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  • A Phenomenological Approach to Illuminationist Philosophy: Suhrawardī’s Nūr Mujarrad and Husserl’s Reduction
  • Olga Louchakova-Schwartz (bio)

It has been said many times that every system of knowledge needs to be understood in its own terms.1 This brings up the question of whether textual studies conducted along the lines of the history of ideas, that is, studies of ideas per se, are sufficient for understanding postclassical Islamic philosophy. In this essay, I propose a strategy that would complement and clarify the findings of a historical approach (in a manner similar to the semiotic analyses, for example, by Andrei Smirnov and Ian Netton2). This strategy consists of the phenomenological analysis of philosophical meaning as generated by a particular philosopher, including his or her use of philosophical evidence.3

Translations per se are not philosophically neutral.4 As I will show, translations of the work of the founder of Illuminationism, Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī, contain implicit rationalistic and idealistic misinterpretations. An idealistic perspective can be traced in **Henry Corbin’s (1986) translations of Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq. The new translation by John Walbridge and Hossein Ziai (Suhrawardī 1999), which was intended to counterbalance Corbin by emphasizing Suhrawardī’s peripatetic reasoning, shows a rationalistic bias. Both translations received criticisms from Dimitri Gutas (2002, 2003); however, these criticisms did not address philosophical biases in the translations. Since idealistic and rationalistic perspectives converge,5 a reading of Suhrawardī as an heir to peripatetic logic, to Neoplatonism, or to Zoroastrian symbolism of light, turns him into an idealist. As I will show, we do not find idealistic suppositions in Suhrawardī’s treatment of philosophical evidence; rather, he comes through as a phenomenologist (see section 2 below). Together with a hermeneutic reinterpretation of earlier ideas, Suhrawardī’s use of evidence coupled with his epistemology of direct intuition6 led to ideas of his own — a process that can easily be overlooked by an external, especially culturally etic, observer, as is a problem with much of the contemporary evaluation of Suhrawardī.7

Since the time when rationalistic distinctions between philosophy and mysticism were established by the ancient Greeks, philosophy has redefined itself. On the heels of the Kantian critique of reason, the Neo-Kantian egology of Natorp, and Bergson’s studies of intuition, Husserl showed that logic is not a product of pure reason, but of eidetic8 intuitions of logos in the philosophical evidence.9 Phenomenology resolved the spirit-matter and intuition-reason aporia by winding philosophy back to its origins in lived experience. Therefore, in order for Illuminationism to be understood as [End Page 1052] philosophy proper, it should be considered on a scale wider and more contemporary than the traditional views of ancient Greek philosophy, or seventeenth-century enlightenment with its emphasis on reason.

Suhrawardī in Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq built his argument on the analysis of the two kinds of philosophical evidence: natural observations (Part 1) and observations of first-person consciousness (Part 2). While he combines analysis of natural observations with thorough examinations of peripatetic logic, with regard to Part 2 we know only that Suhrawardī uses epistemology of knowledge-by-presence;10 his specific analytic process was never examined. A nod to possible antecedents in Neoplatonism does not help in this case because we do not know what kind of method was used in Neoplatonism to generate the possible idea-antecedents for Suhrawardī, such as ideas of hierarchies of light or the immaterial soul, and whether the Neoplatonic negation should be considered as such a method.11 Along with the rationalistic or idealistic assumptions embedded in the translations, this is a situation in which misinterpretations are likely, as I believe happened to the key term of Suhrawardī’s philosophy, nūr mujarrad.

1. Nūr Mujarrad in the Translations

In Part 2 of Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq, we find a passage that was translated by Walbridge and Ziai as follows:12

[Five] a general section [Showing that whatever perceives its own essence is an incorporeal light (nūr mujarrad in the Arabic text — O.L-S.)]

(114) Nothing that has an essence of which it is not unconscious is dusky, for its essence is evident to...


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