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 1 month 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 5 months 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 6 months 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 11 months 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 1 year 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 1 year 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.

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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 1 year ago

There is an interesting book entitled 'Mysticism in Iran: The Safavid Roots of a Modern Concept' by Ata Anzali. The blurb says : ""Mysticism" in Iran is an in-depth analysis of significant transformations in the religious landscape of Safavid Iran that led to the marginalization of Sufism and the eventual emergence of 'irfan as an alternative Shi'i model of spirituality. 

Ata Anzali draws on a treasure-trove of manuscripts from Iranian archives to offer an original study of the transformation of Safavid Persia from a majority Sunni country to a Twelver Shi'i realm. The work straddles social and intellectual history, beginning with an examination of late Safavid social and religious contexts in which Twelver religious scholars launched a successful campaign against Sufism with the tacit approval of the court. This led to the social, political, and economic marginalization of Sufism, which was stigmatized as an illegitimate mode of piety rooted in a Sunni past. 

Anzali directs the reader's attention to creative and successful attempts by other members of the ulama to incorporate the Sufi tradition into the new Twelver milieu. He argues that the category of 'irfan, or "mysticism," was invented at the end of the Safavid period by mystically minded scholars such as Shah Muhammad Darabi and Qutb al-Din Nayrizi in reference to this domesticated form of Sufism. Key aspects of Sufi thought and practice were revisited in the new environment, which Anzali demonstrates by examining the evolving role of the spiritual master. This traditional Sufi function was reimagined by Shi'i intellectuals to incorporate the guidance of the infallible imams and their deputies, the ulama.

Anzali goes on to address the institutionalization of 'irfan in Shi'i madrasas and the role played by prominent religious scholars of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in this regard. The book closes with a chapter devoted to fascinating changes in the thought and practice of 'irfan in the twentieth century during the transformative processes of modernity. Focusing on the little-studied figure of Kayvan Qazvini and his writings, Anzali explains how 'irfan was embraced as a rational, science-friendly, nonsectarian, and anticlerical concept by secular Iranian intellectuals.'

Pre-Buyid Shi'ism, which we find in Usul al-Kafi, spoke about an 'irfan that was based upon ma'rifa of the batin of the ontological Imam (the Imam as Light). The Imam as an external manifestation of the Intellect illuminates the intellect of the Shi'a (again, 'aql having a very specific definition, being that faculty that perceives the truth of the signs of Allah).

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

Thank you for your question. It is a very wide topic and to capture all of its facets within a short answer is not easy.

If I was to summarise it in one concept I would say that true irfan according to the school of Ahl al-Bayt is the perfection of the intellect. Not the calculative intellect but the intellect through which God is worshipped and heaven is attained. That perfection starts when someone completely distances themselves from their base wants and desires. The first stage is to realise the reality of this finite world and to turn to God, after which there are many other stages of the combat with the self before the doors of witnessing are opened and the intellect moves on to become more and more refined. It is a path of knowledge, faith, patience, sincerity, kindness, submission and devotion and obedience to them, which are all expounded on in detail in the Quran and the sayings of the Ahl al-Bayt. It is both an intellectual and practical journey and it is a way of life. It is not a way of seclusion or a way of worldliness but it is a balanced way.

May you always be successful.

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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 1 year ago

Bismihi ta'ala 

Like any relationship, we need to put effort and invest in our relationship with Almighty God. We must try as much as we can to build and strengthen this relationship.

Almighty God is always with us, but we have to make sure that we are doing our end in getting closer to Him.

1. We need to educate ourselves about God, and learn more about His qualities and attributes. This will strengthen our knowledge and certainty of His presence in our lives. It is not just theoretic knowledge, but more trying to obtain inner-knoweldge, or Ma'rifah of Almighty God.

2. We should feel this presence of God, which will generate our interest in connecting with Him, and loving Him. To love God means to follow what He wants from us, and to avoid what he dislikes us to do. This means we must obey His commands by fulfilling our religious duties, and to stay away from disobeying Him and sinning.

 3. Remember God all the time, and the best and most effective way of "remembering" God is performing the daily obligatory prayers, which is the most minimum requirement of all Muslims. Should we devote more time and worship Him more, it will be sign of our intensifying of our love. The more you love someone the time you will dedicate and the more effort you will put. 

4. Besides doing the wajibaat, and avoiding the muharramaat, which this itself is very very hard, add more flavour to your spiritual advacement by praying Nawafil, reciting the Quran, and doing other mustahab acts. 

5. There is a wonderful hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) that says that the best way of becoming close to Allah, after gaining ma'rifah of Him is: prayer, obedience to parents, and staying away from envy, pride and arrogance. 

6. Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) are the closest of God's creation to Him, and so connecting with them will get you to Allah ta'ala. 

Wassalam

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Saleem Bhimji, Shaykh Saleem Bhimji was born and raised in Canada. After completing his post-secondary education at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), he moved to Medina, New York, to study at... Answered 1 year ago

Salam Alaykum

Reaching to levels of 'spirituality' and closeness to Allah can be attained by anyone living anywhere. Yes our environment plays a direct role in our awareness and closeness to Allah and so for some it may be easier to tread that path while for others, it may be more of a challenge, however one should never give up or feel that it is impossible to reach levels of ma'rifah of Allah.