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The Commentary Tradition on Suhrawardī
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The Commentary Tradition on Suhrawardī L.W.C. (Eric) van Lit Institut dominicain d’études orientales eric@digitalorientalist.com Introduction1 Suhrawardī (d. 1191) has been hailed as a crucial thinker in the history of philosophy in the Islamic world, as first suggested by Henry Corbin. However, the actual influence of Suhrawardī on thinkers after him has mostly been assumed rather than established. In the centuries after Suhrawardī, the late-medieval and earlymodern period of Islamic intellectual history, the writing of commentaries was a popular phenomenon. It did not automatically mean the commentator was in favor of the ideas of the original author. Therefore, tracing a commentary tradition is a measurement that gives us a fairly good insight into the reception of a certain intellectual, both positive and negative. In this article I contribute to a more precise understanding of Suhrawardī’s legacy, by putting together a list of all known commentaries, of which I found 58 in total, of which at least 31 are extant. Suhrawardī’s perceived impact A good portion of the surge of modern interest in Suhrawardī is due to Henry Corbin’s efforts, who saw Suhrawardī as the continuator of philosophical activity in the Islamic world in the late medieval period. Corbin did not necessarily aim to correct the older view that philosophical activity had waned after Ibn Rushd,2 but he merely wanted to qualify this and add to it. As Corbin saw it, after Ibn Sīnā the great tradition of philosophy split in two, one faction headed by Ibn Rushd (d. 1198), the other by Suhrawardī (d. 1191).3 The philosophy that had more or less died out in the Islamic world, in Corbin’s eyes, was the ‘Peripatetic’ (Mashshāʾī) philosophy. Original philosophical activity had continued due to efforts by Suhrawardī, who had revived a wholly different kind of philosophy, one connected with “the spiritual vision of Ancient Persia,”4 and also with ancient thinkers such as Plato, Hermes, and Pythagoras. According to Corbin, this different kind of philosophy should be called Ishrāqī philosophy, which formed, according to him, a proper school of thought which constitutes the lion’s part of philosophical activity of late medieval Islam. This narrative has a significant following.5 Perhaps most striking is that the narrative was generally accepted, to the extent that it found its way in introductory works on Islamic philosophy.6 A particularly good example is the widely read A History of Islamic Philosophy by Majid Fakhry, whose chapter ‘Post-Avicennian Developments’ only deals with Suhrawardī and what Fakhry calls ‘Illuminationism’ or the ‘Ishraqi Tradition’.7 Yet the very influence of Suhrawardī has been called into question. Says Morris: By Sadra’s time, the philosophical writings of Suhrawardi […] do not seem to have attracted the same sort of following and complex social connections as the three disciplines we have just discussed [kalām, falsafa, and taṣawwuf, LWCvL]. Rather than forming the basis of an independent school, they were apparently another of the intellectual options facing the small elite of educated philosophers.8 This is quite the contrary to how the aforementioned scholars put it, and Morris is not alone. Fazlur Rahman remarks that “there is little evidence of the existence of any important Ishrāqī school of thought at the time of the appearance of Mullā Ṣadrā.”9 Rüdiger Arnzen too, remarks that, specifically on the issue of Platonic Forms, philosophers from 16th -17th century Safavid Iran were not enthusiastic about Suhrawardī’s ideas.10 At first Ulrich Rudolph adopts Corbin’s narrative in his introductory book on Islamic philosophy. Yet when he comes to describe the later centuries, he cannot help but note that “Compared to this long tradition [of continuing Ibn Sīnā’s philosophy], the number of scholars who continue [the philosophy of] Suhrawardi is rather modest.”11 The contrast could hardly be any greater. Some scholars imply that almost everyone in the late-medieval to early-modern period was continuing the work of Suhrawardī, other scholars imply that virtually no one was doing so. Who is right, and, by implication, who is wrong? This question is not easily answered, but does invite us to take seriously this gap...


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