Neoplatonism, Hermeticism and the Quran

Ibn Sab’in is often called a Neoplatonic philosopher. Although he himself would have denied that. Hermeticism is also often called a Neoplatonic philosophy. But although Hermeticism borrows a lot of terminology from Neoplatonism its view of God, the Cosmos and reality is more in line with the Qurʾān than with Neoplatonism.

(Allah,) The Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, “be”, and it is.

Qurʾān – Surah Baqara

Kun is an Arabic word for the act of “manifesting”, “existing” or “being” and consisting of the letters Kaf and Nun (letter). In the Qurʾān, Allah commands the universe to “be” (“kun!“), so that it is (fa-yakūnu).

Important concepts in Neoplatonism are the concept of the unknowable God, the theory of emanation, and a hierarchic chain of beings. There are important differences between Neoplatonism and Islamic mysticism.

The Neoplatonic theories of emanation are very different from the Islamic model of the relationship between the godhead and the Intellect (Nousʿaql), in which God’s amr (‘command’), irādah (‘will’), or kalimah (‘word’) – i.e. the creative kun mentioned in the Qurʾān – brings into being and directs the Intellect/Nous.

The will of God is the greatest perfection since willing and accomplishing are complete in the same instant of time.

Asclepius 8

Instead of having the intellect emanate directly and involuntarily from the source of being, the One, as with Plotinus and his Neoplatonic school, in the system of the Islamic mystics God brings creation into being through his command or volition (amr), or word (kalima), in an act of primordial, extratemporal origination (ibdāʿ), signifying creation out of nothing—ex nihilo.

Hence God is the originator or the mubdiʿ, and His command or word (logos) acts as an intermediary between Him and His creation.

Since the Creator made the whole cosmos, not with hands but by the Word, understand that he is present and always is, creating all things, being one alone, and by his will producing all beings.

Corpus Hermeticum IV.1

This concept of the amr/irādah/kalimah makes it different from the Neoplatonic cosmological scheme and brings it into line both with Hermeticism and with the Qurʾānic notion of a created cosmos (rather than the eternal one standard to Platonism) and an agentive, though still remote, God.

The Islamic mystics took further steps in integrating the hermetic cosmology to the Qurʾān, such as variously assimilating the Intellect/Nous to the kāf of kun and the divine throne (ʿarsh) or pen (qalam), and the Soul to the nūn of kun and the footstool (kursī) or tablet (lawḥ).

If you force me to speak more boldly, it is His nature to conceive all things and create them; and as without the Creator nothing can come into existence, so He would not exist eternally if He had not always been creating all things in heaven, in air, in earth, in the sea, everywhere in the universe, everywhere in the All, in what is and what is not. There is nothing in all this which is not Himself. Both the things that are and the things that are not are himself. For the things that are, He has made manifest and the things that are not He contains within Himself.

Corpus Hermeticum V.9

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