Academic journal article Islam & Science

Psychology, Eschatology, and Imagination in Mulla Sadra Shirazi's Commentary on the Hadith of Awakening

Academic journal article Islam & Science

Psychology, Eschatology, and Imagination in Mulla Sadra Shirazi's Commentary on the Hadith of Awakening

Article excerpt

This article examines the most salient aspects of the commentary upon the well-known 'hadith of awakening' by the famous Safavid philosopher, Mulla Sadra Shirazi. In the context of his commentary upon this tradition, Sadra discusses the nature of imaginal forms and provides a general explanation of how death is a type of awakening. He then goes on to tackle a problem in the history of Islamic philosophy concerning the modality of rewards and punishments in the Afterlife. Here, Sadra challenges some of the eschatological views of Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi, while drawing upon both Ibn ''Arabi's teachings on imagination and his own philosophical genius to systematically demonstrate how, in the final analysis, our bodily deaths mark an awakening to the reality of our selves on the plane of imagination.

Keywords: Mulla Sadra; Islamic philosophy; Islamic perspectives on death, sleep, and dreaming; imaginal forms; destiny of souls; perception; awakening.

"People are asleep; when they die, they awaken" (al-nas niyam fa-idhA matu intabahu). This tradition, which will be referred to as the hadith of awakening, suggests an affinity between this worldly life (hayat al-dunya) and the state of sleeping. Since death in the eyes of Muslims is indeed a type of awakening from the sleep of heedlessness which characterizes human existence, the hadith of awakening could not but capture the imagination of Islam's foremost thinkers since it succinctly summarizes the essence of Islamic eschatological teachings. (1) Allusions to this tradition in Islamic mystical literature abound. (2) Yet very few authors have commented upon its significance at great length. A noteworthy exception is Mulla Sadra Shirazi (d. 1050/1641), who wrote an important commentary upon it. (3) Sadra's commentary on this hadith is a unique contribution to Islamic thought because it brings together some of the most important psychological and eschatological ideas in Islamic philosophy and theoretical Sufism from the 4th/10th to the 11th/17th centuries. (4) In the pages which follow I will therefore discuss the most important features of Mulla Sadra's commentary on the hadith of awakening, highlighting how one of Islam's most important philosophers was able to expound his teachings on psychology, eschatology, and imagination within the context of a hadith commentary.

Forms in this World and the Next World

Mulla Sadra begins his commentary on the hadith of awakening by stating that the nature of forms in the Afterlife, while resembling the imaginal forms experienced in our dream state or in mirrors in this life, are not essentially the same: "The existence of things (umur) in the Afterlife, although resembling the existence of forms which people see in sleep or in a mirror in one respect, are not so [in actuality]." (5) This is due to the fact that in the Afterlife, the things people see and experience are imaginal representations of the fruits of their actions in this world. But those forms which appear to us in sleep are not real in the way the images we experience in our waking state are, nor are they real in the way the forms presented to us in the Afterlife will be. Because of these considerations Sadra goes on to say that "the existent form (al-surah al-mawjudah) [which appears] in sleep and in the mirror is an impotent thing whose appearance is pure fancy (al-hikayah al-mahdah)." (6) Dreams imaginally represent to the dreamer the contents of his conscience. The same idea holds true for objects reflected in mirrors. The reflection of an object in a mirror is not the object itself. At the same time, it does capture something of the true nature of the object placed before the mirror. If it were otherwise, people would not, for example, brush their hair in front of mirrors, nor would they rely upon them for any representations of reality. The forms people receive in their dreams and in mirrors are therefore both real and unreal. In the Afterlife, those things which are the imaginalizations of our actions in this world, or, rather, the things which are represented to us as the 'physical' manifestations of our deeds here on earth, also reflect something of the reality with which we were engaged in the previous world. …

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