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An Introduction to Shi'i Islam:
The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism

by Moojan Momen

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Chapter 11


            Sufism, 'Irfan and Hikma

In Sunni Islam, Sufism has, through the Sufi Shaykhs, a
major hold on the religious devotion of the masses. But in
Shi'ism it has become largely a side-issue, a minority
interest. It is the orthodox ulama who hold the religious
leadership of the Shi'i community and few of them will have
anything to do with Sufism. It is not possible in a work of
this nature to undertake a systematic treatment of the
mystical and metaphysical ideas of Sufism. And so in this
chapter only Sufism in its relationship to Shi'ism and the
history of the Shi'i Sufi orders will be considered.
  Although most histories of Sufism go back to individual
ascetics such as Hasan al-Basri and Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya who
lived in the centuries immediately after the Prophet, Sufism
as it is known today, with its organised orders and their
hierarchies and rituals, dates from the 12th and 13th
centuries AD.
  The roots of this organised Sufism have a complex inter-
relationship with the Shi'ism of the 12th to 14th centuries
AD. Shi'ism achieved political power over almost all of the
Islamic world in the 10th and 11th centuries. Then in the
middle of the 11th century the Seljuqs came to power and
severely repressed Shi'ism. It has been suggested that
Sufism, in its organised form, arose at about this time to
fill the vacuum left by the suppression of Shi'ism.[1]
Certainly there is a great deal of similarity between
Shi'ism and many aspects of Sufism which would tend to
support this thesis.
  One of the most important doctrines of Sufism is the
concept of the Perfect Man (al-Insan al-Kamil). This
doctrine states that there always must exist upon the earth
a man who is the perfect channel of grace from God to man.
This man who is called the Qutb (Pole or Axis, of the
Universe) is considered to be in a state of wilaya
(sanctity, being under the protection of God). It can
already be seen that there are great similarities between
the concept of the Qutb in Sufism and the Shi'i Imam.
Indeed, many of the Traditions referring to the Imam (see


Chapter 7) are also to be found among Sufis in relation to
the Qutb: there can only be one Qutb on the earth at any one
time; anyone who dies without recognising the Qutb of his
time has died the death of the Jahiliyya; only recognition
of the Qutb confers true belief, etc.[2]
  The authority to teach the Sufi path has been handed down
from master (Qutb, Shaykh, Murshid or Pir) to pupil (Murid,
Talib, Salik) through the generations. Most of these
'chains' of authority (silsila) traditionally go back
through various intermediaries to 'Ali who among Sufis is
considered to have received initiation into mystical truth
from Muhammad. Thus among certain Sufi orders there has been
a tendency to glorify 'Ali. This tendency (as has been noted
in Chapters 5 and 6) may well have helped to prepare the
people of Iran during the 14th and 15th centuries for
accepting Shi'ism under the Safavids.
  However, it is precisely this closeness in certain areas
between Shi'ism and Sufism that has led to antagonism among
Shi'i ulama towards Sufism. The concept of the Qutb (who for
most Sufi orders is the head of the order) as the purveyor
of spiritual guidance and of God's grace to mankind is in
direct conflict with the concept of the Imam who in Shi'ism
fulfils this role. The vow of obedience to the Shaykh or
Qutb which is taken by Sufis is considered incompatible with
devotion to the Imam. Indeed, for Shi'is, the Twelfth Imam,
who is alive and only in occultation, is the living Qutb and
there can only ever be one Qutb upon the earth at any one
  There are several other reasons for the antagonism of the
ulama towards Sufism: the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud
(existential monism) is considered to be blasphemous; the
chains of authority of even the Shi'i Sufi orders do not
include all twelve of the Shi'i Imams, rather they progress
through the first eight Imams, but after 'Ali ar-Rida they
diverge through Ma'ruf al Karkhi to other individuals; the
zakat is paid by members of the order to the head of the
order and not to the ulama.
  The Shi'i Sufi orders have sought to bring their ideas
more closely into line with orthodox Shi'i opinion. Thus,
for example, the head of the order is often referred to as
the Na'ib-i Imam (deputy of the Hidden Imam). But even this
modification is not acceptable to the orthodox who regard
themselves as the Na'ib-i Amm (general deputy) of the
Twelfth Imam while no Na'ib-i Khass is permissible during
the Greater Occultation (see p. 165).
  Historically (as has been shown in Chapter 5) several Sufi
orders became increasingly oriented towards Shi'ism during
the 15th century but it was not until the Safavid order
become Shi'i and conquered Iran that several orders such as
the Nurbakhshi, Dhahabi and Ni'matu'llahi became openly
  The Nurbakhshi and Dhahabi orders have a common origin.

[Pages 210 and 211 contain a chart.]


Ishaq Khutlani (d. 826/1423) was a Shaykh of the Sunni
Kubrawiyya order which had marked Shi'i sympathies. A
hostile report claims that when he appointed Sayyid Muhammad
Nurbakhsh, the founder of the Nurbakhshi order, as his
successor, one of his prominent disciples, Mir Shihabu'd-Din
'Abdu'llah Barzishabadi Mashhadi, got up and left. Khwaja
Ishaq said: 'Dhahaba 'Abdu'llah ('Abdu'llah has gone)' and
'Abdu'llah's followers became known as Dhahabis. The
Dhahabis themselves, however, derive their name from dhahab,
gold, and speak of their affiliation as silsilat adh-dhahab,
the golden chain. The Dhahabiyya are also sometimes known as
the Ightishashiyya.
  The Dhahabiyya order became Shi'i at the beginning of the
Safavid period and, under the eighth successor of 'Abdu'llah
Barzishabadi (the twenty-ninth head of the order counting
from Ma'ruf al-Karkhi), Shaykh Muhammad 'Ali Mu'adhdhin
Khurasani, the order achieved some prominence during the
reign of Shah 'Abbas. But then, after encountering
antagonism from both the state and the ulama, the order
declined again.
  The revival of the Dhahabi order in Shiraz is due to
Qutbu'd-Din Sayyid Muhammad Nayrizi Shirazi (d. 1173/1760),
the thirty-second head of the order. Following on from him,
the order continued its prominence under successive leaders:

33rd Head, Aqa Muhammad Hashim Shirazi (d. 1199/1785)
34th Head, Mirza 'Abdu'n-Nabi Sharifi Shirazi (d. 1231/1815)
35th Head, Mirza 'Abu'l-Qasim Sharifi Shirazi (d.
1286/1869), known as Mirza Baba or Raz-i Shirazi, custodian
of the Shah Chiragh Shrine 36th Head, Jalalu'd-Din Muhammad
Sharifi Majdu'l-Ashraf Shirazi (d. 331/1913), custodian of
the Shah Chiragh Shrine
37th Head, Mirza Ahmad Tabrizi, Nayibu'l-Wilaya, Wahidu'l-
Awliya (d. 1375/1955)
38th Head, Hajji Muhammad 'Ali Ardibili, Hubb Haydar (d.
1382/1962) 39th Head, Dr Hajj 'Abdu'l-Hamid Ganjaviyan,

After Jalalu'd-Din Sharifi, his brother, Sayyid Muhammad
Rida Sharifi, claimed the leadership of the order and a
separate branch of the order called the sharifi branch was
formed, the leadership of which has remained hereditary in
this family. Custodianship of the important Shrine of Shah
Chiragh in Shiraz remains with this line.

  The headquarters of the order are in Shiraz and they
possess there a khanagah (meeting-place and hospice) which
includes shrines of the recent heads of the order. There are
also khanagahs in Tehran and Tabriz. The followers of this
order are distinguished by conical hats which are, however,
usually only worn at meetings of the order. Their numbers in
Iran are estimated at 3,000.3


  The Nurbakhshi order originated with 'Ala'u'd-Din Sayyid
Muhammad Nurbakhsh (d. 869/1464) who was a Sunni with strong
Shi'i proclivities. His son and successor, Shah Sayyid Qasim
Faydbakhsh (d. 917/1511), was still alive when the Safavids
came to power. At this time the order became Shi'i and
achieved considerable prominence. Many of the eminent Shi'i
ulama of the early and middle Safavid period were affiliated
to this order: Shaykh Bahá'í, Mulla Muhsin-i Fayd and Qadi
Nuru'llah Shustari. Certainly the Nurbakhsh order was a
significant influence upon the evolution of the Hikmat-i
Ilahi of the School of Isfahan (see later in this chapter).
It was also important in the spread of Shi'ism in India and
  As with all other Sufi orders, it was suppressed in Iran
towards the end of the Safavid period although it retained a
presence in India where it was instrumental in bringing
Shi'ism to Kashmir. It has never re-established itself in
Iran as an organised order, although individual prominent
Sufis such as Mirza 'Abdu'l-Wahhab Na'ini (d. 1212/1797) and
Mirza Abu'l Qasim Sukut-i Shirazi (d. 1239/1823) have been
said to be of this order.[4]
  The Ni'matu'llahi is the largest and most influential of
the Sufi orders in Iran. The relationship of the
Ni'matu'llahi order to the other Shi'i orders in terms of
the chains of authority is shown in the diagram (Chart

The founder of the order, Shah Ni'matu'llah Wali (d.
834/1431) was Sunni but sympathetic to Shi'ism. He died in
Mahan near Kirman where his grave is still an important
centre for this order. His successors moved to Hyderabad in
the Deccan, India, where they were enthusiastically received
by the Bahmani rulers. But the order maintained a presence
in Iran and there was a network of local Shaykhs. When the
Safavids came to power, the order closely identified itself
with them and became Shi'i. One of the local Shaykhs of the
order, Mir Nizamu'd-Din 'Abdu'l-Baqi, was appointed by Shah
Isma'il to the position of Sadr in 917/1511. From about the
time of Shah 'Abbas, however, the influence of the order in
Iran declined under attack from both state and ulama.

The revival of the Ni'matu'llahis in Iran dates from
1190/1776 when Rida 'Ali Shah Dakani, (d. 1214/1799), the
thirteenth successor of Shah Ni'matu'llah, sent his disciple
and successor, Ma'sum 'Ali Shah Dakani from India to Iran.
The latter was very successful and large crowds gathered
everywhere that he went. For example, he is said to have had
30,000 disciples in Shiraz where Karim Khan Zand held court.
This aroused the wrath of the ulama, and Ma'sum 'Ali Shah
was eventually killed in Kirmanshah at the instigation of
Mulla Muhammad 'Ali Bihbahani in 1212/1797.[5] The next Shaykh
of the order was an Iranian, Mirza Muhammad 'Ali Tabasi
Isfahani, Nur 'Ali Shah (d. 1212/1797) and from this time
onwards the Shaykhs of the order have been Iranians


and the centre of the order in Iran.
  Majdhub 'Ali Shah Kabudarahangi (d. 1239/1823), the
seventeenth successor of Shah Ni'matu'llah, did not clearly
appoint a successor and so there was a dispute over the
succession after him. Mulla Muhammad Shah Hamadani, Kawthar
'Ali Shah (d. 1247/1831), split off from the main body of
the order and formed a branch known as Kawthar 'Ali Shahi
which has survived to the present day under a succession of
leaders and is centred in Hamadan, Maragha and Tehran. Its
present leader is Nasir 'Ali Shah Malikniya who resides at
the order's khanagah in Tehran.
  A second branch which split off at the death of Majdhub
'Ali Shah was founded by Sayyid Husayn Astarabadi. Its most
famous Shaykh was Sayyid Husayn Husayni Tihrani, Shamsu'l-
'Urafa (d. 1353/1935), and so this line is called the
Shamsu'l-'Urafa or Shamsiyya line. Shamsu'l-'Urafa's
successors included Hajj Mir Sayyid 'Ali Burqu'i, a well-
known mujtahid who was responsible for the religious
training of Muhammad Rida Shah Pahlavi. This group have a
khanagah in Tehran.
  The main line of the Ni'matu'llahis continued after
Majdhub 'Ali Shah under Zaynu'l-'Abidin Shirvani, Mast 'Ali
Shah (d. 1253/1837). He was succeeded by Rahmat 'Ali Shah
(d. 1278/1861) who was known as Nayibu's-Sadr, but after
this there was a further split in the order. This split was
a much more serious affair and the order has remained
divided into three groups ever since.
  The uncle of Rahmat 'Ali Shah, Aqa Muhammad, Munavvar 'Ali
Shah (d. 1301/1884), was one claimant to the succession. His
son, Hajj 'Ali Dhu'r-Riyasatayn, Wafi 'Ali Shah (d.
1336/1918), succeeded him and the line is usually known as
the Dhu'r-Riyasatayn branch (or occasionally as the Mu'nis
'Ali Shahi branch after a later leader). Wafa 'Ali Shah was
succeeded by Sayyid Isma'il Ujaq, Sadiq 'Ali Shah (d.
1340/1922) and then by Ha.ii 'Abdu'l-Husayn Dhu'r-
Riyasatayn, Mu'nis 'Ali Shah (d. 1373/1953). After the last-
named, there was some dispute over the succession with
several of the local Shaykhs of the order claiming
successorship. However, one of these, Dr Javad Nurbakhsh
Kirmani, Nur 'Ali Shah, who had been Shaykh in Tehran,
succeeded in consolidating his authority over most of this
branch of the order. Under Dr Nurbakhsh, this branch of the
order has undergone a vigorous expansion with several new
khanagahs built in Iran and, taking advantage of the
interest in Sufism in the West, an expansion of the order to
England and the USA.
  Another claimant to Rahmat 'Ali Shah's successorship was
Hajj Muhammad Hasan, Isfahani, Safi 'Ali Shah (d.
1316/1899). After various travels, Safi 'Ali Shah settled in
Tehran and succeeded in attracting several notables of the
Qajar court as disciples. The next Shaykh of this line was
Mirza 'Al-Khan, Zahiru'd-Dawla, Safa 'Ali Shah, a Qajar


prince (d. 1342/1923). Safi 'Ali Shah had formed his
followers into a society called the Anjuman-i Ukhuvat
(Society of Brotherhood) and after the death of Zahiru'd-
Dawla most of the members of the order came under the
leadership of the eleven-man council of this society. This
branch of the Ni'matu'llahi order is called the Safi 'Ali
Shahi branch and is spread through most of Iran with some
ten or more khanagahs.
  The third branch of the order to arise after Rahmat 'Ali
Shah was founded by Hajj Muhammad Kazim Isfahani, Sa'adat
'Ali Shah (d. 1293/1876), known as Tawusu'l-'Urafa. He was
succeeded by Hajj Sultan Muhammad Gunabadi, Sultan 'Ali Shah
(murdered 1327/1909), who used to teach a circle of
disciples in the village of Bidukht in the Gunabad area near
Mashhad in Khurasan. Thus this important branch became known
as Gunabadi. After him, the leadership of this branch passed
to his son Haji Mulla 'Ali, Nur 'Ali Shah (murdered
1337/1918), and grandson, Hajj Shaykh Muhammad Hasan, Salih
'Ali Shah (d. 1386/1966). The present leader of this branch
is the son of Salih 'Ali Shah, Hajj Sultan Husayn, Rida 'Ali
Shah Tabanda. In Bidukht, Gunabad, there is an extensive
array of buildings which are the headquarters of the order.
  The Sufi orders in Iran have very little following among
the lower classes. The branches of the Ni'matu'llahi order
have, however, had a considerable following among government
officials and the nobility during the last 150 years.
Perhaps because of this and the way that Sufis attempt to
help their fellow-Sufis, the order has had attractions for
young men entering government service. A recent estimate put
the number of Ni'matu'llahis in Iran at between 50,000 and
350,000 with Gunabadis 30-50%, Dhu'r-Riyasatayn 20-45%, Safi
'Ali Shahi 15-30% and other splinter groups at less than 5%.[6]
  The third major Sufi order extant in Iran, apart from the
Dhahabi and Ni'matu'llahi, is the Khaksar order. The
originator of this order is said to be one Jalalu'd-Din or
Qutbu'd-Din Haydar in the 8th/13th century. The exact
identity of this figure remains unclear pending further
research. It has been suggested that he is identical with
the Suhrawardi Shaykh, Jalalu'd-Din Bukhari (d. 690/1291).
It is said that his tomb is at Turbat-i Haydari in Khurasan
and it is his name that was given to the faction in each
major Iranian town which, during Safavid and Qajar times,
was opposed by the Ni'mati faction (said to be named after
Shah Ni'matu'llah Wali) leading to frequent faction-fighting
and rioting especially on public holidays such as Naw-Ruz.
  There appear to be historical links between this order and
the Safavid order before its conquest of Iran. There is also
a complex inter-relationship with the Ahl-i Haqq
('Aliyu'llahis). Indeed, many regard the Ahl-i Haqq as a
Sufi order linked to the Khaksar rather than a Shi'i sect.


  There appears to be little organisation in the Khaksar
order, with many individuals claiming to be Shaykhs. The
wandering dervishes or Qalandars are often said to be of
this order. Several different branches of the order exist,
such as the Jalali Ghulam 'Ali Shahi and the Dawda Ma'sum
'Al,. Shahi. The order has khanagahs in several cities and
possibly has as many as 3,000 members. There are also some
adherents of this order in Iraq.[7]

Philosophy, Hikma and 'Irfan

The goal of philosophy is considered to be the achievement
of wisdom (hikma). Philosophers (hukama) have traditionally
been divided into two groups: the Masha'iyun (peripatetic
philosophers) who consider that wisdom is to be achieved by
intellectual effort and rational processes; and the
Ishraqiyun (illuminationist philosophers) who consider that
true wisdom is best gained through spiritual discipline, the
cleansing of the soul from all defilement and the
acquisition of virtues.
  Also closely associated with hikma is irfan (gnosis or
mystical knowledge). Although the Shi'i ulama have been
opposed to Sufism for the reasons stated above, 'irfan is
much more acceptable. It includes many of the ideas and much
of the technical vocabulary of Sufism but divests itself of
the features which the ulama find most objectionable: the
formal structure of the orders, initiation, the murshid-
murid (i.e. spiritual master to pupil) relationship, dhikr
(repetitive recitations), concepts such as wahdat al-wujud
(existential monism), etc.
  Typical works in the field of 'irfan deal with bringing
out the inner, esoteric meaning of the Qur'an based on the
process of ta'wil (bringing out of the spiritual meaning)
rather than tafsir (technical commentary) of the verses. It
is thus a very intellectual activity and can perhaps be
better described as esotericism in contrast to the ecstatic
mysticism of the Sufis.
  In this form mysticism has managed to retain a foothold
within the curriculum of teaching in the Shi'i religious
colleges but very much on the periphery. Interestingly,
Ayatu'llah Khumayni taught 'irfan in Qumm prior to his
expulsion in 1963.
  A movement that has had a great deal of influence on Shi'i
thought is what is called Hikmat-i Ilahi. It can be thought
of as the philosophical analysis and description of the
mystical path. The name itself, Hikmat-i Ilahi, can be
translated as Divine Wisdom, Divine Philosophy or Theosophy.
It has also gone under the name of Hikmat-i Muta'aliyya
which can be translated as Transcendent Theosophy.
  The school of philosophy called Hikmat-i Ilahi represents
the culmination of the endeavour to bring together and
harmonise the three major sources of spiritual knowledge in
the Islamic experience: the


revealed and transmitted sources which revolve around the
Qur'an and Traditions; the conclusions drawn from the
rational analysis of religion; and intuitive and ecstatic
spiritual illumination. The roots of this movement go back
to the earliest period of Islam and extend beyond Shi'ism
itself. Its culmination and flowering was in the School of
Isfahan (see pp. 112--13).
  Foremost among the influences on this movement was, of
course, the Qur'an itself and in particular the ta'wil
(esoteric interpretation or spiritual hermeneutics) of the
Qur'an that is to be found in the corpus of the Traditions
ascribed to the Shi'i Imams. Indeed, some of the most
important works of the philosophers of this school consist
of commentaries upon the Traditions of the Imams.
  The field of speculative theology (kalam) had, in previous
centuries, been a major area of intellectual activity and
the writers of the School of Isfahan were influenced not
only by Shi'i kalam which had found its fullest expression
in the works of Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din Tusi but also by the
Mu'tazili kalam upon which earlier Shi'i theology had been
based, as well as the Ash'ari kalam of Sunnism which had
reached its culmination in the works of such figures as al-
Ghazali, Fakhru'd-Din Razi and Sa'du'd-Din Taftazani.
  One of the most important influences on the Hikmat-i Ilahi
movement was Shaykhu'l-Ishraq Shihabu'd-Din Suhrawardi
(executed in Aleppo in 587/1191). His work in turn drew upon
several inter-related strands: the revival of Zoroastrian
angelology, Neo-Platonic cosmology, and in particular the
metaphysical works of ibn Sina (Avicenna). From these
sources and from direct spiritual experiences, Suhrawardi
created the Ishraqi philosophy or the philosophy of oriental
(in its metaphysical sense) illumination, a description of
ecstatic and mystical experience in the context of
philosophical concepts.
  A similarly important source of influence upon the School
of Isfahan was the gnostic mysticism of Muhiyu'd-Din, ibn
al-'Arabi, Shaykh al-Akbar (560/1165-638/1240). His
metaphysical doctrines, which were to evolve within his
school into such concepts as the Perfect Man (al-Insan al-
Kamil) and existential monism (wahdat al-wujud), exercised a
great influence on all aspects of Islamic mysticism.
  Sufism itself was one of the most important sources of
inspiration for Hikmat-i Ilahi. Not only were several
individual philosophers of this school themselves members of
Sufi orders (and in particular the Nurbakhshi order), but
there is frequent quotation in the writings of these
philosophers from the great Iranian Sufi poets such as
Jalalu'd-Din Rumi and 'Abdu'r-Rahman Jami.
  The Hikmat-i Ilahi philosophers were, of course, familiar
with the philosophy of both the Aristotelian and Neo-
Platonic traditions found


in the writings of the Greek philosophers as well as the
early Muslim philosophers such as ibn Sina (Avicenna) and
  The full flowering of Hikmat-i Ilahi in the School of
Isfahan in the 17th century was preceded by a number of
similar preliminary works. Mention has been made elsewhere
in this book of the work of Sayyid Haydar Amuli in bringing
together Shi'ism and Sufism. There is also the important
work of ibn Abi Jumhur who attempted an integration of
philosophy, kalam and Sufi concepts into Shi'ism thereby
laying an important foundation for the School of Isfahan. As
a further example there is the work of Sa'inu'd-Din, ibn
Turka Isfahani (d. 835/1431 or 836/1432) who integrated many
of the themes of Suhrawardi and ibn al-'Arabi into his
  The names of the key figures in the School of Isfahan are
given elsewhere (see p. 113). After being vigorously
attacked by the orthodox ulama during the course of the 18th
century, it began to re-emerge in the course of the 19th
century. The Shaykhi School may be considered as derived
from this movement (although Shaykh Ahmad himself strongly
disagreed with Mulla Sadra and Mulla Muhsin-i Fayd on some
issues) and the outlines of the Shaykhi teachings (given on
pp. 226-8) can also serve to give an idea of some of the
main themes of the School of Isfahan. Also during the 19th
century, Mulla Hadi Sabzivari (d. 1878) revived the teaching
of philosophy and himself wrote commentaries on works of
Mulla Sadra.
  In the years after the Second World War, 'Allama Muhammad
Husayn Tabataba'i succeeded in having the subject introduced
into the syllabus of studies at Qumm. Since then, he, Sayyid
Jalalu'd-Din Ashtiyani and Sayyid Husayn Nasr, ably assisted
by the French orientalist Henri Corbin, have written
extensively on the subject so that its themes and ideas have
become almost as well-known in the West as in the East.
  It is not possible to give an adequate descriptive survey
of the breadth of Hikmat-i Ilahi in an introductory work
such as this. Briefly, however, some of the characteristic
concepts of the school, and of the writings of Mulla Sadra
in particular, are:
a. The integration of the Fourteen Pure Souls (Muhammad,
Fatima, and the Twelve Imams) into Avicennan cosmology where
they, in effect, replace the Active Intelligences as the
ontological causes of existence. b. The belief in the
reality of an independent world of images (the 'alam al-mithal)
between the intelligible world and the sensible
world. c. The replacement of the principle of the
fundamentality of quiddity as the basic of metaphysics by
the fundamentality of being (asalat al-wujud). In this
respect, Mulla Sadra disagreed with his teacher Mir Damad


with Suhrawardi. d. The doctrine of the substantial motion
(al-haraka al-jawhariyya) of being. This doctrine asserts
that the being of anything that exists is susceptible to
change, intensification and perfection.
e. The essence of individuality is the soul. It is this that
is eternal and which experiences the resurrection.

  As an example of the metaphysical system of this school
and to demonstrate its links with other avenues of Islamic
thought, the following is a brief analysis of the four
journeys described by Mulla Sadra in Al-Hikmat al-
muta'aliyya 'l-asfar al-'aqliyya al-arba'a (The
Transcendental Theosophy concerning the Four Journeys of the
Rational Soul). This work concerns the four journeys: from
the creatures to the True One; from the True One to the True
One; from the True One to the creatures; and from the
creatures to the creatures.

The first journey is described as being the path whereby man
detaches himself from the physical world and his carnal self
(nafs) and rending the veils that intervene between him and
the Divine Beauty reaches the station of Annihilation in the
Divine. In this 'journey' Mulla Sadra gives an exposition of
metaphysics and ontology dealing with several philosophical

The second journey is described as being the path along
which the traveller contemplates and comes to know and
understand the Divine Names and Attributes. This is the
station of sainthood in which the traveller comes to hear
with His hearing, sees with His sight and is thus totally
annihilated in the Divine Essence, Actions and Attributes.
In this 'journey', Mulla Sadra discusses a number of
philosophical questions such as creation ex nihilo,
substance, quantity, quality and the receptivity of things
to the Divine Grace.

The third journey involves the termination of Annihilation
(fana) and the start of Subsistence (baqa) in God. This is
the state of the prophets (but not those prophets that bring
laws). In this state, the traveller is able to travel
through all the worlds of creation and to see all these
worlds in their essence and exigencies. In this 'journey',
our author deals with God in His Essence, His Names and
Attributes, discussing such subjects as divine will, fate,
evil and God's knowledge.
  The fourth journey is among the creatures but now the
traveller, who is in the station of a prophet who brings
laws, sees all beings in their essence and knows of the
manner of their return to God and so is able to give them
guidance. In describing this 'journey', Mulla Sadra deals
with the soul and its development and with the question of
the resurrection and other eschatological matters.[8]
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