The Millennial Sovereign

The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam

A. Azfar Moin
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/moin16036
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  • Book Info
    The Millennial Sovereign
    Book Description:

    At the end of the sixteenth century and the turn of the first Islamic millennium, the powerful Mughal emperor Akbar declared himself the most sacred being on earth. The holiest of all saints and above the distinctions of religion, he styled himself as the messiah reborn. Yet the Mughal emperor was not alone in doing so. In this field-changing study, A. Azfar Moin explores why Muslim sovereigns in this period began to imitate the exalted nature of Sufi saints. Uncovering a startling yet widespread phenomenon, he shows how the charismatic pull of sainthood (wilayat) -- rather than the draw of religious law (sharia) or holy war (jihad) -- inspired a new style of sovereignty in Islam.

    A work of history richly informed by the anthropology of religion and art, The Millennial Sovereign traces how royal dynastic cults and shrine-centered Sufism came together in the imperial cultures of Timurid Central Asia, Safavid Iran, and Mughal India. By juxtaposing imperial chronicles, paintings, and architecture with theories of sainthood, apocalyptic treatises, and manuals on astrology and magic, Moin uncovers a pattern of Islamic politics shaped by Sufi and millennial motifs. He shows how alchemical symbols and astrological rituals enveloped the body of the monarch, casting him as both spiritual guide and material lord. Ultimately, Moin offers a striking new perspective on the history of Islam and the religious and political developments linking South Asia and Iran in early-modern times.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50471-3
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. XI-XII)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XIII-XVI)
  6. NOTE ON TRANSLITERATION
    (pp. XVII-XIX)
  7. MAP
    (pp. XX-XX)
  8. 1 INTRODUCTION: ISLAM AND THE MILLENNIUM
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book brings into dialogue two major fields of scholarship that are rarely studied together: sacred kingship and sainthood in Islam. In doing so, it offers an original perspective on both. In historical terms, the focus here is on the Mughal empire in sixteenth-century India and its antecedents and parallels in Timurid Central Asia and Safavid Iran.¹ These interconnected milieus offer an ideal window to explore and rethink the relationship between Muslim kingship and sainthood. For it was here that Muslim rulers came to express their sovereignty and embody their sacrality in the manner of Sufi saints and holy saviors....

  9. 2 THE LORD OF CONJUNCTION: SACRALITY AND SOVEREIGNTY IN THE AGE OF TIMUR
    (pp. 23-55)

    The style of Muslim kingship that evolved in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was deeply rooted in the memory of Timur (r. 1370–1405). A Barlas Turk of common birth, he rose from Central Asia to conquer territories in Anatolia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, India, and Russia, and he was on his way to subjugate China when he died. The awe that Timur inspired at the time is difficult to imagine today. Thus modern scholarship tends to treat Timur as his enemies did: Timur the Lame (Timur-i Lang), or Tamerlane, an unspeakably cruel conqueror who wrought destruction on a continent not...

  10. 3 THE CROWN OF DREAMS: SUFIS AND PRINCES IN SIXTEENTH-CENTURY IRAN
    (pp. 56-93)

    In iran, the century after Timur was one of short-lived empires and unstable confederations. Timur’s successors had been reduced within a few generations to a set of petty kingdoms scattered across what is today Central Asia, eastern Iran, and Afghanistan. Here, the Timurids competed with noble lineages claiming descent from other “mythical” sources of sacred sovereignty, namely Chinggis Khan, Ali, and Alexander.¹ In the jostling for sovereignty and the right to plunder and tax that came with it, none seemed able to claim more than a temporary allegiance of his commanders and soldiers. Even bonds of kinship seemed to hinder...

  11. 4 THE ALCHEMICAL COURT: THE BEGINNINGS OF THE MUGHAL IMPERIAL CULT
    (pp. 94-129)

    So wrote the Safavid ruler of Iran, Shah Tahmasb (r. 1524–1576), to his Ottoman rival, Sultan Sulayman (r. 1520–1566). The two had frequently corresponded with each other, but the exchange was rarely friendly, strained as it was by the violent struggle over border regions, the granting of asylum to traitors and princely defectors, and the memories of past battles and treacheries.² The taunts they hurled at each other were often couched in an idiom of piety and heresy. The Ottomans were at the time militarily stronger, and their sultan would not let the Safavid shah forget the terrible...

  12. 5 THE MILLENNIAL SOVEREIGN: THE TROUBLED UNVEILING OF THE SAVIOR MONARCH
    (pp. 130-169)

    Humayun had made a concerted attempt at creating an imperial cult modeled after the Sufi kingship of the Safavids of Iran.¹ More generally, this attempt was an enactment of the style of sacred sovereignty that had taken shape in the former territories of Timur, a style inspired by emergent Sufi institutions, enshrined in elite knowledges of astrology and alchemy, and enlivened by popular memories of saints and heroes. But Humayun failed. He had little to show for his efforts except a ruined reputation as a vain heretic who dabbled in magic. His sacred order was publicly undone when, as a...

  13. 6 THE THRONE OF TIME: THE PAINTED MIRACLES OF THE SAINT EMPEROR
    (pp. 170-210)

    In his half-century of rule, Akbar transformed the conquest state of Babur and Humayun into a wealthy, stable, and integrated empire. More than two generations witnessed the rise of a new social, political, and economic order that stretched from Kabul to Bengal and from Kashmir to Gujarat. The symbol of this new order was the Mughal emperor. When he died in 1605, Akbar was the greatest sovereign in living memory. This can be seen in the emotive reaction of Banarasidas, a Jain merchant who was nineteen at the time, to the news of the emperor’s demise. In an account written...

  14. 7 CONCLUSION: THE GRAFFITI UNDER THE THRONE
    (pp. 211-240)

    As the chroniclers and astrologers of Shah Jahan (r. 1627–1658) were keen to point out, their sovereign too had been born on the eve of the first Islamic millennium.¹ Upon his enthronement, the emperor styled himself as the Second Lord of Conjunction, openly embracing his millennial legacy and asserting his oneness with Timur. Shah Jahan’s predecessors had also pursued the memories of their Timurid past. Jahangir, for instance, had lavishly rewarded the sweet-tongued visitor from Samarqand, Abdul Razzaq Mutribi, for his eyewitness account of the physical condition and miraculous nature of Timur’s black-stoned sepulcher, on which was inscribed the...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 241-308)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 309-330)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 331-344)