Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies
The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (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 Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (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.
The final section of the Rasāʾil, on the theological sciences, begins with a lengthy Epistle on religions, succeeded by Epistle 43, which opens this present volume. Here we find a concise explanation of the need to purify one’s soul by performing virtuous acts, after which one can follow the ‘straight path’ to God. The extremely diverse Epistle 44 adopts a more narrative approach, characterized by delightful anecdotes designed to inform the reader of a deeper truth: that of the hereafter following the soul’s separation from the body at death. Alongside many Qurʾanic references are various indications of a familiarity with other religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism. Epistle 45 focuses on companionship, resonating strongly with the word ‘Brethren’ by which the authors distinguish themselves. The volume overall is united in its underlying themes addressing the immortality of the soul and the profound need for mutual co-operation. It is informed by the general Neoplatonism of the entire corpus, as well as by Aristotelian and Platonic motifs.
Foreword, Nader El-Bizri
Introductions and Translations
Epistles 43–45 (Technical Introduction), Samer Traboulsi
Epistle 43, Toby Mayer
Epistle 44, Ian Richard Netton
Epistle 45, Ian Richard Netton
Risāla 43, Samer Traboulsi
Risāla 44, Samer Traboulsi
Risāla 45, Samer Traboulsi
Samer Traboulsi is Professor of History of the Middle East and the Muslim World at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He received his PhD in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University in 2005. He is mainly interested in the formation and development of religious groups in the Muslim world, and he has published on the Ismailis in Yemen, the rise of the Wahhābī movement, and the history of Saudi Arabia.
Toby Mayer is a Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS). After his BA in Indian Studies at the University of Cambridge, he read Medieval Arabic Thought at the University of Oxford, with a DPhil on Ibn Sīnā’s al-Ishārāt and its commentaries. He has taught courses on medieval Muslim philosophy, scriptural hermeneutics, and Sufi mysticism. Central to his research interests is the later, Ismaili-influenced, thought of al-Shahrastānī, and the reception of Avicennism.
Ian Richard Netton is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, where he specialises in medieval Islamic philosophy, comparative religion, and anthropology of religion, with a particular interest in ritual. He is the author or editor of twenty-two books and numerous articles, as well as being the Editor for three major series: Routledge Culture and Civilisation in the Middle East, the Routledge Sufi Series, and The Edinburgh History of the Islamic Empires.