God hath said, describing the savants ('ulama'): "Of
the those who serve God only the savants fear Him" (Qur. xxxv,25). The
Prophet (May peace be upon him) said: "To seek knowledge is obligatory on
every Muslim man and women;" and he said also: "Seek knowledge even
Some regard knowledge as superior to action, while others put action first, but both parties are wrong. Unless action is combined with knowledge, it is not deserving of recompense. Prayer, for instance, is not really prayer, unless performed with knowledge of the principles of purification and those which concern the qiblah,2 and with knowledge of the nature of intention. Similarly, knowledge without action is not knowledge. Learning and committing to memory are acts for which a man is rewarded in the next world; if he gained knowledge without action and acquisition on his part, he would get no reward. Hence two classes of men fall into error: firstly, those who claim knowledge for the sake of public reputation but are unable to practise it, and in reality have not attained it; and secondly, those who pretend that practice suffices and that knowledge is unnecessary. It is told of lbrahim b. Adham that he saw a stone on which was written, "Turn me over and read!" He obeyed, and found this inscription: "Thou dost not practise what thou knowest; why, then dost thou seek what thou knowest not?" Anas b. Malik says: "The wise aspire to know, the foolish to relate." He who uses his knowledge as a means of winning power and honour and wealth is no savant. The highest pinnacle of knowledge is expressed in the fact that without it none can know God.
Knowledge is of two kinds: Divine and Human. The latter is worthless in comparison with the former, because God's knowledge is an attribute of Himself, subsisting in Him, whose attributes are infinite; whereas our knowledge is an attribute of ourselves, subsisting in us, whose attributes are finite. Knowledge has been defined as "comprehension and investigation of the object known", but the best definition of it is this: "A quality whereby the ignorant are made wise." God's knowledge is that by which He knows all things existent and non-existent: He does not share it with Man: it is not capable of division nor separable from Himself. The proof of it lies in the disposition of His action (tartib-i-fi'lash), since action demands knowledge in the agent as an indispensable condition. The Divine knowledge penetrates what is hidden and comprehends what is manifest. It behoves the seeker to contemplate God in every act, knowing that God sees him and all that he does.
They relate that a leading man in
Hatim al-Asamm said: "1 have chosen four things to know, and have discarded all the knowledge in the world besides." He was asked: "What are they?" "One," he answered, "is this: 1 know that my daily bread is apportioned to me, and will neither be increased nor diminished; consequently 1 have ceased to seek to augment it. Secondly, 1 know that 1 owe to God a debt which no other person can pay instead of me; therefore 1 am occupied with paying it. Thirdly, 1 know that there is one pursuing me (i.e. Death) from whom 1 cannot escape; accordingly 1 have prepared myself to meet him. Fourthly, 1 know that God is observing me; therefore ashamed to do what 1 ought not."
The object of human knowledge should be to' know God and His Commandments. Knowledge of "time" (ilm-iwaqt),3 and of all outward and inward circumstances of which the due effect depends on "time", is incumbent upon everyone. This is of two sorts: primary and secondary. The external division of the primary class consists in making the Muslim's profession of faith, the internal division consists in the attainment of true cognition. The external division of the secondary class consists in the practice of devotion, the internal 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, with regard to the Law, mere formality is defective, while mere spirituality is vain.
The knowledge of the Truth (Haqiqat) has three pillars--
(1) Knowledge of the Essence and Unity of God.
(2) Knowledge of the Attributes of God.
(3) Knowledge of the Actions and Wisdom of God.
The knowledge of the Law (Shari'at) also has three pillars -
(I) The Quran.
(2) The Sunnah.
(3) The Consensus (Ijma) of the Muslim community.
Knowledge of the Divine Essence involves recognition, on the part of one who is reasonable and has reached puberty, that God exists externally by His essence, that He is infinite and not bounded by space, that His essence is not the cause of evil, that none of His creatures is like unto Him, that He has neither wife nor child, and that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all that your imagination and intellect can conceive.
Knowledge of the Divine Attributes requires you to know that God has attributes existing in Himself, which are not He nor a part of Him, but exist in Him and subsist by Him, e.g. Knowledge, Power, Life, Will, Hearing, Sight, Speech, etc.
Knowledge of the Divine Actions is your knowledge that God is the Creator of mankind and of all their actions, that He brought the non-existent universe into being, that He predestines good and evii and creates all that is beneficial and injurious.
Knowledge of the Law involves your knowing that God has sent us Apostles with miracles of an extraordinary nature; that our Apostle, Muhammad (on whom be pece!), is a true Messenger, who performed many miracles, and that whatever he has told us concerning the Unseen and the Visible is entirely true.
There is a sect of heretics called Sophists (Sufista iyan), who believe that nothing can be known and that knowledge itself does not exist. I say to them: "You think that nothing can be known; is your opinion correct or not?" If they answer "It is correct", they thereby affirm the reality of knowledge; and if they reply "It is not correct", then to argue against an avowedly incorrect assertion is absurd. The same doctrine is held by a sect of heretics who are connected with Sufi'ism. They say that inasmuch as nothing is knowable, their negation of knowledge is more perfect than the affirmation of it. This statement proceeds from their folly and stupidity. The negation of knowledge must be the result either of knowledge or of ignorance. Now it is impossible for knowledge to deny knowledge; therefore knowledge cannot be denied except by ignorance, which is nearly akin to infidelity and falsehood; for there is no connexion between ignorance and truth. The doctrine in question is opposed to that of all the Sufi Shaykhs, but is commonly attributed to the Sufis in general by people who have heard it and embraced it. I commit them to God, with Whom it rests whether they shall continue in their error. If religion takes hold of them, they will behave more discreetly and will not misjudge the Friends of God in this way and will look more anxiously to what concerns themselves. Although some heretics claim to be Sufis 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? An individual who wished to pass for learned and orthodox, but really was devoid of knowledge and religion, once said to me in the course of debate: "There are twelve heretical sects, and one of them flourishes amongst those who profess Sufism" (mutasawwifa). I replied: "If one sect belongs to us, eleven belong to you; and the Sufis can protect themselves from one better than you can from eleven." All this. heresy springs from the corruption and degeneracy of the times, but God has always kept His Saints hidden from the multitude and apart from the ungodly. Well said the eminent spiritual guide, 'Ali b. Bundar al-Sayrafi:4 "The depravity of men's hearts is in proportion to the depravity of the age."
Now in the following section I will cite some sayings of the Sufis as an admonition to those sceptics towards whom God is favourably inclined.
Muhammad b. Fadl al-Balkhi says: "knowledge is of three kinds -- from God, with God, and of God. " Knowledge of God is the science of Gnosis (ilm-i ma'rifat), whereby He is known to all His prophets and saints. It cannot be acquired by ordinary means, but is the result of Divine guidance and information. Knowledge from God is the science of the Sacred Law (ilm-i shari'at), which He has commanded and made obligatory upon us. Knowledge with God is the science of the "stations" and the "Path" and the degrees of the saints. Gnosis is unsound without acceptance of the Law, and the Law is not practised rightly unless the "stations" are manifested. Abu 'Ali Thaqafi5 says: Al-ilm hayat al-qalb min al-jahl wa-nir al-ayn min alzulmat, "Knowledge is the life of the heart, which delivers it from the death of ignorance: it is the light of the eye of faith, which saves it from the darkness of infidelity." The hearts of infidels are dead, because they are ignorant of God, and the hearts of the heedless are sick, because they are ignorant of His Commandments. Abu Bakr Warraq of Tirmidh says: "Those who are satisfied with disputation (kalam) about knowledge and do not practice asceticism (zuhd) become zindiqs (heretics); and those who are satisfied with jurisprudence (jiqh) and do not practise abstinence (wara) become wicked. " This means that Unification (tawhid), without works, is predestination (jabr), 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 spiritual guide, viz.: "Unification is below predestination and above free will."
Lack of positive religion and of morality arises from heedlessness (ghaflat). Well said that great master, Yahya b. Mu'adha al-Razi: "Avoid the society of three classes of men - heedless savants, hypocritical Quran-readers, and ignorant pretenders to Sufi'ism." The heedless savants are they who have set their hearts on worldly gain and paid court to governors and tyrants, and have been seduced by their own cleverness to spend their time in subtle disputations and have attacked the leading authorities on religion. The hypocritical Quran-readers are they who praise whatever is done in accordance with their desire, even if it is bad, and blame whatever they dislike, even if it is good: they seek to ingratiate themselves with the people by acting hypocritically. The ignorant pretenders to Sufi'ism are they who have never associated with a spiritual director (pir), nor learned discipline from a shaykh, but without any experience have thrown themselves among the people, and have donned a blue mantle (kabudi), and have trodden the path ofunrestraint.
Abu Yazid Bistami says: "I strove in the spiritual combat for thirty years, and I found nothing harder to me than knowledge and its pursuits." It is more easy for human nature to walk on fire than to follow the road of knowledge, and an ignorant heart will more readily cross the Bridge (Sirat) a thousand times than learn a single piece of knowledge; and the wicked man would rather pitch his tent in Hell than put one item of knowledge into practice. Accordingly you must learn 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. As the poet says:-
Al-ajzu 'an daraki' l-idraki idraku
Wa 'l-waqfu fi turuqi 'l-akhyari ishraku.
"True perception is to despair of attaining perception, But not to advance on the paths of the virtuous is polytheism."
He who will not learn and perseveres in his ignorance is a polytheist, but to the learner, when his knowledge becomes perfect, the reality is revealed, 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.
I The period within which a woman, who has been divorced or whose husband has died, may not marry again.
2 The point to which a Muslim turns his face when worshipping, viz. the Ka'bah.
3 "Time" (waqt) is used by Muhammadan mystics to denote the spiritual the spiritual state in which anyone fmds himself, and by which he is dominated at the moment. The expression 'ilm-e waqt occurs again in the notice of Abu Sulayman al-Darani (chapter x,No.17), where waqt is explained as meaning "the preservation of one's spiritual state". According to a definition given by Sahl b. 'Abdullah al- Tustari, waqt is "search for knowledge of the state, i.e. the decision (hukm) of a man's state, which exists between him and God in this world and hereafter".
4 A famous Sufi ofNishapur, who died in 359 A.H. (Nafahat, No.118). 5 Also a native ofNishapur. He died in 328 A.H. (Nafahat, No.248)