Doctrinal Sufism in the Sensual Poetry of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Interpreter of Desires: Divine Self-Disclosure, Inherent Predisposition, and Human Love
Embargo End Date:2021-05-02
Citation:Compton, David 'Doctrinal Sufism in the Sensual Poetry of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Interpreter of Desires: Divine Self-Disclosure, Inherent Predisposition, and Human Love', Dublin: Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies. Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies., 2019
COMPTON dissertation ecopy upload.pdf (PhD Thesis, examined and approved) 2.354Mb
Contrary to the opinion of both Ibn al-ʿArabī’s contemporary conservative critics and even some modern scholars, the sensual poetry of his collection, Interpreter of Desires (Tarjumān al-Ashwaq), evidences important elements of Sufism (the esoteric dimension of Islam), a conclusion that this thesis will demonstrate by application of his own summa of gnostic theories as contained in Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam (Bezels of Wisdom), a demonstration possible even without reference to his own formal defence of his poetry collection. After acknowledging Ibn al-ʿArabi’s debt to the pre-Islamic qaṣīda (ode) and its nasīb (erotic or melancholic prelude) section in which style he wrote, the thesis demonstrates that doctrinal Sufism is integral to the sixty-one poems of the Interpreter of Desires in three key areas: 1. Divine Self-Disclosure 2. Inherent Predisposition, Suffering, and Religion 3. Human and Divine Love: the hadith on Women, Perfume & Prayer The primary method to prove the thesis that these doctrinal elements do, in fact, exist in the poetry, is to demonstrate the existence of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s own doctrines which are accepted as “foundational” in the Sufi view. The text used to establish this theoretical template is the Shaykh’s own summa of his theoretical gnosis, Bezels of Wisdom (Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam), a work his own disciples over the centuries have used to explain Ibn al-ʿArabī’s thinking. Thus, the present project will be a highly focused application of a single, specific theoretical work to a single literary work. Noteworthy is this dissertation’s additional contribution to scholarship in bringing order to the important doctrinal material within the Fuṣūṣ -- which is organised not in any way thematically, but by “prophet” in chapters that have overlapping thematic materials found in different chapters of the book – so that the themes of theoretical Sufism may then be considered in a more organised way and – key for this dissertation – used as both the structure for the dissertation’s analytical sections, and the Sufi perspective on explicating the poems themselves. The resulting analysis proves the thesis that the poetry unambiguously evidences a highly significant number of important evocations of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s theoretical gnosis. The examination of the poems from the Sufi theoretical perspective also reveals, secondarily, that the role of the Beloved in the poems shifts according to the specific doctrinal point being made in the given poetical context, so that the beloved girl can be either a human being reflecting back to God His divine Names/Attributes, or she can be a woman in whom the lover contemplates God as being a part of himself, or she can be a metaphor for God, or the Beloved being addressed can be God Himself. Explication of the poems according to the theoretical template also results in a determination that the poet is explaining to his readers that -- contrary to the lover’s understanding -- the end-point of the spiritual Path is not union with the Divine in this life, but mystical bewilderment and annihilation of the ego-self. There has been no scholarly monograph published in English analysing Interpreter of Desires as its sole focus; the very few journal articles and book sections that discuss the work in theological terms have done so in only a cursory way. The contribution to the literature of this present project is, thus, three-fold: 1) to organise and synthesize points of the previously identified key areas of Sufi doctrine that are scattered throughout the Bezels text; 2) to expand upon the work of previous scholars by focusing on the intersection of theological expression and love poetry in the collection, and to demonstrate Sufi theology across a very large number of the sixty-one poems in the collection; and, 3) to explore a completely new perspective of the collection by application of the Bezels doctrine to reveal significant elements of Ibn alʿArabī’s theoretical gnosis not previously revealed in Interpreter of Desires.
Author: Compton, David
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