Keywords: Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, Epistles of the Brethren of Purity, Ikhwan al-Safa’, encyclopaedia, science, philosophy, Basra, Shi‘a.
Abstract: TheRasa 'il Ikhwan al-Safa' (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity) is a unique work in Islamic history consisting of approximately fifty-two epistles (rasa'il) on a wide range of subjects. The authors of this encyclopaedic compendium, who are believed to have lived in Basra in Iraq in the course of the 10th century, are said to have some connections with the Ismaili movement. This article compares and comments on two systems of scientific classification put forward by the Ikhwan: the first of a hierarchical nature and the second as set out by the coterie of scholars in 'Epistle VII'.
Godefroid de Callataÿ is Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Oriental Institute of the University of Louvain. He received his doctorate from The Warburg Institute, University of London and is the author of numerous monographs and articles dealing with science and philosophy. He has specialised in the history of Arabic sciences and philosophy, and the role played by Islam in the transmission of knowledge from Greek Antiquity to the Latin West during the Middle Ages.