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A History of Muslim Philosophy

remembrance (dhikr), recitation from the Qur'an, prayers, and meditation (muragabah) that a mystic can hope to attain his objective which is 'ubudiyyah, perfect obedience to God. Sahl b. 'Abd Allah Tustari said about this stage: "When a man after passing through repentance, continence, and con­stancy in virtuous deeds reaches the stage of slavehood, he becomes totally passive towards the divine will and of his own free-will decides no longer to exercise his freedom of choice and action. Then he is granted full power of activity and freedom of action because he has identified himself with the will of God. His self-determination is equivalent to God-determination; the liability of his falling a prey to evil temptations and ignorance are totally obliterated."

According to Suhrawardi, the stage of giving up freedom of choice and action is the stage of annihilation, while the second stage where the mystic freely acts, because his will follows the will of God, is the state of abiding in God. It is the shedding of the mortal self for the eternal, material for the spiritual, human for the divine. The mystic at this stage is the perfect servant.70

°0 'Awarif al-Ma'arif, Chap. 59, pp. 585-600. BIBLIOGRAPHY

61 aibjl 'Abd al-Qadir Jilani, Futuh al-Ghaib, Urdu translation, Lahore, 1344/ 1925; Shaik_b. Shihab el-Din Suhrawardi, 'Awarif al-Ma'arif, Urdu translation, Newal Kishore Press, Lucknow, 1926; Isldmi Tasawwuf, Urdu translation of ibn al-Qayyim's Tariq al-Hijratain w-al-Bob al-Sa'adatain, al-Hilal Book Agency, Lahore, n. d.; Percy Sykes, A History of Persia, Vol. II, Macmillan & Co., London,

1951; E. G. Browne, A Literary History of Persia, Vol. II, Cambridge University

Press, 1951.

Chapter XIX


The intellectual life of Islam and that of Christianity-the two sister civili­zations-in the Middle Ages can be compared with each other to a large extent through the role that Aristotelian philosophy played in them. Peripatetic science and philosophy entered the Western world through translations from Arabic in the seventh/thirteenth century and eventually became dominant to such an extent as to replace the Augustinian and Platonic wisdom of the earlier period only to be overthrown itself by the humanistic rationalism of the Penaissance. In Islam the attack of Sufis and theologians upon the ratio­nali, is aspect of Aristotelian philosophy weakened its hold at the very time when that philosophy was gaining strength in the Christian West and was replaced in the Muslim world by two elements, the doctrinal Sufism of Mubyi

Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi Magtul

al-Din ibn 'Arabi and the Hikmat al-Is_hrag' or illuminative wisdom of Shaikh al-Is_hraq Shihab al-Din Yabya ibn Habas_h ibn Amirak Suhrawardi,2 both of which aimed at an effective realization of the "truth" and replaced the rationalism of Peripatetic philosophy by intellectual intuition (dhauq).



Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi, whose is_hragi wisdom has played such a great role in the intellectual and spiritual life of Islam and especially of Shi'ism, was born in Suhraward, a village near the present city of Zinjan in northern Persia, in 549/1153. He studied at first with Majd al-Din Jili at Marag_hah and later with Zahir al-Din Qari at Ispahan. Having finished his formal studies, he began to travel through Persia, meeting various Sufi masters and benefiting from their presence and teachings. During this period he spent much time in meditation and invocation in spiritual retreats. He also journeyed during the same period through the regions of Anatolia and Syria and acquired great love for the cities of these countries. On one of his journeys, he went from Damascus to Aleppo and met Malik ,Zahir, the son of Sahib al-Din Ayyiibi, the celebrated Muslim ruler. Malik ,Zahir became much devoted to Shihab al-Din and asked him to stay at his Court. It was here that the master of ishraq fell into disgrace with the religious authorities in the city who considered some of his statements dangerous to Islam. They asked for his death, and when Malik ,Zahir refused, they petitioned Salaln al-Din himself who threatened his son with abdication unless he followed the ruling of the reli­gious leaders. Shihab al-Din was thereby imprisoned and in the year 587/1191, at the age of 38, lie was either suffocated to death or died of starvation.3

Many miraculous features have been connected with the life of Suhrawardi

0 The Arabic word hikmah is neither philosophy as currently understood in modern European language, i.e., one form or another of rationalism, nor theology. It is, properly speaking, theosophy as understood in its original Greek sense and not in any way connected with the pseudo-spiritualistic movements of this century. It is also sapiential inasmuch as the Latin root 8apere, like the Arabic word dhauq by which this wisdom is known, means taste. Moreover, it can be designated as speculative wisdom because speculum means mirror and this wisdom seeks to make man's soul a mirror in which divine knowledge is reflected.

2 Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi is often called al-Magtid, meaning lie who was killed, since be was put to death for certain indiscreet formulations. We, however, refer to him as Shaikh al-Is_hrdq by which name he is universally known among his disciples.

3 The best source for the biography of Shihab al-Din is the Nuzhat al-Arw4h

we Raudat al-Afrah of his disciple and commentator Shams al-Din Shahrazuri. See also 0. Spies and S. K. Khattak, Three Treatises on Mysticism, Verlag W. Kohl­hammer, Stuttgart, 1935, pp. 90-101; H. Corbin, Suhrawardi d'Alep fondateur de la doctrine illuminative (is_hragi), G. P. Maisonneuve, Paris, 1939.



A History of Muslim Philosophy

and many stories told of his unusual powers. His countenance was striking to all his contemporaries. His illuminated and ruddy face and dishevelled hair, his handsome beard and piercing eyes reminded all who met him of his keen intelligence. He paid as little attention to his dress as he did to his words. Sometimes he wore the woollen garb of the Sufis, sometimes the silk dress of the courtiers. His short and tragic life contains many similarities to the life of Hallaj, whom he quoted so often, and to that of the Sufi poet 'Ain al­Qudat Hamadani who was to follow a similar career a few years later.

The writings of Suhrawardi are numerous despite his short and turbulent life. Some of them have been lost, a few published, and the rest remain it manuscript form in the libraries of Persia, India, and Turkey.4 Unlike his predecessors, ibn Sina and al-Mazdli, he was never translated into Latin and, therefore, never became well known in the Western world. Yet, his influence in the East can almost match that of ibn Sina, and any history of Islamic philosophy written without mentioning him and the school of Ishraq is, to say the least, incomplete. Histories of Muslim philosophy written by Western­ers, like Munk and de Boer, usually end with ibn Rusted because the authors have considered only that aspect of Muslim philosophy which influenced Latin scholasticism. Actually, the seventh/thirteenth century, far from being the end of speculative thought in Islam, is really the beginning of this most impor­tant school of 1 shraq. Suhrawardi's writings came to the East at the same time as Peripatetic philosophy was journeying westward to Andalusia and from there through the influence of ibn Rushd and others to Europe.

There are altogether about fifty titles of Suhrawardi's writings which have come down to us in the various histories and biographies.b They may be divided into five categories as follows: 8

1. The four large doctrinal treatises, the first three dealing with Aristotelian (mai_ha'i) philosophy with certain modifications and the last with ishragi

wisdom proper. These works, all in Arabic, include the Talwihat, Mugaw­wamat, Mutdrahat, and the Hikmat al-Ishraq.'

2. Shorter doctrinal treatises like Haydkil al-Nur, al-Alwdh al-`Imadiyyah, Partau-Nameh, I`tigad al-Hukamd', al-Lamahat, Yazdan Shinakht, and Bustan

We are most grateful to Prof. M. Minovi and Mr. M. Daneghpazhuh of the University of Teheran and to Dr. M. Bayani, the head of the Teheran National Library, for making these manuscripts available to us.

s See the introduction in M. Bayani, Dau Bisdleh-i Fdrsi-i Suhrawardi, Teheran,


6 We follow in part the classification of H. Corbin, however, with some modifi­

cations. See Suhrawardi, Opera Afetaphyoica et Mystica, ed. H. Corbin, Vol. I, Ma`arif Mathaasi, Bibliotheca Islamica, Istanbul, 1945, "Prolegomene," pp. xvi ff.

7 The metaphysical sections of the first three treatises have been published in the first volume of the Opera by Corbin and the complete Hikmat al-ILhrdq in the

second volume entitled Oeuvres philoeaphiques et mystiques (Opera Metaphysica et Mystica, II), Institut Franco-Iranien, Teheran, and Andrien Maisonneuve, Paris, 1952. Henceforth we shall refer to the two volumes as Opera, Volumes I and U.

Shiliab al-Din Suhrawardi MagtW

al-Qulub8 all of which explain further the subject-matter of the larger treatises.

These works are partly in Arabic and partly in Persian.

3. Initiatory narratives written in symbolic language to depict the journey

of the initiate towards gnosis (ma`ri fah) and illumination (ishrdq). These short treatises, all written in Persian, include 'Aql-i Surkh, Awaz-i Par-i Jibra'il, al-Qhurbat al-Gharbiyyah (also in Arabic), Lusiat-i Muran, Risalah fiHdlat al-Tufuliyyah, Ruzi ba Jama`at-i Sufiydn, Risalah fl, al-Mi`rdj, and Sa f it-i Simurgh.

4. Commentaries and transcriptions of earlier philosophic and initiatic texts and sacred Scripture like the translation into Persian of the Bisdlat al-Ta'ir of ibn Sina, the commentary in Persian upon ibn Sina's Ishdrdt wa Tanbihat, and the treatise Risalah fi Hagigat al-`Ishq which last is based on ibn Sini's Bisdlat al-`Ishq and his commentary upon the verses of the Qur'an and on the I;Iadith.9

5. Prayers, litanies, invocations. and what may be called books of the hour, all of which Shahraziiri calls al- Waridat w-al-Tagdisdt.

These works and the large number of commentaries written upon them during the last seven centuries form the main corpus of the tradition of ishraq and are a treasure of traditional doctrines and symbols combining in them the wisdom of Sufism with Hermetieism, and Pythagorean, Platonic, Aristotelian, and Zoroastrian philosophies together with some other diverse elements. There is little doubt that Suhrawardi is greatly indebted to the Muslim philosophers, especially ibn Sina, for the formulation of many of his ideas. Moreover, inasmuch as he is a Sufi as well as a philosopher or, more properly speaking, a theosophist,10 he is in debt, both for spiritual inspiration and for his doctrines, to the great chain of Sufi masters before him. More specifically he is indebted to Iiallaj whom he quotes so often and to al-9'hazali whose Mishkdt al-Anwdr played so important a role in his doctrine of the relation of light to the Imam.

Suhrawardi came also under the influence of Zoroastrian teaching, particu­larly in angelology and the symbolism of light and darkness." He identified

8 The treatise Yazdan Shin¢kht has often been attributed to Ain al-Quddat Hamadani and its authorship remains in any case doubtful. Bustan al-Qulub has

also appeared under the name Raudat al-Qulub and has been occasionally attributed

to Sayyid Sharif Jurjani.

e A commentary upon the FusOs of Farabi of which no trace has as yet been

found is also attributed to him.

'° The hakim muta'allih which Suhrawardi considers himself and other sages before him to be is exactly theosophos by which the Greek sages were designated. See

the Prolegomene by H. Corbin to Suhrawardi's Opera, Vol. II, p. xxiv.

u Suhrawardi is careful in distinguishing between exoteric Zoroastrians and the

sages among Zoroastrians whom he follows-As he writes in Kakimat al-Tasawwuj: "There were among the ancient Persians a community of men who were guides

towards the Truth and were guided by Him in the Right Path, ancient sages un­like those who are called the Magi. It is their high and illuminated wisdom, to

which the spiritual experiences of Plato and his predecessors are also witness, and


A 375

A History of Muslim Philosophy

hihAb al-Din Suhrawardi Magtul

the wisdom of the ancient Zoroastrian sages with that of Hermes and, there­fore, with the pre-Aristotelian philosophers, especially Pythagoras and Plato, whose doctrines he sought to revive. Finally, he was influenced directly by the vast tradition of Hermeticism which is itself the remains of ancient Egyptian, Chaldaean. and Sabaean doctrines metamorphosed within the matrix of Hellenism and is based on the primordial symbolism of alchemy. Suhrawardi considered himself to be the reviver of the perennial wisdom, philosophia perennis, or what he calls Hikmat al-Ladunniyyah or Hikmat al-`Atigah which existed always among the Hindus, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and the ancient Greeks up to the time of Plato.12

The concept of the history of philosophy for Suhrawardi and his school is itself of great interest. This school identifies philosophy with wisdom rather than with rational systematization. Philosophy for it does not begin with Plato and Aristotle ; rather, it ends with them. Aristotle, by putting wisdom in a rationalistic dress, limited its perspective and separated it from the unitive wisdom of the earlier sages.k3 From the Ishragi point of view, Hermes or the Prophet Idris is the father of philosophy, having received it as revelation from heaven. He was followed by a chain of sages in Greece and in ancient Persia and later in Islam which unified the wisdom of previous civilizations in its milieu. The chain of transmission of ishragi doctrines, which must be understood symbolically rather than only historically, may be schematized as follows:


Agathodemon (Seth)

Persian pries -kings KiumaAk Faridan Kai Khusrau


which we have brought to life again in our book called Hikmat al-Ishraq." MS-, Ragip, 1480, fol. 407b, Istanbul, cited in H. Corbin, Les motifs zoroastriens daps la philoeophis de Sohrawardi, Editions du Courrier, Teheran, 1946, p. 24. Also Teheran University Library MS. 1079, pp. 34ff.

12 Mutarahat, Physics, Book VI, cited by H. Corbin in Suhrawardi, Opera, Vol. I, p. x1i.

's Originally, philosophy like all forms of wisdom consisted of a doctrine, a rite, and a "spiritual alchemy." In Greek civilization the first element gradually separated from the others and became reduced to a theoretical form of knowledge which came to be known as philosophy. In the 55th section of Talwihat, Suhrawardi writes how he saw Aristotle, who is most likely Plotinus, the author of the Theology o f

In the introduction to his fikmat al-lshraq, Suhrawardi states explicitly the nature of ishr,agi wisdom and its relation to ancient doctrines. As he writes: "Although before the composition of this book I composed several summary treatises on Aristotelian philosophy, this book differs from them and has a method peculiar to itself. All of its material has not been assembled by thought and reasoning; rather, intellectual intuition, contemplation, and ascetic practices have played an important role in it. Since our sayings have not come by means of rational demonstration but by inner vision and con­templation, they cannot be destroyed by the doubts and temptations of the sceptics. Whoever is a traveller (sdlik) on the way to truth is my companion and a help on this Path. The procedure of the master of philosophy, the divine Plato, was the same, and the sages who preceded Plato in time like Hermes, the father of philosophy, followed the same path. Since sages of the past, because of the ignorance of the masses, expressed their sayings in secret symbols (rumuz), the refutations which have been made against them have concerned the exterior of these sayings and not their real intentions. And the ishragi wisdom the foundation and basis of which are the two principles of light and darkness as established by the Persian sages like Jamisp, Far­shadshfir, and Bfizarjumihr is among these hidden, secret symbols. One must never think that the light and darkness which appear in our expressions are the same as those used by the infidel Magi-or the heretical Manichaeans for they finally involve us in idolatry (shirk) and dualism. "14

Aristotle, in a dream and asked if the Islamic Peripatetics were the real philosophers. Aristotle answered, "No, a degree in a thousand." Rather the Sufis, Bistami and Tustari, are the real philosophers. Aristotle told Suhrawardi to wake into himself and to pass beyond theoretical knowledge ('ilm suri) to effective realization or the "knowledge of presence" (`ilm huduri or shuhiuli). See the Prolegomene of H Corbin in Suhrawardi, Opera, Vol. I, p. lxx.

14 Suhrawardi, Opera, Vol. II, pp. 10-11. Some modem interpreters of Suhra­wardi have considered him to be anti-Islamic and of Zoroastrian sympathy. A. von Kremer in his Gesrhiehte der Herrsehenden Ideen des Islam, Leipzig, 1868, pp. 89ff., writes that uuhrawardi was part of the current directed against Islam. On the other hand, the scholarly and sympathetic interpreter of Suhrawardi, H. Corbin, insists on the role of Shaikh al-.TShraq 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." In any case, all views which consider ishragi wisdom to be simply a revival of Zoroastrianism or Manichaeism confuse the form with the spirit. There is no doubt that Suhrawardi makes use of Mazdaean symbols especially with regard to angelology, but that is no more reason for calling him Mazdaean than it is to call Jabir ibn Hayyan a follower of Egyptian religion, because he used Hermetic symbols. The only criterion of orthodoxy in Islam is the first shahadah (la ilaha ill-Allah) and, according to it, Suhrawardi cannot be said to lie outside the pale of Islam, no matter how strange his formulations may be. Furthermore, the disciples of the Ishragi school consider the Persian sages of whom Suhrawardi speaks to have lived before Plato and Pythagoras and not during the Sassanid period. The genius of Islam to integrate diverse elements into itself is evident here as elsewhere and should not be inter­



Asclepius Pythagoras Empedoeles Plato Neo-Platonists Dhu al-NOn Misri Abu Sahl Tustari

Abu Yazid Bistami Mansar Hallaj

Abu al-I3asan Kharragani


A History of Muslim Philosophy


The Arabic words iahrdq meaning illumination and mashriq meaning the east are both derived etymologically from the root sharq meaning the rising of the sun. Moreover, the adjective illuminative, mushrigiyyah, and Oriental, mashrigsyyah, are written in exactly the same way in Arabic. This symbolic identification of the Orient with light which is inherent in the Arabic language and is employed often by the Iahragi sages, has given rise to many difficulties in the interpretations of that wisdom which is both illuminative and Oriental. Already in his Mantiq al-MaAhrigiyyin most of which is lost, ibn Sina refers to an Oriental wisdom which is superior to the commonly accepted Peripatetic (mashd'i) philosophy.'5 Due to the fact that the word mashrigiyyun could also be read as mushrigiyyitn in Arabic, the latter meaning illuminative, one could interpret the esoteric teachings which ibn Sina proposes as being illu­minative as well as Oriental. Since the famous article of Nallino,18 it has become common opinion that the reading is Oriental and has nothing to do with illumination. Yet, this opinion, however correct it may be linguistically, is essentially limited in that it does not take into account the profound sym­

bolism inherent in the language and does not consider the great debt which

Suhrawardi and ishragi wisdom owe to ibn Sina.

Suhrawardi writes that ibn Sina wanted to recapture Oriental philosophy

but did not have access to the necessary sources.17 Yet, if we consider how the sacred geography of the Orient of light and the Occident of darkness in the initiatory trilogy of ibn Sina, Hayy Ibn Yagzan, Risdlat al- Td'ir, and Salesman wa Absal, is followed by Suhrawardi, how the Shaikh al-Ishraq translated several of the treatises of ibn Sina into Persian, and how parts of Hikmat al-Is hraq resemble closely the commentary of ibn Sina upon the Theology of Aristotle, it will become clear how profoundly the roots of Ishragi philosophy lie in certain of the later non-Aristotelian works of ibn Sina and how illumina­

tion and the Orient are united in this form of wisdom.

The unification of the meaning of illumination and the Orient in the term

prated as a sign of departure from the straight path (eirdt al-mustagim) or the

universal orthodoxy which embraces all the perspectives within the tradition. The vocation of Islam is the re-establishment of the primordial tradition so that all the streams of the ancient religions and cultures have flowed into it without in any way

destroying its purity.

is Ibn Sina, Mantiq al Maskrigiyyin, Cairo, 133b/1919, pp. 2-4.

is A. Nallino, "Filosofia 'orientali' od `illuminativa' d'Avicenna," Rivista degli

studi orientali, Vol. X, 1925, pp. 433-67. H. Corbin rightly emphasizes the illu­minative as well as the Oriental aspect of ibn Sinn's Oriental wisdom and its pro­

found connection with the Iraqi school of Suhrawardi. See Corbin, Avicenne et Lericit visionnaire, Institut Franco-Iranien, Teheran, 1952-54, Vol. I, Intro­duction, p. iii.

17 Suhrawardi, Opera, Vol. I, p. 195.

shihab al-Din Suhrawardi Maqtul

sghraq is connected with the symbolism of the sun which rises in the Orient and which illuminates all things so that the land of light is identified with that of gnosis and illumination 18 Inasmuch as the Occident is where the sun sets, where darkness reigns, it is the land of matter, ignorance, or dis­cursive thought, entangled in the mesh of its own logical constructions. The Orient is, on the contrary, the world of light, of being, the land of knowledge, and of illumination which transcends mere discursive thought and rational­ism. It is the land of knowledge which liberates man. from himself and from the world, knowledge which is combined with purification and sanctity.19 It is for this reason that Suhrawardi connects ishragi wisdom with the ancient priest-kings of Persia like Kai Khusrau and with the Greek sages like Ascle­pius, Pythagoras, and Plato whose wisdom was based on inner purification and intellectual intuition rather than on discursive logic.20

In a historical sense, ishragi wisdom is connected with pre-Aristotelian metaphysics. Jurjani in his T&rifdt calls the Ishragis "the philosophers whose master is Plato." 'Abd al-Razzaq Kashani, the celebrated Sufi, in his com­mentary upon the Fuses al-Hikam of ibn 'Arabi writes that the Ishragis derive their chain from Seth, often identified with Agathodemon, from whom craft initiations and Hermetic orders also derive their origin. Ibn Wahahiyy ah in his Nabataean Agriculture mentions a class of Egyptian priests who were the children of the sister of Hermes and who were called Ishragiyyun.21 Suhra­wardi himself writes in his Mutarahdt that the wisdom of Ishraq was possessed by the mythological priest-kings of ancient Persia, Kiumarth, Faridiin, and Kai Khusrau 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 al-Nun Misri and Bayazid Bistami.z"

Both metaphysically and historically, ishragi wisdom means the ancient pre-discursive mode of thought which is intuitive (dhaugi) rather than dis­cursive (bah thi). and which seeks to reach illumination by asceticism and puri­fication. In the hands of Suhrawardi it becomes a new school of wisdom integ­rating Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy with Zoroastrian angelology s.nd Hermetic ideas and placing the whole structure within the context of Sufism.

18 In European languages the word "orient" means both the east and the placing of onself in the right direction, and refers to the same symbolism.

is As Corbin states, "Ishraq is a knowledge which is Oriental because it is itself

the Orient of knowledge." Suhrawardi, Opera, Vol. I, p. xxix.

80 Throughout our writings we use the word "intellect" as the instrument of

gnosis, of direct intuitive knowledge where the knower and the known become identical, and distinguish it from reason which is its passive reflection.

21 Ibn Wahshiyyah, Ancient Alphabet and Hieroglyphic Characters, London, 1806, p. 100. These historical connections are discussed by H. Corbin in Lee motifs

zoroastriens dana la philosophic de Sohrawardi, Editions du Courrier, Teheran, 1325 Solar, p. 18, and the Prolegomene to Suhrawardi, Opera, Vol. I, pp. xxv ff. We are indebted to him for drawing our attention to them.

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