Ladunni knowledge: a look into the depths of revelation
By: Osman Nuri Topbaş
Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş
This special kind of knowledge is purely God-given, a divine endowment, an award. In reference, the Quran uses the expression “knowledge from Our presence”. The term ladunni, meaning “from Us, form Our presence”, comes from that.The truths revealed by the Lord to the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- are chiefly comprised of three categories. The first category marks the truths that can only be comprehended with the light of prophethood; they have thus remained a mystery known only to Allah, glory unto Him, and His Messenger. The Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-did not disclose these truths to any one of his Companions.
The existence of these truths, whose disclosure is both impermissible and impossible – even if they were disclosed, it would be impossible to comprehend them- may be gathered from a number of sayings of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-.
“If you knew what I knew, you would laugh only little and cry in lots”, the Noble Messenger –upon him blessings and peace- told his Companions. (Bukhari, Kusuf, 2; Muslim, Salat, 112)
And in another hadith, he says, “I have such moments with my Lord that neither a close (muqarrab) angel nor a prophet could ever comprehend.” (Munawi, Fayzu’l-Qadir, IV, 8)
There is a further second set of truths that the Almighty revealed to His Prophet, which may only be truly comprehended by a selected and capable few who have acquired a spiritual and intellectual ability and depth, whom are referred to as khawas and khawasu’l-khawas. The truths of this category is the knowledge the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- is known to have conveyed to a few great Companions of the likes of Abu Bakr and Ali –may Allah be well-pleased with them-. Their passage from one heart to another is a tradition. If written books were to be their mode of passage, it would have been accessible to those incapable, as yet, of understanding it, causing a misunderstanding that would steer them to error as a consequence. Be that as it may, each and every person is responsible with learning it as much as is allowed by his spiritual aptitude and power, which he must develop for the sake of his wellbeing.
The third set of truth the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was revealed with are the truths of religion or the law (sharia). With respect to this category, entire humankind is obliged to affirm faith in it and put it to practice. Since it comprehensively binds entire humankind, the Almighty has taken into consideration the weakest, rendering the observing of these truths physically possible. And as they are needed by everybody, they have been announced to the entire world, to determine the obligations of all.
Time and again, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- would inform his Companions of the events set to take place until the Day of Judgment, yet many of them would not be able to properly understand. There were others who would simply forget.
In contrast, it is a known fact that the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings peace- disclosed many a truth difficult in nature to the certain Companions of aptitude, many of which they have conveyed from their hearts to the hearts of others who were of similar caliber. These truths are not needed by the general public, added by the fact that they are of a nature that exceeds the comprehension of most. Their transfer among the spiritually apt is not by a public address but rather through one heart to another; that is from one able person to another person with spiritual ability. And historically, this is how this tradition has survived.
In addition to Abu Bakr and Ali, Ibn Masud, Abu Hurayrah, Muadh ibn Jabal and Harith ibn Malik –may Allah be well-pleased with them- are other Companions who received certain secrets of this unique knowledge.
To the hearts of His servants who properly obey Him and successfully fasten their natural desires and wants to Divine Will, the Lord offers many treats, never before seen and inconceivable in nature. The Almighty indeed reveals in the Quran that he grants a special knowledge and wisdom to such of His righteous servants:
يَآ اَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ اٰمَنُوا اِنْ تَتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ يَجْعَلْ لَكُمْ فُرْقَانًا
وَ يُكَفِّرْ عَنْكُمْ سَيّـِأٰتِكُمْ وَ يَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ وَ اللّٰهُ ذُو الْفَضْلِ الْعَظِيمِ
“O you who believe! If you fear Allah, He will grant you a distinction and do away with your evils and forgive you; and Allah is the Lord of mighty grace.” (al-Anfal, 29)
“O you who believe! Fear Allah and believe in His Messenger: He will give you two portions of His mercy, and make for you a light with which you will walk” (al-Hadid, 28)
The hadith says:
“He who puts to practice what he knows will be taught by Allah what he does not know.” (Abu Nuaym, Hilyatu’l-Awliya, X, 15)
And a related hadith al-qudsi states:
“Whosoever nurtures enmity towards one of My righteous servants, I will declare war on him. My servant may not get closer to me, in any way lovelier, than the obligatory deeds I have commanded him with. And through supererogatory deeds, My servant continues to get closer, until I love him. And when I do love him, I become (virtually) his eyes that see, his ears that hear, his hands that hold and his feet that walk. I then give him whatever he wants from Me. Should he seek refuge in me, I shall protect him.” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 38)
As is obvious, offering supererogatory deeds with love and passion, after of course earnestly offering those that are compulsory deeds in their proper manner, provides a means to receiving such magnificent blessings and awards of the Lord. For this, it is necessary to repel the lowly desires of the ego and abstain from the impermissible and doubtful and, at the same time, embrace the Sunnah as a way of life. Pleasures of the flesh must likewise be confined to where they belong, diverting attention instead to developing the inner, spiritual world. After all, what is at stake is so enormous a blessing that once obtained, it lifts the curtains of human shortcomings that veil the understanding to reveal a window that opens to the truth, the real and wisdom. It grants a precision of judgment and foresight. Outward causes and excuses, and external appearance in general, can no longer deceive a person who has melted in the Will of the Divine. Henceforth, he begins to discover the underlying reasons of all happenings, endowed with exceptional forethought.
Along with the ability to pass precise judgment and offer foresight through the inspirations that arise in the heart, there are also pleasantly subtle ideas that emerge in the mind, delicate messages pertaining to the heart-world, which are conveyed not so much through words as through signs. These are called latifahor lataif in its plural. These are guiding signs with which the Lord gifts his servants who strive on the path of spirituality.
The Almighty may also help His righteous servants in desperate situations by warning them with externally inaudible sounds. These have been called khatif, meaning a secret sound that comes from who knows where, whose speaker is unseen. They are sounds that emerge in the heart of an aspirer on the Sufi path, which invite him to the Real.
The below incident attests to the truth of hidden sounds:
Wanting to give the corpse of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- an ablution, following his bereavement, the Companions were unsure whether to remove his shirt, as had been the case with other corpses, or to leave it on and perform the ablution like that. A voice was then heard from the unseen telling them not to remove his shirt, clearing the minds of the Companions.
Through His messengers, Allah, glory unto Him, has taught human beings the ‘Book’ and ‘Wisdom’. This teaching has, at times, been open and at others as ladunni, in the form of inspirations that shine upon the heart. But as aforementioned, insofar these states generally transpire in a way difficult for human understanding to bear, they have remained a secret to most. Yet, both the Quran and Sunnah testify to the truth and reality of ladunniknowledge. In fact, the below encounter between Musa and Khidr –upon them peace-, recounted both in the Quran and in some sayings of the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-, offers some magnificent glimmers of the nature of ladunni knowledge:
The Pharaoh and his army, in pursuit of Musa –upon him peace- and the believers, had drowned in the billowing waves of the Red Sea, right before the eyes of the Israelites. Following this Divine blessing, Musa –upon him peace- gathered his people, giving them an eloquent and fiery sermon, melting the hearts of the listeners, drawing tears from their eyes. It left them in awe of their prophet’s depth of knowledge and wisdom. Under the inspiring effect of the talk, one of them asked:
“Messenger of Allah…Is there anyone more knowledgeable than you on the face of Earth?”
Taken in by the question, instead of replying “Allah knows”, Musa –upon him peace- instead remarked, “No…I do not know anyone who is”. He thereby committed a slipup. The Almighty did not approve of his response and, at that instant, revealed to his messenger of His “…servant, at where the two seas meet, who is more knowledgeable than you. I have given him knowledge from my presence (ladunni).”
With an avid desire to learn this knowledge, Musa –upon him peace- said, “I will not give up until I reach the junction of the two rivers or I will go on for years.” (al-Kahf, 60)
Accompanied by his nephew Yusha ibn Nun, he then set out. After undergoing many experiences during their journey, they finally found the man they were looking for. The Quran depicts that moment of union as:
“Then they found one from among Our servants whom We had granted mercy from Us and whom We had taught knowledge from Ourselves.” (al-Kahf, 65)
The man, of whom Musa –upon him peace- had been made aware through revelation, was sitting on a rock, shrouded in a green mantle. Musa –upon him peace- approached him. Greeting him, he then said, “I am Musa”.
“So you are Musa, the Prophet of the Children of Israel”, replied Khidr –upon him peace-.
“Are you the man my Lord has referred to as the most knowledgeable among all men?” asked Musa –upon him peace-.
“Allah has given you a knowledge I do not have”, replied he, “and I have been given a knowledge you do not have, Musa.”
“Shall I follow you on condition that you should teach me right knowledge of what you have been taught?” (al-Kahf, 66) then insisted Musa –upon him peace-.
That was how Musa –upon him peace- expressed his desire to be trained by Khidr –upon him peace-. As can be seen in the Quranic verse, the foremost condition of acquiring this knowledge is to be willing to follow; for this knowledge is transferrable only from one heart to another, which demands an accompaniment, both physical and spiritual. So it continues:
Musa –upon him peace- wanted to acquire the ability to discern the inner wisdoms of seemingly bizarre events impossible to make sense of externally. So Khidr –upon him peace- said to him, “Surely you cannot have patience with me… and how can you have patience in that of which you have not got a comprehensive knowledge?” (al-Kahf, 67-68)
Through these words, Khidr –upon him peace- had effectively made the first discovery concerning Musa’s –upon him peace- psychological condition; he was really explaining to him what he was, words that were to be proven right in the end. After all, this knowledge demanded patience and Musa –upon him peace- was coming from a tumultuous life. The lesson Musa –upon him peace- was to learn was his own helplessness at the face of the science of Divine reality.
Meanwhile, Musa –upon him peace- was adamant to join. “Allah willing, you will find me patient and I shall not disobey you in any matter.” (al-Kahf, 69) he pleaded.
“If you would follow me, then do not question me about anything until I myself speak to you about it.” (al-Kahf, 70) advised Khidr –upon him peace-.
So they walked awhile on the shore, boarding a ship owned by two brothers before too long. The two men were allowed to travel free of charge. In return, Khidr –upon him peace- began puncturing the lower deck of the ship.
“Do you want to drown all these people aboard?” Musa –upon him peace- protested anxiously. “Why did you just do that? The ship’s owners are two poor men and this ship is their only means for a living. You have really done something strange!”
Khidr –upon him peace- said nothing except to remind Musa of his previous warning.
“Did I not tell you that you would not be able to remain patient with me?”
“Do not interrogate me for something which has slipped my mind” said Musa –upon him peace- apologetically. “Do not be hard on me over this!”
It was right at that moment that a sparrow came and perched on the side of the ship and began dipping its beak into the sea, hoisting a few drops of water. Bringing the sparrow to Musa’s –upon him peace- attention, Khidr –upon him peace- then said, “Next to the knowledge of Allah, the knowledge of you and I and entire creation is merely as much as the water that bird has just beaked out from the sea.”
After some time, they got off from the ship and began walking. They soon encountered a male child. Khidr –upon him peace- killed him at the instant.
“What?” exclaimed Musa –upon him peace-. “Do you now take an innocent child’s life, when he has not killed anyone? You have done something horrible!”
“Did I not tell you that you would not be able to bear patient with me?” responded Khidr –upon him peace-. Embarrassed for failing to keep his word, Musa –upon him peace- said:
“If I ask you for an explanation once more, banish me from your company. I have truly reached the end of excuses with you!”
So they resumed walking until arriving at a village. Hungry by now, they asked the villagers for something to eat. Not only did the villagers refuse to host them, they also treated them unkindly. Just as they were about to leave the village, Khidr –upon him peace- noticed a wall, made of mud-brick, on the verge of collapsing. So he took to the task of rebuilding the wall from scratch. Musa –upon him peace- could not contain himself.
“You are serving people who disdained hosting us and would not give us so much as a few loaves of bread to stem our hunger…You could have at least asked for a wage for your labor!”
“Time has come for us to part ways”, responded Khidr –upon him peace-. “I will now tell you the inside story about the things that made you impatient:
The ship which I put a hole through belonged to the poor men of the sea. I wanted to make it look defective…for they were being pursued by a king who was taking all the fine ships on the sea by force.
As for the child…he was set to become a rebel. His parents, on the other hand, were righteous folks. We feared that their child might lead them to transgression and ingratitude, and cause them distress. So we wished that their Lord give them a purer and more compassionate child in return for him.
And the wall I set right…It belonged to two local orphans. Underneath was a hidden treasure belonging to them. Their father was a good man. So your Lord willed for the orphans to expose their treasure once they come of age. I did nothing of my own doing. There…the insight into the events with which you could not remain patient.”
Many explanations have given and commentaries written concerning the subtle and mysterious wisdoms contained in the above encounter. We may expand upon some of them below:
Ladunni knowledge is to view phenomena and external conditions beyond human criteria, according to the measure of an order unknown to most. When, for instance, asking questions is considered the key to learning in almost all sciences, this knowledge does not tolerate questioning and debate. It instead promotes silence, patience and submission. It looks at the end result of all affairs. Ibrahim Hakki Erzurumi depicts this wonderfully:
The Real renders good all vice
Think not He does otherwise
To look on, is for the wise
Wait, what the Lord does, and see
What He does, He does splendidly
Ask not ‘why is this so unseemly?’
Only proper that it should be
Just wait till the end and see
Wait, what the Lord does, and see
What He does, He does splendidly
The righteous brothers of the sea had allowed Musa and Khidr –upon them peace- to travel on their ship for free. By doing two honorable men a small favor, they in the end received the far greater blessing of the protection of their ship, at the expense of a minor, compensable damage. In other words, the halal asset, which was put to a lofty service, did not go to waste.
In the ishari sense, or in its spiritual interpretation, that the ship was inflicted with a minor damage and consequently protected from being forcefully seized by the king, alludes to the fact that perceiving the ego, the ship that sails on the sea of life, as flawless, will drag it to spiritual ruin amid the whirlpool of conceit and arrogance; and that one must therefore continually confess to his shortcomings and flaws to protect himself from spiritual destruction.
There are likewise numerous wisdoms underlying the killing of the innocent child by Khidr –upon him peace-.
Man must make sure that his natural yet innocent love for his spouse, children, friends and relatives is kept where it belongs and is not allowed to rise above his love of the Lord. They will otherwise hold him back and even stray him from his true purpose.
One of the great names of Allah, glory unto Him, is ar-Raqib, which refers to His discontent at seeing even a shadow of the love of others clouding the love for Him, in the hearts of those whom He loves. Divine Love, in other words, allows of no partners.
There was a time when Yaqub –upon him peace- nurtured an intense love for his son Yusuf –upon him peace-, especially after catching sight of the light of prophethood on his forehead. But his excessive love for his son was defiant of Divine Will. The Lord hence willed that Yaqub –upon him peace- go through an ordeal. The consequence is well-known: long years of separation from his beloved son. An excess love brought a painful separation.
Through social inheritance, some great truths become universal realities common to all and consequently find expression in the cultural artifacts of a society. One such case is the proverb ‘excess love brings swift separation’, which hints at the imminent damages wrought by loving someone immoderately, to the point of idolization.
It is noteworthy that the parents of the child killed at the hands of Khidr –upon him piece- would presumably have been reduced to enormous grief to hear of their son’s death; just as they were once so elated to hear his birth. Yet, had the child lived, he was going to end up ruining their lives both in this world and in the Hereafter. Had the decision been left up to the parents, they surely would have not wanted their son’s death. But as the Compassionate Allah loves His righteous servants infinitely more than any parent could love their own children, by ruling the death of that child only to compensate with another more righteous, the Lord had really done them an enormous favor. Since the deceased child departed the world innocently, unsullied by sin, the Lord compensated his very short life by securing, in return, his eternal happiness in the Hereafter, along with his parents. A blessing in the guise of a wrath meant that a minor damage was preferred over a greater damage.
It turns that, most of the time, humans err when assessing external events, as they have no access to Divine Wisdom. In the Quran it is declared:
وَ عَسىٰ اَنْ تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئاً وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ وَعَسىٰ أَنْ تُحِبُّوا شَيْئاً
وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَكُمْ وَاللّٰهُ يَعْلَمُ وَ اَنْتُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
“…and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know.” (al-Baqara, 216)
Murdering an innocent person is certainly a great crime, for which Islamic Law requires retribution. So implementing the example of this Quranic narration solely on the back of esoteric knowledge, an act which the exoteric, the legal side of Islam could in no way tolerate, is impossible for Muslims who are responsible only with acting in line with the external. Hence, even great figures who possess the knowledge of the heart, do not act unless the external causes are fulfilled; in other words, they never digress from the world of causality. The limits set by Islamic jurisprudence are undeniable measures for all.
Musa –upon him peace- was a prophet revealed with a law, which he was ordered to implement. Khidr –upon him peace-, on the other hand, was acting in line with a knowledge divinely taught; that is, he was not acting out of his own desire, but rather according to the desire of the Almighty. Musa’s –upon him peace- objection against him was motivated by his reflexes to observe the limits set by the Lord. It is again the Lord who has revealed, to humankind, the encounter of the two in the Quran. This means that the events recounted in the encounter are different manifestations of the same reality, however they may appear as defying the legal facts of religion. Indeed, the moment Musa –upon him peace- found out the inner secrets of these bizarre manifestations, he abandoned all protest, realizing that shariah was the body to haqiqah, its spirit. As the law extends to everyone and most people cannot penetrate the gist of esoteric realities, their obliged with only so much as the law.
In spite of the malicious treatment of the villagers, that Khidr –upon him peace- proceeded, just the same, to repair an almost derelict wall in the village without expecting any financial return, highlights how important a duty and lofty a virtue it is to protect orphans. It equally voices the fact that a halal earning may never go astray. The earnings the righteous earn through legitimate means are, indeed, always under Divine protection.
Othman –may Allah be well-pleased with him- narrates the following with regard to the treasure that was buried in the wall: “The treasure was a tablet made from gold, written on which were the following seven lines:
1. Amazing is he who is still able to laugh despite being aware of death.
2. Amazing is he who pursues the world despite knowing it is mortal.
3. Amazing is he who grieves, knowing that everything is predestined.
4. Amazing is he who hoards wealth, knowing he is to be called into account.
5. Amazing is he who sins, knowing of Hellfire.
6. Amazing is he who talks about another, despite being certain about Allah.
7. Amazing is who expects a rest on Earth, despite being certain about Paradise; and so is he who obeys the Devil, despite knowing he is the enemy.” (Ibn Hajar Asqalani, Munabbihat, p. 29)
Again in the light of the ishari meaning of the encounter, ‘the point where two seas meet’, the meeting spot of the two, alludes to Musa –upon him peace-, a profound sea of exoteric knowledge, and Khidr –upon him peace-, a profound sea of the esoteric.
The fact that Musa –upon him peace- abided by Khidr –upon him peace- for the purpose ofladunniknowledge is noteworthy in its resemblance to the murshid–murid or master-disciple relationship, in Sufism. It may therefore be concluded that even if a person may possess a depth of knowledge like Musa –upon him peace-, he should still be willing to humbly and respectfully kneel down before a saint and seek his enlightening.
“What shall we do”, the Companions once asked the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- “if we are faced with a problem for which we cannot find a solution either in the Quran or Sunnah?”
“Consult jurists and the righteous and seek their judgment”, he replied. “Do not refer the matter to your personal views.” (Haythami, Majmau’z-Zawaid, I, 178)
Imam Shafii, the great scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, used to frequently visit Shayban-i Rai -May Allah sanctify his secret-, a man of profound spiritual depth, and kneel before him, like a loyal student, to discuss specific matters, in hope of benefitting spiritually. At times, his students would object, saying:
“Look at you Imam and look at Shayban…Why do you show him so much respect?”
“For he knows things we do not”, the Imam would say.
In like manner, Ahmed ibn Hanbal and Yahya ibn Main would consult Maruf Karhi on many issues.
Spiritual masters are sought, not for studying exoteric sciences, but the sciences of the heart, as they are guides that shed light on the paths leading to the Lord. Many a celebrated exegete, a scholar of hadith and jurisprudence, like Ibn Abidin and Alusi among numerous others, in fact entered the Sufi path, accepting the guidance of saints to lead them out of intricate matters they could not resolve on their own.
Imam Abu Hanifah, one of the greatest jurists the world has ever seen, similarly sought inspiration in the company of Jafar Sadiq -may Allah sanctify his secret-. The following illustrates the enormous respect the Imam had for the men of spirituality:
It is reported that Ibrahim Adham -May Allah sanctify his secret- one day chanced upon Imam Abu Hanifah. The Imam’s students began staring at Ibrahim Adham -may Allah sanctify his secret-, somewhat disdainfully. Sensing this, the Imam called out to Ibrahim Adham, invitingly: “Please master…come closer. You have honored our lesson!”
Ibrahim Adham -may Allah sanctify his secret- timidly greeted him and walked off. Once he disappeared out of sight, his students asked the Imam, “To what does that man of such praises? How can someone like you call him master?”
“For he is constantly occupied with Allah”, humbly replied the Imam. “And we are occupied with Him simply on the level of words.”
As is valid for all other branches of knowledge, it is necessary to comply with the divinely determined manners whilst receiving training in ladunni knowledge. Comprising the most important aspect of these manners is to embody a humbleness that allows one to be constantly aware of his vulnerability and nothingness.
How striking it is that a prophet of the caliber of Musa –upon him peace-, honored as theKalimullah (the one directly spoken to by the Almighty), never thought to himself, “I need to remain and tackle the problems of my people for which the Torah is sufficient. Besides, I am a recipient of Divine revelation and if I wished, I could just ask the Lord to teach me directly”. Instead, displaying an utmost humbleness, he willingly obeyed the Divine Will, setting a splendid standard for people to come after him. A clear testimony to this state of mind is his resolution to ‘…walk for years on end if that is what it takes to find him (Khidr)’. Musa’s –upon him peace- humility sets an excellent example for all seekers of knowledge.
Had Allah, glory unto Him, wished, He could have made Musa –upon him peace- find Khidr –upon him peace- instantly, without toil. The Almighty instead willed for His prophet a tiring journey, which means that this path demands a tenacious love and determination and, of course, Divine Grace.
The experience of the two also indicates the need to seek esoteric training from a master, compliant with the etiquette and the causal nature of the knowledge involved. More often than not, it is impossible to disregard this nature and obtain this knowledge without amurshid, a guide. Only those of the disposition of Uways al-Qarani are excluded. Triumph on this path requires an immense help as much as it does a strong determination.
On the other hand, that Musa asks Khidr –upon them peace- for training may tempt one to ask how a great prophet could seek the knowledge of a saint, however great the standing of the latter may be. But it must be noted that the desire of Musa –upon him peace- to learn from Khidr –upon him peace- certainly does not mean that he possesses no knowledge and wisdom whatsoever and that he has not been granted any share of spiritual insight (kashf) and inspiration. This is similar to a case where one seeks training from another person, who has greater expertise in the knowledge sought. To give an example, Sinan’s prowess and depth in architecture is undoubtedly greater than all the artists and laborers who took part in the construction of the Suleymaniye Mosque. Nonetheless, Sinan would not know the art of marble engraving as much as an expert-in-the-trade who worked in construction. But this does not imply a deficiency on Sinan’s part, as all the artists and laborers stand under his command.
So, just because Khidr –upon him peace- temporarily became a master to Musa –upon him peace- does not mean he was superior to him. In essence, there cannot even be a comparison of superiority-inferiority here, as Musa and Khidr –upon them peace- are wayfarers of two different realms, incomparable and irreducible to one another. The essential wisdom to be taken note of here is that all created beings, including prophets, stand helpless before Divine Knowledge; and it is this that shines through the recounting of their experience.
Together with being human, prophets are selected persons, the privileged recipients of Divine revelation. These unique servants of the Lord do not commit sin. But because they are also human, helpless before the Lord, they do rarely commit blunders or slipups referred to as dhalla. Through these slipups, which serve to throw light on the nature of a given situation and thus sets an example for humankind, the Almighty gives them a taste of their humanness and thereby trains them, in a nature unknown to us. Here, Musa –upon him peace- is to understand, in due course, the meagerness of human knowledge compared to the Lord’s and realize the existence of many levels of knowledge unrevealed to him. This realization of his is to provide an ideal blueprint for humankind until the Final Hour.
Indeed, in spite of possessing so great a power and authority like prophethood, prophets were only aware of as much knowledge as they were given and were provided insight into the unseen (ghayb) only as much as the Almighty allowed them. Since ladunni knowledge is after all awarded, they may only know that which has been revealed to them and remain unaware of what is kept secret. It is mentioned in theGulistan of Sheikh Sadi that a person once asked Yaqub –upon him peace-:
“You, the wise prophet with an enlightened heart…How was it that you were able get a whiff of the scent of Yusuf’s –upon him peace- shirt as it was being brought from as far as Egypt, yet were unable to see him being thrown into a well just nearby?’
“The Divine share of knowledge given us in this regard”, replied Yaqub –upon him peace- “are like lightning strikes. Truths appear crystal clear at times, yet they remain concealed at others.”
The expression Musa –upon him peace- used when seeking knowledge from Khidr –upon him peace- was in fact ‘the knowledge that you have been given’. This means that knowledge must be ascribed to the Almighty, not to mortals. Allah, glory unto Him, is the absolute source of all knowledge. He grants a share to whom He wills, as much as He wills. For some of this knowledge, He renders external causes as means, while for some, He directly inspires to the heart of His servant.
On another note, if a person who is fasting consumes something through forgetfulness, his fast remains intact. Similarly, Musa’s –upon him peace- objections to Khidr –upon him peace- did not bring an end to their accompaniment. But it was Musa –upon him peace- who thwarted the probable share he may have reaped from this knowledge by urging, from a mixture of embarrassment and excitement, despite not being compelled to:
“If I ask you about anything after this, keep me not in your company…” (al-Kahf, 76) He laid down a condition and therefore had to make do with only that much a share of knowledge.
The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- has said, “May Allah have mercy on Musa. Had he been able to keep patient, through them, Allah will have informed us about many more (mysterious and bizarre) incidents.” (Muslim, Fadail, 170; Bukhari, Tafsir, 18/2) Patience and poise on this path is therefore a must.
Another explanation provided by Sufis on the encounter is such: It is reported that the young man who accompanied Musa –upon him peace- in his search for Khidr –upon him peace- was Yusha ibn Nun, his nephew and a prominent figure among his companions. He ended up succeeding Musa –upon him peace- after his passing away. Similarly, the Noble Messenger –upon him blessings and peace- had chosen Abu Bakr –may Allah be well-pleased with him- to accompany him during the Hegira; the most virtuous of his Companions and referred to as “the second of the two whose third was Allah”. (Bukhari, Ashabu’n-Nabi, 2) These examples draw attention to the importance of establishing true friendships, only for the sake of Allah, on the spiritual path.
Just this experience of Musa –upon him peace- alone gives us a fair idea of the profound nature of ladunniknowledge.
The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- has said:
“I undoubtedly see things you do not see and hear things you do not hear. The sky has squeaked and so it should…for there is not a spot as small as four inches in the skies that an angel has not placed its forehead upon to fall prostrate to Allah. I promise by Allah that had you known the truths I knew, you would have laughed only little and cried in lots…You would have left your homes and dashed towards plains to plead to Allah at the top of tour voices.”
On hearing this, its narrator Abu Dharr al-Ghifari –may Allah be well-pleased with him- commented, “How I truly wished I was a tree being cut!” (Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 19)
Other Companions put their feelings of awe and utter helplessness before the ladunnirealities into the following words:
“If only I was a piece of date birds beaked away at”, said Abu Bakr –Allah be well-pleased with him-. The distraught Omar – Allah be well-pleased with him- wished to be a “piece of grass…or better still, nothing!” Aisha -Allah be well-pleased with her- hankered to be simply “a leaf on any old tree.”
What made them buckle and bend before the Power and Majesty of the Almighty is the spiritual station of helplessness and fear.
Another Companion enchanted by the spirituality of the company of the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was Harithah ibn Malik al-Ansari -Allah be well-pleased with him-. One morning, the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- asked him:
“In what condition did you wake, Harithah?”
“As a true believer” answered he.
“Every truth, Harithah, comes with a proof. What is the proof of your faith?” the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- then asked.
“After I gave the world up”, he answered, “my days became parched and my nights sleepless. It was as if I could clearly see the Throne of my Lord. It is as if I can see the dwellers of Paradise visiting one another and the folk of Hell cursing at each other.”
The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- thereupon said, “Very well then, Harithah. Maintain your condition…You are person whose heart Allah has illumined.” (Haythami, Majmau’z-Zawaid, I, 57)
Again, in reference to Harithah, the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- said, “Whosoever wishes to see a person whose heart Allah has illumined, let him look at Harithah.” (Ibn Hajar, al-Isabah, I, 289)
This incident is depicted by Mawlana Rumi -may Allah sanctify his secret- in the language of love:
“Harithah asks the Messenger –upon him blessings and peace- for permission to ‘…describe what he saw’ and begins:
‘Messenger of Allah…Let me begin to depict, right now, the day of resurrection people believe will take place tomorrow. Let me expose the secrets of resurrection. Command me and I will rip open the veils of these secrets…so that the gem of Divine wisdoms inside me may sparkle like the sun in the skies…
Command me, Messenger of Allah, and I will expose those who were able to remain gold and pearl like amid the dirt and ugliness of the world and who have corroded away in the crimson and black rust of disbelief…
Allow me to make known the seven abysses of hypocrisy in the inextinguishable light of prophethood…
Let me show everyone the clothes the rebellious will wear in the Hereafter. Let me make them hear the sounds of the drum and the kettledrum that will roll for prophets…
Allow me to show them the ebullient and overflowing Pool of Kawthar so that a splash of it may lick at their faces and its sounds echo in their ears.
Please, let me show them the thirsty souls running to and fro around the Pool…Their shoulders are brushing up against mine. Their screams are filling my ears…
The elated dwellers of Paradise are hugging each other and shaking hands right in front of my eyes.
The moaning screams of the dwellers of Hell, their cries of agony, are about to deafen me!
These are signs I express from deep within me. I would say more, if only I was not afraid that the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- might reprimand me.’
He was saying these as he was engrossed in spiritual intoxication. He had lost himself in incredible ecstasy; he had little control over his consciousness. He was ready to expose all secrets.
To awaken him for this state, the Messenger –upon him blessings and peace- said, ‘Get a grip on yourself and be quiet’. Pulling Harithah by the collar, he then added:
‘Come to your senses! Hold the bridles of your tongue for you are at the verge of saying things you should not. The mirror of your spirit has burst outside of the casing of your skin. But never forget that exposing the secrets you are given is because of your inability to digest them. One of Allah’s names is Sattar, the Concealer. Be aware of this and do not sacrifice the joy of living up to this name to a dry indigestion.’”
Just as each particle in the universe exhibits a Divine balance, in the face of the manifestations of the spiritual realm, one is obliged to maintain a balance and moderation. The quintessential example for hisummah under all circumstances conceivable, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- never wandered out of the confines of a moderate standard, the upright path, even when at the peak of spirituality.
The Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- would be overcome with so enormous a spiritual inspiration that it would be impossible for him to endure it for too long. In particular, he would suffer great pains during the arrival of Divine revelation, breaking pearl-like drops of sweat. At times, when inspiration and rapture would reach its peak, he would say:
“Spirituality has inundated me, Aisha. Come and talk to me awhile” and return to the human climes.
In contrast, upon feeling overcome with too much worldliness he would say, “Call us to prayer, Bilal, so we may freshen up!” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 78) He would thereby establish a balance between the human and spiritual dimensions.
As well observing a perfect measure in his inner world, the Noble Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was also moderate towards those around. He took care not to reveal the sublime truths the Almighty granted him, which transcend reason, to anyone apart from those who could grasp it. Owing to the importance of this aspect, Ali –Allah be well-pleased with him- has said: “Speak to people in a way they can understand” (Bukhari, Ilm, 49); that is not according to your level of comprehension but theirs.
In relation to these mysterious truths, Abu Hurayrah –Allah be well-pleased with him- states how he held back from narrating a number of the Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- words over a concern that people might not understand:
“I learnt two urns full of knowledge from the Messenger of Allah. The first I spread among public. As for the second, if I were to spread it, my throat would have been cut.” (Bukhari, Ilm, 42)
The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- has stated: “Passing wisdom onto those whom it is not due is tyranny.” (Darimi, Muqaddimah, 34) It may also be gathered that withholding wisdom from the proficient is equally tyranny. The Quran declares:
“He grants wisdom to whom He pleases, and whoever is granted wisdom, he indeed is given a great good and none but men of understanding mind.” (al-Baqara, 269)
Sufi greats of poise have not offered to share this knowledge they received to those of shallow understanding. These intimate secrets, which wit fails to grasp, after all, have to be concealed from the inept. In fact, Hallaj Mansur, who was entrusted with these secrets the Lord privileges some of His servants with, paid the price of revealing just a ray of them with his life. He was executed.
Having plunged into the ocean of Divine Oneness, Hallaj was overcome with an intense state of ecstasy and spiritual intoxication and the tumultuous manifestations taking place in his spirit when he exclaimed ‘Ana’l-Haqq’, ‘I am the Real’. The verbal exposure of an intimate secret, led people to judge his words according to the standard of reason which, by its nature, could not duly weigh their delicate nature.
Many saints have also undergone the spiritual state in which Hallaj had found himself engrossed. But this state is neither fixed (tathbit) nor an utter identification (tashkhis). It is a passing phase that transpires in saints who, during the station of fana’fillah, or annihilation in Allah, fail to retain their poise and lose control over their reason. A person is not liable under the law of religion during this phase when the power of reason runs out, when it departs the world of external standards and analogies, as the first requirement for being obliged by the law of religion is to be ‘rational’. Reason, on the other hand, plays no part in uttering such words. These spiritual states are utterly incomprehensible through reason.
Since these states are a result of coming under an intense Divine charm (jazbah), a person under the effect of such a state is referred to in Sufism as a majzub. Although this spiritual state, which surpasses any external standard, may be condoned by those with insight, the public dislike it causes is nonetheless justified. Not for no reason has it been said regarding the execution of Hallaj that ‘Hallaj was in the right but so were his executioners’. Poise has therefore been overly advised in Sufism, which regards the state of being a charmer (jazib) superior to that of being charmed (majzub).
It is reported that Abu’l-Harith, the hangman, approached Hallaj from the front to execute him and fiercely struck him across the face, leaving his face and nose bloodied and broken. Right at that moment, Sheikh Shibli, who was standing by, let out a scream and fainted, for some reason unknown.
The manifestation witnessed in Hallaj is a state-of-mind (hal). Once this state passes, the Real is the Real and matter is matter. Sheikh Shibli says:
“Hallaj and I went through the same stages. They called me insane and left me on my own. As for Hallaj, they ascribed him with sanity and hanged him.” He further explains:
“After Hallaj was executed, I went to his grave at night and offered ritual prayer until daybreak. Come dawn, I prayed, ‘My Lord…Hallaj was faithful and wise servant of Yours who believed in your Oneness. Why is it that You inflicted him with such misery?’
Right then, I became drowsy and fell asleep. I saw a dream where the Day of Judgment had broken, where I heard the Real declare:
‘We put him through that tribulation for spreading Our secret among the inept!’”
It is understood, then, that what is undesirable is not attaining to the mysteries of the truth by becoming annihilated in the Real but rather their dissemination among the public, caused by the spiritual intoxication these acquired mysteries may cause. It is therefore extremely wrong to generalize a few exceptional cases of overexcitement, caused by a failure to observe this standard, and speak ill of saints and the devotees of the Sufi path. Speaking ill of the beloved servants of Allah, glory unto Him and failing to appreciate their value stems from ignorance and shortsightedness. It is unthinkable for a believer to disclaim them.
Thus the fundamental principle on the spiritual path is a strict abidance by the sacred standards without, however, rejecting the truth of the eternal secret. It is also necessary not to let words in on the intimate secrets between the Lord and His servant. All these are experiences undergone amid a spiritual ecstasy, beyond the access of reason. Once they subside and the sense of mind returns, this spiritual frenzy makes way for calm.
Under the influence of exceptional manifestations that have called on their spirits, some saints were steered to display certain unusual behavior. But once awoken from that realm, in which reason and will are momentarily relinquished, they continued on their essential direction.
Junayd -may Allah sanctify his secret- was once asked, “Some saints enter a state of spiritual ecstasy and display unusual behavior. What do you have to say about that?”
“Let them be”, answered Junayd -may Allah sanctify his secret- “so that they find their peace with Allah. Except over things the law of religion explicitly prohibits, do not condemn them. Bear in mind that this path has burnt their lungs, their efforts have left them exhausted and parched, and they have endured many tribulations. They behave like that for no other reason than to overcome the spiritual state overwhelming them. And there is no harm in that.”
The prayer Hallaj reportedly made moments before he was executed gives us an idea of his sincerity and soaring spiritual level:
“My Allah…Your servants have gathered to kill me for no other reason than their devotion to You and Your religion. Forgive them…for had You let them in on the secrets You blessed me with, they would not have thought ill of me. And had You withheld from me the secrets You withhold from them, I would not have exposed them. Forgive them, o Lord…for they are only allowing me to reunite with You!”
It is narrated from those who observed Hallaj’s state from the vantage of the spiritual realm that the moment Hallaj was hung upon the gallows, Iblis came to him and said:
“You said Ana and I said Ana. How is it that you receive mercy for pronouncing the same word while I am pelted with curse?”
“By saying Ana, you saw yourself superior to Adam and in so doing, spilled your conceit”, replied Hallaj. “But I, on the other hand, said Ana’l-Haqq, and in so doing, annihilated myself in the Real. Conceit, which is nothing but a claim to selfhood, is the sign of Hell. But getting rid of it and becoming annihilated in the Real is the expression of ‘nothingness’. That is why my share is mercy, while yours is a debasing curse.”
Ibrahim ibn Fatiq recounts how Hallaj advised him with the following when at the verge of being executed:
“‘Some people have declared me to be an infidel, son, while others are convinced of my sainthood. But those who accuse me of disbelief are dearer to both Allah and me than those who call me a saint.’
‘Why do you say that?’ I asked him.
‘Those who look upon me as a saint only do so because of their benefit of the doubt (husn-u zan). But the others are calling me an infidel purely from their loyalty to the religion. A person who is loyal to the religion is dearer to Allah than he who only gives a benefit of the doubt.”
Mawlana Rumi -may Allah sanctify his secret-, who went further beyond the manifestations experienced by Hallaj, has said, “Had Hallaj knew about the manifestations between my Lord and I, he himself would have turned around and stoned me.”
These and spiritual states alike are simply expressions annihilation in the Real or fana fillahspilled out to words. Fana fillah is depicted by Mawlana Rumi as:
“Upon seeing the infinite river of life, empty out the water inside your cup of life into it. Can water ever flee the river?
Once the water in your cup mixes into the river, it is saved from its existence and becomes the water of the river. The water in the cup, then, loses its quality and attributes and is left only with its essence. Henceforth, it shall neither decrease, nor become dirty nor stink.”
Since all their emotions and ideas are directed to Divine Wisdom, for Mawlana Rumi -may Allah sanctify his secret- and alike persons who have kneaded into their hearts the ideal spiritual blend, the Lord virtually becomes the eyes that see and hands that hold.
A Rumi enthusiast thinker elaborates how his profound state of mind eludes the understanding of most:
“We have listened to the screams of Mawlana Jalaladdin’s ecstasy. But we have no way of seeing the depths of the ocean of peace into which he had dove. We only see what has been washed upon the shore from the deepest end of that ocean. We have acquired not the love of Mawlana but the screams voiced from his love. What we try to convey with our lisped tongues is merely that. It was only he who delved into the ocean of peace. We are left only with the sounds released by the storm of his ecstasy…and alas, we identify that with Mawlana.”
The state of spiritual love, rapture and ecstasy is such a mysterious ocean that what lies below the surface is known only to those who have dived into it.
Similarly, Muhyiddin ibn Arabi who put into words a mere portion of this mysterious science, albeit in the form of signs, has been cherished by saints and wayfarers of the Sufi path, looking on at the realities underlying in the bosom of his timeless expressions, reminiscing him as the Shaikhu’l-Akbar, the Greatest Master. Those aloof from the esoteric world, on the other hand, have imputed him infidelity, as they have been unable to untie the knot of his mysteries.
Given there is no confidant around to confide in, who can endure the secrets, it is better to keep silent. It is necessary to speak to each according to their intellectual capacities. Otherwise, to speak about wisdom and marifah to someone who can never appreciate the spiritual mindset involved, is to do injustice to the truth.
Muhyiddin ibn Arabi has thus said, “Those unacquainted with our mindset should not read our books.”
Similar are the words of Mawlana Rumi -May Allah sanctify his secret-. “I have voiced this mystery”, he says, “in a manner obscure and succinct…for he who tries to elaborate will end up with a burnt tongue and its listener with a burnt comprehension.”
To prevent readers of shallow understanding from being steered into false paths, in hisMathnawi, a book offered to the understanding of people possessing varying degrees of intellectual aptitude, Mawlana Rumi -may Allah sanctify his secret- has either used simple and concrete parables to express the otherwise complex and abstract Divine mysteries and truths, or has concealed them under the rubric of signs accessible only to their spiritual experts. He has thereby covered the subtle meanings of the Mathnawifrom those lacking a depth of heart. He states:
“My rhymes are not rhymes; they are an ocean of meaning. Neither is my satire mere satire; it is educational. My parables are not simple, run of the mill words; they are instructive. They are there to explain the mysteries and allow for their comprehension.”
Omar –Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts an incident he witnessed:
“I one day entered the presence of the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- and found him conversing with Abu Bakr –Allah be well-pleased with him- on the Oneness of the Divine. I sat with them. But I felt like a man who knew no Arabic; I could barely understand what they were talking about.
‘What was that all about?’ I later asked Abu Bakr. ‘Do you always converse with the Messenger of Allah in that manner?’
‘Yes, sometimes’ he replied. ‘When we are alone…’”
If a person of the ilk of Omar –Allah be well-pleased with him-, whose genius is incontestable, can barely understand a conversation taking place in his native tongue, one may have a proper idea the difficulty hearing something of the kind would pose an ordinary human being.
Putting onto paper the realities spoken of during such spiritual conversations and their public dissemination in that manner has therefore been regarded undesirable; seen as something adverse. Only in that manner has it been possible to enable the passage of these truths to proper persons, ensuring it was kept secret from the general public. Therefore, a mention of the name of a person thought of as having attained spiritual perfection is always coupled with the expression qaddas’Allahu sirrah, that is ‘May Allah sanctify his secret, or inner world, from all kinds of spiritual dirt.’
Occupied with heart-world of people in terms of its purpose, tasawwuf is thus naturally obliged to use love, the reason of the universe’s existence. It has therefore also been dubbed the path of love and affection. But since love is an exuberant emotion, it may reduce power over the will and bring about an ecstatic and unrestrained excitement.
One such example from the deep love between the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- and Jafar Tayyar –Allah be well-pleased with him- is as follows:
Jafar Tayyar –Allah be well-pleased with him- had returned from Abyssinia to Medina, accompanied by a group of Companions On finding out that the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was actually at Khaybar, he proceeded there, without taking any timeout to rest. His arrival at Khaybar gave the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- enormous joy, as he said:
“Should I feel happy over the fall of Khaybar or the arrival of Jafar?” (Ibn Hisham, as-Sirah, IV, 3)
On his return from the umratu’l-qada, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- discussed, with his relatives, who would be the most suitable person to take care of Fatimah, the orphan of Hamza –Allah be well-pleased with him-. He ultimately decided on Jafar; and kissing him on the forehead, he complimented:
“You are so much like me both in appearance and disposition!” (Bukhari, Maghazi, 43)
So elated was Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- to hear this compliment that he virtually lost consciousness. He began hopping like an innocent child, spinning around himself like a moth around a flame. (Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, I, 108; Ibn Saad, IV, 35; Waqidi, II, 739)
Hence, just as one may very well become ecstatic at hearing such an enormous compliment and become beside himself, he may also shed the external world and become immersed in rapture upon receiving the graceful blessings of divinely manifestations. This is only natural. The important thing is to maintain the balance and to keep sight of the main direction and not spill over outside the standards being a human being demands, even amid that torrential flood of excitement.
Maintaining this balance necessitates guidance by those who, on the Sufi path, have combined exoteric sciences with the spiritual life.
Unless persons entrusted with the duty of enlightening attain to a required level and prowess in exoteric sciences, the danger on the path of spiritual love and affection remains ever alive. To avoid this danger, in some orders like the Naqshibandiyya, it has been custom for masters to be designated among those with equal depth in exoteric sciences, so that they may protect themselves and others from the ominous dangers spoken of.
The methods of spiritual training espoused by saints are various. Naqshibandiyya, one of the most prominent of the all the orders of the Sufi path, trains the disciple without ever letting him fall into spiritual enchantment (jazbah). This is alluded to by the words of Abdulkhaliq Gujdawani -may Allah sanctify his secret-:
“Had Hallaj lived in our times and come under our training, Allah willing, we would have protected him from spiritual intoxication (sakr).”
Insofar as the law of religion is concerned, emotions of overexcitement time and again observed in some Sufi orders, which are nothing but the spilling over of an intensity of spiritual enchantment, are merely slips of the tongue. What they essentially indicate is that although favorable and even recommended in their moderate dosage, excessive spiritual excitement and exuberance may come with some consequences.
Besides the attributes common to all prophets, it is evident that each prophet possesses a quality exclusive to himself. The same goes for saints, in comparison to each other. For instance, a saint may be ofjalali or jamali temperament. But in their hearts, they nonetheless all know the Almighty in a way different to the comprehension and grasp of an ordinary person and strive to gain closer to Him, by abandoning all things mortal. They are constantly aware of their helplessness upon the boundless plane of Divine Knowledge. Be that as it may, not only are all saints not on the same spiritual level, they are also not obliged with carrying out the same duties. Some return to the public once they reach the final destination of their sayr-u suluk, their spiritual journey. They are obliged with enlightening the public. As has been mentioned before, similar to a teacher who teaches a child in a gradual manner, in their social interactions, they act as if they are unaware of most of the truths they in fact know. Feigning ignorance in this manner is referred to as atajahul-i arifana; literally ‘a wisely feigned ignorance’.
Since they are not obliged with enlightening the public, other saints remain on the station of awe (khayrah) and remain in continual silence. It is like they are mute before the flows of Divine Power impressed throughout the universe. There are yet other saints, entrusted with the duty of guiding the public, who are like waterfalls in their speech. Divine secrets and wisdoms begin to overflow ceaselessly from the tips of their tongues.
In some, on the other hand, these states are variable. Their lives exhibit various stages. One such example, as it manifested itself in the life of Muhammad Parisa -may Allah sanctify his secret-, is below:
After the ritual prayer of isha, Muhammad Parisa -May Allah sanctify his secret- would stand at the courtyard of the mosque for a while and return home after a short conversation. Yet sometimes such a mood would come over him that he would come to a standstill, virtually frozen, in the courtyard until theadhan of fajr, immersed in a profound state of awe. On hearing the adhan, he would enter the mosque once again.
Similar to the difference visible in their lives and emotions, each saint has also adopted a different stance towards death. While Mawlana Rumi -may Allah sanctify his secret- looked upon death as a reunion and a wedding night due to his burning with the love of the Divine, Hasan Basri -may Allah sanctify his secret- carried the persistent anxiety of not knowing what was to become of him during his final breath, beset by the manifestation of Divine fear.
All we may know of ladunni knowledge are mere crumb-like reflections onto words, as much as words themselves allow, from its manifestations observed first and foremost in the lives of prophets and their sprinkling in the lives of saints. Since the absolute truth of this knowledge lies with the Almighty, grasping it in its real meaning transcends the bounds of our comprehension.
Spiritual foresight is the ability to observe what lies behind the veils, the secrets of beyond. Only those who are able to look inside the nacre may become aware of the pearl.