The conversion of Khan Ghazan to Islam prior to his accession to power in 1295, which can be seen as a turning point in the history of Mongol domination in Persia, raises some questions that Denise Aigle addresses in the present study: Does the personal conversion of the sovereign mean an effective Islamicisation of Mongol policies, especially in the field of relations with foreign powers? What is the precise meaning of the Islamic references in the rhetoric of Khan Ghazan, which otherwise remains a true Mongol, culturally speaking, and does not fail to attack repeatedly the Egyptian Mamluks in Syria between 1299 and 1303?
The author responds by analysing with her usual erudition two pieces of self-justification by Khan Ghazan, and the different lines of transmission of these documents down to us with their multiple variations, as far as the liability of theses texts (more or less rewritten) in the different Mamluk chronicles is always debatable. The first piece is the firman read to the population of Damascus in the Umayyad mosque on January 2, 1300 when Ghazan’s troops entered the city after their victory near Homs on the previous December 22, by which the Khan proclaimed lives of the Damascenes to be spared. If Ghazan was to retreat from Syria as soon as February 1300, this did not prevent him from trying again to impose its rule on the Mamluks the following years, which brought him to send an embassy to Cairo in the summer of 1301 with a letter to be transmitted to sultan al-Malik al-Nasir Muhammad: it will be the second document to be examined. There are very few differences between the different versions of the firman of 1299. It is woven with Islamic quotations and references, and begins with announcing the significance of Ghazan’s conversion, whose heart was open to light by God (in order to answer the scepticism of Mamluk sources about that conversion’s sincerity). As a natural consequence, the Mongol khan becomes the new leader of the umma, as opposed to the Mamluks, impious, lecherous and rapacious, a source of disorder and rebellion. The Mongol army will bring order and protect all of the religions in Syria. Besides, one must take notice of the whole scenery that went with the entry of Mongol troops in Damascus and the public reading of that text. It then appears that if the outer layer is Islamic, the thought is Mongol indeed: Ghazan gave oral instructions (he did not know Arabic), and the Islamic phrasing would have been the work of one of the ‘ulama who followed him in Syria. Things are more complicated with the letter of 1301, as we have mainly two separate versions through the different chronicles, and while analysing the two lines of transmissions and the historiography on the question, D. Aigle would conclude that both derive from the original document, one of them from the Arabic translation done in Cairo, the other possibly from a translation done at the court of Mongol Il-Khans in Persia. Where some would see a genuine order of submission from one side, a Mamluk forgery with a more lenient offer of peace from the other, D. Aigle convincingly demonstrates that the two versions amount to very much the same, that is a demand of submission, send to Ghazan’s expected subordinate, the Mamluk sultan, and based on the new Muslim legitimacy of Ghazan, backed by appropriate quotations from the Qur’an.
As a conclusion, it is clear that the Islamic shape did not bring novelty in the political attitude of Mongol rulers of Persia towards their now religious fellows, the Mamluks of Egypt. Actually, Ghazan’s rhetoric is very much like the one of his brief predecessor, Tegüder Ahmad (1282-84), who was also a convert to Islam but was too briefly in power to have the same impact as Ghazan. Nonetheless the whole point and the pleasure in analysing closely those documents, lie in the phrasing in “Islamic” language of the Mongol thought of universal dominion, which, due to the cultural ties and the situation in the thirteenth century Middle-East, has been phrased, as it was, in many languages (Mongolian, Arabic, Persian, Latin) and different religions (in the present case, Islam, but Denise Aigle reminds us of the Christian equivalent to these letters send to the courts of Latin Europe, previously studied by her).