Philosophy of Illumination

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The book “philosophy of Illumination” (Hekmat al- Ishraq) is the name of a philosophical work composed by the celebrated philosopher “suhrawardi” (the founder of lluminationism). The book is written in Arabic in the 12th century intending the principles of lluminationism (Ishraq) as one of the branches of Islamic   philosophy.

The followers of “lluminationism” believe that the perfect recognition (of God) will be achieved only by the inner illumination (by heart).


The author

Shahāb ad-Dīn Yahya ibn Habash as-Suhrawardī  was an Iranian  philosopher, a Sufi and founder of the Illuminationist philosophy or "Oriental Theosophy", an important school in Islamic mysticism that drew upon Zoroastrian and Platonic ideas. The "Orient" of his "Oriental Theosophy" symbolises spiritual light and knowledge. He is sometimes given the honorific title Shaikh al-Ishraq or "Master of Illumination" and sometimes is called Shaikh al-Maqtul, the "Murdered Sheikh", referring to his execution for heresy.
His life spanned a period of less than forty years during which he produced a series of highly assured works that established him as the founder of a new school of philosophy, sometimes called "Illuminism" (hikmat al-Ishraq). According to Henry Corbin, Suhrawardi "came later to be called the Master of Oriental theosophy (Shaikh-i-Ishraq) because his great aim was the renaissance of ancient Iranian wisdom".
In 1186, at the age of thirty-two, he completed his magnum opus “The Philosophy of Illumination.” He was executed in 1191 in Aleppo on charges of cultivating Batini teachings and philosophy by the order of al-Malik al-Zahir, son of Saladin.
Arising out of the peripatetic philosophy as developed by Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Suhrawardi's illuminationist philosophy is critical of several of his positions and radically departs from him in the creation of a symbolic language (mainly derived from ancient Iranian culture or Farhang-e Khosravani) to give expression to his wisdom (hikma).
Suhrawardi taught a complex and profound emanationist cosmology, in which all creation is a successive outflow from the original Supreme Light of Lights (Nur al-Anwar). The fundamental of his philosophy is pure immaterial light, than which nothing is more manifest, that unfolds from the light of lights in a descending order of ever-diminishing intensity and, through complex interaction, gives rise to a "horizontal" array of lights, similar in conception to Platonic forms, that governs the species of mundane reality. In other words, the universe and all levels of existence are but varying degrees of Light - the light and the darkness. In his division of bodies, he categorizes objects in terms of their reception or non-reception of light.
Suhrawardi considers a previous existence for every soul in the angelic domain before descending to the realm of the body. The soul is divided into two parts, one remaining in heaven and the other descending into the dungeon of the body. The human soul is always sad because it has been divorced from its other half. Therefore, it aspires to become united with it again. The soul can only reach felicity again when it is united with the celestial part, which has remained in heaven. He holds that the soul should seek felicity by detaching itself from its tenebrous body and worldly matters and access the world of immaterial lights. The souls of the gnostics and saints, after leaving the body, ascend even above the angelic world to enjoy proximity to the Supreme Light, which is the only absolute Reality.
Suhrawardi elaborated the neo-Platonic idea of an independent intermediary world, the imaginal world (alam-e mithal). His views have exerted a powerful influence down to this day, particularly through Mulla Sadra’s combined peripatetic and illuminationist description of reality.
Suhrawardi uses pre-Islamic Iranian gnosis, synthesising it with Greek and Islamic wisdom. He believed that the ancient Persians' wisdom was shared by Greek philosophers such as Plato as well as by the Egyptian Hermes and considered his philosophy of illumination a rediscovery of this ancient wisdom. According to Nasr, Suhrawardi provides an important link between the thought of pre-Islamic and post-Islamic Iran and a harmonious synthesis between the two.
Among symbols and concepts used by Suhrawardi are: minu (incorporeal world), Giti (Corporeal World), Surush (messenger, Gabriel), Farvardin (the lower world), Gawhar (Pure sessense), Bahram, Hurakhsh (the Sun), Shahriyar (archetype of species), Isfahbad (Light in the body), Amordad (Zoroastrian Angel), Shahrivar (Zoroastrian Angel), and the Kiyyani Khwarnah. According to Suhrawardi: "Once the soul becomes illuminated and strong through the rays of divine light, it reachers the throne of Kiyani and becomes fully grounded in power and prosperity".

Persian works:
•    Partaw Nama ("Treatise on Illumination")
•    Hayakal al-Nur" al-Suhrawardi [Sohravardi, Shihaboddin Yahya] (1154-91) Hayakil al-nur (The Temples of Light), ed. M.A. Abu Rayyan, Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Tijariyyah al-Kubra, 1957. (The Persian version appears in oeuvres vol. III.)
•    Alwah-i imadi ("The tablets dedicated to Imad al-Din")
•    Lughat-i Muran ("The language of Termites")
•    Risalat al-Tayr ("The treatise of the Bird")
•    Safir-i Simurgh ("The Calling of the Simurgh")
•    Ruzi ba jama'at Sufiyaan ("A day with the community of Sufis")
•    Fi halat al-tifulliyah ("Treatise on the state of the childhood")
•    Awaz-i par-i Jebrail ("The Chant of the Wing of Gabriel")
•    Aql-i Surkh ("The Red Intellect")
•    Fi Haqiqat al-'Ishaq ("On the reality of love")
•    Bustan al-Qolub ("The Garden of the Heart")

Arabic Works:
•    Kitab al-talwihat
•    Kitab al-moqawamat
•    Kitab al-mashari' wa'l-motarahat, Arabic texts edited with introduction in French by H. Corbin, Tehran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, and Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1976; vol II: I. Le Livre de la Théosophie oriental
•    (Kitab Hikmat al-ishraq). 2. Le Symbole de foi des philosophes. 3. Le Récit de l'Exil occidental, Arabic texts edited with introduction in French by H. Corbin, Tehran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, and Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1977; vol III: oeuvres en persan, Persian texts edited with introduction in Persian by S.H. Nasr, introduction in French by H. Corbin, Tehran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, and Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1977. (Only the metaphysics of the three texts in Vol. I were published.) Vol. III contains a Persian version of the Hayakil al-nur, ed. and trans. H. Corbin
•    L'Archange empourpré: quinze traités et récits mystiques, Paris: Fayard, 1976, contains translations of most of the texts in vol. III of oeuvres philosophiques et mystiques, plus four others. Corbin provides introductions to each treatise, and includes several extracts from commentaries on the texts. W.M. Thackston, Jr, The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi, London: Octagon Press, 1982, provides an English translation of most of the treatises in vol. III of oeuvres philosophiques et mystiques, which eschews all but the most basic annotation; it is therefore less useful than Corbin's translation from a philosophical point of view)
•    Mantiq al-talwihat, ed. A.A. Fayyaz, Tehran: Tehran University Press, 1955. (The logic of the Kitab al-talwihat (The Intimations)
•    Kitab hikmat al-ishraq (The Philosophy of Illumination), trans H. Corbin, ed. and intro. C. Jambet, Le livre de la sagesse orientale: Kitab Hikmat al-Ishraq, Lagrasse: Verdier, 1986. (Corbin's translation of the Prologue and the Second Part (The Divine Lights), together with the introduction of Shams al-Din al-Shahrazuri and liberal extracts from the commentaries of Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi and Mulla Sadra. Published after Corbin's death, this copiously annotated translation gives to the reader without Arabic immediate access to al-Suhrawardi's illuminationist method and language).


The book structure

“Philosophy of Illumination” is compiled in 5 articles and 2 sections

The 1st section includes:

Peripatetic (Masha) logic and philosophy

The 2ns section intends the following subjects:

1- Description of the nature of light (illumination), division of light into “necessary” and “possible”, categorizing creatures according to their lightness

2- The longitudinal and latitudinal ranks in the world of angels the role of light and the relation with illumination

3- On cosmology, motion of heavenly bodies, intuitive perception, human soul 

4- Epistemology of illuminationism, etc.






Persian Encyclopedia

Philosophy of Illumination


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