Encountering the Divine: Five Mystical Love Poems by Ibn ʿArabi

Course details

From £115.00
5 CATS points

23 Jan 2019 - 20 Feb 2019
Day of week

Encountering the Divine: Five Mystical Love Poems by Ibn ʿArabi


Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240), 'the greatest master' of  Islamic spirituality, wrote several thousand poems, none more famous than the collection of odes which he called the Tarjuman al-ashwaq, 'Interpreter of Ardent Desires'.

Intended for a general audience, this remarkable collection of 61 poems was inspired by his meeting with a beautiful woman in Mecca, and gives voice to the deepest yearning of the human being for divine realities. They are based on the ancient Arab love poetry tradition (qasida), and are full of images of the absent beloved, 'the places haunted by lovers', abandoned campsites, fleeting gazelles, henna-tipped fingers. The prime focus of this love poetry is the encounter with reality in the form of human images.

In this course we will be exploring five of these poems in two different translations, one by Reynold Nicholson (University of Cambridge) published in 1911, and the other by Michael Sells (University of Chicago) published in 2017. We will also look at the author's commentary on the poems, and discuss the relative merits of prose and poetry in articulating love's mysteries. 

Programme details

Term Starts:   23rd January      


Week 1:          Introduction to the Tarjuman and Poem 1: Whenever I mention ruins

Week 2:          Poem 2: On the day of parting

Week 3:          Poem 3: O my two friends

Week 4:          Poem 4: As I kissed the Black Stone

Week 5:          Poem 5: There is a war of love


Background Reading List

Stephen Hirtenstein., The Unlimited Mercifier

Michael Sells., Stations of Desire

Ibn 'Arabi., Tarjuman al-ashwaq, ed.and trans. R. A. Nicholson

Michael Sells., Desert Tracings

Denis McAuley., Ibn 'Arabi's Mystical Poetics


If you are planning to purchase books, remember that courses with too few students enrolled will be cancelled. The Department accepts no responsibility for books bought in anticipation of a course.

If you have enrolled on a course starting in the autumn, you can become a borrowing member of the Rewley House library from 1st September and we will try to ensure that as many titles as possible are available in the Library by the start of each term. If you are enrolled on a course starting in other terms, you can become a borrowing member once the previous term has ended.


Recommended reading

All weekly class students may become borrowing members of the Rewley House Continuing Education Library for the duration of their course. Prospective students whose courses have not yet started are welcome to use the Library for reference. More information can be found on the Library website.

There is a Guide for Weekly Class students which will give you further information. 

Availability of titles on the reading list (below) can be checked on SOLO, the library catalogue.

Recommended Reading List


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from between January 1st and July 31st after the current academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Course fee: £115.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Mr Stephen Hirtenstein

Stephen Hirtenstein is a Senior Research Fellow of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, editor of its Journal, and director of Anqa Publishing. He has been studying the works of Ibn 'Arabi for over 40 years, and has taught courses and seminars worldwide.

Course aims

To introduce participants to a different form of love poetry, where the prime focus is on the encounter with reality in the forms of human love

Course Objectives

1) to examine the theme of human/divine love from various perspectives

2) to explore through group discussion some key aspects of the encounter with reality

3) to assess the contribution of Ibn 'Arabi's insights to modern understandings of love 

Teaching methods

Tutor-led or student-led introductions to the topics, based on prior reading, and reading of selected source-texts and commentary. Group discussion of key questions raised by the material. The emphasis will be on stimulating discussion, either as a whole class or in smaller groups.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to:

a) have a grasp of the basic elements of Ibn 'Arabi's thought

b) have some understanding of Arabic love poetry

c) be able to interpret and evaluate a mystical poem

Assessment methods

Students will be able to choose whether to be assessed by Option A, a long written piece (1,000 words), or Option B, a collection of shorter pieces (oral or written) based on the weekly themes, including 5-minute writing tasks and course journal and short presentations.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

It would be helpful to understand something of Sufism in general and also Ibn 'Arabi's thought, as a background to approach the meaning in the poetry.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)