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Hikma (Wisdom)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-2

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Wisdom (hikma), meaning knowledge, the understanding of Divine commandments, of philosophy, of the real reasons for the existence of events and of things, and grasping the goals and benefits in religion, has been interpreted by the exacting scholars of truth as being able to combine useful knowledge and righteous deeds in life. Righteous deeds are the willed outcome of knowledge applied, and the beginning of new Divine gifts.

Starting from the perspective of the description above, some scholars deal with wisdom in two categories, namely practical and theoretical, as they have done with reason. Theoretical wisdom is the effort that one makes along with a God-given ability to observe things and events as if they were an exhibition. It is also an attempt to penetrate the meaning behind and purpose for such events in order to study and read them like a book, to listen to them like a symphony, and to study and try to understand the mysterious relationship between the physical and metaphysical realms of existence.

As for practical wisdom, it is worshipping to discover and turning to the Owner of this exhibition, the Author of this book, the Composer of this symphony, running to Him in love and yearning, and deeply experiencing the awe and amazement of being in His Presence. So, to sum up, wisdom begins with reflection, curiosity, wonder, and the zeal to study and search, and continues with obedience and worship, ending in spiritual pleasures and eternal happiness.

Studying the Qur'anic verses where wisdom is mentioned, we can add to the above explanation the following points:

  • Wisdom means the subtleties and mysteries of the Qur'an. Since the Qur'an is, in one respect, the correlative of the book of the universe and, in another, its interpretation and explanation, its subtleties and mysteries are also those of the book of the universe. The Qur'an indicates this in this verse (2:269): He grants the wisdom to whomever He wills, and whoever is granted the wisdom, has indeed been granted much good.
  • Wisdom means Prophethood and the meaning of Messengership. The scholars of the Hadith have interpreted it as Sunna (the way of the Messenger). The verses, God granted him (David) kingdom and wisdom (2:251), and We granted Luqman wisdom (31:12), refer to this meaning.
  • Wisdom, in both its theoretical and practical aspects, means goodwill, which is mentioned in: Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation and preaching (16:125).

Some have defined wisdom as correct judgment, and acting as one should act and doing what is necessary to do at the right time and right place. We can elaborate on this meaning, which can be re-stated as being just, moderate, balanced, and straightforward as follows:

  • Giving everything its due, or right judgment, without going to extremes, viewing and discharging our responsibilities in the framework of the Shari'a, fulfilling the necessary conditions and prerequisites for any desired result, avoiding extremes, even when doing good deeds, being careful to maintain the fact that religion can be practiced or lived under all circumstances, and leading a life in accordance with the Sunna of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.
  • Always preferring God's decisions and judgments concerning us over our own choices, and leading our lives according to the rule, Submit to God and be saved,[1] i.e. being resigned to all of God's decrees and acts concerning our lives and nature, without ever forgetting that God has wisdom in whatever He does, and does nothing in vain.
  • Being steadfast in following the Messenger strictly in our thoughts and actions in full perception of his way, and as stated in the verse (12:108), Say: "This is my way: I call to God based on conscious insight and sure knowledge - I and those who follow me",, serving our religion and humanity in his way with conscious insight and sure knowledge.

The principal sources of wisdom are Divine Revelation and inspiration.[2] This means that all the Prophets and all the spiritual guides, each according to his rank, are also sages or wise people whose special property is wisdom. Such people apply spiritual therapy to those diseased in mind and spirit (those who have followed wrong ways in thought and belief and who suffer from spiritual discontentment), and cure them, trying to keep their spiritual lives cleansed of the viruses brought on by evil nature and sin.

In view of the missions (special tasks and occupations) of the Prophets and saints, we can add to the definition of wisdom the following :

  • Wisdom is unity of thought, intention, and action. Right thinking, precision in expression, and acting in the right way are true signs of wisdom.
  • Certainty in knowledge, soundness in action, and perfection in any performance, which we can paraphrase as supporting knowledge with action or practice, and dong any work of art with efficiency, which adds to the artist's zeal and ability, also demonstrate wisdom.
  • Grasping the aims of religion and, in addition to representing it in individual life, trying to make it prevail in life or ordering life accordingly, is a dimension of wisdom.
  • Perceiving the essence of existence together with its inner truth, as well as the peculiarities of each thing together with its relationship with all other things, and the Creator's purposes for the existence and life of things, is another, important dimension of wisdom.
  • Approaching things in order to understand and analyze their uses and the benefits expected of them, and, as a vicegerent of God, to use them within the limits He has set, is an aspect of wisdom relating to art.
  • Seeing everything in the light of the Divine way, which is responsible for the perfect accord, order, and balance in the universe, where everything is in its exact place, the observation of this same order and the balance in our lives, and the development of sciences that study the earth and the sky to maintain the balance in them, is another approach to wisdom.
  • Pursuing the best goals in life, trying to make prevail what is good and preferable in the relationships between the rulers and the ruled, and, by adopting God's way of conduct and treatment of His servants in our individual and social life, making heavenly the systems of government on earth, realizing God's purposes for sending the Prophets, are other, excellent dimensions of wisdom.

In order to distinguish between reasoning and logic that are guided by the All-Merciful One, and those guided by the suggestions and misleading of Satan, one should leave one's intellect to the guidance of God's Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and always be on the alert. It is only by so doing that one can feel the Divine gifts of correct judgment, sound reasoning, and wise thinking appear within oneself; thereafter one begins to feel and think correctly and is saved from self-contradiction in one's behavior. In the end, wise, right thinking and behavior become second nature - this means the adoption of the Divine way of conduct. We can also describe this as the transformation of theoretical reason into practical reason, and theoretical wisdom into practical, or, according to some Sufi leaders, the angelic aspects of a human being surpassing their satanic ones.

Knowledge, combined with action is an important dimension of wisdom. Although action is not a part of belief or, in other words, neglecting to practice religion in daily life is not a sign of unbelief, it is certain that action is an important aspect of religion. Putting knowledge into practice or practicing the religious commandments in daily life after learning them is an essential of Islam. The verse (51:56), I have not created the jinn and humankind but only to worship Me, warns us of this. Mere information without action will not help. As pointed out before, existence is a book or an exhibition of wisdom, with the Qur'an being its voice or translator or description. What falls on humanity is to read and study the book of creation in the Qur'an. Those who are able to do so are, in the words of the Qur'an, rewarded with abundant good, and gain great value in proportion to the depth of their inner world and the sharpness of their faculties. Contrarily, those who see the realities on the face of existence but cannot discern the truths lying behind it and the purpose for it alongside the magnificent order it displays, are doomed to not receive its messages. This is manifestly a loss or failure.

O God! Show us the truth as the truth and enable us to live by it, and show us falsehood as falsehood and enable us to avoid it.


[1] Al-Bukhari, "Bad'u'l-Wahy," 6.
[2] Revelation means God's special speech to the Prophets and mainly includes the Divine Scriptures, while inspiration is His putting guiding and uplifting thoughts, ideas and purposes into the hearts of saintly persons. (Trans.)