Questions & Answers

  • Issue 78 / November - December 2010



    The Meaning of Wisdom

    Hikmet Isik

    Question: “He grants Wisdom to whomever He wills, and whoever is granted Wisdom, had indeed been granted much good. Yet none except people of discernment reflect and are mindful” (2:269). What should we understand from the word “wisdom” in this verse?

    First of all, we should discuss the ideas and opinions of the former scholars about the meaning of wisdom (hikma) referred to in this verse.

    Some scholars defined wisdom as “non-recited revelation” and the Prophet’s statements, peace and blessings be upon him. The following verses in the Qur’an distinguish clearly the Book (the Quran) from wisdom: “God has sent down on you the Book and the Wisdom, and taught you what you did not know” (Nisa 4:113), and “I taught you [Jesus] of the Book and Wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel” (Maidah 5:110).

    With inspiration based on this Quranic distinction, the majority of the traditional scholars (muhaddith) indicated that the Book, referred to in this verse, means the Holy Quran while the wisdom points to the luminous remarks, wise words, marvelous thought, and virtuous statements of the Prophet.

    Some said more specifically, “Wisdom is cognizance of the secrets of the universe so that a person who reads it like a book grasps the right thing to do, the wisdom, the benefit, the harmony, and the relation between cause and effect.” The pleasure of a person successful in reading such a book will increase the more he reads, and as the pleasure increases, he will read even more, and in this way he will become aware of wisdom. In this context, wisdom can be regarded as the study of the universe (macro-cosmos) and the human being (normo-cosmos), which is generally discussed by philosophers and theologians.

    Another meaning of wisdom is the comprehension of Islam’s proper course and purpose, which include the effects of belief in the Judgment Day, how prescribed prayer functions in regulating our material and spiritual life, the role of fasting in purifying our carnal self, the place of prescribed purifying alms in being the vault of the social balance and order, the function and duty of pilgrimage in bringing Muslims worldwide together, and the like.

    The phrase in the verse, “Whoever is granted the Wisdom has indeed been granted much good,” (Baqarah 2:269) means that whoever can comprehend wisdom is blessed with the favors of Almighty God, which is one of the points we understand from the verse.

    Some scholars maintained that wisdom can be defined as “grasping the secrets of the Divine Names,” which is another major aspect. Indeed, whoever sees manifestations of the divine names wherever he or she looks has comprehended wisdom. A friend of God who looked at the names and saw their manifestation expressed his thoughts and feelings like this: “A sage cannot see anything but the Names; a dervish of the saint Jilani will grasp the secret.”

    In other words, anyone looking at the manifestations of the Divine Names will desire to see the Holy Being Who is denoted by those Names or to witness God. Such a person will fall on his/her knees and prostrate in the face of every event or incident in the universe, and when s/he places his/her head on the ground and closes his/her eyes and is lost in inner feelings, s/he will attain a vastness as if s/he had placed his/her head on the pillars of the Divine Throne --though He is exempt and free from all sorts of quality or quantity. S/he will start to regard every sound as a chant coming from God and every color as an atlas consisting of variations of God's Name. This must be another dimension of wisdom.

    In another sense, wisdom is attainment of diverse feelings and perceptions in the treasure of the Divine Names, Attributes, and Functions during one's never-ending voyage, and such a person has understood the truth of things and is in the grip of full wonder and curiosity about the Divine Essence. Occasionally, Divine Attributes are manifested. Yet, like the Divine Essence, His Attributes are unknown to us-though something may be said about their essence. Saying it another way, they are present, but are unknown. A person who has been elevated to this station is in a state of saying, “I have comprehended or I have sensed or I have fully understood,” and he is in the conjecture and imagination of always running, making significant progress, rushing and conceiving new things, but most of the time, s/he is bewildered. As we noted above, this station of the spiritual journey and progress is called “station of amazement.”

    Those taking this journey become bewildered when they reach this station; their vision becomes blurry and changes, they do not see you when they look at you, their glance is dimensional, and they always see different things. They see a different face in your face and different eyes in your eyes. When you speak, they hear someone else speaking, and they can also feel it in their conscience. This station is the station of amazement and wonder. People in this station are not easily fooled; if they are fooled, it is rare because they always have the zeal to run towards God and to reach Him.

    Considering the aforementioned, we can say that whoever is granted wisdom is blessed with many benefits. God grants wisdom to whomever He wishes. Still, there are some prerequisites for being entitled to receive wisdom. These include the capability for receiving it, the aptitude for discovering the universe, a heart that is able to feel and sense the manifestations of the Divine Names, and improved subtle faculties. All of these will be granted by God, Who will then give wisdom to this predisposed nature in the above-mentioned fashion. A person who reaches this horizon has been given copious good.

    How can it be otherwise? Such people understand the meaning of the universe. They see that everything manifested in the universe is a manifestation of God’s Names. They walk to the horizon of the attributes and become obsessed with fully knowing, understanding, and perceiving the Exalted Essence. Even if they are told, “The doors are locked; don’t tire yourself in vain,” they wait with wonder for the moment the door will open.

    For this reason, people who are in this station have a longing for reunion with God, thus they anxiously wait for their time in this world to come to end. Prophet Joseph said in expressing such a wish from a person in this station, “My Lord! You have indeed granted me some important part of the rule and imparted to me some knowledge of the inner meaning of all happenings. O You, Originator of the heavens and the earth with particular features! You are my Owner and Guardian in this world and in the Hereafter. Take my soul to You a believer, and join me with the righteous” (Yusuf 12:101). Despite all his material achievements and fame, Prophet Joseph desired union with the True Beloved.

    Finally, wisdom can also be defined as the understanding of the web of relations among human beings, the universe, and the Quran. The universe is a book compiled by God with His Power and Will. The human being is a concise summary and index of this book. And the Quran is a book that tells the meaning of the universe and the human in divine wording. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is the man who understands this in the best way. He is, therefore, the greatest prefect man (al-insan al-kamil). Whoever conceives this truth is the one to whom wisdom is granted. Those who consider the universe, the human, and the Quran separately from each other are deprived of wisdom and its joy.

    May God instill relief in our hearts and help us understand this Noble Truth.

    Notes
    1. “Non-recited revelation” (wahy gayr mat-
    luw) is not the Quranic scripture which is
    “recited” revelation. The Prophet’s prac-
    tice and words, which explain the Quran
    to the believers, are believed to be revealed
    to his heart; nevertheless, they are differ-
    ent than the Quranic revelation.

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