Issue 88 / July - August 2012
M. Fethullah Gulen
Yaqin (certainty) means having no doubt about the truth of a matter and arriving at accurate, doubt-free knowledge through exact verification. Used also to mean verification, seeking certainty, examining, and exerting strenuous effort to arrive at certainty, certainty is a spiritual station that a traveler on the path has reached and experienced. It is obtained only by those who have deficiency and therefore are in need of development. This term is therefore not used for God's Knowledge, which is infinite and therefore neither increases nor decreases. God does not have such a Name as "One having certainty or giving certainty." In addition, certainty is a degree reached through study and the verification of something previously doubted. The Divine Being neither doubts nor needs verification.
According to truth-seeking scholars, yaqin means certainty or conviction of the truth expressed in the essentials of faith, including primarily one's doubt-free belief in God's Existence and Unity. It is also defined as reaching that conviction through observing or experiencing the essence or truth of those essentials in which regular people believe, and discerning or penetrating the realms beyond this material one.
Certainty may also be regarded as a point, final in one respect and initial in another, reached by using all sources of knowledge and ways of observation and discernment. A traveler who has reached this point frequently sails for what is eternal, realizing ascension in his or her heart and reaching the horizon of: His sight swerved not, nor did it go wrong (53:17). He or she travels amidst Divine manifestations in the material and immaterial realms, and is favored with a tongue to speak, eyes to see, and ears to hear the truths contained in the Supreme Sign.1 That is, repeated observation and study of the book of the universe, of the things and events contained in it, allows the traveler to eternity to perceive the meanings of the inimitable signs special to God.
By repeatedly observing and reflecting on the scenes presented for study in the outer world, as well as those in his or her inner world, truths beyond the visible realm are unveiled to the traveler. Also, by living in the brilliant, mysterious climate of Divine Revelation, namely the Qur'an and the Sunna, and the inspirations coming from the worlds beyond, one feels the manifestation of the Hidden Treasure in his or her heart. The believer becomes aware of and experiences the tokens and signs issuing from the prism of his or her conscience, which reflects the rays of Divine gifts coming from the outer world, his or her inner world, and the Divine Revelation, and sends them to his or her senses and faculties. Certainty, in this meaning and degree, is a gift with which God favors those near to Him.
Even in its least degree, certainty is so strong that it fills the heart with light, removes the mist of doubt from the mind, and causes breezes of joy, satisfaction, and exhilaration to blow in one's inner world. As pointed out by Dhu'n-Nun al-Misri, certainty causes the heart to overflow with the desire to reach eternity. This engenders the desire to live an austere life, for asceticism allows one to think and speak with wisdom. One who takes the wing of asceticism and flies to the realm of wisdom never forgets what the end will be, always thinks of the afterlife, and always feels God's company, even when with other people.
In the early steps of certainty, the veil between the material and immaterial sides of existence begins to be removed and, a few steps further, the traveler discerns the realm beyond this material world. With his or her heart filled with Divine manifestations, which result in the attainment of peace and satisfaction, the believer is freed absolutely from all doubt about the truths of faith. Like 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, may God be pleased with him, some who have attained this degree of certainty have declared: "Even if the veil between the seen and the Unseen were to lift, my certainty would not increase."2 A few steps further on is the station where one journeys in the pure realm of Divine gifts, which eyes have never seen, ears have never heard, nor have minds ever conceived.
To gain certainty, an initiate beginning the journey must try to do what is necessary to reach certainty. However, one can only reach this station when God bestows it as a blessing and gift. Without acquiring due knowledge of God, one cannot reach certainty. Knowledge of God is acquired through a correct view of and perspective on objects and events; the ability to think in a correct and balanced manner; purity of intention; the study of the signs of God's Existence and Unity; and finally knowledge of God is required through reflection on His Acts and the manifestations of His Names and Attributes. Knowledge of God is a light illuminating the initiate's inner and outer worlds, a light shining from all corners of existence. Under the rays of this light, the initiate sees everything as it really is and, being freed from the confines of multiplicity (of objects and events), discerns Divine Unity and is enraptured with indescribable spiritual pleasure.
Although an initiate may feel uneasy during the early stages on the way to certainty, he or she will be lost in inconceivable pleasure and peace in the end. Those who cannot distinguish between what is felt in the beginning and what is experienced in the end wrongly conclude that certainty is risky; however, those who constantly feel God's company and the resulting spiritual delight enjoy peace and security from all spiritual trouble and possible deviation. Uneasiness and trouble are felt only in the beginning. As for certainty being risky, all stations confront the traveler with some degree of risk. Even the Prophet himself, upon him be peace and blessings, declared: Even I could not be saved (from Hellfire or God's punishment through my own actions), if God did not embrace me in His mercy.3 As for being secure from trouble and deviation and gaining peace, these are the fruits that God causes certainty to yield.
As referred to in some verses of the Qur'an, Sufis classify certainty in three categories:
- Certainty coming from knowledge: Having a strong, firm belief in or conviction of all the essentials of faith, primarily in God's Existence and Unity, acquired through correct observation and study of the relevant signs and evidence.
- Certainty coming from direct observation or seeing: Having an indescribable degree of certainty and knowledge of God acquired through unveiling and observing the immaterial truths invisible to ordinary believers and on which the essentials of belief are based.
- Certainty coming from direct experience: Being favored with God's constant company, without any veils and in a way that only the one receiving this favor can perceive. Some have interpreted this as self-annihilation in God and gaining subsistence by Him. These three degrees of certainty can be summed up in the following examples: A person's knowledge of death (before he or she dies), acquired by observing or studying the body in a biological context, can be an example of certainty coming from knowledge. Witnessing some metaphysical phenomena, such as seeing the angel who has come to take one's soul and catching glimpses of the intermediate world of the grave, may be regarded as a kind of certainty coming from direct observation. The certainty gained by actually experiencing death is a certainty coming from direct experience.
Certainty about abstract truths such as God's Names and Attributes, which arise from vision or experience, pertains to one's personal experience. It is therefore beyond my ability to explain this.
O God! Show us the truth as being true and enable us to follow it, and show us falsehood as being false, and enable us to refrain from it. And bestow blessings and peace on him who has the perfect certaintyâour master Muhammad, the noblest one, and on his Family and Companions, all of them.
1 "The Supreme Sign" is a Qur'anic expression that is generally held to be the greatest or most comprehensive sign by which God is known most clearly. It can be reached after physical or mental or spiritual or both physical and mental and spiritual travel throughout or an overall study of the whole universe and spiritual vision of God with His Acts, Names and Attributes. What God's Messenger saw during his Ascension was the Supreme Sign (53:18). Everyone can reach it according to their own capacity. (Tr.)
2 Abu Nu'aym, Hilyatu'l-Awliya', 10: 203; 'Alliyu'l-Qari, al-Asraru'l- Marfu'a, 193.
3 al-Bukhari, "Riqaq," 18; Muslim, "Munafiqun," 71â78.