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The Yasaviyya in the Nasāʾim al-maḥabba of ʿAlī Shīr Navāʾī: A Case Study in Central Asian Hagiography

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The Timurid statesman and poet ʿAlī Shīr Navāʾī (d. 906/1501) was the author of the first biographical dictionary (taẕkira) of Sufi saints to be written in the Central Asian dialect of Chaghatay Turkic. Although he started it as a translation of Nafaḥāt al-uns by Jāmī, he expanded upon that work by including many saints from Khurasan, India, and Turkestan. Of particular note are his entries for a clutch of Sufis associated with Aḥmad Yasavī, whom he described as the mashāʾīkh-i turk—the Turkish shaykhs. This was the first substantial overview of these saints in hagiographical literature, even though they had been active since the seventh/thirteenth century. The problem for historians is that Navāʾī supplies little by way of chronology for these saints, nor does he provide a clear indication of his sources. The problem for scholars of Sufism is that he provides little information on issues of doctrine or praxis. What is significant about this survey is its emphasis on the importance of hereditary descent among the shaykhs, suggesting that what was key to uniting them was not an institutional framework, but one of common genealogies from one of the immediate successors of Aḥmad Yasavī.

Affiliations: 1: Indiana University BloomingtonUSA


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