Sujjawal Ahmad: Ismaili Cosmology – An Introduction

Sujjawal Ahmad: Ismaili Cosmology - An Introduction


“God is completely different to whatever you imagine; He neither resembles anything nor can imagination [ever] attain Him, for how could imagination ever attain Him while He is totally different to what is bound by reason and [also] different from what can be pictured in imagination? He can be imagined only as an entity beyond reason and beyond [any] limitation.”

–Imam al-Baqir (Early Shi’i Thought, Arzina R. Lalani, p.94)


Classical Ismaili metaphysics conceives God of as a Reality that:

  • is an unknowable absolute, transcending comprehension or description by human reason and rationale.
  • is having an absolutely unique ipseity, cannot be compared to any of the things that exist in the normal, contingent sense.
  • cannot be an object of discursive thought, because our brains cannot deal with Him in the way that they deal with everything else.

Extra-Temporal Creation

The first created being of spiritual world is Universal Intellect that has been brought forth through God’s divine Order (amr) or Word (kalima) – ’Kun’, which is an extra-temporal act of Origination.

Universal Intellect

  • is the One, in which Oneness of God manifests.
  • is Perfect both in actuality and potentiality..It is complete and perfect in itself,
  • is the Face of God, and manifests all attributes of God used in conventional theology.
  • is knowledge in itself and all things in their entire multiplicity are contained in its luminous substance in their perfect forms.

Universal intellect emanates Universal Soul. It produces Soul without will, without desire and without movement through its act of emanation which is an extra-temporal act. The creation of Intellect and that of Soul takes place before the creation, time, so both of them are eternal beings — they and their creation are not bound to time. They have, as Nasir Khusrau says, no before and after; we cannot say in absolute sense which came first or which came later. Creation of Intellect and Soul thus takes place all at once, without time itself being involved. This is the reason Quran says about God’s commandment in this way:

“And Our commandment is but one (commandment), as the twinkling of an eye”
Chapter (54) sūrat l-qamar (The Moon)

Temporal Creation

O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul (4:1)

Comprehending its separation from the One, Soul turns to return to its source, to regain its position within Intellect and ultimately within the One.

  • As a result of its desire to become perfect in actuality and its reunion with its source,it creates motion (jumbash), as a result of this motion, time is created.(while ‘motion’ of Soul is not time bound, so it is also eternal and creation of time is thus eternal)
  • proceeding to time, Soul creates a subtle material called Prime matter. Prime matter brings forth the realm of nature through creating mineral kingdom with the help of Four Elements-air, fire, water and earth. Mineral kingdom leads to Plant kingdom which leads to animal kingdom and finally human being come into existence.
  • Creative act of Soul is bound to time and it creates this world in a temporal process (as opposed to the extra-temporal action of Divine command and Intellect.)
  • The purpose of creative act of Soul, was Man, and it is through man, Universal Soul attains perfection of Universal Intellect, although bit by bit in smaller parts.


“The whole world may be likened to a tree and humankind (mardum) is its fruit, nor has anything better than humankind ever come, nor will ever be produced by this tree, and humankind is the supreme species (naw-i-anwa).”

Nasir khusrau,Zad al-Musafirin (Pilgrims’s Provision), p. 179.


It is essential here to note that in this scheme of creation, the physical world is created on part of desire of Universal Soul; still its own existence depends upon Universal Intellect, and ultimately on Universal Command of God. So although it cannot be said that God ‘does’ create, but still it can also not be said that He ‘does-not’ create. He is just above the attribute of being a Creator; still all things are created under His Divine Command.


Sujjawal AhmadAbout the author:

Sujjawal Ahmad is a student of Masters in Biochemistry from Quad-e-Azam University Islamabad, Pakistan. As a student of science, Sujjawal has much interest in exploring classical Ismaili works of Nasir Khusrau and other Dais of Fatimid period in the field of philosophy.

Author: Sujjawal Ahmad

Contact Sujjawal through email:

One thought

  1. I like this author! He makes a very difficult subject easier to understand. It also happens to be the path I personally choose to follow in the Ismaili Tariqah of Islam. The real and burgeoning authority of this topic in Islam, IMHO, is soon to be Professor Khalil Andani of Harvard University.


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