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Sayyid Ni'mat Allāh al-Jazā'irī and his Anthologies: Anti-Sufism, Shi'ism and Jokes in the Safavid World

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The paper examines an important Arabic anthology of literary material of mixed content, the al-Anwār al-nu'māniyya of Sayyid Ni'matullāh al-Jazā'irī (d. 1701) to ascertain its value as a source for intellectual and cultural history of the Safavid period. Al-Jazā'irī was a prominent transnational Shi'i intellectual who was born in the marshlands of Southern Iraq, a leading light of the Akhbārī movement of his time, and major scholar associated with the hadīth-based Shi'i revival of Mullā Muhammad Bāqir Majlisī (d. 1699). Literary anthologies are of critical importance for understanding, on the one hand, the anthropology of what it meant to be human as well as the wider contours of the cultural, literary and intellectual history of the Safavid period. They represent both a serious engagement and demonstration of literary excellence in the pre-modern and post-classical period, contrary to rather dated notions of the stagnation of the period. Three themes from the text are analysed: the nature of philosophy, attitudes towards Sufism and mysticism, and the formation of a Safavid Shi'i cultural identity that was reactive and anti-Sunni and articulated through jokes and light-hearted anecdotes.

Affiliations: 1: Exeter

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