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  • 8/30/2005

Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi

(549-587 A.H./

1153-1191 A.D.)

Mausoleum of Suhrawardi

Shihab al-Din Yahya ibn Habash ibn Amirak Abu 'l-Futuh Suhrawardi was born in the village of Suhraward near modern Zamjan in Persia. In time he would be called al-Maqtul, 'he who was killed', and al-Shahid, 'the martyr', but subsequent centuries settled on a name that at once described him and pronounced its judgment – Shaikh al-Ishraq, 'Master of Illumination'. As a young boy, he went to Maraghah, the city where later the Mongol emperor Hulagu built his great observatory, and there studied with Majd al-Din al-Jili. As he grew older he journeyed to Isfahan, where he became a student of Zahir al-Din al-Qari.
Once his formal studies were completed, Suhrawardi travelled throughout Persia to learn from the living treasury of Sufi adepts who lived in schools and communities across the land. Recognizing an authentic spiritual insight in some of those he met, he entered the Sufi path and turned to meditation with the same disciplined concentration that he had brought to his studies. Between prolonged periods of spiritual withdrawal, Suhrawardi extended his travels into Anatolia and the Levant. His wanderings increased his love for this part of the world, and he found in himself a deep desire to remain. One journey from Damascus led him to Aleppo, and there he met Malik Zahir, the son of Saladin. Malik Zahir filled his court with Sufis and scholars, and found Suhrawardi altogether appealing. Suhrawardi gladly accepted his invitation to remain at the court.

Unfortunately, others at court did not share Malik's appreciation of Suhrawardi. His remarkable facility in philosophy as well as in Sufi doctrines aroused the jealousy of others neither so brilliant nor so erudite as himself. His free, almost audacious, public expression of mystic teachings shocked less daring minds and infuriated the orthodox 'ulama. His unequalled mastery of the art of debate threatened other teachers and even offended some of them. Seeing that his natural supporters stood aloof from Suhrawardi, the 'ulama seized the opportunity to demand his execution for heresy. Malik refused to consider such a charge, and the 'ulama appealed to Saladin. Although Saladin would not deign to involve himself in unseemly squabbles in normal times, he had just seized Syria from the Crusaders, and he needed the full support of the 'ulama to establish his authority. He pressured Malik to acquiesce to the accusers. Suhrawardi was arrested, and he died in prison in A.D. 1191. Only thirty-eight years old, he unwittingly followed in the dread footsteps of al-Hallaj, whom he admired and quoted in his own works. Unlike his mentor, however, he left no doubts as to his own wisdom, and he bequeathed to the world a magnificent system of thought and a sweeping vision.
Suhrawardi produced a series of highly assured works which established him as the founder of a new school of philosophy in the Muslim world, the school of Illuminationist philosophy (hikmat al-ishraq). Although arising out of the peripatetic philosophy developed by Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi's Illuminationist philosophy is critical of several of the positions taken by Ibn Sina, and radically departs from the latter through the creation of a symbolic language to give expression to his metaphysics and cosmology, his 'science of lights'. The fundamental constituent of reality for Suhrawardi is pure, immaterial light, than which nothing is more manifest, and which unfolds from the Light of Lights in emanationist fashion through a descending order of lights of ever diminishing intensity; through complex interactions, these in turn give rise to horizontal arrays of lights, similar in concept to the Platonic Forms, which govern the species of mundane reality. Suhrawardi also elaborated the idea of an independent, intermediary world, the imaginal world (alam al-mithal). His views have exerted a powerful influence down to this day, particularly through Mulla Sadra's adaptation of his concept of intensity and gradation to existence, wherein he combined Peripatetic and Illuminationist descriptions of reality.

Suhrawardi's writings fall into several categories. First, there are his four major philosophical works, written in Arabic: Kitab al-talwihat (The Intimations), Kitab al-muqawamat (The Oppositions), Kitab al-mashari' wa-'l-mutarahat (The Paths and Heavens) and Kitab hikmat al-ishraq (The Philosophy of Illumination). These were apparently intended by al-Suhrawardi to be studied in this order, and roughly follow a progression from a more or less conventionally peripatetic style to one in which the 'science of lights' is expressed through its own technical vocabulary and method, a progression described by al-Suhrawardi as a movement from a discursive philosophy (hikma bahthiyya) to an intuitive philosophy (hikma dhawqiyya). The second group of works contains a set of symbolic narratives, mostly in Persian but a few in Arabic, expounding the journey of the soul through the stages of self-realization and offering striking images of some of the notions of Illuminationism while seeking to cultivate the kind of intuitive vision at its heart. The remaining works consist of a number of shorter treatises in Arabic, such as the Hayakil al-nur (The Temples of Light), and others in Persian expounding Illuminationist philosophy in a simpler form, a collection of prayers and invocations, and some miscellaneous translations (or versions) and commentaries.

Taken from:

http://www.muslimphilosophy.com:John Cooper( Islamic Philosophy from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
www.muslimphilosophy.com/hmp/default.htm: A History of Muslim Philosophy,Book Three, Chapter 19: Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi al-Maqtul by Seyyed Hossein Nasr
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