‘ILM - علم
Literally: Notice. Information. Science. A science. Perception.
The knowledge which is given by Allah (‘Azza wa jalla) as a favour through reading, seeing and listening.
The first specification, which makes man outstanding over all animals, is his mind. The mind forms the basis of a human. Like the eye is the tool of seeing and the ear is the tool of hearing, the mind is the tool of understanding haqiqahs and meanings. Studying and working to understand haqiqahs and meanings is ‘ilm too. Not using the mind for ‘ilm of haqiqah —which is its true duty — is suppressing it. Since the mind is the foundation of being a human, suppressing it is to close the way to being a real human. To work for ‘ilm of haqiqah is the progress of humanity; to neglect these haqiqahs is the decline of it.
‘Ilm is knowing the haqiqah, and it is more general than the ma’rifat. The meaning of ma’rifat is to know by means of tafakkur. The opposite of ‘Ilm is jahl (ignorance) and the opposite of Ma’rifat is inkâr (denying).
As a term of ‘Ilm al-Kalâm: ‘Ilm is one of the seven attributes of Allah.
“First of all this âyah mentions a particular matter, which is, "In the question of Âdam's (as) succession, it was ‘ilm that gave him superiority over the malâikah." Then within this event, it mentions that of the malâikah’s defeat before Âdam (as) in respect of ‘ilm. Then it summarizes these two events with two universal Names. اَنْتَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ That is: “since You are ‘Alîm and Hakîm, You instructed Âdam and he prevailed over us. And since You are Hakîm, You treated us according to our abilities and gave him preference in accordance with his abilities.” The Words ( 433 )
“When looking at the universe for Allah’s sake, all that is seen becomes ‘ilm; when doing so with ghaflah for the sake of causes, all that is seen as ‘ilm becomes sheer ignorance.” Al-Mathnawi al-Nuri (276)
“KNOW, O FRIEND, that one of the greatest cause of dhalâlah is the human tendency to regard something familiar as ‘ilm because it is common and usual. However, this tendency may cause compounded ignorance1 , for people who do not reflect on such things, even though they are miracles of qoudrah. Rather, they pay attention to what they consider extraordinary because it is rare. This is like looking at the waves caused by wind, and the sea’s shining with the sun’s images, without considering the whole sea with all its animals and flora. Then people attempt to mention those waves or images, not the animals and flora, as the proofs of the grandeur of the sea’s Mâlik and Sâni’ (jalla jalâluhu).
KNOW, O FRIEND, that most of what we know about Earth and consider evident is based on a superficial familiarity, a veil spread over compounded ignorance, and without foundation. Thus the Qur’an’s âyahs draws our attention to the usual and the ordinary. With its piercing expressions, it draws aside the veil of superficial familiarity to show that what we see as usual and ordinary is in fact extraordinary.” Al-Mathnawi al-Nuri (274)
“we shall point to the signs and flashes of one of the infinite comprehensive evidences of Ilahî ‘ilm, as follows:
As-Sâni’ Who disposes and creates with action, which are to be seen in the universe, has an all-encompassing ‘ilm. And such ‘ilm is a particularly necessary quality of His essence. Its separation from Him is impossible. In the same way, that it is not possible for the sun itself to exist but for its light not to exist, it is also not possible, though thousands of times more so, for the ‘ilm of the One Who creates these well-ordered beings to be separated from Him.
Like this all-comprehending ‘ilm is necessary to that One, so is it also necessary to all things from the point of view of their being connected to Him. That is to say, it is not possible for anything to be hidden from Him. Just as it is not possible to not see the sun for the objects on the face of the earth to face the sun without the veil, so is it thousand times less possible, it is impossible, for things to be hidden in the face of Al-‘Alîm Zuljalâl's nûr of ‘ilm. Because there is hudhur. That is, everything is within the circle of His sight, is facing Him, is within the circle of His shuhûd; He penetrates all things.
If possessors of nûr, like the lifeless sun, impotent man, and unconscious X-rays, their nûr can see and penetrate everything that faces them, although they are not eternal but newly created, not essential and defective, surely nothing at all can remain hidden from or beyond the nûr of the pre-eternal ‘ilm, which is wâjib, all-encompassing and essential. The universe has incalculable âyahs and marks pointing to this haqiqah, as may be seen in the following examples:
All the instances of hikmah apparent in all beings point to such ‘ilm. For to carry out work with hikmah means to do it with ‘ilm. And all ‘inâyahs and adornment point to such ‘ilm. He who works favourably and kindly, surely knows and works knowingly. And all well-ordered beings, each within a balance, and all finely balanced and measured shapes and forms, each within an order, also indicate to such all-encompassing ‘ilm. For to carry out work well-ordered means to do it with ‘ilm. He who works artistically with measure and balance is surely relying on a powerful ‘ilm. And the well-ordered measuredness apparent in all beings, their shapes cut out in accordance with hikmah and benefits, and the fruitful situations and assemblages as though arranged according to the principles of Ilahî Decree and the compasses of Qadar, all demonstrate an all-embracing ‘ilm. Certainly, the giving of ordered and different forms to everything, as well as a particular shape that is appropriate and beneficial to the life and existence of each, occurs through an all-encompassing ‘ilm; it could not occur any other way.
Also, it is only through an all-embracing ‘ilm that the rizq of animate creatures is provided in a suitable form, at the appropriate time, in unexpected places. Because, since the One Who sends the rizq knows and recognizes those who are in need of it, and the appropriate time to send it, and perceives their need, He is able to provide their rizq in a suitable form.
Also, the appointed hour of death of all animate creatures, which is tied to a law of determination, although it is not clear to the creatures themselves, demonstrates a comprehensive ‘ilm. Because, although the hour of death for all groups and individuals does not appear to be determined, in fact, each group's death is appointed within a period of time restricted by two limits. At that appointed hour, the preservation of its seeds, fruits and results, which will continue the duty of the thing after it and are the means of its transformation into a new life, demonstrate an all-encompassing ‘ilm.
Also, rahmah's benevolence, which encompasses all beings and is in a form appropriate to each of them, demonstrates an all-embracing ‘ilm within a vast rahmah. Because, for example, the One Who feeds the offspring of animate creatures with milk and assists the plants of the earth needy for water with rain, most certainly knows the young and their needs, and sees the plants, perceives how necessary rain is for them and then sends it; and so on. All the manifestations of rahmah with hikmah and ‘inâyah demonstrate an all-comprehensive ‘ilm.
Also, the care and attention, the artistic fashioning, and the skilful decoration present in the art in all things demonstrate an all-embracing ‘ilm. For choosing an orderly, adorned, artistic, and purposeful state from among thousands of possible states can only occur through a profound ‘ilm. This choice apparent in all beings demonstrates an all-encompassing ‘ilm.
Also, the complete ease in the creation and ibda’ of things points to a most perfect ‘ilm. For the ease and facility in achieving a certain situation is commensurate with the degree of ‘ilm and skill. To whatever degree a thing is known, to that degree, it will be carried out with ease. Thus, in consequence of this mystery, we see from beings, every one of which is a miracle of art, that they are being created with ease and facility, without trouble or confusion, in a short period of time, in a wondrous, indeed a miraculous, fashion. That is to say, there is a boundless ‘ilm which is expressed with boundless ease; and so on.
There are thousands of veracious signs like those mentioned in the examples above to the fact that the Being Who has free disposal over the universe has an all-encompassing ‘ilm; that He knows all the shuûn of all beings, and then he acts. Since the universe's Owner has such an ‘ilm, for sure He sees human beings and their actions, and He knows what human beings deserve and what is appropriate for them. And He deals with them and will deal with them in accordance with the requirements of hikmah and rahmah.
O, man! Come to your senses! Think carefully of just what sort of Being it is Who knows you and watches you; think of it and pull yourself together!
If it is said: ‘Ilm alone is not sufficient; Irâdah is also necessary. If Irâdah was not present, ‘ilm would not be sufficient, would it?
The Answer: Just as all beings indicate and testify to an all-encompassing ‘ilm, so too they indicate the universal Irâdah of the owner of that all-encompassing ‘ilm. It is as follows:
A determined probability among a great many muddled probabilities and a way that produces result among a great many barren ways, and while hesitating among a great many possibilities an extremely regular individuality being given to each being, especially to each living being, demonstrate a universal irâdah through infinite aspects. For, a well balanced and proportioned shape and a regular individuality, which have been given from among the confused and monotonous inanimate elements flowing like flood without balance, with an extremely sensitive measure and delicate weight and an extremely subtle order and delicate regularity, amid the barren and fruitless ways and infinite contingencies and possibilities that surround all beings, necessarily and self-evidently rather through witnessing, demonstrate that the fact that they are the works of a universal Irâdah. For, choosing a state among innumerable states occurs through a specification, a choice, an intention and purpose and an irâdah; and it is specified by a deliberate intention and desire. Specification certainly requires a specifier. Choice requires a chooser. As for the specifier and chooser, they are Irâdah.
For example, the creation of a being like man, a machine of hundreds of different equipment and instruments, out of a drop of water... and a bird, which has hundreds of different members, out of a simple egg... and a tree, which is divided into hundreds of different parts, out of a simple seed; just as they testify to Qoudrah and ‘Ilm, they serve as an indication to the universal Irâdah of their Sâni’ most decisively and necessarily. With that Irâdah, He specifies everything which belongs to that thing, and with that Irâdah, He gives a different and special shape to every component, every member, every part of it, and clothes them with a state. In Short: Just as the resemblance of the animals’ major members concerning their essentials and results, and their tawâfuq, and the fact that they display a single stamp of wahdah indicate decisively that As-Sâni’ of all animals is one; He is Wâhid, He is Ahad. So too, the different specifications of those animals and different identifications and differentiation of their features with hikmah indicate that their Sâni’ Who is Wâhid is Fâ’il Mukhtâr and He has Irâdah; He does what He wishes to do, He does not do what He does not wish to do; He acts with intention and purpose, and Irâdah.
Since there are indications and testimonies to the ‘ilm of Allah and the irâdah of Ar-Rabb to the numbers of beings, rather to the number of the shuûn of beings, indeed, some philosophers denying irâdah of Allah, and some of the people of bid’ah denying Qadar, and some of the people of dhalâlah claiming that Allah does not possess knowledge about particular things, and the naturalists attributing some of the beings to nature and causes, are a multiplied mendacity to the number of beings and lunacy of dhalâlah compounded to the number of the shuûn of beings. For whoever denies the infinite veracious testimonies perpetrates infinite mendacity.
Thus, compare how mistaken and contrary to the haqiqah it is to say knowingly “Natural, natural,” of actions, states and matters, which come into existence through the will of Allah, instead of, “Insha’Allah, Insha’Allah”.
The Twentieth Letter/2nd Station/9th Word
1 Compounded ignorance - jahâlatin murakkabbah: “…such people fancy themselves. And they do not know, but they suppose that they do know….” The Letters ( 40 )
“their ignorance is compounded because they are unaware of it. It is therefore useless to offer them advice; they should be shunned entirely. For it is only those who realize that they are ignorant that may benefit from advice.” Signs of Miraculousness ( 109 )