Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

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Traversing the Indus and the Oxus: Trans-regional Islamic Revival in the Age of Political Fragmentation and the 'Great Game' 1747 - 1880
by Ziad, Waleed, Ph.D., Yale University, 2017, 801; 10633270
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation traces the emergence and evolution of trans-Asiatic Muslim revivalist networks which provided an overarching sacro-cultural framework across the fragile states of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, bridging the socio-intellectual domains on both sides of the Indus and Oxus rivers.

The breakdown of the Mughal, Safavid, and Uzbek empires in the eighteenth century resulted in the fragmentation of the political landscape into petty feuding principalities. Eventually, many of these polities were reduced to buffer states in what came to be known in Western imperial parlance as the British-Russian `Great Game' for dominance of Asia.

In this turbulent period, an intricate network of shrines, khānāqahs (centers for Sufi practice), and madrasas associated with the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi (or Mujaddidiyya) Sufi order proliferated across this region. The order itself originated several generations earlier with Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624), a widely revered South Asian theologian and mystic. He was popularly designated as the "Mujaddid" or reviver of the second Islamic millennium. His successors, known as the Mujaddidiyya, are the subject of this dissertation. The Mujaddidi networks of scholar-mystics spanned the Indus and the Oxus, and beyond to Xinjiang, the Volga, and the Ottoman Empire. They influenced some of the region's principal revivalist and reformist movements, shaping Muslim responses not only to the fragmentation of the great empires, but also to European colonialism. I trace the development of their networks, up to the cusp of Russian, British, and Chinese annexation of South and Central Asia.

This study ultimately asks how the Mujaddidiyya were able to establish a parallel form of popular leadership which transcended local political structures, providing cohesion across much of this politically fragmented region. An investigation of this formative period of the Mujaddidi order is an inquiry into the nature of a `fibre', to use Joseph Fletcher's term, which held together parts of Eurasia in the pre-colonial and early colonial periods. Furthermore, it reveals the existence of a dynamic sacro-cultural trans-Asiatic domain of exchange, questioning the widely held notion that cities like Peshawar and Bukhara were isolated prior to the twentieth century. Turning to unexplored sources from within Sufi traditions, together with local histories, shrine catalogs, architectural evidence, and European records, this study calls for a fresh conceptualization of political, religious, and popular sovereignty. I argue that the expansion of the Mujaddidi network was a byproduct of two processes.

First, with the breakdown of older empires, local ruling elites in South and Central Asia effectively entrusted scholastic, religious, and social services to trans-regional Sufi orders, whose popular authority appealed to both urban intelligentsia and tribal populations. These Sufis generated institutional networks separate from the fiscal-military institutions of state, and which possessed greater resilience and longevity. In cities like Kabul, for example, the socio-intellectual milieu was drastically transformed in the late eighteenth century as Mujaddidi Sufis fleeing instability in the Mughal heartlands established institutions providing esoteric and exoteric education. These rapidly became hubs for new networks drawing students from as far as Baluchistan and Yarkand.

Second, the Mujaddidiyya relied on Sirhindi's ontology to represent themselves as a synthetic tradition, both trans-regional and local. Accordingly, they were able to absorb pre-existing sacred communities and spaces, and inevitably became a point of convergence for urban scholarly classes and popular shrine-based Sufism. As Sufi saints, popular poets, and jurists, the Mujaddidiyya assumed the role of arch-intermediaries in a dynamic and fragile environment. They were called upon to mediate between urban and tribal elites and subjects, antagonistic polities, colonial and local authorities, and agrarian and highland communities. They navigated inter-regional trade caravans, and when required, even raised armies. Their institutions served as soup kitchens, caravanserais, and safe-houses, as well as loci for trade, negotiation, and diplomacy. They were also sites for the production and propagation of didactic, polemical, and historical texts which helped define the contours of Sunni Persianate Islam.

Within this study, I employ trans-regional microhistories of two key Mujaddidi lineages as vehicles to challenge persisting paradigms regarding the political landscape of this region and the Muslim world at large. These include Great Game narratives, and the geographical concepts of South and Central Asia, and their "natural frontiers." I argue instead for the persistence of a Persianate cosmopolis in the pre-colonial period encompassing Iran, Inner-Asia, and South Asia, and situate the Afghan Empire at the center of this zone of exchange. In parallel, I respond to enduring debates regarding Islam in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially around the nature of revivalism and reform. As such, this dissertation provides a foundation for further work to interpret the complex socio-religious dynamics from the colonial period to the present day.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Amanat, Abbas
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian History, Middle Eastern history, Islamic Studies
Keywords: Afghanistan, Central Asia, Islam, South Asia, Sufism, Transnational
Publication Number: 10633270
ISBN: 9780355105629