Seyyed Hossein Nasr

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Seyyed Hossein Nasr in 2007

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Persian: سید حسین نصر, born April 7, 1933) is an Iranian philosopher, theologian and Islamic scholar. He is the University Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University.


  • Through the downward flow of the river of time and the multiple refractions and reflections of Reality upon the myriad mirrors of both macrocosmic and microcosmic manifestation, knowledge has become separated from being and the bliss or ecstasy which characterizes the union of knowledge and being. Knowledge has become nearly completely externalized and desacralized, especially among those segments of the human race which have become transformed by the process of modernization, and that bliss which is the fruit of union with the One and an aspect of the perfume of the sacred has become well-nigh unattainable and beyond the grasp of the vast majority of those who walk upon the earth. But the root and essence of knowledge continues to be inseparable from the sacred for the very substance of knowledge is the knowledge of that reality which is the Supreme Substance, the Sacred as such, compared to which all levels of existence and all forms of the manifold are but accidents.
    • Knowledge and the Sacred, (1989) pp. 5-6
  • Consciousness is itself proof of the primacy of the Spirit or Divine Consciousness of which human consciousness is a reflection and echo.
    • Knowledge and the Sacred, (1989) p. 8
  • The reduction of the Intellect to reason and the limitation of intelligence to cunning and cleverness in the modern world not only caused sacred knowledge to become inaccessible and to some even meaningless, but it also destroyed that natural theology which in the Christian context represented at least a reflection of knowledge of a sacred order, of the wisdom or sapientia which was the central means of spiritual perfection and deliverance.
    • Knowledge and the Sacred, (1989) pp. 8-9
  • The testimony of the faith L¯a il¯aha illa’Ll¯ah (There is no divinity but the Divine) is a statement concerning knowledge, not sentiments or the will. It contains the quintessence of metaphysical knowledge concerning the Principle and its manifestation. The Prophet of Islam has said, “Say L¯a il¯aha illa’Ll¯ah and be delivered” referring directly to the sacramental quality of principial knowledge.
    • Knowledge and the Sacred, (1989) p. 13
  • Man, in the traditional sense of the term corresponding to insan in Arabic or homo in Greek and not solely the male, is seen in Islam not as a sinful being to whom the message of Heaven is sent to heal the wound of the original sin, but as a being who still carries his primordial nature (al-fitrah) within himself, although he has forgotten that nature now buried deep under layers of negligence. As the Quran states: “[God] created man in the best of stature (ahsan altaqwim)” (95:4) with an intelligence capable of knowing the One. The message of Islam is addressed to that primordial nature. It is a call for recollection, for the remembrance of a knowledge kneaded into the very substance of our being even before our coming into this world. In a famous verse that defines the relationship between human beings and God, the Quran, in referring to the precosmic existence of man, states, “‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yes, we bear witness’” (7:172). The “they” refers to all the children of Adam, male and female, and the “yes” confirms the affirmation of God’s Oneness by us in our pre-eternal ontological reality. Men and women still bear the echo of this “yes” deep down within their souls, and the call of Islam is precisely to this primordial nature, which uttered the “yes” even before the creation of the heavens and the earth. The call of Islam therefore concerns, above all, the remembrance of a knowledge deeply embedded in our being, the confirmation of a knowledge that saves, hence the soteriological function of knowledge in Islam.
    • The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr, (2007), p.45
  • There is something "God-like" in man as attested to by the Quranic statement, (Pickthall translation): "I have made him and have breathed into him my spirit" (Quran 15:29), and by the tradition, "God created Adam upon His own form." God created Adam, the prototype of man, upon "His own form," i.e., as a mirror reflecting in a central and conscious manner His Names and Qualities. There is, therefore, something of a "sacred nature" (malakut'i) in man; and it is in the light of this profound nature in man that Islam envisages him. This belief is not, however, in any way anthropomorphic, for the Divine Essence (al-Dhat) remains absolutely transcendent and no religion has emphasized the transcendent aspect of God more than Islam. The Islamic concept of man as a theomorphic being is not an anthropomorphism. It does not make God into man. Rather, the Islamic revelation conceives of man as this theomorphic being and addresses itself to that something in man which is in the "form of the Divine." That something is first of all an intelligence that can discern between the true and the false or the real and the illusory and is naturally led to Unity or tawhid.
    • Ideals and Realities of Islam, (1966) p. 4-5.
  • It is important in this context to remember that Islam is not based on original sin but that nevertheless it does accept the fall of man (alhubut) from the primordial and original state of perfection in which he was created. According to Islam, the great sin of man is in fact forgetfulness (al-ghaflah) and the purpose of the message of revelation is to enable man to remember. That is why one of the names of the Quran itself is "the Remembrance of Allah" (dhikr Allah) and why the ultimate end and purpose of all Islamic rites and of all Islamic conjunctions is the remembrance of Allah.
    • A Young Muslim's Guide to the Modern World, (1993) p. 30.
  • As a matter of fact one of the great services that Islam can render to the modern world, in which the dichotomy between reason and revelation or science and religion has reached such dangerous proportions, is to represent this possibility of the union between revelation and reason as found in the Quran. The source of revelation in Islam is the Archangel Gabriel or the Universal Intellect. Intellect (al-‘aql al-kulli in the language of hadith) and the word ‘aql itself signify etymologically both that which binds or limits the Absolute in the direction of creation and also that which binds man to the truth, to God himself. In the perspective of Islam it is precisely ‘aql which keeps man on the straight path (the sirat al-mustaqim) and prevents him from going astray. That is why so many verses of the Quran equate those who go astray with those who cannot use their intellect (as in the verses wa la ya‘qilun, ‘they do not understand’ or literally ‘use their intellect’—the verb ya‘qilun deriving from the root ‘aqala which is related to ‘aql; or the verse  la yafqahun, ‘they understand not’, the verb yafqahun being related to the root faqiha which again means comprehension or knowledge.)
    • Sufi Essays, (1972) p. 54.
  • Yet, man cannot fully forget his inner being, his theomorphic nature, for however hard he tries to float on the surface of his being and run away from the Centre, he carries the Centre within him and sooner or later the Centre manifests itself in one way or another in the periphery and the surface. For to be made in the image of God in the sense of being the theophany of His Names and Qualities is a reality that lies in the human state itself. Islam affirms the primordial character of man's theomorphic nature and his special situation in the cosmos and vis-à-vis God by referring to a covenant made between God and man even before the creation of the world. For as the Quran states: "And (remember) when thy Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their reins, their seed, and made them testify of themselves, (saying): Am I not your Lord? They said: Yea, verily." (VII; 172). In this yea is to be found the secret of human destiny because by iterating it man accepted the burden of trust (amanah) which none in creation but he dared accept. "Lo! We offered the trust unto the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they shrank from hearing it and were afraid of it. And man assumed it." (XXXIII; 72).
    • The Sword of Gnosis, (1986) p.208.
  • The noble Quran mentions concerning the Spirit that it is “from the command of my Lord” (qul al-rūh min amri rabbī) (XVII.85). No contact with the Spirit is possible save through the dimension of transcendence, which stands always before man and which connects him with the Ultimate Reality whether It be called the Lord or Brahman or śūnyata. To forget the Spirit and settle for its earthly reflections alone is to be doomed to the world of multiplicity, to separation, division and finally aggression and war. No amount of extolling the human spirit can fill the vacuum created by the forgetting of the Spirit which kindles the human soul but is not itself human. It is necessary to realize the unity of the Spirit behind the multiplicity of religious forms in order to reach the peace that human beings seek. The human spirit as understood in the humanist sense is not sufficient unto itself to serve as basis for the unity of humanity and human understanding across cultural and religious frontiers.
    • The Need for a Sacred Science, (1993) p. 25.
  • The fullest meaning of the intellect and its universal function is to be found in the ma‘rifah or gnosis, which lies at the heart of the Islamic revelation and which is crystallized in the esoteric dimension of Islam identified for the most part with Sufism. There are verses of the Quran and hadiths of the Prophet that allude to the heart as the seat of intelligence and knowledge. The heart is the instrument of true knowledge, as its affliction is the cause of ignorance and forgetfulness. That is why the message of the revelation addresses the heart more than the mind as the following verses of the Quran reveal: O men, now there has come to you an admonition from your Lord and a healing for what is in the breasts (namely the heart) and a guidance, and a mercy to the believers. Surah (10:57) (Arberry translation)
    • Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy, (2006) p. 100-101.
  • The Quran, like other sacred scriptures, associates knowledge and understanding with the heart, and the blindness of the heart with loss of understanding, as for example when God, after complaining of man’s not learning the appropriate lessons from earlier sacred history, asserts, “For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind” (22:46). This blindness of the heart so characteristic of fallen man is also described by the Quran as a hardening of the heart. “But their hearts were hardened, and the devil made all that they used to do seem fair unto them!” (6:43). Also, ““Woe unto those whose hearts are hardened against remembrance of Allah. Such are in plain error” (39:22). Furthermore, the Quran identifies this hardening of the heart with a veil that God has cast over the heart of those who have turned away from the truth. “We have placed upon their hearts veils, lest they should understand, and in their ears a deafness” (6:25); also, “And We place upon their hearts veils lest they should understand it, and in their ears a deafness” (17:46).
    • The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr, (2007), pp.86-87
  • The heart is first of all the center of our being on all the different levels of our existence, not only the corporeal and emotive, but also the intellectual and spiritual. It is what connects the individual to the supra-individual realms of being. In fact, if in modern society heart-knowledge is rejected, it is because modernism refuses to see man beyond his individual level of existence. The heart is not a center of our being; it is the supreme center, its uniqueness resulting from the metaphysical principle that for any specific realm of manifestation there must exist a principle of unity. The heart is the barzakh or isthmus between this world and the next, between the visible and invisible worlds, between the human realm and the realm of the Spirit, between the horizontal and vertical dimensions of existence. In the same way that the vertical and horizontal lines of the cross, itself the symbol not only of Christ in Christianity but also of the Universal Man (al-insan al-kamil) in Islam, meet at only one point, there can be only one heart for each human being, although this single reality partakes of gradations and levels of being. The heart, then, is our unique center, the place where the supreme axis penetrates our microcosmic existence, the place where the All-Merciful resides, and also the locus for the Breath of God. Hence the profound relation that exists between invocatory prayer carried out with the breath and the heart.
    • The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr, (2007), p.88.
  • The total religion called Islam may be said to consist of the levels of islam, iman, and ihsan, or surrender, faith, and spiritual beauty. The Quran refers often to the muslim, the possessor of surrender, the mu’min, the possessor of faith, and the muhsin, the possessor of virtue. Although the Quran emphasizes that all Muslims stand equally before God, it also insists that human beings are distinguished in rank according to their knowledge of the truth and virtue, as in the verses, “Are those who know equal with those who know not?” (39:9), to which the Quran gives the resounding answer of no, and, “Verily, those of you most close to God are those who are the best in conduct” (59:13).
    • The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity (2002), p.60.
  • To meditate on the theme of the Face of God is to realize that man cannot destroy the divine image without destroying himself. The poetical cry of Nietzsche in the nineteenth century that “God is dead,” a cry which has now been turned into a theological proposition in certain quarters and is advertised far beyond its purport and significance by those who seek after the sensational and who seem to have little reverence for the belief of those living and dead for whom God is eternally present and alive, cannot but have its echo in the assertion that man is dead, man as a spiritual and free being. Man cannot destroy the face that God has turned towards him without destroying the face that man has turned towards God, and therefore also all that is eternal and imperishable in man and is the source of human dignity, the only reality that gives meaning to human life.
    • The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr, (2007), p.70.
  • If you ask today what art is, what its function is, what the meaning of art is and why one should create art, the answer given oftentimes by Western philosophers of art and those who specialize in modern aesthetics is ‘‘art for art’s sake.’’ The modern response is that you just create art for the sake of art; but this was never the answer of traditional civilizations where one created art for both the sake of attainment of inner perfection and for human need in the deepest sense—because the needs of man are not only physical, they are also spiritual. We are as much in need of beauty as of the air that we breathe.
    • In Search of the Sacred: A Conversation with Seyyed Hossein Nasr on His Life and Thought (2010), p. 242.
  • For Muslims the Islamic Shari'ah, or Divine Law, is the concrete embodiment of the Divine Will as elaborated in the Quran for the followers of Islam; and from the Islamic point of view the scriptures of all divinely revealed religions, each of which possesses its own Shari'ah, have the same function in those religions. For Muslims, who accept the Quran as the Word of God, therefore, following the Divine Law is basic and foundational for the practice of their religion.
  • For Muslims the Quran is the Word of God; it is sacred scripture, not a work of "literature," a manual of law, or a text of theology, philosophy or history although it is of incomparable literary quality, contains many injunctions about a Sacred Law, is replete with verses of metaphysical, theological, and philosophical significance, and contains many accounts of sacred history. The unique structure of the Quran and the flow of its content constitute a particular challenge to most modern readers. For traditional Muslims the Quran is not a typical "read" or manual to be studied. For most of them, the most fruitful way of interacting with the Quran is not to sit down and read the Sacred Tex from cover to cover (although there are exceptions, such as completing the whole text during Ramadan). it is, rather, to recite a section with full awareness of it as the Word of God and to meditate upon it as one whose soul is being directly addressed, as the Prophet's soul was addressed during its revelation. ... In this context it must be remembered that the Quran itself speaks constantly of the Origin and the Return, of all things coming from God and returning to Him, who himself has no origin or end. As the Word of god, the Quran also seems to have no beginning and no end. Certain turns of phrase and teachings about the Divine Reality, the human condition, the life of this world, and the Hereafter are often repeated, but they are not mere repetitions. Rather each iteration of a particular word, phrase, or verse opens the door of a hidden passage to other parts of the Quran. Each coda is always a prelude to an as yet undiscovered truth.
  • Islamic science came into being from a wedding between the spirit that issued from the Qur'anic revelation and the existing sciences of various civilizations which Islam inherited and which it transmuted through its spiritual power into a new substance, at once different from and continuous with what had existed before it.
    • Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Science. An Illustrated Study, photographs by Ronald Michaud, World of Islam Festival Publishing Company Ltd., London, 1976, p. 9.
  • Many are aware that the Quran is concerned with religious life as well as matters related to both individual salvation and the social order, but fewer realize that the Quran is also a guide for the inner spiritual life. Paying attention to the inner meaning of the Quran results in the realization that not only does it contain teachings about creating a just social order and leading a virtuous life that results in a return to God after death in a felicitous state; it also provides the means of returning to God here and now while still in this world. The Quran is therefore also a sapiential and spiritual guide for the attainment of the truth, a guide for the attainment of beatitude even in this world.
    • On the Study Qur'an (2015). "Introduction". The Study Quran. HarperOne.
  • If human beings were not to live below the human level, but realized the full possibility of being human, they would grasp intuitively the truth of the assertion of the primacy of consciousness. Their own consciousness would be raised to a level where they would know through direct intellection that the alpha and omega of cosmic reality cannot but be the Supreme Consciousness which is also Pure Being and that all beings in the universe possess a degree of consciousness in accord with their existential state. They would realize that as human beings we are given the intelligence to know the One Who is the Origin and End of all things, who is Sat (Being), Chit (Consciousness), and 􀄃nanda (Bliss), and to realize that this knowledge itself is the ultimate goal of human life, the crown of human existence, and what ultimately makes us human beings who can discourse with the trees and the birds as well as with the angels and who are on the highest level the interlocutors of that Supreme Reality who has allowed us to say “I” but who is ultimately the I of all I’s.
    • The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr, (2007), p.229.

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