An Introduction to Irfan
This group and the first are united in their view that the 'urafa' are opposed to Islam. The difference between them is that the first group considers Islam to be sacred and, by banking on the Islamic sentiments of the Muslim masses, wishes to condemn the 'urafa' and, in this way, to hoot them off from the stage of the Islamic sciences. The second group, however, by leaning on the great personalities of the 'urafa'- some of whom are of world-renown - wishes to use them as a means of propaganda against Islam. They detract Islam on the grounds that the subtle and sublime ideas of 'irfan found in Islamic culture are in fact alien to Islam. They consider that these elements entered Islamic culture from outside, for, they say, Islam and its ideas thrive on a far lower level. This group also claims that the 'urafa's citations of the Quran and hadith were solely due to dissimulation and fear of the masses. This, they claim, was a means for them to save their lives.
(c) Besides the above two, there is also a third group which takes a rather neutral view of 'irfan. The view of this group is that 'irfan and sufism contain many innovations and deviations that do not accord with the Quran and the traditions; that this is more true of the practical teaching of 'irfan than its theoretical ideas, especially where it takes a sectarian aspect. Yet, they say, the 'urafa', like the Islamic scholars of other ranks and the majority of Islamic sects, have had the most sincere intentions towards Islam, never wishing to make any assertions contrary to its teachings. It is quite possible that they have made mistakes, in the same way as the other types of scholars - theologians, philosophers, Quranic commentators, and jurisprudents - have made mistakes, but this has never been due to an evil intention towards Islam.
In the view of this group, the issue of the 'urafa's supposed opposition to Islam was raised by those who harbored a special prejudice either against 'irfan or against Islam. If a person were to disinterestedly study the books of the 'urafa', provided that he is acquainted with their terminology and language, although he might come across many a mistake, he will not doubt the sincerity of their complete devotion to Islam.
Of the three views, I prefer the third. I do not believe that the 'urafa' have had evil intentions towards Islam. At the same time I believe that it is necessary for those having specialized knowledge of 'irfan and of the profound teachings of Islam to undertake an objective research and disinterested study of the conformity of the issues of 'irfan with Islamic teachings.
Shari'ah, Tariqah and Haqiqah:
One of the important points of contention between the 'urafa' and the non-'urafa', especially the jurisprudents, is the particular teaching of 'irfan regarding the Shari'ah, the Tariqah (the Way) and the Haqiqah (the Reality). Both agree in saying that the Shari'ah, the body of Islamic laws, is based upon a series of realities and beneficial objectives. The jurisprudents generally interpret these goals to consist of certain things that lead the human being to felicity, that is, to the highest possible level of benefit from God's material and spiritual favors to man. The 'urafa', on the other hand, believe that all the paths end in God, and that all goals and realities are merely the means, causes and agencies that impel the human being towards God.
The jurisprudents say only that underlying the laws of the Shariah is a series of benign objectives, that these objectives constitute the cause and spirit of the Shari'ah, and that the only way of attaining these objectives is to act in accordance with the Shari'ah. But the 'urafa' believe that the realities and objectives underlying the laws of the Shari'ah are of the nature of stations and stages on the human being's ascent towards God and in the process of man's access to the ultimate reality.
The 'urafa' believe that the esoteric aspect of the Shari'ah is the Way, the Tariqah, at whose end is the Reality (al-Haqiqah), that is tawhid (in the sense mentioned earlier), which is a stage acquired after the obliteration of the 'arif's self and his egoism. Thus the gnostic believes in three things: the Shari'ah, the Tariqah, and the Haqiqah, and that the Shari'ah is the means to, or the shell of the Tariqah, and the Tariqah again is the means to or the shell of the kernel of Haqiqah.
We have explained how the jurisprudents view Islam in the lectures on kalam. They believe that the Islamic teachings can be grouped into three branches. The first of these is kalam, which deals with the principal doctrines (usul al-'aqa'id). In matters related to the doctrines it is necessary for the human being to acquire, through reason, shakeless belief and faith.
The second branch is ethics (akhlaq). It sets forth the instructions about one's duty in regard to ethical virtues and vices.
The third branch, fiqh, deals with the laws (ahkam), which relate to our external actions and behavior.