Imam Ali (a.s.), Intellect al-‘aql, Spirit al-ruh, and Spiritual Commentary ta’wil

To begin with the first, one must assert at the outset that everything about the Imam’s life and his teachings is centred on the Qur’anic revelation and its embodiment in the Prophet’s conduct.

[Imam] Ali’s refusal to stop short at the superficial surface of things – religious, ethical, political – manifested an unflinching fidelity to the sacred substance of the religion, a fidelity which entailed not only intellectual penetration inwardly but also combative resistance outwardly.

It cannot be too heavily stressed that divine revelation, far from cutting short the operations of reason and imposing some unintelligible diktat, on the contrary presupposes a creative engagement with all the resources of the intelligence, in particular those processes of reflection and meditation for which the Imam is himself renowned, and which the Qur’an itself repeatedly calls for.

Excerpt: Justice and Remembrance: Introducing the Spirituality of Imam Ali, Reza Shah-Kazemi, I.B.Taurus, New York, 2006, p. 22-27

In this section, then, one of the key aims is to show something of the ‘spirit of the intellect’ in the worldview of [the] Imam [Ali], a spirit that surpasses, while comprising, the activities of the rational mind, as well as encompassing domains not nowadays associated with the intellect, domains such as moral comportment and aesthetic sensibility. We also hope to demonstrate the manner in which this spiritual view of the intellect is directly related to the Qur’anic conception of the spirit (al-ruh), and to explore some of the concomitants or fruits of engaging deeply with this unifying spirit proper to the intellect.

..in Latin Christendom..intellectus/nous is that which is capable of a direct contemplative vision of transcendent realities, whereas reason – the translation of the Latin ratio ..- is of an indirect, discursive nature; it works with logic and arrives at mental concepts, only, of those realities. With the intellect, then, one is able to contemplate or ‘see’ the Absolute; with the reason, one can only think about it.

..it is important to stress three factors which are inherent to the spirit of the intellectual perspective being considered here, namely, the centrality of revelation, the harmony between revelation and the intellect, and the distinction between the intellect, conceived as the principle of the articulation of consciousness, and reason, understood as one of the expressions of this principle. To begin with the first, one must assert at the outset that everything about the Imam’s life and his teachings is centred on the Qur’anic revelation and its embodiment in the Prophet’s conduct. Indeed both the thought and the life of the Imam can be read as a kind of spiritual commentary, a ta’wil, on the sacred text…Ali’s refusal to stop short at the superficial surface of things – religious, ethical, political – manifested an unflinching fidelity to the sacred substance of the religion, a fidelity which entailed not only intellectual penetration inwardly but also combative resistance outwardly.

…While it is clear that the human intellect cannot in any way be equated with divine revelation, the spirit animating the intellect is not, in the final analysis, restricted by human limitations, as we shall see. It is this spirit which perceives and grasps the divine quality of revelation.

The divine spirit articulating the form and infusing the content of revelation must be fathomable to some degree by human consciousness, failing which the revelation would be nothing more than so many rules and regulations for the will, rather than a source of creative inspiration for the intelligence. It cannot be too heavily stressed that divine revelation, far from cutting short the operations of reason and imposing some unintelligible diktat, on the contrary presupposes a creative engagement with all the resources of the intelligence, in particular those processes of reflection and meditation for which the Imam is himself renowned, and which the Qur’an itself repeatedly calls for.

The revealed text is silent and ‘speaks’ only through the ‘interpreter’, the intellect.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s