In the first several passages of the first part of the nineteenth section of the seventh chapter of the SPK (entitled ‘The Roots of Belief)[1], Ibn Arabi delineates what he considers to be the metaphysics of what gives rise to the possibility and fact of the diversity of beliefs which people hold about God. By the term ‘belief’ (i’tiqad or aqida – to tie a knot or tie firmly) he has in mind that which constitutes knowledge of God on the part of a given individual, where this knowledge is viewed as what “ties” him to God. More precisely though, in this section he attempts to show how, given what he considers to be the unceasing and never-repeating self-disclosures (tajalliyat) of God, and consequently the inconstant nature of the cosmos as a whole and in all its parts (which are for him the receptacles of those tajalliyat), belief is likewise composed and is hence never fixed. And this notion he links to the point about how the possibilities, inherent in a person’s entity, constantly show or manifest themselves with the changing nature of his preparedness (isti’dad).

So what are the roots of the diversity of beliefs concerning God? For Ibn ‘Arabi, the answer is to be sought in the nature of God Himself, not of course from the point of view of the Essence but rather insofar as His Self-manifestation (or His aspect of tashbih) in the cosmos is concerned. What this basically means is that the diversity of peoples beliefs are due to the never repeating self-disclosures of God in a myriad of forms in accordance with what the receptacles in the cosmos, given their nature, demand.  This also accounts for why no two people (or any other thing for matter) are exactly the same; for a given entity (say a man or a tree) is a self-disclosure of God, but since such tajalliyat are always distinct, no two self-disclosures can or will ever be exactly the same. But what accounts for this diversity of self-disclosures? Ibn ‘Arabi’s answer “invokes” the diversity of the Divine Names as well as the diversity of the immutable entities, which he thinks give rise to the self-disclosures – for both i.e., the names and entities, are according him by nature infinite. Considered another way, the diversity of the Divine Names, viewed with an eye to accounting for the diversity of beliefs about God which people hold, are what explain God’s undergoing of what the Shaykh calls “Self-transmutation” (tahawul). That is, as opposed to God’s self-disclosures in the cosmos via the Divine Names, God’s self-transmutations, Ibn Arabi says, are the “divine self-disclosures in the forms of [people’s] beliefs.”[2] By the ‘form’ of the belief here Ibn Arabi means a particular ‘mark’ or ‘sign’ into which God will transmute Himself and thereby become recognized by the believer who recognizes that mark.. This distinct mark for Ibn Arabi is the way in which a given individual conceives his Lord in accordance with his preparedness.

In summary then, it can be said that out of the infinity of the Divine Names and immutable entities, there arises not only a multiplicity of self-disclosures (i.e. entities, receptacles, possible things, etc) in what the Ibn ‘Arabi terms the macrocosmic world (i.e. the world that is ‘out there’) but there also arises a corresponding multiplicity (but now through the process of God’s tahawul) in the microcosmic world i.e. the individual soul and the forms contained in it. Now as belief relates to the soul – for it is the soul that has beliefs – these beliefs too will necessarily be diverse and multiple, inconstant and changing, by nature; for, again, they only reflect the always changing and never-repeating self-disclosures which they constantly receive. Why? Because that is exactly how the Names and the self-disclosures which they cause – which are in turn received by the receptacles of the cosmos – are by nature due to God’s Infinity. And a corollary of this view with regards to eschatology, some aspect of which Ibn Arabi briefly discusses in the same section, is that God will, especially on the Day of Resurrection, in accordance with what the hadith already mentioned, necessarily take on (or transmute Himself into) the form of the beliefs which anyone of servants have of Him, and which the servant will recognize Him in. This also means that people will deny God when He takes on any other form in which they do not recognize the ‘mark’ of their belief about him. Ibn Arabi explains,

Every group have believed something about God. If He discloses Himself [to them] in other than that something, they will deny Him. But when He discloses Himself in the mark which this group have established with God in themselves, then they will acknowledge Him. Thus, for example, when He discloses Himself to an Ash’arite in the form of the belief of his opponent […] or He manifests Himself to his opponent in the form of the belief of the Ash’arite, each of the two groups will deny Him. And so it is with al groups.[3]

Here is a curious thought though. Assuming Ibn ‘Arabi is correct about all this, then I wonder if whether or not he’ll deny God when, come Judgement Day, he witnesses a disclosure of God in the form of a belief which he may not recognize?

[1] W. Chittick, Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 336.

[2] W. Chittick, Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 336. This idea of self-transmutation with respect to people’s beliefs about God is in reference to a hadith in which God is said to transmute Himself into the ‘form’ of the belief of a believer so that he may recognize Him.

[3] Ibid.