My thoughts on
“a cosmos full of signs and symbols that evoke the perfection of Allah’s creation and mercy”
— Aga Khan IV
Famous Ismaili blogger Easy Nash joins Ismaili Mail Blog as guest to share his views on above quote by Mawlana Hazar Imam.
I agree with the assertion that signs and processes in the external world are harbingers of the mysteries and realities of the spiritual world. Mowlana Hazar Imam mentioned as much in eloquent language at an Institute of Ismaili Studies convocation in 2003:
“The famous verse of ‘light’ in the Qur’an, the Ayat al-Nur, whose first line is rendered here in the mural behind me, inspires among Muslims a reflection on the sacred, the transcendent. It hints at a cosmos full of signs and symbols that evoke the perfection of Allah’s creation and mercy”.
— Aga Khan IV, 19th October 2003, London, U.K.
Some examples, in my opinion, of “a cosmos full of signs and symbols” include:
- The presence of invisible dark matter and dark energy, which makes up by far most of the matter in the universe and whose physical presence can only be inferred by its gravitational effect on visible matter, which makes up less than 5% of all matter in the universe;
- Particles of matter and their anti-matter counterparts. Each particle of matter in the universe has its own, specific anti-matter partner, which can be situated anywhere in the universe but whose behaviour is intimately connected to its corresponding matter particle. When a matter particle undergoes any change its corresponding, invisible, anti-matter particle responds to this change no matter where it physically is in the universe;
- Quantum mechanics, which does not follow the rules that the macroscopic universe follows, demonstrates a blurring between the worlds of existence and “non-existence” and is forced to use probabilities and not certainties to describe the properties of matter;
- Ubiquitous processes in nature like Photosynthesis and Protein Synthesis, IMHO, reflect deeper truths when one studies them sequentially. In Photosynthesis, green plants capture uv light from the sun, convert it into chemical energy in the form of well-known high-energy molecules, then use this energy to power a reaction where carbon dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere and combined with water to create food or nourishment(carbohydrate or sugar), releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere. The image of taking light from the sun and using it to create nourishment in the form of food can be a symbol of the light(noor) of Imam providing spiritual nourishment for an individual human soul.
- In Protein Synthesis the specific instructions for making a protein in the cell’s interior come from the master DNA molecule in the nucleus, which literally is at the geographical center of that protein’s universe. A protein’s function is totally dependent on its 3-dimensional structure, which in turn is totally dependent on its unique and specific amino acid sequence, which itself is entirely dependent upon coded instructions from the DNA master molecule in the nucleus. In a very real way the master DNA molecule is the celestial essence of that protein. We can see in this ayat(sign) of Protein Synthesis a symbolism speaking to the hierachy of spiritual knowledge and that while there may be beauty in the physical universe, the real story and beauty lies at the level of its Celestial Essence.
I think there are other examples in nature, many of which have been discovered by the rational intellect of man during the 20th century.
Cross-posted from Facebook.
easynash (on Facebook as Easy Nash)
“Each particle of matter in the universe has its own, specific anti-matter partner, which can be situated anywhere in the universe but whose behaviour is intimately connected to its corresponding matter particle. When a matter particle undergoes any change its corresponding, invisible, anti-matter particle responds to this change no matter where it physically is in the universe;”
So – true – but this morning I was pondering “light”, “truth”, “goodness”.
Do you think that every ‘good’ deed we do is somewhere/somehow balanced by a ‘bad’ deed coming into being somewhere else?
I don’t think that one can necessarily match up attributes like good and bad with the two opposite states of fundamental particles of matter. Matter and energy are equivalent as Albert Einstein discovered with his famous equation E=MCsquared. A matter particle and its anti-matter partner can be seen as two sides of the same coin and are intimately connected to each other whether they are close to each other physically or far apart. When a matter and its anti-matter particle partner come together they extinguish each other in a collision that creates a ‘poof’ of energy or light.
I prefer to think of this phenomenon as an allegory that matter(particles) and spirit(energy or light) are not dichotomous:
“The spiritual and material realms are not dichotomous, since in the Ismaili formulation, matter and spirit are united under a higher genus and each realm possesses its own hierarchy. Though they require linguistic and rational categories for definition, they represent elements of a whole, and a true understanding of God must also take account of His creation.”:
In fact in the phenomenon I described above matter and their anti-matter counterparts(in the Quran it says that God created everything in pairs) are constantly flitting back and forth between matter and energy and this is a process that occurs everywhere in the universe, in empty space, inside us, outside us, in the sun, other stars, the planets and the galaxies. It is a ubiquitous and all-encompassing process that is occuring throughout the cosmos all the time.
This is how the electromagnetic force of nature, just to mention one of the 4 forces present in the universe that we have discovered so far, gets transmitted from place to place at the speed of light in the universe. At its most fundamental level it moves along a pathway of these matter/anti-matter particles colliding and extiguishing each other to form energy, then the energy forming back into its matter/anti-matter partners and so on and so forth. Every time you click a mouse to send an e-mail or dial a cell phone number it is the electromagnetic force of nature that transmits this information and propagates it in the way described above.
This allegory from the world of science tells us, then, what we already know from the practice of our religion: the Light of God is everywhere physically and spiritually and, most importantly, that spirit and matter, or din and duniya, are one.
When you say spirt and matter are one, for me, that does not reconcile with the the extract on the main page of this site that characterizes din and dunya as “distinct, but linked”.
There is a difference between one and being linked.
A very astute observation El-Noor; 1) and 2) appear to be different:
1)”Islam is, therefore, both din and dunya, spirit and matter, distinct but linked, neither to be forsaken.”(AKDN website)
2)”This allegory from the world of science tells us, then, what we already know from the practice of our religion: the Light of God is everywhere physically and spiritually and, most importantly, that spirit and matter, or din and duniya, are one.”
My response is that on one level they are distinct but on another level they are one; it’s a subtle distinction:
“The spiritual and material realms are not dichotomous, since in the Ismaili formulation, matter and spirit are united under a higher genus and each realm possesses its own hierarchy”(Azim Nanji, Director, Institute of Ismaili Studies) http://www.iep.utm.edu/i/ismaili.htm
“Muslims believe in an all-encompassing unit of man and nature. To them there is no fundamental division between the spiritual and the material while the whole world, whether it be the earth, sea or air, or the living creatures that inhabit them, is an expression of God’s creation.”(Aga Khan IV, Charlottesville, Virginia, 13 April 1984)
“Islam does not perceive the world as two seperate domains of mind and spirit, science and belief”(Aga Khan IV, McMaster University Convocation, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, May 15th 1987)
“….we find contact, direct and immediate, with the outer universe interpreted as an infinite reality of matter, as a mirror of an eternal spirit, or indeed (as Spinoza later said) an absolute existence of which matter and spirit alike are but two of infinite modes and facets.”(Inaugural Lecture Before the Iran Society by Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, November 9, 1936 London, United Kingdom.)
“Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will”(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954).
“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.”(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954).
“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. Allah 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”(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954)
“‘Tarkib’ is composition as in the compounding of elements in the process of making more complex things, that is, of adding together two things to form a synthesis, a compound. Soul composes in the sense of ‘tarkib’; it is the animating force that combines the physical elements of the natural universe into beings that move and act. Incorporating is an especially apt word in this instance. It means to turn something into a body, as in ‘composing’. But it is actually the conversion of an intellectual object, a thought, into a physical thing. Soul acts by incorporating reason into physical objects, the natural matter of the universe and all the things composed of it”(Abu Yakub Al-Sijistani,10th century Fatimid Ismaili cosmologist, from the book, ‘Abu Yakub Al-Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary’, by Paul Walker).
According to a famous hadith of the Prophet Muhammad:The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect (‘Aql).
In the Noble Quran Sura al-Baqara proclaims: ‘Wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah’.
In the philosophical Ismailism Of Al-Sijistani the Intellect(a spiritual entity) was the only thing to issue, by a process of origination(through the Divine Will), from the Absolutely Transcendent God and everything else(like the material universe) in existence is merely an emanation from Intellect(a spiritual entity). The universe is, therefore, Intellect materialised. I hope this helps to clarify the situation.
Nash, thanks for taking the time to reply. I can understand based on your many references (I really wish we had such an accessible library) how din and dunya can be viewed as part and parcel of the same thing.
Working at a Bait-ul-ilm centre, the view that I took was to inform the students to maintain a balance between the two. The balance or scale becomes the link, if you will. For example, physical exercise and reciting prayers are both needed, but at the same time, for example, one cannot play enough soccer to the point that its value can sufficiently substitute for the value of prayers. And vice versa.
I will have to go back and look at the “one” view from the perspective that you presented. Looking a reference from your reply above, the hadith of the Prophet (pbup), that states that the first and only thing created by God was Aql, then I guess this implies that everything is related to everything else, so the “one” concept has to be inherent – no escaping this!
When it comes to important physical activities like engaging in sports versus saying one’s prayers for the sake of developing an understanding of the truths of religion I agree a balance is needed: that has always been the Shia Ismaili Muslim way, no excess one way or the other.
In viewing the difference between spirit and matter and the ultimate relative importance of the two, this speech excerpt gives us a clear direction on this:
In Islamic belief, knowledge is two-fold. There is that revealed through the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) and that which man discovers by virtue of his own intellect. Nor do these two involve any contradiction, provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers(Aga Khan IV, 16 March 1983, AKU, Karachi, Pakistan).
When it comes to the unity or distinctness between spirit and matter you will notice that some of the quotes in my previous reply infer that spirit and matter, din and duniya, are distinct whereas others clearly say they are one. I think the same principles of Shia Ismaili Islam apply here: the line between spirit and matter, if there is one, is a very fine line indeed.; its called the sirat-al-mustaqim and this fine line has been described as being finer than a hair and sharper than a sword.
I have tweaked this post a bit, done some fine-tuning here and there and added a few of those ever popular quotes and excerpts by Aga Khans IV and III and finally came up with the following finished product, which I placed on my blog on March 1st 2008: