Ikhwan al-Safa

Ikhwan al-SafaThe Fatimid (909-1171) era reflected a particularly creative period in the flowering of science, art, culture and architecture. It was also accompanied by a significant development in all the religious and philosophical sciences.

It was during the first Fatimid century that the Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethren of Purity) produced their encyclopedic Rasa’il (Epistles), reflecting the contemporary state of knowledge on diverse sciences and a pluralistic perception of religion and philosophy. The Ikhwan al-Safa consisted of a group of scholars and thinkers who produced a collection of 52 epistles on a wide range of subjects. Written in Arabic, the epistles are grouped into four main sections: mathematical sciences, natural sciences, intellectual sciences, and theological sciences.

It is now generally agreed that the authors of the Rasa’il were high-ranked men of learning from the Shia community, that they lived in Basra (in Iraq) during the tenth century, and that they were connected with the Ismaili community of the time. Western scholars first began to take a serious interest in the Rasa’il during the nineteenth century. However, the only complete translation of the Rasa’il into a Western language is Dieterici’s German translation published between 1861 and 1872. Recently, several important studies have been devoted to contents of the Rasa’il and selected epistles have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Urdu, and English.

The Institute of Ismaili Studies is working on an English translation of the Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa to be published in the near future. These translations and critical editions will be based on 12 manuscripts acquired from libraries in France, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom, including some from the Institute’s own collection. As part of the series, the critical edition and translation will be supplemented by analytical commentaries, summaries, critical studies and indices.


3 thoughts

  1. I like very much the model of knowledge proposed by the Ikhwan Al-Safa: Knowlegde exists on a continuum and ranges from rationally acquired knowledge to the transcendental knowledge of the divine. I wrote a post on my blog on March 2nd 2007 entitled: “The uninterrupted thread of the search for knowledge of all types from the Prophet Mohammed right up to the 49th and present Imam, Aga Khan IV”


    This post was also published on the main part of the Ismaili Mail website soon after.

    Another good link to the Ikhwan Al-Safa is:



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