Mohammed Rustom. The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mulla Sadra.
The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mulla Sadra is a critical study of Sadra's Tafsir Surat al-fatiha. The text guides the reader through Sadra's oeuvre, bringing each exegetical concern from the Tafsir into conversation with the philosophical and spiritual lexicon established in the fuller range of Sadra's writing. The text consists of seven chapters which roughly follow the structure of the Tafsir, notes, a bibliography, three indexes, and three appendices in which Rustom provides translations from the Mafatih al-ghayb, the Tafsir, and those sections Sadra utilized from Ibn 'Arabl's Futuhat al-makkiyya. While the smooth and accessible style of the text make it a great introduction to Sadra's thought, Rustom's manner of weaving the various texts by Sadra and ideas from the Islamic intellectual tradition into a single discussion make this an excellent scholarly resource for specialists in Islamic thought.
The primary concern of the monograph is to show how Sadra explained the Qur'anic principle of God's mercy and its precedence over His wrath by relating his philosophical and scriptural thought. Rustom emphasizes how several issues related to the principle of divine mercy are only fully addressed by Sadra in his Tafsir Surat al-fatiha, where he grapples with related questions such as: What is the nature of praise and how does it relate to being? Is hell an eternal abode or will it come to an end? If hell is eternal, is the suffering experienced in hell eternal? Can hell be a source of felicity?
In the first chapter ("Qur'anic Hermeneutics"), Rustom outlines Sadra's approach to scriptural exegesis as it is defined in his Mafatih. Sadra's mode of exegesis is grounded in his ontology. For Sadra, being is a single graded reality which has both inwardly hidden and outwardly apparent modes. Although in itself being is inward and unified, it becomes outwardly apparent and diversified when it is instantiated in particular delimited modes. The same can be said about the Qur'an and human beings, each of which has various grades or levels. On Sadra's view, the Qur'an is a synonym of being or a mode of the divine command "Be!" and an exegete's access to its meanings is determined by the extent to which he has penetrated the inwardly hidden dimensions of their own being. For this reason, Sadra believes the scriptural exegete is only qualified to perform interpretation (ta'wil) when he has undergone a disciplined spiritual purification which grants him access to the inner meaning of the scripture.
The second chapter ("Formal Considerations") examines the sources of Sadra's Tafsir, its structure, and its content. Rustom begins with a discussion of Sadra's influences that exposes the complexity of his thought and its close relationship to Ibn 'ArabI and his school. Rustom then presents the Qur'anic exegetes, schools of Hadith literature, theologians, philosophers, Sufis, and poets who were most formative of Sadra as a thinker and shows where they appear in his writing. We learn interesting facts about Sadra, like how despite being a ShI'i himself, Sadra draws more heavily from SunnI Hadith literature. Rustom finds the numerous references to Ibn 'ArabI and his school and Sadra's tendency to paraphrases their ideas without any reference a strong evidence of their integration within the structure of Sadra's thought. Then, Rustom briefly outlines the issues at stake in each of the eight chapters of Sadra's Tafsir Surat al-fatiha.
Sadra claims the Fatiha contains the essential message of the entire Qur'an (55), a major reason why the author has chosen to focus on this particular Tafsir. The third chapter ("Metaphysics") explains why Sadra held this view and how he considered the relationship between man and God in terms of the scriptural teachings of the Origin, path of return, and final Return to God. The chapter discusses God as the Essence, the divine names and their loci, and the all-comprehensive name Allah, further clarifying the influence of Ibn 'ArabI upon Sadra. Rustom elucidates Sadra's position on the paradoxical nature of the Essence, which despite being inwardly hidden is also the most evident of things, since there is no place where we can find being without finding the Essence. Sadra's ontology is further explained in terms of a hidden Essence which becomes known by taking on the characteristics of relativity and delimitation. The infinite and hidden Essence takes on the attribute of finitude and becomes known through particular modes, specifically, those divine names which serve as the loci in which being appears. The loci are existentiated modes of God's knowledge: they have no reality qua themselves but are fixed entities in God which emerge when He bestows being upon them by turning His face toward them. Sadra refers to the all-comprehensive name Allah as the one name that does not denote a specific aspect of the face of the manifest Essence and represents the Essence without any qualifications. Sadra's metaphysical worldview can be summarized by saying that although the Essence qua Itself is utterly hidden, it is everywhere and thus, the names are everywhere. Since for Sadra, each name denotes a particular quiddity and all of the names are encompassed by the all-comprehensive name Allah, the "entire cosmos names the Essence by naming the name Allah" (63).
In the fourth chapter ("Cosmology"), Rustom presents Sadra's commentary on the hamdallah (Q 1:2), in which he demonstrates the relationship between the coming-about of the cosmos, God's Act of self-praise, and the praise of God by the human servant. Here we are shown the connection between the hidden Essence and the cosmos in terms of the existentiation of the Divine Word or scripture. The aforementioned isomorphism between being, the Qur'an, and man is brought under examination. The cosmos is explained as coming about through God's Perfect Word. Here the cosmos is discussed in terms of the Muhammadan Reality. God's creative command "Be!" is defined as an Act of God's self-praise which produces the "structurally related" servants or "ones who praise," beginning with the Muhammadan Reality itself. The chapter culminates in a discussion of the Perfect Man, which Rustom describes as a discussion from Sadra's anthropology which relates the human being to the Muhammadan Reality in terms of a microcosm-macrocosm relationship. The Perfect Man, according to Sadra, has actualized within himself all the names and attributes of God and is therefore the prototype of the Muhammadan Reality. He contains within himself the inner secrets of the Fatiha, and thus of the entire Qur'an.
The fifth chapter ("Theology") sheds light on Sadra's worldview as it relates to Ibn 'ArabI's notion of the "God created in beliefs." Rustom presents a link between the diverse approaches to God and the diverse approaches to scriptural exegesis. The different levels of the Qur'an are shown as corresponding to the different capacities of its exegetes, each of whom sees the scripture at the level of his own capacity. Sadra sees the 'God created in belief' as prefigured in the primordial nature of man, whose existence as an instantiated mode of being will naturally reflect a particular grade of being and set of divine names, and thus approach God and scripture from the vantage point of his unique modality. Rustom then grapples with the theological consequences of having a 'God created in beliefs,' such as whether it is possible to know and worship God according to His true nature and whether or not a man can be rightly guided while worshiping God according to the 'God created in beliefs.' For Sadra, both questions are answered in the affirmative for two reasons: first, because the Perfect Man is able to worship God according the nature of the manifest Essence or all-comprehensive name Allah; and second, because of the nature of God's mercy, Sadra thinks that all creatures, regardless of the 'God created in their beliefs,' are guided on a straight path in one way or another.
In the sixth chapter ("Soteriology I"), Rustom shows how Sadra responds to widely-held notions of eternal punishment in hell by emphasizing the precedence of divine mercy. Sadra addresses this issue differently throughout his texts, which Rustom attributes to the gravity of the issue at hand and later as in his 'Arshiyya to Sadra's state of political duress. In his TafsirAyat al- kursi, Sadra has accepted that punishment in hell is an eternal affair. Toward the end of his career, when Sadra wrote the Asfar, Sadra grapples with Dawud al-QaysarI's notion that the eternality of punishment in hell does not contradict the possibility of its cessation, since each human, depending on their constitution, may come to experience hell without it being a kind of suffering. On this topic Sadra turns to Ibn 'ArabI, who believes that while hell is a punishment, it is foremost an abode where sins are washed away, thus opening the possibility that this suffering may encompass an element of pleasure or relief. Here we find an instance in which Sadra departs from Ibn 'ArabI, favouring the idea that the people of the fire were destined to be there according to their nature, whereas Ibn 'ArabI sees that people only become 'people of the fire' once they have had their natures become agreeable to fire, through residing in it. This chapter fully demonstrates how the thought of Ibn 'ArabI and his school became the underlying structure of Sadra's own thought, despite the occasional, nuanced disagreement.
Rustom continues this discussion in "Soteriology II," where he exposits Sadra's position that all things are rooted in divine mercy as it is expressed in his Tafsir Surat al-fatiha. Sadra finds the quality of divine mercy synonymous to being, which he considers the essential reality behind all its instantiated modes. All modes of being, including those which appear to contain elements of wrath, are for Sadra aspects of divine mercy. Here both Sadra and Ibn 'ArabI's stance on the potential pleasure of chastisement are shown in connection to the subtleties of the Arabic language, in which punishment (cadhab) comes from the same root as the word for sweetness ('adhb). Rustom weaves some of Sadra's philosophical discussions of concepts such as substantial motion into his discussion of the path of mercy. While contextualizing Sadra's exegesis in other scriptural and philosophical debates, he points out some interesting moments in Sadra's Tafsir, such as his interpretation of Ibn 'ArabI's view on the hands and feet of God as symbols of divine oneness and multiplicity.
The Triumph of Mercy paints a unique and much needed portrait of divine mercy in Islam. Rustom has provided for the reader an important resource that will help scholars to navigate Sadra's writing and its relationship to various aspects of the Islamic intellectual tradition. Most importantly, unlike most studies which have emphasized the philosophical nature of Sadra's work, this text clarifies that Sadra is a unique figure precisely because of his complete integration of philosophical and scriptural thought.
University of Toronto
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2013|
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