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Mulla Sadra (also spelt Molla Sadra or Mollasadra, also called Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi or sadrol mota allehin) (c. 15711640) was a Persian Islamic philosopher, theologian and ‘Ālim who led the Iranian cultural renaissance in the 17th century.

Mulla Sadra is thought by some to be the single most important and influential philosopher in the Muslim world in the last four hundred years.[1][2]

The foremost representative of the Illuminationist, or Ishraghi school of philosopher-mystics, he is commonly regarded by Iranians as the greatest philosopher their country has ever produced. His school of philosophy is called Transcendent Theosophy or al-hikmah al-muta’liyah.

Mulla Sadra's philosophy and ontology is considered to be just as important to Islamic philosophy as Martin Heidegger's philosophy later was to Western philosophy in the 20th century. Mulla Sadra bought "a new philosophical insight in dealing with the nature of reality" and created "a major transition from essentialism to existentialism" in Islamic philosophy, several centuries before this occurred in Western philosophy.[3]

Mulla Sadra's original philosophy blended and transformed Avicennism, Suhrawardi's Illuminationist philosophy, Ibn Arabi's Sufi metaphysics, and the theology of the Ash'ari school and Twelvers in an ambitious and resourceful way than many former Islamic philosophers.[4]


Born in Shiraz, Iran, the son of a notable Shirazi family, Mulla Sadra completed his education at Isfahan, which was the leading cultural and intellectual center of his day. He was trained under the supervision of Mir Damad.

After his studies with scholars there, he produced several works, the most famous of which was his Asfar (Journeys). Asfar contains the bulk of his philosophy ,which was influenced by a personal mysticism bordering on the ascetic, that he experienced during a fifteen-year retreat at Kahak, a village near Qom, Iran.

Expounding his theory of nature, Mulla Sadra argued that the entire universe – except God and his knowledge – was originated both eternally and temporally. Nature, he asserted, is the substance of all things and is the cause for all movement. Thus, nature is permanent and furnishes the continuing link between the eternal and the originated. Much of his philosophy was also existentialist in nature.

Toward the end of his life, Mulla Sadra returned to Shiraz to teach. His teachings however, were considered heretical by orthodox Shiite theologians such as Allamah al-Majlisi, who persecuted him, though his powerful family connections permitted him to continue to write. He died in Basra, on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and was buried in present day Iraq.

Philosophical theories

Sadra is said to have been a "true heir" of Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi's School of Illumination, whose ideas he said to have "revised and presented in a rigorous scholastic fashion." [5]


Existentialism (Arabic: Isalat al-Wujud) is a concept that lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra's philosophy, particularly the theory of "existence precedes essence". This was also the opposite of the idea of "essence precedes existence" previously supported by Avicenna and his school of Avicennism as well as Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi and his school of Illuminationism. Sayyid Jalal Ashtiyani later summarizes Mulla Sadra's concept as follows:[6]

"The existent being that has an essence must then be caused and existence that is pure existence ... is therefore a Necessary Being."

For Mulla Sadra, "existence precedes the essense and is thus principle since something has to exist first and then have an essence." This is primarily the argument that lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra's philosophy.[7]

In Islamic philosophy, whereas previous methods of philosophical thought held that "essence precedes existence", a concept which dates back to Avicenna[8] and Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi,[9] Mulla Sadra substituted a metaphysics of existence for the traditional metaphysics of essences, and giving priority ab initio to existence over quiddity.[10]

Mulla Sadra effected an entire revolution in the metaphysics of being by his thesis that there are no immutable essences, but that each essence is determined and variable according to the degree of intensity of its act of existence. [11]

In his view reality is existence, differentiated in a variety of ways, and these different ways look to us like essences. What first affect us are things that exist and we forms ideas of essences afterwards, so existence precedes essence. This position referred to as primacy of existence (Arabic: Isalat al-Wujud).[12]

According to Mulla Sadra, "existence precedes the essence and is thus principal since something has to exist first and then have an essence." It is notable that for Mulla Sadra this was a question that specifically applied to God and God's position in the universe, especially in the context of reconciling God's position in the Qur'an verses cosmological philosophies of Islam's Golden Era.[13]

Mulla Sadra metaphysics gave priority "Ab initio" to existence, over quiddity. That is to say, essences are determined and variable according to existential "intensity", (to use Henry Corbin's definition), and as such essences are not immutable.[14] The advantage to this schema is that it is acceptable to the fundamental statements of the Qur'an, even as it does not necessarily debilitate any previous Islamic philosopher's Aristotelian or Platonic foundations.

Indeed, Mulla Sadra provides immutability only to God, while intrinsically linking essence and existence to each other, and God's power over existence. In so doing, Mulla Sadra simultaneously provided for God's authority over all things, while also solving the problem of God's knowledge of particulars, including those that are evil, without being inherently responsible for them — even as God's authority over the existence of existences that provide the framework for evil to exist. This clever solution provides for Freedom of Will, God's Supremacy, the Infiniteness of God's Knowledge, the existence of Evil, and a definition of existence and essence which leaves two inextricably linked insofar as Man is concerned, but fundamentally separate insofar as God is concerned.[15]

Perhaps most importantly, the Primacy of Existence solution provides the capacity for God's Judgement without God being directly, or indirectly, affected by the evil being judged. God does not need to possess Sin to know Sin: God is able to judge the intensity of Sin as God perceives Existence.[16]

One result of this Existentialism is "The unity of the intellect and the intelligible" (Arabic: Ittihad al-Aaqil wa l-Maqul. As Henry Corbin describes:

All the levels of the modes of being and perception are governed by the same law of unity, which at the level of the intelligible world is the unity of intellection, of the intelligizing subject, and of the Form intelligized — the same unity as that of love, lover and beloved. Within this perspective we can perceive what Sadra meant by the unitive union of the human soul, in the supreme awareness of its acts of knowledge, with the active Intelligence which is the Holy Spirit. It is never a question of an arithmetical unity, but of an intelligible unity permitting the reciprocity which allows us to understand that, in the soul which it metamorphoses, the Form—or Idea—intelligized by the active Intelligence is a Form which intelligizes itself, and that as a result the active Intelligence or Holy Spirit intelligizes itself in the soul's act of intellection. Reciprocally, the soul, as a Form intelligizing itself, intelligizes itself as a Form intelligized by the active Intelligence.[17]

Substantial motion

Another central concept of Mulla Sadra's philosophy is the theory of "substantial motion" (Arabic:al-harakat al-jawhariyyah), which is "based on the premise that everything in the order of nature, including celestial spheres, undergoes substantial change and transformation as a result of the self-flow (fayd) and penetration of being (sarayan al-wujud) which gives every concrete individual entity its share of being. In contrast to Aristotle and Ibn Sina who had accepted change only in four categories, i.e., quantity (kamm), quality (kayf), position (wad’) and place (‘ayn), Sadra defines change as an all-pervasive reality running through the entire cosmos including the category of substance (jawhar)."[18] Gottfried Leibniz later described a similar concept a century later.[19]

Unity of the intelligizing subject and intelligized

Unity of intellect and intelligible (Arabic:Ittihad al-Aaqil wa al-Maqul) is one of the Sadra's innovation. As Henry Corbin describes:

All the levels of the modes of being and perception are governed by the same law of unity, which at the level of the intelligible world is the unity of intellection, of the intelligizing subject, and of the Form intelligized—the same unity as that of love, lover and beloved. Within

this perspective we can perceive what Sadra meant by the unitive union of the human soul, in the supreme awareness of its acts of knowledge, with the active Intelligence which is the Holy Spirit. It is never a question of an arithmetical unity, but of an intelligible unity permitting the reciprocity which allows us to understand that, in the soul which it metamorphoses, the Form—or Idea—intelligized by the active Intelligence is a Form which intelligizes itself, and that as a result the active Intelligence or Holy Spirit intelligizes itself in the soul's act of intellection. Reciprocally, the soul, as a Form intelligizing itself, intelligizes

itself as a Form intelligized by the active Intelligence.[20]

Existence as reality

Mulla Sadra held the view that Reality is Existence. He believed that an essence was by itself a general notion, and therefore and does not, in reality, exist.[21]

To paraphrase Fazlur Rahman on Mulla Sadra's Existential Cosmology: Existence is the one and only reality. Existence and reality are therefore identical. Existence is the all-comprehensive reality and there is nothing outside of it. Essences which are negative require some sort of reality and therefore exist. Existence therefore cannot be denied. Therefore existence cannot be negated. As Existence cannot be negated, it is self-evident that it Existence is God. God should not be searched for in the realm of existence but is the basis of all existence.[22] It should be noted that Reality in Arabic is "Al-Haq", and is stated in the Qur'an as one of the Names of God.

To paraphrase Mulla Sadra's Logical Proof for God:[23]

  1. There is a being
  2. This being is a perfection beyond all perfection
  3. God is Perfect and Perfection in existence
  4. Existence is a singular and simple reality
  5. That singular reality is graded in intensity in a scale of perfection
  6. That scale must have a limit point, a point of greatest intensity and of greatest existence
  7. Therefore God exists


Sadra argued that all contingent beings require a cause which puts their balance between existence and non-existence in favor of the former; nothing can come into existence without a cause. Since the world is therefore contingent upon this First Act, not only must God exist, but God must also be responsible for this First Act of creation.

Sadra also believed that a causal regress was impossible because the causal chain could only work in the matter that had a beginning, middle, and end:

1) a pure cause at the beginning 2) a pure effect at the end 3) a nexus of cause and effect

The Causal Nexus of Mulla Sadra was a form of Existential Ontology within a Cosmological Framework that Islam supported. For Mulla Sadra the Causal "End" is as pure as its corresponding "Beginning", which instructively places God at both the beginning and the end of the creative act. God's capacity to measure the intensity of Existential Reality by measuring Causal Dynamics' and their Relationship to their Origin, as opposed to knowing their effects, provided the Islamically-acceptable framework for God's Judgement of Reality without being tainted by its Particulars. This was an ingenious solution to a question that had haunted Islamic philosophy for almost one thousand years: How is God able to judge sin without knowing sin?[15]


For Mulla Sadra a true statement is a statement that is true to the concrete facts in existence. He held a metaphysical and not a formal idea of truth, claiming that the world consists of mind-independent objects that are always true and truth is not what is rationally acceptable within a certain theory of description. In Mulla Sadra's view one cannot have access to the reality of being: only linguistic analysis is available. This theory of Truth has two levels: the claim that a proposition is true if it corresponds to things in reality; and that a proposition can be true if it conforms with the actual thing itself.[24]


Sadra anticipated elements of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity in physics. According to the Sadra Islamic Research Institute: [1]

Unlike preceding philosophers (as well as physicists living before the advent of relativity physics) who believed that time (like place)[16] has an objective existence and is a fixed receptacle for objects and events, Mulla Sadra argued that time possesses an immaterial rather than objective existence and is abstracted from the trans-substantial motion of things and events.
This argument proves that the trans-substantial motion of objects exists in their essence and does not occur to them as an accident, and, thus, it is needless of a particular reason and cannot be questioned. In other words, we never ask ‘why does material substance have motion?’, for it is like asking ‘why is water wet?’, and ‘why is oil oily?’. Such a question is absurd, because it is similar to asking why water is water, or why oil is oil.
If the essence or inner nature of something – and, in philosophical terms, its quiddity – is fluid, nothing can stop its motion except for annihilation.
The general theory of relativity in modern physics confirmed Mulla Sadra’s philosophical theory, since in this theory ‘time’ is a part of everything, i.e., its fourth dimension, and everything has its own time, as well.

List of works

His well-known books which have been published so far include the following:

1. al-Hikmat al-muta’aliyah fi’l-asfar al-arba’ah, a philosophical encyclopedia and a collection of important issues discussed in Islamic philosophy, enriched by the ideas of preceding philosophers, from Pythagoras to those living at the same time with Mulla Sadra, and containing the related responses on the basis of new and strong arguments. 4 big-sized volumes which have been published in nine small-sized volumes several times.

The composition of this book gradually started from about 1015 A.H (1605 A.D), and its completion took almost 25 years, till some years after 1040 A.H (1630 A.D).

2. al-Tafsir (A commentary upon the Qur’an)

3. Sharh al-hidayah, a commentary on a book called Hidayah which has been written on the basis of Peripatetic philosophy.

4. al-Mabda’ wa’l-ma’ad, also called al-Hikmat al-muta’aliyyah, considered to be a summary of the second half of Asfar. He called this book the Beginning and the End due to the fact that he believed it in heart that philosophy means the knowledge of the Origin and the Return.

5. al-Mazahir This book is similar to al-Mabda’ wa’l-ma’ad, but is shorter than that. It is, in fact, a handbook for familiarizing readers with Mulla Sadra’s philosophy.

6. Huduth al-‘alam, the issue of the origination of the world is a complicated and disputable problem for many philosophers.He proved his solid theory through the theory of the trans-substantial motion.

7. Iksir al-‘arifin, a gnostic and educative book.

8. al-Hashr, a theory of the resurrection of animals and objects in the Hereafter.

9. al-Masha’ir, on existence and its related subjects. Professor Henry Corbin has translated it into French and written an introduction to it. This book has recently been translated into English, too.

10. al-waridat al-qalbiyyah, a brief account of important philosophical problems, it seems to be an inventory of the Divine inspirations and illuminations he had received all through his life.

11. Iqad al-na’imin, on theoretical and actual gnosis, and on the science of monotheism. It presents some guidelines and instructional points to wake up the sleeping.

12. al-Masa’il al-qudsiyyah, a booklet deals mainly with issues such as existence in mind and epistemology. Here, Mulla Sadra has combined epistemology and ontology with each other.

13. ‘Arshiyyah, also called al-Hikmat al-‘arshiyyah, a referential book about Mulla Sadra’s philosophy. Like in al-Mazahir, he has tried to demonstrate the Beginning and the End concisely but precisely. This book has been translated by professor James Winston Maurice into English with an informative introduction.

14. al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, a philosophical book, written in the Illuminationist style, and represents Mulla Sadra’s ideas during the early periods of his philosophical thoughts.

15. Sharh-i Shafa, a commentary upon some of the issues discussed in the part on theology (Ilahiyyat) in Ibn-Sina’s al-Shifa.

16. Sharh-i Hikmat al-ishraq, a useful and profound commentary or collection of glosses on Suhrawardi’s Hikmat al-ishraq and Qutb al-Din Shirazi’s commentary upon it.

17. Ittihad al-‘aquil wa’l-ma’qul, a monographic treatise on the demonstration of a complicated philosophical theory, the Union of the Intellect and the Intelligible, which no one could prove and rationalize prior to Mulla Sadra.

18. Ajwibah al-masa’il, consisting of at least three treatises in which Mulla Sadra responds to the philosophical questions posed by his contemporary philosophers.

19. Ittisaf al-mahiyyah bi’l wujud, a monographic treatise dealing with the problem of existence and its relation to quiddities.

20. al-Tashakhkhus, explaining the problem of individuation and clarified its relation to existence and its principiality, which is one of the most fundamental principles he has propounded.

21. Sarayan nur wujud, a treatise dealing with the quality of the descent or diffusion of existence from the True Source to existents (quiddities).

22. Limmi’yya ikhtisas al-mintaqah, A treatise on logic, this work focuses on the cause of the specific form of the sphere.

23. Khalq al-a’mal, a treatise on man’s determinism and free will.

24. al-Qada’ wa’l-qadar, on the problem of Divine Decree and Destiny.

25. Zad al-musafir, demonstrating resurrection and the Hereafter following a philosophical approach.

26. al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, a treatise not related to Mulla Sadra’s book of al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah. It is an inventory of his particular theories and opinions which he has been able to express in philosophical terms.

27. al-Mizaj, a treatise on the reality of man’s temperament and its relation to the body and soul.

28. Mutashabihat al-Qur’an, a treatise consists of Mulla Sadra’s interpretations of those Qura’nic verses which have secret and complicated meanings. It is considered as one of the chapters in Mafatih al-ghayb.

29. Isalat-i Ja’l-i wujud, on existence and its principiality as opposed to quiddities.

30. al-Hashriyyah, a treatise on resurrection and people’s presence in the Hereafter, it deals with man’s being rewarded in paradise and punished in hell.

31. al-alfazh al-mufradah, an abridged dictionary for interpreting words in the Qur’an.

32. Radd-i shubahat-i iblis, explaining Satan’s seven paradoxes and provided the related answers.

33. Si Asl, Mulla Sadra’s only book in Persian. Here, by resorting to the main three moral principles, he has dealt with moral and educative subjects related to scientists, and advised his contemporary philosophers.

34. Kasr al-asnam al-jahiliyyah (Demolishing the idols of the periods of barbarism and man’s ignorance). His intention here is to condemn and disgrace impious sophists.

35. al-Tanqih, dealing with formal logic.

36. al-Tasawwur wa’l-tasdiq, a treatise dealing with issues of the philosophy of logic and inquires into concept and judgment.

37. Diwan Shi’r (Collection of Poems), a number of scholarly and mystic poems in Persian.

38. A Collection of Scientific-Literary Notes, some short notes of his own poetry, the statements of philosophers and gnostics, and scientific issues have been left from his youth, which comprise a precious collection. This book can familiarize the readers with subtleties of Mulla Sadra’s nature.

These notes have been compiled in two different collections, and it is likely that the smaller collection was compiled on one of his journeys.

39. Letters, except for a few letters exchanged between Mulla Sadra and his master, Mir Damad, nothing has been left from them. These letters have been presented at the beginning of the 3-volume

Further reading

  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Sadr al-Din Shirazi and his Transcendent Theosophy, Background, Life and Works, 2nd ed., Tehran: Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, 1997.
  • Rahman, Fazlur, The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975.
  • Morris, James (trans.), The Wisdom of the Throne, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • William Chittick (trans.) The Elixir of the Gnostics, Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 2003.
  • Rizvi, Sajjad, Mulla Sadra Shirazi: His Life, Works and Sources for Safavid Philosophy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Peerwani, Latimah (trans.), On the Hermeneutics of the Light Verse of the Qur'an. London: ICAS, 2004.
  • Jambet, Christian, The Act of Being: The Philosophy of Revelation in Mulla Sadra, Trans. Jeff Fort, New York: Zone Books, 2006.

See also

  • List of Iranian scientists
  • Iranian philosophy


  1. Leaman (2007), p.146
  2. Mulla Sadra (Sadr al-Din Muhammad al-Shirazi) (1571/2-1640) by John Cooper
  3. Kamal, Muhammad (2006), Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., pp. 9 & 39, ISBN 0754652718
  4. Leaman (2007), pp.146 and 147
  5. Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet : Religion and Politics in Iran, One World, Oxford, 1985, 2000, p.179
  6. (Razavi 1997, pp. 129-30)
  7. (Razavi 1997, p. 130)
  8. Irwin, Jones (Autumn 2002), "Averroes' Reason: A Medieval Tale of Christianity and Islam", The Philosopher LXXXX (2)
  9. (Razavi 1997, p. 129)
  10. Corbin (1993), pp. 342 and 343
  11. Corbin (1993), pp. 342-3
  12. Leaman (2007), p. 35
  13. (Razavi 1997, p. 130)
  14. Corbin (1993), pp. 342 and 343
  15. 15.0 15.1 Sayyed Hussein Nasr, Persian Sufi Literature, Lecture, George Washington University, 2006
  16. Ibid
  17. Corbin (1993), pp.343 and 344
  18. Kalin, Ibrahim (March 2001), "Sadr al-Din Shirazi (Mulla Sadra) (b. 1571-1640)", in Iqbal, Muzaffar; Kalin, Ibrahim, Resources on Islam & Science,, retrieved 2008-02-04
  19. Brown, Keven; Von Kitzing, Eberhard, Evolution and Bahá'í Belief: ʻAbduʼl-Bahá's Response to Nineteenth-century Darwinism, Kalimat Press, pp. 222-3, ISBN 1890688088
  20. Corbin (1993), pp.343 and 344
  21. Fazlur Rahman, The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra State University of New York Press, 1975, pp 27 and 28
  22. Fazlur Rahman, The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra State University of New York Press, 1975, pp 125
  23. Rizvi, Sajjad Mulla Sadra and Metaphysics, 2009, pp126
  24. Rizvi, Sajjad Mulla Sadra and Metaphysics, 2009, pp59-62


  • Razavi, Mehdi Amin (1997), Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination, Routledge, ISBN 0700704124

External links