‘For Those with Eyes to See’: On the Hidden Meaning of the Animal Fable in the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ

‘For Those with Eyes to See’: On the Hidden Meaning of the Animal Fable in the Rasāʾil... Abstract Does the famous animal fable, as narrated by the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ in Epistle 22 of their Rasāʾil, possess an inner meaning? The issue is not new, but it may be useful to address it again today, considering the recent, significant re-evaluation of the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity in the overall history of medieval thinking. It is also important to return to this issue since it was largely left aside by the editors of Epistle 22 who are part of the ongoing project by Oxford University and the Ismaili Institute to critically edit the entire collection of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ. In the present article, I argue that the Ikhwān’s animal fable does indeed contain an esoteric level of reading and that it must be understood in line with the Brethren’s Ismaʿili or Ismaʿili-like aspirations but also, and more importantly, with their wish to take an approach as universal and syncretic as possible. The following motifs are discussed in detail: a) God’s Intimates; b) Seventy / Seventy-Two; c) Seven; d) Yaʿsūb, Commander of the Bees; e) the Return of the Conjunction; f) Equator. INTRODUCTION The animal fable as narrated by the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ in their Rasāʾil is, without doubt, the most famous part of the Brethren’s encyclopaedic corpus. The work clearly stands out in medieval literature on animals by addressing a great number of issues that remain even today central to man’s reflection about himself and his place in the universe. The fable features a trial in which legatees of the animal cause sue man for unjust treatment and literally box him into a corner. Man’s physical and intellectual abilities, his religious and metaphysical aspirations, his moral conduct, his rights and obligations vis-à-vis the rest of creation are all bitterly called into question throughout the narrative until the very last part when man saves the game in extremis by adducing the immortality of his soul. This fascinating piece of fictional literature seems to have enjoyed great fame ever since the time of its compilation, being a source of inspiration to many thinkers, within the Muslim world and outside it. Recently, I have argued that it was already known to the Andalusi mystic and philosopher Ibn Masarra (d. 931), and that it also proved inspirational to Ibn Ṭufayl (d. 1185) for his Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān.1 Early in the fourteenth century, the animal fable was translated into Hebrew as Igeret Baale Hayim by the Provençal Jewish author Kalonymus ben Kalonymus and has been read ever since by Jews in different parts of the world. One century later, it also became a model for Anselm Turmeda’s Disputa del Ase, a work lost in Catalan but surviving in an Old French version.2 In more recent times, the fable has also been translated into Urdu, Turkish, Persian as well as into various European idioms. This said, the overall impact of this text in Arabic and non-Arabic literatures still awaits a proper study.3 The ‘Case of the Animals versus Man before the King of the Jinn’, as the Ikhwānian animal fable is usually identified, is peculiar in various respects. It fills up about 250 pages in the recent critical edition by Lenn Goodman and Richard McGregor, making it by far the longest narrative of the entire corpus.4 In fact, it occupies the greatest part, though not all, of the longest risāla of the encyclopaedia, namely Epistle 22, which is the eighth of those epistles devoted to the corporeal and natural sciences. In manuscripts, it is actually referred to as ‘On the Species of Animals, their Marvellous Corporeal Structures and their Wondrous Peculiarities’. In this epistle, the fable is preceded by an important, non-fictional, prologue in which the authors discuss the animal world in physiological—and markedly Aristotelian—terms, in just the same way as they do with minerals and plants in the previous epistles. That the prologue and the fable itself should not be conceived of separately but on the contrary as two parts of one purposefully-intended structure is clear from the very first paragraphs of this prologue, in which the fable is announced in the following words: In our epistle on ethics we have explained that the human form is God’s deputy on earth (ṣūrat al-insāniyya hiya khalīfat Allāh fī arḍihi) and we have also explained there how the life of every human being should be [our emphasis] in such a way as to deserve to be one of God’s intimates (awliyāʾ Allāh) worthy of His blessing. In most of our epistles we have explained the excellence of man, his praiseworthy dispositions and pleasant traits, his true cognition, his wise skills, his competent management. In this epistle we wish to mention some merits of the animals, their praiseworthy dispositions, their pleasant natures, their sound character. And we shall also stress man’s oppression (ṭughyān), outrage (baghy) and violation (taʿaddī) against the rest of creatures—cattle and beasts—which serve him, as well as his ingratitude (kufrān al-niʿam) and carelessness (ghafla) vis-à-vis those to which he should be grateful. When he is virtuous and good, man is indeed a noble angel, the best [being] of the created world (malak karīm khayr al-bariyya), but when he is bad he is a cursed devil, the worst [being] of the created world (shayṭān rajīm sharr al-bariya). We have put these explanations into the mouths of the animals (jaʿalnā bayān dhālika ʿalā alsinat al-ḥayawānāt), to make the admonition (mawʿiẓa) more absolute, the lesson (khiṭāb) more evident, the narrative (ḥikāyāt) more curious, the listening (masāmiʿ) more exquisite, the reflection (afkār) more profound and the intellectual contemplation (iʿtibār) more excellent.5 These lines are crucial, as they enable us to understand another striking peculiarity of the fable. I am referring here to the sharp and admittedly shocking contrast felt by many readers between this long narrative itself, in which the authors’ high degree of sympathy (and indeed preference) for animals is clearly and immediately perceptible throughout and, on the other end, its ‘surprising dénouement’6 which sees the case ultimately resolved in favour of the humans. Surprising or shocking as it may seem, the abrupt conclusion of the fable requires to be set against the intellectual views held by the Ikhwān in the rest of their work. For, if ever there were Muslim thinkers obsessed with hierarchizing God’s creation and, specifically, with classifying the ultimate categories of generated beings in this world, these were the Brethren of Purity. As may be briefly recalled here, minerals, plants, and animals (including man) make up together, and in this order of appearance in this sublunary world, the ninth and last of the ‘limits’ (ḥudūd) of their emanation system, which is a re-elaboration of the Plotinian scheme.7 According to the Brethren, and in agreement with their Greek predecessors in philosophy, mineral souls have coming-to-be and passing-away as their sole faculty. Vegetal souls have in addition the faculties of growth and nutrition, while animals are endowed with those of feeling and moving in space, in addition to the first three powers. As for man, added to all the previous faculties is the rational soul. This faculty is what distinguishes him from the rest of creatures, and makes him the only being with the potential (quwwa) to become either a ‘noble angel’ or a ‘cursed devil’ in actuality (bi-l-fiʿl). In the prologue of our epistle is found an interesting passage in which the authors account for the difference between plants, animals and man by stating that whereas plants live upside-down (mankūsa al-intiṣāb ilā asfal) and man right-side-up (muntaṣiba), animals have an intermediary position (mutawassiṭa) with their heads facing one direction and their tails the opposite in the horizontal plane.8 In Epistle 22, as in the entire corpus, the authors fully endorse the view that ‘man is God’s deputy on His earth’—an evident reference to the Qurʾānic passage in which angels are summoned by God to prostrate before Adam, the father of mankind, as God’s ‘deputy on earth’ (Q. 2: 30–6). What is more, in the prologue of Epistle 22 the Ikhwān state that plants (and minerals) were created prior to animals precisely because [our emphasis] they ought to serve as nutriment for these latter, ‘as a mother does with her child’ (kamā tafʿalu al-wālida bi-waladi-hā).9 A few lines further, they even consider self-evident the following statement: ‘You should know, my brother, that all animals are chronologically prior to man in existence (mutaqaddimat al-wujūd ‘alā al-insān bi-l-zamān), because [our emphasis] they were [created] for him and for his sake (li-anna-hā la-hu wa-min ajli-hi)’.10 All this is more consistent with the conclusion of the fable than with the rest of the plot. The issue was nicely summarized by Sarra Tlili in a recent article: ‘What needs to be stated from the outset is that, when considered against the backdrop of the Ikhwān’s entire work, the real puzzle turns out to be the body, rather than the outcome, of the narrative. Relegating nonhuman animals to an inferior status is quite consistent with the Ikhwān’s worldview; what needs to be accounted for is how a group of authors whose interest in classification and hierarchy has been described as something that amounts at times to “a positive passion and mania”, was able to entertain such an egalitarian position, whereby nonhuman animals are assigned the same status as humans’.11 In her article, Tlili argues that this sense of egalitarianism between human and nonhuman animals as developed by the Ikhwān throughout the narrative primarily stems from the sacred book of Islam itself. Assuming—with good reason, I would think—that the Ikhwānian fable could be taken as an exegetical interpretation of the Qurʾān in its own right, Tlili’s point is to establish that the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ juxtapose in their essay on animals two different readings of the Qurʾān: one is resolutely anthropocentric whereas the other would be better defined as ‘theocentric and eco/animal-centric’. According to this reasoning, the ambivalent consideration of animals in the Qurʾān is also what enables us to justify the Brethren’s unexpected degree of sympathy for nonhuman animals, in spite of their clearly anthropocentric conceptions. As Tlili contends: ‘Proponents of both positions are able to find substantiation for their views in the Qur’an; however, thanks to a holistic, intra-textual approach, the nonhuman animals’ interpretation is consistently more convincing’.12 I would agree with this conjecture, at least to some extent, since it is also clear to me that the Ikhwān excelled at playing with the meanings of Qurʾānic expressions, perhaps to a higher degree in this epistle than anywhere else in the rest of corpus.13 But it also seems to me that Tlili’s line of argument falls short in accounting for the brusque change of perspective at the end of the narrative. In her conclusions, Tlili appears to admit this problem and hypothesizes that the Brethren might have changed their minds as they proceeded in the writing of the fable.14 SECRETS The present paper will tackle the issue from a different perspective, and with other premises. It assumes that the animal fable has reached us in its completeness, that its contents and form were planned and organized with care and that we should not suspect the authors of having deviated from their initial plan at any moment. It also presupposes that the Ikhwān’s purpose was to write a philosophical essay in which they could convey some essential aspects of their doctrine. Taking the authors at their word, it also assumes that putting the discourse into the mouth of animals allowed them to stimulate the ‘intellectual contemplation’ (iʿtibār) of their readers in a manner which would not otherwise have been possible. In the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, as in many other Neoplatonic works from the Islamic Middles Ages, iʿtibār is a concept which has a very precise meaning. The ‘intellectual contemplation of the signs’ (iʿtibār al-āyāt), in the fuller form of the expression, designates the process by which the soul of a philosopher is able to rationally infer from the contemplation of this world the same divine realities as those the prophets have brought to mankind by way of revelation. The descent of God’s revelation unto the prophets is thus analogous to the philosopher’s intellectual ascent approaching the Divine through the different levels of creation—what medieval authors usually refer to as a ‘philosophical ladder’.15 The above-mentioned passage about the ontological differences between plants, animals and man concludes with the following assertion: This design (waḍ‘) and arrangement (tartīb) which we have mentioned regarding plants, animals and man is divinely ordained (amr ilāhī), in virtue of God’s wisdom and divine providence, as an indication and an explanation (dalāla wa-bayān) for those with eyes to see (li-ūlī al-abṣār) and [those] who ponder the secrets of creation (al-nāẓirīn fī aṣrār al-khalīqa).16 Once again, we shall take the Ikhwān at their own word. In what follows we shall look for indications which the authors may have addressed, regarding the secrets of creation, to ‘those with eyes to see’—a Qurʾānic formula17 which the Ikhwān mention about fifteen times throughout the Rasāʾil. Actually, the issue of whether the Brethren’s animal fable contains this kind of coded signals, made undetectable for the average man but unmistakable to the initiate, is not new. Yves Marquet, who was thoroughly convinced that the Rasāʾil were a pure product of the Fāṭimid daʿwa, already spoke of the Ikhwānian essay on animals as a narrative with different levels of reading and stressed that it was symbolic in several respects.18 Along the same interpretative lines—although notably less assertive than Marquet about the Ismā‘īlī affiliation of the Brethren—Shlomo Pines also pointed out the text’s ‘hidden meaning, for the sake of which […] the disputation has been inserted into the R. Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’.19 More recently, Lourdes María Álvarez also noted that ‘[t]he story of the changing fortunes of the seven tribes of Man and of the seven classes of beasts, a story of the rise and fall of civilizations, can be read as a figura of Islamic history as seen from an Ismāʿīlī viewpoint’.20 As a matter of fact, the text itself is unequivocal in pointing out its hidden content. Thus, in the envoi, a section found in all of the most authoritative manuscripts retained for the recent critical edition, the authors write, regarding the way of knowing the essence of God’s intimates: We have now brought forth this knowledge, in the most concise and accessible way, in fifty-one epistles, and this epistle is one of them. May God Most-High grant you success, dear brethren, in understanding their meanings (fahm maʿānī-hā) when you read them and listen to them. May He open your hearts, release your breasts, and enlighten your eyes to know their secrets (li-maʿrifat asrāri-hā). And may He facilitate for you your labour with them, just as He did with His close and devoted intimates (kamā faʿala bi-awliyāʾi-hi wa-aṣfiyāʾi-hi wa-ahl ṭāʿati-hi).21 In the printed editions of Bombay, Cairo and Beirut—all of them regrettably silent about their use of manuscripts—we even find inserted the additional lines, which can hardly have been invented by the modern editors: Know, my Brother, that in this epistle we have explained the objective we were pursuing. Do not think badly of us and do not consider this epistle as a leisure for young children (mulāʿibat al-ṣibyān) or as a drivel of the Brethren (mukhārifat al-ikhwān) since, in accordance with our habit, we hide the realities behind words, expressions and indications (an naksūwa al-ḥaqāʾiq alfāẓan wa-ʿibārāt wa-ishārāt) so as to not depart from our subject (kaylā yakhruja bi-nā ʿammā naḥnu fī-hi).22 Actually, we need not go very far into the narrative itself to see the authors playing with the various levels of reading that a text may offer. When summoned to comment on the Qurʾānic verse ‘We have certainly created man in the best of stature’ (Q. 95. 4), the first animal representative to intervene replies: ‘Prophetic books have interpretations and commentaries (taʾwīlāt wa-tafāsīr) which are not what the external appearance of their words indicates (ghayr mā yadullu ʿalay-hā ẓāhir alfāẓi-hā), and which are known to the savants firmly-rooted in science (yaʿrifu-hā al-ʿulamāʾ al-rāsikhūn fī-l-ʿilm)’.23 In the present essay, we have chosen to base our argumentation upon motifs whose number is limited but which we are personally inclined to regard as signals of particular significance for the guidance of readers able to perceive them. These motifs, some of which are touched upon by Marquet and Pines but largely overlooked in more recent scholarship, will be discussed under the following headings: a) God’s Intimates; b) Seventy / Seventy-Two; c) Seven; d) Yaʿsūb, Commander of the of Bees; e) the Return of the Conjunction; f) Equator. GOD’S INTIMATES We shall begin our enquiry by focusing on the fable’s ‘surprising dénouement’. What settles the matter in favour of the humans and instantly reduces the rest of the assembly—animals and jinns alike—to silence is the claim that man’s soul, as opposed to that of any nonhuman animal, may hope to survive the death of the body. This is patently exemplified in various categories of eminent people—the text here mentions for instance the prophets (anbiyāʾ), the legatees (awṣiyāʾ), the imams (aʾimma), the saints (awliyāʾ)—‘who resemble the noble angels’ (bi-l-malāʾika al-kirām yatashabbahūn). It is at this critical moment of the plot that in order to better illustrate their point, the Brethren introduce the figure of an exceptional man whom they portray as ‘an accomplished savant, exceptionally intelligent and penetrating, a Persian in his lineage, an Arab in his religion, a ḥanīf in his doctrine, an ʿIrāqī in his education, a Hebrew in his inner nature, a Christian in his manners, a Syrian in his piety, a Greek in his science, an Indian in his discernment, a Ṣūfī in his conduct, with an angelic temperament, heavenly thoughts, and divine cognition’.24 What was the authors’ purpose in bringing this syncretic man—‘a composite of the highest human attributes’, in Goodman’s words25—into the discussion? From the very brief speech he delivers, and which concludes the whole fable, we understand that he is himself an example of these ‘intimates of God’ (awliyāʾ Allāh) who are ‘the élite of His creation’ (ṣafwatu-hu min khalqi-hi) and ‘the best amongst His creatures’ (khiyārat-hu min bariyyati-hi). We now find at the very end of the epistle a clue to the statement in the prologue that ‘the life of every human being should be [our emphasis] in such a way as to deserve to be one of God’s intimates’ (yanbaghī an takūna sīrat kull insān hattā yastaʾhila an yakūna min awliyāʾ Allāh). The Ikhwān’s position has not changed at all from one end of the epistle to another. Man as a species is superior to nonhuman animals because his rational soul grants him the potential to transcend his condition and to reach the angelic condition, but in reality only a chosen few—the intimates of God—are able to achieve this. And yet the same faculty also makes him capable of becoming a ‘cursed devil’, ‘the worst [being] of the created world’, and indeed the nightingale, the last of the animal representatives to intervene in the trial, does not omit to recall God’s threats to the humans and the innumerable torments awaiting them, and them alone, according to the Qurʾān.26 In the Ikhwānian doctrine, ‘awliyāʾ Allāh’ is a notion of great significance and which possesses a very particular meaning. In Epistle 38 (‘On Rebirth and Resurrection’), the Brethren affirm that the science of the Last Abode (al-ākhira) and the Return (al-maʿād), which they designate as the ‘kernel of kernels’ (lubb al-albāb) of human knowledge, ‘is a secret reserved to God’s intimates’ (sirr li-awliyāʾ Allāh) and that it is concealed from two categories of people aligned to Iblīs: Iblīs’s offspring on one hand and, on the other hand, ‘the conformists who do not understand the reality of what they confess’ (ahl al-taqlīd alladhīn lā yaʿrifūn ḥaqīqa mā muqirrūn bi-hi).27 One also finds in the same epistle a remarkable passage, much reminiscent of our ‘syncretic man’, that describes God’s intimates as ‘people for whom times and places become equal’ (qawm tastawī ‘inda-hum al-amkān wa-l-azmān) so that ‘all days have become to them but one feast, one unique Friday (fa-qad ṣārat al-ayyām kullu-hā ʿinda-hum ʿīdan wāḥidan wa-jumʿatan wāḥidatan), and all places have become to them but one mosque (wa-ṣārat al-amkān kullu-hā la-hum masjidan wāḥidan)’.28 In several places of the epistle on resurrection the Ikhwān appear to consider that ‘God’s intimates’ and ‘those firmly-rooted in science’ are the same persons. Should these outstanding people, the only ones of humankind to know the ultimate secrets of God’s creation, be regarded merely as an idealized form of abstraction or are they approachable in the flesh? In Epistle 38 the Ikhwān directly answer this question by inciting their readers to get into contact with those intimates of God, and by unequivocally affirming that ‘our Noble and Virtuous Brethren are those who know the secrets’ (wa-ʿulamāʾ al-asrār wa-hum ikhwānu-nā al-kirām al-fuḍalāʾ). Various other passages from this and other epistles could likewise be adduced to demonstrate the highly elitist character of the Ikhwān’s views on this point of doctrine.29 Turning to the final words of the animal fable, one notes that the identification therein of the awliyāʾ Allāh appears to have been deliberately left with a certain halo of mystery. For ages, the Ikhwān tell us, many have devoted their lives to describe the eminent qualities and the divine traits of God’s intimates, but ‘they have not succeeded in knowing them in their essence’ (wa-lam yablaghū kunh maʿrifati-hā).30 SEVENTY / SEVENTY-TWO On four occasions in the animal fable we find the statement that the representatives of the human kind in the trial were ‘seventy’ or ‘about seventy’ in number.31 In the case of the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, whose Pythagorean-style obsession with numbers proves at least as evident as their ‘positive passion and mania’ for hierarchy and classification, it would probably be better to be more cautious here. In her book on the significance of numbers in ancient traditions, Annemarie Schimmel listed a large series of examples of ‘70’ or ‘70-odd’ numbers found in the three Abrahamic traditions: the 70 nations, the years of the Babylonian exile, the 70 judges in the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, the 70 (or 72) scholars having produced the ‘Septuaginta’, and many more. ‘According to legend’, as Schimmel also reminds us, ‘Adam knew 70 languages, which is taken to mean all the languages of the world. In a similar vein, the Prophet Muḥammad is said to have recited the Qurʾān 70 times during his heavenly journey in the Divine Presence, and also to have asked forgiveness 70 times daily—a recurring motif in the Abrahamic religions’.32 In Islam, the ‘70’ or ’70-odd’ motif is also regularly found in connection with the famous ‘ḥadīth of division’ (ḥadīth al-tafriqa) according to which Muḥammad is meant to have said: ‘The Jews divided into seventy-one sects (firqa), the Christians into seventy-two sects, and my community will divide into seventy-three sects’. As Roy Mottahedeh observes: ‘This form of the ḥadīth is found in Abū Dāʾūd al-Sijistānī (d. 275ah/889ce), Ibn Mājah (d. 273ah/887ce), al-Tirmīdhī (d. 279ah/892ce), and al-Nisāʾī (d. 303ah/915ce), four of the six so-called “canonical” Sunni collections of ḥadīth. The ḥadīth also occurs frequently in a different version: “There will befall in my nation what befell the children of Israel. The children of Israel divided into seventy-two religious groups (millah) and my community will divide into seventy-three religious groups (millah), one more than they. All of them are in hell-fire except one religious group” ’.33 Under this or a similar form, the ‘ḥadīth of division’ became an indispensable component in Islamic heresiography, being mentioned and interpreted—in radically divergent ways, of course—by various sub-branches of Shiʿism and Sunnism alike. In the Kitāb al-shajara, a treatise compiled in the tenth century by the Qarmaṭī dā‘ī Abū Tammām, one reads a particularly interesting version of this kind of heresiography. Making use of a typically Ismaʿili terminology, Abū Tammām calls ‘satans’ (shayaṭīn) the 72 sects of Islam which cling to the ‘shell’ (qishr)—in other words the exterior aspect (ẓāhir) of religion and scripture—and which do not consider their corresponding ‘kernel’ (lubb)—that is, their inner meaning (bāṭin). To these 72 sects, which are all promised to hell, he opposes the group of those ‘partisans of the inner meaning’ (ahl al-bāṭin), the only one to have remained without dissension since Muḥammad’s time: ‘What fits exactly the words of the messenger of God, may God bless him and his family, is the fact that the proponents of external meaning have divided into seventy-two sects while the partisans of inner meanings remain in the same state they were when the messenger of God, may God bless him and his family, departed from this world. There has not occurred among them any breaking up or mutual opposition or irresolution as has occurred among the proponents of external meanings who curse and repudiate each other’.34 All this obviously makes a good deal of sense when compared to the Ikhwān’s narrative, its references to the ‘seventy’ or ‘about seventy’ representatives of humankind and to the syncretic man with his distinctive capacity to reach the angelic status. This is all the more true as Abū Tammām’s arrangement of the contents of his own treatise also seems reminiscent of the Ikhwān. As Paul Walker observes: ‘The book [as a whole i.e., Kitāb al-Shajara] is roughly organized around an inquiry into the various kinds of beings: angels, jinn, shayṭāns, iblīses, and humans, as each in turn exists, first as a potential (bi’l-quwwa) and, second, as an actuality (bi’l-fiʿl)’.35 The animal fable is indeed a work in which all these categories of beings play a role and where the central issue remains the capacity of man, primus inter pares in the animal kingdom, to reach the level of angels in actuality. In fact, the Ikhwān do refer to the ‘ḥadīth of division’ in one place of their encyclopaedia. This is in Epistle 47, devoted to the divine nomos, the conditions and characteristics of prophecy and the doctrines of divine men, which concludes on a long qaṣīda designed to illustrate the exoteric and esoteric facets of Law. One verse reads: ‘How in the division of his community he reduced to 3 after 70’ (kayfa fī tafrīqi-hi ummata-hu ʿalā thalāth baʿda sabʿīn ikhtaṣar).36 By mentioning in the animal fable ‘70 men’ or ‘about 70 men’ from various regions of the world (min buldān shattā) and by stressing in various places their difference in colours, forms, tongues and clothes, I surmise that the Brethren’s intention was to give the ḥadīth a global and more universal scope, in agreement with their syncretic views. SEVEN Let us now move from ‘seventy’ to its tenth part, i.e., ‘seven’. Although no groups of seven are explicitly mentioned as such in the fable, it can hardly escape the attention of any reader that the Ikhwānian plot features seven species of animals, and that each of these seven species is represented by one orator at the trial. The division of the animal realm into seven is made clear from the following passage: ‘They sent six individuals to six species of animals, the seventh [species] already present being that of the beasts and cattle (bahāʾim / anʿām). One messenger went to the beasts of prey (sibā‘), one to the birds of prey (jawāriḥʿ), one to the birds (ṭuyūr), one to the flying insects (ḥasharāt), one to the creeping animals (hawāmm), and one to the aquatic animals (ḥayawān al-māʾ).37 This sevenfold division of the animal kingdom is striking, although not unusual.38 Seven is also the number of humans chosen as legatees to represent humankind at the trial, and to conduct man’s cause before the assembly of the jinns and in front of the animal representatives. These seven human orators all come from different nations. They are described respectively as: (1) ‘a man from Īrān-Shahr, meaning Iraq’ (rajul min īrān shahr yaʿnī bi-hi al-ʿirāq); (2) ‘an Indian, from the island of Sarandīb’ (rajul min ahl al-hind min jazīra sarandīb); (3) ‘a Syrian, a Hebrew from the House of Israel’ (rajul min ahl al-shām ʿibrānī min āl isrāʿīl); (4) ‘a Syriac, from the House of Christ’ (rajul suryānī min āl al-masīḥ); (5) ‘a man from Tihāma, a Qurayshite’ (rajul min tihāma qurashī); (6) ‘a Byzantine from Greece’ (rajul min ahl al-rūm wa-bilād yūnān); (7) ‘a Khorasanian from Merw Shāhijān’ (rajul min ahl khurāsān min bilād marwashāhān). In a most entertaining fashion, each of these seven human legatees in his turn takes much pride in praising the incomparable achievements of his own community, only to be swiftly and bitterly put back in his place by the jinni sage for omitting to mention far less glorious facets of the same community. Not even the Muslim legatee is spared from the critics of this ‘master in determination’ (ṣāḥib al-ʿazīma), who adds: ‘Say also: we have abandoned the religion and we have, after the decease of our prophet, become again apostates, doubters and hypocrites (innā taraknā al-dīn wa-rajaʿnā murtaddīn ba‘d wafāt nabī-nā shākkīn munāfiqīn). We have killed the virtuous and most excellent imams, looking for this world instead of religion (wa-qatalnā al-aʾimma al-fāḍilīn al-khayyirīn ṭalaban li-l-dunyā bi-l-dīn).39 It appears that in writing these lines the Ikhwān pursued a double objective in reality. From a strictly ‘Islamic’ viewpoint, it was crucial for them to emphasize in the most radical manner their disagreement with and reproof of all other factions. Yet, at a more universal level, it also mattered to them to put Islam and its people on a par with the rest of human communities on the surface of the earth. As to the reason for choosing number seven, it was in this case most probably suggested to the authors by the classical models of division of the ecumene into seven areas, be it in the form of horizontal bands as in the Greek theory of climes or as six circles circumscribing a central one with the Iranian representations of kishwār-s.40 As a matter of fact, the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ even manage to concoct a sevenfold scheme when dealing with the jinn. Thus, on his vizier’s advice the king of the jinn seeks at some point to consult a group of experts stemming from different tribes of his people. These scholars are introduced as: (1) ‘the jinnī judges from the House of Birjīs’ (quḍāt al-jinn min āl birjīs); (2) ‘the jurists from the House of Nāhīd’ (al-fuqahāʾ min āl nāhīd); (3) ‘the rationalists from the tribe of Tīrān’ (ahl al-raʾy min banī tīrān); (4) ‘the sages from the House of Luqmān’ (al-ḥukamāʾ min āl luqmān); (5) ‘the experienced scholars from the tribe of Māhān’ (ahl al-tajārib min banī māhān); (6) ‘the philosophers from the House of Kaywān’ (al-falāsifa min banī kaywān); (7) ‘men of rigor and determination from the House of Bahrām’ (ahl al-ṣarāma wa-l-ʿazīma min āl bahrām).41 All but one of these names are Persian and actually correspond to a planet in ancient Iranian cosmology: Birjīs is Jupiter; Nāhīd is Venus; Tīrān is Mercury; Māhān is the Moon; Kaywān is Saturn; and Bahrām is Mars.42 The Ikhwān mention most of these names (aside from the more usual Arabic appellations) in their famous re-elaboration of the story of the Seven Sleepers at the end of the epistle on resurrection—a story to which I shall return later in the present study. One name, Luqmān, is not Persian and, as far as I know, not linked to a planet. I am unable to explain why the Ikhwān mention this name here, supposedly in correspondence with the Sun. The manuscript tradition appears to be too consistent here to propose a scribal error. This said, it is also important to bear in mind that Luqmān appears in various philosophical gnomologica as a philosophical sage. The Ikhwān’s fascination with numbers in general and with heptads in particular needs no justification. Sevenfold schemes are found all over the place in the Rasāʾil: the seven planets of the supra-lunar world and the seven layers of hell, the seven climes of the inhabited world, the seven corporeal faculties and the seven spiritual faculties of man, and so on. In a passage of our prologue mentioning the Pythagorean saying that ‘existent beings are in accordance with the nature of numbers’ (al-mawjūdāt bi-ḥasab ṭabīʿa al-aʿdād), the Ikhwān recall that the bodies of animals with a perfect constitution were given ‘seven active faculties in agreement with the first complete number and the number of planets’ (sabʿ quwā al-faʿʿāla muṭābiqan li-awwal ʿadad kāmil wa-li-ʿadad al-kawākib al-sayyāra).43 In Epistle 1, on arithmetic, the Ikhwān state that seven is the first complete number ‘because seven combines in itself the meanings of all the [preceding] numbers’ and point out that ‘this is a special property of seven, which no other number before it possesses’.44 The same passage suggests that seven has ‘other special properties (la-hā khawāṣṣ ukhar), which we will discuss when we consider the fact that existent beings are constituted in accordance with the nature of numbers’, but in fact one can hardly find any such specific discussion in the entire collection of epistles, as if the authors had considered this unnecessary given the massive presence of sevenfold schemes in their work. Indeed, in the places of the corpus where they otherwise dutifully list the special properties attached to each number, the Ikhwān appear to excuse themselves for not going into the details of number seven since, as they affirm for instance in Epistle 32 (‘On the Intellectual Principles According to the Pythagoreans’), ‘[t]hose devoted to sevens (al-sabʿiyya) went deep into uncovering existing beings that come in sevens (al-subāʿyya), and they came up with marvellous things among them (fa-ẓahara la-hum min-hā ashyāʾ ʿajība). They were infatuated with them, bragged at length about them, and neglected those [existents] that might be enumerated by other numbers’.45 In another version of the same epistle, the corresponding passage reads: ‘With regard to the sevens (al-musabbaʿāt) among the existing things, we will leave off mentioning them, since a group of those devoted to the sciences (qawm min ahl al-ʿilm) were passionate about these and went to excessive length in discussing them. They are understood as existing in the hands of these scholars’ (wa-hiya maʿrūfa mawjūda fī aydī ahl al-ʿilm).46 In Epistle 5, on music, ‘seveners’ (al-musabbiʿa) are likewise described as people ‘who were obsessed with mentioning heptads as superior to anything else’ (qad shughifū bi-dhikr al-musabbaʿāt wa-tafḍīli-hi ʿalā ghayri-hā)’—‘a partial assumption’ (naẓar juzʾī) and ‘a non-universal statement’ (kalām ghayr kullī) according to the Brethren.47 Who were these ‘Seveners’ (sabʿiyya / musabbiʿa), these scientists mad about sevens in the Ikhwān’s view? And how can the authors denounce their exaggerated views on the subject when we consider the Ikhwān’s own penchant for grouping things into heptads? Needless to say, the first branch of Islamic heresiography that spontaneously comes to mind when speaking about number seven and its symbolism is Ismaʿilism. As Annemarie Schimmel writes: ‘Seven reigns [over] the whole philosophy of the Ismā‘īlīs, the Sevener Shi‘is, who have developed a complicated system of heptads: seven prophets are the seven pillars of the House of Wisdom, the seventh imām in the succession of a prophet will bring the resurrection. From God’s creative words “Be! and it becomes”, with its seven Arabic letters (k. n. f. y. k. w. n.), are formed the principles out of which the seven primordial fountains flow. The seven prophets correspond to the seven spheres, the seven imāms in each prophetic cycle, to the seven earths’.48 In Sunni medieval sources, the term ‘sabʿiyya’ is regularly employed as a way to refer to the Ismaʿilis in a deprecatory manner. It appears as such in Ghazālī’s Faḍāʾiḥ al-bāṭiniyya, but most likely he derived the expression from older, no longer extant, Ashʿari sources.49 It is also found, with the same negative connotation, in various later authors such as the Shafīʿi doctors Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210 ce) and Sayf al-Dīn al-Āmidī (d. 1233), or the Hanbali Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) in Mamlūk times.50 Commenting on one of the passages that we have just quoted from the Rasāʾil, Carmela Baffioni indeed suggests that ‘mussabbaʿa’ and ‘sabaʿiyya’ might also be used there as pejorative terms for the Ismaʿilis, with all that this implies for the hotly debated issue of whether the Ikhwān were, or not, Ismaʿilis themselves.51 Without discarding the plausibility of Baffioni’s conjecture, there is still room, it seems, for considering alternative interpretations. We cannot rule out the possibility, for instance, that the Ikhwān are here targeting a specific group of ghuluww literature from early Islam which may have influenced the Ismaʿilis without being Ismaʿili stricto sensu.52 Whatever the identification of these Seveners, what is worth observing in all the above passages is the universal level at which the Ikhwān claim to situate themselves. As followers of Pythagoras, their credo is to attach significance to the entire series of integral numbers and not to celebrate the merits of any one in particular. YAʿSŪB, COMMANDER OF THE OF BEES At one place of the narrative the king of each species chooses among his subjects the spokesman most appropriate to defend the species at the trial. It is not explicitly stated who the king of the ‘beasts and cattle’ is—presumably the Horse (al-khayl)—, but in the case of the other six species the identification is clear. They are: the Lion (al-asad) for the beasts of prey; the Simurgh (al-shāhmurgh) for the birds; the Bee (al-naḥl) for the flying insects; the Griffin (al-ʿanqāʾ) for the birds of prey; the Sea-Dragon (al-tinnīn) for the aquatic animals; the Snake (al-thuʾbān) for the creeping animals. As for the spokesmen chosen after a long discussion, they turn out to be: the Jackal (ibn āwā); the Nightingale (al-hazār) for the birds; the Bee (al-naḥl) for the flying insects; the Parrot (al-babghāʾ) for the birds; the Frog (al-ḍifda‘) for the aquatic animals; the Cricket (al-ṣarṣar) for the creeping animals. Again, the delegate of the ‘beasts and cattle’ is not named here, but we may assume with some confidence that it is the Mule (al-baghl). How is it that the Bee is found in these two lists at the same time? The answer is provided by ‘Yaʿsūb, commander and chief of the bees’ (al-yaʿsūb amīr al-naḥl wa-zaʿīmu-hā) himself, on the occasion of a long and most peculiar intervention: ‘Among the special properties and blessings that God granted me, my fathers and my grandfathers is that He gave us kingship and prophecy (mimmā khaṣṣa-nī allāh bi-hi wa-anʿama bi-hi ʿalayya wa-ʿalā ābāʾī wa-ajdādī an atā-nā al-mulk wa-l-nubuwwa). These two gifts He made a heritage (wirātha) from my fathers and grandfathers to my children and offspring (fī awlādī wa-dhurriyyatī) to be transmitted one generation after another until the Day of Resurrection (yatawārathu-hā khalaf ʿan salaf ilā yawm al-qiyāma). These are two immense and magnificent blessings of which most creatures—be they jinn, humans or the rest of animals—are deprived’.53 In the rest of his speech, Yaʿsūb dwells at great length on the countless incomparable gifts his species can boast of and which, in his own words, are ‘a lesson for those with minds to discern and a sign for those with eyes to see’ (ʿibara li-ūlī-l-albāb wa-āya li-ūlī-l-abṣār): consummate architectural skills, perfection of the body, production of a delicious and curative drink, social organization promoting friendship and mutual help, moral and intellectual qualities, and so on. The whole passage is clearly to be regarded as a confirmation and endorsement of what the Qurʾān says of bees in Sūrat al-Naḥl, and which the Ikhwān do not omit to cite: ‘And your Lord inspired (awḥā) to the bee, “Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct. Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you].” There emerges from their bellies (buṭūn) a drink, varying in colours, in which there is healing (shifāʾ) for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought’ (Q. 16. 68–70). As is well-known, these verses find in Shiʿism an interpretation of their own. From an early stage, it became usual for Shiʿi scholars to assume that these inspired bees represent the community of genuine believers (sometimes restricted only to the imams or to the ahl al-bayt), and that the healing drink produced from their bellies refers to the esoteric meaning of revelation.54 Consequently, it also became a common tradition with many Shiʿis to call ʿAlī not only ‘the commander of the faithful’ (amīr al-mu’minīn) but also ‘the commander of the bees’ (amīr al-naḥl) or even ‘Yaʿsūb’, the Arabic name for the queen-bee in Arabic.55 With references to various great figures of Twelver Shiʿism—including the tenth-century ḥadīth collectors al-ʿAyyāshī, al-Qummī, and al-Kulaynī—, Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi notes that ‘[a]ccording to an entire series of traditions, God describes ʿAlī with a succession of formulae rendered in assonant prose such as “Commander of the Faithful, leader of the Muslims, Best among the best, guide to the devout, Queen-Bee of the Faithful”’.56 Recent scholarship has also highlighted the particular importance of these traditions in more extreme forms of Shiʿism such as Nuṣayrism,57 and posited that Shiʿi mystics of this community may have derived their interpretation from the symbolism attached to the bee by the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry in antiquity.58 In his Kitāb al-Kashf, the tenth-century Ismaʿili author Jaʿfar b. Manṣūr al-Yaman identifies the bees of the Qurʾān with the imams and the honey they produce with the science of God.59 By calling the ‘king’ of the flying insects ‘Yaʿsūb, the commander and chief of the bees’, the Ikhwān step into a well-established tradition which is of unmistakably Shiʿi provenance. What is especially relevant in the queen-bee’s speech is the affirmation that bees combine mulk (kingship) and nubuwwa (prophecy) as no other species in the creation does. This is, needless to say, a most recurrent theme with the Ikhwān, especially in the parts of their work concerned with their views on imamate. From what they write in Epistle 42 (‘On Views and Religions’) we may infer the following, which I take from Carmela Baffioni’s analysis: ‘To this day, everyone agrees on the task of the Imam, but there is disagreement as to his identity because imāma is of two kinds: prophetic and regal. Usually, the tasks of the king are clearly distinguished from those of the prophet, because kingship is a mundane activity, whereas prophecy is related to the spiritual. However, sometimes these qualities are combined in a single person, who is then the delegated prophet and also the king. The fact that men in whom kingship and prophecy are united do not crave after worldly things is proof of God’s tenderness towards His community. The Prophet Muhammad was both prophet and king of the Muslim umma, thus ensuring its best defence, but his successors did not always match him in nobility’.60 Putting words into the mouths of animals or fictional human characters allows the Ikhwān either to mock or bitterly to criticize the Umayyads and the ʿAbbasids—obviously two cases of mundane kings in their views—without even having to refrain from mentioning them by name.61 These strictures, which are made in passing, no doubt contribute to making the fable a witty, erudite, and entertaining piece of literature, but I do not think we should overestimate the significance of these Islam-focused references with respect to the universality of the message that the Ikhwān sought to convey in the animal fable. THE RETURN OF THE CONJUNCTION Chapter 8 of the animal fable, whose purport is to narrate ‘the enmity between the race of the jinn and the race of Adam and how it came about’ (al-ʿadāwa bayna banī al-jānn wa-bayna banī ādam wa-kayfa kānat),62 deserves particular attention. Written in the manner of a dizzying flashback in time, it is in most part not concerned with animals but has much to say about jinn, angels and humans as they came in turn to populate the surface of the earth. Animals are mentioned at very end of this long account, which is reported by the jinni sage (al-ḥakīm) to the King and in the presence of the ‘master in determination’ (ṣāḥib al-ʿazīma). The King asks whether they, the jinn ‘should leave beasts captives in their hands [of the humans] and forever suffering from their torments’ (a-natruku hādhihi al-bahāʾim asīran fī ayaday-him li-yasūmū-hā min al-ʿadhāb dāʾiman). The jinni sage has a reply which one would perhaps not have expected here, and which deserves to be quoted in full: No, but these beasts (hādhihi al-baḥāʾim) will have to remain in captivity and servitude until the revolution of the conjunction will have expired (ilā an yanqaḍiya dawr al-qirān), and [until] the Last Abode will recommence to appear (wa-yastaʾnifa nushūʾ al-ākhira). Then God will free and deliver them just as He saved the House of Israel from the torments of the House of Pharaoh, just as He saved the House of David from the torments of Nebuchadnezzar, just as He saved the House of Ḥimyar from the torments of the House of Tubbaʿ, just as He saved the House of Sāsān from the torments of the House of Yunān, just as He saved the House of ʿAdnān from the torments of the House of Ardashīr. Indeed, the days of this world revolve, [producing] changes between its peoples (fa-inna ayyām hādhihi al-dunyā duwal bayna ahli-hā tadūru) by the permission and the foreknowledge of God Most High and by executing His volition, [and this] in agreement with the necessary implications of the laws of the conjunctions and revolutions (bi-mūjabāt aḥkām al-qirānāt wa-l-adwār) that take place once every 1,000 years, once every 12,000 years, once every 36,000 years, once every 360,000 years, and once every Day the extent of which is 50,000 years’.63 Let us start by considering the five values provided at the end of the passage. All but the last one are also found in Epistle 36 (‘On Cycles and Revolutions’), to which I refer the reader interested for more detailed explanations.64 As made plain there, the 1,000-year period is an approximation for the ‘great’ or ‘major’ conjunctions (al-qirānāt al-kibār) of Jupiter and Saturn—taking place every 960 years in reality—, a cycle of prime importance in Islamic astrology since it was meant to determine the changes of religions and empires.65 The 12,000-year period is a cycle which Muslim astrologers most probably borrowed from Sasanid Persia. According to this doctrine, each of the twelve zodiacal signs was believed to rule over the world in succession for 1,000 years. The 36,000-year period is the canonical value attributed, since Ptolemy, to the movement of equinoctial precession. For the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ as for other scientists in Islam, this movement was held responsible for the periodic interchanges between seas and mainlands on the surface of the earth. The 360,000-year cycle is the one assigned by the Ikhwān to the ‘Great Year’, corresponding to the period required for all the planetary spheres and the sphere of the fixed stars to come back into a conjunction. The figure of 360,000 years was derived from Indian astronomy, which also postulated that this general return of the planets, taking place in the first degree of Aries, would mark the recommencement of the universe. In contradistinction to these four periods, the one corresponding to ‘every day the extent of which is 50,000 years’ is not mentioned in Epistle 36. It has no astronomical justification, but is an obvious reference to the Qurʾānic verse: ‘The angels and the spirit will ascend to Him during a day the extent of which is 50,000 years’ (Q. 70: 4). It should be observed that in Epistle 36 (‘On Cycles and Revolutions’) the Ikhwān identify as millennial revolutions (adwār al-ulūf) the following four cycles: (1) 7,000 years; (2) 12,000 years; (3) 51,000 years; (4) 360,000 cycles.66 Now, which type of cosmic event do the Ikhwān refer to in the first part of the passage when they allude to the expiration of a conjunctional cycle and the reappearance of the Last Abode? In spite of the cryptic language typically used by the authors when dealing with astrological predictions, it seems that we are not at a loss to make some plausible conjectures. As has already been mentioned, the Brethren conclude their epistle on rebirth and resurrection with an edifying tale which, in all likelihood, they have fabricated themselves by superimposing a scheme of prophetic astrology on the Qurʾānic version of the Seven Sleepers in the Cave. There again, one has to cope with enigmatic formulations, but the text furnishes enough indications to make good sense of it, at least to some extent, as I have argued elsewhere.67 In short, we are told of a king (God) and of his seven sons (the seven prophets, in the following order: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muḥammad, and ‘the Qāʾim of Resurrection’) born to him on the seven successive days of the week (the seven millenniums making up a 7,000-year cycle). Each of the seven sons is associated with a specific planet (Adam with the Sun; Noah with Saturn; Abraham with Jupiter; Moses with Mars; Jesus with Venus; Muḥammad with Mercury; the Qāʾim with the Moon). Regarding the six elder sons, we are also informed that they were all given a part of the father’s kingdom (the different prophetic traditions), but that none of them succeeded in being sufficiently obeyed by his subjects (the community of believers). Consequently, each one of them is advised in turn by the father ‘to be patient’ and each falls asleep in the Cave ‘until Friday’ (the millennium heralded by the seventh prophet, the Qāʾim of Resurrection). The Ikhwān’s re-interpretation of Sūrat al-Kahf contains various other coded references of the same kind, in particular concerning the sixth ‘Mercurian/Hermetic’ millennium heralded by Muḥammad, but it is not the place to re-enter into the detail of the analysis, or to emphasize again the evident resemblance of the overall scheme with others found in Ismaʿili cosmology.68 What needs to be retained here is this astrologically-based scheme of seven millenniums, six of which were heralded by prophets of the past and the seventh is still expected to come about. In his report, the jinni sage of Chapter 8 adopts the same historical perspective, and mentions essentially the same prophetic names. Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muḥammad are all named in this order, whereas the Noah figure is implied by a reference to the Great Flood. In addition are found Idrīs and Solomon, two prophets reported to have played a particularly important role in the jinni vs. human interrelations, as the text itself suggests. So, when the jinni sage announces the return of the conjunction and the reappearance of the Last Abode at the end of his report, we have good reasons to assume that he is referring to the same phenomenon as that marking the transition in the story of the Seven Sleepers between the six past millenniums and the seventh yet to come about. In Epistle 34 (‘On the World as a Macranthrope’) is found the phrase ‘The age of the world is 7,000 years. I have been sent in the last millennium (ʿumr al-dunyā sabʿa ālāf sana, buʿithtu fī ākhiri-hā alfan)’, which the Ikhwān mention as a ḥadīth of the Prophet Muḥammad supporting their views.69 In the same passage, they also adduce the Qurʾānic verse: ‘And indeed, a day with your Lord is like a thousand years of those which you count’ (Q. 22. 47) to explain that ‘between the Day of the Covenant (yawm al-mīthāq), that is, the day of the First Presentation, and the Day of Resurrection (yawm al-qiyāma), that is, the day of the Second Presentation, there is the distance of seven days, each day being like a thousand years (kull yawm ka-alf sana)’.70 In agreement with the same scheme, we also find in the epistle on resurrection the following statement about God’s Intimates: ‘If for them all the days are equivalent, having become a Friday and a Feast, it is because they contemplate the Day of Resurrection, which will take place when a thousand years will have been completed, from the day God sent Muḥammad—Peace be upon Him’.71 Turning back to our animal fable, we infer from the above indications that, in the overall 7,000-year scheme, the conjunction announced by the jinni sage is due to take place at the end of the current millennium, namely, the sixth millennium heralded by Muḥammad. During the seventh millennium, the hidden truths contained in the six preceding millennia and transmitted by the ‘awliyāʾ Allāh’ of each religion will be revealed to all, manifesting God’s message in its genuine universality. Until then, the Islamic Law (sharīʿa), which cares for the external aspects of revelation, will have been abrogated, just as the five former prophetic Laws were successively abrogated in the past. The diversity of the previous ages will leave room for a time of unity and comprehensiveness. To take up the Brethren’s metaphorical language, the six elder Sleepers will wake up together on a Friday and come out of the Cave. On that day, which is also the day of the soul’s general gathering before the Judgement, all places on earth will have been made equal and all days will have become Friday. I have discussed elsewhere the three possible destinies awaiting human souls in the Ikhwān’s eschatology: ‘Those deemed to be insufficiently purified will have to start a new cycle of reincarnation, so that they will remain in the barzakh (in the sense of cycles of transmigration) for at least another seven thousand years. Those of great sinners and inveterate unbelievers will not be incarnated again, but rather thrown directly into various levels of Hell, where they will become devils and forever act as vicious and tempting powers for other souls still to be incarnated. Finally, the souls whose purification is judged sufficient (and who are apparently assumed to be more numerous than those destined for Hell) will be sent to the various levels of Paradise and there become immortal angels ready to assist like-minded souls which are still in the process of purification’.72 The passage on the conjunction in the animal fable is most interesting in that it gives us insight into a broader eschatological system in which the souls of animals are also taken into account. It is certainly worthwhile putting it into relation with the following statement from Epistle 20 (‘On Nature’), where the Ikhwān perceive the angels as the souls of the animals that prostrated before Adam and, in perfect agreement with our fable, affirm that they will have to remain subject to the humans until the end of the present cycle: ‘As to the angels (ammā al-malāʾika) that prostrated before Adam, the father of mankind, they are the caliphs on the Earth of those [angels] that are in the spheres, they are the souls of all animals (hum nufūs sāʾir al-ḥayawānāt) who prostrated before Adam and his progeny in obedience, and that are subject to them till the day of resurrection (ilā yawm al-qiyāma)’.73 According to the fable, it is only the souls of the beasts (baḥā’im) that get the opportunity to be liberated once and forever at the end of every 7,000-year period. Why out of the whole animal realm the beasts are the only animals to be considered here is explained by the following passage from Epistle 46 (‘On the Quiddity of Faith’): ‘You should know that the animal souls that most deserve to be transported to the rank of humankind (iʿlam an aḥaqq al-nufūs al-ḥayawāniyya an tantaqila ilā rutbat al-insāniyya) are those who live miserably at the hands of the humans, subservient to man, labouring at his service, and obeying him submissively’.74 In Epistle 34 (‘On the World as a Macranthrope’) a passage is found that provides some further indications on the destinies ascribed to the different categories of beings—angels, humans, jinn and animals—this time all considered together as part of a general process: ‘As for the souls that are consciously benevolent and virtuous, they are the genera of angels and the pious among the believers, and the wise among the jinn and humans. And as for the consciously evil, they are the defiant demons and the beguiling sorcerer-jinn and the Pharaohs and the imposters among the people. And the ignorant and evil [souls] are the souls of the rapacious beasts of prey and the ignorant, evil people (hiya anfas al-sibāʿ al-ḍāriya wa-l-juhhāl al-ashrār min al-nās). And the ignorant but not evil are the souls of certain harmless animals such as sheep and goats, and cows, and other animals like them (anfas baʿḍ al-ḥayawānāt al-salīma ka-l-ghanam wa-l-baqar wa-ghayri-hā min al-ḥayawānāt). And know that the bodies of some benign animals are prisons […] and underground oubliettes for their souls. And [the bodies of] some of them are a [narrow] bridge [over hell] that they traverse, and some of them are a barzakh [after death] until the day people are raised from the dead, and some are heights [between heaven and hell] on which they are standing [stranded until the Day of Judgement and Resurrection]’.75 The above lines do not allow us to get a fully-comprehensive view of the Brethren’s doctrine.76 What is clear, however, is that the liberation of these animal species does not depend on their own virtues, since as beings deprived of the rational faculty they do not share with man the potentiality to become an angel or a devil. We are thus to infer that it is the responsibility of man, and of man alone, to help these animals to move up in the hierarchy of the created world by one step at a time. Better than anything else, I would personally consider this assumption as a crucial element enabling us to account for the Ikhwān’s sympathy—in the etymological sense of the term—for animals, and for domesticated animals in particular. EQUATOR To conclude the present enquiry we shall go back to the very beginning of the fable, where the authors situate the plot of the trial in time and space. The epoch at which the trial is meant to have taken place is not defined with precision, the only certainty being that it was after the time the Prophet Muḥammad called men and jinn to the Islamic faith. Things are more delimited in spatial terms: the trial is located on the sweet and fertile island of Ṣāʿūn where the King of the Jinn has his capital, ‘in the midst of the Green Sea, adjacent to the equatorial line’ (fī wasaṭ al-baḥr al-akhḍar mimmā yalī khaṭṭ al-istiwāʾ).77 This choice is not innocent in our view. For the equatorial line is also the place where it all began for both human and nonhuman animals at the beginning of the 7,000-year cycle, as we infer from the prologue of Epistle 22: ‘You must know, my Brother, that all the animals with a perfect constitution, whether male or female, originally generated from clay (anna al-ḥayawānāt al-tāmmat al-khilka kulla-hā kāna badʾ kawni-hā min al-ṭīn awwalan dhakaran wa-unthā). Next, they reproduced themselves, multiplied and spread over the earth (thumma tawāladat wa-tanāsalat wa-intasharat fī-l-arḍ), in plains, mountains, mainlands and seas, under the equatorial line (min taḥta khaṭṭ al-istiwāʾ) which is where night and day are equivalent, and where the climate is always temperate between hot and cold, and where matter, ready to receive the forms, is always present (wa-l-mawādd al-mutahayyiʾa li-qubūl al-ṣuwar mawjūda dāʾiman). There also the coming-to-be of Adam (wa-hunāka ayḍan kāna takawwun ādam), the father of mankind, and of his wife, took place. Next, they reproduced themselves and their progeny multiplied, filling the earth with themselves in plains, mountains, mainlands and seas, down to this day.’78 A few pages later in the same prologue, the Ikhwān confirm this by supplying a few more elements: ‘You must know, my Brother, that at the beginning of creation (fī badʾ al-khalq) all the animals having a perfect constitution and a magnificent form, whether male or female, originated from clay under the equatorial line, which is where night and day are equal, and where hot and cold are temperate. [This is also where one finds] places protected from wind fluctuations and numerous types of matter prepared to receive the forms. Since there was no place on earth having these characteristics (lammā lam yakun fī al-arḍ mawāḍīʿ mawjūda bi-hādhihi al-awṣāf), the wombs of the females of these animals were endowed with this specific balance of [their] natures, so that when they disperse on earth, they could then reproduce and multiply wherever they are. Most people are amazed at the generation of the animals from clay, although they are not amazed when it occurs in the womb, from foul water (Q. 77. 20), although this is something more astonishing in terms of creation and more significant in terms of power.’79 In the fable itself, the human orator from India (who, as we remember, comes from the island of Sarandīb), does not omit to recall that his own land was favoured by being ‘the most centrally-located country (awsaṭ al-bilād makānan), the most temperate in climate, where night and day are equal, and where summer and winter are temperate, with no excess of heat or cold’.80 Boasting the incomparable richness of its country’s soil and adducing examples of remarkable minerals, plants and animals found there, the Indian adds that it is also the place where God ‘placed the generation of Adam (peace be upon him), the father of mankind, and similarly of all the animals, whose generation was originally under the equatorial line’.81 As was rightly pointed out by Daniel De Smet in a recent article,82 all these passages deserve to be examined in relation to yet another one, found closer to the end of the narrative, and where the Ikhwān, following their habit, interpret the Qurʾān in decisively philosophical terms: ‘The rational, human, universal soul (al-nafs al-nāṭiqa al-insāniyya al-kulliyya), which is God’s deputy on His earth was linked to the body of Adam who was created from clay (min al-turāb), and the angels prostrated—all of them entirely (Q. 15. 30). These are the animal souls submissively obeying to the rational soul which remains till the present day in the offspring of Adam’s children, just like the corporeal form of his body remains in his offspring till the present day’.83 As De Smet explains, ‘L’infusion de cette “âme humaine rationelle universelle” dans le corps du premier Adam terrestre, généré à partir de l’argile de Sarandīb, lui donne le pouvoir de contrôler les passion de son âme animale: les “Anges” invoqués par le Coran. Mais elle lui confère également une science rationnelle par laquelle il surpasse toutes les autres créatures. Ayant appris les “noms”—c.à.d. les quiddités—de toutes les choses, Adam les enseigna aux Anges (qui ici ne se réfèrent manifestement plus aux passions de l’âme)’.84 What is remarkable in those passages about India—or the island of Sarandīb—as the ‘most centrally-located’ place of the earth is that they appear to be in plain contradiction with what the Ikhwān themselves report in Epistle 4 (‘On Geography’). As for most of their contemporaries, the backbone and framework of the Brethren’s geography is the classical theory of climes, which the Islamic world inherited from the ancient Greek world. This theory posits that the inhabited quarter of the world (al-rubʿ al-maskūn)—or ecumene—entirely lies in the northern hemisphere and that it is made of seven horizontal elongate rectangles—the seven climes (al-aqālīm al-sabʿa)—whose respective frontiers are scientifically determined by the length of the day at the solstice. In their detailed description of the characteristics of each clime that covers the greatest part of the epistle, the Ikhwān nowhere identify a given place as the centre of the world, but they agree with both the Greek masters and their Muslim followers in according some sort of prevalence to the fourth clime—that is, the central clime in latitude—which they situate between 33°30 and 39° north of the equator, the midpoint being 36°50. In contrast to other scholars of their time, who frequently use this point to make Baghdad the omphalos of the entire representation, the Ikhwān—who list Baghdad among the cities of the fourth clime—do not seem to attach particular importance here to any metropolis of the world, be it of the fourth clime or not. But in a passage having no counterpart in the rest of the description they remarkably single out the fourth clime in general as being that of the prophets and the sages. The passage, in which an astrological substrate is perceptible, reads: This clime is the clime of the prophets and the wise men (wa-hādha al-iqlīm huwa iqlīm al-anbiyāʾ wa-l-ḥukamāʾ), because it is the central clime (li-anna-hu wasaṭ al-aqālīm), with three climes to the south and three to the north and also because it is in the division of the Sun (wa-huwa ayḍan fī qism al-shams), the most brilliant body in the sky. The people of this clime have the most harmonious nature and equable morals. After them come the people of the two adjacent climes, I mean the third and the fifth. The inhabitants of the remaining climes, such as the Zanj, the Abyssinians, and most of the communities which inhabit the first and the second climes, lack the nature of the most excellent [clime], because their appearance is hideous and their behaviour savage. This is also the case for the communities in the sixth and seventh clime, such as Gog and Magog, the Bulgars, the Slavs, and similar people.85 I have shown elsewhere that in addition to the theory of climes the Ikhwānian geographical description in Epistle 4 retains traces of another sevenfold division of the ecumene which the authors of the Rasāʾil, like various other thinkers in medieval Islam, have amalgamated with the Greek theory. I am referring here to the Iranian Sasanid theory of kēshvar-s (from kēshvar, meaning ‘region’ in Persian, giving kishwār in Arabic), already mentioned above. This theory features the inhabited world in the form of six circular regions circumscribing a seventh one at the centre of the representation.86 According to the kishwār-theory, the prime of place naturally goes to Iran, or better said to Irān–Shahr by which is commonly designated the Iran–Iraqi region around the ancient city of Babylon—something that in our fable the ‘man from Iran–Shāhr, meaning Iraq’ does not need to be asked twice to recall: ‘Praise be to God who distinguished us by [giving us] the most centrally-located country (wa-l-ḥamdu li-l-lāhi alladhī khaṣṣa-nā bi-awsaṭ al-falāh)’.87 What can we make of these seemingly diverging data? Was there for the Ikhwān an omphalos of the world, and in the affirmative to which region was it meant to correspond? Was it Iran-Shāhr, in the fourth clime, as one would perhaps infer from Epistle 4? Or was it Sarandīb, on the equator, as Epistle 22 has it? And how can the Ikhwān call the fourth clime the clime of the prophets and the sages while being perfectly aware that Muḥammad was born in Makka, which they list—rightly—among the cities of the second clime?88 To answer these questions, we need to bring our 7,000-year cycle into the discussion one more time and, once again, to situate the Brethren’s doctrine at a higher, more universal level. Two epochs must be distinguished in this overall scheme of prophetic history. One pertains to the very inception of the cycle. It corresponds to this unique and fundamental—we could perhaps even say ‘mythical’—moment when, in one particular place of the earth—the equator, or Sarandīb—, the necessary conditions were all gathered together for the very specific genesis—out of clay, by spontaneous generation89—of both humankind and the most perfect species of animals. The other epoch is the one that we are currently living in. What characterizes it is its multiplicity and sheer diversity. From the equator, humans and non-human animals have spread out over the entire world. They are no longer the result of a spontaneous process of generation but reproduce themselves through intercourse. They have ramified into a multitude of species and races, occupying a multitude of regions for a multitude of millennia—a multitude which in each case the Ikhwān have chosen to represent by the number seven, the first complete number according to the Pythagoreans. In the symbolic language of the Ikhwān, the particularities of this second moment are not essential. It is not fundamental that any given place or city of the world be the omphalos of the inhabited world, nor is it even crucial that the prophets inaugurating the successive millennia be born on the fourth clime. Here again, that the Ikhwān make no exception for the Prophet of Islam is in our view quite revealing of their syncretic and universal approach. CONCLUSIONS Our purpose in this article has been to draw attention to motifs in the animal fable from the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ suggesting that the authors reserved the understanding of a deeper level of reading of this narrative for a special category of their readers. With no claim to exhaustiveness, we have discussed certain of these motifs at some length. Beginning with the meaning attached to the concept of ‘God’s Intimates’, we have dealt with two particular examples of number symbolism, respectively about ‘Seventy’ and ‘Seven’, and next proceeded with another kind of symbol, that is, the Bee or more precisely the ‘Commander of the Bees’. And we have completed our survey with two important notions in the time–space configuration of the universe as developed by the Ikhwān, namely the ‘Return of the Conjunction’ and ‘Equator’. What the above discussion makes plain is that the issues at hand should not be analysed separately from one another, but on the contrary considered as parts of a coherent and well thought-out philosophical system. For instance, the Ikhwān take up the well-known tradition of the father of humankind being born on the island of Sarandīb, but what they write about Adam’s spontaneous generation near the equatorial line can only be understood in relation with their theory of prophetic cycles. Likewise, the references that the authors subtly make in the fable to animals, humans and jinns being divided into seven groups cannot be properly appreciated without considering at the same time the importance of the number seven for other schemes also referred or alluded to in the same narrative: the seven climes of the inhabited quarter of the earth, the seven planets and, again, the theory of prophetic cycles being divided into seven millennia. Needless to say, this also holds true for the passage on the conjunction, whose eschatological implications for both humans and animals remain unintelligible if one does not relate it to that doctrine of prophetic history and its seven millennial periods. In fact, it appears that even the image of the syncretic man embodying the virtuous of God’s Intimates or that of the Queen-Bee symbolizing the union of kingship and prophecy cannot be properly apprehended independently from the same fundamental body of doctrine. The message addressed in Epistle 22 is fully consistent with the one delivered by the Ikhwān in the rest of the encyclopaedia. This was one of my assumptions before I embarked on this study, but we may now consider it a reality since for each of the motives that we have focused on we have been able to provide supporting evidence from other epistles. Out of the motifs retained it cannot be denied that some have a strong Ismaʿili flavour. As is well-known, the whole scheme of prophetic history in relation with the revolutions and the conjunctions of the planets, which is only hinted at in the animal fable but has as much importance there as in the rest of the corpus, is closely reminiscent of the views of Ismaʿili scholars from about the same period, such as for instance Jaʿfar b. Manṣūr al-Yaman or Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī. Also typical of Ismaʿili gnosis and heresiography, as we have seen with Abū Tammām’s Kitāb al-Shajara, is the doctrine that man, by virtue of his rational soul, has the power to become either an angel or a devil, but that only a chosen few are able to acquire the angelic status in reality, the rest of mankind being driven to hell or condemned to err for ages in the barzakh. We also have plenty of evidence from Ismaʿili literature to affirm that the special role ascribed in the narrative to Yaʿsūb as ‘commander of the bees’ and ‘commander of the faithful’ can possibly be interpreted along the same lines, although it is true that this conception is shared by non-Ismaʿili Shiʿis as well. And even if there remains some ambiguity on the exact way to understand the Ikhwān’s statements about number seven, it is certainly worth recalling here again that their countless references and allusions to sevenfold schemes throughout the Rasāʾil would also seem to suggest at least a certain degree of affinity with Ismaʿili circles of their time. That said, the exceptionally syncretistic approach adopted by the Ikhwān in the entire corpus, yet perhaps nowhere more evidently claimed than in the animal fable, invite us to remain prudent in our assertions. As has been observed by many scholars over the past decades, the Case of the Animals vs Man is a very erudite piece of literature in which a multitude of influences can be detected. Like the bee of the fable, the authors seem to have gathered their honey from such a vast and motley collection of flowers that reducing them to one unique doctrinal affiliation is an option that should be best discarded. Footnotes 1 G. de Callataÿ, ‘Philosophy and bāṭinism in al-Andalus: Ibn Masarra’s Risālat al-iʿtibār and the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 41 (2014): 261–312; id., ‘Did the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ inspire Ibn Ṭufayl to his Ḥayy Ibn Yaqdhān?’, Ishrāq: Islamic Philosophy Yearbook, 4 (2013): 82–9. 2 L. M. Álvarez, ‘Beastly Colloquies: Of Plagiarism and Pluralism in Two Medieval Disputations between Animals and Men’, Comparative Literature Studies, 39/3 (2002): 179–200. 3 A very brief overview is given in Lenn E. Goodman and Richard McGregor (eds. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. The Case of the Animals versus Man Before the King of the Jinn: An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistle 22 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2009), 3–4. This work is cited hereafter as Epistle 22. Goodman’s statement that there was a Latin version of the fable is wrong and his assertion that there were two other (now lost) early medieval translations into Hebrew, one by Rabbi Joel and another by Rabbi Jacob ben Elazar, is not supported with references. For some further elements regarding the reception of the Ikhwānian fable, see G. de Callataÿ, ‘Who were the readers of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ?’, Micrologus. Nature, Sciences and Medieval Societies, 24 (2016): 269–302. 4 On narratives in the Rasāʾil, see S. Almutawa, ‘Imaginative Cultures and Historic Transformations: Narrative in the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’ (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2013). On the structure of the animal fable in particular, see H. Raymond, ‘Le tribunal des animaux en Islam (IVe/Xe siècle)’, Arabica, 61 (2014): 116–52. 5 Epistle 22, 4–5. Unless otherwise specified, translations from the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ are mine. The epistle on ethics is Epistle 9 of the corpus. 6 Goodman in ibid, 51. 7 On the emanation scheme of the Ikhwān, see for instance: S. H. Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines. Conceptions and Methods Used for its Study by the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, al-Bīrūnī, and Ibn Sīnā (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, revised edn. 1993 [Harvard, 1964]), 44–74; C. Baffioni, Appunti per un’epistemologia profetica. L’Epistola degli Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ “Sulle cause e gli effetti” (Napoli: Guida, 2005), 63–73; G. de Callataÿ, Ikhwan al-Safaʾ. A Brotherhood of Idealists on the Fringe of Orthodox Islam (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2005), 17–33. 8 Epistle 22, 8–9. 9 Ibid, 6. 10 Ibid, 8. On this point, see already Aristotle, Politics, 1256b: ‘So that clearly we must suppose […] that plants exist for the sake of animals and the other animals for the good of man, the domestic species both for his service and for his food, and if not all at all events most of the wild ones for the sake of his food and his supplies of other kinds, in order that they may furnish him both with clothing and with other appliances’ (transl. H. Rackam). Epistle 28, dealing with the limits of human knowledge, is full of examples of man occupying an intermediary position between animals and angels; see G. de Callataÿ, ‘Ikhwân al-Ṣafâʾ: Sur les limites du savoir humain. Présentation et traduction de l’Épître XXVIII des Frères de la Pureté’, Le Muséon, 116/3–4 (2003): 479–503. 11 S. Tlili, ‘All Animals are Equal or Are They? The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾs Animal Epistle and Its Unhappy End’, Journal of Qurʾanic Studies, 16/2 (2014): 42–88, at 42. The expression ‘positive passion and mania’ is taken from I. R. Netton, Muslim Neoplatonists. An Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwān al-Ṣafā) (London: Routledge Curzon, 2002), 37. 12 Tlili, ‘All Animals’, 55. 13 C. Baffioni, ‘Les citations coraniques relatives à la science de la nature dans les Épîtres des Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, Mélanges de l'Université de Saint-Joseph, 64 (2012): 45–67. See also, as part of the same volume: G. de Callataÿ, ‘Rāsikhūn fī al-‘ilm: étude de quelques références coraniques dans l'encyclopédie des Frères de la Pureté’, 69–85. 14 Tlili, ‘All Animals’, 78: ‘As they proceeded, however, their argument took them in a different direction. Once they gave voices to their nonhuman characters, abandoned the prevalent practice of comparing an ideal notion of humans to a distorted and misinformed notion of other animals, and allowed their animals to draw from the Qur’an, the fable took a turn the authors perhaps did not foresee’. 15 See for instance: S. Stroumsa and S. Sviri, ‘The beginnings of mystical philosophy in al-Andalus: Ibn Masarra and his Epistle on contemplation’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 36 (2009): 201–53, at 204–7; de Callataÿ, ‘Philosophy and bāṭinism in al-Andalus’, 280–3. For the ladder motif in Islamic and Jewish thinking, see in particular A. Altmann, Studies in Religious Philosophy and Mysticism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), 41–72 (‘The ladder of ascension’). 16 Epistle 22, 9. 17 The expression is found, for instance, in Q. 3: 13 and 24: 44. 18 Y. Marquet, La philosophie des Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ (Algiers: Études et documents, 1973), 197: ‘Le conte des animaux est symbolique de diverses manières’; 199: ‘une fois de plus ce conte est à double sens: le sens figuré, qui vise la communauté des initiés, mais aussi le sens propre’. See also Y. Marquet, ‘Imamat, résurrection et hiérarchie selon les Ikhwan as-Safaʾ’, Revue des Études Islamiques, 30 (1962): 49–142, at 55–8. 19 S. Pines, ‘Shiʿite terms and conceptions in Judah Halevi’s Kuzari’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 2 (1980): 165–251, at 186. 20 L. M. Álvarez, ‘Beastly Colloquies’, 186. In a similar vein, see: Egle Lauzi, Il destino degli animali. Aspetti delle tradizioni culturali araba e occidentale nel Medio Evo (Florence: Sismel Edizioni del Galuzzo, 2012), 95–144 (‘La Disputa Tra l’Uomo e gli Animali degli Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’), at 100: ‘Se dunque nell’interpretazione esoterica gli animali sono segni di altre realtà e possono alludere sia agli iniziati, sia agli stessi Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ e sia anche agli ismā‘īliti perseguitati dai loro avversari, nell’interpretazione letterale sono i protagonisti di una trama narrativa originalissima, che testimonia l’interesse filosofico e la profonda sensibilità degli Autori delle Epistole per le sofferenze del mondo animale’. 21 Epistle 22, 279. 22 See for instance Epistle 22 in the Beirut edition (Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ wa-khullān al-wafāʾ [Beirut: Dār Ṣādir, 4 vols., 1957]), ii. 377. (Cited hereafter as Beirut edn.) 23 Epistle 22, 49. In the present case, we could even speak of a ‘mise en abyme’, since ‘those firmly-rooted in science’ is another famous Qurʾānic formula which can be (and indeed was) interpreted in quite different ways in Islamic exegesis. 24 Epistle 22, 278. 25 Goodman in ibid, 313. 26 Epistle 22, 276. 27 Epistle 38, (Beirut edn.) iii. 288–9. 28 Ibid, 311. 29 For a recent discussion of walāya/wilāya (‘friendship with God’) in Shiʿism and mysticism, with various references to the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, see M. Ebstein, Mysticism and Philosophy in al-Andalus. Ibn Masarra, Ibn al-‘Arabī and the Ismā‘īlī Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 123–56. 30 Epistle 22, 279. 31 Ibid, 41 (wa-kānū naḥwan min sab‘īn rajulan min buldān shattā); 81 (wa-kānū sabʿīn rajul min bilād shattā); 143 (wa-hum wuqūf naḥwa sabʿīn rajulan mukhtalifī al-hayʾāt wa-l-libās wa-l-lughāt wa-l-ashkāl wa-l-alwān) ; 169 (wa-hum wuqūf naḥwa sabʿīn rajulan mukhtalifī al-alwān wa-l-ṣifāt wa-l-ziyy wa-l-libās). According to the apparatus criticus, one ms has ithnā wa-sabʿīn instead of sabʿīn in this last instance. 32 A. Schimmel, The Mystery of Numbers (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 263–4. On the symbolism of number seven in Islam, see also L. I. Conrad, ‘Seven and the Tasbī‘: On the Implications of Numerical Symbolism for the Study of Medieval Islamic History’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 31/1 (1988): 42–73. 33 R. Mottahedeh, ‘Pluralism and Islamic Traditions of Sectarian Divisions’, Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift, 82 (2006): 155–61, at 156. 34 W. Madelung and Paul E. Walker, An Ismaili Heresiography: The ‘Bab al-shayṭān’ from Abū Tammām’s Kitāb al-Shajara (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 27. See also: P. E. Walker, ‘An Ismaʿili version of the heresiography of the seventy-two erring sects’ in F. Daftary (ed.,), Medieval Ismaʿili History & Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 161–77. 35 Walker, ‘An Ismaʿili version’, 163. 36 Epistle 47, (Beirut edn.) iv. 142. 37 Epistle 22, 87. By the species of ‘beasts and cattle’ the Ikhwān actually seem to refer to the category of ‘domestic animals’. 38 See Herbert Eisenstein, Mensch und Tier im Islam in Paul Münch (ed.) Tiere und Menschen: Geschichte und Aktualität einer prekären Verhältnisses (Paderborn: F. Schöningh, 1998), 121–46. See also id., Arabische Systematiken des Tierreichs in Werner Diem and Abdoldjavad Falaturi (eds.), XXIV Deutscher Orientalistentag: vom. 26. bis 30. September 1988 in Köln (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1990), 184–90; H. Eisenstein, Einführung in die arabische Zoographie. Das tierkundliche Wissen in der arabisch-islamischen Literatur (Berlin, 1991); Syrinx von Hees, Enzyklöpädie als Spiegel des Weltbildes; Qazwinis Wunder der Schöpfung: eine Naturkunde des 13. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2002), esp. 120–2. As Remke Kruk kindly pointed to me, arrangement of the animal world under basically seven headings is not uncommon in medieval Arabic zoography: it is found in various medieval Arabic cosmographies, such as Qazwīnī’s ʿAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt and Ibn al-Athīr’s Tuḥfat al-ʿajāʾib wa-ṭurfat al-gharāʾib. A different number of categories may simply be the result of subdividing or combining categories, such as in Wāṭwāṭ’s Mabāhij al-fikar, where birds are divided into three categories, and in Marwazī’s Ṭabāʾiʿ al-ḥayawān, where three categories of animals that are usually separate are combined into one. I am grateful to Remke Kruk for sharing these observations with me. 39 Epistle 22, 153. 40 For an overall survey of the theory of climes including medieval Islam, see E. Honigmann, Die Sieben Klimata und die Poleis Episemoi. Eine Untersuchung zur Geschichte der Geographie und Astrologie im Altertum und Mittelalter (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1929). For the amalgamation of the seven climes of Greek geography with the Iranian theory of kishwār-s as observed in several Islamic sources, including the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, see: G. de Callataÿ, ‘Kishwār-s, planètes et rois du monde: le substrat iranien de la géographie arabe, à travers l’exemple des Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’, in B. Broeckaert, S. Van den Branden and J. J. Pérennès (eds.), Perspectives on Islamic Culture, Essays in Honour of Emilio G. Platti (Leuven: Peeters, 2013), 53–71. The critical edition of the epistle on geography has now been published as I. Sánchez and J. Montgomery (eds. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. On Geography. An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistle 4 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2014). This work is cited hereafter as Epistle 4. 41 Epistle 22, 67. 42 On these names and their origin, see W. Eilers, Sinn und Herkunft der Planetennamen (Munich: Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1976). 43 Epistle 22, 29. 44 N. El-Bizri (ed. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. On Arithmetic & Geometry: An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistles 1–2. Epistle 1. (Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2013), (Arabic) 32. 32. The explanation reads: ‘For all the numbers are even or odd; two is the first even number, and four is the second. Odd numbers also have a first … and a second. Three is the first odd number, and five is the second. If the first odd number is added to the second even number, or the first even number is added … to the second odd number, the sum is seven. So, for example, if you add two, which is the first even number, to five, which is the second odd number, then the sum is seven. Similarly, if you add three, which is the first odd number, to four, which is the second even number, then the sum is seven. And if [the unit] one, which is the source of all numbers, is taken with six, which is a perfect number, then the sum is seven, which is a complete number’ (El-Bizri’s translation, 78). 45 Epistle 32a in Paul. E. Walker, Ismail K. Poonawala and David Simonowitz, Godefroid de Callataÿ (eds. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. Sciences of the Soul and Intellect. Part I. An Arabic critical edition and English translation of Epistles 32–36 (Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2016), (Arabic) 8; (Walker’s transl.), 18. 46 Ibid, 25; (Walker’s transl.), 32. It is not certain in my view that ‘qawm min ahl al-ʿilm’ refers to men of science in the modern sense of the term. It could equally well refer to religious scholars (ulema). 47 Epistle 5 in Owen Wright (ed. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. On Music An Arabic critical edition and English translation of Epistle 5 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2010), 111. 48 A. Schimmel, ‘Sabʿ, Sabʿa’, art. EI2, iv. 662–3, at 663. See also H. Halm, Kosmologie und Heilslehre der frühen Ismā‘īlīya. Eine Studie zur Islamischen Gnosis (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1978), 91–100 (‘Die Sieben und die Zwölf’). For various references about the symbolism of Seven (and Twelve) in Ismaʿili cosmology, see Ebstein, Mysticism and Philosophy in al-Andalus, 134, n. 37. For an example of pre-Fāṭimid Ismaʿīlī cosmology heavily loaded with heptads of all sorts, see W. Madelung and P. Walker, ‘The Kitāb al-Rusūm wa-l-izdiwāj wa-l-tartīb Attributed to ʿAbdān (d. 286/899): Edition of the Arabic Text and Translation’ in O. Alí-de-Unzaga (ed.), Fortresses of the Intellect. Ismaili and other Islamic Studies in Honour of Farhad Daftary (London and New York: I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies London, 2011), 103–65. 49 Ghazālī, Faḍāʾiḥ al-bāṭiniyya (ed. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī, Cairo: Dār al-Qawmiyya, 1964), 16. 50 On this, J. von Ess, Der Eine und das Andere. Beobachtungen an islamischen häresiographischen Texten (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2011), i. 1057–8, 1084, and 1153. 51 Baffioni, Appunti per un’epistemologia profetica, 120: ‘Potrebbero essere identificati proprio con gli Ismāʿīlīti, dei quali mussabbaʿa o sabaʿiyya sono denominazioni peggiorative. Di essi, dunque, gli Iḫwān darebbero qui un giudizio non positivo’. See also R. Strothmann, ‘Sabʿīya’, art. EI, iv., 23–5; H. Halm, ‘Sabʿiyya’, art. EI2, viii. 683 (who curiously notes: ‘Unlike the name Ithnā-ʿashariyya or “Twelvers” the term Sabʿiyya does not occur in mediaeval Arabic texts; it seems to have been coined by modern scholars by analogy with the first term’). 52 See R. De Smet, ‘Le mythe des préadamites en islam chiite’ in Intellectual History of the Islamicate World (forthcoming). 53 Epistle 22, 173. 54 D. De Smet, ‘Abeille, miel’ in M. A. Amir-Moezzi (ed.), Dictionnaire du Coran (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2007), 5–7. 55 I. Goldziher, ‘Der Fürst der Bienen’ as part of ‘Schī‘itisches’, ZDMG, 64 (1910): 529–33 (reprinted in J. Desomogyi [ed.] Ignaz Goldziher. Gesammelte Schriften [V, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1970], 210–14). 56 M. A. Amir-Moezzi, The Spirituality of Shi‘i Islam, Beliefs and Practices (London and New York: I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2011), 174. 57 M. M. Bar-Asher, Scripture and Exegesis in Early Imami Shiism (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 11; M. M. Bar-Asher and A. Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion: An Enquiry into its Theology and Liturgy (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 169. 58 Y. Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs. An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2010), 124–6. 59 R. Strothmann (ed.), Kitābu’l kashf of Jaʿfar b. Manṣūrīʾl Yaman (London: Oxford University Press, 1952), 25. 60 C. Baffioni, ‘The Scope of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’ in N. El-Bizri (ed.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ and their Rasāʾil. An Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2008), 118–19. 61 At the beginning of the narrative (see Epistle 22, 42) is found a passage in which the arguments of the first human orator—‘a son of the line of ʿAbbās’ (khaṭīb min al-ins min awlād al-ʿabbās)—find themselves demolished in an instant by the mule. Later on (158–9), through the voice of the Khorasanian legatee (himself a transparent allusion to the group of Shiʿis that expect the return of a hidden imam), the authors lament the murder of Ḥusayn and denounce ‘the tyranny of the sons of Marwān’ (al-bughāt min banī marwān). Finally, when his turn has come to defend the cause of the beasts of prey against man’s accusations, the Jackal—who is none other than the Kalīla of the Indo–Iranian fable—mentions ‘the days of the ʿAbbasids and the Marwanids’ (ayyām banī al-ʿabbās wa-banī marwān) as having been times of massive killing and bloodshed’ (218). 62 Epistle 22, 72. 63 Ibid, 80. 64 Epistle 36 (see n. 45), (Arabic), 134; (de Callataÿ’s transl.), 134 and 197–8. 65 Ibid, (Arabic) 189; (de Callataÿ’s transl.), 229: ‘the religions and empires (al-milal wa’l-duwal), about which one seeks indications from the great conjunctions that take place once every 1,000 years, approximately (fī kull alf sana marratan wāḥidatan bi-l-taqrīb)’. The Ikhwān list this as the first of the seven species of astrological indications. 66 On the 7,000-year cycle, to be discussed below, see Y. Marquet, ‘Les Cycles de la souveraineté selon les Épîtres des Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ’, Studia Islamica, 36 (1972): 47–69; Y. Marquet, ‘La détermination astrale de l’évolution selon les Frères de la Pureté’, Bulletin d’Études Orientales, 44 (1992): 127–46. On the 51,000-year cycle, see now E. Krinis, ‘Cyclical Time in the Ismāʿīlī Circle of the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (tenth century) and in Early Jewish Kabbalist Circles (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries)’, Studia Islamica, 111/1 (2016): 20–108. 67 On all this, see G. de Callataÿ, ‘Astrology and Prophecy, The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ and the Legend of the Seven Sleepers’ in C. Burnett, K. Plofker, J. Hogendijk and M. Yano (eds.), Studies in the History of the Exact Sciences in Honour of David Pingree (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 758–85. 68 On this, see: Halm, Kosmologie, 18–37 (‘Die Zyklen der sieben Propheten’), esp. 37. 69 Epistle 34 (see n. 25), (Arabic; Poonawala edn.), 77. The same tradition is reported in Jamīl Ṣalībā (ed.) Risāla al-Jāmiʿa (Damascus: al-Majmaʿ al-Ilmī al-ʿArabī, 2 vols., 1949–51), ii., 45. In the apparatus of his edition of Epistle 34, Poonawala explains he could not find this ḥadīth as such in commonly used sources but mentions some examples of similar traditions as preserved by al-Tabrīzī in his Mishkāt al-maṣābīḥ. It is not absolutely clear whether ‘the last millennium’ should be understood as the last one of the seven thousands of the cycle or to the last of those already begun. 70 Epistle 34, (Arabic) 78. See also Poonawala’s comment on p. 67 of the introduction (‘The Cycle of 7,000 years’): ‘I think that this explanation in the Qurʾanic language disguises Ismaili gnosis and its concept of cyclical time. According to the Ikhwān, the primordial single cycle of time is punctuated by seven periods or millennia, each ushered in by a speaking prophet (nāṭiq) of a new revelation who is assisted by a spiritual legate (wasī) who is the foundation (asās) of the imamate and who transmits the secret, esoteric meaning (taʾwīl) of the Scripture’. On the Day of the Covenant (yawm al-mīthāq) in Islamic tradition, see M. Ebstein, ‘Covenant (religious) pre-eternal’ in Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson (eds.), EI3 (accessed online 29 March 2017). 71 Epistle 38, (Beirut edn.) iii. 311. 72 de Callataÿ, Ikhwan al-Safaʾ, 31. 73 Epistle 20 in Carmela Baffioni (ed. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. On the Natural Sciences. An Arabic critical edition and English translation of Epistles 15–21 (Foreword by N. El-Bizri) (Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2013), (Arabic) 404 (Baffioni’s transl.) 312. In footnote, Baffioni remarks: ‘In this note, the Ikhwān seem to believe that every living being on the Earth is endowed with a soul—not only human beings. In this, they anticipate Avicenna and Suhrawardī’. 74 Epistle 46, (Beirut edn.) iv. 121. 75 Epistle 34, Poonawala (Arabic) 68–9; (Poonawala’s transl.), 89. It is interesting to note how divergent the Ikhwān’s doctrine is from that of some Muʿtazilis who speak about animals going to paradise as a compensation for their suffering on earth, but only for as long is needed to compensate that suffering. On this, see M. T. Heemskerk, Suffering in the Muʿtazilite theology: ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s teaching on pain and divine justice (Leiden: Brill, 2000). 76 On this, see: Marquet, ‘Imamat’; C. Baffioni, ‘Bodily Resurrection in the Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ’ in U. Vermeulen and D. De Smet, Philosophy and Arts in the Islamic World: Proceedings of the Eighteenth Congress of Union europénne des arabisants et islamisants Held at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven September 3–September 9, 1996 (Leuven: Peeters, 1998), 201–8; C. Lange, Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 209–18 (‘Ismaiʿli Eschatology’). For Islamic eschatology, see S. Günther and T. Lawson, Roads to Paradise. Eschatology and Concepts of the Hereafter in Islam, vol. 1: Foundations and Formation of a Tradition. Reflections on the Hereafter in the Quran and Islamic Religious Thought (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2017). 77 Epistle 22, 39. 78 Ibid, 7–8. 79 Ibid, 15–16. 80 Ibid, 148. 81 Ibid. For references on the popular tradition of the first terrestrial Adam in connection with the equatorial island of Sarandīb (the modern Sri Lanka)—a tradition already found in the anonymous Akhbār al-Ṣīn wa-l-Hind—see A. Miquel, La géographie humaine du monde musulman jusqu’au milieu du 11e siècle (Paris and The Hague: Mouton, 1975), ii. 78. 82 D. De Smet, ‘L’île de Ceylan et la génération spontanée: Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, Ibn Ṭufayl et les Ṭayyibites’ in Christian Cannuyer (ed.), L’île, regards orientaux: varia orientalia, biblica et antiqua. Hans Hamben in honorem (Brussels: Société belges d’études orientales, 2013), 109–23, at 112. 83 Epistle 22, 228. 84 D. De Smet, ‘L’île de Ceylan’, 113. 85 Epistle 4, (Arabic) 43–4; (transl.) 69–70, and the discussion of ‘The Fourth Clime: Geography and Prophetism’ (pp. 36–42 of the Introduction). On the fourth clime with the Ikhwān, see also C. Baffioni, ‘Il “quarto clima” nell’Epistola sulla Geografia degli Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ’ in F. Bencardino (ed.), Oriente Occidente. Scritti in memoria di Vittorina Langella (Napoli: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1993), 45–60; de Callataÿ, ‘Kishwār-s’, 63–4. 86 de Callataÿ, ‘Kishwār-s’. 87 Epistle 22, 145. 88 On the Ḥijāzīs being naturally religious people, see for instance: R. Kruk, ‘Ibn Abi-l-Ashʿath’s Kitāb al-ḥayawān: a scientific approach to anthropology, dietetics and zoological systematics’, Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen Wissenschaften, 14 (2001): 119–68, esp. 132–3 (reprinted in Peter Pormann (ed.) Islamic Medical and Scientific Tradition [London: Routledge, 4 vols., 2010], ii. n. 28). 89 On spontaneous generation in Islam, see R. Kruk, ‘A Frothy Bubble: Spontaneous Generation in the Medieval Islamic Tradition’, Journal of Semitic Studies, 35/2 (1990): 265–82; D. De Smet, ‘Scarabées, scorpions, cloportes et corps camphrés. Métamorphose, réincarnation et génération spontanée dans l’hétérodoxie chiite’ in A. Vrolijk and J. P. Hogendijk (eds.), O ye Gentlemen: Arabic Studies on Science and Literary Culture in Honour of Remke Kruk (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2007), 39–54; D. Hasse, ‘Spontaneous Generation and the Ontology of Forms in Greek, Arabic, and Medieval Latin sources’ in Peter Adamson (ed.), Classical Arabic Philosophy: Sources and Reception (London and Turin: The Warburg Institute, 2007), 150–75; R. Kruk, art. ‘Tawallud’ in EI2 (accessed online 29 March 2017). On the influence of the Ikhwān’s conception on Ibn Ṭufayl, see: R. Kruk, ‘Ibn Ṭufayl: a Medieval scholar’s view on nature’ in L. Conrad (ed.), The World of Ibn Ṭufayl. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān (Leiden, New York and Köln: Brill, 1996), 69–89, at 84; de Callataÿ, ‘Did the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ inspire Ibn Ṭufayl’, 83–5; T. Kukkonen, Ibn Tufayl: Living the Life of Reason (London: Oneworld Publications, 2014), 36–7. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Islamic Studies Oxford University Press

‘For Those with Eyes to See’: On the Hidden Meaning of the Animal Fable in the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ

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Abstract

Abstract Does the famous animal fable, as narrated by the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ in Epistle 22 of their Rasāʾil, possess an inner meaning? The issue is not new, but it may be useful to address it again today, considering the recent, significant re-evaluation of the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity in the overall history of medieval thinking. It is also important to return to this issue since it was largely left aside by the editors of Epistle 22 who are part of the ongoing project by Oxford University and the Ismaili Institute to critically edit the entire collection of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ. In the present article, I argue that the Ikhwān’s animal fable does indeed contain an esoteric level of reading and that it must be understood in line with the Brethren’s Ismaʿili or Ismaʿili-like aspirations but also, and more importantly, with their wish to take an approach as universal and syncretic as possible. The following motifs are discussed in detail: a) God’s Intimates; b) Seventy / Seventy-Two; c) Seven; d) Yaʿsūb, Commander of the Bees; e) the Return of the Conjunction; f) Equator. INTRODUCTION The animal fable as narrated by the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ in their Rasāʾil is, without doubt, the most famous part of the Brethren’s encyclopaedic corpus. The work clearly stands out in medieval literature on animals by addressing a great number of issues that remain even today central to man’s reflection about himself and his place in the universe. The fable features a trial in which legatees of the animal cause sue man for unjust treatment and literally box him into a corner. Man’s physical and intellectual abilities, his religious and metaphysical aspirations, his moral conduct, his rights and obligations vis-à-vis the rest of creation are all bitterly called into question throughout the narrative until the very last part when man saves the game in extremis by adducing the immortality of his soul. This fascinating piece of fictional literature seems to have enjoyed great fame ever since the time of its compilation, being a source of inspiration to many thinkers, within the Muslim world and outside it. Recently, I have argued that it was already known to the Andalusi mystic and philosopher Ibn Masarra (d. 931), and that it also proved inspirational to Ibn Ṭufayl (d. 1185) for his Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān.1 Early in the fourteenth century, the animal fable was translated into Hebrew as Igeret Baale Hayim by the Provençal Jewish author Kalonymus ben Kalonymus and has been read ever since by Jews in different parts of the world. One century later, it also became a model for Anselm Turmeda’s Disputa del Ase, a work lost in Catalan but surviving in an Old French version.2 In more recent times, the fable has also been translated into Urdu, Turkish, Persian as well as into various European idioms. This said, the overall impact of this text in Arabic and non-Arabic literatures still awaits a proper study.3 The ‘Case of the Animals versus Man before the King of the Jinn’, as the Ikhwānian animal fable is usually identified, is peculiar in various respects. It fills up about 250 pages in the recent critical edition by Lenn Goodman and Richard McGregor, making it by far the longest narrative of the entire corpus.4 In fact, it occupies the greatest part, though not all, of the longest risāla of the encyclopaedia, namely Epistle 22, which is the eighth of those epistles devoted to the corporeal and natural sciences. In manuscripts, it is actually referred to as ‘On the Species of Animals, their Marvellous Corporeal Structures and their Wondrous Peculiarities’. In this epistle, the fable is preceded by an important, non-fictional, prologue in which the authors discuss the animal world in physiological—and markedly Aristotelian—terms, in just the same way as they do with minerals and plants in the previous epistles. That the prologue and the fable itself should not be conceived of separately but on the contrary as two parts of one purposefully-intended structure is clear from the very first paragraphs of this prologue, in which the fable is announced in the following words: In our epistle on ethics we have explained that the human form is God’s deputy on earth (ṣūrat al-insāniyya hiya khalīfat Allāh fī arḍihi) and we have also explained there how the life of every human being should be [our emphasis] in such a way as to deserve to be one of God’s intimates (awliyāʾ Allāh) worthy of His blessing. In most of our epistles we have explained the excellence of man, his praiseworthy dispositions and pleasant traits, his true cognition, his wise skills, his competent management. In this epistle we wish to mention some merits of the animals, their praiseworthy dispositions, their pleasant natures, their sound character. And we shall also stress man’s oppression (ṭughyān), outrage (baghy) and violation (taʿaddī) against the rest of creatures—cattle and beasts—which serve him, as well as his ingratitude (kufrān al-niʿam) and carelessness (ghafla) vis-à-vis those to which he should be grateful. When he is virtuous and good, man is indeed a noble angel, the best [being] of the created world (malak karīm khayr al-bariyya), but when he is bad he is a cursed devil, the worst [being] of the created world (shayṭān rajīm sharr al-bariya). We have put these explanations into the mouths of the animals (jaʿalnā bayān dhālika ʿalā alsinat al-ḥayawānāt), to make the admonition (mawʿiẓa) more absolute, the lesson (khiṭāb) more evident, the narrative (ḥikāyāt) more curious, the listening (masāmiʿ) more exquisite, the reflection (afkār) more profound and the intellectual contemplation (iʿtibār) more excellent.5 These lines are crucial, as they enable us to understand another striking peculiarity of the fable. I am referring here to the sharp and admittedly shocking contrast felt by many readers between this long narrative itself, in which the authors’ high degree of sympathy (and indeed preference) for animals is clearly and immediately perceptible throughout and, on the other end, its ‘surprising dénouement’6 which sees the case ultimately resolved in favour of the humans. Surprising or shocking as it may seem, the abrupt conclusion of the fable requires to be set against the intellectual views held by the Ikhwān in the rest of their work. For, if ever there were Muslim thinkers obsessed with hierarchizing God’s creation and, specifically, with classifying the ultimate categories of generated beings in this world, these were the Brethren of Purity. As may be briefly recalled here, minerals, plants, and animals (including man) make up together, and in this order of appearance in this sublunary world, the ninth and last of the ‘limits’ (ḥudūd) of their emanation system, which is a re-elaboration of the Plotinian scheme.7 According to the Brethren, and in agreement with their Greek predecessors in philosophy, mineral souls have coming-to-be and passing-away as their sole faculty. Vegetal souls have in addition the faculties of growth and nutrition, while animals are endowed with those of feeling and moving in space, in addition to the first three powers. As for man, added to all the previous faculties is the rational soul. This faculty is what distinguishes him from the rest of creatures, and makes him the only being with the potential (quwwa) to become either a ‘noble angel’ or a ‘cursed devil’ in actuality (bi-l-fiʿl). In the prologue of our epistle is found an interesting passage in which the authors account for the difference between plants, animals and man by stating that whereas plants live upside-down (mankūsa al-intiṣāb ilā asfal) and man right-side-up (muntaṣiba), animals have an intermediary position (mutawassiṭa) with their heads facing one direction and their tails the opposite in the horizontal plane.8 In Epistle 22, as in the entire corpus, the authors fully endorse the view that ‘man is God’s deputy on His earth’—an evident reference to the Qurʾānic passage in which angels are summoned by God to prostrate before Adam, the father of mankind, as God’s ‘deputy on earth’ (Q. 2: 30–6). What is more, in the prologue of Epistle 22 the Ikhwān state that plants (and minerals) were created prior to animals precisely because [our emphasis] they ought to serve as nutriment for these latter, ‘as a mother does with her child’ (kamā tafʿalu al-wālida bi-waladi-hā).9 A few lines further, they even consider self-evident the following statement: ‘You should know, my brother, that all animals are chronologically prior to man in existence (mutaqaddimat al-wujūd ‘alā al-insān bi-l-zamān), because [our emphasis] they were [created] for him and for his sake (li-anna-hā la-hu wa-min ajli-hi)’.10 All this is more consistent with the conclusion of the fable than with the rest of the plot. The issue was nicely summarized by Sarra Tlili in a recent article: ‘What needs to be stated from the outset is that, when considered against the backdrop of the Ikhwān’s entire work, the real puzzle turns out to be the body, rather than the outcome, of the narrative. Relegating nonhuman animals to an inferior status is quite consistent with the Ikhwān’s worldview; what needs to be accounted for is how a group of authors whose interest in classification and hierarchy has been described as something that amounts at times to “a positive passion and mania”, was able to entertain such an egalitarian position, whereby nonhuman animals are assigned the same status as humans’.11 In her article, Tlili argues that this sense of egalitarianism between human and nonhuman animals as developed by the Ikhwān throughout the narrative primarily stems from the sacred book of Islam itself. Assuming—with good reason, I would think—that the Ikhwānian fable could be taken as an exegetical interpretation of the Qurʾān in its own right, Tlili’s point is to establish that the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ juxtapose in their essay on animals two different readings of the Qurʾān: one is resolutely anthropocentric whereas the other would be better defined as ‘theocentric and eco/animal-centric’. According to this reasoning, the ambivalent consideration of animals in the Qurʾān is also what enables us to justify the Brethren’s unexpected degree of sympathy for nonhuman animals, in spite of their clearly anthropocentric conceptions. As Tlili contends: ‘Proponents of both positions are able to find substantiation for their views in the Qur’an; however, thanks to a holistic, intra-textual approach, the nonhuman animals’ interpretation is consistently more convincing’.12 I would agree with this conjecture, at least to some extent, since it is also clear to me that the Ikhwān excelled at playing with the meanings of Qurʾānic expressions, perhaps to a higher degree in this epistle than anywhere else in the rest of corpus.13 But it also seems to me that Tlili’s line of argument falls short in accounting for the brusque change of perspective at the end of the narrative. In her conclusions, Tlili appears to admit this problem and hypothesizes that the Brethren might have changed their minds as they proceeded in the writing of the fable.14 SECRETS The present paper will tackle the issue from a different perspective, and with other premises. It assumes that the animal fable has reached us in its completeness, that its contents and form were planned and organized with care and that we should not suspect the authors of having deviated from their initial plan at any moment. It also presupposes that the Ikhwān’s purpose was to write a philosophical essay in which they could convey some essential aspects of their doctrine. Taking the authors at their word, it also assumes that putting the discourse into the mouth of animals allowed them to stimulate the ‘intellectual contemplation’ (iʿtibār) of their readers in a manner which would not otherwise have been possible. In the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, as in many other Neoplatonic works from the Islamic Middles Ages, iʿtibār is a concept which has a very precise meaning. The ‘intellectual contemplation of the signs’ (iʿtibār al-āyāt), in the fuller form of the expression, designates the process by which the soul of a philosopher is able to rationally infer from the contemplation of this world the same divine realities as those the prophets have brought to mankind by way of revelation. The descent of God’s revelation unto the prophets is thus analogous to the philosopher’s intellectual ascent approaching the Divine through the different levels of creation—what medieval authors usually refer to as a ‘philosophical ladder’.15 The above-mentioned passage about the ontological differences between plants, animals and man concludes with the following assertion: This design (waḍ‘) and arrangement (tartīb) which we have mentioned regarding plants, animals and man is divinely ordained (amr ilāhī), in virtue of God’s wisdom and divine providence, as an indication and an explanation (dalāla wa-bayān) for those with eyes to see (li-ūlī al-abṣār) and [those] who ponder the secrets of creation (al-nāẓirīn fī aṣrār al-khalīqa).16 Once again, we shall take the Ikhwān at their own word. In what follows we shall look for indications which the authors may have addressed, regarding the secrets of creation, to ‘those with eyes to see’—a Qurʾānic formula17 which the Ikhwān mention about fifteen times throughout the Rasāʾil. Actually, the issue of whether the Brethren’s animal fable contains this kind of coded signals, made undetectable for the average man but unmistakable to the initiate, is not new. Yves Marquet, who was thoroughly convinced that the Rasāʾil were a pure product of the Fāṭimid daʿwa, already spoke of the Ikhwānian essay on animals as a narrative with different levels of reading and stressed that it was symbolic in several respects.18 Along the same interpretative lines—although notably less assertive than Marquet about the Ismā‘īlī affiliation of the Brethren—Shlomo Pines also pointed out the text’s ‘hidden meaning, for the sake of which […] the disputation has been inserted into the R. Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’.19 More recently, Lourdes María Álvarez also noted that ‘[t]he story of the changing fortunes of the seven tribes of Man and of the seven classes of beasts, a story of the rise and fall of civilizations, can be read as a figura of Islamic history as seen from an Ismāʿīlī viewpoint’.20 As a matter of fact, the text itself is unequivocal in pointing out its hidden content. Thus, in the envoi, a section found in all of the most authoritative manuscripts retained for the recent critical edition, the authors write, regarding the way of knowing the essence of God’s intimates: We have now brought forth this knowledge, in the most concise and accessible way, in fifty-one epistles, and this epistle is one of them. May God Most-High grant you success, dear brethren, in understanding their meanings (fahm maʿānī-hā) when you read them and listen to them. May He open your hearts, release your breasts, and enlighten your eyes to know their secrets (li-maʿrifat asrāri-hā). And may He facilitate for you your labour with them, just as He did with His close and devoted intimates (kamā faʿala bi-awliyāʾi-hi wa-aṣfiyāʾi-hi wa-ahl ṭāʿati-hi).21 In the printed editions of Bombay, Cairo and Beirut—all of them regrettably silent about their use of manuscripts—we even find inserted the additional lines, which can hardly have been invented by the modern editors: Know, my Brother, that in this epistle we have explained the objective we were pursuing. Do not think badly of us and do not consider this epistle as a leisure for young children (mulāʿibat al-ṣibyān) or as a drivel of the Brethren (mukhārifat al-ikhwān) since, in accordance with our habit, we hide the realities behind words, expressions and indications (an naksūwa al-ḥaqāʾiq alfāẓan wa-ʿibārāt wa-ishārāt) so as to not depart from our subject (kaylā yakhruja bi-nā ʿammā naḥnu fī-hi).22 Actually, we need not go very far into the narrative itself to see the authors playing with the various levels of reading that a text may offer. When summoned to comment on the Qurʾānic verse ‘We have certainly created man in the best of stature’ (Q. 95. 4), the first animal representative to intervene replies: ‘Prophetic books have interpretations and commentaries (taʾwīlāt wa-tafāsīr) which are not what the external appearance of their words indicates (ghayr mā yadullu ʿalay-hā ẓāhir alfāẓi-hā), and which are known to the savants firmly-rooted in science (yaʿrifu-hā al-ʿulamāʾ al-rāsikhūn fī-l-ʿilm)’.23 In the present essay, we have chosen to base our argumentation upon motifs whose number is limited but which we are personally inclined to regard as signals of particular significance for the guidance of readers able to perceive them. These motifs, some of which are touched upon by Marquet and Pines but largely overlooked in more recent scholarship, will be discussed under the following headings: a) God’s Intimates; b) Seventy / Seventy-Two; c) Seven; d) Yaʿsūb, Commander of the of Bees; e) the Return of the Conjunction; f) Equator. GOD’S INTIMATES We shall begin our enquiry by focusing on the fable’s ‘surprising dénouement’. What settles the matter in favour of the humans and instantly reduces the rest of the assembly—animals and jinns alike—to silence is the claim that man’s soul, as opposed to that of any nonhuman animal, may hope to survive the death of the body. This is patently exemplified in various categories of eminent people—the text here mentions for instance the prophets (anbiyāʾ), the legatees (awṣiyāʾ), the imams (aʾimma), the saints (awliyāʾ)—‘who resemble the noble angels’ (bi-l-malāʾika al-kirām yatashabbahūn). It is at this critical moment of the plot that in order to better illustrate their point, the Brethren introduce the figure of an exceptional man whom they portray as ‘an accomplished savant, exceptionally intelligent and penetrating, a Persian in his lineage, an Arab in his religion, a ḥanīf in his doctrine, an ʿIrāqī in his education, a Hebrew in his inner nature, a Christian in his manners, a Syrian in his piety, a Greek in his science, an Indian in his discernment, a Ṣūfī in his conduct, with an angelic temperament, heavenly thoughts, and divine cognition’.24 What was the authors’ purpose in bringing this syncretic man—‘a composite of the highest human attributes’, in Goodman’s words25—into the discussion? From the very brief speech he delivers, and which concludes the whole fable, we understand that he is himself an example of these ‘intimates of God’ (awliyāʾ Allāh) who are ‘the élite of His creation’ (ṣafwatu-hu min khalqi-hi) and ‘the best amongst His creatures’ (khiyārat-hu min bariyyati-hi). We now find at the very end of the epistle a clue to the statement in the prologue that ‘the life of every human being should be [our emphasis] in such a way as to deserve to be one of God’s intimates’ (yanbaghī an takūna sīrat kull insān hattā yastaʾhila an yakūna min awliyāʾ Allāh). The Ikhwān’s position has not changed at all from one end of the epistle to another. Man as a species is superior to nonhuman animals because his rational soul grants him the potential to transcend his condition and to reach the angelic condition, but in reality only a chosen few—the intimates of God—are able to achieve this. And yet the same faculty also makes him capable of becoming a ‘cursed devil’, ‘the worst [being] of the created world’, and indeed the nightingale, the last of the animal representatives to intervene in the trial, does not omit to recall God’s threats to the humans and the innumerable torments awaiting them, and them alone, according to the Qurʾān.26 In the Ikhwānian doctrine, ‘awliyāʾ Allāh’ is a notion of great significance and which possesses a very particular meaning. In Epistle 38 (‘On Rebirth and Resurrection’), the Brethren affirm that the science of the Last Abode (al-ākhira) and the Return (al-maʿād), which they designate as the ‘kernel of kernels’ (lubb al-albāb) of human knowledge, ‘is a secret reserved to God’s intimates’ (sirr li-awliyāʾ Allāh) and that it is concealed from two categories of people aligned to Iblīs: Iblīs’s offspring on one hand and, on the other hand, ‘the conformists who do not understand the reality of what they confess’ (ahl al-taqlīd alladhīn lā yaʿrifūn ḥaqīqa mā muqirrūn bi-hi).27 One also finds in the same epistle a remarkable passage, much reminiscent of our ‘syncretic man’, that describes God’s intimates as ‘people for whom times and places become equal’ (qawm tastawī ‘inda-hum al-amkān wa-l-azmān) so that ‘all days have become to them but one feast, one unique Friday (fa-qad ṣārat al-ayyām kullu-hā ʿinda-hum ʿīdan wāḥidan wa-jumʿatan wāḥidatan), and all places have become to them but one mosque (wa-ṣārat al-amkān kullu-hā la-hum masjidan wāḥidan)’.28 In several places of the epistle on resurrection the Ikhwān appear to consider that ‘God’s intimates’ and ‘those firmly-rooted in science’ are the same persons. Should these outstanding people, the only ones of humankind to know the ultimate secrets of God’s creation, be regarded merely as an idealized form of abstraction or are they approachable in the flesh? In Epistle 38 the Ikhwān directly answer this question by inciting their readers to get into contact with those intimates of God, and by unequivocally affirming that ‘our Noble and Virtuous Brethren are those who know the secrets’ (wa-ʿulamāʾ al-asrār wa-hum ikhwānu-nā al-kirām al-fuḍalāʾ). Various other passages from this and other epistles could likewise be adduced to demonstrate the highly elitist character of the Ikhwān’s views on this point of doctrine.29 Turning to the final words of the animal fable, one notes that the identification therein of the awliyāʾ Allāh appears to have been deliberately left with a certain halo of mystery. For ages, the Ikhwān tell us, many have devoted their lives to describe the eminent qualities and the divine traits of God’s intimates, but ‘they have not succeeded in knowing them in their essence’ (wa-lam yablaghū kunh maʿrifati-hā).30 SEVENTY / SEVENTY-TWO On four occasions in the animal fable we find the statement that the representatives of the human kind in the trial were ‘seventy’ or ‘about seventy’ in number.31 In the case of the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, whose Pythagorean-style obsession with numbers proves at least as evident as their ‘positive passion and mania’ for hierarchy and classification, it would probably be better to be more cautious here. In her book on the significance of numbers in ancient traditions, Annemarie Schimmel listed a large series of examples of ‘70’ or ‘70-odd’ numbers found in the three Abrahamic traditions: the 70 nations, the years of the Babylonian exile, the 70 judges in the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, the 70 (or 72) scholars having produced the ‘Septuaginta’, and many more. ‘According to legend’, as Schimmel also reminds us, ‘Adam knew 70 languages, which is taken to mean all the languages of the world. In a similar vein, the Prophet Muḥammad is said to have recited the Qurʾān 70 times during his heavenly journey in the Divine Presence, and also to have asked forgiveness 70 times daily—a recurring motif in the Abrahamic religions’.32 In Islam, the ‘70’ or ’70-odd’ motif is also regularly found in connection with the famous ‘ḥadīth of division’ (ḥadīth al-tafriqa) according to which Muḥammad is meant to have said: ‘The Jews divided into seventy-one sects (firqa), the Christians into seventy-two sects, and my community will divide into seventy-three sects’. As Roy Mottahedeh observes: ‘This form of the ḥadīth is found in Abū Dāʾūd al-Sijistānī (d. 275ah/889ce), Ibn Mājah (d. 273ah/887ce), al-Tirmīdhī (d. 279ah/892ce), and al-Nisāʾī (d. 303ah/915ce), four of the six so-called “canonical” Sunni collections of ḥadīth. The ḥadīth also occurs frequently in a different version: “There will befall in my nation what befell the children of Israel. The children of Israel divided into seventy-two religious groups (millah) and my community will divide into seventy-three religious groups (millah), one more than they. All of them are in hell-fire except one religious group” ’.33 Under this or a similar form, the ‘ḥadīth of division’ became an indispensable component in Islamic heresiography, being mentioned and interpreted—in radically divergent ways, of course—by various sub-branches of Shiʿism and Sunnism alike. In the Kitāb al-shajara, a treatise compiled in the tenth century by the Qarmaṭī dā‘ī Abū Tammām, one reads a particularly interesting version of this kind of heresiography. Making use of a typically Ismaʿili terminology, Abū Tammām calls ‘satans’ (shayaṭīn) the 72 sects of Islam which cling to the ‘shell’ (qishr)—in other words the exterior aspect (ẓāhir) of religion and scripture—and which do not consider their corresponding ‘kernel’ (lubb)—that is, their inner meaning (bāṭin). To these 72 sects, which are all promised to hell, he opposes the group of those ‘partisans of the inner meaning’ (ahl al-bāṭin), the only one to have remained without dissension since Muḥammad’s time: ‘What fits exactly the words of the messenger of God, may God bless him and his family, is the fact that the proponents of external meaning have divided into seventy-two sects while the partisans of inner meanings remain in the same state they were when the messenger of God, may God bless him and his family, departed from this world. There has not occurred among them any breaking up or mutual opposition or irresolution as has occurred among the proponents of external meanings who curse and repudiate each other’.34 All this obviously makes a good deal of sense when compared to the Ikhwān’s narrative, its references to the ‘seventy’ or ‘about seventy’ representatives of humankind and to the syncretic man with his distinctive capacity to reach the angelic status. This is all the more true as Abū Tammām’s arrangement of the contents of his own treatise also seems reminiscent of the Ikhwān. As Paul Walker observes: ‘The book [as a whole i.e., Kitāb al-Shajara] is roughly organized around an inquiry into the various kinds of beings: angels, jinn, shayṭāns, iblīses, and humans, as each in turn exists, first as a potential (bi’l-quwwa) and, second, as an actuality (bi’l-fiʿl)’.35 The animal fable is indeed a work in which all these categories of beings play a role and where the central issue remains the capacity of man, primus inter pares in the animal kingdom, to reach the level of angels in actuality. In fact, the Ikhwān do refer to the ‘ḥadīth of division’ in one place of their encyclopaedia. This is in Epistle 47, devoted to the divine nomos, the conditions and characteristics of prophecy and the doctrines of divine men, which concludes on a long qaṣīda designed to illustrate the exoteric and esoteric facets of Law. One verse reads: ‘How in the division of his community he reduced to 3 after 70’ (kayfa fī tafrīqi-hi ummata-hu ʿalā thalāth baʿda sabʿīn ikhtaṣar).36 By mentioning in the animal fable ‘70 men’ or ‘about 70 men’ from various regions of the world (min buldān shattā) and by stressing in various places their difference in colours, forms, tongues and clothes, I surmise that the Brethren’s intention was to give the ḥadīth a global and more universal scope, in agreement with their syncretic views. SEVEN Let us now move from ‘seventy’ to its tenth part, i.e., ‘seven’. Although no groups of seven are explicitly mentioned as such in the fable, it can hardly escape the attention of any reader that the Ikhwānian plot features seven species of animals, and that each of these seven species is represented by one orator at the trial. The division of the animal realm into seven is made clear from the following passage: ‘They sent six individuals to six species of animals, the seventh [species] already present being that of the beasts and cattle (bahāʾim / anʿām). One messenger went to the beasts of prey (sibā‘), one to the birds of prey (jawāriḥʿ), one to the birds (ṭuyūr), one to the flying insects (ḥasharāt), one to the creeping animals (hawāmm), and one to the aquatic animals (ḥayawān al-māʾ).37 This sevenfold division of the animal kingdom is striking, although not unusual.38 Seven is also the number of humans chosen as legatees to represent humankind at the trial, and to conduct man’s cause before the assembly of the jinns and in front of the animal representatives. These seven human orators all come from different nations. They are described respectively as: (1) ‘a man from Īrān-Shahr, meaning Iraq’ (rajul min īrān shahr yaʿnī bi-hi al-ʿirāq); (2) ‘an Indian, from the island of Sarandīb’ (rajul min ahl al-hind min jazīra sarandīb); (3) ‘a Syrian, a Hebrew from the House of Israel’ (rajul min ahl al-shām ʿibrānī min āl isrāʿīl); (4) ‘a Syriac, from the House of Christ’ (rajul suryānī min āl al-masīḥ); (5) ‘a man from Tihāma, a Qurayshite’ (rajul min tihāma qurashī); (6) ‘a Byzantine from Greece’ (rajul min ahl al-rūm wa-bilād yūnān); (7) ‘a Khorasanian from Merw Shāhijān’ (rajul min ahl khurāsān min bilād marwashāhān). In a most entertaining fashion, each of these seven human legatees in his turn takes much pride in praising the incomparable achievements of his own community, only to be swiftly and bitterly put back in his place by the jinni sage for omitting to mention far less glorious facets of the same community. Not even the Muslim legatee is spared from the critics of this ‘master in determination’ (ṣāḥib al-ʿazīma), who adds: ‘Say also: we have abandoned the religion and we have, after the decease of our prophet, become again apostates, doubters and hypocrites (innā taraknā al-dīn wa-rajaʿnā murtaddīn ba‘d wafāt nabī-nā shākkīn munāfiqīn). We have killed the virtuous and most excellent imams, looking for this world instead of religion (wa-qatalnā al-aʾimma al-fāḍilīn al-khayyirīn ṭalaban li-l-dunyā bi-l-dīn).39 It appears that in writing these lines the Ikhwān pursued a double objective in reality. From a strictly ‘Islamic’ viewpoint, it was crucial for them to emphasize in the most radical manner their disagreement with and reproof of all other factions. Yet, at a more universal level, it also mattered to them to put Islam and its people on a par with the rest of human communities on the surface of the earth. As to the reason for choosing number seven, it was in this case most probably suggested to the authors by the classical models of division of the ecumene into seven areas, be it in the form of horizontal bands as in the Greek theory of climes or as six circles circumscribing a central one with the Iranian representations of kishwār-s.40 As a matter of fact, the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ even manage to concoct a sevenfold scheme when dealing with the jinn. Thus, on his vizier’s advice the king of the jinn seeks at some point to consult a group of experts stemming from different tribes of his people. These scholars are introduced as: (1) ‘the jinnī judges from the House of Birjīs’ (quḍāt al-jinn min āl birjīs); (2) ‘the jurists from the House of Nāhīd’ (al-fuqahāʾ min āl nāhīd); (3) ‘the rationalists from the tribe of Tīrān’ (ahl al-raʾy min banī tīrān); (4) ‘the sages from the House of Luqmān’ (al-ḥukamāʾ min āl luqmān); (5) ‘the experienced scholars from the tribe of Māhān’ (ahl al-tajārib min banī māhān); (6) ‘the philosophers from the House of Kaywān’ (al-falāsifa min banī kaywān); (7) ‘men of rigor and determination from the House of Bahrām’ (ahl al-ṣarāma wa-l-ʿazīma min āl bahrām).41 All but one of these names are Persian and actually correspond to a planet in ancient Iranian cosmology: Birjīs is Jupiter; Nāhīd is Venus; Tīrān is Mercury; Māhān is the Moon; Kaywān is Saturn; and Bahrām is Mars.42 The Ikhwān mention most of these names (aside from the more usual Arabic appellations) in their famous re-elaboration of the story of the Seven Sleepers at the end of the epistle on resurrection—a story to which I shall return later in the present study. One name, Luqmān, is not Persian and, as far as I know, not linked to a planet. I am unable to explain why the Ikhwān mention this name here, supposedly in correspondence with the Sun. The manuscript tradition appears to be too consistent here to propose a scribal error. This said, it is also important to bear in mind that Luqmān appears in various philosophical gnomologica as a philosophical sage. The Ikhwān’s fascination with numbers in general and with heptads in particular needs no justification. Sevenfold schemes are found all over the place in the Rasāʾil: the seven planets of the supra-lunar world and the seven layers of hell, the seven climes of the inhabited world, the seven corporeal faculties and the seven spiritual faculties of man, and so on. In a passage of our prologue mentioning the Pythagorean saying that ‘existent beings are in accordance with the nature of numbers’ (al-mawjūdāt bi-ḥasab ṭabīʿa al-aʿdād), the Ikhwān recall that the bodies of animals with a perfect constitution were given ‘seven active faculties in agreement with the first complete number and the number of planets’ (sabʿ quwā al-faʿʿāla muṭābiqan li-awwal ʿadad kāmil wa-li-ʿadad al-kawākib al-sayyāra).43 In Epistle 1, on arithmetic, the Ikhwān state that seven is the first complete number ‘because seven combines in itself the meanings of all the [preceding] numbers’ and point out that ‘this is a special property of seven, which no other number before it possesses’.44 The same passage suggests that seven has ‘other special properties (la-hā khawāṣṣ ukhar), which we will discuss when we consider the fact that existent beings are constituted in accordance with the nature of numbers’, but in fact one can hardly find any such specific discussion in the entire collection of epistles, as if the authors had considered this unnecessary given the massive presence of sevenfold schemes in their work. Indeed, in the places of the corpus where they otherwise dutifully list the special properties attached to each number, the Ikhwān appear to excuse themselves for not going into the details of number seven since, as they affirm for instance in Epistle 32 (‘On the Intellectual Principles According to the Pythagoreans’), ‘[t]hose devoted to sevens (al-sabʿiyya) went deep into uncovering existing beings that come in sevens (al-subāʿyya), and they came up with marvellous things among them (fa-ẓahara la-hum min-hā ashyāʾ ʿajība). They were infatuated with them, bragged at length about them, and neglected those [existents] that might be enumerated by other numbers’.45 In another version of the same epistle, the corresponding passage reads: ‘With regard to the sevens (al-musabbaʿāt) among the existing things, we will leave off mentioning them, since a group of those devoted to the sciences (qawm min ahl al-ʿilm) were passionate about these and went to excessive length in discussing them. They are understood as existing in the hands of these scholars’ (wa-hiya maʿrūfa mawjūda fī aydī ahl al-ʿilm).46 In Epistle 5, on music, ‘seveners’ (al-musabbiʿa) are likewise described as people ‘who were obsessed with mentioning heptads as superior to anything else’ (qad shughifū bi-dhikr al-musabbaʿāt wa-tafḍīli-hi ʿalā ghayri-hā)’—‘a partial assumption’ (naẓar juzʾī) and ‘a non-universal statement’ (kalām ghayr kullī) according to the Brethren.47 Who were these ‘Seveners’ (sabʿiyya / musabbiʿa), these scientists mad about sevens in the Ikhwān’s view? And how can the authors denounce their exaggerated views on the subject when we consider the Ikhwān’s own penchant for grouping things into heptads? Needless to say, the first branch of Islamic heresiography that spontaneously comes to mind when speaking about number seven and its symbolism is Ismaʿilism. As Annemarie Schimmel writes: ‘Seven reigns [over] the whole philosophy of the Ismā‘īlīs, the Sevener Shi‘is, who have developed a complicated system of heptads: seven prophets are the seven pillars of the House of Wisdom, the seventh imām in the succession of a prophet will bring the resurrection. From God’s creative words “Be! and it becomes”, with its seven Arabic letters (k. n. f. y. k. w. n.), are formed the principles out of which the seven primordial fountains flow. The seven prophets correspond to the seven spheres, the seven imāms in each prophetic cycle, to the seven earths’.48 In Sunni medieval sources, the term ‘sabʿiyya’ is regularly employed as a way to refer to the Ismaʿilis in a deprecatory manner. It appears as such in Ghazālī’s Faḍāʾiḥ al-bāṭiniyya, but most likely he derived the expression from older, no longer extant, Ashʿari sources.49 It is also found, with the same negative connotation, in various later authors such as the Shafīʿi doctors Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210 ce) and Sayf al-Dīn al-Āmidī (d. 1233), or the Hanbali Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) in Mamlūk times.50 Commenting on one of the passages that we have just quoted from the Rasāʾil, Carmela Baffioni indeed suggests that ‘mussabbaʿa’ and ‘sabaʿiyya’ might also be used there as pejorative terms for the Ismaʿilis, with all that this implies for the hotly debated issue of whether the Ikhwān were, or not, Ismaʿilis themselves.51 Without discarding the plausibility of Baffioni’s conjecture, there is still room, it seems, for considering alternative interpretations. We cannot rule out the possibility, for instance, that the Ikhwān are here targeting a specific group of ghuluww literature from early Islam which may have influenced the Ismaʿilis without being Ismaʿili stricto sensu.52 Whatever the identification of these Seveners, what is worth observing in all the above passages is the universal level at which the Ikhwān claim to situate themselves. As followers of Pythagoras, their credo is to attach significance to the entire series of integral numbers and not to celebrate the merits of any one in particular. YAʿSŪB, COMMANDER OF THE OF BEES At one place of the narrative the king of each species chooses among his subjects the spokesman most appropriate to defend the species at the trial. It is not explicitly stated who the king of the ‘beasts and cattle’ is—presumably the Horse (al-khayl)—, but in the case of the other six species the identification is clear. They are: the Lion (al-asad) for the beasts of prey; the Simurgh (al-shāhmurgh) for the birds; the Bee (al-naḥl) for the flying insects; the Griffin (al-ʿanqāʾ) for the birds of prey; the Sea-Dragon (al-tinnīn) for the aquatic animals; the Snake (al-thuʾbān) for the creeping animals. As for the spokesmen chosen after a long discussion, they turn out to be: the Jackal (ibn āwā); the Nightingale (al-hazār) for the birds; the Bee (al-naḥl) for the flying insects; the Parrot (al-babghāʾ) for the birds; the Frog (al-ḍifda‘) for the aquatic animals; the Cricket (al-ṣarṣar) for the creeping animals. Again, the delegate of the ‘beasts and cattle’ is not named here, but we may assume with some confidence that it is the Mule (al-baghl). How is it that the Bee is found in these two lists at the same time? The answer is provided by ‘Yaʿsūb, commander and chief of the bees’ (al-yaʿsūb amīr al-naḥl wa-zaʿīmu-hā) himself, on the occasion of a long and most peculiar intervention: ‘Among the special properties and blessings that God granted me, my fathers and my grandfathers is that He gave us kingship and prophecy (mimmā khaṣṣa-nī allāh bi-hi wa-anʿama bi-hi ʿalayya wa-ʿalā ābāʾī wa-ajdādī an atā-nā al-mulk wa-l-nubuwwa). These two gifts He made a heritage (wirātha) from my fathers and grandfathers to my children and offspring (fī awlādī wa-dhurriyyatī) to be transmitted one generation after another until the Day of Resurrection (yatawārathu-hā khalaf ʿan salaf ilā yawm al-qiyāma). These are two immense and magnificent blessings of which most creatures—be they jinn, humans or the rest of animals—are deprived’.53 In the rest of his speech, Yaʿsūb dwells at great length on the countless incomparable gifts his species can boast of and which, in his own words, are ‘a lesson for those with minds to discern and a sign for those with eyes to see’ (ʿibara li-ūlī-l-albāb wa-āya li-ūlī-l-abṣār): consummate architectural skills, perfection of the body, production of a delicious and curative drink, social organization promoting friendship and mutual help, moral and intellectual qualities, and so on. The whole passage is clearly to be regarded as a confirmation and endorsement of what the Qurʾān says of bees in Sūrat al-Naḥl, and which the Ikhwān do not omit to cite: ‘And your Lord inspired (awḥā) to the bee, “Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct. Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you].” There emerges from their bellies (buṭūn) a drink, varying in colours, in which there is healing (shifāʾ) for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought’ (Q. 16. 68–70). As is well-known, these verses find in Shiʿism an interpretation of their own. From an early stage, it became usual for Shiʿi scholars to assume that these inspired bees represent the community of genuine believers (sometimes restricted only to the imams or to the ahl al-bayt), and that the healing drink produced from their bellies refers to the esoteric meaning of revelation.54 Consequently, it also became a common tradition with many Shiʿis to call ʿAlī not only ‘the commander of the faithful’ (amīr al-mu’minīn) but also ‘the commander of the bees’ (amīr al-naḥl) or even ‘Yaʿsūb’, the Arabic name for the queen-bee in Arabic.55 With references to various great figures of Twelver Shiʿism—including the tenth-century ḥadīth collectors al-ʿAyyāshī, al-Qummī, and al-Kulaynī—, Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi notes that ‘[a]ccording to an entire series of traditions, God describes ʿAlī with a succession of formulae rendered in assonant prose such as “Commander of the Faithful, leader of the Muslims, Best among the best, guide to the devout, Queen-Bee of the Faithful”’.56 Recent scholarship has also highlighted the particular importance of these traditions in more extreme forms of Shiʿism such as Nuṣayrism,57 and posited that Shiʿi mystics of this community may have derived their interpretation from the symbolism attached to the bee by the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry in antiquity.58 In his Kitāb al-Kashf, the tenth-century Ismaʿili author Jaʿfar b. Manṣūr al-Yaman identifies the bees of the Qurʾān with the imams and the honey they produce with the science of God.59 By calling the ‘king’ of the flying insects ‘Yaʿsūb, the commander and chief of the bees’, the Ikhwān step into a well-established tradition which is of unmistakably Shiʿi provenance. What is especially relevant in the queen-bee’s speech is the affirmation that bees combine mulk (kingship) and nubuwwa (prophecy) as no other species in the creation does. This is, needless to say, a most recurrent theme with the Ikhwān, especially in the parts of their work concerned with their views on imamate. From what they write in Epistle 42 (‘On Views and Religions’) we may infer the following, which I take from Carmela Baffioni’s analysis: ‘To this day, everyone agrees on the task of the Imam, but there is disagreement as to his identity because imāma is of two kinds: prophetic and regal. Usually, the tasks of the king are clearly distinguished from those of the prophet, because kingship is a mundane activity, whereas prophecy is related to the spiritual. However, sometimes these qualities are combined in a single person, who is then the delegated prophet and also the king. The fact that men in whom kingship and prophecy are united do not crave after worldly things is proof of God’s tenderness towards His community. The Prophet Muhammad was both prophet and king of the Muslim umma, thus ensuring its best defence, but his successors did not always match him in nobility’.60 Putting words into the mouths of animals or fictional human characters allows the Ikhwān either to mock or bitterly to criticize the Umayyads and the ʿAbbasids—obviously two cases of mundane kings in their views—without even having to refrain from mentioning them by name.61 These strictures, which are made in passing, no doubt contribute to making the fable a witty, erudite, and entertaining piece of literature, but I do not think we should overestimate the significance of these Islam-focused references with respect to the universality of the message that the Ikhwān sought to convey in the animal fable. THE RETURN OF THE CONJUNCTION Chapter 8 of the animal fable, whose purport is to narrate ‘the enmity between the race of the jinn and the race of Adam and how it came about’ (al-ʿadāwa bayna banī al-jānn wa-bayna banī ādam wa-kayfa kānat),62 deserves particular attention. Written in the manner of a dizzying flashback in time, it is in most part not concerned with animals but has much to say about jinn, angels and humans as they came in turn to populate the surface of the earth. Animals are mentioned at very end of this long account, which is reported by the jinni sage (al-ḥakīm) to the King and in the presence of the ‘master in determination’ (ṣāḥib al-ʿazīma). The King asks whether they, the jinn ‘should leave beasts captives in their hands [of the humans] and forever suffering from their torments’ (a-natruku hādhihi al-bahāʾim asīran fī ayaday-him li-yasūmū-hā min al-ʿadhāb dāʾiman). The jinni sage has a reply which one would perhaps not have expected here, and which deserves to be quoted in full: No, but these beasts (hādhihi al-baḥāʾim) will have to remain in captivity and servitude until the revolution of the conjunction will have expired (ilā an yanqaḍiya dawr al-qirān), and [until] the Last Abode will recommence to appear (wa-yastaʾnifa nushūʾ al-ākhira). Then God will free and deliver them just as He saved the House of Israel from the torments of the House of Pharaoh, just as He saved the House of David from the torments of Nebuchadnezzar, just as He saved the House of Ḥimyar from the torments of the House of Tubbaʿ, just as He saved the House of Sāsān from the torments of the House of Yunān, just as He saved the House of ʿAdnān from the torments of the House of Ardashīr. Indeed, the days of this world revolve, [producing] changes between its peoples (fa-inna ayyām hādhihi al-dunyā duwal bayna ahli-hā tadūru) by the permission and the foreknowledge of God Most High and by executing His volition, [and this] in agreement with the necessary implications of the laws of the conjunctions and revolutions (bi-mūjabāt aḥkām al-qirānāt wa-l-adwār) that take place once every 1,000 years, once every 12,000 years, once every 36,000 years, once every 360,000 years, and once every Day the extent of which is 50,000 years’.63 Let us start by considering the five values provided at the end of the passage. All but the last one are also found in Epistle 36 (‘On Cycles and Revolutions’), to which I refer the reader interested for more detailed explanations.64 As made plain there, the 1,000-year period is an approximation for the ‘great’ or ‘major’ conjunctions (al-qirānāt al-kibār) of Jupiter and Saturn—taking place every 960 years in reality—, a cycle of prime importance in Islamic astrology since it was meant to determine the changes of religions and empires.65 The 12,000-year period is a cycle which Muslim astrologers most probably borrowed from Sasanid Persia. According to this doctrine, each of the twelve zodiacal signs was believed to rule over the world in succession for 1,000 years. The 36,000-year period is the canonical value attributed, since Ptolemy, to the movement of equinoctial precession. For the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ as for other scientists in Islam, this movement was held responsible for the periodic interchanges between seas and mainlands on the surface of the earth. The 360,000-year cycle is the one assigned by the Ikhwān to the ‘Great Year’, corresponding to the period required for all the planetary spheres and the sphere of the fixed stars to come back into a conjunction. The figure of 360,000 years was derived from Indian astronomy, which also postulated that this general return of the planets, taking place in the first degree of Aries, would mark the recommencement of the universe. In contradistinction to these four periods, the one corresponding to ‘every day the extent of which is 50,000 years’ is not mentioned in Epistle 36. It has no astronomical justification, but is an obvious reference to the Qurʾānic verse: ‘The angels and the spirit will ascend to Him during a day the extent of which is 50,000 years’ (Q. 70: 4). It should be observed that in Epistle 36 (‘On Cycles and Revolutions’) the Ikhwān identify as millennial revolutions (adwār al-ulūf) the following four cycles: (1) 7,000 years; (2) 12,000 years; (3) 51,000 years; (4) 360,000 cycles.66 Now, which type of cosmic event do the Ikhwān refer to in the first part of the passage when they allude to the expiration of a conjunctional cycle and the reappearance of the Last Abode? In spite of the cryptic language typically used by the authors when dealing with astrological predictions, it seems that we are not at a loss to make some plausible conjectures. As has already been mentioned, the Brethren conclude their epistle on rebirth and resurrection with an edifying tale which, in all likelihood, they have fabricated themselves by superimposing a scheme of prophetic astrology on the Qurʾānic version of the Seven Sleepers in the Cave. There again, one has to cope with enigmatic formulations, but the text furnishes enough indications to make good sense of it, at least to some extent, as I have argued elsewhere.67 In short, we are told of a king (God) and of his seven sons (the seven prophets, in the following order: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muḥammad, and ‘the Qāʾim of Resurrection’) born to him on the seven successive days of the week (the seven millenniums making up a 7,000-year cycle). Each of the seven sons is associated with a specific planet (Adam with the Sun; Noah with Saturn; Abraham with Jupiter; Moses with Mars; Jesus with Venus; Muḥammad with Mercury; the Qāʾim with the Moon). Regarding the six elder sons, we are also informed that they were all given a part of the father’s kingdom (the different prophetic traditions), but that none of them succeeded in being sufficiently obeyed by his subjects (the community of believers). Consequently, each one of them is advised in turn by the father ‘to be patient’ and each falls asleep in the Cave ‘until Friday’ (the millennium heralded by the seventh prophet, the Qāʾim of Resurrection). The Ikhwān’s re-interpretation of Sūrat al-Kahf contains various other coded references of the same kind, in particular concerning the sixth ‘Mercurian/Hermetic’ millennium heralded by Muḥammad, but it is not the place to re-enter into the detail of the analysis, or to emphasize again the evident resemblance of the overall scheme with others found in Ismaʿili cosmology.68 What needs to be retained here is this astrologically-based scheme of seven millenniums, six of which were heralded by prophets of the past and the seventh is still expected to come about. In his report, the jinni sage of Chapter 8 adopts the same historical perspective, and mentions essentially the same prophetic names. Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muḥammad are all named in this order, whereas the Noah figure is implied by a reference to the Great Flood. In addition are found Idrīs and Solomon, two prophets reported to have played a particularly important role in the jinni vs. human interrelations, as the text itself suggests. So, when the jinni sage announces the return of the conjunction and the reappearance of the Last Abode at the end of his report, we have good reasons to assume that he is referring to the same phenomenon as that marking the transition in the story of the Seven Sleepers between the six past millenniums and the seventh yet to come about. In Epistle 34 (‘On the World as a Macranthrope’) is found the phrase ‘The age of the world is 7,000 years. I have been sent in the last millennium (ʿumr al-dunyā sabʿa ālāf sana, buʿithtu fī ākhiri-hā alfan)’, which the Ikhwān mention as a ḥadīth of the Prophet Muḥammad supporting their views.69 In the same passage, they also adduce the Qurʾānic verse: ‘And indeed, a day with your Lord is like a thousand years of those which you count’ (Q. 22. 47) to explain that ‘between the Day of the Covenant (yawm al-mīthāq), that is, the day of the First Presentation, and the Day of Resurrection (yawm al-qiyāma), that is, the day of the Second Presentation, there is the distance of seven days, each day being like a thousand years (kull yawm ka-alf sana)’.70 In agreement with the same scheme, we also find in the epistle on resurrection the following statement about God’s Intimates: ‘If for them all the days are equivalent, having become a Friday and a Feast, it is because they contemplate the Day of Resurrection, which will take place when a thousand years will have been completed, from the day God sent Muḥammad—Peace be upon Him’.71 Turning back to our animal fable, we infer from the above indications that, in the overall 7,000-year scheme, the conjunction announced by the jinni sage is due to take place at the end of the current millennium, namely, the sixth millennium heralded by Muḥammad. During the seventh millennium, the hidden truths contained in the six preceding millennia and transmitted by the ‘awliyāʾ Allāh’ of each religion will be revealed to all, manifesting God’s message in its genuine universality. Until then, the Islamic Law (sharīʿa), which cares for the external aspects of revelation, will have been abrogated, just as the five former prophetic Laws were successively abrogated in the past. The diversity of the previous ages will leave room for a time of unity and comprehensiveness. To take up the Brethren’s metaphorical language, the six elder Sleepers will wake up together on a Friday and come out of the Cave. On that day, which is also the day of the soul’s general gathering before the Judgement, all places on earth will have been made equal and all days will have become Friday. I have discussed elsewhere the three possible destinies awaiting human souls in the Ikhwān’s eschatology: ‘Those deemed to be insufficiently purified will have to start a new cycle of reincarnation, so that they will remain in the barzakh (in the sense of cycles of transmigration) for at least another seven thousand years. Those of great sinners and inveterate unbelievers will not be incarnated again, but rather thrown directly into various levels of Hell, where they will become devils and forever act as vicious and tempting powers for other souls still to be incarnated. Finally, the souls whose purification is judged sufficient (and who are apparently assumed to be more numerous than those destined for Hell) will be sent to the various levels of Paradise and there become immortal angels ready to assist like-minded souls which are still in the process of purification’.72 The passage on the conjunction in the animal fable is most interesting in that it gives us insight into a broader eschatological system in which the souls of animals are also taken into account. It is certainly worthwhile putting it into relation with the following statement from Epistle 20 (‘On Nature’), where the Ikhwān perceive the angels as the souls of the animals that prostrated before Adam and, in perfect agreement with our fable, affirm that they will have to remain subject to the humans until the end of the present cycle: ‘As to the angels (ammā al-malāʾika) that prostrated before Adam, the father of mankind, they are the caliphs on the Earth of those [angels] that are in the spheres, they are the souls of all animals (hum nufūs sāʾir al-ḥayawānāt) who prostrated before Adam and his progeny in obedience, and that are subject to them till the day of resurrection (ilā yawm al-qiyāma)’.73 According to the fable, it is only the souls of the beasts (baḥā’im) that get the opportunity to be liberated once and forever at the end of every 7,000-year period. Why out of the whole animal realm the beasts are the only animals to be considered here is explained by the following passage from Epistle 46 (‘On the Quiddity of Faith’): ‘You should know that the animal souls that most deserve to be transported to the rank of humankind (iʿlam an aḥaqq al-nufūs al-ḥayawāniyya an tantaqila ilā rutbat al-insāniyya) are those who live miserably at the hands of the humans, subservient to man, labouring at his service, and obeying him submissively’.74 In Epistle 34 (‘On the World as a Macranthrope’) a passage is found that provides some further indications on the destinies ascribed to the different categories of beings—angels, humans, jinn and animals—this time all considered together as part of a general process: ‘As for the souls that are consciously benevolent and virtuous, they are the genera of angels and the pious among the believers, and the wise among the jinn and humans. And as for the consciously evil, they are the defiant demons and the beguiling sorcerer-jinn and the Pharaohs and the imposters among the people. And the ignorant and evil [souls] are the souls of the rapacious beasts of prey and the ignorant, evil people (hiya anfas al-sibāʿ al-ḍāriya wa-l-juhhāl al-ashrār min al-nās). And the ignorant but not evil are the souls of certain harmless animals such as sheep and goats, and cows, and other animals like them (anfas baʿḍ al-ḥayawānāt al-salīma ka-l-ghanam wa-l-baqar wa-ghayri-hā min al-ḥayawānāt). And know that the bodies of some benign animals are prisons […] and underground oubliettes for their souls. And [the bodies of] some of them are a [narrow] bridge [over hell] that they traverse, and some of them are a barzakh [after death] until the day people are raised from the dead, and some are heights [between heaven and hell] on which they are standing [stranded until the Day of Judgement and Resurrection]’.75 The above lines do not allow us to get a fully-comprehensive view of the Brethren’s doctrine.76 What is clear, however, is that the liberation of these animal species does not depend on their own virtues, since as beings deprived of the rational faculty they do not share with man the potentiality to become an angel or a devil. We are thus to infer that it is the responsibility of man, and of man alone, to help these animals to move up in the hierarchy of the created world by one step at a time. Better than anything else, I would personally consider this assumption as a crucial element enabling us to account for the Ikhwān’s sympathy—in the etymological sense of the term—for animals, and for domesticated animals in particular. EQUATOR To conclude the present enquiry we shall go back to the very beginning of the fable, where the authors situate the plot of the trial in time and space. The epoch at which the trial is meant to have taken place is not defined with precision, the only certainty being that it was after the time the Prophet Muḥammad called men and jinn to the Islamic faith. Things are more delimited in spatial terms: the trial is located on the sweet and fertile island of Ṣāʿūn where the King of the Jinn has his capital, ‘in the midst of the Green Sea, adjacent to the equatorial line’ (fī wasaṭ al-baḥr al-akhḍar mimmā yalī khaṭṭ al-istiwāʾ).77 This choice is not innocent in our view. For the equatorial line is also the place where it all began for both human and nonhuman animals at the beginning of the 7,000-year cycle, as we infer from the prologue of Epistle 22: ‘You must know, my Brother, that all the animals with a perfect constitution, whether male or female, originally generated from clay (anna al-ḥayawānāt al-tāmmat al-khilka kulla-hā kāna badʾ kawni-hā min al-ṭīn awwalan dhakaran wa-unthā). Next, they reproduced themselves, multiplied and spread over the earth (thumma tawāladat wa-tanāsalat wa-intasharat fī-l-arḍ), in plains, mountains, mainlands and seas, under the equatorial line (min taḥta khaṭṭ al-istiwāʾ) which is where night and day are equivalent, and where the climate is always temperate between hot and cold, and where matter, ready to receive the forms, is always present (wa-l-mawādd al-mutahayyiʾa li-qubūl al-ṣuwar mawjūda dāʾiman). There also the coming-to-be of Adam (wa-hunāka ayḍan kāna takawwun ādam), the father of mankind, and of his wife, took place. Next, they reproduced themselves and their progeny multiplied, filling the earth with themselves in plains, mountains, mainlands and seas, down to this day.’78 A few pages later in the same prologue, the Ikhwān confirm this by supplying a few more elements: ‘You must know, my Brother, that at the beginning of creation (fī badʾ al-khalq) all the animals having a perfect constitution and a magnificent form, whether male or female, originated from clay under the equatorial line, which is where night and day are equal, and where hot and cold are temperate. [This is also where one finds] places protected from wind fluctuations and numerous types of matter prepared to receive the forms. Since there was no place on earth having these characteristics (lammā lam yakun fī al-arḍ mawāḍīʿ mawjūda bi-hādhihi al-awṣāf), the wombs of the females of these animals were endowed with this specific balance of [their] natures, so that when they disperse on earth, they could then reproduce and multiply wherever they are. Most people are amazed at the generation of the animals from clay, although they are not amazed when it occurs in the womb, from foul water (Q. 77. 20), although this is something more astonishing in terms of creation and more significant in terms of power.’79 In the fable itself, the human orator from India (who, as we remember, comes from the island of Sarandīb), does not omit to recall that his own land was favoured by being ‘the most centrally-located country (awsaṭ al-bilād makānan), the most temperate in climate, where night and day are equal, and where summer and winter are temperate, with no excess of heat or cold’.80 Boasting the incomparable richness of its country’s soil and adducing examples of remarkable minerals, plants and animals found there, the Indian adds that it is also the place where God ‘placed the generation of Adam (peace be upon him), the father of mankind, and similarly of all the animals, whose generation was originally under the equatorial line’.81 As was rightly pointed out by Daniel De Smet in a recent article,82 all these passages deserve to be examined in relation to yet another one, found closer to the end of the narrative, and where the Ikhwān, following their habit, interpret the Qurʾān in decisively philosophical terms: ‘The rational, human, universal soul (al-nafs al-nāṭiqa al-insāniyya al-kulliyya), which is God’s deputy on His earth was linked to the body of Adam who was created from clay (min al-turāb), and the angels prostrated—all of them entirely (Q. 15. 30). These are the animal souls submissively obeying to the rational soul which remains till the present day in the offspring of Adam’s children, just like the corporeal form of his body remains in his offspring till the present day’.83 As De Smet explains, ‘L’infusion de cette “âme humaine rationelle universelle” dans le corps du premier Adam terrestre, généré à partir de l’argile de Sarandīb, lui donne le pouvoir de contrôler les passion de son âme animale: les “Anges” invoqués par le Coran. Mais elle lui confère également une science rationnelle par laquelle il surpasse toutes les autres créatures. Ayant appris les “noms”—c.à.d. les quiddités—de toutes les choses, Adam les enseigna aux Anges (qui ici ne se réfèrent manifestement plus aux passions de l’âme)’.84 What is remarkable in those passages about India—or the island of Sarandīb—as the ‘most centrally-located’ place of the earth is that they appear to be in plain contradiction with what the Ikhwān themselves report in Epistle 4 (‘On Geography’). As for most of their contemporaries, the backbone and framework of the Brethren’s geography is the classical theory of climes, which the Islamic world inherited from the ancient Greek world. This theory posits that the inhabited quarter of the world (al-rubʿ al-maskūn)—or ecumene—entirely lies in the northern hemisphere and that it is made of seven horizontal elongate rectangles—the seven climes (al-aqālīm al-sabʿa)—whose respective frontiers are scientifically determined by the length of the day at the solstice. In their detailed description of the characteristics of each clime that covers the greatest part of the epistle, the Ikhwān nowhere identify a given place as the centre of the world, but they agree with both the Greek masters and their Muslim followers in according some sort of prevalence to the fourth clime—that is, the central clime in latitude—which they situate between 33°30 and 39° north of the equator, the midpoint being 36°50. In contrast to other scholars of their time, who frequently use this point to make Baghdad the omphalos of the entire representation, the Ikhwān—who list Baghdad among the cities of the fourth clime—do not seem to attach particular importance here to any metropolis of the world, be it of the fourth clime or not. But in a passage having no counterpart in the rest of the description they remarkably single out the fourth clime in general as being that of the prophets and the sages. The passage, in which an astrological substrate is perceptible, reads: This clime is the clime of the prophets and the wise men (wa-hādha al-iqlīm huwa iqlīm al-anbiyāʾ wa-l-ḥukamāʾ), because it is the central clime (li-anna-hu wasaṭ al-aqālīm), with three climes to the south and three to the north and also because it is in the division of the Sun (wa-huwa ayḍan fī qism al-shams), the most brilliant body in the sky. The people of this clime have the most harmonious nature and equable morals. After them come the people of the two adjacent climes, I mean the third and the fifth. The inhabitants of the remaining climes, such as the Zanj, the Abyssinians, and most of the communities which inhabit the first and the second climes, lack the nature of the most excellent [clime], because their appearance is hideous and their behaviour savage. This is also the case for the communities in the sixth and seventh clime, such as Gog and Magog, the Bulgars, the Slavs, and similar people.85 I have shown elsewhere that in addition to the theory of climes the Ikhwānian geographical description in Epistle 4 retains traces of another sevenfold division of the ecumene which the authors of the Rasāʾil, like various other thinkers in medieval Islam, have amalgamated with the Greek theory. I am referring here to the Iranian Sasanid theory of kēshvar-s (from kēshvar, meaning ‘region’ in Persian, giving kishwār in Arabic), already mentioned above. This theory features the inhabited world in the form of six circular regions circumscribing a seventh one at the centre of the representation.86 According to the kishwār-theory, the prime of place naturally goes to Iran, or better said to Irān–Shahr by which is commonly designated the Iran–Iraqi region around the ancient city of Babylon—something that in our fable the ‘man from Iran–Shāhr, meaning Iraq’ does not need to be asked twice to recall: ‘Praise be to God who distinguished us by [giving us] the most centrally-located country (wa-l-ḥamdu li-l-lāhi alladhī khaṣṣa-nā bi-awsaṭ al-falāh)’.87 What can we make of these seemingly diverging data? Was there for the Ikhwān an omphalos of the world, and in the affirmative to which region was it meant to correspond? Was it Iran-Shāhr, in the fourth clime, as one would perhaps infer from Epistle 4? Or was it Sarandīb, on the equator, as Epistle 22 has it? And how can the Ikhwān call the fourth clime the clime of the prophets and the sages while being perfectly aware that Muḥammad was born in Makka, which they list—rightly—among the cities of the second clime?88 To answer these questions, we need to bring our 7,000-year cycle into the discussion one more time and, once again, to situate the Brethren’s doctrine at a higher, more universal level. Two epochs must be distinguished in this overall scheme of prophetic history. One pertains to the very inception of the cycle. It corresponds to this unique and fundamental—we could perhaps even say ‘mythical’—moment when, in one particular place of the earth—the equator, or Sarandīb—, the necessary conditions were all gathered together for the very specific genesis—out of clay, by spontaneous generation89—of both humankind and the most perfect species of animals. The other epoch is the one that we are currently living in. What characterizes it is its multiplicity and sheer diversity. From the equator, humans and non-human animals have spread out over the entire world. They are no longer the result of a spontaneous process of generation but reproduce themselves through intercourse. They have ramified into a multitude of species and races, occupying a multitude of regions for a multitude of millennia—a multitude which in each case the Ikhwān have chosen to represent by the number seven, the first complete number according to the Pythagoreans. In the symbolic language of the Ikhwān, the particularities of this second moment are not essential. It is not fundamental that any given place or city of the world be the omphalos of the inhabited world, nor is it even crucial that the prophets inaugurating the successive millennia be born on the fourth clime. Here again, that the Ikhwān make no exception for the Prophet of Islam is in our view quite revealing of their syncretic and universal approach. CONCLUSIONS Our purpose in this article has been to draw attention to motifs in the animal fable from the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ suggesting that the authors reserved the understanding of a deeper level of reading of this narrative for a special category of their readers. With no claim to exhaustiveness, we have discussed certain of these motifs at some length. Beginning with the meaning attached to the concept of ‘God’s Intimates’, we have dealt with two particular examples of number symbolism, respectively about ‘Seventy’ and ‘Seven’, and next proceeded with another kind of symbol, that is, the Bee or more precisely the ‘Commander of the Bees’. And we have completed our survey with two important notions in the time–space configuration of the universe as developed by the Ikhwān, namely the ‘Return of the Conjunction’ and ‘Equator’. What the above discussion makes plain is that the issues at hand should not be analysed separately from one another, but on the contrary considered as parts of a coherent and well thought-out philosophical system. For instance, the Ikhwān take up the well-known tradition of the father of humankind being born on the island of Sarandīb, but what they write about Adam’s spontaneous generation near the equatorial line can only be understood in relation with their theory of prophetic cycles. Likewise, the references that the authors subtly make in the fable to animals, humans and jinns being divided into seven groups cannot be properly appreciated without considering at the same time the importance of the number seven for other schemes also referred or alluded to in the same narrative: the seven climes of the inhabited quarter of the earth, the seven planets and, again, the theory of prophetic cycles being divided into seven millennia. Needless to say, this also holds true for the passage on the conjunction, whose eschatological implications for both humans and animals remain unintelligible if one does not relate it to that doctrine of prophetic history and its seven millennial periods. In fact, it appears that even the image of the syncretic man embodying the virtuous of God’s Intimates or that of the Queen-Bee symbolizing the union of kingship and prophecy cannot be properly apprehended independently from the same fundamental body of doctrine. The message addressed in Epistle 22 is fully consistent with the one delivered by the Ikhwān in the rest of the encyclopaedia. This was one of my assumptions before I embarked on this study, but we may now consider it a reality since for each of the motives that we have focused on we have been able to provide supporting evidence from other epistles. Out of the motifs retained it cannot be denied that some have a strong Ismaʿili flavour. As is well-known, the whole scheme of prophetic history in relation with the revolutions and the conjunctions of the planets, which is only hinted at in the animal fable but has as much importance there as in the rest of the corpus, is closely reminiscent of the views of Ismaʿili scholars from about the same period, such as for instance Jaʿfar b. Manṣūr al-Yaman or Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī. Also typical of Ismaʿili gnosis and heresiography, as we have seen with Abū Tammām’s Kitāb al-Shajara, is the doctrine that man, by virtue of his rational soul, has the power to become either an angel or a devil, but that only a chosen few are able to acquire the angelic status in reality, the rest of mankind being driven to hell or condemned to err for ages in the barzakh. We also have plenty of evidence from Ismaʿili literature to affirm that the special role ascribed in the narrative to Yaʿsūb as ‘commander of the bees’ and ‘commander of the faithful’ can possibly be interpreted along the same lines, although it is true that this conception is shared by non-Ismaʿili Shiʿis as well. And even if there remains some ambiguity on the exact way to understand the Ikhwān’s statements about number seven, it is certainly worth recalling here again that their countless references and allusions to sevenfold schemes throughout the Rasāʾil would also seem to suggest at least a certain degree of affinity with Ismaʿili circles of their time. That said, the exceptionally syncretistic approach adopted by the Ikhwān in the entire corpus, yet perhaps nowhere more evidently claimed than in the animal fable, invite us to remain prudent in our assertions. As has been observed by many scholars over the past decades, the Case of the Animals vs Man is a very erudite piece of literature in which a multitude of influences can be detected. Like the bee of the fable, the authors seem to have gathered their honey from such a vast and motley collection of flowers that reducing them to one unique doctrinal affiliation is an option that should be best discarded. Footnotes 1 G. de Callataÿ, ‘Philosophy and bāṭinism in al-Andalus: Ibn Masarra’s Risālat al-iʿtibār and the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 41 (2014): 261–312; id., ‘Did the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ inspire Ibn Ṭufayl to his Ḥayy Ibn Yaqdhān?’, Ishrāq: Islamic Philosophy Yearbook, 4 (2013): 82–9. 2 L. M. Álvarez, ‘Beastly Colloquies: Of Plagiarism and Pluralism in Two Medieval Disputations between Animals and Men’, Comparative Literature Studies, 39/3 (2002): 179–200. 3 A very brief overview is given in Lenn E. Goodman and Richard McGregor (eds. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. The Case of the Animals versus Man Before the King of the Jinn: An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistle 22 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2009), 3–4. This work is cited hereafter as Epistle 22. Goodman’s statement that there was a Latin version of the fable is wrong and his assertion that there were two other (now lost) early medieval translations into Hebrew, one by Rabbi Joel and another by Rabbi Jacob ben Elazar, is not supported with references. For some further elements regarding the reception of the Ikhwānian fable, see G. de Callataÿ, ‘Who were the readers of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ?’, Micrologus. Nature, Sciences and Medieval Societies, 24 (2016): 269–302. 4 On narratives in the Rasāʾil, see S. Almutawa, ‘Imaginative Cultures and Historic Transformations: Narrative in the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’ (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2013). On the structure of the animal fable in particular, see H. Raymond, ‘Le tribunal des animaux en Islam (IVe/Xe siècle)’, Arabica, 61 (2014): 116–52. 5 Epistle 22, 4–5. Unless otherwise specified, translations from the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ are mine. The epistle on ethics is Epistle 9 of the corpus. 6 Goodman in ibid, 51. 7 On the emanation scheme of the Ikhwān, see for instance: S. H. Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines. Conceptions and Methods Used for its Study by the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, al-Bīrūnī, and Ibn Sīnā (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, revised edn. 1993 [Harvard, 1964]), 44–74; C. Baffioni, Appunti per un’epistemologia profetica. L’Epistola degli Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ “Sulle cause e gli effetti” (Napoli: Guida, 2005), 63–73; G. de Callataÿ, Ikhwan al-Safaʾ. A Brotherhood of Idealists on the Fringe of Orthodox Islam (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2005), 17–33. 8 Epistle 22, 8–9. 9 Ibid, 6. 10 Ibid, 8. On this point, see already Aristotle, Politics, 1256b: ‘So that clearly we must suppose […] that plants exist for the sake of animals and the other animals for the good of man, the domestic species both for his service and for his food, and if not all at all events most of the wild ones for the sake of his food and his supplies of other kinds, in order that they may furnish him both with clothing and with other appliances’ (transl. H. Rackam). Epistle 28, dealing with the limits of human knowledge, is full of examples of man occupying an intermediary position between animals and angels; see G. de Callataÿ, ‘Ikhwân al-Ṣafâʾ: Sur les limites du savoir humain. Présentation et traduction de l’Épître XXVIII des Frères de la Pureté’, Le Muséon, 116/3–4 (2003): 479–503. 11 S. Tlili, ‘All Animals are Equal or Are They? The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾs Animal Epistle and Its Unhappy End’, Journal of Qurʾanic Studies, 16/2 (2014): 42–88, at 42. The expression ‘positive passion and mania’ is taken from I. R. Netton, Muslim Neoplatonists. An Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwān al-Ṣafā) (London: Routledge Curzon, 2002), 37. 12 Tlili, ‘All Animals’, 55. 13 C. Baffioni, ‘Les citations coraniques relatives à la science de la nature dans les Épîtres des Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, Mélanges de l'Université de Saint-Joseph, 64 (2012): 45–67. See also, as part of the same volume: G. de Callataÿ, ‘Rāsikhūn fī al-‘ilm: étude de quelques références coraniques dans l'encyclopédie des Frères de la Pureté’, 69–85. 14 Tlili, ‘All Animals’, 78: ‘As they proceeded, however, their argument took them in a different direction. Once they gave voices to their nonhuman characters, abandoned the prevalent practice of comparing an ideal notion of humans to a distorted and misinformed notion of other animals, and allowed their animals to draw from the Qur’an, the fable took a turn the authors perhaps did not foresee’. 15 See for instance: S. Stroumsa and S. Sviri, ‘The beginnings of mystical philosophy in al-Andalus: Ibn Masarra and his Epistle on contemplation’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 36 (2009): 201–53, at 204–7; de Callataÿ, ‘Philosophy and bāṭinism in al-Andalus’, 280–3. For the ladder motif in Islamic and Jewish thinking, see in particular A. Altmann, Studies in Religious Philosophy and Mysticism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), 41–72 (‘The ladder of ascension’). 16 Epistle 22, 9. 17 The expression is found, for instance, in Q. 3: 13 and 24: 44. 18 Y. Marquet, La philosophie des Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ (Algiers: Études et documents, 1973), 197: ‘Le conte des animaux est symbolique de diverses manières’; 199: ‘une fois de plus ce conte est à double sens: le sens figuré, qui vise la communauté des initiés, mais aussi le sens propre’. See also Y. Marquet, ‘Imamat, résurrection et hiérarchie selon les Ikhwan as-Safaʾ’, Revue des Études Islamiques, 30 (1962): 49–142, at 55–8. 19 S. Pines, ‘Shiʿite terms and conceptions in Judah Halevi’s Kuzari’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 2 (1980): 165–251, at 186. 20 L. M. Álvarez, ‘Beastly Colloquies’, 186. In a similar vein, see: Egle Lauzi, Il destino degli animali. Aspetti delle tradizioni culturali araba e occidentale nel Medio Evo (Florence: Sismel Edizioni del Galuzzo, 2012), 95–144 (‘La Disputa Tra l’Uomo e gli Animali degli Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’), at 100: ‘Se dunque nell’interpretazione esoterica gli animali sono segni di altre realtà e possono alludere sia agli iniziati, sia agli stessi Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ e sia anche agli ismā‘īliti perseguitati dai loro avversari, nell’interpretazione letterale sono i protagonisti di una trama narrativa originalissima, che testimonia l’interesse filosofico e la profonda sensibilità degli Autori delle Epistole per le sofferenze del mondo animale’. 21 Epistle 22, 279. 22 See for instance Epistle 22 in the Beirut edition (Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ wa-khullān al-wafāʾ [Beirut: Dār Ṣādir, 4 vols., 1957]), ii. 377. (Cited hereafter as Beirut edn.) 23 Epistle 22, 49. In the present case, we could even speak of a ‘mise en abyme’, since ‘those firmly-rooted in science’ is another famous Qurʾānic formula which can be (and indeed was) interpreted in quite different ways in Islamic exegesis. 24 Epistle 22, 278. 25 Goodman in ibid, 313. 26 Epistle 22, 276. 27 Epistle 38, (Beirut edn.) iii. 288–9. 28 Ibid, 311. 29 For a recent discussion of walāya/wilāya (‘friendship with God’) in Shiʿism and mysticism, with various references to the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, see M. Ebstein, Mysticism and Philosophy in al-Andalus. Ibn Masarra, Ibn al-‘Arabī and the Ismā‘īlī Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 123–56. 30 Epistle 22, 279. 31 Ibid, 41 (wa-kānū naḥwan min sab‘īn rajulan min buldān shattā); 81 (wa-kānū sabʿīn rajul min bilād shattā); 143 (wa-hum wuqūf naḥwa sabʿīn rajulan mukhtalifī al-hayʾāt wa-l-libās wa-l-lughāt wa-l-ashkāl wa-l-alwān) ; 169 (wa-hum wuqūf naḥwa sabʿīn rajulan mukhtalifī al-alwān wa-l-ṣifāt wa-l-ziyy wa-l-libās). According to the apparatus criticus, one ms has ithnā wa-sabʿīn instead of sabʿīn in this last instance. 32 A. Schimmel, The Mystery of Numbers (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 263–4. On the symbolism of number seven in Islam, see also L. I. Conrad, ‘Seven and the Tasbī‘: On the Implications of Numerical Symbolism for the Study of Medieval Islamic History’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 31/1 (1988): 42–73. 33 R. Mottahedeh, ‘Pluralism and Islamic Traditions of Sectarian Divisions’, Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift, 82 (2006): 155–61, at 156. 34 W. Madelung and Paul E. Walker, An Ismaili Heresiography: The ‘Bab al-shayṭān’ from Abū Tammām’s Kitāb al-Shajara (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 27. See also: P. E. Walker, ‘An Ismaʿili version of the heresiography of the seventy-two erring sects’ in F. Daftary (ed.,), Medieval Ismaʿili History & Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 161–77. 35 Walker, ‘An Ismaʿili version’, 163. 36 Epistle 47, (Beirut edn.) iv. 142. 37 Epistle 22, 87. By the species of ‘beasts and cattle’ the Ikhwān actually seem to refer to the category of ‘domestic animals’. 38 See Herbert Eisenstein, Mensch und Tier im Islam in Paul Münch (ed.) Tiere und Menschen: Geschichte und Aktualität einer prekären Verhältnisses (Paderborn: F. Schöningh, 1998), 121–46. See also id., Arabische Systematiken des Tierreichs in Werner Diem and Abdoldjavad Falaturi (eds.), XXIV Deutscher Orientalistentag: vom. 26. bis 30. September 1988 in Köln (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1990), 184–90; H. Eisenstein, Einführung in die arabische Zoographie. Das tierkundliche Wissen in der arabisch-islamischen Literatur (Berlin, 1991); Syrinx von Hees, Enzyklöpädie als Spiegel des Weltbildes; Qazwinis Wunder der Schöpfung: eine Naturkunde des 13. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2002), esp. 120–2. As Remke Kruk kindly pointed to me, arrangement of the animal world under basically seven headings is not uncommon in medieval Arabic zoography: it is found in various medieval Arabic cosmographies, such as Qazwīnī’s ʿAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt and Ibn al-Athīr’s Tuḥfat al-ʿajāʾib wa-ṭurfat al-gharāʾib. A different number of categories may simply be the result of subdividing or combining categories, such as in Wāṭwāṭ’s Mabāhij al-fikar, where birds are divided into three categories, and in Marwazī’s Ṭabāʾiʿ al-ḥayawān, where three categories of animals that are usually separate are combined into one. I am grateful to Remke Kruk for sharing these observations with me. 39 Epistle 22, 153. 40 For an overall survey of the theory of climes including medieval Islam, see E. Honigmann, Die Sieben Klimata und die Poleis Episemoi. Eine Untersuchung zur Geschichte der Geographie und Astrologie im Altertum und Mittelalter (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1929). For the amalgamation of the seven climes of Greek geography with the Iranian theory of kishwār-s as observed in several Islamic sources, including the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, see: G. de Callataÿ, ‘Kishwār-s, planètes et rois du monde: le substrat iranien de la géographie arabe, à travers l’exemple des Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’, in B. Broeckaert, S. Van den Branden and J. J. Pérennès (eds.), Perspectives on Islamic Culture, Essays in Honour of Emilio G. Platti (Leuven: Peeters, 2013), 53–71. The critical edition of the epistle on geography has now been published as I. Sánchez and J. Montgomery (eds. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. On Geography. An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistle 4 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2014). This work is cited hereafter as Epistle 4. 41 Epistle 22, 67. 42 On these names and their origin, see W. Eilers, Sinn und Herkunft der Planetennamen (Munich: Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1976). 43 Epistle 22, 29. 44 N. El-Bizri (ed. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. On Arithmetic & Geometry: An Arabic Critical Edition and English Translation of Epistles 1–2. Epistle 1. (Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2013), (Arabic) 32. 32. The explanation reads: ‘For all the numbers are even or odd; two is the first even number, and four is the second. Odd numbers also have a first … and a second. Three is the first odd number, and five is the second. If the first odd number is added to the second even number, or the first even number is added … to the second odd number, the sum is seven. So, for example, if you add two, which is the first even number, to five, which is the second odd number, then the sum is seven. Similarly, if you add three, which is the first odd number, to four, which is the second even number, then the sum is seven. And if [the unit] one, which is the source of all numbers, is taken with six, which is a perfect number, then the sum is seven, which is a complete number’ (El-Bizri’s translation, 78). 45 Epistle 32a in Paul. E. Walker, Ismail K. Poonawala and David Simonowitz, Godefroid de Callataÿ (eds. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. Sciences of the Soul and Intellect. Part I. An Arabic critical edition and English translation of Epistles 32–36 (Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2016), (Arabic) 8; (Walker’s transl.), 18. 46 Ibid, 25; (Walker’s transl.), 32. It is not certain in my view that ‘qawm min ahl al-ʿilm’ refers to men of science in the modern sense of the term. It could equally well refer to religious scholars (ulema). 47 Epistle 5 in Owen Wright (ed. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. On Music An Arabic critical edition and English translation of Epistle 5 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2010), 111. 48 A. Schimmel, ‘Sabʿ, Sabʿa’, art. EI2, iv. 662–3, at 663. See also H. Halm, Kosmologie und Heilslehre der frühen Ismā‘īlīya. Eine Studie zur Islamischen Gnosis (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1978), 91–100 (‘Die Sieben und die Zwölf’). For various references about the symbolism of Seven (and Twelve) in Ismaʿili cosmology, see Ebstein, Mysticism and Philosophy in al-Andalus, 134, n. 37. For an example of pre-Fāṭimid Ismaʿīlī cosmology heavily loaded with heptads of all sorts, see W. Madelung and P. Walker, ‘The Kitāb al-Rusūm wa-l-izdiwāj wa-l-tartīb Attributed to ʿAbdān (d. 286/899): Edition of the Arabic Text and Translation’ in O. Alí-de-Unzaga (ed.), Fortresses of the Intellect. Ismaili and other Islamic Studies in Honour of Farhad Daftary (London and New York: I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies London, 2011), 103–65. 49 Ghazālī, Faḍāʾiḥ al-bāṭiniyya (ed. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī, Cairo: Dār al-Qawmiyya, 1964), 16. 50 On this, J. von Ess, Der Eine und das Andere. Beobachtungen an islamischen häresiographischen Texten (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2011), i. 1057–8, 1084, and 1153. 51 Baffioni, Appunti per un’epistemologia profetica, 120: ‘Potrebbero essere identificati proprio con gli Ismāʿīlīti, dei quali mussabbaʿa o sabaʿiyya sono denominazioni peggiorative. Di essi, dunque, gli Iḫwān darebbero qui un giudizio non positivo’. See also R. Strothmann, ‘Sabʿīya’, art. EI, iv., 23–5; H. Halm, ‘Sabʿiyya’, art. EI2, viii. 683 (who curiously notes: ‘Unlike the name Ithnā-ʿashariyya or “Twelvers” the term Sabʿiyya does not occur in mediaeval Arabic texts; it seems to have been coined by modern scholars by analogy with the first term’). 52 See R. De Smet, ‘Le mythe des préadamites en islam chiite’ in Intellectual History of the Islamicate World (forthcoming). 53 Epistle 22, 173. 54 D. De Smet, ‘Abeille, miel’ in M. A. Amir-Moezzi (ed.), Dictionnaire du Coran (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2007), 5–7. 55 I. Goldziher, ‘Der Fürst der Bienen’ as part of ‘Schī‘itisches’, ZDMG, 64 (1910): 529–33 (reprinted in J. Desomogyi [ed.] Ignaz Goldziher. Gesammelte Schriften [V, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1970], 210–14). 56 M. A. Amir-Moezzi, The Spirituality of Shi‘i Islam, Beliefs and Practices (London and New York: I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2011), 174. 57 M. M. Bar-Asher, Scripture and Exegesis in Early Imami Shiism (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 11; M. M. Bar-Asher and A. Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion: An Enquiry into its Theology and Liturgy (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 169. 58 Y. Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs. An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2010), 124–6. 59 R. Strothmann (ed.), Kitābu’l kashf of Jaʿfar b. Manṣūrīʾl Yaman (London: Oxford University Press, 1952), 25. 60 C. Baffioni, ‘The Scope of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ’ in N. El-Bizri (ed.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ and their Rasāʾil. An Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2008), 118–19. 61 At the beginning of the narrative (see Epistle 22, 42) is found a passage in which the arguments of the first human orator—‘a son of the line of ʿAbbās’ (khaṭīb min al-ins min awlād al-ʿabbās)—find themselves demolished in an instant by the mule. Later on (158–9), through the voice of the Khorasanian legatee (himself a transparent allusion to the group of Shiʿis that expect the return of a hidden imam), the authors lament the murder of Ḥusayn and denounce ‘the tyranny of the sons of Marwān’ (al-bughāt min banī marwān). Finally, when his turn has come to defend the cause of the beasts of prey against man’s accusations, the Jackal—who is none other than the Kalīla of the Indo–Iranian fable—mentions ‘the days of the ʿAbbasids and the Marwanids’ (ayyām banī al-ʿabbās wa-banī marwān) as having been times of massive killing and bloodshed’ (218). 62 Epistle 22, 72. 63 Ibid, 80. 64 Epistle 36 (see n. 45), (Arabic), 134; (de Callataÿ’s transl.), 134 and 197–8. 65 Ibid, (Arabic) 189; (de Callataÿ’s transl.), 229: ‘the religions and empires (al-milal wa’l-duwal), about which one seeks indications from the great conjunctions that take place once every 1,000 years, approximately (fī kull alf sana marratan wāḥidatan bi-l-taqrīb)’. The Ikhwān list this as the first of the seven species of astrological indications. 66 On the 7,000-year cycle, to be discussed below, see Y. Marquet, ‘Les Cycles de la souveraineté selon les Épîtres des Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ’, Studia Islamica, 36 (1972): 47–69; Y. Marquet, ‘La détermination astrale de l’évolution selon les Frères de la Pureté’, Bulletin d’Études Orientales, 44 (1992): 127–46. On the 51,000-year cycle, see now E. Krinis, ‘Cyclical Time in the Ismāʿīlī Circle of the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (tenth century) and in Early Jewish Kabbalist Circles (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries)’, Studia Islamica, 111/1 (2016): 20–108. 67 On all this, see G. de Callataÿ, ‘Astrology and Prophecy, The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ and the Legend of the Seven Sleepers’ in C. Burnett, K. Plofker, J. Hogendijk and M. Yano (eds.), Studies in the History of the Exact Sciences in Honour of David Pingree (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 758–85. 68 On this, see: Halm, Kosmologie, 18–37 (‘Die Zyklen der sieben Propheten’), esp. 37. 69 Epistle 34 (see n. 25), (Arabic; Poonawala edn.), 77. The same tradition is reported in Jamīl Ṣalībā (ed.) Risāla al-Jāmiʿa (Damascus: al-Majmaʿ al-Ilmī al-ʿArabī, 2 vols., 1949–51), ii., 45. In the apparatus of his edition of Epistle 34, Poonawala explains he could not find this ḥadīth as such in commonly used sources but mentions some examples of similar traditions as preserved by al-Tabrīzī in his Mishkāt al-maṣābīḥ. It is not absolutely clear whether ‘the last millennium’ should be understood as the last one of the seven thousands of the cycle or to the last of those already begun. 70 Epistle 34, (Arabic) 78. See also Poonawala’s comment on p. 67 of the introduction (‘The Cycle of 7,000 years’): ‘I think that this explanation in the Qurʾanic language disguises Ismaili gnosis and its concept of cyclical time. According to the Ikhwān, the primordial single cycle of time is punctuated by seven periods or millennia, each ushered in by a speaking prophet (nāṭiq) of a new revelation who is assisted by a spiritual legate (wasī) who is the foundation (asās) of the imamate and who transmits the secret, esoteric meaning (taʾwīl) of the Scripture’. On the Day of the Covenant (yawm al-mīthāq) in Islamic tradition, see M. Ebstein, ‘Covenant (religious) pre-eternal’ in Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson (eds.), EI3 (accessed online 29 March 2017). 71 Epistle 38, (Beirut edn.) iii. 311. 72 de Callataÿ, Ikhwan al-Safaʾ, 31. 73 Epistle 20 in Carmela Baffioni (ed. and transl.), Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. On the Natural Sciences. An Arabic critical edition and English translation of Epistles 15–21 (Foreword by N. El-Bizri) (Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2013), (Arabic) 404 (Baffioni’s transl.) 312. In footnote, Baffioni remarks: ‘In this note, the Ikhwān seem to believe that every living being on the Earth is endowed with a soul—not only human beings. In this, they anticipate Avicenna and Suhrawardī’. 74 Epistle 46, (Beirut edn.) iv. 121. 75 Epistle 34, Poonawala (Arabic) 68–9; (Poonawala’s transl.), 89. It is interesting to note how divergent the Ikhwān’s doctrine is from that of some Muʿtazilis who speak about animals going to paradise as a compensation for their suffering on earth, but only for as long is needed to compensate that suffering. On this, see M. T. Heemskerk, Suffering in the Muʿtazilite theology: ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s teaching on pain and divine justice (Leiden: Brill, 2000). 76 On this, see: Marquet, ‘Imamat’; C. Baffioni, ‘Bodily Resurrection in the Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ’ in U. Vermeulen and D. De Smet, Philosophy and Arts in the Islamic World: Proceedings of the Eighteenth Congress of Union europénne des arabisants et islamisants Held at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven September 3–September 9, 1996 (Leuven: Peeters, 1998), 201–8; C. Lange, Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 209–18 (‘Ismaiʿli Eschatology’). For Islamic eschatology, see S. Günther and T. Lawson, Roads to Paradise. Eschatology and Concepts of the Hereafter in Islam, vol. 1: Foundations and Formation of a Tradition. Reflections on the Hereafter in the Quran and Islamic Religious Thought (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2017). 77 Epistle 22, 39. 78 Ibid, 7–8. 79 Ibid, 15–16. 80 Ibid, 148. 81 Ibid. For references on the popular tradition of the first terrestrial Adam in connection with the equatorial island of Sarandīb (the modern Sri Lanka)—a tradition already found in the anonymous Akhbār al-Ṣīn wa-l-Hind—see A. Miquel, La géographie humaine du monde musulman jusqu’au milieu du 11e siècle (Paris and The Hague: Mouton, 1975), ii. 78. 82 D. De Smet, ‘L’île de Ceylan et la génération spontanée: Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, Ibn Ṭufayl et les Ṭayyibites’ in Christian Cannuyer (ed.), L’île, regards orientaux: varia orientalia, biblica et antiqua. Hans Hamben in honorem (Brussels: Société belges d’études orientales, 2013), 109–23, at 112. 83 Epistle 22, 228. 84 D. De Smet, ‘L’île de Ceylan’, 113. 85 Epistle 4, (Arabic) 43–4; (transl.) 69–70, and the discussion of ‘The Fourth Clime: Geography and Prophetism’ (pp. 36–42 of the Introduction). On the fourth clime with the Ikhwān, see also C. Baffioni, ‘Il “quarto clima” nell’Epistola sulla Geografia degli Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ’ in F. Bencardino (ed.), Oriente Occidente. Scritti in memoria di Vittorina Langella (Napoli: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1993), 45–60; de Callataÿ, ‘Kishwār-s’, 63–4. 86 de Callataÿ, ‘Kishwār-s’. 87 Epistle 22, 145. 88 On the Ḥijāzīs being naturally religious people, see for instance: R. Kruk, ‘Ibn Abi-l-Ashʿath’s Kitāb al-ḥayawān: a scientific approach to anthropology, dietetics and zoological systematics’, Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen Wissenschaften, 14 (2001): 119–68, esp. 132–3 (reprinted in Peter Pormann (ed.) Islamic Medical and Scientific Tradition [London: Routledge, 4 vols., 2010], ii. n. 28). 89 On spontaneous generation in Islam, see R. Kruk, ‘A Frothy Bubble: Spontaneous Generation in the Medieval Islamic Tradition’, Journal of Semitic Studies, 35/2 (1990): 265–82; D. De Smet, ‘Scarabées, scorpions, cloportes et corps camphrés. Métamorphose, réincarnation et génération spontanée dans l’hétérodoxie chiite’ in A. Vrolijk and J. P. Hogendijk (eds.), O ye Gentlemen: Arabic Studies on Science and Literary Culture in Honour of Remke Kruk (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2007), 39–54; D. Hasse, ‘Spontaneous Generation and the Ontology of Forms in Greek, Arabic, and Medieval Latin sources’ in Peter Adamson (ed.), Classical Arabic Philosophy: Sources and Reception (London and Turin: The Warburg Institute, 2007), 150–75; R. Kruk, art. ‘Tawallud’ in EI2 (accessed online 29 March 2017). On the influence of the Ikhwān’s conception on Ibn Ṭufayl, see: R. Kruk, ‘Ibn Ṭufayl: a Medieval scholar’s view on nature’ in L. Conrad (ed.), The World of Ibn Ṭufayl. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān (Leiden, New York and Köln: Brill, 1996), 69–89, at 84; de Callataÿ, ‘Did the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ inspire Ibn Ṭufayl’, 83–5; T. Kukkonen, Ibn Tufayl: Living the Life of Reason (London: Oneworld Publications, 2014), 36–7. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Journal of Islamic StudiesOxford University Press

Published: Sep 1, 2018

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