The medieval Spanish Muslim mystic, Ibn Arabi is generally regarded as the shaikh- ul -Akbar or the greatest mystic in Sufi terms and in the Western world as Doctor Maximus. His influence, his vast teachings, erudition, writings, many of which have survived to the present day have exerted lasting influence on Sufi mystical thought in addition to re framing the way Sufism can be interpreted in present times for those who do not either understand it or find it too eclectic, too abstract and difficult to come to terms with.
Born in Murcia in Spain, and moving to Seville later, Ibn Arabi moved east wards towards the Arab world, where he achieved fame and some opposition before settling down in Syria, where he lies buried. Thus Ibn Arabi is a Spanish mystic, and his work should be seen in the context of Western Muslim mysticism.It is believed that he had epiphanies and near divine experiences as a young man. He travelled east wards towards the Arab world, visited many places, performed pilgrimages to the holy lands before settling in present day Syria, where he is buried. Ibn Arabi's thoughts and writings have been controversial, at least within conservative Muslim circles, where he has been denounced more than once as heretical and his philosophies and religious approach as outrageously beyond legal Muslim parlance. However, no one can ignore his metaphysics, his self absorbed and fresh attitude towards Sufi practices and his nuanced new eclecticism, which continues to surprise and interest the neutral observer.
One of his most original and daring philosophy is his concept of oneness of creation, also called Wahdat ul Wajud ( pantheism) in Arabic. My own understanding of this is that contrary to monotheistic teachings especially Islamic, Ibn Arabi invites the uninitiated to seek God within every created thing in the universe, allowing each person to re frame monotheism within the arc of created things. In other words, one can seek signs from the natural world, in stones, rivers or flowers and feel these to be peripheral or worldly emanations of the one being. This would allow the person to seek within the limits of his or her temporal experience, a sighting of the divine, the miraculous. This is in contrast to the bare monotheism of Islam, wherein any representation of the divine is heretical. This concept is akin to the one found in the Upanishads, that is of pantheism, but Ibn Arabi is generally considered to have originated this concept in the Muslim world. See here.
I have read with interest and some amazement about Ibn Arabi's life and the biography i refer to, called Quest for the Red sulphur is a well researched attempt to construct his life. written by Claude Addas, the writer allows the reader to glean from Ibn Arabi's experiences what nowadays would be considered impossible happenings. We understand all natural or other phenomena with scientific tools and rightly so and if we use psychological or other tools to understand mystical experiences, we findIbn Arabis life a vast enterprise in epiphany itself.
It is not possible to understand mystical experiences, in a world devoid of miracles and saints. It is beguiling to ask why sainthood has disappeared if at all and how outside canonical religion, one can make sense of this life, literature apart. It is all the more difficult to understand Ibn Arabi and his experiences, for most of these are in the realms of a unique mystic experience. However, another aspect of this experience is the flowering of it in Spain, the western fringe of Islam, a coming together in a non Arab climate of shattering, path breaking Sufi mysticism. Here Ibn Arabi is not alone, for Spain has produced great mystics, not just Muslim mystics, and Spain could be called the land of mystics. Ibn Arabi's work, partly conservative as all Sufi experiences must be, allows the sacred to be understood by the secular, the divine with the ephemeral, thoughts with words, such as had never happened before.
Ibn Arabi was a prolific writer and his greatest works are well preserved and now available in English. his seminal works, Revelations in Mecca, which Ibn Arabi is said to have been revealed to him in a vision and Bezels of Wisdom, difficult to read are cornerstones in Sufi thought. Almost all Sufis have expressed their gratitude and debt to Ibn Arabi, no matter what language they spoke. A profile of Ibn Arabi by William Chittick, famous scholar here. And a link to Ibn Arabi society here.