Mullā Ṣadrā (1571/1572–1640)

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Mullā adrā is the name usually given to Muammad ibn Ibrāhīm adr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, the most outstanding of the later Muslim philosophers. (Mulla means teacher.) He is also known by the honorific title Sadr al-mutaʾallihin, "the foremost among the theosophers." Born in Shiraz into an aristocratic family, he received his early education in that city and his advanced training in Ispahan, the Safavid capital, where he studied with Mīr Dāmād and Bahāʾ al-Dīn ʿAmilī. After completing his formal education he retired to a village near Qum, where he spent ten years in asceticism and self-purification. Then, upon the demand of the Persian king, he returned to Shiraz as a professor in the school of Allāhwirdī Khān, where he taught and wrote for the rest of his life. He died in Basra on the return journey from his seventh pilgrimage to Mecca.

Mullā adrā wrote over fifty books, most of them after leaving his spiritual retreat. All his books are in Arabic except his "spiritual defense," the Sih al (Three principles) and a few poems and letters, which are in Persian. His works can be classified into those dealing primarily with religion, such as his commentaries on the Qurʾan and the Uūl al-Kāfī (Principles of Kāfī) of Kulainī, and those which deal mostly with philosophy and theosophy. In the latter category the most important is Al-ikmat al-mutaʿāliyah fiʾl-asfār al-arbaʿah (The exalted wisdom concerning the four journeys of the spirit), or simply Asfār (The journeys), a work of monumental proportions and the most advanced work on Islamic philosophy. Mullā adrā also wrote a large number of shorter treatises, such as Al-Mashā ir (The book of metaphysical penetrations), Al-Shawāhid al-rubūbīyah (Divine witnesses), and Al-ikmat al-ʿarshīyah (The book of theophany inspired by the throne), which treat specific metaphysical and philosophical questions.

In Mullā adrā's work Muslim Peripatetic philosophy, especially that of Avicenna, the illuminationist theosophy of Shihāb al-Dīn Yahyā Suhrawardī, the gnostic doctrines of Muhyī al-Dīn ibn al-ʿArabī and certain themes of Muslim theology (Kalām ) became unified in the background of Shīʿism and the teachings of the Shīʿite imams. The philosophy of Mullā adrā, however, is synthetic rather than eclectic, because out of these various threads he created a new intellectual perspective in which reason, revelation, and mystic vision are harmonized into a total, unified view of things.

Mullā adrā brought to fruition the attempt of Muslim thinkers from the beginning of the Middle Ages to harmonize religion and philosophy. In his thought the tenets of revelation, the dicta of reason, and the verities of gnosis discovered through illumination are all considered possible sources of knowledge and are blended together. His writings bridge discursive and intuitive knowledge by making the discoveries of reason the necessary background of spiritual knowledge, which is above reason without being irrational. Mullā adrā also revised many of the tenets of Peripatetic and illuminationist philosophy and established philosophy upon a set of principles, many of which were derived from Sufism, that had not been demonstrated as such and had not existed in philosophy before.

These principles include the unity, gradation, and principality of being, by which is meant that it is being rather than the quiddity or essence of things that is ultimately real. Moreover, being is inwardly unified as a single reality that possesses states and gradations. It is upon this principle that Mullā adrā built his "metaphysics of being." Another principle of his philosophy is the unity of the intellect, or intelligence, and the intelligible, of the knower and the known. At the moment of intellection the intellect becomes identified with the intelligible form of the object perceived. Thus, knowledge is intimately connected with being and affects the ontological state of the knower.

Mullā adrā also posited the principle of substantial motion. According to the previous Muslim philosophers and going back to Aristotle, motion is possibly only in the accidents of things, not in their substance. Mullā adrā thought that, on the contrary, motion implies an inner becoming within the substance of things and therefore a continuous development toward higher states of being (without in any way implying the modern theory of evolution).

Another important principle asserted by Mullā adrā is the catharsis and independence of the imaginative faculty from the body. There is an intermediate "imaginal world" (mundus imaginalis ) not to be confused with the "imagination" of current usage. The human imagination is a microcosmic aspect of this cosmic imagination and it is precisely in this domain possessing a reality of its own that eschatological problems whose solution escaped earlier philosophers take place and can be understood. These and many other principles, some of whose roots are to be found in the writings of the earlier Sufis and philosophers, Mullā adrā systematized and developed to their full conclusion.

Mullā adrā had many students, of whom the most famous are Mullā Muhsin Fai Kāshānī and ʿAbd al-Razzāq Lāhījī, who were among the leading Shīʿite thinkers. His disciples propagated his works and teachings in both Persia and India, and in fact he founded a school that has dominated the intellectual life of Persia for the past four centuries. It is, however, against his worldview that the founder of the Shaikhī movement, Shaikh Amad Ahsāʾī, wrote his criticisms. The Bāb, the founder of Babism, also belongs to the current against Mullā adrā and should by no means be considered as a product of his school. The school of Mullā adrā is still alive in Iran today and is the most important traditional school of philosophy and theosophy there.

See also Aristotle; Avicenna; Ibn al-ʿArabī; Islamic Philosophy; Logic, History of; Peripatetics; Sufism; Suhrawardī, Shihāb al-Dīn Yayā.


works by mullĀ adrĀ

Kitāb al-ikmat al-ʿarshīyah (The book of theosophy inspired by the throne). Teheran, 1278 AH/1861 CE.

Al-ikmat al-mutaʿālīyah fiʾl-asfār al-arbaʿah (The exalted wisdom concerning the four journeys of the spirit). Teheran, 1282 AH/1865 CE; new ed., edited by M. H. abāabāʾī, Teheran, 1378 AH/1958 CE.

Al-Shawāhid al-rubūbīyah (The divine witnesses). Teheran, 1286 AH/1869 CE.

Rasāʾil (Treatises). Teheran, 1302 AH/1884 CE.

Taʿlīqāt ʿalā ilāhīyāt Kitāb al-Shifā (Glosses upon the metaphysics of the book of the remedy of Ibn Sīnā). Teheran, 1303 AH/1885 CE.

Sharh al-hidāyat al-athīriyah (Commentary upon the guide of Athīr al-Dīn Abharī). Teheran, 1313 AH/1895 CE.

Kitāb al-mabdaʾ waʾl-maʿād (The book of origin and return). Teheran, 1314 AH/1896 CE.

Taʿlīqāt ʿalā Kitāb ikmat al-ishrāq (Glosses upon the theosophy of the orient of light [of Suhrawardi]). Teheran, 1315 AH/1897 CE.

Asrār al-āyāt (Secret of Quranic verses). Teheran, 1319 AH/1901 CE.

Sih al (The three principles). Edited by S. H. Nasr. Teheran, 1380 AH/1960 CE.

Kitāb al-mashāʿir. Edited and translated by Henry Corbin as Le livre des pénétrations métaphysiques. Teheran and Paris, 1964. Contains Arabic text, Persian version, and French translation.

Mafātī al-ghaib (Keys to the hidden world). Teheran, n.d.

Shar al-uūl min al-Kāfī (Commentary upon the principles of Kāfī). Teheran, n.d.

works on mullĀ adrĀ

Āshtiyānī, S. J. Shar-i āl wa ārāy-i falsafi-i Mullā adrā (The biography and philosophical views of Mullā adrā). Meshed, 1382 AH/1962 CE. In Persian.

Corbin, Henry. "La place de Mollā adrā Shīrāzī dans la philosophie iranienne." Studia Islamica 18 (1963).

Corbin, Henry. Terre céleste et corps de resurrection: De l'Iran mazdéen à l'Iran shīʿite. Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 1960.

Horten, Max. Das philosophische System con Schirazi (1640) übersetz und erläutert. Strassburg, 1913.

Langarūdī, Muammad Jaʿfar. Shar al-mashāʿir (Commentary upon the book of metaphysical penetrations). Edited by S. J. Āshtiyānī. Meshed, 1384 AH/1964 CE.

Nasr, S. H. Islamic Studies. Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1967.

Nasr, S. H., ed. Mulla adra Commemoration Volume. Teheran, 1380 AH/1960 CE.

Nasr, S. H. "adr al-Dīn Shīrāzī." In A History of Islamic Philosophy, Vol. II, edited by M. M. Sharif. Wiesbaden, 1966.

Sajjādī, S. J. Mualaat-i falsafi-yi adr al-Dīn Shīrāzī mashbūr bi Mullā adrā (The philosophical vocabulary of adr al-Dīn Shīrāzī). Teheran, 1380 AH/1960 CE. In Persian.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1967)

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Mullā Ṣadrā (1571/1572–1640)

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