Sunday, October 7, 2007

Fath Allah Shirazi I

I'm currently researching intellectual traditions 'migrating' from Iran to India and producing the hybrid intellectual culture of the Deccan and Mughal North India in the early modern period. A pioneering figure in this movement was the Shirazi philosopher and administrator Fath Allah Shirazi. This is the first in a series of sets of notes on him:

Mīr Fatḥ Allāh b. Shukr Allāh Shīrāzī (d. 1589): Avicenna of India?

The mythical status of Mīr Fatḥ Allāh, a Shirazi emigrant to India, in the Mughal period is immense. Numerous works, of an academic and popular nature, stress his role as the foremost philosopher and scientist of his time in the Persianate world, and attribute to him a series of important technological innovations, reforms of the administration (including the adoption of Persian as the official language of the chancellery) and the madrasa curriculum, and as the main conduit for the serious study of philosophy and theology in India, laying the foundations for the 18th century curriculum dars-i niẓāmī that emphasised the study of the intellectual disciplines (ʽulūm ʽaqliyya). It is common, therefore, for intellectual historians of Islamic thought in India to trace a lineage from Shīrāzī (and indeed from the ishrāqī Avicennan tradition that he inherited) to the ‘founder of the dars-i niẓāmī’, Mullā Niẓām al-Dīn Sihālvī Farangī-Maḥallī (d. 1161/1748).[1]

Shīrāzī is praised in the biographical literature by friend and foe; the universal approval reflects his significant political status at the court of Akbar (r. 1556–1605). The arch Sunnī theologian at court, Mullā ʽAbd al-Qādir Badāyūnī, who rarely spared an opportunity to criticise and attack the Shiʽi notables at court, provided the following biographical sketch:

Mīr Fatḥ Allāh Shīrāzī was one of the sayyids of Shiraz and the most knowledgeable of the ʽulema of his time. He spent some time in the service of the rulers and notables of Fars. He was well versed in all the rational sciences such as philosophy (ḥikmat), astronomy (hayʾat), geometry, astrology, geomancy (ramal), arithmetic, preparation of talismans, white magic, and weights and balances (jarr-i athqāl). He was so adept that when the Emperor demanded one of him, he would draw up an astronomical table. He was equally skilled in Arabic grammar, the traditions of the Prophet, Qurʾanic exegesis, and philosophical theology and he has excellent works, but not equal to those of Mīrzā-Jān Shīrāzī (d. 995/1587) who was foremost in his age, a pious and unique teacher in Transoxiana. While Mīr Fatḥ Allāh was extremely courteous, good-mannered and cultured in court gatherings, as soon as he was busy in his classes in times with his students, nothing but obscenities, vulgar talk and mockery issued from his tongue, and because of this aspect, few people came to his class, and he barely had any students. He spent some years in the Deccan whose ruler ʽĀdil Khān [ʽAlī ʽĀdil Shāh] was fond of him. When he came into the service of the empire, he was given the title of Aḍūd al-Mulk. He passed away in Kashmir in 997 H and is buried in a place that is known as Takht-i Sulaymān. The chronogram of his death was: ‘He was an angel’.[2]

His friend Abūʾl-Fażl wrote:

He was so learned that if all the previous books of philosophy disappeared, he could have laid a new foundation for knowledge and would not have desired what had preceded.[3]

Another contemporary and an official historian at court, Khwāja Niẓām al-Dīn Aḥmad Bakhshī (d. 1594) wrote:

He was superior to all the ʽulema of Persia, Iraq and India in his knowledge of the scriptural and intellectual sciences. Among his contemporaries, he had no equal. He was an expert in the occult sciences including the preparation of talismans and white magic.[4]

[1] Muḥammad Riżā Anṣārī Farangī-Maḥallī, Bānī-yi dars-i Niẓāmī, Lucknow: Farangī-Maḥall Kitāb-ghar, 1973, 42: Mullā Muḥammad Niẓām al-Dīn Sihālvī (d. 1161/1748) – his father, Mullā Quṭb al-Dīn Sihālvī (d. 1121/1710) – Mullā Dāniyāl Chawrāsī – ʽAbd al-Salām Dewī (d. 1039/1629) – ʽAbd al-Salām Lāhūrī (d. 1037/1627) – Mīr Fatḥ Allāh Shīrāzī (d. 997/1589) – Jamāl al-Dīn Maḥmūd Shīrāzī – Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī (d. 1502) – Muḥyī al-Dīn Kūshktārī – Khwāja Ḥasan Shāh Baqqāl – Sharīf ʽAlī Jurjānī (d. 816/1413) – Mubārak-Shāh Bukhārī (d. 740/1340) – Quṭb al-Dīn Rāzī Taḥtānī (d. 766/1364). One could continue this lineage to Avicenna in the following manner: Taḥtānī – the eminent Shiʽi theologian ʽAllāma Ibn Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī (d. 725/1325) – his teacher the Shiʽi theologian, philosopher and scientist Khwāja Naṣīr al-Dīn Muḥammad Ṭūsī (d. 1274).

[2] ʽAbd al-Qādir Badāyūnī, Muntakhab al-tavārīkh, ed. Maulvī Aḥmad ʽAlī et al, rpt., Tehran: Anjuman-i āthār va mafākhir-i farhangī, 1379 Sh/2000, III, 105. Cf. S.A.A. Rizvi, A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isnā ʾAsharī Shīʾīs in India, Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1986, II, 196–7.

[3] Abūʾl-Fażl ʽAllāmī, Akbarnāma, III, 401; cf. Rizvi, A Socio-Intellectual History, II, 197.

[4] Niẓām al-Dīn Bakhshī, Ṭabaqāt-i Akbarī, tr. B. De, Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1927–29, II, p. 357.

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