From al-Kindi in Baghdad to Ibn Rushd in 12th century of the western Islamic world and from Mulla Sadra in Shiraz and Mulla Sabzivari in the 19th century in Khurasan, Islamic philosophy has taken a dramatic journey. Muslim philosophers became familiar with philosophy through translation from Greek and Syriac into Arabic under Abbasid dynasty while Ishaq ibn Hunain the head of Dar al-Hikma gathered a group of bilingual and trilingual scholars to transfer Greek sciences into Arabic. Muslim philosophers considered Plato and Aristotle as the climax of ancient wisdom. From the dawn of philosophy in the Islamic world, they became the careful readers and commentators of the two Greek philosophers as well as other Greek philosophers. Although the foreign origin of philosophy was the favorite slurs of anti-philosophy tendencies; however, philosophy was in the center of intellectual activity till the age of Ibn Rushd (1126-1198). With the death of Ibn Rushd not only philosophy starts to move from the center of intellectual activities to the margin of Islamic civilization, but it also went through an internal transformation. After the death of Ibn Rushd, philosophy becomes, borrowing Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi’s terminologies, more intuitive. The question is that why philosophy became increasingly intuitive while the early Muslim philosophers consider the alternative, which was demonstrative or discursive philosophy, superior. The increasing fascination of Muslim philosophers with intuition determined the fate of Islamic philosophy. Islamic philosophy became more intuitive gradually without a strong intellectuals opposition to argue for the alternative and to question the epistemological merits that its advocates attributed to intuition. In the absence of a strong discursive philosophy opposition, the philosophical merits of intuitive philosophy remained unquestioned.
Due to the special place of intuition in Islamic philosophy, analyzing the role of intuition in Islamic philosophy gives us a deeper understanding of Islamic philosophy as whole. Intuition gradually occupies a central place in Islamic philosophy. The implications of the growing role of intuition in Islamic philosophy are an under-examined subject. The notion of intuition has many related concepts in the Muslims’ philosophy. Intuition has been known with a variety of familial concepts such as mushahada, wahy, mukashifa, elham, kashf, vojdan, vajd, and finally what was known as ilm a-lhudhuri. When we are dealing with intuition, we are talking about a loose conceptual apparatus with special epistemological significance. For this reason, talking about intuition within the context of Islamic philosophy is not possible without some degree of simplification. However, simplification has its own virtues. (It assists) For the sake of brevity, I will focus on the place of intuition in Suhrawardi and Ghazali’s philosophy as two influential philosophers who tried to lay down a theoretical foundation for intuition. With Suhrawardi and Ghazali philosophy went under major changes. Ghazali’s attack delegitimized philosophers and with Suhrawardi Islamic philosophy’s focus shifted from a more or less discursive or conceptual philosophy to intuitive philosophy. Suhrawardi’s intuitive philosophy set the agenda for the rest of Islamic philosophy.
Ghazali’s disappointment with rational sciences and his seclusion
Ghazali’s, suspicion toward philosophical thinking symbolizes a growing unfriendly attitude toward philosophy in the Islamic philosophy. In fact, Ghazali’s disappointment with philosophy and public life becomes an increasingly popular model for intellectual life. Ghazali in his Rescuer from Error gives a moving story about his disappointment at the rational sciences and philosophers. His disappointment, as he explains, is rooted to the doubts that rational sciences raise in the practitioners. A logician, Ghazali believes, can be certain about the validity of his logical method and the certain knowledge that it can produce. Now if a logician believes that his opinions against religion have the same degree of certainty that his logical beliefs have, then he will be misled by logic. By the same token, other rational sciences can produce the same false certainty. However, it does not mean that Ghazali denounces all types of knowledge. He believes that rational sciences if are not contradictory to religion should not be rejected. At the same time, he believes that they are potentially harmful if they cause the practitioners doubt religion. For this reason, Ghazali warns about the potential harms of rational sciences. However, his attitude toward philosophers is tougher. One of his concerns is to explain what is in philosophy that makes its practitioners unbeliever. “Qutb al-Din, Sharh hikmat, 16, remarks that the science of lights deals with the First Principle, the (celestial) the intellects, and souls. That which is based upon it includes most of physics, some of metaphysics, and, in general, that which is known by intuition” (Walbridge and Ziai 170).
Ghazali in his treatise recognizes three methods of knowledge. The first is the method of theologian, the second is the way that Ismailis advocated, the third is philosophical thinking, and finally the mystical or Sufism. He maintains that only mystical method leads to certainty. Through his search for certainty, Ghazali noticed that his previous knowledge were not well-thought and were not based on robust knowledge since they have not passed the test of doubting. Since he has not reflected on them carefully, he noticed that what he considered as knowledge was not in fact knowledge at all. Ghazali: “As to doubt concerning what I know, there is none. Thus, I knew that whatever I did not know in this manner and was not certain of in this way was untrustworthy and insecure knowledge; and every knowledge that is insecure is not certain knowledge” (61). Therefore, he started his journey to seek the truth with casting doubt on what he dubbed as knowledge previously. Ghazali’s doubts about the certainty of his beliefs are legitimate doubts and any truth seeking person cannot avoid doubts about the validity of his method of inquiry or truthfulness of his beliefs. However, the significant about Ghazali’s doubts is his conclusions.
However, Ghazali explains that his certainty about his sensory and rational knowledge was restored through intuition nit necessarily through rational proof. As he eloquently explains,
Eventually, God cured me of this disease and my mind was restored to health and balance. The rational necessary beliefs were once again accepted and trusted, both securely and certainly. This did not come about by composing a proof or by an arrangement of words but rather by a light that God Almighty cast into my breast, which is the key to the greater part of cognizance. Whoever, supposes that enlightenment depends upon explicit proofs has narrowed the expanse of God’s mercy. (Ghazali 63)
The restoration of certainty on his rational knowledge and his other beliefs, as he explains, was not a result of “composing a proof or by an arrangement of words,” but it was through “a light that God Almighty cast into my breast.” A doubtful thinker like Ghazali with keen analyzing skills when it comes to intuition gives up his critical position and accepts the truthfulness of his beliefs that has found through intuition. Ghazali never poses any question about validity of the approach he uses. Intuition equates certainty in his view. According to Ghazali’s account of knowledge the intuition is the sufficient condition of certainty, but a rational proof might be necessary condition of knowledge, but never can be sufficient.
However, Ghazali praises the method of mysticism and its superiority to the rational scientists as such, “It became apparent to me that what was most distinctive about them [Sufis] and specific about them was what could not be attained through teaching but rather ‘tasting,’ the ‘state’ and a ‘transformation of attributes.’ There is a world of difference between knowing the definitions of health and satiety, their causes and their preconditions, and actually being healthy and satiated” (77). According to his analogy, intuition is more potent faculty than reasoning. However, Ghazali never gives a consistent account why one should think that intuition is more potent than reasoning. As one might say, analogy cannot function for reasoning. His analogy apparently shows his epistemological preference; however, it does not provide any reason for his preferences.
In fact, what Ghazali introduces as the bases for robust knowledge and certainty, namely intuition, becomes the paradigm of thinking in the Islamic philosophy. Contrary to Descartes, who tried to restore his certainty through “composing proofs” or “arrangement of words,” Ghazali obtains his certainty through a “God-given” immediate perception. In fact, it is the presence of this intuition that gave Ghazali justification to believe that his previous knowledge was true and reliable. Knowledge is obtainable through true intuition, which a mystic can have through mystical discipline and purification of the soul. Therefore, knowledge-seeking is not necessarily through employing the methods of proofs and giving a rational account based on well-constructed and consistent arguments but through immediate perception.
What is important about Ghazali’s attack against philosopher is that, as Ibn Rushd mentions, he expresses his doubts in his popular works, which were accessible to the general public. This is, in fact, an important point that Ibn Rushd makes. With this move, Ghazali popularizes intuition and a not-very-friendly attitude toward philosophy. If mysticism before Ghazali was an elitist movement limited to a small group of individuals, after him it became a popular movement which one of its central theme has been scorning reason. Ghazali’s attack against philosophy has a negative aspect without offering a convincing rational alternative. However, Suhrawardi tries to lay down a theoretical foundation for intuitive philosophy, an attempt that shaped the rest of Islamic philosophy. Ghazali’s intuition-based knowledge-seeking finds a rigorous epistemological justification in Suhrawardi’s Illuminist Philosophy.
Suhrawardi and Intuition:
Suhrawardi’s hikmat al-ishraq (Philosophy of Illumination) is an important historical moment in the Islamic philosophy. It is with Suhrawardi that a shift of focus happens in the Islamic philosophy. Suhrawardi attributes intuitive philosophy to Plato, Empedocles, and Pythagoras and Peripatetic philosophy to Aristotle. However, he places intuitive philosophy above the discursive philosophy. Although Suhrawardi is committed to discursive philosophy and does not denies its usefulness; however, intuition has an epistemic privilege over discursive philosophy.
To understand the shift of focus that happened in Islamic philosophy with Suhrawardi, one needs to analyze the role of intuition in his philosophy. Suhrawardi in his introduction to his book Hikmat al-Ishraq (The Philosophy of Illumination) gives a useful description of his approach and explains the method of his book as intuitive. Suhrawardi: “But the present book has another method and a shorter path to knowledge… I did not first arrive at it through cognition, but rather it was acquired through something else. Subsequently I sought proof for it so that should I cease contemplating the proof, nothing would make me fall into doubt” (2-3). However, although Suhrawardi finds his knowledge not through “cognition” but “through something else,” he feels committed to give a rational account of his intuitive knowledge. The question is that why Suhrawardi tries to give a consistent rational account of his intuition? What did make Suhrawardi to feel committed to justify his intuition philosophically while he believes a discursive philosopher will not benefit form his book? Answering these questions is not easy given the fact that he mentions that he sought rational proof so that “ should I cease contemplating the proof, nothing would make me fall into doubt.” On the other hand, he believes that justification of his intuitive beliefs are independent form his discursive philosophy. He does not explain more about the relationship between providing rational proof as way to buffer doubts and secure certainty; on the other hand, he believes that he has not arrive at knowledge “through cognition.” To explore these questions, we need to go into more details of his philosophy.
There is no question that Suhrawardi believes that one can obtain certainty through discursive philosophy. However, the intuitive philosophy is a shorter and a more secure path to knowledge than discursive philosophy. Intuition, to Suhrawardi, is a more competent epistemic tool. Suhrawardi gives a useful explanation of the distinction between discursive philosophers and intuitive philosophers.
Suhrawardi’s distinction between intuitive philosophy and discursive philosophy reveals the superior place of intuition in his Philosophy of Illumination. According to Suhrawardi’s epistemology, there are two types of philosophies: intuitive philosophy and discursive philosophy. Philosophers or students will be classified based on their engagements in either of the two philosophies. The genuine and competent philosopher is the person who has mastered both philosophies. A person who is proficient in only intuitive philosophy is more worthy than one who is only proficient in discursive philosophy. As Suhrawardi mentions, he has written the Philosophy of Illumination for students who are familiar with both intuitive and discursive philosophy, and “there is nothing in it for the discursive philosopher not given to, and not in search of, intuitive philosophy” (4). In other words, the intuitive philosophy is not dependent of intuitive philosophy and a pure discursive philosopher cannot arrive at intuitive philosophy merely relying on discursive philosophy. The question is that what intuitive philosophy has that discursive lacks?
Ilm al-Husuli and its Theory of Truth
Suhrawardi answers this question through criticizing Peripatetic philosophy and its champion Ibn Sina who is a discursive philosopher in his view. Islamic philosophers divided sciences into two general divisions. The first division was knowledge by acquiring, ilm al-husuli and the second was knowledge by presence. He believes that Ibn Sina’s epistemology solely relies on ilm al-husuli, which is knowledge through using mediates such as conceptions, logical tools, and argumentations, and it fails to appreciate the epistemological merits of ilm al-hudhuri, which is only obtainable through immediate knowledge, namely intuition. “Knowledge was essentially the unmediated presence of the thing known to the conscious knower” (Walbridge 204).
Ilm al-husuli’s theory of truth is a version of what today one may call the correspondence theory of truth. Based on this version of truth the truthfulness of a statement is dependent to its correspondence to reality. A statement is only true only if it denotes the object to which it refers. The statement of “Stockholm is the capital of Sweden” is true only if there is a city names Stockholm and that very city is still the capital of Sweden. A knower cannot assent that his statement is true if his statement has not the above mentioned condition. In ilm al-husuli, there is an unbridgeable gap between the knower and the object of knowing.
Suhrawardi sees the gap between the knower and the known object as a defection of ilm al-husuli’s theory of truth, since makes infallibility of knowledge unlikely or less probable. However, a true knowledge, Suhrawardi believes, requires an immediate relation between the knower and the known object, if one wants to know the essence of things. Ilm al-hudhuri makes the infallible knowledge through overcoming the gap between the knower and the known object. In fact, it is the unity of the knower and the known object that makes true knowledge possible. The unity of the knower and the known object is, in fact, the epistemic privilege that intuitive knowledge has over discursive philosophy.
For a belief to be true in Peripatetic philosophy, it must correspond to reality. The statement of “The Philosophy of Illumination is written by Suhrawardi” is true only if we have enough reasons that indicate a person whose name was Suhrawardi lived in a certain time and wrote that book. If we find new evidences that show the book was written by another writer, then the statement of “The Philosophy of Illumination is written by Suhrawardi” renders to be false, since it no longer corresponds to reality. In discursive philosophy, the correspondence requirement to determine the truth-value of a belief, which is correspondence of a belief to its object in reality in order to be true, operates based on a distinction between the knower and the object of knowing. However, since intuitive philosophy maintains that there is not any gap between the knower and the object of knowing, the possibility of error diminishes in ishraqi philosophy. In fact, intuitive philosophy tries to prove infallibility of intuition by removing the possibility of error. It is worthy of mentioning that when there is no possibility of error, the possibility of certainty vanishes too, since certainty is only obtainable only if it is a result of a process of undermining to possible doubts. Therefore, it is not clear that how intuition can be certain if there it is impossible for an instance of intuition to be false. The intuitive philosophy by removing the possibility of falsehood, it removes the possibility of certainty too.
However, the unity of the knower and the object of knowing in intuitive philosophy give self-awareness an epistemological significance. Suhrawardi believes that the only true knowledge of the self is immediate knowledge that is obtained through self but not something else, namely representations or attributes of the self. If knowledge of the self was through its attributes, then self-awareness was not possible. However, self-awareness is possible, since mind is self-conscious and it has access to its essence directly without the mediate of representations or attributes. Therefore, maintaining that mind knows its essence through the mediate of its attributes is absurd. More importantly, self-awareness is an instance of knowledge by presence, a prim example of the unity of the knower and the known object.
Ilm al-husuli is dependent on the ilm-hudhuri opposite than what Peripatetic philosophers believed. What makes error possible is when the possibility of corresponding exists, since in immediate knowledge there is no distance between the knower and the known there is not need for correspondence; therefore, there is no possibility for error. Ilm al-hudhuri is infallible, since there is not distance between the knower and the object of knowledge. Intuition is part of a truth-seeking science, which he calls it “the science of lights.” The goal of the science of the light is to unveil the First Principle.
Intuition and Justification
What justifies the truthfulness of intuition is not necessarily a rational account. The function of rational account is to make it understandable for the beginner of intuitive philosophy, and rational account is not necessary to justify an intuitive belief. An intuitive belief is such that it is justified because of its special epistemic status that it has. In fact, intuition is not a pre-cognitive experience that only becomes justified if it is sufficiently supported by a rational account. The truthfulness of an intuitive belief is independent from its relevant rational account. The truthfulness of an intuitive belief is relevant to the approach through which an ishraqi obtains the belief. In fact, once an ishraqi obtains an intuitive belief through a reliable process, the truthfulness of the intuitive belief has been secured independently from a rational account that the ishraqi offers. The rational account is merely for educational purposes, namely for those who want to take the path of ishraq.
To have a better understanding about the role of intuition in Suhrawardi’s philosophy one needs to answer the question why Suhrawardi believes that a discursive philosopher will not benefit from his book? According to Suhrawardi, the discursive philosophy seeks knowledge through the mediate of philosophical conceptualizing. Intuition in discursive philosophy is not absent from the knowledge-seeking process. In discursive philosophy, however, intuition is merely a pre-philosophical perception without justification. Therefore, to justify a belief, one needs to give a rational account. And without a rational account, it is no more than an unjustified belief. However, for an intuitive philosopher what justifies a belief is the performative process of obtaining knowledge. In fact, the performative nature of justification is very crucial in intuitive philosophy. I think it was this performative dimension of intuitive philosophy that made it appealing for Sufism, and made philosophy either losing its independence or gradually being dissolved into Sufism. I think the performative aspect of justification in intuitive philosophy needs further clarification.
What gives intuitive philosophy a performative dimension is the action that a knower should perform in order to maintain his ilm al-hudhuri sound. In order to do that, the knower needs to keep his inner vision sharp, which requires constant purification of the soul and heart. This performative aspect has a justificatory force, which means that it secures the justification of an intuitive knowledge. In ilm al-hudhuri the truthfulness transforms from the approach through which the intuitive belief has been obtained to the content of the very intuitive belief. It is the performative requirement of justification that makes adopting an ascetic life inevitable for an ishraqi. For this reason, the notion of philosophical truth is inseparable from an ishraqi ideal philosophic life, which is a constant purification of the soul purging it from its attributes that distort an ishraqi inner vision and prevent him from gaining intuition.
It is the constant need for purification of the soul that makes self-consciousness necessary for an intuitive philosopher. A person who wants to purify his soul from all the attributes, which in fact are foreign to the mind, needs to be able to distinguish between his essence and his attributes. Mind potentially has the ability to know itself by distinguishing between itself and its attributes. Mind is evident to itself by intuition. Mind is self-conscious, and it knows itself not through its attributes but itself. Attributes are foreign to the mind; therefore, if one believes that mind knows itself through its attributes, it means that mind knows itself through something else, which is absurd. Suhrawardi believes it is impossible. For this reason, self-consciousness finds an epistemological significance in intuitive philosophy. In fact, Suhrawardi holds the same beliefs about mind the he maintains about vision. “It [vision] consists of a sound eye being in the unveil presence of something illumined… Most important, vision requires a self-aware being. Knowledge, like vision, consists in the unveiled presence of the object of knowledge before the self-aware knower” (Walbridge 209-210).
The Islamic philosophy after Suhrawardi is more or less expansion of his ishraqi philosophy. Suhrawardi sets agenda for later Islamic philosophers. We see that the notion of the unity of the knower and known object plays a central role in Mulla Sadra’s philosophy. In fact, after Suhrawardi the intuitive philosophers were without rivals and in the absence of thinkers who could challenge the epistemic privilege they attributed to intuition, intuitive philosophy found a decisive victory over discursive philosophy
Superiority of intuition found its expression in the notion of the unity of the knower and the known. It is worthy of mentioning that when there is no possibility of error, the possibility of certainty vanishes too, since certainty is only obtainable only if it is a result of a process of undermining to possible doubts. Therefore, it is not clear that how intuition can be certain if there it is impossible for an instance of intuition to be false. The intuitive philosophy by removing the possibility of falsehood, it removes the possibility of certainty too. We only can be certain about what we belief only if we are able to refute what we know is incompatible with our beliefs. If there is no possible way to know what is incompatible with an intuitive belief, then an intuitive belief cannot amount to certainty. In the absence of a rational account to justify an intuitive belief, an intuitive philosopher never would be able to distinguish between a psychological certainty, which is not well supported by adequate reason, or epistemological certainty, which is based on good reasons.
Most important, if intuition is infallible and there is no possibility of error, then why should one philosophize? Philosophy as Socrates has defined it is seeking wisdom through discovering errors. Suhrawardi believes, “The words of the Ancients are symbolic and not open to refutation.” When there is no possibility of errors, it implies that it is not possible for us to seek wisdom either. In fact, if what Suhrawardi says about the “words of Ancients” is true about his philosophy too, then intuitive philosophy is an argument for impossibility of philosophy.
The story of decline of philosophy in Islamic civilization is two-folded. One aspect of the decline is due to the transformation that philosophy went internally, namely decisive victory of intuitive philosophy, and the second dimension is due to the lack of intellectual opposition to offer the alternative. All civilizations need to create a delicate balance between the rational tendencies and extra-rational inclinations such as reason and revelation or it variations like intuition. As historical experiences, like late Middle Ages Europe, shows a reasonable amount of tension between the reason and revelation will give birth to fruitful intellectual offspring. In fact, a reasonable tension will shape intellectual debates between groups that define the relations between the two tendencies differently. Some groups may emphasis on reason more than they put on revelation whereas the other group might put more emphasis on the latter. If any opposing view finds a decisive victory over the other side, then a civilization will loose its livelihood.
In the Islamic civilization the popular acceptance of intuitive philosophy gradually drove out the discursive philosophy from the mainstream of intellectual life to the margin. Sufism popularized the intuitive philosophy and Islamic civilization lost its balance. Intuitive philosophy was partially responsible for the imbalance in the Islamic civilization. The reason I say partially is that philosophy would not become marginalized if a strong intellectual opposition could resist and strived to challenge the epistemological merits of intuition on the one hand and gave a convincing account for the epistemological advantages of the alternative, which was discursive philosophy.
If there were equally competence philosophers in the opposite camp to defend the autonomy of reason and why reason should be a framework to understand intuition and if there were intellectual debates between these two competing camps, we would witness fruitful intellectual results within Islamic philosophy. The intuitive philosophy remained unraveled and without challenge; therefore, the useful and intellectual tensions died out. Hence, in the Islamic civilization the balance shifted against “rationalist” tendencies. Intuition made philosophical thinking to fall into what al-Farabi considered inferior to demonstrative philosophy i.e., the world of allegories, images, metaphors, symbols, and rhetoric (balaqah). The decisive victory of intuition was the defeat of Islamic philosophy.
 One related question is that Muslims had access to the same sources of knowledge that Christians had in the Middle Ages. However, we see different intellectual results. Philosophy continued to grow in the West and had extensive cultural influenced. How relatively same knowledge had two different results in two cultural contexts?
 If discursive philosophy is inadequate, and it cannot lead to a robust knowledge, one cannot jump to the conclusion that intuition is superior.
 One might agree with Ghazali about the limitation of discursive philosophy; however, his reasoning for limitation of discursive philosophy cannot be used as a ground for justification for the superiority of intuition. To prove the merits of intuition, one needs to give an independent justification from the inadequacy of discursive philosophy.
 Furthermore, Suhrawardi states that, “The world will never be without a philosopher proficient in intuitive philosophy” (3). Since they are the “Poles,” who make the continuation of grace possible.
 I have barrowed the notion of balance in civilizations form Friedrich Nietzsche. He believes that before Socrates, the central derives and forces for the greatness and livelihood of the Greek culture were emotional drives or sentiments represented in the Dionysus (Διόνυσος) who was the god of wine, pleasure (ερως), and festivity. However, there were rational forces as well that were represented in the god of reason, Apollo (Απόλλων). The rational forces were basically forces that stopped Athenians from excessive pleasure. For this reason, he maintains that in Greek culture, it was a balance between Dionysian drives and Alloponian constrains, mostly tilted toward non-rational, pleasure based drives. However, he believes that Socrates rational approach toward life disturbed the balance of Greek culture and paved the way for its destruction.
 However, the story of philosophy was different in the Christian world. Due to Christian theology that was defined as the science of faith and its declared purpose was to give a rational account of faith, maintaining a balance between reason and revelation was essential. For this reason, the tension between reason and revelation did not drive out any side of the tension. In fact, a healthy and reasonable tension between reason and revelation gave birth to heated debates that lasted for centuries in Europe, one of the debates with wide consequences was the debates between via moderna and via antiqua that give birth to further intellectual skirmishes and cultural movements such as Renaissance and Enlightenment.
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