Afdal al-Din Kashani


Afdal al-Din Kashani
(d. 610/1213–14): Baba (or ‘Papa’)
   Afdal, as he was affectionately known to his students and intellectual progeny, was one of the few Islamic philosophers to write almost entirely in Persian. While other Iranian authors (e.g. Ibn Sina, Nasir-i Khusraw, al- Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra) wrote works in Persian as well, most expressed their definitive statements in Arabic, which had long been considered the scholarly lingua franca of the Islamic world. Not so with Baba Afdal, whose clear, straightforward and elegant Persian prose made a synthesis of Neoplatonic-Aristotelian and Sufi ideas intelligible to a wider audience, many of whom would have found the uncompromising and sometimes unwieldy technical precision of Arabic philosophical texts forbidding. Among his major philosophical works are The Book of Displays (‘Ard-nama), The Book of the Everlasting (Jawidan-nama) and The Rungs of Perfection (Madarij al-kamal). The overriding concern of these books is how to achieve salvific knowledge of the self (dhat, huwiyya) by means of rational inquiry and ethical cultivation. When one realizes one’s own everlasting self as intellect (khirad, ‘aql) – according to Baba Afdal, a kind of radiance of God – one perfects or actualizes one’s own nature. Although Baba Afdal does not concern himself with many of the topics that obsessed other Islamic philosophers – the divine attributes, God as the Necessary Existent, etc. – he develops an elaborate ontology and cosmology, which while Neoplatonic in its general contours, has no obvious, specific precedent. It might be said that Baba Afdal’s metaphysics are rooted in, and unfold from, his epistemology of the self. For the human being as a microcosm of the universe contains within itself all the lower levels of existence, i.e., all the actualized potentialities presupposed by its own living soul. The actualization of human existence (wujud) in particular – which Baba Afdal characterizes as ‘finding’ (yaftan) rather than just ‘being’ (budan) – consists in the full self-awareness of the intellect. It is through this perfection of self-knowledge that the soul awakens from its forgetfulness and separates itself from the body in preparation for death. But on a macrocosmic level, it is through the flowering of the human being (as microcosm) that the potentialities of the universe as a whole can ultimately be actualized and the return or ascent of creation to God can be effected. What makes Baba Afdal’s thought particularly interesting and compelling is its eminently practical ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY AZ 9 conception of philosophy as a way of life, aimed at salvific self-realization and the perfection of our nature, and the stylistic verve and clarity with which he presents this project. Apart from Baba Afdal’s many philosophical works, he is highly regarded for his poetry, also in Persian.
   Further reading: Chittick 2001; Nasr 1996

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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