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In the Name of God بسم الله

Imamology

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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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  • Veteran Member

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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  • Veteran Member

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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  • Veteran Member

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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  • Advanced Member

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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      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/07/virologist-work-anti-vaxxers-covid
       
      So why do people fall for the DYOR baloney?
      Because it makes them feel powerful. Following a comment below I feel I should clarify what I mean by 'powerful', since it's possible to misconstrue what I mean. My usage of the term is closer to what social psychologists may refer to as 'behavioural control'. This term is used to reflect situations such as for example being able to cook with healthier ingredients because someone has taught you how to do so.
      The conspiracy theorists however subvert what is good and noble into something wholly unethical. They encourage people to believe that they have behavioural control by making simple what is complex, by misinforming, using anecdotes where statistics would be more relevant and so on. And the reason for doing this is to make their message easier to understand, more interesting to watch, share and more likely to elicit an emotional reaction.
      This is not dissimilar to the recent growth in investing apps, which have drawn the following criticism (emphasis is mine):
      https://www.ft.com/content/96af6536-6e5e-4a32-b08b-f6bf87aa4d5e
      The above context is wholly different to dealing with a pandemic, but what is common to both is people offering us a false illusion of having control over our destiny.
      Having processed YouTube videos people feel that they have done their 'research' and that they can now make an informed choice. The choice making seems more 'rational' and in a cultural and educational environment where we have been brought up to celebrate rationality this seems like a good thing, in and of itself.  
      So in comparison to following government edicts to wear face masks, the 'own research' crowd watch some videos and consciously choose not to do so on the basis of information that they have gathered. They are therefore exercising behavioural control over their lives in a manner that they could not previously. And when challenged they can cite 'evidence' that supports their position - further enhancing their behavioural control.
      The reality is of course, that wearing a mask costs very little in terms of money and behaviour change. There are many benefits to others in addition to any to the wearer. But the anti-maskers are told that wearing a mask is some kind of subjugation to government control. Choosing not to wear a mask because someone tells you that you'll breathe more CO2 as a result, sounds like an informed decision that gives you control over your own life.
       
      God, nihilism and the human condition
      This new section was inspired by the following post:
      At one extreme then, the individual can feel that there is so much in the way of different perspectives, error on all sides etc. that we simply cannot identify what is the right course of healthy behaviour and what is not. In my opinion that reflects a worldview which questions God's benevolence.
      In my opinion the theist would always believe that God provides us with the critical faculties that enable us to follow the right course of action. The human condition in my view is one where we have to endeavour to find what that right course of action is - and it takes cognitive effort and it requires us not to give in to emotion or laziness.
      And just as the above increasingly become more challenging in a more technologically advanced world, so the tools that we have available to help us increase in their sophistication and effectiveness.
      Technology allows us to keep a record of who said what and when. In the case of covid-19 we know who downplayed the seriousness of the virus from the start (likely because of their need to protect their economic interests) and we also know who recommended an abundance of caution because they knew that in the long-run a healthy population will be better off economically. Those people who took the virus seriously encourage mask wearing, social distancing and vaccinating.
      That information can be used to follow individuals on social media, who have the medical expertise and benevolence to support your interests. Once you follow a reliable expert you can:
      See who else they follow And you can then also follow the health experts they follow  
      Conclusion
      Few if any people are capable of 'doing their own research'. Ultimately it becomes a matter of choosing who you decide to believe. And in that regard it becomes a matter of assessing someone's character, their education, and their track record. People who believe in the concept of taqlid know exactly what the issues are here.
      postcript
      1. See the following blog entry I had made for a further explanation about why people can make poor choices:
      https://www.shiachat.com/forum/blogs/entry/579-how-unscrupulous-people-take-advantage/
      2. I am attaching a copy of a paper titled, 'Why is changing health behaviour so difficult', published in the academic journal Public Health. The paper identifies some common mistakes public policy officials make when designing behaviour modification programmes. 
      Why is changing health behaviour so difficult.pdf
    • By Haji 2003 in Contemporania
         2
      Summary
      Delayed gratification is associated with better long-term outcomes for individuals. Time spent in prayer and other religious rituals are means by which individuals delay the gratification of enjoying worldly experiences and they are an investment in the gratification of rewards to be gained in the afterlife. Moreover time spent in these activities changes what counts as gratification for participants.
      How delayed gratification works 
      One of the ideas that helps explain the economic outperformance of some social and ethnic groups is their ability to practice ‘delayed gratification’. The term accurately sums up the idea of ‘delaying the experience of happiness’.
      This seems counterintuitive, why delay what you could have right now? Surely there is some loss involved in putting off gratification, you may not be around to enjoy it and there could be other uncertainties as well.
      The notion of delayed gratification assumes that if we put off the experience of happiness when we do receive it, the experience will be greater and longer lasting than if we had sought to experience the happiness earlier on.
      Why is this the case? The most obvious example is the delayed gratification occasioned by spending time as a school pupil studying in order to get better grades while that time could have been spent playing or watching television. Later on it’s the same studious group who are at university living in relative penury, while their peers are earning and spending money.
      However, most studies show that although graduates start earning later than non-graduates, once they do so their lifetime earnings are much higher than non-graduates. And it’s not just income, there are a number of other measures such as health going in the same direction.
      The cookie experiment
      All this goes back to the experiments conducted by Walter Mischel in 1970, who offered kids a cookie which they could eat immediately or they could have two if they waited till he came back from an errand. The high delay kids, who waited for the second cookie, did better at school and achieved various other positive life outcomes that the low delay kids did not.
      I’d go on to argue that the process of delaying can change an individual. The kids who are willing to wait for the second cookie will likely prefer the low fat, low sugar offering compared to the tasty version.
      I think this is because when the high delay kids are provided with information about harms and benefits they're better able to make the right choices. As they come across more information these people change what they consider constitutes happiness. This second order effect is important, because it has a qualitative impact not only on lifestyles and employment opportunities of these individuals but also the thought processes of the children of the high delay kids. High delay can be taught and learned.
      So delaying gratification enables the acquisition of quantitatively more happiness, and qualitatively more sustainable happiness.
      Up to this point our discussion has been in terms of purely material gains or losses. You do not have to be a believer in any religion to understand the foregoing argument, there are ample studies involving experiments (often with marshmallows) to back up the idea.
      Religious applications
      The question then, is whether the same principles can be applied in a religious context?
      The theist argument would likely be that religious practice such as prayer, the acquisition of religious knowledge and spiritual experience are all activities that take place at the expense of acquiring immediate material happiness, will likely have a higher pay-off in any after-life.
      However, anyone can understand the cause and effect relationship between, for example, the higher pay-offs associated with education and delayed gratification, because there is ample proof for this. But no one has come back from any after life, so is it the case that all we have to go on is faith?
      I don’t think so.
      One of the ways by which people can improve their self-discipline to improve their ability to delay gratification is to undertake some other task that takes their mind away from whatever gratification they are seeking to delay.
      That’s what the religious activities do. They train us to exercise restraint. They are the wait for the second cookie. If we see prayer and duas etc. as taking time away from the joys of worldly activities, that’s because they are supposed to.
      I also think the second order effects that I talked about regarding the impact of education on gratification also have a parallel with religion.
      Time spent on worship and spiritual activities, I think changes what people consider appropriate sources of gratification. They actually change what we do in this life, we consider whether the ingredients of the cookie are halal or haram.
      The Muslims who avoid weed cookies don’t need to rely on faith to understand the benefits of delayed gratification, they can see it for themselves.
      Notes:
      https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201207/the-power-delaying-gratification
      http://jamesclear.com/delayed-gratification
      http://ww2.prospects.ac.uk/cms/ShowPage/Home_page/Labour_market_information/Graduate_Market_Trends/Beyond_the_financial_benefits_of_a_degree__Autumn_05_/p!eXeLcmm
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10246785/Graduate-premium-no-matter-what-you-study.html
       
       
       
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