In celebration of the life and times of Andalusian mystic philosopher Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), the sage’s enthusiasts gathered at the Gomhuria Theater last Saturday for the inauguration of the international conference “Ibn Arabi in Egypt: Crossroads of East and West.
With a belief about the urgency of revisiting Ibn Arabi’s work, the National Library and Archives, Al-Azhar University and the Spanish Embassy collaborated in organizing the event, promoting Ibn Arabi’s heritage within a contemporary context and casting an outlook on his spiritual and intellectual influence in Egypt.
“This celebration attempts to revive a striking moment in the Islamic thought and history that developed the relation between the east and west, Ambassador of Spain Antonio Lopez Martinez said.
The conference featured several in-depth seminars and discussions, featuring scholars from Egypt, the UK, Syria and Lebanon, and tackling numerous subjects including Ibn Arabi’s work on the Arab culture, his visit to Egypt, his contribution to Arabic poetry and the various dimensions and connotations of his mystical philosophies.
According to Martinez, in the midst of the world’s economic crisis and domination of the persistent dreams for development, there should be a mull over the ideas of great thinkers like Ibn Arabi.
Likewise, Ahmed El-Tayeb, head of Al-Azhar University, explained that the hegemony of values like materialism and individualism has caused the current economic and cultural recession. For that, valuable texts like Ibn Arabi’s should be rethought as it promotes passion and unity with the universe. It also act as a unifying tool between the western and eastern cultures.
This idea of the individual’s unity with existence or “Wahdat-ul-Wujood is one of the main inspirational concepts of Ibn Arabi – a notion that stimulated most of his readers to discover a distinctive spiritual path.
Saber Arab, chairman of the National Library and Archives of Egypt, and Dr Gril Denis praised the iconic figure, describing him as one of the few scientists whose thoughts helped several conflicting subjectivities to diminish.
“We need to research in the fixed values that improvise the human statues, these sayings are like the permanent remnant, Denis told Daily News Egypt. “We need to go back to these thinkers who were able to combine between the human and religious point of view as thought and wisdom put things in their right places.
Ahmed Al Sawy’s performance in the opening ceremony with his oud was a trance. Working on Sufi mu
sic since his undergraduate years at the High Institute for Arabic Music, Al Sawy has been researching Ibn Arabi for eight years now. Since then, he was influenced by Ibn Arabi’s “The Interpreter of Desires (Turjuman Al-Ashwaq) from which he extracted five poems for his performance, composed especially for the event.
“It was a golden epic of thought in the Arab world. There were openness and acceptance of knowledge from every thought, said Ramon Blecua, the cultural counselor of the Spanish Embassy in Egypt, explaining that the conference is a symbolic act to recreate the past.
For Blecua, the contemporary reading of Ibn Arabi is now imperative for a spiritual and mental growth. He was greatly influenced, for example, by the notion of experiencing knowledge through the heart (alchemy of the heart).
“Knowledge without passion is satirized as it remains isolated in one’s head, commented Blecua.
Without pretentiousness, attendances from all over the world held a deferential appreciation to the iconic figure. “We are very appreciative of our Islamic heritage, said Blecua, explaining that several institutions, foundations along with the Andalusian encyclopedia are working on the Spanish knowledge and perception towards the Andalusían heritage.
Surprisingly, in the early 80s, books of Ibn Arabi were burned by some of his critics at the Al-Azhar University. “What can be more intolerant than burning books? commented Blecua, explaining that the university’s host to the closing ceremony, shows how the leading institution of Islamic thought acknowledges Ibn Arabi as a prolific thinker.
The conference will continue its activities online for the next couple of years and is translated into three languages.
For more information about Ibn Arabi and the conference, visit www.ibnarabicairo.info