In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Compassionate
أَوَّلُ الدِّينِ مَعْرِفَتُهُ، وَكَمَالُ مَعْرِفَتِهِ التَّصْديقُ بِهِ، وَكَمَالُ التَّصْدِيقِ بِهِ تَوْحِيدُهُ، وَكَمَالُ تَوْحِيدِهِ الاِْخْلاصُ لَهُ، وَكَمَالُ الاْخْلاصِ لَهُ نَفْيُ الصِّفَاتِ عَنْهُ، لِشَهَادَةِ كُلِّ صِفَة أَنَّها غَيْرُ المَوْصُوفِ، وَشَهَادَةِ كُلِّ مَوْصُوف أَنَّهُ غَيْرُ الصِّفَةِ
‘The foremost in religion is the acknowledgement (knowledge) of Him, the perfection of acknowledging Him is faith in Him, the perfection of faith in Him is to believe in His Oneness, the perfection of believing in His Oneness is purity towards Him, and the perfection of purity to Him is to deny Him attributes, because every attribute is a proof that it is different from that to which it is attributed and everything to which something is attributed is different from the attribute.’
From the glorious passage by Imam Ali (as) we can see that the Imam has set out clear, consise, and logical steps towards understanding Tawhid and its implementation. One stage leads to another in this path. Knowledge can lead to Faith(تصديق). Faith can lead to Tawhid. Tawhid can lead to purity towards God.
The phrase in the above passage “كمال المعرفة” (translated as perfection of knowledge) shows us that knowledge of God has many levels. In fact, as God’s existence is infinite, His perfections are also infinite, thus knowledge of God becomes infinite. Also, it interestingly displays that not all knowledge of God leads to faith in Him, as expressed in various places in the Quran.
Therefore, there is always a higher level man can reach in his knowledge of God. There is no level that man reaches where it can be said he has reached the pinnacle of knowledge. This has been demonstrated clearly in the Quran in several places. “وفوق كلٌ ذي علم عليم“ (And above every possessor of knowledge is One who is the All-Knowing)(12:76)
Even the Prophet (s) was commanded to pray for more knowledge. “وقل ربي زدني علما” – “And say: My Lord! Increase me in my knowledge.” This is the man who reached the distance of but two bow-lengths or even nearer!
Suffice to say, one can never truly know or appreciate that which is infinite. Any knowledge when contrasted to God’s knowledge, pales in comparison and is ignorance! We even see this attitude adopted by our Holy Imams in their supplications to Allah. They, whom are the inheritors of the Prophet’s knowledge, the trustees of Allah confess their ignorance and incapability towards truly knowing and praising Allah.
In the whispered prayers of the Knowers by Imam Al Sajjad (as), he says:
إلهِي قَصُرَتِ الأَلْسُنُ عَنْ بُلُوغِ ثَنآئِكَ، كَما يَلِيقُ بِجَلالِكَ، وَعَجَزَتِ الْعُقُولُ عَنْ إدْراكِ كُنْهِ جَمالِكَ، وَانْحَسَرَتِ الأَبْصارُ دُونَ النَّظَرِ إلى سُبُحاتِ وَجْهِكَ، وَلَمْ تَجْعَلْ لِلْخَلْقِ طَرِيقاً إلى مَعْرِفَتِكَ إلاَّ بِالْعَجْزِ عَنْ مَعْرِفَتِكَ.
“My God, tongues fall short of attaining praise of Thee proper to Thy majesty, intellects are incapable of grasping the core of Thy beauty, eyes fail before gazing upon the glories of Thy face, and Thou hast assigned to Thy creatures no way to know Thee save incapacity to know Thee!“
Imam Hussain (as) in Dua Arafa beautifully explains man’s ignorance in comparison to God!