IIS Participation Content
|“The Degrees of Esoteric Gnosis and Gnostics in Persian Shi‘i Theosophy: Sa’in al-Din Turkah Isfahani (d. 830/ 1437) and ‘Abd al-Razzaq Lahiji (d. 1072/1661-2)”|
Fourth Biennial Conference on Iranian Studies, Bethesda Maryland May 24th - May 2002
This paper will treat and compare the concept of gnosis and the degrees of gnosis and gnostics in two important late classical Persian Shi‘i mystics: Sa’in al-Din Turkah Isfahani and Abd al-Razzaq Lahiji. Turkah Isfahani has been described (by S.H. Nasr) as “one of the most important intellectual figures in Islamic philosophy between Suhrawardi Maqtul and Mulla Sadra, without whom the School of Isfahan would be inconceivable.” Lahiji, the son-in-law of Mulla Sadra, was one of the most dynamic and original thinkers of the Safavid School of Isfahan.
In this paper I will be focusing on and comparing the Risala-yi shaqq al-qamar va sa’at of Turkah Isfahani with certain chapters of Lahiji’s Gawhar-i murad. In the first work, Isfahani expounds the various hermeneutic levels of interpretation that are possible to read into the Qur’anic verse: “The hour drew nigh and the moon was rent in twain” (LIV: 1), while dividing all Muslims up into seven camps: (i) legalists and lawyers who blindly follow exoteric doctrines, (ii) theologians and philosophers who investigate truth from a purely rational standpoint, (iii) exoteric-minded Peripatetic philosophers, (iv) Illuminationist theosophers, (v) Sufi gnostics; (vi) adepts in the science of numerology; and finally (vii) the elect whose gnostic hermeneutics are based on an intimately realized prophetology. With its elitist division of the Muslim intelligentsia into these various hierarchical grades, this treatise gives an excellent idea of the pervasively esoteric nature of much Islamic philosophical thought. A similar esoteric orientation can be found in the Gawhar-i murad by Lahiji.
I will be examining Lahiji’s Introduction to this work, devoted to an “Exposition of the Path to God and its Division into the Exoteric and Esoteric Ways.” I will then summarize select passages on hikmat from the third section “On the Difference Between Scholars, and Exposition of the Purpose and Use of the Science of Scholastic Theology (kalam) and Mystical Philosophy (hikmat),” as well as the second section of the book’s conclusion, “On Mention of the Paths of the Sages Amongst the Scholars of the Shari‘at, Who are the Sufis and Gnostics (‘urafa’) Designated by this Name.” Lastly, some general conclusions will be drawn as to the meaning of the hierarchical degrees of esoteric knowledge, types of gnostics, modes of gnosis, and the place of Sufism, Peripetatic and Ishraqi philosophy in these two works in particular, and within the context of Islamic esotericism in general.