Longing for the Lost Caliphate: A Transregional History. By MONA HASSAN. Princeton: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2016. Pp. xv + 390. $45, [pounds sterling]37.95.
The caliphate has long been an elusive subject for scholars and nonscholars alike. This is especially so given that a universally recognized caliphate ceased to exist after 1924 and that most Muslims today live under nation-states carved out of former world empires. It is thus convenient to assume that Muslims have simply moved on. Scholars such as H. A. R. Gibb and Ann K. S. Lambton have traced this supposed Muslim apathy toward the caliphate even further back in time. They claim that in light of the Abbasid caliphate's political weakness from the tenth century onward, medieval Muslim jurists and theologians formulated legal fictions to preserve the caliphate as the cornerstone of the Sharia, but eventually dropped them altogether after the Mongols trampled to death the last Abbasid caliph in 1258. Mona Hassan's Longing for the Lost Caliphate aims to revise this view by addressing Muslim reactions to the loss of the caliphate following two separate events: the Mongol destruction of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258 and the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal and the Turkish Grand National Assembly. It adopts a transregional approach by exploring the collective memories of the caliphate among Muslims living within and far beyond domains under the direct suzerainty of the caliphs.
The book consists of an introduction, six chapters (divided evenly between post-1258 and post-1924 developments), and an epilogue. Chapter one maps out the emotive responses to the Mongols' killing of al-Musta sim and their sack of Baghdad in 1258. As Hassan demonstrates in this chapter, a deep-seated sense of nostalgia, anguish, trauma, and eschatological end can be discerned in the historical writings and poetry addressing this devastating event. While these works circulated widely in the Islamic world, so too did the emotions that these writings sought to express. In fact, the transregional, mobile network of Muslim intellectuals across Afro-Eurasia helped sustain the tragic events of 1258 as a collective memory that "continued to generate intense depths of emotions" (p. 28) among Muslims over the centuries.
Most of chapter two focuses on the revival three years later of the Abbasid caliphate in Cairo by the Mamluk sultan al-Malik al-Zahir Baybars. Despite the dizzying array of...