Sujjawal Ahmad: Ismaili Doctrine of God Beyond Being and Non-being

Sujjawal Ahmad looks at the view of God presented in the Classical Ismaili Philosophy.


Sujjawal Ahmad: Ismaili Doctrine of God Beyond Being and Non-being


The Quran describes God in this way:

“Vision comprehendeth Him not, but He comprehendeth (all) vision. He is the Subtile, the Aware.” (al-Quran, alAnaam; 103)

The aspect of the concept of God in Ismailism that distinguishes it most from others, as we have already seen, is that for Ismaili thinkers, God is an all transcendent Reality which cannot be described with a simile, analogy or definition. God is beyond all ranks, grades and degrees (maratib ) and totally transcends unity and plurality, perfection and imperfection, such that there is no way to tolerate human perception of Him. It is impossible for human mind to grasp the understanding of Him because human mind is able to understand, describe or elaborate only that which has been created or originated by God while He, Himself is totally beyond our comprehension, perception and description. There is neither the way of thought to grasp an understanding of Him nor there is any room for a speaker to speak about Him. He is beyond human description by use of language, as Human speech and speaker are both dependent on what has been created by Him.

“Speech (or reason, Nutq) is powerless, unable to penetrate the true realities and understanding (haqa’iq wa basa’ir) of His ipseity (huwiyyat)”

-Sayyidina Nāsir Khusrāu (Shish fasl, trans. Ivano ,The First Chapter, on the Recognition of the Oneness of God)


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Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

9 thoughts

  1. I like this fellow! I use the same classical Ismaili cosmological doctrines(specifically of the Eastern Persian Neoplatonic variety) as a scaffolding around which I have written a 682-post Blog on the link between Science and Religion in Islam:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always look forward to ISMAILIMAIL putting up your well-researched and well-thought out articles. As a lover of the general subject of Science and specifically the Chemistry of living systems(Biochemistry), around which the practice of the applied science of Medicine has been my lifelong profession, I searched for many years for a way to link my love of science with the religion I was born into and, after reading the very first academic publication put out by the Institute of Ismaili Studies in 1996 “Abu Yakub Al Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary” by Professor Paul Walker of the University of Chicago the solution just fell into my lap! It was then reinforced very much especially by Mowlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee utterances in speeches, interviews and articles. I collected about 100 such sayings by our present Imam, his predecessor Imam, earlier Imams, Fatimid-era cosmologists, especially the two main ones from Eastern Persia(Abu Yakub Al Sijistani and Pir Nasir Khusraw), The Arabic cosmologist Hamiduddin Al Kirmani, Arabic Encyclopedists from Basra The Ikhwan As Safa, The Noble Quran, Our Holy Prophet Muhammad(SAS), Albert Einstein, Greek Philosophers Plotinus and Aristotle, a former Head of the Institute of Ismaili Studies Professor Azim Nanji and even one magnificent quote from our previous Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This post became the pivotal post of my Blog on the link between Science and Religion in Islam and since it became the 400th post of my 682-post Blog I named it Blogpost Four Hundred:
    400)Blogpost Four Hundred, Knowledge, Intellect, Creation, Science and Religion: Comprehensive Quotes of Aga Khan IV and Others; a never-ending post…..

    My entire Blog revolves around this one post. I was also deeply inspired by an excerpt of an article on Ismaili Philosophy by Professor Azim Nanji, Head of the Institute of Ismaili Studies during the 1990s:
    “In sum the process of creation can be said to take place at several levels. Ibda represents the initial level – one transcends history, the other creates it. 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. Such a synthesis is crucial to how the human intellect eventually relates to creation and how it ultimately becomes the instrument for penetrating through history the mystery of the unknowable God implied in the formulation of tawhid.”(Azim Nanji, Director, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, U.K., 1998)
    Enough said!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s really worth reading about your story and your work. Quite an interesting thing is I am also a student of Biochemistry, and as such has strived much to reconcile theology and science. One astonishing aspect of Ismai’ili approach is that it does not keeps us away from intellectual discourse and does not keep us stagnant with our perceptions of Truth. Search for truth never ends, and we are open to unfold chapters and chapters either through scientific discovery or through spiritual progress to the reach the Ultimate Truth of Absolute Reality. 

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      1. Thank you for your compliment Sujjawal. I agree wholeheartedly that the Shia Ismaili Muslim Tariqah is anything but stagnant in its approach to the discovery of new knowledge and this short but sweet Golden Jubilee-era quote made by the current Ismaili Imam in Lisbon, Portugal in 2008 encapsulates it succinctly but comprehensively:

        “In Shia Islam, intellect is a key component of faith. Intellect allows us to understand the creation of God”(Aga Khan IV, July 23rd 2008, Lisbon, Portugal)

        The word intellect in the above quote covers a wide swath of meanings along a continuum ranging from rationally-acquired knowledge(sequential intellect) to supra-rationally-acquired knowledge(instantaneous intellect) right up to the very first and only origination of Universal Intellect by the Command of the One Absolutely Transcendent Originator(Mubdi): this Celestial Command-Intellect then, by a process of emanation, gives rise to all the rest of creation through divine inspiration(“tayyid”), ie, leading to the 3 wellsprings of knowledge Universal Soul, Natiq(Speaking Prophet) and Asas(The Founder), all 3 of which have very specific roles in the Cosmos.
        Speaking about our unique love of Science and particularly Biochemistry, the Chemistry of Living Systems, my only response is: “Great minds think alike!” 🙏😇😀🌼☪️🇨🇦✅🌈👍😜

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am also a chemistry student and found this mail interesting, not only because I was born in an Ismaili family but because I been have looking into details regarding a unified source of knowledge and it, however, converges at some point to a single reality.

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  4. You have made a good observation Arsalan. Both the author of this article and I come from a university background in Biochemistry(The Chemistry of living systems). Among the 19 great ideas of Science Number 15 says:

    “From birth to death, life is entirely dictated by chemical processes. Reproduction is a chemical process and, on the other end, aging and death are processes whereby the chemistry that keeps the cells going breaks down. Every stage in between is similarly dictated by the biochemical processes that take place within our bodies.”

    On the subject of Unity leading to Diversity and vice versa this excerpt gives a good explanation:
    “At the basis of the Muslim religion was the fundamental concept of nature’s unity and the absolute oneness of God.
    The learning of mathematics was therefore linked to the Muslim religion and developing an understanding of the world, which was helped by knowledge of the Qur’an and vice-versa. The objective was to make students capable of formulating and understanding abstractions and master symbols. Moving from concrete to the abstract, from experience to formulation of ideas and images, and from reality to symbolisation; this preparation was considered essential for improving the understanding of the Universe and its Creator.”(Professor Afzal Ahmed, May 2001, Oslo, Norway)

    In our Ismaili Tariqah great emphasis is given to symbolism and metaphor and the Rock Crystal Roof of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa, Canada is a perfect example of a physical metaphor depicting the transition from Unity to Diversity and Diversity back to Unity: when white light hits the rock crystal roof it is refracted much like how a prism seperates light into its component colours of the rainbow(red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). Hence the One Absolutely Transcendent Reality described in the 6th part of our Holy Dua(Sura Ikhlas) produces all the multiplicity of forms that make up our cosmos. The subject of Mathematics describes the relationship between the Unity and the Diversity and vice versa, the folding up of all the multiplicity of forms(Diversity) back into Unity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I came accross an article I thought you both might find interesting Arsalan and Sujjawal: it ties in to the idea of Unity leading to Diversity and Diversity leading back to Unity. Below is a key scientific principle of Quantum Physics and Mechanics which explains the richness and abundance of diversity and multiplicity of forms in the Cosmos. It’s good and satisfying to know how it all works. Tell me both what you think. Nash.

      If you can understand this rule of Quantum Physics,the Pauli Exclusion Principle,you can understand why we have such rich&abundant diversity&multiplicity of forms in the Cosmos from only 100 known elements;from Unity to Diversity&Diversity back to Unity!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nice sharing Nash Velshi,Thanks! The article seems interesting with a 21st century insight. I will get back as I go through the whole thing.

        Liked by 1 person

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