Title

Al-Ghayb in Al-Ẓāhir Baibars’ Sīrah

Subject Area

Arabic and Islamic Studies

Abstract

The biography of al-Ẓāhir Baibars (620-670 H/1223-1277 CE,) the Sultan of Egypt and the Levant, was preserved in two forms: historical works, written by scholars and historians, and a popular epic, or sīrah šaʿbiyyah, narrated, and sung by folk performers. In this chapter, I am focusing on the sīrah, which, by playing on the imagination, opens spaces to Sufism and the dynamics of ghayb, or the unseen reality. The world of sīrah connects places, times and characters that could not be gathered in material reality. Baibars is both a political and spiritual hero, supported by brave men, and Sufi awliyāʾ. He moves and decides according to Sufi ethics, inspired by visions, and communicating and meeting with saints, who had died long before Baibars was born. These two worlds: the seen and unseen, are not two separate worlds, one material, the other spiritual, where Baibars moves back and forth between them. Those are one world that some of its reality is seen, and some of it is unseen. The diffusion of ghayb as part of everyday life epistemologically changes the audience’s awareness and interpretation of their lives. I will explore those spaces of ghayb, as they shape the world and events of sīrah, by delving into a corpus of 3200 pages, where the performed sīrah was ethnographically collected in 50 volumes. It is worthy to mention here, that this radical difference in content is emphasized by another difference in form. Unlike in other historical records of Baibars, the sīrah uses a linguistic style quite similar to the one used in the oral tradition of Arabian Nights, or the sīrah of Abū Zayd al-Hilālī. The departure in form and content from classic Islamic sciences, and standard Arabic grammar, provides the audience with a new type of religious authority that might not be accessible to scholars and jurists.

Brief Bio Note

Mohamed A. Mohamed is an assistant professor of sociology of religion and an Islamicist. He received his PhD. from Emory University in 2012, and focuses in his work on sociolinguistics, and the intersection of language, theology and sociology. He publishes on Sufism, modern Islam, discourse analysis.

Keywords

epic, Islam, Sufism, Ghayb, Egypt, Arabic, Sira, al-Zahir, Mamluk

Location

Room 212

Presentation Year

2018

Start Date

4-5-2018 3:45 PM

Embargo

11-27-2017

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Apr 5th, 3:45 PM

Al-Ghayb in Al-Ẓāhir Baibars’ Sīrah

Room 212

The biography of al-Ẓāhir Baibars (620-670 H/1223-1277 CE,) the Sultan of Egypt and the Levant, was preserved in two forms: historical works, written by scholars and historians, and a popular epic, or sīrah šaʿbiyyah, narrated, and sung by folk performers. In this chapter, I am focusing on the sīrah, which, by playing on the imagination, opens spaces to Sufism and the dynamics of ghayb, or the unseen reality. The world of sīrah connects places, times and characters that could not be gathered in material reality. Baibars is both a political and spiritual hero, supported by brave men, and Sufi awliyāʾ. He moves and decides according to Sufi ethics, inspired by visions, and communicating and meeting with saints, who had died long before Baibars was born. These two worlds: the seen and unseen, are not two separate worlds, one material, the other spiritual, where Baibars moves back and forth between them. Those are one world that some of its reality is seen, and some of it is unseen. The diffusion of ghayb as part of everyday life epistemologically changes the audience’s awareness and interpretation of their lives. I will explore those spaces of ghayb, as they shape the world and events of sīrah, by delving into a corpus of 3200 pages, where the performed sīrah was ethnographically collected in 50 volumes. It is worthy to mention here, that this radical difference in content is emphasized by another difference in form. Unlike in other historical records of Baibars, the sīrah uses a linguistic style quite similar to the one used in the oral tradition of Arabian Nights, or the sīrah of Abū Zayd al-Hilālī. The departure in form and content from classic Islamic sciences, and standard Arabic grammar, provides the audience with a new type of religious authority that might not be accessible to scholars and jurists.