Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sources on the North Indian Shiʿi Hierocracy III: Awrāq al-dhahab

The Shia Bibliographical Institute/Muʾassasa-yi kitābshināsī-yi Shīʿeh/Muʾassasat turāth al-Shīʿa based in Qum is doing some excellent work publishing biographical dictionaries, editions of key texts, and studies of particular Shiʿi scholars and intellectuals. In recent years, they have noticeably been contributing to the study of Shiʿi South Asia - which is, of course, highly commendable. 

As part of this effort, they produced a critical edition by ʿAlī Fāżilī in 2015 in three volumes of Muftī Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās al-Jazāʾirī (b. 1224/1809, d. 1306/1889)'s biography of Sayyid al-ʿulamāʾ Sayyid Ḥusayn b. Dildār ʿAlī Naṣīrābādī (d. 1273/1856) entitled Awrāq al-dhahab aw al-Maʿādin al-dhahabīya al-lujjaynīya fī l-maḥāsin al-wahbīya al-ḥusaynīya along with some important correspondence of the author and relevant ijāzāt. There is an earlier edition of the text by the Kufa Academy based in Holland and run by Muḥammad Saʿīd al-Ṭurayḥī, which came out in 2007 printed in Beirut. However, in comparison it is a much weaker text since that editor is rather unfamiliar with South Asia and does not have the relevant grasp of Persian required (even if the actual text is in Arabic). 

The author of the text, Muftī Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās, was fifth generation descendent of the Safavid theologian Sayyid Niʿmatullāh al-Jazāʾirī (d. 1701). His grandfather Sayyid Jaʿfar was the first to emigrate to India, settling in Lucknow in the early nawabi period. One of the earliest sources for Muftī was the account in Tadhkirat al-ʿulamāʾ al-muḥaqqiqīn written in 1263/1847 was his student Sayyid Mahdī Riżavī ʿAẓīmābādī. The standard account that most use is from Takmilat Nujūm al-samāʾ of Mīrzā Muḥammad Mahdī Kashmīrī. Muftī was known for his skills as a theologian and as a jurist (as Muftī of Lucknow) and as a poet and literary figure. Sayyid ʿAbd al-Ḥayy Lukhnavī (d. 1341/1923) the famous rector of Nadwat al-ʿulamāʾ in his major biographical dictionary Nuzhat al-khawāṭir wa-bahjat al-manāẓir wa-l-masāmiʿ gives a full account of him including his studies with the Farangī-Maḥallī Ḥanafī scholars ʿAbd al-Qawī and ʿAbd al-Quddūs in literature, and another Farangī Maḥallī Maulānā Qudrat ʿAlī in philosophy and logic; his main teacher was Sayyid Ḥusayn. Muftī was appointed to teach in the royal seminary (madrasa sulṭānīya) and as a judge.

The whole text is divided into an introduction on the author and his subject, then it is followed by Awrāq al-dhahab which has ten chapters (maʿdin) and a khātima, and then various appendices (mulḥaqāt): 
I: on the ijāzāt that Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī received from Sayyid Mahdī Baḥr al-ʿulūm, Sayyid ʿAlī Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Sayyid Mahdī Shahristānī and Sayyid Mahdī Iṣfahānī
II: on the ijāza that Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī gave his son Sayyid Muḥammad Sulṭān al-ʿulamāʾ
III: on the ijāzāt that Sayyid al-ʿulamāʾ gave including to Muftī Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās and some more on his life and works
IV: on the ijāza that Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥusayn Najafī, author of Jawāhir al-kalām, gave to Sayyid Muḥammad Taqī Mumtāz al-ʿulamāʾ, the grandson of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī
V: on the ijāzāt of Muftī Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās
VI: on the correspondence of Sayyid Ḥusayn in Arabic and in Persian 
VII: on the correspondence of various ʿulamāʾ of the Iraqi shrine cities to Sayyid Ḥusayn
VIII-XII: various documents relating to the death and testament of Sayyid Ḥusayn
XIII: notes of condolences to Sayyid Muḥammad Taqī Mumtāz al-ʿulamāʾ on the passing of his father Sayyid Ḥusayn 
XIV: related obituaries
XV: the correspondence of Mumtāz al-ʿulamāʾ with Muftī Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās
XVI: other correspondence of Muftī Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās
XVII: other correspondence of Mumtāz al-ʿulamāʾincluding with Sayyid Muḥammad Qulī (d. 1844), father of Mīr Ḥāmid Ḥusayn Kintūrī [the father was a student of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī and Sayyid Muḥammad, while the son was a student of Sayyid Ḥusayn]
XVIII: last testament of Mumtāz al-ʿulamāʾ

Taken together this is an invaluable source - hitherto only available in separate lithographs that are rare to find especially in European libraries and even Indian ones - for our understanding of the culture of the ʿulamāʾ in North India, especially in Awadh in the last days of the kingdom and in the early period of colonial rule, and their interactions with the Shiʿi hierocracy in Iraq (and Iran). What it demonstrates is just how integrated and significant the Indian ʿulamāʾ were considered in the 'centres' of learning. The ijāzāt tell us much about the curricula and how the texts were received and understood and what of them was actually studied. The correspondence tells us then more about the contexts of study. Any serious intellectual history of the Shiʿi hierocracy in North India especially in the early colonial period must engage with this valuable three volume work. 

Sources on the North Indian Shiʿi Hierocracy II: Aḥsan al-wadīʿa

Most people who study Shiʿi Islam in its Persianate contexts will be familiar with the biographical dictionary Rawḍāt al-jannāt fī aḥwāl al-ʿulamāʾ wa-l-sādāt of Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir Khwānsārī Iṣfahānī (d. 1313/1895). It is an essential source that also has its own quirks such as an uncompromising defence of the uṣūlī method coupled with a harsh critique of akhbārīs and shaykhīs. Of course, the process of reading any source - not least one heavily committed to producing in effect a history of their class, of the Shiʿi hierocracy - requires a careful consideration of the construction of the narrative and the framing of the lives as good and exemplary. 

However, perhaps lesser known is the work of his great-nephew Sayyid Muḥammad Mahdī Iṣfahānī Kāẓimī (d. 1391/1971) known as Aḥsan al-wadīʿa fī tarājim mashāhīr mujtahidī al-shīʿa, which in many ways is an appendix to Rawḍāt on the key figures of the 19th and 20th century. His grandfather Sayyid Muḥammad Ṣādiq was the brother of Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir, the author of Rawḍāt al-jannāt. Born in Shaʿbān 1319/November 1901 in Kāẓimīya, he began his studies there with Mīrzā Ibrāhīm Salmāsī and Shaykh Ḥusayn Rashtī. Later he studied in Karbala with Sayyid Hādī Khurāsānī Ḥāʾirī (d. 1368/1948) and then in Najaf with his cousin Sayyid Abū Turāb Khwānsārī (d. 1346/1926) and Shaykh ʿAlī Māzandarānī. He wrote a number of works in law and jurisprudence as well as in history and biographies of luminaries including at least one other biographical dictionary entitled Aḥsan al-dharīʿa. He received ijāzāt from his cousin and Khurāsānī as well as the leading mujtahid Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥusayn Kāshif al-Ghiṭāʾ (d. 1373/1953), and the leading uṣūlī Shaykh Ḍiyāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿIrāqī (d. 1361/1941). So he was trained in biographies as well as in law and hence had the ability to spot juristic talent and know the requirements for recognition in this area. 

I first came across the work when researching the Indian mujtahid and epigone of a major lineage of ʿulamāʾ Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī Naṣīrābādī (d. 1235/1820), finding a PDF of an old Baghdad lithograph online, and I mentioned it in a previous blog post. The text was completed on 17 Rabīʿ I 1347/3 September 1928 and first published in Baghdad in 1348/1929 replete with errors; a corrected edition was printed in Najaf in 1377/1957. This latter was reprinted in 1993 by the well known Shiʿi publisher Dār al-Hādī in Beirut. This printing is edited by Sayyid ʿAbd al-Sattār al-Ḥasanī and published by Muʾassasat turāth al-shīʿa in Qum in 1394 Sh/2015.

This work is important not only for its extensive inclusion of his own wider family and the major figures of Kāẓimīya where he lived as well as the wider Majlisī-Khātūnābādi clan, but also for its use of Indian sources and its extensive inclusion of major Indian figures in the dictionary that signals at least at one level their scholarly, social and monetary influence (the latter through the Oudh Bequest monies) in the Shiʿi shrine cities of Iraq. 

All of the major figures of the family of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī are included as is a major entry on Sayyid Ḥāmid Ḥusayn Kintūrī. Apart from his direct acquaintance with some later figures, his major sources for these biographies are:

1) Shudhūr al-ʿiqyān fī tarājim al-aʿyān of Sayyid Iʿjāz Ḥusayn Kintūrī (d. 1286/1869) which was written in three parts as a sort of Indian appendix to Amal al-āmil of Shaykh al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī. A codex of it is available through the former Āṣafīya library in Hyderabad; another copy is in the Buhār collection in the National Library in Kolkata. [al-Dharīʿa XIII, 43 no. 141]

[Incidentally one wonders what account for the centrality of Amal al-āmil - there is a Taʿlīqa, a Tatmīm and two large Takmila-s of this text]

2) Kashf al-niqāb of Sayyid ʿAlī Naqī Naqvī (d. 1988, himself a descendent of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī. This text was published in Najaf in 1927. However, the text is well known seems to be a refutation of Wahhābīs. It could be that this is something different. He also tells us that for some biographies he corresponded directed with Sayyid ʿAlī Naqī (for example, on the biography of Sayyid Ḥusayn b. Dildār ʿAlī). 

3) Nujūm al-samāʾ fī tarājim al-ʿulamāʾ of Mīrzā Muḥammad ʿAlī Kashmīrī which was first published in two volumes through the Marʿashī Library in Qum in 1970-80. There is a newer edition by Mīr Hāshim Muḥaddis which came out in Tehran from Sāzmān-i tablīghāt of the Ḥawza in 1387 Sh/2009.

Despite all this, and the value of this source for Indian ʿulamāʾ, it is somewhat of a shame that in the final section of the text on places of learning, Lucknow - or indeed anywhere else in South Asia such as Rampur, Hyderabad, Arcot etc - is not mentioned. 

A Golden Age of Islamic Philosophy

For those of us who remember how things were when we were graduate students, getting strange confused looks when we defined our research as Islamic philosophy or Islamic intellectual history, there can be little doubt that in fact we are now living in a golden age for the subject. Almost everyone in the study of Islam seems to define what they do as intellectual history, and philosophy has come to the heart of Islamic studies, both in terms of the areas defined in job searches but also in the conception of the field as can be evinced from Shahab Ahmed's What is Islam? for example. 

[Btw check out this really interesting review of the book by Mairaj Syed on the approach to law, as well as this forum on the book].

There are a number of reasons why this is a golden age. First, there are simply far more specialists in various periods and areas from the study of logic and dialectics to metaphysics, physics and eschatology (even if for some of the older more analytically inclined the latter does not really constitute an object of philosophical inquiry), and many more graduate students. Those of us who specialise have done well to encourage others and it is through the development of capacity in the field that we progress. 

Second, we are spoiled for choice and access to texts. Manuscripts are increasingly available online in libraries in the Middle East as well as North America. Many libraries in Europe have shifted to a policy of allowing researchers to photograph freely whatever they desire from codices. And then there are the critical editions. For some years, those interested in philosophy coming out of Iran have been well served by critical editions produced by Tehran University Press, the McGill Institute of Islamic Studies, the Mīrās-e maktūb [incidentally follow their Telegram account for latest news as well as pdfs of their journals], Anjuman-e āsār u mafākhir-e farhangī, Dāʾirat al-maʿārif-e buzurg-e islāmī, and others similar institutions. We also have people blogging on research that produces these editions and on codicology such as the collective. The study of Ottoman philosophy is also well served now. Texts from the Sulemaniye collection are being produced in facsimile editions - such as the library of Ahmed III - as well as critical editions with Turkish translations often based on autograph codices though the Turkiye Yazma Eserler Kurumu Baskanligi. Most recently following a conference on the 16th century polymath Taşköprülüzade (d. 968/1561), his works have been published in critical editions. The hive of activity at Turkish universities is great to see. The unfortunate thing is that while in Turkey and Iran there is government support for such research and publication, the same cannot be said for India (or even South Asia); for those of us interested in the South Asia maʿqūlāt traditions from the 16th century onwards, the hard slog is still the only way with many obstacles in place. 

Third, specialists and more 'general' readers alike have much better access to translations and surveys as well as more specialised studies in European languages. The Islamic Translations Series at Brigham Young University Press began the process of making dual text editions available. Others doing the same with philosophical material include the Institute of Ismaili Studies' Ismaili Texts and Translations and their Epistles of the Brethren of Purity Series, the Biblioteca Iranica Series at Mazda Publishers, the Library of Arabic Literature at NYU Press, and the Shiʿah Institute's Classical Shiʿah Library at Brill. The Ueberweg Philosophie in der Islamischen Welt will become a major reference - and probably even more influential in its English translation the first volume of which is forthcoming with Brill

Most recently another work - apart from the relevant volume of Peter Adamson's History of Philosophy without Any Gaps - that will become a main reference work is the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy

This takes the interesting step of constitutes chapters that do not tackle themes but focus on one author and usually one text in chronological order. Especially important is that approach to philosophy in the world of Islam as a series of processes overlapping, intersecting with other traditions and continuing to this day. It's great to see chapters on Iqbāl, Ṭabāṭābāʾī (I confess that I had something to do with that one), and Zaki Najib Mahmud (that force us to ask the question of what does the 'Islamic' in Islamic philosophy mean?). Taken together we could consider this to be a sort of new canon of great texts - there are all pretty much here (especially if one considers greatness to be associated with the commentary cultures of the base texts): the so-called Theology of Aristotle in many ways the foundational text, the Shifāʾ of Avicenna, the Tahāfut al-falāsifa of Ghazālī (the most famous philosophical critique of metaphysics), the Sharḥ al-ishārāt of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, the Tajrīd cycle of philosophical theology, logic texts such as the mainstays of the madrasa like the Shamsīya of al-Kātibī (d. 1277) and Sullam al-ʿulūm of Bihārī (d. 1707), and even the school texts of the later seminary such as the Indian natural philosophy text al-Hadīya al-Saʿīdīya of Faḍl-e Ḥaqq Khayrābadī (d. 1861) and the Iranian metaphysical summa Sharḥ Ghurar al-farāʾid of Sabzawārī (d. 1873). The chapters on Dawānī and Ījī were particularly illuminating; they demonstrate that often the summa of philosophical theology were the vehicle for the dissemination of philosophical ideas and for the philosophical engagement with what might seem to be non-philosophical disciplines such as law and (scriptural) theology. In all it's an excellent collection which will no doubt become the main reference text in many classrooms. Of course, the work is not without its mistakes, some of which are rather odd - for example, the wrong death dates given in the title of a chapter but the correct one  within (see the chapters on Ibn Abī Jumhūr al-Aḥsāʾī and Hādī Sabzawārī). 

Such a golden age means that we really have no excuse to start to fill out the contours and lines of inquiry of Islamic intellectual history and engage in the current and future debates on what constitutes philosophy and what role culture plays in that. We are in the age of cross-cultural philosophy and 'provincialising' Eurocentrism and thinking through the global categories of inquiry within metropolitan academia; it would be proper for the study of the traditions and continuities of Islamic philosophy in its different guises (Aristotelian, Neoplatonic, discursive, intuitive, logical, mystical and so forth) to play a role in the formation of a liberal philosophical education that we need today. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Messianism, ʿAlid loyalism, and the Millennium in Connected Histories of early modern India

Some thoughts on:

Ahmed Azfar Moin, The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship & Sainthood in Islam, South Asia Across the Disciplines. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. pp. xvii + 343. ISBN 978-0-231-16037-7 paperback.

The Millennial Sovereign is the sort of contribution to the field that forces everyone to take note and to engage. A highly original construction of an argument that draws upon a variety of sources, including especially the visual that will appeal to the art historian, Moin contends that we need to reconceive radically our notions of Mughal kingship in the light of what is becoming a mainstream position in the study of Timurid Iran and its legacies, namely that in the fifteenth century beginning with Timur there was a convergence of notions of authority that produced the king and the saint, whose progeny was a sacral notion of kingship in which the sovereign himself was both a political ruler and a messianic redeemer of the last days. The book seeks to demonstrate that we cannot divorce Timurid notions of sainthood from kingship; it also shows how the political theology of the Shiʿi Safavids of Iran was more widespread than people think, and that contrary to much Mughal historiography, Akbar was the norm rather than the exception – it is no accident that the central chapter in the study is on him, albeit a rather disappointing one. Arguably, this development was due to the fact that Sufism had, by the early modern period, become the dominant idiom for expressing sanctity, spirituality and authority in the Persianate context (if not farther beyond). Kingship was performative and socially embodied and appealed to popular notions of the sacred even if our sources for them are irreducibly elite. The argument is developed in five chapters: on Timur as lord of the conjunction, on Babur as the visionary messiah and dynast, on Humayun and his alchemical court, on Akbar as the archetypal millennial sovereign, and on Jahangir as lord of time. There is then a brief conclusion on Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. The central focus is upon the public and socially embedded iconography of the sovereign and hence it is most appropriate that the cover image in taken from a famous painting in the Smithsonian of Jahangir as the sacral king (indicated by his halo) as the teacher and pivot for the Sufi shaykh, the Rajput notable, the Sunni ʿālim, and the European savant. There is also an assumption that the world had dramatically changed by 1700 so he makes no effort to discuss eighteenth century Mughals which is a shame because the use of royal iconography and reference to 'lords of the conjunction' did not disappear from either painting or literary representation. The eighteenth century remains rather understudied outside of the teleology construction of the backdrop to colonial modernity. 

Before considering elements of his argument, it seems useful to flag the theoretical contributions and developments of certain positions in the book. The first is the shift towards intellectual and cultural history in the text, away from the Aligarh school’s focus upon the facts on the ground, the elements of the social and the economic. This is history in the grander scheme with its emphasis on ideology, on self-fashioning and producing the icon of the sacral monarch, and paying attention to the illocutionary elements of royal-sacral speech acts (which de-emphasising the centrality of the narrative textual traditions). Allied to this is an emphasis on the embodied nature of these processes in which ideology is located within the body of the sovereign and this is continuous with some recent studies in Sufism (one thinks of Shahzad Bashir’s and Scott Kugle’s books in an Indian and Persianate milieu) and in political theology (much earlier with Peter Brown but more recently Giorgio Agamben and Eric Santner). In one sense, this shift is merely recognition that what we considered to be a textual in times past was far too narrow. At the same time, the obvious rebuttal could be that this is a return to history as the unfolding story of great men and a return to the narratives of elites directly rejected by both Marxist historiography and the ‘subaltern studies’ school. 

The second allied point is the turn towards connected histories as articulated by the likes of Cornell Fleischer and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, that we need to move beyond nationalist historiographies and recognise the interconnected nature of the early modern world which requires us to look at regions and across regions as well as across disciplines. Moin’s study works within the newer paradigm of looking at what Marshall Hodgson called the gunpowder empires in terms of their ideological continuities. Part of the argument is that the connectedness then allows us to spot and nuance where the links fail. At the same time, the broader context may dupe us into failing to see specificities of the local and spend too much time on the superficialities of the common. 

The third concerns the ‘Islam’ debate, most recently evoked in the late Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam? We still lack a serious and nuanced study of the history of Islamic political thought (Patrica Crone’s and Anthony Black’s accounts are partial and flawed); however, what is often noted is that a stricter shariʿa-minded conception of the sovereign as expression of imperial (Sunni) Islam and as upholder of the divine law often conflicts with the Turco-Mongol-Persian conception of the King as the representative of God on earth possessing the divine light or charisma (farr-i īzadī). This was directly expressed in a number of studies on India and Iran that juxtaposed the courts of the Sufi and the Shah and considered them to constitute two opposing notions of authority. Moin suggests, rightly, and partly through the appropriation of the centrality of the occult in the Islamic sciences, that the sacral kingship of the Mughal was at once Islamic, Turco-Mongol-Persian and even Indian. In this we can see continuities with the work of the late Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi who greatly emphasised the role of the role of ideology and the political philosophy of illuminationism (ishrāq) in the fashioning of the image of Akbar. In particular, Moin’s emphasis on the occult continues a trend of recent scholarship rejecting the occultophobia of much historiography in the field of early modern Eurasia. The intellectual history of the Islamicate Eurasian plane becomes a ‘hidden history’ of the true sciences of magic in which the heroes are Aḥmad al-Būnī (d. 1225), Sayyid Ḥusayn Akhlāṭī (d. 1397), Ibn Turka Iṣfahānī (d. 1434), Shams al-Dīn Khafrī (d. 1535), Mīr Dāmād (d. 1631), Mīr Findiriskī (d. 1640), Āzar Kayvān (d. c. 1618), Abū-l-Fażl (d. 1602), ʿAbd al-Sattār Lāhawrī (d. 1624), Sarmad (d. 1661), Dara Shikoh (d. 1659) as well as the many princes who patronised the occult arts in order to deploy their power. However, apart from the consideration of two astrological sources, Moin does not really establish the centrality of the occult in the way that recent studies by Matthew Melvin-Koushki and Evrim Binbas on the Timurids of Iran do. The final turn concerns the notion of the sacred and arguably of political theology itself. Following Michael Taussig (and ultimately in one sense Durkheim’s somewhat banal notion of religion as social fact and practice) – and I would want this to be far better critically evaluated – Moin argues that the sacred is both ineffable and immanent everywhere, embedded in social processes and not in canons of textual traditions. Sacred kingship in this sense relied upon the popular practices of the sacred, of magic, superstition, predicated upon popular traditions and not the discursive traditions (apud Talal Asad) of the elites; but again the basic problem remains of using elite texts to attempt to decipher this. The conjunction of these four important theoretical postures is rather difficult to reconcile and evinces the ambition of Moin’s project.

Chapter two considers the persona of Timur as lord of the conjunction and in many ways takes up the tendency in recent scholarship to emphasise the messianic moment of Timur’s conquests and his patrimony in Central Asia and India. The chapter begins with Ibn Khaldūn’s account and the consideration of sources on Timur as messiah. These would include conjunction astrology but the sources used remain literary. Moin attempts to show how the Timurid dispensation was merged with forms of ʿAlid loyalism in which devotion to ʿAlī and his descendants mingled with messianism in the form of figures such as Sayyid Muḥammad Nūrbakhsh. It is not entirely clear how the two are connected and I would argue that the forms of ‘confessional ambiguity’ articulated in the popular visitation of shrines and the spiritual promiscuity of many people is quite different from an occultist devotion to ʿAlī, his descendants and the magical arts that they purveyed. Ambiguity between Sunni and ShiʿI, between the Mongol and the ʿAlid, between the pagan and the Islamic is central to this presentation. However, there are obvious exceptions. For example, in his poetry in praise of Sulṭān Ḥusayn Bāyqarā (d. 1506), the prominent Persian poet Jāmī (d. 1492) in his pursuit of projecting the Sunni identity of the court at Herat, described the ruler as the messiah of his time, not as heir to ʿAlī but in response to others who claimed to be Shiʿi messianic heirs of ʿAlī. How are these traditions reconciled? Moin suggest through the notion that the lords of the conjunction were considered to be manifestations of ʿAlī – but this is not so clear with Timur himself, who is more famed for his devotion to ʿAlī and his descendants, not least through his revival of the Ilkhan practice of the dār al-siyāda and the stipends that went to the sayyids. He brings forth the evidence of the Kitāb Jahmasp or the Jāhmaspnāma which he, following Rieu, dates to the fifteenth century as evidence of an astrological history in which ʿAlī is central and whose tone is messianic and ʿAlid loyalist (but not Shiʿi). However, Moin admits that the work is probably thirteenth century not least because of its negative portrayal of Chinggis Khan – however, given that the Timurids wished to reconcile the Chinggisid and ʿAlid inheritances, the use of this source constitutes a problem. As Moin says, this is ʿAlī of popular lore, of the Mukhtārnāma, Abū-Muslim-nāmas and the Dāstān-i Amīr-i Ḥamza and similar romances and not of either Sunni or Shiʿi canonical texts; but do we have any evidence that the Timurids patronised such works not least because they present rather oppositional constructions of charisma and authority and posed a threat to the social and political order of their times?

Chapter three moves onto Babur as a calque for Shah Ismāʿīl. While they both struggle for the control of the former territory of Timur, they were quite different. Babur certainly saw himself as inheritor to Timur even as lord of the conjunction – one is struck by the way in which destiny unfolds in his own account the Baburnāma, albeit one in which Chinggisid elements work alongside more canonical Islamic motifs and references to scripture. In fact, Moin’s account of the run up to the battle of Khanua is somewhat reminiscent of the famous Elliot and Dowson project of Indian history in which the chronicles were expunged of their Islamic scriptural content. Yes, Babur was asserted his astrological importance over the ill-fated and pessimistic ‘bad magic’ of an astrologer. But his repentance for drinking wine (itself a violation of the Turco-Mongol-Persian notion of King’s social persona in the bazm u razm) was linked with the citation of scripture. The victory in the battle indicated not only that Babur is the lord of the conjunction, but that God has chosen him for the quality of his moral personality as well. The tension with the Persian astrologer also reflects the motif of the power differential between the turk ruler and his tajik functionary. The relationship between the Naqshbandīs is another source of difference between the two rulers – and that requires a far more detailed consideration than in the chapter. Babur never quite buys the claims of the Safavid and it is clear that one needs to consider Shah Ismāʿīl not only within the context of ʿAlid millenarian movements of the fifteenth century but also in terms of his claim to descent of ʿAlī in particular – as Kazuo Morimoto has shown, the sayyid lineage of the Safavids was not ‘fabricated’ in the time of Tahmasp but was already an element of their social capital before the conquest of Herat. One also wonders whether Moin is not conflating too much – the futavvat brotherhoods, antinomian bābāʾī Sufis (studied by Ahmed Karamustafa and Ahmed Yaşar Ocak), Timurid lords of the conjunction, Qizilbash heterodox Shiʿism. And what are we to make to Babur’s dissimulation as qizilbash in order to gain the support of the Safavids against the Uzbek to regain his patrimony – just as Humayun was to do later to regain the throne of Hindustan? Moin draws upon the important Shāhnāma for Ismāʿīl but one wonders: is ṣāḥib-qirānī always particular to Timur? And how do we explain Chaldirān? There is one small detail to correct – on page 90 Moin translates yādgār as ‘monument’ to the ahl al-bayt, but it seems clear that there is a reference to a messianic epiphet here: the Mahdī is the remnant of God (baqiyyatullāh) and for someone to be the remnant (yādgār is clearly a Persian form of baqiyyatullāh) of the family of the Prophet puts him in a messianic relationship with the Mahdī. It is not clear to me how this makes Ismāʿīl a second Timur.

Chapter four on Humayun begins with a Safavid portrayal of the divine pretensions of Humayun and the historiographical neglect of the second Mughal ruler. Moin stresses his close association with Shaṭṭārī Sufis – who were, it must be said, also close to the Suri rulers in what is often teleologically considered the Indo-Afghan interregnum – and drawing upon Khwāndmīr, the lettrist nature of the entourage. This chapter is rather disjointed. One cannot see how the choice of Shaṭṭārīs was due to their popularity – and shift away from the older Transoxianian support for Naqshbandīs (especially since in the previous chapter Moin says that Babur has already moved away from the Naqshbandīs in his taqiyya with Ismāʿīl). How would the claims of Shaykh Muḥammad Ghawth (d. 1563) and his spiritual mastery over Humayun and then the case of Masʿūd Sālār Ghāzī end up bestowing sacral kingship on Humayun? The use of the Qānun-i Humāyūnī is not sufficient evidence either for the absence of ‘rational administration’ on the part of Humayun – not least because he spent so much of his ‘reign’ without the reins of power – or for evidence of his divine kingship. His later submission to Shah Tahmasb also does not fit well – and hence Moin is perhaps too accepting of the insistence upon the heterodox nature of Qizilbash and Safavid religion in the historiography – even in the 1540s – to suggest that this did not include an avowal of Shiʿi Islam. The only way Humayun fits is through Moin’s suggestion that his relationship to Akbar was like that of Ḥaydar to Shah Ismāʿīl – but there is no serious consideration of evidence for this.

Chapter five on Akbar is the most important and takes up earlier studies of his religious policy and ideology. There are no new sources considered here. But we have a fairly mainstream new approach to the controversies of his time. For example, the dīn-i ilāhī becomes the cult of the millennial sovereign and sulḥ-i kull a mechanism of including elite devotees and not an expression of Chishtī influence upon Akbar. Rajeev Kinra recently in his work on Chandra Bhan Brahman has suggested that it has more to do with the accommodation of diversity and renders it ‘universal civility’ and locates in elements of Persianate and Indian norms devoid of any messianic spirit. Moin discusses Badāyūnī’s critique that locates Akbar’s heterodoxy as a millennial madness that fits with other versions of the messianic outbreaks such as the Mahdavī movement. The fulfilment of history in the millennium with Akbar is also indicated by the official chronicle as the Tārīkh-i alfī. In the example of Akbar we have all the elements of the occult, lettrism, sainthood and kingship as messianic figure and renewer of the age. What one cannot really see is where the popular aspects are. The dīn-i ilāhī was not a popular movement but an elite process. One should also consider the dual nature of the Akbarnāma – it was very much a projection of the social persona of the monarch but also an advice to the King as a treatise on statecraft, a desire for what Abū-l-Fażl wanted Akbar to become. The contrast with Shah ʿAbbās is instructive since apart from the bizarre Nuqṭavī episode, we see a routinisation and the process of becoming Shah and leaving behind the Qizilbash past of the millennial sovereign.

The final chapter on Jahangir is perhaps the most interesting. Here is the most extensive consideration of the iconography that takes us beyond the literary sources. Consistent with revisionists, Moin rejects the Naqshbandī reaction approach to Jahangir. The sources represent him as the Complete Manifestation of the Divine. Thus his approach to the Sikhs and even to the Shiʿi martyr Sayyid Nūrullāh Shūshtarī has less to do with an Islamic reaction and more about the assertion of his own authority and as well as his sufferance of the religious choices that his subjects (especially the elites) are allowed to make. The texts and the paintings of Jahangir portray him as a sacral figure, a Sufi saint, a thaumaturge, and axis mundi. What is also clear – and this was also true to Akbar – is how much the iconography also reflects Indic themes; in this context, it is useful to consider some of the baramasa calendars produced for Akbar and Jahangir which reflect this (such as the ones at the Raza Library in Rampur). He also patronised Christian festivals. The argument is that the millennial sovereign sits above the religious particularities of his subjects. The increasingly Christian icononography of Jahangir cannot be divorced, however, from the Jesuit presence at court and their desire to win him for their cause – and no doubt he strung them along.

The conclusion considers to what extent this theory of kingship and its social process unravelled in the seventeenth century. The problem is that teleological approaches to Shah Jahan and his sons tend to obscure our reading. A fuller account of the sources shows that there was no gradual drift to ‘Islamic orthodoxy’ in which the person of Dārā Shikoh was a throwback to his grandfather and great-grandfather. The Mughals continued to see themselves as the ultimate spiritual authorities and arbiters. Moin gives us further reason to take the iconography of Mughal painting seriously. His conclusion ends with an important observation: our reading of the early modern world has become skewed by the prism of reformism and modernism from the nineteenth century seeking clear cut identity markers and expressions in the texts. In a sense this is a plea for considering the simple point: if we want to make sense of what the reformers destroyed or replaced we need to pay attention to the wide range of textual and knowledge production that came before the various expressions of colonial modernity be that Aligarh or Deoband.

One wonders whether the ambition of the work takes over and details are brushed aside rather hastily without working through their connections and implications. One can quibble about lots of details and consideration and clearly some chapters are more successful than others – to my mind, the analyses of Jahangir and Shah Jahan are the most interesting. But the presentist mode of the approach – or rather the self-conscious desire to break out of the modernist mould – offers limitations as well. It is rare indeed to find a work of this ambition being uniformly successful so perhaps we should content ourselves with enjoying the traversal through a dazzling array of sources and then those who have already been won over by the millenarian conceptions of authority in the Timurid period will find further evidence to bolster their prejudices, while those somewhat sceptical of that turn in intellectual history will focus on the mistakes and hasty judgements. But all will profit from reading the Millennial Sovereign.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Building Bridges - an academic exercise in mutual Christian-Muslim theologising

For some years now, I've been involved in an academic inter-faith exercise that was originally sponsored by Lambeth Palace and really well supported by Rowan Williams but since his resignation as ABC, it has been run by Georgetown University. Here is the link for the Building Bridges seminar.

The original intention was for the seminar - which brings together around 15 or so Christian and a similar number of Muslim participants - to alternate between being convened in a 'Christian majority' and a 'Muslim majority' context; but in recent years the public events held in the latter which has basically been the Georgetown campus in Doha have been disappointing. One could spend some time analysing why that is the case - is interfaith 'mutual theologising' a concern of metropolitan western academia which has not equivalent elsewhere? Perhaps - and there are elements of how, despite our best efforts, there is a somewhat Protestant bias in what we do - the quasi-scriptural reasoning at the heart of much of our practice in small groups, for example. But there is little doubt that I've learnt much from the process and continue to do so - and it's fun engaging, disputing, arguing, theologising with some of the best theologians around such as Janet Soskice, John Milbank, Mona Siddiqui, Christoph Schwobel, Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Susan Eastman, Reza Shah-Kazemi and of course Rowan Williams himself. As well as hanging out with old friends who like myself prefer to define themselves as 'historians' like Feras Hamza, and biblical and Quranic scholars like Paul Joyce and Mehdi Azaiez.

This was the 15th instalment focused on Monotheism and its Complexities. I wasn't the only one who was concerned that such a topic could take a rather apologetic turn as a defence of the trinity. But in many ways the discussions were far more interesting than I had expected. The rich tradition of christology and the expositions and uses of the Trinity were set out for us by Schwobel. Richard Bauckham presented the Biblical texts and how the monotheism of Judaism was given a Christian reading and developed into a theology of three persons, one substance, with rather non-Aristotelian understandings of both key terms, Asma Afsaruddin presented the monotheism of the Qurʾan and hadith in her characteristically scholarly and rigorous manner, while I presented perhaps a rather complicated and complexifying reading of various arguments about the One True God in Islamic traditions, some tending towards the more transcendent theologically and others more mystically monistic.

At some point when the papers are ready for publication I will post mine on my page. Suffice it to say that I did not help by sending one paper in and reading as a presentation something altogether a bit different and more engaged with contemporary usages of tawḥīd in Islamic discourses and trying to think through on my feet the ethical implications of the doctrine - the most difficult point being how do I square my own insistence upon the walāya and theosis (taʾalluh) centred doctrines and paths of what I consider Islam to be with our contemporary attempts at producing critical democratic understandings of faith?

Anyway, I look forward to many more years of such wonderful company and satisfying but also at times very cerebral working through key issues in our faiths. In particular, I have come to appreciate and love the Eastern Orthodox traditions and many elements of Catholic thought through these exercises and found a particular theological language for expressing my own ideas. It's always a pleasure to have the opportunity to think beyond the confines of my work as an intellectual historian and do more applied, interventionist work - doing the actual thinking and not just exegesis as a friend once put it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Introducing Philosophy in the Islamic World - brief but state of the art

Like many others, I am very much a fan of Peter Adamson's podcast the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps which is already the go to place for quick introductions to thinkers, problems and topics in philosophy including a large numbers of very useful episodes on Islamic philosophy.The two volumes on Classical and Hellenistic Philosophy have already appeared with Oxford and the volume on Islamic philosophy will appear later this year. There is little doubt that this endeavour fills in many gaps and gives us a richer, more textured and far more nuanced sense of the course of philosophy - understood in a more expansive sense - in the world of Islam. 

Peter has also recently published a Very Short Introduction to Philosophy in the Islamic World

It is good to see this influential series of introductory texts expand their titles to include more topics within the study of Islam. And for those of us animated by intellectual history, this current offering by Peter Adamson is a welcome contribution indeed. Adamson includes a short suggestion for reading and useful timeline that overlap with his podcast and these represent the state of research and the most instructive sources for a students seeking an entry into the study of philosophy in Islam. This is essential because for too long students of the history of Islamic philosophy have had to rely upon survey works that are dated and involve questionable interpretations, sometimes far removed from the text and fail to take religion seriously. At the same time, shorter more thematic introductions tend to be either too general to be useful, seriously misleading for specialists, or textually unjustifiable. 

The first question broached is exactly what do we call this field of inquiry? For some time, the question of ‘Arabic’ versus ‘Islamic’ philosophy has been caught up in polemics which Adamson does not engage directly; his earlier Cambridge Companion opted for 'Arabic' philosophy which reflected the approach of many in that volume. The proponents of 'Arabic philosophy' have tended to insist on the paradigm of Greek into Arabic and the need to stress the ‘secular’ pursuit of the hellenizing falsafa tradition. The latter tendency that prefers the appellation 'Islamic' insists upon the Qurʾanic, and sacred origins of the philosophical pursuit of wisdom, and tends to face the problem of those Christian and Jews who participated in the process. Arabic is also not terribly useful a title as there were works of the tradition written in Persian and Ottoman among other languages, and it tends to have a more narrow understanding of philosophy. This issue of how much philosophy might engage and encompass is an open question particularly nowadays when issues of inclusivity and diversity are at the forefront and we wish to 'de-center' the European analytic tradition in favour of more expansive senses of philosophy. Recently, Peter Park has raised the question - usually articulated in 'cultural studies' and not philosophy - of the racism inherent in the activity of philosophising and marginalising Africa and Asia. Mohammad Azadpur has a broadly welcoming review here.  Another positive review by Peter Fenves is here.

But returning to the debate on naming the field, Adamson, correctly to my mind, insists upon a more expansive sense of philosophy that takes religion seriously and see philosophy beyond the narrow ‘generic’ confines of falsafa. In fact, much of the philosophy in the world of Islam did not conform to the falsafa paradigm. They tended to prefer the term ḥikma, synonymous with falsafa in the early period, but even then through a translation of Nicomachus of Gerasa's Introduction to Arithmetic aware of the difference of the pursuit of the love of wisdom and sagacity itself. The latter traditions - what is commonly called post-classical now - preferred the term because it was rooted in the Qurʾan's own usage and because it suggested what was beyond the merely ratiocinative. For Adamson, even more significant – and consistent with the current trend in the field – is his desire to extend the study of the post-classical into the modern period; for too long, historians have considered philosophy in the world of Islam to be a purely marginal and historically distant phenomenon – even when most of us no longer think the endeavour came to and end in the West with Averroes, the emphasis on falsafa has tended not to take the developments further East in exegesis too seriously, partly misled to the ‘Islamic philosophy’ proponents who have at times promoted later thought as primarily mystical or arational or even illuminationist in its essence.

The main text is divided into six chapters: a historical preliminary followed by discussions on reason and revelation, God and being, eternity, knowledge, and ethics and politics. To an extent the choices emerge out of the history of the study of the field, its old transposition of the medieval problem of reason versus revelation and the assumption of the fatal nature of the attack of al-Ghazālī on three critical doctrines of the falāsifa seem to remain in the background. The historical chapter begins with the translation movement and the early theological discussions of the Muʿtazila inspired by Hellenic thought through to the centrality of Avicenna and his reception through to the middle period developments and all the way into the modern period with the re-emergence of European influence in modern thinking in the likes of Iqbāl and others. Along the way every major thinker is checked and some particular issues isolated for grey box discussion that show the relationship between philosophy and the other disciplines in Islamic culture – critical because philosophy was not as marginal as previously thought. It is thoroughly refreshing to see an account that puts philosophy back in its proper place!

The second chapter does not engage in the medieval polemics that one might think from the title of reason and revelation. Instead it is divided into three sections: the first of reason as a standard of argumentation that we call logic, the second on the supremacy of reason engages with the arguments on the superiority of philosophy over religion in the thought of al-Fārābī and Averroes, and the third on the limits of reason begins with al-Ghazālī’s internal critique followed by the expanding role of mysticism and non-propositional thought culminating in the more holistic approach to knowledge and the life of the mind in Mullā Ṣadrā. Chapter three moves onto the proofs for the existence of God beginning with theological accounts and the most successful proof for God as the necessary existence in Avicenna and then the rise of monism in the later period. As Ian Netton suggested some time ago in his Allah Transcendent, the typology of proofs for the existence of God, or the very understanding of the nature of God, in the world of Islam shifted from a creator ex nihilo whose existence can be deduced from a contemplation of the cosmos and its design (and indeed the structure of the human body as microcosm) to Avicenna's rational ontological proof through to the radically monistic singular Being of Ibn ʿArabī. 

The next chapter engages with the problem of time and eternity and includes the famous attempt by Mīr Dāmād to reconcile creation ex nihilo with an eternal instrumentalist universe in favour of a model that is strikingly similar to Suarez's middle knowledge and which engages the famous Shiʿi notion of how it appears to us that God changes his mind or his decree (this latter is not in the chapter but can be analysed elsewhere in my own work, not least in my forthcoming chapter on Mīr Dāmād in the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy). 

The fifth chapter on knowledge deals with it as a state of being in the soul and includes discussions of the Avicennan account of the stages of the intellect and the internal senses and the distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and by presence. A critical box within it presents the way to understand the problem of God’s knowledge of particulars, within its Aristotelian context. Later thinkers worked outside of it through reorienting knowledge towards what the ancients called the 'identity' thesis of the intellecting subject and object. The final chapter on ethics and politics begins with the reception of the tradition of the Nicomachean Ethics and the Iranian tradition of ethics and statecraft but moves onto Ibn Khaldūn’s theories on society and state and more modern reformist discourses including feminism.

The main conclusion of this brief whirlwind tour of philosophical reasoning in the world of Islam is not only to insist that philosophy played a vital role in Muslim societies and cultures but also to suggest that a more expansive sense of what is philosophy. While retaining its significance for our modern engagements with philosophy, Adamson allows us to see the course of philosophical reasoning in a variegated mode in different contexts all the way up to our own times. Critics will quibble about the lacunae and the choices of discussion but there is little doubt that the volume represents the wide contours of interests in Anglophone writings on philosophy in the Islamic world. This short introduction will be invaluable for students of the study of Islam and also those interested in contemporary trends in the study of inter-cultural philosophy and the history of philosophy. What is now needed is a collaborative effort to produce a new far more comprehensive history of philosophy in the world of Islam that adequately grapples with the complexities and the varieties and builds upon the growing picture of the intellectual history of Islam that we now possess.We need a fuller picture - warts and all - and the critical, the rational and the arational, with more careful consideration for the texts and the many 'minor' figures that animated the tradition and defined philosophy for their times even if we have forgotten who they were.