This article investigates European collecting of Malay manuscripts during the colonial era to address two inter-related questions: was this collecting instrumental in destroying the Malay manuscript tradition, and are colonial collections accurate representations of Malay manuscript culture? It makes the case that while European intervention was certainly destructive, in fact the majority of Malay-language literary texts survive only in colonial-era collections. It also considers whether colonial collections, precisely because they are high in Malay literary texts and low in Arabic religious texts (known as kitab), are unrepresentative of Malay manuscript culture in the nineteenth century and earlier. Taking Marsden’s seminal collection of Malay manuscripts as its case study, the article provides a fuller account of how this collection was assembled, and traces the individuals known to have acquired manuscripts for Marsden. Newly documented manuscript collections that remain in situ in Indonesia and in Malaysian institutions are discussed as a counterpoint.
This study investigates the status of poets and poetry in sixteenth-century Ottoman Damascus by focusing on soldier-turned-poet Māmayya al-Rūmī (d. 985-7/1577-9). As a poet he received patronage from local centers of prestige; however, such support seems to have been at best sporadic. While his dīwān (collection of poetry) is replete with poems celebrating his poetic ingenuity—notwithstanding the fact that he was not a native Arab, it is also a testimony to his frustrations with lack of financial security and his diminishing social status. In addition to gloomy poetry, he also composed a great number of panegyrics in honor of Ottoman sultans, scholars, and administrators. What was Māmayya’s position in the literary culture of sixteenth-century Damascus as a Rūmī? What was the role of panegyric poetry in this period? Did poets voice their concerns about lack of appreciation? This study explores these questions by focusing on a selection of poems by Māmayya al-Rūmī with references to his contemporary, and later poets.
This article provides a close reading of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Khafājī’s (d. 1069/1659) Maqāma Rūmiyya, a narrative work detailing the journey of an Arab scholar to Istanbul who then satirizes his Rūmī counterparts in acerbic fashion. Despite its notoriety, the cursory scholarly attention paid to the text has either merely observed the maqāma’s departure from the genre’s classical structure or mentioned its immediate context, al-Khafājī’s dispute with the Grand Mufti in Istanbul. Firstly, I demonstrate that the text is a deeply layered adab work, one highly referential of and intertextual with the Arabic literary tradition, which aims not only at satirical entertainment but also at serious moral import. Secondly, I assert that al-Khafājī loosely utilized the maqāma genre to express personal anxieties over imperial politics and cultural difference. I consider how al-Khafājī’s digressive sections on generosity and rulership get at the core of what really concerns him: sociability among learned Muslims.
This article explores the phenomenon of familiarity with Persian among Arabic literati of the early modern period, with a focus on the eleventh/seventeenth century. It has long been recognized, in a general sense, that some scholars from the Ottoman Arab world had knowledge of Persian literature. Only recently have we seen the beginnings of detailed research on this topic. In the current article, the works of four authors are examined with an eye toward their discussion of things Persian or Iranian: Muḥammad Amīn al-Muḥibbī (d. 1111/1699), Shihāb al-Dīn al-Khafājī (d. 1069/1659), Ḥasan al-Būrīnī (d. 1024/1615), and ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (d. 1143/1731). We find that, although familiarity with Persian was far from unheard-of in Arabic literary circles, the degree of interest varied widely. At one extreme is al-Muḥibbī, who goes out of his way to share samples of the work of prominent Persian poets that he has translated into Arabic. Closer to the opposite end of the spectrum is al-Khafājī, of whom it is not obvious whether he could read Persian. The remaining authors fall somewhere in between. One insight that becomes clearer through this study is that Ottoman Damascus was a place in which Persian could be learned. There were enough migrants and visitors from the Persianate realm, and sufficient circulation of texts, that a scholar like al-Būrīnī could attain fluency without traveling.
This article approaches early-modern biographical literature, in particular the centenary biographical dictionary of Muḥammad Khalīl al-Murādī, titled Silk al-durar fī aʿyān al-qarn al-thānī ʿashar as an integrated source. The article argues that as a biographer, al-Murādī relied heavily on poetry, not simply for its literary value, but as a historical tool, a primary source, whose contents provided the reader with direct access to the historical figures in question. This approach to the Silk allows the biographical dictionary to serve not simply as a historical reference, as it often does, but as a reflection of the cultural moment it emerged from. The poetry within the Silk, when read as a historical source, affords insight into the history of the self, of self-fashioning, and of the mentality of the learned community of eighteenth-century Ottoman Syria, and Damascus in particular.
Premodern manuscript production was fluid. Books and papers freely changed hands, often against their authors’ wishes. In the absence of copyright laws, certain countermeasures arose. This study considers one of them: self-commentary, meaning an author’s explanations on his own works. The article deals with two cases of medieval self-commentary across linguistic and cultural boundaries: the Arabic author and rationalist Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī (d. 1057 CE), and the professional Byzantine littérateur John Tzetzes (d. 1180 CE). After an overview of their lives and works, with a focus on the key role of self-explanation, the article considers their respective manuscript cultures, which involved face-to-face educational settings that nonetheless permitted widespread copying. There follows a discussion of textual materiality, which reveals a mutual concern to avoid tampering or misinterpretation. Then, the article shows how both men tried to direct readers by exploiting language’s capacity for multiple meanings. The conclusion ponders the relevance of this study for problems posed by digital book technology.
This paper examines the changing roles and status of marṡiyah poets within hierarchies of political and religious authority during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A direct link between the marṡiyah tradition and these institutions was a system of patronage that bound poets to the brokers of power. Although in the early 1700s marṡiyah poets were often dismissed as “inept poets,” in subsequent generations marṡiyah poets were nurtured by the patronage of political rulers and counted among the masters of Urdu literature. The Navābs of Avadh in particular, with their promotion of Shīʿī ritual in their capital Lucknow, helped to widen the audience for the marṡiyah. Such temporal rulers appropriated the marṡiyah’s wide appeal as a strategy for fostering social and cultural cohesion among an otherwise diverse population. The Urdu marṡiyah gave expression to the localized concerns and novel self-understanding of the Navābs as they broke politically and ideologically from Mughal rule. These changes in the systems of patronage for the marṡiyah and the genre’s unique association with Avadh’s political and religious project resulted in marṡiyah poets’ growing status in both literary and religious circles. As marṡiyah poets began to feature prominently in the religious life of Avadh, their authority and pious personas came to strain relations with marṡiyah poets’ more worldly patrons. By the mid-1800s, the growing power and influence of the British had undermined the traditional systems of literary patronage for the marṡiyah. But as marṡiyah poets sought out new sources of patronage, they helped extend Urdu’s popularity to distant regional centers. Across India, marṡiyah poets were instrumental in establishing networks of patronage and creating models of language and performance that were influential in Urdu literary circles well beyond the marṡiyah genre, placing such poets as Mīr Anīs and Mirzā Dabīr at the vanguard of crafting the cosmopolitan orientation of Urdu literary culture.