Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Taẕkira-navīsī: imagining histories

There is little doubt that works usually called 'biographical dictionaries' are invaluable historical sources for the ways in which collectivities imagine their group affiliation, identity and history. Practically every group in the world of Islam engages in them. Now those working on South Asia have known for some time that Nuzhat al-khawāṭir wa-bahjat al-maṣāmiʿ wa-l-manāẓir of Sayyid ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Ḥasanī al-Lakhnawī (1861-1923) is an invaluable source and includes Sufis, Sunni and Shiʿi scholars arranged by hijri century. Those interested in the study of Shiʿi intellectual history in the subcontinent should pay attention to this - and of course to the famous Taẕkira-ye ʿulamāʾ-ye Hind [Tuḥfat al-fuḍalāʾ fī tarājim al-kumalāʾof Raḥmān ʿAlī (Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Shakūr, recently re-edited by Majmaʿ al-zakhāʾir al-islāmī in Qum in 1391 shamsī/2012) - as well as to a number of significant Sufi works.

But what about texts that deal just with Shiʿi ʿulamāʾ. Here is a partial list that I've come up with (in chronological order) - and I honestly don't know if all of these are even published and available:

  1. Mirʾāt al-aḥwāl-i jahānnumā of Aḥmad Bihbahānī (d. 1819) writing in Patna in 1809; a scion of the Majlisī family who sought patronage in Avadh it includes biographies of his family but also of important figures in the circle of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī Naṣīrābādī (d. 1820). There is an Iranian edition, as well as an Indian one (Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna in 1992). 
  2. Āʾyīna-ye ḥaqqnumā written by an anonymous student of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī in 1819 - the autograph was in the Nāṣirīya library in Lucknow.
  3. al-Maqāmiʿ al-Ḥaydarīya by Sayyid ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm Ḥusaynī, another student of the circle of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī as a gloss on the Āʾyīna. There is a manuscript in the British Library. 
  4. al-Ḥiṣn al-matīn fī aḥwāl al-wuzarāʾ wa-l-salāṭīn by Sayyid ʿAbbās Ardistānī, an Iranian émigré in the circle of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī. There is a very clear 20th century manuscript in the National Archives in New Delhi.
  5. Shudhūr al-ʿiqyān fī tarājim al-aʿyān of the scholar and bibliophile Sayyid Iʿjāz Ḥusayn Kintūrī (d. 1870, who also wrote a bibliography Kashf al-ḥujub wa-l-astār that was widely used before Āqā Buzurg's al-Dharīʿa) a good manuscript of this is in the National Library's Buhar collection in Kolkata; apparently there is a lithograph but I've not seen it.
  6. Tadhkirat al-ʿulamāʾ fī āthār al-fuqahāʾ wa-l-mujtahidīn wa-l-muḥaddithīn of Sayyid Mahdī b. Najaf ʿAlī Riżavī ʿAẓīmābādi, another figure of the circle of the khāndān-e ijtihād, which is widely cited and seems to be extant in a number of manuscripts. 
  7. Awrāq al-dhahab of Muftī Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAbbās al-Jazāʾirī (d. 1889) which is primarily a biography of Sayyid Muḥammad, the eldest son of Sayyid Dildār ʿAlī, most recently published in 2010 by the Kufa Academy.
  8. Nujūm al-samāʾ by Mīrzā Muḥammad ʿAlī Kashmīri Lakhnawī completed and printed in Lucknow in 1303/1886 and a useful source on Indians and Iranians especially in the shrine cities; it was published by the Marʿashī library in 1978, along with the takmila by Mīrzā Muḥammad Mahdī Kashmīrī.
  9. Tarājim al-ʿulamāʾ al-kāmilīn of Sayyid Abū-l-Ḥasan Kashmīrī.
  10. Tārīkh-e mashāhīr-e ʿulamāʾ-ye Hind of Sayyid ʿAlī Naqī b. Abī-l-Ḥasan Lakhnawī.
  11. Warathat al-anbiyāʾ of Sayyid Aḥmad Naqavī Hindī (d. 1947), a member of the khāndān-e ijtihād, lithographed in Lucknow in 1918, and recently reprinted in a new edition in Iran in 2010.
  12. Taẕkira-ye bē-bahā of Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Navgānvī written in 1931 with a takmila by his son - this was published in 2010 in two volumes by the Iran Culture House in New Delhi. 
  13. Maṭlaʿ-ye anvār of Sayyid Murtażā Ḥusayn Fāżil-e Lakhnavi, published in Karachi in 1982 is probably the one work most widely cited. 
There are probably many other modern works published in India and in Pakistan with which I am not familiar. 
The importance of such texts lies in their structures, absences and presences: who is given much space, who is quickly glossed over, who is left out, what is the focus. Numerous issues and questions arise as one reads the text - which language to write in, which register to strike, what to assume, who is the reader and so forth. The simple fact that practically none of these texts is in print suggests the rather niche nature of the works and so perhaps indicates the decline in scholarship in the subcontinent. 

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