Mulla Sadra

Ibrahim Kalin

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:
Mulla Sadra


Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Yahya al-Qawami al-Shirazi (b. 1571–d. 1640), sometimes referred to as Sadr al-Din Shirazi and known commonly as Mulla Sadra, is one of the prominent figures of the post-Avicennan (Ibn Sina; d. 1037) period of Islamic philosophy. He was born in Shiraz and educated there and in Isfahan. He studied with such celebrated figures as Mir Damad, Baha al-Din al-ʿAmili, and Mir Abuʾl-Qasim Findiriski. Faced with the opposition of some literalist jurists, he retreated to Kahak, a small village near the city of Qom. Upon the request of Shah Abbas I, he returned to Shiraz to teach at the Khan madrassa, where he composed his later works. He died in Basra in 1640 on the way back from his seventh pilgrimage. Flourishing at a later stage of the development of the Islamic intellectual tradition, Mulla Sadra sought to synthesize the major strands of Islamic thought from Shiʿite Kalam (theology) and Peripatetic (Aristotelian) philosophy to the 12th-century school of illumination (hikmat al-ishraq) and doctrinal Sufism. Sadra placed the concept of existence (wujud) at the heart of his philosophical system, which he called “transcendent wisdom” (al-hikmat al- mutaʿaliyah), and he criticized both Greek and Muslim philosophers before him for failing to develop a metaphysics based on existence and its modalities. Instead of treating existence simply as a “secondary intelligible” (al-maʿqul al-thani) or a mere logical concept and mental construct, Sadra took it to be the only reality from which all other realities derive. In his philosophical works, Sadra drew out the implications of the “primacy of existence” (asalat al-wujud). A key concept in the development of Sadra’s ontology is tashkik al-wujud, translated variously as “systematic ambiguity,” “modulation,” or “gradation” of existence. Sadra viewed existence as modulated and graded in various degrees of intensity, arguing that existence unveils itself in numerous forms and modalities of substances, accidents, primary and secondary causes, and opaque and subtle beings. Since existence is the ground of all realities, Sadra criticized the previous concepts of knowledge for having subjectivist tendencies and for failing to explicate the close relationship between being and knowing. He defined knowledge as a “mode of existence” (nahw al-wujud) and applied this definition to the multiple modalities of knowledge. He interpreted existence as a dynamic and self-regulating reality, and he applied this principle to the natural world. His philosophy of nature and cosmology centers around the highly original concept of “substantial motion” (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah). In the fields of traditional psychology and eschatology, Sadra interwove metaphysics, cosmology, and ethics. For Sadra, the soul is neither purely material nor spiritual but gradually develops from one state of existence to the other. In Sadra’s celebrated phrase, the soul is “corporeal in origination, spiritual in subsistence” (jismaniyyat al-huduth ruhaniyyat al-baqaʾ), meaning that the soul starts out as a corporeal substance but gradually develops into a spiritual being. It is this being that survives death and experiences the hereafter. Sadra’s works have influenced a number of philosophers and theologians in Persia (Iran) and the subcontinent of India. In modern scholarship, Sadra’s thought has been studied in European and Islamic languages.

Article.  5192 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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