Ahmad Ibn ‘Ajiba, The Chapters of Mary and Ṭā Hā from the Immense Ocean – Ibn ‘Ajiba (al-Bahr al-Madid), trans. by Mohamed Fouad Aresmouk (Traduction), Michael Abdurrahman Fitzgerald, Louisville, KY, Fons Vitae, 2022, 240 p. ISBN 9781941610862
Ahmad ibn ’Ajiba was an 18th-century Moroccan saint in the Darqawa Sufi Islamic lineage. He was the author of numerous works, including The Autobiography of a Moroccan Sufi.
After growing up in a traditional Marrakesh family, the son of an Arabic teacher and grandson of one of the most renowned Quran teachers in Marrakesh, Fouad Aresmouk completed his degree in Islamic Studies and Arabic at Qadi Ayyad University, Marrakesh. He is the author of al-Rashad fi zabdati al-awrad, a mystical commentary on the litany of the Habibiyya Sufic order of Morocco, as well as co-translator of several other works by Ibn ’Ajiba as well as The Letters of a Spiritual Master by Mulay Al-Arabi al-Darqawi.
Originally from California, Abdurrahman Fitzgerald and his wife migrated to Morocco in the late 1970s. Since that time, Abdurrahman has been involved in education and the study of Arabic, Islam, and Sufism for the past thirty years. He is also the translator and co-translator of over ten works of Sufism. Abdurrahman holds degrees from the University of California and Shenandoah University, Virginia, and is a co-founder of The Center for Language & Culture, Marrakesh.
The Chapters of Mary and Ṭā Hā center on the key figures of Islam’s two sister monotheisms, Mary, mother of Christ, and Moses. Ibn ‘Ajiba’s commentaries on these two sūrahs give reader access not only to the traditional Islamic view of these prophetic figures, but also on metaphors and symbols to be found in their stories that can of use to anyone following an inner path to God. The Chapter of Mary, in particular, give readers access to the story of Christ through the perspective of the woman who was chosen to bear him. The Immense Ocean from which this is an excerpt, is a prime example of writing from the North African sufic tradition.
Al-Baḥr al-Madīd, from which this translation is an excerpt, is the only traditional Quranic commentary in existence which gives both exoteric exegesis and mystical “spiritual allusion” for each verse of the Sacred Book.
Since the completion of its publication in 2002, the Arabic version of al-Baḥr al-Madīd, which existed only in manuscript form before a small excerpt was printed in the 1950s, has sold out three editions. This is a testimony both to its popularity and to a revival of interest in Sufic thought throughout the Muslim world.
This book would be of interest to anyone studying, either from a personal or academic standpoint, the mystical dimension of religion in general and Islam in particular. Because it deals with important figures from its sister monotheisms, it may also be inspiring to those who wish to engage with inter-faith dialogue but on a deeper level comparing on form to another.
· The introduction includes an over-view of the history and development of the Shadhiliyya sufic tradition in Morocco.
· The contents includes extensive footnotes aid the reader in contextualizing certain words, expressions, and ideas mentioned in the text.
It includes four separate indices:
A biographical appendix of all persons mentioned in the body of the translation
An index of Quranic verses cited giving the actual wording of the verse,
its chapter and number, and where it appears in the work
An index of ḥadīth cited similar in format to the Quranic index.
A general index.
By the time he became part of the Ṭārīqah, in around 1793, Sīdī Aḥmad had already spent more than twenty years of his life studying the formal religious sciences (al-ʿulūm) of Islam, and so during a period of spiritual travel in the area of Rabat and Sale, it was logical that his own spiritual mentor would set him the task of writing and teaching spiritual commentaries on some of the essential works of Sufism, culminating in an exegesis (tafṣir) of the Qur’ān which was to include, for nearly every verse of the holy book, not only an explanation of grammar, morphology, and literal explanations derived from the Qur’ān itself, ḥadīth, and what other tafsīrs had said concerning the verses, but also ishāra — spiritual insights that might arise from the verses and would be of particular benefit to someone traveling the path of deepening his or her knowledge of God.