Prophet, Self and Community in Early Modern and Modern Islam
Panel chaired by Rachida Chih (Paris), Francesco Chiabotti (Aix-Marseille) and Stefan Reichmuth (Bochum)
Joint International Conference of DAVO and the Islamic Studies Section of DMG, Ruhr University Bochum, 24–26 September 2015
- Roman Loimeier (Göttingen): The Prophetic Model and Boko Haram
- David Jordan (Hamburg): Sharifian Descendancy in Iraqi Politics: The Case of Ṣaddām Ḥusayn and the Āl Nāṣir
- Ines Weinrich (Heidelberg): Evocation of the Prophet in Prayer and Chant – Contemporary Religious Practice in Beirut (Lebanon)
- Claudia Preckel (Bochum): “The Medicine prescribed and taught by Muhammad” – Prophetic Medicine (Tibb-e nabavi) in India
- Robert Langer (Bayreuth): The Role of the Prophet Muḥammad in Contemporary Shīʿī Religiosity, with Focus on Diaspora Communities (especially in Germany)
- Sana Chavoshian (Mainz): “The Mantle of the Prophet” – Modernity, Martyrdom and Pilgrimage among the Rāhiyān-e Nūr (Iran)
- Rezah Tabandeh (Toronto/ Exeter): Muḥammadan Reality in Niʿmatullāhī Shiʿite Sufism
- Neda Saghaee (Erfurt): Revisiting the Role of the Prophet Mohammad from a Mystical Narrative Perspective: Moḥammad Nāṣer ʿAndalīb (1691–1759) of Delhi
- Soraya Khodamoradi (Erfurt): The Prophet in Eighteenth-Century practical Sufism: Khwāja Mīr Dard of Delhi (d.1785)
- Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh (Erfurt): Prophetic Piety and Muslim Modernity in Sufi Reformism of Eighteenth-Century India
- Volkhard Krech (Bochum): Input for Concluding Discussion: Religious Studies and the Prophet of Islam
As a focus for personal emulation and normative precedence and as a source of emotional attachment and of a hope for individual and common salvation, the Prophet of Islam continues his eschatological presence among the Muslim believers. Building on patterns of piety which emerged already in later medieval times, the Prophetic model has since the early modern period increasingly moved among both Sunni and Shīʿite Muslims into the core of personal and collective efforts to strengthen the Muslim self and to renew Islamic culture and politics. This still finds its expression in personal and communal piety, in moral and legal argument and, time and again, in militant action. Reputed – or self-styled – descendants of the Prophet gained an overwhelming importance for early modern state formation, for the foundation of Sufi ṭuruq and for the emergence and consolidation of far-reaching scholarly and commercial networks. Although facing increasing pressure they can still be found today as ruling monarchs and as communal and Sufi leaders, even providing – in the case of the Dāʿish movement – the latest claimant to caliphal authority.
The panel seeks to explore the various forms of Prophetic piety which have contributed significantly to the formation of the Muslim Self and to the development of Islamic culture and politics since the early modern period. It shall welcome contributions on personal ethics and on the pious ordering of individual and communal life in emulation of the Prophet in and outside the Sufi ṭuruq, and on his image in cosmological speculation and spiritual psychology and practice. Of equal interest are the developments of Prophetic piety expressed in festivals, praise poetry and calligraphy, and the role of Sharīfian families among Sunni and Shīʿite Muslims. The various religio-political movements claiming to revive the Prophetic model shall be given particular attention, as also the efforts of the contemporary Muslim states and Islamic movements to make public use of the image of the Prophet for their own educational and political agenda. This includes the militant struggle for global protection and control of the Prophetic image, which has unfolded in bloody clashes since the affair of the “Satanic Verses”.
1. Roman Loimeier (Göttingen): The Prophetic Model and Boko Haram
The Prophet Muḥammad and his sunna have always been a major model for Muslims in both everyday contexts as well as in situations of crisis. This has been particularly clear in the history of movements of jihād in sub-Saharan Africa, which follow a prophetic model of takfīr, hijra, jamāʿa and jihād. Contemporary jihād-oriented movements such as Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria are no exception to the rule: they stress the model of the Prophet in order to draw legitimacy for their respective struggle and in order to fight established ʿulamāʾ and their stress on fiqh. At the same time, contemporary movements of jihād also stress reference to the Prophet in order to fight Shīʿism in the guise of, for instance, Ibrāhīm al-Zakzakī’s “Islamic Movement in Nigeria”. The Prophet Muḥammad is thus presented as the paramount Sunni “hero” and is used to counter the Shīʿī veneration of ʿAlī and Ḥusayn.
2. David Jordan (Hamburg): Sharifian Descendancy in Iraqi Politics: The Case of Ṣaddām Ḥusayn and the Āl Nāṣir
This presentation seeks to explore the legacy of Ṣaddām Ḥusayn’s claim to be a descendant of the Prophet Muḥammad in the political propaganda during the period of his rule (1979–2003) and beyond. Against the widespread believe that Ṣaddām himself invented this claim after he took over the presidency in 1979, we can trace back its origins in Iraqi tribal and Sufi culture of the 19th century and show how the claim entered the public discourse in the late 1960’s. The case of this Sharifian descendancy claim demonstrates how the Baʿth leadership constructed or reinvented an explicit Islamic identity from the beginning of their rule via their family tree (nasab) and religious rituals in the context of shrine veneration. Beyond truth or falsity, Ṣaddām’s alleged descent from the Prophet became, in this way, an important vehicle for religious legitimacy in domestic as well as foreign politics that is still heavily contested between the different Sunnī and Shīʿī political factions in Iraq.
3. Ines Weinrich (Heidelberg): Evocation of the Prophet in Prayer and Chant – Contemporary Religious Practice in Beirut (Lebanon)
Contemporary practice of evocation of the prophet is manifold: utterances in daily life, organized mawlid (commemoration of the prophet’s birthday) celebrations, other commemorative celebrations of important events in Islamic history, or prayer circles devoted exclusively to the benediction of the prophet. Instead of presenting the heterogeneous range of techniques used in these occasions, the presentation will focus on one genre and its manifestations, the well-known poem al-Burda by the Mamlūk poet al-Būṣīrī (d. 1294–1297). Depending on its mode of performance, this poem functions as praise for the prophet, as supplication, or as a powerful tool used and integrated into new compositions. Special emphasis will be paid to cases in which parts of the Burda are used in different contexts like concerts or YouTube videos. Here, language gains an additional status, especially when presented in an environment which is not exclusively Arabic speaking.
4. Claudia Preckel (Bochum): “The Medicine prescribed and taught by Muhammad” – Prophetic Medicine (Tibb-e nabavi) in India
During the last five years, numerous newspaper advertisings, websites and Facebook Sites mushroomed in India, claiming to offer medical treatment following the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad or Prophetic Medicine (Tibb-e Nabawi). The practitioners emphasise that this treatment is based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the authentic ahadith. Therapies include diverse medicines which can be purchased on the internet, dietetic advice and therapies like (hijama), which is regarded as “the best cure of all” (following several ahadith). It is quite obvious that Prophetic Medicine is marketed as part of an “Islamic lifestyle” in India.
The paper will introduce some of the historical and recent publications on the subject of Tibb-e nabavi and show some examples of private clinics in which Prophetic Medicine is practiced. A focus of this paper will be laid on the question how practitioners of Prophetic Medicine differentiate between Tibb-e nabawi and Tibb-e yunani, the “Graeco-Islamic” Medicine, which is one of the state-funded medical traditions in India.
5. Robert Langer (Bayreuth): The Role of the Prophet Muḥammad in Contemporary Shīʿī Religiosity, with Focus on Diaspora Communities (especially in Germany)
The role of the Prophet Muḥammad in Shīʿī religiosity is paralleled—if not overshadowed—by its son-in-law and cousin ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, his grandson Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, and the succeeding Imāms. This seems to be the case looking at the research literature and iconography of modern Shīʿi Islām, where Muḥammad regularly figures almost exclusively in connection with his above-mentioned descendants. On the other hand, the role of ʿAlī is strongly linked to the prophethood of Muḥammad, his authority, and his role as the starting point of hereditary leadership in Shīʿī Islām. On the basis of recent field research and the analysis of contemporary indigenous publications of and among Shīʿī Muslim groups and institutions (with focus on diaspora communities in Germany), this contribution tries to shed light on the role and importance of Muḥammad within the context of a minority community that has to place itself in the larger field of diasporic Islām, mainly vis-à-vis Sunnī, but also Alevi interpretations of piety, religiosity, historical identity, religious leadership, and Islamic religion in general.
6. Sana Chavoshian (Mainz): “The Mantle of the Prophet” – Modernity, Martyrdom and Pilgrimage among the Rāhiyān-e Nūr (Iran)
The paper discusses the activities of the Rāhiyān-e Nūr (“Travellers to the Light”) in south-west Iran, a government-supported group which organizes pilgrimage journeys and which is cooperatively in charge of the construction of shrines and memorials in the war zones of the Iranian-Iraqi War. First established around 1999, the group extended its activities as a mandatory schedule to high-school students, with direct endorsement by the Supreme Leader in 2005. Its highly educational and ideological claims relate strongly to the spiritual consanguinity between the Family of the Mantle (āl-e ʿabā) and the martyrs. This can be conceived as a new discourse on martyrdom and saintliness in a modern construction of Islam, where the narratives on the Prophet’s Mantle (kasā) and on his family, the “People of the Cloak” (āl-e ʿabā) are presented as creating a bond between the walī and his devotees,which is built upon the tenacious duality of spiritual consanguinity and martyrdom brought about by imprecation (mubāhala). After the discussion of this staged merger between the walī, his intercession (šafāʿa) and his martyrdom (šahāda), the paper turns to the revolt of 2009 and its conflictual events, which have led to conceptual splits in the narratives of solidarity and rebellion as enshrined in the stories on the Mantle of the Prophet (ḥadīth-e kasā) and on his imprecation (mubāhala), and now tend to question the established public discourse of political spirituality.
7. Rezah Tabandeh (Toronto/ Exeter): Muḥammadan Reality in Niʿmatullāhī Shiʿite Sufism
Sufis have always been regarded as focusing on the inner aspects of Islam. They were able to construct mystical philosophies which sometimes remain in striking harmony with modern ways of living. They also have often legitimized themselves by claiming to be the true heirs of Prophet Muḥammad.
The two leading Shiʿite Sufi orders in Iran are the Niʿmatullāhī and the Dhahabī orders. They had much in common, as both of them highly emphasized the importance of following Islamic laws and Shiʿite beliefs. Shiʿite Imams as the bearer of the light of divine guidance, were the core of their views on the continuation of the Prophet’s guidance and heritage. The Niʿmatullāhī and the Dhahabī orders elaborated their own mystical philosophy about the Shiʿite Imams being known as propagators of Akbarian philosophy in Persia.
This paper tries to investigate the theory of Sainthood (wilāya) elaborated by Niʿmatullāhī masters, as they claimed to be the true heirs of the Prophet and the bearers of a sainthood that radiated from the light of the Shiʿite Imams into their own age. It examines their views on the relationship between Sufi masters and Shiʿite Imams as perfect manifestations of the Prophet.
8. Neda Saghaee (Erfurt): Revisiting the Role of the Prophet Mohammad from a Mystical Narrative Perspective: Moḥammad Nāṣer ʿAndalīb (1691–1759) of Delhi
The world view of Moḥammad Nāṣer ʿAndalīb (1691–1759), a Mujaddidī Naqshbandī Sufi residing in Delhi, father of Mīr Dard (see below), circles around a mystical prophetology and around the Prophet Moḥammad’s focal role as nāṣer, i.e. the “Helper“ of Islam. Through a contextual analysis of ʿAndalīb’s work, the Nāla-ye ʿAndalīb, this paper evaluates the utilization of the symbolic function and image of the Prophet in the context of the chaotic predicaments confronting the Muslims in 18th-century India. It demonstrates ʿAndalīb’s reaction to what he perceived as a degeneration of political power, deterioration of religion, decline of morality and collapse of unity among Muslims. The rehabilitation of Prophetic piety within the framework of an ethical concept called khāleṣ Moḥammadiyya was envisaged by him as a way to return to the ideal Muslim community and to solve all societal and political difficulties which the Muslims were facing. A distinguished feature of ʿAndalīb’s approach is the use of a symbolic narrative format instead of dry scholarly discussions. The dynamism and ambiguity of his figurative language and his metaphors provides ʿAndalīb an opportunity to cover Islamic history from the Prophet’s life to his own time and space. By this ʿAndalīb can be seen as attempting to fill the vacuum which had arisen from the absence of a spiritual leader of the Mujaddidiyya after the death of Pīr Mohammad Zubair, the last qayyūm, in 1739, the year Delhi was sacked by Nāder Shāh.
9. Neda Saghaee (Erfurt): The Prophet in Eighteenth-Century practical Sufism: Khwāja Mīr Dard of Delhi (d.1785)
In the eighteenth-century Muslim world and particularly in India, Sufi theory and practice and also the social milieus of Sufism witnessed a strong focus on the character of the Prophet .In the Sufi reformists’ point of view, the Prophet was not only the representative of Islam and the criterion of distinction between Islam and other faiths but had also become the mediator between the realms of “essence” (dhāt) and “manifestation” (maẓhar), of the “necessary” (wājib) and the “contingent” (mumkin), and of “servanthood” (ʿubūdiyya) and “lordship” (rubūbiyya). Sufi reformists such as Mīr Dard (the son of Moḥammad Nāṣer ʿAndalīb, see above) laid extreme emphasis on the Prophet as an active and influential reality in the process of creation, as the highest model of morals in the social sphere and as the goal of the Sufi practice of mystical annihilation (fanāʾ). The final stage in Mīr Dard’s practical Sufism is to permanently attain the spiritual stage of Muḥammad, which is called “pure Muhammadness” and follows the level of the “perfections of prophethood” (kamālāt-i nubuwwa), the highest stage of spirituality in Mujaddidī Sufism.
The paper will examine the role of the Prophet in Mīr Dard’s mysticism through analyzing the theological discourses in Mir Dard’s magnum opus ʿIlm al-Kitāb. It will be shown that Mir Dard’s prophetology displays a change in the function of Muḥammad as compared to earlier Sufism.
10. Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh (Erfurt): Prophetic Piety and Muslim Modernity in Sufi Reformism of Eighteenth-Century India
The relationship between Islam and modernity has been contentiously discussed among Muslim thinkers during the last two centuries. While usually Muslim reformist approaches take it for granted that modernity is only rooted in Western society, recent deliberations on the theme have challenged this Eurocentric perspective and rather tend to follow the pluralizing concept of “multiple modernities“ (Eisenstadt). This paper investigates the reciprocity between Islam and modernity by scrutinizing a specific aspect of Islamic tradition, that is Sufism, in eighteenth century India. Particularly, it examines the potential origin of an indigenous modernity by studying the ideas of three eminent Indian reformists associated with the Naqshbandī Sufi order, viz. Shāh Waliyyullāh (d. 1762), Maẓhar Jān-i Jānān (d. 1781) and Mīr Dard (d. 1785). The paper tries to show how specific traits of their reformism which can be regarded as capable of representing modernity—including the shift from theocentrism to anthropocentrism, accentuation of human autonomy and rationality, individualism, liberation from tradition, and this-worldliness—were connected to their emphasis on the personality of the Prophet in various ways. It is argued that the Prophet played a crucial role not only for far-reaching religious and social reforms but also in the manifestation and early beginnings of an autochthonous Muslim modernity in the pre-colonial Indian context.