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Doors within doors: Ibn Arabi, Henry Corbin and Tom Cheetham

[ by Charles Cameron — a response to, and endorsement of, Tom Cheetham ]

Interior of the Touba mosque


If I only had one book to take with me, I’d pick Henry Corbin‘s Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, also available under the title Alone with the Alone. And I’d pick it, because — well, this poem of mine says it best:

No Place Special

I am baffled:
                 your muezzin calls me
with a call more resonant than any command
of sensible business, any
instrument, nay, of corporeal music,
to prayer in no place visible,
as if defining by example what
eyes in the back of the head might mean,
might see, ears on the inside
of the skull
mean, what
their music, not being
ears or eyes in the habitual sense at all.

        Not the sheer cliffs of fall
Of Hopkins’ poem, but cliffs sheer without any
word-hold by which to climb
celestialwards — as if
adamant, as if obsidian,
oblique to terrestrial gravity, this cliff
of hearing the call without seeing the mosque
without turning
around, inwards, some new way within.

I have ignored the lures, chased breath,
pressed my life into service, and —
as if a pressed life, even in service, were
death on display, a pinned butterfly —
withdrawn from pressing,
taken ease in the swell and ride
of life, loved much, seen
many to my great joy and felt richly
to my grief…
                  and the
muezzin yet calls, the baffle, the cliff
still between me and the attainment of garden,
tree and spring.

Corbin’s book is too high for me, but I feel the call. And Ibn Arabi — beyond my knowing.


Ibn Arabi is known as the Shaykh al-Akbar, the greatest shaykh, because his work towers higher and digs deeper into the soul than that of any other Islamic writer, saving only (perhaps) his contemporary the poet mystic Jalaluddin Rumi.

Stepping down from his heights, up from his profundities, we have in Henry Corbin an interpreter of great power — and since I find even Corbin requiring of me a depth of insight I can not yet grasp yet must read again and again across the decades, I am happy to have found his interpreter, Tom Cheetham.

And thus Tom Cheetham is a doorway for me into the doorway that Henry Corbin is to Ibn Arabi, himself a doorway into the profoundest mystery.


You can find Tom Cheetham’s four books here — I’d start with The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism, and read them in the order of publication.

I have written this post to draw the attention of any who may be interested to Tom’s offer of an online seminar in Corbin’s work: The World of Henry Corbin – Online Learning.

I am considering the possibility of offering some kind of online learning program.
I would like to know:

(1) if there is interest,
(2) what topics people would be most interested in,
(3) what format or formats might be most useful, and
(4) whether people might be willing to pay a modest fee.

Any other comments or suggestions are welcome.

Contact me by commenting on this post or emailing me at
subject heading “Corbin Online Learning”

Very highly recommended.

2 Responses to “Doors within doors: Ibn Arabi, Henry Corbin and Tom Cheetham”

  1. First Comment Talking to A Six-year-old | The Image Says:

    […] picture on the post reminds me of something written by an Arab of the Liberal Right. It was back in the 15th century, […]

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    If you run across it again, let us know, Larry..

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