Literally meaning perception, intelligence, discretion, evidence, and witness, insight (basira) is defined as having an eye of the heart open, deep perception, an ability to see consequences at the beginning of an act, or foresight. Insight acquires a different, deeper dimension among Sufis. It is considered the primary source of spiritual knowledge obtained through reflective thought and inspiration, the first degree in the spirit’s perception of the reality of things; and a power of conscience that discerns and establishes values originating in the spirit, whereas reason becomes entangled in colors, forms, and qualities. It is also a power of perception so sharpened by the light of nearness to the Divine Being that, when other powers of perception become exhausted by the imagination, it acquires great familiarity with mysteries lying behind things and, without any guide or evidence, reaches the Truth of the truths, where reason is bewildered.
Seeing is one of the luminous Attributes of God Almighty, and one’s insight, as declared in: We have shared among them (43:32), is proportionate to one’s ability to receive the manifestations of this Attribute. The greatest portion belongs to the one who, having benefited from that Divine Source to the fullest, poured his inspirations into the hearts of his followers, namely Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. He is the most polished mirror of the manifestations of the Ultimate Truth, and is unequaled in receiving them. The Divine declaration: Say: This is my path. I call to God on clear evidence and by insight, I and whoever follows me (12:108) points to the greatness of the share of that Divine gift belonging to the prince of the Prophets and his followers.
This matchless perceptiveness allowed that holy traveler on the path of Ascension to reach in one breath the realms beyond corporeal existence, which those devoid of any amount of perception regard as dark or unknown or the existence of which they categorically deny. He studied those realms like a book, and traveled on the “slopes” of the Unseen where the archetypal tablets are exhibited, and the melodies of the pens of Destiny, which make one’s heart jump, thrilled him. He visited Paradise accompanied by heavenly servants, and received a Divine welcome on the border between the created realm and the infinite realm of Divinity. That is, he rose as high as any created being can rise and acquired such nearness to God that it is described in the Qur’an metaphorically as the distance between the strings of two bows (put adjacent to each other), or even nearer (53:9). It was a point where space and location are undefined or undifferentiated.
The pleasure of observance given by insight sometimes acquires a new, deeper dimension when the believer begins to discern and discover the spiritual dimension and meanings of objects and events. His or her spirit experiences other dimensions in this three-dimensional realm, and his or her conscience becomes the eye of existence with which it sees, as well as its pulse and intellect.
In addition to perception and understanding, discernment (firasa) denotes the deepening of insight when perception becomes a source of certain knowledge. Those who discern the manifestations of the light of God, the Ultimate Truth, possess such a radiance that they see everything, every issue, in its full clarity. They are never confused, even when encountering the most intricate elements, elements that are extremely similar, and do not become lost in particularities. Simultaneously seeing the sugar contained within the sugarcane and the hydrogen and oxygen contained within the water molecule, they refrain from all deviations (e.g., pantheism and monism) and recognize the Creator as He is, and the created as it is.
From the face of each individual believer to the face of the universe, every point, word, and line in existence is a meaningful sentence, even a book for those to whom the verse: Surely in this are signs for those having insight and discernment (15:75) refers. Those who can look at existence from the point stated in the Prophetic Tradition of: Fear the discernment of a believer, for he sees with the light of God,1 make contact with reality, become familiar with the invisible side of existence, and shed light on events, revealing the true face of everything. While others spend their lives in “black holes,” these people are enraptured with increasing pleasures on Paradise-like “slopes.”
For one endowed with such discernment, existence is a book of countless pages, with each animate or inanimate part of creation being a word shining with thousands of meanings, and the face of existence and that of each person expressing many hidden realities. Those of true spirituality see such things in the “verses” of that book and in the luminous “phrases” of those verses, and receive from them messages that even the greatest of the minds devoid of spirituality are unable to discern. The unimaginable surprises awaiting believers in the other world are according to the rank of each, and are revealed to them along with all the spiritual pleasure that they give.
O God! We ask You for hearts tender, devoted, and everturning to You in penitence for Your sake; and bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, the leader of Your way, and on his Family and Companions, all of them.
1. at-Tirmidhi, “Tafsiru Sura 15,” 6.