The Uncovering of the Third Veil
Faith (Iman ايمان)
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ آمِنُواْ
“O ye who believe! Believe.“ (Q 4:136),
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ
“O ye who believe!“ (Q 4:135).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
الايمان ان توءمن بالله وملاءكته وكتبه ورسله واليوم الاخر
“Faith is belief in Allah, His angels, His (revealed) books and day of Resurrection.”
Etymologically, iman ايمان (faith) means verification. Everyone has discussed a lot concerning the meaning of faith (iman) according to Shariat (religious law) and there is a lot of controversy among them. The Mutazilites hold that faith includes acts of devotion, both theoretically as well as practically; hence they say that a man who commits sin, no more retains his faith. The Kharijites are of the same opinion and declares a man infidel if he commits a sin. Some declare that faith is simply a verbal profession, while others say it is only knowledge of Allah. And some of the Sunni scholastics assert that it is mere verification. I have written a separate book explaining this subject, but here purpose is to establish what the Sufi Sheikhs believe.
Like the scholastics, the Sufi Sheikhs are also divided on this question in two groups. One group which includes Fudayl b. Iyad, Bashr Hafi, Khair al-Nassaj, Sumnun al-Muhibb, Abu Hamza Baghdadi, Muhammad Jurairi and a great number of others hold that faith is the totality of verbal profession, verification and practice. But the other group which includes Ibrahim b. Adham, Dhu al-Nun, Abu Yazid, Abu Suleman Durani, Harith Muhasibi, Junaid, Sahl b. Abdullah, Shaqiq Balkhi, Hatim Asam, Muhammad b. al-Fadl Balkhi and a number besides hold that faith is verbal profession and verification. Among the scholastics Malik and Shafii and Ahmad b. Hanbal maintain the former view, while Abu Hanifa, Hussein b. Fadl Balkhi, Muhammad b. al-Hasan, Dawud Tai and Abu Yusaf support the latter view.
The difference between them is entirely one of the expressions and is devoid of substance. I will now briefly explain, in order that you may acquire its knowledge to safeguard against charging someone for contradicting the principle of faith.
Both Sunni Ulama and Sufi Sheikhs are agreed that faith has essence and a derivative. The essence of the faith is confirmation in the heart, and the derivative is observance of the Divine command. Arabs commonly and customarily transfer the name of an essence to a derivative by way of metaphor, e.g. they call the sun light “the sun”. In this sense the one of the groups apply the term faith to the obedience, for man cannot save himself from Divine punishment without being obedient to His command. The mere confirmation without performance of the Divine commands is not sufficient to secure one from punishment. Therefore, the more one is devoted the more he is secure from punishment. Since obedience together with confirmation and verbal profession is the cause of security from Divine punishment, therefore, they bestow on obedience the name of faith.
The other group asserts that gnosis, not obedience, is the cause of safety and deliverance, for the devotion without gnosis is of no avail. But contrary to this, if one has gnosis but lacks in worship will be ultimately delivered, though it depends on the will of Allah whether he shall be pardoned by His grace or through the intercession of the Prophet (peace be upon him), or whether he shall be punished according to his transgressions and then be permitted to Paradise. Those who have gnosis, although they are transgressors and guilty, by reason of their gnosis would not remain for ever in Hell, while those who have only acts without gnosis do not enter Paradise. So it becomes clear that worship and obedience are not the causes of the cause of deliverance. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
لن ينجواحد كم بعمله
none of you shall be delivered because of his acts.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked that even would he also be treated in the same way and he replied,
لا انا الا ان يتغمدني الله برحمته
yes, I too, though Allah may cover me with His Grace.”
Hence in reality, without any controversy among Muslims, faith is gnosis, admission, and performance of acts. One knows Allah by His attributes, and the most elect of His attributes are:
- those concerned with His Magnificence,
- those concerned with His Majesty, and
- those concerned with His Excellence.
As regards to the later the created have no clue of it except to recognize His Excellence and deny all sorts of imperfection from Him. As regard to formers, the one whose object is His Magnificence is always longing for vision and that whose object is His Majesty would always abhors his own attributes and his heart is stricken with awe and fear. So longing is the result of the effects of love, and so is abhorrence of human attributes, because the lifting of the veil of human attributes is the very essence of love. Therefore faith and gnosis are love, and obedience and devotion are the signs of this love. So, when soul is the place of friendship, eyes the honored place of sight, life the place of warning and spirit place of contemplation, then his body should not neglect the command of Allah and who neglects His command knows Him not.
It is very common now a day among the aspirants to Sufism. When a group of heretics saw the excellence and respect of the real Sufis, they pretended themselves to be like them and started saying that the pain of the worship and obedience only last until you do not attain marifat (knowledge of Allah) and once you have attained it the pain of the worship and obedience vanishes from the body. I say no, rather when you have gnosis, the spirit is filled with longing and His command is held in greater veneration than before. But I do consider that a pious man may reach a point where he is relieved from the irksomeness of obedience and devotion through the increase of Divine aid, so that he performs without trouble what is troublesome to others. This state is not achievable without a longing that produces violent agitation.
Some say that faith is God gifted, while others say that it springs entirely from man and this has long been a matter of controversy among the people in Transoxania. Those who assert that faith come entirely from Allah, they in one sense believe on sheer compulsion, because man must then have no choice. Those who assert that it springs entirely from man believe on free-will, though man cannot know Allah except through the knowledge that He gives him. The way to Tawhid (unification) lies between compulsion and free-will. Faith is an act of man but it is linked to the guidance of Allah, as He said:
فَمَن يُرِدِ اللّهُ أَن يَهْدِيَهُ يَشْرَحْ صَدْرَهُ لِلإِسْلاَمِ وَمَن يُرِدْ أَن يُضِلَّهُ يَجْعَلْ صَدْرَهُ ضَيِّقًا حَرَجًا
“Those whom Allah (in His Plan) willeth to guide – He openeth their breast to Islam; those whom He willeth to leave straying – He maketh their breast close and constricted,” (Q 6:125),
i.e. inclination to believe is the guidance of Allah, while belief is the act of man. The signs of the desire of guidance in the heart are that:
- One must have firm belief of unification in the heart;
- His eyes are refraining from forbidden sights and looking heedfully on evidences;
- His ears are desirous of listening to His word:
- His belly is empty of what is unlawful;
- His tongue is committed to speak only the truth, and
- His body is refraining from all unlawful activities.
If one fulfills all these only then he can establish his claim matching the reality and acts. Hence those who assert that faith comes entirely from Allah, maintain that gnosis and faith may increase or decrease. Although everyone is agreed on that increase or decrease is not possible in marifat (knowledge of Allah) because if it is lawful in marifat, then per force the object of gnosis must also be liable to increase or decrease. So when fluctuation is not lawful on the Object, then how it could be lawful on His marifat, for marifat cannot be anti to marifat, therefore, increase or decrease would take place in acts and in other areas. Everyone is agreed upon that obedience may increase or decrease and this fluctuation is in acts and in other areas. Hashwiyan who links themselves to both these groups are involved in a strange confusion as some of them hold that obedience is an element of faith, while others declare that faith is a verbal profession and nothing else. Both these doctrines are unjust.
In short, faith is the absorption of all human attributes in the desire and search of Allah and seekers of the Truth must acknowledge that the might of gnosis overwhelms the attributes of agnosticism, and where faith exists agnosticism is banished, for, as it is said,
اذا طلع الصباح بطل المصباح
“a lamp is of no use when the dawn rises,”
and no argument is required to establish the outbreak of day. And Allah has said,
إِنَّ الْمُلُوكَ إِذَا دَخَلُوا قَرْيَةً أَفْسَدُوهَا
Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it,” (Q 27:34).
When gnosis is established in the heart of the Gnostic, all the effects of doubt and skepticism and agnosticism are vanished, and the influence of gnosis subdues his senses and passions so that in all his acts, visions and words he remains within the grip of His Authority.
Someone asked Ibrahim Khawwas concerning the reality of faith. He replied:
I have no answer to this question just now, because whatever I say now would be mere expression. This question is of such nature which demands its answer through practical action. I am setting out for Mecca, and you are also destined for Mecca. Be my fellow traveler, so you may find the answer. He consented and joined Ibrahim in his journey to Mecca. As they journeyed through the desert, every day two loaves and two cups of water appeared. Ibrahim gave one to him and took the other for himself. One day an old man riding on a horse came to them. When he saw Ibrahim, he got down from the horse and conversed with Ibrahim for a while, and then he left. The fellow asked Ibrahim that who was the elder man. Ibrahim told him that it was the answer of his question. On his further quest, Ibrahim told him:
“He was Khidr, who pleaded to let him accompany me, but I refused, for I feared that in his company I might put confidence in him instead of Allah, and then my trust in Allah would have been vitiated. Real faith is trust in Allah.”
As Allah has said,
وَعَلَى اللّهِ فَتَوَكَّلُواْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ
but on Allah put your trust if you have faith.“ (Q 5:23).
Muhammad b. Khafif says:
الايمان تصديق القلب بما اعلمه الغيوب
“Faith is the belief of the heart in that knowledge which comes from the Unseen.”
The true faith is to believe in that which is hidden. The vision of Allah is not possible through eyes. The state of belief in a man can not take place until he receives strength and aid from Allah and it is not attainable until it is bestowed by Allah. All the Gnostics get gnosis and knowledge from Him. He is the One who reveals gnosis and knowledge in their hearts and has kept it away from man through his own struggle. Therefore, who establishes the faith of His gnosis in his heart, is a pious man.
Now I will discuss the matters of practice and will explain their difficulties.