The Qur’anic Studies Unit hosted an occasional lecture at the IIS by Prof. Mohammed Rustom of Carleton University based in Ottawa, Canada. The lecture, entitled Mulla Sadra on the Link Between Scripture and Idolatry, explored the creative manner in which the seventeenth-century Muslim philosopher-mystic Mulla Sadra Shirazi (d.1640 CE) tackles the problem of idolatry.
Prof. Rustom pointed out that, besides the opposition to idol-worship in Islam, Sadra did not confine “idolatry” to the worship of material representations of the Divine. The lecture showed how Mulla Sadra, drawing on his profound knowledge of the Islamic intellectual sciences as well as the work of the famous Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi (d.1240 CE), argued that since scripture and being are two sides of the same coin, those who remain on the surface of being, who have a particular idolised conception of the nature of reality, will likewise remain on the surface of scripture.
Prof. Rustom explained that, according to Mulla Sadra, if one remains confined to the exoteric dimensions of being and scripture, one will naturally have an exoteric conception of God. Thus, people may avoid idolatry physically, but, with a superficial understanding of the nature of things, are likely to fall into the trap of what Henry Corbin (d. 1978) called “metaphysical idolatry.”
Finally, Prof. Rustom explored Mulla Sadra’s proposition that in order to free oneself from idolised mental images of God, people should penetrate being by delving deeply into the ocean of scripture, thereby shattering their intellectual constructs of the nature of reality, and, hence, God.
Prof. Rustom is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He is also the author of The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mulla Sadra.
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