Symbols of Authority in Medieval Islam: History, Religion and Muslim Legitimacy in the Delhi Sultanate.

Author:Jackson, Peter
Position:Book review

Symbols of Authority in Medieval Islam: History, Religion and Muslim Legitimacy in the Delhi Sultanate. By BLAIN H. AUER. Library of South Asian History and Culture, vol. 6. London: I. B. TAURIS, 2012. Pp. xx + 237. 54.50 [pounds sterling].

This book is concerned with the relationship between religious authority and political power in an empire that for several decades in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was the sole bastion of Islam in the Indian subcontinent and which, following the rise of the Mongol empire, was largely cut off, geographically, from the other regions of the Islamic world that the Mongols had not subdued. Blain Auer argues that the debate over that relationship (whether, for instance, the Delhi Sultanate was "an illegitimate institution" or "a theocratic state") has been flawed and polarized through a failure to perceive "fundamental ambiguities" (pp. 4-5) and a neglect of the "rhetorical and didactic contents" of the narratives produced by authors of the Sultanate period. He reminds us that these authors extended the reach of "sacred history" down to their own day. Following an introductory section, "Delhi at the Center of Islamic Authority," Auer highlights five different ways in which they did so, each the subject of a discrete chapter. A context and a paradigm for the governance of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century sultans were furnished by drawing on the deeds of the pre-Islamic patriarchs and prophets (chapter two) and the life (sira) and traditions (hadlth) of the Prophet Muhammad, seen as the perfect ruler (chapter three). Sufi shaykhs (awliya', "friends of God"), by personal contact with the sultan or through their protective presence (walaya) within his dominions, were seen as providing a sanction for rulership (chapter four). A title of a more strictly legalistic nature derived from caliphal investiture (chapter five)--an elusive privilege following the destruction of the 'Abbasid caliphate by the Mongols in 656/1258, unless the sultan was ready to assume the title himself, such as Qutb al-Din Mubarak Shah Khalji (716-720/1316-1320), or deal with the puppet 'Abbasids maintained in Mamluk Cairo, as did Muhammad ibn Tughluq (725-752/1325-1351) and his cousin and successor Firuz Shah (752-790/1351-1388). And observance of the Shari'a, lastly, constituted an empirical yardstick by which a true Muslim sultan might pass muster (chapter six).

Auer largely bases his study on the three main narrative sources for...

To continue reading