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Question 274: Salam, “Man Arafa Nafsahu, Faqad Arafa Rabbahu” One who truely knows himself has already come to know Allah. Could you please eleborate further on that? How can one know Allah if he recognizes himself? What does that mean? What is the “self” (nafsu) which makes us recognize God? Does this mean that if we recognize the true purpose of our existance in this world we have recognised God i.e True existance belings to Him because He is independant and Needless and He alone is worthy of being worshiped. Everything belongs to Him and under his control (InaliAllah wa ina ilayhe rajaoon)?

Answer 274: The Holy Prophet (PBUH) has said: “Whoever knows himself knows his Lord.[1]

The Arabic version of this hadith is as follows:

«قَالَ النَّبِیُّ(ص) مَنْ عَرَفَ نَفْسَهُ فَقَدْ عَرَفَ رَبَّهُ ثُمَّ عَلَیْکَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ بِمَا لَا یَصِحُّ الْعَمَلُ إِلَّا بِهِ وَ هُوَ الْإِخْلَاص.  وَ قَالَ عَلِیٌّ (ع) اطْلُبُوا الْعِلْمَ وَ لَوْ بِالصِّینِ وَ هُوَ عِلْمُ مَعْرِفَةِ النَّفْسِ وَ فِیهِ مَعْرِفَةُ الرَّبِّ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ.»

The following are some different interpretations regarding this noble hadith.

  1. This hadith refers to the Argument of Design. This means that if one discovers wonders of his spirit, soul and body and detects the secrets and mysteries of the complex system of the creation then a way of knowing Allah (SWT) would be opened for him to know Allah.
  2. The hadith refers to the Argument of Necessity and Contingency, meaning that if we pay attention on ourselves we would definitely realize that all parts of our body -such as knowledge, power, ability, consciousness, health and etc. are dependent on Allah, the Almighty. Therefore, considering the previous mentioned issue, if we know ourselves we would know Allah, the Almighty because it is impossible to imagine a dependent creature without an independent creator (i.e. Allah, the Almighty).
  3. This hadith can refer to the argument of Nature (fitrat). This means that if we deeply discover our spirit, soul and heart the Divine and Tawhidi Light which is in our nature (Fitrat) would be appeared. In other words, we will reach to the level of knowledge that we can know Allah by knowing ourselves even without considering any reason and argument.
  4. According to some scholars, since knowing soul is impossible knowing Allah is impossible too. According to them, there are some verses of the holy Quran that improve their opinion. 1) “And they ask you about the soul Say: The soul is one of the commands of my Lord, and you are not given aught of knowledge but a little”[2] 2) “So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down making obeisance to him”[3]. Therefore, when it is impossible to know the soul that is created by Allah, the Almighty then how is it possible to know Him, especially when Allah has said “you are not given aught of knowledge but a little”.
  5. According to most of scholars, since the human beings have been created by Allah and breathed into them of His spirit, then knowing human being’s spirit require knowing Allah, the Almighty.[4] In this regards Imam Sadiq (as) has said: “Servitude is a gem whose core is Lordship [rubūbiyyat]. Whatever is lost of servitude is found in the Lordship, and whatever is hidden of Lordship is obtained by servitude.” [5]
  6. The other meaning we can take from this hadith is that the human being’s spirit is as the same as its creator, so recognizing Allah’s attributes and names can be possible through recognizing the spirit affairs such as essence, attributes and etc. as Imam Ali (as) has said: “He is with everything but not in nearness. He is different from everything but not in separation.”[6] In other words, perceiving this issue that Allah (SWT) is present in everything can be obtained through self-knowledge.

The Arabic version of this saying:

مَعَ کُلِّ شَیْ‏ءٍ لَا بِمُقَارَنَةٍ وَ غَیْرُ کُلِّ شَیْ‏ءٍ لَا بِمُزَایَلةٍ

There are three ways for acquiring knowledge of Allah (awj). In other words, the intellectual or gnostic journey of the philosopher or the spiritual wayfarer [respectively] could fall under one of three categories:

  1. The traveller (salik), the path (maslak), and the goal (maslk ‘ilayh) are distinct; such as if one reaches the conclusion [that Allah (awj) exists] by observing and contemplating the order and harmony of the universe, by realizing that all things are needy and so there must be something needless they depend on, hence the Originator. Some Qur`anic verses encourage people to take up this method.[7]
  2. The traveller and the path are one and the same; such as if one contemplates the world within himself, addressing questions such as, “Who am I?”; “Where am I from?”; “Why aren’t my inclinations, my allegiances under my control?”; “Why can I not tame my wild mind so as to control what memories it recalls?”

Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (ع) alludes to this method in the following words: “I came to know Allah by observing the strong wills that trembled, the difficult entanglements that were disentangled, and the decisions that were crushed.”[8] In another instance he says, “Whoever comprehends himself has indeed comprehended his Lord.”[9]

  1. The path and the goal are one and the same. That is, the traveller—the philosopher or the spiritual wayfarer—by contemplating the destination discovers the object of his desire (maqsud). This is the most profound way of understanding, for it transcends the levels of extroversive and introversive journeys, thereby realizing, through contemplating the Absolute Witness, that Allah (awj) is the Absolute Witness.

The Quran states:

“Is it not sufficient that your Lord is witness to all things?”[10]

First, He is witnessed and comprehended, and then [in His light] all other things, for He is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. The Essence of Unicity [i.e. Allah (awj)] is the clearest witness to and proof of Himself and as such, renders unnecessary any intermediary for comprehension of Him.[11]

So it is that in addressing His messenger He says,

“You were certainly oblivious of this. We have removed your veil from you, and so your sight is acute today.”[12]

The veil is removed from the individual, not from the reality or from Allah (awj).

In the Supplication of ‘Arafah, Imam Husayn b. ‘Ali (ع) deals with this third method. He says, “O Allah!  Do others possess a light that You lack so that they must shed light upon You? When have You been absent so as to be needy of proof? When have You ever been distant so that Your effects and creatures should move us close to You?”[13]

The same theme resonates in the following couplet: “You have never distanced Yourself so that I should seek Your presence. You have never been hidden so that I should make You manifest.”

And again in the words of Imam Husayn b. ‘Ali (ع), “Blind be the eye that does not behold You … It is You whom I beseech in seeking union with You, and it is Your own existence that I seek as proof for Your existence.” In this phrase, it is expressed that for the spiritual wayfarer, Allah (awj) is more manifest than the sky, the earth, the leaves of trees, etc.

Imam Ja’far b. Muhammad as-Sadiq (ع) alludes to this point in the following words: “When someone is present and manifest, we first know him through his self, then we get to know his attributes. But in the case of something absent, knowledge of its attributes precedes knowledge of its essence … Just as in the case of Yusuf’s brother, they studied Yusuf himself and recognized it was him. They asked him, ‘Are you really Yusuf?’ They did not formulate their question the other way around[14] (14); meaning, they reflected on the qualities of the person whom they were confronted with and realized that he was Yusuf. They did not ask others to identify Yusuf for them.”[15]

Based on the aforementioned explanations, it has been concluded that contingent existents are realities whose existence is nothing but their relation to the Necessary Existent. Otherwise, they would be needless in their essences which would in turn mean that they would be necessary by their essences, which is obviously false.

Thus, they are in their entire existence dependent on the Necessary Essence and it is impossible to view the relation [i.e. the creature, for as previously mentioned the contingent existent is nothing but that relation] without the object to which it is related (marbut ‘ilayh). That is, comprehending the effect independent of its cause is impossible. Thus, the comprehension of everything, even purely material existents, is concomitant with comprehending the Necessary Existent.

For further information in this regards, please refer to the following answer:

Index: Estrangement from people comes about as a result for knowing them too well, answer 060.

[1] . Allamah Majlesi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 2, Pg. 32, Al-Wafa Institution, Beirut, 1404 A.H.

[2] . Surah Asra, verse 85.

[3] . Surah al-Hijr, verse 29.

[4] . Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 57, Pg. 324.

[5] . YazdanPanah, Yadullah, Mabani wa Usul Erfan Nazari (the principle and fundamental of theoretical Mysticism), Pg. 67, Imam Khomeini Institution, Qom, first edition.

[6] Nahj al-Balaghah, Vol. 1.

[7] Surat al-Baqarah (2), Verse 164:

} إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمٌوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلاَفِ اللَّيلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَالْفُلْكِ الَّتِي تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِمَا يَنْفَعُ النَّاسَ وَمَا أَنْزَلَ اللٌّهُ مِنَ السَّمَآءِ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَأَحْـيَا بِهِ الأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَبَثَّ فِيهَا مِنْ كُلِّ دَآبَّةٍ وَتَصْرِيفِ الرِّيَاحِ وَالسَّحَابِ الْمُسَخَّرِ بَيْنَ السَّمَآءِ وَالأَرْضِ لآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُون{

[8] Nahj al-Balaghah, Short Saying 250:

عَرَفْتُ اللٌّهَ سُبْحَانَهُ بِفَسَخِ الْعَزَائِمِ وَحِلِّ الْعُقُودِ.

[9] Jawahir al-Saniyyah, pg. 116:

مَنْ عَرَفَ نَفْسَهُ فَقَدْ عَرَفَ رَبَّهُ.

[10] Surat al-Fussilat (41), Verse 53:

} أَوَلَـمْ يَكْفِ بِرَبِّكَ أَنَّهُ عَلـى كُلِّ شَيءٍ شَهِيدٌ {

[11] Surat Ibrahim (14), Verse 10:

} قَالَتْ رُسُلُهُمْ أَفِي اللٌّهِ شَكٌّ فَاطِرِ السَّمٌوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ {

[12] Surat Qaf (50), Verse 22:

} لَقَدْ كُنْتَ فِي غَفْلَةٍ مِنْ هٌذَا فَكَشَفْنَا عَنْكَ غِطَاءَكَ فَبَصَرُكَ الْيَوْمَ حَدِيدٌ {

[13] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 95 pg. 226; also Mafatih al-Jinan:

أَيَكُونُ لِغَيْرِكَ مِنَ الظُّهُورِ مَا لَيسَ لَكَ حَتَّى يَكُونَ هُوَ الْمُظْهِرَ لَكَ؟ مَتَى غِبْتَ حَـتَّى تَحْتَاجَ إِلـى دَلِيلٍ يدُلُّ عَلَيْكَ؟ وَمَتَى بَعُدْتَ حَتَّى تَكُونَ الآثَارَ هِيَ الَّتِي تُوصِلُ إِلَيكَ؟

[14] It must be pointed out that in Farsi and ‘Arabic in asking if the person being addressed is the same one the former had heard about or known previously, he can put the question forth in two ways. He can say, in the case of ‘Arabic, a anta fuln (lit. Are you …?) or a fuln ant (lit. Is… you?). The latter case is not used in English. Therefore, the reasoning forwarded in the text should be understood in the context of the ‘Arabic language. (Tr.)

[15] Tuhaf al-’Uqul, pg. 327:

إِنَّ مَعْرِفَةَ عَيْنِ الشَّاهِدِ قَبْلَ صِفَتِهِ وَمَعْرِفَةَ صِفَةِ الْغَائِبِ قَبْلَ عَيْنِهِ. قِيلَ: وَكَيْفَ نَعْرِفُ عَيْنَ الشَّاهِدِ قَبْلَ صِفَتِهِ؟ قَالَ (ع): تَعْرِفُهُ وَتَعْلَمُ عِلْمَهُ وَتَعْرِفُ نَفْسَكَ بِهِ وَلاَ تَعْرِفُ نَفْسَكَ بِنَفْسِكَ مِنْ نَفْسِكَ. وَتَعْلَمُ أَنَّ مَا فِيهِ لَهُ وَبِهِ كَمَا قَالُوا لِيُوْسُفَ: }إِنَّكَ لأَنْتَ يُوسُفَ قَالَ أَنَا يُوسُفُ وَهٌذَا أَخِي{ فَعَرَفُوهُ بِهِ وَلَمْ يَعْرِفُوهُ بِغَيرِهِ.

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