2009-02-25 Islamic Existentialism
College students today are taught that existentialism is an ideology created in the West, in the twentieth century. This is false, and betrays the Academy's general ignorance of all things non-Western (certainly there are specialized fields of studies, though that doesn't change the fact that in traditional departments (philosophy, history,...) all things from the East are relegated - if at all - to a footnote (a footnote oftentimes belittling, offensive, and smacking of orientalism). Even the Western origins of existentialism, in the thought of Aquinas, are largely ignored, due to the current prejudices against any modes of thought, which emphasize faith and belief.
Existentialism is not synonymous with Sartre and Heidegger. Existentialism is simply a philosophical ontology, which emphasizes existence over essence; becoming / be-ing over being. There have been Christian, Muslim, and Hindu Existentialists; all far prior to the twentieth century! With traditional existentialism, it is a matter of emphasis, not exaggeration. Be-ing, may be emphasized over being, though there is a place for being, and there is not rejection of a Being (Truth, Reality, the Divine, the Sacred, etc.). Perhaps you wonder now if the author is perhaps the mistress of obfuscation; no, not at all; it is really quite simple, if you think about it for a bit!
Islamic existentialism is attributed to Mullah Sadra. In fact, one could say his main advancement (if, that is you agree with his theses) over Suhrawardi, was his emphasis on existence as such. Unfortunately, there is far too little of the primary source material available for readers of English. James Morris' "Wisdom of the Throne", and Christian Jambet's "The Act of Being" are excellent, though necessarily limited. Hitherto, no - even partial - translation into English of his major work, al-Asfar, has come into being. Don't fret!
For one who has an insatiable appetite for all things Sadra, there are options. Though you would not be reading the man, himself, you can get a good idea of his more advanced perspectives through the readings of other religious existentialists (I refer, not to the likes of Marcel, who are thoroughly modern). I suggest the writings of Simone Weil; Jacques Maritain; and the Kashmir Shaivites, such as Abhinavagupta. These will give you a good taste for the doctrine of Sadra; out of the Islamic tradition, as they may be. Or on the other hand, in the true existentialist spirit, travel to Qom and soak up the atmosphere. While there, pray before God as if you were Her sole vice regent upon this Earth, standing alone, with humanity's fate upon your shoulders; then you will understand Sadra and Islamic existentialism. Situated in Hyperreality by Farasha Euker at 18:07 0 comments