Connection and Disconnection between Bahá'í Faith and Enlightenment Philosophy in Islam

By Vahid Rafati

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #111
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
June 30 – July 3, 2012
(see list of papers from #111)

    One of the most significant and influential philosophical schools in Islamic world that developed in Iranian culture in the twelfth century is the Illumination School of Suhravardi.

    Shihabud'din Suhravardi (1155-1191), known in the history of Islamic philosophy as Shaykh-i Ishraq (Master of Illumination), and Shaykh-i Maqtul (the Murdered Shaykh), was the founder of the Philosophy of Illumination (Hikmat-i Ishraq), or Oriental Theosophy. During his short period of life, less than forty years, it is reported that he left behind series of some fifty works in Islamic philosophy, in both Arabic and Persian, such as his leading work, Hikmatu'l Ishraq ( Philosophy of Illumination), in Arabic.

    Primarily rooted in Pre-Islamic Iranian tradition, Suhravardi was well versed in Islamic literature as well as in Greek Gnosticism, Hermeticism, New Platonic philosophy, Islamic mysticism. Rich in using a complex, and highly symbolic language, Suhravadi in his philosophy advanced the idea that intuitive knowledge is more significant than the scientific knowledge and the essence is more important than the existence. Other central doctrines in Suhravardi's ideology revolve around the notion of light which is used as a way of exploring the links between God, the Light of Lights, and His creation. He, in his Philosophy of Illumination,... "developed a truly original light ontology. While light always remains in itself identical, its proximity or distance from Light of Lights determines the ontic light reality of all beings. Light operates through the activities of dominion of the higher `triumphal' or `victorial' lights, as well as the desire of the lower lights for the higher ones, operating at all levels and hierarchies of reality (PI. 97.7-98.11). Reality proceeds from the Light of Lights and unfolds via the First Light and all the subsequent lights whose exponential interactions bring about the existence of all entities. As each new light interacts with other existing lights, more light and dark substances are generated. Light produces both immaterial and substantial lights, such as immaterial intellects (angels), human and animal souls. Light produces dusky substances, such as bodies. Light can generate both luminous accidents, such as those in immaterial lights, physical lights or rays, and dark accidents, whether it be in immaterial lights or in bodies(PI, 77.1-78.9)..." ("Suhrawardi", in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

    The purpose of the presentation is to describe the main doctrines of the School and to consider a few areas of connection and disconnection that one can find in the Bahá'í Writings in relation to the principle of Philosophy of Illumination.

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