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Ilm Ladun (The Special Knowledge from God's Presence)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-3

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What is meant by 'ilm ladun, or the special knowledge from God's Presence, is knowledge of the Unseen or knowledge of mysteries, or knowledge which God imparts into one's heart and the truths occurring to it. Primarily included is the knowledge of all the Prophets and Messengers, as well as the knowledge of saints, purified saintly scholars, virtuous and godly ones, and those especially favored with God's nearness. It is the knowledge which God has imparted into their hearts by way of Revelation or inspiration, and therefore it is considered to be some sort of special knowledge from God's Presence. Particularly the knowledge of God's Messenger, the Sultan of 'ilm ladun, upon him be peace and blessings, whether it relates to the Unseen "absolute" or the Unseen "restricted," is included in this consideration of special knowledge from God's Presence. Süleyman Çelebi expresses this in the following couplet:

That one who has come is the Sultan of 'ilm ladun,
That one who has come is the source of the knowledge of Divine Oneness.

That "unique one" of time and space is the perfect treasurer of this knowledge of secrets, and the greatest of those who have drunk out of this pool of special knowledge. Neither the other Prophets, nor the Messengers, nor the saints were favored with special knowledge to the same degree as that of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.

The knowledge which a saint claims to have received from God's Presence specially may sometimes be incompatible with the decrees of Shari'a. For this reason, those who do not correct any such knowledge or spiritual discovery according to the basic rules or the fundamentals of the Religion may err and cause their followers to err. However, those others who have established their spiritual discoveries and inspirations on the ground of the basic rules of the Religion always see the physical and metaphysical dimension of existence together at the same time, observe this world and the others like the two faces of a single entity, and offer their students sweet "waters" of Divine gifts from the physical and metaphysical worlds.

In Surat al-Kahf, the holy Qur'an mentions a distinguished servant of God favored with special knowledge from God's Presence, one who God's Messenger said was called Khadr.[1] It says: And they found (there) one of Our servants to whom We had granted a mercy as a grace from Us and taught special knowledge from Our Presence (18:65). According to the Sufi scholars, the knowledge which God taught Khadr was special knowledge from His Presence. Despite being one of the five greatest Prophets and a perfect guide in Divine truths, the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, desired to fully comprehend the special knowledge from God's Presence by following Khadr to learn a particular aspect of it. Sahih al-Bukhari records a saying of our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, which points to the difference between the Prophetic knowledge of Divine truths and some aspects of special knowledge from God's Presence: "Khadr said to Moses: 'O Moses! I have some sort of knowledge from God, which you do not know, and you have some other sort of knowledge which I do not know.'"[2]

The special knowledge discussed is a special favor from God to certain people; others—even though they may be more knowledgeable in different subjects—lag behind these people in respect to special knowledge from God's Presence. It is true that in order to be favored with this knowledge, one should have the ability and merit to receive it and enjoy particular nearness to God; but it is primarily a special favor of God to His servants whom He has chosen. For this reason, it cannot be acquired through study, research, or other similar ways. That is God's grace; He grants it to whom He wills. Surely God is of tremendous grace (62:4). So, this is a special manifestation of God's grace.

It should be pointed out that although such knowledge is extremely attractive, enchanting, and desirable, and although it is related to certain Divine mysteries, the knowledge of the Religion and Divine truths with which the Prophets were favored is much more elevated than this knowledge; the knowledge of the Prophets is objective, applicable to everybody, and secures the worldly and otherworldly happiness of people. We can explain the difference between these two kinds of knowledge as follows:

Moses's knowledge was the knowledge of the Shari'a, which was absolutely necessary for everybody regarding their happiness in both worlds and was therefore taught to order people's worldly life and secure their happiness in the Hereafter, while Khadr's knowledge was a special favor to know some aspects of the Unseen and certain Divine mysteries. Moses' knowledge related to the rules and judgment by which public order and security could be realized, while Khadr's consisted of some special gifts relating to the metaphysical dimension of life and existence. This second kind of knowledge has also been called "special knowledge that is purely from God's Presence," "the knowledge of truth," and "the knowledge of the inner dimensions of existence." It is a significant source by which one can realize the Divine mysteries. In this respect it is said:

O teacher of religious sciences,
Pay no attention to the knowledge of what people say;
Instead, search for the secrets of the Ultimate Truth
In the special knowledge from His Presence.

Although there is some sort of connection between this knowledge and personal efforts to obtain it, such knowledge cannot be obtained through mere study or efforts, for this knowledge occurs in pure hearts as a Divine gift in the form of a sacred power. It comes directly from God's Presence through the ways of spiritual discovery and inspiration. However, as inspirations coming to the heart manifest themselves in the hearts to varying degrees, so those who cannot continue their spiritual journeying under the guardianship of the Master of creation, upon him be the perfect blessings and peace, may be the target of some suggestions of Satan.

Revelation (wahy) came to the Prophets and it is absolutely beyond all doubt. However, inspiration (ilham) occurs to saints and it is a broad channel for the manifestations of God's Knowledge. If an inspiration manifests itself in the heart of a human being as a Divine gift beyond his or her willpower, this is called an "occurrence." Satan may mix some things with an occurrence. An occurrence that is certain to have come from God without any interference from Satan can be regarded as special knowledge from God's Presence. The firmest sign of an occurrence having originated in God's Knowledge is its conformity with the Qur'an and the Sunna. It is highly possible that any occurrences which are not in conformity with these two primary foundations or basic sources of the Religion are whisperings or suggestions of Satan or of the human carnal soul. Since occurrences in which Satan and the human carnal soul have interfered bear Satanic and carnal elements, an initiate who has been driven to such an area of deception should immediately turn to God Almighty and regulate his or her state according to the basic rules of Shari'a.

The Sufi leaders call the meanings coming from God's Presence and which echo in the heart "occurrences from the Ultimate Truth," while those known to come from the angels are called "occurrences from the angels," and the "sparks" which come from Satan and the carnal soul and invade the spirit are known as " carnal or Satanic suggestions." To differentiate between these occurrences one must depend on the criteria established by the fundamentals of the Religion and the elevated Sunna of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. We should also point out that although these occurrences can be differentiated through the basic rules of the Shari'a, some others may come as a result of, or lead to, certain secret Satanic goals or ambitions even though they appear to be in conformity with the fundamentals of the Religion. For this reason, only those people who are well-versed in this field can establish the true differentiation.

Since the suggestions of the carnal soul and Satan are outside the sphere of "special knowledge from God's Presence," we will not go into details about them here.

O God! Show us the truth as the truth and enable us to observe it; show us falsehood as falsehood and enable us to avoid it. And bestow Your blessings and peace upon our master, Muhammad, and on his Family and Companions.

[1]al-Bukhari, "'Ilm" 44; Muslim, "Fadail" 170. (Tr.)

[2]al-Bukhari, "'Ilm" 44. (Tr.)