Sufism: Degrees of knowledge and sufism

Q619 :May I know what is meant by "tareeqah", "ma'rifah" and "haqeeqah". Some people suggest that in addition to normal and statutory prayers, there are other prayers which bring a person in closer communication with Allah. The practice, according to them, was taught by the Prophet to his cousin Ali, who imparted the knowledge to certain selected persons and the tradition has been kept among those who make an effort to maintain it with diligence. They neither desire the life of this world nor that of the life to come, except the company of Allah Himself and the Prophet. It is said that they experience amazing things and do hear the reply of their salutation to the Prophet. Please comment.

A619 : The word tareeqah means "way or method", while "ma'rifah" means "knowledge" and "haqeeqah" means "truth". Those who follow some sufi trends make much of these terms and try to establish a division between them and the ordinary acts of worship which are applicable to all of us. They claim that the ultimate goal is to arrive at the truth, through the proper knowledge of Allah, which is attainable only by following the correct method of worshipping Allah and remembering Him. While this is acceptable in absolute terms, it is certainly far from acceptable when taken within the framework of the practices of sufism. Let us examine what you have mentioned about "secret" teachings imparted by the Prophet to his cousin Ali. If this has been done by the Prophet on instructions from Allah, it means that Allah has selected a section of His servants for a special favor which He has chosen not to grant to others. Far be it from Allah, the Most Just, to make such an arbitrary distinction. The fact is that Allah has created us all with the same susceptibility to accepting the faith, regardless of our origin, race, or education. When the message of the truth, i.e. submission to Allah is put to us, we can all respond to it and accept it without hesitation, once we free ourselves of the shackles of our circumstances or position or desires or any other type of pressure. It is needless to say that an intellectual person who has received good education is able to understand the message of Islam much better than one who has not been so privileged. But the two may have an equal strength of faith. We should not forget that Allah puts all to account on the day of judgment and He gives us the same type of reward for our good deeds, while we may incur the same type of punishment for our sins. It follows, considering Allah's absolute justice, that we should have the same susceptibility to accepting the message of the truth if we have to face the same reckoning. In view of the foregoing, it simply does not fit with Allah's justice that he gives secret knowledge to a section of the people, no matter who may be in that section. Moreover the Prophet has been required to convey Allah's message to mankind. Allah describes the Prophet who has been "sent as a mercy to all worlds." The Prophet fulfilled his task in a most exemplary way, requesting his companions and all Muslims to impart the knowledge he has given them to the rest of mankind. Allah has guaranteed that the message of Islam will remain preserved for all time so that it remains accessible to people. To suggest that the Prophet advised or taught any particular knowledge to his cousin in a secret manner is most objectionable because it means that he has favored a certain group of people or a certain individual with important knowledge which he withheld from others. Far be it from the last messenger of Allah to do so. Why should he? And why should there be any group of people who is more favored than the rest of us? That certainly does not fit with the Divine Justice. The truth is that Allah has revealed Islam as a message to all mankind. It is addressed to every single one of us and Allah tells us in the Qur'an that implementing Islam is the sure and only way to get the maximum reward in the hereafter, namely, admission into heaven. Allah says in the Qur'an: "Whosoever obeys Allah and the messenger shall be those on whom Allah has bestowed His grace of Prophets, saints, martyrs and righteous people. Good company are these indeed," (4;69). As is clear from this verse, the highest company to which any person can aspire is to join prophets and righteous people in heaven. For this reason, every good believer prays Allah all the time to grant him the greatest privilege of all, namely admission into heaven. These people suggest that there are two grades of reward. The first is that of heaven and the other is something superior. They claim this to be communion or company with Allah and the Prophet. But when the Prophet speaks of the highest grade which may be achieved by anyone, he says "Whoever brings up well two girls until they have grown up shall be my companion in heaven." This Hadith tells us that the Prophet shall be in heaven. How will these people want to go any higher? What support do they have for their aspiration? Where do they get their information from? They claim to hear the answer to the greetings they offer to the Prophet. What nonsense. Where does it come from? How can they recognize whose voice it is? This is simply an exercise in self-delusion. The Prophet has not told us about anything like this. Therefore, we cannot accept it from anyone. What the Prophet has not told us about is simply untrue. Therefore, the claims of these people are certainly untrue. I realize that some people will tell me that there is a Hadith which says that the Prophet answers the greetings of all people. Yes, there is such a Hadith and this is a special privilege Allah has granted to the Prophet. But the Hadith does not tell us that we hear him answer these greetings, nor does the Hadith tell us how the answer is given. It is simply a matter of the spirit, the knowledge of which Allah has chosen to keep for Himself. Therefore, we do not try to determine how it is done, because we cannot have any certain knowledge about it. It is sufficient for us to know that the Prophet has been granted the privilege of answering our greetings.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )