Mirrors for Ulama: Kabul at the Crossroads of Eastern and Western Islamic Reformism Open Access
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This dissertation engages the question of statecraft in two spaces of neglected comparison: the Middle East and South Asia. Despite a growing body of scholarship on Islamic reformist statecraft, its histories in the Middle East and South Asia have been hitherto studied separately. Furthermore, Afghanistan has been left out of these discussions, being treated as a "periphery" to both geographic zones rather than a critical link between them.The dissertation addresses this discrepancy by centering Afghanistan on a printed discourse of Islamic reformism that stretched from Tunisia to Bengal in the nineteenth century. It argues that the court of the Afghan ruler Amir Shayr Ali Khan (r. 1863-1878) was an intellectual magnet that drew in the trends of western and eastern Islamic reformism and synthesized them to produce unique publications suited to the Amir's political aims. Utilizing the methods of traditional source criticism and discourse analysis, this dissertation demonstrates that although Tunisian and Indian reformists sought liberal and egalitarian political orders, the Amir appropriated their writings and rhetorical methods and reconfigured them to legitimize his construction of an autocratic central state. Therefore, this dissertation proposes a new approach to the study of Islamic reformism, one that recognizes that the productions of new thought about statecraft in various parts of the Islamic world were not isolated phenomena. Instead, these ideas traversed traditionally-conceived geographic and linguistic boundaries and so-called "peripheries," such as Afghanistan, were links in the itineraries of these movements of thought.