Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Human Intellect (`Aql)- Al-Nibras

Lessons from Imam Birharawi’s Commentary on Sharh al-Aqa`id p91-4
Dear Reader!

This article consists of my study notes from Al-Nibras, a renowned annotation on Imam S`ad al-Din Taftazani’s commentary on Imam Nasafi’s`Aqidah text.

One of the reasons why I am posting this on my blog is to share a little insight with you on the traditional Dars-e-Nizami, learning program. Al-Nibras is a text taught in the program’s upper years. After this text, the section of al-Umur al-`Aamah from Sharh al-Mawaqif and Hashiyah Khiyali are taught. However, al-Nibras is an excellent academic work for scholars and consists many unique points that are not easily found elsewhere. Secondly, I’ve always been keen on finding points in the various sciences of the Deen, that give insight to Our Master Muhammad’s elite station. I have penned a few notes on this too, Walhamdulillah.

[M]: deonotes my personal notes.


Defining The Intellect & Its Stages of Gradual Perfection

. The Arabic lexicon describes `Aql as restriction and restraint (qayd). When the Arabs tie their camels restraining them from roaming in liberty they say, `aqaltu al-ba`eer. The upshot of this meaning in regards to the human intellect is that ‘sound intellect restricts man from deviating the right path and restrains one from adopting blameworthy characteristics’.

The Intellectual capacity is the unique quality that distinguishes man from other beasts (haywanat) since man is at liberty to restrain from immorality and adhere to correct mannerisms as like no other beast can do.

. The Hukama defined the human Intellect through various
expressions all of which echo a cohesive purport and give an insight on how they perceive it. They said,

‘‘The Intellect is a potent capacity that originates in the human soul and comprehends all definite/obvious (dharuri) and inductive (nazari) knowledge.’’

‘‘The Intellect is an instinct faculty (malakah gareezah) that exists in humans, which is followed by the comprehension of both definite/obvious and inductive knowledge, when the bodily and internal senses are sound.’’ This was what Imam Razi and Harith bin Asad al-Muhasibi, the major Sufi saint, held.

‘‘The Intellect is an intrinsic nature (jawhar) which grasps unobserved information (ga'ibat) through various means and recognises tangible things through physical experience.’’

(Imam Birharwi stipulates 8 different definitions for the intellect, p94)

[M]: The Hukama, Mu`tazilites and Khawarij concur on the view that the intellect is a Jawhar. However, the Ahl al-Sunnah scholars agree that it is an `Ardh.

According to the Hukama, the intellectual potency is well established in man’s nature and its aptitude depends on the stages of its perfection.

. The intellect passes four stages during its perfection process.

1. At birth and childhood, the intellect is a novice hence a mere inactive capability (`Ilm bi al-Quwwah), which exists inside the child. This intellect is known as A`ql al-Huyuwla.

2. In its more developed stage, the intellect’s quality of comprehending phenomena or the ‘obvious knowledge’ becomes active (`Ilm bi al-F`il). This intellect is known as `Aql bi al-Malakah.

3. Human beings, in the general sense, develop to an intellectual stage when they can finally induce knowledge from things they learn from the phenomena. This intellect that reaches this stage of perfection is known as `Aql bi al-F`il.

The religious laws oblige humans who reach this intellectual stage to adhere to its guidelines and discipline. In Arabic this legal responsibility is known as taklif and the human intellect is referred to as mukallaf. Adolescence is the pre-requisite of taklif since the human intellect habitually enters its third stage by then.

4. However, the most complete form of the intellect is when it consists within it the aptitude to picture or grasp ‘the form of abstract things’ (Suwar al-Mutasawwirat). This intellect is known as `Aql al-Mustafaad.

The Hukama agree that the latter is the most perfect form the Intellect can ever develop. However, they dispute over whether it was given to any Human being in this world. Some Hukama opined that it remains for the hereafter, yet the correct view among them is that the esteemed Prophets, may Allah give them peace, and their elite followers are bestowed with this intellect in this world. (For the advanced reading see also Sharh al-Mawaqif for more minutiae)

[M]: An example of this is that Our Master Muhammad's Intellect is so powerful that he perceives the original form of Salawat recited upon him, May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him.

Likewise, it is recorded that al-Shaykh al-Akbar, Muhiyyudin Ibn `Arabi used to see Rafidhi Shi’ites who insult the Shaykhayn in the form of swine and not in human form. This was because his extraordinary perceiving capacity would grasp their inner states of ugliness in their beliefs.

The Intellect’s Influence On The Human Soul

The Hukama refer to the soul by the expressions ‘ruh’ and ‘nafs’. The latter applies to more than one meanings thus its implication is more general than the formers.

The intellectual faculty bestows the human soul (al-Nafs al-Insaniyyah) with the quality of recognising knowledge as it emanates the quality of bearing knowledge in it. Its role is like the suns role to the eye when it sees phenomena. This was also the view of the scholars of Ma wara al-nahr except that they upheld that there is only one contingent intellect (`Aql) whereas the Hukama opined that there are ten pre-existent intellects (`Uquwl `asharah).

The intellectual effect on the soul varies due to the state of people and it has diverse influences in one human soul, too. The degree of its influence revolves around the human behaviour in relation to moderation, one’s age, and one’s rehearse of education etc. Hence, if one rehearses his studies and assiduously memorises what he studied, the intellect will provide more room for this and will develop, as for when one leaves studying, the intellect constricts in that regards. Yet however, the faculty is never lost. Likewise, a young child’s understating of the world will differ immensely to the understanding of an elderly person.

In conclusion, the more moderate and perfect man is in his behaviour and state, and the more powerful he is in both the exoteric and esoteric senses (hawwas zahirah wa batinah), the more capability he develops to absorb knowledge.
[M]: The most perfect exampler for this is our Master Muhammad, may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him. Imam Bajuwri mentioned in Tuhfat al-Mureed that the Intellect of Sayyiduna Rasulullah is known as `Aqal Sharafi for its excellence and uniqueness to him. The reason for this is that our Master's knowledge was not acquired by any physical means or intellectual endeavor (`Ilm Husuli Kasabi), instead, it was bestowed with Divine sophistication and opening (`Ilm Hudhuri).
His behaviour was the equilibrium of perfection and moderation and he is the balance of the perfected forms of wisdom and integrity. Allah Most High says, ‘Surely there is for you an excellent way of conduct in Allah’s Messenger’ and ‘I swear by my majesty! Surely you are on top of all excellent Character’. The beauty contained in the Arabic of the latter verse cannot be maintained in the English medium. Only the Arabic reader can know the splendour of emphasis rooted in this verse.
The fruit of such perfection was that our Master Muhammad possessed perfected forms of esoteric and exoteric senses. His ears were given the power to hear Sayyiduna Bilal’s footsteps in Heaven when Bilal was on earth (Bukhari), his visual capacity was so immense that he would see behind his back as he would see before him (Bukhari) and would even see his well Kawthar from his abode (Bukhari), his speech was Divine revelation (Qur’an) and its influence was as such that it inspired thousands to turn to Islam in only twenty three years, hence his intellectual capacity was so huge and perfected that he gave news of events from the birth of Adam till the hereafter up until the people of Heaven and hell entered their abodes and what shall take place therein! He informed his companions of everything and left not a bird flying its wings in the air except that he informed them of it (Bukhari).
May Allah's peace and blessings be upon our Master Muhammad, his kin and companions.
Fasl 3.
Where is the Intellect (`Aql)?

There is controversy among the scholars on this issue. Some jurists and Hukama opined that it lies within the brain. However, Imam Shafi’i, Imam Malik and the majority of the Mutakallimeen upheld that it is embedded in the heart (qalb) and its light spreads to the brain (dimagh).

[M]: The mutual connection between these human faculties is beyond exact comprehension. Reflecting upon this connection, some scholars even upheld that the Intellect was ‘a Divine faculty (latifah Rabbaniya) that none except Allah knows its reality. Its qualified forms are that when it thinks it is called Intellect or ‘Aql, from the life perspective it is titled soul or Ruh and from the angle of lust and desire it is known as the inner self or Nafs. Hence, all three are unified in their essence but diverse in their perspectives’.
If the Intellect is rooted in the heart, the heart is thus its abode and spring. Accordingly, the faculty of intellect reflects on the immensity of the heart. The most immense heart in Allah’s creation was given to our Master, the Universal man (al-Insan al-Kamil), Muhammad; hence the Muhammadan heart (al-Qalb al-Muhammadi) is unique, elect and chosen (Mustafa) as well as being the Universal heart (al-Qalb al-Kamil). Prophet Muhammad’s heart is always under Divine attention and supported with heavenly aid. The verse of the holy Qur’an ‘Qaaf’ echoes the immensity of this heart- a verse in which Allah Most Exalted, says, ‘Oh Muhammad! I swear by the power of your Heart!’

The Muhammadan heart absorbed Divine revelation with all of its immensity. The Qur’an declares, ‘and had we revealed this Qur’an on a mountain you would have certainly seen it humbled and burst in Allah’s fear’ (Surah al-Hashr). Yet, the Qur’an was revealed on the Universal Heart whose immensity and power surpassed that of a mountain, ‘it was revealed on Muhammad’s heart!’

Mount Sinai could not endure Allah’s theophany (tajalli) revealed upon it, yet however the Muhammadan eyes and heart absorbed the enormous Divine vision on the night of Ascent (M`iraj)! Allah says, ‘The heart lied not to what he saw’ and ‘the eye deviated not, nor exceeded the limit’ (Surah al-Najm).
May Allah send peace and blessings upon the heart of Muhammad, the lone-perfected being (al-Fard al-Akmal) among all hearts and upon his kin, companion and those who followed them with excellence.
Some notes from Imam Bajuri's Tuhfat al-Mureed Sharh Jawharat al-Tawheed.
Munawwar Ateeq