The medieval Mediterranean littoral was a region inhabited by people of diverse ethnic backgrounds and religious persuasions. This was evident in 10th century Egypt, the mainstay of Fatimid domains, a land in which lived Arabs, Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Berbers and Sudanese - among whom were Sunni and Shia Muslims, Coptic, Melkite and Nestorian Christians, as well as Rabbanite and Qaraite Jews. It was in this milieu that the Fatimids established the first Shi‘i Empire across the southern shores of the Mediterranean, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
This lecture will discuss how developing themes found in the Qur’an and culled from Greek and Jewish, Indian and other sources, Muslim thinkers forged a compelling humanism, precious in the classical age and deserving recovery and reconstruction in our own. The literary form of the risāla (or essay), which developed from the letter writing familiar to the secretarial class, significantly contributed to Islamic humanism. For the informality of a letter overcomes the stiffness of a treatise, the intensity of oratory the and sidesteps the agonistic potential of many a dialogical exchange. The intimacy of address to a friend establishes a sense of privacy and confidentiality even as it modestly vouches for the need that publication seeks to serve. So we readily appreciate the use of the risāla form in the philosophical essays of al-Kindī and in those of the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, where Indian fables mingle with Greek philosophy and science, Arabic lore and poetry. Ibn ufayl and Maimonides in his wake adopt the risāla form for just these reasons.
Sciences of the Soul and Intellect, Part I; An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistles 32-36 has a strong cosmological orientation, with a particular focus on the relationship between microcosm and macrocosm, earthly and celestial. The content of this publication is more metaphysical and abstract, whilst in a sense also more human.
Dr Farhad Daftary and Dr Gurdofarid Miskinzoda visited Atlanta, Austin and Houston in the USA to launch the first two publications of the Shi‘i Heritage Series. Dr Miskinzoda also visited Nairobi, Kenya, where she conducted further presentations on the Series.
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.