Another Mullā Ṣadrā title added to the Islamic Translation Series

05.06.2014 | Morgan Davis

Mullā Ṣadrā (c. 1572–1640) is one of the most prominent figures of later Islamic philosophy and among the most important philosophers of Safavid Persia. He presented a unified and integrated vision of reality at every ontological level—from God, to the universe, to the human state—that made the most of Islam’s native commitment to absolute monotheism. His school of thought drew from preceding philosophical, mystical, and theological traditions, integrating aspects of them into a new synthesis that Ṣadrā called al-ḥikmat al-mutaʿāliyah—”metaphysical philosophy” or “transcendent wisdom.”

His most important contribution to Islamic philosophy was in the study of existence (wujūd) and its application to such areas as cosmology, epistemology, psychology, eschatology, and, crucially, theology. Ṣadrā represented a paradigm shift from the Aristotelian metaphysics of fixed substances to the analysis of existence as the ultimate ground and dynamic source of all things. This “primacy of existence” and its theological implications are the central themes of the Kitāb al-mashāʿir, or The Book of Metaphysical Penetrations which has just been published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute’s Middle Eastern Text Initiative. ((See here to learn more about how this series helps fulfill the Maxwell Institute’s mission.)) Because of its concise nature, generations of scholars and masters of Islamic philosophy have resorted to it as a textbook in their advanced courses, producing numerous commentaries and summaries of its profound content. Now, two leading scholars of the Sadrean tradition have combined their expertise to make this work accessible to specialists and students alike.

A prominent Islamic philosopher, Seyyed Hossein Nasr (PhD, Harvard University) is professor of Islamic Studies at The George Washington University. The author of numerous books and articles, Dr. Nasr writes and lectures widely in the fields of Islamic esoterism, Sufism, philosophy of science, and metaphysics. (He spoke at BYU in 2012.) He was born in Iran and was given a classical Islamic education there, studying under eminent masters of the Persian Islamic tradition. As he writes in the introduction to Metaphysical Penetrations, the method of study involved students and teacher reading texts together and then the teacher offering additional exposition of the material, based on the oral tradition that had been handed down to him. After many years of training in Iran and his subsequent immigration to the United States, Professor Nasr began teaching at The George Washington University where—in addition to teaching regular university classes—he assumed the role of instructor by re-creating the traditional Islamic method of reading and commenting on texts in informal settings with a select group of his students. One of these students was Ibrahim Kalin, and one of the texts they read together was the Kitāb al-mushāʿir. Now, many years later, Kalin, a scholar in his own right, has gathered the English translation that Nasr produced of this text during those readings, added a substantial introduction and a scholarly apparatus, and prepared the text for publication in the Islamic Translation Series.

Dr. Ibrahim Kalin (PhD, The George Washington University) is a broadly trained scholar of Islamic studies who concentrates on post-Avicennan Islamic philosophy with research interests in comparative philosophy, Muslim-Christian relations, and modern Turkish history. As a fellow at the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, he is a has published widely on Islamic philosophy and the relations between Islam and the West. He also serves as deputy undersecretary, Turkish Prime Ministry. In addition to his scholarly contributions to The Book of Metaphysical Penetrations, he is the author of two scholarly monographs on Mullā Ṣadrā

As for Mullā Ṣadrā himself, he was intimately familiar with and profoundly influenced by all of the major Islamic approaches to knowledge and praxis that preceded him. First, as a result of his early training, he was more deeply versed than most of his philosophical predecessors in the foundational Islamic texts themselves—the Qurʾān and Ḥadith, as well as the Shi’ite and Sunni jurisprudential and theological systems that derived from them. Next, he was trained by the foremost philosopher of his day, Mir Dāmād, who exposed him to the full range of peripatetic-Islamic philosophy. Mullā Ṣadrā composed a summary of Ibn Sīnā’s magnum opus of philosophy, the The Healing, as well as a major commentary on the seminal work by Suḥrawarī, The Philosophy of Illumination, which had initiated a new theosophical movement of which Metaphysical Penetrations is an outgrowth. Finally, Mullā Ṣadrā was trained in the mystical tradition of the Sufis as evidenced by his frequent paraphrases and quotations from such luminaries of that tradition as Ibn ʿArabi, Aṭṭar, and Rūmī. It is widely acknowledged by scholars of the Islamic tradition that in the breadth of his training and in his own intellectual acumen, Mullā Ṣadrā eclipsed that of his very able teachers, rightly earning the attention and respect of succeeding generations down to the present day.

Metaphysical Penetrations is the second volume by Mullā Ṣadrā to appear in the Islamic Translation Series. The first, Elixir of the Gnostics, was translated by William Chittick, a foremost authority on Sufism, and published in 2002.


D. Morgan Davis has been affiliated with the Maxwell Institute’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative since its launch in 1993 and became the project’s director in 2010. He holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Brigham Young University, an MA in history from the University of Texas at Austin, and a PhD (2005) in Arabic and Islamic studies from the University of Utah.