Hakim Sabzevari: A great Poet Sage
Hajj Molla Hadi Sabzavari (1797–1873) was a famous Iranian philosopher, mystic theologian and poet. Molla Hadi lived in Qajar period. According to his description, this period was along with descend of Hikmah; he also complaint of his period for the sake of lacking knowledge and philosophy. This kind of entrance to subject, was common among Islamic philosophers. There was an intellectual and spiritual turmoil in Qajar period. In fact in this period, Iranian encountered with new European thought and revival of traditional thinking; also in this period we can see the diverse divisions in beliefs like Bahaei, Babi, shaykhi and at the same time weakness and disappearance of Shiite. Molla Hadi counted as one of the four prominent masters of Tehran philosophical school. He was along with Aqa ‘Ali Mudarris, Aqa Muhammad Riza Qumshihi, Mirza Abul Hasan Jelveh.
He was born in Sabzevar, Iran to a family of land-owning merchants. His formal education started as a young age under his cousin, Molla Hosayn Sabzavari and he wrote a small treatise at the age of seven. His father died when he was seven or eight years old and his uncle Molla Ḥosayn Sabzavari, became his caretaker. When he reached the age of ten, he was taken by his cousin to Mashhad. There, he resided in the Hajj Hasan madrasa near the mausoleum of Imam Reza, where he studied Arabic, Islamic Jurisprudence, logic, and the principles of religion and law with Molla Hosay for a period of ten years. When he turned twenty, he returned to his hometown of Sabzavar. From there, he prepared his plans for the Hajj and set out in the direction of Isfahan. During this period, Isfahan was an important intellectual center of Iran, where philosophy and intellectual mysticism (‘Erfan) flourished.
Among the important masters of these tradition at the time, the names of Mollā ʿAli Nuri (died 1830–31) and Mollā Esmāʿil Eṣfahāni, a student of Nuri, were prominent. They taught Islamic philosophy, mostly of Sadr al-Din Shirazi and his school. He remained in Isfahan for around eight or nine years, where he studied under these two undisputed masters of Mulla Sadra’s school of philosophy. He concentrated on the main works of Mulla Sadra, such as the Asfarand Al-Shawahed al-Robubiya. Simultaneously, he also studied Islamic jurisprudence with Aqa Mohammad ‘Ali Najafi, one of the major Shia scholars of Isfahan. In Isfahan, Sabzevari lived a life of pietry despite having received a substantial inheritance. According to the orientalist Edward Browne, “he used to take pains to discover which of the students stood most in need of pecuniary help, and would then secretly place sums of money in their room during their absence, without leaving any clue that would lead to the identification of the donor. In this way he is said to have expended no less than 100,000 tumáns (about 30,000 Pounds Sterling), while he was in Isfahan, leaving himself only so much as he deemed necessary for his own maintenance”.
In In 1826–27, Sabzavari returned to Mashhad. There he began to teach in the Hājj Hasan madrasa although the scholars in Mashhad did not have the same interest in philosophy as Isfahan. The atmosphere of Mashhad was not as open as Isfahan for the pursuit of intellectual sciences. However, he continued to teach both the transmitted science as well as the intellectual sciences. He thought the intellectual sciences based on his work al-Manzuma, which he must have composed inIsfahan. His commentary on this important work of his however was completed in 1845. In 1831–32, he set out for Sabzavar where he made preparation for the Hajj. He left for Mecca in 1832–33 where he performed the rites of the pilgrimage. He returned to Iran in 1834–35 during the interval of the death of Fath Ali Shah Qajar. During this period of anarchy, traveling within Iran had become dangerous. Having lost his wife in Hajj, he settled in Kerman while waiting for calmer conditions to return to Khorasan. During the year he spent in Kerman, he was enganged in asceticism while agreeing to sweep the religious school for its keeper who provided him a room to live in. He married the keeper’s daughter that year who was later to accompany him to Sabzavar. At this time, no one knew his real identity and degree of knowledge.
In 1836–37, Sabzavari set to Sabzavar and established a center for the study of Islamic philosophy and gnosis. The school he established rivaled with the schools of Tehran and Isfahan due to his personality. For a period of 10 months, he also thought in Mashhad. However, the rest of time was spent in Sabzevar where he made the Fasihiya school the center of teaching. This school became known as Madrasa-ye Ḥāji, where part of it still survives till this day. Scholars and students began to flock from all over Persia, Iraq, Turkey, Caucasus, India and even Tibet. His name became widespread all over Iran so much so that in 1857–58, when Naser al-Din Shah Qajar made a pilgrimage to Mashhad, he stopped in Sabzavar and paid a visit to hakim Sabzavari. The Qajar King became very impressed by the philosopher and asked his royal photographer Aqa Reza ‘Akkas-Bashi to photograph the hakim. The picture, which is widely available, is the oldest picture of an Islamic philosopher. The Qajar king also requested from him a book in Persian containing the complete theory and cycle of traditional philosophy. Sabzavari obliged and composed the two Persian books: the Asrāral-hekam, which he dedicated to Naser al-Din Shah and also another book titled Hedāyat al-ṭālebin. Sabzavari died suddenly in 1872, probably as a result of heart failure. The date of his death is recorded in several chronographs, including the numerical value of the couplet ka namord zendatar shod (“He did not die but became more alive after his passing”) which was composed by one of his students.
Sabzavari wrote some fifty-two works of prose and poetry in both Arabic and Persian. He wrote the Asrar al-hikmah (“The Secrets of Wisdom”), which, together with his Arabic treatise Sharh-i manzumah (“A Treatise on Logic in Verse”), remains a basic text for the study of hikmat doctrines in Iran. Not limited to philosophy, he also wrote poetry under the name of Asrar and completed a commentary on the Masnavi of Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi, the great mystic poet of Islam.
For philosophy in the reign of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar (1848–1896), he was what Mulla Sadra had been in the reign of Shah Abbas I. He was also the faithful interpreter of Mulla Sadra and Transcendent Theosophy. He played a part in making Mulla Sadra the ‘master thinker’ of the Iranian philosophers. It could even be said that circumstances permitted him, to a greater extent than Mulla Sadra, to give free rein to his genius as a mystical theosopher, because there was greater freedom of self-expression during the Safavid epoch.
Sabzevari wrote numerous works in Persian and Arabic. He wrote works dealing with an array of subjects from prosody to logic to theology. However, the majority of his works deal with philosophy and mysticism.
Šarh al-manẓuma, is a work in Arabic also known as Ḡorar al-farāed. It is one of his more notable books which was completed around 1845. Till this day, it is still thought in religious seminaries in Iran with numerous later commentaries. The work is a versified summary and commentary of the transcendence philosophy ofMulla Sadra.
Asrār al-hekam fi’l-moftatah wa’l-moḵtatam , Ta’liqat, Asrar ol-Ebadah, Aljabr wal ekhtiar, Osul ad-Din, Nebrās al-hodā, A poem cycle