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Original scientific paper

Seeing With Three Eyes. Ibn al-ʽArabī’s barzakh and the Contemporary World Situation

Sara Sviri ; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Arabic Language and Literature, Mount Scopus Campus, IL–9190501 Jerusalem

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Full text: german pdf 522 Kb

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The author of this paper attempts to write about the mystery of the barzakh in and from Ibn al-ʽArabī’s perspective. Ibn al-ʽArabī’s perspective observes things from three dimensions: the two dimensions of the positive and negative, which are familiar to us by means of our ordinary binary perception, and in addition the third dimension that belongs neither to the one, nor to the other. This is the dimension of the barzakh, which can be called tertiary, since it is unitive and inclusive of the two familiar dimensions. “Seeing” the third dimension of the barzakh is not accessible to ordinary binary perception; it is accessible, according to Ibn al-ʽArabī, only to those who possess a special kind of seeing; they are the ahl al-kashf, those who “see” with three eyes, as it were. Nevertheless, between the binary and the tertiary/unitive perceptions there is a pervasive tension of relatedness. It is a dynamic tension that makes its mark on all levels of existence, whether consciously or unconsciously. In other words, although the barzakh belongs to the dimension of the mysterious “third”, it is powerfully present and influential all around. It manifests itself as the cognitive function that Ibn al-ʽArabī calls ‘imagination’ (al-khayāl). For him, the barzakh-imagination is the most powerful cognitive function in the human makeup, and it hinges on a paradox: it makes everything that it conceives an “it/not it”. God, too, from this perspective, is “He/not He”. Following from the cognitive field that evolves from the tertiary-barzakh-imaginative perspective, I consider the notion coincidentia oppositorum (‘the union of the opposites’, aljamʽ bayna al-ḍiddayn). Finally, I apply the insights stemming from Ibn al-ʽArabī’s perspective to the question of ‘identities’ and to the ethical dilemmas of our contemporary world.


apophasis, barzakh, binary perception, coincidentia oppositorum, Ibn al-ʽArabī, imagination, paradox, tertiary perception

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