Monday, November 21, 2011

Is ʿirfān islamic?

Not a new question but a timely one given the political context of the hegemony of the school of Mullā Ṣadrā as well as the rising popularity of the alliance of the maktab-e tafkīk (who call themselves maktab-e ahl-e bayt) and the Shīrāzīya against the study of philosophy especially in the ḥawzeh.

Documentary on the Life of Sayyid Shihāb al-Dīn Marʿashī

A somewhat cheesy but still useful documentary on Sayyid Shihāb al-Dīn Marʿashī Najafī (d. 1990) and his library and scholarly contribution.
Four parts in all
and 4th:

Monday, November 14, 2011

A recent work on Mullā Ṣadrā - Ibrahim Kalin

At the heart of much of the Neoplatonist intuition about knowledge and reality lies the identity thesis, the proposition that in any process of perception and of knowing the perceiving subject and its object are identical, because intellection is an immaterial process. The data that the intellect receives constitutes immaterial ideas or essences. The foundational text for the theory is found in Aristotle’s De Anima III.4, ‘For in the case of things without matter, that which thinks and that which is thought are the same; for speculative knowledge is the same as its object’ (DA 430a3-6). Already in De Anima I.5, Aristotle introduces the notion that the soul and the objects of its knowledge have a ‘like-for-like’ relationship. The soul is an immaterial substance and hence it knows, grasps, assimilates even, that which is similarly immaterial. However, there is one fundamental distinction between the Aristotelian sense of the identity thesis and a more radically monist or idealist turn that it takes with Neoplatonists such as Plotinus. For Aristotle, knowing and thinking are intentional acts in which the objects of knowing and extrinsic to the soul and identified through the mutual recognition of like for like in which the essence for example of a horse that exists in the memory of the thinking person is identified with the essence of the horse that is grasped through the act of perception, abstracted from the substance of the actual horse. Thus the two essences, one intrinsic to the mind and the other extrinsic are identical. With Neoplatonism, intellection is not an intentional act since all the objects of knowledge, insofar as the person perceives the truth, are intrinsic to the intellect itself. There is no object of cognition extrinsic to the intellect. Therefore, unlike Aristotelian epistemology’s approach to knowledge of the truth through representation, knowledge can only be through a direct encounter, a turning within of the intellect. There are, therefore, no ultimate boundaries for the becoming of the soul. The intellect’s ability to grasp knowledge is boundless. It is this version of the identity thesis and the assimilation of knowledge to a metaphysics that is both simultaneously monist and somewhat idealist that is the concern of Kalin’s sophisticated presentation of the epistemology of the Safavid sage Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1635), a published version of his doctoral dissertation supervised by one of the pioneers of Sadrian studies in metropolitan academia, Seyyed Hossein Nasr. 

The work comprises three chapters. The first is a historical contextualisation that is divided into two parts: a Hellenic genealogy of attempts to make sense of Aristotle’s notion of identity, and then its Islamic reception from al-Kindī through al-Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā and then Suhrawardī. The second chapter presents the epistemology of Mullā Ṣadrā, beginning with a discussion of his ontology as a framework for making sense of his epistemology which rejects representationalism and uses the identity thesis (which Kalin calls the unification argument) in favour of a epistemology of presence, the famous so-called knowledge by presence argument of later Islamic, especially illuminationist (ishrāqī), philosophy made famous by the late Mehdi Haʾeri Yazdi [The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy: Knowledge by Presence, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992]. The third chapter by way of a conclusion examines how Mullā Ṣadrā reconciles a monistically oriented metaphysics with a pluralistic order of cognition through the identity thesis. Appended to the chapters is also an excellent and highly useful (for those of us who teach Islamic philosophy and need texts in translation to do so) translation of the key text in which Mullā Ṣadrā expounds his understanding of the identity thesis, the Epistle on the Identity of the Intellecting Subject and its object (or as Kalin has it ‘the Unification of the Intellector and the intelligible – Risālat ittiḥād al-ʿāqil wa-l-maʿqūl).

The first chapter is a deliberate and judiciously selective history of the identity thesis focusing on those discussions which will best elucidate Mullā Ṣadrā’s argument and which present his own understanding of the genealogy of the thesis tracing through al-Fārābī and his Risālat al-ʿaql, the Theologia Aristotelis, that central text of significance for Islamic Neoplatonism which represented an Arabic paraphrase of parts of Plotinus’ Enneads IV to VI and was attributed to Aristotle and, of course, Alexander of Aphrodisias whose reading of Aristotle’s De Anima was so influential in the East and the West. A historian looking for a more thorough background to the identity thesis in Greek thought will be disappointed here and would be better advised to look elsewhere – Ian Crystal’s Self-Intellection and its Epistemological Origins in Ancient Greek Thought (Ashgate, 2002) would be a good place to start (and it is somewhat surprising that Kalin was not aware of it before the publication of his book, especially as it does a good job of tracing the Neoplatonic trajectory away from Aristotelianism). However, Kalin’s account is focused upon seeing the issue through the prism of Mullā Ṣadrā’s selective history and for such an account it matters little whether the Theologia was not the work of Aristotle; what matters were those texts filtered through Arabic that played a pivotal role in shaping the conception of the philosophical heritage. More important is Kalin’s contextualisation for the identity thesis as central to epistemology in both theological and mystical circles: what is clear is that a certain Neoplatonic taste marked out the learned culture of the Islamic East. He quotes major illimunationist philosophers such as Suhrawardī (d. 1191) and Shahrazūrī (d. c. 1288) who considered the identity thesis to be at the heart of Sufi epistemology and the quest for mystical union, and also figures from the school of Ibn ʿArabī such as his stepson Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī (d. 1274), and Afḍal al-Dīn Kāshānī (d. 1214) who was responsible for an influential Persian paraphrase of Aristotle’s De Anima, and whose Jāvīdān-nāma on the life of the soul was paraphrased and adapted by Mullā Ṣadrā into Arabic in his own Iksīr al-ʿārifīn (as William Chittick has shown in his studies on Kāshānī and in his translation of Iksīr). A number of medieval Sufis and theologians quoted the Theologia, and especially the famous doffing metaphor derived from Enneads IV.8.1 which provided the basis for their arguments about the original existence in the life of the transcendental nous and in the presence of God and the ability of the sage and mystic to transcend this life and enjoy the beatific vision of the divine in pursuit of mystical union. And in doing so, some of them recognised that this text represented Platonic, and not Aristotelian doctrine; in one famous passage in al-Muṭāraḥāt, Suhrawardī quotes from the Theologia introducing it by saying ‘the divine Plato said’. Alexander seems to be a key link in the noetics from the Aristotelian tradition through to the Theologia and al-Fārābī, as Marc Geoffroy has shown most recently. However, unlike the Theologia, al-Fārābī’s postulation of the identity thesis was more circumspect; hence when Ibn Sīnā comes onto the scene and once and for all attacked the non-Aristotelian sentiment not only of the Theologia in his famous notes that comprised part of the lost Kitāb al-inṣāf, but also the identity thesis associated with Porphyry [in a recent article on Porphyrius arabicus Peter Adamson has suggested reasons for this association], editor of Plotinus, as false, this posed a problem for later advocates of the identity thesis such as Mullā Ṣadrā. Therefore, his fundamental task was to show not only that ‘Aristotle’ and al-Fārābī (read in a partial way) were correct, but also that Ibn Sīnā’s critique was unsound. The choice laid before later thinkers in Islam was between an Avicennan metaphysics of pluralism and representationalist epistemology, and a more Neoplatonic metaphysics of unity and an epistemology of identity. For Ibn Sīnā, the human intellect conjoins with the active intellect to grasp intelligible in an infallible manner and rejects union. However, the response by those in favour of identity and of the union of the human intellect and the active intellect (i.e. ittiḥād and not ittiṣāl) began with Suhrawardī who initiated the argument that all processes of intellection at their very base are acts of self-intellection, and since self-intellection is through union, as indeed is divine knowledge, then all acts of knowledge, all perceptions must also be based on identification.

Kalin sets up Mullā Ṣadrā’s presentation in chapter two by locating it within his ontology of the primacy of existence and of the nature of existence that is wholly singular but also graded (the doctrines of aṣālat and tashkīk al-wujūd), and his wider epistemology in which he discusses four theories of knowledge of which his own is the most appropriate because it recognises not only that the soul is an expression of existence but also that knowledge itself is existence; hence all knowledge must be an aspect of a singular and graded existence. This is the pivotal chapter in which the argument culminates with a discussion not only of the nature of the simple intellect and its knowledge (modelled on Greek discussions arising out of the De Anima and Metaphysics lambda), but also how the identity thesis and the unification of the intellect and intelligibles is the central intuition of an epistemology of knowledge by presence, whereby humans can strike a similitude to the divine. Kalin does not make this explicit, but the culmination of the argument that links knowledge by presence with God’s knowledge of things is a deliberate instrumentalisation of Mullā Ṣadrā’s very approach to philosophy as a way of life; since philosophy is a rehearsal of what is means to be like God (the notion of theosis or taʾalluh in Arabic), then ultimately perfected human knowledge needs to imitate divine knowledge.

The final chapter in which Kalin attempts to show how Mullā Ṣadrā produces a reconciliation ultimately between monism and pluralism with respect to epistemology, is also an argument in favour of the possibility of mystical experience or of what recent philosophers of religion have termed ‘pure consciousness events’. Disembodiment is a key condition of spirituality but Mullā Ṣadrā was not solely concerned with otherworldly catharsis. Rather, his synthesis was based on the idea that the intoxication of mystical union and direct experience were not the end of the process but rather a beginning and an inculcation into a practice of living. There are, however, two potential problems with the presentation in this chapter. First, does the identity thesis have to end up in mysticism? In fact, was the fate of philosophy ultimately in the world of Islam somewhat like that of late antiquity to culminate in mystery cults? Second, while it might sound like Mullā Ṣadrā’s subordination of his noetics to his ontology signals an attempt to escape subjectivism through ‘naïve realism’, one wonders whether it, indeed like his gradational ontology, is successful. This is not a critique of Kalin’s excellent analytical reconstruction of Mullā Ṣadrā but rather to ask more critically and interrogate the Safavid thinker himself. The appendix containing the text is quite useful – however, again if the author had time to revise more thoroughly the recent critical edition published is far superior to Hamid Naji Isfahani’s attempt from the mid-1990s. The annotation on the translation is adequate but could do more to point to precise influences and trace the source of some texts.

Knowledge in Later Islamic Philosophy is a major contribution to the study of Mullā Ṣadrā and indeed to Islamic traditions of epistemology. It is perhaps one of the best analytical defences of the thought of the Safavid sage; one is reminded of some of the best work of recent neo-Thomists writing on the thought of Aquinas. The eminent figures who provided blurbs on the dustcover are not wrong on their assessment. Some elements of the contextualisation could be more explicit; my own stress upon Mullā Ṣadrā’s approach to philosophy as a way of life influenced by my reading of Pierre Hadot is a useful indicator of the framework in which to place his thought. The intellectual historian of Islamic thought would not doubt be pleased and would highly recommend the work. But the philosopher trying to grasp problems of epistemology and ontology and the very conception of philosophy in the contemporary Islamic world might reflect on what it means. Kalin has in fact provided a certain idiom for the contemporary thinker to think these issues through but the answers still remain elusive. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some books from India

Rather fortuitously, a few books arrived last week from India relating to my recent forays into the 18th century in North India:
1) Aḥmad b. Muḥammad ʿAlī b. Muḥammad Bāqir Iṣfahānī Bihbahānī's invaluable travelogue of North India during which he visited Benares and Lucknow in the age of Muḥammad Shāh, published by the Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna is a wonderful facsimile edition [the text was also partially edited by ʿAlī Davānī and published in Tehran in the early 1980s but this is a far superior version]. To my knowledge, Juan Cole in his classic study of Avadh under the nawabs cites this work from a manuscript in the National Archives in New Delhi, and Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam have also cited it in their study of travellers to India. The text entitled Mirʾāt al-aḥwāl-i jahānnumā - subtitled on the front page as Safarnāma-yi Hind - was penned in 1224/1809. A scion of the Majlisī family (among whom he was far from being the first to seek his fortunes in India), he arrived in India in 1202/1787 and settled in ʿAẓīmābād [Patna]. The text itself is dedicated to Muḥammad ʿAlī Khān Qājār (d. 1237/1821) the eldest son of Fatḥ ʿAlī Shāh, and is divided into five maṭālib
Maṭlab I is a family genealogy of the elder Majlisī, Muḥammad Taqī (d. 1659) and his progeny. 
Maṭlab II is a genealogy of the younger and more famous Majlisī, Muḥammad Bāqir (d. 1699) and his family. 
Maṭlab III considers the genealogy of another ancestor of the author, the well known Akhbārī figure Mullā Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ Māzandarānī, who wrote a commentary on al-Kāfī, one of the key texts in the promotion of the study of ḥadīth in the late Safavid period. 
Maṭlab IV is a biography of the author's grandfather Āqā Muḥammad Bāqir Iṣfahānī.
Maṭlab V moves to the life of the author himself and is divided into three maqāṣid: I -on his birth and birthplace, II - arrival in India in Bombay, his travels in the Deccan and encounter with Sir John Malcolm and his journey north to Murshidabad and then west to Patna and beyond, and arrival in Fyzabad and encounter with notables in Lucknow (includes his rather critical comments on Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī and the 'supine' nature of the ʿulamāʾ at court) and elsewhere, ending with his return to the east and his arrival in Jahāngīrnagar (modern Dhaka), and finally III - on Europe and its institutions and customs [this desire to provide a comparative framework to a study of Avadh was common in a number of histories of the court written under Saʿādat ʿAlī Khān and Muḥammad Shāh. The khātima turns to the role of kings and notables and also provides a short sketch of Persian history from the fall of the Safavids to the time of the composition of the work. 

2) Muḥammad Khalīlullāh Anṣārī Farangī-Maḥallī and his family genealogy entitled Tuḥfat al-aḥbāb fī bayān al-ansāb - published by the Amīr al-Daula Library in Lucknow - the edition includes the Persian original (rather a bad facsimile copy) with an introduction and Urdu translation by Shāh ʿAbdussalām, a trustee of the library and now the director of the Raza Library in Rampur. The author does not seem to be well known but the source is a useful supplement to the existing histories of Farangī Maḥall such as Tadhkira-yi ʿulamāʾ-yi Farangī Maḥall of Muftī ʿInāyatullāh Anṣārī and al-Aghṣān al-arbaʿa of Muftī Walīullāh Anṣārī (the only copy of this I've ever seen is in the Oriental Books section of the Asiatic Society in Kolkata). The text itself is fairly short - around fifty pages. 

3) The final short work is also published by the Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna and is a bio-bibliographical work by ʿAbd al-Salām Khān entitled Barr-i ṣaghīr kē ʿulamāʾ-yi maʿqūlāt aur unkī taṣnīfāt. Drawing mainly on Sayyid ʿAbd al-Ḥayy's Nuzhat al-khawāṭir, the standard sources of Kashf al-ẓunūn and Miftāḥ al-saʿāda and some local histories such as Tazkira-yi kāmilān-i Rāmpūr of Aḥmad ʿAlī Khān 'Shawq' (d. 1932, this text was published by the Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna in 1986), it is a chronological list of those involved in the rational disciplines of logic, philosophy and theology from the earliest period. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Majālis-i Jahāngīrī

As it turns out my whim of buying this book having randomly seen it in the bookshop next to the Marʿashī Library and having bought it turns out to have been a good thing and a serendipity. Looking through the new book published by Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, one can see the use of the text in finding, for example, evidence of religious debate and interaction at the Mughal court of the Emperor Jahāngīr (r. 1605-27). Alongside the already available Tuzuk-i Jahāngīrī and the Jahāngīrnāma, there are plenty of sources available for a re-evaluation of his court and for the cultural, religious and intellectual life of the period. Unfortunately, for many this may sound like rather old-fashioned Mughal history. It does seem that Jahāngīr and Mughals were far more curious about European culture and Christianity than the old 'Aligarh' school assumed - and the Majālis has led to at least one paper presented at the Indian Historical Congress in 2008 by Shireen Moosvi.

Committed to Rational Traditions in Islam - but is that enough?

John Walbridge is one of the best scholars of Islamic philosophical traditions around and has already made major contributions to the field through his work on Suhrawardī and the illuminationist tradition in the Islamic East. This new book is an excellent example of committed scholarship with a passion for the subject and a desire to demonstrate not only that philosophical traditions have played (and need to play) a central role in the culture of the Islamic world but also that rational approaches to faith (even ones rooted in logic whose study never died out in the scholastic traditions of Islamic pedagogy) are viable and essential in the present.  It is a combative plea as the author states aimed at an educated general reader trying to make sense of Islam in the present and for the Muslim reader to recover his heritage of rationalities. But it is the scholar of the field who is the third type of reader who will probably be most dissatisfied with the final work, aware of some interesting new avenues of thought and engagement with literature but wanting to know more and to see a more complete argument. It's a bit of an academic tease and one wonders whether the author was caught between writing a popular work on the rationality of Islam and trying to bring to the fore his research on the logical traditions and school texts of the later middle period in the Islamic East. Nevertheless, this is a work in a field which is increasingly confessional – and one that one approves heartily of. We can therefore perhaps forgive the rather excruciating title of the book – which does not quite capture anyway what one finds within even if his point about caliphate representing authority and hegemony is well taken.

The book is divided into three parts. The first concerns the formation of the ‘Islamic tradition of reason’ and comprises five chapters that began with interrogating the notion of reason and mind in Islam (he prefers mind as a translation for ʿaql which requires a whole separate discussion) and examines different modalities of rationality in Islamic thought ranging from ḥadīth through to falsafa and mysticism. The second part which stands on its own and represents trends in his research over the last decade or so comprises three chapters that deal with logic and especially the remnant of the tradition in South Asia. The final section of two chapters considers trajectories of ways forward to understand why modes of rationality have ‘declined’ and what future they might have in the twenty-first century and beyond. All in all, the book represents an excellent introduction to the learned culture of Islam and expresses the proposition, as the author puts it, that ‘Islamic intellectual life has been characterized by reason in the service of a non-rational revealed code of conduct’. This in itself is an interesting way of putting it – an old idea and one which he does well to indicate its substantiation (and one with which this reviewer broadly agrees). But the scripturalist might not be terribly happy with recourse to tools beyond his textual universe, and the ‘pure rationalist’ might also be dismayed by the idea that rationality’s only recourse is to defend the non-rational (or the supra-rational). But then we can be confident that such ideal types do not exist: just as pure textual literalists and scripturalists cannot function in a coherent and consistent way, the pursuit of pure reason is a mirage: thought just like text is embedded in contexts which provide horizons of meaning and modes to come to understanding.  Walbridge is careful to state that non-rational does not mean irrational – and indeed one of the major flaws in the field of Islamic philosophy in particular is to dismiss modes of reasoning that are non-rational, whether mystical or scriptural, as ‘irrational’ nonsense.

Most of the chapters are tantalisingly short. The very first one which demonstrates the post-9/11 context in which one makes sense of this work raises the question of whether Islam is essentially non-rational and opts for an answer in the negative and a defence of a scholastic tradition of reason at the heart of scholarly pursuit in the faith, criticising along the way the common idea that (still!) persists about al-Ghazālī’s death-blow to reason in Islam – a view that is problematic given recent excellent work by Frank, Moosa, Griffel, Pourjavady, al-Akiti and others that prove clearly al-Ghazālī’s own philosophical and rational credentials.  A clear corollary of his answer is that fundamentalism and its concomitant problem of violence is a peculiarly modern problem – and it is therefore ahistorical to see such phenomena as culturally peculiar to the ‘Muslim mind’. The next chapter on the diversity of reason reads like a selective introduction to the notion of reason and rationality drawing upon a relevant philosophical literature and in a sense defines the terms that are discussed in the work. The following three chapters deal with the major modalities of rationality: the first of these examines ḥadīth epistemology and quite correctly avoids the question of the historicity of those purported narrations (as Wael Hallaq argued many years ago, the authenticity of ḥadīth is a pseudo-problem because the real issue is how we use texts and not necessarily where they come from), the second on the Fārābian falsafa tradition argues that the attempt to subordinate religion to philosophy failed and is illustrated by the complete failure of political philosophy, and the third points towards what did succeed – the mature mystical-philosophical tradition of the Islamic East that became the dominant mode of rationality (and is as such decreed by modern Arab intellectuals such as the late Muḥammad ʿĀbid al-Jābirī as the triumph of unreason).  Walbridge seems to agree partly with such a critique because he locates the decline of physical sciences in Islam to the success of mysticism – but the story is more complicated as Ahmad Dallal has recently argued. The chapters that follow on logic are designed to further the centrality of modes of rationality in scholarly pursuit – but for the actual history one would look elsewhere such as Tony Street’s recent sketches or even Asad Ahmed’s more recent work on logic. The chapter on disagreement is important for the polemic as Walbridge’s argument for rationality implies the need to tolerate difference of opinion and to accept that pre-modern thinkers were actually comfortable with the idea of completing authoritative narratives of reason; the institutionalisation of this process is located by him in the madras.

The final chapters complete the argument. He implies that the decline of institutions of reason in the Islamic world have much to do with the colonial state and the ‘new reason’.  A complete intellectual history of what exactly happened to learned Islamic culture still needs to be written.  The final chapter raises a whole set of issues which are much debate in a large literature of Islam, education and modernity and discussed by the likes of Piscatori and Eickelman, Zaman, and Mahmood. The punchline is worthy of attention. Walbridge makes two points: first that any serious future of modalities of reason in Islam today and in the future will have to recognise the history and heritage of Islamic learned culture – traditional learning cannot just be jettisoned in the name of modernism or fundamentalism or even ‘ijtihād’. Second, any serious revival will probably come from the ‘West’, from America in particular, because of the experience of plurality and the opportunities that Muslims in American have at their disposal. For some time scholars have been arguing that serious Muslim intellectual revival will arise from Europe and North America. I am not so convinced. While there are interesting intellectuals in these places, it is still difficult to find figures who have an impact in the wider Muslim world. It is also quite clear that the competitive advantage of living in Dearborn as opposed to Beirut is not so great. And then one also suffers from the same differences and same problems of traditionalism, conservatism, fundamentalism and modernism in America and elsewhere. In a globalised, cosmopolitan world, Islam may indeed revive in the West as the ḥadīth indicates but one wonders what is meant by the West in the text.

God and Logic in Islam is well worth reading – especially for young Muslims. Even if one agrees with the basic proposition and many of the lines of argument, the argument is not terribly convincing or well substantiated. As indicated earlier, it is unlikely that the specialist in the field will agree with much that is in the book. But in the times in which we live it needs to be said. Increasingly, the intellectual traditions and the heritage of rationalities is being disputed, in works appearing in North America and especially in France, which deny that European rationality and institutions of science and reason owe anything to Islamic learned culture – and the ignorance that many Muslims who live in marginalised communities in Europe have of their heritage contributes to the problem. In such a context, this book is a further timely reminder that the world of Islam did make intellectual contributions and the world of the mind was respected in pursuit and defence of the faith – and was indeed one of the best ways of glorifying the divine.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Scholarship in a sayyid family of Avadh II: Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī

Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī b. Muḥammad Muʿīn Naqvī Naṣīrābādī (1753-1820), better known after his death as Ghufrān-maʾāb and as the progenitor of a leading family of Shiʿi ʿulamāʾ of Lucknow known as the khāndān-i ijtihād, was a leading figure in the Shiʿi learned culture of North India in the post-Mughal period. As the new Shiʿi state in Avadh developed a distinct identity of its own, Naṣīrābādī was responsible for the production of a new religious dispensation, a theology to rival that of the prevalent Sunnī, rationalist culture of the dars-i niẓāmī in which he had been trained. Coming from a family of prominent Naqvī sayyids in the qaṣbah of Naṣīrābād, he studied in Faizabad and in Shahjahanpur (then still in the control of the Rohillas ruled by Ḥāfiẓ Raḥmat Khān until his defeat by Avadh and the British in April 1774) with prominent (mainly Sunnī) teachers of the scriptural and intellectual humanities such as:
i)               Tafażżul Ḥusayn Khān (d. 1800), a leading Shiʿi intellectual and scientist whose forbears came from Iṣfahān though he himself was born in Sialkot and later studied in Benaras with the great literary figure Ḥazīn Lāhījī
ii)              Sayyid Ghulām Ḥusayn Dakkanī Ilāhābādī;
iii)            Shaykh Bābullāh Jawnpūrī;
iv)             Mullā Ḥaydar ʿAlī Sandīlvī (Sunni son of the Shiʿi philosopher Mullā Ḥamdullāh);
v)        and Mullā ʿAbd ʿAlī Baḥr al-ʿUlūm of Farangī-Maḥall (d. 1801), son of the famous Mullā Niẓāmuddīn who established the curriculum balancing the scriptural and intellectual humanities named after him.
He later moved to Lucknow in 1775 where he found a generous patron in the person of Ḥasan Riżā Khān (served 1776-98), the vizier of Āṣaf al-dawla (r. 1775-97). He sent him to study in the shrine cities of Iraq (1779-82) where he gained licenses from leading uṣūlī jurists of the time including:
i)               Sayyid Muḥammad Mahdī b. Murtaḍā Ṭabāṭabāʾī Baḥr al-ʿUlūm (1155-1212/1742-1797),
ii)              Sayyid Mahdī Shahristānī (1130-1216/1718-1801)
iii)            Mīrzā Mahdī Iṣfahānī (1152-1218/1739-1803)
iv)      and Āqā Bāqir Bihbahānī (1116-1205/1704-1790), the person most responsible for eradicating the Akhbārī presence from the shrine cities.
 Although it is often said that Akhbārīs dominated Shiʿi India and that Naṣīrābādi was himself Akhbārī before he returned to India as the first mujtahid of a new uṣūlī era and helped to establish uṣūlī hegemony in India through his actions and his writings, there is little actual evidence for Akhbārī thought in North India (unlike the Deccan where the Quṭb-Shāhīs seemed to patronise figures such as the famous ‘reviver’ of the Akhbārī school, Muḥammad Amīn Astarābādī (d. 1626) who wrote the Dānishnāma-yi Shāhī for his patrons). His contribution in theology lay in three areas of dispute:
i)               displacing the theology of the shaykhzādas in the qaṣbahs which was rational, Sufi and Sunni – ultimately the Farangī Maḥall family of scholars in Lucknow (ʿAbd ʿAlī Muḥammad Baḥr al-ʿUlūm and Mullā Ḥasan) and the school of Shāh Walīallāh in Delhi (Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz) epitomised their approach and hence he disputed with them, debated and wrote refutations of their works;
ii)              displacing the akhbārī tendency of traditionalists – which to a large extent concerned the import of a dispute from the shrine cities of Iraq into North India;
iii)            and moving from a Shiʿi theology of the margins to the heart of empire – establishing a Shiʿi kingship through building institutions of judiciary, establishing the Friday and Eid congregational prayers, centres of learning, an office of religious, jurisprudential guidance and dissemination through the network of his students not least his sons.

He established the new theological dispensation by advocating these methods:

First, importing a controversy from the shrine cities of Iraq, he argued for establishing the uṣūlī method and the use of reason in law and theology. He wrote a number of works attacking Akhbārīs including the main text Asās al-uṣūl and was pivotal in inaugurating the institution of congregational Friday prayers, which were not the norm among the Shiʿa in North India before him. The first such congregation took place in 1200/1786 and a collection of his sermons from that first year was published as an expression of the new public theology entitled Favāʾid-i Āṣafīya. Further such congregations were established in the realm eventually reaching his hometown of Naṣīrābād where a Friday mosque was inaugurated in 1812. He also wrote a Risāla dar vujūb-i namāz-i jumʿa. In Asās al-uṣūl, a work written in Arabic for a scholarly audience (it was lithographed twice in the 1890s and 1900s in Lucknow), his main target was al-Fawāʾid al-madanīya of Muḥammad Amīn Astarābādī (d. 1626); however, he did not rely on the ad hominem and weak arguments deployed by Nūr al-Din al-ʿĀmilī or Bihbahānī in his al-Fawāʾid al-Makkīya. The work is divided into four sections (maqāṣid): the first on the probative force of Qurʾanic verses, the second (and the longest section) on the probative force (ḥujjīya) of ḥadīth – this is in fact the longest section of the text - , the third section on scholarly consensus (ijmāʿ) which was a major point of contention with Akhbārīs, and the fourth on rational instruments for discerning jurisprudence. This last section reveals the theological origins of some debates in uṣūl and includes sections on the status of acts before revelation and on the rational ability to discern good and evil independently. An office was opened in Lucknow to deal with questions of the faithful and a gradual process of Shiʿification of the judiciary initiated. His own informal circle of learning became a formal institution under his son with the name of Madrasa-yi Sulṭānīya, which is a later iteration became the Sulṭān al-madāris established after the annexation much later in 1892.

Second, and most importantly given the rivalry at court, he opened an attack on Sufis to discredit the possibility of considering Shiʿism and Sufism as compatible. He wrote a scholarly work in Arabic al-Shihāb al-thāqib and a more accessible risāla in Persian (Risāla-yi radd-i madhhab-i ṣūfīya), both written for his patron Sarfarāz al-Dawla Ḥasan Riżā Khān, the vizier of Āṣaf al-Dawla, and the patron also of two major Sufi figures Shāh ʿAlī Akbar Mawdūdī Chishtī (d. 1795) who led own jumʿa and Shāh Khayrullāh Naqshbandī. Unlike other anti-Sufi tracts, his polemics did not concern practices on the whole (expect for the use of music in ritual), but rather given the dominance of the Ibn ʿArabī school and the ḥadīth-based scholarship of the rational Sunnī dars-i niẓāmī tradition in Avadh, his attack centred upon the idea of waḥdat al-wujūd and the proofs often adduced from the Qurʾan and from ḥadīth in its favour. This monism dominated Sufism in Avadh through figures at court (and Mawdūdī’s own al-Fawāʾid al-Mawdūdīya – there is a manuscript copy in the British Library – demonstrates his adherence to this tendency), the tradition of Shāh ʿAbd al-Razzāq (d. 1724) of Bānsa patronised by the Sunni theologians of Farangī-Maḥall, and the tradition associated with Shah Mīna (d. 1467) and his shrine in Lucknow – a leading figure of this tradition was Dildār ʿAlī’s contemporary Irtiżā ʿAlī Khān Gopāmāwī (d. 1836), a Sufi and philosopher of the school of Mullā Ṣadrā, who wrote a prominent devotional work Favāʾid-i Saʿdīya.

Third, he defended Shiʿi theology against the famous polemic of Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, the Tuḥfa-yi isnāʿasharīya, and took on the Sunni rational tradition in a major work of theology entitled Mirʾāt al-ʿuqūl fī ʿilm al-uṣūl better known as ʿImād al-Islām, a scholarly work in Arabic that was lithographed at the turn of the 20th century through the efforts of his descendent Sayyid Āqā Ḥasan who also arranged for an Urdu translation which was also published. His responses to Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz’s Tuḥfa-yi isnāʿasharīya included Ṣawārim-i ilāhīyāt on chapter 5 on philosophical theology, Ḥusām al-islām on chapter 6 on prophecy, Iḥyāʾ-yi sunnat on chapter 8 on resurrection, Risāla-yi Dhū-l-fiqār on chapter 12 on tabarra and walāya, Khātima-yi ṣawārim on imāma and ghaybat. His son Sulṭān al-ʿUlamāʾ later added Bawāriq-i mūbaqa on chapter 7 on imāma, Ṭaʿn al-rimāḥ and Bāriqa-yi dayghamīya on chapter 10 on indictments, Ṭard al-muʿānidīn on chapter 12 on walāya and tabarra. Although the polemics set off a chain of refutations and counter-refutations, these were the best Shiʿi reponses alongside Sayyid Ḥāmid Ḥusayn’s more voluminous ʿAbaqāt al-anwār. ʿImād al-Islām was an altogether more ambitious work taking as its target Nihāyat al-ʿuqūl, the mature work of philosophical theology of the great medieval Sunni theologian Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1209). It is perhaps the greatest achievement in kalām of the Shiʿi scholarly tradition of India.
Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī’s legacy lay primarily in the network of his students and his sons and descendants who dominated the intellectual scene in Avadh prior to the annexation and continued to do so in the present. He had five sons:
1)     Sayyid Muḥammad who was born 1199/1784 in Lucknow. He became known as mujtahid al-ʿaṣr, a quasi-official post of the leading cleric (title of ṣadr al-ṣudūr), and was given the title of Sulṭān al-ʿulamāʾ. He died in 1284/1867, and was posthumously known as Riżvān-maʾāb. He wrote works against Akhbārīs and also al-ʿUjāla al-nāfiʿa on Shiʿi kalām. He formalised his father’s teaching circle, establishing the Madrasa-yi Sulṭānīya whose post-annexation avatar became the Sulṭān al-madāris, which still exists and was founded in 1892.
2)     Sayyid ʿAlī was born in Lucknow in 1200/1786. He travelled to Karbalāʾ often, lived and studied and died there in 1259/1843. There is evidence that he associated with Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī (d. 1843) in Karbalāʾ which accounts for a primary link between the Shaykhīs and Avadh [although for obvious reasons the family biographers omit this]. He wrote a two volume exegesis entitled Tawḍīḥ al-majīd fī kalām allāh al-ḥamīd and hence was given the title of Sayyid al-mufassirīn.
3)     Sayyid Ḥasan was born in 1205/1791 and died 1260/1844, having written some theological works.
4)     Sayyid Mahdī was born Lucknow 1208/1793 and died young in 1231/1816. His son Sayyid Muḥammad Hādī 1813-1858 was a significant jurist of the family.
5)     Sayyid Ḥusayn was born in 1211/1796. He was important and became a mujtahid and died in 1273/1856. He was known as Sayyid al-ʿulamāʾ and posthumously titled ʿIllīyīn-maʾāb.  His sons were an important branch of the family: Sayyid ʿAlī Naqī d. 1893, titled Zubdat al-ʿulamāʾ; Sayyid Muḥammad Taqī known as Mumtāz al-ʿulamāʾ 1818-72, and Sayyid ʿAlī. The recent famous scholar Sayyid ʿAlī Naqī Naqqan ṣāḥab, who was Dean of the Department of Shia Theology at Aligarh University, was a scion of this branch. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Scholarship in a sayyid family of Avadh I: Musavī Nīshāpūrī of Kintūr

People familiar with Shiʿi scholarship in North India will have heard of the famous polemical defence of Shiʿi theology entitled ʿAbaqāt al-anwār fī imāmat al-aʾimmat al-aṭhār or the library associated with the author and his family, the Nāṣirīya in Lucknow (presented run by Sayyid ʿAlī Nāṣir Mūsavī better known as Agha Roohi). A family of Mūsavī sayyids from Khurāsān, namely Nishāpūr, settled in Kintūr in Barabanki east of Lucknow and very much in the heart of Avadh in the 14th century (incidentally that is pretty much the same time as the main branch of my paternal ancestors Rażavī sayyids from Nishapur as well settled in the Delhi area before moving on to Allahabad and other parts of eastern UP including Ghāzīpūr). Interesting one of the descendants of this family, famous because of his own grandson, was Sayyid Aḥmad Mūsavī (d. 1869), the grandfather of Sayyid Rūḥullāh Khumaynī (d. 1989). Sayyid Aḥmad was born in Kintūr and later moved to the shrine cities of Iraq as many scholars did in around 1830 as British encroachment in Avadh increased; he later eventually settled in Khomein in 1839. On his death in 1869, his body was transferred to Karbalāʾ for burial in the shrine city.

But I want to focus to the main branch of the family. Sayyid Muḥammad Qulī son of Muḥammad Ḥusayn, known as Mīr Muḥammad Qulī (1775-1844) joined British service early on and served as a judge in Meerut. He had studied with the famous mujtahid of Lucknow Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī Naṣīrābādī (d. 1820). He was appointed to the top clerical post of ṣadr al-ṣudūr in 1837 and eventually retired to Lucknow a year before his death. A jurist in his own right, he was the author of a number of refutations of the anti-Shiʿi polemic penned by Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (d. 1823) the Tuḥfa-yi ithnāʿasharīya including Tashyīd al-maṭāʿin li-kashf al-ḍaghāʾin, al-Sayf al-nāṣirī, Taqlīb al-makāʾid (lithographed in Calcutta, 1846), and Taṭhīr al-muʾminīn ʿan najāsat al-mushrikīn. The former has been published by the press established by the Mūsawī Jazāʾirī Shūshtarī family whose branch settled in Lucknow and were related to the Kintūrīs. The best study of Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz's polemic and Shiʿi responses remains the late Sayyid Athar ʿAbbas Rizvi's Shah ʿAbd al-ʿAziz: Puritanism, Sectarian Polemics and Jihad (Canberra: Maʿrifat Publishing House, 1982). Mīr Muḥammad Qulī was one of the first Shiʿi ʿulamāʾ to recognise the threat posed by the polemic in inciting violence against Shiʿi symbols, commemorations and also people - further evidence from the past, as we see in the present that violent language of othering, of takfīr and attacks on Shiʿi symbols ultimately leads to the killing of the Shiʿa as well.

However, his two sons became far more famous. First, Sayyid Ḥāmid Ḥusayn (1830-88), the youngest son, had studied jurisprudence and fiqh in Lucknow with Sayyid Ḥusayn son of Dildār ʿAlī Naṣīrābādī (d. 1856), philosophy with Sayyid Murtażā (d. 1860) son of Sayyid Muḥammad Sulṭān al-ʿUlamāʾ and hence a grandson of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī, and literature and other humanities with Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās Jazāʾirī Shūshtarī (d. 1889),  and later went to study in the shrine cities of Iraq. He wrote Asfār al-anwār ʿan waqāʾiʿ afḍal al-asfār on his travels in Iraq, and Zayn al-wasāʾil and al-Dharāʾiʿ in fiqh. He is primarily famous for the ʿAbaqāt al-anwār which was also written in refutation of Tuḥfa-yi ithnāʿasharīya. The work consists of 12 sections dealing with 12 ḥadīth in support of the Shiʿi case and in refutation of the polemic. The first two volumes on Ghadīr lithographed at Newal Kishore in Lucknow in 1294/1877 is available here. The second volume of part five on the famous saying of the Prophet identifying ʿAlī as bāb madīnat al-ʿilm was lithographed in 1317/1898 is available here. The whole text was not completed (only 11 lithographed volumes have been published) especially there was an initial section on Qurʾanic proofs for the imamate which was never written. The contemporary scholar Sayyid ʿAlī al-Mīlānī has written both a summary and a commentary on the text. That text is available here. In search of materials for the text, Sayyid Ḥāmid Ḥusayn travelled widely and collected manuscripts - his library was inherited by his son Sayyid Nāṣir (1867-1942) and established as the Nāṣirīya library in Lucknow, was recognised as Shams al-ʿUlamāʾ by the government of India in 1916 and a major leader in Lucknow. The contemporary scholar Muḥammad Riżā Ḥakīmī wrote an intellectual biography of Ḥāmid Ḥusayn which was published in 1980.

Second, Sayyid Iʿjāz Ḥusayn was born in 1825 in Meerut where his father had been posted as a judge. He died in 1870 and was buried in Lucknow in the graveyard of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī. Unlike his younger brother he was not known as a major theologian, although he had studied with Sulṭān al-ʿulamāʾ and his younger brother Sayyid Ḥusayn, both sons of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī in Lucknow. However, he did write three significant works which are essential research tools on the networks of ʿulama and works available at the time. The first one is Kashf al-ḥujub wa-l-astār ʿan asmāʾ al-kutub wa-l-asfār first printed at the Asiatic Society in Calcutta in 1911. Before the publication of Āqā Buzurg Ṭihrānī's al-Dharīʿa ilā taṣānīf al-shīʿa and more modern works, this was the main source for research into Shiʿi texts especially those available in India. The second is Shudhūr al-ʿiqyān fī tarājim al-aʿyān, a major two volume biography of scholars. The third, although it is associated with him despite the text being anonymous, is Āʾīna-yi ḥaqq-numā, another account of scholarly networks based on the work of students of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī.

Mīr Muḥammad Qulī's eldest son is probably the least known. Sayyid Sirāj Ḥusayn (1823-65) like his father worked in the British judiciary and administration and was one of the first Shiʿi ʿulamāʾ to engage with the new learning in English and translated works of science in Persian and Urdu. He was also associated with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and encouraged by the moves to establish Aligarh (although he died before its foundation). It was his son Sayyid Karāmat Ḥusayn (1852-1917) who became a pioneer encouraging the education of girls in the next generation as one of the key responses to the shock of the loss of power and prestige with the advent of formal empire after 1857. He also served as a professor of law at Aligarh.

These are some of the key sources that one needs to draw upon for research into the intellectual history of Shiʿi Islam in India. The two volume work of Sayyid Athar ʿAbbas Rizvi still remains the standard but there is still much to do on the actual development of ideas and on networks of scholars. This is the first of a number of notes on scholarship in Avadh.

UPDATE 1/12/16: Tashyīd al-maṭāʿin has now been published and can be downloaded from here.