Chicago symposium summary


Reconsidering Jami’s Life and Works

Although we know how quickly the fame of Jami spread out of the province of Herat and reached foreign courts and intellectual circles, the process whereby his reputation was established remains unclear. The distant yet personal relationships between the polymath and the Ottoman court sheds some light on this process: in addition to the official invitations sent to Jami by sultans such as Fatih Mehmed or Bayezid II, the activities of intermediaries, who were readers of Jami as well as writers themselves, proved to be crucial to the establishment of Jami’s reputation. The Turkish polymaths Ali Kușci and Mahmud Lami‘i Ҫelebi played different roles in the Ottoman reception of Jami, the first as an intermediary who introduced Jami’s works to the court, the second as an official translator of several of Jami’s writings (H. Algar, A. Papas). A third aspect of this process is Jami’s own ambition and promotion of his work, dedicating his writings to Timurid, Ottoman, and Aq Qoyunlu sovereigns, carrying on an epistolary correspondence, supervising a literary circle, etc.  Do we find some comparison in other areas of Jami’s reception?  Do we find other examples of zealous intermediaries and did Jami himself address a wider audience on the scale of the Dar al-Islam? What alternative dissemination channels were used to spread the writings of Jami during his life?

In parallel with Jami’s biography, his works should be reconsidered in the light of neglected elements, such as the Avicennian legacy which led the Herati poet to again introduce a rupture between the Ancients and the Moderns in his views on poetics (J. Landau); another element – well-known in appearance but poorly understood in reality – is the intellectual proximity between Jami and ‘Ali Shir Nawa’i, a proximity through which both authors not only influenced but differed from each other (F. Lewis, M. Toutant). In other words, the relationships between Jami and the great authors of the past as well as the present shaped his thought and writing preferences, but he continuously acted as a critical legatee and contemporary. Such a perspective invites us to further define the labeling of Jami as a “neo-classical” author. This will be done by close analyses of his theoretical works on poetry (J. Landau) and of his diwans in relation to those of poets of previous, contemporary and later periods (F. Lewis, P. Losensky). Whatever the label, despite the author himself, the reception of Jami covering several centuries and various areas opened a new page in the history of his works.


A Geography of Literature

The literary success of Jami lay within the scope of the foreign Timurid policy and its deliberate radiance in the Dar al-Islam. Associating trade, diplomacy, intellectual influence and Sunni proselytism, Shahrukh then Bayqara’s reigns were characterized by an ambition to leave their mark on the ninth century of Hegira. The court patronage of writers, artists and scholars favored the concentration of intellectual activities in Herat but was addressed to the entire Muslim world and beyond; the Timurids exported not only goods to, for instance, India and China but also cultural and religious models; other roads of exchange included the hajj routes which could put together Turko-Persian Muslims and pilgrims from the Malay world (R. Kauz, P. Wormser). Books, words, fame and ideas traveled along with men from Central Asia to other continents.  This explains how Jami’s name and writings spread from the Ottoman lands to Southeast Asia, while he himself never lived outside of Herat, except during his years of study and on the occasion of his hajj.

The geographical setting of Jami’s reception modified considerably the very nature of his work. The legacy of the polymath multiplies paradoxes: In Central Asia, Jami became a literary model for further generations of Eastern Turkish-speaking composers but these imitators, translators and commentators introduced their own writing practices (M. Toutant, A. Papas); in Safavid Iran, Jami’s lyric poetry was still respected and quoted, despite confessional antagonism, but did not give rise to others who continued the tradition (P. Losensky); in the Ottoman empire numerous books of Jami were read, taught and translated, emulating founders of the Western Turkish literary language. Jami’s narrative poem Yusuf u Zulaykha represents a special case in the sense that it aroused an exceptional quantity and diversity of translations or versions in vernacular languages, such as Bengali, Georgian, Sanskrit, Pashto, etc… (T. d’Hubert, R. Gould, L. Obrock, R. Perkins). There again, the Central Asian poet was used as a spark to ignite regional literary production and language formation. Last but not least, Yusuf u Zulaykha, along with some of Jami’s other books, rank among the most illustrated manuscripts in the late medieval and early modern times (S. Sharma). Would all these signs suggest that Jami’s legacy created intellectual idioms bringing moral and religious values to the society? Is there any “Jami adab”?

We have noticed that Jami’s works were conveyed along with a set of other texts, the lists of which are often strikingly similar – as in China and the Malay world (R. Kauz, P. Wormser). Similarly, the South Asian diffusion of Jami’s works provides a wealth of information regarding his place in the curriculum of Persianate education at all levels (T. d’Hubert). The finely conceived oeuvre of Jami was rarely received as a whole and never in isolation. Yusuf u Zulaikha lived a life of its own outside Haft aurang. His ghazals (M. Viitamaki), and treatises were incorporated in a variety of intertextual imaginaires. We have been introduced to these various contexts and keeping in mind the agenda of Jami himself we should see the effects of such literary transplantations.


Translating Islamic Mysticism

A Naqshbandi Sufi and a fine connoisseur of Ibn ‘Arabi, Jami made distinctions between mysticism and literature, especially in poetry, yet without separate them systematically, as if  he was engaged in an inner struggle between spiritual reason and literary passion (H. Algar, T. d’Hubert). If his writings drew from these two main sources, it was not necessarily in an explicit way, especially in poetry as expected, nor through a merely literal reading. How precisely the polymath combined or distributed both sources throughout his numerous works (treatises, hagiographies, mathnawis, ghazals) remains a pending question. More broadly, Jami acted as a transmitter, a translator of Sufi themes, using his knowledge and narrative skills to spread spiritual teachings and defend Sufi values, such as mystical sobriety, legal orthodoxy, religious erudition and quest for unicity (tawhid). Interestingly, Jami may appear as the last universal authority in Sufism, a trans-turuq figure encompassing various paths and respected by different schools, on the model of the great medieval Sufi masters.

The reception of Jami worldwide continued the translation of Islamic mysticism into different languages, thereby introducing subtle variations and new interpretations that were in contrast to Jami’s discourse, yet legitimized by the reference to the classical authority of the medieval polymath. A close examination of the translated versions would show that authors like the Turk Nawa’i, the Georgian Teimuraz, the Kashmiri Srivara, the Pashtun Abdul Qadir Khan, the Bengali Abdul Hakim, and the Malay Fansuri, to quote a few, led the original work to other directions, adapted to regional contexts and circumstances of time. The different practices of Jami’s texts – whether commentaries, translations (literal or not), oral teachings or musical performances, Qawwali in particular (M. Viitamaki) – remind us that the reception was a re-creation, giving a second life to the original corpus. The range of transtextual strategies provided by the current project gives us the opportunity to explore the breadth of the semantic paradigms of Islamicate forms of performance, literary criticism and scholarship.

The discussions that arose during the first event of the project A Worldwide Literature: Jami in the Dar al-Islam and Beyond confirmed that the study of the reception of his works is de facto a reassessment of Muslim intellectual history as a whole from the Timurid period onward.



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