al-Kirmani, Hamid al-Din


al-Kirmani, Hamid al-Din
(d. c. 412/1021)
   One of the greatest Isma‘ili philosophers from the time of the Fatimid caliphate, al-Kirmani built upon the Neoplatonic cosmological systems of his missionary forebears (e.g. al- Nasafi, Abu Hatim al-Razi and al-Sijistani), but influenced by the Peripatetic philosophers, introduced a more Aristotelian element. His principal work is the Peace of the Intellect (Rahat al-‘aql). Like his Isma‘ili predecessors, al-Kirmani was concerned with preserving God’s absolute unity and transcendence from even the most intellectually sophisticated and well-meaning but inadvertently destructive theological and philosophical assays. Towards this end he adopted al-Sijistani’s rigorous negative theology, which, not content with merely negating traditional creaturely attributes, negated their negations as well. Contrary to philosophers like al- Farabi and Ibn Sina, he argued that God cannot even be characterized as the First Being, First Cause or Necessary Existent, for the divine is ultimately beyond the reach of intellect and rational discourse. Previous attempts at divine characterization in fact apply not to God, but rather to what al-Kirmani calls the ‘first intellect’, i.e. the first and only thing that God directly originates (abda‘a). Their primary error consists in identifying the first intellect with God; al-Kirmani’s project is in a sense to divest it of its ‘divinity’.
   As in al-Sijistani’s system, the ontological emergence of all subsequent beings is a matter of temporal procession (inba‘atha) rather than origination (ibda‘). Here, however, al-Kirmani abandons the traditional Neoplatonic dyad of intellect (‘aql) and soul (nafs), replacing it with a Farabian hierarchy of successive intellects. The first intellect, having been brought into being by God the ‘Originator’ (mubdi‘), is overjoyed with its own existence (it ‘blushes’, in al- Kirmani’s metaphor), and through this radiating joy gives rise to the second intellect, which is essentially a kind of reflection or representation of the first. Because of its relational status in the emerging hierarchy of being, the second intellect has a two-fold nature: it is both cause and effect, actual and potential being, form and matter (which al- Kirmani associates with the Qur’anic symbols of pen and tablet). It in turn gives rise to eight further intellects, along with their respective material spheres. The tenth and final intellect plays a central role in the governance of terrestrial affairs and provides human beings with the revealed religious law, which has unfolded and developed through its procession down the hierarchy of intellects.
   Interestingly, for al-Kirmani the individual human soul does not share a direct kinship with the intellects. Indeed, he maintains, as al-Farabi arguably had, that the soul does not exist prior to the material body and that, at least in its original state, it cannot exist independently of it. However, the soul is capable of attaining perfection and thus becoming immortal and self-sufficient. It achieves this through knowledge and right action, which is made possible only by a teacher (a prophet or imam, who represents the perfection of intellect) and the soteriological teaching provided by the tenth intellect. Al-Kirmani’s ambitious, syncretic cosmology ultimately proved less influential than that of his predecessor, al-Sijistani. However, his thought represents the most sophisticated version of Isma‘ili philosophy that emerged in the Fatimid period.
   Further reading: Nasr with Aminrazavi 2001; Walker 1993, 1999

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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