Ibn Arabi’s View On Women As Imams

Ibn Arabi ‎(25 July 1165 – 8 November 1240) was an Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher. He is renowned by some practitioners of Sufism as “the greatest master” and also as a genuine saint.

Ibn ‘Arabî bestows upon Bilqis (Queen of Sheba) the rank of Faqiha. When she surrendered to Islam, she did not become a follower of Solomon, nor did she submit to his guidance. Rather, she remained free in her belief from following an envoy or an imam, free from intermediaries. She revealed that she possessed direct belief in God, exactly like that of the Envoys, when she said: “I submit with Solomon to Allah, Lord of the universes,” in contrast to the Pharaoh who said: “the Lord of Moses and Aaron”.

By examining Ibn ‘Arabî’s life, we can say that he is a man of knowledge and experience, not a man of theory who speaks about woman as an invisible/hidden being. This means that when he described woman’s aptitude and acknowledged her abilities and her equality to man, he was thinking of those women he knew and not theorizing on the “issue of women”. Ibn ‘Arabî’s statements on women are based on a broad experience of life, in which women revealed to him their powers and aptitudes. As regards equality between the sexes in the field of their competency in knowledge, he held the view that a woman could be imam, leading both men and women in prayer. He says: “There are people who permit women to lead the prayer unconditionally, for both men and women, and I agree with that.”

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