Arab Philosophy or Islamic Philosophy: Persian Alternatives

  August 31, 2021   Read time 2 min
Arab Philosophy or Islamic Philosophy: Persian Alternatives
Though the majority of great works in Islamic philosophy are written in Arabic, the key figures in the history of Islamic philosophy are of Persian origin. This fact is unfortunately neglected by many scholars and the great contribution of Persian Islamic culture to world philosophy is not well recognized.

While the history of Islamic philosophy usually begins with al-Kindī (third/ninth century), there are those who aver the philosophical significance of his Persian contemporary, Īrānshahrī. Abu’l-ʿAbbās Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Īrānshahrī was from the city of Nayshāpūr. While no exact account of his life is available, Nāṣir-i Khusraw and Bīrūnī make references to his life and thought that help us to place him within the appropriate historical context.

Nāṣir-i Khusraw tells us that Īrānshahrī was the teacher of Muḥammad Zakariyyā’ Rāzī, who was therefore influenced by his teacher. Rāzī’s knowledge of such religions and sects as Dayṣāniyyah, Muḥammirah, and Mannāniyyah, as well as his book al-Radd ʿalā saysān al-mannānī, are indications of the influence of his teacher Īrānshahrī. In addition, from the references made by Bīrūnī and others, it is apparent that Īrānshahrī had a thorough knowledge of Abrahamic religions, as well as Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. His knowledge of Hinduism, however, was not as thorough and it appears that he familiarized himself with Hinduism through the writings of Muḥammad ibn Shaddād ibn ʿĪsā Mūsā, known as Zarqān.

Bīrūnī tells us that Īrānshahrī did not belong to any religion and that he had invented his own religion, which he advocated avidly. While Īrānshahrī’s alleged religion has not survived, it is believed that he composed a book in Persian, claiming that its contents had been revealed to him by an angel whose name was Hastī (Being). Furthermore, Īrānshahrī is said to have claimed that his book is the Persian Qurʾān and that just as Muḥammad was the prophet of Arabs, he was the prophet of Persians. These views are, however, conjectural and cannot be considered as being definitely true. Īrānshahrī appears to have believed that there are four eternal substances: matter, space, time, and motion as understood by him. Contrary to al-Kindī, who advocated the same notion, Īrānshahrī seems to have offered a more Neoplatonic interpretation.

While it is difficult to state with precision the philosophical perspectives of Īrānshahrī, it is clear that he saw the fundamental governing principles of the world to be the unfolding of an ultimate Being, which is a profoundly Neoplatonic perspective. Īrānshahrī represents an important beginning, since he attempted a rapprochement between reason and revelation, an effort that has remained the salient feature of Islamic philosophical thought in Persia to this day.

Write your comment