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Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

islam from inside ☰

Shards of Knowledge

Limits and Potentials

Added November 15, 2005

Cosmic Adam, Adam as one who is a microcosm of the universe

Knowledge shapes and defines - it lays some limits and demolishes others - it provides a template, an unfolding genome from which both individual understandings and societal forms emerge. We as individuals have a degree of control over the knowledge[1] we imbibe, but so also does knowledge have a powerful control over us - impacting our consciousness and unconsciousness, affecting us both overtly and subtly. So our knowledge is not a thing apart from our selves but rather a complex ocean of interactions in motion within us - simultaneously defined by us and defining us.

Information enters into us in so many diverse ways - education, friends, culture, media, family, thoughts, anxieties, fears, hopes, aspirations, beliefs - in this way the sum total of what we encounter and of how we process that information leaves its imprint upon us - it mixes within us in ways that are often below the threshold of conscious deliberation.

Information is both internal and external - we receive input from the outside world - through the senses - we take in facts and opinions on myriad issues and process this to form views on the world around us - and we receive input from the internal world, from internal senses and impulses - hunger, thirst, anxiety, fears, hopes, desires, loves, ambitions, thoughts, fantasies, moods - the internal and the external mix and meld to produce a complex interaction which creates an ever shifting world of knowledge within. This in turn affects how we act and react, how we interact with the society and world around us - it shapes and defines our personalities and character.

This is key - the information we take into ourselves, the information that surrounds us and which becomes part of our internal world of knowledge, shapes us - it profoundly impacts what we become. Knowledge, in this sense, is the “familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience - it is the sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned.”

Our knowledge creates the patterns which delineate our actions and reactions - it becomes the filter through which we accept, reject, and judge - it becomes the lens through which we view the world and through which we project our own image upon the world. We are demarcated and circumscribed by it. So the types of knowledge we seek out and imbibe, and the quality of the sources of knowledge is important since, whether we intend it or not, it is our knowledge that shapes us - we are not separate from it. To the extent that we surround and open ourselves to base knowledge, to degraded modes of behavior, actions and interactions, images, and philosophies, we are in danger of becoming complacent towards and comfortable with a diluted and diminished view of the world. A shrunken, inferior reality becomes the acceptable, convenient, desirable norm and the character, form, and substance of society dwindles to fit the deformed contours of an in-capacious, deflated, attenuated humanity.

The knowledge to which we attach ourselves is key.

Since the Prophets received knowledge from elevated sources, so also their character and their personalities were elevated, so that they simultaneously transcended and powerfully impacted the mundane world in which they lived. They brought a deeper/higher knowledge which reshaped, reordered, and guided the worldly knowledges of their time. The source and the types of knowledge one plugs into, the quality and character of the source of that knowledge, and the caliber of the derived, received, and imbibed knowledge has a profound impact on the essence of the individual personality and such an individual can have a profound effect on the world around them.

We are not Prophets and we have no revelation except the Qur'an brought by our Prophet - but this revelation has a profound interior, a penetrating ability to awaken those who are receptive and not averse to what it contains. “We reveal of the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to the believers, but it adds only to the perdition of the unjust.” (Qur'an 17:82) Among the unjust are those who give their mundane knowledge, desires, and ambitions priority, precedence, and dominance over revelatory knowledge, while the believers are said to be those who shepherd and safeguard the value of the mundane through the guidance of the higher knowledges and through using that knowledge as a corrective guide for their own souls. Without this hierarchy of priority, knowledge will fail - even as it conveys worldly benefits it will lower human stature. “Have you then considered him who takes his mundane desire for his god, and Allah has made him err having knowledge and has set a seal upon his ear and his heart and put a covering upon his eye.” (Qur'an 45:23) The sources which we draw upon for our fundamental knowledges are of crucial importance.

When God created Adam[2] He wove into his being knowledge of the names of all things.

“And He taught Adam all the names, then presented them to the angels; then He said: Tell me the names of those if you are right. They said: Glory be to Thee! we have no knowledge but that which Thou hast taught us; surely Thou art the Knowing, the Wise. He said: O Adam! inform them of the names. Then when he had informed them of the names, He said: Did I not say to you that I surely know what is ghaib [hidden] in the heavens and the earth and (that) I know what you manifest and what you hide?” (Qur'an 2:31-33)

God created Adam in a very high station - so elevated that the Angels prostrated before Adam - then he sent man down to a low station “Then We sent him to the lowest of the low” (Qur'an 95:5) The sending down was a veil, a concealment of the potential stature residing within man. Adam's stature derives in part from his knowledge and ability - the angels are asked to name the names but they can't and Adam can. Then they are asked to prostrate before Adam. His superiority was in the realm of the knowledge which was etched within his being, within his makeup. In our time, our potential superiority is in our ability to awaken, even if only to a small extent, that nature which is now cloaked and concealed by a lower, mundane nature. The higher nature never vanished or disappeared - “we created him of a high stature” - it became shrouded and concealed by other lower aspects - “then we reduced him to the lowest of the low.”

Adam contained etched within himself the template of the names - a pure and high form of knowledge and ability. Like a laser-etched holographic image, that knowledge was burned into his nature. Adam's descendants are shards and slivers created from his original image - they are his seed scattered across time and space, across history.

If you break the glass plate on which a holographic image is etched, each resultant piece contains the entire image since a hologram is a way of recording information in such a way that each component of the hologram contains the image of the entire system. Each component has the possibility of reflecting the whole and information about the original image is accessible by studying just a shard or sliver of the original.

Adam's descendants are like those shards and slivers. The Qur'an is a light which, through the illuminating power of its knowledge, can reveal the beauty of the original image concealed within the shards of a fragmented and scattered humanity.



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  • 1 – Related Articles

    Intellect in Islam

    What do we Know

  • 2 – Adam- The Marvel of Creation

    A dua (supplication) for Adam:

    “O God, as for Adam, the marvel of Thy creation, the first made of clay to confess Thy Lordship, the beginning of Thy argument against Thy servants and creatures, the guide to seeking sanctuary in Thy pardon from Thy punishment, the opener of the paths of repentance toward Thee, the giver of the creatures access to knowledge of Thee, the one concerning whom Thou hast conveyed Thy good pleasure through Thy kindness and Thy mercy toward him, the one who turned back and did not persist in disobeying Thee, the forerunner among the self-abasers, who shaved his head in Thy sacred precinct, and among the seekers of access to Thy pardon, through obedience after disobedience, and the father of the prophets, who were made to suffer for Thy sake and who strove more than all the earth's inhabitants in obeying Thee - bless him, Thou - O All-merciful - Thy angels and the inhabitants of Thy heavens and Thy earth, just as he magnified Thy inviolable commands and guided us upon the path of Thy good pleasure, O Most Merciful of the merciful!”

    - (dua from the fourth Imam - from “The Psalms of Islam”" - translated by William Chittick)

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