Second Method: the Way of Intelection and Intelectual Reasoning

Philosophical and Theological Thought in Shi'ism

It has been mentioned before that Islam has legitimized and approved rational thought, which it considers a part of religious thought. Rational thought in its Islamic sense, after confirming the prophecy of the Prophet, provides intellectual demonstrations of the validity of the external aspect of the Quran, which is a divine revelation, as well as of the definitely established sayings of the Prophet and his noble Household.

Intellectual proofs, which aid man in finding solutions for these problems through his God-given nature, are of two kinds : demonstration (burhan) and dialectic (jadal). Demonstration is a proof whose premises are true (accord with reality) even if they be not observable or evident. In other words, it is a proposition which man comprehends and confirms by necessity through his God-given intelligence, as for example when he knows that "the number three is less than four." This type of thought is called rational thought; and in case it concerns universal problems of existence, such as the origin and end of the world and of man, it becomes known as philosophical thought.

Dialectic is a proof all or some of whose premises are based on observable and certain data, as for example the case of believers in a religion for whom the common practice is to prove their religious views within that religion by appealing to its certain and evident principles.

The Holy Quran has employed both these methods and there are many verses in the Holy Book attesting to each type of proof. First of all, the Quran commands free investigation and meditation upon the universal principles of the world of existence and the general principles of cosmic order, as well as upon more particular orders such as that of the heavens, the stars, day and night, the earth, the plants, animals, men, etc. It praises in the most eloquent language intellectual investigation of these matters.

Secondly, the Quran has commanded man to apply dialectical thought, which is usually called theological (kalami) discussion, provided it is accomplished in the best manner possible, that is, with the aim of manifesting the truth without contention and by men who possess the necessary moral virtues. It is said in the Quran, "Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason ["jadil," from jadal] with them in the better way" (Quran, XVI, 125).

Shi'ite Initiative in Islamic Philosophy and Kalam

As for theology, kalam, it is clear that from the beginning when the Shi'ites separated from the Sunni majority they began to debate with their opponents concerning their own particular point of view. It is true that a debate has two sides and that both the opponents share in it. However, the Shi'ites were continuously on the offensive, taking the initiative, while the other side played the defensive role. In the gradual growth of kalam, which reached its height in 2nd/8th and 3rd/9th centuries with the spread of the Mu'tazilite school, Shi'ite scholars and learned men, who were students of the school of the Household of the Prophet, became among the foremost masters of kalam. Furthermore, the chain of theologians of the Sunni world, whether it be the Ash'arites, Mu'tazilites or others, goes back to the first Imam of the Shi'ites, Ali.

As for philosophy, those who are acquainted with sayings and works of the companions of the Prophet (of which the names of 12,000 have been recorded and 120,000 are known to exist) know that there is little in them containing an appreciable discussion of philosophical questions. It is only Ali whose compelling metaphysical utterances contain the deepest philosophical thought.

The companions and the scholars who followed them, and in fact the Arabs of that day in general, were not acquainted with free intellectual discussion. There is no example of philosophical thought in the works of the scholars of the first two centuries. Only the profound sayings of the Shi'ite Imams, particularly the first and eighth, contain an inexhaustible treasury of philosophical meditations in their Islamic context. It is they who acquainted some of their students with this form of thought.

The Arabs were not familiar with philosophical thought until they saw examples of it during the 2nd/8th century in the translation of certain philosophical works into Arabic. Later, during the 3rd/9th century, numerous philosophical writings were translated into Arabic from Greek, Syriac, and other languages and through them the method of philosophical thought became known to the general public. Nevertheless, most jurists and theologians did not look upon philosophy and other intellectual sciences, which were newly arrived guests, with favor. At the beginning, because of the support of the governmental authorities for these sciences, their opposition did not have much effect. But conditions soon changed through strict orders many philosophical works were destroyed. The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity, which is the work of a group of unknown authors, is a reminder of those days and attests to the unfavorable conditions of that epoch.

After this period of difficulty, philosophy was revived at the beginning of the 4th/10th century by the famous philosopher Abu Nasr al-Farabi. In the 5th/11th century, as a result of the works of the celebrated philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Peripatetic philosophy reached its full development. In the 6th/12th century Shaykh al-Ishraq Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi systematized the philosophy of illumination (ishraq) and because of this was executed by the order of Salah al-Din Ayyubi. Thereafter, philosophy ceased to exist among the Muslim majority in the Sunni world. There was no further outstanding philosopher in that part of the Muslim world except in Andalusia at the edge of the Islamic world where at the end of the 6th/12th century Ibn Rushd (Averroes) sought to revive the study of philosophy.

Shi'ite Contributions to Philosophy and the Intellectual Sciences

In the same way that from the beginning Shi'ism played an effective role in the formation of Islamic philosophical thought, it was also a principal factor in the further development and propagation of philosophy and the Islamic sciences. Although after Ibn Rushd philosophy disappeared in the Sunni world, it continued to live in Shi'ism. After Ibn Rushd there appeared such celebrated philosophers as Khwajah Nasir al-Din Tusi, Mir Damad, and Sadr al-Din Shirazi, who studied, developed and expounded philosophical thought one after another. In the same manner, in the other intellectual sciences, there appeared many outstanding figures such as Nasir al-Din Tusi (who was both philosopher and mathematician) and Birjandi, who was also an outstanding mathematician.

All the sciences, particularly metaphysics or theosophy (falsafah-i ilahi or hikmat-i ilahi), made major advances thanks to the indefatigable endeavor of Shi'ite scholars. This fact can be seen if one compares the works of Nasir al-Din Tusi, Shams al-Din Turkah, Mir Damad, and Sadr al-Din Shirazi with the writings of those who came before them.

It is known that the element that was instrumental in the appearance of philosophical and metaphysical thought in Shi'ism and through Shi'ism in other Islamic circles was the treasury of knowledge left behind by the Imams. The persistence and continuity of this type of thought in Shi'ism is due to the existence of this same treasury of knowledge, which Shi'ism has continued to regard with a sense of reverence and respect.

In order to clarify this situation it is enough to compare the treasury of knowledge left by the Household of the Prophet with the philosophical works written over the course of the centuries. In this comparison one can see clearly how each day Islamic philosophy approached this source of knowledge ever more closely, until in the 11th/17th century Islamic philosophy and this inspired treasury of wisdom converged more or less completely. They were separated only by certain differences of interpretation of some of the principles of philosophy.

Outstanding Intellectual Figures of Shi'ism

Thiqat al-islam Muhammad ibn Ya'qub Kulayni (d. 329/940) is the first person in Shi'ism to have separated the Shi'ite hadiths from the books called Principles (usul) and to have arranged and organized them according the headings of jurisprudence and articles of faith. (Each one of the Shi'ite scholars of hadith had assembled sayings he had collected from the Imams in a book called Asl, or Principles.) The book of Kulayni known as Kafi is divided into three parts: Principles, Branches, and Miscellaneous Articles, and contains 16,199 hadiths. It is the most trustworthy and celebrated work of hadith known in the Shi'ite world.

Three other works which complement the Kafi are the book of the jurist Shaykh-i Saduq Muhammad ibn Babuyah Qumi(d. 381/991), and Kitab al-tahdhib and Kitab al-istibsar, both by Shaykh Muhammad Tusi (d. 460/1068).

Abu'l-Qasim Ja'far ibn Hasan ibn Yahya Hilli (d. 676/1277), known as Muhaqqiq, was an outstanding genius in the science of jurisprudence and is considered to be the foremost Shi'ite jurist. Among his masterpieces are Kitab-i mukhtasar-i nafi' and Kitab-i sharayi', which have been passed from hand to hand for seven hundred years among Shi'ite jurists and have always been regarded with a sense of awe and wonder. Following Muhaqqiq, we must cite Shahid-i Awwal (the First Martyr) Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn Makki, who was killed in Damascus in 786/1384 on the accusation of being Shi'ite. Among his juridical masterpieces is his Lum'ah-i dimashqiyah which he wrote in prison in a period of seven days. Also we must cite Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita' Najafi (d. 1327/1909) among whose outstanding juridical works is Kitab kashf al-ghita'.

Khwajah Nasir al-Din Tusi (d. 672/1274) is the first to have made kalam a thorough and complete science. Among his masterpieces in this domain is his Tajrid al-iteqed which has preserved its authority among masters of this discipline for more than seven centuries. Numerous commentaries have been written on it by Shi'ites and Sunnis alike. Over and above his genius in the science of kalam, he was one of the outstanding figures of his day in philosophy and mathematics as witnessed by the valuable contributions he made to the intellectual sciences. Moreover, the Maraghah observatory owed its existence to him.

Sadr al-Din Shirazi (d. 1050/1640), known as Mulla Sadra and Sadr al-Muta'allihin, was the philosopher who, after centuries of philosophical development in Islam, brought complete order and harmony into the discussion of philosophical problems for the first time. He organized and systematized them like mathematical problems and at the same time wed philosophy and gnosis, thereby bringing about several important developments. He gave to philosophy new ways to discuss and solve hundreds of problems that could not be solved through Peripatetic philosophy. He made possible the analysis and solution of a series of mystical questions which to that day had been considered as belonging to a domain above that of reason and beyond comprehension through rational thought. He clarified and elucidated the meaning of many treasuries of wisdom, contained in the exoteric sources of religion in the profound metaphysical utterances of the Imams of the Household of the Prophet, that for centuries had been considered as insoluble riddles and usually believed to be of an allegorical or even unclear nature. In this way gnosis, philosophy and the exoteric aspect of religion were completely harmonized and began to follow a single course.

By following the methods he had developed, Mulla Sadra succeeded in proving "transubstantial motion" (harakat-i jawhariyah), and in discovering the intimate relation of time to the three spatial dimensions in a manner that is similar to the meaning given in modern physics to the "fourth dimension" and which resembles the general principles of the theory of relativity (relativity of course in the corporeal world outside the mind, not in the mind), and many other noteworthy principles. He wrote nearly fifty books and treatises. Among his greatest masterpieces is the four-volume Asfar.

It should be noted here that before Mulla Sadra certain sages like Suhrawardi, the 6th/12th century philosopher and author of Hikmat al-ishraq, and Shams al-Din Turkah, a philosopher of the 8th/14th century, had taken steps toward harmonizing gnosis, philosophy and exoteric religion, but credit for complete success in this undertaking belongs to Mulla Sadra.

Shaykh Murtada Ansari Shustari (d. 1281/1864) reorganized the science of the principles of jurisprudence upon a new foundation and formulated the practical principles of this science. For over a century his school has been followed diligently by Shi'ite scholars.


Man and Gnostic Comprehension

Even though most men are occupied with gaining a livelihood and providing for their daily needs and show no concern for spiritual matters, there lies within the nature of man an innate urge to seek the ultimately Real. In certain individuals this force which is dormant and potential becomes awakened and manifests itself openly, thus leading to a series of spiritual perceptions.

Every man believes in a permanent Reality despite the claim of sophists and skeptics, who call every truth and reality illusion and superstition. Occasionally when man views with a clear mind and a pure soul the permanent Reality pervading the universe and the created order, and at the same time sees the impermanence and transient character of the diverse parts and elements of the world, he is able to contemplate the world and its phenomena as mirrors which reflect the beauty of a permanent reality. The joy of comprehending this Reality obliterates every other joy in the eye of the viewer and makes everything else appear as insignificant and unimportant.

This vision is that same gnostic "divine attraction" (jadhbah) which draws the attention of the God-centered man toward the transcendent world and awakens the love of God in his heart. Through this attraction he forgets all else. All his manifold desires and wishes are obliterated from his mind. This attraction guides man to the worship and praise of the Invisible Deity who is in reality more evident and manifest than all that is visible and audible. In truth it is this same inner attraction that has brought into being the different religions within the world, religions which are based on the worship of God. The gnostic ('arif) is the one who worships God through knowledge and because of love for Him, not in hope of reward or fear of punishment.

From this exposition it becomes clear that we must not consider gnosis as a religion among others, but as the heart of all religions. Gnosis is one of the paths of worship, a path based on knowledge combined with love, rather than fear. It is the path for realizing the inner truth of religion rather than remaining satisfied only with its external form and rational thought. Every revealed religion and even those that appear in the form of idol-worship have certain followers who march upon the path of gnosis. The polytheistic religions and Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam all have believers who are gnostics.

Appearance of Gnosis (Sufism) in Islam

Among the companions of the Prophet, Ali is known particularly for his eloquent exposition of gnostic truths and the stages of the spiritual life. His words in this domain comprise an inexhaustible treasury of wisdom. Among the works of the other companions which have survived there is not a great deal of material that concerns this type of question. Among the associates of Ali, such as Salman Farsi, Uways Qarani, Kumayl ibn Ziyad, Roshaid Hajari, Maytham Tammar, Rabi'ibn Khaytham.

However, there are figures who have been considered by the majority of the Sufis, Sunni and Shi'ite alike, as the heads of their spiritual chain (silsilah) after Ali.

After this group there appeared others, such as Tawus Yamani, Shayban Ra'i, Malik ibn Dinar, Ibrahim Adham, and Shaqiq Balkhi, who were considered by the people to be saints and men of God. These men, without publicly talking about gnosis and Sufism, appeared externally as ascetics and did not hide the fact that they had been initiated by the earlier group and had undergone spiritual training under them.

After them there appeared at the end of the 2nd/8th century and the beginning of the 3rd/9th century men such as Bayazid Bastami, Ma'ruf Karkhi, Junayd Baghdadi and others like them, who followed the Sufi path and openly declared their connection with Sufism and gnosis. They divulged certain esoteric sayings based on spiritual vision which, because of their repellent external form, brought upon them the condemnation of some of the jurists and theologians. Some of them were imprisoned, flogged, and even occasionally killed. Even so, this group persisted and continued its activities despite its opponents. In this manner gnosis and the "Way" (Tariqah, or Sufism) continued to grow until in the 7th/13th and 8th/14th centuries it reached the height of its expansion and power. Since then, sometimes stronger and at other times less so, it has continued its existence to this very day within the Islamic world.

Gnosis or Sufism as we observe it today first appeared in the Sunni world and later among the Shi'ites. The first men who openly declared themselves to be Sufis and gnostics, and were recognized as spiritual masters of Sufi orders, apparently followed Sunnism in the branches (furu') of Islamic law. Many of the masters who followed them and who expanded the Sufi orders were also Sunnis in their following of the law.

Even so, these masters traced their spiritual chain, which in the spiritual life is like the genealogical chain of a person, through their previous masters to Ali. Also the results of their visions and intuitions as transmitted to us convey mostly truths concerning divine unity and the stations of the spiritual life which are found in the sayings of Ali and other Shi'ite Imams. This can be seen provided we are not affected by some of the striking and even sometimes shocking expressions used by these Sufi masters and consider the total content of their teachings with deliberation and patience. Sanctity resulting from initiation into the spiritual path, which Sufis consider as the perfection of man, is a state which according to Shi'ite belief is possessed in its fullness by the Imam and through the radiance of his being can be attained by his true followers. And the Spiritual Pole (qutb), whose existence at all times is considered necessary by all the Sufis - as well as the attributes associated with him - correlates with the Shi'ite conception of the Imam. According to the saying of the Household of the Prophet, the Imam is, to use the Sufi expression, Universal Man, the manifestation of the Divine Names and the spiritual guide of the lives and actions of men. Therefore, one could say, considering the Shi'ite concept of walayat, that Sufi masters are "Shi'ite" from the point of view of the spiritual life and in connection with the source of walayat although, from the point of view of the external form of religion they follow the Sunni schools of law.

It is necessary to mention that even in classical Sunni treatises it has sometimes been said that the spiritual method of the "Path," or the "techniques" whereby one comes to know and realize himself, cannot be explained through the external forms and teachings of the Shari'ah. Rather these sources claim that individual Muslims themselves have discovered many of these methods and practices, which then have become accepted by God, such as is the case with monasticism in Christianity. Therefore each master has devised certain actions and practices which he has deemed necessary in the spiritual method, such as the particular type of ceremony of being accepted by the master the details of the way in which the invocation is given to the new adept along with a robe, and the use of music, chanting and other methods of inducing ecstasy during the invocation of the Divine Name. In some cases the practices of the Tariqah have outwardly become separated from those of the Shari'ah and it may seem difficult for an outsider to see the intimate and inward relation between them. But by taking into consideration the theoretical principles of Shi'ism and then studying in depth the basic sources of Islam, namely the Quran and the Sunnah, he will soon realize that it is impossible to say that this spiritual guidance has not been provided by Islam itself or that Islam has remained negligent in clarifying the nature of the spiritual program to be followed.

Guidance Provided by the Quran and Sunnah for Gnostic Knowledge

God - exalted be His Name - has commanded man in several places in the Quran to deliberate upon the Holy Book and be persistent in this effort and not be satisfied with a merely superficial and elementary understanding of it. In many verses the world of creation and all that is in it without exception are called portents (ayat), signs and symbols of the Divine. A degree of deliberation upon the meaning of portents and signs and penetration into their real significance will reveal the fact that things are called by these names because they manifest and make known not so much themselves but a reality other than themselves. For example, a red light placed as a sign of danger, once seen, reminds one completely of the idea of danger so that one no longer pays attention to the red light itself. If one begins to think about the form or quiddity of the light or its color, there will be in his mind only the form of the lamp or its glass or color rather than the conception of danger. In the same manner, if the world and its phenomena are all and in every aspect signs and portents of God, the Creator of the Universe, they have no ontological independence of their own. No matter how we view them they display nothing but God.

He who through guidance of the Holy Quran is able to view the world and the people of the world with such an eye will apprehend nothing but God. Instead of seeing only this borrowed beauty which others see in the attractive appearance of the world, he will see an Infinite Beauty, a Beloved who manifests Himself through the narrow confines of this world. Of course, as in the example of the red light, what is contemplated and seen in "signs" and "portents" is God the Creator of the world and not the world itself. The relation of God to the world is from a certain point of view like (1 + 0) not (1 + 1) nor (1 x 1) (that is, the world is nothing before God and adds nothing to him). It is at the moment of realization of this truth that the harvest of man's separative existence is plundered and in one stroke man entrusts his heart to the hands of Divine love. This realization obviously does not take place through the instrument of the eye or the ear or the other outward senses, nor through the power of imagination or reason, for all these instruments are themselves signs and portents and of little significance to the spiritual guidance sought here.

He who has attained the vision of God and who has no intention but to remember God and forget all else, when he hears that in another place in the Quran God says, "O ye who believe! Ye have charge of your own souls. He who erreth cannot injure you if you are rightly guided" (Quran, V, 105), then he understands that the sole royal path which will guide him fully and completely is the path of "self realization." His true guide who is God Himself obliges him to know himself, to leave behind all other ways and to seek the path of self-knowledge, to see God through the window of his soul, gaining in this way the real object of his search. That is why the Prophet has said, "He who knows himself verily knows the Lord." And also he has said, "Those among you know God better who know themselves better."

As for the method of following the path, there are many verses of the Quran which command man to remember God, as for example where He says, "Therefore remember Me, I will remember you" (Quran, II, 152) and similar sayings. Man is also commanded to perform right actions which are described fully in the Quran and hadith. At the end of this discussion of right actions God says, "Verily in the Messenger of Allah ye have a good example" (Quran, XXXIII, 21).

How can anyone imagine that Islam could discover that a particular path is the path which leads to God without recommending this path to all the people? Or how could it make such a path known and yet neglect to explain the method of following it? For God says in the Quran, "And We reveal the Scripture unto thee as an exposition of all things" (Quran, XVI, 89).