As a term, it was used by Sufi authors like Abu Abd al–Rahman al–Sulami to mean "a gnostic, mystic; a seeker of marifa", similar in meaning to the terms salik, zahid or faqir.
In his work "Waystations of the Gnostics" (Maqamat al–‘arifin), Ibn Sina defines several stages along a mystical path, where the ‘arif occupies an intermediate stage. Mahmoud Shabestari remarks that the true ‘arif sees the inward light of the divine being everywhere. The Tayyibi author al–Khattab b. al–Hasan, delineating the difference between ordinary knowledge (‘ilm) and ma‘rifa, explains that every ‘arif is a knower, but not every knower is an ‘arif. Some TwelverShi'a authors like Rajab Bursi define an ‘arif as a believer whose love and knowledge (ma‘rifa) of the imams draw him nearer to spiritual perfection.
The Arabic word ‘arif has also been borrowed into the vernacular of Amharic and other Ethiopian languages, but with a change of meaning: it is used as a slang term corresponding to English "cool" or "neat". But according to the Arabic culture it's totally different and a good meaningful name.
^"And Amicable Settlement Is Best": Ṣulḥ and Dispute Resolution in Islamic Law. Aida Othman. Arab Law Quarterly , Vol. 21, No. 1 (2007), pp. 64-90 Published by: BRILL Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27650573
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