A small book authored by Ibn ’Ata’ Allah, and today known as Hikam –«Words of Wisdom», became quite famous. As the Sufi Master al-Mursi said, it conveys the Quintessence of the greatest contemporary Sufi-work of the Arabian Middle-Ages, written by Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (†. 1111): Ihiyah Ulum ad-Din [Renewal of the Science about Religion]. Among the collections of Arabian Hikams, the one of Ibn ’Ata’ Allah is the most wide-spread, and today it remains a source of inspiration, for whoever is on the Quest for a deep and firm faith.
Ibn ’Ata’ Allah was born in 1252 in Alexandria, Egypt. As a descendant of a family of savant scholars, he was at first among the opponents of the mystical Path. When he was about 20 or 25 years old, he visited Abu’l’-’Abbas al-Mursi. Conversation with him transformed Ibn ’Ata’ Allah. He joined the disciples of al-Mursi and finally, when al-Mursi died in 1288, became his successor.
The booklet begins with a harsh critique against those who still deem important their own works – and therefore are disappointed when they have no success. Again and again Ibn ’Ata’ Allah emphasizes:
It is God who really acts :
Do not expect any recompense for a work that in fact you didn’t do yourself.
It is recompense enough that HE accepts your work.
– (Verse 114)
In times of deep darkness of the soul, and when he receives no more help from others, Man experiences that God is the only one left to whom he can address himself. And it may occur that out of the apparent gloominess of this experience he is given greater spiritual fruits than the most formidable success in the World could have given him.
Nothing can beg in your name as strikingly as does affliction,
and nothing brings you gifts of grace as swiftly as do disgrace and need.
– (Verse 121)
It may occur that darkness steals upon you
so that HE lets you perceive the value of HIS gifts to you.
Who will not grasp the value of HIS blessings while they are there,
will understand it when he misses them.
– (Verse 185)
For Ibn ’Ata’ Allah, God always remains transcendent – even in a moment where Man feels that HE is closer to him than the vein on his neck, as says the Qurān (Surata 50:16).
Many sufi masters speak of the perfect Man, meaning that the divine attributes of God can evolve in Man if he surrenders himself completely to God. Then the „one reality“ can rise within him. The perfect Man does not act from himself. He has lost his self in God. Whatever he does is done by God through him.
Persian Mystics say: Out of the dark night appears the «Sun at Midnight». – Ibn ’Ata’ Allah links many thoughts to the ‹Light-Verse› of the Qurān (Surata 24:35), where God is denominated as the «Light of Heaven and Earth» that shines through a lamp standing in a niche.
God spoke the first word when HE addressed Men in the Prime Eternity of their yet uncreated existence : «Am I not your Lord ?» – And Men, yet in uncreatedness, yet in the spiritual realms, answered: «Yes: we ascertain it» (Surata 7:171) – This was the so-called Prime agreement. And further on, it is God who takes the initiative :
The negligent asks himself in the morning : «What will I do ?»
The reasonable looks out : «What will God now do with me ?»
– (Verse 106)
For Ibn ’Ata’ Allah, like his predecessors and his followers, the best way to come closer to God and to express love and gratitude to HIM, is Remembrance of God (Dhikr). He also wrote a booklet about the use of the 99 most beautiful names of God, according to the diverse steps of spiritual evolution (in «The key to salvation»). – Ibn ’Ata’ Allah admonishes his readers not to believe that in a specific moment anything else could happen other than what does actually happen. The devotee will find significance in everything that happens or occurs to him. To him, even hardships will become «a carpet full of Grace».
Cosmos is all Darkness.
Only the luminous presence of God in it illuminates it.
Whoever thus looks at the Cosmos and does not see HIM,
in it, or with it, or before it, or after it,
such a one lacks all lights,
and the Suns of Knowledge are concealed before him
by the clouds of created signs.
– (Verse 14)
Main source: Ibn ’Ata’ Allah, Bedrängnisse sind Teppiche voller Gnaden [hardships become a carpet full of Grace], translation into German and a foreword by Annemarie Schimmel, Freiburg (Germany), 1987