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Syed Ahmad Khan (1817–1898) was one of the most prominent Indian Muslim reformists of the nineteenth century and was exceptional for the ways in which he proposed that nature and observations of nature were central to Islam. Like many nineteenth-century reformist narratives, Khan’s ideals on naicar (nature) routinely employed a rhetoric of ‘break,’ ‘renewal,’ and ‘purity’ to imply that Indo-Persian culture was in a state of malaise and in need of rejuvenation. Yet despite this outward denunciation, Khan’s reformist project also ironically reflected many qualities of Persianate Islam that had characterized Indo-Muslim culture before the nineteenth century. This article reconsiders Ahmad Khan’s modernism in light of the Persianate modes that he maintained to point out some of the rhetorical inconsistencies of modernist writing, and the historical lacunae which they create.

Open Access
In: Philological Encounters
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Abstract

Discussions on world literature often imagine literary presence, movement, and exchange in terms of location and prioritize those literary traditions that can be easily mapped. In many regards, classical ghazal poetry resists such interpretation. Nonetheless, a number of nineteenth-century writers working in Urdu and English reframed classical ghazal poetry according to notions of locale that were particularly underpinned by ideas of natural essence, or genius. This article puts two such receptions of the classical ghazal in conversation with one another: the naičral shāʿirī (natural poetry) movement in North India, and the portrayal of classical Persian poet Hafiz as a figure of national genius in the scholarship of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both these examples highlight the role that discourses of nature and natural expression played in nineteenth-century literary criticism, particularly with regard to conceptions of national culture. They also demonstrate how Persianate literary material that had long circulated in cosmopolitan ways could be vernacularized by rereading conventionalized tropes of mystical longing in terms of more worldly belonging.

Open Access
In: Journal of World Literature