Third Method : Intelectual Intuition or Mystical Unveiling

Man and Gnostic Comprehension

Even though most men are occupied with gaining a livelihood and providing for their daily needs and show no concern for spiritual matters, there lies within the nature of man an innate urge to seek the ultimately Real. In certain individuals this force which is dormant and potential becomes awakened and manifests itself openly, thus leading to a series of spiritual perceptions.

Every man believes in a permanent Reality despite the claim of sophists and skeptics, who call every truth and reality illusion and superstition. Occasionally when man views with a clear mind and a pure soul the permanent Reality pervading the universe and the created order, and at the same time sees the impermanence and transient character of the diverse parts and elements of the world, he is able to contemplate the world and its phenomena as mirrors which reflect the beauty of a permanent reality. The joy of comprehending this Reality obliterates every other joy in the eye of the viewer and makes everything else appear as insignificant and unimportant.

This vision is that same gnostic "divine attraction" (jadhbah) which draws the attention of the God-centered man toward the transcendent world and awakens the love of God in his heart. Through this attraction he forgets all else. All his manifold desires and wishes are obliterated from his mind. This attraction guides man to the worship and praise of the Invisible Deity who is in reality more evident and manifest than all that is visible and audible.

In truth it is this same inner attraction that has brought into being the different religions within the world, religions which are based on the worship of God. The gnostic ('arif) is the one who worships God through knowledge and because of love for Him, not in hope of reward or fear of punishment.

From this exposition it becomes clear that we must not consider gnosis as a religion among others, but as the heart of all religions. Gnosis is one of the paths of worship, a path based on knowledge combined with love, rather than fear. It is the path for realizing the inner truth of religion rather than remaining satisfied only with its external form and rational thought. Every revealed religion and even those that appear in the form of idol-worship have certain followers who march upon the path of gnosis. The polytheistic religions and Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam all have believers who are gnostics.

Appearance of Gnosis (Sufism) in Islam

Among the companions of the Prophet, Ali is known particularly for his eloquent exposition of gnostic truths and the stages of the spiritual life. His words in this domain comprise an inexhaustible treasury of wisdom. Among the works of the other companions which have survived there is not a great deal of material that concerns this type of question. Among the associates of Ali, such as Salman Farsi, Uways Qarani, Kumayl ibn Ziyad, Roshaid Hajari, Maytham Tammar, Rabi'ibn Khaytham.

However, there are figures who have been considered by the majority of the Sufis, Sunni and Shi'ite alike, as the heads of their spiritual chain (silsilah) after Ali.

After this group there appeared others, such as Tawus Yamani, Shayban Ra'i, Malik ibn Dinar, Ibrahim Adham, and Shaqiq Balkhi, who were considered by the people to be saints and men of God. These men, without publicly talking about gnosis and Sufism, appeared externally as ascetics and did not hide the fact that they had been initiated by the earlier group and had undergone spiritual training under them.

After them there appeared at the end of the 2nd/8th century and the beginning of the 3rd/9th century men such as Bayazid Bastami, Ma'ruf Karkhi, Junayd Baghdadi and others like them, who followed the Sufi path and openly declared their connection with Sufism and gnosis. They divulged certain esoteric sayings based on spiritual vision which, because of their repellent external form, brought upon them the condemnation of some of the jurists and theologians. Some of them were imprisoned, flogged, and even occasionally killed.

Even so, this group persisted and continued its activities despite its opponents. In this manner gnosis and the "Way" (Tariqah, or Sufism) continued to grow until in the 7th/13th and 8th/14th centuries it reached the height of its expansion and power. Since then, sometimes stronger and at other times less so, it has continued its existence to this very day within the Islamic world.

Gnosis or Sufism as we observe it today first appeared in the Sunni world and later among the Shi'ites. The first men who openly declared themselves to be Sufis and gnostics, and were recognized as spiritual masters of Sufi orders, apparently followed Sunnism in the branches (furu') of Islamic law. Many of the masters who followed them and who expanded the Sufi orders were also Sunnis in their following of the law.

Even so, these masters traced their spiritual chain, which in the spiritual life is like the genealogical chain of a person, through their previous masters to Ali. Also the results of their visions and intuitions as transmitted to us convey mostly truths concerning divine unity and the stations of the spiritual life which are found in the sayings of Ali and other Shi'ite Imams.

This can be seen provided we are not affected by some of the striking and even sometimes shocking expressions used by these Sufi masters and consider the total content of their teachings with deliberation and patience. Sanctity resulting from initiation into the spiritual path, which Sufis consider as the perfection of man, is a state which according to Shi'ite belief is possessed in its fullness by the Imam and through the radiance of his being can be attained by his true followers.

And the Spiritual Pole (qutb), whose existence at all times is considered necessary by all the Sufis - as well as the attributes associated with him - correlates with the Shi'ite conception of the Imam. According to the saying of the Household of the Prophet, the Imam is, to use the Sufi expression, Universal Man, the manifestation of the Divine Names and the spiritual guide of the lives and actions of men.

Therefore, one could say, considering the Shi'ite concept of walayat, that Sufi masters are "Shi'ite" from the point of view of the spiritual life and in connection with the source of walayat although, from the point of view of the external form of religion they follow the Sunni schools of law.

It is necessary to mention that even in classical Sunni treatises it has sometimes been said that the spiritual method of the "Path," or the "techniques" whereby one comes to know and realize himself, cannot be explained through the external forms and teachings of the Shari'ah. Rather these sources claim that individual Muslims themselves have discovered many of these methods and practices, which then have become accepted by God, such as is the case with monasticism in Christianity.

Therefore each master has devised certain actions and practices which he has deemed necessary in the spiritual method, such as the particular type of ceremony of being accepted by the master the details of the way in which the invocation is given to the new adept along with a robe, and the use of music, chanting and other methods of inducing ecstasy during the invocation of the Divine Name.

In some cases the practices of the Tariqah have outwardly become separated from those of the Shari'ah and it may seem difficult for an outsider to see the intimate and inward relation between them. But by taking into consideration the theoretical principles of Shi'ism and then studying in depth the basic sources of Islam, namely the Quran and the Sunnah, he will soon realize that it is impossible to say that this spiritual guidance has not been provided by Islam itself or that Islam has remained negligent in clarifying the nature of the spiritual program to be followed.

Guidance Provided by the Quran and Sunnah for Gnostic Knowledge

God - exalted be His Name - has commanded man in several places in the Quran to deliberate upon the Holy Book and be persistent in this effort and not be satisfied with a merely superficial and elementary understanding of it. In many verses the world of creation and all that is in it without exception are called portents (ayat), signs and symbols of the Divine. A degree of deliberation upon the meaning of portents and signs and penetration into their real significance will reveal the fact that things are called by these names because they manifest and make known not so much themselves but a reality other than themselves.

For example, a red light placed as a sign of danger, once seen, reminds one completely of the idea of danger so that one no longer pays attention to the red light itself. If one begins to think about the form or quiddity of the light or its color, there will be in his mind only the form of the lamp or its glass or color rather than the conception of danger. In the same manner, if the world and its phenomena are all and in every aspect signs and portents of God, the Creator of the Universe, they have no ontological independence of their own. No matter how we view them they display nothing but God.

He who through guidance of the Holy Quran is able to view the world and the people of the world with such an eye will apprehend nothing but God. Instead of seeing only this borrowed beauty which others see in the attractive appearance of the world, he will see an Infinite Beauty, a Beloved who manifests Himself through the narrow confines of this world.

Of course, as in the example of the red light, what is contemplated and seen in "signs" and "portents" is God the Creator of the world and not the world itself. The relation of God to the world is from a certain point of view like (1 + 0) not (1 + 1) nor (1 x 1) (that is, the world is nothing before God and adds nothing to him). It is at the moment of realization of this truth that the harvest of man's separative existence is plundered and in one stroke man entrusts his heart to the hands of Divine love.

This realization obviously does not take place through the instrument of the eye or the ear or the other outward senses, nor through the power of imagination or reason, for all these instruments are themselves signs and portents and of little significance to the spiritual guidance sought here.

He who has attained the vision of God and who has no intention but to remember God and forget all else, when he hears that in another place in the Quran God says, "O ye who believe! Ye have charge of your own souls.

He who erreth cannot injure you if you are rightly guided" (Quran, V, 105), then he understands that the sole royal path which will guide him fully and completely is the path of "self realization." His true guide who is God Himself obliges him to know himself, to leave behind all other ways and to seek the path of self-knowledge, to see God through the window of his soul, gaining in this way the real object of his search. That is why the Prophet has said, "He who knows himself verily knows the Lord." And also he has said, "Those among you know God better who know themselves better."

As for the method of following the path, there are many verses of the Quran which command man to remember God, as for example where He says, "Therefore remember Me, I will remember you" (Quran, II, 152) and similar sayings. Man is also commanded to perform right actions which are described fully in the Quran and hadith. At the end of this discussion of right actions God says, "Verily in the Messenger of Allah ye have a good example" (Quran, XXXIII, 21).

How can anyone imagine that Islam could discover that a particular path is the path which leads to God without recommending this path to all the people? Or how could it make such a path known and yet neglect to explain the method of following it? For God says in the Quran, "And We reveal the Scripture unto thee as an exposition of all things" (Quran, XVI, 89).