Hafiz Ibnul Qayyim on Fana (Annihilation) and Sukr (Spiritual Intoxication)

(Compiled by Admin)

(Continued from: What is Wahdatul Wujood (Part Two)?)

Why Hafiz Ibnul Qayyim?

Although the true Sufis have always gone to great lengths in condemning the charlatans who masquerade as Sufis, and have elaborated sufficiently on how the various spiritual concepts and states associated with the spiritual path conform with the Shariah, the writings of Hafiz Ibnul Qayyim are used here since he is unlikely to be branded a deviant, bidati, zindeeq, or labelled with some other epithet that is usually hurled indiscriminately at the Auliya by the members of the Salafi Sect.

Hafiz Ibnul Qayyim has written enough on the topic of fanaa to dispel much of the misconceptions associated with this particular spiritual state, which the Ulama-e-Soo utilise in order to denigrate the Auliya. These excerpts are just a few taken from his book Madarij al-Salikin, which shed much light on this matter:

The True Sufis Do Not Mean Annihilation of Existence of Everything Apart from Allah

Ibn al-Qayyim states in Madarij al-Salikin (vol. 1, p.154) that the true Sufis do not mean the annihilation of the existence of everything apart from Allah. They only mean the obliteration of the self from seeing and feeling everything apart from Allah:

“As to annihilation (fana) from seeing anything apart from He, this is a concept that the majority of the latter Sufis have called towards and which they consider the goal, and it is that on which Abu Isma‘il al-Ansari has based his book and made the third stage in each of his chapters.

They do not mean the annihilation of the existence of everything apart from Allah on the outward, but the obliteration of the self from seeing and feeling everything apart from Allah. Its true nature is the absence of one of them from everything apart from what he is witnessing, rather also his absence from seeing himself and his being. This is because he becomes absent from his worship on account of He who is worshiped, absent from his dhikr on account of He who he is remembering, absent from his love on account of his beloved, and absent from seeing himself on account of He who is being seen.”

Two Reasons for Fanaa Occurring

Ibnul Qayyim states that Fanaa occurs when the strength of the inspirations (warid) supersedes the capacity of the Saalik to withstand them:

“There are two reasons for this fana: one is the strength of the inspirations (warid) and weakness of the one receiving, and this is not criticism of the person [who is experiencing this]”

The True Sufi is Not Held Blameworthy for Words Uttered in a State of Spiritual Intoxication (Sukr )

Ibnul Qayyim continues to state that being overcome by a high spiritual state is due to the Saalik not being strong enough to be able to withstand such a state. However, the true Sufi cannot be held blameworthy for words uttered in that state:

“At times, a spiritual state such as this is called intoxication (sukr), annihilation (istilam), obliteration (muhw) and being in the state of union (jam‘a). They sometimes differentiate between the meanings of these terms and, at times, the prevalent meaning is the seeing of the heart its Beloved and the One it is remembering until he disappears into Him and becomes annihilated in Him and thinks he is in union with Him and that he has joined Him, rather he thinks he is He. This is similar to the story in which a man saw his beloved throw herself into water and so the lover threw himself behind her. The beloved said, “What made you throw yourself into the water?” The lover replied, “I lost myself in you and thought surely you were I.”

When his sense returns, he understands he was mistaken in that and that the realities are distinguished in themselves. Hence, the Cherisher (Rabb) is the Cherisher, the slave is the slave, and the Creator is separate from the creation, there is nothing from Himself in His creation, and nothing in Him from His creation.

However, at the time of sukr, muhw, istilam, fana and jam‘a this difference becomes absent, and at this time, those involved may say such things as have been narrated from Abu Yazid who said, “Glory be to myself,” or, “There is nothing in this jubbah except Allah.” Speech such as this would render the speaker a kafir if his mind were with him. However, on account of the absence of the faculty of differentiating and feeling, he is not held blameworthy…

Rather, the final outcome of such a person is to be excused — on account of his inability and weakness of heart and mind — from distinguishing and differentiating”

Only Some Were Afflicted By Shatahat (Words Uttered in Ecstasy)

In comparing the capacities of different people to absorb spiritual states, he draws attention to the fact that only some were overcome completely, and that the most perfect ones never lost control. These included the the Sahabahs (radhiyallahu anhum) who received the greatest spiritual effulgence through being in the presence of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) – yet they were never reported to have lost their senses, swooned, died, etc. as a result of spiritual emotions – the most that occurred to them was physically shaking with fear or shedding tears in abundance:

“This situation is also not necessarily that of all saliks but it comes to some of them. Those who have been afflicted include Abu Yazid and others like him. There are some who are not afflicted by it. Their situation is more perfect and strong. Indeed, the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) are the leaders of the ‘arifs, the imams of those who have reached [Allah] and are close [to Him], and the exemplars of the saliks. There was none among them who was afflicted by this in spite of the strength of their iradah, their passing of so many stages, and their seeing that which others did not see. They did not even have a whiff of its smell and nor did it pass their hearts. If this fana was perfect then they were more deserving of it and would have been the people of it, and they would have had from it that which others have not.”

Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) – The Greatest Spiritual Strength

In order to draw attention to differing capacities of people, Ibnul Qayyim compares the reaction of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) with that of Hadhrat Musa (alayhi wasallam) when both beheld the presence of Allah (azza wa jal):

“This was also not the case with our Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), and nor was his state. It is on account of this that on the night of Mi‘raj when he was taken and he saw that which he saw from that which Allah showed him from His great signs, this state did not come to him. Rather, he was as Allah Most High has described him in the verse, “The eye neither went wrong, nor did exceed the limit. He has indeed seen a part of the biggest signs of your Lord.” (53:17-18) He also said, “And We did not make the vision We showed to you, but a test for the people.” (17:60) Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “This is the vision that He showed the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) on the night he was taken…”

In spite of this, he came amongst them in the morn and his condition did not change, nor was he left senseless or unconscious, he informed them of the details of what he saw, he was not annihilated from his self and nor from seeing it. It is because of this that his situation was more perfect than Musa ibn ‘Imran (may Allah bless them both and grant them peace) when he fell senseless when his Cherisher revealed Himself to the mountain, turning it into rubble.”

Two extremes When Dealing with Shatahat of the Righteous

Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaa’ah accepts what has to be accepted, and rejects what has to rejected, using the Shariah as the standard, WITHOUT denigrating the Auliyah who uttered such statements.

There are two extreme groups when it comes to dealing with Shatahat  – those who denigrate and belittle the Auliyah on account of such statements, and those who latch onto the corrupt meanings of such statements in order to justify their deviant beliefs.

Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim in Madarij al-Salikin (vol. 2, p.39) refers to these two groups of fitnah:

“It is said that this and other words of ecstasy (shatahat) — the forgiveness of which is hoped through an abundance of good deeds, and which one is drawn deeply into due to perfect truthfulness (sidq), correct dealing, utmost sincerity and pure monotheism, and no human after the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is guaranteed fallibility — has forced two groups of people into fitnah:

The first group has been blinded from the goodness of this group, the gracefulness of their souls and the truthfulness of their dealings on account of these words of ecstasy. They consider them (the Sufis) invalid on account of these shatahat; they severely reject them and view them poorly in an absolute fashion. This is enmity and excessiveness.

If everyone who commits a mistake or errs were to be abandoned indiscriminately, and all of his good points were to be considered invalid, then all knowledge, crafts and wisdoms would be ruined and those who are distinguished for their knowledge in these matters would be without work.

The second group has been blinded by the goodness of the Community, the purity of their hearts, the correctness of their intentions and their good dealings from seeing the defects of their shatahat and their shortcomings; they have praised the shatahat and give them their approval. These people have also exceeded the limit and are extreme.

The third group are the people of justice and equity who give every man their due and treat people according to their ranks. They do not adjudicate he who is healthy as being ill and poorly, and nor consider healthy he who is ill and poorly. They, rather, accept that which should be accepted and refute that which should be refuted.”

At Times the Intended Meaning is Without Corruption

And again Ibn al-Qayyim writes in Madarij al-Salikin (vol. 3, p.330):

“At times they use a phrase used by a heretic and intend a meaning in which there is no corruption. This becomes a means of fitnah for two groups: the group that attributes the exoteric meaning of texts to them and then considers them to be innovators and astray; and the group that looks at what they aim and intend, and approves those texts and considers correct those alluded meanings. The seeker of truth accepts it from whoever has it and rejects that which opposes it regardless of who it is.”

When the Arifs Use Such Words, They Intend the Correct Meaning

Ibn al-Qayyim writes in Madarij al-Salikin (vol. 3, p.151):

“Be completely aware of ambiguous, obscure words that are in the nomenclature of the Community. They are indeed the root of difficulties, and the source of both the siddiq and the heretic. When a person who is weak in recognising and knowing Allah Most High hears the words ittisal (union), infisal (separation), musamarah (conversing), mukalamah (communion), and that nothing is in existence in reality except Allah, and that the existence of the worlds are thoughts and illusions like a shadow which exists on account of another, then he hears that which fills the ears with hulul (incarnationism), ittihad (unification) and shatahat (words of ecstasy).

When the ‘arifs, on the other hand, use these words and others like them, they intend the correct inherent meaning. But some err in understanding what they mean and attribute heresy and kufr to them.”

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3 thoughts on “Hafiz Ibnul Qayyim on Fana (Annihilation) and Sukr (Spiritual Intoxication)

  1. Akhwat

    Assalamu ‘alaikum

    Jazakallah khair for posting Maulana Thanvi stance on kayfiyaat (spiritual conditions), tasarrufaat (supernatural or spiritual machinations), kashf (inspiration), etc. the other day. I once had a doubt about Islam and almost abandon it completely because I have a lot of kashf naturally but every muslims around me (mostly half-baked salafis) insisted that any clairvoyance or kashf and tasarrufaat like this is “impossible” and “satan’s work” for “only Allah knows tomorrow”. They give impression that such thing is against Islam or that Islam ignores that completely.

    Then it makes me wonder if ESP is impossible, then why so many people muslims and not, having ESP ability? I also have some ESP ability naturally, I know a sister and muslim brother who have one, and we never work with satan or jinni. Most of these kashf I have actually teach me to be merciful to Allah’s creatures, to heed His power, and helps my family from some hardships. Especially after a lot of dhikr, it’s pretty easy to receive kashf.

    The more I learn about tasawwuf, the more I realize that Islam actually has answers to every problems of human beings, even including kashf and ESP. If kashf is not in accordance with shariah, it’s should be ignored, and even kashf should not be the source of law. I really prefer this kind of explanation rather than the half baked salafis that disregard things they can’t discern.

    1. admin Post author

      Wa alaykum salaam,

      BarakAllah feek. JazakAllah khair for relating your experiences. For the benefit of other readers I’ll paste here what you referred to:

      Some words from Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanwi (rahmatullahi alayhi) regarding Tawajjuh, Bayah, and Kashf:

      Regarding Tawajjuh:
      The effect of tasarruf [referring to tawajjuh given by Shaykh] is like the warmth one derives when sitting by a heater. One feels the warmth as long as one sits by the heater. The moment one leaves the proximity of the heater, one feels the cold. True benefit, is the benefit which is lasting. Mere reliance on duaa and tawajjuh without making effort to reform oneself is a baseless idea.”

      For islaah (reformation) of the nafs, bay’t is not imperative. The belief that bay’t is necessary for islaah is a bid’at. The first obligation of the Shaikh is the islaah of the mureed. He should not conceal anything in consideration of others.

      The status of Bay’t
      Bay’t (the mureed placing his hand in the hands of the Shaikh to denote his allegiance) is not of imperative importance. Of great importance is Ittiba’ (obedience) and muhabbat (love). Placing hand in hand is merely for the solace of the seeker. It contents him to know that he has pledged allegiance to a particular guide. Besides this, bay’t has no share in the acquisition of spiritual benefit. I give the assurance that even without the ceremony of bay’t there will be not an iota of reduction in the benefit. Bay’t is a burden on me. In fact I desire that no one becomes bay’t to me, but they should extract Deeni service from me.

      Do not make haste in bay’t. Sometimes after hastily having taken bay’t, one regrets and in fact feels trapped. Before entering into bay’t, ascertain the way of the shaikh. One who first examines and studies the shaikh and his method of ta’leem will not be deceived. A man who enters into bay’t after having examined (the shaikh) will not be uncertain. There will be firmness in his resolve.

      Kashf and Karaamat
      The revelation of episodes of the spiritual/celestial realm which are hidden from the gaze is called kashf. This occurs when a person’s heart is emancipated from material and worldly relationships. For the incidence of kashf acceptance by Allah Ta’ala is not a requisite. In fact, being even a Muslim is not a condition for kashf. Kashf occurs to even a faasiq, kaafir and a mad man. It has no relationship with karaamat. Karaamat is the bestowal of divine honour to a person. But these persons (i.e. faasiq, kaafir, mad man) are not the recipients of this divine bestowal. However, sometimes Allah Ta’ala bestows kashf to a Buzrug by way of karaamat as it generally happens to Auliya. The sign that the kashf is from Allah Ta’ala, is increase in humility and the realisation of one’s helplessness. A kashf unaccompanied by this attitude is not karaamat. It is Istidraaj (shaitaani manipulation).

      Revelation of unseen things or of future events is neither a Deeni excellence nor a sign of divine proximity. Being a Muslim or being in possession of sanity is not even a pre-requisition of such phenomena. Kashf (revelation or inspiration of unseen or future events) is possible for even non-Muslims. Even insane persons are capable of receiving correct kashf. According to the well known book of Tibb-e-Unaani, Sharah Asbaab, in the chapter dealing with mental diseases, correct kashf occurs even to insane people. There are also numerous and well known incidents of correct kashf of the kuffaar and fussaaq… Kashf (revelation) of the unseen is the consequence of a physical and spiritual capacity which even kuffaar, fussaaq and insane people also possess. This capacity produces kashf and generally such revelations are correct. This is unrelated to piety and proximity to Allah Ta’ala. Nowadays people are enamoured by marvellous demonstrations. They quickly develop faith in a man of kashf. Many among these persons (of kashf) are astray and mislead others. The only criterion of Haqq and Baatil — of the accepted and accursed — Truth and Falsehood— is obedience to the Shariah and Sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). A man who does not conform to this standard is neither a wali nor a leader in the Shariah, irrespective of the abundance of his inspirational experiences.

      The Maqsood of Tareeqat (the Path of Moral Reformation) has no relationship with spiritual experiences and states. Remember that these kayfiyaat (spiritual conditions), tasarrufaat (supernatural or spiritual machinations), kashf (inspiration), etc., are in fact nafsaani states. Any person (even those bereft of piety) can achieve such states by way of solitude. The kayfiyaat which play a role in the attainment of Qurb-e-Ilaahi (Divine Proximity) are different from these nafsaani states. These kayfiyaat are the conditions which settle on the Saalik as effects of the manifestation of the Divine Attributes. If the Saalik is travelling along the righteous path, the nafsaani states do lightens the Tareeq. But the belief that these states are the goal is evidence for one’s ignorance. Such a person is unaware of the Path.

      Regarding Fana (annihilation) and Sukr (spiritual intoxication), the explanation of Hafiz Ibnul Qayyim here is sufficient

    2. admin Post author

      I’d just like to add that just as materialism, which afflicts the spiritually barren Salafis/modernist, is dangerous for one’s Imaan, so too is deviant pseudo-Sufism. The purpose of authentic Sufism is merely to strengthen one’s adherence to the Shari’ah in belief and practice. As Mujaddid Alf-e-Thani states in his letters:

      “What should I say of the frivolous ideas of the Sufis, and what should I speak of their experiences. In the Hereafter, their experiences and findings shall not be worth half a penny unless they are weighed in the balance of the Shar’, and their revelations and inspirations will not be worth half a grain unless they are tested on the criterion of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The purpose of pursuing the path of Sufism is to strengthen conviction in the objects of faith as stated by the Shar’, which is what faith really means, as well as to acquire the ability to perform with ease the duties of the Shar’ as described in fiqh. There is no purpose beyond them.”


      “After one has acquired right beliefs and subjected oneself to the rules of the Shari’ah, one should, if Allah so wills, enter the path of the Sufis. But one should not pursue it in order to get something over and above the beliefs and the practices of the Shar’, or acquire something new. The purpose of following the Sufi way is to gain a conviction in the objects of faith that cannot be weakened by the doubts of a sceptic or shaken by the remarks of an objector. The conviction which is founded on arguments is not firm, and one who pursues reasoning does not attain certitude.

      “Know that it is [only] through the remembrance of Allah that one acquires the peace and satisfaction of the heart.” [Qur’an]

      This is the object of the Sufi tariqah regarding belief. Regarding the practices of the Shar’, the object is to make their performance easy and spontaneous, to remove sluggishness, and to subdue the carnal self.

      Likewise, the purpose of the Sufi Suluk is not to see the forms and images of transcendental realities, or behold colours and lights; they are nothing more than play or fun. Material forms and physical lights are not less interesting if one wants to have fun; why should one leave them and run after spiritual forms and lights, and take up austere and difficult practices for that purpose? Forms, these or others, and lights, physical or spiritual, are all created by Allah. He transcends them altogether; they are nothing but His signs and proofs.”


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