The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam.

Author:Choksy, Jamsheed K.
Position:Book review

The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam. By A. Azfar Moin. South Asia across the Disciplines. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Pp. xvii + 343. $55, 38 [pounds sterling] (cloth); $28, 19.50 [pounds sterling] (paper).

In this book Azfar Moin eloquently probes how "sacred sovereignty was enacted" through "astrology, messianic and millennial myths, and claims of royal and saintly authority" (p. 166) to legitimize Muslim rulers in Mughal India based on Timurid and Safavid precedents. In its broadest aspects, Moin's study is about how sacred or sacral kingship legitimizes individual rulers and particular regimes by declaring that sovereignty is created, supported, and necessitated by, as well as being an extension of, divine will. The book's strength lies in its plethora of details about how dynastic and personal legitimacy to the Mughal throne combined with Sufi mystical ideas of sainthood passed to India from Timurid Central Asia and Safavid Iran (p. 1). As chapter one (the introduction) states (pp. 8-17), it seeks and indeed does succeed in vividly directing the reader's attention to words, deeds, art forms, rituals, presentations, and representations intertwining knowledge, belief, legend, and speculation-- about individuals, times, places, and spaces--to project and even turn mainstream the idea that leaders are chosen not by humans but by divinity. The attention to post-fourteenth-century minutia is also the study's weakness, for it overlooks antecedents to which Tlmur and those who followed him on the throne were heirs.

Moin grounds his decipherment of sacred kingship during sixteenth- through eighteenth-century India and Iran in the rise of Tlmur, especially Ibn KhaldOn's account of astronomical and astrological conjugation (pp. 26-31) as heralding the Barias Turk's rise to power. Here, in chapter two, Moin links fortune-telling to messianism and then to sanctified authority by examining their presence in medieval Iranian writings modeled on more ancient Zoroastrian predictions such as the Jamasp-namag "Book of Jamasp," attributed to a legendary seer (pp. 50-53). The Zoroastrian apocalyptic text, however, is less concerned with sacral kingship than with presenting the vicissitudes of Iran's ancient faith during ages or cycles of the world--reflections of which survive in the later fifteenth-century Persian version in which 'Ali b. Abi Talib, while depicted as a conqueror, is also vilified, as is Chinggis...

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