The Neoplatonic Qur’anic Exegesis of Nāṣir-i Khusraw – Khalil Andani’s Presentation at MESA 2014 Conference in Washington, DC

Nāṣir-i Khusraw quotes or alludes to Qur’anic verses mentioning specific Divine Names and Attributes and reinterprets them as references to the Universal Intellect and Universal Soul as opposed to God. In this manner, Nāṣir effectively frames the Universal Intellect as “the knowing” (al-‘ālim), “the living” (al-hayy), “the powerful” (al-qādir), “the exalted” (al-‘alī), and “the eternal” (al-azalī) while describing the Universal Soul as “the creator” (al-khāliq), “the maker” (al-ṣāni‘), “the speaker” (al-mutakallim), “the lord” (al-rabb) and “the sublime” (al-‘aẓīm).

Reconciling Apophatic and Kataphatic Theology: The Neoplatonic Qur’anic Exegesis of Nāṣir-i Khusraw by Andani, Khalil

Abstract:

This paper examines the development of Ismā‘īlī theology and Neoplatonic cosmology in the thought of Nāṣir-i Khusraw (d. 1088) – an eleventh century Fatimid Ismā‘īlī philosopher and poet. Nāṣir adheres to an apophatic theology which denies all names and attributes from God and posits a Neoplatonic hierarchy of Universal Intellect and Universal Soul between God and the Cosmos. However, numerous verses of the Qur’an describe God in positive or kataphatic language – which other Islamic thinkers understood as references to God’s Attributes (e.g. life, knowledge, speech, power, etc.). This paper, drawing upon four of Nāṣir-i Khusraw’s philosophical works – the “Face of Religion” (wajh-i dīn), “The Feast of the Brethren” (khvān al-ikhvān), “The Reconciliation of the Two Wisdoms” (jāmi‘ al-ḥikmatayn), and “The Six Chapters” (shish faṣl), analyzes how Nasir-i Khusraw reconciles his Ismā‘īlī apophatic theology with the kataphatic language found in the Qur’an. Nāṣir achieves this reconciliation through a two-stage Qur’anic exegesis (ta’wīl) of the kataphatic Qur’an verses that heavily relies upon his Neoplatonic cosmology of the Universal Intellect and Universal Soul. In the first stage, Nāṣir quotes or alludes to Qur’anic verses mentioning specific Divine Names and Attributes and reinterprets them as references to the Universal Intellect and Universal Soul as opposed to God. In this manner, Nāṣir effectively frames the Universal Intellect as “the knowing” (al-‘ālim), “the living” (al-hayy), “the powerful” (al-qādir), “the exalted” (al-‘alī), and “the eternal” (al-azalī) while describing the Universal Soul as “the creator” (al-khāliq), “the maker” (al-ṣāni‘), “the speaker” (al-mutakallim), “the lord” (al-rabb) and “the sublime” (al-‘aẓīm). Nāṣir’s assignment of these attributes to the Intellect and Soul amounts to a Neoplatonic inspired exegesis of the Qur’ān. In the second stage, having reassigned the Divine Names to the Neoplatonic Intellect and Soul, Nāṣir argues that such attributes may be ascribed to God indirectly – in the sense that God is the Originator (al-mubdi‘) of the Intellect and Soul while not being the direct object of the Divine Names. In this way, Nāṣir indirectly allows God be to associated with attributes, while simultaneously, maintaining His transcendence (tanzīh). This exegesis allows Nāṣir to integrate his rigorous apophatic theology with the kataphatic statements found in the Qur’ān. This study has implications for the history of Islamic thought since Nāṣir-i Khusraw’s position prefigures later Islamic thinkers like Ibn al-‘Arabī and his interpreters who equally maintained a metaphysical distinction between the Divine Essence and the Level (martabah) of the Divine Names.

Khalil AndaniKhalil Andani is a doctoral (Ph.D) candidate specializing in Islamic intellectual history, theology, philosophy, and mysticism at Harvard University and holds a Master of Theological Studies degree (2014), specializing in Islamic philosophy and Ismaili thought, from Harvard University. Khalil’s publications include a book chapter on Nasir-i Khusraw’s philosophical thought in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy and articles in Sacred Web, and The Matheson Trust. He is also a Chartered Professional Accountant (CA-CPA) and completed Bachelor of Mathematics (BMath) and Master of Accounting degrees at the University of Waterloo (2008). Over the last few years, Khalil has been invited to deliver several guest lectures and conference presentations on various topics in Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism at Harvard University (SCT 2013, HDS 2014), University of Toronto (Shia Ismaili Islam, Christology Symposium, NMCGSA 2013, NMCGSA 2014), University of Chicago (MEHAT 2013, MEHAT 2014), Carleton University, the American Academy of Religion (Midwest AAR 2014, NEMAAR 2014), the Middle East Studies Association 2013 and 2014

More on Khalil Andani from Ismailimail Archives:

About MESA:

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is a private, non-profit, non-political learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world. MESA’s 48th annual meeting will be held in Washington, DC at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

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