Ajam Media Collective Podcast
Ajam Podcast #33: Muslim Narratives of the Formation of Premodern Gujarat
In this episode, Lindsey and Ali interview Dr. Jyoti Gulati Balachandran, Assistant Professor of History at Penn State, about her book [Narrative Pasts: The Making of a Muslim Community in Gujarat, c. 1400-1650](https://global.oup.com/academic/product/narrative-pasts-9780190123994?cc=us&lang=en) (Oxford University Press, July 2020)
The Gujarat region of western India has a long role as a maritime and commercial center in the Indian Ocean, but the rich history of its Muslim community - and the important role of Sufis in developing Gujarat’s identity as a distinct region - has been overlooked. Dr. Balachandran argues that Arabic and Persian literary production among learned Muslim men was crucial to the development of Gujarat as a coherent region between the 15th and 17th centuries, plugging it in to developments across South Asia and beyond. Sufis were particularly important in this endeavor, and she urges us to seriously consider why and how different genres such as taẓkira or manāqib were chosen by these writers instead of dismissing them all under the imposed category of hagiography.
Balachandran shows how textual histories and the tomb complexes of Sufi scholars contribute another source for history beyond that of the court, serving as two poles that reinforced one another’s place in time as well as a specific region. Sufis allowed Sultans to ensure that the Muslim community expanded and prospered, and just as the Sultans militarily defined their kingdoms, Sufis sketched out realms of spiritual rule through these institutions and narratives about the past.
One important example that Dr. Balachandran touches on is the figure of Shaykh Ahmad Khattu, a 15th century Sufi who became the Shaykh of Ahmad Shah I of the Muzaffarids of Gujarat. While there is little contemporary writing about him, the complex that is built for him after his death by the Muzaffarids as well as the histories written by Suhrawardi Sufis in the centuries after his death make him an important pivot in the history of Islam and Gujarat.
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