The Book Of Self

Whenever I hear the Quran chanted, it is as though I am listening to Music, underneath the flowing melody there is sounding… insistent beat of a drum, it is like the beating of my heart


Today we begin our new series on books by attempting to read the First Book, the Mother of Books, the Book of our Souls or Self (what Ahad Zargar calls manich sipar).

Scriptures constitute the First Books mankind knows because it is God who taught speech, and the knowledge of names of things – their archetypes, their essence, their face facing God, their meaning – ultimately required for salvation. The first man was also a prophet to whom God spoke. Culture, especially in the traditional sense of the term as understood in all great cultures we know of across ages and regions, is ultimately linked to Revelation, to Metaphysics. Its symbols, its rituals, its art, its deepest connotations can’t be comprehended in absence of reference to the Sacred.  In order to read the Quran we need to be convinced why education about the Quran matters. It is a matter of life and death, and not merely better education or knowledge about an aspect of one’s culture. Let us meditate on the chapter The Quran in Frithjof Schuon’s great book (arguably the best for the better-educated, especially the modern-educated and Western readers) on Islam Understanding Islam.  I quote only three sentences from it and then make some remarks that will help to illustrate or comprehend the sentence.

“Revelation is the objectivation of the transcendent Intellect and to one degree or another awakens the latent knowledge – or elements of knowledge – we bear within ourselves.”

“Revelation is as it were the intellection – or the intellect – of the collectivity, in the sense that it compensates for the absence of intellectual intuition, not in an individual, but in a human collectivity subject to given conditions.”

“A sacred Scripture . . . is a totality, a diversified image of Being, diversified and transfigured for the sake of the human receptacle; it is a light that wills to make itself visible to clay…”

(To understand Schuon’s point we need to recall the distinction between reason and intellect. Intellect (nous) grounds reason (ratio), and is a transcendent faculty we all potentially have, and has direct access to truth without mediation of concepts or other tools that reason applies in comprehending. This leads us to appreciate another point: that that Archangel Gabriel “ personification of a function of the Spirit” or Intellect, and thus the question of who reveals the Quran is resolved. Revelation isn’t something that we can’t conceive of or imagine in any way. It is, as Iqbal has emphasized in his study of the Quran, a property of all life. We need to remind ourselves of great efforts by Muslim philosophers, including Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi, to develop a theory of revelation. Fazlur Rahman has a book devoted to explicating the idea of prophecy as understood in Muslim intellectual history. Al-Farabi’s understanding of prophecy is remarkable in various senses, including the sense that it brilliantly reconciles philosophical and prophetic approaches in the quest of the ultimate reality.

What Schuon says here also follows from considering such verses as God unveiling himself in Signs. The Quranic verses are called ayaat – Signs. Virgin nature as the cosmic rhythms we experience are also called signs. Signs within (anfus), and Signs without (aafaq) are what we are invited to contemplate by the Quran. The Prophet (PBUH) doesn’t invite us to believe in him or some occult or secret lore to which he alone has access. He invites us to contemplate the Signs of God scattered everywhere. That is why the Quran declares that only the knowledgeable people fear God, and that is the right use of intelligence or intellect that saves. Belief should ideally fructify in gnosis, in realizational knowledge. Those who are bestowed with this know the Quran as their own story or history and what transcends temporality and history in our spirit. The Quran needs to be revealed on each of us if we are to understand it properly, as Iqbal told his son.

If the Quran doesn’t tell our story, whose story does it tell? The Story of God or the past people?  But those who know that God is (that is,God  exists), or that theology (science about God) is really autology (science of the Self), and those who are able to identify prophets with aspects of developed human consciousness and verify in their own selves the “stories” about other people or prophets told in the Quran, tell us that the Quran is not alien discourse. Ahad Zargar’s mei zaav Muhammad, mei von Quran,” as Iqbal’s “tere zameer pa jab tak na ho nuzool-e-kitab/girah kusha hai na razi na sahib-e-kashshaf and Iqbal’s tujhe kitab se mumkin nahin faragh ke tu/ kitab-khwan hai magar sahib-e-kitab nahin is perfectly comprehensible for those who know what intellect is, who know the metaphysical-esoteric meaning of Jibra’eel, who know scripture as Monologue of the Self. Those who thus know the Quran have no questions that trouble them about the genesis of revelation and the inherent limitations of its human receptacle, or about the seemingly exclusive language of various scriptures.

The Quran has everything, not because you read it and find secret correspondences to or echoes of this and that science but because it makes you free of the chains constituted by blind authority and passions that veil the truth. It gives you eyes, or asks you to sharpen your own vision to see the reality of things. And that really constitutes the knowable aspect of God we are required to take note of as humans.