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How to Be Mentally Fit According to Islam -Moral Intelligence Part 2

Updated: Nov 21, 2023



The heart is stronger than the brain

Intelligence is your defining quality. It's the one thing that separates you from your pet cat or that fly on the wall. There are many kinds of intelligence. There's traditional academic intelligence, emotional intelligence, social, and financial not to mention Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences. Any aspect of our life can be turned into a specific domain for us to excel in or be intelligent at.


As Muslims need to focus on moral intelligence or rather 'aql.


Baffled by Intelligence


We live in an age of dysphoria. Slap any word next to dysphoria and you'll find someone suffering from it. But there is comfort in knowing that we are not the only ones going through confusing times. Alas, I found some solace as I read the first part of Shaykh Mikaeel Ahmed Smith's book "With the Heart in Mind."


This post is part two of my close study of this enlightening work on the "Moral and Emotional Intelligence of the Prophet (S)." My previous article, along with a podcast episode, covered the introduction of this book.


Mental fitness or battling a mental illness centers around your brain. But the Arabic term 'aql is much more than the mere facts stored in the grey matter in your thick skull. 'Aql is inherently tied to the Divine.



Imam Muhasabi's Environment


In the first section of "With the Heart in Mind," Shaykh Mikaeel describes the context of when Imam Muhasabi's influence grew. He is best known for his spiritual knowledge and asceticism. Imam Muhasabi was born at a time when rationalism was gaining momentum. Hindu mathematicians and Greek philosophers were growing in influence. This movement destroyed his family as his father started adopting rationalistic ideologies while his mom remained a traditionalist.


Muhasabi Definition of 'Aql


Scholars define 'aql as "a light in the heart just as sight is a light in the eyes" (Smith pg 28). Imam Muhasabi in "Theory of Intelligence" defined intelligence on three levels:

  1. Gazira

  2. Fahm

  3. Basirah

Gazira is the first level of 'aql which Allah blessed us with. All humans with sound and mature minds have this level of intellect and are held accountable for their actions because of it. The second level, fahm, is understanding and the third level, basirah, centers around insight.


The Rationalist saw intelligence as something that could distinguish good from bad on its own. But Muhasabi saw the intellect as being capable of deciphering evil from good independently but this quality was placed by Allah.


This distinction in attributing our ability to tell right from wrong has important implications for the Muslim challenged with a mental illness. On one hand, bipolar may make you feel suicidal but your God-given intelligence or Aql rises to the occasion and helps you stop yourself from ending your life.





Thus, true intelligence rests on your actions. You might know who Allah is and after reading this article, you might be aware of the levels of intelligence such as gazira, fahm, and basirah but what is the point of all that when your actions don't align with your beliefs and words? Of the last level of the intellect, basirah, Muhasabi in Mahiyya al-aql states:


This is what intellect is. And whosoever does not possess the last meaning (of the intellect) but has that base level of innate intellect by which Allah has differentiated between the intelligent and the insane, that person does not posses the divine intellect of understanding, and so against him, the proof has been established. (Smith, pg 23)

A basic intellect (gazira) and understanding (fahm) are necessary to achieve the third level of intellect which is basirah. Thus, intelligence involves understanding and managing your emotions in a way that lives up to the moral standards set by Allah. This is how moral intelligence differs from emotional intelligence.



Ghazali's Definition of Intelligence


In his groundbreaking work "Revival of the Islamic Sciences," Imam Ghazali helped us understand what it means to be intelligent in Islam.


Intellect is the spring and starting point of knowledge. The intellect is the seat of knowledge, and it is by means of knowledge we are guided. (Smith, pg 29)

What does this actually mean? Simply put, if you can't use your knowledge, and your brain to worship Allah better, get closer, and show gratitude to Him, then you really are not intelligent or have any 'aql.


Growing up, I was often told I had no 'aql. I would do strange things, moody things like run away or punch holes in the wall. So I started believing I had no intelligence. "With the Heart in Mind" paints a different picture of intelligence, one I can very much understand and relate to today.


Take for example the case of a highly proficient professor or professional who is so skilled at their work or knows the ins and outs of the brain or their trade yet they fail to use that knowledge to know Allah, to be amazed by Him, and to show gratitude towards Him.


Knowledge is not Power


I have to admit that I said in one of my previous episodes that knowledge is power. I have to correct that now. Knowledge is power only in so much as it can help you in your relationship with Allah.


True Intelligence Furthers Your Relationship Allah


The function of knowledge is to illuminate you. This means you accept your own shortcomings and know that your intellect and knowledge have a limit. You are not limitless. Allah is.


Some might find that constricting but I find it freeing. That means it's not all on me. I'm not it. With bipolar, when you take your big head out of the way, you can actually see the light. Your moral compass takes center stage.


Learn Traditional Islam to Decipher Right from Wrong


One of my biggest fears is suicide but now I fear losing Allah more, not my life. That I believe is true 'aql for those of us blessed with mental illnesses. Your life doesn't revolve around how smart you are but how sound your relationship with Allah is. Your intelligence instead becomes the light in your heart with which you see and articulate. It becomes another tool in your toolbox to know Allah and to seek Divine Guidance.


We can use our intellect to come close to the Divine and to know that He exists, but that is the limit of the intellect. (Smith, pg 53)



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