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THE Sufis distinguish three organs of spiritual communication: the heart (qalb), which knows God; the spirit (ruh), which loves Him; and the inmost ground of the soul (sirr), which contemplates Him. It would take us into deep waters if we were to embark upon a discussion of these terms and their relation to each other. A few words concerning the first of the three will suffice. The qalb, though connected in some mysterious way with the physical heart, is not a thing of flesh and blood. Unlike the English 'heart,' its nature is rather intellectual than emotional, but whereas the intellect cannot gain real knowledge of God, the qalb is capable of knowing the essences of all things, and when illumined by faith and knowledge reflects the whole content of the divine mind; hence the Prophet said, "My earth and My heaven contain Me not, but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me." This revelation, however, is a comparatively rare experience.

Normally, the heart is 'veiled,' blackened by sin, tarnished by sensual impressions and images, pulled to and fro between reason and passion: a battlefield on which the armies of God and the Devil contend for victory. Through one gate, the heart receives immediate knowledge of God; through another, it lets in the illusions of sense. "Here a world and there a world," says Jalaluddin Rumi. "I am seated on the threshold." Therefore man is potentially lower than the brutes and higher than the angels.

"Angel and brute man's wondrous leaven compose;

To these inclining, less than these he grows,

But if he means the angel, more than those."

Less than the brutes, because they lack the knowledge that would enable them to rise; more than the angels, because they are not subject to passion and so cannot fall.

How shall a man know God? Not by the senses, for He is immaterial; nor by the intecllect, for He is unthinkable. Logic never gets beyond the finite; philosophy sees double; book-learning fosters self-conceit and obscures the idea of the Truth with clouds of empty words. Jalaluddin Rumi, addressing the scholastic theologian, asks scornfully:

"Do you know a name without a thing answering to it?

Have you ever plucked a rose from R, O, S, E?

You name His name; go, seek the reality named by it!

Look for the moon in the sky, not in the water!

If you desire to rise above mere names and letters,

Make yourself free from self at one stroke.

Become pure from all attributes of self,

That you may see your own bright essence,

Yea, see in your own heart the knowledge of the Prophet,

Without book, without tutor, without preceptor."

This knowledge comes by illumination, revelation, inspiration.

"Look in your own heart," says the Sufi, "for the kingdom of God is within you." He who truly knows himself knows God, for the heart is a mirror in which every divine quality is reflected. But just as a steel mirror when coated with rust loses its power of reflexion, so the inward spiritual sense, which Sufis call the eye of the heart, is blind to the celestial glory until the dark obstruction of the phenomenal self, with all its sensual contaminations, has been wholly cleared away. The clearance, if it is to be done effectively, must be the work of God, though it demands a certain inward co-operation on the part of man. "Whosoever shall strive for Our sake, We will guide him into Our ways" (Kor. 29.69). Action is false and vain, if it is thought to proceed from one's self, but the enlightened mystic regards God as the real agent in every act, and therefore takes no credit for his good works nor desires to be recompensed for them.

While ordinary knowledge is denoted by the term ‘ilm, the mystic knowledge peculiar to the Sufis is called ma‘rifat or ‘irfan. As I have indicated in the foregoing paragraphs, ma‘rifat is fundamentally different from ‘irfan, and a different word must be used to translate it. We need not look far for a suitable equivalent. The ma‘rifat of the Sufis is the 'gnosis' of Hellenistic theosophy, i.e. direct knowledge of God based on revelation or apocalyptic vision. It is not the result of any mental process, but depends entirely on the will and favour of God, who bestows it as a gift from Himself upon those whom He has created with the capacity for receiving it. It is a light of divine grace that flashes into the heart and overwhelms every human faculty in its dazzling beams. "He who knows God is dumb."

The relation of gnosis to positive religion is discussed in a very remarkable treatise on speculative mysticism by Niffari, an unknown wandering dervish who died in Egypt in the latter half of the tenth century. His work, consisting of a series of revelations in which God addresses the writer and instructs him concerning the theory of gnosis, is couched in abstruse language and would scarcely be intelligible without the commentary which accompanies it; but its value as an original exposition of advanced

Those who seek God, says Niffari, are of three kinds: firstly, the worshippers to whom God makes Himself known by means of bounty, i.e. they worship Him in the hope of winning Paradise or some spiritual recompense such as dreams and miracles; secondly, the philosophers and scholastic theologians, to whom God makes Himself known by means of glory, i.e. they can never find the glorious God whom they seek, wherefore they assert that His essence is unknowable, saying, "We know that we know Him not, and that is our knowledge"; thirdly, the gnostics, to whom God makes Himself known by means of ecstasy, i.e. they are possessed and controlled by a rapture that deprives them of the consciousness of individual existence.

Niffari bids the gnostic perform only such acts of worship as are in accordance with his vision of God, though in so doing he will necessarily disobey the religious law which was made for the vulgar. His inward feeling must decide how far the external forms of religion are good for him.

"God said to me, Ask Me and say, 'O Lord, how shall I cleave to Thee, so that when my day (of judgment) comes, Thou wilt not punish me nor avert Thy face from me?' Then I will answer thee and say, 'Cleave in thy outward theory and practice to the Sunna (the rule of the Prophet), and cleave in thy inward feeling to the gnosis which I have given thee; and know that when I make Myself known to thee, I will not accept from thee anything of the Sunna but what My gnosis brings to thee, because thou art one of those to whom I speak: thou hearest Me and knowest that thou hearest Me, and thou seest that I am the source of all things.'"

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