ARTICLES ON ZOROASTRIANISM - SUFISM - ISHRAQI PHILOSOPHY
I am a British writer, born in 1950. I am identified on Google Search as Kevin R. D. Shepherd. I have authored thirteen books, including Meaning in Anthropos (1991) and Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One (1995). I also undertook private research at Cambridge University Library during 1981-1993. There are five other websites of mine, the earliest being citizeninitiative.com (2007). There followed kevinrdshepherd.net (2008) and kevinrdshepherd.info (2009). There is also citizenphilosophy.net (2010). I also maintain the blog Commentaries. I am sometimes classified as an independent philosopher. My basic commitment is to a philosophy of culture, but I also regard history and biography as a priority. See in addition my profile and bibliography.
Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) and Zoroastrianism
This overview was originally composed in the late 1990s, soon after my phase of private research at Cambridge University Library. The text and notes have been revised and updated. The initial chapters devote attention to the Iranian prophet Zarathushtra. Despite the legendary profile of this ancient figure, there is an extensive amount of scholarly argument relating to his Gathas, a complex verse text in Avestan that is of uncertain date. The present treatment surveys various theories and themes exhibited in the scholarly literature. The account moves on to describe events and complexities in the more tangible historical vistas of Zoroastrianism, starting with the Achaemenian era associated with Persepolis. The subsequent Sassanian era is much more detailed in specialist sources, and this period is given some attention, including profiles of the Gnostic leader Mani and the conservative Mazdean high priest Kirder. Also outlined is the heretical situation of Mazdak and his followers, a situation that requires careful probing in the face of some simplistic general statements made in this direction. Extending from this feature is an analysis of the offshoot and hybrid trend known as NeoMazdakite, operative in early Islamic times. The fate of the Iranian Zoroastrians during the Islamic centuries is also detailed, and the survey finishes with the subject of religious reformism in the Parsi Zoroastrian milieu of India.
Early Sufism in Iran and Central Asia
The formative development of Sufism occurred over a wide geographical area from Syria and Egypt to Central Asia. The Iraqi tradition, based at Baghdad, was very influential in later centuries. A focus is here attempted upon the complementary Iranian events occurring in Khurasan, a sprawling province which once encompassed territories in Central Asia. The malamati phenomenon of Nishapur is described, along with the ascetic Karrami movement, and also the trend known as Sufiyyat al-Mutazila. The early Sufi annalists like Hujwiri and Qushayri are profiled, and reference is made to many figures such as Ibrahim ibn Adham, Abu Hafs al-Haddad, and Hakim Tirmidhi. The hagiology attaching to Abu Yazid al-Bistami is investigated in more detail, and in relation to the contested theory of Vedantic influence and other factors. The geographical zone from Nishapur and Tus to Balkh and Bukhara is the basic background for this investigation, though developments to the west are also mentioned, as in the instances of Junayd and Hallaj.
The ninth century Islamic mystic al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi lived in Central Asia, composing many works in Arabic. His output has been considered by specialist scholars to be significant for the period generally known in terms of early Sufism. However, Tirmidhi himself did not use the word Sufi. His recovered major treatise Sirat al-Awliya outlines his version of wilaya (saintship), which was later adapted by the influential Sufi exponent Ibn al-Arabi (d. 1240).
The Egyptian Sufi Dhu'l Nun al-Misri
Born at Akhmim (Panopolis) in Upper Egypt, the ninth century gnostic Dhu'l Nun al-Misri is one of the most enigmatic and challenging figures of early Sufism. Sufi literature, and the accounts of Muslim historians and bibliographers, furnish details that are apparently contradictory in certain respects. Reputed to be an alchemist, Dhu'l Nun links with the version of Hermetic philosophy revived by early Muslims. More controversially, he was reported to possess a knowledge of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, a claim apparently rooted in the temple architecture that was prolific in Akhmim during early Islamic times prior to later destruction. Becoming a Sufi gnostic and heretic, Dhu'l Nun is also closely associated with Fustat (Cairo) and Giza in Lower Egypt. Various theories and presentations are here reviewed.
Al-Hallaj, Islamic Mystic and Heretic
Born in the Fars province of Iran, the grandson of a Zoroastrian, Hallaj (d. 922) became associated with the Sufis of Baghdad, though moving at a tangent to formal Sufism. An unusual preacher, he moved over a wide area, from Iraq and Arabia to India and Central Asia. The last phase of his life occurred at Baghdad, capital of the Abbasid empire. There he came into friction with influential courtiers, and was detained in the palace of al-Muqtadir for nine years. His eventual trial was a suspect manoeuvre of his opponents, who succeeded in certifying him as a heretic and causing his execution. The French scholar Louis Massignon (d. 1962) industriously researched Hallaj, awarding him a new profile. The significances attaching to Hallaj are investigated in this article, and with an emphasis upon social and political problems that caused the decline of the Abbasid empire.
Suhrawardi and Ishraqi Philosophy
An overview of the eclectic philosopher Shihab al-Din Yahya Suhrawardi (d. 1191), who taught the theme of ishraq (illumination). An Iranian by birth, his conceptual axis has been diversely argued. A critic of the Peripatetic methodology of Ibn Sina, he nevertheless employed a logical approach in his major works, composed in Arabic. His Hikmat al-Ishraq (Philosophy of Illumination) is an unusual combination of logical and intuitive approaches. A Sufi in basic aspects of his lifestyle, he has also been described as a Muslim Neoplatonist, an orientation explaining some features of his exegesis. Suhrawardi recommended the ancient sages, his universalist approach including Greek philosophy, Hermetic lore, and an independent form of Sufism. His teachings incorporate reference to themes like tanasukh (reincarnation) and the "subtle world," though a close analysis is called for. The controversial "metahistorical" approach of Henry Corbin is also mentioned as part of the vista in Suhrawardi studies.
Azar Kaivan and the Zoroastrian Ishraqis
Describes the phenomenon of Zoroastrian ishraqi philosophy, associated with the figure of Azar Kaivan (d. 1618), who emigrated with his disciples to Mughal India in flight from the religious intolerance of Safavid Iran. The subsequent Kaivan school created an inter-religious attitude extending to Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. The controversial text known as Desatir is associated with this school, and likewise the Dabistan, a work of some ecumenical significance. Related figures appearing in the Dabistan include the heretical Sarmad, a Jewish convert to Islam who resisted the fundamentalism of Aurangzeb's court. The Muslim savants Mir Findiriski and Baha al-Din Amili are also implicated in the train of events.
Sheriar Mundegar Irani and Zoroastrianism
A biography of an Irani Zoroastrian born on the Yazd plain at the village of Khorramshah. The subject is introduced via an overview of harassing events afflicting the Zoroastrian population of the Yazd locale. His early life was centred at a dakhma or "tower of silence" near Yazd, due to the occupation of his father. He subsequently left home to become a wandering dervish, though he remained a Zoroastrian. After travelling through Iran, he emigrated to India, where he continued his ascetic life. A crisis caused him to sojourn at Poona, where he afterwards settled and married. He mastered different languages and read many books. He was the father of Meher Baba, and in close contact with Hazrat Babajan. Sheriar Mundegar Irani (1853-1932) has become the focus for an investigation of Zoroastrian mysticism, primarily the trend associated with the Kaivan school.
Hazrat Babajan, Faqir of Poona
An overview of an unusual female faqir who lived at Poona (Pune) from circa 1905. Hazrat Babajan (d. 1931) was a Pathan ascetic from the Afghan territories. Her early life is obscure. After her pilgrimage to Mecca in 1903, she moved to Poona and continued a renunciate lifestyle. Eventually selecting a site in Char Bawdi, she gained numerous devotees, including Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Hindus. This article discusses sources and biographical complexities, and is a complement to my earlier online article Hazrat Babajan, a Pathan (Pashtun) Sufi.
Investigating Meher Baba in "Secret India"
A critical assessment of Paul Brunton's popular book A Search in Secret India (1934). This probe reveals the distortion and lack of context which Brunton applied to his chapters on Meher Baba (1894-1969), and which can also be detected throughout the book. Brunton's relationship with Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) is analysed, resulting in further comparisons with the main subject.
Copyright © 2016 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved. Page uploaded November 2009, last modified January 2016.