Religion is morality in practice. Knowledge is but an instrument.”
Lütfi Filiz

Any treatise on akhlaq (morality/character) and Sufism (Tasawwuf) needs to make references to specialized literature and a set of concepts. The concepts of Sufism have both a philosophical and a poetic character, meaning that philosophical concepts alone would not be sufficient to explain Sufism. If philosophical concepts are like “day and night” to the mind, and mystic concepts are like “light and dark”, then Sufi concepts are like “dawn and twilight”, in that the language of Sufism contains both concepts and symbols. It addresses both aql (reason) and qalb (heart) at the same time, as in Sufism, humans are made up of “an invisible soul” and “a visible body”, united by an “immaterial organ” called fuad (heart), which has windows both to the senses and the soul. Humans have two basic faculties when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge: The first is reason, which operates on the basis of principles, rules and logic, while the other is intuition, which is the faculty of inspiration, contemplation, discovery and ecstasy. Reason comprehends indirectly through causality from the outside, whereas intuition comprehends directly and intimately through the inspiration within. Contemporary science attributes this to the structure of the brain. The left hemisphere of the brain is capable of speech, analytical thinking and understanding by separating into parts, whereas the right hemisphere is capable of dreaming, holistic perception and deriving pleasure. For all these reasons, the present article employs a literary language rather than a philosophical one.

The concept of akhlaq is the central concept of Islamic Sufism. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), emphasized “good morals” in the statement “I was sent to accomplish good morals.” Allah the Almighty says, in the Quran, This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.”[1] Sufis, therefore, consider akhlaq to be the “purpose of religion”. In another verse from the Quran, we are invited to “Take on Allahs color. And whose color is better than Allahs?  It is Him that we serve.[2] What is meant by “Allah’s color” here is “Allah’s akhlaq (character)”. In Sufism, the concept of akhlaq relates to “being and perfecting one’s existence”. This unique concept of akhlaq is different from morality in the ordinary sense, referring to compliance with social values, in that akhlaq has an ontological value.

Akhlaq gains meaning in a conceptual system. The components of this system are Khaliq (the Creator), Khalq (creation), Akhlaq (character/morality) and Makhluq (the created/creature). Bringing these concepts together in one sentence, The Creator created all creatures with a certain character.” Khalq means giving form and bringing into existence, and this act of giving form, in other words, “determining”, requires a certain character, that is to say, certain “attributes”. These attributes are inherent in the character of Khaliq (the Creator), and so all things in existence (mawjud) are characterized by Allah’s character, which is called Wahdat al-Wujud (Oneness of Being) in Islamic Sufism. All things that exist have a certain character, and so the concept of being (wujud) is universal in Islamic Sufism, encompassing “all things that exist”. Accordingly, akhlaq is a concept that applies to all existence, and not just to humans.

Khulq, the singular form of the Arabic word akhlaq, means “disposition” and is the manifestation of an attribute in a human being. Attributes (sifat) are manifested as dispositions. “The words sifa (attribute), sufism, and wasf (description) are derived from the same infinitive (root), and are the different clothes worn by the meaning that makes up that infinitive,” says Lütfi Filiz, the author of the authoritative Noktanın Sonsuzluğu[3](Eternity of the Point). These clothes can be majesty (jalal) or beauty (jamal). A human being is the locus in which all divine names are manifested. Dispositions stem from these names, and different names are dominant among different people. This is why people are different from one another. The Quran describes Muhammad (pbuh) as such, “Wa-Innaka la’ala khuluqin azim”,[4] which means “And indeed, you are of a great moral character.”

Wahdat al-Wujud (Oneness of Being) is “Allah’s property”, as the universal realm of Haqq (the Truth). In this realm, (Lahut, realm of absolute unity), things that exist are not distinguished. According to Sufism, the emergence of all things that exist took place in five stages. In the realm of Hahut, Haqq was transcendent with his inmost nature and uniqueness, and was later manifested in stages in the realms of 1- Lahut, 2- Jabarut, 3-Malakut, 4-Misal and 5-Nasut. Among these, every realm has a character (akhlaq) of its own – that is to say, an “existential quality.” The lowest level, Nasut, is the realm of physical bodies, where things that exist are manifested as distinguished from one another. This separation is termed fitra in the Holy Quran, which is derived from the Arabic root F-T-R, which means to split or to cleave. This separation is the “limit”, and it is through this limit that things that exist are granted existence by Haqq, giving that thing its reason for being, that is to say, its character (akhlaq). This character is religion, as the “principle of being” of that existence, and is called the “religion of fitra”.

In the religion of fitra, things are separated from one another through their characters. This existence is also guaranteed by the “Religion of Haqq”. Haqq is “being in itself”; it owes its being to nothing else. As all things that exist owe their being to Haqq, all things in their totality are inherent in Haqq. As Haqq is “being in itself”, it is “caused by itself”, and it is the essence of everything that exists. Things that have an existence (mawjudat) are in the realm of Khalq, and are created with a certain character (akhlaq). This specific character is the rabb (sustainer) of a given thing that exists. Allah, on the other hand, is Rabb al-Alemin – the Sustainer of all existence.

Everything that exists has manifested through its dhat (essence), sifat (attributes) and afal (actions), and it is through their essences, attributes or actions that the characters (akhlaq) of all things (their qualities of creation) are known. Akhlaq, thus, is both an ontological and epistemological concept.

Sufism is defined by “purity,” “wisdom” and “love”. Sufism bases all of its explanations on the Holy Quran, as also emanates from the Holy Quran. Sufism is thus a Quranic tradition. Allah (swt) says, “I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.”[5] The Arabic word used in this verse is “yabudu”. Every creature worships (ibadah) based on the character of their creation. When his companions asked “What is the worship of humans?”, Mohammad (pbuh) replied, “Knowing Haqq”. Sufis, therefore, interpret the word yabudu (worship) as yarifu (knowing). The character of humans –what distinguishes them from other creatures– is this quality of “knowing oneself”. This is why Muhammad (pbuh) said, “He who knows his self knows his Rabb.” The foundation of the unique character of humans is “self-consciousness”. The Holy Torah contains the following passage about the discussion Moses had with his Rabb on the mountain: Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you,and they shall say to me, What is his name?What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I am that I am, and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I am hath sent me unto you’.”[6]

In Sufism, people are required to know themselves, and thus to know their Rabb. As Sufism is a Quranic tradition, it also has foundations in the Torah, the Psalms and the Bible, which the Quran references. The word Sufism (tasawwuf) is considered to be related to the word Mitzpah in the Torah,[7] although some Sufis, such as Suhrawardi[8], argue that Sufism is related to Sophia, that is to say, to “wisdom”. John the Baptist had worn Suf, that is to say “wool”, and the word Sufi derived from this root was used for saints who wore wool and lived a nomadic and ascetic life in the deserts, away from other people. There are also Sufis who follow the way of Prophet Jesus, and who model their lives upon his life. The notable characteristics of Sufis who resemble John the Baptist include repentance, sadness, eating little, sleeping little, speaking little and seclusion, whereas Sufis who resemble Prophet Jesus are known for their joy, passion, service, being among people and sharing people’s problems.

All creatures apart from humans are “as ordered”, that is to say, they have no free will. They have been given functions, and cannot act outside these functions. Human beings, on the other hand, are “functional” beings with their bodies, but also “active” beings with their souls, and this is the distinguishing character of human beings. Function is determined by a cause, whereas action is determined by a purpose. “Action” is defined as an intentional, purposive activity, and the human character, or our manner of existence, comes into being as a result of our actions. For this reason, Sufism defines humans as beings of the “afterworld”, that is to say, beings that will gain existence in the future. It is said that “Humans come into being (wujud) through their actions.” The natural aspect of humans is referred to as bashar, that is to say the “body”, while their spiritual aspect is referred to as “insan”, derived from Anis al-Haqq. Humans are thus knowers of Haqq (the Truth). As knowledge comes with responsibility, human beings alone are responsible among all creatures, which is why they have been created as the addressee of Haqq. Human beings are free in their actions, and responsible for their consequences. Therefore, they are tasked with earning Haqq’s approval, in line with the purpose of their creation. This task, in turn, boils down to having a good character (akhlaq), as advised. “Good character” means good creation, and is related to the saying “Allah is beautiful and loves what is beautiful.[9] In the Quran, Allah says, “We have certainly created man in the best of stature (ahsan al-taqwim).[10] Sufi morality is thus based on beauty (husn) and love (hubb).

In the beginning, as bashar, it is as if humans do not exist. They have not yet been born from their actions, they have not come into being (wujud); infancy is described as the “age of innocence”, when people are free of sin. Gaining existence, coming into being happens in the conscience, which is why humans are beings of “conscience”; they come into being through the values they create.

Wijdan (conscience) is derived from the Arabic root V-J-D, like the concepts of “Jud,” “Wujud”, “Mawjud” and “Sujud”. Knowing this makes it possible to understand the manifestation of being. Sufi terminology is related also to letters. Jud refers to the overflowing of being (sudur) (Realm of Lahut); the free flow of energy. With the addition of the letter waw, which indicates a connection, it becomes wujud; relative energy (Realm of Jabarut). Wujud turns into mawjud with the addition of the letter meem, which corresponds to the Realm of Nasut (Realm of Physical Bodies). In sujud, on the other hand, the existential connection waw is elevated to the letter seen, and W-J-D is replaced by S-J-D. Now, the address has its audience. Ya Seen refers to “human being”, and Sujud means the connection of “love”.

The human character is a robe we have done with our own hands, and this dress is sewn with purposive actions. In the words of Yunus Emre: The Prophet Idris sews a dress, and walks around saying Allah, Allah.” The Prophet Idris, that is to say Hermes Thoth, is thus the patron saint of tailors. Yunus teaches that the dress he sewed was a dress of state (hal). “States” are temporary, and people enjoy the views by moving from one state to another, which is called talwin. Station (maqam), on the other hand, is permanent, and requires tamkin. Ayan Thabita (The Divine Names) are found in the essence of humans as particular names (dominant characters), and a person dons the dress of perfect character if he/she treats this name as an end, and perfects it or takes it to its ideal state. The “particular name” is like a seed. The end is reached when a person sows this seed in his heart, and turns it into a blossoming tree through diligent care. This person is then called Hermes (Ermiş in Turkish). Each of these divine names have the quality of being Rabb, in other words, they are the “genius” of humans. The diligent care of the seed of a particular name takes place in connection with other divine names. This means that people are educated through relations with the geniuses (names) of other people. In the words of İsmail Emre, “If people were to come together and rub their intellects with one another, they would shine like rusty nails shine when they are rubbed together.”[11]

In Sufism, Allah is the not only the God of humans; He is the God of everything that has ever existed and that will exist. Therefore, Sufi morality is not limited to a particular group of believers; and recommends donning a character that is consistent with universal human values. The essence of this morality is hidden in Yunus Emre’s lines: “I love creatures for the sake of the Creator”, and “He who distinguishes between nations is not a human being.”

Sufi morality emanates from the Quran, and has a well-defined system of references. As individual human beings would make mistakes and have deficiencies when seeking to attain perfect morality, they are to be “advised” and not judged, in accordance with the verse “Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.”[12]

Sufism says human morality cannot be built only through belief and mental faculties, and values need to be turned into habits. In Sufi terminology, this is called tahaqquq (realization). There are thus two moralities: the first being “morality born out of duty”, and the second being “morality born out of love”. In the words of Şemseddin Yeşil, “Morality born out of duty stems from reason, and morality born out of love stems from the heart.[13] These two types of morality shape life. Here, the concept of “love” (ishq) also has a specific meaning. Again quoting Şemseddin Yeşil, “Bodily affection is called lust, and spiritual affection is called love.” Reason is the “ordering principle”, and orders existence. Love, on the other hand, has the power to change and transform existence. “Reason” and “morality of duty” should dominate in social life, with love born out of heavenly attraction dominating in one’s personal and internal life. Tawhid (unity, balance) is possible between these two realms, which is why Sufism describes humans as “torn between two things” (barzakh). Differently from all other creatures, humans have both an internal and an external being, because only humans have “self-consciousness”. Animals are led by their instincts, whereas humans choose their own destination. Human morality is thus balanced between two directions – one social and the other individual. Individual human beings are born into social morality, and are surrounded by it, and this type of morality is passive. For an active morality, the individual must undergo a moral “elimination” (tasfiya) and “cleansing” (tazkiya) of his/her own free will.

In Sufism, worship has an essence (hidden; batin) and a form (manifest; zahir). If the essence is lost and all that remains is the form, the result is taassub (fanaticism), and people become slaves to their anger, as the essence of worship is joy (dhawq). Stripped of its essence, form becomes a bundle of meaningless and joyless practices and rituals, and people start idolizing forms. If, on the other hand, the form is lost, the essence becomes devoid of a container to manifest and protect it, and is eventually forgotten.


The essence of worship is devotion and loyalty, and reaching this essence is possible through worship. This is why worship starts with taqlid (imitation) and is perfected through tahqiq (research). Symbolically, acts of worship carry messages of truth, and manifest them through rituals. For example, the worship of “wudu” entails a ritual, and becomes worship if the truths symbolized by the ritual are complied with. Abdest, the Turkish word for wudu, comes from Persian (abdast), and literally means “hand water”, that is to say, cleaning through washing. In Sufism, the wudu of the body requires “water”, the wudu of the mind requires “knowledge” and the wudu of the soul requires “love”. Wudu is for tahara, that is to say, for purification, and this purification is undertaken in preparation for the Islamic prayer, and refers to the removal of physical and spiritual impurities.

Worship rituals are in fact blueprints for human life. The Islamic prayer (salah) is a good example of this. The system of purity (safiya), wisdom (irfan) and love (ishq), on which Sufism is based is inherent in the salah, symbolizing purification (wudu), wisdom (reciting) and love (prostration) at the same time. In addition, it also symbolizes staying with Haqq (standing), and complying with Haqq (bowing).

Salah has twelve pillars, five of them external and seven internal: 1- Spiritual purification, 2- Physical purification, 3- Covering intimate parts, 4- Time, 5- Facing the qiblah, 6- Intention, 7- The opening takbir, 8- Standing, 9- Reciting the Quran, 10- Bowing, 11- Prostration, 12- Last sitting.

1- Spiritual purification: Cleansing the mind of the effects of daily events. This requires sitting silently and turning inwards; and means focusing on one’s essence and character and not on events. Key: “La mawjuda illa hu.”

2- Physical purification: Removing physical impurities from the body, and shirk from the heart. In the Holy Quran, people who practice shirk are described as “dirty”. Shirk means associating partners with Allah, and accepting other gods alongside Allah. In psychology, this corresponds to a “split personality”. Therefore, ridding oneself of shirk means getting rid of one’s split personality through tawhid or the “unity of self”, and is a precondition for Sufi morality. What delivers people from shirk is divine love. Key: “La ilaha illallah.

3- Covering intimate parts: Outwardly, this refers to the physically covering of intimate parts, the definition of which may vary depending on culture and conditions. Inwardly, it refers to a person of faith refraining from exposing the mistakes and faults of others. Key: “Settar al-uyub”.

4- Time (waqt): Outwardly, this means complying with the designated times for each act of worship. For example, there are designated times for prayers, for fasting, for pilgrimage, etc. Inwardly, this means knowing that everything has a designated time.

5- Facing the qiblah: Outwardly, this means facing the Kaaba during worship. Inwardly, this means facing one’s heart (qalb), which the Kaaba symbolizes and where the love of Allah is manifested. Key: “Allah-u Ahad.

6- Intention (niyyah): This refers to being aware of the purpose of worship. Inwardly, it refers to awareness of the divine name or universal idea for which we take action. For example, if our behavior is based on Allah’s divine name Adl, that is to say, the principle of justice, our intention refers to awareness of this fact. Key: “Innamal amalu binniyat.”

7- Opening takbir: This refers to saying Allah-u akbar (Allah is the greatest) at the beginning of salah. It is called takbir al-iftitah (the opening takbir), and is derived from the word fath (opening), which is also related to the word miftah (key). During this takbir, the hands are raised to both sides of the face so that thumbs touch the earlobes, palms facing forward. The opening surah of the Holy Quran is Al-Fatiha. Because fatiha meaning opening, human face to the human being, is what surah Al-Fatiha is to the Holy Quran. Key: “Allah-u Ekber.

8- Standing: Also known as qiyam, this refers to standing during the salah. Humans have dominated animals by standing on two feet. Similarly, we can become insan (human being) if reason rises above and rules over animality. Inwardly, qiyam means standing on one’s own feet; it refers to becoming Haqq (Truth) and no longer being an “appendage.” Key: “Haqq.”

9- Reciting: Also known as qirat, this means reading or making known. The person standing up should read his own book, that is to say, know and make known himself. Humans are educated with “word”. We are human beings because we hear the word, in other words, because we can grasp and express abstract things. Key: “Iqra.”

10- Bowing: Also known as ruku. People who see Haqq (the Truth) in themselves see Haqq everywhere and in everybody, and bow to it. Ruku means “respect” and bowing to Truth. It is said that Ali (ra) “used to give alms while bowing”, which means that he did not stray from truth; whenever he helped someone, he did so in the most respectful way.

11- Prostration: Also known as sujud, this refers to placing one’s head on the ground. Sujud means giving up all the trappings of ego; and when people rid themselves of their egos before the Creator, they truly submit, that is to say, become Islam. Just as ruku symbolizes “respect,” sujud symbolizes “love”. People can only find peace if they love, rid themselves of their egos and submit to love. Key: “Habîbullah.

12- Last sitting: Also known as Qada al-Akhira. As the Holy Quran says, “The Most Merciful [who is] above the Throne established”[14], people sit and remain seated at the end of their work. The Throne is the heart of the faithful one. “The Most Merciful [who is] above the Throne established” means that a faithful person’s heart is filled with mercy. Key: “Ar-Rahman.

Following the last sitting, the salah is ended by first saluting the right, symbolizing the “spiritual realm”, and then saluting the left, symbolizing the “physical realm”. Key: “As-salâm”.


Wisdom is the second step in the system of purity, wisdom and love. Wisdom (irfan) needs to be distinguished from knowledge (ilm). Ilm refers to knowing all aspects (universal knowledge), while irfan and marifa, on the other hand, refer to partial or particular knowledge. In this sense, irfan and marifa cannot be attributed to Allah. Irfan is knowledge gained through contemplation, utilizing an innate faculty, and is also referred to as Ilm al-Ladun (knowledge from the divine source).

Another specialist Sufi term for “knowledge” is “recognition”. We know through ilm and recognize through irfan. In Sufi morality, based on the hadith “He who knows his self knows his Rabb”[15], irfan is considered to be divine (Rabbani) knowledge. One of the names of Allah is Alim, although He does not have the name Arif.

The foundation of irfan is “knowing oneself”, and all other knowledge related to irfan is built upon this foundation. Knowledge of one’s self (nafs) is only possible through training the self. Nafs cannot be known in the same way that objects or events are known. Irfan (wisdom) changes the self, whereas ilm (knowledge) does not. In other words, irfan refers to knowledge of the changes and transformations of the self, which is why irfan is based on experience.

There is consensus in the Sufi tradition that wisdom (irfan) requires knowledge of the stages of the self (nafs). There are seven such stages, and when we add the five stages of nature that precede these seven stages of self, it makes a total of twelve stages. As is the case with the pillars of salah, of which the first five are external, the stages of Lahut, Jabarut, Malakut, Misal and Nasut are external to the human self. As humans are first and foremost spiritual beings, their physical nature cannot be the essence. Hence the order to “know yourself”. In Sufism, the “body” is like a mountable animal to the self, and the self is its rider.

The seven stages of the self:

1- Nafs al-Ammarah: This is the commanding self in one sense, and the commanded self in another. With its commanding aspect, this refers to the instinctual level of the self. In this sense, the person is like an animal that is a slave to its instincts. This is why people with self at this stage should be kept under command; that is to say, they require “guardians” or “custodians”. The Holy Quran describes this stage of self as follows: “They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. They are like livestock; rather, they are more astray.[16] A person at this stage is called bashar, and is kept under control by the law (shariah) that they are made to follow. This stage is connected to the Prophet Moses.

2- Nefs al-Lawwamah: This refers to the self-accusing or regretful self. The regretful self dominates in the world of commoners who are not on a spiritual journey. This self is not trained, and as such, needs to be kept under control or else it would hurt society. A person who aspires to be trained as a Sufi is called a talib (seeker). A talib goes on a spiritual journey (sayr u suluk) following a murshid kamil (spiritually mature guide), and reaches maturity through conversations to partake in irfan, as well as through stages of purification called tasfiya (elimination) and tazkiya (cleansing). Another name for talib is murid (disciple). The literal meaning of the word murid is “he who wills”, that is to say, someone who asks out of their own free will. Contrary to the common perception, murid does not follow blindly, he/she asks freely. A murshid (guide), on the other hand, does not rule, but serves for the sake of Allah.

The process starts with the ritual of iqrar (avowal) that the disciple undertakes in front of other disciples. It is said that, “You do not have faith if you do not avow”. In the ritual of iqrar, the disciple first repents all his prior sins, and vows to never commit them again. This repentance, when it comes from the heart and is sincere (ikhlas), starts to elevate the disciple from the level of the Commanding Self. This ritual of avowal is based on Muhammad’s (pbuh) practice. Muhammad (pbuh) received the allegiance (avowal) of Muslims as per Allah’s command. Indeed, those who pledge allegiance to you, [O Muhammad] – they are actually pledging allegiance to Allah. The hand of Allah is over their hands. So he who breaks his word only breaks it to the detriment of himself. And he who fulfills that which he has promised Allah – He will give him a great reward.[17] Pledging allegiance means “choosing out one’s own free will”. At the stage of Nafs al-Lawwamah, the disciple bursts into tears because he/she is truly regretful, and this is a state of trance. This wudu (abdast), made using tears, is John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance – it is what cleanses the heart of the impurities of sin. One needs to be rid of all beastly habits to become human, and this requires a clean heart (qalb).

3- Nafs al-Mulhamah: This is the inspired self. After cleansing through tears, the disciple understands that he/she has left the stage of Nafs al-Lawwamah and reached Nafs al-Mulhamah through inspirations born in his/her heart. At this stage, the disciple attains artistic sensitivity. He/she engages in various branches of art. Sufis have been interested in music, poetry and calligraphy, in particular, and also practiced sama (whirling). Up to this stage, the self has been defined by its opposite, but at this stage it moves beyond the boundaries of reason, and transcends contradictions. The “essence” lies beyond contradictions. There is no contradiction in the essence, there is only variety. Now the disciple leaves behind one-way determinations, that is to say, the boundaries of beliefs. He/she now has irfan (wisdom), and views all possible beliefs by moving from one to another. He/she acquires a heart that accepts Haqq (the Truth) in all its manifestations. The famous Sufi Ibn Arabi penned a poem about this stage:

My heart is now open to every form:
It is a pasture for gazelles,
A cloister for Christian monks,
A temple for idols,
The Kaaba of the pilgrim,
The tables of the Torah,
And the book of the Quran.
I now practice the religion of love;
In whatever direction His caravans advance,
The religion of Love shall be my religion and my

Sufis says that Nafs al-Mulhamah is a slippery ground, as inspiration may lead a disciple to pride and vanity, or to beliefs that contradict shariah. This is why it is safer to pursue the journey under the guidance of a murshid. As art is the “twilight zone”, the disciple at the stage of Nafs al-Mulhamah stands “between the conscious and the unconscious”. Many a disciple has slipped at this stage, and fallen back to the beginning, to asfal al-safilin (the lowest of the low).[19] Disciples on sirat al-mustaqim (the straight path), on the other hand, have produced great works at this stage.[20] The hearts of disciples at this stage are connected to the Prophets David and Solomon.

4- Nafs al-Mutmainnah: At this stage, the self is contented or self-assured, and the transition from talwin to tamkin takes place. Talwin is found at the stage of Nafs al-Mulhamah, as the disciple takes on forms and moves between beliefs, continuing the search. The word talwin is derived from the root L-W-N, and is related to the word alwan – it is about colors and coloring. With talwin, the disciple is painted in every color, and the heart is unstable. In tamkin, on the other hand, there is determination and calmness. The search is now over. Rahman (The Merciful) is established on the Throne. The self attains contentment, leaving all doubt behind. In the Holy Quran, believing disciples are invited to a union with their Rabb (Sustainer) through Nafs al-Mutmainnah. The relevant verse is as follows: “O reassured soul, Return to your Rabb, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him], and enter among My [righteous] servants and enter My Paradise.”[21] The person invited to return to his/her Rabb is the person at the stage of Nafs al-Mutmainnah. In other words, the “contented self” is invited to his Rabb, and whoever attains this stage hears this eternal call.

The call for one to return to the Lord is expressed with the word ruju. Ruju means returning to the source; for example, the expression irca-i kelam, derived from the same root, means returning to the topic at hand. The word ruju also means “reuniting”. In one sense, returning to the Rabb means going back to the source, while in another sense, it means keeping one’s word. It is through ibadah (worship) that we can return to our Rabb. Ibadah means “unrequited service”, and takes place when amal saleh (good deeds) are performed with the body, mind, heart, property or cash. The word “saleh” in amal saleh consists of the concepts of sulh and salah, which mean peace and deliverance, respectively. Thus, amal saleh means “an act of peace and deliverance”. A person should first make peace with him/herself, and then with other people.

Such peace is only possible after gaining victory in a war with the Commanding Self (Nafs al-Ammarah), for the Commanding Self is a clear enemy of the person. This peace is provided by the “religion of peace” (din al-Islam), and a locality where this peace is established is called “the land of peace” (dar al-Islam). Allah the Almighty says, in the Quran, “This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.[22] This means that the best path (religion) for humanity is Islam, that is to say, to live in “peace”. The second aspect of amal saleh is salah, that is to say, deliverance. Delivering any creature, and in particular a human being, from material or spiritual problems, ignorance or bigotry also falls within the scope of the concept of salah. Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, calls people to “hasten to salah (deliverance/prayer)” and to “hasten to falah (salvation)”. This indicates that good deeds lead to salvation. This salvation is paradise, and sharing salvation with friends of Haqq is also worship.

5- Nafs ar-Radhiyah: This means the pleased self. The importance of the concept of ridha (pleasing) is underlined in the verse “Return to your Rabb, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him], and enter among My [righteous] servants.”[23] The friends of Haqq are those who “abide by Haqq’s command” and who share their food and bread. They ask for ridha from one another every time they come together (jam). They do not eat anything without ridha. The poet warns those who do not seek ridha: “This is a meal of ridha, haven’t I told you so?”[24] In Sufism, the name of the guardian angel of paradise is Ridwan, while another name for paradise is Rawdah ar-Ridwan. Ridwan means “being pleased and delighted”. Thus, “people of paradise” are a community of people who are pleased with one another. There is also talk of “people of hell”. The name of the head angel in hell is Malik, which means the “owner of property”. In Sufism, property without ridha is like torture and turns one’s world into hell; while hell is a community of people lacking ridha.

6- Nafs al-Mardiyyah: This means self pleasing to God. In Sufi morality, ridha is mutual. It is not sufficient for the disciple to be pleased with the people with whom he/she interacts, as other people should also be pleased with him/her. This stage is the stage in which a community is created. The transition from the individual to the community happens at this stage. In accordance with the verse, “They say salaam to one another in paradise.”[25] The word salaam is related to the words Islam, taslim and Muslim, and means “trust”, and so paradise is also dar as-salam, that is to say, “the land of trust/safety”.

7- Nafs as-Safiyah / Nafs al-Kamilah: This means the pure self and the mature self. This stage of self is also contrasted with Nafs al-Ammarah, and is referred to as Nafs al-Anwarah. Anwarah means “lights”, and so this self, then, is the “enlightened self”. This is the end stage in Sufi morality. In short, Sufi morality is defined as “leaving the morality of ignorance, bigotry and anger behind, and adopting the morality of purity, wisdom and love,” or “leaving the morality of fear behind, and adopting the morality of love.

In Sufism, human beings should become Haqq (Truth), not appendages.


Love (ishq) is the final component in the system of purity, wisdom and love. Love has been defined in many different ways. The verifiers (muhaqqiq) have said, “The stages of love progress depending on the perfection of the self: the bigger the need, the bigger the yearning (ishtiaq); the bigger the yearning, the bigger the affection (muhabbah); and the bigger the affection, the bigger the love (ishq).” People are born as “absolute dependents”. While animals start to feed as soon as they are born, the human infant, if left alone, would not survive. In Sufism, it is accepted that this absolute dependency is what elevates humans to being servants (addressee) of Allah the Almighty. Divine names are fully manifested in humans, as humans are in need of all the names of Allah. Human being is the locus of manifestation of Haqq (the Truth). In short, humans are dependent on Allah, and ask for Him whether they are aware of it or not. Allah responds to these requests. When the names of Allah become the requirements of a person, he/she desires Allah in and for his/her own self. When this desire turns into a passion, it is called a yearning (ishtiaq). Yearning should not be confused with ambition (ihtiras): ambition is a desire to own, whereas yearning is a desire to exist. The names of Allah are manifested in a person as a result of actions born out of needs, and this is how a person comes to know Allah. Witnessing Him in his/her own self, the person becomes attached to Allah with affection (muhabbah). The more manifestations there are, the stronger the affection, and this keeps spreading to the rest of the names. When all the names are gathered, love (ishq) emerges. Thus, “love” is the passion for one’s own maturity (kamal), which is the reason people are created. The lover needs the beloved, but does not desire union; instead, he/she prefers to be burned in the fire of love. This is why he/she comes to have no desire but love. Sayyid Nasimi says, “My only profit is to be burned in the fire of love.[26] Ishq, the Arabic word for love, is derived from ashaqah, a kind of “ivy”, and the souls of the lover and the beloved cling to one another like ivy. Love, in turn, desires mashq, which is why lovers come together and reminisce about Allah (swt). This reminiscence is sohbet (conversation), and when the sohbet involves poetry, music and dance, it is called mashq.

Mevlânâ Celâleddîn-i Rûmî

In the Sufi understanding, Allah created the universe out of love; therefore, the love of Allah is spread throughout the universe. This divine love, spread throughout the universe, is collected in humans. This is why the love of Allah is inherent in the lust-free and interest-free love a person feels for another. The best example for this is the “divine love” revealed between Shams and Rumi.

Love is a manifestation of the Divine Essence (Dhat), and is the Praised Station (Maqam Mahmud). “Divine love” is revealed in people who have rid themselves of all earthly and heavenly desires. Different from affection and compassion, love is a burning fire, and turns the disciple into a red hot furnace. Two pieces of cold metal would not fuse anyway. The fire of love is a Most Merciful (Rahmanî) fire, and gives pleasure to the disciple. When there is love, the self is no longer. As the love of Allah attaches people to one another, Allah is with them. This is why the Holy Quran implores us to “Hold firmly to the rope of Allah.[27] One end of the rope is with Allah, and the other end is with his servant. The end that is with Allah is called qurb faraid, and the end that is with the servant is called qurb nawafil. This rope is the “divine love”, love gives birth to mashq, and mashq gives birth to angels, turning a person’s life into paradise. Love depends on the essence, and without love, there is no tawhid (unity). This is why there are two types of tawhid: The first is knowledge of tawhid, referred to also as the “crude tawhid”; while the second, and real, tawhid, on the other hand, is love that cannot be comprehended through knowledge. The lover is at the stage of universal intellect (aql kull), and the beloved is at the stage of universal self (nafs qull).

The Holy Quran makes no mention of the word ishq. Sufis explain this with reference to Ali’s (ra) quote, “I am the talking Quran; what you have in your hands is a silent book”, emphasizing that the love of Allah cannot be learned from the book. However, there is a reference to love in the Holy Quran, hidden in the letters Ayn, Seen and Qaf[28] – as some of the cipher letters referred to as disjointed letters (huruf muqattaat). Ayn, Seen and Qaf are three letters, but only the letter Qaf has two dots. These three letters and two dots represent the human body and the human head. The two dots of the letter Qaf represent two eyes. If we were to place three dots above the letter Seen, it would turn into the letter Sheen. These three dots are the three dots of tawhid (unity): The first is the unity of actions (tawhid al-afal), referring to “good morals”, and the associated principle is khayr (goodness). The second dot is the unity of attributes (tawhid al-sifat), which is ilm (knowledge). The principle of knowledge is sidq (truthfulness). The third dot is hubb (affection), and the principle of affection is husn (beauty). When these three dots are placed above the letter Seen, it turns into the letter Sheen, and the trio of “Ayn, Sheen and Qaf” is obtained, making up the word ishq (love). This is why they say, “Love is three letters and five dots, three are down and five are up”.

Love polishes the heart, and the divine revelation is reflected in this heart. The heart of the lover becomes the “mirror of Allah”. This is the end point of Sufi morality. In the words of Fuzuli, “Love is all there is in the universe; knowledge is nothing but one says.” To close with the words of Lütfi Filiz:

The ocean of love has boiled and turned into a halo of light,
The face of Allah became visible in this halo of light.”


* First published in Aydınlanma Sorunu ve Değerler (The Problem of Enlightenment and Values), March 2014. Translated by Dr. Emre Eren Korkmaz, and revised by the editorial board.


[1] Holy Quran, Al-Ma’idah 5/3
[2] Holy Quran, Al-Baqarah 2/138
[3] Lütfi Filiz, Noktanın Sonsuzluğu (Eternity of the Point), Pan Pub., İstanbul 1998
[4] Holy Quran, Al-Qalam 68/4
[5] Holy Quran, Adh-Dhariyat 51/56
[6] Torah, Exodus 3:14
[7] Torah, Genesis 31:49
[8] Shahab al-Din al-Suhrawardi, Persian philosopher and founder of the Iranian school of Illuminationism (Ishraq), 1155-1191
[9] Hadith Qudsi, see Muslim, Iman 147, Riyazus Salihîn 612
[10] Holy Quran, At-Tin 95/4
[11] İsmail Emre, Sohbetler (Suhbah), 12 May 1953 and 18 November 1956
[12] Holy Quran, Al-Baqarah 2/286
[13] Muhammed Şemseddin Yeşil, from his talk on 24 March 1962 (Rec.No. 152)
[14] Holy Quran, Ta-Ha 20/5
[15] Hadith Qudsi
[16] Holy Quran, Al-A’raf 7/179
[17] Holy Quran, Al-Fath 48/10
[18] Ibn Arabi, Tarjuman al-Ashwaq
[19] Asfal al-safilin (the lowest of the low), Holy Quran, At-Tin 95/5
[20] Sirat al-mustaqim (the straight path), Holy Quran, Al-Fatiha 1/6
[21] Holy Quran, Al-Fajr 89/27-30
[22] Holy Quran, Al-Ma’idah 5/3
[23] Holy Quran, Al-Fajr 89/28
[24] Pîr Sultan Abdal
[25] Holy Quran, Al-Waqi’ah 56/26
[26] Sayyid Nasimi, 1369-1417
[27] Habl ul-metin (the rope of Allah), Holy Quran, Al Imran 3/103
[28] Holy Quran, Ash-Shu’ara 26/1