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Shahrastānī, Al-


SHAHRASTĀNĪ, AL- (10861153), more fully, Abū al-Fath Muammad ibn ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Shahrastānī, was a Muslim theologian, heresiographer, and historian of religions. His extant biographical profile, derived from the thirteenth-century biographical dictionary of Ibn Khallikān, remains thin. He was born in 1086 in the town of Shahrastan in Khorasan (Iran). There he obtained his earliest education, studying both jurisprudence (fiqh ) and theology (kalām ) under accepted masters. He aligned himself with the dominant Ashʿārī school of kalām, although his independent intellect led him to declare the shortcomings as well as the benefits of al-Ashʿārī's system.

The formative period in his life began at age thirty. On his return from the pilgrimage to Mecca, he stopped in Baghdad for three years to pursue further theological studies. His presence was forceful: By his interaction with some of the finest religious minds of his generation he gained respect as the most articulate exponent of Ashʿārī kalām at the prestigious Baghdad Niāmīyah. After leaving Baghdad he briefly engaged his theological peers in debate at Jurjānīyah and Nishapur then resettled in Shahrastān, where he spent the remainder of his life as a teacher and author until his death in 1153.

Among al-Shahrastānī's several writings, only one, Kitāb nihāyat al-iqdām fī ʿilm al-kalām (The height of daring in the science of theology), has been critically edited and translated into English. His most influential work is Kitāb al-milal wa-al-nial (The book of sects and creeds). In it al-Shahrastānī attempts, as its title implies, an extended investigation into religious sects and philosophical groups. It has been frequently cited, by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, as the most significant Muslim heresiography of the premodern period. It surpasses its predecessorsal-Baghdādī's Farq bayn al-firaq (Difference among differences), al-Isfarāʾinī's Tabīr fī al-dīn (Clarification in religion), and Ibn azm's Fial fī al-milal (Distinctions among sects)in objectivity and insight as well as detail and scope.

Al-Shahrastānī's scholarship rests on the shoulders of his Muslim predecessors; he interprets what they only report. Among the novel aspects of his eclectic methodology is his reliance on a group of Neoplatonic spiritualists known as the Sabians, with whom he probably came into contact while in Baghdad and to whom he ascribes both a limited concept of prophecy and a rational system of statutes and ordinances. By upgrading the theological status of the Sabians, he is able to stretch the category of ahl al-kitāb ("people of the Book") to accommodate non-Muslims such as the Sabians, including Indian Brahmans, Buddhists, and even some enlightened idolaters, into an ecumenical Muslim worldview.


Al-Shahrastānī's Kitāb nihāyat al-iqdām fī ʿilm al-kalām has been edited and translated into English by Alfred Guillaume as The Summa Philosophiae of al-Shahrastani (London, 19311934). Kitāb al-milal wa-al nial has been edited by William Cureton, 2 vols. (London, 1846), and translated into German by T. Haarbrücker as Schahrastani's Religionspartheien und Philosophen Schulen, 2 vols. (Halle, 18501851).

Beyond these editions and translations, there are few secondary sources to consult. For a comparative view of his thought with reference to Nihāyat al-iqdām, see Alfred Guillaume's "Christian and Muslim Theology as Represented by Al-Shahrastānī and St. Thomas Aquinas," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 13 (1950): 551580. A thorough examination of his acquaintance with Greek philosophical categories is set forth in Franz Rosenthal's "Aš-Šayh̬ al-Yûnânǐ and the Arabic Plotinus Source," Orientalia 21 (1952): 461492, 22 (1953): 370400, and 24 (1955): 4266. On his evaluation of Indian material, see my "Shahrastānī on Indian Idol Worship," Studia Islamica 38 (1973): 6173, and Shahrastānī on the Indian Religions (The Hague, 1976).

Bruce B. Lawrence (1987)

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