Sufi Aesthetics: Beauty, Love, and the Human Form in the Writings of Ibn 'Arabi and 'Iraqi

Sufi Aesthetics: Beauty, Love, and the Human Form in the Writings of Ibn 'Arabi and 'Iraqi

Sufi Aesthetics: Beauty, Love, and the Human Form in the Writings of Ibn 'Arabi and 'Iraqi

Sufi Aesthetics: Beauty, Love, and the Human Form in the Writings of Ibn 'Arabi and 'Iraqi


Sufi Aesthetics argues that the interpretive keys to erotic Sufi poems and their medieval commentaries lie in understanding a unique perceptual experience. Using careful analysis of primary texts, Cyrus Ali Zargar explores the theoretical and poetic pronouncements of two major Muslim mystics, Muhyi al-Din ibn al-'Arabi (d. 1240) and Fakhr al-Din 'Iraqi (d. 1289), under the premise that behind any literary tradition exist organic aesthetic values. The complex assertions of these Sufis appear not as abstract theory, but as a way of seeing all things, including the sensory world.
The Sufi masters, Zargar asserts, shared an aesthetic vision quite different from those who have often studied them. Sufism's foremost theoretician, Ibn 'Arabi, is presented from a neglected perspective as a poet, aesthete, and lover of the human form. Ibn 'Arabi in fact proclaimed a view of human beauty markedly similar to that of many mystics from a Persian contemplative school of thought, the "School of Passionate Love," which would later find its epitome in 'Iraqi, one of Persian literature's most celebrated poet-saints. Through this aesthetic approach, this comparative study overturns assumptions made not only about Sufism and classical Arabic and Persian poetry, but also other uses of erotic imagery in Muslim approaches to sexuality, the human body, and the paradise of the afterlife described in the Qur'an.


The following book considers closely the writings of two thirteenth-century Sufis, Muhyi al-Din ibn al-’Arabi and Fakhr al-Din ‘Iraqi. Patience is the reader’s only prerequisite, for a study of the “aesthetics” of vision and the human form in the complex thought of these mystics often requires extensive explanation until we can finally reach the interpretive heart of the matter toward the end of the book. If you, like me, have long marveled at the human experience of beauty, then I hope you enjoy, as much as I did, discovering a perspective that is so distant yet so insightful and relevant.

A Note about Readings

I have avoided a biography of either Ibn ‘Arabi or ‘Iraqi, mainly in hopes of relative brevity, but also in recognition of the efforts of others in this regard. In En glish, Julian Baldick, William C. Chittick, and Peter Lamborn Wilson have considered closely the life of ‘Iraqi, and Claude Addas’s carefully researched biography of Ibn ‘Arabi has been translated from the French, among others who have concerned themselves with one or even both of these mystics.

For an astute overview of Ibn ‘Arabi’s ontological and cosmological insights, one can refer to the writings of William C. Chittick, since I have concentrated on one particular aspect of this worldview and, thanks to his efforts, can avoid reiterating what would have to be a long discussion. I also have been able to avoid a broader dis cussion of aesthetics as founded in classical Sufi thought, on account of the accomplishments of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Titus Burckhardt, and others. There are other important and related topics, such as sama’, the Sufi practice of “audition,” and wine imagery, that are intimately connected to the thematic and historical contexts of this book yet covered only briefly herein because of limitations. Again, I refer inquisitive readers to the bibliography for resources.

Text Editions

As for the most relevant primary texts, the edition of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Fusus al-Hikam I have used corresponds to the A. E. Affifi edition, printed in Beirut in 1946, here reprinted in Tehran in 1991, although all page numbers correspond. The edition of al-Futuhat al-Makkiyah used throughout this book is the one published in 1997 in . . .

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