on Light and its varieties’ in, philosophy of illumination

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A. philosophical Sufism in “ philosophy of illumination”
Suhrawardi’s philosophical Sufism is the application of the Neoplatonic scheme to traditional Sufi concepts in an attempt to provide rationally justifiable answers to such questions as the inherent yearning of man towards transcendence, the role of asceticism in intensifying this yearning and the nature of mystical experience. Suhrawardi, who has consistently argued that hikmal has two dimensions, practical and theoretical, also tells us that what the intellect can understand, the heart can see. “Know that the human self has two powers: one is that which finds out, the other is the one that which does thing.”

In the previous section, the practical of Sufism has been discussed. We will now turn to a discussion of the more philosophically oriented aspects of his mystical thought.

B. Centrality of light in “Suhrawardi’s philosophy”
The centrality of light as an axiomatic phenomenon in Suhrawardi’ philosophy has been alluded to before. In the Hikmat al-ishraqi Suhrawardi devotes a major part of the book to an exposition of the nature, place and varieties of light that exist as a hierarchy at the top of which exists the light of lights, from which all lights emanate. At the bottom, there is darkness or absence of light ( adam) represented by corporeality or inanimate objects (barzakh).

Suhrawardi’s classification is based upon intensity of light or darkness which is different from the traditional Ibn Sinian concept of hierarchies of realities, each of which are different in the degree to which they possess “being”. The ordinary light that eye can see is only one manifestation of the light of lights with a specific intensity. All things in existence are therefore various degrees and intensities of lights and darkness. The most important of these created being is the rational self (nafs natiqah), which Suhrawardi’ refers to as nur Isfahbadi, arguing that due to its purity it is independent of matter. Since all the beings in the hierarchy influence that which is below them and are influenced by what is above them. The influence of a soft light is soft and a hard one even harder.

C. Types of lights
Suhrawardi tells us that there are several types of light with different attributes, they are as follows:
Incorporeal light (nur mujarrad)= The light that subsists by itself.
Accidental light (nur aradi) = The light than depends on something other than itself.
Corporeal darkness (ghasaq)= It is that whose true nature is darkness.

Accidental darkness (hay’at-i zulamani) The type of darkness that depends on something other than itself and requires Space and has the accident of darkness.
Purgatory (barzakh)= An object or an object –like entity that hides and reveals the lights.

There is intrinsic yearning (mahabbah) on the part of the lower members of this hierarchy towards the higher ones that is marked by love and adoration whereas the relationship between the higher members to the lower ones is one of dominance (ghr). The lower want to go higher and all of them ultimately aim at uniting with the light of lights.

D. “light” as the accounts of difference and communion of beings
If all beings are made up of light then what accounts for their difference? Certainly their essence being light is not the differentia but what is in common among them all (mabih’il –ishitirak). In other words, lights us that which at the same time unites and differentiates (ma bih’il- imtiyaz) among all existing beings through its intensity and weakness. As Suhrawardi states:

All lights inherently and from the point of their “light –ness” have no difference, their only difference lies in their perfection or shortcoming or matters outside their essence.

Suhrawardi, who considers the attributes of an object to be shortcomings and absences of light, then goes on to equate God with light, which explains why his mystical experiences have all come to him in the form of ‘divine flashes” (bariqa-yi ilahi). Light here is equated with God because it is phenomenon by which and through which things are known. Suhrawardi offers the following as a justification of his argument:

If you seek the reason for a criterion for the incorporeal light, it is this: light is a thing which in its nature is obvious and reveals all other things. It is inherently more obvious than anything else whose appearance is addes (idafah) to its truth.

The light of lights which exists bu necessity (wajib al- wujud) is the source of all existence to which Suhrawardi refers to which a variety of names, i.e. all – encompassing (al-muhit), the supreme (al-a zam), the sacred light ( al-muqaddas) and the all- victorious ( al-qhhar).

E. Classification of lights according to “necessary”, “contingent” and “impossible”
Following the Ibn Sinian classification of beings into necessary, contingent, and impossible, Suhrawardi goes on to say that lights are either self –subsistent, in which case they are “substantial light” ( nur jawhari), or incorporeal light (nur mujarrad), both of which Suhrawardi says are rich (ghani). There is the contingent light that is referred to as accidental light (nur aradi), which is revealed to be indigent (fagtir) or poor. Finally, there is darkness which is nothing other than the absence of light which he refers to as darkness (zulamat), obscurity (ghasiq), from (hay’ah) or barzakh which he defines as body.

Suhrawardi’s exegesis of the corporeal world as inherently indigent phenomenon and his analysis of corporeality in terms of light is fundamentally related to the spiritual journey of man. In a sense, Suhrawardi lays the philosophical foundation for the explanation of the journey of the soul from the darkness of the corporeal world to the luminous world of the incorporeal light and the light of lights. A thorough reading of the dense philosophical arguments of the second part of the Hikmat al- ishraq reveals a firm mystical doctrine.

R. How unity emanates multiplicity and interaction of lights
In a section entitled “Principles On How Unity Emanates Multiplicity,” Suhrawardi states: Since between the lower light and higher light there is no veil, necessarily the lower light sees the higher light and the higher illuminates the lower [one]. Therefore, from the light of lights a beam of light shines upon the lower.

Each of these incorporeal lights receives direct emanation from the light of lights as well as the light that is directly above it. So every light receives two levels of light simultaneously, but this process does not continue as infintium. In the process of emanation light solidifies until it reaches corporeality which Suhrawardi divides into many different parts. Suhrawardi, in the Hikmat al- ishraq, using a peculiar and dense philosophical language, offers a detailed account of the various types of light, their interaction with one another and their final destination, which is full integration, or to use a Sufi term, annihilation into the light of lights. In a section entitled “On the Freeing of the Pure Lights and their Transfer to the Luminous World, Suhrawardi tell us:

Whenever the regent light (nur mudabbir) is not overcome by its engagement in corporeality, its yearning for the heavenly world of lights is more than his yearning for obscurity (ghasiq) and as its luminous status is increased, so is its love for the dominary lights…..and thus it is freed from the human body and returns to the pure-light and resides amongst the heavenly lights and due to the purity of the light of lights, it becomes pure too.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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