Rafed English

What is Wisdom?

Adapted from: "Imam 'Ali's First Treatise on The Islamic Ethics and Education" by: "Zainol Aabideen Qorbani Lahiji"

Hikmah or wisdom originally means "to arrive at rightousness by knowledge and reasoning." In the same way that a horse is made tame by giving it a bridle (hakamah), man, too, by acquiring wisdom and by arriving at the right through knowledge and reasoning, is saved from wrong-doing.3
Although in some traditions the word wisdom (hikmah) is interpreted to mean "knowledge in religion" and in some other traditions it is taken to mean "understanding," and still in others it is taken to mean "knowledge about Imams," with regards to the fact that the word "hikmah" in the Qur’an is used for Luqman, who was not a prophet,4
    "وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا لُقْمَانَ الْحِكْمَةَ"294
"... and certainly we gave wisdom to Luqman"
And because of the fact that the Prophet (S) was appointed to call people to Islam through wisdom, good exhortation, and appropriate debate,5 and it was not possible to invite people to Islam only through verses of Qur’an (without using wisdom and reasoning), and also due to the fact that the Qur’an on several occasions used the word "hikmah" after the word kitab (Book), this word it taken by some to mean tradition, and by others philosophy or commandments or reasoning.6 We conclude that "hikmah" does not mean the above interpretations singly; rather, each one of those interpretations defines only one aspect of the word. Thus hikmah could mean: Any kind of realistic knowledge and insight which can lead man in the dimensions of theoretical and practical philosophy, either through inspiration, ascetism and piety, or through the justification of the philosophy of commandments or the commandments themselves, or in the dimensions of theoretical or practical philosophy.


3. Majma’ al-Bahrayn, Mufradat of Raghib, Item hikam.

4. Bihar, vol.13, p.423.

5. "ادْعُ إِلَى سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلْهُمْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ"

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation and have disputations with them in the best manner…” [Qur’an 16:125].

6. Shaykh Tusi’s Tibyan, vol..10, p.4; Tafsir Ruh al-Ma’ani, vol.9, p.514; Al-Mizan, vol.19, pp.265-272; Majma’ al-Bayan, vol.10, p.284; Interpretation of Surah al-Jumu’ah, by Mulla Sadra, p.216.


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