Famous Iranians 11 Aug 2023 BY Batul Iddi

Molla Sadra | Persian Philosopher and Theologian

If you love to think deeply about the big questions in life and consistently seek to expand your understanding of the world, welcome to the world of Molla Sadra...

...a prominent Persian philosopher, theologian, and mystic who played a major role in the revitalization of philosophy under the Safavid Shah Abbas I and later became the most influential teacher at Madrasa-yi Khan in his hometown of Shiraz.

Molla Sadra is considered the master of the Illuminations school of philosophy, where he argued for the necessity of understanding reality through a mixture of logical reasoning, spiritual inspiration, and meditation on key scriptural sources.

In this blog, we will explore the life and works of this influential philosopher and uncover his legacy and impact on Iranian culture.


Who is Mulla Sadra?

Sadr al-Din Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. Yahya Qawami Shirazi, better known as Molla Sadra, is widely considered the most significant Islamic philosopher after Avicenna.

Molla Sadra Shirazi's life was marked by a deep commitment to intellectual pursuits and spiritual development. He was born in 1571 and was the only son of a noble family in Shiraz.

Who is Mulla Sadra

As a child, he showed a remarkable aptitude for learning, quickly mastering Persian and Arabic literature, calligraphy, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and Islamic law. However, his true passion lay in philosophy and mystical philosophy.

Despite his hometown's past glory in philosophy, it was not the best place for his intellectual pursuits. Seeking advanced religious and philosophical training, he left Shiraz for Qazvin in 1591. Eventually, he settled in Isfahan in 1597, where he studied with the most eminent intellectual figures of the day, Mir Damad and Shaykh Baha’̓i, who taught him philosophy, theology, hadith, and hermeneutics.

After completing his studies, he returned to Shiraz but found the intellectual atmosphere hostile and suppressive towards philosophy.

He left for solitude and contemplation in Kahak, a quiet village near Qom, where he began composing his most foundational work, Al-Hikmat Al-Muta' Aliya Fi'l-Asfar Al-‘Aqliyya Al-Arba (The Transcendent theosophy in the Four Journeys of the Intellect).

This period was followed by several journeys between Shiraz, Isfahan, Qom, Kashan, and seven pilgrimages to Mecca, which significantly influenced his intellectual and spiritual growth.

In 1612, Molla Sadra was invited by Ali Quli Khan to return to Shiraz and teach at the newly built Khan School. Mulla Sadra accepted the invitation and spent the rest of his life in Shiraz, devoted to teaching the intellectual sciences, particularly his own teachings of Transcendent Theosophy.

Molla Sadra's intellectual network, including his teachers and students, was later dubbed "the School of Isfahan" and formed in a unique political and religious context.

He had a family of six children, three sons and three daughters, all of whom became scholars or were married to his students.

After a pious life dedicated to acquiring and expanding philosophy and sciences, Molla Sadra died in Basra in 1640 on his pilgrimage to Mecca and was buried in Najaf.

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Works and Philosophical Ideas

Works and Philosophical Ideas

Molla Sadra's works are truly remarkable. He wrote more than 45 treatises on ontology, metaphysics, epistemology, cosmology, psychology, eschatology, theology, mysticism, and commentaries on the Qur'an and Hadith.

One of his famous works is the Magnum Opus, Al-Hikmat Al-Mutaliyah Fi'l-Asfar Al-Arba'a Al-‘Aqliyyah, commonly referred to as The Transcendent theosophy in the Four Journeys of the Intellect, is an encyclopedia of different schools of philosophy and theology.

In this book, he presents a comprehensive system of philosophy and theology that challenges traditional divisions and offers a unique perspective on the nature of reality and the divine through the metaphorical journey of the soul.

In addition to the Transcendent theosophy in the Four Journeys of the Intellect, he wrote numerous other works that explore philosophical theology, hermeneutics, and the nature of knowledge which have significantly contributed to understanding existence, reality, truth, and methodology.

As a towering figure in the history of philosophy, he also came up with many philosophical ideas that continue to shape our understanding of the world and our place in it. His concept of existence preceding essence, his theory of substantial motion, and his approach to truth remain vital resources for scholars and readers interested in the history of Islamic philosophical traditions and the development of existentialist philosophy.

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Molla Sadra Legacy

Molla Sadra Legacy

Molla Sadra Shirazi's legacy as a philosopher and theologian extends far beyond his immediate students and his own time. Despite facing intellectual suppression and antagonism towards his philosophical and mystical ideas by the ruling system and influential clerics in the late Safavid period, he was able to transform the philosophical landscape of the Islamic East.

His approach to reconciling reason and intuition, faith and rational inquiry, philosophy and mysticism has profoundly influenced philosophical practice and learning.

One of Molla Sadra's most significant legacies is the School of Isfahan, a philosophical movement that emerged in the early 17th century and flourished in the city of Isfahan.

The School of Isfahan was heavily influenced by Molla Sadra's philosophy, particularly his emphasis on the primacy of existence and the unity of being. The movement produced some of the most significant philosophers and thinkers in Iran's history, including Mir Damad, Mulla Hadi Sabzawari, and Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi.

Today, Mulla Sadra's philosophy is still widely studied and taught in Iran and worldwide, with some of the most widely-read scholars and Sadrian philosophers building on his ideas with modifications.

His influence has spread beyond Iran, with India being the first place outside of Iran to show his influence, followed by the Shi'i seminaries of Iraq and influential thinkers in Pakistan.

Molla Sadra's work has also been introduced to the West, with the German orientalist Max Horten being the first to introduce him in the 19th century, emphasizing the mystical aspect of his work.

Later, the collaboration of scholars from France, Japan, and Iran led to a full-fledged introduction of Molla Sadra into Western academia as part of a wider project of reviving "perennial wisdom." Today, Mulla Sadra's philosophy is widely translated, taught, and discussed in academic circles in Europe and North America.

Despite his significant achievements, Molla Sadra's ideas have not been universally accepted. Some philosophers have been critical of his approach and metaphysics, and his dominance in the field of Islamic philosophy took time to establish. However, his legacy continues to inspire scholars and thinkers today, with different schools of thought engaging with his ideas in various ways.

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Impact on Iranians

Works and Philosophical Ideas

Molla Sadra Shirazi has impacted the whole world; however, his impact on Iranians is immeasurable. Hence, Iranians celebrate his commemoration day annually on the first of Khordad, equivalent to May 22nd. This day is a time for Iranians to reflect on the legacy of Molla Sadra and his contributions to Islamic philosophy and theology.

Beyond the commemoration day, Molla Sadra's influence can be seen in various aspects of Iranian life. His ideas have significantly shaped Iranian intellectual history, inspiring generations of scholars and thinkers to explore the depths of Islamic philosophy and mysticism. As such, it is no surprise that Molla Sadra's commemoration day has been registered among the occasions of Iranian calendars.

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Bottom Line

Molla Sadra's legacy is a remarkable example of how philosophical and theological insights can transcend time and cultural boundaries, leaving an indelible mark on the world.

His ideas have influenced significant philosophical movements and produced some of the most significant philosophers and thinkers in Islamic history while also inspiring contemporary scholars and thinkers worldwide.

Today, his emphasis on the unity of being, the origin of existence, the reconciliation of reason and intuition, faith and rational inquiry, philosophy, and mysticism continue to shape, inspire and enrich our understanding of the world for generations to come.


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