Knowledge and Liberation

By Aminrazavi, Mehdi | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1999 | Go to article overview

Knowledge and Liberation


Aminrazavi, Mehdi, The Middle East Journal


Knowledge and Liberation, by Nasir Khusraw. Ed. and trans. by Faquir M. Hunzai. London: LB. Tauris Press, 1998. xii + 125 pages. Index to p. 128. Technical terms to p. 132. $32.50.

Reviewed by Mehdi Aminrazavi

In Knowledge and Liberation (Goshayesh wa Rahayesh)-one of Nasir Khusraw's lesser known, but nonetheless significant works-the author poses 36 philosophical questions. Somewhat in the style of Plato's Dialogues, in Khusraw's Knowledge and Liberation, a "brother" poses a wide array of traditional metaphysical questions ranging from the nature of time, eternity and the creation of the world, to the notions of the Creator and the nature of reward and punishment.

This book is beautifully published, and the translation is generally accurate and thorough. As is always the case with translations, one finds instances where something could be translated differently. The bilingual nature of this book adds to its value. However. the original text (in Persian) and the English translation appear in their entirety in separate parts of the book. Presenting the Persian and English versions on opposite pages would have made it easier for the reader to compare texts.

The work begins with an introduction by P. Morewedge, who describes the structure and central motifs of the text. This introduction sets Khusraw and his philosophical thought in an intellectual historical context, and explains the extent of his interaction with the Greeks.

The book is divided into five parts, each of which addresses one of the fundamental problems of metaphysics. The first section, which is devoted to cosmogony, explores the existence of the Creator and the nature of time. Khusraw's examination of the latter is particularly interesting; it resembles that of Mir Damad's discussion of time (as azali and sarmadi) in Qabasat. The second sections deals with ontological issues, beginning with different kinds of existences and non-existence. These discussions, which are rudimentary, follow the Avicennian line of possible, necessary and impossible existences. Nasir Khusraw ends this section by analyzing the existence of the soul and relationship between mind and body. The third section, on "Physics," is quite intriguing in that Khusraw applies the Aristotelian classification of the psyche as inanimate, vegetative and animal to the world, which he regards as "a body." The interesting point here is that Khusraw does this in order to prove that the world is generated; moreover, he masterfully applies this discussion to concepts such as the different types of matter, the relationship between form and matter, the spiritual world and spiritual ascent. Khusraw's analysis here relies heavily on the interaction of elements with each other within a neo-Platonic scheme of emanation-a salient feature of Isma'ili thought.

The fourth section, on "Theology," begins with a dialogue between Khusraw and the Mutikallimun. One of the most fundamental points of contention in this dialogue is the thorny question regarding whether the Qur'an is created in time or is eternal. Khusraw appears to adopt a middle position on this issue when he states that "speech consists of inanimate and irrational letters, whereas the speaker is rational and animate.

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