Part 4

The sciences of human beings and the sciences of angels

by Ibn Khaldun Icon

Through sound intuition, we observe in ourselves the existence of three worlds.

  1. The world of the senses or sensual perception.

We become aware of it through the perception of the senses, which the animals share with us.

  1. The world of thought

This is above the world of the senses and is a special quality of humans. This is our ability to think that lets us learn that the human soul exists.

This knowledge is necessitated by the fact that we have in us scientific perceptions which are above the perceptions of the senses.

  1. The world of spirits and angels

This is above the second and is above us. It is sensed through our hearts, such as through our volition and an inclination toward active motions. It makes us know that there exists an agent there who directs us toward those things from a world above ours.

It contains essences that can be perceived because of the existence of influences they exercise upon us, despite the gap between us and them.

Often, we may deduce the existence of that high spiritual world and the essences it contains. We get these from visions and things we were not aware of while awake, but which we find in our sleep. If they are true, they conform with actuality. We thus know that they come from the world of truth.

“Confused dreams” on the other hand, are pictures of the imagination that are stored inside by perception and to which the ability to think is applied, after (man) has retired from sense perception. 22

We do not find any clearer proof than this for (the existence) of the spiritual world.

Thus, we have a general knowledge of it, but no particulars.

The metaphysicians make conjectures about details concerning the essences of the spiritual world and their order. They call these essences “intellects.”

However, none of it is certain, because the conditions of logical argumentation as established in logic do not apply to it.

One of these conditions is that the propositions of the argument must be primary and essential, but the spiritual essences are of an unknown essentiality. Thus, logical argumentation cannot be applied to them.

Our only means of perceiving something of the details of these worlds are what we may glean from matters of religious law, as explained and established by religious faith.

Of the 3 worlds, the one we can perceive best is the world of human beings, since it is existential and attested by our corporeal and spiritual perceptions.

The world of the senses is shared by us with the animals, but the world of the intellect and the spirits is shared by us with the angels, whose essences are of the same kind as the essences of that world. They are essences free from corporeality and matter, and they are pure intellect in which intellect, thinker, and the object of thinking are one.

It is, in a way, an essence the reality of which is perception and intellect.

The sciences (knowledge) of the (angels), thus, always agree by nature with the things to be known. They can never have any defect.

The knowledge of humanbeings, on the other hand, is the attainment of the form of the thing to be known in their essences, after it had not been there. It is all acquired. The essence in which the forms of the things to be known are obtained, namely, the soul, is a material substance 23 that gradually takes over the forms of existence with the help of the forms of the things to be known that it obtains.

Eventually, it reaches perfection, and, through death, its existence fulfills itself as regards both its matter and its form.

The objects in the soul are subject to constant vacillation between negation and assertion. One of the two is sought by means of some middle (term) to connect the two extremes. When that is achieved and the object has become known, it must be explained that there exists agreement (between knowledge and the thing known).

Such agreement may often be clarified by technical logical argumentation, but that is from “behind the veil,” and it is not like the direct vision 23a that is found in connection with the sciences (knowledge) of the angels.

The “veil” may be removed, and the agreement may, thus, be effected through direct perceptive vision. It has been explained that human beings are ignorant by nature, because vacillation affects their knowledge. They learn through acquisition (of knowledge) and technique, because they obtain the objects they seek by applying their ability to think according to technical rules.

The removal of the veil to which we have referred is achieved only through training in dhikr exercises 24 of which the best is prayer, which forbids sinful and evil actions-through abstinence from all distracting food of consumption - of which the most important part 25 is fasting - and through devoting oneself to God with all one’s powers.

5. The sciences (knowledge) of the prophets.

The prophets are in a divine condition that is different from (ordinary) human ambitions and conditions. In prophets, the trend toward the divine is more powerful than their humanity, as far as the powers of perception, the powers of desire-that is, concupiscence and wrath - and the other conditions of the body are concerned. (Prophets) keep away from things human, except in as much as they are necessary for life.

They turn toward divine matters, such as worship and the remembrance (dhikr) of God, as their knowledge of Him requires. They give information about Him and (transmit) the revelation for the guidance of the nation (of believers) which they received in (their divine) condition.

They do that according to one particular method and in a manner known to be peculiar to them. It undergoes no change in them and is like a natural disposition which God has given them. Revelation has already been discussed by us at the beginning of the book, in the chapter dealing with people who possess supernatural perception 27 We explained there that the whole of existence in (all) its simple and composite worlds is arranged in a natural order of ascent and descent, so that everything constitutes an uninterrupted continuum.

The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essence adjacent to them, either above or below them. This is the case with the simple material elements; it is the case with palms and vines, (which constitute) the last stage of plants, in their relation to snails and shellfish, (which constitute) the (lowest) stage of animals.

It is also the case with monkeys, creatures combining in themselves cleverness and perception, in their relation to man, the being who has the ability to think and to reflect. The preparedness (for transformation) that exists on either side, at each stage of the worlds, is meant when (we speak about) their connection.

Above the human world, there is a spiritual world. It is known to us by its influence upon us, in that it gives us the powers of perception and volition. The essences of that spiritual world are pure perception and absolute intellection. It is the world of the angels.

It follows from all this that the human soul must be prepared to exchange humanity for angelicality, in order actually to become part of the angelic species at any time, in a single. instant. It will afterwards resume its humanity. But in the world of angelicality, it has meanwhile accepted (ideas) that it is charged to transmit to its fellow human beings. That is the meaning of revelation and being addressed by the angels.

All prophets possess this predisposition. It is like a natural disposition for them. In exchanging (their humanity for angelicality), they experience strain and sensations of choking, as is known in this connection.

Their (supernatural) knowledge is one of direct observation and vision. No mistake or slip attaches itself to it, and it is not affected by errors or unfounded assumptions. The agreement in it is an essential one, because the veil of the supernatural is gone, and clear and direct observation has been attained. When (the prophets) quit that state and reassume their humanity, this clarity does not quit the knowledge they have, for it has become attached to it in the former condition.

And because they possess the virtue that brings them to that condition, their (experience) constantly repeats itself, until their guidance of the nation (of believers), which was the purpose for which they were sent, is accomplished. Thus, it is said in the Qur’an= “I am merely a human being like you, to whom it has been revealed that your God is one God. Thus, be straightforward with Him and ask Him for forgiveness.”

This should be understood. One should compare what we said earlier at the beginning of the book, about the different kinds of people possessing supernatural perception. It will constitute clear comment and explanation. There, we have explained the matter at sufficient length.


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