MESA Banner
18th Century Scholarship and Historiographical Debates

Panel VIII-25, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • The late eighteenth century is often depicted as the acceleration of Islam’s “modernist reform,” driven by such changes as the advent of print capitalism, colonial restructuring, and emergence of the modern state. Although this reform process has often been characterized by changes in jurisprudence (fiqh), particularly the rejection of the four Sunni legal schools in favor of scriptural sources of authority like the Qur’an and hadith, scholars of North Africa have begun to offer nuance to this picture by foregrounding such factors as the retrenchment of Maliki traditionalism, reform of educational methods, and critiques of localized Sufi practices (Terem 2014). In this paper I press for a further expansion in the study of Islamic “reform” by focusing on two less-examined fields of Islamic scholarship, namely tajwid and the qira’at, “practical” disciplines which provide and elaborate rules for the vocal performance or recitation of the Qur’anic text. In order to investigate how such fields might have been impacted by parallel reformist agendas, I offer an ethnographic reading of scholarly biographies (tarajim) of Moroccan qira’at scholars spanning roughly the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries in order to trace the emergence and consolidation of a distinct “Moroccan school” (madrasa maghribiyya) of qira’at study, spurred by the advent of new handwritten textual genres, shifting networks of scholarly travel, and their articulation with the powers of the precolonial ‘Alawi state. Based on this historical reconstruction, I question two common “rupture” narratives regarding modern Islam and Moroccan history. First, I argue that the centrality of handwritten texts to the consolidation of a “Moroccan school” of recitation studies destabilizes the print revolution as a turning point in Islam’s “objectification.” Secondly, while many historical narratives present the French Protectorate as having “produced” the Moroccan nation, the school’s emergence suggests that Morocco was already coalescing into what sound scholar Brandon LaBelle calls an “acoustic territory” well before colonial restructuring. In conclusion, I suggest that by turning to “non-discursive” Islamic disciplines like tajwid and the qira’at we might imagine new approaches to the topic of “reform” generally, ones situated in shifting relations among vocal practice, listening, and textual reproduction.
  • This paper is the first study of the power struggle in the early reign of Irdana Biy by using both Manchu and Persian sources. Specifically, it examines these two bodies of sources to reconstruct the political events that led to the death of ‘Abd al-Rahman Biy, one of Irdana Biy’s main contenders to the throne. The Persian source is the Khoqand chronicle Muntakhab al-tavarikh, written by Muhammed Hakim Khan (b. 1802/3). The Manchu source is the memorial sent to the Qing Emperor Qianlong (r. 1735-96) by Šuhede, the Assistant Military Governor in Kashgar (Ma. hebei amban, Ch. canzan dachen) in 1761. The paper argues that the Persian source whitewashed Irdana Biy’s guilt in ‘Abd al-Rahman Biy’s murder, as its author Muhammed Hakim Khan, being a member of Khoqand’s royal family, had to take the trouble to preserve the ruling house’ political legitimacy. The Manchu source produced by the Qing frontier military official, however, was much more straightforward and pinned down the guilt directly on the person of Irdana Biy. The comparative analysis of both Manchu and Persian sources allows us to reevaluate the question of political legitimacy in Khoqand historiography by placing it under Joseph Fletcher’s framework of tanistry in the Ottoman Empire, according to which the bloody succession struggle was a defining characteristic of Turco-Mongolic monarchic tradition in Central Eurasia, to which Khoqand also belonged. More importantly, by studying the difference between these two sources, we can provide concrete written evidence of how later Khoqandian chroniclers rewrote the history of their ancestors, in which the steppe tradition of tanistry faded away from the living memories of the courtly intellectuals, now better versed in Sa'di and Nava'i than Genghisid law code. This paper aims to bridge the gap between Near Eastern studies and Manchu studies.
  • The available literature reveals that the Ottoman treasury, where books were kept, functioned as a lending library to the palace’s inhabitants. Books were borrowed from the treasury and members of the imperial court were educated with books circulating in the court. Palace-affiliated woman had books on their estate records and some of them possessed a rich variety of books covering religious, historical, and literary topics. It is also known that court eunuchs had a passion for books, as reflected in their artistic patronage as well as in their estate inventories. Based on this fact, this paper aims to explore the book ownership of the male palace personnel at the Ottoman imperial court who were positioned in several departments of the imperial palace. These people occupied various ranks within the hierarchical structure and served in various levels. The variety of their statuses ranged from high-status positions to more modest ones. This study investigates the variety of books that appeared in the estate registers of this group in order to understand their connection to intellectual and literary culture, in an extensive span of time extending from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century. It analyses how and in what ways palace affiliation had an impact on their cultural life and traces the changes in their literary taste over time. It also demonstrates how wealth, status and networks within and outside the court influenced the book ownership. This paper suggests that unpacking the book ownership of this group contributes to a better understanding of the structure and functioning of the Ottoman imperial court as well the place and roles of male palace personnel in Ottoman society.