Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension)

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The concept of Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) has been the subject much research amongst the Muslim philosophers. If one attempts to read any known Islamic philosophy text, one is hampered by the repeated usage of this word and its derivatives, while there is no easy way to find the meaning of the term.

In order to solve this problem both in the original text as well as the translations and commentaries, I have proposed the usage of the term Prehension. This would allow the Western readers to have a better grasp of the ancient texts as well as the translators and commentators are able to write more creatively.

We push this effort in to two distinct directions:

1.    Provide metaphysical texts in both Farsi and Arabic translated into English with the term Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) mapped into Prehension.
2.    Provide the actual research done by Alfred North Whitehead and his followers such that the latest ideas and concepts of Prehension are supported or taken into accout.

Four categories of definition are found by Dr. Hasan Malakshāhi:

1.    Some Muslim philosophers considered Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) as a characteristic of the Nafs (Self, Psyche). Something of an image forms in the mind and that is how something is grasped.
2.    Some others believed that external entities would affect the mind and this perturbation within the mind is how things are grasped.
3.    Fakhred-din Rāzi, spokesperson for Ash’ari, believed that Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) is something ‘Adhafa (Annexed) to human being, there is no formation of external objects into internal mental images. However Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) is a vector, where one end-point is outside i.e. the object and the other end-point the faculty of cognition within the mind. He believed in some duality in the form of a vector.
4.    Mullā Sadrā believed that Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) is not related to human faculties or anything else in the universe, indeed Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) is a unique and peculiar form of Wujud (Being-ness), in and of itself.

For the purposes of my writings and translations of the Sufi texts, I tend more towards the Mullā Sadrā’s understanding:

1.    Wujud (Being): Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) is a vector-Wujud (Being), one end-point within the human being, be it within his heart or soul or mind or Nafs (Self) or Jism (Physiology or Physicality), and the other end-point ‘within’ or ‘pointing towards’ the other universe (for Eternal Object e.g. Mercy) or within this universe (for Physical objects).  

2.    Atomic: Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) is incurably atomic! In other words, we cannot analyzed it or find components for it. It just is, it is within us, it is out there and it is within/from the other universe.

3.    Retarget-able: Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) is a retarget-able i.e. it may point towards Divine Mercy or towards Divine Beauty, yet it is the same vector, in one occasion pointing to one Eternal Entity and in another occasion pointing to another.  

4.    An Answer: Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) is also an answer to a question, the very first primordial question; however we shall come back to this later on INSHALLAH.

5.    Line of Sight: What we call the eye of the heart or the spiritual vision is when the human being glances along this vector back to the other universe.

Now lets spend some effort to understand the term Prehension invented by Alfred North Whitehead:

1.    Prehension was apPrehension or comPrehension, however the name was generalized to Prehension by Alfred North Whitehead in his “Process and Reality” the speculative philosophy of organism. Note that both apPrehension and comPrehension occur in immediate past and Prehension indeed removes the time-factor and removes the underlying processes such as mental faculties, thus provides a more general terminology for the purpose of ‘Idrāk. ‘A Prehends B’ means B was essential in concrescence/formation/becoming/causation of A.
2.    Prehension—Prehensions are defined as "Concrete Facts of Relatedness. Prehensions are the vehicles by which one actual entity becomes objectified in another, or eternal objects obtain ingression into actual entities; they "are ‘vectors’; for they feel what is there and transform it into what is here".
3.    Directly from the Categories of Explanation in “Process and Reality”: x) That the first analysis of an actual entity, into its most concrete elements, discloses it to be a concrescence of Prehensions. xi) That every Prehension consists of three factors: a) The ‘subject’ which is prehending, namely the actual entity in which that Prehension is a concrete element; b) the ‘datum’ which is prehended; c) The ‘subjective-form’ which is HOW that subject prehends that datum. Prehensions of the actual entities—i.e., Prehensions whose data involve actual entities—are termed ‘Physical Prehensions’ and prehension of eternal objects are termed ‘Conceptual Prehensions’. Consciousness is not necessarily involved in the subjective forms of either type of the Prehension.

Lets work an example: “Human being Prehends the presence of Allah”. Human being cannot comprehend anything of Allah or Allah’s presence. There is no place or time where a court is held and human being can see Allah and be present in physical form. However human being is able to ‘feel’ something within that points into the other universe and feels a closeness and a friendship. Human being cannot comprehend this closeness or cannot cause this friendship but feels it, or we say Prehends the presence of Allah or human being has Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) for presence of Allah.

Had we said: Human being comPrehends the presence of Allah, number of problems would have risen:

1.    Comprehension is a scalar concept in this world i.e. it is localized to our brain or cognitive faculties, There is no way such material process can be applied to Allah—The Sanctified the Sublime.
2.    Comprehension occurs in the immediate past i.e. we comprehend or apprehend something that has already taken place, and again this temporal transience does not apply to Allah Subhāna-Hu.
3.    It is very arrogant of us to assume that we possess something here in this world that enables us to comprehend Allah! Allah is searchless! The better language is that there is something UNUSUAL placed within us by Allah that guides us towards Allah. Especially now that we know we are few DNA strands away from a worm or a fly! That we are built from the same atomic or molecular structures found in many inanimate objects.
4.    If the entire process of cognition for Allah’s presence was something within our minds then we should have all thought or sense the same, as we all think or sense the same e.g. for the sun or for an apple. But we have such incredibly complex concepts about Allah’s presence and that indicates infinite complexity of something 'else' making it all so different. The equivalent example might be the apple: I bite into an apple and I taste a fruity sweet aromatic taste of an apple with fibre texture and then you bite into an apple, however you taste a cheddar cheese steak and onions with flesh texture!

Now we are ready to embark upon the most incredible aspect of Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) which is a deviation from Alfred North Whitehead’s Prehension:

For any object to become, it has to Prehend unnumbered Prehensions in order to obtain all the necessary entities (datum) that concretes it e.g. an apple in order to be, needs to Prehend sun-light, water, DNA, soil and so on. But this is the view from the apple back into the past! The reverse view from the other universe into the apple is a simplex: “Be! and it is”—a vector of becoming from the other universe pointing to this universe when and where the apple is. This vector can be represented by <Be, ‘it is’> or <Kun, Fayakun> or <Divine Word, Being> or <Kalima, Wujud>.  

You may say all the elements of the concrescence for the apple are indivisible in this simplex view or you may say they are in ‘superposition state’ meaning they are all there but in-discernable and indivisible. Only after the object is objectified and then looking backwards in time we see discernable elements of concrescence of the Prehension.

This solves number of problems in Sufism:

1.    All the Sifāt (Divine Attributes) are discernable because we are looking at them from this universe into the other universe, but if we could look from the other universe into here we see only One i.e. Allah: Say: "Call upon Allah, or call upon Rahman: by whatever name ye call upon Him: for to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names.” Qur’an [17:110]
2.    There are three versions of a similar Hadith (Prophetic Narration), 1) First object Allah created was ‘Aql (Intellect), 2) First object Allah created was Nur (Divine Light), 3) First object Allah created was Qalam (Pen). Every human being Prehends these three objects, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, but these are three distinct objects since we are looking into the past towards the other universe, however looking from the other universe into here indeed your eye, any eye, sees only one object! Meaning the ‘Aql and Nur and Qalam are indivisible in-discerable from each other, one way; and they are three distinct objects the other way around (looking through the past).
3.    The mercy within us is obtained via the Prehension of Divine Mercy. However starting from our mercy to reach the perfection, we need to traverse/glance-along this vector of Prehension from here into the other universe! The same for the other attributes e.g. beauty, generosity, justice and so on. So by looking along the vector of Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) we can see a path for perfection.
4.    The vector of Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) perpetually points towards Hu. Therefore the concept of Hu is a fundamental concept of our Wujud (Being) i.e. we tirelessly point at Hu in the other universe.
5.    Sufis always wrote: There is nothing but Hu or in all things they only saw Hu and so on. This could be said in another way: If we look along the vector of Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) into the past we see many things e.g. causation, time-space, objects and so on, however if we could look along this vector from the other universe into here we see only one thing: Hu pointing at here!
6.    Human being Prehends the Kalima or the Divine Words including the Divine Edict of his own existence as was mentioned above, and words of Qur’an and Dhikr (Remembrance) and so on. Or we may say Divine Words such as Qur’an point at us or we are able to point to them in the other universe via the vector Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension). While other words like human words or written words are indeed pointing only into this universe.

We can summarize as following:

1.    There is a Primordial Vector, with one-endpoint here and the other there in the other universe, pointing at Hu or from Hu pointing at us.
2.    There is no Wujud (Being) without this vector, which we may call Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension), there is no cognizance without Idrāk (Grasp, Prehension) either!
3.    Looking along side this vector into the past and towards the other universe, we see concrescence, however looking from ‘there’ to this universe we see only One: Hu pointing at the creation.

© 2005-2002,  Dara O. Shayda