[P4817] Seeking Order: Sufi Responses to Ottoman Power in 16th-17th Century Egypt and Syria

Created by Kristof D'hulster
Monday, 11/20/17 10:30am


Sufism, commonly defined as the “interiorization of Islamic faith,” suffers from its societal and political dimensions being overlooked. Indeed, just as Sufis are hastily assumed to be looking inward first and foremost, so too have Sufi studies often failed to integrate the larger political world in which a particular tariqa or a Sufi institution developed and thrived, spread and mutated. These observations are especially relevant for the early modern age, a transformative time with major realignments of political, religious, spiritual and judicial authority in the Islamicate Near East, and, moreover, a period during which Sufism permeated social life more than ever. This panel hopes to fuel a discussion prevalent in historical Sufi studies by exploring the multifarious ways in which Arab and/or Ottoman Sufis engaged with political authority in the 16th-17th centuries, a particularly challenging time in Ottoman history, given its intense engagements and experimentation in confessionalization, Hanafization, and institutionalization of Sufism.
Instead of offering an integrative assessment — premature at best, essentializing at worst — this panel embraces a localized and historicizing approach, by offering in-depth analyses of the writings of a number of individual Sufi actors. Each of these contemplated the order and sociopolitical dynamics of the geographies they lived in, and sought either to rectify and negotiate that order with political authorities as they saw fit, or to reify it as a model to be emulated. The first paper allows us to catch fascinating glimpses of how Shaykh Alwan seized the Mamluk-Ottoman change of order as an opportunity to rectify, via Islamic law, the many social ills as he saw them, and how he sought to achieve this through a direct engagement with the ruler. The second paper presents Muhyi-i Gulsheni, patronized by and hence — perhaps dangerously — close to local authorities in Egypt. Rather than rectifying Ottoman provincial order in Egypt, he reified the concept of siyaset-sher’iyye as the state-sanctioned vision of societal order. Employing prosopographical research into Egyptian Sufis, the third paper reminds us that engaging in politics was not without its risks: individual entanglements notwithstanding, interactions between holy men and political figures could hardly turn into a communal model to be emulated.
This panel thus makes a compelling case for rethinking Sufis as active stakeholders of the society they lived in, and Sufi writings as a platform where they engaged in a debate on political order and, indeed, on society they sought to give such order.





Side Emre

(Texas A & M University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

John Curry

(University of Nevada, Las Vegas)
After receiving a B.A. in History and Sub-Saharan African Studies at Northwestern University in 1992, John Curry completed a dual-M.A. and Ph.D. program at The Ohio State University between 1995 and 2005 in both History and Near Eastern Languages and...
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Discussant;

Timothy J. Fitzgerald

(James Madison University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Kristof D'hulster

(Ghent University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;