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From ‘the Scourge of Sinners’ to ‘the Man who Called us Infidels'

  • Devin DeWeese
Monday 12 September 2016
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

From 'the Scourge of Sinners' to 'the Man who Called us Infidels': Perspectives on Islamization in 14th-Century Central Asia

Devin DeWeese, Indiana University Bloomington, is the Central Asia Visiting Professor between 5-17 September 2016. He will deliver this guest lecture on Monday, 12 September (Lipsius 148, 3pm) and a masterclass on Friday, 16 September within the Central Asia initiative at Leiden University.

The lecture is open to the public and free of charge


Several sources from the 14th and 15th centuries include, in their accounts of important events of their time, a brief mention of the killing of a religious scholar of Herat, named Niẓām al-Dīn Haravī, by a group of nomadic Turks, or their leader alone, in 1337.  The accounts disagree on the particulars that led to Niẓām al‑Dīn’s death, but they agree that this incident was what we might fairly call a case of religiously-motivated violence, and they agree further that his killing had more to do with the victim’s own religious and intellectual profile than with that of the nomads.  His religious and intellectual profile is in fact explicitly discussed, or alluded to, in some of the accounts, and there is some other evidence about it as well, beyond the context of his death, not in the form of any of his own writings or recorded discourses—nothing of the sort has survived or yet been discovered—but in the form of allusions in other sources, again quite brief, to some prominent figures who were his religious and intellectual opponents.  The evidence we can find on the antagonism between Niẓām al‑Dīn and other learned Muslims with different views is in itself instructive about the religious diversity of Muslim Central Asia in a period that is sometimes framed in terms of a monolithic Muslim world confronting the challenge of Mongol rule; that same evidence, indeed, helps remind us of the ways in which the process of Islamizing the Mongol rulers, and the nomads on whom their power rested, fostered tensions within Muslim society regarding matters of religious propriety and the obligations entailed by conversion.  More broadly, however, both the positive evidence, and the religious and intellectual profile we can suggest for Niẓām al‑Dīn on the basis of the better-known figures with whom he found fault, allow us to situate Niẓām al‑Dīn on the spectrum of Muslim religious thought in a way that renders the accounts of his death surprisingly revealing with regard to the course of Islamization in the Mongol and Timurid eras.  The present lecture will explore Niẓām al‑Dīn’s religious stance, as an exercise in reconstructing an intellectual profile in part on the basis of what it was not, and will outline the shifting versions of the story of  Niẓām al-Dīn’s death, as an exercise in extracting lessons about the process of Islamization from accounts that say nothing at all about it.

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