Wisdom has been variously defined throughout the ages. However, none of these numerous definitions have been enough to provide people with the real meaning of wisdom. This is because information seekers have not consulted an accurate source but tried to assess wisdom by their own reasoning. As we mentioned previously, the source from which we can get information on wisdom is the Qur'an, as revealed by Allah, Who possesses infinite wisdom.
Anyone who fears Allah and obeys the Qur'an is wise. However, most people are not aware that they can easily possess such a blessing. As they assume that wisdom is purely innate, they do not think it probable that they could acquire anymore than they already have.
For example, it is similar to a child believing that the world consists only of his house, his classroom, his teacher, and his toys. Obviously, it is not possible for the child to leave his little world and see the whole world with a mature pair of eyes. That is why all his ideals, his worries, and his activities are restricted to his own little world. Whereas, a mature adult, observing this child's life, can clearly see how restricted the child's world is. This is because the adult possesses the experience and knowledge that the world does not consist of just a house, a classroom, and a couple of toys.
So, a similar comparison can be applied to wisdom. a person lacking wisdom assumes that he knows the truth about everything, that he is the wisest person, and lives the most wonderful life. As a result, he believes that he treads the most righteous path. As he sees no possibility of leading a better life, a better way of thinking, he cannot compare and realize the difference. Whereas in the Qur'an, the gift of wisdom is mentioned as a great blessing which provides a superior way of life, the ability to comprehend greater issues, and thinking capability. So, this book will define wisdom according to the Qur'an and show that wisdom presents us with a clear consciousness and the ability to comprehend. In one of the verses Allah commands:
This is a warning to mankind. Let them take heed and know that He is but One Allah. Let the people of understanding bear this in mind. (Surah Ibrahim: 52)*
What is Real Wisdom?
As we mentioned at the beginning of the book, the word "wisdom" in society is generally used to mean a person's level of intelligence. However, wisdom is a greater and a more profound way of understanding than innate intelligence is.
Intelligence, as is most commonly defined, is the sum of the human being's ability to think, perceive realities, and reach conclusions. The ability to adapt to first-time or suddenly encountered situations, to understand, learn, and analyse, the development of the five senses, concentration, thought, and attention to detail are all made possible through our intelligence. For example, an intelligent professor can promptly comprehend how things function physically and formulate it. Or an intelligent person with a good memory can understand intricate and detailed aspects of situations. and one with practical intelligence can come up with practical and simplified solutions to the situations he faces.
On the other hand, the wise man, as well as making use of the advantages intelligence provides, makes use of the comprehension and ability an intelligent person doesn't possess.
An intelligent person can only accomplish things with the knowledge and experience he acquires by examining particular topics or by otherwise educating himself. But, these are abilities such as depend on learning, memorizing, and experience. As a result, he may reach an impasse at some point, unable to find solutions to problems and carry things through to a satisfactory conclusion.
On the other hand, a wise person, without former education or experience, can reach more appropriate and definite conclusions on any given subject, which he has in fact never previously encountered than one who has studied that subject for many years. This is because, a wise person can find the most practical solution, even if he doesn't have any technical knowledge on the subject. If necessary, he can even apply to the person with the most experience on the subject to do the job and reach a solution. In brief, wisdom is an ability that provides us with greater comprehension than intelligence, deeper understanding, ability to find the truth, and produce a solution for every problem. Furthermore, wisdom is a trait that gives us control of all aspects of our lives and brings us success.
The sole attribute that endows us with this quality is faith. Allah gives special understanding to those who have faith and fear Him. In the Qur'an, the understanding awarded to those who fear Allah is explained thus:
You who believe! If you heed Allah, He will give you a criterion [by which to judge between right and wrong] and will cleanse you of your sins and forgive you. Allah's favour is indeed immense. (Surat al-Anfal: 29)
As can be seen, wisdom comes about moment by moment as Allah reveals the truth to those who have faith and abide by their conscience. This attribute faith has endowed us with, gives us the ability to differentiate right from wrong and think correctly, make sound judgements, and reach the most sensible decisions in every part of our lives. a wise person can see details in situations that most people fail to see, distinguish subtleties, and arrive at the most accurate and sound conclusions. He or she can be farsighted concerning long-range plans, determine situations that may be encountered in the future, and devise flawless plans. In the same way, he makes the best use of his past experiences, drawing upon them wisely where most needed. Because he can evaluate events clearly, everything he does is beneficial, everything he says has wisdom, and his every reaction is ideal.
Moreover, wisdom forms a deeper meaning in the human soul, which allows us to derive more pleasure from the blessings of life. For this reason, people of wisdom can see the inner beauty of things which most people would regard as ordinary.
However, it is not possible to limit the definition of wisdom, since, wisdom is a privilege and an entitlement to superiority that affects every part of our lives. The information given in the following pages, will allow the reader to better comprehend the blessings gained from the wisdom acquired through faith.
The Real Possessor of Wisdom is Allah
Human beings have been created. As a result, the wisdom seen in human beings is not an inherent ability; it has been given to them. The real possessor of wisdom is the Creator of human beings: Allah. Allah possesses infinite and unlimited intelligence and He gives intelligence whenever and to whomever He wills, in relation to the faith of the individual.
People who are given this blessing can evaluate their world in more subtle ways. Whichever corner of the universe they look at, they can see that every detail they encounter is full of examples of Allah's infinite intelligence. In the Qur'an, the helplessness of human beings in the face of Allah's superior intelligence and artistry is described with an example in the following verses:
He created the seven heavens one above the other. You will not find any flaw in the creation of the All-Merciful. Look again—do you see any gaps? Then look again and again. Your sight will return to you dazzled and exhausted! (Surat al-Mulk: 3-4)
As the verses clarify, there is not the slightest deficiency in Allah's creation. Every faultless system encountered in the universe is an indicator of His superior intelligence. One reason why Allah displays to mankind such perfect systems is for human beings to know the real possessor of wisdom, to comprehend Allah's greatness, and to have faith in Him by submitting to Him.
The verse "They said, 'Glory be to You! We have no knowledge except what You have taught us. You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise'" . (Surat al-Baqara: 32) in the Qur'an conveys the utterance befitting the wise who appreciate that Allah is the possessor of real wisdom.
Wisdom and Conscience
As we mentioned in the previous chapters, anyone who follows his conscience can easily distinguish right from wrong. But there are those who try to suppress their conscience, even though they can hear it and know that it is telling them the truth. Eventually in this situation, people who don't listen to their conscience become unable to distinguish right from wrong. They don't think of Allah's greatness and their own vulnerability; they assume that they have acquired the qualities Allah has given them all by themselves and they become haughty.
For the sake of argument, let's take a scientist who has discovered the unknown secrets of space or the human body with the intelligence and skill Allah has given him. If this scientist doesn't use his wisdom, doesn't think of who created this faultless order in the universe and the human body, he cannot possess real conscience and comprehension. Instead of appreciating the perfection in the phenomenon he has discovered and turning towards Allah and praising Him, he becomes proud of himself and seeks admiration. In the Qur'an Allah tells us that such people who take their whims and desires to be their god have their hearts sealed as a result:
Have you seen him who takes his whims and desires to be his god—whom Allah has misguided knowingly, sealing up his hearing and his heart and placing a blindfold over his eyes? Who then will guide him after Allah? So will you not pay heed? (Surat al-Jathiyya: 23)
As the verse declares, the one who becomes conceited by taking his own self as his god can no longer comprehend what he sees and hears. As a result of this, he will be deprived of a great blessing, such as wisdom.
As another example, let's take the researcher who has discovered the unmatched designs in nature and the faultless systems of living things. If this researcher claims that the things he witnesses are a result of chance, he will be greatly mistaken. and to say that this person is wise would be impossible. Because, wisdom is the ability to comprehend that the perfection in animate things and in systems is Allah's creation.
Such clever people may be in the spotlight with their inventions, knowledge, and skill and gain others' approval, give admirable speeches and achieve a superior position in communities far from religion. But, this is all on the surface; the reality is that such people cannot show any signs of real wisdom.
But it is also important to realise that these people are not aware of the position they are in. They suppose that their intelligence has brought them to the highest possible level and they become proud. But the wise can clearly see that such people are lacking in real wisdom. and they comprehend how powerless such people are in the face of Allah, regardless of what they may think. Allah thus explains the helpless situation of people who cannot think:
The unbelievers are like beasts which, call out to them as one may, can hear nothing but a cry and a call. Deaf, dumb and blind, they understand nothing. (Surat al-Baqara: 171)
Does Wisdom Increase?
There is another distinction between intelligence and wisdom. Wisdom is not something fixed. On the contrary it is an ability that can increase and develop throughout one's life. This characteristic of wisdom is directly related to fear and awareness of Allah and obedience to one's conscience. In following verse Allah commands believers to fear Him and take heed as much as they can: "Fear Allah, with all your hearts, and be attentive, obedient and charitable." (Surat at-Taghabun: 16) For this reason, no one should see his fear of Allah as sufficient: He should always seek ways to bring himself closer to Allah and strictly abide by his conscience.
Allah can then increase his comprehension and his ability to discriminate right from wrong, in relation to his sincerity and the serious effort he makes to gain His approval. This is Allah's support for those who believe and an important secret of the Qur'an. The individual can use this opportunity in the best way possible to acquire the blessings wisdom has to offer in this world and the Hereafter.
Can Wisdom Be Imitated?
One who has intelligence can recognize the superiority of someone who has wisdom and admire that person openly or secretly. He tries to imitate this wise person and to achieve the same superiority. But as he cannot appreciate that it is wisdom that gives him this uniqueness, he searches for the solution in the wrong place. He begins to observe this person's behaviour, conversations, and mannerisms and he tries to conduct himself likewise. He may read a library-full of books, increase his knowledge, good manners, and skills but he still cannot achieve the admiration and respect that this person has gained. This is because, the source of wisdom is not knowledge, skill, culture, or education. of course, a wise person possesses these qualities and uses them in the most useful ways. But the real source of wisdom is faith; therefore, one who has no sincere faith in Allah can never achieve the superiority of wisdom whatever he does, neither by imitation nor in any other way.
Also, wisdom is not limited to specific manners used only at certain times. On the contrary, it is a quality of perfection that changes according to circumstances, conditions and situations. The man of faith shows clear insight in situations he never expected or in fact never encountered before, as well as in situations he encounters every day.
It is not possible for people who lack wisdom to imitate such perfection. They usually panic in situations they are experiencing for the first time, they don't know what to do, or cannot hit on the right thing to do, and usually end up without a solution. Such people do not possess the qualities that wisdom brings such as speed, quick-wittedness, ability to solve problems, and dynamism.
In the Qur'an, Allah mentions people who try to present themselves as religious and want to associate themselves with believers, even though they have no faith. These people, hypocrites as Allah calls them, can imitate certain qualities of the believers. For example, they may pray as Allah orders, may give alms, or preach religious sermons. Allah refers to the ostentation of their behaviour in the following verses:
… Those who spend their wealth to show off to people, not believing in Allah and the Last Day... (Surat an-Nisa': 38)
Hypocrites think they deceive Allah, but He is deceiving them. When they rise to pray, they do so lazily, showing off to people, and only remembering Allah a very little. (Surat an-Nisa': 142)
When you see them, their outward form appeals to you, and if they speak, you listen to what they say. But they are like propped-up planks of wood… (Surat al-Munafiqun: 4)
As can be seen, the reason such people perform some of the requirements of religion is to show off. But the reality is, these people cannot entirely imitate the behaviour of the wise. It becomes obvious that they are not sincere Muslims by the things they say and the reactions they make to situations quite unwittingly. Wisdom, therefore, is an important indicator that enables us to distinguish true believers from those who only try to profit the image of the faithful.
Allah's Messenger (saas) also related the following about the superficial morality of the hypocrites and warned Muslims to be on their guard against them: " Do not be like the hypocrite who, when he talks, tells lies; when he makes a promise, breaks it; and when he is trusted, proves dishonest." (Bukhari and Muslim)
Wisdom Paves The Way To Reality
Wisdom is "a higher dimension of consciousness", which many people who have not attained faith have not experienced. With such consciousness the individual's mind is very clear. However, what provides this clearness is neither the brain's capacity, nor sharpness of intelligence, nor skill. The cause of this clearness of mind is the person's faith in Allah and the Qur'an. One who uses the Qur'an as a guide is rid of all the incorrect information he formerly had. This is replaced solely with correct knowledge.
Foremost among the knowledge he acquires, is the real meaning of this world. One with a clear mind knows from the Qur'an that Allah has created this world as a transient place to test humankind. He can clearly see that the world has been created attractive and adorned with pretty things on purpose, and that some people lose themselves among these things and forget their true life, which is the Hereafter. But the believer himself, as he can arrive at the reality of any situation through the Qur'an, prepares for the Hereafter.
It is the wise who can truly grasp the truth about death. a person with wisdom, even though he may be the richest, the most attractive, and the most esteemed, knows that being so will not be of any help to him when he dies one day. But, he also realizes that death is not an end but rather a beginning. People who lead their lives according to Allah's will will go to Heaven and those who get carried away with worldly life and forget their responsibilities toward Allah will end up in Hell. Furthermore, he recognizes that Heaven is infinite and far superior to this life which does not exceed 80-90 years and is full of shortcomings. For this reason, he sees death as the beginning of an infinite life where he will be united with Allah's mercy, rather than as an annihilation that brings sadness. This knowledge also allows him to fully comprehend the reality of the Hereafter.
Something else these people with the clear conscience stemming from wisdom can comprehend is the reality of fate. They know that Allah, the possessor of infinite wisdom, has created everything on earth, small or big, with a purpose and divine reason. Even if they face an event, which at first sight seems unfavourable, they never forget that every cloud has a silver lining and that Allah is merely testing them. Because they can grasp this reality, they submit to Allah with all their heart, they trust Him completely, and they gladly accept their destiny.
Wisdom Provides Right Thinking
The ability to think is an important characteristic of human beings. However, many people do not use this ability in connection with reasonable or useful issues. Instead, they apply it to issues that are not beneficial either to themselves or to others. Sometimes they think for hours at a time or even days on end, but even after spending so much time they cannot produce any solutions. However, for anyone to assert that he can think advantageously, he needs to be able to make positive use of his hearing, perception, and thoughts.
The wise person is different from others in that he does not think just for the sake of thinking. He thinks to arrive at a solution, to be of some help, to find the truth, and to produce beneficial results. He determines what he is supposed to think with his wisdom. He doesn't occupy his mind with things that will waste his time and not lead him to any solutions. For example, he doesn't worry himself with unfounded suspicions, Satan's deceitful whisperings, or waste his time with concerns for the future.
He uses the Qur'an as his guide in such matters and he bases his thoughts on issues on which Allah encourages people to reflect. Foremost on his list of topics, is to think of the almightiness of Allah Who created him, all others and all the things he knows. a wise person never fails to remember that Allah is not bounded by time and place, that His presence encompasses everything, that when every creature is dependent on Him, He is beyond need of any being, He is the owner and sovereign of the universe, He sees all creatures every second of their existence, He knows whatever they say, do, or whatever passes through their minds, and that He keeps the record of everything from the beginning of time till the end of it. Our Prophet (saas) has thus explained this clearness of the mind of the believers: "There is a polish for everything that takes away rust; and the polish for the heart is the remembrance of Allah." (Bukhari)
One of the things the wise think of the most is how to achieve Allah's love and approval, because, he knows that he is more responsible to Allah than to anyone or anything in the world. At every moment of his life and every event he faces he thinks of what would be the conduct that would best bring him close to Allah. He always uses his mind to do beneficial and good things, to behave in the best manner possible to others around him, to say the best words, and live by the morals approved of by Allah. By trying to meticulously follow the commands and restrictions set forth in the Qur'an, he spends all his energy to on being one of the people most loved by Allah.
Such people, who think by using their wisdom, are stated to have reached the most righteous and correct way by acknowledging Allah's greatness. This is elaborated upon in the following verses:
Those who remember Allah, standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth [saying]: "Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire." (Surah Al 'Imran: 191)
In the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and day, and the ships which sail the seas to people's benefit, and the water which Allah sends down from the sky—by which He brings the earth to life when it was dead and scatters about on it creatures of every kind—and the varying direction of the winds, and the clouds subservient between heaven and earth, there are Signs for people who use their reason. (Surat al-Baqara: 164)
By thinking such things as bring benefit, one's wisdom is increased and he can thus act with much more insight. One who uses his reason encourages the people around him to act in a better way, as well as ensuring for himself great rewards in this world and the Hereafter.
According To The Qur'an, To What Kind of Topics Should Human Beings Apply Their Wisdom?
This is explained in detail in the following verses:
And in your creation and all the creatures He has spread about there are Signs for true believers. and in the alternation of night and day and the provision Allah sends down from the sky, bringing the earth to life by it after it has died, and in the marshalling of the winds, there are Signs for people who use their reason. (Surat al-Jathiyya: 4-5)
Allah sends down water from the sky and by it brings the dead earth back to life. There is certainly a Sign in that for prudent people. There is instruction for you in cattle too. From the contents of their bellies, from between the dung and blood, We give you pure milk to drink, easy for drinkers to swallow. and from the fruit of the date palm and the grapevine you derive both intoxicants and wholesome food. There is certainly a Sign in that for people who use their reason. (Surat an-Nahl: 65-67)
In the earth there are diverse regions side by side: and vineyards and cornfields, and palm-trees sharing one root and others with individual roots, all watered with the same water. Yet We make some things better to eat than others. There are Signs in that for people who use their reason. (Surat ar-Ra'd: 4)
Among His Signs are the creation of the heavens and earth and the variety of your languages and colours. There are certainly Signs in that for every being. Among His Signs are your sleep by night and your seeking after His bounty by day. There are certainly Signs in that for all mankind. Yet another of His Signs is the lightning, a source of fear and eager hope. He sends down water from the sky, bringing the dead earth back to life by it. There are certainly Signs in that for people who use their reason. (Surat ar-Rum: 22-24)
It is He Who sends down water from the sky. From it you drink and from it come the shrubs among which you graze your herds. and by it He makes crops grow for you and olives and dates and grapes and fruit of every kind. There is certainly a Sign in that for people who reflect. He has made night and day subservient to you, and the sun and moon and stars, all subject to His command. There are certainly Signs in that for people who use their reason. (Surat an-Nahl: 10-12)
It was He Who dispersed you about the earth and you will be gathered to Him. It is He Who ordains life and death and He Who alternates the night and day. So will you not use your reason? (Surat al-Mu'minun: 79-80)
He has made an example for you from among yourselves. Do you have any partners for what We have provided you with among those whom your right hands control? Do you [feel] the same in such a case so that you fear [these servants] just as you fear one another? In that way We make Our Signs clear for people who use their reason. (Surat ar-Rum: 28)
Did I not chase you, tribe of Adam, never to worship Satan, who truly is an outright enemy to you, but to worship Me? That was surely the right path. Yet he has led huge numbers of you into error. Why did you not use your reason? (Surah Ya Sin: 60-62)
It was He Who created you from earth, then from a drop of sperm, then from an alaq [embryo], then He brings you out as infants into the world, you may achieve full manhood, then decline into old age—though some of you may die before that time—so that you may reach a predetermined age and grow in wisdom. (Surah Ghafir: 67)
Those who obey to their Lord will receive the best. But as for those who disobey Him, even if they owned everything on the earth and the same again with it, they would gladly offer it as their ransom. They will receive an evil Reckoning. Their abode will be Hell. What an evil resting-place! is he who knows that what has been sent down to you from your Lord is the truth like him who is blind? It is only the wise who pay heed. (Surat ar-Ra'd: 18-19)
What of him who spends the night hours in prayer, prostrating himself or standing up, mindful of the Hereafter, hoping for the mercy of his Lord? Say: "Are they equal—the wise and the ignorant?" It is only the wise who pay heed. (Surat az-Zumar: 9)
Do you not see that Allah sends down water from the sky which penetrates the earth to emerge as springs and then by it brings forth crops of varying colours, which then wither and you see them turning yellow and then He makes them into broken stubble? There is a reminder in that for people of understanding. (Surat az-Zumar: 21)
He gives wisdom to whoever He wills and he who has been given wisdom has been given a great good. But no one pays heed but people of understanding. (Surat al-Baqara: 269)
It is He Who sent down the Book to you from Him: chapters containing clear judgements—they are the core of the Book—and others which are open to interpretation. Those with disbelief in their hearts follow what is open to interpretation, desiring conflict, by seeking its inner meaning. No one knows its inner meaning but Allah. Those firmly grounded in knowledge say, "We believe in it. All of it is from our Lord". But only people of understanding pay heed. (Surah Al 'Imran: 7)
You who believe! Do not make friends with any but your own people. They will do anything to harm you. They love what causes you distress. Their hatred is evident from their utterances, but what their breasts hide is far worse. We have made Our Signs clear to you, if you will use reason. (Surah Al 'Imran: 118)
Say: "Come and I will recite to you what your Lord has made binding upon you: that you serve no other gods besides Him; that you shall be good to your parents; that you shall not kill your children because of poverty—We will provide for you and them; that you shall not commit foul sins, whether openly or in secret; that you shall not kill any person, for Allah has forbidden this—except for a just cause. That is what He instructs you to do, so that, hopefully, you will grow in wisdom. (Surat al-An'am: 151)
We sent apostles before you but mortals inspired by Our will and chosen from among the people of the cities. Have they not travelled the land and seen the final fate of those who disbelieved before them? The abode of the Hereafter is better for those who guard against evil. So will you not use your reason? (Surah Yusuf: 109)
When Our Messengers came to Lut, he was distressed on their account, feeling incapable of protecting them. They said, "Do not fear and do not grieve. We are going to rescue you and your family—except for your wife; she will be one of those who stay behind. We will bring down on the inhabitants of this city a devastating punishment from heaven because of their deviance." We have left a Clear Sign of them behind for people who use their reason. (Surat al-'Ankabut: 33-35)
* The concept of "people of understanding" which appears in the English translations of the verse is a translation of the Arabic ulul albab, which literally means "possessors of wisdom" or "those who see into the core of a thing" (albab is the plural of lubb which also means "the core of a thing"). It is generally agreed in commentaries that this concept expresses a deep intelligence and conceptual ability. That is why it appears in the form "people of understanding" here.