Universal Intellect: The First Originated Being
“The Divine Intellect, ‘Aql-i Kull, both transcends and informs the human intellect. It is this intellect which enables man to strive towards two aims dedicated by the Faith: that he should reflect upon the environment Allah has given and that he should know himself. It is the light of intellect which distinguishes the complete human being from the human animal and developing that intellect requires free enquiry.”
His Highness the Aga Khan, Aga Khan University Inauguration Address, Karachi, November 11, 1985
In classical Isma‘ili thought:
- the Universal Intellect (al-‘aql al-kull) is the First Originated Being which has come into being directly through God’s Word/Command.
- The Universal Intellect is the most perfect being in all existence and encompasses all realities. The Intellect is complete, self-sufficient and is the summit of all existence.
- Sunni and Shi‘a traditions describe the Universal Intellect as the pre-eternal ‘Light of Muhammad’ or the ‘Light of ‘Ali’:
“The first thing created by God was my Light.” – Prophet Muhammad 
“Two thousand years before creation, Muhammad and ‘Ali were one Light before God.” – Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq 
- Today, the Universal Intellect is called the ‘Nur of Imamat’ (nur-i Imamah).
- For the Ismaili philosophers, all the classical divine names and attributes through which human beings think about the Divine – such as the One (al-wahid), the Living (al-hayy), the Powerful (al-qadir), the Knowing (al-‘alim), the Merciful (al-Rahim), the Eternal (al-qadim), the Truth (al-haqq), the First (al-awwal), the Last (al-akhir), the Manifest (al-zahir), the Hidden (al-batin), etc. – actually belong to the Universal Intellect as God Himself transcends all attributes and qualities.
- The essence of the Universal Intellect is the Command of God which is the source of all things. In this sense, the Universal Intellect is ‘the One’ (al-wahid), the primordial Monad, and the Command of God is the ‘Unity’ or ‘Oneness’ (wahdah) which comprises its essence.
The human intellect (‘aql al-juz) in each person is a trace or reflection of the Universal Intellect. It is human intellect which connects man to the source of all being and distinguishes him from the rest of the physical world.
- The concept of the Universal Intellect as the source of the human intellect continues to hold relevance today – as mentioned by Mawlana Hazar Imam at the inauguration of the Aga Khan University:
Read full article at Simerg : Khalil Andani’s Thank You Letter to the School of Isma‘ili Philosophers
William Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 66.
Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early Shi‘ism, 30.
About the author:
Khalil Andani is a doctoral (Ph.D) candidate and an SSHRC Doctoral Fellow (2014-2019) at Harvard University specializing in Islamic intellectual history, theology, philosophy, and mysticism and also holds a Master of Theological Studies degree (2014), specializing in Islamic philosophy and Ismaili thought, from Harvard University. He is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and completed Bachelor of Mathematics (BMath) and Master of Accounting degrees at the University of Waterloo (2008). Khalil’s publications include a book chapter on Nasir-i Khusraw’s philosophical thought in the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy and articles in Sacred Web, and The Matheson Trust.