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.
In Epistle 49, the Brethren utilize an array of sources, predominantly Hellenic and Islamic, in probing the entire hierarchy of existence, from the nature of God to the most basic elements. Epistle 50 describes the ‘proper attitudes’ towards body and soul for the attainment of wellness in this world and the hereafter, before addressing religious and philosophical worship. Lastly, in Epistle 51, the Brethren again consider the arrangement of the world as a whole in terms of Pythagorean number theory. With this penultimate epistle the encyclopedia thus comes full-circle, in preparation for the final epistle (on magic), directing the reader back to the topic of numbers with which the corpus begins.
Foreword, Nader El-Bizri
Introductions and Translations
Note on Epistle 49, Wilferd Madelung
Epistle 49a and 49b, Cyril V. Uy II
Epistle 50, Carmela Baffioni
Epistle 51a and 51b, Nuha Alshaar
Risāla 49a and 49b, Wilferd Madelung and Cyril V. Uy II
Risāla 50, Carmela Baffioni
Risāla 51a and 51b, Nuha Alshaar
Wilferd Madelung was previously Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford, and is now a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London. He has published widely and holds various editorial positions, including as Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia Islamica (2008–).
Cyril Uy holds a BA in Religious Studies from Yale University and an MPhil in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Cambridge. He is currently pursuing a PhD at Brown University, where his research focuses on mystics and philosophers in the medieval Islamic world.
Carmela Baffioni is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, having previously been Professor of the History of Muslim Philosophies and Sciences at the University of Naples 'L'Orientale'. She has published monographs on the transmission of Greek thought into Islam and the history of Islamic philosophy; her translations include works by the Brethren of Purity, al-Fārābī, Averroes, and al-Shahrastānī.
Nuha Alshaar (PhD Cantab) is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, where her focus has been on ethical concepts in early Qur'an interpretation, and on the relationship between the Qur'an, tafsīr and classical literary traditions (adab). She also teaches Islamic Intellectual History and Thought and Arabic Literature at the American University of Sharjah. Her publications include Ethics in Islam: Friendship in the Political Thought of al-Tawḥīdī and his Contemporaries (2015) and, as editor, Qur'an and Adab: The Shaping of Literary Traditions in Classical Islam (2017).