Words directly meaning knowledge or ‘ilm appear twenty-seven times in the Qur’an, and ‘alim (knower) 140 times. There are 704 references in the book to words that come from ‘ilm. In addition, references to knowledge such as the book, pen, ink and so on occur very often, and the text itself starts with the phrase iqra or ‘read/recite’, something that involves knowledge. The first human being Adam was taught all the names of things in the world, and the text frequently calls on its readers and hearers to reflect on what they are told, to consider how reasonable it is, whether it seems true and so on, so knowledge is a constant theme in the text. A different term for knowledge, ma‘rifa, is used to represent mystical or hidden and deeper knowledge, knowledge more like hikma (wisdom) and higher than‘aql (reason), and is popular in Sufism.
   Al-Ghazali in his Sufi phase talks of three levels of knowledge that correspond with three levels of faith. The faith of the ordinary people is based on imitation or obedience (taqlid); the faith of the theologians is based on reason; and the faith of the mystics (‘arifin) and saints (awliya’) is based on the light of certainty (nur al-yaqin). A basic distinction in Peripatetic epistemology exists between tasawwur (conceptualization) and tasdiq (assent). Conceptualization describes the way in which the mind grasps particular essences or beings. Assent is the act of the intellect which makes a judgement in terms of truth value. To assent to anything we must first be able to form a concept of it, but the reverse is not the case, since we can have an idea about something without making any truth claim about it. We have experiences and combine them to bring out what they have in common, and our mind then forms an abstract idea that raises them from their material context. The imagination is both abstract and particular, it stretches our experience but also needs that experience to get started. The mind comes into contact with the active intellect, the source of our abstract ideas. Our mind moves from potentially knowing something to actually knowing it, and from actuality to reflection on that actuality, which the Peripatetics classified in terms of potential intellect, actual or agent intellect and acquired intellect. The last is called ‘acquired’ because it borrows ideas from higher celestial realms of existence, ideas that are not derived from experience at all. Al-Farabi and Ibn Rushd argue that the mind is only eternal insofar as it has for its subject matter eternal objects, i.e. the abstract. Ibn Sina argues that the mind must be eternal as such since unless it was eternal in the first place it could not comprehend eternal objects, based on the same principle that the knower and the object of knowledge must be the same for knowledge to be possible.
   Further reading: Davidson 1992; Ha’iri Yazdi 1992; Leaman 1999; Rosenthal 1970; Wan Daud 1989

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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