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The perfection of the soul in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī's Al-Sirr al-maktūm.

Citation: Noble, Michael Sebastian (2017) The perfection of the soul in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī's Al-Sirr al-maktūm. Doctoral thesis, University of London.

Noble PhD Final.pdf

Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0

Al-Sirr al-Maktūm is one of the most compelling theoretical and practical accounts of astral magic written in the post-classical period of Islamic thought. Of central concern to its reader is to understand why the great philosopher-theologian, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d.606/1210) should have written it. The occult practices described therein are attributed to the Sabians, a historical group who lived in Harrān in Upper Mesopotamia. Representing the last vestiges of Ancient Mesopotamian paganism during the early Islamic period, their religion involved the veneration of the seven planets, which they believed were ensouled celestial beings and the proximate causes of all sublunary change. By means of such astrolatry they were able, remotely, to change reality in ways which defied the customary pattern of causation in this world. The main focus of al-Rāzī‘s treatment of their practice is a long ritual during which the aspirant successively brings under his will each of the seven planets. On completion of the ritual, the aspirant would have transcended the limitations of his human existence and his soul would have attained complete perfection. This thesis will argue that for al-Rāzī, the Sabians constituted a heresiological category, representative of a soteriological system which dispensed with the need for the Islamic institution of prophethood. It relied instead on the individual‘s ability, by means of spiritual discipline and intellectual rigour, to attain noetic connection with the celestial souls. In so doing, the Sabian adept not only gains occult knowledge and power, but more importantly he realizes the ultimate aim of perfecting his soul. Al-Rāzī constructs this soteriology as a synthesis of cosmological and psychological doctrines gleaned from Avicenna, and Abū‘l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī. In this way, al-Rāzī hoped to state as succinctly as possible the intellectual challenges to which any systematic theological defence of the Islamic faith must answer if it is to triumph over rival systems of thought.

Creators: Noble, Michael Sebastian and
Subjects: Classics
Culture, Language & Literature
Divisions: Warburg Institute
Collections: Theses and Dissertations
  • 2017 (submitted)


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