Islamic Studies Mulla Sadra
Ibrahim Kalin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0053


Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Yahya al-Qawami al-Shirazi (b. 1571–d. 1640), sometimes referred to as Sadr al-Din Shirazi and known commonly as Mulla Sadra, is one of the prominent figures of the post-Avicennan (Ibn Sina; d. 1037) period of Islamic philosophy. He was born in Shiraz and educated there and in Isfahan. He studied with such celebrated figures as Mir Damad, Baha al-Din al-ʿAmili, and Mir Abuʾl-Qasim Findiriski. Faced with the opposition of some literalist jurists, he retreated to Kahak, a small village near the city of Qom. Upon the request of Shah Abbas I, he returned to Shiraz to teach at the Khan madrassa, where he composed his later works. He died in Basra in 1640 on the way back from his seventh pilgrimage. Flourishing at a later stage of the development of the Islamic intellectual tradition, Mulla Sadra sought to synthesize the major strands of Islamic thought from Shiʿite Kalam (theology) and Peripatetic (Aristotelian) philosophy to the 12th-century school of illumination (hikmat al-ishraq) and doctrinal Sufism. Sadra placed the concept of existence (wujud) at the heart of his philosophical system, which he called “transcendent wisdom” (al-hikmat al- mutaʿaliyah), and he criticized both Greek and Muslim philosophers before him for failing to develop a metaphysics based on existence and its modalities. Instead of treating existence simply as a “secondary intelligible” (al-maʿqul al-thani) or a mere logical concept and mental construct, Sadra took it to be the only reality from which all other realities derive. In his philosophical works, Sadra drew out the implications of the “primacy of existence” (asalat al-wujud). A key concept in the development of Sadra’s ontology is tashkik al-wujud, translated variously as “systematic ambiguity,” “modulation,” or “gradation” of existence. Sadra viewed existence as modulated and graded in various degrees of intensity, arguing that existence unveils itself in numerous forms and modalities of substances, accidents, primary and secondary causes, and opaque and subtle beings. Since existence is the ground of all realities, Sadra criticized the previous concepts of knowledge for having subjectivist tendencies and for failing to explicate the close relationship between being and knowing. He defined knowledge as a “mode of existence” (nahw al-wujud) and applied this definition to the multiple modalities of knowledge. He interpreted existence as a dynamic and self-regulating reality, and he applied this principle to the natural world. His philosophy of nature and cosmology centers around the highly original concept of “substantial motion” (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah). In the fields of traditional psychology and eschatology, Sadra interwove metaphysics, cosmology, and ethics. For Sadra, the soul is neither purely material nor spiritual but gradually develops from one state of existence to the other. In Sadra’s celebrated phrase, the soul is “corporeal in origination, spiritual in subsistence” (jismaniyyat al-huduth ruhaniyyat al-baqaʾ), meaning that the soul starts out as a corporeal substance but gradually develops into a spiritual being. It is this being that survives death and experiences the hereafter. Sadra’s works have influenced a number of philosophers and theologians in Persia (Iran) and the subcontinent of India. In modern scholarship, Sadra’s thought has been studied in European and Islamic languages.

General Overviews

There is a growing literature on Sadra in modern scholarship. Most of the secondary literature treats Sadra’s thought as an attempt to dovetail different currents of the Islamic intellectual tradition and place him within the historical context of Safavid Persia. Corbin 1972 places Sadra firmly within a Persian-Shiʿite context. Rahman 1975 considers Sadra to be an illuminationist-cum-Peripatetic philosopher with interests in such mystical figures as Ibn al-ʿArabi and Dawud al-Qaysari. Nasr 1996 and Nasr 1997 present Sadra as a philosopher who sought to combine philosophical arguments with realized knowledge. Kalin 2006 provides an overview of Sadra’s views on existence, knowledge, philosophy of nature, spiritual psychology, and eschatology. Akbarian 2009 is an introduction to Sadra’s philosophy, dealing with the main aspects of Sadra’s thought. Rizvi 2009 is one of the best summaries of Sadra’s thought and philosophical contributions. Sajjadi 2000 provides a useful dictionary with extensive quotes from Sadra’s works. Khamanei 2000 is a detailed study of Sadra’s life, youth, family, teachers, training, intellectual development, and students.

  • Akbarian, Reza. The Fundamental Principles of Mulla Sadra’s Transcendent Philosophy. London: London Academy of Iranian Studies, 2009.

    A comprehensive introduction to the main aspects of Sadra’s thought, with comparative notes and references to pre-Sadrean Islamic and Western philosophy.

  • Corbin, Henry. En Islam Iranien. Vol. 4. Paris, 1972.

    A study of Sadra’s thought with a particular emphasis on Sadra’s Shiʿite background and what Corbin calls “prophetic philosophy.” See pages 52–122.

  • Kalin, Ibrahim. “Mulla Sadra.” In The Biographical Encyclopedia of Islamic Philosophy. Vol. 2. Edited by Oliver Leaman, 131–142. London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2006.

    An overview of Sadra’s thought, with references to earlier philosophers.

  • Khamanei, Muhammad. Mulla Sadra: Zindagi, Shakhsiyyat va Maktab-i Sadr al-Muta’allihin. Tehran: Sadra Islamic Philosophy Research Institute (SIPRIn), 2000.

    A detailed and comprehensive account of Sadra’s life, social environment, and scholarly career. As of 2010, only the first volume has been published. In Persian.

  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. “Mulla Sadra: His Teachings.” In History of Islamic Philosophy. Edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman, 643–662. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

    An overview of Sadra’s philosophy and its place in the Islamic philosophical tradition.

  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Sadr al-Din Shirazi and His Transcendent Theosophy. 2d ed. Tehran: Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, 1997.

    An introduction to Sadra’s thought and the intellectual environment in which he flourished. Also gives a short list of Sadra’s works.

  • Rahman, Fazlur. The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975.

    A detailed study of Sadra’s thought focusing primarily on the discursive-analytical aspects of his works. Rahman places Sadra within the Peripatetic-illuminationist tradition and deemphasizes the mystical and spiritual dimensions of Sadra’s thought.

  • Rizvi, Sajjad H. Mulla Sadra. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2009.

    A comprehensive overview of Sadra’s life, thought, and works.

  • Sajjadi, Jaʾfar. Farhang-i Istilahat-i Falsafi-yi Mulla Sadra. Tehran: Tihrān Sāzmān-i Čāp wa Intišārāt-i Wizārat-i Farhang wa Iršād-i Islāmī, 2000.

    Philosophy Glossary of Mulla Sadra. A dictionary of Sadra’s philosophical vocabulary with extensive quotes from Sadra’s works.

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