Was Avicenna a mystic? Some of his interpreters in Iran have answered in the positive, citing the lost work The Easterners that on the face of it has a superficial similarity to the notion of Ishraqi or Illuminationist, intuitive philosophy expounded by Suhrawardi (d. 1191) and the final section of Pointers that deal with the terminology of mysticism and Sufism. The question does not directly impinge on his philosophy so much since The Easterners is mostly non-extant. But it is an argument relating to ideology and the ways in which modern commentators and scholars wish to study Islamic philosophy as a purely rational form of inquiry or as a supra-rational method of understanding reality. Gutas has been most vehement in his denial of any mysticism in Avicenna. For him, Avicennism is rooted in the rationalism of the Aristotelian tradition. Intuition does not entail mystical disclosure but is a mental act of conjunction with the active intellect. The notion of intuition is located itself by Gutas in Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics 89b10-11. While some of the mystical commentators of Avicenna have relied upon his pseudo-epigraphy (such as some sort of Persian Sufi treatises and the Mi‘rajnama ), one ought not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The last sections of Pointers are significant evidence of Avicenna’s acceptance of some key epistemological possibilities that are present in mystical knowledge such as the possibility of non-discursive reason and simple knowledge. Although one can categorically deny that he was a Sufi (and indeed in his time the institutions of Sufism were not as established as they were a century later) and even raise questions about his adherence to some form of mysticism, it would be foolish to deny that he flirts with the possibilities of mystical knowledge in some of his later authentic works.
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