It’s no secret that in Ismailism, the soul is often equated with the intellect. But in the Quran, the soul is described as a part of God, that was placed into mankind, and whose purpose is to eventually return to God. Because of God’s all-encompassing nature, some scholars refer to God’s existence as a universal intellect.
According to Abu Ya-qub alSijistani, the Universal Intellect is fundamentally accompanied by seven other intellectual faculties. These faculties came about with the origin of the Universal Intellect and will continue until its conclusion. According to alSijistani, the Individual Intellect exists within the Universal Intellect. While the Individual Intellect grows, it grows within the confines of the pre-existing Universal Intellect.
Going with the notion that the Individual Intellect simply grows within the pre-existing Universal Intellect over time, time would be an attribute of the Individual Intellect. Because the Universal Intellect doesn’t change or grow, it exists outside the confines of “time”and this is eternal.
According to alSijistani, the Universal Intellect is made up of Truth. As the Individual Intellect learns and grows, it acquires more of these particulate truths, allowing to it take up more of the Universal Intellect. In the same way a star consumes hydrogen in order to grow and continue to burn, the Individual Intellect consumes Truth in order to sustain itself and grow. alSijistani also posits that Truth’s opposite exists, and that consuming anti-truth is irreparably harmful to the Individual Intellect.
Learning isn’t the easiest thing to do, and growth always comes with pain. In order to keep people expanding their Individual Intellect, the act of growth is rewarded with Joy. This can be the joy of discovery, the joy of making a new friend, or the happiness that comes from expanding one’s Individual Intellect. This Joy is supposed to be eternal (because it is from and of the Universal Intellect), unlike temporary happiness that can be caused by less than virtuous acts, and is more temporary.
For alSijistani, there’s a difference between “knowing” something and knowing something. For alSijistani, you not only have to learn on a conceptual level, but also put what you learn into practice and make it part of your everyday life. For example, someone can “know” that it’s unsafe to text their friends while they’re driving but until they actually put their phone down, alSijistani would argue that they didn’t know it at all. It’s this practical demonstration that not only proves you know something, but is the final step in the acquisition of knowledge.
By “Life”, alSijistani means biological life. Our ability to live, breath, metabolize, and reproduce are all for the purposes of expanding our Individual Intellect. Unlike what Socrates said, alSijistani argues that our bodies are a tool for our intellects to use to grow and expand. It’s through our physical senses that we explore the world in which we live, and with our physical bodies that we demonstrate our knowledge and interact with others. And, just like Time, our physical bodies provide a temporal confinement in which our Intellectual growth can take place.
Perfection isn’t a destination, according to alSijistani, but a process. In addition to the Universal Intellect being perfect, each step in the Individual Intellect’s growth is an act of Perfection in and of itself. So, as long as someone continues to learn, continues to grow and build connections, they can be considered perfect, regardless of any flaws that they may have. Perfection, for alSijistani (and for many others) is about intent.
Once the Individual Intellect has grown to the level of the Universal Intellect, it has achieved Absence. This means there is nothing left for the Individual Intellect to pursue or gain. This achievement is concurrent: you must give up everything to become one with the Universal Intellect; and by joining the Universal Intellect, you give up everything. However, Nasir i Khusraw has a slightly different take on this idea.