Wednesday 19th of January 2022
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On the Classification of Sciences

On the Classification of Sciences

With my chain of transmission reaching up to the best and the earliest of traditionists, Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni-may God be pleased with him-from Muhammad ibn al-Hasan and 'Ali ibn Muhammad, from Sahl ibn Ziyad, from Muhammad ibn 'Isa-, from 'Ubayd Allah ibn 'Abd Allah al Dihqan, from Durust al-Wasiti, from Ibrahim ibn 'Abd al-Hamid, from Abu al-Hasan Musa (A) that he said: "The Messenger of Allah, may God's benedictions be upon him and his family, once entered the mosque where there were a group of people surrounding a man. 'Who is that?', inquired the Prophet (S). He was told, 'He is an 'allamah', (i.e. a very learned man). 'What is an 'allamah?' asked the Prophet (S). They told him, 'He is the most learned of men regarding Arab genealogies, past episodes, the days of the Jahiliyyah and Arabic poetry'. The Prophet (S) said, 'That is a knowledge whose ignorance does not harm one nor is its possession of any benefit to one'. Then the Prophet, may God's benedictions be upon him and his family, declared, 'Verily knowledge consists of these three: the firm sign, the just duty and the established sunnah. All else is superfluous.' " [1]

There is (Who is he?) instead of (Who is that?) in some manuscripts. might have been said to express contempt. `Allamah is a derivative (sighah) that expresses extremeness (mubalaghah) and its ta is for the sake of (further) exaggeration. It means 'very very knowledgeable'.
You should know that in logic the word (who) is used for questioning concerning a person and the word (what) for questioning concerning a given reality or for explaining an abstract noun. Since they told the Noble Messenger (S) that this man is an `allamah, that master questioned them concerning the meaning of `allamah in relation to the character and content of the knowledge that they attributed to him. Hence he put the question with the word . Epithets are at times made a means for questioning concerning essence, for instance, where the meaning of an attribute is known but not the person to whom the attribute relates. In that case the question is nut by using the word and it becomes . But if the person be known and the attribute be unknown, or when the purpose be only to know the attribute, the question is put with the word and the question then relates to finding out the attribute, not the person attributed with it, nor the attribute and the person attributed with it as well. In this noble tradition, since it was remarked that this man is an 'allamah, the Prophet's purpose behind the question was to find out the meaning of the attribute that they ascribed to the man. Hence he asked, `What is an `allamah?' and not, `Who is an 'allamah?' or `Why and for what reason is this man an 'allamah?'
The explanation given above is clearer than what the authority (muhaqqiq) among the philosophers and the philosopher among the authorities, Sadr al-Muta'allihin-may Allah sanctify his soul-says in his exposition of this noble tradition, which we shall refrain from citing due to fear of prolixity and for its being outside the scope of our discussion.

Section I:
We have mentioned earlier that man, to put it briefly, is confronted with three worlds, stations and phases of life: first, the world of the Hereafter, which is the hidden world (`alam-e ghayb) of spirituality and the intellect; second, the phase of Barzakh, which is the world of khayal lying between the other two worlds; third, the phase of this world, the domain of mulk (corporeality) and the world of appearance ('alam-e shahadat). Each of these phases has its own special perfection and training and requires action appropriate to it. The prophets, upon whom be peace, have been encharged to instruct the people concerning those actions. Hence all beneficial sciences are divisible into these three 'ulum (sciences): the `ilm (science) that relates to the excellences (kamalat) of the intellect and spiritual duties, the science that relates to the acts of the heart and its duties, and the science that relates to bodily acts and the duties of the self's outward life.
As to the sciences that play a strengthening and educative role in the sphere of the spirit and immaterial intellect, they consist of the knowledge of the sacred Essence of God and that of His attributes of Beauty and Majesty, as well as the knowledge of the immaterial hidden spheres, including the angels of all kinds, from those of the higher levels of the higher jabarut and higher malakut to the lower levels of the lower malakut and the earthly angels and the armies of God, Glorious and Exalted, in addition to the knowledge of the prophets and the awliya' and their stations and degrees, the knowledge of the revealed scriptures, the character of the descent of revelation (wahy), angels and the Spirit, as well as the knowledge of the world of the Hereafter and the character of the Return of the creatures to the world of ghayb, the reality of the world of Barzakh and Resurrection with their details, and, in a word, the knowledge of the origin (mabda') of existence, its reality and degrees, with its expansion (bast) and contraction (qabd), and its manifestation (zuhur) and return (ruju'). The bearers of this knowledge, after the prophets and the awliya', upon whom be peace, are the philosophers and the masters among the hukama', the `urafa' and the mystics.
The sciences that deal with the discipline and education of the heart and its esoteric actions consist of the knowledge of moral dispositions that lead to salvation (munjiyat) or perdition (muhlikat). That is the knowledge of moral virtues, such as forbearance (sabr), gratefulness (shukr), shame (haya'), humility (tawadu'), resignation (rida), courage (shuja'ah), generosity (sakhawah), piety (wara`) God-fearing (taqwa) and other moral excellences and the knowledge of the ways and means of acquiring them and their related causes and conditions, as well as the knowledge of moral vices, such as envy (hasad), pride (kibr), enmity (hiqd), deceptiveness (ghishsh), the love of position, the love of the world and the self, etc., and the knowledge of their causes and the ways of obtaining freedom from them. The bearers of this knowledge, too, after the prophets and their designated successors (awliya'), may peace be upon them, are the experts in the science of ethics and the learned in the spiritual disciplines and mystic teachings.
The science that deals with the education of the exoteric being and its disciplining consists of the science of fiqh, its preliminaries, and the science of etiquette (adab), social intercourse (mu'asharat), management of home (tadbir-e manzil), and politics or civic administration (siyasat-e mudun). The bearers of this knowledge are the learned in the exoteric (ulama'-e zahir), the fuqaha' (legists) and the muhaddithun (traditionists), after the prophets and the awsiya', may peace be upon them.
You should know that each of these threefold human spheres mentioned are interrelated in such a manner that the influence of each of them-whether it is positive or negative-percolates to the others. For instance, if one takes upon himself the performance of the duties of worship and exoteric rites as one should perform them in accordance with the prescriptions of the prophets, that will produce effects in his spirit and his heart, improving his moral character and perfecting his beliefs and convictions. Similarly, if one should engage in his moral improvement and the beautification of his inward being (batin), that will produce a positive effect in the other two spheres. 5o also the development of one's faith and the strengthening of beliefs is effective in the other two stations. This is on account of the very intimate connection between these different stations. In fact (they are so closely related that) the word `connection' also fails to express it fully. Hence one must say that they are a single reality with (different) manifestations and aspects.
Thus development and perfection in each of the three stations is interlinked. Hence no one should imagine that he can acquire a perfect faith and a refined moral character without performing exoteric works and bodily worship, or that when his moral character (khulq) is defective and unrefined his conduct can be complete and whole and his faith perfect, or that without faith in his heart his exoteric acts can be complete and his moral excellences can be perfect.
When one's bodily (exoteric) actions are defective and not in conformity with the prescriptions of the prophets, that gives rise to obfuscations within the heart and obscurities in the soul which obstruct the light of faith and conviction. Similarly, if one has base moral dispositions in the heart, they obstruct the light of faith from entering it.
Hence it is essential for the wayfarer of Hereafter and the straight path of humanity to pay an acute care and attention to each of these three aspects and to reform and exercise himself in their regard and not to neglect any of the theoretical and practical excellences. He should not imagine that sole refinement of moral character or sole strengthening of beliefs or sole conformity to the exoteric aspect is sufficient for him, as believed by some experts of each of these three disciplines. For instance, the Shaykh-e Ishraq, at the beginning of his work Hikmat al-'ishraq, divides the perfect into these three categories: those who are perfect in knowledge and action, those who are perfect in action, and those who are perfect in knowledge. This suggests as if perfection of knowledge can coexist with inadequacy of action or vice versa. Moreover, he considers those who are perfect in knowledge to be the felicitous sincere linked with the world of ghayb and immateriality, treading the path of the highest heavens ('Illiyyun) and associating with the archangels. There are some scholars of morals and esoteric science who consider the attainment of moral moderation and the refinement of the heart and esoteric acts as the source of all excellences and attach no worth to intellectual truths and exoteric rules. On the contrary, they even consider them as thorns on the wayfarer's path. There are some scholars of the esoteric aspect who consider the intellectual and the esoteric sciences and mystic teachings as perfidy and infidelity and are hostile to their scholars and students.
Each of these three groups, who hold these false beliefs, are withheld from each of the three spiritual stages and all the three spheres of genuine human existence. They have not rightly reflected concerning the sciences of the prophets and the awliya' and hence there has always been antagonism between them. Hence each of them attacks the others considering them as pursuing falsehood, although it is incorrect to separate the stages. In a sense, each one of them is right in repudiating the others, not because their learning or action is wholly invalid, but because the limits set by them for the various human levels and their confining of human knowledge and excellences exclusively to their own discipline is contrary to fact.
The Noble Messenger, may God's benedictions be upon him and his progeny, has in this noble tradition divided the sciences into these three parts, and there is no doubt that these threefold sciences pertain to these threefold planes. This claim is testified to by the divine scriptures, the traditions of the prophets and the Infallible Imams-may peace and benedictions be upon them-for their teachings are classifiable into these three classes. One of them consists of the knowledge of God, angels, scriptures, the Messengers and the Last Day, and the heavenly scriptures-especially the all-inclusive divine scripture, the Lord's Holy Qur'an-are all full of it. Rather, it may be said that that which the Book of God teaches more than anything else is this class of knowledge. It consists of the call to God as the origin and end (mabda' wa ma'ad) of all creation through valid rational arguments and with perfect clarification, as pointed out by the authorities. In fact the other two aspects occupy a somewhat lesser position in the Book of God in comparison to this aspect, and the ahadith of the Imams, upon whom be peace, too, are full of it and beyond enumeration, as will become clear by a reference to reliable books which are accepted by all the `Imams-may God be pleased with them-such as the noble al-Kafi and al-Saduq's Kitab al-Tawhid.
Similarly the attention given to spiritual refinement and moral reform and moderation in the Book of God and the traditions narrated from the Ahl al-Bayt (A) is beyond what one would expect. However, these books and these chapters have remained in oblivion, without receiving the due attention and credence by us, unfortunate ones in the bondage of futile hopes and expectations! The day will come when God Almighty will question us and establish His accusation against us on the basis of their evidence and the Immaculate Imams (A)-may God be our refuge-will dissociate themselves from us due to our abandoning their traditions and sciences. I seek refuge in God, the Exalted, from wretchedness of the ultimate outcome and an evil end.
As to the. traditions relating to fiqh and exoteric rites, it need not be said that all our books are full of them. Thus we come to know that the sciences of the Shari'ah are confined to these three kinds in accordance with the needs of man and the threefold human aspects. None of the scholars of any one of these sciences has a right to find fault with the others. It is not right to repudiate a science if one is ignorant of one of these sciences and to be irreverent towards one who is learned in it. In the same way as a sound intellect considers the affirmation of something that one does not know as an ethical vice, so also is the denial of something one has no conception of; rather the latter attitude is worse and more vicious.
If God, Blessed and Exalted, should ask, for instance, "You did not know the meaning of the unity of being (wahdat al-wujud) in accordance with the doctrine of the hukama' and neither did you receive instruction concerning it from those adept in it, nor did you study that science and its preliminaries. Then why did you blindly accuse them of unbelief and insult them?" What answer shall one have to give in God's sacred presence except bending down one's head in shame? Of course, a pretext such as "I thought it to be so" will not be acceptable. Every discipline has certain essentials and preliminaries, without whose knowledge it is not possible to understand its conclusions. This is especially true of such a subtle issue as this whose actual reality and meaning is not well understood even after a lifetime of effort, and here you are who want to apprehend with your inadequate intellect after reading, for instance, a book or two or some verses out of al-Rumi's Mathnawi something the philosophers and the hukama' have been discussing for several thousand years and dissecting its issues. Obviously you will not make anything out of it: May God have mercy upon the man who knows his own worth and does not transgress his limits. [2]

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