Thus Spake the Dervish

Sufism, Language, and the Religious Margins in Central Asia, 1400-1900


Thus Spake the Dervish explores the unfamiliar history of marginal Sufis, known as dervishes, in early modern and modern Central Asia over a period of 500 years. It draws on various sources (Persian chronicles and treatises, Turkic literature, Russian and French ethnography, the author’s fieldwork) to examine five successive cases, each of which corresponds to a time period, a specific socially marginal space, and a particular use of mystical language. Including an extensive selection of writings by dervishes, this book demonstrates the diversity and tenacity of Central Asian Sufism over a long period. Here translated into a Western language for the first time, the extracts from primary texts by marginal Sufis allow a rare insight into their world.

The original French edition of this book, Ainsi parlait le dervice, was published by Editions du Cerf (Paris, France).

Translated by Caroline Kraabel.

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Alexandre Papas, Ph.D. (2004), is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris. He has published many works on Islamic mysticism, including Soufisme et politique entre Chine, Tibet et Turkestan (J. Maisonneuve, 2005) and Mystiques et vagabonds en islam (Cerf, 2010).

List of Figures

 1 A Manifesto: The Qalandarnāma, by Amīr Ḥusayn Harawī
 2 In Search of the Margins
1 In the Streets of Herat
 1 A Presentation of the ʿAlī Shīr Nawāʾī’s Maḥbūb al-qulūb
 2 Musicians, Singers, Storytellers
 3 Ruffians, Bohemians, Paupers
 4 Real and False Dervishes
 5 Other Sources: Names and Words
2 Outside the Madrasas of Bukhara
 1 About the Ādāb al-ṭarīq, by Ḥājjī ʿAbd al-Raḥīm
 2 The Head of the Dervish
 3 The Trunk and the Arms
 4 The Lower Body
 5 From Lexis to Relics
3 In the Ruins of Aksu
 1 Kharābātī, a People’s Poet
 2 To Peasants, Artisans, Doctors and the Powerful
 3 The Call to Renunciation
 4 On the Paradox of Language
4 In the Depths of the Grottoes of Central Asia
 1 Silences in Khotan 
 2 Whispers in Tashkent and Samarkand 
 3 Graffiti in Manguistaou 
 4 Legends in Fergana and Pamir
5 On the Road with Cantors and Itinerants
 1 The maddāḥ in Uzbekistan and Xinjiang
 2 Abdāl tili, the Language of Outsiders
 3 Argot and Mystical Language
Conclusion: Dervishes Yesterday and Today

Index of Names
Index of Places
All interested in Islamic mysticism, early modern and modern Sufism, Central Asia, marginal socio-religious groups, and the question of language among mystics.
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