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“Only the Imam Knows Best” The Maktab-e Tafkīk's Attack on the Legitimacy of Philosophy in Iran 1

  • SAJJAD H. RIZVI (a1)

Philosophy, as an intellectual discipline emerging from Hellenism, had an ambiguous and disputed role in the theology and apologetics of Islam and continues to be contentious. In this article, I examine the arguments over the legitimacy of philosophy between the philosophical school of Mullā Ṣadrā (d. c. 1635), dominant in the present Shiʿi seminary in Iran, and its detractors in the maktab-i tafkīk who insist that knowledge of reality and the faith only derives from the teachings of the Shiʿi Imams and cannot be contaminated with Aristotelianism. After an introduction to this fideist school of separating religious and ‘foreign’ sciences, three questions are analysed. What is philosophy? How do we know God? How can we demonstrate the Qurʾanic doctrine of the resurrection of bodies? What emerges is a more radical challenge to uṣūlī rationalism than that posed previously from the Akhbāriyya and their insistence upon a ḥadīth-based jurisprudence.

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This article was given as a lecture on 21 January 2010 in the Shiʿi Studies series at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. I am grateful to the attendees for their valuable comments.

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2 Al-Ṣaffār al-Qummī, Baṣāʾir al-darajāt al-kubrā fī faḍāʾil Āl Muḥammad, ed. Mīrzā Muḥsin Kūcha-bāghī (reprinted Tehran,1374 Shamsī/1995), juzʾ I, bāb IV, ḥadīth #1, 26. All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.

3 On the pivotal issue of the Imam's knowledge and the disputes over its nature, see Bayhom-Daou Tamima, The Imāmī Shīʿī Conception of the Knowledge of the Imām and the Sources of Religious Doctrine in the Formative Period: from Hishām b. al-Ḥakam to Kulīnī’, unpublished thesis (PhD), School of Oriental and African Studies, (University of London, 1996); Amir-Moezzi Mohammad Ali, Le guide divin dans le Shîʿisme originel (Paris, 1992), pp. 174199 ; Modarressi Hossein, Crisis and Consolidation in the Formative Period of Shiʿite Islam (Princeton, 1993), pp. 2751 .

4 This latter option was especially true of the tradent-jurists who rejected independent legal reasoning, the Akhbāriyya – see Gleave Robert, Scripturalist Islam: The History and Doctrines of the Akhbārī Shīʿī School (Leiden, 2007), pp. 268296 .

5 al-Ṣadūq Ibn Bābawayh, Risāla fī-l-iʿtiqādāt (Tehran, 1951), p. 74 ; Ghaffārī A. (ed.), Abū Jaʿfar al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, (Tehran, 1968), I, pp. 170171 . For discussion on this point, see also Modarressi, Crisis and Consolidation, pp. 109–117.

6 Rizvi Sajjad, “The developed kalām tradition part II: later Shiʿi theology”, in Winter T. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 9096 .

7 Schmidtke Sabine, Theologie, Philosophie und Mystik im zwölferschiitischen Islam des 9./15. Jahrdhunderts: Die Gedankenwelten des Ibn Abī Ǧumhūr al-Aḥsāʾī (um 838/1434–35 — nach 906/1501) (Leiden, 2000); Rizvi Sajjad, Mullā Ṣadrā and Metaphysics: Modulation of Being (London, 2009).

8 Muḥammad Sayyid Ṭihrānī Ḥusayn Ḥusaynī-yi, Mihr-i tābān: yādnāma va muṣāḥibāt-i tilmīdh va ʿallāma (Mashhad 1417/1996), pp. 105106 ; cited and translated in Algar Hamid, ‘ʿAllāma Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabāʾī: philosopher, exegete and gnostic”, Journal of Islamic Studies vol. 17, no. 3 (2006), pp. 334335 ; Dabashi Hamid, The Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundations of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (New York, 1993), pp. 274275, 281–284. An alternative explanation of Burūjirdī's prohibition may lie in the fact that Khomeini had been teaching philosophy since at least 1936 (succeeding Shāhābādī [d. 1950] who moved to Tehran in that year) and Burūjirdī may have been protecting his student and head of his office (from 1944) – for this information but not the interpretation, see Davari Mahmud, The Political Thought of Murtaza Mutahhari (London, 2005), pp. 1819 . The rivalry may be further deduced from Ṭabāṭabāʾī's words themselves when he claimed that the syllabus in Qum was deficient in the teaching of philosophy.

9 In Iraq, it led to the famous work of Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir al-Ṣadr (executed 1980), Falsafatunā [Our Philosophy], first published in 1959, which was a defence of metaphysical and epistemological realism against relativism, scepticism and dialectical materialism; cf. Mallat Chibli, The Renewal of Islamic Law: Muhammad Baqer as-Sadr, Najaf and the Shiʿi International (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 1112 ; Our Philosophy, tr. Shams Inati (London,1991).

10 Muḥammad Sayyid Ṭabāṭabāʾī Ḥusayn, Bidāyat al-ḥikma (Qum 1401/1981) and Nihāyat al-ḥikma (Qum 1362 Sh/1983); the comparative work is really a set of taqrīrāt in philosophy penned by Muṭahharī, Uṣūl-i falsafa va ravish-i riʾālizm, 5 vols, (Qum 1387 Sh/2008); cf. Davari, Political Thought of Murtaza Mutahhari, pp. 28–29.

11 Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Bidāya, pp. 5–7.

12 Algar Hamid, Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini (Berkeley, 1981), pp. 363434 .

13 Cf. Knysh Alexander, “ʿIrfān revisited: Khomeini and the legacy of Islamic mystical philosophy”, Middle East Journal, vol. 46, no. 4 (1992), pp. 631653 1992; Algar Hamid, “The fusion of the Gnostic and the political in the personality and life of Imam Khumaynī’”, Al-Tawḥīd, vol. 17,, no. 2 (2003), pp. 317 ; Martin Vanessa, “A comparison between Khumaynī's government of the jurist and the commentary on Plato's Republic of Ibn Rushd”, Journal of Islamic Studies, vol. 7, no. 1 (1996), pp. 1631 1996; Bonaud Christian, L'lmam khomeyni un gnostique méconnu du XXe Siècle (Bairut, 1997).

14 Dabashi, Theology of Discontent, pp. 317–322; “ Āmulī Abdullāh Javādī, Vilāyat-i faqīh: vilāyat-i faqāhat va ʿadālat (Qum 1378 Sh/1999); Muḥammad Sayyid Ṭihrānī Ḥusayn Ḥusaynī-yi, Vilāyat-i faqīh dar ḥukūmat-i islāmī (Mashhad 1414/1993); Taqī Muḥammad Yazdī Miṣbāh-i, al-Ḥukūma al-islāmiyya wa-wilāyat al-faqīh (Beirut, 2004).

15 Shīrāzī Mullā Ṣadrā, al-Ḥikma al-mutaʿāliya fī-l-asfār al-ʿaqliyya al-arbaʿa, Aʿvānī G. et al. (eds) (Tehran 1382–1386 Sh/2003–2007), I: pp. 1718 . One also notices the complementarity of philosophy, the pursuit of knowledge and Shiʿi ḥadīth in an important work of the Mullā Ṣadrā's student, Kāshānī Muḥsin Fayḍ, Kalimāt-i maknūna, Ḥasanzāda Ṣādiq (ed.) (Qum 1386 Sh/2007), pp. 211216 .

16 Fātima Ṣādiq-zāda Qamṣarī, “Hamāhangī-yi ʿaql u maʿārif-i vaḥyānī dar ḥikmat-i Ṣadrāʾī’”, Maqālāt va barrasī-hā, (summer 1380 Sh/2001), no. 69, pp. 203–220.

17 Muḥammad Sayyid Ṭabāṭabāʾī Ḥusayn, ʿAlī wa-l-falsafa al-ilāhiyya (Beirut, 1980), and Risālat al-walāya (Kuwait,1987), now translated as The Return to Being by F. Asadi and M. Dasht-Bozorgi (London, 2009); Āmulī ʿAbdullāh Javādī, ʿAlī ibn Mūsá al-Riḍā wa-l-falsafa al-ilāhiyya (Qum, 1415/1994).

18 Ḥusaynī-yi Ṭihrānī, Mihr-i tābān, pp. 42–56. However, he did make a distinction between the language, discourse and practice of mysticism and philosophy, opposing Mullā Ṣadrā on this point and supporting his student Mullā Muḥsin Fayḍ Kāshānī; cf. Algar, ‘ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī’, p. 336.

19 Rizvi Sajjad, “Towards a Typology of philosophical Iinquiry in the Ithnā ʿAshariyy tradition’” International Journal of Shiʿi Studies, vol. 4, no. 1 (2006), pp. 189206 , and “‘Being and sanctity: two poles of intellectual and mystical inquiry in Qajar Iran”, in R. Gleave (ed.), Religion and Society in Qajar Iran (London, 2005), pp. 113–126.

20 For example, Ashkivarī Muḥammad Fanāʾī, Maʿqūl-i thānī: taḥlīlī az anvāʿ-i mafāhīm-i kullī dar falsafa-yi islāmī va gharbī (Qum 1387 Sh/2008); Zakavī ʿAlī-Akbar, Basīṭ al-ḥaqīqa az dīdgāh-i Mullā Ṣadrā va monādshināsī-yi Leibniz (Qum, 1384 Sh/2005).

21 Raḥīmiyān Muḥammad ʿAlī, Mutaʾallih-i Qurʾān: Shaykh Mujtabá Qazvīnī Khurāsānī (Qum, 1383/2005), pp. 2936 .

22 For one important academic tendency critical of Mullā Ṣadrā and the uncritical perpetuation of his school, see Yathribī Sayyid Yaḥyá, ʿAyyār-i naqd, 2 vols., (Qum 1384–1387/2005–2008).

23 For a historical account of the major figures, see Ḥakīmī Muḥammad Riḍā, Maktab-i tafkīk (2nd edn., Tehran 1376 Sh/1997), pp. 187317 ; “Vīža-yi maktab-i tafkīk’” Kayhān-i Farhangī 95 (Isfand 1371 Sh/1993). The only work in English on the school thus far is Gleave Robert, “Continuity and originality in Shīʿī thought: the relationship between the Akhbāriyya and the Maktab-i tafkīk”, in Hermann D. and Mervin S. (eds), Shiʿi Trends and Dynamics in Modern Times (1800–1925) (Beirut/Frankfurt, 2010), pp. 7192 . For a preliminary bibliography, see Ḥujjatī-niyā Ghulām-Ḥusayn, “Kitābshināsī-yi Maktab-i tafkīk”, Andīsha-yi Ḥawza, (Ādhar va Dīh 1378 Sh/1999–2000), no. 19, pp. 198216 .

24 To my knowledge, none of his works have been published. On jurisprudence and legal theory, he wrote glosses on the major school texts: namely, Farāʾid al-uṣūl/Rasāʾil of Shaykh Murtażá Anṣārī (d. 1846) and Kifāyat al-uṣūl of Ākhūnd Khurāsānī (d. 1911), and sets of lecture notes based on the classes that he attended in Najaf. On philosophy, he wrote two sets of glosses on Sharḥ-i manẓūma, a gloss on the metaphysics of Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī's commentary on al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt of Avicenna, a gloss on the logic of al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt, a commentary on the allegory of Salamān va Absāl of Avicenna, a series of treatises on the occult (ʿulūm gharība), a series of treatises on ethics, a Persian treatise on fundamentals of the faith and an Arabic treatise on it, and a commentary on the famous ḥadīth attributed to Imam ʿAlī on the nature of reality (mā-l-ḥaqīqa?).

25 Most of Isfahānī's works are in manuscript in Mashhad: only Abwāb al-hudá has been published a few times, including a recent reprint of the early 1980s edition as well as a new one – Abwāb al-hudá fī bayān ṭarīq al-hidāya al-ilāhiyya wa-mukhālifatihi maʿrāl-ʿul al-ʿulūm al yūnāniyya, Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir Najafī-Yazdī (ed.) (Mashhad 1364 Sh/1985), and the newer edition, Ḥasan Jamshīdī (ed.) (Qum 1385 Sh/2006). His other works include: Miʿrāj al-qurba, a study of the spiritual significance of prayer; Miṣāh al-hudá, ibṭāl-i maʿārif-i yūnān, a critique of Sadrian philosophy; Maʿārif-i Qur’ān, a contemplation of the scripture that establishes the centrality of the text for the school; and Vajh-i iʿjāz-i Qur’ān on the doctrine of the inimitability of the scripture. On Iṣfahānī, see also Davari, Political Thought of Murtaza Mutahhari, pp. 7–9.

26 Qazvīnī's main work is the five volume Bayān al-Qurʾān in Persian, one volume on each of the fundamentals of the faith Shiʿi (uṣūl al-dīn) – Bayān al-Qurʾān, 5 vols., (Tehran, 1370–71 Sh/1991–92). For a study, see Raḥīmiyān, Mutaʾallih-yi Qurʾān.

27 For some relevant sources, see Javād Mīrzā Ṭihrānī Āqā, Mīzān al-maṭālib (Qum, 1374 Sh/1995); idem, Āyīn-i zindagī va dars-hā-yi akhlāqī-yi islāmī (Qum, 1370 Sh/1991); idem, ʿĀrif va ṣūfī chih mī-guyad? (Tehran, 1369 Sh/1990); idem, Falsafa-yi basharī va islāmī (Tehran 1355 Sh/1976); Ḥakīmī Muḥammad Riżā, Ilāhiyyāt-i ilāhī va ilāhiyyāt-i basharī: madkhal (Qum 1386 Sh/2007); idem, Maʿād-i jismānī va ḥikmat-i mutaʿāliya (Qum 1381 Sh/2002); idem, Maktab-i tafkīk (2nd edn, Tehran 1376 Sh/1997); idem et al, al-Ḥayāt (Tehran 1367 Sh/1988).

28 And as such a controversial and much maligned work – it is in fact quite difficult to obtain a copy.

29 The Shīrāziyya translate tafkīkī works in Arabic: Shaykh Ḥasan al-Balūshī from Kuwait has kindly provided me with copies. On the Shīrāziyya, see Louër Laurence, Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf (London 2008), pp. 88102 .

30 Two recent examples include John Bishop, Believing by Faith: An Essay on the Epistemology and Ethics of Religious Belief (New York, 2007) and Evans C. Stephen, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Grand Rapids, 1998). For discussions on the usages of the term ‘fideism’, see Richard Amesbury, “Fideism”, in Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2007 edn), URL = and Nicholl Thomas D., “The traditions of fideism”, Religious Studies, vol. 44 (2008), pp. 122 .

31 Dr ʿAlī-Akbar Naṣīrī of the University of Baluchistan and Sistan has been working for some years on comparing the epistemology of the maktab-i tafkīk with reformed epistemology.

32 Zakariyyā Dāwūd, ‘al-Madrasa al-tafkīkiyya wa-l-taʾṣīl li-l-ʿaql al-shīʿī’, [email sourced from Shaykh Ḥasan al-Balūshī, October 2009], p. 4.

33 Ḥakīmī, Maktab-i tafkīk, pp. 25–29.

34 Raḥīmiyān, Mutaʾallih-i Qurʾān, for example.

35 Islāmī Sayyid Ḥasan, Ruʾyā-yi khulūṣ bāz-khwānī-yi maktab-i tafkīk (Tehran, 1383 Sh/2004), pp. 189342 , especially pp. 269–294 on the takfīr of Mullā Ṣadrā.

36 Cf. Hadot Pierre, Philosophy as a Way of Life, tr. Chase M. (Oxford, 1995); Domański Juliusz, La philosophie, théorie ou manière de vivre? (Fribourg, 1996).

37 Corbin Henry, Histoire de la philosophie islamique (Paris, 1986), pp. 2138 ; Rizvi, Mullā Ṣadrā and Metaphysics, pp. 17–26.

38 See Ḥaqq-panāh Riżā, ‘Ḥikmat-i shīʿī’, Andīsha-yi Ḥawza, (Ādhar va dīh 1378 Sh/1999–2000), no. 19, pp. 2636 ; Dāwūd, ‘al-Madrasa al-tafkīkiyya’.

39 Dāwūd, ‘al-Madrasa al-tafkīkiyya’, pp. 1–2.

40 On these Akhbārīs, see Gleave Robert, Inevitable Doubt: Two Theories of Shiʿi Jurisprudence (Leiden, 2000) and Scripturalist Islam: the History and Doctrines of the Akhbārī Shīʿī School (Leiden, 2007), pp. 31–60.

41 Mahdī Mīrzā Iṣfahānī Gharavī, Abwāb al-hudá fī bayān ṭarīq al-hidāya al-ilāhiyya wa-mukhālifatihi maʿ al-ʿulūm al yūnāniyya, Muḥammad Sayyid Najafī-Yazdī Bāqir (ed) (Mashhad, 1364 Sh/1985), pp. 34 ; cf. Raḥīmiyān, Mutaʾallih-i Qurʾān, pp. 36–40.

42 Astarābādī Muḥammad Amīn, al-Fawāʾid al-madaniyya (Qum 1424 Q/2003), p. 571 .

43 Iṣfahānī, Abwāb al-hudá, pp. 4–5.

44 Ḥusayn Muẓaffarī, “Mukhālifat-i imāmān-i maʿṣūm va aṣḥāb īshān bā falsafa az dīdgāh-i maktab-i tafkīk”, Maʿārif-i ʿaqlī, (summer 1385 Sh/2006), no. 2, pp. 67–86; idem, ‘“Muʿarrafī-yi maktab-i tafkīk va naqd-i nigāh-i īn maktab bih tarjuma-yi falsafa az yūnānī tā ʿarabī’”, Maʿārif-i ʿaqlī, (autumn 1384 Sh/2005), no. 2, pp. 83–104.

45 Iṣfahānī, Abwāb al-hudá, pp. 123–124.

46 Muḥammad Mīrzā Miyānjī Bāqir Malikī, Tawḥīd al-imāmiyya (Tehran, 1415/1994), pp. 1453 .

47 Miyānjī, Tawḥīd al-imāmiyya, pp. 59–75. Cf. Qummī Qāḍī Saʿīd, “al-Nafaḥāt al-ilāhiyya wa-khawāṭir al-ilhāmiyya”, in Ḥabībī N. (ed.),al-Arbaʿīniyyāt li-kashf anwār al-qudsiyyāt (Tehran, 1381 Sh/2002), pp. 157170 .

48 Raḥīmiyān, Mutaʾallih-i Qurʾān, p. 60.

49 Raḥīmiyān, Mutaʾallih-i Qurʾān, pp. 61–64.

50 Ḥaqq-panāh, ‘Ḥikmat-i Shīʿī’, p. 33.

51 Ḥaqq-panāh, ‘Ḥikmat-i Shīʿī’, pp. 28–30.

52 Birinjkār Riżā, Ḥikmat va andīsha-yi dīnī (Tehran, 1383 Sh/2004), pp. 95110 .

53 For example, Āmulī ʿAbdullāh Javādī, Tabyīn-i barāhīn-i ithbāt-i khudā (Qum 1374 Sh/1995); for a good survey in philosophy of religion to rational approaches to the existence of God, see Oppy Graham, Arguing about Gods (Cambridge, 2006).

54 Plantinga Alvin, “Is belief in God properly basic?Nous 15 (1981), pp. 4151 .

55 Miyānjī, Tawḥīd al-imāmiyya, p. 86; Birinjkār Riżā, Maʿrifat-i fiṭrī-yi khudā (Tehran, 1374 Sh/1995); idem, Mabānī-yi khudāshināsī dar falsafa-yi yūnān va adyān-i ilāhī (Tehran, 1371 Sh/1992).

56 Cf. Oppy, Arguing about Gods, pp. 332–344.

57 Dānish-Shahrakī Ḥabībullāh, ʿAql az naẓar-i Qurʾān va ḥikmat-i mutaʿāliya (Qum, 1387 Sh/2008), pp. 1517 .

58 Dānish-Shahrakī, ʿAql az naẓar-i Qurʾān, pp. 65–133.

59 Dānish-Shahrakī, ʿAql az naẓar-i Qurʾān, pp. 137–207.

60 Raḥīmiyān ʿAlī-Riżā, Masʾala-yi ʿilm: taḥlīl-i ʿilm dar falsafa-yi Ṣadrāʾī va maktab-i maʿārif-i ahl-i bayt ʿalayhim al-salām (Tehran, 1385 Sh/2006), pp. 25150 .

61 Sayyid Jaʿfar Sayyidān et al., “Kursī-yi naqd va naẓariyya-pardāzī: nisbat-i ʿaql u vaḥī az dīdgāh-i falsafa va maktab-i tafkīk”, Kitāb-i naqd, (winter 1385 Sh/2006), no. 41, pp. 313–314.

62 Sayyidān et al., “Nisbat-i ʿaql u vaḥī”, pp. 315–316.

63 Sayyidān et al., “Nisbat-i ʿaql u vaḥī”, p. 317.

64 Islāmī, Ruʾyā-yi khulūṣ, pp. 70–83.

65 Sayyidān et al., “Nisbat-i ʿaql u vaḥī”, pp. 322–323.

66 Sayyidān et al., “Nisbat-i ʿaql u vaḥī”, p. 327.

67 Islāmī, Ruʾyā-yi khulūṣ, pp. 113–125.

68 Miyānjī, Tawḥīd al-imāmiyya, pp. 87–89.

69 Rappe Sara, Reading Neoplatonism: Non-discursive Thinking in the Texts of Plotinus, Proclus, and Damascius (Cambridge, 2000).

70 Mullā Ṣadrā, al-Asfār al-arbaʿa, IX, pp. 163–188.

71 Mullā Ṣadrā, al-Asfār al-arbaʿa, IX, p. 302.

72 Algar, ‘ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī’, 335–336.

73 Āmulī Muḥammad Taqī, Durar al-fawāʾid fī sharḥ ghurar al-farāʾid (li-l-Sabzawārī), 2 vols., (Qum, 1374 Sh/1995), pp. II: 460 .

74 Yathribī, ʿAyyār-i naqd, II, pp. 145–159.

75 Islāmī, Ruʾyā-yi khulūṣ, pp. 236–237.

76 Raḥīmiyān, Mutaʾallih-i Qurʾān, pp. 73–76.

1 This article was given as a lecture on 21 January 2010 in the Shiʿi Studies series at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. I am grateful to the attendees for their valuable comments.

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