Keywords: Esoteric, Basra, Baghdad, compendium, mathematics, music, logic, astronomy, physical sciences, natural sciences, soul, ethics, revelation, spirituality, philosophy, Ikhwan, shi‘a, Ismaili, Fatimid, Qur’an, Abrahamic monotheism, Torah, Canonical Gospels, ancient Indian and Persian classics, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Euclid, Ptolemy, syncretism, history of ideas in Islam, Muslim civilisation.
Abstract: Ikhwan al-Safa’ (the Brethren of Purity) were the affiliates of an esoteric coterie that was based in Basra and Baghdad around the last quarter of the tenth century CE. The learned adepts of this fraternity authored a compendium, Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’ (The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity), which was structured in the form of an encyclopaedia.
This voluminous work grouped fifty-two tracts that treated themes in mathematics, music, logic, astronomy, and the physical cum natural sciences, as well as exploring the nature of the soul and investigating associated matters in ethics, revelation, and spirituality. This series offered synoptic elucidations of the classical traditions in philosophy and science of the ancients and the moderns of the age. It was also accompanied by a dense treatise titled al-Risala al-jami‘a (The Comprehensive Epistle) and further complemented by an appendage known as Risalat.jami‘at al-jami‘a (The Condensed Comprehensive Epistle).
Nader El-Bizri is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Civilization Studies Program at the American University of Beirut. He has previously taught at the University of Cambridge, the University of Nottingham, and the University of Lincoln. He is also affiliated with The Institute of Ismaili Studies in London and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris.