al-Dawani, Jalal al-Din (1426-1502)

Jalal al-Din al-Dawani was a prominent philosopher and theologian from Shiraz, who came to the note of Western scholars through an English translation of his ethical treatise the Akhlaq-e Jalali (Jalalean Ethics), published in 1839. Although the larger part of his work written in Arabic has been little studied, he did write extensively and engaged in a famous and lengthy philosophical dispute with another leading philosopher, Sadr al-Din al-Dashtaki. His metaphysical views were quoted, and refuted, by Mulla Sadra. He emerges as a thinker who combined elements of illuminationist and Peripatetic philosophy (and possibly also interests in Ibn al-'Arabi) to confront theological, ethical, political and mystical concerns.

Jalal al-Din Muhammad ibn As'ad al-Dawani (or Dawwani) was born near Kazarun, southern Iran, in the village of Davan in ah 830 (ad 1426). He first studied there with his father, who had been taught by the Sayyid al-Sharif al-Jurjani (d. ah 816/ad 1413), before going on to further and complete his education in philosophy, theology and law in Shiraz. In common with the other leading religious scholars of his time and place, he was directly caught up in the turbulent politics of Iran in the second half of the ninth century ah (fifteenth century ad). He was inducted into various religious offices, and many of his works were dedicated to Aq Qoyunlu and other Timurid rulers and princes. He also achieved fame as a teacher in the Begum madrasa (Dar al-Aytam) in Shiraz. The question of his religious allegiance, whether Sunni or Shi'i (he wrote theological works of both persuasions), has always been the subject of debate and of many fanciful stories, but it may be of comparatively slight significance given the situation in the Iran of his time, which was marked by a Sunnism with a strong Shi'i colouring. He died in ah 908/ad 1502 near Kazarun, a year or so before the Safavid capture of Shiraz, and is buried in his home town.

Al-Dawani first came to the attention of Western scholarship through the 1839 English translation of his Persian ethical work, the Akhlaq-e Jalali (Jalalean Ethics), more correctly known under its original title of Lawami' al-ishraq fi makarim al-akhlaq (Lustres of Illumination on the Noble Virtues). Al-Dawani's text marks a third stage in the development of the ethical strand of writing begun by Ibn Miskawayh with the Tahdhib al-akhlaq (Cultivation of Morals) and continued by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi with his Akhlaq-e Nasiri (Nasirean Ethics), on which al-Dawani's work is closely modelled. Al-Dawani retains al-Tusi's division of the text into three sections - ethics, economics and politics - and subdivides his work similarly, although significantly he entirely omits al-Tusi's theoretical first section of the ethics. The title, Lawami' al-ishraq (Lustres of Illumination), may indicate the author's ishraqi (illuminationist) and mystical concerns. The political content of the work has been of some interest to historians, as regards both its descriptions of the ideal ruler and the titles used for its dedicatee, the Aq Qoyunlu Uzun Hasan, which betray a possible ishraqi influence and seem to foreshadow the extravagant claims of Isma'il, the first Safavid monarch of Iran.

The Akhlaq-e Jalali is generally acknowledged to be a less satisfactory work than al-Tusi's, being weaker in argument and encumbered with anecdotal material (following the literary taste of the period) from both Greek (indirectly) and Islamic sources, being more 'Ciceronian', as its 1839 translator, W.F. Thompson, apologetically expressed it. It is therefore easier to admire the work for its style than for its intellectual rigour. Thompson's translation does not improve matters, thanks to its baroque literary style and ponderous sentiments.

Apart from the Akhlaq-e Jalali, over seventy-five works by al-Dawani are recorded, covering the fields of philosophy, mysticism, theology and exegesis. Of particular interest to subsequent philosophers were his commentary on al-Suhrawardi's Hayakil al-nur (The Temples of Light), Shawakil al-hur fi sharh Hayakil al-nur (The Houri's Haunches in Commentary of the Temple of Light) and his series of glosses on the commentary by 'Ala' al-Din al-Qushji (d. ah 879/ad 1474) on al-Tusi's Tajrid al-kalam (Abstract of Theology). In both works he engaged with his contemporary Sadr al-Din al-Dashtaki (and subsequently the latter's son Ghiyath al-Din). All three were greatly influenced by al-Suhrawardi, although the Dashtakis perhaps more than al-Dawani. Sadr al-Din denied any reality to existence, either mental or extramental, and could thus be described as an extreme essentialist. Al-Dawani, on the other hand, held a view which harks back to Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. Existence in the outside world, for al-Dawani, is a single necessary reality, absolutely devoid of multiplicity, and is thus equal to God. Everything else is contingent: 'entities' whose existence is not real but only various 'portions of existence' (hisas) conceived by the mind. The reality of the external world is established solely through quiddities. Al-Dawani's illuminationism is thus a modified one, but it proved more influential than al-Dashtaki's extreme form, for it was adopted by Mir Damad and initially by the latter's pupil Mulla Sadra before he turned to his radical existentialism.

See also: Ibn al-'Arabi; Illuminationist philosophy; Mystical philosophy in Islam

Copyright © 1998, Routledge.

List of works

al-Dawani (1467-77?) Akhlaq-e Jalali (Jalalean Ethics), ed. M.K. Shirazi, Calcutta: printed at Habl-ul-Matin Press, 1911; trans. W.F. Thompson, Practical philosophy of the Mohammadan people..., being a translation of the Akhlaq-i-Jalaly... from the Persian of Fakir Jany Muhammad Asaad..., London: Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, 1839; repr. Karachi, 1977. (No critical edition has yet been done of this work and the Shirazi edition is only one of several lithographs and printings. Thompson's translation, which is only partial, suffers from an overweight style, and the translator's attempts to stress in his notes the common Greek ancestry of Islamic and European philosophical ethics at the expense of the Islamic content of the work is now probably of little interest except to students of early nineteenth-century British thought.)

---- (1426-1502) Shawakil-al-hur fi sharh-i-Hayakil-al-nur (The Houri's Haunches in Commentary on the Temple of Light), ed. M. Abdul Haq and M.Y. Kokan, Madras: Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, 1953. (Arabic text only, though there is a brief English introduction.)

References and further reading

Newman, A.J. (1994) 'Davani, Jalal al-Din Mohammad', Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. VII, fasc. 2, Costa Meza, CA: Mazda Publishers, 132-3. (A mainly biographical article giving most of the relevant sources.)

Rosenthal, E.I.J. (1962) Political Thought in Medieval Islam, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 210-23. (A chapter in this work examines the political section of the Akhlaq-e Jalali.)

Wickens, G.M. (1984) 'Aklaq-e Jalali', Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. I, fasc. 7, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 724. (A brief article on al-Dawani's best known work.)

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