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The Outer Dimension
Human beings have two dimensions: the outer and the inner. The outer dimension of man depends upon a vast range of human empirical knowledge which places us in context of the universe and defines our existence in terms of time and space and helps us to relate to our immediate and distant surroundings. Through the development of science and technology, man has acquired knowledge about objects which range from particles within atoms to composition of distant stars and galaxies. Today, we are more aware of the structure and function of many kinds of physical, chemical and biological systems and are in the process of acquiring and integrating knowledge from different disciplines.

The Inner Dimension
The inner dimension of man depends upon knowledge that is given through the practice of faith. Development of the inner dimension leads to knowledge of a spiritual and an intellectual universe which is hidden in man. This hidden universe is beyond time and space and can be explored through the development of one's inner senses. In order to fully develop the human potential, the outer and inner aspects have to be developed through knowledge and action.

In order to develop the total human potential, it is necessary to develop the inner and outer dimensions as shown in the following diagram:

Inner and Outer dimensions

The Search for a Balance between the Outer and Inner dimensions of One's Existence
In order to develop one's outer and inner dimensions, two kinds of knowledge are needed. The outer dimension is developed through acquiring knowledge through one's own intellect. The inner dimension is developed by acquiring given or inspired knowledge. The search for both kinds of knowledge have been emphasized by Imam Shah Karim al-Hussaini, also known as Aga Khan IV1:

"In Islamic belief, knowledge is twofold. There is that revealed through the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) and that which man discovers by virtue of his own intellect. Nor do these two involve any contradiction, provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers. Indeed one strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavors, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation."

In order to develop a balance between the material and spiritual dimensions of one's existence, two kinds of knowledge have to be integrated. The first is related to the external world and is acquired through the scientific method, cultural learning and life-long education. The second, which is described as other endeavor in the above paragraph, is related to the internal (spiritual) world and is given to a person who practices his faith with understanding. The development of the inner dimension of man depends upon two pillars: (1) knowledge of spiritual science and (2) action (practice of faith). Both are needed in order to excel in development of inner (subtle) dimension. In order to fully develop the total human potential, the inner and outer dimensions of one's existence have to be developed continually and fully. This will lead to a discovery of a spiritual and a luminous universe hidden in man.

End Notes

  1. The speech was delivered on March 16, 1983 in Karachi, Pakistan, on the occasion of the acceptance of the Charter of the Aga Khan University.


    Aga Khan IV. "The Aga Khan University Charter", The American Ismaili, (Rego Park, July 1983), 21-23.

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