Sunday, September 30, 2018

Open to Reason? The Critical Intellectual Tradition of Islam

Souleymane Bachir Diagne, a Muslim philosopher at Columbia University, has just published a short work on what it means to philosophise in Islam, tracing the intellectual history of Muslim critical engagement with texts and ideas both within and without the traditions of Islam. 

Open to Reason is a short work comprising ten chapters on contemporary philosophy that draws upon an expansive notion of what philosophy is by including Sufi and theological themes. It also engages in history for the present, to make sense of why we should study the history of philosophy not as an antiquarian enterprise but as a way to make sense of our language of the problematics and to find paths and methods of untying the knots, the aporiai of the present. 

Diagne has already written quite a bit on the modern Muslim existentialist (and arguably personalist following Henri Bergson) Muḥammad Iqbāl. His work on Iqbāl and the open society and on Iqbāl and Senghor as postcolonial deployments of Bergson have been around for a while. This present work is a translation of Comment philosopher en islam? which came out first around ten years ago. Another comparative recent work in French looks at the philosophical enterprise in Islam and Christianity, and he is also very much at the forefront of the study of African philosophy and how artistic expression can be philosophical. Peter Adamson's now famous podcast will be interviewing him soon and the series on Africana philosophy seems quite influenced by him. I'm very much looking forward to that, especially since Ousmane Kane's Beyond Timbuktu was just so very disappointing as an intellectual history. 

The chapters are broadly historical but with a clear view to understanding the central relationship between religion and philosophy, between the person and society, between the rational and the mystical, between the individual and the state among others. To an extent, I can see how it might be useful to read this in conversation with Sari Nusseibeh's recent book The Story of Reason in Islam, even while the approach is quite different, perhaps at one level that continental versus the analytic tradition, to be quite grossly simplistic about it. The first chapter begins with the passing of the Prophet (and perhaps the simple idea of the passing of unquestioning authority) and finding the role of reason in the nascent religious tradition. He sees in Muʿtazilism a desire to make sense of the cosmos, to find a universal rational grammar (as one finds in the famous debate between Ṣīrāfī and Abū Bishr on logic versus grammar), and to enthrone the God of reason. He then sees in Ashʿarism a desire to dethrone the purely rational God in favour of a spiritual and more personal deity. The key point is that the debate on reason still resonates with us today - although he does not use the language of competing rationalities and is broadly not concerned with the language of relativism either. The next chapter looks at the Ṣīrafi and Abū Bishr debate in more detail and sees a tension between the need to keep open the exigencies and possibilities of reason against a desire for closure and completion. 

The third chapter turns to Avicenna, in whom Diagne correctly in my opinion sees the first coming to age of Islamic philosophy and understanding what makes philosophy Islamic. 

As one expects, the next chapter looks at the response - although it is somewhat disappointing for Diagne to continue the narrative of a Ghazālī opposed to philosophical reasoning. But Ghazālī as a pluralist is there in his Fayṣal al-tafriqa to which he returns in the final chapter and there is a certain paradox in the philosophical rejection of a certain type of speculative metaphysics. 

He next turns to ecology and Ibn Ṭufayl and the famous question of how one might encounter truth and whether one can know philosophical and moral truths isolated from the social context of our embodiment. Ibn Rushd is used to indicate the potential obligation to philosophise and while Diagne recognises that his death does not usher in the end of philosophy, he is somewhat wrong in the old fashioned idea that philosophy only continues in the Iranian - and Shiʿi - East because it is wedded to imamology. Indeed the creativity of the poles of wujūd and walāya are central to that later Eastern tradition. But it would be wrong to ignore the persistence of traditions of rationality in the Sunni East, especially in India at the same time. But Diagne's work does demonstrate once again how it is difficult if not impossible to write a non-sectarian history.

Diagne then skips to ʿAbduh and Afghānī as an enlightenment turn back to reason, in response to refute Renan. The oblivion of what happens between Ibn Rushd and Afghānī is a problem. He sees in ʿAbduh a certain type of reformist modernity: an embrace of modernity but not as a narrowly European modernity but an alternative modernity, sees modernity as 'the daughter of Islam', and searches for a reconstruction of the meaning of religion. 

The penultimate chapter is on Iqbāl, a thinker whom he has engaged already and the final chapter on pluralism as the contemporary moment and space of Islamic philosophy open to reason and possibility, drawing upon Ghazālī and Sufi traditions of West Africa. What is perhaps disappointing is that there is little explicit explanation of what sorts of contemporary encounters Islamic philosophy needs in the present. Should one engage on the ground of the person or of existentialism? Or the analytic method? Or poesis? Or mysticism? How does one see philosophy in the modern world? He sees his book as a prompt to thinking about how one might do philosophy in the present Muslim world. However, there is a certain limitation in what is being proposed. Francophone African Muslim countries inherited the role of the teaching of philosophy in schools - not the case in the anglophone. And maybe this indicates the impossibility of the universal label of an Islamic philosophy in the present. That is precisely the point. Instead of our desire at times to find our Kant, our Wittgenstein, our Aristotle, we need to embrace a proper pluralism in which we recognise that philosophising is always made in the image of the seeker and we are different persons across the globe. History consists of the moments of understanding whence possibilities arise and which options were taken and might not have. The future of Islamic philosophy therefore will rest with Islamic philosophies. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Polemics and Rational Discourse: Sayyid Nūr Allāh Shūshtarī (d. 1610) in Iran and India

Earlier in the week, I was speaking in Leiden on Qāḍī Nūr Allāh Shūshtarī (exe. 1610), the famous theologian from the Iraqi borderlands (and relative of the late marjaʿ Sayyid Shihāb al-Dīn Marʿashī who edited his works). 

My argument was to show that his polemics defending Shiʿi beliefs - and responding to some particularly harsh anti-Shiʿi polemics produced in the Ottoman and Central Asian lands - was designed to console believers, defend the faith and decisively defeat opponents, all while speaking truth to power. Once again it shows that the nature of religious polemics are to demonstrate that they address the co-religionists as much as the opponents. It also demonstrates that we should not consider polemics to be the other of rational discourse; rather, philosophical and theological formations often involve the articulation of one's ideas through their opposition to the other. 

The Ottoman-Safavid conflict that was part of the fabric of the disintegrating Timurid dispensations in Persianate lands in the sixteenth century led to a new round of quite bitter religious polemics as a discursive consolation and prop to the clashes of weapons on the battlefield. This round of the battle of words was harshly initiated by fatwās issued in Ottoman lands and in the Uzbek Shībanid khanate anathemising the Shiʿa as dangerous heretics whose blood was licit. Perhaps the most significant theologian to respond on the Shiʿi side, and one who looked across the history of such polemics and wrote three voluminous, practically decisive, defensive polemics to support his fellow believers and attack Sunni polemicists was Sayyid Nūr Allāh Shūshtarī (exe. 1610). A scion of an eminent sayyid scholarly lineage from the borderlands of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires in southern Iraq, his training brought together a thorough grounding in Shiʿi systematic theology, philosophy, law and legal theory, nurtured by teachers whose intellectual lineage traced back to the philosophers of Shiraz. His life was punctuated by the conflict in the West and in the East. He moved to the Safavid courts from lands precariously close to Ottoman control and when in Mashhad was acutely aware of the threat from the Uzbeks. The instability of the period after the death of Shah Ṭāhmasb convinced him of the need to flee to India where he attained the favour of the Mughal ruler Akbar and was appointed as a judge in Agra and then Lahore. 

Importantly, Shūshtarī rejected the practice of taqīya in his time and  recognised the freedom that he has at the court of Akbar. In a letter to his friend - and Shaykh al-Islām of Isfahan - Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī, he wrote: 

After traversing long distances and undergoing considerable pains and agony, I reached the Indian capital. There, fortune favoured me, and I obtained an opportunity to benefit from the luminous sun and found repose under the shadow of the great Sultan, Akbar…

Through divine grace and blessings, I obtained a lofty position and the honour of the companionship of the emperor…[whose] patronage and favours increase daily. In fact my success is due to divine munificence and the benevolence of the Prophet and the friend of God, ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib. The high position and nearness to the Emperor did not, however, make me forgetful of myself. I was always conscious of the hereafter and of the ultimate end of mortal beings. In refuting the arguments and the rationale of the Nawāṣib[anti-Shiʿi Sunnis], I was guided by the holy traditions of my ancestors. In these circumstances, I came to the conclusion that in India, taqiyya was a great calamity. It would expel out children from the Imāmīya faith and make them embrace the false Ashʿarī or Mātūrīdi faiths. Reinforced by the kindness and the bounty of the Sultan, I cast off the mantle of taqīyafrom my shoulders and, taking with me an army of arguments, I plunged myself into jihādagainst the Sunni ʿulamāʾ of this country. I was convinced that active religious polemics and discussions against the Sunni ʿulamāʾ was the jihād which would make the best provision for the world hereafter. 

First of all, I wrote Maṣāʾib al-nawāṣib which refutes the Nawāqiḍ al-rawāfiḍ. My arguments in that book smeared the beard of the author of the Nawāqiḍ with filth. Then I wrote al-Ṣawārim al-muhriqa. Because of my book the bitter attacks by the author of the Sawāʾiq on the Shīʿīs rebounded upon him and reduced the Sawāʾiq, which claimed to be lightening to ashes. God also gave me the strength to perform other deeds.

And he did write other works, not least the voluminous Iḥqāq al-ḥaqq wa-izhāq al-bāṭil, which critiqued not only Sunnī attacks on Shiʿi imamology but also positions in theology such as divine agency and human responsibility, the problem of prophetic inerrancy, and other questions in theological metaphysics and epistemology. However, the situation was changing and the death of his friends at court and of Akbar, and the uncertainty of the early years of Jahangir's reign made his situation precarious. Already in 1603, he again wrote to his friend Bahāʾ al-Dīn:

For some time, fortune has deprived me of its favours. The mean and wretched India has caused me unbearable pain and shock. Not only has the Sultan ended his patronage and benevolence towards me, but he has closed the doors of my departure to Khurāsān and Iraq. When the tyranny and oppressions against me began to mount and the sufferings and anguish stepped up I began to imagine India (Hind) was the same Hind (bint ʿUtba) who ate the liver of my great uncle Ḥamza (ibn Muṭṭalib)

Philosophy after Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī: The Case of Dabīrān Kātibī Qazwīnī (d. 1277)

Mustakim Arici, on the faculty at Theology in Marmara University in Istanbul, has written a highly useful study of philosophy in the middle period with a focus on the work of Najm al-Dīn Abū-l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. ʿUmar Dabīrān Kātibī Qazwīnī (d. 675/1277), perhaps best known for his logical primer, al-Risāla al-Shamsīya. On a visit to Istanbul a couple of years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the author who presented me a copy. 

The work is divided into five chapters. The first is a life and works, and an intellectual history of the philosopher. Kātibī's main teacher was the prominent Avicennian Athīr al-Dīn al-Abharī (d. 663/1264), author of the influential Hidāyat al-Ḥikma (commented by Mīr Ḥusayn Maybudī and Mullā Ṣadrā and copiously glossed especially in India). His Zubdat al-ḥaqāʾiq has yet to be published - there is an excellent manuscript in Oxford. Kātibī lived in arguably a golden age of Islamic philosophy: his contemporaries included the logician Afḍal al-Dīn al-Khunajī (d. 646/1248) author of Kashf al-asrār, Sirāj al-Dīn Urmawī (d. 682/1283) author of Laṭāʾif al-ḥikma, the polymath Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 672/1274), perhaps the main conduit for a majoritarian reading of Avicennian metaphysics, Shams al-Dīn Samarqandī (d. 702/1303) whose Qisṭās al-afkār and Ishkāl al-taʾsīs have been published recently, and Ibn Kammūna (d. 683/1284), a rather independent minded thinker who glossed the works of Suhrawardī. 

Kātibī's students included major thinkers of the next generation such as Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī (d. 710/1311), best known for his commentary on Ḥikmat al-ishrāq of Suhrawardī, and the Imāmī theologian Ibn al-Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī (d. 726/1325), whose Kashf al-murād was a major commentary on Ṭūsī's influential theological primer Tajrīd al-iʿtiqād, and author of a critical gloss on the Shamsīya as well as an original work on a cycle of philosophy entitled al-Asrār al-khafīya. Kātibī wrote a number of works in logic but the best known is his Risāla Shamsīya (although he also wrote a gloss on his teacher's Kashf al-asrār -MS Carullah 1418). Tony Street at Cambridge has a translation of the text (there is also a classical one by Aloys Sprenger). In philosophy, Kātibī's best known work is Ḥikmat al-ʿayn, divided into two sections on metaphysics and natural philosophy (like the Hidāyat al-ḥikma). He also wrote two commentaries on works of Rāzī: al-Munaṣṣaṣ fī sharḥ al-mulakhkhaṣ (he refers to MS Şehit Ali Paşa 1680), and al-Mufaṣṣal fī sharḥ al-muḥaṣṣal (MS Suleymaniye 782). Another work is his commentary on Abharī's Kashf al-ḥaqāʾiq (MS Carullah 1351). There are a number of commentaries and glosses on Ḥikmat al-ʿayn beginning with Kitāb al-fawāʾid fī sharḥ Ḥikmat ʿayn al-qawāʿid of Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī (a good manuscript is Veliyuddin Efendi 3399 in Istanbul), Īḍāh al-maqāṣid min ḥikmat ʿayn al-qawāʿid of al-Ḥillī (edited by ʿAlī-Naqī Munzavī and published in Tehran in 1959), and Sharḥ Ḥikmat al-ʿayn of Mīrak b. Mubārak Shāh Bukhārī (fl. 784/1382, ed. Jaʿfar Zāhidī and published in Mashhad in 1976), on whose commentary there are plenty of important glosses by al-Sharīf ʿAlī al-Jurjānī (d. 816/1413), Shams al-Dīn Khafrī (d. 957/1550), Ghiyāth al-Dīn Dashtakī (d. 949/1542), Mirzājān Bāghnawī Shīrāzī (d. 994/1586 - his gloss on the metaphysics has been edited by ʿAlī Ḥaydarī Yusāvilī and published in Qum by Majmaʿ-yi zakhāʾir-i islāmī in 2012) and ʿAbd al-Ḥakīm Siyālkutī (d. 1067/1656) (as well as many other Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal philosophers). Most of the later 'super-glosses' are on Jurjānī, Khafrī, and Bāghnawī.

Arinci provides this useful picture to show Kātibī and his connections: 

The second is an analysis of what it means to argue that metaphysics is a science and how it relates to logic. It includes an analysis of the different structures of philosophical works. Again Arinci provides two useful comparative tables on works of Avicenna and after:

The third chapter is a study of the ontology (umūr ʿāmma) and considers particular issues such as the nature of being (wujūd, varlik in Turkish), of essence (māhīya), unity and multiplicity, necessity and possibility (the modalities), creation and eternity (ḥudūthqidam), and the nature of causality (ʿillīya). Here he has a comparative table on the contents of ontology:

The fourth chapter considers divine agency and the problem of the creation of the cosmos (and whether it is eternal - the theory of emanation). The final chapter analyses the human self and the rational soul. The main point to gauge is the extent to which Kātibī's positions are influenced by Rāzī and respond to Ṭusī. There is then an appendix on two important cycles of works initiated by Kātibī: the Shamsīya, and the Ḥikmat al-ʿayn

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The life of the mind in contemporary Iran

Read alongside the recent interventions in modern Iranian intellectual history by Cyrus Schayegh, Alireza Doostdar on the metaphysical and the occult, and Ata Anzali on the rise of the category of the 'mystical' (which I had the pleasure of reading for the press and endorsing in a blurb), Hossein Kamaly's new book God and Man in Tehran represents a major event that should be and can be read profitably by those wishing to make sense of the intellectual roots of modern Iran as well as working through the dynamics and complexities of the Safavid period. 

What is at stake is making sense of the visions of theology in the modern period, along the spectrum from atheologies to the most forthright political theology of absolutist notions of sovereignty. 

In seven chapters, Kamaly takes us along this spectrum from the Qajar period to revolutionary Iran, considering the impact of the sciences upon 'mediatory theology', the teaching of philosophy within and without the madraseh, the transformations in Sufism (both of the more official orders and informal networks and apparatuses), and a whole range of reformist thought within Islam. Along this journey, Kamaly introduces many an intellectual to us, unknown on the whole expect to those who read the sources and understand the more intellectual milieu in Persian well. 

That it is centred on Tehran is significant, because it is the city and the centre that since the Qajar period has taken over from Isfahan as the intellectual core of Iran and the central place in Iranian intellectual history. Chapter 3, although not actually on Khomeini, nevertheless helps us to understand Khomeini far better than much of what is published on him. Chapter 4 explains the lasting allure of uṣūlī Shiʿism. Chapter 5 analyses the reasons why madraseh philosophy embraced Mullā Ṣadrā and promoted his thought. In that chapter, Hādī Najmābādī (d. 1902) is discussed, a figure who would be worth a dissertation - perhaps alongside his contemporary, a real mover and shaker of the seminary (and a leading beneficiary of financial corruption within it) Āqā Najafī. This chapter also shows some of the keys links between the seminary and the study of philosophy in the new Tehran University (and it is no accident that the old Sepahsalar madraseh was at least for a time the theology and philosophy faculty of the new university). Chapter 6 deals with the Sufis orders and ʿerfān - the only element that could take the argument further would be the ways in which the latter is contested in post-revolutionary Iran in the public and private spheres associated with the legacies of Ṭabāṭabāʾī and others in his circle. 

The final chapter hints at the links between skepticism and the reformists and winks at the older tradition of the rind in Ḥāfeẓ - but it is far too short. If it is a conclusion, one would want more. The book on the whole is a series of wonderful vignettes that in effect table a whole gamut of research questions that eager graduate students should take forward. This does not detract from its value as a snapshot of the various modes of understanding 'theologies' in modern Iran centred on Tehran. As a work it is also an expression of the culture of modern Tehran, at once at home with poetry and the literary greats as well as the philosophy and theology of Persian Islam. 

Whatever happened to the school of Isfahan?

I do not normally like using the concept of the school of Isfahan, not least because as I have argued in my entry on the subject in the Encyclopaedia Iranica there was no such thing. However, the question of what happened to the study of philosophy in Isfahan after the supposed persecution of the late Safavid period and then the Afghan sack and occupation remains worthy of study, especially as many including myself have written about the revival of the study of philosophy in Qajar Iran with Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī (d. 1831), as I have discussed in a forthcoming article in a volume on Qajar philosophy edited by Reza Pourjavady, and with Mullā Hādī Sabzavārī (d. 1873), as I discussed in an article in Iranian Studies that is ultimately based on research I did over two decades ago. 

I attempt to fill in some of this gap in a new article that is out in a volume entitled Crisis, Collapse, Militarism & Civil War: The History & Historiography of 18th Century Iran, edited by my friend and colleague Michael Axworthy.

In this piece, I argue that this period, far from being devoid of philosophical inquiry and study, was flush with new centres for its study and new tendencies, perhaps not the best philosophers but ones who were critical with respect to the work of Mullā Ṣadrā. It took most of the century for people to contest his key metaphysical doctrines of the ontological priority of existence in reality (aṣālat al-wujūd), of the notion of flux in existence through the idea of motion in the category of substance (ḥaraka jawharīya), and the attempt to reconcile unity and multiplicity through the dynamic idea of the modulation of existence (tashkīk al-wujūd).

Other insights from the study of the period include:
1) The Avicennian school was one that took on the reading of Mīr Dāmād (d. 1631), such that his doctrine of perpetual creation (ḥudūth dahrī) became the dominant Avicennian approach to the question of the incipience of the cosmos.

2) The interaction of Sufi metaphysics, especially the monism of the school of Ibn ʿArabī, and philosophy was creative: not only was waḥdat al-wujūd one of the most contested doctrines in the period, but the debates on the meaning of 'absolute existence' (wujūd muṭlaq) and the semantic range of existence (wujūd) continued into the modern period and extended the earlier debates that at least in their nascent form took place between Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī and Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī in the 13th century. 

3) The shrine cities of Iraq were major centres for philosophical and mystical speculation - that may surprise those familiar with their more recent intellectual history. A fuller study of philosophy and mysticism in the shrine cities in the Safavid period and beyond is a clear desideratum and would make an excellent topic of research.

4) The vogue of studying philosophy - or claiming to study and teach the Metaphysics of Avicenna for example of which there are at least 12 major sets of marginalia in the late 17th and 18th centuries - continued uncontested and unhindered and a further study of the memorials of ʿulema confirms that. 

5) Perhaps the thinkers of this period were not major ones who would necessarily enter into the canon of philosophy. Nevertheless, they were the ones who debated Avicenna and Mullā Ṣadrā and played a key role in producing the modern hegemony of Mullā Ṣadrā, about whom Hossein Kamaly argues in his recent book (about which more later) that it was MS's thought that was instrumentalised by philosophers and theologians as a defensible form of rational theology in the favour of the criticism of Christian missionaries and others in the intellectually divisive Qajar period - as Kamaly mentions (as I do in my Nūrī article forthcoming), Nūrī in his refutation of Henry Martyn (entitled significantly Ḥujjat al-Islām) makes much of the superior rationality of Islam with respect to the philosophical frailties of Christian missionaries. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Ueberweg

In this age of handbooks, companions and encyclopaedias, the Ueberweg - or to give it its proper title Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie - is something quite different, a monument to slow, careful and 'objective' research. It is designed to be definitive, magisterial, authoritative and unbiased and to stand the test of time - and given the fact that we still do not have a good sense of the full course of the intellectual history of philosophy in the world of Islam, it will end up defining for a generation at least the outline of that story.

Four volumes are planned to cover the history of Islamic philosophy of which the first volume on the early period before Avicenna has appeared in German as well as in English translation. There will also be online versions that may well be more comprehensive and updated by the authors. 

The four volumes are:

1) 8th to 10th Century - already out 

2) 10th to 12th Century - this will cover the critical period of Avicenna and includes the various initial responses including Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī - currently in final stages of editing 

3) 13th to 18th Century - the high point of the post-classical period with a long (multi-authored) chapter on the 13th to the 15th century, a ground breaking piece on the history of logic by Khaled el-Rouayheb, philosophy in Shiraz from Jurjānī to Sammākī by Reza Pourjavady, myself on Safavid philosophy (Mīr Dāmād and his students, Mullā Ṣadrā and his students, Rajab ʿAlī Tabrīzī and his students, the Avicennian tradition, and the reception of Mullā Ṣadrā up to and including Mahdī Narāqī), Asad Ahmed and Renate Wursch on India, Sait Ozervali on Ottoman philosophy and so forth; this volume will probably not appear for around 5 years

4) 1800 to the present - this is the modern volume; I have a chapter on Avicennians and the critique of Mullā Ṣadrā in this volume - this is also in the editing stage

This will supplement and act as the foundation for students for some time to come adding to the existing resources that are critically important such as the Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy, the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy, and the volume on Philosophy in the Islamic World  as part of Peter Adamson's the History of Philosophy without any gaps podcast transcripts. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Mullā Ṣadrā on the esoteric

Not surprisingly, Mullā Ṣadrā has plenty to say about the practice of esotericism, about taʾwīl and the proper attitude one needs to take on the Qurʾan and how one ought to use one's sense perception and intellect to grasp realities. Consider the following:

Know that the Qurʾan like the human is divided into what is enunciated (ʿalan) and what is held secret (sirr), and all of it has an exoteric and an esoteric aspect and the esoteric has a further esoteric aspect and so forth until the point where only God knows: ‘no one knows its meaning (taʾwīl) except God’ (Q. III.7. It is also related in the ḥādīth that ‘the Qurʾan has an exoteric and an esoteric aspect and its esoteric has another seven levels of esotericism’, which are like the levels that are esoteric in the human such as the soul (al-nafs), the heart (al-qalb), the intellect (al-ʿaql), the spirit (al-rūḥ), the secret (al-sirr), the hidden (al-khafī) and the most hidden (al-akhfā). 

What is manifest from what is enunciated (ẓāhir ʿalanihi) is the sensible and tactile artifact and the rolled up scroll that is held, but what is hidden from what is enunciated is what the esoteric sense (al-ḥiss al-bāṭin) perceives and resembles what the reciters and the memorisers store from their perceptions in their imagination and its like. The inner sense cannot perceive the pure meaning but as it is mixed with corporeal accidents even if it seems to be devoid of the sensible. Estimation and imagination like the exoteric sense are not present in the absolutely pure esoteric meaning such as the absolute meaning of humanity but rather in a sense that is mixed in extra-mental reality with accretions and veils such as [the categories] of quantity and quality and place and position. If either of the two [estimation and imagination] attempted to picture the absolute meaning of humanity without an extrinsic element, they would not be able to do so but rather all they could do is affirm a limited form with attachments drawn from the external senses…

These two levels of the Qurʾan are earthly and evident to every human that perceives. However, its esoteric aspect and its secret are two levels for the afterlife and each of them has degrees:

The first of the two is what the human spirit perceives through constituting it from the conception of meaning through definition and its essence, shorn of extrinsic properties, grasped by intelligible principles, such that it may be true of many, uniting in it opposites in unity. An example of this is that the human spirit cannot perceive what has not been stripped away from the stage of creation and shorn away the dust of the senses and not ascended to the stage of the command, since it is not a property of the sensible insofar as it is sensible to intellect just as it is not the property of the intellect to sense through a corporeal instrument. What is pictured through the senses is limited and specific to a place and a space and a time and a quantity and a quality. The intelligible essence cannot rest in what is discerned through the senses. The human spirit, rather, encounters true knowledge through an intelligible substance located in the world of the command, not located in a body, nor pictured through something internal to a sense or through estimation. 

The senses and what pertains to them deploy themselves in the world of creation (ʿālam al-khalq) and the intellect deploys what is in it in the world of command (ʿālam al-amr) and what is above both creation and command is most beloved to them both. God the exalted said: It is a dignifying Qurʾan in a hidden book that none may touch save the purified, a revelation from the Lord of the worlds’ (Q. LVI.77–80). Remember that it has properties that have stages and stations, the highest of which is dignity with God, and the lowest is descended in the world. There is no doubt that the word of God qua his word before its descent to the world of command, that is the preserved table (al-lawḥ al-maḥfūẓ) and before its descent to the world of the heavens of the earth, and that is the tablet of effacement and affirmation (lawḥ al-maḥw wa-l-ithbāt) and the world of creation and determination (ʿālam al-khalq wa-l-taqdīr), has a degree that is above all stages that none of the prophets may perceive except in the station of union, by forgoing these two states of being and by reaching the ‘two bows length or less’ and setting aside the two worlds of creation and command. As the most excellent of the prophets, peace be with him and his progeny: I have a moment with my Lord to which none can attain, neither an angel brought close (malak muqarrab) nor a messenger commissioned (nabī mursal). 

The possessors of this stage is chosen to encounter the Qurʾan with respect to this stage, alluding to this stage in His word, the exalted: None knows its meaning save God and those rooted in knowledge (Q. III.7), and his saying: As for one whose heart God has expanded for submission, such that he is a light from his Lord (Q. XXXIX.22). And in the narration: There is a form of knowledge that is like a hidden thing that none know except the knowers of God. God alluded to the station of the heart and of the esoteric sense in his saying: Verily in that is a reminder to one who possesses a heart or harkens while he witnesses (Q. L.37), and in his saying: Had we listened or had we thought we would not be of the people of the blazing fire (Q. LXVII.10), and in his saying: Shelter him until he hears the word of God (Q. IX.6), and in his saying: There is none among us save that he has a known station (Q. XXXVII.164), alluding to the stations of knowers in the degrees of knowledge, as he said: We raise in degrees whom we will and above every possessor of knowledge is a knower (Q. XII.76), and his saying: Those are the messengers, we favoured some over others (Q. II.253), and his saying: God privileged some of you over others in sustenance (Q. XVI.71).

In sum, the Qurʾan has degrees and levels just as the human has stages and stations. The lowest stage of the Qurʾan like the lowest stage for the human lies in its binding and cover just as the lowest degree of the human lies in its being a creature and passive. Every degree of it (the Qurʾan) has its bearers who memorise it and write it and they do not touch it except after purifying themselves from filth or from their incipience (ḥadathihim aw ḥudūthihim) and they sanctify it above attachment to their location or to their contingency (makānihim aw imkānihim). The husk of the human only pertains to the ink of the Qurʾan and its sensible form. The human of the exoteric husk cannot perceive but the outer meanings of the husk. 

The spirit of the Qurʾan and its core and its secret can only be discerned by those who discern, and it cannot be grasped by knowledge acquired by learning and reflecting, but rather by knowledge from him (al-ʿulūm al-ladunnīya), and we aim to explain these forms of knowledge and establish them by demonstrations God willing.

The reality of wisdom can only come from knowledge that is from him, and if the soul does not reach that stage it cannot be wise since wisdom is a gift from God the exalted: ‘he gives wisdom to whom he wills and whoever has been given wisdom has been given a great good’ (Q. II.269), and they are the ones who have arrived at this stage.

Know that since revelation (waḥī) has come to an end and the gate of messengership been closed, people no longer need messengers and the promulgation of the mission after the confirmation of the proof and the completion of the religion as God the exalted said: This day have I perfected for you your religion’ (Q. V.3).

The gate to inspiration is not closed and the support by the light of guidance has not been cut off since people – drowning as they are in these devilish whisperings – need warning and reminding but God has closed the gate to revelation (waḥī) and opened the gate to inspiration (ilhām) as a mercy from him to his creatures.

Mullā Ṣadrā, Mafātīḥ al-ghayb, I, 65-69.