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Suhrawardi

Category: Mystic

"Shahab ad-Din" Yahya ibn Habash as-Suhrawardi (also known as Sohrevardi) was an Iranian (Persian or Kurdish) Sufi and philosopher born in 1155.  He died less than 40 years later.  Suhraward or Suhrabard is a village located between the present-day towns of Zanjan and Bijar. This Kurdish inhabited region in present-day northwestern Iran was controlled by the Kurds up to the 10th century and its inhabitants were mainly mystics.

He studied in Maragheh (located today in Iran) and then went to Iraq and Syria for several years to study there.  In 1186, at the age of thirty-two, he completed his magnum opus “The Philosophy of Illumination.”  He said

There was among the ancient Persians a community of people guided by God who thus walked the true way, worthy Sage-Philosophers, with no resemblance to the Magi (Dualists). It is their precious philosophy of Light, the same as that to which the mystical experience of Plato and his predecessors bear witness, that we have revived in our book called Oriental Theosophy (Hikmat al-'Ishraq), and I have had no precursor in the way of such project


 
 

Like most mystics he believed there to be only one truth and that as a consequence it will be found [as it is] in ancient Persian wisdom, in the works of Greek philosophers such as Plato, in the teachings of the Egyptian Hermes [Hermes Trismegistus] and in all mystic sources worldwide.  He considered his philosophy of illumination a rediscovery of this ancient wisdom. As Henry Corbin said:

"In northwestern Iran, Sohravardi (d. 1191) carried out the great project of reviving the wisdom or theosophy of ancient pre-Islamic Zoroastrian Iran."

He is sometimes given the honorific title Shaikh al-Ishraq or "Master of Illumination" .

Few appear to understand his philosophy but he taught that the universe is made of ‘light’, by light he also meant spirit and energy. This light is immaterial but unfolds in a hierarchy he called 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. So he is describing the Intelligence hierarchy.  He adds to this by including the platonic forms.

The material world is the world of ‘Darkness’, and the spiritual world the world of Light.

There is every reason to believe that Suhrawardi experienced this, as it is extremely common for people having near death experiences for example to talk about the realm they enter as a world of ‘Light’.

The soul as he defined it is divided into two parts, one remaining in heaven [the Higher spirit]  and the other descending into the “dungeon of the body” – this is what I have termed the soul – the sum of the Conscious and Subconscious.

Persian miniature 1555

Suhrawardi explained that every Higher spirit exists in the spiritual world before it has to ‘descend’ to the body when we are born/conceived. 

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”.

So he was describing the spiritual path and the aim of the mystic marriage

Suhrawardi’s views have exerted a powerful influence down to this day and was to have far-reaching consequences for Islamic philosophy in Shi'ite Iran. His teachings had a strong influence on subsequent esoteric Iranian thought. In the seventeenth century it was to initiate an Illuminationist Zoroastrian revival in the figure of the 16th century sage Azar Kayvan.

He also wrote Alwah Imadi, where he offers an esoteric intrepretation of Ferdowsi's Epic of Kings (Shah Nama) in which figures such as Fereydun, Zahak, Kay Khusraw and Jamshid are seen as manifestations of the divine light.  Suhrawardi made extensive use of Zoroastrian symbolism and his elaborate anegeology is also based on Zoroastrian models. The supreme light he calls both by its Quranic and Mazdean names.

 

There are several contradictory reports of his death. The most commonly held view is that he was executed sometime between 1191 and 1208 in Aleppo on charges of cultivating Batini teachings and philosophy, by the order of al-Malik al-Zahir, son of Saladin. Others traditions hold that he starved himself to death, others till that he was suffocated or thrown from the wall of the fortress, then burned.  Whichever account is taken his death was not from natural causes.

Whoever knows Hikmat (Wisdom), and perserves in thanking and sanctifying the Light of the Lights, will be estowed with royal Kharreh and with luminous Farreh, and -- as we have said elsewhere -- divine light will further bestow upon him the cloak of royal power and value. Such a person shall then became the natural Ruler of the Universe. He shall be given aid from the High Heavens, and whatever he commands shall be obeyed; and his dreams and inspirations will reach their uppermost, perfect pinnacle.

 

References

Paintings - All the paintings on this page are Persian miniatures, chosen for their beauty, not for any other significance or association.  Where calligraphy appears on the picture, it has been chosen because the calligraphy is beautiful.

The Mystical and Visionary Treatises - In addition to his monumental work, The Wisdom of Illumination, and other major works, Suhrawardi left a number of smaller treatises which form an important part of the Sufi heritage. Nine of these treatises, dealing with the initiation of the aspirant into the spiritual realm, are available in English translated in 1982 by Wheeler Thackston

The book contains Awaz-i parr-i Jibra’il (The Reverberation of Gabriel’s Wing), which can also be found in Suhrawardi, Oeuvres philosophiques et mystiques, ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, vol. 3 (Tehran: Académie Impériale Iranienne de Philosophie, 1977, rep. ed.), 208-223.

Thackston’s translations have been slightly revised and reissued in a bilingual volume, the Persian text of which is primarily based on Nasr’s edition. See Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi, The Philosophical Allegories and Mystical Treatises, trans. Wheeler Thackston (Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers, 1999).

For French translations of most of Suhrawardi’s symbolic treatises, see part two of Suhrawardi, L’Archange empourpré: quinze traités et récits mystiques, trans. Henry Corbin (Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1976).

 

Observations

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