Lifelong Learning Articles

Between Love and Social Aspiration: The Influence of Sufi and Greek Concepts of Love on the Sociopolitical Thought of the Ikhwan al-Safa, Miskawayh and al-Tawhidi

Although the Brethren of Purity (the Ikhwan al-Safa) are often studied, much about their teaching on love remains to be investigated.[1] Ricardo-Felipe Reyna concluded that the Ikhwan’s approach to love was mainly theoretical.[2] However, to make sense of the Ikhwan’s position and to appreciate better their contribution and the universality of their concept of love and related themes, this article treats them as part of a wider and contemporary discourse. It seeks to show how their vocabulary of love and brotherhood were echoed in the contemporary discourse of al-Tawhidi (c. 414 AH / 1023 CE) on friendship and its link to society, and of Miskawayh (d. 421 AH / 1030 CE), especially in his essay on love in the ‘Refinement of Character’ (Tahdhib al-Akhlaq). This article also focuses on how their discussions of certain questions were major elements of their argument to highlight the process which man goes through to achieve perfection; a process that may lead to alternative forms of society. All these texts consider which forms of affiliations or sociability should exist in order for people to exist harmoniously and maintain salvation and the good life.


This article also aims to show how these authors incorporated Sufi thought and language into a form of the good life connected to the Platonic idea of eros, and the Aristotelian idea of philia to present new norms of moral action to cultivate the inner self, group cohesion, and spiritual progress. These goals will be shown to offer a form of practical moral philosophy, which they taught as conditions for a community’s survival in Buyid society, which was burdened by substantial social strife and political struggle.


1. Love as a Path for the Refinement of Man’s Soul

In their epistle ‘On the Essence of Love’ (Fi Mahiyyat al-‘Ishq), the Ikhwan also provide some definitions, such as for ‘ishq:


“Excess in love (ifraṭ al-mahabba) and strong inclination (shiddat al-mayl) towards a specific species of existence rather than others ... and towards a particular thing, and this by the continuance of the remembrance of and care for the beloved.[3]

However, the Ikhwan emphasize their preferred definition of love:

Now we will return to explaining one of the sages’ sayings: “Love is the immensity of longing to be united (shiddat al-shawq ila al-ittihad).” We say: “Unity is one of the special features of spiritual beings, and states of the soul. There is no potential for unity in bodily beings. Rather there is proximity, mingling, and touch, nothing more; while unity occurs in psychological beings, as we will explain in these fusul.”[4]


This expresses a desire for a return to a more perfect condition of the soul. It also shows familiarity with the myth expressed by Aristophanes reported in Plato’s Symposium, which became a topos in discussions of love. He says that humans were spherical bodies having four hands, four legs, and a single head. They attacked the gods but were defeated by them, and Zeus suggested that men should be divided into two parts. After that, each being longs for the part from which it had been disconnected. The search for primordial wholeness and harmony is called love (eros).[5]


However, the Ikhwan are appropriating the spiritualized Islamic version of the myth in Ibn Dawud’s Kitab al-Zahra, and not to that of al-Kindi.[6] Here the desire or inborn inclination for unity occurs only in the soul and not in the bodies; this differs from eros as the desire for begetting offspring by means of body or soul.[7]


The Ikhwan believe that they are one soul in separate bodies,

No matter how the bodies’ situations change in their reality, the soul remains the same, as someone said: There is in the body a soul that does not age as the body does, even if what contains the face is a ruin…[8]

As such, unity as a psychological inclination and a spiritual influence implies a deficiency and an implicit desire of the soul for an object which it lacks and wishes to make its own. Thus the highest aim of love in the soul is to awaken it from the slumber of negligence and folly (nawm al-ghafla wa raqdat al-jahala)[9]. They say:

All this is a practice for the soul, [both] to elevate itself and to ascend from the corporeal and matters of the body to matters of the rational soul, and from the sensual to spiritual beauty.[10]


The Ikhwan explain their position further by quoting a verse of a poem, to which they give a spiritual interpretation in its connection with the elevation of the soul.[11] This seems to indicate that the domain of their Letter on Love is not only theoretical; it is an enterprise imparting the cultivation of the human soul.


On his part, al-Tawhidi states that mahabba emanates from the virtuous soul, while he relates desire (shahwa) to nature.[12] He reports another definition of mahabba from al- Nushajani in which mahabba is the loom of ‘ishq (passionate love) that is “a longing for a certain perfection.”[13] It is the longing of the soul, since, man is man by virtue of the soul, according to al-Saymari’s response to al-Tawhidi’s question about the relationship of a man’s soul to a man.[14] Thus the soul has been given control over the body and directs it to goodness.[15] The happiness of the soul, the perfection of the true nature, and the purity of man’s essence,

Can only be reached by refining your soul from the filth of your body and the impurity of its natural disposition. It is also by diverting it [the soul] from the darkness of your passion, and restraining it from [following] your desire...[16]


It is within this context that moral qualities are considered, according to al-Tawhidi, to be matters of the soul. He divides them on Platonic grounds:

Man’s moral qualities are divided according to his three souls, I mean, the rational soul (alnaṭiqa), the irascible soul (al-ghadbiyya), and the appetitive soul (al-shahwaniyya). The particularities (simat) of these moral qualities are vastly different.[17]

These moral qualities vary between repugnant and praiseworthy ones.[18]


Similarly, Miskawayh sees virtue as the purification of the soul from all evils and introduces mahabba as a necessary social action to encourage the acquisition and practice of the good moral qualities through which the purification of the human soul can be achieved.[19] Miskawayh also develops vocabulary to elaborate the forms of love through which people may purify their souls, and thus practice better human conduct. For instance, he speaks of Sadaqa as “denoting something more particular than love.”[20] It is a genuine love, which leads a person to become interested in all that concerns his friend and the preference for the good.[21] Sadaqa also resembles in its very essence intimacy (mawadda), which is desiring the affection of virtuous people by performing good deeds which inspire such affection from them.[22] There is also passionate love (‘ishq) which is more specific since it occurs between two persons only; for pleasure, which is blameworthy, and for goodness, which is praiseworthy.[23] Miskawayh enlarges the topic of love from specific love (the earthly love that people have with one another) to generic love (the love of the good which motivates all human action), while making a fundamental distinction between bad love (driven by desires), and good love (driven by goodness).[24]


Two main shared points of similarities can be highlighted in the authors’ discussions: 1) the strong desire of the soul to attain its beloved, and 2) the intellectual process moving from the material world to spiritual perfection (through which man achieves godliness in this world and in the hereafter), thereby elevating the soul from the body and evil desires. For them, moral qualities are attributes of the soul, and love and friendship are desirable virtues that facilitate its cultivation.


2. How Does the Soul Achieve its Perfection?

The next issue to be investigated is the perception of how the soul embraces its perfection. The authors have a comprehensive approach to the purification of the soul that seems to be egotistic in its desire. Based on the three Platonic divisions of the soul, they divide it into three different faculties, each with its particular objects of love. That is, the appetitive soul longs for material objects, eating, drinking, and sexual desires; the irascible soul longs for domination and leadership; and the rational soul longs for knowledge and virtue.[25] In fact, common to the objects of love of the three faculties of the soul is, as the Ikhwan identify it, the desire for the immortality (baqa’) of their specific activities.[26] Thus, each part of the soul left to its own passion would want to fulfil its desires, ignorant of its true interest in this world and the next.


The Ikhwan suggest that people differ from one another in terms of their moral qualities on the basis of the disparity between the three faculties of their souls and their ability to balance their different desires.[27] People should go to the trouble of controlling their souls. For al-Tawhidi, in order for man to achieve self-management, the rational soul, if pure, has to control the other two divisions (the irascible and the appetitive); it must tame, refine, and moderate them, then they will be amended to the right path.[28] In this context, sadaqa as a social virtue based on the soul and intellect serves to cure people’s immorality, and for him, therefore, kings, merchants, or commoners will not be capable of sadaqa until their rational soul takes control over their irascible and appetitive souls.[29] It is then that they achieve purity of their souls and thus become capable of good deeds through following friendship as a social practice.


The rational soul’s own act of supervising the other two souls, an act she achieves through her desire to acquire knowledge, has religious significance. Miskawayh believes that it was for obedience and veneration of God that one should struggle to purify his soul.[30] In fact, this struggle must begin with knowledge of the soul itself (its essence, its kinds, and for what purpose they have been brought into existence), because it is the source for the good and bad as stated by God.[31]


The Ikhwan suggest that the rational soul only enjoys knowledge and science because they perfect its virtues, and enable it to reach its highest goals and best end: love for the Creator.[32] They state that man’s knowledge of his soul is one of the noblest forms of knowledge, since it frees humanity from its link with worldly passion.[33]


For al-Tawhidi, the love for the essence of knowledge between the souls of friends is essential, for it leads to their perfection and thus the fulfilment of their highest goal, obedience to God.[34] The act of the rational soul is to illuminate itself through the knowledge that it deduces from the intellect, by which man perfects himself, finds his happiness and avoids suffering.[35] For him, the shortest and the easiest way to happiness is knowing one’s nature, the soul, the intellect, and Almighty God; a detailed knowledge of these allows one to achieve the greatest victory (al-fawz al-a‘zam).[36]


It is a moral quality of the virtuous rational soul, according to al-Tawhidi, to immerse itself in the discovery (al-bahth) of man and then of the universe (al-‘alaminfo-icon). This is because once man is known, the microcosm (al-‘alam al-saghir) is known. Once the universe is known, the macranthrope (al-insan al-kabir) is known. Once both are known, God from whose existence everything else exists is known.[37]This seems to correspond to the Ikhwan’s idea that man is a microcosm,[38] and to stress the common perfection and source of all these, namely God himself, of whom knowledge and worship lead to welfare, which is the ultimate aim of the rational soul. Thus, the idea that ‘the soul is perfected through acquiring knowledge’ calls attention to all the authors’ attempts to influence people’s moral standards, proposing norms that reinforce the social importance of knowledge.


3. Why Religious Ceremonies Foster Love and Friendship

The Ikhwan stress the divine origin of love which, along with humans’ sociability, is a grace from God to man who is not always aware of what is best for him. As spoken by an animal to a man in the court of the King of jinn in the Ikhwan’s epistle ‘On How the Animals are Formed and their Species’ (Fi Kayifiyat Takwin al-Hayawanat wa Asnafiha), love embodies elements of Aristotelian philia and people’s need for community, and is also affirmed by God:

As for your mentioning that you have festivals, convocations, and visits to houses of worship, and that we have no such thing, know that had you been possessed of refined morals and cooperated with your brethren at times of difficulties and turbulence, and if you had been like one soul in promoting your welfare, festivals and attending convocations would not have been necessary for you, because the Lord of the Divine Laws demanded this [religious worship] so that people could gather after their absence from each other, in order for friendship to develop as a result of their coming together in social gathering. Friendship (al-sadaqa) is the foundation for brotherhood (al-ukhuwwa); brotherhood is the foundation for love (al-mahabba); love is the foundation for the right management of matters (islah al-umur). The right management of matters is the right management of the regions (salah al-bilad). The right management of regions is the continuation of the world and human species. For this reason divine law (shari‘ainfo-icon) ordered that people should gather twice a year in an appointed place, once a week in appointed places, and five times a day in mosques of the neighbouring areas and in the market so the intended purpose could be achieved.[39]


The Ikhwan clearly consider religion from the social point of view insofar as it deters people from evil. Human life in its unmodified form lacks morality and social cohesion. To reach their common good, God institutes forms of religious worship so that people are diverted from their ill natures and constantly reminded of their need to develop friendship and love among themselves. Love moves a simple society to become the most virtuous, where love and brotherhood are embraced as social practices. These become the grounds for a correct political and social life (salah al-bilad), which ultimately ensures the continuation of society.


This divine origin of love is also emphasized by Miskawayh who sees uns (natural gregariousness or fellowship) as an intrinsic element in man’s nature; the basis of mahabba in man, and a value which one must be eager to acquire with one’s fellow man. This uns is fostered by the shari‘a and religious ceremonies, and therefore it is a grace from God to man and manifests divine providence.[40] In return, the practice of love means to renew devotion to the shari‘a and service to God.[41]


Love, then, is assigned a very specific moral function, which is the cultivation of man’s inner soul as a step towards a harmonious community. The Ikhwan are knit together by companionship and purify their souls by friendship towards each other (tasafat bi’l-Sadaqa), and are perfected by knowledge and philosophy in their religious zeal. Love then potentially unites righteous souls and is a means of attaining ultimate perfection. It is predicated on personal affection and trust, which are now identified as virtues of specific groups. Persons then would live together and worship God without needing any external compulsion, driven by inner impulses alone. What gives love and friendship their character is the intentions of the partners towards one another. Thus a main point of the Ikhwan’s new proposal was the mutual respect between persons who make up society.


To emphasise brotherhood and love as ways for collective living, and to describe their imagined effect as a harmonious unity between people, one could identify elements of Sufi vocabulary incorporated into the writings of these authors, in their borrowing of the notion of a community as ‘one body,’ which was developed in Sufi circles to organize the relationship between members of the circle and a master.[42] The Ikhwan, in their idealistic vision intended to reform the social and religious conditions of their society, invite the noble to build with them a virtuous city on the basis of truthfulness (sidq) in intention and words, piety in religious belief and worldly matters, support, stability and order.[43] The inhabitants of this city become like one man, and one unique body and one soul by following:

The practice of the divine law (sunnat al-shari‘a) as the Prophet said, peace be upon him: “The believers resemble one man and one soul; their blood and wealth are worth the same, and they are like one hand on their enemies.”[44]

Quoting Q 5:2 and Q 3:103, they argue that in this city, their search for godliness both in this world and the hereafter through their mutual help is commanded by God.[45] Miskawayh also represents the power of love as a necessity in bringing people together so they became like one man,

Each one becomes like an organ of the same body; and man’s constitution depends upon the totality of the organs forming his body.[46]


4. Man’s Relation to God

That God favoured man as the only intellect-bearing creature, planted a desire for love inside him, and demanded that he perform religious worship to foster this desire to maintain social harmony, highlights the theme of God’s love for man that the authors emphasise equally. But in return, the central place is assigned to the love of God. Here one can again identify elements of Sufi vocabulary incorporated into the thought of these authors.


For both the Ikhwan and Miskawayh, all forms of love may come to an end, except for the love of God among the virtuous; this love is beyond any other, and everlasting.[47]

For the Ikhwan, God is:

The first beloved (al-ma‘shuq al-awwal), and all the creatures long for him, and incline towards him. To him return all matters, because he is the source of their existence, their substance, continuity and perfection. He is the pure existence (al-wujudinfo-icon al-mahḍ).[48]

According to the Ikhwan, love and all goodness emanate from God and the illumination of his light on the first intellect, from the first intellect on the first soul, and from the first soul to prime matter or form.


Miskawayh also offers direction for the conduct of life in relation to one’s self, and in relation to God. Man is composed of opposite natures, and therefore he does not experience any pleasure that is free from pain, but he also possesses a pure divine essence.[49] The love which is caused by this essence and carried out to excess until it becomes a pure passionate love (al‘ishq al-mahd) is divine love akin to rapture.[50] Miskawayh says:

If then, the divine essence within man is freed from the turbidity which comes to it from contact with nature, and if it is not lured by the various kinds of desire and pursuits of honors, it will long for its like and will perceive, through the eye of its intelligence, the First Pure Good, which is not contaminated with matter … The light of the First Good will pour upon it, and the pleasure which it will experience thereby will be beyond comparison ... It will attain the meaning of union.[51]

This form of ‘ishq, or man’s love of God, achieves complete unity when it leaves the worldly life through knowledge of God himself and of His favours upon one’s body and soul.[52] This love is tied to obedience and veneration.


The selfless love of man for God is expressed by carrying out the will of God in loving one another. Al-Tawhidi uses words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, which he heard from the Christian Ibn al-Jamal, he says:


‘Isa Ibn Maryam, peace be upon him, said from what we have been told through [the words of] Ibn al-Jamal al-Katib al-Naarani to his students: “The means by which you would know that you are from me [is] loving one another.”

‘Isa also said to his disciple (Yashu‘) Ayshu‘: “You should love the Lord with all your hearts, and then you should love your friend (qarῑnaka) as yourself.” It was said to him: “O spirit of God, explain to us the differences between these two [forms] of love, so we are prepared for them with insight and clarity.” He said: “The friend you love for your own sake, while the soul you love for the sake of your God, so when you protect your friend, it is yourself that you protect, and when you give yourself (soul) away generously, it is for your God.[53]

This saying brings together several elements from the Gospel to show that through love human beings acquire immortality and perfection. This may well show how al-Tawhidi desired to produce an ecumenical discourse that may appeal to different strata in society, including Christian members of the philosophical circles among whom al-Tawhidi proposed his ideas on Sadaqa. Al-Tawhidi also describes love as a spiritual duty that is conferred by God. In the words of ‘Umar b. al-Khattab to Sa‘d b. Abi Waqqas, the sign of God’s love to man is manifested in making him beloved by His creatures, and this love also regulates the relationship between humans.[54] Al-Tawhidi also quotes Ibn Sam‘un al-Sufi reciting the Qur’anic verse “and I loaded on thee love from Me, and to be formed in My sight Q 20:39.”[55]


The love of God that He bestowed upon Moses made him, according to al-Tabari’s interpretation, lovable to the pharaoh and to his wife, and everyone saw him in the sight, love, and will of God.[56] This is how God saved him from the pharaoh. Al-Tawhidi then provides Ibn Sam‘un’s prayers requesting that God make people act sympathetically, loving one another, and united by that which makes God content with them.[57] In this prayer, the act of love is granted by God and is what holds people together.


Al-Tawhidi emphasises the spiritual aspect of a ruler’s relationship to the ruled, modelled on God’s relationship to man, in the saying of a certain Shaykhinfo-icon to al-Ma’mun, which reflects a Sufi theme that the way to God is through love:

By following his example in acting charitably towards his servants, for He [God] loves goodness for his servants just as you love your entourage to be charitable to your son. By God, the only reason that God has given you power over them is to intensify your charity towards them by thanking them for their charitable acts and forgiving their sins. Nothing is more rewarding for you before God than that your days are days of justice, fairness, charity, help, piety and mercy.[58]


Central themes are thus God’s love for man, which is the principal axis between Him and man, and man’s love for God that is manifested in being charitable to his fellow-humans, leading to salvation through God’s satisfaction.


It could be argued that in quoting this example, al-Tawhidi touches upon an important theme; the relations of a ruler to God, which always has been a central issue concerning the nature of Islamic polity.[59] This seems to be a reminder to his recipient, the Buyid vizierinfo-icon Ibn Sa‘dan, of his human responsibility to do God’s work on earth. The ruler was expected to keep godly order on earth, making it essential to follow God’s example towards his creatures. This should be the motive for the exercise of a ruler’s power. It is only then that the political order can be maintained and assured an Islamic legitimacy. Thus al-Tawhidi seems to envision a more engaging form of polity that is organically connected to society, providing salvation for its subjects by inviting them to identify with its rule, unlike the weakened caliphateinfo-icon, or the Buyidsinfo-icon who made no claim of salvation and did not invite their subjects to identify with them.[60]


Al-Tawhidi even tells Ibn Sa‘dan (quoting al-Sijistani) that a ruler is a human god (al-malik ilah bashari), which is the grace of the divine emanation on the generous gracious ruler.[61] Thus “the divine presence attendant upon created materiality, which is ultimately the only true reality, informs Islamic political authority and administration no less than it did Islamic prophecy in the first place.”[62] Al-Tawhidi’s rhetorical use of this ideal seems to be intended to offer the Buyid ruler a different model to imitate.


Overall, the element of the spiritual understanding of God’s divine love for man is expressed through imitation of God’s qualities of generosity, justice, mercy, and friendship towards His subjects. This pleasure is enduring, unchanging, and divine by virtue of its resemblance to God’s love for his creatures. In return, man’s love for God appears as God’s request, or his commandments.


The authors base this love on universal principles and common sense. Miskawayh and al-Tawhidi draw an analogy between the love and responsibilities of a father and the king. Just as a father should have compassion and love for his son or household, a king should have compassion for his people, and it would be disgraceful if he did not (for Miskawayh this is an act of disobedience to God for not following His and His Prophet’s example of compassion).[63]


5. Conclusion

This comparison has attempted to give an idea of the issues scholars of the fourth century tried to solve by using love, brotherhood, and friendship; and has explained why they spread in a specific socio-cultural situation. It has shown how these themes may well reflect the philosophers’ concerns for public morality by offering an alternative moral order for a harmonious community.


One could identify common objectives among these authors, including:


1- The stress on promoting the rational soul and the divine essence that all men share as a way to ultimate happiness. This was not only an epistemological exercise but an attempt to foster a common interest in the good leading to salvation among members of a community (or society) that was composed of competing ethnic groups.


2- A common interest in the person and his moral reform within the wider context of communal unity, stressing its social and religious significance.


3- The authors granted knowledge an important societal role in the perfection of man, which shows a concern to create a meaningful place in society for scholars, philosophers, and religious leaders.


It is possible that in stressing the divine origin of the idea of sociability as the will of God for man, and in arguing that religious practices are designed to allow people to form friendship and love among themselves, the authors offer an attractive statement of religion that was able to respond to contemporary socio-political challenges and account for a broad cultural reality. In addition, the use of the religion-moral knowledge particular to Islam, as well as philosophy, to discuss contemporary issues demonstrates use of a logical relation between reality and revelation, and aims to reform Islam intellectually, representing it as an agent of socio-political good.


The authors present the love of God as expressed not only through asceticism, but just as significantly in the realm of ordinary human relationships via a life of virtuous living. This experience emphasizes the love of God from above for humanity, and humanity’s love for God from below. Thus, the ethical life as an immediate concern is closely associated with God’s revealed law and man’s obedience.


The authors define a practical programme for the refinement of moral qualities, and for moral action on the basis of the purification of the human soul as a way to the acquisition and practice of virtues. They claim that this can happen in a soul whose rational faculty controls the other two faculties, and which then will conduct correct moral actions for a community’s good. They also define a number of virtues, e.g. love and friendship, which the soul needs to learn and make habitual to reach perfection. This could be a response to a culture that was changing rapidly, with the temptation to prioritize material and worldly goals and the danger of lacking the spirituality to suppress desires incompatible with communal existence. It shows a close link between knowledge and action. As such, the authors seem to be interested in a form of ‘practical ethical philosophy’ concerning humans and their interactions within a social community that is not only interested in defining virtue theoretically but in order to become good.


The call for unity has also a symbolic function in that the philosophers’ emphasis on the ruler’s responsibility to promote friendship may have served as a way to invoke a pious form of leadership. This form of friendship is presented as moral fulfilment, and the empowerment of the well-being of the community, through more integration between the governing group and society. This might reflect how much, or even most, of the cultural and ethical thought of the Buyid period emerged out of a necessity to address new cultural and social demands.





[1] The precise identity of this group has been subject to much debate in modern scholarship; see G. De Callataÿ, Ikhwan al-Safa: A Brotherhood of Idealists on the Fringe of Orthodox Islam, Oxford, 2005, p. 2-12.

[2] R. Reyna, La Risala fi mahiyyat al-‘ishq de la Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa, in: Anaquel de Estudios Árabes, 6 (1995), p. 183-206.

[3] Ikhwan al-Safa, Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’ wa Khullan al-Wafa, 4 vols., no editor, Beirut, 1957, Ep. 37, 271, l. 9-12. All translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.

[4] Idem, Ep. 37, 3.273, l. 16-20.

[5] Plato, Symposium 187C-189D, 189E-191E.

[6] D. Gutas, Greek Philosophers in the Arabic Tradition, Hampshire, 2000, IV, p. 36-60.

[7] Like Plato, the Ikhwan explain astrologically this immense longing for unity on the basis of an inborn inclination (nuzu‘) of effects (ma‘lul) to their causes (asbab); Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep. 37, 3.275, l. 6-277, l.

[8] Idem, Ep. 45, 4.48, l. 12. The verse is followed by two others also by the fourth century poet Abu al-Tayyib Ahmad b. al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi (303-354 AH / 919-965 CE); cf. Al- Mutanabbi, Sharh Diwaninfo-icon al-Mutanabbi, no editor, Beirut, 1968, p. 59, l. 9-10.

[9] Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep. 37, 3.282, l. 14.

[10] Idem, Ep. 37, 3.282, l. 14-16.

[11] The verse, “I embrace her; and my soul is still longing for her. Is there any closeness more than an embrace,” is followed by three others and reported twice in the epistle; see idem, Ep.37, 3.272, l. 5-7, 274, l. 6-8. The verse is by Ibn al-Rumi (b. Baghdad; 221-283 AH / 836-896 CE); see A. Hamdani, The Name Ikhwan al-Safa’, in: Digest of Middle East Studies, 8 (1999), p. 3.

[12] Al-Tawhidi, al-Imta‘wa al-Mu’anasa, 3 vols., ed. Ahmad Amin and Ahmad al-Zayn, Beirut, 1953, p. 3.105, l. 13-106, l. 6.

[13] Al-Tawhidi, al-Muqabasat, ed. Muhammd Tawfiq Husayn, Baghdad, 1970, p. 454, l. 9-11.

[14] Idem, p. 110, l. 5-18.

[15] Idem, p. 288, l. 8-9.

[16] Idem, p. 56, l. 16-57, l. 2.

[17]Al-Tawhidi, al-Imta‘, p. 1.147, l. 6-8.

[18] Idem, p. 1.147, l. 9-10.

[19] Miskawyah,  Tahdhib al-Akhlaq, ed. C. Zurayk, Beirut, 1966, p. 9, l. 13-10, l. 19, 15, l. 10-16, l. 5

[20] Miskawyah, Tahdhib, p. 137, l. 10-11; C. Zurak, The Refinement of Character: A Translation from the Arabic of Ahmad ibn-Miskawayh’s Tahdhib al-Akhlaq, Beirut, 1968, p. 125.

[21] Miskawyah, Tahdhib, p. 24, l. 1-2.

[22] Idem, p. 24, l. 11-12.

[23] Idem, p. 137, l. 12-16.

[24] This position is similar to that taken in Plato’s Symposium; see G.Ferrari, Platonic Love, in: The Cambridge, 1992, p. 248-277.

[25] Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 15, l. 11-21, 16, l. 1-5; Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep.37, 3.272, l. 14-18; Al-Tawhidi, al-Imta‘, p.1.147, l. 6-8.

[26] Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep. 37, 3.280, l. 12-15. This echoes the intentional object of the eros to serve the final desire of the lover’s own immortality; see G. Santas, Plato's Theory of Eros in the Symposisum: Abstract, in: Nous 13 (1979), p. 67-75

[27] Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep.9, 1.313, l. 7-321, l. 10.

[28] Al-Tawhidi, al-Imta‘, p. 1.147, l. 17-148, l. 3.

[29] Al-Tawhidi, al Ṣadaqa wa al-Ṣadiq, ed. Ibrahim Kilani, Damascus, 1964, p. 5, l. 10-6, l. 12.

[30] Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 2, l. 1-2.

[31] Idem, p. 2, l. 9-13.

[32] Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep. 37, 3.280, l. 22-281, l. 3.

[33] Idem, Ep. 40, 3.372, l. 15.

[34] Al-Tawhidi, al-Ṣadaqa, p. 4, l. 13-5, l .2.

[35] Al-Tawhidi, al-Imta‘, p. 3.110, l. 13-15; Al-Tawhidi, al-Muqabasat, p. 288, l. 9.

[36] Al-Tawhidi, al-Imta‘, p. 1.106, l. 2-4.

[37] Idem, p. 1.147, l. 9-14.

[38] Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep. 26, 2.456, l. 1-479, l. 16 and Ep. 34, 3.212, l. 1-230, l. 3; cf. De Callataÿ, Ikhwan al-Ṣafa‘, p. 22-24.

[39] Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep.8, 2.328, l. 2-11.

[40] Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 140, l. 11-141, l. 16.

[41] Goodman suggests that Miskawayh’s explanation of religious observance fostering sociability and love could be ascribed to influence of the Aristotelian and Platonic idea that practice actualises virtues that are otherwise only potential or ideal; L. Goodman, Jewish and Islamic Philosophy: Crosspollinations in the Classical Age, Edinburgh, 1999, p. 134.

[42] See for example, Al-Sulami, Abu Abd Al-Rahman, Kitab Adabinfo-icon al-Ṣuhba, ed. M. J. Kister, Jerusalem, Oriental Notes and Studies Published by the Israel Oriental Society, 6 (1954).

[43] Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep.48, 4.172, l. 6-10.

[44] Idem, Ep.47, 4.127, l. 4-6.

[45] Idem, Ep.47, 4.127, l. 7-9, 134, l. 8-14.

[46] Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 15, l. 8-9; Zurayk, the Refinement, p. 14.

[47] Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep.37, 3.281, l. 15-20; Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 147, l. 14-17. The Ikhwan and Miskawayh mention different forms of love, such as how offspring incline to their parents, and parents’ compassion for their offspring, and the love of leaders for leadership; see idem, Ep.37, 3.276, l. 21-279, l. 3; Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 142, l. 14-150, l. 8.

[48] Ikhwan, Rasa’il, Ep.37, 3.286, l. 2-4.

[49] Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 138, l. 8-13.

[50] Idem, p. 138, l. 13-15; C. Zurayk, the Refinement, p. 126.

[51] Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 139, l. 10-15; C. Zurayk, the Refinement, p. 126.

[52] Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 139, l. 16.

[53] Al-Tawhidi, al-Ṣadaqa, p. 150, l. 1-9.

[54] Al-Tawhidi, al-Ṣadaqa, p. 264, l. 1-6.

[55] Idem, p. 264, l. 7-9.

[56] Al-Tabari, Abu Ja‘far B. Muhammad B. Jarir, Jami‘ al-Bayan ‘an Ta’wilinfo-icon Ay al-Qur’aninfo-icon, 15 vols., ed. S. al-‘Attar, Beirut, 2001, 9:16. nos. 18178-18180, 18184.

[57]Al-Tawhidi, al-Sadaqa, p. 265, l. 2-4.

[58] Idem, p. 96, l. 5-97, l. 2.

[59] P. Heck, Law in Abbasid Political Thought from Ibn Al-Muqaffa (d. 139 AH / 756 CE) to Qudama b. Ja‘far (d. 337 AH / 948 CE), in: Abbasid Studies: Occasional Papers of the School of ‘Abbasid Studies, Cambridge, 6-10 July 2002, ed. J. Montgomery, Leuven, 2004, p. 83-109.

[60] For the relationship of Buyid rulers with their subjects, see R. Mottahedeh, Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society, London, 2001, p. 170-190.

[61]Al-Tawhidi, al-Imta‘, p. 3.99, l. 17-18.

[62] P. Heck, The Crisis of Knowledge in Islam (1): the Case of al-‘Amiri, in: Philosophy East and West 56 (2006), p. 128 note 19; cf. Al-Tawhidi, al-Imta‘, p. 1.207, l. 17-209, l. 3.

[63] Al-Tawhidi, al-Imta‘, p. 3.87, l. 9; Miskawayh, Tahdhib, p. 146, l. 11-15.




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This is an edited version of paper published in Klemm V., al-Sha'ar N. ed. Sources and Approaches across Disciplines in Near Eastern Studies: Proceedings of the 24th Congress of L'Union Européenne des Arabisants et Islamisants; Peterson (2013).

This article explores the concepts of love, friendship and refinement of character presented by the Ikhwan in the context of wider discourses of the time.   ...