Mobility, Empire and Cross Cultural Contacts in Mongol Eurasia

Daniel Zakrzewski took part in the DOT conference


Tabrizer Windungen auf Ibn ʿArabīs poetischem Pfad in die Persophonie

Ṣŭfīs und Dichter vor Ort und die Kuǧuǧīs in Damaskus (13. und 14. Jahrhundert)

(Paper presented at Deutscher Orientalistentag, Iranian Studies section, Münster, 25 September 2013)

The paper took a closer look at two sufi-poets from the Tabriz region whose works are generally considered to have played a crucial role in the transmission of ideas of Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240) to the Persianate lands: Maḥmūd Shabistarī (d. ca. 1340) and Muḥammad Shīrīn, better known as Maghribī Tabrīzī (d. ca. 1406). However, the main focus was not on their poetry or on Ibn ʿArabī’s ideas as such but on the connections which these poets had to the local sufi milieu of Tabriz, especially to members of the Kujujī family and persons associated with them.

Khwāja Muḥammad Kujujānī (d. 1279), native of a village in the vicinity of Tabriz, belonged to the most prominent sufi shaykhs in the area during the thirteenth century while his brother was the physical ancestor of all later family members known so far. By the middle of the fourteenth century, these had not only firmly established themselves in the major metropolis of Ilkhanid Iran but also set up a presence in Damascus, the burial place of Ibn ʿArabī.

The main question addressed was whether there are indications for a relation between the presence of the Kujujīs in Damascus, on the one hand, and the transmission of Ibn ʿArabī’s ideas to the Persianate lands to which the two poets contributed significantly, on the other. Although Shabistarī and Maghribī, had connections to the Kujujīs and, in particular, to a close associate of at least one family member, as yet, no clear indications for such a relation could be found. However, the Kujujīs and their associate Majd al-Dīn Ismāʿīl Sīsī (d. 1383) to whom both poets had close contacts were key personalities in the local sufi milieu.

Another question the paper dealt with was to what extent organized sufi brotherhoods are recognizable in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Tabriz. Numerous persons related to groups which may be traced to eponymous founders of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries were indeed active there. However, those groups do not seem to have been characterized by a high level of organization involving exclusive affiliations and spiritual genealogies in the generations immediately succeeding those founders; this applies to the Kujujīs as well as to famous groups, such as the Suhrawardiyya and the Kubrāwiyya.

In addition to the Kujujīs physically moving between Tabriz and Damascus, the theme of mobility was also addressed from the perspective of social space as one member of the family, for instance, attained an eminent position at the Jalāyirid court. As for the theme of cross-cultural contacts, the spread of Ibn ʿArabī’s ideas into and throughout much of Mongol Eurasia was certainly not directly dependent upon the ruling elites. Yet, by making Tabriz and its region the center of their empire, the Mongol Ilkhans, to the least, facilitated the maintenance and expansion of a vibrant sufi milieu in the area in which the ideas of the controversial shaykh from the far west were put into Persian poetry and from which they were transmitted farther east in that form.

(Daniel Zakrzewski)