What is ma‘arifah?
Literally, ma‘arifah means realization. In religious terms, ma‘arifah means man’s realization of God, his Creator. He awakens in him the profound consciousness of the reality of the creature and the Creator and of the servant and the Lord. Ma‘arifah is another name for conscious discovery. There is nothing mysterious about it. Ma‘arifah of God means that man discovers God by deep pondering upon and contemplation of His signs rather than by rumination upon His being. (Al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran, alRaghib al-Isfahani, p. 331) This shows that ma‘arifah relates not to knowledge alone but to reflection and deep thinking, yet, knowledge enables the individual to engage in deeper contemplation. When he focuses on ma‘arifah, he engages himself zealously and in the cognitive process of finding the Creator, in His Creation. As a result of this deep personal striving he develops the personality of the realized soul.
One who has achieved this kind of ma‘arifah becomes an extremely serious person. He looks at everything with deeper insight. He starts introspecting intensely in his worship, and behaviour, and in all his dealings. All these things begin to reflect this state of ma‘arifah that he has achieved. He is able to converse with the angels. He is interested only in those things which elevate his thinking on ma‘arifah. He now lives in the rarified environment of ma‘arifah.
Ma‘arifah—the Goal of Mankind
S cholars have defined ma‘arifah as being man’s first obligation. It would be more precise to say that ma‘arifah is the purpose of life. The life before death is the beginning of ma‘arifah, and the life after death is the culmination of ma‘arifah. In the present world, a person receives God’s ma‘arifah in the sense of a preliminary discovery. In the world Hereafter, he will receive God’s ma‘arifah in the complete sense. The truth is that ma‘arifah is an intellectual process, which begins in this present world and will continue eternally in the world Hereafter.
Chapter 51 of the Quran tells us that man and the jinns were created for the worship of God alone (51:56).
The purpose of this creation was that man and the jinns should be granted the sublime ability to achieve the realization of God in the highest degree. Therefore, on the one hand, the jinns and men were given the elevated intellectual capability required for this great purpose, while, on the other hand, they were given all the external resources necessary for them to carry out this task.
Ma‘arifah literally means realization of something in the perfect sense. Ma‘arifah, in other words, may be called intellectual discovery. This discovery does not relate to any short-lived familiarity with the truth but is rather another name for a long journey.
The God that man is supposed to realize has such attributes as are alluded to in the Quran: “If all the trees on earth were pens, and the sea [were] ink, with seven [more] seas added to it, the words of God would not be exhausted: for, truly, God is Almighty and Wise.” (The Quran, 31:27) The discovery of God who is so perfect, cannot be done in a short period of time. It is without doubt a journey which begins at a fixed point in time, but which is ultimately unending.
The ma‘arifah of God does not mean that with the help of meditation we shall have glimpses of God’s being in the world of imagination. Moreover, ma‘arifah is not ecstasy. Ma‘arifah is an enhanced state of consciousness which can be achieved solely by contemplation of the divine creation. According to the Quran, ma‘arifah can be defined as a servant of God discovering God, the Lord of the worlds in all His Majesty and Glory to the extent that He becomes a centre of his love (The Quran, 2:165). And all his feelings of fear are associated with Him (The Quran, 9:18).
Love and fear are interconnected. When a servant of God engages in contemplation and discovers the Creator of the Universe in all His glory, in his heart he comes to acknowledge God to a limitless extent. Moreover, when he discovers the reality that the giver is God and that no one else can give anything to him, his heart becomes filled with the fear that if he is deprived of God’s blessings, nowhere, on the earth or in heaven, will he find any other refuge.
God has created man in the best of moulds (The Quran, 95:4). He has been granted all the intellectual capabilities by which he may achieve ma‘arifah of the Lord of the worlds. Beside this, in the external world that is nature, all those elements are hidden which may assist him in this journey. Now it is man’s task to discover these elements of ma‘arifah in nature and experience such an elevated level of ma‘arifah as will enable him to develop a divine personality.
Source: Discovering God