The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra with Special Reference to Eschatology of Ibn Sina

Hamidullah Marazi

Mulla Sadra in true sense of the word, was one of the most profoundly original and influential thinkers in the history of Islamic philosophy. He is honoured as “Plato of his times” (Aflatun Zamanih). His role and philosophic situation is quite self-consciously archetypal and trans-historical. Some of Sadra’s latter admirers think that he represents the “truest” of all philosophy and the apogee of all Islamic philosophical thought. He has really become the greatest symbol of Persian intellectual rationalisation and displays a “hyper critical spirit” throughout his prolific scholarly career.

He synthesized all the currents of philosophy of his time. Moreover, this synthesis was not brought about by “mere reconciliation” and superficial compromise, but on the basis of a philosophical principle which he both propounded and expanded for the first time.

As we all know, the hallmark of an original and great thinker is to discover a “master idea” which encompasses the solution of age-old problems that have vexed human minds. And Mulla Sadra discovered this principle in the “primodiality of existence” and its infinite “systematic ambiguity” (asalat al-wujud wa tashkik). Sadra applied this principle to the whole range of the problems of Islamic philosophy, i.e. the nature of God, the nature of the world, and man’s nature and destiny. Thus Sadra started his philosophical discourse with this principle and then attempted to solve all philosophical problems accordingly. In this regard, he discussed the following problems:

1- Internal and external existence

2-  Eternal and intermediary being

3-  Being for itself and being for others

4-   Necessary and possible being

5-  Quiddity

6- One Being, many beings and their various kinds

7- Potential and actual being

8-  Eternal and created being

9-   Intelligible and intelligences

10-  Substances and accidents

11- Necessary Being, etc.

Mulla Sadra breathed a new life into the dead body of philosophy and added new dimensions to its contents. He reconciled reason with intuition and religious law. He utilized rational arguments, mystical insights and religious injections in his quest for matters divine. Though this trend is evident in al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Shaykh al-Ishraq, Shamsuddin Tarkah and Khawaja Nasir al-Din Tusi, but the credit goes to Sadra for having reconciled these realms of knowledge and cognition in a systematic and perfect manner.

Mulla Sadra’s philosophical system is highly original. However, it owes a considerable debt to earlier schools of thought, particularly to, theology, Ismailism, Ibn Sina’s metaphysics, Ibn ‘Arabi’s Sufism in general, the Ishraqi philosophy of Shahab al-Din Yahya Suharwardi, and the school of Isfahan. To these Mulla Sadra added several original doctrines, notably few of which are as follows:

1- The basic reality of existence (wujud) against quiddity (mahiyya)

2- The Unity of intellect and intelligible (al-jam‘ bayn al ‘aqil wal-m‘aqul)

3- The movement of all beings in their substances as well as in their qualities (harakat al-jawhariyyah).

It is quite justified to claim that Sadra achieved that synthesis of science and revelation in the light of gnosis and in the general perspective of Islam, towards which Farabi and Ibn Sina have aimed and which Ghazzali, Suhrawardi and other sages extending from the Saljuk to the Safavid period had sought to achieve.

He synthesized and unified the three paths which lead to Truth i.e. revelation, rational demonstration and purification of the soul, which finally guide us to illumination.

However, Sadra had great fascination for Ibn Sina’s philosophy with which we will deal in the forthcoming pages in detail. But it does not mean that he has not criticized him at all. Sadra has, for example, interpreted Ibn Sina’s doctrine of intelligences under the influence of Ibn ‘Arabi as concrete existents, lifting these from the realm of contingency and making them parts of the God head and His Attributes.

Thus we see that the more mystically oriented ideas of Ibn Sina, which had already found a home in the esoteric writings of Ghazzali, also gradually trucified in Sufi circles until they were finally incorporated in a developed form in Ibn ‘Arabi’s School. The three strands of thought, combined by Sadra to yield a grand synthesis are the Peripatetic tradition of Ibn Sina, Illuminationist tradition of al-Suhrawardi and Ibn ‘Arabi’s theosophy. Of the three masters, Ibn Sina is the most important. His doctrine constitutes the floor or the foundation upon which all discussions take place. Ibn Sina constructed a full fledged philosophical system on an Aristotelian neo-Platonic basis, satisfying both the philosophic and religious demands. He set the agenda before Sadra pertaining to the discussion in all the fields, like metaphysics, theory of knowledge, and theology. Sadra criticizes him, modifies him, supports him and even seeks support from some of his statements for his own peculiar doctrine like the reality of existence and an inanity of essences. The other problems about which we are sure that the influence of Ibn Sina is very conspicuous are like the doctrine of causation; the theory of hard datum proof (which in essence is the same argument as Ibn Sina’s) and the problem of miracles. Sadra related causation of contingent by the necessary Being and other doctrines to his doctrine of substantial movement.

He borrowed from Ibn Sina the proof of certain miracles showing the dominance of the soul on the body. As regards Ibn Sina’s denial of absolute identification of the intellect and the intelligible, he was very critical, while as Sadra is far complete identity of the intellect and the intelligible as mentioned earlier.

In the problems of eschatology and resurrection, Sadra is closely connected to the views of Ibn Sina. Though the soul is only a potential intellect at the beginning of its career, it’s nevertheless an immaterial spiritual substance capable of the body according to Sadra. However, Sadra rejects Ibn Sina’s concept that the soul is a relational concept and not a substantial one.

For Sadra, celestial souls are in principle, as much entelechies of their bodies as earthly souls. Sadra bases his principle of emergence on substantial change (ittisal al-jawhariyya). Soul is bodily in its origin, but spiritual in its survival (jismaniyat al huduth ruhaniyyat al-baqa), though soul emerges on the basis of matter, but can’t be absolutely material as emergence requires that the emergent be of a higher level. The matter of the body is used as the instrument, and is the first instrument to take first step from the material to the spiritual realm (malakut).

According to Ibn Sina the term soul applies to a relation and not to a substance, therefore, it is extensive to the soul when it is considered as a substance by Ibn Sina, therefore he denied physical resurrection.

Mulla Sadra systematically follows the summary of the powers and levels of the soul as presented by Ibn Sina, but with several modifications. He in his works, retains most of the formal distinction of Ibn Sina’s facultative psychology. However, he inserts them within a radically altered ontological framework that reflects the very different source and intentions of his primary concern with the subject.

According to Sadra in this world, though the body is constantly in motion, it still remains the same body. So also in the afterlife the body keeps its’ identity even though it has changed fundamentally, as for example, it is no longer a material body. He states that the body as it will be resurrected, will be identically the same as this body, except that it will be material. The only difference and the significant one, is that Sadra rests his doctrine on the basis of his principle of substantive movement (harakat al-jawahariyya) and his theory of the world images “which has its roots in both Ghazzali and Ibn Sina, and Sadra with all his requirements is basically indebted to them”. However, the principle of substantive movement is Sadra’s own.

Sadra claims that even Ibn Sina was not able to understand the “being of forms”. It was Sadra himself among the blessed community, “some one”, to correct aberrations and distortions about the matter. Sadra does not believe in the transmigration of soul and calls it impossible and he says that corporeal resurrection in the spiritual body is actually happening.

According to Sadra human soul is the quickest of generated things with regard to the transformation to the physical and intellective modalities of being. It is the conclusion of the world of sensible things and the beginning of the spiritual world, the junction of corporeal and spiritual things, the last in corporeal reality and the first in the spiritual ones.

The world which will be here after life, is divided into a “sensible garden”, containing the felicities of the bless, like food, drink, marriage, sensual desire, intercourse etc. and a “sensible hell” containing the punishment of the wretched, including hell-torments, serpents, and scorpions. Sadra described the view point of a group of people that the soul of the pious and ascetics will become connected after death with a body composed of vapour and smoke in the atmosphere and attain a sort of imagined happiness, and the wretched likewise attain their punishment this way. Ibn Sina, Sadra tells us, described it as not a rash conjecture that the theory of vaporous body be corrected by placing that substrate instead in the body of the heavens, which Ibn Sina reported this view on the part of a certain learned man.

Individual human bodies are resurrected in the “rising” as was stated in the true religious law and as God has mentioned in the Qur’an also.

The physical body will be resurrected in the “rising” even though it is not this body with respect to its matter. He made a difference between the body of this world and that of the other world. He says here, bodies and materials gradually ascend, according to their states of preparedness and transformation, initially they attain to the ranks of the soul. But in the other world, the command of creation and life descends from soul into bodies. The other world according to Sadra is a world complete in itself. The bodily organs are not responsible for individuating the being of the souls but it is the soul which had escaped from the bodies, because of its corruption at the resurrection. Thus it is the soul that begins to individuate the body and its parts, the body does not individuate the soul in any of its levels. However, Sadra holds that this world is not resurrected in the grossly corporeal fashion at all. Because, according to him the only thing that is actually resurrected is the form of this world. The summary of the view is that when the spirit has separated from the elemental body, there remains with it something having a weak being, which has been described in a hadith to be the root of the tail. Some theologians call it the original part of the body. The philosophers call it “material intellect” or simply prime matter. Ghazzali describes it as the soul and holds that the other world arises from it. Abu Yazid al-Waqwaqi calls it an atom that survives this world. Ibn ‘Arabi calls it the eternal archetypal substances. After quoting these views Sadra comments:

Demonstrative proof, however, indicates that what remains is the imaginal power (of the soul) which is a substance, essentially separate from the body. This imaginal power is the last of the first physical modality of being, and the beginning of the other worlds modality of being. Thus, when the soul is separated from the body, it carries the perceiving form along with itself, so that it can perceive bodily sensible things and see them immediately than inner sense.

The paradise according to Sadra is actually two fold. There is the sensible garden of the soul and the noetic garden, the sensible fruit of pleasing states of the soul is for the people of the right hand (56: 27), while the noetic is for those drawn near to God (4: 172), who are themselves with highest heaven (83: 182). Hell is likewise, two fold! The sensible hell of the painful states of the Soul, and the hell of inner reality. Sometimes, like Ghazzali, Sadra likens the actual reality of the being of the other world, and of the sensible physic paradise and hell, as no one doubts the things he sees in his dreams. Sadra does not accept Ibn Sina’s denial of soul having some form of being before the body, although he recognizes that it has some form of being before the body and survival after the body.

Sadra presents his views on the subject as a commentary on traditional Islamic beliefs, beginning with the description of the shadowy life of souls immediately after the death of the body, and going on to mention the “time” and “place” of the universal bodily resurrection, the events of the last judgment, and the topography and nature of paradise and hell.

As was discussed above, Ibn Sina is regarded as one of the most ardent supporters of spiritual resurrection on the expanse of bodily rebirth. Ghazzali had charged Ibn Sina with the decree of infidelity on this account. But if the matter is scrutinized minutely, a new picture emerges. Ibn Sina seems as reconciled with Ghazzali and Mulla Sadra and he is absolved of the charges leveled against him on this account.

To begin with, Ibn Sina’s statements in al-Shifa and al-Najat are ambiguous if not out rightly contradictory. He seems to maintain that there is bodily resurrection and immortality to immaterial soul. The ambiguity seems deliberate and used as a protective device against charges of irreligion. A careful reading of the psychological parts of these two works will show that his system cannot allow a doctrine of bodily resurrection. A very explicit denial of bodily resurrection is to be found in a short treatise called Risalah al-adwahiyyiah fi amr al-ma‘ad, which as its title suggests, was written exclusively on his conception of the hereafter. Ghazzali’s exposition and refutation of Ibn Sina’s theory on bodily resurrection are mainly based on this short treatise.

But this theory can be refuted to a great extent, if Ibn Sina’s views are deeply scrutinized in detail. Ibn Sina has not out rightly rejected corporeal resurrection in the life hereafter for all types of people. He has divided the salvation in the life hereafter death in three degrees or states, as the salvation entails either completion in knowledge and practice, or incompletion in both of these two, a complete in one and incompletion in the other. The third state is further divided into two parts, either it may be complete in knowledge and incomplete in practice or vise versa. He divided it further into two varieties. That it may be complete in knowledge, but incomplete in practice or vice versa. Afterwards he says:

The states of the selves will be graded accordingly to the division which has been made in the Qur’an. The Qur’an says:

“And Ye shall be sorted out into three classes. Then (there will be) the companions of the Right Hand. What will be the companions of the Right Hand and the companions of the left hand, what Will be the companions of the left Hand” After wards Allah says: “And those Foremost (in faith) will be foremost (in the Hereafter). There will be those Nearest to Allah” (al-Qur’an 7:11)

Ibn Sina continues after quoting these Qur’anic verses: The people well-versed in knowledge and established in practice are those who have been called as “the foremost” (sabiqun), and they deserve the highest or the uppermost stage in the paradise full of pleasures.

These people are associated from the three worlds to the world of intellect and consistently refrain from the bodily indulgences in this world. They are, therefore, the foremost, and will be stationed in the uppermost stages in the paradise.

“The companions of the right hand, will be stationed at the middle stage, who get rid of the concerns of this transitory world and are aligned to the world of heavens, remain unaffected by the pollution of the phenomenal world.”

“The companions of the left hand will be damned in the house of destruction, where they will not ask for a single perseverance, but manifold instead.” These are the three states of the soul in the life hereafter, which Ibn Sina has inferred from the Qur’anic verses, though the influence of Plato in the context of the first state is still there, which indicates the transcendence of soul (and its aloofness from the bodily concerns) but still he accepts that there are sensuous pleasures from various delicious foods, and varieties of the flesh of birds etc. in favour of the people of the middle state. Here, too, he does not seem without some covert influence from Platonic views, especially when he claims that the people of the middle state will be raised to the degree of “quswa” by their efforts to purge themselves from material aspects to the possible extent.

Ibn Sina confesses that the people of the lowest stage will be given bodily punishments also. In this way Ibn Sina does not deny bodily resurrection in all cases, but only in few cases with relation to only few people. Thus Ibn Sina, accepts that several people will get bodily resurrection, while as others will only be resurrected spiritually. He, at the most maintains that the pleasures of the life hereafter are far superior than the physical pleasures of this mundane world.

Ghazzali also says that most of the pleasures in the hereafter are superior to sensible pleasures. It is thus very clear that Ibn Sina does not deny resurrection of bodies, nor does he deny heaven or hell, nor the sensuous pleasures and physical penalty in the life hereafter death. He has, however, expressed his views that the second and the third group of the people in life hereafter will be subject to either physical pleasures or bodily penalties, while as, the first group will be subject to spiritual pleasures and will get spiritual resurrection on the expense of bodily resurrection. It is a noteworthy point out that whenever Ibn Sina speaks in this regard, he tries to refer to the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet (s), respectively in the manner of Ghazzali and Mulla Sadra. Thus a close and glaring similarity is found between Ghazzali, Mulla Sadra and Ibn Sina, despite the fact that there is disagreement in some trivial matters in this regard. Ibn Sina has himself indicated that the views about resurrection of bodies are since explained in the Qur’an, therefore, must be regarded true. He says:

You must understand that the life after is to be believed on the authority of Shari‘ah as there is no other way to understand or know it except on the authority of Shari‘ah or to believe the statements of the Prophet (s) about it, as has been indicated that the body will have its’ rewards and penalties with it at the time of resurrection, which is very evident …Shari‘ah which has been brought to us by our chosen Prophet (s), has elaborated on the condition of salvation (in hereafter).

Damnation which is directly related to body, can be understood by reason and demonstrative analogy, which has been already established by the Prophet (s), i.e. salvation and damnation is established for the self, though our imagination may not reach it at this stage as reason is incapable of comprehending it. However, the religious philosophers are inclined to establish the superiority of this aspect of spiritual salvation in comparison to bodily salvation, which sometimes sounds as though they don’t believe in it. (while as they believe in it).

From this passage it is also evident that Ibn Sina does not deny resurrection of bodies, however, he also believes in a type of spiritual resurrection and salvation which is supported not only by Shari‘ah, but also by rational arguments. In this way he agrees with Ghazzali and Sadra about the combined salvation i.e. of soul and body in life hereafter, agreeing also on the superiority of the former salvation to the latter. Despite this fact Ghazzali has taxed Ibn Sina with infidelity, which is a sheer injustice on his part. Taftazani defends Ibn Sina against Ghazzali’s decree and says:

Ghazzali has exaggerated in proving the resurrection of souls and description of various kinds of rewards and penalties from a spiritual point of view, which sometimes led him to lapse into superstitions.

In this way, Sadra, Ghazzali and Ibn Sina share several views on the corporeal and spiritual resurrection, though there are also some minor differences. Ghazzali has accepted bodily resurrection as an important tenet of Islam. Ibn Sina has interpreted spiritual resurrection in context of the people stationed in the foremost state of paradise, where, spiritual pleasures are far more advanced than the sensible pleasures, which are, however, reserved for the people stationed in the second and third state of survival hereafter. Sadra, taking the vast legacy of eschatological theory into consideration, attempted to present a balanced and integrated approach to this vexed and intricate problem. Sadra has made, however, a significant contribution to the theory of eschatology by relating to his famous doctrine of “substantive movement”. Thus, this doctrine has logically and systematically rendered, Sadra’s views on life after, established on a new foundation. In this way, Sadra, provided a link between Ghazzali and Ibn Sina on this ticklish subject.


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