What is Gnosiology in Islamic Studies?


Source: https://www.republika.co.id/

This essay is a continuation of the book Wahdatul Wujud published
in 2013. Some notes cannot be included in the book, so I decided to add them to
this essay. The relationship between the two books cannot be separated from
scientific exploration of several disciplines, namely philosophy, theology
(Armstrong 1994, 201), social sciences, humanities, and Sufism. It is
encouraged to become familiar with the topics listed in the essay. That way,
the continuity of the knowledge conveyed in this study will make it easier to
combine two things, namely the intellectual and spiritual areas. Thus, this
essay can be viewed from a relatively free perspective, namely how to
understand the reproduction of science, which is never separated from
philosophy, theology, and theosophy.

The emergence of the term in this study is the dominance of the
wealth of gnosiology studies which leads us to one question: what is science
when the three areas of scientific epistemology are combined? As for what is
meant by three areas, namely ‘irfani, burhani, and bayani (Bustamam-Ahmad
2012); (Abdullah 2001); (Abdullah 2010); (Abdullah 2003). However, intellectual
exploration in Western philosophy can not be separated from knowing God, the
universe, and the mind (Stumpf and Fieser 2008). Lately, philosophy has even
tried to enter a new world: the body and mind. The effort to understand these
matters has occurred in the West and the East. However, the more we look back
at the context of intellectual history, the stronger the spiritual impulses
that affect the intelligent become. Therefore, philosophers try to become
prophets or Sufis before producing thoughts that affect humanity today.

One of these efforts, as stated above, is to seek a scientific
foundation to know God. This is where the term gnosis comes in. In Arabic, it
is known as 
ma’rifahScholars who study the spiritual world or
Islamic mysticism often encounter this term. For example, after a person is in
syarī’ah, he enters the haqīqat
(truth) area and finally to the 
ma’rīfah destination.
As for the latter, Annemarie Schimmel’s  (1975, 43) explanation is as
follows: “According to the tradition, Dhū’n-Nūn
formulated for the first time a theory of ma‘rīfa, intuitive knowledge of God,
or gnosis, as opposed to ‘ilm, discursive learning, and knowledge; many sayings
about “love” and “intimacy.”

This expression implies that Dhū’n-Nūn from Egypt (d.895) was the
first scholar to define the concept of gnosis in Islam. ‘The Sufi scholar lived
during the time of Bāyezid Bistāmī from Iran (d. 874), Yahya ibn Mu‘ādh of Rayy
(d. 871), and al-Hārith al-Mu
āsibī from
Iraq (857). In this era, it was stated that:
outburst of creativity of Sufism, based on examination of internal spiritual
states and extended speculation on moral, legal, and philosophical subjects
(C. W. Ernst 1994, 5).” In other
words, this era was an era where Sufis were at the main point of developing
Islamic sciences. Or, spiritual events have contributed to the development of
other sciences in Islamic history.

This explanation indicates that the study of gnosis is the study
of the mystical sciences. Meanwhile, the connection of the term gnosis can also
be seen from the description of Carl W. Ersnt (1997, 28): When mystical
knowledge was emphasized over traditional learning, the preferred term was ma’rifa or ‘irfān, meaning a particular knowledge or gnosis that transcended
ordinary rationality. The possessor of this knowledge was known as an ‘arif, or gnostic. The often-used terms
are ma’rifah, ‘ārīf, ‘irfān. The root
word of the term’s derivation is ‘arafa
(‘-r-f). If the term ma’rīfah is connected with the thought of Dhū’n-Nūn above,
it appears that this term refers to intuitive knowledge about God. Sufi
scholars often use the term ma’rīfah Allāh (knowledge of Allah). In mystical
studies, this ma’rīfah level applies after the syarī’ah and haqīqāt levels.
However, in Islamic studies, the term ‘irfān has often been found in scientific
epistemological studies. So, the study of gnosiology is the study of knowledge
about how to know God.

In some studies, this pattern of exploration is often referred to
as ‘science of ma’rifah. However, these two terms both contain the same
meaning, namely science. Nevertheless, this study wants to be close to Allah
more than that.

In the Ihyā al-‘Ulūm al-Dīn, Imām al-Ghazzali tells how the impact of this Sufi science
on the development of sciences in Islamic history. The keywords are cleanliness
of the heart and asceticism, which has led several ‘ulama to reveal Islamic
sciences. In other words, before they succeeded in writing and developing their
knowledge in various fields, the’ ulama first cleansed the soul, strengthened
the heart, and performed zuhud from the world. Therefore,
this ma’rifah becomes a critical phase in the scientific
tradition for the ‘ulama. It can also be said that those who become ‘ulama are
principally Sufis or ‘Urafās. In this way, gnosiology becomes the
highest science in understanding the spiritual and intellectual aspects of the
founders of knowledge in the history of Islamic civilization.

Meanwhile, Hamid Fahmi Zarkasyi’s (2010) study of the concept of
knowledge in al-Ghazzali found that this ‘ulama did not distinguish between the
concepts of ‘ilm and ma’rifah. ‘Science is understood as “cognition
(ma’rīfah) of a thing as it is.” Ma’rifah
is defined as “knowledge (‘ilm) about individual things which is attained
by definition (p.164).” These two definitions differ in the concepts of
“something” and “as is” and “as defined.” Here
‘ilm works on one “thing,” while ma’rifah on several “things,”
which can then be explained. 

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Here are examples are given: ‘ Ilm al-mukāshafah‘ilm al-Ilāhī‘ilm
(Sa’ari 2007), which are part of ma’rifah. Some even mention
it as “logical reasoning will not understand, for this sort of knowledge
is solely dependent on divine intuition (al-kasfh al-ilāhi); it is by
that alone that one will know the roots of the forms of the world, in so far as
they are receptive towards their ruling spirit (Arabi, 2001: 14.” In other
words, ma’rīfah has a higher position than ‘ilm.
It can even be said that the pinnacle of ‘ilm itself is to
ma’rīfah al-Lāh. The distinction between ma’rīfah and ‘ilm,
Chittick explains from the Prophet’s hadith about “who knows himself, then
indeed he has known his Lord.” Here the word used is ‘arafa, not ‘ilm.
Chittick (2007:21) explains as follows:

saying does not employ the usual word for knowledge, ‘ilm, which often carries the connotation of learning or erudition
without true understanding. Rather, it uses the verbal form of the noun ma‘rifa, which is often translated as
“gnosis.” This word implies a direct experience and recognition of its true
nature and the actual situation. The “gnostic” are those who achieve this sort
of knowledge – direct, unmediated knowledge of self and God. Thus “gnosis,” the
right translation, means simultaneous self-recognition and God-recognition.

In philosophy, the product of thought, as stated above, seeks to
know God, which includes a study that seeks to explain God through the power of
reason (‘aql), mind, and clarity of human relations with the universe (verse
kawniyyah). However, philosophers do not mention this searching pattern about
God as part of the ma’rīfah al-Lāh
process. In religious studies, the names of God appear with various names and
numbers (Syahrastani 2006) (Bouquet 1956) (Amstrong 2009) (Armstrong 1994). In
Islamic studies, the ma’rifah al-Lāh
pattern intensifies after entering the Sufi area. Uniquely, almost all of the
‘ulama who produce ideas still being studied to this day are those who managed
to enter the ma’rīfah al-Lāh area. In
other words, the ‘ulama themselves only produce authentic thoughts after they
know Allah SWT.

The Greek philosophers did not start their study of God, starting
from understanding the installation of the name of Allah into their minds and
souls. In other words, they do not try to study Allah as part of the continuity
of studies on shari’ah and haqīqāt. One of the philosophers from Egypt,
Plotinus (204 AD), has the concept of God as the One (God Almighty). This is a
summary of the thoughts of Platinus, a student of Ammonius Saccas in

true changeless is God, about whom nothing specifically descriptive can be said
except that he transcends or lies beyond everything in the world. For this
reason, God is not material, is not finite, and is not visible. He has no
specific forms – either as matter, soul, or mind – each of which changes any
ideas or ideas of the intellect and, for this reason, cannot be expressed in
any human language. He is accessible to none of the senses and can only be
reached in a mystical ecstasy independent of any rational or feeling
experience. For this reason, Plotinus spoke of God as the One, signifying
thereby that is God there no complexity and that, indeed, God is Absolute
Unity. The One represents, moreover, that God does not change. He is indivisible,
has no variety, is uncreated, and is in every way unalterable (
Stumpf and
Fieser 2008, 108-109)

Muslims, the views above will not have a substantial effect because
theologically, adherents of the religions of the Prophet Ibrahim (Jews,
Christians, and Islam) will admit that Allah is One and Only. The above
statement can be found at all correlation in Surah al-Ikhlās. However, why did
the philosophers go to great lengths to reach that conclusion? Their rationale
for deity? So, it is almost certain that almost all forms of science try to
understand God. However, the method taken may be from various scientific
viewpoints. In the Islamic tradition, nearly all theologians, philosophers, and
fuqaha are experts in explaining how to know Allah.

is just that sometimes the question of ma’rifah
is often discussed in the study of Sufism. So those who already know and know
Allah tend to be known as al-‘ārif bi
or al-faqīr. These two
terms indicate that people who have reached the degree of ma’rīfah tend to make
themselves poor people. This term shows the breadth of knowledge about knowing
Allah, but he still thinks that his position is still not rich. When he falls
in front of Allah, he believes he does not exist and considers himself very
lowly. So that what he wants from his poverty is the pleasure of Allah. Here
the knowledge that comes out of the person is because of Allah. The blessing of
ma’rifah means that a person gains
knowledge directly from Allah, without sometimes studying it. Because the outpouring
of knowledge is so strong, the jars of knowledge are occasionally unable to
withstand the power of knowledge, so learning is like a flood that flows
everywhere, like water. This condition shows that science directed at ma’rifah, in principle, leads to the
problem of the nature of science itself. Then back again, after
“meeting” (al-kasfh al-ilāhi)
with Allah as the caliph of Allah on earth.

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The debate between the two groups above is never over, especially
among those who no longer only worship Allah but are already
“unified” with Allah. Even one’s love is only dedicated to Allah.
This pattern of “drunk” Allah manifests in the study of gnosiology,
so this study is more familiar with leading to the question of Sufism
al-falsafī, not Sufism al-sunn. However, in the Sunni school of thought itself,
spiritual problems have been categorized into the tarekat issue, where the
estuary is all focused on the figure of the Prophet Muhammad.

Searching for God’s names and getting acquainted with Him is very
common in studying religions. However, this area is better known in the realm
of philosophy. For Aristotle, a student of Plato, “first philosophy”
was theology, “discourse on God (Amstrong 2009, 72).” Here, it seems
that philosophy is equated by students of Plato with the activity of Sufism
when it is stated that “philosophy is not merely a body of knowledge but
an activity that involves spiritual transformation (Amstrong 2009, 72).”
Therefore, theology, philosophy, and spirituality are a unified field of
science that initially tried to understand God. Not only that, the process of
theorizing science, according to Aristotle, in principle is “a divine
activity (Amstrong 2009, 71).” If so, then, in the beginning, all
scientific activities, regardless of the form and scope, were religious
activities. Therefore, there is no axiological difference between all
scientific activities.

Therefore, philosophers, theosophists, theologians strive at one point,
namely God or divinity. In this case, the Prophets and Apostles are perfect
human beings who have the capacity as philosophers, theosophists, and
theologians. Therefore, getting a shower of knowledge in the form of revelation
from the Holy Spirit from two poles, namely the Angel Gabriel as the Angel of
Knowledge and Revelation (Corbin 1969, 10). This is then manifested in the holy
books, which contain teachings for humans. Meanwhile, for humans who do not get
the Angel of Knowledge, it is necessary to examine where their knowledge comes
from. For example, if there are humans who try to eliminate the source of learning
from the Holy Spirit, how is their thinking power in analyzing every phenomenon
in their lives philosophically. In other words, how do we understand humans who
also claim to be philosophers but do not acknowledge the existence of God or

Humans in the modern era are increasingly trying not to
understand the existence of God as the owner of this universe. For religious
people, this problem is, of course, rare because those who seek to understand
God tend to lead to their position as mystics eventually. Karen Armstrong notes
that in the 19th century AD, philosophers or scientists, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl
Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud, maintain that
philosophical and scientific interpretations that there is no place for
God.” It appears that, if at the beginning of human life, they tried to
use reason to understand God, then in the final era of human life, scientists
even wanted to use logic to “kill” God. It is even stated that
“Indeed, by the end of the century, a significant number of people were
beginning to feel that if God was not yet dead, it was the duty of rational,
emancipated human beings to kill him (Armstrong 1994, 346).

At least, the existence of God is no longer involved in people’s
lives. They returned as in the era of the Prophets were sent. The reason is the
primary standard for judging good and evil. The concepts of freedom, secularization,
pluralism, tolerance, democracy have become a new reference for human life
(Berlin 2000). Meanwhile, areas that are strong in the power of religious
thought and divinity are being eradicated one by one, from Africa to Asia
(Morris 2011); (D. L. Lewis 2008). The power of rationality resulted from the
Era of Enlightenment in the West. Philosophy, which initially wanted to be
“friends” with God, became a tool for “enemies” with God.
All the results of the dialectical thought of the Sufis from Islam then rotated
philosophically as part of Western Knowledge production. Their Knowledge, which
was initially a spark of divine nūr and qalam, was turned into an asset of a
new civilization, which did not want to get acquainted with the owner of
Knowledge (al-‘alīm). This condition causes spirituality, at certain stages, to
be foreign to modern society until it reappears in the 21st century with
various forms and schools of thought (Turner 2011).

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William C. Chittick explained that to be human … is to be a
divine form. To be a religious form is to be divine self-expression within
which every name of God – every real quality found in the cosmos, every
attribute of the Real (al-Haqq)”
(Chittick 2007, 20). Elsewhere, Karen Armstrong (1994:ixi) writes: “…study of
the history of religion has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals.
Indeed, there is a case for arguing that Homo sapiens is also Homo religious.
Men and women started to worship gods as soon as they became recognizably
human; they created religions at the same time as they created works of art.”
These two statements imply that human activity leads to divine form and Homo
religiosus. Therefore, the levels of understanding, starting from self-knowledge
(self), nature (cosmos), and spirit (spirit), is an effort to strengthen humans
not as animals but as divine forms (sacred forms). In Islamic tradition, it is
known as fitrah. If there is human activity on the contrary, then the human is
not human and does not show self-expression, which leads to al-Haqq.

If that is the scope of the study on humanity, then all human
actions and experiences ultimately lead to divinity. Once humans change the
form of their soul and mind from animalistic patterns to human patterns, then
their task as ‘abd has succeeded in
becoming a human being, which has no gender connotation (male or female).
Therefore, the impact of spiritual activity turns out not only on religious
matters alone. In other languages, the problem of being human (insan) is not just a matter of
religiosity alone, but also a human problem in general, which must be studied
and experienced by humans themselves. So, this recognition pattern is then
known as ma’rīfah or gnosis.

It can be stated that the study of gnosis is the center of all
human scientific activities. The point is that the study of gnosiology is how
to know, feel, and inform the experience of divinity in this universe (cosmos).
The explanation above also shows that the scope is about divinity and how the
human soul (nafs) can be recognized
by humans themselves, known as self-awareness, self-expression, or knowing
self. Likewise, the activity of gnosis is above the action of ‘ilm,’ which is as understood as knowledge
or science. Here the orientation of learning in humans directs there are
several arrows. The first arc tries to enter the realm of God. The second arc
tries to enter the universe (world of macro-cosmos). The third arc strives for
nature within humans (world of micro-cosmos).

Between each of the above arrows are interrelated with each
other. In the first arc, because of Allah’s command to return to Him at the
promised time, one must understand the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is in the
unseen realm. So, the order to return to Allah understands the unseen world.
However, it must be admitted that humans also come from the supernatural.
Therefore, humans exist in both space and time, from nothing according to the
world’s estimates to nothing according to the world. In living life, humans
will be in a position of space and time at the same time as all orders. As for
in the realm of the unseen, the command does not function anymore because in
its absence, actually humans still exist, while in the situation in the world,
humans do not exist. In the supernatural realm, humans already exist and occupy
space and time known as the spirit realm or the spirit realm. Then the spirit
is breathed into a mother’s womb, then she comes out of her womb, becoming a
form as part of the world’s inhabitants, who occupy worldly space and time.
However, after he lives in the estimation of the world, then humans will leave
the body, and the spirit will return to Allah. In this context, humans already
have a body in the spirit realm and return to Allah, according to practice,
when he lives according to the estimates of the world.

The human body is where the spirit resides in the world
and will return to Allah after experiencing so many trials when he lived in
this world. Therefore, when this first bow is shot, the human encounter in the
Kingdom of God has two dimensions, namely the dimension before he was born and
the size after he left the world. Above these two poles, humans live their
lives on earth, which is also part of the Kingdom of God. In other words, human
life is actually within the framework of the Kingdom of God, both before he was
born and after he was born on earth. Information about the Kingdom of God is
clearly stated in the Holy Book (al-Qur’an), which is several information from
the unseen world that is only accepted by commendable humans (Muhammad) so that
humans (humans) can prepare themselves towards the unseen, as described in the

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