The Scholars of Islam: Mir Damad

Islam Contributor

Mir Damad (1561-1631) was one of the greatest Islamic Iranian philosophers and scientists of the 17th century CE, the founder of the so-called “Isfahan School of Philosophy” who studied the fundamental laws of the world order and created his own system of cosmogony of creation. The philosophy of Mir Damad was a synthesis of various philosophical trends in Islam ranging from the Neoplatonism of Ibn Sina to the Sufi mysticism of Suhrawardi and was the spiritual basis of the cultural and state revival of Iran during the reign of the Safavid dynasty. Despite the fact that Mir Damad adhered to Shiite beliefs and all his works in the field of fiqh and Hadith studies related specifically to Shiite theology, his general philosophical works had a huge impact on the philosophy of Islam in general. Mir Damad had a tremendous number of students, followers and admirers. He called himself “Ishraq” (“The Illuminated One”)

During the time of Shah Abbas I the capital of Iran and the centre of Muslim thought was the city of Isfahan. Scientists and legal scholars from all over the East flocked here. Here Mir Damad and his associates founded his own philosophical school, the so-called “Isfahan school”. The issues considered by the Isfahan school included issues of cosmology and metaphysics, being and world order, time and space. The issue of the nature and essence of time was raised by Isfahan philosophers within the framework of the concept of a timeless world, which exists on a par with the temporal world, which is material and physical, a belief shared by all Islamic philosophers. This concept was key in the philosophy of Mir Damad. Its significance for the entire Muslim worldview turned out to be very important since it was primarily a tool for analyzing the phenomena of sacred history (the relationship between the historicity of the events of the times of the prophets described in the Quran with the timeless world and with the physical world).

Islamic philosophy, in contrast to Western philosophy, postulates the existence of timeless and temporary worlds (Western philosophers consider time as an integral attribute of everything that exists and transcendental, and Being is not considered separate from it). Mir Damad introduced into this theory the concept of a third world, the so-called “metatemporal world”. All three worlds (Mir Damad called them “vessels”) are united by the concept of time as a continuous movement. Unlike philosophers who considered time to be instantaneous and existing only at a particular moment while the line of moments of time exists only in imagination, Mir Damad and his colleague Mulla Sadra believed that time is lengthy and consists of a line of moments while the particular moments as such are an imaginary substance. Such time exists in the material, physical world. In addition to it, there are two worlds in which the flow of time is absent, namely, the “timeless world” (the repose of God) and the “metatemporal world” (the world of the ideal prototype of the temporal world realizing its connection with God).

On the basis of these postulates Mir Damad deduces three categories of being: 1) being in the temporal world (being in time); 2) being in the metatemporal world parallel to time (being which embraces time, and is not embraced by it itself); and 3) being in the timeless world, the world of eternity, which does not change, does not flow and is not connected with time.

The complexity of the philosophical concepts of the teachings of Mir Damad reveals to us a tiny iota the entire complexity of the world order created by Allah. Consider now that the concepts of philosophers seemingly incomprehensible to ordinary people are only a tiny part of the true concepts of Allah which even these wise philosophers are not able to fully comprehend. This is why a real, deep Islamic philosophy is so essential to realizing the greatness of our Muslim faith. And the philosopher Mir Damad is one of those great philosophers.