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Detailed Translations by a Leading Akbarian Specialist
on April 2, 2002
"This is what shows you His Omnipotence, Exalted be He; that He hides himself from you by that which has no existence outside of Him" -- Ibn Ata'allah
Chittick is refining the art of translating Ibn Arabi. Unlike other medieval Arabic texts that are more or less straightforward -- hence translatable -- Ibn Arabi is an exception. The anti-systematic nature of his thought compounded by its deep interconnection with the Arabic language renders translations almost impossible.
The Great Shaikh's hermeneutics of Islamic Scripture (the Koran and Prophetic traditions) is at once mystical and linguistic. Mystical through kashf, (lit. 'unveiling,' a type of spiritual opening to knowledge), and linguistic through retracing each Divinely revealed word to its etymological root. To a reader unfamiliar with either mystical philosophy or classical Arabic, understanding Ibn Arabi can be excrutiatingly difficult. A natural response is to question the source of Ibn Arabi's radically subversive worldview.
Taking these factors into consideration, Chittick should be commended in undertaking a task so academically daunting that it prevented even an Orientalist of R.A. Nicholson's repute from publishing his own translations.
Chittick is meticulous in his translations and tries to be loyal to both the literal and implied meanings of technical Arabic words. He introduces each translated section with a brief summary to acquaint the reader what s/he is about encounter, simplifying the complexity of the passage and contexualising it within the (fluid) framework of Ibn Arabi's nondualistic ontology.
Finally, it should be noted that Chittick's other major work in the field of Akbarian scholarship, the Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination, makes an excellent introduction to this work. SDG is not easy reading, so preliminary works might be useful before jumping full fledge into Ibn Arabi's "ocean without shore" of mystical metaphysics. In strange and unfamiliar waters, the weight of ignorance can drown. But the ultimate ignorance, as Ibn Arabi would say, is not that of books written by the dead -- for "the servant is nonexistent!" -- but of the Living (al-Hayy) who reveals Himself through the cosmos around us, through His Self-Disclosure.