Friday, September 24, 2021 English
Home|Coming Programs|Persian Language|FAQ|Contact Us|Links|Sitemap
Gallery is Empty!
Username :   
Password :   
Name :   
E-mail :   

The Link between Tasawwuf and `Irfan

 There also exists a multiplicity of views regarding the term `irfan, which today is considered as synonymous with tasawwuf and which in the past was referred to as ma`rifah (knowledge), one of the highest stations in the spiritual journey (suluk). It is rather difficult to provide an all-inclusive definition of `irfan, however, in the Sufi jargon, `irfan connotes the counterpoint to discursive knowledge. This view is derived from the binary opposition, argumentation-intuition; a conflict which constitutes the undercurrent which runs throughout the history of Sufism. The well known definitions of `irfan consider it as the encompassing of the actual essence (`ayn) of a phenomenon, rather than its form, which is commonly ascribed as what takes place in science. Problems flowing from this outlook about `irfan has necessitated a belief in the unification (ittihad) of the `arif (the mystic, the knower, i.e. the possessor of ma`rifah) and ma`ruf (the subject of ma`rifah). Here, one is reminded of the words of Junayd, “huw al-`arif al-ma`ruf” (“He is the knower of the known”), a remark which is said to have been meant by him not in its literal connotation, i.e. to imply that it is permissible to refer to God as `arif and not as `alim. Many have interpreted Junayd’s remark as implying that `arif and ma`ruf are both references to the divine essence. Hallaj is also alleged to have said, “Ma`ruf is beyond speculation. Where indeed is there an `arif with `irfan?” It has been claimed by men of knowledge that whoever seeks `irfan for its own sake is one who has pinned his hope on a phantom, and that `irfan must be intended as a search after ma`ruf. 

Various accounts on the distinction between the man of knowledge and the mystic imply that `irfan is not only a counterpoint to the asceticism of the followers of rituals, but is also one that stands in opposition to the knowledge of the adherents of discursive principles. Thus, unlike the method of the latter, which is founded upon rational argumentation, whose point of departure is sensual perception, a phenomenon related to the things of the world and one that partakes of materialism, the knowledge of the mystics is based on unveiling (kashf, i.e. intuition). 

In opposition to men of formal knowledge who are in need of intellectual exertion and training, men of `irfan are in need of purification and detachment. Indeed, the ultimate goal of the mystics who seek to resemble God cannot be attained through discursive methods of argumentation, but through severance from worldly attachments and abstraction (tajarrud (from corporeal body)). This has been underscored by Illuminationist philosophers and the followers of the Shaykh Yunani (the Greek shaykh, i.e. Plotinus), whose positions bore close affinity to that of mystics, a fact that has prompted some to consider such Sufi masters as Bayazid, Hallaj and Sahl Tustari as real Illuminationist hakims. There clearly is a distinction drawn by scholars between `irfan and tasawwuf, where the later stands to the former in a relationship of particular to general. However, ordinary people tend to apply the appellations `arif and Sufi to those who are only such in appearance. These are referred to by scholars as mutisawwif (or mustaswif) or muti`arrif. 

Thus, though tasawwuf and `irfan are often used as interchangeable terms, the realities they stand for are distinct. In fact, these two entities may be considered as two aspects of a particular religious life, both of which call for detachment from the world. On the other hand, tasawwuf seeks to achieve this detachment through practice, i.e. spiritual purification through combating carnal desires, while `irfan attempts to arrive at its objective through knowledge, i.e. intuition and unveiling, but one that differs from discursive thought. The earlier shaykhs, such as Bayazid and Hallaj, and some later ones, such as Mawlana and Ibn al-`Arabi, subscribed to both methods and were, thus, referred to as Sufis as well as `arifs. 

The transformation of the notion of `irfan in Sufi literature and its continuous association with the mainstream tasawwuf resulted in a broadening of its connotation, a fact worthy of particular attention in any study of Sufi history, especially since during the course of this development some concepts of pure `irfan came to be known as the state of Sufis, and certain accounts of `irfan – which circulated among Sufis under the title of ma`rifah – were falsely attributed to Sufis and their scholars. The later included a number of descriptions of `irfan which, of course, derived from the viewpoints of their authors, and which were not intended as definitions of `irfan, but which provided the ground for a gradual change in the connotations of the terms `irfan and tasawwuf. 

For instance, a number of Sufi scholars considered tasawwuf as belonging to the category of ethics and `irfan (or ma`rifah) as partaking of the nature of science. Others set forth the dichotomy of theoretical mysticism and intuitive mysticism, and limited mysticism to the knowledge of that which lies beyond sensual perception, thus, they came to view certain mystics as being in possession of both discursive and intuitive knowledge. There were those who contended that `irfan in its specific connotation – the knowledge of the Almighty God – was the detailed form of that which is gained in compressed form through science. Another group viewed `irfan as the second of two perceptions and as knowledge that is antecedent to ignorance. There also exists an opinion which considers a mystic as being capable of creation, while noting that such action is precluded by a true mystic’s ma`rifah, which prevents him from intervening in the natural course of events. 

From the most prominent accounts on the distinction between tasawwuf and `irfan, it may be deduced that tasawwuf is the expulsion of whatever that is beside God in the sphere of one’s actions, while `irfan is the expulsion of whatever that is beside God in the sphere of one’s knowledge. This very definition has been the impetus behind the inevitable belief in the unity of the `arif and ma`ruf. The view that insisted on the assimilation of official tasawwuf and `irfan in its pure form prompted the Sufis to express opinions with Neoplatonic and Illuminationist overtones. This gave rise to a number of particular beliefs such as tajrid (abstraction, separation), i.e. the ability to temporarily detach from one’s body, subscribed to by such Sufi masters as Sa`d al-Din Hamawi, Shaykh Hasan Bulghari, and even Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi and Shaykh Awhad al-Din Kirmani. 

The notion of al-ard al-haqiqah (the earth of truth) set forth by Ibn al-`Arabi, as being constituted of the remainder of the clay out of which Adam was created, is based on the idea of tajrid, an experience shared by the perfect among Sufis. This experience is referred to in the Uthulujia (Theologia Aristotelis) of Plotinus and has been ascribed to Aristotle. In Suhrawardi’s Hikmat al-ishraq and its commentaries tajrid is considered as among the conditions for the attainment of perfection. Tajrid is also believed to have been the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) station of “being with God”, or the truth of his hadith in which he exhorts believers to die before their (corporeal) death. This experience is referred to in the Sufi literature as tarawhun or trawwuh, the ultimate example of which, according to Ibn al-`Arabi, was prophet Enoch. 

In addition, the reports of the words of Sufis and the accounts of their domination over natural phenomena are indications of their belief in the reality of things which transcend ordinary human logic, as asserted in Ghazzali’s al-Munqidh and `Ayn al-Qudat’s Zubdat al-haqa’iq. Ibn Sina is also among those who consider extraordinary actions on the part of Sufis as undeniable and as something to be placed within the sphere of possibility. The sphere which lies beyond human logic, as indicated by `Ayn al-Qudat, is that of prophecy (nubuwwah), which may only be arrived at after passing through the land of wilayah. However, the path suggested by Sufis is one that appears to be somewhat problematic. In any event, this and other similar topics discussed by Sufis – such as the manifestations of divine actions and attributes, the Five Presences (al-Hadarat al-Khams), the sacred (quds) and the most sacred (aqdas), among issues relating to the unity of existence – constitute what is referred to as theoretical mysticism, each of which call for an extensive elaboration beyond the scope of the present book. 

It should be noted that a part of the later didactic Sufi literature is devoted to the discussion of above topics. Such views have been accepted by the likes of Sadr al-Din Shirazi, who looked upon Sufis and their supporters with approval. Another point worthy of mention has to do with the fact that both as regards the attribution of their mantles (sing. khirqah) and their spiritual stations, Sufis were adamant about considering Imam `Ali (PBUH) as their master. He has been called the Adam of spiritual masters. Some have contended that any master who fails to establish his lineage to Imam `Ali (PBUH) is not worthy of being followed. According to Ibn Abi ’l-Hadid all that the nations of Islam have ever expressed regarding the subject of `irfan have been derived from the words of Imam `Ali (PBUH), who had himself attained to the highest peaks of mystical ascent. In regard to the link between Shi`ism and mysticism reference should be made to the book of Jami` al-asrar by Haydar Amuli. 

In is interesting to note that the Sufi masters of the Mongol period and afterward attributed the chains of transmission of their mantles as well as their views to Imam `Ali b. Abi Talib (PBUH). They include such Sufi orders as the Kubrawiyyah, Hamadaniyyah, Nurbakhshiyyah, Dhahabiyyah and Ta`mat al-Ilahiyyah. The Sufis take back their heritage through the Infallible Imams (PBUT) to Imam `Ali (PBUH). The Sufi order of Shamsiyyah, named after Shams Tabrizi, considered themselves as the Imam’s servants and expressed deep affinity for his progeny. Some Sufi masters considered Imam `Ali (PBUH) as an awliya’i Adam and as the source from which all masters derived their spirituality. `Ala’ al-Dawlah Semnani was of the contention that any wali or Sufi master failing to trace his lineage to Imam `Ali (PBUH) is not worthy of being followed. Husayn Khwarazmi was of the opinion that the truths contained in the remarks of the Imam were not hitherto divulged by any other and no one would henceforth be able to set forth views on the same par. 

The reports from the Infallible Imams (PBUT) do not contain allusions to any link between Imam `Ali (PBUH) and a particular Sufi order (tariqah). However, there are factors which may have contributed to this assumption, such as the alleged relationships between Bayazid Bistami and Imam al-Sadiq (PBUH), Shafiq Balkhi and Imam al-Kazim (PBUH), Ma`ruf Balkhi and Imam al-Rida (PBUH); the purported Shi`ism of Hasan Basri; the existence of a number of Sufi orders which traced their lineage to the Imam through the medium of Kumayl b. Ziyad Nakha`i, one of the Imam’s prominent disciples; the assumed link between Fitiyan Muhtarifah to Salman Farsi, one of the four principal companions of the Imam; and the popular mystical assertions by the Infallible Imams (PBUT). These were among factors which led to a gradual coming together of Shi`ism and Sufism, and one that prompted Sufi masters to ascribe their lineage to Imam `Ali (PBUH). Such attempts at ascription include the emphasis placed on such remarks as Imam `Ali’s (PBUH) reply to a question put to him by Dha`lab Yamani (Nahj al-balaghah, sermon #179) as well as the Imam’s reply to the question by Kumayl b. Ziyad regarding the nature of truth (ma ’l-haqiqah?), an exchange which is not included in Nahj al-balaghah but which is reported in many Sufi sources of the period. These may be viewed as instances underscoring the strong impulse on the part of the Sufis to portray themselves as spiritual heirs to the Imam (PBUH). 

However, contrary to the claims advanced by early Sufi leaders regarding their heritage going back to the insight of Shi`ite Imams (PBUT), and even regarding the attribution of certain major Shi`ite scholars to Sufism, Shi`ite leaders and scholars have steadfastly rejected any links between the Infallible Imams (PBUT) and members of Sufi orders. Whatever the relationship between Shi`ism and Sufism, the influence of the former over the latter is impossible to deny, a statement which is backed by a wide range of evidence. Also of importance are a number of esoteric teachings of Ikhwan al-Safa which played a crucial role in the formation of Islamic tasawwuf and `irfan. In sum, `irfan is the culmination of the spiritual wayfaring (suluk) of the adherents of tasawwuf regarding ma`rifah, and the fruit of tasawwuf is the exact investigation of the theoretical aspects of tasawwuf, whose development is the subject of the history of Sufism, a fact that underlies the interchangeable use in this article of the terms `irfan and tasawwuf.

 source: Zarrinkoob , Abdol Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.468- 470

Advance Search Web Search



Holy Quran Compeitition

KANS Scientific Competition, in its second round in 2021

The 13th Intl.Festival Rizvi Book

پیغام  آشنا  شمارہ  ۸۰

پیغام  آشنا  شمارہ  ۸۱

Echo Nourooz

دھہ فجر



haj qasim soliemani

جامعہ خیرین مدرسہ ساز

internation conference

Farabi International Awards

بنیاد اندیشہ اسلامی


Alzahra University at a Glance

The Office of Ayatullah Khamenei

Islamic Culture and Relations Organization

Visit Iran

Saadi Foundation

iran today

majma jahani

prayer time


persian admission form

introduction of cultural center

Islami Bedari

iranian film

ibrahim amini

irancultural and tourism

خبرگزاري قرآني ايران

islamic unity
Visitorsofpage: 544
Visitorsofday : 584
Visitorsofpage : 425995
Onlinevisitors : 4
PageLoad : 10.0886

Home|Coming Programs|Persian Language|FAQ|Contact Us|Links|Sitemap