True Knowledge

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is an extract from ‘The Path of Knowledge,’ Shaykh al-Akhbar Muhyi ad-Din ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) wrote on True Knowledge:  How can true knowledge be obtained?  What do we usually depend on when we want to know things, especially the reality of existence, and what is the role of sense perception and rational consideration?  Can the spiritual seeker gain insight by what is generally called independent reasoning?  Shaykh al-Akhbar (q.s.) shows that whatever knowledge is acquired, reason is always bound to follow an authority, for it cannot do otherwise.  So what then is the best course to follow, that is which authority can be trusted, if any?

The eye is never mistaken, neither it nor any of the senses.  The rational faculty perceives in two modes: through an inherent, dzati, perception in which it is like the senses, never being mistaken; and by a non-inherent perception.  The second is what it perceives through its instruments, ‘ala, which are reflection and sense perception.

Imagination follows the authority, taqlid, of that which sense perception gives to it.  Reflection considers imagination and finds therein individual things, mufradat.  Reflection would love to configure a form to be preserved by the rational faculty.  Hence it attributes some of the individual things to others.  In this attribution it may be mistaken concerning the actual situation, or it may be correct.  Reason judges upon this basis, so it also may be mistaken or correct.  Hence reason is a follower of authority, and it may make mistakes.  Since the Sufis saw the mistakes of those who employ consideration, they turned to the path in which there is no confusion so that they might take things from the Eye of Certainty, ‘ayn al-yaqin, and become qualified by certain knowledge.

Reason is full of meddling because reflection governs over it, along with all the faculties within man, since there is nothing greater than reason in following authority.  Reason imagines it has been Given Proofs by Allah (s.w.t.), but it only has proofs given by reflection.  Reflection's proofs let it take reason wherever it wants, while reason is like a blind man.  No, it is even blinder in the Path of Allah (s.w.t.).  The People of Allah (s.w.t.) do not follow the authority of their reflections, since a created thing should not follow the authority of another created thing.  Hence they incline toward following Allah’s (s.w.t.) authority.  They come to know Allah (s.w.t.) through Allah (s.w.t.), and He is as He Says about Himself, not as meddlesome reason judges.

How is it proper for an intelligent man to follow the authority of the reflective faculty, when he divides reflective consideration into correct and corrupt?  Necessarily, he has need for a criterion (fariq) with which to separate the correct from the corrupt, but he cannot possibly distinguish between correct and corrupt reflective consideration through reflective consideration itself.  Necessarily, he has need for Allah (s.w.t.) in that.  As for us, when we want to discern correct reflective consideration from the corrupt so that we may judge by it, we first have recourse to Allah (s.w.t.), asking Him to Bestow upon us knowledge of the object without the use of reflection.  The Sufi Orders depend upon this and acts in accordance with it.  This is the knowledge of the prophets, the friends and the possessors of knowledge among the People of Allah (s.w.t.).  They never transgress their places with their reflective powers.

No one can have knowledge unless he knows things through its own essence.  Anyone who knows something through something added to his own essence is following the authority of that added thing in what it gives to him.  Nothing in existence knows things through its own essence other than the One.  The knowledge of things and not-things possessed by everything other than the One is a following of authority.  Since it has been established that other than Allah (s.w.t.) cannot have knowledge of a thing without following authority, let us follow Allah’s (s.w.t.) Authority, especially in knowledge of Him.

Why do we say that nothing can be known by other than Allah (s.w.t.) except through following authority?  Because man knows nothing except through one of the faculties given to him by Allah (s.w.t.): the senses and reason.  Hence man has to follow the authority of his sense perception in that which it gives, and sense perception may be mistaken, or it may correspond to the situation as it is in itself.  Or, man has to follow the authority of his rational faculty in that which it gives to him, either the incontrovertible (darurah) or consideration.  But reason follows the authority of reflection, some of which is correct and some of which is corrupt, so its knowledge of affairs is by chance, bi al-ittifaq.  Hence there is nothing but following authority.

Since this is the situation, the intelligent man who wants to know Allah (s.w.t.) should follow His Authority in the reports He has Given about Himself in His scriptures and upon the tongues of His messengers.  When a person wants to know the things, but he cannot know them through what his faculties give him, he should strive in acts of obedience, ta`at, until the Real is his hearing, his seeing, and all his faculties a mentioned in hadits.  Then he will know all affairs through Allah (s.w.t.) and he will know Allah (s.w.t.) through Allah (s.w.t.).  In any case, there is no escape from following Authority, but once we know Allah (s.w.t.) through Allah (s.w.t.) and all things through Allah (s.w.t.), then we will not be visited in that by ignorance, obfuscations, doubts or uncertainties.  Thus have he alerted us to something which has never before reached our ear.

The rational thinkers from among the people of consideration imagine that they know what consideration, sense perception, and reason have bestowed upon them, but they are following the authority of these things.  Every faculty is prone to a certain kind of mistake.  Though they may know this fact, they seek to throw themselves into error, for they distinguish between that within which sense perception, reason, and reflection may be mistaken and that within which it is not mistaken.  But how can they know?  Perhaps that which they have declared to be a mistake is correct.  Nothing can eliminate this incurable disease, unless all a person's knowledge is known through Allah (s.w.t.), not through other than Him.  Allah (s.w.t.) Knows through His Own Essence, not through anything added to It.  Hence you also will come to know through that through which He Knows, since you follow the Authority of Him Who Knows, Who is not ignorant, and Who follows the authority of no one.  Anyone who follows the authority of other than Allah (s.w.t.) follows the authority of him who is visited by mistakes and who is correct only by chance.

Someone may object, "How do you know this?  Perhaps you may be mistaken in these classifications without being aware of it.  For in this you follow the authority of that which can be mistaken: reason and reflection."

We reply: You are correct.  However, since we see nothing but following authority, we have preferred to follow the authority of him who is named "Messenger" and that which is named "the Speech of God."  We followed their authority in knowledge until the Real was our hearing and our sight, so we came to know things through Allah (s.w.t.) and gained knowledge of these classifications through Allah (s.w.t.).  The fact that we were right to follow this authority was by chance, since, as we have said, whenever reason or any of the faculties accords with something as it is in itself, this is by chance.  We do not hold that it is mistaken in every situation.  We only say that we do not know how to distinguish its being wrong from its being right.  But when the Real is all a person's faculties and he knows things through Allah (s.w.t.), then he knows the difference between the faculties' being right and their being mistaken.  This is what we maintain, and no one can deny it, for he finds it in himself.

Since this is so, occupy yourself with following that which Allah (s.w.t.) has Commanded you: practicing obedience to Him, examining (muraqaba) the thoughts that occur to our heart, shame, haya’, before Allah (s.w.t.), halting before His Bounds, being alone, infirad, with Him, and preferring His Side over ourselves, until the Real is all our faculties, and we are upon insight in our affair.

Say thou: "This my way: I do invite unto Allah - on evidence clear as the seeing with one's eyes I and whoever follows me: Glory to Allah!  And never will I join gods with Allah!" (Surah Yusuf:108)

Thus has he counselled us, for we have seen the Real report about Himself that He Possesses things which rational proofs and sound reflective powers reject, even though they offer proofs that the report-giver speaks the truth and people must have faith in what he says.  So follow the Authority of our Lord, since there is no escape from following authority.  Do not follow our rational faculty in its interpretation, ta’wil.  By following the Authority of Allah (s.w.t.), the wayfarer thereby passes beyond mere following authority, for then the knowledge he has Received through the Revealed Law can be verified within himself.  Thus verification and realisation, tahqiq of what we have learned completes and perfects following, taqlid.

This Sufi Orders work toward acquiring something of what the Divine reports have brought from the Real.  They start to polish their hearts through invocations, reciting the Qur’an, freeing the locus of Allah’s (s.w.t.) Self-Disclosure from taking possible things into consideration, presence, hudur, and self-examination, muraqaba.  They also keep their outward manifestation pure by halting within the bounds established by the Law, for example by averting the eyes from these things such as private parts which it is forbidden to look upon and by looking at those things which bring about heedfulness and inhibit clear sight.  So also with the hearing, tongue, hand, foot, stomach, private parts, and heart.  Outwardly there are only these seven, and the heart is the eighth.  Such a person eliminates reflection from himself completely, since it disperses his single-minded concern, hamm.  He secludes himself at the Gate of his Lord, occupying himself with examining his heart, in hopes that Allah (s.w.t.) will Open the Gate for him and he will come to know what he did not know, those things which the messengers and the People of Allah (s.w.t.) know and which rational faculties cannot possibly perceive on their own.

When Allah (s.w.t.) Opens the Gate to the possessor of this heart, he actualises a Divine Self-Disclosure which gives to him that which accords with its own properties.  Then he attributes to Allah (s.w.t.) things which he would not have dared to attribute to Allah (s.w.t.) earlier.  He would not have described Allah (s.w.t.) that way except to the extent that it was brought by the divine reports.  He used to take such things through following authority.  Now he takes them through unveiling which corresponds with and confirms for him what the Revealed scriptures and the messengers have mentioned.  He used to ascribe those things to Allah (s.w.t.) through faith and as a mere narrator, without verifying their meanings or adding to them.  Now he ascribes them to Him within himself, with a verified knowledge because of that which has been disclosed to him.  True knowledge cannot be other than Unveiled by Allah (s.w.t.) to His creature, and this a knowledge without the intermediary of reflection or any other faculty.  It is a Given, according to the saying, "Knowledge is a light which Allah (s.w.t.) Throws into the heart of whomsoever He Will."

Sound knowledge is not given by reflection, nor by what the rational thinkers establish by means of their reflective powers.  Sound knowledge is only that which Allah (s.w.t.) Throws into the heart of the knower.  It is a Divine Light for which Allah (s.w.t.) Singles Out any of His servants Whom He Will, whether angel, messenger, prophet, friend, or person of faith.  He who has no unveiling has no knowledge, man la kashf lahu la `ilm lahu.


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