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The Islamic Era

In the post-Islamic Iran, philosophy bloomed in astonishing measures and with the emergence of the Islamic philosophy – the main center of which has been Iran over the past 1100 years – Iranian scholars succeeded in contributing fundamentally to the foundation of a range of important philosophical thoughts that influenced most parts of the world including Europe, India, and China. It is important to note that the history of the philosophy of post-Islamic Iran cannot be totally separated from Islamic philosophy in general and even as regards some Islamic philosophers and such groups as the “Ikhwān al-Safā” it would be rather difficult to mark a distinction between the Iranian and Arabic elements and to bring in the new concept of “nationalism” into an age that was essentially devoid of such distinctions. It would, therefore, be more appropriate to deal with the subject in terms of the “Islamic Philosophy in Iran” and that too from its cultural aspect which encompassed a far greater number of territories than it does today. Moreover, although it may be possible to separate the Islamic philosophy of the Indian sub-continent and the Ottoman Empire from the purview of the Islamic philosophy of Iran – despite the fact that both these regions were under the influence of the Islamic culture of Iran – it would not, however, be possible to consider such regions as Balkh, Bukhārā, Marv, and Samarqand to have been outside the purview of the Islamic philosophy of Iran.

Nevertheless, what is today referred to as the “Islamic philosophy” emerged during the 2nd and 3rd Centuries AH/8th and 9th Centuries AD as a result of the translations and analyses of the Greek philosophical works on the part of the Islamic scholars from an Islamic viewpoint and grew into an organized school by the end of the 3rd Century AH/9th Century AD. “Abu Ya’ghub Kandi” who was a resident of Baghdad and an Arab belonging to the Kandah tribe is generally considered as the first Islamic philosopher. However, there is a possibility that the book “Omm al-Ketāb”, which is one of the most important philosophical works of the Ismailis – and which is claimed to be the outcome of a series of debates with Imam Mohammad Bāqer (‘a) – was written before the times of Abu Ya’ghub. Moreover, mention has also been made of an Iranian philosopher from Khorāsān called “Abu al-Abbās Irānshahri” whose ideas have been quoted by Abu Reihān al-Biruni and Nāser Khosrow.

From the early 4th Century AH/10th Century AD two outstanding philosophical schools (the Mashshā’i or Peripatetic and the Ismāili) emerged in Iran marking the beginning of the history of Islamic philosophy in this country. In order to shed light on the one thousand year-old history of the Islamic philosophy of Iran it can be divided into the following five distinct periods: i) The first period which commenced with the beginning of the Islamic philosophy in Iran and extended up to the 5th Century AH/10th Century AD or the period of Ibn Sinā’s students which was also the period during which the two, Mashshā’i and Ismā’ili schools, flourished; ii) The period covering the 5th and 6th Centuries AH during which theology dominated over philosophy; iii) The period from the 7th to the 10th Centuries AH/13th to 16th Centuries AD during which the Mashshā’i school was revived, the Illuminationist philosophy (Hekmat-e Eshrāq) emerged, and various philosophical schools came close to each other; iv) The period from the 10th Century AH until the end of the Qajar rule, which began with the Esfahān school and ended with the emergence of the Tehran school; and v) The period from the end of the Qājār period until date, marking the onslaught of Western philosophies on Iran as well as the period of the revival of the Islamic philosophy and its encounters with various Western philosophical schools. A somewhat detailed account of these five periods is presented hereunder: 

i) During the first period of the history of the Islamic philosophy of Iran the center of the Mashshā’i (Peripatetic) school was transferred from Baghdad to Khorāsān; even though the first outstanding philosopher of this region, Abu Nasr Fārābi, later on migrated from Khorāsān to Baghdad and subsequently to Damascus where he died in the year 339 AH/950 AD. The Mashshā’i philosophy which was a combination of the monotheistic teachings of Islam and the Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic philosophies was developed by Fārābi more than Abu Ya’ghub Kandi, even though many of the philosophical terms and phrases that had become established later on had not yet gained popularity during his period. Fārābi (about 257-339 AH/871-950 AD) wrote a number of treatises on logic and laid its foundation in the world of Islamic philosophy. He also made an attempt to combine Plato’s philosophy with that of Aristotle’s and, thus, wrote one of the most acclaimed of his work called the “Al-Jam’ Bein Raiyi al-Hakimein Aflātun al-Elāhi wa Arastu” (lit.: “A Coordination of the Views of the Two Philosophers, Plato and Aristotle”). Another very important book of Fārābi is the “Ketāb al-Horuf” (lit.: “The Book of Letters”) that deals with the relationship between philosophy and language. Yet, mention must also be made of the book, Ārā’ Ahl al-Madinah Al-Fāzelah”, which is considered to be the fundamental text of the political philosophy of Islam. Fārābi had also written several short treatises on the human intellect (aql) as well as the classification of knowledge. Keeping in view his great works and especially his efforts towards the demarcation of the scopes of the different fields of knowledge the Muslims have honored him with the title of “Mo’allem-e Thāni” (lit.: “The Second Teacher”), just as they had credited Aristotle with the title of “Mo’allem-e Avval” (lit.: “The First Teacher”).

Following Fārābi’s death and for some time during the second half of the 4th Century AH there existed some rivalry among the philosophical schools of Baghdad and Khorāsān in both of which Iranian philosophers had made fundamental contributions. The Baghdad school was headed by Abu Soleimān Sajestāni (died about 391AH/1001 AD) who had a keen interest in logic and had also written a book on the history of the philosophers. The most important philosopher who had emerged during the period between Fārābi’s times and the times of Ibn Sinā was Abu al-Hasan Āmeri (d. 381AH/992 AD) who was eclipsed to a great extent because of Ibn Sinā’s challenges to his views. His thoughts were, however, taken into consideration by Mollā Sadrā and some of his philosophical works like the “Al-A’lām Bemanāqeb al-Islam wa Al-Amad alā al-Abad” are receiving significant attention.

Beyond all doubt the most important philosopher and the most influential Islamic scholar of this period was Abu Ali Sinā or Ibn Sinā (370-428 AH/980-1037 AD) who perfected the Peripatetic (Mashshā’i) philosophy towards the end of the 4th Century and the beginning of the 5th Century AH and produced such works that have served as reference books till date. Unlike Fārābi, Ibn Sinā never traveled to Baghdad and, after migrating from his birthplace, Balkh, spent all of his life in the various Iranian cities like Rey, Esfahān, and Hamadān, and finally died in Hamadān. During his turbulent life he produced more than 220 works, half of which dealt with different fields of knowledge - medicine in particular – while the other half was on philosophy and its affiliated subjects. Besides producing a profound philosophy in the field of medicine, which is particularly manifested in the first volume of his famous book the “Al-Qānun” (The Canon of Medicine), Ibn Sinā also developed the Peripatetic philosophy in a series of books written in the Arabic language. The most important of these books is the “Ketāb al-Shefā” (lit.: “The Book of Healing”), which is the largest encyclopedia in the history of mankind to have been compiled single-handedly. While dealing with philosophy this book also addresses such subjects as natural sciences and mathematics. However, from the philosophical point of view the most important part of the book is the one that deals with theology (elāhiyāt), the first section of which has been dedicated to discussing natural sciences (tabi’iyāt) while the section on logic contains the most extensive discussion on logic in Islamic philosophy. Later on Ibn Sinā produced a concise version of the “Al-Shefā” and called it “Al-Najāt” and also included a complete discussion on the Peripatetic philosophy in the book “Dāneshnāmeh Alā’i” in the Persian language, which contributed considerably in establishing Persian as the second most important language in the area of Islamic philosophy. Besides writing a number of short treatises on different topics in philosophy, towards the end of his life, Ibn Sinā concentrated on writing the book “Al-Hikmat al-Mashreqiyah” (The Oriental Philosophy) and in his book the “Al-Eshārāt wa Al-Tanbihāt” (The Book of Directives and Remarks), which was incidentally the last of his books dealing with philosophy, showed some inclination towards Gnosticism. Ibn Sinā has also written several esoteric treatises like “Hay bin Yaqzān”, the “Resalah al-Tayr”, and the “Salāmān wa Absāl”. These works were the first of their kind and dealt with the fundaments of esoteric philosophical discussions that were later on perfected by Shahāb al-Din Sohravardi, popularly known as “Sheikh al-Eshrāq”.

Ibn Sinā shed light on the difference between “existence” (vojud) and “essence” (māhiyah) and made a distinction between “necessity” (vojub) and “possibility” (emkān) which is the fundament of Islamic philosophy and rendered it as the basis of his own philosophy, thereby playing such a crucial role in laying the foundation for the philosophy of existence or what is also occasionally referred to as “ontology” that some Western European historians believe him to be the very first philosopher to have dealt with the subject of existence. Even though Ibn Sinā commanded outstanding expertise in the Aristotelian philosophy it cannot by any means be said that he was just a follower of that philosophy because he had proceeded further on to combine the various principles of the Aristotelian philosophy with the Neo-Platonic philosophy and for instance had combined the Neo-Platonic theory of the effusion of the gradation of existence from the Source with the Islamic idea of Unity (Tawhid) and Revelation along with Peripatetic views and had given birth to a new theory. Moreover, Ibn Sinā was also the first philosopher to ever write an exegesis on the Qur’anic verses. His students like Jorjāni, Ibn Zileh, and especially Bahmanyār - the author of the book “Ketāb al-Tahsil” – and later on Lokari, all pursued his thoughts until the first half of the 5th Century AH/11th Century AD but with an increasing rise in the influence of the Ash’ari school of theology and its opposition to philosophy, the Peripatetic philosophy in general and the thoughts of Ibn Sinā in particular came to be side-tracked to some extent for a period of two centuries. Nonetheless, his school was pursued powerfully in Andalusia during the same period and came to be revived once again even in Iran at the capable hands of Khwājeh Nasir al-Din Tusi henceforth gaining a large number of followers. Abu ‘Ali Sinā’s influence in the world of Islamic philosophy is so powerful that traces of his thought can even be found in the works of various theological, Illuminationist, and Gnostical schools.

During the same time as the spread and strengthening of the Peripatetic philosophy, the Ismā’ili philosophy, too, gained popularity in Iran. During the Fatemid period almost all great Ismā’ili philosophers were Iranians and this trend lasted until the defeat of the Alamut Uprising. It was from the 3rd and 4th Hejirā Centuries onwards that the Ismā’ili philosophers started spreading the Ismā’ili philosophy. Abu Hātam Rāzi (d. 322 AH) wrote some important works like the “E’lām al-Nobavvah” (lit.: “The Declaration of Prophethood) and began challenging Mohammad Zakariya Rāzi. Abu Ya’qub Sajestāni (4th Century AH/10th Century AD) with his work, the “Kash al-Mahjub” (lit.: “Unveiling of the Veiled Beloved”) presented one of the most important works of this school and Hamid al-Din Kermāni (d. c. 408 AH/1017 AD) with the “Rāhat al-Aql” offered a new system to the Ismā’ili school. Furthermore, in the 4th Century AH, some 51 treatises under the title of “Rasāil Ikhvān al-Safā” came to be written and compiled into one of the most important collections in the field of Islamic philosophy and, besides the Ismā’ili circles, had even influenced both the Ithnā ‘Ashari (Shiite) as well as the Sunni philosophers to a great extent. The most important Ismā’ili philosopher, however, was Nāser Khosro (394-481 AH/1004-1088 AD) whose outstanding work of philosophy, the “Jāme’ al-Hekmatain” was an effort towards combining the belief-oriented philosophy which is based on Divine Revelation with Greek philosophy. The last great philosopher of this school was Khwājeh Nasir al-Din Tusi who began to serve the rulers of Alamut and who, despite being an Ithnā ‘Ashari Shiite, had written some books like the “Al-Tasawworāt” on the Ismā’ili philosophy.

The Ismā’ili philosophers regarded philosophy to be related to the internal structure of religion and created structures in which the system of ta’wil and the relationship between the various gradations of existence and the varying levels of intellect – also considered by Fārābi and Ibn Sinā as one of the principles of their philosophies – as well as the particular anthropology of the Ismā’ili school had been incorporated in an ordered and consolidated philosophical outlook.

Even though most of the philosophers of the first period of the Islamic philosophy of Iran belonged to a particular school, there were yet some philosophers who did not belong to any school. The most outstanding of these philosophers were Mohammad bin Zakariyā Rāzi, Abu ‘Ali Maskuyeh, and Abu Reihān Biruni. Besides being one of the most outstanding physicians in the history of medicine, Rāzi (d. 313AH/925 AD) was also an independent philosopher who considered himself to be at par with Plato and Aristotle. 

Since Rāzi had claimed that it could be possible to reach the truth without resorting to “wahy” (Divine Revelation) he was severely criticized by other thinkers and especially the Ismā’ili philosophers. Several of Rāzi’s philosophical works have survived and reached us, the most important of which are “Al-Sirah al-Falsafiyah” and “Al-Teb al-Rohāni”. Abu ‘Ali Maskuyeh (d. 421 AH/1030 AD) was both a historian as well as a philosopher. However, Ibn Sinā who was an associate of his considered him to be rather weak in the area of philosophy. Besides producing works in the fields of history and alchemy, Abu ‘Ali Maskuyeh gave special attention to practical philosophy and his most significant work is the “Tahzib al-Akhlāq” which is considered as one of the most important books in the field of philosophical ethics whose extensive influence can be seen in the later books on ethics like the “Akhlāq-e Nāseri” of Khwājeh Nasir al-Din Tusi. Like Rāzi, Al-Biruni was also a scholar of unique importance. Biruni also delved in philosophy and is known to have indulged in philosophical discussions with Ibn Sinā, especially on the philosophy of natural sciences. Moreover, certain philosophical thoughts have also been analyzed in some chapters of his famous book, the “Tahqiq Mālal Hend”.

ii) During the 5th and 6th Centuries AH/11th and 12th Centuries AD and as a result of the dominance of the Turk rulers over Iran, and especially the Seljuqs, who officially supported the Ash’ari school of theology, philosophy was side-tracked to such a great extent that it prompted a number of poets and Sufis of that period to rise in opposition against the philosophers. The first and most influential personality in this movement was Abu Hāmed Mohammad Ghazzāli (450-505 AH/1058-1111 AD) even though, in the wider sense of the term, he could also have been regarded as a philosopher. Ghazzāli has strongly criticized the Peripatetic philosophy in his autobiography, the “Al-Monqaz min al-Zalāl”, and in his “Maqāsed al-Falāsafeh” he has presented a summary of Ibn Sinā’s thoughts, critically analyzing them in the “Tahāfat al-Falāsafeh”. Although his works give the impression that Ghazzāli followed the Ash’ari school he cannot really be regarded as a pure Asharite. To begin with, he is known to have paid special attention to logic and had attempted to express logical concepts in the Qur’anic language and terms. Secondly, Ghazzāli was a Gnostic and besides writing a number of books on Sufi ethics like the “Ehyā Olum al-Din” – which is the most important book on ethics in the Islamic world, the concise version in Persian of which is considered to be among the masterpieces of Persian prose – he also wrote several books on mystical and Divine knowledge like the “Meshkāt al-Anwār” and the “Al-Hekmah al-Ladoniyyah” which are valuable works from the angle of philosophy. Another famous Ash’ari theologian of this period was Sharestāni (d. 547 AH/1152 AD) who had attacked philosophers in his book, the “Mosāre’a al-Falāsafah”. A response to this book was later offered by Khwājeh Nasir al-Din Tusi while the Andalusian philosopher Ibn Roshd had also critically analyzed Ghazzāli views presented in the “Tahāfat al-Falāsafah” in his book the “Tahāfat al-Tahāfat”. However, the greatest critic of philosophy in this period was the famous Asharite scholar, exegetist and theologian Fakhr al-Din Rāzi (543-606 AH/1148-1209 AD). Rāzi had carefully analyzed Ibn Sinā’s book, the “Al-Eshārāt wa Al-Tanbihāt” and notwithstanding his criticism of its general contents, had shed light on its intricate concepts. Rāzi’s book later on became the basis for Khwājeh Nasir’s efforts towards the revival of the Peripatetic philosophy and Khwājeh’s book, the “Sharh-e Eshārāt”, which is one of the most important works in Islamic philosophy, comprises the texts of Ibn Sinā’s book as well as Rāzi’s critical evaluation of the works of Ibn Sinā besides containing his own responses to all the objections raised by Rāzi.

Despite the decline of philosophy in the 5th and 6th Centuries AH/11th and 12th Centuries AD a number of important philosophers emerged in this period, one of whom was Omar Khayyām (d. c. 520 AH/1126AD) whose position as a Peripatetic philosopher was eclipsed because of the fame he had earned through the renowned Rubāiyāt that have been attributed to him. However, he was probably the most outstanding philosopher of that period belonging to the school of Ibn Sinā and had gained great renown as a skilled philosopher in his very lifetime, leaving behind several short but valuable treatises in the area of philosophy.

However, the most important philosopher of that period who is in fact one of the most outstanding philosophers in the history of Iran is Sheikh al-Eshrāq Shahab al-Din Sohravardi (549-587 AH/1154-1191 AD) who despite his short life that ended with his brutal murder in Halab established a new school in Islamic thought popular as the “Hekmat-e Eshrāq” or the Illuminationist Philosophy that gained great popularity in Iran and India and to some extent even the Ottoman Empire. Sohravardi had criticized the Peripatetic philosophy through his important works like the “Al-Moqavemāt”, the “Al-Moshāre’”, and the “Al Motārahāt” and consequently presented the principles of his Illuminationist Philosophy in his master-work, “Hekmat al-Eshrāq” and even wrote some philosophical treatises in the Persian language which rank among the most outstanding philosophical texts in Persian, expressing himself mainly through allegories. He considered himself as an inheritor of the wisdom of the Greek as well as the ancient Persian philosophers and believed that a true sage or philosopher (hakim) should possess, both, intellectual as well as inspired wisdom that is acquired through purification of the self and the eventual illumination of the soul. As a matter of fact, he had merged the philosophy of the ancients with tasawwuf in order to establish the great Illuminationist School that spread throughout the Islamic world in general and Iran in particular, through the two commentaries written on his book, the “Hekmat al-Eshrāq” by Shams al-Din Shahrzuri and Qotb al-Din Shirāzi, both of whom belonged to two generations after Sohravardi, thereby gaining influence on most of the philosophers of the following centuries in Iran and India.

iii) The relatively lengthy period of three and a half centuries that connected Khwājeh Nasir to Mirdāmād was a luminous one in the history of Islamic philosophy. However, unfortunately this period, as compared to the other four periods, has received less attention from research scholars and a large number of important texts belonging to this period are preserved in libraries in their original manuscripts that are not accessible to research scholars. This period began with the emergence of one of the greatest Islamic philosophers and mathematicians, viz. Khwājeh Nasir al-Din Tusi (597-672 AH/1201-1273 AD). Notwithstanding the tumultuous times during which Khwājeh lived - which also coincided with the Mongol invasion of Iran - he wrote valuable books on the Shiite Ithnā Ashari philosophy and theology besides his works on Ismā’ili theology and philosophy. Moreover, he also laid the foundation of the Shiite Ithnā Ashari philosophical theology by writing a commentary on Ibn Sinā’s book, the “Al-Eshārāt wa al-Tanbihāt” through his own book, the “Tajrid al-E’teqād”. His master-work, the “Akhlāq al-Nāseriyah”, is an outstanding piece of work in the field of philosophical ethics which, like many of his other works and like the literary masterpiece in the field of logic, the “Asās al-Eqtebās”, has been written in the Persian language. Although Khwājeh Nasir was well-acquainted with the Illuminationist Philosophy, he showed a greater inclination towards the school of Ibn Sinā. It was through his efforts that the Peripatetic philosophy was revived once again in Iran and a number of Peripatetic philosophers who followed Khwājeh’s school emerged in the following century. These philosophers included Kātebi Qazvini (d. 675 AH/1276 AD), the author of the book “Hekmat al-‘Ayn”; Athir al-Din Abhari (d. c. 663 AH/1265 AD), the author of “Al-Hedāyah” which gained popularity because of the commentaries that both Maybodi and Mollā Sadrā wrote on it and which prevailed as the text-book of the Peripatetic school for centuries to follow; Qotb al-Din Rāzi (692-766AH/1293-1365 AD), the author of the book, “Al-Mohākemāt” that presented a comparative study of the various commentaries written on Ibn Sinā’s book, the “Al-Eshārāt wa al-Tanbihāt”; and Qotb al-Din Shirāzi (634-710 AH/1237-1310 AD), who was one of the most outstanding Islamic scholars besides being a philosopher, physician, and jurisprudent. Qotb al-Din Shirāzi was the most important associate of Khwājeh Nasir in setting up the Maragheh observatory. His book, the “Dorrah al-Tāj” is an encyclopedia of the Peripatetic philosophy which like the “Shefā” of Ibn Sinā has been written in the Persian language albeit with Illuminationist inclinations. Similarly, his commentary on the “Hekmat al-Eshrāq” is one of the most important texts of the Illuminationist school.

Another philosopher belonging to this period was Afzal al-Din Kāshāni, popularly known as Bābā Afzal (d. c. 644 AH/1246 AD), who according to some biographers was also related to Khwājeh Nasir. He was one of the most innovative philosophers in the world of Islam and wrote his works in the Persian language and despite being a student of the earlier philosophers, also produced new theories especially in the field of epistemology (shenākht). In fact, he could be called a philosopher of the study of the self and all his theories, too, are focused on the principles belonging to that enquiry. The Persian works of Bābā Afzal rank among the Persian philosophical prose masterpieces. He has also left behind a number of rubāiyats (quatrains). Even though Bābā Afzal has refrained from writing directly on tasawwuf (Sufism), his personal life reflected a combination of the principles of philosophy as well as tasawwuf.

During this period, Shirāz was the main center of philosophy in Iran and it could be said that the Shirāz school came to be established with the emergence of Qotb al-Din Shirāzi and declined with the death of Shams al-Din Khafri (d. c. 960 AH/1553 AD), thereby coinciding with the rise of the Esfahān school. During this period, Shirāz - which was under a Sunni rule - was also a center for the Ash’ari philosophical theology and important personalities like Azad al-Din Iji (d. 756 AH/1355 AD), the author of the book, “Al-Mawāqef”; Sa’d al-Din Taftāzāni (d. 792 AH/1390 AD), the author of the book, “Sharh-e al-Shamsiyah”; Mir Seyyed Sharif Jorjāni (d. 816 AH/1413 AD), the author of the book, “Sharh-e al-Mawāqef” all emerged from this school, the works of which philosopher-theologians are still used extensively in Sunni academic circles. Similarly, mention should also be made of Jalāl al-Din Dawāni (830-908 AH/1427-1502 AD) who has left behind several works in the fields of theology and philosophy and who was greatly inclined towards the Illuminationist Philosophy and had written a commentary on the “Hayākal al-Nur” of Sohravardi which was in wide use in the Muslim theological schools of India for centuries.

In the field of pure philosophy, the most important scholar from the Shirāz school after Qotb al-Din Shirāzi was Mir Sadr al-Din Mohammad Dashtaki (828-903 AH/1425-1498 AD) who was also known as “Seyyed-e Sanad” and “Seyyed al-Modaqqeqin”. Besides his skillfulness in philosophy and other fields of knowledge, this great philosopher is also known as one of the primary Peripatetic philosophers of the Islamic world who was also well-acquainted with mysticism. Moreover, Dashtaki had also written several treatises on subjects like intellectual forms (vojud-e zehni) and on the enigmatic query on irrational numbers (jazre asam) which had gained the attention of many philosophers of the Shirāz school. However, his most important work was the “Sharh al-Kabir alā Sharh al-Jadid le’l Tajrid” in which he has dealt with such issues as intellectual forms and primacy of Being (asālat al-wojud) that were later on used by Mollā Sadrā for his references. Besides, Dashtaki had also participated in a number of debates with Dawāni, references of which have been made in Mollā Sadrā’s “Asfār” (lit.: “Journeys”). Furthermore, Mir Sadr al-Din had also established the famous Mansuriyah School which continued to act as the main center of philosophical activities in Shirāz for over a century and which has survived even to date.

Mir Ghiyās al-Din Mansur Dashtaki (866-948 AH/1462-1541 AD), the son of Mir Sadr al-Din was the greatest philosopher of this period and, like Khwājeh Nasir, had gained an astonishing command over a number of fields of knowledge. Even Mollā Sadrā, who was rarely in the habit of extolling the philosophers before his own times, has called Dashtaki as “Al-Moayyed min Ālam al-Malakut” (lit.: “the one who had won the approval of even the angelic realms”). Even though Ghiyās al-Din Mansur was well-acquainted with mysticism as well as the Peripatetic and Illuminationist Schools he abstained from allowing any overlapping between them. His most important contributions were his commentaries on the “Tajrid” and the “Hayākal al-Nur”. It is worth noting that there were other members of the Dashtaki family who had also gained fame as philosophers and who, after the official establishment of a Shiite rule in Iran, openly defended the principles of the Shi’a school. Some of them, like Nizām al-Din Ahmad who spread Shiism as well as Ibn Sinā’s philosophy in the Deccan region, as well as his son, Seyyed ‘Ali Khān Kabir, had even migrated to India. Similarly, the famous philosopher and scholar Mirzā Fathollāh Shirāzi (d. 977 AH/1569 AD) who had also migrated to India and had contributed greatly to the spread of Islamic philosophy in that country belonged to the Dashtaki school. Mirzā Shirāzi’s student, Mohammad bin Mahmud Dehdār Shirāzi (947-1016 AH/1540-1607 AD) had also followed suit and had traveled to India and had created a fusion between philosophy and Shiite Gnosticism and had left behind numerous treatises in the Persian language. While on the subject of the relation between Shirāz and the Muslim India in the area of philosophy reference should also be made to Shāh Tāher (d. 952 AH/1545 AD), a student of Khafri, who had engaged himself in teaching philosophy and spreading Shiism in the Deccan region and had left behind several philosophical works.

The last of the important philosophers of the Shirāz school was Mollā Shams al-Din Mohammad Khafri who spent a part of his life in Kāshān. Khafri is one the most obscure and yet outstanding scholars in the history of Islam who had contributed greatly towards paving the path for Mollā Sadrā’s school and, to some extent, towards the combination of reason (borhān), mysticism, and Quranic teachings. As regards the subject of divine knowledge he disagreed with the views of the Peripatetic philosophers and his views were instead very close to those that Mollā Sadrā has expressed in his book “Al-Asfār al-Arba’ah”. Mollā Sadrā, too, is known to have held Khafri in high respect. His most important books include “Al-Mohākemāt Bein al-Tabaqāt”, which is in fact a comparative study of the various commentaries written on Khwājeh Nasir’s book, the “Tajrid al-E’teqād”, notes on Qushji’s commentary on “Tajrid al-E’teqād”, a book entitled “Al-Asfār al-Arba’ah”, and several philosophical notes on the Glorious Quran. Moreover, Khafri’s book, the “Al-Takmaleh fi Sharh al-Tazkareh”, is one of the most important works on the history of astronomy of the world, the scholarly value of which had not been recognized until recent times.

Despite the importance of the Shirāz School there were, however, several other important philosophers who did not belong to this school including Seyyed Heidar Āmoli (d. after 782 AH/1380 AD) the author of a number of books like the “Jāme’ al-Asrār” and “Commentaries on the Fosus al-Hekam of Ibn Arabi”, which introduced the Ithnā ‘Ashari Shiite world to mystical writings and Sā’en al-Din Tarakeh Esfahāni (d. 836 AH/1433 AD) the author of the book “Tamhid al-Qawā’ed”, which is an important text-book on mysticism, as well as a number of treatises on philosophy and mysticism, all of which reflect his interest in the Peripatetic, Illuminationist, and mystical schools. Generally speaking, an important feature of the third period is that many philosophers who emerged during this time endeavored to bring the various Peripatetic, Illuminationist, and mystical schools as well as the Shiite and Sunni theological schools close to each other and it was a result of these endeavors that the path was paved for the emergence of the Esfahān School, in general, and Mollā Sadrā’s philosophy in particular, which succeeded in combining the earlier schools of Islamic thoughts. 

iv) When the Safavids took over the reigns of power, the grounds were paved for the spread of Shiism, which is more commensurate with rational/speculative sciences (olum-e aqli) than the Sunni theology, and with the emergence of Mirdāmād (d. 1041 AH/1631 AD), a new school of philosophy came to be established in Iran, with Esfahān as its center, and therefore came to be popularly known as the Esfahān School. Mirdāmād was a follower of Ibn Sinā and yet paid attention to Sohravardi’s works and even went to the extent of using the pen name of “Eshrāq” for himself in his poems. Mirdāmād came up with innovative ideas in his most important philosophical work, the “Al-Qabasāt”, concerning the subject of “Time” and the relation between “hādeth wa qadim” (created and eternal), which became famous as “Hoduth-e Dahri” (lit.: eternal origination). Besides authoring a large number of books in Arabic and Persian, Mirdāmād had also trained many other scholars including Mollā Shamsā Gilāni (d. c. 1064AH/1654 AD), the author of the book “Masālek al-Yaqin”; Seyyed Ahmad ‘Alavi (d. c. 1060 AH/1650 AD), the author of the book, “Shefā”; and Qotb al-Din Ashkevari (d. after 1075 AH/1664 AD) the author of the important book, “Mahbub al-Qolub”, which is a work on the history of philosophical thoughts. However, Miradāmād’s most important student was Mollā Sadrā who very soon gained more popularity than his teacher and the founder of the Esfahān School.

Abu al-Qāsem Mirfendereski (d. 1050 AH/1640 AD) was a contemporary philosopher of Mirdāmād in Esfahān who promoted Ibn Sina’s ideas and was, thus, known as a Peripatetic philosopher even though, in a famous ode, he has defended the theory of Platonic Ideas (mothol-e Aflātun) that had been rejected by Ibn Sinā. During the same period, Mirfendereski had also traveled to India and after studying the Indian philosophical thoughts wrote a commentary on the “Yoga Vashishtha” (Juk Bashast). Mirfendereski was also engaged in such sciences as alchemy and had even written a book on that subject. His most important students included famous Peripatetic philosophers like Mollā Rajab ‘Ali Tabrizi (d. 1080 AH/ 1669 AD), the author of the book, “Resāleh Ethbāt al-Wājeb” and Āqā Hosein Khwānsāri (d. 1098 AH/1687 AD) who had written commentaries on Ibn Sinā’s books “Al-Shefā” and “Al-Eshārāt wa Al-Tanbihāt”.

The greatest personality of the Esfahān school, who could perhaps also be called as the most outstanding Iranian philosopher in the field of divine philosophy is Sadr al-Din Mohammad bin Ebrāhim Shirāzi (979-1050 AH/1571 1640 AD), more popularly known as “Mollā Sadrā”, who was a student of, both, Mirdāmād as well as the famous faqih (Islamic jurist), Sufi, poet, and mathematician, Sheikh Bahā’ al-Din Āmeli, popularly known as “Sheikh Bahāe’i”. The most important contribution of Mollā Sadrā was that he succeeded in combining the intellectual schools that existed before him with Quranic teachings, the power of reasoning, and mysticism and established a new school popularly known as the “Hekmat-e Mota’āliyeh” (Transcendental Philosophy), which is still regarded as the most important school of Islamic philosophy of Iran. Mollā Sadrā’s masterpiece, however, is the “Al-Asfār al-Arba’ah”, (lit.: “The Four Journeys”) which is the most excellent book on theoretical philosophy on which many commentaries have been written. In this book Mollā Sadrā has included the views of Ibn Sinā and his followers, Sheikh Shahāb al-Din Sohravardi, and Ibn Arabi as well as the views of, both, Shiite and Sunni theologians, and particularly Ghazzāli, Fakhr al-Din Rāzi, and Khwājeh Nasir. For the purpose of writing this book Mollā Sadrā also availed of ahādith sources like the “Osul al-Kāfi”, on which he wrote an important commentary. Besides, he also wrote invaluable exegeses on the Glorious Quran and in his books the “Mafātih al-Ghayb” and the “Asrār al-Āyāt” he dealt with such issues as the methodology of writing exegeses on the Glorious Quran as well as explanatory notes on the esoteric meaning of the verses of the Islamic scripture. However, even though all these various influences did play an undeniable part in the emergence of the “Transcendental Philosophy”, no one can claim that Mollā Sadrā’s philosophy is merely a medley of the same.

The last years of Mollā Sadrā’s life were spent in his birthplace, Shirāz, where he taught philosophy in the “Madreseh-ye Khān” (lit.: “The Khān Seminary”) that had been built for him. His most outstanding student was Mollā Mohsen Feiz Kāshāni (d. 1091 AH/1680 AD) who was a mohaddeth (expert in ahādith or Prophetic sayings), a poet, a theologian, a mystic, and a philosopher whose most outstanding work, the “Al-Mahjah al-Bayzā’ fi al-Hayāt al-Ahyā”, was on the subject of Shiite philosophical ethics. He had also written another important book entitled, the “Osul al-Ma’āref”, which elaborated on his master’s school of thought. Another of his outstanding students was Mollā Abd al-Razzāq Lāhiji (d. 1072 AH/16662 AD), the author of books like the “Gohar-e Morād” and the “Mashāreq al-Elhām” on philosophical theology. Like Mollā Feiz, Lāhiji, too, was an outstanding poet and philosopher but because of his difference of opinion towards Mollā Sadrā’s teachings he never spoke or wrote anything on the Transcendental Philosophy. A common student of Mollā Feiz and Mollā Razzāq was Qāzi Sa’id Qomi (d. 1103 or 1104 AH/1692 or 1693 AD) - the author of the book “Al-Ebādāt” – who was more inclined towards Sufism, and in philosophy, followed Mollā Rajab ‘Ali Tabrizi and the Peripatetic philosophy and refrained from discussions on the Transcendental Philosophy. As a matter of fact, owing to the attitude adopted by Mollā Razzāq and Qāzi Sa’id Qomi, Mollā Sadrā’s philosophy was sidetracked in Iran for about two centuries.

Mollā Sadrā’s philosophy was revived by Mollā ‘Ali Nuri (d. 1246 AH/1830 AD) who also established a new philosophical center in Esfahān. For nearly seventy years Mollā Nuri taught Mollā Sadrā’s books and alongside wrote important commentaries on his book, the “Al-Asfār al-Arba’ah”, and trained several generations of students in Sadrā’s school of philosophy. Some of his students were Mollā Mohammad Esmā’il Esfahāni (d. 1281 AH/1864 AD), who wrote commentaries on the book “Shawāreq”; Seyyed Razi Lariji (d. 1270 AH/1854), who was a great mystic although none of his works have survived; Mollā Abdollāh Zanuzi (d. 1264 AH/1848 AD), the author of “Anwār al-Jaliyah” and “Lama’āt-e Elāhiyah”; and finally Mollā Hādi Sabzevāri (1212-1289 AH/1797-1872 AD), the great and renowned mystic and philosopher of the 13th Century AH/19th Century AD who was initially a student of Mollā Mohammad Esmā’il Esfahāni and who had also attended Mollā ‘Ali Nuri’s classes for a few years. Mollā Hādi’s outstanding works like the “Asrār al-Hekam” and the “Commentary on the Manzumeh” are still taught in philosophy courses and are considered as two important text-books of philosophy. Mollā Hādi was also interested in Sufism and had written a commentary on Rumi’s “Mathnavi” and had even composed mystical poems under the nickname of “Asrār’. Like Mollā ‘Ali Nuri, Mollā Hādi, too, had engaged himself towards the revival of Mollā Sadrā’s philosophy and except for a couple of cases where he made some explanatory notes, he has not added anything to Mollā Sadrā’s original views.

In the 13th Century AH/19th Century AD, with the appointment of Tehran as the capital of the Qājār Dynasty, this city gradually evolved into a center of philosophy and the Tehran school of philosophy soon emerged, even though the Khorāsān, Shirāz, and Esfahān centers continued, to some extent, with their activities in the area of philosophy. Mollā Abdollāh Zanuzi was invited to Tehrān and along with his son, Mollā ‘Ali Zanuzi (d. 1307 AH/1890 AD) took up residence in the royal estate. Mollā’s Abdollāh’s student, Jahāngir Khān Qashqā’i (d. 1328 AH/1910 AD), however, stayed on in Esfāhān and took over the activities of the center that continued until recent times under such personalities as Mirzā Rahim Arbāb. With the migration of Mollā Abdollāh Zanuzi to Tehran, the philosophical center of Iran was transferred to this city. His son, Mollā ‘Ali Zanuzi who was the most outstanding philosopher of the Mollā Sadrā School in those times and who wrote the book “Badāyeh al-Hekam” as well as extensive commentaries on Mollā Sadrā’s “Asfār” was an innovative philosopher and could perhaps even be considered as the most outstanding philosopher of his period. ‘Ali Zanuzi, Mohammad Rezā Qomshe’i (d. 1306 AH/1889 AD) - who was from among the students of Seyyed Razi Lārijāni and was the greatest scholar of theoretical mysticism (erfān-e nazari) of his period, having written an important commentary on the book, “Tamhid al-Qawāed” - and Mirzā Abu al-Hasan Jelveh (d. 1314 AH/1896 AD) – a Peripatetic philosopher who had written commentaries on Ibn Sinā’s works – each presided over the three main philosophical trends viz. the Transcendental Philosophy (Hekmat-e Mota’āliyah), the School of Ibn Arabi, and the School of Ibn Sinā respectively in Tehran and trained a large number of students. A number of great contemporary scholars of philosophy like Mirzā Mahdi Āshtiyāni, Mirzā Ahmad Āshtiyāni, Mirzā Tāher Tonekāboni, Mohammad Kāzem Assār, Abu al-Hasan Rafi’i Qazvini, and Mohammad Hosayn Tabātabā’i were the students of these three scholars with two intermediate links.

v) From the end of the Qājār period until date, philosophy in Iran has been involved to a great extent, on the one hand, in reviving its traditional foundations as well as eliminating the problems of encountering Western philosophical schools, on the other. Since Descartes’ “Discourse de la Méthode” was translated into the Persian language during the Qājār period until today, the works of a large number of Western philosophers have been translated into Persian and a number of Iranians have also been attracted to Western philosophical schools. On the other hand, Islamic philosophy continues to be studied with the efforts of great scholars like Mohammad Kāzem Assār, Abu al-Hasan Rafi’i Qazvini, Abu al-Hasan Sha’rāni, and finally Mohammad Hosayn Tabātabā’i – the reviver of the study of Islamic philosophy in the Qom Theological School – and is gaining ever-increasing popularity. In the meanwhile, some scholars of Islamic philosophy have strived against the skeptical, materialistic, and atheist philosophical schools of the West and have endeavored to establish a new branch in Islamic philosophy in order to confront insidious Western philosophical thoughts. From among the traditionalistic philosophers, Allāmah Tabātabā’i, with his book, “The Principles of Philosophy and the Approach of Realism” (Osul-e Falsafah va Ravish-e Re’ālism); Mortezā Motahhari with some of his works; and Mahdi Hāeri Yazdi with his book, “Heram-e Hasti va Elm-e Hozuri” have contributed greatly in this regard. Moreover, on the other hand, a group of Iranian intellectuals who had studied, both, Islamic philosophy in the traditional centers of Iran as well as Western philosophy in the West, strove to take further steps in the same direction.

Iran can still be considered as the main center of Islamic philosophy and there is an ever-increasing interest in Islamic philosophy, comparative philosophical studies, and the evaluation of Western philosophical thoughts from the viewpoint of Islamic philosophy on the part of the Islamic seminaries as well as universities. At the same time, a handful of intellectuals have also shown inclinations towards some Western philosophical thoughts. However, as a result of the efforts made in the past few decades the inclination towards Islamic philosophy and other intellectual Islamic studies in Iran has increased greatly. This trend will undoubtedly make an impact on the study of Islamic philosophy in other Islamic countries, and in India and the Western world since efforts have been made by Iranian scholars since the 60s and 70s of the 20th century towards introducing the traditional philosophy of Iran, in general, and Mollā Sadrā’s philosophy, in particular, both in Iran as well as the other countries of the world.


 source: Nasr , Seyed Hossein " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.607 - 612

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