Rafed English

Gnosis and Islam

Both the practical and theoretical aspects of gnosis are closely related to Islam, for like every other religion or rather more than any other religion Islam determines and explains man's relation to Allah, to the universe and to other man.

Now the question arises as to what is the nature of the relation between what gnosis puts forth and what Islam says.

The Muslim gnostics do not admit that any of their views or practices is repugnant to Islam. They vehemently contradict it if anybody else imputes any such thing to them. On the other hand they claim to know Islamic truths better than anybody else and assert that actually only they are the true Muslims. The gnostics quote chapter and verse of the Qur'an, Sunnah and the life account of the Holy Prophet, the Imams and the prominent companions of the Holy Prophet.

But others hold opinions about the gnostics which are quite different from what they themselves claim. We mention below some of these opinions.

(i) Some traditionalists and jurists hold that generally speaking the sufis do not abide by Islam and that they quote the Qur'an and the Sunnah only to deceive or cajole the Muslims. They say that basically mysticism has nothing in common with Islam.

(ii) A group of the modernists is of the opinion — and these modernists are not much concerned with Islam and take delight in describing anything which they do not like as an anti-Islamic movement of the past deviation from Islam — that the gnostics practically do not believe in Islam and that mysticism was an anti-Arab and anti-Islam movement launched by the non-Arabs who used spirituality as a cover.

As far as opposition to mysticism and gnosis is concerned, this group holds the same view as the first one. The difference between the two is that the first group reveres Islam and out of respect for Islamic sentiments, looks down upon the sufis and wants to remove gnosis from the list of Islamic sciences. In contrast the second group criticizes and disparages some worldly sufis simply to find a pretext to make propaganda against Islam itself. It thinks that a subtle and lofty spirituality does not befit Islam and as such must have been imported from outside. It believes that the level of Islam and Islamic ideology is too low for gnostic ideas.

According to this group the sufis and gnostics quote the Qur'an and Sunnah only to save themselves from the wrath of the masses.

(iii) The third group is of those impartial people who maintain that the practical form of mysticism, especially when it assumes the colour of a sect, is so full of abominable innovations and deviations that it cannot be reconciled with the Qur'an and Sunnah. Anyhow the sufis and the gnostics like other learned classes of the Muslims are sincere about Islam and do not want to say anything repugnant to Islam intentionally.

The sufis might have made some mistakes, but such mistakes have been committed by all scholarly classes including the scholastic theologians, philosophers, commentators of the Qur'an, jurists etc. This does not mean that they have any evil designs against Islam.

Only those who are hostile to Islam or mysticism and gnosis talk of the anti-Islamic sentiments of the gnostics and sufis. They do so only to serve their own nefarious objectives. Anybody who knows their language and special expressions if studies the books of the gnostics he may find many errors in their books, but cannot suspect their sincerity to Islam.

In our opinion this third view is the best because we are sure that the intention of the gnostics has not been bad. Anyhow, it is necessary that those who have a deep knowledge of gnosis and are at the same time proficient in other Islamic sciences also should impartially look into the theories and doctrines of the sufis and determine how far they conform to Islam.

Adaptd from: "Light Within Me" by: "Allamah Mutahhari, Allamah Tabataba'i and Imam Khumayni"

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