The New International Encyclopædia/Sincere Brethren

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The New International Encyclopædia
Sincere Brethren
Edition of 1905. See also Brethren of Purity on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

SINCERE BRETHREN (Ar. Ikhwān al-Safā wa-Khullān al-Wafā, the Sincere Brethren and True Friends). A transcendental and scientific order of esoteric nature in Islam, existing at Basra, on the Lower Euphrates, about 1000. (See Shiites.) Little is known of the personality of the members, the leader of whom may have been one Zayd ibn Rifaa. It was a constituent part of their philosophy that perfection could only be reached through the coöperation of souls, each contributing its share to the common treasury of goodness and knowledge; hence logically their association took the form of an esoteric society with a simple organization into which any sincere and helpful-spirited man could enter. The order was divided into four ideal grades: the first for the younger members, and for those of practical ability; the second for those over thirty years, who could fulfill the office of teachers; the third for those over forty, who could rule in the society, their authority being one of mildness and admonition; the fourth for those who were fit to attain the vision of God. The Epistles of the Sincere Brethren (Rasāil Ikhwān al-Ṣafā) consists of fifty-one treatises and is an encyclopædia of the Arabic philosophy of the age, methodically arranged, and bound together by the philosophy of the order. This is based upon Neo-Platonic and other late Greek philosophies, with evident contributions from Oriental mysticism, the authors being Shiite. The doctrine is that of an All-Soul, which first projects matter from itself, and continuously spiritualizes it by emanations; on the other hand, these soul-parts naturally yearn for return to their origin. But this redemption is hampered by the opposition of spirit and matter. The ethics of the encyclopædia, therefore, inculcates the gradual self-purification of those who recognize their spiritual birthright away from sense to God. But while ethically dualistic, the encyclopædia has a pantheistic metaphysics, and is interested in all created things as being immediately derived from God. Hence the work becomes an encyclopædia of all knowledge. The work has been made known to modern Europe through the labors of Dieterici in a series of translations of almost all but the last quarter of the book, published between 1861 and 1872 (Berlin and Leipzig), concluding with a general survey in Die Philosophie der Araber (Leipzig, 1876-79). He has also published as a translation one of the episodes, Der Streit zwischen Mensch und Thier (Berlin, 1858), and its original (ib., 1879); also a selection of the original texts in Abhandlungen der Ichwān es-Safā (ib., 1883-86). Consult also: Flügel, in Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, vol. xiii.; and Lane-Poole, Studies in a Mosque (London, 1883).