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Sabzawārī, Mullā Hādī

By:
Mehdi Aminrazavi
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam What is This? Includes complete coverage of Islamic philosophy, sciences, and technologies from the classical through contemporary periods.

Sabzawārī, Mullā Hādī

Mullā Hādī ibn Mahdī Sabzawārī, born in the city of Sabzevār in Khorāsān in 1797, was the most famous philosopher of the Qājār period and one of the greatest proponents of Mullā Ṣadrā’s School of al-ḥikmat al-mutaʿāliyah (transcendent philosophy). He was a precocious child who began his education in Sabzevār at a young age and wrote a short treatise when he was only seven years old. Hādī moved at the age of ten to Mashhad, a great center of learning where he spent ten years in a madrasah in which he studied Arabic and the religious sciences, especially Islamic law. Having completed his preliminary studies in Mashhad, he set out for Isfahan, which was still a great center for the study of philosophy. It was in Isfahan that he met and studied with the two great masters of the school of Mullā Ṣadrā, Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī and his student Mullā Ismāʿīl Iṣfahānī. He studied Islamic philosophy, the works of Mullā Ṣadrā such as al-Asfār al-arbaʿah (The Four Journeys) and al-Shawāhid al-rubūbīyah (Divine Witnesses) with these venerable teachers, and concurrently he also studied Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) with the famous Shīʿī scholar Āqā Muḥammad ʿAlī Najafī. It is said that during his stay in Isfahan, Mullā Hādī practiced an austere form of asceticism and took a vow of poverty even though he came from a wealthy family.

Sabzawārī returned to Sabzevār, where he initially taught philosophy and then made the pilgrimage to Mecca. It was during this arduous journey that he lost his wife, and political upheavals made his return home dangerous. Mullā Hādī decided to stay in Kermān for a year, where he hid his real identity and scholarly rank and worked as a simple waiter in a teahouse, devoting himself fully to spiritual and ascetic practices. He returned to Sabzevār in 1836, where he spent the rest of his life teaching in the Faṣīḥīyah madrasah. His fame soon spread throughout Persia and even beyond its borders, and students came from Iraq, Turkey, Caucasia, and the Indian subcontinent. Sabzawārī was singularly responsible for turning the provincial town of Sabzevār into a major center for the study of Islamic philosophy vying for many decades with Isfahan and Tehran. He died in 1872 and was buried near the Nayshāpūr Gate, where his mausoleum still stands.

Philosophically, Sabzawārī was a proponent of Mullā Ṣadrā, and his major work Sharḥ al-manẓūmah (Commentary upon the Poem) is regarded as preparation for the study of Mullā Ṣadrā’s al-Asfār al-arbaʿat al-ʿaqlīyah (The Four Intellectual Journeys). Similar to Mullā Ṣadrā, Sabzawārī emphasized ontology and accepted the Ṣadrian doctrine of the unity, principiality, and gradation of wujūd and criticized severely the views of the opponents of this doctrine such as Shaykh Aḥmad Aḥṣāʾī. Sabzawārī was interested in epistemology, particularly Suhrawardī’s view of “knowledge by presence” (al-ʿilm al-ḥuḍūrī). In his discussion of knowledge, Sabzawārī took issue with Mullā Ṣadrā’s view that ʿilm or knowledge is a category of quality or property belonging to the soul. Sabzawārī considered ʿilm to be above any categories and belonging to the substance of the soul.

Sabzawārī had a particular affinity with Suhrawardī, whose references to the sages of ancient Persia as a source for philosophical wisdom are reflected in Mullā Hādī’s works. Sabzawārī refers to Persian sages as al-fahlawīyūn, or Pahlawī philosophers, whom he associates with the doctrine of the principiality and gradation of wujūd.

As to his works, Sabzawārī left behind over fifty treatises in Arabic and Persian. Most of his writings deal with Ṣadrian philosophy, but he also wrote on jurisprudence and on literature in addition to writing poetry. He wrote important commentaries on several works of Mullā Ṣadrā, the Shīʿī devotional projects, an important commentary on the difficult verses of the Mathnawī of Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, an important philosophical work titled Asrār al-ḥikam (The Secrets of Wisdom) written in Persian at the request of Naṣīr al-Dīn Shāh. Sabzawārī’s magnum opus is Sharḥ al-manẓūmah. He composed the poem while in Isfahan, but his own commentary on this difficult poem was not written until much later, in 1845. The poem itself, which summarizes Ṣadrian philosophy in rhyming couplets, was so complex that Sabzawārī felt the need to write a commentary upon it and also added glosses to his own commentary. This work, which consists of the poem, the commentary, and the glosses, remains one of the most popular texts for the teaching of Islamic philosophy. Among Sabzawārī’s other philosophical works we can mention commentaries and glosses upon such works of Mullā Ṣadrā as the Asfār, al-Shawāhid al-rūbūbīyah al-Mabdaʾ wa-al-maʿād (The Origin and the End), and Mafātīḥ al-ghayb (Keys to the Invisible World). Sabzawārī also wrote some devotional prayers dedicated to the Shīʿī imams, among which we can mention Sharḥ duʿāʾ al-jawshan al-kabīr (Commentary upon the Supplication “the Great Coat of Armor”), known also as Sharḥ al-asmāʾ al-ḥusnā (Commentary upon the Beautiful Names [of God]).

Among Sabzawārī’s major accomplishments was also the training of many students who became masters of different branches of learning. Among the more notable students of Mullā Hādī, we can mention Sulṭān ʿAlī Shah Gunābādī, the founder of a major branch of the Nīʿmatullāhī Ṣūfī order; Ḥakīm ʿAbbās Dārānī, a philosopher best known for his commentary upon Mīr Findiriskī’s philosophical poetry; Adīb Pīshāwarī, a master of Persian literature; and Ākhūnd Mllā Muḥammad Kāẓim Khurāsānī and Fāḍil-i Yazdī, both of whom were famous Shīʿī religious scholars.

Sabzawārī should be regarded as both a philosopher and scholar of religious sciences who revived Ṣadrian philosophy while continuing the tradition of Ibn Sīnā and Suhrawardī. His writings remain widely popular and his students spread his teachings far and wide. Major commentaries were written on his works, especially the Sharḥ al-manẓūmah, by such later philosophers as Mīrzā Mahdī Āshtiyānī, Ākhūnd Hīdajī, Muḥammad Taqī Āmulī, and Murtaz̤ā Muṭahharī.

Bibliography

  • Browne, Edward G. A Literary History of Persia. Vol. 4, Modern Times (1500–1924). London: Routledge, 2012.
  • Izutsu, Toshihiko. Creation and the Timeless Order of Things: Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy. Ashland: Ore.: White Cloud, 1994.
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. “Hādī Sabzavārī.” In Encyclopædia Iranica, edited by Ehsan Yarshater, Vol. 11, fasc. 4, pp. 437–441. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2003.
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia. Edited by Mehdi Amin Razavi. Richmond, U.K.: Curzon, 1996. See esp. pp. 304–319.
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. “The Metaphysics of Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī and Islamic Philosophy in Qajar Persia.” In Qajar Iran: Political, Social and Cultural Change, edited by Edmund Bosworth and Carole Hillenbrand, pp. 177–198. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983.
  • Sabzavārī, Hādī ibn Mahdī. The Metaphysics of Sabzavārī. Translated by Mehdi Mohaghegh and Toshihiko Izutsu. Delmar, N.Y.: Caravan, 1977.
  • Sabzavārī, Hādī ibn Mahdī. Sharḥ-i ghurar al-farāʾiḍ. Edited by Mehdi Mohaghegh and Toshihiko Izutsu. Tehran: Institute for Islamic Studies Press, 1969.
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