The Originality of Islamic Gnosis



Anyone who attends carefully to the ayat of the Glorious Qur'an, the words of the Noble Prophet, and the pure people of his household, may the Blessings of Allah be upon them, all of them, without a doubt will be able to find many sublime and profound subjects in the realm of theoretical gnosis, as well as numerous prescriptions and practical instructions in relation to the spiritual wayfaring of the gnostic. For example, we can refer to the ayat related to the unicity of the divine essence, attributes and actions in Surat al‑Tawhid (Ikhlas) as well as the beginning of Surat al‑Hadid, and the last ayat of Surat al Hashr, and likewise the ayat indicating the divine presence throughout the world of being, and His comprehension over all existents, and the existential glorification and prostrations of all creatures for God, the Exalted.

Likewise, there are ayat which include special prescriptions and manners which can be called the way of Islamic spiritual wayfaring, such as the ayat pertaining to contemplation and meditation, constant remembrance (dhikr) and attention, rising in the pre‑dawn hours and remaining awake at night, fasting, prolonged prostrations and glorifications during nights, humility and resignation, crying and falling down when reciting and listening to the ayat of the Qur'an, sincerity in worship, and the performance of good deeds out of love and affection toward God in order to achieve nearness to Him and His satisfaction, as well as ayat pertaining to trust in God, divine pleasure, and submission before the Lord.

The points which can be found among the narrations attributed to the Noble Prophet and Pure Imams, may Allah bless all of them, and in their supplications and intimate devotions related to the above topics are uncountable.

In view of these explicit ayat and dear explications of the Noble Prophet and his immaculate household, May God's infinite blessings be showered upon them, two groups have gone to opposite extremes. One group of narrow minded and superficial people give a trivial and simple meaning to these ayat, and even consider God as having mutable states and physical ascent and descent, and they empty the ayat and narrations of their noble and sublime contents. These are the sort of people who generally reject the existence of anything by the name of gnosis in the Islamic texts.

Another group under the influence of various social factors have discovered and accepted some strange foreign elements from others, as a result of which they have come to believe things which one cannot consider to originate from religious texts and the contents of the divine Book and Sunnah. Rather, some of them might be in opposition to the explicit texts which are not capable of exoteric interpretation. Likewise, regarding practice, they have invented their own rites and customs, on the one hand, or have borrowed them from non‑Islamic sects. On the other hand, they believe in the suspension of duties for the accomplished gnostic.

Of course, those who have an exceptionally favourable opinion of all gnostics and sufis have given excuses and interpretations for all of these issues. But it is fair to say that at least some of these contentions do not have an acceptable justification, and we should not be so over impressed with the scholarly and spiritual greatness of some figures that we accept whatever they say or write with closed eyes and ears and confirm them, and deny others any right to criticize and inquire into their works. Of course, it is clear that the acceptance of the right to criticize does not mean to condone unrefined or ill considered judgments, or the unfair expression of bias, nor the failure to pay due heed to positive and valuable points. In any case, one should seek what is right and true, and travel the way of justice and fairness and avoid extreme and unreasonable optimism and pessimism and seek help from God to recognize the truth and to be persistent in the way of the Truth.

It is self‑evident that to observe all the issues pertaining to gnosis, sufism, wisdom and philosophy and their interrelations and each of their relations with Islam is not a task to be performed within the confines of a single article. Thus, considering the summary nature of the remarks, we shall be concerned with the most significant points, and postpone further investigation to the occasion of more extensive discussion.