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5 Ottoman Hilʾat: Between Commodity and Charisma

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Chapter Summary

This chapter addresses the history of the robe-of-honour tradition in the Islamic world. It discusses at some length the enduring tension between the hilʾat as a luxury good with monetary value and as an object imbued with the charisma of its donor and by the act of its bestowal; the next defines terms: what distinguishes a robe-of-honour from an expensive garment? The chapter looks more closely at hilʾat and robing during diplomatic encounters, with special attention to an eighteenth-century Prussian mission. It also tries to answer a question which is rarely posed outright in the study of Ottoman court and costume history: what makes a hilʾat a hilʾat? Bound up in the idea of hilʾat, of course, are pre-Islamic traditions including those from China, Persia, Palestine, and Europe; critical to the tradition, too, is mantle of the Prophet Muhammad and the hadith and anecdotes that developed around it.

Keywords: China; eighteenth-century Prussian mission; Europe; Ottoman Hilʾat; luxury good; Ottoman court; Prophet Muhammad



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