Qualities of the Wise
Further reflections from Surah al Zumar
Say, “Are those who know and those who do not know equal? Only possessors of intellect reflect.” ...It is they whom God has guided; it is they who are the possessors of intellect.
The Arabic word لبّ (lubb), rendered here as intellect, is an intesting word. At its root, it means to be sensible, reasonable, or intelligent or to become wise. From this root comes a word meaning the upper chest and the word in this verse translated as intellect, but also meaning the heart. Furthermore, it means core, gist, essence, or quintessence; the innermost, marrow, or pith; prime or the best part. Again, a very interesting word indeed.
In Aristotelean theory, everything has an essential function and he surmised that the essential function of man is his rational function. There is another word that seems to be more familiar when thinking of the intellect in Arabic which is عقل ('aql). عَقْل comes from عَقَلَ which means to hobble; to tie up or bind; or to be endowed with reason, be reasonable, or have intelligence. In Plato's Tripartite Theory of the Soul, he surmised that the soul has an appetitive part (similiar to plants), an emotive part (similiar to animals), and a rational part. The rational part's job is to restrain the other parts of our soul and we can see this in ourselves if we reflect (though maybe not so much so with the emotive part today in our age of feeling). One who does this and keeps all of the parts of the soul in harmony is said to be just.
It would seem, then, that perhaps a better rendering of لبّ would be
wisdom as someone becomes wise, as a wise person is the best part of humanity, and as wisdom is the quintessence of the human being. And عقل would render as the intellect or the rational faculty of the human being.
Parsing through verses nine through eighteen of Surah al Zumar, Allah reveals some qualities of those possessed of wisdom:
They are devoutly obedient,
Especially during the watches of the night.
They prostrate in prayer and
Stand in prayer.
They are wary of the next life.
They hope for the Mercy of Allah.
They are conscious of Allah.
They do good.
They are patient.
They worship Allah.
This is repeated in both verses eleven and fourteen with a subtle nuance. The first instance is a commandment, but then in verse fourteen the command has been accepted and has become personal.
They devote their دين (deen) entirely to Allah.
This is also repeated in the same verses with the same subtle nuance, i.e., moving from being the object to being the subject. Also, دين is usually translated as religion and it does have the meaning of professing something at its root; however, in the American context where religion is seperate from our personal lives (read: seperation of Church and State), it should be understood that Islam is a way of life. Maybe in an isolated context lifestyle is better, but that has its own baggage.
They are the first of those who submit.
They fear the punishment of the next life.
They shun false deities.
They shun worshipping false deities.
They turn to God.
They listen to the Word.
They follow what is most beautiful of it.
This means to choose what is most virtuous of the commandments or recommendations revealed to us.
They are guided.
They are tolerant.
They don't lose their selves (the nafs).
Rather, they recognize the reality that everything is a servant of Allah and has been given to us by Him. There is nothing worthy of worship except Allah; so, it is up to us to submit.
They have glad tidings.