Comes a man from the East

Ibn Tulun’s chronicle Mufākahat al-Khillān contains a curious anecdote, in which a man from “the lands of Ḥasan Bāk” comes to Damascus and just takes over the Kujujāniyya Khānqāh, which was in the hands of one of the most powerful men in town, the Shāfiʿī chief judge Shihāb al-Dīn Ibn al-Farfūr.

[Rajab 892] In this month, a man came from the lands of Ḥasan Bāk and presents confirmed documents from the highest ranks of the family (dhurriya) of the endower of the Kujujāniyya Khānqāh; he wanted to take it over on the conditions of the founder, after the Shāfiʿī chief judge Shihāb al-Dīn Ibn al-Farfūr had devoted himself to it, although it held great wealth, he had made Ismāʿīl al-Nāṣirī forego it, who had taken it from the Ḥanafī Qāḍī ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn.

Although there is some resistance, the claim is supported by the local authorities and the man from the East takes over the post.

More importantly, Ibn Ṭūlūn’s terse notices about this procedure point to the—at times—surprising regional and even transregional mobility of people during the early modern period. The Kujujī family who ostentatiously established this institution in Damascus had their power base in Tabriz since the late 14th century where their eponym Ghiyāth al-Dīn Muḥammad Kujujī had formed an alliance with the military dynasty known as the Jalayrids.

Christoph Werner investigates the relationship of both groups through an analysis of poetic offerings in his DYNTRAN Working Paper “Poetry and Families”. The information he offers there, allows to identify the Tabriz – Damascus connection of the Kujujīs in more detail:

The Kujujis have been characterized as a mystic order (Gronke 1993), and more recently as a religious movement and a wide-spread family unit which was able to transform their origins and background from rural Sufism into political and economic power, wealth and prestige (Werner, Zakrzewski, Tillschneider 2013).

More importantly, Werner shows that the Damascus Khānqāh was not the only and probably not even the first complex tied to the family name:

Shaykh Muhammad Kujuji had been able to build on the spiritual heritage of his ancestor, a rural Sufi master from the village of Kujuj or Kujaj, who had been a contemporary to Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili, the founder of the Safavid order in the 13th century. His impressive charisma had helped him to acquire followers and teach his own brand of mystic philosophy (Lewisohn 1996), but only his descendants managed to turn this capital into worldly gains. Already the father of Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad Kujuji, Ibrahim Kujuji, had acquired large landed estates and urban properties, and his son continued this tradition, finally establishing a large mosque-madrasa-khanaqah complex in Tabriz that was very well endowed.

Werner argues for the symbiotic relationship of both families in ascertaining their positions in and beyond Tabriz. How does the khānqāh in Damascus fit into this framework? Should we seen this as a form of soft diplomatics which projected the Jalayrids’ patronage for education and knowledge production beyond their own realm? Or could it have been an attempt on one Kujujī family member’s part to diversify access to other patrons? Finally, did this khānqāh survive the Mamluk-Ottoman transition and how did the Ottoman hegemony affect the Kujujīs back in Tabriz?

Since it appears that the Kujujī claim to the khānqāh came as a surprise, we might deduct that their influence had been minimal in the preceding decades. And I have no information as to the overall impact of this reassertion for wider patterns of mobility between Tabriz and Damascus in the following decades or centuries. Yet, a larger presence of Kujujīs would have been contentious in Ottoman Damascus as they enjoyed ties to the Safavids as well.

More robust interpretations can hopefully be expected from Christopher Bahl‘s new research project on mobility between shrine cities during the early modern period, which he has recently begun at the Orient Institut Beirut. Was Damascus the only place to which the Kujujīs expanded or was it part of a wider ensemble of khānqāhs and larger complexes?


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