Classical Cosmology – An Ismaili Perspective: Sujjawal Ahmad

Sujjawal Ahmad: Ismaili Cosmology - An Introduction

God is a Reality-Beyond Reason and Description:

God is completely different to whatever you imagine; He neither resembles anything nor can imagination [ever] attain Him, for how could imagination ever attain Him while He is totally different to what is bound by reason and [also] different from what can be pictured in imagination? He can be imagined only as an entity beyond reason and beyond [ any] limitation.”                                                 -Imam al-Baqir (Early Shi’i Thought, Arzina R. Lalani, p.94)

Ismaili Muslim philosophers characterize Reality into three divisions. The first division is between God and the rest of creation, Who is an all transcendent Reality. God’s Logos, the Primal Will is the second division that is defined as pre-existent sphere of God’s command and grace. God’s command permeates all creation. The third category is of contingent realities that are dependent on the first cause.

For Ismaili philosophers, the Ultimate Reality or God:

  • is an unknowable absolute, transcends comprehension or description by human reason and rationale.
  • is having a unique Ipseity that cannot be compared to any of the things that exist in the normal, contingent sense.
  • cannot be an object of discursive thought, because our brains cannot deal with Him in the way that they deal with everything else.

God’s Command is an eternal expression of His Will, the ultimate point of origin:

God’s Command, His divine Order (amr) or Word (kalima) – ’Kun’, is seen as His Creative Act, that serves as a link between the transcendent Reality and His creation. The Command is ‘Being-making’ of the first created being of the spiritual cosmos – the Universal Intellect.

This classical explanation explores Universal Intellect as the:

  • One that manifests the “Oneness” of God
  • Perfect both in actuality and potentiality, complete and perfect in itself.
  • Face of God manifesting all attributes of God explained in the theology.
  • Knowledge in essence and all things in their entire multiplicity are contained in its luminous substance in their perfect forms.

Universal intellect emanates Universal Soul. It produces Soul without a will, desire or movement (jumbash) through its extra-temporal act of emanation. The creation of Intellect and that of Soul takes place before the time is created, so both are defined as eternal realities. According to Nasir Khusrau, ”no before and after” can be associated with their creation; and it cannot be said which came earlier or after. This is the reason, Quran mentions about God’s commandment as:

“ And Our commandment is but one (commandment), as the twinkling of an eye”

Chapter (54) sūrat l-qamar (The Moon) 

Temporal Creation on Part of Desire of Universal Soul:

O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul (4:1)

Comprehending its separation from the One, Soul turns to return to its source, to regain its position within Intellect and ultimately within the One.

  • As a result of its desire to become perfect in actuality and its reunion with its source, it creates motion (jumbash), as a result of this motion, time is created. ( ‘motion’ of Soul is not time-bound, so it is also eternal and so is the creation of time)
  • Proceeding to time, Soul creates a subtle material called Prime matter. Prime matter brings forth the realm of nature through creating a mineral kingdom with the help of Four Elements-air, fire, water and earth (four states of matter). Minerals are followed by plants, animals and finally humans.
  • The creative act of the Soul is bound to time and it creates this world in a temporal process (as opposed to the extra-temporal action of Divine command and Intellect.)
  • The ultimate purpose of the creative act of Soul was creation of human beings, and it is through them, Universal Soul attains the perfection.

“The whole world may be likened to a tree and humankind (mardum) is its fruit, nor has anything better than humankind ever come, nor will ever be produced by this tree, and humankind is the supreme species (naw-i -anwa).”

-Sayadina Nasir khusrau,(Zad al-Musafirin, p. 179)

In this scheme of creation, the physical world is created on part of the desire of the Universal Soul to seek perfection, whose own existence is conditioned upon the Universal Intellect, and ultimately on the Universal Command of God. Noteworthy here is that although it cannot be said that God ‘does’ create, still it can also not be said that He ‘does not create. God, in simple words, transcends the description of the attribute of being a Creator, still, His Command is the ultimate source of creation.

Author: Sujjawal Ahmad

Sujjawal is an invited blog author at Ismailimail. He finds it extremely exciting to develop a deep love of cultures around the world. The stories that are about humanity, emotion, that compel us as individuals, connect our hearts and minds are the kinds of stories Sujjawal has always gravitated to, and the kinds he tells. He can be reached at:

One thought

  1. I like this author! He makes a very difficult subject easier to understand. It also happens to be the path I personally choose to follow in the Ismaili Tariqah of Islam. The real and burgeoning authority of this topic in Islam, IMHO, is soon to be Professor Khalil Andani of Harvard University.


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