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Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi
Religion Islam, Sufism, specifically the Illuminationist philosophy
Personal
Born 1155
Died 1191
Senior posting
Based in Suhraward
Title Hazrat, Shaikh
Period in office 12th century
Successor Various, including Baha-ud-din Zakariya

Other important Muslim mystics carry the name Suhrawardi, particularly Abu 'l-Najib al-Suhrawardi and his paternal nephew Abu Hafs Umar al-Suhrawardi.

"Shahāb ad-Dīn" Yahya ibn Habash as-Suhrawardī (Persian: شهاب‌الدین سهروردی, also known as Sohrevardi) was an Iranian [1] philosopher, a Sufi and founder of the Illuminationist philosophy or "Oriental Theosophy", an important school in Islamic mysticism that drew upon Zoroastrian and Platonic ideas. The "Orient" of his "Oriental Theosophy" symbolises spiritual light and knowledge. He is sometimes given the honorific title Shaikh al-Ishraq or "Master of Illumination" and sometimes is called Shaikh al-Maqtul, the "Murdered Sheikh", referring to his execution for heresy.

Contents

Life

Suhraward or Suhrabard was a Kurdish village located between the present-day towns of Zanjan and Bijar[2] where Suhrawardi was born in 1155. This Kurdish[3] inhabited region in present-day northwestern Iran was controlled by the Kurds up to the 10th century, and its inhabitants were mainly heretics[4].

He learned wisdom and jurisprudence in Maragheh (located today in the East Azarbaijan Province of Iran). His teacher was Majd al-Din Jaili who was also Imam Fakhr Razi’s teacher. He then went to Iraq and Syria for several years and developed his knowledge while he was there.

His life spanned a period of less than forty years during which he produced a series of highly assured works that established him as the founder of a new school of philosophy, sometimes called "Illuminism" (hikmat al-Ishraq). According to Henry Corbin, Suhrawardi "came later to be called the Master of Oriental theosophy (Shaikh-i-Ishraq) because his great aim was the renaissance of ancient Iranian wisdom"[5].

In 1186, at the age of thirty-two, he completed his magnum opus “The Philosophy of Illumination.” He was executed in 1191 in Aleppo on charges of cultivating Batini teachings and philosophy by the order of al-Malik al-Zahir, son of Saladin.

Teachings

Arising out of the peripatetic philosophy as developed by Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Suhrawardi's illuminationist philosophy is critical of several of his positions and radically departs from him in the creation of a symbolic language (mainly derived from ancient Iranian culture or Farhang-e Khosravani) to give expression to his wisdom (hikma).

Suhrawardi taught a complex and profound emanationist cosmology, in which all creation is a successive outflow from the original Supreme Light of Lights (Nur al-Anwar). The fundamental of his philosophy is pure immaterial light, than which nothing is more manifest, that unfolds from the light of lights in a descending order of ever-diminishing intensity and, through complex interaction, gives rise to a "horizontal" array of lights, similar in conception to Platonic forms, that governs the species of mundane reality. In other words, the universe and all levels of existence are but varying degrees of Light - the light and the darkness. In his division of bodies, he categorizes objects in terms of their reception or non-reception of light.

Suhrawardi considers a previous existence for every soul in the angelic domain before descending to the realm of the body. The soul is divided into two parts, one remaining in heaven and the other descending into the dungeon of the body. The human soul is always sad because it has been divorced from its other half. Therefore, it aspires to become united with it again. The soul can only reach felicity again when it is united with the celestial part, which has remained in heaven. He holds that the soul should seek felicity by detaching itself from its tenebrous body and worldly matters and access the world of immaterial lights. The souls of the gnostics and saints, after leaving the body, ascend even above the angelic world to enjoy proximity to the Supreme Light, which is the only absolute Reality.

Suhrawardi elaborated the neo-Platonic idea of an independent intermediary world, the imaginal world (alam-e mithal). His views have exerted a powerful influence down to this day, particularly through Mulla Sadra’s combined peripatetic and illuminationist description of reality.

Influence

Suhrawardi's Illuminationist project was to have far-reaching consequences for Islamic philosophy in Shi'ite Iran. His teachings had a strong influence on subsequent esoteric Iranian thought and the idea of “Decisive Necessity” is believed to be one of the most important innovations of in the history of logical philosophical speculation, stressed by the majority of Muslim logicians and philosophers. In the seventeenth century it was to initiate an Illuminationist Zoroastrian revival in the figure of Azar Kayvan.

Suhrawardi and pre-Islamic Iranian Thought

Suhrawardi uses pre-Islamic Iranian gnosis, synthesising it with Greek and Islamic wisdom. He believed that the ancient Persians' wisdom was shared by Greek philosophers such as Plato as well as by the Egyptian Hermes and considered his philosophy of illumination a rediscovery of this ancient wisdom. According to Nasr, Suhrawardi provides an important link between the thought of pre-Islamic and post-Islamic Iran and a harmonious synthesis between the two.

In the Alwah Imadi he offers an esoteric intrepretation of Ferdowsi's Epic of Kings (Shah Nama)[6] in which figures such as Fereydun, Zahak, Kay Khusraw[6] and Jamshid are seen as manifestations of the divine light. Seyyed Hossein Nasr states: "Alwah 'Imadi is one of the most brilliant works of Suhrawardi in which the tales of ancient Persia and the wisdom of gnosis of antiquity in the context of the estoteric meaning of the Quran have been synthesized.".[6](pg16).

In the Partwa Nama he makes extensive use of Zoroastrian symbolism[6] and his elaborate anegeology is also based on Zoroastrian models[6]. The supreme light he calls both by its Quranic and Mazdean names, al-nur al-a'zam (the Supreme Light) and Vohuman (Bahman). Suhrawardi refers to the hukamayi-fars (Persian Philosophers) as major practitioners of his Ishraqi wisdom and to Zoroaster, Jamasp, Goshtasp, Kay Khusraw, Frashostar and Bozorgmehr as possessors of this ancient wisdom.

Among symbols and concepts used by Suhrawardi are: minu (incorporeal world), Giti (Corporeal World), Surush (messenger, Gabriel), Farvardin (the lower world), Gawhar (Pure sessense), Bahram, Hurakhsh (the Sun), Shahriyar (archetype of species), Isfahbad (Light in the body), Amordad (Zoroastrian Angel), Shahrivar (Zoroastrian Angel), and the Kiyyani Khwarnah. According to Suhrawardi: "Once the soul becomes illuminated and strong through the rays of divine light, it reachers the throne of Kiyani and becomes fully grounded in power and prosperity".

Writings

Suhrawardi left over 50 writings in Persian and Arabic.

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Persian Writings

  • Partaw Nama ("Treatise on Illumination")
  • Hayakal al-Nur" al-Suhrawardi [Sohravardi, Shihaboddin Yahya] (1154-91) Hayakil al-nur (The Temples of Light), ed. M.A. Abu Rayyan, Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Tijariyyah al-Kubra, 1957. (The Persian version appears in oeuvres vol. III.)
  • Alwah-i imadi ("The tablets dedicated to Imad al-Din")
  • Lughat-i Muran ("The language of Termites")
  • Risalat al-Tayr ("The treatise of the Bird")
  • Safir-i Simurgh ("The Calling of the Simurgh")
  • Ruzi ba jama'at Sufiyaan ("A day with the community of Sufis")
  • Fi halat al-tifulliyah ("Treatise on the state of the childhood")
  • Awaz-i par-i Jebrail ("The Chant of the Wing of Gabriel")
  • Aql-i Surkh ("The Red Intellect")
  • Fi Haqiqat al-'Ishaq ("On the reality of love")
  • Bustan al-Qolub ("The Garden of the Heart")

Arabic Writings

  • Kitab al-talwihat
  • Kitab al-moqawamat
  • Kitab al-mashari' wa'l-motarahat, Arabic texts edited with introduction in French by H. Corbin, Tehran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, and Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1976; vol II: I. Le Livre de la Théosophie oriental
  • (Kitab Hikmat al-ishraq). 2. Le Symbole de foi des philosophes. 3. Le Récit de l'Exil occidental, Arabic texts edited with introduction in French by H. Corbin, Tehran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, and Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1977; vol III: oeuvres en persan, Persian texts edited with introduction in Persian by S.H. Nasr, introduction in French by H. Corbin, Tehran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, and Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1977. (Only the metaphysics of the three texts in Vol. I were published.) Vol. III contains a Persian version of the Hayakil al-nur, ed. and trans. H. Corbin
  • L'Archange empourpré: quinze traités et récits mystiques, Paris: Fayard, 1976, contains translations of most of the texts in vol. III of oeuvres philosophiques et mystiques, plus four others. Corbin provides introductions to each treatise, and includes several extracts from commentaries on the texts. W.M. Thackston, Jr, The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi, London: Octagon Press, 1982, provides an English translation of most of the treatises in vol. III of oeuvres philosophiques et mystiques, which eschews all but the most basic annotation; it is therefore less useful than Corbin's translation from a philosophical point of view)
  • Mantiq al-talwihat, ed. A.A. Fayyaz, Tehran: Tehran University Press, 1955. (The logic of the Kitab al-talwihat (The Intimations)
  • Kitab hikmat al-ishraq (The Philosophy of Illumination), trans H. Corbin, ed. and intro. C. Jambet, Le livre de la sagesse orientale: Kitab Hikmat al-Ishraq, Lagrasse: Verdier, 1986. (Corbin's translation of the Prologue and the Second Part (The Divine Lights), together with the introduction of Shams al-Din al-Shahrazuri and liberal extracts from the commentaries of Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi and Mulla Sadra. Published after Corbin's death, this copiously annotated translation gives to the reader without Arabic immediate access to al-Suhrawardi's illuminationist method and language)

See also

References

Amin Razavi, M. (1997) Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination, Richmond: Curzon. (Clear and intelligent account of the main principles of his thought.)

Corbin, H. (1971) En Islam iranien: aspects spirituels et philosophiques, vol. II: Sohrawardi et les Platoniciens de Perse, Paris: Gallimard. (Corbin devoted more of his time to the study of al-Suhrawardi than to any other figure, and this volume represents the essence of his research.)

Ha'iri Yazdi, M. (1992) The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy: Knowledge by Presence, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (An original work on epistemology by a contemporary Iranian philosopher drawing critical comparisons between certain Islamic and Western philosophers; incorporates the best exposition in a Western language of al-Suhrawardi's theory of knowledge.)

Nasr, S.H. (1983) Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi Maqtul, in M.M. Sharif (ed.) A History of Muslim Philosophy, vol. I, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1963; repr. Karachi, no date. (Still one of the best short introductions to al-Suhrawardi, particularly useful on the cosmology.)

al-Shahrazuri, Shams al-Din (c.1288) Sharh hikmat al-ishraq (Commentary on the Philosophy of Illumination), ed. H. Ziai, Tehran: Institute for Cultural Studies and Research, 1993. (Critical edition of the thirteenth-century original; Arabic text only, but a useful short introduction in English.)

Walbridge, J. (1992) The Science of Mystic Lights: Qutb al-Din Shirazi and the Illuminationist Tradition in Islamic Philosophy, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, for the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies of Harvard University. (A study of one of al-Suhrawardi's principal commentators, with a useful introduction on the philosophy of illumination.)

Walbridge, J.(1999) The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks, Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Walbridge, J. (2001) 'The Wisdom of the Mystic East: Suhrawardi and Platonic Orientalism', Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Ziai, H. (1990) Knowledge and Illumination: a Study of Suhrawardi's Hikmat al-ishraq, Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. (A pioneering study of al-Suhrawardi's logic and epistemology, particularly his criticism of the peripatetic theory of definition; unfortunately this work suffers from sloppy production.)

Ziai, H. (1996a) 'Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi: Founder of the Illuminationist School', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, 434-64. (Biography of al-Suhrawardi.)

Ziai, H. (1996b) 'The Illuminationist Tradition', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, 465-96. (General description of the Illuminationist tradition.)

Notes

  1. ^ *A) John Walbridge, “The leaven of the ancients: Suhrawardī and the heritage of the Greeks”, State University of New York Press, 1999. Excerpt: “Suhrawardi, a 12th-century Persian philosopher, was a key figure in the transition of Islamic thought from the neo-Aristotelianism of Avicenna to the mystically oriented philosophy of later centuries”
    • B)Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “The need for a sacred science”, SUNY Press, 1993. Pg 158: “Persian philosopher Suhrawardi refers in fact to this land as na-kuja abad, which in Persian means literally utopia..”
    • C)Matthew Kapstein, University of Chicago Press, 2004, "The presence of light: divine radiance and religious experience", University of Chicago Press, 2004. pg 285:"..the light of lights in the system of the Persian philosopher Suhrawardi"
    • D)Jonathan Glustrom Katz, "Dreams, Sufism, and sainthood: the visionary career of Muhammad al-Zawâwî", BRILL, 1996. pg XVI: "Unlike accounts of visions by other more famous Muslim visionaries, the Andalusian Ibn al-Arabi or the Iranian Suhrawardi, for example, Zawawi's vision seldom lend..."
  2. ^ M. Kamal, Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy, p.12, Ashgate Publishing Inc., 136 pp., 2006, ISBN 0754652718 (see p.12)
  3. ^ C. E. Butterworth, M. Mahdi, The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy, Harvard CMES Publishers, 406 pp., 1992, ISBN 0932885071 (see p.336)
  4. ^ M. Th. Houtsma, E. van Donzel, E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, BRILL Publishers, 1993, p. 506, ISBN 9004097961
  5. ^ H.Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth (From Mazdean Iran to Shi'ite Iran), translated from French by Nancy Pearson, Princeton, 1977. (1:Paris, 1960), pg. 54.
  6. ^ a b c d e Amin Razavi, M. (1997) Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination, Richmond: Curzon Press.

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