Epistles of the Brethren of Purity – The Ikhwan Al-Safa’ and Their Rasa’il: An Introduction


Ikhwan al-Safa’ (The Brethren of Purity) were the anonymous adepts of a tenth-century esoteric fraternity of lettered urbanites that was principally based in Basra and Baghdad. This brotherhood occupied a prominent station in the history of science and philosophy in Islam due to the wide reception and assimilation of their monumental encyclopedia: Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’ (The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity) . This compendium contained fifty-two epistles that offered synoptic explications of the classical sciences and philosophies of the age. Divided into four classificatory parts, it treated themes in mathematics, logic, natural philosophy, psychology, metaphysics and theology, in addition to moral and didactic fables. The Ikhwan were learned compilers of scientific and philosophical knowledge, and their Rasa’il constituted a paradigmatic legacy in the canonization of philosophy and the sciences in mediaeval Islamic civilization.

This present volume gathers studies by leading philosophers, historians and scholars of Islamic Studies, who are also the editors and translators of the first Arabic critical editions and first complete annotated English translations of the Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’ , which will be published in the OUP Series that this present volume initiates, as well as being members of the Editorial Board.

Oxford University PressInstitute of Ismaili StudiesAmazon
Related: Ikhwan al-Safa

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

3 thoughts

  1. The Epistles of the Ikhwan al-Safa give us a classification that reveals a continuum of knowledge ranging from rationally-acquired knowledge of the mind to transcendental knowledge of the divine. This kind of all-encompassing and holistic treatment of knowledge and intellect is a hallmark of Shia Islam and the subsequent development of cosmological, philosophical and theological doctrines by the Fatimid Ismaili Muslims reflects this holistic ethos. In today’s world where new discoveries are being made daily about nature and the universe through scientific enquiry, the treatises of the Ikhwan al-Safa(Brethern of Purity) and Fatimid cosmologist-philosopher-theologians offer priceless ways to integrate science and religion in Islam.


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