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.


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 3 years 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 3 years 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.


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 3 years 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. 



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 4 years 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.