The goal of this article is to introduce
some essential elements of the philosophy of Sohrawardi, the
great philosopher of Light, with special emphasis on his restoration,
within the Islamic context, of certain Zoroastrian motifs;
specifically: the Mazdean Angelology (see my previous article
Earth is an Angel"), the Farr, and
the concept of the King-Priest (see my previous article entitled "The
Tri-functional Ideology"). For a more detailed description
of Sohrawardi's philosophy, see for instance .
With the advent of Islam, two separate
movements of migration out of Iran of religious ideas gradually
took place. The first was initiated by those Iranian Mages
(called "Majus" in Islamic literature) who professed a radical
dualism of the Principles of Light and Darkness based on the
original Indo-European vedic religion
Tri-functional Ideology"). Migrating to the North-Eastern borders of
the Iranian world (Asia Minor), theses Mages later initiated,
in Rome and elsewhere in the Roman
Empire, a cult where the figure of the pre-Zoroastrian
God Mithra became
preponderant. A more powerful current of migration toward the
South-Western borders of the Iranian world was fuelled by the
so-called Khosrawanid Mages
(called "Hellenized Mages" in Western literature)
who, in accordance with Zoroastrian precepts, believed in the
undisputed primacy of the Principle of Light symbolized by Ahura-Mazda and his Six Archangels. Having reached Egypt,
this latter current of thought happily merged with the, then
prevalent, philosophy of so-called "Eastern Neoplatonicians" based
Sohrawardi  was the first Islamic
philosopher who recognized the Iranian origin of some of these Neoplatonician ideas and set out to "repatriate" them
back into Iran. In this endeavor, he felt strengthened by his
sense of belonging to a dispersed but connected spiritual family
sustained by the "Eternal Leaven" (khamir azali). The
Eternal Leaven is a leaven which, behaving like a mystical sap, rises
from spirit to spirit without the need for a "sufficient
reason." Sohrawardi, who died a martyr at the age of thirty-eight,
has written a number of books in Persian and Arabic. His major
work, the treatise on Oriental Philosophy (Hikmat Ishraqi), is
centered on the phenomenon of Ishraq (orient, sunrise) as the primordial epiphany of being.
His philosophy was opposed by both the rationalistic Aristotelians
and the traditional philosophers of Islamic Shari'at (the foqaha). The latter caused his death by convincing
Saladin that he was an apostate (mortad).
Sohrawardi was against the view of
religion as, primarily, a Law to be lived by without reference
to the underlying esoteric Truth (haqiqat). Further, he considered that the esoteric Principle
is alive and continues to produce inspirations (ilham) even after the advent of
the Last of the Great Prophets (Mohammad).
The Ishraqi Philosophy
Sohrawardi, also known as Sheykh ol-Ishraq, is the founder
of the ishraqi or Oriental
philosophy. Here, "orient" does not have any geographical
connotation. For Sohrawardi, ishraq (infinitive fourth form of the root sharq meaning "east" in Arabic) is the source
of wisdom and represents, at the same time, the revelation
of being (zohour), and the mystical intuition enabling its discovery
(kashf). The rising Sun is
taken as the supreme epiphany not only of the Knowledge but
also of the knowing Subject. Ishraq is
based on the transmutation of literal or symbolic truth (majaz)
into the underlying spiritual truth (haqiqat).
The ishraqi "knowledge" is
not abstract universal knowledge (ilm souri), it
is intuitive "presential" knowledge
in the sense that, by its presence, the knower's soul "illuminates" the object of knowledge,
empowering it to reveal its true spiritual essence. The interaction
between subject and object of ishraqi knowledge
is so close and intimate that it becomes impossible and irrelevant
to distinguish one form the other (in perfect conformity with
Western existentialist views).
It was Islam, and more precisely the
Islamic gnosis of Ismaelite and Sh'ite philosophers,
which provided Sheykh ol-Ishraq with his most effective resource: The ta'wil  or spiritual hermeneutics. Indeed, ta'wil, the spiritual exegesis of hidden meaning from
Islamic canonical texts (mainly the Quran,
and the Hadith of the Prophet and
the twelve Imams), is the perfect example of an ishraqi transmutation.
First Motif: Angelology
The universe is an infinite succession
of steps of gradual degradation of the Light down to its compete extinction in the pure darkness of demonic Matter.
It is easy, in this context, to see how a hierarchy of being
can be established based on the degree of illumination. It
is Love that fuels the aspiration of beings to raise themselves
to a higher level in the hierarchy of Light.
At the top of the hierarchy stands
the Light of Lights from which all being proceeds. From it
emanates the First Archangel, the Mazdean Bahman.
From the illumination/reflection relation between the first
and the second beings emanates a new Light, the Second Archangel.
From the relation between the First and the Second Archangels
emanates the Third Archangel, and so on.
Therefore, the whole of being proceeds
from the original relation of conquering power and love, in
Persian qahr va mohabbat (for Sohrawardi, qahr is
the domination exerted by the Beloved over the Lover while mohabbat is the force that subordinates the Lover
to the Beloved in the same way that the caused is subordinated
to its causer), between the Original Lover, Bahman,
and the Original Beloved, the Transcendent and Unique God.
In the same way that the Light of
Lights is the Lord of the First Archangel, each species has
its Lord or Angel of whom the corporeal entity is a projection:
It is the projection of the Angel's Light into dark Matter
which evokes life and movement. The corporeal species is like
an icon (sanam) of its Angel,
a theurgy (tilism) operated
by him in the Matter which is, by itself, absolute darkness
Sohrawardi names and describes all
of the Archangels of ancient Iran: Bahman,
the Archangel of animals, Urdibihisht,
the Archangel of fire, Khurdad,
the Archangel of water, Murdad,
the Archangel of plants, Shahrivar, the Archangel of metals, and Isfandarmuz, the Archangel of the Earth (see my previous
article, "The Earth is an Angel" for a detailed exposition
of the Mazdean Angelology). It should be noted that the ontological
status of the Mazdean Angels is far superior to that of the
Biblical or Quranic Angels. Further,
a Mazdean Angel is not exactly equivalent to the Jungian notion
of Archetype  because while the Archetype exists as a result
of the existence of what it typifies, the Mazdean Angel's existence
does not depend on an inferior being (inferior in the hierarchy
of Light). The Mazdean Angel is a self-conscious Light whose
providence on the inferior beings consists, precisely, in their
presence to his Light, the Light that brings them to
Corbin believes that, via the Mazdean
Angelology of ancient Iran,
Sohrawardi has introduced a new framework for understanding
the Platonic Ideas (mothul aflatuni)
. For a more detailed discussion of this argument is provided
Second Motif: The Farr
The Light emitted by the Light of
Lights, which orders the hierarchy of being, is the Khurrah (Avestan Xvarnah,
Light of Glory) or Farr of the ancient Iran.
Thus, the pure Light of Farr seems to be at the origin
of being. It is the energy that attaches beings to existence.
As described in the previous section, each being receives the
Light from its Angel. This Light is emitted into the being's "corporeal
temple" in proportion to its degree of preparation. Most
souls in this world are in a state of "Occidental Exile" (ghorbat-e gharbi)
residing in the dark abyss of demonic Matter (this state is
beautifully rendered in Sohrawardi's "Story
of the Occidental Exile" ).
The most important categories of Farr bestowed
on human souls are:
The Farr of
the "Aryans", the legendary knights/heros of
Iranian epic (representing heroic energy or qahr)
The Farr of
Zoroaster (representing spiritual energy)
The Farr of
the kings such as Kay Khosrow (representing
a perfect balance between the heroic and the spiritual energies)
The holder of the third category of Farr,
the Farr kyani, is, in the
words of Sohrawardi (in Partow-Nameh), "the
natural ruler of the world". Here, Sohrawardi is reviving
the pre-Islamic concept of the King-Priest: Ancient Iranians
believed that the perfect ruler had to combine the energies
and authorities of both the warrior class/function and the
religious class/function in order to receive the heavenly gift
of the Farr kyani (see my previous article "The Tri-functional
Third Motif: The Perfect Sage or Imam
At each level of being, the Light
of Lights has a vice-regent or Imam. The world is never
deprived of Imams because it is they who sustain it.
For instance, in the world of elements, fire occupies this
hegemonic position. The Imam of humans, or the "Perfect
Sage", is, according to Sohrawardi, necessarily someone
who has personally experienced the vision of the pure Light
of Farr; the same Light that Kay Khosrow and
Zarathustra were given to contemplate. This requirement categorically
excludes "pure" philosophers who lack the required
spiritual investiture (Sohrawardi names Farabi and Ibn Sina as
examples of such "pure" philosophers).
The Imam's authority over the world
is essentially a spiritual investiture, not a political one.
Sohrawardi is quite adamant in the Partow-Nameh:
I do not
mean that the political power is effectively in the hands
of the sage Imam. No! The legitimacy of his investiture proceeds
from his spiritual perfections. But sometimes the Imam is
publicly recognized and officially invested (it was the case
of the Prophets or the ancient kings Fereydoon and
Kay Khosrow in whom the royal Farr
was made visible) and sometimes the Imam is hidden.
The legendary king Kay Khosrow, holder of the Farr kyani,
is the prototype of the Perfect Sage. From his name is derived
the adjective khosrawanid used by Sohrawardi to designate the Sages
of ancient Iran.
In his Kitab al-alwah,
Sohrawardi evokes Kay Khosrow's visionary
ecstasy and the bestowment of the Farr kyani (or kyan-khurrah):
It so happened that Kay Khosrow the blessed
remained absorbed in the prayer and a long meditation. Then
came to him the Wisdom (Sophia) of the Lord sacrosanct and
it guided him into the world of Mystery (ghayb)
[... ] His soul received the imprint of the divine Sophia;
the Archangelic Lights revealed themselves to him and in
this face-to-face, he understood the subtle mode of reality
named Royal Light of Glory (kyan-khurrah),
that is, that it is the projection (ilqa)
in the soul of a victorial element (qahir) in front
of which heads bow.
It is said that Kay Khosrow was occulted from the world of men after his renouncement
to temporal authority. He is the hidden King-Priest whose return
is awaited by the Light seeking souls. Clearly, Sohrawardi's vision
reunites in the same lineage the Kay Khosrow of
ancient Iran and
the hidden twelfth Imam of Shi'ism.
Through the ages, the nostalgia of
the King-Priest, the contained and discrete yearning for the
spiritual kingdom of the "Hidden Imam", has
been a consistent constituent of the Iranian soul. And Iranian
religions have always heeded this deeply rooted nostalgia:
pre-Zoroastrian Kay Khosrow, Zoroastrian Sorush, Shi'ite hidden Imam.
By their unfailing belief in the accomplishment of a Glorious
Destiny which seems impossible within the limits of the human
condition, the Iranian people has,
in the words of Corbin, "chosen triumph in defeat."
 Henry Corbin (1971): "En Islam Iranien,
tome II Sohrawardi et les platoniciens de Perse", Gallimard [in
 Shihaboddin Yahia Sohrawardi,
also known as Sheykh ol-Ishraq in
reference to his Ishraqi philosophy,
was born in Sohraward in the year
1155. After an initial flirt with Sufism, he moved to Syria and
became a close friend of Malik Zahir, son of Saladin (Salahoddin).
He was put to death in the year 1193, after a takfir (infidelity) sentence was
issued against him.
 Ta'wil or spiritual hermeneutics
consists in "bringing back" the data to their origin,
to their archetype. Therefore, Ta'wil is,
essentially, the exegesis of symbols, the bringing out of hidden
spiritual meaning from the material data of external history.
It is a technique commonly used by Shi'ite philosophers (Sohrawardi, Mollí Sadrí, Mirdímad ...
) for the interpretation of Islamic religious texts.
 C.G. Jung rejected Freudian accounts of infant sexuality as the source
of libido. He developed a rich account of the unconscious,
positing shared primordial "archetypes" as elements
established innately in the collective unconscious of all human
beings rather than as features of individual personality.
 Plato used the word "Idea" to designate universal supra-sensible Forms. Forms are exemplar, ideal
entities, which are instantiated in the sensible world. For
any set of things that share some property, there is a transcendent
Form that gives unity to that set of things.
 The story of a young prince who is exiled from his native "Orient" to
an "Occidental" city whose inhabitants are "oppressors".
A message from his family delivered by a hoopoe invites him
to return home. To do so, he has to extract himself from the
bottom of a well (the dark world of matter) where he is imprisoned
and climb the mountain of Qaf....
Corbin  points out striking similarities between the "Occidental
Exile" of Sohrawardi and the "Song of the Pearl" of
the Acts of Thomas, thereby suggesting the existence of a common
root for the Iranian spiritual tradition and the Christian