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Ikhwan al-Safa’

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-H051-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

The philosophy of the group of Arab philosophers of the fourth or fifth century AH (tenth or eleventh century ad) known as the Ikhwan al-Safa’ (Brethren of Purity) is a curious but fascinating mixture of the Qur’anic, the Aristotelian and the Neoplatonic. The group wrote fifty-two epistles, which are encyclopedic in range, covering matters as diverse as arithmetic, theology, magic and embryology. Their numerology owes a debt to Pythagoras, their metaphysics are Aristotelian and Neoplatonic and they incorporate also a few Platonic notions into their philosophy. The latter, however, is more than a mere synthesis of elements from Greek philosophy, for it is underpinned by a considerable Qur’anic substratum. There are profound links between the epistemology and the soteriology (doctrine of salvation) of the Ikhwan, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the former feeds the latter. In the history of Islamic philosophy the Ikhwan illustrate a group where the Aristotelian and the Neoplatonic clash head-on and where no attempt is made to reconcile competing and contradictory notions of God, whom the Epistles treat in both Qur’anic and Neoplatonic fashion. The final goal of the Ikhwan is salvation; their Brotherhood is the ship of that salvation, and they foster a spirit of asceticism and good living accompanied by ‘actual knowledge’ as aids to that longed-for salvation.

Citing this article:
Netton, Ian Richard. Ikhwan al-Safa’, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-H051-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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