Mullà Sadrà on the First Intellect in Sharh Usul al-Kàfí

Karim D. Crow


The mystical-philosophical commentary by Mullà Sadrà (d.1050/1640) on the first four books of Abu Ja‘far al-Kulayní’s great storehouse of Imami traditions, al-Usul al-kàfí, is a profound example of how the Safavid era thinkers re-appropriated early Shí’í hadíth through the lens of the intervening seven centuries of theological, mystical and philosophical developments within Islam. Here we discuss several hadíths in Kulayní’s opening section kitàb al-aql wa l-jahl[1] which portray God’s creation of the innate human faculty or native talent of ‘intelligence-understanding’ al-’aql (the aqbil! adbir! reports), and examine how Mullà Sadrà understood them to refer to the ‘First Intellect’ (al-Aql al-Awwal) of classical Islamic Neo-Platonism, and as the ‘Muhammedan Reality’ (al-Haqíqat al-Muhammediyyah) or the ‘Muhammedan Spirit’ (al-Ruh al-Muhammedi) of theosophical Sufism. We shall also look to see how Sadrà reconciled his gnostic interpretation with the more obvious theological meaning of these creation-narratives, where ‘aql connoted the inborn human cognitive aptitude of intelligence (gharízat al-aql) distributed by God in varying measures among people.[2]  

Hadíth # 1 (al-‘Aql al-Awwal & al-Ruh al-Muhammedi)

The very first hadíth in Kulayní is reported through . . . the Kufan mawla of Thaqif al-’Ala’ b. Razin, on Mohammed b. Muslim al-Tà’ifi (d.150/767), from Imàm Muhammed al-Bàqir(a):

(Lammà khalaqa llàh al-’aqla) When God had created al-’aql, He interrogated him (istantaqahu). Then God said to him, “Face Forward!” so he drew near; then God said to him, “Turn back!” so he withdrew. Then God said, “By My Power and My Glory! I created no creature more loved by Me than thee, and I did not make thee complete (là akmaltuka) save in one whom I love. Truly, thee alone do I Bid and thee alone do I Forbid, thee alone do I Punish and thee alone do I Reward (iyyàka amiru wa iyyàka anhà, wa iyyàka u’aqibu wa iyyàka uthibu)”.

Strictly speaking, al-Bàqir (a) does not mention any first creation, but only states: at the time when God created the human faculty of innate ‘intelligence-understanding’, He tested this creation by ordering ‘aql to perform two actions indicating its hearing-comprehending-obedience, namely the iqbàl and idbàr of intelligence (facing forward and facing back, or drawing near and withdrawing). It has been argued that God’s statement, “I created no creature more loved by Me than thee (mà khalaqtu khalqan huwa ahabba ilayya min-ka),” indicates that God had already previously created other creatures.[3] [We should note that in all known versions of this famous hadíth, whether in Sunní or Shí’í transmission, this particular report by al-Bàqir(a) is the only one where we find this interesting detail that God sought to test ‘aql by commanding him (istantaqahu). This makes explicit what is implicitly understood in all other versions: the iqbàl and idbàr are a test which ‘aql successfully accomplishes, thereby earning God’s extravagant praise.]

Mullà Sadrà explains what he understands this ‘aql to really be:[4]

This ‘aql is the First of Created-Beings (awwal al-makhluqàt, and the closest of ‘Instaured-Beings’ (aqrab aql-majulàt)[5] to the First Reality (al-Haqq al-Awwal), and the greatest and most perfect of them. It is the second of Existent-Beings (al-mawjudàt with respect to ‘being-ness’ al-mawjudiyyah), even though the first, Exalted be He, has no second in His reality because His Oneness is not something enumerated as a category of units.

Recall that al-Kindí (d. after 256/870) was one of the first Muslim philosophers to employ the terms al-Aql al-Awwal for the primary noetic Intellect, and he equated the ONE (al-Wàhid al-Haqq al-Awwal) who created the First Intellect, with the Qur’anic Deity. Mullà Sadrà then proceeds to quote a number of Prophetic ahadíth (min qawlihi fi riwàyatin) about God’s First creation, all of them having the same format “awwalu mà khalaqa llàhu” and identifying each one of them with this transcendent ‘aql : “The First that God created is ‘intellect’ (al-aql),[6] = . . . Ruhí (My Spirit) [the Spirit of Muhammed], = . . . al-Qalam (The Pen), = . . . Malak Karubí (A Cherub-Angel). Thus, the First Intellect and the Muhammedan Spirit and the Pen and the Cherub-Angel are all differing descriptions for the same Being in its Self-essence and its Being (wa l-musammi wàhid dhàtan wa wujudan).

This essence (màhiyyah) is depicted as:

an Essential-Substance (jawhar) independent of Bodies in every respect, not existent in the manner of contingent-Accidents, nor acting and freely disposing in the manner of Souls-Psyches, nor as particularity and mixture as Matter and Form (jawharun là taalluqun là-hu bi-l-ajsàm bi-wajhin la wujudàn ka-l-a’rad wa la fi’lan wa tasarrufan ka-l-nufus wa la bi-l-juz’iyyah wa l-imtizàj ka-l-màddah wa l-surah).

Intellect (‘Aql) is the first and highest division among the Essential-Substantive Instaured-Beings (al-majulàt al-jawhariyyah), since it is not in need of anything but God. By this he means that the intellective mode of being is the highest and most real, conforming to an essentially Plotinian insight. The remaining two Substantive Instaured-Beings are Soul or Psyche (al-Nafs) which in its source of being needs only God, but for the completion of its being needs other than God; and finally the least degree of Being is Body (al-Jism) or its parts, which both in its source of being and its completion is in need of other than God (p.216). In Mullà Sadrà’s emanationist world view, the idea of the scale of gradations is the key to modes of Being (tashkík al-wujud), where the realm of Being embraces three levels: the physical (tabíah), the psychic (nafs), and the intellective-pneumatic (‘aql & ruh); corresponding to the three worlds: this world (dunyawí), the intermediary world (barzakh), and the Hereafter (àkhira). The scale of Being requires that as one penetrates deeper into understanding one realizes a correspondingly higher spiritual state.

Then Mullà Sadrà describes the Being and Reality (al-wujud wa l-haqíqah) from which creation proceeds (yafidu),[7] specifying that this First Intellect, as the most glorious of possible Existents and the noblest of Instaured-Beings, is the ‘Primary Issuance’ (awwal al-sawàdir) being the nearest to God and the most loved by Him. For this reason God says, “I created no creature more loved by Me than thee.” This Being is the same Great Spirit mentioned in the Qur’an in connection with the divine Bidding or Amr : “Say, al-Ruh has been [created] by the Command /Amr of my Lord” (al-Isra’ 17:85) and “Verily, His is the creation and the Command” (al-Aràf 7:54). This great determining Ruh is also denominated by The Pen as “a Being pure of the darkness of corporeality;” as well as by Light as “Being while darkness is non-being”. Thus, the Ruh is “the source of the life of the celestial and terrestrial souls,” and is named by the Sufi theosophers as the “Muhammedan Reality (al-Haqíqat al-Muhammediyyah)” reflecting the perfection of the Prophet’s being. Sadrà points out that this very same Reality is also described in the hadíths of the Shí‘í Imams, as he demonstrates in a number of other places in his commentary.[8] Sadrà himself often prefers to name this Reality, which is identical with the First ‘Aql, as the “Muhammedan Spirit (al-Ruh al-Muhammedi)”.

Mullà Sadrà’s equation of al-Aql al-Awwal with the Ruh of Muhammed leads him to interpret the iqbal and idbar of al-aql in this hadíth as referring to the condition of the Prophet’s Spirit (hàlu ruhihí ). God’s ordering ‘aql to ‘turn forward!’ means: “Turn toward this world and go down to the earth as a mercy for the universe (aqbil ila l-dunyà wa uhbut ilà l-ard rahmatan li-l-àlamín!)” The Muhammedan Light, being the First in both creation and Being (al-awwalu bi-l-khalq wa l-wujud), is the seed for the tree of the universe (badhru shajarati l-àlam). And God’s ordering ‘aql to ‘turn back!’ means: “Return to your Lord! — so he turned back from this world and returned to his Lord the night of Mohammed’s ascension (through the seven heavens / laylat al-miràj), and upon departing from the abode of this world (at death)” (p.217-8).

Concerning this same hadíth of Imàm al-Bàqir(a), Mullà Sadrà has some interesting things to say on Love (mahabbah), regarding the attraction of Love in the universe and of God’s unreserved love for the Muhammedan Spirit, in terms of differing levels of Being with accompanying degrees of perception of unadulterated good (khayr mahd) and delighted rejoicing, consonant with the degree of yearning-love (shawq).[9] God’s love for His creatures refers back to and arises out of God’s love for His ‘Self (mahabbatu llahi li-’ibàdihi raji’atun ilà mahabbatihi li-dhàtihi). The levels of perception and delight decrease from : The First Reality (God) (al-Haqq al-Awwal) à the Intellective Essential-Substances (al-jawahir al-aqliyyah) & the Light Spirits & the Sanctified Angles à the Heavenly Angels or Souls yearning for the Reality à the spiritual Human Souls or al-Muqarrabun (whose yearning in the Hereafter is like that of the Near Angels).

Finally, Mullà Sadrà interprets the pairs of contrasting functions awarded by God to ‘aql at the end of al-Bàqir’s hadíth: “íyyàka[10] . . .on thy account do I Bid and on thy account do I Forbid, by means of thee I Punish and by means of thee I Reward”. Suddenly we are brought down from the lofty heights of the transcendental Essential-Substance (jawhar) of the First Intellect, into the more mundane sphere of Reward and Punishment.[11] There is no alternative, if one seeks to make sense of this creation narrative, which speaks about human responsibility for deeds and merit for obedience or demerit for disobedience. Let us not forget that the original context of these ‘aql creation narratives (lammà khalaqa llahu l-’aqla . . .) involved early Muslim debates over qadar, as we have shown in detail elsewhere. This widespread early theological feature of ‘aql explains why ‘aql always entered into discussions of ‘moral obligation’(taklíf) in both the legal and theological fields, as well as why the notions of intelligence ‘aql and of ‘cognition-acknowledgement’ marifah (in the sense of basic creedal theology or confession of faith) were normally brought together. In the words of Mullà Sadrà,[12]

the true-nature of ‘aql is the essential prerequisite of moral obligation (malak al-taklíf), and of (divine) bidding and forbidding and reward and punishment, except that this true-nature possesses stages and degrees (maqàmàt wa darajàt) . . .

Thus, ‘Reward’ signifies the utmost limit of ‘aql’s perfection and his closeness to God, while ‘Punishment’ signifies the extent of his distance from God. “So ‘aql’s being morally-responsible and bidden and forbidden expresses his falling within the abode of taklíf, while his being rewarded expresses his being in the Hereafter in one of the degrees of Paradise” (p.219).

Mullà Sadrà was well aware of other forms of this famous ‘aql creation narrative (see below #26), and before he discussed al-Bàqir’s phrasing, he quotes another (Sunni)[13] version: “by means of thee am I known, and by means of thee do I receive, and by means of thee do I bestow, and by means of thee do I reward  (bi-ka u’rafu wa bi-ka akhudhu wa bi-ka u’ti wa bi-ka uthibu).” The wording in this version permits Sadrà to interpret “thee” in line with his identification of ‘aql with the Muhammedan Reality (fa-hadha kulluhu halu l-nabi, S).

Hadíth # 32 (taklíf )

We treat this hadíth out of order here because it sheds light on the first one. This report is part of a response given by the eighth Imàm ‘Alí al-Ridà(a) to Abu Ghalib al-Hasan b. al-Jahm al-Zurari dealing with those of the Shí’ah who do not qualify as among the ahl al-dín since they do not possess sufficient ‘aql.[14] Here Mullà Sadrà correctly emphasizes the centrality of human ‘intelligence–reason’ for the operation of ‘moral obligation’, and he falls into the style of (kalàm) discourse:[15]

The pivot of taklíf and of God’s address to (humans) by commanding and forbidding, revolves around al-aql.  Likewise with reward and punishment (al-thawàb wa l-iqàb), for both are the consequence of deeds performed by those possessed of intelligence-understanding dhaw al-uqul, to the exclusion of the ignorant-fools al-aghbiya’. There is no taklíf imposed upon (fools) from the part of God, given that there is no ‘decisive proof’ hujjah between God the Exalted and them. . . .

 If you say: “Whenever ‘aql is present then one is obedient to God, subject to God’s bidding and forbidding; and whenever it is lacking then one is not morally responsible; so (in the latter case) what about punishment?”

 I say: You already know that al-’aql possesses differing degrees of surpassingness dhu darajàt mutafadilah, and the completed and perfect degree is the First of Originated Beings awwal al-mubdaàt and the most eminent of Instaured-Beings akram al-majulàt. (One who possesses this degree) is the obedient servant and enjoys the most glorious possible (condition); there is only obedience and servitude to God the Exalted without rebellious pollution nor disobedience. As for the intellects beneath it – namely those descending and freely administering the human bodies – on account of the pollution of composition within (bodies) and conjunction with the calls of the physical senses and animal forces of appetitive-passion and anger and so forth, then obedience and disobedience and ‘saving-assistance’ and ‘divine-forsaking’ al-tawfíq wa l-khidhlan are conceived in (these intellects) in accordance with the intensification or diminution of the aptitude of al-aql and the light of perception (nur al-basírah).

 Therefore, punishment (al-iqab) is the consequence of the commission of an evil-deed or negligence of God’s side on the part of one who possesses within himself the faculty of an intellective ability (muknah quwwatin ‘aqliyyah) by means of which he may ascend to the Realm of Dominion (‘àlam al-malakut), yet nevertheless suspends (this faculty) from what was created for his benefit. As for one who does not possess ‘aql, then he does not have the propensity to escape from the world of darkness and evils, nor the desire to ascend to the world of light; and “God burdens not any soul beyond its capacity” [al-Baqarah :286].

This touches on an important feature of Imami doctrine concerning taklíf, as derived from hadíths of the Imams. Al-Sàdiq(a) quotes the Prophet(s) as saying, “Examine the goodliness of the person’s intelligence, for God shall recompense in accordance with his intelligence;”[16] and al-Sàdiq(a) narrates that God said, “. . . I shall reward him according to the measure of his intelligence uthibuhu ‘ala qadri ‘aqlihi.”[17] Al-Bàqir(a) also states, “God shall bring charges when judging against the servants on the Day of Resurrection in proportion to the measure of what He gave them of ‘intelligence’ in this world”.[18] Mullà Sadrà comments on al-Bàqir’s statement (pp.237-8):

The intellects of human individuals are dissimilar in power or feebleness respecting the source of the Essential-Substance mutafawatah fi asli l-jawhar quwwatan wa du’fan; likewise their acquired intellects ‘uquluhum al-muktasibah surpass one another in completion and diminution mutafadilah kamalan wa naqsan. You also know that (individual) moral-obligations al-takalíf actually occur commensurate with the intellects, thus the stronger in intellect is more burdened in taklíf than the weaker in intellect. Therefore, people of innate-sagacity (ahl al-fatanah) and powerful intellect shall be charged in judgement on Resurrection Day by what people of weaker and deficient intellect are not charged with.

This has to do with the taklíf of the mu’min in Imami theology, those who are mukallafun bi-haqiqati l-Imàn,[19] which Mullà Sadrà terms “the heart moral-obligations (al-takalíf al-qalbiyyah)” occuring in accordance with the power or the weakness of one’s ‘aql, such that “reward and punishment are in accordance with the ‘scope–measure’ (miqdàr) of what the servant is given (by God) of ‘aql” (p.235). Thus, “the varying levels of surpassing-merit fadl in reward or recompense, occur in accordance with the higher degrees of the intellects in eminence and splend(‘alà hasabi darajàti l-uqul fi l-sharaf wa l-bahà’)” (p.242). In other words: the greater share of ‘aql with which one is endowed by God, then the greater is the punishment, and the greater is the reward. This ancient Islamic teaching was central to the operation of God’s hujjah ‘decisive argument’ against humans.

 Hadíth # 14 (junud al-aql wa'l-jahl)

This famous hadíth from Ja‘far al-Sàdiq (a) was also linked with the teachings of his son Imàm Musà al-Kàzim(a).[20] By the early Safavid period it was being read in terms of a primordial cosmological creation of two opposed spiritual principles symbolized by the dualism of (‘aql and jahl) intellect and ignorance.[21] Mullà Sadrà devotes considerable space to the listing of seventy-five pairs of troops jund or ‘powers’ functioning as the human qualities of inner purgative struggle.[22] The key sentence is the statement by al-Sàdiq(a): “God created al-aql and it is the First Creature (awwalu khalqin) God created among the ‘spiritual – immaterial beings’ (min al-ruhàniyyin) on the right side of the Throne from His light.” Mullà Sadrà comments as follows:[23]

“inna llàha khalaqa l-‘aqla” – that is, He originated it without an intermediary. Thus, it is in reality the (sole) Originated-Being (al-mubda‘) before others among the possible existents, because they (are brought into being) by means of (‘aql’s) mediation, in accordance with al-Sàdiq’s statement: “wa huwa awwalu khalqin khalaqahu min al-ruhàniyyin / and it is the first creature He created among the spiritual-immaterial beings” – They are the luminous Essential-Substances (al-jawàhir al-nuràniyyah) whose Being is not conditioned by bodies, for if their activity and movement are conditioned by bodies then they would be of psychic being nafsàníyyat al-wujud, otherwise they are intellective ‘aqliyyah (in being).

      All the intellectual lights (al-anwàr al-aqlíyyah) are one reality, with no dissimilarity between them in ‘essence’ [màhiyyah / quiddity] and in their ‘contingent accidents’ ‘awàridiha, but rather in accordance with strength or weakness and completeness or deficiency in the original source of luminosity and being; and the demonstration of this is mentioned in our writings.

‘an yamín al-arsh on the right side of the Throne” — (meaning) the ‘near-relation’ al-jar, either attached to a First Creation, if what is meant by al-ruhàníyyín is taken in the general sense; or attached to the ruhàníyyín if what is meant is the more specific sense. Thus (the ruhàníyyun) were at that time with the First Intellect al-Aql al-Awwal on the right side of the Throne. . .

      [pp.400-403: ‘right hand’ connotes ‘the mediator or means between the agent and his act’, thus ‘aql (as yad Allah) is the intermediary between God and His act; and ‘Throne’ expresses God’s Mercy al-Rahmah which is an intermediate jawhar between the world of ‘Aql and the world of change comprising souls and bodies].

(p.403) “(min nurihi) from His Light” — that is, God created al-aql as a creature from the Light of His ‘Self’ which is His Self Itself (min nuri dhàtihí lladhí huwa ‘ayn dhàtihí);[24] therefore (Light) is an adjective for the accusative object connected to the verb [i.e., khalaqa-hu]. Yet it is conceivable that (Light) is connected to the genitive object (of the preposition [min al-ruhàniyyin]), for all the ‘spiritual-immaterial beings’ are created from the Light of His ‘Self’ (min nuri dhàtihí).[25]

 [pp.403-404: he treats the idbàr and iqbàl of ‘aql in terms of its descent( nuzul or hubut) into material creation and its corresponding ascent (suud or return ruju‘) back to its origin; see our summary below.] . . .

(p.404) “I created thee as a sublime creature (khalqan ‘azíman), and I esteem thee above all My creation!” – . . . The ‘aql here is not a mere accidental knowing Form mujarrad surah ‘ilmiyyah in conformity with the material world, as is the case with occurring knowledges and ignorances – I mean the acquired sciences inscribed within the souls and their deprivation; rather the aforementioned ‘Aql and Jahl in this hadíth are members of Self-essential Being al-wujud al-ayní: one of them pure intellection ‘aqli sirf, the other pure imaginal psyche nafsàní wahmí mahz. . . .

(p.405) Likewise al-aql is the Intellective Form al-surah al-aqliyyah which if (the Form) was actualized by other than itself, then the other would be intelligizing ‘aqilah by means of it; while if (the Form) was not actualized by other than itself, but was self existent qà’imah bi-dhatiha, then (the Form) would be both intelligible ma’qulah by means of itself and intelligizing ‘aqilah by means of itself. The Simple Intellect al-’aql al-basít whose existence is by this mode of Being, comprises all the intelligibles al-maqulàt.

 [In polar opposition, Jahl is also a jawhar Essential-Substance, created out of the dark knowledge of the ‘salt sea’ as “al-màddah al-ulà al-jismàní primordial psychic matter,” (p.406), but is of Psychic Form surah nafsàniyyah not corresponding to knowledge and wisdom nor to the material world.]

  Mullà Sadrà’s ta’wíl of the idbar and the iqbal of both ‘Aql and of Jahl springs out of his teaching on the Gradations of Being (tashkík al-wujud) in the cosmos, and the movements from the origin down or out into manifested existence, then up or back to the source (see also hadíth #26 below). One tends to compare his ideas on these movements with those of Ibn al-’Arabí. Seizing upon the important detail of al-Sàdiq(a) placing the motion of idbàr first (unlike almost all the rest of the Aqbil! narratives whether Shí’í or Sunní), Sadrà views this ‘turning away’ positively in terms of ‘Aql’s turning toward the creations which proceed from himself, or through ‘aql’s mediation proceed from God –namely the Forms and Bodies and their physical matters.[26] ‘Aql’s motion ‘out’ away from its source (the Realm of Lordship al-àlam al-rububíyyah) and down (nuzul) into the progressive levels of decreasing Being (khalq al-akwàn), is accomplished at God’s “affirming ontological bidding (amran ijabiyyan takwíniyyan)”. [Likewise, the idbar of Jahl is interpreted as God’s ontological bidding, amarahu amra l-takwín; pp.407-408.] The effect is that ‘Aql distributes Being to lower levels of creation (tarashshaha bi-fadli wujudihi l-fa’id bi-quwwati llahi ta’ala ‘ala wujudi ma dunahu; p.403). So in its descent, this immaterial Light substance of the First Intellect becomes Psyche (Nafs), then Physical Nature (Tab’), then Form Surah and finally Body (Jism). In this manner one may comprehend the ultimate connection between the celestial Light source of Intellect and the inborn character trait within the human constitution (as a malakah or gharízah).

On the other hand, the (iqbàl) ‘turning toward’ of ‘Aql represents his drawing near to God after having descended into “the place of physical constitution and bodily deficiencies and the sources of darkness and evils,” and marks his step by step ascent (su’ud) back up the higher levels: from Body it becomes Form, which in turn becomes Natural-Constitution (Tab‘í), followed by Psyche; and then passes through seven stages of ‘Aql: intellect of primordial-matter ‘aql hayulàní à first intellect (‘aql awwal) [i.e., al-aql al-juz’í] à innate natural intellect (‘aql bi-l-malakah) à subordinate psychic intellect (‘aql munfail nafsàní) à acquired intellect (‘aql mustafàd) [acquired from the First Intellect] à actual intellect (‘aql bi-l-fil) [i.e., al-aql al-tafsílí] à and ultimately the Active Intellect (‘aql faàl) [i.e., al-aql al-basít] (p.404).[27] In other words, ‘aql as a malakah or innate human cognitive faculty distinguishing humans from animals, stands above Body and Psyche in the external creation, and is the main point of contact with the higher gradations of intellect linked to the First Creation. Both the individual human faculty and the Universal Intellect are created from light. Sadrà summarizes:

. . .b> (pp.405-406) Since al-aql was created from Light, then it is either that which is God’s First Creation in the beginning: (created) from the Light which is His Exalted ‘Self’ Itself (‘ayn dhàtihí taàla), and is His knowledge of His ‘Self’ Itself (‘ayn ‘ilmihí bi-dhàtihí) which is the knowledge of the totality of known things from a more sublime and elevated aspect. Or either it is the ‘aql which is the last of existing things at the end: (created) from the successive layers of Lights (al-anwàr al-mutaràdifah) and recurring intellections al-taaqqulàt al-mutakarrirah, until it becomes a ‘natural character trait’ malakah, then a simple self-subsistent substantive Form surah jawharíyyah basítah qà’imah. So in both cases, al-aql was created from Knowledge[28] and the Water of Life unpolluted by the muddiness of the body or the darkness of primordial matter, and the obscurity of non-being or the mixture of evil and defective-bane (in one’s natural constitution).

For Mullà Sadrà, the First Intellect, as the Universal Intellect (al-Aql al-Kullí) or highest grade of Being, is the same (al-Aql al-Faàl) Active Intellect of the philosophers, and belongs to the incorporeal Realm of Omnipotence (al-’àlam al-jabarut). Sadrà critiques the attempts by some Falàsifah to explain the connection between a plurality of intellects (i.e., the Aristotelian scheme adopted by al-Fàràbí & Ibn Sínà), and he argues that this plurality consists in reality of levels of un-compounded Being differing only in intensity of luminosity (maràtib wujudiyyah basítah mutafàwitah bi-l-ashaddi wa l-anwàr fa-l-anwàr) and in proximity to the source of light (i.e., the First Intellect; p.228). This primordial Light Intellect is pure Being connected only to its Originator (God), and having no connection to place (unlike a contingent-accident), nor to matter (unlike form), nor to body (unlike psyche); pp.226–7. It is identical with God’s creative Amr and His Word (Kàlimah). Mullà Sadrà emphasizes that whatever meaning one understands by the term ‘aql, all of them invariably share one fundamental notion: ‘aql is incorporeal (kawnuhu ghayr jismin wa la sifah li-l-jism wa la jismàní bi-mà huwa jismàní; p.229).

Hadíth # 26 (al-aql al-juz’í)

This report has the same higher links in its isnàd as the very first hadíth (. . . Muhammed b. Muslim < Abu Jafar al-Bàqir(a)),[29] with a slightly shorter text concluding with a similar list of functions for ‘aql: “. . . I created no creature better than thee (ahsana min-ka); íyyàka . . . thee alone do I Bid and thee alone do I Forbid, thee alone do I Reward and thee alone do I Punish”. Mullà Sadrà makes some observations about other riwàyat for this creation narrative:[30]

 This hadíth also occurs narrated from the Prophet (s) with differing wording in both Sunni and Imami transmission, and the Imami has five separate transmissions in this class with varying wording and isnàds,[31] three of them through al-’Ala’ b. Razin < Muhammed b. Muslim < Abu Jafar (a). However, the version which is transmitted as the first hadíth on Abu Jafar, as well as the one transmitted on Abu ‘Abdullàh [al-Sàdiq(a); above #14], contain additions to the remaining versions [i.e., #26 & #32], especially the one comprising the troops of ‘aql and jahl.

   But it occurs to me here, in terms of ‘symbolic interpretation’ fi l-ta’wíl, that it is conceivable what is meant by “al-’aql” is the particular intellect (al-aql al-juz’í) which is within the human, since it also is the ‘first’ thing God created in him in relation to the rest of his faculties and limbs (quwahu wa a’dahu). I am not saying that its origination in the human innate-constitution (khilqat al-insàn) is prior in time to the existence of the rest of the faculties and limbs which are gradated in origination and consecutive in being.

 Rather: all the faculties and limbs present in the individual upon completion of his innate-constitution – which takes place by means of the ‘overflow’ of the Intelligizing Rational Psyche bi-fayadani l-nafs al-nàtiqah al-àqilah – are in need of the essential-substance of the Rational Psyche for their existence and stability. These faculties which the Psyche employs in actuality, are in number other than those faculties present in the bodily matter prior in time to the existence of the Psyche. Those latter faculties are merely ‘equipment’ mu’addad for these former faculties, and do not remain after the overflow of the Rational Psyche because (the Psyche) is their caretaker and starting-point, their effective-maker and their utmost degree, God willing; while the faculties (employed by the Rational Psyche in actuality) are its subsidiary branches, its servants, and its troops.

 There is no doubt that the human Intellective Essential-Substance (al-jawhar al-’aqlí), on account of its being part of the [corporeal] Realm of Dominion (‘àlam al-malakut), is the best innate-constitution and the noblest in being than the rest of his faculties as well as the totality of worldly existents.

Mullà Sadrà now gives an explanation for the motions of iqbàl & idbar confirming the identity of ‘aql with the Rational Psyche: the iqbàl is the Rational Psyche’s turning towards God and proximity to God by means of attaining knowledge and certainty (al-marifah wa l-yaqín), its elevation toward the Sacred Realm al-àlam al-quds, and purification from worldly desires. This is “a motion of the creature toward the Real (harakatun min al-khalq ila l-haqq)” which is the condition of some of God’s Friends in perfecting their essence-self. However, the perfect saint (al-walí al-kàmil) does not remain immersed in such absorption, but has a complementary motion descending back towards the world of his fellow creatures to assist their perfection and salvation. Sadrà observes, “The Perfect Man (al-Insàn al-Kàmil) possesses two motions with regard to al-aql: one is an ascending drawing-near (iqbaliyyah suudiyyah) in order to perfect his essence-self, the second is a descending withdrawal (idbariyyah nuzuliyyah) in order to perfect others.”[32]

‘Aql as gharízah and as jawhar

The Intellective Essential-Substance (al-jawhar al-aqlí) belongs to the infra-celestial Realm of ‘àlam al-malakut, while the Universal Intellect (al-Aql al-Kullí) or the First Intellect always in actuality belongs to the supernal Realm of ‘àlam al-jabarut. When interpreting the Imàms’ hadíths on ‘aql, Mullà Sadrà discusses the relation between these two realms and the consequences for intellect as modes of illuminative cognition, seeking to better explain in what manner they connect. He has recourse to two pairs of dichotomies within each realm. 1) For al-jawhar al-aqlí he distinguishes between two faculties or aptitudes, a speculative faculty (quwwah nazaríyyah), and a practical faculty (quwwah ‘amalíyyah).[33] 2) And for the highest stage of ‘Aql in actuality (al-Aql al-Kullí), there is the uppermost level of Simple Intellect (al-Aql al-basít) (also termed the Comprehensive Intellect al-aql al-ijmàlí, and al-aql al-qur’ani);[34] followed by the Detailed Intellect (al-Aql al-tafsílí) (also termed the Psychic Intellect al-aql al-nafsàní, and al-aql al-furqàní).[35] We cannot discuss these two pairs in any detail, only mentioning them in relation to how Mullà Sadrà bridges the gap between the First Intellect and the individual innate intellective faculty. The former pair of faculties (speculative and practical) represents the domain of creedal theology, ethics, and the Sharí’ah; while the latter pair represents the domain of psychology and gnosis. The speculative faculty of al-jawhar al-aqlí appears to overlap or converge with the Detailed Intellect al-Aql al-tafsílí (or al-’aql al-nafsàní), marking a merging of religion & ethics with gnosis & psychology.

Commenting on hadíth #9, the Prophet’s statement: “. . . God shall recompense in accordance with a person’s intelligence,” Mullà Sadrà identifies al-aql here to be:[36]

. . . the natural human disposition (al-gharízat al-insàniyyah) by which the human being is distinguished from beasts. It is dissimilar within individual persons commensurate with the original primordial-nature (al-fitrat al-ulà’). Similarly people surpass one another yatafadalu in their acquired intellects fi ‘uqulihimi l-muktasibah commensurate with the completion of each of the previously mentioned ‘aqls in psychology ‘ilm al-nafs and in ethics ‘ilm al-akhlàq.[37] Such perfection is only an intensification within the source of the prime-natured Essential-Substance (ishtidàd fi asli l-jawhari l-fitrí).

 The more powerful and more luminous that the Essential-Substance of the Psyche (jawhar al-nafs) is at the very beginning of primordial-nature (fi awwali l-fitrah), then the more intense and more evident is the efficacy within it of the knowledges and of acts-of-obedience; and the more sublime and elevated is its perfection of the secondary ‘aql with regard to one of the two faculties, the theoretical or practical (al-nazariyyah aw al-amaliyyah), and the more joined to the Greatest Universal Intellect and the nearer to the First Reality, Exalted be He. So it is apparent that, with respect to completion or deficiency and eminence or baseness, individual humans vary tremendously in accordance with the (variations of their) intellective essence (al-huwíyyatu l-aqliyyah) . . . [Sadrà now quotes verses of Imàm ‘Alí(a), and four Prophetic hadíths confirming this variation.[38]] It seems that the term al-aql was originally used for that natural human disposition gharízah, then the term became employed to connote the perfected innate-disposition achieved in some individuals. . . .

Furthermore, the ‘speculative’ theoretical faculty (nazarí, ‘ilmí) and the ‘practical’ faculty (‘amalí) both function as powers of the human soul in that they are aptitudes of al-jawhar al-’aqlí, and both are necessary for perfecting this jawhar. The perfection of one’s individual ‘aql consists in bringing to completion both the thinking and speculative ability (fikr & nazar), as well as the ability of performing righteous deeds al-amal al-sàlih, adhering to morally obligatory acts, and shunning forbidden acts.[39]

It is the master idea of Gradations in Being (tashkík al-wujud) complemented by his important insight concerning the degrees of dissimilarity and surpassingness (tafàwut & tafadul) as variations in intensity of luminosity or cognition, which enable Mullà Sadrà to make a meaningful connection between the Universal Intellect as transcendent First Creation, and the particular intellect of the individual Intellective Essential-Substance al-jawhar al-aqlí. This same insight facilitates his success in interpreting the early Imami ‘aql creation narratives through the lens of his philosophical psychology (‘ilm al-nafs) and his religious ethics (‘ilm al-akhlàq). This marriage of spiritual psychology and ethics was a distinguishing feature of Shí’í ‘spiritual–theosophy’ (Irfàn). The emphasis on the dissimilarity and surpassingness of innate endowment of ‘aql had been a distinctive feature of archaic Muslim notions of intelligence.[40] It was discussed by the 3rd/9th century Central Asian master al-Hakím al-Tirmidhí in terms of degrees of spiritual cognition subsiding into their source, termed al-Aql al-Akbar. Mullà Sadrà found confirmation for this insight in his own thinking concerning variations in intensity or luminosity of ‘aql, from these hadíths of the Imams of the Prophet’s Family (‘alayhim al-salam).


[1]. Muhammed b. Ya‘qub al-Kulayní, al-Usul al-kàfí, ed. ‘Ali Akbar al-Ghaffari (3rd ed., Tehran: Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, 1388), vol. I pp.10-29, reports #1, #14, #26, #32. Sadr al-Dín Muhammed b. Ibràhím al-Shíràzí, Sharh Usul al-kàfí, ed. Muhammed Khajawi (Tehran: Mu’assasat-i Mutali‘at u Tahqiqat-i Farhangi, 1366-1367 shamsi), vol. I, kitab al-‘Aql wa l-jahl pp.213-594, especially pp. 214-219 #1, 400-411 #14, 573-6 #26, 587-590 #32; and c.f., also pp. 222-229 (on various meanings for ‘aql), 249-251, 437, 592.

[2]. For a discussion of the early development of the notion of innate ‘aql as created and apportioned by God, see our study ‘When God Created Wisdom: Early ‘Aql Creation Narratives in Islam (Leiden: E.J. Brill, forthcoming); this is an expanded form of our doctoral dissertation at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Montreal (1996): “The Role of ‘Aql in Early Islamic Wisdom, with Reference to Imam Ja‘far al-Sàdiq(a).” For an overview of various dimensions of the ‘aql notion, see the discussions by ‘Ali al-‘Abidi al-Shahrudi in his Introduction to Khajawi’s edition of Sharh Usul al-kàfí, vol. I, on pp. 20-74; and the overview in al-Tahanawi, Kashshàf istilàhàt al-funun (Calcutta: 1862) pp.1027-36; as well as our forthcoming paper, “Modes of Cognition in Early Islamic Tradition”.

[3]. This point was made already by the Hanbalí polemicist Ibn Taymiyyah in his critique of these creation narratives; see e.g., his Risàlah al-sab‘iniyyah = Bughyat al-murtad fi l-radd ‘ala l-mutafalsifah wa l-qaramitah, ed. Musa b. Sulayman al-Duwaysh (Riyad, or Kuwait?: 1988) pp.171ff. & 243ff.

[4]. Sharh, I, 216.

[5]. Ja‘ala as a divine creative act is understood by Mullà Sadrà as creating out of previously existing Being or an act of ‘instauration’, rather than creating from nothing. To render al-maj‘ulàt by ‘caused’ is incorrect. In his al-Asfàr he discriminates between al-ja‘l al-basít and al-ja‘l al-murakkab. I am grateful to Ibrahim Kalin for help with certain terminological aspects.

[6]. In early Islamic tradition, whether Sunni or Shí‘í, this “awwalu ma khalaqa” form of the Aqbil! Adbir! creation narrative does not occur before the late 3rd or early 4th century AH. The earliest Sunni riwàyah is ascribed to: ... al-Humaydi (d.219/834) < ... ‘A’ishah < the Prophet(s); see Abu Nu‘aym al-Isfahàní (d.430/1038-9), Hilyat al-awliyà’ (Cairo: 1938; rpr. Beirut, 1967), VII, 318. The earliest unequivocal Imami riwàyah is found in a wasíyyah of the Prophet(s) to ‘Alí(a), with a very doubtful isnàd, recorded by al-Shaykh al-Saduq Ibn Babawayh al-Qummí (d.381/991-2), Man là yahduruhu l-faqíh (Najaf: 1957), IV, 267 (in the final report); & idem, Kitàb al-mawà‘iz (Beirut: 1992), 16-36, on p.31; c.f., also Abu Nasr al-Hasan b. al-Fadl al-Tabrisí (6th/12th century), Makàrim al-akhlàq (Tehran: 1376), p.516. Further details in ‘When God Created Wisdom’ chap. 3.

[7]. Sharh, I, 217.

[8]. See e.g., Sharh, vol. II, k. fadl al-‘ilm, p.257; k. al-hujjah, pp.440-442, 445-447 (ruh and ‘aql).

[9]. Sharh, I, 218.

[10]. Sadrà first interprets iyyàka here as equivalent to bi-ka & li-ajlika “by means of thee & on thy account”, which allows him to make an equivalence between the phrasing of al-Bàqir’s hadíth and another version of Syrian Qadari provenance; see what follows. This interpretation thus permits Sadrà to unconsciously mitigate the original determinist tone of al-Bàqir’s hadíth, where obedience & reward and disobedience & punishment signal ‘aql's role in affirming God’s justice. Compare our translation of hadíth #1 above.

[11]. Sharh, I, 219.

[12]. Ibid.

[13]. No Shí‘í version reported from the Imàms duplicates this form; but it is very close to the version reported in Ibn Tàwus, al-Malahim wa al-fitan (Najaf: 1972) p.105, quoting the Kitàb al-fitan by Abu Sàlih al-Salili, on an Iraqi–Syrian isnàd of Damascus Qadari provenance (. . . AbuAbd al-Rahman al-Qasim b. ‘Abd al-Rahman, d.112/730 < Abu Umamah al-Bahali < marfu‘).

[14]. Sharh, I, 588. al-Ridà states: “Those are not among the ones whom God addressed by saying, ‘Truly God created the [innate human faculty of] intelligence . . .’”. See also hadíth #5 (Usul, I, p.11), Sharh, I, 232-235; and c.f., Ahmad b. Muhammed b. Khalid al-Barqi, al-Mahàsin, ed. Jalàl al-Dín al-Muhaddith al-Urmawí (Tehran: 1950), Kitàb masabih al-zulam, bàb al-‘aql, p. 193 #11 & p.194 #13.

[15]. Sharh, I, 589-590.

[16]. Usul, I, p.12 #9 = Sharh, I, 240-242 (treating the dissimilarities in intelligence tafàwut al-‘uqul).

[17]. Usul, I, pp.11-12 #8 = Sharh, I, 238-240. This is the tale of the hermit worshipping alone on an island, who complains that God lacks a donkey to keep the grass cropped, and whose reward is correspondingly meager.

[18]. Usul, I, p.12 #7 = Sharh, I, 237-238.

[19]. See the discussion in Sharh, I, 223-235 on hadíth #5 (quoting Shaykh al-Mufid’s Sharh al-i‘tiqàd); and the treatment of tafàwut al-‘uqul relevant to taklíf in hadíth #9 on 240-242; furthermore the issue of taklíf is treated with respect to the empowerment of Jahl in hadíth #14, pp.411-412.

[20]. In al-Kàzim’s Instructions to Hishàm b. al-Hakam; see Ibn Shu‘bah al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-‘uqul ‘an al-rasul, ed. Muhammed al-Husayn al-A‘lami (Beirut: 1969; rpr. 1974) pp.295-297.

[21]. E.g., Muhsin-i- Fayd-i Kàshàní (d.1091 H), Qurrat al-‘uyun fí l-ma‘àrif wa l-hikam, ed. Ibrahim al-Miyanji (2nd ed., Beirut: 1979) p. 352: ‘aql in al-Sàdiq’s hadíth is understood to be “a luminous heavenly essential-substance . . . by means of which (God) established the heavens and earths and all they contain / jawharun malakutiyyun nuràniyyun . . . bi-hi aqama l-samawati wa l-ardina wa ma fi-hinna”.

[22]. Sharh, I, 411-534.

[23]. Sharh, I, 400ff.

[24]. ‘Ayn dhàtihí might also be rendered “the quiddity of His Essential-Self,” with ‘ayn understood as God’s very essence. This usage should be distinguished from Mullà Sadrà's employment in other contexts of al-wujud al-‘ayní either in the sense of self-essential Being or as the external world of material reality.

[25]. Mullà Sadrà is one of the few who consider this grammatical alternative, i.e., that “from His Light” refers to the creation of the ruhàniyyun. However, like all other exegetes, he neglects another grammatical possibility which could also make sense, namely that the pronominal genitive object in min nurihi may be construed to refer to the Throne, not to God’s Light— i.e., that the First Intellect is created from the Light of the Throne. This possibility might be more plausible if one understood ‘aql in terms of Heavenly First-Born Wisdom (which we feel was the original intent of al-Sàdiq in this hadíth). Note that Mullà Sadrà (Sharh, I, 405) glosses Q Hud 11:7 – “‘His Throne was upon the Water,’ that is to say, upon al-‘Aql”.

[26]. Sharh, I, 403-404.

[27]. For Sadrà’s scheme of the stages of ‘aql, and its philosophical bases, see Sharh, I, 222-229, where he gives six Concurrent meanings (bi-l-ishtiràk) for ‘aql comprising both practical and theoretical as well as innate and acquired dimensions, followed by five consecutive or Graded meanings (bi-l-tashkík).  Furthermore, see pp.249-251 on the maràtib al-‘aql; and below notes 34 & 35 for al-‘aql al-basít & al-‘aql al-tafsílí.

[28]. For aspects of the relation between ‘aql and ‘ilm, see Sharh, I, pp. 223-4, 324-6, 373-6, 437-8 (al-‘ilm wa didduhu al-jahl); II k. fadl al-‘ilm p. 96 (al-‘ilm fi l-haqíqah nurun ‘aqliyyun); & k. al-hujjah p. 440 (kamàl al-ruh wa huwa l-‘aqlu l-nazarí bi-l-‘ilm bi-l-haqà’iq wa l-umuri l-ilàhiyyah).

[29]. In al-Barqi’s Mahàsin, k. masàbih al-zulam, bàb al-‘aql p.192 #5, this text is transmitted on an isnàd varying in its lower links, and assigned to the double authority of al-Bàqir(a) and al-Sàdiq(a).

[30]. Sharh, I, 574-5.

[31]. Mullà Sadrà is roughly accurate; yet there are strictly speaking at least eight Imàmí riwàyat. See al-Barqi, Mahàsin, masàbih al-zulam, pp.192-194 #4-8 & #13 [the hadíth #4 (... Wuhayb b. Hafs al-Jariri < Abu Basír < al-Sàdiq(a)) was not included in al-Kulayní’s Usul]; and above notes 20 & 29. 

[32]. Sharh, I, 575.

[33]. See especially Sharh, I, pp.225-6, 227, and 316.

[34]. See Sharh, I, pp. 249-250 & 437-8. Al-‘aql al-basít is “a single Simple reality existing by means of a single intellective Being, which simultaneously encompasses all the intellects al-‘uqul and intelligibles al-ma‘qulàt and knowables al-ma‘lumàt,” also equated with ‘comprehensive knowledge’ ‘ilm ijmàlí from which issues the detailed intelligibles. It is the light from God’s lights reserved for prophets and certain saints, gifted to the elect without acquisition or effort (= taríq al-nabí). Since the Simple Intellect is ‘ilmuhu lladhí huwa ‘aynu dhàtihi, as well as ‘ayn al-ashyà’, it stands for the Active Intellect (al-‘Aql al-Fa‘àl) or First Intellect.

[35]. Ibid. Al-‘aql al-tafsilí comprises those consecutively detailed intelligibles deriving from the Simple Intellect, and is related to the former like the the tree to the seed, or cash to alchemy; it acquires “the intellective discriminated forms, arranged one after the other in an essential arrangement,” being higher than thought fikr or imagination wahm. It is the taríq al-mujtahidin (‘ala sabili l-nazar wa l-istidlàl). In other words, the Detailed Intellect, as ‘aql mustafàd & ‘aql bi-l-fi‘l, stands for knowledge.

[36]. Sharh, I, pp. 240-241.

[37]. For his definitions, see Sharh, I, pp. 223-4, 225-6, 227-8, referring to the views of philosophical ethics and popular Muslim normative ethics, and attempting to reconcile the two traditions.

[38]. Sharh, I, 241; these hadíths belong to the notorious Kitàb al-‘aql by the Basran-Baghdadi ascetic Dawud b. al-Muhabbar al-Qahdhami (d.206/821), although Sadrà drew on later sources, including Shí‘í sources, for quotation. On this book, see our forthcoming study in Arabica (Paris), “Kitàb al-‘aql by Dawud b. al-Muhabbar and its Rejection by Sunni Tradents”.

[39]. Sharh, I, p. 316; and c.f., p. 225-6.

[40]. We are preparing a lexical & conceptual study of early Islamic ‘aql notions entitled ‘Aql [Cognition] In Early Islamic Wisdom, where this idea is documented and explored.


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