• The Ikhwan al-Safa' (Brethren of Purity), the anonymous adepts of a tenth-century esoteric fraternity based in Basra and Baghdad, hold an eminent position in the history of science and philosophy amongst Muslims due to the wide reception and assimilation of their monumental encyclopaedia, the Rasa'il Ikhwan al-Safa' (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity). The present volume is the seventh of this definitive series consisting of the very first critical edition of the Rasa'il in Arabic, complete with the first fully annotated English translation. Prepared by James Montgomery and Ignacio Sánchez, Epistle 4: 'On Geography' contains a description of the Earth and its climes which is extremely useful for understanding both the Islamic geographical tradition and the thought of the Ikhwan al-Safa'.

    This epistle, which was one of the few geographical works translated into Latin in Medieval Europe, clearly shows the acquaintance of its authors with the Greek Ptolemaic tradition, and allows us to trace the main sources used in its composition, namely al-Farghani and al-Khwarizmi. But it is also a propaedeutic work aimed at providing the intellectual tools needed to decipher the signs of God's Creation, and at understanding the phenomena of the sub-lunar world in light of the cosmological order. In this regard, 'On Geography' epitomises many of the central themes in the conceptual universe of the Ikhwan al-Safa', such as the conception of science as a path towards superior knowledge of God, and the relationship between microcosmos and macrocosmos as part of the divine design.

  • Acknowledgements
    Technical Introduction
    Epistle 4: On Geography
    Select Bibliography
    Risala 4 (Arabic Text & Variants)

  • Ikhwan al-Safaʾ

    Rasaʾil Ikhwan al-Safaʾ, ed. Butrus al-Bustani. 4 vols. Beirut: Dar Sadir and Dar Bayrut, 1377/1957, 2004.

    Kitab Ikhwan al-Safaʾ wa-Khullan al-Wafaʾ li’l-imaminfo-icon al-humam qutbinfo-icon al-aqtab mawlana Ahmad ibn ʿAbd Allah, ed. Wilayat Husayn. 4 vols. Bombay: Matbaʿat Nukhbat al-Akhbar, 1305–1306/1887–1889.

    Rasaʾil Ikhwan al-Safaʾ wa-Khullan al-Wafaʾ, ed. Khayr al-Dininfo-icon al-Zirikli. 4 vols. Cairo: al-Matbaʿa al-ʿArabiyya bi-MiSr al-Tijariyya al-Kubra. 1346/1928. NB The full reference to specific volumes of the current series of editions of the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity is given under ‘Primary and Secondary Sources’, under the names of the contributors.

    For Epistles 1–2 see Nader El-Bizri, On Arithmetic and Geometry; for Epistle 5 see Owen Wright, On Music; for Epistles 10–14 see Carmela Baffioni, On Logic; for Epistle 52a see Godefroid de Cattalaÿ and Bruno Haflants, On Magic I.

    <--break->Primary and Secondary Sources

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  • Ignacio Sánchez

    Ignacio Sánchez obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2011. He has worked at the Cambridge University Library during 2010-2012, as part of the he team of the Oxford and Cambridge Islamic Manuscripts Catalogue Online Project, and the Digital Library. Currently he has a postdoctoral research position at the Institute of Historical Sciences of the Humboldt University (Berlin), where he collaborates in an interdisciplinary project to write an encyclopedia of medieval endowments and charitable foundations.Read more

    James Montgomery

    J.E. Montgomery is a Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge. He studied Arabic and Ancient Greek at Glasgow University (1980-1984), spent two years at Oxford (1984-1986), where he was a Snell Exhibitioner at Balliol College before taking up a lectureship at Glasgow (1986-1992). Senior Lectureships at Oslo and Leeds preceded his move to Cambridge in 1997. His latest publication is Al-Jahiz: In Praise of Books (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013).Read more