According to the Qu'ran, self-consciousness means realization of one's own self through nourishing or nurturing and reviving one's own inner and inborn talents and potentialities which are embedded followed by a profound understanding of the realities of the universe and divine attributes. Hence, self-consciousness means realization and restoration of man's essence which he likes and adores.
Thus, self-consciousness has various degrees and it is of different categories and types such as innate self-consciousness, universal self-consciousness and Gnostic or mystical [irfani] self-consciousness. The latter is the most perfect of them since it has a lot to do with man's relationship with the actuality and primacy of his own existence as the vicegerent of Allah on earth. In this study, we shall deal with the most important of them:
1. Innate Self-consciousness:
Man is self-conscious innately. It is in his nature to be self-conscious. It is not so that first man's ego is formed and thereafter he becomes conscious of it. This type of consciousness is not from the category of thinking, nor is it from the category of acquired knowledge. In fact, it is a kind of awareness and knowledge by presence. Consciousness by presence means that I am and that I am conscious of my existence and the inner potentials. This type of self-consciousness is real and equal to his personality. In this kind of self-consciousness, man realizes a reality called "ego" which is the same as his consciousness of his personality. There is no doubt that in this phenomenon, one cannot have direct knowledge of "ego", rather, first, the internal forces and activities are realized and then the "ego" is realized for self-consciousness by presence.
Referring to the stages of man's creation and his formation in the uterus as the last stage which is the most important stage of human creation, the Qu'ran says
Then We developed him into another creation."
This verse refers to the fact that matter subconsciously turn into a self-conscious spiritual essence.
In other words, He gifted him life, power, knowledge and an innate essence which he terms as "I".
2. Universal Self-consciousness:
It means the knowledge of self in its relation to the world - the knowledge of the answer to such questions as: Where have I come from? Where am I going to? In this kind of self-consciousness man discovers that he is a part of a whole called the world. He knows that he is not independent. That is, he has not come independently of others. He does not live independently or he does not leave this world on himself. He wants to determine his own situation in the entirety of this universe.
These significant words of Imam Ali visualize this sort of self-consciousness: "May Allah bless the man who knows wherefrom he has come; where he is and where he will go".
There are a lot of verses about man's origin and resurrection in the world after death. These verses call on man to have knowledge of the reality of life in this world and hereafter. It says, "We are from Allah and to Him do we return".
"He it is Who created you from clay, then He decreed a term; and there is a term named with Him; still you doubt."
"Allah is He Who created you, then gave you sustenance, then He causes you to die, then brings you to life."
3. Mystical Self-consciousness:
Mystic self-consciousness is the knowledge of self in relation to Allah. According to the mystics this relation is not of that kind which normally exists between two things existing side by side, such as the relation between a man and other members of his society. It is that kind of relation that exists between a main and a subsidiary, or a genuine and a figurative. In the terminology of the mystics themselves, it is the relation between the limited and the absolute. The anguish of the mystic is an inner consciousness of a spiritual need just as a physical pain is the warning of the existence of a physical need.
The anguish of a mystic, on the other hand, is the proclamation of the instinctive need of his sense of love which wants to soar and cannot be satisfied unless he touches the truth with his entire existence. A mystic believes that real self-consciousness is nothing other than having knowledge of Allah. According to him, what the philosopher calls the ego of man, is not the real ego. It may be man's spirit, soul or the factors determining his existence. The real ego is Allah. Only by breaking through the factors determining his existence, man can know his real self.
So according to the mystic, soul or life is not the ego, nor the knowledge of them amounts to self-consciousness. Soul and life are only the manifestations of ego and self. The real ego is Allah. When man annihilates himself and breaks the factors determining his existence, no trace of his life and soul is left. At that time the drop of water which had separated from the sea, returns to the sea and is obliterated there. That is the stage of real self-consciousness. At this stage man sees himself in everything and everything in himself. Thus he becomes aware his real self. "He loves them and they love him".
Mystical self-consciousness is the outcome of innate and universal self-consciousness. As per the Qu'ran, what runs counter to self-consciousness and causes hindrance is "self-oblivion" which is due to neglecting God. "And be you not like those who forgot Allah; and He made them forget their own souls! Such are the rebellious transgressors!"
Indeed, if a man forgets Allah, he will also forget divine attributes to which man's essential qualities are directly connected. If man does not seek self-consciousness and he does not revive it in himself, he will forget Allah and will be ready to commit any possible sin as well as to derail from the path of servitude to Allah.