Several IIS scholars took part in the third World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES), held in Barcelona from 19 to 24 July, 2010. This year’s Congress was hosted by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. IIS publications were also on display at the book fair accompanying the conference.
A number of IIS scholars contributed papers to the panel organised by Dr Jalal Badakhchani on The Age of Alamut: New Developments in the Study of Ismaili History. The Alamut period is one of the most interesting periods of Ismaili history, previously shrouded in myths and legends. The panel outlined new primary sources on Ismaili history, theology and philosophy which have recently come to light in various private collections. They also discussed new archaeological evidence, gathered as a result of the ongoing excavations of the fortress of Alamut.
The IIS panel, chaired by Dr Farhad Daftary, participants included Dr Badakhchani who presented a paper called Hasan-i Mahmud-i Katib and his Poems of Resurrection (Divan-i Qa’imiyyat); Dr Nadia Eboo Jamal who presented a paper on The Continuity of the Nizari Ismaili Tradition in Persia after 1256 - A Re-visit; Dr Farouk Mitha, who gave a presentation on Approaches of Western Scholarship on Ghazzali’s Encounter with Ismailis: Continuation of Polemics by Other Means; and Mr Daryoush Mohammad Poor who presented on Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani and the Ismailis.
In her paper, Dr Eboo-Jamal described how the year 1256 marked a watershed in the history of Nizari Ismailis in Iran. The incursions of Hulegu Khan’s armies into their territories, the surrender of strongholds in Quhistan, Rudbar and Girdkuh, the capture of the bastions of Ismaili power at Alamut, and the surrender and subsequent death of their Imam Rukn al-din Khurshah initiated a new phase in the life of the community. Tales of destruction, massacre and the total end of the Ismailis prevailed in most source material up until the present day. However, recent studies into the socio-political, religious and economic aspects of Mongol history have presented Hulegu Khan’s march across Persian lands as one not of destruction but of restoration, not of conflict, but of accommodation. It is in light of these studies that what happened to the Ismailis after the submission of Alamut should be revisited. This paper also reassessed how Ismailis were able to conduct their lives in Iran during the early part of Mongol rule. The works of the Persian poet and da‘i Nizari Quhistani were also re-examined here, in particular his Safar Nama, in a further attempt to piece together an image of a community that continued to survive despite adverse political and socio- economic conditions.
Dr Farouk Mitha’s paper outlined the ideologically charged tension that has marked non-Muslim scholarship on al-Ghazali’s attitudes towards the Ismailis. This tension followed Goldzhier’s study of al-Ghazali’s polemical writings against the Ismailis in 1916. Dr Mitha examined the historical roots and conceptual assumptions of this opposition which, in effect, continues the politics of al-Ghazali’s polemical project by either supporting al-Ghazali’s arguments (Ignaz Goldziher and Bernard Lewis) or defending the Ismailis (Marshal Hodgson and Henri Corbin). This state of affairs brings to light ways in which even non-Muslim scholarship on Muslim theological history has become embroiled in normative constructions of orthodoxy and heresy in Islam. The paper also explored the challenges entailed in distinguishing between committed versus non-committed scholarship in Islamic Studies.
In his paper, Daryoush Mohammad Poor explored the connections between ‘Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani (1131-1099 CE) and contemporary Ismailis, on which little research has been done thus far. The paper focuses on an examination of Letter Number 75 of his Maktubat in which Hamadani addresses the principle of authoritative instruction of the Imam (Ta‘lim) and tries to present a different reading of this distinctively Nizari Ismaili doctrine in terms which are quite unique. This letter contains quotations of a famous qasida by the Ismaili poet-philosopher Nasir-i Khusraw, but the author does not acknowledge the poet, which gives weight to the assumption that he was aware of the problems of being associated or affiliated with the Ismailis. In this letter, ‘Ayn al-Qudat criticises in detail al-Ghazali’s polemic refuting of the Ismaili doctrine of Ta‘lim. Mr Mohammad Poor’s paper demonstrates how al-Ghazali’s approach to Ismaili doctrines is strongly polemical in nature whereas ‘Ayn al-Qudat’s assessment of it may be considered as an epistemological evaluation of this doctrine.
Other IIS particpants at the conference included Dr Omar Alí-de-Unzaga, who presented a paper entitled Public book burnings in 12th-century Baghdad: The struggle for orthodoxy and the ill fate of the Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, and Dr Stephen Burge, who gave a presentation on Al-Suyuti and his Sources.
Dr Alí-de-Unzaga's paper focused on a number of instances in which the Epistles of the Pure Brethren (Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’) were ceremonially burnt in public in Baghdad in the 12th century, as well as in the years 1000 (under Saljuq Sultan Barkyaruq and Caliph al-Mustazhir), 1060 (under al-Mustanjid and his Hanbali vizier ‘Awn al-Din Ibn Hubayra) and 1092 (under Caliph al-Nasir and his Hanbali vizier Ibn Yunus, with the support of Ibn al-Jawzi). The paper offered a description of the solemn burning ceremonies that were staged on those occasions. This paper also placed the burnings of the Rasa’il in the wider political and religious context, including the uprising of the Nizaris, based in Alamut since 1090, the advance of the Crusaders since 1099, as well as the weakening of the Saljuqs and the increased independence from them of the Abbasid caliphs from 1117.
Dr Burge organised a panel which explored the use of sources in different genres of Arabic literature, namely Sufism, Poetry, Historiography and Exegesis. He presented a paper examining the use of sources in Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti’s al-Durr al-manthur fi tafsir bi’l-ma’thur. The aim of this paper was to understand how al-Suyuti approaches the compilation of hadith, exploring whether al-Suyuti has ‘favoured’ sources, and how these vary within the text. By analysing which sources al-Suyuti employs, it is possible to understand more fully how al-Suyuti compiled his vast number of collections, as well as the way that scholarship was practised in the late Mamluk sultanate.