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The Four Elements

Qa'im

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The idea that the world is composed of four or five elements (fire, water, earth, wind, and aether) was almost universal in the ancient world. The science and mythology of many ancient civilizations, from Greece to Japan, operated on this understanding.

While Islam is not really married to the idea of four elements (it is not supported in an explicit way in the Quran or hadiths), it is interesting to note that Islamic metaphysics and cosmology use this system.

This is especially the case in the spiritual world. The jinn are made from a smokeless Fire, the humans are made from Earth (Teen), and the soul (ruH) comes from the word for Wind (reeH). The Throne of Allah was settled upon Water (11:7), until that water was separated into the heavens and earth. The angels are from light (Noor, a word related to Nar).

Allah does not raise a prophet except that he speaks the language of his people. He may have used these literary devices to explain a realm that is ultimately beyond our understanding (ghayb). The Quran is a book that needs to be intelligible to people, especially when speaking on the unseen and unknown.

While the universe is simply not made up of H2O, the image of Water as a fluid, clear, shapeless structure is befitting to understanding the world. In physics, the concept of fields (gravitational, spatial) operate largely on fluid mechanics. “Water” is a chaotic substance that was then categorized, compartmentalized and distinguished into the world we know today.

Similarly, a simple sample of the water (saliva) in your body can create an entire profile of who you are: your DNA, and therefore, your family lineage, your appearance, your susceptibility to diseases, and even parts of your personality.

There are some things that are beyond literal and metaphorical. The dichotomy of literal and metaphorical is sometimes not just inaccurate, but harmful to our readings of scripture.



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Very interesting! We can compare human's lust (inner satan) to fire and conclude that humans are made of all those 4 or 5 elements (physical body: water+earth- soul: wind- lust: fire...and it is also said that humans have an ethereal body which is diffetent from soul).

Also according to Islamic medicine, humans can have 5 different natures: dry and cold (which is related to earth), dry and warm (fire) and so on.

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Good post brother. 

It is only through the lens of the four elements that Shaytan's proclamation in the primordial paradise makes sense. Fire or heat could be seen as superior to earth, since heat is the cause of all motions, whereas earth, with its dryness and coldness, isn't. Nature functions through heat. 

This is what Averroes says, in agreement with Aristotle: 

"Nature does not use cold in its capacity of cold for any of [its] activities, unless accidentally and in the second intention, namely to balance and proportionate the innate heat which is particular to this activity of nature. For cold is such that it moderates and purifies (refines) the activity of the heat, while heat is such that it [affects] all the senses and confuses (impairs) them.”*

 

* Averroes, De Animalibus, Book twelve (translation). Available from: 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326300125_Averroes_De_Animalibus_Book_twelve_translation

Edited by SoRoUsH

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The closest thing to an "islamic" approach in a scientifical way to this topic can be found in Jaafar as Sadiq's student, the father of modern Alchemy, Jabir ibn Hayyan, known as (the arab, not the andalusi impersonator) Geber in Europe. Three months ago I was studying the topic of alchemy in al Andalus and the muslim world, and there is a lot of research written on the subject. As gibberish as Geber may sound (ironically redundant to use the word gibberish for Geber lol), his works are based on the idea of four elements. He develops this approach a lot, and makes it extremely complex to explain the behaviour of metals (metallurgy is one of the fields in which he excelled).

Jabir Ibn Hayyan frequently refers to his master (meaning Jaafar as Sadiq) in his works, which makes one guess he was inspired and taught by him in most cases, and that his theories of alchemy were evaluated by his master. Indeed, Jabir introduced a huge amount of knowledge and scientifical praxis in alchemy, it makes sense he was aided by a very significant academic personality as Jaafar as Sadiq.

The concept of fields, however, was another thing for Arabs. Magnetism was a huge mystery for them that during the Golden Age was never resolved and kept them all elaborating wrong theories hahah.

Edited by Bakir

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The idea of everything being made up from the four elements is an ancient myth with origins in classical Greek academia probably. The early Muslims just regurgitated what had come to them from ancient sources. It was only after the Mutazzalite tradition and the Asha'ri movement to counter them that the scientific tradition started flourishing in Islam.

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