"...the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it..."
Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was a scholar, philosopher and theologian. He was a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. One of the 20th century’s most prolific scholars of Islamic mysticism, Corbin was Professor of Islam & Islamic Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Teheran. He was a major figure at the Eranos Conferences in Switzerland. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought. His work has provided a foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman and influenced countless poets and artists worldwide. But Corbin’s central project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His great work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a classic initiatory text of visionary spirituality that transcends the tragic divisions among the three great monotheisms. Corbin’s life was devoted to the struggle to free the religious imagination from fundamentalisms of every kind. His work marks a watershed in our understanding of the religions of the West and makes a profound contribution to the study of the place of the imagination in human life.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008


In Sura XVIII the figure that came to be interpreted as Khidr appears in an enigmatic episode. Moses and his servant travel to "the meeting place of the two seas." There he meets an unnamed messenger. Corbin explains:

"He is represented as Moses' guide, who initiates Moses into 'the science of predestination.' Thus he reveals himself to be the repository of an inspired divine science, superior to the law (shari'a). Thus Khidr is superior to Moses in so far as Moses is a prophet invested with revealing a shari'a. He reveals to Moses the secret mystic truth...that transcends the shari'a, and this explains why the spirituality inaugurated by Khidr is free from the servitude of literal religion."

The function of Khidr as a "person-archetype" is "to reveal each disciple to himself... He leads each disciple to his own theophany...because that theophany corresponds to his own 'inner heaven,' to the form of his own being, to his eternal individuality... Khidr's mission consists in enabling you to attain to the 'Khidr of your being,' for it is in this inner depth, in this 'prophet of your being,' that springs the Water of Life at the foot of the mystic Sinai, pole of the microcosm, center of the world."

"It goes without saying that the form in which each of us receives the master's thought conforms to his 'inner heaven'; that is the very principle of the theophanism of Ibn 'Arabi, who for that reason can only guide each man individually to what he alone is capable of seeing, and not bring him to any collective pre-established dogma..."

If the soul attains to the "Khidr of its being" to its perfection, then "you can indeed do what Khidr does."

"And this is perhaps the secret reason for which the doctrine of Ibn 'Arabi was so feared by the adepts of the literal religion, of the historical faith...of the dogma imposed uniformly on all. He...who is the disciple of Khidr possesses sufficient inner strength to seek freely the teaching of all the masters."

Quotations from Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi. (Adapted from The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism by the author).

Figure: From the Topkapi Scroll, Timurid Persia, 15th or 16th Century C.E., Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul. In Kufic script. Upper panel reads "Mohammed, 'Ali" rotated four times; Lower panel: in various patterns: "There is no God but God and Mohammed is his Prophet," "Mohammed" and "God's." See Necipoğlu, Gülru, and Mohammad Al-Asad. 1995. The Topkapı scroll: geometry and ornament in Islamic architecture : Topkapı Palace Museum Library MS H. 1956. Sketchbooks & albums. Santa Monica, CA: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 268-9.

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