Wednesday, July 19, 2017

More Decolonising Islamic History: Construction of Extremism and the Shiʿi Tradition

Research into the formative period of Shiʿi Islam has come leaps and bounds in the laste couple of decades, inspired in particular by the work of Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, whose main insight has been to posit that ‘ancient’ Shiʿism is marked precisely by those doctrines and positions that the later rationalising tradition (in Baghdad and al-Ḥilla) rejected as ‘extreme’ (ghulūw). This was a particular form of heretication and othering that made sense once the communities were established and sought recognition in the ʿAbbasid and other courts and developed the institutions of learning and structures and hierarchies visible in other Muslim confessions. Or at least that is an element of the Makdisi theory applied to Shiʿi Islam: a confession crystallised once it became a legal school, adopted the hermeneutic of 'scholarly consensus' (ijmāʿ) and reconciled itself to power - in this sense the scholarly traditions of Shiʿi Islam can only be seen in terms of the normatively of the development of Sunni traditions and schools. An example of such an application is Devin Stewart's published doctoral dissertation.

Nevertheless, there remained the question of what made Shiʿi Islam distinct and how could one differentiate between the different tendencies that defined themselves as Shiʿi and what sort of construction was ‘extremism’? Is extremism an adequate rendition of ghulūw? By definition, an extreme is a relative position. It depends on where one places the centre - and even if that is located in the circle of the Imams, it begs the question of which circles and which particular Imams? Amir-Moezzi’s contribution is further complicated by Hossein Modarressi’s groundbreaking study of the formative period in the early 1990s, which posited ghulūw as exterior to the circle of the Imams and as a constant contrast and threat to the moderation of the scholarly community that remains to this day. However, this is predicated upon an assumption of the actual position of the Imams and those close to them, which perhaps we can never fully know. One finds that the rival tendencies of either ‘extremism’ or ‘shortcoming’ (taqṣīr) in the classical period are reproduced in more recent debates and even among the academics studying these issues. Much of those discussions were based on the use of heresiographical literature (both Shiʿi and non-Shiʿi) and re-reading the classical Imāmī sources in the light of ghulūw, including ones that ought to be carefully re-read or perhaps their attribution questioned - this applies as much to al-Barqī's Rijāl, al-Najāshī's Rijāl, and the Kitāb al-ḍuʿafāʾ of Ibn al-Ghaḍāʾirī (which barely seems to betray any sign of being a Shiʿi text). Nevertheless, for some time we have had a number of texts available that testify to the beliefs of the ghulāt, works surviving in Imāmī recensions, Ismaili ones and also among the descendants of many of those ghulāt groups in Kufa and Syria, namely the Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī communities of the Levant. Asatryan – who has himself contributed by editing one such text – takes advantage of re-reading these sources, in particular those associated with the heresiarch al-Mufaḍḍal b. ʿUmar al-Juʿfī to rethink the formation of Shiʿi Islam and the construction of ghulūw in his work Controversies in Formative Shiʿi Islam. The recent (polemical Christian) publication of the works of the ʿAlawī tradition (Silsilat al-turāth al-ʿalawī) in Lebanon has provided researchers with texts that purport to come from within the tradition that has been compared to the manuscripts available in London, Paris and elsewhere that allow us to study the construction of that tradition. In all, thirty-six texts are now available to us, the best known of which has been the Kitāb al-haft wa-l-aẓilla ever since it was published by ʿĀrif Tāmir.




Asatryan's book comprises six chapters that consider four central texts associated with al-Mufaḍḍal such as Kitāb al-haft, al-aẓilla (usually conflated as one text), Kitāb al-ṣirāṭ (recently edited by Capezzone), and Kitāb al-ashbāḥ (edited by Asatryan), their textual milieu and their reception, not least the somewhat blurring of identities and textual affiliations in Syria in the 10th century. In one recent study on the Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawis, Yaron Freidman has already shown how the nascent Nuṣayrī thinkers of Syria in the 10th and 11 centuries often wrote recensions of texts for their own community and a ‘taqiyya’ version for the wider Imāmī community that led to the adoption of ghulāt texts into the mainstream of the Imāmī tradition; the most obvious example of this is the Kitāb al-hidāya al-kubrā of Ḥusayn al-Khaṣībī popular among the hierocracy in Najaf (and widely available on Shiʿi online libraries such as here). A brief appendix follows that traces fragments of ghulāt texts extant. Asatryan’s thesis is that the mature Imāmī tradition, especially from the period of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam, made a sharp distinction between the moderates and the extremists and excised much of the material of the latter from their tradition albeit with some elements remaining. Once defined, the ghulāt corpus was othered and put into sharp contrast with the emergence of an Imāmī ‘orthodoxy’, not least as the latter made its peace with the wider ʿAbbasid society. The Ghulāt, on the other hand, remained oppositional, socially disruptive and rebellious. 

Chapter one on the Kitāb al-haft wa-l-aẓilla, earlier studied by Heinz Halm, is a philological and structural examination of the 67 chapters of the text, comparing at times with known doctrines rejected in the Imāmī mainstream tradition as extreme and with other doctrines that were acknowledged. The real problem is one of dating and recension. In that sense, one faces a similar problem to the study of the work often regarded as the earliest Shiʿi compilation, the so-called Kitāb al-saqīfa or Kitāb Sulaym b. Qays, which probably underwent various redactions as well from Imāmī to twelver. The Kitāb al-haft may also have undergone such transformation from a broadly Shiʿi text to a ghulāt (precisely: Nuṣayrī) one, even though the most widely available edition came from Ismaili manuscript collections. 



The other work to which it can be compared is the Ismaili Kitāb al-kashf attributed to Jaʿfar b. Manṣūr al-Yaman. The general source critical problem that we have with texts from the classical Islamic period is precisely being about to pinpoint completion dates, dissemination and the form that the circulated text took since it does seem variations were common in narrative, hadith and doctrinal works (a later example from philosophy are the variants of the elements of Ibn Sīnā's Kitāb al-inṣāf known as al-Taʿlīqāt or al-Lawāḥiq and the other work al-Mubāḥathāt). The themes of the text are clear enough: there is a cosmic drama in which the forces of God and his friends are arraigned in a conflict with the forces of evil. The true friends of God are never extinguished - Ḥusayn and Jesus in this docetist account did not actually die. The material world, and the unfolding of history, is somewhat illusory. The Shiʿi problem of the light of the truth being swamped and set aside by evil in the course of history is overcome by a denial of the reality of history, which in many ways is just a more exaggerated manner of resolution that one finds in the counter-history of the Imāmī tradition. The chapter that follows then examines how al-Mufaḍḍal and some of his associates were othered by the heresiographical literature, especially by al-Najāshī, and contains a section on the aẓilla group of texts (which perhaps should have been a separate chapter). One of the points that Asatryan makes is that ghulūw is a construction whereby the Imams attempted to retain control of far away developments in Kufa. The themes in the textual cycle can be seen in existing Imāmī texts: the cosmogony of the archetypal friends of God and their enemies, the manifestation of the light of God and the shadows, the seven Adams and a nod to cyclical history, spiritual entities and the lights of the throne. There is clearly a common Shiʿi patrimony that then splintered and took on stricter doctrinal meaning and differentiation. One should perhaps see texts such as Kitāb al-haft alongside al-Ihlījīyā, kitāb al-tawḥīd, the Umm al-kitāb, various more theological of the uṣūl, Kitāb Sulaym, and even Kitāb al-mahāsin and Baṣāʾir al-darajāt as constituting a common pool or drawing on a common pool of texts. One could argue that this was the mature Safavid position as exemplified in the collection that is Majlisī's Biḥār al-anwār; a recent series of publications of the sources of this compilation include the Kitāb al-tawḥīd and al-Ihlījīyā attributed to al-Mufaḍḍal. Following Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Jalālī of Chicago, we should maybe call this pool the 'turāth ahl al-bayt'.

Chapter three examines the intra-Shiʿi polemics around this patrimony and focuses on certain key themes: the notion of privileged door-keepers or gates to the doctrine of the Imams, the debate over tafwīḍ and whether it constituted a delegation of divine authority or an arrogation through the divinisation of the Imams, antinomianism and the status of the law, and the nature of written transmission which was significant in Imāmī circles. Chapters four and five shift to the reception of ghulāt ideas among the Nuṣayrīs. The former looks at the role of Khaṣībī, Ḥasan al-Ḥarrānī and Muḥammad al-Jillī in the formation of a Nuṣayrī tradition, as well as their marginal role in Imāmī literature - Ḥarrānī’s Tuḥaf al-ʿuqūl in particular remained a popular hadith collection in Imāmī circles in the middle period as attested by the many manuscripts. The second of these chapters is on the Kitāb al-ṣirāṭ and ghulāt cosmogony. The main point is to show that crystallised divergence of what became characterised as ghulāt material from cosmogonic material in the Imāmī tradition. The primary distinction in the final chapters between the true rejectors and the true believers and between the light that is unappreciated and the darkness remained a binarism that did not disappear from Imāmī texts. Asatyran does a good job of showing how the divergence came about and how the problem of dating makes it well nigh impossible to carefully determine what was always considered ‘extreme’. What I would have liked to see is how the themes and ideas that remained in what was in the 10th century recognised as ghulūw could also be found in the texts of the Imāmī tradition that retained authority into the middle period and beyond.


We live at a point in time in which sectarianism and anti-Shiʿi bigotry is rampant, and in which the Nuṣayrīs and the Imāmīs are conflated for political reasons, especially because of the civil wars in Syria. What Asatryan’s study shows is that the process of heretication is fluid. That process and the means of heretication today need to be understood. How are issues of commonality the same as points of divergence? Just as the category of Muslim is a label of commonality and gens the question of distinction, such also is the case with Shiʿi. In the current context, no Shiʿi would want to be characterised as being among the ghulāt or associated with the Nuṣayrīs but nor do they necessarily want to be subsumed into an Islam, a Sunni supremacy that fails to recognise their distinction. This is not a new problem. The entire vocabulary of faith is at stake in such a rethinking of tradition. Islam needs to be rethought in Shiʿi terms – and then ghulūw rethought once again. By allowing ghulūw to be characterised historically and normatively in terms of criteria determined by Sunni normativity (such as divinisation of the Imams, rejecting the counter-narrative that is opposed ‘to what really happened’, the law and its discontents), we cannot account for what the Shiʿi tradition understood to be ghulūw and the limits of the ontological status of the Imāms, the cosmos and the nature of human history. Contexts also shift and transform meanings. In an age in which taqiyya remains a political reality in many places but need not hinder the pen, what is the meaning of ghulūw

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Connected Imperial Histories, Persian and Sanskrit

The study of Islamicate South Asia suffers from being on the periphery of two fields of inquiry, Islamic studies and Indology, and as a periphery never fully participates in either. This is simply because the trend towards more connected histories may have forced historians to the mine the various European archives, supplementing the Dutch, Russian and Portuguese to the British and French, but has yet to compel researchers to be familiar with Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit as well as various other Indian languages – and I stress Indian since in their contexts, vernacular networks and usages these languages, albeit somewhat elite, were very much Indian within the multilingual semiosphere of South Asia. A more connected approach to South Asia in the Mughal period would require precisely the skills displayed by Truschke in her excellent recent book Culture of Encounters



And this is because the presentmindedness of much historiography in South Asia cannot break out of nationalist categories brought about by partition: as Truschke shows in her more recent little monograph on Aurangzeb, the Pakistani nationalist historian sees within the Mughals, hardy Muslim invaders forgoing a new community of faith on the South Asian frontier, a community that remained separate from those around and hence reached their fulfillment in the demand and creation of Pakistan, and the Hindutvadi historian for whom the Mughals remained outsiders who could not possibly have seen themselves as ‘Indian’. 



The very category of ‘Indian’ is essentialised in line with a retrojection of strict boundaries of communal affiliation and identification associated with ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’. This is not to argue for a syncreticism in which people in pre-modern South Asia did not know ‘where Hindu began and Muslim ended’ or for a fully fluid concept of identity or even to deny that there was ever any conflict based on religious identification; rather, the ways in which we articulate these two categories as identity and conflict markers today is rather different. Religion and power interact in rather contingent manners.

Apart for the rejection of such essentialising categories, Truschke’s book is a significant event in Mughal studies for a number of other reasons. First, it marks a new trend towards a future philological turn in which researchers for some time dazzled by statistics and more recently by fashionable European theory have returned to paying careful attention to the text and its possibilities; people have once again decided to take pride in their ability to parse and carefully construct editions of texts in Persian and Sanskrit. Sometimes one might argue that the neo-philologists go too far in their rejection of theory. But they do have a point: why shouldn't we consider theoretical formations and practices of textual production and reading that emerge from those cultures that produce the text instead of doing what has become far too common in the study of religion in North America, namely taking Foucault or Jonathan Smith or Charles Pierce or someone else and reading a South Asian thinker on their terms? New philology in that sense could constitute a call to arms towards a new theoretical attitude to the text.  Second, Mughal rulers placed themselves within various traditions of kingship, Chingissid-Timurid, Turco-Persian, Sanskritic and they did not just appropriate Sanskrit literary culture as a mode of legitimation. Other historians looking at the ʿAbbasids have also tended to see their ideological appropriation of Iranian, Indian and Hellenic traditions in terms of their imperial projection of authority. But the cultural and textual practices of the court need not always be sublimated to the question of legitimation as Truschke stresses in the introduction. The production of historical texts is a more complicated process; perhaps we have become bewitched by Foucault via Said into seeing all configurations of power, knowledge and culture as fundamentally constitutive of ideology in which legitimation is the only language game in circulation. Thus Akbar did not have the Mahābhārata translated merely as a means to legitimize his authority – in the same way as Mughal, Safavid and Timurid princes did not have the Shāhnāma of Ferdowsī copied and presented to their peers as a simple way to connect them to this pantheon of great Iranian world emperors of the past. Third, nevertheless, Truschke, like Moin more recently, does represent a shift towards an intellectual historian’s approach in which the aesthetic practices of power are taken quite seriously. Fourth, connected history is about supplementing the modes of inquiry and approach to questions – it is about destroying the canon and not necessarily producing another: it requires reading Persian and Sanskrit, and not replacing Persian with Sanskrit. Similarly, the adoption of Sanskritic and even Vedic idioms and projections of the self did not necessarily mean the Mughal rulers suddenly thought themselves truly Indian as opposed to Central Asian and Muslim nor did it entail pretense for the court elites who were predominantly not like them. They did not necessarily see themselves as ‘ceasing to be Muslim’ or suddenly becoming syncreticists. Even Moin’s theory of the millennial sovereign in which Akbar, Shah Jahan and Jahangir saw themselves as being above the theological affiliations of their subjects might not apply to all the rulers and their allies. 



Truschke explicitly located her own contribution alongside the work of Moin, Busch, and Faruqui. Fifth, Mughal practices of power were steeped in multilingualism and interactions. And this is not a new insight – the sources have been available; it is just that researchers have not availed themselves of them. It is not necessarily that new sources have emerged. Finally, Truschke’s work complements the ongoing Perso-Indica project looking at translations of Sanskrit into Persian. Islamicate societies were the loci for a number of such cultural translation movements, and if, following Shahab Ahmed’s recent plea for considering the ‘Balkans to Bengal complex’, we take South Asia seriously we cannot neglect the works and this process studied by Truschke.


The core of the book constitutes six chapters: on Brahman and Jain Sanskrit intellectuals – and it is striking how much of the material we have on encounters comes from the latter – at court, on textual production for the Mughals which mostly overlaps with the remit of the Perso-Indica project, of the particular interest in the Mahābhārata, of the means by which Abū-l-Fażl projected the sovereignty of Akbar (something often located in the rather simple ‘ishrāqī’ and Akbarian paradigms by Athar Abbas Rizvi and others), on the Sanskrit sources, and finally on how to incorporate Sanskrit into the Persianate world. The first of these is to establish the multicultural leanings of the Mughal elite and complicate the model of their kingship. The second establishes the multilingual nature of the Mughals. The third shows how aesthetics demonstrates the ways in which literary works were used for political effect as advice literature – in that sense the Mahābhārata is similar to Yūsuf u Zulaykhā of Jāmī in its Timurid context. The fourth is one must admit rather Foucauldian in which Abū-l-Fażl mastery of the Indian in his work promoting Akbar is very much about the politics of knowledge, even if aesthetics mattered to those in power and not merely for instrumentalist reasons. The fifth considers the encounter from the other perspective and gives us an insight into Sanskrit intellectual culture and its ties to the Mughals. The sixth shows how the Indo-Persian world (with all the caveats one may consider of the usefulness of the term) was fundamentally transformed by the encounter – and one thinks of various Sufi works whether by Dārā Shikoh or ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Chishtī who could not fail to incorporate the Sanskritic into their Indo-Persian imaginary. Along the way we enjoy the many examples of close and deep textual reading in Sanskrit and Persian that Truschke displays. 

In her conclusion, after noting that Mughal encounters with Sanskrit intellectual culture has been neglected for too long, she indicates precisely some of the reasons why such a study is important and timely. The nexus of aesthetics and power is critical and a central feature of a recent trend in Mughal studies. Of course, the question arises: why did the encounter come to an end? Truschke suggests two reasons – and in fact one would wish to see more argument on this – for this process: the first was vernacularisation and the shift from Sanskrit to Hindi (and Persian remained in literary and more vernacular usage alongside others), and the second was the fall in patronage under Aurangzeb and after. This might have less to do with his infamous bigotry and more to do with the priorities of the court. Then in the 18th century the various rivals for the Mughal legacy in a declining empire provided multiple outlets of patronage for Sanskritic and vernacular elites (including those dealing with Arabic and Persian) to decentralise the process. 

For those seeking where Mughal studies lies today and its future, they would be well advised to read Truschke and heed her advice for the directions that the field may take. And at least for this intellectual historian it is refreshing to see someone take texts and ideas seriously. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sources on the North Indian Shiʿi Hierocracy IV: Āyīna-yi ḥaqq-numā

I first came across mention of this text in the classic published dissertation of Juan Cole on the hierocracy in Awadh (you can view that book for free here). It is an anonymous 'biography' of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī 'Ghufrān-maʾāb' (d. 1235/1820), the prominent mujtahid of Awadh and a work that in its promotion of him and his thought often denigrated his opponents among Sufis, Akhbārīs and even some prominent Sunni theologians (such as the epigones of the Farangī-Maḥall). It was written by a group of his students in 1231 H just a few years before his death and probably at the height of his power. The text often refers to his as the jurist of the age (mujtahid al-ʿaṣr). The Muʾassasa-yi kitābshināsī-yi Shīʿa in Qum continues to give to those of us interested in Islamic intellectual history in India.



The edition comprises two volumes, once again edited by ʿAlī Fāżilī (who has again done a stellar job of annotating the text) and includes in detail the text that provides a biography of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī but also of his opponents and in critique of those who also wrote about the hierocracy such as Āqā Aḥmad Bihbahānī (d. 1834/1819), a scion of the Majlisī-Khātūnābādī family who spent time in Awadh and Benaras mainly lamenting the fact that India was not Iran, in his Mirʾāt al-aḥvāl-i jahān-numā. The one feature shared by the two texts is the promotion of the authority of the hierocracy and a clear sense of mission to defend true knowledge and the authority of the jurist. 




















[There are two editions, an Iranian one edited by the late ʿAlī Davānī, Tehran, 1370 Sh/1991, and a facsimile one by Shayesta Khan published by the Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna in 1992 - pictures from which are above.

There are two two useful articles on this text by Juan Cole:
'Mirror of the world: Iranian "Orientalism" and early 19th century India', Critique 1996, 41-60, and 'Invisible Occidentalism: eighteenth-century Indo-Persian constructions of the West', Iranian Studies 25 (1992), 3-16]

The edition is based on 6 manuscripts - I suspect that the photocopy noted as manuscript 1 is probably identical to the Nāṣirīya manuscript used by Cole (but which seems now to be 'missing'); the others are in the Mumtāz al-ʿulamāʾ library in Lucknow, in Raza Library in Rampur, the former Āṣafīya Library in Hyderabad, and the Subḥānullāh Collection at the Azad Library in Aligarh.


[It has now come to my attention that there is indeed a manuscript of this in the British Library - Delhi Persian 259, fol. 148v-279v - see the descriptor here in the digitised but unpublished volume 3 of the India Office Persian catalogue]

The text itself is divided into three sections (abwāb), and is followed by nine appendices on the lineage, ideas, will and testament and waqf of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī, as well as responses to critiques of him levelled by others. The first appendix deals with a refutation of Āyīna-yi ḥaqq-numā by Sayyid ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm b. ʿAlī Riḍā Ḥusaynī Linjānī (it is possible that he was an associate of Bihbahānī and a copy of his refutation is in the British Library). The appendix is a refutation of Linjānī by Sayyid Muḥammad Fayżābādī entitled al-Rumḥ al-maṣqūl fī aʿdāʾ Āl al-rasūl or al-Sayf al-lisānī li-qatl al-Linjānī (these fun titles retain the military symbolism of polemics!). Linjānī had studied with the same teachers as Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī in Iraq and was known for his skill in philosophy; he dedicated his gloss on the Metaphysics of Avicenna's al-Shifāʾ to Ghāzīuddīn Ḥaydar, ruler of Awadh. This would also make him a potential rival of the mujtahid of Lucknow. Fayżābādī also claimed a certain prowess in philosophy. The editor quotes sections of the text from a Nāṣirīya manuscript. 


1. The first section, which is by far the briefest, is in praise of ʿulema who are good and practice what they preach and in condemnation of 'bad' ʿulema. In a nutshell, it is a defence of the uṣūlī method and of ijtihād, laying down the conditions necessary for acquiring the status. The message is clear - it is the mujtahids who are the representatives of the Imam in occultation. 


2. The second section is on Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī and comprises two chapters. The first of these is on the teachers of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī: Sayyid Mahdī Ṭabāṭabāʾī known as Baḥr al-ʿulūm (d. 1212/1799) a major jurist in Najaf with a saintly reputation, Āqā Muḥammad Bāqir Bihbahānī known as Vaḥīd (d. 1207/1791) the arch-uṣūlī who attacked Akhbārīs and Sufis in the shrine cities, Sayyid ʿAlī Ṭabāṭabāʾī (d. 1231/1816) author of Riyāḍ al-uṣūl, and Mirzā Mahdī Shahristānī (d. 1216/1803). The second chapter (called a detailed exposition of the ʿulema of India) is divided into nine sections (tabṣira):


i) on Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī - this includes details on his teachers in India: Sayyid Ghulām Ḥusaynī Dakanī Ilāhābādī, a known philosopher, student of Muḥammad Aʿlam Sindēlvī, who taught in Allāhābād and whose work on the nature of instauration (jaʿl) is extant; Maulvī Ḥaydar ʿAlī Sindēlvī (d. 1225/1810) with whom he read the Sharḥ Sullam al-ʿulūm of his father Ḥamdullāh Sindēlvī in logic - the author notes that he was a Sunni Ḥanafī but praises his father and grandfather who were Shiʿi especially the father Ḥamdullāh who wrote a famous gloss on al-Shams al-bāzigha of Maḥmūd Jawnpūrī; and Bābullāh Jawnpūrī a prominent student of Ḥamdullāh. It also mentions his disputation in Shāhjahānpūr with Mullā Ḥasan Farangī-Maḥallī on issues in Mullā Ṣadrā's Sharḥ al-hidāya. What is clear is that his training in India was in the intellectual disciplines and he gained a particular expertise in this text of Ṣadrā (who is mentioned as the author of the Asfār and Sharḥ uṣūl al-Kāfī which gives us some evidence for the fame of these texts in early 19th century India; the question of the status and fame of the Asfār has not been analysed and determined thus far, not even in Akbar Subūt's book on Mullā Ṣadrā in India entitled Fīlsūf-i Shīrāz dar Hind). Accounts are given of his sons and his ijāza to his son Muḥammad Sulṭān al-ʿulamāʾ, and encounters with his patron Ḥasan Riżā Khān, and his rival 'the leader of the deviant Sufis' Shāh ʿAlī Akbar Mawdūdī, a tafżīlī Sunni who led his own Friday prayer congregation at court.


ii) on his students - a very full account including Sayyid Muḥammad Qulī, the father of Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās Shūshtarī, and others. The author particularly defends the students against the critique of Aḥmad Bihbahānī. 


iii) on his opponents - the author identifies three groups: Sufis especially those who espoused monism (waḥdat al-wujūd), Sunni Ḥanafīs, and Akhbārīs.


iv) on his works  - prominence is given to his polemics beginning with Asās al-uṣūl, followed by Shihāb-i sāqib, then ʿImād al-islām (a full Persian translation is given of the khuṭba), and his refutations of Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz. Mention is made of his gloss on the Sharḥ al-hidāya that included 'critique of some of the claims of the bigot Maulvī ʿAbd al-ʿAlī' (this being the famous Farangī-Maḥallī philosopher Baḥr al-ʿulūm d. 1225/1810) and cites approvingly the views of Tafażżul Ḥusayn Khān (d. 1216/1800).


v) on the reasons why the people of India often ignore their true scholars - primarily about the conflict with Sufis including Bihbahānī against the Niʿmatullāhīs (this and other elements of the text that refer extensively to events in Iran suggest to me that the author was either someone trained and lived in Iran or someone who at least had a good familiarity with intellectual developments there)


vi) on the correspondence addressed to Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī - two letters, one from Sayyid ʿAlī Ṭabāṭabāʾī and the other from Sayyid Mahdī Baḥr al-ʿulūm


vii) on the opposition to Friday prayer's establishment in Lucknow (which was a key initiative of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī) - there are three parts: the first is the letter of Mullā ʿAlī Pādshāh Kashmīrī to the court on the need to establish Friday prayer and to appoint Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī as the prayer leaders; the second is his ijāza to his son Muḥammad to lead the prayer; and the third is the author's debate with Aḥmad Bihbahānī on the issue.


viii) on the reasons for the publication of his sermons and for penning his uṣūlī manifesto Asās al-uṣūl


ix) and on his ijāzāt received in Iraq - text of Sayyid Mahdī authorising the teaching of fiqh works and ḥadīth including the chain of transmission, followed by a Persian translation, and then the texts of Sayyid ʿAlī Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Mīrzā Mahdī Shahristānī and Mīrzā Mahdī Iṣfahānī, each followed by a Persian translation 


3. The final section is divided further into ten sections called tadhkiras. These range from the account of the visit of the nephew of Vaḥīd Bihbahānī to Lucknow to a critique of Mīrzā Muḥammad Akhbārī and also a long set of critiques of Āqā Aḥmad Bihbahānī and others who visited or tried to settle in India. This section in particular in rich in the forms of mullah gossip essential to 'memorials' of ʿulema and a great source for the intellectual and cultural historian. There are scholarly analyses and debates. The various sections contain correspondence, vaqfnāmas and other sorts of documents which are invaluable. Lots of details are given of scholars coming for Iran seeking the patronage of the Awadh courts (with letters of recommendation from major ʿulema of Iran and Iraq). 


Large parts of the text read like refutations of Bihbahānī which was written around seven years before. The author responds in three ways: first, in response to Bihbahānī's dismissal of the quality of the ʿulema in India, he proposes that true ʿulema do indeed exist in India who are active and represent the Imam; second, he deals in detail with Akhbārīs and there is a sense that the Iran of Bihbahānī and his own family background is tainted with Akhbārīs - a corollary to this is displaying his knowledge of philosophy and Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī's skill in that discipline; third, he plays up his knowledge of the scholarly scene in Iraq and Iran to show how integrated the Awadh networks were. In all, this is a presentation of the Indian hierocracy as equal if not superior to their counterparts in Iran. A refutation of Mirʾat al-aḥvāl-i jahān-numā.


I look forward to the Muʾassasa producing critical editions of these two texts: Tadhkirat al-ʿulamāʾ al-muḥaqqiqīn fī āthār al-fuqahāʾ wa-l-muḥaddithīn of Sayyid Mahdī Riżavī ʿAẓīmābādī written in 1263/1847 about his circle of the students of Ghufrān-maʾāb and his sons (a section was published as an appendix to Warathat al-anbiyāʾ which I discussed here), and Shudhūr al-ʿiqyān fī tarājim al-aʿyān of Sayyid Iʿjāz Ḥusayn Mūsavī Kintūrī (d. 1286/1869), the famous bibliographer and scholar, who discusses the famous figures of the family. The set will then be complete for a full account of the Shiʿi hierocracy in North India on the cusp of colonialism. 


The value of this source, the Āyina-yi ḥaqq-numā, is clear. Alongside the other works on the Shiʿi hierocracy that I have discussed in previous blog posts, they demonstrate the connected nature of the intellectual history of the Shiʿi hierocracy across Iraq, Iran and India in the 18th and 19th century, a feature that is now lost in increasingly monolingual semiospheres and in a world of (failing) nation-states. They force us to think beyond the confines of nationalist historiography as well as recognising the multilingual semiosphere of the Persianate world. It is also refreshing to see in Iran that scholarship is trying to do just that, to engage in the study of 'Indian' texts as part of their own common heritage in the scriptural, religious, literary and philosophical disciplines. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From the Ḥadīqat al-shīʿa to the question of philosophy in Najaf

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Mahdī Tadayyun and Andrew Newman both questioned the attribution of the Ḥadīqat al-shīʿa to Aḥmad b. Muḥammad known as al-Muqaddas al-Ardabīlī (d. 993/1585). Adabīlī was a major jurist of his time who had studied the intellectual disciplines with luminaries of the 'school of Shiraz' and along with his co-student ʿAbdallāh Yazdī (d. c. 995/1587) taught these subjects in Najaf. As Khwānsārī (d. 1895) says in Rawḍāt al-jannāt,



On the basis of an analysis of the anti-Sufi section, Newman concluded that he thought the text (at the very least the anti-Sufi part) was actually written by the famous anti-Sufi theologian and polemicist Muḥammad Ṭāhir Qummī (d. 1098/1687) who has earlier trained in Najaf and may well have used the prestige of Ardabīlī to authority to the text. In recent years there has been much interest in Qummī and his influential refutation of mystically inclined philosophy is about to be published by Brill.



["Sufism and anti-Sufism in Safavid Iran: the Authorship of the Ḥadīqat al-shīʿa revisited", Iran 37 (1999), pp. 95-108; Mahdī Tadayyun, "Ḥadīqat al-shīʿaKāshif al-ḥaqq?" Maʿārif 2 (1364 Sh/1985), pp. 105-21]

[Newman places the motivation of Qummī's attacks and the Sufi and anti-Sufi groups to the differences between the Shaykhāvand and Rustam Bēg cabals in the middle of the 17th century - and on this he draws heavily on Kathryn Babayan's work. Of course, one other possibility might be Qummī's resentment at the ascendency of Sufi-minded philosophers and theologians at court and maybe also in Najaf where he studied and where students of Ardabīlī may well have continued the tradition of teaching philosophy and kalām. The role of these intellectual disciplines in the early modern milieu of Najaf, apart from some brief pages in the recent work of ʿAbd al-Jabbār Rifāʿī, remains terra incognita).

Earlier Safavid biographers did not raise any questions - both al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī in his Amal al-āmil, and ʿAbdullāh Afandī in Riyāḍ al-ʿulamāʾ have the same entry on Ardabīlī. Here is the Amal passage followed by Riyāḍ (which tells us something about the influence of the former on the latter):



Similarly, Sayyid Ḥasan al-Ṣadr in his Takmilat Amal al-āmil insists on the soundness of the attribution to Ardabīlī:


However, Afandī does not mention the Ḥadīqa as a work of Ardabīlī in his Taʿlīqat ʿalā Amal al-āmil. And Majlisī is known to have questioned the attribution. Sayyid Muḥammad Shafīʿ Ḥusaynī-yi ʿĀmilī in his continuation of Sayyid Nūrullāh Shūshtarī (d. 1610)'s Majālis al-muʾminīn, penned in the middle of the 18th century, is clear that he was informed that the attribution is incorrect:


[Maḥāfil al-muʾminīn fī dhayl Majālis al-muʾminīn, eds. Ibrāhīm ʿArabpūr and Manṣūr Chughtāʾī, Mashhad: Astān-i quds, 1383 Sh/2004, p. 213]
Sayyid Muḥammad Ibrāhīm Qazwīnī was a major scholar who died in around 1151/1738. Ḥazīn mentions having briefly studied with him. [See Sayyid Ḥasan al-Ṣadr, Takmilat Amal al-āmil, II, p. 11] He was almost definitely a relative of ʿĀmilī.

Some other studies have suggested that the Ḥadīqa cannot be the work of Ardabīlī since he adhered to the doctrine of monism (waḥdat al-wujūd) which is explicitly attacked in the Ḥadīqa or again at least the anti-Sufi section - an article in Persian on this point is here. In his Gloss on the New Commentary on the Tajrīd of Ṭūsī (Ḥāshiya ʿalā ilāhīyāt al-Tajrīd) in the section on affirming the singularity of the Necessary Being, he argues that this and the very reality of being can only be One; everything else is ascribed conceptual existence. It amounts to a position of the school of Ibn ʿArabī who considered only God to be wujūd muṭlaq (the influence could come through the Jurjānī tradition on this question via his teacher Jamāl al-Dīn Shīrāzī's teacher Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī):





Certainly many of the biographical dictionaries point to his saintly character and hint at mysticism - such as Khwānsārī (who refers to the Ḥadīqa as Zubdat al-shīʿa):



While a very small detail, what this might indicate is how biographical dictionaries develop and draw upon each other and especially on the kinship and other networks that informed the scholarly work of the ʿulema. The focus on Ardabīlī brings us to the fascinating question of the study of the intellectual disciplines in the Iraqi shrine cities and considering the intellectual history of the commentary culture on the Tajrīd between the polemics of Davānī and Dashtakī in the later 15th century and the establishment of this cycle as a key teaching text for the Avicennan tradition with Lāhījī and Khwānsārī in the later 17th century. In my current research project one of the questions I am considering is precisely the Tajrīd cycle and its later manifestations from the Safavid period onwards.