Reviews

This substantial and very well-informed article on Arabic- and Persian-language Islamic hagiographic literature in Persia and Central Asia offers a historical overview from late-eleventh-century CE Khurasani tabaqat (Arabic, lit. “generations”) collections of biographical notices devoted to Sufis to sixteenth-century works on specific shaykhs and their lineage.  The author sheds light on the evolution of the purposes of this hagiographic literature.  If in the eleventh century, this purpose seems to have been the defence of mysticism and its adherents in face of the criticism of more conservative religious scholars (by stressing that the conduct and doctrines of eminent Sufis of the past was in accordance with the text of Islamic revelation), slightly later works on individual mystics, by descendants of the shaykhs themselves or one of their close companions, probably emanated from a group living at the shrine (mazar) of the individual subject (such biographies served to increase the inner cohesion of this social group and enhance its prestige with outsiders, miracle stories becoming increasingly prominent after the eleventh century).  In the Mongol period, formal Sufi ‘orders’ developed, often from a nucleus based on a hereditary lineage; authors show then concerned with debating about competing mystical practices and the heritage of the prominent masters of the past.  Hagiographic collections compiled in the Timurid period are less limited to the propagandising of a particular Sufi community, though specific works of the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries focus on specific tombs at a given location, or on combinations on locality and silsila.  While fewer works of hagiography were produced inside Persia after the establishment of the Safavid dynasty, the compilation of Sunni hagiographies in Persian continued to prosper in Central Asia.  In his conclusion, the author insists on the value of hagiographic text for social and cultural history, most particularly of the lower layers of the population.  The article ends with an exceptionally rich bibliography of published primary sources and of modern studies.

The Redaction
CER: I-5.1.B-403