The Station of Firasah
Ibn ul-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah
from Madarij As-Salikeen
Says the Hafiz:
Firasah is a sense of visual acumen, perception and insight. Allah says, "Surely! In this are the signs for the mutawassimeen [those who read the signs]." [15:75]
And with the regard to the meaning of mutawassimeen, here is what some of the great interpreters of the Qur'an said about it: Mujahid said it is "those who have visual acuity." Ibn `Abbas (r) said that it means "those who watch closely." Qatadah said that it means "those who learn the lessons." And Muqatil said that it means "those who reflect". There is no contradiction or apparent incompatibility amongst these interpretations. For example, one who sees the ruins and houses of those who belied Allah's Messengers would receive insight, admonition and reflection.
Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala, says the following with the regards to the hypocrites, "Had He willed, We could have shown them to you and you would have known them by their marks, but surely you will know them by the lahn of the speech!" [47:30] The first thing mentioned is the firasah of the eye and watching and the second thing noted is the firasah of the ear and hearing. The lahn of their speech is namely two varieties. One is proper and the other is wrong.
The proper lahn may mean eloquence as stated in the hadith: "And perhaps some of you are more eloquent in their claim than others." (Bukhari and Muslim) Or it may mean an indirect reference or indication. The wrong lahn is the speech that has grammatical mistakes. By using it, people tend to change the meaning to something incorrect or to a hidden meaning which may not have been intended.
The meaning of the verse is that Allah has confirmed to His Prophet, sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam, that he would know them from the lahn of their speech. It is more likely that one may know more about the speaker and what is within his mind from his speech and the tone of his voice than from his physical appearance. The words and the tone of voice can tell much more, than the appearance, about the intention of the speaker. firasah can be either visual or auditory. The Prophet, sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam, is reported to have said, "Beware of the firasah of the believer, for he sees with the light of Allah," then he recited the verse, ""Surely! In this are the signs for the mutawassimeen." (Tirmidhi) The firasah of the believer is always truthful.
The firasah is a light which Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala, deposits in the heart of His servant. By this light, His servant distinguishes between truth and falsehood and between right and wrong.
The reality of firasah is a sharp thought that enters the heart and dominates its opinion. It overwhelms the heart just as the lion does to its pray, fareesah. Note the similarity between firasah and fareesah in Arabic. However, in their linguistic forms, fareesah is an object whereas firasah is similar in form to wilayah (authority and power), imarah (authority and command) and siyasah (administration and leadership).
The strength of firasah is dependent on the strength of faith. A person with stronger faith has sharper firasah. Amr bin Nujaid said that Shah al-Kermani had sharp firasah and was never wrong. He also used to say that whoever lowers his gaze away from prohibitions, restrains himself from vain desires, constructs his interior according to muraqabah (knowledge that Allah is watching over us), his exterior according to the Sunnah, and accustoms himself to eat only halal, his firasah will never be wrong.
Ibn Mas`ud (r) said:
There are three people with the sharpest firasah. The Egyptian who bought Yusuf (as) and then said to his wife, "Make his stay comfortable, maybe he will profit for us or we shall adopt him as a son." [12:21]. The other was the daughter of Shuaib, who said to her father with regards to Musa, "Hire him!" [28:26] And Abu Bakr (r), for he appointed Omar (r) as his successor." Another narration includes the wife of Pharaoh who said about Musa, "A comfort of the eye for me and for you. Kill him not, perhaps he may be of benefit to us, or we may adopt him as a son." [28:9]
Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (r) is considered to be the one with the greatest firasah in the Ummah and `Umar (r) was the second. The incidents that prove `Umar (r)'s firasah are numerous, familiar and well-known. He never said with regards to anything, "I think this is so," but it was what he thought. The fact that the Quran approved of his opinion sin many incidents is sufficient evidence of his sharp firasah. One of which was his opinion regarding the redemption of the captives from the Battle of Badr.
Once a man named Sawad Bin Qarib passed by and `Umar (r) did not know him. `Umar (r) said, "This is either a soothsayer or he was so in the days of jahiliyyah." Upon sitting before `Umar (r), Sawad said, "O commander of the faithful! You never received any of your guests the way you did me." `Umar (r) said, "What we used to do in the days of jahiliyyah is worse than this. But tell me about what I have asked you." Sawad said, "You were true, O commander of the faithful! I was a soothsayer in the days of jahiliyyah, then he told him the story."
The sahabah, in general, had the most accurate and sharpest firasah. The true firasah is obtained from life and from the light Allah grants to whom He wishes from amongst His true servants. The heart receives life and light and then its firasah will almost never be wrong. Allah says, "Is he who was dead and We gave him life and set for him a light whereby he can walk amongst men, like him who is in the darkness from which he can never come out?" [6:122]
The verse describes the person as "dead" because of the disbelief in his heart and the life of jahiliyyah or ignorance he was leading, but then Allah gave him life through iman or faith of knowledge. Upon his acceptance of these gifts, the Qur'an and faith become the light by which he sees his way out of the darkness (of disbelief and ignorance) and onto the straight path.
Firasah is linked to three human organs: the eye, ear and heart. His eye examines the look and the signs, his ear examines the speech, the over expressions, oblique inferences and hints, content, logic and tone of voice. And his heart analyzes both what is seen and hear to perceive hidden thoughts of others. His analysis and examination of the interior compared to the exterior is like one who examines currency to see if it is counterfeit after examining the outside. It is also similar to Ahlul-Hadith (scholars who specialize in the knowledge of the hadith), who will read a hadith that has a sound isnad (chain of narrators) but upon examination of the matn (text of the hadith), it is found that it is a fabricated hadith.
There are two factors in firasah. One is the quality of one's mind, the sharpness of the heart and the intelligence. The second is the appearance of the signs and indications on others. When both factors are present than one's firasah may not be wrong. Iyaas bin Mu`awiyah had great firasah and he was well-known because of it , as was Imam Shafiee who was also reported to have written about it.
None knows the rank of a person in knowledge except he who is his peer and has known him personally, and he only knows him to the extent of what he himself was granted to know.
None of his companions knew al-Shafi`i like al-Muzani knew him, and al-Muzani knew al-Shafi`i only to the extent of al-Muzani's strength.
Nor can anyone estimate the Prophet (Allah bless and greet him) as he deserves except Allah (may He be exalted), and each knows him (Allah bless and greet him) only to the extent of what he himself possesses.
Thus the most knowledgeable in the Community about the Prophet's (Allah bless and greet him) rank is Abu Bakr (Allah be well-pleased with him) because he was the best of the Ummah, and Abu Bakr (r) knows the Prophet (Allah bless and greet him) only according to Abu Bakr (r)'s strength.
[Shaykh al-Islam Taqi al-Din Abu al-Hasan al-Subki as recorded by his son Ibn al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra ( 6:191-389 #694)trans.GF.Haddad.]