Bilingual Heaven: Was There a Distinct Persianate Islam in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire?

In: Philological Encounters
Aslıhan Gürbüzel Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University Montréal Canada

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What is the language of heaven? Is Arabic the only language allowed in the eternal world of the virtuous, or will Muslims continue to speak their native languages in the other world? While learned scholars debated the language of heaven since the early days of Islam, the question gained renewed vigor in seventeenth century Istanbul against the background of a puritan reform movement which criticized the usage of Persian and the Persianate canon as sacred text. In response, Mevlevī authors argued for the discursive authority of the Persianate mystical canon in Islamic tradition (sunna). Focusing on this debate, this article argues that early modern Ottoman authors recognized non-legal discourses as integral and constitutive parts of the Islamic tradition. By adopting the imagery of bilingual heaven, they conceptualized Islamic tradition as a diverse discursive tradition. Alongside diversity, another important feature of Persianate Islam was a positive propensity towards innovations.

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