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Textual Innovation and Transgression from Iberia to Iran

Panel VIII-24, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • The religious history of the Timurid fifteenth century is remarkably rich, particularly in terms of the history of religion and mysticism. Prominent Timurid cities in this period like Samarqand and Herat were centers not only of scholarship but also of varieties of Sufism and other mystical trends. The creativity of this period is notable, among other things, for producing numerous spiritual communities including the Naqshbandi, Nimatullahi, and Hurufi communities. While most rulers of this period, from Timur to Husayn Bayqara, were very interested in religiosity, their differing attitudes had a strong impact on how these religious orientations evolved over time. From the more broad-minded Timur to shari’a-minded Shahrukh, Timurid rulers changed their approach towards what kinds of spirituality to cultivate. Sufism in cities like Herat continued to thrive under the aegis of princely patronage, however, some orientations were increasingly excluded both by rulers and by other Sufis. This paper studies aspects of this change in the religious life of Herat in the first half of the fifteenth century. I focus on the relationship between different spiritual communities in the city, led by charismatic masters like Zayn al-Din Khwafi, Qasim-i Anwar, and Ubaydallah Ahrar, and ask the following questions: What kinds of Sufi communities were closer to the Timurid court and why? How did Shahrukh’s policies impact Sufism in Herat and Khorasan? How did different Sufi communities compete for princely favor and patronage? What were the ways in which these communities began to set themselves apart? The paper concludes by arguing that the intense competition for patronage as well as the need to prove a shari’a-abiding stance led these communities to evolve from a shared Sufi life to segregated Sufi communities with distinct methodologies and narratives. I consider this evolution to be a unique moment in the history of Sufism as, for the first time, Sufi leaders actively and purposefully propagated their own proper tariqas. This paper focuses on Herat as an example of the development of “walled gardens of truth,” i.e. tariqas, primarily because of the rich evidence left by the historians of the Timurid lands. In addition to Timurid and Mamluk chronicles on the period, I rely on biographical and hagiographical works on Khorasan, Central Asia, and the wider Timurid lands.
  • Born into a Sufi family, Muḥammad ʾAbū al-Surūr al-Bikriyy al-Ṣidīqiyy (1562–1598 CE) was a prominent scholar of his time. Despite his youth, he became influential in his writings, which included Quranic exegeses and works on Hadith, Arabic grammar, jurisprudence, and Sufism. He was also a practicing physician and was the first person to be named Mufti of the Sultanate in Egypt. He was active in the political arena, having been close to the Ottoman sultans, providing them his support and counsel. Al-Ṣidīqiyy enjoyed the patronage of his contemporary Ottoman Caliphate sultans. In general, these sultans always promoted studies in the Islamic sciences and were keen to support scholars and gain their trust. This paper addresses al-Ṣidīqiyy’s legacy as a Quranic commentator, focusing on his exegesis (tafsīr) of Sūrat al-Fatḥ (48), written in 1589. It appears in a manuscript found at the Süleymaniye Library in Istanbul, consisting of one volume of 144 pages. To the best of my knowledge, no other manuscript containing the text of this exegesis is to be found in any other library or institute for Arabic manuscripts. According to al-Ṣabbāġ (1995), al-Ṣidīqiyy had written a complete commentary of the Quran, but efforts to recover it have only unearthed the current commentary, as well as that of Sūrat al-Kahf (18), Sūrat al-ʾAnʿām (6), and ʾĀyat al-Kursī (2:255). The only critical edition published to date is that of Sūrat al-Kahf. The other two are currently being prepared for publication as well. The paucity of scholarly studies on the works of al-Ṣidīqiyy renders the current study particularly significant, as it provides introduction to al-Ṣidīqiyy’s exegesis, a synopsis of the biographical and cultural background of its author and his family, and a critical evaluation of his scholarly contribution. It introduces the manuscript on which this study is based and elaborates on the structure and rationale of the exegesis, on its very attribution to al-Ṣidīqiyy, and subsequently evaluates its overall significance to the understanding of Sufi approaches to Quranic interpretation in 16th-century Ottoman Egypt. An analysis of al-Ṣidīqiyy’s approach to interpreting the Quran leads to the definitive conclusion that it indeed reflects Sufi principles. For instance, when citing other Sufi commentators, including his own ancestors, he uses the epithets mawlāna ‘our elder, our patron,’ al-ʾustāḏ ‘the master,’ unique to Sufi parlance. Crucially, his interpretation is written in a realistic, uncomplicated, fetching style, as was customary among Sufi scholars of his time.
  • Two culinary treatises from the Safavid period—the early sixteenth-century Kārnāma and the late sixteenth-century Māddat al-ḥayāt—constitute some of the earliest examples of Persian-language cookbooks generally, and Iranian cookbooks in particular. These collections of recipes have been known and analyzed by scholars since their publication in 1981 by Īraj Ashār, but their circulation in manuscripts beyond the few consulted by Afshār in his preparation of the edited texts has largely escaped description. In this paper, I will introduce three copies of these texts (one of the Kārnāma and two of the Māddat al-ḥayāt) produced during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and examine how these manuscripts situate culinary knowledge within various geographical, social, and epistemological contexts—and how these contexts differ from the courtly environments in which the texts were originally composed. These manuscripts reveal links that are not necessarily obvious in the text of the treatises themselves—to writings about health and medicine, to culinary contexts outside of aristocratic feasts, and so on. But more importantly, the fact that the cookbooks were copied down as a whole rather than simply mined for recipes suggests that they were recognized as significant works in their own right rather than as collections of useful data. By analyzing what the cookbooks themselves have to say about their genre and intended audience in their discursive introductions and comparing to what is revealed by the three manuscripts introduced earlier in the paper, I hope to shed light on the complex ways in which culinary knowledge was textually constructed and received over the course of the Safavid period.
  • Muḥammad Taqī Majlisī (d. 1659) was a prominent Akhbārī Shī‘ī scholar whose Sufi tendencies has been a matter of heated debate since his time until now. He is claimed, in some Safavid sources, to have been a Sufi affiliated with the Nūrbakhshīyya order, a sympathizer of Abū Muslim, and an advocate of the Sufi practice of audition; a view upheld by several premodern pro-Sufi works as well as some modern pieces of scholarship on the issue. The opposite view, on the other hand, also has its own proponents, mostly among the Shī‘ī jurists, who have completely dismissed Majlisī’s Sufi inclinations, citing primarily the words of his well-known son, Muḥammad Bāqir (d. 1699), that the former’s endorsement of Sufism was merely a technique for attracting the Sufis in order to ‘guide’ them. Our thorough investigation, in this paper, of Muḥammad Taqī Majlisī’s involvement in Sufism demonstrates that the narratives in the primary sources in favor or dismissal of his pro-Sufi tendencies should be looked at with serious reservations, as most of them seem to have been purposefully designed to convey a certain picture of him in the midst of the Sharia-minded jurists’ anti-Sufi campaign during the Safavid period. In other words, we have shown in this essay that the widely-cited arguments of Sayyid Muḥammad Mīrlawḥī (d. 1676) on the one hand, and those of Muḥammad Bāqir Majlisī on the other hand, respectively for and against Muḥammad Taqī Majlisī’s being a Sufi, were essentially shaped by the massively different personal relationships that each of these two figures had with Shaykh Muḥammad Taqī as well as their striking, yet different, roles in the attacks against Sufism. And given the serious unreliability of these two accounts (which have dominated the majority of subsequent times’ sources), our study of Majlisī the Father’s Sufi inclinations extends to an in-depth textual analysis of his own works along with an investigation of a wide range of Safavid chronicles, tadhkiras, works of ṭabaqāt, and most importantly bio-bibliographical sources, which altogether show that his situation with Sufism was a highly complex one. This study will offer new insights into the Safavid-period anti-Sufi campaign in general, and sheds light on some understudied aspects of the background to the deterioration the Sufi-Shī‘ī interrelations in the late Safavid period.
  • Though Valencia, Granada, Castile and other regions in Iberia had once been the celebrated birthplace of intellectual paragons such as Ibn Rushd and mystical exemplars such as Ibn Arabī, the Reconquista of Muslim-ruled lands on the Iberian Peninsula would usher in a steady decline in the intellectual and spiritual education for the morisco population in the 16th century. Moriscos, Muslims forcibly baptized to Catholicism in the first part of the sixteenth-century, found themselves spiritually and religiously crippled. The significant decrease in scholars expertly trained usūl al fiqh, tafsir and lugha would compel some moriscos to seek out alternative methods of spirituality and Islamic education. One morisco scholar who exemplified this hybrid approach to religiosity and mystical practice was Mancebo de Arévalo. Primarily concentrating on Mancebo’s text titled El Sumario de la relación y ejercicio espiritual, this paper explores selected elements of the anonymous scholar’s mystical reflections and how they innovatively and creatively incorporate Sufi thought with particular attention to Ibn Arabī’s formulations on epistemology, ilm and ma’rifa. Knowledge has a deep and enduring significance in the history of Andalusian societies in particular and the Islamic tradition in general---‘ilm (knowledge) of God, His attributes and His Essence is the only means by which the servant comes to know the Divine. But as I argue in this chapter, Mancebo’s conception and discourse on knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge (and mystical closeness to the Divine) takes on a different valence for he skillfully emphasizes gnosis or ‘marifa as paramount in the aspirant’s mystical constitution as opposed to ‘ilm. In contradistinction to ‘ilm which historically concentrated on more discursive and acquired means of knowing, mari’fa can be defined as a more experiential, visceral and intimate knowledge of God (at least in Mancebo’s estimation). This emphasis on ma’rifa as a reliable means of knowledge acquisition and divine realization was particularly fitting for a community struggling to establish a connection with their ancestral faith in a constrictive environment of religious surveillance and growing inquisitorial scrutiny.