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Epistles of the Brethren of purity
Epistles of the Brethren of purity is a massive collection of letters also known as Ikhwān al-Ṣafā. This anthology of epistles is considered to be one of the most fascinating bodies within Islamic philosophical literature before the coming of the Avicenna.
The letters have been widely and intensively studied within the context of the history of Islam even though there is no unanimous agreement on whether the anonymous authors of the letters belonged to the Islamic traditions or not (One World 1). The Brethren concept is generally perceived with a lot of recognition as significant evidence mainly focusing on the impact of Greek during the entire tenth century, a time that these epistles are thought to have been composed.
It is also important to note that there are numerous earlier editions, which continued to be improved, giving rise to the current known Epistles of the Brethren of purity. Together with an array of letters, literature findings and analysis of these letters remain fundamentally rooted in the Islamic culture and identity.
This essay analyses Arabic poems relating to Islam with reference to Epistles of the Brethren of purity. To achieve this noble task the essay further synthesizes what the author means by these works together with highlights and relationships to philosophical and theological topics.
It is doubtless that the Epistles of the Brethren of purity had huge intellectual Muslim leading lights that were advanced and adopted after its authorship, with its transmission reaching far places especially in the Muslim world. As a result, there was legitimization and popularization of the Platonism in the entire Arab world. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the authorship of this collection has lacked unanimity as the identity of the minds behind it remains anonymous.
However, the collection’s authorship has been closely associated with groups including but not limited to Sunni, Nusairi, Rosicrucians, Sufi, Isma’ili and Mu’tazili. In addition, the “Brethren of Purity” remains mysterious in describing the works of this collection of letters. This was a group that was mainly composed of Arabic scholars in the current Iraq during the 10th century CE. It has been agreed that the group authored at least fifty-two rasa’il even though the authorship of the “Summary” remains uncertain (One World 1).
Epistles of the Brethren of purity cover a wide range of topics including music, mathematics, philosophy, logic, physical and natural sciences and theology among others. The collection carries a neoplatonic outlook with integrated Greek philosophy intertwined with Islamic, astrological and Gnostic schools of thought. Others regard the Brethren of purity as free thinkers since they never rubbished rival religions or schools of thought (One World 3).
From a general perspective, the epistles covered areas which educated people were expected to master during that era. Their increased abstractness is believed to have been important in dealing with pantheistic philosophy that revolves around the emanated nature of the soul, reunion at death, the concept of doomsday and Allah.
Philosophical and Theological relationships
As mentioned before, among the areas widely covered in the Epistles of the Brethren of purity are philosophy and theology. The “four spiritual” principles were essential and metaphysical. They were simply an explanation of Plotinus trio approach of thought, soul and the one creator. A great portion of this philosophy converges at several points with Aristotle’s well known views and ideas.
According to the authors, there is a mundane hierarchy emanating from creator to the universal intellect, universal soul then through the prime matter. The hierarchy consisted of a total of nine members who included nature, the absolute body, the sphere, the Four Elements, the beings, animals, vegetables and minerals (Steigerwald 1). Additionally, these members increased in subdivisions depending on their position in the hierarchy.
According to this philosophical approach, the absolute body forms part of the prime matter, a spiritual form that stems from the universal soul. On the other hand, the universal soul falls in the same category and stems from the universal intellect.
Moreover, Epistles of the Brethren of purity did not fully follow the Pythagorean doctrines. It did not agree with transmigration of the soul and the Platonic idea and affirmed that people had the capability of learning what was good and avoid sinful life of the world thus attaining paradise, Allah and salvation (Steigerwald 1).
This was actualized through reading and studying of wise books. They also considered their religious brotherhood as a salvation ship in which they welcomed other people with varying stances. The ship was expected to sail from the sea of matter to the paradise through mutual cooperation, righteousness and asceticism.
The author further discusses how a believer can reach, the creator through a clean life. In the fullness of its description, the collection further notes that the creator can only be reached through the soul, considered as the only pure member of human beings (Steigerwald 1). The Epistles of the Brethren of purity also explain religious beliefs and practices that have to be observed by Muslims and members of the ship of salvation.
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On the other hand, pain and death are recognized and authors agree that human beings have to accept suffering in order to realize a better life in paradise. Social intercourse is also emphasized with Muslims expected to have mercy and sympathy for others in time of need through mutual assistance. In general the collection covers a wide range of philosophical and theological topics which define the concept of the body, soul and matter together with their relationships with the creator.
One World. “Esotericism.” One World Publications, 2011. Web.
Steigerwald, Diana. “Ikhwan al-safa’ – the Brethren of Purity.” Ismaili Web, 2012. Web. <http://www.amaana.org/ikhwan/ikhwan7.html>.