The Safavid period in Persia was one of the most active periods in the intellectual and gnostic life of Islam. During this period, the most debated issue in the Muslim intellectual world was the relationship between science and faith. The harmonious blending and integration of science and faith, and reason and revelation, was the contribution of the prolific philosopher and gnostic, Sadr’ud-Din Shirazi, usually known as Mulla Sadra.
Mulla Sadra was born in Shiraz in Persia in 1571, into a wealthy and influential Shi’ite family, and received his early education in that city which was then one of the most important cultural centres of the country. After completing his early training, he set out for Ispahan, the capital and intellectual center of Persia at that time, in order to complete his formal education. There he studied with the leading authorities of the day, learning the religious sciences from Baha’ud-Din Amili and the intellectual sciences from Mir Damad. Having completed his formal education, he retired from worldly life and withdrew to a small village called Kahak, near Qum, where he spent about seven years undergoing spiritual practices and the discipline of much remembrance of Allah for the purification of his soul, which led to his self-realisation and awakening. He finally emerged as an illuminated sage.
Having thus perfected both the outer and inner aspects of knowledge, Mulla Sadra returned to active life, becoming a Professor at the Khan religious school of Shiraz where he taught transcendental philosophy for the rest of his life. He died in the city of Basra in 1640 while returning from the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Mulla Sadra’s school of thought is known as transcendental wisdom and has produced many learned gnostics in Persia up until recent times. Since he wrote in a simple style and openly expounded gnostic and metaphysical doctrines, he was soon exposed to the attacks of the orthodox religious scholars, some of whom even accused him of having gone out of Islam, despite his following the outer Islamic Law as well as having access to and talking about the inner reality.
Mulla Sadra’s basic thesis is that in order to gain perfect knowledge of things, one’s rational knowledge should be combined with spiritual tasting, and one’s theoretical knowledge should be combined with the realisation of higher consciousness, which is a gift by the grace of God, attained by those who purify their souls by following the Muhammadi (pbuh) way of life.