Unveiling Identity: Discovering 'Abd al-Qadir b. Shaykh b. 'Abd Allah al-'Aydarus in al-Nur al-safir 'an akhbar al- qarn al-'ashir Open Access

Ross, Carol E. (2012)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/6969z107n?locale=en


The subject of this thesis is the eclectic sixteenth-century Arabic-language chronicle al-Nur al-safir ‘an akhbar al-qarn al-‘ashir, by the Yemeni-Gujarati scholar ‘Abd al-Qadir b. Shaykh b. ‘Abd Allah al-‘Aydarus. Purporting to be an account of the events of the tenth Islamic century (roughly equivalent to the sixteenth century C.E.), al-Nur al-safir has encountered criticism for not presenting an adequate picture of the main geopolitical events of that time period, which include the first Portuguese incursions into the Indian Ocean and the expansion of the Ottoman Empire under Suleiman the Magnificent. Instead of focusing on discovering what al-Nur al-safir has to say about its era, however, this project explores what al-Nur al-safir has to say about its author. Through textual analysis and historical research, this paper assembles clues to ‘Abd al-Qadir's identity in order to reconstruct a portrait of a man who died 400 years ago. The diverse collection of anecdotes and obituaries in al-Nur al-safir contain hints as to how ‘Abd al-QÄdir thought about himself and his place in the world. Seen as the product of these hints, ‘Abd al-Qadir emerges as a Muslim, Sufi, Yemeni, and Gujarati; he takes pride in his status as a scholar, writer, public figure, and descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.

This study builds upon existing scholarship concerned with Yemeni migrants in the Indian Ocean region during the Middle Ages while questioning assumptions about what makes a historical text important or meaningful. By getting to know ‘Abd al-Qadir as an individual revealed in his writings, we gain insight into the world in which he lived. Although his chronicle is eccentric in its subject matter, it nonetheless reveals an image of the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century, as seen through the very specific lens of one very interesting man.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Note on dates and transliteration...1

Scholarly criticism...4
In search of ‘Abd al-Qadir...6

Chapter 1 Rootedness: ‘Abd al-Qadir in Space...13

‘Abd al-Qadir the Hadrami...14

The Hadramawt: Geography and social structures in ‘Abd al-Qadir's time...14
Yemeni and Indian Ocean politics in the tenth/sixteenth century...16
Natural phenomena...20

‘Abd al-Qadir the Gujarati...23

Migration and conquest in Gujarat...23
Scholars and Sufis in court...24

Chapter 2 Kinship: ‘Abd al-Qadir, the Family Man...32

‘Abd al-Qadir the ‘Alawi...35
‘Abd al-Qadir the ‘Aydarus...37
A genealogy of sayyids...43

Chapter 3 Authority: Intellectual, Spiritual, and Political Lines...46

Signs of Piety...48
Mystical Experiences...50
The Coffee Controversy: ‘Abd al-Qadir weighs in...55
‘Abd al-Qadir as political figure...60

Appendix A: Map of ‘Abd al-Qadir's world...69
Appendix B: Arabic text excerpts...70

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