Gnosis (Irfan) in the Islamic World
By: Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi
From antiquity, in the Islamic world there have been tendencies by the names of gnosis ( `iron) and sufism (tasawwuf), and from the 4th/10th to 8th/14th centuries they reached their summit in many countries such as Iran and Turkey. Today, there are various sufi sects all over the world. Similar tendencies also may be found among the followers of the other religions. Considering this common aspect, it is natural for the question to be raised as to whether there really is any such thing as Islamic gnosis to be found in Islam, or whether Muslims have taken this from others, so that what is called Islamic gnosis is really the gnosis of Muslims, not a truly Islamic gnosis. If there is such a thing as gnosis in Islam, is this the very thing which currently exists among Muslims, or has it been subjected to changes?
In answering these questions, some have absolutely denied the existence of gnosis in Islam and have regarded it as heretical innovation to be repudiated. Others consider it to have come from outside the context of Islam, while holding it to be compatible with it. In this line, some have said that sufism is an acceptable innovation in Islam, like monasticism in Christianity. In this regard, the Glorious Qur'an states:
And as for monasticism, they invented it themselves; We did not prescribe it for them, except for seeking the pleasure of Allah. (57:27)
Finally, there is a group who consider gnosis to be not only a part of Islam, but the kernel and spirit of it which comes from the Qur'an and prophetic sunnah, just as the other parts of Islam. It is not that it was adapted from other schools of thought and trends, and the aspects common to gnosis in Islam and other religions is no reason to hold that Islamic gnosis was derived from them, just as the similarities between the religious law (shari`ah) of Islam and the heavenly religious laws of the previous religions does not mean that the former was derived from the latter.
We approve of the last response to the question, and we add that the assertion of the originality of Islamic gnosis is not to condone whatever has been called gnosis or sufism in Islam. Likewise, it is not just any sort of creed or conduct found among groups related to Islam that can be considered truly Islamic beliefs and practices; otherwise, Islam would necessarily be a contradictory set of beliefs with a conflicting set of values, or there would be conflicting and contradictory Islams! In any case, with our admission of the originality of Islamic gnosis, a gnosis whose highest degree was reached by the Noble Prophet, may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him and his folk, and his true successors, we do not deny the existence of foreign elements among the Muslim gnostics and sufis. Many of the views and manners of behaviour of the sufi orders are disputable.