Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Mir Damad in India: Islamic Philosophical Traditions and the Problem of Creation

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Mir Damad in India: Islamic Philosophical Traditions and the Problem of Creation

Article excerpt

The history of Islamic philosophy and theology in India has yet to be properly written. The learned culture of the high Mughal period has increasingly attracted attention, with a focus on the role of the Dars-i Niz[a.bar]m[i.bar] curriculum, devised in the eighteenth century to produce cohorts of capable imperial administrators, and on the intellectual life of Delhi, Lucknow, and the Doab in the middle to late Mughal period. (1) Some have identified the significant role of M[i.bar]r Fathull[a.bar]h Sh[i.bar]r[a.bar]z[i.bar], (d. 997/1589), a philosopher trained in the school of Sh[i.bar]r[a.bar]z, a student of the philosopher and sometime sadr of the Safavid empire, M[i.bar]r Ghiy[a.bar]thudd[i.bar]n Mans[u.bar]r Dashtak[i.bar] (d. 949/1542), and emigrant to the court of Akbar (r. 1556-1605). (2) Numerous works, both academic and popular, stress his role as the foremost philosopher and scientist of his time in the Persianate world, and attribute to him a series of important technological innovations and reforms of the administration, including the adoption of Persian as the official language of the Mughal chancellery; he is also regarded as the main conduit for the serious study of philosophy and theology in India, laying the foundations for the Dars-i Niz[a.bar]m[i.bar] curriculum, which emphasized the study of the intellectual disciplines (cilium catiliyya). It is common, therefore, for intellectual historians of Islamic thought in India to trace a lineage from Sh[i.bar]r[a.bar]z[i.bar] (and, indeed, from the ishr[a.bar]q[i.bar] Avicennan tradition that he inherited) to the "founder" of the Dars-i Niz[a.bar]m[i.bar], Mulla Niz[a.bar]mudd[i.bar]n Sihalvi Farang[i.bar]-Mahalli (d. 1161/1748) (3) It was in this early Mughal period that Islamic philosophical traditions seriously began to penetrate Indian scholarly circles. (4)

Sb[i.bar]r[a.bar]z[i.bar] is praised in the biographical literature by friend and foe; the universal approval reflects his significant political status at the court of Akbar.(5) His friend Abu 1-Fail wrote:

  He was so learned that if all the previous books of philosophy
  disappeared, he could have laid a new foundation for knowledge and
  would not have desired what had preceded.(6)

Another contemporary and an official historian at court, Khw[a.bar]ja Niz[a.bar]m al-D[i.bar]n Ahrnad Bakhsh[i.bar] (d. 1003/1594), wrote:

  He was superior to all the ulema of Persia, Iraq, and India in his
  knowledge of the scriptural and intellectual sciences. Among his
  contemporaries, he had no equal. He was an expert in the occult
  sciences including the preparation of talismans and white magic. (7)

Sh[i.bar]r[a.bar]z[i.bar] did play a critical role in the dissemination of the works and teachings of the key figures of the philosophical school of Sh[i.bar]r[a.bar]z: the Dashtak[i.bar]s and Jalaludd[i.bar]n Dav[a.bar]n[i.bar] (d.908/1502); it is no accident that establishing their work in the curricula of educational institutions accounts for the numerous manuscript copies of their philosophical, logical, and theological works in Indian libraries. (8) But, arguably, his most important legacy was bequeathing a curriculum that combined the study of the scriptures, the traditional religious sciences, and the intellectual sciences, laying the basis for the Dars-i Niz[.bar]m[i.bar]. The eighteenth-century intellectual M[i.bar]r Ghulam 'Al[i.bar] ("[A.bar]z[a.bar]d") Sag[a.bar]m[i.bar] (d. 1200/1785) claimed that Sh[i.bar]r[a.bar]z[i.bar] was the leading teacher of the intellectual sciences in his time, and his curricular reconciliation of the traditional and the intellectual (manq[u.bar]l[a.bar]t, ma'qalat) was his great achievement that he transmitted to his student Mu11[a.bar], 'Abd al-Sal[a.bar]m L[a.bar]h[u.bar]r[i.bar] (d. 1037/1627-8), who was also an eminent Mughal jurist judging cases and teaching in Lahore. (9)

Once the taste for philosophical speculation became critical to the Indian (Sunni) madrasa, it was the twin schools of Mull[a. …

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