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Prophetic Niche in the

Virtuous City
Islamic Philosophy, Theology
and Science
Texts and Studies

Edited by
Hans Daiber
Anna Akasoy
Emilie Savage-Smith

Volume Lxxxi
Prophetic Niche in the
Virtuous City
The Concept of H ikmah in
Early Islamic Thought


Hikmet Yaman

Leiden boston
Cover illustration: Paper marbling, Smeyra Yaman; Calligraphy, Nurettin Yldzs
private collection; Composition and design, Ouzetin.

The illustration refers to a notion in Islamic thought and arts, stating that
philosophy/wisdom originates from the niche/lamp of prophetic revelation. The
lamp in the illustration signifies prophetic knowledge and wisdom. The lamp is
covered by ebru, a traditional Islamic-Turkish art of paper marbling. The tulip in
the center of this marbling symbolizes God in traditional Islamic arts. The Arabic
calligraphy on and above the lamp is a Quranic verse (2:269) meaning,He (God)
gives hikmah (wisdom) to whom ever He wills. And the light (of revelation and
prophecy) coming from the lamp illuminates the mind and soul.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Yaman, Hikmet.
Prophetic niche in the virtuous city : the concept of hikmah in early Islamic
thought / by Hikmet Yaman.
p. cm. (Islamic philosophy, theology, and science ; v. 81)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-90-04-18662-0 (hardback : alk. paper)
1. Islamic philosophyHistory. 2. Knowledge, Theory of (Islam) 3. Islam
DoctrinesHistory. I. Title. II. Series.

B745.K53Y36 2011


ISSN 0169-8729
ISBN 978 90 04 18662 0
EISBN 978 90 04 19106 8

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To the beloved memory of my parents:
Asiye Yaman (October 12, 2009)
Ziya Yaman (April 3, 2010)

Acknowledgments .............................................................................. xi

Introduction ........................................................................................ 1

Part one

H ikmah in Early Arabic Lexicography

Chapter One: The Derivation of the Word H ikmah .................... 13

. The Root h -k-m and its Primary Meanings in the Arabic
.Language . .................................................................................... 13
. H ikmah, a Noun Derived from the Root h -k-m . ..................... 18
.Other Derivatives of the Root h -k-m . ........................................ 22

Chapter Two: H ikmah in Terminological Dictionaries ............... 27

. Ulm al-Qurn Literature . ......................................................... 27
.Other Types of Dictionaries ......................................................... 32

Chapter Three: Contemporary Western Scholarship on the

.Meaning of H ikmah . ..................................................................... 41

Part Two

H ikmah in Early Muslim Exegetical


Chapter Four: General Definitions in the Qurn ........................ 49

. H ikmah as Much Good ............................................................. 49
. H ikmah as a Method of Calling to the Way of the Lord . ...... 58

Chapter Five: H ikmah and the Prophets ...................................... 61

. A Divine Blessing to Abrahams Progeny ................................. 61
. Authority: The Case of David ...................................................... 67
. Thankfulness: The Case of Luqmn ............................................ 72
. A Criterion for Jesus . .................................................................... 75
. Heavenly Grace to the Unlettered People: The Case of
.Muh ammad ................................................................................ 80
viii contents

Chapter Six: H ikmah in Relation to H akm and H ukm .............. 89

. H akm . ............................................................................................. 89
. H ukm . .............................................................................................. 91
. Those Given H ukm ........................................................................ 93

Part three

H ikmah in Early Sufi Literature

Chapter Seven: H ikmah and the Earliest Sufi Authorities .......... 107
. Al-H asan al-Basr ........................................................................... 107
. Jafar al-Sdiq .................................................................................. 109

Chapter Eight: H ikmah in the Context of Early Sufi

. Exegetical Works ............................................................................ 119
. Sufyn al-Thawr ............................................................................ 119
. Sahl al-Tustar . ............................................................................... 121
. Ab T lib al-Makk . ...................................................................... 123
. Ab Abd al-Rah mn al-Sulam . ................................................. 128
. Ab Ish q al-Thalab . ................................................................... 136
. Abd al-Karm al-Qushayr ........................................................... 137

Chapter Nine: H ikmah in Early Sufi Manuals and

. Treatises ........................................................................................... 143
. Al-Hrith al-Muh sib . ................................................................. 144
. Al-Junayd al-Baghdd .................................................................. 147
. Ab al-H usayn al-Nr ................................................................. 150
. Al-H akm al-Tirmidh ................................................................... 161

Chapter Ten: The Merit of H ikmah ................................................ 185

Part Four

H ikmah in Early Philosophical Literature

Chapter Eleven: H ikmah in the Pre-Islamic Philosophical

. World ............................................................................................... 207
. The Five Pillars of H ikmah: H ikmah in the Land of
. Greece .......................................................................................... 207
contents ix

. The Fountain of H ikmah: Hermes as the Father of the

. H ukam . .................................................................................. 216

Chapter Twelve: H ikmah in the Islamic Philosophical

. World ............................................................................................... 221
. Al-Kind: The Philosopher of the Arabs . ............................... 221
. Al-Frb: The Second Master .................................................. 235
. Ibn Sn: The Headmaster . ....................................................... 252

Conclusion ........................................................................................... 269

Bibliography ........................................................................................ 273

. Primary Sources ............................................................................. 273
. Secondary Sources . ........................................................................ 277

Index ..................................................................................................... 000


The Ministry of Education of Turkey

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University
The Graduate Society of Fellowship of Harvard University
The Islamic Legal Studies Program of Harvard Law School
Ankara University Faculty of Theology

In writing this book, I was greatly aided

by the observations, advice, encour-
agement, and inspiration provided
by Ethem Cebeciolu, Hans Daiber,
William A. Graham, William E.
Granara, Wolfhart P. Heinrichs,
Khaled El-Rouayheb, C. Sharif
El-Tobgui, Valerie J. Turner,
Kathy van Vliet-Leigh,
and Nurettin Yldz.

many teachers,
colleagues, and friends who
supported the project through
their sincere companionship and
insights include Rahim Acar, Cemil
Aydn, William C. Chittick, Ann Cooper,
Recep G. Gkta, Trudy Kamperveen, M.
Erol Kl, Linda Mishkin, Shankar Nair,
Martin Nguyen, amil cal, Jennifer
Petrallia, Himmet Takmr, Robert
Wisnovsky, and M. Ali Yldrm.

The Yaman family has provided its own brand of support: I have
been blessed with the prayers of my parents, Asiye and Ziya Yaman;
the commitment of my sister Emine Yaman Akhan; the dedication of my
wife, Smeyra Yaman; and the joys of our children, Ziya and Zeynep Yaman.

The word h ikmah has a wide spectrum of connotations in scholarly

texts written during the formative period of the Islamic intellectual
history. H ikmah, in some sense, contains all knowledge within human
reach. It has a pivotal role across the array of Islamic disciplines, and
has, accordingly, received a range of diverse scholarly treatments. It
is a subtle notion that, for these reasons, demands careful attention
to its contextual and interdisciplinary elements. Analyzing individual
technical concepts in early Muslim writings is a matter of difficulty
and delicacy. Scholarly attempts to examine critically and compre-
hend individual terms in an atomistic manner often fails because these
terms do not stand in isolation from other related and complementary
concepts in these texts; rather, they constitute a highly organized tech-
nical system within a complex network of multiple conceptual interre-
lationships in the cross-disciplinary context of early Muslim scholarly
works. Concentrating merely on etymology or original word meanings
also does not help satisfactorily, because context has a decisive impact
on the vocabulary being used. One of the most evident examples of
this situation manifests itself in the case of h ikmah.
This book investigates the concept of h ikmah in the cross-disciplinary
context of early Muslim scholarly works, mainly in the literatures of
Arabic lexicography, Qurnic exegesis, Sufism, and Islamic philosophy.1

A more comprehensive scholarly analysis of h ikmah in wide-ranging Muslim
scholarship would be expected to discuss h ikmah in early legal ( fiqh), theological
(kalm), and ethical (akhlq) works as well. I will include h ikmah as an ethical con-
cept in the context of my philosophical discussions on h ikmah. As for the concept
of h ikmah in fiqh and kalm, though my plan in the initial stages of the book was
to assign separate chapters to the analysis of h ikmah in these two fields as well, after
preliminary research with this idea in mind, I concluded that it would be a more
realistic project to address h ikmah in fiqh and kalm literatures in separate detailed
studies. In Islamic legal works, h ikmah is elaborated upon in the context of the pur-
pose of legislation (h ikmah tashriyyah) and related to other concepts in this regard,
including illah (effective cause, or ratio legis, or a particular ruling), sabab (cause),
maslah ah (considerations of public interest), and maqsid (goals and objectives). For
further details see, Zak al-Dn Shabn, Usl al-Fiqh al-Islm (Beirut, 1974), 136158.
Muslim theologians, on the other hand, explain h ikmah in the context of their dis-
cussions on the purpose of the creation (h ikmah takwniyyah) and relate it to other
associated concepts such as ghyah (objective), nizm ([divine] organization), gharad
(purpose), and maqsad (intention). See, for instance, Ab Mansr al-Mturd, Kitb
2 introduction

The primary textual investigation is, principally, limited to works writ-

ten up to the time of Ab H mid al-Ghazl (d. 505/1111). While the
book centers on the notion of h ikmah, it also sheds light on other key
epistemological concepts found in the Qurn, such as ilm (knowledge),
marifah (gnosis), aql (intellect), qalb (heart), and fiqh (comprehension),
to which h ikmah is intrinsically related. I contextualize h ikmah in a
more nuanced fashion in the collective usage of early Muslim authors.
No other study in modern scholarship has offered an examination
of the concept of h ikmah in this capacity. To this end, I begin part
i by investigating the definitions of h ikmah based on lexicographical
materials that attest to the primary meanings of this word during the
pre- and early Islamic periods. Arabic lexicographers present a rela-
tively expansive compendium of definitions for h ikmah and discuss the
semantic permutations of its root h -k-m. I also discuss the derivation
of the word, its appearance in terminological dictionaries, and finally,
the assessments of western scholars.
The Arabic word h ikmah is a noun derived from the root h -k-m,
whose primary meaning is to restrain (manaa). In this context, every-
thing that prevents a person from acting in a corrupt manner or from
committing a blameworthy deed can be described by the verbs derived
from the root h -k-m, i.e., h akama, h akkama, or ah kama. According to
Arabic lexicographers, the root h -k-m has two other basic meanings:
to perfect (atqana), particularly in the fourth form (ah kama), and
to judge, especially in the first form (h akama).
The scholarly discussions in the West concern the very basic mean-
ings of the root h -k-m in its specific relation to the idea of wisdom,
and whether or not the Arabic words h ikmah and h akm, in the sense
of wisdom and wise respectively, owe their origin to foreign influ-
ence. With regard to the original meaning of h ikmah in the sense of
wisdom in ancient pre-Islamic Arabic and in comparison with other
Semitic languages, the book introduces a tentative argument, and does
not exclude the possibility that h ikmah in the sense of wisdom might
well have entered into Arabic in this meaning from other Semitic lan-
guages and in time become indigenous to Arabic. Unfortunately, the

al-Tawh d, ed. Bekir Topalolu and Muhammed Aruci (Istanbul, 2003), 151158, and
Ab H mid al-Ghazl, al-H ikmah fi-makhlqt Allh Azzah wa-Jallah, in Majmah
Rasil al-Imm al-Ghazl (Beirut, 1996), 746.
introduction 3

topic and its context within comparative Semitic studies lies beyond
the scope of the book.
I focus on primary lexicographical materials in my investigations
of the meanings of the Arabic root h -k-m with a special attention to
h ikmah. In addition to lexicographical works in the technical sense of
the word, I look to more specialized dictionaries oriented mainly toward
Qurnic vocabulary and terminology, examining the topic in the writ-
ings of Muqtil b. Sulaymn, Yahy b. Sallm, al-Rghib al-Isfahn,
as well as of Ab Hill al-Askar, al-Sayyid al-Sharf al-Jurjn, and
al-Tahnaw. I also discuss the related arguments of contemporary
western scholars, especially the work of Franz Rosenthal and Dimitri
Gutas. In the latter case, it becomes clear that neglect of contextual
and interdisciplinary peculiarities of h ikmah across the spectrum of
Islamic scholarly disciplines has led to inaccurate conclusions regard-
ing it as a concept.
In Part ii, I examine h ikmah in the early Muslim exegetical litera-
ture. As it occurs in the Qurn, h ikmah is often coupled with the word
kitb. Early Muslim commentators of the Qurn thus came to link it to
the divine revelation in the form of the revealed books and prophetic
practice. They came to emphasize the practical aspect of h ikmah and
argued that there is a causal relationship between sincere piety and
being given h ikmah, as attested to in the h adth, Whoever worships
God sincerely for forty days, the springs of h ikmah gush out from his
heart to his tongue.2
According to the Qurn, God is the ultimate possessor of h ikmah. He
is called al-H akm, and this is one of the Most Beautiful Names of God
(al-asm al-h usn). God also grants this preferential gift to His distin-
guished servants. The Qurn states that God has given h ikmah to the
prophets in general and to those from Abrahams progenyincluding
David, Jesus, and Muhammadin particular. In a general framework,
the Qurn says that God gives h ikmah to whomever He wills; the ideal
personification of the latter is Luqmn, who is not typically regarded in
early Muslim writings as a prophet, but is seen as a pious and upright
person who enjoyed h ikmah. Part ii addresses the diverse ways these
early commentators of the Qurn interpreted h ikmah.
After an analysis of the context of h ikmah in all of its appearances in
Qurnic verses and commentaries, I discuss the diverse interpretations

Quoted in al-Suyt , al-Durr al-manthr f al-tafsr al-mathr (Beirut, 1983), 2:69.
4 introduction

of h ikmah, the possibility of giving a single-word definition of it

throughout the Qurnic text, and whether or not the multiple mean-
ings provided by early commentators represent an inconsistency or
contradiction among various understandings.
With regard to contemporary western scholars understanding of
h ikmah, there is not, surprisingly, a comprehensive study in modern
scholarship that analyzes the diverse employments of the word h ikmah
in the Qurn. Gutas works may be considered the one exception to this
general lack of sufficient scholarly interest in h ikmah. Unfortunately, he
assigns a single fixed meaning to h ikmah throughout the Qurn, and
this leads to a rigidity in interpreting the related Qurnic statements
and a neglect of the contextual peculiarities of the verses in which
h ikmah occurs. In this regard, I discuss Gutas insistence on defining
h ikmah throughout the entire Qurnic text as maxim and revisit the
texts upon which he bases his arguments.3
Part iii involves an analysis of technical concepts in general and
h ikmah in particular within the early Sufi texts. This is a difficult under-
taking, as most of the constituent works are no longer extant. Gaining
a clear picture of the semantic continuities, shifts, and innovations in
the meaning of fundamental epistemological concepts gives us a sense
of the impenetrable nature of the subject matter. Therefore, rather than
dealing with h ikmah as an individual term in an atomistic manner,
I examine the notion of h ikmah in early mystical works as one ele-
ment in a network of related concepts such as ilm, marifah, aql, qalb,
and fiqh.
I examine the works of al-H asan al-Basr and Jafar al-Sdiq with
special attention to their elaboration of h ikmah within this network
of associated concepts. Then I focus on h ikmah within the contextual
formulations of early Sufi exegetical works, including those of al-Thawr,
al-Tustar, al-Sulam, al-Thalab, and al-Qushayr. I also contextualize
h ikmah within the organized totality of mystical concepts elucidated
in early Sufi manuals and treatises, primarily those of al-Muhsib, al-
Junayd, al-Nr, al-Tirmidh, and al-Makk. Throughout my investiga-
tion of the writings of these authors, I attempt to elucidate the modes
of perception and inner formative forces of the early Muslim spiritual
authorities as recorded in the scholarly sources. I also discuss the merit

Dimitri Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature: Nature and Scope, Journal
of the American Oriental Society 101, no. 1 (1981): 4986.
introduction 5

of h ikmah in these writings and their explanations of ways to attain

this preferential state.
Contemporary scholars of early Sufi thought and concepts have
not focused on h ikmah in particular, though Massignons works
have contributed greatly to the study of early Muslim mystics and have
certainly had a decisive influence on the course of academic studies on
the origins of Sufi terms in the western academic world.4 I agree with
Massignon, who believes that Sufism and its terminology are based
on the Qurn and thus indigenous to Islam. Further, I believe that
the Qurn functioned as the principle source of contemplation and
inspiration for the earliest ascetics and gnostically-minded Muslims,
though in the later period, foreign ideas and concepts may well have
infiltrated Sufism. Throughout my investigation of h ikmah and other
related concepts, I augment Massignons discussions regarding this
question in early Sufism.
In part iv, I examine h ikmah in the writings of early Muslim philoso-
phers, who use the words h ikmah and philosophy interchangeably
and relate the origin of this knowledge to prophetic teachings. The figure
of Luqmn as the ideal personification of h ikmah is recurrently recorded
in Islamic philosophical writings. Knowledge of h ikmah, therefore,
represents for them knowledge of the true nature of things and derives
from the prophetic institution by way of Luqmn and David. I address
the Muslim understanding of the earliest Greek philosophersthe five
pillars of h ikmah (astn al-h ikmah al-khamsah), namely, Empedocles,
Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who were believed to have
learned this h ikmah from Luqmn and David and elaborated it further.
In this regard, Muslim historians record another figure as a main chan-
nel of h ikmah: this is Hermes, the father of sages (ab al-h ukam).
He is an enigmatic and key figure with respect to the historical contact
between religion and philosophy, for historians identify him recurrently
with the Qurnic Idrs. Providing a historical religious background
for the ancient philosophical personalities facilitated the integration
of Greek philosophy into the Islamic worldview, for Muslims came
to regard this intellectual heritage within their extended prophetic

In addition to Massignons substantial studies on al-H allj (d. 304/922), I am


especially referring in this context to his works Essai sur les origines du lexique tech-
nique de la mystique musulmane (Paris, 1968) and Recueil de textes indits concernant
lhistoire de la mystique en pays dislam (Paris, 1929).
6 introduction

The Qurnic notion of h ikmah is a highly influential inner force that

stimulated the interest of Muslim intellectuals in Greek philosophy and
its leading figures. Ibn Sn, for instance, in the context of explaining
his perception of philosophy, clearly refers to the Qurnic verse 2:269,
in which those who are given h ikmah are characterized as being given
much good.5 Early Muslim philosophers ( falsifah) regarded their
philosophical inquiry as the continuation of the everlasting search
of humankind for truth in general and for the true knowledge of
God in particular.6 For them, this universal and undying character of
philosophical truth was the most attractive dimension of philosophical
activities. They envisioned and situated themselves as the representatives
of this intellectual tradition in their own times. In their inquiries, the
philosophers believed their efforts to attain such a sublime truth to be
in harmony with the Qurnic notion of h ikmah, the search for which,
moreover, was strongly recommended by the Prophet by any reason-
able means possible. They did not view philosophy as idle speculation,
rather they considered it to be (Islamic) h ikmah that requires them
to complete their words with their actions, as al-Kind says, The aim
(gharad) of the philosopher is, with respect to his knowledge, to attain
the truth (isbat al-h aqq), and with respect to his action, to act truth-
fully (al-amal bi-al-h aqq).7
Muslim thinkers strived to attain this h ikmah, the most prestigious
achievement of mankind; they did not see it as distinctively Islamic, as
opposed to Christian or Jewish, but only as a philosophy of humankind.
This point is of paramount importance to contemporary studies on
Islamic philosophy, especially with respect to designating it exclusively
as Arabic or Islamic.8 The book will provide further textual bases

Ibn Sn, Uyn al-h ikmah, ed. Muwaffaq F. al-Jabr (Damascus, 1996), 64.

Ibn Sn, for instance, uses the word h ikmah in the sense of metaphysics and

defines it as the best knowledge of the best thing known. In his terminology,
this h ikmah is knowledge that yields certainty ( yaqn) of God. Ibn Sn, al-Shif:
al-Ilhiyyt, eds. Georges Anawt, et al. (Cairo, 1960), 15.
Al-Kind, Rasil al-Kind al-falsafiyyah, ed. Muhammad Abd al-Hd Ab Rdah
(Cairo, 19501953), 97.
In this context, I am referring especially to Gutas reading of the history of Islamic
philosophy and his criticism of the writings of Corbin and Nasr in this relation. See
Gutas, The Study of Arabic Philosophy in the Twentieth Century: An Essay on the
Historiography of Arabic Philosophy, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 29.1
(2002). By way of further clarification on this topic, especially when I use the term
philosophy of mankind, I am not, by any means, attempting to deny essential Ara-
bic and Islamic components of this philosophical tradition and to propose univer-
salism versus the Arabic-Islamic context of falsafah. Without neglecting the context of
introduction 7

to better understand this issue. For example, al-Kind depicts his con-
ception of philosophy as h ikmah and his perception of the history of
philosophy as a search for universal truth. He pictures this history as
a cooperative and cumulative tradition; he further sees it as a progres-
sive process of intellectualizing eternal truth, which, again, is h ikmah.9
Al-Kind searched for knowledge of the real nature of things, and, like
his followers al-Frb and Ibn Sn, he did not see himself as a pas-
sive recipient of the philosophers of the past; rather, he saw himself as
responsible for improving their intellectual legacy by completing their
statements, mending the deficiencies of their systems, and perfect-
ing their methods. According to al-Kind, philosophy is a cumulative
intellectual progression of mankind, which has an unbroken chain of
representatives among every human generation throughout history;
he envisages himself as a part of this distinguished community in his
lifetime, himself a custodian of truth or h ikmah.
Thus, I examine h ikmah in early Arabic lexicography, including an
analysis of the Arabic root h -k-m, its primary meanings in the Arabic
language, and its basic derivatives. I further investigate h ikmah in the
works on technical terminology in Islamic scholarly disciplines and
review contemporary western scholarship on the meaning of h ikmah.
Following this, I address early Muslim exegetical literature, investigate
h ikmah in the Qurn, together with its semantic relationship with
the word kitb (book), analyze the word h ikmah in each Qurnic
instance within its own context and reconstruct the meaning, usages,
and relational semantic components of h ikmah in the writings of early
Muslim exegetes. In a detailed examination of h ikmah in Sufi literature,
I delve into Sufi exegetical works, examining the network of associated
mystical concepts and focusing on the particular relation of h ikmah
to other epistemological concepts in Sufism. I also treat h ikmah as a
practical or applied concept found in the writings of the earliest Muslim
mystics, as they argue that, being a meritorious notion, h ikmah cannot
be properly understood or actualized without this aspect. Finally, by
looking to h ikmah in early philosophical literature, I investigate the
earliest Muslim philosophers reception and conception of philosophy
in its particular relation to h ikmah as it is mentioned in the primary

philosophical thinking in Islam, I merely emphasize the idea that in the views of the
earliest falsifah, the search for truth is not restricted to one nation or religion.
Al-Kind, 103.
8 introduction

authoritative Muslim scriptures. I conclude with an analysis of the

inner formative forces that piqued the interest of Muslim intellectuals
in Greek philosophy and its leading figures, and discuss the expections
these Muslim intellectuals had from philosophical inquiry.
Part one


It has been argued that the root h -k-m in the Arabic language expresses
primarily juridical and administrative or governmental activity, as
opposed to its use in other Semitic languages, in which it has long
denoted the idea of wisdom. In accordance with this historical
semantic background, it has been suggested that the Arabic words
h ikmah and h akm, in the sense of wisdom and wise, respectively,
and any derivation from this root that seems to imply wisdom, owe
their origin to foreign influence.1 I cannot completely disregard this
possibility for two simple reasons: first, I have not investigated the
original meaning/s of the root h -k-m in the context of comparative
Semitic languages; and second, for the time being, we do not possess
sufficient original, physical texts in ancient pre-Islamic Arabic to reject
or prove this argument. The earliest linguistic documents in which
we can examine the situation are later pre-Islamic Arabic materials,
primarily poetry, that have survived to our day; unfortunately, how-
ever, they do not help us in a satisfactory manner because they do not
include attestations (shawhid) for the word h ikmah sufficient to lead
us to well-argued conclusions.2
Facing this visibly unpromising scholarly situation, nevertheless, my
presentation in the following pages regarding the meanings of the root
h -k-m in the Arabic language in general, and of h ikmah in particular,
will, it is hoped, give some evidence that Arabic lexicographers do
provide enough materials to guide us to the conclusion that during
pre- and early Islamic times the Arabic words h ikmah and h akm could
carry the sense of wisdom. Lexicographers of the Arabic language
introduce a highly inclusive philological articulation for the root h -k-m

Horovitz, Koranische Untersuchungen (Berlin and Leipzig, 1926), 72; Jeffery, The
Foreign Vocabulary of the Qurn (Lahore, 1977), 111; Rosenthal, Knowledge Trium-
phant (Leiden, 1971), 37.
Alfred Bloch, Zur altarabischen Spruchdichtung, in Weststliche Abhandlungen,
ed. F. Meier (Wiesbaden, 1954), 181224. Bloch says, In der vorislamischen Gnomik
fehlt das Wort h ikmah bezeichnenderweise fast ganz, 221; Gutas, Classical Arabic
Wisdom Literature, 51.
10 part one

such that we must allow the possibility that the root is related to wis-
dom in Arabic as well. The existence of pre-Islamic Arabic gnomic
literature (h ikam/h ikmiyyt)3 and sages (h ukam al-Arab), including
the legendary Luqmn b. d, who uttered these wise sayings, can also
be seen as evidence that the words h ikmah and h akm were in use in
the Arabic language even before the rise of Islam.4
Methodologically speaking, my position is as plausible as that of
those who argue that the Arabic word h ikmah in the sense of wisdom
owes its origin to foreign influence. Within the study of the historical
development of the Arabic language, their argument is highly specula-
tive. It lacks the textual basis of a pre-Islamic stage of Arabic that is
required to examine the broader semantic environment of the word
h ikmah, such that they could claim that it did not originally have the
sense of wisdom. The burden of proof is thus theirs, and my argu-
ment is, at least, defensible, because it can be sustained by the early
Islamic sources available.
By way of compromise between the two positions we may assert
that, considering the limited extant linguistic materials in ancient pre-
Islamic Arabic and the absence of any mention of h ikmah in the sense
of wisdom, we cannot identify, positively, the origin of h ikmah in this
sense in the Arabic language. It might well have entered into Arabic
with this meaning from other Semitic languages and become indigenous
over time, as foreign loan words tend to follow this progression. In this
case, the absence of h ikmah in those materials might be because it had
not penetrated into the repository of the true arabiyyah, that is, poetry,

The initial coinage and use of this term to refer to this literary genre is some-
thing of an intractable question. With regard to the age of wisdom literature in Ara-
bic, we only really know that oral wisdom literature existed even before the Prophet
Muhammads lifetime. At present, we do not have sufficient linguistic documents to
lead us to clearly-stated conclusions regarding whether or not there also existed in
his time written materials (books, scrolls, etc.) containing wisdom literature. For this
question see Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 4957.
If one is to subscribe to the idea of a foreign origin for h ikmah in the sense of
wisdom, the possibility of Greek influence, rather than the Semitic one, might be a
more defensible argument. In this case, one may be arguing that h ikmah, understood
as wisdom and maxim, entered Islam under the influence of a pre-Islamic gnomic
literature. For a monograph presenting a bio-bibliographical account of the oldest
collections of proverbs and maxims in Arabic, see Mohsen Zakeri, Persian Wisdom
in Arabic Garb (Leiden, 2007). In this study, Zakeri has edited and translated Al b.
Ubayda al-Rayhns (d. ca. 219/834) works, including his famous Jawhir al-kilam
wa-farid al-h ikam, which is a treasury of ancient proverbs, proverbial phrases, and
popular sayings. I owe this last reference to Hans Daiber.
h ikmah in early arabic lexicography 11

but was already part of the language of the Arab Jews, Christians, and
h unaf,5 who employed h ikmah in the sense of wisdom throughout
their h ikam.
My discussions in part i are limited to lexicographical materials in
the Arabic language and their semantic relation to h ikmah in the sense
of wisdom. By focusing on such primary materials, I analyze the
meanings of the Arabic root h -k-m with a special attention to h ikmah.
In the first chapter, I use works that are lexicographical in the techni-
cal sense of the word, while in the second chapter, I examine more
specialized dictionaries oriented mainly toward Qurnic vocabulary
and terminology. Since I investigate h ikmah in the Qurn based on
tafsr literature in part ii, here I only cover Qurnic quotations to the
extent that they are explained in these Arab-Islamic philological works.
In the third chapter, I discuss related arguments in secondary sources
in western languages.

I owe this explanation to Wolfhart Heinrichs.
Chapter one

The Derivation of the Word H ikmah

The Root h -k-m and its Primary Meanings in the

Arabic Language

Manaa: to restrain. The Arabic word h ikmah is a noun derived from

the root h -k-m (h akama, yah kumu, h ukm). According to the majority
of Arabic lexicographers, the primary meaning of this root is manaa
(to prevent, restrain, or withhold). The expression h akamat al-lijm
(bit of a beasts bridle) represents one of the earliest usages of the
root h -k-m in this sense, and apparently, other abstract usages were
derived metaphorically from this concrete usage. Thus the preven-
tion or restraint in question could be from injustice (zulm), ignorance
( jahl), or foolishness (safah), and accordingly, h ikmah can be defined
as justice (adl), knowledge (ilm), or forbearance (h ilm), respectively,
as al-Khall b. Ahmad (d. 175/795) points out in his Kitb al-Ayn.1
Everything that prevents (manaa) a person from acting in a corrupt
manner or from wrongdoing ( fasd) can be described by the verbs
derived from the root h -k-m, i.e., h akama, h akkama, or ah kama.
Likewise is the case of the beast, for the h akamah restrains it from
running powerfully and thus a horse having a h akamah on its head is
described as faras mah kmah.2

Al-Khall b. Ahmad, Kitb al-Ayn, eds. Mahd al-Makhzm and Ibrhm
al-Smarr (Baghdad, 19801985), 3:6667. For this basic meaning of the root
h -k-m see also, Ibn Durayd, Jamharat al-lughah, ed. Ramz Munr Baalbakk (Beirut,
19871988), 1:564; al-Azhar, Tahdhb al-lughah, eds. Abd al-Karm al-Azabw and
Muhammad Al al-Najjr (Cairo, 19641967), 4:114; Isml b. Abbd, al-Muh t f
al-lughah, ed. Muhammad H asan l Ysn (Beirut, 1994), 3:387; Isml b. H ammd
al-Jawhar, al-Sih h , tj al-lughah wa-sih h al-Arabiyyah, eds. Iml Bad Yaqb and
Muhammad Nabl T arf (Beirut, 1999), 5:226; al-Saghn, al-Takmilah wa-al-dhayl
wa-al-silah li-Kitb tj al-lughah wa-sihh al-Arabiyyah, eds. Ibrhm Isml al-Abyr
and Muhammad Khalaf Allh Ahmad (Cairo, 1977), 5:618; Ibn Fris, Mujam maqys
al-lughah, ed. Ibrhm Shams al-Dn (Beirut, 1999), 1:311; Ibn Fris, Mujmal al-
lughah, ed. Hd H asan H ammd (Kuwait, 1985), 2:94; Ibn Sdah, al-Muh kam wa-al-
muh t al-azam, ed. Abd al-H amd Hindw (Beirut, 2000), 3:51; al-Zamakhshar,
Ass al-balghah (Beirut, 1996), 89; Ibn Manzr, Lisn al-Arab (Cairo, 1981), 2:953;
al-Frzbd, al-Qms al-Muh t (Egypt, 1884), 3:97; Murtad al-Zabd, Tj al-ars
min jawhir al-Qms, ed. Al Shr (Beirut, 1994), 16:161162.
Al-Khall b. Ahmad, 3:67; al-Azhar, 4:114; Isml b. Abbd, 3:387; al-Jawhar,
5:226; Ibn Fris, Mujam, 1:311; Ibn Fris, Mujmal, 2:94; Ibn Sdah, 3:51;
14 chapter one

The same word h akamah is also used metaphorically for a man in

reference to the fore part of his face as a metaphorical indication of
his social and moral status.3 A report (h adth) narrated from Umar
b. al-Khatt b says, If a servant (human being) behaves humbly, God
exalts his h akamah. The word h akamah in this context means status,
rank, value (qadr), or dignity (manzilah).4 Lexicographers of the Arabic
language report that the Arabs of pre- and early Islamic times would use
some expressions that testify to this sense, such as, He has (a) h akamah
in our opinion (lah indan h akamah) i.e., value; and Such and such
person is elevated with respect to rank ( fuln l al-h akamah).5 If
someone is described as having a high or low h akamah, this descrip-
tion refers to his high or low status in peoples opinion, respectively.
In another h adth, the word h akamah is used in a slightly different
extended sense: Every human being has a h akamah on his head; when
he intends to do something bad, then if God wants to bridle him, He
bridles him.6 Here the word does not refer to the fore part of the face,
neither to social rank or dignity; instead, it is used in its literal sense
of bit,7 though it is a man that wears it. Thus it stands symbolically
for divine control over the human being.
The meaning of the verb ah kama in the sense of manaa is also
attested in the verse of Jarr (d. 115/733?), O sons of H anfah, restrain
your foolish ones (ah kim sufahakum); indeed I fear for you that I
may get angry.8 Similarly, the phrase h akamtu al-safha wa-ah kamtuhu
is used in the sense of I restrained/prevented the foolish one from
ignorant behavior.9

al-Zamakhshar, Ass al-balghah, 89; Majd al-Dn Ibn al-Athr, al-Nihyah f gharb
al-h adth wa-al-athar, ed. Al b. H asan al-H alab (Dammm, 2000), 223; Ibn Manzr,
2:954; al-Frzbd, 3:97; al-Zabd, 16:162.
Ibn Sdah, 3:51; al-Saghn, 5:618; Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:954;
al-Frzbd, 3:97; al-Zabd, 16:162.
Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:954; al-Zabd, 16:162.
Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:954; al-Zabd, 16:162.
Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:954.
Even though the word h akamah is referring here to the actual bit, its application
to man is clearly figurative.
Al-Khall b. Ahmad, 3:67; Isml b. Abbd, 3:387; al-Jawhar, 5:226; Ibn Fris,
Mujam, 1:311; Ibn Fris, Mujmal, 2:94; Ibn Sdah, 3:51; al-Zamakhshar, Ass
al-balghah, 89; Ibn Manzr, 2:953; al-Zabd, 16:161. Some lexicographers use the
word rajaa (to restrain, refrain, hold back) as a synonym of manaa in their exposi-
tions of the root h -k-m. See for instance, al-Zabd, 16:161.
Al-Jawhar, 5:226; Ibn Fris, Mujam, 1:311; Ibn Fris, Mujmal, 2:94;
al-Zamakhshar, Ass al-balghah, 89; Ibn Manzr, 2:953; al-Zabd, 16:161.
the derivation of the word h ikmah 15

In the same context, Arabic lexicographers quote the saying of

Ibrhm al-Nakha (d. 95/714), Restrain (h akkim) the orphan from
acting in a corrupt manner, as you restrain your offspring, i.e., prevent
him from acting in a corrupt manner (imnahu min al-fasd) and make
him good, just as you make your offspring good.10 They further cite a
report (h adth) related by Ibn Abbs (d. 68/687): A male person [in
pre- and early Islamic times] used to inherit a woman from his relatives
and he would prevent her from marrying until she would die or give
her dower to him. God prevented (ah kama) and forbade (nah) this
i.e., He prevented (manaa) this.11
Given all these explanations for the word manaa as the basic mean-
ing of the root h -k-m, we can conclude that Arab philologists present
quite a wide-ranging and inclusive definition. Beyond literal preven-
tion or restraint, they refer to a positive attitude toward improving a
current situation that is not good ( fasd). Constructive qualities such
as knowledge, justice, forbearance, and dignity are mentioned in this
context as channels leading to a wise course of action. The sense of
manaa, therefore, includes within it the possibility that the root h -k-m
relates to wisdom.

Atqana: to perfect. The verbal form ah kama means also atqana (to
perfect, do expertly, skillfully, firmly, or soundly) as it appears in the
saying Experiences have rendered him firm, or sound, in judgment
(qad ah kamathu al-tajribu).12 Another verbal form, istah kama,
similarly denotes It/He has become muh kam (perfect or sound).13
The word uh kima (the passive voice of ah kama) that appears in the
Qurnic verse 11:1, A book whose verses are set clear, precise, or
perfected (uh kimat ytuh) has a similar meaning, i.e., its verses are
set clear, precise, or perfected by commanding (amr) and prohibit-
ing (nahy), and the statement of what is lawful (h all ) and unlawful
(h arm); and then (they are) expounded ( fussi lat), i.e., by prom-
ising (wad) and threatening (wad). Ibn Sdah (d. 458/1066) asserts
that the verses of the Qurn are set clear, precise, or perfected and

Al-Azhar, 4:113; al-Zamakhshar, Ass al-balghah, 89; Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn
Manzr, 2:953; al-Zabd, 16:162.
Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:953; al-Zabd, 16:162.
Al-Khall b. Ahmad, 3:66; al-Azhar, 4:113; Ibn Sdah, 3:50; al-Zamakhshar, Ass
al-balghah, 89; Ibn Manzr, 2:953.
Al-Khall b. Ahmad, 3:67; al-Azhar, 4:113; Isml b. Abbd, 3:387; al-Jawhar,
5:226; Ibn Sdah, 3:50; Ibn Manzr, 2:953; al-Zabd, 16:161.
16 chapter one

then expounded in accordance with what is needed to guide [people]

toward believing in the oneness of God (tawh d), confirming prophet-
hood, and establishing the religious laws. He quotes other verses from
the Qurn to validate his conclusion, such as 6:38, We have neglected
nothing in the Book, 12:111, And [it has within it a] detailed expla-
nation of everything, and 47:20: And when a decisive, clear, or per-
fected (muh kamah) srah (chapter) is revealed.14 When a person
hears muh kam verses, he does not need any additional information to
understand them. This is the case with respect to the stories mentioned
in the Qurn relating to the previous prophets.15
Ibn Sdah also mentions al-Zajjjs (d. 337/949) interpretation of
the word muh kamah in the abovementioned verse (47:20). The latter
argues that it means not abrogated (ghayr manskhah).16 Other Arabic
lexicographers follow this interpretation, and in this context, they cite
the following account from Ibn Abbs: I recited the muh kam at the
time of the Messenger of God.17 Ibn Manzr (d. 711/1311) says that
with the word muh kam here, Ibn Abbs means the expounded part[s]
(mufassa l ) of the Qurn, for nothing is abrogated from it [them].
According to Ibn Manzrs reports, some other scholars assert that
muh kam here refers to clearly intelligible verses (muh kamt) of the
Qurn, as opposed to those ambiguous (mutashbiht) verses, for the
muh kam is clear enough by itself and does not need anything else to
clarify its meaning.18
The sense atqana, therefore, may be considered a practical aspect
of the root h -k-m. Experiences improve man in a constructive way
and make him sound in thinking and acting, which is exactly what is
expected from a wise person. In addition, the fundamental principles
of the Qurn are based on muh kam verses and these are precise state-
ments to guide people to sound belief and action in accordance with
h ikmah.

Qad: to judge. The root h -k-m in general and the verbal form
h akama in particular hold the meaning of qad (to judge, rule, or
administer) as well. Since scholars of the language focus mainly on

Ibn Sdah, 3:50. See also, Ibn Manzr, 2:953; al-Zabd, 16:161.
Ibn Sdah, 3:50.
Ibn Manzr, 2:952; al-Zabd, 16:163.
Ibn Manzr, 2:952; Ibn al-Athr, 223; al-Zabd, 16:163.
the derivation of the word h ikmah 17

the masdar or verbal noun form, h ukm, in their articulations, I will

address this word here. Arabic lexicographers define the word h ukm
as judgment or judicial decision (qad)19 concerning a thing, that it is
such a thing, or is not such a thing, whether it is necessarily connected
with another thing or not.20 This sophisticated definition is appar-
ently a later articulation, from a time when the discipline of Islamic
law was well-grounded and established. Some of the lexicographers
specified that h ukm meant judgment with justice (al-qad bi-al-adl ).21
Accordingly, the word h kim means the enforcer of a legal determi-
nation (munaffidh al-h ukm) between people. Al-Asma (d. 215/830)
says, The origin[al meaning] of the word h ukmah (authority to
judge) derives from the sense of withholding a man from injustice22
and a h kim is named such on account of the fact that he restrains and
prevents an unjust person from committing injustice.23
This sense of qad simultaneously requires some preconditions on
the part of h kim since the word h ukm also means knowledge (ilm)
and comprehension in matters of religion (al-fiqh f al-dn), as in the
h adth, The caliphate belongs to the Quraysh (Meccans) and h ukm to
the Ansr (Medinans). The Prophet linked the Ansr with the notion
of h ukm on the basis of the fact that most of the knowledgeable per-
sonalities ( fuqah) of the Companions, such as Mudh b. Jabal, Ubayy
b. Kab, and Zayd b. Thbit, were from the Ansr.24 Ibn Manzr cites
a Qurnic verse, 19:12, We (God) gave him (John) h ukm [when he
was] yet a little child (sabiyyan), and states that the word h ukm in this
verse means ilm and fiqh. He also quotes a saying, Silence is a h ukm,
but only a few practice it, which is frequently cited in tafsr literature
as a statement by Luqmn as well as by the Prophet Muhammad.25 Ibn
Manzr argues that just as in the above-mentioned Qurnic verse, the
word h ukm here denotes ilm and fiqh. In the same context, he mentions
a h adth, Indeed, some poetry is h ukm (inna min al-shiri la-h ukman).
In Ibn Manzrs view, this statement indicates that in poetry there are
useful words freeing a person from ignorance (jahl ) and foolishness

Al-Jawhar, 5:225; Ibn Sdah, 3:49; Ibn Manzr, 2:951952; al-Frzbd, 3:97;
al-Zabd, 16:160.
Al-Zabd, 16:160.
Ibn Manzr, 2:952; al-Zabd, 16:160.
Al-Zabd, 16:160.
Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:951952; al-Zabd, 16:165.
Al-Suyt i, al-Durr al-manthr, 6:513.
18 chapter one

(safah). Some scholars assert that with the word h ukm, the Prophet
meant admonitions (mawiz) and proverbs/adages (amthl ) from
which people would benefit.26
Besides its usage as a technical term in the context of Islamic legal
studies, the word h ukm has far-ranging connotations in the Arabic
language. Its sense of qad does not refer to an arbitrary judicial deci-
sion. Rather, it is closely related to other meanings of the root h -k-m,
especially to the idea of a wise course of action. A qd is a h kim who
is expected to be a knowledgeable, competent, insightful, and under-
standing person, such that he could give a just and wise judgment.
The meaning of the word wisdom in English includes such ideas of
knowledge, judgment, and insight as well. The definition qad for the
Arabic root h -k-m, therefore, may also be interpreted as implying this
sense of wisdom.

H ikmah, a Noun Derived from the Root h -k-m

Arabic lexicographers report that the meaning of the word h ikmah

itself is very closely related to the meaning of h ukm and thus to adl,
ilm and h ilm27 on the basis of the fact that each of these words includes
a sense of preventing a person from doing or committing something
not good. Their articulations can quite possibly be read in light of the
idea of wisdom in its general sense. Ibn Fris (d. 395/1005) argues
that like the word h ukm, whose original meaning is preventing a
person from committing an injustice (al-man min al-zulm), h ikmah
connotes a sense of restraining, for it prevents a person from igno-
rance ( jahl).28 This semantic proximity between the words h ukm and
h ikmah can be seen in narrations in which h ukm and h ikmah are used
interchangeably. Regarding the word h ukm in the two sayings, inna
min al-shiri la-h ukman (indeed some poetry is h ukm) and al-samtu
h ukmun wa-qallun filuhu (silence is a h ukm, but only a few practice
it), some narrations record the word h ikmah instead of h ukm.29

Ibn Manzr, 2:951952.
Al-Khall b. Ahmad, 3:66; Isml b. Abbd, 3:387; Ibn Sdah, 3:50; Ibn Manzr,
Ibn Fris, Mujam, 1:311; Ibn Fris, Mujmal, 2:94.
Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:951952; al-Zabd, 16:165.
the derivation of the word h ikmah 19

Jhiz (d. 255/869) cites a verse by the pre-Islamic poet Zabbn b.

Sayyr, in which Zabbn mocks his fellow Nbighahs superstition. The
story behind the poem is the following: Zabbn and Nbighah decided
to set out on a raid (ghazw). Just before their departure, a locust fell
onto Nbighah; he considered this an evil sign and preferred to stay
behind. When Zabbn came back from the raid safely, he composed
the verse:
takhabbara tayrahu fh Ziydun li-tukhbirahu wa-m fh khabru
aqma ka-anna Luqmna bna din ashra lahu bi-h ikmatihi mushru30
A possible translation of this verse would be:
Ziyd [Nbighah] consulted his omen about it to tell him, but he does
not have any experience with omens;
He stayed [behind], as if Luqmn b. d were guiding him with his
Zabbn uses the words h ikmah and khabr together in this poem,
apparently implying the intimate relationship between wise sayings
and experience.32
Ibn Durayd (d. 321/933) defines h ikmah as it appears in the report
(khabar), H ikmah is the stray camel of the believer (dllat al-mumin)
Every word that exhorts you (waazatka), restrains you (zajaratka), and
calls you (daatka) to a noble deed or deters you (nahatka) from a dis-
graceful thing/deed is a h ikmah and h ukm. And this is the interpretation
of the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, Indeed, some poetry is h ukm
and some eloquent style (bayn) is magic (sih r).33
Some other scholars define the word h ukm in this h adth as profit-
able discourse (kalm nfi) restraining a person from ignorance and
foolish behavior (safah) and forbidding them.34 It is also explained as
admonitions (mawiz) and proverbs (amthl) profitable to men,35
as mentioned above.

Al-Jh iz, Kitb al-H ayawn, ed. Abd al-Salm Muhammad Hrn (Cairo, 1966
1969), 5:555.
I have followed Gutas translation with some modifications of my own. Gutas,
Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 51.
Ibid., 51.
Ibn Durayd, 1:564.
Ibn al-Athr, 223; al-Zabd, 16:165.
Al-Zabd, 16:165.
20 chapter one

Following previous lexicographical authorities, al-Zabd (d.

1205/1791) argues that, like the word h ukm, h ikmah means justice in
judgment (al-adl f al-qad). He gives a more sophisticated definition
than those of his predecessors. He asserts that the word h ikmah denotes
Knowledge of the true natures of things and action in accordance with
their requirements (al-ilmu bi-h aqiqi al-ashyi al m hiya alayhi
wa-al-amalu bi-muqtadh). It is divided into a theoretical (ilmiyyah)
and a practical (amaliyyah) part. Some scholars state that h ikmah is
a quality of the intellectual faculty (hayat al-quwwah al-aqliyyah
al-ilmiyyah); and this is the metaphysical h i kmah (al-h i kmah
al-ilhiyyah), i.e., metaphysics. The h ikmah in the Qurnic verse 31:12,
We (God) gave Luqmn h ikmah, refers to the evidence of the intellect
in accordance with the rules of the religious law (ah km al-sharah).
Some other authorities define h ikmah as the attainment of that which
is true/right by knowledge and action/deed. Thus, in relation to God,
the word h ikmah means the knowledge of things and their origination
in the most perfect manner, while it means knowledge and doing of
good deeds when applied to man.36 Apparently al-Zabd defines the
concept of h ikmah in Muslim scholarship in an interdisciplinary context.
In his analysis, he derives information extensively from philosophical
as well as legal statements regarding this term.
The word h ikmah also occurs in the sense of forbearance (h ilm),
which in turn means controlling (dabt) ones own soul and temper in
the incitement of anger (hayajn al-ghadab). If this definition is correct,
then it is close to the meaning of justice (adl ).37
Arabic lexicographers exemplify their definitions for the word h ikmah
through Qurnic citations. For instance, mentioning the basic mean-
ings of h ikmah as adl, ilm, and h ilm, Ibn Sdah analyzes h ikmah in
two Qurnic verses as follows:
Regarding h ikmah in the verse, 2:269, He (God) gives the h ikmah to
whomever He wills, there are two definitions: prophethood and the
Qurn. The Qurn is sufficient as h ikmah, for the people during the
Prophets lifetime became knowledgeable through it after [a time of]
ignorance. As for the word h ikmah in the verse, 43:63, And when Jesus
came with the clear signs he said, I have come to you with the h ikmah,
it means the Gospel (Injl).38

Ibid., 16:161.
Ibn Sdah, 3:50.
the derivation of the word h ikmah 21

Ibn Sdahs explanations on the basis of these two verses imply that
he identifies these h ikmahsboth are definiteprimarily with the
institution of prophethood or revelation; in the first case he attributes
h ikmah to the Qurn and in the second one to the Gospel.
Al-Zabd introduces quite an elaborate discussion of the meaning of
the word h ikmah in the Qurn. He lists three verses in which, accord-
ing to him, h ikmah means prophethood, as in 3:48, He (God) will
teach him (Jesus) the Book and the h ikmah; 2:251, God gave him
(David) the kingship and the h ikmah; and 38:20, We (God) gave
him (David) the h ikmah. The word h ikmah occurs also in the sense of
the Qurn, the Torah, and the Gospel, for each of these comprises the
h ikmah of that which is spoken (al-h ikmah al-mantq bih), which is the
secrets of the sciences of the Law and the Path (asrr ulm al-sharah
wa-al-tarqah). These heavenly books also contain the h ikmah of that
which is not spoken, or ineffable h ikmah (al-h ikmah al-maskt anh),
which is the science of the secrets of the Divine Essence (ilm asrr
al-h aqqah al-ilhiyyah).39 In this last section of his discussion, al-Zabd
evidently refers to Sufi terminology.
Al-Zabd mentions the verse 2:269, He (God) gives h ikmah to
whomever He wants, and whoever is given h ikmah has been given much
good and argues that the word h ikmah here means [knowledge of] the
interpretation of the Qurn and speaking that which is correct regarding
it. Al-Zabd further defines the h ikmah as obedience to God (tat
Allh), comprehension in matters of religion (al-fiqh f al-dn) and
acting in accordance with it (al-amal bihi), understanding ( fahm),
pious fear (khashyah), moral scrupulousness (wara), doing/say-
ing that which is right (isbah), and reflecting (tafakkur) upon the
command[s] of God and adherence to them.40 Al-Zabd simply lists
all these definitions for the h ikmah in this verse, but without providing
any further attestations (shawhid), Qurnic or otherwise.
The word h ikmah is also defined as knowledge of the most excel-
lent things by the most excellent [kind of] knowledge (marifat afdal
al-ashy bi-afdal al-ulm). Accordingly, the h akm is the one who
executes the niceties of the crafts masterfully and perfects them ( yuh sin
daqiq al-sint wa-yutqinuh).41 This is one of the basic philosophical

Al-Zabd, 16:161.
Ibn Manzr, 2:951.
22 chapter one

definitions of h ikmah, as I discuss in detail in part iv. Al-Frzbd

(d. 817/1415) summarizes the explanations by the previous authorities
and states that depending on its context, the word h ikmah could mean
adl, ilm, h ilm, nubuwwah, the Qurn and the Gospel alike.42

Other Derivatives of the Root h -k-m

The words al-h akam, al-h akm, and al-h kim, including ah kam
al-h kimn (the most qualified to judge among those who judge or
the most capable of those who possess the attribute of h ikmah) are
among the names of God mentioned in the Qurn.43 God is the Just
judge in His judgment,44 He is the possessor of h ikmah45 and of h ukm.46
With regard to their usage as attributes of God, the meanings of the
words al-h akam, al-h akm, and al-h kim are very close to each other.47
In addition, the words h akam, h akm, and h kim are used to describe
human qualities; a knowledgeable person or possessor of h ikmah is
called h akm. A person who does things perfectly or masterfully is
named h akm as well.48
As to its morphological pattern, Arabic lexicographers assert that the
word h akm in the pattern of fal could semantically be associated with
h kim, muh kim, or muh kam, in the patterns of fil (i.e., active participle
of the first form), mufil (i.e., active participle of the fourth form), or
mufal (i.e., passive participle of the fourth form), respectively.
According to Majd al-Dn Ibn al-Athr (d. 606/1209), the words
h akam and h akm are among the Most Beautiful Names of God, and
both words denote al-h kim, which in turn means judge (qd). In mor-
phological terms, the word h akm is in the pattern of fal in the sense
of fil (i.e., h kim); or he (the h akm) is one who perfects things, thus
it is in the pattern of fal in the sense of mufil (i.e., muh kim). Some
scholars argue that h akm is the possessor of h ikmah (dh al-h ikmah)
and h ikmah means knowledge of the most excellent of things by the
most excellent [kind] of knowledge. H akm is also used to describe

Al-Frzbd, 3:97.
See for instance, 6:114, 2:32, 2:129, 7:87, 10:109, 11:45, 95:8.
Ibn Durayd, 1:564.
Isml b. Abbd, 3:386.
Ibn Manzr, 2:951.
Al-Jawhar, 5:225; Ibn Manzr, 2:953.
the derivation of the word h ikmah 23

those who execute the niceties of the crafts masterfully and perfect
them.49 Ibn Manzr mentions other words on the pattern fal that
possess the same meaning in their fil pattern, such as the words qadr
(powerful ) and alm (knowledgeable) as in the senses of qdir and
lim,50 respectively, but he does not mention any word in the pattern
of fal as in the sense of mufil.
Regarding the h adth describing the Qurn, It (the Qurn) is the
wise remembrance (al-dhikr al-h akm), Arabic lexicographers assert
that the word h akm here means that the Qurn is a remembrance
that decides in ones favor or against ones favor; or it denotes that
the Qurn is perfected and there is nothing in it that could be called
disagreement or defect. Thus in this context, h akm is on the pattern
of fal in the sense of mufal (i.e., muh kam).51
The semantic framework of the word and its usage are indeed highly
inclusive; this can be seen even in well-known historical events. Scholars
of the Arabic language mention Ab Ms al-Ashar and Amr b.
al-s as the two arbitrators (h akamn) between Al and Muwiyah
when the two were on the verge of declaring war on each other. A
group of people who opposed the idea of judgment between the two
parties detached themselves from Al and on this occasion, the term
Khawrij (lit., those who go out) was coined to designate them. As the
oldest religious sect in Islam, they were called the muh akkimah because
they rejected the judgment of the h akamayn. In their view, judgment
(h ukm) belonged only to God (l h ukma ill li-Allh);52 this was their
slogan against Al and Muwiyah, and from this their appellation was
derived. These people were also called the H arriyyah and, referring to
their disallowance of any judgment other than by God, the expression
tah km al-h arriyyah was coined to describe their situation.53
Ibn Abbd (d. 385/995) refers to another meaning of the word
h akm closely related to the very basic meaning of the root h -k-m, that
is, to prevent, restrain, or withhold. He states that the h akm is the

Ibn al-Athr, 222223; Ibn Manzr, 2:951.


Ibn Manzr, 2:951.

Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:952; al-Zabd, 16:165.
Al-Jawhar, 5:227; Ibn Sdah, 3:50; Ibn Manzr, 2:952; al-Zabd, 16:160.
Al-Khall b. Ahmad, 3:67; al-Azhar, 4:114; Isml b. Abbd, 3:387; Ibn Sdah,
3:50; Ibn Manzr, 2:952953; al-Zabd, 16:160. In fact, the appellation H arriyyah
derived from H arr, a certain town of Kufa, where those people first assembled and
professed the doctrine that judgment belongs only to God. For further detail, see,
E. W. Lane H arriyyah in Arabic-English Lexicon (Lahore, 1978).
24 chapter one

person who holds his soul back from its caprice and who is vigilant
(mutayaqqiz).54 The expression h akuma al-rajulu is used to praise a
person when he attains and becomes imbued with the very meaning of
this quality.55 When a person becomes a wise man (h akm), the expres-
sion qad ah kamathu al-tajribu (experiences have rendered him firm
or sound in judgment) is used to portray his condition.56
In addition to their mention of the Qurnic occurrences of h ukm
and/or h ikmah as attributes of God, the Qurn, prophets, and Luqmn,
lexicographers list some wise men and women among the Arabs of pre-
Islamic times (h ukam and h ukkm/h akmt al-Arab f al-jhiliyyah).
They mention for instance, Aktham b. Sayf, H jib b. Zurrah, Abd
al-Mut t alib (the Prophets grandfather), and Ab T lib (the Prophets
paternal uncle) among the h ukam al-Arab f al-jhiliyyah. As for wise
women (h akmt), scholars list the names, for instance, of Suhr bint
Luqmn, Hind bint al-Khuss, Jumah bint H bis, and Ibnat mir b.
al-Z arib.57 The tribe of Tamm were known for their wisdom and Ibn
Durayd mentions that Aktham b. Sayf, who belonged to this tribe,
was one of the foremost h ukam al-Arab. Aktham uttered many wise
sayings (lah kalm kathr f al-h ikmah).58 At the same time, a person
advanced in age is described as h akam.59
Arabic lexicographers define the words muh akkam and muh akkim
as well. They cite the verse by T arafah b. Abd (d. 560? c.e.), who
employed the word muh akkam, I wish that the muh akkam and the
admonished one (mawz) [myself] would be your voice at the time
when that which is false becomes visible.60 Scholars define the word,
as used here, as an old man strengthened by experiences [in affairs]
to whom h ikmah is attributed.61

Isml b. Abbd, 3:387.
Al-Azhar, 4:114.
Al-Azhar, 4:113; al-Zamakhshar, Ass al-balghah, 89; Ibn Manzr, 2:953.
Al-Frzbd, 3:97; al-Zabd, 16:160164. They also report some people named
by the words derived from the root h -k-m, such as H akam, H akm/H akmah, H akkm,
Ahkam, and the like.
Ignaz Goldziher, Muslim Studies II, ed. S.M. Stern (New York, 1971), 191.
Isml b. Abbd, 3:388; al-Saghn, 5:618; al-Frzbd, 3:97; al-Zabd, 16:163.
Al-Saghn, 5:618; Ibn Fris, Mujam, 1:311; Ibn Fris, Mujmal, 2:94; Ibn Manzr,
2:953; al-Zabd, 16:163. Text in al-Zabd, 16:163, layta l-muh akkama wa-l-mawza
sawtakum tah ta t-turbi idh m l-btilu (i)n-kashaf.
Al-Jawhar, 5:227; al-Saghn, 5:618; Ibn Fris, Mujam, 1:311; Ibn Fris, Mujmal
2:94; al-Zamakhshar, Ass al-balghah, 89; Ibn Manzr, 2:953; al-Frzbd, 3:97;
al-Zabd, 16:163.
the derivation of the word h ikmah 25

The expression muh akkam f nafsihi denotes a person who is

forced to judge with regard to himself, or more particularly, a person
who is obliged to make a choice between denial of God and slaughter,
and chooses slaughter. In this context, lexicographical authorities cite
a h adth, Verily Paradise is for the muh akkamn. Historically speak-
ing, the muh akkamn were a group of individuals among the people
called Ashb al-Ukhdd (the People of the Pit) who fell into the hands
of the enemy. When they were put in the very critical situation of mak-
ing a choice between being killed (qatl ) and denial of God (kufr), they
chose to remain steadfast in their monotheism and be slaughtered.62
The same meaning can be attested in another h adth narrated by Kab
[al-Ahbr] (d. 32/652), Verily, there is a house in Paradise and only
a prophet, upright person (siddq), martyr (shahd), or muh akkam f
nafsihi can reside in it.63 As for the word muh akkim, it is defined as a
person who treats himself without discrimination or privilege (munsif
f nafsihi).64 Scholars also mention that this word describes a person
who has control over himself.65

Al-Jawhar, 5:227; Ibn Fris, Mujam, 1:311; Ibn Fris, Mujmal, 2:9495;
al-Zamakhshar, Ass al-balghah, 89; Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:953;
al-Frzbd, 3:97; al-Zabd, 16:163. The Ashb al-Ukhdd in this context seems
to refer to the Christians of Najrn slaughtered by Dh Nuws around 523 ce. The
expression occurs in the Qurn (85:48), Slain were the People of the Pit, the fire
abounding in fuel, when they were seated over it and were themselves witnesses of
what they did with the believers. They took revenge on them only because they believed
in the All-Mighty, the All-Praiseworthy. Muslim scholars report various interpreta-
tions for the Ashb al-Ukhdd. In addition to the Christians of Najrn, they state that
the expression may be an eschatological reference. For a list of the interpretations
see, Rudi Paret, Ashb al-Ukhdd, EI; Roberto Tottoli, The People of the Ditch,
Encyclopedia of the Qurn, ed. Jane D. McAuliffe (Leiden, 2007).
Ibn Manzr, 2:953; al-Zabd, 16:163. One may speculate that this h adth could be
a personal reference to the Prophet Muhammad and the first three of the al-Khulaf
al-Rshidn (rightly-guided caliphs), for Ab Bakr was known as the siddq, Umar
was assassinated and thus became a martyr, and Uthmn, in a sense, allowed himself
to be killed.
Ibn al-Athr, 223; Ibn Manzr, 2:953; al-Zabd, 16:163.
Al-Azhar, 4:115.
Chapter two

H ikmah in Terminological Dictionaries

Ulm al-Qurn Literature

The word h ikmah as used in the Qurn is analyzed in various lex-

icographically-oriented disciplines of exegesis such as the wujh
wa-al-nazir1 and gharb al-Qurn2 works that elucidate Qurnic
vocabulary in detail. Muqtil b. Sulaymn (d. 150/767) argues that the
word h ikmah in the Qurn has five meanings (wujh):
a.It means admonitions (mawiz) that exist in the Qurn regarding
commanding and prohibiting (min al-amr wa-al-nahy). This is the
meaning of h ikmah in 2:231, And [remember] what He (God) has
sent down on/to you of the Book (kitb) and h ikmah. In this context,
Muqtil explains the word kitb as the Qurn, and h ikmah as the
admonitions in the Qurn regarding commanding (amr), prohibiting
(nahy), the lawful (h all ), and unlawful (h arm). He presents other
exemplary verses from the Qurn in which the word h ikmah is used
in the sense of admonition, such as 4:113, God has sent down on
you the kitb and h ikmah; 3:48, He (God) will teach him (Jesus) the
kitb and h ikmah; 19:12, We (God) gave him (John) h ukm [when
he was] yet a little child (sabiyyan). In this last Qurnic occurrence,
Muqtil explains the word h ukm as understanding (fahm) and knowl-
edge (ilm). Actually, this explanation fits more properly in the second
category in which Muqtil explains both h ikmah and h ukm as fahm
and ilm.3

This branch of Qurnic sciences (ulm al-Qurn) focuses on multivalent and
synonymous words in the Qurn. More literally speaking, the wujh explains seman-
tical expansion of the same word having multiple meanings upon different occasions
of mention in the Qurn, such as hud (explanation, religion, belief, inviter...), salh
(belief, well-being, gentleness...), rh (mercy, a certain angel, Gabriel, revelation,
Jesus), and the like. The nazir, on the other hand, deals with different words having
the same meaning in the Qurn, such as jahannam, nr, saqar, h utamah, and jah m,
all of which mean hell. See for instance, Muqtil b. Sulaymn, Kitb al-Wujh wa-al-
nazir, ed. Ali zek (Istanbul, 1993).
The gharb al-Qurn literature elucidates uncommon or ambiguous words in
the Qurn. See for instance, Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, ed. Ahmad Saqr
(Cairo, 1958) and al-Rghib al-Isfahn, Mufradt alfz al-Qurn, ed. Safwn Adnn
Dwd (Damascus, 1992).
Muqtil, Kitb al-Wujh, 29; Muqtil b. Sulaymn, al-Ashbh wa-al-nazir f
al-Qurn al-Karm, ed. Abd Allh Mahmd Shahtah (Cairo, 1975), 112. In order to
28 chapter two

b.The word h ukmMuqtil uses the word h ukm rather than h ikmah
and apparently groups them togethermeans understanding ( fahm)
and knowledge (ilm). This occurs in verses 31:12, Indeed, We (God)
gave Luqmn the h ikmah; 21:79, We (God) gave each of them
(David and Solomon) h ukm and ilm; and 6:89, Those are they to
whom We (God) gave the kitb and h ukm.
c.The word h ikmah means prophethood (nubuwwah). Examples of
this occurrence are in the verses 4:54, We (God) gave the people of
Abraham the Book and h ikmah; 38:20, We (God) gave him (David)
h ikmah and decisive speech (fasl al-khitb); and 2:251, God gave
him (David) kingship (mulk) and h ikmah.
d.The word h ikmah means interpretation (tafsr) of the Qurn as it
comes in the verse 2:269, Whoever is given the h ikmah, he is indeed
given much good.
e.The h ikmah means the Qurn, as it occurs in 16:125, Call to the way
of your Lord with the h ikmah.4
In his work al-Tasrf, Yahy b. Sallm (known also as Ibn Sallm)
(d. 200/815) introduces a semantic categorization for the word h ikmah
very similar to that of Muqtil. He, too, says that the word h ikmah has
five meanings (wujh):
a.It means [the notion or institution of] the prophetic practice
(sunnah)Ibn Sallm uses the word sunnah here instead of mawiz,
which is used by Muqtilthat exists in the Qurn with respect to
commanding, prohibiting, lawful, and unlawful. Ibn Sallm cites the
same verses that Muqtil does and concludes that in all these Qurnic
instances the word h ikmah is used in the sense of sunnah. Ibn Sallm
notes also that the historical origin of this definition goes back to
Qatdah (d. 118/736), who says that the words kitb and h ikmah
mean the Qurn and sunnah, respectively.
b.The word h ikmah means understanding ( fahm) and intellect/reason
(aql);5 Ibn Sallm uses the word aql instead of ilm, which is used by
Muqtil. This is the case in verse 19:12, in which Ibn Sallm explains
the word h ukm as fahm and aql. Muqtil mentions this verse under
the first category. Ibn Sallm provides a more reasonable classification
by placing this verse under the second category. In addition to the

make sure that this is not an editorial mistake, I have checked two different editions
of the book, but both editions available show the same categorization, thus an editorial
mistake can be, presumably, ruled out.
Muqtil, Kitb al-Wujh, 2829.
The word aql has subtle and comprehensive connotations in early Muslim writ-
ings. Accordingly, throughout the book I will use various English translations of this
word (intellect, intelligence, reason, rationality, mind, understanding, and the like)
depending on the context.
h ikmah in terminological dictionaries 29

verses cited by Muqtil, Ibn Sallm quotes two other verses describing
Josephs and Moses heavenly gift as being granted h ukm, 12:22, We
(God) gave him (Joseph) h ukm and ilm; and 28:14, We (God) gave
him (Moses) h ukm and ilm. Ibn Sallm asserts that the word h ukm
in these verses denotes aql and fahm.
It is worth mentioning that neither Muqtil nor Ibn Sallm distinguish
between h ikmah and h ukm in the Qurnic texts. This occurrence could
be a result of the linguistic convention that used the two words inter-
changeably, as I have discussed previously.
c.The word h ikmah means prophethood (nubuwwah). Ibn Sallm cites
the same Qurnic verses (i.e., 4:54, 38:20, and 2:251) as Muqtil does
in his classification above.
d.H ikmah means the Qurn externally (zhiran) and knowledge of its
interpretation (ilm tafsrih). This meaning comes in 2:269, Who-
ever is given h ikmah, i.e., the knowledge of that which exists in the
Qurn and reading of it externally or according to its apparent mean-
ing (qiratahu zhiran), is indeed given much good. Ibn Sallms
emphasis on the apparent meaning of the Qurn might refer to the
principle in Muslim exegetical studies that every kind of interpretive
attempt in relation to the Qurn should emerge out of the outward
senses of Qurnic statements.
e.The word h ikmah means the Qurn itself, as it occurs in 16:125, Call
to the way of your Lord with the h ikmah i.e., with the Qurn.6
In his work, Tah s l nazir al-Qurn, al-H akm al-Tirmidh (d. ca.
300/910) provides four meanings for the word h ikmah: comprehen-
sion (fiqh), knowledge (ilm), prophethood (nubuwwah), and judging
between people (al-qad bayn al-khalq). Al-Tirmidh introduces his
explanations in a sophisticated Sufi tone. He asserts that h ikmah is the
esoteric dimension of knowledge (btin al-ilm). The exoteric (zhir)
dimension is for the scholars of Gods command (al-ulam bi-amr
Allh). The esoteric dimension is for the scholars of God (al-ulam

Yahy b. Sallm, al-Tasrf, ed. Hind Shalab (Tunis, 1979), 201203. Within this
framework, al-Imm al-Shfi (d. 204/820) asserts that in the Qurnic instances where
the words kitb and h ikmah are mentioned together, the h ikmah refers to the Sun-
nah of the Prophet. Muhammad b. Idrs al-Shfi, al-Rislah, ed. Muhammad Sayyid
Kln (Cairo, 1983), 4445. Another author on al-wujh wa-al-nazir literature,
al-Damaghn (d. 478/1085), gives exactly the same five-fold semantic classification as
Muqtil does for the meaning of the word h ikmah. Al-Damaghn argues that h ikmah
mentioned in the Qurn is of five meanings (awjuh), as mawizah, fahm and ilm,
nubuwwah, tafsr al-Qurn, and al-Qurn. H usayn b. Muhammad al-Damaghn,
Islh al-wujh wa-al-nazir, ed. Abd al-Azz Sayyid al-Ahl (Beirut, 1970), 141142.
30 chapter two

bi-Allh) and the scholars of Gods governing (al-ulam bi-tadbr

Allh). The last two groups differ substantially from the first group, for
the scholars of Gods commands are not knowledgeable of God and
His h ikmah. On a more exoteric plane, al-Tirmidh considers h ikmah
as an indispensable quality for an honest judgment between people and
accordingly he defines it as al-qad bayn al-khalq.7 In another work,
al-Tirmidh elucidates his argument on the fundamental difference
between the two modes of knowledge (zhir and btin) and asserts
that certain subtle meanings, including the meaning of h ikmah, can be
understood only by distinguished scholars (khss al-ulam) who are
the h ukam. In his view, the scholars of the zhir cannot comprehend
these delicate meanings.8
Relying on its lexicographical meaning, Muhammad b. Uzayr
al-Sijistn (d. 329/941) asserts that the word h ikmah in the Qurnic
verse 16:125 is a name for intellect (aql ). Aql is called h ikmah on
account of the fact that it guards or prevents its owner from ignorance
(jahl). He also mentions that the expression h akamat al-dbbah (bit of
the beast) comes from the same meaning because it prevents the beast
from acting in a recalcitrant or obstreperous manner.9
In his work, Mufradt alfz al-Qurn, al-Rghib al-Isfahn
(d. 502/1108) presents a relatively comprehensive entry for the root
h -k-m. He cites definitions by the earlier Arabic lexicographers who
report that the original meaning of h akama is manaa li-al-islh (to
prevent, restrain, withhold for the sake of doing good) and the expres-
sion h akamat al-dbbah comes from the same original meaning. In
the legal context, al-Isfahn defines the word h ukm as judgment or
judicial decision concerning a thing, that it is such a thing, or is not
such a thing, whether it is necessarily connected with another thing
or not.10
For the word h ikmah itself, al-Isfahn asserts that it means the
attainment of that which is true by knowledge and intellect (isbat

Al-H akm al-Tirmidh, Tah s l nazir al-Qurn, ed. H usn Nasr Zaydn (Cairo,
1969), 10708. The expressions ulam bi-Allh and ulam bi-tadbr Allh seem to
refer to the notion of awliy (saints or friends of God), for Sufis believe that awliy
possess particularly the knowledge of God and His actions.
Al-Tirmidh, Tah s l, 156 and 365366.
Muhammad b. Uzayr al-Sijistn, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, ed. Muhammad
al-Sdiq Qamhw (Egypt, 1970), 105.
Al-Rghib al-Isfahn, 248.
h ikmah in terminological dictionaries 31

al-h aqq bi-al-ilm wa-al-aql).11 Interestingly, al-Isfahn employs the

word aql rather than amal (action or deed), which we find in the defi-
nitions of the earlier Arabic philologists.12 A reasonable explanation
for this could be that, orthographically speaking, the words al-amal
and al-aql are written very much alike; thus this could be a simple
mistake by the person who copied or edited the original manuscript.
The same could be true in the aforementioned case of Ibn Sallm, who
defines h ikmah as aql instead of ilm, which is Muqtils definition.
Considering this kind of possibility, I would hestitate to make conclu-
sive arguments about such small differences in the texts. Still, based
on the original meanings of the two roots h -k-m and -q-l, which is
manaa, we could argue that al-Isfahn gives this definition deliber-
ately. The semantic similarity between the two roots can also be seen
in the words h akamah (bit) and iql (cord/rope used for hobbling the
feet of a camel) that both denote a means of restraining a beast.
In al-Isfahns view, there is a difference in the sense of the word
h ikmah when it is applied to God and to a human being. With respect
to God, h ikmah means knowledge of things and their creation in
utmost perfection (marifat al-ashy wa-jdih al ghyat al-ih km).
When it is used in reference to a human being, on the other hand,
h ikmah means knowledge of creation and doing good deeds (marifat
al-mawjdt wa-fil al-khayrt); this is the meaning that occurs in the
Qurn to describe Luqmn in 31:12, Indeed We gave Luqmn the
h ikmah. In the same way, the word h akm refers to different meanings
when it is applied to God as opposed to other things; for example, in
95:8, Is not God the most just of judges? (a laysa Allh bi-ah kam
al-h kimn),13 the word refers to God; while in 10:2, Those are the
signs of the h akm book (al-kitb al-h akm), h akm refers to the Qurn
and implies h ikmah. Again in 54:5, far-reaching, complete, or perfect
h ikmah (h ikmah blighah), the word h ikmah indicates the Qurn.
Al-Isfahn mentions that some people argue that when it refers to the
Qurn, the word h akm means muh kam (set clear, precise, or perfect),
as in 11:1, Whose verses are set clear, precise, or perfected (uh kimat

Ibid., 249.

Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, 32.

Apparently, al-Rghib al-Isfahn uses h akm and hkim as synonyms in this con-
32 chapter two

ytuh). In al-Isfahns view, both explanations (h ikmah and h akm)

are correct for describing the Qurn.14
Furthermore, al-Isfahn introduces a semantic comparison between
the words h ukm and h ikmah. He argues that h ukm is a more general
term than h ikmah, for every h ikmah is a h ukm, but not vice versa. H ukm
means deciding judicially regarding one thing with respect to another
thing. One would say, It is such a thing, or not such a thing. In this
context, al-Isfahn interprets the word h ikmah in the h adth, Indeed,
some poetry is h ikmah, as true proposition (qadiyyah sdiqah).15
Al-Isfahn also mentions five previous definitions given for the word
h ukm and h ikmah as 1) interpretation of the Qurn; 2) knowledge
of the Qurn respecting its abrogating passages, and clear or ambigu-
ous statements; 3) knowledge of the Qurnic verses; 4) prophethood;
and 5) realities of the Qurn that are peculiar to some distinguished
prophets. Of the h ikmah peculiar to some distinguished prophets is
the knowledge of muh kam and mutashbih verses mentioned in 3:7.
Al-Isfahn asserts that the meaning of a muh kam statement is clear
and no doubt would arise regarding it with respect to its wording (lafz)
or meaning (man).16

Other Types of Dictionaries

In addition to the above-mentioned kinds of works that are specifically

devoted to Qurnic vocabulary, there are other lexicographical works
in which we see noteworthy statements concerning the root h -k-m and
its derivatives.17 For instance, in his work al-Furq al-lughawiyyahin
which he deals with synonymous words in the Arabic language as well
as with the subtle differences between themAb Hill al-Askar
(d. 389/993) elucidates the semantic difference between the words lim
and h akm. He asserts that h akm has three meanings:

Al-Rghib al-Isfahn, 249.
Ibid., 249250.
Ibid., 250251.
A discussion of the word h ikmah in h adth dictionaries has been covered, in
part, in an earlier mention of related materials in the example of al-Nihyah f gharb
al-h adth wa-al-athar by Ibn al-Athr, thus, I omit a subsection on this genre of litera-
ture. In part ii, I examine h ikmah in early Muslim exegetical works and treat h ikmah
in the statements of the Prophet in the context of related Qurnic verses.
h ikmah in terminological dictionaries 33

a.It means muh kim, which is the active participle of the verb ah kama
(to perfect, do well), just as the word bad means mubdi (creator)
and sam means musmi (the one who has s.o. listen [to him]).18
Al-Askars first example looks appropriate, but the second one does
not seem to support his classification, for the sam does not, precisely,
mean musmi.
b.It means muh kam, which is the passive participle of the same verb,
as it (h akm) occurs in the Qurn 44:4, On that night every precise
matter (amr h akm) is made distinct. The word h akm here means
muh kam. If God is described by the word h ikmah in this sense, it
would be among His attributes of action (min sift filih).19
Apparently, in this and the following categories, al-Askar is referring
to a theological (kalm) question regarding the attributes of God. In
this context, the theologians (mutakallimn) categorize the attributes
of God found in the Qurn under two major groups, namely the
attributes of essence (sift al-dht) and the attributes of action (sift
al-fil). The first group of attributes, such as oneness (tawhd) and
eternity (qidam), belongs peculiarly to God, to the exclusion of other
beings. Accordingly, one may not describe a human being with these
attributes. As for the second group, the attributes of action, in addi-
tion to God, other beings may be described by these attributes, such
as knowledgeable (alm) and generous (karm), even though the
nature of these attributes differs substantially when we apply them to
God as opposed to other beings. It should be noted that this categori-
zation of the divine attributes is a highly controversial subject matter in
Muslim theological discussions. In general, Sunn theologians embrace
it, while the Mutazil mutakallimn do not draw any distinction of this
kind between the attributes of God found in the Qurn.20
c.It means the person knowledgeable about the correct determinations
of things (al-lim bi-ah km al-umr) and the word h akm in this
context is more specific than the word lim. If God is described by
the word h akm in this sense, then it would be among His attributes
of essence (min sift dhtih).21
Considering his explanations here, it would seem that al-Askar does
not precisely follow the prevailing understanding of the theological

Ab Hill al-Askar, al-Furq al-lughawiyyah, ed. Muhammad Ibrhm Salm
(Cairo, 1998), 96.
For further details see, Daniel Gimaret, Sifa, EI.
Al-Askar, al-Furq al-lughawiyyah, 96.
34 chapter two

question concerning the attributes of God, for he does not base his
distinction between the attributes of God on whether the attribute in
question belongs to God exclusively or not. Instead, he seems to base
his categorization on the quality or the level of perfection of the attri-
bute. His categorization, therefore, does not conform exactly to the
sift discussions in kalm in the technical sense.
A respected author on technical vocabulary in Islamic scholarly dis-
ciplines, al-Sayyid al-Sharf al-Jurjn (d. 816/1413), defines the word
h ikmah according to its context. He treats h ikmah as a term in various
Islamic disciplines and elucidates it accordingly. He enumerates five
definitions for the word h ikmah, as follows.22
a.H ikmah is a scholarly discipline (ilm) with which one searches for
the realities of things as they are in existence in accordance with the
capacity of man; thus it is a theoretical discipline (ilm nazar), not
an instrumental ( ghayr l) one. H ikmah is also the configuration
of the scholarly intellectual faculty (hayat al-quwwah al-aqliyyah
al-ilmiyyah), intermediary (al-mutawassit ah) between deception ( jar-
bazah), which is an exaggeration (ifrt) of this faculty, and stupidity
(baldah), which is falling short of it (tafrtuh).23
Evidently, al-Jurjn here defines h ikmah as a philosophical and ethical
term. I will discuss this definition of h ikmah in detail in part iv, where
I elaborate on the concept of h ikmah in early philosophical literature,
especially in the case of Ibn Sn (d. 428/1037).
The next definition of h ikmah in al-Jurjns al-Tarft is more puz-
zling, as it contains more than one item under the same definition. It
does not seem to reflect his own categorization, but all the editions of
the book that I have consulted have the same classification. Here is a
possible translation:

Here I follow the enumeration of the editor, Abd al-Rahmn Umayrah. I have
consulted two other (uncritical ) editions of the al-Tarft, and they have the same
categorization regarding the word h ikmah. The first is the Istanbul edition published
in 1867 and the second is the Beirut edition published in 1969. In addition to h ikmah,
al-Tarft lists two other derivatives of the root h -k-m, namely, h ukm (three instances)
and h ukam (three instances).
Al-Sayyid al-Sharf al-Jurjn, al-Tarft, ed. Abd al-Rahmn Umayrah (Beirut,
1987), 124.
h ikmah in terminological dictionaries 35

b.H ikmah has three meanings: creation (jd), knowledge (ilm), and
triangular24 (celestial) acts (al-af l al-muthallathah) just like the sun,
moon, and the others.
Ibn Abbs explained the h ikmah that exists in the Qurn as learn-
ing the permitted and prohibited things.
Some scholars say that the word h ikmah, lexicographically speaking,
means knowledge together with practice (al-ilm maa al-amal).
Some others say that people benefit from h ikmah in accordance with
the capacity of mankind to decide on what is the truth in reality.
It is said that every speech that is consistent with the truth is a
h ikmah.
It is also asserted that h ikmah is reasonable speech (al-kalm
al-maql) well-protected from interpolation (al-masn an
al-h ashw).25
Apparently here al-Jurjn is interested mainly in lexicographical defini-
tions of the word hikmah, though he also introduces the definitions of
hikmah found in Qurnic exegetical literature (in the example of Ibn
Abbs) and in philosophical works (the third definition). One may,
reasonably, wonder if this categorization reflects al-Jurjns original
systematization of the concept of hikmah throughout various Islamic dis-
ciplines, or if, perhaps, it has been altered by later copyists or editors.

I use the word triangular speculatively, as an astronomical/astrological term
referring to the Triangulum, which is a constellation in the northern sky near Aries and
Andromeda. The following two words, i.e., the sun (shams) and the moon (qamar)
both being celestial entitieslead me to such an interpretation. It would seem that, with
the term al-af l al-muthallathah, al-Jurjn refers to a triad of heavenly signs, which
includes technically four groups of astronomical/astrological signs known to medieval
Muslim scholars: a) the watery three (al-muthallathah al-miyyah), b) the fiery three
(al-muthallathah al-nriyyah), c) the airy three (al-muthallathah al-hawiyyah), and
d) the earthy three (al-muthallathah al-turbiyyah). For further details in this sense,
see, for instance, F. Steingass Muthallathah in Persian-English Dictionary (Beirut,
1998). Yet I have not been able to understand exactly what al-Jurjn means by this
expression in this particular context. Other editions of the same bookincluding a
translation currently available in Persian and Frenchas well other books on the same
subject unfortunately do not offer a solution to this matter. Another speculative, but
remote, possibility could be that al-Jurjn uses the expression al-afl al-muthallathah
to refer to the actions of Hermes Trismegistus, who is described in the works of Mus-
lim writers on the history of philosophy as al-muthallath bi-al-h ikmah in the sense
of trismegistus. I will talk about h ikmah in this context in part iv in relation to
Hermes. In a similar fashion, in his entry for muthallatht, the Iranian lexicogra-
pher Al Akbar Dihkhud presents a relatively detailed explanation for the word in
an astronomical/astrological (ilm/ah km al-nujm) context. Al Akbar Dihkhud,
Lughatnmah (Tehran, 1994). I owe this final reference to A. M. Damghn.
Al-Jurjn, 124.
36 chapter two

The next definition of h ikmah is again philosophical, for it follows

exactly the same definition of h ikmah that we find in the works of Ibn
Sn, as we shall see in more detail in part iv.
c.Metaphysics (al-h ikmah al-ilhiyyah) is a scholarly discipline (ilm)
that looks into the states of the beings that exist in the external world
(ahwl al-mawjdt al-khrijiyyah) stripped of matter (al-mujarra-
dah an al-mddah), which are not within the realm of our power
and choice. Some say that it (al-h ikmah al-ilhiyyah) is the knowl-
edge of the true natures of things and action in accordance with it.
For this reason it is divided into theoretical (ilmiyyah) and practical
(amaliyyah) [parts].26
The following two definitions of h ikmah seem to have been written
from a mystical perspective, for they posit two dimensions of things,
external or exoteric and internal or esoteric.
d.The h ikmah of that which is spoken (al-h ikmah al-mantq bih) is
the sciences of the religious Law and of the Path (ulm al-sharah
e.The h ikmah of that which is not spoken (al-h ikmah al-maskt anh)
is the secrets of the reality or Divine Essence (asrr al-haqqah) that
scholars of exoteric knowledge (ulam al-rusm) and ordinary peo-
ple (awmm) cannot comprehend sufficiently; it would [even] harm
and destroy them, as it is narrated that [once], as the Prophet was
passing through some lanes of Medina together with his companions,
a woman beseeched them to go into her house and they did. They saw
a burning fire around which the children of the woman were playing.
The woman said, O Prophet of God, is God more merciful toward His
servants or (am) I toward my children? The Prophet replied, God is
surely more merciful, for He is the most merciful of those who show
mercy. She asked, O Messenger of God, do you think that I would
be willing to throw my child into this fire? He replied, No. She said,
Then how could it happen that God would throw His servants into
the fire while He is the most merciful to them? The narrator says that
tears came to the eyes of the Messenger of God and said, Exactly thus
has it been revealed to me.28

Ibid., 124125.
Ibid., 125.
Ibid., 125. Al-Jurjn defines the word h ukm immediately after h ikmah, but he
does not use h ikmah and h ukm interchangeably, as we have seen previously in the
case of other scholars. He seems to be interested in h ukm more in a legal and logical
context. He defines h ukm as follows:
a)The h ukm is predicating a thing of another [thing] (isndu amrin il khar)
positively (jban) or negatively (salbiyyan). In this way that which is not a h ukm
is inferred/deduced as the restrictive relationship (al-nisbah al-taqydiyyah).
h ikmah in terminological dictionaries 37

Al-Jurjn also defines the word h ukam according to its context.

His first definition reflects the traditional conception of a h akm in
an Islamic milieu, that is to say, the h akm is expected to combine his
speech with his actions. Accordingly al-Jurjn says: The h ukam are
the ones whose words and practices are consistent with the sunnah.29
Al-Jurjns second and third definitions of the h ukam refer to two
philosophical tendencies in the works of Muslim philosophers: the
Illuminationist/Platonic philosophers (al-h ukam al-ishrqiyyn),
who followed Plato, and the Peripatetic philosophers (al-h ukam
al-mashshn), who followed Aristotle.30
Al-Jurjns treatment of h ikmah does not provide an original con-
tribution to the definitions of this concept, rather he derives his infor-
mation mainly from philosophical and mystical literature. A more
interesting occurrence in al-Jurjns writings, however, appears in his
second definitionin fact definitionsof h ikmah, where he repeatedly
introduces new meanings of h ikmah, but under the same category and
without explaining the way he associates these meanings with each
other. Therefore, unlike other categorical definitions of h ikmah, in the
second instance, al-Jurjns discussionsif this order is his owndo
not appear a well-presented classification.
Al-Tahnaw (d. 1185/1745), another authority on technical
terms in Muslim literature, asserts that the word h ikmah originally
means the perfecting of practice and speech (itqn al-fil wa-al-
qawl wa-ih kmuhum). In a terminological sense, h ikmah is used to
describe various disciplines. It refers to philosophical sciences, includ-
ing practical and theoretical philosophy, economics, and politics. In
this context, h ikmah denotes definitive proof (h ujjah qatiyyah or
burhn) that leaves no doubt with respect to certainty, as mentioned in
the Qurnic verses 2:269, Whoever is given h ikmah, has been given
much good, and 16:125, Call to the way of your Lord with h ikmah.
In Sufi terminology, h ikmah means knowledge of the destructive
characteristics (ft) of the soul, Satan, as well as of ascetic practices

b)The h ukm is placing a thing in its original (or proper) place (wad al-shay f
mawdiih). Some say that h ukm is anything for which there is a praiseworthy
outcome (qibah mah mdah).
c)Religious judgment (al-h ukm al-shar) consists of the judgment of God
related to the acts of legally competent persons (afl al-mukallafn).
Ibid., 125.
Ibid., 125.
38 chapter two

(riydt).31 Accordingly, the word h akm designates the possessor of

the knowledge of h ikmah, of intellectual faculty, and of definitive
proof alike. Al-Tahnaws explanations for the term h akm are pri-
marily philosophically oriented. He states that the ultimate happiness
(al-sadah al-uzm) and highest degree for the rational soul (al-nafs
al-ntiqah) is the knowledge of the Creator (sni) with respect to His
possession of the attributes of perfection, freedom from imperfection
and everything that emanated from Him.32 The method leading to
this knowledge has two aspects. The first is the rational method prac-
ticed by theologians who follow one of the prophetic dispensations
(millah min milal al-anbiy), but peripatetic philosophers should be
excluded from this group. The second method is that of the people
of ascetic discipline (riydah) and spiritual struggle (mujhadah). In
their practice, these people follow sharah, and Sufis who practice
sharah are the representatives of the second, but Illuminationist/Pla-
tonic philosophers (al-h ukam al-ishrqiyyn) should be excluded
from this group. Thus each method has two levels. The first results
in perfecting the intellectual faculty and advancing in its degrees (of
excellence). The ultimate purpose of these degrees is [attaining] the
acquired intellect (al-aql al-mustafd). As for the second, its outcome
is perfecting the practical faculty and moving up in its degrees (of
excellence). On the third level of this faculty, prototypes (suwar) of
perceptions/knowables (malmt) run toward the soul by way of wit-
nessing (mushhadah), as happens in the case of al-aql al-mustafd.
But mushhadah is more perfect and more powerful than mustafd
on account of the fact that in the latter, the outcome is not free of
delusional doubts (al-shubuht al-wahmiyyah).33
Al-Tahnaw treats h ikmah as a crucial concept in the center of all
Islamic scholarly disciplines. He repeats the traditional meaning of
h ikmah in the sense of combining and perfecting speech and actions.
From this point on, al-Tahnaws expositions of h ikmah are highly
philosophical in tone, but with a mystical sense at the same time.
Basing his argument on the Qurnic verses, he identifies h ikmah with
demonstrative proof in logic. Following earlier Muslim philosophers,
he considers knowledge of h ikmah to be a highly advanced epistemo-

Al-Tahnaw, Kashshf isti lh t al-funn (Istanbul, 1900), 405406.
Ibid., 406.
Ibid., 406407.
h ikmah in terminological dictionaries 39

logical level, as he explains it in conjunction with the ultimate hap-

piness and the rational soul, and witnessing and the acquiring
intellect. In the final analysis, al-Tahnaw regards witnessing as the
most perfect degree of knowledge and he presents this mystical con-
cept within a philosophical framework.
Chapter three

Contemporary Western Scholarship on the

Meaning of H ikmah

There is not a comprehensive study in western scholarship concerning

the diverse usages of h ikmah in Muslim intellectual history. Chronologi-
cally speaking, Lon Gauthier appears to be the first to have devoted an
article to the Arabic root h -k-m and its derivatives.1 According to his
own statement, however, his attempt is only une simple esquisse2 and
therefore it falls short of examining sufficient primary lexicographical
sources to give an extensive analysis of the word. But we should, at the
same time, give Gauthier credit for calling attention to the topic within
western scholarly circles. Another authority on Islamic intellectual dis-
ciplines, Josef Horovitz, was interested mainly in the Qurnic use of
the word h ikmah. He argues that, especially in the cases in which it
is coupled with the word kitb, h ikmah refers to some parts of the
revealed books.3 His explanations are not specifically oriented toward
articulating h ikmah on a wide-ranging scale and thus they provide
only a partial definition of the word. Goichons article on h ikmah in
the Encyclopaedia of Islam is entirely oriented to a philosophical defini-
tion and does not define the term satisfactorily in its diverse applica-
tions within the interdisciplinary context of Muslim scholarship.4 The
studies most related to this exploration are those by Franz Rosenthal
and Dimitri Gutas.
In his book, Knowledge Triumphant, Rosenthal examines another
essential concept, ilm (knowledge), in the Muslim intellectual milieu.
He mentions h ikmah merely insofar as it is related to ilm. He trans-
lates h ikmah into English as wisdom; the focus of his analysis
being the western, or more properly Judaeo-Christian, distinction
between knowledge and wisdom. He reports that Syrian Christian
philosophers defined knowledge as the exact understanding of things

Lon Gauthier, La Racine arabe h -k-m et ses drivs, Homenaje a D. Francisco
Codera, ed. D. Eduardo Saavedra (Zaragoza, 1904), 435454.
Ibid., 453.
Horovitz, 7174.
A. M. Goichon, H ikma, EI.
42 chapter three

through cognitive discernment, as opposed to wisdom, which is the

good administration of knowledge. Accordingly, they said, every wis-
dom is at the same time knowledge, but not every knowledge is at the
same time wisdom.5 Christian theology in the West followed this dis-
tinction, furthering the placement of wisdom at a higher rank than
knowledge. It was Augustine who defined wisdom as the knowl-
edge of things divine in relation to knowledge, which is properly
applied to the knowledge of things human.6 With reference to God,
however, there is no distinction between wisdom and knowledge.
The distinction is relevant only to human beings, as wisdom embodies
a higher degree of knowledge and insight in the realm of both human
perceptions and theological speculation.7 Reading Arabic scholarly
materials through such an occidentally-oriented perspective distracts
Rosenthal from treating the concept of h ikmah in its indigenous Ara-
bic linguistic setting. To be fair, Rosenthals work is not a monograph
on h ikmah, and thus cannot be criticized for not providing a compre-
hensive discussion of it. My disagreement with him is mainly method-
ological in nature.
In western scholarship, Gutas should be singled out, both quantita-
tively and qualitatively, for his analysis of the concept of h ikmah in the
Muslim scholarly tradition. He has devoted two works to this subject
matter.8 I have not focused on his book, Greek Wisdom Literature in
Arabic Translation, since he deals primarily on Greco-Arabic gnomolo-
gia. It is an examination of Greek and Arabic collections that relate the
ethical sayings and anecdotes ascribed to famous philosophersespe-
cially Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. My discussion of Gutas
arguments are, rather, based on his article, Classical Arabic Wisdom
Literature: Nature and Scope. In this article he repeatedly emphasizes
that the word h ikmah, as used in pre- and early Islamic times, should
be defined as maxim.9 He uses maxim in its current and common
meaning of a general truth, fundamental principle, or rule of conduct,
especially when expressed in sententious form.10 According to his

Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant, 36.
Ibid., 36.
Ibid., 3637.
Gutas, Greek Wisdom Literature in Arabic Translation (New Haven, 1975) and
Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 4986.
Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 50.
Ibid., 76. This is the definition given in Websters Third International Dictionary,
contemporary western scholarship 43

own statement, the major Arabic lexicographers, including al-Azhar

and Ibn Manzr, however, disappoint Gutas, since they do not define
the term h ikmah in the sense of maxim. In addition to this type of
standard dictionary, more specialized lexica, such as al-Zamakhshars
(d. 538/1143) Ass al-balghah and Ab Hill al-Askars al-Furq al-
lughawiyyah do not help Gutas define h ikmah as maxim. In Gutas
view, this occurrence is doubtless due to the inherent bias of Ara-
bic lexicography in favor of religious terminology and Bedouin poetic
vocabulary, and to its exclusion of the commonly known (al-marf).11
The only dictionary in which he finds the remedy he is seeking is Ibn
Durayds Jamharah, where the author defines the word h ikmah in the
sense of maxim and, according to Gutas argument, only in this
sense. In this same context, Gutas cites Ibn Durayds aforementioned
account articulating the saying (khabar), H ikmah is the stray camel
of the believer, as
Every word that exhorts you, restrains you, and calls you to a noble
deed or deters you from a disgraceful thing/deed is a h ikmah and h ukm.
And this is the interpretation of the saying of the Prophet Muhammad,
indeed, some poetry is h ukm and some eloquent style is magic.12
One of the decisive operative factors in Gutas argument seems to
relate not to Arabic, but to English. He does not define the word wis-
dom explicitly as opposed to maxim so that we could understand
the way he draws semantic lines between the two words. The same
English dictionary that Gutas uses defines the word wisdom as 1 a:
accumulated philosophical or scientific learning: knowledge; b: abil-
ity to discern inner qualities and relationships: insight; c: good sense:
judgment; 2: a wise attitude or course of action; 3: the teachings of
the ancient wise men. In addition to the definition, a general truth,
fundamental principle, or rule of conduct, that Gutas cites, we find the
explanation, a saying of a proverbial nature for the word maxim.
Apparently, the meanings of the words wisdom and maxim are
quite concentric in the English language. When we use these words,
especially in translating from other languages, there could be some
semantic overlap between them. Providing a precise translation is,
of course, very important, but being excessively exclusive results in a
partial understanding of terms as well. I should further mention that

Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 50.


Ibn Durayd, 1:564; Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 50.

44 chapter three

Gutas is not the first western scholar to define the word h ikmah as
maxim. Gauthier, for instance, includes the word maxim in his list
of definitions for h ikmah,13 as do many contemporary Arabic-English
dictionaries, which cite the word maxim as a meaning of this Arabic
word as well.14
With regard to Gutas description of the bias of Arabic lexicogra-
phers, this is scarcely a fair judgment. They were very much concerned
with religious terminology, but as a natural outcome of the pervasive
influence that the Qurn and its vocabulary exercised on Arabic
thought, language, and literature, rather than an intentionally biased
attitude by lexicographers toward or against the materials before them.
A careful examination of the aforementioned lexicographical works
reveals that later authors quite honestly conveyed materials from the
previous generations through to the following ones. Given the fact that
as a scholarly field, lexicography is essentially a cumulative discipline,
it can hardly be unusual or blameworthy, for instance, for Ibn Manzr
or al-Zabd to rely extensively on al-Isfahn regarding some related
points. Surely Ibn Manzr or al-Zabd cannot be accused of being
biased in this respect. In Ibn Durayds specific case, the situation is
no different. He lists the meanings of the root h -k-m as adl and man
(including h akamat al-lijm),15 just as al-Khall b. Ahmad did in his
work before Ibn Durayd.16 It may also be noted that, as the main basis
of his argument, Gutas chooses a passage which is itself from a reli-
gious text. After all, Ibn Durayd is trying to define the word h ikmah
in a h adth, rather than as a commonly known (marf) word. Thus,
the basis for my methodological disagreement with Gutas is his view
of the bias of Arabic lexicographers; it is a simplistic generalization
regarding an extensive scholarly field with a long history and many
distinguished exponents.
The main passage that Gutas uses, which he claims to be the sole
passage defining the word h ikmah as maxim is Kullu kalimatin
waazatka wa-zajaratka wa-daatka il makramatin aw nahatka an
qabh in fa-hiya h ikmatun wa-h ukmun.17 I have translated this passage

Gauthier, 452.
See for instance, Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, ed. J. Milton
Cowan (Beirut, 1980) and Rh al-Baalbakk, al-Mawrid (Beirut, 1996).
Ibn Durayd, 1:564.
Al-Khall b. Ahmad, 3:6667.
Ibn Durayd, 1:564.
contemporary western scholarship 45

above as Every word that exhorts you, restrains you, and calls you to
a noble deed or deters you from a disgraceful thing/deed is a h ikmah
and h ukm. Parallel to this statement, al-Khall b. Ahmad defines the
verbal forms derived from the root h -k-m, Kullu shayin manatahu
min al-fasdi fa-qad [h akamtahu] wa-h akkamtahu wa-ah kamtahu.18
A translation of this passage would be, [For] everything that you pre-
vent from acting in a corrupt manner, you have restrained it. In both
passages, the dominant meaning of the root h -k-m is manaa, as both
al-Khall b. Ahmad and Ibn Durayd mention in their respective state-
ments regarding the sense of manaa. If we disregard the grammatical
subjects of these two sentences and focus particularly on the mean-
ings of the words derived from the root h -k-m mentioned therein, we
see that their meanings are very close. In the first, a word or saying
prevents a person from something that is not good, while in the sec-
ond, a person prevents a thing from something that is not good. In
this regard, there is no reason to single out Ibn Durayds passage as
opposed to others, such as that of al-Khall b. Ahmad. Semantically
speaking, then, the basic meaning of these derived words may not
refer solely to maxim, to the exclusion of wisdom. A maxim as
well as a wisdom/wise saying can quite reasonably prevent a person
from a disgraceful deed. Thus, I do not argue that Gutas definition of
the word as maxim is incorrect, rather I question the consistency of
his understanding of the Arabic proof texts. His categorization of the
Arabic materials does not seem to be well grounded. He seems to have
set out from preconceived conclusions and then to have arranged the
texts accordingly.
Furthermore, Gutas argues that the word la-h ukman in the h adth
(inna min al-shiri la-h ukman wa-inna min al-bayni la-sih ran) should
be read as la-h ikaman (i.e., the plural of h ikmah) instead. In his opinion,
certain sources read this word incorrectly.19 In addition to Ibn Durayds
statement in the edition I have used, the editors of both editions of
Ibn Manzrs text have vocalized the word as la-h ukman. Ibn Manzr
mentions the other version of the same h adth in which the word is
la-h ikmatan as well.20 Stylistically speaking, la-h ukman works more
effectively than la-h ikaman, as there is no apparent reason to break

Al-Khall b. Ahmad, 3:67.
Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 76.
Ibn Manzr, 2:951952.
46 chapter three

the textual parallelism (la-h ukmanla-sih ran) and read the word as
plural (la-h ikaman) in this statement. Even Gutas himself seems to be
aware of this idea of stylistic parallelism when, in the same article, he
argues that the word h ikmah in al-Afwahs (d. ca. 570 c.e.) verse, min
h ikmat al-Arab wa-dbih (one of the maxims and precepts of the
Bedouin) should not be considered singular, but collective instead, for
the sake of the stylistic parallelism of this expression.21 Given that Ara-
bic lexicographers repeatedly define the word h ikmah as h ukm, there is
no reason to force Gutas reading either. Another saying I have men-
tioned above, al-samtu h ukmun/h ikmatun wa- qallun filuhu further
testifies that the words h ukm and h ikmah can be used interchangeably
in such contexts. I do not think that Gutas would be willing to change
the word h ukm to h ikam here as well.

Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 50.
Part two


The word hikmah occurs twenty times in the Qurn and in half of these
it is coupled with the word kitb (book).1 This combination implies that
hikmah is closely related to the divine revelation2 in the form of revealed
books or prophetic practice (sunnah). Within such a seemingly simple
framework, nevertheless, hikmah has been diversely interpreted by early
commentators of the Qurn. This work examines the arguments of these
early exegetes and discusses the nature of this diversity: is it inclusive and
complementary or exclusive and contradictory? To facilitate a clear under-
standing, I analyze the word hikmah within the context of each Qurnic
verse, using related exegetical discussions provided by early Muslim com-
mentators. By grouping the Qurnic verses in which hikmah appears

In addition to the word h ikmah, the Qurn uses other derivatives of the root
h -k-m, including various verbal formssuch as h akama (40:48), yuh akkimu (5:43),
yuh kimu (22:52), and yatah kamu (4:60)as well as its masdar and adjectival forms
h ukm and h akm, respectively. In four places (12:22, 21:74, 21:79, and 28:14) h ukm is
accompanied by the word ilm. As for the word h akm, it is mentioned in the Qurn
ninety-seven times. As an attribute of God, h akm never occurs alone. Rather, it is
always coupled with another attribute such as azz h akm, alm h akm / h akm alm,
h akm khabr, h akm h amd, tawwb h akm, wsi h akm, and al h akm. Muh ammad
Fud Abd al-Bq, al-Mujam al-mufahras li-alfz al-Qurn al-Karm (Cairo, 1988),
Accordingly, Horovitz argues that h ikmah in this context refers to some part of
the revealed books. Horovitz, 7174. Ibn Qutaybah elucidates the meaning of the word
kitb in the Arabic language in general and in the Qurn in particular. He asserts that
the original meaning of kitb is that which God wrote in the Tablet (lawh ). From this
original meaning, other meanings derive. Ibn Qutaybah lists a number of meanings
as follows: 1) qad (to decree), as in 58:21, God has decreed (kataba Allhu), I will
surely overcome, I and My messenger ; in 9:51, Naught will visit us except what God
has decreed for us (kataba Allhu lan); and in 3:154, Those decreed (kutiba) to be
killed would have come out to their death beds. 2) furida (kutiba) (to be prescribed),
as in 2:178, Retaliation is prescribed for you (kutiba alaykum) in the matter of the
murdered; in 2:180, When death approaches you, it is prescribed for you (kutiba
alaykum); and in 4:77, They said, Our Lord, why have You prescribed fighting for
us (katabta alayn al-qitl). 3) jaala (to make), as in 58:22, He has written (kataba)
faith within/upon their hearts; in 3:53 and 5:83, Write us down (uktubn) among
the witnesses; and in 7:153, So I will write it down (sa-aktubuh) for those who are
godfearing. 4) amara (to command, order), as in 5:21, Go into the holy land which
God has ordained for you (kataba Allhu lakum). It is said that kataba here means
jaala as well, in which case the meaning would be, Go into the land that God has
written down (katabah) for Abrahams progeny, i.e., He made it (jaalah) for them.
Ibn Qutaybah, Tawl mushkil al-Qurn, ed. Ahmad Saqr (Cairo, 1973), 462463.
48 part two

according to their context, and utilizing a contextual approach, we are able

to see hikmah more clearly, with its relational semantic components.
The Qurn says that hikmah was given to the prophets in general
(3:81), and to those of Abrahams progeny (4:54)including David (2:251,
38:20), Jesus (3:48, 5:110, 43:63), and Muhammad (2:151, 3:164, 4:113,
17:39)in particular. In other Qurnic instances, the place of hikmah is
taken by the word hukm, which is also paired in three cases with kitb
(3:79, 6:89, 45:16). Early scholars of tafsr do not distinguish essentially
between hikmah and hukm in these contexts. The Qurn, furthermore,
cites the names of the prophets Lot, Joseph, Moses, Solomon, and John
(the Baptist) as having been given hukm. Rosenthal argues that this hukm
indicates worldly authority.3 Given the historical fact that not all of these
prophets, especially Lot and John, were believed to have possessed tempo-
ral authority, Rosenthals argument falls short of addressing the issue in its
entirety. The Qurn also mentions Luqmn, who is not typically regarded
as a prophet in the theological sense that other prophets are defined, as
those who received revelation and/or books from God, but is seen as a
pious and upright person, who enjoyed hikmah (31:12). Alongside these
historical personalities, in a more general perspective, the Qurn states
that God gives hikmah to whomever He wills and that those who are
given hikmah have indeed been given much good (2:269).
In accordance with such a Qurnic framework, in this part, I have
grouped the Qurnic verses in which h ikmah appears according to
their contexts. In 2:269, h ikmah seems to be used in a broader sense,
one that can be applied to all individuals. In 16:125, h ikmah is men-
tioned within the larger discussion of the main principles of religious
teaching. A large number of verses deal with the messengers of God, as
I have mentioned above; these verses are placed in the contexts of their
main subjects and their chronological order. Considering Luqmns
innate affinity with h ikmah in the Islamic literature, I have treated the
verse that relates to him (31:12) as a subcategory by itself.4

Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant, 38.
I might also be expected to discuss the reliability of the ascriptions of the diverse
interpretations to the various early authorities, so that we might attempt to identify
lines of development or reason for change in interpretations of h ikmah, but consider-
ing the scholarship accessible in the field of Qurnic studies, this is a daunting task.
The problematic aspects of the narrated records are known. In the case of Ibn Abbs,
for instance, tafsr authors ascribe to him such a developed terminology of Qurnic
hermeneutics that ascribing it to the historical Ibn Abbs remains highly questionable.
Without focusing on developments in interpretations, therefore, I offer a collection of
interpretations from the earliest commentators of the Qurn and concentrate on iden-
tifying semantic centers of gravity within them; I classify and contextualize various
interpretations and make educated judgments within the contextual framework.
Chapter four

General Definitions in the Qurn

H ikmah as Much Good

In 2:269 the word h ikmah is mentioned in the context of the Qurnic

concept of charity. The verses declare that seeking publicity in an act
of charity is diametrically opposed to its basic intent. Spending wealth
sincerely in the way of God does not cause, in reality, any decrease in
ones prosperity, since God multiplies the reward (2:261). Those who
expend their wealth in the way of God and then do not follow up what
they have expended with reproach and [verbal] injury will have their
reward with their Lord (2:262), as honorable good words and forgive-
ness are better than a charitable act followed by injury (2:263). Believ-
ers should not invalidate their acts of charity with reproach and injury
like those who expend of their substance to show off to men (2:264).
Instead, believers should give of the good things they have earned and
of that which God has produced for them from the earth; they should
not give to the poor the worthless things that they would not be pleased
to receive themselves (2:267). Satan threatens believers with poverty
and orders them to indecency, while God, who is All-Embracing and
All-Knowing, promises them His forgiveness and bounty (2:268). The
following verse says, He (God) gives h ikmah to whomever He wills,
and whoever is given h ikmah has indeed been given much good; yet
none remembers except men of understanding (2:269).1
Of all the verses in which the word h ikmah is mentioned, this last
verse has received the most extensive treatment by authorities in tafsr.
There are diverse interpretations of the word h ikmah as it appears here;
Muslim exegetes attribute these interpretations to the earliest authorities
in this discipline. According to the records of the exegetes, Ibn Abbs
asserts that h ikmah here means knowledge of the Qurn regarding its
abrogating (nsikh) and abrogated (manskh) verses, its clear (muh kam)
and ambiguous (mutashbih) passages, its early (muqaddam) and later
(muakhkhar) revealed verses, its passages pertaining to the lawful

For the Qurnic passages, I have generally followed Arberrys translation with
some modifications.
50 chapter four

(h all) and unlawful (h arm), and its similitudes (amthl ).2 Mujhid
(d. 104/722) explains the h ikmah as being the Qurn itself and states
that God gives its correct understanding (isbatahu) to whomever He
wills.3 Al-D ah hk (d. 106/723) introduces a similar clarification, saying
that h ikmah means the Qurn as well as understanding it.4 Al-H asan
al-Basr (d. 110/728) argues that h ikmah in this verse denotes piety
or moral scrupulousness (wara) in the religion of God.5 Zayd b. Al
(d. 120/738) asserts that this word refers to trust (amnah), eloquence
(bayn), comprehension ( fiqh), intelligence (aql), and understanding
(fahm).6 Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276/889) defines h ikmah as knowledge

Al b. Ab Talhah, Sah fat Al b. Ab Talh ah an Ibn Abbs f tafsr al-Qurn
al-Karm, ed. Rshid Abd al-Munim al-Rajjl (Beirut, 1994), 119. See also Muhammad
b. Jarr al-Tabar, Tafsr al-Tabar: Jmi al-bayn an tawl y al-Qurn, ed. Mahmd
Muhammad Shkir (Cairo, 1954), 5:576; al-Suyt, al-Durr al-manthr 1:348. An early
Sh commentator of the Qurn, al-Imm al-Mansr bi-Allh Abd Allh b. H amzah
introduces a complementary interpretation to that of Ibn Abbs when he asserts,
h ikmah is useful knowledge (ilm nfi), which is the knowledge of the Qurn, the
interpretation of its meanings, and elaborate exposition of its concise expressions (tafsl
mujmalih). It is the knowledge of the judgments (ah km) of the Qurnic commands
and prohibitions, of its muh kam and mutashbih statements, of its specific/individual
(khss) and general (mm), concise (mujmal), and elaborate (mubayyan) passages,
and of its abrogating and abrogated verses. H ikmah is the knowledge of learning a les-
son from the Qurnic vicissitudes (itibr bi-ghiyarih), understanding its extraordinary
similitudes (amthlih al-ajbah), and unusual stories (qisasih al-gharbah). And this
is in our view, the beginning of h ikmah and key to rah mah. Abd Allh b. Ahmad b.
Ibrhm al-Sharaf, al-Masbh al-stiah al-anwr: Tafsr Ahl al-Bayt, eds. Muhammad
Qsim al-Hshim and Abd al-Salm Abbs al-Wajh (Sadah, 1998), 83. Clearly this
definition is of a highly inclusive character, as it covers almost every aspect of Qurnic
Mujhid b. Jabr, Tafsr al-Imm Mujhid b. Jabr, ed. Muhammad Abd al-Salm
Ab al-Nl (Beirut, 2003), 245. Similarly, al-Tustar reports Umar b. Wsils explana-
tion of h ikmah in this verse as meaning God gives correctness regarding His book to
whomever He wills. Sahl b. Abd Allh al-Tustar, Tafsr al-Tustar, ed. Muhammad
Bsil Uyn al-Sd (Beirut, 2002), 43.
Al-D ahhk b. Muzhim, Tafsr al-D ah h ak, ed. Muhammad Shukr Ahmad
al-Zwt (Cairo, 1999), 1:225. Ibn al-Jawz cites the same interpretation, mentioning
Ibn Masd, Mujhid, and Muqtil, as well as al-D ahhks name to do so. Ab al-Faraj
Abd al-Rahmn b. Al b. al-Jawz, Zd al-masr f ilm al-tafsr, ed. Abd al-Razzq
al-Mahd (Beirut, 2001), 1:242. Al-Suyt reports that h ikmah means the Qurn, i.e.,
its tafsr, for Ibn Abbs mentioned that a pious person as well as a sinner might read
the Qurn. Al-Suyt, al-Durr al-manthr, 2:66.
Al-H asan al-Basr, Tafsr al-H asan al-Basr, ed. Muhammad Abd al-Rahm (Cairo,
1992), 1:196; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:242.
Zayd b. Al, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, ed. H asan Muhammad Taq al-H akm (Cairo,
1992), 105. Similarly, Muqtil says that h ikmah means knowledge of the Qurn and
comprehension of it. Muqtil, Tafsr Muqtil b. Sulaymn, ed. Abd Allh Mahmd
general definitions in the qurn 51

and practice (al-ilm wa-al-amal); a man is not called h akm unless he

combines the two.7
Al-Tustar (d. 283/896), a scholar and Sufi, mentions an account
with Sufi overtones to elucidate the meaning of h ikmah in this verse
as follows:
It is reported from Ab Sad al-Khudr (d. 74/693) that the Prophet
Muhammad said, The Qurn is Gods h ikmah among His servants.
Whoever learns the Qurn and practices it [accordingly], it is as if he
receives prophethood, with the exception that he does not receive rev-
elation. He is treated like the prophets except that he does not have a
prophetic mission.8
Al-Tustar mentions another Prophetic statement narrated by Ab
Hurayrah (d. 59/679), saying,
The Qurn is h ikmah. Whoever learns the Qurn in his youth, the
Qurn becomes a component of his body. Beware; hellfire does not touch
a heart attentive to the Qurn, neither does it touch a body that stays
away from things forbidden in it and legitimizes for itself things made
permissible in it [the Qurn]. [Such a person] believes in the clearly
intelligible passages (muh kamih) of the Qurn, while he refrains from
jumping to conclusions regarding the ambiguous statements (waqafa
inda mutashbihih), and [he] does not become an innovator about it
[the Qurn].9

al-Shahtah (Cairo, 1969), 1:143. Abd al-Razzq asserts that this word denotes the
Qurn and comprehension of it. Abd al-Razzq b. Hammm al-Sann, Tafsr Abd
al-Razzq, ed. Mahmd Muhammad Abduh (Beirut, 1999), 1:373. Hd b. Muhakkam
(third/tenth century) mentions a similar report, saying that h ikmah refers to compre-
hension in the Qurn. Hd b. Muhakkam al-Huwwr, Tafsr Kitb Allh al-Azz, ed.
Blhjj b. Sad b. Sharf (Beirut, 1990), 1:250. Ibn Wahb reports that h ikmah means
intelligence in the religion. Abd Allh b. Wahb, al-Jmi li-Abd Allh b. Wahb b. Mus-
lim Ab Muh ammad al-Misr; bi-riwyat Sah nn b. Sad, ed. Miklsh Mrn (Beirut,
2003), 2:161.
Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, 32.
Al-Tustar, 42. Al-Baghaw mentions the same interpretation on the authority of
al-H asan al-Basr, saying, Whoever is given the Qurn, it is as if he has received
prophethood with the exception that he has not been given revelation. Al-H usayn
b. Masd al-Baghaw, Tafsr al-Baghaw, al-musamm Malim al-tanzl, eds. Khlid
Abd al-Rahmn al-Akk and Marwn Suwr (Multan, 1988?), 1:257.
Al-Tustar, 42.
52 chapter four

A linguistically focused commentator, al-Zajjj (d. 311/923), reports

that there are two views regarding h ikmah in this verse: Some schol-
ars argued that it means nubuwwah (prophethood), while Ibn Masd
(d. 32/652) defined h ikmah as the Qurn and said:
The Qurn is sufficient as h ikmah, because by means of the Qurn the
nation [of Muhammad] became knowledgeable after [a time of] igno-
rance ( jahl). The Qurn is a link (silah) to every knowledge that brings
one close to God and [makes one] a medium of His mercy. For this
reason God says, Whoever is given h ikmah, has been given much good.
i.e., complete knowledge and that which leads to His mercy.10
Citing various interpretations of this verse by earlier authorities,
al-Tabar (d. 310/922) appears to be the first to introduce a compre-
hensive exposition of h ikmah. He paraphrases the verse as, God gives
correctness in speech and act (isbah f al-qawl wa-al-fil ) to whom-
ever among His servants He wills and whoever among them is given
such correctness has been given much good. Al-Tabar says that
scholars have had different views on h ikmah in this verse and lists the
following definitions: h ikmah means 1) the Qurn and its compre-
hension (al-Qurn wa-al-fiqh bihi),11 2) correct speech and action,12
3) knowledge of the religion (ilm bi-al-dn),13 4) understanding ( fahm),14

Ab Ishq Ibrhm b. al-Sariyy al-Zajjj, Man al-Qurn wa-irbuh, ed.
Abd al-Jall Abduh Shalab (Beirut, 1973), 1:350. Another early commentator, Ibn
Wahb al-Dnawar (d. 308/920) describes this h ikmah as the prophethood given to
Muhammad. He also asserts that it means exposition of the Qurn and correctness in
speech and action, as well as thought. Abd Allh b. Muhammad b. Wahb al-Dnawar,
Tafsr Ibn Wahb, al-musamm al-Wdih f tafsr al-Qurn al-Karm, ed. Ahmed Fard
(Beirut, 2003), 1:90.
Al-Tabar mentions Ibn Abbs, Qatdah, Ab al-liyah, and Mujhid as having
interpreted h ikmah as such. Mujhid further says that h ikmah does not mean prophet-
hood, but instead denotes the Qurn, knowledge, and comprehension. Al-Tabar,
5:576577. Ibn Ati yyah cites a similar definition, saying that h ikmah means reflect-
ing (tafakkur) on Gods command[s] and following (ittib) them. Ibn Ati yyah,
al-Muh arrar al-wajz, 2:251.
This is the definition by Mujhid. Al-Tabar, 5:577578.
Al-Tabar cites Ibn Zayd and Mliks (b. Anas) interpretations in this regard. Ibn
Zayd uses the word aql to define h ikmah, while Mlik asserts that h ikmah means
knowledge of the religion, its comprehension, and adherence to it. Al-Tabar, 5:578.
This view belongs to Ibrhm al-Nakha. Al-Tabar, 5:578. Al-Samn further
elucidates this definition saying that h ikmah denotes knowledge of the meanings of
things and understanding them. Mansr b. Muhammad al-Samn, Tafsr al-Qurn
general definitions in the qurn 53

5) pious fear of God (khashyah),15 and 6) prophethood.16

Having listed these definitions of h ikmah by earlier authorities,
al-Tabar asserts that h ikmah derives from h ukm and that it means
correctness (isbah). He argues that this meaning encompasses all the
previous definitions, as isbah in matters indicates understanding them
and having knowledge of them, whether they be related to pious fear of
God, prophethood, or comprehension (in other religious matters).17
In addition to the aforementioned six definitions cited by al-Tabar,
Ibn Ab H tim (d. 327/939) reports that the word h ikmah in this verse
means the Prophetic practice (sunnah).18 He further articulates the first

li-Ab al-Muzaffar al-Samn, eds. Ab Tamm Ysir Ibrhm and Ab Bill Ghanm
b. Abbs b. Ghanm (Riyad, 1997), 1:273.
Al-Tabar quotes al-Rabs explanation that, hikmah means khashyah, because
the beginning of everything is the fear of God (li-anna rasa kulli shayin khashyatu
Allh). Al-Rab then recites the verse, Only those of His servants who have knowl-
edge fear God (inna-m yakhsh Allha min ibdihi al-ulam) (35:28). Al-Tabar,
5:578; al-Suyt , al-Durr al-manthr, 2:66. It is related that Sad b. Jubayr (d. 95/713)
said, khashyah is hikmah; whoever has pious fear of God, hits upon the most excel-
lent of hikmah. Al-Suyt , al-Durr al-manthr, 2:67. Ahmad b. H anbal, on the other
hand, cites the same saying (ras al-hikmah khashyat al-rabb) but attributes it to the
Prophet David. Ahmads narration goes back to Khlid b. Thbit al-Rabi who says,
I have found [an expression] in the beginning ( ftihah) of Davids Zabr [stating] that
the beginning of hikmah is pious fear of God. Ahmad b. H anbal, Kitb al-Zuhd, ed.
Muhammad Jall al-Sharaf (Egypt, 1980), 1:155. One may argue that al-Rabi refers to
Solomons statement in the Old Testament, Proverbs (1:7), The fear of the Lord is the
beginning of knowledge. If this is the case, the word hikmah is then used in the place of
knowledge (marifah), which occurs in the Arabic versions of the Bible (makhfat al-Rabb
ras al-marifah). Another interesting definition is introduced by Urwah b. al-Zubayr who
says, kindness (rifq) is the beginning of hikmah. Al-Suyt , al-Durr al-manthr, 2:67.
Al-Sudd is mentioned as having presented this interpretation. Al-Tabar, 5:579.
Al-Tabar, 5:576579. Citing most of the abovementioned definitions, Ibn
Atiyyah asserts that with the exception of al-Sudds explanation (nubuwwah), all these
interpretations have a similar meaning, for h ikmah is a masdar derived from ih km
which means perfection (itqn) in practice and speech. Therefore, the Book of God is
a h ikmah; the sunnah of His messenger is a h ikmah; and every definition mentioned
above is a part of h ikmah which is a generic noun (jins). Ibn Atiyyah, 2:251252.
See also Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Qurtub, al-Jmi li-ah km al-Qurn (Cairo, 1967),
Abd al-Rahmn b. Muhammad b. Ab H tim, Tafsr al-Qurn al-Azm: mus-
nadan an Rasl Allh wa-al-Sah bah wa-al-Tbin, ed. Asad Muhammad al-Tayyib
(Mecca, 1997), 2:531532.
54 chapter four

part of the verse (God gives h ikmah to whomever He wills) in the

sense of comprehension in the religion by referring to Mlik b. Anas
interpretation of h ikmah. The latter scholar says,
I think h ikmah means comprehension in the religion of God and it is
something that God puts ( yudkhilu) into hearts out of His mercy and
grace. This [occurrence] becomes clear [when] you see a man [who is]
intelligent (qil) [but only] in worldly things if he looks into them. And
you could find another man who is weak (daf) in worldly issues [but]
knowledgeable of (lim) and insightful in religious matters. God gives
this [ability] to the latter, while He deprives the former of it. Thus h ikmah
means comprehension of the religion of God.19
As for the second part of the verse (Whoever is given h ikmah, has
indeed been given much good), Ibn Ab H tim lists the following
interpretations: 1) reciting the Qurn and reflecting on it;20 2) recit-
ing the Qurn externally or out loud;21 3) the Qurn itself;22 4) pious
fear of God and knowledge of God;23 5) knowledge;24 and 6) prophet-
hood.25 Ibn Ab H tim narrates an account that is traced back to Abd
al-Rahmn b. Zayd (d. 182/798) describing those who have been given
h ikmah. The latter says,
Among them there is such a person that God gives His h ikmah to his
tongue (lisnih), though He does not give it to his heart (qalbih). And
among them there is such a person that God gives His h ikmah to his
heart, but not to his tongue. For the former, there is nothing of h ikmah
in the heart to practice; thus the practice (amal ) does not confirm (l
yusaddiq) what the tongue utters. The latter practices everything that
God makes available for him in his heart regarding h ikmah; as long as
h ikmah is not given to his tongue, it is not taken from him. Such a per-

Ibn Ab H tim, 2:532; Isml b. Umar b. Kathr, Tafsr al-Qurn al-Azm, ed.
Khall al-Mays (Beirut, 1983), 1:278; al-Suyt , al-Durr al-manthr, 2:67.
This view belongs to Ab al-Dard. Ibn Ab H tim, 2:533.
Ibn Ab H tim mentions Qatdah as having presented this explanation. Ibn Ab
H tim, 2:533.
It is Qatdah, once again, who argues such. Ibn Ab H tim, 2:533.
This interpretation is introduced by Matar al-Warrq. Ibn Ab H tim, 2:533.
Mlik b. Anas further elaborates this definition, saying that h ikmah is a light (nr)
through which He guides whomever He wills. Ibn Ab H tim, 2:534.
This explanation goes back to Makhl, who stated that the Qurn is one of
the seventy-two parts of nubuwwah and is thus a h ikmah. Ibn Ab H tim, 2:534.
Al-Zamakhshar introduces a similar interpretation asserting that h ikmah in this verse
refers to an agreement between knowledge and its practice. In the presence of God,
the h akm is the one who combines both knowledge and practice. Al-Zamakhshar,
al-Kashshf an h aqiq al-tanzl (Egypt, 1966), 1:396.
general definitions in the qurn 55

son is beneficial only to himself to the exclusion of the others. The third
type of person practices whatever God makes available of h ikmah in his
heart, which is the practice of the h ukam, and he expresses whatever
God makes available of h ikmah on his tongue, which is the speech of the
h ukam. He is beneficial both to himself as well as to others. That which
he speaks through the tongue is a proof of that which exists in the heart;
and that which he practices, which is in the heart, regarding h ikmah
confirms (musaddiq) that which he utters.26
Al-Samarqand (d. 375/985) introduces another interpretation of
h ikmah in this verse, saying that it means the knowledge of Satanic
deceptions (makyid) and whisperings (waswis).27 Al-Mward (d.
450/1058) cites, on the authority of Mujhid, an additional meaning of
h ikmah as handwriting (kitbah). He also asserts that this word refers
to worldly and other-worldly goodness (salh ).28
In his own definition of h ikmah, al-Qurtub (d. 671/1272) calls atten-
tion to the basic meaning of the root, which is manaa. He argues that
the origin[al meaning] of h ikmah is that through which one restrains
oneself from foolishness (safah). Ilm is defined as h ikmah on account
of the fact that, by means of ilm, one knows how to restrain oneself
from foolishness, which refers to every [kind of] bad/evil act. Likewise,
the Qurn, intellect (aql ), and understanding ( fahm) convey h ikmah.
Al-Qurtub mentions the following h adth from Sah h al-Bukhr,
For whomever God wants goodness, He makes him comprehend
religion (man yurid Allhu bihi khayran yufaqqihhu f al-dn). In the
same context, al-Bukhr refers to this verse (2:269) and he specifically
highlights the word h ikmah. Al-Qurt ub also cites a h adth from the
Musnad of al-Drim in which h ikmah is mentioned in the follow-
ing context, Indeed, God wants to punish the people of the earth,
but then when He hears that a teacher is teaching a child h ikmah, He
diverts the punishment from them. The narrator says that h ikmah here
refers to the Qurn. Regarding the second part of the verse (wa-man

Ibn Ab H tim, 2:534.


Ab al-Layth al-Samarqand, Tafsr al-Samarqand, al-musamm Bah r al-ulm,


eds. Al Muhammad Muawwad, dil Ahmad Abd al-Mawjd, and Zakariyy Abd
al-Majd al-Nawut (Beirut, 1993), 1:232.
Al b. Muhammad al-Mward, al-Nukat wa-al-uyn, tafsr al-Mward, ed. al-
Sayyid b. Abd al-Maqsd b. Abd al-Rahm (Beirut, 1992), 1:344345. Al-Samn
also mentions the definition that h ikmah means handwriting and its knowledge.
Al-Samn, 1:274.
56 chapter four

yuta al-h ikmata fa-qad tiya khayran kathran), al-Qurtub reports

that some scholars (h ukam) interpreted this part as follows,
Whoever is given knowledge and the Qurn should be aware of himself.
He should not behave humbly to the possessors of earthly things because
of their worldly wealth; rather, he has been given something much bet-
ter than what they possess, for in the Qurn God says, The enjoyment
(mat) of this world is little (4:77).29
Ibn Kathr (d. 774/1372) makes reference to Ab al-liyahs (d.
90/708) definition of h ikmah as pious fear of God, because fear of
God is the beginning of every h ikmah. In this context, Ibn Kathr also
cites a h adth narrated by Ibn Masd. The h adth says, The beginning
of h ikmah is fear of God (ras al-h ikmah makhfat Allh). Mention-
ing al-Sudds (d. 136/753) description of h ikmah as nubuwwah, Ibn
Kathr argues that the truth of the matteras the majority of scholars
assertedis that h ikmah is more general and exalted than nubuwwah;
nubuwwah and rislah (prophetic mission) are more particular, but
following the prophets (anbiy) is a part (h azz) of goodness (khayr).
There are a number of Prophetic statements (ah dth) to support this
argument. A h adth narrated by Abd Allh b. Umar (d. 74/692) says,
Whoever is mindful of (h afiza) the Qurn, nubuwwah is placed on
his shoulders with the exception that he does not receive revelation.30
Another h adth handed down by Ibn Masd reads, No one should
be envied except two [kinds of] persons: a man to whom God gives
wealth and he expends it completely in the way of God; and a man to
whom God gives h ikmah and he judges by it and teaches it. Al-Bukhr
(d. 256/870), Muslim (d. 261/874), al-Nas (d. 303/915), and Ibn
Mjah (d. 273/886) report this h adth through various chains of
Of the commentators of the Qurn referred to in this chapter,
al-Suyt (d. 911/1505) provides the longest definition of the word
h ikmah. He meticulously cites (most of) the interpretations of earlier
scholars,32 and refers to the ah dth in which the word h ikmah and
other related concepts are mentioned. He seems to put special empha-
sis on the experiential aspect of such notions when he cites a h adth

Al-Qurt ub, 3:330331.
Al-Qurt ub, 3:331; al-Suyt , al-Durr al-manthr, 2:69.
Ibn Kathr, 1:278.
Al-Suyt, al-Durr al-manthr, 2:6671.
general definitions in the qurn 57

reported by Ahmad b. H anbal (d. 241/855) in his Kitb al-Zuhd on

the authority of Makhl (d. 116/734) saying, The Messenger of God
said that whoever worships God sincerely for forty days, the springs
of h ikmah gush out from his heart up to his tongue.33 Al-Tabarn (d.
360/970) recounts the following h adth,
The Messenger of God said that Luqmn told his son, O my son, you
should sit with the scholars (ulam) and listen to the words of the
h ukam, for God gives new life to the dead heart through the light of
h ikmah, just as a dead land is given new life by means of a downpour.34
Regarding the idea of comprehension ( fiqh) in the religion, which is
noted as one of the definitions of h ikmah, al-Suyt makes reference to a
h adth reported by al-Bukhr, Muslim, and al-Nas. The h adth reads,
The Messenger of God said that for whomever God wills good(ness),
He makes him comprehend (with respect to) religion (yufaqqihhu f
al-dn).35 The Prophet said, Two characteristics are not joined in a
hypocrite (munfiq): seemly behavior and comprehension in religion.36
He also stated, There is no better way of worshipping God than [hav-
ing] comprehension in religion; a single faqh is harder on Satan than a
thousand [ordinary] worshippers. For everything there is a pillar and the
pillar of this religion is fiqh (comprehension). The narrator of this last
h adth, Ab Hurayrah, says that sitting for a while to gain comprehen-
sion is preferable to him than spending the whole night till the morn-
ing in worship.37 In the same context, al-Suyt cites a h adth related
by al-Tabarn saying, The Messenger of God said that the noblest
devotion (ibdah) is fiqh (comprehension) and the noblest religion is
piety (wara).38 Another h adth narrated by H udhayfah b. al-Yamn
(d. 36/656) explicates the notions of ilm and wara, which are, again,
among the definitions of h ikmah, as follows, The Messenger of God
said that the merit of ilm is better than the merit of worship (ibdah),

Al-Suyt , al-Durr al-manthr, 2:69. Apparently, al-Amash was talking about the
same experiential and practical aspect of h ikmah when he described al-H asan al-Basr,
saying, H asan would keep devoting his attention to h ikmah until he spoke in terms
of it (m zla al-H asan yatan bi-al-h ikmah h att nataqa bih). Al-H asan al-Basr,
Tafsr, Editors introduction, 21.
Al-Suyt , al-Durr al-manthr, 2:69.
Ibid., 2:70.
Ibid., 2:71.
Ibid., 2:70.
58 chapter four

and the best of your religion is wara.39 Similarly, the Prophet said, A
little [bit of] knowledge is better than a large amount of worship.40
Given this number of interpretations, it is not easy to define the word
h ikmah as mentioned in verse 2:269 with just one word. Its meaning
here is of a highly inclusive character. By no means does this fact imply
that introducing multiple meanings refers to a kind of inconsistency or
contradiction among various understandings. Rather, they are comple-
mentary to each other, as can be observed in the following Prophetic
statement reported by Ibn Atiyyah (d. 543/1148), One cannot reach
comprehension completely until he discerns in the Qurn numerous
dimensions (l yafqahu al-rajulu kulla al-fiqhi h att yar li-al-qurni
wujhan kathratan).41 One may regard h ikmah in the verse 2:269,
therefore, as the rationale or underlying reason of Qurnic regulations
in a general sense. Accordingly, Gutas argument that h ikmah in this
verse, means maxim42 does not seem to be a complete and proper
understanding of the word. Reducing its meaning merely to maxim
and treating it without regard to its context, does not offer a convinc-
ing meaning.

H ikmah as a Method of Calling to the Way of the Lord

In 16:125, the word h ikmah occurs in the framework of the principles of

religious teaching. This section of the srah begins with mention of the
characteristics of Abraham. He was a model/leader (ummah) obedient
to God, a man of pure faith and not an idolater, showing thankfulness
for His blessings; God chose him and guided him to a straight path.
God gave him goodness (h asanah) in this world and he will be among
the righteous in the world to come. So God revealed to Muhammad
that he should follow the religion (millah) of Abraham (16:120123).
The next verse deals with the Sabbath43 which was appointed only for
those who differed over it. Indeed God will decide between them on

Ibn Ati yyah, 1:4445.
Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 54.
Tafsr scholars relate narrations regarding the Israelites constant dispute with
their Prophet (Moses) with respect to divine commands, i.e., regarding which day was
the true Sabbath. Was it Friday, Saturday, or Sunday? See, for instance, al-Samarqand,
2:255 and Ibn al-Jawz, 2:592593.
general definitions in the qurn 59

the Day of Resurrection concerning their disputes.44 Then the Qurn

says (16:125), Call to the way of your Lord with h ikmah and good
admonition, and argue with them ( jdilhum) in the best way. Surely
your Lord knows very well those who have strayed from His way, and
He knows very well those who are (rightly) guided (16:126).
Early tafsr authorities argue that the word h ikmah in this verse
denotes the Qurn, as asserted by Ibn Abbs.45 Al-Tabar states that
the expression bi-al-h ikmah means through the revelation of God to
the Prophet and His Book that He sends down to him.46 Al-Samn
(d. 489/1095) mentions another interpretation, saying that h ikmah is
knowledge of things according to their rankings regarding goodness
and evilness. He also reports that calling with/by h ikmah means turn-
ing away from evil to good through knowledge.47 Scholars list other
meanings of h ikmah, such as prophethood48 and comprehension.49
As for the expression mawizah h asanah, commentators report that
it is closely related to the Qurn and its admonitions.50 Al-Tabar says
that it means that the Prophet should call to the way of God with
good expressions that God has set as a proof in His Book against the
disputers.51 Along the same line, other authorities interpret mawizah
h asanah as polite speech and a comely attitude without being rude and
offensive.52 The object pronoun hum in wa-jdilhum may refer to the
people of Mecca or to the People of the Book.53

In his translation of the Qurn, The Holy Qurn, Abdullh Ysuf Al (Mary-

land, 1989) reads this verse in connection with a possible argument presented by the
Jews, who could say to Muhammad, Why dont you then observe the Sabbath? The
Qurnic answer is twofold: first, the Sabbath has nothing to do with Abraham, for it
was instituted at the time of Moses; and second, there is no agreement among the Isra-
elites on the actual day on which the Sabbath falls. The Qurn instructs the Prophet to
avoid such endless disputes, as they will not be settled until the Day of Judgment.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 2:494; al-Tustar, 42; al-Huwwr, 2:395; al-Dnawar, 1:448;
al-Tabar, 14:194; al-Samarqand, 2:255; Ibn al-Jawz, 2:593; al-Mward, 3:220;
al-Samn, 3:210; al-Baghaw, 3:90.
Al-Tabar, 14:194.
Al-Samn, 3:210.
Ibn al-Jawz, 2:593.
Al-Samarqand, 2:255; Ibn al-Jawz, 2:593; al-Mward, 3:220.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 2:494; al-Huwwr, 2:395; al-Dnawar, 1:448; al-Samarqand,
2:255; Ibn al-Jawz, 2:593; al-Samn, 3:210; al-Baghaw, 3:90; Muqtil, Tafsr, 2:531;
Al-Samarqand, 2:269; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:25.
Al-Tabar, 14:194.
Ibn al-Jawz, 2:593; al-Samn, 3:210; al-Baghaw, 3:90.
Ibn al-Jawz, 2:593.
60 chapter four

Together with the word mawizah h asanah, h ikmah in this verse

seems to indicate general principles of religious invitation, which
should be reasonable as well as considerate, but not contentious. Such
invitation should avoid going into endless discussions regarding previ-
ous controversial issues in religion. A believer is expected to try his
best to present his religion intellectually as well as practically; in the
final analysis, only God knows who is right and who is wrong. Having
discussed the word h ikmah in these two Qurnic instances as appli-
cable to all individuals, in the following chapter I focus on the more
particular connotations of this concept with regard to specific histori-
cal religious groups and personalities.
Chapter five

H ikmah and the Prophets

A Divine Blessing to Abrahams Progeny

In 2:129 the prayer of Abraham and his son Ishmael is cited. According
to the Qurnic statements, when the two were raising the foundations
of the House (Kabah) they uttered (2:127129),
Our Lord, accept [this service] from us; You are the All-Hearing, the
All-Knowing. Our Lord, make us submissive (muslimayn) to You and of
our progeny a nation submissive to You. And show us our holy rites and
accept our repentance. Indeed, You are the Accepter of repentance, the
All-Compassionate. Our Lord, send among them a Messenger, one of
them, who will recite to them Your signs, and teach them the kitb and
h ikmah, and purify them; You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.
According to the majority of the early commentators on the Qurn,
the word kitb in this verse refers to the Qurn.1 Ibn Ab H tim reports
another explanation handed down from Ibn Abbs, who stated that
kitb here means handwriting (khatt bi-al-qalam).2 As for the word
hikmah, tafsr scholars list various explanations, such as, 1) the Pro-
phetic practice (sunnah);3 2) admonitions (mawiz) found in the Qurn
regarding lawful and unlawful things;4 3) knowledge (marifah) and
comprehension (fiqh) in religious matters and adherence to the
religion;5 4) the religion (dn) that cannot be known or understood

Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:69; al-Huwwr, 1:150; al-Dnawar, 1:46; al-Tabar, 3:8688;
Ibn Ab H tim, 1:236237; al-Samarqand, 1:158159; Muhammad b. Abd Allh b.
Ab Zamanayn, Tafsr al-Qurn al-Azz li-Ibn Ab Zamanayn, eds. Ab Abd Allh
H usayn b. Ukshah and Muh ammad b. Must af al-Kanz (Cairo, 2002), 1:179; Ibn
al-Jawz, 1:113; al-Mward, 1:192; al-Samn, 1:141; al-Baghaw, 1:116117; Ibn
Ati yyah, 1:423424; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:312; Mahmd b. Ab al-H asan
al-Naysbr, jz al-bayn an man al-Qurn, ed. Al b. Sulaymn al-Ubayd
(Riyadh, 1997), 1:119.
Ibn Ab H tim, 1:236237.
Al-H asan al-Basr, 1:115. See also, al-Suyt, al-Durr al-manthr, 1:335;
al-Huwwr, 1:150; al-Dnawar, 1:46; al-Tabar, 3:8688; Ibn Ab H tim, 1:236237;
Ibn Ab Zamanayn, 1:179; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:113; al-Mward, 1:192; al-Baghaw, 1:116
117; Ibn Ati yyah, 1:423424.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:69; al-Samarqand, 1:158159; al-Baghaw, 1:116117.
Al-Tabar, 3:8688; al-Mward, 1:192.
62 chapter five

without explanation by the Prophet;6 5) intelligence (aql) in religion;7

6) something that God puts in the heart through which He enlightens
it8 or a disposition (sajiyyah) and light (nr) from God;9 and 7) under-
standing and interpreting the Qurn.10
Al-Tabar further asserts that the word h ikmah in this verse means
the knowledge of Gods judgments (ilm bi-ah km Allh), knowledge of
which it is not possible to obtain without explanation by the Prophet. In
al-Tabars view, hikmah is derived from the word hukm, which means
separating the true from the false (fasl bayn al-h aqq wa-al-btil). The
morphological pattern of the word hikmah is similar to the words jilsah
and qidah which are derived from juls and qud, respectively.11 The
following expression testifies to this usage, indeed such-and-such a
person is hakim, clear in (his) hikmah (inna fuln la-hakm bayyin
al-hikmah) i.e., his correctness in speech and action is evident (innahu
la-bayyin al-isbah f al-qawl wa-al-fil). Al-Tabar concludes that if
this is the case, the verse can be interpreted as,
Our Lord, send among them a Messenger, one of them, who will recite to
them Your signs, and teach them Your Book that You have sent down to
them and [teach them how to] distinguish Your decision and judgments
(fasl qadik wa-ah kmik) that You teach him.12
According to Ibn Ab H tims statements, in addition to being explained
by al-H asan al-Basr and other early authorities as sunnah, the word
h ikmah is interpreted as prophethood (nubuwwah) and intelligence
or understanding in the religion by al-Sudd and Zayd b. Aslam
(d. 136/753), respectively. Ab al-Layth al-Samarqand defines the
word h akm at the end of the verse by explaining that His acts are
in agreement with His knowledge (amaluhu muwfiq li-al-ilm).13
Referring to its basic meaning, Ibn al-Jawz (d. 597/1200) asserts that

Al-Tabar, 3:8688.
Ibid., 3:8688.
Ibid., 3:8688.
Ibn Ati yyah, 1:423424.
Al-Samarqand, 1:158159; al-Samn, 1:141; al-Baghaw, 1:116117.
Al-Tabars line of argument here seems to operate on the ground that the mor-
phological pattern of tikmah is filah which is the pattern (wazn) for ism al-naw. If this
is the case, then he argues that h ikmah is a kind of h ukm, just as jilsah is a kind juls
and qidah is a kind of qud. Otherwise, the morphological pattern of h ukm (ful) is
different from juls and qud (ful).
Al-Tabar, 3:8688.
Al-Samarqand, 1:158159.
h ikmah and the prophets 63

h ikmah is called h ikmah because it guards against ignorance (tamna

min al-jahl).14 In the same context, al-Samn cites Ibn Durayds afore-
mentioned definition of the word h ikmah as follows, Every word that
restrains, exhorts, and deters you from a disgraceful thing and calls
you to a good thing is h ikmah.15
Al-Baghaw (d. 516/1122) summarizes the previous expositions
of the word h ikmah in this verse, by listing the following definitions:
1) understanding (fahm) the Qurn, as Mujhid maintained; 2) the
admonitions (mawiz) of the Qurn and that which exists in it
regarding religious judgments (ah km), as Muqtil asserted; 3) knowl-
edge together with action, since one cannot be called h akm unless he
combines the two, as Ibn Qutaybah argued; 4) the sunnah and religious
judgments; 5) judgment or judicial decision (qad); and 6) compre-
hension (fiqh). Al-Baghaw further cites Ibn Durayds aforementioned
definition to conclude his interpretation.16
Al-Zamakhshar does not seem to give special attention to the
meaning of the word h ikmah here, rather he analyzes it in a legal con-
text, saying that it means religious law (sharah) and explanation of
religious judgments (bayn al-akm).17 Similarly, al-Naysbr (d.
553/1158) argues that h ikmah means knowledge of religious judgments
(ilm bi-al-ah km).18
The definitions of h ikmah in this verse, as introduced by the early
tafsr authorities, are thus similar to those of the previously covered
Qurnic verses. Their arguments regarding h ikmah appear inter-
changeably among different verses, once again, indicating that their
understanding of this concept is highly inclusive and complementary.
The fact that h ikmah was given to Abrahams progeny is also men-
tioned in the following Qurnic instance.
In 4:54 the words kitb and h ikmah occur in a context related to
the People of the Book, especially to the Jews of that time. The Qurn
criticizes their attitude with regard to Islam. Upon being asked (by the
polytheists of Quraysh) about their opinion regarding Islam and its
members, they said that the (Qurash) unbelievers were more rightly

Ibn al-Jawz, 1:113.
Al-Samn, 1:141.
Al-Baghaw, 1:116117.
Al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:312.
Al-Naysbr, 1:119.
64 chapter five

guided than the believers (Muslims) (4:51).19 Because they had been
given a portion of the Book, and thus had a taste and experience of the
heavenly message, their evaluation of the two groups in this manner
was seen as a very blameworthy attitude indeed. The following verses
(4:5354) say,
Or have they a share of the Kingdom (mulk)? If that is so, they do not
give the people [even as much as] a single speck on the back of a date-
stone. Or are they jealous of the people for the bounty that God has given
them? Yet We gave the people of Abraham the kitb and h ikmah, and We
gave them a mighty kingdom. Some of them believed in it, and some of
them disbelieved in it.
Then the Qurn declares that both those who disbelieve and those
who believe in Gods signs will reap the harvest of their positions as
punishment and reward, respectively (4:5657).
Commentators assert that the jealous ones were the Jews during
the Prophets lifetime, since they did not like the fact that prophecy had
been sent to Muhammad (and thus to the Arabs) rather than to them-
selves.20 The kitb given to the people of Abraham refers to the Book
that God revealed to Abraham and his successors in prophethood
Moses and other prophets from among Abrahams progeny.21 Accord-
ing to the majority of the early tafsr authorities, the word H ikmah
in this verse means prophethood (nubuwwah).22 Al-Tabar, however,
argues that h ikmah refers to that which was revealed to the people of
Abraham in a form other than that of a recited book (kitb maqr).23

As the occasion of the revelation (sabab al-nuzl) of this verse, tafsr scholars
record that some unbelievers from the Quraysh questioned a group of Jews, includ-
ing Kab b. al-Ashraf, regarding whether the formers own religion or the religion of
Muhammad was more rightly guided. Kab responded that the religion of the Quraysh
was better than Islam, whereupon this verse was revealed to the Prophet. See, for
instance, Ibn al-Jawz, 1:419420; al-Samn, 1:436; al-Baghaw, 1:441.
Al-Tabar, 8:476480; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:420421; al-Baghaw, 1:442. A Sh com-
mentator, Ibn Furt al-Kf (third/ninth century) argues that, as in the l Ibrhm, the
members of the Prophet Muhammads family (ahl al-bayt) were given special heavenly
characteristics, such as sanctity (walyah). Thus the ahl al-bayt represent the envied
ones (mahsdn) meant in this verse. Ibn Furt al-Kf, Tafsr Ibn Furt al-Kf, ed.
Muhammad al-Kzim (Beirut, 1992), 1:106107.
Al-Tabar, 8:48082; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:421; al-Samn, 1:437; al-Baghaw, 1:442.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:243; al-Huwwr, 1:390; al-Dnawar, 1:156; al-Samarqand,
1:360361; Ibn Ab Zamanayn, 1:381; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:421; al-Samn, 1:437; al-Baghaw,
Al-Tabar, 8:480.
h ikmah and the prophets 65

H ikmah is further defined as knowledge and understanding,24 compre-

hension in religion,25 and the sunnah.26
Also mentioned in the verse, and noteworthy in this context, is the
mulk azm (mighty kingdom) given to the people of Abraham. Schol-
ars who address this point put forth various explanations, as follows.
1) Mujhid and al-H asan al-Basr define this expression as prophet-
hood (nubuwwah).27 2) Al-Sudd asserts that mulk azm refers to the
historical fact that David and Solomon were allowed to marry many
women, this privilege constituting the mulk azm. In his view, the
aforementioned Jews had a double standard, for they considered the
fact that David and Solomon were married to innumerable women
perhaps more than a hundredlegitimate for David and Solomon,
while they did not view the same practice as legitimate for the Prophet
Muh ammad, who married a far smaller number (nine) of women.28 3)
Relying on Ibn Abbs definition, some scholars argue that mulk azm
indicates the mighty kingdom that God gave to Solomon, the son of
David, in this world.29 4) On the authority of Hammm b. al-Hrith,
some other commentators argue that this expression means that the
people of Abraham were divinely supported by angels and armies.30
Al-Tabar lists these four interpretations, then asserts that the most
suitable one is that of Ibn Abbs, for, according to Arabic linguistic
convention, the word mulk is more properly used in this sense.31 Ibn
al-Jawz further elucidates this usage, mentioning that mulk azm
means combining worldly administration (siysat al-duny) with legal
religious determination (shar al-dn).32
Alongside the Abrahamic prophets in particular, the Qurn states
that the prophets in general, without identifying them, were given
h ikmah. When God took the covenant (mthq) of the prophets, He
reminded them that He had given them the kitb and h ikmah. These
heavenly gifts would require the prophets to confirm and support a

Al-Samarqand, 1:360361.

Ibn al-Jawz, 1:421.

Al-Samn, 1:437.
Mujhid b. Jabr, 284; al-H asan al-Basr, 1:284; al-Tabar, 8:480481.
Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, 129; al-Tabar, 8:481; al-Samarqand,
1:361; Ibn Ab Zamanayn, 1:381; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:421; al-Mward, 1:497; al-Samn,
1:437; al-Baghaw, 1:442.
Al-Tabar, 8:481; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:421; al-Mward, 1:497; al-Samn, 1:437.
Al-Tabar, 8:481482; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:421; al-Mward, 1:497; al-Samn, 1:437.
Al-Tabar, 8:482.
Ibn al-Jawz, 1:421.
66 chapter five

messenger to come. According to the Qurnic statements, they agreed

to this and took Gods covenant as binding upon them. This was evi-
dently a metaphysical and non-temporal event to which an ordinary
person does not have access. I contextualize these verses, as below.
In 3:81, the context reveals that kitb and h ikmah are treated in
the framework of the Qurnic approach to some of the People of the
Book.33 The Qurn invites the People of the Book to common ground
on the condition that neither party worships other than God; likewise,
they not associate anything with Him as Lord (3:64). The Qurn criti-
cizes the People of the Book for their disputation concerning Abraham,
who lived before the Torah and Gospel were revealed. They should not
dispute on matters of which they have no knowledge. In fact, Abraham
was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a Muslim [or a person
who submitted to God] of pure faith, and he was never of the polythe-
ists. The people standing closest to Abraham are those who followed
him, and this Prophet (Muhammad), and those who believe. There is
a party of the People of the Book who want to mislead the Prophet,
but they mislead only themselves, while they are not aware. The Qurn
condemns the People of the Book for their disbelief in the signs of
God, which they themselves witness. They should not confound the
truth with falsehood, and they should not conceal the truth while they
have knowledge of it (3:6571). The true guidance is Gods guidance
and the bounty is in His hand; He gives it to whom He wills; and God
is All-Embracing, All-Knowing. He singles out for His mercy whom He
wills; God is the possessor of great bounty (3:7374). But the People of
the Book are not of a single kind; among them are those who are trust-
worthy and those who are perfidious (3:75). Then the Qurn explains
the appropriate attitude expected from a prophet toward his mission.
It is not for a mortal that God should give him the kitb, h ukm, and
prophethood and that he should then say to the people, Be worship-
pers/servants (ibd) of mine rather than Gods; on the contrary (he
should say), Be pious scholars of the Lord (rabbniyyn) because of
what you have taught of the kitb and because of what you have stud-
ied. The former does not order people to take angels and prophets as

Unlike other Qurnic references, the words kitb and h ikmah in this verse are
indefinite, though there is another Qurnic instance (54:5) in which only the word
h ikmah, without kitb, occurs in the indefinite.
h ikmah and the prophets 67

Lord (3:7980). Within this context, the following two verses (seem-
ingly addressing the People of the Book)34 read,
And when God took the covenant of the prophets [saying]: I have given
you of kitb and h ikmah; then there comes to you a Messenger confirm-
ing what is with you, you [must] believe in him and support him. He
(God) said, Do you agree and take My covenant as binding on you?
They said, We do agree. He (God) said, Bear witness so, and I will be
with you among the witnesses. Then whoever turns his back after that,
they are the ungodly.
The Qurn continues its disapproval of the People of the Book because
of their disbelief in the religion of God (Islam) and concludes that
if they persist in this disbelief, they will not be among the felicitous
The exegetes referred to thus far maintain that this verse does not
introduce any additional dimension to the meanings of the words kitb
and h ikmah that have been discussed in the previous Qurnic instances.
Some scholars, however, interpret these words as referring to the Torah
and that which is in it regarding what is lawful and unlawful.35
Of the Abrahamic prophets, the Qurn singles out David as having
been given h ikmah as well as worldly authority (mulk). In Islamic lit-
erature, accordingly, he is highly esteemed as an ideal ruler who com-
bined and practiced both spiritual and political leadership in a perfect

Authority: The Case of David

From the context of 2:251 we know the story of the Children of Israel
(after Moses); they said to their prophet (Samuel) that he should
appoint a king for them in order to fight in the way of God. The
prophet was hesitant to do so, since he feared that they would change
their minds with respect to such a duty. The Children of Israel insisted
on their demand, arguing that they had plausible reasons to fight in
Gods way, for they had been expelled from their lands and children
(2:246). When the Prophet informed them that God had appointed
Saul (T lt) as their leader, the Children of Israel were not pleased
with this decision and they raised petty objections. They argued that

Al-Tabar, 6:552559.

Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:180; al-Dnawar, 1:115; al-Samarqand, 1:281.

68 chapter five

Sauls social position was inferior to theirs, seeing that he had not been
given an amplitude of wealth. The Prophet challenged the basis of their
argument, saying that God was the only authority to decide who would
be given kingship (mulk). God chose Saul over them and increased
him greatly in mental and physical powers (2:247). When Saul went
forth with the soldiers, many of them sought excuses to retrace their
steps, thinking that they had no chance against Goliath (Jlt) and his
forces. Only a small group of Sauls soldiers remained steadfast in their
promise. They faced the enemy with all their conviction, sincerity, and
prayers (2:249250). The following verse reads,
They defeated them by the will of God and David slew Goliath; and
God gave him (David) kingship (mulk) and h ikmah, and He taught him
whatever (else) He willed. Had God not driven the people back, some by
means of others, the earth would have surely been corrupted; but God is
full of bounty to the worlds.
The majority of early commentators interpret the word mulk and h ikmah
in this verse as kingship (mulk)36 and prophethood (nubuwwah),37
respectively. Some use the word sultn to define the word mulk,38 as
if to emphasize the type of kingship involved, that is, worldly. David
was the first to combine kingship and prophethood in the history of
the Children of Israel; as before him, kingship had belonged to one
tribe (sibt) of the Israelites and prophethood to another.39 By the time
of Davids reign, the Israelites had become a great kingdom to such an
extent that none of the previous Israelite leaders before David had ever
ruled over such a large land.40
In addition to their definition of the word h ikmah as prophethood,
some scholars present a complementary argument, saying that h ikmah
here refers to the book given to David, i.e., the Zabr.41 H ikmah also
means understanding (fahm)42 and intelligence (aql) in religion.43 It is

Al-D ah hk, 1:213; Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:132; al-Dnawar, 1:83; al-Samn, 1:254;
al-Baghaw, 1:235; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:382.
Al-D ah hk, 1:213; al-Tustar, 42; al-Dnawar, 1:83; al-Huwwr, 1:237; al-Tabar,
5:371; Ibn Ab H tim, 2:480; al-Samarqand, 1:221; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:227; al-Mward,
1:320321; al-Samn, 1:254; al-Baghaw, 1:235; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:382.
Al-Tabar, 5:371; al-Mward, 1:320321.
Al-D ah hk, 1:213; al-Samn, 1:254; al-Baghaw, 1:235.
Al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:382.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:132; al-Samarqand, 1:221; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:227.
Al-Dnawar, 1:83.
Ibn Ab H tim, 2:480.
h ikmah and the prophets 69

further said that mulk and h ikmah together in this verse denote knowl-
edge accompanied by action.44 Al-Mward mentions a second aspect
of this combination, as he argues that mulk means the submission
(inqiyd) to his (Davids) command(s) and h ikmah means upright-
ness in Davids behavior (sratih). This happened after the death of
Saul, when David was left unaccompanied to deal with the Israelites
In 38:20 the word h ikmah appears in relation to David in a context
similar to that of 2:251. As the occasion of revelation of the verses
in this section of the srah, commentators point to the situation of
the Meccan unbelievers who continuously derided the Prophets mes-
sage and statements. When verses 69:1927 were revealed, the Mec-
can unbelievers sarcastically hastened forth the punishment promised
in these verses, wherein an eschatological scene is described in which
people will be given their book of deeds in their right or left hands,
depending on their deeds in this world; in the Hereafter, they will be
rewarded or punished, respectively. Considering themselves among
those whose books will be given to them in their left hands, the Mec-
can unbelievers took to mocking, saying that they were ready for the
punishment and there was no reason to delay it (38:1516). There-
upon, the section of srah 38 in which the word h ikmah is mentioned
was revealed.46 The Prophet is instructed that he should be patient at
what they say and remember the story of David who was a man of
might and penitence (38:19). The relation between the case of David
and that of Muhammad could be the fact that they were both required
to be patient for a time before receiving worldly power and thus real-
izing their promises. David had not been known as a heroic person
before he slew Goliath and some had ridiculed his earlier eagerness to
face Goliath. Against the background of this story, the following verse
occurs, We strengthened his kingdom (mulk) and gave him h ikmah
and decisive speech (fasl al-khitb).
Early scholars of tafsr introduce various definitions of the word
h ikmah as it appears here. On the authority of Ibn Abbs, al-H asan
al-Basr, and Ibn Zayd, commentators report that h ikmah means

Al-Samn, 1:254; al-Baghaw, 1:235.
Al-Mward, 1:320321.
Ibn al-Jawz, 3:562563; al-Baghaw, 4:5051.
70 chapter five

understanding (fahm) and knowledge.47 On the authority of Qatdah

and al-Sudd, they assert that it denotes sunnah48 and prophethood,49
respectively. Yet other scholars define h ikmah as correctness in
[all] affairs,50 justice (adl),51 virtue (fadl), and perspicacity (fitnah).52
Al-Zamakhshar argues that h ikmah here refers to the Zabr and
knowledge of religious laws (ilm al-shari). He also reports that every
word that is consistent with the truth (h aqq) is h ikmah.53 As for the
expression fasl al-khitb, scholars analyze it together with h ikmah and
list a number of definitions of this combination.
Al-Farr (d. 207/822) defines h ikmah on the authority of Mujhid
as shuhd. Interestingly, Gutas mistranslates al-Farr and understands
the vision of God54 from the word h ikmah in this verse; he com-
pletely neglects the contextual and interdisciplinary elements in the
text. Al-Farrs use of shuhd has no relation to the vision of God,
though the word shuhd can be used as a masdar of the verb sh-h-d
in this sense, in addition to its usage as a plural of the noun shhid
(witness), which is what al-Farr means in this passage. By this word,
he is simply referring to the legal rule of witnessing in the context
of litigation. According to this rule on litigation, the presentation of
witnesses (shuhd) falls to the plaintiff (mudda) and taking oaths
falls upon the defendant (mudda alayh). The word next to shuhd
in al-Farrs text is oaths (aymn), making clear Gutas misunder-
standing. Furthermore, in such texts, the concept of vision of God, is
referred with the word mushhadah (the masdar of the third form of
the root sh-h-d), rather than shuhd (the masdar of the first form of the
same root.) Considering al-Farrs personal and intellectual stance in
the Islamic scholarly tradition, it is doubtful that he would have used
this word with such Sufi overtones.
With regard to the discussions by early authorities of the expression
fasl al-khitb in this verse, al-H asan al-Basr is reported as saying that
this expression means understanding regarding (passing) judgment (ilm

Al-H asan al-Basr, 2:239; Zayd b. Al, 270; Muqtil, Tafsr, 3:639; al-Tustar, 42; Ibn
Wahb, 1:9; al-Tabar, 23:139; al-Samarqand, 3:132; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:564; al-Mward, 5:84.
Al-Tabar, 23:139; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:564; al-Mward, 5:84.
Al-Tustar, 42; Ibn Wahb, 1:9; al-Tabar, 23:139; al-Samarqand, 3:132; Ibn
al-Jawz, 3:564; al-Mward, 5:84; al-Baghaw, 4:52.
Ibn al-Jawz, 3:564; al-Baghaw, 4:52.
Al-Mward, 5:84.
Al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 2:365.
Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 52.
h ikmah and the prophets 71

f al-qad).55 Similarly, Zayd b. Al explains it as knowledge of judg-

ment (ilm bi-al-qad). He also states that the combination of h ikmah
and fasl al-khitb means witnesses (shuhd) and oaths (aymn).56 Ibn
Qutaybah explicates this definition, saying that fasl al-khitb means
witnessing and oaths on account of the fact that judgment is deter-
mined depending on them.57 On the same point, al-Tabar, on the
authority of Shurayh (d. 85/704), reports that fasl al-khitb indicates
that in a legal argument, proof is upon the plaintiff (mudda) while
swearing an oath is on the defendant (mudda alayh).58 Ibn al-Jawz
prefers this explanation, stating that a dispute is clarified through this
process.59 Muqtil and Abd al-Razzq (d. 211/827) argue that fasl
al-khitb means fasl al-qad (decisive judgment).60 Some scholars,
including al-Farr and Ibn Qutaybah, assert that fasl al-khitb refers
also to the expression amm bad,61 which is used as a transitional
phrase between two topics in a text, especially after praising God.62 It is
also related that Ibn Abbs defined fasl al-khitb as an explanation of
the word (bayn al-kalm).63 Summarizing the previous explanations,
al-Tabar concludes that the word fasl means qat (cutting or being
definitive) and that the expression thus refers to an unimpeachable
argument that forces itself ineluctably upon the interlocutor.64

Al-H asan al-Basr, 2:239; al-Huwwr, 4:10. Al-Tabar attributes the same inter-
pretation to Mujhid and al-Sudd, saying that the two defined fasl al-khitb as knowl-
edge of judgment and understanding it. Al-Tabar, 23:140. On the authority of Ibn
Abbs, Ibn al-Jawz relates that this expression refers to knowledge of judgment and
justice. Ibn al-Jawz, 3:564. Likewise, al-Baghaw reports Ibn Masds explanation that
fasl al-khitb denotes knowledge of judgment and insightfulness (tabassu r) therein.
Al-Baghaw, 4:52.
Zayd b. Al, 270; Yahy b. Ziyd al-Farr, Man al-Qurn, eds. Ahmad Ysuf
al-Najt and Muh ammad Al al-Najjr (Beirut, 1955), 2:401; Ibn Wahb uses the word
bayyint instead of aymn together with the shuhd. Ibn Wahb, 1:9.
Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, 378.
Al-Tabar, 23:140. See also al-Samarqand, 3:132; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:564. Al-Baghaw
attributes this definition to Al b. Ab T lib. Al-Baghaw, 4:52.
Ibn al-Jawz, 3:564.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 3:639; Abd al-Razzq, 3:113.
Al-Farr, 2:401; Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, 378; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:564.
Al-Baghaw, 4:52.
Ibn al-Jawz, 3:564; al-Baghaw, 4:52.
Al-Tabar, 23:140. Jafar al-Sdiq (d. 148/765), on the other hand, is reported as
giving a combined definition of h ikmah and fasl al-khitb as truthfulness in speech
(idq al-qawl), soundness/reliability in contract (sih h at al-aqd), and stability in affairs
(thabt f al-umr). Paul Nwyia Le tafsr mystique attribu Jafar Sdiq, Mlanges
de lUniversit Saint-Joseph 43, no. 4 (1968), 218.
72 chapter five

Another Qurnic personality whose name is usually, if not always,

accompanied by the word h ikmah is Luqmn. His extraordinary wis-
dom, sagacity, and comprehension of subtle meanings make Luqmn an
unparalleled figure in Muslim literature. In general, he is not regarded
as a prophet, but instead as an upright and pious individual. The fol-
lowing section addresses Luqmn in detail.

Thankfulness: The Case of Luqmn

In 31:12, the word h ikmah is mentioned in relation to Luqmn the

H akm, after whom this srah is named. The early verses of the srah
state that these verses are of the h akm Book, which is a guidance
and mercy to those who do good, who perform prayer, pay alms, and
have sure faith in the Hereafter (31:25). There are some men who
buy idle and diverting talks to lead people astray from the way of God
without knowledge, and to take it in mockery.65 When the verses of
God are recited to such a man, he turns away arrogantly, as if he had
not heard them and as if he had a hearing difficulty (31:67). Starting
from verse 12, the verses speak about Luqmn and his wise sayings,
as follows, Indeed, We gave Luqmn h ikmah [saying]: Give thanks
to God. Whoever gives thanks gives thanks only for the good of his
own soul, and whoever is ungrateful, surely God is All-Sufficient, All-
Praiseworthy. Luqmn gently admonishes his son about a number of
essential principles, saying that: 1) he should not associate others with
God, since this is a mighty injustice (zulm azm);66 2) he should never
forget that everything (good and evil) is known to God and that He
will take account of it, as He is All-Subtle, All-Aware; 3) he should
perform the prayer, enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong,
and bear patiently whatever may befall him; and, 4) he should not
behave arrogantly and exultantly, since God does not love any prideful
boaster; rather he should behave with humility (31:1419).

As the occasion of revelation of this verse, tafsr scholars mention Nadr b. al-H riths
attitude against the Qurn. Nadr was a pagan who lived at the time of the Prophet. He
was known to buy books of Persian romance and read them to uneducated people to
divert their attention from the Qurn. He would tell them that Muhammad was telling
them stories about the people of d and Thamd and he was going to tell them stories
related to Iranians and Romans. See al-Dnawar, 2:158; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:430.
Ibn Qutaybah defines the word zulm, which is one of the opposite concepts to
hikmah, as putting a thing in a place which is not its authentic place (wad al-shay
f ghayr mawdiih). Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, 28.
h ikmah and the prophets 73

Very little is known of Luqmns life; we find him as a real historical

figure only in Arabic and Islamic tradition. According to the Muslim
commentators, he belonged to the Arab tradition, as he was a member
and sage of the people of d. He is treated as a model of perfect wisdom.
Tafsr authorities report that he was an Ethiopian slave carpenter and
relate a number of accounts that reflect his wise decisions. For example,
his master (sayyid) ordered him to slaughter a lamb for him, and remove
the two best pieces from it and bring them to him. Luqmn brought the
tongue and the heart. Sometime later, his master again ordered him to
slaughter a lamb, but this time to take out and bring the worst two pieces
to him. Luqmn brought the tongue and the heart again. When his mas-
ter asked him regarding this matter, saying, I ordered you to bring the
best two pieces and you brought the tongue and heart to me. Then I
ordered you to bring the worst two pieces and you brought the tongue
and heart? Luqmn replied, the reason was that if these two things
are good there is not any better thing, neither is there any worse thing
if these two are bad.67 Al-Suyt refers to the following h adth regarding
Luqmns characteristics, as reported by al-H akm al-Tirmidh, Luqmn
was a slave of much thinking (kathr al-tafakkur), good opinion (husn
al-zann), and much silence (kathr al-amt). He loved God and God
loved him; and God bestowed hikmah upon him...68
According to another anecdote indicating Luqmns wisdom, a cer-
tain man came to Luqmn as the latter was talking to a group of peo-
ple, and the man asked him how he attained such perfection. Luqmn
replied, veracity in speech (sidq al-h adth) and being silent regarding
things that do not concern me (al-samt an-m l yann).69 In his nar-
ration of the same story, al-Samarqand adds another quality to these
two characteristics: executing the trust (ad al-amnah).70
Al-Suyt mentions accounts in which Luqmn gives advice to his
son saying, O my son, you should sit with the ulam and listen to the
words of the h ukam, for God gives new life to a dead heart through
the light of h ikmah, just as a downpour gives new life to a dead land;71
O my son, do not learn that which you do not know until you practice

Yahy b. Sallm (Ibn Sallm), Tafsr Yahy b. Sallm, ed. Hind Shalab (Beirut,
2004), 2:672673; al-Tabar, 21:6768; al-Samarqand, 3:2021; al-Mward, 4:331332.
Al-Suyt, al-Durr al-manthr, 6:510511.
Al-Tabar, 21:68.
Al-Samarqand, 3:21.
Al-Suyt, al-Durr al-manthr, 6:512. As mentioned above, al-Suyt cites the
same h adth when he explicates verse 2:269.
74 chapter five

that which you do know (l tataallam m l talam hatt tamal bi-m

talam);72 and There is no wealth (ghin) like health and there is no
comfort (nam) like high spiritedness (tayyib al-nafs).73 Al-Suyt also
cites the following saying, which is frequently quoted by lexicographers,
as I have mentioned in the previous part, as one of Luqmns aphorisms,
Silence is [a part] of h ikmah, but only a few practice it.74
With the exception of Ikrimah, the majority of the early authorities,
including Mujhid and Qatdah, argue that Luqmn was not a prophet,
but instead a wise (h akm) and upright (slih ) person.75 Ikrimah
(d. 107/725) asserts that Luqmn was also a prophet.76 Commentators
relate that Luqmn was given a heavenly option to choose between
prophethood and h ikmah. He chose h ikmah over prophethood. When
he was asked about the reason for his choice, he said that he was afraid
of not being able to carry out the mission of prophethood properly and
thus h ikmah was more appealing to him.77
Scholars list various definitions for the meaning of the word h ikmah
in this verse. Mujhid interprets this h ikmah as comprehension (fiqh),
intelligence (aql), and correctness in speech in cases other than in
prophethood, i.e., when it is applied to those who are not prophets.78

Ibid., 6:519.
Ibid., 6:515.
Ibid., 6:513. In another context, al-Suyt reports accounts in which we find the
expressions it is written in h ikmah (maktb f al-h ikmah), i.e., the h ikmah of Luqmn
(yan h ikmat Luqmn), I have found (wajadtu) in h ikmah, and I have read (qaratu)
in h ikmah. Ibid., 6:517518. But as al-Suyt does not explain the meaning of h ikmah
in this context, one cannot be sure if he is referring to some written materials pre-
served as Luqmns sayings or to something else.
Al-Tabar, 21:67; Ibn Ab H tim, 9:3097; al-Samarqand, 3:20; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:430;
al-Baghaw, 3:490491.
Ibn Ab H tim, 9:3098; al-Samarqand, 3:20; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:430; al-Baghaw,
Ibn Ab H tim, 9:3097.
Mujhid b. Jabr, 541; Abd al-Razzq, 3:22; Yahy b. Sallm, Tafsr, 2:672; al-Tabar,
21:67; Ibn Ab H tim, 9:3097; al-Samarqand, 3:20; al-Mward, 4:332. Similarly, Zayd b.
Al says that the meaning of hikmah is comprehension and correctness in speech. Zayd
b. Al, 250. Muqtil and Ibn Wahb define hikmah as knowledge (ilm) and understand-
ing (fahm) in cases other than in prophethood. Muqtil, Tafsr, 3:434; al-Dnawar, 2:159.
Yahy b. Sallm reports that this hikmah also denotes understanding and intellect. Yahy
b. Sallm, Tafsr, 2:672. On the authority of Mujhids teacher, Ibn Abbs, al-Suyt nar-
rates that Ibn Abbs defined hi kmah in this place as intellect, understanding, and per-
ah) in everything other than prophethood. Al-Suyt, al-Durr al-manthr,
spicacity (fitn
6:510. Qatdah asserts that hikmah means comprehension in Islam. Al-Tabar, 21:67.
Al-Baghaw says that the meaning of hikmah here covers intellect, knowledge and
practice, and correctness in matters. Al-Baghaw, 3:490.
h ikmah and the prophets 75

In this context, al-Samarqand cites a h adth describing h ikmah as a

gift from God to His ascetic servants. God places h ikmah in the hearts
of such pious people whose speech and acts accord with this special
heavenly gift. The Prophet encourages Muslims to keep the company of
such people and to listen to them, since they have been given h ikmah.79
Mujhid defines h ikmah as a trust (amnah) and as the Qurn as well.80
Another definition of h ikmah is prophethood, as argued by al-Sudd.81
Tafsr scholars assert that the second part of this verse (an ush-
kur li-Allh, meaning, give thanks to God) indicates that being given
h ikmah requires thankfulness to God in return, though this thankful-
ness is really for the servants own good.82 On a grammatical plane, the
an phrase could be a substitution (badal) of al-h ikmah. In that case, the
meaning of the verse becomes, We gave Luqmn h ikmah (wisdom),
namely: Be grateful to God83
Given all these explanations of the word h ikmah in this verse, once
again, I cannot concur with Gutas argument that h ikmah here refers to
a book of maxims that God gave to Luqmn.84 Maxims might form a
part of h ikmah, but h ikmah goes far beyond this meaning and indicates
an essential practical dimension, since Luqmns behavior and moral-
ity, as well as his words, were in agreement with the h ikmah given to
him. Reducing the meaning of h ikmah to merely maxim, therefore,
excludes indispensable components of this concept. This fact can also
be seen in the Qurnic attribution of h ikmah to Jesus, which is also,
one might say, arbitrarily, defined by Gutas as maxim.85

A Criterion for Jesus

In 3:48 the word h ikmah occurs in a context related to Jesus and his heav-
enly characteristics. God chose Adam, Noah, the family of Abraham,
the family of Imran, and their descendents over the worlds (3:3334).
The wife of Imran [Hannah] dedicated his unborn child to the service

Al-Samarqand, 3:20.

Al-Tabar, 21:68. Although al-Tabar relates Mujhids interpretation of h ikmah in


this verse as such, Mujhid should be defining this word in a general manner. Histori-
cally speaking, there is no reason to apply this definition to Luqmn.
Al-Samarqand, 3:20; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:430.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 3:434; al-Tabar, 21:68; al-Samarqand, 3:21.
I owe this explanation to Wolfhart Heinrichs.
Gutas, Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature, 54.
76 chapter five

of God and when she delivered the baby she named her Mary and
prayed that God would protect Mary and her offspring from the
accursed Satan (3:3536). God accepted the child with gracious favor
and assigned Zachariah to care for her as she grew up in purity and
beauty (3:37). Zachariah also desired to have a child and prayed that
God would give him a goodly offspring. When the angels informed
him that God would give him good tidings of John who would con-
firm a Word from God as well as be noble, chaste, a prophet, and a
righteous person, Zachariah was very surprised, because he was an
old man and his wife was barren. The angels responded that such was
Gods will (3:3840). The angels came and told Mary that she was cho-
sen above all women and purified by God; she should be obedient to
her Lord and worship Him (3:4243). The following verse expresses
that this was all from the news of the unseen to which Muhammad
had no physical access (3:44). The Qurn then tells the story of Jesus
birth. The angels said to Mary that God was sending her good tidings
of a Word from Him, whose name would be the Messiah, Jesus, son of
Mary and that he would be highly honored in this world and the next,
and that he would be among those who were stationed near to God.
He would also speak to the people in childhood and in maturity, and
he would be of the righteous. Mary was shocked by this message and
asked how she could have a son, seeing that no man had touched her.
She received the following response (3:4551),
Even so, God creates what He wills. When He decrees a thing He does
but say to it Be, and it is. And He will teach him the kitb, the h ikmah,
the Torah, and the Gospel, to be a Messenger to the Children of Israel
saying, I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I will create for
you out of clay as the likeness of a bird; then I will breathe into it, and it
will be a bird by the permission of God. I will also heal the blind (from
birth) and the leper, and bring to life the dead, by the permission of God.
And I will inform you of what things you eat, and what you treasure up
in your houses. Surely, in that is a sign for you, if you are believers. And
[I have also come to you] to be a confirmer of the truth of the Torah that
came before me, and to make lawful to you some of the things that were
forbidden to you previously. I have come to you with a sign from your
Lord; so fear God and obey me. Indeed, God is my Lord and your Lord;
so worship Him. This is a straight path.
Scholars of tafsr do not seem to put any special emphasis on this
verse. The majority of early commentators explain the words kitb and
h ikmah and the prophets 77

h ikmah as handwriting (kitbah/khatt) 86 and the sunnah,87 respec-

tively. Some authorities argue that the kitb refers to the Books of the
Prophets (kutub al-anbiy),88 their h ikmah,89 and knowledge.90 As for
h ikmah, they introduce a number of secondary meanings, such as (the
knowledge of) what is lawful (h all) and unlawful (h arm),91 under-
standing, knowledge, comprehension,92 judgment by prophets,93 and
correctness in speech and act.94 The Qurnic attribution of h ikmah to
Jesus can also be analyzed in the following verse.
In 5:110, the context seems to relate to verses 3:48 and 3:81. The
previous verse describes a scene (apparently in the future) in which
God will gather the messengers and ask, What was the response you
received? They will say that they have no knowledge of this, as God is
the Knower of things unseen. Then God will say (5:110),
O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My blessing upon you and upon your
mother when I confirmed you with the Holy Spirit to speak to men in
childhood and in maturity; and when I taught you the kitb, h ikmah, the
Torah, and the Gospel; and when you created, with My permission, out
of clay the likeness of a bird, then you breathed into it, and it became a
bird with My permission; and when you healed the blind and the leper
with My permission; and when you brought the dead forth with My
permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from you when
you came to them with the clear signs, and the unbelievers among them
said, This is nothing but obvious magic.
Then the Qurn depicts a conversation between God and Jesus (5:116
And when God said, O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people,
Take me and my mother as gods, apart from God? He will say, Glory

Abd al-Malik b. Abd al-Azz b. Jurayj, Tafsr Ibn Jurayj, ed. Al H asan Abd
al-Ghan (Cairo, 1992), 68. Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:171; al-Huwwr, 1:284; al-Dnawar,
1:107; al-Tabar, 6:421422; al-Samarqand, 1:268; Ibn Ab Zamanayn, 1:289; Ibn
al-Jawz, 1:284; al-Samn, 1:320; al-Baghaw, 1:302; Ibn Atiyyah, 2:426427.
Ibn Jurayj, 68; Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:171; al-Huwwr, 1:284; al-Tabar, 6:421422; Ibn
Ab Zamanayn, 1:289; Ibn Atiyyah, 2:426427.
Al-Dnawar, 1:107; al-Samarqand, 1:268.
Al-Dnawar, 1:107.
Ibn al-Jawz, 1:284.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:171; al-Dnawar, 1:107.
Al-Dnawar, 1:107; al-Samarqand, 1:268; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:284; al-Samn, 1:320;
al-Baghaw, 1:302; Ibn Jurayj, 68.
Ibn al-Jawz, 1:284.
Ibn Ati yyah, 2:426427.
78 chapter five

be to You! It is not for me to say what I have no right to. If I had said it,
You would indeed have known it. You know what is within myself, and
I know not what is within Yourself; You know the things unseen. I only
said to them what You commanded me: Worship God, my Lord and
Your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I remained among
them. But when You took me up, You were the Watcher over them; You
are a Witness of everything. If You punish them, they are Your servants
and if You forgive them, You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. God will
say, This is the day the truthful will benefit from their truthfulness.
Most of the early authorities on tafsr argue that the word kitb in
this verse means handwriting.95 They also state that it means the kutub
(books); its singular form (kitb) is used here as a generic noun96 refer-
ring to the books of the prophets.97
As for the word h ikmah, authorities assert that in this case, it means
knowledge, understanding, comprehension,98 and the knowledge of
what is lawful and what is unlawful.99 Al-Tabar further elucidates this
definition by arguing that h ikmah here indicates understanding the
meanings of the book that God revealed to Jesus, which is the Gos-
pel.100 Al-Mward, however, expands the range of meaning to cover
the knowledge of that which exists in the previous books as well. He
also mentions, as a second interpretation for h ikmah, that it indicates
everything Jesus needed regarding his religion as well as his worldly
In 43:63 the word h ikmah is similarly mentioned in relation to
Jesus. According to the Qurnic statements, when the son of Mary
was cited as an example, the unbelievers attempted to mock him and
compare Jesus and their own gods. But they were not sincerely look-
ing for the truth of the matter; rather, they were only trying to engage
in meaningless disputations (43:5758).102 The Qurn introduces its
own description of Jesus, noting that he was a blessed servant and that

Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:351; Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, 148; al-Dnawar,
1:215; al-Tabar, 11:215; al-Samarqand, 1:466; al-Mward, 2:79; al-Baghaw, 2:77.
Al-Mward, 2:7980.
Al-Dnawar, 1:215.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:351; Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, 148; al-Tabar,
11:215; al-Samarqand, 1:466; al-Mward, 2:79; al-Baghaw, 2:77.
Al-Dnawar, 1:215.
Al-Tabar, 11:215.
Al-Mward, 2:7980.
Tafsr scholars report that these unbelievers knew something about the theologi-
cal position of Jesus in Christian belief at that time. By way of making a comparison
between their own gods and Jesus as held by those Christians, the unbelievers were
h ikmah and the prophets 79

God made him an example to the Children of Israel (43:59). The verses
6364 read,
And when Jesus came with the clear signs (bayyint), he said, I have
come to you with h ikmah, and that I may make clear to you some of that
over which you differ; so fear God and obey me. Indeed, God is my Lord
and your Lord; therefore worship Him; this is a straight path.
Early commentators do not focus special attention on the word h ikmah
in this verse either. They give mainly two references for the word,
namely, prophethood103 and the Gospel (Injl)104 that was revealed to
Jesus, in which there are explanations regarding what is lawful and
unlawful.105 Al-Mward mentions another possible meaning of h ikmah
here as knowledge that leads to good and prevents from evil.106
As for the word bayyint, some scholars assert that it refers to clear
proofs,107 including miracles, such as giving life to the dead, and cur-
ing the blind and the leper.108 Other scholars state that it refers to the
In the case of Jesus, therefore, the Qurn states that he was par-
ticularly blessed by h ikmah, in addition to his other heavenly char-
acteristics. God taught him the kitb, the h ikmah, the Torah, and the
Gospel; and accordingly, Jesus came to his people with the clear signs
and h ikmah to clarify for them the points on which they disagreed.
Once again, it is not easy to define h ikmah in these verses with a single
word. Rather, together with other God-given qualities peculiar to him,
h ikmah seems to refer to Jesus exclusive position in the Qurn.
Having listed all the Qurnic verses in which the word h ikmah is
mentioned in relation to the earlier prophets, I now examine the appli-
cation of this notion to the Prophet of Islam.

entering into contentious speculations with the Muslims. Ibn al-Jawz, 4:81; al-Baghaw,
Al-Dnawar, 2:291; al-Tabar, 25:92; al-Samarqand, 3:212; Ibn al-Jawz, 4:82;
al-Mward, 5:236; al-Baghaw, 4:144.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 3:800; Ibn al-Jawz, 4:82; al-Mward, 5:236; al-Zamakhshar,
al-Kashshf, 2:495.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 3:800; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 2:495.
Al-Mward, 5:236.
Al-Tabar, 25:92.
Al-Samarqand, 3:212.
Al-Tabar, 25:92; al-Samarqand, 3:212.
80 chapter five

Heavenly Grace to the Unlettered People:

The Case of Muh ammad

In 2:151 the words kitb and h ikmah occur in a context related to the
idea of the qiblah (the direction faced in prayer). In the early days
of Islam, the Muslims used to turn toward Jerusalem as their qiblah,
and the Prophet was apparently willing to change this practice (2:144),
for the Jews of Medina took this to mean that the Prophet was sim-
ply imitating their religion. On the Muslims part, however, turning
to Jerusalem symbolized their allegiance to the continuity of heavenly
revelation. When the Prophets desire for direction was answered by
God, the Kabah became the qiblah for Muslims. On this occasion, the
Jews were sarcastic about this change, since they saw in it inconsistent
behavior. The Qurn challenges their attitude on the general grounds
that the whole world, East and West, belongs to God and He is the one
who guides to the straight path (2:142). Those who had been given the
Book previously were aware that this new message and Messenger were
sent by God, but still, some of them did not accept and appreciate it.
Muslims are encouraged to strive as in a race toward good works, not
embark upon endless disputations with those who were given the Book
before them (2:145149). Wherever they may be, Muslims should turn
their faces towards the Holy Mosque and should not fear the evildo-
ers. Rather, the Muslims should fear God so that He may perfect His
blessing upon them and that they may be guided (2:150). The follow-
ing two verses read,
Just as We have sent among you, from yourselves, a Messenger to recite
to you Our signs, to purify you, to teach you the kitb and h ikmah, and
to teach you that which you did not know, so remember Me, and I shall
remember you; and be thankful to Me; and do not be ungrateful to me.
These verses indicate that having being taught the kitb and h ikmah is
something that requires thankfulness and gratitude in return, as noted
above in the case of Luqmn.
The majority of the early exegetes interpret kitb in this verse as the
Qurn.110 Alongside this, al-Mward offers an explanation to the effect
that this word means informing (ikhbr) about that which existed in
the previous books regarding the earlier times and peoples.111 As far as
the word h ikmah is concerned, the commentators list various mean-

Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:77; al-Huwwr, 1:158; al-Dnawar, 2:52; al-Tabar, 3:211; Ibn
Ab Zamanayn, 1:188; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:123; al-Mward, 1:208.
Al-Mward, 1:208.
h ikmah and the prophets 81

ings, such as the sunnah112 and the admonitions of the Qurn,113 and
[the knowledge of] what is lawful and what is unlawful.114 Al-Tabar
asserts that h ikmah here means the prophetic practices (sunan) and
comprehension in religion.115
In 4:113, the words kitb and h ikmah are mentioned in an interest-
ing context. Tafsr authorities relate an anecdote about the occasion of
the revelation of this verse as follows: A man from the Ansr called
Tumah, who was a member of the tribe of Ban Z afar, was nominally
known as a Muslim but was actually a hypocrite who had committed
all sorts of wicked acts. He had, for example, stolen a set of armor
(dir) from his neighbor, Qatdah b. al-Numn. The armor was in a
sack filled with flour, but the sack also had a hole. Tumah first took the
armor to his own house and then intentionally left it in the house of
Zayd, who was a Jew. When the owner tracked his stolen property by
following the flour, it was eventually found in the house of Zayd. Zayd
denied the charge and accused Tumah, but the sympathies of the Mus-
lim community were with Tumah, who also took oaths to prove his
innocence. The case was brought to the Prophet. Out of tribal alliance
and honor, the Ban Z afar attempted to prejudice him and deceive
him into using his authority in favor of Tumah. Seeing Tumahs oath
and the testimony of his tribe, the Prophet was about to identify Zayd
as the guilty party when, at this moment exactly, he received this rev-
elation.116 In this context, the Prophet is instructed that he has been
given the kitb with the truth so that he might judge between people
with Gods guidance; he should not be an advocate for traitors, but
seek the forgiveness of God, who is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate
(4:105106). Even if he and others should dispute on their behalf in the
present life, on the Resurrection Day those traitors will have no one to
help them. In reality, whoever commits a sin, commits it against him-
self only, for God is All-Knowing, All-Wise. And whoever commits a
sin and then blames it upon the innocent, has thereby laid upon him-
self a slander and manifest sin (4:109112). The following verse says,

Al-Huwwr, 1:158; Ibn Ab Zamanayn, 1:188; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:123; al-Mward,
1:208; al-Samn, 1:155; al-Baghaw, 1:128.
Al-Mward, 1:208; al-Samn, 1:155; al-Baghaw, 1:128.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:77; al-Dnawar, 2:52.
Al-Tabar, 3:211.
Mujhid b. Jabr, 291292; al-H asan al-Basr, 1:296297; al-D ah h k, 1:303304;
al-Dnawar, 1:168; al-Tabar, 9:196199; al-Samarqand, 1:384386; Ibn al-Jawz,
1:465466; al-Samn, 1:475476; al-Baghaw, 1:477; Al-Zajjj, 2:113.
82 chapter five

And if it were not for the grace of God to you, and His mercy, a group of
them would have intended to lead you astray; but they lead only them-
selves astray; they cannot hurt you in anything. God has sent down to
you the kitb and h ikmah, and He has taught you that which you did not
know; Gods grace to you is ever great.
The majority of the early commentators state that the word kitb in
this verse refers to the Qurn,117 in which there is an explanation of
all things, guidance, and admonition.118 As for h ikmah, they intro-
duce various interpretations. Al-Tabar asserts that in this verse, kitb
is accompanied by h ikmah, which denotes everything that exists in
the kitb in a general manner (mujmalan) in its statements indicating
lawful and unlawful things, commands and prohibitions, judgments,
and promises and threats.119 Ibn al-Jawz gives three definitions of
h ikmah as follows: 1) it means judgments through the revelation, as
Ibn Abbs said; 2) it refers to [the knowledge of] what is lawful and
what is unlawful, as Muqtil argued; and, 3) it denotes an explanation
of that which exists in the kitb, inspiring truth or correct(ness), and
delivering the correct answer in a confusing situation (raw), as stated
by Ab Sulaymn al-Dimashq.120 Al-Samn defines h ikmah in this
verse as sunnah.121 Al-Zajjj, however, argues that this passage means
that in His kitb, God has explained the h ikmah which does not allow
one to go astray (dall).122
In 17:39 the word hikmah occurs within a framework that covers
a number of essential Qurnic principles. According to the Qurnic
statements, God commands that He alone be worshipped and that
parents be treated with the highest respect and with utmost care in every
sense. Relatives, the needy, and travelers should be given their rights.
One should not spend wastefully nor tightfistedly, but should rather do
ones honest best to help the poor, even if this is only with a kind word.
Children should not be slain for fear of poverty; this is a grievous sin.
One should not approach fornication, since it is an indecent and evil act.
No one is to be killed unjustly. Until he reaches maturity, the property

Al-Tabar, 9:200; al-Samarqand, 1:387; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:470; al-Samn, 1:477;
al-Baghaw, 1:479.
Al-Tabar, 9:200.
Ibid., 9:200.
Ibn al-Jawz, 1:470. For similar treatments, see al-Dnawar, 1:171; al-Samarqand,
1:387; al-Baghaw, 1:479.
Al-Samn, 1:477.
Al-Zajjj, 2:113.
h ikmah and the prophets 83

of an orphan should not be touched save in the fairest manner. One

should fulfill ones covenants and give full measure when measuring.
One should not pursue that of which one has no knowledge: the hearing,
the sight, and the heartregarding all of these one will be questioned.
One is not to walk on the earth exultantly. All the aforementioned are
wicked and hateful things in the sight of the Lord (17:2338). In this
context, the following verse says, That is (or these are) of the hikmah
your Lord has revealed to you, so set not up with God another god, lest
you be thrown into Hell, reproached and rejected. (17:39)
As in previous examples, early authorities on tafsr do not pay spe-
cific attention to the word h ikmah in this verse. Muqtil asserts that the
first part of the verse refers to all the abovementioned commands and
prohibitions in those verses and that h ikmah means that which God
has revealed to the Prophet.123 Al-Tabar states that he has explained
h ikmah in the previous Qurnic instances and that there is no need
to repeat them for this verse; rather the word dhlika at the begin-
ning of the verse points to everything explained in the previous verses
regarding praiseworthy and wicked moral characteristics commanded
and prohibited by God. The part, of the h ikmah (min al-h ikmah) your
Lord has revealed to you means of the h ikmah that God has revealed
to the Prophet in the Qurn.124 Al-Samarqand, more specifically,
argues that min al-h ikmah denotes the explanation of what is lawful
and unlawful.125
In 54:5 the word h ikmah appears in a very subtle manner. As the
occasion of the revelation of this section, scholars report that a group
of unbelievers came to the Prophet and challenged him to show them
a miracle proving his prophethood, if he was truly a prophet. At this
request, with the permission of God, the Prophet pointed to the moon
and it split in two. Those unbelievers, however, called that miracle mere
magic.126 The srah begins in an astonishing manner. It says that the
Hour has drawn nigh and the moon has split. Yet if they (unbelievers)
see a sign they turn away, and they say that it is continuous sorcery (sih r
mustamirr). They have denied and followed their caprices; but every
matter is settled (54:13). The following verses read, And there have
come to them such tidings as contain a deterrent; a h ikmah blighah

Muqtil, Tafsr, 2:531.
Al-Tabar, 15:90; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:25.
Al-Samarqand, 2:269.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 4:177; al-Tabar, 27:89; Ibn al-Jawz, 4:196; al-Baghaw, 4:258.
84 chapter five

(far-reaching), yet warnings do not avail; so turn away from them...

(54:46). The rest of the srah relates examples from the previous gen-
erations to whom messengers of God had come, but who denied the
heavenly messages and abused the prophets. In the end, however, those
deniers experienced severe punishments.
The majority of the early tafsr authorities define the expression
h ikmah blighah as the Qurn.127 Al-Baghaw asserts that h ikmah
blighah refers to the Qurn because the Qurn is a complete h ikmah
that has reached the utmost degree regarding warning.128 On the
authority of al-Sudd, al-Mward states that h ikmah blighah means
the prophetic message (rislah) and the kitb. He also mentions
another possible meaning of this phrase as promising and threaten-
ing (wad wa-wad).129 Al-Naysbr, however, argues that h ikmah
blighah denotes utmost correctness (nihyat al-sawb).130
Verse 3:164 describes the significance and function of a prophet for a
society that was previously unaware of this heavenly good fortune. The
verse says, Truly God was gracious to the believers when He raised up
among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His signs
and purifying them and teaching them the kitb and h ikmah, though
before they were in manifest error.
Many of the early commentators argue that the kitb and h ikmah
in this verse denote the Qurn131 and sunnah, respectively.132 Muqtil
further elucidates his definition by asserting that h ikmah refers to
the admonitions in the Qurn regarding what is lawful and unlaw-
ful.133 Similarly, al-Samarqand argues that it means comprehension
and explanation of what is lawful and unlawful.134 Al-Samn cites
Ibn Abbs definition of h ikmah as jurisprudence and religious laws
(shari).135 Al-Shfi (d. 204/820), however, states that God mentions

Muqtil, Tafsr, 4:177; al-Huwwr, 4:251; al-Dnawar, 2:359; al-Tabar, 27:89;
al-Samarqand, 3:298; al-Baghaw, 4:259.
Al-Baghaw, 4:259.
Al-Mward, 5:410411.
Al-Naysbr, 2:222.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:202; al-Shfi, Tafsr al-Imm al-Shfi, ed. Majd b. Mansr
b. Sayyid al-Shr (Beirut, 1995), 61; al-Huwwr, 1:330; al-Tabar, 7:369370;
al-Samarqand, 1:313; Ibn Ab Zamanayn, 1:332; al-Samn, 1:376; al-Zamakhshar,
al-Kashshf, 1:477.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:202; al-Shfi, Tafsr, 61; al-Huwwr, 1:330; al-Tabar, 7:369
370; Ibn Ab Zamanayn, 1:332; al-Samn, 1:376; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:477.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:202.
Al-Samarqand, 1:281.
Al-Samn, 1:376.
h ikmah and the prophets 85

h ikmah right after the kitb and that this fact indicates the signifi-
cance of the authority of the Prophet in religious matters.136 Similarly,
al-Tabar says that h ikmah means the sunnah that God prescribed
(sanna) for the believers on the tongue (lisn) of the Prophet and his
explanation to them.137
In 62:2 the word h ikmah appears in a context similar to that of 2:151
and 3:164. The srah begins with a statement that all that is in the
heavens and the earth exalts God, the Sovereign, the All-Holy, the All-
Mighty, the All-Wise. The following verse says,
It is He who has sent among the unlettered people a Messenger from
among themselves, to recite His signs to them and to purify them, and
to teach them the kitb and h ikmah, though before that they were in
manifest error and others of them who have not yet joined them. And
He is the All-Mighty, All-Wise. (62:3)
This is a result of Gods bounty, which He gives to whom He wills
(62:4). Then the verses criticize the attitudes of the Jews toward this
new heavenly message. This section of the srah seems to imply that
the Jews were in error for looking down on the Arabs because they had
not received any heavenly message before. For that reason, the Jews
called the Arabs unlettered (umm). The Qurn says that this attitude
is a way to attempt to monopolize Gods bounty, which is free of all
such restrictive racial or national considerations.
The majority of early authorities on tafsr interpret the word kitb
in this verse as the Qurn.138 Some scholars report that it also means
knowledge of good and evil.139 For the word h ikmah, commentators
list a number of definitions including 1) sunnah,140 2) admonitions of
the Qurn,141 3) [knowledge of] what is lawful and what is unlawful,142
4) comprehension in the religion,143 and 5) understanding and taking
admonishment (ittiz).144

Al-Shfi, Tafsr, 6162.


Al-Tabar, 7:369.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 4:325; al-Huwwr, 4:351; al-Dnawar, 2:406; Ibn Furt, 2:483;
al-Tabar, 28:94; al-Samarqand, 3:362; al-Mward, 6:6.
Al-Mward, 6:6.
Al-Huwwr, 4:351; al-Tabar, 28:94; al-Mward, 6:7.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 4:325; al-Dnawar, 2:406.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 4:325; al-Dnawar, 2:406; al-Samarqand, 3:362.
Al-Mward, 6:7.
Al-Mward, 6:7. Ibn Furt, however, argues that the word h ikmah in this verse
refers to the sanctity (walyah) of Al b. Ab T lib. Ibn Furt, 2:483.
86 chapter five

In 2:231 the Qurn addresses the matter of divorce. Divorce is

twice;145 then there should be an honorable retention or a setting free
with kindness (2:229). If a man divorces his wife for a third time, then
she is not lawful to him after that, until she marries another man. If the
latter husband divorces her, there is no blame on the woman and former
husband for returning to each other, as long as they think that they will
maintain Gods bounds (2:230). But if the final divorce is unavoidable,
then it should be on good terms, as explained in the following verse,
When you divorce women and they have fulfilled their term, then retain
them on acceptable terms or set them free on acceptable terms. Do not
retain them by force to take undue advantage; whoever does that has
indeed wronged himself. Do not take Gods signs in jest, and remember
Gods blessing upon you and the kitb and h ikmah. He has sent [them]
down to you to admonish you. And fear God, and know that God has
knowledge of everything. (2:231)
Many early commentators assert that kitb and hikmah in this verse refer
to the Qurn146 and sunnah,147 respectively. These two heavenly gifts
are a reward that necessitates thankfulness and their proper practice.148
Some authorities interpret hikmah as the admonitions in the Qurn
regarding Gods commands and prohibitions,149 what is lawful and what
is unlawful,150 and comprehension in the Qurn.151 Al-Tabar further
elucidates this hikmah, saying that it means the practices (sunan) that the
Prophet taught, established, and prescribed for the believers.152 H ikmah
also denotes the sunnah explained by the Prophet regarding the subjects
for which the Qurn does not provide explicit textual statements.153
In 33:34 the word h ikmah occurs in a context related to the wives
of the Prophet. Scholars of tafsr mention the following incident as the
occasion of the revelation of this section (2834) of the srah. These
verses were revealed in Medina, after the social and economic conditions

Two divorces with a reconciliation between the husband and wife are allowed.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:120; al-Huwwr, 1:223; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:205; al-Samn, 1:235;
al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:369.
Al-Huwwr, 1:223; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:205; al-Samn, 1:235; al-Baghaw, 1:210;
Ibn Ati yyah, 2:109; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:369; al-Qurtub, 3:157.
Al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:369.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 1:120; al-Baghaw, 1:210.
Al-Dnawar, 1:77.
Al-Samarqand, 1:209.
Al-Tabar, 5:15.
Ibn Atiyyah, 2:109; al-Qurt ub, 3:157.
h ikmah and the prophets 87

of the Muslims had improved considerably. Apparently, the Prophets

wives had demanded to enjoy some part of that widespread wealth,
since they had been living on the verge of poverty. This was, however,
the result of the Prophets intentional attitude toward worldly things.
When they insisted on their demands, these verses were revealed.
Accordingly, verse 28 is called the verse of letting them choose (takhyr).
The verses remind the wives that they had extra duties and responsi-
bilities beyond what was generally be expected from ordinary women.
When they heard the verses and realized the situation, the wives all
chose to remain with the Prophet in modesty over comfort and luxury.154
The Qurn instructs the Prophet to tell his wives that if they desire
the present life and its adornment, he could provide for them and
give them a gracious release. But if they desire God, His Prophet,
and the Last Abode, they will surely be rewarded (33:2829). Then
the Qurn reminds the Prophets wives of their special position in the
Muslim community and says (33:34), And remember that which is
recited in your houses of the verses (yt) of God and h ikmah; God is
All-Subtle, All-Aware.
Early commentators introduce a number of explanations of the word
hikmah in this verse. On the authority of Qatdah, many of them report
that hikmah refers to the sunnah of the Prophet.155 Al-Tabar further
explains this sunnah as that which was revealed to the Prophet regard-
ing religious matters, in addition to the Qurnic revelation.156 Similarly,
al-Tustar interprets the words yt and hikmah here as the Qurn and
that which was brought by the Prophet, deriving from the Qurnic
verses, respectively. He cites the following saying by Al b. Ab Tlib in
this context, The signs (yt) are [like] a man to whom God has given
understanding (fahm) in His book.157 Some scholars assert that this
hikmah indicates Gods commands and prohibitions in the Qurn.158
In addition to the abovementioned verses in which the words kitb
and h ikmah together, or just h ikmah alone, occur, there are other verses
that include derivatives of the root h -k-m which further illuminate the
notion of h ikmah in the Qurn.

Ibn al-Jawz, 3:459460; al-Baghaw, 3:525.


Abd al-Razzq, 3:39; al-Shfi, Tafsr, 177; al-Tustar, 43; al-Tabar, 22:9; Ibn

al-Jawz, 3:464; al-Mward, 4:401; al-Baghaw, 3:529.

Al-Tabar, 22:9.
Al-Tustar, 43.
Muqtil, Tafsr, 3:489; al-Dnawar, 2:177; al-Samarqand, 3:50; Ibn al-Jawz,
3:464; al-Mward, 4:401; al-Baghaw, 3:529.
Chapter SIx

H ikmah in Relation to H akm and H ukm


In the current canonical order of the Qurn, the first time we see the
word h akm is in verse 2:32. The verses 2:3033 describe a scene related
to the time when God informed the angels about His decision to create
a viceroy (khalfah) on the earth. In response to their questions, God said
to the angels that He knows that which they do not know. God taught
Adam the names, all of them; then He presented them [i.e., the entities
named] to the angels, asking them to tell Him their names. The angels
responded, Glory be to You! We do not have any knowledge except
what You have taught us. Surely, You are the All-Knowing (al-Alm),
the All-Wise (al-H akm). God instructed Adam to tell the angels their
names and when Adam did so, God said, Did I not tell you that
I know the unseen things of the heavens and earth? And I know what
you reveal and what you were concealing.
Ibn Abbs explains the word alm and h akm in this verse as the
one who is perfect in knowledge (ilm) and judgment (ukm), respec-
tively.1 Some scholars say that h akm means h akm, just as alm and
khabr mean lim and khbir, respectively.2 Narrating from previous
authorities, al-Mward lists three definitions of h akm as 1) the one
who is perfect in his acts (muh kim f aflih); 2) the one who pre-
vents from corruption (mni min al-fasd); and 3) the one who hits
upon the correct [thing] (musb li-al-h aqq). Al-Mward further clari-
fies these definitions from lexicographical literature. He reports, for
instance, that the second meaning is testified to by the expression bit
of the bridle (h akamat al-lijm), since it (the h akamah) prevents the
horse from walking aggressively (shadd). In this context, al-Mward
refers to Jarrs aforementioned line of poetry, O sons of H anfah,
restrain (ah kim) your foolish ones; I fear for you that I might get

Al b. Ab Talhah, 82; al-Tabar, 1:496.


Al-Tabar, 1:496.
90 chapter six

angry. Regarding the second definition, al-Mward remarks that a qd

(judge) is called hkim because he attains rightness in his judgment.3
Al-Zamakhshar, on the other hand, interprets the abovementioned
section of the srah to mean that God knows the real benefits (maslih )
of creating the human being, while the matter would not be clear to the
angels. Al-Zamakhshar here raises a hypothetical question:
If you were to ask why He did not explain those benefits (maslih ) to the
angels, I would say that it is enough for the servants to know that all the
acts of God are good (h asanah) and are wisdom (h ikmah), even though
the aspect (wajh) of the good(ness) and wisdom would be unknown to
It is interesting that al-Zamakhshar, who in general tries to introduce
intelligible arguments, holds such a dogmatic position regarding this
Another Qurnic case in which we see the word h kim is 3:58. The
previous verses relate the story of Jesus, his birth, his miracles, his
message, his relationship with his supporters and deniers, and his being
taken up to God (3:4157). The Qurn then says (seemingly address-
ing the Prophet Muhammad), This is what We recite to you of signs
and wise remembrance (al-dhikr al-h kim).
The majority of early authorities on tafsr interpret the word dhikr
in this verse as the Qurn.5 Ibn Abbs further asserts that the following
adjective, h kim, indicates that the Qurn has attained perfection in its
hikmah.6 Similarly, al-Tabar states that the dhikr here means the Qurn
and that h kim denotes the possessor of h ikmah, separating the true
from the false. In this particular case, it clarifies the diverse opinions
and misconceptions regarding Jesus.7 In the final analysis, these inter-

Al-Mward, 1:100101. For similar expositions, see also al-Samn, 1:6566;
al-Baghaw, 1:62.
Al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:271272. The aforementioned Sh commenta-
tor, al-Sharaf, reports that the word h akm in 64:18 means that God is the owner of
the perfected h ikmah (h ikmah mutqanah) and of masterly acts in whose arrangement
there is no disharmony to be found. Al-Sharaf, 465.
Al b. Ab Talhah, 127; al-D ahhk, 1:248; al-Tabar, 6:466467; al-Baghaw,
Al b. Ab Talhah, 127. See also al-Tabar, 6:465; al-Suy, al-Durr al-manthr,
Al-Tabar, 6:466467. Citing similar interpretations, al-Baghaw refers to Muqtils
definition of this expression as the Qurn being perfected in a way that there is no pos-
sibility for falsehood to penetrate it. Al-Baghaw mentions another meaning of al-dhikr
al-h akm as indicating al-lawh al-mah fz (Preserved Tablet). Al-Baghaw, 1:309.
h ikmah in relation to h akm and h ukm 91

pretations bring the meaning of al-dhikr al-h akm close to the meaning
of h ikmah blighah mentioned in 54:5.
Two other Qurnic instances in which the Qurn describes itself
as a h akm book are 31:2 and 36:2. Tafsr scholars assert that h akm in
these two verses means muh kam (perfected).8 This perfection is related
to its statements regarding [the knowledge of] what is lawful and what
is unlawful, judgments (ah km), and commands and prohibitions.9 In
this context, al-Mward cites the following Qurnic verse describing
h akm in the sense of perfected (mutqan), falsehood cannot approach
it from before it, nor from behind it (41:42).10
In another verse, the word h akm is used to describe the Essence/
Mother of the Book (umm al-kitb). The Qurn says that God has
made the kitb an Arabic Qurn, which is in the Essence of the Book
in Gods presence; exalted (al), h akm (43:24). Zayd b. Al says that
the essence of everything is its origin (asl). The word kitb refers to
the Qurn and to its essence, which is the copy (nuskhah) of it in
Gods presence (inda Allh).11 Al-H asan al-Basr introduces a similar
explanation when he asserts that the Qurn is in the Essence/Mother
of the Book in Gods presence.12 Ibn Wahb interprets the umm al-kitb
as the lawh mah fz (Preserved Tablet) and says that the Qurn is writ-
ten there.13


In addition to the ten instances in which the word h ikmah is accompa-

nied by the word kitb, there are three Qurnic occurrences in which
the word h ukm, instead of h ikmah, is mentioned together with kitb
and nubuwwah.
The first instance is that in 3:79, which I have discussed in part above,
under 3:81. Again, the context is related to the Qurnic approach to
some of the People of the Book. The Qurn invites the People of the

Yahy b. Sallm, Tafsr, 2:669 and 799; al-Mward, 4:326.
Yahy b. Sallm, Tafsr, 2:669.
Al-Mward, 4:326.
Zayd b. Al, 284.
Al-H asan al-Basr, 2:273. See also Abd al-Razzq, 3:165.
Ibn Wahb, 2:285. On the authority of al-Zajjj, Ibn al-Jawz relates that umm
means asl, as the origin of everything is its umm, and the Qurn is established (muth-
bat) in Gods presence in the Preserved Tablet. Ibn al-Jawz, 4:72. See also, al-Baghaw,
92 chapter six

Book to form a consensus on the absolute unity of God without any

type of polytheism, and then says (3:7980),
It is not for a mortal that God should give him the kitb, h ukm, and
prophethood and that he should then say to the people, Be worshippers
(ibd) of mine rather than of God; on the contrary (he would say), Be
pious scholars of the Lord (rabbniyyn) because of what you have taught
of the kitb and because of what you have studied. He would never order
you to take the angels and the prophets as lords; what, would he order
you to disbelieve, after you have surrendered?
Commentators assert that the word h ukm in this verse has the same
meaning as h ikmah.14 Some scholars simply argue that h ukm here
denotes comprehension, knowledge, and understanding.15 Authorities
on tafsr focus more on the meaning of rabbniyyn in the same verse.
Their primary definition of the word holds that rabbniyyn refers to
the possessors of h ikmah (the h ukam),16 knowledge (the ulam),17
comprehension (the fuqah),18 and forbearance (the ulam).19 They
piously practice h ikmah and teach it to people.20 Accordingly, tafsr
scholars report that when Ibn Abbs passed away, Muh ammad b.
al-H anafiyyah said, Today the rabbn of this nation has died.21 They
also relate that Al b. Ab T lib stated, The rabbn is the person who
trains (yurabb) his knowledge through his practice.22
Listing all the abovementioned definitions, al-Tabar argues that
the word rabbniyyn is the plural of rabbn, which means a mem-
ber of the rabbn [community] who teach people and arrange their
affairs for the latters own good. In accordance with this definition,
a knowledgeable person possessing comprehension and h ikmah can
be considered as a rabbn. Similarly, a godfearing h akm, as well as a

Al-Tabar, 6:538; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:440.
Ibn al-Jawz, 1:298; al-Baghaw, 1:320.
Sufyn b. Sad al-Thawr, Tafsr Sufyn al-Thawr, ed. Imtiyz Al Arsh (Ram-
pur, India, 1965), 3637; al-Tabar, 6:540544; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:298; al-Mward, 1:405
406; al-Baghaw, 1:320321; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:440.
Al-Thawr, 3637; Abd al-Razzq, 1:399; al-Tabar, 6:540544; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:298;
al-Mward, 1:405406; al-Baghaw, 1:320321; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:440.
Al-Tabar, 6:541542; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:298; al-Mward, 1:405406; al-Baghaw,
1:320321; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:440.
Abd al-Razzq, 1:399.
Al-Tabar, 6:542544; Ibn al-Jawz, 1:298; al-Baghaw, 1:321; al-Zamakhshar,
al-Kashshf, 1:440.
Al-Baghaw, 1:321; al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf, 1:440.
Al-Baghaw, 1:320321.
h ikmah in relation to h akm and h ukm 93

just ruler, can also be called rabbn. The rabbniyyn, therefore, are
the leaders of their community with respect to comprehension, knowl-
edge, and worldly as well as other-worldly matters. Combining knowl-
edge and comprehension, they are insightful in ruling and arranging
public affairs.23
For the second (6:89) and third (45:16) Qurnic instances in which
the words kitb and h ukm (as well as nubuwwah) are mentioned, tafsr
authorities do not introduce a detailed argument. Regarding the second
instance, they simply report that the word h ukm in this verse means
comprehension and knowledge.24 As for the third instance, they assert
that it means knowledge of the kitb and understanding it.25

Those Given Hukm

In addition to the Children of Israel and the People of the Book, the
Qurn states that Lot, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and John were
given h ukm.
Regarding Lot, verse 21:74 says, And to Lot We gave hukm and knowl-
edge, and We saved him from the city that had been doing deeds of cor-
ruption; they were an evil people, truly ungodly. Commentators argue
that the word hukm in this verse means prophethood,26 understanding
and intelligence,27 and making a just judgment between opponents.28
According to the Qurnic statement in 12:22, Joseph is described as
being given h ukm, as follows, And when he (Joseph) was fully grown,
We gave him h ukm and knowledge. And thus We reward those who do
good. Tafsr authorities list a number of definitions of the word h ukm
in this verse: 1) understanding,29 2) intelligence,30 3) prophethood,31

Al-Tabar, 6:543544. Al-Mward introduces a similar explanation when he
argues that there are two opinions regarding the original meaning of the word rabbn.
First, the rabbni is one who has authority in public matters. In this context, a knowl-
edgeable person is called rabbn on the basis of the fact that he arranges matters with
knowledge. Second, the rabbn is one who has knowledge of the Lord, a religious
concept. Al-Mward, 1:406.
Ibn al-Jawz, 2:51; al-Baghaw, 2:113.
Al-Dnawar, 2:302; Ibn al-Jawz, 4:99.
Yahy b. Sallm, Tafsr, 1:326; al-Mward, 3:455; Ibn al-Jawz, 3:201.
Ibn al-Jawz, 3:201.
Al-Mward, 3:455; al-Baghaw, 3:252.
Al-Dnawar, 1:380; al-Tabar, 16:23.
Al-Tabar, 16:23; al-Mward, 3:21; al-Baghaw, 2:417.
Ibn al-Jawz, 2:425; al-Mward, 3:21; al-Baghaw, 2:417.
94 chapter six

4) comprehension,32 5) correctness in speech,33 6) authority over people,34

and 7) knowledge and comprehension in the religion.35 On the author-
ity of al-Zajjj, Ibn al-Jawz reports that the word h ukm refers to the
fact that he (Joseph) was made ( juila) h akm, for not every knowl-
edgeable person (lim) is a h akm. H akm is the knowledgeable person
who practices his knowledge, and through his knowledge he refrains
from actions about which he has no knowledge. Ibn al-Jawz points
also to the basic lexicographical definition of the word h ukm as that
which restrains from (yasrif ) ignorance and error (khata); it (h ukm)
prevents these two [negative characteristics] and holds the soul (nafs)
back from that which dishonors and damages it. The original meaning
of the verbal form ah kama in the language is manaa. Accordingly, a
h akm is called h akm because he averts (yamna) injustice (zulm) and
perversion (zaygh). As for the following word (ilm) in the same verse,
Ibn al-Jawz cites two possible interpretations as comprehension and
knowledge of dreams/visions (ruy).36
In 28:14, it is Moses who is given h ukm and knowledge; the verse
reads, And when he (Moses) was fully grown and in the perfection of
his strength, We gave him h ukm and knowledge; and thus We reward
those who do good. Similar to the explanations in the previous case,
commentators report various interpretations of the word h ukm, includ-
ing comprehension,37 intelligence,38 and understanding.39 Al-Baghaw
concludes that Moses became knowledgeable and h akm before he was
sent as a messenger (nabiyy).40
In another Qurnic instance, the verses describe a scene between
Moses and Pharaoh. God assigned Moses as a prophet to the Children
of Israel and instructed him and his brother Aaron to go Pharaoh and
tell him that they were the messengers of the Lord and that he (Pharaoh)
should send forth the Children of Israel with them. Pharaoh was not
pleased with this news and reminded Moses that the latter had been

Ibn al-Jawz, 2:425.
Ibid., 2:425.
Al-Mward, 3:21.
Al-Baghaw, 2:417.
Ibn al-Jawz, 2:425. For similar expositions, see also al-Mward, 3:22; al-Baghaw,
Mujhid b. Jabr, 525; al-Baghaw, 3:438.
Mujhid b. Jabr, 525; al-Baghaw, 3:438.
Yahy b. Sallm, Tafsr, 2:582; al-Dnawar, 2:120.
Al-Baghaw, 3:438.
h ikmah in relation to h akm and h ukm 95

raised and fed by them for years during his childhood. Pharaoh also
reminded Moses of his having slain the Egyptian and implied that
Moses was not only a murderer but also ungrateful for the good treat-
ment he had received in the past (26:1619). Moses accepted the charge
and said, Indeed I did it then, being one of those that stray; so I fled
from you, fearing you. But my Lord gave (wahaba) me h ukm and made
me one of the messengers (26:2021). Early commentators assert that
the word h ukm in this verse could mean prophethood,41 the Torah,42 or
understanding and knowledge.43
In the same srah, Abraham prays to God, saying (26:83), My Lord,
give me h ukm and join me with the righteous. As in the explanations
of Moses case, tafsr authorities assert that the word h ukm here denotes
understanding,44 knowledge,45 and intelligence.46 Yahy b. Sallm inter-
prets this passage as make me firm in prophethood.47 Al-Baghaw
further elucidates such explanations, reporting that Ibn Abbs defined
the word h ukm in this verse as knowledge (marifah) of the divine
David and Solomon are mentioned in the Qurn as having been
given h ukm and knowledge. Commentators relate the following story:
Two men came to David to resolve a conflict between them. One of
them had a herd of sheep and the other a cultivated field. The sheep had
gotten into the field, eaten the crops, and caused serious damage in the
field. In compensation for the damage, David judged that the owner of
the sheep had to give his herd to the owner of the field. But Davids son,
Solomon, still young, suggested a different judgment. In his view, the
owner of the field should not take the sheep permanently, but should
detain them only until the damage to his field was recouped; in the
meantime, he could benefit from the milk, wool, and newborn sheep. At
the end, each party would receive his original property. David liked his
sons judgment and gave his final decision accordingly.49 Referring back
to this story, the Qurn says, And [remember] David and Solomon,

Yahy b. Sallm, Tafsr, 2:499; al-Dnawar, 2:92.
Al-Farr, 2:279.
Al-Dnawar, 2:92.
Al-Dnawar, 2:97; al-Baghaw, 3:390.
Al-Dnawar, 2:97.
Al-Baghaw, 3:390.
Yahy b. Sallm, Tafsr, 2:508.
Al-Baghaw, 3:390.
Ibn al-Jawz, 3:202; al-Baghaw, 3:253.
96 chapter six

when they gave judgment (yah kumn) concerning the tillagewhen

the sheep of the people strayed there, and We bore witness to their
judgment (h ukmihim). And We made Solomon understand it, and to
each We gave h ukm and knowledge... (21:7879).
Ibn Wahb (d. 308/920) uses the words h ukm and h ikmah interchange-
ably in this verse and relates that Zayd (b. Aslam) defined h ikmah here
as intelligence (aql). Ibn Wahb also mentions the above explanation
of h ikmah of Mlik (b. Anas) (d. 179/795) as understanding in the
religion of God (fahm f dn-Allh); it is something that God places
(yudkhil) in human hearts out of His mercy and grace.50 Other schol-
ars give similar definitions of the word h ukm, such as understanding,51
intelligence, prophethood, power, and comprehension.52 Al-H asan
al-Basr, on other hand, calls attention to the great responsibility of
giving judgment in light of this verse. He says, If this verse did not
exist, I would think that [all] judges (h ukkm) would be destroyed; but
God praised (hamida) Solomon for his correctness and David for his
individual judgment (ijtihd).53
Another Qurnic personality to whom h ukm was given is John
(Yahy). Having described his miraculous birth to his parents, Zacha-
riah and his barren wife (19:111), the Qurn reports that God charged
John to take the kitb with determination, stating that He had given
him h ukm while he was yet a small child (19:12). Commentators list
various definitions of this h ukm. Al-H asan al-Bazr and Zayd b. Al
describe h ukm here as the innermost heart (lubb).54 Yahy b. Sallm
interprets it as understanding and intelligence and relates an anecdote
regarding Johns exceptional characteristics even when he was a small
child. The anecdote tells us that when John was a young child, other

Ibn Wahb, 2:130.
Al-Dnawar, 2:27.
Al-Mward, 4:241.
Al-Shfi, Tafsr, 163. Ibn al-Jawz also relates the same saying, but with a difference
at the end. According to his narration, al-H asan al-Bazr said, If this verse did not
exist, I would think that [all] judges (qudh) would be destroyed; but God praised
(athn al) Solomon for his correctness and excused (adhara) David for his indi-
vidual judgment (ijtihd). Ibn al-Jawz, 3:203.
Al-H asan al-Bazr, 2:106; Zayd b. Al, 200. In the same place, Zayd b. Al gives
another definition of h ukm in this verse as proof or evidence (furqn). It is worth men-
tioning that in another Qurnic verse, John is described as a confirmer (musaddiq)
of a Word from God, as well as a nobleman (sayyid), chaste, prophet, and righteous
person. Al-H asan al-Basr defines the word sayyid in this verse as h akm. Al-H asan
al-Basr, 1:211.
h ikmah in relation to h akm and h ukm 97

children called him to play with them, but John replied, We have not
been created [just] for play.55 Al-Tabar also mentions that h ukm in
this instance refers to the fact that John was given understanding of the
Book of God during his childhood.56 Similarly, Ibn al-Jawz reports that
hukm denotes protecting (ifz) the Torah and its knowledge as well.57
Scholars of tafsr also use the words h ukm and h ikmah interchange-
ably for this verse. Ibn Wahb reports that Mlik (b. Anas) told him that
in this verse, hikmah means obedience to God, comprehension in the
religion, and the practice of it. As mentioned previously, in the similar
exposition of verse 2:269, Mlik elucidates his definition further, saying,
You could find a person intelligent (qil) in worldly things but weak
(daf ) in religious matters, while you could find another person weak in
worldly things but knowledgeable (lim) and insightful (basr) in reli-
gious matters. God gives this quality to the latter, but not to the former.
As for h ikmah, it is comprehension of the religion of God.58

In contrast to our discussion above, which classifies the references to
h ikmah in the Qurn in relation to the prophets, the Qurnic h ikmah
can also be classified in terms of its relation to the verb used with it.
For example, h ikmah is something given (the verb at) by God 1) to
the prophets in general (3:81); 2) to the family of Abraham (4:54); 3) to
David (2:251, 38:20); 4) to Luqmn (31:12); and 5) to whomever He wills
(2:269). It is something brought (the verb ja bi-) by Jesus to clarify
certain misconceptions to his people (43:63). H ikmah is something sent
(the verb anzala) to the believers (2:231) and to Muhammad (4:113);
it is something revealed (the verb awh ) to Muhammad (17:39); and
it is something to be remembered (the verb dhakara) by the wives of
Muhammad (33:34). H ikmah is something to be practiced to call others
to the way of the Lord (16:125), and it is something far-reaching (54:5).
It is also something taught (the verb allama) by God to Jesus (3:48,
5:110). Interestingly, the Qurnic statements identify Muhammad as
the only human being to teach h ikmah (2:151, 3:164, 62:2), for none

Yahy b. Sallm, Tafsr, 1:217. For the same story, see al-H asan b. Al al-Askar,
Tafsr al-Imm Ab Muh ammad al-H asan b. Al al-Askar, ed. Sayyid Al shr (Beirut,
2001), 515; al-Tabar, 16:55; al-Mward, 3:360.
Al-Tabar, 16:55.
Ibn al-Jawz, 3:121.
Ibn Wahb, 2:130131.
98 chapter six

of the other prophets found in the Qurn is mentioned as teaching

h ikmah.
In part ii, I have analyzed the word h ikmah in each Qurnic instance
within its own context using related exegetical discussions, then grouped
the Quranic verses in which h ikmah appears according to their context,
it is clear that we cannot offer a single-word definition of this term in the
Qurn. Accordingly, I do not concur with Gutas when he repeatedly and
persistently defines h ikmah in the Qurn as maxim. In this regard, his
argument does not reflect a complete and proper understanding of the
word. As I have discussed in the case of verse 38:20, this is partly due
to Gutas insufficient attention to the contextual and interdisciplinary
scholarly elements in the texts he uses.
In 2:269, h ikmah seems to be used in a broader sense and applicable
to every individual. We may interpret this h ikmah as the rationale or
underlying reason of Qurnic principles generally. In 16:125, together
with the phrase mawizah h asanah, h ikmah seems to refer to indis-
pensable rules of religious invitation, which should be reasonable and
considerate, but not contentious. A believer is expected to represent
his faith intellectually as well as practically in sincerity and to leave
the rest to God, who knows ultimately who is on the straight path and
who is astray.
A significant number of the verses in which we see the word h ikmah
deal with the messengers of God. In this regard, the Qurn singles out
the prophets who came from Abrahams progeny. David, for instance,
is described as having been given h ikmah in a context related to his
kingship (mulk). In his personal case, one can read h ikmah in refer-
ence to the basic lexicographical meanings of the root h -k-m as qad,
adala or manaa min al-fasd, since David is known in Islamic schol-
arly sources as having ruled with utmost justice and prevented injus-
tice in his society.
In the case of Jesus, on the other hand, the Qurn emphasizes that
in addition to his other exceptional God-given qualities, Jesus was
blessed by h ikmah. God taught him the kitb, the h ikmah, the Torah,
and the Gospel. Jesus, therefore, brought clear signs and h ikmah to his
people in order to clarify for them the points on which they disagreed.
Here the dominant meaning of h ikmah seems to be ilm, isbah, and
ilm, rather than qad. Yet, I still would not define h ikmah in the case
of Jesus with a single word.
The Qurn says that God sent Muhammad to recite His verses to
the believers, to purify them, and to teach them the kitb and h ikmah.
h ikmah in relation to h akm and h ukm 99

Early tafsr scholars mention a number of definitions of h ikmah in rela-

tion to Muhammad in the Qurnic verses. Each of these definitions
indicates a dimension of his character and none of them exclude other
qualities. The meaning of h ikmah in these Qurnic contexts, therefore,
could be, equally, sunnah, admonitions, the knowledge of lawful and
unlawful things, comprehension of religion, correctness in speech and
action, and so forth. In the use by commentators of citations from ear-
lier authorities, it is not uncommon for one exegete to use an account
to explicate a certain verse, while another uses the same account with
respect to another verse. Ibn Wahb, for instance, cites Mlik b. Anas
definition of h ikmah in the context of verse 19:12, while Ibn Ab H tim
makes use of it in verse 2:269. Likewise, a later commentator, al-Suyt
refers to the same h adth in relation to Luqmn, in his interpretations
of h ikmah in verses both 2:269 and 31:12.
Thus, early authorities of tafsr introduce various interpretations of
h ikmah, but even this variety in expositions is inclusive in nature. This
is an expected result of their general and recommended approach in
Qurnic studies, as it can be traced to a Prophetic statement, One
cannot reach comprehension completely until he discerns in the
Qurn numerous dimensions.59 In the view of early commentators of
the Qurn, introducing multiple meanings, therefore, does not refer to
a kind of inconsistency or contradiction among various understand-
ings; rather, they regard them as complementary to one other.

Ibn Ati yyah, 1:4445.

Part three


Any examination of individual terms in an atomistic manner risks fail-

ure because these terms do not stand in isolation from other related
and complementary concepts in early Sufi texts; rather, they are part
of a highly organized technical system that exists within a complex
network of multiple conceptual interrelationships. Initially, I endeav-
ored to present a concrete historical background of Sufi epistemologi-
cal concepts in general and of h ikmah in particular. I assumed that
a meticulous, systematic, historical, and textual investigation of early
Sufi works would provide a clear picture of the semantic continuities,
shifts, and innovations in meaning of the fundamental concepts. In
time, however, the impenetrable nature of the subject matter became
clear. Though it may be possible to write the histories of some usages
of certain concepts in the arguments available in a number of texts,
it is not possible to do so within the entire context of the early Sufi
textual corpus, most of the constituent works of which have been lost
forever in their original forms. In addition, information about the first
usages of words and concepts provided in many lexicographical refer-
ences is a matter of much debate in almost every language. Though I
could devote this work to the history of words and terms frequently
used in early Muslim mystical writings, such an endeavor would inevi-
tably fall short of determining the semantic alterations in the words
that designate a concept throughout its history. Thus I have concluded
that an examination of the notion of h ikmah in early Sufi works, as
one element in a network of related concepts, is preferable to dealing
with it as an individual term in an atomistic manner.1 In doing so, my

An alternative scholarly method of dealing with such a conceptual inquiry is that
embraced by Toshihiko Izutsu, who analyzes the semantics of central Qurnic terms
within the Qurnic text alone. Limiting himself exclusively to this text rather than
extending his investigation to other written materials, he elaborates on the key terms
of the Qurn in order to present a conceptual grasp of the Weltanschauung of the
people who used the Arabic language to conceptualize and interpret the terminology
of the Book. In this regard, I am especially referring to Izutsus works, God and Man in
the Koran (Tokyo, 1964) and Ethico-religious Concepts in the Qurn (Montreal, 1966).
102 part three

goal is to see and contextualize h ikmah in a more nuanced fashion in

the collective memory and usage of mystical authorities.
Such a methodology for unveiling the ambiguities of Sufi con-
cepts still entails certain inherent difficulties. For example, how can
one make a clear distinction between the usages of a word in mul-
tiple passages, to determine whether the author is using that word in
a technical sense, or in an everyday sense in each instance? Another
consideration is the fact that the meaning of every mystical utterance,
written or spoken, must be paired with an action performed by the
agent in order to accomplish his intentions. This occurs in a pecu-
liar environment in which a Sufi becomes acquainted with mystical
notions and the ways of expressing them. In this regard, statements
of Sufis emerge as a means for emotional relief as well as intellectual
reflection (mukshafah). One cannot, reasonably, know what kind of
perspective a Sufi had in his reception of those concepts and what his
modes of perception and evaluation were. Under what circumstances
did the author make his statement and what concepts did he possess
and use? And the investigator is challenged to write the intellectual
history of such a scholarly tradition without oversimplifying, repeating
established inaccurate conventions, and thus mispresenting the actual
Another difficulty in examining early Sufi terminology is the reality
that the definition and elucidation of many doctrines and concepts are
only found in the works of later authors, such as al-Sarrj (d. 378/988),
al-Kalbdh (d. 380/990), al-Makk (d. 386/996), Ab Nuaym (d.
430/1039), al-Hujwr (d. ca. 465/1072), and At tr (d. ca. 627/1229).
These writers naturally use the language and terminology of their own
times. Their categories are drawn in terms of contemporaneous lin-
guistic conventions rather than those held by earlier Sufi thinkers. Such
an anachronistic, and to some extent, nostalgic and romantic reading
of Sufi historical figures and concepts may, in fact, mislead the reader
in his quest for a proper understanding of the points in question. Fac-
ing such textual and methodological difficulties, therefore, I am not

The difficulty of examining technical terms properly within a variety of textual mate-
rials can be observed in Izutsus industrious efforts, which again, in fact, focus on a
single text, e.g., the Qurn. By no means would I permit myself to undervalue Izutsus
meticulous scholarly examinations; rather, I simply mention his case as an example of
the difficulty of the matter in question.
hikmah in early sufi literature 103

overly inclined to make categorical statements about early Sufi figures

and their doctrines. I treat with caution, for instance, reports assert-
ing that the origins of the concepts of the science of the hearts (ilm
al-qulb) and gnosis (marifah) go back to al-H asan al-Basr and Dh
al-Nn al-Misr (d. 246/861), respectively.2
In part iii, I investigate h ikmah in early Sufi writings in the context
of the epistemological constructs in these texts, especially in relation
to ilm (knowledge), marifah (gnosis),3 aql (intelligence), qalb (heart),
and fiqh (comprehension). The sources examined treat h ikmah as a
practical or applied concept in such a manner that without this aspect,
they argue, h ikmah cannot be understood and actualized properly. In
what follows, therefore, I examine the concept of h ikmah within a net-
work of associated concepts. The first of these conceptual networks is
that of the earliest authoritative proto-Sufi figures, especially al-H asan
al-Basr (d. 110/728) and Jafar al-Sdiq (d. 148/765). Second, I focus
on h ikmah within the contextual formulations of early Sufi exegetical
works, including those of al-Thawr (d. 161/778), al-Tustar (d. 283/896),
al-Sulam (d. 412/1021), al-Thalab (d. 427/1035) and al-Qushayr
(d. 465/1074). Third, I contextualize h ikmah within the organized total-
ity of mystical concepts elucidated in early Sufi manuals and treatises,
primarily those of al-Muhsib (d. 243/857), al-Junayd (d. 298/910),
al-Nr (d. 295/907), al-Tirmidh, and al-Makk. Finally, I discuss the
merit of h ikmah in those writings and the ways that they explicate it
to attain this preferential notion. I clarify the modes of perception and
inner formative forces of the early Muslim spiritual authorities as they
are recorded in the scholarly sources.
Louis Massignon, Paul Nwyia, Sleyman Ate, Gerhard Bwering,
and Bernd Radtke are among the modern scholars who have studied
early Sufi thought and concepts, but none have focused specifically
on h ikmah. Massignon has contributed extensively to the study of
early Muslim mystics. His works have decisively influenced the course

I agree with Arberry, who argues that the concept of marifah was not introduced
into Sufism by Dh al-Nn al-Misr because Muslim ascetics who lived before him
were already talking about this concept. A. J. Arberry, Sufism (London, 1950), 52. For
the attribution of ilm al-qulb to al-H asan al-Basr, see Louis Massignon, Essai sur les
origines du lexique technique de la mystique musulmane, 191.
Throughout my writing, I use the word gnosis as a translation of marifah in a
technical sense, but without implying any of its associations with Christian and more
general gnosticism.
104 part three

of academic studies on the origins of Sufi terms in the western aca-

demic world.4 I agree with Massignon, that Sufism and its terminology
are based on the Qurn and thus are indigenous to Islam. Indeed,
the Qurn functioned as the principle source of contemplation and
inspiration for the earliest ascetics and gnostically-minded Muslims.
Throughout my investigation of h ikmah and other related concepts, I
hope to augment Massignons discussions regarding this question in
early Sufism, though I do not necessarily exclude the possibility that
in the course of Sufisms later flourishing, some foreign ideas and con-
cepts may well have infiltrated it.
In early Sufi texts, h ikmah emerges as an elusive term that can be
defined in English as wisdom, sagacity, rationale, underlying rea-
son, knowledge, or mystic aphorism, depending on the context. In
order to analyze h ikmah and its Qurnic conceptualizations by early
Sufi writers, I first examine these writers exegetical presentations of the
topic. Unfortunately, many of the early works have been lost forever in
their original forms and only a small percentage of extant works has
been printed. In addition, the scholarly quality of some editions, as I
discuss below, is questionable. I should also note that some contempo-
rary scholars in the field, including and especially Radtke, question the
authenticity of materials that have been routinely regarded as genuine
works. Throughout this investigation, my main sources are the frag-
ments of Qurnic commentary attributed to authors of the second/
eighth century; those who are mentioned in the Sufi tradition as the
forefathers of Sufi tafsr, such as al-H asan al-Basr, Jafar al-Sdiq, and
Sufyn al-Thawr. In his categorization of the history of Sufi exegesis
of the Qurn (al-tafsr al-ishr or al-fayd), Ate argues that the sys-
tematization of this kind of tafsr was carried out by the scholars of
the third/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries; especially Sahl al-Tustar,
al-Junayd, and Ab Bakr al-Wsit (d. 320/932). Scholars of the follow-
ing two centuries then wrote multi-volume exegeses of the Qurn. The
leading figures of this period are Ab Abd al-Rahmn al-Sulam, Ab
Ishq al-Thalab, and Ab al-Qsim Abd al-Karm al-Qushayr.5

I refer his works Essai and Recueil de textes in particular.
Ate, r Tefsr Okulu, 27165. See also al-Dhahab, al-Tafsr wa-al-mufassirn,
2:337416; Gerhard Bwering, The Qurn Commentary of al-Sulam, Islamic Studies
Presented to Charles J. Adams, eds. Wael B. Hallaq and Donald P. Little (Leiden, 1991),
hikmah in early sufi literature 105

These authors record interpretations of Qurnic verses that rely on

unveilings (mukshaft) they, and other earlier masters of Sufism, expe-
rienced. They argue that for each statement in the Book, in addition to
the literal, outward or exoteric (zhir) meaning, there is an inward or
esoteric (bt in) sense. This inward meaning is born in the heart of the
gnostic (rif) in the process of spiritual practice and enlightenment.
Sufi commentators do not claim that their interpretations are the only
correct explanations. Instead, in their epistemological theories, they
generally embrace a specific method that describes knowledge in an
individualistic, experiential and existential manner. On the basis of
their particular understanding of an ontological hierarchy of existence
that postulates a distinct subject-object relationship, they introduce a
particular balance between ontology and epistemology. According to
this epistemological theory, different explanations for the same object
at different stages of the mystical path are quite possible, but in reality,
they argue, this occurs in a concentric manner. Distinguished advanced
Sufis are aware of this fact and repeatedly state that there is no contra-
diction between the epistemological products of different levels of this
hierarchy; rather, they assert, this occurrence happens in a comple-
mentary manner, or, in other words, every esoteric or inward explana-
tion springs from an exoteric or outward statement that is found in
authoritative religious sources. Sufi masters, at the same time, accept
that such a theory may lead people who are not familiar with these
notions to become confused by mystical expositions that would seem
to be incoherent. Acknowledging this possibility, Sufis assert that such
an exclusive theory of knowledge ultimately considers knowledge to
be a form of individual taste or intuitive perception (dhawq) that
cannot be tested, or even described to, or by, others. Sufis exemplify
their arguments by citing the scientific definitions of concepts such as
health and drunkenness; these differ in essence from the experience of
health and drunkenness.
Such a peculiar epistemological theory, however, does not justify
arbitrary and baseless interpretations. Sufi authorities set general prin-
ciples for an acceptable mystical commentary as follows: 1) The inner
meaning posited for a Qurnic statement should not be contradictory
to the external sense of that passage; 2) There should be an additional
supporting attestation (shhid) from corroborative texts to justify such
an interpretation; 3) There should not be any obvious religious law
106 part three

or basic rational principle opposing it; and 4) Such an interpretation

should not be presented as the only meaning of that statement.6
In the particular case of h ikmah, for instance, the subtle balance
between the zhir and btin dimensions of h ikmah indicates their deli-
cate instinctive correlation. Sufis state that God possesses the attributes
of power (qudrah) and h ikmah at the same time. He makes things
available or visible (azhara al-ashy) out of His attribute of qudrah
and He regulates things according to His h ikmah. A person who trusts
in God thoroughly (mutawakkil) does not err regarding affirmation
of His h ikmah, because of what he sees in the world as a result of
Gods qudrah. These two attributes (qudrah and h ikmah) operate in a
very subtle way. Though there may be situations in which qudrah and
h ikmah seem to contradict each other, this is only an outward appear-
ance. In reality, Sufis assert, they function complementarily, in perfect
harmony. A mutawakkil, therefore, without being distracted by seem-
ingly unpleasant occurrences in this world, unfailingly maintains this
fundamental inner balance in his mind in the course of his religious
life, because believing in fate (qadar) includes the essential principle
that both good (khayr) and evil (sharr) are created by God, who is
All-Powerful (qdir) and All-H akm at the same time.7
Of the earliest eminent figures in the mystical interpretation of the
Qurn, two names are specifically and recurrently emphasized in Sufi
texts, al-H asan al-Basr and Jafar al-Sdiq. Given their importance in
the development of Sufi literature, I examine their cases individually.

Ate, r, 1921; al-Dhahab, 2:377.
Ab T lib al-Makk, Qt al-qulb, ed. Sad Nasb Makrim (Beirut, 1995), 2:23
Chapter seven

h ikmah and the Earliest Sufi Authorities

Al-H asan al-Basr

Almost every Sufi manual considers al-H asan al-Basr (d. 110/728)
among the earliest authorities to introduce initial examples of inter-
pretations of Qurnic statements from a Sufi perspective. His post-
humous influence on Islamic thought in general and on Sufism in
particular make him a legendary figure in Muslim scholarship; his
exemplary piety and asceticism are repeatedly and widely recorded.1
Such a wide-ranging popularity makes al-H asan a multifaceted per-
sonality in the Islamic intellectual tradition, and a figure it is quite
impossible to describe in a simple fashion. It would not be a complete
portrayal to describe him as merely a mufassir, a muh addith, a faqh,
a mutakallim, or a Sufi.
With regard to his explanations of h ikmah, it is evident that al-H asan
is mainly interested in the practical aspect of this concept. Al-Amash
(d. 148/765) describes al-H asan, saying, Al-H asan would keep devot-
ing his attention to h ikmah until he spoke in terms of it (m zla
al-H asan yatan bi-al-h ikmah h att nataqa bih).2 Al-H asan defines
the word h ikmah in verses 2:29, 2:269, and 38:20 as sunnah,3 moral
scrupulousness (wara) in the religion of God,4 and understanding
(fahm),5 respectively.
Al-H asans definition of h ikmah can be contextualized better in
relation to his broader understanding of Sufism and its concepts. He
encourages the strictest observance of religious commands in sincerity

Massignon, Essai, 174201; Ate, r, 3946; Abd al-Rahmn Badaw, Trkh
al-tasawwuf al-islm (Kuwait, 1975), 152187; Soleiman Ali Mourad, Early Islam
between Myth and History: Al-H asan al-Basr (d. 110H/728CE) and the Formation of
his Legacy in Classical Islamic Scholarship (Leiden, 2006). Furthermore, Ibn al-Nadm
(d. ca. 380/990) reports that al-H asan wrote a commentary on the Qurn. Ibn
al-Nadm, al-Fihrist (Cairo, 1957), 57.
Al-H asan al-Basr, Tafsr, Editors introduction, 21.
Al-H asan al-Basr, 1:115. See also al-Suyt , al-Durr al-manthr, 1:335.
Al-H asan al-Basr, 1:196.
Ibid., 2:239.
108 chapter seven

and ascetic retrospection. In his view, the most important aspect of an

act is the intent (niyyah), which must be absolutely free of ostentation
or hypocrisy (riy); as he says, It is because the believer thinks good
of God that his works are good; it is because the hypocrite thinks bad
(s al-zann) of God that his works are bad.6 On one hand, al-H asan
was critical of the routine and blindly emotional pietism of certain
H ashwiyyah7 traditionists. On the other hand, he attacked the for-
malistic understanding of religious commands by the legal scholars
(fuqah). In the case of the latter, al-H asan argues, their knowledge
and works are devoid of sincere intent, as they are mainly interested
in an outward and superficial understanding of Qurnic statements.
Such scholars, in al-H asans view, are not deeply rooted in the Qurnic
commands and prohibitions, and their acts are in disagreement with,
and thus disprove, their words.8 According to a statement by al-Jhiz,
al-H asan used to describe such a situation as follows,
No man is entitled to the reality of faith as long as he allows himself to
reproach others for a fault (ayb) he himself commits, or to order them
to correct their faults until [he has] started doing so within himself. If he
acts like that [this would mean] he has not corrected any fault but found
an additional one within himself that he should correct.9
Al-H asans piety was not limited to his strict observance of religious
precepts. He further practiced a sincere moral scrupulousness (wara)
and complete renunciation of all legally dubious actions (shubuht),
as his asceticism consisted in a full abandonment of worldly things.
This attitude led him to continuous sorrow (h uzn) and fear (khawf) of
God; he lived in seclusion and introspection, far from the daily politics

Quoted in Massignon, Essai, 187188. Here Massignon rightly notes that this say-
ing resonates a hadth famous in Sufi circles. In the hadth, God Himself speaks, saying,
I am as My servant thinks of Me: if he thinks good, the good is his; if he thinks bad,
the bad is his.
H ashwiyyah is a term used to describe those who blindly follow the external
and literal meanings of religious texts and reject every kind of reasoning in religious
matters, including in the case of the anthropomorphic statements of the Qurn with
respect to God. Al-Tahnaw mentions that in his teaching circle al-H asan criticized
this type of people, who would speak empty and useless words and ask meaningless
and unrelated questions. For various explanations for the etymological and historical
origins of the term see, al-Tahnaw, Kashshf ist ilht al-funn, 543.
Massignon, Essai, 188189.
Al-Jhiz, al-Bayn wa-al-tabyn, ed. Abd al-Salm Muhammad Hrn (Cairo,
1949), 2:135.
hikmah and the earliest sufi authorities 109

of his time.10 When he interprets the Qurnic verse 19:55,11 al-H asan
O man, how could you be a [true] Muslim as long as your neighbor
does not feel secure from you and how could you be a mumin as long
as people do not feel safe from you?12
We can conclude from these and similar accounts that in al-H asans
view, Sufism and its concepts, including h ikmah, represent an overall
moral approach to worldly life and matters. He is not interested in
an elaborate articulation of mystical terms in the technical sense, but
instead appears to concentrate primarily on living a decent life, sin-
cerely, with integrity; a spiritual life. He talks about h ikmah and other
concepts with actions. The intellectual explanations of these notions
can better be contextualized in relation to al-H asans general under-
standing of knowledge, which is intended to be put into action, as it is
action, in turn, that leads to salvation. Thus, as long as knowledge falls
short of action, it basically becomes a burden for the knower rather
than a light indicating the straight path, which is the original function
of knowledge in Islam. Such teachings of al-H asan have come down to
us only in the form of fragments recorded by later writers on Islamic
intellectual history. Fortunately we are on firmer textual ground with

Jafar al-Sdiq

Alongside al-H asan, Sufi scholarly sources mention Jafar al-Sdiq

(d. 148/765) as one of the founding fathers of the mystical tradition in
Islam. Ab Nuaym and Att r list Jafars name at the head of the line
of saints in their hagiographical works.13 Jafars contribution to Sufi

Massignon, Essai, 190192. Such an attitude, however, did not lead al-H asan to
ignore the critical agenda of his time; for instance, he questioned the legitimacy of
Yazds caliphate, and expressed his thoughts clearly in letter he was alleged to have
written to the caliph Abd al-Malik regarding the contemporary issue surrounding the
concept of predestination.
He (Ishmael) would enjoin upon his people prayer and alms-giving and he was
pleasing to his Lord.
Al-Jhiz, al-Bayn wa-al-tabyn 2:135.
Ab Nuaym al-Isfahn, H ilyat al-awliy (Cairo, 19321938), 3:192206. Fard
al-Dn At tr, Tadhkirat al-awliy, ed. Reynold A. Nicholson (London, 1905), 1:915.
Al-Hujwr states that Jafar wrote well-known books in explanation of Sufism. Al b.
110 chapter seven

thought and terminology was enormous. Much like al-H asan, Jafar
tried to detach himself from political issues and held a quietist stance
and inactive personal morality with respect to the political intrigues
of his time. He sought to disengage himself from worldly matters as
much as possible. Illustrating this fact, Ab Nuaym reports the follow-
ing saying of Jafar: God revealed to the world: Serve those who serve
Me, and weary of those who serve you.14
In fact, Jafar is quite an enigmatic figure in Muslim scholarship and
his critical and wide-ranging influence on subsequent generations is
recorded by historians and biographers alike. A member of the family
of the Prophet (ahl al-bayt), he came to be seen as the sixth Imam in
Sh Islam, was reputed to be a teacher of Ab H anfah (d. 150/767) in
fiqh, and was, at the same time, a venerated early authority in Sufism.
In reports by Jbir b. H ayyn (d. ca. 184/800)who lived in the sec-
ond/eighth century and is regarded as the father of Islamic alchemy
and a prolific writer on Islamic-Hermetic philosophyJafar is recur-
rently mentioned as Jbirs foremost master and scholarly source.15 Dh
al-Nn al-Misrs name, in turn, is mentioned as the main transmitter
of Jbirs doctrines on alchemy in the third/ninth century.16
Many accounts relating to the science of letters (ilm al-h urf or jafr)
in the Qurn, including the knowledge of the disconnected letters
(al-h urf al-muqatta ah) or the opening letters (h urf al-fawtih )
at the beginning of twenty-nine Qurnic suras go back to Jafar. In
classical tafsr methodology, the knowledge of these letters is regarded

Uthmn al-Jullb al-Hujwr, The Kashf al-mahjb, trans. Reynold A. Nicholson

(London, 1959), 78.
Ab Nuaym, 3:194.
Ibn al-Nadm, 512514. Al-Shahrastn (d. 548/1153) reports that Jafar was
knowledgeable in religious matters and had perfect good manners (adab kmil) in
h ikmah. He was a mature ascetic with respect to this world and a completely scrupu-
lous person regarding worldly desires. Muhammad b. Abd al-Karm al-Shahrastn,
Kitb al-Milal wa-al-nihal, ed. Muhammad b. Fath Allh Badrn (Cairo, 1956), 1:147.
For Jafars thought and spirituality, see John B. Taylor, Jafar al-Sdiq, Spiritual Fore-
bear of the Sufis, Islamic Culture 40, no. 2 (1966): 97113; Taylor, Mans Knowledge
of God in the Thought of Jafar al-Sdiq, Islamic Culture 40, no. 4 (1966): 195206;
Ate, r, 4655.
Massignon, Essai, 207. Here, I believe Massignon confuses two al-Misrs in his
quotation from Ibn al-Nadm, who says that as a disciple of Jbir, Dh al-Nn wrote
two treatises on alchemy, Rukn akbar and Thiqah, but they are lost. Ibn al-Nadm does
not mean Dh al-Nn al-Misr, but rather Ibn Iyd al-Misr, whom Ibn al-Nadm
mentions as a disciple of Jbir. See Ibn al-Nadm, 514, 517518, and 520. In the final
analysis, however, whether he was a disciple of Jbir or not, Dh al-Nn is treated as a
personality among the early Sufis espousing doctrines in line with those of Jafar.
hikmah and the earliest sufi authorities 111

as being reserved for God and among the absolutely unknowable

(al-mutashbih al-mut laq) parts of the Qurnic text.17 Similarly, some
ah dth on morals that explain obscure points in the Qurn in a mys-
tical tone began to circulate in Sufi circles; their narration is attributed
to Jafar as well.18 Most of his scholarly inheritance, however, is not
recorded in the Sufi texts that have survived to the present.
In the introduction to his H aqiq, al-Sulam speaks of Jafars expo-
sitions of the Qurnic statements as arranged in no order (al ghayr
tartb).19 According to al-Sulam, Jafar asserts that the Book of God is
based on four things: verbal expression (ibrah), allusion or allegorical
expression (ishrah), inner subtleties (latif), and realities (h aqiq).
These are directed to the common people (awmm), the spiritual elect
(khawss) , the friends (awliy) of God, and the prophets (anbiy)
Regarding the word h ikmah in 16:125, Jafar gives an ambiguous def-
inition when he says that calling (du) with or by means of h ikmah
denotes inviting from God to God through God (min Allh il Allh
bi-Allh).21 This expression might be a reference to the idea of the
cyclical nature of the spiritual journey, as a wayfarer goes through a
process whose eventual destination is acting through (bi) God. This
idea indicates a stage in which a Sufi does not possess or do anything
as an independent and separate individual, but becomes lost in and
thus participates in the Divine attributes; for he attributes everything
to God, not to himself. In the case of verse 38:20, Jafar asserts that

See for instance, al-Suyt, al-Itqn f ulm al-Qurn (Lahore, 1980), 2:812.

Ate, r, 4755. Ate, Slem ve tasavvuf tafsri (Istanbul, 1969), 113118.


At the same time, Ate questions the historical reality and authenticity of the many
reports attributed to Jafar regarding ilm al-hurf. Ate accuses al-Kulayn (d. 329/940)
of distorting Jafars legacy in Muslim scholarship by introducing absurd narrations.
The basis of Ates argument is the fact that even though some other eminent Mus-
lim scholarly authorities, such as Sufyn al-Thawr, Mlik b. Anas, and Ab H anfah
studied in Jafars circle, none of them related from Jafar anything similar to what
al-Kulayn relates. Ate, r, 4849.
Ab Abd al-Rahmn al-Sulam, H aqiq al-tafsr, ed. Sayyid Umrn (Beirut,
2001), 1:20.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:22; Nwyia, Le Tafsr, 188.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:378; Nwyia, Le Tafsr, 205. In his Ziydt al-tafsr,
al-Sulam phrases the same definition as, hikmah means a call/invitation from God to
God and through His command on the basis of His will. Al-Sulam, Ziydt H aqiq
al-tafsr, ed. Gerhard Bwering (Beirut, 1995), 79.
112 chapter seven

h ikmah and fasl al-khitb mean correct in speech, sound in belief,22

and steadfast in ones affairs.23 In another verse (48:4), Jafar explains
the word h akm concerning God as, He is h akm in his commands
and prohibitions through His good direction (bi-h usn tadbrihi).24
According to Jafars terminology, h ikmah is closely connected to the
Qurnic concepts of aql and qalb. He explains the word h ikmah in
verse 31:12 in relation to Luqmn as fahm and aql.25 He defines the
word qalb in 50:37 as aql as well.26 The concept of qalb, in Jafars view,
emerges as an active epistemological notion. The qalb listens (yasma),
understands (yaqil), and sees (yubsir).27 These notions, however, are
meaningful only as long as they are realized within a sincere spiritual
In Jafars view, following a good course of action and courtesy or
right behavior (adab) in sincerity is the most essential part of religious
life, to such an extent that he says, Whoever does not have adab, does
not have religion either.28 He similarly asserts, There is no (heavenly)
response to anyone other than those who are sincere.29 He also states,
The closest ones among you to God are those who are best in religion
in terms of adab.30 Another crucial related concept, holding a good
opinion (h usn al-zann), emerges along the way, with regard to which
Jafar notes, Thinking well of God is the complete religion.31

In fact, in al-Sulams narration, the expression is sih h at al-aqd, which can be
translated literally into English as soundness of agreement, but I could not make
sense out of such a literal translation in this specific context. I understand this expres-
sion in the sense of holding true opinions, believing correct things about reality.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 2:184.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 2:184; Nwyia, Le Tafsr, 219.
Jafar al-Sdiq, Kmil al-tafsr al-suf al-irfn li-al-Qurn, ed. Al Zayr (Beirut,
2002), 246.
Muhammad b. Yaqb al-Kulayn, Usl al-Kf, ed. Abd al-H usayn b. Abd Allh
(Najaf, 1956), 1:58.
Al-Kulayn, 1:58. The verse reads, Indeed, in that is a reminder whoever has a
heart (qalb)...
Nwyia, Le Tafsr, 221. Linguistically it is worth noting that the Qurn uses only
the verbal form of the root -q-l. On the basis of this fact Muslim scholars argue that
the Qurn emphasizes an active, experiential form of this notion, rather than merely
an inactive concept in its noun form (aql). See for instance, Muhammad Al al-Jz,
Mafhm al-aql wa-al-qalb f al-Qurn wa-al-Sunnah (Beirut, 1983), 5556.
Jafar al-Sdiq, al-H ikam al-Jafariyyah, ed. rif Tmir (Beirut, 1957), 25.
Ibid., 60.
Ibid., 25.
Ibid., 71.
hikmah and the earliest sufi authorities 113

Though Sufi sources do not attribute any type of externally blame-

worthy (malmat) and asocial practices to Jafar, some anecdotes
nevertheless imply that he did try to conceal his ascetic and spiri-
tual qualities from unqualified people. On the authority of Sufyn
al-Thawr, Ab Nuaym relates that one day when Sufyn saw Jafar
wearing a full-sleeved robe of silk, he reproached the latter for his
appearance on account of the fact that no one from his blessed fathers
would have worn such a dress. Whereupon Jafar rolled back the sleeve
of his robe and disclosed another white robe of wool beneath it and
said, O al-Thawr, our robe here is for the sake of God, and the other
is for you. We have hidden that which is for God and disclosed that
which is for you.32
In conjunction with h ikmah, Jafar highlights the concepts of for-
bearance (h ilm), ilm, and amal in his understanding of religion. He
states, The closest of you to God in rank are those who show for-
bearance better in times of anger.33 He puts a special emphasis on
knowledge and practice together saying, Knowledge without practice
is like a ship without a sailor.34 As noted in the previous chapters,
one of the most common definitions of h ikmah by the early scholarly
authorities was knowledge and practice (ilm wa-amal); a man is not
called h akm unless he combines the two.35 In a similar fashion, Jafar
remarks, in his interpretation of verse 35:28,36 that fear of those with
knowledge (ulam) occurs with respect to their assiduous observance
of acts of worship, their scrupulous attention to information regarding
God, their diligent effort to follow Prophetic instructions, and their
thorough awareness of the necessity of being in the service of saints.37
All these, expectedly, require comprehensive knowledge for which the
fundamental means, in Jafars view, is aql.
Jafar appreciates the merit of intellect (aql) with respect to reli-
gion (dn), which he defines as a means by which man worships the

Ab Nuaym, 3:193. For the same story with some modifications see, Att r, 1:12.

Jafar al-Sdiq, al-H ikam, 53.

Ibid., 64.
Ibn Qutaybah, Tafsr gharb al-Qurn, 32. In a similar fashion Ab Sad al-Kharrz
(d. 286/899) underlines the necessity of putting knowledge into practice when he says,
The whole of knowledge (ilm) is an affliction (bal) until it is put into practice. Ab
Sad al-Kharrz, Kitb al-Sidq, ed. Abd al-H alm Mahmd (Cairo, 1972), 61.
Only those from among Gods servants who have knowledge fear Him.
Nwyia, Le Tafsr, 217.
114 chapter seven

Merciful (m ubida bi-hi al-Rah mn).38 He argues that intellect and

religion are intrinsically connected to each other when he states, He
who has intellect has religion (dn), and he who has religion enters
Paradise.39 Aql, Jafar says, is the most precious thing to God, and it
is through aql that He commands or prohibits, rewards or punishes.40
In Jafars view, the religious comprehension and soundness of a man
occur in proportion to his intellectual capacity. On the authority of
the Prophet, Jafar says, When you hear of a good person (h usn h l),
pay close attention to his aql, as he is/will be judged in proportion
to his aql.41 Jafar reports that the Prophet explained the Qurnic
notion of men of understanding (ul al-albb) as men of intellect
(uqal).42 In the same context, Jafar also relates that the Prophet said,
We, the community of prophets, have been commanded to address
people in proportion to their intellects.43 Jafar further notes, A single
man of comprehension (faqh) has more power over Ibls than a thou-
sand worshippers (bid);44 and A knowledgeable person (lim) who
makes use of his knowledge is more virtuous than seventy thousand
worshippers.45 Jafar relates another Prophetic statement which reads,
When you see a person who prays and fasts a lot, do not be proud of
him until you see the level of his aql.46
Jafar considers aql to be the basis of the religious responsibility
(taklf) of mankind. By aql he means much more than our modern
understanding of the human faculty responsible for cognitive reason-
ing. In his view, aql is a heavenly gift to mankind and its origin and
reality go far beyond the limitations of this world. In his report, aql
was the first of the spiritual (rh n) things to be created from the
light of God, and it is the primary guide to attaining reliable knowl-
edge.47 The Truth (h aqq),48 in Jafars opinion, can be attained through

Ibid., 1:20.
Ibid., 1:27.
Ibid., 1:91.
Ibid., 1:31.
Ibid., 1:35.
Ibid., 1:78. Al-Sulam reports the same hadth in the context of verse 16:125,
where he explains the word hikmah. Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:377.
Jafar al-Sdiq, al-H ikam, 64.
Al-Kulayn, 2:26.
Ibid., 1:92.
Ibid., 1:7475.
In fact, in such texts the word haqq may refer to a number of meanings. It may
refer to God, as al-haqq is one of the Most Beautiful Names of God. In this case the
hikmah and the earliest sufi authorities 115

obedience (tah) to God, and salvation (najh) through obedience.

Obedience in turn is dependent on ilm and ilm on learning (taallum),
which is, in the end, dependent on aql. Aql leads to the acquisition of
sound learning, ilm, salvation, obedience and T/truth in succession.49
In Jafars terminology, therefore, aql is simultaneously the primary
source, seat, and means of knowledge.
Jafar further elucidates his theory of knowledge when he states that
the most essential quality of a human being is his aql, which has four
basic aspects: perspicacity/discernment (fitnah), understanding (fahm),
memory (h ifz) and knowledge (ilm). When a persons aql receives
firm and stable support from the light of God, these characteristics
of aql become active and work toward gaining the most reliable kind
of knowledge.50 No one can prosper until he uses his aql properly
and no one can use his aql properly until he acquires knowledge.51 It
is within this framework, Jafar asserts, that one should understand
the Prophetic statement, Seeking knowledge (ilm) is compulsory for
every Muslim.52 Jafar concludes that such an inquiry should be car-
ried out thoroughly: Study religion comprehensively (tafaqqah f
al-dn).53 Only then is a servant on the straight path and assured of
heavenly support. As Jafar states, If God wills good for a servant, he
gives him comprehension in religion.54
Jafar takes a realistic approach when he states that not all men are
able to attain a thorough ilm. In this regard he categorizes human
beings into three major groups: the knowledgeable (lim), learner
(mutaallim), and low or useless (ghuth).55 Only the first will be able
to attain knowledge. Jafar further elucidates the characteristics of this
first group and says, The lim has three qualities: ilm, forbearance
(h ilm) and silence (samt).56 Such statements are an indication of Jafars
elitist approach regarding ilm. In his view, since ilm is a product of
aql, which is the most precious thing, as it was the first spiritual thing

word has the sense of the nature of ultimate reality. In a broder sense, the word haqq
may refer to what corresponds to facts without being restricted to the Divine Name.
In such context, it may refer to any truth, reality, or fact.
Al-Kulayn, 1:66.
Ibid., 1:89.
Ibid., 1:92.
Ibid., 2:56.
Ibid., 2:14.
Ibid., 2:23.
Ibid., 2:29.
Ibid., 2:41.
116 chapter seven

to be created from the light of God, it only belongs to deserving per-

sons. From this fact, it follows naturally that those who possess knowl-
edge should be treated with the utmost respect in Muslim society.57
This privileged status, at the same time, puts a huge responsibility on
the shoulders of persons of knowledge. They may not be excused for
certain small mistakes for which ordinary people might be pardoned.
In addition, knowledgeable people should not misuse their ilm, but
rather should complete it with diligent practice. Jafar illustrates this
point, saying, If men of knowledge do not act in accordance with their
ilm, their admonitions slip off peoples hearts like rain on rocks.58
He asserts further that whoever behaves humbly for the sake of God
enjoys the most of intellect,59 while whoever admires himself selfishly
merely entertains himself with weakness of intellect.60 In his interpreta-
tion of verse 35:28, Jafar points out that the word ulam in this verse
refers to persons of knowledge whose acts conform to their words;
otherwise they do not deserve to be called ulam.61 In Jafars view, as
long as ilm does not result in certain practical manifestations such as
forbearance, humbleness, and moral scrupulousness, merely seeking
it as a mental activity does not conform to basic Islamic intellectual
In this context, Jafar introduces another essential religious concept:
faith (mn). Reminding us of the Qurnic coupling of faith and righ-
teous deeds (aml slih ah), Jafar calls our attention to the interdepen-
dence of mn, ilm, and amal. In fact, he employs the word marifah
in this framework, and uses such related concepts interchangeably
throughout his expositions. The use of marifah as a Sufi technical term
superior to ilm does not occur in Jafars terminology. Most of the early
Sufi manual writers and biographers, including al-Sarrj, al-Kalbdh,
al-Makk, and al-Sulam, do not associate Jafars name with marifah
in the strict sense. It is only al-Hujwr who mentions Jafars name in

Ibid., 2:42.
Ibid., 2:70.
Ibid., 1:58.
Ibid., 1:94.
Ibid., 2:39.
Ibid., 2:38. Underlining the same principle in the particular case of hikmah, Dh
al-Nn says, H ikmah does not reside in a stomach that is filled with food. Abd
al-Karm al-Qushayr, al-Rislah (Egypt, 1959), 9. Likewise, when he was asked about
the way in which he attained such a high level of marifah, Ab Yazd al-Bist m
responded, Through an empty stomach and a body without clothes. Al-Qushayr,
al-Risalh, 14.
hikmah and the earliest sufi authorities 117

relation to marifah.63 Jafar simply asserts that amal and marifah are
reciprocally dependent. Each of them is a prerequisite for the other
and one cannot leave the other aside in the course of staying steadfast
in sound mn.64
Having visited various elucidations on the concept of h ikmah within
a network of related epistemological terms as presented by the two ear-
liest pioneering Sufi figures, al-H asan and Jafar, I move on to examine
the writings of Sufi exegetes of subsequent centuries in the formative
period of Sufi Qurn commentary.

Al-Hujwr, 7879. For the basic meanings of ilm and marifah and their various
usages by authors at the earliest stages of Muslim metaphysical thought, see Rosen-
thal, Knowledge Triumphant, 165193. For an analytical examination of the concept
of marifah in Sufism, but mainly on the basis of secondary literary sources, see Reza
Shah-Kazemi, The Notion and Significance of marifa in Sufism, Journal of Islamic
Studies 13 (2002): 155181.
Al-Kulayn, 2:65. Emphasizing the same principle, on the authority of Wahb b.
Munabbih (d. 110/728), al-Makk relates, Faith (mn) is naked (uryn); its dress
(libs), ornament (znah), and fruit (thamarah) are God-consciousness (taqw), mod-
esty (hay), and knowledge (ilm), respectively. Al-Makk, Qt, 1:286.
Chapter eight

H ikmah in the Context of Early

Sufi Exegetical Works

The authors of Sufi commentaries do not embrace a single method

of presenting their discussions. Compared to al-Sulam, for instance,
al-Thalab cites more extensively from the earlier mainstream tradi-
tion of tafsr. Throughout his discussions, the latter deals with linguis-
tic and legal matters more elaborately than does the former. Similarly,
despite the fact that al-Qushayr was very much influenced by al-Sulam
and uses material from H aqiq al-tafsr copiously in his Lat if, he
eliminates the transmission chains for the narrations he quotes from
al-Sulam. He also expounds upon Qurnic verses dealing with legal
matters, unlike al-Sulam.
In principle, the writers of ishr (allegorical) commentary do not
disregard the literal meaning of Qurnic verses, nor do they treat
other exegetes of a more traditional and conventional character disre-
spectfully. Rather, they make use of previous linguistic expositions and
narrated materials as the bases of their arguments and in this regard,
exegetical discussions of the Sufis have a very concentric nature. Inward
meanings emerge out of the outward senses of Qurnic expressions.
For their specifically esoteric expositions, the Sufi authors, as expected,
rely primarily on the Qurnic tafsr ishr of their predecessors. An
examination of the concept of h ikmah in the expositions of leading
Sufi commentators of the formative period of this field appears below
in roughly chronological order.

Sufyn al-Thawr

In the tafsr of Sufyn al-Thawr (d. 161/778), one of Jafars close

companions, we might expect to find further elucidation of h ikmah.
Unfortunately, he does not seem to have placed any special emphasis
on this notion. The only Qurnic instance for which he gives a related
explanation is verse 3:79, which reads,
120 chapter eight

It is not for a mortal that God should give him the kitb, h ukm and
prophethood and that he should then say to the people, Be worshippers
(ibd) of mine rather than God; on the contrary (he would say), Be
pious scholars of the Lord (rabbniyyn) because of what you have taught
of the kitb and because of what you have studied. He would never order
you to take the angels and the prophets as lords; what, would he order
you to disbelieve, after you have surrendered?
Al-Thawr interprets the word rabbniyyn in this verse as h ukam and
ulam, which may both possibly be translated as sages and scholars
without implying a technical meaning for the term h ukam.1
According to al-Makks reports, al-Thawr divides scholars (ulam)
into three major categories: 1) those who have knowledge of God and
His commands (lim bi-Allh wa-bi-amr Allh)this group represents
competent/complete scholars (al-lim al-kmil); 2) those who have
only knowledge of Godthis category includes the God-conscious
scholars (al-taq al-khif );2 and, 3) those who have knowledge of Gods
command but not of Himselfthese are impudent/disrespectful schol-
ars (al-lim al-fjir).3 Upon being asked about ilm, Sufyn said, It is
scrupulousness (wara). When he was further asked about the meaning
of wara, he replied, It means seeking knowledge through which wara
can be learned, and in the eyes of authorities, wara actually means
lengthening ones silence and shortening ones speech.4 Such state-
ments indicate that al-Thawr was primarily concerned with a pious
religious life based on existential and experiential spirituality. In his
view, every epistemological acquisition, including h ikmah, derives from
and develops out of such diligent and sincere practice. Another decla-
ration expressed by the earliest Sufi authorities as narrated by al-Makk

Al-Thawr, 37. Al-Sulam reports a similar definition of rabbniyyn, saying that
they have knowledge of God and are the h ukam among His servants. Citing al-Wsit s
(d. 331/942) interpretation of the same word, al-Sulam states, Rabbniyyn are those
who own [worldly] things, while nothing owns them. Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:103.
In general many scholars translate the word taqw into English as fear or fear of
God. But we need to note that taqw has connotations beyond the ordinary sense of
fear as a negative notion and that it is not easy to render it in English with a single
word or expression. Especially in the Quranic context, taqw refers to embracement
of a willful personal God-consciousness, reverence, devotion, and piety full of posi-
tive elements, rather than to a stressful and anxious emotional and psychic state. For
such considerations, throughout the book in most cases I will translate taqw as God-
consciousness, which I believe captures the meaning of this word in English in a most
comprehensive and nuanced manner.
Al-Makk, Qt, 1:290.
Ibid., 1:290.
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 121

further indicates this notion. Indeed God loves humble (mutawdi)

scholars and detests arrogant (jabbr) ones. Whoever behaves humbly
for the sake of God, God causes him to know h ikmah.5 Therefore, set-
ting a good personal example constitutes an essential part of the func-
tion of scholars in their societies, for depending on their performance
other people will have their first acquaintance with religious notions.
From a saying of Jesus, al-Makk relates,
The likeness of the scholars of evil (ulam al-s) is a rock that has fallen
into the mouth of a river (fam al-nahr). The rock does not imbibe the
water, but does not leave it to reach the field either. Likewise is the [case
of the] scholars of this world; they remain sitting down [as opposed to
moving forward] on the way of the Hereafter. Such scholars are not able
to reach people, but they do not leave them to pursue their journey to
God either.6

Sahl al-Tustar

Sahl al-Tustar (d. 283/896) appears to be the earliest authority of Sufi

tafsr to introduce a relatively full-fledged treatment of h ikmah. In fact,
in addition to a work on tafsr, Fuat Sezgin lists an epistle, Rislah f
al-H ikam wa-al-tasawwuf, attributed to al-Tustar.7 On the basis of its
title, the epistle would seem to be very promising with respect to its
treatment of h ikmah, but unfortunately, the epistle is not a complete
work, rather, it is a seventh/thirteenth century selection of al-Tustars
sayings collected from his other works as well as from al-Qushayrs
In his tafsr, as noted in the previous chapter, al-Tustar reports an
explanation of h ikmah by the Prophet, who states that the Qurn is
Gods h ikmah among His servants. The Prophet likens the religious
condition of people who learn the Qurn and practice its instructions
to prophethood, with the exception that they do not receive revelation.
They are treated like the prophets except that they do not have prophetic

Ibid., 1:292.

Ibid., 1:293.
Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte des Arabischen Schrifttums (Leiden, 1967), 1:647.
Al-Tustar, Editors introduction, 9; Gerhard Bwering, The Mystical Vision of
Existence in Classical Islam: The Qurnic Hermeneutics of the Sf Sahl at-Tustar
(d. 283/896) (Berlin and New York, 1980), 11.
122 chapter eight

missions.9 Another Prophetic statement also defines h ikmah as the

Qurn. According to this account, those who learn the Qurn in their
youth receive an innate familiarity with it to such an extent that it is as
if the Qurn were to have become a component of their bodies, which
would consequently not be touched by hellfire.10
On the authority of previous scholars, al-Tustar lists the defini-
tions of h ikmah as follows: a) H ikmah means the Qurn as it occurs
in verse 16:125; b) H ikmah refers to an understanding of the Qurn
(fahm f al-Qurn); c) H ikmah denotes prophethood, as in the case of
verses 38:20 and 2:251;11 d) H ikmah means comprehension of the reli-
gion of God (fiqh f dn Allh) and following the Messenger of God;12
e) H ikmah denotes intelligence (aql);13 f) H ikmah is the fear of God
(khashyat Allh);14 and g) H ikmah means correctness in the book of
God, as in the case of verses 2:269 and 33:34.15 Al-Tustar also cites Ibn
Umars (d. 73/692) explanation of h ikmah as,
H ikmah is of three kinds: a clearly intelligible verse (yah muh kamah),
an established sunnah (sunnah mdiyah), and a tongue that speaks by/
through the Qurn (lisn ntiq bi-al-Qurn).16
Then al-Tustar concludes that h ikmah means consensus of the sci-
ences (ijm al-ulm) and its origin is sunnah, as it occurs in verse
33:34. In this context, he makes reference to the basic meaning of the
root h -k-m in the sense of manaa to restrain or prevent, as expressed
in the Arabic expression, You restrained (h akamta) the man.17
Al-Tustar asserts that a person would use this expression when he
has prevented (manaa) another person from harmful things (darar)
and/or deviation from the truth (khurj an al-h aqq).18 In al-Tustars
view, this sense is apparent in verses 54:5 (h ikmah blighah) and 21:74
(wa- taynhu h ukman). He concludes that God gives new life to dead
hearts through h ikam, just as a downpour gives life to a dead land.19

Al-Tustar, 42. For the same h adth, see also al-Sulam, Ziydt, 20.
Al-Tustar, 42.
Ibid., 42.
Ibid., 43.
Ibid., 43; al-Sulam, Ziydt, 20.
Al-Tustar, 43.
Ibid., 43.
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 123

Al-Tustar asserts that the capital (ras ml) of h ikmah is of three kinds, as
follows, The first one is training the soul (nafs)20 regarding reprehensible
things (makrht); the second is emptying the heart of the love of carnal
desires (shahawt); and the third is watching over the heart with respect
to safeguarding incoming thoughts (khtirt), as whoever is mindful of
God when incoming thoughts pour into his heart, God protects him at
the times when his limbs move to action (inda h arakti jawrih ihi).21
Like his scholarly predecessors in mystical writings, al-Tustar places
great emphasis on the practical and experiential aspects of Sufi terms.
This is clear in his exposition of belief (mn), when he says,
Certainty (yaqn), patience (sabr), and sincerity (ikhls) are the heart
(qalb), pillar (imd), and perfection (kaml) of belief, respectively; for a
servant reaches confirmation (tasdq), realization (tah qq), and the Truth
(al-h aqq) through ikhls, tasdq, and tah qq, correspondingly. Ikhls is
the fruit (thamarah) of yaqn because yaqn means witnessing of the
secret (mushhadat al-sirr). Whoever has not experienced witnessing of
the secret with his Lord, his practice has not become dedicated to God
sincerely, though God knows best.22

Ab Tlib al-Makk

One of the most explicit elucidations of the Qurnic concept of

h ikmah as understood by early Sufi writers is introduced by Ab T lib
al-Makk (d. 386/996). Throughout his works Qt al-qulb and Ilm
al-qulb, al-Makk provides noteworthy exegetical information about
h ikmah. Ilm al-qulb deserves special treatment in this regard.23 In

Translating the word nafs into English is indeed a complex issue, because in early
Islamic texts, it may equally refer to soul, self, ego, spirit, and the like. Considering
the fact the we have also a semantic complexity in the English language with regard
to drawing clear semantic lines between these translations, I will make educated judg-
ments depending on the context and give an English translation accordingly.
Al-Tustar, 43.
Ibid., 52.
Although bibliographical works attribute a work titled Ilm al-qulb to al-Makk
(see for instance, Sezgin, 1:667), the editor of the presently available work questions
the authenticity of this book. In his view, there is no doubt that al-Makk wrote the
original Ilm al-qulb, but the content of the current manuscript, on the basis of which
he edited and published the work, includes certain anachronistic accounts that cannot
be al-Makks own statements. The editor believes that the original version of the book
was shorter and in the course of time it has been expanded through reproductions and
expositions. See editors introduction to al-Makk, Ilm al-qulb, eds. Abd al-Ghan
al-Daqr and Musta f Ibrhm H amzah (Damascus, 1998), 1617. H amzahs basic argu-
ment would seem to be sound. Throughout my reading of the book, I have also noted
124 chapter eight

his expositions on the essence of h ikmah, the greatness of its value,

and those who deserve it and its dignity, al-Makk goes into a detailed
analysis of verse 2:269. Though the authenticity of the Ilm al-qulb
is questioned, the aspects touched upon here give us a sense of the
subtleties of these interpretations.
The verse, He (God) gives h ikmah to whomever He wills is further
elucidated through a list of fourteen aspects (wajh) of h ikmah, given
in the following order:
1)H ikmah means knowledge of the Qurn regarding its abrogating
(nsikh) and abrogated (manskh) verses, its clear (muh kam) and
ambiguous (mutashbih) intelligible passages, its earlier (muqaddam)
and later (muakhkhar) revealed verses, its passages pertaining to the
lawful (h all) and unlawful (h arm), and its similitudes (amthl).
This explanation was introduced by Ibn Abbs.24
2) H ikmah denotes prophethood (nubuwwah) as al-Sudd said.25
3)H ikmah means perspicacity (firsah), which is defined by some
h ukam as correctness in opinions (zunn) and knowledge of future-
lying things (marifatu m-lam yakun bi-m kna) on the basis of
what has already transpired. Firsah is further defined as the percep-
tion of an upright person who possesses the light of God-conscious-
ness (tuq) and faith (mn). Such a heavenly gift is given only to
truthful (sidq) and pious people.26
4)H ikmah means intellect (aql) as can also be testified in verses 19:12
and 31:12.27
5)H ikmah refers to fear of God (khashyah), as it is explained further
in 35:28.28
6) H ikmah denotes comprehension (fiqh) in interpreting the Qurn.29

aspects that lead me to believe that the extant version of Ilm al-qulb was expanded by
later scholars. See, for instance, al-Makks expositions on verse 2:269, where he intro-
duces a highly elaborate explanation of h ikmah that is much more detailed than earlier
commentators. It is only with later tafsr writers, such as al-Qurtub and al-Suyt,
that one can find such a categorically explicit definition of h ikmah. I suspect that the
original version of Ilm al-qulb did not treat h ikmah at this length, but over time the
work has been expanded through later reproductions. It may be of interest to note
that according to the extant version of this work, al-Makk attributes the following
oft-quoted statement, Whoever knows himself knows his Lord (man arafa nafsahu
fa-qad arafa rabbahu), to Al b. Ab T lib, instead of to the Prophet himself; while
many other Sufi writers attribute it to the prophet. Al-Makk, Ilm, 98.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 27.
Ibid., 27.
Ibid., 2729.
Ibid., 3031.
Ibid., 3132.
Ibid., 33.
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 125

7)H ikmah means knowledge (ilm). In this context, al-Makk cites

al-Khall b. Ahmads categorization of human beings into four kinds:
a) a person who knows (yadr) and who knows that he knows; such
a person is a scholar (lim), so he should be followed; b) a person
who knows but who does not know that he knows; such a person
is as if he were sleeping (nim), so he should be awakened; c) a
person who does not know and who knows that he does not know;
such a person is a learner (mutaallim), so he should be taught; d)
a person who does not know, but who does not know that he does
not know; such a person is ignorant (jhil), so people should stay
away from him.30
8)H ikmah denotes correctness in speech; when a h akm speaks, he
speaks through/by God (bi-Allh) and when he is silent, he is silent
with God (maa Allh). In this respect there is a relationship between
speaking and remaining silent in opposite directions, as the more a
person speaks the less his correctness, while the less such a person
speaks the greater his correctness becomes.31
9)H ikmah refers to ah dth of the Prophet or his Sunnah that explain
the Qurnic directives.32
10)H ikmah means correctness in speech, action, and will (irdah);
accordingly a h akm would speak only for God, act only for His
sake, and will only that which God wills.33
11)H ikmah refers to three things: modesty (h ay), safeguarding (h ifz)
the sanctity of the Prophet, and observing (riyah) the rights of
family and neighbor.34
12)H ikmah denotes moral scrupulousness (wara). Al-Makk cites Ab
Yazd al-Bistms (d. ca. 261/875) exemplary practice of wara in this
regard. According to this account, al-Bist m was one day washing
his garment and wanted to dry it under the sun. First he put it on
someones wall, but then thought it impermissible for him to put it
there without the owners permission. Second he put the garment on
the wall of the mosque, but again thought that this would not be in
keeping with the original function for which the mosque was built.
Third he grabbed the garment with his hands and stood still under
the sun, but even then thought that he was casting a shadow over
people. Finally he went to the desert and dried it there. It is also
recorded that Bistm said that he never used to strike the surface
of water with his hand, because he thought that water was created
for fulfilling the obedience of God and that he was not supposed to
harm it. Similarly, when he saw an herb or plant, he would consider

Ibid., 3436.
Ibid., 3637.
Ibid., 3738.
Ibid., 40.
Ibid., 40.
126 chapter eight

that it was given to praising God and that it never committed sin;
how then could a sinner like himself prevent it from doing so?35
13)H ikmah means learning the Qurn by heart (h afiza al-qurna
an-zahri al-qalb). Al-Makk cites the following explanation of Ibn
Abbs in this regard, Whoever recites the Qurn before receiving
formal education, he is among those who are given h ikmah while
they are yet at a young age.36 Apparently here Ibn Abbs is referring
to verse 19:12, which says that God gave h ukm to John the Baptist
while he was yet a small child.
14)H ikmah denotes understanding the refined expressions (latif ) of
the Qurn and aspects of its meanings (wujh manhi), as it is
reported from Al b. Ab Tlib, If I wanted to overload seventy
camels with the interpretation of the Ftih ah, I could do so.37
Al-Makk also reports that every Qurnic verse has seven meanings
1) external/exoteric (zhir) for the common people (awmm);
2) internal/esoteric (btin) for the elect (khawss) ;
3) allegorical (ishrt) for the elect of the elect;
4) indicative/symbolic (amrt) for the friends of God/saints (awliy);
5) refined (latif ) for the very truthful (siddqn);
6) subtle (daqiq) for the lovers (muh ibbn); and
7) real (h aqiq) for the prophets (nabiyyn).
Al-Makk further says that God gave prophethood to distinguished
individuals among the people of purity and sealed (khatama) the
institution of prophethood and closed its door with the Prophet
Muhammad. As for h ikmah alone, God gave it to Luqmn and since
then He has kept its door unreservedly open until the day of resur-
rection. Al-Makk asserts that h ikmah is one of the ten great Divine
blessings given to mankind. He also describes the way these should
be sought.38
Al-Makk lists the ten blessings as follows:
a)h ikmah given to the h ukam as mentioned in 2:269, which should be
sought through hunger (j) and thirst (zim);
b)mercy (rah mah), as found in 2:105,39 which should be requested
through imploring (tadarru) and weeping (buk);

Ibid., 4041.
Ibid., 41.
Ibid., 42.
Ibid., 1921.
He (God) singles out (yakhtassu ) for His mercy whomever He wills.
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 127

c)kingdom (mulk), as in 2:247,40 which should be sought through hum-

bleness (tawdu) and modesty (h ay);
d)wealth (ghin), as in 9:28,41 which should be requested through
thankfulness (shukr) and contentment (rid);
e)response (ijbah), as in 6:41,42 which should be sought through con-
tinuing vigilance (dawm al-tabss);
f)repentance (tawbah), as in 9:27,43 which should be requested through
obedience (tah), imploring (tadarru) and invocation (du);
g)sustenance (rizq), as in 2:212,44 which should be sought through obe-
dience and God-consciousness (tuq);
h)forgiveness (maghfirah), as in 48:14,45 which should be requested
through fear (khawf ) and hope (raj);
i)guidance (hidyah), as in 2:142,46 which should be sought through
observance (h ifz) and faithfulness (waf); and
j)the raising of [spiritual] degrees (raf al-darajt) and the granting of
miracles (it al-karmt), as in 6:83.47 [Al-Makk does not mention
the way this last blessing should be sought.]48
In his exposition of the Qurnic verse 16:43, Ask the people of
remembrance [ahl al-dhikr] if you do not know, al-Makk introduces
further arguments relating to h ikmah. He asserts that the ahl al-dhikr
are those who remember God and that they are the people of the dec-
laration of Gods unity (ahl al-tawh d) and of intellect (aql) regarding
God. These people do not receive this knowledge through conventional
means, studying books or instructing each other. Rather, they are the
people of practice (ahl amal) and good conduct (h usn mumalt);
they have an intimate and special relationship with God, who gives
them h ikmah in their purified and sincere hearts as a result of their
esoteric practices (li-amlihim al-bt inah). Al-Makk concludes that
such people possess genuine and true knowledge of religious matters,
including knowledge of h ikmah.49

God gives his kingdom to whomever He wills.


If you fear poverty, God will surely enrich you of His bounty.
He will remove that on account of which you invoked Him, if He wills.
Then God accepts repentance after that from whomever He wills.
God gives sustenance to whomever He wills without reckoning.
He (God) forgives whomever He wills.
He (God) guides whomever He wills to a straight path.
We raise up in degrees whomever We will.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 1921. In his Qt al-qulb, al-Makk introduces a much shorter
explanation of the word h ikmah in the same verse. Here, he simply reports that h ikmah
means understanding (fahm) and perspicacity (fitnah). Al-Makk, Qt, 1:305.
Ibid., 1:278.
128 chapter eight

On another occasion, al-Makk discusses the concept of h ikmah

in relation to the notion of ilm. On the authority of earlier scholars,
al-Makk defines ilm as a light (nr) placed by God in the hearts of
His friends (awliy). This light leads to an expansion of knowledge
in the heart. Such people see things with certainty (yaqn) and speak
with true clarity, which is the h ikmah that God places in the hearts of
His friends, as mentioned in the Qurn (38:20): And We gave him
(David) h ikmah and decisive speech. According to al-Makks report,
Muslim authorities defined h ikmah in this verse as correctness in
speech as well.50

Ab Abd al-Rahmn al-Sulam

Ab Abd al-Rahmn al-Sulams (d. 412/1021) H aqiq al-tafsr holds

an authoritative scholarly position in the studies on early Sufi com-
mentary. Given that the majority of this kind of written materials that
shed light on the formative period of the Sufi exegetical tradition have
been lost, the H aqiq offers a particularly important and rich collec-
tion of mystic Qurnic interpretations by the earliest authorities. In
this regard, its influence on later Sufi Qurn commentaries may be
comparable to the influence that al-T abars Jmi al-bayn exercised
on the subsequent mainstream traditional exegesis of the Qurn.
Al-Sulams tafsr documents the initial development of many mysti-
cal concepts and their Qurnic references elucidated by the earliest
Sufi figures.51
For many years the H aqiq was available only in fragments pub-
lished by Massignon and Nwyia.52 In addition to his work on this tafsr,53
Bwering has edited and published al-Sulams Ziydt al-h aqiq. Ate
presented his subsequently published doctoral thesis on al-Sulam
and his Sufi tafsr, in which he presents and discusses examples of

Ibid., 1:305.
For a general outline of al-Sulams H aqiq and its position within Sufi Qurn
commentary, see Ate, Slem; Ate, r, 9195; Bwering, The Qurn, 4156. It
ought to be noted that a number of leading Muslim scholarly authorities, includ-
ing Ibn al-Jawz (d. 597/1200) and Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1328), severely criticized
al-Sulam and his tafsr on the basis of al-Sulams interpretations regarding al-h urf
al-muqatta ah and alleged anthropomorphism. They further accused him of using
unsound ah dth and even of forgery. Ate, Slem, 4043; Ate, r, 9295.
Massignon, Essai, 359412 and Nwyia, Le Tafsr, 181230.
Bwering, The Qurn.
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 129

al-Sulams interpretations.54 In 2001, an edited edition of the H aqiq

was completed by Sayyid Umrn.55 Unfortunately, it is not a critical
edition; indeed there are serious mistakes in it, either a result of mis-
readings or typographical errors.56 Despite its shortcomings, I make
use of this edition, albeit cautiously.
Throughout his tafsr, al-Sulam compiles previous Sufi expositions
and anecdotes together with their chains of transmission. In most cases,
he does not offer his own statements. In the introduction, al-Sulam
talks about his intentions for compiling this tafsr. Despite the fact that,
as he asserts, he has seen many works by scholars of the exoteric sci-
ences (al-ulm al-zawhir) who have industriously presented books
on various aspects of the Qurnic text (legal, syntactical, philological,
etc.), he could not find any complete interpretation of Qurnic state-
ments as understood by the people of reality (ahl al-h aqqah), with
the exception of some scattered and unarranged elucidations by Ibn
At (d. 309/921) and Jafar al-Sdiq. Seeing such a gap in Muslim
scholarship, al-Sulam took this duty upon himself.57 On the author-
ity of the Prophet, al-Sulam reports that for each Qurnic verse
there are four gradational meanings: an outward or exoteric (zhir),
an inward or esoteric (btin), a limit (h add), and an anagogical or

Ate, Slem.
Al-Sulam H aqiq.
By way of example, I quote a part from al-Sulams own introduction to the tafsr.
I spent a great deal of time trying to make sense out of this section as it is written
in the edition, though in the end, I was not able to. Fortunately, the editor included
a few examples of the manuscripts in his introduction to the book. Following the
editors reading of the text, together with those pages of the manuscripts, I noted the
following, as an example. After a traditional h amdalah (thanking of God) and salwalah
(sending blessings and prayers upon the Prophet), according to Umrns reading,
al-Sulam says, wa-lamm dnat al-mutawassimn bi-al-ulm al-zawhir sannaf f
anw al-qurn... (19). The verb dnat did not make any sense here to me in this
form. I thought that it might be dawwana (the second verbal form of the root d-w-
n) in the sense of to write or put down in writing. When I examined carefully the
written form of this word in the manuscript, however, I saw that dawwana was not a
reasonable solution. Then I realized that the word had to be read as raaytu (I saw/have
seen), which looks graphically very much like dnat. Thus I made sense out of this
passage and translated it as, I have seen examiners of the external sciences compile
[works] on various aspects of the Qurn... Again, we cannot know whether this sort
of error is a result of the editors negligence or a typographical mistake. In another
place al-Sulam discusses the gradational meanings of the Qurnic verses as ibrah,
ishrah, latif, and h aqiq. Here, instead of the word ibrah we find the word ibdah
(act of worship), both of which, once again, look very similar graphically. Al-Sulam,
H aqiq, 1:23.
Ibid., 1:1920.
130 chapter eight

stational (mutta la) sense.58 As noted above, al-Sulam refers also to

Jafars interpretation of the Qurn on the basis of a four-dimensional
approach: verbal expression (ibrah), which addresses the common
people (awmm); allusion or allegorical expression (ishrah) that
speaks to the elect (khawss) ; subtle expressions (latif ) addressed
to the friends (awliy) of God; and realities (h aqiq), which are for
the prophets (anbiy).59 Al-Sulam relates a similar categorization
narrated from Al b. Ab T lib, which adds to the definitions of the
Prophet and Jafar by noting that, ibrah, ishrah, latif, and h aqiq
speak to hearing (sam), intellect (aql), witnessing (mushhadah), and
self-submission (istislm), respectively.60
With respect to h ikmah, al-Sulam lists various definitions of this
word as it occurs in verse 2:269, as
a)God-given knowledge (ilm ladunn),
b)allusion for which there is no apparent cause (ishrah l illata
c)calling the Real as a witness in all states (ishhd al-h aqq al jam
d)disengaging mystery so that inspiration would come (tajrdu al-sirr
li-wurd al-ilhm),61
e)the distinguishing light between inspiration and evil insinuations
(al-nr al-mufarriq bayn al-ilhm wa-al-wasws),
f) prophethood (nubuwwah), and
g) a good deed (h asanah).62

Ibid., 1:21. The term mutta la literally means a place to which one may ascend.
In Sufi terminology, this term refers to the face of God present in every existent thing.
See for instance, William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-Arabs Meta-
physics of Imagination (Albany, 1989), 363 and Ethem Cebeciolu, Tasavvuf terimleri
ve deyimleri szl (Ankara, 2009), 448.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:22.
Ibid., 1:2223. The word sam in this context may well refer to the transmitted
texts of the Qurn and Sunnah as opposed to aql as it occurs in pairing expressions
of sam versus aql or naql versus aql.
This sentence does not make clear sense, and we can suspect an editorial mistake.
In his work on al-Sulam and his tafsr, Ate gives examples of al-Sulams interpre-
tations of Qurnic verses and, fortunately, he cites this verse as well. According to
Ate reading, this passage defines h ikmah as, emptying the soul/spirit of everything
other than God, so that inspiration would come in (Hikmet, ilhmn gelmesi iin rhu
msivadan boaltmaktr). Ate, Slem, 146.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:7980. In the case of another verse (38:20) stating that
David was given h ikmah, al-Sulam cites a number of interpretations of h ikmah pre-
sented by earlier authorities as follows: a) Davids knowledge of himself and his people;
b) knowledge (ilm) and understanding (fahm) in general; c) correctness in speech,
soundness in belief, and being steadfast in affairs. Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 2:184. For simi-
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 131

Al-Sulam reports another explanation of h ikmah on a more spiritual

plane when he relates,
Indeed God sent the Messengers with good counsel (bi-al-nush ) to
the souls of His creation (li-anfus khalqihi); He sent down the Book to
awaken their hearts (li-tanbh qulbihim); and He sent h ikmah to make
their souls tranquil (li-sukn arwh ihim). Thus, the Messenger and the
Book call to His command (amrihi), and to His judgments (ah kmihi),
respectively; and h ikmah indicates (mushrah) His grace (fadlihi).63
It is said that h ikmah in this verse (2:269) means understanding of the
Book of God and that whoever is given understanding of the Book of
God has been given a mighty gift with respect to drawing near Him.64
Al-Sulam also quotes al-Junayds explanation of h ikmah as, God
gives new life to nations (aqwm) by/through h ikmah and He praises
them for it.65
We find further practical clarification of h ikmah in al-Sulams
Ziydt al-tafsr, where he reports that some scholars defined h ikmah
in verse 2:269 as correctness in speech together with rightness of
action in sincerity.66 When asked about when they began to be influ-
enced by h ikmah, some authorities replied that it happened once they
had humbled their souls (nafs). Marf al-Karkh (d. ca. 200/816), for
instance, says, Whoever does his practice well, h ikmah is sent down
to his heart.67 Al-Sulam mentions some other scholars who said that
h ikmah is the treasure of God (kanz Allh) and that the h ukam are the
household managers of God (qahrimat Allh). God has commanded

lar interpretations of the same verse, see al-Qushayr, Latif al-ishrt, ed. Ibrhm
Basyn (Egypt, 1981), 3:249. In another Qurnic instance (54:5), al-Sulam interprets
h ikmah blighah as the ultimate and perfect knowledge. Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 2:290.
Al-Qushayr, on the other hand, asserts that this h ikmah blighah is true, clear, and
open to those who reflect on it. Al-Qushayr, Latif, 3:494.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:80.
Ibid., 1:80.
Ibid., 1:80. In his tafsr, al-Thalab follows al-Sulams reports regarding this verse
(2:269). Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Thalab, al-Kashf wa-al-bayn, ed. Ab Muhammad
b. shr and Nazr al-Sid (Beirut, 2002), 2:271272.
Al-Sulam, Ziydt, 20. In the context of verse 31:12, al-Sulam relates a similar
interpretation of h ikmah when he notes that it means the knowledge of words, states,
and acts. In the exemplary case of Luqmn, he assumed this notion as an admonition
for himself and introduces it to his companions as well. Ibid., 124.
Ibid., 20. On the authority of earlier scholars, al-Sulam mentions a related expo-
sition when he defines h ikmah in verse 31:12 as knowledge of the danger[ous aspects]
of the soul (gharar al-nafs) and their treatment. Ibid., 124.
132 chapter eight

them to bestow His treasure on His servants.68 Ab Bakr al-Warrq

(d. 280/893) said that there is no [further] neediness (fqah) with
h ikmah, as the Qurn declares, Whoever is given h ikmah has been
given much good.69
On a more intellectual plane, al-Sulam reports another interpretation
of h ikmah in verse 2:269 as the light of perspicacity (nr al-fit nah).70
He narrates a similar exposition from earlier authorities, h ikmah is
four things: knowledge (ilm), forbearance (h ilm), intellect (aql), and
gnosis (marifah).71 Al-Sulam presents h ikmah within a network of
these concepts, particularly of marifah and ilm. He explains the notion
of marifah, emphasizing that the first thing that God prescribed to His
servants was marifah, as occurs in verse 51:56, And I have not created
the jinn and mankind except to worship Me (li-yabudn). Al-Sulam
refers to Ibn Abbs definition of the expression li-yabudn in this
verse as li-yarifn (in order to know Me).72
According to al-Sulams terminology, marifah is the highest episte-
mological concept. Ultimately marifah is beyond any merely human
function and capacity even in the case of the Prophet who, when he was
asked, By means of what (bi-mdh) have you known (arafta) God?,
replied, Indeed, I do not know (l arifu) my Lord with anything;
rather I have known (araftu) things with/through Him.73 Likewise,
the first caliph Ab Bakr is reported to have said that only those on

Ibid., 20.
Ibid., 21. According to al-Qushayrs narration, once a man saw a h akm eating
the leaves of vegetables fallen on the surface of the water. The man said, If you were
to serve the king (sultn), you would not need to eat this. The h akm replied, And
you, if you were content (law qanita) with this, you would not need to serve the king.
Al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 82.
Al-Sulam, Ziydt, 20.
Ibid., 21.
Al-Sulam, Muqaddimah f al-tasawwuf, ed. Ysuf Zaydn (Beirut, 1999), 30;
al-Sulam, Tisat kutub f usl al-tasawwuf wa-al-zuhd, ed. Sleyman Ate (Beirut,
1993), 306. For the same account, see al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 4.
Al-Sulam, Muqaddimah, 30; al-Sulam, Tisat kutub, 306307. The same state-
ment is also attributed to other eminent Sufi figures, including al-Junayd and Dh
al-Nn. Al-Junayd is mentioned as saying, I have known my Lord through my Lord;
otherwise I could not have known Him. Al-Sulam, Muqaddimah, 31. Dh al-Nn,
in his explanation of the knowledge of tawh d, said, when he was asked with what
he knew (arafa) his Lord, My Lord is more exalted than everything with which He
could be known, rather, I have come to know (araftu) my Lord through my Lord and
I have come to know everything other than my Lord through my Lord. Al-Makk,
Ilm, 105.
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 133

whom God bestows knowledge of Himself can know Him.74 Al-Sulam

quotes another definition by Ysuf b. al-H usayn al-Rz (d. 304/916)
of marifah simply as the mercy of God (rah mat Allh). The latter
understanding of marifah is grounded in verse 2:105, God singles out
(yakhtassu ) for His mercy whom He wills. When Ysuf was further
asked how a servant could know his Lord, he said,
As the servant is incapable of knowing himself, how could it happen
that he should know his Lord? Those who have knowledge of their Lord
acquire this knowledge through Himself.75
In al-Sulams understanding, marifah is a gift (mawhibah) from God
by means of which He illuminates the hearts of His gnostic servants.
The outward sign of this gift is a constant devotion to God through
worship on the part of the servants. Marifah is the knowledge of God
(al-ilm bi-Allh), His names, and His attributes to the greatest pos-
sible degree. If a gnostic attains such knowledge, he proceeds from his
witnessing of marifah to become absorbed within the witnessing of
the Known (al-marf ).76
As it appears in al-Sulams writings, some earlier authorities state
that there are three signs of a gnostic (rif ): His tongue speaks by way
of (bi) h ikmah; his heart is faithful by (bi) marifah; and his body is in
accord with the Divine ordinance.77 Marifah thus should be sought
within the heart.78 Marifah itself, al-Sulam states, is of three kinds: the
tongues marifah (marifat al-lisn), which is verbal affirmation (iqrr);
the hearts marifah (marifat qalb), which is confirmation (tasdq); and
the spirits marifah (marifat rh ), which is certainty (yaqn).79 In the
course of the spiritual epistemological journey, there is a mutual inex-
tricable relationship between marifah and ilm. Neither of them can
produce reliable knowledge without the other, nor is there a crystal-
clear borderline between the two.80

Al-Sulam, Muqaddimah, 30; al-Sulam, Tisat kutub, 307.


Al-Sulam, Muqaddimah, 3031.

Al-Sulam, Tisat kutub, 176177.
Al-Sulam, Muqaddimah, 32.
Ibid., 32. In a similar way, Ab al-H usayn al-Nr says that the guide to God is
God Himself. When he was asked about his opinion regarding reason/intellect (aql),
he asserted, [Human] reason is an incapable thing and it can guide only to things
incapable like itself. Ibid., 32.
Ibid., 31.
Ibid., 32.
134 chapter eight

Al-Sulam further clarifies the various gradational functions of

h ikmah depending on the level of its possessor. In this regard he cites
the following saying by Mansr b. Ammr (d. ca. 225/839),
Indeed h ikmah speaks in the hearts of gnostics (rifn), ascetics
(zhidn), worshippers (ubbd), disciples on the spiritual path or desir-
ing ones (murdn), and men of knowledge (ulam) through the tongue
of attestation (tasdq), preference (tafdl), success (tawfq), reflection
(tafakkur), and remembrance (tadhakkur), respectively.81
According to al-Sulams mystical classification, h ikmah is an indis-
pensable part of spiritual enlightenment. Relying on previous Sufi
masters, he narrates,
Through good manners (adab) one [can] understand knowledge (ilm);
through knowledge one performs religious practice (amal) properly;
through practice one reaches h ikmah; through h ikmah one understands
and achieves asceticism (zuhd); through asceticism one renounces
(tatruk) this world; through renouncing this world one desires (targhab
bi) the other world; and through desiring the other world one reaches
the contentment (rid) of God.82
Al-Sulam interprets h ikmah in verse 16:125 as an intellectual notion
and quotes a saying of the Prophet, We, the community of the Proph-
ets, have been ordered to speak to people in proportion to their intellects
(al qadri uqlihim).83 At the same time, al-Sulam presents h ikmah
as a practical concept when, on the authority of previous scholars, he
explains why the word h ikmah in this verse comes before al-mawizah
al-h asanah (goodly admonition). He relates that it is because h ikmah
means correctness in speech by the tongue (bi-al-lisn), in thought
by the heart (jann), and in action through ones deeds (arkn).84 He
further reports a supplementary definition of h ikmah in this verse as,
No one would become h akm until he becomes h akm in his acts (afl),
words (aqwl), and states (ahwlihi). Otherwise such a person would
be described as speaking (nt iq) through/by h ikmah, but not as being
a h akm.85

Al-Sulam, Tabaqt al-sfiyyah, ed. Nr al-Dn Sharbah (Cairo, 1969), 135.
Ibid., 189.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:377.
Ibid., 1:378.
Ibid., 1:378. Al-Sulam repeats this definition of h ikmah with a slight variation for
another Qurnic instance where h ikmah is mentioned in relation to Luqmn (31:12).
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 135

In al-Sulams view, h ikmah is a lofty spiritual epistemological concept,

such that its horizon comes very close to prophethood. On the author-
ity of Ab Bakr al-Warrq, al-Sulam reports,
The h ukam are the successor[s] (khalaf ) of the prophets. There is no
prophethood anymore, but there is h ikmah, which means perfecting
matters (ih km al-umr). One of the first signs of h ikmah is long silence
(t l al-samt) and talking [only] when it is necessary.86
In his treatment of the word h ukm in verse 19:12, al-Sulam mentions
a number of definitions, including gnosis (marifah) and correctness
in speech, acts, and states.87 It is clear that, in his understanding, the
meanings of the words h ukm and h ikmah in such Qurnic contexts
are essentially the same. Al-Sulam relates that the meaning of h ukm
here in relation to John the Baptist refers to the latters innate famil-
iarity with this notion, as his spirit (rh ) and soul (nafs) were pasted
(majn) with the lights of witnessing (bi-anwr al-mushhadah) and
the refinements of worship and striving (bi-db al-ubdiyyah wa-al-
mujhadah), respectively.88 In addition, al-Sulam quotes another
definition of h ukm, indicating John the Baptists privileged spiritual
position. According to this interpretation, the statement that he was
given a h ukm refers to a judgment (h ukm) given to him pertaining
to the unseen (ghayb), as well as to a truthful and reliable discernment
(firsah sdiqah) untainted by doubt or suspicion.89

According to the report, No one can become h akm until he becomes h akm in his
speech, acts, social relations (f musharatihi) and companionship (f suh batihi). Oth-
erwise such a person would be described as speaking through/by h ikmah, but not as
actually being h akm. Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 2:129.
Al-Sulam, Tabaqt, 226. Al-Makk relates the same saying on the authority of
Ab Bakr al-Warrq as follows, The h ukam are the successors (khulaf) of the
prophets; there is no prophethood anymore, but there is h ikmah, which is explained
as perfecting matters (ih km al-umr). Al-Makk, Ilm, 52. For Sufis, there is a mutu-
ally exclusive relationship between talking excessively and attaining real knowledge.
They argue that lengthening silence and lessening speech are of the basic requirements
of a thorough spirituality, as can be observed in a saying of the h ukam reported
by al-Makk, which reads, If knowledge increases, speech decreases (idh kathura
al-ilm qalla al-kalm). Al-Makk, Qt, 1:294.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:423. See also, al-Qushayr, Latif, 2:422.
Al-Sulam, H aqiq, 1:423.
Ibid., 1:423.
136 chapter eight

Ab Ishq al-Thalab

Ab Ishq al-Thalab (d. 427/1035) was another authority on Qurn

commentary in the fourth/tenth and fifth/eleventh. In the introduc-
tion to his tafsr, al-Thalab expresses his scholarly dissatisfaction with
the contemporary works in the field of tafsr. He has seen, he says, a
number of commentaries focusing exclusively on the exoteric or the
esoteric type of tafsr, but he has not seen a work that competently
combines the two kinds of interpretation. Seeing such a scholarly need
in the field, he decided to fill this gap.90 Al-Thalab gives a bibliography
of the scholarly sources for his tafsr, al-Kashf wa-al-bayn. He utilized
many commentaries produced in the formative period of tafsr, includ-
ing those by Ibn Abbs, Ikrimah, Mujhid, Muqtil b. Sulaymn, Ibn
Jurayj, al-Thawr, Ibn Wahb, and al-Sulam.91 Regarding this last work,
al-Thalab says, I read it (H aqiq) to its author al-Sulam and he
approved my reading.92 In addition to such commentaries, al-Thalab
makes reference to more philologically-oriented works in relation to
tafsr, those written by al-Farr, al-Kis, Ibn Sallm, al-Akhfash and
the like.93 Based on the extent of bibliographical references, we can
treat al-Thalabs al-Kashf wa-al-bayn as a wide-ranging and inclu-
sive commentary of the Qurn, rather than merely a Sufi tafsr. In
addition to his mystical expositions, which seem to be greatly influ-
enced by al-Sulams H aqiq, al-Thalab deals with linguistic and legal
matters throughout the book as well.94

Al-Thalab, 1:7375.
Ibid., 1:7584.
Ibid., 1:83.
Ibid., 1:8485.
This inclusive character of al-Thalabs tafsr is criticized by Ibn Taymiyyah,
though he appreciates al-Thalabs merits in terms of personal religious qualities, Ibn
Taymiyyah says, nevertheless, that al-Thalab was not very careful when compiling
his tafsr. In Ibn Taymiyyahs view, al-Thalab acted like someone who was gathering
wood at night (h tib layl), since he wrote down everything he found in earlier books
on tafsr, without paying attention to the reliability of the materials. Ibn Taymiyyah,
Muqaddimah f usl al-tafsr, eds. Ism Fris al-H arastn and Muhammad Shakr
H jj Amrr (Amman, 1997), 35. For a detailed study on al-Thalabs life and Qurn
commentary, see Walid A. Saleh, The Formation of the Classical Tafsr Tradition: The
Qurn Commentary of al-Thalab (d. 427/1035) (Leiden, 2004). Saleh argues that
al-Thalab was not a practicing Sufi himself, but his works indicate that he was a very
knowledgeable scholar of Sufi writings and was receptive to mystical influences as
well. Saleh, 5665.
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 137

In the context of his exposition of the root h -k-m and its derivatives,
al-Thalab discusses the meaning of the word h akm in verse 2:32, for
which he lists two meanings. First, being the passive participle form of
the root, h akm means to be perfected/perfectable/well-made; in this
case, it is an attribute of the action performed. Second, being the active
participle of the root, h akm holds the same meaning as h kim and it is
an attribute of the person who performs the action.95 Similar to earlier
tafsr authorities, al-Thalab mentions that the original meaning of the
word h ikmah is man (prevention or restraint). This is a prevention
from negative things and behaviors, as can be observed from the word
h akamah (bit) which is used to restrain a beast from running about
wildly. Thus does h ikmah prevent falsehood (bt il).96
In another Qurnic verse where h ikmah is mentioned in relation
to Luqmn (31:12), al-Thalab gives three definitions of the word:
a) intellect (aql), b) knowledge and practice, and c) correctness in
ones affairs (umr).97 On the authority of Ibn Umar, al-Thalab relates
that the Prophet considered Luqmn not as a prophet but an honest,
insightful man of sound opinion who loved God and was loved by
Him. God thus gave him h ikmah.98

Abd al-Karm al-Qushayr

Another student of al-Sulam, Abd al-Karm al-Qushayr (d. 465/1074)

holds a distinguished position in Sufi commentary on the Qurn.
He was a prolific author to whom bibliographical writers, including
al-Subk and Ibn al-Imd, attribute a certain al-Tafsr al-kabr, though
this work has not survived.99 My investigation into the following lines

Al-Thalab, 1:178.
Ibid., 1:178179. Al-Thalab records definitions of h ikmah by earlier authorities
in another verse of the same Qurnic chapter (2:129). He cites the following defini-
tions, which are more frequently mentioned in the context of verse 2:269: a) H ikmah
means understanding the Qurn (fahm al-Qurn), according to Mujhid; b) It denotes
admonitions found in the Qurn regarding lawful and unlawful things (Muqtil);
c) It refers to the concomitance of knowledge and practice, since no one can be called
h akm unless he combines the two (Ibn Qutaybah); d) H ikmah means putting things in
their original or proper places (al-Thalab). Al-Thalab also quotes Yahy b. Mudhs
explanation, saying, H ikmah is one of Gods armies that He sends to the hearts of
gnostics (rifn) to give them comfort against worldly troubles. Ibid., 1:276277.
Ibid., 7:312.
Ibid., 7:312.
Ate, r, 99.
138 chapter eight

is based on another tafsr, Latif al-ishrt, written by al-Qushayr

in accordance with the methodology of tafsr ishr. Throughout this
tafsr, al-Qushayr makes copious use of al-Sulams H aqiq; his teach-
ers influence on the Lat if with respect to the materials and ideas pre-
sented is also quite clear. Nevertheless, a few main differences between
the H aqiq and the Latif should be noted. First, al-Qushayr elimi-
nates the transmission chains for the narrated accounts written out in
the H aqiq. Second, unlike al-Sulam, al-Qushayr includes exposi-
tions on Qurnic verses dealing with legal matters (yt al-ah km).
Third, al-Qushayr treats the basmalah at the beginning of each srah
as an independent verse and accordingly writes a specific and different
commentary on it in accordance with the general spirit of the chapter
that follows it.
In al-Qushayrs epistemological terminology, there is no strictly
fixed semantic application between Sufi concepts. Depending on the
contextual framework, he explains terms variously and uses them inter-
changeably. For instance, when he explains the concept of marifah, he
refers to the Qurnic verse 6:91, They (the Jews) did not make a fair
estimation (m qadar) of God. Reporting from earlier authorities,
al-Qushayr glosses the word qadara here with arafa, i.e., they did
not know God correctly.100 Al-Qushayr also cites a h adth related by
the Prophets wife, ishah: The support of a house is its base and
the support of religion is intuitive knowledge of God (al-marifah
bi-Allh), certainty (yaqn), and a safeguarding intellect (aql qmi).
When ishah asked about the meaning of the safeguarding intel-
lect, the Prophet replied, It means refraining from disobedience to
God and desiring to obey Him.101 Similarly, in his clarification of the
relationship between the concepts of marifah and ilm, al-Qushayr
states that there is no difference in meaning between the two, as long
as they are used by those who possess complete knowledge of God. To
the extent that the essence of knowledge is the same in al-Qushayrs
view, the terms used to describe it are a secondary issue.102

Al-Qushayr, al-Rislah, 154.
Ibid., 154.
Al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 154. Likewise, an earlier authority on Sufism, Ab Sad
al-Kharrz, uses the terms h ukam and ulam to refer to Sufis and he uses these two
terms interchangeably. See, for instance, al-Kharrz, 61, 71, 73, 93, 106, 115, 121, 142
and 75, 124, 164.
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 139

In al-Qushayrs expositions regarding h ikmah and other derivatives

of the root h -k-m, he places great emphasis on the practical aspect
of these notions. When he discusses the word h akm in 2:32 as an
attribute of God, al-Qushayr asserts that h akm in relation to God
means that everything He does is right (h aqq) and true (sidq); there is
no authority higher than He; and nothing of foolishness (safah) and
ugliness (qubh ) could come from Him.103 Similarly, in his exposition
of verse 2:269, al-Qushayr reports that h ikmah here denotes correct-
ness in [all] matters (sawb al-umr). He mentions that h ikmah means
being in agreement with Gods command (muwfaqat amr Allh),
while safah (foolishness) means being at odds with (mukhlafah) His
command. Al-Qushayr also relates that h ikmah means witnessing the
Real (shuhd al-h aqq), while safah means witnessing things other than
Him (al-ghayr).104 Again, regarding verse 16:125, al-Qushayr records
that people should only be called to the way of God by urging them
to obey God and preventing them from disobeying His commands.
Calling through h ikmah further means that one should not act in
contradiction to what one commands people through ones speech.105
Luqmn was a perfect personification of this notion. Al-Qushayr says
that h ikmah in 31:12 means correctness in reason (aql), belief (aqd),
and speech (nutq). He reports that this h ikmah denotes following the
straight (spiritual) path through a success granted by God, rather than
through an endeavor of the soul (himmat al-nafs). Al-Qushayr cites
another definition of h ikmah here as not being under the authority of
caprice (haw).106
Al-Qushayr highlights the basic meaning of the root h -k-m as to
restrain or prevent in his interpretations. When he speaks of the word
h ukm in the context of 12:22, al-Qushayr states that part of the h ukm
that God gave to Joseph was his authority over his soul/self so that he
could overcome his sexual passion (shahwah) and refrain from what
the woman in question (Azzs wife) desired from him. From this

Al-Qushayr, Latif, 1:78. For another Qurnic case (31:2) in which h akm is
used as a description of the Book, al-Qushayr states that h akm refers to the fact that
the Qurn is protected against any kind of change or transformation. Ibid., 3:127.
Ibid., 1:207208.
Ibid., 2:329.
Ibid., 3:130.
140 chapter eight

example we can surmise that whoever does not have authority over
himself, cannot have authority over others either.107
In al-Qushayris terminology, h ikmah is positioned between practi-
cal (amal) and epistemological (ilm) concepts. It is treated as a cen-
tral point inherently connected with taqw (God-consciousness), zuhd
(asceticism), wara (moral scrupulousness), akhlq (good morals), and
ibdt (acts of worship), on the one hand, and with ilhm (inspira-
tion), kashf (unveiling), marifah (gnosis), sirr (secret), and haqqah
(reality) on the other. Practical notions are starting points without
which one cannot reap epistemological fruits. In other words, practical
notions bear the fruit of epistemological results. In testimony to this
fundamental point, al-Qushayr reports, When the servant renounces
(zahada) this world, God entrusts [him to] an angel who implants
h ikmah in his heart.108 The two groups of these concepts together
constitute, in an existential manner, the final destination of Muslim
spirituality, which is tawh d.
As a supporter of Asharism, thus of Sunn Islam, al-Qushayr states
that the earlier masters of Sufism established the bases of their princi-
ples on a very firm ground with respect to tawh d. He argues that those
eminent figures protected their beliefs (aqid) from heresy (bida) and
followed the methodology established by the forefathers (salaf ) of the
Muslim community and by the people of the Sunnah (ahl al-sunnah),
who stayed away from belief in anthropomorphism (tashbh) or denial
of Gods attributes mentioned in the Qurn (tatl), as in the context
of His eternity (qidam) and beginninglessness (azal), about which
al-Junayd said, Tawh d means being able to differentiate eternity
from temporal originatedness (h adath).109 According to al-Qushayrs
records, Ibn At asserted that if anyone was questioned regarding God
and His attributes, he was expected to look for an answer to that ques-
tion in the realm of ilm, and if he could not find the answer there,
he should search for it in the field of h ikmah; if he still could not see
an answer, then he should analyze the question in light of tawh d. If
he could not find the solution in any of these three places, he should
treat the question as a wicked Satanic thought instead of a matter of

Ibid., 2:177.
Al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 62.
Ibid., 3.
hikmah in the context of early sufi exegetical works 141

knowledge in the proper sense of the word.110 Narrating from earlier

authorities, al-Qushayr further reports that, on the way to tawh d,
there are three levels of epistemological consciousness: aql, h ikmah,
and marifah, which function as proof (dallah), allusion (ishrah), and
witnessing (shahdah), respectively.111

Ibid., 25.

Ibid., 4.
Chapter nine

H ikmah in Early Sufi Manuals and Treatises

Moving beyond solely reason-oriented epistemologies of Muslim

theologians (mutakallimn) and philosophers (falsifah), the Sufis
introduce other means of knowledge; for instance, they highlight the
heart (qalb), which I discuss in detail in the following pages, as an
epistemological concept. The Sufis mention various divisions of the
human organs of perception and their different functions, which go
far beyond the limitations assigned to them by theologians and phi-
losophers. They also discuss the various kinds of Divine support (light)
these organs receive on the spiritual path. Within this general frame-
work, they continually introduce new divisions in their expositions,
making an analytical examination and categorization extremely diffi-
cult, if not impossible.
In early Sufi manuals, h ikmah is treated as a theoretical and practical
concept in its relation to other concepts in question. With regard to its
epistemological origin and function, h ikmah relies strictly on religious
and spiritual acts of worship. In his expositions on the Sufi sciences
and states, al-Kalbdh states that the sciences of the Sufis are the sci-
ences of the spiritual states that can only be acquired by means of acts
performed with sincerity. The first science under the Sufi heading in
this regard consists of the legal prescriptions (al-ah km al-shariyyah),
which delineate the ways in which a Muslim should regulate his per-
sonal and social life. This first science requires as a precondition (the
acquisition of) a thorough knowledge of theology (ilm al-tawh d), as
understood by the people of the Sunnah (ahl al-sunnah). If such a
person receives Divine support, he is able to drive all doubts and evil
thoughts from his mind and occupy himself primarily with putting his
knowledge into action. At this stage, the first thing necessary for him
is the knowledge of the vices of the soul (ft al-nafs), its real traits,
its education, and its training in the acquisition of good characteris-
tics. He must also possess the knowledge of the Enemy (aduww), i.e.,
Satan, the temptations of this world and learn how to take precautions
against them. And this science, according to al-Kalbdhs terminol-
ogy, is the science of h ikmah, beyond which a Sufi may attain the
144 chapter nine

sciences of gnosis (marifah) and allusion (ishrah) to improve and

perfect his knowledge.1 Within this context, I further analyze and sys-
tematize the writings of other early elucidators of h ikmah.

Al-Hrith al-Muhsib

Al-Hrith al-Muhsib (d. 243/857) defines h ikmah within a network

of associated epistemological and practical concepts. On the authority
of al-D ahhk b. Muzhim, al-Muhsib explains the process of acquir-
ing knowledge as follows:
The first part (bb) of knowledge (ilm) is silence (samt); the second,
third, and fourth parts are listening to knowledge (istimuhu), putting it
into practice (al-amal bi-hi) and spreading it (nashruhu), respectively.2
In al-Muhsibs view, asceticism (zuhd) lays the foundations of spiri-
tual enlightenment. Zuhd, he says, originally resides in the hearts of
the zhidn and each zhid possesses an asceticism in proportion to
his marifah. Likewise, his marifah manifests itself in proportion to
his intellect (aql), and his aql is in proportion to his mn, in suc-
cession.3 Al-Muhsib reports that aql is a discerning light that God
places in the heart. A person can differentiate true from false by means
of aql and his speech indicates the portion of this quality he enjoys.
If he speaks correctly or reasonably, then people treat him as an intel-
ligent person (qil), but if he speaks incorrectly or unreasonably, then
people describe him accordingly as a foolish person (ah maq).4 Regard-
ing the way in which marifah occurs (yarid/wurd) in the hearts of
gnostics (rifn), al-Muhsib states that there are two kinds of gno-
sis in the heart, abiding or stable (skinah) and moving or unstable
(mutah arrikah). Initially, marifah resides in the heart by means of
affirming servanthood (ubdiyyah) through the knowledge (marifah)
of declaring Gods unity (tawh d). At times of excitement or commo-
tion (hayajn), marifah goes into motion, just as water flows down
from its springs to its outlet until it becomes still. When the water
becomes still, it becomes clear and pure. Similarly, when marifah

Al-Kalbdh, Kitb al-Taarruf, ed. Ahmad Shams al-Dn (Beirut, 1993), 97100.
Al-H rith b. Asad al-Muhsib, al-Qasd wa-al-ruj il Allh, ed. Abd al-Qdir
Ahmad At (Cairo, 1980), 33.
Al-Muhsib, al-Qasd, 55.
Ibid., 5859.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 145

resides in the heart of a servant, it results in tranquility (hud), knowl-

edge (ilm), and forbearance (h ilm), as well as in deliberateness (anh)
and good opinion (h usn al-zann) with respect to Gods promises. In
this way, al-Muhsib argues, a constant God-fearingness (khawf),
hope (raj), modesty (h ay), and similar meritorious states come to
dominate the hearts of gnostics (rifn).5
Al-Muhsib further clarifies the method leading to marifah by not-
ing that acquisition of the knowledge of God becomes possible through
the way in which He describes Himself, i.e., through the knowledge of
the fact that He is the Forgiving (afuww) and Powerful (qadr), the
Omnipotent (jabbr) and Generous (karm), and the Almighty (azm)
and Forbearing (h alm), all at the same time. There is no beginning and
end to His existence. He has perfect knowledge of every minute thing
and nothing escapes this all-encompassing knowledge. Al-Muhsib
states that if someone knows God properly, then his heart will both
desire (raghbah) and fear (rahbah) Him.6 Al-Muhsib thus asserts that
marifah of God requires a very close relationship with Him. With-
out establishing this relationship epistemologically, experientially, and
practically, no one can obtain this complete knowledge of God.7
With regard to al-Muhsibs more specific exposition of the con-
cept of h ikmah, he reports that in the spiritual journey, h ikmah cor-
responds to the state of correctness (isbat al-sawb). In this state
the Truth (h aqq) manifests Himself in the heart of a servant, imparts
h ikmah in his breast (sadr), and provides insights of guidance to his
intellect (aql) so that the servant could comprehend Him, though it
is not appropriate for the servant to describe Him with his tongue. In
this context al-Muhsib refers to the following Prophetic statements,
If you see a servant who is an ascetic in this world, draw near to him,
for he has been given h ikmah;8 and

Ibid., 78.
Ibid., 8384. In another of his works, al-Muhsib states that the pillars of
marifah are four:1) marifah of God, 2) marifah of the enemy of God, Satan (Ibls),
3) marifah of the baser self of man that incites to evil (al-nafs al-ammrah bi-al-s),
and 4) marifah of action for the sake of God. Al-Muhsib, Sharh al-marifah wa-
badhl al-nash ah, ed. Slih Ahmad al-Shm (Damascus, 1993), 29.
Al-Muhsib, Sharh al-marifah, 3032.
Al-Muhsib, al-Qasd, 88. Al-Makk and al-Qushayr cite the same h adth with a
small difference. In al-Makks variation, the same account reads, If you see a man
to whom silence (samt) and asceticism (zuhd) are given, draw near to him, for he
has been given h ikmah. Al-Makk, Qt, 1:277. Al-Qushayr mentions this report in
the context of his explanation of the concept of zuhd as follows, If you see a man
146 chapter nine

If a servant becomes an ascetic in this world, he inherits three charac-

teristics (khisl): honor (izz) without being involved in social relations,
wealth (ghin) without owning property, and knowledge (ilm) without
[formal] learning (taallum).9
Al-Muhsib further explains why a person who has been given h ikmah
is not authorized to talk about what he finds and feels in his heart
regarding the Truth. He reports that this situation is similar to a tree
that is planted and has become healthy and well-rooted in the soil; its
leaves become green and its fruits apparent. Still, this tree has not yet
reached the point that its fruit is ripe enough for people to enjoy. Its
fruits, therefore, should not be picked until they are completely ripe.
Only then can its owner pick and profit from them. Similarly, some-
one who has been given h ikmah still needs further epistemological,
experiential, and practical adjustments to ripen in himself before he
should speak of this quality. Al-Muhsib uses the term muh kam in
the sense of completed and perfected (mutqan) to explain this stage.10
In this regard, al-Muhsib also cites a saying, mentioned earlier, as an
utterance attributed to Luqmn, O my son, keep the company of the
h ukam, for God gives new life to dead hearts through h ikmah just as
He gives new life to a dead land through a downpour.11

who has been endowed with zuhd regarding this world and [the ability] to speak of it
[zuhd] (mantiq), draw near to him, for he teaches (yulaqqin) h ikmah. Al-Qushayr,
al-Rislah, 60. The same h adth is found in another work of al-Makks, Ilm al-qulb,
but the word mantiq here has a slightly different connotation. This narration reads,
If you see a man who has been given asceticism (zuhd) regarding this world and
little speech (qillat mantiq), then draw near to him, for he has been endowed with
h ikmah. Al-Makk, Ilm, 51. Al-Fudayl b. Iyd (d. 187/802), on the other hand, under-
lines the mutually exclusive correlation between attaining h ikmah and, at the same
time, keeping close company with morally insincere people. Al-Fudayl states, Who-
ever sits together with an innovator (sh ib bidah) is not given h ikmah. Al-Sulam,
T abaqt, 10.
Al-Muhsib, al-Qasd, 88.
Ibid., 8990.
Ibid., 91. In his exposition on the relationship between men of conventional
knowledge (ahl al-ilm) and men of h ikmah and marifah, al-Makk states that some
eminent scholars of religious matters would ask the people of h ikmah and marifah
regarding certain complex matters. According to his report, the great jurisprudent
al-Shfi, whenever he would experience difficulty with a jurisprudential matter and
not find any solution to it in the Qurn and Sunnah, would visit Shaybn al-R
and ask the latters opinion. Al-Shfi would consult with Shaybn and the difficulty
of the matter would thus disappear. Al-Makk, Ilm, 85. Similarly, Ahmad b. H anbal
would visit Marf al-Karkh frequently. When his son Slih asked him about the
reason for this, Ahmad said, O my son, Marf knows the basis (asl) of the religion
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 147

According to al-Muhsibs explanations, silence (samt) is the pri-

mary way of attaining h ikmah. If someone practices silence in a proper
manner, he takes full control of his heart and his silence, reflection
(nazar), and speech (kalm) turn into contemplation (tafakkur), con-
sideration (ibrah), and remembrance or mindfulness (dhikr), respec-
tively.12 Silence, therefore, is an indispensable means to h ikmah and
no other notion can fulfill its function adequately. In the final analysis,
al-Muhsibs explanations of h ikmah in relation to other epistemo-
logical concepts are existentially and practically oriented. In his view,
any kind of knowledge that is merely a product of mental exercise is
of little use if it is not conjoined with right practice carried out with
sincere intention.

Al-Junayd al-Baghdd

A younger contemporary and in some respects a student13 of

al-Muhsib, al-Junayd al-Baghdd (d. 298/910) further elucidates the
concept of knowledge and its proper means as understood by early
Sufis. In al-Junayds case, we observe the individual characteristics of

and essence (mukhkh) of the sciences of God-consciousness (tuq) and h ikmah.

Al-Makk, Ilm, 85.
Al-Muhsib, Sharh al-marifah, 5657. It should be noted that with all such eluci-
dations, al-Muhsib was severely criticized by the Muh addithn (Traditionists) of his
time, including Ahmad b. H anbal and Ibn Zurah. Ibn H anbal attacked al-Muhsib on
account of his use of Mutazil scholastic (kalm) arguments in his expositions regard-
ing religious topics. In the view of the traditionist scholars, al-Muhsib was guilty
of making a distinction between ilm (knowledge) and aql (intellect) and between
mn (faith) and marifah. Further, they saw him as admitting the created (makhlq)
character of the words of the Qurn (lafz/alfz), albeit while still admitting the eter-
nal (qadm) character of their meaning (man). In Ibn H anbals opinion, such argu-
ments did not have any traditional basis in primary Islamic sources and were merely
innovated speculations. Similarly, Ibn Zurah criticized al-Muhsib for this reason
and urged people to stay away from al-Muhsibs works, as he considered them to
be full of innovations (bida) and thus misleading. Ali Hassan Abdel-Kader, The Life,
Personality and Writings of al-Junayd (London, 1962), 2425.
Al-Junayd began his study of traditional scholarly disciplines, including fiqh and
h adth, on the advice of his uncle, Sar al-Saqat (d. 253/867). Al-Junayd relates that
one day as he was going out, his uncle asked him to whose scholarly circle he was
going. Al-Junayd replied that he was going to al-Muhsibs class. Sar then said, Yes,
take his learning and right behavior, but leave aside his speculations in scholastic
theology (kalm) and his refutation of the mutakallimn. Al-Junayd adds that as he
was going out, he heard Sar saying, May God make you a muh addith who is a Sufi,
and not a Sufi who is a muh addith (jaalaka Allhu sh iba h adthin sfiyyan wa-l
jaalaka sfiyyan sh iba h adthin.) Al-Makk, Qt, 1:323324.
148 chapter nine

Sufi expositions from a personal perspective. Al-Junayd asserts that ini-

tially intellect (aql) functions to acquire knowledge of God and leads
an indispensable part of the way, since it directs the seeker toward
the goal. The character of this acquired knowledge might equally be
of a discursive or an intuitive nature. But on a higher level, in the
state of tawh d,14 the wayfarer has no control over his journey. He
is completely possessed by God and loses his individuality. At this
stage, according to al-Junayd, intellect no longer has any epistemo-
logical function.15 This means that in al-Junayds understanding and
terminology, the ultimate goal is tawh d, not marifah itself. To be
more precise, al-Junayd uses the same word, marifah, for two kinds of
knowledge on the spiritual path that come at the early and final stages.
In the station of tawh d, which is, once again, the eventual destination,
a muwah h id wayfarer experiences a distinct unveiling for which al-
Junayd also uses the word marifah, but only for want of an alternative
term. This marifah differs very much from the one at the beginning
of the spiritual journey, as it is no more knowledge of God, but rather
a sharing in His knowledge.16
In the example of al-Junayd we see a peculiar and subtle termino-
logical feature. It is clear that in general terms, the Sufis believe that
the knowledge of God cannot be acquired by means of intellect (aql).
This belief is based on the conviction that this knowledge is beyond
the ken of reason and logical comprehension, since God is immaterial.
Such knowledge, instead, can only be acquired through the process
and as the result of an illumination, inspiration, and/or revelation. In
order to make their position of opposition to the concept of ilm as
held by the theologians clearer, they use the term marifah in the sense
of direct intuitive knowledge of God based on revelation and unveil-
ing. From this perspective, accordingly, they regard marifah as higher
and more authoritative than ilm.17

In fact, al-Junayds name is mentioned in Sufi sources among the masters of
declaring Gods unity (arbb al-tawh d), a group that is also called the Baghdadian
Sufi school, whose founder may be regarded as Sar al-Saqat . This group differed
from contemporary Sufi schools in Syria and Khursn. The main focus of the Bagh-
dadian school was tawh d; it developed the knowledge of tawh d mainly in eloquent
symbolic expressions. Al-Junayd explained this characteristic saying, Syria is the
home of chivalry (futuwwah), Iraq of eloquence (lisn), and Khursn of sincerity
(sidq). Abdel-Kader, 11.
Ibid., 100101.
Ibid., 102.
Ibid., 9697.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 149

Despite this terminological generalization, however, some eminent

Sufis, including al-Junayd, do not pay very strict attention to this
conceptual framework. When they speak of God, they use the words
ilm and marifah interchangeably. According to al-Junayds explana-
tion, since the object of this knowledge is onenamely, knowledge of
Godit is of the same nature whether sought by the friends of God or
by ordinary men. But still there is a difference between the two modes
of knowing; that is to say, there is a difference in degree between
the friends of God and ordinary men, since the former have a higher
degree of knowledge of Him.18
In relation to al-Junayds understanding of knowledge on a more
scholastic plane, and its reliability regarding the knowledge of God,
it is clear that he does not favor such knowledge. According to Ibn
Khaldns report, one day al-Junayd was passing by a group of theo-
logians who were elaborately expounding their views with respect to
God. When al-Junayd asked about those people, he was told that they
were people who would use proofs to show that God has none of the
attributes of created things or any sign of imperfection. Al-Junayd
then said, The denial of a fault (ayb) which could never possibly exist,
is a fault in itself.19 Similar to his predecessors in the field, al-Junayd
emphasizes the practical aspect of Sufism. He declares that tasawwuf is
not about prattling, but about suffering from hunger and abandoning
worldly things; after all, tasawwuf, in the final analysis, means having
a pure and sincere relationship with God.20

Ibid., 9799. Al-Makk reports that in al-Junayds view, ilm is more prestigious,
complete, and comprehensive than marifah. For this reason, God is named with
ilm (al-lim in 6:73 and al-alm in 8:43) and not with marifah. Al-Makk, Ilm, 99.
At the same time, however, al-Makk discusses this matter from another point of view.
He narrates the comparison between ilm and marifah by some early authorities, who
say, Surely marifah is greater, because during the questioning (sul) in the Here-
after, the prophets will say, We do not have any ilm (l ilma la-n), but they will
not say, We do not have any marifah (l marifata la-n). Ilm was given to Adam,
David, and Solomon, as the Qurn states (27:15), Indeed We had given knowledge
(ilm) to David and Solomon; and (2:31), He taught Adam the names, all of them.
As for Muhammad, he was given marifah, as is indicated in the Qurn (47:30), You
would know them (la-araftahum) by their mark; but you will certainly know them
(la-tarifannahum) in the twisting of their speech. Al-Makk, Ilm, 8586. In this
context, al-Makk uses the word marifah as a synonym of h ikmah and asserts that all
these explanations show the value of h ikmah. Al-Makk, Ilm, 86.
Ibn Khaldun, al-Muqaddimah, ed. Al Abd al-Whid Wf (Cairo, 1960),
Al-Sulam, T abaqt, 158; al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 2021. According to
al-Qushayr, Dh al-Nn further clarifies this essential point and relates it to Sufi
150 chapter nine

Ab al-H usayn al-Nr

Ab al-H usayn al-Nr (d. 295/907), another leading Baghdadi Sufi

figure of the third/ninth century, introduces a more psychologically-
oriented analysis of Sufi epistemology. His central concept is the
notion of heart (qalb), around which he arranges other related terms,
including aql (intellect), ilm (knowledge), and marifah (gnosis), and
articulates his points. Below, I examine al-Nrs discussions in his
only surviving work, Maqmt al-qulb.21
As in al-Nrs case, the heart in the Sufi terminology is regarded
both as the source of mans good and evil aspirations and as the seat of
learning through a spiritual process. Accordingly, the Sufis speak of the
science of hearts and movements of the soul or incoming thoughts
(ilm al-qulb wa-al-khawtir), a science that allegedly owes its ori-
gin to al-H asan al-Basr. Throughout his expositions, al-Nr uses a
language very close to Qurnic statements and relies primarily on
Qurnic concepts. Though his categorizations may not be regarded as
presentations systematic enough to establish a comprehensive episte-
mological theory, they nonetheless represent the earliest attestations of
later, more sophisticated Sufi terminology. Al-Nrs arguments merit
examination especially with respect to his explanations of various divi-
sions of the human organs of perception and their various functions,
as well as of the various kinds of Divine support (light) that these
organs receive on the spiritual path.
Qalb is a recurring Qurnic term. It is the faculty of comprehension
(la-hum qulbun l yafqahna bi-h) (7:179)22 and of understanding

epistemology, saying, Certainty calls one to cut short ones expectation (qasr al-
amal) [for worldly things] and cutting short ones expectation calls one to asceti-
cism; asceticism [in turn] bequeaths h ikmah, and h ikmah leads to the discerning of
outcomes (nazar f al-awqib). Al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 91. See also al-Sayyid Ab
D ayf al-Madan, Dh al-Nn al-Misr wa-al-adab al-sf (Cairo, 1973), 71. A friend
of Dh al-Nn, al-Kharrz, defines zuhd as drawing the value of things away from
the heart. Al-Kharrz, 75.
Sezgin, 1:650. Ab al-H usayn al-Nr, Maqmt al-qulb, ed. Paul Nwyia,
Mlanges de lUniversit Saint-Joseph 44 (1968): 115154. The same epistle has also
been edited by Ahmet Subhi Furat, Abul-H useyn an-Nr ve Makmt al-Kulb adl
rislesi, slam Tetkikleri Enstits Dergisi 7 (1978): 345355. Although Furat edited
the epistle independently of Nwyias edition, and used two more manuscripts than
Nwyia did, the two editions are basically the same. My references will be to Nwyias
Al-Makk asserts that primarily, comprehension (fiqh) occurs in the heart, as is
mentioned in 7:179, They have hearts (qulb) with which they do not comprehend
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 151

or reasoning (la-hum qulbun yaqilna bi-h) (22:46); the basis of

religious responsibility (yukhidhukum bi-m kasabat qulbukum)
(2:225) and (m taammadat qulbukum) (33:5); the seat of belief (wa-
lam tumin qulbuhum) (5:41) and (qulbuhum munkirah) (16:22).
Qalb is thus the source of knowledge and conscience, just as the eyes
and ears are the means to see and hear, respectively (7:179). As the real
addressee of the Qurnic message, the qalb determines mans response
to the Divine revelation and is the origin of mans awareness or igno-
rance of God; in the final analysis, according to the Qurn, it is not
their eyes that are blind, but the hearts in their breasts (22:46). The
science of the heart relies on an experiential epistemological process,
rather than merely on intellectual and sense perceptions. Correspond-
ingly, the Sufis, according to L. Gardet, maintained that
the seat of thought and awareness of self lay not in the brain but in the
heart, a bodily organ (jism), a morsel of flesh (mudghah, madghah),
situated in the hollow of the breast whose beats both gave life and indi-
cated the presence of life. There in the heart lies the secret and hid-
den (sirr) home of conscience, whose secrets (najw) will be revealed
on Judgment Day.23
In Sufi terminology, there is an innate relationship between the heart
and h ikmah. According to al-Makks narration from earlier Sufi mas-
ters, they say,
The light of the heart comes from h ikmah, and its darkness from food; its
construction (imratuhu) originates in much thinking, while its destruc-
tion (kharbuhu) [originates in] lengthening heedlessness (ghaflah) and
harshness (qaswah).24
In Islamic intellectual history, Ab H mid al-Ghazl (d. 505/1111)
was one of the leading authorities to write a relatively explicit exposi-
tion on qalb. In the first book of the third part of his renowned Ih y
ulm al-dn, he elaborates the wonders of the heart (ajib al-qalb)
and analyzes four interrelated concepts: qalb, rh , nafs, and aql. For
each term, he introduces a physical and a spiritual definition, conclud-
ing that the four concepts designate mans authentic nature, but in

(l yafqahna bi-h). Al-Makk, Qut 1:313. Al-Makk also says that the Arabs use
the nouns fiqh and fahm in the same sense and thus they say, faqihta in the sense
of fahimta. Ibid., 1:314.
Louis Gardet, Kalb, EI.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 54.
152 chapter nine

four different ways. Al-Ghazl asserts that the dignity and high rank
of man manifests itself in proportion to his capacity with respect to
the knowledge of God (marifat Allh). The seat of this knowledge
is the qalb rather than any other of the human organs, but the qalb
makes use of these organs in their proper and authorized realms to
gain knowledge. Al-Ghazl states that the physical heart is delicately
related to the spiritual heart, which is a subtle and lordly spiritual
thing (lat fah rabbniyyah rh niyyah). This heart is the reality of
man and his means of knowledge. At the same time, this heart is the
actual addressee of the heavenly instructions and the basis of religious
responsibility. Al-Ghazl does not attempt to elaborate the reality of
the heart in this second sense, as he states that this is a matter of
revealing the secret of the spirit (sirr al-rh ), of which the Prophet did
not speak.25
On a more psychological plane, al-Qushayr, who was the master
of al-Ghazls master Ab Al al-Farmadh, analyzes the structure of
inward consciousness and places it into a four-dimensional arrange-
ment consisting of nafs, qalb, rh , and sirr. In this restricted applica-
tion, nafs is regarded as the seat of blameworthy moral characteristics,
while qalb and rh are characterized as the locus of praiseworthy moral
characteristics. Sirr, which is the deepest dimension of human con-
sciousness, is considered to be the seat of witnessing (mushhadah).26
The hierarchical interpretation of Sufi terms is a common tradition
among Sufi writers. Throughout his Qt al-qulb, al-Makk repeat-
edly highlights various maqmt of Sufi concepts; for instance, he
articulates the stations of certainty in knowledge (maqmt al-yaqn)
and of those who know for certain (maqmt al-mqinn). In his
list of stations of certainty (maqmt al-yaqn), al-Makk mentions
nine stations, as follows: the stations of repentance (tawbah), patience
(sabr), thankfulness (shukr), hope (raj), fear of God (khawf), asceti-
cism (zuhd), trust (in God) (tawakkul), contentment (rid), and love
(mah abbah).27
In his exposition of the concept of thankfulness (shukr) mentioned
in verse 14:7, If you are thankful, surely I will increase you (la-in
shakartum la-azdannakum), al-Makk introduces another gradational

Ab H mid al-Ghazl, Ih y ulm al-dn (Cairo, 1967), 3:36.
Al-Qushayr, al-Rislah, 4849.
Al-Makk, Qt, 1:361537 and 2:7159.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 153

relationship between the notions of islm, mn, ih sn, and irfn. This
order reflects the three broad categories of degrees in spiritual realiza-
tion as islm, mn, and ih sn, as mentioned in the well-known h adth
of Gabriel, but with the addition of irfn, which seems to be treated as
the highest spiritual notion in Sufism in this context. Al-Makk reports
that some earlier authorities interpreted this verse as follows, If you
are thankful for submission (islm), surely I will increase you in faith
(mn), if you are thankful for mn, surely I will increase you in virtue
or excellence (ih sn), and if you are thankful for ih sn, surely I will
increase you in gnosis (irfn).28
Historically, Dh al-Nn is regarded as one of the earliest Sufis
to give systematic explanations of the mystic states (ah wl) and sta-
tions (maqmt). As mentioned, he is also considered the earliest Sufi
to teach the true nature of intuitive knowledge or gnosis (marifah),
which he describes as knowledge of the attributes of Unity, and this
belongs to the saints, those who contemplate the Face of God within
their hearts, so that God reveals Himself to them in a way in which
He is not revealed to any others in the world. The gnostics are not
themselves, but in so far as they exist at all, they exist in God.29
The hierarchical formation of mystical knowledge is elaborated by
another classical Sufi author, al-Niffar (d. ca. 366/9767). He, how-
ever, introduces the term waqfah as a technical concept referring to
direct Divine audition. According to his explanations, waqfah indi-
cates a higher spiritual knowledge than marifah, which itself is above
An earlier authority on Sufism, Ab Sad al-Kharrz, presents a
more multi-leveled ontological as well as epistemological exposition
when he argues that the first and initial maqm on the spiritual path
is the maqm of repentance (tawbah). The following maqmt are
the maqmt of those who fear God (khawf), then those who have
hope (raj), followed by the rightheous ones (slihn), the seekers
(murdn), the obedient (mutn), the lovers (muh ibbn), those who
yearn (for God) (mushtqn), the saints, or friends of God (awliy),
and the intimate ones (muqarrabn), in succession.31

Al-Makk, Ilm, 23.


Margaret Smith, Dh al-Nn, EI. See also Massignon, Recueil, 15.

Al-Niffar, Kitb al-Mawqif, ed. A. J. Arberry (Cairo, 1934), 1316. See also A. J.
Arberry, al-Niffar, EI.
See editors introduction to al-Kharrz, 1617.
154 chapter nine

Al-Kalbdh, on the other hand, elucidates the concept of marifah

(he uses the term taarruf) and relates Ibn At s (d. 309/922) gra-
dational interpretation of taarruf. The latter asserts that originally
taarruf is of three kinds: the first kind of taarruf is for ordinary peo-
ple (mmah) and is based on Gods creation, as the Qurn explains,
Do they not look at the camels, how they were created? (88:17); the
second kind of taarruf is based on His word and attributes, and it is
directed to the spiritual elites (khssa h), as the Qurn indicates, Will
they not ponder on the Qurn? (4:82), We send down in the Qurn
that which is a healing and a mercy for believers (17:82), and To
God belong the Most Beautiful Names (7:180); and the third kind of
taarruf is related to God Himself and revealed only to the prophets,
as the Qurn underscores, And thus We have revealed a Spirit to you
by Our Command (42:52) and Have you not seen how your Lord
stretches out the shadow? (25:45).32
In general terms, Sufis often employ the term ilm for the knowl-
edge acquired through reason, sense perception, and physical experi-
ence. This usage presupposes a former ignorance, as opposed to the
term marifah, which refers to knowledge based on a direct awareness
and spontaneous revealing. On a linguistic plane, however, marifah is
applied to the perception of simple (bast) concepts, while ilm refers
to composite (murakkab) and multiple (mutaaddid) concepts. Hence,
in relation to God, the statement, I have cognition of God (araftu
Allha) is correct, but not, I have knowledge of God (alimtu Allha),
because God is a simple entity.33 Given these considerations, neverthe-
less, ilm and marifah do not seem to be definitively categorized terms
in the eyes of all Sufis. Ibn al-Arab, for example, sometimes employs
ilm and marifah interchangeably.34
To return to our focus in this section, al-Nr, who was called the
prince of hearts (amr al-qulb)35 and at whose death al-Junayd said,
half of Sufism is gone,36 asserts that there are four principal stations
of the heart (maqmt al-qulb). Accordingly, God designates the
heart by one of these four names: sadr (breast, bosom), qalb (heart),
fud (inner heart), and lubb (the innermost kernel of the heart). In

Al-Kalbdh, 70.
Roger Arnaldez, Marifa, EI.
See Chittick, 148149.
At t r, 2:50.
Annemarie Schimmel, al-Nr EI.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 155

accordance with the Qurnic testimony, So is he whose bosom (sadr)

God has expanded for Islam (39:22), the sadr is the seat (madin) of
submission (islm); the qalb is the seat of faith (mn), as the Qurn
reads, But God has endeared mn to you and beautified it in your
hearts (f qulbikum) (49:7); the fud is the seat of gnosis/intuitive
knowledge (marifah), as the Qurn indicates, The fud lied not (in
seeing) what it saw (53:11); and the lubb is the seat of the profession
of Gods Oneness (tawh d), as the Qurn witnesses, There are signs
for men of understanding (ul al-albb) (3:190). Thus the lubb, fud,
qalb, and sadr are the containers of tawh d, marifah, mn, and islm,
respectively. Furthermore, tawh d denotes the declaration that God
is absolutely different from and above creation, while marifah refers
to the affirmation of His exalted attributes (sift) and Most Beautiful
Names (al-asm al-h usn). mn functions as a catalyst, purifying the
heart from all desires other than God. Islm, finally, signifies the sub-
mission of all secret and exposed affairs to God.37
A similarly categorized terminology is employed by Jafar al-Sdiq.
He pairs sadr with submission (taslm), qalb with certainty (yaqn),
fud with contemplation (nazar), damrwhich is not originally a
Qurnic term, though it is used by al-Nr in his epistle as well, but
seemingly not in a technical sensewith secret (sirr), and designates
nafs as the refuge of all good and evil things.38
Al-Nr further asserts that the four concepts are subtly interrelated,
for the veracity of marifah is dependent on tawh d. Similarly, the reli-
ability of mn and islm is based on marifah and mn, respectively.
Thus, he who does not have access to tawh d cannot attain marifah
either. Likewise, he who does not experience marifah and mn can-
not acquire mn and islm, respectively. And whoever does not reach
islm cannot benefit from any of his other deeds.39
In an effort to clarify the psychological background of the four
concepts, al-Nr continues his argument by explaining that attain-
ing the light of islm is dependent on being vigilant regarding the last
moments of life (awqib); the light of mn is tied to ones alertness to
calamities (t awriq); the light of marifah is dependent on the remem-
brance of past deeds (sawbiq); and the light of tawh d is dependent

Al-Nr, 130.
Nwyia, Exgse coranique et langage mystique (Beirut, 1970), 321.
Al-Nr, 130131.
156 chapter nine

on the unveiling of spiritual realities (h aqiq). Correspondingly, vigil-

iance regarding the awqib requires ruling the souls (siysat al-nufs);
alertness to the tawriq requires the spiritual training of souls (riydat
al-nufs); remembrance of the sawbiq requires keeping watch over
the heart (h irsat al-qalb); and witnessing (mushhadah) the h aqiq
requires attention to rights or realities (riyat al-h uqq), because
siysah, h irsah, riydah, and riyah lead to affirmation (tasdq), real-
ization (tah qq), success granted by God (tawfq), and Truth (al-h aqq),
Al-Nr further explains that siysah means protecting and under-
standing the soul; riydah denotes disciplining and dominating the
soul; h irsah signifies perusing (mut laah) Gods benefaction in the
hearts; and riyah means observing Gods rights in secret matters.
Accordingly, riyah, h irsah, riydah, and siysah require keeping
promises, observing boundaries (h udd), being satisfied with what is
at hand (mawjd), and having patience in the face of loss (mafqd).
Al-Nr concludes that all these characteristics are prescribed by
God implicitly and explicitly (sirran wa-alniyatan), outwardly and
inwardly (zhiran wa-bt inan).41
After these introductory remarks, al-Nr compares the mumins
qalb to a house. Out of His generosity, God sends a wind to that house
to clean it from polytheism (shirk), doubt (shakk), hypocrisy (nifq),
and disunity (shiqq). Next, in order to implant certainty (yaqn),
trust in God (tawakkul), sincerity (ikhls), fear (khawf), hope (raj),
and love (mah abbah), He sends a cloud and rain to that house out of
His grace. Then God creates other praiseworthy characteristics in that
house such as contentment (rid) and marifah. Finally, God locks its
door and keeps the keys Himself; no one is authorized to enter that
house, including Gabriel and Michael, because God has said, This is
my treasury (khiznat) on my property (ard), the seat of my sight
(nazar), the residence of my tawh d, and I am the Resident of this
Al-Nr elaborates on this by maintaining that God has established
seven successive qualities in a mumins heart so that he can know Him
(arafahu). All these characteristics rely on Qurnic notions: gentleness

Ibid., 131.
Ibid., 131.
Ibid., 131132.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 157

(ln),43 expansion (tawassu),44 healing sickness (shif min al-marad),45

guidance (hidyah),46 peacefulness and tranquility (saknah and
tu mannah),47 and finally enlightenment (tanwr).48 Again based on
Qurnic references, al-Nr asserts that at the same time, God has
implanted seven successive hindrances in the hearts of unbelievers
and these prevent them from faith and knowledge: constriction (dq),49
hardness (salbah),50 gloom (sawd),51 darkness (zulmah),52 sealing
(khatm),53 locking (iqfl),54 and finally denial (inkr).55 Al-Nr argues
that because of these subtle obstacles located in the hearts of unbeliev-
ers, the latter tend to be indifferent toward Divine prescriptions.56
Al-Nr states that essentially, hearts are of three kinds. The first
kind is the heart of disobedient people (ush), whose hearts are ruined
(kharb), are dwelling places of devils, and are full of corruption and
impurity. The second kind is the heart of the obedient (mut ) believers,
who are knowledgeable (alm), active (mil), and sincere (mukhlis)
servants of God. The third kind of heart is the heart of believers who
attain gnosis or intuitive knowledge (rifn). This heart resembles a
treasury full of diamonds and sapphires, and it abides in the presence
of God.57
Al-Nr continues his treatise on the heart by introducing detailed
accounts of the chief characteristics of a mumins heart. He argues
that as long as a mumin keeps his spiritual maturity alive, his heart is
protected by seven spiritual fortresses:

Then their skins and hearts soften to Gods remembrance (39:23).


Is he whose breast God has expanded unto Islam, so he walks in a light from

his Lord...? (39:22).

God heals the breasts (sudr) of a believing people (9:14).
But God has endeared mn to you and beautified it in your hearts (49:7).
He is the One who sent down peacefulness into the hearts (qulb) of the believ-
ers (48:4).
God guides whom He wills to His light (24:35).
Whomsoever He wills to lead astray, He makes his breast constricted (dayyiqan)
and narrow (h arajan) (6:125).
Then your hearts became rigid thereafter (2:74).
No! Their own deeds have cast a veil over their hearts (83:14).
They said, Our hearts are hardened (2:88).
God has set a seal (khatama Allhu) on their hearts (2:7).
Or are there locks (aqfl) upon their hearts (47:24).
Those who do not believe in the life to come, their hearts deny (munkirah)
Al-Nr, 133.
Ibid., 134.
158 chapter nine

1)intuitive knowledge of God (marifat Allh),

2)belief in God (mn bi-Allh),
3)sincerity in word and deed (ikhls bi-al-qawl wa-al-amal),
4)contentment with the Divine decree (rid bi-qad Allh),
5)performing Divinely prescribed obligations (qiym bi-farid Allh),
6)observing Divine commands and prohibitions (qiym bi-amr Allh
wa-nahyih), and
7)disciplining the soul (tadb al-nafs).
Al-Nr concludes that when a mumin begins to fail in accomplishing
one of these characteristics, he also begins to lose his spiritual protec-
tion and becomes vulnerable to Satans tricks.58
Al-Nr explains that an rifs heart contains three lights: the light
of marifah, the light of intelligence (aql), and the light of knowledge
(ilm). He symbolizes marifah, aql, and ilm by the sun, moon, and
stars, respectively. The lights of marifah, aql, and ilm restrain (yas-
tur) caprice (haw), passion (shahwah), and ignorance/barbarism
(jahl), respectively. Furthermore, through the same lights, a mumin
can see his Lord (yar al-Rabb), meet Truth (yaqbal al-H aqq), and
act through Truth [Him] (yamal bi-al-H aqq), respectively.59 Al-Nr
asserts that on account of Divine grace, the brightness of these spiri-
tual lights may increase even to the degrees symbolically comparable
to the moon and sun. When the light of marifah appears in an rifs
heart, he feels indifference toward this world and the things of it.
When this light attains the luminosity of the moons brightness, the
rif becomes oblivious to the Hereafter (khirah) and what belongs
to it. And finally, when the light of marifah reaches the degree of the
suns radiance, the rif neither cares for this world nor the Hereafter
and what is of them, and he knows nothing but God. His body, heart,
and speech become full of light, just as the Qurnic statement, Light
upon light! God guides to His light whom He will (24:35).60
Al-Nr states that the marks of a mumins heart are threefold.
It suppresses sins by the veil of repentance (tawbah), it eliminates
all pride in good deeds by the veil of remembrance (dhikr), and it
removes all diversions or distractions by the veil of love for God (h ubb

Ibid., 135136.
Ibid., 137.
Ibid., 138. This must be similar to his conclusion when he utters, I looked into
the light until I became that light myself. Schimmel, Ab al-H usayn al-Nr: Qibla
of the Lights, The Heritage of Sufism, ed. Leonard Lewisohn (Oxford and Boston,
1999), 1:60.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 159

Allh), to the degree that the mumins heart becomes completely

empty, except of love for Him.61 According to al-Nrs writings,
such a persons speech is restricted to the language of praise (lisn
al-h amd), thankfulness (lisn al-shukr), complaint (lisn al-shikyah),
and excuse (lisn al-madhirah). Through lisn al-h amd he speaks of
Gods graces; through lisn al-shukr he expresses his thankfulness for
His creation; through lisn al-shikyah he complains about his nafs to
his Lord; and through lisn al-madhirah he asks his Lords forgiveness
for his sins.62
Al-Nr describes the heart of a gnostic (rif) symbolically, saying
that it has ten gardens: a) the garden of tawh d; b) the garden of the
way [to God] (sabl); c) the garden of certainty (yaqn), d) the garden
of humility (tawdu); e) the garden of the lawful [things] (h all); f) the
garden of forbearance (h ilm); g) the garden of generosity (sakhwah);
h) the garden of contentment (rid); i) the garden of sincerity (ikhls);
and j) the garden of knowledge (ilm). A believer (mumin) keeps a
very watchful eye on his gardens. If he sees thorns of polytheism or
hypocrisy in the garden of tawh d, he plucks them out and throws
them away; if he sees caprice (haw) or innovation (bidah) in the gar-
den of the sabl, he plucks those out as well. Likewise, if he sees doubt
(shakk) or uncertainty (zann), conceit (ujb) or pride (kibr), unlawful
[things] or suspicion (shubhah), hatred (bughd) or annoyance (qahr),
greed (bukhl) or stinginess (shuh h ), ostentation (riy) or seeking fame
(sumah), anxiety (jaza) or complaint (shakw), ignorance (jahl) or
negligence (ghaflah) in the gardens of yaqn, tawdu, h all, h ilm,
sakhwah, ikhls, rid, and ilm, respectively, he plucks them all out

In general, al-Nr is regarded as one of the most emotional of the early Sufis,
in contrast to his sober and prudent friend al-Junayd. His treatment of mah abbah
and ishq reveals his deeply emotional mystical tendency. For instance, according
to At trs writings, al-Nr was the one who was weeping alongside the sorrowful
Ibls, who claimed to be a true lover (shiq) of God. At t r, 2:51. On the basis of
the Qurnic phrase, whom He loves and who love Him (5:54), al-Nr asserts that
ishq is not a higher spiritual stage than mah abbah (wa-laysa al-ishq bi-akthar min
al-mah abbah). Massignon, Recueil, 51; for al-Nr, Love is to tear the veils and unveil
the secrets. Schimmel, Ab al-H usayn al-Nr, 62. Ab Bakr al-Shibl (d. 334/945),
on the other hand, argues that knowledge of God (marifah) requires love (mah abbah)
of Him, for whoever knows Him loves Him. Al-Sulam, Muqaddimah, 31.
Al-Nr, 140.
Ibid., 142.
160 chapter nine

Al-Nr continues his psychological analysis of mystical concepts.

For instance, he states that the spiritual rain on the human heart is of
two kinds: the rain of grace (matar al-rah mah) and the rain of wrath
(mat ar al-naqmah). The former ceases to descend when the qulb are
polluted by ostentation (riy), when the aql is polluted by preten-
tiousness (daw), or when the heart is polluted by hypocrisy (nifq).
Therefore, according to its inclination, a heart is either fertilized or
destroyed by the Divine rain.64 In his succeeding lines, al-Nr further
highlights the hearts various subtle spiritual characteristics, which
manifest themselves according to the spiritual ranking of the person,
i.e., kfir, mumin, rif, wal, and the like.65
Alongside such technical expositions of qalb, al-Nurisimilar to
his predecessors and his followersputs great stress on the practical
aspect of Sufism. For him, Sufism consists not of forms (rusm) and
sciences (ulm) but of good moral qualities (akhlq).66 His explana-
tions are built on the assumption that the outward manifestations of
religion should be visible first; they are to be followed by their interi-
orization and their use as symbolic figures. In the meantime, marifah
arises in the different reactions of human beings to Gods revelation.
Finally, at the station of absolute tawh d, which is embedded in the
deepest cell of the heart, where one may find the Divine, this process
furnishes an existential and epistemological experience. In accordance
with this method, true and ultimate knowledgeknowledge of God
cannot be grasped by means of intellect alone (aql), but only by means
of faith and love.
In this context, al-Nrs understanding of aql is also significant
for our discussion. According to al-Sarrjs accounts, al-Nr was
once asked, Through what [means] do you know God? He replied,
Through God (bi-Allh). He was further asked, What about the
aql? He said,
The aql is an impotent thing (jiz), and it can give only the knowledge
of impotent things like itself, for when God created the aql, He asked it,
Who am I? The aql was silent. As soon as God polished it by the light

Ibid., 143.
Ibid., 143.
Al-Sulam, T abaqt, 167. Similarly, one of al-Nrs most profound goals was the
famous Sufi principle, Qualify yourselves with Gods qualities (takhallaq bi-akhlq
Allh), which refers to substituting for each lowly quality a praiseworthy one. Schim-
mel, Ab al-H usayn al-Nr, 60.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 161

of Oneness (nr al-wah dniyyah), the aql replied, You are God. Thus
the aql could know God only through God (bi-Allh).67
Similarly, when al-Nr was asked, What was the first Divine order
unto man? he replied,
Marifah, for God has said, I created the jinn and humankind only that
they might worship Me (li-yabudn) (51:56) and Ibn Abbs pointed
out that li-yabudn means li-yarifn.68
With regard to the concept of h ikmah, throughout his expositions
al-Nr does not seem to give any special consideration to it. He
uses h ikmah only twice in his epistle. In the first instance, h ikmah
is described as a heavenly fruit (thamarah) given to the heart as a
result of a secret and intimate conversation with God (munjh).69 In
the second case, al-Nr discusses h ikmah as an intermediary epis-
temological concept on the spiritual path. He compares the gnosis
(marifah) in the heart of a believer to a tree with seven branches:
the first he likens to the eyes of the believer; the second to his tongue
(lisn); the third to his heart (qalb); the fourth to his soul (nafs); the
fifth to his Lords creation (khalq rabbihi); the sixth to the Hereaf-
ter (khirah); and the seventh to his Lord. Al-Nr asserts that for
each branch there are two fruits (thamarah): the fruits of the eyes are
weeping (buk) and admonition (ibrah), the fruits of the tongue are
knowledge (ilm) and h ikmah, and the fruits of the following branches
are yearning (shawq) and repentance (inbah), asceticism (zuhd) and
worship (ibdah), faithfulness (waf) and trustworthiness (amnah),
felicity (nam) and paradise (jannah), and vision (ruyah) and near-
ness (qurbah), respectively.70

Al-H akm al-Tirmidh

Al-H akm al-Tirmidh (d. ca. 300/912), another eminent mystical fig-
ure of the third/ninth century, also elaborates on the four subtly inter-
related maqmt al-qulb from a psychological and epistemological

Ab Nasr al-Sarrj, al-Luma, ed. Abd al-H alm Mahmd and T h Abd al-Bq
Surr (Cairo, 1960), 63. For the same narration, see al-Kalbdh, 69.
Al-Sarrj, 63.
Al-Nr, 135.
Ibid., 141.
162 chapter nine

perspective. Before going into a detailed analysis of his writings on

the concept of qalb in his work, Bayn al-farq bayn al-sadr wa-al-qalb
wa-al-fud wa-al-lubb,71 We might note al-Tirmidhs title, al-H akm.
It is on this basis that he has been associated with philosophy, espe-
cially of the Hellenistic type.72 We cannot be certain of the origin of
the attribution of this title to al-Tirmidh, that is, whether al-Tirmidh
himself or other writers of his time established it, though al-H akm
is recurrently recorded as his title in his works as well as in subse-

Although bibliographical sources mention that al-Tirmidh did write a work with
this title (see, for instance, Sezgin, 1:655), several scholars, including Bernd Radtke
and Abd al-Fatth Barakah, have questioned the authenticity of this work. In Radtkes
view, its style, especially the use of saj (rhymed prose), differs from al-Tirmidhs
usual terminology; and he believes that the epistle is wrongly ascribed to him, though
I cannot make much sense out of this argument. Bernd Radtke, The Concept of
Wilaya in Early Sufism, Classical Persian Sufism: From its Origins to Rumi, ed. Leon-
ard Lewisohn (London, 1993), 1:486487. Radtke repeats this argument in his other
works, including the last one, to fortify his points. Radtke, Some Recent Research
on al-H akm al-Tirmidh, Der Islam 83 (2006), 53. See also Abd al-Fatth Barakah,
al-H akm al-Tirmidh wa-nazariyyatuhu f al-wilyah (Cairo, 1971), 1:10. In spite
of this controversy, I make use of Bayn al-farq because of its detailed and precise
description of the heart and its various functions with respect to Sufi epistemology.
The terminology found in Bayn al-farq does not directly contradict al-Tirmidhs
usual terminology, as found in his other works, which I have used throughout my
investigation. For instance, in the analysis of the stations of heart in his Khatm
al-awliy, al-Tirmidhs clarifications parallel those in Bayn al-farq. Al-Tirmidh,
Kitb Khatm al-awliy, ed. Uthmn Yahy (Beirut, 1965), 128 and al-Tirmidh, Kitb
Srat al-awliy in Thalth musannaft li-al-H akm al-Tirmidh, ed. Bernd Radtke
(Beirut, 1992), 1012. (In fact, the two titles, Khatm al-awliy and Srat al-awliy,
refer to the same work by al-Tirmidh. This work is also known under the title Ilm
al-awliy. Massignon, Essai, 287. Before Radtkes edition based on recently available
manuscripts, the work was known by the title Kitb Khatm al-awliy. According to
his own statement, Radtke re-edited the work to correct aspects of the content and
structure presented by Uthmn Yahy that remained obscure. Radtke, A Forerunner
of Ibn al-Arab: H akm Tirmidh on Sainthood, Journal of the Muh yiddn Ibn Arab
Society 8 [1989]: 43; and Radtke, Some Recent Research, 4445). Similarly, when he
explains the notion of sadr in Khatm al-awliy, al-Tirmidh introduces expositions
comparable to those in Bayn al-farq. Al-Tirmidh, Kitb Khatm al-awliy, 130132
(al-Tirmidh, Kitb Srat al-awliy, 1213). Massignon also provides scholarly mate-
rials that lead us to consider Bayn al-farq as an authentic work by al-Tirmidh. It
is also known that the science of the hearts, with a special focus on distinguishing
sadr from qalb, was an important concept in al-Tirmidhs terminology. Massignon,
Essai, 293294.
See, for instance, Massignon, Essai, 286287; Massignon, Recueil, 33, and Yves
Marquet, al-Tirmidh, EI. Massignon calls al-Tirmidh a theoretician who,
throughout his psychological expositions, inclines toward a kabbala of the letters of
scripture. Massignon, Essai, 293. Marquet examines al-Tirmidhs ideas against the
background of Plato, the Ikhwn al-Saf, and al-Frbs philosophies. He also com-
pares al-Tirmidhs theories to ancient Greek and Chinese thought. Marquet, al-H akm
al-Tirmidh et le noplatonisme de son temps (Universit de Dakar, 1976).
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 163

quent works that mention him.73 According to a statement of Att r,

al-Tirmidh, as the h akm of his people and time, was a competent
scholar in every branch of Muslim learning, exoteric as well as eso-
teric, and his method was based on reliable traditional epistemological
ground. Since he possessed extraordinary h ikmah, his contemporaries
called him the h akm of the saints (h akm-i awliy).74 A modern
scholarly authority on al-Tirmidhs works, Uthmn Yahy, speculates
on the reasons al-Tirmidh was singled out with this title among Sufi
masters. Yahy lists three probabilities: a) al-Tirmidh was engaged
in the study of medicine (tibb); b) he combined the earliest Islamic
spiritual mentality and the intellectual practices of his time; or c) it was
based on his study of Greek philosophy with a special focus on gnosti-
cism (irfn). Yahy himself believes that the title H akm was ascribed
to al-Tirmidh on the basis of his extraordinary scholarly accomplish-
ment in intellectualizing and theorizing Sufi concepts.75
In order to clarify the matter, it is necessary to understand
al-Tirmidhs own conception of h ikmah. In his terminology, h ikmah
is a distinguishing characteristic of the real friends of God or saints
(awliy); he designates this h ikmah as al-h ikmah al-uly (the highest
or supreme h ikmah) and compares it to the limited (mah ddah) and
restricted (qsirah) h ikmah possessed by ordinary people. Al-Tirmidh
at times characterizes al-h ikmah al-uly as al-ilm al-bt in (esoteric/
inward knowledge) and at other times as ilm al-anbiy wa-al-awliy
(knowledge of the prophets and saints), which he considers to be one
of the characteristics of the prophets and eminent saints. This kind
of h ikmah represents also the inward meaning (bt in) of the Qurn,
the light of faith (mn), and the delight of gnosis (bahjat al-irfn).76
Al-Tirmidh further asserts that al-h ikmah al-uly refers to a very
advanced level of knowledge and that it is not given to all saints, but
only to the leaders (sdt) among them. It is also called the h ikmah

Abd al-Muhsin al-H usayn, al-Marifah inda al-H akm al-Tirmidh (Cairo,
1968), 31. Radtke asserts that al-Tirmidh never employs the term al-h akm with
respect to himself. Radtke, Some Recent Research, 84.
Att r, 2:91.
Editors introduction to al-Tirmidh, Kitb Khatm al-awliy, 8. Al-H usayn, for
his part, lists four main sources of al-Tirmidhs arguments: 1) Jewish and Christian
heritage (isrliyyt); 2) the Iranian spiritual legacy; 3) the Greek heritage; and 4) the
Islamic tradition, but with a particularly Sh tendency. Al-H usayn, 3031.
Editors introduction to al-Tirmidh, Kitb Khatm al-awliy, 111.
164 chapter nine

of the h ikmah (h ikmat al-h ikmah).77 Al-h ikmah al-uly comprises

the principles (usl) of h ikmah and embodies the knowledge of the
beginning (ilm al-bad), of the primordial covenant (ilm al-mthq),
of the measures (ilm al-maqdr), and of letters (ilm al-h urf). This
knowledge is revealed only to the distinguished (kubar) among the
saints and other saints take it from them unquestioningly.78 On another
occasion, al-Tirmidh uses the term h ikmat al-h ikmah to explain the
Qurnic notion of the most firm handle (al-urwah al-wuthq)
In his work, Marifat al-asrr, al-Tirmidh introduces a gradational
definition of the concept of h ikmah. He states that its beginning indi-
cates the acquaintance of the heart with the secrets of God in a state
of complete harmony of speech and act. H ikmah also means plac-
ing a thing in its [original] place.80 Al-Tirmidh asserts that h ikmah
has three levels: the first one grows out of much experience (kathrat
al-tajrib) and is useful in this world; the second one originates from
the purity of ones interaction with others (saf al-mumalah) and
is beneficial in the Hereafter; and the third, and highest, emerges out
of nearness (qurb) to God and witnessing (mushhadah) of Him, and
this kind of h ikmah belongs only to those who deserve it.81
Al-Tirmidh uses the word kays/kiysah (cleverness, intelligence,
sagacity, or subtlety) apparently in a sense similar to h ikmah. In fact, he
wrote an epistle, al-Akys wa-al-mughtarrn, on this concept in which
he defines kayyis as an upright, pious, knowledgeable, and insightful
person, as described in a h adth saying, The kayyis is the one who
humbles his soul.82 Just as in the case of h ikmah, kiysah is a notion
closely related to the concepts of aql and marifah. A kayyis is sup-
posed to discipline himself against inclinations to the passions of the

Al-Tirmidh, Kitb Khatm al-awliy, 348 (al-Tirmidh, Kitb Srat al-awliy, 48).
Al-Tirmidh, Kitb Khatm al-awliy, 362 (al-Tirmidh, Kitb Srat al-awliy,
58.) According to al-Makks narration, Yahy b. Mudh asserts that knowledge (ilm)
is passed on through teaching (talm), while h ikmah is passed on by safeguarding the
sanctities of the masters (bi-h ifz h urumt al-mashyikh). Al-Makk, Ilm, 7980.
Al-Tirmidh, Kitb Khatm al-awliy, 381.
Al-Tirmidh, Kitb Marifat al-asrr, ed. Muhammad Ibrhm al-Juysh (Egypt,
1977), 70. Again, although bibliographical sources attribute a work with this title to
al-Tirmidh (see, for instance, Sezgin, 1:658), Radtke questions its authenticity. Radtke,
Some Recent Research, 41.
Al-Tirmidh, Kitb Marifat al-asrr, 8485.
Al-H usayn, 50.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 165

self and he combines epistemological and practical qualities required

to attain a high state and station.83
Al-Tirmidh argues that h ikmah literally means hitting upon the
truth (isbat al-h aqq) and that it can be actualized through 1) ilm,
2) aql, and 3) something other than these two. This last something
cannot be defined merely as kiysah; instead it is kiysah plus some
other heavenly (ilh) thing, which he calls wilyah (sainthood/friend-
ship of God). A h akm, in al-Tirmidhs understanding, is a type of
saint (wal) who hits upon the truth not only through conventional
knowledge and intelligence, but also through a heavenly secret given
particularly to him, to the exclusion of others. Thus, the words h ikmah
and wilyah have very similar connotations for al-Tirmidh. Conse-
quently, al-Tirmidhs conception of a h akm seems to be the traditional
notion of the h akm among the Arabs since pre-Islamic times, with the
addition of the aforementioned heavenly secret ascribed to it.84
Throughout his expositions, however, al-Tirmidh does not hold to
the same categorical elucidation of h ikmah. He continually introduces
new categories, apparently depending on the perspective of the spiri-
tual station (maqm) in question. Al-Tirmidh himself is aware of this
situation in his writings, as he states that he did not compose anything,
even a single letter, following conventional methods of writing; rather,
he asserts, everything he compiled was a result of the moment (waqt)
that prevailed over him at that time.85 This fact turns al-Tirmidh into a
figure who seems unwilling to explain Sufi concepts clearly, but instead
appears to be intentionally trying to confuse his readers by throwing
terminological sand in their eyes. Thus, an investigator who attempts
to apply conventional analytical scholarly methods to al-Tirmidhs
writings in an effort to conceptualize and systematize them finds their
author an intimidating elucidator, if not an obscurantist.86

Ibid., 5153.

Ibid., 33.
Al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 24.
I do not share Radtkes view; he says, Al-H akm al-Tirmidhs treatise (Khatm
al-awliy or Srat al-awliy) shows a clear structure and a conceptual framework.
Radtke blames Uthmn Yahy for presenting an unstructured and confused edition
of the work and claims that this is the reason this treatise has not been appreciated
as a clear Sufi exposition. Radtke, The Concept of Wilya, 486. Radtke severely
criticizes Yahys edition, to such an extent that he even describes Yahys work as
being based on an amateurish slipshod method of editing. Radtke, Some Recent
Research, 4445.
166 chapter nine

Al-Tirmidhs frequent semantic shifts in meaning can also be

observed in his discussions on the categorization of concepts. For
instance, he sometimes equates marifah with h ikmah, or more prop-
erly with al-h ikmah al-blighah or al-uly; at other times, he uses the
word aql as a synonym of marifah.87 Similarly, in his classification of
the concept of ilm, al-Tirmidh argues that there are three kinds of ilm:
first, the knowledge of lawful and unlawful things; second, h ikmah;
and third, marifah, which is al-h ikmah al-uly. The first kind of ilm,
which is also called al-ilm al-zhir deals with the knowledge of com-
manded and prohibited things. The second kind of ilm, h ikmah, is the
knowledge of tadbr (disposing of affairs) or of the right of God (ilm
h aqq Allh); in fact this kind of knowledge is a part or branch (far) of
esoteric knowledge. Sometimes al-Tirmidh uses the terms h aqq, adl,
and sidq to explain these three hierarchical concepts. In this case, h aqq
refers to exoteric knowledge and to the knowledge of Sharah, which
is concerned with the acts of the limbs. Adl points to the knowledge
of h ikmah, of tasawwuf, of tadbr or of h aqq Allh, which is based on
hearts. Sidq is the knowledge of al-h ikmah al-blighah, of al-h ikmah
al-uly, or of wilyah, which is the real foundation of religion.88
The level of clarity in al-Tirmidhs expositions seems to follow a
general move from exoteric to esoteric, but at a certain point along
the way, the two become mixed, or arrive at a point of confluence.
Those whose spiritual stage does not go beyond such a point are con-
fused in the face of this situation. In this context, al-Tirmidh intro-
duces his conception of h ikmah, which he understands as the core
of esoteric knowledge (lubb al-ilm al-btin) coming from the ocean
of gnosis (bah r al-marifah), as opposed to ordinary outward knowl-
edge (ilm).89 For him, nevertheless, this h ikmah is the first step in
the process of transitioning from exoteric knowledge (ilm al-zhir) to
esoteric knowledge (ilm al-btin) and h ikmah is not equal to marifah,
but rather is only an initial rank of marifah. Being a part of marifah,
h ikmah is treated as marifah in this general terminological sense; not
every marifah, however, can be termed h ikmah in the proper sense
of the word, though the reverse holds true. Unlike ilm, which can be
acquired through conventional learning, h ikmah can only be attained

Al-H usayn, 55.
Al-H usayn, 6667.
Ibid., 135136.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 167

as a result of an existential and experiential training of the soul; yet this

process does not have a deterministic nature of causality, since h ikmah,
in the final analysis, is a heavenly gift.90 In addition to this basic notion
of h ikmah, al-Tirmidh employs the term al-h ikmah al-uly (the high-
est or supreme h ikmah) in referring to the knowledge of God and His
names.91 This occurrence indicates that even within the same concept,
al-Tirmidh introduces gradational explanations based on the maqm
in question. In other words, not only does he define h ikmah variously
depending on the context, he also talks about levels of meaning for
the concept.
In his exposition of the term qiys (analogy), al-Tirmidh states that
the basic meaning of the root q-y-s is relating the branch (far) of a
thing with its origin (asl), as with the relationship between a tree and
its branches. In al-Tirmidhs view, therefore, the original meaning of
qiys is taking every derived (far) thing back to its origin, which is
God, who arranges everything in accordance with His far-reaching
h ikmah (h ikmah blighah). This h ikmah is esoteric, not exoteric, and
is called such on the basis of the fact that it has reached the knowledge
of measurements (ilm al-maqdr).92
In his work on h adth, Nawdir al-usl, al-Tirmidh presents a
more psychologically-oriented interpretation of the word h akm in
the prophetic statement, No one is a h akm unless he has experience
(dh tajribah), and no one is a man of forbearance (h alm) unless he
has stumbled (dh athrah).93 Al-Tirmidh states that intellect (aql)
leads to maturity (rushd) and that h ikmah is a light that uncovers
the hidden aspects of things. H ikmah, nevertheless, does not become
complete merely by uncovering or obtaining familiarity with itself by
means of the heart, rather the heart must become acquainted with
things through a direct participation of the soul (nafs). The heart and
soul together verify the result of uncovering and obtaining familiarity

Ibid., 136138.

Ibid., 140.
Al-Tirmidh, al-Furq wa-man al-tarduf, ed. Muhammad Ibrhm al-Juysh
(Cairo, 1998), 365.
Al-Tirmidh, Nawdir al-usl f marifat ah dth al-rasl, ed. Must af Abd
al-Qdir At (Beirut, 1992), 2:26. With regard to h alm, al-Tirmidh says that the
notion of h ilm describes a person whose breast is expanded (munsharih sadruhu) as
with the Qurnic cases of Abraham (11:75) and Ishmael (37:101). The forbearance of
Abraham became extraordinary when he was being Divinely tested to be willing to
sacrifice his son Ishmael. Similar was the forbearance of Ishmael, when he obediently
and willingly submitted himself to the service of his Lord. Ibid., 2:2627.
168 chapter nine

and complete the epistemological procedure. A h akm, then, is a per-

son for whom the cover has been lifted and who can see the outcomes
(awqib) of things as well as their apparent features. When a h akm
sees this situation through his organs, this becomes an eyewitnessing
(iyn) for him, and he will never forget this knowledge. At the end of
such experiences, consequently, h ikmah becomes complete, for before
the experience it was an observation by the heart, while now it is an
observation by the eye; it was a knowledge of certainty (ilm al-yaqn)
and now it is the eye of certainty or certainty itself (ayn al-yaqn). And
this is the reason people say, aql is in accordance with experience.94
It is evident from these discussions of h ikmah that in al-Tirmidhs ter-
minology, h ikmah is a multivalent or polysemous term that contains
several meanings as well as levels of meaning.
In Bayn al-farq, al-Tirmidh uses the term h akm for both phi-
losophers95 and Sufis96even for the Qurnic Luqmn.97 Moreover,
historically, in the eastern provinces of the Muslim lands, in Khursn
and in Transoxania, Sufis were called h akm (pl. h ukam) as well as
rif (pl. rifn).98 And, as noted, the terms h ikmah and h akm are
frequently used Qurnic concepts, H akm itself being one of the
ninety-nine Most Beautiful Names of God. Accordingly, the titles of
many subsequent works contain derivatives of this very word, includ-
ing Ibn al-Arabs (d. 638/1240) Fuss al-h ikam and Ibn At Allhs
(d. 709/1309) Kitb al-H ikam. Throughout his Kitb al-Sidq, Ab Sad
al-Kharrz (d. 286/899), a contemporary of al-Tirmidh, uses the term
h ukam to refer exclusively to Sufis.99 Given such considerations, his
title, H akm, does not conclusively link al-Tirmidhs explanations to
philosophical origins. Instead, I understand this title as meaning sage,
from which the other usagesincluding Sufi, philosopher, physician,
and scientistare derived.100 At the same time, however, al-Tirmidhs

Ibid., 2:27.
Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq bayn al-sadr wa-al-qalb wa-al-fud wa-al-lubb, ed.
Nicholas Heer (Cairo, 1958), 75. Later on, Heer translated and published this study,
which was originally his Ph.D. dissertation. A Treatise on the Heart in Three Early
Sufi Texts: al-H akm al-Tirmidh and Ab Abd al-Rah mn al-Sulam al-Naysabr,
trans. Nicholas Heer and Kenneth L. Honerkamp (Louisville, KY, 2003).
Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 52, 79.
Ibid., 77.
See for instance, Massignon [Radtke], Tasawwuf, EI.
See for instance, al-Kharrz, 61, 71, 73, 93, 106, 115, 121, and 142.
My discussions with Wolfhart Heinrichs on the concept of h ikmah have helped
me immensely in arriving at this conclusion.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 169

style throughout his works reveals that he was well acquainted with
philosophical and even alchemical notions, on account of which he is
regarded by certain scholars as the founder of an early theosophical
system in the Sufi tradition.101
Before presenting al-Tirmidhs exposition on the maqmat, it is
useful to note his highly developed understanding of the nature of the
heart. In al-Masil al-maknnah, al-Tirmidh states that God created
a piece of organ inside the human being which is called qalb because of
its fluctuating nature.102 God appointed the qalb as the leader over the
other organs (jawrih ) and placed the knowledge of Himself in this

Massignon, Tasawwuf, EI. Radtke further notes that the laqab al-h akm was
commonly used among the Sufis of the city of Balkh, which neighbors Tirmidh, with
the result that associating certain Sufi notions with Neoplatonic or gnostic conceptual
systems is not a plausible argument. In Radtkes view, h akm in this historical context
refers to someone who seeks God and strives after knowledge of nature and the soul.
Radtke, Some Recent Research, 8486. In fact Radtke defines h akm in the case
of al-Tirmidh as a theosophist, who would seek wisdom and advanced mystical
knowledge through his own inner experience instead of through the conventional
philosophical methods of acquiring knowledge in his age. Bernd Radtke and John
OKane, The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism: Two Works by al-H akm
al-Tirmidh (London, 1996), 56.
Ibn al-Arab also discusses the fluctuating nature of the qalb. According to his
explanations, in its verbal noun form, the word qalb is almost synonymous with taqal-
lub (alteration, fluctuation). In this sense, relying on various Prophetic statements,
including, The hearts of all the children of Adam are like a single heart between two
of the fingers of the All-Merciful. He turns (tasrf) it however He desires. O God,
O Turner of Hearts, turn our hearts toward obeying You! Ibn al-Arab designates
qalb as a place of constant change and fluctuation. Similarly, in many ah dth, God is
called the Turner of hearts (Musarrif al-qulb) or He who makes hearts fluctuate
(Muqallib al-qulb). Chittick, 106.
On the other hand, according to al-Sulams records from earlier authorities, with
respect to listening to h ikmah, people may be categorized into two groups, intelli-
gent (qil), and [exoterically-minded] performer (mil). In reaction to listening to
h ikmah, the qil stands amazed (yataajjab), while the mil fluctuates (yataqallab);
like a snake, his heart gets twisted (yaltaw). Al-Sulam, T abaqt, 218.
Ibn al-Arab considers the heart as an epistemological seat rather than merely a
source of emotions, for the Qurn repeatedly speaks of the heart as a locus for under-
standing and intelligence. In this context, he compares the heart to the Kaba. Fur-
thermore, on the basis of a frequently quoted h adth quds, My earth and My heaven
embrace Me not, but the heart of My believing servant embraces Me, Ibn al-Arab
describes the heart as the Throne of God (al-arsh) in the microcosm, namely in man.
Because of such Divine connections, the heart possesses astonishing capacity (wus)
and its exclusive characteristics may only be comparable to another heavenly con-
cept, knowledge, as indicated in the Qurn on the tongues of angels, Our Lord, You
embrace all things in mercy and knowledge (40:7). Chittick, 107. On a more general
epistemological plane, Ibn al-Arab asserts that knowledge can be acquired in three
ways: reflection, unveiling, and scripture. The nafs, which is a subtle human entity,
attains knowledge through reflection, and the mode of its knowing is called reason
170 chapter nine

qalb. He entrusted to the qalb the safeguarding of the other organs and
entrusted man with the responsibility to safeguard the qalb. God is the
Cause of Fluctuation (Muqallib) of hearts in accordance with His will.
He empowered man with intellect (aql) and placed the knowledge of
Himself in this aql. There is an interior part of the aql that God made
a seat for the passions (shahawt) and in which He placed the desire
for worldly things. God gave authority to caprice (haw), in which he
placed the darkness of ignorance of Himself, over this shahwah as well.
Through that which is placed in it regarding the knowledge of God,
the aql directs the qalb toward God, while haw calls the soul (nafs)
toward ephemeral desires (shahawt fniyah). In reality, al-Tirmidh
argues, aql and haw are two spirits (rh n) and in each there is a life
(h ayh); one is heavenly (samwiyyah) and the other earthly (ardiyyah).
The first is called rh and the second nafs. Rh resides in the head and
from there spreads throughout the whole body, while nafs resides in
the belly (batn), from there it likewise spreads throughout the whole
body. During sleep, the nafs goes out of the body and ascends to God,
but the rh remains in the heart. Al-Tirmidh asserts that the qalb
contains four lights: the light of marifah, of ilm, of aql, and of life
(h ayh) through God. The first three lights in fact function by means
of the light of life through God.103 To underline the central position
of the aql during this subtle psychological process, al-Tirmidh refers
to a h adth in which the Prophet states, God created the aql and and
then addressed it, By My Glory, I have not created anything that is
dearer to Me than you.104
According to al-Tirmidhs deep psychological analysis, when God
wills something to happen, the qalb of an obedient servant submits
willingly with that will and the will of the nafs disappears for the
sake of Gods will. This person finds a love for his Lord in his qalb,
in which joy (farah ), sweetness (h alwah), and life (h ayh) exist for
him, as opposed to the will of the nafs. In the process of making a
decision regarding an action, there is a struggle (mujhadah) between
the nafs and the qalb. The qalb is inclined to please God and love
for Him, while the nasf is inclined to the joys of passions (shahawt)

(aql). When it knows through God, the mode of knowing is designated as heart
(qalb), which is contrasted with reason (aql). Chittick, 159.
Al-Tirmidh, al-Masil al-maknnah, ed. Muhammad Ibrhm al-Juysh
(Cairo, 1980), 5859.
Ibid., 69.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 171

and love for them. Aql, ilm, marifah, understanding (fahm), clever-
ness (kiysah), perspicacity (fitnah), and mind (dhihn) are among the
soldiers (jund) of the qalb, while caprice (haw) for shahawt, joys
(afrh ), and ornament (znah) are among the soldiers of the nafs. If a
person deserts the battlefield, the nafs dominates, beats, and enslaves
the qalb and thus the qalb loses its power in controlling that persons
life. If, however, he fights together with the qalb until the nafs becomes
a slave, the qalb determines what is done or not done.105 Ultimately,
as al-Tirmidh states, marifah, ilm, fahm, dhihn, and h ifz (memory)
function under the decree of God. They are things placed within man
and when the permission of God comes, they all become causative
agents (awmil); if the permission does not come, they simply remain
in their (celestial) forms (hayt). This is the case mentioned in the
Qurn regarding the relationship between the heart and faith, Those
upon whose hearts God has written faith (58:22).106
Al-Tirmidh further asserts that haw stimulates shahawt, while
aql stimulates ulm and marifah.107 According to his explanations,
even though the qalb is the emir of the other organs, when marifah
controls the qalb, aql is on the right path (istaqma), but when caprice
(haw) controls the qalb, the soul (nafs) deviates from God. The rela-
tionship between marifah and aql is thus comparable to the one
between nafs and haw.108
As in the case of al-Nr, throughout his categorical expositions in
Bayn al-farq, al-Tirmidh relies primarily on Qurnic and Prophetic
statements. He offers several symbolizations to characterize the rela-
tionship between the four concentric parts of the heart and states that
each of these stations (maqmt) is also connected to one of the four
Divine lights: the sadr is the first and outward maqm of the heart and
is connected to the light of islm; the second maqm, the qalb, is the
internal part of the sadr and is connected to the light of mn; the fud
and lubb are the third and fourth maqmt and they are connected
to the lights of marifah and tawh d, respectively. To represent mans
spiritual ranking, these four maqmt are represented by the muslim,
mumin, rif, and muwah h id, according to the same order. At the same
time, these four maqmt correspond to the four Qurnic concepts

Ibid., 6062.
Ibid., 95.
Ibid., 65.
Ibid., 153.
172 chapter nine

pertaining to the states of the soul (h lt al-nafs): the soul that inspires
evil (al-nafs al-ammrah bi-al-s),109 the blaming or reproachful soul
(al-nafs al-lawwmah),110 the inspiring soul (al-nafs al-mulhimah),111
and the soul at peace (al-nafs al-mutmainnah),112 respectively.113 Thus
al-Tirmidh argues that the qalb is a general term containing these
four inner maqmt, and that each of these internal maqmt bears
an exclusive significance which is irreducible to the other, as each one
has its own functions and characterizations.114
Al-Tirmidh uses images to illustrate the four concentric circles
of these maqmt; for instance, he compares the maqmt to the
parts of a homestead (dr) and to the sacred precincts around Mecca
(h aram). In fact, each part of this homestead fulfills particular func-
tions in domestic life. Similarly, the general term maqmt al-qulb
resembles the h aram, which roughly refers to the Meccan territories
including the city of Mecca (balad), the Mosque (masjid), and the
Kaba (al-bayt al-atq)115yet each of these places requires specific
rituals (mansik).116 Likewise, and in accordance with Qurnic testi-
mony, We have raised some of them above others in rank (43:32)
and Over every man of knowledge is one who knows better (12:76),
al-Tirmidh asserts that the members of this religion differ from one
another in rank. This ranking takes place in the qalb, while in the eyes
of ordinary people, the term qalb can be used interchangeably for each
of these four maqmt.117
Within al-Tirmidhs complex understanding of the heart, the
sadr-qalb relationship resembles the courtyard-homestead (sah n-dr)

Yet I do not claim that my soul is innocent, the soul is certainly prone to evil
Nay! I swear by the blaming soul (75:2).
By the soul and Him that formed it, then inspired it with iniquity and piety
O soul at peace! Return to your Lord, well-pleased and well-pleasing (89:2728).
Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 2829.
Ibid., 33.
The Kaba motif is also employed by the Shaykh al-Akbar, Ibn al-Arab, when he
elaborates his understanding of the heart. In Khatm al-awliy, al-Tirmidh poses a list
of 157 questions that could only be answered by the distinguished saints. Al-Tirmidh,
Kitb Khatm al-awliy, 142326. Ibn al-Arab was the first and only person to respond
to this challenge. He wrote a treatise, Jawb al-mustaqm, and later incorporated its
expanded version into his magnum opus, al-Futh t al-Makkiyyah. Ibn al-Arab,
Futht al-Makkiyyah, ed. Ahmad Shams al-Dn (Beirut, 1999), 3:61207.
Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 3334.
Ibid., 34.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 173

relationship; it is also similar to the situation of the sacred area

that surrounds Mecca. The sadr is the place where evil insinuations
(waswis) and afflictions wander about, just as wood and trash can
be found in the courtyard of a homestead, and beasts may enter into
the open space of the h aram. This sadr is subject to the influences of
worldly desires and needs. The sadr sometimes contracts and some-
times expands, and it is ruled by al-nafs al-ammrah bi-al-s (the evil-
commanding soul). At the same time, it is the seat of the light of islm,
and the place where regular knowledge based on customary learning
takes place. It is called sadr, for it is the forepart (sadr) of the heart,
just as the sadr of the day is its beginning and the courtyard (sah n) is
the front part of a homestead.118
Al-Tirmidh articulates his ideas by arguing that every conventional
learning activity takes place within the sadr, but that its fruits are sub-
ject to forgetfulness (nisyn). In this context, the sadr is an arena where
incorrectness, imperfections, and doubts roam about. This process of
acquiring conventional knowledge resembles the position of a pearl in
the oyster, for it is possible that alongside the pearl, other thingssuch
as watermay penetrate into the oyster, but eventually they leave and
only the pearl remains as its permanent resident. Thus, al-Tirmidh
asserts, human knowledge based on routine learning resembles the
things in the oyster other than the pearl. Such knowledge is subject to
erosion and disappearance. Religious blindness and sight are, there-
fore, connected with the qalb, not with the sadr, for the Qurn indi-
cates, Indeed the eyes (absr) do not become blind, but rather do the
hearts (qulb) within the breasts (sudr) become blind (22:46).119
As for the second maqm, the qalb, al-Tirmidh states that it is the
inner part of the sadr, like the city of Mecca that is inside the h aram,
and the house (bayt) is included in the homestead (dr). This qalb
is the seat of the light of mn; and the lights of khush (submis-
siveness), taqw (God-consciousness), mah abbah (love), rid (con-
tentment), yaqn (certainty), khawf (fear of God), raj (hope), sabr
(patience), and qanah (contentment or satisfaction) also reside in the
qalb. Furthermore, the qalb is the origin of the principles of knowl-
edge, for it is like a spring of water, while the sadr is like a pond.
Knowledge then arises from the qalb itself, while the sadr can receive it

Ibid., 3536.

Ibid., 4647.
174 chapter nine

only through regular learning; thus the qalb is the principle (asl), while
the sadr is only a branch (far); the qalb resembles the king, while the
sadr only a kingdom. From the qalb emerges certainty (yaqn), knowl-
edge (ilm), and intention (niyyah), for which the Prophet declared,
Indeed, deeds are according to intentions.120 The Prophet explained
that the soundness of other bodily organs is dependent on the sound-
ness of the qalb and that their corruption leads to the corruption of
the qalb. Al-Tirmidh concludes that religious responsibility (taklf) is
based on the inner stirrings and deeds of this qalb, for the Qurn indi-
cates, God will call you to account for what your hearts have earned
(2: 225).121
According to al-Tirmidhs elaborations, the sadr is the seat of con-
ceptual or expressible knowledge (ilm al-ibrah), while the qalb is
the seat of the knowledge embedded within the ilm al-ibrah, which
is known as the knowledge of h ikmah and allusions (ilm al-h ikmah
wa-al-ishrah). The ilm al-ibrah is the proof of God to His creatures
on the basis of which they are to improve themselves by practicing
that knowledge, while the ilm al-ishrah is a path leading to God by
means of His guidance.122
In al-Tirmidhs view, the third maqm of the heart, the fud,
resembles the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, and corresponds to a closet
(makhda) or storeroom (khiznah) in a house. This fud is the seat
of marifah, as well as of incoming thoughts (khawt ir) and the vision
of God (ruyah). A man first benefits from his fud, then from his
qalb, then from his sadr. The fud is situated at the center of the qalb,
just as the qalb itself is embedded in the middle of the sadr and the
pearl (lulu) is located within the oyster (sadaf).123 The Qurn itself
describes the fud as the seat of vision (ruyah), saying, The fud
lied not (in seeing) what it saw (53:41). Thus, al-Tirmidh argues, the
fud benefits from the ruyah, while the qalb enjoys ilm; but as long as
the fud does not see, the qalb cannot benefit from ilm either. In this
context al-Tirmidh refers to the famous h adth of Gabriel in which
the Prophet explains the concept of ih sn (virtue, doing good works,

Ibid., 3637.
Ibid., 37.
Ibid., 58.
Ibid., 38.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 175

or excellence) as worshipping God as if one saw Him, for even if a

servant does not see Him, He nevertheless sees that servant.124
According to al-Tirmidhs writings, although fud and qalb have
very similar connotations, fud has a subtler meaning than qalb. Dur-
ing the process of attaining knowledge, the qalb needs to be strength-
ened (rabt )125 by the light of tawh d so that it can acquire knowledge,
while the fud does not need any external support, as it can see and
observe directly. Therefore, the superiority of the fud over the qalb
emerges, as the Prophetic statement indicates, A report (khabar) is
not like seeing (muyanah).126
Al-Tirmidh symbolizes the lubb, the fourth maqm, within the
fud by the faculty of sight (basar) within the eye. This is the maqm
of the unity beyond all diversities, for in reality, the lights of religion
(anwr al-dn) and the religion itself are one, though spiritual ranking
among the members of the religion may vary. Thus the lubb is the seat
of the light of tawh d, which is the most perfect light.127
Al-Tirmidh argues that the lubb is a permanent, as well as the pur-
est, maqm of the qalb. All lights reach and establish their perfections
in the lubb, which is the seat of the light of tawh d. The lubb is the aql
planted (aql maghrs) in the land of tawh d, and it attains certainty
(yaqn) in knowledge in a direct manner. In the maqm of lubb, the
nafs discards all its lower characteristics and reaches its perfection.
Only the people of faith (ahl al-mn) can enjoy the lubb and they
are the elect (khass) servants of the Merciful (Rah mn); they observe
the Divine instructions, and turn away from the nafs and this world.
In return, God has dressed them in the robe of God-consciousness
(libs al-taqw) and protected them from all sorts of affliction. God
has called them men of understanding (ul al-albb) and singled

Ibid., 68. In his treatment of qalb, al-Sarrj calls attention to its limitations. He
severely criticizes the argument presented by a group of people who claim that God
can be seen in this world by means of the qalb. He asserts that the sight of the heart
to which the Sufis allude refers in fact to confirmation (tasdq), the witnessing of
mn, and the reality of certainty (h aqqat al-yaqn), rather than physically seeing
God Himself. According to al-Sarrjs statements, such an assumption is a subtle evil
trick on the path of the spiritual journey, for everything that can be seen in this world
is a created thing. For him, the sight of the heart must be understood in light of the
Prophetic statement, Worship God as if you saw Him, for even though you do not
see Him, He [certainly] sees you. Al-Sarrj, 544545.
And We strengthened their hearts (18:14).
Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 6970.
Ibid., 38.
176 chapter nine

them out with His address (khitb). The Qurn admonishes the men
of understanding in various ways and also praises their characteris-
tics in many passages.128 It also recurrently describes their privileged
position in terms of spiritual ranking, intimacy with their Lord, pro-
found comprehension, and their merits with respect to their under-
standing and forbearance. God has favored them exclusively with the
light of lubb.129
Al-Tirmidh notes that in the eyes of lexicographers (lit., language
experts, ahl al-adab wa-man lahum marifah bi-shay min al-lughah),
lubb simply means aql. He argues that, in fact, the two terms bear dif-
ferent meanings. He illustrates the difference between lubb and aql
by the lights of the sun and a lamp (sirj), respectively, arguing that
even though both the sun and the lamp provide light, the difference
between their lights is obvious. Likewise, for him, the ranking of aql
differs subtly depending on its bearer, because the aql itself comprises
various stations (maqmt). The first maqm of the aql is the primor-
dial nature of aql or innate reason (aql al-fit rah), which distinguishes
child and man from those who suffer insanity (junn). By means of
this faculty, man differentiates good from evil, near from far, and the
like. This aql is also the basis of mans responsibility for his actions.
The second kind of aql is the aql of argumentation (aql al-h ujjah),
on the basis of which God addresses mankind. When a person attains
forbearance (h ilm), the light of support (nr al-tayd) supports the
light of reason (nr al-aql) and he attains Gods address (khit b). The
third kind of aql is the aql of experience (aql al-tajribah), which is
the most beneficial and excellent of the three, as it is by means of such
experience that a servant becomes a h akm. Al-Tirmidh asserts that
epistemologically this kind of aql empowers its holder to go beyond

For example, So fear God, O men of understanding (5:100); Those are the
ones whom God has guided, so follow their guidance (6:90); Whoever is given
h ikmah has indeed been given much good; yet none remember except men of under-
standing (2:269); ...and that they may know that He is but one God and that the
men of understanding may remember (14:52); and ...that they might reflect upon
its verses and that men of understanding may remember (38:29). Al-Tirmidh, Bayn
al-farq, 73.
Ibid., 7073. In al-Masil al-maknnah, al-Tirmidh further explains this point
saying that God helps men of tawh d (muwah h idn) through the light of marifah,
which is the light of unification (tawh d) coming from Unity (ah adiyyah), so that they
would declare His Unity. Then their hearts do not get cut off from this light and the
caprice of polytheism (shirk) disappears, as the Qurn states, God has endeared faith
to you and beautified it in your hearts. (49:7) Al-Tirmidh, al-Masil al-maknnah, 68.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 177

the phenomenal causality of creation. As noted above, the Prophet

referred to this aql in his statement, No one is a h akm unless he has
experience (dh tajribah), and no one is a man of forbearance (h alm)
unless he has stumbled (dh athrah).130 The fourth kind of aql is
inherited (mawrth) aql, which, depending on Gods decree, can be
inherited from an intelligent, h akm, knowledgeable, insightful, and
dignified person by another, ordinary one. This is a result of Gods
unparalleled grace and mercy. Al-Tirmidh concludes that in accor-
dance with the portion they enjoy of these four kinds of aql, people
can benefit from them and serve other people. In al-Tirmidhs view, it
is possible that some unbelievers, such as philosophers (falsifah) and
Indian and Greek intellectuals (h ukam), enjoy the aforementioned
aspects of aql, since they can be obtained through personal intellec-
tual effort as well as through social interaction. But there is another
distinctive kind of aql, called balanced aql (al-aql al-mawzn), which
is the most beneficial of all five of these kinds, or maqmt, of aql.
This aql is imprinted with the light of Gods guidance and is the
lubb in al-Tirmidhs terminology; it is also called aql, but only as
a linguistic convention. Although in general terms, the lubb is also
called aql, its epistemological horizon goes far beyond the limits of
the ordinary aql, because the ul al-albb attain knowledge of God
(ulam bi-Allh). Every dh lubb is simultaneously an qil, but not
every qil is dh lubb, for the Qurn explains, But none will grasp
their meaning save the knowers (29:43). The aql has other names like
h ilm, nuh,131 h ijr,132 and h ij; but the name aql is the most common
name for this human faculty. Linguistically, al-Tirmidh calls attention
to the semantic relationship between the words aql and iql (hobble
or fetter), for both function to take control of man and animals against
the natural inclination to follow passions and to go toward pastures,
respectively.133 This meaning is apparent in verse 16:7, Surely in that
is a sign for a people who reflect (yaqiln); for such a reflection leads

Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 7374.


Surely in this there are signs for men of intelligence (li-ul al-nuh) (20:54

and 128).
There surely is an oath for those who understand (li-dh h ijr) (89:5).
Ibn al-Arab also stated that mans rational faculty (aql) is subject to limitations
and incapabilities, and called attention to the semantic connection between aql and
iql (fetter), the latter being used to hobble a camel. Despite all its striving, aql is not
capable of understanding God, while the heart alone is able to perceive Gods self-
disclosures through the faculty of imagination. Chittick, 107.
178 chapter nine

people to take a balanced, secure position between the commands and

prohibitions of God. Al-Tirmidh once again remarks that in the final
analysis, enjoying the lubb is a matter of Divine grace and blessing.134
In the context of aql and lubb, al-Tirmidh examines another epis-
temological concept, that of fiqh. He argues that beyond its usage in
the field of jurisprudence, the term fiqh refers to attaining a real com-
prehension in knowledge, and the act of fiqh is accomplished primar-
ily by the qalb. The heart of a faqh is illuminated by Divine light, and
the act of fiqh is originally one of the exclusive characteristics of a
mumin, as the Qurn indicates, Yet the hypocrites do not compre-
hend (l yafqahn) (63:7). The Prophet acknowledged the merit of
this kind of fiqh in his statement, If God wills good for a servant, He
gives him comprehension in religion (yufaqqihhu f al-dn) and shows
him the faults of his self (nafs) as well as the affliction of this world
and its remedy.135
At the same time, al-Tirmidh emphasizes that the extent of spiritual
knowledge differs according to the maturity and strength of the per-
son. The secrets imparted by the light of tawh d constitute an immense
burden for the human being. In the course of the spiritual journey,
the meaning and experience of worldly concepts may differ according
to the ontological states of their manifestations; for example, a way-
farer may feel himself both sated with drink and thirsty, both seeing
and blind, both learned and ignorant at one and the same time. The
ones who witness these spiritual realities, nevertheless, must observe
worldly rules and regulations, and they must not divulge these secrets
improperly.136 Al-Tirmidh notes that concealing these secrets while
sustaining an ordinary human life in this world is an extremely difficult

Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 7577.
Ibid., 7778. On an epistemological plane, al-Tirmidh distinguishes five com-
ponents of intelligence: intelligence proper (dhihn), the faculty of memory (h ifz),
understanding (fahm), penetration of spirit or sharp-wittedness (dhak), and knowl-
edge, as in the immediate perceptions of awareness (ilm). For him, at the begin-
ning of the creation, all these faculties were established by God in mans primordial
nature (fitrah). Through this process, man is expected to attain true knowledge. In
al-Tirmidhs view, an ordinary believer who has already acquired a proper awareness
of the exterior world will soon be interested in a higher level of awareness. By means
of Divine guidance, he gradually ascends towards the Divine Unity and awareness
of God. Hence, human reason establishes the basis of faith, but above the reason of
faith there are the reason of knowledge and of perception (idrk), the reason of
right guidance (hidyah), and the reason of gnosis and of insight (basrah). Mar-
quet, al-Tirmidh, EI.
Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 8789.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 179

accomplishment. That was the reason the Prophet Muhammad said,

If you knew what I know, you would laugh little and weep much,
and pour dust upon your heads;137 and The prophets are tested
under the most difficult conditions and then those most like them.138
Al-Tirmidh concludes that the knowledge revealed through the lights
of tawh d cannot merely be understood by means of reasoning (nazar)
and analogy (qiys).139
In its authentic nature, al-Tirmidh believes that aql does not deny
religious notions, including the Prophet Muhammads ascension to
the Heavens (Mirj) and the miracles of the friends of God (karmt
al-awliy), as some thinkers have claimed. In his view, they think
that because of the irrational character of such notions, these ideas
are basically irreconcilable with their aql. Thus, they maintain that
what is not admissible to the aql in this rational sense is simply invalid
(bti l). Al-Tirmidh criticizes this argument and asserts that what they
call aql is originally a created and composed faculty. Aql, according
to this notion, is not capable of attaining true knowledge of God, for
it is subject to constant changes, such as increase and decrease, which
show its imperfection. Such changes and imperfections disqualify this
aql to operate in the Divine, eternal domain. Rather, al-Tirmidh
argues, the aql is a created thing and a composed means to sustain
servanthood (ubdiyyah); it is incapable of understanding the reality
of Lordship (rubbiyyah). Hence, whoever fails to understand his own
created nature cannot attain the knowledge of the reality of things,
and his explanations are simply based on his suppositions (zann) and
fancy (khayl). According to al-Tirmidh, the explanations pertaining
to the reality of things must rely on the process during which man
submissively returns to the path of God. Only then can a man humble
his self and purify his heart properly so that his heart may become
like a mirror to reflect his authentic existence, and thus he may attain
knowledge of God as the Qurn and the Prophet stress, ...in your
selves; can you not see? (51:21) and He who knows himself knows

Ibid., 90.

Ibid., 90. Att r records that Ab Sad al-Kharrz intentionally preferred being

remote from God over being close to Him, because al-Kharrz thought that he could
not withstand closeness to God. In this context, al-Kharrz mentions Luqmns say-
ing, I was given the choice between h ikmah and prophethood. I choose h ikmah,
because I could not support the burden of prophethood. At t r, 2:41.
Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 91.
180 chapter nine

his Lord, respectively. In al-Tirmidhs statements, this process estab-

lishes only the introductory phase of the spiritual journey to attain the
light of Truth (nr al-h aqq) and the knowledge of Divine mysteries.140
Al-Tirmidh symbolizes the relationship between the sadr, qalb,
fud, and lubb with the image of a man in a dark house in the middle
of the night. He is first given a lamp to benefit from its light; next, a
small window and the door of the house are opened for him so that
he can benefit from the moonlight. When he becomes familiar with
the brightness of the moonlight, he goes out to enjoy its light more,
leaving aside the lamp. While he is delighted with his enjoyment of
the moonlight, toward the end of the night, dawn comes with the sun,
and its rays outshine the moonlight; ultimately it reaches its zenith and
brightest light. Likewise, al-Tirmidh compares the dark house to an
ignorant self (al-nafs al-jhilah) in its deep darkness; he compares the
lamp to the light of aql (nr al-aql) in the self, which in time increases
by means of the lights of Sharah and Sunnah, this is comparable to
the rising of the moon. Then, through the process of purification
by the light of marifah, comparable to the appearance of the morn-
ing, the aql continues its journey to improve and perfect its enlight-
enment; and thus the Divine secrets are revealed to that enlightened
aql. Finally, this aql attains the light of tawh d, comparable to the
rising of the sun, and the Divine secrets unfold before its eyes and
the aql becomes a witness to the realities of the Divine attributes and
names. When such a man attains this perfect maqm, his main con-
cern becomes to remain at this maqm, not to lose this profound plea-
sure. His fear of losing the Divine lights goes far beyond a persons fear
of losing the light of the sun.141
Al-Tirmidh asserts that beyond this point there are other subtle
stations (maqmt latfah), but the origin of all of them is the light of
tawh d; for tawh d is a secret (sirr) and marifah is a benefaction (birr).
mn is the safeguarding of the sirr and witnessing of the birr; islm
is a thankfulness (shukr) for the birr and a submission of the heart to
the sirr. Tawh d is a sirr to which God guides His servants who cannot
comprehend it with their aql without Gods support and guidance.
The case of marifah is similar: marifah is the birr by God through
which an rif believes that all things come from Him. This means wit-

Ibid., 9294.

Ibid., 9798.
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 181

nessing Gods birr and safeguarding His sirr, because he cannot under-
stand the real nature (kayfiyyah) of His Lordship (rubbiyyah). He
merely knows that He is One and refrains from anthropomorphism
(tashbh) and denial of His attributes (tatl). It is mn that witnesses
the birr and safeguards the sirr. As for islm, it is the directing of
the self (nafs) toward Gods birr through obedience, thankfulness, and
submissiveness to Him, for islm is practiced only through the nafs
and the nafs itself is blind to the comprehension of the Truth (h aqq)
and to witnessing Him. This very nafs is not responsible for knowing
realities, because mn is prescribed on the basis of the qalb. Therefore
the nafs, without understanding the real nature of the realities, can
only embrace and follow Divine prescriptions.142
According to al-Tirmidhs explanations, the unspeakable or inef-
fable stations (al-maqmt al-maskt an-h), which lie beyond the
four stations (maqmt) mentioned above, are grasped by a servant of
God who has been Divinely assisted to understand the four stations in
accordance with the manner in which they are described. Only then
can such a servant gain access to the knowledge of those ineffable sta-
tions.143 In al-Tirmidhs view, the subtle peculiarities of such psycho-
logical states, as occur in the cases of the differences between qalb and
fud and between rh and nafs, can be understood properly only by
the elect of scholars (khass al-ulam), who are the h ukam, not the
scholars of the zhir.144
In al-Tirmidhs view also, not every kind of mental activity deserves
to be called knowledge (ilm) in the proper sense of the word; addi-
tionally, ilm should always be accompanied by the appropriate prac-
tice (amal). He states that the knowledge embedded in the qalb is
beneficial knowledge, as opposed to the useless knowledge criticized
by the Prophet, who said, O God! I seek refuge in You from knowl-
edge that has no benefit (l yanfa).145 On the basis of another Pro-
phetic statement, Whoever acts in accordance with what he knows,
God gives him knowledge of what he does not know, al-Tirmidh
calls attention to the practical and experiential aspect of knowledge.146
He asserts that the station of the qalb is a profound maqm whose

Ibid., 3839.
Ibid., 40.
Al-Tirmidh, al-Furq, 56.
Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 4950.
Ibid., 50.
182 chapter nine

specific sub-stages are bestowed by particular Divine graces, including

unveilings and witnessings. The spiritual elite can witness Divine reali-
ties such as the nature of Divine acts (al-afl al-rubbiyyah) as well as
His unparalleled power and exaltedness.147 Furthermore, al-Tirmidh
argues that the maqmt al-qulb are not definitively fixed stations.
For instance, on the basis of the requisite spiritual accomplishments,
one can rise from the level of the sadr to the upper maqmt, just as
one may fall in rank if one ignores ones duties.148 Knowledge that is
not conjoined with practice or good deeds is merely theoretical knowl-
edge, which is not, after all, the ultimate purpose of Islamic education.
Thus al-Tirmidh emphasizes the necessity of the complementarity and
interdependence of ilm and amal.149
Al-Tirmidh states that the beginning of worship (ibdah) is ilm.
If a person becomes knowledgeable, he attains gnosis (idh alimta
arafta), and if he attains gnosis, then he worships properly (idh
arafta abadta).150 Al-Tirmidh says that marifah is like a tree planted
in the hearts of the muwah h idn by God, who made them responsible
for its cultivation (tarbiyah) as much as possible so that they would
enjoy its fruits. As this tree gradually grows larger, taller, and thicker,
its branches become stronger and its fruit tastier. The cultivation of the
tree with water is comparable to the function of ilm; the soil in the
garden and the guardianship resemble good deeds (aml al-birr) and
God-consciousness (taqw), respectively. This process continues until
the time of harvesting the fruit. The life of this tree is dependent on the
knowledge (ilm) of God, and its food and the purity of its fruits are
dependent on good deeds and God-consciousness, respectively, just as
the life of any tree and its food are dependent on water and soil in the
same order.151 In a similar context, al-Tirmidh emphasizes the practi-
cal aspect of such an epistemological procedure when he refers to a
h adith that states, The beginning of h ikmah is the fear of God.152

Ibid., 50.
Ibid., 5961.
Ibid., 67.
Al-Tirmidh, al-Masil al-maknnah, 124.
Ibid., 133.
Al-Tirmidh, Nawdir al-usl 2:118. Interestingly, this h adth resembles a verse
in the Old Testament, Proverbs 1:7, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowl-
edge. In the Hebrew Bible, however, the word is not hokhmah, but instead daat
which means knowledge. In fact, there are other ah dth in line with this state-
ment which put h ikmah and fear of God in the same context. For instance, according
to al-Makks report, the Prophet says with regard to h ikmah, Whoever is content
h ikmah in early sufi manuals and treatises 183

Al-Tirmidh asserts that epistemological positions of the four sta-

tions are complementary and inclusive with respect to one another;
whether they are expressed outwardly (zhir) or inwardly (bt in), reli-
gious concepts are inextricably connected to one another. In his view,
whoever observes only the knowledge of the exoteric (ilm al-zhir)
and denies the knowledge of the esoteric (ilm al-bt in) is a hypo-
crite (munfiq), while whoever observes only the latter and denies
the former is a heretic (zindq). Such a persons esoteric knowledge
does not represent true knowledge, but only Satanic inspirations. As
for a muslim, mumin, and rif, they believe in what is prescribed in
the Qurn and Sunnah, and they follow conscientiously the rules of
revealed Law (Sharah).153 Al-Tirmidh therefore argues that the eso-
teric method and explanations must be in agreement with and subor-
dinate to the exoteric methods and explanations, for originally, they
do not contradict each other. He similarly asserts that the exoteric
meaning regulates esoteric articulations and that any esoteric doctrine
that contradicts the apparent meaning of the Sharah is false.154

with God (istaghn bi-Allh), God makes other people in need of him and whoever
makes the fear of God present in his heart, God makes him speak with/by h ikmah.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 101. As for the epistemological relationship between the concepts of
fearing God and knowledge, Islamic sources also mention statements parallel to the
Biblical verse above, but with a different wording. A h adth narrated by ishah, for
instance, uses a parallel syntactical structure between knowledge and fear of God in
which the Prophet says, Among you I am the most knowledgeable of God and the
most attentive with respect to fearing Him (ana alamukum bi-Allh wa-ashaddukum
la-hu khashyatan)... Al-Kharrz, 160. Fear of God in the context of religious epis-
temology is not, therefore, unknown to Muslim scholarship. In fact, the Qurn also
stresses this point, saying (35:28) Only those fear God, from among His servants,
who have knowledge.
Al-Tirmidh, Bayn al-farq, 53.
Ibid., 7879. Similarly, Ab Sad al-Kharrz says, Every/any btin that contra-
dicts the zhir is btil. See editors introduction to al-Kharrz, 18. Supporting this
essential point, al-Makk asserts that there are two kinds of knowledge (ilm): esoteric
(btin) and exoteric (zhir). The two are bases (asln) and cannot do without each
other. Their situation is similar to the relationship between islm and mn, which
are inseparably connected to each other, as is the case of the body and the heart.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 88.
Chapter ten

The Merit of H ikmah

While h ikmah is a magnificent heavenly gift given to only a small

number of distinguished people, it is also an immense responsibil-
ity placed on their shoulders. Those who have been rewarded with
h ikmah ought to speak and act meticulously in accord with this exclu-
sive treatment. Relating from earlier authorities, al-Sulam reports that
in Gods presence there is a right (h aqq) for everything and that the
most essential right in the presence of God is the right of h ikmah.
Whoever gives h ikmah to an undeserving person, God will claim this
right and such a giver will receive His disapprobation.1 H ikmah is so
precious that by its nature it requires compliance to its significance
and demands. According to al-Sulams report, If a man hears h ikmah
and does not acknowledge it, he becomes a sinful (mudhnib) person;
but if he hears it and does not practice it, then he becomes a hypocrite
(munfiq).2 H ikmah must make a person completely dedicated to the
service of truth in every manner, in word as well as in deed.3 In prin-
ciple, h ikmah is not given to anybody on the basis of his family, social
standing, wealth, or physical qualities; rather, God gives h ikmah to
distinguished people, like Luqmn, who was a sincere pious man.4
In order to attain h ikmah, a person must prepare himself through
obligatory and supererogatory deeds, and even then there is no guar-
antee that he will possess this characteristic at the end of his personal
strivings. In other words, h ikmah cannot be attained merely through
personal effort, although those who have attained it have, in all cases,
followed such scrupulous spiritual practice. Scrupulous spiritual prac-
tice is thus a necessary, though not a sufficient condition. On the
other hand, whoever has reached the reality of a spiritual concept and
matured with respect to it, inherits h ikmah whether he is aware of
this fact or not. In this context, it is said that whoever claims that he

Al-Sulam, T abaqt, 261.
Ibid., 387.
Ibid., 483.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 93.
186 chapter ten

is an ascetic in this world in the proper sense of the word, while he

has not been given h ikmah, is a liar.5 Thus a seeker of h ikmah should
strive through the acquisition of epistemological and practical precon-
ditions to make himself existentially ready for this gift. According to
al-Makks report, Yahy b. Mudh (d. 258/872) explains this concen-
tric relationship as follows,
There are many people, but the knowledgeable ones (ulam) among
them are few; there are many knowledgeable people, but the compre-
hending ones (fuqah) among them are few; there are many compre-
hending people, but the h ukam among them are few. The speech of
knowledgeable people makes the eyes cry while the speech of h ukam
makes the heart cry.6
It is also said that the speech of the ulam cures sick people, but
the speech of the h ukam gives new life to those who are spiritually
dead. As for the speech of the rifn, it is pleasing to God.7 At the
same time, h ikmah gives an indescribable pleasure and delight to the
gnostic. On the authority of Yahy b. Mudh, al-Makk states that
an rif leaves this world without being satiated with four things: a)
listening to h ikmah, b) being happy (farih ) with God, c) enjoyment
(taladhdhudh) in reciting the Qurn, and d) seeking cure (istishf)
through weeping (buk).8
Ibrhm b. Adham (d. 163/779) relates a conversation between
himself and his elder Sufi fellow, Aslam b. Yazd al-Juhan of Alex-
andria. The latter explains to a young ascetic that a servant can hope
for reward (thawb) from God only after training his soul (nafs) in
patience (sabr), the lowest grade or level of which is training the soul
(nafs) against the probability (ih timl) of its reprehensible quali-
ties (makrih). When the soul of such a servant is likely to become
involved with reprehensible things, God puts a light (nr) in his heart

Ibid., 58. On the authority of al-Kharrz, al-Qushayr reports, Whoever thinks
that he could attain his goal (matlb) through [merely] his personal effort (jahd)
tires himself out in vain, but at the same time, whoever thinks that this would occur
without his own effort hopes idly. Al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 5.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 56. Al-Makk introduces a similar hierarchical classification of
human beings on the basis of their hearts when he states that a h akm heart is one
thousand times better than a knowledgeable (alm) heart; a believing (mumin) heart is
one thousand times better than a submitting (muslim) heart; and a convinced (mqin)
heart is, in turn, one thousand times better than a mumin heart. Ibid., 54.
Ibid., 56.
Ibid., 79.
the merit of h ikmah 187

to allow him to distinguish between right and wrong. Aslam quotes a

saying he attributes to Jesus in this context, Do not give h ikmah to
those who are not worthy (ahl) of it, as they would waste it. But do
not prevent qualified people from it either, since this would be treating
h ikmah unjustly.9
Aslam also advised Ibrhm that when the latter accompanies and
converses with the utmost pious and godly people, he should be very
careful because Gods anger and contentment occur in accordance
with their anger and contentment. These people are h ukam and
ulam and they are content with God; they are very close to Him,
after the prophets and truthful ones (siddqn).10 In order to attain
h ikmah, one is expected to abandon worldly matters completely, for
the light of h ikmah illuminates (istanra) a h akm only after giving
up this world.11 On the authority of Ab Hurayrah, al-Makk asserts
that no one can attain h ikmah merely through an intellectual search.
Rather, if a person practices that which he knows to be good and aban-
dons that which he knows to be evil, h ikmah is with him even if he is
not aware of this fact.12 Al-Makk further states that such a methodol-
ogy of mutual interdependence of knowledge and practice was also in
use among the earlier religious communities before Islam, and in line
with this, the Prophet said,
Whoever practices that which he knows, God bestows upon him knowl-
edge of that which he does not know (man amila bi-m yalamu war-
rathahu Allhu ilma m lam-yalam).13

Al-Sulam, T abaqt, 32. This saying recalls a verse in the New Testament, Mat-
thew 7:6, Do not give dogs what is holy and do not throw your pearls before swine,
lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.
Al-Sulam, T abaqt, 3233.
Ibid., 81. In this regard, al-Makk reports that it was revealed to the prophet
David that any heart that loves this world is prohibited from tasting the pleasant
flavor of h ikmah. Al-Makk, Ilm, 80. Al-Qushayr also talks about such an essential
mystical notion in the context of his exposition on the concept of hunger (j). He
states that j is among the characteristics of the Sufis and one of the pillars of striv-
ing (mujhadah). By means of refraining from eating, the Sufis find the wellsprings
(uyn) of h ikmah in hunger. Al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 72. In order to testify to this
important point, al-Qushayr cites another saying by Sufis which reads, God has
placed five things in five places: honor (izz) in obedience (tah), disgrace (dhull)
in disobedience (masiyah), awe (haybah) in nightly worship (qiym al-layl), h ikmah
in the empty stomach, and wealth (ghin) in contentment (qanah). Al-Qushayr,
al-Risalh, 8182.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 66.
Al-Makk, Qt, 1:285. Relating this essential principle in Sufism to the concept
of h ikmah, al-Qushayr reports on the authority of Ab Uthmn al-H r (d. 298/910),
188 chapter ten

Al-Makk further theorizes the way h ikmah should be sought and

reports from previous authorities saying,
Whoever leaves unlawful things (h arm) for forty days, God creates
springs of h ikmah in his heart and ignites lamps of gnosis (marifah)
in his breast. Such a person becomes an ascetic toward this world, rec-
ognizes its defects, and knows its diseases as well as the treatments for
With respect to their positions regarding ilm and h ikmah, al-Makk
classifies mankind into four categories, depending on their tongues
and hearts: 1) Those whose tongues are knowledgeable but whose
hearts are ignorant, which is the situation of impudent (fjir) schol-
ars. 2) Those whose hearts are knowledgeable but whose tongues are
ignorant, which is the situation of God-conscious scholars. 3) Those
whose tongues and hearts both are knowledgeable, which is the situa-
tion of lordly, or godly (rabbn) scholars whose number is not many.
4) Those whose tongues and hearts both are ignorant, which repre-
sent the group from which every believer should stay away, as the
Prophet declared, Be a scholar (lim), a learner (mutaallim), a lis-
tener (mustami), or a lover [of knowledge] (muh ibb); and do not be
a fifth, lest you perish.15 Some scholars argued that this fifth group
represents those who dislike scholars.16
For Sufis, h ikmah is a noble characteristic that cannot be found or
reached effortlessly.17 Those who aspire to attain h ikmah should first
practice properly the notions of lengthening silence (tl al-samt) and
speaking only as much as necessary (al-kalm al qadr al-h jah).18
Al-Qushayr emphasizes this fundamental point, reporting, The Sufis

The murd is one who, when he hears something of the Sufi sciences and acts accord-
ingly, this (his hearing and practice) becomes a h ikmah in his heart, from which he
benefits until the end of his life. Al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 102.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 63. In the same context, al-Makk reports a saying by earlier
h ukam that, If a person becomes an ascetic toward this world, God appoints in his
heart an angel who plants h ikmah there just as anyone among yourselves plants trees
in his garden. Ibid., 63.
Ibid., 105106.
Ibid., 106.
In the context of the Qurnic verse 42:19, God is All-Gentle (latf) to His ser-
vants, providing for whomsoever He wills (yarzuqu man yash); He is the All-Strong,
All-Mighty, al-Makk relates an interpretation by al-Qsim b. Sallm (d. 224/838).
The latter says that God provides h ikmah and perspicacity (fitnah) for whomever He
wills and He does not give these generously to everyone. Ibid., 52.
Ibid., 53. In the same manner, al-Kharrz emphasizes the significance of the con-
cept of shortening ones expectations (qasr mal) in the mystical life when he says,
the merit of h ikmah 189

(h ukam) have inherited h ikmah by means of silence (samt) and con-

templation (tafakkur).19 H ikmah may then be reached through and
within a totality of other religious notions necessary for a decent spiri-
tuality, as Jesus said,
Certainty (yaqn) is the life (h ayh) of faith (mn) and h ikmah is the
light of the heart. H ikmah without yaqn, yaqn without God-conscious-
ness (taqw), and taqw without renunciation (zuhd) [of] this world
are impossible; and the key to all these are supplication (tadarru) and
invocation (du). How then could a door be opened to you without
a key?20
Sufis elucidate the epistemological and practical preconditions of
mystical concepts, asserting that seven things are naturally and exclu-
sively found in seven types of people. If someone finds one of these
things in anyone other than these people, his finding is based on false-
hood (btil). Sufis list the notions and their natural holders as follows:
a) H ikmah in ascetics (zhidn), b) listening (sam) in passionate
lovers (shiqn), c) sadness (h uzn) in those who long (mushtqn),
d) weeping (buk) in those who are aggrieved (mah znn), e) humil-
ity (dhull) in lovers (muh ibbn), f) annihilation (fan) in gnostics
(rifn), and g) allegory (ishrah) in finders (wjidn).21
The following report is noteworthy as a detailed allegorical explana-
tion of mystical terms and their semantic connotations with respect to
one another, as well as to their respective concepts. Yahy b. Mudh
describes the subtle psychological process of the spiritual progress
within a Sufi allegorically, saying,
In the heart of a gnostic (rif), there are ten gardens (bastn): a) the
garden of the declaration of Gods unity (tawh d), b) the garden of cer-
titude (yaqn), c) the garden of gnosis (marifah), d) the garden of love
(mah abbah), e) the garden of knowledge (ilm), f) the garden of forbear-
ance (h ilm), g) the garden of the path (sabl) [to God] together with the
Sunnah, h) the garden of humbleness (tawdu) together with devout-
ness (khush), i) the garden of the lawful (h all), and j) the garden of
generosity (sakhwah). The rif should go into these gardens and pluck
out that which does not fit there. First, he goes into the garden of tawh d
and if he sees there any doubt (shakk), hypocrisy (nifq), or ostentation

In fact, asceticism with regard to this world means shortening ones expectations.
Al-Kharrz, 73.
Al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 63.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 53.
Ibid., 5354.
190 chapter ten

(riy), he plucks it out and throws it away. Second, he goes into the
garden of yaqn and if he sees any greed (h irs) or expectation (amal)
there, he plucks it out and throws it away. Third, he goes into the garden
of marifah and if he sees any anthropomorphism (tashbh), likening
(tamthl) or denial [of Gods attributes] (taattu l) there, he plucks it out
and throws it away. Fourth, he goes into the garden of love and if he sees
any preoccupation with things other than God (ishtighl bi-al-aghyr),
or pleasure from the creation (h alwat al-khalq) and habitation (diyr)
there, he plucks it out and throws it away. Fifth, he goes into the garden
of ilm and if he sees any ignorance (jahl) there he plucks it out and
throws it away. Sixth, he goes into the garden of h ilm and if he sees any
anger (ghadab), overzealousness (h amiyyah), treachery (khiynah), or
incapacity (ajz) there, he plucks it out and throws it away. Seventh, he
goes into the garden of the Sunnah and if he sees any innovation (bidah)
or deviation (zaygh) there, he plucks it out and throws it away. Eighth,
he goes into the garden of the lawful (h all) and if he sees any unlawful
(h arm) or doubtful thing there, he plucks it out and throws it away.
And ninth, he goes into the garden of sakh and if he sees any stinginess
(bukhl) or greediness (tam) there, he plucks it out and throws it away.22
While the gardens are allegorical, they demonstrate that there are
actions that go along with the states, just as for the h akm, there are
social responsibilities in the society in which he lives, for he is expected
to lead his society in a better direction through his exemplary personal
behavior. He should be the first to practice whatever he advises people
around him to do. He is expected to facilitate things for his commu-
nity, even at the expense of his own suffering. On the authority of
Ruwaym b. Ahmad al-Baghdd (d. 303/915), al-Sulam reports,
Part of the defining quality (min h ukm) of a h akm is to make things
easier (yuwassi) with respect to rules (ah km) for his brothers, while
restraining himself strictly (yudayyiq al nafsihi f-h); because being
tolerant toward his brothers means following knowledge, while being
restrictive toward himself is a part of the defining quality of scrupulous-
ness (min h ukm al-wara).23
In the same manner, one of the basic characteristics of a Sufi master
is being a h akm himself and dealing with the matters of his disciples
and community with h ikmah.24 The Prophet emphasizes the potential

Ibid., 6365. Al-Makk does not mention the garden of tawdu in the second
part of his list.
Al-Sulam, T abaqt, 181. See also, al-Qushayr, al-Risalh, 22.
Al-Sulam, Tisat kutub, 143150. In this regard, relying on previous authorities,
al-Sulam says, The sign of h ikmah is the knowledge of the portions measured out to
people (marifat aqdr al-ns). Al-Sulam, T abaqt, 193.
the merit of h ikmah 191

functions of a h akm when he says, Come close to a h akm, for you

will find in him that which you want.25
Being insightful, sharp and able to choose the best course of action
in the face of difficulty and ambiguity are among the most essential
characteristics of a h akm. Ibn Masd (d. 31/651) is reported to have
asserted that whoever responds to every question that people ask
him is a foolish person. A h akm is supposed to possess discernment
(fitn ah) and know the capacity of each person, so that he can address
him/her in proportion to his/her understanding and intelligence. Thus
a h akm reveals that which is appropriate to make public and conceals
that which it is not appropriate to reveal.26
Those who possess h ikmah acquire an instinctive characteristic
through it and this attribute makes them venerable figures in the eyes
of their people. On the authority of al-Tustar, al-Makk relates,
The scholars (ulam) of the Israelites got together and said, Indeed we
have learned knowledge (ilm), but we have not increased on account of
it in reverence (haybah), h ikmah, or in scrupulousness (wara). There-
upon, God sent a revelation to the prophet of that time and instructed him
to tell them, Indeed I grant reverence (haybah) during the hours before
daybreak (ash r), while you are asleep; I send h ikmah out in an empty
stomach, while you are full; and I distribute God-consciousness (taqw)
and scrupulousness in the companionship of God-conscious people (f
suh bat al-atqiy), while you are separated from them (mufriqn).27
According to a h adth describing the Prophets miraculous night jour-
ney (Isr), the people of the previous prophets were granted specific
heavenly gifts and of the gifts given to the people of Muhammad is
h ikmah. The h adth depicts a scene in the Isr in which the Prophet
asks God the following question,
O my God, you gave knowledge (ilm) to David and Solomon; right
guidance (rushd) to Abraham; proof (furqn) and light (diy) to Moses
and Aaron; and clear signs (bayyint) to Jesus, the son of Mary, whom

Ibid., 52.

Ibid., 73. Al-Makk also reports that some earlier authorities said, Seven things

are wasted in seven situations: 1) A h akm among ignorant people who do not listen
to his h ikmah and uphold his sanctity (h urmah); 2) A lamp in the light of the sun; 3)
A delicious meal presented to a drunk person; 4) A beautiful woman married to an
impotent man (innn); 5) A person who has a nice voice but sings in a graveyard; 6)
The writing of a pencil [but] with a poor handwriting; 7) Soft speech conducted by a
hostile and jealous person. Ibid., 74.
Ibid., 103.
192 chapter ten

You confirmed with the Holy Spirit. You favored the people (ummah) of
Moses over the other scholars of their time. What is the thing that You
have given to me and to my people? God replied, O Muhammad, I have
given the Seven Oft-Repeated (saban min al-mathn)28 and the mighty
Qurn to you and h ikmah to your people; whoever is given h ikmah has
indeed been given much good.29
The fact that h ikmah is given particularly to the people of Muhammad,
however, does not exclude the possibility that it can also be found
among some other peoples. Sufis believe that h ikmah should be sought
and taken from every source, regardless of its possessors. Al-Makk
relates a saying that sets the principle of this matter as,
Take gold from stone (h ajar), pearls (lulu) from the sea, musk from
skin, pearls (durr) from an oyster (sadaf), and h ikmah from anyone who
says it, even if he might not be worthy of it, as many a shot is without
a (skilled) marksman.30
On the authority of Dh al-Nn, al-Makk relates that during one of
his expeditions, the former saw a huge stone, on which the follow-
ing statement was written, How do you seek the knowledge of that
which you do not know while you do not practice that which you do
know? Upon seeing this report, Dh al-Nn said to himself, Take
it (this expression) as a h ikmah.31 Al-Makk also records an anecdote
regarding the permissibility of taking h ikmah even from an unbeliever.
According to the story, two companions of the Prophet, H udhayfah b.
al-Yamn and Salmn al-Fris, once met an unbelieving woman and
asked her if she knew of a clean place for them to pray. The woman
responded to their request saying, Clean your heart [first], then pray
wherever you wish. H udhayfah and Salmn looked at each other and

The phrase saban min al-mathn is regarded to be one of the names of the
Ftih ah, which consists of seven verses.
Al-Makk, Ilm, 4950. Al-Makk further elucidates his points in this context,
stating that Luqmn was given a heavenly option to choose between prophethood and
h ikmah and chose h ikmah over prophethood. The prophet Solomon was also given
a heavenly option to choose between having a kingdom (mulk), knowledge (ilm),
or intellect (aql). He chose knowledge, but was given a kingdom as well. As for the
prophet Muhammad, he was given to choose between wealth (ghin) and poverty
(faqr). He chose poverty over wealth and said, I am hungry one day and full on
the following day; I live as a poor man and will be resurrected among poor people.
Ibid., 55.
Ibid., 50.
Ibid., 8990.
the merit of h ikmah 193

said, Take a h akmah word (kalimah) [even] from the heart of an

unbelieving woman.32

Early Sufi works mention h ikmah in the context of their episte-
mological constructs, at the same time treating h ikmah as a practi-
cal concept and arguing that one cannot sufficiently understand or
actualize h ikmah without attending to its practice. I have discussed
the arguments of al-H asan al-Basr and Jafar al-Sdiq, conceptual-
ized the formulations of early Sufi exegetical works, particularly those
of al-Thawr, al-Tustar, al-Sulam, al-Thalab and al-Qushayr, and
reviewed the merits of h ikmah in those works, while emphasizing
the need to understand the use of h ikmah within its context and in
relation to the Qurn. Indeed the notion of h ikmah in early Sufi
works can only be understood within a network of related concepts;
it cannot be dealt with as an individual term in an atomistic manner
because it does not stand in isolation from other related and com-
plementary concepts. Rather such concepts constitute a highly orga-
nized technical system in a complex network of multiple conceptual
In the early Sufi texts that are available to us, h ikmah appears as an
elusive term that can be defined in multiple ways, exoteric and esoteric.
The inward meanings spring from and grow out of literal statements
in the Qurn and are born in the heart of gnostics in the process of
spiritual purification. Sufi commentators do not maintain that their
interpretations are the only correct explanations; instead, they accept
the possibility of various explanations for the same notion at different
stages of the mystical path. In their view, this occurs in a concen-
tric and complementary manner, though it may look incoherent and
confusing to those who are not familiar with such an epistemological
approach. Within their epistemological viewpoint, Sufi authorities set
general principles for acceptable mystical commentaries. They argue,
for instance, that the inward meaning introduced for a Qurnic state-
ment may not be contradictory to the outward sense of that passage,
there should be an additional supporting attestation (shhid) from
corroborative texts to justify such an understanding, and there should

Ibid., 51.
194 chapter ten

not be any obvious religious and intellectual principle opposing that

The pioneering figures of early Sufi Qurn commentary are pri-
marily interested in the practical aspects of h ikmah. Al-H asan and
Jafar associate h ikmah with moral scrupulousness (wara) and full
abandonment of worldly matters (zuhd). They emphasize the strictest
observance of religious commands in sincerity and ascetic retrospec-
tion. In their understanding, h ikmah means a combination of thor-
ough knowledge and practice, for a h akm is expected to prove the
truth and sincerity of his words by means of his actions, since it is
action that leads to eternal salvation. As long as knowledge falls short
of action, they argue, it becomes a burden for the knower, rather than
a light indicating the straight path, which is the original function of
knowledge in Islam.
According to Jafars terminology, h ikmah is closely connected to the
Qurnic concepts of aql and qalb, which determine a persons ulti-
mate response to the divine message. He also highlights the concepts
of forbearance (h ilm), ilm, and amal in his understanding of religion.
In Jafars view, it can only belong to well-deserving people, since ilm
is a product of aql, which is the most precious thing, being the first
spiritual entity created from the light of God. Thus it follows that those
who possess knowledge should be treated with the utmost respect in
Muslim society. This privileged status places an enormous responsibil-
ity on men of knowledge, who may not be excused for certain small
mistakes for which ordinary people might normally be pardoned and
must not misuse their ilm, rather they should complete it by practic-
ing it diligently; this is the original mission of a h akm. Similar expla-
nations for the concept of h ikmah can also be attested in the writings
of al-Thawr, al-Tustar, al-Sulam, al-Thalab and al-Qushayr.
According to al-Tustars narration, the Prophet stated that the
Qurn is Gods h ikmah among His servants. The Prophet likened
the religious condition of people who learn the Qurn and put its
instructions into practice to prophethood, with the exception that they
do not receive further revelation (wah y). With respect to the level of
their spiritual station and otherworldly reward, they are treated like
the prophets except that they do not carry out prophetic missions.
On the authority of previous scholars, al-Tustar explains the Qurnic
h ikmah, in a variety of ways, as the Qurn itself, understanding the
Qurn, intellect, prophethood, comprehension in religious matters,
the merit of h ikmah 195

following the Messenger of God, fear of God, and the like. In the final
analysis, al-Tustar understands h ikmah as a combination of the sci-
ences beneficial to humankind.
Al-Makk, on the other hand, states that God gave prophethood to
distinguished individuals among the people of purity and completed
the institution of prophethood and closed its door with the Prophet
Muhammad. God also gave Luqmn h ikmah, though He keeps its door
unreservedly open until the Day of Resurrection. Al-Makk asserts that
h ikmah is one of the great Divine blessings given to mankind and
that it should be sought through ascetic practices, including hunger
and thirst. The knowledge of h ikmah cannot be obtained by means of
conventional instruction or knowledge from books, rather it must be
attained through good deeds, which establish an intimate and special
relationship between a servant and God, who places h ikmah in the
servants purified and sincere heart as a result of the latters super-
erogatory esoteric practices.
Al-Sulam lists similar definitions of the word h ikmah in the Qurn
and asserts that it also refers to a light that distinguishes God-given
inspiration from evil insinuations. He reports that h ikmah means ilm,
h ilm, aql, and marifah, and that it was only after diligent efforts to
humble their (prideful) selves (nufs) that h ikmah began to influence
early Sufi masters. The intrinsic relationship between the notions of
h ikmah and aql is further attested in a Prophetic statement that draws
a parallel between the level of the intelligibility or comprehensibility of
the prophetic discourse with the intellectual level of the people receiv-
ing that message. According to al-Sulams writings, depending on the
spiritual levels of different Sufis, h ikmah speaks to the hearts of gnostics
(rifn), ascetics (zhidn), worshippers (ubbd), seekers (murdn),
and men of knowledge (ulam) by means of the tongue of confirma-
tion (tasdq), preference (tafdl), success (tawfq), reflection (tafakkur),
and remembrance (tadhakkur), respectively. Al-Sulam concludes that
one cannot be characterized as h akm until one becomes h akm in
ones actions (afl), words (aqwl), and states (ah wl). Otherwise
such a person would be described as speaking of h ikmah, but not as
being a h akm himself.
In the terminologies of al-Thalab and al-Qushayr, h ikmah is also
positioned between practical (amal) and epistemological or intellec-
tual (ilm) concepts. They treat h ikmah as a central point inherently
related to taqw (God-consciousness), zuhd (asceticism), wara (moral
196 chapter ten

scrupulousness), akhlq (good morals), and ibdt (acts of worship),

on the one hand, and with ilhm (inspiration), kashf (unveiling),
marifah (gnosis or intuitive perception), sirr (secret), and haqqah
(reality), on the other. Practical notions, they assert, constitute starting
points from which one can work to harvest epistemological fruits.
Throughout my discussions of the concept of h ikmah, I have also
underscored that unlike the discursively-oriented epistemologies of
Muslim theologians (mutakallimn) and philosophers (falsifah), the
Sufis introduce other means of knowledge, including and especially
the heart (qalb). Sufis mention various divisions of the human organs
of perception and their functions; these go far beyond the limitations
assigned to them by theologians and philosophers. Sufis discuss the
various kinds of Divine support (light) given to these organs along
the spiritual path and introduce additional divisions that make clear
categorization extremely difficult.
In the pages of early Sufi manuals and treatises h ikmah emerges as
a theoretical and practical concept, in its epistemological origin and
function, h ikmah relies strictly on religious and spiritual acts of wor-
ship. Al-Muhsib, for instance, elucidates h ikmah within a network
of associated epistemological and practical concepts and records that
on the spiritual journey, h ikmah corresponds to the state of hitting
upon the truth (isbat al-sawb). It is in this state that the True (h aqq)
reveals Himself to the heart of the servant. The former imparts h ikmah
and the insight of guidance in the latters heart and intellect, respec-
tively. In this manner, He enables the servant to comprehend Him.
Thus, h ikmah is existentially preconditioned by other spiritual actions;
silence (samt) is the primary path to attaining h ikmah.
In al-H akm al-Tirmidhs terminology, h ikmah appears as a multi-
valent or polysemous term that contains numerous different meanings
simultaneously, as well as levels of meaning. He himself uses the term
h akm to refer to philosophers, Sufis, and the Qurnic Luqmn.
The aforementioned authors argue that h ikmah is a magnificent
heavenly gift awarded only to a small number of distinguished peo-
ple, but that it is also an immense responsibility. Early Sufi theoreti-
cians assert that, being a very noble thing, h ikmah cannot be found or
reached effortlessly. A seeker of h ikmah must acquire the requisite epis-
temological and practical preconditions to make himself existentially
prepared to receive this gift, for h ikmah can be reached only through
the obligatory and supererogatory acts of worship that are indispens-
the merit of h ikmah 197

able to a decent spiritual life. In the final analysis, nevertheless, there is

no deterministic relationship between h ikmah and personal strivings.
Those who have been rewarded by God with h ikmah should in turn
speak and act meticulously in agreement with this exclusive gift, a gift
that by its nature requires compliance to its demands. In this manner,
elucidators of Sufi doctrines conclude that h ikmah renders a person
completely dedicated to the service of truth in every manner, in word
as well as in deed.
Part four


The word h ikmah has a wide range of connotations in Islamic phil-

osophical literature. Its semantic setting goes beyond falsafah in the
sense of Hellenistic philosophy, as h ikmah is considered to contain all
knowledge within the reach of man, and in this context, also tran-
scends ilm (science).1 In the formative period of their scholarly disci-
plines, the Muslims received a Greek intellectual heritage that did not,
in fact, make a definitive distinction between philosophy and science.
Many eminent Greek sages, including Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and
Aristotle, were described by intellectuals writing in Arabic as h ukam,
meaning equally scientists and philosophers. Alongside this general
convention, however, historians of Islamic philosophy ascribed h ikmah
exclusively to those sages whose knowledge and actions together con-
formed to the moral and religious principles outlined in the authorita-
tive religious texts; they did not view philosophy as idle speculation or
the mere exercising of thought, since, if that were the case, they would
have described every person engaged in thinking as a h akm.

Such an inclusive usage of h ikmah may also be illustrated by the names of the ear-
liest scholarly institution of Muslims, namely the Bayt al-h ikmah (House of h ikmah)
the Khiznat al-h ikmah (Storehouse of h ikmah) being its initial formfounded at
215/830 in Baghdad by the Abbsid caliph al-Mamn (r. 198218/813833). Accord-
ing to the report of Ibn al-Nadm (d. 379/990), this institution functioned as a scien-
tific research center, library, and translation office. Ibn al-Nadm, 353356. The word
h ikmah in this usage indicates that, from its first usages, Muslims understood h ikmah
as a comprehensive concept related to every kind of intellectual activityincluding
philosophyin quest for truth. For a discussion on the political objectives behind
the establishment of the Bayt al-h ikmah and its relation to the translation movement
from Greek into Arabic, see Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic
Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early Abbsid Society (2nd4th/8th10th cen-
turies) (London, 1998), 5360. In this work Gutas minimizes the significance of the
Bayt al-h ikmah in the intellectual activites of the Abbsids and considers it as merely
a bureau-like library that functioned as a small office for translations only for works
of Sasanian history and culture from Persian into Arabic; otherwise, in Gutas view,
the Bayt al-h ikmah was not worthy to be called a scholarly institution, or a compre-
hensive translation office. For a detailed bibliographical analysis of the translations
and the translators of this movement, see Gerhard Endress, Die wissenschaftliche
Literatur, Grundriss der Arabischen Philologie 2 (1987): 400506, and 3 (Supplement)
(1992): 3152.
200 part four

Part iv investigates the concept of h ikmah in early Islamic philo-

sophical writings, focusing especially on the earliest Muslim philoso-
phers reception and conception of philosophy in its particular relation
to h ikmah as it is mentioned in the primary authoritative Muslim scrip-
tures. In this context, I consult the earliest works of Muslim authors
on the beginning of philosophy in Greek antiquity and its journey to
early Islamic times. This includes an analysis of the inner formative
forces that led Muslim intellectuals to become interested in Greek phi-
losophy and its leading figures. As case studies, I examine the writ-
ings of three major Muslim philosophers from the formative period
of Islamic philosophy, namely al-Kind (d. ca. 260/873), al-Frb (d.
339/950), and Ibn Sn (d. 428/1037), whose discussions I consider
to be quite representative with respect to the earliest Muslim philoso-
phers perception of philosophy in relation to Islamic h ikmah. How did
they treat philosophy in reference to Qurnic and prophetic h ikmah?
How did they envision and situate themselves in comparision with the
personalities of earlier philosophical traditions? What were their pri-
mary motives for entering into philosophical inquiry? And what were
the main objectives that they hoped to achieve through philosophical
investigation? To find satisfactory answers to such questions, I con-
centrate principally on their arguments concerning metaphysics (al-
falsafah al-l or al-ilm al-ilh), in which these philosophers identify
philosophy as Islamic h ikmah more clearly.
With regard to strictly philosophical studies in Arabic, there is no
doubt that the origins of falsafah are purely Greek, for the philosophi-
cal activities of the Muslim intellectuals begin with the translations
of Greek philosophical texts into Arabic. These translations came into
existence either through direct renderings from Greek, or from inter-
mediary works in Syriac, occasionally also from Middle Persian. In
such a context, philosophical inquiry was regarded by falsifah as the
continuation of mankinds everlasting search for truth. As is attested
in the following pages, this universal and undying character of philo-
sophical truth was the most attractive dimension of falsafah activities
to Muslim thinkers in this formative period. In their inquiries, Muslim
intellectuals considered their efforts to attain such a sublime truth to be
in line and in harmony with the Qurnic notion of h ikmah, the search
for which, moreover, was strongly recommended by the Prophet by
any reasonable means possible.2

According to al-Mubashshir b. Ftiks statement, it was this prophetic encour-
agement (H ikmah is the stray camel of the believer [dllat al-mumin]; he takes it
h ikmah in early philosophical literature 201

In the views of Muslim thinkers, attaining this h ikmah was man-

kinds most prestigious achievement, irrespective of religious or eth-
nic background. From this perspective, none of the earliest Muslim
philosophers whose works I have consulted in this part of the book
ascribe falsafah to a particular prophetic tradition. Their conception
of falsafah is not limited to any religious group; that is, they do not
discuss a distinctively Islamicas opposed to Christian or Jewish
philosophy, but only a philosophy of mankind.3 These philosophers, at
the same time, openly profess their religious convictions to be Islamic,
and they do not see any serious conflict between their philosophical
inquiries and Qurnic revelation; on the contrary, they see them as

wherever he finds it) that motivated him to collect the wise sayings of earlier sages.
Al-Mubashshir b. Ftik, Mukhtr al-h ikam wa-mah sin al-kalim, ed. Abd al-Rahmn
Badaw (Beirut, 1980), 12. According to Muslim thinkers, the principle of welcoming
h ikmah wherever it comes from was also prevalent among the ancient philosophers.
Aristotle, for instance, is reported to have said, Take the pearl from the oyster of the
sea, the gold from the earth, and h ikmah from whoever says it. Al-Mubashshir, 209.
For an overview of the intellectual centers of the Greeks in the Near and Middle East
at the time of the rise of Islam in the seventh century, see Ian R. Netton, The Origins
of Islamic Philosophy, Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy, eds. B. Carr and
I. Mahalingam (London, 1997). In this regard, Netton underlines three main centers
of intellectual activity: Alexandria, primarily for philosophical studies; Jundi-Shpr
for medical studies; and H arrn for Neoplatonic and astral studies. Netton, The Ori-
gins of Islamic Philosophy, 842846. For an examination of the historical situation
with regard to the relationship between Greek thought and the Christian Church in
this region at the dawn of Islam, see Richard Walzer, Islamic Philosophy, Greek into
Arabic: Essays on Islamic Philosophy (Cambridge, MA, 1962), 129.
If we approach the history of Arabic/Islamic philosophy from this perspective, the
whole controversial question of whether we should refer to it exclusively as Arabic
or Islamic would be on more solid ground for scholarly discussion. Gutas criticizes
Corbins understanding of the philosophical activities in the Muslim lands as Islamic,
on the basis of the latters argument that this philosophy was linked innately to the
Muslim mind. See Henry Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy, trans. Liadain Sherrard
(London, 1993). Gutas himself does not agree with this argument and asserts that we
should use the word Arabic, not Islamic, to designate this philosophical tradition.
He reminds us of the contributions of non-Muslim philosophical figures and argues
that we should base our designation on the language which was the means of philo-
sophical expression, rather than on the religion itself. Otherwise, Gutas adds, we could
reduce Arabic philosophy to Islamic theology and mysticism. See Gutas, The Study of
Arabic Philosophy. Throughout my discussions in this chapter, I use the term Islamic
philosophy in a more general cultural sense, meaning that the founding fathers of this
intellectual tradition belong to the civilization called Islamic, despite the fact that
it includes many non-Muslim contributers, such as H unayn b. Ishq, Qust b. Lq,
and Yahy b. Ad. By this term, I refer to what Marshall Hodgson (The Venture of
Islam, vol. 1 [Chicago, 1974]) means by the term Islamicate, referring to the culture
or civilization, rather than to the religion itself. But since I am not entirely comfort-
able adopting Hodgsons term, I use Islamic instead, within the reserved semantic
framework explained here.
202 part four

If one is to relate their conception of philosophical knowledge to

revelation, one might argue that Muslim philosophers conceptualize
two kinds of h ikmahs; one being prophetic or sacred, the other philo-
sophic or intellectual. The first is purely and directly God-given, for
personal intellectual efforts do not lead to this h ikmah. The second is
dependent to a certain extent upon personal intellectual effort, but as
al-Frb and Ibn Sn point out, as we see in the following pages, the
attainment of this kind of h ikmah is dependent ultimately on a God-
given personal intellectual capacity. Thus even for this second kind
of h ikmah, intellectual effort is a necessary but not sufficient cause,
because in the final analysis, one must have an inborn gift. This being
the case, both kinds of h ikmah are directly or indirectly God-given
and this idea thus confirms the Qurnic principle outlined in 2:269,
namely that it is God who gives h ikmah to whomever He wills.4
In the previous part, I mentioned a comparison made by Muslim
scholars between the concepts of prophethood and h ikmah. I cited
their argument that God gave prophethood to distinguished individu-
als among the people of purity, then to the Prophet Muhammad, then
He closed these doors. H ikmah alone, they argued, was given by God
to Luqmn and since then He has kept its door unreservedly open
until the day of resurrection. Such a conception of h ikmah is echoed
in the writings of historians of Muslim philosophy, as they recurrently
associate the beginning of philosophy with Luqmn.
While the origins of falsafah are purely Greek, the main character-
istics of this newly received heritage underwent some modifications in
the process of its transmission from the original Greek ideas to those
of Islamic times. In part, this occurred at the hands of the later Greek
commentators on the ancient philosophical figures, especially in the
Neoplatonic schools of Athens and Alexandria in the fifth and sixth
centuries b.c. In the case of Aristotle, for instance, his philosophy
was subject to the Neoplatonic melting pot, and a number of works
that reached Arabic-speaking thinkers were erroneously attributed to
him, namely the Theology of Aristotle and the Elements of Theology,

In this context, Plato is reported to have said, One of the things that facilitate a
mans quest for wisdom (talab al-h ikmah) is the assistance [given to him] by fortune
(bakht). By fortune I do not mean that whose cause is unknown [i.e., luck], but I
mean the divine fortune (al-bakht al-rubb) [i.e., divine causation] only, which illu-
minates the intellect (aql) and guides it toward essential natures of things. Quoted in
Gutas, Greek Wisdom Literature in Arabic Translation, 122.
h ikmah in early philosophical literature 203

composed by Plotinus and Proclus, respectively.5 These Neoplatonic

commentators interpreted Aristotles philosophy in line with that of
Plato and considered the purpose of these two great philosophers to
be the same. This argument of reconciliation found support in the
Muslim lands, as can be seen in al-Frbs work, al-Jam bayn rayay
al-h akmayn Afltn al-ilh wa-Aristtls (The Harmony between the
views of the divine Plato and Aristotle), in which the author argues
not only that the two primary philosophical authorities agree with one
another, but also that philosophical convictions do not necessarily dis-
agree with religious doctrines. Such a tendency resulted in the belief
that true philosophy and religion do not contradict one another and
that ultimately philosophy was the intellectual expression of religious
beliefs. They merely use two different modes of expression.6
Another misleading impression received by Arabic-speaking phi-
losophers with regard to the Greek philosophical heritage occurred at
the hands of translators. The majority of the earliest translators were
Christian Syrians, who were more physicians than philosophers. They
projected their own religious considerations into their translations.
H unayn b. Ishq (d. 260/873) for instancefollowing other Eastern
Christian translatorsis said to have eliminated all traces of paganism
from the works of the ancients. Throughout their renderings, these
translators simply replaced the pagan gods with the one God and
His angels of the monotheistic religions.7 They further transformed
the pagan tradition of believing in the eternity of the world into a

For an overview of the scholarship on the description of Aristotle as interpreted by
the Arabs and of the important texts of Aristotle, including pseudo-Aristotelian writ-
ings, see Hans Daiber, Salient Trends of the Arabic Aristotle, The Ancient Tradition
in Christian and Islamic Hellenism: Studies on the Transmission of Greek Philosophy and
Sciences, eds. Gerhard Endress and Remke Kruk (Leiden, 1997): 2941. For a survey
of the wide-ranging texts of classical antiquity translated into Arabic during the earli-
est period of the translation movement, see Rosenthal, The Classical Heritage in Islam,
trans. Emile and Jenny Marmorstein (London, 1975). For the same topic, see also
Badaw, La Transmission de la Philosophie Grecque au Monde Arabe (Paris, 1987).
One might include the Hermetic writings in the same category. Muslim think-
ers became aware of these writings mainly through the translations and expositions
of Thbit b. Qurrah (d. 288/901) and his son Sinn. Thbit was a member of the
H arrnian Sbians whose religion, in addition to Hermeticism, was an eclecticism
consisting of the heathen and astral religion of Syria mixed with some Hellenic and
Persian elements. This Hermetic corpus also contributed to the idea that religion and
philosophy teach the same fundamental principles. For this subject matter see, A. E.
Aff, The Influence of Hermetic Literature on Moslem Thought, Bulletin of the School
of Oriental and African Studies, 13, no. 4 (1951): 840855.
Gotthard Strohmaier, H unayn b. Ishq, EI.
204 part four

monotheistic creationism.8 Accordingly, Muslim philosophers initially

received a kind of artificially unified Greek tradition, particularly
through Syriac intermediaries. In this regard, thanks to its highly inclu-
sive nature, Neoplatonism provided for Muslims a system of thought
compatible with fundamental monotheistic religious principles. It took
the falsifah some time, though not too long, to clarify the authentic
philosophical personalities and ideas of the Greek antiquity.
In the earliest days of their reception of the Greek philosophical
heritage, the falsifah, in general, regarded Empedocles, Pythagoras,
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as five pillars of h ikmah and this h ikmah
was, in their view, originally derived from the prophetic niche (mishkt
al-nubuwwah). They recurrently characterized these ancient philoso-
phers with praiseworthy religious terms, including h akm (in the case
of all five personalities), zhid (i.e., ascetic, in the case of Socrates),
and ilh (i.e., divine, in the case of Plato). Both Plato and Aristotle,
for instance, are said to have talked constantly about God and the
necessity of being in His service by way of worshipping, thanking,
and praising Him with utmost conscientiousness.9 Accordingly, the
falsifah believed that the primary motive of the earliest philosophers
in establishing falsafah was religiously oriented, for the former were
trying to reach the knowledge of the utmost principle/s of beings cre-
ated by God (mabda/mabdi al-mawjdt allat khalaqah Allh).10
This belief is also self-evident in the attitude of the philosophers; unlike
their eager embrace of metaphysical ideas to establish the existence
of God philosophically, they did not, in general, work intensely to
articulate the atheistic (dahr) arguments of the past. What Muslim
thinkers received was, then, a kind of eclecticism consisting of diverse
Greek philosophical schools and religious ideas of the East that existed
before the appearance of Islam. Gradually, when the translation move-
ment was relatively mature, Muslims attained a better understanding
of the Greek heritage and became fully aware of its various and dis-
tinct philosophical trends and doctrines. It was only with Ibn Rushd
(d. 595/1198), for instance, that Aristotelian metaphysics was detached
from Neoplatonic emanationist cosmology.

Ab al-H asan Muhammad b. Ysuf al-mir, Kitb al-Amad al al-abad, ed. and
trans. Everett Rowson, American Oriental Series 70 (New Haven, 1988), 41.
Al-Mubashshir, 129130 and 185186, respectively.
Ab Sulaymn al-Sijistn, Muntakhab Siwn al-h ikmah, ed. D. M. Dunlop (The
Hague, 1979), 35.
h ikmah in early philosophical literature 205

Indigenous historians of Arabic philosophy articulate the recep-

tion of the Greek heritage by the earliest Arabic-speaking intellectuals.
Al-mir (d. 381/992), Ab Sulaymn al-Sijistn al-Manti q (d. ca.
377/988), Ibn Juljul (d. ca. 385/996), Sid al-Andalus (d. 462/1070),
al-Qift (646/1248), and Ibn Ab Usaybiah (d. 668/1270) are among
the leading historians in this connection. Their works use the term
h ukam generically, in the sense of sages, non-Muslim and Muslim
alike, to describe both the scientists and philosophers of the past. Thus
the h ukam of antiquity are included in the fields of the history of
philosophy, religion, and the sciences all at the same time. But using
this term, it is also obvious that historians of Islamic philosophy put a
special emphasis on the wise personalities and actions of the past, in
addition to their theoretical knowledge.
Chapter eleven

H ikmah in the pre-Islamic Philosophical World

The Five Pillars of H ikmah: H ikmah in the Land of Greece

Two Qurnic figures emerge from the records of Muslim historians of

philosophy with respect to the origins of philosophy, namely Luqmn
and Idrs. The former is affiliated directly with the beginning of the
Greek philosophical heritage, while the latter is identified with Hermes,
who is in fact a much more complicated figure that is related to the
beginning of almost every branch of knowledge. It was a convention
among the earliest translators of Greek philosophical works to render
the Greek word sophia as h ikmah, or to Arabize the whole com-
pound word as falsafah and faylasf. Muslim historians state that
the ancient Greeks used to call their scientists (ulam) falsifah, whose
singular is faylasf, meaning lover of h ikmah (muh ibb al-h ikmah).
These philosophers were the most respected and knowledgeable people
of their time, for they cultivated all the branches of knowledge ( funn
al-h ikmah), including logic, mathematics, and the physical, metaphysi-
cal, and political sciences.1
The earliest extant work by a Muslim author presenting a relatively
full-fledged historical account of the origin of Greek philosophy is
al-mirs al-Amad al al-abad, in which he attempts to justify the
study of philosophy in the Muslim milieu and to reconcile the Greek
philosophical idea of the soul with the Islamic doctrine of the afterlife.2
Al-mir studied under Ab Zayd al-Balkh (d. 322/934), who in turn

Sid b. Ahmad al-Andalus, Kitb Tabaqt al-umam, ed. Louis Cheikho (Beirut,
1912), 2021.
Everett Rowson worked on al-Amad for his Ph.D. dissertation under F. Rosenthal
in Yale University (1982) and then revised, edited, translated, and published it with
a commentary. Throughout this section, my references are to the Arabic text edited
by Rowson; I also compared my own translations to those of Rowson and benefited
from the latter. Rowson sheds light on the historical origins of al-mirs accounts in
Greek and Syriac sources prior to Islam. As my focus is in the reception of the Greek
philosophical heritage by the earliest Muslim intellectuals, rather than in tracing their
arguments back to the Greek or Syriac origins, I do not see a need to reiterate Row-
sons findings.
208 chapter eleven

was one of the most able students of the earliest Muslim philosophi-
cal authority, al-Kind. Al-mirs conception of Greek philosophical
tradition, therefore, is quite representative as regards the approaches
of the earliest Muslim intellectuals to this tradition.
Before delving into the history of Greek philosophy in detail,
al-mir introduces a brief sketch pertaining to the prehistorical
scientific activities of mankind in the Near East. He asserts that the
Babylonians needed the science of astronomy (ilm al-nujm) for agri-
culture and navigation; therefore, they applied themselves to develop-
ing the knowledge of the positions of the stars. The Egyptians needed
a reliable knowledge of geometry to protect their cultivated fields from
the rise of the water of the Nile, so they applied themselves to meth-
ods of measuring the land. The Syrians, meanwhile, were in need of
the science of medicine, because of the frequency of plagues afflicting
the people of that region. For such practical reasons, the peoples of
the Near East improved themselves in particular sciences depending
on their basic daily needs. Al-mir further states that the land of
ancient Greece was next to greater Syria (Shm), and that this region
was also inhabited by the Israelites, who had a long unbroken tradition
of prophethood. As for the people of ancient Greece themselves, they
were idol-worshippers, except for a few individuals who used to visit
the Israelite prophets there to interact with them.3
According to al-mirs reports, the first person to whom people
attributed h ikmah was Luqmn the H akm, mentioned in Qurn 31:12.
He was a contemporary of the prophet David, both of whom lived in
the land of greater Syria (bild al-Shm). It is said that Empedocles
used to keep company with Luqmn and learn from his h ikmah (wis-
dom). When Empedocles returned to Greece, he spoke of this teaching,
but he expressed it in a language that, taken literally, would lead one
to elements that could be understood as conflicting with monotheistic
religious beliefs concerning the Hereafter (mad). The Greeks used to
attribute h ikmah to Empedocles on account of his former affiliation
with Luqmn, and he was the first Greek to be called such.4

Al-mir, 6667. In fact, al-mir describes the Greeks as simply worshippers
(ubbd), but the context implies that their religion was not monotheistic. I have used
the word idol-worshipers on the basis of a further description provided by Sid
al-Andalus, who says they were star-worshipers (muazzi m li-al-kawkib) and idol-
worshipers (din bi-ibdat al-asnm). Al-Andalus, 20.
Al-mir, 70. The convention of associating the earliest Greek philosophical per-
sonalities with Luqmn is followed by later Muslim intellectuals as well. In his Muqad-
h ikmah in the pre-islamic philosophical world 209

Al-mir states that, after Empedocles, Pythagoras was another

Greek personality to whom people attributed h ikmah. Pythagoras
kept company with Solomons disciples in Egypt, who had moved
there from greater Syria. Prior to that, Pythagoras had studied geom-
etry (handasah) under the Egyptians. He then learned the physical
and metaphysical/divine sciences (al-ulm al-tabiyyah wa-al-ulm
al-ilhiyyah) from the disciples of Solomon. Afterward, he returned
to Greece and transferred these three sciences, i.e., geometry, physics,
and the science of religion (ilm al-dn), to that land. In addition, by
virtue of his own brilliance, he discovered the science of melodies and
systematized them under ratios and numbers. He claimed that he had
benefited from the niche of prophethood (mishkt al-nubuwwah) in
acquiring these sciences.5
Al-mir reports that, after Pythagoras, Socrates came to be rec-
ognized as one with h ikmah. Socrates was a follower of Pythagoras.
He specialized in metaphysical sciences (al-malim al-ilhiyyah) and
turned away from worldly pleasures. He publicly proclaimed his dis-
agreement with the Greeks on religion and challenged the leaders of
the polytheists with rational arguments and logical proofs. These lead-
ers provoked the masses against him and forced their king to put him
to death. For the sake of acting in accordance with their demand, the
king merely put Socrates in prison, but ultimately, the king could not
resist their pressure and had Socrates poisoned.6
According to al-mirs accounts, Plato was the next Greek figure
to whom people attributed h ikmah and who embraced the h ikmah
of Pythagoras and Socrates. He was of a noble lineage in his society.
Unlike Socrates, Plato did not limit himself to the metaphysical sci-
ences. Rather, he combined the physical and mathematical sciences
with them. He wrote books, although he used a symbolic and obscure
language in them. Toward the end of his life, he authorized his advanced
and most able students and associates to teach his classes, and isolated

dimah, for instance, Ibn Khaldn mentions that philosophical sciences are said to have
passed from Luqmn the H akm and his pupils to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander
of Aphrodisias, and Themistius, and others in succession. Ibn Khaldn, 3:10881089.
Al-mir, 70. For similar accounts with respect to Pythagoras reception of
h ikmah, see al-Mubashshir, 5255.
Al-mir, 70.
210 chapter eleven

himself from people in order to devote himself exclusively to the wor-

ship of his Lord.7
Al-mir reports that Aristotle succeeded Plato as the next pos-
sessor of h ikmah. He was the teacher of Alexander, who studied under
Plato for approximately twenty years in order to learn h ikmah. Because
of his extraordinary intelligence, people used to call him spiritual
(rh n) in his youth; and, similarly, Plato used to call him intellect
(aql). Aristotle authored books on logic and made them an instrument
of the sciences. On account of this accomplishment, people called him
a logician (sh ib al-mantiq). It was he who organized the topics of
physics and metaphysics and composed a separate book on each topic.
In his time, Alexander firmly established his authority and polytheism
disappeared from the land of the Greeks.8
Al-mir concludes that these five figures were deservingly charac-
terized as h ukam and that no one who came after them was called
h akm. Instead, to every one of them was ascribed an art or a way of
life. For instance, Hippocrates, Homer, and Archimedes were physician
(tabb), poet (shir), and geometer (muhandis), respectively.9
In this context al-mir relates an interesting story indicating the
traditional Islamic conception of h ikmah as a combination of knowl-
edge and action. According to his narration, having composed numer-
ous books, Galen wanted people to attribute h ikmah to him and thus
to call him H akm (Sage) instead of Tabb (Physician). The people
found this request inappropriate, saying that, even though he was

Al-mir, 72. Al-Mubashshir b. Ftik reports that after his master Socrates death,
Plato went to Egypt to learn from the associates of Pythagoras. Then he returned to
Greece and taught his h ikmah. Al-Mubashshir, 126127. Al-Mubashshir also reports
that Aristotle used to express his master Platos h ikmah in a symbolic and obscure
language. He used to speak of it ambiguously so that only those who possess h ikmah
could understand his masters teachings. Al-Mubashshir, 128. Ibn Ab Usaybiah men-
tions a book dealing with the unity of God, entitled Kitb al-Tawh d, in his list of
Platos works. Ibn Ab Usaybiah, Uyn al-anb f tabaqt al-atibb, ed. Nizr Rid
(Beirut, 1965), 86.
Al-mir, 74. See also al-Mubashshir, 178184.
Al-mir, 74. Al-mirs account of the five Greek pillars of h ikmah was quoted
by historians of Muslim intellectual history among the following generations. We find
the same report with minor modifications in Muntakhab Siwn al-h ikmah, which is a
selection of Ab Sulaymn al-Sijistns Siwn al-h ikmaha work that did not reach
us in its original format. In his quotation, al-Sijistn clearly acknowledges his source.
Al-Sijistn, 57. Sid al-Andalus reports the same materials, but without acknowl-
edging his source, neither al-mir nor al-Sijistn. Al-Andalus, 2127. For the same
account, see also al-Shahrastn, 2:72100; Ibn al-Qift, Trkh al-h ukam, ed. Julius
Lippert (Leipzig, 1903), 1517, 2729, 198, 258; Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 6162, 70, 91.
h ikmah in the pre-islamic philosophical world 211

knowledgeable in medical topics, he did not have a firm conviction

in metaphysical matters, for he was still in doubt as to whether or not
the world was created in time, whether or not the Hereafter was real,
and whether the soul was a substance or an accident. They consid-
ered such doubts imperfections that would prevent him from attaining
divine h ikmah and thus from being called h akm in the proper sense of
the word.10 Likewise, al-mir disagrees with his contemporaries, who
attribute h ikmah to Ab Bakr al-Rz (d. ca. 307/925) on the basis of
the latters proficiency in medicine in spite of his erroneous convictions
in metaphysical matters, such as his belief in the five eternal principles.11
Al-mir strengthens his argument with examples, relating that, even
though his own master Ab Zayd al-Balkh was a competent scholar
in numerous kinds of sciences and a true believer in religious matters,
he would not allow anybody to attribute h ikmah to him. Reciting the
Qurnic verse 2:269, al-Balkh would humbly portray himself as an
imperfect person who was not worthy of such a respectful description.
In his view, one had to contemplate deeply the meaning of this verse
before ascribing h ikmah to anyone. Al-mir notes that al-Balkh was
simply following his own teacher, al-Kind, in this respect.12
In addition to the aforementioned historical account, historians of
Greek philosophy in the Arab world also discuss the personal concep-
tions of the h ikmah of those earliest figures. Pythagoras, for instance, is
said to have defined h ikmah as the knowledge of the essential natures
of the things that exist eternally in a single state.13 He used to prevent
his students from writing h ikmah on paper, saying that h ikmah must
be kept alive by way of action and that it is not to be just put in books,14
for, in his view, h ikmah is the medicine of souls (tibb al-arwh ),15 and

Al-mir, 74.

Ibid., 74.
Ibid., 76. On the other hand, in his Kitb f Srat al-falsafiyyah, Ab Bakr al-Rz
describes his personal and professional lifestyle as to be truly compatible with a philo-
sophic way of life and defends himself against some unnamed critics, who apparently
saw certain shortcomings and wrongdoings in al-Rzs lifestyle. Ab Bakr al-Rz,
Kitb f Srat al-falsafiyyah in Rasil al-falsafiyyah, ed. Paul Kraus (Beirut, 1997),
Al-Sijistn, 30.
Ab al-Faraj b. Hind (Ibn Hind), al-Kalim al-rh niyah min al-h ikam
al-Ynniyyah, ed. Muhammad Jalb al-Farhn (Beirut, 2001), 157. Al-Mubashshir
reports the same idea with respect to Socrates, who also did not like to record and
leave h ikmah merely in pages. Al-Mubashshir, 82.
Ibn Hind, 160.
212 chapter eleven

a more praiseworthy thing in Gods presence is the actions (afl ) of a

h akm, not merely his speech (lisn).16 When he himself would speak
of h ikmah, Pythagoras would express it symbolically to conceal it from
undeserving and ignorant people.17
In Islamic primary sources on the Greek philosophical heritage,
Pythagoras is portrayed as a sincere believer in religious and moral
principles. He emphasizes that pure h ikmah belongs solely to God.
According to his understanding, love for h ikmah is dependent on
love for God (mah abbat Allh), and whoever loves God acts in accor-
dance with the way He loves things to be. Whoever acts in such a
manner thus comes close to God, and whoever comes close to Him
has attained eternal salvation.18 As with his role model Empedocles,
Pythagoras believed that, above this physical world, there exists a spiri-
tual world (lam rh n), a world of light (nrn), whose beauty and
splendor cannot be apprehended by intellect (aql ) alone, though the
pure soul (al-nafs al-zakiyyah) longs for it. A person may be endowed
with access to the spiritual world only after purifying his soul from all
blameworthy moral characteristics, such as vanity, arrogance, hypoc-
risy, envy, and the like. Only then may such a person become worthy
of the knowledge of the spiritual world and divine h ikmah (al-h ikmah
Similarly, according to the records of Muslim historians, Socrates
spoke of h ikmah only symbolically20 and defined it as, the means
(lit., ladder, sullam) to reach God.21 Following Pythagoras, he did not
approve of writing h ikmah on the page, out of respect for its sacred
purity. In his view, such an action could result in passing h ikmah on
to undeserving people.22
As for Platos conception of h ikmah, it was not any different from
that of Pythagoras or Socrates. He defined h ikmah as the light of the
soul (diy al-nafs),23 and said, A person who only speaks of h ikmah is

Al-Mubashshir, 62.
Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 63.
Al-Mubashshir, 62.
Al-Andalus, 22. See also, Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 6162.
Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 71.
Ibn Hind, 167. For the same account see, al-Mubashshir, 91.
Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 7071.
Al-Mubashshir, 130.
h ikmah in the pre-islamic philosophical world 213

not a h akm, but rather, the h akm is one who puts h ikmah into action.24
Like his master Socrates, Plato embraced the teachings of Pythagoras,
but he did not become well-known for his h ikmah until after the death
of his teacher, even though he was a man of noble origin and his family
was famous for its scholars. He was knowledgeable in all the branches
of philosophy and wrote many illustrious books on metaphysical and
physical subjects. He used to lecture his students while walking, on
account of which they became known as Peripatetics or pedestrians
(mashshn). As noted above, toward the end of his life, he authorized
his most able students and associates to teach his classes and isolated
himself from people to devote his life to the worship of his Lord.25
In addition to the epistemological or philosophical function of
h ikmah, Plato emphasizes that it is also a means of purifying the
soul and making its possessor similar to the eternal Cause (al-illah
al-qadmah), since the goal of h ikmah (ghyat al-h ikmah) is adorning
human souls and warding off vices from them.26
Accounts in the writings of Muslim scholars on the history of Greek
philosophy characterize Aristotle by similar features. He is said to have
written a book on the unity of God (tawh d) and entitled it Lord-
ship (rubbiyyah).27 For him, h ikmah was the most valuable goal and,
accordingly, the philosophical method/logic (mantiq) to attain it had
to be as precise and perfect as possible. Such a method had to be free
of all kinds of imperfections, including error (zalal), confusion (labs),
or uncertainty (shubhah).28 Aristotle continually advised Alexander to
turn away from worldly things and aspire to eternal happiness.29 It is
reported that Aristotle used to say, Drugs cure bodies and h ikmah
cures souls.30 He also said, The virtues of the soul are four, corre-
sponding to which there are four virtues of the body: to h ikmah (wis-
dom) of the soul corresponds perfection of the body; to justice, beauty;
to courage, strength; and to temperance, health.31

Al-Sijistn, 38. See also al-Mubashshir, 141 and 174. Al-Mubashshir further
reports Plato as saying, Do not be a h akm through your speech, but through your
action; for h ikmah through [mere] speech does not continue, but h ikmah through
actions is beneficial [even] in the world to come. Al-Mubashshir, 153.
Al-Andalus, 23.
Quoted in Gutas, Greek Wisdom Literature in Arabic Translation, 116.
Ibn Juljul, Tabaqt al-atibb wa-al-h ukam, ed. Fud Sayyid (Cairo, 1955), 25.
Al-Mubashshir, 180. See also Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 89.
Al-Andalus, 2627.
Quoted in Gutas, Greek Wisdom Literature in Arabic Translation, 164.
Ibid., 166.
214 chapter eleven

Muslim historians of Greek philosophy describe the aforementioned

intellectuals as the most celebrated among the ancient Greeks, as highly
venerable figures who served humanity with their works and guided
it with their light.32
These accounts dealing with the history of the Greek philosophical
legacy indicate that in the early period of falsafah activities, Arabic-
speaking thinkers thought of the personalities of antiquity as the suc-
cessors of prophetic teachings. The term h ikmah has a central position
within this conception. Knowledge of h ikmah represents knowledge
of the true nature of things and derives from the prophetic institu-
tion by way of Luqmn and David, though the Qurn does not attri-
bute prophethood to Luqmn, but only h ikmah. On the basis of this
fact, one may argue that, at least in the case of Luqmn, h ikmah and
prophethood were separate, as he was given a non-prophetic h ikmah;
after all, according to Islamic tradition, when he was given a choice
between prophethood and h ikmah, he chose the latter. Still, his h ikmah
was a God-given characteristic, not an individual achievement. Being
given h ikmah in return required that he be thankful to God (31:12).
Furthermore, Muslim writings associate Luqmn closely with David.
The Luqmn figure in the historical accounts, therefore, does not dis-
prove the argument for the prophetic origin of h ikmah. But rather, he
can be taken as an embodiment of h ikmah resulting from praisewor-
thy religious and moral characteristics. Luqmns legendary wisdom is
reflected in the words and actions of Empedocles and his successors in
h ikmah. According to Muslim historians, in addition to David, the ear-
liest Greek philosophers were in contact with other Israelite prophets
and their followers. They historically connect the Greek philosophical
tradition to falsafah activities in Islamic times.
Alongside the genre of literature that was technically identified
as philosophy, Muslims inherited another genre of Greek writings,
namely gnomologia, containing ethical sayings and anecdotes attrib-
uted to leading philosophers of antiquity. H ikmah appears in these
writings with a different connotation. Unlike strictly philosophical
literature addressing only the intellectual elite, such ethically-oriented
adab collections were much more popular in the proper sense of the
term. Before Islam, Arabs were already familiar with this kind of apho-
ristic wisdom literature (h ikmiyyt/h ikam) in the forms of proverbs

Al-Andalus, 31.
h ikmah in the pre-islamic philosophical world 215

(amthl), legends (ayym), poetry (shir), and so forth. For instance,

they knew of Luqmn in this context, as noted in previous chapters.
Thus, they translated and welcomed Greek gnomologia alongside phil-
osophical literature and this gnomic literature was in fact also respon-
sible for certain distorted representations of the ideas and personalities
of Greek philosophers.33 But at the same time, we should acknowledge
the great contribution of such works to the Islamic intellectual world,
for, by propagating largely ethical sayings, they also helped popularize
philosophical concepts and figures.
The Alexandrian school was the channel through which gnomic
material reached the Arabs. The members of this school compiled
introductions to philosophy and ethical handbooks. They also recopied
and rearranged other collections of sayings. This school thus repre-
sents an important aspect of the last stage of Hellenism. According to
the testimony of the Arab historians, the Alexandrian school was ulti-
mately transferred to Antioch by the caliph Umar II (r. 717720).34
Therefore, in addition to associating the origin of philosophy his-
torically with the prophetic institution, Muslim historians of Greek
philosophy also characterize the leading philosophers of antiquity by
personal, moral, and religious qualities in line with those of the h akm
outlined in previous chapters. These philosophers, for instance, com-
bine their knowledge with their actions and do not give h ikmah to
undeserving people, to which end they use a symbolic language to
speak of it.
Muslim authors on Greek philosophy state that, after Aristotle, a
group of philosophers came and followed in his footsteps, making
known his works as well as elaborating on them. Themistius, Alexan-
der of Aphrodisias, and Porphyry were the most well-known and com-
petent of that group. Later, in the Islamic period, during the Abbsid
caliphate, the Aristotelian philosophical tradition was maintained by

In this context, the following figures are among the leading authors who cite
sayings from Greek, Arab, Persian, and Indian sages and whose works are known to
us today: H unayn b. Ishq, db al-falsifah, ed. Abd al-Rahmn Badaw (Kuwait,
1985); Ibn Ab al-Duny, Makrim al-akhlq, ed. Ysn Muhammad al-Sawws (Bei-
rut, 1999); Ibn Durayd, al-Mujtan; al-Sijistn, Siwn al-h ikmah; Ibn al-Nadm, al-
Fihrist; al-mir, al-Sadah wa-al-isd; Ibn Juljul, Tabaqt al-atibb; Ibn Hind,
al-Kalim al-rh niyyah; Miskawayh, al-H ikmah al-khlidah; Sid al-Andalus, Tabaqt
al-umam; al-Mubashshir b. Ftik, Mukhtr al-h ikam; and Ibn Ab Usaybiah, Uyn
al-anb. For Greek gnomic literature and its translation into Arabic see, Gutas, Greek
Wisdom Literature in Arabic Translation.
Quoted in Gutas, Greek Wisdom Literature in Arabic Translation, 457458.
216 chapter eleven

other intellectuals such as Qust b. Lq, who was a contemporary of

al-Kind.35 It was with al-Kind, however, that real philosophical activ-
ity began in the Muslim lands.

The Fountain of H ikmah: Hermes as the

Father of the H ukam

Alongside Luqmn and the five pillars of h ikmah (Empedocles,

Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle), Muslim historians record
another figure as a main channel of h ikmah. This is Hermes, the father
of sages (ab al-h ukam). He is a key figure with respect to the his-
torical contact between religion and philosophy, for historians identify
him recurrently with the Qurnic Idrs, who is described as a true
man, a prophet (19:56) whom God raised up to a high place (19:57);
at the same time, in the writings of Muslim historians of ancient times
he is depicted as the father of the h ukam. Thus, in his personality,
Hermes combines both kinds of knowledge, and this belief follows
from the notion that philosophy originated from the niche of pro-
phetic revelation (mishkt al-nubuwwah). Such a combination facili-
tated the integration of Greek science and philosophy into the Islamic
worldview, for Muslims could regard this intellectual heritage within
their extended prophetic tradition. Hermes is also considered to be
the founder of the sciences extending from Jbir b. H ayyans (d. ca.
184/800) alchemical studies to Ab Bakr al-Rzis works on chemis-
try. In addition, he was the earliest authority in Yahy al-Suhrawards
(d. 587/1191) philosophy of illumination (h ikmat al-ishrq).36
The figure of Hermes left a profound and enigmatic mark upon
the scientific and philosophical history of mankind in Muslim as well
as non-Muslim lands. In the following chapter, I do not attempt to
examine the whole subject of Hermeticism and Hermetic writings,
which also includes occult sciences, i.e., magic, alchemy, talismans,
astrology, and the like.37 (In this respect, almost everything related to

Al-Andalus, 27.
Suhraward calls Hermes the father of the philosophers (wlid al-h ukam)
and the ultimate authority in true philosophy. Shihb al-Dn Yahy al-Suhraward,
H ikmat al-ishrq, ed. and trans. John Walbridge and Hossein Ziai (Utah, 1999), 2, 3,
and 107108.
Ibn al-Nadm, for instance, lists twenty-two treatises of Hermes: thirteen in alchemy,
four in talismans, and five in astrology. Ibn al-Nadm, 510, 448, 387, respectively.
h ikmah in the pre-islamic philosophical world 217

supernatural powers and wisdom is originally related to Hermes in

some way.) Instead, I examine the way the historians of the Mus-
lim intellectual tradition received and treated him and his relation
to h ikmah within the boundaries of the present investigation. Arabic
Hermetic literature is related to diverse traditions in the ancient Near
East. On the one hand, it includes the pagan and mythological legacies
of the Greeks, Egyptians and H arrnians, while on the other hand, it
is connected to the religious historical narrations of the Jewish, Chris-
tian, and Muslim peoples, not to mention that a great deal of Hermetic
literature came to the Arabs through Middle Persian intermediaries,
which left a Sasanian imprint on it.38
Muslim historians list three historical persons called Hermes.39
Hermes the First was Hermes Trismegistus (al-muthallath bi-al-h ikmah),

Arabic bio-bibliographical works are full of Hermetic accounts. See, for instance,
H unayn b. Ishq, db al-falsifah, 133135; al-Sijistn, 6366; Ibn Juljul, 510;
al-Andalus, 1819, 3940; Ibn al-Qift , 17; al-Mubashshir, 726.
The famous astrologer Ab Mashar al-Balkhs Kitb al-Ulf is the main source
used by the Muslim historians to uncover Hermes identity. The most complete account
is preserved in Ibn Ab Usaybiahs Uyn al-anb f tabaqt al-atibb, which was
originally based on Ibn Juljuls narration. Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 3133. For the same nar-
ration, see also, al-Sijistn, 6364; Ibn Juljul, 510; al-Andalus, 1819. David Pingree
reconstructs Ab Mashars astronomy, astrology, and his conception of the history of
science through fragments and later quotations found in his three lost works, namely
Kitb al-Ulf, Zj al-hazrt, and Kitb Ikhtilf al-zjt. With regard to the biographies
of the three Hermes, however, Pingree does not provide any additional original mate-
rials, other than translating Ibn Juljuls narration from Ab Mashar and comparing it
with that of Ibn Ab Usaybiah. David Pingree, The Thousands of Ab Mashar (London,
1968), 1418.
Historically speaking, it is impossible to identify the figure of Hermes with abso-
lute certainty. On the one hand, Hermes is the Hellenistic name of the Egyptian god
Thoth, on the other hand, he is the author of scientific, philosophical, astrological,
alchemical, and magical works. Muslim writers transformed his godhead and divided
his characteristics into three legendary individuals: Idrs of the ante-diluvian days,
Hermes the Babylonian (al-Bbil), and Hermes of the post-diluvian days. Martin
Plessner, Hirmis, EI and Plessner, Hermes Trismegistus and Arab Science, Studia
Islamica 2 (1954): 4559. Ibn al-Nadm seems to believe that the second and third
Hermes were in fact one person who was born and lived for some time in Babylon
and then traveled to Egypt. Ibn al-Nadm, 507508. Aff, on the other hand, argues
that a great deal of myth fabricated around the personality of Hermes in Egyptian and
Greek sources underwent a certain modification and elaboration at the hands of Jewish
and Oriental writers. He asserts that the identification of Hermes with Idrs or Enoch
owes its origin to such a Jewish background, which was taken up by Muslim historians
uncritically. Aff concludes that the first and second personalities are mythical and
legendary figures, rather than actual men and prophets; the first one was a creation of
the Jewish mind, while the second one was invented by the heathen people of H arrn.
As for the third one, he was the real Egyptian or Greco-Egyptian Hermes whom Arabs
knew relatively well and whose writings (or those attributed to him) they knew much
218 chapter eleven

or, according to Ab Mashars (d. 273/886) expression, the one upon

whom the threefold grace was bestowed (al-muthallath bi-al-niam).40
He lived in Egypt before the Flood. In fact, the meaning of Hermes is
appellative (laqab), as is the case of Caesar and Khusraw. The Persians
identify this personality with Hshang, meaning the just or righteous
(dh adl ), while the H arrnians argue that he is the same personal-
ity whose prophethood (nubuwwah) is mentioned in their tradition.
The Persians assert that his grandfather was Kaymarth, the Persian
name for Adam. The Hebrews, for their part, say that he is Akhnkh
(Enoch), i.e., Idrs in Arabic.41
According to Ibn Ab Usaybiahs statements on the authority of Ab
Mashar, this Hermes was the first to speak of celestial things (ashy
ulwiyyah), to build sanctuaries to praise God therein, and to establish
the science of medicine. He wrote many books of rhythmic poems
pertaining to the knowledge of terrestrial and celestial matters in order
to address his contemporaries. He was also the first to foresee and
warn people of the coming of the Flood as a heavenly plague. Since he
was afraid that knowledge (ilm) might be lost and disappear from the
world with the Flood, he built temples on the upper mountains and
engraved the essences of the sciences and crafts on their walls for the
benefit of later generations.42 Ibn Ab Usaybiahs report concludes that
earlier Muslim scholarly authorities held Idrs to be the first to study
books, to think about sciences, to sew clothes and to wear them. They
also believed that God revealed thirty pages of the Book to him and
exalted him in a high place, as the Qurn mentions in 19:57.43
Hermes the Second, as Ibn Ab Usaybiah narrates from Ab Mashar,
lived after the Flood in the Chaldean city of Babylon. He had excellent

better. Aff, 854855. The Hermetic written corpus came into being in ancient Alex-
andria, where the Egyptian and Greek traditions were combined. Before this mixture,
no school was known as Hermeticism. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Hermes and Hermetic
Writings in the Islamic World, Islamic Studies: Essays on Law and Society, the Sciences,
and Philosophy and Sufism (Beirut, 1967), 64. For further details see, Ibn al-Qift, 17;
al-Mubashshir, 710.
For an investigation of the figure of Hermes Trismegistus and the texts attributed
to him in the Arabic tradition with a special emphasis on the transmission of Greek
Hermetica into Arabic, see Kevin Thomas van Bladel, Hermes Arabicus (Ph.D. disserta-
tion, Yale University, 2004).
Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 31. Al-Mubashshir lists these three Graces as prophethood
(nubuwwah), h ikmah, and dominion (mulk). Al-Mubashshir, 11.
Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 3132.
Ibid., 32.
Ibid., 32. See also al-Andalus, 39.
h ikmah in the pre-islamic philosophical world 219

knowledge in medicine and philosophy. He was also knowledgeable

in the essences of numbers, as he was associated with Pythagoras the
arithmetician. This Hermes renewed medicine, philosophy, and arith-
metic as studied in ante-diluvian times. And this Chaldean city was the
city of the philosophers among the people of the East, their philoso-
phers being the first to establish an organized social order.44
Hermes the Third, as Ibn Ab Usaybiah quotes again from Ab
Mashar, lived in Egypt after the Flood. He was a physician and phi-
losopher, was knowledgeable concerning lethal drugs and noxious ani-
mals, excelled in the art of chemistry/alchemy and talked about many
techniques, such as the manufacture of glass, clay, and the like. He was
also the master of Asclepius, who lived in greater Syria.45
As far as Hermes particular understanding of h ikmah is con-
cerned, Islamic sources record him as saying that h ikmah is the ori-
gin of happiness.46 His description of h ikmah in these sources as
God-consciousness (taqw) reminds us of the previously cited pro-
phetic and Biblical saying that defines the fear of God as the beginning
of h ikmah (ras al-h ikmah makhfat Allh). Likewise, Hermes is said to
have stated that God-consciousness is the greatest h ikmah and the key
to the attainment of all kinds of knowledge of the realities of things.47
Muslim historians report Hermes to have said that the life of the soul
resides in h ikmah and h ikmah resides in belief in God. H ikmah and
belief are inseparable; whoever possesses one of them possesses the
other as well, and whoever lacks one of them, lacks the other as well.48
Having visited the writings of Muslim historians on Greek philoso-
phy and its reception by the earliest Muslim philosophers as Islamic
h ikmah, as well as their writings on Hermes in relation to this concept,
I now examine more concrete elaborations of h ikmah, as found in the
works of three major philosophical figures from the formative period
of Islamic philosophy. Their discussions are addressed in chronological
order: al-Kind, al-Frb, then Ibn Sn.

Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 32. See also al-Andalus, 40.


Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 3233.

Al-Mubashshir, 17. Unfortunately, throughout their narrations, these sources do
not specify to which historical Hermes they refer.
Ibid., 12.
Ibid., 15.
Chapter twelve

H ikmah in the Islamic Philosophical World

Al-Kind: The Philosopher of the Arabs

In his Kitb al-H udd, al-Kind (d. ca. 260/873) cites six canonical
definitions of falsafah provided by the ancients (qudam). 1) On the
basis of its etymology, the ancients defined falsafah as the love of
wisdom (h ubb al-h ikmah); for philosopher (faylasf) is composed
of philo and sophia, which mean love and wisdom, respectively.1
2) From the perspective of its real nature and aim, they said that phi-
losophy is the art of arts (sinat al-sint) and the science of sciences
[or wisdom of wisdoms] (h ikmat al-h ikam).2 3) With respect to its
function or action (fil), they defined philosophy as imitation of the
actions of God (al-tashabbuh bi-afl Allh) as much as is within mans
capacity.3 Al-Kind notes that, by this definition, the ancients meant
that man should be perfect in virtue (kmil al-fadlah).4 4) According

Al-Kind, Rasil al-Kind al-falsafiyyah, 172. I have changed al-Kinds order in
the list of the definitions and rearranged them. The Kitb al-H udd has caught the
attention of western scholarship for decades. Two studies deserve special treatment in
this regard. One is S. M. Sterns article, Notes on Al-Kinds Treatise on Definitions,
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1959): 3243. The other is T. Z. Franks Ph.D.
dissertation under F. Rosenthal. Al-Kinds Book of Definitions: Its Place in Arabic
Definition Literature (Yale University, 1975). Throughout my translations from Kitb
al-H udd, I have benefited from Franks renderings as well. The concept of love
(mah abbah) is quite interesting in the first definition because al-Kind defines love
as the cause of the coming-together of things (illatu ijtimi al-ashy). Al-Kind,
Rasil, 168. Mah abbah, in his view, further denotes that which is sought by the soul
(matlb al-nafs), and the condition of the soul in which there is an attraction (jadhb)
between the soul and a thing. Ibid., 175. The idea of coming-together (ijtim) in
turn means being naturally caused for love (mall bi-al-tabi li-al-mah abbah). Ibid.,
Ibid., 173.
Ibid., 172. Apparently, this definition implies that such a likeness is based on
possessing the knowledge of truth and the doing of good; for one of the essential
characteristics of God is knowing the truth and doing good. Mans efforts to imitate
God in this respect are then one of the basic expectations of philosophical inquiry.
For an analysis of this definition, especially in the cases of al-Frb and Maimonides,
see Lawrence Berman, The Political Interpretation of the Maxim: The Purpose of
Philosophy is the Imitation of God, Studia Islamica 15 (1961): 5361.
Al-Kind, Rasil, 172.
222 chapter twelve

to their understanding, philosophy essentially refers to the knowl-

edge of eternal (abad) and universal (kull) things, of their essences
(inniyyt / anniyyt), of their quiddity (miyyah), and of their causes
(ilal), as far as is within mans capacity.5
From the perspective of ethics, following again the categorization
of the Greeks, al-Kind lists h ikmah among the four human virtues
(al-fadil al-insniyyah) that constitute praiseworthy human charac-
ter. He divides human virtues into two primary kinds: the first is in the
soul; the second is the effects coming from the soul, which the body
encompasses. There are three virtues existing in the soul, namely, wis-
dom (h ikmah), courage (najdah), and temperance (iffah). The virtue
that encompasses the effects coming from the soul is justice (adl).6 In
such an ethical context, al-Kind explains h ikmah as,
The virtue of the rational faculty (al-quwwah al-nutqiyyah), the knowl-
edge of the universal things in their realities (ilm al-ashy al-kulliyyah
bi-h aqiqih), and the employment (istiml) of those realities which
must be employed.7

Ibid., 173. In addition to these four definitions, al-Kind lists the following two
definitions of philosophy provided by the ancients. 5) From the perspective of its
function, they defined philosophy as the concern with death (al-inyah bi-al-mawt).
Al-Kind explains this definition saying, In their view, there are two kinds of death:
the natural (tab), which occurs with the souls leaving the use of the body (tarku
al-nafsi istimla al-badani); and second, the putting to death of passions (imtat
al-shahawt). The latter is the death they aim at, for the death of passions is the path
to virtue (al-sabl il al-fadlah). For that reason, many of the notable ancients said,
Pleasure (ladhdhah) is evil (sharr). Necessarily, since there are two kinds of use for
the soul (one sensible [h iss] and the other intellectual [aql]), that which people call
pleasure is what appears in the senses (ih ss), and concern with sensory pleasures
is a leaving of the use of the intellect (172173). 6) The ancients also defined phi-
losophy as mans knowledge of himself (marifat al-insn nafsahu). Al-Kind finds
this definition an extremely meaningful and comprehensive statement. He states that
things are either bodies (ajsm) or not bodies. That which are not bodies are either
substances (jawhir) or accidents (ard). Man is body, soul, and accidents, while the
soul is substance, and not body. Al-Kind asserts that if man knows his real nature, he
knows the realities of his body and soul; if he knows this, then he knows everything.
For this reason, the sages (h ukam) called man a microcosm (al-lam al-asghar).
Understandably, these six definitions of philosophy all go back to the Greek sources.
Since I am primarily interested in al-Kinds conception of philosophy as h ikmah, I
focus on this particular relation, rather than on identifying his sources. For the origins
of these definitions, see for instance, Frank.
Al-Kind, Rasil, 177.
Ibid., 177. In his Kitb al-H udd, al-Kind does not present a full-fledged treat-
ment of the subject matter of human virtues. His statements are quite brief and
incomplete. A more elaborate presentation of this topic can be found in Miskawayh,
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 223

According to al-Kind, therefore, h ikmah has an epistemological as

well as a practical dimension. Such a conception of h ikmah fully con-
forms to the basic notion of h ikmah introduced by the earliest scholars
of Arabic, Qurnic exegetes, and Sufis, whose writings I have dis-
cussed in the previous chapters. In this context, al-Kind believes that
falsafah is an indispensable means to attain h ikmah. His discussions
in his most importantthough presently incomplete copyextant
philosophical work F al-Falsafah al-l8 are quite illustrative in rela-
tion to this point.
In al-Kinds view, philosophy is the greatest and most noble human
art (al-sinah al-insniyyah), for it seeks to know the true nature of
things, insofar as is possible for man.9 Al-Kinds definition of philoso-
phy as a human art indicates that by this term he does not refer to
prophetic or sacred h ikmah, which is purely God-given and beyond
personal intellectual efforts; instead, he means intellectual h ikmah that
can be attained through intensive study and contemplation. In the
final analysis, what al-Kind expects from philosophy is (prophetic)
h ikmah, as he says,
The aim (gharad) of the philosopher is, with respect to his knowledge,
to attain the truth (isbat al-h aqq), and with respect to his action, to act
truthfully (al-amal bi-al-h aqq).10
Al-Kind asserts that knowledge of things is dependent upon the
knowledge of their causes, for, as he states, We do not know the
truth we are seeking without finding a cause (illah).11 The cause of
the existence (wujd) and maintenance (thabt) of everything is the
Truth (al-H aqq), from which each thing derives its being (a/inniyyah)
and thus has a truth (h aqqah) in its existence. The True One exists

Tahdhb al-akhlq (Beirut, 1978), and especially in Nasr al-Dn al-T s, Akhlq-i
Nsir (Tehran, 1952).
In this work, al-Kind deals with two main philosophical questions: first, he rejects
the idea of the eternity of the world, and second, he argues that God is ineffable. The text
has been translated into English with an introduction and commentary; see Alfred Ivry,
Al-Kinds Metaphysics: A Translation of Yaqb b. Ish q al-Kinds Treatise On First
Philosophy (F al-Falsafah al-l) (Albany, 1974). I have consulted Ivrys renderings
throughout my translations from this work.
Al-Kind, Rasil, 97.
Ibid., 97.
Ibid., 97.
224 chapter twelve

necessarily (idti rran), and this existence further originates the exis-
tence of beings.12
In al-Kinds view, the ultimate goal of philosophy is to attain true
knowledge of God. He states that the noblest part of philosophy and the
highest in rank is the first/primordial philosophy (al-falsafah al-l),
namely, knowledge of the First Truth (ilm al-h aqq al-awwal), which
is the cause of all truth. Therefore, according to al-Kinds argument,
only the one who fully understands (muh t) this most noble knowl-
edge deserves to be called the perfect and most noble philosopher in
the proper sense of the word. Al-Kind bases this conclusion on the
principle that the knowledge of the cause (illah) is more noble than
knowledge of the effect (mall), for one can have complete knowledge
of every object of knowledge (malmt) only when one obtains full
knowledge of its causes.13 In this regard, al-Kind makes use of the
four Aristotelian causes (material, formal, efficient, and final) in order
to demonstrate philosophically the existence of God. He describes
knowledge of the first cause (ilm al-illah al-l) as first philosophy,
since it contains the knowledge of all the rest of philosophy.14
Al-Kinds conception of philosophy as h ikmahencouraged by
religion to be sought everywhere by any reasonable means possibleis
evident also in his depiction of the history of philosophy. He envisions
this history as a cooperative and cumulative tradition; a progressive
process of intellectualizing eternal truth, which is h ikmah. Without
undervaluing their attempts, he gratefully acknowledges the extent
and result of the efforts of all previous philosophers who sought to
attain truth, regardless of their being small or great, sufficient or defi-
cient in reaching truth, and regardless of the ethnicity of the thinker.
Al-Kind holds each of those attempts to be a contribution to the
intellectual advancement of mankind and an instrument leading to
further knowledge of the real nature of things. At the same time, he
does not see himself as a passive recipient of the philosophers of the
past; rather, he puts himself in charge of improving their intellectual
legacy by completing their statements and perfecting their methods.
He is aware of the difficulty of a single individual obtaining all the

Ibid., 97. Al-Kinds use of the term al-h aqq may owe its origin either the Qurnic
description of God (20:114; 18:44) and/or to the Neoplatonic description of God as
The One. See Ivrys note on this, 120.
Al-Kind, Rasil, 98101.
Ibid., 101.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 225

truths during a single lifetime, and thus acknowledges the necessity

of the cumulative and joint effort of mankind in philosophy, which
is as much cumulative as it is corrective.15 It is within this framework
that al-Kind welcomes Aristotles thought and describes the latter as
the most distinguished of the Greeks (mubarriz al-ynniyyn) in
Al-Kinds portrayal of Aristotle and the primary objectives of his
philosophy are quite noteworthy. His reception of the Aristotelian
system is clearly exemplified in his writings on the purpose of Aris-
totles Metaphysics. According to al-Kinds discussions in his work
F Kammiyyat kutub Aristtlsin which he deals with the number
and contents of the Aristotelian corpusthe purpose of Aristotles
Metaphysics is an exposition of immaterial things, of the unity of God
(tawh d Allh), and of His Most Beautiful Names (asmuhu al-h usn);
the Metaphysics also explains, al-Kind continues, that God is the com-
plete agent cause of the universe and its absolute sustainer through
His perfect organization (tadbrihi al-mutqan) and complete wisdom
(h ikmatihi al-tmmah).17 In the Kindian context, then, metaphysics
is basically identified with theology, and, as I discuss on the following
pages, it became al-Frbs misson to correct such an assumption with
regard to the purpose of Aristotles Metaphysics. This fact might have
been a result of the poor quality, as well as the limited number, of Aris-
totelian works that reached al-Kind, as opposed to later philosophers.
Al-Kind reports that Aristotle himself also sincerely appreciated
the contribution of previous thinkers in attaining truth. Apparently
following this tradition, al-Kind expresses his fundamental principle

Ibid., 102. In his introduction to F al-Falsafah al-l, Ab Rdah states that
such an approach, welcoming and appreciating the truth regardless of its origin, was
a part of the spirit of Arabic and Islamic culture long before al-Kind. Well-known
statements, like the following, had paved the way for this approach: H ikmah is the
stray camel of the believer; Take h ikmah, as whatever its origin would be, it does not
harm you; and Do not [try to] know the truth by people, [instead] know the truth
itself, then you will know its possessors. Al-Kind, Rasil, 83.
Ibid., 103.
Ibid., 384. We do not know the exact scholarly quality of the copy of Aristotles
Metaphysics that al-Kind had access to, though we know that he had the work in Ara-
bic, for Ibn al-Nadm reports that Ustth (Eustathius) translated the Metaphysics into
Arabic for al-Kind himself. Ibn al-Nadm, 367. For al-Kinds intellectual activities
with respect to the newly translated Greek works, see also, Matti Moosa, Al-Kinds
Role in the Transmission of Greek Knowledge to the Arabs, Journal of the Pakistan
Historical Society 15 (1967): 118.
226 chapter twelve

in this regard, which makes him a faithful lover of truth or h ikmah in

Islamic philosophical literature:
We must not be ashamed of appreciating the truth and of acquiring it
wherever it comes from, even if it comes from races remote (al-ajns
al-qsiyah) and nations different from (al-umam al-mubyinah) us. For
the seeker of truth, nothing is dearer than the truth itself, and there must
not be any disparagement of the truth, nor belittling either of one who
speaks it or of one who conveys it. No one is [ever] diminished by the
truth; on the contrary, everything is ennobled by the truth itself.18
Al-Kind thus considers philosophy as a cumulative intellectual pro-
gression of mankind, which has an unbroken chain of representa-
tives among every human generation throughout history. Through
his efforts to improve the philosophical formulations of the past, he
envisages himself as a part of this distinguished community in his
own lifetime. He is critical of those who underestimate philosophical
inquiry to attain truth. Without naming them, he calls the opponents
of philosophy strangers to the truth (ahl al-ghurbah an al-h aqq) and
questions their position, asserting that they are motivated by certain
worldly considerations, such as attempting to gain religious leadership
within their community.19 Al-Kind does not consider them true believ-

Al-Kind, Rasil, 103.
Ibid., 103104. Since al-Kind does not name the addressees of his statements,
modern scholars have different opinions regarding his actual target. Ivry argues that
they are the Mutazil theologians, for he finds internal clues in the passage leading to
this conclusion; for instance, al-Kind mentions their use of speculation (nazar) and
accuses them of trafficking in religion (al-tijrah bi-al-dn) in order to gain positions
of prestige and power. Ivry states that these are characteristics of the Mutazil theology
and their political stance during the Mih nah (Time of Tribulations), respectively. In
this regard, he disagrees with Walzer and Ab Rdah, who portray al-Kind as a mem-
ber of the Mutazilah. For Ivrys argument, see his introductory notes in his translation
of al-Kinds F al-Falsafah al-l, Ivry, 2234. For Walzers description of al-Kind as
a thinker affiliated to the Mutazilah, see Walzer, New Studies on Al-Kind, Oriens
10 (1957): 203232, and The Rise of Islamic Philosophy, Oriens 3 (1950), 9. For a
similar portrayal of al-Kind, see Ab Rdahs introduction to his edition of al-Kinds
treatises, al-Kind, Rasil, 2831. On the other hand, Adamson, in his recent study on
al-Kind, disagrees with Ivry and argues that the theologians whom al-Kind attacks
must be the traditionalists, such as Ibn H anbal and his supporters. In Adamsons view,
it is not logical to group the diverse competing trends within kalm during the middle
of the third/ninth century under a single Mutazil heading. For Adamsons argument
see, Peter Adamson, al-Kind (Oxford, 2007), 2225. I find Adamsons conclusion
problematic as well, for he identifies al-Kinds opponents as the traditionalists like
Ibn H anbal and his followers, but without any substantial internal or external proof
from al-Kinds statements. Adamsons argument is, after all, subject to the same criti-
cism he himself directs to that of Ivry. I am, therefore, more inclined to Ivrys position,
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 227

ers because what they call unbelief (kufr) is in fact the knowledge
of the true nature of things.20 This knowledge includes the knowledge
of divinity (ilm al-rubbiyyah), of unity (wah dniyyah), and of virtue
(fadlah). It further comprises knowledge of everything useful (nfi)
and of the way to it, while at the same time protecting its possessor
against anything harmful (drr).21 Al-Kind asserts that the adversar-
ies of the philosophical method are not eligible to evaluate the neces-
sity of philosophy, for they do not know the reality of philosophical
knowledge. He challenges their claims with a counter argument (of
Aristotles), saying that they ought to know philosophy sufficiently in
order to be able to refute the necessity of knowing it.22
According to al-Kinds statements, the authentic prophetic message
is entirely compatible with true philosophy, for the essence of what
the true messengers brought from God teaches the affirmation (iqrr)
of the divinity of God alone and adherence to virtues that He deems
praiseworthy, while, at the same time, it necessitates the relinquishment
of vices of any kind.23 Therefore, al-Kind believes that both religion
and philosophy teach the same fundamental metaphysical and ethi-
cal principles. Throughout his personal philosophical inquiry, al-Kind
invokes divine assistance in his efforts to satisfactorily establish proofs
of the existence and unity of God. He puts himself in charge of this
crucial mission so that he can be among those whose intentions God
likes and whose actions He accepts.24
Above, I mentioned that the term h ikmah is used for two major
kinds of knowledge, prophetic or sacred on the one hand, and phil-
osophical or intellectual on the other. In his F Kammiyyat kutub
Aristtls, al-Kind explains his understanding of prophethood and
prophetic knowledge as opposed to philosophical knowledge: the for-
mer occurs through revelation, the latter through philosophical pur-
suit. He regards the human sciences (al-ulm al-insniyyah) to be of a
lower rank (martabah) than divine knowledge (al-ilm al-ilh), because
the acquisition of the latter does not necessitate personal study, effort,
logical inquiry, or time. Such knowledge is peculiar to the prophets,

because it appears to be better grounded in the historical context of al-Kinds lifetime

and thus makes more sense, at least in this respect.
Al-Kind, Rasil, 104.
Ibid., 104.
Ibid., 105.
Ibid., 104.
Ibid., 105.
228 chapter twelve

to the exclusion of the rest of humankind. It comes to the prophets

instantly and effortlessly, and this fact indicates that it comes from
God. The prophets receive this knowledge through the will of God by
their souls being purified and illuminated for the truth.25
With regard to the essences or true natures of these two kinds of
knowledge, al-Kind does not compare them clearly. His designation
of philosophical knowledge as human might, speculatively, be taken
in the sense that the prophets have access to a further or different
knowledge than philosophical knowledge, but al-Kind does not say
this explicitly.26 One might also argue that al-Kind does not compare
their essences, but rather the ways prophets and philosophers receive
their respective knowledges, and that such a comparison would be out
of the scope of his discussion of the topic. An argument might follow
that revelation and philosophy should not be taken to be in opposi-
tion, but rather that the two are to be considered as two forms or
degrees of knowledge working together in a perfect harmony.
One might still argue that depending on the subject matter in
question, al-Kind could voice a preference between, or combine
arguments derived from, revelation and philosophy, since we know
that he does not draw a clear-cut distinction between theology and
metaphysics. Such an approach can be exemplified by al-Kinds dis-
cussions in relation to a passage from the Qurn (36:7982).27 The
passage challenges the unbelievers argument against Muhammad, in
which they were denying the Resurrection, saying, Who will give life
to the bones when they are decayed? (36:78). Al-Kind admires the
Qurnic answer, saying that creating a thing from nothing is much
harder than creating a thing from another thing. In his view, no one
can offer a clearer and more concise proof; at this point he clearly
favors revelation over philosophical knowledge,28 but, at the same
time, he introduces a lengthy philosophical argument in relation to

Ibid., 372373.
In this regard, Adamson asserts that in al-Kinds view, prophets have access to
precisely the same truths as do philosophers, though the former receive their knowl-
edge instantly and effortlessly. Adamson, 43.
Say that He will give them life who originated them the first time; He knows all
creation; He who has made fire for you out of the green tree, so that you might kindle
flame from it. Is not He, who created the heavens and earth, able to create the like of
them? Yes indeed, He is the All-Creating, the All-Knowing. His command, when He
wills a thing, is to say to it, Be, and it is.
Al-Kind, Rasil, 377.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 229

the meaning of the verse. He reminds his reader that everything that
comes to be is generated from something other than itself, as God
made fire from what is not fire, and heat from what is not heat. God
can therefore create through intermediaries or without them; He may
make use of material substrata (resurrecting the decayed bones) or
perform His deed without them (creating bones for the first time).
Since human beings are accustomed to seeing generation from pre-
existing matter, the Qurn brings the act of Divine creation close to
their understanding; otherwise, God creates originally from nothing.
Thus, in the example of this verse, al-Kind expresses his admiration
for the Qurnic argumentation and seems to integrate philosophy
into the service of explicating Qurnic passages.29
Given that al-Kind identifies metaphysics with theology and treats it
as h ikmah leading to the true knowledge of God and His existence, it is
necessary to examine briefly al-Kinds philosophical method for estab-
lishing the existence of God. He bases his step-by-step argument on a
progressive intellection. He states that there are two kinds of human
perceptions (wujdn): sensory (h iss) and intellectual (aql). The first
kind, in addition to the human being, is common to all animals, but it
is also unstable because of the motion and fluctuation of the object (of
perception), and because of the physical and emotional condition of
the perceiver. The second kind of perceptionintellectualis peculiar
to the human being and superior to sensory perception, for, unlike the
first, which is directed to particular (juz) things, the second one
produces the knowledge of universal (kull) things. Intellectual per-
ception is a faculty of the human soul that produces stable, necessary,
and direct knowledge.30 Al-Kinds conception of intellect (aql) is as
a simple substance (jawhar bast) that perceives things in their reali-
ties (mudrik li-al-ashy bi-h aqiqih).31 Therefore, he argues that the
knowledge of metaphysics in general and of God in particular should
be sought by way of intellectual, as opposed to sensory, perception.
Another noteworthy point in al-Kinds attempts to establish philo-
sophical proofs for the necessity of the existence of God is his emphasis
on the need to use the appropriate method in investigating a particu-
lar subject. He argues that it is not reasonable to seek an apodictical

Ibid., 373376. See also Adamson, 4445.
Al-Kind, Rasil, 106108.
Ibid., 165.
230 chapter twelve

perception (al-wujd al-burhn) in the apprehension of every pursuit.

For not every intellectual pursuit is found through demonstration,
since not everything has one; demonstration is found only in some
things. Furthermore, a demonstration itself does not have another
demonstration, for this would lead to an infinite regress, in which case,
there would never be perception of anything at all. Knowledge rests
ultimately upon the principles of knowable things and, therefore, if
something does not end in knowledge of its principles (awil), it is
not knowable (malm) and there would be no knowledge at all.32 We
need, then, self-evident primary principles upon which we can base
our propositions.
Likewise, al-Kind asserts, one should not seek probable arguments
(iqnt) in the mathematical sciences, but rather, demonstrative ones.
If one were to use probability in mathematics, his comprehension of it
would be conjectural (zann) and not scientific (ilm). Physics, on the
other hand, is the science of everything that moves, while the knowl-
edge of what is beyond physical objects is knowledge of what does not
move. As a result of these peculiar characteristics of each intellectual
pursuit, al-Kind states that every distinctive inquiry has a particular
perception different from the perception of another: some disciplines
proceed in accord with a pursuit of probability (iqn), some in accord
with a pursuit of parables (amthl), some in accord with historical testi-
monies (shahdt al-akhbr), some in accord with sensation (h iss), and
some in accord with demonstration (burhn). In al-Kinds view, the
lack of such a subtle methodological approach is the origin of the mis-
takes made by many seekers of knowledge. Applying the wrong method
to the wrong subject will result in nothing but confusion. One should
not pursue probability in the science of mathematics, nor sensation or
exemplification (tamthl) in the science of the metaphysical (ilh), nor
conceptual generalization or syllogism (al-jawmi al-fikriyyah) in the
science of the physical, nor demonstration in rhetoric (balghah) or in
the principles of demonstration.33
Al-Kinds conception of God (literally, the True One) is totally
other-worldly; or, put another way, our conventional knowledge of
things in this world is not applicable to Him, since He transcends all
descriptions; or, put still another way, we cannot make any positive

Ibid., 111112.

h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 231

statements concerning God. He describes God in terms of what He

is not, and thus only with negative attributes: the True One is not
motion (h arakah),34 nor soul (nafs),35 nor intellect (aql);36 the True
One is not identifiable by synonymous names (asm mutardifah),37
nor by way of homonomy (ishtibh al-ism);38 the True One is never
spoken of by way of matter (unsur).39
Al-Kinds proof in establishing the existence of God premises the
absolute difference between God and every other kind of thing. God is
the Eternal, whose non-existence is inconceivable; there is no before
to His existence, nor a cause for it, nor a reason (sabab) for the sake
of which His existence is. In sum, His existence is outside all mental
categories, that is, subject, predicate, genus, species, body, form, time,
space, and the like. The Eternal does not perish (l yufsid) or move
because perishing and motion occur in changing things, He is perfect
necessarily,40 and He is pure and simple unity.41
Al-Kind clearly rejects the idea of an eternal universe, as he argues
that the universe is created from nothing, and that it is temporal rather
than eternal. It seems that he is unfamiliar with the real Aristotelian
and Peripatetic position in this regard. This could be a result of the
limited number and poor translations of the Aristotelian texts avail-
able to him. We should also remember the Neoplatonic interpreta-
tions of Aristotelian thought, especially in the Alexandrian school.
Throughout his writings, al-Kind substitutes Aristotles conception of
God as the Unmovable Mover with the Creator God of Islamic reli-
gion. He believes that God is an efficient cause of the universe, not just
a final cause. This significant departure from Aristotles conception of
God may owe its origin to Neoplatonic interpretations and criticisms
of Aristotle on this topic. Al-Kind says that creation (ibd) means

Ibid., 154.

Ibid., 155. Unlike his successors, al-Frb and Ibn Sn, al-Kind does not articu-
late a complete scheme of hierarchically emanated intelligences, and thus he does not
explain clearly his understanding of the relation between personal and universal intel-
ligences and God. Even though he uses the expression the emanation of unity from
the True One, the First (fayd al-wah dah an al-wh id al-h aqq al-awwal) (Al-Kind,
Rasil, 162), he does not elaborate this issue.
Al-Kind, Rasil, 155.
Ibid., 156.
Ibid., 113114.
Ibid., 160.
232 chapter twelve

making a thing appear from nothing (izhr al-shay an laysa)42 and

that the First Cause refers to the creator (mubdi), the unmoved (ghayr
mutah arrik) agent (fil), perfecter of all (mutammim al-kull).43 The
true, first act, thus, is the bringing beings to be from non-being
(tays al-ayst an laysa).44 Al-Kind states that this act is peculiar to
God alone, as He is the end of every cause (ghyat kull illah). Accord-
ing to al-Kinds statement, therefore, the term origination (ibd)
refers to this act of bringing beings to be from non-being.45 And in
this regard, al-Kinds conception of divine causality in its relation
to the world is not open to the criticism formulated by al-Ghazl
(d. 505/1111) against the philosophy of al-Frb and his successors.
Al-Kinds First Cause is simultaneously the eternal (al-azal), which
has never been non-being (lam yakun laysa), and which needs noth-
ing else for its subsistence (laysa bi-muh tjin f qiwmihi il ghayrihi).
That which needs nothing else for its subsistence has no cause (l illata
lahu); and that which had no cause lasts forever (dimun abadan).46
Al-Kind argues that body, motion, and time occur simultaneously in
being. The body of the universe is not prior to time. He rejects the
idea that the body of the universe was at rest originallythough it
had the possibility of motionand then subsequently moved. Since
there is no time other than through motion, and since there is no body
unless there is motion and no motion unless there is a body, none of
the three is prior to any of the others. It follows that it is impossible
for time, body, and motion to have infinity in actuality. Al-Kind thus
concludes that the body of the universe is necessarily finite and that it
is impossible for it to be eternal.47
Furthermore, al-Kind rejects the idea of auto-causation. He states
that it is not possible for a thing to be the cause of the generation of its
essence (illatu kawni dhtih).48 According to al-Kinds understanding,
all things have a first cause (illah l), which is not included in their
genus (ghayr mujnasah), and has no resemblance (l mushkalah),
nor likeness (l mushbahah), nor association (l mushrakah) with

Ibid., 165.
Ibid., 182.
Ibid., 183.
Ibid., 169.
Ibid., 118120.
Ibid., 123.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 233

them. It is, rather, superior (al), more noble (ashraf), and prior
(aqdam) to them, being the cause of their generation and maintenance
(sababu kawnih wa-thabtih).49 Thus, in al-Kinds view, everything
owes the origin of its existence to God and the existence of everything
is dependent on His existence; but unlike His eternal and infinite exis-
tence, everything has a being created and finite in time.
Al-Kinds argument follows that this first cause must be either
single (wh id) or multiple (kathr): if it were multiple, then it would
contain unity (wah dah), since multiplicity (kathrah) is nothing other
than a collection of units (jim awh d), and it would then be mul-
tiplicity and unity together. In such a case, the cause of multiplicity
and unity would be unity and multiplicity, and a thing would be the
cause of itself. Al-Kind emphasizes the basic logical principle that a
cause is other than its effect (mall), and this leads him to the con-
clusion that the first cause (illah l) is neither multiple nor multiple
and single, but rather, it is one.50 Every multiplicity comes into being
through unity and there would never be multiplicity if there were not
first unity.51 In the final analysis, al-Kind conceptualizes God as the
True One, the First, who is the Creator (mubdi) and Sustainer (mum-
sik) of everything.52
In explanation of the relation between God and the universe,
al-Kind asserts that the relation of the Creator (al-Bri) to this world
resembles the relation of the soul to the body. It is not possible for the
soul to be recognized (yulam) except through the body, in which the
effects (thr) of the souls management (tadbr) of the body can be
seen. Likewise, al-Kind says, the visible world (al-lam al-mar) is to
the Creator: It is not possible for the invisible (l yur) world to be
known except through the management found (yjad) in this world
and the effects that indicate it (al-dllah alayhi).53
Al-Kind seems to be, with these and other arguments, attempting
to explain religious notions in accordance with philosophical pursuits.
In this regard, he sets the stage for Greek philosophy in the Islamic
world, or, as Ibn al-Nadm expresses it, he is the Philosopher of the
Arabs (faylasf al-arab), meaning that he is the earliest authority in

Ibid., 143.
Ibid., 161162.
Ibid., 162.
Ibid., 174.
234 chapter twelve

philosophical studies in the Muslim lands whose ethnic origin is purely

Arab.54 He was among the earliest and most authoritative figures to
develop a vocabulary for philosophical thought in Arabic on the basis
of the newly translated Greek philosophical works. Not only did he
contribute immensely to the integration of Greek philosophy into an
Arabic-speaking culture, but he also Islamicized many philosophi-
cal ideas.55 While it is true that his method is open to question with
respect to its being purely philosophical or not (as can be seen in his
conception of metaphysics, and the fact that he does not draw a defini-
tive line between metaphysics and theology), this does not devalue his
great service in philosophizing and systematizing Islamic religious and
intellectual principles, however incomplete his philosophical system
may be, and however foreign the origin of his philosophical ideas.
Al-Kind does not seem to be bothered by his use of the Greek heri-
tage, as he acknowledges and appreciates it as a great contribution to
the cooperative and cumulative intellectual progression of mankind. In
other words, he sees philosophy as h ikmah and thus makes use of it in
his expositions of religious and philosophical subject matters, includ-
ing the existence of God and creation. To this end, he repeatedly tries
to show that the pursuit of philosophy is compatible with the teach-
ings of Islam. In order to facilitate its reception within Muslim culture,
al-Kind argues that philosophy is the knowledge of the true natures of
things, especially of divinity, which brings philosophy into harmony
with the essence of the prophetic messages. In his view, considering

Ibn al-Nadm, 371. In addition to al-Kinds philosophical works, Ibn al-Nadm
lists his wide-ranging scholarly works covering the whole spectrum of knowledge in
his time, including mathematics, music, astronomy, medicine, psychology, and poli-
tics. Ibn al-Nadm, 372379.
This point can be illustrated by al-Kinds use of philosophy to explain Qurnic
expressions. For instance, in his treatise F Ibnah an sujd al-jirm al-aqs, he deals
with the idea of the prostration of the outermost sphere and its obedience to God. This
work is in fact an interpretation of the Qurnic verse 55:6, reading, And the stars
and the trees prostrate themselves (yasjudn). Before going into detailed philosophi-
cal explanation regarding body, motion, and so forth, al-Kind discusses the linguistic
aspect of the topic. He argues that when one attempts to interpret a Qurnic expres-
sion, one should first examine its linguistic peculiarities in the Arabic language. In his
view, literal meaning should not be ignored, but should not be blindly insisted upon
as the unique explanation either. In the example of the word sujd (prostration),
al-Kind states that it literally means the physical act of prostration in Islamic prayer.
When it comes to the stars, this literal meaning does not make much sense, as they
physically cannot prostrate themselves; so, al-Kind asserts, we should take the word
sujd in this verse in the sense of obedience. He further exemplifies this meaning
by attestations from Arabic poetry. Al-Kind, Rasil, 244246.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 235

its indispensable religious service, not only is philosophical inquiry

permissible, but it is moreover ordained: after all, it can contribute
to knowledge of the main tenets of Islam. In this regard, one might
describe al-Kinds efforts as a kind of philosophy of tawh d, and one
could find historical support for such a description in the writings on
the history of Islamic philosophy, since his major work F al-Falsafah
al-l was also known under the title Kitb al-Tawh d,56 though we
do not know for certain whether or not al-Kind himself gave this
title to his work. In the final analysis, in al-Kinds view, philosophy is
the knowledge of truth together with its implementation, and this is
nothing other than the traditional conception of h ikmah found in the
Muslim scholarly circles, as discussed throughout this book.57

Al-Frb: The Second Master

Al-Frb (d. 339/950) uses the words philosophy and h ikmah

interchangeably. In his Tah s l al-sadah, al-Frb gives a histori-
cal outline of his reception of philosophy as h ikmah.58 He reports
an account relating that philosophy (lit., theoretical virtue, al-fadlah

See, for instance, al-Andalus, 52.
Similarly, Endress asserts that al-Kinds efforts to legitimize philosophy rely on
h ikmah, which was a long-lasting and universal concept in circulation among the
Arabs through its pre-Islamic and Qurnic components. Endress, The Circle of
al-Kind: Early Arabic Translations from the Greek and the Rise of Islamic Philoso-
phy, The Ancient Tradition in Christian and Islamic Hellenism (Leiden, 1997), 65.
Al-Frb uses the term the theoretical virtue (al-fadlah al-nazariyyah) to
refer apparently to philosophy in general, and to metaphysics and logic in particular.
According to his statements, the science of theoretical virtue relies on demonstrative
methods, and in this regard, it is the foremost among the following four major intel-
lectual sciences: first, the theoretical virtue through which beings become intelligible
with certain demonstrations (bi-barhn yaqniyyah); second, the science in which
the same intelligibles become acquired by persuasive methods (turuq iqniyyah);
third, the science that comprises the similitudes (mithlt) of these intelligibles,
which, again, become accepted by persuasive methods; fourth, the sciences derived
(muntazaah) from these three for each and every nation. Al-Frb, Tah s l al-sadah,
35. See the translation by Muhsin Mahdi, The Attainment of Happiness Alfarabis
Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle (Ithaca, NY, 1969), 1350. Throughout my discus-
sions, I have used the Arabic primary text, and have consulted Mahdis translation
as needed. Al-Frb describes theoretical virtue as the superior science to which
the rest of the authoritative sciences (namely, the second, third, and fourth sciences)
are subordinate: these sciences merely follow the example of the science of theoreti-
cal virtue and are employed to accomplish its purpose, which is supreme happiness
(al-sadah al-qusw) and the final perfection (al-kaml al-akhr) to be achieved by
man. Al-Frb, Tah s l al-sadah, 38.
236 chapter twelve

al-nazariyyah) existed in ancient times among the Chaldeans living in

present-day Iraq. He does not specify any personal name or religious
group as the originator of this science. One might argue that al-Frb
is referring to the prophetic tradition that began with Abraham, who
is said to have lived in that region, or that by this statement al-Frb
has Hermes (the Third) in mind, since this Hermes is reported to
have lived in the same region and revived many sciences. Without
delving into such historical details, however, al-Frb simply states
that from the Chaldeans philosophy reached the people of Egypt, and
then the Greeks; it remained in Greece until it was transmitted to the
Syrians, and then to the Arabs. Accordingly, the linguistic means of
this science were Greek, Syriac, and Arabic, in succession. Al-Frb
informs us that the Greeks who possessed this science used to call it
absolute wisdom (al-h ikmah al al-itlq) and the highest wisdom
(al-h ikmah al-uzm).59

Ibid., 38. In addition to the above information concerning the history of philoso-
phy in the lands of the various nations in the Near East, al-Frb reports the history of
philosophy specifically in the land of the Greeks and its transmission to his own time.
In this regard, he presents an unbroken historical chain of philosophical instruction.
In his treatise on the rise of philosophy (F Z uhr al-falsafah)unfortunately lost in
its complete form, but recorded partly by Ibn Ab Usaybiahal-Frb tells a story in
which he describes himself as an heir to the Aristotelian philosophy through Alexan-
drian and then H arrnian schools. He states that philosophy became widespread dur-
ing the reign of the [Ptolemaic] Greek kings. After the death of Aristotle, it flourished
and continued unchanged in Alexandria until the last days of the Woman (i.e., Cleo-
patra), who was defeated by Augustus, the Roman emperor. Augustus ordered that
the Aristotelian corpus, together with the expositions written by his pupils, be copied
and taught. He ordered that multiple copies be made, one of which he took with him
to Rome and others he left in Alexandria. At the same time, he took Andronicus, a
competent teacher of Aristotelian philosophy, with him to Rome. Thus, the centers
of learning became two and continued so until the appearance of Christianity. Then,
the teaching came to an end in Rome, but continued in Alexandria until the king of
the Christians looked into the matter. The bishops met and discussed which parts
of Aristotles works were to be taught and which were to be dropped. Their main
criterion was religiously oriented, for they dropped the parts that they thought to be
in contradiction with Christianity, while they allowed the teaching of the parts that
could be used in support of their religion. Accordingly, they decided that the logical
works (Organon) were to be taught up to the end of the existential figures (al-ashkl
al-wujdiyyah), (i.e., up to Prior Analytics, I, 7), but not beyond that. To this extent,
philosophical instruction remained unchanged, while the rest was kept hidden until
the coming of Islam. In the meantime, according to al-Frbs narration, the teach-
ing was transferred from Alexandria to Antioch, where it survived a long time, until
only a single teacher was left. Fortunately, this teacher passed his knowledge on to
two men, one from H arrn, the other from Marw. These two men left their teacher,
taking the books with them. Al-Frb traces his own philosophical education back to
them. He reports that the man from Marw had two students, Ibrhm al-Marwaz and
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 237

The Greeks, al-Frb continues, called the acquisition of this h ikmah

science (ilm), and the scientific state of mind philosophy (falsafah),
by which they meant the predilection and the love for the highest wis-
dom (thr al-h ikmah al-uzm wa-mah abbatuh).60 They called the
one who acquires it philosopher, meaning the one who loves and has
a predilection for the highest wisdom. As al-Frb states,
They (the Greeks) held that it potentially subsumes all the virtues; they
called it the science of sciences (ilm al-ulm), the mother of sciences
(umm al-ulm), the wisdom of wisdoms (h ikmat al-h ikam) and the
art of arts (sinat al-sint); they meant the art that comprises all
the arts, the virtue that comprises all the virtues, and the wisdom that
comprises all the wisdoms.61
Al-Frb states that h ikmah may be used to denote proficiency and
extreme competence in any art whatsoever when it leads to per-
forming accomplishments of which most practitioners of that art

Yuhann b. H ayln. The H arranian, likewise, taught two students, Isrl the Bishop
and Quwayr. Ibrhm and Quwayr moved to Baghdad, the former engaging in reli-
gious subject matters, while the latter took up philosophical teaching. As for Yuhann,
he too engaged in religious activity in his own religion; at the same time, it was he
from whom al-Frb received his own learning in logic. Matt b. Ynus, a contem-
porary of al-Frb, in turn received instruction from al-Marwaz. Ibn Ab Usaybiah,
604605. For a critical analysis of Ibn Ab Usaybiahs records, see Dimitri Gutas,
The Alexandria to Baghdad Complex of Narratives: A Contribution to the Study
of Philosophical and Medical Historiography among the Arabs, Documenti e studi
sulla tradizione filosofica medievale 10 (1999): 155193. In this article Gutas questions
the historical accuracy and reliability of Ibn Ab Usaybiahs story of philosophical
instruction from Alexandria to Baghdad which the latter attributes to al-Frb. In
this narration, Gutas highlights, for instance, that there is no mention of al-Kind or
al-Rz, though the story attempts to give the history of philosophy up to al-Frbs
own time and its earliest stages in Islam; furthermore, the story does not mention any
subject regarding the concerns and problems with which al-Kind and his circle dealt.
On the basis of such internal evidence in the story and external historical evidence
outside Ibn Ab Usaybiahs narration, Gutas argues that this account is a part of a
larger complex of similar narratives and that they should be analyzed all together. For
critical remarks on Gutas findings and arguments in this article, see Hans Daiber,
Die Aristotelesrezeption in der syrischen Literatur, Die Gegenwart des Altertums,
ed. D. Kuhn and H. Stahl (Heidelberg, 2001), 331ff. With regard to al-Frbs con-
ception of Plato and Aristotle, he describes them as two sages (h akmn) who are the
fountainheads (mubdin) of philosophy and the originators (munshin) of systematic
philosophy, with its primary and secondary subject matters. Al-Frb also cites their
definition of philosophy as knowledge of existing things insofar as they are existent
(al-ilm bi-al-mawjdt bi-m hiya mawjdah). Al-Frb, Kitb al-Jam bayn rayay
al-H akmayn, ed. Albr N. Ndir (Beirut, 1960), 80.
Al-Frb, Tah s l al-sadah, 3839.
Ibid., 39.
238 chapter twelve

are incapable. In such a case, it is called human wisdom (h ikmah

bashariyyah). Thus, he who is extremely competent in an art is called
wise (h akm) in that art. Similarly, a man with penetrating practical
judgment (al-nfidh al-ruyah) and sharpness (h athth) may be called
wise in the thing regarding which he has penetrating practical judg-
ment. However, al-Frb concludes, absolute wisdom (al-h ikmah al
al-itlq) is the abovementioned science and state of mind alone.62
The traditional Islamic conception of h ikmah as a combination of
knowledge and action echoes in al-Frbs philosophical writings. This
is the case especially in his political philosophy. In this regard, one
might summarize al-Frbs political writingshowever Greek their
origins might beas formulations for the practice of h ikmah within
a living community. He argues that true philosophy combines theo-
retical virtues with practical ones. He describes the knowledge of the
theoretical sciences, without the faculty to exploit them for the benefit
of others, to be defective philosophy (falsafah nqisah). Accordingly,
al-Frb states, a truly perfect philosopher has to possess both the
theoretical sciences and the faculty for exploiting them for the benefit
of others in accordance with their capacity; he should address these
people by employing appropriate demonstrative, persuasive methods,
as well as methods that represent things through images. In political
context, therefore, the mission of the true philosopher is none other
than that of the supreme ruler (al-ras al-awwal).63
What appears again in Tah s l al-sadah and in his other works is
al-Frbs use of the words h ikmah and falsafah interchangeably.
In a more restricted connotation, he uses h ikmah in the sense of meta-
physics. He then defines h ikmah as knowledge of the remote causes

Ibid., 39.
Ibid., 3940. In a more logical connotation, al-Frb lays the same categorical
principles of employing different kinds of reasoning in accordance with the situa-
tion and capacity of the audience: 1) Demonstrative reasoning leads to certainty, but
is appropriate only for philosophers and scholars. 2) Dialectical reasoning leads to
a semblance of certainty through good intention, and is to be employed by theolo-
gians. 3) Sophistical reasoning leads to a semblance of certainty through bad inten-
tions. 4) Rhetorical reasoning leads to a probable opinion, and is used by politicians.
5) Poetical reasoning leads to imagery-causing pleasure, or pain in the soul. Al-Frb,
Ih s al-ulm, ed. Uthmn Amn (Cairo, 1949), 6469. In al-Frbs view, making
use of the appropriate kind of reasoning in accordance with the intellectual level of
the addressee is, therefore, a crucial part of philosophical argumentation, and in this
regard, the arts of dialectic, rhetoric, and poetics are integral parts of philosophy, for
they represent the efficient means of communication with common people.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 239

(ilm al-asbb al-badah) by which exist all the rest of the existents and
the proximate causes (al-asbb al-qarbah) of the things that are caused
(dhawt al-asbb).64 According to his statements, h ikmah comprises
the knowledge of the real nature of things, including the knowledge
of the reality of their existence with respect to their essences, qualities,
and quantities. H ikmah also comprises the knowledge of the hierarchi-
cal and causal relationship between the One Existence (wujd wh id)
and the remote, as well as proximate, causes. H ikmah further deals
with the knowledge that the One is the First in truth (al-awwal f
al-h aqqah), that the continuity of its existence is not due to the exis-
tence of anything else, and that it is sufficient in itself, not deriving
existence from any other thing. H ikmah, in continuation of the idea
of al-Kind, contains the knowledge that the existence of the One is
absolutely different from other things, that it does not share any of the
qualities found in the existence of other things, and that it has ultimate
perfection.65 In such a metaphysical context, al-Frbs conception of
h ikmah refers specifically to the knowledge of the One or First Truth
and its relation to other beings. Al-Frb expresses this conception
in his definition of h ikmah as the most excellent knowledge (afdal
al-ilm) of the most excellent existents (li-afdal al-mawjdt).66
In his exposition on the word h akm as an attribution of God,
al-Frb says, h ikmah consists in thinking the most excellent thing
through the most excellent knowledge.67 This definition obviously
reminds us of the Aristotelian God, whose primary action is think-
ing or self-contemplation, for al-Frb continues his discussion,
arguing that the Wise comprehends (yaqil) His essence and, through
this knowledge, He knows the most excellent thing. The most excel-
lent knowledge is permanent knowledge, which cannot cease to exist.
This is the knowledge of what is permanent and cannot cease to exist,
namely His knowledge of His essence.68 In this context, al-Frb
ascribes h ikmah in its absolute sense to God alone.

Al-Frb, Fusl al-madan, ed. and trans. D. M. Dunlop (Cambridge, 1961), 126.

Ibid., 126127.
Ibid., 133.
Al-Frb, Kitb r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah, ed. Albr N. Ndir (Beirut,
1968), 4748.
Ibid., 4748. For the same argument see, al-Frb, Kitb al-Siysah al-madaniyyah:
al-mulaqqab bi-mabdi al-mawjdt, ed. Fawz M. Najjr (Beirut, 1964), 4546.
240 chapter twelve

Al-Frb asserts that the person who attains true happiness may
be called h akm, but it is only the necessary existent (God) who pos-
sesses h ikmah in the ultimate sense of the word. He elaborates this
point saying,
H ikmah is the knowledge of the real existence (marifat al-wujd al-h aqq),
which is a necessary existent by itself (wjib al-wujd bi-dhtihi); the
h akm is the one who possesses such knowledge perfectly. There is an
imperfection (nuqsn) in the existence of everything other than the [nec-
essary] existent by itself. This imperfection occurs in accordance with
that things (hierarchical) rank with respect to the First and thus the
former attains an imperfect perception (nqis al-idrk). Therefore, there
is no [real] h akm but the First, for He knows Himself perfectly.69
In fact, al-Frb argues that in comparison to its usage pertaining to
God, h ikmah may be used with respect to man only figuratively. He
reports that on the basis of mans faculty of intellection (taaqqul), some
people call those who practice such intellection h ukam. Al-Frb
finds this designation inappropriate, for h ikmah, in his view, is the
most excellent knowledge of the most excellent of existents, while
human intellection merely knows things in a human way, and man is
not the most excellent thing in the world, nor is he the most excellent
of existents. Due to such essential imperfections, human intellection
cannot truly be called h ikmah, save figuratively (bi-al-istirah wa-al-
Furthermore, according to al-Frbs writings, h ikmah is the means
of true happiness (sadah). He bases his argument on three successive
premises: first, h ikmah is the knowledge of the ultimate causes (al-asbb
al-qusw) of things; second, the ultimate end (al-ghyah al-qusw) for
the sake of which man exists (li-ajlih kuwwina al-insn) is happiness;

Al-Frb, Kitb al-Talqt, in al-Frb: al-alm al-falsafiyyah, ed. Jafar l
Ysn (Beirut, 1992), 382.
Al-Frb, Fusl al-madan, 133. In his treatise al-Tanbh al tah s l al-sadah,
al-Frb explains such a figurative usage in another way. With respect to their objec-
tives (maqsd), al-Frb classifies the arts (sani) into two main categories: a cat-
egory whose objective is attaining the good (jaml), and the other whose objective
is attaining the beneficial (nfi). According to Frbian philosophical terminology,
it is only the former kind of art that properly deserves to be called philosophy (fal-
safah) and absolute human h ikmah (al-h ikmah al-insniyyah al al-itlq). As for the
arts whose objectives are attaining the beneficial, they are not to be called abso-
lute h ikmah, but instead, some might be called falsafah only figuratively (al tarq
al-tashbh). Al-Frb, Rislat al-Tanbh al tah s l al-sadah, ed. Sahbn Khalft
(Amman, 1987), 223.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 241

and third, the end (ghyah) is one of the (four Aristotelian) causes.
This argumentative chain brings al-Frb to define h ikmah as, that
which acquaints a person with what is true happiness.71
In Frbian epistemology, h ikmah holds the highest and most per-
fect kind of knowledge, and the definition of h ikmah as the most
excellent knowledge of the most excellent existents is related primar-
ily to God. Furthermore, al-Frbs treatment of h ikmah goes beyond
his epistemology as it has ontological as well as ethical connotations.
His theory of attaining true happiness is based on two kinds of intel-
lectual activity, namely h ikmah and intellection (taaqqul). H ikmah
alone possesses knowledge of the One (al-wh id), the First (al-awwal),
from which the rest of the existents derive their virtue and perfection.
It also possesses knowledge of the way and quantity of virtue and per-
fection that each existent derives from the One, the First. Being one
among the existents, man derives perfection in the same manner from
the One, the First. It follows that h ikmah possesses knowledge of the
greatest perfection derived from the First by man, and that is happi-
ness. H ikmah, therefore, acquaints a person with true happiness.72 As
for taaqqul, it acquaints a person with what must be done to attain
happiness.73 H ikmah and taaqqul then are two principle components
of the perfection of man: the former provides the ultimate end, and
the latter provides that by which this end is attained.74

Al-Frb, Fusl al-madan, 133134. In his Kitb r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah,
al-Frb explains sadah as a degree of perfection that the human soul can reach in
its existence. At this level of its hierarchical perfection, the soul no longer needs any
material support, since it has become one of the incorporeal and immaterial things.
This is a permanent and highly advanced degree of perfection, for it is only one rank
below the rank of the Active Intellect, which is the highest destination for the soul.
Al-Frb further defines sadah as the good (khayr) which is sought for its own
sake; it is never sought for attaining something else through it; and there is nothing
greater beyond it for man to attain. Al-Frb, Kitb r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah,
105106. In his view, the attainment of happiness is achieved only by way of certain
voluntary actions (afl irdiyyah), some of which are mental (fikr) and others bodily
(badan) actions of man. The good actions help in attaining sadah and lead to vir-
tues (fadil), while the evil actions become an obstacle to sadah and lead to vices
(radhil). Ibid., 106.
Al-Frb, Fusl al-madan, 134.
Ibid., 134.
Ibid., 134. In a more ethical connotation, al-Frb describes h ikmah as a vir-
tue of the speculative part of the soul. According to his classification, the human
soul has two basic rational components: the rational speculative part (al-juz al-ntiq
al-nazar), and the rational reflective part (al-juz al-ntiq al-fikr). Each of the two
has a corresponding virtue (fadlah): the virtue of the speculative part is speculative
intellect (al-aql al-nazar), knowledge (al-ilm), and wisdom (al-h ikmah). As for the
242 chapter twelve

Next, I address al-Frbs conception of philosophy with a particu-

lar emphasis on metaphysics. In previous discussions on al-Kinds
writings, I mentioned that, in his view, the ultimate goal of philosophy
is to attain true knowledge of God, and that in most cases he identifies
metaphysics with theology. I also noted that al-Kind regarded the pur-
pose of Aristotles Metaphysics as an intellectual attempt to establish
a philosophical ground for the knowledge of God. It would seem that
al-Frbs mission in the history of Islamic philosophy was to clarify
the real purpose of Aristotles Metaphysics (which has been discussed
for centuries and is still controversial). Ibn Sn attests to this, as I
mention in the following pages, when he expresses his thankfulness
and indebtedness to al-Frb, who saved him from an overwhelm-
ing difficulty with respect to his comprehension of the content and
purpose of the Metaphysics. Ibn Sn states that despite his extremely
industrious study on this work, he was not able to understand its real
purpose until he was fortunate enough to receive al-Frbs work, F
Aghrd kitb m bad al-tabah, in which the latter explains the aims
of Aristotles Metaphysics.75 Ibn Sn does not provide any further
information about the content and comprehensiveness of the Aghrd
that was available to him, so we are unable to speculate how such a
short treatise as we have today, could have been of so much use to
him. We can, nevertheless, assert that al-Frbs discussions of the
Metaphysics and its relation to the divine science (al-ilm al-ilh) or
theology (ilm al-tawh d) seem to be the fundamental contributions
in this regard, for unlike al-Kinds reduction of the Metaphysics to
theology, al-Frb explicitly states that the Metaphysics deals in fact
with the study of being (mawjd) and its principles and properties, not
exclusively with the study of the divine. Al-Frb considers such an
identification a common confusion and mistake in intellectual circles,
since they expect the entire Metaphysics to concern God, intellect, and
the soul, and other related topics. He asserts that theology is indeed a
part of the Aristotelian metaphysics (m bad al-tabah), but it is not
its single or primary subject; instead, metaphysics is a more universal
science focusing primarily on the common properties of being qua

virtue of the reflective part, it is practical intellect (al-aql al-amal), the act of the
intellecting (taaqqul), discernment (dhihn), excellence of idea (jawdat al-ray), and
correctness of opinion (sawb al-zann). Ibid., 124.
Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 438.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 243

being. Theology is a subject of metaphysics to the extent that God is

a principle of absolute being.76
Without indicating his personal position on the issue, al-Frbs
clarification of the real nature of Aristotelian metaphysics seems to
be an objective scholarly presentation. His description of God as a,
rather than the, principle of the absolute being implies that he was
aware of Aristotles own conception of God, which is evidently not
the Islamic one. But in his Aghrd he does not express his agreement
or disagreement with Aristotle on this point: he simply presents the
latters principle arguments in the Metaphysics. Al-Frb treats the
topic himself in Kitb al-Siysah al-madaniyyah, in which he outlines
the principles of beings and their respective hierarchical order. This
work consists of two major parts. In the first part, al-Frb deals with
the principles of being and their ontological and existential ranking.
His lists them under six categories: 1) the First Cause (al-sabab al-
awwal), 2) the Second Causes (al-asbb al-thawn), 3) the Active
Intellect (al-aql al-fal), 4) the Soul (al-nafs), 5) form (al-srah), and
6) matter (al-mddah).77 In the second part, al-Frb treats man as a
political animal, whose perfection can only be actualized in association
with his fellow human beings in the virtuous city ruled by just and
wise rulers.
Al-Frbs list of the principles of being clearly originated from the
emanationist cosmology of Neoplatonism. The Aristotelian metaphysics
of causation is the essential ontological link between these principles.
At the same time, a close examination of al-Frbs writings indicates
his industrious intellectual effort to Islamize his systematization. First
of all, his conception of God is not a principle of beings anymore,
but it is the principle; nor is it only the first cause of motion in the
universe. This is a conception of God more compatible with the mono-
theistic formulation of God in Islamic religion. Such an understanding

Al-Frb, Maqlah f Aghrd m bad al-tabah, in Rasil al-Frb (Hydera-
bad, 1926), 35. In his Kitab al-Jam bayn rayay al-H akmayn, al-Frb also empha-
sizes Aristotles conception of philosophy as knowledge of beings as they exist
(al-ilm bi-al-mawjdt bi-m hiya mawjdah). Al-Frb, Kitab al-Jam bayn rayay
al-H akmayn, 80. Al-Frbs own systematization of metaphysics has three major
parts: 1) a part dealing with the existence of beings, namely ontology; 2) a part deal-
ing with immaterial substances, their nature, number, and the degrees of their excel-
lence in being, leading ultimately to the study of the most perfect being, which is the
origin and utmost principle of all things, namely theology; and 3) a part dealing with
the basic principles of demonstration underlying the special sciences. Majid Fakhry,
A History of Islamic Philosophy (New York, 1970), 133134.
Al-Frb, Kitb al-Siysah al-madaniyyah, 31.
244 chapter twelve

is, therefore, a decisive departure from Aristotles conception of God,

even though the latter is not entirely clear in itself.
Al-Frbs First Cause (God) is the First Existent (al-mawjd al-
awwal) and the Origin as well as the First Cause of the existence of all
the other existents. The First is free from every kind of deficiency or
imperfection, while everything else is, in one way or another, subject
to some kind of imperfection. His existence is thus the most excellent
and precedes all other existences. He has the highest kind of excellent
existence and the ultimate rank of perfect existence. It is in no way
possible that He should not exist. His existence is without a cause, a
beginning, or an end. His existence has no purpose nor aim for the
sake of which He exists. He is the One and the pure existent. He is
not in need of any other thing for His existence, while all other things
not only derive their existence from His, but they are also dependent
continually on His existence. His existence is beyond all the mental
categories of man, such as matter, form, and substratum. His existence
does not share any qualities with the existence of other things; it is a
totally different and unique existence.78 It follows that as a result of its
imperfection and its association with matter, human reason cannot
apprehend the essence of the First, whose beauty and splendor dazzle it
immeasurably. It is only He Himself who can sufficiently comprehend
His essence, while human reason may have only limited access to it.79
Such statements indicate that al-Frbs conception of God is beyond
Aristotles Unmoved Mover. It is true that the primary components
of his formulation of God have a Neoplatonic originespecially with
respect to characterizing creation as an emanation, rather than as an
origination from nothingbut at the same time it shares the basic
attributes of the Qurnic God, who possesses ultimate perfection in
every sense. Otherwise, in a strict philosophical sense, it is not easy to
reconcile Aristotles first cause with the Islamic God, for the first cause
is a pure intellect that is everlastingly busy in intellecting itself and
has no concern with the rest of the universe. Al-Frbs systematic
Islamization of Greek philosophy can also be observed in his discus-
sions on the rest of the principles of beings, and on the Active Intellect
in particular.

Al-Frb, Kitb r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah, 37, and Al-Frb, Kitb
al-Siysah al-madaniyyah, 4243.
Al-Frb, Kitb r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah, 4950.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 245

Al-Frb identifies the Active Intellect, which is the last of the

celestial intelligences in his emanative scheme, with the Qurnic
Faithful Spirit (al-rh al-amn) and Holy Spirit (rh al-quds),80
namely, the angel of revelation. This Active Intellect is the means of
receiving the ultimate philosophical as well as religious truth, and is
thus the indispensable means for attaining true happiness. Al-Frb
compares the function of the Active Intellect over human intelligence
to the action of light on sight and colors. He assigns successive ranks
to the human rational soul. In the process of its attainment of intelli-
gibles (maqlt), the rational soulwhich is initially an intellect only
in potentiality (al-aql bi-al-quwwah)becomes the actual intellect
(al-aql bi-al-fil), and then the acquired intellect (al-aql al-mustafd)

Al-Frb, Kitb al-Siysah al-madaniyyah, 32. In his commentary on Kitb
r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah, Walzer argues that, in this context, al-Frb simply
equates the separate immaterial intellect with the angels or the spiritual beings of
Islam. In Walzers view, this is another case of al-Frbs understanding of religious
terms as symbols for philosophical truth. Walzer asserts that the Greek word theos in
philosophical texts was frequently translated into Arabic by the word angels, and
that, following this practice, al-Frb transformed the pagan Greek gods into Mus-
lim angels. Al-Frb, [Kitb r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah, English] Al-Farabi on
the Perfect State, ed. and trans. Richard Walzer (Oxford, 1985), 363364. I believe
Walzer oversimplifies al-Frbs effort in this regard. It is true that the origins of
al-Frbs metaphysical and epistemological discussions go back to Neoplatonic and
Aristotelian philosophical traditions, just as the majority of his political theories have
a Platonic origin. At the same time, however, it is evident that, throughout his dis-
cussions, al-Frb remodels and rethinks the philosophical conceptions he receives
from earlier intellectuals. He does not imprison himself slavishly within their philo-
sophical formulations; rather, he refines and modifies their arguments to present a
detailed and coherent philosophical system that could, simultaneously, be compatible
with the basic Islamic doctrines. Al-Frbs efforts to integrate philosophy within
Islamic intellectual disciplines do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that he simply
transforms the pagan Greek religious conceptions into Islamic ones. If al-Frb seems
to be concerned with presenting philosophy to his contemporary cultural circles as
an acceptable intellectual field of study, as long as he introduces a coherent philo-
sophical system, I would let it be so without questioning his motivations, nor over-
simplifying his efforts. After all, what he tries to achieve is to present a system which
is as inclusive as possible under the historical circumstances in which he lives. In
this regard, one might also consider al-Frbs inclusion of Islamic theology (kalm)
and jurisprudence (fiqh) into his classification of sciences to be an indication of his
continual efforts to present an inclusive intellectual system. Al-Frb, Ih s al-ulm,
130132. For further reading on al-Frbs system of emanations (followed later by
Ibn Sn as well) see Miklos Maroth, Die Araber und die antike Wissenschaftstheorie
(Leiden, 1994), 199ff. For a detailed analysis of the specific influence of Alexander of
Aphrodisias cosmology on al-Frbs system, see Charles Genequand, Alexander of
Aphrodisias on the Cosmos (Leiden, 2001), 20ff.
246 chapter twelve

in succession.81 According to al-Frbs philosophical epistemology,

this process results in the enlightenment of the human rational soul by
the Active Intellect, such an enlightenment being, precisely, true hap-
piness. But some exceptionally gifted individuals, namely the proph-
ets, are in direct touch with the Active Intellect without being subject
to those stages of the human rational soul.82 This knowledge is more
direct and complete than regular philosophical knowledge. In the final
analysis, however, Frbian epistemology identifies the real natures of
religious and philosophical truths, the only difference between them
being in the form of representation, for revelation is the symbolic
expression of philosophical truth, which cannot be understood by
non-philosophers. Or, in other words, a true philosopher contacts the

Al-Frb, Kitb r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah, 102103. For a detailed expla-
nation of al-Frbs theory of intellect and his well-known formulation of the Ten
Intelligences within an emanationist cosmology, see, al-Frb, Risalah f al-Aql, ed.
Maurice Bouyges (Beirut, 1938). This theory of intellect is the basis of the Frbian
theory of knowledge in general and of prophecy in particular. For a detailed exam-
ination of al-Frb and Ibn Sns conceptions of intellect within the Aristotelian
philosophical tradition, see Herbert Davidson, Alfarabi and Avicenna on the Active
Intellect, Viator 3 (1972): 109179, and Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on Intellect:
Their Cosmologies, Theories of the Active Intellect, and Theories of Human Intellect
(New York, 1992).
Al-Frb, Kitb al-Siysah al-madaniyyah, 79. In addition to his purely philo-
sophical concerns, al-Frb had other historical motivations, to establish a theoretical
ground for the institution of prophethood. Ibrahim Madkour states that in the third/
ninth and fourth/tenth centuries a wave of skepticism, questioning and refuting rev-
elation and prophethood was prevalent. Ibn al-Rwand and Ab Bakr al-Rz were
among the leading figures of that movement. Al-Frbs particular interest in this
matter was a contribution to the intellectual efforts of the mainstream Muslim schol-
ars to disprove the arguments of the adversaries of the prophetic institution and to
explain prophecy on a rational ground. Ibrahim Madkour, Al-Frb, A History of
Muslim Philosophy, ed. M. M. Sharif (Wiesbaden, 1963), 465.
In the same context, I also refer to Hans Daibers discussions in his article The
Ismaili Background of Frbs Political Philosophy, Gottes ist der Orient, Gottes
ist der Okzident, ed. Udo Tworuschka (Kln, 1991), 143150. In this article, Daiber
speculates on the reasons al-Frb integrated the Platonic idea of a philosopher-king
into his combination of Islamic prophetology and religion with Platonic-Aristotelian
political philosophy. In Daibers view, al-Frbs prophetology should not be traced
back to middle-Platonic traditions, as Walzer argues. Instead, Daiber finds al-Frbs
source in Isml circles in Iran, specifically in Ab H tim al-Rzs (d. 322/933934)
Kitb Alm al-nubuwwah. We know that Ab H tim composed this work on the
occasion of his well-known dispute with Ab Bakr al-Rz in the presence of the gov-
ernor Mardawj. Daiber states that al-Frbs al-Madnah al-fdilah was inspired
by the ideas found in this work, especially with regard to al-Frbs conception of
prophecy. Consequently, Daiber argues, since al-Frb agreed with the Isml idea
of the universality of thinking, the latter combined Greek and Islamic-Isml ideas
in this context.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 247

Active Intellect through contemplation, while a prophet experiences

the same thing through revelation, and thus that which a true philoso-
pher acquires demonstratively from the Active Intellect is the same
thing that a prophet teaches in symbolic form.83
At this juncture, al-Frbs readers are confronted with his contin-
ual reluctance to make direct references to Qurnic or Prophetic state-
ments. Such is the case especially in his most mature works, that is,
the Kitb r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah and Kitb al-Siysah.84 How
should we interpret this? One might argue that this would be a sign
of al-Frbs general and methodological preference for philosophi-
cal inquiry over religion. Yet the narrations relating to his lifestyle in
general and his practice of philosophy in particular would place such
a categorical conclusion at odds with al-Frbs fundamental personal
characteristics, for Muslim biographical writers during his lifetime
portray him as an extremely ascetic and even spiritual person.85 Or
one might argue that al-Frb does not refer to any specific religious
scripture because he strives to establish his system on the basis of a
universal and philosophical conception of truth. Then h ikmah would
perfectly fit into such an argument. In this case, one might interpret
the whole Frbian philosophical enterprise as an attempt to reach
and practice h ikmah, the everlasting search of mankind for truth. My
earlier note recalling the fact that the earliest Muslim philosophers
did not talk about an exclusively Islamicas opposed to Jewish or
Christianphilosophy, may further illuminate the issue. It would fol-
low that al-Frb treats philosophy as h ikmah and strives to make his
discussions as universal as possible.86

Al-Frb, Kitb al-Millah wa-nuss ukhr, ed. Muhsin Mahd (Beirut, 1968),
Al-Frb does make reference to Qurnic statements in his less well-known
works or those which are of questionable authenticity. See, for instance, Du azm
and Min al-asilah al-lmiah wa-al-ajwibah al-jmiah in al-Frb, Kitb al-Millah,
8992 and 95115, respectively. In this context, Fuss al-h ikam is especially notewor-
thy because it is full of Qurnic references; see for instance, al-Frb, Fuss al-h ikam,
ed. Muhammad l Ysn (Baghdad, 1976), 60, 62, 63, 68 and 70. P. Kraus and R. Walzer
talk negatively with respect to its attribution to al-Frb, while Corbin and l Ysn
consider Fuss to be a genuinely Frbian work. For the discussions on this issue see
l Ysns introduction to al-Frbs Fuss al-h ikam, 2326, and Corbin, History of
Islamic Philosophy, 159160.
See, for instance, Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 603604.
In this context, I should also emphasize al-Frbs recurrent emphasis on logic
as a universal criterion for correct reasoning. In his view, the art of logic gives the
basic rules to correct the mind and direct man to the (right) way to truth. It thus helps
248 chapter twelve

In regard to his personal conception of Islam, al-Frb outlines

this in his Kitb al-Millah as an ideal actualization of religious as well
as philosophical truth. His discussions on prophethood and revela-
tion underlie this conception, which pictures a prophet who engages
himself fully in the affairs of his community; al-Frbs prophet is
not merely a spiritually enlightened person in seclusion, rather he is a
leader and founder of the virtuous political regime for his own com-
munity, in which the ultimate happiness, that is, h ikmah, is to be real-
ized.87 In other words, his prophet is a philosopher-prophet, in whose
personality mans highest perfection is to be observed, and it is this
prophet who links the terrestrial and celestial worlds, which occurs by
means of his connection with the Active Intellect. Al-Frbs identifi-
cation of the Active Intellect with the aforementioned Qurnic figures,
as well as his inclusion of kalm and fiqh in his classification of the
sciences,88 provide further testimony to the basic Islamic components
of his philosophical system. Moreover, his characterization of the First
Cause, the origin and principle of all other beings, as the Qurnic God
facilitated the reception of his philosophy, explicitly or implicitly, by
later Muslim intellectuals in general and by theologians in particular.
In these discussions of the actual character of al-Frbs philo-
sophical system, I am not attempting to dephilosophize al-Frbs
conception of religion. Undoubtedly, his conception of religion is phil-
osophical in nature, one whose principle components are derived from
the Hellenistic intellectual legacy. Rather I emphasize that he should
not be characterized as just a rationalist or political philosopher in the
modern senses of the words.89 Nor should he be portrayed as a logi-
cian alone. Rather, he presents a comprehensive philosophical system,
the methodological framework of which is of Greek origin, though its
main concerns are, at the same time, religiously oriented. His attempt
at a reconciliation between philosophy and religion has two starting

one in distinguishing truth from error and attaining the right way of thinking, as well
as teaching other people the same rules. Al-Frb, Ih s al-ulm, 5355.
Al-Frb, Kitb al-Millah, 4344.
Al-Frb, Ih s al-ulm, 130132.
Al-Frbs political philosophy represents his formulations of an ideal practice
of philosophical truths under worldly conditions. He in fact uses the expressions
practical philosophy (al-falsafah al-amaliyyah) and political/civil philosophy
(al-falsafah al-madaniyyah) interchangeably. Al-Frb, Rislat al-Tanbh, 224225.
For an overview of al-Frbs delicate balance between philosophy and religion, see
Mahdi, Alfarabi on Philosophy and Religion, The Philosophical Forum 4, no. 1
(1972): 525.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 249

points moving from the edges of the two fields toward a converging
point. Al-Frb relates metaphysics to politics and ethics in an organic
unity, and thus conceptualizes it as an extension and practice in a real
and virtuous human society. On the one hand, al-Frbs formulations
of the Peripatetic tradition, cloaked in Neoplatonic garb, help him in
presenting his philosophical ideas as more compatible with Islamic
doctrines; on the other hand, he gives philosophical explanations of
religious concepts, especially of God and revelation. Al-Frbs philo-
sophical expositions in this regard gave Islamic philosophy its direc-
tion in the following centuries. Later Muslim philosophers, especially
Ibn Sn, elaborated on al-Frbs characteristically brief and concise
philosophical formulations.
Al-Frbs philosophical formulations pertaining to God and reve-
lation aroused intense religious objections in Muslim scholarly circles,
especially from al-Ghazl. His conception of an emanative cosmol-
ogy conflicts seriously with Islamic dogma in relation to the Godhead
and His attributes. Al-Frbs cosmology presupposes that the world
proceeds from God in a series of successive intelligences constituting
a hierarchical chain of being. Starting from the First Cause, who is the
Intellect of intellects, the existence of every intellect (ten in number)
is caused through emanation by the higher intellect, while at the same
time that intellect itself is the cause of the succeeding lower intellect.
Al-Frb thus reduces everything to intellect: his conceptions of God,
celestial bodies, and the Active Intellect are all intellects, and their
ontological relations are explained by way of the theory of emana-
tion. This theory, however, has certain constituents incompatible with
Islamic religious tenets. First, al-Frbs God is no longer a Creator
of the universe from nothing, nor does He create by His will. Rather,
it is a result of His self-contemplation; an emanation (fayd) from Him
occurs by itself; He is the Intellect that intellects Itself.90
To return to the central discussion of al-Frbs writings in rela-
tion to h ikmah, I would add another traditional treatment of h ikmah
found in his writings. In the introduction to Part iv, I mentioned that
Muslim philosophers treat h ikmah as a very high degree of knowledge
that should not be improperly divulged to uninitiated people, or to

For al-Frbs conception of God as Intellect, see, Al-Frb, Kitb r ahl


al-madnah al-fdilah, 4648. On the basis of al-Frbs intellectualism in this fash-

ion, some modern scholars characterize his philosophy as spiritualistic and idealistic.
Madkour, 467.
250 chapter twelve

undeserving and ignorant persons. In this context, al-Frb illustrates

their general strategy. He argues that, because it is based on demonstra-
tive methods, the absolute h ikmah (lit., the first science) is not within
the reach of every person. Rather, it is only the elect (khssa h) of the
community who [can] properly enjoy this science. The rest of the sci-
ences address the common people (mmah), as they are based either
on persuasion or representation by way of images, so that they are facil-
itated in the instruction of the masses or the multitude of the nations
(jumhr al-umam). In al-Frbs view, unlike the elect, the common
people should confine themselves to theoretical cognitions that are in
conformity with unexamined common opinion (bdi al-ray al-mush-
tarak). Thus the methods of persuasion (iqniyyah) and imaginative
representation (takhylt) are used in the instruction of the vulgar and
the multitude of the nations. The elect, on the other hand, reach their
conviction and knowledge through premises (muqaddamt) based on
a complete intellectual pursuit, for in their theoretical cognitions they
do not confine themselves merely to that which is in conformity with
unexamined common opinion. The demonstrative methods, therefore,
are used in the instruction of those who belong to the elect.91 As for
the masses, who are the citizens of al-Frbs ignorant cities, he does
not seem overly concerned with their position in this world, or in the
world to come. He even argues that the souls of the citizens of igno-
rant cities will simply disintegrate after death, for their souls remain
in a state of imperfection and need matter in order to keep their exis-
tence alive. Once they lose this material substratum, their souls, being
dependent on it, will lose their existence and perish.92
Al-Frbs philosophical discussions with respect to such an elit-
ist classification of human beings have found various interpretations
in modern scholarship. Ibrhm Madkour, for instance, interprets
al-Frbs approach as indicating that the latter was in favor of esoteric
teaching and believed that philosophy should not be made available to
the uninitiated among the masses. Furthermore, Madkour continues,
following a venerable tradition, al-Frb clothed the expositions of his
ideas in obscurity, mystification, and ambiguity.93

Al-Frb, Tah s l al-sadah, 3638.
Al-Frb, Kitb r ahl al-madnah al-fdilah, 142144.
Madkour, 453.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 251

On the other hand, another group of scholars, following Leo Strauss,

situate Islamic philosophy in general and Frbian philosophy in par-
ticular within the context of a conflict between religion and philosophy.
They argue that, depending on the social context in which they lived,
these philosophers communicated or withheld their philosophical
knowledge, which included in itself secret doctrines meant to be con-
cealed from non-philosophical minds; had they expressed this knowl-
edge without any reservation, they could have been persecuted in their
societies. Gutas designates this tendency as the political approach
and names as its leading representatives Muhsin Mahdi94 and Charles
Butterworth.95 According to Gutas argument, these scholars misin-
terpret the whole history of Arabic philosophy under the influence
of Socrates tragic experience. They assume that philosophers writing
in Arabic worked in a hostile environment and had to present their
views not only as being in conformity with Islamic religious precepts,
but also in disguise.96
I share with Gutas his uneasiness with such a reading of the his-
tory of Islamic philosophy, as it is contradicted by historical facts.
According to our current knowledge in the field, with the exception
of al-Suhrawardwhose sufferings may well not have been only the
result of his philosophical beliefsthere is not a single philosopher who
was persecuted for his philosophical convictions.97 We know further
that in the earliest days of the translation of the Greek philosophical
heritage into Arabic, the practicioners of Islamic philosophy worked
under royal protection, and certainly not under duress. With regard
to al-Frbs particular case, therefore, I am not inclined to think that
he concealed his real philosophical ideas or formulated them under
the guise of religion to find for himself a form of protection for his

See, for instance, Muhsin Mahdi, The Political Orientation of Islamic Philosophy
(Washington, D.C., 1982).
See, for instance, Charles Butterworth, Rhetoric and Islamic Political Philoso-
phy, International Journal of Middle East Studies 3 (1972): 187198.
Gutas, The Study of Arabic Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, 1920. For
further critical reading on Leo Strauss understanding and interpretation of the his-
tory of Islamic philosopy in general and of al-Frb, Ibn Sn, and Ibn Rushds phi-
losophies in particular, see Georges Tamer, Islamische Philosophy und die Krise der
Moderne (Leiden, 2001). Tamer argues that Strauss approach is based on a type of
dichotomizing religion and philosophy, whereas in the case of these Islamic philoso-
phers what we see is a harmonious system in which there is no place for such a cat-
egorical conflict between reason and faith.
Gutas, The Study of Arabic Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, 21.
252 chapter twelve

philosophical activities. Instead, I think that he was acting in accor-

dance with a long-standing tradition of protecting philosophy as
h ikmah from the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of unde-
serving and unqualified people.

Ibn Sn: The Headmaster

Throughout his philosophical works, Ibn Sn (d. 428/1037) uses the

word h ikmah in the sense of philosophy in general and metaphysics
in particular.98 In the former case, he defines h ikmah as the perfect-
ing of the human soul through the conceptualization of things and
the assention of theoretical and practical truths insofar as it is possible
for man.99 This definition indicates that Ibn Sns conception of phi-
losophy is also h ikmah, which presupposes combining knowledge with
action.100 In this context, his reference to the Qurnic verse 2:269, in
which those who are given h ikmah are characterized as being given
much good, further testifies to the fact that Ibn Sn treats philoso-
phy as Islamic h ikmah as well.101 In the latter case, like al-Kind and
al-Frb, Ibn Sn identifies h ikmah with metaphysics and designates
it as the first philosophy (al-falsafah al-l)102 and the divine sci-

See, for instance, Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 3, 443. Accordingly, Ibn Sn
uses the word h ukam and h akm to refer to philosophers in general and to Aristotle
in particular. See, for instance, Ibn Sn, Kitb al-H udd, ed. A.-M. Goichon (Cairo,
1963), 4 and 10 respectively. He also uses the word h ikmah in the sense of sagac-
ity (Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 50), and of divine wisdom (Ibn Sn, al-Shif:
al-Ilhiyyt, 421, 443, 446). Throughout my translations from al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, I
have also benefited from Marmuras translation of the work: Avicenna, The Metaphys-
ics of the Healing: A Parallel English-Arabic Text = al-Ilhiyyt min al-Shif, trans-
lated, introduced, and annotated by M. Marmura (Utah, 2005). In his introduction
to logic, Ibn Sn states that unlike the conventional scholarly practices of his time,
he will not explain the principles of logic (mabdi al-mantiq) in the section on logic
in his al-Shif, but rather, he thinks that these principles should be explained in the
part on metaphysics, or, in his own words, al-sinah al-h ikamiyyah, i.e., al-falsafah
al-l. Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Mantiq, al-Madkhal, eds. Georges C. Anawt, et al.
(Cairo, 1952), 10.
Ibn Sn, Uyn al-h ikmah, 63.
Such combination was not unknown to the Greek sages either; for according to
their encyclopedic conception of sciences, philosophy is to be united with the study of
nature, and the perfection of man is to be manifested in both knowledge and action.
Goichon, Ibn Sn, EI.
Ibn Sn, Uyn al-h ikmah, 64.
Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 3.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 253

ence (al-ilm al-ilh).103 When it comes to the purpose of philosophy,

he explains it as attaining knowledge of the true natures of all things
insofar as is possible for man.104
Following the preceding philosophical tradition, Ibn Sn classi-
fies philosophical sciences under two major categories: the theoretical
(nazariyyah) and the practical (amaliyyah). In the theoretical sciences,
an inquirer seeks to perfect the theoretical faculty of the soul through
the attainment of the intellect by action (bi-h usl al-aql bi-al-fil);
this occurs by way of the attainment of conceptual (tasawwur) and
assentual (tasdq) knowledge of things, whose existence is indepen-
dent of human actions and states. Thus, the aim of the inquirer into
these things is to attain an opinion (ray) and a belief (itiqd) that
is not dependent on his own action in any way. As for the practi-
cal sciences, one seeks in them first the perfection of the theoretical
faculty by attaining conceptual and assentual knowledge pertain-
ing to things that are dependent on human actions, and thereby one
seeks, second, the perfection of the practical faculty through morals
(akhlq).105 According to Ibn Sns explanation, the purpose of theo-
retical philosophy is the knowledge of the truth (marifat al-h aqq),
while the purpose of practical philosophy is the knowledge of the
good (marifat al-khayr).106 In his view, therefore, theoretical philoso-
phy focuses on things as they are, while practical philosophy focuses
on human actions as they ought to be.
Ibn Sn states that theoretical knowledge is confined to three divi-
sions: the natural (tab), the mathematical (talm), and the divine

Ibid., 4, 5.
Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Mantiq, al-Madkhal, 12.
Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 34. In the section on logic in his al-Shif, Ibn
Sn introduces the same categorization, saying that the existence of existent things
are either independent of our choice (ikhtiyr) and action (fil), or they are dependent
on our choice and action. The knowledge of the former is called theoretical philoso-
phy, while the knowledge of the latter is called practical philosophy. The purpose of
theoretical philosophy is the perfecting of the soul through knowledge only, whereas
the purpose of practical philosophy is not only knowledge but also putting this knowl-
edge into action. The purpose of theoretical philosophy is, thus, belief in an opinion
(itiqdu rayin), not action, while the purpose of practical philosophy is the knowledge
of the opinion of that action. It follows, Ibn Sn argues, that theoretical philosophy is
more closely related to opinion. Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Mantiq, al-Madkhal, 12.
In his Uyn al-h ikmah, Ibn Sn introduces the same classification of philosophical
sciences, but this time, instead of the word falsafah, he uses h ikmah to refer philoso-
phy. Ibn Sn, Uyn al-h ikmah, 6364.
Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Mantiq, al-Madkhal, 14.
254 chapter twelve

(ilh). The divine science differs from the first two in its exclusive
investigation of the things that are separable from matter in substance
and definition.107 It is the divine science in which the first causes of
natural and mathematical existence and what relates to them are
investigated, and in which the Cause of causes and Principle of prin-
ciples, namely God, is investigated.108 Ibn Sn defines the divine sci-
ence as philosophy in the real sense. He further describes it as the first
philosophy, the science that imparts validation to the principles of the
rest of the sciences, and as h ikmah in reality.109
Ibn Sn gives three definitions of this h ikmah: 1) the best knowledge
of the best object of knowledge (afdalu ilmin bi-afdali malmin);110
2) the most correct and perfect knowledge (al-marifah allat hiya
asah h u marifatih wa-atqanuh);111 and 3) knowledge of the first
causes of all things (al-ilm bi-al-asbb al-l li-al-kull).112 According
to Ibn Sns statement, these three definitions refer to the same art,

Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 4. Ibn Sn stresses that the subject matter of the
natural is bodies, with regard to their being in motion and at rest, while the subject
matter of mathematics is quantity, either a quantity that is essentially abstracted from
matter, or a quantity that has quantity itself. Ibid., 4, and 1012. See also, Ibn Sn,
Uyn al-h ikmah, 63. In his Kitb al-Talqt, Ibn Sn divides being (mawjd) into
two kinds: separate (mufriq) and non-separate (ghayr mufriq). The former is pecu-
liar to the science of the divine, which investigates beings free of matter and provides
universal (kull) knowledge, while the latter are the subject matter of all the other sci-
ences that produce partial (juz) knowledge. Ibn Sn, Kitb al-Talqt, ed. H asan M.
al-Ubayd (Baghdad, 2002), 147148. Ibn Sn argues, therefore, that all sciences other
than the divine science provide only partial (juz) knowledge on the basis of a certain
state of the beings. Ibn Sn, Kitb al-Najt, ed. Majid Fakhry (Beirut, 1985), 235.
Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 4.
Ibid., 5. As for the divisions of practical philosophy, Ibn Sn classifies them
under three categories as well: a) politics (tadbr al-madnah or ilm al-siysah), which
teaches the opinions regulating public relations in a human community, b) household
management (tadbr al-manzil), which teaches the opinions relating to domestic life,
and c) ethics (akhlq), which teaches the opinions regulating an individuals state with
respect to purifying his soul. Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Mantiq, al-Madkhal, 14. For the
same categorization, see Ibn Sn, Uyn al-h ikmah, 63. For Ibn Sns classification
of philosophy and science, see also H. Hinrich Biesterfeldt, Medieval Arabic Ency-
clopedias of Science and Philosophy, The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias of Science
and Philosophy (Dortrecht, 2000): 7798. In this article, Biesterfeldt investigates Ibn
Sns classification of philosophy and science within a broader context of classical
methods of classification in medieval Islamic scholarship. In addition to Ibn Sns
categorization, Biesterfeldt investigates other classifications presented by al-Kind,
al-mir, Ibn Farghn, al-Frb, Ikhwn al-Saf, Ibn H azm, Fakhr al-Dn al-Rz,
and Ibn Rushd.
Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 5.
Ibid., 5.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 255

namely, the divine science, which is the first philosophy and absolute
h ikmah (al-h ikmah al-mutlaqah).113
On the subject matter of the divine science, Ibn Sn argues that the
existence of God is just one of the things, not the only thing, sought
in this science.114 He phrases its subject matter as being, which is
the first and most essential concept of the mind that does not need
any prior explanation.115 The subject matter of the divine science is,
thus, the existent inasmuch as it is an existent (al-mawjd bi-m
huwa mawjd),116 and the things sought in this science are those that
come unconditionally with the existent, inasmuch as it is an existent.117
On the existence of God specifically in relation to the divine science,
Ibn Sn conceptualizes it within the framework of the concept of
being. One should always keep in mind, however, that, according to
Ibn Snnian ontology, the most complete and perfect being is God,
who deserves to be called the Absolute Being (al-mawjd al-mutlaq),
and in this regard the divine science investigates the existence of God.
Starting from the Absolute Being, the divine science also investigates
the principles of the other sciences.118
From Ibn Sns definition of the subject matter of the divine sci-
ence as the existent inasmuch as it is existent, it follows that the
divine science investigates the states of the existent (ah wl al-mawjd).
He calls this science the first philosophy, because it is the knowl-
edge of the first thing in existence, i.e., the First Cause, and of the
first thing in generality (f al-umm), that is, existence and unity.
It is also h ikmah, which means the best knowledge of the best thing
known. H ikmah deserves this designation because it is knowledge that
yields certainty (yaqn) of God and the causes after Him. The divine

Ibid., 5.
Ibid., 5. For a detailed logical explanation of the reason the existence of God can-
not literally be admitted as the subject matter of the divine science, see, Ibid., 59.
Ibn Sn, Kitb al-Najt, 235. For Ibn Sns detailed discussions on being
and its kinds (the necessary existent [wjib al-wujd], the possible existent [mum-
kin al-wujd]) see, Ibn Sn, al-Mabda wa-al-mad, ed. Abd Allh Nrn (Tehran,
1984), 123.
Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 13.
Ibn Sn, Kitb al-Najt, 235. For a detailed scholarly presentation of the his-
tory of the metaphysics of Ibn Sn, see Robert Wisnovsky, Avicennas Metaphysics in
Context (Ithaca, 2003). For Ibn Sns reception of Aristotles Metaphysics, particularly
in his al-Shif, see Amos Bertolacci, The Reception of Aristotles Metaphysics in Avi-
cennas Kitb al-Shif: A Milestone of Western Metaphysical Thought (Leiden, 2006).
256 chapter twelve

science is also knowledge of the ultimate causes of all existent things. Ibn
Sn further describes this science as knowledge of God (al-marifah
bi-Allh) and states that since it consists of a knowledge of the things
that are separable from matter in definition and existence, it is called
the divine science.119 With regard to its significance in relation to
other sciences, Ibn Sn asserts that, in its own right, the divine sci-
ence should be prior to all the other sciences, but, from the human
perspective, it is posterior to all of them.120 To put it another way, the
divine science is, in fact, the most prestigious and advanced science,
but in relation to its acquisition by human beings, it is the most dif-
ficult and sophisticated science, which necessitates the pre-acquisition
of the knowledge acquired in all the other sciences.
Through the divine science, Ibn Sn strives to establish philosophi-
cal proofs for the existence of the First Principle, to show that He is
One, Truth, and utmost majesty, and to explain the true nature of
His attributes, including His oneness, knowledge, power, generosity,
and pure goodness. In this science, Ibn Sn explicates His relation
to the existents that proceed from Him in hierarchical ranks, start-
ing from the angelic intellectual substances (al-jawhir al-malakiyyah
al-aqliyyah), followed by the celestial spherical substances, down to
man. It is also through this science that Ibn Sn elucidates the nature
of the dependence of all things on the First Principle, and discusses the
condition of the human soul with respect to its rank in existence and
to the prestigious position of the prophetic institution and knowledge.
And it is this science that Ibn Sn deals with the morals and actions
which, together with h ikmah (wisdom), are needed by the human soul
for attaining happiness in the Hereafter, and with the different types
of happiness.121
In Ibn Snnian philosophical terminology, besides its use in the
sense of theoretical philosophy (al-h ikmah al-nazariyyah), h ikmah
also has an ethical connotation in practical philosophy, or, al-h ikmah
al-amaliyyah. In this context, h ikmah is the third virtue, in addi-
tion to temperance (iffah) and courage (shajah). Unlike al-h ikmah

Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 15.
Ibid., 21. For a comparative analysis of the subject matter of metaphysics in the
philosophies of Aristotle and Ibn Sn, see Fakhry, The Subject-Matter of Metaphys-
ics: Aristotle and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Islamic Theology and Philosophy: Studies in
Honor of George F. Hourani, ed. Michael Marmura (Albany, 1984): 137147.
Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 2728.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 257

al-nazariyyah, in which the means of the attainment of the above-

mentioned objective is independent of human actions and states, in
al-h ikmah al-amaliyyah it is worldly actions and behavior that leads
to the perfection of the human soul. Ibn Sn describes any [strictly]
intellectual efforts to concentrate on (knowledge of) al-h ikmah
al-amaliyyah as futile attempts and deception, for this type of h ikmah
is h ikmah in action.122
Ibn Sn further contextualizes the function of this h ikmah in the
context of the ethical virtues. He lists the motivating powers (daw)
of man under three major kinds: the appetitive (shahwniyyah), the
irascible (ghadabiyyah), and the practical (tadbriyyah). It follows that
the virtues consist of three things: 1) moderation in such appetites as
the pleasures of sex (mankh ), food (matm), clothing (malbs), and
comfort (rh ah), as well as sensory (h issiyyah) and imaginal (wahmi-
yyah) pleasures; 2) moderation in all the irascible passions, such as fear
(khawf), anger (ghadab), depression (ghamm), pride (anafah), rancor
(h iqd), jealousy (h asad), and the like; and 3) moderation in practi-
cal matters (tadbriyyah). At the head of these virtues, Ibn Sn con-
tinues, stands temperance, practical wisdom (h ikmah), and courage;
their sum is justice (adlah), which, however, is extraneous to theo-
retical virtue (khrijah an al-fadlah al-nazariyyah). According to Ibn
Sns explanation, whoever combines theoretical wisdom with justice
is indeed a happy man, and whoever, in addition to this, receives the
prophetic qualities becomes almost a human god (kda an-yusira rab-
ban insniyyan), who may almost be worshipped, after the worship
of God. Ibn Sn calls such a man the worlds earthly king (sultn
al-lam al-ard) and Gods deputy in it (khalfat Allh fhi).123
Ibn Sns treatment of h ikmah as a precious thing to be protected
firmly from unworthy and unqualified peoplea traditional practice,
as noted previouslycan be observed in his discussions on prophet-
hood. In his view too, religious and philosophical truths are essentially
the same, for religion expresses philosophical truth in the language
of symbols and images. But a prophet must avoid using philosophi-
cal language in his speech to the common folk to the extent that he
must even refrain from mentioning to them that there is knowledge

Ibid., 455.

Ibid., 455. For a detailed analysis of Ibn Sns conception of prophethood, see

Fazlur Rahman, Prophecy in Islam: Philosophy and Orthodoxy (London, 1958).

258 chapter twelve

that is beyond their reach and hidden from them. Rather, Ibn Sn
continues, a prophet is expected to let the masses know of Gods maj-
esty and greatness through symbols and similitudes based on their
conventional understanding of majesty and greatness. A prophet is
expected likewise to bring metaphysical concepts, including the real
natures of the resurrection and the afterlife, closer to their understand-
ing by way of parables derived from what they can comprehend and
conceive.124 In this context, Ibn Sn makes reference to the practice of
the foremost Greek philosophers and prophets who made use of sym-
bols and signs in their works, in order to hide their secret doctrines.
He lists Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato as having done so. Accord-
ing to Ibn Sns narration, Aristotle abandonedonly to a certain
extentthis tradition in Greece, for Plato blamed Aristotle for divulg-
ing h ikmah and making knowledge manifest, in response to which
Aristotle asserted that even though he had done so, he still left many
intricate statements in his books, and these can only be comprehended
by distinguished intellectuals. Ibn Sn applies the same practice to
Islam and says that there is nothing unusual in the case of the Prophet,
who brought knowledge [i.e., h ikmah] first to uneducated nomads and
then to the whole human race.125
Unlike in the case of al-Frb, I have not come across any com-
prehensive account of the history of philosophy in Ibn Sns major
philosophical writings.126 Throughout his works, he most frequently
mentions Aristotle, usually under the appelletion the First Teacher
(al-muallim al-awwal).127 It seems that, in Ibn Sns view, philosophy
was no longer a new scholarly field, and therefore he does not con-
cern himself with presenting historical information about the origin
or development of philosophy from its beginning to his own lifetime.
Instead, he mentions the names of the ancient philosophers only when
the context of his argument requires it.128 He therefore does not seem

Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 443.
Ibn Sn, Rislah f Ithbt al-nubuwwt, ed. Michael Marmura (Beirut, 1991), 48.
Neither does Gutas mention any detailed account with respect to Ibn Sns
conception of the history of philosophy and the philosophical figures of the antiquity.
Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition (Leiden, 1988), 199218.
See, for instance, Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Mantiq, al-Madkhal, 59; Ibn Sn,
al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 333, 392. Ibn Sn also calls Aristotle the Logician (sh ib
al-mantiq), Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Mantiq, al-Madkhal, 11, and the Foremost Phi-
losopher (al-faylasl al-muqaddam), Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt, 122.
See for instance Ibn Sns mention of Socrates and Plato within the context
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 259

to be as interested in the history of philosophy as he is in the ideas

themselves. This could also be a result of Ibn Sns unstable lifestyle,
itself a result of the political situation of his time. For, according to his
student Ab Ubayd al-Jzjn, Ibn Sn used to write his works under
uncomfortable conditions, sometimes in prison, sometimes in hiding,
and other times while traveling. Most of the time, his sole reference
was his memory, since he did not have the luxury of checking the
original works, some of which he had read many years ago.129 Or it
could be a result of the fact that we no longer possess a number of Ibn
Sns comprehensive works, such as his voluminous Kitb al-Insf130
and al-H ikmah al-mashriqiyyah, of which we have only a fragment.
In the case of the former especially, it is possible that he might have
explained his conception of the history of philosophy and his recep-
tion of the ancient philosophical figures.
Without going into details of the controversial discussions on the
real nature of Ibn Sns philosophy,131 it is useful to discuss briefly his
perception of philosophy and his self-consciousness with respect to it.
In his Prologue to al-Shif, Ibn Sn states that, in addition to al-Shif
and al-Lawh iq, in which he deals with philosophy in a conventional
Peripatetic way, he wrote a book presenting philosophy in accordance
with inborn cognitive disposition (al m hiya f al-tab).132 According
to Ibn Sns statement in that book, which he named al-Falsafah al-
mashriqiyyahknown as al-H ikmah al-mashriqiyyah as wellhe held
an unbiased intellectual position toward Peripatetic philosophers: he

of his expositions on the principles of mathematics, Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Ilhiyyt,

Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Mantiq, al-Madkhal, 14. For al-Jzjns account see also,
Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 440445. Note that Ibn Sns suffering had nothing to do with his
philosophical ideas, rather they related to his political connections with the leaders of
the regions where he lived. Since he held high administrative positions under the ser-
vice of those leaders, Ibn Sn was a target of the political authorities who overthrew
his patrons; he was not persecuted for his philosophical beliefs.
According to al-Jzjns record, this work was lost during the seizure of Isfahan
by Masd, the son of Mahmd of Ghaznah, when Ibn Sns baggage was plundered.
Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 444. For the corpus of Ibn Sns works, see Georges Anawt,
Muallaft Ibn Sn (Cairo, 1950); Yahy Mahdav, Bibliographie dIbn Sn (Tehran,
1954); Osman Ergin, Ibn Sn Bibliografyasi (Istanbul, 1937); Jules Janssens, An Anno-
tated Bibliography of Ibn Sn (19701989) Including Arabic and Persian Publications
and Turkish and Russian References (Leuven, 1991); and Suhayl Afnan, Avicenna, His
Life and Works (London, 1958).
For these discussions see, Gutas, The Study of Arabic Philosophy, 525.
Ibn Sn, al-Shif: al-Mantiq, al-Madkhal, 10.
260 chapter twelve

did not support them unconditionally, nor did he hesitate to disagree

with them, as he did in his other works. Ibn Sn directs those who want
the truth (h aqq) clearly and straightforwardly to focus on al-Falsafah
al-mashriqiyyah.133 This account is a controversial subject, especially
because the work has not survived in its complete form. What were
the essential characteristics of this Eastern Philosophy? What were the
qualities of those Easterners? How did they differ from mainstream
Peripatetic philosophers? Ibn T ufayl (d. 581/1185), in turn, used Ibn
Sns expression al-h ikmah al-mashriqiyyah as a subtitle of his book
on H ayy b. Yaqzn, On the Secrets of the Eastern Philosophy (Rislat
H ayy b. Yaqzn f Asrr al-H ikmah al-mashriqiyyah), and interpreted
it in a mystical way.134 In Gutas view, Ibn T ufayls interpretation paved
the way for the later philosophical tradition to attribute two kinds of
philosophy to Ibn Sn: one exoteric, rational and Aristotelian, and the
other esoteric, mystical and Oriental.135 Gutas asserts that at the end
of the nineteenth century, A. F. Mehren took up this point and car-
ried it to the twentieth century, especially to Henry Corbin, and then
to Seyyed Hossein Nasr.136
Throughout his well-documented book, Avicenna and the Aris-
totelian Tradition, Gutas argues that the distinction Ibn Sn draws
between al-Shif and al-Falsafah al-mashriqiyyah is only stylistic: the
former utilizes an expository and analytic language, while the latter
is written in more dogmatic language. Accordingly, the former con-
tains all the main philosophical discussions in line with the history of
Aristotelianism, whereas the latter includes only those philosophical
theories that Ibn Sn considers true. In addition to this difference
in representation, Gutas proposes that, by Easterners Ibn Sn was

Ibid., 10. Originally, al-Falsafah al-mashriqiyyah contained four parts: Logic,
Metaphysics Physics, and, Ethics but only Mantiq al-mashriqiyyn is extant. Ibn Sn,
Mantiq al-mashriqiyyn, ed. Shukr al-Najjr (Beirut, 1982).
For a brief analysis of both works titled H ayy b. Yaqzn see, Goichon, H ayy
b. Yaqzn, EI.
This point is elaborately discussed in Gutas, Avicennas Eastern (Oriental)
Philosophy: Nature Contents, Transmission, Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 10 (2000):
Gutas, The Study of Arabic Philosophy, 1619. For Corbins discussions on
Ibn Sn and his Oriental philosophy see, Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy,
167175, and Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, trans. W. R. Trask (Irving, 1980),
271278. For Nasrs designation of Ibn Sns al-h ikmah al-mashriqiyyah as Orien-
tal philosophy see, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ibn Sns Oriental Philosophy, History
of Islamic Philosophy, eds. Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman (London, 2001),
247251, and An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines (Albany, 1993), 187ff.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 261

referring to the philosophers working in the East (Mashriq), namely

to the Khursnian philosophers, including himself. In the final anal-
ysis, Gutas argues, there is one single type of philosophical practice
embraced by Ibn Sn, and it is Aristotelian in nature.137
These controversial writings on Ibn Sns al-Falsafah al-mashriqiyyah
are relevant to the present discussion of Ibn Sns philosophy to
the extent that they shed light on Ibn Sns reception and percep-
tion of philosophy. It is true that Ibn Sns philosophical system is
Aristotelian, but it is equally Neoplatonic and Islamic. Furthermore,
as Goichon properly argues, Ibn Sn is a believer and, following the
Qurnic precepts, he believes in God as the Creatora notion quite

Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition, 18, 4344, and 115130. See

also Gutas, The Study of Arabic Philosophy, 9. Goichon, on the other hand, sees
the loss of this work as an irreparable lacuna in reaching a conclusive argument
concerning the real nature of Ibn Sns own philosophy, for he clearly states that he
wishes to complete, and even correct, Aristotle. Goichon speculates on this issue and
says, We may suppose that he wished to make room for the oriental scientific tradi-
tion, which was more experimental than Greek science. The small alterations made
to Aristotelian logic are slanted in this direction. Goichon, Ibn Sn. Marmura,
in turn, finds inconclusive arguments as well as critical misunderstandings of Ibn
Sns terminology in Gutas work, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition. Marmura
acknowledges the contribution of Gutas work to Avicennan studies, but also raises
serious questions regarding its accuracy and representative quality of real Avicennan
thought. Marmura mentions, for instance, Gutas discussion of Ibn Sns theory of
intuition (h ads), which holds a central role in Ibn Sns psychology, epistemology,
metaphysics, and his conception of philosophy. Marmura argues that Gutas fixed
translation of h ads as intuition misses the close relationship between h ads and fitrah
(natural intelligence, the inborn cognitive disposition) in Avicennan terminology on
the one hand, and its delicately-balanced interrelation with ilm, marifah, and dhawq
on the other. Marmura thus criticizes Gutas tendency to assign a fixed single meaning
to each term, as this leads to a rigidity in translating the texts. For Marmuras discus-
sions see, Michael Marmura, Plotting the Course of Avicennas Thought, Journal
of the American Oriental Society 111, no. 2 (1991): 333342. With regard to the real
nature of Ibn Sns philosophy, Marmura regards Gutas monolithic interpretation
of the Avicennan corpus as incomprehensive, for the latter does not pay attention to
Ibn Sns subtle expressions throughout his works. Marmura mentions, for example,
Ibn Sns usage of marifah in al-Ishrt and its relation to ilm, dhawq, and h ads.
In the last three sections of the Ishrt (namely, the eighth, ninth, and tenth), Ibn
Sn discusses marifah and rifn (knowers), but his statements should not be con-
fined to intuition of the intelligible order, as Gutas presents them in his work. Rather,
Marmura argues, Ibn Sns conception of marifah goes beyond the semantic limits
assigned to it by Gutas. In the ninth section, there is no direct reference to h ads,
though Ibn Sn discusses further epistemological steps (darajt) or stages (maqmt)
for the rif, and these stages cannot be expressed in language. In this regard, Marmura
finds Gutas work limited in terms of presenting a comprehensive portrayal of Ibn
Sns philosophy, as the latter does not elaborate Ibn Sns statements in the last sec-
tions of al-Ishrt. Marmura, Plotting the Course of Avicennas Thought, 340343.
262 chapter twelve

foreign to the pagan philosophers of antiquity. Throughout his philo-

sophical formulations, Ibn Sn continually strives to integrate reli-
gious dogmas within them. His success in this attempt is debatable,
but his persistence is not.138
As noted earlier, Ibn Sn clearly refers to the Qurnic concept of
h ikmah in his definition of philosophy. It would seem that, depend-
ing on his audience, Ibn Sn calibrates the clarity and Islamic tone
of his philosophical articulations. Compared to al-Shif, for instance,
al-Ishrt wa-al-tanbht contains compressed and symbolic expres-
sions that are difficult to decipher. Ibn Sn himself acknowledges this
fact. He opens al-Ishrt with the following statement,
O you who are ambitious to ascertain the truth. In these Remarks and
Admonitions, I have explained the principles and generalities of h ikmah
to you. If you are guided by sagacity (fatnah), it will be easy for you to
subdivide them and work out the details.139
In another passage in al-Ishrt, Ibn Sn also states that his expres-
sions regarding the fundamental principles of h ikmah speak only to
divinely-endowed intellectuals.140 Similarly, he closes al-Ishrt by say-
ing that, in this work, he has presented the crme of the truth (zubdat
al-h aqq) and the best pieces of h ikmah (qafiyy al-h ikam) to his reader
in subtle expressions (f latif al-kalim). In return, Ibn Sn expects
his reader to protect this truth from the ignorant (jhiln), the vulgar
(mubtadhaln), those who were not given sharpness of mind, skill,
and habit, those who are excessively engaged with commoners, and
from those who lack philosophical nature and taste. Instead, Ibn Sn
continues, his reader is to teach this truth gradually to those who have
trustworthy, pure hearts, and good conduct, namely, those who are
capable of philosophical inquiry; his reader is also to agree with such
reliable persons to follow the same path with respect to teaching the
truth to other people. Finally, Ibn Sn warns his reader that if he
divulges or loses this truth, God will be the arbitrator between them.141
Given such remarks, which have wide-ranging implications, a
simple designation of Aristotelianism falls far short of a complete
description of Ibn Sns philosophical activities. In addition to his

Goichon, Ibn Sn.
Ibn Sn, al-Ishrt wa-al-tanbht, ed. Sulaymn Duny (Cairo, 1960), 1:165.
Ibid., 2:147.
Ibid., 4:161164.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 263

works in accordance with the mainstream Peripatetic tradition, he

authored symbolic writings such as H ayy b. Yaqzn, Rislat al-T ayr,
and Salmn wa-Absl, throughout which Ibn Sn uses figurative
language and the image of the East as the place of light. It was
this same image that influenced Suhrawards articulation of illumi-
nationist philosophy. Furthermore, in the extant part of al-Falsafah
al-mashriqiyyah, Ibn Sn clearly expresses his disagreement with the
Peripatetic philosophers, as he finds some of their arguments incom-
plete and erroneous. In this regard, he acknowledges Aristotles own
authority in philosophy and describes the latter as the person who dis-
covered the truth of many subjects and systematized the philosophical
sciences. Ibn Sn criticizes, however, those who followed Aristotle, on
the basis of the argument that they were not able to improve Aristotles
discussions by way of mending the cracks found in his structure and
of completing his incomplete arguments. Instead, Ibn Sn says, they
conservatively and fanatically repeated Aristotles writings, without
understanding the essence of his thought. Ibn Sn portrays himself as
one who undertakes this project, which he carried out in his writings
in line with the prevailing Peripatetic method, i.e., al-Shif. To this
end, he benefited from his God-given exceptional intellectual capacity
and from non-Greek sources, from which he gained knowledge. Ibn
Sn further states that he discovered many faults of the Greek Peri-
patetics, but overlooked them in his aforementioned works to make
his arguments more appealing and acceptable to them.142 As for al-
Falsafah al-mashriqiyyah, he says,
We have composed this book to explain the truth only for ourselves,
that is, for those who are like ourselves. As for the commoners who
are interested in this matter (philosophy), in the Kitb al-Shif we have
provided for them more than they need. And we will present soon in the
supplement whatever is suitable for them beyond that which they have
seen so far. In all conditions we seek the assistance of God alone.143
This statement evidently places Ibn Sns position outside the main-
stream Peripatetic philosophers. It does not prove, however, that he
radically separates himself from Aristotles own philosophy; rather, it
only proves that he does not consider Aristotles followers competent
to understand their masters philosophy. To this extent I find Gutas

Ibn Sn, Mantiq al-mashriqiyyn, 1922.


Ibid., 22.
264 chapter twelve

description of Ibn Sns philosophy as Aristotelian reasonable. But

Gutas argument is insufficient in not explicitly discussing the nuanced
nature of Ibn Sns Aristotelianism. Ibn Sn clearly states that he
wrote al-Shif for commoners, meaning Peripatetic philosophers,
while he wrote al-Falsafah al-mashriqiyyah for another group of think-
ers, whoever they might be. He further emphasizes that, in addition
to the existence of some incomplete arguments, Aristotles philoso-
phy contains certain cracks to be mended. And, more interestingly,
Ibn Sn openly states that he benefited from non-Greek sources in
articulating al-Falsafah al-mashriqiyyah. Therefore, Gutas explana-
tion of the difference between Ibn Sns two kinds of philosophical
writings as merely stylistic cannot be considered a comprehensive
argument, but is, rather, a reductionist position. Moreover, Ibn Sns
corpus of symbolic writings indicates that his mind was also busy with
non-Peripatetic thoughts, or more particularly with the East, the place
of light. Consequently, Ibn Sns Aristotelianism was not an uncon-
ditional membership in Aristotles philosophical school.144
In this context, one might also remember Ibn Sns discussions
on Sufism in the last part of his al-Ishrt, where he deals with three
main questions: joy and happiness (bahjah wa-sadah),145 the sta-
tions of the knowers (maqmt al-rifn),146 and the secrets of signs
(asrr al-yt).147 This part is full of symbolic statements in a con-
cise and ambiguous language, evidently different from the style of his
works written in the format of the conventional Peripatetic method.
As noted above, Ibn Sn intentionally embraces this form of writ-

In this regard, I agree with Marmuras argument, when he says, There is little
reason to suppose that the lost part of this work [al-H ikmah al-mashriqiyyah] contains
views not found in Avicennas known writings. The available data indicates that in
this work he [Avicenna] intends to express his own thoughts even when this means
disagreement with prevalent peripatetic view. Marmura, Plotting the Course of Avi-
cennas Thought, 335. For further reading on Ibn Sns use of ishrah in his works
and its epistemological and theological aspects and implications, see Hans Daiber,
The Limitations of Knowledge According to Ibn Sn, Erkenntnis und Wissenschaft,
eds. M. Lutz-Bachmann, A. Fidora, and P. Antolic (Berlin, 2004): 2434. In this article
Daiber analyzes Ibn Sns use of this term on the basis of the Neoplatonic doctrine of
emanations from the divine One to the First Intellect, which itself implies an impor-
tant earlier change of the Greek commentators of Aristotle, received later by the Ara-
bic philosophers including Ibn Sn. Daiber argues that Ibn Sn modified Aristotles
own position by combining it in the tradition of Neoplatonic philsophers.
Ibn Sn, al-Ishrt wa-al-tanbht, 4:746.
Ibid., 4:47110.
Ibid., 4:111164.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 265

ing to express his thoughts, a fact acknowledged traditionally by later

leading Muslim intellectuals through their lengthy commentaries on
al-Ishrt, especially by Fakhr al-Dn Rz (d. 606/1210) and Nasr
al-Dn al-T s (d. 673/1274). By bringing this work to the discussion,
I do not claim that it should be considered a typical Sufi document,
nor do I argue that Ibn Sn was a practicing Sufi himself, however
respectful his statements might be.148 Rather, I reemphasize the fact
that Ibn Sn was an encyclopedic scholar and independent intellectual
interested in almost every kind of science practiced in his lifetime,
ranging from Peripatetic philosophy, physics, medicine, mathematics,
music, astronomy, and politics to metaphysics, ethics, Qurnic exege-
sis, and Sufism. Establishing himself in such wide-ranging scholarship,
Ibn Sn sought truth by any means possible. It is in this regard that
I find Gutas description of Ibn Sns entire philosophical corpus as
Aristotelian with some minor stylistic dissimilarities unpersuasive.
Ibn Sns autobiography indicates that he was an exceptionally
independent thinker. He utilizes the writings of previous philosophi-
cal authorities, including and especially those of Aristotle, but he is
not inclined merely to repeat their arguments; instead, he examines
them minutely, refines them in accordance with his own personally
developed thought, and presents his own discussions. This indepen-
dence was built, at the same time, on a traditional education in Islamic
scholarly disciplines, including memorization of the Qurn, study of
the Arabic language and literature, and training in jurisprudence. His
education in philosophy began when he overheard the discussions of
Isml propagandists, in whose teachings his father was interested.
His serious philosophical study began under al-Nti l, though it did
not last for a long time; this was a result of Ibn Sns exceptional
sharpness in learning the materials, as well as al-Nt ils limited
knowledge of philosophical disciplines. After this introductory study
with al-Nti l, Ibn Sn continued, basically alone in his intellectual
progress, and apart from his struggle to grasp the contents and pur-
pose of Aristotles Metaphysics, his study proceeded straightforwardly.

It is noteworthy to mention that, on a more popular plane, Ibn Sn is fre-
quently affiliated with Sufism, especially with Ab Sad al-Khayr (d. 440/1049). It is
said that the two would meet and talk about their psychological and epistemological
experiences. On one occasion, it is narrated, Ab Sad described Ibn Sns arguments,
saying, all that he knows, I see, to which Ibn Sn answered, all he sees, I know.
J. Houben, Avicenna and Mysticism, Avicenna Commemoration Volume (Calcutta,
1956), 207.
266 chapter twelve

It was only with the help of al-Frb149 that he overcame that difficulty.
According to Ibn Sns statement, throughout his individual study of
philosophical sciences, he did not apparently feel himself alone, for
whenever a problem would baffle him, he used to go to the mosque
and worship, praying humbly to God until He opened the mystery
of that problem to him and made things easy for him.150 Therefore,
in Ibn Sns view, philosophy is not a completely secular discipline,
unrelated to religion. In fact, one can describe the whole enterprise of
Ibn Sn as a philosophical attempt to establish the existence of God,
His unity, and His relation to beings. Ibn Sn is properly regarded as
the philosopher of being, but again, one should be mindful that, in
Ibn Sns understanding, the most complete and perfect being is
God, on whose existence every other being is dependent. Furthermore,
through his theory of prophethood as an institution in general and
in the case of Muhammad in particular, Ibn Sn attempts to provide
a philosophical ground for fundamental religious notions.151 He thus
seeks the knowledge of the truth by any means possible. Consequently,
Ibn Sns case, too, fits well into my argument that, in their inqui-
ries, Muslim philosophers believed that their efforts to attain the truth
were in harmony with the Qurnic notion of h ikmah, which was to
be sought everywhere and by any reasonable means.

As with al-Kind and al-Frb before him, Ibn Sns philosophical
inquiries should be seen as intellectual efforts to attain the knowl-
edge of the absolute, though Ibn Sn presents his discussions with
more scholarly systematization and linguistic clarification. All three
of these philosophical figures strive to solidify their systematizations
in two main philosophical disciplines, namely, metaphysics and logic.
They considered that metaphysics formulates the knowledge of being

It is not clear to which work of al-Frb Ibn Sn is referring in his autobiog-
raphy. It is not likely that he is referring to the abovementioned F Aghrd m bad
al-tab ah, but rather to Kitb al-H urf, which is composed according to the system
found in Aristotles Metaphysics. Otherwise the Aghrd that we possess today is a very
short text containing little more than a table of contents of the Metaphysics. It could
hardly be the book which so decisively influenced Ibn Sn. See Gohlmans note on
this issue in Ibn Sn, Autobiography, ed. and trans. William E. Gohlman (The Life of
Ibn Sn) (Albany, 1974), 122.
Ibn Ab Usaybiah, 437438.
For this topic see, Ibn Sn, Rislah f Ithbt al-nubuwwt.
h ikmah in the islamic philosophical world 267

in general and of God in particular, and that logic is the universal tool
for this knowledge.
Ibn Sn and his predecessors in Islamic philosophy regarded them-
selves as custodians of truth or h ikmah, which had a long history of
representatives in human history. They clearly acknowledged and
appreciated the contributions of previous thinkersregardless of their
ethnic and religious backgroundsfor the philosophical advancement
of mankind, which, in their view, was as much cumulative and coop-
erative as corrective and progressive. They considered this activity to
be the everlasting intellectual effort to attain the knowledge of the
true natures of all things, insofar as is possible for man, and then to
make use of this knowledge to improve the worldly condition of the
human race. It was in this context of h ikmah that they welcomed the
Greek philosophical heritage, on which they worked conscientiously
to deal with the perennial philosophical problems of mankind, but in
a more elaborate and refined philosophical system. They clearly did
not see themselves as passive recipients of the ideas of Greek thinkers,
merely repeating their arguments. In this connection, one need only
consider the minute philosophical discussions of the earliest Muslim
philosophers, who sought to introduce a comprehensive metaphysical
system to prove the existence of God. Or one might also remember
their meticulous intellectual efforts to accommodate the institution of
prophethood and revelation within their philosophical system.
It is true that there has always been a cultural and religious tendency
in Muslim societies to maintain that Islam is self-sufficient and that
the Qurn and H adth contain all the religious and moral truth neces-
sary for mankind. As one would expect, our Muslim philosophers also
faced this challenge and took the social realities of their current situ-
ations into consideration in their philosophical writings. At the same
time, however, they did not see this idea as an essentialist challenge,
but rather as a contextual one. They sought truth rigorously wherever
it might be found, as the Prophet of Islam instructed his followers to
do. Paradoxically, it was the conception of h ikmah found in the very
same Qurn and H adth that provided for Muslim philosophers the
necessary inspiration, as well as protection, to do their work.

This examination of the concept of h ikmah in the cross-disciplinary

context of early Muslim scholarly works has centered on the relation
of h ikmah to other epistemological concepts found in the Qurn.
In part i, I investigated the lexicographical meanings of the Arabic
root h -k-m, from which the word h ikmah is derived as a noun, and
then analyzed the terminological meanings of h ikmah in the works of
Muslim authorities on the technical vocabulary of Islamic disciplines.
I closed the part with a survey of the contemporary western schol-
arship on the meaning of h ikmah and reviewed the limited writings
available. Against the prevailing argument in the field, in which the
sense of wisdom is ascribed to the Arabic word h ikmah only through
later borrowings from other Semitic languages, I document the ways
in which h ikmah was related to wisdom in Arabic as well, at least
in the attestations of the earliest pre-Islamic and early Islamic materi-
als. Arabic lexicographers present a broad and inclusive definition of
h ikmah that implies the sense of wisdom in Arabic as well. With the
limited available linguistic materials and their absence of the mention
of h ikmah, the original meaning in the sense of wisdom cannot be
conclusively established. Further study in the context of comparative
Semitic languages beyond merely Arabic and Islamic studies is cer-
tainly needed.
In part ii, I analyze the word h ikmah in each Qurnic verse, con-
textualizing it based on the exegetical discussions presented by early
Muslim commentators. This analysis reveals a concentric understand-
ing of h ikmah, in which its complete and perfect form is ascribed to
God, and then, in a lesser degree of perfection, to His Messengers, to
His meritorious servants, and further, to whomever God wills. Notably,
interdisciplinary elements of h ikmah in tafsr works derive information
from across the spectrum of Islamic writings; this is a point commonly
neglected by contemporary writers on the meaning of h ikmah in early
Muslim exegetical works. From this analysis, I argue that giving a
single-word definition of h ikmah for all of its occurences throughout
the Qurnic text gives us only a partial understanding of the concept
and thus mispresents it. Diverse interpretations and multiple mean-
ings of h ikmah in the Qurn do not necessarily point to inconsistency
270 conclusion

or contradiction among the different understandings; rather, it is evi-

dence of how these meanings complement one another.
The examination in part iii, concerning h ikmah in early Sufi writ-
ings, focused in particular on its semantic connotations in relation to
ilm, marifah, aql, qalb, and fiqh, and concludes that the earliest Sufi
figures treatment of h ikmah is as much an epistemological concept as
a practical or applied notion, because they argued that h ikmah cannot
be understood and actualized properly without this aspect. H ikmah
must be viewed together with other related mystical concepts as part
of an overall approach to worldly life; they argue that as long as the
acts of a knowledgeable person do not conform to his words, he does
not deserve to be called lim, and as long as ilm does not result in
certain practical manifestations, such as humbleness, forbearance, and
moral scrupulousness, merely seeking it as a mental activity does not
conform to basic Islamic intellectual principles. They consider practi-
cal notions to be starting points, without which one cannot reap the
epistemological rewards. In this regard, early Sufis emphasize that true
knowledge leads to sound belief (mn); this is coupled frequently in
the Qurn with righteous deeds (aml slih ah). They thus see knowl-
edge and action as reciprocally dependent and even call those who
separate the two the scholars of evil (ulam al-s).
Throughout my investigation of h ikmah and other related con-
cepts in the writings of early Sufis and in their frequent references to
Qurnic statements, I have presented further textual attestations to
Massignons arguments on the Islamic origin of Sufism. I have also
called attention to the difficulty of applying conventional objective and
analytical scholarly methods to Muslim mystical writings because of
their distinctive epistemological theory that describes knowledge in
an individualistic, experiential, and existential manner. In the view of
Muslim mystics, real knowledge of everything, including h ikmah, is
not a matter of rational knowing, but existential being: h ikmah is a
process of knowing. They introduce gradational explanations of these
notions based on the spiritual stations (maqmt) in question.
In further discussion of other means of knowledge introduced by
Sufis, I note means which move beyond the reason-oriented episte-
mologies of Muslim theologians and philosophers. In the example of
their concept of heart (qalb), in the cases of al-Nr and al-Tirmidh,
I have elaborated on the various divisions of the human organs of
conclusion 271

In part iv, I investigated h ikmah in the writings of early Muslim

philosophers and elaborated on the reception and perception of phi-
losophy in relation to the prophetic institution and Islamic h ikmah as
it is mentioned in the primary Muslim authoritative scriptures. Ibn
Qutaybahs definition of h ikmah as a combination of knowledge and
action appears to prevail across the spectrum of Islamic disciplines in
their formative period. One might even call this definition the tradi-
tional Islamic conception of h ikmah, as it also echoes in the writings
of early Muslim philosophers. And unlike prophethoodthe doors of
which were closed by God with the Prophet Muhammadthe doors of
h ikmah remain unreservedly open until the Day of Resurrection.

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