Gnosis and Religious Law
By: Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi
Another important problem worthy of consideration at the end of this article is the relation between practical gnosis and the precepts of religious law, or the relation between tariqah and shari'ah. A group has imagined that practical gnosis is an independent way to discover truths, to be used without regard to religious law, and that Islam either corroborates it (by acceptable innovation) or; at the very least, poses no obstacle to it. And they have continued in this direction to the point of holding that basically, they considered it to be unnecessary to be committed to any religion in order to reach gnostic stations, and others have considered commitment to any one of the religions, and in a more moderate form, commitment to one of the divine religions, to be sufficient.
However, from an Islamic point of view, gnostic spiritual wayfaring is not along a way independent of and aside from that of religious law; rather it is a more exact and subtle part of it. If we restrict the term shari’ah to the outward precepts, it must be said that tariqah is along with shari’ah, or in its interior, and it may only be realized with the observation of the precepts of shari’ah. For example, shari’ah determines the precepts for the ritual prayer; and tariqah undertakes the ways of concentration and the presence of the heart in prayer; and the conditions for the perfection of worship. In shari’ah the performance of worship in order to avoid divine chastisement and to reach the blessings of heaven is sufficient. However, gnosis emphasizes the purification of intentions of everything other than God. This is what is known in the language of the Ahl al Bayt, Peace be upon them, as "the worship of the free." Likewise, idolatry (shirk) according to shari'ah is exoteric idolatry by worshipping idols and the like; however, in tariqah there are more precise types of hidden idolatry and levels of hiddenness. Having any hope in anything other than God, fear of other than God, seeking the help of other than God, and love for other than Him, if all of these are taken as fundamental and independent, and not based on obedience to the divine commands, they will be considered kinds of idolatry.
Therefore, all kinds of innovations (bid`ah) and arbitrary rites are not only undesirable but may be obstacles to the achievement of true gnosis, let alone the use of things which have been explicitly and definitely prohibited and forbidden. Although it may be the case that some works may bring about transient so called gnostic states, they do not have a good result. They may be a Satanic trap for ultimate downfall, and we should not be deceived by them. It is to be concluded that the way of Truth is the one that God, the Exalted, has stated:
And what is there after the truth but error? (10:32)
And Peace be upon those who follow the Guidance.