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Ma'rifa (Spiritual Knowledge of God)
Jul 1, 2013
Ma‘rifa literally denotes skill or talent, a special ability that belongs to certain people, and knowing by certain means. According to travelers on the path of God, it is the station where knowing is united with the one who knows, where knowing becomes second nature, and where each state reveals what or who is known. Some have defined ma‘rifa as the appearance and development of the knowledge of God in one’s conscience, or knowing God by one’s conscience. In other words, one has attained self-realization and has realized his or her humanity with all of its intrinsic values and dimensions. This may be what is meant by: The one who knows himself knows his Lord.1

The first rank of ma‘rifa is discerning the manifestations of the Divine Names surrounding us, and spectating the amazing climate of the Attributes behind the door of mystery, half-opened by these manifestations. During this journey, lights flow continuously from the traveler’s eyes and ears to his or her tongue, and one’s heart begins to direct those acts, which serve as a tongue confirming and proclaiming the Ultimate Truth. This tongue becomes, so to speak, a diskette of “good words,” and various lights from the light-giving truth of: To Him pure words ascend, and the righteous deed causes them to rise (35:10) begin to be reflected on the screen of his or her conscience.

One who has acquired such ma‘rifa is immune to all evil and is enveloped by breezes blowing from the realms beyond. As Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum states, “God said: ‘I can be contained by neither the heavens nor the earth.’ He is known by the heart as a Hidden Treasure in the heart,” translating the allegorical hadith qudsi: “Neither the heavens nor the earth can contain Me, but the heart of a believer contains Me,”2 corridors of light are opened from his or her spirit toward the One known by the heart. The traveler is so enraptured with observing such scenes that he or she does not think of returning to a normal life.

A traveler who is completely closed to all else save God, who has resisted all corporeal desires and impulses in order to be carried by the tides of Divine company, has reached the stage of ma‘rifa. One who travels around this point is called a traveler to ma‘rifa; one who has reached it is called an ‘arif (one who has spiritual knowledge of God).

The differences found in commentaries on ma‘rifa are based on the temperaments and schools of thought or levels of ma‘rifa itself. Some have sought ma‘rifa in those who have it, and they have seen the feeling of awe observed in them as the manifestation of ma‘rifa. Some others have seen it as connected with serenity, and judge the ma‘rifa’s depth according to the vastness of serenity; still others have seen it as the heart’s complete closure to everything but God; while there are still others who have understood it as the heart’s wonder and admiration amidst the tides of Divine manifestations. Such hearts always beat with wonder and amazement, for the eyes of their owners open and close with amazement, and their tongues pronounce with wonder and admiration: I acknowledge that I am unable to praise You as You praise Yourself.3

With the spirit always flying upward toward eternity, and the heart enraptured with the pleasure of finding peace or being at rest, but always self-possessed and cautious, a life lived in ma‘rifa is as calm and peaceful as that lived in the gardens of Paradise. Side-by-side with the angels, those who have acquired ma‘rifa are included in the meaning of: They do not disobey God in whatever He commands them, and carry out what they are commanded (66:6). With feelings that are like buds waiting for daylight to blossom, such souls open fully with ma‘rifa in “daylight” and experience the pleasure of intimacy with Him at every moment with a new dimension of ma‘rifa. So long as they keep their eyes fixed on the door of the Ultimate Truth, they are intoxicated by meeting with Him several times a day or even every hour, and are enraptured with a new manifestation at every moment.

While those supposing themselves to be scholars continue to “crawl,” and philosophers continue to philosophize and struggle to build on the information they have, an ‘arif (one who has attained knowledge of God) always tastes peace and talks about peace in an effusion of “light.” Even when ‘arifs quake with fear and awe of the Almighty, they feel infinite pleasure and, while their eyes weep, their hearts always smile.

There are differences of manners and tendencies among ‘arifs based on temperaments and schools of spiritual training. While some are deep and silent, like whirlpools, others “gurgle” like waterfalls. Some always weep for fear of committing sins, and never tire of praising their Lord; others continuously travel in awe, modesty, and familiarity and never think of leaving this “ocean.” Still others are like the earth which everybody else “treads,” as no one shows them respect or thinks that they are ‘arifs; or they are like clouds sending “water” to everyone under them, or like breezes, for they touch our feelings and blow us good and favor.

An ‘arif can be recognized in several ways: such a person expects favor from and becomes intimate only with the Known One; he or she lifts his or her eyelids and opens the doors of his or her heart only to Him; he or she turns only to Him in love; and experiences the greatest suffering when anyone other than Him is desired. One who has not acquired true knowledge of God Almighty cannot distinguish between the Beloved and others, and one who is not intimate with the Beloved cannot know separation’s torment and pain. Muhammed Lutfi says: “There is the light of knowledge of God in the eyes of the soul of an ‘arif. One with an ‘arif receives God’s help and knows what knowledge of God is.”

Our Lord! Be in our favor, and do not be against us; help us

and do not help others against us. And bestow blessings and

peace on our master Muhammad, chosen among and sent to

us, and on his Family and Companions, noble and godly.


1 al-‘Ajluni, Kashfu’l-Khafa’, 2:343.

2 Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, az-Zuhd, 81; ad-Daylami, al-Musnad, 3:174.

3 Muslim, “Salah,” 222; Abu Dawud, “Salah,” 148.