Saturday, April 04, 2009

Ishraqiya | Suhrawardi's Philosophy of Illumination

1.
Allahu Nurus Samawati wal Ard.
... Nurun ala Nur.

God is The Light of all planes of existence:
both terrestrial and celestial,
    heaven and earth,
         body and soul.

The luminous candle of His Holy Personal Name, 'Allah' suspends in the globe of the heart of a gnostic by the tree of his material body.

  Light upon Light,
          Light of Lights.

- Non-linear translation of Quranic verses from Chapter of Light (an-Noor)

"All forms of being in this corporeal world are images of pure Lights, which exist in the spiritual world." - Suhrawardi

Rabbana atmim lana nurana,
waghfir lana:
innaka aala kulli shay-in Qadir.

Our Lord! Perfect our Light for us,
and engulf us with your loving forgiveness:
indeed You have power over all things.
- Prayer from The Final Testament, 66:8

2.
Ishraqiyyun: illuminationism

Derived from “illumination,” a conventional translation of the Arabic term ishraq (literally meaning radiance, shining of the rising sun), “illuminationism” refers to the doctrine of the Ishraqiyyun, a school of philosophical and mystical thought of various Graeco-Oriental roots whose principles were propounded as an ancient “science of lights” (‘ilm al-anwar) by Shihab al-Din Yahya al-Suhrawardi in his Kitab hikmat al-ishraq. Ishraq is commonly used to refer to the internal illumination or acquisition of knowledge experienced is the philosophy based upon unveiling (kaslif).

Shihab al-Din Yahya Suhrawardi (1155 - 1191), also known as Shaikh al-ishraq or the Master of Illumination, was a the twelfth century Persian mystic, philosopher, Sufi and the founder of the School of Illumination, one of the most important schools in Islamic philosophy.

Based on visionary experience and the recognition of a separate world of images, he envisioned a dynamic world of multiple irradiations originating with the distant “light of lights” (Nur al-Anwar, the ishraqi equivalent of the Avicennian “Necessary of Existence,” that is, God) and falling in various ways and degrees of intensity on obscure matter. In technical language, his approach came to be known later as the doctrine of the primary reality of quiddities (asala al- mahiyya), as opposed to the primary reality of existence (asalat al-wujud). According to Suhrawardi, the human soul is a luminous substance, namely, the “regent light”, knows whatever it does really know through a direct encounter with the illumined object (muqabalat al-mustanir) rather than by way of abstraction in terms of Aristotelian species and genera. The discovery of this type of knowledge, called presential knowledge (al-‘ilm al-huduri), is regarded as one of Suhrawardi’s lasting contributions in the history of Islamic thought.

At the heart of Suhrawardi's school of illumination is a particular theory of knowledge known as "Knowledge by Presence". The elaborate web of myth and symbolism in Suhrawardi's philosophy articulates his theory of knowledge, an important subject in the ishraqi school of thought. Suhrawardi, who claims first to have discovered the truth and then embarked on a path to find the rational basis of his experiential wisdom, represents a thinker who tried to reconcile rational discourse and inner purification. The basic idea is, once the soul is purified, it will be illuminated by Divine Light.

Suhrawardi held the position that Science of Light (ilm al-Ishraq) orginated with Hermes and passed on to such figures in the West as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato, Agathadaimon, Asclepius and so on, until it reached him. In the east the science was transmitted through ancient Persian priest kings such as Kayumarth, Faridun, Kay Khusraw and sufis such as Abu Yazid al-Bastami, Abu Hassan al-Kharraqani and finally Mansur al-Hallaj, who deeply influenced Suhrawardi.

According to Suhrawardi, the nature of light is axiomtic in that all things are known through it. Light is made up of an infinite succession of contingent dependent lights and each light is the existential cause of the light below it. The ultimate light, which is the same as the Necessary Being (Wajib al-Wujud), is for Suhrawardi the Light of lights (Nur al-Anwar).

The light that functions as the illuminator of the body and the soul for Suhrawardi is the incorporeal light which he calls Kharrah. It is the presence of this light in the human soul that enables man to have the inner yearning which is necessary for the pursuit of the spiritual path. Suhrawardi describes the human soul as a tree whose fruit is certainty, or a niche that, through divine fire, becomes illuminated.

In his writings Suhrawardi sees the encounter of Moses and the burning busy in this context and uses the story to substantiate his ishraqi claim that it is only the divine fire that can illuminate the human soul.

and one for whom God has not appointed light, for him there is no light. - The Quran, chapter 24

Although nominally not a Sufi, his expansion and revision of rudimentary concepts early Sufis had bequeathed to their esoteric posterity played the crucial role in forming the dominant Sufi mythic cosmological Weltanschauung. In his visionary cosmography old Hermetic Ptolemaic cosmos of seven onion-like spheres has dissolved and a vast spiritual universe was revealed to the later generations of Sufis. Abstract concepts of “Lahut” and “Nasut”, designating metaphors for divinity and humanity, have grown into full-fledged worlds, or dimensions of existence, quite similar to quasi-emanationist “worlds” of Neoplatonism and Kabbalah.

Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi imagined two more worlds between physical (Alam-I-Nasut) and Divine (Alam-I-Lahut): imaginal or subtle world, corresponding to Western medieval “mundus imaginalis”- Alam-I-Malakut (literally, “world of Angels”) and world of power, Alam-I-Jabarut, resembling Platonic Nous or “world of archetypal ideas”, the source of other worlds two rungs “down” in the emanationist ladder.

So, fourfold emanationist universe was conceived in this spectacular cosmography- to stay with the Sufism for later generations. The fifth “world” was equated with unknowable God’s essence and named Alam-I-Hahut (the world of “He-ness”: etymologically, Arabic root word for God with attributes or Manifest Absolute is Al-Lah or “the Divinity” (hence Lahut) and Hu (“He”) for Unmanifest Absolute, naked essence of Godhead nothing can be said about (similar to Christian polarity of Deus revelatus and Deus absconditus, or Hindu notions of Saguna and Nirguna Brahman).

3.
About few weeks ago i came across a wonderful interview that Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee did with Peter Kingsley, a prominent mystic of our time, may God bless him and his work. He has written extensively on the pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Empedocles and the world they lived in.

In the interview Peter Kingsley talks about how dramatically he came across a sufi manual that literally fell from a shelf in a London Bookstore and led to his interest to the study of his life time. And this sufi school trace back to the same group of illuminated beings that Suhrawardi borrowed his inspiration from.

[>] Click to Listen and Watch the Complete Interview of Peter Kingsley.

4.
About the Painting on top

Title: Light upon Light by Sadiq
Media: Water Color and Acrylic on Paper



# Further Resources:
. Ishraqi Literature of Suhrawardi
. Suhrawardi on Knowledge and Experience of Light by Hossein Ziai

. Ishraqi Philosophy of Rumi
. Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination By Mehdi Amin Razavi via Google Book
. Illuminationism by Professor Hermann Landolt
. Biography of Suhrawardi
. Illumitionist Philosophy
. The Presence of Light: Divine Radiance and Religious Experience By Matthew Kapstein via Google Book
. Introduction of his book Hikmat al-Ishraq: The Illumitionist Philosophy

Surah Nur, selected verses recitation via youtube: Noor Ayat 35

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