Examining how logical perception, direct perception and personal engagement are all key factors towards certainty of faith.
Apostles of God claim to believe in God. Saints too make a similar claim. Ordinary believers also appear to be quite certain about their beliefs. Agnostics on the other hand, admit candidly that they do not know whether God exists or not, while atheists deny outright the existence of God. So, there is a whole spectrum of people who represent different levels of faith and certitude regarding the existence of God. The relevance of the issue of certainty pertaining to God lies in the fact that the level of this certainty happens to influence both our standard of worship as well as our conduct in a very profound way.
Certainty regarding any entity, be it the Being of God or any material existence, begins at the level of logical deduction. The next level up is direct perception. The next level, further up, is the level of complete personal engagement.
The human mind is gifted with the faculty of drawing logical conclusions by applying rationality to available information and established facts. With this faculty, the human mind can draw conclusions that are logically acceptable. The common adage “where there is smoke there is fire”, encapsulates this idea. Given that the existence, form and properties of fire are already within the realm of one’s knowledge, one becomes capable of deducing that there is fire when seeing its properties – smoke being one of them. The sight of smoke will lead any rational mind to deduce the presence of fire because of the prevalent knowledge; “where there is smoke there is fire”. Only if a person knows that fire produces smoke will he infer the presence of fire when seeing smoke. Hence, the precondition to such certainty would be Knowledge. The Arabic term for “knowledge” is ‘Ilm and the Arabic for “certitude” is Yaqeen. Thus, the Arabic term employed by the Holy Qur’an for “Certainty based upon Knowledge” is ‘Ilm ul Yaqeen.
We read in the Qur’an, “…If only you knew with certainty based on knowledge” (Ch.102:V.6). At the level of ‘Ilm ul Yaqeen, the believer and seeker of God believes in God not on account of having directly perceived His Being, but by virtue of deducing from facts that lie within the bounds of his knowledge. Essentially, he believes in the Unseen, for which the term ‘Imaan bil Ghaib, meaning “belief in the Unseen” is used. Although the seeker has not yet perceived God, the God-shaped vacuum in his heart that keeps him restless, the abundance of reliable testimony in favour of God given by a huge number of truthful and noble people, the very existence and perfection of the orderly Universe, the acceptance of his prayers in moments of distress and the transfer of knowledge of the unseen from an Unperceivable Source to mortals like himself, lead him to deduce the existence of God. He has not seen the fire itself, but having witnessed the smoke, he is led to infer that there indeed should be a fire.
Carrying on with the adage “where there is smoke there is fire,” a higher level of appreciation of the existence of fire would understandably be based upon direct observation. This level of certainty is associated with direct perception instead of logical deduction. Once someone has actually seen the flames of the fire, he no longer relies on inferring the presence of these flames from the smoke they produce. He now sees the fire directly. The smoke may still be there, but it is no longer required as proof of the fire. The Arabic term for the “eye” is ‘Ain and hence, the Arabic for “Certitude based upon observation” is ‘Ain ul Yaqeen.
We read in the Qur’an, “…You will surely see it with the eye of certainty” (Ch.102:V.8]. This verse draws our attention to the fact that at the level of ‘Ain ul Yaqeen, the believer believes in God, by what could be figuratively termed as the “direct perception” of God. For the human being, whose physical senses respond only to material stimuli, perception of God obviously does not mean a physical encounter with the Being of God. Beholding the Countenance of God can only mean being a witness to overt manifestations of His Divinity. These manifestations include miraculous acceptance of prayers and Divine communion. The believer’s supplications begin to meet with generous acceptance. When he prays for something, he finds Divine grace favourably inclined towards his prayer. The believer also begins to experience true dreams, dreams that are completely fulfilled, as well as visions and precisely-worded verbal revelations, during the state of wakefulness. When these encounters become frequent and abundant, it is then that the human soul figuratively beholds the spiritual face of God. Hence at this level of certitude, the believer relies no longer on logical deductions, regarding the existence of God. At this level, it is as if he has seen God with his own eyes. Although the state of ‘Imaan Bil Ghaib, or Belief in the Unseen continues, the believer becomes much more acquainted with the realm of Ghaib or the “Unseen”, than he was at the level of ‘Ilm ul Yaqeen. Reverting to the analogy of the flames of fire, we can appreciate that at the level of ‘Ilm ul Yaqeen, the seeker has finally seen the flames. The logic based on the adage “where there is smoke, there is fire”, at this level, is of little relevance beyond being an axiom. The seeker of God, at this point, has in a figurative sense, seen God.
Continuing with the analogy of the man’s journey towards the flames of fire, and his gradually increasing certainty regarding the existence of these flames, we should now proceed to examine the highest level of certainty that man can attain, be it with regard to the glowing flames of fire in the scenario being discussed, or of course the very Being of God. When the man who in search of fire, witnesses the flames, he attains a level of perception that involves one of his five senses, in this case – sight. Thus, a higher appreciation would logically involve perception through all his senses. This is not to suggest that the seeker of the flames would necessarily need to burn himself to ashes to attain this level of appreciation, but to propose that the highest level of appreciation would indeed summon all five senses. Let us assume that our protagonist continues to walk in the direction of the flames, which he has already perceived with his eyes, and finally lands himself inside the ring of the fire. At this point, he has perceived the attributes of the flames of fire by means of not just one, but all of his senses. Applying this analogy to the seeker of God, we can say that when the seeker finally perceives the Attributes of God, by means of a maximal involvement of his senses, both physical and spiritual, it is then that he attains the highest level of certitude regarding God. It is then that he can be said to have reached the level of Haqq ul Yaqeen. The Arabic for “Absolute Truth” is Haqq. The Arabic for “certainty” as we have already discussed, is Yaqeen. Hence, the term Haqq ul Yaqeen would signify the level of perfect certainty about God.
We read in the Qur’an, “…Verily, this is perfect certainty” (Ch.56:V.96). At this stage, the believer believes God because he has perceived the Attributes of God in a more complete manner, as if all modes of perception available to him had come into direct contact with the beauty and glory of God. At this stage, the believer is blessed with an even greater abundance of Divine revelation. At this stage, the seeker’s prayers are so copiously accepted and answered, that each prayer becomes a miracle in itself. Prophets and saints of God dwell in this exalted state of certainty. This is the highest level of faith and certitude.
This intriguing and profound theme has been dealt with in absorbing detail by the Promised Messiah(as) in his historical treatise “Haqeeqat-ul Wahy,” in which he writes:
‘…God, Who is Beneficent and Merciful, has implanted in the human soul a thirst for knowing God. Similarly, He has blessed the human nature with two sets of faculties to enable man to attain perfect enlightenment – the intellectual faculties whose seat is the brain and the spiritual faculties whose seat is the heart. The spiritual faculties are subject to the purification of the heart. The spiritual faculties tend to reach and discover such truths as cannot be wholly accessible to man’s intellectual faculties…”1
1. Haqeeqatul Wahy, p.6, in Ruhani Khaza’in, vol.22, p.8