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The Development of Metaphysics in Persia
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 The Development Of Metaphysics In Persia
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Muhammad Iqbal
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  • Chapter I Persian Dualism . . . . . . . . . . . . . .        3
  • 1. Zoroaster . . . . . . . . . . . . . .                    3
  • 2. Mani and Mazdak . . . . . . . . . . . . .              11
  • 3. Retrospect . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .                 17


  • Chapter II Neo-Platonic Aristotelians of Persia . . . .  21
  • 1. Ibn Maskawaih . . . . . . . . . . . . .                23
  • 2. Avicenna . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .                  32
  • Chapter III Islamic Rationalism . . . . . . . . . . . .      38
  • 1. Metaphysics of Rationalism-Materialism . . .      38
  • 2. Contemporary Movements of Thought . . . .        45
  • 3. Reaction against Rationalism – The Ash`arite . .    52
  • Chapter IV Controversy between Realism and       65
  • Idealism . . .
  • Chapter V Sufiism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  • The origin and Quranic justification of Sufism . .
  • Aspects of Sufi Metaphysics . . . . . . . .
    • Reality as Self-conscious Will . . . . . .
    • Reality as Beauty . . . . . . . . . . .
    • (1) Reality as Light . . . . . . . . . .
  • (Return to Persian Dualism – Al-Ishraqi) ..
  • (2) Reality as Thought – Al-Jili . . . . .
  • Chapter VI Later Persian Thought . . . . . . . . . .       134
  • Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .              147


The most remarkable feature of the character of the Persian people is their love of Metaphysical speculation. Yet the inquirer who approaches the extant literature of Persia expecting to find any comprehensive systems of thought, like those of Kapila or Kant, will have to turn back disappointed, though deeply impressed by the wonderful intellectual subtlety displayed therein.

It seems to me that the Persian mind is rather impatient with detail, and consequently destitute of that organizing faculty that gradually works out a system of ideas, by interpreting the fundamental principles with reference to the ordinary facts of observation. The subtle Brahman sees the inner unity of things; so does the Persian.

But while the former endeavors to discover it in all the aspects of human experience, and illustrates its hidden presence in the concrete in various ways, the latter appears to be satisfied with a bare universality and does not attempt to verify the richness of its inner content.

 The butterfly imagination of the Persian flies half-inebriated as it were, from flower to flower, and seems to be incapable of reviewing the garden as a whole. For this reason, his deepest thoughts and emotions find expression mostly in disconnected verses (Ghazal), which reveal all the subtlety of his artistic soul. The Hindu, while admitting, like the Persian, the necessity of a higher source of knowledge, yet calmly moves from experience to experience, mercilessly dissecting them, and forcing them to yield their underlying universality.

In fact the Persian is only half-conscious of Metaphysics .as a system of thought; his Brahman brother, on the other hand, is fully alive to the need of presenting his theory in the form of a thoroughly reasoned out system. And the result of this mental difference between the two nations is clear. In the one case we have only partially worked out systems of thought; in the other case, the awful sublimity of the searching Vedanta. The student of Islamic Mysticism

 who is anxious to see an all-embracing exposition of the principle of Unity, must look up the heavy volumes of the Andalusian Ibn al-`Arabi, whose profound teaching stands in strange contrast with the dry-as-dust Islam of his countrymen.

The results, however, of the intellectual activity of the different branches of the great Aryan family are strikingly similar. The outcome of all Idealistic speculation in India is Buddha, in Persia Bahaullah, and in the west Schopenhauer whose system, in Hegelian language, is the marriage of free oriental universality with

occidental determinateness.

But the history of Persian thought presents a phenomenon peculiar to itself. In Persia, due perhaps to Semitic influences, philosophical speculation has indissolubly associated itself with religion, and thinkers in new lines of thought have almost always been founders of new religious movements. After the Arab conquest, however, we see pure Philosophy severed from religion by the Neo-Platonic Aristotelians of Islam, but the severance was only a transient phenomenon.

Greek philosophy, though an exotic plant in the soil of Persia, eventually became an integral part of Persian thought; and later thinkers, critics as well as advocates of Greek wisdom, talked in the philosophical language of Aristotle and Plato, and were mostly influenced by religious pre- suppositions. It is necessary to bear this fact in mind in order to gain a thorough understanding of post-Islamic Persian thought.

 The object of this investigation is, as will appear, to prepare a ground-work for a future history of Persian Metaphysics. Original thought cannot be expected in a review, the object of which is purely historical; yet I venture to claim some consideration for the following two points;-

  • I have endeavoured to trace the logical continuity of Persia in thought, which I have tried to interpret in the language of modern Philosophy. This, as far as I know, has not yet been done.
  • I have discussed the subject of Sufism in a more scientific manner, and have attempted to bring out the intellectual conditions which necessitated such a phenomenon. In opposition, therefore, to the generally accepted view I have tried to maintain that Sufiism is a necessary product of the play of various intellectual and moral forces which would necessarily awaken the slumbering soul to a higher ideal of life.

Owing to my ignorance of Zend, my knowledge of Zoroaster is merely second- hand. As regards the second part of my work, I have been able to look up the original Persian and Arabic manuscripts as well as many printed works connected with my investigation. I give below the names of Arabic and Persian manuscripts from which I have drawn most of the material utilized here. The method of transliteration adopted is the one recognised by the Royal Asiatic Society.

  1. Tarikh al- Hukama, by Al-Baihaqi- Royal Library of Berlin.
  2. Sharh-i Anwriyya, (with the original text) by Muhammad Sharif of Herat.
  3. Hikmat at-`Ain, by al-Katibi.
  4. Commentary on Hikmat at-`Ain, by Muhammad ibn Mubarak al-Bukhari – India Office Library.

5.Commentary on Hikmat al-`Ain by Husaini.

6. Awarif al-Ma’arif, by Shahab al-Din. 7, Mishkat al-Anwar, by Al-Ghazali

  • Kashk al-Mahjub by `All Hajveri
  • Risalah-i Nafs, translated from Aristotle, by Afdal Kashi.

10 Risalah-i Mir Sayyid Sharif.

11.Khatima, by Sayyid Muhammad Gisudaraz. 12.Manazil al-sa’irin, by `Abdullah Isma`il of Herat.

  1. Jawidan Nama, by Afdal Kati.
  2. Tarikh al-Hukama, by Shahrzuri, British Museum Library.
  3. Collected Works of Avicenna. 16.Risalah fi’l-Wujud, by Mir Jurjani
  4. Jawidani Kabir Cambridge University Library.
  5. Jami Jahan Numa.
  6. Majmu’ai Farsi Risalah Nos: 1, 2, of Al-Nasafi, Trinity College Library.





To Zoroaster – the ancient sage of Iran – must always be assigned the first place in the intellectual history of Iranian Aryans who, wearied of constant roaming, settled down to an agricultural life at a time when the Vedic Hymns were still being com- posed in the plains of Central Asia. This new mode of life and the consequent stability of the institution of property among the settlers, made them hated by other Aryan tribes who had not yet shaken off their original nomadic habits, and occasionally plundered their more civilised kinsmen. Thus grew up the conflict between the two modes of life which found its earliest expression in the denunciation of the deities of each other – the Devas and the Ahuras. It was, really the beginning of a long individualising process which gradually severed the Iranian branch from other Aryan tribes, and finally manifested itself in the religious system of Zoroaster (1) – the

1 Some European scholars have held Zoroaster to be nothing more than a mythical personage. But since the publication of Professor Jackson’s admirable Life of Zoroaster, the Iranian Prophet has, I believe, finally got out of the ordeal of modern criticism.

great prophet of Iran who lived and taught in the age of Solon and Thales. In the dim light of modern oriental research we see ancient Iranians -divided between two camps- partisans of the powers of good, and partisans of the powers of evil when the

 great sage joins their furious contest, and with his moral enthusiasm stamps out once for all the worship of demons as well as the intolerable ritual of the Magian priesthood.

It is, however, beside our purpose to trace the origin and growth of Zoroaster’s religious system. Our object, in so far as the present investigation is concerned, is to glance at the metaphysical side of his revelation. We, therefore, wish to fix our attention on the sacred trinity of philosophy

– God, Man and Nature.

Geiger, in his “Civilisation of Eastern Iranians in Ancient Times”, points out that Zoroaster inherited two fundamental principles from his Aryan ancestry:- (1.) There is law in Nature. (2.) There is conflict in Nature. It is the observation of law and conflict in the vast panorama of being that constitutes the philosophical foundation of his system. The problem before him was to reconcile the existence of evil with the eternal goodness of God. His predecessors worshipped a plurality of good spirits all of which he reduced to a unity and called it Ahuramazda. On the other hand he reduced all the powers of evil to a similar unity and called it Druj-Ahriman. Thus by a process of unification he arrived at two fundamental principles which, as Haug shows, he

looked upon not as two independent activities, but as two parts or rather aspects of the same Primary Being. Dr. Haug, therefore, holds that the Prophet of ancient Iran was theologically a monotheist and philosophically a dualist(1). But to maintain that there are “twin” (2) spirits – creators of reality and nonreality – and at the same time to hold that these two spirits are united in

 the Supreme Being,(3) is virtually to say that the principle of evil constitutes a part of the very essence of God; and the conflict between good and evil is nothing more than the struggle of God against Himself. There is, therefore, an inherent weakness in his attempt to reconcile theological monotheism with philosophical dualism, and the result was a schism among the prophet’s followers. The Zendiks (4) whom Dr. Haug calls heretics, but who were, I believe, decidedly more consistent than their opponents, maintained the independence of the two original spirits from each other, while the Magi upheld their unity. The upholders of unity endeavoured, in various ways, to meet the Zendiks; but the very fact that they tried different phrases and expressions to express the unity of the “Primal Twins”, indicates dissatisfaction with their own philosophical explanations, and the strength

  • Essays, p. 303.
  • “In the beginning there was a pair of twins, two spirits, each of a peculiar activity.” Yas. XXX. I
  • “The more beneficial of my spirits has produced, by speaking it, the whole rightful creation.” Yas. XIX. 9. 4.The following verse from Bundahish Chap. 1, will indicate the Zendik view :- “And between them (the two principles) there was empty space, that is what they call “air” in which is now their meeting.”

of their opponent’s position. Shahrastani (1) describes briefly the different explanations of the Magi. The Zarwanians look upon Light and Darkness as the sons of Infinite Time. The Kiyumarthiyya hold that the original principle was Light which was afraid of a hostile power, and it was this thought of an adversary mixed with fear that led to the birth of Darkness. Another branch of Zarwanians maintain that the original principle doubted concerning something and this doubt produced Ahriman. Ibn Hazm (2) speaks of another sect who explained the

 principle of Darkness as the obscuration of a part of the fundamental principle of Light itself.

Whether the philosophical dualism of Zoroaster can be reconciled with his monotheism or not, it is unquestionable that, from a metaphysical standpoint he has made a profound suggestion in regard to the ultimate nature of reality. The idea seems to have influenced ancient Greek Philosophy as as early Christian Gnostic speculation, and through the latter, some aspects of modern Western thought (1). As a thinker he is worthy of great respect not, only because he approached the problem of objective multiplicity in a philosophical spirit, but also because he endeavoured, having been led to metaphysical dualism, to reduce his Primary Duality to higher unity. He seems to have perceived, what the mystic shoemaker of Germany perceived long after him, that the diversity of nature could not be explained with postulating a principle of negativity or self differentiation in the very nature of God. His immediate successors did not, however, quite realise the deep significance of their master’s suggestions but we shall see, as we

 advance, how Zoroaster’s idea finds a more spiritualised expression in some of the aspects of later Persian thought.

Of Zoroastrian influence on Pythagoras, Erdmann says : “The fact that the odd number.,; are put above the even, has been emphasised by Gladisch in his comparison of the Pythagorian with the Chinese doctrine, and the fact, moreover, that among the oppositions we find those of light and darkness, good and evil, has induced many, in ancient and modern times, to suppose that they were borrowed from Zoroastrianism.” Vol. 1, p. 33.

1.Among modern English thinkers Mr. Bradley arrives at a conclusion similar to that of Zoroaster. Discussing the Ethical significance of Bradley’s Philosophy, Prof. Sorley says:- “Mr. Bradley, like Green, has faith in an eternal reality which might be called spiritual, inasmuch as it is not material; like Green, he looks upon man’s moral activity as an appearance-what Green calls a reproduction-of this eternal reality. But under this general agreement there lies a world of difference. fie refuses by the use of the term self- conscious, to liken his Absolute to the personality of man, and he brings out the consequence which in Green is more or less concealed, that the evil equally with the good in man and in the world are appearances of the Absolute”. Recent Tendencies in Ethics, pp. 100-101.

Turning now to his Cosmology, his dualism leads him to bifurcate, as it were, the whole universe in two departments of being – reality i.e. the sum of good creations flowing from the creative activity the beneficial spirit, and non-reality (1) i.e. the sum all evil creations Proceeding from the hostile spirit. The original conflict of the two spirits is manifested in the opposing forces of nature, which, therefore presents a continual struggle between the Powers of good and the powers of Evil. But it should be remembered that nothing intervenes between the original spirits and their respective creations. Things are good and bad because they proceed from good or bad creative agencies, in their own nature they are quite indifferent. Zoroaster’s conception of creation is fundamentally different from that Of Plato and

 Schopenhauer to whom spheres of empirical reality reflect non-temporal or temporal ideas which, so to speak, mediate between Reality and Appearance. There are, according to Zoroaster, only two categories of existence, and the history of the universe is nothing more than a progressive conflict between the forces failing -respectively under these categories. We are, like other things Partakers of this struggle, and it is our duty to range ourselves on the side of Light which will eventually prevail completely and vanquish the spirit of Darkness, The metaphysics

1.This should not be confounded with Plato’s non-being. To Zoroaster all forms of existence Proceeding from the creative agency of the spirit of darkness are unreal – because, considering the final triumph of the spirit of Light, they have a temporary existence only.

of the Iranian Prophet, like that of Plato, passes on into Ethics, and it is in the peculiarity of the Ethical aspect of his thought that the influence of his social environment is most apparent.

Zoroaster’s view of the destiny of the soul is very simple. The soul, according to him, is a creation, not a part of God as the votaries of Mithra (1) afterwards maintained. It had a beginning in time, but can attain to everlasting life by fighting against Evil in the earthly scene of its activity. It is free to choose between the only two courses of action-good and evil; and besides the power of choice the spirit of Light has endowed it with the following, faculties:

  1. Conscience (2).
  2. Vital force.
  3. The Soul -The Mind.
  4.  The Spirit -Reason.
  5. The Farawashi (3) – A kind of tutelary spirit that acts as a protection of man in his voyage towards God.
  6. .Mithraism was a phase Of Zoroastrianism that spread over the Roman world in the second century. The partisans of Mithra. worshipped the sun whom they looked upon as the great advocate of Light. They held the human soul to be a part of God, and maintained that the observance of a mysterious cult could bring about the soul’s union with God. Their doctrine of the soul, its ascent towards God by torturing the body and finally passing through the sphere of Aether and becoming pure fire, offers some resemblance with views entertained by some schools of Persian Sufism.
  7. Geiger’s “Civilisation of Eastern Iranians”, Vol. 1, p. 124.
  8. Dr. Haug (Essays, p. 206) compares these protecting spirits with the ideas of Plato. They, however, are not to be understood

The last three (1) faculties are united together after death and form an indissoluble whole. The virtuous soul, leaving its home of flesh, is borne up into higher regions, and has to pass through the following planes of existence:

  1. The Place of good thoughts.
  2. The Place of good words.
  3. The Place of good works.

The Place of Eternal Glory (2) – Where the

as models according to which things are fashioned. Plato’s ideas, moreover, are eternal, non-temporal and non-spatial. The doctrine that everything created by the spirit of Light is protected by a subordinate spirit, has only an outward resemblance with the view that every spirit is fashioned according to a perfect supersensible model.

1.’The Sufi conception of the soul is also tripartite. According to them, the soul is a combination of Mind, Heart and Spirit (Nafs, Qalb, Ruh). The ” heart ” is to them both material and immaterial or, more properly, neither-standing midway between soul and mind (Nafs and Ruh, and acting as the organ of higher knowledge. Perhaps Dr. Schenkel’s use of the word conscience ” would approach the sufi idea of “heart.”

2.Geiger, Vol. 1, p. 104. The Sufi Cosmology has a similar doctrine concerning the different stages of existence through which the soul has to pass in its journey heavenward. They enumerate the following five Planes; but their definition of the character of each plane is slightly different:

  1. The world of body (Nasut).
  2. The world of pure intelligence (Malakut).
  3. The world of power (Jabrut).
  4. The world of negation (Lahut).
  5. The world of .Absolute Silence (Hahut)

The Sufis Probably borrowed this idea from the Indian Yogis who recognise the followings even Planes:-(Annie Besant “Reincarnation”, p. 30).

1. The Plane of Physical Body. 2- The Plane of Etherial Double.

3. The Plane of Vitality. individual soul unites with the principle of Light, without losing its personality


We have seen Zoroaster’s solution of the problem of diversity, and the theological or rather philosophical controversy which split up the Zoroastrian Church. The half- Persian Mani – “the founder of Godless community” as Christians styled him afterwards – agrees with those Zoroastrians who held their approaches Prophet’s doctrine in its naked form, and approaches the question in a spirit thoroughly materialistic. Originally Persian, his father emigrated from Hamadan to Babylonia where Mani was born in 215

  • The Plane of Emotional Nature.
  • The Plane of Thought.
  • The Plane of Spiritual soul-Reason.
  • The Plane of Pure Spirit.
  1. Sources used
  • The text of Muhammad ibn Ishaq, edited by Flugel, pp. 52-56.
    • Al-Ya’qubi -. ed. Houtsma, 1883, Vol- 1, pp.- 180- 181.
    • Ibn Hazm Kitab al-Milal w’al-Nitial: ed. Cairo, Vol.

Shahrastani ed. Cureton, London) 1846, pp. 188-

Encyclopedia Britannica, article on Mani Salerrianri -. Bulletin de I’Academie des Sciences

Petersburg, Series IV, 15, April 1907, pp. 175-184.

F. W- K- Muller: Handschriften-Reste in Estrangelo, Schrift aus Turfan, Chinesish-Turkistan, Teil I, II; Sitzungen der Koniglich Preussischen Akader nie der Wissenschaf tell, 11 Feb – 1904.1904, pp. 348-352; un Abhandlungen ect. 1904

2. Sources used –

  • Siyasat Namah Nizam al-Mulk: ed. Charles Schefer, Paris

1897, pp. 166-181.

  • Shahtastani1: ed. Cureton, pp. 192-194.
  • Al-Ya’qubi ; ed. Houtsma, 1883, Vol. 1, p. 186 (d )Al-Biruni: Chronology of Ancient Nations: tr. E. Sachau,

or 216 A.D. – the time when Buddhistic Missionaries were beginning to preach Nirvana to the country of Zoroaster. The eclectic character of the religious system of Mani, its bold extension of the Christian idea of redemption, and its logical consistency in holding, as a true ground for an ascetic life, that the world is essentially evil, made it a real power which influenced not only Eastern and Western Christian thought (1), but has also left some dim marks on the -development of metaphysical speculation in Persia. Leaving the discussion of the sources (2) of Mani’s religious system to the orientalist, we proceed to describe and finally to determine the philosophical value of his doctrine of the origin of the Phenomenal Universe.

The Paganising gnostic, as Erdmann calls him, teaches that the variety of things springs from the

1 ” If I see aright, five different conceptions can be distinguished for the period about 400 A.D. First we have the Manichaean which insinuated its way in the darkness, but was widely extended even among the clergy”.

(Harnack’s “History of Christian Dogma,” Vol.V, p. 56). “From the anti-Manichaean controversy sprang the desire to conceive all God’s attributes as identical i.e. the interest in the indivisibility of God”. (ibid. Vol. V, p. 120).

2. Some Eastern sources of information about Mani’s Philosophy (e.g. Ephraim Syrus mentioned by Prof. A. A. Bevan in his Introduction to the Hymn of the Soul) tell us that he was a disciple of Bardesanes, the Syrian gnostic.

The learned author of al-Fihrist”, however, mentions some books which Mani wrote against the followers of the Syrian gnostic. Burkitt, in his lectures on Early Eastern Christianity, gives a free translation of Bardesanes’ De Fato, the spirit of which I understand, is fully Christian, and thoroughly opposed to the teaching of Mani. Ibn Hazm, however, in his Kitab al-Milal w’al-Nihal (Vol. 11, p. 36) says, “Both agreed in other respects, except that Mani believed darkness to be a living principle.”

mixture of two eternal Principles – Light and Darkness – which are separate from and independent of each other. The Principle of Light connotes ten ideas – Gentleness, Knowledge, Understanding, Mystery, Insight, Love, Conviction, Faith, Benevolence and Wisdom.

 Similarly, the Principle of Darkness connotes five eternal ideas – Mistiness, Heat, Fire, Venom, and Darkness. Along with these two primordial principles and connected with each, Mani recognizes the eternity of space and earth, each connoting respectively the ideas of knowledge, understanding, mystery, insight, breath, air, water, light, and fire. In darkness,

  • the feminine Principle in Nature – were hidden the elements of evil which, in the course of time, concentrated and resulted in the composition, so to speak, of the hideous
  • looking Devil – the principle of activity. This first-born child of the fiery womb of darkness attacked the domain of the King of Light who, in order to ward off his malicious onslaught, created the Primal man. A serious conflict ensued between the two creatures and resulted in the complete vanquishment of the Primal man. The evil one, then, succeeded in mixing together the five elements of darkness with the five elements of light. Thereupon the ruler of the

 domain of light ordered some of his angels to construct the Universe out of these mixed elements with a view to free the atoms of light from their imprisonment. But the reason why darkness was the first to attack light, is that the latter, being in its essence good, could not proceed to start the process of admixture which was essentially harmful to itself. The attitude of Mani’s Cosmology, therefore, to the Christian doctrine of Redemption is similar to that of Hegelian Cosmology to the doctrine of the Trinity.

To him redemption is a physical process and all procreation, because it protracts the imprisonment of light, is contrary to the aim and object of the Universe.

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