Research

My current book project, Muhammad’s Song: Politics, Performance, and Cosmology in the 14th Century, examines the poetics, performance, and languages of late medieval Islamic kingship through the life and work of Burhan al-Din Ahmad (d. 1398), a scholar-turned-ruler in late medieval Anatolia.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

This article examines a series of sequential cosmological and eschatological maps drawn by Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 638/1240) in his second recension of al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya (Türk ve İslam Eserleri Müzesi 1845+). These images, drawn from the visual language of the rational sciences, map the images of revelation into the cosmology of the day so as to show the vastness of God's cosmos and the limits of the intellect. Ibn al-ʿArabī, aware of the limits of his medium, explicitly states that these should be a "single composition." He uses visual cues to mark shifts of perspective, helping the reader visualize the interconnections that bind together this multidimensional representation of the cosmos. By considering their placement and their relation to the narrative, I also argue that the final two maps are a representation of two eyes, identifying the cosmos and the reader as reflections of God, a contemplative use that is lost in their transmission history.

JSS_011_02_1206_Karjoo-Ravary.pdf

This article presents an introduction to and a complete English translation of the eighth chapter of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s (d. 638/1240) magnum opus al-Futūḥāt al-makkiyya. The chapter, entitled, “On the earth that was made from the remainder of Adam’s leaven clay, which is the Earth of Reality, and on some of the strange and wondrous things contained therein,” contains a description of a world wholly separate from our own. An underlying argument in this chapter is that the human intellect, constrained as it is by the categories of possibilities which pertain to our earthly configuration, is very limited in comparison to the vast expanse of this “Earth of Reality.” Ibn al-ʿArabī also aims to show how many of the Qur’anic and Prophetic traditions which the intellect struggles to comprehend exist in this other world without any contradiction. In this sense, the chapter in question seeks to inculcate a sense of wonder and bewilderment in readers, reminding them that there will always be worlds, beyond our immediate sensory world, that remain to be seen and known.

JSS_010_01-02_02-Karjoo-Ravary.pdf

“Illustrating the Forms: Ibn al-ʿArabī’s (d. 638/1240) Images in al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya” in Visualizing Sufism (Brill), forthcoming.

This study analyzes the 27 images that appear in Ibn al-ʿArabī’s (d. 1240) al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya in order to sketch out his theory of visual representation. This theory avoids simple bifurcations between text and image by differentiating between multiple forms of each, arguing that each form remains complementary to but independent of the others. From this perspective, he asserts that even the subtlest of alterations change the affect of an image. This study then introduces and analyzes all 27 images in order to consider the metanarrative of the Futūḥāt’s visual representation. It argues that Ibn al-ʿArabī uses these images to root visual representation in the Qurʾan and Sunna, depicting three journeys through them that illustrate the cosmology of Islam as one that is constantly subject to perspective. Throughout the sequence, he emphasizes “seeing with two eyes,” one that sees similarity and another that sees difference, until culminating in a visual representation of the cosmos as two eyes. Through this, he complicates the identity of seer and seen and emphasizes that none sees but God. By the end of the sequence, visual representation is used to induce a realization of cosmos-as-icon; the cosmos is nothing but God seeing God endlessly.

“Qur’ānic Hermeneutics and the Translation of the Qur’ān” in Handbook of Qur’anic Hermeneutics (De Gruyter) co-authored with Jamal J. Elias, forthcoming.

Recorded Talks

“A Brocade of Many Textures: Literary Trilingualism in 14th Century Anatolia, Iran, and Beyond,” Pre-modern comparative literary practice in the multilingual Islamic world(s), OCCT, Oxford University, UK - August 22-24, 2021

Dissertation

Karjoo-Ravary, Ali, "Becoming a King of Islam: The Imperial Project of Qadi Burhan Al-Din of Sivas (1345-1398 CE)" (2018). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10837404.

https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI10837404

This dissertation analyzes the conjunction of Islamic (especially Sufi) cosmology, metaphysics, political ideology, aesthetic production, and religious law in the life of of Burhan al-Din of Sivas (1345-1398), a Sufi, scholar, poet, and warrior king in late medieval Anatolia. I argue that Burhan al-Din intended for the production and circulation of specific texts in order to establish himself as a “King of Islam,” a king who succeeds Muhammad by embodying the opposite but complementary attributes of beauty and majesty through feasting and fighting (bazm va razm). By uncovering the framework of his religious and imperial project, I show how he and his court used complex processes to articulate their power in multiple languages and ideological frameworks. Despite their diverse means of expression, these processes were considered thoroughly Islamic. Through a close study of the Persian, Arabic, and Turkish sources produced at his court, I engage with intellectual and material histories in order to recover his legitimizing and image-building exercises, arguing that these practices were already widespread earlier than is commonly accepted by scholars of Islamic thought and history. The dissertation is split into two parts. The first half of the dissertation presents a history of Burhan al-Din’s life as presented in Astarabadi’s Bazm va Razm. Chapter 1 examines his childhood, youth, and road to power, and Chapter 2 investigates his actions as a scholar-king. The second half of the dissertation is concerned with the ideological underpinnings of Burhan al-Din’s kingship and the material production of the court. Chapter 3 demonstrates how kingship was viewed as directly linked to Muhammad. Chapter 4 delves into the balancing act of feasting and fighting in establishing legitimate rule. By developing a framework for the role of Islam in premodern Persianate and Turkic monarchy, this dissertation contributes to scholarship on Islamic political thought by highlighting the discursive and dynamic nature of Islam’s political history.

Becoming a King of Islam - Dissertation - AKR - Abstract and TOC.pdf