Before getting into the discussion, let me tell you what is “Ishraq”. The word Ishraq is derived from “Sharq” which means East where the sun rises and starts shining, therefore “Ishraq” means Illumination. Now that the meaning of Ishraq has been explained, let me talk about why Sheikh Suhrawardi brought it to Philosophy.
Sheikh Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi was born in 1154 AD in Suhraward, a small hamlet in Zanjaan, Iran. At that time the culture of Zanjaan province was filled with Mysticism and a large number of Gnostics lived in that province. At every nook and corner of the city, “Khanqas” were found fill with sounds of soulful prayers and hymns to God. The Sheikh went to Maraziyeh to study Philosophy and Jurisprudence under Madj ud din Jali, who was also the teacher of Imam Fakhrud din Razi. The Sheikh learnt Zoroastrian, ancient Iranian and Platonic teachings there as well.
After completing his basic studies, he left for Isfahan at the age of 20 for higher studies in philosophy. At Isfahan he encountered the works of Avicenna. He also studied there with the logician Zahir al-Farisi, from whom he learned a text on logic written by Ibn Sahlan. After spending a few years, the Sheikh decided to leave Isfahan. While leaving the city, he met some Gnostics who eventually became his travelling companions. During his journey, he had opportunity to discuss issues relating to various discourses with the Gnostics and he was overwhelmed by their knowledge and wisdom. He roamed around entire Iran and other parts of the Islamic world and started teaching philosophy.
The works of Avicenna used to be taught at all places in the Islamic world at the time. Avicenna was a follower of Aristotelianism. The principal feature of Aristotelianism was that the method used for the logical argument had to be based on rationality. In simple words, for formulating a logical argument one should solely rely on rationality. Aristotelianism was a well-known school in 4th and 5th century AD as Avicenna and his students like Behmenyar and Abu Abbas Lukari spread it to different corners of the Islamic world. This school gained fame and became the eminent school of Islamic philosophy.
However, after 5th century AD, the Ash’ari school in theology criticised the ideas of Avicenna, calling his ideas heretical. This led Imam Ghazali to write a book against Avicenna’s philosophy and this criticism gained more support when Imam Fakhruddin Razi also disapproved of Avicenna’s thoughts. This war of ideologies in different schools tormented Sheikh’s soul, which was already influenced by Mysticism, and it led him to introduce the Illuminative school of philosophy. Sheikh Suhrawardi wanted to bridge the gap between these schools and stop the fire from spreading more. He wanted to solve the matters so that neither philosophy would lose its charm.
Sheikh Suhrawardi says that we shouldn’t merely rely on rationality; rather, we should take help from Shuhood (inner light) for better argument and understanding. He introduced the inner light as a source of knowledge as well. The “light” in his philosophy of illumination is a divine source of knowledge. Light is the central idea in his philosophy. It seems that he was of the opinion that the subject matter of philosophy was “light”, unlike Avicenna, who said it was “existence”.
Sheikh Suhrawardi divided scholars into five categories:
3: Philosopher cum Gnostic
4: Gnostic cum Philosopher
5: Philosopher and Gnostic
Among the above mentioned categories, the pure scholar according to Sheikh Suhrawardi is the one who is both Philosopher and a Gnostic.
Suhrawardi’s illuminative school of philosophy lessened the intensity of the ideological war between the Aristotalian and Ash’ari schools, and met with great success in the aim of bridging the divide between Philosophy and Mysticism.
The writer is a student of Philosophy and Mysticism at Hawzah Ilmiyyah, Qom, Iran. [email protected]