The Ladies of Rūm: A Hagiographic View of Women in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Anatolia

In: Journal of Sufi Studies

In the medieval Middle East, the Sufi experience was not only a male enterprise. Women also participated in the development of this mystical representation of Islam in different ways. Despite the existence of scholarly studies on Sufism in medieval Anatolia, the role played by women in this period has generally been overlooked. Only recently have studies started to highlight the relevance that some of these Sufi ladies had in spreading Sufism in the Middle East. Accounts of women’s deeds are especially abundant in hagiographic literature produced in the seventh/thirteenth and eighth/fourteenth centuries. However, it has been generally downgraded as historically unreliable for consisting of biased ‘inside accounts’ of the lives of Sufi shaykhs and their followers. This article has a twofold goal: first, to investigate what information hagiographies provide about the role of women in medieval Anatolia; and second, to try to vindicate the option of using hagiographic literature as a relevant source of information in researching aspects of cultural history that cannot be found in other source materials.

  • 1

    Speros Vryonis, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971); Mehmet Fuat Köprülü, Islam in Anatolia after the Turkish Invasion: (Prolegomena), trans. Gary Leiser (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1993); and, V.L. Ménage, ‘The Islamization of Anatolia’, in Conversion to Islam, ed. Nehemia Levizion (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1979), 52–67.

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  • 2

    Andrew Peacock, ‘Local Identity and Medieval Anatolian Historiography: Anavi’s Anis al-Qolub Ahmad of Niǧde’s al-Walad al-shafiq’, Studies on Persianate Societies 2 (1333/2004): 115–25; and Claude Cahen, Pre-Ottoman Turkey: A General Survey of the Material and Spiritual Culture and History, c. 1071–1330, trans. J. Jones-Williams (New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1968), 66–84.

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  • 4

    Leonard Lewisohn, ‘Overview: Iranian Islam and Persianate Sufism’, in The Heritage of Sufism, vol. 2, The Legacy of Medieval Persian Sufism (1150–1500), ed. idem (Oxford: Oneworld, 1999), 12–13.

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  • 5

    See Antony Eastmond, ‘Gender and patronage between Christianity and Islam in the thirteenth century’, in Change in the Byzantine World in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, ed. A. Ödekan, E. Akyürek, and N. Necipoğlu (Istanbul: Vehbi Koç Vakfı, 2010), 78–88.

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  • 7

    Jürgen Paul, ‘Hagiographic Literature’, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, (hereafter EIr).

  • 11

    On this see the comment in Lloyd Ridgeon, ‘The Controversy of Shaykh Awḥad al-Dīn Kirmānī and Handsome, Moon-Faced Youths: A Case Study of Shāhid-Bāzī in Medieval Sufism’, Journal of Sufi Studies 1 (2012): 5, n. 3. References to Kirmānī’s rituals can also be found in Ḥamdallāh Mustawfī Qazwīnī, Tārīkh-i guzīda, ed. ʿAbd al-Ḥusayn Nawāʾī (Tehran: Amīr Kabīr, 1387 sh. / 2008), 667–8; and in Jāmī (d. 898–9/1492), who was critical of some of Kirmānī’s acts. See ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Jāmī, Nafaḥāt al-uns min ḥażarāt al-quds, ed. Maḥmūd ʿĀbidī (Tehran: Sukhan, 1386 sh. / 2007), 586–90.

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  • 13

    Lloyd Ridgeon, ‘The Controversy’, 3–30. There are also references to him in major works like Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), 181, 313; also William Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983), 288.

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  • 16

    Lewis, Rumi, 242. This article focuses on hagiographical material; consequently, the letters of Rūmī have not been used extensively for this article. However, the relevance of Rūmī’s letters as a source for his life and family connections should be highlighted. For the edition of these letters see Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, Maktūbāt-i mawlānā Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, ed. Tawfīq Subḥānī (Tehran: Markaz-i Nashr-i Dānishgāhī, 1371 sh. / 1992). For an analysis of these letters, see Peacock, ‘Sufis and The Seljuk Court’, 206–26.

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  • 17

    See Monika Gronke, ‘La religion populaire en Iran mongole’, in L’Iran face à la domination mongole, ed. Denise Aigle (Tehran: Institut français de recherche en Iran, 1997), 205–30. Both Aflākī and Sipahsālār wrote their works in the eighth/fourteenth century when the Mawlawi ṭarīqa started to form in Anatolia. In the case of Kirmānī, his hagiography was composed in the seventh/thirteenth century, but his followers do not seem to have consolidated an order, although the intention to form one cannot be ruled out.

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  • 19

    Ethel Sara Wolper, ‘Princess Safwat al-Dunyâ wa al-Dîn and the Production of Sufi Buildings and Hagiographies in Pre-Ottoman Anatolia’, in Women, Patronage, and Self-Representation in Islamic Societies, ed. D. Fairchild Ruggles (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), 36.

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  • 26

    Weischer, Heart’s Witness, 1. Apparently, Rūmī’s companion Shams-i Tabrīzī (d. 645/1248) was also a disciple of Sujāsī. See Ridgeon, ‘The Controversy’, 14.

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  • 41

    Lewis, Rumi, 428.

  • 43

    Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions, 244–6.

  • 45

    Ridgeon, ‘The Controversy’, 17.

  • 51

    Ibid., 64.

  • 54

    On her see also Mikâil Bayram, Fatma Bacı ve Bacıyân-ı Rûm (Istanbul: Nüve Kültür Merkezi, 2008), 45–58.

  • 56

    Ibid., 70–1. This is most probably the Jaghatu in present day north-western Iran, where the Ilkhanid dynasty was particularly active and the Mongol ordos usually camped. See, for example, Rashīd al-Dīn Ṭabīb, Rashiduddin Fazlullah’s Jamiʿuʾt-tawarikh: Compendium of Chronicles, trans. W.M. Thackston (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 548.

  • 58

    Ibid., 71. In the introduction to the manāqib, Furūzānfar mentions that she married one of the sons of one of the disciples of Yaʿqūb. See Manāqib, ‘Introduction’, 37. I was not able to identify Shaykh Amīn al-Dīn Yaʿqūb.

  • 76

    Peacock, ‘Sufis and the Seljuk Court’, 206–26.

  • 79

    Ridgeon, ‘The Controversy’, 21.

  • 81

    Marius Canard, ‘Les reines de Georgie dans l’histoire et la legende musulmanes’, Revue des études islamiques 37 (1969): 3–20.

  • 83

    See Lewis, Rumi, 295.

  • 89

    Lewis, Rumi, 125.

  • 90

    Rustam Shukurov, ‘Harem Christianity’, 119.

  • 105

    Lewis, Rumi, 236.

  • 115

    Ridgeon, ‘The Controversy’, 25.

  • 122

    Ibid., 64.

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