Interestingly enough, there are a number of Persian Suhrawardi’s who were instrumental in the proliferation of Sufism in Islam. There was even a Sufi order that was created by a Suhrawardi.
But I’ve been studying the work of Shihab al-din Suhrawardi, a 12th Century Sufi mystic who is also known as the Shaykh al-Ishraq (“Master of Illumination”) or Shayk al-Maqtul “Murdered Master.” Born in Northwestern Iran around 1154, he studied Greek philosophy and became a wandering teacher as he developed his philosophy.
Suhrawardi developed the “philosophy of illumination” and posed the idea that light is the key to making manifest all creation. The mystic eventually made his way to Alleppo, Syria and gained a popular following through his work the “Philosophy of Illumination.”
It’s written that Suhrawardi had a dream that Aristotle came to him stating that the key to knowledge is through self-consciousness. He created a unique form of philosophy based on Aristotle, but later subscribed to Plato’s Platonic Forms and Hermeticism.
His book, “The Philosophy of Illumination,” was produced in 1186. His work is dense in logic, but the second part imparts mystical wisdom that gets to the heart of his work. Like his philosophy, his writing moves from discursive knowledge to intuitive knowledge. Suffice it to say, mysticism is a key to knowledge.
The central thought that he imparts is by cultivating intuitive knowledge we can arrive at a deeper conscious awareness of God, or the Divine. It is through this awareness that we are empowered to greater understanding of love as it relates to light. Divine light, the “Light of lights” and order of light is the key to the book.
He writes about gradations of light throughout the world. Reality is made up of light and different grades of light. God is the light of all lights and gives birth to other light. The divinity of God’s light exists within us. God emits rays and must create a light that is so dominant that it permeates all being. It is the particle of Oneness.
There is in Suhrawardi’s teaching an exploration of epistemology and logic. He states that we are born to learn and in turn understand. Suhrawardi subscribed to the idea of tangible knowledge called “discursive knowledge – knowledge based on rational deduction. Most importantly, though, was the belief that “intuitive knowledge” and that which cannot be seen but understood through intuition and experiential knowledge that cannot be put into words — mystical understanding.
Suhrawardi’s work was definitive in Islamic thought and its influence is still experienced to this day. Sufis subscribe to the idea of light in meditation. Some of the Sufi practices identify the heart center as a power center of light.
Having attended Sufi ceremonies there is a short ceremony where they light candles to honor the light of other faith traditions. After reciting the Sufi Invocation, they light a candle to each religion stating, “To the glory of the omnipresent God, we kindle the light symbolically representing the Hindu religion, or Buddhism or Taoism.”
Sometimes in life, we struggle to identify the light that gives us life. It is elusive, so we name it by our experiences of love, harmony and beauty. Sometimes a piece of art, or a song comes along, or a poem that gives voice to it, but the cultivating of our divine light is of our own making. Through service, through kindness, through inspiring hope in those we meet, we fan the embers of divinity and realize the importance of holy resonance in all we do.
Suhrawardi faced an untimely death. He was very popular in his day and caught the eye of Saladin’s son. Saladin was a powerful emperor who was trying to maintain power. Many different tribes came onto the scene during Saladin’s day, and it was tough for him to maintain order and control. He attained a kill or be killed mentality and he viewed Suhravardi’s philosophy as a threat to his power. Therefore, he assassinated the master.
Although this philosopher’s life was short lived, his enlightened perspective penetrated Islamic thought and influences Sufi thinking to this day.