Allah, the Almighty, said:

{And when they hear what has been revealed to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of what they have recognized of the truth…}780 [al-Mâ’idah 5:83]

قَالَ اللهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ: "وَإِذَا سَمِعُوا مَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَى الرَّسُولِ تَرَى أَعْيُنَهُمْ تَفِيضُ مِنَ الدَّمْعِ مِمَّا عَرَفُوا مِنَ الْحَقِّ"

Recognition is the encompassing of a thing’s ipseity.781 It is of three levels, and people concerning it are of three groups:

الْمَعْرِفَةُ إِحَاطَةٌ بِعَيْنِ الشَّيْءِ، وَهِيَ عَلَى ثَلَاثِ دَرَجَات، وَالْخَلْقُ فِيهَا ثَلَاثُ فِرَقٍ.

The first level is the recognition of the [Divine] qualities and attributes. Their names have come in the message and their indicants are clear in the creation. This is achieved by: the sight of the spiritual light, the wellness of the intellect through reflection, and the liveliness of the heart through proper inquiry that is flanked by glorification and thoughtfulness.782 This is the recognition of the public, without which the conditions of certainty are not fulfilled. It has three pillars:

  1. affirmation of the attributes in their [revealed] names without assimilation783

  2. rejection of assimilation without negation784

  3. despair of realizing their essences and knowing their ontological reality785

الدَّرَجَةُ الْأُولَى: مَعْرِفَةُ الصِّفَاتِ وَالنُّعُوتِ، وَقَدْ وَرَدَتْ أَسَامِيهَا بِالرِّسَالَةِ، وَظَهَرَتْ شَوَاهِدُهَا فِي الصَّنْعَةِ: بِتَبَصُّرِ النُّورِ الْقَائِمِ فِي السِّرِّ، وَطِيبِ حَيَاةِ الْعَقْلِ لِزَرْعِ الْفِكْرِ، وَحَيَاةِ الْقَلْبِ بِحُسْنِ النَّظَرِ بَيْنَ التَّعْظِيمِ وَحُسْنِ الِاعْتِبَارِ. وَهِيَ مَعْرِفَةُ الْعَامَّةِ الَّتِي لَا تَنْعَقِدُ شَرَائِطُ الْيَقِينِ إِلَّا بِهَا، وَهِيَ عَلَى ثَلَاثَةِ أَرْكَانٍ:

  1. إِثْبَاتُ الصِّفَاتِ بِاسْمِهَا مِنْ غَيْرِ تَشْبِيهٍ

  2. وَنَفْيُ التَّشْبِيهِ عَنْهَا مِنْ غَيْرِ تَعْطِيلٍ

  3. وَالْإِيَاسُ مِنْ إِدْرَاكِ كُنْهِهَا، وَابْتِغَاءِ تَأْوِيلِهَا

The second level is the recognition of the dhât (ipseity) with the dropping of the distinction between the qualities and the ipseity,786 and this becomes established by the knowledge of union, 787 becomes clear in the realm of fanâ’ (self-annihilation), and is perfected by the knowledge of baqâ’ (subsistence); it approaches the essence of the union. It has three pillars:

  1. letting the qualities dominate their indicants

  2. letting the stations dominate their means

  3. letting the realities dominate their expressions

This is the recognition of the elite, which is found in the provinces of realities.788

والدَّرَجَةُ الثَّانِيَةُ: مَعْرِفَةُ الذَّاتِ، مَعَ إِسْقَاطِ التَّفْرِيقِ بَيْنَ الصِّفَاتِ وَالذَّاتِ، وَهِيَ تَثْبُتُ بِعِلْمِ الْجَمْعِ، وَتَصْفُو فِي مَيْدَانِ الْفَنَاءِ، وَتُسْتَكْمَلُ بِعِلْمِ الْبَقَاءِ، وَتُشَارِفُ عَيْنَ الْجَمْعِ. وَهِيَ عَلَى ثَلَاثَةِ أَرْكَانٍ:

  1. إِرْسَالُ الصِّفَاتِ عَلَى الشَّوَاهِدِ

  2. وَإِرْسَالُ الْوَسَائِطِ عَلَى الْمَدَارِجِ

  3. وَإِرْسَالُ الْعِبَارَاتِ عَلَى الْمَعَالِمِ

وهِيَ مَعْرِفَةُ الْخَاصَّةِ الَّتِي تُؤْنَسُ مِنْ أُفُقِ الْحَقِيقَةِ.

The third level is a recognition that is subsumed in the ta‘reef (Divine teaching)789 and this is not reached through evidences, not pointed to by indicants, and not realized by any means. It has three pillars:

  1. witnessing the nearness

  2. transcending knowledge 790

  3. beholding the union

It is the recognition of the elite of the elite.

والدَّرَجَةُ الثَّالِثَةُ: مَعْرِفَةٌ مُسْتَغْرِقَةٌ فِي مَحْضِ التَّعْرِيفِ، لَا يُوصِلُ إِلَيْهَا الِاسْتِدْلَالُ، وَلَا يَدُلُّ عَلَيْهَا شَاهِدٌ، وَلَا تَسْتَحِقُّهَا وَسِيلَةٌ، وَهِيَ عَلَى ثَلَاثَةِ أَرْكَانٍ:

  1. مُشَاهَدَةِ الْقُرْبِ

  2. وَالصُّعُودِ عَنِ الْعِلْمِ

  3. وَمُطَالَعَةِ الْجَمْعِ

وَهِيَ مَعْرِفَةُ خَاصَّةِ الْخَاصَّةِ.

780 Al-ma‘rifahcould be translated as ‘gnosis,’ but due to negative and irrelevant connotations, I prefer to use the original Arabic, which means ‘recognition.’ In the terminology of the masters of the path, it means the knowledge of the heart that is pure, beneficial, and reformative. The verse was chosen by the sheikh because their ma‘rifah brought tears to their eyes so it was truly recognition, not merely knowledge. The Qur’anic usage of ma‘rifah and ‘ilm is usually in positive terms, but both have been used to denote knowledge that did not come to fruition.
781 This definition makes the recognition of God impossible because no one can encompass His ipseity with their knowledge or any form of realization. However, the intent of the sheikh is to stress the completeness and perfection of this knowledge and its consistency with the extra-mental reality.
782 These people will recognize the Divine attributes that are mentioned in the Revelation and attested to by the signs in the creation through their insightful spirits, reflective intellects, and tender hearts that are contemplative and full of reverence for Him.
783 Affirmation of the Divine attributes without assimilation (likening Him to the creations) and exoneration without negation (ithbât bi-lâ tamtheel wa-tanzeeh bi-lâ ta‘ṭeel).
784 After priming our understanding with tanzeeh, we let the rhetorical strength and richness of the Revelation flow to our hearts unimpeded by intellectual objections.
785Ta’weel has three meanings:

  1. the ontological reality of a matter and its very essence or outcome

  2. the tafseer (explanation) of its meaning; many of the earlier exegetes would call ‘tafseer’ ‘ta’weel’

  3. the deflection of the primary (Zâhir) meaning in favor of a secondary (majâzi) one

When it comes to the Divine attributes, the first one belongs to Allah alone. The second belongs to all people who speak the language of the Revelation concerning the clear statements and the scholars well-grounded in knowledge concerning the intricate ones. The third is a subject of controversy. It is largely agreed upon that the righteous predecessors did not engage in it. They affirmed the primary meanings without assimilation or ascribing a modality to them.
786 Commenting on a similar statement, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim says in Madârij:The intent of the sheikh and his likes of the people of uprightness is for the heart to not be consumed in witnessing only one of the attributes, but it should rather attend to the dhât (ipseity) that is described by all attributes of perfection and majesty. Only then will its witnessing be of the dhât and attributes together. There is no doubt that this station is higher than witnessing one attribute alone.
787 The knowledge of union is different from its essence (which will be mentioned later), which is the experience of the reality of union. This union is a perceptual one, not an ontological one. The sheikh’s life and legacy were exonerated from the heresy of the monists (believers in waḥdat al-wujood) and unionists (ittiḥâdiyah). In the perceptual union, one recognizes the triviality, transience, contingency, and disposability of as-siwâ (everything other than God), so they do not let them distract their hearts from a complete focus on Him. In this union, the manifestations converge into the ṣifât (attributes), and the ṣifât converge into the dhât (ipseity). For example, so many events around us are manifestations of His mercy, power, might, and wisdom. You will witness His attributes in them, then you will witness all attributes combined in the one dhât (Divine ipseity). The tapestry of this existence will be one whole and your heart will be at peace.
788 At this level, the heart will be witnessing the realities, so their verbal and universal indicants will be eclipsed by them and the means will be eclipsed by the ends.
789 At this level, which the sheikh dedicates to self-annihilation, you do not see any of your actions, so it is never about one’s own recognition, but about Allah’s teaching/causing recognition (ta‘reef).
790 This is not to demolish the foundation of knowledge, but to build on it.

Manâzil as-Sâirin


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

Translation and Footnotes


Hatem al-Haj