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The Divine Gnosis (Marifa’) and the Words of Great Sufis - Part-1


By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam

30 November 2017

This writer is presenting to his readers the English translation of the great Sufis’ words on the divine Ma’rifa with reference to ‘Risala Qushayria’ with some necessary explanations.

The Arabic term Ma’rifa can be translated linguistically as ‘gnosis or ‘knowledge’. Ma’rifa in Sufism indicates the mystical intuitive knowledge of spiritual truth by way of continuous ecstatic experiences, sincere endeavour, using one’s conscience and inquiring into one’s inner world, rather than revealed or rationally acquired. A seeker of Ma’rifa is known as ‘Arif or ‘Gnostic’ i.e. the one who knows or ‘knower’. 

Allah Almighty says, “And they did not realise (or appreciate) the importance of Allah as was required” (6:91)

It is written in a commentary that this means: “They have not known Allah Almighty as He must be known”.

It is reported on the authority of Aisha – May Allah be pleased with her- that the Prophet – peace be upon him- said: “The support of the house is its foundation and the support of the faith is the knowledge of Allah Almighty, certitude, and a restraining intelligence.” (Hazrat Aisha) asked him: “By my mother and my father, what is the restraining intelligence?” He answered: “Refraining from disobedience to Allah and eagerness to obey Him”.

Succinctly defining ‘gnosis, the Sufi master Abul Qasim al-Qushayri said, “As per the Islamic scholars (Ulema), ‘gnosis’ (Ma’rifa) means knowledge (‘Ilm). Hence all knowledge is gnosis and all gnosis is knowledge. Every person who is cognizant of Allah (‘Arif) is a knower (‘Alim). However, according to the Sufi Masters, ‘Ma’rifa is the attribute of the person who is cognizant of Allah Almighty, His names and attributes. It is he who then puts his trust in Allah Almighty in his everyday behaviour and gets rid of his bad morals and transgressions. He then proceeds to reside at the door [of Allah’s mercy] with his heart striving constantly for the nearness of Allah, whereby he becomes beloved of Allah Almighty and trusts Him in everything he experiences in his entire life. The illusions of his [lower] self go away from him. The thoughts that call him towards other than Allah never enter his heart. So when he becomes a stranger to all other creatures, fully innocent of any sins of his [lower] self, and free from any recourse to or concern for other [than Allah], he enters into an undisturbed proximate conversation with Allah Almighty and does not accept anything but what is true. He then starts speaking on behalf of Allah Almighty Who endows him with the mysteries of the dispensations of His foreordained decrees. It is only then that he is called a ‘Gnostic’ (‘arif) and his condition is called gnosis. In short, the more stranger he becomes to his own self, the more acquainted he becomes with his Lord Almighty”.

Expressing the views of the great Sufi masters on the subject of ‘gnosis’ (Ma’rifa), Hazrat Abul Qasim al-Qushayri (may Allah be pleased with him) writes,  

“Sufi masters have profusely discussed ‘gnosis’, each speaking from his personal experience and referring to the views he has learned of in his own mystical observation.”

The Sufi master Abu Ali al-Daqqaq (may Allah have mercy on him) used to say, “Fear is one of the signs of the divine gnosis (Ma’rifat-e-Ilahi); the more gnosis you attain, the greater is your fear.”

He also said, “Gnosis (Ma’rifa) brings peace and tranquillity to your heart in the same way as the knowledge does bring tranquillity to the heart. So the more gnosis you acquire, the greater is your tranquillity.”

Hazrat Shibli (may Allah have mercy upon him) say, “The Gnostic (Arif) has no relation [with other than Allah], the lover has no complaint, the slave has no claim, the person who fears (Allah Almighty) has no rest, and nobody has any escape from Allah.”

When someone asked Hazrat Shibli about ‘Marifat’ (gnosis), he replied, “It (Ma’rifa) begins with Allah Almighty, and it has no whatsoever end.”

Hazrat Abu Hafs (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, “Since I acquired the gnosis of Allah Almighty, neither truth nor falsehood have ever come in my heart.”

Commenting on the above mentioned statement of Hazrat Abu Hafs, the mystical master Hazrat Abul Qasim al-Qushayri (may Allah have mercy on him) says,

“There is difficulty in understanding what Abu Hafs said. What this most likely means is that, as per the great Sufi masters, ‘gnosis’ (Ma’rifa) makes the servant completely unconcerned for his own self because of his being preoccupied with the remembrance of Allah Almighty. Thus he witnesses no one except Allah Almighty – and does not turn to anyone else other than Allah. Just as the mind (‘Aql) in all matters and mystical situations that happen to it turns to his heart, his thinking faculty and memory, so too the gnostic (‘Arif) turns to his Lord. In the state of being preoccupied only with his Lord, he will not turn to his heart. So, the person who has no heart, how can any idea enter his heart? This is the difference between the person who lives with his heart and the person who lives with his Lord.”

Hazrat Abu Yazid (may Allah have mercy upon him) says, “The human beings have conditions, whereas the Gnostic (‘Arif) does not have any condition, because his personal traits are completely removed, his personality is totally eradicated by the personality of the Other, and his attributes are erased by the attributes of the Other.”

Hadrat Wasiti (may Allah have mercy on him) said, “As long as the man is content with his Lord and is in need of Him, his gnosis is not perfect”

Explaining the above mentioned statement of Hazrat Wasiti, Hazrat Abul Qasim Qushayri (may Allah have mercy upon them) says,

“Wasiti wants to say that, being in need of Allah (Iftiqar) and content with Him (Istighna) are signs of the slave’s wakefulness and of the persistence of his personal traits, because both of them are the traits of the slave. The Gnostic (‘Arif) is fully preoccupied with remembrance of the personality whose ‘gnosis’ he attains. Then how can it be true (i.e. how can the idea of ‘Istighna’ and ‘Iftiqar’ be true?), while he is completely consumed by His existence and submerged in the deep thought of Him? If he can not feel his own existence, it is only because he has lost the sense of his personal characteristics.”

It is crystal clear from the explanation of Hazrat Abul Qasim Qushayri (may Allah have mercy upon him) that when a slave becomes completely preoccupied with the remembrance of Allah Almighty, he forgets all matters related to his own self. The writer (Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi) wants to write in brief details that Hazrat Wasiti (may Allah have mercy upon him) means to say that when a servant are busy doing the remembrance of Allah Almighty, he forgets his sense of being in need of Allah (Iftiqar) and content with Him (Istighna). But the ordinary and lay men should not derive out the meaning that the servant does not need Allah Almighty; as the fact is that he is in need of Allah even while being preoccupied with the remembrance of Allah. Being in need of Allah is one of the traits of the servants. However what is needed here to understand that while being engaged in the remembrance of Allah Almighty (Fana fi Allah), he forgets the sense of his reality of “being in need of Allah”. Allah Almighty knows the best!

Therefore Hazrat Wasiti also said, “Whoever attains the gnosis of Allah Almighty has no attachment with other than Allah. Not only that but he even becomes mute and subdued.” The purport of Hazrat Wasiti’s statement is that whoever attains the gnosis of Allah Almighty does not see any way other than that turns to Allah Almighty and his tongue is busy praising his Lord. It is in that sense that despite having eyes and a tongue he becomes mute and subdued. 

The beloved Prophet –peace be upon him– said, “(O’ Allah) I cannot count your praises.” (Sunan Ibne Majah, the book of Dua). With reference to this Hadith, it is written in the book “Risala Qushayria” that these are the traits of those who have acquired the furthest reaches. As for those who have not yet reached this limit, they have talked much about the divine gnosis (Marifat e Ilahi).

Referencing the views of the great Sufi masters with the complete chains of narrators (Isnad) on the subject of ‘gnosis’ (Ma’rifa), Hazrat Abul Qasim al-Qushayri (may Allah be pleased with him) writes,  

Hazrat Ahmad bin Asim Antaki says, “Whoever attains the gnosis of Allah most is most afraid of Him.”

Some Sufis said, “Whoever attains the gnosis of Allah Almighty is vexed with living further life, and this world, despite its breadth, becomes too narrow for him.”

It is also said: “Whoever attains the gnosis of Allah is blessed with a pure livelihood and a good life. Everyone fears him, while he himself does not fear any creatures, because he becomes the beloved friend of Allah Almighty.”

It is also said: “Whoever attains the gnosis of Allah loses desire for the worldly things. In that case he does not value attachment or detachment whatever”.

Someone said, “Gnosis (Ma’rifa) demands both humility (Haya) and exaltation (Tazim) in the same way as the declaration of oneness of Allah demands both contentment and surrender [to Allah].”

Hazrat Ruwaym (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, “Gnosis for the Gnostic (‘arif) is like a mirror. Whenever he looks into this mirror, the reflection of his Lord’s glory appears to him.”

(Source of Study: Risala Qushariya by Hazrat Abul Qasim Qushayri, Arabic edition and Urdu translation by Allama Siddiq Hazarvi)

A regular Columnist with , Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background, Islamic writer and English-Arabic-Urdu Translator.


URL for Urdu version of the article:,-new-age-islam/the-divine-gnosis-and-the-words-of-great-sufis--part-1--معرفت-الہی-اورصوفیائے-عظام-کے-اقوال---پہلی-قسط/d/113300

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