Philosophical Instructions by MESBAH YAZDI Intro

 

 

I am hoping to complete a large project of working through Mesbah Yazdi book “Philosophical Instructions”, including explanations and accompanying video from Sheikh Shomali.

 

The full book is available here.

 

The video from Sheikh Shomali on this section :

 

 

The Introduction is as follows :

 

Philosophical Instructions:  An Introduction to Contemporary Islamic Philosophy is a textbook compiled for the purpose of introducing the students of the Islamic seminaries in Qom to the rudiments of Islamic philosophy.  It is arranged in the form of seventy short lessons which cover the breadth of Islamic philosophy, including discussions of the history of philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics and philosophical theology.  The lectures were originally presented by the author to students  and taped at the Dar Rāh-e Haqq Institute in Qom in 1981 and 1982, the transcriptions of the tapes were revised and edited by Prof. Miṣbāḥ and published in two volumes by the Islamic Propagation Organization in Qom.  In the Persian edition, titled Āmūzesh-e Falsafeh, first printed in 1985-86, each lesson is followed by a summary and review questions, but the lessons themselves are so concise that we decided to omit these materials from the translation.

The book was not written for an English speaking audience, and for this very reason it serves that audience as a very good introduction to Islamic philosophy as it is seen from within the seminaries of Qom.  The author, Ayatullah Miṣbāḥ Yazdī, is one of the most highly respected clerics in the Shī‘ī world, and a revered professor of philosophy.  His Philosophical Instructions is a unique work, not only because of its survey of the topics of Islamic philosophy, but because the author self-consciously attempts to defend his considered views from opponents at home and abroad.  So, the work is polemical as well as instructional.  What is defended is a controversial way of looking at Islamic philosophy as a foundation for religious thought.

Philosophy and the interpretation of the Qur’ān, like mysticism, ‘irfān , are looked upon with suspicion by many Shī‘ī clerics who teach Islamic law and jurisprudence, fiqh and uṣūl, although the situation has improved somewhat since the Islamic Revolution due to the fact that Imam Khomeini  promoted these areas of learning, and due to the esteem in which ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī  is held, whose works in these areas have become standards.[1]  What is at issue is not so much the methods of philosophy as the doctrines with which it is associated in the Islamic world.  Among the scholars of Islam, philosophy is not merely a tradition of thought extending from ancient Greece, winding its way through the Neoplatonists, Muslims, Christians, modern Europeans and leading to the contemporary academic study of philosophy of science, religion, law and politics.  In the Muslim world, philosophy has always been more than a method and set of topics with a history;  it has always demanded the acceptance of specific doctrines which have been considered by some to be inconsistent with Islam.  The philosophers of Islam, like the sufis and the Shī‘ah (and important thinkers often claimed allegiance to all three of these forms of esotericism), proposed non-literal interpretations of various verses of the Qur’ān and narrations attributed to the Prophet and his folk ().  The reaction from the literal minded is predictable:  charges of heresy, deviation and infidelity.

In the Qur’ān, we seem to be presented with the concept of a personal, if not anthropomorphic deity, while the philosophers and sufis claimed that God is existence itself, or the truth of existence, or absolute existence, Being.  Islam apparently teaches that in the temporal period following death, various physical rewards and punishments are to be encountered.  The philosophers and sufis claimed that the rewards and punishments were somehow simultaneous with our current lives.  The resurrection of the body has also been given various mystical and philosophical interpretations which are anathema to the literalists.  The literalists are not to be dismissed as stubborn narrow minded people who insist on the authority of the Word of God over the use of human reason.  Christian fundamentalism does not find a precise analogue in Islam.  In the quarrel with philosophy, both sides have employed subtle philosophical arguments to defend their positions, at least since the time of Ghazālī  (d. 1111).  The charge of the literalists is often that it is unreasonable to interpret the scriptures as suggested by the mystics and philosophers, and no matter how much we might like to side with the non-literalists, it must be admitted that philosophers and mystics have often provided interpretations of the texts which are hard to swallow.

In the Shī‘ī milieu, however, esoteric interpretation of texts is an intrinsic part of orthodoxy, for the Imams (‘A) themselves revealed various levels of esoteric knowledge passed down to them from the Prophet () along with their status of trusteeship (walāyah ).  This esoteric knowledge pertains to the interpretation of the Qur’ān and to doctrine, but it is rarely directly pertinent to the details of ritual law.  For the Shī‘ī scholars of the law, the fuqahā, whose business is providing clear textual evidence in support of legal judgments as to what actions are obligatory, recommendable, neutral, discouraged or forbidden, it is natural to develop a preference for a natural common sense reading of the texts.  So, there is a hermeneutic tension to be found in the Shī‘ī seminaries.  On the one hand, there is a special sensitivity to the esoteric encouraged by the pronouncements of the Imams (‘a), and on the other hand interest in the juristic studies fosters a tendency toward literalism and common sense reasoning.

The situation is further complicated if we consider the split among the Shī‘ī jurists into the Akhbāriyyūn  and Uṣūliyyūn .  With respect to exegesis, there are two fundamental issues dividing these two groups:  first, how to distinguish authentic from inauthentic narrations attributed to the Prophet and his folk (‘A), and second, how to derive juridical rulings on the basis of the authentic narrations.  The Akhbāriyyūn tended to accept the entire corpus of aḥādīth or to adjudicate authenticity on the basis of the text of the narrations, while the Uṣūliyyūn sought to derive the authenticity of a report first by estimating the reliability of its chain of transmission and then considering the text itself.  Once the authentic reports have been identified, the Akhbāriyyūn would let them speak for themselves to answer questions of law, while the Uṣūliyyūn argued that various principles (uṣūl) of jurisprudence must be used in order to provide answers to many legal questions, and in these principles common sense and reason are prominent.  By the mid-nineteenth century, the Akhbāriyyūn  had virtually disappeared, and the uṣūlī attitude toward exegesis, favoring common sense and rationalism, has come to dominate not only studies of Islamic law and the principles of jurisprudence, but the Islamic sciences generally.  The literalism associated with the study of the law is a moderate literalism that emphasizes the place of reason and common sense.

Philosophical Instructions displays a balance between uṣūlī literalist and esoteric tendencies in the context of a defense of Islamic philosophy.  The charge of misinterpreting sacred texts is obviated by the absence of any significant reliance on scripture at all.  Reason, as understood from within the scholastic tradition of Shī‘ī learning, is the sole standard to which appeal is made, and it is recognized that scriptural language is often used in figurative ways so that esoteric interpretation dictated by reason must finally be accepted to reconcile philosophy with religion.

The Islamic philosophy defended is one that derives from the works of Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī (d. 1641), commonly known as Mulla Ṣadrā and usually referred to in this work by the honorific title, Ṣadr al-Muta’allihīn, the pride of the theosophists.  Ṣadr al-Muta’allihīn was himself a sythesizer who built a system called Ḥikmah al-Muta’āliyyah (transcendent theosophy) which includes elements of the thinking of Ibn Sīnā (d. 1037), Suhravardī (d. 1191), Ibn ‘Arabī (d. 1240) and such great Shī‘ī theologians as Khwājah Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī  (d. 1274) and ‘Allāmah Ḥillī  (1325), and he was also subjected to the assaults of those who considered his esoteric interpretations of doctrine to be heresy, to whom he exasperatingly responded with a pointed moral invective in his only Persian treatise.[2]  Ṣadra’s influence gained ground only gradually after his death, but by the nineteenth century his thought had established itself among Shī‘ī students of philosophy, and the Sharḥ al-Manzūmah of Ḥakim Sabzavārī  (d. 1878), which is in agreement with all of the major theses of Ṣadrā’s transcendent theosophy, became a standard text for students who privately studied philosophy in the seminaries.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, the ulama were confronted by an increasing interest in Marxism among the youth, and they sought to meet this philosophical challenge with an elucidation of the principles of transcendent theosophy It is for this purpose that ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī  wrote his Uṣul-e Falsafah va Ravish-e Ri’ālīsm (The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism) in Persian, and following his lead, in Najaf, Shahīd Bāqir Ṣadr  wrote his Falsafatunā (Our Philosophy).[3]

‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī  had studied philosophy in Najaf, and came to Qom shortly after World War II with the express intention of reforming the beliefs of the students of the seminaries and “combating the false doctrines of the materialists and others.”  When he began openly teaching Mulla Ṣadrā’s Asfār, the leading cleric of the time, Ayatullah Burūjirdī  threatened to cut off the stipends of ‘Allāmah’s students.  Ayatullah Burūjirdī confessed that he himself had studied the Asfār, but privately.  He had no objection to the continuation of private lessons in philosophy, abut the subject was considered dangerous, and it was feared that if publicly taught, it would give rise to unorthodox beliefs.  ‘Allāmah responded that after consulting the poetry of āfiẓ by random selection of a poem, he was convinced that he must not abandon his teaching.  The poem beings:

I am not the rascal to abandon

the beauty nor the goblet,

The guard knows that this deed

I would not do.

Furthermore, he explained that the students of the seminary did not arrive in a state of ideological purity, but were in need of such teaching to quell the doubts they already had and to prepare them for combat with materialism, and that for this reason he would continue his teaching unless officially ordered by Ayatullah Burūjirdī to stop.  After this, Ayatullah Burūjirdī never again tried to interfere with ‘Allāmah’s teaching, but thereafter always treated ‘Allāmah with courtesy, and even gave him the gift of a fine copy of the Qur’ān.[4]

The resistance to the public teaching of philosophy did not always stem from disagreement with philosophical principles, but often from religious scruples.  It is considered a grave sin to weaken the faith of a Muslim, and philosophy has been viewed as being dangerous because it can plant doubts in the minds of the insufficiently subtle from which they may be unable to extricate themselves.  This idea is even expressed by Ibn Sīnā, who warns the casual reader not to read any further after the discussions of logic have been completed and philosophy is to begin in his Remarks and Admonitions.[5]  It is not uncommon to find such warnings in the works of the philosophers and ‘urafā of Islam that a proper background and training is needed before a correct appreciation of the teaching can be expected.  Indeed, was this not the point of the inscription above the door to the Academy?

In addition to the public teaching of philosophy, the ideological war between Marxism and Islam led to several innovations in Islamic philosophy.  Until the twentieth century, works in Islamic philosophy were written in order to answer questions posed by Muslim thinkers within the context of Islamic culture.  No reference was made to modern European thought.  With the threat of Marxism, however, Muslim philosophers addressed themselves to questions raised by the Europeans, especially to epistemological questions.  While classical Islamic philosophy was primarily concerned with issues of metaphysics, an important feature of twentieth century Islamic philosophy is its attention to epistemology. ‘Allāmah Ṭabātabā’ī’s  Uṣūl-Falsafah is the first work of Islamic philosophy to contain a prominent and extended discussion of the epistemological issues associated with modern Western (particularly Marxist) thought, and a similar sort of attention is given to the same issues in Bāqir Ṣadr’s Falsafatūnā.   In these works, as in Prof. Miṣbāḥ’s Philosophical Instructions, skepticism is attacked and the capacities of reason are defended.  The modern European rationalists, with attention given primarily to Descartes, are clearly preferred to the empiricists and Kant.

Another reason for the attention given to modern European philosophy and its problems is that Western philosophy had begun to make its way into the curricula of the universities of the Islamic world (where Islamic philosophy, unfortunately, was, and, more unfortunately, continues to be, largely ignored), and translations of several works on European philosophy began to appear in Arabic and Persian.  One of the first traditional masters to study in the West in the twentieth century and return to the seminaries was Sayyid Muḥammad Kāẓim ‘Aṣṣār, who studied in France and then taught at Najaf and later at the University of Tehran.[6]

‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī  apparently became acquainted with Western philosophy through Arabic translations that had made their way to Najaf.  In Iran, Western philosophy was taught at the University of Tehran since its founding, roughly fifty years ago, and even earlier, among the Shī‘ī scholars, we have evidence that some discussions of Western philosophy were beginning.[7]  Prof. Miṣbāḥ also made use of the Persian translation of several volumes of Copleston’s  history, and Furūghī’s Sayr-e Hikmat, a three volume history of Western philosophy.[8]  Although Furūghī held a ministerial post in the government of Reza Shah (r. 1925-41), his work is widely esteemed for its accuracy and the introduction of the apparatus of scholarly references.

While the primary aim of ‘Allāmah’s Principles of Philosophy was to meet the challenge of Marxism, one finds evidence in its pages of a deeper attention to Kant  and Hume.  So, ‘Allāmah’s project of basing a reform of doctrine in the seminaries on transcendent theosophy  was begun with an eye toward Western thought generally, and attention was also paid to the natural sciences.  Likewise, in Philosophical Instructions we find an attempt to provide a philosophical foundation for religious belief based on transcendent theosophy and able to quell the doubts of those acquainted with Western philosophy and science.  In order to achieve these aims, certain departures from traditional Islamic philosophy are deemed necessary.  For example, for nearly a thousand years cosmology has held a central place in Islamic philosophy.  The emanation of the world from Allah was held to occur by means of intermediary intellects, often identified with angels or associated with the celestial spheres.  The rejection of the medieval system of the celestial spheres by modern astronomy is an embarrassment to Islamic philosophy.  The solution posed in Philosophical Instructions is to remove astronomy from Islamic philosophy.  Given its long association with the subject, however, this is no easy task.  Some principle must be found from within the tradition of Islamic philosophy itself on the basis of which the excision can be justified.  The principle proposed in Philosophical Instructions is the exaltation of reason.  Reason alone, it is held, is nearly sufficient to serve as a foundation for a philosophy capable of supporting religious doctrine.  Furthermore, the only element in addition to reason that is needed can be found through introspection.  The concerns of philosophy are solely with what can be discovered by reason and introspection alone.  Whatever remains is to be conceded to the empirical sciences.

It may be helpful for the Western reader to compare the strategy employed here with some trends in Christian theology.  In some ways, the program initiated by ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī  and continued in Philosophical Instructions is similar to that of neo-Thomism, but with Ṣadr al-Muta’alihīn  playing the role of Aquinas.  In both theologies there is a defense of traditional proofs for the existence of God, or natural theology, presented in the context of a philosophical system that retains some features of Aristotelian thought as developed and modified within a religious tradition.  In both theologies there is a defense of the ability of reason to justify religion.  If anything, the emphasis on reason is stronger in contemporary Islamic philosophy than among many neo-Thomists, and this is seen as an inherent advantage due to the superior rationality of Islamic doctrine in comparison to Christian beliefs.

On the other hand, although liberal Protestant theology has tended to be skeptical about traditional philosophy, both the liberal Christian and the Muslim philosopher find themselves faced with a contradiction between medieval doctrine and the modern sciences.  Both respond with a protective strategy that would isolate religion from natural science, and both propose that introspection may serve as a focal center for religious thought.  However, while introspection is seen by Schleiermacher (d. 1834) as a way to religious experience that is prior to and independent of both theoretical and practical reason, Prof. Miṣbāḥ views introspection as a way to knowledge by direct apprehension of causal relations and their terms.  These direct apprehensions are then to be understood by means of the conceptual apparatus provided by pure reason.  Liberal Protestant theology came to emphasize religious experience and faith, and to disparage reason as fallen and sinful.  Islamic philosophy, on the other hand, makes an appeal to the standards of reason, without which religious belief could be dismissed as ungrounded, supplemented with knowledge by presence.  Both Schleiermacher and Prof. Miṣbāḥ find a complete dependency of human existence through introspection, but while Schleiermacher would eschew the doctrines of any philosophical theology in favor of the experience of this dependency, Prof. Miṣbāḥ finds through introspection all the data needed to complete a natural theology consonant with transcendent theosophy in which the existence of God is to be proved through rational reflection on direct acquaintance with existence itself.

The Author

The author, Muḥammad Taqī Miṣbāḥ Yazdī, was born in 1934 in Yazd, were he completed primary studies in the Islamic sciences, and began reading the major classic texts in Islamic law and jurisprudence.  In order to pursue advanced studies, he went to Najaf, but due to financial difficulties, he returned toIran after one year and continued his studies in Qom.  There, from 1952 to 1960, he participated in the classes taught by Imam Khomeini, while at the same time he studied the interpretation of the Qur’ān, Ibn Sīnā’s Shifā and Mulla Ṣadrā’s Asfār with ‘Alāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī.  He also spent approximately fifteen years as the student of Ayatullah Bahjat in fiqh.  After his formal studies with Imam Khomeini were put to an end by the latter’s exile, he spent some years engaged in discussions about the social significance of Islam, including discussions about jihād, judicature and Islamic government.

Around 1964 he cooperated with Shahīd Dr. Biheshtī, Shahīd Bāhonar and Hujjatulislām Hāshemī Rafsanjānī  in resistance to the regime of the Pahlavi shāh, and wrote two works, one called Bi‘that (The Prophetic Mission) and the other Intiqām (Revenge), the second of which he did the work of publishing himself.  He also participated in the founding of a political organization of the clergy in Qom, that was primarily led by Ayatullah Rabānī Shīrāzī , and that included among its members Ayatullah Khāmene’ī, Hujjatulislām Rafsanjānī and Shahīd Qudūs.  The founding documents of this organization were obtained by the regime and those whose names appeared on it were to be prosecuted, and so they went into hiding, including Ayatullah Miṣbāḥ.  When the atmosphere cooled down, he was able to return to Qom to continue his scholarly activities.

After that, he worked in the administration of Madrassah Ḥaqānī along with Ayatullah Jannatī, Shahīd Bihishtī and Shahīd Qudūs, and for about ten years he taught philosophy and Qur’ānic studies there.  Then, shortly before and following the Islamic Revolution, with the support and encouragement of Imam Khomein he participated in the founding of several schools and institutes, among the most important of which was the Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq Institute, the Bāqir al-‘Ulūm Foundation and the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute which he currently directs and where he is teaching the Asfār of Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī.

He was recently elected (1996) to a five year term as representative of Khūzistan province to the the Majlis-e Khubrigān (Counsel of Experts).

Among the works authored by Prof. Miṣbāḥ, the following are some of the most important:

* Chikīdeh-ye Chand Baḥth-e Falsafī (A Summary of Some Philosophical Discussions), Qom:  Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq, 1357/1978).  This is a summary of discussions held in London through the course of a series of conferences, along with the comments of Iranian students residing in the U.S., on the concept of philosophy and the course of its history, rational knowledge and its value, cause and effect, the fixed and the fluid and actuality and ability.

* Pāsdārī az Sangarhā-ye Iydi’ūlūzhīk (A Sentry from the Ideological Trenches), Qom:  Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq, 1361/1982).  This book is a compilation of shorter pieces written by the author, plus an article by Dr. Aḥmad Aḥmadī concerning idealism  and realism.  The topics discussed by Prof. Miṣbāḥ include:  worldview, knowledge, cause and effect, motion, dialectic and the materialist worldview.

* Iydi’ūlūzhī Taṭbīqī (Comparative Ideology), Qom:  Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq, 1361/1982.  This book consists of forty lessons delivered by the author following the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, and later transcribed and edited.  Topics discussed include the concept of ideology, the relation between world-view and ideology, types of world view, metaphysical concepts, epistemological concepts, the reality of the external world, sophism and skepticism, realism and idealism, types of knowledge, types of intelligibles, the fundamentality of reason in imagination, the philosophies of Descartes , Locke, Berkeley, Hume  and Kant, empiricism  in Marx ist theory and the scopes of the types of knowledge.

* Durūs Falsafah (Philosophy Lessons), Tehran:  Mu’assisah Muṭāli‘āt va Taḥqīqāt Farhangī, 1363/1984).  This is an abridged version of the same lectures from which Āmūzish-e Falsafah was compiled.

* Ta‘līqah ‘alā Nahāyat al-Ḥikmah (A Commentary on Nahāyat al-Ḥikmah), Qom:  Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq Institute, A. H. 1405/1985.  This book, written in Arabic, is perhaps the author’s most penetrating philosophical work.  In it he presents a subtle analysis and sharp critique of the major philosophical work of his teacher, ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī ’s advanced lessons in Islamic philosophy.

* Durūs-e Falsafeh-ye Akhlāq (Lessons in Philosophical Ethics), Tehran:  Iṭilā‘āt, 1367/1988.  The eighteen lessons of this book were delivered at the Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq Institute, transcribed and edited.  They include discussions of the place of ethics in philosophy, characteristics of ethical concepts, rational good and evil, value concepts, ethical schools of thought, relativism and the relation between ethics and religion.

* Uṣūl-e ‘Aqā’id (Principles of Doctrine) 2 vols.  Qom:  Markaz-e Mudīriyyat Ḥawzah ‘Ilmiyyah, 1368/1989.  This book was commissioned by the administration of the seminaries of Qom as a text for its students.  The first volume is devoted to discussions of divine unity and divine justice.  The second volume contains discussions of the missions of the prophets and Imams (‘A).

* Mu‘ārif-e Qur’ān (The Teachings of the Qur’ān), Qom:  Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq, 1368/1989).  This work is divided into three parts:  theology, cosmology and anthropology. 

* Jām‘ah va Tārīkh az Dīdgāh-e Qur’ān (Society and History from the Perspective of the Qur’ān), Qom:  Sāzmān Tablīghāt Islāmi, 1368/1989.  This books consists of a series of lectures originally presented at the Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq Institute and transcribed from tapes by Āqā-ye Malikiyān.  Various issues related to the philosophy of the social sciences are raised, such as the relation of the individual to society and the question of which has priority, the Islamic Revolution and leadership in Islam.

* Ḥukūmat Islāmī va Vilāyat-e Faqiyyah (Islamic Government and the Guardianship of the Jurist), Qom:  Sāzmān Tablīghāt Islāmi, 1369/1990.  This is a compilation of lectures delivered at the Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq Institute on the need for Islamic government, the need for law in society, characteristics of legislature, the cause of differences in divine laws in Islamic societies, conflicts in judgments and standards of importance, the need for a legislative assembly in the Islamic system, the apparatus of government in the Islamic system, freedoms, prerequisites and responsibilities of the Islamic ruler, the guardianship of the jurist.

* Amūzesh-e ‘Aqā’id (Instructions in Doctrine) 3 vols.  Qom:  Sāzmān Tablīghāt Islāmi, 1370/1991.  This work was prepared by Prof. Miṣbāḥ with the assistance of a group of the scholars at Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq Institute for students of an intermediate level of study.  Each volume consists of twenty lessons, among which are discussions of such topics as the nature of theology, religious studies, proofs of the Necessary Existent, the Attributes of God, a criticism of materialism, divine unity, free will and determinism, the need for the prophets and Imams and their inerrancy, the Qur’ān, Imam Mahdī, the immateriality of the spirit, the resurrection, the afterlife, faith and infidelity and intercession.

* Akhlāq dar Qur’ān (Ethics in the Qur’ān), Tehran: Amīr Kabīr, 1372/1993.  This work is a transcription of lectures delivered at the Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq Institute edited by Āqā-ye Iskandarī.  This work not only elucidates the principles of ethics to be derived from the Qur’ān, but it compares the perspective on ethics to be found among Muslim writers with those of other schools of thought, and it defends a philosophical approach to ethics within Islamic tradition. 

* Tarjomeh va Sharḥ-e Burhān-e Shifā (Translation and Commentary on the “Demonstration” of the Shifā), Tehran:  Amīr Kabīr, 1373/1994.  This is a translation and commentary of the first part of Ibn Sīnā ’s chapter on logic in his Shifā, transcribed from lectures and edited by Muḥsin Gharavīyān.

* Rāhiyyān-e Kū-ye Dūst (Paths to the Mountain of the Friend), Qom:  The Imam Khomeini  Education and Research Institute, 1374/1995.  This is a collection of twenty lectures on Islamic morals, covering such topics as reliance on God, divine love, the need for attention in prayer, the afterlife and how to love God, presented in the form of a commentary on reports pertaining to what was revealed to the Prophet of Islam () during his mi‘rāj (ascension).

* Rah-e Tūsheh (Provisions for the Road), Qom:  The Imam Khomeini  Education and Research Institute, 1375/1996.  This is a collection of twenty lectures on Islamic morals presented in the form of a commentary on a famous ḥadīth in which the advice of the Prophet of Islam () to Abū Dhar is reported.

* Sharh-e Asfār al-Arba‘ah, Vol. I (Commentary on the Four Journeys), Qom:  The Imam Khomeini  Education and Research Institute, 1375/1996.  This is the first volume of transcriptions of lectures on Mulla Ṣadrā ’s masterpiece.

The Translation

The translation was begun in 1992 as a collaborative effort by Aẓīm Sarvdalīr and Muḥammad Legenhausen and has been supported by the Bāqir al-‘Ulūm Foundation and later by its successor, the Imam Khomeini  Education and Research Institute.  The learning made possible through cooperative translation with native speakers of both languages warrants further attention.  Each of the translators benefited enormously by the work of the other.  The result far exceeds what could be expected by summing the separate talents of the translators.  This is not to boast of any brilliance for the final product.  This translation was undertaken as a learning process.  Our aim has been to produce an accurate translation in a relatively fluent style of academic English that can be of service to the beginning student of Islamic philosophy.  For this reason, all technical terms have been transliterated in parentheses beside the English terms coined to represent them.  Finding a useful English expression has often been difficult.  Sometimes the nearest equivalent English word has a somewhat different sense than the Arabic or Farsi term, and a proper understanding of the text turns upon the difference.  Sometimes distinct Arabic terms come closest to a single English word, as there are good reasons for translating both dhāt and māhiyyah as “essence”.  While other more experienced translators have used “essence” and “quiddity” respectively for these two terms, I have shunned “quiddity” because it is not used in philosophy in English, while “essence” is used by English speaking philosophers, but in different contexts for what the Muslim philosopher would express by one or the other of the Arabic terms.  I began by translating both as “essence” with the Arabic in parentheses, but this made the passages in which both terms occur nearly unintelligible if one read only the English.  Finally, William Chittick’s suggestion to use “whatness” for māhiyyah has been adopted (leading to the use of “whatish” for māhuwī).[9]  This makes for an artificial English, but it is less confusing, and once one gets accustomed to it, the literal affinity of “whatness” to the Arabic māhuwiyyah seems to convey its sense better than other suggestions.  “Essence” has been retained for dhāt (and “essential” for dhātī) although this also leads to divergence from contemporary philosophical usage.  In Islamic philosophy, the essential (dhātī)is that pertaining to the entity in question, intrinsically, in itself, while in contemporary English philosophical usage, essential properties are those the entity must have to retain its identity or to exist as what it is.  On the other hand, we have often found that a single Arabic or Persian word has various meanings which must be translated by different English terms, as the notorious i‘tibārī, which can be used to indicate that something is subordinate, or that it is a mere respect, or that it lacks entified (‘aynī) reality, or that it pertains to value rather than fact, and there are other meanings.  Here the term is translated as respectival, unless another meaning is clearly indicated, in which case the Arabic is transliterated.  These observations belie the reliability of back-translation as an adequate test of accuracy.  We have often found that in order to make the author’s point clear, we have to phrase a sentence in such a way that if the English were translated back into Farsi, the result would be different from the original.  Near synonymy in translation is not a symmetric relation.

Starting with Lesson 11, on epistemology, this translation first appeared serialized in Al-Tawḥīd, beginning with Vol. XI, Nos. 3 & 4, 1414/1994, p. 96f.  We are grateful for the sensitive editing of Alī Qulī Qarā’ī, although we accept responsibility for the infelicities and inconsistencies that remain.


[1] His interpretation of the Qur’ān is the twenty volume Al-Mīzān fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān (Tehran: Dār al-Kitāb al-Islamiyyah, n.d.).  The English translation by Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi, has reached eight volumes published in Tehran by the World Organization for Islamic Services, the first volume of which appeared in 1983.  His major philosophical texts are Bidāyah al-Ḥikmah and Nihāyah al-Ḥikmah both published in Qom by Mu’assisah al-Nashr al-Islamī and by Daftar Tablīghāt Islamī.  A. Q. Qara’i has translated the former which has been serialized in Vols. IX-XI of the journal Al-Tawḥīd.  While ‘Allāmah has not written any systematic work in Islamic mysticism, his views pertaining to this topic have been influential in the works of Ayatullah Javādī Amulī and Ayatullah Husayni Tehrani.

[2] Seh Aṣl (Three Roots [of Evil]), ed., Seyyid Hossein Nasr, (Tehran:  University of Tehran Press).

[3] ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī ’s Uṣul-e Falsafah va Ravish-e Ri’ālīsm, 2nd ed. (Tehran: Ṣadrā, 1368/1989) with the extensive annotations of Shahīd Muṭahharī  was completed in 1332/1953.  Bāqir Ṣadr ’s Fasafatūna, 10th ed. (Beirut: Dar al-Ta‘āruf, 1980) was completed in A. H. L. 1379 (c. 1959).

[4] See ‘Allāmah Ayatullah Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ḥusaynī Ṭehrāni, Mihr-e Tābān (Tehran:  Bāqir al-‘Ulūm, n.d.), pp. 60-62.

[5] Ibn Sīnā, Al-Ishārāt wa al-Tanbīhāt, ed. Sulayman Dunyā, (Beirut:  Mu’assassah al-Nu‘mān 1413/1992), Vol. II, p. 147.

[6] See the article on Islamic philosophy in modern Persia by Mehdi Aminrazavi in History of Islamic Philosophy, 2 vols., ed., Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman (London:  Routledge, 1995), 1037-1050.

[7] A few pages are devoted to a discussion of modern Western philosophy in the Risā’il Ḥikmiyyah of Ayatullah Mīrzā ‘Alī Akbar Mudarris Yazdī Ḥakamī  (d. A. H. L. 1344 (c. 1926), (Tehran:  Vizārat-e Irshād-e Islāmī, 1365/1986).

[8] Muḥammad ‘Alī Furūghī, Sayr-e Ḥikmat dar Urūpā (The Course of Philosophy in Europe), (Tehran:  Zavār, 1360/1981).

[9] William C. Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God (Albany:  State University of New York Press, 1998), p. xx.

 

Discussion 

 

The introduction in the book and the video display the academic power houses which are responsible for these works. They are not unknown or people who are not taken seriously. It also highlights the rise and fall and revival of Philosophy as a subject within the Muslim world. 

The translation is an admirable effort, on a challenging subject. Its not easy understanding some of these concepts in any language, let alone a translation. Fortunately the videos by Sheikh Shomali will hopefully prove invaluable in later chapters.

The book, Bidaya Al Hikma, which was referenced in the video is a rare book, fortunately I have a copy which can be downloaded in English and Arabic here. The book deserves a series of lectures in itself, if time allows, inshaAllah I will do it.

Perhaps the most important sentence in the introduction is :

Reason alone, it is held, is nearly sufficient to serve as a foundation for a philosophy capable of supporting religious doctrine.  Furthermore, the only element in addition to reason that is needed can be found through introspection.  The concerns of philosophy are solely with what can be discovered by reason and introspection alone.  Whatever remains is to be conceded to the empirical sciences.

 

Ahmed Hilmi

Ahmed Hilmi

Ahmed is a contributor for Medina minds. He has also written the book Shield of the Believer

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