This article contributes to scholarship on Muslim humanities, Islam in modern South Asia, and the Urdu literary tradition in colonial India. It does so by contextualizing and closely reading Ashraf ʿAlī Thānavī’s (1863–1943) commentary on the Dīvān of the fourteenth-century Persian poet Ḥāfiz̤. Unlike his modernist contemporaries, Ashraf ʿAlī does not read Ḥāfiz̤ through the prisms of social reform or anti-colonial nationalist struggle. Rather, in his capacity as a Sufi master, he approaches Ḥāfiz̤’s Dīvān as a mystical text in order to generate insights through which he counsels his disciples. He uses the commentary genre to explore Sufi themes such as consolation, contraction, annihilation, subsistence, and the master-disciple relational dynamic. His engagement with Ḥāfiz̤’s ġhazals enables him to elaborate a practical mystical theology and to eroticize normative devotional rituals. Yet the affirmation of an analogical correspondence between sensual and divine love on the part of Ashraf ʿAlī also implies the survival of Ḥāfiz̤’s emphases on the disposability of the world and intoxicated longing for the beloved despite the demands of colonial modernity.
This essay proposes to energize the mission of the humanities by radically globalizing their subject matter and methods, taking inspiration from the world’s monumental archive of humanistic creativity over 5000 years of recorded experience. It advocates for Comparative Global Humanities as a crucial complement to the more presentist new humanities fields of medical, environmental, or public humanities. Comparative Global Humanities aims to be inclusively global in terms of subject matter and participants, conceptually comparative, and based on rigorous historical and philological research. A Global Humanities for the 21st century is no antiquarian endeavor, but a head-on response to the greatest challenges of our times: systemic racism, inequality, and fundamentalisms, which are rooted in the unresolved aftermath of wars, colonization, and violence, and use classical heritage for nationalist propaganda. To create more equal societies in the present we need to create more equality for other pasts – and learn from all they offer.
In this article, we explore the history of the development of the Islamicate manuscript collection at the Columbia University Libraries (approximately 575 manuscripts across a wide range of languages, subjects, and periods). The story of the collection is one of checkered growth and engagement, and of serendipitous development. We focus on the key actors responsible for collecting activities, mainly donors and faculty, and provide biographical information as well as details regarding the specific contributions made. Three broad phases of development are identified: the birth of the collection (1880–1930); a period of growth: the Smith-Plimpton Islamic science manuscripts (1930–1950); Arthur Jeffery, the Burke Collection and the last gasp of orientalist philological research at Columbia (1950–1970). We try to account for the ebb and flow of interest in the collection within the larger scholarly context of Islamic and Near Eastern studies in the city and at the University.
This article examines a copy of Farhād Mīrzā’s Jām-i Jam (the World-Revealing Goblet) published in 1856 in Tehran and kept at Columbia University Library offsite storage. It demonstrates the dual importance of this book in geographic knowledge production and as part of the library of Saʿīd Nafīsī, one of the most prominent Iranian scholars of Persian literature. Methodologically, the paper offers various ways to study a single lithograph to decipher larger historical processes in histories of education, translation, and print. First, it analyzes the paratext to expose scholarly and political networks in order to examine the genealogy of geographic knowledge production in mid-nineteenth century Qajar Iran. Second, it studies the content and translation practices employed by Farhād Mīrzā to offer novel strategies for analyzing dissemination and reception of new ways of production and categorization of geographic knowledge as well as methods utilized in composition of pedagogical geography books. Finally, it discusses how cataloging practices affect current scholarship and lead to rendering certain texts “hidden.” It therefore illustrates how the study of Farhād Mīrzā’s Jām-i Jam, a book aspiring to reveal the world, can expose much about scholarly practices not only in the past but also the present.
Historiography on the introduction of the Copernican astronomical paradigm in Iran has acknowledged the presence of Persian treatises from India in early-nineteenth century Qajar Iran for some time. In spite of this acknowledgment, the processes by which the modern paradigm was transmitted to Iran via the subcontinent have remained shrouded in mystery for the most part. MS Or. 462 at Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, represents a unique early nineteenth-century composite manuscript (majmūʿah), in which, alongside treatises belonging to the premodern Ptolemaic paradigm, appears an entry on the Copernican planetary system. The treatise in question, titled “The discovery of the novel opinions of the sages of Europe” (Istikshāf-i rāyhā-yi tāzah-ʾi ḥakīmān-i farang), outlines the expanding geographical knowledge of Europe as well as the cosmological revisions of Copernicus and Newton, among other unnamed European scholars. In this article, we first examine the treatise’s connection to its Indo-Persian source and present an overview of its content on the new Copernican cosmology. Furthermore, we examine an encounter between proponents and detractors of the new scientific paradigm as detailed at the end of the treatise. Finally, we draw a few conclusions about the introduction of modernity and modern science into nineteenth-century Qajar Iran, based on the information that can be retrieved from this treatise.
In 1905, Dr. S. Pissareff from St. Petersburg was involved in the production of 50 copies of an earlier Qurʾān codex. The original, namely the Qurʾān codex first discovered to western gaze around the mid 19th century, held in the Khoja Akhrar mosque in Samarqand, is a large-sized Qurʾānic manuscript written in Kufic on parchment with hardly any use of punctuation or vowel marks. This codex has been traditionally regarded as the muṣḥaf of ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān, the third caliph (murdered in 656), and was said to have been brought from Iraq by Timur. This essay presents the ‘Pissareff copy’ kept at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University, discusses its specific status as residing in the grey zone between reproduction and copy, and aims at setting it in the larger context of ‘copies’ of Qurʾān codices.
This study examines an early-seventeenth century copy of a popular book in Ottoman Turkish originally composed by Nevʿī Efendi (d. 1599) in the early 1570s. With around 150 extant copies available in almost every major Islamic manuscript collection across the world, Nevʿī Efendi’s compendium, or the “fruits,” of sciences (Netāyicü’l-fünūn) deserves to be called an early modern bestseller among the Ottoman reading public. The particular copy of the work located at Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Or. 360) is a notable one with numerous minhu records (i.e., marginal glosses one could trace back to the author) written in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. In this article, besides situating Nevʿī Efendi’s work in the broader genre of taṣnīf al-ʿulūm (classification of sciences) in the Ottoman as well as the broader Islamicate realm of learning, I will pay closer attention to discussing the minhu notes that present intriguing insights into the questions of what a published work meant in the age of manuscripts, and how the continuous interventions on the text made by the author, and possibly by the copyists and readers, enrich as well as shuffle the “authentic” contents of the “published” version.