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Hakim (Physician-Philosopher) Razi - A book by Parviz Azkaei

By Roya Monajem, Tehran

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Translator’s Note:

Zakaria Razi (865-925), the musician, alchemist and the father of modern chemistry, the philosopher and physician is the reviver of ancient Iranian world-views after the advent of Islam. For this reason, Parviz Azkaei’s great comprehensive work on Razi’s life, covering the history and socio-political conditions of his time as well was The Book that as an Iranian, I was craving for all my life. Azkaei’s work can very well be taken as the same endeavor as the one Razi and Sohrvardi (Suhrwardi) undertook in their own time. Under its light one can begin to understand all the great Iranian poets who tried to keep that philosophy and world view alive and pulsating, as Hafez in his frequent allusions to moqa’n (magen, magi) for example and feel confident that these Iranians did have some important philosophical ideas whose stream has continued to flow unceasingly, even if invisible and concealed, or clarified in ‘fragments’ in the works of other philosophers and historians.

According to Azkaei, quoting well-known Western names (historians and researchers), Razi’s dialectic is as ‘advanced’ as Hegel’s, and his approach to Reason as ‘advanced’ as Descartes, and he is the founder of scientific methodology centuries before Hume...

So what?

What about Now?

Parviz Azkaei

Azkaei’s Hakim Razi is like a good remedy for the inferiority complex that we Iranians may be suffering for not having any apparent prominent role in the recent history of human civilization, accompanied by an unconscious feeling of intimidation towards the West which can be the most important underlying reason for the victory of religious way of thinking in the era of Twilight of Idols and established supremacy of scientific thinking and liberalism in the human history.

Except the fact that like any other phenomenon in the universe, every rise is followed by a fall, which can explain the fall of great Sassanid Empire and civilization with the advent of Islam, but the question remained that what happened to all that glamour and great ideas reached at that Time in the domain of human knowledge?

Without Razi, we would never perhaps know. By reviving ancient Iranian way of thinking, he traced them in the works of Early Greek philosophers, reminding how some were actually initiated by ancient Iranian Mages (=Magi) in Iran and Egypt, with Democritus for example, being directly initiated by Ostanes, and Pythagoras, Empedocles and Plato also travelling to the region to study the knowledge and returning to teach it.”[1] And while Aristotle was philosophically and metaphysically ruling the world of thought, Razi was the first to openly criticize his ideas on movement and creation in particular, bravely and single-handedly advocating the independence of philosophy and religion.

A lesser remedy of the same inferiority complex originating from intimidation is: Paul Kriwaczek’s In Search of Zarathustra (2004), which traces the influence of that ancient Iranian art and culture on Eastern-Western art and culture.

I hope with this brief note, it is understood that what is said here is not from the same position expressed in the nauseating nationalist interpretation of Ferdosi’s verse: Art is with Iranians and nobody else, but the one which most probably Ferdosi really meant, i.e. Art is in the hands of Iranians and many others.

After all, Iran to this day has always been the land of many nations. One can say internationalism is one of our oldest inherited traits, to get along with all its bad and good consequences...

Finally, this is an adapted abridged translation of Hakim Razi, by Parviz Azkaei published by Tarh No, Tehran, 2005. See


Hakim Razi

The philosophy of any era has certain intellectual resources as its working tool, laid down by the founders of that philosophy. F. Engels. (translated from Persian).

Hakim Mohammad ibn Zakaria Razi (251-313HG), the greatest Eastern physician-philosopher of his time, and one of the greatest in the entire history of mankind, is more known as a medical doctor in Iran than a philosopher. In general, among middle class literates, Razi is famous for two things, or as soon as his name is mentioned, two things cross their minds: the first man who produced Alcohol in his chemical laboratory, and/or the man with open anti-religious views.

Based on this superficial information or prejudgments, literate people are similarly divided into two groups: The group who shares Razi’s antireligious views like him; while the other group resent him, either because they are not interested in philosophy, or do not believe in separating religious and philosophical modes of thinking (in Mullah-na Rumi’s words: each out of his/her own illusions/chose my company). They reproach him because he did not believe in prophets and they do not like his philosophy.

Well, the main difference, debate or challenge or discourse between religious and rationalist people of the entire history of mankind in the realm of philosophy and thought, is in short the reflection of the same old opposition and struggle between the two original fronts of philosophical trends: Idealism (with its heavenly (minoo-gera’ee) orientation) and Materialism (with its Nature (giti-gera’ee) orientated view) which in Pahlavi language is called, hast manshnieh (meaning existentialism). In Ancient Iran (in the days when religion and philosophy were one whole knowledge or teaching), these two original theoretical trends were derived from the struggle of the two opposites in the Universe and whatever it entails (kon-o-makan, the process of being in the World).

In ancient Iran, these two ancient schools of thought were represented by the philosophical school attributed to Zoroastrian religion -with Ahura-mazda as its supreme God- while the materialist philosophical school was represented by the faith in Zarvan (Zurvan) with its supreme God called Limitless Time - the Greek Aion (aeon) (lam yazal va lam yulad) called Zarvan.1

After the invasion of Iran by Arabs and the collapse of Sassanid Empire, the streams of these two schools with their characteristic philosophical approach nevertheless continued to flow ceaselessly in the form of continuous debates going on and put down whether verbally or in written form in the language of the invaders that is Arabic.

Later, due to certain historical moments or social necessities, a third half-philosophical (rationalist) and half-religious (narrative) school emerged, combining the above two trends of Idealism and Materialism. Yet, this third trend was in reality a theoretical concoction or an eclectic system of them both. It is this same concoction which later came to be known as Islamic Philosophy, which in reality it is the Iranian School of Esmaili (Isma’ili) thinkers who due to political-social demands of the time advocated and propagated the idea of unity of religion and philosophy (after their rightful justified separation). The more well-known thinkers of this eclectic and so-called philosophical school include: Nakhshabi, Abu Hatem Balkhi, Farabi, Sajestani, Ameri, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Naser Khosrow all coming from Khorasan, in the east of Iran.

At the same time, the genuine Iranian Materialist School (taba’ee -dahri) with its very long history based on its ‘solid’ theoretical and cultural heritage, was being crystallized in the school of natural philosophy and its theoretical mode by Hakim Razi; for in his materialist world-view based on his principally time-based (dahri) approach, we also find earlier naturalist philosophical ideas, consisting of the two well-known approaches based on nature and time (taba’ee-dahri) mentioned by ancients, now making the essence of Razi’s philosophy. It should be reminded that the basis of materialist approach lies in natural philosophy.

And in regard to Razi’s epistemological approach, one can say that not only he was under the influence of earlier naturalist and time-based philosophical schools-whether in the persisting form of the Iranian theoretical culture of Naturalism (chihr-shena’sik) and Zarvanda’na’kieh (Time-centered) existing before and after Arab invasion - but he is the one who has synthesized and systematized these two philosophical approaches in his philosophical system of thinking.

Those who like the Egyptian Abdolrahman Badvi (Mesri) claim that, “Razi did not have a systematic philosophy... He just believed in humanity, scientific progress and a sage god, without believing in any religion...” are those who believe that faith in a religion and its accompanying idealist judgments is the essential requirement of any philosophical system. It should also be pointed out that the main basic differences between Razi’s philosophical ideas and the semi-philosophical thoughts of his Esmaili Aristotelian opponents believing in unity of religion and philosophy was mainly over creation and invention leading to the faith in prophets which Razi denied. Esmaili thinkers used the idea of unity of religion and philosophy as their motto to prove the imperative of Imam’s leadership.

Razi adopted an anti-religious approach in order to defend philosophy. And if Iranian idealist and politically-oriented Esmaili leaders had not put pressure on him in relation to his position in regard to Imam’s leadership, for he believed that humans do not need any Imam or leader other than their Reason, he would have never been forced to take such a position and write a book on the subject. He would continue stressing on separation of religion and philosophy, which is most probably the reason why prominent religious ecclesiasts - whether Sunni or Shiite - showed no open protest or prejudice and bigotry against him and his anti-religious position. And his own turn, Razi sympathetically even wrote a few valuable theses and books on the question of religion in the proper logical rational mode for them. I always had this question that why Hojatoleslam Imam Abu Hamed Ghazali (b. 505 HG) kept totally silent toward the great materialist philosopher of Rey, Razi, and his well-known anti-religious ideas?

The reason maybe that although Ghazali was the reviver of religious sciences, he was at the same time the leading figure of the circle who believed in separation of religion and philosophy. He was also famous for his serious enmity toward philosophers. It should be said here as a parenthesis that Ghazali’s notion of philosophy and his opposition to philosophers was in relation to Esmaili thinkers (=philosophers) and their fabricated eclectic philosophy under the excuse and motto of unity of religion and philosophy, now known as Islamic Philosophy. Imam Ghazali knew very well that religion can never be reconciled with philosophy and Islam has nothing called philosophy of its own. Not only that but in his privacy, religious Ghazali had his own philosophical ideas and opinions which he has covertly expressed in his book on philosophy called almaznoon beh alaa gheyr ahleh- in which he has explained the views of materialist philosophers, pointing out that he had Razi in mind too.

In relation to the general question of religion and philosophy (with totally separate distinct theoretical bases) it should also be pointed out that religious thought has always had a clear though hidden inclination to philosophical thoughts, which lies fermenting in the progressive transcendentalist perfectionist human nature. In contrast, philosophical thought is never voluntarily inclined toward religious ideas, because it sees such an approach as a clear decline and in direct opposition to human perfectionism.

Philosophy is a science dealing with reason, that is with earthly perceptions, therefore it is a rational scientific knowledge higher than narrative Knowledge based on E-motions of EGO-ism (nafs). Considering the progressive-transcendental tendency of science, it is true that: yahloo, va la yo-ali alieh, it is the religious thought which has an eye to science or runs after it and not the other way round. Also it is religion, which appeals to philosophy for help in order to hang to it and evolve in this way. All the angst and concerns of Esmaili thinkers, giving out no or just little fruit in regard to unity of religion and philosophy were also of this nature; and in opposition to them is Razi’s relentless insistence and emphasis on the independence of philosophy and the fact that instead of running after religions, humans should only study science and philosophy and make Reason their Prophet, Imam, guide and leader. But, the philosophy that mixes and combines Reason and Narrations in an eclectic way is naturally neither a religion nor can it be called philosophy.

In other words, the artificial combination of two things with different natures (with different bases) is impossible. This has nothing to do with Razi’s dialectical approach, as first of all, religion and philosophy are not dialectical opposites. Secondly, as it has been repeatedly said, “rational philosophers, that is materialist naturalist sages (and not those who because they philosophize end up with religion), have perceived religious truth as the subject of their scientific philosophical quest, question, work...Therefore, the base of judgment lies in the difference in nature and not their thematic common shared points.”[2]

So negation of unity of religion and philosophy is in itself an expression or the result of the opposition between idealism and materialism. If so - which is certainly is so - the potential logical result is that philosophy in the precise meaning of the word is materialist because the characteristic quality and distinction of philosophy (in relation to religion) and materialist school (in relation to idealism) is that it can not include and entail metaphysic or anything which is not objective and visible in any form; in other words, this is what any scientific philosophical thought based on logical reasoning denies.

What then remains is only naturalist or materialist philosophy (which is what old Iranian philosophers believed).

Therefore, to repeat once more, true philosophy in the precise meaning of the word is devoid of metaphysical ideas, which are characteristic features of idealist schools of thought throughout the world. Yet, it can be said that all well-known philosophical systems also deal with metaphysical questions in addition to their main subject matter, the study of Nature (as it is seen in classical philosophy). Razi too had written a book called Divine (Spirtitual) Science, dealing with the same subject, and many rational pragmatic Western philosophers have also dealt with metaphysics in their philosophical writings. That’s true, but only to defy it. In addition, anybody familiar with philosophy knows why and how this Aristotelian term, Metaphysics became fashionable. Therefore, by philosophy I mean naturalist or materialist philosophy, which is what Razi willed to with no other higher or ultimate quality or attribution.

Idealism is not necessarily a part of religion, nor metaphysics is a specific subject of philosophy, in the sense that it is not the characteristic feature of such knowledge. The reason is that throughout the world, the three kinds of knowledge (religious, mystical and philosophical) either belong to idealist or materialist way of thinking. For example, mysticism which calls religious truth as its main intuitive subject matter, and believes in Unity of Being (which from the theoretical point of view thus coincides with naturalist philosophy), or any other mystic who regards the whole universe and Nature as the manifestation of divine essence, is a materialist whether he wants it or not. (Engels’ speech about Karl Marx’s mystical monism is well-known). Similarly, Existentialism particularly as illustrated in the materialist notion of Creation in Time or Essential Motion of Hakim Sadraldin Shirazi (which Razi calls Movement in Time) is essentially materialist.

On the other hand, mystical idealism has failed to find very little basis, if any in Quran for its justification because in general, as some scholars have already noted, theoretically, Quran pays more attention to material processes. In my opinion such tendency is related to Hanif Religion, which goes back to the cult of Abraham Azar (Zarvan/universe) and Mandaean believes (Sabean Hanafi) with their Iranian origin.

In short, out of the three kinds of theological, mystical and philosophical materialism (or triple knowledge), mystical or transcendental Iranian materialism during Islamic era has an eye to Quran or is not without Quranic basis.

So it seems Idealism (mioo-gera’ee, or heaven-oriented trend) regardless of its theoretical origin in ancient societies, that is disregarding the reason for the emergence of such universal phenomenon in human societies, was later turned into the main building block of religions of the world and by relying on that, their priests and custodians solidified their rule and dominance over people and in this way they succeeded in organizing social relations according to their own tastes and views, and thus established the corresponding social orders. Thus, the cause of survival of Idealism in human societies had and still has a political history. In other words, the current idealism is the work of the men of politics, religions and power and their shared common ‘chosen religion’ for which they have been relentlessly preaching and advertising throughout the history.

The root of this word - the Greek Idein - as it is well-known goes back to Plato, the high priest of all idealists of the world. Now according to nearly all historians of philosophy, ever since Plato’s time until Renaissance, philosophy has been ‘political’. This holds true about the East too; in addition to the continuous rule of idealist priestly regime in Ancient Iran (which has a long story) and also later - disregarding the established consistent rule of power-possessor of divine Caliphate- it is appropriate to once more point to the front line of opposition movement against the Caliphate, i.e. Iranian Esmaili order. It was the leaders and theoreticians of this political order who strained and harassed poor Hakim Razi because he did not surrender nor approved their totally idealist views, to the extent that he was forced to write his book on “Negation of Religions,” merely to defend philosophy. The same is true about Imam Mohammad Ghazali who after a life of fervent theorization for Abbasid ‘divine caliphates’ repentant in his private thoughts or in his writings (in the city of Neyshabour), either openly as in his book, mishkat al-anvar (The Niche for Light) or secretly in his book Al-Maznoon mentioned before, suddenly turned away from all that idealist theorizations in his political service to Sunni caliphates.

In the same way that intellectual blasphemy (zandaqeh-gera’ee) under the Islamic caliphates - even when it was not considered ‘crime’ from the point of view of religious political power possessors, nevertheless it was cursed and condemned to the extent that made dissimulation necessary, philosophical materialism too is suffering from the same fate in our times, damned and resented to the extent that a kind of dissimulation emerged in regard to the term materialism as well. So in order to go beyond the negative connotations imposed by Iranian Idealists on the term Materialism, we are introducing the term Naturalism as its synonym, on the basis that in Pahlavi language, Nature (giti) has the same meaning as the material world. The reason is that unfortunately the term materialism, immediately brings two meanings to mind: one is worship of material earthly things as well as love of money (which accidentally is the inborn disposition of certain idealists), and secondly which is worse than the first, it is taken to mean Communism and political Marxism considered equivalent to atheism and blasphemy as in the old days.

The proof can be found for example in a poem by Lahouti about a poor farmer who was arrested and taken away by Reza Khan’s Cossacks (shaggy and pallid ...):

The other said, they say you are against Law and Fatherland/ the enemy of Shah; atheist, blasphemous, materialist in faith.... which clearly shows how materialism is taken to mean enmity with the king and considered as atheism in itself. That is why it is said that the founder of the last Iranian Monarchy, Reza Shah -(after renewing the Darsi oil contract and approving the anti-communist law) - presumably rewarded anybody who wrote books against materialism. It was since then that the materialist philosophical trend or scientific world-view was considered ‘crime’ making it necessary to dissimulate and avoid even mentioning in the same way that people approach taboos or bogies.

Anyhow, if there are still people interested to know what is the Iranian national philosophy, they should look into Hakim Mohammad ibn Razi’s philosophical system, with the same clear conscience and a heart full of joyous awareness, in the same way as when looking for the Iranian national epic they refer to Ferdosi’s Shahnameh (the epistle of kings or the kingly epistle). With a little bit of will, courage and insight, they can even be proud of it and boast about its rational scientific basis.

What we call Iranian national philosophy is this very Zarvanist naturalist materialist philosophy, and not the kind of impure non-Iranian views (expressed for example in Avicenna’s shafa and the like), but this source of knowledge or epistle of wisdom (da’na’-ki nameh) which Hakim Razi has left for us; as testified by his contemporary figures like Massudi Baghdadi and Abuyazid Balkhi and later figures like Ghazi (judge) Saed Andulasi and Imam Fakhraldin Razi who rightly call Razi the reviver of that philosophy. As I have repeatedly reminded, philosophy in the precise meaning of the word is ultimately this very naturalist materialist philosophy; whatever else that is added to it, will end up to nothing other than metaphysical debates and purely subjective polemics.

Alas that so far not even a small pamphlet has been written on naturalist philosophy. Disregarding claimants (specialists in philosophy who do not regard themselves less than Avicenna and Mullah Sadra) people interested in philosophy have only heard the term ‘Natural Sciences”, about which Alameh Iqbal Lahori (the well-known historian of Iranian philosophy) writes:

“In any society where Natural Science has no place or is not studied, philosophical thinking will ultimately is absorbed in religion. In such societies, first of all it is the meaning of natural cause - i.e. the sum of a priori conditions of any phenomenon - will lose its priority and what prevails instead is the supernatural cause which later turns into pure religious cause - i.e. personified will. This is perhaps the reason for Iranian philosophy being so mixed up with religion.” (The History of Philosophy in Iran)

Razi’s Naturalist philosophy is such an organized system of thought consisting of precise structural components - concepts and criteria - that any systematic approach to it will show the unique function of any one of its components. At the same time Razi’s philosophical system is not sophisticated; yet, though simple, it can explain all natural phenomena and philosophical questions. I wish and believe that from now on all the current Iranian intellectual and philosophical systems should be evaluated and assessed by the criteria laid down by Razi in his system of philosophy. It is time to purify it from all non-philosophical superfluous thoughts, whether Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Gnostic, Hermetic or Esmaili.

Today any intelligent Iranian, any educated or middle class intellectual is badly in need of studying a simple pure naturalist philosophical system devoid of any pleonasms (that is tautological redundancies that even their weavers do not understand what theses they are weaving together); the kind of philosophy which while illustrating the national inherited theoretical mode of thinking, it would also be in harmony with theoretical and philosophical questions of the contemporary world. Time has come to wipe and clean it of all the spider webs, dusts and rubbish of the past millennia. In a more precise language, it is imperative to purify Iranian philosophy from Western and Eastern Metaphysics, Arab and Iranian Idealism, as well as Indian mysticism; and just keep it in the history books of Iranian system of thinking from now on. This is exactly what Hakim Razi did in his own time with his naturalist philosophy.

As the majority of western historians of philosophy have anonymously declared:

“In Europe Physics, in its developing course from the middle ages to the new age, is marked Razi-ian tendencies; for it consisted of certain fundamental ideas, each presenting different planes of scientific knowledge, amazingly similar to the Newtonian system.”

Razi was not a compiler of philosophical thoughts, calling unnecessary scientific explanations added to the original as superfluous, redundancy (such as geometrical redundancy) because his dynamic insightful mind did not dwell on secondary things. He seriously believed in scientific and philosophical progress and he rightly considered himself superior to the past great ancient philosophers, even to Aristotle and Plato.

In the field of medicine, it is believed that Razi stands on the same level as Hippocrates. In the field of Philosophy, he was aware that he had surpassed Socrates too; while at the same time he was expecting those coming after him to refute some of the conclusions he had reached in his time, in the same way that he endeavored to come about with new views and methods to replace previous religions and schools. That is why in his debate with Razi, Abuhatem Esmaili says: You think, what you have reached by the virtue of your intelligence and insight, had not been attained by many philosophers before you. But...”

Here, it should be reminded that in the field of philosophy, Razi wished to originate a kind of science endowed with rational criticism, research and intellectual rectification. His innovations and re-creations are many, including his criticism and negation of Aristotle’s idea of eternal motion dealt with in his lost book called Motion lies in the Essence of Nature (or Nature is essentially endowed with movement).

In addition, by laying down the basic idea of Movement in Time (in his explanations in regard to the emergence of the universe) he is a few centuries ahead of Hakim Mirdamad and Hakim Mullah Sadra in regard to the question of the philosophical basis of ‘emergence of time’ as well as the ‘emergence of the universe.’

Razi’s philosophical school continued to propagate through his pupil Yahya ibn Adi Masihi under the name of Philosophical Order of Iran (ferqeh falsafieh, mainly consisting of naturalist philosophers and scientists), particularly in Baghdad against Esmaili Order (Ekhvan-ol-Safa). Great philosophers who had some connection with Razi’s school include: Abusoleyman Manteqi, Ibn Maskuyeh Razi, Abu Hayaan Tohidi, Abolkheyr Khommaar, Abu Sahl Masihi, Abureyhan Biruni, Abolfaraj ibn Jasaliq, Abolbarakaat Baghdadi and finally Imam Fakhraldin Razi.

However, there is no purpose in enumerating the Iranian origins of Razi’s natural rational philosophy here, as it will be dealt comprehensively later in the book, (also partly found in pre-Socratic or early Greek philosophers). Briefly in the words of Iqbal Lahori: Based on Iranian tradition, Razi considered light the first creation and regarded matter, space and time eternal...” What is found in the philosophy of Sheikh Shahab Sohravardi (Suhrawardi) in regard to philosophical traditions of Ancient Iran can already be found in Razi’s books...”

However, our misfortune and greatest dilemma is that the men of philosophy and philosophical research in Iran, as it is usually felt are very skeptical about the existing studies and researches carried out in relation to existence of philosophy in Ancient Iran, and look at them with disbelief - if not with an inferiority complex - and neglect all the existing research studies leading to the great influence of Iranian Magi on Greek philosophy. At best - as it has unfortunately become a custom here in this country - they wait to hear these things from the mouth or the pen of some Western academics - any American or European Orientalist or specialist in Iranian Studies - yet, even when this happens, they often either don’t hear about it or ignore it. In any case, they do not accept this obvious point that no western researcher or historian, no matter how much they might be in love with Iran, would never attempt to overlook the origin of his/her culture and civilization- i.e. Ancient Greece - just for the sake of Truth nor would they give much merit to Ancient Iran for its precedence and primacy. The other point, which should be mentioned here is that Iranianism was and may still be considered equivalent to followers of magi, which (by associating Magic) created and still may create vain apprehension pointed out adquately in my translation of Biruni’s Fehrest ma’qableh al-fehrest (Pre-Islamic Iranian texts).

However, it seems such an apprehension should have been disappeared by now, as both our theologians and academic researchers talk with an increasing cultural and national self-belief in our times.


The two remarkable aspects of Hakim Razi, include his views on medicine and philosophy. As I have no knowledge in the former, I have not dealt with it except in the chapter on Natural Philosophy in passing. Therefore the book Hakim Razi mainly deals with his philosophy and philosophical system whose rank splendor and significance is still unknown. Yet, as the author continuously considers himself as a research student in history, the present book is also The History of Iranian Philosophy. It should be pointed out that this history is not chronological and would not include the philosophical knowledge of all ages. What can be claimed is that it is a comparative analytical history as it looks at Razi’s entire philosophical system in its structural constituents - i.e. concepts and criteria - in a national logical way, enumerating their previous rational foundations according to extant sources. It is comparative in the sense that we have compared their subject matters and criteria with other philosophical systems, showing their common points and their differences. In this way, the reader learns about both the philosophy of Magi of Ancient Iran and that of Aristotle or other Greek philosophers in a comprehensive way. Finally, it should be added that what I have tried to do here is to free real Aristotle from the claws of Iranian Aristotelians (that is mashaees).


2. Aynol-Qoza’t Hamedani’s Ma’tika’n, p.217

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