'Ottomans-Safavids-Mughals: Shared Knowledge and Connective Systems'

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1268 Downloads (Pure)


The boundaries of modern nation-states and the blinkered view of area studies scholarship have tended to obscure both important areas of shared experience and significant systems of connection between the Middle East and South Asia. If this is true of the structural characteristics of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires, of the ways in which their local, regional and imperial systems were articulated, and if this is also true of their commercial organisation and techniques of trade, this is no less true of the content of their systems of formal learning, of the nature of their major sources of esoteric understanding, and of the ways in which they were linked by the connective systems of learned and holy men.<br /> By comparing the curriculums taught in the madrasas of the three empires up to the end of the seventeenth century we will aim to reveal the differing balances maintained between the transmitted subjects (`ulum-i naqliyya/manqulat) and the rational subjects (`ulum-i `aqliyya/ma`qulat). We will also examine the extent to which madrasas adopted the same texts, and even used the same commentaries and annotations. That there were shared texts and commentaries was a consequence of the travels of scholars throughout the region. Often they journeyed in search of knowledge, but they did so too in search of both patrons to sustain their work and safety from oppression. The paths they followed were the channels along which ideas came to be shared; the centres at which they congregated were the places from which ideas were broadcast.<br /> A second concern will be to explore the extent to which spiritual ideas were widely shared. A study of the influence of Ibn `Arabi over the sufis of the three empires illustrates the existence of a shared world of spiritual understanding. In the same way so does the spread from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries of opposition to Ibn `Arabi's transcendalist approach. The channels along which these ideas spread were in large part, of course, those of the connections of the great supra-regional sufi orders, for instance, the Khalwatiyya in the eastern Mediterrnean lands, but most important of all, of course, the Naqshbandiyya which in the third and fourth phases of its development spread not just from India into the Ottoman empire but throughout the whole of the Asian world.<br /> Finally, over the period from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, we will compare developments in formal learning and in spiritual knowledge in the regions of the three empires. In each region there was an attempt to assert the transmitted over the rational subjects in the madrasa curriculum, and in two regions there was a reorientation of sufism towards socio-moral reconstruction. There were, however, notable differences in the timing of these developments from region to region and in the outcome of attempts to assert the supremacy of the transmitted subjects. We will try to see what connections can be made between these developments and the wider social and political context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-184
JournalJournal of Islamic Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1997


  • Middle East
  • South Asia
  • Ottoman
  • Safavid
  • Mughal
  • learning,<br />curriculums
  • madrasas
  • subjects
  • texts
  • scholars

Cite this