The Development of Metaphysics in Persia, Shaikh Muhammad Iqbal
The Development of Metaphysics in Persia
Shaikh Muhammad Iqbal
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The Development of Metaphysics in Persia is the book form of Muhammad Iqbal's PhD thesis in philosophy at the University of Munich submitted in 1908 and published in the same year. It traces the development of metaphysics in Persia from the time of Zoroaster to the advent of the Baháʼí Faith.

The Development of Metaphysics in Persia

A Contribution to the History of Muslim Philosophy

Shaikh Muhammad Iqbal

Professor T. W. Arnold M. A.

My dear Mr. Arnold,

This little book is the first-fruit of that literary and philosophical training which I have been receiving from you for the last ten years, and as an expression of gratitude I beg to dedicate it to your name. You have always judged me liberally; I hope you will judge these pages in the same spirit.

Your affectionate pupil


The most remarkable feature of the character of the Persian people is their love of Metaphysical speculation. Yet the inquirer who approaches the extant literature of Persia expecting to find any comprehensive systems of thought, like those of Kapila or Kant, will have to turn back disappointed, though deeply impressed by the wonderful intellectual subtlety displayed therein. It seems to me that the Persian mind is rather impatient of detail, and consequently destitute of that organising faculty which gradually works out a system of ideas, by interpreting the fundamental principles with reference to the ordinary facts of observation. The subtle Brahman sees the inner unity of things; so does the Persian. But while the former endeavours to discover it in all the aspects of human experience, and illustrates its hidden presence in the concrete in various ways, the latter appears to be satisfied with a bare universality, and does not attempt to verify the richness of its inner content. The butterfly imagination of the Persian flies, half-inebriated as it were, from flower to flower, and seems to be incapable of reviewing the garden as a whole. For this reason his deepest thoughts and emotions find expression mostly in disconnected verses (Ghazal) which reveal all the subtlety of his artistic soul. The Hindū, while admitting, like the Persian, the necessity of a higher source of knowledge, yet calmly moves from experience to experience, mercilessly dissecting them, and forcing them to yield their underlying universality. In fact the Persian is only half-conscious of Metaphysics as a system of thought; his Brahman brother, on the other hand, is fully alive to the need of presenting his theory in the form of a thoroughly reasoned out system. And the result of this mental difference between the two nations is clear. In the one case we have only partially worked out systems of thought; in the other case, the awful sublimity of the searching Vedānta. The student of Islamic Mysticism who is anxious to see an all-embracing exposition of the principle of Unity, must look up the heavy volumes of the Andalūsian Ibn al-‘Arabī, whose profound teaching stands in strange contrast with the dry-as-dust Islam of his countrymen.

The results, however, of the intellectual activity of the different branches of the great Aryan family are strikingly similar. The outcome of all Idealistic speculation in India is Buddha, in Persia Bahāullah, and in the west Schopenhauer whose system, in Hegelian language, is the marriage of free oriental universality with occidental determinateness.

But the history of Persian thought presents a phenomenon peculiar to itself. In Persia, due perhaps to semitic influences, philosophical speculation has indissolubly associated itself with religion, and thinkers in new lines of thought have almost always been founders of new religious movements. After the Arab conquest, however, we see pure Philosophy severed from religion by the Neo-Platonic Aristotelians of Islam, but the severance was only a transient phenomenon. Greek philosophy, though an exotic plant in the soil of Persia, eventually became an integral part of Persian thought; and later thinkers, critics as well as advocates of Greek wisdom, talked in the philosophical language of Aristotle and Plato, and were mostly influenced by religious presuppositions. It is necessary to bear this fact in mind in order to gain a thorough understanding of post-Islamic Persian thought.

The object of this investigation is, as will appear, to prepare a ground-work for a future history of Persian Metaphysics. Original thought cannot be expected in a review, the object of which is purely historical; yet I venture to claim some consideration for the following two points: —

(a) I have endeavoured to trace the logical continuity of Persian thought, which I have tried to interpret in the language of modern Philosophy. This, as far as I know, has not yet been done.

(b) I have discussed the subject of Ṣūfīism in a more scientific manner, and have attempted to bring out the intellectual conditions which necessitated such a phenomenon. In opposition, therefore, to the generally accepted view I have tried to maintain that Ṣūfīism is a necessary product of the play of various intellectual and moral forces which would necessarily awaken the slumbering soul to a higher ideal of life.

Owing to my ignorance of Zend, my knowledge of Zoroaster is merely second-hand. As regards the second part of my work, I have been able to look up the original Persian and Arabic manuscripts as well as many printed works connected with my investigation. I give below the names of Arabic and Persian manuscripts from which I have drawn most of the material utilized here. The method of transliteration adopted is the one recognised by the Royal Asiatic Society.

1. Tārīkh al-Ḥukamā, by Al-Baihaqī ________________ Royal Library of Berlin.
2. Sharḥi Anwāriyya, (with the original text)
by Muḥammad Sharīf of Herāt _____________________ Royal Library of Berlin.
3. Ḥikmat al-‘Ain, by al-Kātibī ______________________ Royal Library of Berlin.
4. Commentary on Ḥikmat al-‘Ain,
by Muḥammad ibn Mubārak al-Bukhārī ____________ India Office Library.
5. Commentary on Ḥikmat al-‘Ain by Ḥusainī _______ India Office Library.
6. ‘Awārif al-Ma‘ārif, by Shahāb al-Dīn ______________ India Office Library.

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