An overview of a twelfth century Iranian philosopher who exercised an unusual eclectic disposition. Suhrawardi exhibits a complex relation to Peripatetic philosophy, Islamic Neoplatonism, and Sufism. His ishraqi (illuminationist) perspective is the subject of different interpretations.
1. A Murdered Philosopher
2. Hossein Ziai and Political Context
3. Eclectic Approach
4. Ibn Sina, the Peripatetics, and Allegories
5. Ishraqi Version of Doing Philosophy
6. Sufi Factors
7. Neoplatonist Context
8. Philosophy of Illumination
9. Perennial Philosophy
10. Plato, Aristotle, and the Pythagorean Leaven
11. Plotinus and the Theology of Aristotle
12. Format of Hikmat al-Ishraq
13. Alam al-Mithal or Subtle World
14. Henry Corbin and Metahistory
15. Ancient Persian Sages
16. The Sipasiyan
17. Radical Teachings
18. Reincarnation (Tanasukh)
19. Suhrawardi and the Stoics
20. Aftermath: Ishraqi Tradition
21. Metahistory and Realism
Abbreviations and Annotations
1. A Murdered Philosopher
Shihab al-Din Yahya Suhrawardi (d. 1191) hailed from north-west Iran, and became known posthumously as Shaikh al-Ishraq, meaning "teacher of illumination." There are several sparse thirteenth century biographies, including one by the partisan Shams al-Din Shahrazuri (died after 1288), who profiled Suhrawardi as a philosopher and contemplative with Sufi affinities.The subject was "much in the company of Sufis, from whom he benefited." (1)
This situation occurred during the wandering life he undertook after his education at Maragha (in Iran) and Isfahan. Peripatetic (Aristotelian) philosophy, in the format of Ibn Sina, was apparently the initial priority. At Isfahan he studied under the obscure Zahir al-Farisi, with whom he read a distinctive book on logic composed by Ibn Sahlan al-Sawi (d. circa 1170). The young Suhrawardi afterwards journeyed to Anatolia, where he stayed for some years. At Mardin he studied with Fakhr al-Din al-Mardini (d. 1198), a Peripatetic and apparently also a Sufi. The rare "Aristotelian Sufi" vocation appears to be a key to the role of the main subject, though generally ignored in commentaries.
"Suhrawardi also became a Sufi. Shahrazuri tells of his extreme austerities and his spiritual powers, yet he is not recognised by most Sufi writers and biographers as one of them.... Perhaps the explanation is simply that he learned from the Sufis but never fully joined them, as Shahrazuri seems to imply.... he ate but once a week, cared nothing for the world, had no awe of rank and power, wore ragged dress, prayed constantly, kept silence, and loved sama, the Sufi music and dance." (WLA, SUNY Press, 2000, pp. 13-14)
The setting seems to have been largely Anatolian, in the Saljuq domain called Rum. Suhrawardi reputedly engaged in "ascetic practice, solitary retreat and meditation until he reached the final stages of the sages and revelations of the prophets." (2) Though "sometimes he dressed like the Sufis," (3) Suhrawardi also wore the attire of commoners, and was once mistaken for a donkey-driver. This was not typical of the deportment of learned men. According to Shahrazuri, he tended to maintain silence, keeping aloof from outside contact. Yet Suhrawardi does appear to have gained aristocratic patronage while in Anatolia. Shahrazuri describes him as living at Diyarbakr, in south-east Anatolia. According to Henry Corbin (En Islam iranien, vol. 2, chapter 1), Suhrawardi was welcomed at the Saljuq court in Rum, and dedicated one of his minor treatises to Imad al-Din Qara Arslan, a ruler in this zone. This Arabic work was entitled Tablets Dedicated to Imad (al-Alwah al-imadiyyah).
Moving to Syria, in 1183 he arrived at Aleppo, wearing the attire of a dervish. That same year, the Ayyubid ruler Saladin captured Aleppo, making his son al-Zahir the temporary governor. Suhrawardi soon gained the goodwill of (al-Malik) al-Zahir, but incurred the hostility of local jurists and ulama (scholars of the Quran and hadith). Like them, he was a Sunni Muslim. The Ayyubid capital was Damascus, and Suhrawardi may also have resided there for a time, before al-Zahir's return to Aleppo and renewed governorship.
Suhrawardi apparently completed his major work Hikmat al-Ishraq (Philosophy of Illumination) in 1186 at Aleppo. He became a tutor of the governor, implying a close contact with the court. "Sometimes he wore the woollen garb of the Sufis, sometimes the silk dress of the courtiers." (4) He proved formidable in debates with the jurists, but they resented his influence, and his situation grew precarious. The ruler was apparently both the disciple and patron of the unconventional philosopher.
According to Shahrazuri, the subject was very forthright in defending the views of philosophers, disputing with the ulama of Aleppo and exposing the limitation of their dogmas. Suhrawardi became regarded as a heretic. The jurists attributed to him the claim of prophecy; Shahrazuri denies the accuracy of this charge and says that the accusers were motivated by jealousy. Some defamers attributed to Suhrawardi the practice of magic and sleight of hand, though Shahrazuri says that these were slanders. The earlier heretic Hallaj had also been accused of such things by the orthodox gossip.
Al-Zahir (d. 1216) was son of the Sultan Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (d. 1193), known to Christendom as Saladin. Letters of complaint were written to the Sultan at Damascus by Qadi al-Fadil, a magistrate of Aleppo, who urged that Suhrawardi should be executed. (5) This intervention evidently occurred on behalf of the jurists who had been worsted in debate. Suhrawardi was now stigmatised as a danger to religion. Saladin then requested his son to carry out the dire prescription. The prince was reluctant to comply, but gave in when threatened with the onus of abdication. The heretic was accordingly imprisoned.
The zealous accusers of Suhrawardi said that if he were allowed to live, he would corrupt the faith of the prince, and that if he were merely banished, he would corrupt any other place to which he might go. According to Shahrazuri, the victim was shut in a room and denied food and drink. The same source reports different versions of his death, including the sword and strangulation. Yet "Ibn Shaddad, Saladin's qadi who was involved in the death sentence, says that he was crucified." (WLA, p. 14) This source also reported that the philosophers were amongst the parties who were "particular objects of Saladin's hatred." (WLA, p. 203) The execution occurred in 1191.
Suhrawardi became known as al-maqtul, which means "the murdered." Differing estimates of his age at death varied from 36 to 50, though the lower ones are generally favoured. There is no reliable date for his birth. (6) In his biography of Saladin, Ibn Shaddad describes Suhrawardi as the "Sufi" and as the "youth Suhrawardi," indicating a less than senior age. (ZKI, p.33 note 2)
One modern interpretation is that, because Syria had been a Shia zone during the Fatimid era, an anti-Batini (or anti-Ismaili) bias is implied as a factor in the execution of Suhrawardi. (7) Saladin, a conservative Sunni Muslim, had vanquished the Fatimid rulers of Egypt and detested their Ismaili religion. "What Suhrawardi was teaching al-Malik al-Zahir would have sounded distressingly like Ismailism to Saladin." (WLA, p. 208) Ismailis converged with some philosophical themes in their missionary teaching, and they had even been called followers of Pythagoras and Empedocles.
Another interpretation is that the inter-religious tendencies of Suhrawardi were considered dangerous at a time when Muslims were locked in a bitter war with the Christian Crusaders. "Suhrawardi's message of unity was perceived to be a dangerous and even a heretical doctrine." (ASI, p. 3) However, Suhrawardi is not known to have mentioned Christianity, although the basic drift of his approach was against doctrinal insularity.
A contrasting argument is that an "illuminationist political doctrine" was the cause of his death. (ZKI, pp. 32-4) The suggestion here is that the Hikmat al-Ishraq could have been viewed as the "constitution" for a new "city" to be ruled by al-Zahir, with the aid of Suhrawardi. Suhrawardi very briefly states in his Arabic treatise Hikmat al-Ishraq (8) that "when earthly rule is in such a philosopher's hands, the age will be a luminous one." (ZKI, p. 176) Ziai also suggests that the prince requested Suhrawardi to compose Hikmat al-Ishraq; the implication from one passage in this work is that the author was reluctant about publication.
The role of Saladin was marked by different phases. This Syrian Turk was sent to Egypt with a military expedition by the Zangid ruler of Aleppo in 1168. Becoming vizier of Egypt, in 1171 Saladin ended the Fatimid rule; in Cairo he proclaimed the triumph of Sunni Islam by affirming the suzerainty of the Abbasid Caliph at distant Baghdad. Saladin established his own loyal Turkish army and destroyed the Fatimid rival. He dealt ruthlessly with the mutinous black troops of the Fatimid army, burning down their quarters. The Sunni overlord removed the Ismaili legists in Egypt, and replaced them with Sunni equivalents. Saladin founded the Ayyubid dynasty, which ruled over Egypt, Syria, and other territories. The vast treasures of the deposed Fatimids were divided between his officers and the allied Zangid ruler of Aleppo.
Saladin also destroyed the famous Fatimid libraries in Cairo, and commenced to persecute the Egyptian Ismailis, who went into hiding. This ambitious Sultan of Egypt took Aleppo in 1183. He became the formidable foe of Crusaders, but gained a reputation for diplomacy in that contest. The Ayyubid rule lasted until 1250, and denoted a military aristocracy employing Turkish and Kurdish soldiers and some slave troops. A rebellious slave regiment eventually killed the Ayyubid ruler of Egypt and created the new Mamluk dynasty. (9)
2. Hossein Ziai and Political Context
The "illuminationist political doctrine" theorised by Professor Hossein Ziai (1944-2011) is generally regarded as speculative. Nevertheless, this argument in terms of a political context does have relevance to the ideation of Suhrawardi, and is based on a close knowledge of statements made in various of the latter's works. (10)
It is necessary to understand that the works of Suhrawardi do not include political philosophy. "He never discusses, for example, the good city or the bad city; nor does he study the question of justice and is never concerned in any theoretical sense with types of rule" (Ziai, "Source and Nature of Authority," 1992, p. 306).
Scattered statements found in the Suhrawardi corpus have created perplexity, and some confusing interpretations. In particular, references to ancient Persian wise kings have been misconceived. The words kharra (or khurra) and khvarnah (khvarenah) have not always been duly clarified, but Ziai made an improvement. He refers (art. cit., p. 308) to "the Iranian tradition of divine glory (khvarnah), as retold by al-Suhrawardi in a way that allows for any person who obtains wisdom (hikmah) to gain the divine glory that will come to radiate openly in that person as a divine light (farra-yi izadi)." This is a far more democratic conception than the idea of monarchical glory, signified by the "royal light" (kharra-yi kiyani).
This presentation is significant. "Unlike al-Farabi, al-Suhrawardi maintains that since everyone has the innate ability to seek wisdom, potentially anyone may become a leader" (art. cit., p. 312). The criterion is wisdom, not aristocratic blood or elite background. This version of wisdom escapes the classical Greek tendency to distinguish between the elite educated class and the lower classes. Suhrawardi also seems to be saying, by means of varied references (including those in his Partu-Nama or Book of Radiance) that the citizen with wisdom can assist kings. He distinguishes between two types of ennobling light: the kharra bestowed on any human and the kiyan kharra bestowed on kings.
A relevant factor for assimilation is that the widely read "ethical" literature of the early Islamic period tended very much to regard ancient Persian kings as exemplars of just rule. According to Ziai, Suhrawardi's occasional references to the wise kings of Iranian mythology (as in his Tablets Dedicated to Imad) "simply serve a political purpose" (art. cit., p. 331) Even if that comment represents a simplification, the Ziai argument is strong in the context of: "By no means should such references be taken to suggest a desire on his [Suhrawardi's] part to revive ancient Persian 'philosophy.' By al-Suhrawardi's time, it was common practice to invoke names from Iranian myth and legend as exemplars of wise and just rule" (p. 331).
Suhrawardi's Partu-Nama contains a section on prophecy, miracles, dreams, and so forth. He there "stipulates that certain sages who have been given the elixir of wisdom and power... may be called to aid the activity of the law-giver (al-shari) of the age" (art. cit., p. 316 note 33). Ziai credits that both the Partu-Nama and the Tablets Dedicated to Imad (often considered "minor" philosophical works of Suhrawardi) were composed for Saljuq rulers (in Anatolia) who were patrons of Suhrawardi prior to his move to Aleppo.
It is possible that Suhrawardi entertained ambitions to be a "vizier" figure influencing aristocrats responsive to philosophy. However, his profile is complex, and exhibits features of the more retiring and ascetic Sufi lifestyles. Yet he was not a typical Sufi by any means (see section 6 below). His strong affinity with the "wisdom of the ancients" was not a Sufi characteristic, and he was evidently resistant to the dogmatism of the ulama. In particular, his distinctive theme of a "leaven" passed down from the ancients to key Sufi figures requires due appraisal.
There have been confusions about a supposed revival of ancient doctrines. What Suhrawardi conceived as being passed down in time via the "leaven" was not doctrines but "the light given to those who experience illumination" (art. cit., p. 326). The concept is no doubt esoteric, but the difference is necessary to grasp. "It is this passing down that constitutes al-Suhrawardi's view of the history of 'wisdom' " (ibid.).
The ishraqi conception implies that the esteemed "light" was somehow transmitted over the centuries by philosopher sages, existing in Greece, Iran, and India. Subsequently, this light was mediated via key Sufi figures like Hallaj and Dhu'l Nun al-Misri. In this way, Suhrawardi himself had become a participant. These themes ran contrary to what the fundamentalist ulama taught and decreed. Yet Suhrawardi does not rail against the jurists (a very dangerous expedient), but instead criticises the Peripatetics. In his Paths and Havens, he says: "We do not know among those who follow the way of the Peripatetics anyone who has a firm footing in divine wisdom, I mean knowledge of the lights" (art. cit., p. 330).
Insight into the unseen world required the elimination of negative attributes attaching to the "faculty of imagination," a rather complex subject which Suhrawardi did not systematise, and which has since become the focus of disputed theories about active imagination (see section 13 below).
Suhrawardi associated himself with the wise sages, a grouping whom he called ikhwan al-tajrid, or brethren of abstraction. These entities were not a contemporary organisation of any kind, and were not confined by time and space. Suhrawardi applies many different descriptions to them, such as ascetics, perfect souls, and the people of contemplation (mushahada, sometimes translated as vision). They are depicted as being endowed with special powers and insights. Both Plato and Hallaj were part of this universal brotherhood, which thus transcended religious confines (Ziai, art. cit., pp. 332ff.).
Some of his pupils apparently believed that Suhrawardi was a prophet figure or "messenger of God." Ziai emphasised the ishraqi principle that prophecy does not cease with any single man, and nor in any single age (p. 340). The same scholar goes some way towards reconstructing the premature death of his subject. The menacing figure of Ibn Shaddad influenced later chroniclers like Ibn Khallikan, who depicted Suhrawardi negatively as a heretic, and one who claimed to be a prophet. "He was also accused of believing in the wisdom of the ancients" (p. 342).
Ibn Shaddad joined the service of Saladin in 1188 and remained an intimate of the Sultan until the latter's death. Meanwhile, Suhrawardi was executed. Ibn Shaddad subsequently became the qadi or magistrate of Aleppo, and reported that Saladin "loathed the philosophers" (p. 338). Two or three generations later, Shahrazuri confirms that Suhrawardi supported the wisdom of ancient sages (p. 343 note 108).
It is not always advisable to dwell solely upon the distant past. A Wikipedia article on Hossein Ziai has been observed to show a banner evidencing aggressive administrative refrains (accessed 12/01/2012): "The notability of this article's subject is in question. If notability cannot be established, it may be listed for deletion or removed." The notability of Ziai is not in question amongst an informed audience. The Wikipedia project is disputed on a number of accounts. Notability, in intellectual terms, is not the same as publicity profile or popular approval, despite Wikipedia preferences for Hollywood and the video boom.
3. Eclectic Approach
Some commentators imply that Suhrawardi at some point rejected his early affiliation to the Peripatetic philosophy of Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Charting his intellectual career has proved very difficult. He adopted an eclectic orientation deferring to the "ancients," with Greek philosophy a salient factor, though with legendary extensions identified with Egypt, Iran, India, and China. He believed that his ishraqi or illuminationist approach had commenced long ago with ancient sages, culminating with Plato in the West and the pre-Islamic Persian sages (including Zarathushtra) in the East.
"Suhrawardi was undoubtedly instructed in the Avicennan Peripatetic tradition (in Maragha and Isfahan), but this would have also included the study of the ideas of Aristotle, Plato and, most importantly, of the Neoplatonists and earlier philosophers who wrote in Arabic." (Roxanne Marcotte, "Suhrawardi" 1.3, Stanford Encyclopaedia, accessed 07/01/2012)
There have been distractions, including the erroneous theory that Suhrawardi was influenced by the trend of Persian nationalism known (in Arabic) as shu'ubiyyah. This term refers to a ninth century literary movement created by Iranian thinkers who reacted to Arab domination. The error has been refuted. "To accuse Suhrawardi of nationalism is to misunderstand him completely." (ASI, p. 147) Nationalism is foreign to the spirit of ishraqi (illuminist) philosophy, which "argues for the universality of truth to which everyone has equal access, provided they are willing to undergo the process of purification and illumination." (ASI, p. 147)
During the Abbasid era, Iranian courtiers and scribes had patronised translations of antique Persian (Pahlavi) works, especially the manuals of protocol (adab) whoch gave advice on how to conduct affairs of state. This genre imparted counsel in the form of anecdotes about pre-Islamic Persian kings. The "Persian nationalist" trend elevated the role of the king and a rigid hierarchical pattern of society. "Persian ideas emphasised the absolute and unlimited authority of the monarch, his divine selection, and his superiority in matters of religion as well as state." (11) This was in contrast to the more egalitarian attitude of Arab circles.
There is no theory of royal absolutism in Suhrawardi, only scattered references to legendary kings associated with justice. His esteem for ancient Persian sages (12) was part of his eclectic regard for archaic wisdom (section 15 below). He is well known for asserting that hikmat (wisdom or philosophy) originated from Hermes (here conceived as a prophet), and his grounding in Peripatetic and Islamic Neoplatonist thought was substantial.
In an influential interpretation, Professor Henry Corbin (1903-78) viewed three out of the four major Arabic texts of Suhrawardi as inferior Peripatetic treatises, composed prior to the latter's phase of fully developed ishraqi thought represented by the work Hikmat al-Ishraq. In contrast, Professor Hossein Ziai (1944-2011) urged that all four texts constitute an integral corpus representing the author's philosophy of Illumination. (ZKI, p. 18; HIP, p. 436).) Corbin's description of the subject in terms of "theosophy" has met with repudiation. The word theosophy is associated in Western countries with an organisation using formulations quite different to those found in ishraqi philosophy. (13)
The approach of Corbin, in relation to the Suhrawardi corpus, stressed Persian symbolism at the expense of Greek philosophy. A counter-exegesis has pressed the case for Suhrawardi's revised Peripatetic logic in addition to other discernible features deriving from Greek philosophy. The Muslim philosophers (falasifa) of the early Islamic era had assimilated Greek thought. They were not ethnocentric, and upheld the validity of a logical (and scientific) training in the face of fundamentalist disapproval.
Suhrawardi stated that his Arabic work Kitab al-Talwihat (Book of Intimations) was written according to the "Peripatetic method." This reference, it has been urged, should not be understood in terms of a work devoted to Peripatetic (i.e., Aristotelian) philosophy. The meaning is, rather, that "the Philosophy of Illumination includes but is not defined by accepted Peripatetic teachings, parts of which Suhrawardi accepted and parts of which he rejected or refined." (Ziai, "Suhrawardi," HIP, p. 437) Throughout his works, he employs a distinctive terminology distinguishing his ishraqi methodology from the Peripatetic. He introduced the term al-ishraqiyyun, the illuminationists, to describe those who adopt a different philosophical standpoint to the Peripatetics (al-mashshaiyun) or followers of Aristotle, whose chief representative was Ibn Sina (980-1037), known to Christendom as Avicenna.
All the major thirteenth century commentators agree that the position of Suhrawardi was markedly different to that of the Peripatetic school. Though related to the Ibn Sinan corpus, the ishraqi philosophy is viewed as an attempt to "avoid the logical, epistemological and metaphysical inconsistencies" (Ziai, HIP, p. 438) which the formulator perceived in the rival texts.
In his Arabic treatise al-Mashari wa'l Mutarahat (Paths and Havens), Suhrawardi claimed that "his own principles of Oriental philosophy (al-asl al-mashriqi) reflect the earlier 'wisdom' of Persian Khusrawani sages and many other figures." (14) The complex issue of "Oriental philosophy" entailed Suhrawardi's repudiation of the earlier claim of Ibn Sina to be an "Oriental" (or "Eastern") philosopher. No geographic location is necessarily implied, though one theory does involve a distinction between Baghdad and eastern territories of Iran. The description of Oriental/Eastern entailed an "emphasis on intuition, inspirational and immediate modes of cognition." (15)
Suhrawardi affirmed that his new system of philosophy was more reliable than the method of Ibn Sina for probing the nature of the world, and also for describing exceptional experiences such as "true dreams," "personal revelations," "intuitive knowledge," "out-of-the-body experiences," and even miraculous phenomena. (Ziai, HIP, p. 440) Ishraqi philosophy was also "a way of reaching more practical wisdom that can and should be employed in the service of just rule." (HIP, p. 440))
It is difficult to ignore the value which Suhrawardi awarded to Sufi experiential knowledge. In his Intimations, he recounts a vision in which Aristotle told him that none of the Muslim Peripatetics had achieved the stature of Plato, instead depicting Sufis like Abu Yazid al-Bistami and Sahl Tustari as the true sages, not content with formal knowledge. (SML, p. 4) It is clear enough that Suhrawardi favoured the Sufi tradition of independent mystics like Hallaj, a phenomenon not to be confused with subsequent developments in the popular dervish orders. At the same time, it is relevant to bear in mind that the vision narration is largely devoted to the philosophy of self-consciousness formulated by the author, and is not a specifically Sufistic exposition (translation in WLA, pp. 225ff.).
A strong influence on Suhrawardi was the slightly earlier philosopher Abu'l Barakat al-Baghdadi (d.c.1150), who composed the Evidential (Kitab al-Mutabar), described as "a major anti-Aristotelian philosophic encyclopaedia." (ZKI, p. 2) Suhrawardi explicitly referred to this thinker, whom he identified as a Platonist, and both of these exponents "take an intuitionist position by allowing for primary intuition to play a principal role in philosophical construction." (ZKI, p. 19) Further, "both make serious attempts at reformulating many Avicennan [Ibn Sinan] philosophical principles." (ZKI, p. 19) Baghdadi is also described as a scientist (and physician), a capacity in which he confronted the Ibn Sinan scientific method, especially in physics. (16)
Baghdadi was "one of the first 12th-century philosophers to elaborate on an old tradition, whose roots are to be found in Plato's idea of sudden inspiration put forth in light imagery in his Seventh Letter" (Hossein Ziai, "Illuminationism, " 2004, Encyclopaedia Iranica). Suhrawardi also mentions by name Umar ibn Sahlan al-Sawi, (ZKI, p. 17) another twelfth century figure, now classified as "a creative logician, and famous for his works on the foundations of mathematics; Sawi's extant texts are demonstrative of his creativity in restructuring the traditional nine Books of the Arabic Organon" (online Ency. Iranica, linked above). See also Ziai, "Ebn Sahlan Savaji," Encyclopaedia Iranica, informing that Sawi "opposed the Peripatetics and the authority of Aristotle's Organon, on one hand, and Islamic theologians, on the other." The innovations of Suhrawardi in formal logic, as presented in the first part of his Hikmat al-Ishraq, have been regarded as extensions of Sawi's ideas.
4. Ibn Sina, the Peripatetics, and Allegories
A Muslim philosopher could regard himself as an Aristotelian (Peripatetic) while also being a Neoplatonist. This context attaches to "Islamic Neoplatonism," a tag which has been applied to such exponents as Ibn Sina, who primarily based his system on Aristotelian texts, but who also incorporated Neoplatonist themes.
The Muslim Peripatetics like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) were considered by Suhrawardi to be inferior in their understanding. Nevertheless, the critic consistently employed the rationalist idiom of the Peripatetics in his Arabic writings, which are logically constructed. His combined "experiential" and "logical" approach has created different assessments and some misunderstandings.
Suhrawardi composed both "minor" and "advanced" philosophical works, in which a mixture of Peripatetic and illuminationist (ishraqi) themes can be found. The first category comprises Temples of Light (Hayakil al-Nur), Book of Radiance (Partu-Nama), and Tablets Dedicated to Imad. The second category includes Intimations, the Apposites, and the lengthy Paths and Havens. These three Arabic manuals are generally considered indirect in the promotion of ishraqi themes by comparison with the author's magnum opus Philosophy of Illumination (also in Arabic). Nevertheless, Paths and Havens has been described as "the most important illuminationist work." (ZKI, p. 24) "The Peripatetics can read them [the three Arabic manuals] as products of their own tradition, but a more careful reader will discover that they undermine the Peripatetic system" (WLA, p. 115)
In the opening passages to Paths and Havens, Suhrawardi states: "The starting point of philosophy is in abandoning the world, its midpoint is the vision of the Divine Lights (al-anwar al-ilahiyya), and its end has no limit." (ZKI, p. 25) This contention did not converge with Peripatetic doctrine. The clause of an initial renunciation might have been understood by some of the Peripatetics, but this was not the standard practice amongst them, being associated with the Sufi lifestyle. In contemporary Western philosophy, the concept of a renunciation is largely or completely incomprehensible within the academic sector.
"Hair-splitting and social climbing" (SML, p. 4)) were apparently grievances entertained by Suhrawardi against Ibn Sina and his followers. The lifestyle of a courtier is here implied, though Suhrawardi himself eventually gravitated to a royal connection at Aleppo (and possibly earlier). Suhrawardi departed from reliance upon the Aristotelian syllogism and method of demonstration; he believed that the Muslim Peripatetics neglected intuitive priorities. His mood of critique has been assessed as follows:
"They [the Peripatetics] devoted excessive attention to secondary aspects of logic, science, and philosophy. Thus, for example, they devised elaborate rules for handling various composite forms of the syllogism when researchers actually need only simple, very general rules for avoiding error. Finally, they were excessively concerned with worldly matters.... Avicenna repeatedly sought court patronage and political advancement." (WLA, p. 138)
Ibn Sina (980-1037) was one of the most brilliant intellects in early Islam, an Iranian whose philosophical system exhibits a strong Aristotelian tendency, though by no means exclusively. "We see in his system traces of Platonism, Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism, Galenism, Farabianism and other Greek and Islamic ideas." (17) Ibn Sina's copious work Kitab al-Shifa (Book of Healing) is a digest of logic, physics, mathematics, and metaphysics; this text has been viewed as a major codification of Peripatetic philosophy.
Two centuries later, Shahrazuri accused Ibn Sina of setting a bad example through drinking wine and engaging in the gratification of lust. Yet Ibn Sina has more recently been credited with a strong mystical streak by Henry Corbin and others. His disputed "mystical" writings are described in terms of an "Oriental philosophy" of wisdom "which seeks to present the philosophia perennis not as something to satisfy the need for thinking but as a guide, or at least doctrinal aid, for the illumination of man which arises from the inner experience." (18)
Unfortunately, the tendency of Ibn Sina to sexual indulgence reputedly impaired his health, despite his extensive medical knowledge. (19) He lived in opulent courtly environments, where distractions and temptations were many. The traditional Sufi lifestyle was in strong contrast. However, Suhrawardi does not mention this matter, and is concerned instead to criticise the influential logical method of Ibn Sina.
A distinctive philosophical work of Ibn Sina is Al-Isharat wa'l Tanbihat (Directives and Remarks), which includes a treatment of logic and metaphysics, and ends with a sympathetic version of Sufism. That text was cited by Suhrawardi, who "nonetheless treats it as a purely exoteric work." (WLA, p. 138) Suhrawardi's critique of the Muslim Peripatetics was liable to be very pointed, and there is no doubt that he regarded them as a rival tradition to his ishraqi philosophy. Yet the two traditions remain closely associated in terms of logical procedure.
Suhrawardi was both a logician and a mystic. In his discursive duel with Ibn Sina, he takes cues from the Peripatetic system. He criticises the materialism inherent in some Ibn Sinan formats, though a recent conclusion has been that his definition of the soul does not depart significantly from that of his major opponent, who likewise stressed incorporeality and pre-existence. "At issue is the ontological unity of the soul that Suhrawardi perceives to be jeopardised by the localisation in the body of the representative faculties - the active and passive imaginations and the estimation - and their objects. After criticising the 'extramissive' and 'intromissive' theories of vision, Suhrawardi introduces his own illuminative theory in an effort to simultaneously account for mystical vision" (Roxanne D. Marcotte, Suhrawardi and his Interpretation of Avicenna's Philosophical Anthropology, at philpapers.org).
There have been disagreements about the ideological situation attaching to an extant work by Ibn Sina entitled Logic of the Easterners (Mantiq al-Mashriqiyyin). The word Easterner is sometimes rendered as Oriental, and the "Oriental philosophy" is a bone of contention in the sector of Islamicist studies featuring Henry Corbin. In the opening section of the "Easterner" text, Ibn Sina depicts himself as a revisionist of the Peripatetic tradition, meaning that he favoured themes of Eastern "real knowledge" which were not included in his Kitab al-Shifa (some believe that these themes were elucidated in a work no longer extant). His comments about Aristotle are here relevant in translation:
"Although we admit the wisdom of the most learned predecessor [Aristotle] of these [Peripatetic] philosophers, and we know that in discovering what his teachers and companions did not know, in distinguishing between various sciences, in arranging the sciences in a better manner than before, in discovering the truth of many subjects... he was superior to those who came before him, the men who came after him should have brought to order whatever confusion had existed in his thought, mended whatever cracks they found in his structure, and expanded his principles. But those who came after him could not transcend what they had inherited from him." (20)
In his philosophical works, Suhrawardi included much commentary on the Peripatetic teachings and methods, concluding that the Ibn Sinan standpoint was unable to provide a clear picture of reality. Suhrawardi was complaining that, for instance, the Peripatetic explanation of man as the rational animal did not elucidate the nature of the soul. The issue of a lost wisdom was one topic. In his Paths and Havens, Suhrawardi expressed a strong attack on Ibn Sina (Avicenna).
"The controversy concerns the question whether Avicenna is to be considered among the 'Eastern' philosophers, as he so claims himself, or a pure Peripatetic.... According to Suhrawardi, Avicenna may have changed an expression or slightly modified a minor point, but he has not composed a work significantly different from his other works. The modifications made by Avicenna, do not establish him as one of the Eastern philosophers, who had prevailed in ancient times when the principles of Eastern philosophy (al-asl al-mashriqi) had been established by the Persian Khusrawani sages." (ZKI, pp. 108-9)
Although the precise meaning of "Eastern philosophy" has been in dispute, the above interpretation would make sense. Suhrawardi refers to Ibn Sina's Isharat in his discussion of logic, and in a later section of Paths and Havens, he "cites the personal inspirations and mystical experiences of such philosophers as Avicenna and Abu'l Barakat al-Baghdadi; this is somewhat a change of heart on the part of Suhrawardi vis-a-vis Avicenna, whom at one point he had ridiculed for claiming to be one of the Eastern philosophers." (ZKI, p. 113)
The "Eastern philosophy" of Ibn Sina was associated by Henry Corbin with three allegories composed by the former in Arabic, including Salaman and Absal and Hayy ibn Yaqzan. Corbin esteemed these as "visionary recitals" of initiatory significance, though other scholars have been less celebratory, with two of these compositions being described as "closed allegories." The counter-exegesis interprets the allegories as a means of popularising philosophy, and being aimed at "the educated public, particularly the bureaucratic class." (WLA, p. 103)
In addition to his philosophical works, Suhrawardi composed a number of shorter treatises, mainly in Persian, including allegories likeThe Sound of Gabriel's Wing. (21) In his related allegory Tale of the Occidental Exile (actually written in Arabic), Suhrawardi explicitly refers to the allegory Hayy ibn Yaqzan, composed by Ibn Sina. Suhrawardi acknowledges profound allusions in the earlier allegory, but complains that the ultimate stage of experience is there neglected. The allegories of Suhrawardi are said to have been inspired by Ibn Sina's precedent. The Suhrawardi allegories have a strong Sufi complexion. Their date is uncertain.
A current interpretation affirms that the Arabic philosophical treatises in the Suhrawardi corpus are the most important, and describes the Persian allegories as introductory, and possibly being early works, and even perhaps predating the author's conversion to Platonism. "They are written for Sufi murids, that is for beginners on the mystical path." (WLA, p. 109)
Another interpretation affirms that the Persian allegories provide the key to his thought as a whole. The Persian treatises have been defined as "initiatory narratives" which contain "highly symbolic language and incorporate Zoroastrian and Hermetic symbols as well as Islamic ones." (ASI, p. 8) Furthermore, the contention is that "while Suhrawardi prescribes mastery of discursive philosophy, 'illumination' can ultimately only be experienced through following the Sufi path." (22)
However, the famous "dream-vision" featuring Aristotle appears in Suhrawardi's Arabic treatise Kitab al-Talwihat. The Muslim Peripatetics are there described as failing to gain the wisdom of Sufi sages like Abu Yazid Bistami and Sahl Tustari. The reason supplied for this contrast is that the Sufi exemplars "achieved union with the Active Intellect by going beyond discursive philosophy and relying on their personal experience; the truths (haqa'iq) obtained in this way are the results of a special intuitive, experiential mode of knowledge." (23) This emphasis is accompanied by the advice to "return to your soul," a form of radical self-knowledge (ilm-huduri) being involved which "is a higher type of knowledge than that obtained by the Peripatetic philosophers." (Ziai, "Suhrawardi," HIP, pp. 453-4)
"For Suhrawardi, one does not proceed to know a thing by analysing it, but by having an intuitive grasp of its total reality and then analysing the intuition." (ZKI, p. 130) This procedure distinguishes him from the Peripatetic method of syllogistic logic.
Nevertheless, a basic argument amongst academics has related to defining Suhrawardi's precise relation to the Peripatetic contingent. The approach associated with Henry Corbin has viewed the subject as making a radical departure from the Ibn Sinan tradition and creating a separate mystical school. An opposing view, associated with Hossein Ziai and others, has interpreted ishraq in the context of a critical extension of the Peripatetic tradition, thus maintaining the philosophical axis of his project.
5. Ishraqi Version of Doing Philosophy
The Arabic works of Suhrawardi include a description of the philosophic life, which he divides into different stages. This format does not resemble the modern Western paradigm of "doing philosophy," which is currently an almost exclusively academic pursuit.
The first stage of the Suhrawardi version involves a withdrawal from the world as a preparation for inner experience. This phase is marked by such activities as observing a forty day retreat and abstaining from eating meat. "Such activities fall under the general category of ascetic and mystical practices, though not in strict conformity with the prescribed states and stations of the mystic path or Sufi tariqa, as known in the mystical works available to Suhrawardi." (ZKI, p. 35) This renunciate activity is depicted as awakening intuitive abilities, a process facilitated via the "light of God" (al-bariq al-ilahi) which dwells in every human. (Ziai, HIP, p. 450)
The second stage is that of illumination, in which visions of a "divine light" (al-nur al-ilahi) are achieved. This complexity has been rendered in English by the phrase "the Divine Light enters the being of the human." (HIP, p. 450) A series of "apocalyptic lights" are also involved, somehow leading to a due knowledge which serves to further true sciences. (ZKI, p. 35)
The third stage is "marked by the acquisition of unlimited knowledge, which is illuminationist knowledge (al-ilm al-ishraqi) itself." (Ziai, HIP, p. 449) This is related to a further stage of constructing a true science, utilising discursive analysis in order to confirm the experiences gained. "The system of proof used is the Aristotelian demonstration (burhan) of the Posterior Analytics." (HIP, p. 450)
Suhrawardi's version of intuitive knowledge is not that generally associated with this theme, usually treated so diffusely as to be very objectionable and quite meaningless, as in the current "new age" of commercial "workshop" sensations that commenced in America during the 1960s. In the ishraqi model, "rationalism" is a refined attribute resulting from mystical experience. Suhrawardi was not merely saying that intellect has to be balanced by intuition (a tiresome theme today, and potentially commercial), but that "purification" and "illumination" must both occur in the individual before creating a philosophical or scientific system.
Discursive philosophy was evidently intended as a protective device by Suhrawardi. In his Paths and Havens, he stated: "When the person who desires discursive philosophy has properly understood this section and established his knowledge in this regard, then it is permissible for him to set foot in ascetic practices and enter ishraq so he can see certain principles of illumination." (ASI, p. 12) Unlike many "orthodox Sufis" who administered routine exercises, Suhrawardi made logical clarity the prerequisite for "asceticism." There can be no doubt that he did intend such discipline, as he told his readers that they could not understand his major text Hikmat al-Ishraq unless they had fasted for forty days. (ASI, p. xvi) It might be amusing to reflect how many individuals are qualified to comment upon a text with such extending requirements.
The logical dimension of ishraqi mysticism is pronounced. "In the domain of formal logic Suhrawardi proves himself to be a remarkable logician," is the verdict of a recent analyst. (Ziai, "Suhrawardi," HIP, p. 441) However, this ability is accompanied by a rather noticeable use of symbolic language, very obvious in his "science of lights" (ilm al-anwar) outlined in his major treatise, a science which uses the symbolism of light to describe ontological matters. His perspective is "fundamentally experiential.... based on the immediate cognition of something real and prior in being, which he identifies as 'light.' " (Ziai, HIP, p. 448)
Comparisons have been drawn between the output of the "orthodox Sufi" Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d.1111) and that of the "philosopher Sufi" Suhrawardi. The former was strongly resistant to Greek philosophy; the latter was a pronounced eclectic with deep roots in Islamic Neoplatonism. Ghazzali has been described by some as a "destroyer of philosophy," though other commentators are qualifying. He definitely did reject some of the Peripatetic teachings, though he borrowed and adapted other elements to support the cause of theology (kalam). The compromising tactic is only superficially similar to that of Suhrawardi. Ghazzali, for instance, regarded as heretical the philosophical teaching that denied resurrection of the body. Suhrawardi was on the other side of the argument (see also section 17 below).
A relatively minor issue is the subject of "light." For Ghazzali, light was a metaphor borrowed from Quranic terminology, and intended to express the proper relation of Creator, creature, and creation. Suhrawardi is independent and original in his ontology of light; for him, God is absolute light, becoming reduced to a pale glimmer at the frontier of existence, e.g., in terms of physical light. In the Hikmat al-Ishraq, he states that light is the one reality so clearly manifest that no definition is needed to clarify it. The creative action of light is here the origin of creation, generating physical light and other phenomena when absolute light encounters dark formless matter and gives this form.
When illuminations (al-ishraqat) reach the soul via the hierarchy of lights, "all knowledge is given to the person." (Ziai, HIP, p. 455) Visions or experiences of the "apocalyptic lights" (al-anwar al-sanihah) confer this unrestricted knowledge. Human souls who experience those lights are designated as "souls separated from matter" because they escape the bondage imposed by the physical body. This separation from matter is described in terms of a gradual experience of light in fifteen steps, "starting with the experience of the 'flashing pleasurable light'... and ending with the experience of a light so violent that it may tear the body apart at the joints." (HIP, p. 456) Such matters are not open to immediate verification. (24)
6. Sufi Factors
Suhrawardi stood between two traditions which generally rejected each other, namely Aristotelian (Peripatetic) philosophy and Sufism. It would appear that "philosophical Sufis" did exist amongst a minority of eclectic temperaments, and irrespective of whether Farabi "was in fact a practising Sufi," (25) to quote a disputed classification. Ibn Sabin (1217-1270) has been more convincingly described as a Sufi philosopher. This Andalusian mystic of Arab blood was well read in the works of both Farabi and Ibn Sina. His reading was "obviously very broad, covering Greek philosophy, ancient oriental philosophies such as hermeticism, Zoroastrianism and Hinduism." (26) His Sufi group known as the Sabiniyyun duly demonstrated eclectic tendencies.
Islamic jurists in North Africa regarded Ibn Sabin as a pantheistic heretic, and he was even accused of Shi'ism. There is a degree of convergence with the outlook of Suhrawardi. Ibn Sabin also sought "to undermine Aristotelian logic and replace it with a new 'illuminative' logic," (27) thus affording an Arab complement to the Iranian contribution of ishraq. Ibn Sabin elevated the role of gnosis, as indicated in the title of his treatise Budd al-Arif (Escape of the Gnostic). Many Sufis were celebrated as urafa (gnostics), and one is free to reflect that differences of achievement must have existed amongst them.
The subject of gnosis is not quite so straightforward as some interpretations have led readers to believe. For example, Suhrawardi is a complex instance of interaction between the Muslim Neoplatonist and Sufi gnostic orientations. The tendency of the more intellectual Sufis like Ibn Sabin and Suhrawardi was not typical of the rank and file who followed orthodox patterns of thought.
The analysis of Professor Amin Razavi covered much of ishraqi philosophy in terms of "practical Sufism" and "philosophical Sufism." (ASI, pp. 58ff.) In this context he includes the famous vision of Aristotle, the "archetypal world" or alam al-mithal (section 13 below), and "knowledge by presence" (ilm-huduri). The Amin Razavi format tends to minimise the component of Greek philosophy, though Suhrawardi "was not only a Sufi nor was his school of thought only mystical." (ASI, p. xvi) There is the statement that "Suhrawardi, who saw himself as the reviver of Sophia Perennis, also synthesised rationalistic philosophy of the Peripatetics, the practical wisdom of the Sufis and intellectual intuition of the ishraqis." (ASI, p. 6)
Amin Razavi describes three modern interpretations of the ishraqi doctrine, "none of which completely explains how the actual experience of ishraq is attained." (28) He refers to the interpretation of Professor Hossein Ziai, who "disregards the Persian Sufi writings of Suhrawardi and their doctrinal significance." (29) The Persian allegories are respectively viewed as (a) major features in the Suhrawardi corpus, and (b) as secondary additions to the philosophical works in Arabic (section 3 above).
Another interpretation is associated with Iranian philosophers like Professor Mehdi Hairi Yazdi, "who is a proponent of theoretical Sufism (irfan-i nadari) but who rejects the practical and ascetic dimensions of Sufism." (30) This standpoint is said to argue that the study of ishraqi philosophy confers an intellectual insight which is sufficient for the experience of illumination. Amin Razavi also finds this version deficient, and again makes the accusation that the Persian Sufi writings of Suhrawardi are ignored. (31) The critic observes that many learned scholars have mastered "illumination philosophy" with no consequence of illumination, and by their own admission.
The ascetic dimension of Suhrawardi is substantial. Throughout his Persian "Sufi" writings, Suhrawardi advocates ascetic practices. In his major (Arabic) work Hikmat al-Ishraq, he even says that only those who have "fasted for forty days and are vegetarians can understand the text." (32) It is obvious enough that Suhrawardi's criterion for ishraq (illumination) was not an academic study routine. Suhrawardi was evidently writing for would-be gnostics, equivalent to philosophers of an eclectic background with experiential interests.
The third interpretation under review features Professors Corbin and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, both of whom were involved in editing the Suhrawardi corpus. (33) Despite some differences between these two exegetes, they are both said to represent "a rapprochement between discursive philosophy, ascetic practices and intellectual intuition," though Corbin is elsewhere said to have resisted the discursive factor. Amin Razavi adds that this interpretation "neither addresses the order in which asceticism and philosophy come into play, nor explains which of these two is the principal element" (The Significance of Suhrawardi's Persian Sufi Writings, 1993, p. 269).
The position of Nasr is represented by the statement that "both asceticism and philosophy are simultaneously necessary," (article cited, p. 269) yet Amin Razavi finds proof in the major work of Suhrawardi that "the experience of ishraq can be induced by following a non-rational methodology, that is, by ascetic practices" (art. cit., p. 270). Suhrawardi indicates that his experience of illumination occurred independently of his philosophical endeavours, and that only afterwards did he find rational demonstration for the truths he had experienced. This "fourth" interpretation emphasises: "Suhrawardi leaves no doubt that asceticism and the Sufi path are the necessary conditions for having an experience of ishraq" (art. cit., p. 270).
Vegetarian Sufis were a minority, resisting the Islamic stress upon consumption of meat. There were contrasting modes for the Sufi path of discipline and contemplation. Ibn Sabin was in some disagreement with Ibn al-Arabi, for instance. Suhrawardi was steeped in such Sufi ideas as "If you die before the natural death," a theme which he expressed in a poem and which has been described as "the gnostic concept of annihilation" (art. cit., p. 272). How many nominal Sufis were still alive? There were numerous Sufis by the twelfth century, their position having become far more compatible with Islamic norms than in earlier times. See Early Sufism in Iran.
A gnostic logician is still a bizarre concept in Western sectors, where such events as night vigils and fasts are an impossibility, though active imagination compensates in the Jungian version of psychology, and with variations in such neo-Jungian activities as LSD psychotherapy and holotropic breathwork "workshops."
"While Suhrawardi prescribes mastery of discursive philosophy, 'illumination' can ultimately only be experienced through following the Sufi path" (art. cit., p. 283).
A discursive prescription could be interpreted as a safety measure to contain stresses and excesses involved in ascetic practices familiar to the circles in which Suhrawardi moved. Those practices can be dangerous. "Ascetic practices under the guidance of a master" (art. cit., pp. 279-80) render the master more important than the exercises, if due logical attention is given to the matter. The wrong master could too easily inflict damage with such exercises (and induced visions). Sensory deprivation can produce hallucinations, though excitatory techniques can be far worse.
In some dervish orders, breathing practices and related exercises were adopted, perhaps serving to maintain confusions rather than any illumination. The role of a logician may nowadays be viewed as preferable to the person who induces visions with the aid of "techniques," and who may, like Jung and Grof perhaps, become subject to a lifelong disability in assessing realities. Jung is said to have "combined hypnagogic states with visualisation techniques in order to induce waking imaginations that were autonomous." (34)
Denial of Sufi identity in the case of Suhrawardi (35) is problematic. The latter's own explicit requirement for reading Hikmat al-Ishraq was ascetic discipline, and he evidently did possess a strong affinity with Sufi lifestyles. Though Suhrawardi was a philosopher, a Sufi association appears to be legitimate, providing that this is suitably qualified. Sufis varied markedly in temperament and lifestyle. The conventional picture of Sufism generally fails to distinguish between "orthodox Sufis" and more radical mystics. Suhrawardi was remote from the mentality of Abu Hamid Ghazzali and dervish orders, but not nearly so removed from independent entities like Hallaj, whom he did acknowledge. Yet his idiom was quite different. The factor of "illumination" is often found in a form that convention does not want.
Though Suhrawardi possessed a strong affinity with Sufi attitudes and practices, he was not a Sufi in the sense generally associated with that word. He might need to be described in terms of a Neoplatonist Sufi, according to various indications. He did not resemble the "orthodox Sufis," who were disdainful of Greek philosophy (and the most dogmatic amongst them despising all infidels, meaning non-Muslims). His approach was frequently in a logical idiom, including the statement at the end of his Intimations: "I advise you not to follow me blindly, nor any one else." (ZKI, p. 20)
It is obvious that the subject was not a typical Peripatetic logician. He believed in the employment of logic, though exhorting his readers to "turn to 'experiential sciences' in order that you may become one of the philosophers." (ZKI, p. 21) Peripatetic methods of logic here required to be improved by an experiential basis in the intuitive mode. Suhrawardi evidently conceived of his contribution, in part at least, as a disciplined science of logic which obeyed rules of due explanation. Dogmatism was foreign to his approach. He required a logical temperament in his readers, as may be gauged from the injunction found at the end of his major work: "Do not bestow the philosophy of illumination except upon those who are worthy of it and have become fully competent in the Peripatetic method." (36)
7. Neoplatonist Context
The Neoplatonist identity of Suhrawardi has been strongly urged by Professor John Walbridge in his book The Leaven of the Ancients (2000). Though "he was a Sufi of sorts," (WLA, p. 30) Suhrawardi is here primarily viewed as a reviver of Neoplatonism, a tradition that was preserved to some extent in the Islamic intellectual milieux. Suhrawardi accordingly viewed Plato as the pivotal figure in the history of philosophy, and elevated Pythagoras as the major PreSocratic. Aristotle is viewed with respect, but as subservient to Plato and Pythagoras.
The eclectic approach of Suhrawardi profiles a wisdom philosophy spread amongst different nations. He esteemed the Hermetic tradition associated with Egypt, and also the "Orientals," meaning the Indians and Chinese. In the latter context, Buddha (Budhasaf) is rather vaguely located. All Greek philosophers after Aristotle reap oblivion, however. The Persian tradition also figures - "not the historical Zoroastrian priests but the mythical kings and viziers, understood as sages." (WLA, p. 30) A few selected Sufi entities are also favoured, including the arch-heretic Hallaj.
"Suhrawardi was the first major Islamic philosopher to be primarily a Sufi by orientation." (WLA, p. 78) This Sufi factor obviously has some bearing upon his Neoplatonism, though some have tended to deny the former in the confusions attendant. He was not an orthodox Sufi. Though "in superficial ways a good and observant Muslim, in his intellectual life Suhrawardi remained distant from Islam in a way reminiscent of the Sabians and the late antique pagan philosophers and for much the same reasons," (MES, p. 42) meaning that they remained aloof from revealed religions, e.g., Christianity.
A suggestion here is that the radical Sufi Suhrawardi links with the Sabian tradition of Harran (Carrhae), located in north-western Mesopotamia (though now in Turkey), and associated with Hermetic and Neoplatonist lore. Harran dates from the third millenium BC, and was an early Mesopotamian city state, and later an Assyrian city. This place was a centre for both religion and trade, and Assyrian influences established a local worship of the moon god Sin. A recent scholarly theory has argued that survivors of the Neoplatonist school of Athens (associated with Damascius) moved to Harran in the sixth century CE.
The inhabitants of Harran resisted conversion to Islam, and adopted the name "Sabian" from a reference in the Quran. In this way they tried to represent their tradition as a prophetic "religion of the book" of the type acceptable to Islam. They selected Hermes as their prophet, whom they identified with the Quranic prophet Idris. This recourse arose from harassment and forced conversion during the ninth century. A residue of "Hermetic Sabians" survived until the eleventh century, when they were eliminated during a period of acute social unrest. A learned tradition had flourished amongst scholars in this locale, who have been described as non-Islamic Assyrians, preserving ancient sciences, and also Greek philosophy. Indeed, Harran was a major centre for the translation of Greek works during the early Islamic era.
Though the Sabian tradition no longer existed at Harran in his time, "Suhrawardi might have visited the venerable pagan city with the keenest interest." (MES, p. 40) His source for the concepts of Harranian "Sabianism" may have been the Epistles of the Ikhwan al-Safa, and probably heresiographers like Shahrastani, who "classes the Sabians with the philosophers, pre-Islamic Arabs, and Hindus." (MES, p. 40) The Sabians cultivated themes such as the Great Year of 36, 425 years, which Shahrastani links with reincarnation, a teaching heretical in Islam. Shahrastani (d. 1153) was an Asharite theologian, and his Book of Religions and Sects has been described as an early exercise in comparative religion.
Muslim philosophers had acute problems in ascertaining an accurate history of Greek philosophy. Walbridge provides a useful summary of why this was so:
"No comprehensive history of philosophy or philosophers was translated into Arabic, nor was there a general history of the Greeks and Romans within which the philosophers might be placed.... while a good deal of Greek philosophical literature was translated into Arabic, almost all of it soon passed out of common circulation, to be replaced by Islamic syntheses of the same material. Thus, Avicenna's works, written in a much more accessible style, supplanted the Arabic translations of Aristotle.... While the names of Plato and Aristotle were almost always recognisable, the names of lesser figures were soon scrambled beyond recognition.... misattributions and pseudepigrapha abounded, including works like The Theology of Aristotle, actually excerpts from the Enneads of Plotinus. There were also pseudo-Empedoclean and Neopythagorean texts, occult Hermetica, and other such works, originating on both sides of the line of translation, often attributed to famous philosophers. Finally, there was the historical accident that no scholar in the early period, when accurate information, extensive texts, and Greek-speaking Syriac scholars were available, produced a full history of Greek philosophy in Arabic." (WLA, pp. 32-3)
By comparison with modern scholars, Suhrawardi had only a very partial knowledge of Greek philosophy history . The Neoplatonist phase was a virtual blank, and his ideological preference was for the "Ancients" who preceded Aristotle. A "Pythagoreanising Neoplatonism" here devolves upon Suhrawardi, who "saw himself as being in a real sense the master of a revived Pythagorean school." (WLA, p. 81) Walbridge sees the subject as an Islamic era counterpart to Pythagoras. The latter had created a republic of philosophers, while Suhrawardi attempted to influence Aleppo. "Each aroused the jealousy of the old elite, was overthrown, and met death." Further, "each found symbolic expression to be the appropriate mode for expressing such truths, and each confined the inner teaching to an oral tradition within the school." (WLA, p. 81)
The basic influences on Suhrawardi are here deduced in terms of a layer of Neoplatonist thought mediated via the Kitab al-Amad of Abu'l Hasan al-Amiri (d.992). The eclectic tradition associated with Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, and other late pagans, elevated Pythagoras as the founder of philosophy, and as the master of Socrates and Plato. However, Plato was the supreme figure for these interpreters. Aristotle was viewed as a secondary teacher, "and is to be corrected when he contradicts the greater authority of Plato and Pythagoras." (WLA, p.66)
"Pythagoras himself, we are told, learned not just from his own mystical experiences, but also from his studies with the sages of Egypt, Syria, Chaldaea, and Persia. Parallel to this, the Pythagoreanising Neoplatonists saw Platonic philosophy revealed in the wisdom of the sages of other nations: in the Orphic writings, Homer, and the Chaldaean Oracles, in the writings and traditions of the priests of Egypt, and among the Magi, the Indians, and even the Druids. There was a brisk traffic in spurious books attributed to such barbarian sages." (WLA, pp. 66-7)
This overpowering eclecticism is revealed as the model for Suhrawardi's commitment to the ancients, though not all the traditions mentioned figure in the texts of the Iranian ishraqi (illuminationist). The affinity with Pythagoras facilitated Suhrawardi's acceptance of such teachings as "the role of mystical intuition in philosophy, numbers and Platonic Forms, the music of the spheres, and reincarnation" (ibid., p 67). However, there are complexities in such assimilation.
"For Suhrawardi the greatest difficulty with Pythagoras is the centrality of mathematics," (WLA, p. 72) which was skirted by the ishraqi teaching. "While Suhrawardi is very interested in cosmology and the physical structure of the universe, he has little interest in the mathematical aspects of astronomy." (WLA, p. 78) Reincarnation also posed a problem, being resisted by Islam, "and Suhrawardi chooses to discuss it as a Buddhist doctrine, thus placing it as far away as possible." (WLA, p. 80) See section 18 below.
This Iranian ishraqi viewed Plato as the last of the "Ancients," and Aristotle as the first of the "Moderns." This was a much older theme dating back to the Roman era. "Suhrawardi, we can be reasonably sure, did not read any authentic work of Plato in its original form." (WLA, p. 88) Evidence is elusive for a full Arabic translation of any Platonic dialogue prior to the modern period. There were abridgments, epitomes, and paraphrases. Suhrawardi's early commentator Shahrazuri was in a common category when he "wrote about Plato on the basis of popular anecdote, slightly garbled information from sound Greek sources, and third-hand information about the dialogues." (WLA, p. 83)
The Timaeus was available to Muslims in an epitome attributed to Galen, and this Plato text also became important to Latin-speaking Christians. The contents afford an account of the origin and structure of the universe, and much of this dialogue is put into the mouth of Timaeus of Locri, a Pythagorean. This had the effect, amongst Greek Neoplatonists, of strongly connecting Plato with the Pythagorean tradition. Shahrazuri later affirmed that the philosophy of ishraq "is the very intuition of the inspired and illumined Plato, the guide and master of philosophy," because of what was said in his books, including the Timaeus. (WLA, p. 90)
"The Timaeus is a remarkable attempt to create a complete scientific system of the world," (WLA, p. 93) though interpretations of context have varied. "Even the [Greek] Platonists themselves forgot what the dialogues were intended to be and instead mined them for systematic doctrines," a major instance being the learned commentaries of Proclus, "in effect, converting them into philosophical treatises." (WLA, p. 98) Muslim commentators tended to treat Plato's dialogues as history; the view also existed that these texts were intended as riddles so that only the wise could understand them. The latter theme fits the ishraqi "symbolic" perspective.
Via his exercises in a refined Peripatetic logic, "like Plato, Suhrawardi had gone beyond the Pythagoreans by including both the symbolic and the scientific approaches." (WLA, p. 116) A relevant point in this respect is that the ishraqi version of Plato differs from the well known format in Farabi (d. 950), who is generally regarded as the most important Islamic source on Plato. Farabi contributed The Philosophy of Plato, a very compact Arabic work which lists all the dialogues attributed to the subject. Farabi's descriptions "generally are recognisably connected with the authentic dialogue, but, unlike the descriptions of Aristotle's works in The Philosophy of Aristotle [also by Farabi), they do not indicate real familiarity with the text of Plato." (WLA, p. 116)
The elusive Plato was only partially represented in Farabi's Arabic version. "There is no mysticism or even metaphysics. the Forms are not mentioned. This is purely a political Plato, and Farabi is writing in the exoteric tradition of the Republic." (WLA, p. 117) Suhrawardi may therefore be viewed as exercising a plus factor.
Farabi also ventured a "harmonisation" of Plato and Aristotle, in a separate treatise ascribed to him, which employs the misattributed Theology of Aristotle (section 11 below). The late pagan tradition of Neoplatonism (commencing with Porphyry) had attempted the same project of harmony between the disparate standpoints represented. In this direction, Suhrawardi was not at all a typical Neoplatonist, and his orientation conflicts with the harmonisation theory. "In his view, the later Peripatetics delved deeply into the trivialities of their master's system, neglecting the important intuitive component of philosophy characteristic of Plato's system." (WLA, p. 119).
A feature of contrast between Plato and Aristotle, as known to early Muslim philosophers, was the issue of an ascetic versus this-worldly lifestyle. "Plato had lived a life withdrawn from the world but had written extensively on politics, whereas Aristotle had lived a worldly and political life." (WLA, p. 120) Farabi ingeniously smoothed over this discrepancy, as he did with other factors. Suhrawardi was clearly in favour of Plato, though he did eventually suffer fatally from political involvement.
The tragic death of Suhrawardi has been linked to the Platonist ideal of philosopher kings. A forerunner was the Pythagorean republic in southern Italy, overpowered by a popular revolt. Plato reputedly tried to transform a situation in Syracuse by instructing the tyrannical ruler; this scenario twice ended in disaster. Sequel events have been cited as support for the contention that resort to political intervention is doomed to setbacks. "The failure arises from a contradiction at the heart of Platonism" (WLA, p. 209).The discrepancy is assessed by Professor Walbridge in terms of a basic gulf between two entirely different orders of existence.
"The basic insight of Platonism is that the world known by the senses is a world of becoming and that the true world of being is the ideal intelligible realm of the Forms." (WLA, p. 209)
The message is that exploration of the ideal realm does not mix with political agendas in the world of becoming. Ultimately, "Suhrawardi's political doctrine is that of the late antique Neoplatonists," (WLA, p. 209) meaning the theme of "divine men" (though a Sufi component is discernible). The brief comments in Hikmat al-Ishraq do indeed imply that the master of intuitive and discursive philosophy is "the rightful but unrecognised ruler of the world." (WLA, p. 210) It does not necessarily follow from these details that the proscribing Sultan Saladin "understood the philosophical issue correctly," (WLA, p. 210) and the case can be made that like many other rulers in the world of becoming, the Sultan had little or no cognisance of such issues.
Nearly all the works of Aristotle gained Arabic translation, and Farabi was dauntingly familiar with these texts, along with extracts from Greek commentaries. Yet they were difficult to read, and became redundant, Ibn Sina being the major revivalist and systematiser. Ibn Sina admitted some Neoplatonist metaphysics (and other elements) into the Peripatetic canon, though he firmly imposed the syllogistic logic of Aristotle. In contrast, Suhrawardi evidently felt that the Aristotelian demonstration of truth via logic was misleading in relation to metaphysics.
"He [Suhrawardi] had to explain why those who did not have the books of the [Aristotelian] Organon - the Ancients and the Sufis notably - could nonetheless know the truth, how Plato could demonstrate without knowing how to construct a demonstration, as Olympiodorus had said." (WLA, p. 156)
8. Philosophy of Illumination
Suhrawardi's major work Hikmat al-Ishraq (Philosophy of Illumination) divides into two sections, the first being concerned with the critique and revision of Peripatetic logic. The second and metaphysical part is specifically ishraqi (illuminationist), being "unique in the history of Islamic philosophy." (ASI, p. 13)
In the opening passages, Suhrawardi relates that his friends had requested him to write a book mentioning "what I have obtained by my intuition (dhawq) during my retreats (khalawat) and moments of revelation (munazalat)." (ZKI, p. 173) This book comprised "another method and a shorter way to (knowledge) than that other way (of the Peripatetics), and is more orderly and precise, and less painful to study." (ZKI, p. 174) Suhrawardi adds that he did not gain his method from cogitation, but by other means, and that afterwards he had sought to provide rational proofs for his insight.
A basic concern of the author was to achieve a reduction in the complex paraphernalia of Aristotelian logic. This was because he derided the claim of Peripatetic logicians (chiefly Ibn Sina, alias Avicenna) to arrive at metaphysical truths by such an inappropriate method. Suhrawardi was effectively saying that the method amounted to a professional obscurantism, and was quite superfluous.
"The treatment of logic in this work is not far from being a parody of traditional logic.... Suhrawardi does wander from his simplistic neologisms, reverting to the standard logical terminology he learned in school and much of his presentation can be traced to Avicenna's Hints [Al-Isharat], but he has made his point: the simple cases in logic are self-evident, and any intelligent person can reduce the complicated cases to the simple ones by use of his common sense." (WLA, p. 143)
Various metaphysical issues have been debated in relation to the magnum opus. The famous Safavid era commentator Mulla Sadra Shirazi attacked Suhrawardi's ontology, (ZKI, pp. 166-7) formulating a different system aligned with Shia theology. "Suhrawardi's theory of emanation and his doctrine of the Light of Lights bears a resemblance to Plotinus' theory of emanation and cosmology as presented in the Enneads," though Plato's Timaeus is also implicated. (37)
The argument has been advanced that any claim for the mergence of philosophy (falsafa) and Sufism (tasawwuf) in Suhrawardi's thought, must acknowledge a Greek antecedent or model, and more specifically, a Plotinian precedent. Thus, the One or the Good of Plotinus is seen as being metamorphosed into the ishraqi Light of Lights (Nur al-Anwar). What has been termed the emanationist "Ladder of Yearning" supplied by Suhrawardi comprises the "angelic orders of lights" beneath the Light of Lights, the lower ones exhibiting a longing for the higher, a process in which "all things desire to return to God." (38)
This theme is, of course, considered romantic by materialists. Yet insofar as Suhrawardi is concerned, a mystical affinity with Plotinus, crossing religious and linguistic divides, is explicable (see section 11 below). Though at pains to give a rational format to his themes in Hikmat al-Ishraq, Suhrawardi here affirms that the text is not intended for scholars lacking a mystical orientation.
"We only propose to discuss this book and its symbols with those who are seriously engaged in the mystic effort or quest.... Whoever just wants academic research can follow the path of the Peripatetics." (39)
However, Suhrawardi makes clear in the same passage that his book was intended for both students of mysticism and "academic research" (i.e., discursive philosophy or bahth), evidently meaning that his Peripatetic readers must be interested in mysticism. His critical analysis of Peripatetic logical definition in that book entailed the conclusion of a deficient logical process, and one in contrast to the reality of light independent of any definition.
The same book is inseparably associated with the theme of "knowledge by presence" (al-ilm al-huduri), which became regarded as a cardinal tenet of ishraqi philosophy (see PEP). This theme epitomised Suhrawardi's negotiation of Peripatetic logic. In this perspective, "all kinds of knowledge require a direct, unmediated relation between the knowing self and the object of knowledge." (WLA, p. 168) The self-conscious subject is here a priority, and the contention is "deeply nominalist and empiricist." (WLA, p. 169)
The theme of ilm-huduri (abbreviation) cannot explain universals. The contrast with Ibn Sina is relevant. "The Peripatetic theory of knowledge had explained knowledge of universals with some success, but it had profound difficulties with the knowledge of particulars and with the origins of our knowledge of universals." (WLA, p. 169)
Another weakness has been assessed in a sympathetic critical analysis. "What is problematic in Suhrawardi's claim is that through spiritual vision he has realised the validity of the philosophical principles he advocates." (ASI, p. 113) The same analyst comments that "instead of arguing for a correlation between the spiritual realisation and philosophical truth, Suhrawardi should separate them," (ASI, p . 116) with scientific considerations being attendant here.
Nevertheless, the theme of ilm-huduri does bring out the relevance of consciousness as an operative factor in knowledge of the world, and outweighing the syllogistic rigmarole that Suhrawardi was opposing. "The central role of consciousness in perception and knowledge remained a characteristic feature of his school." (WLA, p. 157)
Ibn Sina apparently anticipated the huduri theme, but merely made allusions, while Suhrawardi provided detailed arguments. The latter rejected the idea that the soul's direct perception can be mediated by any type of mental representation, e.g., an image, a form. Suhrawardi is seen to have resolved the ambiguity in the version of Ibn Sina. See further Roxanne D. Marcotte, Irja Ila Nafsi-Ka - Suhrawardi's apperception of the self in light of Avicenna (online PDF).
Suhrawardi has been compared to Descartes (cogito ergo sum) via his emphasis on consciousness of the knowing self. Yet there are differences in other respects. "His universe is closer to the animist universe in which everything is alive and aware; he [Suhrawardi] argues that men and animals have souls, and souls are immaterial lights and thus conscious." (WLA, p. 221) Although Descartes postulated a mind/body dualism for humans, he was less generous towards animals in his "mechanistic" universe.
Physics is not associated with ishraqi philosophy, a factor contrasting with the Peripatetic system of Ibn Sina. "Philosophy collapsed into logic and metaphysics, with physics and mathematics dropping out." (WLA, p. 218) Yet strangely enough, three of the four major works in Arabic by Suhrawardi "contain substantial sections on physics, although all have remained unstudied" (Marcotte, Suhrawardi 3, accessed 07/01/2012). The reference is to Intimations, Apposites, and Paths and Havens, none of which are accessible to general readers. The Arabic editions pioneered by Corbin, in a feat of visionary enthusiasm, omitted the sections on physics.
The lack of interest over the centuries in natural philosophy within the Islamic sector has been attributed to Suhrawardi's influence, though the opposing ulama in several countries were surely more indifferent to Greek science. The fundamentalist Ibn Taymiya (d. 1328) was an ulama representative, and he dismissed Suhrawardi as "simply a Sabian, a philosopher who accepted only as much of prophecy as happened to agree with his philosophy." (MES, p. 42)
9. Perennial Philosophy
The eclectic strands of thought converging in Suhrawardi have been identified as Platonist, Pythagorean, Aristotelian, Neoplatonist, Zoroastrian, Hermetic, and Islamic. (40) The weight given to different components has varied amongst interpreters. Citing Paths and Havens, Seyyed Hossein Nasr informs:
"Suhrawardi considered himself to be the reviver of the perennial wisdom, philosophia perennis, or what he calls Hikmat al-khalidah or Hikmat al-atiqa which existed always among the Hindus, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and the ancient Greeks up to the time of Plato." (NTP, p. 128)
According to Professor Mehdi Hairi Yazdi, the ishraqi theme of "knowledge by presence" (ilm-huduri) had a linguistic precedent in Plotinus, but amounting to a "question that was not explicitly probed in the Neoplatonic philosophical corpus." (PEP, p. 24)) The ishraqi theme "posited that the self must be absolutely aware of itself without the interposition of a representation" (ibid.). This self-objectivity has different levels of application, though the ultimate is "the stage of absolute existential unity with the One." (PEP, p. 2)
"Suhrawardi went on to elaborate further the designation of his principal technique of light in opposition to darkness, which probably points to an ancient Persian religious orientation." (PEP, p. 73) Suhrawardi's affinity with ancient Persian religion has not met with unanimous commentary. In contrast to Henry Corbin, some analysts have minimised this factor, as the Peripatetic and Neoplatonist connections are more obvious. See section 15 below.
In the opening pages of Hikmat al-Ishraq, Suhrawardi "explicitly states that the perfect philosopher is he who combines intuitive ability with discursive methodology." (ZKI, p. 37) Plato was here associated with intuition and Aristotle with discursive talents. According to Professor Hossein Ziai, "the combination of discursive philosophy (hikma bahthiyya) and intuitive philosophy (hikma dhawqiyya)... which is said to be Divine philosophy (hikma muta'alliha), is what distinguishes the philosophy of illumination from both theosophy and quasi-philosophical mysticism." (ZKI, p. 37))
In one or two of his minor works, Suhrawardi refers to javidan khirad, a phrase meaning perennial wisdom. That phrase is often associated with the philosopher Ibn Miskawayh (d. 1030), appearing as the supplementary title of his al-Hikma al-Khalida (Eternal Wisdom), one of his treatises which have been described as "just lists of 'wisdom' from a range of cultures and religions." (41) In fact, some modern scholars have disparagingly referred to the phrase in terms of the "perennial philosophy," implying that the description is too loose to be at all convincing. Such phraseology does indeed require to be more tightly argued than in the recent versions of perennialism varying from Rene Guenon to Ken Wilber.
In the opening section of Hikmat al-Ishraq, Suhrawardi says that, in his "science of lights," he had been inspired by the intuition of philosophers or "wayfarers in the path of God." Plato is given priority as a possessor of light, but Suhrawardi also associates himself with philosophers before Plato, "from the time of Hermes the 'father of philosophers' (walid al-hukama) up to Plato's time, including such great philosophers as Empedocles, Pythagoras, and others." (ZKI, p. 174) The language of these early philosophers is stated to have been metaphorical, a protective device. "One cannot refute a metaphor nor symbol," (ibid.) is the reasoning which Suhrawardi applies here. The legendary Hermes Trismegistus, identified with the Quranic prophet Idris, had become assimilated to philosophy.
The metaphorical resort was "also the basis of the Eastern theorem of light and darkness, which was the method of the Persian philosophers such as Jamasf, Farshawashtar, Buzurjmihr, and others before them." (ZKI, p. 174) Suhrawardi is here referring to ancient Persian sages, the first two better known to Zoroastrians as Jamaspa and Fraoshastra, the legendary companions of the prophet Zarathushtra. Buzurjmihr was a much later figure of the Sassanian era. Only philosophy could assimilate such figures, who were eschewed by the religious tenets of Islam.
Suhrawardi was careful to protect his stance by adding that the ancient Persian method he referred to was distinct from "the infidel magus [Zoroastrian priests], the heterodoxy of Mani, and whatever leads to associating other deities with God." (ZKI, pp. 174-5) Mani was regarded as a dire heretic in Islam (and in Christianity and Zoroastrianism). The fate of Suhrawardi and Mani was nevertheless very similar; the latter was cordoned and died in prison.
For Suhrawardi, the word hakim (philosopher) meant a wise man, or one in pursuit of wisdom. He goes on to say that the world had never been without philosophy, and that "the difference among the earlier and the later philosophers is only with respect to their use of language as well as in respect to their divergent habits in stating explicitly their doctrines or only hinting at them." (ZKI, p. 175) He refers approvingly to Aristotle, though bearing in mind here that Muslim savants had attributed a well known version of the Enneads to this figure. Suhrawardi described Aristotle as having "an eminent position, a high rank, penetrating insight, and perfect speculative abilities," (ibid.) though he emphasised the (Peripatetic) error of overstating the importance of Aristotle at the expense of Plato and Socrates.
Less convincingly for moderns, Suhrawardi says that the ancient philosophers also include entities like Hermes, Asclepius, and Agathodaemon. (42) These legendary figures appear in Hermetic texts, though Muslims had identified Hermes with the Quranic prophet Idris. Over three centuries later, the Christian theologian Agostino Steuco awarded Hermes a major role in what became known as philosophia perennis. Suhrawardi's version of "perennial philosophy" sounds scholarly by comparison with some of the lineages surmised in Renaissance Europe. Compare the theory of Marsilio Ficino, a Platonist of the fifteenth century:
"After Aglaophemus, Pythagoras came next in theological succession, having been initiated into rites of Orpheus, and he was followed by Philolaus, teacher of our divine Plato. In this way, from a wondrous line of six theologians emerged a single system of ancient theology, harmonious in every part, which traced its origins to Mercurius and reached absolute perfection with the divine Plato." (43)
Ficino (1433-99) included Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in this arrangement, and "the idea of a theological genealogy remained powerful with him and with other European intellectuals for the next two centuries." (44) Ficino was ordained a priest in 1473, and evidently wished to fuse philosophy with theology. In contrast, Suhrawardi did not refer to theologians but to philosophers. "He [Suhrawardi] believed that this wisdom (hikmat) is universal and perennial, the philosophia perennis and universalis, which existed in various forms among the ancient Hindus, Persians, Babylonians and Egyptians and among the Greeks up to the time of Aristotle." (45)
Critics of the latter contention tend to assume that no such wisdom could have existed, and an obvious problem is the lack of historical confirmation in acceptable terms. There are other drawbacks. Some religious organisations have ascribed to themselves the status of perennial truth. The theory of Aldous Huxley has aroused a critical response. However, the fact that Leibniz took up the theme of philosophia perennis in a letter of 1714 assists to preserve a rational interest in this theme. While the basic viewpoint in liberal Christian milieux amounted to belief in a bedrock of truth underlying the surface of different ideologies, Suhrawardi believed in a transmission of "light" over the centuries via the "leaven" that he referred to. The experiential recurrence of "light" is not the same as a static "perennial philosophy."
Suhrawardi credited a substantial occurrence of ancient wisdom, (46) terminating with Aristotle, to whom he allocated a lesser role (though regarding the Stagirite as the master of discursive philosophy). He conceived of an ancient "symbolic" philosophy of light, divided between the Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, and Orientals, and subsequently mediated (as light) to certain Sufis like Hallaj. According to Ziai, he did not mean the revival of any doctrine, but instead the transmission of light via an inner illumination (section 2 above). The subsequent and contrasting Latin idiom of philosophia perennis connects with the recent exegesis of Western writers like Guenon, Schuon, and Coomaraswamy. These commentators interpreted "perennial philosophy" in terms of a traditional religious context and association, which can be confusing, e.g., the "Thomistic Vedanta" of Coomaraswamy. (47)
Suhrawardi was evidently not trying to promote traditional religion, which was the cause of his death. He was instead referring to "symbolic" matters which he explicitly associated with early Greek philosophy and equivalent "wise men" in pre-Islamic Iran and the Orient. There is an undeniable affinity with Sufism in his case, though not exhibiting the inflexible format of "Islamic Sufism," and at a stage prior to the crystallisation of dervish orders. Suhrawardi was not a theologian like Ghazzali.
He referred to his companions as illuminationists (ishraqiyyun), whom he apparently viewed as part of a larger grouping that he called the "brethren of abstraction" (ikhwan al-tajrid). This obscure body, on the basis of certain references, is defined as "a group that includes Suhrawardi and his immediate disciples, but transcends them to include earlier philosophers and mystics as well; it is a spiritual brotherhood not confined to time and space." (ZKI, p. 29 note 2)
Suhrawardi's conception of a "perennial philosophy" was clearly not the "traditional religion perennialism" that is more well known today. For instance, the celebrated role of Thomas Aquinas in the philosophia perennis of A. K. Coomaraswamy does not fit the "neo-Aristotelian" career of Suhrawardi. Aquinas employed the philosophy of Aristotle to support Christian dogma and the activity of new religious orders cultivating a missionary zeal loaded against heretics. (48) In contrast, Suhrawardi did not utilise Greek philosophy to uphold religious dogma, and was himself one of the heretical targets of theology. His precise view of perenniality must remain an open question, as that was largely oral, it would seem.
10. Plato, Aristotle, and the Pythagorean Leaven
There are discrepancies in modern commentarial works concerning the ishraqi image of Aristotle. Henry Corbin tended to demote Aristotle, even though Suhrawardi elevated his "dream-vision" of the Stagirite. According to Hossein Ziai, it is a mistake to think that Aristotelian doctrine was merely "some type of philosophy with which Suhrawardi was preoccupied in his youth, or only in some of his books." (ZKI, p. 37) Corbin opted for an interpretation in which Suhrawardi viewed Aristotle as having undermined the intuitions of his predecessors by substituting an exclusive concern with reasoning and logic. This despite Suhrawardi's apparent belief that the Arabic abridgment of the Enneads was the work of Aristotle (section 11 below).
There is obviously a difference between the authentic output of Aristotle and that of Plato. In the case of Suhrawardi, "his knowledge of Aristotle was indirect, mainly filtered through Avicenna." (SML, p. 5) The extent of his familiarity with Plato is unclear. "Plato he probably knew only through doxographies and epitomes of such dialogues as the Timaeus" (ibid.). It is not so much classical Platonism but "Islamic Neoplatonism" that is the identifiable context for Suhrawardi's exegesis. His link with the PreSocratics is deemed to be doctrinally very tenuous. "There are genuinely Platonic elements in his thought - a version of the doctrine of Forms, for example - and Pythagorean elements, such as universal cycles, as well as ideas that had more in common with the genuine thought of Aristotle, such as the approach to being." (SML, p. 5)
One may believe that "Suhrawardi, through his philosophy of illumination, considers himself the perfect harmoniser of the two types of philosophy," (ZKI, p. 37) i.e., the Platonist and Aristotelian. However, the ishraqi interlarded the combination with unconventional references that doubtless puzzled some followers of Ibn Sina. A well known example is the theme of an eternal or perennial leaven (al-hamirat al-azaliyya), the ancient universal wisdom, which Suhrawardi depicts as having divided into two major streams of illumination.
In the eastern branch, the "leaven" had been transmitted by ancient Persian sages, and said to link with the early Sufis Abu Yazid al-Bistami, Hallaj, and Abu'l Hasan al-Kharaqani. (49) This branch was dubbed the Khusrawanid leaven, named after Kay Khusrau, the legendary Iranian king. "Suhrawardi himself writes in his Mutarahat that the wisdom of ishraq was possessed by the mythological priest-kings of ancient Persia, [namely] Kiumarth, Faridun, and Kay Khusraw, and then passed on to Pythagoras and Plato, the latter being the last among the Greeks to possess it, and was finally inherited by the Muslim Sufis like Dhu'l Nun al-Misri and Bayazid Bistami." (NTP, p. 130)
In the western branch, identified with Greek philosophers, the "Pythagorean leaven" was allegedly transmitted back to the east, via Egypt, the agent here being Dhu'l Nun al-Misri, the Sufi mystic (and Hermeticist) of Akhmim. "The Pythagorean leaven fell to the share of the brother of Akhmim," is the key reference, and emphasised by Corbin.
The legendary kings of Iran are a weak point in the ishraqi format. According to Corbin, Kay Khusrau had significance as "the ecstatic King... typifying with Zarathushtra, in Suhrawardi's view, the mystical charisma of ancient pre-Islamic Iran." (CSB, p. 306 note 16) In contrast, Walbridge has described the theme of leaven as "a largely fictitious history of philosophy." (SML, p. 3)
Some merely consider the theme to be fantastic. Nevertheless, Suhrawardi evidently believed in the mystical inheritance that he briefly outlined. "Despite the differences of idiom or method of exposition that set them apart, says al-Suhrawardi, these sages have all shared in a universal and perennial wisdom, originally revealed to Hermes... and handed down through an unbroken chain to al-Bistami, al-Hallaj, and culminating in al-Suhrawardi himself." (50) In whatever way he conceived of the unbroken chain, this was definitely not the type of silsila or spiritual succession emphasised by the dervish orders of Islamic Sufism. In basic respects, this theme amounted to a rival for Islamic ideology, referring to antique figures and traditions that were eschewed by the proscribing ulama.
Some have asked how Dhu'l Nun, the Egyptian Sufi, could have had anything to do with the Pythagorean tradition. This ninth century figure lived at Akhmim (Panopolis) in Upper Egypt, a town thought to have been a centre of Hermetic teachings several centuries before. Dhu'l Nun is commemorated in the hagiological works of Sufism, and was credited with the ability to read the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Sufi tradition regards him as the first formulator of teachings on marifa (gnosis). His ambiguous repute as a "philosopher" has been viewed in the light of Neoplatonist influences. (51) Some medieval sources associate him with alchemy and Hermeticism.
"These connections have proved a major source of embarassment for those interested in maintaining the purely Islamic nature of Sufism and denying its links with previous, non-Arab traditions." (52)
Akhmim was apparently a major centre of Hermeticism in the Graeco-Egyptian phase, and a link with "Pythagoreanism" is explicable. Akhmim was the place of composition for the Arabic prototype of the Turba Philosophorum, which has been described in terms of "an alchemical work preserving elements of Empedoclean doctrine within the literary framework of an assembly of sages presided over by Pythagoras." (53)
Suhrawardi's "leaven" therefore begins to sound rather less fantastic than some have thought. Further, the ishraqi philosopher affirmed that the legacy of Dhu'l Nun "came down to the traveller from Tustar," meaning the Iranian mystic Sahl Tustari, another Sufi figure of the ninth century. Modern scholarship has vindicated the traditional Sufi report that these two entities were acquainted. It would seem that Tustari probably met his teacher Dhu'l Nun at Mecca, though perhaps also in Egypt. (54)
11. Plotinus and the Theology of Aristotle
Some analysts have interpreted Suhrawardi to mean that "after Plato this tradition was carried on not by the philosophers but by the mystics." (SML, p. 3) Plotinus can be described as a mystical philosopher, but he is not mentioned in the ishraqi format. "Suhrawardi perhaps had never heard the name of Plotinus, although he had read the excerpts from the Enneads circulated under the title of Theology of Aristotle." (55)
The erratic nature of textual transmission was one of the problems for Muslim philosophers. The misattributed Theology of Aristotle was an Arabic abridgment of Plotinus which had been mediated in philosophical circles at Baghdad during the ninth century. The contents comprise extracts from books 4-6 of the Enneads, with some additions. Some Muslim philosophers doubted the authenticity of the Theology. Plotinus was almost unknown to the Muslims by his own name, though the Arabic rendition of his identity as Flutinus does occur very rarely in sources like al-Nadim's Fihrist. Plotinus was also known to Muslims as al-Shaikh al-Yunani, the "Greek sage." There were other fragments of Plotinus circulating in Arabic.
The Theology is "often a free paraphrase" of the Plotinian materials, and containing "frequent interpolations, with passages appearing in the midst of the text with no direct basis in the Greek.... the Arabic Plotinus is an interpretation or reworking of Plotinus, and not just a translation" (Peter Adamson, "The Theology of Aristotle," Stanford Encyclopaedia). This version appears to have been produced in the circle of al-Kindi (d.c.866), who supervised the Syrian Christian translator Ibn Na'ima al-Himsi, who has been identified as the redactor, and who may have used an intermediary Syriac version. A modern deduction has been that the Kindi circle did not believe the contents were by Aristotle, but as being compatible with the latter. The reworked Theology exhibits "Aristotelianising tendencies."
Plotinian affinities are signified by the ishraqi attribution to Plato of a key quotation from Plotinus on the unitive experience, and utilised by Suhrawardi in his major work. (56) The ishraqi philosopher knew that Aristotle was not the author of this passage in the Theology, which differs markedly from anything found in the authentic Aristotle corpus. A few lines above the key passage, the Theology (or Uthulujiya) refers to "those who will accept nothing except by syllogism and demonstration," evidently meaning the Peripatetics, as Suhrawardi will have known. One recent interpretation has described the passage in terms of a commentary on Plato's words concerning "the soul's descent into the body," (WLA, pp. 134-5) though Plotinus can be regarded as an independent witness to such abstruse matters.
In general, Suhrawardi apparently believed that the Theology "represented the most mature period of Aristotle's thought," (WLA, p. 137) and including citations of ancients like Plato. He cites the "Plato" passage "at least three times in his published works," (WLA, p. 136) which is testimony to the significance he gave it. The same passage is paraphrased in his Intimations, and immediately afterwards, he says that "the First Teacher (Aristotle) spoke from his own experience of these mighty lights" (ibid.). This can be amended to mean that Plotinus spoke from his own experience of the complexities alluded to.
Suhrawardi regarded Aristotle as a master of discursive philosophy, and tended to distinguish strongly between Aristotle and his followers, namely the Peripatetics, whom he criticised. His main target was Ibn Sina. See section 3 above.
12. Format of Hikmat al-Ishraq
Many pages of logical discussion precede the metaphysical (or second) part of Hikmat al-Ishraq (Philosophy of Illumination), though substantially diverging from the Peripatetic syllogistic format. Suhrawardi formulated a new theory of definition, a subject which he had already analysed at length in Paths and Havens, indeed contributing in the latter book "the longest single chapter devoted to an analysis of definition" in all the works on logic created by Islamic philosophy up to that time. (ZKI, p. 104) Readers were evidently expected to be familiar with the earlier work. Suhrawardi's version "is more Platonic than any theory before him in the history of philosophy in Islam," and yet his objections to the Ibn Sinan model are "made within a Peripatetic conceptual and methodological framework." (ZKI, p. 123)
Definition is only one of the components in the first part of Hikmat al-Ishraq. The author is concerned to dispense various "rules of thought," and in the context of emphasising that "the treatment of logic should be short and beneficial to philosophy." (ZKI, p. 49) In this perspective, the Peripatetics are criticised for being too long-winded. "He even includes brief discussions on dialectics, rhetoric, and poetics whose premises he considers non-scientific." (Marcotte, Suhrawardi 2.1)
The first part ends with "a highly argumentative section where Suhrawardi takes issue with the Peripatetics on major problems of physics and metaphysics." (ZKI, p. 73) The polemical aspect of coverage is distinctive, in that the intuition-based illuminationist outlook is here emerging. Further, the Hikmat al-Ishraq exhibits a "terse philosophical style," and the author himself "characterises his style as metaphorical (marmuza, a term which means mysterious or secretive)." (ZKI, p. 114 note 2) "His treatment of logic in this work is rather special and novel." (ZKI, p. 48) Suhrawardi here basically used logic as a tool of intuition, or, in the words of Ziai, "logic is considered [by Suhrawardi] as a separate tool subordinate to philosophy." (ZKI, p. 74) Above all, the intended readership is a relevant factor:
"He [Suhrawardi] indicates that it [Hikmat al-Ishraq] is an esoteric book, written for his disciples and not really intended for others. It was based in part on intuition or mystical insight; its full comprehension was reserved for those who have achieved a certain level of spiritual comprehension." (SML, p. 28)
The second part of this unusual text comprises chapters "dealing with light, ontology, angelology, physics, psychology, and, finally, eschatology and spiritual union." (NTP, p. 135) The "science of lights" is attended by the basic stipulation that light cannot be known discursively, only by an immediate cognition.
A three-layer format of pure lights is sketched. The first layer includes the primary emanation from God or the Light of Lights (Nur al-Anwar); one of the names used for this "first archangel" is Bahman (Vohu Manah), of Zoroastrian pedigree. However, Zoroastrian angelology does not categorically emerge in this schema until the second layer, when the derivative names of four other amesha spentas appear, e.g., Urdibihisht (Asha Vahishta). To these are added the name of the Islamic angel Gabriel, here linked with humanity. The angelology involved an argument for the existence of the Platonic Forms or Ideas, of which the Peripatetics were sceptical. Suhrawardi claims mystical insight as the final proof that these Platonic factors exist.
Suhrawardi was not satisfied with the cosmology of ten immaterial Intellects supplied by the Ibn Sinan model, and instead urged that there were many more intelligences or processes involved. His elaborate schema multiplied the "lights" existing in the structure and preservation of the universe, and comprising both vertical and horizontal orders. The vertical order paralleled and extended the Intellects of the Ibn Sinan cosmology, while the horizontal order encompassed the Zoroastrian angels or Platonic Forms, here considered identical. Through the operation of the latter, the diverse species and elements are maintained; this factor reflects the Zoroastrian inheritance. (57)
Suhrawardi's uniquely innovative fusion of Islamic Neoplatonism with Zoroastrian angelology has been dubbed "Zoroastrian Neoplatonism." Some commentators have deemed the rich mix of two systems to be an undue syncretism, while others think that the intention was so remarkable as to be considered praiseworthy.
According to Professor Majid Fakhry, via ishraqi philosophy, "Neoplatonism and Sufism are reconciled for the first time in the history of Islamic thought." Yet the conventional terminology of Sufism is lacking in the major Arabic works of Suhrawardi. Fakhry is basically concerned to chart the fate of Farabi's Islamic Neoplatonism. In Suhrawardi, "the emanationist scheme is accepted with some qualifications and the hierarchy of intellects is replaced by a hierarchy of lights, at the top of which stands the Light of Lights (Nur al-Anwar), corresponding to al-Farabi's First Principle (al-Awwal) and Ibn Sina's Necessary Being." (58)
13. Alam al-Mithal or Subtle World
A problem for assessment is the alam al-mithal, the "world of idea" or "world of image," a "fourth world" extending from intellect, soul, and body. The description as "subtle world" is also found in the literature. That obscure world is said to be independent of matter. Suhrawardi also used the symbolic term Hurqalya, which has been translated as "archetypal world," a topic elaborated in the works of Henry Corbin (d. 1978). That scholar innovated the description of mundus imaginalis, though his semi-Jungian exegesis is in dispute.
The alam al-mithal is diversely associated with occult phenomena, magic, jinn (spirits), the celestial spheres, the afterlife, and reincarnation. Subsequent ishraqi commentators attributed this teaching to the ancient philosophers, including Pythagoras and Plato. Yet according to Professor John Walbridge, this "is a philosophical doctrine that first emerges clearly in the writings of Suhrawardi himself." (WLA, p. 80)
The alam al-mithal relates to visionary and other experiences in the occult/mystical range. One may conclude that any attempt to induce mystical experiences, without undergoing the purification specified, would lead to chronic confusion and potentially severe setbacks rather than any enlightened knowledge. If there is truth in such an extending "subtle world," then many layers of crude "images" might be encountered before anything sublime.
The Safavid era Iranian commentator, Mulla Sadra Shirazi, described the alam al-mithal as "the world of the subtle bodies." (59) In this version, the same incorporeal realm "is a world in which we have subtle or imaginal bodies as we have a physical body in this world." (60) Henry Corbin was enthusiastic about this "imaginal world," emphasising the active (and creative) imagination, a prominent feature in his exegesis. This context also afforded scope for Corbin's controversial theme of the "metahistorical," in which visionary experiences have a priority over time and space, and history is purely secondary.
Although a distinction was made by Corbin between "imaginal" and "imaginary" perceptions, the terminology at issue is convergent with the Jungian vocabulary of "active imagination," which appears to have strongly influenced Corbin. Some readers have been led to think that medieval Iranian mysticism harboured a Jungian content, though the misunderstanding can be traced to Corbin's contact with Carl Gustav Jung (d.1961) at the Eranos Circle in Ascona. (61)
Even the more pragmatic Hossein Ziai refers to "the creative acts of the illuminated subject's imagination, and the light that illuminates the object seen is incorporeal light; it is the abstract light of illuminationist cosmology." (ZKI, p. 161) Ziai also commented that "the 'mechanism' which allows for the subject to be illuminated is a complicated one, and involves a certain activity on the part of the faculty of imagination" (ibid.). The Arabic word khayal ("imagination" or "imaginal thought") is frequently found in the texts, and indeed, alam al-khayal is a variant phrase. Though capable of a fluidic meaning, khayal seems quite insufficient for the significations involved, as indeed does the ambiguous word for idea (mithal).
One recent commentary refers to imagination in terms of mutakhayyilah, and qualifying that the function of this faculty goes further than apprehension, and "synthesises and analyses." A related faculty is described as fantasy (khiyal), and further described as "the place where sensus communis is stored." A location in the brain is mentioned, and sensus communis is here defined as "the center where all the information and data of the external world is collected." (ASI, p. 49) A retreat from this data storage is specified for perception of the imaginal world. "Seeing the [suspended] archetypes requires transcending all obstacles in order to go beyond what Suhrawardi symbolically refers to as the Qaf mountain." (ASI, p. 88)
A problem for Suhrawardi was that the faculty of imagination figured strongly in the Peripatetic tradition, from which he borrowed. Ibn Sina and other logicians, when charting internal faculties, referred to imagination, fantasy, recollection, estimation, and sensus communis (a term deriving from Aristotle and basically denoting the sensory field). A locus in the brain was specified, though Suhrawardi was keen to negotiate the physical dimensions of this package, insisting that extensions were relevant. Strangely enough, some of the references in Arabic can equate with basic brain rhythms of the type associated today with hemispheric brain function. The "imagination" was divided into synthetic/analytic and a form of passive/active operation (cf. my reference to Abdul Karim Jili, via R. A. Nicholson, in Psychology in Science, 1983, pp. 66, 199). Even if such a cerebral mechanism had been more tangible in the Peripatetic repertory, Suhrawardi would doubtless have regarded this as a cage for the soul.
According to the ishraqi sources, access to the "suspended images" (or archetypes) of the subtle world can be obtained "through visions during sleep or while awake, and by intuitions." (HIP, p. 1152) The "imaginal world" is associated with both Suhrawardi and the Arab Sufi Muhyi al-Din ibn al-Arabi (d. 1240). (62) The ishraqi mystical perception was not actually regarded as an imagination, but as the direct cognition of a greater reality than the physical.
Ibn al-Arabi adopted the prudent recourse of grounding his exposition in metaphorical Quranic imagery. Suhrawardi was more daring in his allusions (for example, the Zoroastrian symbolism), and exhibits a much stronger logical tendency than Arabi. Yet Suhrawardi did not supply any systematic description of the "subtle world." Subsequent Iranian philosophers contributed further versions of this subject. According to Mulla Sadra, the subtle world "has even more reality than the physical world." (HIP, p. 652) The Iranian philosophers were not discussing anything they believed to be imaginary.
From a scientific point of view, much scope for improvement exists in relation to explanations of the "subtle world," if more credence is to be awarded that complexity. Otherwise, the level of ambiguity and poor definition risks being mistaken for fantasy. However, Suhrawardi clearly distinguished between the forms of the "subtle world" and the Platonic Forms (or fixed archetypes). The latter he defined in terms of pure light, while the subtle images he described as comprising both beautiful and repulsive experiences. (CSB, pp. 129-30) The lesser phenomena of the alam al-mithal are clearly not something to be desired.
Some clarification to the subject is afforded by Dr. Roxanne D. Marcotte in a useful specialist article entitled Suhrawardi's Realm of the Imaginal (online PDF). In his Hikmat al-Ishraq, Suhrawardi opposed the Peripatetic formulation of three worlds (body, soul, and intellect), and asserted: "I myself have had trustworthy experiences indicating that there are four worlds" (Marcotte trans.). This kind of proof would not pass muster today, but his overall argument is significant by the standards of his time, and perhaps even in a more durable context.
Corbin was enthusiastic about this theme, and commented "it seems that Suhrawardi has been the first to systematically establish" the fourth world. Other commentators deny that the subject got quite that far in his exposition. The ishraqi "did not, however, systematically develop the concept of the imaginal world, something his followers sought to address" (Marcotte, Suhrawardi's Realm). Corbin located on paper the jism mithali, which he described in terms of "the subtle body is an imaginal body." One could easily conclude that the best description for mnemonic reference is in terms of subtle body, to avoid other complicating associations.
Suhrawardi appears to introduce the fourth world "in part, to account for the the posthumous retribution promised to souls by the religious tradition" (Marcotte, Realm). In this respect, he "envisions human souls being able to attach themselves to a subtle body that would guarantee the proper posthumous functioning of their imaginative faculty" (ibid.). Ibn Sina had formerly alluded to the possibility for some souls to witness imaginative forms in the afterlife. Again, the ishraqi was endeavouring to refine the Peripatetic description. He was "attempting to identify a specific realm - one or even two spheres" (ibid.). In other words, there is no use imagining only a fourth world, as there might even be a fifth.
The fourth world "lies somewhere between the physical world and the world of the species and of Platonic Forms" (ibid.). Hence the status as an intermediary world. It is relevant to grasp that "numberless angels" are included in this cosmic conception, and that "the sanctified godly sages may rise higher than the world of the angels" (ibid.). There are evidently several worlds and levels of accomplishment under discussion here.
The correct translation of suwar mu'allaqah appears to be "suspended forms," as in the Marcotte version. One should detour the images and archetypes that have made this subject so confusing. The full rendering from the same scholarly source is "luminous and tenebrous imaginal or suspended forms." As might be hoped, there are complexities in the afterlife that go much beyond standard religious expectations. In general, the afterlife is depicted by Suhrawardi as varying between happiness and misery, depending upon whether the soul is identified with the light or the darkness involved. The eschatological layer of meaning is not exhaustive.
The suspended forms are distinct from "the world of incorporeal figures" (alam al-ashbah al-mujarradah), also mentioned in Hikmat al-Ishraq. This world contains the "mental forms or representations" (Marcotte, art. cit.), not to be confused with the Platonic Forms or Ideas, which are self-subsisting. Obviously, the complexities are now prodigious.
An ethical complexion attends the basic schema. "The more the soul has progressed in its detachment from everything bodily and material and has ascended to to the luminous (the intellective), the more it is able to receive those [luminous] forms.... Their reception equally depends on the extent of the soul's moral character" (Marcotte, art. cit.). Moreover, this moral factor assists the perception of "suprasensible realities," which is perhaps one reason why contemporary commercial mysticism is such a failure.
There is an ominous warning. A problem with the "suspended forms" is their unfixed and shifting nature that may result in an impingement upon the physical world. Suhrawardi says in his major work that "amongst these [forms] are a variety of djinns and demons" (Marcotte trans.). There is the qualifier that these unpleasant denizens of the subtle world are produced by the suspended forms and by souls. The meaning is not entirely clear, but a consequence is that these adverse spirits and demons can be "felt as corporeal entities with which one may struggle" (ibid.). If that is correct, then access to the subtle world may not be nearly so desirable as some enthusiasts imagine.
There is another problem that is generally ignored. Suhrawardi grants a high degree of importance to genuine visions achieved both during sleep and during the waking state. In these experiences, the suspended forms are said to be "self-subsisting images," and "acquire a certain type of independent existence" (ibid.). He also includes a theme of souls in the intermediary group and amongst ascetics who "perceive by means of their faculty of active imagination wondrous and pleasant images and forms with which they experience pleasure" (Intimations, Marcotte trans., in Suhrawardi's Realm). This is not "the real happiness experienced by those who are able to access the realm of pure intelligence" (art. cit.).
The half-way ascetics and subtle intermediates can therefore be implied as existing in a state of delusion by comparison with other occurrences. They could easily mistake their pleasures and transitory visions for a higher grade of experience. Wondrous visions and pleasurous imaginations are attended by an unfledged grade, and might produce complications. That is a citizen deduction made after many years of observing the contemporary new age of bogus spirituality, where "visions," presumed enlightenments, "transformations," sensations, therapeutic techniques, empowerments, and extravagant claims are commonplace.
14. Henry Corbin and Metahistory
The eastern branch of the ishraqi "leaven" has met with scepticism from some scholars. Henry Corbin (1903-78) was a notable exception, and an enthusiast in such comments as: "Suhrawardi's work connected the names of Plato and Zarathushtra in his metaphysic of Light, in which the Platonic Ideas are interpreted by means of the Zoroastrian angelology." (CSB, p. 110)
Henry Corbin was the first Western scholar to give sustained attention to Suhrawardi, effectively rescuing that figure from obscurity in the Western sector. His research on the subject commenced in the 1930s. After locating manuscripts at Istanbul, he produced much needed text editions (though some were partial, reflecting his own preferences for content), and also French publications that were influential. (63) At Tehran he published Les motifs zoroastriens dans la philosophie de Sohrawardi (1946), drawing attention to the unusual feature of a Zoroastrian angelology employed by the ishraqi philosopher.
Corbin gained a monolithic stature in Suhrawardi studies, and also covered many other figures in Iranian Islam. In his Histoire de la philosophie islamique (1964), he duly disproved the mistaken belief that Islamic philosophy ended with Ibn Rushd, and emphasised the continuation in Iran. He was the first scholar to resuscitate the so-called "School of Isfahan," which refers to a cluster of Safavid era exponents who are the focus of ongoing research.
In such respects, Corbin set an admirable example. However, some criticism of his exegesis may also be relevant. His multi-volume work En Islam iranien (1971-2) was early described by a critic in terms of metahistory. (64) Corbin himself explicitly favoured the "metahistorical" mode, here meaning the visionary dimension of occurrence. Continuing reservations are visible from within academic ranks.
"Since the paradigm for studying intellectual history proposed by Corbin and Nasr has controversial doctrines relating to hermeneutics, the nature of philosophy, the "essence" of Persia, and the nature of Shi'ism, it is not surprising that there has been a wide range of criticisms. The first and quite common criticism of the School of Isfahan paradigm for studying Islamic philosophy is the description of the philosophical tradition as theosophy." Sajjad H. Rizvi, "Isfahan School of Philosophy," Encyclopaedia Iranica.
With regard to Suhrawardi, Corbin has not escaped a non-enthusiast reception. The second volume of his magnum opus was entitled Sohrawardi et les Platoniciens de Perse, which exhibited the author's symbolist format, extolled by partisans and frowned upon by critics. Although Corbin was the major pioneer of Suhrawardi studies in the West, his exegesis has been subject to strong disagreement.
"There are several serious limitations in Corbin's interpretation of Suhrawardi. First, he was not much interested in the systematic philosophical aspects of Suhrawardi's thought. Thus, he devoted great attention to Suhrawardi's symbolism but neglected the systematic works, which he dismissed as 'Peripatetic'.... his translation of The Philosophy of Illumination omits the section on logic, though this is where the systematic critique of Avicennan Peripateticism is to be found. Second, his renderings of key terms are tendentious.... Such renderings enable him to discuss at length concepts like 'the orient of light' that are not present in the text. Third, Corbin... saw Suhrawardi primarily in the context of the Persian spiritual tradition - much more an heir of Zoroaster than of Plato or Aristotle. This he does by building a great deal on a few unrepresentative passages." (WLA, pp. 223-4)
Corbin repeatedly used descriptions like "theosophy" and "visionary geography" in his version of Iranian religion spanning the Zoroastrian and Islamic centuries. He was dismissive of the conventional historical approach. He also employed phraseology in his coverages that is reminiscent of C. G. Jung; the terminology of "active Imagination" (65) and "archetype-Images" has been regarded as a confusing distraction. Corbin gained the reputation amongst critics of being a romantic scholar rather than a scientific one. More generally, the trend of "active imagination" amongst academic promoters of gnosis has opted for some questionable theories. (66)
The concept of "active imagination" was developed by the psychotherapist Carl G. Jung from 1913, and refers to a technique including the use of imagination and/or fantasy. This method of Jungian therapy insisted that the personal "unconscious" must be translated into "images." Such methods have been controversial. Jung himself warned that active imagination could be dangerous, meaning that the patient/client could lose grip on reality. Activities in Jungian therapy have nothing to do with the output of Suhrawardi, and the disputed terminology should be avoided accordingly.
In a well known book, Professor Mircea Eliade contributed a brief assessment of Suhrawardi that was heavily influenced by Corbin's interpretation. This widely read account does not mention the word logic, and gives the impression that Suhrawardi was an imaginative visionary mystic, though with some philosophical reflection that is fleetingly mentioned. The creative imagination is glorified, and Eliade writes enthusiastically of "the consequence for the twentieth century Western world of the discovery of the unconscious and the dialectic of the imagination." (67) The consequences of Jungian imagination in the West are visible in numerous commercial "workshops" that have no connection with Suhrawardi.
Eliade managed to slip in the crucial detail that the "eastern theosophers," as he chooses to call them after Corbin, "reunite the method of the philosophers, searching for pure knowledge, with the method of the Sufis who pursue an interior purification." (Hist. of Religious Ideas Vol. 3, p, 143)) There is nothing actually wrong in that definition, which nevertheless suffers in the juxtaposition with imagination.
The title of Suhrawardi's book Hikmat al-ishraq is rendered by Eliade as Oriental Theosophy, again following Corbin. Other analysts prefer the translation Philosophy of Illumination or (more literally) Wisdom of Illumination. Eliade states that the theosophical title particularly defines Suhrawardi's "intention to reactualise ancient Iranian wisdom and Hermetic gnosis" (ibid., 141). Others think that this is narrowing down the context far too much; Greek philosophy and Sufi gnosis are more central to the book title.
Eliade relays that Suhrawardi's works arose from a personal experience of illumination. He reports that the subject had an ecstatic vision in which he saw a multitude of the "beings of light whom Hermes and Plato contemplated, and the heavenly radiation, sources of the Light of Glory and the Kingdom of Light which Zarathushtra proclaimed, toward which a spiritual rapture lifted the most faithful king, the blessed Kay Khosraw" (Hist. of Relig. Ideas, p. 142). This represents a passage from the Hikmat al-Ishraq as translated by Corbin; one suspects that many readers will be none the wiser after reading such passages without a detailed commentary. Corbin made much of the "Light of Glory" (khurra), a metaphorical theme which Suhrawardi employed to link the Zoroastrian amesha spentas or "archangels" with his version of Platonism.
In his bibliographical notes, Eliade appropriately observed that "it is difficult to specify to what degree Suhrawardi knew, from oral or written sources, the Mazdaean tradition" (ibid., p. 320). Certainly, Corbin industriously championed Suhrawardi's affinity with pre-Islamic Iran. Some other scholars have deemed that exegesis to be extreme. Professor John Walbridge has described his encounter with Suhrawardi's magnum opus Hikmat al-Ishraq:
"Most modern studies, however, I found to be almost exclusively concerned with mythical aspects. For my purposes, I found I had to work out from the beginning the logical and conceptual structure of the work [Hikmat al-Ishraq] in the light of the canons of scientific method as expounded in the Islamic tradition of [Peripatetic] logic. Having done this, I was rewarded by the discovery that the work has a clear and logical structure, that Suhrawardi had something very precise and reasonable in mind when he said that his book was based on mystical intuition, and that the principles of The Philosophy of Illumination have a clear and specific relation to other Islamic philosophy. " (SML, p. 163)
This discovery was seen to validate the interpretation of Suhrawardi held by later Iranian philosophers, who paid little attention to the symbolic aspects of Hikmat al-Ishraq, being very much more concerned with Suhrawardi's logic (and attributed doctrine of the primacy of quiddity). The perspective of those later philosophers, including Mulla Sadra, tended to associate Suhrawardi with "the general tradition of Avicenna." They were in the habit of citing only the first part of Hikmat al-Ishraq, which deals with Peripatetic logic, whereas Corbin "pays little attention to the hard philosophical content of Suhrawardi's thought." Very notably, even the thirteenth century commentary of Qutub al-Din Shirazi "is of little value" for Corbin's esoteric and symbolist exegesis, as Shirazi focused "upon conventional exoteric aspects" of Suhrawardi's major work. (SML, p. 30)
Further, and what is important to understand, although Suhrawardi in his major work "mentions his [mystical] experiences occasionally and appeals to the probative value of the concensus of the sages, he was recording the rational proofs he found after his mystical experiences, not those experiences themselves." (SML, p. 35)
Corbin should not be blamed for his focus upon the second part of Hikmat al-Ishraq, too often neglected in the past. The problem amounts rather to his method of approach, which assumed a close knowledge of significances. In one of Corbin's books, a fleeting reference to Suhrawardi is inset within a discussion of "visionary geography," exhibiting the lavish symbolist approach of this scholar.
"The essential connection in Sohravardi which leads from philosophical speculation to a metaphysics of ecstasy also establishes the connection between the angelology of this neo-Zoroastrian Platonism and the idea of the mundus imaginalis." (68)
The mundus imaginalis is associated with the alam al-mithal or "world of images" broached by Suhrawardi (section 13 above). According to Corbin, this is "a concrete spiritual world of archetype-Figures, apparitional Forms, Angels of species and of individuals; by philosophical dialectics its necessity is deduced and its plane situated; vision of it in actuality is vouchsafed to the visionary apperception of the active Imagination." (69)
During the 1970s, I was one of those readers who purchased The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, from which the above quotes come. I puzzled over the terminology, which, though supported by an obvious erudition, gave the impression of a rather unbalanced enthusiasm. Corbin's themes were interesting enough, but the phenomenology was too acute. There was no historical information about Sufis or Zoroastrians, and Greek philosophy was likewise a blank in this respect. I came to the conclusion that independent research was needed in order to confirm basic details about Iranian history and Sufism, not to mention the "essential connection" affirmed by Corbin.
Further investigation revealed the nature of the problem. Corbin assumed that the text expositor could take a direct stance in the "world of images" (alam al-mithal), which was awarded more importance in his exegesis than the relegated physical world. The indications are that this attitude was strongly assisted by his contact with C. G. Jung. The uncharted "subtle world" needs far more circumspection, to avoid the pitfalls and whirlpools. Suhrawardi introduced that subject, but he did not define or systematise it (section 13 above). The nature of that hypothetical world was not proved by Corbin, who relied on metaphorical allusions in texts. There are also other dimensions to this issue. Many years later, I wrote:
"The critics of Professor Corbin have bestowed upon his form of interpretation the description of metahistory (a term favoured by Corbin himself), implying that the historical context evaporates into a theosophical exegesis that is difficult to locate in time.... Corbin railed strongly against 'sociologism,' historicism, and scientism, disagreeing with contemporary scientific attitudes in a rather extreme manner. This discontent led him into a preoccupation with symbolism that frequently avoided due context." (70)
15. Ancient Persian Sages
The Corbin presentation has long been a source for discussion within Iranist circles. The concession was made by Professor Richard Frye (a prominent Iranist scholar) that the great amount of symbolism in the writing of Suhrawardi is striking, and that he might have borrowed some ideas as well as symbols from Zoroastrianism, especially in his angelology. Even though any continuity is difficult to prove, Frye deemed significant the fact that a twelfth century thinker should revive symbols of ancient Iran in the expression of a teaching that cost him his life in Aleppo. It is indeed fascinating, as the same scholar observed, to find an Islamic philosopher who traced the origins of his teaching in two lines of transmission back to Plato and Zarathushtra. (71)
A well known chapter in Corbin's History of Islamic Philosophy contains some of his basic themes in relation to Suhrawardi. The author here implies that Suhrawardi underestimated Ibn Sina's degree of "Oriental wisdom," here associated with transmission from the ancient Persian sages of ishraqi lore. (Suhrawardi asserted that Ibn Sina could not comprehend this factor, being ignorant of the underlying principle.) Perhaps more convincingly, Corbin observes that Suhrawardi's lengthy Paths and Havens included a treatment of logic, physics, and metaphysics, these being features of the Peripatetic programme, and such a philosophical training being necessary for the spiritual path.
However, Corbin emphasises that Suhrawardi, in his youth, gained a visionary experience that dissociated him from the Peripatetic curriculum. This experience related to beings of light; the relevant passage in Hikmat al-Ishraq expresses associations with Hermes, Plato, and Zarathushtra. Corbin dwells upon the Persian implications, and refers to khvarenah (a Zoroastrian term) as the effulgent majesty of the beings of light. (CHP, pp. 205ff.).
Corbin says that the physics of Suhrawardi was based on Mazdean (Zoroastrian) cosmology, but that his interpretation of menok (heavenly, subtle) and getik (earthly, dense) "is inspired by Manichaeism." (CHP, p. 213) An apparent contradiction is posed by a Suhrawardi text (from Words of Sufism) favoured by Corbin. That text refers to a community of men amongst the ancient Persians who walked on the right path, but who did not resemble the (Zoroastrian) magi. Suhrawardi says that he had revived this community's wisdom of light in his Hikmat al-Ishraq. This passage is generally taken to exclude Manichaeans also. References in Arabic to the magi (majus) have been said to denote the Zoroastrians as a whole, and not just the priestly contingent. (72)
The French scholar concedes that the dual stream of "leaven" (i.e., via Dhu'l Nun in Egypt and the ancient sages in Iran) is "a deliberately thematic view of 'history,' but it is all the more eloquent for being so." (CHP, p. 216) Corbin also realistically observes that Suhrawardi never belonged to a Sufi tariqa (school or congregation), but does affirm that his "initiative unites philosophy with Sufism." (CHP, p. 217)
So what happens to the question of ancient Persian affinities or influences? Suhrawardi "often appealed to ancient Zoroastrian motifs, terminology and mythical figures, even Mazdean theology, e.g., in his Invocations and Prayers" (Marcotte, Suhrawardi 1.3). Some of Corbin's critics give little or no credence to this matter. Corbin is described as having "imagined Suhrawardi to be the reviver of some form of ancient Persian philosophy, which, however, cannot be substantiated." (Ziai, "Suhrawardi," HIP, p. 433) The opposing rationale has been expressed in terms of:
"The fact that Suhrawardi mentions names of Persian kings and heroes, and makes reference to Persian mythological events, is indicative more of an intention to invoke the authority of ancient, well known Persian symbols, than to recover some lost systematic philosophy." (Ziai, HIP, p. 433)
Suhrawardi referred to symbolic language of the ancient philosophers, and does not appear to have been implying any "systematic philosophy." He was discernibly meaning the factor of intuition, not a systematic approach like that associated with Aristotle and Ibn Sina. The crux of the matter clearly lies in how the "symbolic" aspect of Suhrawardi is integrated into any comprehensive account. Corbin's version was extremist, generally neglecting the discursive aspect, though the case can be made in his favour that the traditional Islamic coverage did not adequately assimilate the second part of Hikmat al-Ishraq.
Sifting the comments of another academic critic of Corbin, one finds that Suhrawardi is described as an "Orientalising Neoplatonist." The insinuation is made that Corbin expressed a lop-sided assessment of Suhrawardi's project in terms of "the restoration of the wisdom of ancient Persia," a phrase derived from the ishraqi philosopher's minor work Words of Sufism (Kalimat al-Tasawwuf) abovementioned. (MES, p. 13) In the latter text, Suhrawardi states:
"There was a religious community in Persia guided by the truth and doing justice according to it. They were learned sages not resembling the Magians. We have revived their noble wisdom of light in the book entitled The Philosophy of Illumination." (MES, p. 60)
This passage, influential via Corbin, has been ascertained to mean that the approved Persian religious community refers to ancient Iranians who were not dualists, and associated with legendary Persian kings prior to Vishtaspa, the patron of Zarathushtra, who supposedly introduced magian dualism. The source is Suhrawardi's Tablets Dedicated to Imad (al-Alwah al-Imadiyyah), a minor philosophical work in the corpus. In contrast, the Magians were those who applied a literal meaning to the theme of light and darkness taught by the three Persian sages Jamaspa, Frashaostra, and Buzurjmihr. Suhrawardi thus believed that the ancient Persian sages and kings were monotheists, a format not so disturbing to Islamic doctrine.
Jamaspa and Frashaostra were companions of the prophet Zarathushtra, who was thus also a monotheist in this schema. Yet Buzurjmihr was a reputed vizier of the late Sassanian era, many centuries later, and would have been a dualist, like other Zoroastrians. There are two key references to Zoroastrianism in the Hikmat al-Ishraq, in one of which Suhrawardi briefly mentions the three Persian sages, and the other including brief mention of Zarathushtra. In the second reference, he alludes to a mystical experience in which he assimilated the divine lights known to Hermes and Plato, and likewise "the wellsprings of khurra and judgment of which Zaradusht [Zarathushtra] told and which the blessed and righteous king Kaykhusraw came upon of a sudden." (MES, p. 62)
The word khurra ultimately relates to the Avestan khvarenah, the divine light believed to descend upon kings. Corbin gave much attention to this theme, and in a rather excessive manner, though not always in a monarchist context. Ziai recovered two associated meanings of khurra as used by Suhrawardi, meaning the democratic bestowal of light and the monarchical category of kiyan khurra (section 2 above). The former has been obscured.
Suhrawardi also made reference in the "Zaradusht" passage to the Zoroastrian amesha-spentas or "angels" such as Urdibihisht (alias Asha Vahishta), here linked to the Platonic Forms, and serving to complement the latter. Further, two passages in Suhrawardi's Paths and Havens also connect the Platonic Forms with the ancient Persians. The interpretation of Professor John Walbridge deduces overall that:
"These passages do not invoke Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism, or the sages of ancient Persia as sources of the Illuminationist philosophy. They in fact support the view that Suhrawardi saw his role as reviving the heritage of Plato.... The ancient Persians - like the pre-Socratics, the Indians, and the Chinese - are invoked mainly as confirmation of his Platonic views.... There is no real evidence that Suhrawardi knew any Zoroastrian religious literature directly, and he seems not to have made extensive use of the indirect information available to him through such works as Shahrastani's heresiography.... This is not to say that Suhrawardi's use of Zoroastrian themes is without significance.... The association of the Platonic Forms with the Zoroastrian gods is clearly important to him and may even be historically legitimate; modern scholars have occasionally argued the relevance of Persian ideas in the origins of Greek philosophy." (MES, pp. 63-4)
The same "Zaradusht" passage abovementioned emphasises that the author was once a Peripatetic who denied extensions to the accepted doctrine. Yet his mystical experience changed that attitude, and he recommends the reader to "engage in mystical disciplines and service to those who see," in order to gain further proof in case of doubt, and to become "as one dazzled by the thunderbolt" when perceiving the "lights" known to the ancient sages. (MES, p. 62) The context of the passage surely amounts to a pronounced Neoplatonist departure from Peripatetic thought, facilitated by a Sufi experiential orientation, and also accomodating the ancient prophet Zarathushtra and Zoroastrian cosmology.
16. The Sipasiyan
To his credit, Henry Corbin was sympathetic to the derivative ishraqi grouping of Zoroastrians. This Safavid era grouping (the Sipasiyan, or Kaivani-ishraqi in one recent description) generally stand in the shadow of Mulla Sadra, or else are excised completely from the picture due to their non-Islamic identity.The Sipasiyan, or circle associated with Azar Kaivan (d. 1618), are noted for accomodating ishraqi philosophy to legendary sages of pre-Islamic Iran. The social and religious background of this grouping is rarely investigated, though a citizen attempt was made in the absence of academic interest, and at a tangent to the Corbin exegesis. (73)
Suhrawardi was perhaps one of the Muslims most sympathetic to the plight of oppressed Zoroastrians in Iran. The ulama were careful to maintain the underdog status of non-Muslims. The ishraqi esteem for Wuzurjmihr (Buzurjmihr) is often regarded as being based on anecdotal sources of doubtful historical accuracy. Yet the basic feature has a relevance. The Sassanian court allowed the infiltration of Greek philosophy and Indian wisdom. Both the Sassanian sage Wuzurjmihr and the physician Burzoy have been described as "people who went in search of wisdom, with the idea that wisdom is universal." (74) It is very difficult to ascertain the extent of this quest. Wuzurjmihr reputedly brought from India the game of chess, while Burzoy is associated with the Pahlavi version of the Indian book Panchatantra (known in Arabic as Kalilah wa Dimnah). The Zoroastrian ishraqis, alias Sipasiyan, likewise had a concept of retrieving wisdom from ancient cultures, not just their own.
Suhrawardi made a mistake in attaching himself to a court milieu, which proved fatal to him. The Sipasiyan of the Safavid era seem to have avoided such problems, living longer, though paying the price of relative obscurity in their emigration to Mughal India, in flight from the oppressive conditions imposed on Zoroastrians by the Shi'ite ulama and the monarchy.
According to Corbin, advisers of the Mughal emperor Akbar were steeped in ishraqi teachings, a factor seen as significant in an era when a translation effort from Sanskrit to Persian was commenced. Hindu religious classics thus became known to liberal Muslims. Further, a group of Zoroastrians (the Sipasiyan) from Shiraz and the surrounding area emigrated from Iran to India. These travellers included the learned Farzaneh Behram-i Farshad, who favoured works of Suhrawardi and who translated some of these into Persian. "In this way, in the 'climate' created by Akbar, the Zoroastrians found themselves represented in al-Suhrawardi, 'the resurrector of the wisdom of ancient Persia.' " (CHP, p. 220)
17. Radical Teachings
There has been some argument as to whether Suhrawardi secretly believed in the concept of substantial union between the human and divine. In one of his symbolic treatises composed in Persian, he said that gnostic statements of identity with the divine (e.g., "I am the Real") must be excused, though he was "careful to state explicitly that never, even in ecstatic proximity, does substantial union occur between mortal and divine." Nevertheless, his guardedness on this point did not save him from the wrath of the ulama. The implication has been made that, like Hallaj before him, Suhrawardi "represented a dangerous espousal of immediate cognition of God." (75)
This interpretation has been disputed. The contrasting version argues that what really alarmed the ulama was not Suhrawardi's perspective on God, but rather his alleged denial of the finality of Islamic revelation. A Syrian chronicle, written only five years after his death, relates that he was accused of kufr (infidelity) because he denied, when questioned, that it was impossible for God to create a further prophet after Muhammad. Furthermore, the ulama were able to make a case against Suhrawardi because he referred to his own ruh (soul) as "the one assisted by the angelic realm." According to Professor Hermann Landolt, there is no reason to assume that Suhrawardi claimed prophethood, but he may have been suspected of a crypto-Ismailism, especially as the Ismailis had adopted the same philosophical tradition associated with Neoplatonism, and most notably the doctrine of "Ten Intellects" favoured by Hamid al-Din Kirmani. (76)
The "introduction" to Hikmat al-Ishraq has a famous passage which states that the ideal (spiritual) leader is the one who has penetrated deeply into both ta'alluh (the divine or gnosis) and rational learning (bahth). In the absence of such a man, then the select role goes to one proficient in gnosis but who lacks rationalism. Yet leadership would never be given to the rationalist philosopher who had not become expert in gnosis. This factor of "leadership" is stated to be always in existence. Suhrawardi added:
"I do not mean political domination. On the contrary, it may happen that the one who is imam (leader) through gnosis is openly in authority, but it may happen that he is hidden, in which case he is the one whom the 'generality' (al-kaffah, i. e., the Sufis) call the 'Pole' (qutub). The leadership is his, even if he is in extreme obscurity. But if public administration is in his hand, then the time is luminous. If the time is devoid of divine management, then the powers of darkness take over." (77)
These themes appear to comprise a mixture of ishraqi and Sufi beliefs. Ismailism is not a component of ishraqi teaching. However, there are said to be "many analogies of thought and similarities of vocabulary" between Suhrawardi and major Ismaili exponents like Aqu Yaqub Sijistani (executed after 971), Hamid al-Din Kirmani (died after 1021), and Nasir-i Khusraw (died 1060). (78)
This rather ambiguous affinity with aspects of Ismaili thought is symptomatic also of Suhrawardi's association with Sufism. At the beginning of his Tale of Occidental Exile, Suhrawardi asserts that he found Ibn Sina's profound allusions devoid of the "greatest stage" associated with Sufi teaching. (79) Yet his own philosophy stands in marked contrast "not only to the radical tauhid of classical mainline Sufism, but also to the typical anti-philosophic stance of established Sunni Sufism." (80) His namesake and contemporary Shihab al-Din Abu Hafs Umar Suhrawardi (81) was a court theologian to an Abbasid Caliph, and shared Ghazzali's penchant for stigmatising Greek philosophy. Even the comparatively expansive Sufis of the tradition associated with Ibn al-Arabi had a habit of distinguishing themselves from the falasifa, the philosophers.
Unlike the harassed Ain al-Quzat Hamadani, a Sufi who was executed for heresy in 1131, (82) Suhrawardi did not "apologise" for his philosophy by claiming that it was in agreement with the doctrine of Abu Hamid Ghazzali, who became such a reputable landmark of orthodox Sufism. Landolt construes that Suhrawardi was being deliberately provocative in attributing two typically ishraqi sayings to Abu Ali Farmadhi, the Sufi teacher of Ghazzali, while ignoring the famous "destroyer of philosophy" altogether.
"Suhrawardi was also a sharp critic of the Muslim Peripatetic approach, but unlike Ghazzali, he never intended to destroy philosophy and replace it by religion." (83) Instead he promoted the wisdom of ancient sages, and can be located in the Neoplatonist tradition, with additional implications of an "Aristotelian Sufi" orientation. Although Corbin suggested that Suhrawardi had something in common with Najm al-Din Kubra (d. 1221), this seems to apply only to the factor of ascetic discipline. Kubra was an Iranian Sufi of Khwarezm; he was not a philosopher, and inspired a dervish organisation in his name. (84)
Suhrawardi's theme of "knowledge by presence" (ilm huduri) has been assessed in terms of a unique reinterpretation of the Platonic Forms. According to one analysis, his philosophy is based on "the essentially Platonic and Gnostic view that the human soul... can never or should never be substantially affected by the world of dead or dark matter below," (85) the purpose being to return to the realm of pure Lights.
18. Reincarnation (Tanasukh)
Suhrawardi's usage of the phrase al-adwar wa'l-akwar (minor and major cosmic cycles), combined with his "flirtation with tanasukh (reincarnation) and his refutation of it," has been interpreted in the sense of placing him "intellectually on the same ground as the classical Ismaili dais." (86) This matter has intricacies. The Ismailis consistently refuted tanasukh, as did most other Islamic thinkers. Yet Biruni and Nasir-i Khusraw record that Abu Yaqub Sijistani had pro-tanasukh tendencies. Furthermore, the theme of cosmic cycles was one of the most important elements of transmigrationist doctrines ascribed by heresiographers to the Shi'ite radicals of the early Islamic era.
Similarities have been claimed between Suhrawardi and the Iranian Ismaili Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani. This tenth century radical applied Neoplatonic ideas and language to his promotion of religious doctrine, though his format was later pruned by the Ismaili missionary Hamid al-Din Kirmani. Suhrawardi's angelology has been compared to Sijistani's theme of the Universal Soul (the "Second" in emanation after the Intellect), which combines in itself two contradictory processes - an upward trend of Light towards the Intellect, and a downward trend of Darkness towards matter. Sijistani's Universal Soul has been described as a variant of the Gnostic theme of Anthropos.
In relation to Sijistani, a specialist has remarked of Henry Corbin's approach that he "was far less interested in the philosophical base of this material than in its esoteric methods." The critical conclusion is that "Corbin was not entirely blind to the Neoplatonism, only personally indifferent" (87) in his preoccupation with tawil, meaning the allegorical interpretation that was in strong vogue amongst the Ismailis.
This factor is related to the problem discernible that Ismaili writers often attempted to utilise Greek philosophy for sectarian purposes. "Philosophy came into the Ismaili realm from a foreign source and, in dealing with it, al-Sijistani and his predecessors continued for the most part to regard it with xenophobic suspicion." (88) These considerations render any comparison with Suhrawardi as being of an indirect nature, his problem being largely one of countering xenophobia.
The universalist mode of reference favoured by Suhrawardi broke out of insular religious formats. His "curious aloofness from Islam" has been mentioned by Professor John Walbridge, who observes:
"He could debate the fuqaha [legists], seems to have been accepted as a religious scholar, was certainly a Sufi - yet in his philosophical and mystical writings Islam seems to play no real part. When he mentions Muhammad, it is with great respect, but he does not often do so. The heroes of Islam, apart from some Sufis, have no place in his pantheon.... Though he was in superficial ways a good and observant Muslim, in his intellectual life Suhrawardi remained distant from Islam in a way reminiscent of the Sabians and the late antique pagan philosophers." (MES, pp. 41-2)
The heresiographer Shahrastani (d. 1153) is a source for the Sabianism of Harran, and was perhaps closely read by Suhrawardi. "What specially links the Sabians to Suhrawardi is precisely their evocation of Hermes, Agathadaemon, and Plato. He, like the Sabians, believed that the truth had been revealed to Hermes and others in ancient times....he, too, believed in the Great Year and the resulting cycles." (MES, p. 41)
Suhrawardi refers to reincarnation (tanasukh). This intricate subject was encompassed by Shahrastani, who (in his Kitab al-Milal wa'l-Nihal), defined tanasukh in terms of cycles, and more specifically "infinite repetition of ages and cycles (tatakarrar al-akwar wa'l-adwar), with the repetition in each cycle of what happened in the one before; reward and punishment are in this world, not in another world." (trans. in MES, p. 77) This same theory of cycles is a strong component of Suhrawardi's cosmology, as "the cyclical motions of the planets are the device by which the interrelationships among the immaterial lights are converted into temporal events, generation, and corruption." (MES, p. 77)
In his Hikmat al-Ishraq, Suhrawardi discussed reincarnation in a manner attempting to negotiate Ibn Sina's rejection of that controversial theme. He "tried to have things both ways," (SML, p. 146) at once supporting and modifying the argument of Ibn Sina. As a spokesman for his tentative doctrine, Suhrawardi adroitly invoked the Oriental sage he names as Budhasaf (probably Buddha). Yet he gave the impression that it made no difference to his philosophy as to whether reincarnation is true or not, maintaining that the arguments for and against tanasukh were equally weak.
The explanation of his commentator Qutub al-Din Shirazi (d. 1311) was that Suhrawardi did believe in tanasukh but may have had doubts. (SML, p. 147) Qutub al-Din himself was later accused of being a believer in this unorthodox subject by Mulla Sadra, though a recent deduction is that he (Qutub al-Din) only advanced the probability of it. The version of reincarnation here under discussion conceived of the human soul as transferring to an animal body in order to expiate evil traits. This format is surely sufficient to cause doubts in anyone who might otherwise feel inclined to believe in a more progressive sequence.
An earlier version of tanasukh appears to have been obscured, as a consequence not merely of Muslim Peripatetic logic, but as a result of the general Islamic resistance to concepts associated with the Greeks. A potentially significant instance of ideological eclipse is supplied by data relating to the Ismaili radical Abu Yaqub Sijistani. Professor Corbin thought that Sijistani did not teach transmigration, but was apparently unaware of Biruni's early testimony to the contrary. The Muslim savant Abu Raihan al-Biruni (d. c. 1051) reported how Sijistani taught that transmigration occurs only within each species. This was in contrast to the belief associated with Plato and Pythagoras, who were said by John Philoponus (d. 570) to have taught that human souls could transmigrate into the bodies of animals.
Corbin interpreted references in Sijistani's Kashf al-Mahjub (Revealing the Concealed) to mean that tanasukh was being repudiated. To the contrary, it seems that Sijistani was repudiating transmigration from a human to an animal body. "In no way does he (Sijistani) deny the possibility of a return of the human soul to earth in a human body," remarks Professor Wilferd Madelung. This observation tallies with Biruni's version of the relevant text in the India (Tahqiq ma li'l Hind), where Sijistani is represented as teaching that tanasukh occurs in each species without reverting to another species (as distinct from the discrepant theme of humans reincarnating in animal bodies).
Madelung calls Sijistani an Ismaili gnostic, one who argued against the orthodox belief in a universal resurrection at the end of the world. The extant Kashf is incomplete and not in any original form, amounting to a Persian paraphrase, making the process of recovery difficult. Sijistani stressed the influence of a gnostic teacher for the required transformation. The cause of misfortune is learning from a misguided and deviant teacher, he emphasised. The objective was to find "an intelligent and ascetic gnostic" (89) who would direct to the right path. Yet a gnostic possessing the obscure knowledge might refuse to impart this to anyone not fully deserving.
Sijistani's alleged gnosticism occurred in the context of Ismaili doctrine, and he stressed the importance of good actions in accordance with religious law. The doctrinal aspect grew more rigid in his later works, in which he did not endorse tanasukh, apparently because official Fatimid Ismaili leaders disapproved of that theme. His employment of allusive language is a complicating factor. (90) The Ismaili missionary Nasir-i Khusraw reports that Sijistani held an unorthodox perspective on subjects like reincarnation, but was forced to change his views by his superiors (who demanded absolute obedience in their sectarian activity). The Kashf al-Mahjub appears to have been one of his early manuscripts, and scholarship has suggested that whoever reworked the Kashf "edited out the offensive material." (91)
Both Biruni and Nasir-i Khusraw report that Sijistani taught how the soul moves from body to body within the species. This was "a doctrine widely held by ancient Neoplatonists." However, in extant (or later) writings Sijistani "denied the idea of metempsychosis in fairly explicit terms." (92) The implications are that the official Fatimid da'wa (mission) refuted his early heretical belief in repeated births on earth prior to the advent of the Qaim or messiah, Lord of the Resurrection.
In view of comparisons made between Suhrawardi and Ismaili missionaries, it is relevant that the former was not constrained by obedience to a sectarian authority. Suhrawardi's allegiance to philosophy did not involve unquestioning submission. Instead he broke away from the formulations of Ibn Sina, and was clearly at odds with Farabi's Aristotelianism, which had assisted a tendency amongst the falasifa to marginalise Plato. (93) The epistemology of Abu Nasr al-Farabi (d. 950) was a "mixture of the Aristotelian and the Neoplatonic." (94)
Farabi rather carefully avoided references to (Neoplatonist) emanationism in his explanations of Aristotelian philosophy. He apparently recognised that the so-called Theology of Aristotle (really the Enneads) was not an authentic work, though a modern explanation is that he himself believed in Neoplatonist emanational metaphysics, merely being scrupulous in separating different systems in his description. Farabi employed emanationist teaching to fill the gap he "felt had been left by Aristotle's failure to complete his account of the part of metaphysics that comprises theology or divine science." (95) Suhrawardi took this stance several steps further in the direction of mystical experience and an attempt to provide a rational basis for the subject. "Suhrawardi goes so far as to say that he who has not tasted the joy of the illumination of the victorial lights has tasted no joy at all." (NTP, p. 143)
The commentary of Qutub al-Din Shirazi on the Hikmat al-Ishraq refers to "the sages of Greece, Egypt, Persia, Babylon, India, and China" as exponents of reincarnation, sages who "differed, however, about the direction of transfer" between bodies. (MES, p. 144)
In the Timaeus, Plato briefly referred to reincarnation in a context of the evildoer who "would continually be changed into some brute who resembled him in the evil nature which he had acquired, and would not cease from his toils and transformations until he helped the revolution of the same and the like within him." (96) Plotinus apparently accepted this version, though Porphyry expressed resistance to the literal human-animal transfer. We know that Iamblichus, Proclus, and Hierocles regarded this theme as symbolic, rejecting literal connotations.
In his Peripatetic works, Suhrawardi details the Ibn Sinan arguments against reincarnation, though in the climaxing Hikmat al-Ishraq, he attributes the doctrine of tanasukh to Buddha and the Oriental sages, here employing a format that has been described in terms of "complex exercises in semidissimulation." (MES, p. 80) A recent assessment of this ishraqi tactic informs:
"Suhrawardi declares in his Peripatetic works that reincarnation is impossible, as proven by particular arguments. In The Philosophy of Illumination he asserts that these arguments are not demonstrations and provides convincing responses to them. He then mentions 'that which is implied by the mystical experience of the philosophy of illumination,' affirming the escape of the souls of the blessed to the world of light and implying that the argument concerning reincarnation can be settled by mystical intuition. The most probable overall explanation of Suhrawardi's view on reincarnation is that he held something like the Platonic view.... we must assume Suhrawardi to have believed in reincarnation." (MES, pp. 82-3)
19. Suhrawardi and the Stoics
The ishraqi philosophy of Suhrawardi is associated with Aristotelian, Neoplatonist, and Sufi convergences. An ideological link with the Stoics is rather more tenuous. Yet the fact is that a prominent Safavid era theologian and philosopher identified Suhrawardi as a Stoic. Mulla Sadra Shirazi (d. 1640) was effectively a rival, and in describing Suhrawardi as a Stoic, he was better able to support the claim of his own teaching to be in affinity with Plato, who had gained such prestigious profile amongst Iranian philosophers.
Suhrawardi does not appear to have mentioned the word Stoic. The Muslim literati were familiar with that designation, but knew very little about the tradition signified, being dependent upon fragments found in Greek texts that were unfavourable to the Stoics (especially commentaries on Aristotle). The Stoic tradition died out in the third century CE, losing to rivals like Christianity with an easier doctrine to accept. "Stoic philosophy was addressed to an elite, promising success only to that minority of men who could perfect their reason by their own continued efforts." (97)
The hypothesis of Professor John Walbridge is relevant. The sources upon which Mulla Sadra relied had led him to believe that two significant schools had existed amongst the followers of Plato, namely the Peripatetics and Stoics. Sadra also accepted the claim of Suhrawardi that the ishraqiyun (illuminationists) were an ancient school associated with Plato. It was possible for Sadra to conclude that the illuminationists must have been the Stoics. As for Suhrawardi himself, he was probably familiar with the account of Stoic doctrine mediated by Shahrastani's Book of Religions and Sects (Kitab al-Milal wa'l-Nihal). He could easily have bracketed the Stoics with the ancients whom he revered, e.g., Plato, Pythagoras, Empedocles. Suhrawardi may even have considered himself to be a Stoic, in the sense of philosophers who relied on both intuition and reason.
The main point is that this theory could explain why Mulla Sadra resorted to his stigma employing the Stoic label. Sadra disagreed with the ontology of Suhrawardi, and he was anxious to find proof that ishraq did not represent Plato in all respects. Thus, Suhrawardi could be construed as a Stoic, not as a Platonist, and the old derogatory usage of the word Stoic could be revived.
In this argument, and in modern parlance, Suhrawardi is an "essentialist," while Sadra is a "mystical existentialist," the latter promoting the doctrine of an underlying unity to all existence (in contrast to Suhrawardi's quiddity, here meaning an "individual existent" or "intuition of the concrete particularity of things").
See further Walbridge, WLA, chapter eleven; SML, pp. 49ff.
20. Aftermath: Ishraqi Tradition
References to the ishraqi tradition forming in the wake of Suhrawardi do not connote any sectarian identity. There was nothing resembling the mystical lineage or silsila claimed by dervish orders (and which were frequently linked to the prophet Muhammad to gain orthodox religous approval).
"Starting in the 13th century historians, notably Shams al-Din Shahrazuri, elevate the novel Illuminationist system to the rank of an independent 'school' of philosophy, and often praise it as the only creative continuation of philosophical investigation in post-Avicennan periods" (Hossein Ziai, "Illuminationism," 2004, Encyclopaedia Iranica).
The works of Suhrawardi exercised a widespread influence in Iran and India, though the emphases were not uniform amongst commentators. In later centuries, ishraqi themes were often admixed with other systems. A major problem in referring to an "ishraqi tradition" (as some scholars do) is that of determining the nature of expertise. The deduction has been made that Suhrawardi must have had an oral "teaching that would have dealt more freely, without the constraints of the written word, with the symbolic language of the philosophy of illumination." (ZKI, p. 28) Suhrawardi frequently warns "to the effect that illuminationist philosophy cannot be discussed with everyone" (ibid.). It is therefore feasible enough that "an oral teaching of illuminationist philosophy, addressed to a group of companions, would have been the means to penetrate the symbol, unfolding its intended meaning." (ZKI, p. 28)
It does not follow that any of the commentators on ishraq possessed the same oral repertory as Suhrawardi. The first of the commentators, Shahrazuri, was writing two generations or more after the death of Suhrawardi. A minority repertory of this kind can become restricted to written materials. "Shahrazuri's investigation was purely a matter of searching libraries, not of joining a living tradition." (WLA, p. 211).
A minority repertory may change in componency, or become admixed with other repertories. The reduction of experiential content may be so marked as to render the sequel an exercise in commemoration rather than duplication. Bearing such factors in mind, one can nevertheless appreciate that "philosophers like Shahrazuri and Qutb al-Din Shirazi were thoroughly trained in the Avicennan [Ibn Sinan] tradition and ensured that Suhrawardi would be understood in terms of the larger Islamic philosophical tradition." (WLA, p. 214)
There were two main types of exegesis detectable in thirteenth century commentary on ishraq, and "in a way, both of these trends are valid interpretations and refinements on Suhrawardi's system in that both are present in the original illuminationist texts, although distinguished in terms of choice and emphasis." (Ziai, "Illuminationist Tradition," HIP, p. 473) These two trends were represented by Shahrazuri and Ibn Kammuna (d. 1284), the Jewish philosopher of Baghdad. (98)
21. Metahistory and Realism
Henry Corbin's metahistoire involved hermeneutics associated with the subject of tawil, i.e., finding esoteric meanings in scripture and other texts. Metahistory is not an adequate gauge to grasp differences between, for instance, theologians and gnostics, or between different kinds of gnostic, or between different types of philosopher.
Corbin's warning against "sociologism" is problematic. Nobody need believe that Comte would have understood the psychology of either Suhrawardi or Mulla Sadra, yet the fact that Corbin "repeatedly warned against the socialisation of the spiritual, and against the predominance of social consciousness over theology" (99) can irritate "the social historian, eager to demonstrate that metahistoire was not necessarily the theosophers' sole concern." (100)
The diachronic trend of dissent in Iranian religion, which goes back long before the time of Bistami and Hallaj, is blurred by theosophical metahistory. Corbin did not even emphasise the behavioural differences between the "Oriental philosophers" Ibn Sina and Suhrawardi, one of whom was susceptible to slave girls in courtly environments.
Mulla Sadra conformed to Shia theology "by denying validity to the function of the Sufi shaikh" and by "rejecting Sufi practices as excessive and contrary to reason and faith." (101) Circumstances had changed dramatically in Iran since the time of Suhrawardi, who might not have been in agreement, and who might even have been on the opposing side. Some of the practices involved in Sufism do seem excessive to current analysts, though the official tactic of Shia theologians in suppressing rivals was ruthless.
Corbin's metahistory was accompanied by semi-Jungian emphases in "active imagination." There is now an academic fad, inspired by Jung, for combining "hypnagogic states with visualisation techniques in order to induce waking imaginations." (102) Citizens should prefer the exercise of disciplined historical reflection in surveying the details of Sassanian and earlier Iranian sociocultures. That, at least, was my amateur recourse in Minds and Sociocultures Vol. 1: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions, 1995.
Moreover, the hard crunch involved in a realistic version of "perennial philosophy" can amount to confrontations and disparities between exponents of different abilities and psychological traits. The idea of "theosophical" symbolism being perpetuated over centuries is sentimental by comparison. For instance, Mani believed that he was the apostle of a perennially adapting process of revelation, while his priestly opponent Kirder considered himself to be a bastion of perennial truth in the cosmic struggle between light and darkness. These two entities of the Sassanian era were not mutually integrating, and one party lost in the brutal suppression that followed.
Later entities of the Islamic era adapted Suhrawardi's ishraqi philosophy to theological formats. A major figure in this respect was Mulla Sadra Shirazi (d. 1640), of whom it has been said: "Unable to espouse openly some theologically controversial ideas without risking excommunication, he reverted to the practice of taqiyya and to a rather abusive use of esoteric writing destined for a very select private audience." (103)
Taqiyya (precautionary dissembling) was an art practised in Shia circles to offset hostile attention. The objective was to conceal personal views from public and official scrutiny. However, this resort has been identified with an undesirable attitude on the part of the "theosophers" or theologians of the Safavid era, who are extolled in some of Henry Corbin's books. "Towards the masses, they displayed an attitude of open scorn, demanding surrender and obedience." (104)
The elitist (and Platonist) conception of knowledge can become a problem, especially when romanticised by metahistory. Whatever some later "theosophers" accomplished in their status roles as theologians, Suhrawardi belongs to a different context. "He is a Sufi, an Islamic mystic, part of a tradition with a long history of anti-intellectualism and untutored saints." (WLA, p. 175) Although Suhrawardi did intend his major work Hikmat al-Ishraq for prepared students, and not any general readership, he stated in the introduction to that work:
"In every seeking soul there is a portion, be it little or great, of the light of God, and every endeavouring person has intuition, be it perfect or imperfect. Knowledge does not rest only among a particular group of people, so that the doors of Heaven be shut behind them and the rest of the world be denied the possibility of obtaining more." (ZKI, p. 173)
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
ASI Amin Razavi, Mehdi, Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination (Curzon Press, Curzon Sufi Series, 1997)
CHP Corbin, Henry, History of Islamic Philosophy, trans. L. Sherrard (Kegan Paul International, 1993)
CSB Corbin, Henry, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi'ite Iran, trans. N. Pearson, (Bollingen Series 91, Princeton University Press, 1977)
HIP Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman, eds., History of Islamic Philosophy, Parts 1 and 2 (Routledge, 1996)
MES Walbridge, John, The Wisdom of the Mystic East: Suhrawardi and Platonic Orientalism (SUNY series in Islam, State University of New York Press, 2001)
NTP Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia (Curzon Press, 1996)
PEP Hairi Yazdi, Mehdi, The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy: Knowledge by Presence (State University of New York Press, 1992)
SML Walbridge, John, The Science of Mystic Lights: Qutb al-Din Shirazi and the Illuminationist Tradition in Islamic Philosophy (Harvard Middle Eastern Monographs XXVI, Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 1992)
WLA Walbridge, John, The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks (SUNY series in Islam, State University of New York Press, 2000)
ZKI Ziai, Hossein, Knowledge and Illumination: A Study of Suhrawardi's Hikmat al-Ishraq (Brown Judaic Studies 97, Scholars Press, 1990)
(1) W. M. Thackston, Jr., trans., The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi (London: Octagon Press, 1982), p. 1. The account comes from Shahrazuri's Nuzhat al-arwah.
(2) Ibid. See also Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "Introduction to the mystical tradition" (367-73) in HIP, p. 369, who describes Suhrawardi as "a Sufi in his youth who also mastered the philosophy of Ibn Sina."
(3) Thackston, op. cit., p. 2. The same translation also describes Suhrawardi as being "like a wandering dervish in attribute." There is an element of hagiology in the attribution of performing miracles, though the account is basically credible. There is a note of realism in the statement of Suhrawardi's teacher al-Mardini: "I have not found his equal, yet I fear that his excessive audacity and recklessness may prove his undoing" (ibid., p. 3).
(4) Nasr, NTP, p. 126, who adds that "his short and tragic life contains many similarities to the life of Hallaj, whom he quoted so often."
(5) Hossein Ziai, "Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi: founder of the Illuminationist school" (434-64) in HIP, pp. 435, 459 note 12, and who says that "in extended private sessions, the young philosopher reportedly informed the prince of his new philosophy; no doubt Suhrawardi's rapid rise to privileged position met with the usual medieval courtly jealousy and intrigue." Court viziers are also implied in the opposition.
(6) The date of 1154 is sometimes favoured for his birth, on the basis that he was 38 years of age when he died. According to Nasr, Suhrawardi was born in 1153 at the village of Suhraward, near the present city of Zanjan (NTP, p. 125). According to Shahrazuri, "his age, according to some reports, was 38, although 50 is also mentioned" (Thackston trans., p. 3). According to Ziai, Suhrawardi "lived only thirty-eight lunar (thirty-six solar) years," and 1154 is here the date of birth stated (HIP, p. 434).
(7) Ziai, art. cit. in HIP, p. 459 note 14, and citing a contribution of S. H. Nasr. Ziai also cites another source (relaying al-Imad al-Isfahani) which emphasises that the jurists of Aleppo had engaged Suhrawardi in a debate concerning prophethood and the powers of God. "During the debate Suhrawardi's position, that God can create anything He wants at any time, was considered blasphemous which is why they sought his execution" (ibid.).
(8) For a translation of Suhrawardi's major work Hikmat al-Ishraq, see John Walbridge and Hossein Ziai, ed. and trans., The Philosophy of Illumination (Islamic Philosophy Translation Series, Brigham Young University Press, 1999). Cf. Henry Corbin, trans., Le Livre de la Sagesse Orientale: Kitab Hikmat al-Ishraq (Paris, 1986). For a German version, see Nicolai Sinai, trans., Al-Suhrawardi: Philosophie der Erleuchtung - Hikmat al-ishraq (Berlin, 2011). For the "minor" philosophical work in Persian, see H. Ziai, ed. and trans., The Book of Radiance (Partu-Nama) - A Parallel English-Persian Text (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda, 1998).
(9) Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines (Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 272-4; Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 352-4.
(10) See further Hossein Ziai, "The Source and Nature of Authority: A Study of al-Suhrawardi's Illuminationist Political Doctrine" (304-44) in Charles E. Butterworth, ed., The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Muhsin S. Mahdi (Harvard University Press, 1992). The information supplied in this article by Ziai is often neglected, and though I do not agree with all aspects of the underlying theory, I have accordingly devoted a separate section to the contents.
(11) Lapidus, op. cit., p. 92. See also Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (tenth edn, Macmillan 1970), p. 402, stating that the name of this movement was derived from a verse (49:13) of the Quran, "the purport of which was to inculcate the brotherhood and equality of all Muslims."
(12) See also NTP, p. 148 note 14, for some comments on the issue of Suhrawardi's anti-Islamic leanings, and observing that Henry Corbin "insists on the role of Shaykh al-Ishraq [Suhrawardi] in reviving the philosophy of Zoroastrian Persia and on his sympathy for Zoroastrian and Manichaean ideas, although he does not consider this revival to be a movement against Islam but rather an integration of ancient Persian myths in 'the prism of Islamic spirituality.' "
(13) The present writer made an objection to Corbin's use of the term "theosophy" before Professor Ziai's commentary appeared in the Brown Judaic Studies series. See Shepherd, The Resurrection of Philosophy (Cambridge 1989), p. 191, which also urged that "Corbin's eschewing of specifically Aristotelian elements is wide of the mark" (ibid., p. 190).
(14) Hossein Ziai, "Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi," HIP, p. 440. The treatise Paths and Havens (al-Mashari wa'l Mutarahat) is the runner-up in fame to the Hikmat al-Ishraq, but a much longer work. Ziai informs that the published text in Corbin's Opera metaphysica et mystica Vol. 1 "comprises less than one-third of the total and yet is considerably larger than the whole of the Philosophy of Illumination." (ZKI, p. 24 note 2) According to the same scholar, "while the Philosophy of Illumination may be designated a more poetic statement concerning the unitive experience of illumination, the Paths and Havens is a well-structured philosophical analysis of it." (ZKI, p. 24)
(15) Ziai, HIP, pp. 439-40, and who says that the term ishraqi is not to be confused with mashriqi, the former being a technical epistemological term, and the latter conveying a more general sense of "East." Nevertheless, the term mashriqi did mean something definite to Suhrawardi, who "emphatically rejects the alleged position of Ibn Sina as a so-called Oriental (mashriqi) philosopher" (art. cit., p. 439). The contested issue was that Ibn Sina claimed "plans for composing an Oriental philosophy more elevated in rank than his other strictly Peripatetic works" (ibid.). Cf. the discussion in Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines (revised ed, London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), pp. 185ff. See also NTP, pp. 129-30, where Nasr favours the view that Ibn Sina's Oriental wisdom was "illuminative as well as Oriental," and who emphasises "the great debt which Suhrawardi and ishraqi wisdom owe to Ibn Sina." This consideration appears to be mitigated by the factor: "Suhrawardi writes that Ibn Sina wanted to recapture Oriental philosophy but did not have access to the necessary sources" (ibid.). The same scholar here urges that parts of Hikmat al-Ishraq closely resemble the commentary of Ibn Sina on the Theology of Aristotle, and also that Suhrawardi follows "the sacred geography of the Orient of light and the Occident of darkness in the initiatory trilogy of Ibn Sina - Hayy ibn Yaqzan, Risalat al-tayr, and Salaman wa Absal" (ibid., p. 130). One may construe that in his later works, Ibn Sina was reaching towards a non-Peripatetic mystical perspective, but that he lacked the intuitive and purificatory experiences required.
(16) Hibat Allah Abu'l Barakat al-Baghdadi (d. 1152) was a Jew who converted to Islam, and who wrote extensively on Peripatetic philosophy in a critical spirit. The intention of Baghdadi "was not to reject Avicenna philosophy... but to improve the existing structure and rectify the perceived logical and metaphysical inconsistencies of the previous texts." (Ziai, "The Illuminationist Tradition," HIP, p. 467) Suhrawardi differed from Baghdadi in taking the more radical step into a separate illuminationist system. (ZKI, p. 20)
(17) Shams Inati, "Ibn Sina" (231-46) in HIP, p. 232, and commenting that even the work al-Shifa, exhibiting such a strong Aristotelian complexion, "is not purely Aristotelian, as it is usually considered."
(18) Seyyed Hossein Nasr, An Intro. to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, p. 191. See also Nasr, "Ibn Sina's Oriental Philosophy" (247-51) in HIP. Nasr here complains that the "Oriental" aspect of Ibn Sina has not been taken seriously by Western scholars outside Corbin's school. Concerning Ibn Sina's Oriental philosophy (al-hikmat al-mashriqiyyah), the teaching is said to be "inseparable from the [Sufi] gnosis which Ibn Sina defended so vigorously in the ninth chapter of his Isharat" (art. cit., p. 250). Far from being just part of an episode in Western philosophy (as Avicenna), in Iran Ibn Sina "continued to be read and studied avidly not only as a Peripatetic exponent of rational (bahthi) philosophy but also as a gnostic" (ibid.). Yet in one of his own treatises, Suhrawardi refers to Ibn Sina's Hayy ibn Yaqzan as an achievement "without reaching the ultimate goal, implying that 'Oriental philosophy' was a prelude for Hikmat al-Ishraq" (ibid., p. 247). For an "Oriental" version of Ibn Sina's allegories, including Hayy ibn Yaqzan, see Henry Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, trans. W. R. Trask (Princeton University Press, 1960). Cf. Dmitri Gutas, "Avicenna's Eastern ('Oriental') Philosophy: Nature, Contents, Transmission," Arabic Sciences and Philosophy (2000) 10: 159-180, countering the "theosophy"angle of Corbin and maintaining that Ibn Sina's "Eastern" philosophy was not mystical, but merely an approach (existing in Khurasan) that was ideologically and geographically distinct from the philosophical tradition at Baghdad.
(19) See Lenn E. Goodman, Avicenna (London:Routledge, 1992), pp. 43-4, stating that Ibn Sina continued in his habit of frequent sexual intercourse during his fifties. The indulgence apparently hastened his death at the age of fifty-eight. Ibn Sina was unmarried and resorted to female slaves, who were common in his environment; he also resorted to wine, which was not always wisely used as refreshment by those partial to that commodity.
(20) Nasr, "Ibn Sina's Oriental Philosophy," HIP, p. 248.
(21) For a translation of the Persian allegories, see W. M. Thackston, Mystical and Visionary Treatises (1982); Thackston, ed. and trans., The Philosophical Allegories and Mystical Treatises: A Parallel Persian-English Text(Costa Mesa: Mazda, 1999); Henry Corbin, L'Archange Empourpré: quinze traités et recits mystiques (Paris: Fayard, 1976). See also NTP, pp. 154ff. Cf. WLA, pp. 103 ff. for a more critical tone.
(22) Mehdi Amin Razavi, "The Significance of Suhrawardi's Persian Sufi Writings in the Philosophy of Illumination" (259-83) in Leonard Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: From its Origins to Rumi (London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1993), p. 283. A further dimension to the subject is Amin Razavi, "How Ibn Sinian is Suhrawardi's Theory of Knowledge?" Philosophy East and West (2003) 53 (2): 203-214, arguing that the epistemology of Suhrawardi is essentially Ibn Sinan, and that even the theme of ilm-huduri was inspired by Ibn Sina.
(23) Ziai, "Suhrawardi," HIP, p. 44. See also ZKI, pp. 145-7, suggesting that the real Aristotle was signified by the vision, and not the Plotinian Aristotle of the Theology as some have implied. Cf. ASI, p. 10, affirming that "the Aristotle to whom Suhrawardi alludes is the Aristotle of the Theologia, who is actually Plotinus." Cf. Mehdi Hairi, "Suhrawardi's An Episode and a Trance" (177-89) in Parviz Morewedge, ed., Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism (New York: Caravan Books, 1981), informing how Suhrawardi makes clear that his account of the "vision" was not a complete presentation of what he experienced. His report states that he asked Aristotle if any Muslim philosopher could have been on a par with Plato. The answer came: "Not at all, not even with a thousandth of Plato's glorious rank." The questioner then mentioned Bistami, Sahl Tustari, and other Sufis. Aristotle then reacted very positively, describing these as "true philosophers and the people of wisdom," not having confined themselves to representational knowledge (ilm al-rasmi) or material interests, and having acquired direct knowledge. See also the translation in WLA, pp. 225ff.
(24) Cf. CSB, p. 126, referring to fifteen categories of light or photisms which "mark a half-way stage at which some stop." On the same page, Corbin translates: "Those among them who are still only moderately advanced stop at that point, but the perfected ones attach no importance to it." Suhrawardi here seems to be warning about occult powers associated with walking on water and flying through the air.
(25) Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "Introduction to the mystical tradition" (367-73), HIP, p. 368, who adds that "the presence of Sufism is to be seen mostly in the personal life of al-Farabi, which needless to say must have influenced his thought."
(26) Abu'l-Wafa al-Taftazani and Oliver Leaman, "Ibn Sabin" (346-9), HIP, p. 347. Cf. J. Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 35 note 5, who calls Ibn Sabin an "Aristotelian gnostic philosopher."
(27) Taftazani and Leaman, art. cit., p. 348. See also A. Taftazani, Ibn Sabin and his Philosophical Sufism (Beirut, 1973).
(28) Mehdi Amin Razavi, "The Significance of Suhrawardi's Persian Sufi Writings in the Philosophy of Illumination" (1993), p 267.
(29) Ibid., p. 268. According to Ziai, the allegories of Suhrawardi "portray philosophical issues, though usually simple ones intended for the novice; the tales are more significant in their use of language than in their philosophical content" (Ziai, "Suhrawardi," HIP, p. 436).
(30) Amin Razavi, art. cit., p 268. The author also says that both Mehdi Hairi Yazdi and Sayyid Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani regard Suhrawardi "as a philosopher who remains essentially within the Ibn Sinan domain despite his innovations and deviations from the Peripatetic view" (ASI, pp. xvii-xviii).
(31) Amin Razavi, art. cit., p. 268, and citing PEP. Cf. Ziai, "Mulla Sadra: his life and works" (635-42), HIP, p. 639, who writes that "the only scholar known to me who has analysed and written on various aspects of Islamic philosophy from a modern philosophical perspective using contemporary language and analytic approach is the distinguished Islamic philosopher Mehdi Hairi Yazdi." Hairi has been praised for not resorting to value-laden religious arguments.
(32) Amin Razavi, art. cit. p. 269. See also NTP, p. 149 note 35, informing that Suhrawardi enjoined his reader to "spend forty days in a retreat (khalwah) occupying himself only with invocation (dhikr) under the direction of the spiritual guide whom he calls in several places qaim bi'l-kitab."
(33) The works of Suhrawardi gained a new edition, with some controversial omissions, in H. Corbin, ed., Opera Metaphysica et Mystica Vol. 1 (Istanbul, 1945); Vol. 2 (Tehran and Paris, 1952). See also S. H. Nasr, ed., Opera Metaphysica et Mystica III (Tehran-Paris, 1970).
(34) D. Merkur, Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions (State University of New York Press, 1993), p. ix.
(35) Ziai, "Suhrawardi, " HIP, p. 443, who states that an influential trend "has led some historians to categorize thinkers such as Suhrawardi as 'esoteric' Sufis, which is a misleading designation to say the least." This view does justifiably complain at the influence of the "theosophy" tag applied to Suhrawardi by Corbin, and certainly the later ishraqi tradition need not be associated with Sufism. It is far easier to associate Suhrawardi with a philosophical or Neoplatonist Sufism than subsequent thinkers like Mulla Sadra, whose stance of the Shi'ite theologian was so strongly averse to popular Sufism.
(36) ZKI, p. 20 note 2. Ziai affirms "most scholars have failed to see that illuminationist methodology does not negate Peripatetic methodology."
(37) ZKI, p. 163. Ziai also states: "Suhrawardi's theory of illumination is a special form of the theory of emanation as developed by the Neoplatonists" (ibid., p. 162). The eternity of the world is here stated to be a corollary to Suhrawardi's view that emanation is eternal, although he never explicitly declared this unpopular doctrine (p. 162 note 2).
(38) Ian R. Netton, "The Neoplatonic Substrate of Suhrawardi's Philosophy of Illumination: Falsafa as Tasawwuf" (247-60) in Leonard Lewisohn, ed., The Legacy of Mediaeval Persian Sufism (London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1992), pp. 258-9, who concludes that "what makes Suhrawardi's thought unique, however, is the way in which he builds upon Plotinus' 'simple' threefold hierarchy and established a much larger emanating hierarchy of lights" (p. 259).
(39) Ibid., p. 255. Netton comments, on the passage he translates, that "the mystical Ishraqi element is clearly elevated above - though ideally linked to - the peripatetic products of contemporary academic research" (ibid.).
(40) Ibid., p. 254; Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Three Muslim Sages (Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 59.
(41) Oliver Leaman, "Ibn Miskawayh" (252-7), HIP, pp. 256-7.
(42) ZKI, p. 175. On Agathodaemon, see Brian P. Copenhaver, Hermetica (Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 164-5, 167. See also MES, pp. 43-4, observing that Hermes, Asclepius, and Agathodaemon are part of a standard cast of characters in Hermetic texts, and that both Suhrawardi and Shahrazuri refer to these figures. Hermes is "father of the philosophers" in ishraqi lore. "So in this simplest of senses, it is valid to call Suhrawardi a Hermetist" (ibid., p. 44).
(43) Copenhaver, Hermetica, p. xlviii, citing Ficino's Book on the Power and Wisdom of God, Whose Title is Pimander (1471) . Ficino's adventure in Hermetica is viewed by some as a distraction from his project of translating into Latin the Dialogues of Plato. In 1462, his wealthy patron Cosimo Medici introduced the diversion in the shape of a fourteenth century manuscript comprising fourteen Hermetic treatises, which Ficino translated. His Pimander became very popular, and "remained the most influential presentation of the Corpus Hermeticum until the nineteenth century" (ibid.).
(44) Ibid., and commenting that Agostino Steuco awarded Hermes a leading role in "his version of the ancient theology, which Steuco called the 'perennial philosophy' " (ibid., p. xlix). Some critical remarks on Ficino and Steuco were included in my early book The Resurrection of Philosophy (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 200ff., observing that Ficino was a priest whose format of prisca theologia was heavily biased in favour of Christianity, and who made such errors as attributing the Chaldean Oracles to Zarathushtra. Steuco (d. 1548) was an Augustinian theologian who composed De perenni philosophia.
(45) Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Three Muslim Sages (Harvard University Press, 1963), p. 61, and also cited in ASI, p. 51. Amin Razavi employs this quote within the context of "hikmat versus philosophy," an evocative theme underlining the separate orientation of ishraq (illumination). This angle of interpretation acknowledges that Suhrawardi was not opposed to philosophy, "as Ghazzali and some other Sufis were" (ASI, p. 51). Indeed, "Suhrawardi's respect for a rational process of reasoning goes so far as to say: Do not follow me or anybody else and know that the only criterion is reason" (ibid.).
(46) The present writer supported Suhrawardi's eclectic perspective in my Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995), p. 378. I there pointed out, amongst other things, that the title of my earlier book The Resurrection of Philosophy (1989) "was a direct lift from a reference to Iranian mysticism." Going into more detail, I added that this title "did not imply any achievement of mine, but was intended to underline a non-ethnocentric gesture to sectors other than the popular occultism and academic philosophy prevailing in the West." Going yet deeper into this issue, I then clarified that "the title was adapted from a quotation in that book [Resurrection of Philosophy, p. 196] which described Sohravardi Maqtul as 'the resurrector of the wisdom of the ancient Persians,' though the full context was afforded on the same page in Professor S. H. Nasr's pertinent reflection that Maqtul considered himself to be the reviver of the perennial wisdom (hikmat al-ladunniyyah), which he asserted to have existed in antiquity amongst the Hindus, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks." The quote concerning the "resurrector" came from Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred: The Gifford Lectures 1981 (Edinburgh University Press, 1981). In Minds and Sociocultures, I further commented: "that book [Resurrection of Philosophy] was doubtless an inchoate effort, and of no importance in itself" (p. 378). I further stated that "the acute relevance of the ishraqi 'Hermetic stream' as an intercultural tradition comprising Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians, and others, has seldom been assimilated" (Minds and Sociocultures, p. 378). This reference was to events in Iran and India after the death of Suhrawardi. I referred to Resurrection of Philosophy as an "Eastern" book partly because chapters eight and nine gave some space to ishraqi matters, and in a discussion of the "perennial philosophy." Some readers noticed that my views did not always agree with those of Professor Nasr, though some convergences were discernible. My title encoded the complexities, as it were, affirming that philosophy is the criterion rather than "theosophy." Further, an underlying indication was that anthropography (described in chapter three as "philosophy of education") was not ethocentric or West-oriented, but rather more encompassing and global in approach. Fortunately, these matters are understood by close readers. Henry Corbin employed a very similar "resurrector" phrase in CHP, p. 220, and in relation to the Zoroastrian ishraqis (Sipasiyan), whom I profiled in Resurrection of Philosophy, pp. 152ff., 206ff. For the Corbin phrase, see the end of section 16 above. That phrase, i.e., "the resurrector of the wisdom of ancient Persia, " is particularly relevant to the Sipasiyan (=Kaivani-ishraqis), a Mughal era grouping described in my From Oppression to Freedom: A Study of the Kaivani Gnostics (Cambridge 1988). However, in the latter book I did comment that the landmark Volume 2 of Corbin's En Islam iranien "goes surprisingly little further forward in the delineation of ishraqi methods and objectives" (Oppression to Freedom, p. 80). In Resurrection of Philosophy, I made an explicit complaint against Corbin's use of the blanket term theosophy (p. 191), and more daringly, conveyed "it is my contention that his [Corbin's] phenomenology actually obscured much of the essential ishraqi tradition and its methodology" (p. 154). See also note 70 below.
(47) For some remarks on A. K. Coomaraswamy, see my The Resurrection of Philosophy (1989), pp. 234ff., and mentioning the anomaly that a "traditionalist emphasis has resulted in a type of comparative religion in which orthodox theology ousts philosophy as the salent perennial" (ibid., p. 234).
(48) A partially valid comparison with Suhrawardi is perhaps Roger Bacon, a dissident Franciscan friar who suffered the displeasure of his superiors, though not fatally. Bacon was more compatible with theology than Suhrawardi, and his interests in magic blunt the edge of any close comparison. However, Seyyed Hossein Nasr has suggested contacts with the teaching of Suhrawardi in the thirteenth century Oxford school, specifying "such figures as Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste." (NTP, p. 167) The statement is made that "we know of the interest of the Oxford school in illumination and that Roger Bacon even wore the dress of the ishraqis and lectured upon them" (ibid.). However, Nasr duly adds that "whether this 'ishraqi' interest of Bacon refers to the 'Oriental philosophy' of Ibn Sina or to Suhrawardi himself remains to be discovered" (ibid.). Bacon reputedly wore Saracen garb, and was certainly influenced by Arabic texts. None of Suhrawardi's works were translated into Latin, insofar as is known.
(49) Abu'l Hasan al-Kharaqani (963-1033) lived at the village of Kharaqan, near Bistam, in the province of Khurasan. Retaining a humble village background, he admitted to being unconversant with the correct pronunciation of simple Arabic formulae; his sayings are frequently quoted in the local Persian dialect. He presents a marked contrast to other Sufis like Ansari, avoiding any involvement with the law schools of Islam. Very little is known of his lifestyle save that he was a married man with offspring. His habit of referring to himself as a javanmard, rather than as a Sufi, might indicate that he had little regard for formal Sufism. See Hermann Landolt, "Abu'l Hasan Karaqani" (305-6), Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. 1 fasc. 3 (1983); and now online. The Persian word javanmard, translated as "spiritual knight," is associated with the Arabic fata, denoting chivalry. This term came to designate the members of "professional guilds guided by esoteric principles based on Sufi teachings" (A. S. Melikian-Chirvani, Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World, 8th to 18th Centuries, London: HMSO, 1982, p. 18). Kharaqani does not appear to have been part of anything resembling a guild, though he may have been related to circles of rural craftsmen and ascetics of Khurasan, circles distinct from the urban jurists and traditionists who were beginning to assume Sufi status in the Arabic tradition of tasawwuf. Scepticism must greet the popular story of his initiation by Bistami in a dream, a typical invention of "orthodox Sufism." More relevant is the data in Ansari's Tabaqat as-Sufiyya, which indicates that Kharaqani was the successor to Qassab Amuli of Tabaristan (also known as a teacher of the radical Sufi mystic Abu Said Abu'l Khair). Qassab of Amul came from a similar rural background to that of Kharaqani, being illiterate and originally a butcher by trade. There is no evidence of any formal initiation of Kharaqani by Qassab. According to Ansari, Qassab remarked that his "shop" would be taken over at his death by Kharaqani. The allusion was evidently to a less formal transmission than the investiture with a Sufi robe that became common practice. Yet Qassab was ignored in a conventional silsila which linked Kharaqani to Bistami. The silsila-i-khwajagan (lineage of the masters) inserted Kharaqani as the sole functionary between Bistami (d. 848 or 875) and Abu Ali Farmadhi (d. 1084), explaining the connection between the first two as occurring via a dream. According to a modern scholar, Farmadhi can hardly have known Kharaqani. See J. T. P de Bruijn, "Kharakani," Encyclopedia of Islam Vol. 4 (second edn 1978). Kharaqani has been described as a pantheist on the basis of his extant sayings preserved in Attar and other sources. See R. A. Nicholson, ed., Tadhkiratu'l-Awliya of Fariduddin Attar Vol. 2 (London: Luzac, 1907), p. 5. Some of these sayings are indeed bold in their gnostic emphasis. At the time of his death, he was an inspiration to Abdulla Ansari (1006-1089), a different type of mystic affiliated to the Hanbali law school. Of their encounter, it has been said: "Kharaqani was an elderly and illiterate Sufi master who read into the heart of Ansari and answered even his unspoken and unformulated questions." See A. G. Ravan Farhadi. Abdullah Ansari of Herat (London: Curzon Press, 1996), p. 13.
(50) Majid Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy (second edn, Columbia University Press, 1983), p. 297. See also CHP, pp. 205ff.; Corbin, En Islam iranien Tome 2 (Paris 1971), pp. 20ff.; Nasr, Three Muslim Sages, pp. 60ff.
(51) Louis Massignon, Essai sur les origines du lexique technique de la mystique musulmane (second edn, Paris 1954), pp. 201ff.; R. A. Nicholson, "A Historical Enquiry concerning the Origin and Development of Sufism," Jnl of the Royal Asiatic Society (1906), pp. 309-20; A. J. Arberry, trans., Muslim Saints and Mystics (London 1966), pp. 87ff.; Arberry, "A Biography of Dhu'l Nun al-Misri" (11-27) in M. Ram and M. D. Ahmad, eds., Arshi Presentation Volume (New Delhi: Majlis-i Nasr-i 'Arshi, 1965); A. Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (University of North Carolina Press, 1975), pp. 42ff., who says that "since this mystic lived in Egypt, where Neoplatonic and hermetic traditions were in the air, and was regarded by some of his contemporaries as a 'philosopher,' he may well have been acquainted with some Neoplatonic ideas" (ibid., p. 43). This was in deference to the "Neoplatonic theory" of Nicholson, frequently relegated by "Islamic theory" partisans. Recent research has perhaps tended to support the former theory, though in terms of Hermetic associations. See notes 52 and 53 below. Dhu'l Nun is commonly referred to as "the Egyptian" (al-Misri) in the sources; some modern scholars describe him as a Nubian. Professor Nicholson stated that the subject "was a Copt or Nubian" (A Literary History of the Arabs, Cambridge 1907, p. 39); he arrived at this conclusion in his 1906 article, where he describes the father of Dhu'l Nun as a native of Nubia or of Akhmim, adopted by the Quraysh tribe of Arabs. Cf. Margaret Smith, Studies in Early Mysticism in the Near and Middle East (London 1931), p. 191, who says that "his father appears to have been a Nubian and Dhu al-Nun is said to have been a freedman."
(52) Peter Kingsley, Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 389, and urging the relevance of information provided by Uthman ibn Suwaid, a Muslim alchemist of Akhmim who was writing circa 900 CE. Ibn Suwaid composed a book on alchemy refuting an accusation made against Dhu'l Nun al-Misri. Ibn Suwaid is now said to have been "almost certainly the author" of the Arabic prototype of the Turba philosophorum (ibid.).
(53) Kingsley, op. cit., p. 389. See also ibid., pp. 56ff. The Arabic text discussed is Mushaf al-jama'a, extant only in fragments. "Part of it was translated into Latin under the title Turba philosophorum, the 'Gathering' or 'Assembly' of the philosophers," (ibid., p. 56) in which Empedocles and Pythagoras figure strongly. Although the Mushaf was an original work, "many of its terms and ideas, and sometimes even entire passages, can be traced back to Greek literature" (ibid., p. 59) of a philosophical association, though the tendency is to fuse doxographic and alchemical themes. The alchemists of that era regarded themselves as philosophers, and thus a reputed identity of Dhu'l Nun becomes more explicable.
(54) See Gerhard Bowering, The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam: The Quranic Hermeneutics of the Sufi Sahl at-Tustari (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), pp. 50ff.
(55) SML, p. 5, and observing that Suhrawardi's output as a whole "was thoroughly within the framework of Islamic Neoplatonism," a phenomenon that extended to Plotinus disguised as Aristotle. For the Theology of Aristotle, see P. Henry and H. R. Schwyzer, eds., Plotini Opera Vol. 2 (Paris 1959). See also J. Kraye, W. F. Ryan, C. B. Schmitt, eds., Pseudo-Aristotle in the Middle Ages (London: Warburg Institute, 1986); Peter Adamson, The Arabic Plotinus: A Philosophical Study of the 'Theology of Aristotle' (London: Duckworth, 2002).
(56) CSB, p. 122, says that "all of our [ishraqi] authors attribute to Plato" the celebrated account found in Ennead IV.8.1, a passage known to them from the Theology of Aristotle. "Suhrawardi quotes the first lines in his Oriental Theosophy [=Philosophy of Illumination], and his commentator, Qutbuddin Shirazi, zealously transcribes the entire passage" (ibid.). These exponents were therefore in some basic affinity with the Plotinian orientation.
(57) "Suhrawardi identifies these angels with the Platonic ideas and refers to them as the lords of the species" (NTP, p. 139). Thus, Khurdad was lord of water, Murdad was lord of plants, Shahriwar was lord of minerals, and Urdibihisht was lord of fire. These represent Arabicised names of the Zoroastrian amesha-spentas who figure in the archaic "seven creations" doctrine. The Zoroastrian names "signal to the world at large that al-Suhrawardi intends to link his angelology both to a broad cultural past, beyond the purely Islamic, as well as to a contemporary mystical tradition which, again, clearly transcends the rigidly Islamic." Quotation from Ian R. Netton, Allah Transcendent: Studies in the structure and semiotics of Islamic philosophy, theology and cosmology (London: Curzon Press, 1994), p. 301.
(58) Majid Fakhry, Al-Farabi, Founder of Islamic Neoplatonism (Oxford: Oneworld, 2002), p. 147. Earlier, Fakhry stated that "the metaphysical outlook of al-Suhrawardi remains essentially Avicennian or Neo-Platonic" (Hist. of Islamic Philosophy, second edn 1983, p. 304). The importance of Suhrawardi was here assessed in terms of his vindicating the unity of metaphysical thought and the obligation "to seek truth wherever it can be found: in Greek philosophy, in ancient Persian thought, in Muslim Neo-Platonism, and in Sufism" (ibid., p. 305).
(59) CSB, p. 57. Cf. NTP, p. 291. In a commentary on Mulla Sadra, Nasr here relays "the soul... after separation from the body becomes united with the forms of the intermediary world of imagination (alam al-mithal)."
(60) Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "Mulla Sadra: his teachings," HIP, p. 652, and also stating that "Suhrawardi was the first person to speak of the imaginal world [alam al-mithal] at least in the microcosm; he was soon followed by Ibn Arabi who elaborated upon this theme and expanded the understanding of the imaginal world to make it a central pillar of his metaphysics" (ibid.). This subject becomes more complicated by the time of Mulla Sadra, "who gave the first systematic and philosophical explanation of this world; he added to the view of Suhrawardi... the thesis that the imaginal world has also a macrocosmic and objective reality independent and disconnected from man.... It is a world in which we have subtle or imaginal bodies (al-jism al-khayali) as we have a physical body in this world" (ibid.).
(61) Cf. Pierre Lory, "Henry Corbin: his work and influence" (1149-55) in HIP, p. 1150, informing that from 1949 Corbin attended the Eranos Circle every year, and there met C. G. Jung and others. "It is within the context of these meetings that he [Corbin] published a very important part of his work" (ibid.). From another direction, John Walbridge has critically referred to Corbin's outlook in terms of "combining elements drawn from Islamic mystical philosophy and thought, Western philosophy and mysticism, occultism, Jungian psychology, and Freemasonry." (MES, p. 109) See also Steven M. Wasserstrom, Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos (Princeton University Press, 1999), where it is obvious that Corbin and Eliade were to some extent influenced by Jung's archetypal theory. A verdict is that "Eliade and Corbin were overtly mystifying esotericists" (ibid., p. 13), and there is reference to Corbin's "Iranian romantic nationalism" (ibid., p. 6). Further, "Corbin's phenomenology, in part, rested on the Goethean concept of the Urphanomen" (ibid., p. 28). One is obliged to relay that "Corbin's assaults on historicism were thus in the most sharply pointed contrast to Scholem's consistent and emphatic defense of historical method and historical research" (ibid., p. 15). However, Scholem does not emerge without blemish, and "certainly knew that Jung was anti-Semitic and perhaps had flirted with the Nazis" (ibid., p. 262 note 72). Wasserstrom here cites a letter of Scholem, dated 1964, to Jung's associate Aniela Jaffe. "Even with this knowledge, Scholem continued to attend Eranos, and he never denounced Jung" (ibid.). For a critical citizen view of Jung, see Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One (1995), pp. 84-100, and reflecting: "If one had to locate any single dominant influence underlying New Age thought, that would probably be Jungian psychology" (ibid., p. 84). For a stronger citizen critique of the controversial psychotherapist, see Shepherd, Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2004), pp. 23-38. The Wasserstrom commentary is very critical of Corbin in some respects, and that treatment has met with repudiation from Corbin supporters. See further Corbin at Eranos.
(62) See William C. Chittick, Imaginal Worlds: Ibn al-Arabi and the Problem of Religious Diversity (State University of New York Press, 1994), pp. 11-12, who points out that in Arabi's understanding, the forms that fill the cosmos "are related to God as dream-images are related to a dreamer," and that "one can recognise a certain kinship with the Vedantic notion of Maya."
(63) See further Corbin, Suhrawardi d'Alep: fondateur de la doctrine illuminative (Paris 1939); Corbin, Les motifs zoroastriens dans la philosophie de Sohravardi (Tehran 1946); Corbin, En Islam Iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques (4 vols, Paris 1971-2). See also Christian Jambet, ed., Henry Corbin (Paris 1981). See further Daryush Shayegan, "Corbin," Encyclopaedia Iranica, who says that "primarily, however, he [Corbin] was a philosopher." A critical appendix on Corbin appeared in WLA, pp. 223-4. Professor John Walbridge is also the author of "Suhrawardi and Illuminationism" (201-223) in Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor, eds, The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2005). See also Walbridge, God and Logic in Islam: The Caliphate of Reason (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 89ff.
(64) A critical review of Corbin's En Islam iranien was supplied by Earle Waugh in History of Religions (1975) 14: 322-34, and cited in Shepherd, The Resurrection of Philosophy (1989), p. 288 note 201. Waugh accused Corbin of writing a "metahistory operating in a realm transcending the historical and only obliquely related to it" (p. 323). The present writer also included reference to Waugh's review in my Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One (1995), p. 845 note 98, where I commented that "Professor Corbin's enthusiasm and sheer industry in researching obscure Persian and Arabic texts was and is highly praiseworthy."
(65) Corbin's well known book Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth (abbreviation CSB), in the English translation (Princeton, 1977), has many references to "active Imagination" listed in the index (p. 343) and several references likewise to Jung (p. 347). None of these references are of a critical nature.
(66) E.g., D. Merkur, Gnosis (1993), p. 223, asserting that "Tantric influences may occasionally be detected in Suhrawardi's gnosis." This contention lacks any proof. The author states in his preface that he is not a Jungian, and that he has reconceptualised the topic of active imagination (ibid., p. ix). "Tibetan tantrists are aware that their meditative states make their fantasies seem real" (ibid., p. 22). His misleading theme of Tantric influence upon Suhrawardi is based upon the theory of an Italian scholar who argued for Vajrayana influence upon the Umm al-Kitab (ibid., pp. 218-19), an early Persian text which has been described as a syncretic work of Shi'ite gnosis and proto-Ismailism. See Pio Filippani-Ronconi, "The Soteriological Cosmology of Central Asiatic Ismailism" (101-20) in S. H. Nasr, ed., Ismaili Contributions to Islamic Culture (Tehran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, 1977). This article made a number of useful points and suggestions, but went too far in describing the Umm al-Kitab in terms of: "originally it might have been a sort of catechism of an aberrant kind of Manichaean sect, strongly affected by Yoga practices and theoretically influenced by Vajrayana theology" (ibid., p. 105). It is surely unnecessary to regard the obscure sectaries as accomodating Yoga and Buddhism in a speculated geographical shift to Central Asia. Cf. Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 100-2, who says that the date of the Umm al-Kitab is unknown but that the probable authors were a group of Shi'i ghulat or radicals, namely the Mukhammisa, who originated at Kufa in the eighth century; the text, which endorses transmigration, is here said to reflect the influence of diverse non-Islamic traditions such as Valentinian Gnosticism and Manichaeism. It may be relevant to point out "the massive anticipation in this book [Umm al-Kitab] of some of the important conceptions we shall find three centuries later in Suhrawardi's Hikmat al-Ishraq," (Filippani-Ronconi, art. cit., p. 114), and if so, no Tantric influence is implied, but rather Manichaean, Zoroastrian, and Neoplatonist convergences. The Zoroastrian tradition is often ignored, though not in the accompanying reflection that "the Umm al-Kitab could be - if not the 'missing link' of a tradition claimed by the Shaykh al-Ishraq [Suhrawardi] - at least 'lateral evidence' of a living Persian soteriological tradition, not strictly appertaining to the Mazdean church but rather to an independent sideline of Zoroastrian teachings" (ibid., pp. 114-15). See further note 34 above.
(67) Mircea Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas Vol. 3, trans. A. Hiltebeitel (University of Chicago Press, 1985), p. 144.
(68) Henry Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, trans. N. Pearson (Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala, 1978), p. 43.
(69) Ibid., pp. 42-3. Corbin affirms that "the Image gives physical events their meaning" (ibid., p. 39), and he includes the emphasis: "to orient ourselves personally, it will be best to inquire first of all into the events that took place in Eran-Vej" (ibid., pp. 39-40). Those events are mythological, and can be interpreted differently. Yet according to Corbin, "Eran-Vej, the paradise of Yima, the spiritual realm of subtle bodies, has been a constant and absorbing theme of Iranian meditation for the adepts of Zarathustra in the distant past, the adepts of the Sohravardian theosophy of Light, and thinkers of the Shaykhi school in Shi'ite Iran" (ibid., p. 42). The assumption here is one of almost uniform occurrence, though "a continuous philosophic development" is mentioned, especially when Suhrawardi aligned the Platonic Ideas with Zoroastrian angelology.
(70) Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995), p. 283, and from the section on Corbin at pp. 283-88, including the remark that "ishraqi themes could be regarded as a subject for disciplined sociological and philosophical reflection" (p. 288). See also notes 46 and 63 above.
(71) R. N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1975), p. 161, and citing Corbin Les motifs zoroastriens dans la philosophie de Sohravardi (Tehran 1946).
(72) James R. Russell, "On Mysticism and Esotericism among the Zoroastrians," Journal of the Society for Iranian Studies (1993) 26: 73-93, p. 88 note 40.
(73) Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom: A Study of the Kaivani Gnostics (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988). Cf. MES, chapter 5, where the author tends to be dismissive of some related themes. "I do not wish to deny that the sages of old Iran were actually wise, only that they taught philosophy" (MES, p. 86). The associations with Greek philosophy are secondary in relation to the Sipasiyan, who were Zoroastrians reacting to a harassed minority role, amongst other dimensions of the subject.
(74) Shaul Shaked, Dualism in Transformation: Varieties of Religion in Sasanian Iran (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1994), p. 105. See also F. de Blois, Borzoy's voyage to India and the origin of the book of Kalilah wa Dimnah (London 1990).
(75) Thackston, The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Suhrawardi (1982), p. 16.
(76) Hermann Landolt, "Suhrawardi's 'Tales of Initiation,' " Journal of the American Oriental Society (1987) 107 (3): 475-86, p. 481. Cf. Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas Vol. 3, pp. 144-5, who cites Corbin's version: "During Suhrawardi's trial, the incriminating thesis which caused his condemnation was his profession that God can at all times, and even now, create a prophet.... the thesis betrayed at least a crypto-Shi'ism."
(77) I am here mainly following the translation in Landolt, art. cit., p. 481. Cf. ZKI, pp. 175-6, which is similar in emphasis, and specifying the phrase "divine philosopher" (hakim ilahi). Landolt renders ta'ullah as theosis, though I have instead used the rendition of "gnosis" provided in NTP, p. 131.
(78) Landolt, art. cit., pp. 482-3, and dismissing the idea of Suhrawardi being a secret agent of the Nizari Ismailis, in that some of his statements can be interpreted as a critique of their doctrines about the imam (leader). The same scholar concludes that Suhrawardi's frequent identification of the Light of Lights with the "necessary Being" of the Peripatetics seems to be incompatible with Ismaili theology. On a well known Ismaili thinker, see Paul E. Walker, Hamid al-Din Kirmani: Ismaili Thought in the Age of al-Hakim (London: I. B. Tauris, 1999). See also Alice C. Hunsberger, Nasir Khusraw, the Ruby of Badakhshan: A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveller and Philosopher (London, 2000). See further Faquir M. Hunzai, trans., Nasir Khusraw: Knowledge and Liberation - A Treatise of Philosophical Theology (London, 1999).
(79) Thackston, Mystical and Visionary Treatises, p. 100. Suhrawardi writes that when he saw Ibn Sina's allegory Hayy ibn Yaqzan, "I was struck by the fact that, although it contained marvels of spiritual words and profound allusions, it was devoid of intimations to indicate the greatest stage... that is, the mystery upon which the stages of the adherents to Sufism and the apocalyptics are based" (ibid.). For Hayy ibn Yaqzan, see Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, pp. 137ff.
(80) Landolt, art. cit., pp. 479ff. Tauhid denotes the monotheistic concept of Unity, though also signifying the unity of the Sufi mystic with divine being.
(81) Shihab al-Din Abu Hafs Umar Suhrawardi (1145-1234) created a dervish order which became known as the Suhrawardiyya. He was favoured by the Caliph an-Nasir and "maintained a careful orthodoxy" (Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam, p. 36). He authored the influential manual Awarif al-Maarif (H. Wilberforce Clarke, trans., The Awarif ul-Maarif, repr. Lahore 1973), which has been described as "a watershed in the reconciliation of Sufism with orthodoxy" (S. A. A. Rizvi, A History of Sufism in India Vol. 1, New Delhi 1978, p. 88). See further Erik S. Ohlander, Sufism in an Age of Transition: Umar al-Suhrawardi and the Rise of the Islamic Mystical Brotherhoods (Leiden: Brill 2008). The uncle of Umar was Abu'l-Najib al-Suhrawardi (1097-1168), who led a contrasting life of seclusion, establishing a retreat (ribat) at a ruined site on the Tigris, where his nephew early lived. Near this retreat, the uncle built a madrasa (seminary), becoming famous as both a Sufi shaikh and an authority on law (fiqh); he was the author of Adab al-Muridin, a manual of ethics and rules of conduct addressed to novices in Sufism. See Menahem Milson, trans., A Sufi Rule for Novices: Kitab Adab al-Muridin (Harvard University Press, 1975).
(82) Ain al-Quzat Hamadani (born 1098) was imprisoned at Baghdad in 1130 after being charged with blasphemy. While in prison he wrote (in Arabic) his apologia known as Shakwa al-Gharib. "In it he tries to defend himself against the charges of blasphemy that the senior doctors of law had levelled against him, and yet he can hardly conceal his utter contempt for their mediocrity of intelligence and spirit." Quotation from Hamid Dabashi, "Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani and the intellectual climate of his times" (374-433) in HIP, p. 424. See also A. J. Arberry, A Sufi Martyr (London 1969); Hermann Landolt, "Two Types of Mystical Thought in Muslim Iran," Muslim World (1978) 68: 192ff.
(83) Landolt, "Suhrawardi's 'Tales of Initiation,' " pp. 479ff. The anti-Peripatetic stance of Ghazzali was strongly demonstrated by his Tahafut al-Falasifah (Incoherence of the Philosophers), in which he tried to prove that the falasifa were at irreconcilable odds with religion. "He argues that philosophers become infidels on three questions: the eternity of the world (a thesis peculiar to Aristotle); the impossibility of God's knowledge of particulars (a thesis strongly held by Ibn Sina), and the denial of bodily resurrection." Quotation from Massimo Campanini, "Al-Ghazzali" (258-74) in HIP, p. 262. See also W. M. Watt, Muslim Intellectual: A Study of Al-Ghazali (Edinburgh University Press, 1963); S. A. Kamali, trans., Tahafut al-Falasifa (Lahore: Pakistan Philosophical Congress, 1963); H. Lazaras-Yafeh, Studies in Al-Ghazali (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975).
(84) Najm al-Din Kubra reputedly founded a major dervish order, the Kubraviyya. See J. Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford 1971), pp. 55ff. However, some scholars say that this order was "actually founded by al-Simnani" and merely named after Kubra (Lapidus, A Hist. of Islamic Societies, p. 284). See further Fritz Meier, Die Fawaih al-jamal wa-fawatih al-jalal des Nagm ad-din al-Kubra (Wiesbaden, 1957). See also Marijan Molé, "Traites Mineurs de Nagm al-din Kubra," Annales Islamologiques (1963) 4: 1-78. Kubra's major work was described by Corbin as "a spiritual journal rather than a didactic treatise" (The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, p. 64). Kubra emphasised that mystical experiences can only be achieved in compliance with the discipline involved in a tenfold path when he mentions. The rules included regular silence, fasting, and retreat, together with obedience to the Sufi shaikh. Different interpretations of subsequent Kubravi order activities have been expressed. See, e.g., Dewin DeWeese, "Sayyid Ali Hamadani and Kubrawi Hagiographical Traditions" (121-58) in Lewisohn, ed., The Legacy of Medieval Persian Sufism (1992). See also Jamal J. Elias, The Throne Carrier of God: The Life and Thought of Ala ad-dawla as-Simnani (State University of New York Press, 1995). Simnani (1261-1336) was an Iranian Sufi of Khurasan. He has a reputation for an uncompromising Sunni attitude which emphasised a strict adherence to the sharia (religious law) and opposed Ibn Arabi's "pantheist" teaching. He "maintained that any mystical experience or vision which was not in accordance with the exoteric requirements of Sunnism was invalid and the devil's delusion" (ibid., p. 148). See also Hermann Landolt, ed., Correspondence spirituelle echangee entre Nuroddin Esfarayeni et son disciple Alaoddawleh Semnani (Tehran-Paris: Bibliotheque Iranienne 21, 1972). Simnani created a chain (silsila) of religious authority, including his Sufi teacher Nur al-Din Isfaraini (d.1317), and tracing the origins back to the prophet Muhammad in the manner favoured by orthodox Sufis. Landolt indicates that Isfaraini and his circle of contacts had considerable influence on contemporary politics; Isfaraini passed his mature years at Baghdad (ibid., pp. 7ff.).
(85) Landolt, "Suhrawardi's 'Tales of Initiation,' " p. 480.
(86) Ibid., p. 484. Corbin was enthusiastic about aspects of Ismaili thought, and applied his interpretive technique to that subject. See his Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis (London: Kegan Paul International, 1983). An up to date historical work is Farhad Daftary, Ismailis in Medieval Muslim Societies (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005).
(87) Paul E. Walker, Early Philosophical Shiism: The Ismaili Neoplatonism of Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 150.
(88) Ibid., p. 151. The outlook of the Ismaili missionaries (dais) is here defined in terms of "the problem was to find evidence that within philosophy there had been confusion and chaos; the philosophers, they argued, held so many opposing opinions they could not, on their own, know truth from falsity" (ibid., p. 152). These rather constricting interpreters "found what they wanted in a limited selection of quasi-philosophical texts such as the Pseudo-Ammonius and the Longer Theologia" (ibid.). Al-Sijistani is considered a significant writer, though his "relationship to philosophy was obviously strained, and he was never comfortable outside of the specific problems that arose from a context defined by his partisan Shiite predilections" (ibid., p. 154). Yet he "is simply no paradigm of the ordinary Ismaili dai" (ibid., p. 155), and "he nevertheless promotes a personal search for understanding" (ibid.).
(89) Wilferd Madelung, "Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani and Metempsychosis" (131-143) in Iranica Varia: Papers in Honour of Professor Ehsan Yarshater (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990), p. 136.
(90) The allusive language of Sijistani misled W. Ivanow into the erroneous judgment that there was not a trace of tanasukh in the Risala al-Bahira (Madelung, art. cit., p. 143 note 34). In that treatise, Sijistani is now said to have described the end of the chain of rebirths in terms of a final judgment sentencing souls to reward or punishment.
(91) Walker, Early Philosophical Shiism, p. 165 note 78, suggesting that the Persian translation of the Arabic original was done by Nasir-i Khusraw. Further, the translation may amount to "little more than a summary of the Arabic original" (ibid., p. 164 note 77). Also, "the Persian text appears to deny metempsychosis, although not that form of it which al-Biruni credits to al-Sijistani" (p. 165 note 77).
(92) Ibid., p. 136, and also informing that Sijistani's "view of salvation closely resembles that of Plotinus and is also in accord with the teachings of his less Neoplatonic contemporaries, such as al-Farabi." See also Paul E. Walker, Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary (London, 1996); Walker, The Wellsprings of Wisdom: A Study of Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani's Kitab al-Yanabi (University of Utah Press, 1994).
(93) See also Walker, Early Philosophical Shiism, p. 35, stating that in the wake of Farabi, other forms of Greek philosophy began to conform in Islamic circles to Aristotle's "demonstrative science," or else be abandoned and ignored. "Plato's 'theological' or 'divine' teachings were thereafter just that - a 'theology' - but not 'philosophy' " (ibid.).
(94) Ian R. Netton, Al-Farabi and his School (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 52.
(95) Deborah L. Black, "Al-Farabi" (178-97) in HIP, p. 188.
(96) The Collected Dialogues of Plato, edited by E. Hamilton and H. Cairns (Bollingen Series LXXI, Princeton University Press, 1961), p. 1171 .
(97) F. H. Sandbach, The Stoics (second edn, London: Gerald Duckworth, 1989), p. 177.
(98) See Reza Pourjavadi and Sabine Schmidtke, A Jewish Philosopher of Baghdad, 'Izz al-Dawla Ibn Kammuna and his Writings (Leiden: Brill, 2006).
(99) Mangol Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran (Syracuse University Press, 1982), p. xv.
(100) Ibid. Cf. Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom (1989), p. 150 note 60, which was generous to Mulla Sadra, though from a different perspective to metahistoire. I was here resisting the accusation that a number of Safavid era thinkers "were merely theologians defending preconceived positions."
(101) Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent, p. 32. See further Sajjad H. Rizvi, Mulla Sadra Shirazi: His Life and Works and the Sources for Safavid Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2007); Rizvi, Mulla Sadra and Metaphysics: Modulation of Being (Routledge, 2009).
(102) Merkur, Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions (1993), p. ix. See also note 34 above.
(103) Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent, p. 32.
(104) Ibid., p. 34.
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