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Inscribing Lineages and Narrating Selves from Mecca to Melaka

Session II-18, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
Genealogy and lineage-making were integral to history-writing in the premodern Islamic world. Rather than approach them as stable and mutually-exclusive categories, this panel considers genealogy and lineage-making as creative modes of mapping selves and communities into a shared time and place. In so doing, it shows how similar languages and strategies of lineage and genealogy connected the eastern Islamic world, mapping a shared space from Mecca to Melaka in which genealogical routes multiplied like physical ones. Ultimately, the panel aims to highlight not only the complicated nature of identity-making in premodern Islam, but also the historicity of seemingly extra-temporal, miraculous, and visionary accounts of lineage. The first panelist looks at genealogies in Persian histories written from the 14th to the 16th centuries. This paper shows how the authors of these histories increasingly found straightforward genealogies to be lacking in efficacy. To resolve this problem, they drew from other sources like Sufi hagiographies to map a king’s presence into genealogies that not only spanned time and space, but also transcended them. The second panelist focuses on the self-inscription of a sixteenth-century Muslim intellectual Qutb al-Din Muhammad al-Nahrawali (d. 1582) – often seen as the pro-Ottoman Arab historian of the Ottoman Empire - into the lineages of Hadith transmission alongside other scholarly and sufistic genealogies in order to explain his rise to the preeminent position of the mufti or jurist of Mecca. The third panelist considers seventeenth-century genealogies of the Afghans that trace their descent to King Saul. These genealogies by Akhund Darweza and Khushhal Khan do serve as a defense of a maligned people in the Mughal Empire, but this panelist emphasizes that they also inscribe sophisticated philosophies of history that provide a genealogical vision of sacred temporality. In short, “ethnicity” is deeply entangled with theology. The fourth panelist introduces Persianate genealogies from the early modern Malay world. These texts contain linear histories of Malay courts and communities becoming Muslim, as well as narratives of spectacular conversions, battles and dreams. This paper also highlights the sophisticated nature of imagining and writing Islamic history in the premodern Malay-Islamic world. This panel brings together a geographically and methodologically diverse group of panelists who critically engage with the genealogy and lineage-making in the premodern Islamic world, showing its transregional continuities and permutations over time.
  • Lineage was of deep importance to political power in the medieval Middle East. Despite this, it was not enough. To project a sense of legitimacy and divine sanction to their rivals and subjects, medieval Muslim kings and their courtiers not only creatively adapted and played with lineal descent, but used representations of a king’s travels, dreams, and other forms of storytelling to map them into genealogical frameworks that overlapped with the body, soul, and spirit. Rather than question their veracity, this talk aims to show how some of these strategies worked, their advantages, and limits. Using selections from Persian historical narratives from the 14th to the 16th centuries, from the post-Ilkhanid to Safavid periods, it will first contextualize the imagery and language of these choices, showing how history-writing drew from other types of literature, such as Sufi hagiographical narratives. Then, it will focus on the connection between travel, the dreamworld, and living Sufi saints. It will show how rather than being a straightforward process, these elaborate and visually rich narratives were subject to deep ambiguity and multivalence. allowing a particular dream or ritual act to be subverted and used against the sovereign either by a subject or a rival, marking open a new space for negotiating power, kinship, and control over the world.
  • Genealogies and narrative traditions from the early modern Malay world contain several linear histories of Malay courts and communities becoming Muslim. These histories are imbibed with other Persianate historical traditions and invariably honour certain actors as the progenitors of devotional communities spanning from Mecca to Melaka. These are genealogical narratives of masters, ‘ulama, courtiers, warriors and sailors who were either the heirs of Islamic and pre-Islamic prophets and tutelary divinities and the beneficiaries of their teachings and techniques, or industrious Muslims or to-be-Muslims who met time and space-travelling prophets across Indian Ocean port cities. These texts contain accounts of encounters with or dreams and visions of Muhammad in Arab and Malay settings and stories of spectacular conversions and circumcisions, as well as memories of the Qur’an being revealed to Malay ears. Malay genealogical texts, moreover, contained anecdotes about peripatetic believers who traversed Mecca, the Coromandel Coast and the Malay Archipelago, and led new cultural and political centres propagating ethical living and Islamic selfhood. As this paper argues, appreciating the historicity of the Malay-Islamic genealogies requires following the call of the texts, to reconsider the nature of premodern historiography and conversion, to reimagine linearity, positivism, origins, and the temporality of pre-Islamic, Islamic and Persianate heroes and heroines.
  • Hailed as the leading Arab historian of the Ottoman Empire by modern scholars, the Meccan jurist (Qut̤b al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Nahrawālī’s (1511/12-1582) textual production included a wide range of genres beyond historical works on Mecca and the Ottoman conquest of Yemen. While al-Nahrawali can certainly be placed in the long line of Meccan chroniclers like Jarullah ibn Fahd (d.1547), a consideration of several of al-Nahrawali’s other works reveal his self-representation as the preeminentHadith scholar. He is believed to have composed a work on the Prophetic traditions that unfortunately perished in a fire. However, thanks to the survival of al-Nahrawali’s thabat, it is possible to gain insights not only into al-Nahrawali’s assessment of the state of hadith scholarship in the sixteenth century, but the way al-Nahrawali’s own inscription into a genealogy of Hadith transmitters allowed him to establish his authority in the highly competitive scholarly community in Mecca and beyond. Through a focus on al-Nahrawali’s thabat and his attention to mentions of Hadith auditions during his travels, this paper seeks to recover a less-researched facet of al-Nahrawali’s life to comment on the cultivation of intersecting and overlapping lineages in explaining the rise of a Muslim intellectual from Gujarat to the preeminent juridical authority in Mecca.
  • How does genealogy respond to a messiah? What competing visions of temporality and history are found between Afghan genealogies and messianic movements in the Sulayman mountains? And what might this tell us about ethnicity and history in the eary modern period? In the early seventeenth century, a number of scholars such as Niʿmat Allah Harawi, Akhund Darweza, and Khushhal Khan Khatak began to inscribe genealogies of the Afghans that traced their peoplehood through the celebrated champion of Qays and then back to Malik Talut: King Saul of Biblical-Qur’anic history. While scholars have recognized Niʿmat Allah’s genealogy of the Afghans as an attempt to defend and valorize an Afghan community treated with suspicion and hostility in the Mughal courts, less attention has been given to the social purpose and historical imagination of other Afghan genealogies of early modern South Asia. This paper suggests that Afghan genealogies—especially that of Akhund Darweza—were not merely acts of constructing a blessed identity for a misunderstood people; rather, these genealogies crafted a philosophy of history that responded to the proliferation of messianic and mystical movements between Peshawar and Kabul. As this paper demonstrates, Akhund Darweza and Khushhal Khan Khatak feared the epistemological anarchy that accompanied the cyclical temporalities of messiahs such as Bayazid Ansari: how could we know anything for certain if messiahs were re-opening past prophetic moments and drawing future secrets from the Unseen realm into the present age? In combining heresiographical condemnation of messianic movements with legendary narratives of descent from patriarchs and prophets, these genealogies attempted to tether knowledge, religion, and peoplehood to a careful construction of lineage. Approached in such a way, this paper argues that the genealogies of Akhund Darweza and Khushhal Khan Khatak necessitate that historians recognize the irreducibly theological commitments that animate these early modern constructions of ethnicity. Indeed, Akhund Darweza’s exploration of Afghan ethnicity is entangled with his understanding of Islamic eschatology: the Afghans have a tragic role to play at the End Times. In short, by offering a close reading of the genealogies of Akhund Darweza and Khushhal Khan Khatak, this paper argues that our notions of identity, ethnicity, and the racialization of the Afghans in the Mughal Empire only gain their full purchase against the horizon of religious debates on the nature of time, revelation, and truth.