Irfan

In Islam, ‘Irfaan (Arabic/Persian/Urdu: عرفان; Turkish: İrfan), also spelt Irfaan and Erfan, literally ‘knowledge, awareness, wisdom’, is gnosis. Islamic mysticism can be considered as a vast range that engulfs theoretical and practical and conventional mysticism and has been intertwined with sufism and in some cases they are assumed identical. However, Islamic mysticism is assumed as one of the Islamic sciences alongside theology and philosophy.

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Zoheir Ali Esmail, Shaykh Zoheir Ali Esmail has a Bsc in Accounting and Finance from the LSE in London, and an MA in Islamic Studies from Middlesex University. He studied Arabic at Damascus University and holds a PhD... Answered 2 months ago

Bismillah

Thank you for your question. Annihilating in God's Essence is impossible to conceive of as the human, who is essentially a limited being would have to become unlimited. This is a contradiction as something cannot be limited and unlimited at the same time. Rather, what is meant by the term annihilation is the annihilation of the ego such that all that a person witnesses within their being are the signs of God. Those signs, which manifest divine perfections, seem unlimited to us as their limitations are beyond our perception. At this stage, a person only sees God through the mirror of their soul. This view is compatible with Shii scriptural sources such as this part of the munajat of Shaban:

"My Lord, (please) grant me absolute devotion to You and illuminate the vision of our hearts by the light of their gaze looking towards You. Until the vision of our hearts pierces the curtains of light to reach the core of supremacy and that our souls become suspended by the majesty of Your Holiness."

May you always be successful

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Zoheir Ali Esmail, Shaykh Zoheir Ali Esmail has a Bsc in Accounting and Finance from the LSE in London, and an MA in Islamic Studies from Middlesex University. He studied Arabic at Damascus University and holds a PhD... Answered 6 months ago

Bismillah

Thank you for your question. The very meaning of unveiling (kashf) is to life the veil of hidden meanings and realities and thereby comprehend them. Unveiling is the primary epistemological tool in irfan.

May you always be successful 

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Amina Inloes, Amina Inloes is originally from the US and has a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter on Shi'a hadith. She is the program leader for the MA Islamic Studies program at the... Answer updated 10 months ago

There are many paths to spirituality and 'irfan; the one you are faced with is not the only one. It might work out for you, or it might not. If it doesn't, inshallah you will find a different path that is more suitable for you.

It is not possible to say from your question whether this specific 'irfani path, or 'irfan in general, will lead you to hell or not. Many things can lead people to hell. It often depends on what we do with them. Only Allah knows the end of all things, although it is sometimes obvious when someone is going down a slippery slope and a wrong path.

The only thing that is for sure is that when a person is certain they are guaranteed paradise, that person is in danger of hell.

Although I am sure you have done so already, I would recommend sincerely praying for guidance. If you are an Ithna Ashari Shi'i, or even if not, you could also write an ariza to Imam al-Zaman (A) asking for guidance specifically on how this path would affect your afterlife. You could also consult istikhara for guidance. 

This is of course in addition to keeping your two eyes open. (Or, in this case, three or four eyes, if one counts the inner and the outer eyes.)

Wishing you the best!

Zaid Alsalami, Shaykh Dr Zaid Alsalami is an Iraqi born scholar, raised in Australia. He obtained a BA from Al-Mustafa University, Qom, and an MA from the Islamic College in London. He also obtained a PhD from... Answered 10 months ago

Bismihi ta'ala

Spirituality is a fundamental component of our lives as Muslims. As Shi'a Muslims, we are blessed with the Imams of Ahlul Bayt (a.s.), who were the most spiritual of people, after the beloved Prophet (s.a.w.).

It is for this reason that we practice our faith in the best way, and by doing so, we will become spiritual. Spirituality does not mean doing certain peculiar things, or joining some fringe group, or reading tarot cards.

All we need to do initially is perform our wajibaat, and stay away from muharramaat.

Irfan is a very good field to learn about, and you will certainly pick up on some good positive points that can assist you on a practical level.

Venturing into these areas without correct guidance and solid background knowledge could lead to unforeseen deviation. 

I should not say could. I should say most certainly. You must not be deceived by appearances, or claims, or picking up on "powers". The yogi masters who are not even Muslim have astonishing powers. 

Therefore: 

1. Consult with your local qualified mainstream scholar that you and your family trust. 

2. Do not brush away or ignore any red flags you must see in the individual/s you are interacting with. Be ready to disassociate yourself with them if they are not pursuing the right method and they could be a "cult" in disguise. 

3. Read books in this field, and learn on a theoretic level. Try to satisfy your urge through this, and you will also become more educated and know what this is all about. Just be careful and cautious with the information. 

4. Turn to Ahlul Bayt (a.s.). They are the source of true and genuine Irfan. Their Irfan will lead you directly to heaven.

5. Always stay mainstream, and adopt a moderate life in line of the views and conduct of a Mainstream Marja' taqleed (or mainstream Mufti if you are Sunni), who is going to be the authority you align yourself with.

With prayers for your success. 

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Amina Inloes, Amina Inloes is originally from the US and has a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter on Shi'a hadith. She is the program leader for the MA Islamic Studies program at the... Answer updated 1 year ago

It really depends who you ask. People who are against irfan and Sufism will say no, and cite their arguments. Some other people will say yes and cite their arguments.

My personal view is that the general ideas and goals behind irfan and Sufism are in concordance with the teachings of the Prophet (S). For instance, many people who practice the mystical traditions emphasize compassion, forgiveness, humility, self-purification, awareness of God, service, and spiritual development. (If they aren't focusing on these things, they aren't doing a very good job at being mystics!)

(This is not to say I agree with everything said or done by everyone who practices Sufism and irfan, only that I feel that some of what is said matches what I believe to be the core values of Islam.)

However, in my view, some of what is said by people who practice Sufism is not really directly from the Prophet. It may have truth and it is possible for something to be true and beneficial even if does not come directly from the Prophet, I am just saying that attributing it to the Prophet seems to be historically unsourced. However this is a very broad subject since there are so many varieties of Sufism and mystical traditions in Islam.

The same thing could be said about practices, one can evaluate them individually to see whether or not they seem to be reflective of the intent of the Prophet.

From a broader perspective, historically, the mystical and literal approaches to Islam have tended to balance each other out and provide balance in society, and I think it is worth appreciating this. Some Muslims go to the extreme of promoting a heavily literal and harsh interpretation of Islam (for instance, putting all their focus into checking how other people do their wudu and instructing them if they see something they personaly think is incorrect) and this is also not, in my view, the ethos of the Prophet. So I think the mystical traditions of Islam have provided a good contribution to Islamic civilization. 

EDIT: From the perspective of maraji', some maraji' have supported 'irfan, and others have not. For instance, Imam Khomeini was a strong advocate of 'irfan. I have heard that in his younger years, Ayatollah Khoei also practised some 'irfani practices. 

Sufism is a more complicated question because most Sufi orders are more associated with Sunnism, and have their own authority structures.

However, it doesn't need to be an either-or question. That is, one might go to a marja' to get a fatwa or judgment or even political advice, and go to an 'irfani or Sufi shaykh to ask for personal spiritual guidance.

My experience is that when practising Shi'is wish to explore 'irfan or Sufism, it is usually because they want something that is not available locally to them in their religious communities. It could be a stronger spiritual experience, fellowship, or something else.

However I feel that the main conflict that can arise with non-Shi'i Sufi orders is a difference in worldview and theology - that is, at some point, there may be teachings that conflict with a Shi'i worldview, In that case, one has to decide what to follow. 

Also, different people are receptive to different types of spiritual practice. For instance, for some people, reciting a du'a text will be a very strong experience; for others, they might gain more spiritually from actions, such as helping people. Sometimes, also, after reciting the same du'a repeatedly for years and years, they may integrate it into themself and, while continuing to recite the du'a because it is mustahhab, they may wish to explore other approaches to spiritual growth. I do not personally see anything wrong with this, but again we are getting back to my personal view!

(I am also qualifying it as my personal view to take full responsibility for it, and to make any errors my own)

Also, some Sufis recite the same du'as as Shi'is, for instance, Jawshan al-Kabir or Nad-e-Ali

Sayyed Mohammad Al-Musawi, Sayyed Mohammad al-Musawi is originally from Iraq and heads up the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League in London. Other than being involved in various humanitarian projects, he frequently responds to... Answered 1 year ago

The real authority in religious matters is the most learned scholars who are known as Maraaji' of Taqleed. Their opinion is based on comprehensive research in Quran, Hadeeth, Intellect and Ijmaa' (consensus). Among them, the verdict of the most learned is to be taken. 
Irfan and Sufism are two terms about which there are many different opinions among the scholars. 
Many think that spiritual upliftment can be achieved through Sufism. This is not the real picture which we read it in Quran and Hadeeth and life of the Prophet (SAWA) and Ahlul Bayt (AS). Spiritual upliftment is achieved by self control and self purification acts,like thinking, fasting, night prayers, reciting Quran and Du'a, strengthening our will power, remembering our near future (tomorrow) after this life and above all, humbleness in following the Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt(AS). These acts lead to Spiritual purification do not need any of ways of Sufism.

Followers of Ahlul Bayt (AS) have very rich and comprehensive spiritual materials which is more than sufficient to provide them with spiritual purification in every step and degree. That is why you find most of the followers of Ahlul Bayt (AS) and their scholars not involved in Sufi ways while you see that many of our Sunni brothers seek spiritual purification through Sufi ways because they do not have in their books the great treasures which we have from Ahlul Bayt (AS). Just see as an example the book known as Sahifa Sajjadia which has number of supplications narrated from Imam Al-Sajjad (AS) as well other supplications from other Imams like Du'a Kumail, Du'a Al-Sabah, Du'a Abi Hamza al-Thimaali, Du'a Jawshan and many other supplications. 
Many non Shia scholars were amazed when they came across supplications narrated from Ahlul Bayt and found it unique and with no similar in the the whole Muslim books.

Wassalam.

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Zoheir Ali Esmail, Shaykh Zoheir Ali Esmail has a Bsc in Accounting and Finance from the LSE in London, and an MA in Islamic Studies from Middlesex University. He studied Arabic at Damascus University and holds a PhD... Answered 1 year ago

Bismillah 

Thank you for your question. A person can fulfill many conditions that enable them to pursue the path of irfan when they find a teacher. Some of the most important conditions are to work upon their character, their sincerity and their knowledge of Islam. They should pray ardently for guidance and for Allah to provide them with a teacher who is of His real friends and seek someone reliable, making research into the signs of a qualified teacher as many seek to abuse a position of spiritual authority. Therefore it is not wise to rush, but at the same time many people need to actively seek. When the time is right Allah will guide them to their teacher and the signs of that will be clear from both the teacher's relationship with Allah, the Infallibles (as), the progression of the wayfarer and the teachers conduct.

May you always be successful 

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Zoheir Ali Esmail, Shaykh Zoheir Ali Esmail has a Bsc in Accounting and Finance from the LSE in London, and an MA in Islamic Studies from Middlesex University. He studied Arabic at Damascus University and holds a PhD... Answered 2 years ago

Bismillah

Thank you for your question. Practical irfan is a complex area and each person depending on their constitution and the specific path that they are to embark on, have a program that is suitable for them.

As such the closes thing to step by step guides are generally concerned with what a person may experience in terms of states as they progress, rather than guiding people as to how to practice at those stages. Some well known books are Manazil al-Sa'irin of Khwaja Abd Allah Ansari and Risala fi sayr wa suluk of Mehdi Bahrilulum. But like i said generally these books are not written in what would be expected in a step by step guide book.
 

It is usually recommended that a person begins their journey by performing the obligatory acts and refraining from forbidden ones, improving their akhlaq and following the general practices of spirituality, such as praying salat al-layl, fasting mustahab fasts, practicing a level of mubasiba and muraqaba and paying attention to the important times of year, while supplicating for a spiritual guide to take you on the path of irfan, as a certain level of expertise and experience is needed to safely walk that path.

May you always be successful 

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Sayyed Mohammad Al-Musawi, Sayyed Mohammad al-Musawi is originally from Iraq and heads up the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League in London. Other than being involved in various humanitarian projects, he frequently responds to... Answered 2 years ago

There are many websites and books compiled on these subjects.

Wassalam.

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Sayyed Mohammad Al-Musawi, Sayyed Mohammad al-Musawi is originally from Iraq and heads up the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League in London. Other than being involved in various humanitarian projects, he frequently responds to... Answered 2 years ago

The way to Allah is open to every sincere believer who really wants it and strives to be in it.

Those who strive for our sake, We will definitely guide them to Our ways.
(Sura 29, Verse 69).

It is good to have a sincere and able teacher to guide and help, but it is not the only way to be in the way of Allah. Even a person who lives alone in an isolated island can seek nearness to Allah through reciting Quran, Prophetic and Ahlul Bayt sayings, Nahjul  Balagha, and Saheefa Sajjadia .

Finding a suitable teacher depends on where you live.

You can seek help from authentic scholars in the Hawza in Najaf or Qum to suggest a teacher in your area.

Wassalam.

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Rebecca Masterton, Dr Rebecca Masterton graduated with a BA in Japanese Language and Literature; an MA in Comparative East Asian and African Literature and a PhD in Islamic literature of West Africa. She has been... Answered 2 years ago

It may be due to the region in which those scholars live and therefore which types of thought have influenced the idea of spirituality in that region. The term 'irfan' began to be used under the Safavids, to distinguish it from 'Sufism', or 'tasawwuf', which came to be associated with many spurious groups adopting various practices that had little basis in Islam. If we use the term 'Islamic mysticism', it covers a wide range of spiritual trends which have been incorporated into the field. The type of 'irfan' that may be found in Khorasan would differ from that found in Baghdad. Generally, 'irfan' as understood today, includes the thought and practice of mystics, be they Sunni or Shi'i and be their mysticism influence by Platonism or Neo-Platonism. This view of 'irfan' takes an inclusive approach to spiritual tendencies among mystics.

With regard to 'philosophy'  - this term in the Muslim world basically means Platonic-Aritotelian influenced philosophy. There are many other kinds of philosophy also - so the condemnation of philosophy does not mean philosophy per se, but this Greek-influenced trend.

Primarily, both these fields have been disapproved of in narrations attributed to the Imams (as), because both side-line or play down the central pillar of walayah. According to traditional Shi'i narrations, the Imam is the gateway to Allah (swt), the Greatest Sign and the Qutb. Ma'rifah of the Imam = Ma'rifah of God's theophany on earth. There is no greater sign than the Imam (Imam 'Ali (as) says this in Usul al-Kafi). 

The are narrations from the Imams that indicate that certain people used to sit in their circles, learn their doctrines, and then go and attribute those doctrines to themselves. This could be one root of the beginnings of Sufism. Hakim Tirmidhi, in his book Sirat al-Awliya' (The Concept of Sainthood) pretty much repackages the Imami concept of walayah, but replaces the Imam with that of the Saint, or Waliyullah (Friend of God). At the same time, he was writing polemical treatises against the Shi'a. Therefore, those who, in time of the Imams, sat in dhikr circles, or passed on the teachings of the Imams, while effectively breaking their allegiance to the Imam and attributing their teachings to themselves, were condemned. Thus, those who say that 'what it matter where these teachings come from? It all leads back to Allah' overlook the fundamental pillar of walayah and loyalty to the Imam. In effect, if you steal someone's teachings, then those teachings are transmitted on a foundation of betrayal. So there is an ethical problem here.

Some argue that the narrations attributed to the Imams that condemn irfan and philosophy are not authentic. This would require more expert investigation to ascertain their status.

With du'as

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Zoheir Ali Esmail, Shaykh Zoheir Ali Esmail has a Bsc in Accounting and Finance from the LSE in London, and an MA in Islamic Studies from Middlesex University. He studied Arabic at Damascus University and holds a PhD... Answered 2 years ago

Bismillah

Thank you for your question. Muraqabah (sometimes translated as supervising) is a higher state of consciousness in which a person looks over themselves. For each stage of muraqabah a person has to be aware of themselves in the level above the level they are supervising. So, for example, if someone is supervising their speech they need to be aware on the level of their mind to check what they are about to say, to be aware as they speak or to at least be aware of something they just said.

The first stage of muraqabah is where someone watches over their actions and ensures that they are in line with the teachings of the school of Ahl al-Bayt (as). The levels then progress according to the levels and stations of the human. The next stage is muraqabah over intentions and ensuring  that all actions are done for the sake of Allah, including the mundane. Then it is to be aware of the deeper causes behind your actions and intentions. Then to always be in the remembrance of God, and so on. There are many levels of muraqabah and many types of muraqabah depending on what is lacking within the individual. In the literature muraqabah is sometimes classified in the levels of the soul, from the body, to the heart, intellect, spirit, the secret, the hidden and the most hidden. The final stages of this classification  is an expression of ever more delicate levels of the remembrance of God. 

It is also worth mentioning that some scholars have included muraqaba in a system of self improvement, starting with making a condition on ones self (musharatah), followed by supervising ones commitment to that condition throughout the day (muraqabah) and then assessing your success in following the condition (muhasibah)

May you always be successful.