At the end of the sixteenth century and the turn of the first Islamic millennium, the powerful Mughal emperor Akbar declared himself the most sacred being on earth. The holiest of all saints and above the distinctions of religion, he styled himself as the messiah reborn. Yet the Mughal emperor was not alone in doing so. In this field-changing study, A. Azfar Moin explores why Muslim sovereigns in this period began to imitate the exalted nature of Sufi saints. Uncovering a startling yet widespread phenomenon, he shows how the charismatic pull of sainthood (wilayat)rather than the draw of religious law (sharia) or holy war (jihad)inspired a new style of sovereignty in Islam.
A work of history richly informed by the anthropology of religion and art, The Millennial Sovereign traces how royal dynastic cults and shrine-centered Sufism came together in the imperial cultures of Timurid Central Asia, Safavid Iran, and Mughal India. By juxtaposing imperial chronicles, paintings, and architecture with theories of sainthood, apocalyptic treatises, and manuals on astrology and magic, Moin uncovers a pattern of Islamic politics shaped by Sufi and millennial motifs. He shows how alchemical symbols and astrological rituals enveloped the body of the monarch, casting him as both spiritual guide and material lord. Ultimately, Moin offers a striking new perspective on the history of Islam and the religious and political developments linking South Asia and Iran in early-modern times.
About the Author
A. Azfar Moin is assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Note on Transliteration
1. Introduction: Islam and the Millennium
2. The Lord of Conjunction: Sacrality and Sovereignty in the Age of Timur
3. The Crown of Dreams: Sufis and Princes in Sixteenth-Century Iran
4. The Alchemical Court: The Beginnings of the Mughal Imperial Cult
5. The Millennial Sovereign: The Troubled Unveiling of the Savior Monarch
6. The Throne of Time: The Painted Miracles of the Saint Emperor
7. Conclusion: The Graffiti Under the Throne
What People are Saying About This
This is a brilliant book. It is the most innovative contribution to our understanding of Mughal history of my time.
Francis Robinson, Brasenose College, Oxford
Through a close and comparative reading of royal and religious ideologies, The Millennial Sovereign unites the study of sacred kingship and sainthood in early modern Islamic societies, specifically in India, Iran and Central Asia. A work of striking revisionism, it blazes a fascinating trail through the occult knowledges and enchanted mentalities of the period, with splendid evocations of the existential otherness of a past age and a fine eye for detail.
Nile Green, University of California, Los Angeles
The Millennial Sovereign deserves tremendous praise for its conceptual clarity and innovation, deep erudition in original materials, and signature contributions to early modern Indian and Iranian history and Islamic studies. It is essential reading for experts in these fields and its intellectual vitality and exemplary lucidity make it an accessible yet thoroughly sophisticated introduction for more general audiences. I recommend it with the deepest confidence and pleasure.
Shahzad Bashir, Stanford University
This is an impressive and unusual first book, characterized by its poise, range and maturity. Azfar Moin jointly reconsiders kingship in early modern India and Iran, domains that have been kept apart artificially more often than not. He re-reads the textual and visual record to build up a convincing corpus on the basis of which he can begin an analysis of changing royal ideologies. Moin is part of a new generation of scholarship which is shifting the terms of the debate on Mughal and Safavid rule by delving deep into the nature of what was shared and what was not in elite political culture. Engagingly and fluently written, and unafraid of controversy, this book will be read and discussed by specialists of South Asian and Iranian history, but also more broadly by those interested in early modern comparisons within the Islamic world as well as beyond its boundaries.
Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Professor of Indian History, UCLA
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