Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:47 am Post subject: THE ISLAMIC ISMAILISM PHILOSOPHY
BISMILIAHIR RAHMANIR RAHIM---(In the Name of God the Most Compassionate the Most
The Ismaili Philosophy
Ismailism belongs to the Shi‘a main stream of Islam. Recent scholarship, based on a more judicious analysis of primary sources, has shown how Ismaili thought was in constant interaction with and to a certain extent influenced well-known currents of Islamic philosophy, theology, and mysticism.
Shi‘i and Ismaili philosophy use ta’wil as a tool of interpretation of scripture. This Qur’anic term connotes going back to the original meaning of the Qur’an. The objective of Ismaili thought is to create a bridge between Hellenic philosophy and religion. The human intellect is engaged to retrieve and disclose that which is interior or hidden (batin).
Ismailism presents a cosmology within an adapted Neoplatonic framework but tries to create an alternative synthesis. The starting point of such a synthesis is the doctrine of ibda‘ (derived from Qur’an 2:117). In its verbal form it is taken to mean 'eternal existentiation' to explain the notion in the Qur’an of God’s timeless command (Kun: ‘Be!’). The process of creation can be said to take place at several levels. Ibda‘ represents the initial level. The human intellect eventually relates to creation and tries to penetrate the mystery of the unknowable God.
Human history operates cyclically. The function of the Prophet is to reveal the religious law (shari‘a) while the Imam unveils gradually to his disciples the inner meaning (batin) of the revelation through the ta’wil.
Ismailism belongs to the Shi‘a branch of Islam, and, in common with various Muslim interpretive communities, has been concerned with developing a philosophical discourse to elucidate foundational Qur’anic and Islamic beliefs and principles. It would, however, be misleading to label Ismaili and other Muslim philosophical stances, as has been done by some scholars in the past, simplistically as manifestations of "Ismaili/Muslim Neoplatonism," and "Ismaili/Muslim gnosticism," and so forth. While elements of these philosophical and spiritual schools were certainly appropriated, and common features may be evident in the expression and development of Ismaili as well as other ideas, it must be noted that they were applied within very different historical and intellectual contexts and that such ideas came to be quite dramatically transformed in their meaning, purpose and significance in Islamic philosophy.
By those who were hostile to it or opposed its philosophical and intellectual stance, the Ismailis were regarded as heretical; legends were fabricated about them and their teachings. Early Western scholarship on Islamic philosophy inherited some of the biases of some medieval Muslim anti-philosophical stances, which tended to project a negative image of Ismailism, perceiving its philosophical contribution as having been derived from sources and tendencies 'alien' to Islam. Recent scholarship, based on a more judicious analysis of primary sources, provides a balanced perspective, and has shown how Ismaili thought was in constant interaction with and to a certain extent influenced well-known currents of Islamic philosophy and theology. Their views represent a consensus that it is inappropriate to treat Ismailism as a marginal school of Islamic thought; rather it constitutes a significant philosophical branch, among others, in Islamic philosophy.
Early Ismaili philosophy works dating back to the Fatimid period (fourth/tenth to sixth/twelfth century) are in Arabic; Nasir Khusraw (d. 471/1078) was the only Ismaili writer of the period to write in Persian. The Arabic tradition was continued in Yemen and India by the Musta‘li branch and in Syria by the Nizaris. In Persia and in Central Asia, the tradition was preserved and elaborated in Persian. Elsewhere among the Ismailis, local oral languages and literatures played an important part, though no strictly philosophical writings were developed in these languages.
2. Language and Meaning: The Stance of Ismaili Philosophy
Among the tools of interpretation of scripture that are associated particularly with Shi‘i and Ismaili philosophy is that of ta’wil. The application of this Qur’anic term, which connotes "going back to the first/the beginning," marks the effort in Ismaili thought of creating a philosophical and hermeneutical discourse that establishes the intellectual discipline for approaching revelation and creates a bridge between philosophy and religion.
Philosophy as conceived in Ismaili thought thus seeks to extend the meaning of religion and revelation to identify the visible and the apparent (zahir) and also to penetrate to the roots, to retrieve and disclose that which is interior or hidden (batin). Ultimately, this discovery engages both the intellect (‘aql) and the spirit (ruh), functioning in an integral manner to illuminate and disclose truths (haqa’iq).
The appropriate mode of language which serves us best in this task is, according to Ismaili philosophers, symbolic language. Such language, which employs analogy, metaphor and symbols, allows one to make distinctions and to establish differences in ways that a literal reading of language does not permit. Such language employs a special system of signs, the ultimate meaning of which can be 'unveiled' by the proper application of hermeneutics (ta’wil).
3. Manifesting Transcendence: Knowledge of the Cosmos
It has been argued that Ismaili cosmology, integrates a manifestational cosmology (analogous to some aspects of Stoic thought) within an adapted Neoplatonic framework to create an alternative synthesis. The starting point of such a synthesis is the doctrine of ibda (derived from Qur’an 2:117). In its verbal form it is taken to mean 'eternal existentiation' to explain the notion in the Qur’an of God’s timeless command (Kun: Be!). Ibda therefore connotes not a specific act of creation but the dialogical mode through which a relationship between God and His creation can be affirmed - it articulates the process of beginning and sets the stage for developing a philosophy of the manifestation of transcendence in creation.
In sum the process of creation can be said to take place at several levels. Ibda represents the initial level - one transcends history, the other creates it. The spiritual and material realms are not dichotomous, since in the Ismaili formulation, matter and spirit are united under a higher genus and each realm possesses its own hierarchy. Though they require linguistic and rational categories for definition, they represent elements of a whole, and a true understanding of God must also take account of His creation. Such a synthesis is crucial to how the human intellect eventually relates to creation and how it ultimately becomes the instrument for penetrating through history the mystery of the unknowable God implied in the formulation of tawhid.
Human history, as conceived in Ismailism, operates cyclically. According to this typological view, the epoch of the great prophets mirrors the cosmological paradigm, unfolding to recover the equilibrium and harmony inherent in the divine pattern of creation. Prophets and, after them, their appointed successors, the imams, have as their collective goal the establishment of a just society. The function of the Prophet is to initiate the cycle for human society and of the Imam to complement and interpret the teaching to sustain the just order at the social and individual levels.
As Nasir Khusraw, the best known of the Ismaili writers in Persian, states in a passage paraphrased by Corbin:
Time is eternity measured by the movements of the heavens,
whose name is day, night, month, year. Eternity is Time not
measured, having neither beginning nor end…The cause of Time
is the Soul of the World….; it is not in time, for time is
in the horizon of the soul as its instrument, as the duration
of the living mortal who is "the shadow of the soul", while
eternity is the duration of the living immortal - that is to
say of the Intelligence and of the Soul.
This synthesis of time as cycle and time as arrow lies at the heart of an Ismaili philosophy of active engagement in the world.
Posted: Fri Mar 13, 2009 5:05 am Post subject: Re: THE ISLAMIC ISMAILISM PHILOSOPHY
Ya Ali Madad and Salam
I was doing some research to understand the fact about philosophy like where does the philosophy came from? Who was the first philosopher in the world? Where and when did it begin and what is philosophy? What do we benefit of studying of Philosophy?
In the past days in the great medieval times of Islamic World, there were various people with different type of background but were really interested into Islamic Philosophy thought, then however after the works of Al-Ghazali, he destorys the Philosophy and Science of Islam, then it was quickly forgotten and nobody care about these subjects any more. Thankz to Ibn Rushd the Great Philosopher that he wrote back against Al-Ghazali ( destruction of destruction)........
Why Does Anyone Need a Philosophy?
Answered by William Thomas
You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions—or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.
—Ayn Rand, Philosophy, Who Needs It (p. 5)[/u]
Thanks for the great questions. Heres the best answer I can give.
Who was the first philosopher in the world? Where and when did it begin and what is philosophy?
Well your first post talked about Hellenic so I'm assuming thats what you mean (as opposed to Chinese or Indian philosophy). For the Greeks, philosophy began about 600 BC. The first ever philosopher was Thales (according to Aristotle). Before Thales were the poets. Thales was a “pre-Socratic,” i.e. was concerned with what the basic “stuff” of the universe was, what was the nature of the cosmos – natural science. What made him the first philosopher? His search for general (abstract) principles, avoiding local explanations, etc, which is the cornerstone of philosophy and science. How to take disparate phenomenon and explain it in a universal manner.
Sicero said that Socrates the first to bring philosophy down from heavens into city and the individual soul/psyche/mind. Socrates didn't write anything. Plato did. Aristotle then wrote about Plato. But Socrates had different questions to ask than the pre-Socratics. He wasn't concerned about what the cosmos were made of. Simply put, he introduced the question of how to live and get along with others. He also raised questions to do with the gods, not just about obeying them, but with they actually were. So these questions got him into a lot of trouble. If you question someones way of life, you're implying that their way of life now may not be the best way of living.
What do we benefit of studying of Philosophy?
Philosophy is the love of wisdom and an activity of the mind/intellect. It is a motion in the soul called thinking, and the point of thinking is to figure things out and understand reality. Contrasted with opinion, doxa, philosophy attempts to sort out right from wrong opinion and replace it with knowledge. Philosophizing is way of living where that activity is the dominant thing in your life. Life is not about making money or killing your enemies, but above all about understanding reality.
Philosophy as the love of wisdom is the opposite of possesing wisdom. We want questions, not answers, because questions promte thinking and philosophizing. Philosophy begins with wonderment. You have to be seriously puzzled to figure something out. If you're filled with wonder, curiosity, you ask questions. Aristotle says one of ways that you can have the experience of wonder is look at stars, and wonder why they are as they are rather than some other way. Wonder is not that there is something rather than nothing, but it is why that it is that way rather than some other way. Lebeneiz says “it is that way it is because it is best way possible.”
So we don't read philosophy to find answers. We read philosophy to find questions, to find what are the right questions to ask. In Prior Analystics (Aristotle) it says that experiences teaches us what suitable premises are – suitable assumptions. So we need to listen to people with experience. We don't know what the right questions to ask are, but Plato did. And the same questions he asked 2500 years ago, are the same questions philosophers are asking today.
What Socrates really asked us was, “What is the best way to live?” Are these questions relevant today? Lets put it in todays context: Bin Laden says you live right when you live according to his interpretation of the Koran. Billy Graham says you live right when you live by the Bible according to his interpretation. But what happens when Bin Laden meets up with Billy Graham? Who is right, and how do you tell? How should you live?
This is the Socratic question. What is the best way, the right way? Wheres the judge? Who is right and who decides what is right? You need someone impartial, non-partisan, wise, well-informed, perhaps God. If God told you what is just and right, then we wouldn't have to concerned ourselves further.
Philosophers know that the Divine is real – they know it because of motions in their own souls – they are drawn to things higher than human – i.e. The divine. But the problem with relying on God to tell you these things is that what God says has to be intelligible to humans. If you think about that, that is a major problem. You can say God knows what is right, but he has to tell us in way we can understand.
In the Bible, St. Paul discusses speaking in tongues. God can inspire people to speak in tongues and roll on floor, and it is divine, but if humans cannot understand it, St. Paul says it is gibberish. You can have a revelation but if you can't account for it, its worthless. You have to be able to interpret holy messages – Which is why you have an Imam, right? The Koran says this is a book not to be doubted, which is fine, but its also true that muslims debate about what Koran actually means. This is true with any sacred text. One way or another, humans are compelled to argue.
Socrates says that if it is the right way to live, then it is right by nature, it is right before you choose. It is universal, and it is given, and already there. Fire burns just as hot in Greece as it does in Persia. He also said that the structure of your soul is given already - you didn't make that either. So there is one way that is right, superior, best of all, compared to all the other ways, which are inferior, BY NATURE. How do you know this? By actualizing your reason.
So that is why you learn philosophy. That is what you gain from it. You gain your soul. The only just and completely just life, the life of complete justice, is a philosophical life. Virtue and justice of the soul is the ultimate aim of life and can only be achieved through philosophy, and once you have attained these things, nothing, not even death, can deprive you of it, because the soul is eternal.
So that is why you learn philosophy. That is what you gain from it. You gain your soul. The only just and completely just life, the life of complete justice, is a philosophical life. Virtue and justice of the soul is the ultimate aim of life and can only be achieved through philosophy, and once you have attained these things, nothing, not even death, can deprive you of it, because the soul is eternal.
Nice explanation. Just to add....
Philosophic insight which is really Deedar in its truest sense is the highest reward of our existence in this world. It is of course a product of the Grace which is bestowed when a person exercises reason to its highest degree combined with devotion and action in conformity with reason. In traditional terms it is the haqiqati state which fully integrates the Sharia (the Law) with the Tariqah (the Way or the Method) and hence is fully prepared for the Gnosis (Marifat).
In a verse of the Ginan it is stated:
ejee shareeat hak karee jaannee-e, to turat tareekat paae;
hakeekat dil maa(n)e nakasee-e, to maaraphate milee jaae.....3
If one realizes the truth of the Law, one immediately discovers the Way. If Reality (inner mysteries) is imprinted on the heart, in Gnosis one is united.
Paul Brunton in his essay: Insight in Essays on the Quest, expresses the integration of all faculties in the philosophic insight as:
Enlightenment is not a process which occurs as the result of a single factor. If insight has been gained by purely mystical means - which is the shorter way - it is always partial and fitful. If it has been gained by philosophic means - which includes the mystical and is therefore the longer way - it is full and permanent. The science of biology has shown that Nature takes more time to bring the superior organisms to their full growth than to bring the inferior ones to the same point. In the same way she requires a longer period to bring to maturity the higher power of the human mind than the lower ones. And insight, being the highest, subtlest and most recondite of all such powers, can therefore come into being only long after they themselves have come into being. That is to say, scientific thought and metaphysical reflection, mundane emotion and mystical feeling, intellect and intuition must first proffer their contributions before insight can establish itself. Hence insight cannot be reached by intellect or emotion, intuition or will acting apart. None of these can of itself attain this goal. The whole man must advance towards it. When the faculty of reason is constantly exercised at its highest pitch, which means its most abstract and metaphysical pitch; if and when such exercise is conjoined in a certain way with the practice of mystical meditation; and when profound veneration and altruistic compassion is the atmosphere within which they move, they are one day suddenly and quite spontaneously replaced by the higher faculty of insight. The mystic finds his inner self. He discovers that personality is rooted in a deeper, wider being - the Overself. But he does not discover the significance of the not-self. He does not enter into comprehension of the All. Once a philosophic illumination has been gained, it shines steadily and enduringly. It is never clouded even for a moment. In other words, the philosopher walks in perpetual light and not in intermittent flashes of light as does the mystic. The philosophic knowledge is a well-established one, whereas the mystic knowledge is an occasional one. Philosophic truth is a constant and unclouded power of the one, whereas fleeting intuition or temporary ecstasy at best is the attainment of the other. When a steady enlightenment beats down upon your path of life, you have gained something which is unquestionably superior to the fitful feelings of ecstasy which visit the devotee or the mystic now and then. For these feelings will not of themselves be sufficient to keep you from going astray during the intervals when you do not have them, whereas the philosophic illumination shows you clearly every inch of the ground where you are walking. The mystic gets his fitful and partial glimpses of the Over-consciousness, whereas with the philosopher, like a lamp in a windless place, it burns steadily. The inner perception will finally become continuous and the insight into what both he and the world really is will be inseparable from him. His inward eye forever gazes into infinity whilst his physical eyes do not fail to see the world at the same time.
oh boy.......this is fun....................now we are talking the ismailly religion that i understand . thank you both prhedst and karim.....I wonder if the ideology can be molded in a practical format......with constant evolving nature of the universe, newer simpler,shorter ways have to sping up as i feel we are vibrating at a much faster speed.shukhran..........both of you
Mystical philosophy has an intimate connection with the mainstream of Islamic philosophy. It consists of several main strands, ranging from Isma'ili thought to the metaphysics of al-Ghazali and Ibn al-'Arabi, and with a continuing powerful presence in the contemporary Islamic world. Although mystical thinkers were aware that they were advocating an approach to thinking and knowledge which differed from much of the Peripatetic tradition, they constructed a systematic approach which was often continuous with that tradition. On the whole they emphasized the role of intellectual intuition in our approach to understanding reality, and sought to show how such an understanding might be put on a solid conceptual basis. The ideas that they created were designed to throw light on the nature of the inner sense of Islam.
1. Mystical philosophy as Islamic philosophy
2. Isma'ili and Hermetic philosophy
3. Illuminationist philosophy
4. Philosophy in the Maghrib and Spain
5. Illuminationist thought in the East
6. Sufism and the Akbarian tradition
1. Mystical philosophy as Islamic philosophy
It is important at the outset to ask what is meant by mystical philosophy in the context of the Islamic philosophical tradition. The term in Arabic closest to the phrase 'mystical philosophy' would perhaps be al-hikmat al-dhawqiyya, literally 'tasted philosophy or wisdom', which etymologically corresponds exactly to sapience from the Latin root sapere, meaning to taste. As understood in English, however, the term 'mystical philosophy' would include other types of thought in the Islamic context, although al-hikmat al-dhawqiyya was at its heart. Al-hikmat al-dhawqiyya is usually contrasted with discursive philosophy, or al-hikmat al-bahthiyya. Mystical philosophy in Islam would have to include all intellectual perspectives, which consider not only reason but also the heart-intellect, in fact primarily the latter as the main instrument for the gaining of knowledge. If this definition is accepted, then most schools of Islamic philosophy had a mystical element, for there was rarely a rationalistic philosophy developed in Islam which remained impervious to the distinction between reason and the intellect (as nous or intellectus) and the primacy of the latter while rejecting altogether the role of the heart-intellect in gaining knowledge.
This entry concentrates on those schools which not only include but emphasize noesis and the role of the heart-intellect or illumination in the attainment of knowledge. We shall therefore leave aside the Peripatetic school, despite the mystical elements in certain works of al-Farabi, the 'oriental philosophy' of Ibn Sina (Nasr 1996b) and the doctrine of the intellect adopted by the Muslim Peripatetics (mashsha'un) in general. Instead, the discussion will concentrate primarily upon the Isma'ili philosophy so closely connected with Hermetic, Pythagorean and Neoplatonic teachings, the school of Illumination (ishraq) of al-Suhrawardi and his followers, certain strands of Islamic philosophy in Spain and later Islamic philosophy in Persia and India. However, it would also have to include the doctrinal formulations of Sufism and its metaphysics from al-Ghazali and Ibn al-'Arabi to the present.
2. Isma'ili and Hermetic philosophy
Isma'ili philosophy was among the earliest to be formulated in Islam going back to the Umm al-kitab (The Mother of Books) composed in the second century ah (eighth century ad). It expanded in the fourth century ah (tenth century ad) with Abu Hatim al-Razi and Hamid al-Din Kirmani and culminated with Nasir-i Khusraw (Corbin 1993, 1994). By nature this whole philosophical tradition was esoteric in character and identified philosophy itself with the inner, esoteric and therefore mystical dimension of religion. It was concerned with the hermeneutic interpretation (ta'wil) of sacred scripture and saw authentic philosophy as a wisdom which issues from the instructions of the Imam (who is identified on a certain level with the heart-intellect), the figure who is able to actualize the potentialities of the human intellect and enable it to gain divine knowledge. The cosmology, psychology and eschatology of Isma'ilism are inextricably connected with its Imamology and the role of the Imam in initiation into the divine mysteries. All the different schools of Isma'ili philosophy, therefore, must be considered as mystical philosophy despite notable distinctions between them, especially, following the downfall of the Fatimids, between the interpretations of those who followed the Yemeni school of Isma'ilism and those who accepted Hasan al-Sabbah and 'The Resurrection of Alamut' in the seventh century ah (thirteenth century ad).
Two of the notable philosophical elements associated with Shi'ism in general and Isma'ilism in particular during the early centuries of Islamic history are Hermetism and Pythagoreanism, the presence of which is already evident in that vast corpus of writings associated with Jabir ibn Hayyan, who was at once alchemist and philosopher. The philosophical dimension of the Jabirian corpus is certainly of a mystical nature, having incorporated much of Hermeticism into itself, as are later works of Islamic alchemy which in fact acted as channels for the transmission of Hermetic philosophy to the medieval West. When one thinks of the central role of Hermeticism in Western mystical philosophy, one must not forget the immediate Islamic origin of such fundamental texts as the Emerald Tablet and the Turba Philosophorum, and therefore the significance of such works as texts of Islamic mystical philosophy. Obviously, therefore, one could not speak of Islamic mystical philosophy without mentioning at least the Hermetical texts integrated into Islamic thought by alchemists as well as philosophers and Sufis, and also Hermetic texts written by Muslim authors themselves. It should be recalled in this context in fact that the philosopher Ibn Sina had knowledge of certain Hermetic texts such as Poimandres and the Sufi Ibn al-'Arabi displays vast knowledge of Hermeticism in his al-Futuhat al-makkiyya (The Meccan Illuminations) and many other works (Sezgin 1971).
As for Pythagoreanism, although elements of it are seen in the Jabirian corpus, it was primarily in the Rasa'il (Epistles) of the Ikhwan al-Safa' in the fourth century ah (tenth century ad), who came from a Shi'ite background and whose work was wholly adopted by later Isma'ilism, that one sees the full development of an Islamic Pythagoreanism based upon the symbolic and mystical understanding of numbers and geometric forms (Netton 1982). What is called Pythagorean number mysticism in the West had a full development in the Islamic world, and was in fact more easily integrated into the general Islamic intellectual framework than into that of Western Christianity.
3. Illuminationist philosophy
Perhaps the most enduring and influential school of mystical philosophy in Islam came into being in the sixth century ah (twelfth century ad) with Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi, who founded the school of ishraq or Illumination. Al-Suhrawardi's basic premise was that knowledge is available to man not through ratiocination alone but also, and above all, through illumination resulting from the purification of one's inner being. He founded a school of philosophy which some have called theosophy in its original sense, that is, mystical philosophy through and through but without being against logic or the use of reason. In fact, al-Suhrawardi criticized Aristotle and the Muslim Peripatetics on logical grounds before setting about expounding the doctrine of ishraq. This doctrine is based not on the refutation of logic, but of transcending its categories through an illuminationist knowledge based on immediacy and presence, or what al-Suhrawardi himself called 'knowledge by presence' (al-'ilm al-huduri), in contrast to conceptual knowledge (al-'ilm al-husuli) which is our ordinary method of knowing based on concepts (Ha'iri Yazdi 1992).
In his masterpiece Hikmat al-ishraq (The Philosophy of Illumination), translated by the foremost Western student of al-Suhrawardi, Henry Corbin, as Le Livre de la Sagesse Orientale (The Book of Oriental Wisdom), the Master of Illumination presents an exposition of a form of mystical philosophy which has had a following up to the present day. Based upon the primacy of illumination by the angelic lights as the primary means of attaining authentic knowledge, the school of ishraq in fact was instrumental in bestowing a mystical character upon nearly all later Islamic philosophy, which drew even closer to Islamic esotericism or Sufism than in the earlier centuries of Islamic history without ever ceasing to be philosophy. Although the wedding between philosophy and mysticism in Islam is due most of all to the gnostic and sapiential nature of Islamic spirituality itself, on the formal level it is most of all the school of Illumination or ishraq which was instrumental in actualizing this wedding, as eight centuries of later Islamic philosophy bears witness.
4. Philosophy in the Maghrib and Spain
The rise of intellectual activity in the Maghrib and, especially, Andalusia was associated from the beginning with an intellectual form of Sufism in which Ibn Masarra was to play a central role. Most of the later Islamic philosophers of this region possessed a mystical dimension, including even the Peripatetics Ibn Bajja and Ibn Tufayl. The former's Tadbir al-mutawahhid (Regimen of the Solitary), far from being a political treatise, deals in reality with man's inner being. Ibn Tufayl's Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Living Son of the Awake), interpreted by many in the West in naturalistic and rationalistic terms, is a symbolic account of the wedding between the partial and universal intellect within the human being, a wedding which results consequently in the confirmation of revelation that is also received through the archangel of revelation, who is none other than the objective embodiment of the universal intellect. Moreover, this mystical tendency is to be seen in its fullness in less well-known figures such as Ibn al-Sid of Badajoz who, like the Ikhwan al-Safa', was devoted to mathematical mysticism, and especially the Sufi Ibn Sab'in, the last of the Andalusian philosophers of the seventh century ah (thirteenth century ad), who developed one of the most extreme forms of mystical philosophy in Islam based upon the doctrine of the transcendent unity of being (wahdat al-wujud) (Taftazani and Leaman 1996). Andalusia was also the home of the greatest expositor of Sufi metaphysics, Ibn al-'Arabi.
5. Illuminationist thought in the East
In eastern lands of the Islamic world and especially Persia, which was the main theatre for the flourishing of Islamic philosophy from the seventh century ah (thirteenth century ad) onward, primarily mystical philosophy was dominant during later centuries despite the revival of the discursive philosophy of the mashsha'is, such as Ibn Sina, by Khwajah Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and others. It was in the East in the seventh and eighth centuries ah (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries ad) that the doctrines of ishraq with its emphasis on inner vision and illumination were revived by al-Suhrawardi's major commentators, Shams al-Din al-Shahrazuri and Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi, who was also a master of Ibn Sinan philosophy. The next three centuries saw mystical ideas and doctrines become ever more combined with the philosophical theses of the earlier schools, and figures such as Ibn Turkah Isfahani sought consciously to combine the teachings of Ibn Sina, al-Suhrawardi and Ibn al-'Arabi.
This tendency culminated in the tenth century ah (sixteenth century ad) with the establishment of the School of Isfahan by Mir Damad and the foremost metaphysician of later Islamic thought, Mulla Sadra, in whom the blending of ratiocination, inner illumination and revelation became complete (Corbin 1972). In this school the most rigorous logical discourse is combined with illumination and direct experience of ultimate reality, as seen so amply in Mulla Sadra's masterpiece al-Asfar al-arba'ah (The Four Journeys). This later Islamic philosophy is certainly mystical philosophy, relying as it does on 'experiential' knowledge and direct vision of ultimate reality and the angelic worlds, a vision that is associated with the eye of the heart ('ayn al-qalb orchism-i dil). However, it is also a philosophy in which the categories of logic are themselves seen as ladders for ascent to the world of numinous reality in accordance with the Islamic perspective, in which what would be called Islamic mysticism from a Christian perspective is of a gnostic ('irfani) and sapiental nature, Islamic mysticism being essentially a path of knowledge of which love is the consort, rather than a way of love exclusive of knowledge.
In any case it was this type of philosophy, associated especially with the name of Mulla Sadra, that has dominated the philosophical scene in Persia during the past few centuries and produced major figures such as Hajji Mulla Hadi al-Sabzawari and Mulla 'Ali Zunuzi in the thirteenth century ah (nineteenth century ad), both of whom were philosophers as well as mystics. It is also this type of philosophy that continues to this day and has in fact been revived during the past few decades. Nearly all philosophers in Persia associated with the school of Mulla Sadra, which is also known as al-hikmat al-muta'aliya (literally the 'transcendent theosophy'), have been and remain at once philosophers and mystics.
In India likewise, Islamic philosophy began to spread only after al-Suhrawardi and during the past seven centuries most Islamic philosophers in that land have been also what in the West would be called mystics. It is not accidental that the school of Mulla Sadra spread rapidly after him in India and has had expositors there to this day. Perhaps the most famous of Muslim intellectual figures in India, Shah Waliullah of Delhi, exemplifies this reality. He was a philosopher and Sufi as well as a theologian, and his many writings attest to the blending of philosophy and mysticism. It can in fact be said that Islamic philosophy in India is essentially mystical philosophy, despite the attention paid by the Islamic philosophers there to logic and in some cases to natural philosophy and medicine.
6. Sufism and the Akbarian tradition
No treatment of mystical philosophy in Islam would be complete without a discussion of doctrinal Sufism and Sufi metaphysics, although technically speaking in Islamic civilization a clear distinction has always been made between philosophy (al-falsafa or al-hikma) and Sufi metaphysics and gnosis (al-ma'rifah, 'irfan). However, as the term 'mystical philosophy' is understood in English, it would certainly include Sufi metaphysical and cosmological doctrines which were not explicitly formulated until the sixth and seventh centuries ah (twelfth and thirteenth centuries ad) although their roots are to be found in the Qur'an and hadith and the sayings and writings of the early Sufis. The first Sufi authors who turned to an explicit formulation of Sufi metaphysical doctrines were Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali in his later esoteric treatise such as Mishkat al-anwar (The Niche of Lights) and al-Risalat al-laduniyya (Treatise on Divine Knowledge), and 'Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani who followed a generation after him.
The writings of these great masters were, however, a prelude for the vast expositions of the master of Islamic gnosis Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-'Arabi, perhaps the most influential Islamic intellectual figure of the past seven hundred years. Not only did he profoundly influence many currents of Sufism and establish an 'Akbarian tradition' identified with such later masters as Sadr al-Din Qunawi, 'Abd al-Rahman Jami and, in the last century, Amir 'Abd al-Qadir and Shaykh Ahmad al-'Alawi. He and his school also influenced formal philosophy to such an extent that a figure such as Mulla Sadra would not be conceivable without him. The Ibn al-'Arabian doctrines of the transcendent unity of being, the universal man, the imaginal world and eschatological realities are not only esoteric and mystical doctrines of the greatest significance in themselves for the understanding of the inner teachings of Islam, but are also sources of philosophical meditation for generations of Islamic philosophers to the present day, who have cultivated diverse and rich schools of mystical philosophy during the past eight centuries and brought into being currents of philosophical thought that are still alive in the Islamic world. One need only think of such fourteenth century ah (twentieth century ad) figures as 'Alalamah Tabataba'i in Persia and 'Abd al-Halim Mahmud in Egypt to realize the significance of the wedding between philosophy and mysticism in the Islamic intellectual tradition, not only over the ages, but as part of the contemporary Islamic intellectual scene.
References and further reading
Chittick, W. (1989) The Sufi Path of Knowledge, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (The standard account of the nature of mystical knowledge.)
Chittick, W. (1994) Imaginal Worlds: Ibn al-'Arabi and the Problem of Religious Diversity, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (An analysis of the concept of the mundus imaginalis.)
Chodkiewicz, M. (1993) Seal of the Saints - Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn 'Arabi, trans. L. Sherrard, Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society. (Close account of the key concepts of prophecy and sainthood.)
* Corbin, H. (1972) En Islam iranien (On Persian Islam) Paris: Gallimard. (The most important collection of sources of Persian philosophy.)
Corbin, H. (1980) Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, trans. W. Trask, Houston, TX: Spring Publications. (Ibn Sina's account of mystical perception.)
* Corbin, H. (1993) The History of Islamic Philosophy, in collaboration with S.H. Nasr and O. Yahya, trans. P. Sherrard, London: Kegan Paul International. (The first history to lay proper emphasis on Persian philosophy.)
* Corbin, H. (1994) Trilogie ismaélienne (Isma'ili Trilogy), Paris: Verdier. (Discussion of some of the most important Isma'ili texts.)
Cruz Hernández, M. (1981) Historia del pensamiento en el mundo islámico (History of Thought in the Islamic World), Madrid: Alianza Editorial. (Excellent general account of Islamic philosophy.)
* Ha'iri Yazdi, M. (1992) The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy - Knowledge by Presence, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (The best account of 'ilm al-huduri, knowledge by presence.)
Knysh, A. (1993) 'The Diffusion of Ibn 'Arabi's Doctrine', in S. Hirtenstein and M. Tiernan (eds) Muhyiddin ibn 'Arabi - A Commemorative Volume, Shaftesbury: Element, 307-27. (Discussion of the influence of Ibn al-'Arabi.)
Nanji, A. (1996) 'Isma'ili Philosophy', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, ch. 9, 144-54. (Examination of Isma'ili philosophy including the influence of Neoplatonism.)
Nasr, S.H. (1975) Three Muslim Sages, New York: Delmar. (Excellent introductions to Ibn Sina, al-Suhrawardi and Ibn al-'Arabi.)
Nasr, S.H. (1978) Islamic Life and Thought, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (General introduction to the role of mysticism in Islamic culture.)
Nasr, S.H. (1996a) 'Ibn Sina's Oriental Philosophy', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, 247-51. (Argument for the existence and importance of the 'oriental philosophy'.)
* Nasr, S.H. (1996b) The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia, Richmond: Curzon Press. (Deals with the Persian contribution to philosophy and mysticism.)
* Netton, I. (1982) Muslim Neoplatonists: An Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity, London: Allen & Unwin. (The standard account of the Ikhwan al-Safa'.)
* Sezgin, F. (1971) Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums (History of Arabic Literature), vol. 4, Leiden: Brill. (Sources on Hermetism in Islamic literature.)
* al-Suhrawardi (1154-91) Hikmat al-ishraq (The Philosophy of Illumination), trans H. Corbin, Le livre de la sagesse orientale, Paris: Verdier, 1986. (Very important illuminationist text.)
* Taftazani, A. and Leaman, O. (1996) 'Ibn Sab'in', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, 346-9. (Discussion of the significance of the thought of Ibn Sab'in.)
Ziai, H. (1990) Knowledge and Illumination, Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. (Very clear account of the links between illuminationist philosophy and epistemology.)
Posted: Thu Apr 09, 2009 8:24 am Post subject: Re: THE ISLAMIC ISMAILISM PHILOSOPHY
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Nasir al-Din Tusi (1201-1274)
Nasir al-Din Tusi, by far the most celebrated scholar of the 13th century Islamic lands, was born in Tus, in 1201 and died in Baghdad in 1274. He was apparently born into a Twelver Shi‘i family. At the age of twenty-two or a while later, Tusi joined the court of Nasir al-Din Muhtashim, the Ismaili governor of Quhistan, Northeast Iran, where he was accepted into the Ismaili community as a novice.
Around 634/1236, we find Tusi in Alamut, the centre of Nizari Ismaili government. He seems to have climbed the ranks of the Ismaili da‘wat ascending to the position of chief missionary (da‘i al-du‘at). The collapse of Ismaili political power and the massacre of the Ismaili population, during the Mongol invasion, left no choice for Tusi except the exhibition of some sort of affiliation to Twelver Shi‘ism and denouncing his Ismaili allegiances (taqiyya).
In the Mongol court, Tusi witnessed the fall of the ‘Abbasid caliphate and after a while, securing the trust of Hulegu, the Mongol chief, he was given the full authority of administering the finances of religious foundations (awqaf). The ensemble of Tusi’s writings amounts to approximately 165 titles on a wide variety of subjects (astronomy, ethics, history, jurisprudence, logic, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, theology, poetry and the popular sciences).
Nasir al-Din Tusi, Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Hasan, by far the most celebrated scholar of the 7th/13th century Islamic lands was born in Tus, in 597/1201 and died in Baghdad on 18 Dhu’l Hijja 672/25 June, 1274. Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon were his contemporaries in the West. Very little is known about his childhood and early education, apart from what he writes in his autobiography, Contemplation and Action (Sayr wa suluk).
He was apparently born into a Twelver Shi‘i family and lost his father at a young age. Fulfilling the wish of his father, the young Muhammad took learning and scholarship very seriously and travelled far and wide to attend the lectures of renowned scholars and ‘acquire the knowledge which guides people to the happiness of the next world.’ As a young boy, Tusi studied mathematics with Kamal al-Diin Hasib about whom we have no authentic knowledge. In Nishabur he met Farid al-Din ‘Attar, the legendary Sufi master who was later killed in the hand of Mongol invaders and attended the lectures of Qutb al-Din Misri and Farid al-Din Damad. In Mawsil he studied mathematics and astronomy with Kamal al-Din Yunus (d. 639/1242). Later on he corresponded with Qaysari, the son-in-law of Ibn al-‘Arabi, and it seems that mysticism, as propagated by Sufi masters of his time, was not appealing to his mind and once the occasion was suitable, he composed his own manual of philosophical Sufism in the form of a small booklet entitled The Attributes of the Illustrious (Awsaf al-ashraf).
His ability and talent in learning enabled Tusi to master a number disciplines in a relatively short period. At the time when educational priorities leaned towards the religious sciences, especially in his own family who were associated with the Twelver Shi‘i clergy, Tusi seems to have shown great interest for mathematics, astronomy and the intellectual sciences. At the age of twenty-two or a while later, Tusi joined the court of Nasir al-Din Muhtashim, the Ismaili governor of Quhistan, Northeast Iran, where he was accepted into the Ismaili community as a novice (mustajib). A sign of close personal relationship with Muhtashim’s family is to be seen in the dedication of a number of his scholarly works such as Akhlaq-i Nasiri and Akhlaq-i Muhtashimi to Nasir al-Din himself and Risala-yi Mu‘iniyya to his son Mu‘in al-Din.
Around 634/1236, we find Tusi in Alamut, the centre of Nizari Ismaili government. The scholarly achievements of Tusi in the compilation of Akhlaq-i Nasiri in 633/1235, seems to, amongst other factors, have paved the way for this move which was a great honour and opportunity for a scholar of his calibre, especially since Alamut was the seat of the Ismaili imam and housed the most important library in the Ismaili state.
In Alamut, apart from teaching, editing, dictating and compiling scholarly works, Tusi seems to have climbed the ranks of the Ismaili da‘wat ascending to the position of chief missionary (da‘i al-du‘at). Through constant visits with scholars and tireless correspondences, a practice which he developed from a very young age, Tusi kept his contact with the academic world outside Ismaili circles and was addressed as ‘the scholar’ (al-muhaqiq) from a very early period in his life.
The Mongol invasion and the turmoil they caused in the eastern Islamic territories hardly left the life of any of its citizens untouched. The collapse of Ismaili political power and the massacre of the Ismaili population, who were a serious threat to the Mongols, left no choice for Tusi except the exhibition of some sort of affiliation to Twelver Shi‘ism and denouncing his Ismaili allegiances.
Although under Mongol domination, Tusi’s allegiance to any particular community or persuasion could not have been of any particular importance, the process itself paved the ground for Tusi to write on various aspects of Shi‘ism, both from Ismaili and Twelver Shi‘i viewpoints, with scholarly vigour and enthusiasm. The most famous of his Ismaili compilations are Rawda-yi taslim, Sayr wa suluk, Tawalla wa tabarra, Akhlaq-i Muhtashimi and Matlub al-mu’minin. Tajrid al-i‘tiqad, al-Risala fi’l-imama and Fusul-i Nasiriyya are among his works dedicated to Twelver Shi‘ism.
In the Mongol court, Tusi witnessed the fall of the ‘Abbasid caliphate and after a while, securing the trust of Hulegu, the Mongol chief, he was given the full authority of administering the finances of religious foundations (awqaf). During this period of his life, Tusi’s main concern was combating Mongol savagery, saving the life of innocent scholars and the establishment of one of the most important centres of learning in Maragha, Northwest Iran. The compilation of Musari‘at al-musari‘;, the Awsaf al-ashraf and Talkis al-muhassal are the scholarly writings of Tusi in the final years of his life.
The ensemble of Tusi’s writings amounts to approximately 165 titles on a wide variety of subjects. Some of them are simply a page or even half a page, but the majority with few exceptions, are well prepared scholarly works on astronomy, ethics, history, jurisprudence, logic, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, theology, poetry and the popular sciences. Tusi’s fame in his own lifetime guaranteed the survival of almost all of his scholarly output. The adverse effect of his fame is also the attribution of a number of works which neither match his style nor has the quality of his writings.
Tusi’s major works: (1) Astronomy: al-Tadhkira fi ‘ilm al-hay’a; Zij Ilkhani; Risala-yi Mu‘iniyya and its commentary. (2) Ethics: Gushayish-nama; Akhlaq-i Muhtashami; Akhlaq-i Nasiri, ‘Deliberation 22’ in Rawda-yi taslim and a Persian translation of Ibn Muqaffa‘’s al-Adab al-wajiz. (3) History: Fath-i Baghdad which appears as an appendix to Tarikh-i Jahan-gushay of Juwayni (London, 1912-27), vol. 3, pp. 280-92. (4) Jurisprudence: Jawahir al-fara’id. (5) Logic: Asas al-iqtibas. (6) Mathematics: Revision of Ptolemy’s Almagest; the epistles of Theodosius, Hypsicles, Autolucus, Aristarchus, Archimedes, Menelaus, Thabit b. Qurra and Banu Musa. (7) Medicine: Ta‘liqa bar qunun-i Ibn Sina and his correspondences with Qutb al-Din Shirazi and Katiban Qazwini. ( 8 ) Philosophy: refutation of al-Shahrastani in Musara‘at al-musari‘; his commentary on Ibn Sina’s al-Isharat wa’l-tanbihat which took him almost 20 years to complete; his autobiography Sayr wa suluk; Rawda-yi taslim and Tawalla wa tabarra. (9) Theology: Aghaz wa anjam; Risala fi al-imama and Talkhis al-muhassal and (10) Poetry: Mi‘yar al-ash‘ar.
References and Further Reading
Badakhchani, S. J. Contemplation and Action: The Spiritual Autobiography of a Muslim Scholar (London, I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 1998). Mudarris Radawi, Muhammad. Ahwal wa athar-i Abu Ja‘far Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Hasan al-Tusi. Tehran, Intisharat-i Danishgah-i Tehran, 1345s/1975. Mudarrisi Zanjani, Muhammad. Sargudhasht wa ‘aqa‘id-i falsafi-yi Khwaja Nasir al-Din Tusi. Tehran, Intisharat-i Danishgah-i Tehran, 1363s/1984. Madelung, Wilferd. ‘Nasir al-Din Tusi’s Ethics Between Philosophy, Shi‘ism and Sufism,’ in Ethics in Islam, ed. R. G. Hovannisian, Malibu, CA, 1985, pp. 85-101.
Posted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 11:23 am Post subject: Re: THE ISLAMIC ISMAILISM PHILOSOPHY
Nasir Khusraw (1004-1060)
Table of Contents
3. References and Further Reading
In striking contrast to other Ismaili writers of the time (s.v., Hamid ai-din al Kirmani; Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani), a good deal of information exists on Khusraw’s life, most written by his own hand, some by a (hostile) contemporary, some by later historians, and some apocryphal. He has been included in every major literary or historical survey produced since his lifetime. We can divide Khusraw’s life into four periods: his early years up to age forty (for which we must pull snippets from various texts); his conversion to Ismailism (of which he has left two different versions, one prose, one poetry); his seven-year journey (found in his Safarnama); and his years of preaching followed by persecution and exile (drawn primarily from his poetry, but also a few statements in his philosophical works).
Abu Mo’in Hamid al-Din Nasir ibn Khusraw was born in 1004 in Qobadiyan in the district of Marv, in the eastern Iranian province of Khurasan. He and at least two of his brothers enjoyed high positions in the administrative ranks of the Saljuq court (he says he himself was in the revenue department), and there is evidence that he was also familiar with the court of previous dynasty, the Ghaznavids. Based on the quality of his writings, it is obvious he received an excellent education in the sciences, literatures and philosophies of his time, including the study of Greek and Neoplatonic philosophy. He tells us he examined the doctrines of the different Islamic schools and was not satisfied until he found and understood the Ismaili faith. From this event of conversion, he embarked on his journey, during which time he spent three years in the Ismaili court in Cairo of the Fatimid caliph, al-Mustansir (1029-1094). The Fatimid dynasty (909-1171) aimed at creating an Islamic state based on Ismaili tenets, and thus presented a direct theological and military challenge to the Sunni ‘Abbasid caliphate based in Baghdad. He left Cairo as the head (hujjat) of Ismaili missionary activities in his home province of Khurasan. At some point, he was forced by the Sunni authorities to flee for his life; he lived the rest of his life in exile further east, in the Pamir Mountains in Badakhshan, located in today’s Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Khusraw’s philosophical works reveal a strong Neoplatonic structure and vocabulary. For example, his cosmogony closely follows Plotinus, moving from God and God’s word (logos), to Intellect, Soul, and the world of Nature. In holding to this cosmogonic description, Khusraw follows his fellow Ismailis (Nasafi and al-Sijistani) and ignores the structure introduced by al-Farabi and picked up by Ibn Sina and the Ismaili philosopher al-Kirmani.
Before looking at this more closely, it is important to understand that underlying each of the Ismaili cosmogonic systems is a fundamental division of all into two realms, the esoteric and the exoteric, the batin and zahir. With this division, everything in the physical world points to its counterpart in the spiritual, which is seen as its source, its home, its true form. Thus the cosmogonic structure itself reveals a purposeful, providential unfolding from the imaginal, spiritual into the physical, which looks back at the spiritual and seeks to grasp it and comprehend it.
Khusraw begins with a discussion of tawhid (oneness, God’s unity), the clear understanding of which is the only way to achieve spiritual perfection. For Nasir, God Himself is indescribable (nothing which has an opposite can be ascribed to Him, since that would be limiting Him to human concepts) and is not a being, in fact, is beyond all categories of being and non-being alike. However, from God emerges his Word (kalmia), ‘Be!’, which brings into existence Universal Intellect, perfect in potentiality and actuality. Intellect contains all being within itself, with no time or space, all opposites with no differentiation. Intellect enjoys a worshipful intimacy with God and a perfection born of this intimacy. From this worship, emerges Universal Soul, perfect in potentiality but not in actuality, because it is separated from God by Intellect. Universal Soul recognises this separation, desires the perfection enjoyed by Intellect, and moves to approach closer to God. With these three actions, and its movement seeking perfection, Soul introduces the first movement into the entire structure, thus also time and place. The entire cosmos has thus been set into motion, and with it the oppositions of hot, cold, wet, dry, and from them the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. From these elements arise first the minerals, then the plants, then the animals, and finally, the summit of physical creation, human beings, embedded within whom are individual intellects and individual souls manifesting the same characteristics (but on an smaller level) as the universals. In fact, the entire cosmos is laid down on a matrix of Intellect and Soul; everything within it displays the original intelligence and drive exhibited by the original duo.
Khusraw’s ethics grow from and reflect this cosmogony. Each individual’s task is to recognise his or her own imperfections and then move to correct them, seeking the closest relationship possible with God. For Khusraw, this is achieved by stringent and repeated application of the intellect, to both physical and spiritual matters. The believer must find a guide, must study diligently, must perform all required religious acts with full understanding, and must accompany new understanding with new, superior levels of worldly activity.
As an Ismaili, Khusraw held the Shi‘i doctrine that God would not send a revelation without a guide to interpret it. For the Ismailis, this guide must be a living person, the Imam of the Time, divinely inspired, infallible, and perfectly capable of providing guidance in spiritual and worldly affairs, who thus serves as a living bridge between the two realms.
3. References and Further Reading
The following sources elucidate Khusraw’s philosophy: H. Corbin, ‘Nasir-i Khusrau and Iranian Ismailism,’ in The Cambridge History of Iran: Volume 4, ed., R. N. Frye (Cambridge 1975), pp. 520-42 and 689-90; A. Hunsberger, ‘Nasir Khusraw: Fatimid Intellectual,’ in F. Daftary, ed., Intellectual Traditions in Islam (London 2000), pp. 112-29; A. Hunsberger, Nasir Khusraw’s Doctrine of the Soul: From the Universal Intellect to the Physical World in Isma‘ili Philosophy, PhD thesis, Columbia University, New York, 1992; S. Meskoob, Shahrokh, ‘The Origin and Meaning of ‘Aql (Reason) in the View of Nasir Khusraw,’ Iran Nameh, 6 (1989), pp. 239-57, and 7 (1989), pp. 405-29. For a full bibliography of Nasir Khusraw’s works and ideas, see A. C. Hunsberger, Nasir Khusraw, the Ruby of Badakhshan: A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveller and Philosopher (London 2000). For works still in manuscript, see I. K. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Ismaili Literature, Malibu, Calif., 1977), p. 123.
Posted: Fri Apr 24, 2009 5:46 am Post subject: Re: THE ISLAMIC ISMAILISM PHILOSOPHY
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. 1020)
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani was a prominent Ismaili missionary during the reign of the Fatimid caliph-imam al-Hakim (996-1021). He was of Persian origin and was probably born in the province of Kirman. He seems to have spent the greater part of his life as a Fatimid da‘i (missionary) in Iraq (in Baghdad and Basra) and in central and western parts of Iran.
Al-Kirmani was part of the official Fatimid campaign against the dissident da‘is, who had also proclaimed al-Hakim’s divinity. In Cairo he produced several works in refutation of the Druze movement and religion. Subsequently, al-Kirmani returned to Iraq where he completed his last and magnum opus, Rahat al-‘aql.
A prolific writer, al-Kirmani was one of the most learned Ismaili theologians of the Fatimid times. He was well-acquainted with the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the Syriac version of the New Testament, and the post-Biblical Jewish writings. He expounded the Ismaili Shi‘i doctrine of the imamate in numerous writings. In a few treatises, al-Kirmani refuted the theological views of the Zaydis, the Twelver Shi‘is, and other Muslim opponents of the Fatimid Ismaili imams. Al-Kirmani was also an accomplished philosopher belonging to that select group of Ismaili da‘is of the Iranian lands who amalgamated in an original manner their Ismaili theology with different philosophical traditions, notably a type of Neoplatonism then current in the Muslim world.
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani was a prominent Ismaili da‘i or missionary and one of the most learned Ismaili theologians and philosophers of the Fatimid period. As in the case of other prominent missionaries who observed strict secrecy in their activities in the midst of hostile milieus, few biographical details are available on al-Kirmani, who flourished during the reign of the Fatimid caliph-imam al-Hakim (996-1021). Al-Kirmani is not mentioned in any contemporary Muslim historical sources, but highlights of his life and career can be gathered from his own numerous extant works as well as the writings of the later Musta‘li-Tayyibi Ismaili authors of Yaman.
Al-Kirmani’s date of birth remains unknown, but he was of Persian origin and was probably born in the province of Kirman. He seems to have spent the greater part of his life as a Fatimid da‘i in Iraq, having been particularly active in Baghdad and Basra. In Iraq, al-Kirmani successfully concentrated his efforts on local rulers and influential tribal chiefs, with whose support the Ismailis aimed to bring about the downfall of the ‘Abbasids. Alarmed by the successes of the Fatimid da‘wa or mission in Iraq, the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Qadir took retaliatory measures. In 1011, he sponsored the so-called Baghdad manifesto to discredit the Fatimids, also refuting their ‘Alid ancestry. The honorific title hujjat al-Iraqayn, meaning the hujja or chief da‘i of both Iraqs (al-Iraq al-Arabi and al-Iraq al-Ajami), which is often added to al-Kirmani’s name and may be of a late origin, implies that he was also active in central and western parts of Iran.
Al-Kirmani rose to prominence during the reign of al-Hakim, when the central headquarters of the Fatimid da‘wa in Cairo considered him as the most learned Ismaili theologian of the time. It was in that capacity that al-Kirmani played an important role in refuting the extremist ideas of some dissident da‘is, who were then founding what was to become known as the Druze movement and religion. As part of the official Fatimid campaign against the dissident da‘is, who had also proclaimed al-Hakim’s divinity, al-Kirmani was summoned in 1014 or shortly earlier to Cairo where he produced several works in refutation of the extremist doctrines. Al-Kirmani’s writings, which were widely circulated, were to some extent successful in checking the spread of the extremist doctrines associated with the initiation of the Druze movement. Subsequently, al-Kirmani returned to Iraq where he completed his last and magnum opus, Rahat al-‘aql, in 1020 and where he died soon afterwards.
A prolific writer, al-Kirmani was one of the most learned Ismaili theologians of the Fatimid times. He was well-acquainted with the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the Syriac version of the New Testament, and the post-Biblical Jewish writings. He expounded the Ismaili Shi‘i doctrine of the imamate in numerous writings. In a few treatises, al-Kirmani refuted the theological views of the Zaydis, the Twelver Shi‘is, and other Muslim opponents of the Fatimid Ismaili imams. In his al-Aqwal al-dhahabiya, al-Kirmani refuted the ideas of Abu Bakr Mohammad b. Zakariya al-Razi (d. 934), who had argued for the necessity of revelation and prophethood while tracing all sciences to revelational origins. Al-Kirmani was also an accomplished philosopher belonging to that select group of Ismaili da‘is of the Iranian lands who amalgamated in an original manner their Ismaili theology (kalam) with different philosophical traditions, notably a type of Neoplatonism then current in the Muslim world. As a philosopher, al-Kirmani was fully acquainted with Aristotelian and Neoplatonic philosophies as well as the metaphysical systems of the Muslim philosophers (falasifa), notably al-Farabi, and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) who was his contemporary. In his Kitab al-riyad, al-Kirmani acted as an arbiter in a philosophical debate that had taken place earlier among some Iranian da‘is, notably Muhammad al-Nasafi, Abu YaRahat al-‘aql, which is written for the advanced adepts. In this book, al-Kirmani also propounded what may be regarded as the third stage in the development of Ismaili cosmology in medieval times. Al-Kirmani replaced the Neoplatonic dyad of the Intellect (‘aql) and Soul (nafs) in the spiritual world, which had been adopted by his Iranian Ismaili predecessors, by a series of ten separate Intellects in partial adaptation of al-Farabi’s Aristotelian cosmic system. Al-Kirmani’s cosmology, representing an original synthesis of different philosophical traditions, was not however adopted by the Fatimid Ismailis; it later provided the basis for the development of the fourth and final stage of Ismaili cosmology at the hands of the Musta‘li-Tayyibi scholars in Yaman.
References and Further Reading
W. Ivanow, Ismaili Literature: A Bibliographical Survey, Tehran, 1963, pp. 40-45. Contains a survey of al-Kirmani’s known works and their manuscripts, preserved mainly in Yaman and India.
I. K. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Ismaili Literature Malibu, Calif., 1977, pp. 94-102. Also contains a survey of al-Kirmani’s known works and their manuscripts, preserved mainly in Yaman and India.
J. van Ess, “Bibliographische Notizen zur islamischen Theologie. I. Zur Chronologie der Werke des Hamidaddin al-Kirmani”, Die Welt des Orients, 9, 1978, pp. 255-261. A partial chronology of al-Kirmani’s works.
W. Madelung, “Das Imamat in der frühen ismailitischen Lehre”, Der Islam, 37, 1961, pp. 114-127.
H. Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, London, 1983, index.
F. Daftary, The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 113, 192-193, 196-197, 218, 227, 229-230, 235-236, 240, 245-246, 287, 291, 298.
Paul E. Walker, Early Philosophical Shiism, Cambridge, 1993, index.
Paul. E. Walker, Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani: Ismaili Thought in the Age of al-Hakim, London, 1999.
Daniel De Smet, La Quiétude de l’intellect: Néoplatonisme et gnose ismaélienne dans l’oeuvre de Hamid ad-Din al-Kirmani, Louvain, 1995.
Posted: Sun May 10, 2009 3:45 pm Post subject: Re: THE ISLAMIC ISMAILISM PHILOSOPHY
Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani (fl. 971)
Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani was first and foremost a member of the Ismaili underground mission — the da‘wa, as it is known in Arabic — that operated in the Iranian province of Khurasan and Sijistan during the tenth century. In the later part of his life, al-Sijistani was or had become a supporter of the Fatimids imams, then ruling from their headquarters far away in North Africa.
Al-Sijistani was deeply inspired by Neoplanotism. His cosmology and metaphysics develop a concept of God as the one beyond both being and non-being. God is not a substance, not intellect, nor within the categories that pertain to the created universe in any way. Intellect is the first existent being, originated by God as an indivisible whole.
In contrast to many other Islamic philosophers, al-Sijistani insists that intellect does not divide or separate. The intellect remains a whole and is universal. Only one intellect engenders by procession the soul. The soul falls therefore on its higher side within the lower horizon of intellect whereas its own lower aspect is nature, a semi-hypostatic being between the spiritual and the physical realm. The goal of religion and prophecy is to reorient the soul toward its true higher self and ultimately to return to its original state.
Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani was first and foremost a member of the Ismaili underground mission — the da‘wa, as it is known in Arabic — that operated in the Iranian province of Khurasan and Sijistan during the tenth century. His activities and the works he wrote must be seen in that context; he was a partisan of a specific religious and political cause that involved the restoration of Shi‘ism as the dominant force in the Islamic world of the time. In addition al-Sijistani was an important advocate of philosophical doctrines that drew heavily on a current of Neoplatonism then circulating in intellectual circles of various kinds in the major centers of Islamic scholarship. For the latter reason in general and for his clear attachment in his philosophical writings to a fairly pure form of this branch of ancient thought, he earned an important place in the history of philosophy, even though he himself would have insisted that he was not a philosopher.
Although he is mentioned both in Ismaili and non-Ismaili sources, the amount of information about his life that survives is scarcely adequate. Two important details emerge from one of his late works: he was in Baghdad in the year 934 having just then returned from the pilgrimage to Mecca, and in about 971 or 972 he composed that treatise itself. Somewhat later he died a martyr. The one additional fact about him is a nickname, 'Cotton-seed,' recorded by several observers both in its Arabic and its Persian forms. By the time he wrote (or revised) those works of his that are now extant, al-Sijistani was or had become a supporter of the Fatimids imams, then ruling from their headquarters far away in North Africa. Hints in his own works and other information suggests, however, that he may have earlier belonged to a dissident wing of the Ismaili movement, as was the case with at least two of his philosophical predecessors in Iran. Accordingly, the works he wrote prior to his acceptance of the Fatimids as imams, would have been considered doctrinally false and they, unless revised, were abandoned and thus did not survive.
Those now available are certainly not all complete and one exists solely in a later Persian paraphrase of its original (lost) Arabic. Critical editions and translations are few in number. Moreover, the philosophical content in some works far exceeds that of others. It was al-Sijistani's custom to assemble his material in a series of, often disconnected, topical chapters and to mix Ismaili doctrinal teachings with philosophy in alternating, but most often not overlapping, short sections. Therefore, his Neoplatonism frequently appears in what he wrote separated — although not always — from his more specifically religious concerns. Thus his philosophical position becomes apparent only in portions of his works, in particular certain chapters of his The Wellsprings, The Keys, Prophecy’s Proof, and Revealing the Concealed. On these titles, their general contents, and the state of modern studies of them, see Paul E. Walker, Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary (London, 1998) especially the appendix.
The Neoplatonic background to al-Sijistani's thought is fairly complex. Beginning as early as the middle of the preceding century several important texts, or portions of them, were translated from Greek into Arabic, including the widely circulated Theologia, sometimes called the Theology of Aristotle. Others were a longer version of this same Theologia, the Liber de causis, and a doxographical work that goes by the name of the Pseudo-Ammonius. The Theologia contains for the most part passages from Plotinus’s Enneads IV to VI; the Liber de causis depends ultimately on Proclus’s Element of Theology. All of these texts and others were available to the Ismaili philosophers —and other Islamic thinkers — by the beginning of the tenth century. The Islamic world had time by then to digest this material thoroughly and to begin an elaboration of various specific doctrines expressed in it. From his position a generation or so later, al-Sijistani came to Neoplatonism as much from within a nascent Islamic tradition of it as of his own raw confrontation with specific individual Greek (or pseudo-Greek) texts, which his own writings reflect therefore only secondarily.
Nevertheless, the major Neoplatonic influences in the thought of al-Sijistani comprise a cosmology and metaphysics that adhere closely to important doctrines of Plotinus, among them an austerely rigorous concept of God as the one beyond both being and non-being. God is not a substance, not intellect, nor within the categories that pertain to the created universe in any way. Intellect is the first existent being, originated by God as an indivisible whole. It is the source of all else that exists. In contrast to many other Islamic philosophers, al-Sijistani adamantly insists that intellect does not divide or separate. There is only one intellect. It does, however, engender by procession the soul and the latter again remains a whole and is a universal. It does, even so, descend in parts into individual creatures who are thus animated by it. The soul falls therefore on its higher side within the lower horizon of intellect whereas its own lower aspect is nature, a semi-hypostatic being at the point of transition from the spiritual into the physical realm. The goal of religion and of prophecy is to reorient the soul toward its true unblemished higher self and ultimately to have it regain its original sublime existence.
Although the outline of standard Neoplatonic ideas can be observed in al-Sijistani's thought, there are curiosities that do not seem to belong. One is his doctrine that God creates by willful fiat — that is, by issuing a command to be. Another involves the notion that salvation — the restoration in the soul of its spirituality — is a historical development that runs upward step by step following the course of the cycles of prophetic revelations and the religious laws that each lawgiving-prophet establishes in turn.
3. References and Further Reading
H. Corbin, Trilogie ismaélienne (Tehran and Paris, 1961)
H. Corbin, ed., Kashf al-mahjub (Revealing the Concealed) (Tehran and Paris, 1949), French trans. Corbin, Le dévoilement des choses caches (Paris, 1988).
P. Walker, Early Philosophical Shiism: The Ismaili Neoplatonism of Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani (Cambridge, 1993).
P. Walker, The Wellsprings of Wisdom: A study of Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani's Kitab al-yanabi‘ (Salt Lake City, 1994).
Posted: Mon May 25, 2009 9:25 am Post subject: Re: THE ISLAMIC ISMAILISM PHILOSOPHY
Avicenna/Ibn Sina (CA. 980-1037)
Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn ibn Sina is better known in Europe by the Latinized name “Avicenna.” He is probably the most significant philosopher in the Islamic tradition and arguably the most influential philosopher of the pre-modern era. Born in Afshana near Bukhara in Central Asia in about 980, he is best known as a polymath, as a physician whose major work the Canon (al-Qanun fi’l-Tibb) continued to be taught as a medical textbook in Europe and in the Islamic world until the early modern period, and as a philosopher whose major summa the Cure (al-Shifa’) had a decisive impact upon European scholasticism and especially upon Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274).
Primarily a metaphysical philosopher of being who was concerned with understanding the self’s existence in this world in relation to its contingency, Ibn Sina’s philosophy is an attempt to construct a coherent and comprehensive system that accords with the religious exigencies of Muslim culture. As such, he may be considered to be the first major Islamic philosopher. The philosophical space that he articulates for God as the Necessary Existence lays the foundation for his theories of the soul, intellect and cosmos. Furthermore, he articulated a development in the philosophical enterprise in classical Islam away from the apologetic concerns for establishing the relationship between religion and philosophy towards an attempt to make philosophical sense of key religious doctrines and even analyse and interpret the Qur’an. Recent studies have attempted to locate him within the Aristotelian and Neoplatonic traditions. His relationship with the latter is ambivalent: although accepting some keys aspects such as an emanationist cosmology, he rejected Neoplatonic epistemology and the theory of the pre-existent soul. However, his metaphysics owes much to the "Amonnian" synthesis of the later commentators on Aristotle and discussions in legal theory and kalam on meaning, signification and being. Apart from philosophy, Avicenna’s other contributions lie in the fields of medicine, the natural sciences, musical theory, and mathematics. In the Islamic sciences ('ulum), he wrote a series of short commentaries on selected Qur’anic verses and chapters that reveal a trained philosopher’s hermeneutical method and attempt to come to terms with revelation. He also wrote some literary allegories about whose philosophical value recent scholarship is vehemently at odds.
His influence in medieval Europe spread through the translations of his works first undertaken in Spain. In the Islamic world, his impact was immediate and led to what Michot has called "la pandémie avicennienne." When al-Ghazali led the theological attack upon the heresies of the philosophers, he singled out Avicenna, and a generation later when the Shahrastani gave an account of the doctrines of the philosophers of Islam, he relied upon the work of Avicenna, whose metaphysics he later attempted to refute in his Struggling against the Philosophers (Musari‘at al-falasifa). Avicennan metaphysics became the foundation for discussions of Islamic philosophy and philosophical theology. In the early modern period in Iran, his metaphysical positions began to be displayed by a creative modification that they underwent due to the thinkers of the school of Isfahan, in particular Mulla Sadra (d. 1641).
Table of Contents (Clicking on the links below will take you to those parts of this article)
1. Life and Times
3. Avicenna Latinus
8. Mysticism and Oriental Philosophy
9. The Avicennan Tradition and His Legacy
10. References and Further Reading
1. Life and Times
Sources on his life range from his autobiography, written at the behest of his disciple ‘Abd al-Wahid Juzjani, his private correspondence, including the collection of philosophical epistles exchanged with his disciples and known as al-Mubahathat (The Discussions), to legends and doxographical views embedded in the ‘histories of philosophy’ of medieval Islam such as Ibn al-Qifti’s Ta’rikh al-hukama (History of the Philosophers) and Zahir al-Din Bayhaqi’s Tatimmat Siwan al-hikma. However, much of this material ought to be carefully examined and critically evaluated. Gutas has argued that the autobiography is a literary device to represent Avicenna as a philosopher who acquired knowledge of all the philosophical sciences through study and intuition (al-hads), a cornerstone of his epistemological theory. Thus the autobiography is an attempt to demonstrate that humans can achieve the highest knowledge through intuition. The text is a key to understanding Avicenna’s view of philosophy: we are told that he only understood the purpose of Aristotle’s Metaphysics after reading al-Farabi’s short treatise on it, and that often when he failed to understand a problem or solve the syllogism, he would resort to prayer in the mosque (and drinking wine at times) to receive the inspiration to understand – the doctrine of intuition. We will return to his epistemology later but first what can we say about his life?
Avicenna was born in around 980 in Afshana, a village near Bukhara in Transoxiana. His father, who may have been Ismaili, was a local Samanid governor. At an early age, his family moved to Bukhara where he studied Hanafi jurisprudence (fiqh) with Isma‘il Zahid (d. 1012) and medicine with a number of teachers. This training and the excellent library of the physicians at the Samanid court assisted Avicenna in his philosophical self-education. Thus, he claimed to have mastered all the sciences by the age of 18 and entered into the service of the Samanid court of Nuh ibn Mansur (r. 976-997) as a physician. After the death of his father, it seems that he was also given an administrative post. Around the turn of the millennium, he moved to Gurganj in Khwarazm, partly no doubt to the eclipse of Samanid rule after the Qarakhanids took Bukhara in 999. He then left again ‘through necessity’ in 1012 for Jurjan in Khurasan to the south in search no doubt for a patron. There he first met his disciple and scribe Juzjani. After a year, he entered Buyid service as a physician, first with Majd al-Dawla in Rayy and then in 1015 in Hamadan where he became vizier of Shams al-Dawla. After the death of the later in 1021, he once again sought a patron and became the vizier of the Kakuyid ‘Ala’ al-Dawla for whom he wrote an important Persian summa of philosophy, the Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i (The Book of Knowledge for ‘Ala’ al-Dawla). Based in Isfahan, he was widely recognized as a philosopher and physician and often accompanied his patron on campaign. It was during one of these to Hamadan in 1037 that he died of colic. An arrogant thinker who did not suffer fools, he was fond of his slave-girls and wine, facts which were ammunition for his later detractors.
Avicenna wrote his two earliest works in Bukhara under the influence of al-Farabi. The first, a Compendium on the Soul (Maqala fi’l-nafs), is a short treatise dedicated to the Samanid ruler that establishes the incorporeality of the rational soul or intellect without resorting to Neoplatonic insistence upon its pre-existence. The second is his first major work on metaphysics, Philosophy for the Prosodist (al-Hikma al-‘Arudiya) penned for a local scholar and his first systematic attempt at Aristotelian philosophy.
He later wrote three ‘encyclopaedias’encyclopedias of philosophy. The first of these is al-Shifa’ (The Cure), a work modelled on the corpus of the philosopher, namely. Aristotle, that covers the natural sciences, logic, mathematics, metaphysics and theology. It was this work that through its Latin translation had a considerable impact on scholasticism. It was solicited by Juzjani and his other students in Hamadan in 1016 and although he lost parts of it on a military campaign, he completed it in Isfahan by 1027. The other two encyclopaedias were written later for his patron the Buyid prince ‘Ala’ al-Dawla in Isfahan. The first, in Persian rather than Arabic is entitled Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i (The Book of Knowledge for ‘Ala’ al-Dawla) and is an introductory text designed for the layman. It closely follows his own Arabic epitome of The Cure, namely al-Najat (The Salvation). The Book of Knowledge was the basis of al-Ghazali’s later Arabic work Maqasid al-falasifa (Goals of the Philosophers). The second, whose dating and interpretation have inspired debates for centuries, is al-Isharat wa’l-Tanbihat (Pointers and Reminders), a work that does not present completed proofs for arguments and reflects his mature thinking on a variety of logical and metaphysical issues. According to Gutas it was written in Isfahan in the early 1030s; according to Michot, it dates from an earlier period in Hamadan and possibly Rayy. A further work entitled al-Insaf (The Judgement) which purports to represent a philosophical position that is radical and transcends AristotelianisingAristotle’s Neoplatonism is unfortunately not extant, and debates about its contents are rather like the arguments that one encounters concerning Plato’s esoteric or unwritten doctrines. One further work that has inspired much debate is The Easterners (al-Mashriqiyun) or The Eastern Philosophy (al-Hikma al-Mashriqiya) which he wrote at the end of the 1020s and is mostly lost.
3. Avicenna Latinus
Avicenna’s major work, The Cure, was translated into Latin in 12th and 13th century Spain (Toledo and Burgos) and, although it was controversial, it had an important impact and raised controversies inin medieval scholastic philosophy. In certain cases the Latin manuscripts of the text predate the extant Arabic ones and ought to be considered more authoritative. The main significance of the Latin corpus lies in the interpretation for Avicennism andAvicennism, in particular forregarding his doctrines on the nature of the soul and his famous existence-essence distinction (more about that below) andbelow), along with the debates and censure that they raised in scholastic Europe, in particular in ParisEurope. This was particularly the case in Paris, where Avicennism waslater proscribed in 1210. However, the influence of his psychology and theory of knowledge upon William of Auvergne and Albertus Magnus have been noted. More significant is the impact of his metaphysics upon the work and thought of Thomas Aquinas. His other major work to be translated into Latin was his medical treatise the Canon, which remained a text-book into the early modern period and was studied in centrescenters of medical learning such as Padua.
Logic is a critical aspect of, and propaedeutic to, Avicennan philosophy. His logical works follow the curriculum of late Neoplatonism and comprise nine books, beginning with his version of Porphyry’s Isagoge followed by his understanding and modification of the Aristotelian Organon, which included the Poetics and the Rhetoric. On the age-old debate whether logic is an instrument of philosophy (Peripatetic view) or a part of philosophy (Stoic view), he argues that such a debate is futile and meaningless.
His views on logic represent a significant metaphysical approach, and it could be argued generally that metaphysical concerns lead Avicenna’s arguments in a range of philosophical and non-philosophical subjects. For example, he argues in The Cure that both logic and metaphysics share a concern with the study of secondary intelligibles (ma‘qulat thaniya), abstract concepts such as existence and time that are derived from primary concepts such as humanity and animality. Logic is the standard by which concepts—or the mental "existence" that corresponds to things that occur in extra-mental reality—can be judged and hence has both implications for what exists outside of the mind and how one may articulate those concepts through language. More importantly, logic is a key instrument and standard for judging the validity of arguments and hence acquiring knowledge. Salvation depends on the purity of the soul and in particular the intellect that is trained and perfected through knowledge. Of particular significance for later debates and refutations is his notion that knowledge depends on the inquiry of essential definitions (hadd) through syllogistic reasoning. The problem of course arises when one tries to make sense of an essential definition in a real, particular world, and when one’s attempts to complete the syllogism by striking on the middle term is foiled because one’s ‘intuition’ fails to grasp the middle term.
From al-Farabi, Avicenna inherited the Neoplatonic emanationist scheme of existence. Contrary to the classical Muslim theologians, he rejected creation ex nihilo and argued that cosmos has no beginning but is a natural logical product of the divine One. The super-abundant, pure Good that is the One cannot fail to produce an ordered and good cosmos that does not succeed him in time. The cosmos succeeds God merely in logical order and in existence.
Consequently, Avicenna is well known as the author of one an important and influential proof for the existence of God. This proof is a good example of a philosopher’s intellect being deployed for a theological purpose, as was common in medieval philosophy. The argument runs as follows: There is existence, or rather our phenomenal experience of the world confirms that things exist, and that their existence is non-necessary because we notice that things come into existence and pass out of it. Contingent existence cannot arise unless it is made necessary by a cause. A causal chain in reality must culminate in one un-caused cause because one cannot posit an actual infinite regress of causes (a basic axiom of Aristotelian science). Therefore, the chain of contingent existents must culminate in and find its causal principle in a sole, self-subsistent existent that is Necessary. This, of course, is the same as the God of religion.
An important corollary of this argument is Avicenna’s famous distinction between existence and essence in contingents, between the fact that something exists and what it is. It is a distinction that is arguably latent in Aristotle although the roots of Avicenna’s doctrine are best understood in classical Islamic theology or kalam. Avicenna’s theory of essence posits three modalities: essences can exist in the external world associated with qualities and features particular to that reality; they can exist in the mind as concepts associated with qualities in mental existence; and they can exist in themselves devoid of any mode of existence. This final mode of essence is quite distinct from existence. Essences are thus existentially neutral in themselves. Existents in this world exist as something, whether human, animal or inanimate object; they are ‘dressed’ in the form of some essence that is a bundle of properties that describes them as composites. God on the other hand is absolutely simple, and cannot be divided into a bundle of distinct ontological properties that would violate his unity. Contingents, as a mark of their contingency, are conceptual and ontological composites both at the first level of existence and essence and at the second level of properties. Contingent things in this world come to be as mentally distinct composites of existence and essence bestowed by the Necessary.
This proof from contingency is also sometimes termed “radical contingency.” Later arguments raged concerning whether the distinction was mental or real, whether the proof is ontological or cosmological. The clearest problem with Avicenna’s proofs lies in the famous Kantian objection to ontological arguments: is existence meaningful in itself? Further, Cantor’s solution to the problem of infinity may also be seen as a setback to the argument from the impossibility of actual infinites.
Avicenna’s metaphysics is generally expressed in Aristotelian terms. The quest to understand being qua being subsumes the philosophical notion of God. Indeed, as we have seen divine existence is a cornerstone of his metaphysics. Divine existence bestows existence and hence meaning and value upon all that exists. Two questions that were current were resolved through his theory of existence. First, theologians such as al-Ash‘ari and his followers were adamant in denying the possibility of secondary causality; for them, God was the sole agent and actor in all that unfolded. Avicenna’s metaphysics, although being highly deterministic because of his view of radical contingency, still insists of the importance of human and other secondary causality. Second, the age-old problem was discussed: if God is good, how can evil exist? Divine providence ensures that the world is the best of all possible worlds, arranged in the rational order that one would expect of a creator akin to the demiurge of the Timaeus. But while this does not deny the existence of evil in this world of generation and corruption, some universal evil does not exist because of the famous Neoplatonic definition of evil as the absence of good. Particular evils in this world are accidental consequences of good. Although this deals with the problem of natural evils, the problem of moral evils and particularly ‘horrendous’ evils remains.
The second most influential idea of Avicenna is his theory of the knowledge. The human intellect at birth is rather like a tabula rasa, a pure potentiality that is actualized through education and comes to know. Knowledge is attained through empirical familiarity with objects in this world from which one abstracts universal concepts. It is developed through a syllogistic method of reasoning; observations lead to prepositional statements, which when compounded lead to further abstract concepts. The intellect itself possesses levels of development from the material intellect (al-‘aql al-hayulani), that potentiality that can acquire knowledge to the active intellect (al-‘aql al-fa‘il), the state of the human intellect at conjunction with the perfect source of knowledge.
But the question arises: how can we verify if a proposition is true? How do we know that an experience of ours is veridical? There are two methods to achieve this. First, there are the standards of formal inference of arguments —Is the argument logically sound? Second, and most importantly, there is a transcendent intellect in which all the essences of things and all knowledge resides. This intellect, known as the Active Intellect, illuminates the human intellect through conjunction and bestows upon the human intellect true knowledge of things. Conjunction, however, is episodic and only occurs to human intellects that have become adequately trained and thereby actualized. The active intellect also intervenes in the assessment of sound inferences through Avicenna’s theory of intuition. A syllogistic inference draws a conclusion from two prepositional premises through their connection or their middle term. It is sometimes rather difficult to see what the middle term is; thus when someone reflecting upon an inferential problem suddenly hits upon the middle term, and thus understands the correct result, she has been helped through intuition (hads) inspired by the active intellect. There are various objections that can be raised against this theory, especially because it is predicated upon a cosmology widely refuted in the post-Copernican world.
One of the most problematic implications of Avicennan epistemology relates to God’s knowledge. The divine is pure, simple and immaterial and hence cannot have a direct epistemic relation with the particular thing to be known. Thus Avicenna concluded while God knows what unfolds in this world, he knows things in a ‘universal manner’ through the universal qualities of things. God only knows kinds of existents and not individuals. This resulted in the famous condemnation by al-Ghazali who said that Avicenna’s theory amounts to a heretical denial of God’s knowledge of particulars. particulars.
Avicenna’s epistemology is predicated upon a theory of soul that is independent of the body and capable of abstraction. This proof for the self in many ways prefigures by 600 years the Cartesian cogito and the modern philosophical notion of the self. It demonstrates the Aristotelian base and Neoplatonic structure of his psychology. This is the so-called ‘flying man’ argument or thought experiment found at the beginning of his Fi’-Nafs/De Anima (Treatise on the Soul). If a person were created in a perfect state, but blind and suspended in the air but unable to perceive anything through his senses, would he be able to affirm the existence of his self? Suspended in such a state, he cannot affirm the existence of his body because he is not empirically aware of it, thus the argument may be seen as affirming the independence of the soul from the body, a form of dualism. But in that state he cannot doubt that his self exists because there is a subject that is thinking, thus the argument can be seen as an affirmation of the self-awareness of the soul and its substantiality. This argument does raise an objection, which may also be levelled at Descartes: how do we know that the knowing subject is the self?
This rational self possesses faculties or senses in a theory that begins with Aristotle and develops through Neoplatonism. The first sense is common sense (al-hiss al-mushtarak) which fuses information from the physical senses into an epistemic object. The second sense is imagination (al-khayal) which processes the image of the perceived epistemic object. The third sense is the imaginative faculty (al-mutakhayyila) which combines images in memory, separates them and produces new images. The fourth sense is estimation or prehension (wahm) that translates the perceived image into its significance. The classic example for this innovative sense is that of the sheep perceiving the wolf and understanding the implicit danger. The final sense is where the ideas produced are stored and analyzed and ascribed meanings based upon the production of the imaginative faculty and estimation. Different faculties do not compromise the singular integrity of the rational soul. They merely provide an explanation for the process of intellection.
8. Mysticism and Oriental Philosophy
Was Avicenna a mystic? Some of his interpreters in Iran have answered in the positive, citing the lost work The Easterners that on the face of it has a superficial similarity to the notion of Ishraqi or Illuminationist, intuitive philosophy expounded by Suhrawardi (d. 1191) and the final section of Pointers that deal with the terminology of mysticism and Sufism. The question does not directly impinge on his philosophy so much since The Easterners is mostly non-extant. But it is an argument relating to ideology and the ways in which modern commentators and scholars wish to study Islamic philosophy as a purely rational form of inquiry or as a supra-rational method of understanding reality. Gutas has been most vehement in his denial of any mysticism in Avicenna. For him, Avicennism is rooted in the rationalism of the Aristotelian tradition. Intuition does not entail mystical disclosure but is a mental act of conjunction with the active intellect. The notion of intuition is located itself by Gutas in Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics 89b10-11. While some of the mystical commentators of Avicenna have relied upon his pseudo-epigraphy (such as some sort of Persian Sufi treatises and the Mi‘rajnama), one ought not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The last sections of Pointers are significant evidence of Avicenna’s acceptance of some key epistemological possibilities that are present in mystical knowledge such as the possibility of non-discursive reason and simple knowledge. Although one can categorically deny that he was a Sufi (and indeed in his time the institutions of Sufism were not as established as they were a century later) and even raise questions about his adherence to some form of mysticism, it would be foolish to deny that he flirts with the possibilities of mystical knowledge in some of his later authentic works.
9. The Avicennan Tradition and His Legacy
Avicenna’s major achievement was to propound a philosophically defensive system rooted in the theological fact of Islam, and its success can be gauged by the recourse to Avicennan ideas found in the subsequent history of philosophical theology in Islam. In the Latin West, his metaphysics and theory of the soul had a profound influence on scholastic arguments, and as in the Islamic East, was the basis for considerable debate and argument. Just two generations after him, al-Ghazali (d. 1111) and al-Shahrastani (d. 1153) in their attacks testify to the fact that no serious Muslim thinker could ignore him. They regarded Avicenna as the principal representative of philosophy in Islam. In the later Iranian tradition, Avicenna’s thought was critically distilled with mystical insight, and he became known as a mystical thinker, a view much disputed in more recent scholarship. Nevertheless the major works of Avicenna, The Cure and Pointers, became the basis for the philosophical curriculum in the madrasa. Numerous commentaries, glosses and super-glosses were composed on them and continued to be produced into the 20th century. While our current views on cosmology, the nature of the self, and knowledge raise distinct problems for Avicennan ideas, they do not address the important issue of why his thought remained so influential for such a long period of time. In In recent times, Avicenna has been attacked by some contemporary Arab Muslim thinkers in search of a new rationalism within Arab culture, one that champions Averroes against Avicenna.
10. References and Further Reading
I: The Latin Avicenna (mainly sections of al-Shifa’)
Liber de anima seu sextus de naturalibus I-III. ed. Simone van Riet, Leiden, 1972.
Liber de philosophia prima sive scientia divina I-IV. ed. Simone van Riet, Leidin, 1977.
Liber de pilosophia prima sive scientia divina V-X. ed. Simone van Riet, Leiden, 1980.
Liber primus naturalium: Tractatus primus de causis et principiis naturalium. ed. Simone van Riet, Leiden, 1992.
Liber quartus naturalium de actionibus et passionibus qualitatum primarum. ed. Simone van Riet, Leiden, 1989.
II: Studies in Avicenna Latinus
(eds), Islam and the Italian Renaissance. eds. Charles Burnett and Anna Contadini. Warburg Institute, 1999.
N. G. Siraisi, Avicenna in Renaissance Italy: The Canon and Medical Teaching in Italian Universities after 1500, Princeton, 1987.
Dag Hasse, Avicenna’s De Anima in the Latin West, London, 2000. A study of the impact of Avicennan psychology upon the scholastics focusing on five key issues
III: Selected Works of Avicenna available in European language translation
Epistola sulla vita future (Risalat al-Adhawiyya fi’l-ma’ad), tr. F. Luchetta, Padua, 1969. [Compare it with this useful and critical commentary by the theologian Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) – Yahya Michot, ‘A Mamluk theologian’s commentary on Avicenna’s Risala Adhawiyya’, Journal of Islamic Studies 14 (2003), 149-203, 309-63].
The Life of Ibn Sina, tr. William Gohlman, Albany, 1974.
Avicenna’s De Anima (Fi’l-Nafs), tr. F. Rahman, London, 1954.
Livre de directives et remarques (al-Isharat wa’l-Tanbihat), tr. Anne-Marie Goichon, 2 vols., Paris, 1951.
Remarks and Admonitions Part One: Logic (al-Isharat wa’l-Tanbihat: mantiq), tr. Shams Inati, Toronto, 1984.
La Métaphysique du Shifa’ I-IV et V-X, tr. G. Anawati, Paris, 1978-86.
Le livre de science (Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i) I: Logique, Métaphysique II: science naturelle, mathématique, trs. M. Achena and Henri Massé, Paris, 1986.
Ibn Sina on Mysticism (al-Isharat wa’l-Tanbihat namat IX), tr. Shams Inati, London, 1998.
The Metaphysica of Avicenna (Ilahiyyat-i Danishnama-yi ‘Ala’i), tr. Parviz Morewedge, New York, 1972; rpt., Binghamton, 2003.
Lettre au Vizier Abu Sa’d, ed./tr. Yahya Michot, Paris, 2000.
The Metaphysics of Avicenna (al-Ilahiyyat min Kitab al-Shifa’), ed./tr. Michael Marmura, Provo, 2004.
IV: General introductions to Avicenna and his thought
Cruz Hernández, Miguel. La vida de Avicena. Salamanca, 1997. A short and accessible intellectual biography written by perhaps the foremost Spanish historian of Islamic philosophy.
Goichon, Anne-Marie. Lexique de la langue philosophique d’Avicenne. Paris, 1938. A pioneering work which remains a highly useful research tool.
Goodman, Lenn. Avicenna. London, 1992. Although an attempt by a contemporary philosopher to come to grips with the enduring contributions of Avicenna to philosophy, it suffers from some serious textual misreadings.
Gutas, Dimitri. Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition. Leiden/Boston, 1988. A solid work of scholarship that discusses Avicenna’s corpus and thought within a paradigm of Islamic Aristotelianism.
Nasr, Sayyed Hossein. Three Muslim Sages. Cambridge, 1966. An old and contentious presentation of Avicenna as a polymath rooted in the mystical experience of God.
Sebti, Miriam. Avicenne. Paris, 2003. An interpretation from a continental philosophical approach.
Street, Tony. Avicenna. Cambridge, 2005. A solid presentation of the key ideas based on the most up-to-date research.
V: Collections and Bibliographies
Special Issue of Documenti e studi sulla tradizione filosofica medievale. Padua, 8 (1997) on Avicenna.
Special Issue of Arabic Sciences and Philosophy. Cambridge, 10 (2000) on Avicenna.
Anawati, G. C. Essai de bibliographie avicennienne. Cairo, 1950.
Various Authors, ‘Avicenna’, Encyclopaedia Iranica. New York, II, 66-110.
Janssens, Jules. Bibliography of Works on Ibn Sina, 2 vols. Leiden, 1991-99.
Janssens, Jules and Daniel de Smet (ed). Avicenna and His Heritage. Leuven, 2001. Proceedings from a 1999 conference that brought together specialists on the Arabic and the Latin Avicenna and their legacies.
Rashed, Roshdi and Jean Jolivet (eds), Etudes sur Avicenne, Paris, 1984. An excellent collection that includes insightful pieces on Avicennan physics and metaphysics.
David Reisman and Ahmed al-Rahim (eds), Before and After Avicenna, Leiden/Boston, 2003. The proceedings of the First Conference of the Avicenna Research Group (based at Yale).
Robert Wisnovsky (ed), Aspects of Avicenna (Princeton Papers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle East Studies, 9), Princeton, 2001. Includes two good pieces on Avicennan psychology.
Arberry, Arthur J. Avicenna on Theology. London, 1954. Includes translations of texts and raises the interesting question of what is ‘Islamic’ about Avicenna’s ‘Islamic philosophy’.
Corbin, Henry. Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, Princeton, 1961. An influential and controversial interpretation of Avicenna through the lens of the later Iranian tradition portraying him as a mystic.
Gardet, Louis. La pensée religieuse d’Avicenne, Paris, 1951.
Heath, Peter. Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna, Philadelphia, 1992. An interesting approach to allegory that draws on Corbin and suffers from the assumption that the famous pseudo-Avicennan work the Mi’rajnama is authentic.
Lüling, G. ‘Die anderer Avicenna’, Zeitschrift der deutschen MorganländischenGesellschaft Suppl III.1 (1977), 496-513.
Marmura, Michael. ‘Avicenna and the kalam’, Zeitschrift für arabisch-islamisch Wissenschaft (Frankfurt) 7 (1991-2), 172-206. Considers Avicenna’s debt to the metaphysics of kalam.
Marmura, Michael. ‘Plotting the course of Avicenna’s thought’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 111 (1991), 333-42. A critical assessment of Gutas’s 1988 work.
Michot, Yahya. ‘La pandémie avicennienne’, Arabica (Paris) 40 (1993), 287-344. On the widespread hegemony of Avicennan philosophy in Islamic thought from the 12th Century.
Thom, Paul. Medieval Modal Systems, London, 2004. The best study of Avicenna’s modal logic and his contributions to the field.
VII: Avicenna’s Oriental Philosophy
Cruz Hernández, Miguel. ‘El problema de la “auténtica” filosofía de Avicena’, Revista de Filosofía 5 (1992), 235-56.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. ‘Ibn Sina’s Oriental Philosophy’, in S. H. Nasr and Oliver Leaman (eds), History of Islamic Philosophy, London/New York, 1996, I, 247-51. A classic restatement of Nasr’s mystical understanding of Avicenna.
Pines, Shlomo. ‘La philosophie orientale d’Avicenne’, in The Collected Works of Shlomo Pines Volume III, Jerusalem, 1996, 301-33. Interprets ‘oriental’ to signify an Eastern alternative Peripatetism.
Robert Wisnovsky, Avicenna’s Metaphysics in Context, London, 2003. An excellent study that locates the origins of Avicennan thought in what he calls the ‘Ammonian synthesis’ in Late Antiquity and then explains the development of Avicennan metaphysics.
IX: On Psychology
Helmut Gätje, Studien zur Überlieferung der aristotelische Psychologie im Islam, Heidelberg, 1971. A pioneering study of the key aspects of Aristotelian(ising) psychological theories in Islamic philosophy focusing on Avicenna.
Dag Hasse, Avicenna’s De Anima in the Latin West, London, 2000. A study of the impact of Avicennan psychology upon the scholastics focusing on five key issues.
Michot, Jean R. La destinée de l’homme selon Avicenne, Brussels, 1986. A key investigation of Avicennan psychology as a quest for an Islamic answer to the problem of the soul’s journey beyond this life and the persistence of personal identity.
Rahman, Fazlur. Avicenna’s Psychology, London, 1952. A study that includes a translation of Avicenna’s De Anima.
Goichon, Anne-Maria. La distinction de l’essence et l’existence d’après ibn Sina (Avicenne), Paris, 1937.
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