Influence of Suhrawardi and philosophy of illumination on Mulla Sadra

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Suhrawardi’s dominance of Islamic philosophy was substantially curtailed by Mulla Sadra, whose criticisms and expositions of Suhrawardi’s doctrine established him as the foremost authority on transcendental theosophy(al-hikmat al-muta aliyyah) Suhrawardi’s and Mulla Sadra represent two distinct approaches to hikmat. Mulla Sadra’s philosophical system includes that of Suhrawardi but he makes major changes so that it incorporates Ibn Sina’s Peripatetic interpretations as well as Suhrawardi’s ishraqi ideas. The inclusive nature of his ideas established Mulla Sadra’s dominance of Islamic philosophy in Iran until the present day.

A. Reversing the principality of the light to principality of being
The most important achievement of Mulla Sadra’s is that he reversed the Suhrawardian ontology from one that was based on light to one based on the principality of Being. This important change took place in such a way that the overall philosophy structure of Suhrawardi remained intact with one exception: the predominance of the principality of existence over Suhrawardi’s principality of essence.

Sadr al Din Shirazi wrote over fifty books which range from commentaries on the Islamic hadith, such as the Usul al- kafi, to his Peripatetic writings, as in the case of Kitab sharh al-hiddayyah. There are also those works which defend the principles of illumination, such as al-Shawahid al- rububiyya, Hikmat al- arshiyyah, his famous commentary upon Suhrawardi’s The Philosophy of Illumination called Ta’ligat ala sharh hikmat al-ishraq, and finally his magnum opus,al- Hikmat al-muta’ aliyyah fi’l-asfar al-arba’al’-aqliyyah.

Mulla Sadra’s Philosophy presents a unique synthesis of major intellectual currents in Islam. As S.H. Nasr states, they are: Kalam, Peripatetic philosophy, ishraqi theosophy, and irfan. In Mulla Sadra we find elements of Ghazzali, Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi and particularly Ibn Arabi. Moreover, there is Sufism especially in the gnostic aspect which serves as the back ground for this whole synthesis.

B. The difference between Mulla Sadra and Suhrawardi in their ontological views
The central difference between Mulla Sadra and Suhrawardi lies in their ontological views. According to Mulla Sadra, who advocated the principality of being and the gradation of Being (tashkik) ach existent has a different ontological status. Identifying pure Being as the absolute, Mulla Sadra maintains that there is a unity amongst all the gradations of being that emanate from Being. So far, Mulla Sadra’s system is similar to that Suhrawardi, with the difference being that Mulla Sadra has substituted Being for Light.

What constitutes the major difference between them is their account of the hierarchy they both advocate. Mulla Sadra argues that gradation is applicable to the realm of existence (wujud) and cannot include essence (mahiyyah). Suhrawardi, takes the opposite view by maintaining that gradation makes sense only if applied to essences. Sayyaid Jalal Ashtiyani, in his book Hasti aznazar-i falsafah wa irfan (Existence from a Philosophical and Gnostic View), offers a lengthy discussion of the contention between Suhrawardi, and Mulla Sadra’s view of Being and Existence. He summarizes Mulla Sadra’s view as follows: “ The existent being that has an essence must then be caused and existence that is pure existence… is therefore a Necessary Being. Therefore, for Mulla Sadra, existence precedes the essence and is thus principle since something which lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra’s philosophy.

C. Going beyond the distinction between essence and existence
According to Ashtiyani, there is another reading of Mulla Sadra argument that goes beyond the classical distinction between essence and existence. Ashtiyani maintains that both in the Asfar and the Mashai’r, Mulla Sadra offers a middle road theory that is a rapprochement between those who argue for the principality of essence and those who advocate the principality of existence. Since all existence beings are essentially different in respect to their place on the hierarchy of existence, Ashtiyani argue, essence and existence become and the same in that every existence beings has ontological status which determines its degree of existence and this status bestows upon it is identity or essence.

It is fact the above argument that demonstrates the extent of Suhrawardi’s influence on Mulla Sadra ontological structure. The argument presented by Mulla Sadra can be called a “middle road position” which goes beyond the traditional essence/ existence distinction by arguing that they are two aspects of the same reality.

A thorough discussion of the differences between the two giants of hikmat is beyond the scope of this work. It suffices to say that both figures left an indelible mark upon intellectual fabric of Persia,the sub-continent of India and in particular on Shi’ism. Due to the hostility of the orthodox and esoteric jurists, Mulla Sadra’s teachings However, once they were revived, during the early part of the Qajar period, their study came to the forefront of scholarship.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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