Professional Mobility in the Islamic Lands (900-1600) : ʿulamāʾ, udabāʾ and administrators

20-21 mars 2019
SOAS University of London
Senate House - Paul Webley Wing, Room SG36
20 et 21 mars 2019

This workshop is co-organised by Mohamed El-Merheb (School of Oriental and African Studies, Londres) and Mehdi Berriah (univ. of Pantheon-Sorbonne/Univ. of Grenoble-Alpes).


Wednesday march 20th

08:30 Registration / Coffee, SG37

  • Welcoming Remarks : Sylvie Denoix & Hugh Kennedy
  • Useful information : Mohamad El-Merheb & Mehdi Berriah

09:00 Panel 1, Chair : Hugh Kennedy

  • Konrad Hirschler (Freie Universität Berlin) : The Scholars’ Books - Mobility and Non-Mobility in Mamluk bilad al-Sham
  • Nadia Maria Cheikh (American University of Beirut) : Observations on the muhaddithat in Kitab Tarikh Baghdad
  • Mehmetcan Akpinar (Universität Tübingen) : Landscapes of Knowledge : Hijāzīs in Baghdad

10:30 Coffee Break, SG37

11:00 Panel 2, Chair : Sylvie Denoix

  • Robert Moore (John Brown University) : Building a Dynasty of Judges : The Bulqīnī Family’s Rise to Prominence in Mamluk Cairo
  • Marta Garcia-Novo (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) : The Aqīt household : a scholarly elite between Timbuktu and Cairo through the works of Aḥmad Bābā al-Tinbuktī
  • Amal Belkamel École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris : Le processus de professionnalisation du Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Gabbār entre quête du savoir et confluence avec le pouvoir

12:30 Lunch, SG37

14:00 Panel 3, Chair : Nadia Maria Cheikh

  • Mohamad El-Merheb (SOAS - IHR) : Professional Mobility and Political Thought : Ibn Ṭalḥa’s Unique Necklace
  • Tamer el-Leithy (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore) : Converting Coptic Clerks, Islamizing the Bureaucracy
  • Nora Afif (Paris-Ouest Nanterre University) : Évolution des fonctions des qādis et des administrateurs sous le califat abbasside à partir du Xème siècle

15:30 Coffee Break, SG37

16:00 Panel 4, Chair : Konrad Hirschler

  • Abbès Zouache (CNRS/CEFAS) : Mobilité des guerriers et espace au Proche-Orient (XIe-XIIIe siècle) : horizons perceptifs, experts et outils administratifs
  • Roy Fischel (SOAS, London) : Iranians, Brahmins, and the trajectories of administrators in the early modern Deccan
  • Christopher Bahl (Orient Institut Beirut) : From Mamluk Egypt to the Bahmani Deccan : The professional mobility of a 15th century migrant scholar

Thursday March 21th

09:00 Panel 5, Chair : Abbès Zouache

  • Sylvie Denoix (CNRS/UMR Orient et Méditerranée) : Fusṭāṭ à l’époque pré-fatimide : un phare pour les oulémas
  • Adday Hernández López (Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (ILC-CSIC)) : Professional mobility in the Islamic West : The case of the Andalusi ’ulamā’
  • M. Syifa Widigdo (Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta) : Imām al-Ḥaramayn al-Juwaynī and the Politics of Sunnī Orthodoxy in the Eleventh Century

10:30 Coffee Break, SG37

11:00 Panel 6, Chair : Roy Fischel

  • Ahmed Al-Rahim (University of Virginia, Charlottesville) : Professional Mobility and Knowledge in the Mongol Empire : A Study of the “Mobile School” (al-Madrasa al-Sayyāra) of the Il-Ḫāns
  • Kenneth Goudie (Ghent University) : Building A Network : Al-Biqāʿī’s Strategy of Survival
  • Atta Muhammad (University of Leeds) :
    The Public Sphere during the later Abbasid Caliphate (1050-1258 AD) : The Role of Shaykh al-Shuyukh or Shaykh as-Sufiyya of Baghdad

12:30 Lunch, SG37

13:30 Panel 7, Chair : Mehdi Berriah

  • Suzan Gunasti (Ohio Wesleyan University) : The Consolidation of the Early Ottoman Ulema
  • Mehdi Berriah (univ. of Pantheon-Sorbonne – UMR 8167) : Mobilités et polyvalence des oulémas à l’époque mamelouke : le cas d’Ibn Taymiyya
  • Jean-David Richaud (univ. of Pantheon-Sorbonne – UMR 8167) : Niẓām al-Mulk, la madrasa et les oulémas
  • Rodrigo García-Velasco (Woolf Institute) : Muslim and Jewish administrators in twelfth-century Toledo and Zaragoza and the preservation of Andalus ? Notarial and judicial culture after the Christian conquests

15:30-15:45 Wrap-Up : Submission, Publisher, AOB
Mohamad El-Merheb / Mehdi Berriah

Adherence into the social-cum-cultural group of ʿulamāʾ was relatively open and depended often on personal scholarly accomplishment, while other considerations like social, ethnic, or geographical origin played a lesser role. On the other hand, the professional mobility of the ʿulamā and advancement opportunities within this group for religious, legal, administrative, and political appointments depended to some extent on social networks and, in some cases, on adherence to certain families or madhhabs. This professional mobility will be the focus of this two-day workshop.

Joan E. Gilbert argued that Zangid and Ayyubid Damascus (12th-13th century) witnessed the beginning of the professionalisation and bureaucratisation of the ʿulamāʾ. This trend increased under the Mamluks. Other scholars including I. Lapidus, M. Chamberlain, J. Berkey, C. Petry, D. Little and B. Shoshan treated the major role played by the Mamluk period ʿulamāʾ in manipulating knowledge transfer for social capital and to acquire administrative and political offices within a society that was open to a widespread mobility. Recently, scholars like I. Perho showed that while individual merits played an important role in the professional mobility, lineage and networks were also factors of social advancement.
Between the rise of the madrasas under the Saljūqs and the incorporation of the education system into the Ottomans state, the scholarly elite increasingly monopolised the religious and administrative appointments often with the tacit or expressed consent of political authorities especially under the Mamluks but similarly under other Islamic empires. Within this context of the Middle period of Islam, there is a need to further understand the professional mobility of the ʿulamāʾ. Such enquiry should take into account the processes of gradual professionalisation, institutionalisation, and the adabisation of the ʿulamāʾ in the long period between the Saljūqs and the Ottomans.

The aim of this workshop is to reflect on the professional mobility of the ʿulamāʾ along spatial, horizontal and vertical axes. Vertical mobility is understood here as the process within which ʿulamāʾ moved upwards in various paid jobs, including the positions of imām, khaṭīb (preacher), mudarris/shaykh (teacher), qāḍī (judge), qāḍī al-quḍāt (chief judge), and others. Horizontal mobility denotes how the ʿulamāʾ served as salaried administrators of religious or administrative offices. This includes jobs like the chief Sufi (shaykh al-shuyūkh), muḥtasib (market inspector), nāẓir al-awqaf (supervisor of charitable endowments) and, moreover, non-religious administrative including, for instance, nāẓir bayt al-māl (superintendent of the treasury), diplomatic emissary, and various appointments in the chancery. Horizontal mobility furthermore, intersects with the notion of adabised scholars since many ʿulamāʾ were poets and belletrists. Spatial mobility investigates the traveling ʿulamāʾ not as much as émigrés but as professionals who, due to new placements, moved both ways between Damascus and Cairo, Khurāsān and Anatolia, Central Asia and Syria, the Mashriq and the Maghrib, Sicily and the Eastern Mediterranean, India and the Hijāz, or other axes of mobility.

This workshop is interested in papers that consider the following questions : How and when did the madrasas start producing bureaucrats ? What did getting close to political authority entail for the ʿulamāʾ ? How did offers for higher appointments travel in Islamic lands ? How did the competition between ruling elites and households impact this professional mobility ? Was this mobility controlled by households and governments or by the ʿulamāʾ themselves ? How did the uniformity or diversity of madhhabs impact this mobility and the opportunities available to the ʿulamāʾ ? Which ʿālims epitomised this mobility more than others ? Was this mobility more common under certain dynasties and regimes ?