Chittick makes use of two Islamic sources of law or knowledge that are termed transmitted (naqli) and intellectual (‘aqli). The transmitted knowledge refers to traditions revealed to the Prophet by God Himself. Thus, it refers to the inherited knowledge that has been passed over the generations by people close to the Prophet Muhammad who have heard it from him and then transmitted the knowledge to others who were not present, and thereafter down the generations. Transmitted knowledge includes, for example, the tradition of five prayers a day, which was revealed to the Prophet by divine revelation and was practiced by his followers of that generation and transmitted down the lineage to the present generation of his followers.
The intellectual knowledge refers to that of the individual, acquired by extensive training of the mind through scholarly lessons. It involves studying the subject at hand, and may utilize teachers for the same who have prior knowledge of it, however, it instigates an understanding in the heart and mind of the knower himself, and does not need to be verified or authenticated by the teacher. It is acquired knowledge, so if the individual in question grasps it in his mind, it becomes part of his intellect and does not need to be authenticated.
The first three chapters were originally drafted as lectures. They comprise a rich array of in-depth discussions on philosophy and development of intellectual knowledge that Chittick deems essential for a modern Muslim. He calls the thought behind such a notion as the real essence of Islam, which progresses intellectual tradition when considering Islamic teachings. He brings to light the importance of intellectual advancement, giving thorough importance to the reference to the Quranic principles that calls for Muslims to reflect, think and ponder. These lectures were originally intended to be delivered to Muslims, and the text reflects that notion, since Chittick spends a good portion of it addressing the problems faced by contemporary Muslims. He mentions how the traditional scholars transgressed their problems by harnessing this intellectual thought, thereby using the same core principles of Islam but developing the religion at the same time. It is this progressive thinking that produced the great philosophers in the olden times such as Ibn’ Arabi, Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi and the likes but since the current Muslim population seems to have ceased to produce the same level of thinkers, there is an obvious lack of intellectual thinking, according to Chittick. He analyzes the same through the expertise derived by decades of translating the texts produced by those revered philosophers, through his objective eyes, while displaying the prowess that only a learned interpreter could possess.
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