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Ghazan, Islam and Mongol tradition: a view from the Mamlūk sultanate1

  • Reuven Amitai-Preiss (a1)


The conversion of Ghazan Khan to Islam in A.H. 694/A.D. 1295 was an event of great importance for both the Mongol ruling class and the Muslim subjects of his kingdom. The story of this conversion, based primarily on semi-official Persian works emanating from the Īlkhānid state itself, has been retold and analysed in varying detail by several modern scholars. Recently, Dr. Charles Melville, using contemporary Arabic sources from the Mamluk Sultanate, has enriched our knowledge of this event; in addition, he has suggested that the Islamization of the Mongols may have been well advanced even before Ghazan's conversion. Melville deals mainly with Ghazan's conversion per se, as well as the events that led up to it. As for the nature of Ghazan's Islam, he writes: ‘It is beyond the scope of this paper to speculate on the sincerity of Ghazan's conversion, which we can never know, or on what he actually understood of Islam …’. He does show, however, that Ghazan's conversion to Islam was more than just a personal decision based on religious conviction: one motive behind this move was a desire to attract those Mongols who had already become Muslims, and thus to win their support in his struggle against Baidu.



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2 Howorth, H. H., History of the Mongols, III (1888), 383384; D'Ohsson, A. C. M., Histoire des Mongols, IV (repr., Tientsin, 1940, of La Haye and Amsterdam, 1835), 132133; Boyle, J. A., ‘Dynastic and political history of the ’, in The Cambridge history of Iran, v, ed. Boyle, J. A. (Cambridge, 1968), 378380; Bausani, A., ‘Religion under the Mongols’, Cambridge history of Iran, V, 541543.

3 Pādshāh-i Islām: The conversion of Sultan Maḥmūd Ghāzān Khān’, Pembroke Papers, 1, 1990, 159177.

4 ibid., 171.

5 MS Topkapi Sarayi, Ahmet III 2920/25, fols. 60b–65b. This entry is found under the entry: ‘Maḥmūd b. Arghūn al-Mughulī al-Jinkiz Khānī’ with ‘Ghāzān al-Mughulī’ in the margin; Maḥmūd was the Muslim name which Ghazan adopted upon his conversion. In another unpublished volume of al-Wāfī bi'l-wafayāt (MS Bodleian Arch. Seld. A.28, fol. 75b), there is a very short entry for ‘Ghāzān’, but this is a cross-reference, sending the reader to the article ‘Maḥmūd b. Arghūn …’ upon which the present article is based.

6 Two Istanbul manuscripts of Aՙyān al-ՙaṣr were consulted: MS Süleymaniye, Aya Sofya 2968, fol. 3b–7b [henceforth: MS AS]; MS Topkapi Sarayi, Emanet Hazine 1216, fol. 128b–130b [henceforth: MS EH]. A facsimile edition of Aՙyān al-ՙaṣr, based on MS Süleymaniye, Atif Ef. 1809, has recently been published by F. Sezgin (Frankfurt a.M., 1990). This last mentioned t manuscript, however, does not contain the biography of Ghazan. Sezgin, in the introduction to his edition (p. vii), writes: ‘We had to substitute five missing pages (vol. 2, pp. 326–330), which we took from the eighth part of the autograph in the Aya Sofya collection (no. 2968), fols. lb–3b.’ Actually these folios are taken from MS Aya Sofya 2967, which also lacks the entry for Ghazan, as found in MS Aya Sofya 2968.

7 On the relationship between al-Wāfī bi'l-wafayāt and Aՙyān al-ՙaṣr, see Little, D. P., ‘Al-Ṣafadī as biographer of his contemporaries’, in Little, D. P. (ed.), Essays on Islamic civilization presented to Niyazi Berkes (Leiden, 1976), 190210 (repr. in Little, D. P., History and historiography of the Mamluks [London, 1986], art. I). Al-Ṣafadī is clearly the source for the entry on Ghazan in the fifteenth-century al-Durar al-kāmina fī aՙyān al-mi'a al-thāmina by Ibn Hajar al-ՙAsqalānī (d. 852/1449). In this paper I have used the five-volume Cairo edition (1966) of the work; Ghazan's biography appears in vol. III, 292–4 (no. 3313). This corresponds with the Hyderabad edition (1348–50/1929–32, four volumes), III, 212–14.

8 Wāfī, fol. 60b; Aՙyān, MS EH, fol. 128b; Ibn Ḥajar, III, 212.

9 Thus in Wāfī, fol. 62b; the appellation al-mutaṭabbib can be translated as ‘the practitioner of medicine’. In Aՙyān, MS EH, fol. 128a, he his called instead al-ṭabīb. On this personality, who died in Damascus in 726/1326, see the introduction to Lech, K., Das mongolische Weltreich: al-ՙUmarī's Darstellung der mongolische Reiche in seinem Werk Masālik al-abṣār fī ՚l-mamālik al-amṣār (Wiesbaden, 1968), 29 (there called al-Arbilī). Al-ՙUmarī cites him several times for information on the Chaghatayid Khānate (ibid., 75–7).

10 On her, see Melville, Ch., ‘Bologhān ’, Encyclopaedia Iranica, IV, 339. Lessing, F. D. (ed.), Mongolian-English dictionary (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960), gives the spelling of this word (meaning ‘sable’) as bulayan, but cf. Doerfer, G., Mongolische und türkische Elemente im Neupersischen [henceforward: TMEN] (Wiesbaden, 19621975), 1, 215.

11 al-Dīn, Rashīd, Jāmiՙ al-tawārīkh, III, ed. ՙAlīzādah, ՙA. (Baku, 1957), 301; = Jahn, K. (ed.), Geschichte Ġāzān-Ḫān's aus dem Ta'rīḫ-i-Mubārak-i-ġāzānī des Rašīd al-Dīn … (London, 1940), 80 (left column). As far as I can tell, this story is not mentioned in Waṣṣāf's history (Ta'rīkh-i waṣṣāf al-ḥaḍra = Tajziyat al-amṣār wa-tazjiyat al-aՙṣār [repr. Tehran, 1338S./1959, of Bombay 1269H/1852–3]).

12 Boyle, ‘’, 380, cites the Qur'ān, IV, 26: ‘And marry not women whom your fathers have married: for this is a shame, and hateful, and an evil way; though what is past may be allowed to happen.’ Boyle wonders how any self-respecting Muslim dignitary could have officiated at such a ceremony, which blatantly contradicted the Sharīՙa. See also J. Schacht, ‘Nihḳāḥ, I in the classical Islamic law’, EI 2, VIII, 27.

13 The matter of the Yasa will be discussed below; in passing it might be mentioned that the term ‘yasa’ could also refer to a particular precept and not just the entire legal corpus. This particular rule is mentioned by Rashīd al-Dīn (ed. ‘Alīzādah, 6), who writes that Hülegü thus married his father's widows ‘in accordance with the Yasa (ba-rāh-i yāsāq)’. On this practice, see William of Rubruck, in van den Wyngaert, A., Sinica Franciscana, 1 (Quaracchi-Firenze, 1929), 184185; translation in Jackson, P. (tr.), and Jackson, P. and Morgan, D. (introduction, notes and appendices), The mission of Friar William of Rubruck (London, 1990), 9192, and n. 1 on p. 92. Boyle, , 380, shows that this custom was well established among the Mongol royal family in Iran, as well as being an ancient practice among the tribes of the Eurasian steppe.

14 Wāfī, fols. 62b–63a; Aՙyān, MS EH, fol. 128a; MS AS, fol. 3b; cf. the summary in Ibn Ḥajar, III, 292–3, which differs in details from that presented by al-Ṣafadī. It is interesting to note that the unnamed scholar mentioned in this passage was subject to some criticism for his permissive interpretation of the law, but he replied that adopting an indulgent position and thus preventing Ghazan's apostasy and his subsequent antipathy to Islam was the best solution. This cogent explanation was accepted.

15 On the Yasa, see Ratchnevsky, P., Genghis Khan: his life and legacy, ed. and tr. Haining, T. N. (Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1991), 187196; Ayalon, D., ‘The Great Yāsa of Chingiz Khān: a reexamination’, Studia Islamica, pt. A, vol. 33 (1971), 97140; pt. B, vol.34 (1971), 151–80 (the four parts of this article—of which parts C1 and C2 deal with the position of the yasa in the Mamluk Sultanate—have been republished in Ayalon, D., Outsiders in the lands of Islam [London, 1988]); Morgan, D., The Mongols (London, 1986), 9699; idem, The “Great Yāsā of Chingiz Khān” and Mongol law in the Īlkhānate’, BSOAS, XLIX, 1, 1986, 163176; de Rachewiltz, I., ‘Some reflections on Činggis Qan's ǰ;asay’, East Asian History, 6, 1993, 91104. The transliteration of Yasa presents some problems. I have eschewed the original Mongolian form ǰasay, in favour of that based on the Turkic derivative yasa which is used in the Muslim sources. This is usually rendered yāsā or yāsa in the Arabic and Persian texts, although yāsāq is also found.

16 On the previous folio of Wāfī, al-Ṣafadī cites al-ՙUmarī, on Ghazan's name and genealogy, as well as his physical characteristics and personality. The mention of the languages which Ghazan knew, etc., would seem to be a continuation of this description. According to Little, ‘Ṣafadī’, 203–4, virtually all of the information which al-Ṣafadī derived from al-ՙUmarī was transferred orally and not through the latter's written works.

17 Thus in Wāfī. Aՙyān, MS AS, has ‘he spoke Turkish, Mongolian and Persian’; MS EH, omits Turkish from the list.

18 This form is closer to the Mongol ǰasay. Aՙyān: taՙāẓuman li-ajal yāsā jinkaz khān al-khāliṣa.

19 Wāfī: ahadha nafsahu fīi al-siyāsa ma'khadh jinkiz khān. The parallel passage in Aՙyān, is slightly different, but more clear: ahadha nafsahu bi-ṭarīq jinkiz khān. At the beginning of the entry, however, the latter work does have the following sentence: lammā malaka, akhadha nafsahu fī ՚l-mulk ma՚khadh jinkaz khān.

20 On the arghū (generally yarghū < Mongolian ǰaryu), the Mongol combination of committee of inquiry and court-martial, and (= < Mo. ǰaryuči), see Morgan, D., ‘The “Great Yāsā of Chingiz Khān”,’ 173176.

21 Wāfī, fol. 61a; some minor differences are found in Aՙyān, MS EH. 128a–b; MS AS, fols. 3b–4a, which are noted above; there is a short summary in Ibn Ḥajar, III, 212. For aghā (< Mo. aga; Turkish aya) and īnī (< Tu. ini), see Doerfer, , TMEN, 1, 133140, II, 226. The sentence would seem to mean that cadet member of the Mongol royal family in the Ilkhanate were to defer to the senior members, with the added implication that the present hierarchy, with Ghazan at the summit, was to be maintained.

22 According to Rashīd al-Dīn (ed. ‘Alīzādah, 379; = ed. Jahn, 171), Ghazan knew besides Mongolian some Arabic, Persian, ‘Hindi’, ‘Kashmīrī’, Tibetan, ‘Khiṭa'ī’, Frankish and other languages. Spuler, B., Die Mongolen in Iran, 4th ed. (Leiden, 1985), 380, n. 59, notes that Turkish should have been mentioned in this passage. Whether Ghazan actually spoke all of these languages remains a moot point. It is possible that al-Ṣafadī (and al-ՙUmari) may have known of Ghazan's linguistic skills and just did not bother to list the non-Islamic languages. Spuler, it should be added, doubts Ghazan's knowledge of Arabic.

23 Rashīd al-Dīn, ed. ՙAlīzādah, 511 [ = ed. Jahn, 303], cited in Morgan, ‘The “Great Yāsā of Chingiz Khān”,’ 172, but compare his comment.

24 Boyle, J. A. (in the glossary of The successors of Genghis Khan [New York and London, 1971], 341), writes of the yosun: ‘Mongol customary law, as distinct from the yasa of Genghis Khan.’

25 See The Secret History of the Mongols, tr. Cleaves, F. W. (Cambridge, MA, 1982), 1, 271; Doerfer, , TMEN, 1, 149152.

26 See Secret History, tr. Cleaves, 1, 276; Doerfer, TMEN, 1, 424.

27 Rashīd al-Dīn, ed. ՙAlīzādah, 251; = ed. Jahn, 8. This passage is mentioned briefly in Morgan, , ‘The “Great Yāsā of Chingiz Khān”,’ 172.

28 See the comment of Jackson, P., ‘Chaghatayid Dynasty’, Encyclopaedia Iranica, V, 344.

29 I understand that the expression ‘taՙāẓuman’ refers to both Persian and Arabic. Thus he did not reveal that he understood Arabic and spoke Persian only with a few close associates ‘out of pride in the yasa’.

30 The term yasa is subsequently used in the biography in a meaning different from a corpus of laws, but rather as an individual command; Wāfī, fols. 61b–62b; Aՙyān, MS. EH, fol. 129a; MS. AS, fol. 4a. For the application of the term yasa to the individual commands of a particular Qa'an, and in one case to the orders of Chaghatai, see Morgan, , ‘The “Great Yāsā of Chingiz Khān”,’ 166173.

31 Wāfī, fol. 62b; Aՙyān, MS EH, fol. 129b; MS AS, fol. 5a. Aytamish (or Etmish), a trusted mamlūk of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad b. Qalawun (709–741/1310–1341), was an adviser on Mongol affairs and served as an envoy several times to Abū Saՙīd; see Ayalon, ‘The Great Yāsā of Chingiz Khān', pt. C2, 131–40; Little, D. P., ‘Notes on Aitamiš, a Mongol Mamluk’, in Haarmann, U. and Bachmann, P. (ed.), Die Islamische Welt zwischen Mittelalter and Neuzeit: Festschrift für Hans Robert Roemer zum 65. Geburtstag (Beirut, 1979), 386401 (repr. in Little, History and historiography, art. VI).

32 Wāfī, fol. 62b; Aՙyān, MS EH, fol. 129b; MS AS, fol. 5a–b. The expression yāsā al-mughul is found only in Aՙyān; in Wāfī, the word yāsā is missing. Only Aՙyān mentions that al-ՙUmarī is the ultimate source of this information.

33 Qāshānī, 98, cited in Morgan, , ‘The “Great Yāsā of Chingiz Khān”,’ 172, on which this translation is based.

34 Al-ՙUmarī, ed. Lech, p. 41 of Arabic text.

35 Morgan, , ‘The “Great Yāsā of Chingiz Khān ”,’ 172. Qutlugh-shāh also had a confused idea of some aspects of Mongol history: in a conversation with the Syrian theologian Ibn Taymiyya, he stated that Chinggis Khan (who he claimed was his ancestor) was a Muslim; al-Dawādārī, Ibn, al-Kanz al-durar wa-jāmī’ al-ghurar, ix, ed. Roemer, H. R. (Cairo, 1971), 32, citing the historian al-Birzālī, who in turn recorded this from Ibn Taymiyya's testimony.

36 The Qa'an, sometimes called the Great Khan, was the supreme ruler of the Mongol empire, while ‘khan’ was applied to lesser Mongol princes who ruled the uluses (royal appanages which eventually became independent states). For these two titles, see de Rachewiltz, I., ‘Qan, Qa'an and the seal of Güyüg’, in Sagaster, K. and Weiers, M. (ed.), Documenta Barbarorum: Festschrift für Walther Heissig zum 70. Geburtstag (Wiesbaden, 1983), 281298.

37 MS Wāfī: aw, which is a mistake for wa-; the latter particle is found in Aՙyān.

38 The mentioning of a name in the sermon and on the coinage are the two major symbols of sovereignty in traditional Islamic political life.

39 cf. al-ՙUmarī, 78, where the title ‘Great Khan’ is rendered al-qān al-kabīr. In general, both al-ṢSafadī and al-ՙUmarī use qān instead of the more usual khān found in the Mamlūk sources. Qān is closer to the Middle Mongolian qan, while khān resembles the Turkic form of this title. Both authors write jinkiz khān for Chinggis Khan, as this must have been a fixed expression. Besides the usage of khān in this case, al-ՙUmarī uses khān only twice in the part of al-ՙUmarī's work edited by Lech (see index, s.v. khān).

40 Much of this information in these two paragraphs is found, albeit in a more condensed form (but with some additions) in al-ՙUmarī who cites Shams al-Dīn al-Iṣfahānī; Lech, Das mongolische Weltreich, 19 of Arabic text; 32–4 of introduction (for information on al-Iṣfahānī). Al-ՙUmarī wrongly ascribes to Arghun the addition of his name to that of the Qa'an on coins. In reality, Hulegii had already begun doing this.

41 Kharbanda (Per. ‘Ass-Herd’) was the original name of Ölǰeitü (Mon. ‘Lucky One’), Ghazan's brother an d successor who ruled 1304–16. He was also known by the name Khudābanda (Per. ‘Servant of God’), as well as Muḥammad. See Boyle, ‘’, 398.

42 Wātī, fol. 62a–b; cf. Aՙyān, MS EH, 129a–b (missing a line of text on fol. 129b); MS AS, fols. 4b–5a, for some minor differences. Cf. also the shorter version in al-ՙUmarī, ed. Lech, Arabic text, 19.

43 See N., and Amitai-Preiss, R., ‘Two notes on the protocol on Hülegü's coinage’, Israel Numismatic Journal, 10, 19881989 [1991], 117121; Amitai-Preiss, R., ‘Evidence for the early use of the title īlkhān among the Mongols’, JRAS, NS, 1, 1991, 353; in idem, ‘A n exchange of letters in Arabic between Abaya īlkhān and Sultan Baybars (A.H. 667 / A. D. 1268–9)’, Central Asiatic Journal, 38, 1994, 11–33, there is a discussion of other possible translations of this term: I am now less certain that ‘subject khan’ is the correct translation.

44 See the discussion in Allsen, T., ‘Changing forms of legitimation in Mongol Iran’, in G. Seaman and D. Marks, Rulers from the steppe: state formation on the Eurasian periphery (Los Angeles, 1991), 230231, who also mentions a Mongolian legend on Ghazan's coins minted in Georgia which mention the Qa'an.

45 Spuler, , Die Mongolen in Iran, 221224; Blochet, E., Introduction à I'histoire des Mongols de Fadl Allah Rashid-ed-Din (Leiden and London, 1910), 231232; Allsen, T., ‘Two cultural brokers of medieval Eurasia: Bolad Aqa and Marco Polo’, in Gervers, M. and Schlepp, W. (ed.), Nomad diplomacy, destruction and religion from the Pacific to the Adriatic (Toronto Studies in Central and Inner Asia, no. 1, Toronto, 1994), 6378.

46 Spuler, Die Mongolen in Iran, 222; Blochet, Introduction à l'histoire des Mongols, 230.

47 Pelliot, P., Notes on Marco Polo, I (Paris, 1959), 120121; for the return of this embassy, see ibid, i, 393. See Allsen, ‘Legitimization’, 241, n. 67 for evidence of other missions.

48 Appendix to al-Maqrīzī, Kitāb al-sulūk fī maՙrifat al-duwal wa'l-mulūk, i, ed. Ziyāda, M. M. (Cairo, 19341939), 978.

49 This brings to mind the tanistry thesis suggested by Fletcher, J. F., ‘Turco-Mongolian monarchic tradition in the Ottoman Empire’, Harvard Journal of Ukrainian Studies, 34, 19791980, 236–51; see also Morgan, , The Mongols, 3839.

50 III, 293. Ibn Ḥajar, however, says that Ghazan said this when he drove out the Jochid representatives from Rūm (Anatolia; according to the editor, one MS reads Iraq). Al-ՙUmarī, ed. Lech, 79.

51 On this ideology L see the discussion and bibliography in Amitai-Preiss, R., Mamluks and Mongols: the Mamluk-Ilkhānid war, 1260–1281 (Cambridge, 1995), 1011.

52 See R. Amitai-Preiss, ‘Aims and motivations of Īlkhānid strategy towards Syria and the Mamlūks’, in D. Morgan (ed.), The Mongol Empire and its legacy, forthcoming.

53 Besides the discussion in the article mentioned in the previous note, see Raff, T., An anti-Mongol fatwa of Ibn Taimiya (privately printed, Leiden, 1973), 3335. On p. 30, Raff discusses the use of both Islamic and Chinggisid motifs in Ghazan's proclamations to the population of Damascus in 699/1300.

54 Rashīd al-Dīn, ed. ‘Alīzādah, 350–1; =ed. Jahn, 141–2; cited in Boyle, ‘’, 392–3. For khudāy-i qadīm (and khudāy-i dā'im) as Tengri, see Heidemann, S., Der Aleppiner Kalifat (AD 1261): xom Ende des Kalifates in Bagdad über Aleppo zu den Restauration in Kairo (Leiden, 1994), 332333, 336, 338.

55 See Boyle, ‘’, 402.

56 Levtzion, N., ‘Towards a comparative study of Islamization’, in N. Levtzion, Conversion to Islam (New York and London, 1979), 19.

57 Ibn Taymiyya, Majmū’a fatāwī ibn taymiyya (Beirut, n.d.), rv, 280–98, esp. 286–8. This passage is analysed in detail by Raff, An anti-Mongol fatwa of Ibn Taimiya, 44–59; see ibid., 5–7, for a discussion of the dating of this fatwa. A summary of Ibn Taymiyya's approach is found in Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr (Cairo, 1342/1923), ii, 67, who uses the word yāsaq (sic) for the Mongol sharՙ; see the discussion in Sivan, E., Radical Islam: medieval theology and modern politics (New Haven, 1985) 9697.

58 See Little, D. P., ‘The historical and historiographical significance of the detention of Ibn Taymiyya’, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 4, 1973, 311327 (repr. in Little, History and historiography, art. VII). Cf. Sivan, Radical Islam, 96–7, who suggests that Ibn Taymiyya's hostility to the Mongols was due to the fact that he had fled as a child from Mongolcontrolled territory, and was thus suffering from a ‘refugee syndrome’.

59 Ibn al-Dawādārī, rx, 127.

1 This is an expanded version of a paper read at the 204th Annual Meeting of the American Oriental Society at Madison, WI, on 23 March 1994. I would like to thank Dr. David Morgan and Dr. Igor de Rachewiltz for reading drafts of this paper and their many useful comments.

Ghazan, Islam and Mongol tradition: a view from the Mamlūk sultanate1

  • Reuven Amitai-Preiss (a1)


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