Sunday, February 17, 2008

Philosophy and Theology in the Mediaeval Imāmī Shiʿi Tradition

Those who understand the intellectual history of the world of Islam after Ghazālī (d. 1111) tend to recognise that philosophical inquiry coupled with systematic theology and a mystic’s desire to attain non-propositional and immediate knowledge of the divine remained a central concern of Imāmī learned culture.
The central figure in the mediaeval period who promoted the rational and metaphysical turn, influenced by the outstanding philosopher Avicenna (d. 1037), the prominent Muʿtazili thinker Abū-l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī (d. 1085) and the prominent Imāmī philosopher-scientist Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 1274), was al-Ḥasan b. Yūsuf Ibn Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī usually known as al-ʿAllāma (1250–1325, q.v. Ḥellī at While there is a large literature on him in Arabic and Persian, much of which is rather hagiographical, one useful introduction to his thought and his intellectual contribution is Sabine Schmidtke’s published Oxford D.Phil dissertation. Much of her work was based on manuscript research. However, now that practically all of his texts are available in editions (some more critical and reliable than others), it would be useful for someone to take up a more thorough study of his thought and locate it within the intellectual history of philosophical and theological inquiry in Imāmī Shiʿism. To facilitate this, I want to indicate some of his works in falsafa and kalām that may be worth studying (I set aside for the moment his polemical kalām works such as Minhāj al-karām fī-l-imāma, Nahj al-ḥaqq wa-kashf al-ṣidq and Alfayn even though they do engage in a rational critique of Ashʿarī thought):

1) Manāhij al-yaqīn fī uṣūl al-dīn – early but comprehensive completed in 1281 and bears the influence of Baṣrī; it was published in Qum in 1995 by Muḥammad Riḍā Anṣārī-ye Qummī;
2) Nuẓum al-barāhīn and his commentary on it Maʿārij al-fahm fī sharḥ al-nuẓum which was completed in 1280; this was recently edited in Qum and published in 2006;

3) Anwār al-malakūt fī sharḥ al-yāqūt, completed in 1285 commenting upon a short and relatively unknown work of a Nawbakhtī entitled al-Yāqūt, published by Intishārāt-i Bīdār in Qum in 1984, later his student al-Aʿrajī wrote a critical supercommentary which was published by Mīrās-i maktūb in Tehran in 1996;

4) His most famous work Kashf al-murād fī sharḥ tajrīd al-iʿtiqād, a commentary on the pithy Tajrīd of his teacher Ṭūsī was completed around 1297 and remains a seminary textbook; there are many printings of the book, one of the best is the Qum edition of 1988 with the glosses of the contemporary philosopher Ḥasanzāda Āmulī;

5) Taslīk al-nafs ilā ḥaẓīrat al-quds, a shortish work completed in 1304 which potentially could be used as a school-text; it was edited by Fāṭima Ramaḍānī and published in Qum in 2005 by Shaykh Jaʿfar Subḥānī’s Muʾassasat al-Imām al-Ṣādiq;

6) Nihāyat al-marām fī ʿilm al-kalām, incomplete and what he have was completed in 1320; the mature expression of his theology and published by Subḥānī, edited by Fāḍil ʿIrfān in 1999 in 3 volumes;

7) and al-Bāb al-ḥādī ʿashar, perhaps his last work completed in 1323 and for many years the elementary of the Shiʿi seminary; this text is usually printed with the commentary of al-Miqdād al-Siyūrī and edited by Mehdi Mohaghegh and has been printed in Tehran since the late 1980s repeatedly.

Philosophy (excluding logic – there is an interesting commentary on the Topics of which there is a unicum in Tehran University Central Library and has been edited by Ahmed al-Rahim as part of his Yale Ph.D.):

1) al-Asrār al-khafiyya fī –l-ʿulūm al-ʿaqliyya, completed in 1280 and his most significant work in this area; published Qum in 2000 by the Daftar-i tablīghāt-i Islāmī;

2) Īḍāḥ al-maqāṣid fī sharḥ ḥikmat al-ʿayn, completed in 1295 on the school-text of Dabīrān Kātibī Qazwīnī (d. 1267); published in Tehran in 1958;

3) Kashf al-khifāʾmin kitāb al-shifāʾ, incomplete commentary on the metaphysics of the famous Avicennan text of which only a section of the commentary on the categories remains (MS Chester Beatty, Dublin 5151).