The Noetic Realm is one of the realms mentioned in Islamic philosophy and mysticism. This realm is the highest and most powerful of the realms. The researcher felt that there was a gap about this topic so he conducted the study. The main questions posed in this study are as follows: What is the Noetic Realm? What are the characteristics of the Noetic Realm? What is its role and necessity in Islamic ontology? How can the Noetic Realm be logically proven? What do the Qur’ān and narrations of the Prophet and the Imams say about it? How can the mystic “reach” or “visualize” the Noetic Realm? Where is the link or match point between the Noetic Realm and other realms? How does the Noetic Realm create the other realms?
These and many more are some of the questions that are raised and answered in the present study. By means of very few philosophical jargons and very simple language, the researcher has made an effort to make this article comprehensible to the average reader. With that said, it is noteworthy to mention that some basic knowledge of Islamic mysticism and philosophy is required to fully absorb the arguments and points made in this article.
In sum, our existence and our material universe’s existence for that matter is due to the Noetic Realm and to understand and know about its existence helps us in our spirituality and shows us the road to take if we are among the spiritual wayfarers. This study is an endeavor to increase our knowledge of creation beyond the material universe, and beyond our imaginations. This article makes us aware of Islamic ontology and the different realms which exist. Without the Noetic Realm, the other realms and our universe would not have existed. Further, it will increase our knowledge about Islamic ontology and will deepen our view about the whole existence and what the mystics have been talking and writing about after their spiritual visions and journeys for centuries.
The goal of this study has been to inform the readers about Islamic mysticism, and the Noetic Realm and its characteristics in plain English and to give them a view of Islamic ontology. The Noetic Realm has been mentioned in the works of great professors of Islamic Studies in the West. However, the discussion has been very scattered for the main part and rarely thorough. The lack of a work like the present paper in the English language was greatly felt by the author and thus this is an attempt to cover this crucial topic to as great detail as this paper allows. The author believed that this study has merely scratched the surface of such deep topic and that it will increase the curiosity of the reader to conduct further studies and delve even deeper into this realm and hopefully produce further scholarly works.
This article is about one of the realms of existence within Islamic mysticism. In Islamic ontology it is called the “Noetic Realm” and in Arabic, ‘Ālam al ‘Aql, and sometimes referred to as the Realm of Spirits, Angels or Intellect. The term intellect can be used as the synonym of the term noetic. In this article, the term ‘the Noetic Realm’ has been used instead of the ‘Realm of Intellect’ so as to avoid any confusion by the reader.
The Noetic Realm is one of the several realms which great Muslim philosophers and mystics –‘urafā – have talked about for centuries. In the realm of ‘irfān or tasawwuf, what we call Islamic Spiritualism or Mysticism in English, the entire existence is compared to two arches, qaws.
From an ontological perspective, one arch is descending. In the descending arch, we have the descending Noetic Realm -‘Ālam al ‘Aql– and then the descending realm of Mithāl -the Imaginal Realm- until the arch reaches us in the material universe. The descending Noetic Realm gives the rest of the realms its “grace”, fayḍ, and existence. In other words, the Imaginal Realm and the material realm is the creation of the Noetic Realm.
From the perspective of spiritual wayfaring: On the ascending arch we take off from the material universe to the realm of the ascending Mithāl, Imaginal Realm, until we reach the ascending Noetic Realm, ‘Ālam al ‘Aql. The ascending Noetic Realm does not give us “grace”, fayḍ, and we are not dependent on it for our existence as we were in the case of the descending Noetic Realm. The ascending arch is a purely spiritual journey that has to do with the wayfarer’s spiritual journey and the stations he reaches.
The reader should not be confused and imagine that we have two Noetic Realms or two Imaginal Realms, one descending and one ascending. To make it clear; from an ontological perspective only one single Noetic and Imaginal realm is seen.
In this article, we will be shedding light on the attributes and the complexity of this realm and how the great Muslim mystics “reached” that realm. We will also look at the Noble Qur’ān and the narrations of the holy prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny) and the Imams and what they have said about the Noetic Realm. The logical reasons, arguments and proof for this realm will also be mentioned. How can the mystic “reach” or “visualize” the Noetic Realm? Where and what is the link between the Noetic Realm and other realms and how does the Noetic Realm create the other realms? These and other questions will be discussed along the course of this study.
Overview of the Different Realms in Islamic Ontology
In order to provide better answers to the questions put forth, a brief introduction of the different realms will follow. According to the school of Mullā Ṣadrā we have three realms or dimensions similar to layers intertwined within each other. These three realms are as follows:
‘Ālam al ‘Aql, the Noetic Realm.
‘Ālam al Mithāl, the Imaginal Realm.
‘Ālam al Mādda, the Material Realm.
1. To explain the Noetic Realm may be a very difficult task but what we know from Muslim philosophers and mystics is that it is pure actuality, fi’līya-tum-maḥḍ The question may rise here that what is pure actuality? Pure actuality is when all potential dimensions of a being are actualized to their fullest without any aspect of it being left actualized. In other words, that being has reached its fullest capacity and its highest degree of perfection. There is no time, space or motion from one point of this realm to another, because that being is already at its most perfect level of actuality and perfection.
The existence of the Noetic Realms is the strongest among all the other realms, and enjoys existential precedence (taqaddum al wujūdī) and priority on all the other realms. In other words the Noetic Realm has essential precedence (taqaddum adh dhātī) over all other realms. What should be noted here is that the significance of this precedence is not due to priority in time and space -as there is no time and space in the Noetic Realm- therefore, the question of “when and where” is meaningless when it comes to this realm. The Noetic realm has existential encompassment (wujūd al muḥīṭī) on all of the realms of creation and is their cause. This realm is called noetic, intellect because of its similarity to human intellect. The creatures in this realm (the greatest angels) are all noetic and spiritual beings.
The Invincible and the Celestial Realm (Jabarūt and Malakūt):
The Noetic Realm is also called ‘the Invincible Realm’ (Jabarūt) which is divided into two spiritual realms or levels, the Higher Celestial Realm and the Lower Celestial Realm. The Higher Celestial Realm has more powerful beings within it, while the Lower Celestial Realm has weaker beings within it.
The question may rise that how could one obtain any kind of knowledge about this realm and its divisions? The response is that our knowledge comes from the fact that these realms are open to all the wayfarers on the spiritual path and it is not exclusive to the prophets and the Imams. Also, these divisions in the Noetic Realm do not have an external reality but are made by us human beings to better understand the realm.
The term “Jabarūt” has been quoted in the Qur’ān four times. The Qur’ān recognizes prophet Ibrāhīm as one of those who has reached the station of yaqīn, certainty. And by reaching that station the Qur’ān recognizes him as one of those who have seen one of the Celestial (Malakūt) realms in the Invincible (Jabarūt) realm. The Qur’ān says:
And thus did We show Abraham the realm (Malakūt) of the heavens and the earth that he would be among the certain [in faith].
Muslim scholars have described physical death as the point of attachment to the Invincible realm. However, the spiritual wayfarer can witness these realms well in advance of his death by spiritually killing his ego within his soul. Further, the wayfarer can “reach” or “see” this realm before death by means of spiritual struggle against the carnal soul and by embarking on this spiritual journey and by purifying the soul.
2. Imaginal Realm is said to enjoy both the attributes of the Noetic Realm and that of the material realm. This realm is an immaterial realm but the beings within it have forms, shapes, colors and all the other characteristics of the material realm except being physical or having time, space and motion. This realm is also compared to human dream with all of its features and attributes. The Imaginal Realm (Mithāl) is most famous for being called the Intermediate Realm (Barzakh).
3. The Material Realm (our universe with its estimated 400 billion galaxies) has all the characteristics of a material object and is sensory and physical. It has time, space, color, shape and motion.
What is the Noetic Realm?
With that said, let us now answer the question about what the Noetic Realm really is. The Noetic Realm has multitudes of intellects and it is not limited to “ten” as the school of Ibn Sīnā states. The concept of ten intellects was a theory Ibn Sīnā took after Plato. More of that will be said under the subtitle: Why is it called ‘the First Emanation/ Outflow’ or sometimes ‘the First Intellect?
The descending Noetic Realm gives its “grace”- fayḍ- to all the other realms. What we mean by grace is that all the other realms were created by the Noetic Realm and everything ascends from that realm to our realm. Everything that exists in our material realm exists in its most perfect form in the Noetic Realm. The Noetic Realm and everything in it, is immaterial without any form, space, time, size or color, and can be compared to the intellect of the human being which has the same characteristics. The Noetic Realm is not separate from the noetic beings; rather, the Noetic Realm is those noetic beings. The Noetic Realm holds those beings within itself. The same holds true for the Imaginal and material realm such that when the existence of an Imaginal or a material being is proved, their realms are proven as well.
Different Names of the Noetic Realm and its Characteristics
The Noetic Realm has different names which can be confusing. An explanation of each will follow. Sometimes the Noetic Realm is called the Invincible Realm (Jabarūt), the Realm of Spirits, the Realm of Angels, the Realm of Command and etc.
The Invincible Realm (Jabarūt)
The term Invincible Realm is used interchangeably with the Noetic Realm. The Invincible Realm is associated with all the realms and surrounds them. In the vastness of its existential size (wus’a-tul-wujūdiya), the Invincible Realm is not comparable to the other realms, and it is the source and cause of the other realms. All affairs of all the realms -in its general sense- exist in this realm and the Imaginal Realm is the place for them to appear in detail. The Invincible Realm has various characteristics such as the appearance of Resurrection, the existence of the Divine Names, the lack of emotions, lack of mobility, lack of movement, lack of any form or shape. By virtue of spiritual asceticism, man can understand and “travel” to this unseen world. One of the realms the mystics are trying to reach is this Invincible Realm. Some believe that the Noble Qur’ān has mentioned this realm and has called it “Mother of the Book”, Um-mul-Kitāb. The Noble Qur’ān considers it the “place” for divine judgment, and whatever has and will exist in this realm and can be proven and verified logically. Other scholars consider it to be the letter ‘Nūn’ or ‘N’ in the chapter of al-Qalam (the Pen), and some consider the term al Wādil Muqaddas, the Sacred Valley, to be the Invincible Realm mentioned in the verse:
«فَاخْلَعْ نَعْلَیك إِنَّك بِالْوادِ الْمُقَدَّسِ طُوی»
“…. so remove your sandals. Indeed, you are in the sacred valley of Ṭuwā.”
This realm is also the realm of angels. The creation of angels preceded any other creation. The reason for this is clear; the angels are the instruments of the implementation of the divine commands. They are countless in number. Angels are subtle and non-material beings. They are pure noetic beings. Angels are of different types and each one of them has a certain duty. Angels that are closer to Allah in the sense of rank are called “the Close ones”, al Muqarrabīn. There are four angels in Islam which are seen as the “close ones:”
- Gabriel, Jibrā’īl, (the angel of revelation).
- ‘Izrā’īl (the angel of death).
- Michael, Mikā’īl, (the angel of sustenance and livelihood).
- Isrāfīl (the angel of trumpet and horn).
Why is it Called the Noetic Realm?
The reason is that the intellect, ‘aql– its plural is ‘uqūl-, is completely immaterial without any form or shape and that every being in this realm is immaterial. Because of that, the philosophers and mystics gave this realm the name of “the Noetic Realm.”
Why is it Called the Realm of Spirits?
The reason is that every being in this realm is immaterial. In other words, all beings in the Noetic Realm are spirits. Because the spirits, rūḥ– its plural being arwāḥ-, are immaterial beings, the name “Noetic Realm” was given to this realm.
Why is it Called the Realm of Angels?
The reason is that angels are immaterial beings without any form or shape and their realm is the Noetic Realm. In simpler words, the reason is that the Noetic Realm is where they “live”, and that they are pure spirits.
Notice that the first three terms which were all names for the Noetic Realm and were used interchangeably had to do with being immaterial in its absolute meaning. Hence, the common point between all these creatures was their being immaterial. In other words, these different terms are used for one single reality.
Why is it Called the Realm of Command?
The Noble Qur’an uses this term for the Noetic Realm as follows:
لهُ الخلقُ و الأمرُ. الأعراف 54
“His is the creation, and His is the command. Al A’rāf “(The Heights), 54
The word command (amr) in this verse is referring to the Noetic Realm.
Why is it Called the First Emanation or sometimes the First Intellect?
These two terms, the First Emanation (Ṣadr al Awwal) or the First Intellect (‘Aql al Awwal), are old terms which were used interchangeably with the Noetic Realm. According to Plato’s philosophy (and the philosophy of Ibn Sīnā) there were “Ten Intellects” within the Noetic Realm.
These Ten Intellects were ten hierarchical (ṭūlῑ) intellects, and when you reached the tenth and the last hierarchical intellect, the beginning of the ten horizontal (arḍῑ) intellects begins. These ten horizontal intellects begun after the tenth and last hierarchical intellect which he called al ‘Aql al ‘Āshir– the Tenth Intellect. And the last of the ten horizontal intellects was called “the Active Intellect”, al ‘Aql al Fa’āl. Plato believed that the link between the Noetic Realm and the material realm was this last horizontal intellect. And this last intellect was the one which created our material universe. Plato calls it the realm of Muthul, the Platonic Forms. Notice that no realm between the Noetic Realm and the material realm exists in Plato’s worldview. Plato’s Platonic Forms should not be confused with the realm of Mithāl, the Imaginal Realm, mentioned within Islamic philosophy and mysticism.
This thought of ‘ten hierarchical’ and ‘ten horizontal’ intellects were later on considered as part of Islamic Cosmology which was referred to then as modern astronomy. The belief then was that the whole universe is our solar system and it consists of nine stars or planets. What was meant by these nine stars were the sun, moon and seven known planets within our solar system.
These “ten intellects” were based on Plato’s view and they were later used in Ibn Sīnā’s school of philosophy and were never proven. Later on, this belief was abolished by Mullā Ṣadrā’s school of philosophy who claimed that there are no evidences for stating a number for the intellects. What is meant with intellect is every being which exists in the Noetic Realm, such as the angels, spirits and everything else that exist in the other realms exists in its most perfect “form” or status in the Noetic Realm. The material universe, the Imaginal Realm and everything which exists in these two realms also exists in its most perfect form in the Noetic Realm. The reality of all things in the other realms starts and exists in this realm before they descend to the “lower” realms. With the given examples, there is no room left for doubt about the “trillions” of intellects which exist in the Noetic Realm. This fact also holds true for the “ten intellects” which was claimed by Plato. In Mullā Ṣadrā’s school of philosophy, the Noetic Realm is also called the First Emanation but the intellects are not limited by number within the Noetic Realm. Thus, the multitudinous of Plato is accepted but without limiting it to any number due to the lack of philosophical or logical proof for this claim.
In the philosophical school of Ṣadrā, the First Emanation would be the Noetic Realm which “produces” everything else and where everything which exists in the lower realms exist in a higher and more perfect form in the Noetic Realm. From the perspective of the mystical school of Muḥyiddīn ibn ‘Arabī (d. 1240), the Merciful Breath, an Nafa-sur-Raḥmān would be the First Emanation which “produced” everything and that includes the two determinations which exists in the ‘Divine Presence’ of Allah and the three realms which we mentioned earlier.
Characteristics of the Noetic Realm
To explain the characteristics of the Noetic Realm may be very difficult but what we know from the Muslim philosophers and mystics is that it is pure, fi’līya-tul-maḥḍa. One may ask, what is “pure actuality”?
Pure actuality is when all potential dimensions of a being are realized and actualized to their fullest without any aspect of it being left unrealized. The beings within it do not have any kind of change neither sudden, gradual or essential what so ever and they do not have any motion from one point to another. The reason is that they are sheer perfection, they have reached their fullest capacity, so there is no more place to “move” or “change.”
If we consider the different noetic beings in a hierarchical line, we will see that they are not dependent on the beings which are on a lower level than them. Rather, the beings which are on a lower level are dependent on the beings which are on a higher level than them. And all of them have a cause and effect relationship with each other. In other words, the higher levels of noetic beings are the causes and also the intermediate for the “fayḍ”, grace of Allah, to other beings on the lower levels. This chain of grace continues all the way through the different realms and in to our universe and material realm.
Beings Within the Noetic Realm
This realm has beings that are non-material, and these beings are divided into two categories, each one of which are further divided into two groups. This leaves us with four groups of beings.
A. The first division of beings which are called the Karrūbiyān (the close angels or the cherubim), are divided into two groups:
- Those beings who do not have any knowledge of the other realms and of the existence of other beings in those realms. These beings are called the Muhayyima Angels, the Angels of Command and Dominance. The prophet said about them:
“… and they do not know that there are other beings on earth… and they do not know that Allah has created Ādam and Iblīs.”
3. This second group of beings are the intercessors of the divine grace of Allah to the rest of creation. Their leader is an angel called Rūḥ al A’ẓam, or the Great Spirit, and there is no greater angel in this group than this one. This Great Spirit is also called Qalam al A’lā, the Greatest Pen. The narration says:
أول ما خلق اللهُ القلمُ.
“The first thing which Allah created was the Pen.”
Another name that this spirit has is, ‘Aql al Awwal or the First Intellect. The narration says: “The first thing Allah created was the ‘aql, intellect.”
أول ما خلق الله العقلُ.
In another place, the holy Prophet says that: “The first thing which was created was my Nūr (or my light).”
All these different terms (the Great Spirit, the Pen, the Intellect, the Light) which the narrations talk about have the same meaning and come from the same source which is the Muhammadan Reality, and that reality is the first manifestation of Allah in the creation.
The Great Spirit which was mentioned earlier is first in line in its group, and the spirit which is called Rūḥ al Qudus, the Holy Spirit, is the archangel Jibrā’īl, which is last in line in its group. The coming verse has to do with the position of the angels in the universe:
الصافات ١٦٤ و ما مِنّا الا له مقامٌ مّعلومٌ.
There is not one of us, but has an assigned position. Aṣ Ṣāfāt (The Aligners), 164
B. The second division of beings are called Rūḥāniyūn, the Immaterials. And as previously said, this group is also divided into two divisions.
- Samawāti (Heavenly) or Malakūt al ’Ulyā (the Higher Celestial Realm): These are the spirits of galaxies, stars and everything else in the universe.
- Arḍiyāt (Earthly) or Malakūt as Suflā (the Lower Celestial Realm): These spirits have the responsibility of everything which is on our earth, and everything which has to do with our earth. They are in charge of humans, minerals, stones, plants, animals and even raindrops. The prophet said:
إنّ لكل شيٍ مَلكاً.
“Certainly is there for everything an appointed angel.”
The Prophet said:
ينزلُ مع كلِ قطْرَةٍ مَلكٌ.
“There is an angel with every drop (of rain) which descends.”
The verse of the Glorious Qur’ān says:
و لن تَجِدَ لسنةِ الله تبديلاً.
You will find no change in Allah’s system. Al Aḥzāb (The Parties) 62
The verses from the Qur’ān and the narrations mention spirits, or angels, for mountains, winds, thunders, lightning’s, clouds and etc. The witnessing of the earth and the creatures, the conversations of the heavens and the earth with the human being, altogether shows that all creatures and all of creation are submitted and devoted to Allah with complete understanding and free will. All of creation have a free will, and submit to Allah with that free will .
The verse of the Qur’ān says:
فسبحان الذي بِيدِهِ ملكوتُ كلِ شيٍ.
So glory be to Him in whose hand is the dominion of everything. Yāsīn, 83
And in another verse it says:
تُسبِّحُ له السماواتُ السبعُ و الارضُ و مَن فيهنَّ و إن مّن شيٍ الا يسبِّحُ بحمده و لكن لّا تفقَهونَ تسبيحَهُم إنّه كان حليماً غفوراً.
The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but celebrates His praise, but you understand not their praise. Truly He is Oft Forbearing, Most Forgiving! Al Isrā (The Night Journey) 17:44
This verse is used as a proof for those who believe that all creatures have a spirit. All creatures in the material realm, from minerals, stones, plants, animals, stars, planets, galaxies, humans, and even all the different human organs, each one of them have a spirit of their own. A general rule is that everything which is from the pure nature of Allah, or created by Allah, has a spirit.
الحمد الله رب العالمین
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the realms (worlds). Al Fātiḥa (The Opening), 2.
It is very clearly stated here that we have different worlds or realms, be it on this planet earth with its different worlds of plants, animals and humans or the different stages of human development, from being a sperm till birth and at the end, death. Be it the different realms which we are talking about in this paper. All these interpretations are in coherence with each other and in perfect harmony. Allah encompasses everything, and is the manager (rabb) of the realms.
Characteristics of the Creatures in the Noetic Realm
The Invincible Realm (Jabarūt) is an ‘irfānī term for the Noetic realm, they are in other words synonyms. The Noetic Realm, because of the creatures living in it and depending on their responsibility are divided into two spiritual levels: the Higher Celestial Realm (Malakūt al ‘Ulyā) and the Lower Celestial Realm (Malakūt as Suflā).
The “noetic” creatures such as the angels do not have any body. And we also have the “rational souls”, an nufūs an nāṭiqa, here. The rational souls are abstract creatures which belong to a particular body in the lower realms of existence like the Imaginal Realm (non-material body) and the material realm (material body). These creatures are sheer actuality and they do not accept any kind of change within them, neither change in their essence; neither gradual nor instant change.
The “higher” the creatures are in this realm, the higher they are in their existential level and more independent and stronger than the creatures which have a lower existential level than them. The creatures which have a higher existential level are the cause of existence for the creatures on the lower existential level and so on and so forth. And the creatures which are on the lower existential level are dependent for their existence on the creatures above them, and they are their effect and result. The higher up you are on the existential level the more perfect you are. In addition to that you also have the perfections of the creatures on the lower level. But that is not the case for the beings on the lower level.
The noetic creatures are sheer actuality and because of that they have knowledge of their own presence, rather they are knowledge itself. Knowledge, knower and the known are all the same for these creatures and there is a unity between these three.
Proof for the Existence of the Noetic Realms
From a logical perspective:
The Rule of ‘One’ (al Qa’ida-tul-Wāḥida)
From one cause, only one effect can be issued. In other words, you can only derive one effect from one cause. And because Allah’s existence is One and all comprehensive and has all the existential perfections, only one existence can be issued from Him. The first cause from Allah must also be all comprehensive and have all the perfections and also be sheer actuality and free from any potentiality from all angles. But because the existence of the first emanation is from Allah and is in need of and dependent on Allah, it has limits and it has a deficiency in its essence. This existence is noetic and is non-material both in its essence and in its actuality, and its existence has essential precedence (taqaddum adh dhātī) on the other levels (realms) of existence.
The Rule of the Noblest Possibility (al Qā’ida-tul-Imkān al Ashraf)
If we consider two possible beings which are connected to each other, were one is superior to the other, as in one is the cause and the other is the result of that cause, logic tells us here that the one which is superior should have precedence in existence and be the reason for the second being’s existence.
The relationship between cause and effect is a necessary relationship, where the existence of the effect (result) is dependent on the existence of the cause. And it is an impossibility for these two to exchange places. If we consider that the Noetic Realm is superior to the other realms and has a superior perfection compared to the others, we can come to the conclusion that the other realms are the Noetic Realms’ effect and that these realms are dependent on the Noetic Realm. Thus, these realms cannot exist without their cause, and their cause comes from the Noetic Realm.
The first level of existence is more honorable and superior and has precedence over all the other beings following it. The first being has to have an existential perfection (kamāl al wujūdī) which is stronger than the existential perfection of weaker beings. The rule of ‘the Most Noble Possibility’ can only be used in the non-material spheres, because in the non-material realms we do not have any obstruction for that being’s perfection. Everything in the Noetic Realm that actualizes, reaches perfection without any hindrance; but in the material realm we have natural causes which interferes for example in a flower’s development to reach its perfection or in an infant’s growth procedure to reach its perfection and etc.
From the perspective of the Noble Qur’ān:
In the Arabic text the word “amr”- which means command- is used in all verses of the Qur’ān and is seen as a synonym to the Noetic Realm. One of the names of the Noetic Realm is actually the Realm of Command. Other terms which are used are “the heavens”, “the spirit”, “the Celestial Realm.” The verses which are mentioned in defense of the Noetic Realm are the following:
Al A’rāf verse 54:
Unquestionably, His is the creation and the command; blessed is Allah, Lord of the worlds.
As Sajda verse 5:
He arranges [each] matter from the heaven to the earth; then it will ascend to Him in a Day, the extent of which is a thousand years of those which you count.
Al Isrā verse 85:
And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the spirit. Say, “The spirit is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind have not been given of knowledge except a little.
Al Qamar verse 50:
And Our commandment (amr) is but one (commandment), as the twinkling of an eye.
The Qur’ān says:
And in the heaven is your livelihood, and what you are promised. Adh Dhāriyāt (The Spreaders), 22
This verse is in no way indicating to a worldly livelihood, instead it refers to a livelihood which comes from the realms “above.” Because if the verse was indicating to rain and a material livelihood with food, cattle and stocks involved, the verse would have said, “And in the earth is your livelihood” because truly everything we get is from the earth. So this verse is not referring to rain, but to a “heaven” which has everything we enjoy in this material universe and is the root source of everything. That “heaven” descends upon us and gives us everything we have in this material realm.
There is not a thing but with Us are its stores, and We send it down only in precise measure.
Everything we have is originated from the Noetic Realm, and later descends to the material realm, and human beings’ livelihood must also descend from ‘indallah, with Allah. Thus, we can conclude that the “heaven” which is referred to here, is a celestial heaven. The existence of everything has to descend from an “upper level,” and human beings’ livelihood and paradise is also from that source.
The Qur’ān recognizes prophet Ibrāhīm as one of those who has reached the station of yaqīn, certainty. And by reaching that station the Qur’ān recognizes him as one of those who have seen one of the Celestial (Malakūt) realms in the Invincible (Jabarūt) realm. The Qur’ān says:
And thus did We show Abraham the realm (Malakūt) of the heavens and the earth that he would be among the certain [in faith].
Indeed, I swear by what you see. And by what you do not see. Al Ḥaqqa (The Reality), 38-39
What is meant here with “what you see”, is the material realm, and “by what you do not see”, is the Imaginal and Noetic realm.
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the realms (worlds).
It is very clearly stated here that we have different worlds or realms, be it on this planet earth with its different worlds of plants, animals and humans or be it the different stages of human development, from being a sperm up to birth and finally death, or be it the different realms which were discussed in this paper. All these interpretations cope with each other in perfect harmony. Allah encompasses everything, and is the manager (rabb) of the realms.
And if only the people of the cities had believed and feared Allah, We would have opened upon them blessings from the heaven and the earth; but they denied [the messengers], so We seized them for what they were earning.
Also: And fear a trial which will not strike those who have wronged among you exclusively.
These last two verses are in direct connection with our deeds with the Noetic Realm and the relationship which exists between our deeds, divine blessings and mercy and also divine punishments and calamities from the “heavens.”
From the perspective of the narrations:
Imam Ṣādiq says regarding the verse:
And there is not a thing but that with Us are its depositories, and We do not send it down except according to a known measure.
“In the heavens, there are examples of all that Allah has created on the land and the sea; and that is the inner interpretation (Ta’wīl) of Almighty Allah, who said: “There is nothing except that its treasures are before us; and we will not reveal it unless it is determined and known.“”
The lady of the two realms Fatima-tuz-Zahra said:
‘The one who sends up to Allah his pure and sincere worship, Allah, Mighty and Exalted, sends down for him that which will be of most benefit to him.’
The holy Fatima is talking about the direct connection of our deeds with the Noetic Realm. The relationship which exists between our deeds and divine blessings and mercy and also divine punishments and calamities from the “heavens.”
From the perspective of spiritual vision, shuhūd
Philosophers put emphasis on rationality and try to reach a conclusion about the Noetic Realm by using reason, and the result is a set of general attributes about the Noetic Realm such as being “immaterial”, whereas, the worldview of the mystics is based not only on reason but also on “seeing” the realm with the spiritual eye or discovering the realm through spiritual witnessing. And that gives us some more detail about the Noetic Realm which could otherwise never be addressed by pure rationality.
Thanks to spiritual witnessing, we know that the Noetic Realm has creatures in it which are further divided into two categories: the angels and the rational souls. Thanks to spiritual visions we know that the Noetic Realm is divided into two parts, the Higher Celestial Realm (Malakūt al ‘Ulyā) and the Lower Celestial Realm (Jabarūt as Suflā).
Historical Background on the Noetic Realm
Plato (d. 347 B.C.), was the first person who mentioned a realm of intellect or the Noetic Realm, and he called it the realm of Muthul, the Platonic Forms. Plato’s Platonic Forms should not be confused with the realm of Mithāl, the Imaginal Realm, mentioned in Islamic philosophy and mysticism. He believed that there were “Ten hierarchical Intellects” and in the last of the tenth hierarchical intellects, ‘Aql al ‘Āshir (the Tenth Intellect), the “ten horizontal intellects” begins. Upon reaching the last horizontal intellect our material universe starts. These Ten Intellects were ten hierarchical, ṭūlῑ, intellects, and upon reaching the tenth hierarchical intellect the ten horizontal, arḍῑ, intellect started. He believed that the last of the ten horizontal intellects called “The Active Intellect”, ‘Aql al Fa’āl, was the link and the creator of our material universe. And itis this last horizontal intellect which became famous as the Platonic Forms.Ḥusayn ibn Sīnā (Mashā’īyūn)
His school of Philosophy called the Walkers, Mashā’ῑyūn, imitated Plato’s view, that the last of the ten horizontal intellects, called “The Active Intellect”, ‘Aql al Fa’āl, was the link between us and the material universe. The school of Ibn Sῑnā is famous for not having reached the intellectual conclusion of any realm being in between the Noetic Realm and the material realm.
Shaykh al Ishrāq Suhrawardī (Ishrāqīyūn):
Suhrawardī (d. 1191) was the first philosopher to mention and prove that there is a realm in between the Noetic and the material called the Imaginal Realm by means of rational arguments and having spiritual visions about it. His school of philosophy called the Illuminators, Ishrāqῑyūn, believed that some of the ten horizontal intellects were part of the Imaginal Realm.
Ṣadruddīn (Mullā Ṣadrā)
Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1640) and his school of philosophy abolished the theory of the ten hierarchical and horizontal intellects and also any permanent or specific number for that matter. He abolished the idea which was invented by Plato for more than 2300 years. The argument was that there can be much more than ten, and that it is practically impossible to know, even with spiritual visions about the different intellects within the Noetic Realm. These “ten intellects” were based on Plato’s views and they entered Ibn Sīnā’s school of philosophy and were never proven and were later on abolished by Mullā Ṣadrā’s school of philosophy. Mullā Ṣadrā claimed that there is no evidence for limiting the intellects to a certain number. What is meant by intellect is every being which exist in the Noetic Realm, such as the angels, spirits and everything else that exists in the other realms. All other beings reality or ‘truth’ exists in its most perfect “form” or status in the Noetic Realm, and that includes the material universe, the Imaginal Realm and everything in it. The reality of all things in the other realms starts and exists in this realm before they descend to the “lower” realms. With these examples, there is no room left for being mistaken about the “trillions” of intellects which exists in the Noetic Realm instead of the mere “ten” which was claimed by Plato. In Mullā Ṣadrā’s school of philosophy, the Noetic Realm is also called the First Emanation (Production) but no limited number is accepted within the Noetic Realm for the intellects. Thus, the multitudinous of Plato is accepted but without stating any number because of the lack of philosophical proof for it.
How Many Noetic Realms Do We Have?
In the realm of ‘irfān or tasawwuf, or what we call in English Islamic spiritualism or mysticism, the entire existence is compared to two arches, qaws. One arch is descending, and the other arch is ascending. In the descending arch we have the descending Noetic Realm, ‘Ālam al ‘Aql, and then the descending realm of Mithāl/ the Imaginal Realm, to the point that the arch reaches us in the material universe. This is the perspective of Islamic ontology. That is the whole of existence, so we do not have two or more Noetic realms or Imaginal realms, we only have one of each. The descending Noetic Realm gives the rest of the realms its “grace”, fayḍ, and our existence and universe, and the Imaginal Realm is because of the descendent Noetic Realm.
The other perspective has to do with spiritual wayfaring and not ontology. On the ascending arch we take off from the material universe to the realm of the ascending Mithāl, Imaginal Realm, until we reach the ascending Noetic Realm, ‘Ālam al ‘Aql. This is a spiritual journey embarked by the wayfarer to reach spiritual annihilation (fanā).
How Can the Mystic “Reach” or “Visualize” the Noetic Realm?
With faith, love and deeds, you will be able to reach the Noetic Realm. With strong faith and love in fulfilling the obligatory and voluntary deeds to its perfection and becoming a spiritual wayfarer in the way of Allah, and passing the different stations of spirituality, one will be able to reach the lofty station of annihilation of deeds (fanā al af’ālī) where some or all of your deeds will be the deeds of Allah. The prerequisite is;
- Not committing sins,
- Fulfilling the obligatory rituals of the sharī’a,
- Getting rid of the bad moral traits within you,
- Implement good moral traits within yourself,
- Only after fulfilling these pre-conditions and after mastering these requirements will one be able to start and embark on one’s spiritual wayfaring and the journey to Allah. Thus starts the four spiritual journeys (asfār al arba’a).
- Upon reaching the last station which is annihilation (fanā) and subsistence (baqā) after annihilation, will Allah help you and “teach” you. The verse says:
Fear Allah and Allah will teach you.
There seems to be a direct link between piety (taqwā) and being taught the truths and realities by Allah Himself.
In fact, according to the Noble Qur’ān, in order for a person to be able to see Allah, he must detach himself from everything other than Allah. Doing good deeds, not associating anything with Allah will help him, if he wishes to see Allah and attain the station of annihilation. That is, if he wishes to see the ‘Truth’ without any intermediary, he must ignore himself and anything except Allah.
“فمن كان يرجوا لقاء ربّه فليعمل عملاً صالحاً و لايشرك بعبادة ربه احداً”
“Whoever hopes for the meeting with his Lord – let him do righteous work and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone.“
At this level, the mystic does not see himself or anyone else except the Vision or the Face of Allah. In mysticism, this is called “piety (taqwā).” The famous mystical proverb says; “None is in the house except the master of the house.” To say the heart of the matter in one single sentence, Allah will show, give and teach us according to the level of our piety and knowledge.
An important point to note here is that it is not that we have three different existences, rather, they are actually one single, united existence. It is not that we have one existence in the material realm, another in the Imaginal Realm and a third one in the Noetic Realm and etc. These realms are considered as one single united existence which develops or has different levels and becomes more perfect or imperfect depending on which angle you see it from. If you observe it (the existence) from the material realm and upwards it is becoming more perfect while journeying upwards through the different levels and reaching the ultimate perfection which in the philosophy of Ṣadrā is the Noetic Realm. But if you observe the existence from the Noetic Realm downwards and towards the material realm, the ultimate perfection is going towards imperfection. In other words, this single, united existence has a dimension which is the ultimate perfection (the Noetic Realm) and another dimension that has less perfection (the Imaginal Realm) and further to the lowest dimension with imperfection (the material realm).
These dimensions are intertwined with each other and to make it more tangible, the parable of a human being will follow.
- The human being has a body that has a physical dimension, he has a non-material mind or soul which he can imagine things with, and he has a non-material dimension (without forms or shapes) which is called the intellect. The intellect is compared to the spirit, rūḥ. This human being as you can see is one, single, united being but with three different dimensions.
- His physical dimension is the material realm, his mind and imaginations are the Imaginal Realm and his intellect is the Noetic Realm.
- Another division we could make is body, mind, and intellect.
- And yet another division we could make is body, soul (nafs) and spirit (rūḥ).
- These realms are like layers upon layers, one is the outer façade (the material realm), another is “the inner” reality of the material realm (called the Imaginal Realm), the third is “the inner of the inner” reality of the material realm (the Noetic Realm) and “the inner” reality of the Imaginal realm (the Noetic Realm again).
- To further clarify the dimensions of these realms, the example of Russian dolls (Matryoshka dolls) can be given. Each one of these dolls are placed in another, such that when you take one of them, another one is inside it and when you take the second one there is a third one inside. One can imagine the scope of these three different realms or dimensions in the same way. These dimensions exist simultaneously and are interconnected to one another.
- The realm of the Intermediate is the “inner truth or layer” of the material universe and its cause of existence while the realm of intellect (the Noetic Realm) is the “inner truth or layer” of the Intermediate and its cause of existence.
- In other words, the material universe is the exterior layer of the intermediate realm and the intermediate realm is in its turn the exterior layer of the Noetic Realm.
The Meeting Point Between the Noetic Realm and Other Realms?
The Nafs al Kulli (the Universal Soul) or Nafa-sur-Raḥmān (The Breath of the Merciful) is the link between these realms. A question which may rise here is, what is the Nafs al Kulli? The answer is that it is a wujūd si’ī from the word wus’a, an expandable existence. It is like a big curtain which Allah created. All these different realms are different patterns on that curtain which display different levels of intensity and strength. Nafs al kulli is a manifestation of Allah which created all the different realms. The Universal Soul includes all the realities in itself.
The Noetic Realm- the Creator of All Realms
According to the philosophical school of Mullā Ṣadrā, the Noetic Realm is the first “external” creation of Allah and from it everything else is created. All the other dimensions or realms are created by the Noetic Realm. According to Islamic philosophy and Islamic mysticism, it is an impossibility for Allah to create multitudinous, it goes against His essence. Thus the first creation of Allah must be one, wāḥid. This is a golden rule in Islamic philosophy which is derived from the rule of “That which is One will not emanate/ produce except One.” And thus Allah creates only one creation (the Noetic Realm) which in its turn creates everything else with the permission of Allah and with His presence in all creation. The Noetic Realm with all its majestic power and dominance is fully dependent on and in need of Allah and does not have an independent creation. This is the only commonality of the Noetic Realm with other creations and realms. The Noetic Realm is the effect or result (ma‘lūl) of the cause (‘illa), and in this case the cause is Allah, and because Allah is the One, al Wāḥid, He creates or emanates one thing only, which is the Noetic Realm.
The Noetic Realm gives its “grace”, fayḍ, to all the creations and realms. Our existence and our universe, and the Imaginal Realm is because of the descendent Noetic Realm. A question that may come up here is: How does the Noetic Realm create the Imaginal Realm and the Imaginal Realm in its turn the material realm with all its details? How does the Imaginal Realm take shape? The answer to this question is, as stated formerly, these realms do not have time, space or motion. They are sheer actuality (fi’līya-tul-maḥḍa), and this means that the Noetic Realm only issues or produces the Imaginal Realm ‘instantly’, “be and it is,” as stated in the Noble Qur’ān.
According to Islamic mysticism, the first creation is not the Noetic Realm but Nafa-sur-Raḥmān, the Breath of the Merciful. It is this “breath” which has created everything from the “internal realms to the external realms”. The Breath of the Merciful is sometimes compared to a rolling curtain falling down and containing or encompassing all the realms within it, both the spiritual divine realms in the presence of Allah and the three external realms which we talked about in this article.
Have the Three Realms Always Existed Simultaneously with Allah?
These three realms have always existed simultaneously with Allah, why? According to Muslim philosophers, it would be an impossibility for the cause (‘illā) to exist without the effect or result (ma’lūl). If Allah -which is the cause- exists then His effects or results should also exist. Cause and effect are intertwined and not separable. Allah’s effects (or signs) in existence are the three realms and everything in it. And because cause and effect have to come into existence simultaneously, we can conclude that the three realms have always existed. According to the Sunni Muslim theologians, there was no existence except the existence of Allah. There was a nothingness, no universe, no realms, and He said ‘Be’ and there was. Everything came into existence after Allah. This ‘after’ has to do with ‘time’ (zamān). Another thing they say is that Allah created the material universe directly without any intercession in between. And that means that Allah created multitudes of beings and the rule of ‘One’ as explained before is not accepted here. Paradise and hell are physical realities for these theologians and so is the Resurrection. And they consider the view of Muslim philosophers as polytheism (shirk), why? Because other things are being put at the side of Allah by these mystics and philosophers. There are five fundamental problems here according to Muslim philosophers and mystics, and those are:
- We do not have anything called non-existence (‘adam) in Islamic philosophy and that is considered as an obvious fact. Everything that is in our universe is existence (wujūd) and existence has always existed. In other words, there is no other reality except existence and Allah is the ultimate existence and everything else is His manifestations and His signs (āyatullah).
- That leads us to our second problem which is that if we believe in Allah as the cause of everything and simultaneously believe in the rule of ‘cause and effect’ and that these two have to come into existence at the same time, then what happens with Allah’s effect? Where is the effect of the cause? If Allah created everything “later” or at a specific time-date, then the rule of cause and effect will be violated.
- The third problem has to do with Allah creating multitude instead of one thing only. As previously said, the philosophers and the mystics believe in the rule of “From that which is One emanates, or comes into creation, One (Lā yaṣduru minal wāḥid illal wāḥid).” About the direct link between the creations of the universe by Allah, they say that it is against the ‘rule of One’ and that the strength of the cause (Allah) is not in proportion to the weakness of the material realm. Just to make it more tangible, if we say that the Big Bang with the huge mass of energy it produced would directly from the start, from the first moments of its birth create our small planet earth, then that would be disproportionate to the weakness of our earth! Now bear in mind that the Big Bang created an estimated 400 billion galaxies in the material realm or the universe. And in our small galaxy, which is like a small pebble in the outer space, we have stars which will take 900 years just to cross them, we have stars which are one million times bigger than our sun, and the sun is one million times bigger than our planet! In sum, the strength of the cause (Allah) is not in proportion to the weakness of the material realm.
- The view about the physical Resurrection is: The reason why it goes against logic and reason is that we do not have time and space in the next realm. We do not have motion, strength, weakness and all the other attributes of the material realm. We have pure actuality and perfection there. If the resurrection would be a physical one and not an imaginal one, then the whole procedure with all the features and attributes of a material realm would be repeated again, like weakness and strength, potentiality (quwwa), time, space, the motion of substance (al ḥaraka-tul-jawḥariya) and imperfection. When you die, you will reach actuality and a more perfect non-material body. How can you go from actuality and perfection to imperfection and potentiality? That is considered an impossibility. There is a rule in Islamic philosophy called the ‘rule of perfection’ (qā’ida-tul-kamāl) and it says that everything in our realm from stones, flowers, humans, stars and galaxies are going towards perfection. It would go against the rule of perfection for humans to once again go back to a material, physical body, once they have reached actuality and a non-material body with all its perfection. It is in other words, a decline from perfection to imperfection. Do notice that both schools believe in a “bodily” (jismī) resurrection, but have differences in its attributes. They say that the verses of the Qur’ān which give us physical examples about the Resurrection are tangible examples enabling us to comprehend -to a certain limit- the features of the Resurrection, because there is no other way to make the human understand the Resurrection in a limited and imperfect realm like ours.
- The issue of polytheism or putting something besides Allah is explained by the Muslim philosophers as follows: These realms have an essential precedence to each other (mutaqaddim adh dhātī) or a hierarchical precedence (mutaqaddim ar rutbī) and not a time-date precedence (mutaqaddim az zamānī) like some Muslim theologians believe in.
Allah (cause) has essential precedence vis-à-vis the Noetic Realm (effect).
The Noetic Realm (cause) has essential precedence vis-à-vis the Imaginal Realm (effect).
And the Imaginal Realm (cause) has essential precedence vis-à-vis the material realm (effect).
Do Paradise and Hell Exist in the Noetic Realm?
The principle of Resurrection is one of the important requirements of being considered a Muslim, but there are differences of opinion in the physical or non-physical nature of it. There is a disagreement between Ṣadrā theologians and other Muslim theologians. Most scholars of Islam have considered the physical resurrection as self-evident and have argues that in the Hereafter man will have a physical body in addition to spiritual well-being. But Mullā Ṣadrā and his follower’s state that man has three types of bodies and that these bodies are located along each other:
- The physical body vis-à-vis the material realm,
- The imaginal body vis-à-vis the imaginal Realm,
- And the noetic body vis-à-vis the Noetic Realm.
Therefore, from the viewpoint of Ṣadrā theologians, the human body in the Hereafter will only have two kinds of body, the Imaginal body and the noetic body. And there will be an imaginal paradise and a noetic paradise for the believer. For the disbeliever there will only be an imaginal hellfire because according to Ṣadrā theologians, we do not have a noetic hellfire.
According to Ibn ‘Arabī’s school of mysticism we have paradise and hell in all the five realms of mysticism. These five realms within mysticism are, the Material, Imaginal and the Noetic Realm and after that we enter the divine presence of Allah were we have two more realms, and these are the Second Determination and the First Determination. These are the five realms. Ibn ‘Arabī says that every single one of them has the two dimensions of paradise and hellfire after the Resurrection.
In the Prelude of the Interpretation of Qayṣarī on Fuṣūṣ al Ḥikam we read:
“… paradise and hell have manifestations (signs) within all the realms. Because…. these two have their fixed entities within the divine presence of Allah. Allah speaks about the expulsion of Adam and Eve (peace be upon them) from paradise, thus paradise has an existence in the divine spiritual realm before its creation in the material and the immaterial realms. Likewise hell, it has an existence within the spiritual realm, because the existence of a spiritual hell is an example from the fixed entities.”
How Does Knowledge About the Noetic Realm Benefit Me As An Individual Living on Earth?
A question that might be asked is: What difference does it make in the life of the plain Muslim if he or she knows about the Noetic Realm or not? What contribution has the researcher made by writing this article for society and to human beings in general? How can this knowledge help a person living in a stressful society with hundreds of issues? Or how can the knowledge of the Noetic Realm help a world with major human and environmental crises? To make it short what role does the Noetic Realm play in one’s life?
One part of the answer is that if you fragment different forms of knowledge and only zoom in on one single question without looking at the whole picture and without having a holistic view, then it could be said that the knowledge you have received is not beneficial for human beings. It’s like zooming in on a single molecule and knowing everything about it, but at the end of the day that particular knowledge of that single thing would not be worth much for humankind. But the worth of the knowledge of that single-molecule shows itself when that knowledge is combined with other knowledge we have of other molecules. So the combined knowledge of the molecule and a holistic view on this issue would be very beneficial for human beings.
The other part of the answer is that when you look at the Noetic Realm from a holistic approach and the role and impact it has on our lives combined with other realms, it is only then that we comprehend why the knowledge of this realm is beneficial for us. So the Noetic Realm and its role has to be explained clearly. It is only then that it shows its true impact and the influence and feedback it has on our realm and specifically on our planet when we look at it with a holistic approach. Issues like goodness and evil (khayr and sharr) in our planet has a direct relationship with our deeds, and our deeds in its turn has a direct influence on the Noetic Realm which gives back what is due to humans. It gives back its feedback in the form of goodness or evil according to human beings’ deeds and actions and according to what they deserve. So everything we do and how we act in every given situation is given back to us in a cycle of goodness or evil from the Noetic Realm. The Qur’ān says:
And if only the people of the cities had believed and feared Allah, We would have opened upon them blessings from the heavens and the earth; but they denied [the messengers], so We seized them for what they were earning.
And further: And fear a trial which will not strike those who have wronged among you exclusively.
The lady of the two realms Fāṭima-tuz-Zahrā said:
‘The one who sends up to Allah his pure and sincere worship, Allah, Mighty and Exalted, sends down for him that which will be of most benefit to him.’
When you understand this holistic reality of human action and its relationship to the divine, and how the divine or the “heavens” give back to humans what is their due in blessings or in chastisement, you might change your actions and thoughts towards others and towards the universe. In Hinduism, they call it Karma, a belief which is in coherence with Islam. ‘Whatever you do, you do for yourself. Whatever evil you do comes back to yourself and whatever good you do comes back to yourself.’ Every historical incident on earth and every small or big, good or bad action in between human beings has its impact and effect on the Noetic Realm which in turn gives back what is your due and nothing else except your own due according to the divine rules of Allah. Hence, there is a mutual relationship between the realms and our deeds. A question that may arise here is; “Then what do you say about all those good and pious people who have never harmed anyone and were still oppressed and murdered? Is that also the impact of the Noetic Realm?” The answer is that the innocent and good people who were oppressed and murdered by vicious people is the exclusive result of the deeds of these vicious people and has nothing to do with evil coming to these good people from the Noetic Realm. Thus we should not mix those two issues. But the Noetic Realm will give these innocent people their due and their reward too in the next realm and they will not despair. The same holds true for the evil people who did harm, they will receive their due punishment too. The knowledge about the realms in Islamic ontology is a necessity if one wishes to comprehend the mutual relationship between the incidents in our planet and the Noetic Realm. The only person who can understand this is he who has acquired this knowledge.
A brief introduction has been given to Islamic ontology. It was explained that these realms work in a hierarchical, intertwined and dependent way. It was also stated that our existence in the material universe is depended on the other realms. The wayfarer or the mystic travels through these realms to be able to reach perfection and spiritual annihilation. Our deeds also have an impact on the Noetic Realm which in its turn gives back to us what is our due. The intention behind this work was to introduce this realm to an English speaking audience and to familiarize the Noetic Realm through a philosophical and mystical perspective without using difficult technical and philosophical jargon. The researcher has also tried to answer the most basic of questions in this article, and provide a strong and plain introduction about this realm to the reader. Much greater detail and questions could be asked about this realm, which is beyond the scope of this study. For further reading for the more interested reader, some books have been introduced in the reference section below.
Wa Minallāhi Tawfῑq- And from Allah is All Success
 The ‘ārif, the spiritual wayfarer or even sometimes called the Sufi.
 This word is the plural of ‘ārif, mystic.
 The heavenly, the spiritual.
 Please see page 12.
 What we mean with ‘more powerful’ here is that these angels have more divine responsibility compared to the other beings.
 What we mean with ‘less powerful’ here is that these angels have less divine responsibility than the other beings.
 It is not clear from this verse which one of the Celestial realms is indicated, but that which is clear is that prophet Ibrāhīm -being one of the top five messengers of Allah- has most surely been through all the realms and also the Determinations.
 An’ām (the Cattle) verse 75
 Or her death.
 Animalistic, bodily, fleshly.
 The reason is that after physical death all people will be able to see this realm. All the veils will be put aside and people will be able to see clearly what they could not see in the material realm.
 Āshtiyānī, The explanation of the introduction of Qayṣarī, p. 459.
 Kāshānī, Majmū’a Rasā’il and Muṣannifāt p. 222 and 314.
 Ibid. p. 314.
 Nisfī, Bayān at Tanzīl, p. 60. Nisfī, al Insān al Kāmil, p. 374.
 Simnānī, Muṣannifāte Fārsī, p. 142.
 The Noble Qur’ān, chapter Ṭāhā, 12.
 These close angels should not be confused with The Karrūbiyān (the close angels or the cherubim) which are divided into two categories:
Those beings who do not have any knowledge of the other realms and of the existence of other beings in those realms. These beings are called the Muhayyima Angels, the Angels of Command and Dominance. The prophet said about them:
“… and they do not know that there are other beings on earth… and they do not know that Allah has created an Adam and an Iblīs.”
The second group of beings of angels are the intercessors of the divine grace of Allah to the rest of creation.
 The word noetic means intellect.
 The History of Western Philosophy, Frederick Copleston, vol. 1, p. 219.
 The view within Islamic mysticism is that Allah actually issued one thing only and that was “the Breath of the Merciful” (Nafa-sur-Raḥmān) and that in its turn created everything else. An example which we could give here just to make it tangible is the example of “the curtain and the patterns.” Imagine one curtain which has patterns on it. Some of the patterns are stronger and more visible, and some are weaker in their visibility. The stronger ones are the determinations or the Noetic Realm and the weaker ones are the Imaginal Realm and the material realm, but all of these realms or patterns exist on one single curtain, and that curtain is the Breath of the Merciful.
 The first determination and the second determination.
 Introduction to the philosophical system of Ṣadrā, vol. 2, p. 101, by ‘Ubūdīyat.
 Musnad, Imam Aḥmad ibn Hambal, vol 37, no. 22705, p. 378.
 Sunan abū Dawūd, vol 5, p. 76, no. 4500. Usūl al Kāfī, vol. 1, chapter Intellect and Ignorance, no. 14.
 Biḥār al Anwār, vol 54, p. 170. Majlisī
 The Great Spirit, or the First Intellect, or the Light, or the Pen are all the same manifestations of the Muhammadan Reality. The Muhammadan Reality encompasses both the Determinations and the created realms. The philosophers and the mystics reject the creation of multiplicity from Allah and link the multiplicity of creation to one single “thing” which also is the manifestation of Allah, and is called; the concept of Ḥaqīqa-tul-Muḥammadiya (The Muhammadan Reality) or Nafa-sur-Raḥmān (The Breath of the Merciful) or Ṣādir al Awwal (The First Issue/ Creation). That single thing as you can see has three names, but is referring to one thing.
The concept of Ḥaqīqa-tul-Muḥammadiya (The Muhammadan Reality) or Nafa-sur-Raḥmān (The Breath of the Merciful) or Ṣādir al Awwal (The First Issue/ Creation) encompasses the two determinations and the three realms. All of these three names are the same reality. The first thing that was issued was Nafa-sur-Raḥmān according to Islamic Mysticism. He said “Be” (kun) and “it was” (fayakūn). The mystical view is that Allah actually issued one thing only and that was “the Breath of the Merciful” (Nafa-sur-Raḥmān) and that in its turn created everything else. An example which we could give here just to make it tangible is the example of “the curtain and the patterns.” Imagine one curtain which has patterns on it. Some of the patterns are stronger and more visible, and some are weaker in their visibility. The stronger ones are the determinations or the Noetic Realm and the weaker ones are the Imaginal Realm and the material realm, but all of these realms or patterns exist on one single curtain, and that curtain is the Breath of the Merciful or the Muhammadan Reality.
 Biḥār al Anwār, vol. 56, p. 383.
 Biḥār al Anwār, vol. 56, p. 383.
 Talkhīṣ Nihāya-tul-Ḥikma (Summary of the End of Wisdom), by ‘Allāma Ṭabāṭabā’i, compiled by Sayyid Ali Husayni Nejad.2014. p. 218-221.
 The Education of Philosophy, Miṣbāḥ Yazdῑ, vol. 2, lecture 45.
 Talkhīṣ Nihāya- tul- Ḥikma, ‘Allāma Ṭabāṭabā’i, compiled by Sayyid Ali Husayni Nejad.2014. p. 218-221.
 A stone for example can obstruct a flower seed to develop into a full-grown flower.
 An infant that gets aborted, killed or because of other reasons gets terminated can naturally not reach its full potential capability.
 Al Ḥijr (The Rock), verse 21.
 It’s not clear from this verse which one of the Celestial realms is indicated, but that which is clear is that prophet Ibrāhīm, being one of the top five messengers of Allah, has most surely been through all the realms and also the Determinations.
 An’ām (the Cattle) verse 75
 Al Fātiḥa (The Opening), verse 2.
 Al A’rāf (the Heights), verse 96 (7:96).
 Al Anfāl (the spoils of war), verse 25. (8:25).
 Al Ḥijr verse 21.
 Biḥār al Anwār, vol 55, p. 34. Majlisi.
 Tambih al Khawāṭir, v. 2, p. 108, al Ḥillī.
 The History of Western Philosophy, Frederick Copleston, vol. 1, p. 219
 The Summary of The End of Wisdom, Ḥusaynῑ Nejād, p. 221 and Al Isharāt, Ḥusayn ibn Sῑnā vol. 3, p. 359- 362.
 The Summary of The End of Wisdom, Ḥusaynῑ Nejād, p. 221 and Al Isharāt, Ḥusayn ibn Sῑnā vol. 3, p. 359- 362.
 The Summary of The End of Wisdom, Ḥusaynῑ Nejād, p. 221 and Ḥikmat Ishrāq, Suhrawardῑ, vol. 2, p. 232.
 The spiritual wayfarer or the mystic has four journeys which in all of them Allah is the centre of his/ her focus. The “location” of this journey is within the “heart” or “spirit” of the wayfarer. The location is within the human being himself. The journeys are called Asfār al Arba’a, the Four Journeys:
- The first journey is from the material realm or creation to Allah, or from the creation to the Truth (minal khalq ilal ḥaqq). This means that the mystic has to go through the Imaginal and Noetic realms also before entering the divine determinations.
- The second journey is between the Names of Allah, from the Truth to the Truth, with the Truth (minal ḥaqq ilal ḥaqq bil ḥaqq). In other words, from Allah to Allah with Allah.
- The third journey is from Allah to the material realm or creation, but with Allah, or from the Truth to the creation with the Truth (minal ḥaqq ilal khalq bil ḥaqq), and that means that the mystic goes through the Noetic realm and later the Imaginal Realm and lastly the material realm.
- The fourth journey is from the material realm to the material realm, but with Allah. From the creation to the creation, but with Allah, or from the creation to the creation with the Truth (minal khalq ilal khalq bil ḥaqq).
The first journey takes the wayfarer through the different realms and into the Determinations and Divine Names. The journey in between the Names is the start of the second journey. The second journey starts in the Second Determination. The third journey takes the mystic- with his own free will- through the ontological realms, “down” to the material realm. The fourth journey is between the different creations of the material realm, with the companionship and full awareness of Allah. Everything the person does on this fourth journey is an act of Allah. The mystic has the sole role now to guide and advise others on the same path based on their capacity and will.
 Qur’an, the Cow:282
 Or show piety towards Allah.
 The Cave, al Kahf, 110.
 Laysa fīd dār illā dayyār. In another version, with the same meaning, it says; Laysā fīd dār ghay-ruhū-dayyār.
 The material realm, the Imaginal realm and the Noetic realm.
 You’re looking towards the unseen realms of the Imaginal and the Noetic.
 Everything that Allah creates is perfection, but here we were comparing our physical universe with the other realms, and when we compare them to each other we observe that our universe is truly imperfect compared to the other realms.
 According to Islamic mysticism we have two other realms, excluding those three realms which we have mentioned here. Those two realms are within the presence of Allah or within Allah, so they do not have any external creation. They are called the First and the Second Determination. Because of the topic being limited to the Noetic Realm we have not discussed these two realms in detail here in this article. For further information about the Determinations please see the article ‘Questions and Answers about the Unseen’, from the same author.
 Kun fayakūn.
 The First and the Second Determination within Allah.
 Those who believe in a physical bodily resurrection and those who believe in an imaginal bodily resurrection.
 The reason that the philosophical school of Mullā Ṣadrā does not accept a hellfire for the Noetic Realm is because he sees hellfire as “evil” (sharr) and because everything which emanates from Allah is and must be pure goodness (khayr al maḥḍ), therefore, evil is an impossibility. And because the Noetic Realm is the first creation of Allah it must be goodness and no dimension of evil as hellfire should exist therein.
 The Fixed Entities, al a’yān ath thābita, are called quiddities within philosophy, māhīyāt, the what-ness of things or the true nature of the objects/ matter.
 The First and the Second Determinations.
 The Prelude of the Interpretation of Qayṣarī on Fuṣūṣ al Ḥikam, p. 115.
 Al A’rāf (the Heights), verse 96 (7:96).
 Al Anfāl (the spoils of war), verse 25. (8:25).
 Tambih al Khawāṭir, v. 2, p. 108. By Warrām ibn Abī Firās al Ḥillī.
A convert to Islam, I joined the seminary of Qom in 2008 and am currently doing a masters in Islamic mysticism.