Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Philosophy and Science between Iran and India: The case of Niẓām al-Dīn Gīlānī

For some years now, scholars have been looking at the work, particularly in science of the Iranian scholar Niẓām al-Dīn Aḥmad Gīlānī (b. Gīlān, 993/1585, d. Hyderabad or Isfahan, 1071/1660). After studying in Isfahan with Mīr Dāmād and Shaykh Bahāʾī, he emigrated probably around 1041/1631 to India.

[Rudiger Arnzen, 'Mapping Philosophy and Science in Safawid Iran and Mughal India: the case of Niẓāmuddīn Aḥmad Gīlānī and ms Khudā Bakhsh 2641', Mélanges de l'Université de St-Joseph lvi (1999-2003), pp. 107-160
The ms discussed is a wonderful blend of Graeco-Arabica, Neoplatonic texts such as the so-called Theology of Aristotle (Uthūlūjiyā), works of Fārābī and Avicenna, Bābā Afḍal Kāshānī, Sufi texts, and even Gīlānī own works including on medicine]

At first he went the court of Shāh Jahān (r. 1628-1658), a common destination for Iranian seekers of patronage. But he decided to enter the service of Mahābat Khān (d. 1634) who has rebelled against Jahāngīr but was pardoned under his son and appointed the governor of Delhi, and at whose salon he met and debated other scholars as discussed in his Shajara-yi Dānish. Accompanying Mahābat Khān on campaign in the Deccan when he was appointed as governor of Dawlatabad, probably on the death of Mahābat Khān in 1634, he decided to return to Iran; however, on invitation, he changed his mind and went to the Quṭbshāhī kingdom of Golconda where he was the recipient of the patronage of Sulṭān ʿAbdullāh Quṭbshāh (1035/1626-1083/1672). He became the main court physician, received the title of Ḥakīm al-mulk, and wrote a major compendium of medicine entitled Majmūʿa sharīfa fī-l-ṭibb for the Sulṭān in 1055/1645. Here is a picture of a manuscript of this text that was auctioned recently:

Gīlānī's work on medicine comprising sixteen treatises was later published. This is the list of the works contained therein:

He supposedly also wrote a Persian history of the Quṭbshāhī dynasty entitled Ḥadīqat al-salāṭīn, of which numerous manuscript copies survive. However, the author of that text is a different Niẓām al-Dīn Aḥmad Shīrāzī. He also acted as an ambassador for the Quṭbshāhīs to the court of Shāh Jahān and even to the Safavid Shāh ʿAbbās II. 

Muḥammad Karīmī Zanjānī-Aṣl and Āzādih Karbāsiān have produced a facsimile edition of a selection of his 'philosophical works' based on a majmūʿa in the collection of the Markaz-e Iḥyāʾ-ye mīrāth-e Islāmī 981 in Qum which were supposedly copied in the lifetime of Gīlānī. They have then prefaced an introduction in Persian and English - the Persian one is somewhat more extensive. It is volume one of a new series entitled Mīrās-e Quṭbshāhī published as a joint venture between the Majmaʿ al-Zakhāʾir al-islāmīya in Qum and Bonn University's Institut für Orient-und-Asienwissenschaften. Other works published in this series include: al-Ḥarāra al-gharīzīya, eds. Zanjānī-Aṣl and Ḥakīm Zillur Raḥmān, and two collections of poetry by Muḥammad Rūḥ al-Amīn Iṣfahānī entitled Leylī va Majnūn and Bahrām-nāma. The only other work of Gīlānī that seems to have been published is Miẕmār-e dānish (or Farsnāma) edited by Arif Naushahi and published by Tehran University Press in 1996. 

The volume contains:
1) Risāla fī ḥudūth al-ʿālam - a major concern of the school of Mīr Dāmād and it would be worth carefully examining this text alongside the works on that topic of Mīr Dāmād and Mullā Shamsā Gīlānī. This is an Arabic treatise that clearly defends Mīr Dāmād's particular position on ḥudūth dahrī (perpetual creation) as a modification of Avicenna responding to attacks on Avicenna from Mīr Makhdūm Sharīfī Shīrāzī (d. 1587) and Nūḥ Effendī (d. 1070/1659). He explicitly ties his text to Mīr Dāmād by describing it as ḥikma īmānīya/yamānīya which is juxtaposed with ḥikma yūnānīya - scriptural, prophetic philosophy as opposed to Greek philosophy. 

2) Risāla fī sharḥ kalimat al-islām - a short treatise on the testament of faith, a renowned genre of treatises including by his teacher Shaykh Bahāʾī, Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī and others - and draws upon statements on divine unity from the Nahj al-balāgha and works of Ibn ʿArabī. He explicitly cites the views of Shaykh Bahāʾī and quotes the famous formulation in the Nahj of the relation of God and the cosmos being one of togetherness in which they are neither identical nor distinct (lā bi-muqārana...lā bi-muzāyala).

3) Risāla fī bayān al-ʿaql al-faʿʿāl - this is another example of Shiʿi neoplatonism connecting the work of Fārābī and Avicenna to statements of Amīr al-muʾminīn. 

4) Manāfiʿ-ye mawt - this is a work that arose out of a majlis at the Quṭbshāhī court and draws upon the akhlāq tradition. 

5) Risāla dar sharḥ kāʾināt-i jav va raʿd va barq va ṣāʿiqa - this final Persian treatise is an explanation of various natural phenomena like thunder and lightening. 

The concern of most of these texts is philosophical theology and demonstrates once again that in the 17th century, scholars trained in Isfahan tended towards a holistic understanding of knowledge connecting science to philosophy, mixing the Greek and the early Shiʿi heritage, and linking explicitly Neoplatonism to the sayings of the Imams. Facsimile editions - especially ones as clear as this - are a contribution. But given the short nature of the texts, it is a shame that the editors did not consider producing full critical editions of the text that draw citations and so forth. But nevertheless a contribution. And further evidence for my position of how to read and understand ḥikma in the Safavid-Mughal period. 

PS: I'm grateful to Hunter Bandy for indicating that Zanjānī-Aṣl has written about another work of Gīlānī's: Radd-e tanāsukh. He suggests that the text is a critique not only of ishrāqī thinkers who were at least ambivalent if not supportive of metempsychosis (on which see Schmidtke and Freitag) but also of Nuqtavīs. As far as I know, we still need to look into the issue of Nuqṭavīs at Deccan courts and the supposition is possible. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Delhi in the Nineteenth Century

Partly because of the anniversary of 1857 a few years back and the growing interest of how the British presence impacted and transformed the elites, whether social or intellectual, of the old Mughal Empire, Margrit Pernau's new book Ashraf into Middle Classes is an exciting new publication. It builds upon a recent volume that she edited on the famous Delhi College.

Pernau's monograph considers the period from the British hegemony in Delhi from 1803 through to the twentieth century Khilafat Movement culminating in the 1920s. The central issue of research relates to identity and how sharafat became a key feature of this. The study is divided chronologically into three periods: the initial British impact, the aftermath of 1857, and the period under Empire. Apart from the point that identity is fluid, dynamic and transformed, she also questions whether it is always formulated within the context of alterity. Questions of class, gender, and ethnicity are then weaved into this narrative. Given her own work within the history of emotions and the desire to use the data to inform comparative studies, she links and compares the notion of the ashrāf with the middle classes - the rise of the middle classes after all is linked to notions of modernity and progress in European history and in wider narratives of how modernisation and secularisation work in the modern world. A related video of a seminar at Chicago is here. The monograph is a rich and wide ranging study and will become a definitive account of the long nineteenth century in Mughal history.

Faruqui on Dārā Shikoh

This is part one of a lecture by Munis Faruqui on Dārā Shikoh linked to his ongoing project.

Mughal Studies

Mughal Studies is really quite a vibrant field. Apart from the wider trend of looking at the 'so-called' Gunpower Empires as a cultural continuity and stressing the need for a connected histories approach that rejects the categorisation of nationalist historiographies, there have been a number of excellent developments.
First, we have this blog - the Mughalist - which brings together materials and links that are essential if you are interested in the area.
Second, Azfar Moin's ground-breaking monograph The Millenial Sovereign builds upon recent re-assessments of the dominance of messianism from the Timurid period onwards. He argues for continuities of Safavid and Mughal conceptions of kingships as sacral in ways which places the king above the religious communities that constitute his subjects.
Third, there is the recent work of Munis Faruqui on the administration and functions of the Mughal Empire focusing on the role of princes. Here is a recent lecture of his on Dārā Shikuh. This is part of an ongoing project on Dārā that he has. Alongside a new book on the formation of Mughal Empire, he is writing about Dārā and his context.