In verse eight, Syedna Taher Saifuddin RA calls upon mankind to enlighten his intellect with the rays of divine revelation. He directs him to enlighten his soul with the light of knowledge, thereby establishing that only knowledge derived from divine revelation has the potential to illuminate the soul. The precedence given to the development of the intellect is justified by the fact that a man’s intellect allows him to differentiate between right and wrong, between acquiring knowledge that benefits him and that which does not. Only through such discernment can he acquire knowledge that leads towards betterment in both this world and the next.
A prime indicator of this ability to differentiate is seen in the pledging of allegiance to Āle Mohammed SA. This act alone results in a point of divine radiance attaching itself to the soul. Then, through acquiring knowledge and acting in accordance with it, the radiance of this light increases ultimately leading him towards ʿĀlam al-ʿAql (the realm of the intellect), the hereafter. Hence, this pledge of allegiance is the most valuable knowledge for without it the soul cannot be enlightened.
Prior to acquiring knowledge one has to understand what knowledge is and how it can be attained. Knowledge, as defined in Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Safāʾ, lies in the soul of the learned, with ignorance being the state in which the soul is devoid of it. The souls of the learned have realised their potential for learning, while those of learners are yet to fulfil it. The act of imparting knowledge is nothing more than bringing into existence what was once latent. Since knowledge is to be found in the souls of the learned, it can only be attained by coming before these learned bearers. Those who wish to attain knowledge need to seek out those who have been divinely ordained to impart knowledge.
Furthermore, in order to enlighten one’s soul with knowledge, one must seek only that knowledge which has the potential to do so. As mentioned in the Quran, Mumineen are led from darkness towards light: from the darkness of allegories and parables towards the light of meaning. It is this meaningfulness and sense of purpose that kindles humanity in humans who otherwise would be more like cattle in their negligence of the hereafter.
The verse states that the vessel for knowledge is the soul, a created entity ranked beneath the ‘intellect’. The soul is spiritual and heavenly; it possesses the ability to differentiate and can neither be fragmented nor destroyed. It has the capability to comprehend both the tangible and abstract aspects of Creation and does so in the manner of a mirror: reflecting the image cast upon it. However, if the mirror is curved then the image is distorted and if it is tainted then nothing might be seen at all. Therefore, the soul needs to be prepared in such a way as to correctly reflect the rays of knowledge. If a person’s beliefs are impious or if his character and deeds are immoral then his soul cannot be illuminated, for it distorts the images cast upon it. The rays of divine radiance cannot be faulted for failing to reflect correctly upon a curved or tainted mirror.
This verse also highlights the intentions with which one should acquire knowledge and proof that knowledge has been correctly assimilated: spiritual enlightenment and comprehension of the truths of Creation. At the start of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Safāʾ, Imam Ahmed al-Mastur AS defines one of the meanings of philosophy as ‘comprehension of truth in all entities’. He further states that this understanding can be gained by identifying its definitive properties, for all things are either composites or elements. To understand the essence of composites one has to understand its constituents and to understand the essence of elements one has to understand the qualities that are specific to it.
Finally, the author’s use of ‘fa abqir’ reminds us of Imam Mohammed al-Baqir AS, whose endeavours in the dissemination of knowledge are respected and valued by all Muslims. The Prophet Mohammed SA had foretold to Maulana Jabir b. Abdullah al-Ansari RA that Jabir would be blessed with a long life and would live to the time of Rasul Allah’s great-great-grandson, Imam Mohammed al-Baqir AS. Nabi Mohammed SA instructed him to convey his salam to Imam Mohammed al-Baqir AS as well as his directive, ‘O’ Baqir of Knowledge, disseminate knowledge far and wide’. Imam AS was renowned by the appellation ‘Bāqir’ for he was the first to thoroughly examine various realms of knowledge, speak decisively regarding them, compile and consolidate them and establish himself as the foremost authority in them. These qualities highlight the dedication and commitment required in seeking knowledge and the criteria that are to be satisfied for one to thoroughly comprehend the truths of Creation.