Knowledge: Esoteric, Mystical, and Philosophical

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.


Sajjad Rizvi


Sajjad Rizvi
University of Exeter


by Roxanne D Marcotte / Université du Québec à Montréal, UQAM

This paper presents and analyzes the short De anima (On the Soul) that Abu al-‘Abbas al-Lawkari (d. after 503/1109), a second generation disciple of Avicenna, included in his Asrar-i al-Hikmat (edited in 2002), a work that was written to spread philosophical knowledge to the Persian speaking population of Khurasan (see “Preliminary Notes on the Life and Work of Abu al-‘Abbas al-Lawkari” (2006), 148-52).

The paper evaluates the contribution that Lawkari may have made to Avicennan psychological discussions in his Asrar-i al-Hikmat, an abridged pedagogical compendium that contains only important theses of the dominant philosophical tradition of the time in the Islamic East. The De anima includes, for example, discussions on the soul as substance, the contingency of its existence, its individuality and relation to the body (mixture/temperament), and the relation of actives intelligences to the human rational soul.

The paper focuses specifically on possible doctrinal innovations in his theory of the soul and theory of the intellect. The study shows how Lawkari believed that the intellective knowledge of posthumous souls was an important and neglected element on which he elaborated, that intellective knowledge that the soul possesses once separated from the body (at death) can only be universal and is at the heart of the human soul’s felicity, and that the role of intellectual intuition is of paramount importance, in light of the centrality of the intellective nature of human souls.

In fact, Lawkari mentions intellectual intuition – the apex of the human intellect’s actualization in Avicenna’s epistemology – on numerous occasions and in different contexts. He discusses its role in the process of conjunction of human souls with the active intellect, the process at the heart of divine inspirations that prophets, eminent philosophers, friends of God, and saints are able to receive. He mentions its importance for the acquisition of both theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as ethical knowledge. All these elements allude to a resolutely intellectualist perspective, including in the eschatological realm, as acquisition of intellectual knowledge is crucial for the soul’s salvation in the afterlife.

Finally, for this study, Lawkari’s other work, the Bayan al-Haqq, will be quite useful to corroborate data found in his Asrar-i al-Hikmat and help pass judgment on Lawkari’s contribution to Avicennan psychology, as it contains a much longer De anima, in Arabic and only in manuscript form.

by Elizabeth Alexandrin / University of Manitoba

On multiple levels of signification, divine guidance and authority (walāyah) served as the focal point of Fatimid Ismaili identity. My proposed paper will compare the 10th-century Fatimid Ismaili author Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān’s Asās al-Ta’wīl and Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī’s Rawḍa-yi Taslīm. While Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān employs the Qur’ānic prophets as exemplars of practice in the context of an emergent Ismaili etiquette (adab), where obedience to the Fatimid caliph-imam of the time signified sound religious practice as well as correct doctrinal belief, Ṭūsī’s 13th-century work offers to the individual practitioner several redemptive strategies for salvation. He stresses the importance of spiritual ethics through the reliance on the ranks of religion (ḥudūd-i dīn) and the imam.

Given Ṭūsī’s broader interests in ethics, does he, however, give voice to what lay at the heart of Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān’s distinctions between the "rule of kings" and the "rule of the imams," namely, the correspondences between siyāsah and walāyah? For this reason, this paper will explore to what extent ethical models for perfection and spiritual purification serve as only the first stage for acquiring the knowledge embodied in the concept of the imam, given the Nizari Ismaili concept of the resurrection (qiyāmat), and its implications for 13th-century Ismaili practice.

by Ilse Sturkenboom / University of Bamberg

The mystical journey of a group of birds to unification with the Divine is the main storyline and the structuring framework of the epic Manṭiq al-Ṭayr, composed around 1200 by Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭar. Surprisingly, most illustrated manuscripts of this poem neither depict birds, nor do they provide any pictorial evidence for the understanding of this work as a Sufi’s quest for a union with God. Whereas the earliest paintings accompanying this mathnawī meticulously illustrate the events narrated by certain sub-stories – offering little to no indication as to whether the depicted tale was understood as part of the mystical framework – in mid-15th-century Shiraz and its cultural milieu a sophisticated idea was developed to visually conceptualize the epic’s leitmotif. Placed at the beginning of the poem, these opening paintings employ other symbols – found in the epic itself – to epitomize the Sufi path. The motifs of the Prophet Muḥammad’s ascension to heaven, as well as the enthronement of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba were extracted from the Manṭiq al-Ṭayr’s text in order to provide insight into the course of the journey and its destination – the mystical annihilation and the unification with God. This paper examines the ways in which these opening paintings prefigure and summarize the process, the obstacles, and the final aim of the Sufi’s search for union with the Almighty.

by Eliza Tasbihi / Concordia University

It is commonly accepted by Rūmī scholars that the Mathnawī is composed of six volumes. Scholars have also argued that due to Rūmī’s illness the last story of the Mathnawī, “The King and His Three Sons,” remains incomplete, which further supports the idea that Rūmī’s masterpiece was written only in 6 volumes (Furūzānfar, 1936/1315, p.158).
However, a few sources indicate the possibility of an extra volume known as “Book Seven” of the Mathnawī. One notable example is a manuscript by the famous Ottoman commentator, Ismā‘īl Anqarawī (d. 1631) penned in 1310 A.H. He not only added a seventh volume to the original six of the Mathnawī, but also presented his commentary in seven books and discussed the alleged seventh volume—the true authorship of which has yet to be established—extensively. As related by Kātip Çelebi, among early Mathnawī commentators, only Anqarawī attributed a seventh book to Rūmī. This book, however, was likely forge and was based on a text copied in 814 A.H. (Kashf al-Ẓunūn, Istanbul: vol II, p. 1587-1588).
It is the aim of this paper to examine this alleged “Book Seven” and outline its differences with the rest of the Mathnawī. I will explain why this extra book of the Mathnawī might have been penned and why Anqarawī included it in his commentary. I will point out to the major grammatical flaws and the difference in the style of poetry in the seventh book in comparison with the rest of the Mathnawī. Anqarawi was a high-ranking Mevlevi shaykh, an esteemed teacher of the Mathnawī and preacher in mosques and madrasahs, thus an active expositor and, as it were, practitioner of the text. Anqarawi exemplifies the relation between the Mevlevi Sufi Order and Ottoman government; he benefited greatly from Ottoman patronage and his commentary on the Mathnawī was, in fact, commissioned by the Sultan. Thus, I argue that production of a “spurious” text along with absorption of it into the tradition through detailed commentary is a further dimension of the license of mystical exegesis, as well as part of the ongoing intellectual movement through which the Mevlevis sought to validate and expand their religious and political authority, and, hence, extend their popularity and influence both amongst the masses and the Ottoman rulers.