I am the recompense/r for it. And the sawm is a shield, and when it is a day of fast for one of you, do not scream or yell on that day. And if someone reviles and fights, say, My state is fasting, I am one fasting. And by the one in whose hand is Muhammad, the mouth of the faster is better according to Allah on the day of judgment than the smell of musk. For the faster, there are two joys which are enjoyed:  when one opens-the-fast (eats) there is the joy in the opening, and when his lord is met, he enjoys through his sawm. [fariha bi-sawm-ihi is ԓhe enjoys his sawm, or the full weight of the ԓbi is brought to bear, with the meaning he enjoys by-means-of or through his sawm.]

So know that whereas he negated the similarity from sawm, as was affirmed in what preceded with the hadith of An-NisaԒI, and Haqq is There is no similar to him,Ӕ the meeting of the faster with his lord is through the attribute of There is no similar to him.Ӕ So one sees him through him. Then, he is the one seeing the one seen. For this hesalla Allahu `alayhi wa salamחsaid he enjoys through his sawmӔ; he did not say, He enjoys the meeting with his lord.Ӕ The enjoyer does not enjoys through her/himself (1)  but through Him. The one who, Haqq is his eye for seeing and witnessing; he does not see himself except through his seeing.

When the creature is described as being one fasting, entitled to the name œfaster with this attribute, then after the affirmation of sawm for him, Haqq takes it away from him and attaches it to himself, and says, ԓexcept sawm, because it is Mine,Ŕ that is, there is the attribute of samadani (Self-Sustained), and it is being free from the need for nourishment; it is for nothing but Me, even if I attribute you with it, because I attribute it to you metaphorically with a delimination of being-free-frombut not the absolute free-from which is appropriate only to My Jalal, so I say, דI am the recompense/r of it. Haqq recompenses the sawm for the faster when he turns toward his Lord and meets him through the attribute of No Similar to It/Him, and It/Him is the sawm. In fact, no one can see No Similar to Him except one of whom there is No Similar to Him. Abu Talib al-Makki, one of the masters of tasting, read the (QurԒanic) text man wujida fi rahlihi fa-huwa jazauhu ғwho is found in his saddlebag, he is the recompense for it (2) as required by this verse for this situation. ԅ

I had an event like this (around the issue of the breath of the faster being better than musk to Allah but being foul to us). I was with Musa ibn Muhammad al-Qabbab in the minaret in the haram of Makkah at the gate of al-Hazawwarah, and he was giving the call to prayer. His food made his breath offensive to anyone who smelled him. I had heard the Prophets report that the angels are offended by the same things that offend the offspring of Adam, and that forbidden was that one should approach the mosques with the smell of garlic, onions, and leeks. So I decided and resolved that I should tell that man that he should stop eating those foods when in the mosque for the sake of the angels. Then I saw Haqq in a dream. He said to me, DonҒt talk to him about the food, because to me his breath is not like what it is to you all. When I arose he came to me, as was his custom, and I related what had occurred. He cried and did sajda to Allah in thankfulness. Then he said to me, O Sidi, despite this, the adab (proper manners) toward the Law is prior,Ԕ and he stopped (eating like that) when going to the mosque. May Allah be most compassionate to him!


1.  The problem of translating these pronouns into English and other similar languages is difficult. I think the problem stems from the same ideas explored in Anthony DellaFloras movie The Language of Spirituality. ғFacts are unlike for people whose language background provides for unlike formulation of them. In the `arab language (which is not Arabic, but rather the language of the audience of people before and during the revelation of the QurԒan), the third person masculine form includes males, females, its, and the divine (which of course does not have a gender-sex). Similarly, the usual sentence form is verb first, so that the verb form itself does not take on a gender. I have also seen the third person masculine form used when discussing menstruants. Ibn `Arabi takes full advantage of this grammatical situation, where itӔ can mean He, he, It; and the divine essence (dhat) is she.Ӕ

2.  Yusuf Ali, the story of Joseph, 12:75 They said:  the penalty should be that he in whose saddle-bage it is found, should be held (as bondman) to atone for the (crime).Ӕ The pronouns can be read many ways, such as he (Joseph) is the recompense for what is found in his saddlebag,Ӕ or the way that Abu Talib read it.