have been the main victims of print industry. They made a living by scribing
manuscripts but they lost their jobs with the emergence of print industry. What
we have inherited from past centuries is a result of the endeavors of these
people who acted as mediators between writers and future audiences by reviving
old manuscripts. On the one hand, these manuscripts would have never survived
without necessary corrections and revisions. These editors are true substitutes
of old scribers only that they have majored in a specific field of science.
Looking for scattered written treasures in old bookshelves, travelling from one
place to another in pursuit of manuscripts, and comparing, proofreading and
editing these texts in order to present the most perfect correction of a text
are some of the difficult tasks of these individuals. Dr Najafqoli Habibi has
edited more than 30 volumes of Islamic Philosophy and written introductory
forewords to them. Most of the present books of Suhravardi are results of his
did you come to choose philosophy?
entering the seminary, I had read Sabzevari's verses and this led me to choose
philosophy on my arrival in the faculty of divinity. In fact a description of
his verses made me familiar with the world of philosophy. And although I
believe that I did not choose the field with knowledge, I was interested in
us more about this interest…
got familiar with philosophical matters through a description of Mulla Hadi
Sabzevari's verses and this interest gradually led me through studying philosophy
instead of Jurisprudence or Arabic. In fact my personal interest put me through
this field of study.
did you ever regret it?
And of course I could not study other majors like sociology or political
sciences given my primary choice and sooner or later I had to enter the faculty
of divinity. So I found philosophy more pleasing.
did you start working on manuscripts?
idea was shaped in line with compiling my PhD dissertation. My dissertation was
about Suhravardi's views regarding divine wisdom. While studying his writings I
realized that two of his originally Arabic works of philosophy have never been
published, so I decided to edit and publish them. In that time Dr Seyyed
Hussein Nasr – professor of the Faculty of Letters of Tehran University – was
also the head of the Society of Wisdom and Philosophy. He encouraged me to work
on them and published them. Then the idea of editing old manuscripts was
fortified in my mind.
world of philosophy has many attractions. Why did you choose editing?
is a very difficult job and needs lots of patience. Editing philosophical texts
of writers of previous centuries offers a great opportunity for young students
to read them as books, while professors are not usually patient enough to ask
the students to study manuscripts. So I became interested in old philosophical
texts. Editing and correcting these texts was a must and after the publication
of the first volumes I became aware of the importance of this task. Old
manuscripts had never been available in print or were, at their best, available
in lithographic forms that we are not used to reading them. Therefore I decided
to edit them from a scientific approach and present them to those interested.
Fortunately there is a growing interest in rereading these texts but is not
enough yet, as there are still piles of old manuscripts by great scholars of
the past rotting in bookshelves. Meanwhile in order to write down the history
of logic, philosophy, Kalam and Islamic mysticism we have to read these texts
thoroughly so that we can offer a well-based analysis of a span of historical
time. These texts are useless as long as they are rotting in old bookshelves
and that is why we have not come up with a clear history of our philosophy.
This is also true about Kalam (logos) and Mantiq (logic). All the present
histories are written by Europeans and contemporary scholars have failed to
produce mighty works like them as they did not have any viable sources.
Therefore, editing and rereading old manuscripts is a necessity.
you have never been concerned with producing original and independent books?
have not written any independent work, although writing introductions to edited
manuscripts is a large work in itself. I am used to writing but I apply it on
rereading manuscripts. I have written articles and essays but never a single
book of my own.
editing that produces the raw material of philosophy, many critics have
emphasized on the significance of descriptions and interpretations. Have you
paid any attention to it?
I find my duty in editing books for publication. However, some researchers do
not tolerate rereading and correcting texts and prefer to write interpretations
on works of philosophy. There are researchers now merely working on
do you evaluate these works?
actually. Writing good descriptions is an ambitious task, whereas most
researchers do not have enough time to do these. Each year some books are
published in this field and we should encourage researchers to produce mightier
works. We should first recognize what we have and then begin to evaluate them.
Other editors as well as I are trying to introduce our heritage and it is the
duty of other individuals to criticize them. Nevertheless, there are limited
numbers of critiques at hand and criticisms are mostly published in article
forms. There is a long way to success in criticism and we should not lose hope.
I confess that there are promising young researchers in this field and I wish
for a new critical movement that could justly assess our corrections and
is definitely hard to find these manuscripts. How do you find them?
are some centers in Iran that keep such manuscripts the lists of which are
already published. The Central Library of the University of Tehran, Majlis
Library, Malek National Library, and the library of Shahid Motahari School are
some of the main manuscript reservoirs in Tehran. As for other towns I can
mention the library of Astan Qods Razavi in Mashhad, and libraries of Ayatollah
Marashi Najafi and Ayatollah Golpaygani in Isfahan. Also there are manuscript
libraries in Istanbul of Turkey and some more in Iraq and Egypt. Many of
valuable manuscripts of Islamic countries were moved to Europe during the
upheavals of the 18th and 19th centuries. All in all these manuscripts are
reachable if you spend relevant time and money.
these manuscripts especially their bests needs constant searching and those in
pursuit of these texts usually welcome hardships. We should not think that they
are easily accessible although the job has become easier compared with the
past. Most libraries today have scanned their manuscripts and offer CDs instead
of the original. When I began my job in 1978, finding manuscripts was very
difficult and problematic.
doubt you have spent most of your time in the solitude of a library. Have you
come across anything interesting in there?
do not remember a particular event, but the most exciting moment in the library
is when I pick up what I had been seeking. Sometimes I have incidentally found
an important book that I had no idea of. These moments I feel a great joy in my
course I have memories of my recourse to the libraries. One of my problems was
that I had to rewrite the texts for myself as there were no scanning facilities
then. Every day I had only two hours to go the library and rewrite the
manuscripts. Sometimes the sweat of my hand during long hours of scribing
damaged the original version or left spots on them. The librarians, who
endeared these manuscripts watched me out to make sure that I used pencils and
that my hands would not sweat! I have many memories of the kind in Malek
Library. I used to go there a lot before the Islamic Revolution. The library
was located in a worn out building in the district of Bazaar of Tehran. It was
directed by late Ahamd Soheili codicologist and book expert. He usually watched
me out… But these problems no more exist. Nowadays the libraries offer a CD of
manuscripts that you can take home and zoom in for better studies. I hope that
the young generation benefit from these facilities. Shahid Motahari spent long
times in the library of Majlis on scribing Bahmanyar's book 'Al-tahsil'. But
rewriting of a hundred page book was a minor problem, as typography with lead
letters was another problem. Now the field of codicology has been developed.
Yet despite all the facilities there is less interest in the job. People of my
generation enjoyed hard work but today people want easy jobs and quick results.
and proofreading needs utmost attention and you make sure not a single letter
is altered. This requires patience. I invite all patient youth to work on our
scientific treasure that is decaying under heaps of dust and soil in the
libraries and present them to the society. Hard work leads to big result.
us get back to philosophy, you specialty. Any philosopher occupied with
teaching and research sometimes comes up with theories beyond the ideas of
acknowledged philosophers. Have you ever come across such ideas considering
your massive philosophical studies?
am personally obsessed with what others say. And this is my primary occupation
when teaching philosophy. However, when you compare their ideas, you come up
with your personal way of reading them and a personal philosophy.
you elaborate on this? What aspects of philosophical terms have you surpassed?
are many, and it is not an appropriate time to probe into them.
they so many?
and I am too tired to explain them to you.
all those individuals inclined to philosophy are full of epistemological
questions. Have you found the answers to your philosophical questions in
speaking, yes. But there are always minor points that are not easily found. It
is part of human nature to always ask new questions. Some issues have been
internalized for me, such as the fact that the world has a beginning source and
everything begins with Him and ends in Him, and that the created world is well
regulated. Nothing in the world is meaningless or left alone and everything
moves according to certain rules. This belief helps us to understand that we
are not left alone and we can rely on a strong source of life.
man ever feels that he has nothing to rely on, he will definitely fall down.
Yet this reliance differs from individual to individual. Let me tell you a
narrative about Bozorgmehr that I have read in Kalileh and Demneh. Bozorgmehr
says: "I wanted to find the best way to man's salvation. I thought o
myself that religions can save men, but then I found out that people have
different ideas of religions." He also examines philosophy and concludes
that individuals should only rely on basic premises that he truly believes in.
If he believes in God, this belief gives meaning to his life. And if he
doesn’t, he should also actualize this belief in his life; however, disbelief
in God often results in insoluble paradoxes.
a Muslim living in Iran, how could you treat various theories in the world and
study the proportion between religion and ethics when you take religion as an
questions could be solved by philosophical arguments, but people may accept or
reject it. And of course no one is forced to accept them and he should not
necessarily provide a logical reason for his refute. Some others do not bring
any reason for their rejection and suffice to say that they feel they cannot
take it. All in all philosophers have different opinions and follow different
traditions of thought.
for religion and ethics, these may be two separate issues but are congruent in
many aspects. Ethics and religion usually justify each other. The opposite of
this is also true as they have different bases. Religion is based on revelation
and ethics is based on a series of rational arguments. So naturally there are
differences between them. Ethics is also based on human spirit as an
intelligent being who seeks happiness. Therefore he is in pursuit of different
means of happiness and picks up the good things that help him reach happiness.
Moral principles are alike in almost all human societies – like justice,
although justice may have different implications. There is an argument here
that questions the need for religion when human ration can choose the good from
bad. And I think this is the meaning of your question. Human reason has nothing
to do with the afterworld. Here religion has something to say and had
supplement reason. This involves very special issues, or else many nonreligious
people follow morality. Generally speaking, there is not a big deal of
differences between religion and ethics. And both cases are subject to
diversions. For instance, a nonreligious matter could be given religious mask
or ethics may follow the wrong path sometimes. This is the job of the
philosopher to discover the true foundations of ethics and morality.
do some philosophers get involved in politics? You have been an MP once and
were also active in the last round of presidential elections…
of all, politics is a subcategory of philosophy. Aristotle, Avicenna, and all
other great philosophers have written on politics. Many European philosophers
of the 17th to 20th centuries also wrote their masterpieces on the philosophy
of politics. There were philosophers who had words on how to govern societies
and who should govern them. Society is issue number one of our time, therefore
it is the duty of philosophers to deal with social behavior in line with
epistemological arguments, and define and establish social institutions. If you
take a look at the subcategories of Islamic Sciences, you will find it divided
into Theory and Practice. Politics is in the realm of practical philosophy that
tends to teach us how to live. Its only difference with ethics is that ethics
only encompasses the 'self' area, whereas politics includes social life and the
the relationship between various social groups with each other is a critical
act that if it is not done perfectly it will fall societies apart; this is only
done by a professor. Massive decisions for a society are made in the realm of
politics and it is called social policy. Politics is an important part of
philosophy. It is interesting to know that even the last part of Avicenna’s
theology ends with politics. In his opinion, a society is divided into three
groups of craftsmen (who run different trades), the army men (those in charge
of preserving security of the country), and the literati and politicians, that
have to think for the good of the society; the writers and politicians tell
others what to do. I mention all these to tell you why I entered the world of
politics as a philosopher. It is demanded by Islamic philosophy today that
philosophers should interfere with politics. This philosophical tradition
should be taken into politics so that we can decipher how to govern our society;
philosophy is not restricted to individual matters.
you step into the world of politics based on such a view or were you led to
this under certain circumstances?
conditions were definitely effective on my decision. However, I have thought
seriously about it. I still think about it and such issues occupy my mind.
Anyone studying philosophy cannot be indifferent to the political conditions of
his society; otherwise he has neglected an important part of his education.
is the most important problem of our society, in your opinion, that
philosophers should deal with?
is our contemporary problem and something our philosophers should think about.
Unfortunately we see that some members of the society easily tell lies, betray,
deceive, or accept responsibilities that are not qualified for. Such
immoralities are not justified in our cultural system. Sociologists and
politicians should really think about the reasons behind spread of immorality
the present time, philosophy is loaded with various responsibilities one of
which is entering into politics and evaluating trends of thought. Current
societies are involved in a series of problems that are only solved by means of
you agree that books are the main means of conveying philosophy as an abstract
is not the only means of conveyance, yet in the past history of philosophy it
has been the best and most effective and lasting way of conveying human
premises. Conveying arguments from one generation of pupils to others is
another method but is not as lasting or valid as books.
you also agree that books as the only lasting way of conveying human knowledge
to the future, may also contain defects or mistakes? Books were only reproduced
by scribing and this included inevitable mistakes…
so; correcting old texts is primarily done in order to distinguish such
mistakes. An author has written a book and it has been conveyed with mistakes
and therefore means not what it should. It is also possible that a writer might
be mistaken but even that misconception should be conveyed as it is. Perhaps
some scriveners were not educated enough and wrote the words wrongly, or
perhaps one recited a sentence and many scribers wrote it down. All these
scriveners did not have equal speed or talent. I have come across such problems
for many times. In fact, the main job of an editor is to correct such mistakes.
you ever had a wrong understanding of a text for years and future discovery of
a better text helped you revise it?
it has happened, especially in the field of medicine in the 17th or 18th
century when writing prescriptions for the patients according to Avicenna’s
book ‘Canon’. They realized that one of the scribers had miswritten a word in
Avicenna’s book and had accordingly caused the death of many patients for
centuries. It is written in Qotbeddin Shirazi’s book – that I am now working on
– that one day an astronomer goes for venesection, but the venesector abides
explaining that one should never make venesection on an astronomer according to
medical pamphlets. The truth was that according to the books of medicine one
should never let the blood of a person suffering from indigestion flow. But the
word was misspelled as an astronomer.
mentioning these I would like to draw your attention to many similar mistakes
in interpreting manuscripts. Another example is Fakhr Razi’s misreading of
Avicenna in his book ‘Sharh Esharat’. Khajeh Nasir had realized that Fakhr Razi
has misunderstood many points of Avicenna in his interpretation.
is the main difference between the current generation of philosophy students
and the previous ones?
cannot say make any general sentence on this or claim that previous generations
were more interested in philosophy than current generations. I have worked with
both generations and seen thoughtful students along with uninterested ones who
just need to obtain a degree. I cannot make any classification.
mean that there is no particular difference between generations?
is, at least in one obvious field: current students have more learning
facilities but are lazier and do not work hard. These facilities are not
comparable to our studentship period. We live in a period when everything is
easily accessible by the net, whereas in our time even books were hard to find
or not available at all. This reminds me of a memory: once I was working on my
PhD dissertation on Suhravardi I had to find about Professor Corbin’s views on
the subject, I learnt through Dr Hussein Nasr that Professor Corbin was
residing in Iran so I went to him to ask for a visit. I found him browsing a
book on a ladder in his library whose books reached the ceiling. I explained my
problem and he only told me that I should read his books. I told him I already
did; you know what he said? He said: read again.
lots of searches, I found the book in the library of Astan Qods and then I had
to travel to Mashhad to reread it. I am telling you this to show you the main
difference between the students. Nowadays such problems exist no more. We were
zealous for books and when we found them, we endeared them like sweet heart.
The main problem of the current generation of philosophy students is that they
do not endear their knowledge and do not try to memorize anything because
everything is easily accessible. That time manuscripts even lacked page numbers
and you had to go through many pages to find a particular point; therefore you
saw many subjects and gradually memorized them. We mainly relied on the power
of our memories whereas today the internet has replaced that power. Not using
or relying on memory gradually reduces thinking abilities and this is very
dangerous. Because their minds work no more and they become mere collectors of
other people’s ideas. The problem is also felt among seminary students. Not
having exercised their minds they lose analytical abilities; they become like
vast oceans of little depth.
research and correction work, what do you prefer to do?
have no leisure activity other than research. I spend almost all my time on
manuscripts. Apart from this, I would like to read recent publications in my
interest now and then.
selection of Dr Najafqoli Habibi's administrative responsibilities:
Manager of Majlis Library 1981
Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Islamic Premises
Chancellor of Alzahra University
Chancellor of the Faculty of Juridical Sciences and Justice Services
Chancellor of the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of the University of
Chancellor of the University of Tarbiat Modares
Director of Imam Khomeini and Islamic Revolution Research Center
Chancellor of Allameh Tabatabaei University
Member of Theological Planning Committee
Member of Council for Promotion of Higher Education (8 years)
Dean of Islamic Philosophy Department, Faculty of Divinity and Islamic
Premises, University of Tehran
Member of Third Islamic Parliament
Member of Council for the Constitution Revision
of his introductions, descriptions and publications:
Introduction to 'The Writings of Sheikh Ishraq', Institute for Humanities and
Cultural Studies (IHCS)
Description of Sabah Prayer, Haj Mullah Hadi Sabzevari, Tehran University Press
'Imam Hussein Bibliography', Imam Khomeini Publishing Institute
Description of 'Towhid Al-Sadouq', three volumes, Ghazi Saeid Qomi, Ministry of
Culture Publishing Press
'Sharh Al-Arbaeen', Ghazi Saeid Qomi, Miras Maktoob
'Al-Abaeeniay Lekashf Al-Qudsiyat', (10 essays) Ghazi Saeid Qomi, Majlis
Description on 'Elahiat Alshefa' of Mulla Sadra, 2 vols
'Rasael Alshajara Alelahia fi Olum Alhaqaeq Alrabania', Shamseddin Mohammad
Shahrzoori, 3 vols, Iranian Institute of Philosophy
'Izah Almaqased fi Halle Muzalat Ketab Alshavahed', Master Javad Mosleh,
Iranian Institute of Philosophy
Mafatih Alqayb, Mulla Sadra, 2 vols, Sadra Islamic Philosophy Research Institute
Alhedaya, Athireddin Abhari
Description of 'Altalwihat Allowhia val-Arshia', Ibn Kamuna, 3 vols. Miras-e
Maktoob and Faculty of Theology of the University of Tehran
'Altalwihat Allowhia val-Arshia', Sheikh Ishraq, Iranian Institute of Philosophy
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