According to religious traditions and the history of religions, man has never lived without a prophet and, at all times, religions or cultures left by prophets have provided a model or program for people’s lives. One of the most important lessons given by prophets has been the lesson of ‘thinking’: thinking about the world, and the relation between man and the world and its amazing phenomena. The prophets not only formed human thought, but also taught the lessons of ethics and law in social relationships.

Philosophy or, in more exact terms, Sophia, was the result of prophets’ teachings. It developed and grew to a great extent in Pars (ancient Iran or Persia) under the supervision of early religious men who were called magi, as well as in some regions in the East and Middle East over the centuries. Nowadays, this kind of philosophy is called Oriental or Illuminationist philosophy (Sagesse Oriental).

About five centuries before Christ, because of Kurosh’s (Cyrus’s) conquests and those of other Iranian kings, Illuminationist philosophy was greatly disseminated. Then it penetrated into Ionia, Athens, and other places through today’s Turkey and Syria, and some thinkers such as Thales and Pythagoras, who had traveled to Iran, took it to the western parts of the world of that time. Later, in spite of Aristotle’s founding another school of thought, called Peripatetic philosophy, and his trying to eradicate Oriental philosophy, this school of thought became quite prevalent in Rome, Egypt, Syria, and other regions for centuries until it reached Muslims in the 2nd century A.H (8th century A.D).

With Muslims’ familiarity with Illuminationist and Greek Peripatetic schools of philosophy, and the translation of their books into Arabic, the field of philosophy took a significant step forward and, in less than one century, reached its peak through the endeavors of some prominent Iranian philosophers such as Farabi and Ibn Sina. This unprecedented growth continued in later centuries as well, and the Illuminationist philosopher, Suhrawardi (548-586 A.H/1153-1191 A.D), and the Peripatetic philosopher, Nasir al-Din Tusi (579-672 A.H/1201-1273-4 A.D), were among the well-known figures of these periods in the evolution of philosophy in Iran and the Islamic world.

The reason for such amazing growth was the existence of a series of teachings and a particular and rational culture which Islam, the Holy Qur’an, and the Prophet’s hadith had introduced to Muslims. In those teachings and in this culture, philosophical thought, including the part related to knowing God, had reached such an extreme subtlety that, even before the translation of philosophical books, and before Muslims’ familiarity with philosophy, they, themselves, had formulated a series of philosophical issues, developed some philosophical schools (subcategorized under the title of theology) and began to pose and discuss a number of intricate philosophical problems.

The impact of the Qur’an and hadith were later revealed again at the time of Muslim sophist gnostics and, Mulla Sadra, and his teachers planted the seeds of two important schools in the history of philosophy and thought; namely, Sufism and Transcendent philosophy, which was later introduced by the lattes.

According to some historians, the philosophy which had traveled to the West from Iran, returned to this country again through Muslim’s translations, and was developed by Iranian philosophers.

Another historical, political, and religious movement, called esoterism, too, continued in Muslim countries and lands from the 2nd to the 7th century (A.H), that is, until the time of the Mongol’s. The followers of this movement were Shi‘ite Muslims by religion and philosophers or sages in scientific fields and used philosophy (and sometimes gnosis or Illuminationist philosophy) in their political and cultural confrontations with the caliphs in Baghdad. An example of their works is a scientific-philosophical encyclopedia called Rasa’il ikhwan al-safa. Prominent Shi‘ite philosophers were associated with this movement and, naturally, contributed to the development of philosophy.

This scientific-political movement found its way into Spain (Andalusia), which had a Muslim government independent in the 4th century A.H (10th century A.D). In Baghdad, it took refuge in there, and managed to grow with absolute freedom; as a result, many prominent philosophers and gnostics emerged in Spain; several famous books were written; a big library was established; and a number of schools and seminaries opened there.

A part of this immense scientific and philosophical treasure fell into the hands of Europeans after the Christian conquest of Spain, and most of the books were transferred to the libraries in courts or schools of that time, as well as to the Pope’s library, and were translated into Latin. Accordingly, a widespread scientific movement started in law, philosophy, logic, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, medicine, and even in literature, music, architecture, and art, and provided the foundations for the Renaissance.

Now we will return to the development of philosophy in Iran. Philosophy had found a safe place in this country; however, it was usually attacked by non-Shi‘ite jurisprudents in all Islamic countries, even in Iran. Ghazzali was the most famous of all philosophy’s opponents. Nevertheless, his attacks were very soon counteracted by Muslims. He was mainly against esoteric thinkers and philosophers, particularly Shi‘ites, since, on the basis of their correct interpretation of the Qur’an and Islamic texts, they believed that philosophy and rationalization were the offspring of the Qur’an and hadith, and stood in complete agreement with their basic convictions and principles, as well as with Qur’anic verses.

Therefore, well-known cities and provinces in Iran, such as Khorasan, Rey, Isfahan, Shiraz, and others, became centers for the growth and evolution of philosophy, each in its own turn. For example, 200 years before Mulla Sadra’s time, Shiraz was the center of philosophy and the gathering place for important philosophers. In his time, this center was transferred to Isfahan and, after him, to Tehran (Rey), Qum, and Mashad (Tus in Khorasan).