The term ishraq, from the Arabic root sh-r-q, meaning both illumination and orient, has been used in a general sense in several contexts in Islam, including in reference to certain currents of Sufism. More specifically, however, the term ishraqi refers to the school of philosophy/theosophy founded by Shaykh Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi in the twelfth century c.e. The most important source of this school of thought is the major opus of Suhrawardi, Hikmat al-ishraq ("Theosophy of the Orient of Light" also known as The Philosophy of Illumination), which is also the name of this school in traditional Islamic languages. Certain other works of Suhrawardi, especially his Hayakil al-nur (Temples of light), are also of much importance for the later ishraqi tradition.
After Suhrawardi was killed by the political authorities in Aleppo in 1191, followers of his teachings went underground for a generation. But in the middle thirteenth century two major commentaries on Hikmat al-ishraq appeared, the first by Shams al-Din Shahrazuri and the second by Qutb al-Din Shirazi, the next two major figures of the ishraqi school. From that time on, the teachings of this school became widespread, especially in Persia itself from which Suhrawardi had hailed. Such figures as ˓Allama al-Hilli and Jalal al-Din Dawani wrote commentaries on Suhrawardi in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The founder of the School of Isfahan, Mir Damad, who lived in the Safavid period that began in Persia in 1499 and lasted until the eighteenth century, was influenced by Suhrawardi and used the name Ishraq for his pen name. Mulla Sadra, his student, wrote one of the major works of the ishraqi school, his annotations on the Hikmat alishraq. Later Persian philosophers such as Sabziwari were also deeply interested in ishraqi teachings, and a figure such as the nineteenth-century philosopher Shihab al-Din Kumijani was a purely ishraqi figure.
The school of ishraq also spread into India and had many followers there, including Fathallah Shirazi and Muhammad Sharif Hirawi. Suhrawardi's teachings became in fact a part of the program of traditional Islamic madrasas, a program that came to be known as the Nizami curriculum. The ishraqi school attracted even the attention of Hindus and the Parsis of India.
Likewise, the teachings of the ishraqi school spread widely in the Ottoman Empire, especially in Anatolia, and produced some notable figures such as Isma˓il Anqarawi, who lived in the seventeenth century. The complete history of this school in the Islamic world, especially in India and the Ottoman Empire, has not been fully studied. As for the West, Suhrawardi was not translated into Latin but there are indications that some of his ideas were known in the Latin West perhaps through Hebrew sources and a number of Jewish philosophers who were ishraqi in their perspective.
The ishraqi school holds that the origin of philosophy is divine revelation and that this wisdom was handed down in ancient times to the Persians and the Greeks, creating two traditions that met again in Suhrawardi, who spoke explicitly of eternal wisdom or the perennial philosophy. This school believes that authentic philosophy must combine the training of the mind with the purification of the heart and that all authentic knowledge is ultimately an illumination. The ishraqis always emphasized the unbreakable link between philosophy and spirituality and the salvific power of illuminative knowledge. They considered God to be the Light of lights and all degree of cosmic reality to be levels and grades of light. They rejected the sensualist epistemology of Aristotle and were critical of not only Aristotelian cosmology but also of his logic and epistemology.
During the twentieth century the teachings of Suhrawardi were introduced to the West by Henry Corbin and have attracted many European philosophers. In Persia and certain other Islamic countries there is also a major revival of interest in Suhrawardi and the ishraqi school.
Aminrazavi, M. Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination. London: Curzon, 1997.
Corbin, Henry. History of Islamic Philosophy. Translated by L. Sherrard. London: Kegan Paul International, 1993.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia. London: Curzon, 1996.
Ziai, H. Knowledge and Illumination. A Study of Suhrawardi's Hikmat al-ishraq. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1990.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr