Symbols of authority: Religion, Islamic legitimacy, and historiography of the sultans of Delhi

2009 2009

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation explores the intersections between religion, Islamic legitimacy, and historiography. It investigates the ways Muslim historians, living in India during a dynamic and conflictual age, attempted to narrate the religious and ethical values of Muslim courts and their sovereigns through the creative process of history writing.

The period I explore spans the seventh/thirteenth and eighth/fourteenth centuries, a time when the history of Muslim communities takes a dramatic turn, ushering in an age of wide-ranging social change. Significantly, it marks the first sustained political, military, and cultural presence of Turko-Persian speaking Muslims in North India. With the establishment of Muslim courts at Delhi, the sultans who ruled from there initiated a process of empire building that eventually spread across the entirety of the Indian subcontinent. While their political expansions were achieved through diplomacy, forged alliances, and the sheer force of military arms, those gains were sustained by the careful projection of Islamic religious symbols that legitimated their rule.

To propagate an ideology of imperialism the sultans of Delhi patronized history writing. Historians of the Delhi Sultanate utilized historiography as a mode of representation to legitimate the conquests of their patrons and demonstrate their affinity, equality, and superiority to the exemplary religious figures of Islamic history. To accomplish this, historians aligned the history of the sultans of Delhi with an idealized and universal history of Islam. In the process, Islam was interpreted and projected as a religion of empire with the mandate of divine guidance.

The primary question that motivates this study is how did historians articulate paradigmatic notions of religious and political authority in India through historiography? By looking at historiography as a mode of representation this study seeks new avenues for the interpretation of Islamic history writing. It approaches history writing as historical consciousness shaped by religious and literary imaginations and offers new perspectives on conceptions of political authority exemplified by pre-Islamic prophets, Muhammad, the early caliphs, the friends of God, and sultans. By doing so it reveals the processes by which ideologies of Islamic authority were reinvented and reinterpreted in the context of India.

This work proposes to be the first monograph that applies readings of Qur`ānic exegesis, hadīth, stories of the prophets, sacred biography, and legal texts to historiography of the Delhi Sultanate for a fuller and more complex understanding of the forms of religious representation. By highlighting the Islamic ideals of religious and political authority, this work furthers scholarship in a multidisciplinary way, in the fields of religion, history, and Islamic studies.

Indexing (details)

Religious history;
Middle Eastern history;
Medieval history
0320: Religious history
0333: Middle Eastern history
0581: Medieval history
Identifier / keyword
Philosophy, religion and theology; Social sciences; Delhi; Historiography; India; Islam; Legitimacy; Religion; South Asia; Sultans; Sultans of Delhi
Symbols of authority: Religion, Islamic legitimacy, and historiography of the sultans of Delhi
Auer, Blain Howard
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 70/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Asani, Ali
Harvard University
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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