Allah, the Almighty, said:

{Said one who had knowledge from the Scripture: I will bring it to you before your glance returns to you…} [an-Naml 27:40]

قَالَ اللهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ: "قَالَ الَّذِي عِندَهُ عِلْمٌ مِّنَ الْكِتَابِ أَنَا آتِيكَ بِهِ قَبْلَ أَن يَرْتَدَّ إِلَيْكَ طَرْفُكَ"

Ilhâm468 is the station of the muḥaddatheen.469 It is above the [station of] firâsah (astuteness), because firâsah may take place infrequently, and at times it may be unattainable, whereas ilhâm can be had only in a lofty station of steadiness. It is of three levels:

الْإِلْهَامَ مَقَامُ الْمُحَدَّثِينَ، وَهُوَ فَوْقَ الْفِرَاسَةِ، لِأَنَّ الْفِرَاسَةَ رُبَّمَا وَقَعَتْ نَادِرَةً، أو اسْتُصْعِبَتْ عَلَى صَاحِبِهَا وَقْتًا، واسْتَعْصَتْ عَلَيْهِ، وَالْإِلْهَامُ لَا يَكُونُ إِلَّا فِي مَقَامٍ عَتِيدٍ. وَهُوَ عَلَى ثَلَاثِ دَرَجَاتٍ.

The first level: a fact that is transmitted by means of certain inspiration (waḥy), whether it is accompanied by hearing or not.470

الدَّرَجَةُ الْأُولَى: نَبَأٌ يَقَعُ وَحْيًا قَاطِعًا مَقْرُونًا بِسَمَاعٍ أو مُطْلَقًا.

The second level is an inspiration that manifests in reality. The indications of its genuineness are that:

  1. it does not tear the veils471

  2. it does not exceed the limit472

  3. it never errs

والدَّرَجَةُ الثَّانِيَةُ: إِلْهَامٌ يَقَعُ عِيَانًا، وَعَلَامَةُ صِحَّتِهِ أَنَّهُ:

  1. لَا يَخْرِقُ سِتْرًا

  2. وَلَا يُجَاوِزُ حَدًّا

  3. وَلَا يُخْطِئُ أَبَدًا

The third level is an inspiration that:

  1. leads decisively to the ultimate ascertainment473

  2. speaks clearly of pre-eternity474

  3. —and the zenith to which ilhâm leads is indescribable475

والدَّرَجَةُ الثَّالِثَةُ:

  1. إِلْهَامٌ يَجْلُو عَيْنَ التَّحْقِيقِ صَرْفًا

  2. وَيَنْطِقُ عَنْ عَيْنِ الْأَزَلِ مَحْضًا

  3. وَللإِلْهَامِ غَايَةٌ تَمْتَنِعُ الْإِشَارَةُ إِلَيْهَا

468Ilhâm means conveying knowledge/guidance to someone, hinting, indicating, gesturing, subtle direction, or private communication. It is best translated as inspiration. However, there are different levels of inspiration that have special names in Arabic. Ilhâm is one of them. People disagree over its place in comparison to other forms of inspiration. However, despite some differences among the mainstream scholars regarding its place in Islamic epistemology and the pursuit of hidâyah, they agree that it is inferior in clarity and certainty to the waḥy received by the prophets. It has a complementary role, allowing us to have a better understanding of the waḥy and better application of it, but it is always subservient to it and never a substitute for it. It is also subjective and personal, so while someone may feel their heart is being guided to some choice or direction, they cannot use this ilhâm to prove or disprove anything. This is another difference between it and the binding waḥy of the prophets, who established the veracity of their prophethood through miracles, making their teachings binding on those to whom they were sent. The understanding of the proper place of ilhâm is of utmost importance for the seekers, since it is one of the main differences between Sunni/ true Sufism and deviant/false Sufism.
There is a general ilhâm of all human beings. Allah said:

{وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا * فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا}

{And [by] the soul and He Who proportioned it and inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness.} (ash-Shams 91:7-8)
All creations receive some ilhâm from Allah concerning their roles and functions. Allah said:
{وَأَوْحَىٰ رَبُّكَ إِلَى النَّحْلِ أَنِ اتَّخِذِي مِنَ الْجِبَالِ بُيُوتًا وَمِنَ الشَّجَرِ وَمِمَّا يَعْرِشُونَ}

{And your Lord inspired to the bee: Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct.} (an-Naḥl 16:68)
The inspiration the sheikh addresses here is a special one for special people: the transformed souls who deserve the most-needed guidance of the hearts.
469Muḥaddath is the passive voice of muḥaddith. ‘Ḥadeeth’ means speech, narration, etc. The one who speaks is a muḥaddith and the one who is spoken to is a muḥaddath. ‘Â’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said:
"‏قَدْ كَانَ فِي الأُمَمِ قَبْلَكُمْ مُحَدَّثُونَ فَإِنْ يَكُنْ فِي أُمَّتِي مِنْهُمْ أَحَدٌ فَإِنَّ عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ مِنْهُمْ.‏"

“There were among the people before you inspired persons (muḥaddathoon), and if there were any such among my Ummah, ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭâb would be one of them.” (Agreed upon)
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah be pleased with him) reflected on this and explained that the reason why the nations before us had many muḥaddathoon—while the Prophet ﷺ said, “if there were any such among my Ummah”—is that the Prophet of this Ummahﷺleft for it a clear path; if we adhere to it, it will be enough for us. It is also noteworthy here to say that ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) never countered the Qur’an or Sunnah with his taḥdeeth, which is the highest form of ilhâm a non-prophet may have.
470 In some manuscripts, this level starts with ‘inspiration of a prophet’ instead of ‘a fact:’ then the meaning will be obvious. However, the trouble with that version will be the order of the three levels, because the sheikh usually addresses them in an ascending order.
471 Between a seeker and those stations that are yet to be disclosed, or it does not lead one to tear the veils that covered them from the recognition of their ranking by the masses, which may cause them great trials.
472 Does not cause one to transgress the limits of the deen while acquiring this ilhâm or after it.
473 Which is the state of shuhood (beholding) of the One: a shuhood that causes all others (siwâ) to practically vanish from one’s beholding, although they don’t vanish from existence.
474 The shuhood of that time makes one devoted to the only One Who was existent then.
475 Only those who are there can understand what is there.

Manâzil as-Sâirin


Shaykhul-Islam Abu Isma‘il Abdullah ibn Muhammad al-Ansari al-Harawi (396-481H)

Translation and Footnotes


Hatem al-Haj