Al-Jurjānī as-Sayyid ash-Sharīf
One of the most celebrated theologians and jurisprudents in the fourteenth-century Iran, al-Jurjānī had a major influence on subsequent Iranian philosophy through his commentaries and teaching activity.
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Full name Zayn al-Dīn Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī al-Ḥusaynī al-Jurjānī; the title of al-Sayyid al-Sharīf is due to al-Jurjānī’s alleged descent from a tenth-century Zaydī prince.
Born in 1339/1340 in Tājū near Astarābādh in Southeast Iran, al-Jurjānī studied in Herat, Kirmān, Egypt, and Asia Minor before settling to teach in Shīrāz in the 1370s. After Timur’s conquest of the city, he was called to the latter’s court in Samarqand. There he met with the older colleague Sa‘d al-Dīn al-Taftāzānī, which resulted in a famous scholarly rivalry out of which al-Jurjānī is alleged to have come out as the victor – perhaps somewhat unwillingly, for he seems to have held a genuine respect for al-Taftāzānī. After Timur’s death, al-Jurjānī returned to Shīrāz where he died in 1413.
Already as a student, al-Jurjānī was famed for his brilliance, and he grew to become a major authority in a number of fields of knowledge. His initial education seems to have been Mu‘tazilite, but through his later affiliations, he veered toward the more prominent Ash‘arite view, albeit not by a strict commitment for he continued to comment and teach both Mu‘tazilite and Shī‘ite texts. He is also said to have been involved in Sufism, in particular the study of works from the school of Ibn ‘Arabī.
Al-Jurjānī wrote on grammar, logic, jurisprudence, Qur’ānic exegesis, theology, and astronomy. His writing consists mostly of brief summary works and commentaries and seems to have been largely motivated by his activity as a teacher. Despite his influence, al-Jurjānī is commonly considered as belonging to the beginning of the era of Islamic theology in which the composition of original theological summae is largely given up in favor of commentaries and supercommentaries. Indeed, one of al-Jurjānī’s most important theological works is the commentary he wrote on ‘Aḍud al-Dīn al-Ījī’s Mawāqif. He also commented on texts by theologians and philosophers such as Avicenna, Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī, ‘Abdallāh ibn ‘Umar al-Bayḍāwī, Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, and al-Taftāzānī and composed a widely read book of definitions simply titled al-Ta‘rīfāt.
In his commentary on al-Ījī’s theological summa, al-Jurjānī makes extensive use of philosophy and the rational sciences. This is not an entirely novel feature in the later Ash‘arite theological tradition; indeed, the impact of philosophy is decisive already in al-Ījī as well as al-Jurjānī’s senior colleague al-Taftāzānī, but he seems to have taken the tendency a step further, which is also highlighted by the fact that within two generations, we witness an upsurge of philosophical activity in Shīrāz that can be traced back directly to al-Jurjānī and his students. Through his commentaries, al-Jurjānī also played an important role in the transmission of philosophy in the teaching done in the theological seminaries (sing. madrasa), for texts like al-Ījī’s Mawāqif were often studied, indeed up to our own time, with the accompaniment of his commentary.
Despite his philosophical refinement, al-Jurjānī was a staunch defender of al-Ījī’s conception of theology as parallel to but independent of philosophy. Like philosophy, theology studies the entire creation, but unlike philosophy, it does this under the revealed assumption of a unique omnipotent and omniscient Creator. In particular, the basic principles of theology are independent of the sort of proofs of God’s existence that the philosophers had presented and that some earlier theologians had perceived as equally formative for theology. However, al-Jurjānī’s commitment to the natural sciences occasionally causes him to depart from al-Ījī’s strict Ash‘arism, a case in point being the question of whether perceived astronomical regularities are due to real causal connections or merely to a contingent custom (‘āda) in God’s free agency.
Al-Jurjānī was a very influential author, which is attested by the number of surviving manuscripts of many of his works. He was an important influence on the Shīrāzī philosophy of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century and thereby on the entire later development of philosophy in Iran. Two students of his, Qawām al-Dīn al-Kurbālī and Sharaf al-Dīn Ḥasan Shah Baqqāl, were the teachers of the two rival protagonists in the philosophical scene of the city, respectively, Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Dashtakī and Jalāl al-Dīn al-Dawānī.
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