The ‘Irfan of the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (a)’

Document Type : Research Paper


Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Institute, Iran


All of the major branches of Islamic mysticism, ‘irfān, refer to Imam ‘Ali (‘a) as a major source for their teachings and practices. Hence, we begin with a review of how the mystics viewed Imam ‘Ali (‘a). After this we consider some controversies about the nature of ‘irfān and its relationship to Sufism, for the terms have been used in different ways. Then we turn to the sources on the basis of which claims may be defended about the ‘irfān of Imam ‘Ali (‘a). The conclusion is that the ‘irfān of Imam ‘Ali (‘a) may be characterized by the following features: (1) ‘irfān consists of both knowledge by presence and conceptual knowledge of God. The conceptual knowledge may be divided into theoretical and practical knowledge as reflections upon the experiential knowledge of God and the way of achieving and deepening it; (2) the way to ‘irfān is the path from the outward to the inward, from ẓāhir to bāţin; (3) Imam ‘Alī (‘a) is a fully realized human being who has achieved this knowledge at its most profound level, and who serves as a guide in this quest for those who seek God; (4) the knowledge possessed by the Imam makes him a place for the manifestation of the divine Names and Attributes; (5) the way requires God-wariness (taqwā), renunciation of the world, setting one’s sights on the ultimate goal, worship, obedience, the acquisition of virtue, and self-knowledge; through the remembrance (dhikr) and contemplation (fikr) of God one polishes the heart and sets out on the inner journey; (6) the way is perilous. Misunderstandings occur when one learns of truths beyond one’s capacity; (7) different people are capable of various degrees of knowledge.


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