Qutb Al-Din Mahmud Ibn Mas'ud Ibn Al-Muslih Alshirazi

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(b. Shīrāz, Persia, October/November, 1236; d. Tabriz, Persia, February 1311), astronomy, medicine, philosophy. For the original article on Qutb al-Din alShīrāzī see DSB, vol. 11.

Since the original DSB article first appeared, scholars have learned a bit more about Shīrāzī’s astronomical work, and there have been some new interpretations regarding his overall philosophical positions. As for his astronomy, it has been determined that several models previously attributed to him are actually by an older contemporary, Mu'ayyad al-Dīn al-'Urdī. However, there is still no comprehensive study of his several astronomical books or of his actual contributions. His philosophical works, previously seen as unproblematically mystical or theosophical, have been subjected to a more rigorous analysis that has revealed an interesting and nuanced philosophical outlook. One of the things that awaits study is how this “mystical philosophy” helped shape and was shaped by the mathematical and empirical sciences. Because of the prominent position occupied by Shīrāzī, whose positions were debated for many centuries, studies of his work promise to reveal a great deal about the intellectual history of post-classical Islam.

Life and Philosophy For an extended and detailed account of Qutb al-Dīn’s career that provides intellectual, social, and political context, see John Walbridge (pp. 7–26), which is based upon a close reading of the primary bio-bibliographical sources. In his study, Walbridge clarifies the meaning of Shīrāzī’s intellectual Sufism, “the philosophy of illumination,” removing it from a “theosophical” framework and placing it squarely within a more straightforward philosophical tradition.

Mathematics It is not entirely clear what it means to ascribe to Qutb al-Dīin Pythagorean tendencies. At present it can be said, based admittedly on limited research, that he seems to subscribe to the Ptolemaic view that the mathematical sciences can provide more insight into physics and metaphysics than the philosophical/a priori approach of Aristotle (see his Nihāya, preface). How this might fit in with Shīrāzī’s illuminationist views that give priority to what Walbridge has called (p. 46) the “primacy of the concrete” (as opposed to Aristotelian metaphysical substrates) has yet to be explored.

Optics There is little to recommend the opinion in the original article that Qutb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī was the first to have explained the rainbow correctly. This seems to be based on a series of misunderstandings in the secondary literature, beginning with Eilhard Wiedemann (see Roshdi Rashed, p. 213). It is true that Kamāl al-Din alFārisī who did provide a reasonably accurate account of the rainbow phenomenon based upon experiments, was inspired by his teacher Qutb al-Din to pursue his optical researches. And Shīrāzī did obtain a copy of Ibn al-Haytham’s great work on optics for his eager student “from a distant land.” But there is little evidence in the Nihaya, the Tuhfa, or any other work by Shīrāzī of any great understanding of the type of advances made by Ibn al-Haytham or Kamāl al-Dīn in optics or visual theory (A.I. Sabra, pp. lxix–lxxi, esp. nn. 110–111).

Astronomy Thanks to the work of George Saliba and Robert Morrison, considerably more is known about ShiRāzī’s astronomical models, though much more needs to be done before a proper assessment can be arrived at. The model for the upper planets and Venus that E. S. Kennedy attributed to Shīrāzī turns out to be that of an older contemporary, Mu'ayyad al-Dīn al-'Urdī. However, models for the Moon and Mercury from the Tuhfa are his own (Saliba [1996], pp. 96–100, 104–108, 118–120). There Shīrāzī creatively used what are now known as the 'Urdī lemma and the Tūsī couple to achieve combinations of uniform, circular motions (as required by ancient physics for motions in the heavens) that resolve the irregular motions resulting from Ptolemy’s equant for Mercury and from his choice of the center of the universe as the reference point of motion for the Moon’s eccentric orb. For a valuable study of Shīrāzī’s hypotheses (basic models) for celestial motion, and an edition and translation of the relevant section of the Tuhfa (Bk. II, Chap. 8), see Robert Morrison.

There is also a better understanding of Shīrāzī’s attitude toward cosmological issues emerging. He gave high praise to astronomy in his introduction to the Nihāya and echoed Ptolemy who, in his introduction to the Almagest, referred to physics and theology as guesswork as opposed to the true knowledge offered by the mathematical sciences. Indeed, it would seem that Shīrāzī somewhat disagreed with his mentor Tusi on this point. This manifested itself in the question of the Earth’s motion: Tūsī had held that the matter had to be left to the natural philosophers because there was no decisive observational or mathematical proof, whereas Shīrāzī, not wishing to leave such an important matter to guesswork, insisted that there could be devised an observational test. This test took the form of two rocks of different weights thrown straight up in the air; Tūsī had said that in such a case a rotating Earth could carry the air and whatever was in it at the same speed, but Shīrāzī thought that objects of different weights would be carried with different speeds. Because one does not observe such an effect, the Earth must be at rest (Ragep, pp. 152–153, 155

Physics For an extended discussion of Qutb al-Din’s metaphysics of light, see Walbridge.

The following supplements and corrects the list of Shīrāzīi’s scientific and philosophical works found in the original article. For longer inventories of works attributed to Shīrāzī, including spurious ones, see Walbridge, pp. 175–191 and Rosenfeld/Ihsanoğlu, pp. 233–235.

  1. Tarjamah-i tahrīr-i usūl-i Uqlīidis : translation from Arabic into Persian of Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī’s 15-part “Recension” of Euclid’s Elements; completed in November/December 1282 and dedicated to the vizier Amīr Shāh ibn Tāj al-Din Mu'tazz ibn Tāhir, to whom Shīirāazī’s al-Tuhfa al-Shāhiyya was also dedicated.
  2. Risāla fīi harakat al-dahraja wa-'l-nisba bayn almustawi wa-'l-munhanī (Treatise on rolling motion and the relation between the straight and the curved), in Arabic. This work has been translated into German (partially) and Russian, and subject to several studies; see Rosenfeld/Ihsanoğ, p. 234 (M5).
  3. Nihāyat al-idrāak fī dirāyat al-aflāk (The highest attainment in comprehending the orbs), in Arabic; dedicated to the vizier Shams al-Dīin al-Juwaynī and completed in November 1281.
  4. Ikhtiyārāt-i muzaffarī (Selections for Mūzaffar alDīn), in Persian; dedicated to Muzaffar al-Dīn Yūluq Arslan, the Chūpānid ruler of Kastamonu, who died in 1304 or 1305.
  5. al-Tuhfa al-shāhiyya fī al-hay'a (The royal gift on astronomy), in Arabic; dedicated to the same vizier, Amīr Shāh ibn Tāj al-Dīn, to whom (1) is dedicated, in Sivas in July/August 1285.
  6. Fa'alta fa-lā talum (You’ve done it so don't blame [me]), in Arabic; a supercommentary on the Tibyān maqāsid al-Tadhkira(Exposition on the intent of the Tadhkira) by Muhammad ibn 'Alī ibn al-Husayn al-Munajjim al-Himādhi, which itself is a commentary on the Tadhkira fi 'ilm al-hay'a by Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī. Shīrāzī, who according to Walbridge completed the work in Tabriz in 1304 or 1305, severely criticized Himādhī and accused him of having plagiarized the Tuhfa.
  7. Kitāb al-tabsira fi al-hay'a. Erroneously attributed to Shīrāzī; actually by Shams al-Dīn Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Kharaqī (d. 1138 or 1139).
  8. Sharh al-Tadhkira: actually the Fa'alta, no. 6.
  9. Kharīdat al-'ajā'ib: most likely not authentic.
  10. Khulāsat islāh al-majistī: unable to ascertain whether this is authentic.
  11. Hall mushkilat al-majistī: most likely not authentic.
  12. Tahrīr al-zīj al-jadīd al-ridwānī most likely not authentic.
  13. al-Zīj al-sultānī most likely not authentic.
  14. Kitāb nuzhat al-hukamā' wa-rawdat al-atibbā', in Arabic; according to Walbridge, there were three editions of this major work. The first two, published in 1283 and in 1294 or 1295, most likely went under the title Sharh kulliyyāt al-qānūn. The third and last edition, published 23 November 1310 just before his death, carried the title al-Tuhfa al-sa'diyya fi al-tibb to indicate its dedication to Sa'd al-Dīn Muhammad Sāwujī.
  15. Risāla fī al-baras, in Arabic; according to Walbridge it is a short work in four folios.
  16. Sharh al-Urjūza: unable to ascertain whether this is authentic.
  17. Risāla fī bayān al-hāja ila al-tibb…: unable to ascertain whether this is authentic.
  18. Durrat al-tāj li-ghurrat al-dubāj (The pearly crown for Dubāj’s brow), in Persian; completed 18 January 1306; cf. Walbridge, pp. 175–178.
  19. Sharh Hikmat al-ishrāq, in Arabic; completed April 1295 and dedicated to the Grand Vizier Jamāl alDin 'Alī ibn Muhammad al-Dastjirdānī.

20-26. Many of these may not be authentic; see Walbridge, pp. 179–181. In addition, there is another philosophical work by ShiRāzī entitled Risāla fī tahqīq 'ālam al-mithāl wa-ajwibat as'ilat ba'd al-fudalā' (A treatise ascertaining the reality of the world of image and answers to the questions of a certain scholar), in Arabic; completed after 1295; edited and translated by Walbridge, pp. 196–271.



Walbridge, John. The Science of Mystic Lights: Qutb al-Dīin Shīirāzī and the Illuminationist Tradition in Islamic Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 1992. Contains an edition and translation of Risāla fī tahqīq 'ālam al-mithāl wa-ajwibat as'ilat ba'd al-fudalā'.

Bāyan al-hājah ilī al-tibb wa-'l-atibbā' wa-ādābihim wa wasāyhum. Edited and commented on by Ahmad Farīd alMazyadi. Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 2003.

Morrison, Robert. “Qutb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī’s Hypotheses for Celestial Motions.” Journal for the History of Arabic Science 13 (2005): 21–140. Contains an edition and translation of Book II, Chap. 8 of al-Tuhfa al-shaāiyya.


Bakar, Osman. Classification of Knowledge in Islam: A Study in Islamic Philosophies of Science. Cambridge, U.K.: The Islamic Texts Society, 1998. On Shīrāzī’s classification of knowledge, see pp. 229–262.

Pourjavady, Reza, and Sabine Schmidtke. “Qutb al-Dīn alShīirāzī’s (634/1236 – 710/1311) Durrat al-Tāj and Its Sources (Studies on Qutb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī I).” Journal Asiatique 292 (2004): 311–330.

Ragep, F. Jamil. “Tūsī and Copernicus: The Earth’s Motion in Context.” Science in Context14, nos. 1-2 (2001): 145–163.

Rashed, Roshdi. “Kamāl al-Dīn Abū'l Hasan Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Fārisī.” In Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie, vol. 7, 212–219. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973.

Rosenfeld, B. A., and Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu. Mathematicians, Astronomers, and Other Scholars of Islamic Civilization and Their Works (7th–19th c.). Istanbul: IRCICA, 2003. pp. 233–235.

Sabra, A. I. The Optics of Ibn al-Haytham. 2 vols. London: The Warburg Institute, 1989.

Saliba, George. “The Original Source of Qutb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī’s Planetary Model.” Journal for the History of Arabic Science 3 (1979): 3–18.

———. “The Height of the Atmosphere according to Mu'ayyad al-Dīn al-'Urdī, Qutb al-Din al-Shīrāzī, and Ibn Mu'ādh.” In From Deferent to Equant: Studies in Honor of E. S. Kennedy, edited by David King and George Saliba. Vol. 500 of The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1987, pp. 445–465.

———. “Arabic Planetary Theories after the Eleventh Century AD.” In Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, edited by Roshdi Rashed. 3 vols. London: Routledge, 1996. Vol. 1, pp. 58–127.

F. Jamil Ragep