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The Exercise of Hikmah .. Wisdom

By Sadullah Khan

Sadullah Khan is the Director of Islamic Center of Irvine. He has presented lectures on Islamic Civilization at California State University at Dominguez Hills. He is a frequent lecturer for the Academy of Judaic, Christian and Islamic Studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). He is also an advisor to the Chancellor's Committee on Religion Ethics and Values at UCLA and serves as Director of Muslim Affairs at USC (University of Southern California).

You can watch his lectures on Empowerment and Hadith of the Day at IslamiTV

Defining Wisdom

Wisdom has been defined as ...

  • the ability to make correct judgments and decisions.
  • as foreseeing consequences and acting to maximize beneficial results.
  • making the best use of available knowledge.
  • thinking what is best and doing what is best in any given situation

Hikmah (denoting 'wisdom') is a positive term used repeatedly in the Quran as a characteristic of the righteous [Quran 2:251; Quran 4:54; Quran 5:110], as a quality of those who truly understand [Quran 31:12].

  • The Quran is referred to as the Wise Quran [Quran 36:2]; the Book of Wisdom the verses of a Book of Wisdom [Quran 10:2; Quran 13:2]
  • Wisdom is referred to as an integral component of the Message and Guidance provided by Divine Revelation ... taught the Book, the wisdom, the Gospel and the Torah [Quran 5:110]
  •  and even the Almighty refers to Himself as The Mighty , The Wise [Quran 2:209].
  • When Prophet Abraham prayed for the fulfillment of the mission of prophets, he prayed for one who would " relate scripture to the people, convey hikmah (wisdom) and provide a means of purification." [Quran 2:129]
  • Hikmah is the lost property of the Believer; the Prophet Muhammad said and he encouraged us to take wisdom from any source.
  • in the case of debating and argumentation, hikmah should be the primary instrument [Quran 16:125]

Hikmah (Wisdom), 'Aql (Mind)

At times the word hikmah is interchanged with 'aql; as evidenced in the saying of Sayedna 'Ali, the tongue of a wise person is behind the heart and the heart of a fool is behind the tongue.

Hikmah & 'Ilm

Though 'ilm (knowledge) may open the doorways to hikmah, but hikmah is distinct from 'ilm. Knowledge and information provides means for enlightenment ; Remember Allah's Blessings and the (truthful information) sent through the Book and the wisdom it provides by which you may be enlightened. [Quran 2:23]

  • The Prophet said ask the learned, consult with the wise and accompany the poor.
  • There are many who know many things, yet are lacking in wisdom. [Ancient Greek philosopher, Democritus]
  • In our age... people seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, [author and poet, T.S. Eliot]
  • Philosophy is harmonized knowledge making a harmonious life; it is the self-discipline which lifts us to serenity and freedom. Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty. [Philosopher & writer, Will Durant]
  • The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. - [Isaac Asimov's Book of Science and Nature Quotations, 1988 ]

Though 'book knowledge' enhances the potential for wisdom; wisdom is often attained by learning in other ways; By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and Third by experience, which is the bitterest. [Ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius]

Virtue & Wisdom

Ethics is the branch of philosophy which attempts to understand the nature of morality; to define that which is right from that which is wrong. Ancient Roman orator, Cicero said; "The function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil." The Ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, suggested that the four cardinal virtues are wisdom, courage, self-control and justice.

In Islam, wisdom is always linked to virtue. "You shall not accept any information, unless you verify it for yourself. I have given you the capacity for hearing, sight, and the intellect, and you are responsible for using them effectively. You shall not walk with arrogance on earth - you cannot bore through the earth, nor can you be as tall as the mountains. All impropriety is condemned by your Lord. This is of the wisdom inspired to you by your Lord. You shall not set up another object of worship beside God, lest you end up in hell; blamed and defeated." [Quran 17:36-39]

Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq stated that the cardinal virtues to live by are ... piety, contentment, patience, gratitude, humility, modesty, generosity, courage, enthusiasm, benevolence, truthfulness and trustworthiness.

Effective Wisdom

Wise ones have said that the height of wisdom is to proportion our wants to our possessions, our ambitions to our capacities, our emotions to our conscience and our deeds to our values it is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err. [Gandhi]

The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man. [Ancient Greek playwright, Euripides]

Wisdom is a bounteous thing that is invaluable, and Allah reminds us in the Quran:

Whoever is granted wisdom has indeed been granted something tremendously beneficial; but none reflect except people of insight. [Quran 2:269]


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