“I think that monotheistic religions, having a common reference to a single God, should and must dialogue. The three religions which Abraham inspired have many more common facets than those which divide them. Religion must be the means by which to affirm the ethical significance of existence, regardless of one’s profession of faith.”
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV, 

(Interview with Correre della Sera, Massimo Nava, October 22, 2001)

As the Easter Weekend approaches, it is an appropriate time for Christians and Muslims to read, reflect and understand their beliefs and views on the question of Jesus – his life, spiritual status, mission, and crucifixion – and explore both the difference and the commonality. Most interfaith dialogues between Christians and Muslims feature only the majority perspectives within each faith and neglect the views of Islam’s rich esoteric heritage – as manifest in Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Islam and Sufi Islam. In fact, an engagement between Christianity and the esoteric traditions of Islam can lead to a more fruitful and meaningful dialogue:

“It remains a question why discussions of the Islamic Jesus have not heretofore stressed the importance of the thought of these Ismā‘īlī scholars with regard to what is probably the great single obstacle in Muslim-Christian relations not to mention an extremely important feature of Muslim identity.”
(Todd Lawson, The Crucifixion and the Qur’an, 95)

On Thursday, March 15, 2012, the University of Toronto and St. Michael’s College hosted “The Christology Symposium” – an academic forum featuring presentations on Jesus from Catholic, Protestant, Sunni Muslim and Ismā‘īlī Muslim perspectives followed by a panel discussion. The presentations consisted of the following:

1. “Roman Catholic Christology” (at 5:50) – Greg Rupik (PhD Candidate, University of Toronto)


2. “Sunni Muslim Christology” (at 22:00) – Shabir Ally (PhD Candidate, University of Toronto)


3. “Evangelical Christology” (at 39:15) – Dr. Tony Costa (PhD)


4. “Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslim Christology” (at 57:30) – Khalil Andani (Master of Theological Studies Candidate, Harvard University)


Khalil Andani’s presentation titled Shi‘a Isma‘ili Muslim Christology: Jesus in Classical Isma‘ili Thought summarized some of the classical Ismā‘īlī Muslm perspectives on Jesus which stem from the Fatimid Ismā‘īlī worldviews on the absolute transcendence of God, the Universal Intellect (al-‘aql al-kull), and the Cycles of the Natiqs (Prophets) and the Imams. His presentation explained the relationship between the spiritual nature and the human nature of the Prophets and Imams, highlighted the special role of Jesus in the Cycle of Prophethood, and offered a detailed examination of the crucifixion according to the Qur’an and Ismā‘īlī esoteric interpretations. The presentation concluded by sharing an Ismā‘īlī ta’wil (esoteric interpretation) of the Christian Cross and the Islamic Shahadah as outlined in the writings of Abu Ya’qub al-Sijistani and Ja’far ibn Mansur al-Yaman which demonstrate the ecumenical and pluralistic approaches of the Fatimid Isma‘ili thinkers:

“…the conditions of the dialogue between Christianity and Islam change completely as soon as the interlocutor represents not legalistic Islam but this spiritual Islam, whether it be that of Sufism or of Shi‘ite gnosis.”
(Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, Prologue)

Watch the full video of the Christology Symposium here (for slides, we recommend viewing on YouTube site and choosing 1080 quality):

Watch: Video of Khalil Andani’s Presentation - Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslim Christology (for slides, we recommend viewing on YouTube site and choosing 1080 quality):

Further Reading on the subject of Ismā‘īlī Muslim Christology can be found at:

  1. Henry Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, Tr. Ralph Manheim and James Morris, London: Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications Ltd., 1983
  2. Todd Lawson, The Crucifixion and the Qur’an, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2009
  3. Khalil Andani, “They Killed Him Not”: The Crucifixion in Shi‘a Isma‘ili Islam
  4. Khalil Andani, “The Common Word”: Reflections on Muslim-Christian Dialogue
  5. Khalil Andani, The Metaphysics of the Common Word: A Dialogue of Eckhartian and Isma’ili Gnosis, Sacred Web Journals 2011 Part1Part2

“I think that monotheistic religions, having a common reference to a single God, should and must dialogue. The three religions which Abraham inspired have many more common facets than those which divide them. Religion must be the means by which to affirm the ethical significance of existence, regardless of one’s profession of faith.”
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV, 

(Interview with Correre della Sera, Massimo Nava, October 22, 2001)

The concept of one God who transcends space, time, multiplicity, and contingency, and gives existence to all things is the foundation of the shared worldview of the monotheistic traditions including Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. It is also the pivot around which people of all faiths should rally in order to oppose the atheistic, materialist, relativist and naturalist ideologies appealing to many people today. This article offers a strong deductive and philosophical argument for the existence of God. [If you think philosophy is unimportant or incapable of providing sound knowledge, then please read here first.] Contrary to what many modern people believe, the existence of God can be rationally and logically demonstrated: faith in God is not a matter of ‘blind faith’ or taqlid. According to Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV, logic underlines the very foundation of Islamic belief:

“You must have in every walk of your life a logical concept. This does not mean to wipe away faith, but the real principle of Islam is that faith is logical. Islam would not be what it is if it were not logical and this is something you must keep in mind. Because the very heart of Islam is logical. There is no hocus-pocus. There is no nonsense. It is clear and it is lucid and it is understandable.”
– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV, 
(Speech to Students, Karachi, September 27, 1960; quoted in Mohib Ebrahim, Truth, Reality and Religion)

Two major reasons for the growing popularity of atheism and agnosticism among people today are that a) most people are not exposed to the classical concept of God within their own religious tradition and instead are made to believe in an anthropomorphic image of God and  b) the positive arguments for God’s existence are poorly understood and misrepresented by both atheists and people of faith.

On the Meaning of “God”:

Many theists and atheists of the modern age have utterly misunderstood the classical and traditional concept of God found in the intellectual and philosophical traditions of the world’s monotheistic religions. They instead tend to think of “God” as a “supreme being”, an “immaterial person”, an “intelligent designer”, “all-powerful agent”, or a “disembodied self” who exists either wholly outside of the Universe as an observer or within the Universe as its most exalted component, and does what He pleases at any given time. This sort of God is but an intellectual idol who resembles a human person except without human limitations. Belief in this sort of god is merely a form of “mono-polytheism”, “creationism” or “theistic personalism.” Both classical theists and atheists have rightly argued and rejected this sort of God:

The most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about belief in God–especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side – is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 32)

In classical theism, God is not a member or instance of the general category of “existence” – such that He is the “supreme being among beings.” But rather, God is the “Ground of Being” and the “Unconditioned Reality” that continuously creates, sustains and grounds the existence of everything that exists. The below diagram illustrates the difference between the concept of God in Classical Theism and the ideas found in more modern notions of creationism, deism, poly-monotheism, and the like:

Classical Theism Diagram

“It is said that we live, move and have our being in God. We find this concept expressed often in the Qur’an, not in those words of course, but just as beautifully and more tersely…Thus Islam’s basic principle can only be defined as monorealism and not as monotheism. Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: “Allāhu-Akbar”. What does that mean? There can be no doubt that the second word of the declaration likens the character of Allah to a matrix which contains all and gives existence to the infinite, to space, to time, to the Universe, to all active and passive forces imaginable, to life and to the soul… God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time.”
- Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, (Memoirs of the Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)

This is the concept of God common to the classical tradition of Plato, Aristotle and, Plotinus, the medieval Islamic philosophical traditions of the Peripatetics and the Ismā‘īlīs, the Islamic mystical tradition of Ibn al-‘Arabī and the Akbarī school, the school of Mulla Sadra, the medieval Christian scholastic and mystical traditions of St. Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart, the modern Christian theological tradition of Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, and Elizabeth Johnson, and the contemporary Sufi, Twelver, and Ismā‘īlī Tariqahs of Islam.

This argument will demonstrate that there is one, single Absolute Reality upon which all existing things depend in all moments in which they exist; this Reality does not depend on anything else for its existence. It is therefore called “Unconditioned Reality” or “God”. The argument will further demonstrate that God or Unconditional Reality is absolutely simple, absolutely one or single, unrestricted and unbounded, and transcending time, space, and matter. Readers can find this argument presented in the works of Robert Spitzer and David Bentley Hart – whose books are referenced and quoted in the body of this post. The argument is a logical deductive argument – consisting of premises and conclusions that logically follow and not merely a series of rhetorical pronouncements or sound bites meant to affect and convince an audience.

The argument provided here is not new – different versions of it have been advanced by classical religious thinkers cited above. Its most famous proponent in the Islamic tradition was Ibn Sīnā; Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī in the Ismā‘īlī tradition; Thomas Aquinas in the Christian scholastic tradition; Moses Maimonides in Judaism. Nevertheless, it is necessary to re-examine one’s religious beliefs in the light of intellect, logic, reason and experience. This has been emphasized in the guidance of recent Ismā‘īlī Imāms – Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III and Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV:

“These religious principles of Ismailism are well known to you for you have heard them from me and through your fathers and grandfathers and from my father and grandfather until I fear that by long familiarity with these teachings some of you forget the necessity of re-examination of your heart and religious experience. 
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Material Intelligence and Spiritual Enlightenment, Platinum Jubilee Message, 1955)

For readers who refuse to accept the validity of logical and philosophical deduction, and only recognize empirical evidence and inductive methods as a valid method of attaining knowledge, we ask you to skip to Section 8 and read our comments on empirical verification.

A medieval version of this argument based on Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūṣī is presented by al-Mabahathat here: http://kimiyagard.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/from-the-contingency-of-essences-to-the-existence-of-the-necessary/

The Argument for the Existence of God:

Quick Summary of Argument:

1. Reality consists of things whose existence at any given time depends upon (or is contingent upon) other things. For example, the existence of a cat is dependent, at all times, upon the existence of its cells and the arrangement (form) of its cells. The existence of its cells similarly depend upon molecules and their molecular structure. The existence of the molecules likewise depend upon atoms and the structure of the atoms, and so on. Each of these cases – the cat, the cells, the molecules, etc. are examples of conditioned realities  -  whose existence is dependent on other things or conditions. [Everything up to this point has been confirmed by empirical investigation].

2. Reality as a whole either contains a) conditioned realities only, or b) conditioned realities and at least one Unconditioned Reality (i.e. a reality whose existence depends on nothing else). Option a) is false because it entails the non-existence of all realities in reality – since conditioned realities lack the power to exist in and of themselves and must be grounded in existence by other things. (Read the full argument below for the exact details – including the infinite regress possibility). Therefore, Option b) is the necessary conclusion – there at least one unconditioned reality in all of reality.

3. An Unconditioned Reality, being uncaused and independent in its existence, has no parts and is absolutely simple by virtue of being uncaused and not dependent upon any combination of parts or properties. It then follows that there is only one Unconditioned Reality. This is because the existence of more than one Unconditioned Reality would necessitate that each Unconditioned Reality be composed of one common property and one differential property (to distinguish it from the rest) – but this would entail each of them being composed and therefore not actually Unconditioned Reality. Therefore, there is only one Unconditioned Reality.

4. It follows that all other realities in existence are conditioned realities whose existence depends on the Unconditioned Reality at all times. Therefore, Unconditioned Reality is the continuous Creator and Sustainer of all realities in existence. Unconditioned Reality, due to its simplicity, transcends space, time, and matter. Unconditioned Reality is also changeless and unlimited due to transcending time, space, and duality of any kind.

5. Finally, Unconditioned Reality – as the Creator and Sustainer of all realities – is the source or ground for all of the powers or qualities found in conditioned realities - such as existence, power, life, will, knowledge, beauty, compassion etc. This Unconditioned Reality – the Creator and Sustainer of all existing things at all times - is what we call “God” or “He who is above all else”. 

For a thorough and comprehensive version of this argument in all of its steps with accompanying diagrams, we encourage readers to continue scrolling down:

We first lay out the following two definitions:

A. Conditioned Reality (Contingent Being) is any reality (i.e. animal, plant, particle, wave, etc.) that depends on at least one other reality in order to exist at any given moment of its existence. An everyday example of a conditioned reality is a cat whose existence depends on the existence of cells and the structure of cells. The cells depend on the existence of molecules and the structure of molecules. The molecules depend on the existence and structure of atoms. The atoms depend on the existence and structure of sub-atomic particles, etc. Conditions means any reality upon which a conditioned reality depends upon for its existence. This applies to many things in our everyday experience – trees, plants, animals, tables, chairs, buildings, people – all of these are examples of Conditioned Realities because their own continual existence depends on the existence of other things. 

ConditionedReality(Image Source: http://magisgodwiki.org/index.php?title=File:Metaphysics1.png)

Every Conditioned Reality is an effect of its cause(s) – the reality(s) it depends upon in order to exist. However, there are two types of causation – essential causation and accidental causation.

An accidental series of causes is like a series of fathers and sons – where the father begets the son. But the father, after begetting a son, may die the next day and the son can still continue to exist. The important thing to note is that in accidental causation, the continuous existence of a son at any time does not depend upon the existence of the father. The second type of causation is essential causation. In essential causation, the existence of the effect depends on the existence of the cause at all times, the effect is simultaneous with its cause, and the cause continues to produce the effect from moment to moment. Thus, every cause in an essential series derives its causal power from its own cause. Essential causation refers to the existence of any object in the here and now.

The cat example – where the cat’s existence always depends on the existence of its cells and the form or structure of the cells, etc. – is one of essential causation. If one alters the structure of the cat’s cells or molecules or atoms – or the larger web of conditions such the air, the earth, gravity, etc – all of which ground the existence of the cat in the here and now – the cat will no longer exist as a cat, nor will it have the power to produce effects of its own.

“If one considers the terms of one’s own existence, for instance, one sees that there is no sense in which one is ever self-existent; one is dependent on an incalculable number of ever greater and ever smaller finite conditions, some of which are temporal, and some of which definitely are not, and all of which are themselves dependent on yet further conditions. One is composed of parts, and those parts of smaller parts, and so on down to the subatomic level, which itself is a realm of contingently subsistent realities that flicker in and out of actuality, that have no ontological ground in themselves, and that are all embraced within a quantum field that contains no more of an essential rationale for its own existence than does any other physical reality. One also belongs to a wider world, upon all of whose physical systems one is also dependent in every moment, while that world is itself dependent upon an immense range of greater physical realities, and upon abstract mathematical and logical laws, and upon the whole contingent history of our quite unnecessary universe… In short, all finite things are always, in the present, being sustained in existence by conditions that they cannot have supplied for themselves , and that together compose a universe that, as a physical reality, lacks the obviously supernatural power necessary to exist on its own.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 105)

Both types of causation exist in the physical world, but this argument for the existence of Unconditioned Reality is based on essential causation of Conditioned Realities, not accidental causation that is related to the temporal origin of the physical Universe. For example, focusing on accidental causes will lead back in time to the Big Bang. But essential causation pertains to the causes of all things in the here and now at any given moment – regardless of whether the universe exists infinitely into the past or not. The networks of causes that ground the existence of the cat – such as its cells and cellular structure, molecules and molecular structures, atoms/atomic structures, sub-atomic articles, quantum particles, etc. – cause the cat to exist in the present moment and ground its existence; they are not temporal causes of the cat’s temporal origin. This is the grave error made by the New Atheist movement – where Richard Dawkins and his minions have utterly misunderstood the classical arguments for God’s existence because they failed to appreciate the concept of essential causation – which grounds the existence of something in the present and not in some distant past like the Big Bang. There are, of course, other logical reasons why the physical Universe cannot exist infinitely into the past and has a temporal beginning. But this argument is not concerned with that point and is independent of it. Even if the Universe was temporally infinite into the past – a chain of essential causes is still required to keep it in existence in every temporal instant.

B. Unconditioned Reality (Necessary Being or First Cause) is any reality that does not depend on another reality to exist; Unconditioned Reality is independently self-existent. At this point in the argument, Unconditioned Reality is being offered as a preliminary definition and the purpose of the first part of this argument is to demonstrate that at least one Unconditioned Reality necessarily exists.

1. Proof of at least one Unconditioned in all of existence:

Case #1: There are only Conditioned Realities in all reality (The Atheist Position: there is no god). There are two ways for this to occur – if there is a finite number of Conditioned Realities in all of existence OR if there is an infinite number of Conditioned Realities in existence.

Case #2: There is at least one Unconditioned Reality in reality (The Theist Position).

OptionsImage Source: http://magisgodwiki.org/index.php?title=File:Metaphysics2.png

Please note that this is a disjunctive syllogism: either Case #1 is true or Case #2 is true, but they cannot both be true or both be false. And if one Claim is shown to be contradictory, then it is false and the other Claim is necessarily true.

We first consider Case #1 – that all reality is comprised of only Conditioned Realities. In this Case, there are two options – there is either a finite number of Conditioned Realities in existence or there is an infinite number of Conditioned Realities.


1.1 The claim that reality only contains a finite number (let us call this finite number “X”) of Conditioned Realities (contingent beings) is false

FiniteConditionsImage Source: http://magisgodwiki.org/index.php?title=File:Metaphysics4.png

Rationale: This is because the last or Xth Conditioned Reality in the network or chain of conditioned realities will require another reality for its conditions to be fulfilled.  However, since there are no other realities in existence after Xth Conditioned Reality (the last or fundamental condition), the Xth or final Conditioned Reality will not exist since it has no more Conditioned Realities to ground its existence – and therefore, all X Conditioned Realities (and thus everything) will not exist.  But things obviously do exist and so this option leads to an outright contradiction and must be rejected.

1.2 The claim that reality only contains a finite number of Conditioned Realities in a circular series is false.


Rationale: This is because all Conditioned Realities (CR) in the circle depend upon another reality in the Circle for their existence. So any reality CR1 in a circle of Conditioned Realities depends upon CR2, CR3, and so on until CRx where Cx is dependent upon C1. Thus, any reality CX in a circle is actually dependent upon and caused by itself and have to be its own cause – which is absurdSecondly, a circle of Conditioned Realities cannot cause itself to exist since it only consists of X Conditioned Realities and the set of X Conditioned Realities is still conditioned reality.  Therefore, none of the Conditioned Realities in the circle have their conditions fulfilled and they will never exist. This means that nothing will exist at all. However, things obviously do exist and so this option leads to an outright contradiction and must be similarly rejected.

1.3 The claim that reality only contains an infinite number of Conditioned Realities in a linear series is false.


Rationale: This is because each conditioned reality in the infinite series depends upon another Conditioned Reality for its existence – which in turn depends upon another. Any Conditioned Reality in the infinite series can only cause or fulfill the conditions of the next Conditioned Reality that depends upon it if its has actual existence itself. But the Conditioned Reality does not have actual existence because the Conditioned Reality it depends upon is itself dependent upon another Conditioned Reality and so on. Since the series of Conditioned Realities continues ad infinitum, no Conditioned Reality in the infinite series of conditions ever has its conditions fulfilled in order to exist and therefore lacks the causal power to ground other Conditioned Realities. Furthermore, the total set of an infinite number of Conditioned Realities is still only equivalent to Conditioned Reality. This results in the existence of nothing at all – as Conditioned Realities cannot cause themselves to exist. An essential causal series cannot continue for infinity because this would result in the non-existence of all members in the causal series. (An infinite series of dark moons positioned to shine upon one another will always remain dark). 

Please note, the impossibility of an infinite series of Conditioned Realities does not follow because infinite is impossible, but because an infinite number of Conditioned Realities still lacks the power to exist at all. For a more expanded discussion of why an infinite regress of Conditioned Realities cannot ground its own existence, see this post by al-Mubahathat: http://kimiyagard.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/on-the-infinite-regress-assumption/

1.4 Therefore, Claim #1 – There are only Conditioned Realities (the Atheist Position) in existence is false. This has been clearly established as per the above arguments.

RejectedAtheismImage Source: http://magisgodwiki.org/index.php?title=File:Metaphysics8.png

1.5 Conclusion: There is at least one Unconditioned Reality (Necessary Being) in all of reality. This is because Claim #1 in all of its forms is shown to be false due to inherent contradictions. This leaves only the conclusion of Claim #2 – there must be at least one Unconditioned Reality in all of existence.

“In short, all finite things are always, in the present, being sustained in existence by conditions that they cannot have supplied for themselves, and that together compose a universe that, as a physical reality, lacks the obviously supernatural power necessary to exist on its own. Nowhere in any of that is a source of existence as such. It is this entire order of ubiquitous conditionality — this entire ensemble of dependent realities— that the classical arguments say cannot be reducible either to an infinite regress of contingent causes or to a first contingent cause. There must then be some truly unconditioned reality (which, by definition, cannot be temporal or spatial or in any sense finite) upon which all else depends; otherwise nothing could exist at all.
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 105)

Note: In the past, it was common for atheists to claim that the Universe as a whole is Unconditioned Reality. However, it should be noted that all of physical reality, i.e. the entire spatio-temporal Universe, is a Conditioned Reality and this can be demonstrated deductively (as below) due to the composite nature of the material Universe, i.e. anything which can be divided into parts or components is caused by those parts and therefore cannot truly be uncaused or unconditioned. In modern times, the conditioned nature of the Universe is obvious because contemporary cosmology has shown that the Universe has a beginning or is finite in in the past (see the work of Alexander Vilenkin, Alan Guth). Anything that has a finite past is conditioned or contingent in its existence and cannot be necessary or Unconditioned due to being finite. That being said, even if one does not admit the past finitude of the Universe, this argument remains valid.

At this point, the existence of one God has not been established; only the existence of at least one Unconditioned Reality is established. The argument now continues in order to demonstrate that there necessarily is only one Unconditioned Reality.

2. Proof that Unconditioned Reality is the Simplest Reality in all of existence

2.1 Unconditioned Reality cannot have any parts or components. This is because any reality which is composed of parts – whether they are material or non-material – would then be caused by those parts.  But Unconditioned Reality, by definition, has no cause and cannot be composed of any parts whatsoever.

The First is not divisible in thought into things which would constitute its substance. For it is impossible that each part of the explanation of the meaning of the First should denote of the parts by which the First’s substance is constituted. If this were the case, the parts which constitute its substance would be causes of its existence.”
- Abu Nasr al-Farabi, (On the Perfect State, 67)

Every composite thing is posterior to its components and dependent on them. But, as was shown above, God is the first being [and hence not dependent on anything].”
- St. Thomas Aquinas, (Summa Theologica, 1.3.7)

2.2 Therefore, Unconditioned Reality is absolutely simple because it lacks parts, components, dimensions, etc. and therefore any kind of extrinsic boundaries (i.e. circles vs. squares; particles vs. waves; electrons vs. protons) or intrinsic boundaries (i.e. particular thoughts).

If God is to be understood as the unconditioned source of all things, rather than merely some very powerful but still ontologically dependent being, then any denial of divine simplicity is equivalent to a denial of God’s reality. This is obvious if one remembers what the argument from creaturely contingency to divine necessity implies. To be the first cause of the whole universal chain of per se causality, God must be wholly unconditioned in every sense. He cannot be composed of and so dependent upon severable constituents, physical or metaphysical, as then He would himself be conditional.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 134)

2.3 Expanded Explanation of Simplicity: Simplicity means to be lacking composition, components, parts or multiplicity of any kind. Simplicity utterly devoid of multiplicity entails the total absence of extrinsic (external) and intrinsic (internal) boundaries or limitations. All material objects have extrinsic boundaries or form – without which they would not be what they are. An example of extrinsic boundaries is the fact that a square is a square and therefore cannot be a circle – because a square and a circle each have external boundaries which define their existence. Another example in the material world is that of electrons vs. protons.  Electrons (which repel other electrons) are mutually exclusive with protons (which attract electrons) – something cannot be an electron and a proton at the same time and place.  A simpler reality is one that has less extrinsic/intrinsic boundaries than a given reality.  For example, particles and waves are mutually exclusive – waves exclude particles and vice versa. However, a photon can behave as a particle or as a wave in different situations.  This means that a photon is simpler reality than both particles and waves – because it does not have the formal boundaries of particles or waves and can take on the boundaries of either one. The photon can take on the properties of a particle or a wave and revert between the two without ceasing to be what it essentially is – a photon. In further examples, an electromagnetic field is simpler than electrons and protons (whose boundaries are mutually exclusive) because it allows for the interaction of protons and electrons. 


The above example shows how a simpler reality can ground/condition the existence of less simple realities and also interact with less simple realities. In other words, a simpler reality is compatible with (i.e. does not exclude the existence of) less simple realities. Another example is the act of thinking vs. the content of thoughts. A thought possesses particular boundaries due to its content. But a single act of thinking can hold and ground the existence of several different thoughts – without being limited or reduced to any particular thought. This shows that the act of thinking is a simpler reality than a particular thought. An example of the absence of intrinsic boundaries would be self-transparency – such as the human act of self-consciousness where such consciousness is aware of itself as being conscious.


3. Proof that there is only one, single, unique Unconditioned Reality:

3.1 If there are multiple Unconditioned Realities, they would each have to be absolutely simple (the simplest realities in all of existence) – as per the previous proof.

3.2 If there are multiple Unconditioned Realities, then there must be some difference or differentiating factor between each Unconditioned Reality. The existence of multiple Unconditioned Realities implies at least one factor that differentiates each Unconditioned Reality from the other. If one denies the presence of the said differentiating factor, then all of these Unconditioned Realities are one and the same.

3.3 Any Unconditioned Reality that includes a differentiating factor cannot be a pure Unconditioned Reality. This is because an Unconditioned Reality that includes a differentiating factor is less simple than pure Unconditioned Reality because it would be composed of parts: Unconditioned Reality + differentiating factor.

3.4 There cannot be multiple Unconditioned Realities. If this were the case, each of these Unconditioned Realities would be composed of parts (Unconditioned Reality + differentiating factor). But anything composed of parts is caused by those parts and therefore cannot be Unconditional Reality since Unconditioned Reality is uncaused. For example, if we suppose that there are two Unconditioned Realities – then each of them would possess a common property shared between them and a unique property specific to each one. But this entails that each Unconditioned Reality is composed of two parts – unique property and shared property – and they would each be caused by those parts and therefore cannot be Unconditioned Reality.

Each one of them (i.e. the two gods) would have two parts – one of them common and the other specific – by which their essences would exist. So this would necessitate One who precedes both of them and who would be the One who gives to each of them what is specific to it.” 
- Sayyidnā Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī, (Rāḥat al-‘Aql, 142)

3.6 Conclusion: There is only one unique Unconditioned Reality in all of existencesince the existence of multiple Unconditioned Realities is impossible or contradictory – to the notion (in the previous proof) that Unconditioned Reality is the simplest reality in all of existence and has no parts.


4. Proof that the Unconditioned Reality is the continuous “Creator” and “Sustainer” of all realities in existence:

4.1 There is only one, single, and unique Unconditioned Reality in all of reality – as per the previous proof. This entails that:

4.2 All other realities in reality besides Unconditioned Reality are Conditioned Realities. Therefore:

4.3 Any Conditioned Reality in existence depends on Unconditioned Reality for the fulfillment of the conditions of its existence. The fulfillment of the conditions of an existent by the Unconditioned Reality can be variously called “creation”, “sustenance” or “actualization” – these being names of the same thing.

4.4 Conclusion: Unconditioned Reality is the continuous Creator and Sustainer of all realities in existence at any given moment – or nothing would exist at all. This Unconditioned Reality is what we call “God”.

“The Creator (the unique, absolutely simple, unrestricted, unconditioned Reality itself) must be a continuous Creator (source of the ultimate fulfillment of conditions) of all else that is real at every moment it could cease to be real (i.e. at every moment of reality). Analogously speaking, if the Creator stopped “thinking” about us, we would literally lapse into nothingness.”
- Robert Spitzer, (New Proofs for the Existence of God, 143)

“The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will.”
- Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, (Memoirs of the Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)


5. The Transcendence of Unconditioned Reality:

5.1 Unconditioned Reality is beyond matter, space, and time and is therefore changeless and immutable – this follows from the fact that it is absolutely simple and non-composite. All spatio-temporal realities are composite in their structure.

The principle of divine simplicity, moreover, carries with it certain inevitable metaphysical implications. One is that God is eternal, not in the sense of possessing limitless duration but in the sense of transcending time altogether. Time is the measure of finitude, of change, of the passage from potentiality to actuality. God, however, being infinite actual being, is necessarily what Sikhism calls the Akhal Purukh , the One beyond time, comprehending all times within His eternal “now”; all things are present to Him eternally in a simple act of perfect and immediate knowledge. Another implication is that God is in some sense impassible: that is, being beyond change, He also cannot be affected— or, to be more precise, modified— by anything outside Himself. For one thing, as He is the infinite sustaining source of all things, nothing could be “outside” of Him in that sense to begin with.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 136)

5.2 Unconditioned Reality is unrestricted and without limit – since it is not subject to any external or internal boundaries due to its absolute simplicity.

“God cannot change over time, moreover, as He would then be dependent upon the relation between some unrealized potentiality within Himself and some fuller actuality somehow “beyond” Himself into which He may yet evolve; again, He would then be a conditional being. He also must possess no limitations of any kind, intrinsic or extrinsic, that would exclude anything real from Him. Nothing that exists can be incompatible with the power of being that He is, as all comes from Him, and this means that He must transcend all those limits that alienate and exclude finite realities from one another, but in such a manner that He can embrace those finite realities in a more eminent way without contradiction… The infinite power of being— the power to be, without any reliance upon some other cause of being, as well as the power to impart being to creatures— must be of infinite capacity, which means infinite simplicity.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 135)

5.3 Unconditioned Reality is beyond all ontological duality such as body-soul, substance-attribute, essence-existence, form-matter, subject-object, etc. – since it is absolutely simple and beyond any kind of composition – both material and formal.  In this respect, the Imām of the Time refers to Unconditional Reality as “He Who is above all else” – the meaning of which Dr. Aziz Esmail explains:

This Ultimate Reality is often conceived as ‘transcendent’, or described as ‘He who is above all else — not because it is a reality spatially above the human habitat, but because it is above, i.e. goes beyond or transcends, all human categories. Being free from and prior to the dichotomy between subject and object, it is therefore also outside the frame of human discourse.” 
- Aziz Esmail, (‘Reason and Religion: The Old Argument Revisited’Ilm, Vol. 7, No. 3, Dec. 1981-Feb. 1982, pp. 32-40)

5.4 Unconditioned Reality is the ground or source of all universal qualities  - life, knowledge, power, will, intelligence, beauty, justice, compassion etc. found in existence - since every creative principle contains and encompasses its effects (formally, eminently, or virtually). The meaning of saying that “God is compassionate”, “God is knowing” or “God is just” is that compassion, knowledge, justice, power, etc. exist   The Thomist philosopher Edward Feser explains this as follows:

Recall the Aristotelian principle that a cause cannot give what it does not have, so that the cause of a feature must have that feature either “formally” or “eminently”; that is, if it does not have the feature itself (as a cigarette lighter, which causes fire, is not itself on fire), it must have the feature that is higher up in the hierarchy of attributes (as the cigarette lighter has the power to generate fire). But the Unmoved Mover, as the source of all change, is the source of things coming to have the attributes they have. Hence, He has these attributes eminently if not formally. That includes every power, so that He is all-powerful. It also includes the intellect and will that human beings possess, so that He must be said to have intellect and will, and thus personality, in an analogical sense.”
- Edward Feser (The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, 98)


6. Answers to Common Atheist Objections:

“If everything has a cause, then God must have a cause.”

Response: The above argument never took “everything has a cause” as its first premise. Instead, it distinguished between Conditioned Reality and Unconditioned Reality and proceeded to show, by disjunctive syllogism, that there must be at least one Unconditioned Reality in existence. It further used the very definition of Unconditioned Reality to deduce that there is but one unique Unconditioned Reality in all of existence. Even then, God as Unconditioned Reality is not a discrete “thing”, and so logically falls outside the domain of “everything has a cause.”

“If the concept of God were the concept simply of some demiurge— some conditioned being among other conditioned beings—then it would indeed be a concept requiring the supplement of some further causal explanation. But none of the enduring theistic faiths conceives of God in that way. The God they proclaim is not just some especially resplendent object among all the objects illuminated by the light of being, or any kind of object at all, but is himself the light of being. It makes perfect sense to ask what illuminates an object, but none to ask what illuminates light. It makes perfect sense to wonder why a contingent being exists, but none to wonder why Absolute Being “exists.” In any event, the “Who made God?” riposte to theism has never been favored by the more reflective kind of skeptic. It is the resort of the intellectually lazy. For one thing, it is an approach that already concedes the power of the argument against an infinite explanatory regress, which is definitely not a good first move for the committed unbeliever.
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 143)


“God is not empirically observable and therefore does not exist.”

Response: This object is assumes the truth of the principle of empirical verification: “A fact is only true if verified by empirical observation.” The new atheists make this the sole criterion for assessing all knowledge and all truth claims. However, there are four major problems with this line of thinking. Firstly, the principle of verification itself cannot be verified empirically. That is to say, the statement that “A fact is only true if verified by empirical observation” cannot be verified by empirical observation. There is no empirical observation that tells us that something is only true is verified empirically. So the entire principle of empiricism is based on faulty circular logic and must be dismissed. Secondly, empirical observation – even with the most sophisticated instrumentation – can only observe material things that undergo change. The only reason that physicists can observe anything at all is because change is taking place at all levels of the material world. For this reason, the scope of empirical observation is limited and will eventually reach a boundary. God is changeless and immutable. Therefore, He cannot be empirically observed by definition. This does not entail the non-existence of God, it entails the limited scope of empiricism as a method of knowing. Thirdly, the actual practice of science is not strictly empirical. Science includes an interplay of theory, mathematical modeling, empirical observation and trust. Certain branches of physics such as cosmology, quantum physics, astronomy rely heavily on mathematical modelling in order to produce theorems. Many scientific theories such as relativity, the Big Bang theory, etc., are the result of mathematical modelling and not pure empirical observation. Einstein himself never needed to set foot in a laboratory. Fourthly, many truths are deducted using axiomatic logic and not empirical testing. The Pythagorean theorem can only be proven mathematically and not empirically. No amount of empirical observations of triangles would ever constitute a proof of the theorem. Compared to logical and deductive proofs, empirical based proofs are at best probabilistic since the sample size can never include the entire set of testable samples.


“Causation is not universally true – it is invalidated by quantum physics”

Response: There are no exceptions to the rule of causality. Modern science has not detected or observed any cases where material things have no cause. Certain physicists such as Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking have inappropriately and deceptively referred to empty space or the quantum vacuum energy as “nothing”; but this is simply no the case since the vacuum is not nothing, even empirically speaking. The quantum vacuum contains unstable energy subject to the laws of physics.

“Even the most fervent materialist must at least grant that quantum particles and functions are not causally independent in an ultimate sense; they do not literally emerge from nonexistence. Radioactive decay, for instance, still has to occur within radioactive material, and within a physical realm governed by mathematically describable laws. And whatever occurs within a quantum field or vacuum is dependent upon that field or vacuum (and that vacuum is not, as it happens, nothing). And all physical reality is contingent upon some cause of being as such, since existence is not an intrinsic physical property, and since no physical reality is logically necessary. Today’s more ingenious skeptics, however, do not attempt to search out some sort of specific exception to the universal rule of causality, because they understand that what might count as an exception will always be determined in advance by certain metaphysical prejudices.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 145)


“But causes are not simultaneous with their effects; causes must always precede the effect in time”

Response: A number of classical thinkers (Aristotle, Ibn Sina, Aquinas) and contemporary western philosophers have argued and demonstrated that causes are in fact simultaneous with their effects. While common people tend to see cause and effect as two temporal events, this is not actually the case when causation is examined in depth. Even Immanuel Kant admitted that causes are simultaneous with their effects – such as the case where a stove is causing an area to be heated or when a ball impresses a groove when it sits on a cushion.  In fact, all types of causation – even those that appear to be temporal – are in reducible to simultaneous causation. This is established by Mumford and Anjum in Getting Causes from Powers (see pp. 106-129). These authors look at several examples from everyday experience, biology, physics and agent causation and conclude that they are all cases of simultaneous causation. This is because an object is not truly a cause until the very instant that it is producing its effect. Before or after that time, the object is not a cause in any meaningful sense.

“We argued against Hume’s temporal priority condition in which the cause occurs before the effect. Causation, we insisted, involved simultaneity. The effect occurs at the same time as its cause.”
(Mumford, Anjum, Getting Causes from Powers, 230)

“Man has every reason to believe in the reality of causation: indeed, to take it as one of the most fundamental realities in the whole of existence… Causation is as real as anything we know. It is fundamental: an actual feature of this one true world.”
(Mumford, Anjum, Getting Causes from Powers, 237)


“Atheism is for more rational persons while theism is blind faith”

Response: The only logical alternative to theism is naturalism or physicalism – the belief that physical reality is all there is. However, there is much stronger support for theism than naturalism – for three reasons. Firstly, there are no deductive or empirical arguments for naturalism. Naturalism, as already mentioned, relies on empiricism which is unprovable and circular in its own logic. Furthermore, there is no way to actually prove or argue, from observations within the natural world, that the natural world is all that exists. Indeed, it is the atheist – not the theist – who holds his naturalist position out of ‘blind faith’ in the absence of good reasons or evidence. Naturalism, far from being a reasoned position, is merely a prejudice or assumption that one arbitrarily adopts. Secondly, naturalism is self-refuting because under the assumption of naturalism, the human mind is reducible to the brain which has evolved through natural selection for the sole purpose of survival and not to discover objective truth. This means that all thoughts, ideas, and intellectual worldviews are the result of brain neurobiological events that occur as the brain’s responses to stimuli and genes. As such, all ideas held by a person – under naturalism – are not held because of their truth or rationality but simply because of brain chemistry. This casts great doubt as to the accuracy of human scientific conclusions and knowledge in general – since it could only correspond to objective reality by some improbable miraculous coincidence. Under naturalism, it is the atheist who has “blind faith” that his own mental and intellectual convictions should be trusted in the first place.

Finally, naturalism ultimately amounts to saying that ‘things are just there’ as a brute fact without any final explanation because of its refusal to admit of anything beyond the natural world. Atheism at the end of the day is simply not provable and this should cast doubt on the very rationality of atheist belief which truly amounts to blind faith. Dr. James Cutsinger summarizes this point when he says:

“On the contrary, atheism is self-contradictory. Think about it. The atheist says, “There is no God.” Now anyone who says, “There is no _____,” is giving voice to what a logician would call a universal negative proposition, whatever might be placed in that blank. It’s negative because it says “no” and denies something, and it’s universal because the field it encompasses is unlimited. If I said, “There is no platypus in this chapel,” I would also be uttering a negative statement, but it wouldn’t be universal because the context would be restricted to this building, and we could verify, or disconfirm, the truth of my statement by arming everyone in the room with a flashlight, fanning out throughout the building, and engaging in a systematic platypus-hunting exercise. Notice, however, that when atheists say, “There is no God,” they’re not saying, “There’s no God in this chapel,” or “There’s no God in Greenville,” or “There’s no God in our galaxy.” They’re saying, “There is no God anywhere in the entire universe, no God at all wherever one might look throughout the full extent of reality.” But in doing so they’re implying that they’ve done the looking. They’ve carefully inspected all the nooks and crannies of existence, even as we’d need to inspect all the nooks and crannies of this building to know there’s no platypus in it. If however they’ve truly looked everywhere there is to look—if they can honestly say they’re personally acquainted with the full extent of reality—it follows that they must be omniscient. But omniscience is an attribute of God. Therefore, in saying “There is no God,” atheists are implicitly claiming to be God, and thus inevitably contradicting themselves.”
- James Cutsinger,  (The Sound of a Lecture Undelivered, Furman University, April 30, 2007)


7. The worldview of the First Cause/Unconditional Reality Argument is rationally superior to any naturalist worldview:

While there are no positive arguments for naturalism or atheism, there are good arguments for theism. The argument presented in this article is based on the concept of causality – which no one really disputes.

“All physical reality is logically contingent, and the existence of the contingent requires the Absolute as its source. Why the Absolute produces the contingent may be inconceivable for us; but that the contingent can exist only derivatively, receiving its existence from the Absolute, is a simple deduction of reason. Alternatively, reality is essentially absurd: absolute contingency, unconditional conditionality, an uncaused effect. And the antithesis between the two positions can never be made any less stark than that… The general argument from the contingent to the absolute, or from the conditioned to the unconditioned, is a powerful and cogent one. No attempt, philosophical or otherwise, to show that it is a confused argument, or logically insufficient, or susceptible of some purely physical answer has ever been impressively successful. Even if one does not accept its conclusions one still has absolutely no rational warrant for believing that materialism has any sort of logical superiority over theism; the classical argument is strong enough to show that naturalism is far and away a weaker, more incomplete, and more wilfully doctrinaire position than classical theism is. Naturalism, as I have said repeatedly, is a philosophy of the absurd, of the just-there-ness of what is certainly by its nature a contingent reality; it is, simply enough, an absurd philosophy.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 147-150)


8. Conclusion: Be in Harmony with God

The arguments presented in this article lead to the conclusion that there is one, single, unique, infinite Unconditioned Reality that continuously creates and sustains the existence of all things – space, time, matter, the Universe, consciousness, etc. As such, every reality in existence is a Conditioned Reality whose existence is ultimately dependent upon the absolute, and infinite Unconditioned Reality – what people of faith call “God”. Having accepted this metaphysical truth, one must realize that one’s own existence is contingent and ultimately dependent upon God. The next logical step is to live one’s life in total conformity with the realization of one’s utter dependence before the Divine. That is to say, one’s entire being – physical, mental, and spiritual – must be oriented towards God as the source of all existence by realizing one’s contingency or conditioned state before Him: for this is the essence of faith. Such an orientation brings one in harmony with God. And he who is in harmony with God, who is absolutely poor and humble before the unceasing existence that flows forth from the Unconditioned Reality – is “at one” with God and will be truly and deeply happy.


“A man must be at one with God. This may sound old-fashioned to some people. A few may think that they do not believe in God, and some others that it matters little to the individual in his daily life how he stand with regard to Him. Ruling out the atheist, with whom a believer can no more argue than he can discuss color with a blind man, it is surely strange that a believer in an omnipotent and ever-present Deity should fail to realise that how we stand this instant and every instant toward Him matters to us more than anything else in the Universe. This is the fundamental question: Are you in harmony with God? If you are – you are happy.”
- Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah,
(“My Personal Life”, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. K.K. Aziz, 866)

Posted by: Ismaili Gnostic | March 15, 2014

An Ismaili Muslim Reconciliation of Creation and Evolution


“It was this Islamic sense of unity in all forms of life which confirmed my father’s faith in a God-governed order. [Imam Sulṭān Muhammad Shāh] achieved a synthesis which enabled him to conciliate his faith in the Almighty as well as in Darwin’s theory of the origin of the species which swept across Europe in his youth and generated such heated debate.”
(Prince Sadruddin Āgā Khān describing the beliefs of his father Imam Sulṭān Muhammad Shāh)

The recent debate between the creationist museum and popular scientist raised the question of whether the monotheistic doctrine of creation is compatible with the scientific theory of evolution. This article reconciles the traditional doctrine of Creation found in monotheistic faiths with the theory of Evolution by refuting both creationism and naturalism (atheism) and integrating Ismā‘īlī Muslim metaphysics with modern science.

Over one thousand years ago, the Ismā‘īlī Muslim philosopher Sayyidnā Nāṣir-i Khusraw undertook the daunting task of reconciling and synthesizing the religious doctrines and science and philosophical views of his time in a great work called The Reconciliation of the Two Wisdoms (Jāmi‘ al-ḥikmatayn). Following the spirit of Sayyidnā Nāṣir, this article presents a reconciliation of the classical theistic doctrine of Creation and theory of Evolution in light of contemporary discussions of both theology and science.

The recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham only serves to perpetuate the misunderstandings between atheists, agnostics, scientists and people of faith. On one side, Ken Ham’s “creationism” amounts to total departure from the classical concepts of God and Creation found in most monotheistic faiths. On the other hand, most people interpret (sometimes tacitly) the theory of evolution within a purely materialist or naturalist worldview – in which physical reality is all that exists and where all aspects of living organisms are fully explained by Darwinian evolution. The proper reconciliation between a theistic worldview based on the reality of God’s creation and the scientifically grounded theory of evolution involve a return to the classical understanding of God and Creation found in the scholastic and philosophical traditions of Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and an honest recognition of the limits of naturalism and the mechanistic concept of Nature. 

The Pitfalls of Scriptural Literalism:

“…one would have to be rather simple to imagine that there could have been “days” before the creation of the sun, or that God literally planted an orchard with physical trees”
- David Bentley Hart


Biblical literalism is a modern phenomenon that took hold among the Protestant Christians. Unlike the Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Protestants take the Bible alone as the sufficient authority in religious matters. In this context, certain groups of Protestants in the 18th century began to confine the interpretation of the Bible to its literal meaning. This happened because the interpretive mindsets of such people were conditioned and threatened by the scientific revolution – in which truth was recognized solely in terms of literal facts. However, Biblical literalism is inconsistent with both Christian tradition and human reason. 

The Christian Church Fathers did not take the verses of Genesis literally. In fact, they emphasized that one must interpret the Bible with resource to philosophy in order to perceive the spiritual truths embedded within its allegories. As Hart explains:

“The greatest Church Fathers, for instance, took it for granted that the creation narratives of Genesis could not be treated literally, at least not in the sense we give to that word today, but must be read allegorically—which, incidentally, does not mean read as stories with codes to be decrypted but simply read as stories whose value lies in the spiritual truths to which they can be seen as pointing. Origen of Alexandria (185–254), in many ways the father of patristic exegesis, remarked that one would have to be rather simple to imagine that there could have been “days” before the creation of the sun, or that God literally planted an orchard with physical trees whose fruits conferred wisdom or eternal life, or that God liked to amble through his garden in the gloaming, or that Adam could have hidden from him behind a tree; no one could doubt, he said, that these are figural tales, communicating spiritual mysteries, and certainly not historical records.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 25)

Secondly, the literal affirmation that God created the Universe in six days results in a contradiction. The simply reason being that if God is the creator of the universe, then He must also be the creator of time and space. Therefore, the divine creative act which originates time and space cannot itself be subject to time or take time to occur. St. Augustine recognized the contradiction in believing in a literal six day creation of the world when the word “day” means a twenty-four period.  Augustine instead believed that God created time with the creation of the universe and that the mention of six days of creation is an allegorical expression for minds that are too weak to understand the concept of God’s instantaneous creation.

Biblical literalists such as Ken Ham are out of line with both science and Christian exegetical tradition.  And yet, the view that God created the universe in six days continues to have a strong hold upon evangelical Christians all over the world.  This belief is ultimately rooted in a theologically deficient concept of God. The only solution against scriptural literalism is a return to the concept of God found in Classical Theism.

Classical Creation vs. Modern Creationism:

“God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III


According to the classical theologians and philosophers of religions like Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, God is absolute, infinite, beyond space, time, and change. He is absolutely simple, and therefore transcends all duality or multiplicity. God is the uncaused and unconditioned reality that all things depend upon in order to exist. (For those who are doubtful, a philosophical proof of the Existence of God is given here). The classical concept of God as described here is common to Hindu, Greek, Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians and thinkers such as Plotinus, Augustine, Ramanuja, Shankara, al-Farabi, Avicenna, the Ismaili Muslim thinkers, Aquinas, and Maimonides. In the Ismā‘īlī Muslim tradition, this concept of God is conveyed by Imām Sulṭān Mūhammad Shāh in his Memoirs as follows:

“It is said that we live, move and have our being in God. We find this concept expressed often in the Qur’an, not in those words of course, but just as beautifully and more tersely… Thus Islam’s basic principle can only be defined as monorealism and not as monotheism. Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: “Allāhu-Akbar”. What does that mean? There can be no doubt that the second word of the declaration likens the character of Allah to a matrix which contains all and gives existence to the infinite, to space, to time, to the Universe, to all active and passive forces imaginable, to life and to the soul.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III, 
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/ 

In the above passage, the Imām speaks of God as the Absolute Reality (Mono-Reality) “which contains and gives existence” to everything that exists and could exist – such as the infinite, space, time, the Universe, all that is imaginable, and the soul itself. Even things that appear to be self-existent such as abstract objects (i.e. mathematical truths) or the laws of physics, etc. depend upon God in order to exist. In this view – held by numerous world religions – God is not merely a “maximally great being”, a “supreme being”, a discrete thing, an object among others, or the “most perfect existent” among existents – since all of these notions contradict the infinite nature of God and restrict Him to finitude.

God…is not something posed over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is He the universe itself. He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all. Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from Him, who is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in Whom (to use the language of the Christian scriptures) all things live and move and have their being. In one sense He is “beyond being,” if by “being” one means the totality of discrete, finite things. In another sense He is “being itself,” in that He is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the Absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of : Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 30)

The concept of creation that corresponds to this classical concept of God is not a temporal act of “designing” or “making” or “beginning” something – in the ordinary sense of these terms as with human acts of designing or making. God creates all existence from nothing and His creative act transcends time and space – since time comes into being with the physical Universe. Therefore, one cannot presume that God creates the Universe at such and such time. It is equally invalid to hold that God’s creative act took a period of time – such as six days. The Qur’an states that God creates simply by saying the word “Be” – an instantaneous order like the twinkle of an eye. This concept of creation is also explained by Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh in his Memoirs:

“The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allāh alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/ 

Creation is not an event in time – it is the eternal, timeless and continuous relationship between God and created beings – in which created beings are originated by God, dependent upon God, and supported by God at every single moment in which they have existence. A good metaphor for the relationship between the Creator and the act of Creation is that of a thinker and his thought, as opposed to a human being making an artefact. The appearance and continuation of a thought is directly dependent upon the thinker at all times:

“When you think, your thought becomes an idea. When God thinks, His thought becomes creation.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III, 
(Count Paroo, Subjects Discussed by the Religious Study Group of Mombasa, 1960, 21)

Another attractive notion was that of God creating the Universe and then letting it exist on its own, i.e. Deism. This philosophy was attractive in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But such a concept of God renders Him impotent and equates the mode of God’s existence with the mode of the existence of he Universe. If the Universe can exist without any involvement or relationship to the God who creates it, then such a Universe is also a god and one has effectively affirmed the existence of two gods. But in reality, the existence of the Universe is an existence that is entirely derivative and dependent upon God’s act of bestowing existence. This does not simply mean that God merely causes the Big Bang; it means that every temporal state of the Universe – in each moment of existence – is being granted its existence by God’s creative power. The Imām has articulated this very an idea in a newspaper article published in the British newspapers:

“I have, anyhow, met many persons nominally Christian who seem to think that in the beginning God created the world and then left it to its own devices. They seem to regard Him as a Being infinitely removed from them and their affairs. Whereas my Faith is, as you say yours is, that God is ever present, ever creative, and that His Providence sustains us in the smallest detail of our daily life.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(“Is Religion something special?”, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, ed. K.K. Aziz., Vol. II, 1410)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/10121/

A common believe today is the notion that God periodically intervenes with the Universe to tinker, adjust, or create new species or creatures. God is beyond space and time; there is no question of such Divine interventions occurring because created things already and always depend upon God to exist in the first place. 

It was necessary to lay out the concept of God and Creation in the preceding section because the concept of God held by the Creationists, Deists, and many others in modern times is diametrically opposed to the God of classical theism. The god of Creationism is not theologically identical to the God of Classical Theism. Creationism’s deity is not the Unconditioned Reality, Necessary Being or Ultimate Reality which grounds the existence of all beings. Instead, the god of Creationism is an “object” among objects, a “person” among persons, a “designer” who constructs creatures out of material that exists alongside him, and a “supreme being” among other beings that is subject to time and space. This god’s creative activities take place within time and space. This is why Creationists have no problem believing that creation occurs in six days and that the world is merely six thousand years old. The god of Creationism is not absolutely simple; he has personal and anthropomorphic attributes in the same manner as human beings – except without certain limitations. Ken Ham and those who share his views subscribe to a deficient and illogical concept of God. It is ironic that most contemporary atheists and scientists – including Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Hawking – have only engaged with the demiurgic deity of the creationists and not the God of Classical Theism. And yet, many religious people in modern times confuse this demiurge deity with the true God:

“Somehow, even in the minds of some Christians, God has come to be understood not as the truly transcendent source and end of all contingent reality, who creates through “donating” being to a natural order that is complete in itself, but only as a kind of supreme mechanical cause located somewhere within the continuum of nature. Which is only to say that, here at the far end of modernity, the concept of God is often just as obscure to those who want to believe as to those who want not to.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 28)

Some may think the distinction between the Creationist concept of God and the classical monotheistic concept of God is irrelevant to the issues of creation, science, and evolution. But nothing could be further from the truth. For the reconciliation of evolution and creation hinges upon how one envisions the relationship between God and Nature. 

The Fallacy of Darwinian Naturalism:

“The very notion of nature as a closed system entirely sufficient to itself is plainly one that cannot be verified, deductively or empirically, from within the system of nature.”
- David Bentley Hart

 “It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection… the usual view of evolution must be revised. It is not just a physical process.”
– Thomas Nagel (A Prominent Atheist Philosopher)

What Creationists and many naturalists share in common today is a flawed conception of Nature. Beginning in the seventeenth century – accompanied by technological advancement – many scientists came to hold a mechanized view of Nature. This view entails that Nature merely consists of “matter in motion” subject to the laws of physics – bits of matter inert of meaning and purpose which can be dominated, used, and controlled by an external agent, i.e. human beings or God:

“A mechanical order of Nature is one purged of life and inherent forces or principles. In its place, the mechanistic conception offers a view of inert nature composed of interchangeable parts and subject to externally imposed order and power.” (Meyer, Political Nature: Environmentalism and the Interpretation of Western Thought, 46)

“Western persons quickly acquired the habit of seeing the universe not simply as something that can be investigated according to a mechanistic paradigm, but as in fact a machine. They came to see nature not as a reality guided and unified from within by higher or more spiritual causes like formality and finality, but as something merely factitiously assembled and arranged from without by some combination of efficient forces, and perhaps by one supreme external efficient cause — a divine designer and maker, a demiurge, the god of the machine, whom even many pious Christians began to think of as God.” - David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God, 57-58)

It is within the context of a mechanistic view of nature – where the natural world is understood merely as “matter in motion” – that the theory of evolution was first introduced. Such a worldview, although completely arbitrary and not based on any actual evidence, led to the idea of God as an external designer or agent whose creative act is merely one of “interference” or “tinkering” with the natural order from outside of it as opposed to being the continuous source for its existence as in the classical conception.  This worldview is already one of “semi-naturalism” where God is only invoked to a) initiate the beginning of the Universe while remaining outside of it or b) interfere in the Universe to produce complex life. The Intelligent Design movement led by Paley is based on this notion of God as demiurgic designer as opposed to God as the Ground of Being. But Darwin’s theory of evolution showed that a demiurge that intervenes and designs life in the manner of human design is not actually required. The problem then comes down to interpretation – either one returns to a richer classical concept of God and Nature or one eliminates God entirely, adopts atheism, and holds to a mechanistic view of nature in which Darwinian evolution explains the existence of everything. As it will be seen, the second option leads to irrational absurdities.

The biggest problem with Darwinian evolution is not its scientific truth but the fact that the theory of evolution tends to be developed and interpreted within an atheistic worldview called “naturalism” or “materialism” – the idea that the natural or physical world is all that exists. When this worldview is combined with the theory of evolution, it results in an overarching claim – called “Darwinian Naturalism” – that all the features of life on earth can be explained by Darwinian physical processes alone.

But Darwinian naturalism remains flawed for two reasons. The first is that naturalism or materialism patently false. Naturalism – the belief that reality only consists of material or physical things lacks both empirical and rational proof. By definition, empirical methods can only affirm or deny the reality of empirical things – but cannot make claims about anything beyond the natural world. One cannot use the physical world to explain the existence of the physical world. There are also no deductive or philosophical proofs for the reality of naturalism. The claim that things are only real if they can be observed by empirical testing methods is not demonstrable empirically. That is to say, one cannot prove that “things are only real if proven empirically” by resorting to empirical evidence. Therefore, naturalism’s claim is circular and lacks intellectual and empirical basis. 

“The only fully consistent alternative to belief in God, properly understood, is some version of “materialism” or “physicalism” or (to use the term most widely preferred at present ) “naturalism”; and naturalism— the doctrine that there is nothing apart from the physical order, and certainly nothing supernatural— is an incorrigibly incoherent concept, and one that is ultimately indistinguishable from pure magical thinking. The very notion of nature as a closed system entirely sufficient to itself is plainly one that cannot be verified, deductively or empirically, from within the system of nature. It is a metaphysical (which is to say “extra-natural”) conclusion regarding the whole of reality, which neither reason nor experience legitimately warrants.”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God, 17)

Finally, if naturalism were true, it would then follow that it could not be true. This is simply because, in a naturalist worldview, a person’s thoughts and thought-content are strictly determined by the laws of physics, brain chemistry and neural activity – as opposed to the truth or logic of the thought-content. Therefore, the very concept or idea of naturalism – under a naturalist worldview – must have been physically determined by material brain events caused by external stimuli responses and not its efficacy. But there is absolutely no proof that neural events can produce true ideas – especially when one denies that logic or truth has any other basis except the laws of physics and chemistry.

“If, moreover, naturalism is correct (however implausible that is), and if consciousness is then an essentially material phenomenon, then there is no reason to believe that our minds, having evolved purely through natural selection, could possibly be capable of knowing what is or is not true about reality as a whole. Our brains may necessarily have equipped us to recognize certain sorts of physical objects around us and enabled us to react to them; but, beyond that, we can assume only that nature will have selected just those behaviors in us most conducive to our survival, along with whatever structures of thought and belief might be essentially or accidentally associated with them, and there is no reason to suppose that such structures—even those that provide us with our notions of what constitutes a sound rational argument— have access to any abstract “truth” about the totality of things. This yields the delightful paradox that, if naturalism is true as a picture of reality, it is necessarily false as a philosophical precept; for no one’s belief in the truth of naturalism could correspond to reality except through a shocking coincidence (or, better, a miracle).”
- David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 18)

Having shown the inadequacy of naturalism, where does this leave the theory of evolution? There is no reason to deny that organisms undergo change due to random mutations in their genetic code resulting from environmental factors. There is also no reason to deny that these changes are filtered by natural selection. However, this evolutionary picture of the world remains incomplete for two major reasons. The first is that the probability of conscious and rational human beings evolving from nothing based simply on random chance mutations is virtually non-existent. Even the generation of the first form of life on earth remains a mystery to scientists to this day. As a further example, Barrow and Tipler in their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, list ten steps in the course of human evolution, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the Sun would have burned up the earth. They estimate the probability of the evolution of the human genome to be on the order of 1 divided by 4-360 (110,000). This figure basically shows that the evolution of human beings by a purely physical Darwinian process is quite impossible. To date there are no mathematical probability models that verify the possibility of evolution propelled purely by natural selection and chance mutation.  The following statements by Thomas Nagel – a well known atheist – also voice the sheer improbability that human life and other forms of life evolved due to purely physical processes.

“But for a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works. The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes… But it seems to me that, as it is usually presented, the current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense. It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selectionWhat is lacking, to my knowledge, is a credible argument that the story has a nonnegligible probability of being true.”
- Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 12)

“As I have said, doubts about the reductionist account of life go against the dominant scientific consensus, but that consensus faces problems of probability that I believe are not taken seriously enough, both with respect to the evolution of life forms through accidental mutation and natural selection and with respect to the formation from dead matter of physical systems capable of such evolution. The more we learn about the intricacy of the genetic code and its control of the chemical processes of life, the harder those problems seem.”
- Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 12)

“No viable account, even a purely speculative one, seems to be available of how a system as staggeringly functionally complex and information-rich as a self-reproducing cell, controlled by DNA, RNA, or some predecessor, could have arisen by chemical evolution alone from a dead environment. Recognition of the problem is not limited to the defenders of intelligent design. Although scientists continue to seek a purely chemical explanation of the origin of life, there are also card-carrying scientific naturalists like Francis Crick who say that it seems almost a miracle.
- Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 268)

The second problem with the Darwinian evolution theory is that it fails to account for the appearance of consciousness within all living things and particularly the reflective self-consciousness of human beings. Despite the weak arguments brought forth by materialists, conscious states simply cannot be reduced to brain activity. There are a number of reasons for this. One argument is that thoughts possess intentionality (i.e. thoughts are about something, i.e. an object, a person, etc) while brain activity, being purely material, is not. One cannot simply observe a scan of a person’s brain activity in terms of neurons and chemicals and then ascertain what they are thinking about. Secondly, the content of particular thoughts in areas like mathematics and logic is determined by the content of the preceding thoughts in the sequence (i.e. the logical sequence) and not brain states. If it were other than this – and thoughts were determined by physical states of the brain, then the mathematical truth of 2+2=4 would not depend on the truth of 2+2 but instead would depend on material brain activity alone in which case it could not be logically correct. Thirdly, we can only observe the physical world through conscious states such as sensation. We can only model and describe these physical observations through abstract models found in in mathematics (which is not empirical). Therefore, from an epistemological point of view, what we know directly and immediately are our conscious states and not the matter as such. Therefore, to reduce our conscious states to material events is illogical – since those material entities have no existence for us except through consciousness. Darwinian evolutionary theory has no answer at all for the appearance of consciousness let alone its explanation. The following statements from the prominent atheist Thomas Nagel confirm these arguments:

“If evolutionary biology is a physical theory—as it is generally taken to be— then it cannot account for the appearance of consciousness and of other phenomena that are not physically reducible. So if mind is a product of biological evolution—if organisms with mental life are not miraculous anomalies but an integral part of nature—then biology cannot be a purely physical science.”
- Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 16)

“If one doubts the reducibility of the mental to the physical, and likewise of all those other things that go with the mental, such as value and meaning, then there is some reason to doubt that a reductive materialism can apply even in biology, and therefore reason to doubt that materialism can give an adequate account even of the physical world.”
- Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 16)

“Since the conscious character of these organisms is one of their most important features, the explanation of the coming into existence of such creatures must include an explanation of the appearance of consciousness. That cannot be a separate question. An account of their biological evolution must explain the appearance of conscious organisms as such. Since a purely materialist explanation cannot do this, the materialist version of evolutionary theory cannot be the whole truth. Organisms such as ourselves do not just happen to be conscious; therefore no explanation even of the physical character of those organisms can be adequate which is not also an explanation of their mental character. In other words, materialism is incomplete even as a theory of the physical world, since the physical world includes conscious organisms among its most striking occupants.”
- Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 31-32)

If naturalist evolution were true, and thought contents are reducible to or causedsolely by brain activity, then all human thought would be logically discontinuous. This is because our thoughts would be the result of purely physical evolutionary processes determined by the need to survive and not by the need to know things objectively or truthfully. There would be no reason to trust our cognitive faculties in providing an accurate picture of the world – since the Darwinian evolutionary process gives no guarantee of that.  Instead, affirming that our thoughts are identical to our brain activity resulting from Darwinian evolution implies that our thought content is certainly false – since it is based on purely physical brain chemistry and not the truth or logic of that thought content. But if this is the case, then how could naturalist evolution be true in the first place – since people would only this worldview due to physio-chemical brain processes and not because it is true or logical. Thus Nagel reminds us that:

“Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself… Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific.”
- Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 22-23)

The conclusion that follows from the above arguments is that the purely materialist and naturalist theory of evolution is incomplete due to its materialist underpinnings. The solution is not to deny biological evolution, but to revise by interpreting it according to a worldview that is not naturalist or materialist in its scope. In other words, there must be a dimension to evolution that transcends the physical world. This is the same conclusion reached by Thomas Nagel who writes:

“I conclude that something is missing from Darwinism, and from the standard biological conception of ourselves.”
- Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 63)

“Biological evolution is responsible for the existence of conscious mental phenomena, but that since those phenomena are not physically explainable, the usual view of evolution must be revised. It is not just a physical process.”
- Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 32)

If theory of naturalist Darwinian evolution is inadequate in explaining the appearance of life and conscious creatures like human beings, then it must be adjusted and modified rather than denied outright. This adjustment is as follows: instead of seeing emergence of life through evolution as purely the result of random chance, accidents, and “blind” processes, the evolutionary process must be seen as “purpose-driven” or “teleological.” The very fact that conscious creatures evolved – despite its sheer improbability – must mean that there are universal laws that are “built-in” or immanent in Nature that encourage and inevitably lead to the existence of life in general and conscious creatures in particular. Evolution must therefore include a non-physical dimension in addition to the laws of physics and chemistry and chance events in order to be rationally plausible. Consciousness – rather then being an accidental feature of living beings – is an essential feature of life and latently present in all things.

“It is trivially true that if there are organisms capable of reason, the possibility of such organisms must have been there from the beginning. But if we believe in a natural order, then something about the world that eventually gave rise to rational beings must explain this possibility. Moreover, to explain not merely the possibility but the actuality of rational beings, the world must have properties that make their appearance not a complete accident: in some way the likelihood must have been latent in the nature of things.
- Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 50)

This view of the Nature – where purpose, goals, and direction are inherent to the very substance of things in Nature – is actually a return to the pre-modern Aristotelian philosophy of Nature (this is not to deny modern science, but only certain philosophical ideas it gets interpreted within). This is not an absolute negation of the theory of evolution, but rather, a re-interpretation of evolution within a worldview that is neither naturalist/materialist nor mechanistic. Accordingly, Nature is no longer bits of moving matter subject to deterministic laws of physics or chemistry that needs to be given meaning from the outside, but a holistic system that contains inherent purpose and goal-directedness.  This is what Aristotelians call “teleology” and it amounts not to a denial of the theory of evolution, but rather, its completion.

This is a revision of the Darwinian picture rather than an outright denial of it. A teleological hypothesis will acknowledge that the details of that historical development are explained largely through natural selection among the available possibilities on the basis of reproductive fitness in changing environments. But even though natural selection partly determines the details of the forms of life and consciousness that exist, and the relations among them, the existence of the genetic material and the possible forms it makes available for selection have to be explained in some other way. The teleological hypothesis is that these things may be determined not merely by value-free chemistry and physics but also by something else, namely a cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from themThe tendency for life to form may be a basic feature of the natural order, not explained by the nonteleological laws of physics and chemistry.
- Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 68-69)

There are also prominent biologists and scientists who affirm teleological principles in Nature that have propelled the direction of evolution toward the appearance of human beings (or rational creatures like human beings). Stuart Kaufman has written about how reductionist natural selection alone is inadequate in explaining the order found in living things and that such order is due to “underlying ordering principles in biology.”  Simon Conway Morris has stated about Darwinian evolution that “it is after all only a mechanism, but if evolution is predictive, indeed possesses a logic, then evidently it is being governed by deeper principles.” Thus, a good number of scientists have argued for purpose, direction and teleology within Nature on empirical grounds just as Nagel has argued for this position on philosophical grounds.

Having refuted the dubious thesis of naturalism, shown the inadequacy of naturalist Darwinian evolution, and concluded that a mechanistic conception of Nature must give way to a teleological conception, we can now proceed to how a worldview based on Creation (and not Creationism) is reconciled with the teleological vision of the natural world.

“If ever we are to attain a final theory in biology, we will surely, surely have to understand the commingling of self-organization and selection. We will have to see that we are the natural expressions of a deeper order. Ultimately, we will discover in our creation myth that we are expected after all.
- Stewart Kaufman, (At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (1996), 112)

Nature as Divine Manifestation: The Confluence of Creation and Evolution

“Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the Qur’ān God’s signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III

“Since the purpose of the natural kingdoms was the human species, the order of existence necessitated that first minerals, then plants, then animals and then human beings come into being.”
- Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī


Having argued for a teleological view of Nature according to which the physical Universe is naturally predisposed towards the production of life, sentience and rational animals, i.e. human beings, we will now lay out the conception of Nature and evolution according to classical theism.

At the outset, let us clearly reject all attempts to infer that the purpose and intelligence manifest in Nature should be construed as evidence of a “Divine Designer” who has intervened in order to construct the complexity in living organisms. There is a great difference between the “design arguments” of Paley and the “teleological arguments” of Nāṣir-i Khusraw and Thomas Aquinas. The latter argument simply observes that things in the natural world move toward certain ends i.e. the production of life, order, consciousness, etc. and concludes that such intelligent activity within the natural world must be directed by the Divine Intellect. Meanwhile, the design argument infers that an external designer is required to construct complex organisms from bits of inert matter – in the manner that human beings design and construct machines. If the mechanistic picture of Nature is to be rejected, what would be the proper conception of Nature within a monotheistic framework?

At this point, it is perhaps best to illustrate in greater clarity the metaphysical relation between God and the Universe. Let us recall that the relationship between the Creator and the created reality is one of ontological dependence: all created reality is continuously receiving existence from God upon whom it always depends. God is the Ground of Being or the Unconditional Reality; He is neither “outside” the Universe nor is He dwelling or embodied “inside” it. But rather, God is at once transcendent and immanent. His Reality, being absolutely simple and unlimited, transcends all descriptions and likenesses. At the same time, God’s attributes are immanent in created reality – not by incarnation, but by the principle of reflection. That is to say, the Universe in its entirety is a limited reflection of God – insofar as He can be manifested.  This principle is expressed by the Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh in his Memoirs as below:

Imam Hassan has explained the Islamic doctrine of God and the Universe by analogy with the Sun and its reflection in the pool of a fountain; there is certainly a reflection or image of the Sun, but with what poverty and with what little reality; how small and pale is the likeness between this impalpable image and the immense, blazing, white-hot glory of the celestial sphere itself. Allāh is the Sun; and the Universe, as we know it in all its magnitude, and time, with its power, are nothing more than the reflection of the Absolute in the mirror of the fountain.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/

The analogy of the Sun and its reflection in a pool of a fountain is much more appropriate in describing the relations between God and the natural Universe than the analogy of a designer and the designed artifact. There are two features of the Sun-reflection analogy that convey the ontological and spiritual relationship between God and the Universe. Firstly, the existence of the image of the Sun in the water is entirely dependent upon the Sun. Compared to the Sun, the image or likeness of the Sun is of “little reality” since its own existence derives from that of the Sun at all moments. This conveys how the existence of the Universe is metaphysically dependent upon the Reality of God. Secondly, the Sun-reflection analogy means that the qualities or attributes of the Sun – such as its luminosity – are partially reflected within its image. Similarly, certain qualities or attributes of God are reflected in the created things of the natural world. This point is confirmed by the Qur’ān which refers to all kinds of natural phenomena as the “signs” (ayāt) of God. The present Imām of the Ismā‘īlī Muslims, Mawlana Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī, once said that “in Islam, the Divine is reflected in Nature’s creation” (see full speech).

Nature must therefore be conceived as a living system with built-in or inherent teleology, i.e. purpose, meaning. The reasons for this were given in the previous section and due to the fact that the mechanistic view of Nature is entirely outdated and no longer a tenable picture of physical reality. At the same time, this teleological Nature must also be understood as a reflection of God’s Names and Attributes – in other words, as a Divine manifestation or theophany. This does not mean that God has entered inside Nature or “intervened” to design Nature from the outside. It means that God’s qualities are ontologically and spiritual reflected in and as Nature – a reflection which comprises the very existence of Nature. On the same idea, Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh wrote that:

“Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the Qur’ān God’s signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon, the law and order of the universe, the exactitudes and consequences of the relations between natural phenomenon in cause and effect. Over and over, the stars, sun, moon, earthquakes, fruits of the earth and trees are mentioned as the signs of Divine power, Divine law and Divine order…Islam is a natural religion of which the Ayats are the Universe in which we live and move and have our being.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(“What have we forgotten in Islam”, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Edited by K.K. Aziz., Vol II, 1290)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1253/

The many features of Nature which human beings today take for granted are actually the signs of Divine Power and Divine Intelligence. What scientists today call the “laws of nature” and the laws of physics are patterns of regular behavior that natural things consistently observe.  This regularity is logical and intelligible – this is the only reason why scientists can describe it in mathematical terms. Such regularity – on a purely naturalistic worldview – has no basis or reason to occur. If a person who has faith in naturalism simply answers that the regularities within nature exist merely due to chance, such a view is ultimately untenable due to its sheer improbability.  It is one thing to win a lottery for which one had very slim chances a single time, and it is another thing to win the same lottery millions upon millions of times. The regularities within Nature are akin to the second case and therefore cannot be attributed to chance or randomness. Instead, the laws of Nature are manifestations of God’s Power and Intelligence – not an “intervention” from outside, but a reflection of them within.

Even if one affirms this theistic point of view, one can continue to study Nature as a closed system and analyze the various patterns, interactions, processes within Nature – as the scientific method does. Neverthless, the mechanistic view of Nature regards all natural phenomena as lifeless and soulless – being comprised of inert matter. But in the view of classical theism, all things in Nature possess “soul”. Thus, Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh writes that:

“Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence — in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/

The idea of all things – even atoms or molecules – having souls may conjure up ideas of “ghosts” being present “inside” each and every bit of matter. But to think this way is to mistakenly appeal to the mechanistic view of Nature and matter. At the human level, the soul is the subject of self-consciousness who is a free agent with respect to human intellectual powers and acts. At the animal level, the soul is the consciousness of a particular animal with respect to its actions and behaviours. At the vegetative level (and all living things), the soul refers to the “organic wholeness” of a living organism – the unity that holds together and directs the various interdependent parts of the organism and is responsible for the organism’s ability to adapt and react to its environment. At the level of ‘inanimate objects’ such as minerals, molecules, atoms, etc, the soul refers to the form or structure of the material components of that object. For example, the soul or form of a water molecule is the particular pattern or structure in which the two hydrogen and oxygen atoms are bonded. One must note that pattern, structure or even shape is NOT the same as the material or matter that is shaped. There is a qualitative difference between the formal structure of an object and its constituent material parts. The parts of any object always exist in a certain structure – without which the object would no longer be essentially what it is. In terms of matter, the human brain and a sandbox are essentially the same – made out of the same essential material components (i.e. atoms, molecules). But what makes the human brain a most complex entity is its form or structure in which its material components are arranged. Thus, soul is an integral dimension of all things in Nature – mineral, living, animal, and human – while being present and actualized at various levels that depend upon the entity in question. In the case of human beings, would be more accurate to say that the living human body is a reflection or shadow of the human soul – as opposed to saying that the human soul dwells inside the human body.

Having established the status of Nature in the worldview of classical theism, we now turn to the question of the “origin of species” and “evolution” in such a framework. Everything in Nature – including atoms, molecules, minerals, living organisms, animals, and human beings – is a particular reflection of one or more of God’s Names and Attributes. For example, God’s power is reflected, albeit partially, in the waves of the ocean, storms, or even lightening. God’s stability is partially reflected in the stability of a rock. God’s life is reflected in living organisms to various degrees – from single celled bacteria to lions. In the theistic worldview, the human being is the comprehensive reflection of God due to his potential to reflect all of God’s Names and Attributes. Nevertheless, each species is a reflection of a particular combination of God’s Attributes. In philosophical terminology, a particular configuration of these Divine attributes manifested in a certain species is called “form”. The “form” is a spiritual blueprint or archetype of a species with respect to its defining or essential qualities. Every physical species on earth is a manifestation or reflection of a specific form. From the spiritual perspective, each species has its spiritual archetype or form that pre-exists in the spiritual realm and there are an infinite number of these forms. When the natural environment is suitable, these spiritual archetypes manifest as the physical species – in chronological order from less differentiated to more differentiated. 

In the celestial realm the species are never absent; their essential forms or archetypes reside there from an endless beginning. As earth ripens to receive them, each in its turn drops to the terrestrial plane and, donning the world’s fabric, gives rise to a new life form. The origin of species is metaphysical.  First a viable habitat must be devised, hence the inorganic universe is matured to the point where life can be sustained. And when living beings do arrive, they do so in a vaguely ascending order that passes from relatively undifferentiated organisms – though not simple ones; the electron microscope shows unicellular organisms to be astonishingly complicated to ones that are more complex. But there is no need to force the fossil record to show a univocal and continuous line. If the movement proceeds in jumps with whole categories of plants and animals bursting out at once without discernible predecessors, this presents no problem… If the tortoise turns up all at once in fossil remains or the spider appears simultaneously with its prey and with its faculty of weaving fully developed, such facts can be welcomed with smiles instead of puzzled brows. As for the variant forms which Darwinists must use to construct their largely hypothetical bridges between species, from the metaphysical perspective these appear as variations which the species in question allow. It is as if nature, always more prolific and life-loving than we had supposed, first staked out distinct species and then decided to ring changes on these by having each reflect the forms of the others insofar as it could do so without transgressing its own essential limits.”
- Huston Smith, (Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World’s Religions, 139-140)

The classical theistic view of the origin of species is very much consistent with the findings of modern science with respect to evolution. But it must be kept in mind – as argued before – that the mechanistic understanding of Nature is outdated and the purely materialistic and naturalistic view of reality is hopelessly and logically flawed. The key difference between this Islamic theistic view of the origin of the species and the naturalistic Darwinian view is that the former asserts that the appearance of rational creatures in the world was built-in to Nature and is the end goal of the evolutionary process. About nine hundred years ago, the famous Ismā‘īlī Muslim philosopher, astronomer and scientist, Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, explained the origin of the species and the creation of humankind in accordance with the metaphysical principles explained above. Consider the below passages from Ṭūsī’s most famous Ismā‘īlī work  known as Taṣawwurāt:

“The natural kingdoms began with solidification [of minerals], then [there came] plants, then animals and then human beings. The final stage of minerals was joined to the first stage of the plant kingdom, the final stage of the plant kingdom to the first stage of the animal kingdom, the final stage of the animal kingdom to the first stage of man, and the final stage of man to the first stage of the angelic kingdom. Since the chain of existence (silsila-yi wujūd), [causing] the return of all things to the Command of the Almighty, reached its completion in the perfect status of man, and since the ability to acquire such perfection, [consisting of diverse] intellectual conveniences and physical tools, was particular to man, it is clear that, although the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms preceded him in [the temporal order of] existence, the ultimate aim of all of them was him. And it is said, ‘the first in thought is the last in action.’”
- Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 29)

“The action of Nature upon matter lay in bringing into the reality of concrete existence the forms bestowed upon it by the [Universal] Soul. The final purpose of all such emanations was that [the natural kingdoms], beginning with minerals, would combine with the vegetative [realm], and [the vegetative realm combine] with the animal realm, and [the animal realm] be terminated by humankind.”
- Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 106)

“The purpose of the movements of the spheres was mixing of the elements of the natural kingdoms, and since the purpose of the natural kingdoms was the human species, the order of existence necessitated that first minerals, then plants, then animals and then human beings come into being. if there had been no minerals, plants could never have come into being, and had minerals, plants and animals not existed, neither could man have existed.”
- Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 68)

Evolutionary theory will continue to undergo more changes and modifications as human knowledge progresses. In fact, some biologists such as Stuart Kauffman and Simon Conway hold that random mutation is insufficient to explain the complexity of life and that matter must have self-organizing properties which are themselves rooted in a deeper order of things. But none of this contradicts the metaphysical origins of creatures as previously explained. Even if one grants all the key features of Darwinian evolution, it is the integral interpretation of this theory that is most important. Such an interpretation would have to account for the fact that purpose appears to be built into Nature – as some biologists now hold:

“If ever we are to attain a final theory in biology, we will surely, surely have to understand the commingling of self-organization and selection. We will have to see that we are the natural expressions of a deeper order. Ultimately, we will discover in our creation myth that we are expected after all.”
- Stuart Kauffman, (At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (1996), 112)

If the natural Universe is a reflective manifestation of God in fragmented multiplicity, and human beings are the reflective manifestation of God in comprehensive singularity, it follows that the human being is the manifestation of both God and the external Universe. Evolution by way of genetic mutations (either due to chance or due to self-organization potentials inhering in matter as Kauffman would argue) and their perpetuation via natural selection is the vehicle by which the Universe produces a creature who is best suited to survival in the natural environment. To use an analogy, the Universe or the external environment is like one mirror of God and the human form is another mirror of God. The evolutionary process of Darwinian natural selection is the mechanism by which these two mirrors are “brought into focus” such that the resulting creature – namely the human being – appears in the Universe. Once again, Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī helps summarize the metaphysics of this process as follows:

“When the effusive grace of the Divine Command fell upon the First Intellect, it did not halt there, but provoked the existence of another type of being, that is, the Universal Soul. Likewise, when it [the Command] fell from the First Intellect upon the Universal Soul, it did not halt there either, but it provoked another type of existence, that is, the spheres. And when it [the Command of God] fell from the spheres upon the elements, it did not halt there but provoke another type of existence, that is, the natural kingdoms. And [similarly], when it fell from the natural kingdoms upon the minerals, it did not halt there, but provoked another type of existence, that is, the plant kingdom. And when it fell upon the animal kingdom, it did not stop there, but provoked another type of existence, that is, humanity. But when it fell upon man, it stopped there, for the furthest reach and terminus of creation was sealed with him. Thus, man is a compendium (majmū‘ī) of all these stages and perfections, bearing within himself a likeness of the entire Cosmos, which is expressed by the marvels of his physical constitution and the amazing composition of his soul.”
- Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 169)


The above diagram helps illustrate the manner in which both Creation and Evolution are processes within Nature. God, as the Unconditioned Reality, bestows existence upon all other realities and sustains them in being. The divine creative act of giving existence is called the Command of God, and the first conditioned reality with respect to metaphysical or essential causation is the Universal Intellect which contains the Forms of all things in oneness. Through the Universal Intellect, the Command of God manifests and emanates the Universal Soul – in which the celestial archetypes or Forms of all creatures are differentiated. The Universal Soul generates a shadow of itself – called Prime Matter – whose nature is simple receptivity, potency or passivity due to which that it cannot be observed empirically. Prime Matter receives the Forms which emanate and shine upon it from the Universal Soul.  In this process of continuous emanation (see above) or involution, the Prime Matter “evolves” into the Universal Body or Universal Matter [what medievals called the ‘spheres’] – identical with the quantum field or “vacuum energy” that physicists register as the boundary of empirical observation from which subatomic virtual particles “pop in and out” of existence. These particles are the Heisenberg potentialities – that receive the “forms” imprinted upon them from the Universal Soul by means of measurement interventions – and become actualized as discrete particles. This evolutionary process continues while being empowered by continuous emanation or involution, i.e. the manifestation of the Forms from the Universal Soul. Thus, Simon Conway, has said that “Darwinism not a total explanation? Why should it be? It is after all only a mechanism, but if evolution is predictive, indeed possesses a logic, then evidently it is being governed by deeper principles.” If biologists like Stuart Kaufman speak of the “self-organization” of matter, this is because they are detecting the effects of the Forms. These Forms cause matter to organize into more differentiated structures that are suited to the external environment and these are perpetuated by the process natural selection. The holistic structure (or “holon) of an organism is the “soul” (as explained above) and it is the soul that serves as the principle of the self-organization of matter into a complex “whole”. In the human being, this soul has reached the level of reflexive self-consciousness – or what is traditionally called “rational” (nāṭiqah) – that can in principle know and conceive the entirety of the Cosmos. Thus, the human being is the culmination and summation of both spiritual emanation and physical evolution. The human being continues to evolve with respect to consciousness until higher stages – the intellectual (‘aqlī), the inspired (ta’yīdī), and the Perfect Man (al-insān al-kāmil) or Universal Man (al-insān al-kull) – are actualized. The Universal Man is the most perfect manifestation of the Command of God, the Universal Intellect, and Universal Soul, through which everything in the Universe returns to its origin. 

Perhaps, it is no surprise that Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, the forty-eight hereditary Imām of the Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslims, had already achieved a synthesis that reconciled his understanding of God’s creation with Darwin’s theory of the origin of the species:

“It was this Islamic sense of unity in all forms of life which confirmed my father’s faith in a God-governed order. He achieved a synthesis which enabled him to conciliate his faith in the Almighty as well as in Darwin’s theory of the origin of the species which swept across Europe in his youth and generated such heated debate. It was difficult for him to separate what he called proto-religion and proto-science: they made their journey like two streams, sometimes mingling, sometimes separating but running side by side… I have not forgotten his heated conversations with Professor Leakey in Nairobi when the first discoveries of the earliest remains of man were made in the Rift Valley.”
- Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan on his father Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, (The Times, November 5, 1977)

For Further Reading:

Simon Conway Morris on the Limits of Darwinism

Seyyed Hossein Nasr on Evolution and Islam

Rodney Blackhirst on Evolutionism and Traditional Cosmology

James Cutsinger on “Emanationist Evolution”

Posted by: Ismaili Gnostic | February 26, 2014

Watch: Academic Lecture on the Ismaili Muslims and the Aga Khan

On Thursday, February 27, 2014, the Aga Khan IV – the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims is scheduled to deliver a speech at a joint session of the Canadian Parliament and Senate.

As this is a time when many people will be asking questions about the history, beliefs and practices of the Ismaiili Muslims and the role of the Aga Khan as their 49th hereditary Imam, we invite our readers to watch this November 2011 academic lecture at the University of Toronto – presented by Khalil Andani (Master’s Candidate at Harvard Divinity School).

The lecture covers the following themes:

  1. Locating the Ismaili Muslims within the Muslim Ummah
  2. Historical Snapshot of the Ismaili Imamat
  3. Isma’ili Da’wah and Esoteric Interpretation
  4. The Imamat and the Spiritual Role of the Imam
  5. Ismaili Muslim Praxis: Concept of Tariqah in Islam

Posted by: Ismaili Gnostic | January 13, 2014

The Prophet Unveiled: What the Qur’an says about Muhammad


Contemporary discussions about the Prophet Muḥammad’s spiritual function, due to exoteric and literalist influences (such as Wahhabism or the Ahl al-Qur’ān school), have degenerated into a farce in which the Prophet is demoted to a mouthpiece or transmitter of the Qur’ān and nothing more. This conception reduces the august person of the Prophet Muḥammad to a ‘fax-machine’ and fails to appreciate the spiritual depth of his status as Rasūl Allāh (Messenger of God). This important article, published on the Milād al-Nabī – the birthday of the Prophet Muḥammad first commemorated by his spiritual heirs and progeny known as the Fatimid Imām-Caliphs) – seeks to unveil the metaphysical, spiritual, and religious status of the Prophet Muḥammad – based on a simple and straightforward analysis of the verses of the Holy Qur’ān. The article is divided into two sections – the Prophet-Believer Relationship and the God-Prophet Relationship. It will be shown that the Prophet Muḥammad is the “Messenger” (rasūl) of God who reveals not only the Qur’ān but God’s very “Personality” – His Names, Attributes and Qualities – to the Believers.

For Muslims, the findings of this article raise certain imperatives in belief and practice – since the Qur’ān is God’s revelation and its verses present a most exalted image of the Prophet Muḥammad whose presence must form the center of Muslim spiritual life. For academics and historians, this study reveals how the Qur’ān – the earliest piece of documentary evidence on the life of the Prophet – depicts how Muḥammad considered his spiritual status before God and his spiritual authority in relation to his followers. In both cases, it is clear that the original impulse of the faith that became known as Islam revolved around the person of the Prophet Muḥammad and not scripture, ḥadīth, law or scholars (‘ulamā’).

Today’s Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslims are often unfairly criticized for the respect, reverence, and love they show towards their present Imām – Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān – based on the dubious and superficial notion that nothing should be accorded any reverence except God. However, if the Imām is the spiritual, religious and blood successor of the Prophet Muḥammad, then the Imāms would logically continue to perform all of the prophetic functions aside from the revelation of the Qur’ān. Accordingly if one accepts the principle of the Shī‘ī Imāmah, all the reverence due to the Prophet would be directed to the Imāms who are his spiritual heirs. Thus, it should be no surprise that the numerous spiritual responsibilities that the Qur’ān vests in the Prophet Muḥammad continue to be performed today by Imām Shāh Karim Āgā Khān IV – including the functions of guidance, guardianship, mercy, forgiveness, pardon, intercession, blessings, and purification. All of these various functions are attested to by Qur’anic verses quoted in this post.

The below diagram summarizes the two topics of this post – the Prophet-Believer relationship and the God-Prophet relationship. The inner circle lists of the Names of God and the outer circle lists each prophetic function in relation to the Believers in which the Prophet Muḥammad reveals one of the Names of God in his very person:


We encourage readers to scan through this post to get a better sense of the arguments and note the key Qur’ānic verses about Muḥammad’s spiritual status.

Part 1: The Prophet-Believer Relationship

The Comprehensive Mission of the Prophet Muḥammad:

Even as We have sent among you a Messenger from you, reciting to you Our Signs, and purifying you (yuzakkīkum), and teaching you (yu‘allimukum) the Book (al-kitāb) and Wisdom (al-ḥikmah), and teaching you that which you do not know.
- Holy Qur’ān 2:151 (see also 62:2, 3:164)

The above verse shows how the mission of Muḥammad includes much more than revealing the Qur’ān. In fact, only Muḥammad’s first duty – “reciting to you our Signs (ayāt)” – refers to the Qur’ān. The other duties of the Prophet included purification (tazkiyyah), teaching (ta‘līm) of the Book, teaching the inner Wisdom of the Book, and teaching the Believers new knowledge. Thus, the revelation of the Qur’ān comprises only one fourth of the Prophet’s overall mission.

The Prophet Muḥammad is the Guide of the Believers:

And verily you [Muḥammmad] surely guide to the Straight Path (ṣiraṭ al-mustaqīm).
- Holy Qur’ān 42:52

All Muslims pray for God to guide them to the Straight Path in every prayer. But the above verse, revealed to the Prophet, clearly shows that it is actually Muḥammad’s duty to “guide to the Straight Path”.

And We have sent down unto you (also) the Reminder; that you may explain clearly (li-tubayyina) to mankind what was sent down for them, and that they reflect .
- Holy Qur’ān 16:44 (see also 16:64, 14:4)

The above verse demonstrates how the Prophet – in addition to revealing the Qur’ān – must also provide the “explanation” (bayān) of the Qur’ān to the believers to foster their own reflections (fikr).

The Prophet Muḥammad’s Authority over the Believers is unlimited:

To obey the Prophet Muḥammad is to obey God Himself

He who obeys the Messenger, obeys God. - Holy Qur’ān 4:80

We sent a Messenger only to be obeyed by the permission of God.
- Holy Qur’ān 4:64

Verily, those who give their bay‘ah to you, they surely give their bay‘ah to God Himself.
- Holy Qur’ān 48:10

The above verses show that obedience to the Prophet Muḥammad is equal and tantamount to obedience to God. It logically follows that all orders in the Qur’ān to “obey God” are only fulfilled by obeying the Prophet Muḥammad.

So whatever the Messenger gives you, take it. And whatever he forbids you, abstain from it.
- Holy Qur’ān 59:7

The above verse indicates that it is indeed the Prophet Muḥammad who determines what is allowed and what is forbidden. Whatever the Prophet gives to the Believers – guidance, prescribed rituals, rules of behavior – must be followed.

The Prophet Muhammad has more authority and closeness to the Believers than their own souls:

The Prophet has more authority (awla) over the believers than their own souls.
- Holy Qur’ān 33:6

The Prophet is the Lord-Guardian of the Believers:

Verily, your Lord-Guardian (walī) is only God, His Messenger, and those who have faith, who establish regular prayers, and give the zakah while they bow down.
- Holy Qur’ān 5:55

The Prophet Muḥammad is the final judge and arbiter in all matters:

But no, by the Lord, they do not have faith, until they make you [Muḥammad] judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against your decrees, but they submit (to you) in full submission.
- Holy Qur’ān 4:65

Verily, We have sent down to you the Book with the Truth so that you judge between the people by what God as shown you.
- Holy Qur’ān 4:105

The answer of the Believers, when summoned to God and His Messenger, in order that he may judge between them, is no other than this: they say, “We hear and we obey”: it is such as these that will attain felicity.
- Holy Qur’ān 24:51

It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by God and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys God and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.
- Holy Qur’ān 33:36

The above verses all describe the proper situation of the Believer in relation to the Prophet Muḥammad. Indeed, the very condition of having “faith” (īmān) is to wholeheartedly accept and submit to the judgment, decrees, and orders of the Prophet Muḥammad without any question.


The Prophet Muḥammad deserves undue respect, reverence and honour:

The believers are to honour and respect the Prophet Muhammad:

In order that you have faith in God and His Messenger, that ye may assist him and honour him, and praise Him morning and evening.
- Holy Qur’ān 48:9

Those who follow the Messenger, the ummī Prophet, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them. He will enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong. He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear. Then those who have faith in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him: they are the successful.
- Holy Qur’ān 7:157

The Believers must be humble and lower their voices in the presence of the Prophet Muḥammad:

O you who have faith! Do not be forward in the presence of God and His Messenger; but fear God: for God is He Who hears and knows all things.  O ye who believe! Raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor speak aloud to him in talk, as you may speak aloud to one another, lest your deeds become vain and you perceive not. Those that lower their voices in the presence of God’s Messenger,- their hearts has Allah tested for piety: for them is Forgiveness and a great Reward.
-  Holy Qur’ān 49:1-3

The Prophet Muhammad embodies Divine Mercy and Forgiveness:

God loves and forgives the believers on the condition of obeying the Prophet Muhammad:

Say (O Muḥammad): “If ye do love God, Follow me: God will love you and forgive you your sins: For God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
- Holy Qur’ān 3:31

God’s love and forgiveness reach the Believers only through their obedience to the Prophet Muḥammad. This shows how Muḥammad, in fact, serves as the “gate” and “channel” of God’s love and forgiveness.

Obedience to the Prophet Muhammad brings the Mercy of God to the Believers:

And obey God and the Messenger; that ye may obtain mercy.
- Holy Qur’ān 3:132

The Prophet Muhammad himself is God’s mercy to all worlds:

And we have only sent you [Muḥammad] as a Mercy to the worlds.
- Holy Qur’ān 21:107

 The Prophet Muḥammad is gentle out of God’s Mercy:

It is by the Mercy from God that you (O Muhammad) were gentle with them, for if you had been stern of heart they would have dispersed from around you.
- Holy Qur’ān 3:159

This verse establishes how the Prophet Muḥammad’s gentle qualities toward the Believers are actually expressions of the Mercy of God.  This suggests that the Prophet’s mercy is the manifestation of God’s mercy.

The Prophet Muḥammad is kind and merciful to the Believers:

There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer; [he is] concerned over you and to the believers is kind (ra’ūf) and merciful (raḥīm).
- Holy Qur’ān 9:128

The presence of the Prophet Muḥhammad wards off God’s punishment:

But Allah would not punish them while you, [O Muhammad], are among them, and God would not punish them while they seek forgiveness.
- Holy Qur’ān 8:33

The Prophet Muḥammad seeks God’s forgiveness on behalf the Believers:

And if, when they wronged their souls, they had come to you, [O Muḥammad], and asked forgiveness of God and the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them, they would have found God Forgiving and Merciful.
- Holy Qur’ān 4:64

The above verse shows that a) when the Believers seek the forgiveness of God they must go into the physical presence of Muḥammad; b) Muḥammad must pray to God and seek God’s forgiveness for the Believers; and c) only after Muḥammad’s prayer for God’s forgiveness will the Believers have “found God Forgiving and Merciful”. This shows how the Prophet Muḥammad serves as the intercessor and mediator between God and the Believers with respect to God’s forgiveness and mercy.

Some people are too arrogant to accept the Prophet Muḥammad’s prayers for God’s forgiveness:

And when it is said to them, “Come, the Messenger of Allah will ask forgiveness for you,” they turn their heads aside and you see them evading while they are arrogant.
- Holy Qur’ān 63:5

Despite the Qur’ānic promise of the Prophet Muḥammad’s intercession and prayers, some people – even some Muslims today – are too arrogant to accept the reality and need for the Prophet’s special intercessory prayers.

The Prophet Muḥammad himself pardons and forgives the Believers for their sins and errors:

It is by the Mercy from God that you (O Muhammad) were gentle with them, for if you had been stern of heart they would have dispersed from around you. So pardon (‘afu ‘anhum) them and ask forgiveness (astaghfir lahum) for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And when you are resolved, then put your trust in God. Lo! God loveth those who put their trust (in Him).
- Holy Qur’ān 3:159

Hold to forgiveness (al-‘afū); command what is right; But turn away from the ignorant.
- Holy Qur’ān 7:199

The above verses also confirm how the Prophet Muḥammad has been commanded to pray to God on behalf of the Believers who are seeking God’s forgiveness. However, these verses also command the Prophet to perform another act of forgiveness or pardoning (indicated by the Arabic word ‘afwa – related to the Urdu word ma‘af). Therefore, the Prophet Muḥammad both a) seeks God’s forgiveness for the Believers as an intercessor and b) pardons the Believers by his own act of forgiveness (see also 5:13). Both forms of prophetic forgiveness are necessary.

The Prophet Muḥammad receives devotional offerings (ṣadaqah) from the Believers and thereby purifies, sanctifies, and blesses them with his special prayers:

The Believers must submit an offering to the Prophet Muḥammad before having a private meeting with him:

O ye who have faith! When you privately consult the Messenger, then present an offering (ṣadaqah) before your private consultation. That will be best for you, and purer for you. But if you find not (the means), God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
- Holy Qur’ān 58:12

This verse establishes how the Believers would seek to have private meetings (najwā) with the Prophet Muḥammad. The Qur’ān recommends that every Believer submit an offering (ṣadaqah) to the Prophet Muḥammad when having this special meeting – and that this offering is a means of purity (tahārah) for the Believers.

The Believer’s submissions of their wealth to the Prophet Muḥammad are the means to obtaining the Prophet’s special blessings and prayers:

And among the Arabs are those who have faith in God and the Last Day and take what they spend as a means of closeness toward God and the prayers/blessings (ṣalawāt) of the Messenger. Behold, it is indeed a means of closeness for them. God will make them enter in His Mercy. Indeed, God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.
- Holy Qur’ān 9:99

The above verse significantly confirms that some of the Arabs would give a portion of their wealth to the Prophet Muḥammad – as a means of attaining the Prophet’s prayers or blessings (ṣalawāt) and closeness to God. The verse encourages this practice of submitting offerings and states that as a result of spending one’s wealth, such people will be made to enter into God’s Mercy.

And (there are) others who have acknowledged their faults. They mixed a righteous action with another that was bad. It may be that Allah will relent toward them. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Take offerings (ṣadaqah) from their wealth, and purify and sanctify them by means of it. And pray/send blessings over them. Verily, your prayer/blessing is a source of peace (sakan) for them. And God is the Hearing, the Knowing.
- Holy Qur’ān 9:102-103

The next verses continue and describe those Believers who have performed good deeds, but also committed sins while acknowledging their faults. The Qur’ān orders such people – who have committed any kind of wrong-doing – to give an offering (ṣadaqah) from their wealth (amwāl) to the Prophet Muḥammad. The Prophet is then ordered to accept these offerings (ṣadaqah) and thereby purify and sanctify the Believers.  The Prophet Muḥammad is also told to give his special prayers or blessings upon the Believers – and that the special prayer of the Prophet is a source of peace (sakan) for them. This verse clearly indicates that it was the prophetic practice of Muḥammad to accept material offerings from the Believers and purify, sanctify, and pray/bless those who submitted such offerings.

The Prophet Muḥammad is a Light from God which clarifies all things:

O People of the Book! Now hath Our Messenger come unto you, clarifying for you much of what you used to hide of the Book, and forgiving much. Now there has come unto you a Light (nūr) from God and a manifest Book.
- Holy Qur’ān 5:15 (see also 5:19, 16:44, 16:64)

O Prophet! Lo! We have sent thee as a witness and a bringer of good tidings and a warner and a summoner unto God by His permission and as a lamp that gives light (sirāj munīran).
- Holy Qur’ān 33:45-46

Those who disbelieve among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, were not going to depart (from their ways) until there should come to them the Clear Proof (al-bayyinah) – a Messenger from God reciting purified pages.
- Holy Qur’ān 98:1-2

The Prophet Muḥammad’s inner character is Sublime:

You [Muḥammad] are not, by the Favour of your Lord, possessed (majnūn). Verily, for you is an unfailing reward.  And you are surely upon exalted character (khulq ‘aẓīm).
- Holy Qur’ān 68:4

This verse refers to the Prophet’s character or inner constitution (khulq) as “sublime” (‘aẓīm). This is significant because the Qur’ān also refers to itself as “sublime” (‘aẓīm) and often mentions God as “the Sublime One” (al-‘aẓīm).

The Prophet Muḥammad is the Universal Witness of God over Humankind

So how [will it be] when We bring from every people (ummah) a witness (shahīd) and We bring you [O’ Muḥammad] against these [people] as a witness?
- Holy Qur’ān 4:41

This verse is one of the most mysterious in the entire Qur’ān. It indicates that on the Day of Judgment, the Prophet Muḥammad will be a witness over all of the witnesses of each nation or people. The Prophet’s role as universal witness suggests that he must remain spiritually present in the world at all times – in order to actually serve as a witness over the deeds of all human beings.

The Prophet Muḥammad receives grace, mercy, and knowledge from God:

And if it was not for the Grace of God upon you [O Muḥammad], and His Mercy, a group of them would have determined to mislead you. But they do not mislead except themselves, and they will not harm you at all. And God has revealed to you the Book and Wisdom and has taught you that which you did not know. And ever has the Grace of God upon you been great.
- Holy Qur’ān 4:113

The Prophet Muḥammad is inspired by God through the Holy Spirit and Light:

Your companion/master (ṣāḥib) is not astray or deceived. He does not speak out of caprice/desire (al-hawā). It is no less than inspired inspiration (waḥyun yūḥa).
- Holy Qur’ān 53:1-4

The Trustworthy Spirit (rū al-amīn) descended with it [the revelation] upon your heart (qalbika) so that you would be among the warners in clear Arabic language.
- Holy Qur’ān 26:192-194

And that We have inspired you [Muhammad] with a Spirit (rūḥ) from Our Command.  You did not know what was the Book (kitāb) and what was the Faith.  But We have made it a Light (nūr) by which We guide those of our Servants as We will. And verily, you guide to a Straight Path.
- Holy Qur’ān 42:52

These verses illustrate the nature of the divine inspiration (wahy; ta’yīd) which God has granted to the Prophet Muḥammad. Firstly, this inspiration is spiritual in nature and flows through Holy Spirit that comes from God’s Command. Secondly, the inspiration comes upon the Prophet through his heart – the spiritual faculty of the human soul – and not in the form of sounds, words, or letters. Thus, divine inspiration is not a form of verbal dictation – such an idea is a complete insult to the spiritual depth of the Prophet Muḥammad. Thirdly, the verses show how whatever Muḥammad says, does, or thinks is divinely-inspired – not only the revealed Qur’ān – but all of Muḥammad’s speech and guidance is guided by God and not from human whims or desires. This prophetic inspiration is continuous and not discrete – it does not cease or stop at one moment and resume at another – but continues like a stream. Finally, it is this inspiration or divine assistance granted to the Prophet Muḥammad that allows him to perform all of the above prophetic functions. The very soul of the Prophet Muḥammad is continuously inspired and guided through the Holy Spirit – this is what makes him more than an ordinary human being. From this we could even conclude that the Qur’ān and the very personality of the Prophet Muḥammad are manifestations of the same Holy Spirit that flows from the Command of God.

Below is a summary of the above Qur’ānic verses about the Prophet Muḥammad:

The Status of the Prophet Muḥammad in the Qur’ān:

  • The Prophet Muḥammad is inspired by the Holy Spirit (42:52, 26:192-194)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is a mercy (raḥmah) to the worlds (21:107)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is merciful (raḥīm) to the Believers (9:128)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is kind (ra’ūf) to the Believers (9:128)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is an honourable Messenger (rasūl karīm) (69:40; 81:19-21)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is light (nūr) from God (5:15) and a radiant lamp (sirāj munīr) (33:46)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad (like Prophet Abraham) is gentle (ḥalīm) to the Believers (11:75)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the possessor of power (dhū al-quwwah) (81:20-21)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the teacher (mu‘allim) of the Book and Wisdom and new knowledge (62:2; 3:164; 2:151)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad, like his predecessors, is patient (ṣabūr) (38:16, 46:34)
  • The Prophet is the witness (shahīd) of humankind on the Day of Judgment (2:143, 33:46; 4:41)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the guardian (walī) of the Believers (5:55)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad prays to God for the Believer’s forgiveness (4:64, 63:5, 3:159, 60:12)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad forgives the Believers (5:13; 3:159; 7:199)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad guides the Believers to the Straight Path (45:25)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad’s nature or character is sublime (‘aẓīm) (68:4)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the judge of the believers (4:65; 4:105; 24:51; 33:36)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad makes things clear to the Believers (5:15; 5:19; 16:44; 16:64; 14:4)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad purifies and sanctifies the believers (9:103)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad holds authority (awlā) over the Believers (33:6)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad summons the Believers to that which gives them life (8:24).
  • The Prophet Muḥammad recites the Signs of God (2:151).
  • The Prophet Muḥammadsends ṣalawāt (blessings, prayers) upon the Believers (9:103)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad receives offerings (ṣadaqa) from the Believers (9:103; 58:12)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad brings the people from darkness to Light (14:1; 14:5 65:11)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is a beautiful pattern for the Believers (33:21)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the object of great respect and veneration (48:9, 49:1-3)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad commands the lawful and forbids the wrong (7:157)
  • He who gives their allegiance (bay‘ah) to the Prophet Muḥammad has given it to God (48:10)
  • He who obeys the Prophet Muḥammad, obeys God (4:80; 4:64)

Part 2: The God-Prophet Relationship

When one examines the above verses in closer detail, it will become apparent that a number of the qualities, attributes, and functions that the Qur’ān gives to the Prophet Muḥammad are rooted in or identical to the Most Beautiful Names of God.

In one example, we are told that the duty of Muḥammad is not to guide the believers – but that it is God who guides whom He wills:

Their guidance is not your responsibility [O’ Muḥammad], but God guides whom He wills.
- Holy Qur’ān 2:272

But another verse – quoted earlier above – states that Muḥammad guides the people to the Straight Path:

And that We have inspired you [Muhammad] with a Spirit from Our Command.  You did not know what was the Book (kitāb) and what was the Faith.  But We have made it a Light (nūr) by which We guide those of our Servants as We will. And verily, you guide to a Straight Path.
- Holy Qur’ān 42:52

When both verses are taken in context, the only conclusion is that Muḥammad himself is guided by God directly through the Holy Spirit and that he in turn guides the Believers on God’s behalf. Therefore, God effectively guides people through the guidance of Muḥammad. Accordingly, Muḥammad’s guidance is the manifestation of God’s guidance and Muḥammad’s role as “the guide” (al-ḥādī) to the Straight Path is the reflection on earth of God’s Name al-Ḥādī.

A second example of the Prophet Muḥammad’s mediation in the manifestation of God’s acts is in the acceptance of the offerings (ṣadaqah) and repentance of the Believers: 

And (there are) others who have acknowledged their faults. They mixed a righteous action with another that was bad. It may be that Allah will relent toward them. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Take (khud) offerings (ṣadaqah) from their wealth (amwālihum), and purify and sanctify them by means of it. And pray/send blessings over them. Verily, your prayer/blessing is a source of peace (sakan) for them. And God is the Hearing, the Knowing. Do they not know that it is God who accepts repentance from His servants and takes the offerings (ya’khudu al-ṣadaqāt) and that it is God who is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful?
- Holy Qur’ān 9:102-104

In the above verse, the Prophet Muḥammad is ordered to “Take (khud) offerings (ṣadaqah) from their wealth (amwālihum)”. But the next verse confirms that it is God who “takes the offerings (ya’khudu al-ṣadaqāt)”. Similarly, the Prophet Mūhammad is told to purify them (tuṭahhiruhum) and sanctify them (tuzakkiruhum) by means of this offering. Yet the Qur’ān also says that “God purifies (yuzakkī) whom He wills” (Qur’ān 24:21, see also 33:33). Once again, the only logical conclusion from such verses is that God purifies whom He wills through the Prophet Muḥammad’s act of purifying the Believers. Thus, Muḥammad is the intercessor, the means of approach (wasīlah) and wasīṭah between God and the Believers.

A third example is in verses that describe the nature of the Prophet Muḥammad with the same essential attributes of God Himself. In numerous Qur’ānic verses (see 9:117), God is referred to as “the Kind, the Merciful” (al-ra’ūf al-raḥīm). However, the below verse gives the exact same description of the Prophet Muḥammad:

There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer; [he is] concerned over you and to the believers is kind (ra’ūf) and merciful (raḥīm).
- Holy Qur’ān 9:128

In this verse, the Prophet Muḥammad is described – in the exact same terms as the Names of God as “kind and merciful” (ra’ūf raḥīm). In similar fashion, the Qur’ān describes the inner nature of the Prophet as ‘aẓīm (sublime) – also one of the Names of God. In this respect, the Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq has stated that God has in fact adorned the Prophet Muḥammad with His own Attributes:

Between Himself and them [his creatures], He placed one of their own species, clothing him in His own attributes of compassion and mercy.
- Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, (Reza Shah-Kazemi, Spiritual Quest, 25)

Perhaps the most enigmatic and mysterious Qur’ānic verse expressing the relationship between the Prophet Muḥammad and God is as follows. This verse was revealed on an occasion where the Prophet had to throw some stones to defend himself:

And you [Muḥammad] did not throw when you threw, but it was God who threw in order that He may test the Believers with a beautiful trial.
- Holy Qur’ān 8:17

On one hand, Muḥammad’s act of throwing the stones is affirmed “when you threw” and then negated “you did not throw” and attributed to God “but it was God who threw.” Thus, it is God who “threw” the stones through Muḥammad’s act of throwing the stones. Once again, this verse shows how God Himself acts by means of the act of Muḥammad. In Qur’ān 48:10 – referring to the Believer’s placing their hands under the Prophet Muḥammad’s hands in the act of bay‘ah, the Qur’ān states that “the Hand of God is upon their hands.” This is significant because in physical terms, it was the Prophet Muḥammad’s hand which was placed upon the hands of the Believers.  But the Qur’ān attributed to entire affair to God.

Thus, the Prophet Muḥammad is the instrument or intermediary through which God acts toward the Believers and also, in his own person, the highest reflection or manifestation of God’s Names and Attributes. This may seem contradictory at first – since the Prophet Muḥammad is a creature and servant (‘abd) of God. However, true and complete servitude (‘ibadah) before God implies the effacement of all individual egotism and impurity. Such a soul – which is completed effaced and humble before its Lord – becomes like a shiny and polished mirror in which God’s Attributes shine and are reflected.  In this respect, the Prophet Muḥammad is simultaneously the humblest servant of God and the highest locus of manifestation (maẓharor reflector of God’s Names and Attributes.  This also makes Muḥammad the best of all created beings and the intercessor and mediator par excellence between God and His creatures.

The Qur’ānic verses which demonstrate how the Prophet Muḥammad is both the intercessor between God and the Believers and the locus of manifestation (maẓhar) of God’s Names and Attributes are as follows:

The Relationship between God’s Attributes and the Prophet Muḥammad:

  • God is al-Raḥmān (The Merciful) and the Prophet Muḥammad is raḥmah (mercy) (21:107)
  • God is al-Raḥīm (The Beneficent) and the Prophet Muḥammad is raḥīm (9:128)
  • God is al-Ra’ūf (The Kind) and the Prophet Muḥammad is ra’uf (9:128)
  • God is al-Karim (The Generous) and the Prophet Muḥammad is karīm (69:40; 81:19-21)
  • God is al-Nūr (The Light) and the Prophet Muḥammad is nūr from God (5:15) and a radiant lamp (sirāj munīr) (33:46)
  • God is al-Ḥalīm (The Forbearing) and the Prophet Muḥammad is halīm (11:75)
  • God is al-Qawiy (The Strong) and the Prophet Muḥammad is dhū al-quwwah (81:20-21)
  • God is al-‘Ālim (the Knower) and the Prophet Muḥammad is the teacher (mu‘allim) of the Book and Wisdom and new knowledge (62:2; 3:164; 2:151)
  • God is al-Ṣabūr (The Patient) and the Prophets are ṣabūr (38:16, 46:34)
  • God is al-Shahīd (The Witness) and the Prophet is shahīd (witness) of humankind (2:143, 33:46; 4:41)
  • God is al-Walī (The Guardian) and the Prophet Muḥammad is the walī of the Believers (5:55)
  • God is al-Ghaffar (The Forgiver) and the Prophet Muḥammad asks for the believer’s forgiveness (4:64, 63:5, 3:159, 60:12)
  • God is al-‘Afū (The Pardoner) and the Prophet Muḥammad pardons the Believers (5:13; 3:159; 7:199)
  • God is al-Hādī (The Guide) and the Prophet Muḥammad guides to the Straight Path (45:25)
  • God is al-‘Aẓīm (The Great) and the Prophet Muḥammad’s nature is ‘aẓīm (68:4)
  • God is al-Ḥakam (The Judge) and the Prophet Muḥammad is the judge of the Believers (4:65; 4:105; 24:51; 33:36)
  • God is al-Mubayyin (The Clarifier) (5:75, 24:58) and the Prophet Muḥammad makes things clear (5:15; 5:19; 16:44; 16:64; 14:4)
  • God is al-Mutahhir (The Purifier) (4:49; 33:33) and the Prophet Muḥammad purifies the believers (9:103)
  • God is al-Mawlā (The Master) and the Prophet Muḥammad holds awlā (authority) over the Believers (33:6)
  • God is al-Muḥyī (The Giver of Life) and the Prophet Muḥammad summons the Believers to that which gives them life (8:24).
  • God recites His Signs (2:252; 3:108) and the Prophet Muḥammad recites His Signs (2:151).
  • God sends Ṣalawāt (blessings) and the Prophet Muḥammad sends ṣalawāt (9:103)
  • God receives ṣadaqah (9:104) when the Prophet Muḥammad receives ṣadaqah (9:103; 58:12)
  • God brings the people from darkness to Light (2:257) and the Prophet Muḥammad brings the people from darkness to Light (14:1; 14:5 65:11)
  • He who gives their allegiance (bay‘ah) to the Prophet Muḥammad has given it to God (48:10)
  • God commands the right and forbids the wrong (66:6) and the Prophet Muḥammad commands the lawful and forbids the wrong (7:157)
  • He who obeys the Prophet Muḥammad, obeys God (4:80; 4:64)
  • When Prophet Muḥammad threw stones, it was actually God who threw (8:17)

The below diagram summarizes the two topics of this post – the Prophet-Believer relationship and the God-Prophet relationship. The inner circle lists of the Names of God and the outer circle lists each prophetic function in relation to the Believers where the Prophet Muḥammad is manifesting one of the Names of God:


Conclusion: The Need for Muḥammad’s Successor

To summarize once again, the Qur’ān attributes the following descriptions, attributions, and functions to the Prophet Muḥammad:

  • The Prophet Muḥammad is inspired by the Holy Spirit (42:52, 26:192-194)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the mercy (raḥmah) to the worlds (21:107)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is merciful (raḥīm) to the Believers (9:128)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is kind (ra’ūf) the Believers (9:128)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is an honourable Messenger (rasūl karīm) (69:40; 81:19-21)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is light (nūr) from God (5:15) and a radiant lamp (sirāj munīr) (33:46)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad (like Prophet Abraham) is gentle (ḥalīm) to the Believers (11:75)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the possessor of power (dhū al-quwwah) (81:20-21)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the teacher (mu‘allim) of the Book and Wisdom and new knowledge (62:2; 3:164; 2:151)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad, like his predecessors, is patient (ṣabūr) (38:16, 46:34)
  • The Prophet is the witness (shahīd) of humankind on the Day of Judgment (2:143, 33:46; 4:41)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the guardian (walī) of the Believers (5:55)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad prays to God for the Believer’s forgiveness (4:64, 63:5, 3:159, 60:12)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad forgives the Believers (5:13; 3:159; 7:199)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad guides the Believers to the Straight Path (45:25)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad’s nature or character is sublime (‘aẓīm) (68:4)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the judge of the believers (4:65; 4:105; 24:51; 33:36)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad makes things clear to the Believers (5:15; 5:19; 16:44; 16:64; 14:4)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad purifies and sanctifies the believers (9:103)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad holds authority (awlā) over the Believers (33:6)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad summons the Believers to that which gives them life (8:24).
  • The Prophet Muḥammad recites the Signs of God (2:151).
  • The Prophet Muḥammad sends ṣalawāt (blessings, prayers) upon the Believers (9:103)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad receives offerings (ṣadaqa) from the Believers (9:103; 58:12)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad brings the people from darkness to Light (14:1; 14:5 65:11)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is a beautiful pattern for the Believers (33:21)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the object of great respect and veneration (48:9, 49:1-3)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad commands the lawful and forbids the wrong (7:157)
  • He who gives their allegiance (bay‘ah) to the Prophet Muḥammad has given it to God (48:10)
  • He who obeys the Prophet Muḥammad, obeys God (4:80; 4:64)

All of the above spiritual functions go far beyond the Prophet’s function of reciting and proclaiming the Qur’ān. In fact, these spiritual functions listed above fall under the category of walāyah (spiritual guardianship) and not that of legislative prophecy (nubuwwah) – which is only concerned with proclaiming the revelation. Simply focusing on a handful of the above spiritual functions of Muḥammad shows the need for a spiritual heir and successor to the Prophet.  If Muḥammad was responsible for guiding the Believers on behalf of God, praying for the Believer’s forgiveness (4:64), taking offerings from them to purify them (9:102-104) on God’s behalf, sending blessings upon them for their tranquility (9:103), judging between them (4:65), and accepting their obedience on behalf of God – all during his own time, does this not necessitate the presence of someone to perform these spiritual functions for the Believers in every age and time after the departure of the Prophet? If the answer is negative, then doesn’t this contradict the very justice of God? Why would God bless the people of one particular time and age with a person who performs all of the above functions and then deprive the countless number of human beings who live after him of the same blessing? The only logical conclusion is that a person like the Prophet Muḥammad must always be present in the world to continue his spiritual and religious mission.

The status of Muḥammad as the Seal of the Prophets only signifies the conclusion of scriptural revelation and legislative prophecy.  But Divine inspiration (ta’yīd) and spiritual guardianship (walāyah) must always continue – otherwise, humanity would be wholly deprived of Divine guidance. Thus, the successor of Muḥammad with respect to divine inspiration (ta’yīd) and the functions of walāyah – the person who continues to guide the Believers on God’s behalf, to pray for their forgiveness, to accept their offerings and purify them on God’s behalf, to send blessings upon them, to judge between them, and accept their obedience on behalf of God – is the hereditary Ismā‘īlī Imām from the progeny or Ahl al-Bayt of the Muḥammad.

There must also exist, by divine right, a continuation of at least a portion of the original link between man and God, much as it was when the prophet still lived.  In other words, the world at all times must have a prophetically inspired person who, as the heir of the prophet himself, carries on the principle of his rule in all those matters where his authority was once supreme… In the current historical era, this person is the Imām and he is of necessity a direct lineal descent of Muḥammad through his single, chosen heir and executor, ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib.
- Paul Walker, (Early Philosophical Shiism, 3-4)


Harvard University is offering a university course called Ismaili History and Thought for the Spring 2014 semester beginning in January. The course is designed and taught by Professor Ali S. Asani (Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures) and is open to Harvard undergraduate and graduate students.

The Ismā‘īlī Muslims constitute the second largest branch of Shī‘ī Islam and recognize the continuation of the spiritual and religious authority of the Prophet Muḥammad through his cousin and son-in-law ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib – whom they recognize as the first in a series of hereditary Imāms who are the sole legitimate authorities for the interpretation of Islam. This course deals with the history, doctrines, philosophies, rituals and devotional traditions of three major Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslim communities – the Nizari Ismā‘īlīs, the Tayyibi Ismā‘īlīs (Dawoodi Bohras), and the Druze. 

1) Introduction to the Ismā‘īlīs
2) History of the Ismā‘īlīs
3) Conceptions of Imamah
4) Messianic Doctrines

5) Theology, Philosophy and Exegesis
6) Ritual Practice and Devotional Traditions
7) Ismaili Communities in Contemporary Contexts

Course readings include the latest books, articles, and literature in the field of Ismaili studies and shed light upon many important issues such as the Ismā‘īlī doctrine of Imāmah – its evolution through history and articulation in different contexts, Ismā‘īlī philosophy, Ismā‘īlī ritual practice, the diversity of Ismā‘īlī devotional traditions, and the experience of Ismā‘īlī communities in modern times.

Click Here to see the official course description on Harvard’s website.

Posted by: Ismaili Gnostic | December 27, 2013

Why Philosophy is Important

HC Image Dark Blue

“[Education] must also stimulate students to consider a variety of perspectives on some of the fundamental questions posed by the human condition: “What is truth?” “What is reality?” and “What are my duties to my fellow man, to my country and to God?”
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Aga Khan Academies Vision Statement, Click Here to Read)

Most people, when hearing the word philosophy, think of a highly abstract and purely theoretical body of ideas that have little or no impact upon their everyday lives. This may be true of the academic study of philosophy in some universities, but philosophy itself is embedded in all human activity – most people are simply unaware of it. Philosophy is ultimately about what is true, what is real, and what is good. It is philosophy that offers one an overarching framework to interpret and manage the other realms of human endeavor. Every person actually has a philosophy which is tacit and implicit in their entire way of living.

Some may think that philosophy is not based on “hard evidence” such as modern science. But they fail to notice that modern science – with its insistence that all truth be verified by empirical observations – is basing itself upon a purely philosophical claim (a claim that cannot be supported by empirical observation). The famous Cartesian slogan “I think therefore I am” is another statement about the nature of truth and reality. It implies, as a Cartesian may argue, that the realm of the mind is entirely separate from the external world. Some philosophers use this position to support materialism – the idea that only the external world is objectively real. But, if one’s philosophy exclusively affirms the reality of the physical world – made of matter, atoms, sub-atomic particles, etc., then everything beyond that – such as emotions, thoughts, intentions, values, and even consciousness – is unreal by implication. Thus, what is true logically points toward what is real. If someone were to claim that there is simply no such thing as universal truth – then they would have just declared a universal truth and contradicted themselves. 

At first glance, it may seem of little importance to us whether Plato is correct in his view that justice, compassion, beauty, or goodness are universal truths that exist independently of our physical world. On the other hand, if these are just conventions or constructs made up by human beings – then how could they possess any intrinsic “good” at all? Why should we care about doing “good” or being ethical – if ethics is just a matter of cultural norms, profit, nationalistic agenda, individual preference or moral relativism?

“To speak of end purposes, in turn, is to enter the realm of ethics. What are our ultimate goals? Whose interests do we seek to serve? How, in an increasingly cynical time, can we inspire people to a new set of aspirations—reaching beyond rampant materialism, the new relativism, self-serving individualism, and resurgent tribalism.”
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV
(Remarks at Evora University Symposium, February 12, 2006, Click Here to Read)

In the realm of religion and theology, philosophy must be used to understand statements such as “God exists” since this phrase already assumes a concept of “existence”, and a concept of “God”. But what does it mean “to exist”? And what is the nature of “God”? And how can one rationally support the “existence” of “God”? Philosophical theology may speak of God as the ultimate cause of all things that exist. In this case, the argument will focus on demonstrating why a series of causes and effects require a single first cause to keep them in existence at all times. Once again, such an argument will be philosophical – and employ concepts of cause, effect, and logical reasoning to make its case. The philosophical argument does not ignore empirical scientific evidence, but it can build upon it or generalize from it. For example, the fact that the spatial existence of certain quantum particles depend upon the observation of a conscious observer can be used to argue that mind or consciousness is more fundamental that matter (which, upon deeper analysis, is hardly “solid” at all).

Ultimately, philosophy is required to shed light on the key questions of truth, reality, and goodness. The question of truth concerns the very nature of knowledge (epistemology). Knowledge leads to the question of what is real (ontology). What is real leads to the question of what has value or goodness (ethics). What is good ultimately leads to the formation of one’s character. One’s character determines one’s actions, and therefore, one’s entire life. Philosophy, far from being a purely theoretical discipline, is actually a way of life.

The Ismā‘īlī Gnosis blog is dedicated to the explanation of Ismā‘īlī Muslim Philosophy – the philosophical insights of the Ismā‘īlī Imāms, theologians and thinkers throughout history – in a modern intellectual context. Seyyed Hossein Nasr best summarizes the imperatives of Ismā‘īlī philosophy as follows:

For the Ismā‘īlīs philosophy possesses essentially an esoteric, gnostic, and soteriological character and is not simply meant to be mental learning. It is related to the ḥaqīqah or truth at the heart of the Qurʾānic revelation, and therefore can be attained only after proper training of not solely the mind but also the whole of one’s being, which then makes one worthy of receiving knowledge from the representative of true gnosis, who is none other than the Imām or his representatives. The role of the Imām and the hierarchy of those who know at whose head he stands is, therefore, essential in the disciple’s gaining of authentic knowledge.”
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr,
(An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia Volume 2: Ismaili Thought in the Classical Age, 2)

Originally posted on Ismā‘īlī Gnosis:


“The Imām knows from which drop of sperm the Imām after him will come”

“His sperm was kneaded along with his intellect.”

“And we come from the Light of God.”

(Imām Ḥasan ‘alā dhikrihi al-salām)

December 13 marks the 77th birthday of Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī (Aga Khan IV), the HaḍirImām (Present Imām) of the Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslims.  Imām Shāh Karīm is the forty-ninth hereditary Imām in direct lineal descent from Ḥaḍrat ‘Ali ibn Abi Ṭālib, the first of the Imāms in the Cycle of the Prophet Muḥammad.

Each Imām, with respect to his subtle soul, is the bearer or locus of manifestation (mazhar) of the eternal Light (nūr) of Imāmah – otherwise known as the Universal Intellect (al-‘aql al-kull), the Muhammadan Reality (al-ḥaqīqah al-Muḥammadīyyah), the Eternal Imām, etc. which is the first originated being (al-mubda‘…

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Posted by: Ismaili Gnostic | November 11, 2013

Mourning for Ma‘rifah: Imam Husayn at Karbala

Battle of Karbala

“We are the House of Muhammad and as such are more entitled to the authority (walāyah) of this affair over you than these pretenders who claim what does not belong to them… By God there is no son of a Prophet other than me among you and among the peoples from East to West.
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī

The tenth day of Muḥarram, known as the Day of ‘Āshūra’ is when the Battle of Karbala took place – in which Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī, the second hereditary Imām of the Shī‘ī Muslims, along with his family and supporters, was brutally massacred by the armies of Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān.

The Imām and the Adversary (ḍidd):

“When I ask you to read Kisso (the account of the events at Karbala) it is not because those who read it will go to Paradise, but that you may ponder over it and know the unbelievers fought us. These Prophets and Imāms knew what was going to happen, yet we are not allowed to reveal the mysteries of the Unseen (ghayb).”
- Imām Āgā Shāh ‘Alī Shāh Āgā Khān II,
(transl. Rai Gulamali Kassam Shivji, Calgary November 1989)

The Battle of Karbala, from the esoteric perspective, was the manifestation of the opposition that takes place in every age and time between the forces of the Imām of the Time and the forces of his Adversity (ḍidd). Just as the Imām of the Time is the inheritor of Haḍrat Adam and the vicegerent of God on earth, the Adversary (ḍidd) is the inheritor of Iblīs and the devil (shayṭān) among human beings.  

“Likewise did We appoint for every Messenger an enemy: devils (shayāṭīna) among mankind and jinns, inspiring each other with flowery discourses by way of deception. If thy Lord had so planned, they would not have done it: so leave them and their inventions alone.”
- Holy Quran 6:112

Likewise, century after century, and epoch after epoch, every time has its Iblīs, may God’s curses be upon him, and its Adam, may God’s prayers be upon him.”
- al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirāzī, (Majālis al-Mu’ayyadiyyah, Vol. II, Majlis No. 11, 71)

The Ismā‘īlī Imāms have also referred to this Adversary or Iblis of the Time as the “pharaoh” who tries to lead people astray in the age of every Imām.

There is a physical and spiritual pharaoh in the cycle of every Imām. By means of the power and influence of his defiled soul he leads astray the simple-minded servants who are not yet firm-footed on the way of the bearer of truth, diverting them from the path of the most sublime paradise and supreme heaven to the nethermost hell, which is the land of the hypocrites (munafiqan).”
- Imām Islāmshāh,

(Seven Aphorisms, quoted in The Ismailis in the Middle Ages, 107)

Just as the Imām is the bearer of the light of walāyah which bring human beings closer to God, the Adversary manifests the darknesses of the “counter-walāyah” which leads people astray. As al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirāzī explains, the Imām and his hierarchy (ḥudūd) of spiritual teachers are the embodiment of virtues known as the Adamic Forms (al-ṣuwar al-ādamiyyah) and they are opposed by the Adversary and his counter-hierarchy of deceptors who embody the decadent vices known as Satanic Shapes (al-ashkāl al-shayṭāniyyah). In other words, there exist the Imāms of Truth (a’immat al-ḥaqq) as well as the imāms of going astray (a’immat al-ḍalāl).

“The masters of resemblance are the false imāms (a’immat al-bāṭil), who are established opposite to the true Imāms (a’immat al-ḥaqq), and the creation of humankind, only resembling the real creation of God, and they (the false imāms) are apparitions (ashbāh) without spirits (arwāḥ). Meaning, God did not breath into them the Spirit of True Life (rūḥ al-ḥayāt al-ḥaqīqiyyah) with the designation (naṣṣ) from the Messenger of God.”
- al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirāzī, (Majālis al-Mu’ayyadiyyah, Vol. I, Majlis No. 25, 124)

The difference between the true Imām and the Adversary – the false imām – is that the true Imām is inspired by the Holy Spirit (al-mu’ayyad bi’l-rūḥ al-quds) while the false imām attempts to imitate the true Imām and usurp his rights.  This opposition even existed in the eras of the Imāms who preceded the Prophet Muḥammad and Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib. For example, Mawlānā Hāshim ibn ‘Abd Manāf (the great grandfather of the Prophet) was the Imām of his time and his Adversary was his own his half-brother Umayyah – whom he banished from Mecca. There was similar opposition between Mawlānā ‘Abd al-Muṭālib (the grandfather of the Prophet) and the Adversary of his age who was Ḥarb ibn Umayyah – particularly over the custodianship of the Ka‘ba. At the time of the Prophet Muḥammad, the Adversary or the imām of falsehood was none other than Abū Sufyān ibn Harb – who led the Quraysh in opposing the Prophet.  In the time of Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, the Adversary was Mu‘āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān. And so, in the time of Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī, the Adversary was Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān. The opposition between the true Imām, who has the rank of Adam, and his Adversary (ḍidd), who embodies Iblīs, exists in every age and cycle:

“In al-Mu’ayyad’s theory of walāyah and counter-walāyah, Adam and Iblīs co-exist throughout prophetic history as the Imām and the ḍidd in each cycle until the “Day of the Time appointed” (Qur’ān 15:38). Because in terms of capacity, the vanquisher and the vanquished are equally and mutually matched to each other, one of the two will conquer the other due to the equanimity in him.”
- Elizabeth R. Alexandrin, (The Sphere of Walāya: Ismaili Ta’wil according to al-Muayyad, PhD Dissertation, 340)


Imām al-Ḥusayn at Karbala:

“In the field at Karbala, a fierce battle was waged against Imām al-Ḥusayn. At that time he fought alone against thousands of men.  He endured the immense suffering and cruelty by the hands of his enemies and in spite of all this he still proclaimed: “I am the Imām”.
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Address made in Kutch Nagalpur, November 28, 1903)

Mu‘āwiya openly opposed and fought against the Caliphate of Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib. After the death of Imām ‘Alī, his son Pīr Imām al-Ḥasan succeeded to the Caliphate but – due to the weakness of his support and resources – had to abdicate the Caliphate to Mu‘āwiya on the condition that Yazīd would not succeed to the Caliphate after him. However, Mu‘āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān ensured that his son Yazīd succeeded him as Caliph – an event which directly contradicted the agreement that Pīr Imām al-Ḥasan had made with Mu‘āwiya earlier.  Unlike Mu‘āwiya, who was unrighteous but tried to keep the appearance of dignity to the Caliphate, Yazīd was an open sinner and disgraced the position by his drinking of wine and many other sinful activities. When Yazīd succeeded as Caliph, he sought to gain the allegiance of Imām al-Ḥusayn to legitimize his succession but the Imām refused to do so. Meanwhile, the people of Kufa invited Imām al-Ḥusayn to lead them. The Imām and his close family and companions were journeying from Makkah to Kufa and were intercepted by the Umayyad armies sent by Yazid and surrounded at the plains of Kabarla After cutting off their water supply for several days, the Umayyad armies engaged the Imām and his supporters in battle. Outnumbered by an army of over twenty thousand men, the Imām, his family and supporters were inhumanly massacred and martyred in what became known as the Battle of Karbala. The dead included the sons of Imām al-Ḥusayn – among them a six month old infant ‘Alī Asghar, the sons of Imām ‘Alī ibn Abū Ṭālib, and the children of Pīr Imām al-Ḥasan. The only surviving male member of the Imām’s family was his son Imām ‘Alī Zayn al-‘Ābidīn – who was sick during the battle and saved from execution due to the intervention of Haḍrat Zaynab – the sister of Imām al-Ḥusayn. 

We now present selected quotations and statements made by Imām al-Ḥusayn before and during the Battle of Karbala.

The Imām’s Letter to the People of Basra:


“God gave preference to Muḥammad before all His creatures. He graced him with prophethood and chose him for His message. After he had warned His servants and informed them of what he had been sent with, God took him for Himself. We are his family (ahlihi), those who possess his authority (awliyā’), those who have been made his trustees (awṣiyā’), and his inheritors (wurathā); we are those who have more right to this position among the people than anyone else. People selfishly claimed our exclusive right to that. Yet we consented since we hated disunion and desired the well-being [of the community]. However, we know we have greater claim to that right, which was our entitlement, than those who have seized it. They have done well, set many things right, and sought truth. May God have mercy on them and forgive us and them. I have sent my messenger to you with this letter. I summon you to the Book of God, the Sunnah of His Prophet. Indeed, the Sunnah has [almost] been killed while innovation has been given life. If you hear my words and obey my commands, I will guide you along the path of righteousness.”
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī,
(Arzina Lalani, Early Shi’i Thought, 30)

The Imām’s words to al-Hurr ibn Yazīd and the Umayyad Army:


“People, if you fear God and recognize the rights of those who have rights, God will be more satisfied with you. We are the House of Muhammad and as such are more entitled to the authority (walāyah) of this affair (i.e. the rule of the community) over you than these pretenders who claim what does not belong to them. They have brought tyranny and aggression among you. If you refuse (us) because you dislike (us) or do not know our rights, and your view has now changed from what came to us in your letters and what your messengers brought, then I will leave you.”
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī,
(al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, 22-62)

Words spoken to his sister Zaynab bint ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib:

“I have just seen the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, in my sleep. He said to me: You are coming to us.”
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī,
(al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, 22-62)

The Imām’s words spoken to his half-brother al-‘Abbas regarding the enemy:


“Go back to them, if you can, delay them until the morning and (persuade) them to keep from us during the evening. Then, perhaps, we may be able to pray to our Lord during the night to call upon Him and seek His forgiveness. He knows that I have always loved His formal prayer, the recitation of His Book and (making) many invocations to Him, seeking His forgiveness.”
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī,
(al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, 22-62)

The Imām’s words spoken to his companions on the eve of the Battle of Karbala:


“I know of no followers more loyal and more virtuous than my followers, nor of any House more pious and more close-knit than my House. May God reward you well on my  behalf. Indeed, I do not think that there will be (any further) days (left) to us by these men. I permit you to leave me. All (of you) go away with the absolution of your oath (to follow me), for there will be no (further) obligation on you from me. This is a night (whose darkness) will give cover to you.”
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī,
(al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, 22-62)

The Imām’s family and companions reaffirm their allegiance:


“We will not leave you to make ourselves continue living after your (death). God will never see us (do) such a thing.” – ‘Abd Allah b. Ja‘far

“No, by God, we will not do (such a thing). Rather we will ransom you with our lives, property and families. We will fight for you until we reach your destination. May God make life abominable (for us) after your (death).”
– The Sons of ‘Aqīl ibn Abī Ṭālib

“By God, if I knew what I would die and then be revived and then burnt and then revived, and then scattered, and that would be done to me seventy times, I would never leave you until I met my death (fighting) on your behalf. So how could I do it when there can only be one death, which is a great blessing which can never be rejected.” – Muslim ibn Awsaja

“By God, I would prefer to be killed and then recalled to life; and then be killed a thousand times in this manner; and that in this way God, the Mighty and Exalted, should protect your life and the lives of these young men of your House.” – Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn

The Imām returns to his tent and designates his son Imām ‘Alī Zayn al-‘Ābidīn as his successor:


“My son, you are the best and purest of my children. After me you will be my successor and deputy. Take care of these women and children during captivity and the rigours of travel. Console them. My son, convey to my friends my Salam (greetings of peace) and tell them their Imām has been killed away from his home and that they should mourn for me.”
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī,
(M.H. Bilgrami, The Victory of Truth: The Life of Zaynab bint ‘Ali, Chapter 6)

The Imām’s final warning to the Umayyad armies:


“People, listen to my words and do not hurry (to attack me) so that I may remind you of the duties you have towards me and so that (by telling you the true circumstances) I may free myself from any blame in (your attacking me)… Trace back my lineage and consider who I am. Then look back at yourselves and remonstrate with yourselves. Consider whether it is right for you to kill me and to violate the honour of my womenfolk. Am I not the son of the daughter of your Prophet, of his testamentary trustee (wall) and his cousin, the first of the believers in God and the man who (first) believed in what His Messenger, may God bless him and his family, brought from his Lord? Was not Hamza, the lord of the martyrs, my uncle? Was not Ja‘far, the one who flies in Heaven, my uncle? Have you not heard the words of the Messenger of God, may God bless him and his family, concerning myself and my brother: ‘These are the two lords of the youths of the inhabitants of Paradise? Whether you believe what I am saying and it is the truth, for by God I have never told a lie since I learnt that God hated people (who told) them.. Is there not (sufficient) in this to prevent you shedding my blood?”
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī,
(al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, 22-62)

“You are in doubt that I am the son of the daughter of your Prophet. By God there is no son of a prophet other than me among you and among the peoples from East to West. Shame on you, are you seeking retribution from me for one of your dead whom I have killed, or for property of yours which I expropriated, or for a wound which I have inflicted?”
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī,
(al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, 22-62)

The Imām’s prayer to God when the Umayyad cavalry approached:


“O God, it is You in Whom I trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. You are my trust and provision in everything that happens to me, (no matter) how much the heart may seem to weaken in it, trickery may seem to diminish (my hope) in it, the friend may  seem to desert (me) in it, and the enemy may seem to rejoice in it. It comes upon me through You and when I complain to You of it, it is because of my desire for You, You alone. You have comforted me in (everything) and have revealed its (significance to me). You are the Master of all grace, the Possessor of all goodness and the Ultimate Resort of all desire.”
- Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī,
(al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, 22-62)


The Sacrifice of the Imāms:

The Battle of Karbala is a primary example of how the Imāms have sacrificed their lives to uphold truth, defend justice and fulfill their sacred mandate as the guardians of the ethic of Islam. This shows how the institution of Imāmah is not only a spiritual institution, but has the mission of establishing social justice and equity in the world. Imām al-Ḥusayn and his family gave their lives for the sake of this mission. And every Imām of the Time performs this same sacrifice in different forms.

The sacrifice of the Imāms is alluded and foretold in the Qur’ānic narrative of Haḍrat Ibrāhīm sacrificing his son Ismā‘īl by the command of God. This story is but an allegory, and its real meaning refers to the mission of the Holy Imāms who all come from the progeny of Mawlānā Ismā‘īl ibn Ibrāhīm. The Qur’ān then states about Ismā‘īl that:

“We ransomed him with a tremendous sacrifice (dhibḥin ‘aẓīm);
And we left it among the later generations.”
– Holy Qur’ān 37:107-108

Contrary to the exoteric interpretation which holds that Ismā‘īl was exchanged with a ram, the real meaning of this verse is that God ransomed the physical sacrifice with the spiritual sacrifice of the Imāms – renewed in every generation by the Imām of the Time who is descended from Mawlānā Ismā‘īl ibn Ibrāhīm.  There have been countless other examples of the Ismā‘īlī Imāms sacrificing their lives to preserve Islam, protect their community, or uphold the truth. 

One of the most tragic events in the history of the Nīzārī Ismā‘īlīs occurred in 1256 when the Mongols massacred thousands of Nīzārīs during their invasion of Persia. Not even the women and children were spared as Genghis Khan has ordered that even the babies in their cradles should be killed. During this massacre, the Nīzārī Ismā‘īlī Imām of the time, Mawlānā Rukn al-Dīn Khwarshāh and most of his family were brutally murdered by the Mongol army. The succeeding Imām, Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad, was secretly sent to Tabrīz and the lineage of Nīzārī Ismā‘īlī Imāms continued.  Mawlānā Shams al-Dīn would later refer to the Mongol massacre of the Nīzārīs and the conquest of Alamut as the “final Karbala”:

“May it not remain hidden from all the servants that as Mawlānā ‘Alī and Mawlānā Husayn (on whose mentions be peace) have said, ‘We will have to pass through Jabalistan (i.e., Gilan) and Daylam, which will be the final Karbala. The palace of Caesar and the fortress of Alamut [will be reduced to such straits] that were they given to even a poor old woman, she would not accept them.’ All of this came to pass and was seen by the people of the world.”
- Imām Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad,
(quoted in Virani, The Ismailis in the Middle Ages, 53)

When Mawlānā Hāḍir Imām, Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV, assumed the office of Imamat on July 11, 1957, he boldly declared that he was dedicating his entire life and existence to serving his followers and the world of Islam:

I have dedicated my life to the uplift and progress of the Ismailis all over the world and I pray for all your happiness and success.”
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Willi Frischauer, The Aga Khans, 217)

My grandfather dedicated his life to the Imamat and Islam, both of which came first, and above all other considerations. While I was prepared that one day I might be designated the Aga Khan I did not expect it so soon. I follow a great man in a great responsibility and he could have given me no more appreciated honour than to bequeath me this spiritual leadership. My life, as his, will be dedicated to the service of my followers.”
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV

In a candid interview given in 1969, Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī describes the struggles that he undergoes in fulfilling the mission of the Imāmah.  And yet, he maintains that “responsibility is a burden we love”:

“I hardly have time to think about myself. I have my moments of fatigue, anxiety, but without the feeling of abandonment. I am engaged. I have to weigh, to consider, to try make a wise decision. But, with my advisers, I escape the isolation. Responsibility is a burden we love.I received from my grandfather responsibilities that are heavy but not burdensome. This is not a burden. It is a pleasure to devote oneself (de se consacrer = “to sacrifice oneself”) to such a community, to work for people. The responsibilities are a burden that we love to wear.
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Elle Magazine Interview with Paul Giannoli, “The Mystery of the Aga Khan”, August 20, 1969) http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1527/

While Imām al-Ḥusayn’s martyrdom may have taken place thirteen hundred years ago, the spirit and meaning of his sacrifice is renewed by every Imām in his progeny – including the Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī, the Present and Living Imām (al-imām al-ḥāḍir al-mawjūd). Among the most eminent manifestations of the current Imām’s sacrifice is his tireless work through the Aga Khan Development Network – which aims to elevate the quality of life and dignity for all human beings on this planet. In this sense, Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī continues the very same mission as his ancestor Imām al-Ḥusayn – a mission that will be upheld by every Imām in the Ḥusaynī lineage until the end of time: 

“We the Imāms in descent from Imām al-Ḥusayn for are present until today and we shall remain until the Resurrection (qiyāmah) and even after the Resurrection (qiyāmah).”
- Imām Āgā Shāh ‘Alī  Shāh Āgā Khān II,
(Address made in Bombay, 1878)


The Ever-Living Imām:


“O people take this saying of the Last of the Prophets that he who dies from among us is not dead, and he who decays from among us does not decay.”
- Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib,
(Nahjul Balagha, tr. by Syed Ali Rezha, Khutbah 86, 217-218)

While the death of Imām al-Ḥusayn was extremely tragic and totally contrary to all the principles of goodness and righteousness, the true believer must remember that from the spiritual perspective, the Imām in reality can never be killed. The Qur’ān applies this perspective to the historical crucifixion of Jesus when it proclaimed that “they killed him not, nor did they crucify him, but it only appeared to unto them” (Qur’ān 4:157). Similarly, the ‘historical’ Imām lives and dies in the realm of nature (dunyā), but the ‘eternal’ Imām is always present in the realm of Faith (dīn). This is why, for example, the Ismā‘īli Muslims, while remembering and honouring the death of Imām al-Ḥusayn, do not perform formal mourning. The Qur’ān confirms this reality when it says:

“Think not of those who are slain in path of God as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord; They rejoice in the bounty provided by God.”
- Holy Qur’ān 3:169-170

The Imāms are perpetually alive in three respects.  In one respect, the Imāmah continues through designated successor who is the next Imām, so the Imām as such is always present on earth.  In another respect, the pure soul of the deceased Imām remains perpetually alive in Paradise and in the Divine Presence. For this reason, the Ismā‘īlī Dū‘ā’ includes intercessory supplications naming all of the Imāms of the past.  Thirdly, the Nūr of Imamat – known as the Universal Intellect, the First Originated Being, the Logos or the Muḥammadan Light, the Eternal Imām which manifests through the soul and body of each and every hereditary Imām – is eternal, perfect, immutable and otherwise unaffected by the events of the physical realm. Therefore, the Imām remains ever-living – historically (as his successor-Imām), spiritually (as a pure soul), and ontologically (as the Nur of Imamat).

“You should be rest assured that the Nūr of Mawlānā Murtada ‘Alī is in me and is present before you. We Imāms change the physical bodies in this world but our Nūr is eternal and originates from the very beginning. You should therefore take it as one Nūr. The Throne of the Imamat of Mawlānā Murtaḍa ‘Alī continues and it will remain till the Day of Judgement.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Address made in Bombay, September 8, 1885 quoted in Michele Boivien, Le Renovation du Shiisme Ismailien en Inde et au Pakistan, 197-98)

“Today we carry this authority and power of Imām al-Ḥusayn for we are Imām al-Husayn.  You can see that today we carry this authority and power everywhere we go because we are the rightful Imāms. We do not fear anything.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Address made in Kutch Nagalpur, November 28, 1903, quoted in Michele Boivien, Le Renovation du Shiisme Ismailien en Inde et au Pakistan, 197-98)

Mourning for Ma‘rifah: The Ta’wīl of Karbala:

“There were many different kinds of people present at Karbala, and there were people amongst them who recognized and accepted Imām al-Ḥusayn as their Imām… Shimar, a worshipper of God, who claimed that he was the servant of God, also martyed Imām al-Ḥusayn. Shimar thought that the Imām was an ordinary human being like himself.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Address made in Bombay, October 17, 1885)

It is reported that Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III instructed his Nīzārī Ismā‘īlī Muslim murīds not to mourn the physical death of Imām al-Ḥusayn by crying or hitting themselves, but instead to recognize the living Imām and “mourn for ma‘rifah” – that is, mourn for the ma‘rifah of the Imām of the Time.

As explained in the first post on this blog, ma‘rifah (English: gnosis) refers to the innate spiritual recognition of tawḥīd (the unity of God) that resides in the depth of every human soul – since the Qur’ānic day of Alastu when all human souls testified to God (Qur’ān 7:172). The Shī‘ī Muslim disciple (murīd) seeks this ma‘rifah (recognition) of tawḥīd – the gnosis of God – through the ma‘rifah of the Imām:

Imām al-Husayn called out to his companions: “God – may His Mention be glorified – did not create the servants except to know Him, and by knowing Him to worship him, and by worshipping Him to be satisfied only by His worship, and to never find satisfaction in worshiping other than Him.” And a man said to him: “O Son of the Prophet, may my father and mother be sacrificed for you. What is this ma‘rifah of God?” The Imam said:  “The ma‘rifah the people of every time have of their Imām  - to whom obedience is due.” (Shaykh Saduq, Ilal al-Sharā‘i’, Vol. 1, 19)

“Everyone must know God through knowing me, since a person becomes a knower (‘ārif) through my ma‘rifat and becomes a unifier (muwaḥḥid) through my tawḥīd.  Then the reality of ma‘rifat, union (ittiḥād), and unity (waḥdat) comes completely into existence, and the reality of worship becomes evident.”
- Imam Ḥasan ‘ala-dhikrihi al-salām,
(Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tusi, Contemplation and Action, 44)

So the question remains, in what manner does the human soul attain ma‘rifah?  The answer is provided by Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib in his sermon:

“God has not made the intellects (‘uqūl) capable of defining His qualities, but He has not veiled the intellects from essential recognition (ma‘rifah) of Him.”
- Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, (Nahj al-Balāghah, Sermon 49)

The above words of the Imām draw a direct link between the human intellect (‘aql) and ma‘rifah. The intellect, according to teachings of the Shī‘ī Imāms, is much more than the capacity for rational thought or discursive reasoning. The ‘aql is essentially a spiritual faculty of direct apprehension – in which the intellect immediately grasps its object of knowledge and becomes one with it in the act of intellection. This is in contrast to the rational or discursive faculty – which operates in time and employs logic and reasoning to proceed step by step in order to reach a conclusion. While the rational faculty arrives at a representational concept (taṣawwur) of the known object, the intellect (‘aql) perceives things as they are as a timeless and direct presence.  The intellect is the highest organ of knowing in the human being and is capable of attaining ma‘rifah – while reason can at best provide a conceptual representation of such knowledge.

The ma‘rifah of the Imām can only be reached by actualizing one’s intellect (‘aql). This is because the intellect (‘aql) in every human being is a ray of the Nūr of Imamat – the Universal Intellect (al-‘aql al-kull). As Mawlānā Ḥāḍir Imām has said publicly:

“The Divine Intellect, ‘Aql-i Kull, both transcends and informs the human intellect.”
– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV, (AKU Inauguration Speech, 1985)

The Imām of the Time is the manifestation (maẓhar) of the Universal Intellect in the physical world while the fully actualized human intellect (‘aql) is the manifestation of the Universal Intellect in the heart (the center of the rational soul). Thus, the “outer Imām” in the world is paralleled by the human intellect (‘aql) – which could be called the “inner Imām” of one’s own soul:

The Imām within (each human being) is each individual intellect, such an intellect being the irradiation of the outer Imām; for the Shi‘ites, the initiates of the Imāms, have been created out of the rays of their light, and light is proportional to the source of light.”
- Shaykh Karīm-Khān Kirmānī, (Henry Corbin, Temple and Contemplation, 46)

Herein lies the esoteric meaning of the event of Karbala and the explanation as to why Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh instructed his jamā‘ats to “mourn for ma‘rifah”. All human souls possess ma‘rifah in the very essence of their being – but practically, this ma‘rifah is dormant or unrealized. The real status of Imām al-Ḥusayn can only be recognized through the ma‘rifah of the intellect (‘aql) – the inner Imām. Those who killed and opposed the Imām al-Ḥusayn did so because they lacked this ma‘rifah – due to their own intellects being dormant and their hearts being diseased. Because they lacked a connection with their “inner Imām”, they were unable to recognize Imām al-Ḥusayn, the “outer Imām”. Just as the Imām of the Time is opposed by an Adversary in the physical world, there is also an inner Iblīs in the personal world of the soul that opposes the human intellect. This inner Iblīs is called hawā (caprice, whims), the carnal soul or the “soul that commands to evil” (nafs al-amarra) (see Qur’ān 12:53). Reza Shah-Kazemi, summarizing the teachings of Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib on this subject, writes about the inner struggle between al-‘aql and al-hawā:

“This emerges from the metaphor given by the Imām to define the struggle: al-ʿaql (the intellect) is the leader of the forces of al-Raḥmān (the Compassionate); al-hawā (whim, caprice, desire) commands the forces of al-shayṭān (the devil); al-nafs (the soul) vacillates between them, susceptible to the attraction of both and enters into ‘the domain of whichever of the two will triumph.”
- Reza Shah-Kazemi, (Justice and Remembrance: Introducing the Spirituality of Imam ‘Ali, 40)

The Battle of Karbala outwardly represents the inner struggle that takes place at every moment within the human soul between the intellect and the caprice. The Imām al-Ḥusayn and his companions symbolize the intellect and its related virtues, while Yazīd and his minions symbolize the caprice (hawā) and its vices. Henry Corbin eloquently explains this symbolism as follows:

There is an Imām Husayn within each man: his intellect, whose divine splendour is a light that derives from the Imām. But this inner Imām is surrounded by enemies, and these are all the powers of the carnal soul that issue from the shadow of the Imām’s enemies. Within every man there unfolds a tragedy of Karbala. ‘In the Karbala of his heart, it may happen that the powers of the carnal soul kill the intellect and the angelic companions who assist it, and uproot all traces of them from man’s heart. Then indeed there is accomplished in each one of us, word for word, the ta’wīl of the tragedy of Karbala.”
- Henry Corbin, (Temple and Contemplation, 46)

Thus, the events of ‘Āshura and Karbala take place in each human soul. The intellect is responsible for the qualities of compassion, love, beauty, kindness, generosity, and wisdom while hawā is the source of greed, lust, fear, desire, and most of all, pride and ego. If the human intellect is overwhelmed by the carnal soul or hawā, then one will not have the ma‘rifah of the Imam. Whenever our ego and fear dominate our loving compassion and wisdom, then the inner Imam has been slain and Karbala has happened again. This becomes is an occasion for true mourning – mourning for this ma‘rifah that has been forgotten due to spiritual decadence. Indeed, this is the ta’wīl of Karbala and the ta’wīl of mourning for Imām al-Ḥusayn.


4. The Ismā‘īlī Flag: Remembering Karbala


“…one feast day, when the two child-Imams Hasan and Husayn asked their grandfather the Prophet to give them a new garment as a present, two robes came down out of the sky. The robes were white, but the two boys declared that they would not be satisfied until they were dyed the colour they wanted. Hasan asked for his garment to be green as the emerald, while Husayn wanted a colour like that of the red hyacinth. This was brought about through the ministration of the Angel Gabriel, the Angel of Revelation. But while the Prophet rejoiced, the Angel shed tears; and when the Prophet asked him the reason, he could not but announce the fate that awaited the two young Imams in this world. Hasan would perish through poison, Husayn would be assassinated.”
- Henry Corbin, (Temple and Contemplation, 43)

The Nizarī Ismā‘īlī Muslim community, led by Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī – the present (hāḍir) and forty-ninth hereditary Imām in direct lineal descent from Imām al-Ḥusayn, continuously bears witness to the events of Ashūra and Karbala. This is evident in the official Ismā‘īlī Flag – raised upon the various buildings and structures where the Present Imām happens to be. This includes the Imām’s private jet – which could be likened to Duldul, the famous horse of Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, in the modern age. Like the companions of Imām al-Ḥusayn in the past, the Ismā‘īlī Muslim today uphold the spirit of Karbala when they dedicate and sacrifice their lives in the service of the Imām of the Time, the community and humanity at large.


In this respect, we conclude this post with the august words of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh where he explains the meaning of the Red and Green colors of the Ismā‘īlī Flag in his letter to Dr. Pir Muhammad Hoodboy. As the Imām explains below, the Green color stands for the Prophet Muḥammad, Pīr Imām al-Ḥasan, and the office of the Pīr (the supreme ḥujjah of the Imām) while the Red color stands for Imām ‘Alī, Imām al-Ḥusayn, and the office of the Imām. Interestingly, the colors of Red and Green also featured prominently when the Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh assumed the Imāmah in Bombay 1885 – where the Imām, dressed in red attire, sat upon a green cushion.

“In reply to your letter of 8th October, the colours of our family are, as you know, Red and Green. The reason being that we represent both the (offices of) Shāh [Imām] and Pīr. The Shāh was Ḥusayn and the Pīr was Ḥasan. Ḥasan had the Pīr’s colour of Green, but Ḥusayn’s martyrdom was so enormous in events and was so opposed to even the smallest laws of war that the colour of his Holy Blood, namely Red, was accepted with the Green of the Prophet’s flag as a souvenir and remembrance of that terrible day.”
- Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Letter to Dr. Pir Muhammad Hoodbhoy, October 16, 1954)

Note: The Nizari Isma‘ilis do not include the name of al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali in their list of Imams which has led some people to conclude that al-Hasan is not accepted as an Imam in Nizari theology.  In reality, al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali is regarded as an Imam by the Nizaris but with a minor difference: al-Hasan is understood to be an Entrusted Imam or Trustee Imam (al-imam al-mustawda) as opposed to a Permanent Imam (al-imam al-mustaqarr), the latter position belonging to his brother al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali. The Nizari list of Imams only includes the names of the Permanent Imams and not the Entrusted Imams.  The difference between the Entrusted Imam and the Permanent Imam is that the Entrusted Imam is a person from outside the genealogical line of the Imams who holds the rank and authority of Imam for a temporary period and the Imamate does not permanently dwell among the Entrusted Imam’s descendants.  The Permanent Imam is the hereditary Imam who inherits the Imamate from his forefathers and transmits it to his descendants.  The Entrusted Imam is only appointed in special circumstances and is usually the brother or cousin of the Permanent Imam.  When there is an Entrusted Imam, the Permanent Imam remains silent (samit) although he is the source of authority (amr) of the Entrusted Imam who acts on his behalf. Thus, Imam al-Hasan was an Entrusted Imam as he held the authority and rank of Imamate after Hazrat ‘Ali and then bequeathed it to his brother Imam a-Husayn who then transmitted the Imamate in his progeny.  For further details, see Virani, The Isma‘ilis in the Middle Ages, pp. 83-85.  In Nizari Isma’ilism, al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali also holds the rank of Pir or supreme hujja which is the rank in the Isma’ili hierarchy (hudud) second only to the Imam himself.  This has led some to confuse the positions of Entrusted Imam and pir or simply deny that al-Hasan was an Imam altogether.  In reality, al-Hasan was both an Entrusted Imam and a Pir (supreme hujja) and this is perhaps why the Nizari Isma‘ili Ginans, the Asal Du’a (Old Du’a) and the farmans of Imam Sultan Muhammad refer to al-Hasan as ‘Pir Imam Hasan’.

Karbala artwork images from http://www.qul.org.au/islamic-occasions/events-of-karbala/39-karbala-in-pictures

aga khan 3

“God does not become bored that you should become bored.”
– Prophet Muḥammad 

“Never in my long life – I may say with complete honesty – have  I for an instant been bored…”
 - Imām Sultān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III

Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-‘Arabī, the great Sufi mystic and theosopher, explains how getting “bored” is the symptom of the person who fails to realize that God’s creative act is perpetual and renewed at every instant and that therefore, no moment or experience of the Cosmos is identical to another. If one realized that all things are anew at every instant, one would never experience boredom.

“Were it not for the renewal of creation at each instant, boredom would overcome the entities, since Nature requires boredom…But no one in the Cosmos becomes bored except him who has no unveiling and does not witness the renewal of creation constantly at each instant and does not witness God as Ever-creating perpetually.”
- Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-‘Arabī, (William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, 105)

“In fact, it is like this in actual fact, even though not everyone recognizes it, nor does every eye and rational faculty witness it. For in actual fact, [existence] is renewed at each instant. But a person who is ignorant does not witness the renewal of bliss, so he becomes bored. Were this ignorance to be lifted from him, so also would boredom be lifted. Boredom is the greatest proof that man has remained ignorant of God’s preserving his existence and renewing his blessings at each instant.”
- Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-‘Arabī, (William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, 106)

If a person is truly conscious of the renewal of things by God’s continuous creation, they will realize that no moment in time is the same as the one before and boredom would never be experienced. But only a fully conscious human being, who is ever-aware of God and His continuous creation of the Cosmos, can reach this station that is beyond all boredom. Most human beings are utterly unaware of the continuous nature of God’s creation – in the sense of the divine act of creation that perpetually nourishes, engenders, and sustains all being at every moment. As the Holy Qur’ān states:

“No, indeed, but they are in confusion as to a new creation (khalq jadīd).”
– Holy Qur’ān 50:15

“Each Day He is upon a new task.” - Holy Qur’ān 55:29

Mawlānā Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, the forty-eight hereditary Imām of the Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslims – in a statement that bears witness to his own degree of spiritual realization and witnessing – has described his total lack of boredom with both the mundane and spiritual dimensions of his life as follows:

Never in my long life — I may say with complete honesty — have I for an instant been bored. Every day has been so short, every hour so fleeting, every minute so filled with the life I love that time for me has fled on far too swift a wing. A mind that is occupied, in health or in sickness, with things outside itself and its own concerns is, I believe, a perpetual source of true happiness. In ordinary prayer, as we in Islam conceive it, adoration of the beloved fills up every nook and cranny of the human consciousness; and in the rare, supreme moments of spiritual ecstasy, the light of Heaven blinds mind and spirit to all other lights and blots out every other sense and perception.”
- Imām Sultān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Memoirs of the Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)

There are friends of mine, old and new, with whom I share this zest for life, this complete freedom from boredom… No one could be a better companion in joy or sorrow than Charles Grey, for he is another who realizes that friendship and social life are God-given, and that we ought to be thankful for them and accept them with joy and gusto and not with resignation or boredom. Elsa Maxwell, Charles Grey and I share one quality which I sincerely believe to be enviable: we don’t know what boredom is.”
- Imam Sultān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Memoirs of the Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)

The Imam’s statement that he has “never been bored”, of his “complete freedom from boredom”, is a subtle allusion (‘isharah) to the fact that he himself is a spiritually realized knower of God (al-‘ārif bi-Allāh), who is privy to spiritual unveiling (kashf) and a witness to God’s continuous creation of the Universe at all times.  Because creation is continuous, the state of the Cosmos is ever-changing and never identical to its previous state as a result of which one would never experience boredom.

The relationship between the Creator and His creation, far from being like that of a builder and a building or a watchmaker and his watch, is more akin to the relationship between a musician and his music, a speaker and his speech, or a thinker and his thinking. In the latter examples, the creation is dependent upon the Creation at all states of its existence and is never, for a moment, able to exist independently of the Creator. Thus, the Creator’s generation of the Cosmos is always occurring and renewing at all times.

Both Imām Sultān Muḥammad Shāh and Mawlānā Hāḍir Imām have also disclosed the fact that God’s creative act is a continuous, dynamic and perpetual event that occurs at every moment of existence. This is remarkably similar, if not identical, to the doctrine of creation described by Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-‘Arabī.

“There is a fundamental difference between the Jewish idea of creation and that of Islam. The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will.”
- Imām Sultān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III, 
(Memoirs of the Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)

“My interpretation is that Allah’s message and His power is not limited. And in fact that modern science simply allows us to discover more and more of the miracles that He has performed, perhaps continues to perform, and we are blessed with the faculty of intelligence.”
– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV,
 (All India TV and Radio Interview with Rajiv Mehrotra, 1989)

“Islam’s message contains a central theme which is the total power of Allah and therefore my conviction is that the discoveries which the human mind can make are really simply a minute perception of Allah’s creation…The message of Islam with regard to Allah’s power and His creation is essential to our faith. We have everyday evidence of that and we must be thankful.”
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Pakistan and Gulf Economist Interview with Aftab Ahmad Khan, Karachi, Pakistan, 1983)

“[O]ne strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavours, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation.”
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Acceptance of the Charter of AKU, March 16, 1983)

“If the frontiers of physics are changing, it is due to scientists discovering more and more about the Universe, even though they will never be able to probe its totality, since Allah’s creation is limitless and continues.”
- Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Inauguration of the AKU Faculty of Health Sciences, November 11, 1985)

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