Based on my previous research of the Aga Khan Development Network, I shared my personal interpretation of the purpose and relevance of the Aga Khan Academies almost two years ago (see earlier post: From AKDN to AKA – A Systematic Vision). Since then, my curiosity has taken me into varying directions – discovering the deep significance of Abe-shifa, Chanta, and even Chandraat.
However, nothing has moved me to write again as much as Hussein Janhmohamed and Fez Meghani’s visit to Chicago for the Enlightened Encounters Program. This program introduced the purpose of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada to the Jamat and neighboring communities. During an informal discussion, as Hussein shared his personal story, I heard the melody of an awakened soul… His story embodies fear and love, confusion and clarity, tradition and innovation – an endless number of dichotomies and yet, a beautiful reflection of the essential dance between the Universal Intellect and the Universal Soul.
Hussein’s energy rekindled my curiosity and so, on the same night, I began my personal research on the Aga Khan Museum. Below, I have showcased my learnings through a series of “maps”, as a result of studying with Elijah Ignatieff. Elijah is a contemporary master of systematics, the understanding that the universe has an underlying geometric plan and that certain numbers are symbols for deeper, esoteric meanings. Elijah uses his knowledge of naturally occurring, recognizable patterns as a basis to identify and/or rectify the interactions within a whole – whether it is an organization, a business, or even a particular individual. While systematics is not necessarily a new body of knowledge, applying this knowledge as a way of holistic problem solving (also called systems thinking) is most certainly a new area of human endeavor.
Elijah’s teachings brilliantly integrate the work of thinkers from every era beginning with Pythagoras and Aristotle leading up to George Gurdjieff, John G. Bennett, and most recently, Ken Wilber.
Of particular interest, however, is that Elijah’s work even builds upon the work of the Ikhwan al-Safa’ (Brethren of Purity), a secret group of Ismaili intellectuals based in tenth-century Basra and Baghdad responsible for the production and distribution of a monumental encyclopedia, Rasaʾil Ikhwan al-Safaʾ (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity), based on the universal language of systematics.
Nader El-Bizri, the General Editor of the publication titled On Arithmetic and Geometry: An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistles 1 & 2, writes:
“This volume [consisting of Epistle 1 and 2] offers technical and epistemic analyses of mathematical concepts… with a distinctly Pythagorean interpretation of mathematics within the symbolic order of mysticism, and also inspired by Islamic faith, the Ikhwān view arithmetic and geometry through a monotheistic spiritual lens.”
The Pythagorean interpretation of mathematics (essential triad) referenced above is quoted below from the Rasaʾil Ikhwan al-Safaʾ:
Twofold in the Creation
(1) Al-Bari’ (Creator, or God) is the First and only Eternal Being, no anthropomorphic attribute is to be ascribed to Him. Only the will to originate pertains to Him.
(2) Al-’Aql (Universal Intellect) is the first being to originate from God. It is one in number as God Himself is One. God created all the forms of subsequent beings in the Intellect, from which emanated the Universal Soul and the first matter.
(3) Al-Nafs al-Kulliyya (The Universal Soul) is the Soul of the whole universe, a simple essence which emanates from the Intellect. It receives its energy from the Intellect. (rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, vol. 1 p. 54; cf. rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, vol. 3 pp. 184, 196-7; 235).
Elijah taught me how to systematically summarize and “map” the essential triad in several different ways. First, the summary in my own words:
From the Will of God came the first cause – the Universal Intellect, represented by the number 1, and subsequently came the second cause, represented by the number 2, the Universal Soul. The Universal Intellect’s perfect light illuminated the imperfect Universal Soul and activated the creation of the cosmos – a process through which the Universal Soul achieves perfection and thus, perfectly reflects the light of the Universal Intellect. Together, the Universal Intellect and the Universal Soul fulfill the Will of God.
Second, the maps:
And here we see the Pythagorean essential triad depicted in the Holy Quran, included in the Golden Jubilee Emblem, and frequently quoted by Mawlana Hazar Imam:
Here is the visual map for the essential triad using the same terminology quoted above:
As a systematics student, it was critical for me to learn how to recognize the essential triad in everyday life. Here are several examples that I’ve gathered from my own reflections:
Elijah has most significantly contributed to my integrated worldview (combining din and duniya – “life and spirit”), which enables me to make real sense of both worlds, particularly when I visit sites such as the Aga Khan Museum…