Al-Hikma al-muta'aliya fi l-asfar al-'aqliyya al-arba'a (book)

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Al-Hikma al-muta'aliya fi l-asfar al-'aqliyya al-arba'a (book)
AuthorSadr al-Din al-Shirazi
Original titleالحکمة المتعالیة فی الاسفار العقلیة الاربعة
SubjectTranscendent Philosophy
PublisherDar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi

Al-Ḥikma al-mutaʿālīya fī l-asfār al-ʿaqlīyya al-arbaʿa (Arabic: اَلحِکمَة المُتَعالِيَة فی الأسفار العَقلیَّة الأربَعَة) well known as al-Asfār al-arbaʿa (Arabic: الأسفار الأربعة) is the well-known philosophical work of Sadr al-Din Shirazi, who is also known as Sadr al-Muti'allihin and Mulla Sadra (b. 979/1571-d.1050/1640). The complete title of the book as Mulla Sadra himself named it is Al-Hikma al-muta'aliya fi l-asfar al-'aqliyya al-arbaʾa (the transcendent wisdom regarding four intellectual journeys). The book has a unique place as to its comprehension and influence on Islamic wisdom in recent centuries—in particular, "Shiite wisdom". Many other works by Sadr al-Din Shirazi and subsequent Islamic philosophers have been developed from this book.

Date of Writing

There are three distinct periods in Sadr al-Din's career:

  1. Education and studies in philosophy and kalam (Islamic theology) with the method of pure reasoning.
  2. Isolation and approach to illumination (ishraq) and spiritual journeys.
  3. Teaching and writing.

There are pieces of evidence indicating that the writing of al-Asfar began late in his second period. He has written this book prior to his other works. In the introduction of the book, he takes it to be a result of a long period of isolation from official academic jobs.[1] On the other hand, he refers to his master, Mir Damad (d. 1040/1630), with a prayer that is usually cited with respect to people who are alive.[2] Also late in the first part of the four parts of the book, he talks about an inspiration that enabled him to work out the issues. In a note added by him to this remark—that appears on the margins of some manuscripts of the book—we find the date, 1037/1627.[3]


Al-asfar is the plural form of al-safar meaning journey in Arabic, though some people took it to be a plural for al-sifr meaning book.[4] Sadr al-Din Shirazi intended the scheme of his book to match the four journeys considered by Islamic mystics.[5] The four journeys are as follows:

  1. The journey from the creatures to God,
  2. The journey in God by God (by God, in that the spiritual traveler leaves his or her own existence and ascribes his journey to God),
  3. The journey from God to the creatures by God (the journey in how pluralities were emanated from the unity or the observation of the stages of the creatures from the highest to the lowest),
  4. The journey in the creatures by God (the journey in the plurality of the creatures with the consideration that God's unity penetrates in this plurality, and the observation of how the creatures return to God).[6]


Sadr al-Din Shirazi's book is framed by these four journeys:

  1. The part on general issues (existence and its manifestations),
  2. The part on natural philosophy (substances and accidents),
  3. The part on proper theology,
  4. The part on the soul, its origin and its resurrection.

What is noteworthy here is the difference between the scheme of Asfar and subsequent works regarding Islamic philosophy that deal with issues of logic and natural philosophy prior to general issues and proper theology, and influenced by Aristotelian categorization of sciences, a part of them is devoted to mathematics (or as they sometimes call it 'intermediate wisdom'). Some novelties of Sadra are the two issues of "the principality of existence" ('asalat al-wujud) and "substantial motion" (harakat al-jawhari) in his Asfar.

Initially it is not obvious how the four sections of Asfar fit into the four mystical journeys—some commentators of Asfar have sought to match the parts of the book with these journeys. They have not succeeded, however, to match the four parts of the book with the four journeys; they could just show relations between the contents of these parts and those journeys. For example, the part of Asfar concerning general issues, substances and accidents is relevant to the first journey since it is an introduction to knowledge of God. The part concerning proper theology matches with the second journey. Issues concerning the way pluralities are emanated from God's essence and the chain of reasons and souls are associated with the third journey. And the fourth journey has something to do with issues concerning the states of the human soul and resurrection. What is significant about this issue is that Mulla Sadra did not use the title "four journeys (Al-Asfar al-'arba'a)" just metaphorically or as a sort of analogy; rather he did so on the basis of the method and the purpose of his philosophical work.


  • Simultaneous application of intellectual reasoning and mystical intuition: In his view, in the true wisdom or philosophy, the philosophical reasoning and the mystical intuition are inseparable—they are complements to one another. In Asfar and other works, he repeatedly says that the method of philosophical thought and that of mystical intuition are intertwined, and he emphasizes that philosophies that focus on just one of these two methods are not well-founded. In the introduction of Asfar, Sadra recommends that people who seek wisdom should engage in the refinement of their souls before they start reading his book—they should thus base their wisdom on a strong foundation and avoid dealing with the ideas of lay Sufis and pseudo-philosophers.[7] In his discussion about the perfect man (al-'insan al-kamil ), Sadra points out that most of the issues in his book are of a sort that can only be comprehended by few people who managed to combine the intellectual knowledge (gained by thought) and the mystical knowledge (gained by revelation). This is the core of Sadra's thought—what he calls "Transcendent Wisdom".
  • Extensive citation from previous works: In Asfar, we find many citations from mystical resources such as Ibn 'Arabi's works and their commentaries, and criticisms of, and comments on, many philosophical and theological works. In each issue, Mulla Sadra provides a formulation of the subject-matter on the basis of the dominant views, and he sometimes cites some theological views if relevant. The way the book is authored, as he is understood to have said, is influenced by his tendency to reconcile various views of Peripatetic (masha') and Illuminationist ('ishraq) philosophies.[8] Moreover, he seeks to help the readers comprehend his own views by understanding earlier theories.[9] In any case, the critical approach of the work is one of its prominent characteristics. Another characteristic of Sadr al-Muta'allihin's philosophy is his attempts to reconcile between wisdom (philosophy) and shari'a. In particular, in the third and the fourth parts of the book he cites many verses of Quran and hadiths to support his own philosophical views. This has given his work a theological tone.


  • Critical approach toward the ideas of previous thinkers
  • Efforts to reconcile wisdom and shari'a especially in third and fourth journeys
  • Theological tone in some discussions[10]
  • Some difficult to grasp concepts
  • Clear, eloquent and nice wording
  • Poetic language.

Sources of Asfar

In this book, there are many citations from philosophical, mystical and theological texts, but most of them are well-known sources. There are cases where someone's remarks were cited without referring to their names—it demands an independent research to determine the sources of such citations.[11] Two important works that are frequently cited in different chapters of Asfar are Enneads by Plotinus (known in Arabic as Uthologia which was mistakenly ascribed to Aristotle) and Essays of Ikhwan al-Safa. They had a decisive influence on Mulla Sadra's thoughts.


Several commentaries have been written for Asfar. Mulla 'Ali Nuri's (d. 1246/1830) commentaries seem to be the oldest among them. The best-known and the most detailed commentaries are those of Mulla Hadi Sabziwari (d. 1289/1872) that deal with all the contents of the book except the part concerning substances and accidents. Another scholarly commentary is that of Aqa 'Ali Mudarris Zunuzi. Other commentators on Asfar include Mulla Isma'il Darb Kushki Isfahani (d. 1277/1860), Muhammad b. Ma'sum 'Ali Haydaji (d. 1349/1930) and 'Allama Tabataba'i.[12]


Asfar was fist published in 1222/1807 by 'Ali Panah Zunuzi and Muhammad Hassan Fani Zunuzi in Isfahan and repeatedly after that (e.g. in 1282/1865 and 1288/1871 in Tehran) in four volumes. Muhammad Ibrahim Ayati has provided the content of the book on the basis of lithographic prints of the book. The researched version of Asfar was published under the supervision of 'Allama Tabataba'i in nine volumes from 1378/1958 to 1389/1969 in Qom.

In 1402/1981 it was published in nine volumes with glosses of 'Allama Tabataba'i and Hakim Sabziwari and others by Dar Ihya' al-Turath in Beirut.

In 1424/2003, Hikamt-e Sadra Foundation in Iran, published the book in nine volumes with a new research.

Works of European Scholars

The book has more or less attracted the attention of some European scholars. In his The Philosophical System of Shirazi, Max Horten has introduced Asfar in the West for the first time and translated a summary of Asfar into German.[13] Henry Corbin had a considerable contribution to the studies of Transcendent Wisdom and Asfar, especially in his book, Iranian Islam.[14]


  1. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Asfār al-arbaʿa, vol. 1, p. 4-8.
  2. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Asfār al-arbaʿa, vol. 6, p. 381.
  3. Nakhjawānī, Fihrist-i kitābkhāna-yi dawlatī Tabrīz, p. 129.
  4. Browne, A Literary History of Persia, p. 430; Gobineau, Les religions et les philosophies dans l'Asie Centrale, p. 80.
  5. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Asfār al-arbaʿa, vol. 1, p. 13.
  6. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Asfār al-arbaʿa, vol. 1, p. 13; also see: Ibn ʿArabī, al-Futūḥat al-makkīyya, vol. 7, p. 117, 125; Āmulī, al-Muqaddimāt min kitāb-i naṣṣ al-nuṣūṣ, p. 268; Kāshānī, Iṣṭilāhāt al-ṣūfīyya, p. 87.
  7. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Asfār al-arbaʿa, vol. 1, p. 12.
  8. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Asfār al-arbaʿa, vol. 1, p. 5; Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, al-Mabdaʾ wa al-maʿād, vol. 1, p. 6.
  9. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Asfār al-arbaʿa, vol. 1, p. 10-11.
  10. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Asfār al-arbaʿa, vol. 6, p. 395-399; vol. 9, p. 4-6; 160-161, 243, 273, 321, 327.
  11. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Asfār al-arbaʿa, vol. 1, p. 314, 315, 388; vol. 2, p. 158, 159, 294; vol. 7, 216-218.
  12. Āshtīyānī, Muqaddima bar al-masāʾil al-qudsīya, p. 54-56.
  13. Max Horten, Nizām-i falsafī-yi Shīrāzī.
  14. Corbin, IV/54-115.


  • Āshtīyānī, Jalāl al-Dīn. Muqaddima bar al-masāʾil al-qudsīya Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī. Tehran: 1352 Sh.
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  • Browne, E. G. A Literary History of Persia. Cambridge: 1924.
  • Corbin, Henry. En Islam Iranien. Paris: 1972.
  • Corbin, Henry. Histoire de la philosophie islamique. Paris: 1964.
  • Gobineau, Comte de. Les religions et les philosophies dans l'Asie Centrale. Paris" 1923.
  • Ibn ʿArabī, Muḥyi al-Dīn. Al-Futūḥat al-makkīyya. Edited by ʿUthmān Yaḥyā. Cairo: 1972.
  • Kāshānī, ʿAbd al-Razzāq. Iṣṭilāhāt al-ṣūfīyya. Lahore: 1981.
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  • Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm. Mafātīḥ al-ghayb. Edited by Muḥammad Khājawī. Tehran: 1363 Sh.
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