Men of Understanding and the facts that hinder wisdom
What does “the men of understanding” mean, then? The answer to this question is provided in the Qur’an. Vain desires and passions are the major factors that hinder one’s heart from understanding. Envy is an example. One cannot expect one whose mind is occupied with the feeling of envy to have wisdom. Under the influence of jealousy, he feels too distracted. He cannot keep himself from thinking about the person he is jealous of, he becomes angry and has a feeling of rancour towards him. In this state of envy, his mind is riven by jealousy, and he remains deprived of the ability to think clearly, or make sound assessments.
All other ambitions and passions are also a hindrance to wisdom. The allure of possessions and wealth greatly influences a man. An unbridled passion for possessions enslaves him willy nilly. All mental capabilities are concentrated on ways of gaining more possessions and more money.
These are the fears and passions that are a hindrance to understanding. Man, becoming a slave to these passions, can never focus his attention on the main issues that he has to consider. A person should divert all his thinking abilities to his Creator, who brought him from nonexistence to glorious creation. However, a heart full of worldly ambitions fails to occupy itself with the remembrance of Allah. Only those who are “endued with understanding”, in other words, those who are purified of ambitions, fear and selfish greed can have a profound understanding of Allah and obey Him.
The men of understanding are the people who take warning from Allah and who readily accept the truth communicated to them. They never demonstrate arrogance. They do not insist on their misdeeds; they change as soon as they feel something is erroneous. Their purpose in an argument is to find out the truth; not to impose their opinion on others. That is why Allah states that they are “those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding.” (Az-Zumar, 18)
Since unbelievers are devoid of wisdom and understanding, they cannot see the great signs surrounding them. The heavens, the earth, and all that is in between are the signs of Allah. However, an unbeliever can never see them; his sight is blurred with ambitions and worldly pleasures. He puts his mind to his minor benefits and selfish desires. His mind has surely a poor grasp of Allah. That is why Allah calls on “men of understanding” to believe in Him:
(Moses ) said :Lord of the east and the west, and all between ! If you only had sense! (Ash-Shura, 28)
It is interesting how the unbelievers are addressed to in the Quran; Allah and His messengers call them to wisdom in the first step.“Nor did We send before you (as messengers) any but men, whom we inspired - men living in human habitations. Did they not travel through the land, and see what was the end of those who disbelieved before them? But the home of the hereafter is best, for those who do right. Will you not then understand? (Joseph, 109)
People of the Book! Why do you dispute about Abraham, when the Law and the Gospel were not revealed till after him? Have you no understanding? (Al-Imran, 65) We have revealed for you (O men!) a book in which is a Message for you: will you not then understand? (Al-Anbiya, 10)
Say: “Come, I will tell you what Allah has really prohibited you from doing: There are no other gods besides Him; be good to your parents; do not kill your children on the plea of destitution;- We provide sustenance for you and for them;- do not commit shameful deeds, whether openly or in secret; do not take life, which Allah has made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus He commands you, so that you may learn wisdom.” (Al-Anaam, 151)
After them came an evil generation: They inherited the Book, but they chose for themselves the vanities of this world, saying for excuse: “(Everything) will be forgiven us.” Even so, if similar vanities came their way, they would again indulge in them. Was not the covenant of the Book taken from them, that they would not ascribe to Allah anything but the truth? and they have studied what is in the Book. But best for the righteous is the home in the Hereafter. Will you not understand? (Al-Araf, 169)
Say: “If Allah had so willed, I should not have recited it (i.e. the Qur’an) to you, nor would He have made it known to you. A whole life-time before this have I tarried amongst you before it was revealed: will you not then understand?” (Jonah, 16)
What is the life of this world but play and amusement? But best is the home in the Hereafter, for those who are righteous. Will you not then understand? (Al-Anaam, 32)
The only people who can grasp and understand the evidence of the creation of Allah and the existence of Allah are men of understanding:
And in the earth are neighbouring tracts (diverse though) and gardens of vines and fields sown with corn, and palm trees - growing out of single roots or otherwise: watered with the same water, yet some of them We make more excellent than others to eat. Behold, truly, in these things there are signs for those who understand! (Al-Rad, 4)
Say: “He has the power to send down calamities upon you, from above and below, or to cover you with confusion in party strife, giving you a taste of mutual vengeance - each from the other.” See how We explain the signs by various (symbols); so that they may understand. (Al-Anaam, 65)
It is He Who has produced you from a single person: here is a place of sojourn and a place of departure: We have made plain Our signs for people who understand. (Al-Anaam, 98)
...Thus Allah makes clear his signs to you: so that you may understand. (Al-Noor, 61)
And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, you derive wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise. (An-Nahl, 67)
He has made subject to you the Night and the Day; the sun and the moon; and the stars are in subjection by His Command: turly, in this are signs for men who are wise. (An-Nahl, 12)
He propounds to you a comparison from your own (experience). Do you have partners among those whom your right hands possess, to share as equals in the wealth We have bestowed on you? Do you fear them as you fear each other? Thus we explain the Signs in detail to a people who understand. (Al-Room, 28)
Moses said (to the Pharaoh): “He is the Lord of the east and the west, and all between that lies! if you only had sense!” (Al-Shuara, 28)
And among His signs, He shows you the lightning, by way both of fear and of hope, and He sends down rain from the sky and with it gives life to the earth after it is dead: truly in that are signs for those who are wise. (Al-Room, 24)
There are also different levels of wisdom. The extent by which one purifies his heart of worldly desires and selfishness determines the level of wisdom. The attachment one feels for this life and following vain desires are also major factors in determining the level of wisdom.
Man will either obey Allah, or his vain desires. When he obeys Allah, he is saved from the limitations of his desires and attains wisdom. The reverse is also true; worshipping desires means reprogramming all of one’s thoughts and behaviour to accord with the unlimited wishes of the soul.
In case desires have control over one’s soul, the heart also becomes sealed. It becomes blunted towards divine enlightenment. Thus the heart loses its properties of “understanding” (At-tawba, 87), “knowing” (At-Tawba, 93), and becomes dull and loses its sensitivity. The heart loses its light.
In the process, the individual can never realize that he has lost his understanding, since he has also lost the criteria by which to judge between right and wrong.Although one acquiring wisdom is always aware of this positive change in himself, the same does not hold true for the opposite. This is just like the case of a man who falls into a faint or slips into a coma; in both cases he would never know what state he had been in until he recovered.
In the Qur’an, the state of those who are devoid of wisdom is also explained:
The parable of those who reject faith is that of one shouting like a goat-herd, to beasts that can hear nothing but calls and cries: Deaf, dumb, and blind, they are void of wisdom. (Al-Baqara, 171)