Event details

Friendship between natural enemies: the ambitious fraternity of the Ikhwān al-ṣafā (third/ninth century)

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Public research seminar


Guillaume de Vaulx d´Arcy (Institut français du Proche-Orient, Beirut)

Thursday, 7 June, 6-8pm



Carl Schmidt famously defined politics as based on “the distinction between friend and enemy”. Long ago, the Epistles of the Brethren in Purity (Ikhwān al-ṣafā) already showed that human relations and therefore politics are inherently more complex than such simplistic duality implies ꟷ while polities might be separated in difference and disagreement, they are nevertheless linked by economic and political interests and sometimes religious beliefs.


Despite ethnic differences generating hostility and belief in a creed producing rejection of the Other as unbelievers, Ikhwān al-ṣafā reminds us that “one cannot obtain worldly welfare or eternal salvation without the other”. He cannot live without his enemy. Hence, friendship between opponents occasionally becomes a political and religious necessity.



The talk shows how Ikhwān al-ṣafā proposes a solution to this conundrum on the basis of Indian wisdom and Pythagorean logic.




Guillaume de Vaulx d’Arcy taught philosophy in Egypt for almost ten years and is now researcher at the French Institute for Middle East studies (IFPO) in Beirut. He wrote his PhD on the Epistles of the Brethren in Purity (Rasāʾil Iḫwān aṣ-ṣafā) renewing the approach of this mysterious encyclopedia by taking it one century back far before the accepted dating, by attributing this anonymous book to a precise author, and by commenting the so-called esoteric doctrine as a clear and rational system. He is now translating the Epistles in French and working on the history of the Arabic Pythagoras.