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Last Updated: 2009/11/16
Summary of question
Are there any examples of Irfan in the Nahjul Balagha?
Are there any examples of Irfan in the Nahjul Balagha? In the case that they do exist, are they of the practical or theoretical type?
Concise answer

According to the Imams (a), Irfan is not divided into practical and theoretical. In the language that they used and in their life history, they did not consider practical Irfan any different from theoretical Irfan. This was because through practical Irfan they reached recognition of the realities and then they transmitted those realities and truths through their speech to the people. Furthermore, the division of Irfan does not have a 1,000 year history; it is division that was created in the last few centuries. With all this said, the Nahjul Balagha is an open ocean of Irfanic wisdom and knowledge. This valuable and lofty text, is just an introduction to the words of a ‘complete human being’, who was a complete arif in both practical and theoretical Irfan; he was in fact the leader and master of all arifs. The Nahjul Balagha is alive with Irfan and divine knowledge; in the detailed answer, we will delve more into the specific examples.

Detailed Answer

When defining Irfan, as was mentioned previously, there is a method and way those who are seeking the truth choose to go by. Irfan can be divided into two parts: practical Irfan (meaning spiritual wayfaring, as well as ‘Connecting and Annihilation’) and theoretical Irfan (meaning describing the way and the methods of disclosure and witnessing).[1] To say this in another way: theoretical Irfan relates to the exposition of existence, which means the exposition of God, the universe, and man, while practical Irfan is responsible for the nurturing of a complete and perfect human being.

Before delving deeper into this matter it is important that we first mention these points: Firstly, Irfan was not divided into theoretical or practical segments by the Imams (a), and in their discourse and way of life practical Irfan is not considered separate from theoretical Irfan. This was due to the fact that they had reached the realities (which is the ultimate goal of irfan) through practical Irfan and then would frame these realities into words and convey them to the people. Secondly, the division of Irfan into theoretical and practical is something, which does not have a 1,000 year history. This division began during the time of Ibn Arabi and then gradually entered into the field of philosophy (an example of this is the Hikmate Muta’aliya of Mulla Sadra).

The Nahjul Balagha is an endless ocean of Irfanic wisdom and realities. It contains parts of the speech of a complete human being who was a complete arif, both in theoretical and practical Irfan. All of Imam Ali’s (a) Irfanic wisdom has not been collected, nor can it be contained in the speeches of the Nahjul Balagha.

The Imam of the Arifs Ali (a) has said about this matter: ("نحن شجرة النبوة و محط الرسالة و مختلف الملائکة، و معادن العلم و ینابیع الحکم...."), which translated from the original Arabic means: “We (the Ahlul-Bayt) are the tree of prophethood, the landing place of messengerhood, where the angels come and go, the mines of knowledge and fountains of wisdom…”.[2] Therefore, if any knowledge or Irfan exists, it will be found in the family of the Holy Prophet (s) (meaning Ali (a) and his children).

Imam Khomeini, the great arif, has spoken about the Nahjul Balagha with the following words: “The book of Nahjul Balagha, which are the revelations of the soul of Imam Ali (a), is for our education and training while we are busy sleeping on the bed of ‘I’ness’ and egotism and behind the curtains of selfishness….it is a collection containing so many aspects and facets that it is the breadth of a complete human being or a large human society…and however much societies come into existence and however much nations reach fulfillment and however much thinkers and philosophers and researchers come and investigate into it, they will only drown. Behold! Philosophers and theologians should come and research just the first sermon of this divine book. They should use their lofty minds, and with the help of their colleagues and the masters of Irfan, they should just give an exposition on this one short line. They should attempt to understand the reality of this and with their minds give it its due…Till they can understand the scope of the vision of the ‘son of revelation’ and acknowledge their deficiencies and weakness in front of it. And this is that sentence which says: "مع کل شیءٍ لابمقارنةٍ و غیر کل شیءٍ لابمزایلةٍ". In the original Arabic this means: “He is with everything but not in physical nearness. He is different from everything but not in physical separation.”[3] These words point to the concept of Wahdatul Wujud (the unity of existence) which is explored in Irfan.

The Nahjul Balagha is the limitless ocean of Irfan. Theoretical Irfan is about the originator and the Day of Resurrection, creation, revelation, angels, the single universe, and the celestial world, while practical Irfan deals with ethics, morals, virtues of the soul, justice, piety, ascetism, spiritual wayfaring, striving, and supplications.

In this discussion, we shall briefly go over some examples of theoretical and practical Irfan in the words of Imam Ali (a).

A-    Theoretical Irfan- The first sermon of the Nahjul Balagha is an ocean of awareness. He says about the greatness of God, the most High:

1-     Praise is due to Allah whose worth cannot be described by speakers, whose bounties cannot be counted by calculators and whose claim (to obedience) cannot be satisfied by those who attempt to do so He for whose description no limit has been laid down.

2-     The foremost in religion is the acknowledgement of Him, the perfection of acknowledging Him is to testify to Him, the perfection of testifying to Him is to believe in His Oneness, the perfection of believing in His Oneness is to regard Him as Pure, and the perfection of His purity is to deny Him attributes…”

3-     He is a Being, but not through the phenomenon of coming into being. He exists but not from non-existence. He is with everything but not in physical nearness. He is different from everything but not in terms of physical separation.[4]

4-     In another example, he explains the origination of creation by saying: “He initiated creation most initially and commenced it originally, without undergoing reflection, without making use of any experiment, without innovating any movement, and without experiencing any aspiration of mind. He allotted all things their times, put together their variations gave them their properties, and determined their features knowing them before creating them, realizing fully their limits and confines and appreciating their propensities and intricacies…[5]

These words of Imam Ali (a) are only a drop from the ocean of his theoretical Irfan, quoted from the Nahjul Balagha. But how can we measure an ocean with only a few drops from its waters?

B-    Practical Irfan

1-     Imam Ali (a) explained the concept of spiritual wayfaring with such words: “The true arif is the one who has enlivened his intellect and who has mortified his desires, till the point where his coarseness has become broken and his severity has been softened. A luminous light is lit for him which illuminates the path towards God for him and under its guidance he goes forward…”[6]

2-     “O’ creatures of Allah! The most of Allah is he whom Allah has given power (to act) against his passions, so that his inner side is (submerged in) grief and the outer side is covered with fear. The lamp of guidance is burning in his heart. He has provided provisions for the day that is to befall him.”

3-     Regarding the pious, he says: “The greatness of the Creator is seated in their heart, and so, everything else appears small in their eyes. Thus to them, Paradise is as though they see it and are enjoying its favours. To them, Hell is also as if they see it and are suffering punishment in it.[7]

4-     In another place, he says this: “I praise Allah seeking completion of His Blessing, submitting to His Glory and expecting safety from committing His sins. I invoke His help being in need of His Sufficiency (of protection). He whom He guides does not go astray…”[8]

5-     [9]"... ما عبدتک خوفاً من نارک و لاطمعاً فی جنّتک و لکن وجدتک اهلاً للعبادة فعبدتک" This means: “Oh my Lord! I worship you not due to fear of your punishment, nor for the reaching of your paradise. I worship you for I have found you worthy of worship.

6-     About his familiarity with death he says: "و الله لابن ابی طالب آنس بالموت من الطفل بثدی امّه", which means: “By Allah the son of Abu Talib is more familiar with death than an infant with the breast of its mother.[10]

7-     About staying up at nights, sleeping little, eating less, and being lean he says: : "اسهروا عیونکم، و اضمروا ابطونکم", which in the original Arabic means: “By staying awake in the heart of the nights and by abstaining from full stomachs, arise in obedience…Take from your physical bodies and add to your spiritual bodies.”[11]

8-     In fighting in the way of truth and righteousness he has said: "فان الجهاد باب من ابواب الجنة، فتحه الله لخاصة اولیائه", which means: “Without doubt, war is one of the doorways to heaven which God has opened only for his close and select friends.”[12]1661 68

[1] Sajjadi, Seyyed Jafar, Farhange Estelahate Erfani (the entry of irfan).

[2] Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 108

[3] Sahifeye Nur, vol. 14, pp. 224-225, Imam Khomeini’s message to the attendees of the Nahjul-Balaghah Millenium Conference on 2/27/1360.

[4] Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 1

[5] Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 90

[6] Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 210

[7] Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 184

[8] Ibid, Sermon 2.

[9] Ahsa’i, Ibn Abi Jumhur, Awalil-La’ali, vol. 1, pg. 44.

[10] Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 5

[11] Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 183

[12] Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 27

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