• The Ikhwan al-Safaʾ (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 in Islam due to the wide reception and assimilation of their monumental encyclopaedia, the Rasa'il Ikhwan al-Safaʾ (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity). This compendium contains fifty-two epistles offering synoptic accounts of the classical sciences and philosophies of the age; divided into four classificatory parts, it treats themes in mathematics, logic, natural philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, and theology, in addition to didactic fables.

    Epistles 32 to 36 comprise the first five treatises in the third division of the Rasa’il, on the sciences of the soul and intellect. Combining Islamic revelation with Hellenistic philosophy, the Ikhwān delineate herein their metaphysical system. Epistles 32 and 33 present adaptations of the Pythagorean doctrines, and of Neo-Platonist leitmotifs, whereby a numerical analogy is applied to the unique and transcendent God, or the One, from whom all existence emanates. Epistle 34 takes up the pervasive theme of the correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm, situating the human being as the central link between the celestial and terrestrial realms. In Epistle 35, we find an explanation of the intellectual faculties of the individual human soul, whose ultimate aim is ascension to the timeless reality of pure intellect. Finally, Epistle 36 presents itself as the astrological epistle par excellence of the Rasa’il; from the coming-to-be of worms, to the emergence of religions and empires, nothing in the sub-lunar sphere escapes the determining influence of the celestial cycles.

  • Paul E. Walker

    An historian of ideas with a focus on Mediaeval Islamic History, Paul E. Walker has taught at McGill University, Columbia University and the University of Michigan. For several years Dr Walker was the Director of the American Research Centre in Egypt, and is currently a Visiting Scholar with the University of Chicago's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He has authored and edited many books on Fatimid history and the formative period of Ismaili thought including Early Philosophical Shi'ism (Cambridge University Press, 1993), The Wellsprings of Wisdom: A Study of Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani's Kitab...Read more

    Godefroid de Callataÿ

    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. Amongst other subjects, he is the author of numerous articles and books on the Brethren of Purity, including his...Read more