Intellectual Context of Suhrawardi Period

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A. Debates among Sufism, Kalam and Philosophy
Suhrawardi lived at a time when the influence and power of the Mu’tazilite’s theology had been substantially curtailed by the Ash’rites. The result of the Mu’tazilite’s rationalization was the Ash’rites Kalam, which paved the way for a more literary and exoteric interpretation of Islam. While the debate among the advocates of intellectual sciences continued, Philosophical and theological school were also challenged by the more experiential school of the Sufis, whose epistemological methodology questioned the very foundation upon which intellectually oriented school had established their theories of knowledge. Such Sufi sages as Bayazid and Hallaj, who influenced Suhrawardi, were instrumental in the development of his mystical thought. Their reliance purification and asceticism was an alternative to the more philosophically oriented epistemological paradigms.

At this historical juncture, Ghazzali, as the most prestigious master of Kalam and learned man in the religious sciences, attacked the philosophers for their reliance solely upon reason for the attainment of certainty. Ghazzali’s attempt to demonstrate the above as exemplified in the Tahafut al- falasifah paved the way for Sufism to challenge the more philosophically oriented school of thought. Sufism, as a result of Ghazzali’s attack on philosophy, came to be viewed in a different light as a school whose intellectual merit had to be recognized and was not limited to outbursts of emotions embodied in lyrics, poetry and practice of asceticism. Considering the apparent polarization between the Peripatetics and Sufis, the question on the intellectual horizon of the time may have been whether it was possible to bring about a rapprochement between these two opposing school. Suhrawardi, as well as we will see, demonstrated that such a synthesis was not only possible but necessary and that a thorough familiarity with the Peripatetic philosophy was the prerequisite for the understanding of the philosophy of illumination. This attempt to create a bridge between the rationalistic tradition in Islamic philosophy and gnostic view of knowledge dominated philosophical activities in Persia for several centuries.

B. Different concepts about Ibn Sira’s encompassing thought
At the center of these controversies stood Ibn Sina with his all encompassing philosophical system. Ibn Sina’s philosophy by the time of Suhrawardi, had been interpreted in different ways and this brought about a number of school which were essentially Ibn Sinian but each one emphasized certain aspects of his ideas.

First, there were those sections of Ibn Sina’s philosophy which were purely Aristotelian in nature and can be categorized as Peripatetic philosophy. The peripatetic tradition flourished and it was this interpretation of Ibn Sina which was mainly opposed to Sufism. There were also those such as the exponents of Kalam who found Ibn Sina ‘s logic and metaphysics to be a useful means of analysis and therefore adopted them. Such a trend reached its climax in the works of Fakhr al- Din Razi who applied Ibn Sinian logic and metaphysics to solve various problems in Kalam. Finally, there was the mystical aspect of Ibn Sina which received less attention than his rationalistic writings. In these types of writings such as Hayy ibn Yaqzan and the final chapter of the Isharat, the Neoplatonic aspect of Ibn Sina’s philosophy is most apparent. Suhrawardi was well aware of such writings. For example, in his works al- Ghurbat al- qharbiyyah (The Occidental Exile), he continues Ibn Sina’s story using some of the same metaphors.

Suhrawardi therefore appeared on the intellectual scene at a time when various interpretations of Ibn Sina had resulted in the emergence of different school which often were antegnostic to one another.

To the existing differences between various interpretation of Ibn Sina must be added the influx of foreign ideas and philosophies. This intellectual diversity was the result of the translation of Greek texts and the interaction of the learned masters of such traditions as Neoplatonism , Pythagoreans, Hermeticism and Greek philosophy within the Muslim intellectual circles. Suhrawardi, who saw himself as the reviver of Sophia Perennis, also synthesized rationalistic philosophy of Peripatetics, the practical wisdom of the Sufis and intellectual intuition of the ishraqis.

C. “Shi’ite” in Suhrawardi ‘s thought
Suhrawardi’s ideas permeated the tradition of Islamic philosophy and provided the Shi’ite philosophers with the means to offer a more intellectually justifiable explanation for the more esoteric aspects of Islam, in contrast to the more scriptural or exoteric interpretation of Islam Suhrawardi’s, as a thinker who was to reconcile rationalism and mysticism within one single philosophical system, bridged the deep division between two interpretations or approaches to the message of Islam. The type of wisdom that Suhrawardi’s, developed , known as al- Hikmat al-ilahiyyah, (transcendental theosophy), encompasses rationalism and yet goes beyond it by basing itself on direct vision of the truth.

Suhrawardi carried out an ecumenical analysis with Zoroastrian religion, Pythagorianism and Hermeticism on an existential and esoteric level. Perhaps his achievement is that he pioneered what H. Corbin calls “Spiritual Hermeneutics,” which maintains ecumenical work has to be carried out by those who speak from within a tradition and that their very being has become the manifestation of the truth of the tradition in question.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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