The Apostle said: "Faith is belief in God and His angels and His (revealed) books."Etymologically, faith (iman) means verification (tasdiq). Concerning its principles in their application to the religious law there is great discussion and controversy. The Mu'tazilites hold that faith includes all acts of devotion, theoretical as well as practical: hence they say that sin puts a man outside the pale of faith. The Kharijites, who call a man an infidel because he commits a sin, are of the same opinion. Some declare that faith is simply a verbal profession, while others say it is only knowledge of God, and a party of Sunni scholastics assert that it is mere verification. I have written a separate work explaning this subject, but my present purpose is to establish what the Sufi Shaykhs believe. They are divided on this question in the same way as the lawyers of the two opposite sects.

Some of them, e.g. Fudayl b. 'Iyad and Bishr Hafi and Khayr al-Nassaj and Sumnun al- Muhibb and Abu Hamza of Baghdad and Muhammad Jurayri and a great number of others, hold that faith is verbal profession and verification and practice; but others, e.g. Ibrahim b. Adham and Dhu 'l-Nun the Egyptian and Abu Yazid of Bistam and Abu Sulayman Darani and Harith Muhasibi and Junayd and Sahl b. 'Abdullah of Tustar and Shaqiq of Balkh and Hatim Asamm and Muhammad b. al- Fadl of Balkh and a number besides, hold that faith is verbal profession and verification. Some lawyers, i.e. Malik and Shafi'i and Ahmad b. Hanbal, maintain the former view, while the latter opinion is supported by Abu Hanifa and Husayn b. Fadl of Balkh and the followers of Abu Hanifa, such as Muhammad b. al-Hasan, Dawud Ta'i, and Abu Yusuf The difference between them is entirely one of expression and is devoid of substance, as I will now briefly explain, in order that no one maybe charged with contradicting the principle of faith because he takes the one view or the other in this dispute.


You must know that the orthodox Muslims and the Sufis are agreed that faith has a principle (asl) and a derivative (far), the principle being verification in the heart, and the derivative being observance of the (Divine) command. Now the Arabs commonly and customarily transfer the name of a principle to a derivative by way of metaphor, e.g. they call the light of the sun "the sun". In this sense the former of the two parties mentioned above apply the name of faith to that obedience (ta 'at) by which alone a man is made secure from future punishment. Mere verification (i.e. belief), without performance of the Divine commands, does not involve security. Therefore, since security is in proportion to obedience, and obedience together with verification and verbal profession is the cause of security, they bestowed on obedience the name of faith. The other party, however, asserted that gnosis, not obedience, is the cause of security. Obedience, they said, is of no avail without gnosis, whereas one who has gnosis but lacks obedience will be saved at the last, although it depends on the will of God whether he shall be pardoned by Divine grace or through the intercession of the Apostle, or whether he shall be punished according to the measure of his sin and then be delivered from Hell and transported to Paradise.

Therefore, since those who have gnosis, although they are sinners, by reason of their gnosis do not remain for ever in Hell, while those who have only works without gnosis do not enter Paradise, it follows that here obedience is not the cause of security. The Apostle said: "None of you shall be saved by his works." Hence in reality, without any controversy among Muslims, faith is gnosis and acknowledgment and acceptance of works. Whoever knows God knows Him by one of His attributes, and the most elect of His attributes are of three kinds: those connected with His beauty (jamal) and with His majesty (jatal) and with His perfection (kamal). His perfection is not attainable except by those whose perfection is established and whose imperfection is banished. There remain beauty and majesty. Those whose evidence in gnosis is the beauty of God are always longing for vision, and those whose evidence is His majesty are always abhorring their own attributes and their hearts are stricken with awe. Now longing is an effect of love, and so is abhorrence of human attributes, because the lifting of the veil of human attributes is the very essence of love. Therefore faith and gnosis are love, and obedience is a sign of love. Whoever denies this neglects the command of God and knows nothing of gnosis. This evil is manifest among the aspirants to Sufi'ism at the present day. Some heretics, seeing their excellence and persuaded of their high degree, imitate them and say: "Trouble only lasts while you do not know God: as soon as you know Him, all the labour of obedience is removed from the body." But they are wrong. 1 reply that when you know Him, the heart is filled with longing and His command is held in greater veneration than before. I admit that a pious man may reach a point where he is relieved from the irksomeness of obedience through the increase of Divine aid (tawfiq), so that he performs without trouble what is troublesome to others; but this result cannot be achieved without a longing that produces violent agitation. Some, again, say that faith comes entirely from God, while others say that it springs entirely from Man.

This has long been a matter of controversy among the people in Transoxania. To assert that faith comes entirely from God is sheer compulsion (Jabr), because Man must then have no choice; and to assert that it springs entirely from Man is pure free-will, for Man does not know God except through the knowledge that God gives him. The doctrine of unification is less than compulsion and more than free-will. Similarly, faith is really the act of Man joined to the guidance of God, as God hath said: "Whomsoever God wishes to lead aright, He will open his breast to receive Islam; arid whomsoever He wishes to lead astray, He will make his breast strait and narrow" (,125). On this principle, inclination to believe (girawish) is the guidance of God, while belief (girawidan) is the act of Man. The signs of belief are these: in the heart, holding firmly to unification; in the eye, refraining from forbidden sights and looking heedfully on evidences; in the ear, listening to His word; in the belly, being empty of what is unlawful; in the tongue, veracity. Hence those persons (who assert that faith comes entirely from God) maintain that gnosis and faith may increase and diminution. Accordingly, the increase and diminish, which is generally admitted to be false, for if it were true, then the object of gnosis must also be liable to increase and diminution must be in the derivative, which is the act; and it is generally agreed that obedience may diminish and increase. This does not please the anthropomorphists (hashwiyan) who imitate the two parties mentioned above, for some of them hold that obedience is an element of faith, while others declare that faith is a verbal profession and nothing else. Both these doctrines are unjust.

In short, faith is really the absorption of all human attributes in the search of God. This must be unanimously acknowledged by all believers. The might of gnosis overwhelms the attributes of agnosticism, and where faith exists agnosticism is banished, for, as it is said: "A lamp is of no use when the dawn rises." God hath said: "Kings, when they enter a city, ruin it" (Qur.xxvii,34). When gnosis is established in the heart of the gnostic, the empire of doubt and scepticism and agnosticism is utterly destroyed, and the sovereignty of gnosis subdues his senses and passions so that in all his looks and acts and words he remains within the circle of its authority, I have read that when Ibrahim Khawwas was asked concerning the reality of faith, he replied: "I have no answer to this question just now, because whatever I say is a mere expression, and it behoves me to answer by my actions; but I am setting out for Makkah: do thou accompany me that thou mayest be answered." The narrator continues: "I consented. As we journeyed through the desert, every day two loaves and two cups of water appeared. He gave one to me and took the other for himself. One day an old man rode up to us and dismounted and conversed with Ibrahim for a while; then he left us. I asked Ibrahim to tell me who he was. He replied: 'This is the answer to thy question.' 'How so?' I asked. He said: 'This was Khidr, who begged me to let him accompany me, but I refused, for I feared that in his company I might put confidence in him instead of in God, and then my trust in God (tawakkul) would have been vitiated. Real faith is trust in God.'" And Muhammad b. Khafif says: "Faith is the belief of the heart in that knowledge which comes from the Unseen," because faith is in that which is hidden, and it can be attained only through Divine strengthening of one's certainty, which is the result of knowledge bestowed by God.

Now 1 will come to matters of practice and will explain their difficulties.