The Book of Knowledge

Imam Al-Ghazzali

Book I, Section VII

On the Intellect, its Noble Nature, its Definition, and its Divisions

The Noble Nature of the Intellect: It will be superfluous to show the noble nature of the intellect (al'aql) especially because through it the noble nature of knowledge has been revealed. Intellect is the source and fountainhead of knowledge as well as its foundation. Knowledge springs from it as the fruit from the tree and the light from the sun and vision from the eye. How then could that which is the means of happiness in this world and the next not be noble or how could it ever be doubted? The beasts, despite their weak understanding, respect the intellect, so that the largest; most ferocious, and strongest among them, fear the very sight of man, because they sense his superiority over them, which is the result of his native resourcefulness. For this reason the Prophet said, "The position of the chief (shaykh) in his tribal organisation is like unto that of the Prophet among his people." [1] This however, is not because of the abundant wealth of the shaykh, nor because of his great person, or his enormous power, but rather because of his rich experience, which is the fruit if his intellect ('aql). For this reason you find that the Turks and the Kurds as well as the ruffians among the Arabs and all other people, despite the fact that they are so close in their lives to the beasts, respect their shaykhs instinctively. Similarly, when several of the rebellious Arabs, who had made up their minds to kill the Prophet, saw him and beheld his noble countenance, they feared him, and there shone on them through his face the radiant light of prophecy, although it was only latent in his soul in the same manner as the intellect.
To be sure the noble nature of the intellect is perceived instinctively. It is our purpose, however, to relate what the tradition and the Qur'an say concerning its noble nature. Thus we find in the Qur'an that Allah called it light when He said, "Allah is the Light of the Heavens and Earth. His Light is like a niche in which is a lamp - the lamp encased in a glass - the glass, as it were, a glistening star." [2] The knowledge derived therefrom was called a spirit, a revelation, and a life. Said Allah, "Thus have We sent the Spirit to thee with a revelation, by Our command." [3] And again, "Shall the dead, whom We have quickened, and for whom We have ordained a light whereby he may walk among men, be like him, whose likeness is in the darkness, whence he will not come forth?" [4] Furthermore, whenever Allah mentions light and darkness He means thereby knowledge and ignorance respectively, as is evident in His words, "And He will bring them out of the darkness into light". [5]
The Prophet said, "O ye men! Know Allah and be ruled by intellect, then ye will know what ye have been enjoined and ye have been forbidden. Know ye that intellect is your glory before Allah. He who obeyeth Allah, although his looks may be ugly, his rank lowly, his station modest, and his appearance shabby, is intelligent; but he who disobeyeth Allah, although his looks may be good, his rand exalted, his station noble, his appearance fair, and his power of speech sharp and fluent, the same is ignorant. For the apes and the pigs are, in the sight of God, saner than he who disobeyeth. Therefore be not deceived by the honour which the men of this world receive: verily they are of those who are doomed." [6] The Prophet also said, "The first thing which Allah created was the intellect. On creating it Allah ordered it saying, 'Come forth', and it came forth. He then ordered it saying, 'Return', and it returned. Thereupon Allah said, 'By My power and glory I have created nothing more reverent towards Me than thee. Through thee I take through thee I give, through thee I reward and through thee I punish."
You may ask, if this intellect is an accident ('arad), how could it have been created before all other substances, and if it is an essence (jawhar), how could it be a self-existent (qa'im binafsih) essence and not be isolated? If you should ask such a question, then you should know that it belongs to the science of revelation ('ilm al-mukashafah), and, therefore, it is not proper to discuss it under the science of practical religion ('ilm al-mu'amalah) which is our present concern.
It has been related on the authority of Hadrat Anas that a group of people once commended a certain man in the presence of the Prophet and praised him excessively. Thereupon the Prophet said, "What kind of an intellect hath that man?" But they replied saying, "We tell these about his diligence in prayer and about the various good works he doeth and thou inquirest from us concerning his intellect!" The Prophet answered and said. "The fool doeth more harm through his ignorance than doeth the wicked through his wickedness. Moreover, men will not advance to a higher degree of proximity to God except in proportion to their intellect."
It has also been related on the authority of Hadrat 'Umar that the Apostle of Allah said, "Man doth not gain anything like a worthy intellect which leadeth him to righteousness and dissuadeth him from sin; nor doth his belief become complete and his religion upright until his intellect matureth." And again, "Verily man will attain the rank of the fasting worshipper through his good character; but no man will be blessed with good character until his intellect matureth. Then and only then will his belief become complete, and not until then will he obey Allah and disobey the Devil."
It was also related on the authority of Hadrat Abu-Sa'id al-Khudri that the Apostle of Allah said, "For everything there is a support, and the support of the believer is his intellect; in proportion to his intellect will his worship be." For have you not heard the words of the sinners in Hell: "Had we but hearkened or understood, we would not have been among the dwellers of the flames." [7] It has also been related on the authority of Hadrat 'Umar that he himself once asked Tamim al-Dari [8] saying, "What holds the supreme authority among you?" Tamim replied, "The intellect." Thereupon 'Umar said, " Thou hast said the truth. I have asked the Apostle of God the same question and he gave me the same reply saying, "I have asked Gabriel what the supreme authority was and he answered, 'The intellect'."
It was also related on the authority of Al-Bara' ibn-Azib [9] that once upon a time the questions which were submitted to the Apostle became too many, and thereupon he said, "O men! For everything there is a mainstay, and the mainstay of man is his intellect. The most convincing and the most authoritative among you is he who has the best intellect." It was also related on the authority of Hadrat Abu Hurayrah that when the Apostle of Allah returned from the raid of Uhud he heard the people say that so and so was braver than so and so, and so and so fought better than so and so, and so on. Thereupon he said, "Ye have not knowledge concerning thing." "How, O Apostle of Allah?" they inquired. He replied, "Verily they have fought, each according to the intellect which Allah hath given him. Their victory and hope were also proportional to their intellect. Consequently those of them who were injured in the fray were injured at various stages (manazil), and on the day of resurrection they will occupy those stages, each according to his intentions and intellect."
It was also related on the authority of Al-Bara ibn-'Azib that the Prophet said, "The angels have been earnest and diligent in their obedience to Allah wholly through their intellect; while the believers among the children of Adam have endeavoured to do His will as far as their intellect has allowed. Consequently, the most obedient among them possesses the greatest intellect." Again it was reported on the authority of Hadrat A'ishah that she once said, "O Apostle of Allah! Wherein do people excel one another in this world?" He replied, "In intellect". "And in the Hereafter?", she added. "In intellect", he again replied. Then A'ishah said, "But are they not rewarded according to their works?" To which the Apostle replied: "O A'ishah! Have they ever achieved anything except in proportion to what God has given them of intellect? Their works will always be in proportion to their intellect which God has given them, and their reward will be in proportion to their works".
It was also related on the authority of Ibn-'Abbas that the Apostle of Allah said, "For everything there is an instrument and a tool, and the instrument of the believer is his intellect: for everything there is a mainstay, and the mainstay of man is his intellect; for everything there is a support, and the support of religion is the intellect; for every group of me there is a goal, and the goal of the worshippers is the intellect; for every people there is a missionary (who calls them to true faith), and the missionary of the devout is the intellect; for every merchant there are goods and merchandise, and the merchandise of the scholars is the intellect; for every house there is a keeper, and the keeper of the houses of the saints is the intellect; for every ruin there is rehabilitation, and the rehabilitation of death is the intellect; for every man there is a offspring who bears his name and perpetuates his memory, and the offsprings of the saints, who bear their names, and perpetuate their memory , are their intellects; and finally for every journey there is a shelter, and the shelter of the believers is the intellect".
The Prophet also said, "Verily the believer who is most beloved of Allah is he who toils in the service of Allah and gives counsel to his people, whose understanding is complete; who admonishes himself and consequently sees the truth and acts accordingly himself and consequently sees the truth and acts accordingly all the days of his life, with the result that he himself prospers and leads others to success". And again, "The man who possesses the most mature mind among you is he who fears God most, fulfilling best what He enjoined and desisting from what He has forbidden, although that man may be the least willing to obey."



[1] Unidentified
[2] Surah XXIV : 35
[3] Surah XLII : 52
[4] Surah VI : 122
[5] Surah V : 18
[6] Unidentified
[7] Surah LXVII : 10
[8] A.H. 40/A.D. 660-61. See Ibn-Qutaybah, p. 149; Ibn-Sa'd, Vol VII, Pt. 2, pp. 129-30; al-Suyuti, Husn al-Muhadarah fi-Akhbar Misr w-al-Qahirah (Cairo, 1327), Vol. I, pp. 76-7.
[9] A.H. 72/A.D. 691-2. See Ibn-Quaybah, p. 166; Ibn-Sa'd, Vol. IV, Pt. 2, pp. 80-83.


Thanks to Saeed Mazhar