In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate
In the cosmic realm, human beings are like balls released into space which have within them a hidden potential energy for flight into an infinitely sublime world. But the gravitational attraction of worldly pleasures draws them toward the depths of the material world, as a result of which they fall and become degenerate; and the selfish tendencies and Satanic temptations which have become embodied in materialistic civilizations and cultures increase the speed of their downfall.
Amidst all this, there are a few individuals and groups of people the eyes of whose hearts are open to spiritual truths and the ears of whose souls have become familiar with divine messages who have the resolution to turn aside from the pollution of their animalistic desires, who open their wings to the illuminated horizon of the angelic domain and in the course of their evolution they begin an ascent to the origin of all beauties, splendours, powers, and raptures and the infinite source of perfections, and in a word, ascend toward God.
Like balls which have bounced down to the ground, they are disillusioned with the dead‑end of materialism and once again, with the same speed with which they descended, they move in the opposite direction and rise toward the sublime world. It is quite likely that this process will recur repeatedly This reaction may be well observed, nowadays, among groups of people who have become disillusioned with corrupt Western culture and who feel within themselves a great thirst and longing for spiritual values, and wander to and fro in order to find the fountainhead of this lucid water. But, alas, most of them fall into the traps laid by sorcerers who in place of the nectar of gnosis pour the poison of perdition down their throats. They lead them from pitfall to abyss, and through a rear door to the realm of ruin and destruction.
The centrifugal motion of materialistic culture and the turn back toward spiritual culture is not merely restricted to individual tendencies. We are now witnessing movements toward Islam in all corners of the world, even in the most polluted and corrupt of afflicted lands. These movements have been accelerated by a great Islamic revolution led by a prominent gnostic, who, taking advantage of the flourishing talents of the people, was able to gain victory over the Satanic forces in the rays of the lights of Islamic teachings.
Despite the great obstacles put in its way on all sides, it still gallops forward. But, although this is not the first time that a divine man and gnostic of the Lord has undertaken the leadership of a popular movement, it is not easy to find another example with such scope and depth and with such firmness and stability.
In any case, this phenomenon, in turn, also can be a very strong motive for the investigation of the role of spiritual tendencies, especially the role of Islamic gnosis, in the positive and desirable changes in the lives of human beings.
Gnosis (`Irfan) in the Islamic World
From antiquity, in the Islamic world there have been tendencies by the names of gnosis (`iron) and sufism (tasawwuf), and from the 4th/10th to 8th/14th centuries they reached their summit in many countries such as Iran and Turkey. Today, there are various sufi sects all over the world. Similar tendencies also may be found among the followers of the other religions.
Considering this common aspect, it is natural for the question to be raised as to whether there really is any such thing as Islamic gnosis to be found in Islam, or whether Muslims have taken this from others, so that what is called Islamic gnosis is really the gnosis of Muslims, not a truly Islamic gnosis. If there is such a thing as gnosis in Islam, is this the very thing which currently exists among Muslims, or has it been subjected to changes?
In answering these questions, some have absolutely denied the existence of gnosis in Islam and have regarded it as heretical innovation to be repudiated. Others consider it to have come from outside the context of Islam, while holding it to be compatible with it. In this line, some have said that sufism is an acceptable innovation in Islam, like monasticism in Christianity. In this regard, the Glorious Qur’an states:
“And as for monasticism, they invented it themselves; We did not prescribe it for them, except for seeking the pleasure of Allah.” (57:27)
Finally, there is a group who consider gnosis to be not only a part of Islam, but the kernel and spirit of it which comes from the Qur’an and prophetic sunnah, just as the other parts of Islam. It is not that it was adapted from other schools of thought and trends, and the aspects common to gnosis in Islam and other religions is no reason to hold that Islamic gnosis was derived from them, just as the similarities between the religious law (shari`ah) of Islam and the heavenly religious laws of the previous religions does not mean that the former was derived from the latter.
We approve of the last response to the question, and we add that the assertion of the originality of Islamic gnosis is not to condone whatever has been called gnosis or sufism in Islam. Likewise, it is not just any sort of creed or conduct found among groups related to Islam that can be considered truly Islamic beliefs and practices; otherwise, Islam would necessarily be a contradictory set of beliefs with a conflicting set of values, or there would be conflicting and contradictory Islams!
In any case, with our admission of the originality of Islamic gnosis, a gnosis whose highest degree was reached by the Noble Prophet, may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him and his folk, and his true successors, we do not deny the existence of foreign elements among the Muslim gnostics and sufis. Many of the views and manners of behaviour of the sufi orders are disputable.
Authored By: Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi