Shams al-Ma'arif -The All Knowing - Al-Alim

Translation & Commentary from the Sun of Wisdom, Chapter 16, section 25

shams al ma arif

The Shams al-Ma'arif

Despite the current popularity of Picatrix the Shams Al-Ma'arif or the Sun of Wisdom is a much more widely known and used book of magic in the Arabic speaking world. Traditionally attributed to the 13th century Sufi and master of the esoteric science of Arabic letters Ahmad bin Ali Al-buni. While current scholarship has cast doubt on Al-Buni's authorship of the received version of the Shams Al-Ma'arif its influence on Arabic magic is vast.

The Shams al-Ma'arif combines magic squares, Arabic letter magic, Quranic verses and the names of Allah with astrological timing. Since there are 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet and 28 Arabic Mansions of the Moon, the letter correspondences of the Mansions are particularly influential. Like Picatrix the Shams al-Ma'arif is much more than simply a recipe book of talismans, which are typically secondary to its main purpose of elucidating esoteric knowledge and occult sciences as well as exemplifying Sufi wisdom.

The translation below is from Chapter 16 of the Shams al-Ma'arif each section of which focuses on a different name of the 99 beautiful names of Allah. Each of these names shows a particular relationship of the One to the Many. One of the most interesting insights of the Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi is that these often the divine relationships are such that the One requires the Many. Ar-Rabb, the Lord, cannot exist without a servant. Section 25, which is translated is Al-Alim, the All Knowing.

Based on this section of the Shams Al-Ma'arif we have created a limited number of Al-Alim Talismans.

Chapter 16: The Twenty Fifth Section on his Name:
"The All Knowing" (Al'Alīm)

Whoever undertakes the zikr of this Name of sublime essence, God, exalted be He, brings him to knowledge of the subtlest aspects of the sciences and their most hidden secrets. To the one who engraves it...when Mercury is highly dignified, God makes him express himself with wisdom and teaches him the sapiential subtleties of mystical knowledge.

Whoever arranges it in a magic square...when Jupiter is highly dignified, obtains an understanding of what the mystic sciences contain. His zikr is useful for one who is called Īsà, and also for one who is called Sultān. Its magic square is as follows, and it has also been harmonized in a magic square of 3 x 3. In this Name resides an extraordinary secret for the wise among the Sufis, such that the created are humiliated before him who understands their secret and the all of the infinite worlds are at his disposal.

His control in the universe is strengthened and God, exalted be it, frees him from all misfortunes and avoids everything that displeases him. And whoever uses his zikr, learns what he did not know and wisdom becomes manifest in his words.

The Name has the number 150, and adding its divisors totals 222 [standard addition of the divisors of 150 would total 322], and this number alludes to His Name Mālik al-mulk "Lord of Sovereignty". Hence, the wise are the kings in reality, indeed, they are the lords of the sovereignty of kings. And this is the number that makes manifest the secret of the letter yā 'in the three orders, since it is a bond, it is a coercive word and it entails a formal representation and an approach, while none of these three degrees takes place without Knowledge, which is only attributable to Him, meditate on that.

And since the manifestation of Science belongs to the sanctified spirits, the spirit of the angel Jibrāīl is destined to instruct the prophets, being one of the noblest our prophet Muhammad, God bless and save him! who was inspired by humility, for Allah said: "He has taught an angel of great power and strength, since he appeared in his true form." Noble Quran, Sura 56, verses 5-6.

And since the holy spirit that corresponded to Īsà [Jesus], peace be upon him!, was a vestige of the revealing breath of Jibrāīl to Ādam, for Īsà was the wisest of the prophets to know the details of the sciences and the subtleties of Wisdom. And among the noblest of his knowledge was the science of the letters, and hence its name comes to him, because in it resides his imma [divine gift] by indicating by the letter 'ayn, science, by the letter yā', the grace of the descended revelation, by the letter sín, the points of union of what is divided and by the letter alif, absolute knowledge. And the name Īsà has the number 141, which is precisely the value of the name ālim (scholar), but since He has knowledge of the hidden things, and that is 'alīm then his name is written with the letter and thus its number equals 150, which is the value of alīm. Meditate on that, for Allah speaks the Truth and He leads the way.

The names of the letters of His Name 'Alīm add up to 302, alluding to His Name Basīr "the Seer". And since science 'ilm is an inherent sign of the external appearance of the object of knowledge, and that the acquisition of a concept involves the totality of its visible aspect, that is, it is the acquisition of the external image of the object in the mind, the meaning of 'Alīm as the Knower of All is necessarily the one before whom the essence of each thing manifests itself in the totality its hidden essence as well as its external form. That is one of the secrets of 'Alīm for intensification is not possible through the letter wāw, due to its importance and its height that reaches the end of the limits and reaches the totality of existence. So intensification is possible by one of these two options: either with the reduplication of a consonant, as in saying allām, which refers to the one who has acquired a large amount of knowledge or with the letter which refers to the revelation of the most subtle details of a notion and the perception of its hidden aspects. For this reason only Al-Alīm knows the details of a concept in the same way that He knows its most general aspects, and knows its hidden aspects in the same way that its aspects are visible. That is why Allah said, exalted be he! "Above all, possessor of science there is a knower." Noble Quran, Yusuf, Surah, 12, verse 76, so the possessor of science ū-l-'ilm is the one who knows the general aspects of things and the knower alīm is the one who knows its particular aspects. The possessor of science is the one who knows the external aspects of things and the knower is the one who knows their internal aspects; the possessor of science is the one who knows the evident aspects of things and the knower is the one who also knows their hidden aspects. The meaning of this has been indecipherable for many sensible people, because the most unknown of His Science are the most particular aspects, and this is evident in His words, "over every possessor of knowledge is one more knowledgeable". Noble Quran, Surah 12, verse 76.

And you should know that the superiority of some of the wise over others is not the result of acquiring a greater amount of knowledge, since if so, He would have said "above all possessing knowledge there is a wise man ('allām) who knows more." Rather it has to do with the acquisition of the particular notions of the intelligibles and the hidden parts of their secrets. Now, the multitude of knowledge together with the detailed inner knowledge results in sapiential superiority, but without this last type of knowledge superiority does not take place. This is the meaning from the words of God when he said to His prophet Mūsà (Moses) peace be upon him!: "We have a servant at the intersection of two great rivers, whom they call Khizr, who is wiser than you." Khizr was not wiser than Mūsà because he had more knowledge as Allah said about Mūsà "And we wrote for him in the Tables an exhortation for everything and an explanation for everything" Noble Quran Al-A'raf Surah 7, verse 145, so the greater wisdom of Khizr refers to his understanding the hidden aspects of things in the same way that he knew their visible aspects. This is why his place was at the point of confluence of two great rivers, which were the river of the visible and the river of the occult, so Mūsà knew that Khizr was in possession of a gnosis that he did not have.

You who study these words, focus your effort on expanding your knowledge 3, for this is what God, praised and exalted be!, Ordered His prophet to ask with His saying: "My Lord, increase me in knowledge." Noble Quran, Taha Sura 20, verse 114. Meditate on these spiritual words and dispose of these divine subtleties, of these gifts of faith and of these sources of light, for you will find immense happiness in those knowledge that contains the allusions, and Allah is the wisest!


First, since I am not even fluent in Arabic, let alone a master of عِلْم الْحُرُوف Ilm al-Hurūf, the esoteric science of Arabic letters, there is much in the Shams Al-Ma'arif that is a mystery to me. Nevertheless, the light of wisdom shines very clearly through it. A basic component of the science of letters is the fact that in Arabic, the letters denote numbers and thus can be used numerologically. Many complex number calculations and letter correspondences are used. The key insight that is invisible to modern materialists is that this is not a symbolic system, rather there are fundamental underlying spiritual realities that the letters embody and are intiminately connected to. For Sufis versed in this art the realization dawns that the One has manifested reality and continues to sustain and control it through the divine letters and words. Thus the written symbols and spoken sounds that we take as words and letters are only a shadow of these divine letters and words. As it says in the Noble Quran, "When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is." Noble Quran, Surah 3 Ali-Imran, verse 47. The saying here is the divine manifestation of the appropriate name, i.e. its letters and words. These names, these interrelationships can therefore be used magically, but their true knowledge brings gnosis, direct awareness of reality and the One.

This exegesis of the divine name Al-Alim, the All Knowing, is of great interest. The author notes the standard understanding, which remains true today, the more knowledge one obtains, the wiser one is, and at knowledge consists of concepts and the outward appearance of things. The author contrasts this knowledge of the scholars with true knowledge, the all encompassing knowledge of the inner realities of things. This wisdom is exemplified by the figure of Khizr whose wisdom surpassed even Moses, not because Khizr had more knowledge than Moses, but because he understood the hidden secrets and inner nature of all things. Khizr was superior to Moses in gnosis, not knowledge.

How then is this inner wisdom of all things, this gnosis to be obtained? This wisdom is apparent in the multiplicity, but not so long as they are seen as multiple. Only by returning to the One can all things be seen as they truly are.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the root.
Returning to the root is serenity.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16.