MESA Banner
Mongolia and Central Asia

Panel VI-27, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
  • The Mongolian era is one of the most terrifying historical eras on the level of human history, as these people, in devastating campaigns, swept the centers of civilization in a vast area of land that stretched from China in the east to the Levant in the west, as well as their invasion of eastern and western Europe, and they established, within a short period, a sprawling superpower. The parties built it on the ruins of countries they toppled and thrones they destroyed. The style of the Mongols differed in extending their influence over the areas they controlled after their conversion to Islam. There is a big difference between the Timurids, who are attributed to the Barbarians, and Genghis Khan, as they were not like the Mongols in their ferocity and destruction of the country. Added to the impact of the Islamic religion is the influence of literature and art of the eastern civilizations that influenced them and changed them. Many of their trends are in several fields, especially the Iranian, Chinese, and Islamic cultures. The Mongol Empire in India, which was founded by Dahir al-Din Babur (932 AH and 1526 AD), is considered the best model for the rule of the Mongols after their conversion to Islam and the knowledge and literature they acquired, as they represented the last empire of the Islamic golden age in India Which continued to rule for three centuries from the tenth Hijri to the thirteenth Hijri, and the interest of Muslims in India dates back to the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and Islam witnessed several stages there that began with its true beginning at the hands of the Ghaznavids and after them the Ghurids, followed by the Mamluks, the Tughlaq family, and the Gulf, until the state reached The Mughals were one of the greatest empires that ruled India. The research was divided into several main sections, the first of which is: providing a quick overview of the biography of Dahir al-Din Babur and the most critical characteristic of his personality, which made him an emperor, who is referred to as Lebanon in the political and literary levels. And the second: getting to know the family conflict around the throne of Ferghana and the attempt to remove Babur from him after the death of his father.
  • As the Islamic scholarly elite, or ulema, coalesced as a class of urban intellectuals from the tenth through fifteenth centuries CE, they composed treatises of professional etiquette, or ādāb, to expound the skills and techniques of learning scholars-in-training needed to master. Amid their descriptions of the ulema’s study habits, curricula, and professional conduct to this end, authors of ādāb cited the avoidance of sleep during certain hours of the night as especially important for developing the skill of memorization. As part of their education in this formative era, the ulema were expected to commit countless scholarly texts to memory. They were furthermore expected to be able to draw from this mental library for verbatim, extemporaneous use of such texts throughout their careers. Authors of ādāb therefore intricately described the embodied acts of memorization and recollection that underlay the ulema’s learning, discussing practical strategies their readers might use to maximize their intellectual potential at great length. These strategies were often medical in nature; students were, for example, encouraged to adhere to certain drug and dietary regimens as a means of enhancing their memories. While these perhaps more legible forms of scholarly medicine have received their due share of attention from historians, the medicalization of sleeplessness in medieval Islamic intellectual culture has not. In this paper I will explore how medical thought on the importance of certain hours to the waxing and waning of vital powers permeated the ulema’s circles by the tenth and eleventh centuries. In particular, medical theorists argued that the humorally warm rational spirit facilitating cognition and recollection increased in potency as the night approached, but was typically suppressed by the cooling effect of sleep on the brain. Avoiding sleep at night would allow scholars to avail themselves of this hidden humoral power. I will show that this vivid sense of embodiment helped determine the timing of the ulema’s rigorous study schedule by the twelfth century: dialectics at forenoon, composition at midday, and reading in the evening, with only limited provision for sleep before memorizing texts from dusk until dawn. By documenting the appeal that medical reasoning about limiting one’s sleep held for the ulema as they sought ever more effective strategies to improve their scholarly potential in this era, this paper will bring an understudied dimension of medieval Islamic scholarly identity to light and make an original contribution to the study of premodern medical cultures.
  • Although some Islamic manuscripts featuring depictions of animal figures in the period between 700-1500 CE have been referred to as proto-bestiaries, Islamic book culture does not include a discrete generic branch that directly correlates with the Western, Christian bestiary. Nonetheless, the overwhelming influence of Central Asian figuration upon Arabic and Persianate manuscripts, particularly during the Ilkhanid (1256-1335) and Ottoman (beginning 1299) periods, engendered a surge in zoological depictions in the context of the Islamic book. Some notable artwork of animals is found found in compendiums of natural history and lore, including al-Jāḥiẓ’s Kitāb al-Ḥayawān (8th century CE) and al-Damīrī’s Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān al-kubrā (c.1371 CE). Notably, the well-known illustrations of these works were often produced decades or centuries after the original compositions, such as Biblioteca Ambrosiana’s exquisite Kitāb al-Ḥayawān of Syrian provenance dated to the 14th century, now an icon of the medieval Islamic bestiary. My paper explores in what capacity we can consider later-illustrated iterations of al-Sufi’s (d.986) Ṣuwar al-kawākib (The book of fixed stars) a bestiary, or a collection of astral beasts which serve as a way to think through God-consciousness, both in its authoritative taxonomy of created beings and its page-mirroring drawings techniques that allow the reader to view earth from heaven and heaven from earth. As a case study, I examine Library of Congress, Arabic MS 16 (QB23 .S84) (dated 1417) as a fifteenth-century example of these objectives. I argue that the ingenuity in book design, which breaks from the aesthetics of preceding astronomical works, contributes to its role as an object that facilitates mysticism, not merely communicates scientific truths. Further, like most of the European bestiaries which have traceable undercurrents of Christian evangelism despite their pagan Aristotelian lineage, books of animals in Persian and Arabic bear the anxiety of having been translated, at least in part, from pre-Islamic Greek texts. However, whereas European bestiaries are clearly situated in a post-lapsian world, as stated by their authors and compilers, medieval Islamic authors were not beholden to the perennial fall of creation or that the natural world was somehow imperfect. Rather than possessing unequivocal dominion over the animal kingdom, as in the Judeo-Christian tradition, human beings were decentralized from the narrative of Islamic cosmology medieval books of natural history. In the fifteenth-century Ṣuwar al-kawākib, the human reader can experience this decentralization through interaction with the visceral page.
  • The early fifteenth-century Ottoman Empire witnessed the rise of highly “Turkish” historiography, which is characterized by its emphasis on the Oghuz Turkic origin of the dynasty. Yazıcızade ʿAli’s Tevarih-i Al-i Selçuk, written and dedicated to Murad II (r. 1421-1444, 1446-1451) in 1426/7 or 1438, is considered the epitome of this new tradition. While translating Persian chronicles into Ottoman Turkish, ʿAli interspersed throughout his work his own prose and poetic texts that presented the Ottoman Sultan as the most legitimate heir of Oghuz Khan. Analyzed from a political point of view, TAS has conventionally been construed as part of the Ottoman dynasty’s propaganda campaign to claim its superiority over the descendants of Timur, who had vanquished Bayezid I (r. 1389-1402) in the Battle of Ankara (1402). However, the underlying assumption that the Ottoman-Timurid relationship was fundamentally antagonistic precludes us from recognizing the complex nature of the chronicle. Revisiting TAS from the perspective of cultural history, this paper aims to demonstrate that the chronicle was an Ottoman response to the so-called Timurid Renaissance. When ʿAli compiled and edited his source texts, Timurid art and literature began to flourish in Herat under the auspices of the Timurid Prince Shahrokh (r. 1405-1447). It is thus no coincidence that the style and narrative of TAS parallel those of contemporary Timurid historiography. ʿAli made extensive use of the Ilkhanid bureaucrat Rashid al-Din’s (d. 1318) work Jamiʿ al-Tavarikh, whose copies had remained fragmented and inaccessible until the Timurid ruler commissioned Hafez-e Abru (d. 1430) to collect and refurbish them. Hafez-e Abru’s Majmaʿ-yi Tavarikh is even mentioned in TAS as a book that its reader must be familiar with. Most noteworthy is the translator himself describes Mongol conquerors as exemplary Islamic rulers. ʿAli inserted his own masnavi couplets that praise Chinggis Khan’s conquest of Otrar, which is reminiscent of the Ilkhanid historian Ata-Malik Juvayni’s (d. 1283) panegyric chronicle, Tarikh-i jahangusha-yi Juvayni. This paper argues that the glorification of Turkestani heritage was by no means a local phenomenon in late medieval Anatolia. Rather, it occurred across the regions that had been under Mongol rule; the memory of the Mongols induced the successor dynasties in Anatolia and Iran to legitimize themselves within the framework of Ilkhanid historiography. Hence, while having a feud in political and military terms, post-Mongol states shared strong cultural and intellectual bonds and continued interacting with one another. TAS illuminates the persistence of transregional communication between them.
  • The paper examines the political deployment of Sufi textuality by focusing on the Ḥadīqat al-ḥaqīqah wa sharī‘at al-ṭarīqah [The Garden of Truth and the Law of the [Sufi] Path] (hereafter the Ḥadīqah), an understudied book of Sufi and political advice composed by the Persian poet Sanā’ī of Ghazna (d. 1131 CE). The convergence of Sufi and political ethics in the works of Sanā’ī, including his Ḥadīqah, has only been discussed by a handful of scholars, such as J.T.P. de Bruijn (1983), and Franklin Lewis (1995). No detailed study has been conducted to investigate the way this convergence is manifested in Sanā’ī’s portrayal of an ideal ruler. Additionally, no scholarly attempt has been made to highlight the relationship between the circumstances surrounding the patronage of Sanā’ī’s poetry and his conception of “perfect” kingship— specifically, his idealized portrayal of his royal patron, Bahrāmshāh (r. 1117 – 1157 CE), and of Sulṭān Maḥmūd (r. 998 – 1030 CE), Bahrāmshāh’s forefather and the founder of the Ghaznavid empire. This study includes a textual and contextual analysis of Sanā’ī’s Ḥadīqah. I will provide an overview of the key cultural and political aspects of Bahrāmshāh’s reign, including his attempts to create a parallel between his rule and that of Maḥmūd. I will then closely analyze passages from Sanā’ī’s Ḥadīqah to highlight the ways in which this parallelism is manifested in Sanā’ī’s work. I will demonstrate that Maḥmūd is not only portrayed as a just, generous, and intelligent ruler— similar to ideal rulers in the mirrors-for-princes genre— but also as a perfect man, in its mystical sense, who had access to divine knowledge. Thus, he is idealized and placed above legendary Persian rulers such as the Sasanian king, Khusraw Anūshīrvān (d. 579 CE). I will argue that Sanā’ī counsels Bahrāmshāh to follow the footsteps of Maḥmūd and on multiple occasions portrays him as an ideal ruler similar to his forefather. I will then conclude my paper with a discussion on the way Sanā’ī’s Ḥadīqah could have possibly functioned as a source from which Bahrāmshāh drew legitimacy. Using the historical overview provided in the beginning of the presentation, I will explain possible motivations behind the royal patronage of the Ḥadīqah even after Sanā’ī’s death. By examining one of the earliest specimens of court-patronized mystical poetry, this paper sheds light on the role of court poetry in creating a strong bond between Islamic mysticism and politics in the Persianate world.
  • This paper seeks to provide a cosmopolitan understanding of the “Iranian diaspora” from a medieval Sino-Iranian perspective by looking at the poems of Li Shunxian (900-926 CE), a Persian born, China raised poetess who was also the beloved concubine of Emperor Wang Yan from the Great Shu Dynasty. Shunxian wrote three surviving poems in Chinese titled Unsuccessful Fishing, Accompanying the Emperor to Qingcheng, and Impromptu at Shu Palace. By carrying out a close-reading of her poems, I seek to show how Shunxian synthesizes and redefines traditions from Persian adab (advice) literary tradition and Chinese wen (literary) cultures while also being celebrated and revered for it. In doing so, she reveals the way medieval women from liminal backgrounds like herself, by embodying Persian javānmardī and Chinese junzi chivalric concepts, were able to participate in the fabric of Chinese empire building, while also showing how Sino-Iranian cultural identities circulate through uneven power relations that are illegible in modern scholarly conceptions of gender, race, and nationhood. The basis for this diasporic mobility is Javānmardī (young-manliness), an ethical concept of human perfection that genders a Persian subjectivity and is translated as ‘chivalry’. A similar concept to javānmardī, known as junzi (noble man), forms the backbone of Chinese ethical perfection. The scholarly consensus from the Persian and Chinese contexts has been that javānmardī and junzi ascribe an ideal Persian and Chinese masculinity to the sexed male body only. However, javānmardī’s and junzi’s influence on the female body as well as the important role it played in the shaping of a feminine identity in an Iranian and Chinese context remains unexplored. By using her poems to assert her identity as a masculine model of both Chinese and Persian perfection, Shunxian’s unique poems shed light on networks of cultural and literary circulation that bound gender norms in East Asia to West Asia within the larger Persian-speaking world.