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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter April 11, 2019

Imperial Talismanic Love: Ibn Turka’s Debate of Feast and Fight(1426) as Philosophical Romance and Lettrist Mirror for Timurid Princes

Matthew Melvin-Koushki
From the journal Der Islam


This study presents and intellectual- and literary-historically contextualizes a remarkable but as yet unpublished treatise by Ibn Turka (d. 1432), foremost occult philosopher of Timurid Iran: the Munāẓara-yi bazm u razm. As its title indicates, this ornate Persian work, written in 1426 in Herat for the Timurid prince-calligrapher Bāysunghur (d. 1433), takes the form of a literary debate, a venerable Arabo-Persian genre that exploded in popularity in the post-Mongol period. Yet it triply transgresses the bounds of its genre, and doubly marries Arabic-Mamluk literary and imperial culture to Persian-Timurid. For here Ibn Turka recasts the munāẓara as philosophical romance and the philosophical romance as mirror for princes, imperializing the razm u bazm and sword vs. pen tropes within an expressly lettrist framework, making explicit the logic of the coincidentia oppositorum (majmaʿ al-aḍdād) long implicit in the genre in order to ideologically weaponize it. For the first time in the centuries-old Arabo-Persian munāẓara tradition, that is, wherein such debates were often rhetorically but never theoretically resolved, Ibn Turka marries multiple oppositesin a manner clearly meant to be instructive to his Timurid royal patron: he is to perform the role of Emperor Love (sulṭān ʿishq), transcendent of all political-legal dualities, avatar of the divine names the Manifest (al-ẓāhir) and the Occult (al-bāṭin). This lettrist mirror for Timurid princes is thus not simply unprecedented in Persian or indeed Arabic literature, a typical expression of the ornate literary panache and genre-hybridizing proclivities of Mamluk-Timurid-Ottoman scientists of letters, and index of the burgeoning of Ibn ʿArabian-Būnian lettrism in late Mamluk Cairo; it also serves as key to Timurid universalist imperial ideology itself in its formative phase – and consciously epitomizes the principle of contradiction driving Islamicate civilization as a whole.

To show the striking extent to which this munāẓara departs from precedent, I provide a brief overview of the sword vs. pen subset of that genre; I then examine our text’s specific political-philosophical and sociocultural contexts, with attention to Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī’s (d. 1274) Akhlāq-i Nāṣirī and Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī’s (d. 1502) Akhlāq-i Jalālī on the one hand – which seminal Persian mirrors for princes assert, crucially, the ontological-political primacy of love over justice – and the Ẓafarnāma of Sharaf al-Dīn Yazdī (d. 1454), Ibn Turka’s student and friend, on the other. In the latter, much-imitated history Amir Temür (r. 1370‒1405) was definitively transformed, on the basis of astrological and lettrist proofs, into the supreme Lord of Conjunction (ṣāḥib-qirān); most notably, there Yazdī theorizes the Muslim world conqueror as historical manifestation of the coincidentia oppositorum – precisely the project of Ibn Turka in his Debate of Feast and Fight. But these two ideologues of Timurid universal imperialism and leading members of the New Brethren of Purity network only became such in Mamluk Cairo, where lettrism (ʿilm al-ḥurūf) was first sanctified, de-esotericized and adabized; I accordingly invoke the overtly occultist-neopythagoreanizing ethos specific to the Mamluk capital by the late 14th century, especially that propagated at the court of Barqūq (r. 1382‒1399). For it is this Cairene ethos, I argue, that is epitomized by our persophone lettrist’s munāẓara, which it effectively timuridizes. To demonstrate the robustness of this Mamluk-Timurid ideological-literary continuity, I situate the Munāẓara-yi bazm u razm within Ibn Turka’s own oeuvre and imperial ideological program, successively developed for the Timurid rulers Iskandar Sulṭān (r. 1409‒1414), Shāhrukh (r. 1409‒1447) and Ulugh Beg (r. 1409‒1449); marshal three contemporary instances of the sword vs. pen munāẓara, one Timurid and two Mamluk, by the theologian Sayyid Sharīf Jurjānī (d. 1413), the secretary-encyclopedist Aḥmad al-Qalqashandī (d. 1418) and the historian Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406), respectively; and provide an abridged translation of Ibn Turka’s offering as basis for comparative analysis.

Online erschienen: 2019-04-11
Erschienen im Druck: 2019-04-09

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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