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Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Scholar and the Sultan: A Translation of the Historic Encounter between Ibn Khaldun and Timur

Ibn Khaldun’s account of his encounter with Timur outside Damascus in 803/1401 is taken from the autobiographical section of his monumental historical chronicle, the Kitāb al-‘Ibar. It is an invaluable piece of history which provides an important contemporary account of the conqueror Timur. It also brings together two of the most significant historical personalities of the late fourteenth century, one being a world conqueror and the other a first-class intellectual. These two figures conversed about topics including the topography of North Africa, the reliability of Tabari’s history, the nature of the caliphate, and Ibn Khaldun’s own theory of group solidarity (‘asabiyya). There are also many important tidbits of historical information provided within the text, especially with regards to Ibn Khaldun’s discussion of the expectation among astrologers and mystics in the fourteenth-century Islamic West that the conjunction of planets would announce the arrival of a figure of major historical importance at the end of the century. Ibn Khaldun’s letter to the “king of the Maghrib” (probably the Hafsid caliph Abū Fāris ‘Abd al-‘Azīz II, r. 1394-1434, or possibly the Marinid sultan Abū Sa’īd ‘Uthmān III, r. 1399-1420) is also of particular interest given the amount of detail he provides about the Mongol conquests in the East and the immediate historical context of the rise of Timur. It is clear from the text that, although Ibn Khaldun is clearly disturbed by the brutality displayed by Timur during the course of his conquests (and during the siege of Damascus), he nevertheless admired the conqueror as a cultured, intelligent sovereign whose vast domain was a testimony to his supreme military capabilities.

This text was translated several decades ago by Walter J. Fischel in his Ibn Khaldun and Tamerlane (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1952), pp. 29-47. Although a fine effort in many ways, Fischel’s translation exhibited certain problems in that some terms were slightly mistranslated and in the sense that the translator opted for a more literal meaning to the extent that the sense of the passage was slightly lost. As such, although I have largely adapted this translation from Fischel’s, I have consulted two editions of Ibn Khaldun’s Arabic text (published in 2009 and 2010 respectively) in order to make the necessary changes. In some places, Fischel’s translation has been significantly emended, while in other places it remains virtually untouched. I hope that this small work is beneficial to everyone interested in Islamic history and thought. (more…)

The Triumph of Charles V over the Rulers of Europe

The following is a particularly fascinating painting taken from Manuscript Add. 33733 of the British Library Catalogue (http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/record.asp?MSID=7530&CollID=27&NStart=33733). The full manuscript consists of 12 full-page miniatures of Charles V in color and gold which sought to memorialize his wars and triumphs over both the Christian monarchs of Europe and the Ottoman Turks. The painting below shows the Emperor Charles V enthroned among his enemies (Suleyman the Magnificent, Pope Clement VII, Francis I, the dukes of Cleves and Saxony, and the landgrave of Hesse).

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(The latter is a similar painting, drawn by an anonymous sixteenth-century artist, showing that this particular image was quite popular in Western Europe)

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Cartography, Maritime Expansion, and “Imperial Reality”: The Catalan Atlas of 1375 and the Aragonese-Catalan Thalassocracy in the Fourteenth Century

In the year 1380, while Charles V, the king of France was embroiled in the “Hundred Years’ War” with the English, he was presented with a unique item by his cousin, Pedro IV, the ruler of Aragon. The Catalan Atlas of 1375 (see below), drawn with a stunning variety of colors, despite being a portolan chart, depicts most of the known world. Although it contains multiple elements and represents numerous regions, this piece will focus in particular on its depiction of the Mediterranean. The lack of any detailed scholarship pertaining to the Catalan Atlas is particularly striking, especially in light of the fact that it was drawn during the height of Aragonese rule in the Mediterranean.

Since their rise to power in the mid-thirteenth century, the Aragonese had pursued a policy of imperial maritime expansion, driven by religious fervor, strategic considerations, and, naturally, by economic interests. In 1229, the island of Majorca, which had been in Muslim hands since 902, fell to the Aragonese, who then proceeded to conquer Sicily, Minorca, Ibiza, Sardinia, southern Italy up to Naples, and even parts of Greece and Asia Minor. Therefore, by the time that Abraham Cresques, an Iberian Jewish cartographer, had completed the Catalan Atlas in 1375, the Crown of Aragon possessed a sea-borne empire, or thalassocracy, that extended from the shores of eastern Iberia to the Peloponnesian peninsula in the eastern Mediterranean. The Aragonese “empire” was never really a unified entity, but rather a loose confederation of small principalities. Regional Catalan lords in Sicily, Majorca and Greece ruled and administrated their territories semi-independently of royal authority, although there was a strong sense of loyalty to the Crown of Aragon.

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Armenian Realpolitik during the Era of the Crusades, 1099–1291: A Historiographical Overview

Since antiquity Armenians have been an important component of the Near Eastern world. Alongside other ethno-linguistic groups such as Jews, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Greeks, and Kurds (among others), they have played an important role in shaping the social and political history of the region. Although the regions where Armenians resided in the Middle Ages covered a vast territory, ranging from the shores of the Caspian to the Nile Delta, most Armenians were concentrated in the regions known as eastern Anatolia (Gr. Aνατολή) and the Levant (Ar. al-Shām). The period between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries—a time frame covering the era of the Crusades and the Mongol invasions—should be understood as a distinctive phase in Armenian, and more broadly in Near Eastern, history as it witnessed the most apparent manifestation of an Armenian policy of realpolitik, which was a mechanism for the survival of this minority community in an increasingly-turbulent world.

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Advice of Ja’far al-Sadiq (d. 765) to Musa al-Kadhim (d. 799)

“O my son, verily the one who is satisfied with what he has is the truly wealthy, while the one who covets that which another possesses is truly impoverished…Know also that the one who exposes the sins of another, his own sins will be exposed. It is undoubted that the one who unsheathes the sword of unjust rebellion will be killed with it. Verily, the one who consorts with the foolish will become abased, while the one who affiliates with scholars will be ennobled. O my son, do not interfere in affairs that do not concern you, for therein lies humiliation. Speak the truth whether it is in your favor or against it, consult about matters with your close relatives, constantly recite the Qur’an, be a conveyor of Islam, an enjoiner of the good, a forbidder of evil, and generous to the one who seeks assistance. Always re-establish relations with the one who cuts you off. Beware of backbiting and slander for it engenders hatred and implants enmity in the heart. I warn you against exposing the faults of others for the one who does so is like an exposed target…Make sure to visit the righteous while shunning the sinful, for the latter are like a rock that provides no water, a fruitless tree, and a barren field.”

يَا بُنَيَّ ! مَنْ قَنعَ بِمَا قُسِمَ لَهُ ، اسْتَغْنَى ، وَمَنْ مَدَّ عَيْنَيْهِ إِلَى مَا فِي يَدِ غَيْرِه، مَاتَ فَقِيْراً، وَمَنْ لَمْ يَرضَ بِمَا قُسِمَ لَهُ ، اتَّهمَ اللهَ فِي قَضَائِهِ، وَمَنِ اسْتَصْغَرَ زَلَّةَ غَيْرِه ، اسْتَعْظَمَ زَلَّةَ نَفْسِه، وَمَنْ كَشَفَ حِجَابَ غَيْرِه ، انكَشَفَتْ عَوْرَتُهُ ، وَمَنْ سَلَّ سَيْفَ البَغْيِ، قُتِلَ بِهِ، وَمَنِ احْتَفَرَ بِئْراً لأَخِيْهِ ، أَوقَعَهُ اللهُ فِيْهِ ، ومن دَاخَلَ السُّفَهَاءَ ، حُقِّرَ ، وَمَنْ خَالطَ العُلَمَاءَ، وُقِّرَ ، وَمَنْ دَخَلَ مَدَاخِلَ السُّوءِ ، اتُّهِمَ .

يَا بُنَيَّ ! إِيَّاكَ أَنْ تُزرِيَ بِالرِّجَالِ ، فَيُزْرَى بِكَ ، وَإِيَّاكَ وَالدُّخُوْلَ فِيْمَا لاَ يَعْنِيكَ ، فَتَذِلَّ لِذَلِكَ .يَا بُنَيَّ ! قُلِ الحَقَّ لَكَ وَعَلَيْكَ، تُسْتَشَارُ مِنْ بَيْنِ أَقْرِبَائِكَ ، كُنْ لِلْقُرْآنِ تَالِياً ، وَللإِسْلاَمِ فَاشِياً ، وَللمَعْرُوْفِ آمِراً ، وَعَنِ المُنْكرِ نَاهِياً ، وَلِمَنْ قَطَعَكَ وَاصِلاً ، وَلِمَنْ سَكَتَ عَنْكَ مُبتَدِئاً ، وَلِمَنْ سَألَكَ مُعطِياً ، وَإِيَّاكَ وَالنَّمِيْمَةَ ، فَإِنَّهَا تَزرَعُ الشَّحْنَاءَ فِي القُلُوْبِ ، وَإِيَّاكَ وَالتَّعَرُّضَ لِعُيُوْبِ النَّاسِ ، فَمَنْزِلَةُ المُتَعَرِّضِ لِعُيُوبِ النَّاسِ ، كَمَنْزِلَةِ الهَدَفِ ، إِذَا طَلَبْتَ الجُوْدَ ، فَعَلَيْكَ بِمَعَادِنِهِ ، فَإِنَّ لِلْجُوْدِ مَعَادِنَ ، وَللمَعَادِنِ أُصُوْلاً ، وَللأُصُوْلِ فُرُوعاً ، وَلِلفُرُوعِ ثَمَراً ، وَلاَ يَطِيْبُ ثَمَرٌ إِلاَّ بِفَرعٍ ، وَلاَ فَرعٌ إِلاَّ بِأَصلٍ ، وَلاَ أَصلٌ إِلاَّ بِمَعدنٍ طَيِّبٍ ، زُرِ الأَخْيَارَ ، وَلاَ تَزُرِ الفُجَّارَ ، فَإِنَّهُم صَخْرَةٌ لاَ يَتَفَجَّرُ مَاؤُهَا، وَشَجَرَةٌ لاَ يَخضَرُّ وَرَقُهَا ، وَأَرْضٌ لاَ يَظْهَرُ عُشْبُهَا

[[al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubalā’ (Beirut, 1981), Vol. 6, p. 263]

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500th Anniversay of the Battle of Chaldiran (Aug. 1514): Letter Exchange between Sultan Selim I (d. 1520) and Shah Ismail (d. 1524)

Today (August 23rd 2014) marks the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Chaldiran, an event that had a major transformative impact on the geo-political and religious landscape of the Middle East. It limited the expansion of the Safavid state, allowing it to consolidate itself as a Shi’i-majority state on the Iranian plateau, while facilitating the expansion of the Ottoman empire into the Middle East on the other. The aftermath of the battle witnessed the confessionalization of the Near East into two distinctive political-sectarian camps with an aggressive Sunnism being promoted by the Ottomans in response to the militant Shi’ism that was imposed by the Safavids on the Iranian plateau (for more on this, see my piece: https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/the-conversion-of-iran-to-twelver-shiism-a-preliminary-historical-overview/).

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(Battle of Chaldiran, Chehel Sotun Palace, Isfahan) (more…)

Ja’far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq (d. 765): Imam of the Muslims

[This is a very short summary of a forthcoming piece I am currently working on about Ja’far al-Sadiq, which will explore his status within the classical Sunni religious tradition. In the meantime, those wanting a solid, well-sourced introduction to his historical biography and legacy should consult: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/jafar-al-sadeq]

Imām Ja’far ibn Muḥammad al-Ṣādiq (d. 765) was the great-great grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He was recognized as one of the greatest authorities of his time and left a lasting legacy as one of the most important intellectual and religious figures in Islamic history. For Twelver and Isma’iil Shi’is, he was the infallible Imam of the Age, the Proof of God sent as a source of guidance for mankind. His Imamate lasted for 34 years, one of the longest in history. It was during his time that many central theological doctrines of Shi’ism began to crystallize. He is also revered within the Sunni Muslim tradition as well. He has been designated “Shaykh al-‘Ulamā’” and “Imām al-Fuqahā’” for his noble rank as one of the most knowledgeable men that the Islamic world  has ever seen. He was the teacher of Imām Mālik (d. 795), Imām Abū Ḥanifa (d. 767) and Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778), among others. He played a significant role in the development of the science of jurisprudence (fiqh) as well as the inner mystical sciences of Islam. He was a direct descendant of Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (d. 661) through his father and Abu Bakr (d. 634) from his mother’s side. The overwhelming majority of Sufi chains of lineage go through him.

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‘Alī Hojvīrī (d. 1071), one of the major Persian scholars of Sufism, described Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq as “sayf-e sonnat wa jamal-e tariqat wa mo’abber-e ma’refat wa mozayyen-e safwat” (the sword of the Sunnah, the beauty of the Path, the Interpreter of Mystical Knowledge, and the adornment of Pure Devotion). Another major Persian Sufi, Shaykh Fārid al-Dīn ‘Attar (d. 1221) identified Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq as one of the most important Imams of Ahl al-Bayt who “excelled in writing on innermost mysteries and truths and who was matchless in expounding the subtleties and secrets of revelation” (latayef-e asrar-e tanzil wa tafsir). One of the statements about the Qur’an attributed to him is: “The Book of God has four things: literal expression (‘ibāra), allusion (ishāra), subtleties (laṭā’if), and deepest realities (ḥaqā’iq). The literal expression is for the common folk (‘awāmm), the allusion is for the elite (khawāṣṣ), the subtleties are for the friends of God (awliyā’), and the deepest realities are for the prophets (anbiyā’) [From Spiritual Gems: The Mystical Qur’an Commentary ascribed to Ja’far al-Sadiq as contained in Sulami’s Haqa’iq al-Tafsir (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2011), trans. Farhana Mayer, p. 1]

Among his pieces of advice to his student, Sufyān al-Thawrī, was the following:

“If God bestows on you a favor, and you wish to keep that favor, then you must praise and thank Him excessively, because He said, “If you are thankful God will increase for you” [14:7]. He also said, “If the door of provision is closed for you, then make a great deal of istighfar (begging forgiveness), because God said, “Seek forgiveness of your Lord, certainly Your Lord is oft-Forgiving” [11:52]. And he said to Sufyān, “If you are upset by the tyranny of a Sultan or other oppression that you witness, say “There is no change and no power except with God,” (la hawla wa la quwwata illa-billah) because it is the key to relief and one of the Treasures of Paradise.”

حدثنا عبد الله بن محمد بن جعفر ، ثنا محمد بن العباس ، حدثني محمد بن عبد الرحمن بن غزوان ، حدثني مالك بن أنس ، عن جعفر بن محمد بن علي بن الحسين ، قال : لما قال سفيان الثوري : لا أقوم حتى تحدثني ، قال له : أنا أحدثك وما كثرة الحديث لك بخير ، يا سفيان ، إذا أنعم الله عليك بنعمة فأحببت بقاءها ودوامها فأكثر من الحمد والشكر عليها ، فإن الله عز وجل قال في كتابه : ( لئن شكرتم لأزيدنكم ) . وإذا استبطأت الرزق فأكثر من الاستغفار فإن الله تعالى قال في كتابه : ( استغفروا ربكم إنه كان غفارا يرسل السماء عليكم مدرارا ويمددكم بأموال وبنين ويجعل لكم جنات ويجعل لكم أنهارا ) يا سفيان : إذا حزنك أمر من سلطان أو غيره فأكثر من : لا حول ولا قوة إلا بالله ، فإنها مفتاح الفرج وكنز من كنوز الجنة ، فعقد سفيان بيده ، وقال : ثلاث وأي ثلاث ، قال جعفر : عقلها والله أبو عبد الله ولينفعنه الله بها

[حلية الأولياء وطبقات الأصفياء]

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He is also revered by the scholars of hadith and he narrates at least 2000 traditions which are found in the nine major books of Sunni hadith, with 110 of these found within the six canonical collections (Sihah al-Sitta). He is often identified as the teacher of four founders of Islamic schools of jurisprudence: Mālik ibn Anas (d. 795), Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nu‘mān (d. 767)**, Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778), and ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Awzā‘ī (d. 774). In addition, the ḥadīth scholars and jurists Ibn Jurayj (d. 767), Sufyān ibn ‘Uyayna (d. 815) and Shu’ba ibn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 776) also studied under him. The prominent polymath Jabir ibn Hayyan (d. 815) is also often listed as among his students, although this remains highly contested among scholars.

Another saying attributed to him in both Sunni and Shi’i texts is this final testament to his son Musa al-Kadhim (d. 799):

“O my son, verily the one who is satisfied with what he has is the truly wealthy, while the one who covets that which another possesses is truly impoverished…Know also that the one who exposes the sins of another, his own sins will be exposed. It is undoubted that the one who unsheathes the sword of unjust rebellion will be killed with it. Verily, the one who consorts with the foolish will become abased, while the one who affiliates with scholars will be ennobled. O my son, do not interfere in affairs that do not concern you, for therein lies humiliation. Speak the truth whether it is in your favor or against it, consult about matters with your close relatives, constantly recite the Qur’an, be a conveyor of Islam, an enjoiner of the good, a forbidder of evil, and generous to the one who seeks assistance. Always re-establish relations with the one who cuts you off. Beware of backbiting and slander for it engenders hatred and implants enmity in the heart. I warn you against exposing the faults of others for the one who does so is like an exposed target…Make sure to visit the righteous while shunning the sinful, for the latter are like a rock that provides no water, a fruitless tree, and a barren field.”

يَا بُنَيَّ ! مَنْ قَنعَ بِمَا قُسِمَ لَهُ ، اسْتَغْنَى ، وَمَنْ مَدَّ عَيْنَيْهِ إِلَى مَا فِي يَدِ غَيْرِه، مَاتَ فَقِيْراً، وَمَنْ لَمْ يَرضَ بِمَا قُسِمَ لَهُ ، اتَّهمَ اللهَ فِي قَضَائِهِ، وَمَنِ اسْتَصْغَرَ زَلَّةَ غَيْرِه ، اسْتَعْظَمَ زَلَّةَ نَفْسِه، وَمَنْ كَشَفَ حِجَابَ غَيْرِه ، انكَشَفَتْ عَوْرَتُهُ ، وَمَنْ سَلَّ سَيْفَ البَغْيِ، قُتِلَ بِهِ، وَمَنِ احْتَفَرَ بِئْراً لأَخِيْهِ ، أَوقَعَهُ اللهُ فِيْهِ ، ومن دَاخَلَ السُّفَهَاءَ ، حُقِّرَ ، وَمَنْ خَالطَ العُلَمَاءَ، وُقِّرَ ، وَمَنْ دَخَلَ مَدَاخِلَ السُّوءِ ، اتُّهِمَ .

يَا بُنَيَّ ! إِيَّاكَ أَنْ تُزرِيَ بِالرِّجَالِ ، فَيُزْرَى بِكَ ، وَإِيَّاكَ وَالدُّخُوْلَ فِيْمَا لاَ يَعْنِيكَ ، فَتَذِلَّ لِذَلِكَ .يَا بُنَيَّ ! قُلِ الحَقَّ لَكَ وَعَلَيْكَ، تُسْتَشَارُ مِنْ بَيْنِ أَقْرِبَائِكَ ، كُنْ لِلْقُرْآنِ تَالِياً ، وَللإِسْلاَمِ فَاشِياً ، وَللمَعْرُوْفِ آمِراً ، وَعَنِ المُنْكرِ نَاهِياً ، وَلِمَنْ قَطَعَكَ وَاصِلاً ، وَلِمَنْ سَكَتَ عَنْكَ مُبتَدِئاً ، وَلِمَنْ سَألَكَ مُعطِياً ، وَإِيَّاكَ وَالنَّمِيْمَةَ ، فَإِنَّهَا تَزرَعُ الشَّحْنَاءَ فِي القُلُوْبِ ، وَإِيَّاكَ وَالتَّعَرُّضَ لِعُيُوْبِ النَّاسِ ، فَمَنْزِلَةُ المُتَعَرِّضِ لِعُيُوبِ النَّاسِ ، كَمَنْزِلَةِ الهَدَفِ ، إِذَا طَلَبْتَ الجُوْدَ ، فَعَلَيْكَ بِمَعَادِنِهِ ، فَإِنَّ لِلْجُوْدِ مَعَادِنَ ، وَللمَعَادِنِ أُصُوْلاً ، وَللأُصُوْلِ فُرُوعاً ، وَلِلفُرُوعِ ثَمَراً ، وَلاَ يَطِيْبُ ثَمَرٌ إِلاَّ بِفَرعٍ ، وَلاَ فَرعٌ إِلاَّ بِأَصلٍ ، وَلاَ أَصلٌ إِلاَّ بِمَعدنٍ طَيِّبٍ ، زُرِ الأَخْيَارَ ، وَلاَ تَزُرِ الفُجَّارَ ، فَإِنَّهُم صَخْرَةٌ لاَ يَتَفَجَّرُ مَاؤُهَا، وَشَجَرَةٌ لاَ يَخضَرُّ وَرَقُهَا ، وَأَرْضٌ لاَ يَظْهَرُ عُشْبُهَا

[al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubalā’ (Beirut, 1981), Vol. 6, p. 263]

**[As I will demonstrate in the longer post, the relationship between Abu Hanifah and Ja’far al-Sadiq has been characterized differently by various scholars, with some asserting that they were peers/colleagues in scholarship rather than the former being a student of the latter]