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
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
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
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).