Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy (Preface & Introduction)

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Mulla Sadras Transcendent Philosophy


according to religious traditions and history of religions, man has never lived without a prophet and, at all times, religions or cultures left by prophet have provided a model or program for people’s lives. One of the most important lessons given by prophets has been the lesson of ‘thinking’: thinking about the world, and the relation between man and the world and its amazing phenomena. The prophets not only formed human thought, but also taught them the lessons of ethics and law in social relationships.

Philosophy or, in more exact terms, Sophia, was the result of prophets’ teachings. It was developed and grew to a great extent in Pars (ancient Iran or Persia) under the supervision of early religious men who were called magi, as well as in some regions in the east and Middle East over the centuries. Nowadays, this kind of philosophy is called Oriental or Illuminationist philosophy (Sagesse Oriental).

About five centuries before Christ, because of Kurosh’s (Cyrus’s) conquests and those of other Iranian kings, Illuminationist philosophy was greatly disseminated. Then it penetrated into Ionia, Athens, and other places through Turkey and Syria (as we call them today), and some thinkers such as Tales and Pythagoras, who had traveled to Iran, took it to the western parts of the world of that time. Later, in spite of Aristotle’s founding another school of thought, called Peripatetic philosophy, and his trying to eradicate Oriental philosophy, this school of thought became quite prevalent in Rome, Egypt, Syria, and other regions for centuries until it came to Muslims in the 2nd century A.H (8th century A.D).

With Muslims’ familiarity with Illuminationist and Greek Peripatetic schools of philosophy, and translating their books into Arabic, the field of philosophy made a significant forward movement and, in less than one century, reached its peak through the endeavors of some prominent Iranian philosophers such as Farabi and Ibn-Sina in less than one century. This unprecedented growth continued in later centuries as well, and the Illuminationist philosopher, Suhrawardi (548-586 A.H/1153-1191 A.D), and the Peripatetic philosopher, Nasir al-Din Tusi (579-672 A.H/1201-1273-4 A.D), were among the well-known figures of these periods of evolution of philosophy in Iran and the Islamic world.

The reason for such an amazing growth was the existence of a series of teachings and a particular and rational culture which Islam, the Holy Qur’an, and the Prophet’s hadith had introduced to Muslims. In those teachings and in this culture, philosophical thought, including the part related to knowing God, had reached such an extreme subtlety that, even before the translation of philosophical books, and before Muslims’ familiarity with philosophy, they, themselves, had formulated a series of philosophical issues, developed some philosophical schools (subcategorized under the title of theology) and began to pose and discuss a number of intricate philosophical problems.

The impacts of the Qur’an and hadith were later revealed again at the time of Muslim sophist gnostics and our philosopher, Mulla Sadra, and his teachers planted the seeds of two important schools in the history of philosophy and thought; namely, Sufism and Transcendent philosophy, which was later introduced by Mulla Sadra. According to some historians, the philosophy which had traveled to the west from Iran, returned to this country again through Muslim’s translations, and was developed by Iranian philosophers.

Another historical, political, and religious movement, called esoterism, too, continued in Muslim countries and lands from the 2nd to the 7th century (A.H), that is, till Mongol’s time. The followers of this movement were Shi’ite Muslims by religion, and philosophers or sages in scientific fields, and used philosophy (and sometimes gnosis or Illuminationist philosophy) in their political and cultural confrontations with Baqdad’s caliphs. An example of their works is a scientific-philosophical encyclopedia called Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa. The prominent Shi’ite philosophers were associated with this movement and, naturally, contributed to the development of philosophy.

This scientific-political movement found its way into Spain (Andalusia), which had a Muslim government independent of Baqdad in the 4th century A.H (10th century A.D). In fact, it took refuge in there, and managed to grow with absolute freedom; as a result, a lot of prominent philosophers and gnostics emerged in Spain; several famous books were written; a big library was established; and a number of schools and seminaries opened there.

A part of this immense scientific and philosophical treasure fell into Europeans’ hands after Christians’ conquest of Spain, and most of the books were transferred to the libraries at courts or schools of that time, as well as to the Pope’s library, and were translated into Latin. Accordingly, a widespread scientific movement started in law, philosophy, logic, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, medicine, and even in literature, music, architecture, and art, and provided the foundations for Renaissance.

Now we will return to the development of philosophy in Iran. Philosophy had found a safe place in this country; however, it was usually attacked by non-Shi’ite jurisprudents in all Islamic countries, even in Iran. The most famous of all opponents of philosophy was Gazzali; nevertheless, his attacks were very soon counteracted by Muslims. He was mainly against esoteric thinkers and philosophers, particularly the Shi’ites, since, on the basis of their correct interpretation of the Qur’an and Islamic texts, they believed that philosophy and rationalization were the off springs of the Qur’an and hadith, and stood in complete agreement with their basic convictions and principles, as well as with Qur’anic verses.

Therefore, well-known cities and provinces in Iran, such as Khorasan, Rey, Isfahan, Shiraz, and others, became centers for the growth and evolution of philosophy, each in its own turn. For example, 200 years before Mulla Sadra’s time, Shiraz was the center of philosophy and the gathering place for important philosophers. In his time, this center was transferred to Isfahan and, after him, to Tehran (Rey), Qum, and Mashad (Tus in Khorasan).


Shiraz is a historical city in fars province in iran. The ruins of Takht-e Jamshid or Perspolis ( a monumental palace which was destroyed and burnt by Macedonian Alexander) are in the vicinity of this city. In Mulla Sadra’s time, the Safavid dynasty ruled Iran. Safavid kings granted independence to Fars province, which was ruled by the king’s brother. It is said that Mulla Sadra’s father served as the minister of the ruler of Fars.

Mulla Sadra’s father, Khwajah Ibrahim Qawami, was a knowledgeable and extremely faithful politician. He was a rich man and held a high position, but had no children. However, after a lot of prayers and supplications to the Divine Portal, God gave him a son whom they named Muhammed (Sadr al-Din, 979 A.H/1571 A.D), but called Sadra. Later he was nicknamed as ‘Mulla’, that is, great scientist. In the years to come, the title of ‘Mulla Sadra’ became more famous than his real name and replaced it on people’s tongues.

Sadr al-Din Muhammed (or Sadra) was the only child of the minister of the ruler of the vast region of Fars and enjoyed the highest standards of a noble life. It was a common tradition at that time for aristocrats’ children to be educated by private teachers in their own palace. Sadra was a very intelligent, strict, energetic, studious, and curious boy and mastered all the lessons related to Persian and Arabic literature, as well as the art of calligraphy, during a very short time. Following the old traditions of his time, he might have also learnt horse riding, hunting, and fighting techniques. Mathematics, astronomy, medicine (to some extent), jurisprudence, Islamic law, logic, and philosophy were also among the courses that youngsters were supposed to pass at that time. The young Sadra, who had not yet reached the age of puberty, had acquired some of all those fields of knowledge; however, he was mainly interested in philosophy and, particularly, in gnosis.

The notes left from his youth clearly reveal his interest in gnostic literature in general, and the Persian poems of Farid al-Din Attar (1119-1193 A.D), Jalal al-Din Rumi, known as Mevlana (1207-1273 A.D), Iraqi (d.c. 1288 A.D), and Ibn-Arabi’s (1165-1240 A.D) sophism, in particular.

He was certainly educated in Shiraz for some time, but the main part of his education was most probably completed in the capital of that time, Qazwin. This is because the ruler of Fars came to the throne after the death of Shah (king), who was his brother, and, inevitably, moved to Qazwin (985 A.H/1577 A.D), thus it seems highly improbable for his minister and counselor not to have accompanied him, or to have done so, but left his only son and family behind.

At this time, Mulla Sadra became familiar with two prominent geniuses and scientists, that is, Shaykh Baha al-Din Ameli and Mir Damad, who were not only unique in their own time, but also unparalleled by any scientist appearing even 4 centuries thereafter. Mulla Sadra started studying under them and, through his outstanding talents, became the best of all their students in a very short time.

Shaykh Baha was not only an expert in Islamic sciences (particularly in jurisprudence, hadith, interpretation, theology, and gnosis), but also a master of astronomy, theoretical mathematics, engineering, architecture, medicine, and some secret supernatural fields of knowledge; however, it seems that, due to his sophis ideas, he did not teach philosophy and theology.

The other genius, Mir Damad, knew all the sciences of his time, but his domain of teaching was limited to jurisprudence, hadith, and, mainly, philosophy. He was a master of both Peripatetic and Illuminationist branches of Islamic philosophy and considered himself as an equal to Ibn-Sina and Farabi, and the master of all philosophers following them. Mulla Sadra obtained most of his knowledge of philosophy and gnosis from Mir Damad, and always introduced him as his true teacher and spiritual guide.

When the Safavid capital moved to Isfahan (1006 A.H/1598 When the Safavid capital moved to Isfahan (1006 A.H/1598A.D)1, Shaykh Baha al-Din and Mir Damad, accompanied by their students, moved there, too, and started their task of spreading knowledge. Mulla Sadra, who was about 26 or 27 years old at that time, had become needless of learning and a master himself, and was thinking about establishing new philosophical principles and founding his famous school of thought. Mullah Sadra’s life story is quite ambiguous. It is not quite clear how long he stayed in Isfahan and where he went after that. Apparently, he had moved from Isfahan before 1010 A.H. and returned to his own town, Shiraz. His father’s estates and properties were in Shiraz, and although he gave a lot of them to the poor, a part of them still exists in Shiraz and Fars in the form of properties consecrated to pious uses.

Mulla Sadra’s life in Shiraz and his later migrations comprise another period of his life which will be discussed in the next chapter.

1-Two years after Descartes’ birth in 1596 A.D.