THE BRETHREN OF SINCERITY
NOTE: For a synopsis of this document and more information about the history of Alamut please refer to my Index to the History of Alamut.
THE BRETHREN OF SINCERITY
"Towards the end of the tenth century there appeared in Basra the eclectic school of philosophy known as Ikhuan al-Safa, or the Brethren of Sincerity. Their name derives from a story concerning a ringdove in which a group of animals managed to escape the snares of a hunter by acting as faithful friends, that is, as the ikhuan al-safa. Thus the term does not necessarily imply any kind of 'brotherhood'. This strange and secretive Isma'ili sect aimed to overthrow the existing political order by undermining the predominant intellectual systems and religious beliefs. Their doctrines, which were a synthesis of Semitic and Neoplatonic ideas with leanings towards Pythagorean speculation, were expounded in a collection of fifty-one epistles know as the Rasa'il."
"Fundamentally, the authors of these epistles formulated a doctrine which they believed led to God's favor and the attainment of paradise. They suggested that this path, in order to avoid the errors which had crept into orthodox Islam, led to perfection by; means of a synthesis of Arab religious laws and Greek philosophy. Neoplatonism underlies the harmony between revealed religion and philosophical speculation, while they drew on Aristotle for logic and Pythagoras provided their particular reverence for numbers. Thus the system represents a remarkable synthesis of monotheism, Greek philosophy, elements of Persian religion and Hindu mysticism."
"Isma'ilis believe that the Rasa'il was written by Imam Ahmad, one of their hidden imams, although it seems more likely that it was written by several authors. These epistles constitute an encyclopedia of knowledge at that time. Al-Ghazzali, perhaps the greatest of all Islamic theologians was influenced by the ideas of the Brethren and was himself a great influence on Dante and St Thomas Aquinas, as well as exercising enormous influence throughout Islam. Their ideals also entered Christian scholasticism through the works of Avicenna (Ibn-Sina)."
"The two great Assassin Grand Masters, Hasan-i Sabbah and Rashid al-Din Sinan, both have close links with these epistles. We know that Rashid, chief of the Syrian Assassins and original 'Old Man of the Mountains', used the writings in the Rasa'il diligently, while in the eighth epistle of the second section there is a spiritual portrait of the ideal man which is uncannily close to the person and ideals of Hasan-i Sabbah: this ideal man would be 'Persian in origin, Arab by religion, Iraqi by culture, Hebrew in experience, Christian in conduct, Syrian in asceticism, Greek by the sciences, Indian by perspicacity, Sufi by his way of life, angelic by morals, divine by his ideas and knowledge, and destined for eternity'."
"The religion of Mohammed is presented as having been rough and ready, simplified for simple desert folk, while additions from Christianity and Zoroastrianism rendered it more perfect as a system of revelation."
"The ordinary man requires a sensuous worship of God; but just as the souls of animals and plants are beneath the soul of the ordinary man, so above it are the souls of the philosopher and the prophet with whom the pure angel is associated. In the higher stages the soul is raised also above the lower popular religion with its sensuous conceptions and usages."
"This classification of philosophy introduced the concept of steps of graded knowledge. To each of the four sections of the Rasa'il corresponded a grade which was fixed by age - reminiscent of Plato's Republic. Young men of fifteen to thirty whose souls are completely submissive to the teachers for the first grade. In the second grade, between thirty and forty, these men are introduced to secular wisdom and receive an analogical knowledge of things. Then in the third grade, from forty to fifty, they are given access to the Divine Law of the world. Finally, over fifty years old and in the fourth grade, the aspirant will see the true reality of things, like the blessed angels. Then he becomes exalted above nature, doctrine and law. Although the grades increased, first to seven and then to nine, this is recognizably the basis of later esoteric forms of Isma'ilism including the Assassins."
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