The name of Ibn Sab’in is an enigma. The unusual meaning of Ibn Sab’in (Son of Seventy) and that of his pseudonym, Ibn al-Dāra (Son of the Circle), suggest a connection with esoterism. Both Ibn Sab’in and Ibn al-Dara refer to the number seventy, which was written as a circle in the numerical system reserved for court documents in Muslim Spain and North Africa.
Ibn Sab’in makes frequent use of the circle as a metaphor in Budd al-‘arif, as the following passage indicates:
‘Desire is neither inclination, instinct, motivation, happiness, hope, nor response. Rather, it is a circle (da’ira), whose point is its essence; it has neither beginning nor end, neither subject nor object.’
Neoplatonic philosophers believed that numbers mediated between the divine and the physical worlds. According to this view, operations with numbers or numerical combinations would elicit sympathetic responses from related orders of phenomena.
If you show yourself able to understand it your whole mind will be completely filled with all that is good, that is if there are many good things and not one only in which all are held. Indeed, one can see that these alternatives are consistent with each other; either all things are of one, or they are one. The two propositions are so linked that it is impossible to separate one from the other. But this you will find out if you attend carefully to the coming discourse.Asclepius 1
The basic principles of emanation, of the world as an overflow from God, and of man as a ray of sunlight (‘All is one, all is from the One‘) are also typically ancient Egyptian.
This concept of ‘universal sympathy’ (sympathaeia) formed the theoretical basis of theurgy, or semeia (Ar. simiyā), which Ibn Sab’in was accused of practising.
For the One is the origin and the root of all, and nothing is without origin. The origin arises only from itself, because it is the origin of all other things; for it is itself, because it does not come from another origin. Therefore the One is the origin and comprehends all’ by number, without being comprehended by any number, and being the producer of all things by number, is not itself produced by any other number.Corpus Hermeticum Book IV.10
Numbers were also important in Jewish mysticism. In Ibn Sab’in’s time, the science of gematria, Hebrew letters, or the numerical correspondence of was an important part of Spanish Kabbalism. In this tradition, the number seventy signified the ten-fold or ‘great form’ of the sacred number seven.
If the name Ibn Sab’in had a double meaning, what about ‘Abd al-Haqq? According to Ibn Khaldun, monistic mystics such as Ibn Sab’in avoided calling God by the name Allah, lest they forget that divinity consists of absolute reality (al haqq al-mutlaq) and all-encompassing ipseity (al-anniyya al jami’a).
Instead, they chose to depersonalize the Absolute by referring to God as al-haqq: “The Truth’ or ‘The Real’. Thus, the name ‘Abd al-Haqq ibn Sab’in could conceivably be understood as a pseudonym signifying ‘Servant of the Truth, Son of the One’. Such an appellation recalls the famous Hermetic notion of the ‘son of God’, or devotee of the One.
All things depend upon one first cause and this depends upon the One alone. The first cause is set in motion so that it again becomes a cause. Only the One remains still and does not move. So there are these three: firstly, God, Father and the Supreme Good; secondly, the cosmos; and thirdly, man. God contains the cosmos and the cosmos man. The cosmos is the son of God, man the son of the cosmos, and as it were grandson of God.Corpus Hermeticum Book X.14