Tuesday, September 22, 2015

October 13, 2015 @ Columbia – Guy Burak (NYU): Mecca, its Descriptions, and the Political Reorganization of the Indian Ocean in the First Half of the Sixteenth Century

Seminar Meetings in 2015-2016
October 13, 2015 – Guy Burak (New York University): Mecca, its Descriptions, and the Political Reorganization of the Indian Ocean in the First Half of the Sixteenth Century
In 1542, a quarter century after the Ottoman conquest of the Arab lands, the famous Meccan jurist and chronicler Jār Allāh Muḥammad Ibn Fahd  (d. 1547 or 1548) completed a fairly short work devoted to the construction projects the Ottoman sultans, the new “Custodians of the Two Holy Mosques,” undertook in Mecca since the Ottoman conquest of the city.  Ibn Fahd’s work is quite unique for two main reasons: (a) it is one of the very few works in the Arabic historiographical tradition (if not the only one) that is devoted to the construction projects of a specific dynasty; and (b), unlike most Arabic chronicles, it provides remarkably detailed description of the buildings and the Ottoman building techniques.  As such, it is the first comprehensive response by an Arab chronicler to the emergence of an Ottoman imperial aesthetic idiom in the sixteenth century.
Ibn Fahd, however, was not the only author who wrote about the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, known as Ḥaramayn, in that period.  In 1521, ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Maḥmūd al-Iṣfahānī wrote a description of the Holy Mosques in Çagatay Turkish and dedicated it to the newly enthroned Ottoman sultan, Süleyman Kanuni (r. 1520-1566).  The renowned author Muḥyī’l-Dīn Lārī (d. c.1526) wrote about the pilgrimage (ḥajj) and the Ḥaramayn for the Gujarti sovereign Muẓaffar Shāh II (r. 1511-1526), and this work was copied regularly throughout the sixteenth century in the Holy Mosque in Mecca, the exact same place where Ibn Fahd wrote his chronicle.
By looking at these texts and their circulation, I will explore the interplay between political claims over the Ḥaramayn, the physical construction projects, and their representations across the Indian Ocean, from Istanbul to Gujarat, in the first half of the sixteenth century.  I will concentrate on the complex dynamics between the Ottomans, the Sharifs of Mecca, and the sultans of Gujarat in the decades following the Ottoman conquest of the Holy Cities.  The Ottoman conquerors, much like their Mamluk predecessors, preserved the rule of the Sharifs of Mecca in a system that may be described as layered sovereignty: the Sharifs maintained their own administration and issued coinages in their name, while recognizing the sovereignty of the Ottoman sultan.  At the same time, other rulers, primarily the sultans of Gujarat, maintained a strong presence in the city.  The Gujarati sultans built a madrasa in Mecca, gave to it manuscripts they had commissioned, and provided funds to the Sharif and scholars in residence, while considering Mecca a safe haven for their harem and treasury in the wake of the Mughal invasion of Gujarat.
Against this backdrop, I will argue that the circulation of the manuscripts of the different descriptions of Mecca and Medina reflects the ongoing dialog between the various Indian Ocean sovereigns.  For example, numerous copies of Lārī’s work found their way to the Ottoman capital, while Ibn Fahd dedicated works to the sultan of Gujarat and his vizier.  Furthermore, in addition to being immediate means through which sovereigns expressed and promoted their claims vis-a-vis their counterparts, the texts contributed to the emergence of shared pietistic sensibilities across the Indian Ocean around the Ḥaramayn and the Prophet Muḥammad.  These sensibilities lasted for centuries.