In his talk entitled Debating Shi‘i Philosophy in Qum, Dr Rizvi argued that the study of the philosophy of Mulla Sadra (d. 1640 CE) and of philosophical mysticism in the Shi‘i seminary at Qum have seen a recent revival and dominance. Sadra’s philosophy has been contested by traditionalist ‘ulama who consider both philosophy and mysticism as a challenge to the true teachings of the Shi‘i Imams. Dr Rizvi then examined one such critique of philosophy from the school known as the maktab-i tafkik (the School of Epistemological Distinction), founded in Mashhad by scholars trained in the seminary in Najaf. They insist that the true teachings of the Imams are the guides for understanding religious realities and as such should not be mixed with ‘foreign’ knowledge.

Three areas of analysis were discussed. First, the concept of philosophy in maktab-i tafkik and the criticism of the school of Mulla Sadra for conflating knowledge of the faith with Hellenic learning, posing a challenge to those like ‘Allama Tabataba’i, who considered hikmat-i ilahi (divine wisdom) and din-i ilahi (divine religion) to be synonymous. Second, their fideist approach to the knowledge of God is akin to reformed epistemology's position that belief in the existence of God is ‘properly basic’ (in Plantinga's terms); they strongly criticise and juxtapose the notion of reason and rationality found in Shi‘i hadith with the Neoplatonic notion of the nous in Mulla Sadra. Third, the school of Mulla Sadra is seen as deficient in defending basic theological doctrines such as the resurrection of bodies; the Sadrian theory of the bodies of resurrection and the afterlife are seen as incompatible with the teachings of the Imams.

At the heart of the debate is the concept of reason and of knowledge which, according to Dr. Rizvi, is not surprising, given that, for the Shi‘a, the primary virtue of the Imam lies in his superior and supernatural knowledge. But, it indicates to us another example of an attack on philosophy actually entailing a challenge to a hegemonic concept of rationality, in opposition to which an alternative rationality is offered. Therefore, the maktab-i tafkik is much more than just a traditionalist one in the vein of the simplistic Hanabila or even the Akhbaris.

For information on upcoming lectures of the Shi‘i Studies Lecture Series, please see Forthcoming Events.