Suhrawardī, Shihāb Al-Dīn Yaḥyā

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SUHRAWARDĪ, SHIHĀB AL-DĪN YAYĀ . Shihāb al-Dīn Yayā ibn abash ibn Amīrak Abū al-Futū Suhrawardī (ah 549587/11701208 ce) was born in a village near Zanjan, a northern Iranian city. He began his studies at an early age when he went to the city of Maragheh to study philosophy with Majd al-Dīn al-Jīlī, and then traveled to Ifahān, where he pursued his advanced studies in philosophy and al-Baāʾir (The observations) of ʿUmar ibn Salān al-Sāwī with āhir al-Dīn al-Fārsī.

Suhrawardī traveled to Anatolia and Syria, where he met Malik āhir, son of the famous alā al-Dīn Ayyūbī, in Aleppo in 1200. Suhrawardī's openness to other religious traditions, especially Zoroastrianism, as well as his keen intelligence and esoteric orientation, antagonized the orthodox jurists at Malik āhir's court, who declared Suhrawardī to be a heretic. They asked Malik āhir to put Suhrawardī to death, and when he refused they signed a petition and sent it to alā al-Dīn Ayyūbī, who ordered his son to have Suhrawardī killed. Malik āhir reluctantly carried out his father's order and Suhrawardī was killed in 1208. For this reason he has received the title al-Maqtūl (the Martyr).

Not much is known about Suhrawardī. It is said that he lived somewhat of a monastic life and shied away from people. One day he would dress in court style and the very next day as a wandering dervish. Suhrawardī lived at a time when the influence and power of the rationalist theologians (Muʿtazilites) had been substantially curtailed by the more faith-based Ashʿarites. While the debate among the advocates of intellectual sciences continued, philosophical and theological schools were also challenged by the mystics of Islam, the ūfīs. At the center of these controversies stood Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) with his powerful philosophical paradigm. Avicenna's philosophy by Suhrawardī's time had lent itself to different interpretations, and this brought about a number of schools that were essentially Avicennian, though each emphasized different aspects of his ideas.

First, there was the purely Aristotelian aspect of Avicenna's philosophy. Next, there were exponents of theology (kalām ) who found Avicenna's logic and metaphysics to be a useful means of analysis and therefore adopted them. Finally, there was the mystical aspect of Avicenna, which received less attention than his rationalistic writings. In these types of writings, such as ay ibn Yaqān and the final chapter of the Ishārāt, the mystical and Neoplatonic aspects of Avicenna's philosophy are most apparent. Suhrawardī was well aware of such writings. For example, in his al-Ghurba al-gharbiyah (The occidental exile) he continues Avicenna's story using some of the same metaphors.

Suhrawardī's project was to bring about a rapprochement between rationalism, mysticism, and intellectual intuition within one single philosophical paradigm and to bridge the deep division between different schools in the Islamic intellectual tradition. He called his school of thought al-ikmah al-ilahiyyah (transcendental philosophy) or ikmat al-ishrāq (philosophy of illumination), and it is for this reason he has been called "Shaykh al-ishrāq" (Master of Illumination). Suhrawardī argued that the application of reason as a means of discovering the truth is limited, and that one has to rely on an experiential wisdom to comprehend the truth completely. In a mystical state, Suhrawardī compared his findings through logic and discursive reasoning to his mystical vision; he accepted those that corresponded with one another, and others he rejected. For Suhrawardī, reason, mystical experience, and intellectual intuition are ultimately reconcilable.

Suhrawardī's writings are diverse (i.e., Peripatetic, mystical, and illuminationist [ishrāqī ]). They include his four large treatises that are of doctrinal nature: al-Talwiāt (The book of intimation), al-Muqawamāt (The book of opposites), al-Muāraāt (The book of conversations), and finally ikmat al-ishrāq (The philosophy of illumination), which is his magnum opus. The first three of these works are written in the tradition of the Peripatetics, with commentaries and criticism of certain Aristotelian concepts, such as the epistemic function of definition.

There are shorter works, some of them written in Arabic and some in Persian. These works are also of a doctrinal nature and should be regarded as further explanations of the larger doctrinal treatises. They are: Hayākil al-nūr (Luminous bodies), Alwā ʿimādiyah (Tablets of ʿImād al-Dīn), Partaw nāmah (Treatise on illumination), Iʿtiqād fī -al-ukamāʾ (On the faith of the hakims), al-Lamaāt (The flashes of light), Yazdān shinākht (Knowledge of the divine), and Bustān al-qulūb (The garden of the heart).

Suhrawardī wrote a number of treatises of an esoteric nature in Persian. These initiatory narratives contain highly symbolic language and incorporate Zoroastrian and Hermetic symbols, as well as Islamic ones. These treatises include: ʿAql-i surkh (Red intellect), Āwāz-i par-i Jibrāil (Chant of the wing of Gabriel), Qiat al-ghurba al-gharbiyah (Story of the occidental exile), Lughat-i murān (Language of the termites), Risālah fī alāt al-ufūliyyah (Treatise on the state of childhood), Rūzī bā jamāʿat-i ufiyān (A Day among the ūfīs), afir-i simūrg (The Sound of the griffin), Risālah fi -al-miʿrāj (Treatise on the nocturnal ascent), and Partaw nāmah (Treatise on illumination). These treatises are intended to demonstrate the journey of the soul toward unity with God and the inherent yearning of humans toward gnosis (maʿrifah ).

There are also a number of treatises of a philosophic and initiatic nature. These include his translation of Risālat al-aīr (Treatise of the birds) of Avicenna and the commentary in Persian on Avicenna's Ishārāt wa-al-tanbihāt. There is also his treatise Risālah fī aqīqat al-ʿishq (Treatise on the reality of love), which is based on Avicenna's Risālah fi-al-ʿishq (Treatise on love) and his commentaries on verses of the Qurʾān and the adīth. Also, it is said that Suhrawardī may have written a commentary upon the Fuū of al-Fārābi, which has been lost. Finally, there is the category of his liturgical writings, al-Waridāt wa-al-taqdisāt (Invocations and prayers), which consists of prayers, invocations, and litanies.


For more information concerning Suhrawardī's life, see Ibn Abī ʿUaybiʿāh, ʿUyūn al-anbāʿ fī abaqāt al-aibbāʿ, edited by August Muller (Konigsberg, Germany, 1884); Ibn Khallikān, Wafayāt al-a ʿyān, edited by I. ʿAbbās (Beirut, 1965); Shams al-Dīn Shahrazūrī, Nuzhat al-arwā wa Rawat al-afrā fī taʾrīkh al-ukamā wa-al-falāsifah, edited by Khurshīd Amad, vol. 2 (Hyderabad, India, 1976); and Mehdi Amin Razavi, Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination (London, 1993).

For the major texts of Suhrawardī's writing, see Opera Metaphysica et Mystica, vols. 1 and 2, edited with an introduction by Henry Corbin (Istanbul, 1945 and 1954). Opera Metaphysica et Mystica, vol. 3, edited with an introduction by S. H. Nasr (Istanbul, 1970). See also S. H. Nasr, "Suhrawardī: The Master of Illumination, Gnostic and Martyr," translated by William Chittick, Journal of the Regional Cultural Institute 2 (1969), pp. 209-225. S. H. Nasr, Three Muslim Sages: Avicenna, Suhrawardī, Ibn ʿArabī (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), pp. 5282; S. H. Nasr, "Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī al-Maqtul," in A History of Muslim Philosophy, edited by M. M. Sharif (Wiesbaden, Germany, 1963), pp. 372398. For Suhrawardī's political orientation, see Hossein Zi'ai, "The Source and Nature of Political Authority in Suhrawardī's Philosophy of Illumination" in The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Muhsin S. Mahdi, edited by Charles E. Butterworth (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), pp. 304344; and Jaʿfar Sajjādī, Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī wa sayrī dar falsafah-yi ishrāq (Tehran, 1984).

Mehdi Aminrazavi (2005)

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Suhrawardī, Shihāb Al-Dīn Yaḥyā

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