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Home » Struggling With the Philosopher: A Refutation of Avicenna’s Metaphysics (Ismaili Texts and Translations)

Struggling With the Philosopher: A Refutation of Avicenna’s Metaphysics (Ismaili Texts and Translations)

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 Struggling With The Philosopher A Refutation Of Avicennas Metaphysics Ismaili Texts And Translations
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Avicenna, Muhammad al-Shahrastani, W Madelung
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Al-Shahraståní, Ismailism and Philosophy – STRUGGLING WITH THE PHILOSOPHER


Tåj al-Dín Abu’l-Fat˙ Mu˙ammad b. ‘Abd al-Karím al-Shahraståní (d. 548/1153) has long been known in modern scholarship as the author of the Kitåb al-Milal wa’l-ni˙al, a comprehensive survey of the religions, sects and philosophical schools, first edited by W. Cureton in 1842–1846 ((Al-Shahraståní, Kitåb al-Milal wa’l-ni˙al, ed. W. Cureton (London, 1842–1846).)). Although written from a distinctly Islamic point of view, the book has continued to attract attention and admiration for its non-polemical objectivity and the wide range of its investigation of the currents of human belief and religious thought.

Its chapters on the non-Muslim faiths have been described as ‘the high point of Muslim histories of religion’ ((Guy Monnot, ‘al-Shahraståní’, EI2, vol. 9, p. 216)). A modern French trans-lation of the book with full annotation has been sponsored by UNESCO with a preface paying tribute to the author’s spirit of tolerance ((Daniel Gimaret, Guy Monnot and Jean Jolivet, Livre des Religions et des Sectes, vols 1–2 (Paris-Louvain, 1986–1993), Preface by M.A. Sinaceur.)).

Al-Shahraståní’s major work on scholastic Muslim theology, the Kitåb Nihåyat al-iqdåm fí ‘ilm al-kalåm, was first published by A. Guillaume in 1934 ((Alfred Guillaume, The Summa Philosophiae of al-Shahraståní (Lon-don, 1934).)). It revealed his searching interest in the basic questions of Islamic theology and reflected his ex-pert learning in the Ash’arí school tradition in which he had been brought up. As an outstanding Shåfi’í Ash’arí scholar, he had indeed taught for three years (511–514/1117–1120) at the Shåfi’í Niúåmiyya Madrasa in Baghdad made famous by the earlier teaching activity of al-Ghazålí there.

A different aspect of al-Shahraståní’s religious thought was first highlighted by M.R. Jalålí Nå’íní and M.T. Dånishpazhïh in the 1960s. Both scholars noted definite Shi’i and, more spe-cifically, Isma’ili views in some of his works ((Mu˙ammad Ri{å Jalålí Nå’íní, Shar˙-i ˙ål wa-åthår-i Óujjatu’l-˙aqq Abu’l-Fat˙ Mu˙ammad b. ‘Abd al-Karím b. A˙mad Shahraståní (Tehran, 1343/1964); Mu˙ammad Taqí Dånishpazhïh, ‘Då’í al-Du’åt Tåju’l-Dín Shahraståna’, in Nåma-yi Åstån-i Quds, 7, no. 2 (1346/1968), pp. 71–80; 8 (1347/1969), pp. 61–71)).

These confirmed charges by several Sunni contemporaries of al-Shahraståní that he, with all his erudition in the religious sciences, adhered to ‘heretical doctrine’. Abï Sa’d al-Sam’åní (d. 562/1166), who had heard him teach, reported that he was accused of inclin-ing to the ‘people of the mountain fortresses’, i.e. the Nizårí Isma’ilis in Iran, and of spreading their ‘heretical’ teaching ((Al-Subkí, ®abaqåt al-Shåfi’iyya al-kubrå, ed. A.M. al-Óilw and M.M. al-®anå˙í (Cairo, 1388/1969), vol. 6, p. 130)).


Al-Shahraståní’s Isma’ili views have since been examined in detail by a number of scholars. They are most significant in three of his extant works. The first is a Majlis, a sermon in Persian on the two worlds of Creation and Order, delivered by him in Khuwårizm. It was first edited by Nå’íní and has been translated into French and analysed by Diane Steigerwald ((Diane Steigerwald, Majlis: Discours sur l’ordre et la création (Saint-Nicolas, Québec, 1998).)). The second is the Qur’an commentary Mafåtí˙ al-asrår wa-ma˚åbí˙ al-abrår composed late in his life. Here he mentions

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