Legenhausen on Islamic Philosophy

January 1, 2018 | Author: colinpaul | Category: Islamic Philosophy, Western Philosophy, Secularism, Theology, Iran
Share Embed Donate

Short Description

Download Legenhausen on Islamic Philosophy...


Topoi (2007) 26:167–175 DOI 10.1007/s11245-007-9021-0

Introduction Hajj Muhammad Legenhausen

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

Published online: 20 June 2007

Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007 Abstract The place of philosophy in Iranian society is prominent. Philosophy is discussed in popular media as well as specialized journals, and in seminaries, research centers, and universities. Philosophy in Iran is often divided into Western and Islamic. Sometimes these are taken to be rivals. The methods of instruction differ to some extent, as well as the languages needed for advanced study. The question of the nature of Islamic philosophy is itself a controversial topic in Iran, and positions on this issue are often driven by ideological trends. The study of philosophy in the Islamic seminaries has its own history. Today Islamic philosophy may be considered a philosophical tradition that is being carried on with increasing interaction with the study of Western philosophy in Iran. Keywords Illuminationism  Iranian philosophy  Islamic philosophy  Islamic Peripateticism  Mulla Sadra  Sufism  Tabataba’i  Transcendent wisdom

1 Philosophy in Iran Philosophy is a subject of great interest among Iranian intellectuals, much more so than among American and European intellectuals today, who, if not working in the field, mostly ignore philosophy. Western philosophy has become specialized, and as a result, many intellectuals think of it as being rather arcane. Philosophy in Iran, on the other hand, is regularly woven into political and religious discussions. Religious mavericks in Iran often look to H. M. Legenhausen (&) The Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute, Amin Blvd., Jumhuri Islami St, Qom, I.R. Iran e-mail: [email protected]

Western philosophy and Christian theology for ways to challenge the establishment. During the 80s the intellectual scene was abuzz with debates between those who drew inspiration from Karl Popper and advocated a more open society, and those who inclined toward the mystical tendencies in Heidegger in their defense of tradition. During the 90s there was a surge in interest in Western philosophy of religion that continues today. Translations were made of works by John Hick and Alvin Plantinga, among others, so that when Plantinga visited Iran in 2002, he was shocked to find that he enjoyed celebrity status there and was often asked by students for his autograph. Likewise, when Ju¨rgen Habermas returned from a visit to Tehran in the same year, he commented in an interview: ‘‘When you travel from the West to the East with light intellectual baggage, you encounter the usual asymmetry of underlying perceptions that maintain our role as the barbarians. They know more about us than we do about them.’’1 Philosophical discussions take place in a wide variety of forums. In addition to an ever-increasing number of scholarly journals, one can easily find philosophy on television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Philosophy takes place in Iran on a scale from specialized to popular, in universities, conferences, coffee shops, and taxicabs. Those well known for the philosophical positions they advance are not always professional philosophers. Philosophical discussions are often mixed with literary and religious allusions. If one person talks about Pascal’s wager, you can be sure that another will point out that there is a narration attributed to the sixth Shi’ite Imam that seems to make the point that religious belief is one’s best bet. Classical 1

The interview was conducted by Christiane Hoffmann. Jun. 18, 2002, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2002. (This translation made available through an email list on June 20, 2002).



Persian poetry, e.g., Hafez, Rumi, Baba Taher, is often quoted to underline a philosophical point. Most of the classical Persian poetry was written by Sufis or poets with Sufi inclinations. Sufi theoreticians, such as Ibn ‘Arabi, Qawnawi, Qaysari, Ibn Turkah, Jami, and others have laced their works with allusions to Islamic philosophy, and in response Muslim philosophers have taken into account the views of the mystics, modifying them, refuting them, or incorporating them. There is also a constant debate about this religious and literary legacy, whether it is an obstacle to philosophical advancement or a foundation on which to build. Philosophy is taught in two main venues: the university and the seminary, but there is also a great amount of philosophical research, lecturing, and discussions conducted at the many research centers in Iran. Many of these centers, universities, and seminaries have their own perspective on the field.2 In the seminaries, professors of philosophy are often revered religious authorities. Philosophy is taught as a spiritual discipline as much as an academic field of study. Such professors often do not write articles in the modern academic style, but compose commentaries, essays, and books. Often their lectures are transcribed and published as books. Such figures rarely debate one another publicly, although there is much private discussion, and there is debate among their students. In the universities, one can find professors opposed to religious philosophy and those who favor it. Numerous academic journals are published by the university presses in which philosophical articles can be found, only some of which specialize in philosophy. Philosophical monographs, textbooks, and translations are published on a wide variety of topics. Iranians have taken to the internet with zeal, and Iran has a high blogger per capita ratio; and, as one should expect, there are a number of Iranian blogs and user groups dedicated to philosophical discussion. National and international conferences are held on philosophical topics as diverse as logic and human rights, and on philosophers as diverse as Sohravardi and Kant. Special mention should be made of the large international conferences held in Tehran and organized by the Sadra Islamic Philosophy Research Institute (SIPRIn)3 in 1999 and 2004. Women are underrepresented, especially in Islamic philosophy. However, a number of women have been awarded doctorates in philosophy in recent years, and so we should expect their contributions to Islamic philosophy to begin to emerge as they take positions at universities and research centers and begin publishing. One of the most important research centers for philosophical studies and teaching is the former Iranian Islamic Academy of Philosophy and Wisdom, whose official name

H. M. Legenhausen

is now the Iranian Islamic Institute for the Study of Philosophy and Wisdom. In 1973, the Pahlavi queen appointed Seyyed Hossein Nasr to establish a center for the study and propagation of philosophy under her patronage. Nasr became the founder and president of what was then called the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy. It became an important center for the editing of manuscripts and publishing in Islamic philosophy. A journal, Sophia Perennis, was published with articles in both Farsi and English. A good library of books in philosophy and religions was collected there, and it attracted a number of notable scholars from Iran and abroad, including Henry Corbin and Toshihiko Izutsu. Because of the philosophical dispositions of Nasr and the scholars he gathered, there was a strong focus on the element of mysticism in Islamic philosophy. After the Islamic Revolution in 1978, the name of the Academy was changed with its administration, but the general orientation remained much the same, although scholars working at the Academy were by no means exclusively Traditionalists, and included those who specialized in Western philosophy, among whom are experts in the philosophy of science, logic, and ancient philosophy, and even those who have been openly critical of the dominant religious ideas.4 The Academy has had an impact on the study of Islamic philosophy both in Iran and abroad, especially through the works of Nasr, Corbin and Izutsu. In Europe, Islamic philosophy had been studied primarily as an aid to understanding Medieval European philosophy: e.g., the influence of Avicenna on Aquinas and the source of the controversy over Latin Averroism. With Corbin in France and Nasr in the U.S., the Western study of Islamic philosophy enters a new age, so to speak, in which it is appreciated as a treasury for perennial gnostic truths.5 Iranians are very proud of their intellectual heritage,6 and are sensitive to the way it is received outside Iran. So, the interpretation of Islamic philosophy by writers like Nasr and Corbin has also given rise to considerable and constructive controversy within Iranian philosophical circles about whether Islamic philosophy embodies a perennial philosophy, whether the relation between mysticism and Islamic philosophy has not been over-emphasized, and about the relation between Islamic philosophy and modern Western philosophy.

2 Islamic philosophy and Western philosophy in Iran In Iran, philosophy is often divided into Western and Islamic. Most comparative philosophy done in Iran 4


See Akbari (1384/2005).



See www.mullasadra.org.



See Soroush (2000). See Rudolf (2004), 8–9. See Razavi (1996).


compares Muslim with Western thinkers.7 In many universities, Western philosophy is treated as a separate subject from Islamic philosophy. At the University of Tehran, Western and Islamic philosophy are taught on different campuses: Western on the main campus and Islamic at the building that houses the theology faculty. As a result, many who hold doctorates in Western philosophy have little knowledge of Islamic philosophy and vice versa. Those trained in Western philosophy learn English or German, while those trained in Islamic philosophy learn Arabic and are often members of the Islamic clergy. There is, however, overlap; and the overlap is growing. While most classes in Islamic philosophy at the University of Tehran are taught by the theology faculty, there are some professors at the literature faculty who specialize in Islamic philosophy. Likewise, while most of the philosophy taught in the Islamic seminaries is Islamic philosophy, a growing number of Muslim clerics teach courses on Western philosophy in the seminaries. Not all Muslim clerics are comfortable with Islamic philosophy. Some see it as usurping the proper role of theology. It takes the ancient pagan Greeks as authorities instead of the Qur’an and hadiths, they argue. Imam Khomeini, however, favored philosophy, as did a number of other important clerics who played important roles in the Islamic revolution. Shahid Mutahhari was a philosopher and one of the main authors of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Shahid Beheshti was a philosopher who had a keen interest in Hegel in addition to Islamic philosophy, and he was a founder of the Islamic Republican Party. Before the Islamic revolution, he used to come to Qom once a week to teach Hegel to seminarians. Philosophy was seen as an interest of clerics who were more politically savvy, more concerned with contemporary social problems, more widely read and more widely educated than their more conservative colleagues. The methods of philosophical instruction used for Western and Islamic philosophy in Iran differ. Western philosophy is usually taught through classes on specific figures, schools, and subfields. For example, there are classes on Plato, Spinoza, Kant, and Heidegger; also one finds classes on existentialism, analytic philosophy, and hermeneutics. There is a greater tendency today to offer classes in such areas as the philosophy of religion, ethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind. Classes are usually taught on a semester basis, with fifteen or sixteen sessions of one and a half hours per week for a two unit course. Two unit courses are the norm even at the graduate 7

For a noteworthy exception, see the article by Sayyed Muhammad Khamenei, ‘‘Islamic philosophy and Chinese Culture,’’ http://www. mullasadra.org/new_site/english/Paper%20Bank/History%20of%20Philosophy/chaina.htm.


level. Islamic philosophy, on the other hand, like the other areas of traditional Islamic seminary studies, is focused on texts. Even the introductory texts are often rather opaque for those not well versed in the tradition, and classes often consist of detailed elaborations and explanations of a page or two, or even of a single sentence. In the seminaries, oral exams used to be most prevalent, but today written exams are the rule. Often the student is presented with a passage from the Arabic text and asked to translate it and explain the position of the author in Farsi. Traditionally, students might take years to read through a multi-volume text with a professor from the Islamic clergy. Today it is more common to find students studying selected portions of a text on a semester basis; but the focus remains on the text.

3 Metaphilosophy: what is Islamic philosophy? One of the major debates in philosophical circles is about the nature of Islamic philosophy itself. Western treatments of the subject8 often use the term Arabic philosophy instead of Islamic philosophy on the grounds that the discussions of the philosophical issues associated with such key figures as Farabi, Ibn Sina, and Ghazali were carried out by Christians and Jews and not only Muslims, all of whom wrote in Arabic. However, important works by Ibn Sina, Sohravardi, Mulla Sadra, and others in this tradition were written in Persian, and much contemporary Islamic philosophy is written in Persian. Neither religious nor linguistic affiliation serves to pick out the desired philosophical tradition. Leftist and secularist Iranian intellectuals have argued that there can be no Islamic philosophy because philosophy implies a freedom of thought that is incompatible with religious commitment. Another secularist argument against ‘‘Islamic Philosophy’’ is that philosophy is a science to which no religious beliefs are relevant. One might be a committed Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or whatever, but when one does philosophy one’s religious beliefs are no more relevant than the religious beliefs of a physician or a chemist. According to this line of thought, most of what is called ‘‘Islamic Philosophy’’ or ‘‘Arabic Philosophy’’ is really theology. Against this view, Muslim philosophers argue that philosophy is the love of wisdom and a quest for ultimate truth and as such is at one with religious aims. Philosophy aims at a comprehensive understanding of being, knowledge, and values, and no such understanding can be complete if it excludes religion. Defenders of the philosophical credentials of Islamic philosophy typically argue that Muslim philosophers have not made use of revealed truths as premises in their arguments, but, like secular philosophers, appeal to pure reason. 8

E.g., Adamson and Richard (2004).



Some, such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr9, have argued in favor of the need for sacred, specifically Islamic, sciences, not just Islamic philosophy, but Islamic natural and human sciences. They argue that all artifacts, arts, and sciences to some degree express the fundamental beliefs of the craftsperson, artist, and scientist, respectively. Lack of faith among moderns is expressed in the character of the modern arts and sciences. Traditional arts and sciences were sacred because they were expressions of, or based on, sacred principles. Modern arts and sciences lack soul or seem hollow, while traditional arts and sciences display the light of the divine spark in man. Mehdi Golshani has argued the more moderate position that the natural sciences are in need of a basis in metaphysics and theology.10 Attention to the discussions in such authors as Dilthey and Gadamer have prompted some Iranians to argue that a distinction should be made between the natural sciences and the spiritual sciences (Geisteswissenschaften). The latter can reflect religious ideas and values, it is held, while the former are taken to be purely secular. Many of the arguments are not made in print, but in discussion; and much of the Iranian philosophical tradition remains oral. Philosophical discussions eventually make their way into newspapers if they touch a religious or political nerve. Interviews are conducted and published in magazines on current topics of philosophical dispute. Speeches in which a philosophical stand is taken and which are presented in mosques, religious research centers, and Husayniyyahs (places for the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn) are more likely to catch public attention than those given at academic conferences. There are round-table discussions of philosophical issues on television talk shows and on some radio programs. All of this adds to confusion about the nature of Islamic philosophy. Discussions of whether the Muslim world should accept Westernization or not, whether or not Islamic law is in need of reform, and if so, how, and whether Islam is compatible with trade unionism, for example, all may be more or less philosophical. Students of political philosophy are often asked their opinions about current political affairs and seldom about their philosophical positions. Oftentimes any sort of polemic dealing with large issues and which seeks to defend, or presumes, the truth of Islam, no matter how interpreted, is considered Islamic philosophy. Let’s refer to this usage as the populist sense of Islamic philosophy.

H. M. Legenhausen

In the populist sense, Islamic philosophy requires faith in Islam. One cannot practice Islamic philosophy unless one is a committed Muslim, and no particular knowledge of, or training in, academic philosophy is required. Ideology is taken for philosophy. To the contrary, Oliver Leaman defines Islamic philosophy as ‘‘the style of philosophy produced within the framework of Islamic culture.’’11 Although there are problems about how to identify and distinguish styles, this definition has the advantage of allowing works that are very similar in content and method to be classed as Islamic philosophy, regardless of the religious confession of the author.12 Against the view that Islamic philosophy is simply the philosophical product of Islamic culture, it is argued that we should not call any philosophical product Islamic just because it arises in Islamic culture. After all, when Islamic culture produces a philosophical literature that is continuous with some Western school of philosophy, like Iranian Marxist philosophy, we should not call this Islamic philosophy, no matter how unique the style. With this argument in hand, Ayatullah Misbah Yazdi has proposed that Islamic philosophy should be understood as a religiously committed philosophy that draws inspiration from the Qur’an and other religious texts even as it employs rational methods to seek truth. Islamic philosophy is not to be understood in the populist sense, because this ignores the philosophical dimension in its legacy; but it is not to be defined as whatever springs up from soil on which Muslims reside. Non-Muslims can be said to practice Islamic philosophy, according to Ayatullah Misbah, to the extent that they partake in this tradition. The tradition is identified through its relation to Islam and its employment of the rational methods of philosophy. The claim is made that there is something essentially Islamic in a religious and not just a cultural sense to Islamic philosophy, but this is no obstacle to the appearance of Christian, Jewish, or other variations on Islamic philosophy that draw on different religious traditions as well as the legacy of Islamic philosophy. In practice, as it is taught and studied in Iran today, Islamic philosophy is a specific tradition of philosophy with several major branches and which has had a tremendous influence on other areas of Islamic culture, including theology, principles of jurisprudence, mysticism, and the understanding of the sciences. It has drawn inspiration from the ancient wisdom of India, Iran, Greece, and Egypt, as well as the religious teachings of Islam. At the same time, Islamic philosophers have placed a great emphasis on


See Nasr (1989). See the journal Islam & Science (first published in June, 2003), edited by Muzaffar Iqbal for the Center for Islam and Science in Canada, in which the views of Nasr, Golshani, and others may be found. Also see Golshani (1988), Golshani, ed., (1988), Nasr (1989), Nasr (1993). 10


11 Oliver Leaman, ‘‘Islamic Philosophy,’’ in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, CD V. 1.0., 1998. 12 This view is also endorsed by Rudolf (2004), 10, and for the same reason.


rational method and logic. Islamic philosophy today as practiced in Iran is greatly indebted to Mulla Sadra and the strains of thought he synthesized: Sufi theory (which is usually referred to as ‘irfan-e nazari (theoretical gnosis) in Iran and includes the teachings of Ibn ‘Arabi, called Shaykh al-Akbar (the greatest master), and his followers), Illuminationist (Ishraqi) thought (stemming from Sohravardi, called Shaykh al-Ishraq (master of illumination)), and Islamic Peripateticism (from Ibn Sina, called Shaykh al-Ra’is (head or top master)). While some philosophers today draw more from one of these strains than the others, and are therefore considered to have Peripatetic, Illuminationist or Sufi leanings, these leanings are by and large within the framework of Mulla Sadra’s general outlook. It is much more difficult to identify and asses sources of influence from Western philosophy and from the other Islamic sciences. The Islamic sciences have always played a role in Islamic philosophy. In the crudest form, philosophers have sought to find religious support for their views by finding appropriate verses from the Qur’an or relevant narrations from other sacred literature. At a deeper level there are scholars who approach sacred literature with philosophical questions, and who attempt to formulate philosophical theories based on what they find there. The Islamic sciences are not limited to the study of the Qur’an and hadiths, however. One can also find philosophical discussions in the science of kalam (scholastic theology), in ‘irfan al-nazari (theoretical mysticism), and in usul al-fiqh (the principles of Islamic jurisprudence). All of these have effects on Islamic philosophy, just as Islamic philosophy has its effects on the discussions in these fields. In some ways, Mulla Sadra dominates contemporary philosophy in the Shi’ite world analogously to the way in which Aquinas dominates Catholic philosophy. Just as one might find Thomists who take Kant or Wittgenstein or Heidegger very seriously, one can also find thinkers in the tradition of Mulla Sadra who focus on these same figures. It is not only comparative philosophy, however, that provides opportunities for the development of new lines of thought within Islamic philosophy; inter-religious dialogue and political debate also stimulate philosophical thought. The debate about the nature of Islamic philosophy is a debate not only about the best way to go about the study of an academic discipline; it is also a debate about identity and ideology.13 Some seek to portray Islamic philosophy as Iranian philosophy for nationalistic purposes. Ibn Sina, Sohravardi, Mir Damad, Mulla Sadra, Fayd Kashani, and many other luminaries were Iranian. Likewise the imagined face of Farabi graces coins in Kazakhstan. Traditionalists present Islamic philosophy as a source of perennial wisdom and theosophy. There is also a sort of revolutionary 13

See Shafaghi (1998).


religious nationalism that lauds Islamic philosophy as providing a suitable foundation for the worldview of the Islamic Republic. Among those who are harshly critical of Islamic philosophy, there are some nationalists who see it as an Arab imposition on Iranian thought. Others criticize it as being too religious, or too mystical. Some criticize the entire tradition and propose the abandonment of Islamic philosophy in favor of Western philosophy or the development of an Iranian philosophy that builds on the modern Western tradition. Some religious thinkers criticize Islamic philosophy for usurping the place of theology in Islamic thought. In some ways the debate is similar to the discussion in the Christian world about whether there is such a thing as Christian philosophy, and if so, whether it is to be identified with medieval philosophy. There are advocates of contemporary versions of Islamic philosophy, just as there are advocates of new forms of Christian philosophy, from Neo-Thomism to Reformed Epistemology. The difference is that in Europe the break between medieval philosophy and modern philosophy in the seventeenth century is fairly clear, while the development of Islamic philosophy before and after Mulla Sadra (who was contemporary with Descartes) is much more continuous. Historians sometimes speak of the medieval period in Europe as the ‘‘age of faith’’ in contrast to the modern ‘‘age of reason’’; while this is a gross oversimplification, whatever grounds for the division exist in European history have no counterpart in Islamic civilization, because the earlier Islamic thought was no less rationalistic and the later thought was no less religious.

4 Islamic philosophy in the Islamic seminaries In fact, over the past twenty years or more, there has been a growing interest in Western philosophy among those trained in Islamic philosophy. This occurred, in large part, because of the threat of Marxism in the years prior to the revolution. It was because of the perceived need to provide a response to the philosophical foundations of Marxism that Islamic philosophy began to be taught publicly in the Islamic seminaries in Qom in the 1950’s. Earlier, students would only study the texts of Ibn Sina or Mulla Sadra in private sessions in the seminaries. Public classes were only given in theology, Islamic law and its principles, the Qur’an, hadiths, and such topics as were considered directly relevant to the goal of training novices to derive the laws of Islam from their sources. Religious opposition to philosophy was widespread. Philosophy, even Islamic philosophy, was considered by many to be at best a hobby to be taken up in one’s spare time, but clearly secondary to the duties of a student of Islam. Marxism changed that. In order to defend Islam against the Marxists, ‘Allamah



Tabataba’i argued, one must be familiar with Islamic philosophy. ‘Allamah Tabataba’i (1904–1981) may be considered the father of contemporary Islamic philosophy.14 It was he who for the first time began the public teaching of philosophy in the seminaries of Qom; and it was he who trained some of the most brilliant minds in the next generation of Islamic philosophy. ‘Allamah was not only a philosopher, but a mystic. Islamic mysticism has become so interwoven with Islamic philosophy that advanced students and professors usually have a proficiency in both. Often students who wish to study theoretical mysticism (‘irfan nazari) are told that they should first study Islamic philosophy. This is supposed to give them a rational grounding and prevent deviant interpretations of the ideas of the mystics, such as pantheism. ‘Allamah’s talent for mysticism was not merely a proficiency in theory, however; he was also revered as one who put mysticism into practice. His most famous student in this area was the prolific and highly revered Ayatullah Husayni Tehrani (d. 1996). ‘Allamah’s own training in spiritual wayfaring (sayr o suluk) and personal ethics was under the direction of Hajj Mirza ‘Ali Qadi.15 The saintliness of the sage philosopher mystic is also an important part of the tradition of Islamic philosophy in Iran. The Islamic philosopher is expected not only to be able to give insightful elucidations of difficult passages in key texts and to be proficient in keen rational analysis, but to live a philosophical life, contemplative, humble, simple, and pious. Contemporary Islamic philosophy is dominated by the ideas of Mulla Sadra (1571/2–1640). This is not to say that contemporary Islamic philosophers agree with everything Mulla Sadra wrote, but that the topics of discussion are largely derived from his works. ‘Allamah Tabataba’i taught Mulla Sadra’s Asfar as well as works of Ibn Sina, but however much it may be appropriate to classify him as a member of the school of thought of Mulla Sadra, called transcendent wisdom (hikmat muta’aliyyah), he was also critical, came to different conclusions in various matters, and taught his students to do the same. ‘Allamah considered Ibn Sina to be stronger than Mulla Sadra in rational analysis, but he credited Mulla Sadra with the introduction of over five hundred issues that had not previously been discussed by Greek or Muslim philosophers. ‘Allamah introduced his own new issues, too. He elaborated Mulla Sadra’s notion of substantial motion by considering time as a fourth dimension. The distinction between objective realities and subjective constructs was a

H. M. Legenhausen

primary focus of his attention. Among the subjective constructs he included social and legal conventions. He described God as reality (vaqi’iyat) whereas previous philosophers had used the term existence (wujud). In his rebuttals of Marxist materialism, he taught that Islamic philosophy was a kind of realism, and he used the Persianized European word, re’alism, to describe the view that there is a reality beyond what is evident by sense perception. The result of the sessions in which he discussed such issues as idealism, materialism, and realism was a series of volumes compiled by his favorite student, Morteza Mutahhari (who was martyred in a terrorist attack after the revolution) published as Usul-e Falsafeh va Ravesh-e Re’alism (The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism).16 Many of the most important teachers of philosophy in Iran were students of ‘Allamah Tabataba’i, including, Ayatullah Misbah Yazdi, Ayatullah Javadi Amuli, and Ayatullah Hasan Zadeh Amuli in the seminaries of Qom, Sayyid Ashtiyani in Mashhad, and Dr. Dinani at the university of Tehran. Among the martyrs of the Islamic revolution, in addition to Shahid Mutahhari, mentioned above, Shahid Beheshti and Mustafa Khomeini were also his students. Other famous students include the presumably martyred Lebanese scholar Musa Sadr and the former president of Iran, Mahdavı´ Kani. Among the scholars subsequently living outside Iran, Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Henry Corbin, and William Chittick also benefited from lessons or collaboration with ‘Allamah. When ‘Allamah was teaching in Qom, the seminaries were in a state of some turbulence. Many of the most brilliant scholars of the seminaries, including Imam Khomeini and Shahid Mutahhari were calling for reform. The old teaching methods seemed inadequate to the new challenges facing the clergy. One step toward reform was made with the founding of the Madrasah Muntaziriyah, later known as Madrasah Haqqani, which remains in operation today as Madrasah Shahidayn (Two Martyrs School), named after the two martyrs, Qudussi (Allamah’s son-in-law) and Beheshti who taught there. The management of this school decided that philosophy (and other subjects) should be included in the curriculum, in addition to the standard core of Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence and its principles. For this purpose, ‘Allamah was requested to write two philosophy texts for the beginning and intermediate students. The fulfillment of this request was realized with Bidayah al-Hikmah (The Beginning of Wisdom)17 and Nihayah al-Hikmah (The End of Wisdom), which were published in 1970 and 1975.


See Algar (2006). In a number of sources the date given for Tabataba’i’s birth is 1892. This is an error and the correct date is 1904, as Algar reports.


See Tehrani (1417/1996).



Tabataba’i and Mutahhari (1376/1997). This has appeared in English translation by Sayyid ‘Ali Quli Qara’i as The Elements of Islamic Metaphysics, see Tabataba’i (2003).



Islamic philosophy has been taught in the Shi’ite seminaries using three principal texts. Through most of the twentieth century until the appearance of Bidayah alHikmah, the didactic poem and its commentary, both by Mulla Hadi Sabzavari, was the standard introductory text, known as Shahr-e Manzumah. Like Tabataba’i’s Bidayat, it was written in Arabic. In 1985–86, one of Tabataba’i’s former students, Ayatullah Misbah Yazdi, published his own text book in philosophy in Farsi, Amuzesh-e Falsafeh (Philosophical Instructions).18 A comparison of the contents of these three provides a good indication of the direction in which Islamic philosophy has evolved during the twentieth century. Sabzavari’s Sharh-e Manzumah was written in two volumes, one dealing primarily with metaphysics and the other with logic. Neither Tabataba’i nor Misbah have written introductory logic texts. Logic is still studied in the seminaries, and traditional logic is being supplemented by the study of modern logic. In the philosophical part of the Sharh-e Manzumah there are seven parts: (i) general principles; (ii) substance and accident; (iii) theology in the specific sense; (iv) nature; (v) prophecy; (vi) the resurrection; and (vii) ethics. The Bidayah only deals with issues taken up in the first three parts of the Sharh-e Manzumah. Traditional Islamic philosophy included a section on ‘‘nature’’ that now seems obsolete to students and professors who have consigned the topic to the modern natural sciences. Prophecy and the resurrection are still important and controversial topics, but are not included in discussions of philosophy for introductory students. These are topics about which the loudest criticisms from conservative theologians are heard. Ethics continues to be studied, but usually separately from general introductions to philosophy, and there are separate introductory texts in ethics for seminary students. The first part of Sabzavari’s text is again divided into seven sections (called ‘‘gems’’): (i) existence and nonexistence; (ii) necessity and contingency; (iii) eternity and temporality; (iv) actuality and potentiality; (v) quiddity (or whatness); (vi) unity and multiplicity; and (vii) cause and caused. All of these discussions can also be found in Tabataba’i’s text. The only topic heading in Bidayah that is not in the Sharh al-Manzumah is the chapter on knowledge, while all the major topics of Sabzavari’s work are discussed to some extent in the Bidayah. As we advance through the twentieth century in Islamic philosophy, epistemology takes on an ever increasingly important role. In Ayatullah Misbah’s Philosophical Instructions we find that there is an entire part, indeed the first part after the introductory historical chapters, devoted to epistemological issues. 18

Misbah Yazdi (1999).


Attention to the history of philosophy, and to Western philosophy in particular, is also a relatively new phenomenon in Islamic philosophy. Of course, the classics of Islamic philosophy from Kindi to Mulla Sadra paid particular attention to Greek philosophy, sometimes painting a picture of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as religious figures consonant with the ideals of Islamic philosophy, so that, for example, Aristotle appears to Sohravardi in a dream vision and encourages him to pursue direct intuitive knowledge as a key to solving his philosophical difficulties. However, while Ibn Sina and other Muslim philosophers had a tremendous impact on the philosophical views that developed in Europe through Aquinas, Eckhart, and others, medieval European philosophers were not mentioned in subsequent textbooks of Islamic philosophy until the twentieth century. Today, there is a great interest in comparative philosophy and comparative religion in Iran.

5 Technical remarks and acknowledgements An attempt has been made to render most of the technical terms used in a consistent manner throughout this collection. The transliterations of terms in parentheses are provided as tips for those familiar with the subject in Arabic or Farsi. Diacritical marks have been dropped; otherwise the method of transliteration is fairly standard. Many of the key terms themselves, however, have no standard translations. I have tended to favor the precedent set by Mohaghegh and Izutsu (Sabzavari 1983) although I am indebted to William Chittick’s work (in Chittick 2001; Mulla Sadra 2003; and many other books and articles) even when this is not reflected in the choice of a word. The glossary and discussions in Morewedge (1973) are pioneering efforts that continue to be useful. Here it is important to mention just a few of the technical terms that raise difficulties. The English word ‘‘essence’’ and the Latin essentia have been used to translate the Arabic dhat as well as the Arabic mahiyyah. The dhat is the possessor of attributes, and ‘‘essence’’ will be reserved for it, despite the fact that the famous distinction between ‘‘being and essence’’ pertains to mahiyyah, not dhat. The mahiyyah is a translation into Arabic of the ti esti of Aristotle, and hence is translated by Chittick as ‘‘whatness,’’ which will be seen from time to time in this volume along with the more frequently used Mohaghegh and Izutsu translation, ‘‘quiddity.’’ So, the distinction that Aquinas was inspired by Ibn Sina (Avicenna) to write about is that between existence and quiddity or whatness, while the essence of a thing is its substratum, that which has various attributes. Since most translators seem to prefer quiddity for mahiyyah, it seems appropriate to use verity to avoid a



related ambiguity. Two terms in Arabic are translated as truth: haqiqah and sidq. The latter is the opposite of falsehood, and is used to indicate that the predication of a concept to an object is true. The object of the true predication of a concept is said to be the instance (misdaq, also derived from sidq) of the concept. The term haqiqah (or haqiqat, in Farsi) is usually translated as truth or reality, and pertains to the essence (dhat) of a thing. The haqiqah of a thing is what some translators call its ‘‘inner reality,’’ and Morewedge suggests is roughly equivalent to the Greek aletheia. In adjectival form, haqiqi normally means real or genuine. In the articles collected here, true and truth will be used for sadiq and sidq, as in true predication, and veridical and verity for haqiqi and haqiqah. Some of the most important questions debated in Islamic philosophy are about what is objectively true about something and what is described in a certain way only because of the ability of the mind to transfer concepts from the area in which they were originally abstracted to new regions. That to which a concept originally applies is called principial or fundamental. Here the latter will be used only because it is more common. The opposite of fundamental is i‘tibari, the nominal form of which has been translated as ‘‘subjective construct,’’ ‘‘mental posit,’’ ‘‘consideration,’’ and ‘‘respect.’’ Here ‘‘subjective,’’ ‘‘subjective construct,’’ and ‘‘subjective consideration’’ will be used, often with the term i‘tibari in parentheses beside it as a reminder. Against this translation, it could be argued that ‘‘subjective’’ carries too much with it from the Western tradition about what is inner and private that has nothing to do with the Arabic i‘tibari. On the other hand, ‘‘subjective’’ is the opposite of ‘‘objective’’ and it may indicate what is taken to be so because of the action of the mind. So, let the reader be forewarned that ‘‘subjective’’ as it appears in these pages translates a word whose home is foreign to Western debates about subjectivity. There are further complications. The term i‘tibari is used with different meanings in different contexts and different authors disagree about what these meanings are. There are other terms and distinctions that will be introduced in context. Those mentioned above have been discussed here because of their prevalence. One of the main difficulties in studying Islamic philosophy is that the concepts it employs are sufficiently similar to those more familiar to Western readers to entice one to jump to wrong conclusions. Explanatory notes by this editor will be indicated by ‘‘[Ed]’’. Dates in Iran are recorded through the use of three different calendars: this is the year 2007 on the Gregorian calendar; but it is 1386 on the Persian solar hijri calendar, and 1428 on the Islamic lunar hijri calendar. Publishers in Iran usually use the Persian calendar for works published


H. M. Legenhausen

in Farsi and the Islamic calendar for works published in Arabic, and sometimes for other religious texts in Farsi (although some publishers prefer to use the Gregorian date without either hijri date). Texts published in lithograph form often lack any date. In the references cited, if the publisher gives the date in a hijri calendar, this is followed by a slash with the corresponding Gregorian date following it. If the publisher uses the Gregorian date, this is given alone. This form of citation is fairly standard for such works. I gratefully acknowledge that this work would not have been possible without the moral and administrative support of the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute, and I thank the Office of Islamic Propagation, Qom, for funding some of the translations. Dr. Mohsen Javadi’s constant assistance throughout the project is deeply appreciated. The philosophy represented in the articles gathered for this issue of Topoi is an indication of the state of the art of Islamic philosophy as it is studied in the Islamic seminaries and universities of Iran today. This collection of articles is designed to be of interest to the specialist at the same time as it serves philosophers unacquainted with contemporary Islamic philosophy by providing an introduction to the field. The articles were selected to reflect topics of current controversy. We begin with two articles in philosophical theology, followed by two that discuss the fundamentality of existence. These are followed by one on philosophical anthropology that focuses on the nature of the imagination, which will assist in the understanding of the issues central to the next two papers on Islamic metaethics. Finally, there is an article on causality in Islamic philosophy that takes a somewhat skeptical attitude toward the entire tradition, while retaining an insider’s perspective. The articles by Ghasem Kakaie, Mohammad Saeedimehr, Mahmoud Khatami and Mohsen Javadi were solicited by the editor for publication in this issue of Topoi, and were written in English. The articles by ‘Abd al-Rasul ‘Ubudiyyat (translated by D. D. Sodagar and the editor) and Yahya Yasrebi (translated by Rizwan Arastu) were solicited by the editor for publication in this issue of Topoi, and were written in Farsi. The contributions of Ahmad Ahmadi and Sadeq Larijani were written in Farsi for Iranian academic journals, and have been translated by the editor with permission and assistance in translation from the authors. The authors, all of whom are wellknown in Iranian philosophical circles, include both clerics and non-clerics, teachers at universities and seminaries, who draw upon the philosophical traditions of Islamic and Western philosophy, mysticism, and jurisprudence in their contributions to contemporary Iranian Islamic philosophy. The Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute


References Adamson P, Richard CT (eds) (2004) The Cambridge companion to Arabic philosophy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Akbari R (1384/2005) ‘‘Naqd va Barresi Nezam-e Amuzesh-e Falsafeh dar Daneshgahha-ye Keshvar’’ (Critique and review of the system of philosophical instruction in the universities of the country), Naqd o Nazar, Vol. 10, Nos. 1 and 2 Algar H (2006) ‘‘Allama Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i: philosopher, exegete, and Gnostic,’’ J Islam Stud 17(3): 326–351 Chittick WC (2001) The heart of Islamic philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford Golshani M (1998) From physics to metaphysics. Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tehran Golshani M (ed) (1998) Can science dispense with religion? Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tehran Misbah Yazdi MT (1999) Philosophical instructions, A. Sarvdalir and M. Legenhausen, trs., Global Publications, Binghamton Morewedge P (1973) The metaphysica of Avicenna (ibn Sina) Routledge and Kegan Paul, London

175 Mulla Sadra (2003) The elixir of the Gnostics, William C. Chittick, tr., Brigham Young University Press, Provo Nasr SH (1989) Knowledge and the sacred. SUNY Press, Albany Nasr SH (1993) The need for a sacred science. SUNY Press, Albany Razavi MA (ed) (1996) The Islamic intellectual tradition in Persia. Curzon, Richmond Rudolph U (2004) Islamische Philosophie: von den Anfa¨ngen bis zur Gegenwart. Beck, Mu¨nchen Sabzavari MH (1983) The metaphysics of Sabzavari, Mehdi Mohaghegh and Toshihiko Izutsu, trs. Iran University Press, Tehran Shafaghi S (1998) ‘‘On Philosophy in Iran,’’ APA Newsletters 98:1 Soroush A (2000) Reason, freedom, and democracy in Islam, Mahmoud and Ahmad Sadri, trs. Oxford University Press, Oxford Tabataba’i SMH (2003) The elements of Islamic metaphysics, Sayyid ‘Ali Quli Qara’i, tr. ICAS Press, London Tabataba’i MH, Mutahhari M (1376/1997) Usul-e Falsafah va Ravesh-e Re’alism, in Majmu’eh-ye Athar-e Ustad Shahid Mutahhari, Vol. 6., Sadra, Tehran Tehrani SMHH (1417/1996) Mehr-e Taban, Intisharat ‘Allamah Tabataba’i, Mashhad


View more...


Copyright ©2017 KUPDF Inc.