The Millennial Sovereign

Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam

A. Azfar Moin

Columbia University Press

The Millennial Sovereign

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Pub Date: April 2014

ISBN: 9780231160377

368 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $34.00£29.00

Pub Date: October 2012

ISBN: 9780231160360

368 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $100.00£84.00

Pub Date: October 2012

ISBN: 9780231504713

368 Pages

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List Price: $33.99£29.00

The Millennial Sovereign

Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam

A. Azfar Moin

Columbia University Press

At the end of the sixteenth century and the turn of the first Islamic millennium, the powerful Mughal emperor Akbar declared himself the most sacred being on earth. The holiest of all saints and above the distinctions of religion, he styled himself as the messiah reborn. Yet the Mughal emperor was not alone in doing so. In this field-changing study, A. Azfar Moin explores why Muslim sovereigns in this period began to imitate the exalted nature of Sufi saints. Uncovering a startling yet widespread phenomenon, he shows how the charismatic pull of sainthood (wilayat)—rather than the draw of religious law (sharia) or holy war (jihad)—inspired a new style of sovereignty in Islam.

A work of history richly informed by the anthropology of religion and art, The Millennial Sovereign traces how royal dynastic cults and shrine-centered Sufism came together in the imperial cultures of Timurid Central Asia, Safavid Iran, and Mughal India. By juxtaposing imperial chronicles, paintings, and architecture with theories of sainthood, apocalyptic treatises, and manuals on astrology and magic, Moin uncovers a pattern of Islamic politics shaped by Sufi and millennial motifs. He shows how alchemical symbols and astrological rituals enveloped the body of the monarch, casting him as both spiritual guide and material lord. Ultimately, Moin offers a striking new perspective on the history of Islam and the religious and political developments linking South Asia and Iran in early-modern times.

Through a close and comparative reading of royal and religious ideologies, The Millennial Sovereign unites the study of sacred kingship and sainthood in early-modern Islamic societies, specifically in India, Iran, and Central Asia. A work of striking revisionism, it blazes a fascinating trail through the occult knowledges and enchanted mentalities of the period, with splendid evocations of the existential otherness of a past age and a fine eye for detail.

Nile Green, University of California, Los Angeles

The Millennial Sovereign deserves tremendous praise for its conceptual clarity and innovation, deep erudition in original materials, and signature contributions to early-modern Indian and Iranian history and Islamic studies. It is essential reading for experts in these fields, and its intellectual vitality and exemplary lucidity make it an accessible yet thoroughly sophisticated introduction for more general audiences. I recommend it with the deepest confidence and pleasure.

Shahzad Bashir, Stanford University

This is an impressive and unusual first book, characterized by its poise, range, and maturity. A. Azfar Moin jointly reconsiders kingship in early-modern India and Iran, domains that have been kept artificially apart more often than not. He rereads the textual and visual record to build a convincing corpus for analyzing changing royal ideologies. Moin is part of a new generation of scholarship that is shifting the terms of the debate on Mughal and Safavid rule by delving deep into the nature of what was shared and what was not in elite political culture. Engagingly and fluently written, and unafraid of controversy, this book will be read and discussed by specialists of South Asian and Iranian history but also more broadly by those interested in early-modern comparisons within the Islamic world and beyond its boundaries.

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California, Los Angeles

This is a brilliant book. It is the most innovative contribution to our understanding of Mughal history in my time. As a work of the first importance, and a step change in our knowledge of sixteenth-century India, it must be read by anyone interested in the fields of Islamic kingship, millenarianism, and astrology in the Muslim world and the early-modern world in general.

Francis Robinson, Royal Holloway, University of London

Moin deserves the highest praise for venturing into this contested terrain and writing a most interesting book about it.

Andre Wink, American Historical Review

he has thrown an entirely new light on how early monarchs of India's greatest dynastic house asserted their claims to royal authority. His book should be read not just by historians of South Asia but equally by those of Central Asia and Iran, as well as by specialists in Islamic studies.

Richard M. Eaton, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

In this unusually well written and elegantly carpentered book—he has a rare gift for building argument through narrative—Moin has delivered a major contribution to both Islamic history and the scholarship of sacred kingship.

Alan Strathern, History and Theory

Moin outlines a formidable challenge to the conventional narratives of Mughal and, to a lesser extent, Safavid history that is likely to surprise even specialists... A valuable contribution to the field that ought to compel scholars to reevaluate key assumptions regarding kingship and sainthood in Mughal India.

International Journal of Middle East Studies

Too seldom does a plodding dissertation become transformed into an elegant monograph. This 2010 dissertation is the rare, and welcome, exception… The author has conducted deep archival research with an accent on visual history and astrology… The Millennial Sovereign does deliver on its promise.

Journal of Islamic Studies

A delightful study that seeks to provide early modern Islamic historical scholarship with a new model to conceive of politics in the pre-modern era... Rich

Review of Middle East Studies

A fine volume that will enrich the libraries of both scholars of Islam and scholars of early modern Europe.

The Sixteenth Century Journal
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Note on Transliteration
1. Introduction: Islam and the Millennium
2. The Lord of Conjunction: Sacrality and Sovereignty in the Age of Timur
3. The Crown of Dreams: Sufis and Princes in Sixteenth-Century Iran
4. The Alchemical Court: The Beginnings of the Mughal Imperial Cult
5. The Millennial Sovereign: The Troubled Unveiling of the Savior Monarch
6. The Throne of Time: The Painted Miracles of the Saint Emperor
7. Conclusion: The Graffiti Under the Throne

Read an excerpt from the introduction to The Millennial Sovereign (to view in full screen, click on icon in bottom right-hand corner):

Web Features:

HONORABLE MENTION – 2014 Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize, South Asia Council, Association for Asian Studies

2013 John F. Richards Prize in South Asian History, American Historical Association

2013 Best First Book in the History of Religions from the American Academy of Religion

About the Author

A. Azfar Moin is assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin.