Direct Knowledge of the Absolute Being
This concise text was composed by Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir ibn Mustafa on Monday, the 29th of Rabi’l-Akhir in the year 1243 A.H. (November 19th, 1827). He composed it at the age of 24 during the rule of Sultan Muhammad Bello. As the author stated in the beginning of the text, it was an explanation and elaboration upon the Fulde` poem of his maternal grandfather, Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye`, in which the Shehu delineated the eight gates to direct experiential knowledge of Allah ta`ala.
It was a famous poem recited on the tongue of many of his disciples. It was not until some ten years after the death of the Shehu that this grandson composed a text explaining the meaning of this Fulde` poem. Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir ibn Mustafa, was demonstrating his own level of achievements in the science of unveiling just nine months after the death of his chief spiritual guide Shaykh Muhammad Sanbu ibn Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye` who died on Wednesday night the 25th of Muharram in the year 1242 A.H.
The title of the text is called Ma`arifaat’l-Haqq (Direct Knowledge of the Absolute Being). Here the author utilizes a technical term among the mutasawwifeen which is well known among them referring to knowledge and comprehension in all its facets. It is for this reason, the author used the plural form rather than the singular ma`arifa. The singular form when it is unqualified usually refers to knowledge which is the direct result of spiritual discipline and unveiling. However, Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir delineates that the latter form of comprehension is not the only means to direct knowledge of Allah ta`ala.
He gives eight gates to knowledge of Allah. Thus, the eight realms of knowledge delineated here by the Shaykh are the eight realms through which the Absolute Being is known. These sciences revolve around knowledge of Allah in the same manner that the planets orbit the sun, or the pilgrim circumambulates the Sacred House. This spiritual interaction is one of the manifestations of the meaning of his words, may Allah bless him and grant him peace:
“Whoever dies and has not associated anything with Allah, will have the gates of Paradise opened for him and he can enter in whichever one he wishes; and it has eight gates.”
And his words:
“Whoever dies and he has absolute certainty in Allah, then Paradise has eight gates which he can enter in whichever one he chooses.”
Thus, if the concept of the eight realms of direct knowledge can be depicted in a grapheme it would take the form of eight ‘fields’ (majaal) revolving around a center (qutb) creating what Muslim sages call a daa’ira and what the Chinese sages developed into the Ba Gua, or the eight tri-gram system called lo shu, and the Fulbe` sages called hatumere` (from khaatim or ‘seal’), with its three-by three, nine house square describing in symbolic fashion the structure of the cosmos and the development of knowledge symbolized by the 8 sequential numbers spiraling around a central number (in most cases 5).
It is not a coincidence that both the Chinese sages and the Muslim sages developed an illustration of these eight gates in what became known as the ‘mystical square’. In fact, Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye` illustrated this concept in his Kitaab Ism Allah ‘l-`Aadhem (the Book of the Great Name of Allah). If we take the same principle and make the threefold square, where the eight realms of knowledge surround a center; it would resemble the grapheme on this page.
The bottom line is that the Ma`arifaat al-Haqq of Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir ibn Mustafa, is a proof in defense of the words of one of my teachers, Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir al-Murabit who used to often say that the People of Allah:
“…are a People who have made science intoxicating and rendered intoxication into a science.”
The Ma`arifaat al-Haqq demonstrates the high level of discourse the African Muslim sages had achieved in realms of knowledge of Allah ta`ala. The ease by which the Shaykh arranged and systematized these sciences speaks to the quality of the civilization which was created by the Sokoto Caliphate. It’s not difficult to reflect on the potential excellence of the society, government, science and technology which would have developed had the ideas in this text been allowed to be further systematized and its spiritual concepts were further developed into scientific and social theories.
The fact that the author composed the text at the comparatively young age of 24 in the year 1827 C.E. indicates the spiritual and intellectual potential of an individual and society dedicated to knowing and worshiping Allah, the Absolute Being. This illuminated son of Africa composed this text less than 181 years ago, and typifies the rich spiritual cultural heritage Africa has bequeathed to the Muslim world.
Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid