The language of tolerance: Amir Khusraw and the development of Indo-Persian culture

Author: 
Gabbay, Alyssa
Year: 
2007

     This dissertation explores the formation of a language of tolerance within the works of the medieval Indo-Persian poet and historian Amir Khusraw (d. 1325). Drawing on the theoretical frameworks of frontier studies and deconstruction, this study conceptualizes the manner in which a pluralistic rhetoric emerged in the works of Khusraw, the shape it took, and its influence. In particular, it argues that the multicultural conditions of India's Delhi Sultanate period, pervaded by what the historian Marshall Hodgson has termed a "unitive metaphysic," infused the writer with a decidedly mixed attitude toward prevailing hierarchies in the greater Islamicate world, causing him to invert and drain them of significance even as he preserved and promoted them. Such inversions and manipulations generated a multiplicity of meanings and, in many cases, led to the pluralistic ethos so evident in the poet's work. They also played a significant role in the shaping of a new culture, one with its own distinctive characteristics.
     Although Khusraw has been viewed before as an icon of tolerance, until now no work has closely examined the mechanics of how the poet's pluralism developed, nor thoroughly explored its relationship to Indo-Persian culture, even though these measures are critical to tapping his potential as an exemplar of ecumenism. In particular, this study addresses the paradoxical and contradictory elements in Khusraw's rhetoric and reveals how these aspects are intrinsic to its development. Moreover, this dissertation's linking of the poet's use of lexical ambiguity to an ethos of tolerance serves to demonstrate the inseparability of style and content.
     In highlighting the notion of a language of tolerance as exemplified in the works of Khusraw, this dissertation offers an important corrective to present-day notions of how medieval Muslim communities interacted with other societies. It also brings to the forefront fresh awareness of medieval Islamicate contributions to the development of pluralistic ideologies. By affording a more penetrating understanding of how a rhetoric of tolerance emerges and operates, moreover, this work promotes a greater ability to identify and encourage such discourses in the present, where they are badly needed.

Advisor(s): 
Moayyad, Heshmat