Sunday, May 27, 2012

Philosophy in Shiraz II: Maḥmūd Nayrīzī

Over four decades ago, Mian Muhammad Sharif collected a serious of articles in two volumes entitled A History of Muslim Philosophy, which, especially given its provenance from South Asia, insisted upon the continuity of philosophical inquiry and tradition throughout the ages and comprised studies of the Aristotelian tradition as well as the non-Aristotelian developments of the early modern period. Significantly, the collection not only included articles on Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1635) and later thinkers in the Qajar period, it also included the likes of Sharīf ʿAlī al-Jurjānī (d. 1413) and Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī (d. 1502) integrating philosophical theology (ʿilm al-kalām) into the story of philosophy in Islam. The breadth of interest in that collection and the depth of some of the contributions have yet to be surpassed. While the work of Henry Corbin and Seyyed Hossein Nasr at the same time in the 1960s did much to encourage research on thinkers of the Safavid and Qajar periods, they also recognised the important transitional role and influence of thinkers at the cusp of the new Safavid age in the transmission and transformation of the Neoplatonising Aristotelianisms of the medieval period. They dubbed that period the ‘school of Shiraz’ by analogy to the ‘school of Isfahan’, which they coined for Mullā Ṣadrā, his teachers and his students. While the concept of school is much debated, and may be rejected if we assume a singular body of doctrines and teachings, there can be little doubt of clear common intellectual inheritances and of the common teaching space that rendered Shiraz central to the study of philosophy from the Timurid to the Safavid periods.

If we want to understand the course of the history of philosophical traditions in Islam, we need a number of studies of themes and thinkers between Avicenna and Mullā Ṣadrā to understand the ethical turn towards philosophy as a way of life that became central to the later traditions without being entirely absent from the earlier ones. Recent research has not only enriched our understanding of the subsequent course of Avicennan thought, including into philosophical theology – and here the writings of Robert Wisnovsky, Meryem Sebti, Ayman Shihadeh, Rüdiger Arnzen, Asad Ahmed, Ahmed al-Rahim and Heidrun Eichner are significant – but also clarified the ways in which alternative traditions interrogated and debated Avicennism not least through the Illuminationism (ishrāq) of Suhrawardī (d. 1191) and his followers – as exemplified in the work of the late Hossein Ziai, John Walbridge, Lukas Muehlethaler, Hermann Landolt, Tzvi Langermann and Roxanne Marcotte. For that crucial period from the fourteenth century, Josef van Ess contributed a study on al-Ījī some decades ago, and more recently Sabine Schmidtke has not only focused on theology and philosophy from ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī (d. 1325) to Ibn Abī Jumhūr al-Aḥsāʾī (d. after 1501) but also organised around herself an exciting research centre on Islamic intellectual history. It is therefore no accident that Pourjavady undertook his doctoral research under her supervision and the present book under review is the fruit of that labour. The pioneering figures and rivals of the school of Shiraz, Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī (d. 1502) and Mīr Ṣadr al-Dīn Dashtakī  (d. 1497) have been the subject of important studies in Persian – and Ghasem Kakaie and Muhammad Barkat have written on the history of the thinkers of Shiraz and most recently Firouzeh Saatchian, who also did her doctoral research in Germany, has published editions of texts and a study of Shams al-Dīn al-Khafrī (d. 1535).  It is in this intellectual trajectory – within the transformation and interrogation of Avicennism within the centres of learning of Shiraz – that the contribution of Reza Pourjavady ought to be gauged and recognised. The study is divided into an introduction on six thinkers who provide the intellectual background to Pourjavady’s subject Maḥmūd Nayrīzī, four chapters on the intellectual biography of Nayrīzī, on his relationship to the two dominant figures of Shiraz, a detailed and careful bibliography of his works based on extensive manuscript research, and his response to the thought of Suhrawardī. These chapters are then followed by four appendices: on an inventory of his works, on the Nayrīzī codex of philosophical works which gives us a valuable insight into the curriculum of the period, an ijāza from Dashtakī fils, and a list of the Arabic citations in the book. As Pourjavady suggests, the subject of the research was suggested by his father, himself a leading Iranian scholar of Islamic intellectual history, no doubt partly inspired by the need to provide another correction to the often hasty conclusions of the late Henry Corbin. It was the Frenchman who famously gave a lecture at the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy in Tehran on three thinkers of Azerbaijan within the tradition of Suhrawardī including a subtle commentator named Vadūd Tabrīzī – who was none other than Maḥmūd Nayrīzī – the confusion of the name is not the only example of a copyist’s wayward rendition of Arabic orthography leading to a change in intellectual history.  Through the prism of a careful historical study of a little known figure beyond the manuscript traditions of the transmission of Illuminationist philosophy, Pourjavady constructs a creative argument for how philosophical traditions developed in the crucial period from 1450 and 1600, the formative period for much of what passes as Islamic philosophy today and the lens through which the traditional seminary curricula read the classics of Avicenna and Suhrawardī.

The introduction presents us with intellectual biographies of Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī, Ṣadr al-Dīn Dashtakī, Mīr Ḥusayn Maybudī (who, contrary to Corbin’s supposition, was not Shiʿi), Shams al-Dīn Khafrī, and Kamāl al-dīn Ilāhī Ardabīlī. Each one of these figures merits a monograph and thus far the only study in a European language is on Khafrī (the Saatchian book referred above). There are some Persian and Turkish doctoral dissertations and encyclopaedia entries on the figures  - and at least one American Ph.D. on Maybudī. The Dashtakīs on their own certainly merit a monograph because of their extensive influence on the later Safavid philosophers. Pourjavady’s concern is not with the geographical dissemination of thought or else he may have included studies of Mīrzā-Jān Bāghnawī Shīrāzī (d. 995/1587), critical for his influence in Central Asia (and India), and the trio of Shāh Ṭāhir al-Ḥusaynī (d. 1549), Mīr Fatḥullāh Shīrāzī (d. 1589), and Jamāl al-Dīn Maḥmūd Shīrāzī (d. 962/1554-5) credited with the establishment of the philosophical curricula of the Indian seminaries that emerged into the dars-i niẓāmī in the eighteenth century. Of course, to be fair, these figures were not terribly prolific but had an important historical role to play. Pourjavady traces the study of philosophy in Shiraz from al-Ījī (d. 1356) through to Davānī and the transmission of Avicennan philosopher from its origins to Shiraz through the pivotal role of al-Jurjānī. The historical sketches provided in this chapter are rich and allow for many potential avenues for future research. But the fundamental point is that survival and vitality of the study and engagement with Avicenna, an often critical assessment of him, and the increasingly intersection of Avicennan metaphysics with Sufi ideas and Illuminationist thought. More interesting is that, while we have plenty of evidence for the study of philosophy from al-Ījī through to the middle of the sixteenth century, there is nothing on the period from that point until the teaching of Mullā Ṣadrā a couple of generations later. Even Fakhr al-Dīn Sammākī (d. 984/1576-7), the teacher of Mīr Dāmād and student of Jamāl al-Dīn Maḥmūd Shīrāzī, studied in Shiraz but lived and taught in Mashhad where he was the leading cleric. One small slip of the pen on page 41, Kamāl al-Dīn Ilāhī Ardabīlī clearly must have been born in the second half of the 9th/15th century, not 9th/16th century. For those interested in the dissemination of philosophy to India in its earliest phase, the role of students of Davānī is crucial – Pourjavady merely nods in this direction.

The first chapter provides a quick literature survey on Nayrīzī, traces his study with Dashtakīs, and considers his legacy. Very little is actually known about Nayrīzī – and this biographical paucity and the little we know about how philosophy was studied poses major problems for method in the study of the intellectual history of the period. However, there is much that can be gauged from his texts and from the codices that he copied – Pourjavady carefully constructs a life from those sources. What is clear is that Nayrīzī was a Twelver Shiʿi – and this may signal a generational shift or accommodation to the realities of the Safavid polity in the second generation of philosophers in Shiraz since Davāni and probably Ṣadr al-Dīn Dashtakī were not – and while he admired and engaged with Avicennan thought, his tastes were more in line with Suhrawardī. His understanding of philosophy seems like a precursor to that of later Safavid thinkers such as Mullā Ṣadrā: philosophy is linked to the ḥikma of the Qurʾān and to prophetic teachings and this theological commitment is equated with the work of Avicenna and other earlier thinkers. This establishes an important conception of philosophy that was dominant in the Safavid period. Nayrīzī seems to have enjoyed good relations at court and one of his students, Shāh Mīr, – and only one mentioned in the sources – was a vizier. He also dedicated one of his works to Shāh Ismāʿīl. Muḥammad Khwājagī Shīrāzī seems to have known his works and disseminated his ideas in the Deccan. A study of Nayrīzī therefore provides further evidence for the contention that the earliest dissemination of Islamic philosophical ideas in India were in Sind through the students of Davānī and in Deccan through the mediation of the students of Dashtakī – a whole generation before the mythology of Mīr Fatḥullāh Shīrāzī, himself a study of Manṣūr Dashtakī, bringing the teaching of ḥikma to the court of Akbar in the North. In fact, Indian sources, summarised in Sayyid ʿAbd al-Ḥayy Ḥasanī’s Nuzhat al-khawāṭir, point to a number of key figures in the early and middle parts of the sixteenth century.

Chapter two is a pivotal discussion of what is meant by the school of Shiraz. Pourjavady rightly prefers to think in terms of two rival strands of philosophy associated with Davānī and the Dashtakīs, and their debates and disagreements were well attested in the manuscript tradition of philosophy of the period extant in major libraries in the Persianate world including India. He focuses on five central issues: the liar’s paradox (edited and studied by Qaramalaki), the distinction between mawjūd and wujūd that is related not only to working through Avicenna’s proof of the existence of God through radical contingency but also to the later debate on the primary of existence (aṣālat al-wujūd), mental existence (a consistent theme in metaphysics at least from the time of the original commentators on Avicenna), the nature of God’s knowledge that was much debated within commentaries on works of philosophical theology such as Tajrīd al-iʿtiqād of al-Ṭūsi (d. 1274), and the relationship of the body and the soul that again became central to the architecture of the thought of Mullā Ṣadrā. Nayrīzī takes up the position of his teachers – and importantly on the metaphysical doctrine of wujūd prefigures Mullā Ṣadrā’s famous position of the fundamental primacy of existence.

Chapter three that follows is a careful discursive bibliography of Nayrīzī’s seventeen works based on serious engagement with their manuscripts. Consistent with the period, he wrote in Arabic. Like other thinkers of his time, his Neoplatonic commitments seem clear, especially in his citations of the so-called Theologia Aristotelis (Ūthūlūjiyā). The curriculum of study can be gauged from not only the commentaries on the works of Avicenna and Suhrawardī but also those of Taftazānī and al-Ṭūsī (mediated through the commentary of al-Qūshčī that was preferred among thinkers in Shiraz). One of the important differences that he has with contemporaries such as al-Khafrī is his neglect of scientific works.

The final chapter attempts to assess Nayrīzī’s philosophical contribution in a short chapter that considers his critical reception of Suhrawardī with respect to six issues in ‘physics’: prime matter, theory of vision, the nature of the ‘imaginal’ world, sound, political thought, and the thorny problem of bodily resurrection. His consideration of this latter issue alongside his earlier concern with divine knowledge demonstrates one further important feature of Safavid philosophy, namely the need to address the objections of al-Ghazālī to the metaphysics of falsafa and attempt to find philosophical accounts for the theological doctrines of omniscience and bodily resurrection. What emerges is that the Avicennan imprint on Nayrīzī remains paramount as most of these discussions criticise Suhrawardī and reiterate the Avicennan doctrine. The final section of the chapter considers Nayrīzī’s sources: al-Shajara al-ilāhīya of Shahrazūrī (d. after 1288), as Schmidtke showed a decade ago, was a key influence on the understanding of Illuminationist doctrine in the Safavid period, and the commentaries of Ibn Kammūna signalled a critical reception of Suhrawardī that was a critical precursor for the critiques adduced by Mullā Ṣadrā and others. For intellectual historians working on this period, it is therefore useful to have good critical editions of these texts now – in fact, if Corbin had some of the resources that we do, some of his hastier judgements and mistakes would have been avoided.

One shortcoming of the book, however, is the absence of a conclusion, which cannot be filled by the presence of highly useful appendices. So what can we conclude from this study? First, the study of a seemingly minor figure can still illuminate an intellectual field and the dissemination of ideas. Second, Nayrīzī’s work provides us with plenty of evidence for the philosophical tastes of the Safavid period that we normally associate with the study of Mullā Ṣadrā: the metaphysical focus on the primacy of existence, the annexation of both logic and physics to the concerns of ontology, and a deep affinity to Neoplatonism and philosophy as a prophetic, divine commission and inheritance. Finally, it demonstrates lines of influence and transmission that will help us to understand the reception and transformation of philosophy in the Mughal-Safavid period. Much more is still required on the Mughal side of this relationship – or perhaps one should say Indian since the earliest reception was outside of the Mughal realm and the later in those states and cultural spaces that effectively succeeded the Mughals. Pourjavady has made a significant contribution to Islamic intellectual history, and any study of later thinkers such as Mīr Dāmād and Mullā Ṣadrā ought to begin with their predecessors a couple of generations before.

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