Keynote Speech

Judith Pfeiffer, University of Bonn
The Order of Things in Constantinople: The Circulation of Knowledge at the Dawn of the Islamic Empires

Starting from the specific example of the teaching curriculum and large private library of the Ottoman scholar Müeyyedzade (d. 922/1516) who travelled and studied extensively in early Ottoman Anatolia, Mamluk Aleppo, and Aqqoyunlu Fars, this keynote tests the fault-lines of the circulation of knowledge against political breaks in history, arguing that while the transformations in intellectual thought are on the surface independent of and impermeable against political change, the circulation of knowledge is highly dependent on various concrete contexts and institutions in which the scholars negotiating this knowledge move. Politics, economics, and social status and social mobility do matter and had a transformative impact on what was read and what was not. In other words, “intellectual thought” and the reception history of so many works depended heavily on these contexts. They are not intrinsic to the subject matter, but are, in the end, an epistemological question and each individual scholar’s methodological choice.

Panel 1
Political Thought

Mayte Green-Mercado, Rutgers University
Ottoman Rome: The Idea of Universal Empire in Morisco Political Thought

One of the most enduring political concepts that found widespread currency in the early modern Christian and Muslim worlds was the idea of Rome as eternal symbol of peace and prosperity under the authority of a universal empire. This ubiquitous political theology acquired eschatological meanings when the ideal of universal empire came to be associated with the figure of the last world emperor, a messianic king who would inaugurate an age of peace before the End Times. Hence, the re-establishment of the Roman Empire was a driving force for many intellectuals as well as religious and political figures who were animated by apocalyptic expectations. This paper analyzes a strain of universalist political ideas concerning the Ottomans and the future of Rome among Moriscos—Spanish Muslims who were forcibly converted to Catholicism in the early sixteenth century—as it was articulated in apocalyptic texts known as jofores. In these narratives the Ottomans appear as models of universal rule. Reading Morisco sources alongside Venetian, Greek, and Ottoman prophecies in the aftermath of the Battle of Lepanto (1571) reveals an early modern Mediterranean-wide notion of the Ottoman sultan as a just ruler and universal emperor. This paper argues that Morisco apocalypticism was part of a broad Mediterranean intellectual, cultural, and political shift that began in the fifteenth century, and that sought to articulate political ideas of universal rule through messianic and apocalyptic idioms. The purpose of this intervention is threefold: 1) to bring into the history of early modern Islamic political ideas and practices a group that consistently remains marginal in current scholarship; 2) to broaden our conversation about early modern Islamic political thought to include the Islamic West and the Mediterranean; 3) to highlight the interactions and shared ideas between Muslims on both shores of the Mediterranean, and to explore the connected nature of early modern political thought among Muslims and Christians in the Mediterranean.

Pratyay Nath, Ashoka University
“The Wrath of God”: Military Violence and Imperial Ideology in the Mughal Empire

The Mughal Empire was forged as much through diplomacy and alliance-building as through the more overtly violent means of war and conquest. But how did the Mughals conceptualize and legitimize their military violence? This is the question the present paper addresses. It argues that the way the Mughal court thought about war was deeply rooted in its conceptualization of kingship and its duties. The paper begins by studying the meanings of Mughal sovereignty and its links with political philosophy of the Persian polymath Nasiruddin Tusi. Next, the paper investigates the location of war within this ideological paradigm and its relationships with kingly responsibilities. Following this, we will unravel some of the facets of applying and limiting military violence, both within the imperial normative discourse and at a practical level in the course of military campaigns. The final section will argue that although military violence was an important, frequent, and widespread aspect of Mughal empire-building, it was conceptualized and used more as a tool for defeating and co-opting the adversaries into the imperial body politic rather than for destroying or obliterating them. The paper will close by comparing the case of the Mughals with that of other early modern empires.

Huseyin Yilmaz, George Mason University
The Early Modern Ottoman Discourse on the Concept of Meşveret (Consultation in Government)

This study examines the origins and trajectory of the idea of ruling by consultation in early modern Ottoman thought, from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. Meşveret is commonly understood in Ottoman studies as an honorary principle of governance, with little constitutional value, and a recurring theme with common elements, drawn from the broader Islamic tradition of ethics and politics. This study argues that, although an Islamic concept by origin, by the time Ottomans rose to power, meşveret was already shaped by various other cultural traditions and social practices including the Greek philosophy and the Persian state tradition. In Ottoman experience, the concept was further defined under the influences of Turco-Mongolian and Byzantine feudal customary practices. Yet, having fully inherited Islamic learning, any Ottoman discussion of meşveret always included strong references to Islamic scriptures and classics of political thought. Added to this mixture was the Ottoman experience itself which accorded meşveret a noticeably different significance. The foundational myth of the Ottoman Empire involved a scene where its very founder was elected in a consultative assembly per Turkic customs which was later given an Islamic significance as well. Reflecting varying ideals, interests and responses to social problems, Ottoman statesmen, poets, Sufis, jurists, and bureaucrats advocated their peculiar and often conflicting interpretations of meşveret which made this principle arguably the most agreed upon norm in terms of its constitutional necessity but, at the same time, one of the most controversial topics of good governance.

Panel 2
Legal Interconnections

Rifa’at Abou-El- Haj, Binghamton University
Development of the Jury System in Sixteenth Century Ottoman Jerusalem

I am hypothesizing comparatively to study the development of a form of jury system based on sixteenth century local archival evidence from Ottoman Jerusalem. In this comparison I assume the phenomenon of the development of the jury system to be indigenous, independently a product of parallel social processes rather than copies from one system and transferred to the other. The more fruitful comparative search, relevant to our conference, would be to raise the question of similar comparative jury systems, with the Ottoman against both Safavid and Mughal social processes.The other example which will be presented, in the form of history from below, takes the publication of examples of resistance to taxation in both sixteenth century to the present, as well as popular appropriation of water resources from owners to lower class users of water in the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries.

Randi Deguilhem, Aix-Marseille University
Connectedness of Religious Jurisprudence and Court-Registered Contracts: Renting Waqf Property in Eighteenth Century Damascus

This presentation focuses on the relationship between religious jurisprudence and court-registered contracts in the tribunals in the city of Damascus during the eighteenth century, i.e. towards the end of the period studied during this GU-Q 2019 conference. The presentation will raise questions related to transformations and continuities between the religious jurisprudential sphere and that of societal actions as registered in documents within the records of the Damascene tribunals (maḥâkim shar‘iyya) during the Ottoman period. In order to concretize the question, the example of a type of rent contract on built property will be analyzed. It consists of akadak (often associated with khulû) transacted on a building belonging to a waqf in Damascus which was registered in one of the city’s tribunals (there were seven of them in the Ottoman period). The primary information comes from two sources. The first is the document itself which registered a kadak contract on a waqf-owned building in the eighteenth century, the document is located in the Center for Historical Archives of Damascus. The second source is a compilation of regulations on waqf (aḥkhâm al-awqâf), with a focus on the specific regulation on kadak. Points of convergence and divergence, in this respect, will be studied by analyzing the information, on one hand, on the kadak contract available in the document (the practice on the ground) and, on the other hand, the regulatory information on kadak by which religious jurisprudence attempts to standardize and control the use of the contract. The question of transformation and continuities is present in the sense that the contract of kadak has a history of several centuries before and after the date of the document studied here. There is a connectedness to the past and to the future in the fields mentioned above.

Mahmood Kooria, Leiden University
Transmission of Islamic Legal Ideas across the Indian Ocean World in the Sixteenth Century

Across the Indian Ocean littoral, Muslims predominantly follow the Shāfiʿī school of Islamic law. The credit of bringing the school to its shores has been attributed rhetorically, both in traditional Muslim accounts and scholarly writings, to the Yemenis, or more precisely, to the Ḥaḍramī Sayyids. The scholars never make it clear why, when, or how this happened and what the interconnection was between the school and the Yemenis in the oceanic littoral. It is true that ports in Malabar, Konkan, Gujarat, Java, Sumatra, Mogadishu, Kilwa or Zanzibar had maritime mercantile connections with Yemen, but that does not explain an exclusive export of juridical thought and practice to there from Yemen. Once we look into the trajectories of the Shāfiʿī school from Egypt to Syria, Iran and Yemen, we realize that its spread in Yemen coincides with its dissemination in the rest of the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, in the maritime littoral the school was not at all predominant until the sixteenth century. There were a number of different Sunni and non-Sunni schools in parallel coexistence from East Asia to East Africa from the ninth to the fifteenth century. In the sixteenth century, and only then, there was a “maritime wave of Shāfiʿīsm”. In this wave, the Ḥaḍramīs again were not an exclusive community who exported the school to the rest of the Indian Ocean regions. Instead there was a vibrant cosmopolitan network of Egyptian, Syrian, Persian, Malay, Hindī and Swahili scholars, migrants, traders, mystics and exiles who all contributed to a simultaneous expansion of Shāfiʿīsm, but it has been neglected in the existing historiography. Many of these scholarly groups were sponsored by or operated outside the reaches of contemporary political regimes of Safawids, Mughals and Ottomans. By taking centuries before and after 1500 CE, I situate the school’s history parallel to or inside the maritime intellectual networks and imperial exchanges across the Indian Ocean and the Eastern Mediterranean worlds.

Panel 3

Talal al-Azem, University of Oxford
Ibn ʿĀbidīn on Reading the Madhhab

As a jurist's law, the madhhab-law tradition is conservative: centuries of legal opinions and rules are argued over, and ultimately preserved, within thousands of texts, commentaries, and super commentaries. By the early modern period, the cumulative weight of this 1200-year body of legal literature could be bewildering to a judge or mufti who was not a master jurist himself. How were such legal practitioners meant to navigate thousands of madhhab-law texts in order to discover the rule to be applied in the case at hand? It is in light of this problem that the famous jurist of the nineteenth century Ottoman Levant, Muḥammad Amīn Ibn ʿĀbidīn (d. 1842), authored his didactic text, “ʿUqūd rasm al-muftī” (chaplets on the mufti's task), and his own commentary thereupon. The present paper analyzes one part of this commentary, in which Ibn ʿĀbidīn proposes how a Hanafi in his age should engage the corpus of the madhhab: which books to read, what not to read, why, and for what purposes. This paper is part of a wider project studying how Ottoman-era jurists in the Arab provinces dealt with the historical weight of the madhhab-law tradition.

Sohaib Baig, University of California Los Angeles
The Hanafi Madhhab in the Early Modern Indian Ocean: Integrating Hadith Scholarship and Hanafi Law in the Sixteenth Century

The nascent historiography of the Hanafi madhhab in the early modern period is usually limited in terms of imperial geography and questions of legal bureaucracies and the interplay of non-state and state-affiliated legal figures. While this is useful for understanding the reach of imperial bureaucracies and the implementation of Islamic law, it does not quite capture broader intellectual developments, including growing Hanafi investment in hadith scholarship, transregional exchanges between sub-traditions of the madhhabs, and material changes in the manuscript-based transmission of knowledge. This paper looks beyond imperial centers such as Istanbul and Delhi to histories of the Hanafi madhhab across the Indian Ocean, encompassing multiple regimes in South Asia and the Ottoman Hijaz. It focuses on a series of itinerant Sindhi Hanafi scholars – as well as key contemporaries and interlocutors from Afghanistan and Gujarat – who participated in the robust intellectual world of the Hijaz and the hadith scholarship it nurtured since Mamluk times. It explores to what extent the Hanafi madhhab and its institutions organized the intellectual and social relationships of South Asian Hanafis across the diverse milieu of the Hijaz. This paper argues that these sixteenth century Sindhi Hanafis and their fellow South Asian contemporaries largely maintained their fidelity to the legal frameworks of the Hanafi madhhab even as they actively began to pursue hadith studies under Shafi‘i scholars, wrote hadith commentaries that engaged with law, and often worked outside imperial institutions. It presents case studies of their debates on inter-madhhab prayer at the Ḥaram in Mecca and their treatises on the discipline of pilgrimage rites (‘ilm al-manāsik), as indicative of new attempts to consolidate the vast plurality of the Hanafi madhhab and to strengthen Hanafi identity within and beyond the legal milieu of the Indian Ocean.

Asma Afsaruddin, Indiana University
Al-Shawkani and His Juridical Views on the Military Jihad with Regard to the People of the Book

In this paper, I will present the views of the well-known twelfth/eighteenth century Yemeni jurist and reformer Muhammad al-Shawkani (d. 1250/1834) on the topic of the military jihad, as presented in his legal manual Nayl al-awtar fi sharh muntaqa al-akhbar. The Nayl al-awtar was completed in 1213/1798 and is therefore firmly an eighteenth century work that shows the influence of the local Yemeni context shaped by the juridical and cultural predominance of the Hadawi legal school and of the Qasimi imamate, both of which al-Shawkani firmly rejected. In addition to these local influences, the larger currents of pan-Islamism and Islamic modernism that characterized significant parts of the Muslim-majority world at that time was also a seminal source of influence on al-Shawkani’s thinking and intellectual production. Al-Shawkani’s embrace of these trends led him to reject many of the opinions of the madhhab-based jurists.
This approach becomes manifest in the chapter on “jihad and international law” in the Nayl al-awtar. The focus in this paper will be on the section dealing with the People of the Book (primarily Jews and Christians) and comparing it with similar sections in earlier legal treatises, such as the Mudawwana of Sahnoun (d. 240/845) and al-Hawi al-Kabir of al-Mawardi (d. 450/1258). This comparison with his predecessors allows us to observe that al-Shawkani’s discussion of the military jihad to be waged against non-Muslims is rather unique, based as it is primarily on selected prophetic hadith without reference to the opinions of the earlier madhhab-based jurists.  Al-Shawkani’s erasure of the diversity of legal positions adopted by earlier jurists therefore allows for more monochromatic and generally harsher views on the purview of the military jihad to emerge in his work. 

Panel 4
Literary Landscapes

Mufti Mudasir, University of Kashmir, India
The Politics of the Indian Style (Sabk-e Hindi): The Use of Literary Persian during the Mughal Decline

This paper aims to examine the state of Persian poetry during the decline of the Mughal rule in India (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) to focus on how some critics have erroneously conceived of the growth and development of the so-called “Indian Style” in Persian poetry, especially the ghazal, as a distinctly Indian phenomenon. It argues against the tendency to identify any ‘Indianization” of Persian by such critics as well as the advocates of Iranian nationalism who regard the Indian style as emblematic of decline from the earlier “purer” literary styles.
The paper will re-examine some literary feuds which took place during this period over the correct (sahih) and eloquent (fasih) use of the Persian, such as between the Indian poet-critic Sirajuddin Ali Khan Arzu and the Iranian poet-critic Ali Hazin Lahiji and Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib and his opponents, to highlight the dangers in assuming the existence of a distinctly Indian literary Persian as an embodiment of a composite socio-religious worldview which simultaneously distanced it from the larger non-Indian Islamic cultures and connected it to the Mughal political ideology of “inclusivity”.

Abdul Hussainmiya, Southeastern University of Sri Lanka
Cultural and Literary Interactions among the Arab-Persian, Indian Ocean and Malay Muslims during the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

The long term intra-oceanic connections that existed since the advent of Islam among the Arab-Persian, and the Indian Ocean Muslim communities thrived further between the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries not just in terms of trade but more solidly in cultural and literary exchanges. These influences extended also as far as the Malay World which included the present day Malay Peninsular and Indonesian Archipelago as well. This subject is so broad as to include the origins of literary traditions, religious beliefs, cultural practices which bound all three regions through the common factor of Islam as its inspiration. Scholars in the past have been bewildered by the range of these exchanges and which region could claim as the primal source of such cultural and literary interactions and if otherwise what mechanisms existed to facilitate two way relationship in exchanging texts, manuscripts, ideas, goods and material among others. Previous studies about collections of literary texts in all these three regions indicate extensive borrowings and cross fertilization of idea which resulted in a proliferation of hybrid literatures and varied genres. Thus pre-print culture era when printing presses came to exist in Cairo, Istanbul, Mumbai, Singapore, Colombo and other places linked to this study which produced and duplicated prolific publications is critically important to trace the nucleus formation of common themes for creating Islamic Epics and Kitab literature by the Arab-Persians, Indians and the Malay people. This paper will first provide a broad survey of the common elements in these literary-cultural interactions, and second, most importantly reveal fresh evidence by delving into some specific manuscripts to elucidate the comparative perspective of themes, literary styles and modes of storytelling etc; in nurturing a vibrant literary culture in the Muslim countries during the period understudy. Apart from reference to existing publications, this paper would bring forth specifically some hitherto unknown discoveries of original Arabic-Tamil and Malay manuscripts recently unearthed in Sri Lanka which lay in the commercial sea routes favoured by Arab, Chulia and Eastern traders during the period covering from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.   

Panel 5
Scholars and Sultans

Abdurrahman Atçil, Istanbul Şehir University
Comparing Madrasa and University: Administration, Curriculum, and Certification in Madrasa under the Control of the Ottoman Government

The similarities and differences between Islamic madrasas and European universities have long been a subject of discussion. Generally speaking, it has been argued, these two institutions resembled each other in that both taught theology, law, medicine, and the liberal arts, but differed in terms of their administration and certification of education. But needless to say, both the madrasa and the university varied greatly across periods and regions.
In this paper, I am going to focus on madrasas under the control of the Ottoman government during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. From the fifteenth century onwards, the Ottoman government increased its efforts to connect madrasas—especially those established by the Ottoman dynasty—within a ranked hierarchy. It controlled the administration of these madrasas, appointing their professors from among the ranks of its own scholar-bureaucrats—that is, scholars who had been admitted to pursue a professional scholarly career under government control. It also intervened in the management of madrasa endowments. In addition, the government defined the courses that were to be taught at each level of the madrasa hierarchy. In accord with this, students would go to the madrasas in a particular level to learn a particular subject. Moreover, the government developed a system of certification for students who completed the required curriculum after enrolling in the courses in various madrasas. The top scholar-bureaucrats examined these students in different ways and certified their proficiency by granting them mülazemet, a certification that allowed them to seek employment in government positions.
I suggest that the administration and certification of education in the madrasas under the control of the Ottoman government differed from those in the previous period and elsewhere in the Islamic world. The functioning of the whole system of madrasas under Ottoman-government control resembled that of the contemporary universities in Europe. Similar to their counterparts in Europe, Ottoman students learned pre-defined subjects in the madrasas, which were connected with each other and administered under a single system, and their education was certified by an authority recognized by the government. This certification brought them certain benefits and rights and enabled them to seek employment in government offices.

Nathan Spannaus, University of Jyvaskyla
“The Execution of One Who Goes Against This Creed Becomes Necessary”: Contestation and Orthodoxy in Historical Context

In 1808, Abū Naṣr Qūrṣāwī was condemned for heresy by the amīr and ‘ulamā’ of Bukhara. A Hanafi-Maturidi scholar educated in the city, Qūrṣāwī had over several years become openly critical of the prevailing teaching of kalām, specifically regarding the divine attributes (ṣifāt). He put forward his own stance on the issue that directly contradicted the conventional understanding, drawing the ire of the city’s most prominent scholars and leading to his near-execution and exile. This paper uses Qūrṣāwī’s condemnation as a lens for the analysis of the construction of orthodoxy in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, which I view, following Talal Asad, as a link between religious discourses and power in an institutional context—which discourses are taught and supported by existing power structures, and which are denied and dismissed. Qūrṣāwī’s stance operated within these parameters, utilizing the same texts and ideas, if interpreted differently. In this sense, his position was not apparently unorthodox, particularly in terms of the attributes, the specifics of which were far from settled within Sunni kalām. What rendered his stance heretical was thus not its discursive underpinnings in kalām, but rather the leading ‘ulamā’’s adherence to a different interpretation of the issue, which they enforced through institutions under their control. It was therefore the exercise of power that reified orthodoxy in support of one position to the exclusion of another. This analysis touches upon the historical development of the theological tradition, but also important interactions between political-military elites and ‘ulamā’. The latter were increasingly dependent upon the former since the sixteenth century, with the amirate’s use of official appointments for scholars leading to scholars’ hierarchalization. Utilizing manuscript and published sources, including writings by Qūrṣāwī and other scholars, as well as contemporary histories of Bukhara, this paper addresses these institutional changes and the discursive and institutional construction of orthodoxy through the lens of intellectual history.

Tom Papademetriou, Stockton University
The Intellectual Circle and Influence of Theophilos Korydalleus (1574-1646)

Traditional historiography of Ottoman-era Greek intellectuals focuses on the decline of Greek learning throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. By the 1620’s, there is a notable improvement of Greek learning initiated by the scholar and teacher Theophilos (Theodosios) Korydalleus (1574-1646) who was invited to Istanbul in 1621 by Patriarch Kyrillos Loukaris to teach at the “Patriarchal Academy” and to reform the curriculum. A well-known neo-Aristotelian, Korydalleus was educated at the Greek Pontifical College in Rome, and later in Padua as a student of Cesare Cremonini, and revised the Academy’s curriculum to reflect his experience in Padua. In spite of his short stay in Istanbul, Korydalleus attracted a number of important students who would become quite influential in their own right in the Ottoman Empire.
Among notable students are Eugenios Ioannoulis o Aitolos, a monk-teacher and bishop who opened schools in mainland Greece to teach the Christian faith and Greek language, Ioannes Karyophylles, who continued in Korydalleus’s place at the Patriarchal Academy, and Panagiotis Nikousios, the first translator (Grand Dragoman) of the Ottoman Porte who was involved in the conquest and administration of Crete. Each had a significant experience with Korydalleus that helped shape their lives and careers.

Panel 6
Intellectual Thought

Lejla Demiri, University of Tübingen
Reading Andalusian Poetry in 17th-Century Ottoman Damascus

This paper offers a close reading of ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī’s (d. 1143/1731) commentary on the famous poem by the Andalusian Sufi, Abū l-Ḥasan ʿAlī al-Shushtarī (d. 668/1269). Shushtarī used Christian imagery in his poetry to express his spiritual journey to God. As the poem had been criticized by some of Nābulusī’s contemporaries, he felt the need to explain the hidden meanings behind Shushtarī’s symbolic language. Hence the treatise Radd al-muftarī ʿan al-ṭaʿn fī l-Shushtarī, ‘Refutation of the slanderer concerning the defamation of al-Shushtarī’, which Nābulusī wrote in 1096/1685. In his defense of Shushtarī’s use of Christian terminology, Nābulusī builds his argument upon the universal sainthood, a concept which he adopted from another Andalusian Sufi master Muḥyī l-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī (d. 638/1240). By analyzing Nābulusī’s theological reading of Andalusian mystical poetry, the paper aims to reflect on its socio-religious context and the wider intellectual preoccupations of the period.

Sajjad Rizvi, University of Exeter
Contesting Avicenna in Early Modern Iran and India

There is little doubt that Avicenna (d. 1037) looms as a major figure in Islamic intellectual history, not just in terms of his formation and reception of both the commentary tradition on Aristotle and the early philosophical and theological traditions in Islam, but also in terms of the reception of his hegemonic conception of philosophy by the twelfth century, described by Yahya Michot as ‘la pandémie avicennienne’. What is perhaps less understood is how Avicenna remained the point of reference and contention, not least from the early modern period in Safavid Iran and Mughal India through a revived commentary tradition on his magnum opus al-Shifāʾ and other major texts influenced by him in physics, logic and philosophical theology.
In this paper, I propose considering the reception of Avicennism by looking at three clusters of texts: the direct influence and contestation of his work in commentaries and marginalia on the Metaphysics of al-Shifāʾ in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the indirect reception of his physics in the marginalia and glosses on the Avicennian text Hidāyat al-ḥikma of Athīr al-Dīn al-Abharī (d. 1264) and its two major commentaries by Mīr Ḥusayn Maybudī (d. 1504) and Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1636), and the engagement with his philosophical theology (and in particular his famous proof for the existence of God) in glosses on the third section (maqṣad III) of the Tajrīd al-iʿtiqād of Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 1274) and its commentaries. The analyses will provide further evidence not only for the growing dossier on the importance of commentaries, intellectual palimpsests and paratexts for Islamic intellectual history, but also the dynamism of philosophical engagement in this period in Iran and North India that lead to the further dissemination and flourishing of inquiry in the eighteenth century as an age of intellectual vigor and cosmopolitanism, albeit of political decline, on the cusp of colonialism.

Charles Ramsey, Baylor University
The Substance of Things Unseen: Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī, Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shirazī,and the State of Natural Philosophy in Seventeenth Century Persianate Islam

It is widely held that there was no rupture in the history of Islam greater than that brought about by Western modernity. As Muhammad Qasim Zaman observed, the foundations of modernity are often portrayed as incompatible with the Islamic intellectual tradition. However, writings by luminaries like Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī (d. 1624) and Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shirazī (Mulla Ṣadrā, d. 1640), in the Mughal and Safavid empires respectively, reveal a more complex picture. Building upon the work of Fazlur Rahman, who identified this milieu “as the pinnacle of Persianate philosophy,” I will juxtapose Ṣadrā’s concept of “Self-unfolding Existence” (tashkīk) and Sirhindī’s view of the “imagination” (waham) in order to explore what these developments in natural philosophy tell us about the state of intellectual discourse in these regions and about the dispersion of ideas. In the main, I will argue that prior to the rise of colonial hegemony, thinkers across this milieu were actively debating the shape of the cosmos, the contingency of matter, and the means by which revelation becomes active in the created realm. Far from otherworldly, these ideas have far reaching consequences for social ethics. The overlap in sources and methods in indicative of intertextuality and of a period of intellectual dynamism within the religious sciences. The paper adds to the growing sense, as argued by Afzar Moin and Shahzad Bashir, that Muslims were not only recipients of modernity, but also active contributors in the pursuit of knowledge.

Panel 7
Textual Interconnections

Nur Sobers-Khan, the British Library
Tilsim-i Aja’iband Ta’bir al-Ruya: The Relationship between Visuality and Text in Bibliomantic Practices in Urdu Divination Manuscripts

My paper will examine the life of manuscripts beyond the practice of reading, through a study of methods of bibliomancy and divination using texts from the illustrated genre of the Tilsim-i Aja’ib and the text-based genre of Ta’bir al-Ruya or dream interpretation, which were intended to be read as a practical conduit to access realms of spiritual insight and prognostication.  The materials examined will consist of Urdu manuscripts and lithographs produced in South Asia from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, and the aims of the paper will be threefold: (1) to trace transformations in the cultural specificity of meaning in the illustrative programs of the Aja’ib texts from Persian to Urdu and investigate any shifts in visuality that occurred from manuscript to lithograph production; (2) to examine the cultural context of dream interpretation in the un-illustrated manuals (and related genres, such as falnamas) in circulation in manuscript form and whether their transmission to lithograph altered the content and the rituals surrounding their use, and; (3) through examining the interaction between these two genres (as they were often included in the same bound volumes, suggesting their parallel or overlapping use) as socially embedded material objects conveying prognosticatory meaning, this paper will begin to describe the interaction of visuality, cultural context and meaning in the divination practices of these two genres.

Asli Niyazioglu, University of Oxford
Ottoman Literary Landscapes and Connected Early Modern: Sixteenth-Century Garden Stories

My talk will explore the role of garden stories in the making of learned communities in early modern Istanbul. Like their contemporaries in Safavid Iran, Mughal India and Ming China, early modern Ottoman writers produced a rich literature to orient their readers to particular ways of imagining, viewing and inhabiting their cities. Focusing on the stories about visits to suburban gardens, I will discuss how sixteenth century poets reflected on their place in Istanbul’s imperial history from the city’s outskirts and promoted new sites of sociability that enjoyed increasing autonomy from the imperial seat of power. My main goal is to explore these urban stories not only on their own, as often done, but also by juxtaposing them to contemporaneous literary cultures of early modern Eurasia.

John Perry, University of Chicago
Lexicography as Enabler of Islamic Intellectual Dialogue  

The Arab Muslim conquests of the Persian, Greco-Roman, and Indian cultural areas of Eurasia may be viewed as the culmination of a centuries-long process of integration. The replacement of the Pahlavi writing system by the simpler Arabic expanded the sphere of literacy. From China came a complementary tool—paper. The earliest Islamic Persian glossaries (farhang; ca, 900 CE), designed to record unusual and dialect vocabulary for poets and their readers, were ordered by alphabet final (rhyme). But from the twelfth century the need to expand and regulate the vocabulary of several contrasting literary languages within the one Arabic-based ideology produced a new type, the lugha, a bilingual or multilingual glossary (usually Arabic–Persian) arranged by topic (a format already known to Zoroastrian scribes). Catalogued and described, these works have nevertheless not been sufficiently credited for their part in the Islamic enterprise. They developed specialized ways to feed useful Arabic vocabulary into Persian, and onward to Turkic and Indic languages. Sections were called dar (gate, portal) in Persian, or its calque bāb in Arabic; within these, the convention of rhyme order was soon replaced by alphabet initial. Copies of the encyclopedic Muqaddimat al-Adab of Maḥmūd Zamakhsharī (d. 538/1144), originally an Arabic-only lexicon, were retroactively supplemented with glosses in Khwarazmian, Persian, Turkish, and Mongolian. Another type called maṣādir ‘(Arabic) nomina actionis’ in effect recorded the incorporation into Persian of Arabic maṣdars—especially productive for hundreds of Persian, etc. complex verbs of type tabdīl kardan ‘to (ex)change’. These dictionaries were instrumental in knitting together three separate language families into a cultural continuum, enabling international dialogue among scholars. Between ca. 1400 and 1830 CE, Indians took the lead in their production, briefly in competition with emigrants from the Safavid state. Lithographed lexicological tracts critiqued the latest exemplars, until Persian lost its hold on the subcontinent.