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MullaSadra: Accomplished philosopher of the mystics

Sadr al-Din Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. YahyaQawamiShirazi (ca. 1571–1636) is arguably the most significant Islamic philosopher after Avicenna. Best known as MullaSadra, he was later given the title of Sadr al-Muta’allihin (Master of the theosists) for his approach to philosophy that combined an interest in theology and drew upon insights from mystical intuition. He championed a radical philosophical method that attempted to transcend the simple dichotomy between a discursive, ratiocinative mode of reasoning and knowing, and a more intuitive, poetic and non-propositional mode of knowledge. He became famous as the thinker who revolutionized the doctrine of existence in Islamic metaphysics and extended the shift from an Aristotelian substance metaphysics to a (Neoplatonic) process metaphysics of change, from a metaphysics grounded in the primacy of substances as the stuff of existence to a metaphysics founded upon and moved by acts of being. A keen thinker who wrote works in philosophy, theology, mysticism, and scriptural exegesis, he attempted a wide-ranging synthesis of approaches to Islamic thought and argued for the necessity of the method of understanding reality through a mixture of logical reasoning, spiritual inspiration, and a deep meditation upon the key scriptural sources of the TwelverShi‘i tradition in Islam. A key figure of a group of thinkers whom Nasr and Corbin referred to as the “School of Isfahan”, he played a major role in intellectual life during the revitalization of philosophy under the Safavid Shah ‘Abbas I (r.1588–1629 CE) and later on in life was the most important teacher at the philosophical seminary known as Madrasa-yi Khan in his hometown of Shiraz.

MullaSadra wrote over forty-five works. His magnum opus, al-Hikma al-muta‘aliya fi-l-asfar al-‘aqliyya al-arba‘a, known as al-Asfar al-arba‘a (The Four Journeys), is a large compendium of philosophy and theology that, instead of following the traditional divisions of logic, physics, and metaphysics, maps intellectual inquiry upon a mystical metaphor of the soul's journey in this world.

The Four Journeys is a major source for the history of Islamic philosophical traditions: it reveals the strong influence of an Avicennan structure with major contributions from the critiques of Avicennism by Suhrawardi and the Sufi metaphysical monism of Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 1240).

His other works mainly deal with philosophical theology, such as al-Hikma al-‘arshiyya (Wisdom of the throne) and al-Shawahid al-rububiyya (Divine witnesses). One work, al-Masha‘ir (Inspired recognitions) stands out as a dense epitome of his doctrine of being as expressed in the first part of the Four Journeys on the semantics of existence. As a religious thinker, MullaSadra was also keen to come to terms with his scriptural heritage, and he wrote three works on the hermeneutics of the Qur’an as a preparation for his own incomplete mystical and philosophical commentary on the text: Mafatih al-ghayb (Keys to the unseen), Asrar al-ayat (Secrets of the verses/signs), and Mutashabihat al-Qur’an (Allegories of the Qur’an). As a Shi‘i thinker, he also wrote an incomplete commentary on the main doctrinal collection of tradition, Usul al-kafi of Kulayni (d. 941), as an attempt to grapple with the question of what it means to be an intuitive philosopher in the Shi‘i tradition.

He also wrote a number of other treatises on particular issues, such as creatio ex nihilo (huduth al-‘alam), the resurrection, the nature of knowledge, logic, and the relationship between existence and essence. But the Four Journeys remains his most important work and the key to understanding his philosophy as he repeatedly cited it in his other works for a more extended discussion of an issue.

Common with other pre-modern traditions of philosophy, MullaSadra conceives of philosophy as more than a ratiocinative inquiry. It is a mode of being and a way of life whose goal is wisdom and the cultivation of a holy life in which the sage strikes a resemblance to the divine (cf. Plato's Theaetetus). His thought is clearly located within a Neoplatonic paradigm of understanding philosophy as espoused by Pierre Hadot and others.

Although Sadra’s influence remained limited in the generations after his death, it increased markedly during the 19th century. In recent times, his works have been studied in Iran, Europe, and America.


Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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