174 - Leading Light: Suhrawardī

Suhrawardī, founder of the Illuminationist (ishrāqī) tradition, proposes a metaphysics of light on the basis of his theory of knowledge by presence.

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Further Reading: 

• J. Walbridge and H. Ziai (ed. and trans.), Suhrawardī: The Philosophy of Illumination (Provo: 1999).

• M. Aminrazavi, Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination (London: 1997).

• H. Eichner, “‘Knowledge by Presence’, Apperception in the Mind-Body Relationship: Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and al-Suhrawardī as Representatives and Precursors of a Thirteenth-Century Discussion,” in P. Adamson (ed.), The Age of Averroes: Arabic Philosophy in the Sixth/Twelfth Century (London: 2011), 117-40.

• R. Marcotte, “Suhrawardi al-Maqtul, The Martyr of Aleppo”, Al-Qanṭara, 22 (2001), 395-419.

• J. Walbridge, The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks (Albany: 2000).

• J. Walbridge, The Wisdom of the Mystic East: Suhrawardi and Platonic Orientalism (Albany: 2001).

•  H. Ziai, Knowledge and Illumination: A Study of Suhrawardi’s Hikmat al-Ishraq (Atlanta: 1990).

Stanford Encyclopedia: Suhrawardi

Shahreem's picture

Well, philosophy

Hi, Peter.
I was wondering what you think of Mulla Sadra's Transcendental tradition. His idea that existence is a precursor to essence seems like a seductive offer. However, if we were to apply that same principal to Avicenna's idea of an impossible existent, like the round-sphere you mentioned, wouldn't that imply that the impossible exists? In that case, it would rule out any notion of any impossible existent. This appears to raise many problems in the Avicennean framework. Interestingly, Avicenna's proof of god's existence also comes to my mind. If God's existence determines his essences, as opposed to the reverse, then doesn't the argument that all of God's attributes are necessary become jeopardized?
I might be wrong in my assumption, but I'll let my age of 17 take the blame for that.
And I couldn't be more grateful for the podcasts! You've inspired me to take up philosophy as one of my majors--along with history--when I go to college. Keep up the good work!

Peter Adamson's picture


Thanks, that's great to hear!

I will actually be devoting (I think) three episodes to Sadra in a couple of months, including one interview. So I will be covering him pretty thoroughly. That's an interesting point you make about his view of the "primacy of existence." But I don't think he would need to admit that it contained impossible objects. As I understand it, the idea is more that existence is a unity, albeit a fluid and always changing one that presents itself in many forms. The impossible would be excluded from that unity. Then we humans come along and impose boundaries or determination on existence, sort of like cutting up something into pieces that is itself a continuous whole - and those boundaries are essences, which are purely mental even though they capture something about existence (e.g. that certain bits of it are remaining in more or less the same state over time, even if they are also changing).

You're also right on the money that this is going to have a lot to do with Avicenna's proof of God - well before Sadra, as we'll be seeing, there is a long series of disagreements about how that proof works and whether we should really imagine that God has both an essence and existence. Sadra belongs to the camp who believe that God has no real essence (pretty obviously, since Sadra thinks that no essences are real, they are mental constructs).

But as I say, more on this in due course!


Raihan Ahmed's picture

I would also suggest Seyyed

I would also suggest Seyyed Hossein Nasr's essay on Suhrawardi in his book "Three Muslim Sages", and/or Henry Corbin's chapter on Suhrawardi in his History of Islamic PHilosophy, as short and thorough introductions to Suhrawardi. As Corbin and Nasr present a different perspective from Marcotte, Walbridge, and Ziai, it would be beneficial if the "further reading" section reflected the range of possibilities in presenting and interpreting Suhrawardi's work. Corbin and Nasr's work on Suhrawardi is essential reading in the study of Islamic philosophy.

Ishraq's picture

"Corbin and Nasr's work on

"Corbin and Nasr's work on Suhrawardi is essential reading in the study of Islamic philosophy."

You need to motivate this claim. Their works are not essential reading precisely because they're not, properly speaking, studies in Islamic *philosophy*. They seem more like a "mystification" of the man and his works, more or less cut from the same cloth as their whole approach to Avicenna (which as we now know has been thoroughly refuted by Gutas and the like).

Sawyer's picture


I have a lot of reading to do on this topic, but I have no doubt that all contemporary inquiries into centuries past are on some level ideologically situated. On the subject of Avicenna, with perhaps potential significance for the study of Suhrawardi, the perspective advanced by Aaron Hughes in "The Texture of the Divine: Imagination in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Thought" seems to critically synthesize both perspectives, at the very least rising above the hardly neutral polemic that either side's approach is entirely refutable.

Ishraq's picture

"[...] the perspective

"[...] the perspective advanced by Aaron Hughes in "The Texture of the Divine: Imagination in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Thought" seems to critically synthesize both perspectives [...]."

Oh really huh. Well, pray tell how he goes about doing that.

Peter Adamson's picture

Nasr and Corbin

Hi folks - Just to weigh in here briefly, I am of course betraying my own preferences in the bibliography above but I didn't mean to imply that Nasr and Corbin's work is negligible. If nothing else both of these scholars have helped draw attention to otherwise largely neglected figures. I have cited Nasr elsewhere on this website (and will again when I get to Sadra). With Corbin there is of course the additional issue that he wrote in French - I usually cite English secondary literature here on the website - but a number of his books have in fact been translated into English.