The Prophet Muhammad in the Works of the Early Falasifa up to Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi (d. 1191)

This paper studies the significant, yet understudied, interrelations between falsafa (Islamic philosophy) and Islam by analyzing the images of the Prophet Muhammad in the works of early falasifa (Islamic philosophers) and shows a fascinating reconciliatory development in the history of Islamic thought. The paper begins by closely studying the confluence of the prophetic figure with Greek philosopher figures in certain Islamic biographical accounts, where we observe a Muhammadan typological figuration of certain Greek figures. This process of adaptation is also seen in the works of Peripatetic falasifa who transformed the Greek “natural” theory of prophecy into a Muhammadan, “supernatural” theory. This philosophical apology for prophecy is most apparent in the falasifa’s veneration of prophets, where the prophetic figure is considered as the best of people, the philosopher par excellence, and “almost worthy of worship.” Philosophical veneration of the Prophet however reaches a crescendo in the works of Isma'ili thinkers, who developed an ontological and archetypal image of Muhammad. While the Illuminationist Suhrawardi (d. 1191) also ascribes the highest qualities to Muhammad, he occasionally values gnostics higher than prophets. Furthermore, Suhrawardi associates Muhammadan qualities to gnostics, including himself, and in some of his allegorical works implies that he himself had received divine knowledge directly from the angel Gabriel (who is the symbol of his own inner guide and the Active Intellect) and thus implicitly places himself in the same apocalyptic position as Muhammad. Despite the significant differences between the images of the Prophet Muhammad in the works of the Peripatetic, Isma'ili, and Illuminationist philosophers and the differences in their respective relationship with the Prophet, they all present Muhammad as a philosopher, their intellectual hero, and a true archetype of wisdom, who had access to knowledge of everything without being taught.