The philosophical discourses presented in al-Mizan is very prominent and of rare excellence. One of the fundamental issues dealt with in al-Mizan relates to metaphysical realities. ‘Allamah Tabataba’i, regarded by many as a discerning philosopher, has made valuable contribution to the science of exegesis by elaborating the Qur’anic metaphysics thus giving us important information about the realities of life. One of such discourses is on the immateriality of the soul.i
In refuting the materialists’ objection against the existence and nature of the soul, Tabataba’i argues that if scientific research has not come across a soul or has not found any phenomenon which can lead one to the soul, it does not prove that there is not an immaterial soul. He adds that it does not necessarily mean that science cannot unravel the mysteries of the soul and the realities of life in the future.
Besides the philosophical discussion, there are many Qur’anic references in al-Mizan, pointing to the immateriality of the soul and its difference from the body. One of them is the following verse:
Allah takes completely the souls at the time of their death, and those that die not during sleep; then He withholds those on whom He has passed the decree of death and sends other back till an appointed term.ii
Tabataba’i says that the words used in this verse in reference to the soul – “takes”, “withholds” and “sends back” clearly prove that the soul is something different from the body. The Qur’an also proves that the soul is beyond the jurisdiction of the laws concerning matter and body and yet it has a special relation with the corporeal body.
There is another Qur’anic reference which shows that man – in the beginning was but a material body, changing into various forms; then Allah gave a new dimension to that body – a creation that now has perception and feeling and acts according to his thoughts and ideas. These activities do not emanate from the material body. Allah says:
And certainly We created man of an extract of clay, then We made him a small seed in a firm resting-place, then We made the seed a clot, then We made the clot a lump of flesh, then We made (in) the lump of flesh bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, then We caused it to grow into another creation, so blessed be Allah, the best of the creators.iii
It is based on these verses that Tabataba’i makes the following thought provoking statement:
“...the soul in the beginning is the body itself, then it grows into another creation and lastly it becomes independent and separates from the body upon death.” iv
Tabataba’i’s statement does not mean that the soul is a product of matter and one of its effects. He is presumably pointing to what Mulla Sadra Shirazi discovered as the bridge between materiality and spirituality.v Mulla Sadra explains that the soul is a product of trans-substantial motion which does not proceed from matter itself – a movement probably inferred in the Qur’anic statement “...then We caused it to grow into a new creation”. This bridge between materiality and spirituality is unlike the Platonic idea of the gulf separating the two as advanced by Plato and philosophers who followed in his footsteps.
i Al-Mizan, Eng. vol 2, p. 221
ii Qur’an 39:42
iii Qur’an 23:12-14
iv Al-Mizan, En. vol 2, p. 203
v Spiritual Psychology