The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) is pleased to announce the publication of the latest volume in the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’) Series entitled On Geography: An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistle 4, edited and translated by Dr Ignacio Sanchez and Professor James Montgomery. 

This is the eighth volume published in this pioneering series initiated by the IIS in 2009; published collaboratively with Oxford University Press (OUP). On Geography focuses on a description of the Earth and its regions, following on from previously published Epistles which offer synoptic accounts of the classical sciences and philosophies of the age, including mathematics, logic, natural philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, and theology, as well as didactic fables.

Dr Ignacio Sánchez, co-editor and translator of Epistle 4, obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge. His dissertation was on Al-Jahiz’s treatises on the Imamate. Currently, he is a research fellow at Warwick University, where he works on the Oxford/Warwick Ibn Abi Usaybi‘a Project.

Professor James Montgomery is the Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge, in addition to being a Director of Studies and Fellow of Trinity Hall. He founded the journal Middle Eastern Literatures and its monograph series Studies in Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures.

Epistle 4, On Geography is of great significance for our understanding of both the Muslim geographical tradition and the weltanschauung of the Ikhwan al-Safa’. Geography and cartography occupied a central role in Islamic civilisation, and whilst the Arabic word jughrafiya (a direct loan from the Greek) clearly signals a strong Hellenistic influence, there was much that was distinctly Muslim. For example, the attempts of Muslim geographers to describe the Earth, or Creation, can be understood as a means of praising the Creator. The Ikhwan go further still: for them, geography, as the study of the phenomenal world, reveals the rational order of the entire cosmos. In this way, the epistle highlights many of the central themes in the conceptual universe of the Ikhwan al-Safa’, such as the notion of science as a path to superior knowledge of God.

The book will appeal to all those interested in the history of geography and the evolution of geographical understanding in tandem with scientific knowledge, as well as to those who have a wider interest in medieval Muslim thought and the Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’.

The next volume in this series, On Astronomy: An Arabic Edition and Annotated Translation of Epistle 3, edited and translated by Jamil Ragep and Taro Mimura, is also due to be published in 2015.