Mulla Sadra’s Interpretation and Hermeneutics

The discussion of the issues related to the interpretation of the Heavenly Book became quite common right from the beginning of its descent in Muslim societies. Naturally, different methods of interpretation were also developed later. Mulla Sadra followed a method and a number of principles in interpretation which can be said to have been more or less known to Batini Shi’ites (Esoterics).

As mentioned previously, he believes in the vertical three-fold worlds, consisting of the sense world, imaginal or Ideal world, and, finally, the intellectual world. According to a gnostic theory, ‘revelation’ or the Divine language is not directly descended to the world of matter; descent means going through the intellectual, Ideal, and material or sense stages in a stepwise fashion, and the Prophet’s soul must first go through the two material and Ideal stages, so that it could receive revelation at the stage of intellects, and hear and perceive God’s language. This language is later transformed into a language comprehensible to ordinary people, and descended to the world of matter. Mulla Sadra believes that to perceive the Qura’nic concepts, one must go beyond the words and understand the concepts behind them in superior worlds. This is technically called ‘ta’wil’ (interpretation). In Arabic, this word means ‘reaching the origin’, i.e., one must discover the depth of such concepts without dispensing with the surface meaning of the words in the Qur’an. This can be done through seeking help from inwardly senses, and is not possible without revelation.


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On the other hand, Mulla Sadra and some sophists regard God’s language as one of His Acts, since, as written in the Qur’an, when God wishes for something, He orders it: ‘Become’, and that thing comes into being. This language is called ‘existential becoming’, which might be of the same meaning with Logos. Thus God employs the ‘existential language’ for creation, and the common and conventional language for speaking to people.

It can be inferred from this point that, generally speaking, the interpretation of God’s language involves the interpretation of worldly phenomena as well. Mulla Sadra combined philosophical hermeneutics with the traditional hermeneutics of the Holy Book three centuries before Heidegger and other philosophers, and we might conceive of his philosophy of interpretation as a bridge filling the gap between these two schools of thought.