Historian Studies Islam’s Kings And Saints

Historian A. Azfar Moin

A new study by SMU historian A. Azfar Moin explores why Muslim sovereigns in the early modern era began to imitate the exalted nature of Sufi saints. Uncovering a widespread phenomenon, Moin shows how the charismatic pull of sainthood (wilayat) – rather than the draw of religious law (sharia) or holy war (jihad) – inspired a new style of sovereignty in Islam at the end of the 16th century. Commonly described as the mystical dimension of Islam, Sufism encompasses a diversity of ideas and practices, including asceticism and meditation, devotion to a spiritual guide, and pilgrimage to saint shrines. Sufism became especially popular in Islam beginning in the 14th-century and was widespread in Iran before the country converted to Shia Islam in the 16th and 17th centuries. His research, published in The Millennial Sovereign (Columbia University Press, 2012), uses the anthropology of religion and art to trace how royal dynastic cults and shrine-centered Sufism came together in the imperial cultures of Timurid Central Asia, Safavid Iran and Mughal India. Moin is assistant professor in the Clements Department of History.

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