References and Further Reading 1. It is in this complex pre-Fatimid period that Jabir ibn Hayyan d. In the 9TH century, Greek-to-Arabic translations proliferated, first by the intermediary of Syriac then directly. Nasr, , p. Philosophical Sciences The incorporation of philosophical and theological doctrines in their writings were done teleogically.

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All of these men came from Basra and were linked to the Chancellery secretary Zayd b. Stern, ; Stern, The most convincing hypothesis seems to be that which links the name to the content and goals of the encyclopedia — the salvation of soul through attainment of knowledge and purification of heart Diwald , 16— As to the date, in the 19th century F.

On the basis of astronomical data, Casanova moved the dates about a century forward, assigning the work to the years — The traces of classical thought in the encyclopedia, as well as their literary form, equally give an indication that the work was assembled in the course of several decades between the 9th and the first half of the 10th century, and that it may have undergone further elaborations.

The supposed reworking of the whole by members of the Brotherhood might also have shifted some Epistles from their original to their present place. Even the headings of the four sections of the encyclopedia are misleading. The way in which the treatises follow one another is often inconsistent. The authors must have planned a special use of the enormous amount of foreign philosophical and scientific knowledge that is explained in the treatises and to develop it in relation to the doctrinal conflicts and political changes that were occurring in their own times.

In , the Sunni orthodoxy in the person of the caliph al-Mustanjid judged the work heretical and sent the existing versions to be burnt. Yet in spite of this, the encyclopedia survived and was translated into Persian and Turkish Corbin, , — He gave an esoterical interpretation of the religious, philosophical, and the Brotherhood rites described in Epistle 50 On the kinds of administration Corbin Stern , — and Diwald , 26ff.

Epistle 48, Marquet claims, was written before , and almost entirely preserved in its original form; but even if it was composed after the advent of the Fatimids, its meaning would not have been perverted Marquet , 77— In general, the evidence supporting such theories derives mostly from doctrines or parts of doctrines hinted at in the encyclopedia. The main lines of research in this field were resumed in Kraemer , — Recent studies on aspects of this work by Baffioni b, Each Epistle starts by stating its particular goal.

The Epistles vary in length and their style is plain. There are, however, numerous ambiguities, due to language and vocabulary, often of Persian origin, and to mistakes in the transmission of the text.

Bausani , 11 thinks the authors were of Persian origin. In general, however, the doctrines are fully and clearly exposed, with repetitions where necessary to the didactic function of the treatises. Diwald , 12—15 has even wondered whether there were in fact several authors of the encyclopedia because of the use at times of the first person singular.

The basic question, of course, is whether the authors unify the doctrines of more numerous groups, as suggested by the different contexts and even their inconsistencies. Though elaborating them in an original way, he had not tried to combine such doctrines with the basics of Muslim faith. Theological considerations remain parallel with philosophical issues. It should provide at every level, from the most elementary to the most complex, the necessary premises for the acquisition of ultimate knowledge — the knowledge of God.

Then, authentically Muslim thought — religious in the strict sense — begins with the substitution of the schemes of Greek philosophy for those of the Sacred Text. This is what I. Ancient knowledge is the basis on which the patrimony of faith is built: sciences are significant not merely in themselves so much as a partial reflection of the single and unique divine Being.

This view, however, is challenged by their attitude, to see the ultimate goal of their gnosiological experience as an attempt of separating the soul from the ties of matter and purifying it to achieve happiness in the hereafter see also Reymond , ; Raymond , For them, purification can be reached by following prophetic revelation with the help of reason. Certainly, the study of ancient sciences is not viewed, as by "orthodox theologians", as a vehicle of heresy and even atheism.

Rather, sciences explain the underlying reality of the universe and so allow rational understanding of the contents of Revelation and of religious Law. The blending of scientific and religious issues is evident from the beginning. Sciences should be the main topic in the first and the second sections and, partially, in the third, and theology in the rest of the corpus.

Thus religion should not be underestimated in order to attain the best comprehension of its various contents and real aims. Various cultural elements come together in the Epistles: Babylonian, Indian and Iranian astrology, Indian and Persian narrative, biblical quotations and cabbalistic influences, references to the New Testament and Christian gnosis A good survey of these contents can be found in Netton , 53ff.

In spite of the commixtion of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic ideas — e. The encyclopedia can thus be considered a compendium of foreign sciences, deserving attention even by those who are only interested to ascertain the extent of what the Arabs knew of ancient doctrines at that time. When such comparisons are not possible, the ancient excerpta usually correspond to the extant original texts. The story of Giges is analyzed in Baffioni , —, — Platonic references in the encyclopedia are also scarce.

The majority of them are found in the fourth section and concern the trial and death of Socrates. There is also a hint at the doctrine of reminiscence, that is seldom mentioned in Muslim sources; cf.

The Platonic references are religiously rather than philosophically oriented. That can perhaps be explained by the influence of the Hellenistic curricula scientiarum courses of study designed for philosophers.

Their source is here Plato or, rather, his Hellenistic reading Kraus , 99, note 4. Arithmetic, geometry and music are later approached together in Epistle 6 On proportions.

References for the various sciences are, generally identifiable: Euclid, Nicomachus and sometimes even Archimedes for mathematical tenets Epistles 1, 2 and 6 ; Ptolemy supports astronomy and geography Epistles 3 and 4 ; the Pythagoreans and again Nicomachus are the sources for musical theory Epistles 5 and 6.

The Greeks already saw arithmetic and geometry as the necessary, though not unique, means of attaining philosophical knowledge. There is no place for poetry or for rhetorical devices in the encyclopedia.

Dialectics increases damaging opposition among the learned. Heck , 11 for a new perspective on this issue. This might be due to the religious aims of the encyclopedia. Logic is no longer a simple instrument of science as it was for Aristotle, but a true science, perhaps the most important one.

So, the table can be considered as evidence of the fact that the whole encyclopedia has been produced during a very long period of time. On the one hand, it might have been retained as a first draft of the future enterprise; on the other, it shows the further elaborations of the corpus over the centuries. Epistles 7 and 8 explicitly recall the Aristotelian division of the theoretical and practical sciences.

I, , 20—, 4. Lewis ; Marquet ; Daftary , ; and more recently, Yasien Epistle 9 breaks the series of the scientific treatises. Various moral behaviours are considered, with the support of a long series of anecdotes about prophets and wise men. Epistles 6, 16 and The composed and eclectic character of the whole is even more evident in the three other sections.

Epistle 15 echoes the themes addressed in the Physics. Epistle 17 deals with De generatione and corruptione.

The Ikhwanian treatise deals with mineralogy, geology and gemmology and in the correspondence established between the celestial and sub-lunar worlds, between the stars and minerals, it expresses one of the main tenets of alchemy. Further Aristotelian echoes are found in Epistle 24 On sense and sensation, to which Epistle 35 On intellect and intelligible corresponds in the third section.

It is discussed in terms of the relationship between soul and body in Epistles 27 e 28, life and death in Epistle 29, and pleasures in Epistle The Aristotelian theory of the immovable mover, which is introduced in Epistle 37 On love, to explain the movement imparted to stars by the heavenly Universal Soul accomplishes its religious meaning. It serves to confirm the love human beings feel for permanence and their hatred for death: God is the most beloved as the everlasting cause of all beings.

On the other hand, natural treatises reflect the availability of the rich range of mineralogical, botanical and agricultural works, but none of the works by Aristotle on minerals or plants were known to the Arabs.

In fact, it places the whole matter within the well-known metaphysical dispute on the superiority of man on animals besides some attempts of viewing it even in an "ecological perspective"; see, more recently, Darraz ; Raymond , It is considered to be a new idea introduced by Islamic scientists, from whom it passed into the Latin world.

Greek sources for Epistle 37 on love also vary. The real deviation from Aristotelianism is Epistle 20 On nature. In that it shows how nature as taught by Aristotle was received and theorized by the authors, this treatise could serve as the perfect introduction to the section on natural sciences. However, its main part regards angelology.

These treatises demonstrate beyond doubt that these authors considered themselves true Muslim Pythagoreans. The Pythagorean idea of the one as the principle of numbers, and not as a number itself explains that God is the origin of beings, and not a being like others.

If God is like the one, the Active Intellect is compared to number 2, the Universal Soul to number 3 and Nature or Matter to number 4 cf. Epistle 40, III, , 5. The whole reality is considered under a numerological perspective. Every aspect of nature — and even of religion — follows a numeric pattern. Among the other philosophical schools and doctrines quoted in the encyclopedia an important role is played by hermetism the religion of the philosophical elite in Ancient Egypt, founded by Hermes Trismegistus , as in Epistle 3 On astronomy and, more broadly, in Epistle 52 Marquet , Ancient theories on the movements of the stars will finally evolve in Epistle 36 On cycles and revolutions into that which, following Cumont, G.

The religious component Just like philosophy, as a way towards salvation, is an imitation of God and implies that the disciple is provided not only of an acute mind, but also of a pure heart through which God will be recognized as the sole and the supreme teacher in knowledge and deeds, as the Holy Book demonstrates, cf.

This brings us back to the second aspect of the encyclopedia, its religious commitment. They also deal with doctrinal questions linked to religion.

It also develops the apologetic side of Ikhwanian thought. Epistle 45 expounds the organization of the Brotherhood based on mutual help. Epistle 46 considers the faith, not only of Islam, but also of the former monotheistic religions and of the ancient wise men. Epistle 47 considers prophecy and the imamate. Epistle 48 discusses propaganda.

Epistle 51 duly gathers up the threads of the whole, followed by Epistle 52 on magic. Epistle 40 On causes and effects addresses the crucial problem of the origin of the world. So, the ancients are defended from the charge of eternalism cf.


Ikhwān aṣ-Ṣafāʾ

The story concerns a Barbary dove and its companions who get entangled in the net of a hunter seeking birds. Soon a tortoise and gazelle also join the company of animals. After some time, the gazelle is trapped by another net; with the aid of the others and the good rat, the gazelle is soon freed, but the tortoise fails to leave swiftly enough and is himself captured by the hunter. In the final turn of events, the gazelle repays the tortoise by serving as a decoy and distracting the hunter while the rat and the others free the tortoise.



Some scholars claim they are 50 in number while others maintain 51 and yet others 52 or There is a great deal of controversy about every aspect of this pathbreaking encyclopaedic work. Who wrote these epistles and when? There are no easy answers forthcoming as far as scholarly controversies are concerned.

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