A famous Sufi scholar and poet of the fifteenth century, Jāmī’s most important philosophical contributions are his commentaries on Ibn ‘Arabī.
KeywordsIndian Subcontinent Rational Science Early Education Fifteenth Century Intimate Relation
A famous Sufi scholar and poet, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Jāmī was born to a notable family in the Khurāsānī village of Kharjerd in 1414. After early education in his hometown of Jām, he moved to Herat and later on to Samarqand to pursue his studies in the Islamic as well as some of the rational sciences. From early on, Jāmī was noted as an exceptionally gifted but arrogant student. At some point in his 30s, Jāmī was initiated into the Naqshbandī Sufi order by the shaykh Sa‘d al-Dīn Kāshgharī. Facilitated by the intimate relations between the Naqshbandīs and the Timurid court, Jāmī was promoted to the status of a semiofficial representative of the rulers. He maintained a close connection to political power throughout his career, but this did not hinder him from acquiring wide renown as a scholar. Jāmī died in 1492 as one of the most famous authors of the Persian-speaking world.
Today, Jāmī’s fame rests mainly on his voluminous poetic inheritance. Although his poems contain plenty of philosophical ideas, from the point of view of philosophy, more important are his prose works. Many of these are devoted to the practice and teaching of Sufism, such as the series of mystical meditations titled Lawāyeḥ, the famous hagiography Nafaḥāt al-uns min ḥaḍarāt al-quds (based for a great part on a Persian translation of Abū ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī’s Ṭabaqāt al-ṣūfīya), or the treatises on dhikr and the question of the unity of existence, a prominent theme in the school of Ibn ‘Arabī. The latter’s influence is clear also in Jāmī’s prolific work as a commentator; he wrote commentaries on the Andalusian’s famous Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam as well as its epitome, the Naqd al-nuṣūṣ, and on a great amount of Sufi poetry, including works by Ibn al-Fāriḍ, Fakhr al-Dīn ‘Irāqī, Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, Amīr Khosrow, as well as his own. Jāmī also wrote a number of treatises in a more traditional theological vein, including the famous al-Durra al-fākhira fī taḥqīq al-madhāhib, an interesting comparison of Sufism, kalām, and philosophy on certain doctrinal questions. Reflecting his activity as a poet, Jāmī authored several works on poetics. He also wrote on music and grammar and compiled an anthology of his own correspondence.
In his poetry, Jāmī was a neoclassical conservative, and his veneration has varied according to literary trends. In his philosophically oriented works, he is a learned follower of Ibn ‘Arabī’s school who shows thorough familiarity with the most important commentators of the master’s works, from Mu‘ayyid al-Dīn al-Jandī to Dāwūd Qayṣarī. As becomes clear from the Durra al-fākhira, Jāmī knew theology and philosophy, referring at length to Sa‘d al-Dīn al-Taftāzānī, al-Sayyid al-Sharīf al-Jurjānī, and Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī. The most extensive example of Jāmī’s own thought is his commentary on Ibn ‘Arabī’s epitome of the Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam. The picture it gives is not of a decidedly original thinker; rather, Jāmī stands firmly in the tradition of philosophical commentaries on the master’s works, a tradition which he perceived as being largely unanimous, with differences between the commentators concerning exclusively details of minor importance. In many ways, Jāmī can be considered as the last great representative of this tradition. He played a crucial role in the dissemination of Ibn ‘Arabī’s thought in Persia, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. This was despite the fact that his strong Sunnism was not always well received in the Ṣafavid dynasty that seized power in Iran soon after his death.
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