pdf Insights 23/4 (2003)  >  Latest METI Book Probes Soul, Self-Knowledge

Latest METI Book Probes Soul, Self-Knowledge

A parallel English-Arabic text of the Islamic philosophical work Iksir al-Arifin, or Elixir of the Gnostics, is the latest publication in the Islamic Translation Series, part of the Institute’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. The author, Sadr al-Din Muhammad Shirazi, better known as Mulla Íadr (a.d. 1572-1640), is considered one of the greatest Islamic philosophers of the last 600 years and in recent years has become one of the most well known. Adept at finding flaws in the work of previous great thinkers, he was at the same time able to think independently of them, creating his own philosophical approach that he called “transcendent philosophy.” This approach combined reason, intellectual intuition, illumination, and revelation to arrive at truth.

Series editor D. Morgan Davis says that Elixir of the Gnostics is “a very interesting example of how Islam was influenced by Neoplatonism and classical Persian religious notions. It is a cogent summary of ‘the big picture’ as it was envisioned by some Muslim thinkers in the Middle Ages.”

Elixir demonstrates Mulla Íadr’s skill as a scholar and philosopher in that it adapts and expands on Afdal al-Din Kashani’s 13th-century Persian work, the Jawidan-nama (The Book of the Everlasting). The work deals with the importance of self-knowledge in the soul’s journey, which ends where it begins – with God. Self-knowledge is the means by which the soul, having been created in the divine image, realizes its full potential. Mulla Íadr defines the soul’s progress as a gradual disengagement from all embodiment and materiality and a return to its transcendent essence. He maintains that philosophy is the most direct path to achieve this self-knowledge and progression.

William C. Chittick, translator of Elixir from Arabic, received his Ph.D. from the University of Tehran and is currently a professor of comparative studies at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. He specializes in Islamic intellectual history and has authored or served as editor for more than 20 books on Islamic philosophy and theology.

In May 2003, on the occasion of the publication of Elixir at BYU, Professor Chittick visited campus and delivered two lectures. The first provided a basic and very accessible introduction to Sufism, or what some refer to as Islamic mysticism. The following day, Chittick lectured on the philosophy of the Origin and the Return, the central theme of Elixir and an important motif in Islamic philosophy generally. It argues that God is the source of the human soul and, as such, is the final destiny to which it will inevitably and finally return.

To purchase a copy of Elixir of the Gnostics, visit the Book Orders section of the METI Web site at http://meti.byu.edu/orders.php.