Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sophia Perennis and Islam

My own understanding of the technical meaning of many of the terms and relationships of metaphysical principles in limited. I can at best point you in the direction of the writings of those who possess a greater understanding. An excellent source of information on this subject is the second chapter of Knowledge and the Sacred, "What is Tradition?"

A few of the ideas that I have taken away from this are the following. A revelation can be considered as an objective manifestation of the Logos or as a particular unveiling of the principles of the Universal Intellect. Sophia Perennis, or the eternally and perpetually existent Divine Wisdom is identical to these principles when viewed in their essentiality. Sophia Perennis, therefore, exists at the heart of all of the macrocosmic revelations which give rise to the world’s religions. However, it also exists within the microcosmic revelation of the human Intellect. “With Sophia Perennis, ” according to Schuon, “it is fundamentally a question of the following: there are truths innate in the human Spirit, which nevertheless in a sense lie buried in the depth of the “Heart” – in the pure Intellect – and are accessible only to the one who is spiritually contemplative; and these are the fundamental metaphysical truths.” For the pure of heart, the truths of revelation call out to the same truths inscribed in the human spirit. The natural and appropriate response to this call is prayer. Irrespective of how we choose to identify and define all of these terms and their relationships (as they are subject to multiple perspectives), I think it is of greatest importance to be able to hear and respond to this call.

I also realize that you are a devout Muslim assimilating the doctrines and traditions of your religion while also attempting to situate many of these ideas within that context. Some passages from the referred chapter of Knowledge and the Sacred may be of great assistance to you in this regard, especially the following:

“Before leaving the subject of philosophia perennis, it seems appropriate to turn for a moment to the destiny of this idea in the Islamic tradition where its relation to sacred knowledge and its meaning as a perennial truth revived within each revelation is quite evident and more emphasized than in the Christian tradition. Islam sees the doctrine of unity (al-tawhīd) not only as the essence of its own message but as the heart of every religion. Revelation for Islam means the assertion of al-tawhīd and all religions are seen as so many repetitions in different climes and languages of the doctrine of unity. Moreover, wherever the doctrine of unity is to be found, it is considered to be of divine origin. Therefore, Muslims did not distinguish between religion and paganism but between those who accepted unity and those who denied or ignored it. For them the sages of antiquity such as Pythagoras and Plato were “unitarians” (muwaḥḥidūn) who expressed the truth which lies at the heart of all religions. They, therefore, belonged to the Islamic universe and were not considered as alien to it.

The Islamic intellectual tradition in both its gnostic (ma‘rifah or ‘irfān) and philosophical and theosophical (falsafah-hikmah) aspects saw the source of this unique truth which is the “Religion of the Truth” (dīn al-ḥaqq) in the teachings of the ancient prophets going back to Adam and considered the prophet Idrīs, whom it identified with Hermes, as the “father of philosophers” (Abu‘l-hukamā‘). Many Sufis called not only Plato “divine” but also associated Pythagoras, Empedocles, with whom an important corpus which influenced certain schools of Sufism is associated, and others with the primordial wisdom associated with prophecy. Even early Peripatetic (mashshā‘ī) philosophers such as al-Fārābī saw a relation between philosophy and prophecy and revelation. Later figures such as Suhrawardī expanded this perspective to include the tradition of pre-Islamic Persia. Suhrawardī spoke often of al-hikmat al-laduniyyah or Divine Wisdom (literally the wisdom which is near God) in terms almost identical with what Sophia and also philosophia perennis mean traditionally, including its aspect of realization. A later Islamic figure, the eighth/fourteenth (Islamic/Christian) century gnostic and theologian Sayyid Ḥaydar Āmulī, made no reservations in pointing to the correspondence existing between the “Muḥammadan” pleroma of seventy-two stars of the Islamic universe and the seventy-two stars of the pleroma comprised of those sages who had preserved their primordial nature but belong to a world outside of the specifically Islamic one.

Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī identified true knowledge with a perennial wisdom which has existed since the beginning of human history. The Islamic conception of the universality of revelation went hand in hand with the idea of a primordial truth which has always existed and will always exist, a truth without history. The Arabic al-dīn, which is perhaps the most suitable word to translate the term tradition, is inseparable from the idea of permanent and perpetual wisdom, the sophia perennis which can also be identified with the philosophia perennis as understood by such a figure as Coomaraswamy."

I hope that I was able to contribute to a better understanding of the Sophia Perennis, especially within the context of the Islamic Tradition. I would also like to invite others to comment further on the meaning and significance of the principles involved, the idiosyncrasies of which I am admittedly deficient.

1 comment:

  1. Peace be upon you.

    What a joy getting an understanding of Sophia Perennis with such clarity! I'm too studying this chapter, with special interest in the true meaning of term Tradition, under much attack by modernists. I never knew that this term would have such profound relations with other terms. After all everything is integrated into unity.

    Can you state your understanding of the term 'tradition', apart from its contextual manifestations, an understanding of which I believe would do a great service to religious wisdom?

    Humble regards.
    Muhammad Umer Toor.

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