A short biography of the last hermetic master Ibn Sabin

His full name was Abu Muhammad ‘Abd Al-Haqq b. Ibrahim b. Muhammad b. Nasr Al-‘Akki Al-Mursi Al-Riquti Al-Ishbili Al-Qastallani Al-Sufi Qutb Al-Din. He used the name Ibn O (Son of the Circle), hence the name Ibn Sab‘in with which he is known in the history of Islamic thought.

The earthly life of Abu Muhammad ‘Abd Al-Haqq Ibn Sab’in, began in Murcia, in the Ricote Valley, where he was born in 614 AH, corresponding to the year 1217 of the Christian era. His family had a good social position, because according to Ibn Al-Jatib and Al-Maqqari, his father Ibrahim Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Nasr, assumed political positions and administrative duties. Among them was the position of Mayor of the town of Murcia.

According to the biography of Ibn Sab’in by Yousef Alexander Casewit, Ibn Sab‘in traces his lineage to the Prophet Mohammad through ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib.

Ibn Sab’in received a thorough Andalusian education in Murcia, acquiring extensive knowledge of Arabic, the Islamic sciences, Greek philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, the natural sciences, literature, and Christian and Jewish theology.

He was reported to be an outstanding calligrapher and a man of great virtue and patience, enduring hardship and having deep knowledge of prophetic traditions.

According to Abdellah El Moussaoui, in his youth, Ibn Sab’in began studying Humanities under the direction of some great teachers of his time. He also studied law and disciplines relating to philosophy, the latter showing as the most preferred course, especially formal logic, metaphysics, physics and arithmetic. On the other hand, he studied the science of the methodology called in Arabic ”Ilm Al-Usul“ exerted by the school As’ari.

In addition, according to the biographer Ibn Al-Imad Al- Hanbali Ibn Sab’in passed through knowledgeable awareness of medicine, chemistry and white magic “Simya” and was well aware of the science of the secrets of alphabets “Ilm Asrar Al-Huruf.” He studied under the direction of Ibn Ahla (d. 1247), and Ishaq b. Al-Mar’a b. Dahhaq, originally from Malaga and commentator of the Mahasin Al-mayalis de Ibn Al-‘Arif.

Oliver Leaman states that he was the follower of the Shuzi Sufi Way, founded by Al-Shuzi of Seville. This was the continuation of the school founded by Ibn Masarra.

At the age of fifteen, he astonished the scholars of Spain with his book titled: Separation of knowledge. After completing his studies in jurisprudence and philosophy, he showed a decided taste for this latest science. In the words of an anonymous, quoted by Makkari he followed the voice of his master Abu Ishak Ibn Dihak, but it would seem that this was not without danger, and Ibn Sab’in found himself early exposed to the attacks of fanaticism. In effect, having started teaching grammar and belles-lettres, he left Spain to establish himself in the African Almohads States.

During his journey from Murcia passing Granada, he was accompanied by a troop of followers and devotees. In Granada he settled in a Ribat named Ukab located West of the town. There, he already made public profession of asceticism. His followers were known as Al-Sab’iniyyah and wore special clothing that has been criticized by the fuqaha (jurists).

In Ceuta Ibn Sab’in came in contact with a rich woman who was infatuated by his youth and good looks. She proposed him to marry her to which Ibn Sab’in agreed. Once married, he persuaded his new wife to build a Sufi zawiya in her house and used here money to support a large retinue of disciples.

In Ceuta he has few quiet years that he used to write his main works. It was at the town Ceuta where he composed at the request of the governor of the city, Ibn Khalas, his treatise for Frederick II. This writig is now in the Bodleian Library. This treatise was a reply to a letter that Frederick II of Hohenstaufen of Sicily had sent to the Almohad Sultan Al-Rasid.

Sometime later when he was twenty-eight, Ibn Sab’in wrote his most famous book, Budd al ’Arif (643/1245). According to Al-Badisi, Ibn Sab’in was expelled from Ceuta for writing this work. However, this was not the only reason. In 643/1246, the governor of Ceuta, Ibn Jalas, was forced to abdicate. A religious leader, Al-Sharri (1175-1252) had founded in February 1238 a Madrasa of the Al-Shariyya movement.

After the death of the Almohad calip Abd el-Wahid ar-Rashid (630-640/1232-1242), Al-Sharri saw his opportunity and expelled the Governor Ibn Jalas from the town. This is again a proof that religious life and Goverment went together.

Therefore, Ibn Sab’in went into exile. This occurred only a few months after Ibn Sab’in had completed his book. Without his powerful patron Ibn Jalas, he came in a hostile environment with the Government. For that reason Ibn Sab’in and his disciples left Ceuta and he took a way eastward across Bades, in Morocco. There, he devoted himself some time to teaching and to seminars on mysticism in one of the mosques.

However, he did not stay there for a long time and the reasons for his departure from this town are unknown. Thereafter, he went for the Algerian city of Bijaya (Bougie, Vela). In this town, that also had a large Andalusian population, lived the Algerian historian Ahmad Al-Gubrini (d. 704/1304) and he also met in this town Abu al-hasam Al Shushtarí (610-668/1213-1269), who became in 1248 the most faithful of all this disciples.

Continuing on his way eastwards, he came to Tunis. In a milieu of orthodox Islam, Ibn Sab’in once again came up against the hostility of the “ulama“. To escape from his chief enemy, Abu Bakr Al-Sakuni (d. 649/1251), a theologian from Seville who had settled in Tunis, he hurriedly left the town.

Furthermore, as related by Ibn Sakir, the same Al-Sakuni criticized the disciples of Ibn Sab’in. There is a record of his journey on to Gabes (Cabes) in Tunisia, and thence to Cairo. But there he scarcely felt secure and the great Mamluk sultan Baybars I was ill-disposed towards him.

According to Taftazani Ibn Sab’in was in Mecca in the year 1254. However, Al-Fasi1 states that Ibn Sab’in arrived in the Peninsula in the year 1250. Ibn Al-Kathir relates somewhat bitterly that Ibn Sab‘in was able to captivate the mind of Mecca’s governor, the Sharif Abu Numay Ibn Abi Sa’id (r. 1254-1301), and lived peacefully as his protégé.

Gubrini (1246-1314) praises Ibn Sab’in’s wisdom, intelligence, and piety, and claims that when he eventually moved to Mecca, pilgrims from the Islamic West sought him out like no one else. Ibn Sab’in lived in Mecca more than twenty years amid a circle of disciples; among them was the Sharif Abu Numayy himself.

Ibn Sab’in remained in Mecca until his death. The last vestige of the Muwahhid Empire passed away in the year of his death. There is a reasonable doubt surrounding his death in 1270.

It is alleged that he commed suicide like the stoics, that is to say, he opened his veins. However, his death is puzzling. There are various reports about Ibn Sab‘in’s death. Some allege that he fled to India where he ended his days. Ibn Shakir, however, relates in his Fawat al Wafayat:

I heard that Ibn Sab‘in committed suicide in Mecca by slitting his wrists. Regarding his alleged suicide, al Badisi and some of Ibn Sab‘in’s disciples report that Ibn Sab‘in did not commit this act, rather, he lived out his days as an adviser to Abu Numay Ibn Abi Sa’id, and was poisoned by political enemies. His alleged suicide seems untenable firstly because it was related by one of Ibn Sab‘in’s foes, and secondly because suicide is wholly contrary to both Islamic law and Ibn Sab‘in’s philosophical beliefs.

Fawat al Wafayat:
V0025570 An alchemist working with his assistants at a crucible. Etch
Credit image header: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org An alchemist working with his assistants at a crucible. Etching by F. Pedro after F. Maggiotto. By: Francesco Maggiottoafter: Francesco del PedroPublished: -Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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