Revelation of Mystery (Kashf al Mahjub)

Knowledge

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Chapter I

Knowledge

 

Allah describing the savants (Ulama) has said:

إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاء

“Those truly fear Allah, among his servants, who have knowledge:” (Q 35:28).

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

طلب العلم فريضته علي كل مسلم

“To seek knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim;”

اطلبوا العلم و لو كان بالصين

“Get knowledge, may it be from China.”

Knowledge is immense and life is short, therefore, it is not obligatory for the human beings to learn every aspect of knowledge, such as Astronomy, Medicine, and Arithmetic etc, but only so much of each as desirous upon by Shariat (religious law), i.e., enough astronomy to know the time (of prayer) at night; sufficient knowledge of medicine to abstain oneself from what is injurious; enough arithmetic to understand the division of inheritances and to calculate the duration of the iddat[1], etc. Knowledge is obligatory only to that extent which helps one to act rightly. Allah condemns those who learn useless knowledge,

وَيَتَعَلَّمُونَ مَا يَضُرُّهُمْ وَلاَ يَنفَعُهُمْ

and they learned what harmed them, not what profited them.” (Q 2:102).

Prophet (peace be upon him) used to pray daily,

اعوذْ بك من علم لاَ ينفع

I take refuge with Thee from knowledge that profits naught.

The practice must be more even with little knowledge and knowledge should be adorned with practice. Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

المتعبد بلا فقه كالحمار في الطاحونته

“the devotee without divinity is like a donkey turning a mill,”

because the donkey goes round over its own track and never makes any advance. The same falls true on ignorant pious.

A group of people regards knowledge as superior to action, while another group prefers action first.  In my opinion they both are wrong, because action cannot be called action without knowledge. It cannot become action until it has the backing of knowledge. Knowledge leads action to recompense. For instance, prayer is not really a prayer, unless performed with knowledge of the principles of purification and those which concern with the direction of Qibla (the direction of Kaba) and with knowledge of the nature of intention. Similarly, without the knowledge of the pre-requisites of prayer its performance will not be right. Thus, when all actions are based on knowledge, then how one can separate knowledge from action.

Those who prefer knowledge over action are also wrong, because knowledge without action really cannot be called knowledge. To gain knowledge, memorizing and repeating it are also acts for which a man is rewarded, but if knowledge is without action, its acquisition will not be rewarded. 

Allah has said,

نَبَذَ فَرِيقٌ مِّنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ كِتَابَ اللّهِ وَرَاء ظُهُورِهِمْ كَأَنَّهُمْ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ

“A party of the People of the Book threw away the Book of Allah behind their backs. As if (it had been something) they did not know!” (Q: 2:101).

These are the claims of the two groups. One of them gains knowledge to earn worldly honor and repute and by so is devoid of paying its due. Since they are unaware of beneficence of knowledge therefore they separate knowledge from action.

Some others say that they only require knowledge and need not to act. Such lot neither can be named as savants nor practitioners. Ibrahim b. Adham narrated that once on his way he saw a stone on which was written, “turn me over and read!” When he turned it, he found this inscription,

انت لا تعمل بما تعلم فكيف تطلب ما لا تعلم

you do not practice what you know; why, then do you seek what you do not know?”

It means that when you act upon what you know so that by its blessing you might be rewarded with the knowledge of that which you do not know.

Uns b. Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) said,

همته العلماءاند رايه و همته السفهاء الروايته

“Ulama spend their strength in meditation and ignorant waste their strength in relating the anecdotes.”

Since Ulama are far above from ignorance, therefore, he who uses his knowledge as a means of winning power and honor and wealth is not a savant, rather an ignorant because desire for wealth and power is ignorance. There is no better degree than knowledge because without knowledge one cannot apprehend the essence and attributes of Allah. It is only knowledge which leads a man to the higher stages of maqamat (stations), and he is blessed with Kashf (revelation).

Knowledge is of two kinds:

-          Divine knowledge and

-          Human knowledge.

The human knowledge is worthless in comparison with the Divine knowledge, because knowledge of Allah is an attribute of Himself, subsisting in Him, and His attributes are infinite. Our knowledge is an attribute of ourselves, subsisting in us, and our attributes are limited. As Allah has said,

وَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّن الْعِلْمِ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً

“of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you (O men!)” (Q 17:85).

In short, knowledge is among the praiseworthy manners and it has been defined as comprehension and investigation of the object known, but the best attribute of knowledge is,

العلم صفته بصيرالجِاهل بها عالما

knowledge is such an attribute which makes an ignorant wise.

Allah said,

واللّهُ مُحِيطٌ بِالْكافِرِينَ

but Allah is ever round the rejecters of faith!” (Q 2:19),

وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

and Allah doth know all things.” (Q 24:35).

Allah has absolute knowledge through which He knows all things existent and non-existent. None of His creature has any partnership in His knowledge. Allah’s knowledge is neither capable of division nor separable from Himself. The layout of the universe is a proof of His knowledge, for each good act speaks of the knowledge of the causer. Therefore, His knowledge comprehends what all is hidden and encompasses all which is manifest. It behooves on seeker to contemplate Allah in every act, knowing that He sees him and all that he does.

Once, a rich man of Basra went to his orchard and there he saw beautiful wife of his gardener. He sent the fellow away on some business and in his absence to fulfill his evil desire asked the woman to shut the door. She complied but said that she was unable to shut one door. On inquiry she replied that it was the door which was between us and Allah. On receiving that answer the man repented and begged to be forgiven.

Hatim al-Asam said that by adopting four things he had got rid of rest of the knowledge:

-          I know that my daily food is apportioned to me, and my greed can not increase it, so I saved myself from desire of its increase.

-          I know that Allah has rights on me which no one other than me can pay.

-          I know that death is pursuing me, from whom I cannot escape and I am ready for it.

-          I know that my Lord is fully aware of my state, and I feeling ashamed of Him have been saved from evils.

When man fully realizes that Allah is watchful over his every act, then he does not commit himself to any act which may become cause of his humiliation on the Day of Resurrection.

The man’s knowledge should be of Marifat (knowledge) of Allah and His Commandments and the mandatory knowledge is that which is according to the time and fulfills the demands of the time. Knowledge of “time” i.e. spiritual state is recognized that one is able to apprehend the outward and inward affects of all circumstances.  This is of two types, i.e. the root and the branch

The outward division of the root class is Faith, i.e. affirmation of Oneness of Allah and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is His Prophet. The inward division consists in the attainment of cognition of the Truth. The external division of the branch class consists in earnest practice of Shariat (religious law), and the inward division consists in rendering one’s intention sincere. The outward and inward aspects cannot be divorced. The exoteric aspect of Truth without the esoteric is hypocrisy, and the esoteric without the exoteric is heresy. So, if one is formally following the Shariat, it is a defect and while mere spirituality is also ineffective.

The knowledge of the Truth (Haqiqat) has three pillars:

·         Knowledge of the Essence and Unity of Allah and denial of likening of anything with Him.

·         Knowledge of the Attributes, and Commandments of Allah.

·         Knowledge of the Actions and Wisdom of Allah.

Similarly, the Shariat (Religious Law) also has three pillars:

·         The Quran

·         The Sunnah

·         The Consensus of the Muslim Ummah (community).

The three pillars of knowledge of Truth are evident from these verses:

فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ

 “Known therefore, that there in no god but Allah,” (Q 47:19),

فَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّ اللّهَ مَوْلاَكُمْ

“Be sure, Allah is your protector –“ (Q 8:40),

أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى رَبِّكَ كَيْفَ مَدَّ الظِّلَّ

“Hast thou not turned thy vision to thy Lord?—how He prolong the Shadow!” (Q 25:45),

أَفَلَا يَنظُرُونَ إِلَى الْإِبِلِ كَيْفَ خُلِقَتْ

“Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made?” (Q 88:17).

There are many such verses in the Quran which assert on meditating on Allah’s attributes, so that one may be able to recognize His attributes of Creation. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

من علم ان الله تعالي ربه و اني نبيه حرم الله تعالي لحمه و دمه علي النار

“One who has recognized that Allah is his Lord and I am His Prophet, Allah will forbid the fire of Hell on his meat and blood.”

Knowledge of the Divine Essence involves recognition, on the part of one who is sensible and has reached puberty,

that:

-          Allah exists externally by His essence,

-          He is infinite and not bounded by space,

-          that His essence is beyond any change,

-          that none of His creatures is like unto Him,

-          that His essence is not the cause of evil and calamity, 

-          that he has neither wife nor child, and

-          that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all that one’s imagination and intellect can conceive.

لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ البَصِيرُ

“There is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees (all things).” (Q 42:11).

Knowledge of the Divine Attributes, asserts to sincerely know that Allah has attributes existing in Himself, which are not He nor a part of Him, but exists in Him and subsist by Him, e.g. Knowledge, Power, Life, Will, Hearing, Sight, Speech, etc. It is revealed in the Quran that,

إِنَّهُ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُور

verily He has full knowledge of all that is in (men’s) hearts.” (Q 35:38),

وَاللّهُ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

and Allah has power over all things.” (Q 3:29),

and

هُوَ الْحَيُّ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ

He is the Living (One): There is no god but He:” (Q 40:65),

وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ البَصِيرُ

and He is the One that hears and sees (all things).” (Q 42:11)

and

فَعَّالٌ لِّمَا يُرِيدُ

is the (sure) Accomplisher of what He planneth.” (Q 11:107)

and

قَوْلُهُ الْحَقُّ وَلَهُ الْمُلْكُ

His word is the Truth. His will be the dominion-“ (Q 6:73).

The knowledge of the Divine Actions is that one has complete faith that Allah is the Creator of all things and their actions, as He says

وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَكُمْ وَمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

but Allah has created you and your handiwork!” (Q 37:96).

That he brought the non-existent universe into being, that He predestines good and evil and creates all that is beneficial and injurious, as He says,

اللَّهُ خَالِقُ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ

Allah is the Creator of all things, (Q 39:62).

The knowledge of the Shariat (Religious Law) involves knowing that:

-          Allah has sent us Prophets with miracles and

-          that our Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a true Messenger, who performed many miracles, and

-          that whatever he told us concerning the Unseen and the Visible is entirely true.

The first pillar of Shariat is Quran. Allah said,

مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَاب

in it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning): They are the foundation of the Books:” (Q 3:7).

The second pillar is Sunnah (tradition) of Prophet (peace be upon him). Allah said,

وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانتَهُوا

so take what the Messenger assigns to you, and deny yourself which he withholds from you.”  (Q 59:7).

The third pillar of Shariat is consensus of the Muslim Ummah (community). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

لا تجِتمع امتي علي الضلا لته عليكم بالسواد الاعظم

my Ummah will never be united on aberrance, so it is mandatory on you to join Sawad-i Azam (i.e. Ahl-i Sunnah).”

 

There is a sect of heretics called Sophists, who believes that it is difficult to attain right knowledge of anything and that knowledge itself also does not exist. We ask from them that to know “knowledge is not attainable”, is it knowledge or not? If their answer is positive, that would mean they affirm the reality of knowledge and if their reply is “no” then to argue against an avowedly incorrect claim is absurd.

Some say that since we cannot attain any knowledge therefore negation of knowledge is more perfect than its affirmation. This is ridiculous and foolishness on their part. The negation of knowledge must be the result either of knowledge or of ignorance because negation of knowledge is either possible through knowledge or through ignorance. It is impossible for knowledge to deny knowledge. Such people, who deny it through ignorance, are ignorant and blameworthy. Ignorance leads one to infidelity and falsehood, for there is no connection between ignorance and truth. All the Sufi Sheikhs oppose such people and their doctrine. Had Sheikhs not objected it, people inclined to this doctrine might have ruined their faith and would have been difficult for them to differentiate between truth and evil. We commit them to Allah, with Whom it rests whether they shall continue in their error.  When Sheikhs got hold of them, they behave discreetly and subdue their evil acts towards Friends of Allah. Although some heretics claims to be mystics in order to conceal their own foulness under the beauty of others, why should it be supposed that all Sufis are like these pretenders, and that it is right to treat them all with disdain and contumely?

Once I happened to discuss with an individual who claimed to be well learned. Actually he was devoid of religious knowledge and slave of selfish motives whom he gave the name of following Shariat.  During a course of debate he said to me that there were twelve heretical sects and one of them was of Sufism. I replied him that if one sect belonged to us, eleven belongs to him and the Sufis could protect themselves from one better than you could from eleven. All this heresy springs from the corruption and degeneracy of the present time, but Allah always keeps His friends (Saints) safe from it.  Well said by the eminent spiritual guide, Ali b. Bundar al-Sayrafi,

فساد القلوب علي حسب فساد الزما ن واهله

the depravity of men’s hearts is in proportion to the depravity of the age.”

Now I will cite some sayings of the Sufis for the benefits of those with whom Allah is kind, so that they may remain safe from the misdeeds of skeptics.

Muhammad b. Fadl al-Balkhi says that knowledge is of three kinds:

-          knowledge from Allah,

-          knowledge with Allah,

-          knowledge of Allah.

Knowledge of Allah is the Marifat of the Truth (cognition), through which all the Prophets and saints got familiar with Divine. It is impossible to acquire it through one’s own efforts. It is bestowed upon by Divine through His blessing and guidance. 

Knowledge from Allah is the Shariat (Religious Law), which He has commanded and made obligatory upon human being.

Knowledge with Allah is that discipline which leads one to the Divine and helps determining maqamat (stations), the Paths and the Degrees of the saints. Gnosis is unsound without Shariat, and the Shariat is not practiced rightly unless the maqamat (stations) are manifested.

Abu Ali Thaqfi says:

العلم حيواة القلب من الجِهل و نورالعين من الظلمته

“Knowledge is the life of the heart, which delivers it from the death of ignorance: it is the Nur (light) of the eye of faith, which saves from the darkness of infidelity.”

It means that knowledge saves from death of ignorance and provides light of faith by saving one from infidelity. One who is not blessed with marifat, his heart is dead because of ignorance and one, who is ignorant of the knowledge of Shariat, he is affected by the disease of ignorance. That’s why the hearts of the infidels are dead because they don’t have marifat (knowledge of Allah) and the hearts of the heedless are sick, because they are ignorant of His Commandments.

Abu Bakr Warraq says:

من اكتفي با لكلام من العلم دون الزهد تذندق و من اكتفي بالفقته دون الورع فقد تفسق

“One who is satisfied with disputation about knowledge of Allah and does not practice asceticism becomes heretic; and one who is satisfied with jurisprudence and do not practice abstinence become impious.”

This means that Tawhid (Unification), without following Shariat, is predestination, whereas the assertor of Unification ought to hold the doctrine of predestination but to act as though he believed in free will, taking a middle course between free will and predestination. Such is the true sense of another saying uttered by the same Sheikh:

التوحيد دون الجِبرو فوق القدر

Tawhid (Unification) is below predestination and above free will.” So one who is satisfied with disputation of Tawhid and does not practice Shariat and asceticism, become heretic. Similarly one who restricts himself to jurisprudence and Shariat (Religious Law) and does not practice abstinence gets into doubts and involves himself in sinful acts. This arises from heedlessness.

Yahya b. Maud al-Razi said:

اجِتنب صحبته ثلاثته اصناف من الناس العلماء الغافلين والفقراء المداهنين والمتصوفته الجِاهلين

“Avoid the society of three classes of men - heedless savants, greedy beggars, and ignorant pretenders to Sufism.”

The heedless savants are those who have set their hearts on worldly gains. They remain in search of ease in following the religious obligations but are active in paying court to governors and tyrants. Achieving an honor in the public eyes is their biggest rank and they feel proud in their deceitful and artificial conducts. They are dishonest in their talk, criticize the leading Ulama and religiously learned celebrities and talk very low of them. Greed and sadistic attitude have become their nature. This all is not part of knowledge, rather it is ignorance. Knowledge repels ignorance and does not nourish it.

The greedy beggars praise those who act according to their wishes, may the act be wrong. When someone opposes or talks against their wishes, may he be truthful in his acts, they become his enemy. They seek honor with the people of their deeds and act hypocritically even for the wrongs.

The ignorant pretenders to Sufism are they who never got associated with Sufi Sheikhs (spiritual guide), neither learnt discipline from them, nor got the rigging of the Path. So without any experience, clad in green dress they animate Sufis and feel pleasure while people dishonor them and because of their foolishness they consider everyone like themselves. They cannot even distinguish between truth and falsehood.

These are the groups about whom the Sheikh has mentioned and stressed on the seekers to avoid their company, as they are liar in their claims and their acts are faulty. 

Abu Yazid Bastami says:

“For thirty years I strived in the spiritual combat, and I found nothing harder to me than knowledge and its pursuits.”

It is easier for human nature to walk on fire than to act on knowledge. An ignorant will more readily cross the Bridge (Sirat) a thousand times than learn a single piece of knowledge. It is easier for a wicked man to pitch his tent in Hell than for a learned to learn one lesson of knowledge. Therefore, you must acquire knowledge and seek perfection therein. The perfection of human knowledge is ignorance of Divine knowledge. You must know enough to know that you do not know. That is to say, human knowledge is alone possible to man, and humanity is the greatest barrier that separates him from Divinity.

Some poet says:

العجز عن درك الا دراك ادراك     والوقف في طريق الاخياراشراك

“True perception is hopelessness of attaining perception, But not to advance on the paths of the virtuous is polytheism.”

He who stops in the way commits infidelity and who does not learn and perseveres in his ignorance is a polytheist, but who learns and excels and his knowledge becomes perfect, the reality is revealed to him and he perceives that his knowledge is no more than inability to know what his end shall be, since realities are not affected by the names bestowed upon them. The helplessness of such person about the reality of knowledge is actually knowledge for him.

 

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[1] Probationary period (incumbent upon a woman in consequence of dissolution of marriage either by divorce or by the death of her husband.

 

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