Mathematicians, Scientists, Philosophers, Poets and more...
The History of Global Persian Citizens
Contributions from the people of the ancient Persian Empire span every aspect of the global civilization we enjoy today.
The ancient Persians, represent an ethnicity which shares a common cultural system and the Persian language, Farsi which is still spoken in various dialects in more than 18 other countries, comprising 300 million people.
Throughout history the Persian Culture and people have been well-recognized for their progressive thinking giving way to their massive global influence on culture, art, politics, science, medicine and economics.
Persian architectural masterpieces include the construction of the very first stadium, the Apadana in Persepolis in the 400s BC. The prolific Persian philosophers and poets are still avidly studied today. The works of Rumi, the Persian poet and Sufi master born in 1207, are translated in many languages, have sold millions of copies in recent years making him the most popular poet in the US.
Moreover, Persians were the first people in history to give men and women equal rights, racial equality, religious freedom, and abolish slavery. Cyrus the Great, the first Monarch of ancient Persia, recorded this first bill of rights on a baked-clay cylinder known today as the Cyrus Cylinder. Centuries later these prophetic words would serve as a source of inspiration in creating the Bill of Rights amendments to the Constitution of the United States and more recently, would be reflected in Shirin Ebadi being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts in promoting human rights.
The history of these gifted scholars can be traced back to the earliest days of the ancient Persian empire in the 6th century. Embracing a broad field of study, they are often historically referred to as Polymaths. As such, though each is most recognized for a defining achievement, their knowledge spans many subjects including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, art and philosophy.
A Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet in the 11th and 12th centuries notable for his contributions to geometry and designing Jalali calendar and invented a tradition of poetry, quatrains (rubāʿiyāt رباعیات), widely translated by Edward FitzGerald.
A Persian physician, polymath, alchemist, and philosopher in the 9th and 10th centuries. An important figure in medicine with numerous discoveries in compounds and chemicals including alcohol and sulfuric acid.
A renowned philosopher and jurist in the 9th and 10th centuries, a scientist, cosmologist, mathematician, logic and ethics, and music scholar. An influence to many scholars such as Abu Sina.
Abu Nasr Farabi-Bridging Cultures Through Philosophy
Abu Nasr al-Farabi (Farabi)
Known as “the second master” of philosophy, Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī was one of the leader thinkers of medieval Islam and the greatest philosopher after Aristotle. More than a hundred of his discourses that were devoted to logic, metaphysics, ethics, political and social philosophy, music and medicine have survived to our time.
He was the first to systematize music on a mathematical basis and demonstrated it as a direction of science. His “Kitâb al-musiqâ al-kabîr” or Great Book of Music is the most important medieval musical book in Islamic lands. According to some scientists of those times, it was Farabi’s works on natural science that led Europe to the beginning of the renaissance. His work thereby became a symbol of unity and mutual understanding between the eastern and western cultures.
He was not only a translator, but also developed his philosophical doctrines in Arabic; consequently, Greece philosophy got an Arabic equivalent. Scholars believe that Arabic philosophical vocabulary reached its peak in Farabi’s papers. Farabi’s humanist worldview is a coherent system covering the problems of science, religion, sociology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics.
In the center of the concept of virtuous society is a theme of man, his intellectual and moral perfection, the desire for personal and social happiness, and the search for a better future. He systematized social and political views and united them in a common work, called the “Book of the Opinions of the Inhabitants of the Virtuous City”. In this book, he articulated that if the government of a city-state is educated and fair, all the residents would be happy; therefore, people, particularly leaders, must constantly be in the spiritual search and strive for moral self-improvement.
Farabi compares the city to a body where each part of it perfectly performs its assigned function, working together harmoniously to achieve common goals. To this date, his moral characteristics necessary for statesmen, the love of truth, nobility, and greatness of character, has not lost its value and meaning.
Farabi, as a philosopher of civilizations, refers to all man-kind, irrespective of religious affiliation or national origin, urging them to unite efforts for the sake of a better life.
A Persian polymath in the 10th century, the father of early modern medicine with works and contributions in astronomy, alchemy, geography, psychology, logic, math and poetry. His book, The Canon of Medicine, was a standard medical text at many universities.
Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna)-Author of The Canon of Medicine.
Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna)
Ibu-e-Sina, or Avicenna as he is known in Europe, was the most famous in a series of Muslim physician–philosophers who preserved Greco-Roman knowledge and wisdom during the Dark Ages which followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. Having enriched it with their own observations and interpretations, they then made it available again five centuries later to Western Civilization at the coming of the Renaissance.
Contribution by Mahta Barekatain
Abu Ali Sina, also known as Avicenna is a Persian philosopher who belonged to the Islamic Golden Age. He was born in around 980 in what is now known as Uzbakistan. He wrote about everything from physics and music to theology and astronomy to logic and medicine. In 1025, Avicenna completed his most famous work, Al Qanun fel Teb on the Canon of Medicine. His book was divided into five volumes with each of the book dealing with a separate subject. While the first and the second book discussed physiology, pathology, and hygiene, the third and fourth dealt with the methods of treating diseases as diverse as depression, meningitis, and smallpox. There are even detailed chapters on more common problems like headache and flu. The fifth book described the composition and preparation of remedies in detail.
Avicenna also wrote The Book of Healing, in which he discusses the mind and its existence. He writes about the mind-body relationship, sensation, perception, etc. He also writes that the strong negative emotions can have negative effects on the body’s biological functions and can even lead to death in severe cases. Maybe that is why he often used psychological methods to treat his patients.
In 1037, Avicenna died in Hamadan after freeing his slaves and bestowing his goods on the poor. He always said that: “I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length”. Today, he has been recognized by both East and West as one of the great figures in intellectual history.
A scholar in 7th and 8th century with numerous works in alchemy, numerology, astrology, and medicine in Arabic, and widely described as the father/ founder of early chemistry who invented the basis of many processes and equipment used by current chemists.
A Persian physician, astronomer, geographer, and photo-science fiction writer of Arab descent in the 13th century well known for his famous cosmography titled “The Wonders of Creation” and his geographical dictionary “Monument of Places and History of God’s Bondsmen”.
An Iranian philosopher, theologian, and the master of the Illuminations school of philosophy who led the Iranian cultural renaissance in the 17th century and is considered the most influential philosopher in the Muslim world.
Mulla Sadra-Peripatetic, Illuminationist and Gnostic Philosophy
Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi (Mulla Sadra)
“A man in eternal exile” Their thirst had quenched them, there was no sip of water to drink and no piece of bread to eat. His children were sick and weak and his wife, Sarah, who was pregnant with her last child, was unconscious in howdah2. Sheikh heard an inner voice, like a thunderstorm, he was screaming: “Was not it better to surrender to the willingness of tyrants? And he replied: “Shame on me if I submit to humiliation!”
Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi (Mulla Sadra) is perhaps the single most important and influential philosopher in the Muslim world in the last four hundred years. The author of over forty works, he was the culminating figure of the major revival of philosophy in Iran in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Devoting himself almost exclusively to metaphysics, he constructed a critical philosophy which brought together Peripatetic, Illuminationist and gnostic philosophy along with Shi’ite theology within the compass of what he termed a ‘metaphilosophy’, the source of which lay in the Islamic revelation and the mystical experience of reality as existence.
Mulla Sadra’s metaphilosophy was based on existence as the sole constituent of reality, and rejected any role for quiddities or essences in the external world. Existence was for him at once a single unity and an internally articulated dynamic process, the unique source of both unity and diversity. From this fundamental starting point, Mulla Sadra was able to find original solutions to many of the logical, metaphysical and theological difficulties which he had inherited from his predecessors. His major philosophical work is the Asfar (The Four Journeys), which runs to nine volumes in the present printed edition and is a complete presentation of his philosophical ideas.
1. The primacy of existence
Sadr al-Din Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Yahya al-Qawami al-Shirazi, known variously as Mulla Sadra, Sadr al-Muta’allihin, or simply Akhund, was born in Shiraz in central Iran in ah 979-80/ad 1571-2. He studied in Isfahan with, among others, Mir Damad and Shaykh Baha’ al-Din al-‘Amili, Shaykh-e Baha’i, before retiring for a number of years of spiritual solitude and discipline in the village of Kahak, near Qum. Here he completed the first part of his major work, the Asfar (The Four Journeys). He was then invited by Allah-wirdi Khan, the governor of Fars province, to return to Shiraz, where he taught for the remainder of his life. He died in Basra in ah 1050/ad 1640 while on his seventh pilgrimage on foot to Mecca.
Safavid Iran witnessed a noteworthy revival of philosophical learning, and Mulla Sadra was this revival’s most important figure. The Peripatetic (mashsha’i) philosophy of Ibn Sina had been elaborated and invigorated at the beginning of the Mongol period by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and there existed a number of important contributors to this school in the century before Mulla Sadra. Illuminationist (ishraqi) philosophy, originated by Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi, had also been a major current (see Illuminationist philosophy). The speculative mysticism of the Sufism of Ibn al-‘Arabi had also taken firm root in the period leading up to the tenth century ah (sixteenth century ad), while theology (kalam), particularly Shi’ite theology, had increasingly come to be expressed in philosophical terminology, a process which was initiated in large part by al-Tusi (see Mystical philosophy in Islam; Islamic theology). Several philosophers had
combined various strands from this philosophical heritage in their writings, but it was Mulla Sadra who achieved a true fusion of all four, forming what he called ‘metaphilosophy’ (al-hikma al-muta’aliya), a term he incorporated into the title of his magnum opus, al-Hikma al-muta’aliya fi’l-asfar al-‘aqliyya al-arba’a (The Transcendent Wisdom Concerning the Four Intellectual Journeys), known simply as the Asfar.
Mulla Sadra made the primacy of existence (asalat al-wujud) the cornerstone of his philosophy. Aristotle (§§11-12) had pointed out that existence was the most universal of predicates and therefore could not be included as one of the categories, and al-Farabi added to this that it was possible to know an essence without first knowing whether it existed or not, existence thus being neither a constitutive element of an essence nor a necessary attribute, and that therefore it must be an accident. But it was Ibn Sina who later became the source for the controversy as to how the accidentality of existence was to be conceived. He had held that in the existence-quiddity (wujud-mahiyya) or existence-essence relationship, existence was an accident of quiddity. Ibn Rushd had criticized this view as entailing a regress, for if the existence of a thing depended on the addition of an accident to it, then the same principle would have to apply to existence itself. This was merely an argument against the existence-quiddity dichotomy, but al-Suhrawardi had added to this another argument, asserting that if existence were an attribute of quiddity, quiddity itself would have to exist before attracting this attribute in order to be thus qualified. From this, al-Suhrawardi deduced the more radical conclusion that existence is merely a mental concept with no corresponding reality, and that it is quiddity which constitutes reality.
It was this view, that of the primacy of quiddity (asalat al-mahiyya), which held sway in philosophical writing in Iran up to Mulla Sadra’s time. Indeed, Mir Damad, Mulla Sadra’s teacher, held this view. However, Mulla Sadra himself took the opposite view, that it is existence that constitutes reality and that it is quiddities which are the mental constructs. By taking the position of the primacy of existence, Mulla Sadra was able to answer the objections of Ibn Rushd and the Illuminationists by pointing out that existence is accidental to quiddity in the mind in so far as it is not a part of its essence. When it is a case of attributing existentiality to existence, however, what is being discussed is an essential attribute; and so at this point the regress stopped, for the source of an essential attribute is the essence itself.
2. The systematic ambiguity of existence
A concomitant of Mulla Sadra’s theory that reality and existence are identical is that existence is one but graded in intensity; to this he gave the name tashkik al-wujud, which has been usefully translated as the ‘systematic ambiguity’ of existence. Al-Suhrawardi, in contrast to the peripatetics, had asserted that quiddities were capable of a range of intensities; for example, when a colour, such as blue, intensifies it is not a new species of ‘blueness’ which replaces the old one, but is rather the same ‘blue’ intensified. Mulla Sadra adopted this theory but replaced quiddity with existence, which was for him the only reality. This enabled him to say that it is the same existence which occurs in all things, but that existential instances differ in terms of ‘priority and posteriority, perfection and imperfection, strength and weakness’ (making reality similar to al-Suhrawardi’s Light). He was thus able to explain that it was existence and existence alone which had the property of combining ‘unity in multiplicity, and multiplicity in unity’.
Reality is therefore pure existence, but an existence which manifests itself in different modes, and it is these modes which present themselves in the mind as quiddities. Even the term ‘in the mind’, however, is merely an expression denoting a particular mode of being, that of mental existence (al-wujud al-dhihni), albeit an extremely attenuated mode. Everything is thus comprehended by existence, even ‘nothingness’, which must on being conceived assume the most meagre portion of existence in order to become a mental existent. When reality (or rather a mode of existence) presents itself to the mind, the mind abstracts a quiddity from it – being unable, except in exceptional circumstances, to grasp existence intuitively – and in the mind the quiddity becomes, as it were, the reality and existence the accident. However, this ‘existence’ which the mind predicates of the quiddity is itself merely a notion or concept, one of the secondary intellects. It is this which is the most universal and most self-evident concept to which the Aristotelians referred, and which al-Suhrawardi regarded as univocal. But in reality there are not two ‘things’, existence and quiddity, only existence – not the concept, but the reality – and so ‘existence’ cannot be regar