Taking a glimpse of life after death in philosophy of illumination

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A. life after death
Suhrawardi offers two types arguments for the existence of life after death and the status of soul after it departs the body. His first argument is an ishraqi one the second a philosophical one. We shall consider the ishraqi view first.

1) Analysinges chorology from Ishraqi point of view
Suhrawardi offers a profound eschatological analysis of an ishraqi nature, which can be said to be a “ Neoplatonization” of Ibn Sina’s view on eschatology with some original contributions of his own. In books 4 and 5 of Hikmat al-ishraq, he begins a discussion on eschatological views. Adhering to basic Ibn Sinian doctrine of gradations of beings, Suhrawardi goes to on argue for the transmigration of the human soul on the basis of the inner qualities that he attributes to various ontological. As he states:

Objects are in need of the lordly light which has a relation-ship with the body. This interestedness [ of lordly light] is due to the higher is due to its illuminationst relation. It, meaning body, is the epitome of receptivity and contains lights.

In the above argument Suhrawardi the mechanism by which the lower beings ascend towards a higher ontological state, the gate through this ascendance ultimately being man himself.

The gate of all gates is the human body since it consists of that which other gates precede it such that, entering through it is required first.

The question that arises now is what happens to the soul when one dies. The entire section 4 of Hikmat al-ishraq provides an ishrqi analysis in light of which the above is anwered. In a section entitled “ On the Status of the Human Soul After its Departure From the Body, Suhrawardi is explicit in putting forward his eschatological doctrine. There he argues that the status of the human soul after death depends on the degree to which one is able to ascend on the ontological hierarchy before death. In this regard, Suhrawardi considers pursuing a balanced life based on knowledge and action to be a key in determining one’s status after death. On this he states:

The good fated ones who are balanced in knowledge and action and ascetics who are pure and virtuous once departed from their bodies, join with the archetypes which are the origin of their bodies.

2) Suwar-e-Mu’allaqah (suspended forms ) and their position
With regard to fate of those whom Suhrawardi does not consider to be living a “balanced life” he says: The masters of cruelty and misery who have gathered around hell…. Transmigration be true or not, once they depart from their corporeal bodies , they will have deprivations and absences from the archetypes ( sumar-i mu’allaqah) in accordance with their character.

Establishing a correspondence between one’s deeds in this world and the status of one’s in the hereafter is not new concept. Suhrawardi’s orginal contribution is the use the concept of sumar-i mu’allaqah, literally meaning the “suspended forms,” in elaborating on his eschatological doctrine. Suhrawardi reminds us that these forms are different that Platonic archetype and describes them as follows:

The suspended forms are not the same as the Platonic forms (muthul) , because Platonic forms are luminous and in the world of intellectual enlightenment which is immutable. However, these are forms (suwar) that are suspended in the world of transcendence, some of which are dark and some luminous.

The above is perhaps the original contribution of Suhrawardi, since in his archetypal world there are inherently evil thing which he identifies with “darkness”. Perhaps this where Zoroastrian dualism is best exemplified in Suhrawardi’s thought since the “ benevelant God” (Ahuramazda) and the “malevolent God” (Ahriman) have their own good and bad angels who are necessary beings. It is precisely introducing of this type of dualism into the archetypal world of traditional Platonic ideas and the relation of it to life after death which is a significant contribution of Suhrawardi to the ongoing eschatological debates in Islamic philosophy. It is a concept which is certainly not shared by many of his successor. In Suhrawardi’s world of suspended forms (suwar al-mu’allaqh), there are also perfect forms of evil which he identifies with darkness.

Finally, Suhrawardi concludes his eschatological doctrine by establishing a relationship between his ontology, angelology and his doctrine of the suspended forms.

3) Changing human souls to Angel
He argues that in fact the souls of those who have lived a balanced life give rise to an angelic order who in turn determine different gradations of the ishraqi ontology. Furthermore, he concludes that the ontological status of individuals is determined on the basis of this hierarchy and states:

From the souls of the balanced people who possess the suspended forms and their manifestations which are the heavens, different levels of angels are created whose numbers are unlimited. They have different status in accordance with different levels of the heavens up to the state of the purified ones and theosophers. That status is higher and more noble than the world of angels.

His arguments follow those that are typical of the Peripatics, in particular Ibn Sina. One of his arguments has to do with the immortality of the cause of the self or soul. On this he states:

Know that the self remains and death for it is not conceivable because its cause is the Active Intellect, which is immutable. Therefore, the effect will remain immortal because of the immortal nature of the Cause.

However, Suhrawardi fails to adequately demonstrate that if a given cause is immortal, the effect too becomes immutable and immortal, a relationship which he seems to take for granted. It is true that there has to be an affinity between a cause and its effect, but to establish a necessary relationship between a cause and its effect and to ascribe the existential attributes of the cause to its effect is unfounded.

Suhrawardi offers a number of other arguments, especially in the Alwah-i imadi, and Partaw-namah, for the existence of life after death which generally follow the same pattern, namely by establishing the existence of an immaterial and independent ‘self” from the body.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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