The Divine Names

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The philosophical world-view of Ibn Arabi is a world-view of self-manifestation (tajjali), for as long as the Absolute remains in its absoluteness there can be nothing in existence that may be called the ‘world’, and the word ‘world-view’ itself would lose all meaning in the absence of the world.

On the world’s side, the principle of tajalli is the ‘preparedness’ (or ontological aptitude), and the same principle of tajalli from the standpoint of the Absolute is constituted by the Divine Names.

Name and the ‘object named’

According to Ibn Arabi, a Name (ism) and its ‘object named’ (musamma) are the same in one sense and different from each other in another sense.

The reason of the first is that all the Divine Names, in so far as they always refer to the Absolute, are nothing but the ‘object named’ (i.e., the Essence of the Absolute) itself. Each name is a special aspect/form of the Absolute in its self-manifestation. In this way, each Name is identical with the Essence. In other words, all the Divine Names are the ‘realities of the relations’ (haqâ’iq al-nisab), i.e., the relation which the One reality bears to the world, and in this respect they are all the Divine Essence itself viewed from the standpoint of the various special relations which are caused by the phenomenon of Divine self-manifestation.

The relations whom the Absolute can possibly bear to the world are infinite, that is, the forms of the Divine self-manifestation are infinite in a number. In turn, the Divine Names are infinite, but they can be classified and reduced to a certain number of basic Names, e.g., ninety-nine Names of God.

The second reason is that these Names can also considered by themselves independently of the Essence to which they refer. They can be regarded as so many independent Attributes. Each Name has its own ‘reality’ by which it is distinguished from the rest of the Names.

Quoting Abu al-Qasim, a Sufi from the West, Ibn Arabi says,

…every single Name, in so far as it points to the Essence, contains all the Names, but in so far as it points to its own proper meaning, is different from all the rest, like ‘Lord’, ‘Creator’, or ‘Giver of the forms’ etc. Shortly, the Name is the same as the ‘object named’ in regard to the Essence, but it is not the same as the ‘object named’ in regard to its own particular meaning.

In the first aspect, every Name is one and the same as all other Names, because they all are indicative of the same Essence. In this respect, even such Names as appear to contradict each other (e.g., ‘All-Forgiving’ and ‘Revenuer’, ‘Outward’ and ‘Inward’, ‘First’ and ‘Last’) are identical with each other.

In the second aspect, on the contrary, each Name is something independent, something having its own peculiar reality. It definitely distinguishes itself from all others. The ‘Outward’ (az-Zahir) is not the same as the ‘Inward’ (al-Batin).

The World is the whole sum of Divine Names

Ibn Arabi views that the ‘world’ is the ‘Absolute as it appears in particular images’, that is, the whole sum of the Divine Names as concretely actualized. And since it is the sole indicator of the absolute Absolute, the latter is not indicated by anything other than itself. The Absolute indicates itself by itself, and its concrete existence is established by itself.

The Many are the forms of the Absolute actualized in accordance with the requirements of the Names. The Many are the ‘Absolute as it appears in particular images’, i.e., the Absolute ‘imagined’ under the particular forms of the Names. From this, the One is the Essence (dhât) which is indicated by the Names and to which return all the Names.

Ibn Arabi states the Absolute in its Essence is completely ‘independent’, i.e., has absolutely no need of the world. ‘Having no need of the world’ is the same as having no need of the Divine Names. The Names are the relations in which the Absolute stands to the creatures. The Names are there because of, and in the interests of, the creatures. The Essence in itself is not something which cannot subsist apart from such centrifugal relations. What needs the Names is not the Absolute, but the created world.

The world needs the Divine Names, means, in more philosophical terms; the Names have the property of causality (‘illiyah or sababîyah). From this perspective, the Divine Names are the ‘cause’ (‘illah or sabab) for the existence of the world. The world needs the Divine Names in the sense that nothing in the world can exist without them.

If the world essentially needs as its causes the Absolute, it does not need the Absolute in its absoluteness but in its various aspects, such as ‘creativity’, ‘Lordship’, etc. In other words, the Absolute on the level Names is the ‘cause’ of the world’s existence.

Everything in this world, every event which occurs in this world, is an actualization of a Divine Name, that is, a self-manifestation of the Absolute through a definite relative aspect called Divine Name. In conclusion, there are as many Divine Names as there are many things and events in the world.[] (Extracted from Sufism and Taoism by Toshihiko Izutsu, Chapter VII)

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