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218 218 Moral Tales and Parables: Passages from Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (The Epistles of the Sincere Brethren) The Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (The Pure, or Sincere, Brethren) were a society of writers and propagandists apparently associated with the Ismāʿīliyyah (a Shīʿah sect), active in the fourth/tenth century. The names of some of them are known but much else is uncertain. Their Epistles, a rare example of collective authorship in Arabic (unless they were all written by one of them), is a kind of popular encyclopedia, dealing with mathematics, natural science, the humanities , religion, ethics, and the occult, often in combination. It is written in a relatively easy style, often addressing the reader whom they hope to convert to their views and thereby offer salvation. These views are remarkably syncretistic and eclectic: their work is full of Aristotelian, Pythagorean, Neoplatonic, Christian, and Judaic elements; they see connections and parallels everywhere, notably between the macrocosm and microcosm (i.e. humans ). They make effective use of parables and stories. In many “orthodox” Muslim circles their writings were regarded as suspect.591 I. The Complaint of the Beasts of Burden, from the debate between Man and Animals592 Then the leader of the beasts said: O King, we and our ancestors used to inhabit the earth before Adam, the father of mankind, was created. We lived in all its regions , traveled along its paths, every group of us coming and going in God’s lands in search of subsistence, freely looking after its own welfare, each one of us in a place suitable for his purposes, be it steppes, sea, forest, plain, or mountain, each kind in the company of its own kind, engaged in reproduction and rearing our young, leading a good life with the food and the drink that God allotted us. We were secure in our homelands, and healthy593 in our bodies, praising God and sanctifying Him and professing His unity day and night, neither disobeying Him nor worshiping another with Him. In this way, long epochs and times went by. 219 219 Then God, praised be He, created Adam, the father of mankind, and made him a deputy on earth.594 His children reproduced and his descendants became numerous . They spread over the earth, across land and sea, in the lowlands and the mountains, and constricted our places and homelands. Many of us were taken captive: sheep, cows, horses, mules, and donkeys. They subjugated us and made us work for them, wearing us out with toil and drudgery, through hard labor, carrying , being ridden, being tied to yokes,595 waterwheels, and mills, forcibly and by their greater power, with blows and humiliation and various kinds of torment, our whole lives long. Those of us who could fled to the steppes, deserts, and mountaintops . The humans prepared to pursue us using various forms of trickery, and those of us that fell into their hands they tied up with shackles and fetters or put in cages. They oppressed us with slaughter, flaying, ripping bellies open, cutting off limbs, breaking bones, tearing sinews, plucking feathers, clipping hair and wool, then with the fire of cooking and the spit and roasting and various kinds of torture the true nature of which cannot fully be described. And on top of all this these humans are not content until they claim that they are necessarily entitled to this, that they are our overlords and we their slaves. II. The Superiority of the Horse596 The Human said to the Hare, “Hold it! You have found a lot of faults with the Horse.597 But if you knew that it is the best animal ever tamed by humans, you wouldn’t speak like this.” The King said to the human, “What is all this goodness you are talking about? Tell us.” “The Horse has praiseworthy qualities, a pleasant character, a wonderful discernment ; for instance its beautiful appearance, the harmony of its limbs, the purity of its color, its beautiful coat and mane, its speed, its obedience to its rider, turning wherever he wishes, being led right or left, forward or back, in pursuit or in flight. And its intelligence, sharp senses, and good manners: it will not defecate or stale as long as its rider is seated on it, it does not shake its tail when it is wet so that its rider will not be sprayed with water. It has the strength of an elephant: it carries its rider with his helmet...


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