Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sources on the North Indian Shiʿi Hierocracy I: Warathat al-anbiyāʾ

In a previous post, following some recent research that I did on the ʿulamāʾ and intellectual history of Avadh, I came across a key source on the life of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī (d. 1820), posthumously known as Ghufrān-maʾāb and progenitor of a famous family of scholars who, following his initiative to establish uṣūlī doctrine in Avadh, were known as the khāndān-e ijtihād. It was written in the earlier part of the 20th century and draws upon a number of key sources:
  • Āyīna-ye ḥaqq-numā, that well known contemporary account written by a student of Ghufrān-maʾāb in 1231/1816 of which a number of manuscripts survive primarily in Indian collections;
  • Awrāq al-dhahab of Muftī Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās Shūshtarī al-Jazāʾirī (d. 1306/1889) is a history primarily of his teacher Sulṭān al-ʿulamāʾ, the eldest son of Ghufrān-maʾāb and was published in 2007 in Beirut; 
  • Another work of Muftī Muḥammad ʿAbbās is Ẓill-e mamdūd that includes his various correspondences with scholars and was lithographed in Lucknow and is available online; 
  • Tadhkirat al-ʿulamāʾ al-muḥaqqiqīn fī āthār al-fuqahāʾ wa-l-muḥaddithīn of Sayyid Mahdī Riżavī ʿAẓīmābādī written in 1263/1847 about his circle of the students of Ghufrān-maʾāb and his sons;
  • Jawhar-e ʿazīza sharḥ-e vasīṭ-e vajīza of Sayyid ʿAlī Muḥammad (d. 1316/1898) son of Sulṭān al-ʿulamāʾ - it was published in Rasāʾil fī ʿilm al-dirāya (vol.  II, pp. 349-477) published in the early 1990s by Muʾassasat Āl al-bayt in Qum;
  • The same author wrote a biography of his father entitled Ṭarāʾif u ẓarāʾif a copy of which is apparently in the library of the Raja of Mahmudabad; 
  • Shudhūr al-ʿiqyān fī tarājim al-aʿyān of Sayyid Iʿjāz Ḥusayn Mūsavī Kintūrī (d. 1286/1869), the famous bibliographer and scholar, who discusses the famous figures of the family; 
  • finally Nujūm al-samāʾ of Mīrzā Muḥammad ʿAlī Kashmīrī (d. 1309/1892) which is well known and used, published both in lithograph and then in the late 1970s by the Marʿashī library in Qum. 

Warathat al-anbiyāʾ of Sayyid Aḥmad Naqavī (ʿAllāma-yi Hindī, also a member of the family) was first published in Lucknow in 1918 by the Anjuman-i ṣadr al-ṣudūr and is a biography of the family. The author says that he completed it in Najaf in Jumāda I 1332/April 1914. Sayyid Aḥmad son of Tāj al-ʿulamāʾ Sayyid Muḥammad Ibrāhīm son of Mumtāz al-ʿulamāʾ Sayyid Muḥammad Taqī son of Sayyid Ḥusayn the youngest son of Ghufrān-maʾāb was born on the auspicious day of 18 Dhū-l-ḥijja 1295/13 December 1878. His first of many trips to the shrine cities and seminaries of Iraq was as a two-year-old with his father. He studied with his father and other scholars of his time at the Nāẓimīya. He was widely recognised as a scholar and asked to adjudicate on the management of the famous Oudh Bequest in 1326/1908 [the file reference at the National Archives in Kew is here]; from that point he was actively involved in reorganising the monies to be distributed more widely to enhance the influence of Indian ʿulamāʾ in the shrine cities of Iraq. To propagate scholarly works, he, like other members of the family established an organisation, the Anjuman-e yādgār-e ʿulamāʾ in 1328/1910 and Anjuman-e Dār al-tablīgh in 1335/1917. He spread the mission to Calcutta, already a significant Avadhi diaspora city following the exile of the old ruling family to the Matiaburj area. 

Now one of the interesting examples of how our historical consciousness tends to be presentist is to consider how Hindī's relationship with the British was seen. The modern Iranian editor of the text insists, within the tiers-mondiste and anti-imperialist context of post-revolutionary Iran that he was a figure who stood up to British power and defended the interests of the seminary and the Indian students in particular, while the contemporary British sources as cited in a recent study of North Indian Shiʿism (Justin Jones, Shia Islam in Colonial India, Cambridge, 2012) suggests someone more willing to act as a mediator for the British and one who offered to manipulate and orient opinion in the shrine cities in favour of the British. Of course, his dealings may also reflect the attempt to establish his own authority and that of the wider family network - and his works and Warathat al-anbiyāʾ fit within that aim. Litvak ('A failed manipulation: the British, the Oudh Bequest, and the Shiʿi ʿulamāʾ of Najaf and Karbala', BJMES27.1, 2000, 69-89) has shown that the British originally wanted to use the OB to influence Iranian ʿulamāʾ in the shrine cities but as the constitutionalist movement grew in prominence they shifted to focusing upon Iraq and indirectly upon India itself. And it was at this point that interaction with Sayyid Hindī began. In a conversation with political officers he claimed in 1912 that most of the ʿulamāʾ in Lucknow has no qualifications to practice ijtihād (and hence one assumes should neither be interlocutors nor be involved in the management of the Oudh Bequest) (Jones 2012, 38, n. 20). 

Similarly a few years before based in Najaf, he urged the British to consider disbursing monies in the shrine cities to curry favour and to weaken any possible support for the Ottomans (Jones 2012, 135, citing the report of the Political Resident in Turkish Arabia to the Foreign Department). This was in 1908 when the new resident Colonel Ramsay recognised the need to extend influence in the shrine cities which was largely absent before, and to avoid the growing situation among students of resentment against the ʿulamāʾ that could lead to support for the Ottomans. Already in 1907, he had Hindī had met Ramsay and suggested a sum of Rs 10,000 be disbursed to the mujtahids. The British response was alert to the fact that the OB was a political lever but also that if Hindī and other ʿulamāʾ from India were at its forefront it might affect their reputation in the seminaries and exacerbate the tensions and ill-will between the Indian and other residents of the shrine cities.  

[I haven't got around to writing my review of Justin's book for JRAS but will do shortly]

He had ijāza-s of ijtihād from the following: 
  • Mīrzā Fatḥullāh Shīrāzī known as Shaykh al-sharīʿa (d. 1329/1911);
  • the famous author of probably the first modern fiqh users' manual al-ʿUrwa al-wuthqā Sayyid Muḥammad Kāẓim Ṭabāṭabāʾī Yazdī (d. 1337/1918);
  • Shaykh Ḥusayn Māzandārānī (d. 1339/1920);
  • Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir Ṭabāṭabāʾī 
It's worth noting that these leading figures were broadly not involved directly in the OB and critical of its political usage, insisting that the responsibility was to make sure that the monies from the OB was directly disbursed to the poor and not used to bolster the power and authority of 'lesser' ʿulamāʾ, perhaps even a jibe at people like Hindī. 

He seems to have spent most of his life in Iraq, shuttling back and forth to India and acting as a mediator between Indian Shiʿi organisations, the British government in India, and the seminaries. He died on 10 January 1947 in Lucknow. He wrote a number of works in theology in Arabic and Persian, and a serial article writer in Urdu and a public figure. It was probably his nephew Sayyid ʿAlī Naqī (d. 1988) who took up his mantle as a public intellectual and major scholar linked to the seminaries of Iraq. 

Warathat al-anbiyāʾ was edited by ʿAlī Fāżilī and published by Muʾassasa-ye kitāb-shināsī-ye shīʿa in 1389 Sh/2010 as one of the series of new editions dedicated to the Shiʿi heritage of South Asia. The author states in the introduction that he had planned two volumes, one on Ghufrān-maʾāb and his sons, and the second on their students but he never wrote the second. Not surprisingly most of the account is taken up with the biography of Sayyid al-ʿulamāʾ Sayyid Ḥusayn, the ancestor of Sayyid Aḥmad.

After that text, the editor has appended a large section of the Tadhkirat al-ʿulamāʾ of Sayyid Mahdī ʿAẓīmābādī on the family of Ghufrān-maʾāb, as well as two leading students Sayyid Aḥmad ʿAlī Muḥammadābādī (d. 1295/1878) and Muftī Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās Shūshtarī (d. 1306/1889). Both texts mention one encounter that Sayyid Ḥusayn had in Karbala that led him to write an Arabic refutation of the views of the Shaykhīya, in particular Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsāʾī (d. 1826) and his successor Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī (d. 1843) entitled Ifādāt ḥusaynīya. Shaykhī sources suggest that two other sons of Ghufrān-maʾāb were followers of the movement who died in Iraq so the issue was sensitive to them. ʿAẓīmābādī quotes the text stating that Sayyid Ḥusayn wrote it following his meeting with Rashtī in which he tried to disabuse him of his theological views. In this account, Rashtī acknowledged his mistakes and even asked for an ijāza. Nevertheless, Rashtī continued to fool and mislead people and cause dissension in Karbala while 'wearing the garb of Shiʿism'. What this indicates is that, while it might seem a small footnote in history, a careful study of the interaction of the north Indian ʿulamāʾ with Shaykhīs is needed as it has a serious impact not only upon the theological debates in Iraq, Iran and South Asia (and demonstrates their continuity as a singular cultural space) but also because of its implication for the subsequent history of modern Shiʿism. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mullā Shamsā Gīlānī, a much neglected philosopher of the 17th century

If you’ve ever seen the famous 2002 Iranian TV serial Rowshantar az khāmūshī about Mullā Ṣadrā, you might remember one of his friends ever ready with a joke, very much the life of the party called Shamsā. This is a fictional portrayal of the philosopher-theologian Mullā Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Gīlānī, student of Mīr Dāmād and close friend of Mullā Ṣadrā. Here in episode 12 he is moping around, lovestruck and chatting with his friends. 

Mullā Shamsā was certainly quite a serious thinker. We know very little about his life beyond the fact that he was a student of Mīr Dāmād, as he attests at many occasions in his works, and a close friend of Mullā Ṣadrā. He studied at the Madrasa-yi Shaykh Luṭfullāh in Isfahan and may have taught there later. He probably also knew Niẓām al-Dīn Aḥmad Gīlānī (the physician about whom I wrote recently because he was also a student of Mīr Dāmād and a direct contemporary). Not much is known about his whereabouts. Perhaps his own well-known student was ʿAlī-qulī b. Qarajghāy Khān (d. 1091/1680) the author of a Persian philosophical summa Iḥyāʾ-yi ḥikmat (edited by Fāṭima Fanāʾ, and published by Mīrās-i maktūb in Tehran in 1998 in two volumes) as well as a Persian gloss on the Neoplatonic classic Theologia Aristotelis (Uthūlūjiyā). He died probably before 1064/1654, a few years after his teacher and his friend. 

He was quite a prolific glossator and writer of treatises. In the former category, he wrote a gloss on Sharḥ al-ishārāt of Ṭūsī, on the gloss of Mīrzā-Jān Shīrāzī on Sharḥ Ḥikmat al-ʿayn (which has recently been published in Qum by Majmaʿ-yi zakhāʾir-i islāmī), on Sharḥ al-hidāya of Maybudī which was rather popular as an Avicennan text in this period (a number of figures in the circle of Mīr Dāmād and his teacher Sammākī wrote on it), a gloss on Khafrī's gloss on the section on proof for the existence of God in Sharḥ al-Tajrīd of Qūshchī (Sāʿatchīān edited and published the Khafrī a decade ago), and a gloss on the Shamsīya circle in logic. In the later, he wrote a number of works in metaphysics from the Avicennan concerns of the period to engaging with the thought of Mullā Ṣadrā: Risālat al-wujūd, al-Ḥikma al-mutaʿāliya, Ithbāt al-wājib, Taḥqīq aḥwāl al-mawjūdāt/maʿnā l-wujūd, as well as studies on the Neoplatonic dictum ex uno non fit nisi unum and the ontological mode of 'nafs al-amr'. 

I first came across his work in two ways: first, the famous anthology of Corbin and Āshtiyānī contains some excerpts of his Ḥudūth al-ʿālam (which I discuss below), and second, in a manuscript of his risāla on wujūd (entitled Taḥqīq maʿnā l-wujūd) in the British Library (from the Delhi Collection - a great but much under-used part of the BL's holdings) in which he criticises Mullā Ṣadrā on both the ontological primacy and gradational nature of existence providing further evidence that his metaphysical innovations took some time to be accepted (I argue in ongoing research on the 18th century that Mullā Ṣadrā began to be established as the hegemonic thinker late in that century). 

Most recently, ʿAlī-Riżā Aṣgharī (who recently produced an excellent critical edition of Muḥsin Fayż Kāshānī's Kalimāt-i maknūna and has taken it upon himself to edit all of Mullā Shamsā's corpus and make this neglected thinker better known) has edited, with Ṭūbā Kirmānī, Masālik al-yaqīn fī bayān ʿumdat uṣūl al-dīn, a theological treatise on the nature of God published by the Mullā Ṣadrā Research Institute in Tehran in 1392 Sh/2013.

Masālik is divided into an introduction and three chapters. It was completed in Jumāda I 1060/May 1650. It is broadly a defence of Mīr Dāmād's metaphysics. In the introduction he states that he sets out to analyse three questions in the chapters: first, that extra-mental existence is identical to the existence of God - what is sometimes called aṣālat al-māhīya, namely that one ascribes existence to contingents but they have no reality - it also reflects a somewhat monistic approach to reality in which all that exists is God; second, that the divine properties and names are identical to the very essence of the divine countering both the Ashʿarī theological position on realist distinction as well as the Muʿtazilī denial of the attributes per se - neither nominalism nor realism; third, affirming the reality of divine knowledge, partly motivated by the need to establish how God knows particulars by arguing that neither the Avicennan theory of representation by which God knows particulars in a universal sense, nor the illuminationist/Ṣadrian position whereby God knows particulars by their presence to him are correct. As the text was written after the Ḥudūth, he refers back to his argument on this issue in that text and his critique of Mullā Ṣadrā. The third chapter takes up most of the space and is quite a sophisticated critique of the Avicennan tradition, citing the metaphysics of the Shifāʾ and Sharḥ al-Ishārāt, and along the way rebutting the famous objection to the necessary existence known as the objection of Ibn Kammūna (in this period - there is some evidence that it was philosophers in Shiraz at the beginning of the Safavid period who associated this critique with the Jewish philosopher). 

The Ḥudūth al-ʿālam was completed in Mashhad in Dhū-l-Qaʿda 1045/April 1636 and is forthcoming in a critical edition by ʿAlī-Riżā Aṣgharī (I am grateful to him for sharing a copy of it with me - and I will reciprocate by writing an English introduction to his edition). It is a text in the tradition of the 'Yemeni philosophy' initiated by Mīr Dāmād. Mullā Shamsā in his text explicitly responds to his friend Mullā Ṣadrā’s positions in his Ḥudūth al-ʿālam, drawing upon his own glosses on Khafrī on the Sharḥ al-tajrīd and defends Mīr Dāmād’s concept of perpetual creation as well as the metaphysics of essence; he criticises Mullā Ṣadrā (baʿḍ al-fuḍalāʾ al-muʿāṣirīn) for holding that all separable beings are incipient in time but at the same time holding that higher intellects have no temporal beginning. He also refers to his son Zayn al-Dīn Muḥammad who seems to have had scholarly credentials. 

We know from Mullā Ṣadrā’s own testimony that he had sent a copy of his work to Mullā Shamsā expecting a response. Mullā Shamsā begins with a set of metaphysical propaedeutics on essentialism and the need to posit a mental mode of existence (al-wujūd al-dhihnī). He then proceeds to discussing causality and the nature of priority and posteriority citing Avicennan texts that Mīr Dāmād also uses: the result is to say that causes precede their effects essentially at the level of nafs al-amr – which he later associated with perpetuity. The next preliminary principle – consistent with Mīr Dāmād concerns the nature and unity of predication and how the higher beings contemplate. Mullā Shamsā seems to pre-empt an objection made later about the nature of perpetuity and the lack of dimensionality. Non-existence at the level of perpetuity is not absolute as such partly for the simple reason that it is not existent or a receptacle for existence. He then moves onto Mīr Dāmād’s decoupling of temporality and motion and refuting the notion of unreal time. The next step involves an extended refutation for the coarse notion of the eternity of the cosmos. The final section tackles Mullā Ṣadrā’s treatise and his position. What emerges from reading this sophisticated text is the clear sense of a learned treatise that expounds upon Mīr Dāmād’s theory in far more accessible, terminologically clear, and comprehensible language.

Mullā Shamsā deserves to be better known - and allows us to nuance our over-reliance and emphasis on Mullā Ṣadrā in the Safavid period. Aṣgharī deserves much credit for bringing him to our attention and I'm more than happy to help. The more texts we have the better we can produce a reliable account of the history of philosophy in the Safavid period, and thus understand the nature of thought on the cusp of colonialism if we wish to know what it was that the European presence in South Asia and the Middle East changed.