The Sufi epistemology

The authentic Sufis such as Imām al-Ghazzali and Maulānā Jalaluddin Rumi have a consistent record of not only recognizing, but also of using the heart as a vehicle for the acquisition of knowledge. That experience of the heart through which it ‘sees’ and directly experiences ‘truth’, is frequently referred to in philosophy as ‘religious experience’. In its wider sense, ‘religious experience’ also includes that internal intuitive spiritual grasp which delivers to the believer the ‘substance’ or ‘reality’ of things. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah Most High be upon him) referred to it when he warned: “Fear the firasah (i.e., intuitive spiritual capacity for penetrating the substance of things) of the believer, for surely he sees with the light of Allah.” (Tirmidhi) And Iqbāl himself directed attention to it in his famous couplet:

“Hazaron saal Nargis

apni baynuri pay roti hai,

Bari mushkil say hota hai,

chaman main, deedawar paida.”

“For thousands of years,

The narcissus (flower) has bemoaned her blindness;

It is with great difficulty that a discerning sage (i.e. one who sees what others cannot see)

appears in the garden of life.”

Iqbāl’s  deedawar (i.e., the discerning sage) is clearly one who sees with an inner light, and this is the defining quality of a Khidr. Iqbāl is himself, an example of a deedawar, and so too was his distinguished student and my dear teacher, Maulānā Dr Muhammad Fadlur Rahmān Ansārī (rahimahullah) (1914-1974).

The epistemology which embraces ‘religious experience’ as a source of knowledge is herein referred to as the Sufi epistemology. The inner knowledge that comes from such a source is known as ‘Ilm al-Batin.

All through history, it was always important for the seeker of knowledge to be able to penetrate the ‘substance’ or ‘reality’ of things. But that would become absolutely essential in an age in which ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’ would be in total conflict with each other. ‘Appearance’ would be so dangerous that, if accepted, would lead to the destruction of faith. And so, in that age, survival would depend upon the capacity to penetrate beyond external form to reach internal substance, and thus be saved from being deceived and destroyed. Islam has declared that such an age would appear at the end of history, and this reconfirms the abiding importance of not only the Sufi epistemology but also the capacity to use it to penetrate reality in the last age.

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah Most High be upon him) advised that Sūrah al-Kahf (Chapter 18) of the Qur’ān be recited every day of Jumu‘ah (i.e., Friday) for protection from the Fitnah (deception, trial) of Dajjāl whose modus operandi is to deceive. The story in Surah al-Kahf of Musa (i.e., Moses ‘alaihi al-Salām) and Khidr (‘alaihi al-Salām) delivers a dire warning of the dangerous inadequacy of the western epistemology which admits of knowledge only through observation. Moses (‘alaihi al-Salām) is mistaken on all three occasions. Khidr on the other hand, who sees with the light of Allah Most High, corrects the mistakes which Moses made.

The story also indirectly points an ominous finger at the misguided so-called Mosaic community of Christians and Jews in the Zionist-created Judeo-Christian alliance, as a people who would be subjected to the greatest deception and would fail to read accurately the historical process. In consequence of being deceived they would blindly follow the most dangerous of all Pied Pipers, i.e., Dajjāl, the false Messiah or Anti-Christ, to their final destruction in history. (Readers may wish to look at the Chapter on ‘Moses and Khidr’ in my book entitled Surah al-Kahf and the Modern Age available on my website www.imranhosein.org.)

Iqbāl is himself an excellent example of a scholar with a capacity to penetrate beyond appearances to grasp the reality of things. He made a thorough and penetrating study of Judeo-Christian modern western civilization and came to the conclusion that its appearance was quite different from its reality. Just three months before his death, he tore away the veil or appearance of ‘progress’ and delivered a stinging denunciation of the modern West. Many advocates of Islamic modernism, including the likes of Shaikh Muhammad Abduh, as well as today’s secular liberals, have declared that they have seen Islam itself in the modern West. Iqbāl was not deceived:

“The modern age prides itself on its progress in knowledge and its matchless scientific development. No doubt, the pride is justified…. But in spite of all these developments, tyranny of imperialism struts abroad, covering its face in the masks of Democracy, Nationalism, Communism, Fascism, and heavens know what else besides. Under these masks, in every corner of the earth, the spirit of freedom and the dignity of man are being trampled underfoot in a way of which not even the darkest period of human history presents a parallel.”

(Iqbāl, Dr. Muhammad, New Year’s Message, Broadcast from All India Radio, Lahore, Jan. 1, 1938.

Quoted in Syed Abdul Vahid, Thoughts and Reflections of Iqbāl, Lahore, Ashraf, 1964.  p. 373)

Yet the same Iqbāl unwittingly laid the foundations of Islamic Modernism with unfortunate comments such as this:

“The most remarkable phenomenon of modern history, however, is the enormous rapidity with which the world of Islam is spiritually moving towards the West. There is nothing wrong in this movement, for European culture, on its intellectual side, is only a further development of some of the most important phases of the culture of Islam. Our only fear is that the dazzling exterior of European culture may arrest our movement and we may fail to reach the true inwardness of that culture (Italics inserted by this writer).

(Chapter on ‘Knowledge and Religious Experience’ in Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.

Op. cit. Italics are mine)

Iqbāl failed to recognize the Shirk that was embedded in the very foundation of the western secular model of a state (see Pt Two of Jerusalem in the Qur’ān). As a result, he made the monumental error of accepting what he called a republican model of a state as a substitute for the Caliphate. He thus laid the theoretical foundation for Jinnah to bring into being a Pakistan that eventually replicated Mustafa Kamal’s modern Turkey. Both states have since been swallowed up into a western-created global political order that has imprisoned both the Turkish and Pakistani Muslim peoples.

 

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