Kashf (Arabic: كشف) "unveiling" is a Sufi concept dealing with knowledge of the heart rather than of the intellect. Kashf describes the state of experiencing a personal divine revelation after ascending through spiritual struggles, and uncovering the heart (a spiritual faculty) in order to allow divine truths to pour into it. Kashf is etymologically related to mukashafa "disclosure"/ "divine irradiation of the essence",[1] which connotes "gain[ing] familiarity with things unseen behind the veils".[2] For those who have purified their hearts, and who come to know the Divine Names and Attributes to the fullest of their individual capacities, the veils in front of the purely spiritual realms are opened slightly, and they begin to gain familiarity with the unseen. In Sufism, an even further revelatory capacity exists by which the Divine mysteries become readily apparent to the seeker through the light of knowledge of God. This is called tajalli "manifestation".[3]

Veil references in Islamic literature

Two passages in the Qur'an serve as the most solid basis for elaboration on the Sufi concept of kashf:

  • [50.22] ‘Thou wast heedless of this; therefore We have now removed from thee thy covering [veil], and so thy sight today is piercing.’
  • [53.57-58] The Immanent is immanent; apart from God none can disclose [remove] it.[4]

The verb "kashafa," but never the noun "kashf" occurs in the Qur'an a variety of times in the sense of either "to uncover" (a part of the body) or "to take away" (misfortune, danger).[1]

Hadith of the Veils

One hadith holds particular significance for the concept of kashf:

إن بين الله عز وجل وبين الخلق سبعين ألف حجاب وأقرب الخلق إلى الله عز وجل جبريل وميكائيل ، وإسرافيل ، وإن بينهم وبينه أربع حجب : حجاب من نار ، وحجاب من ظلمة ، وحجاب من غمام ، وحجاب من الماء.

Between God, mighty and sublime, and creation are 70,000 veils. The nearest of creatures to God, mighty and sublime, are Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael, and between them and Him are four veils: a veil of fire, a veil of darkness, a veil of cloud, and a veil of water.[5]

This Hadith is quoted somewhat differently by Ibn Majah as follows:

God has seventy thousand veils of light and darkness; if He were to remove them, the radiant splendors of His Face would burn up whoever (or ‘whatever creature’) was reached by His Gaze.[6]

It is said that Muhammad's cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib prayed:

My Lord, grant me complete severance of my relations with everything else and total submission to You. Enlighten the eyes of our hearts with the light of their looking at You to the extent that they penetrate the veils of light and reach the Source of Grandeur, and let our souls get suspended by the glory of Your sanctity.[7]

Sufi scholars on Kashf

Al-Kushayri expands on al-Kalabadhi’s proposal that tajalli (manifestation) of "the essence" of the Divine is called mukashafa. He then illustrates three stages in progression towards understanding the Real:

  1. Muhadara—getting oneself into position vis-à-vis the objective sought. The objective remains veiled at this stage. This stage presupposes the presence of the heart, but relies on transmission of proof through the intellect (i.e. understanding God through his miraculous signs).
  2. Mukashafa—lifting of the veil. Here reasoning (of the intellect) gives way to evident proof (through intuition). One directly encounters the Attributes of God. Yet, this stage is still considered an intermediary stage.
  3. Mushahada—direct vision. This stage indicates an immediate encounter with The Real, without the intellect OR the intuition acting as an intermediary. This is direct experience of the Divine Essence.[1]

Al-Ghazali—This Sufi scholar discusses the concept of kashf, not purely in its mystical sense, but also with respect to theology in general. In conjunction with Al-Kushayri, Al-Ghazali links kashf with intuition. For Al-Ghazali, mukashafa has a dual sense:

  1. It indicates an inner state of purification, which is subjective and brought about by "unveiling" or kashf.
  2. It describes the objective truths that are revealed through the "unveiling"/kashf.

Since, for Al-Ghazali, kashf is linked to intuition, he describes mukashafa as the certain knowledge of the unseen discovered by the "science of the saints".[1] Thus, kashf is considered "a light," that is freely bestowed upon the purified worshipper through the grace of God, yet also yields sure intuitive knowledge for the worshipper upon whom it is bestowed.

Ibn Arabi—This Sufi mystic indicates the necessity for "divine unveiling" (kashf) as the means by which to understand the universality of the reality of realities (i.e. the universality of God's oneness). In fana (self-annihilation), the individual ego passes away and divine self-manifestation occurs. This self-manifestation is eternal (as it comes from God), but it must be continually reenacted by the human in time. Therefore, the human becomes a pure receptor required for pure consciousness to be realized. The human is a sort of barzakh or intermediary between divinity and elementality, between spirit and matter, and open to the experience of kashf.[8]

Ali Hujwiri—The author of the Persian Sufi text Kashf ul Mahjoob (Revelation of the Veiled) Hujwiri argues, along with Al-Kushayri that very few real Sufis exist anymore in his time; rather, there are a large number of "false pretenders" which he calls mustaswif—"the would-be Sufi". In his text, Hujwiri describes the "veils which should be lifted" in order to purify one's heart and really pursue Sufism. Hujwiri argues for the importance of "morals" over "formal practice" in Sufism.[9] He was the first to directly address the problematic diversity in Muslim belief during his time. In Kashf ul Mahjoob, he describes various Sufi approaches to theoretical ideas, linking them to particular key Sufi figures.[10]

Kashf and Shi’ism

In Shi’ism, the spiritual experience of kashf is treated as a theological rather than purely mystical dimension.

ImamisSayyid Haydar Amuli distinguishes three kinds of knowledge: 1) by the intellect, 2) by transmission, 3) by kashf—this is the only form of knowledge that leads to true understanding of Reality
Amuli additionally distinguishes between two kinds of kashf:
  1. kashf suwari—divine manifestations reach the senses of sight and hearing
  2. 'kashf ma’nawi—spiritual encounter, such as the disclosure indicated by mukashafa
Ismalis—these followers of Shi’ism put emphasis on kashf in a double sense as both a Gnostic and cosmic "state." The Ismailis define "cycles of metahistory"[1] which alternate between phases of "unveiling" (dawr al-kashf) and "occultation" (dawr al-satr).

Controversy in the Muslim world

The concept of kashf remains controversial in the Muslim world because it indicates the ability to "know" the unknowable. According to the Qur'an, Muslims are required to believe in the unseen (namely Allah), but knowledge of the unseen is a power that should belong solely to God. But it does not contradict the Qur'an because only God has knowledge of the unseen and if someone else other than God has that knowledge, then it's only because it was given to them by God.

Sufis further would argue that "the only guide to God is God Himself".[11] They do believe that every genuine worshipper has the capability to experience unveiling (personal revelation), but that this personal revelation occurs by the grace of God. Some say, if a worshipper fails to experience unveiling, "it indicates that that person is pursuing Sufism for a reason other than the love of God alone." Ibn ‘Arabi calls this "inner receptivity"[12] to the manifestation (tajalli) of the divine mysteries, the essence of which is mukashafa.

Peripatetic scholars vs. Sufis

Peripatetic scholars such as Avicenna, al-Kindi, and al-Farabi argue that the intellect unaided by divine unveiling (kashf) is sufficient in order for man to attain ultimate truth.

Sufis such as Bayazid Bastami, Rumi, and Ibn al-Arabi, hold that the limited human intellect is insufficient and misleading as a means of understanding ultimate truth. This kind of understanding requires intimate, direct knowledge resulting from the removal of the veils separating man from God as given to man by God himself. This is kashf.[13]

Other types of Kashf

The 18th century mystic Khwaja Mir Dard (died 1785) ([who?], relying upon the traditional terminology, classified the revelations as follows in his `Ilm al-Kitab:


  1. ^ a b c d e Gardet, L. (24 April 2012). "Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition". Kashf. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  2. ^ Gulen, M. Fethullah (2004). Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism: Emerald Hills of the Heart, Vol. 2. Somerset: The Light, Inc. p. 108.
  3. ^ Gulen, M. Fethullah (2004). Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism: Emerald Hills of the Heart, Vol. 2. Somerset: The Light, Inc. p. 115.
  4. ^ Trans. A.J., Arberry (1996). The Koran Interpreted. New York: Touchstone.
  5. ^ Ibn al-Jawzi, Mawdu'at. Narrator Sahl ibn Sa'd al-Sa'id. Translated by Cyrus Ali Zargar. 1/166.
  6. ^ Morris, James Winston (2005). The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in 'Ibn Arabi's Meccan Illuminations. Louisville: Fons Vitae. p. 115.
  7. ^ "The Invocation (Munajat) of Shabaniyah".
  8. ^ Sells, Michael (1998). "Ibn Arabi's Polished Mirror: Perspective Shift and Meaning Event". Studia Islamica. 67 (67): 121–149. JSTOR 1595976.
  9. ^ Karamustafa, Ahmet T. (2007). Sufism: The Formative Period. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 101.
  10. ^ Karamustafa, Ahmet T. (2007). Sufism: The Formative Period. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 103.
  11. ^ Hoffman, Valerie (1995). Sufism, Mystics, and Saints in Modern Egypt. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. p. 218.
  12. ^ Morris, James Winston (2005). The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in 'Ibn Arabi's Meccan Illuminations. Louisville: Fons Vitae. p. 61.
  13. ^ Chittick, William C. (1981). "Mysticism versus Philosophy in Earlier Islamic History: The Al-Tusi, Al-Qunawi Correspondence". Religious Studies. 17 (1): 87–104. doi:10.1017/S0034412500012804.
  14. ^ Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical dimensions of Islam (1975), pg192