Suhrawardi, Al- (C. 1154–1191)

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SUHRAWARDI, AL- (C. 1154–1191)

Shihab al-Din Yahya b. Amirak Suhrawardi was a philosopher and mystic whose Neoplatonic "Illuminationist" school was a major influence on later Islamic philosophy, especially in Iran and India. Suhrawardi was born and educated in northwestern Iran and as a young man was an adherent of the Peripatetic philosophy of Avicenna. His mystical experiences and a famous dream of Aristotle convinced him of the inadequacy of this philosophy and made him a Platonist. The key elements in his new system were a reliance on intuition as a basic tool of philosophy, the closely related theory of knowledge later called knowledge by presence, and an insistence on the reality of the Platonic Forms conceived as immaterial intelligences. The most important statement of his mature doctrine was his book Hikmat al-Ishraq (The philosophy of illumination), in which he attacked certain Peripatetic doctrines and expounded his system in the form of a metaphysics of light.

Though Suhrawardi wrote his major works in Arabic, he also wrote in Persian. His short philosophical allegories, written in a simple and elegant style, are still considered masterpieces of early Persian prose.

In 1183 he attracted the attention of the young al-Malik al-Zahir, the governor of Aleppo, and for a time enjoyed an ascendancy over the prince that aroused the jealousy of religious scholars and alarmed the prince's father, the great Saladin, who was facing the threat of the Third Crusade. It seems likely that Saladin was alarmed by the political implications of Suhrawardi's philosophy, which called for a mystical philosopher-king and which resembled the view of the Ismailis, whom Saladin had suppressed in Egypt and Syria. Suhrawardi was put to death at Saladin's orders, probably in 1191.

Though Suhrawardi's philosophy has always been influential in the Islamic East, it was almost unknown in the West until it was popularized by the French Orientalist Henry Corbin, who interpreted Suhrawardi as an Iranian "theosopher" committed to the revival of ancient Iranian thought. Though Corbin's view remains influential, it has been challenged by those who view Suhrawardi as a Neoplatonist whose project was primarily philosophical.

See alsoFalsafa ; Ishraqi School ; Tasawwuf .


Aminrazavi, Mehdi. Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination. Richmond, Surrey, U.K.: Curzon, 1996.

Suhrawardi, Shihab al-Din. The Philosophy of Illumination. Edited and Translated by John Walbridge and Hossein Ziai. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young Univesity Press, 1999.

Walbridge, John. The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

John Walbridge

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Suhrawardi, Al- (C. 1154–1191)

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