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Transcendent theosophy or al-hikmat al-muta’li (حكمت متعالي), the doctrine and philosophy that has been developed and perfected by the Persian philosopher, Mulla Sadra, is one of two main disciplines of Islamic philosophy that is very live and active even today.

The expression al-hikmat al-muta’liyah comprises two terms al-hikmat (meaning theosiphia) and muta’liyah (meaning exalted or Transcendent). This school of Mulla Sadra in Islamic philosophy is usually called al-hikmat al-muta’liyah. It is a most appropriate name for his school, not only for historical reasons, but also because the doctrines of Mulla Sadra are veritably both hikmah or theosophy in its original sense and an intellectual vision of the transcendent which leads to the Transcendent Itself. So Mulla Sadra’s school is transcendent for both historical and metaphysical reasons.

When Mulla Sadra talked about hikmah or theosophy in his words, he usually meant the transcendent philosophy. He gave many definitions to the term hikmah, the most famous one is: hikmah is a vehicle through which “man becomes an intelligible world resembling the objective world and similar to the order of universal existence”.

Mulla Sadra's philosophy and ontology is considered to be just as important to Islamic philosophy as Martin Heidegger's philosophy later was to Western philosophy in the 20th century. Mulla Sadra bought "a new philosophical insight in dealing with the nature of reality" and created "a major transition from essentialism to existentialism" in Islamic philosophy.[1]



A concept that lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra's philosophy is the idea of "existence precedes essence", a key foundational concept of existentialism which was not popularized in the West until Jean-Paul Sartre in the 20th century. This was also the opposite of the idea of "essence precedes existence" previously supported by Avicenna and his school of Avicennism as well as Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi and his school of Illuminationism. Sayyid Jalal Ashtiyani later summarizes Mulla Sadra's concept as follows:[2]

"The existent being that has an essence must then be caused and existence that is pure existence ... is therefore a Necessary Being."

For Mulla Sadra, "existence precedes the essence and is thus principle since something has to exist first and then have an essence." This is primarily the argument that lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra's philosophy.[3]

In Islamic philosophy, whereas previous methods of philosophical thought held that "essence precedes existence", a concept which dates back to Avicenna[4] and Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi,[5] Mulla Sadra substituted a metaphysics of existence for the traditional metaphysics of essences, and giving priority ab initio to existence over quiddity.[6]

Mulla Sadra effected an entire revolution in the metaphysics of being by his thesis that there are no immutable essences, but that each essence is determined and variable according to the degree of intensity of its act of existence. [7]

In his view reality is existence, differentiated in a variety of ways, and these different ways look to us like essences. What first affects us are things that exist and we form ideas of essences afterwards, so existence precedes essence. This position referred to as primacy of existence (Arabic: Isalat al-Wujud‎).[8]

Mulla Sadra's existentialism is therefore fundamentally different from Western, i.e. existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre said that human beings have no essence before their existence because, there is no Creator, no God. This is meaning of "existence precedes essence" in Sartre's existentialism.[9] Therefore existentialism of J.P. Sartre and Mulla Sadra are significantly different teachnings.

Substantial motion

Another central concept of Mulla Sadra's philosophy is the theory of "substantial motion" (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah), which is "based on the premise that everything in the order of nature, including celestial spheres, undergoes substantial change and transformation as a result of the self-flow (fayd) and penetration of being (sarayan al-wujud) which gives every concrete individual entity its share of being. In contrast to Aristotle and Ibn Sina who had accepted change only in four categories, i.e., quantity (kamm), quality (kayf), position (wad’) and place (‘ayn), Sadra defines change as an all-pervasive reality running through the entire cosmos including the category of substance (jawhar)."[10] Heraclitus described a similar concept 20 centuries earlier (Πάντα ῥεῖ - panta rhei - "everything is in a state of flux"), Gottfried Leibniz described a similar concept a century later.[11]


  1. ^ Kamal, Muhammad (2006), Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., pp. 9 & 39, ISBN 0754652718  
  2. ^ (Razavi 1997, pp. 129-30)
  3. ^ (Razavi 1997, p. 130)
  4. ^ Irwin, Jones (Autumn 2002), "Averroes' Reason: A Medieval Tale of Christianity and Islam", The Philosopher LXXXX (2)  
  5. ^ (Razavi 1997, p. 129)
  6. ^ Corbin (1993), pp. 342 and 343
  7. ^ Corbin (1993), pp. 342-3
  8. ^ Leaman (2007), p. 35
  9. ^ Existentialism and Humanism, page 27
  10. ^ Kalin, Ibrahim (March 2001), "Sadr al-Din Shirazi (Mulla Sadra) (b. 1571-1640)", in Iqbal, Muzaffar; Kalin, Ibrahim, Resources on Islam & Science,, retrieved 2008-02-04  
  11. ^ Brown, Keven; Von Kitzing, Eberhard (2001), Evolution and Bahá'í Belief: ʻAbduʼl-Bahá's Response to Nineteenth-century Darwinism, Kalimat Press, pp. 222–3, ISBN 1890688088  


  • Razavi, Mehdi Amin (1997), Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination, Routledge, ISBN 0700704124
  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Sadr al-Din Shirazi and Transcendent Theosophy

See also



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