Conjectures on Solṭānᶜalīshāh, the Valāyat-nāme and Shiite Sufi authority

In: Sociology of Islam
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Few concepts if any are more central to Shiite Sufism (as to Shiism generally) than valāyat, and the current essay briefly explores its significance in and around an Iranian treatise of the early twentieth-century named the Valāyat-nāme. Three perspectives frame the discussion: the modern theory of friendship generally, Christian mystical and Islamic concepts of Friendship with God, and (Sunni and) Shiite Sufi authority. It is proposed that typical Islamic formulations of Friendship with God are particularised from their mentioned Christian and secular counterparts by the Friend’s conception as an initiatory patron, which provides a basis to Sufi authority. Given that Sufi claims to patronage remain contested in Shiite spheres, where legitimacy is predicated on subordination to the Imamate, ambiguous articulations of hierarchy are crucial to understanding Shiite Sufi authority. The Valāyat-nāme read thus sheds light on the downfall of its author, the Sufi master Solṭānᶜalīshāh (d.1909). The latter’s projection of spiritual authority unravelled on interrelated religious, economic and political grounds, in the context of the Constitutional Revolution in early twentieth-century provincial Khorasan.

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