The Uncovering of the First Veil
Gnosis (Marifat معرفت)
وَمَا قَدَرُواْ اللّهَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِ
“No just estimate of Allah do they make,” (Q 6:91).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
لوعرفتم الله حق معرفته لمشيتم علي البحور و زالت بدعا كم الجبال
“If you knew Allah as He ought to be known, you would walk on the seas, and the mountains would move at your supplication.”
Marifat معرفت (Gnosis) of Allah has two facets, i.e. cognitional (Ilmi علمي) and emotional (Hali حالي).
Cognitional gnosis is the foundation of all blessings in this world and in the next, for the most important thing for a man at all times and under all circumstances is knowledge of Allah, as He has said:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
“I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me.” (Q 51:56).
Here يَعْبُدُونِ means يَعْرِفُون i.e. “I have only created Jinns and men, that they may have marifat (knowledge) of Me.” But the greater part of men neglects this duty, except those whom Allah has chosen and delivered them from the worldly evils and whose hearts He has vivified with His love. Allah said:
وَجَعَلْنَا لَهُ نُورًا يَمْشِي بِهِ فِي النَّاسِ
“And a light whereby he can walk amongst men,” (Q 6:122).
Umar the Caliph (may Allah be pleased with him) is such example. And Allah also said:
كَمَن مَّثَلُهُ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ
“Be like him who is in the depth of darkness,“ (Q 6:122).
Abu Jahl (a Quraish infidel) is such example.
Gnosis is the life of the heart through Allah, and the turning away from all others (than Allah). The worth of everyone is in proportion to his gnosis, and he who is without gnosis is worthless.
Theologians and Ulama, means by marifat (gnosis) to have right cognition of Allah, whereas for Sufi Sheikhs, marifat is to keep one’s state (hal حال) right towards Allah. Hence, they say that gnosis is more excellent than cognition, for right state is possible without right cognition but right cognition is not the guarantee of right state, i.e. knowledgeable person until and unless have right cognition of Allah cannot be Gnostic but one may have cognition of Allah without being a Gnostic. Those who were ignorant of this distinction engaged in useless controversy, and disbelieved each other. Now I will explain the matter in order that all may be benefited.
There is a great difference of opinion as regards to the marifat (gnosis) and right cognition of Allah. The Mutazilites assert that gnosis involves intellect and except an intelligent person no one can have it. But they are wrong in their contention, as within Islam all the insane are believed to have gnosis and similarly those children who are still not wise enough are deemed to have faith. Were the criterions of gnosis intellect, all the unintelligent must be without gnosis? While unbelievers have intellect but they are charged with infidelity. If intellect were the cause of gnosis, it would follow that every sensible person must be a Gnostic, and all who lack sense must be ignorant of marifat (gnosis), which is manifestly absurd.
Another group has the view that reasoning is the cause of marifat (knowledge) of Allah, and that such knowledge is not gained except by those who assume it in this manner. This doctrine is also false as demonstrated by Iblis, for he saw many evidences, such as Paradise, Hell, the Empyrean and the Throne of Allah, and many more, yet they did not cause him to have gnosis. Allah has said:
وَلَوْ أَنَّنَا نَزَّلْنَا إِلَيْهِمُ الْمَلآئِكَةَ وَكَلَّمَهُمُ الْمَوْتَى وَحَشَرْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ قُبُلاً مَّا كَانُواْ لِيُؤْمِنُواْ إِلاَّ أَن يَشَاء اللّهُ
“Even if We did send unto them angels, and the dead did speak unto them, and We gathered together all things before their very eyes, they are not the ones to believe, unless it is in Allah’s plan,” (Q 6:111).
Were the reasoning, proofs and evidences the cause of gnosis, Allah would have declared it gnosis of cause and not His own will as cause of gnosis. According to the view of Sunnis (orthodox Muslims), soundness of intellect and manifest evidences can be the means of gnosis, but not the cause thereof. The sole cause of marifat of Allah is His Will and Favor and nothing else, for without His Favor intellect is blind and does not even know itself. None of the intellectuals have ever been able to cognize His reality and when intellect is ignorant to itself, how then can it know another. Similarly, meditation on proofs and evidences and finding reasons thereof without His grace and favor leads to error, for covetous and heretics, all go for reasoning and majority of them do not attain gnosis. But one who becomes the staging place of His Favor and Grace, his all acts are gnosis, his reasoning is quest and his neglect of it is resignation to Allah’s will. But in perfect gnosis, resignation is not better than quest, for quest is such a foundation that cannot be neglected, while resignation is such a root that excludes the possibility of agitation, and these two principles do not essentially involve gnosis. In reality man’s only guide and enlightener is Allah. Reason and the proofs adduced by reason are unable to direct anyone into the right way. Can any reasoning be more demonstrative than this revelation,
وَلَوْ رُدُّواْ لَعَادُواْ لِمَا نُهُواْ عَنْهُ
but if they were returned, they would certainly relapse to the things they were forbidden, (Q 6:28).
When the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), was asked concerning gnosis, he said:
عرفت الله بالله وعرفت مادون الله بنور الله
“I realized Allah by Allah, and that which is not Allah by the Nur (light) of Allah.”
Allah created the body and committed its life to the spirit, and he created the dil (soul) and committed its life to Himself. When intellect and reasons have no power to keep the body alive, how can they give life to dil (soul)? So Allah hath said,
أَوَ مَن كَانَ مَيْتًا فَأَحْيَيْنَاهُ
Man he who was dead, to whom We gave life,” (Q 6:122) i.e. the life is completely in the hands of Allah: and then He said,
وَجَعَلْنَا لَهُ نُورًا يَمْشِي بِهِ فِي النَّاسِ
and a light whereby he can walk amongst men,” (Q 6:122)
i.e. I am the Creator of the light in which believers seek their path.
And He also said,
أَفَمَن شَرَحَ اللَّهُ صَدْرَهُ لِلْإِسْلَامِ فَهُوَ عَلَى نُورٍ مِّن رَّبِّهِ
as one whose heart Allah has opened to Islam, so that he has received enlightenment from Allah.” (Q 39:22).
As Allah kept opening of hearts with Him, so did He keep its closing also with Him. He said,
خَتَمَ اللّهُ عَلَى قُلُوبِهمْ وَعَلَى سَمْعِهِمْ
Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, (Q 2:7),
and also said,
وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَن ذِكْرِنَا
and whose hearts We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us,” (Q 18:28).
When contraction and expansion and leaps and bounds of heart are in His hands then, it is absurd to consider something other than Him for guidance. Everything except Him is a cause or a mean, and causes and means cannot possibly indicate the right way without the favor of the Causer. Veil is not a guide, rather a robber.
وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ حَبَّبَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْإِيمَانَ وَزَيَّنَهُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ
“But Allah has endeared the Faith to you, and has made it beautiful in your hearts,” (Q 49:7).
See, Allah has referred the beauty and love of Faith to Himself. The gift of piety, which is essentially gnosis, is imposed by Him. The pious has no choice to follow or abandon the path of piety; therefore, unless Allah makes Him known, it is not possible for the creature to gain His gnosis through its own efforts. Abu al-Hasan Nuri says:
لا دليل علي الله سواه انما العلم يطلب لاداء الخدمة
“There is none to point out the way to Allah except Allah Himself; the knowledge is sought only for performance of His devotion.”
No created being is capable of leading anyone to Allah. Those who rely on reasoning are not more sensible than Abu Talib, and there was no greater demonstration than the self of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Since Abu Talib was preordained to infidelity, even through the guidance of Muhammad (peace be upon him) he could not avail any benefit. The first step of reasoning is turning away from Allah, because reasoning involves the consideration of others (than Allah), whereas the basis of gnosis is turning away from all (save Allah). Habitually, the existence of each object is established through reasoning, but attainment of marifat (knowledge of Allah) is an extra ordinary act. Marifat of Allah can only be attained by unceasing bewilderment of intellect, and His favor. It cannot be acquired by any human act, and man has no argument except His Grace and Kindness. It involves the opening of heart and Heavenly Bounties, for anything other than this is phenomena. Although it is possible that a phenomenal being may reach to another like itself but it cannot reach the Creator and acquire Him while it exists, for in every act of acquisition one who makes the acquisition is predominant and the thing acquired is under his power. Thus, it is not honor that intellect should be led by the act to affirm the existence of the Agent, but the true honor is that one should be led by the light of the Truth to deny his own existence. In the former case the marifat involves logic, and in the later case it becomes an inward experience.
Those who think that intellect is the cause of gnosis should first of all consider that which affirms gnosis in the heart. Whatever the intellect affirms, marifat negates it, i.e. whatever shape of Allah is formed by intellect, but He is in reality something different. And even intellect perceives something different, which also won’t match the reality. How, then, is there any room for intellect to arrive at gnosis by means of demonstration? Intellect and imagination are homogeneous, and where genus is affirmed gnosis is denied. To conclude the existence of Allah from intellectual proofs is simile and to deny it on the same grounds is nullification. Intellect cannot pass beyond these two principles, which in regard to gnosis are of no use. Believer of such doctrine are not Unitarians.
The intellect tried the best to its capacity, but could not find anything else except itself, therefore, the lovers of the Truth were left with no alternative but to desire and search for Him. They without any mean fell on the shrine of helplessness and after abandoning their comfort got restless and stretched their hands in supplications and sought relief for their souls. And when they got exhausted in their search, the Grace of the Truth aided them i.e. they found the way from Him to Him and got relief from the anguish of absence. They set foot in the garden of intimacy and were awarded rest in delight and happiness.
But when intellect sees that the soul has attained its desire, tries to exert its control, but does not find the way and ultimately settles down in vain and become distressed and resigns. Then Allah after clothing it in the garment of service commands that while you were independent you were veiled by your faculties and their exercise and when these were annihilated but you remained and when you were isolated, you attained the blessing of approach. Hence, the dil (soul) is graced with the proximity of Allah and the intellect is made responsible to serve. And marifat (knowledge of Allah) is itself marifat.
The gist of the matter is that Allah causes man to know Him through Himself with a knowledge that is not linked to any faculty. This is such a knowledge in which the existence of man is merely metaphorical; hence his egoism by all means is utter treachery, his dikr (remembrance of Allah) is without forgetfulness, his acts become faultless and his gnosis is not empty words but actual feeling.
Another group declares that gnosis is the result of inspiration. This is also impossible, because a proof is a criterion to establish the truth or falsehood of marifat (gnosis), whereas the inspired have no such criterion. For example, one claims that according to his inspiration Allah occupies space and other claims that Allah does not occupy space, hence one of these contradictory statements should be true, but a proof is necessary in order to decide where the truth lies. Therefore, still both the claimants are dependent on proof and their inspiration is of no use. This view is held by the Brahmans.
In our age, one of the groups has carried this view to an extreme. They pretend to be pious but factually are deviated from the path of Truth. Their assertion is disgusting to all reasonable Muslims and unbelievers, for if ten claimant of inspiration say ten different things on the same matter they all would be called false and none of them would be right. If it be said that whatever conflicts with the Shariat (religious law) is not inspiration, I say that this argument is fundamentally unsound, because, if inspiration is to be judged and verified by the standard of the Shariat, then gnosis does not depend on inspiration, but on law and prophecy and Divine guidance. Hence, inspiration by any standards is wrong in gnosis.
Yet another group claims that knowledge marifat of Allah is intuitive and natural. This also is impossible. Was marifat attainable unpremeditatedly all the sensible men would have the knowledge of the Truth but we see that some reasonable men deny the existence of the Truth and hold the doctrines of simile and nullification. Hence, it is proved that knowledge of Allah is not intuitive and natural. Moreover, if it were so, the man would not have entrusted with this duty to attain it, for it is unreasonable to pain someone for self evident thing, such as one's self, the heaven and the earth, day and night, pleasure and pain, etc., concerning the existence of which no reasonable man can have any doubt, and which he must know even against his will.
But some aspirants to Sufism, considering the absolute certainty have declared it to be must and intuitive because they say: “We know Allah intuitively,” giving the name of intuition to this certainty. Substantially they are right, but their expression is erroneous, because intuitive knowledge cannot be exclusively restricted to one class, on the contrary, it belongs to all reasonable men. Furthermore, intuitive knowledge is that appears in the minds of living creatures without any means or evidence, whereas the knowledge of Allah and His Marifat involves means. But Master Abu Ali Daqqaq and Sheikh Abu Sahl Saluki and his father, who was a leading religious authority at Nishapur, maintain that the beginning of the gnosis is demonstrative and that its end is intuitive just as technical knowledge is first acquired and finally becomes instinctive.
The orthodox Sunnis have the same opinion and they say that in Paradise the knowledge of Allah will be intuitive and if it is lawful there, why can’t it be here in this world. Likewise, the Prophets when in this world heard the words of Allah directly, through an angel, or by revelation, knew Him intuitively. We also say the same that the inhabitants of Paradise would know Allah intuitively in Paradise, because Paradise is not a place of affliction. All the Prophets are secure from their end as those who intuitively attain His marifat would have no fear of being separated from Allah. The excellence of gnosis and faith is that they are hidden, and if they are made manifest, it would a situation of compulsion without any free will and would shake the foundations of the religious law and the principle of apostasy is annulled, so that the impiety of Balam, Barsia, and Iblis would become meaningless, for it is generally believed that they had marifat (knowledge of Allah). In the case of Iblis Quran reveals,
فَبِعِزَّتِكَ لَأُغْوِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ
(Iblis) said: `Then by Thy power I will put them all in the wrong – ‘ (Q 38:82).
To initiate talk with “فَبِعِزَّتِكَ by Thy power” and then to get the reply is a sign of gnosis and the Gnostic while he remains a Gnostic, has no fear of being separated from Allah, and separation only takes place when he loses gnosis but intuitive knowledge is never vanishes.
This doctrine is full of danger to the people, therefore, only as much knowledge is sufficient which be able to save one from danger and evil. One should only be aware of this much that the man’s knowledge and his gnosis depend entirely on the information and eternal guidance of the Truth. It is possible that man’s certainty in gnosis may increase or decrease now and then, but any increase or decrease is impossible in the reality of marifat, since in either case it would be weakened. You must not let blind conformity enter into your knowledge of Allah, and know Him through His attributes of perfection which can only be attained through the providence and favors of Allah. The proofs and intellect are absolutely under His control If He wills He makes one of His actions a guide for some one to shows the way to Himself, and if He wills otherwise, He makes that same action an obstacle that prevents one from reaching Him. Thus Jesus (may blessings of Allah be on him) was to some a guide that led them to gnosis, but to others he was an obstacle that hindered them from gnosis. One group called him the servant of Allah and the other group took him as son of God. Similarly, some were led to Allah by idols, sun and moon, while others were led astray by taking them as their godhead. Were demonstration cause of marifat, every demonstrator would be Gnostic, which is totally wrong. Allah elects some people and makes everything proof of their marifat, so that they gain gnosis of the Court of the Truth and know Him. These are the means of marifat for them but not the immediate causes of it, and one means is no better than another in relation to Him who is the Author of them all. The Gnostic’s affirmation of a means is a sign of dualism, and regard to anything except the object of knowledge is polytheism.
مَن يُضْلِلِ اللّهُ فَلاَ هَادِيَ لَهُ
“To such as Allah rejects from His guidance, their can be no guide:” (Q 7:186).
When a man is doomed to perdition in the Preserved Tablet, nay, in the will and knowledge of Allah, how can any proof and demonstration lead him aright?
من التفت الي الاغيارفمعرفته زنار
One who cares for other, his marifat is duality.”
Who is overwhelmed and annihilated in the love of Allah how anything other than Him can conquer him. When Abraham came out of the cave at day time, he did not observe anything although the proofs and wonders of nature are in abundance and more clear at day time. But when he came out at night he saw a star (رَأَى كَوْكَبًا). Had reason been the cause of his marifat, the proofs and wonders are more evident during day time. So, Allah, as He pleases and by whatever means He pleases shows His servant the way to Himself and opens to him the door of gnosis, so that he attains to a degree where the very essence of gnosis appears alien and its attributes become harmful to him, and he is veiled by his gnosis from the object known and realizes that his gnosis is merely a pretension.
Dhu al-Nun says:
اياك ان تكون بالمعرفة مدعيًا
“Beware lest thou make claim to gnosis,” embrace its reality, so you might be delivered.”
So, anyone who is blessed with revelation of His excellence, his self becomes burden and his attributes a source of corruption. He who belongs to Allah and to whom Allah belongs is not connected with anything in the universe. The gist of marifat (gnosis) is to recognize that all belongs to Allah. When one knows that all possessions are in the absolute control of Allah, then he has no fear of being veiled from self or mankind. Ignorance is the cause of veil and as soon as it is annihilated, the veil vanishes and because of the marifat both the worlds become equal to him.
Now I will mention some of the numerous sayings of the Sheikhs.
Abdullah b. Mubarak says:
المعرفة ان لا تتعجب من شيء
“Gnosis consists in not being astonished by anything,”
because astonishment arises from an act exceeding the power of the doer, and Allah is Omnipotent and it is impossible that a gnosis should be astonished by His acts. If there be any room for astonishment, one must needs marvel that Allah exalts a handful of earth to such a degree that it perceives His commands, and drop of blood to such an eminence that it discourses of love and knowledge of Him, and seeks vision of Him, and desires union with Him.
Dhu al-Nun says:
حقيقة المعرفة اطلاع الخلق علي الاسرار بمواصلة لطاءف الانوار
“Gnosis in reality is to get knowledge of the secrecies of the created through the elegant splendors,”
i.e. until Allah, in His providence, illuminates the heart of man and keeps him safe from contamination, so that all created things have not even the worth of a mustard seed in his heart, the contemplation of Divine mysteries, both inward and outward, does not overwhelm him with rapture and when one is blessed with such state, his every look becomes an act of contemplation.
المعرفة دوام الحيرة
“Gnosis is continual amazement.”
Amazement is of two kinds, i.e. amazement at the essence and amazement at the state. The former is polytheism and infidelity, but the latter is gnosis, for no gnosis can have any doubt concerning the existence of Allah and intellect has no access to His state, resultantly one is amazed on the existence and state of the Creator. Hence someone has said:
يا دليل المتحيرين زدني تحيرًا
“O Guide of the amazed, increase my amazement!”
In the first place, he affirmed the existence of Allah and the perfection of His attributes, and recognized that He is the object of creature’s search and He is the accomplisher of their prayers and the Author of their amazement. Then he requested for increase of amazement and recognized that in seeking Allah the intellect have no alternative but amazement and confusion. This is very fine sentiment.
It is also possible that knowledge of Allah’s Self may involves one in amazement of his own being, because when a man knows Allah he sees himself entirely subdued by the Divine Omnipotence, his amazement is increased and say that since his existence is dependent on Him, then who and what am I?
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
من عرف نفسه فقد عرف ربه
“he who knows himself has come to know his Lord,”
i.e. he who knows the annihilation of self knows Allah to be Eternally Subsistent. Annihilation destroys intellect and all human attributes, and when intellect fails to apprehend substance then nothing is left except amazement.
Abu Yazid said:
المعرفة ان تعرف ان حركات الخلق و سكناتهم بالله
“Gnosis consists in knowing that the motion and rest of the creation depend on Allah.”
And without His permission no one has the least control of His kingdom, reality is reality through Him, effects are effects through Him, attributes are attributes through Him, and every static or moved is static or moved through Him, for no one can perform any action until He creates the ability to act and puts the will in his heart to act, and that human actions are metaphorical and that Allah is the real Agent.
Muhammad b. Wasi describing the gnosis says:
من عرف الله قل كلامه دام تحيره
“One who has attained the marifat of Allah, his words are few and his amazement perpetual,”
i.e. only that which is expressible can be expressed. Principally expressions have a limit and if the object which is being expressed is limitless, how finite can express correctly the infinite? And since the infinite cannot be expressed it leaves no resource except perpetual amazement.
حقيقة المعرفة العجز عن المعرفة
“Real gnosis is the helplessness to attain gnosis,”
i.e. inability to know the real nature of a thing that of which a man has no clue except the powerlessness of attaining it. Therefore, he shall not make any claim at his own, because his helplessness is a quest, and so long as the seeker of the Path depends on his own faculties and attributes, he cannot properly be described by the term Ajz عجز (helplessness) and when these faculties and attributes depart, then his state is not helplessness, but annihilation.
Some, who affirm the attributes of humanity and subsistence of the obligation to decide with sound judgment and the authority maintained over them by Allah’s proof, declare that gnosis is powerlessness, and that they are incapable to attain anything. This is deviation and committing mischief. I say in desire of what they have become so helpless? Incapability has two signs, which are not to be found in them:
- firstly, the annihilation of the faculties of desire, and
- secondly, the manifestation of the Magnificence of Allah.
Where the annihilation of the faculties take place, there is no room for outward expression and if powerlessness is interpreted through expression, the interpretation of inability would be nothing but inability. And where the Magnificence of Allah is revealed, no clue can be given and no discrimination is conceivable. Hence one who is powerless does not know that he is so, or that the state attributed to him is called incapability. Incapability is other than Allah, and the affirmation of marifat is only through marifat and so long as there is room in the heart for other, or the possibility of expressing other save Allah, true gnosis is not attained. The Gnostic is not Gnostic until he turns aside from all that is not the Truth.
Abu Hafs Haddad says:
منذعرفت الله ما دخل في قلبي حق ولا باطل
“Since I have come to know of Allah neither truth nor false hood has entered in my heart.”
When a man is committed to desire and passion he turns to the dil (soul) which guides him to the nafs (lower soul) which is the place of evil. Similarly, when he finds the evidence of gnosis, he turns to the dil (soul) which guides him to the spirit, which is the source of truth and reality. But when soul is other, inclination to it is not right. Hence, the created demands all the proofs of gnosis from the soul which is centre of desire and passion and Gnostics are free of desires and passions and they do not incline towards dil (soul). They do not get rest from anything except Allah and they are always inclined towards the Truth. This is the difference between one who turns to the soul and one who turns to Allah.
Abu Bakr Wasti says:
من عرف الله انقطع بل حرس انقمع
“He who has attained the marifat of Allah, he is cut off from all things, nay, he is dumb and wretched,”
i.e. he is unable to express anything and all his attributes are annihilated. So the Prophet (peace be upon him), while he was in the state of absence, he was the most eloquent of the Arabs and non-Arabs and when he was taken to the proximity of Allah, he said,
لا احصي ثنا عليك
“I know not how to utter Thy praise.”
He further said:
“O Allah! My tongue is not that capable to render Thy praise. How and what should I say? I am dumb and stateless. Thou are what Thou are. My speech would be either about my ownself or about Thou, for if I talk of my ownself I am veiled and if I try to speak about Thou, in Thy proximity I deem unworthy to utter anything.”
لعمرك اذا سكت عن ثناءي فاكمل منك ثناءي
“By your life! Your incapacity to praise me is the greatest praise.” i.e. if thou deemest thyself unworthy to praise Me, I will make the universe thy deputy, that all its atoms may praise Me in thy name.”