Pre-Modern Comparative Literary Practice in the Multilingual Islamic World(s)

The virtual conference was co-organised by Huda Fakhreddine (University of Pennsylvania), David Larsen (New York University), and Hany Rashwan (University of Birmingham), with special thanks to Rawad Wehbe (University of Pennsylvania). The conference is hosted by the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation Research Centre (OCCT), University of Oxford, 22-24 July 2021.

The premodern Islamic world was multilingual and multicultural, and by necessity was continually engaged in comparative critical practices. Mapping the interconnected trajectories of these practices, everywhere they arose between Urdu, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and other language traditions of Asia and Africa, is the aim of this conference. We invite scholars to employ methodologies based on direct engagement with primary sources that negotiate the multilingual Islamic world(s) in ways that are overlooked or misunderstood by Comparative Literature.

For most of Islamic intellectual history, the literary analysis of discourse has been carried out in the domain of balāghah, and its Arabic terms—e.g., sariqah (theft, but also intertextuality), muʿāraḍah (rivalry, but also parody), muṭābaqah (correspondence, but also antithesis), muwāzanah (collation, but also comparison) etc.—signify concepts and categories that are different from those of Western criticism. Likewise, the traditions of grammar, lexicography, poetic meter, Quranic exegesis, hadith criticism, jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, and mysticism developed their own Arabophone conceptual resources, which were applied throughout the Islamic world. We invite participants to investigate the ramifications of such terms, and the consequences of their application across the multilingual Arabic world, fruitful and otherwise. Participants are invited to extend Islamicate poetics beyond Islamic traditions, and contemplate how contemporary critical theory might be enriched by comparative methods of the Islamic world. To bridge the frontier dividing modern literary theory from Islamic Studies is another aim of this conference. We mean to challenge the Eurocentrism of modern Comparative Literature as we invite dialogue across the disciplines of comparative rhetoric, poetics, philosophy, and Islamic Studies.

For the full conference programme, including times of sessions and titles. refer to the Programme tab below.

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Thursday, 22 July 2021

15:00–15:10 | Welcome Remarks, Matthew Reynolds

15:10–15:40 | Keynote Address: “Multilingual Poetry, the Information Superhighway of the Medieval Muslim World”, Fatemeh Keshavarz (Maryland University)

15:40–17:00 | Session 1: Multilingual Scholars and Scholarly Practice

  • “Multilingual Commentary Literatures of the Islamicate and their Role in Early-Modern Orientalism”, Claire Gallien (Université Montpellier 3, CNRS)
  • “A Brocade of Many Textures: Literary Trilingualism in 14th Century Anatolia, Iran, and Beyond”, Ali Karjoo-Ravary (Bucknell University)
  • “Sufi Metaphysics as Literary Theory: Şeyh Gālib’s Beauty and Love”, Zeynep Oktay-Uslu (Boğaziçi University)

17:00–17:20 | Break

17:20–19:00 | Session 2: Translinguistic Adaptations of Genre and Form

  • ‘Ibrat for an Islāmi Pablik: The Nineteenth-Century Historical Novel in Urdu”, Maryam Fatima (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
  • “Rethinking the art of composition (Inshā) in the Arabic and Persian Maqāmāt: Badī‘ al-Zamān al-Hamadhāni and al-Ḥarīrī in dialogue with Ḥamīd al-Dīn Balkhī”, Alaaeldin Mahmoud (American University of the Middle East in Kuwait)
  • “Refrains of Comparison: Bringing the Persian radīf into Arabic poetry in Eighteenth-century India”, Simon Leese (Utrecht University)
  • “Contrasting Masculine and Feminine Poetic Voices in Wine Poetry: Cases from Arabic and Ottoman Poetry” , Orhan Elmaz (University of Saint Andrews)


Friday, 23 July 2021

15:00–16:20 | Session 3: Translation and Non-Translation in the Islamic World

  • “Arabic Texts as Ottoman Literary Phenomena: The multilingual lives of Sarḥ al-ʿuyūn (Pasturing at the Wellsprings of Knowledge)” , Peter Webb (Leiden University)
  • “Islam in the vernacular: The world(s) of Arabi Malayalam, and multilingual imaginaries in Kerala, South India”,  Muneer Aram Kuzhiyan (Aligarh Muslim University)
  • “Translation as a Poetic Point of Departure: Persianizing the Rāmāyaṇa in Early 17th-Century India”, Ayelet Kotler (University of Chicago)

16:20–16:30 | Break

16:30–17:50 | Session 4: Minorities, Shibboleths, and Polyglossia

  • “Rethinking Queering in the Pre-Modern Persian Poetry: A dialogue between Rūmī and Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī”, Nasim Basiri (Oregon State University)
  • “Echoes of Arabic Linguistic Theory, Practice and Muslim Doctrine in Jewish Writings of the Medieval Islamicate World”, Talya Fishman (University of Pennsylvania)
  • “The Poetics of Multilingualism in Medieval and Pre-modern Kurdish Poetry: Rethinking Macaronic verses in Classical Kurdish Poetry”, Seerwan Hariry (Soran University in Iraqi Kurdistan)

17:50–18:00 | Break

18:00–19:20 | Session 5: Catachresis and Creative Misreadings

  • Reading Christian Heresy into the Qurʾān in the Latin Fathers, The Medieval Translators, and the Modern Academy”, Christopher Livanos (University of Wisconsin in Madison)
  • Loanwords from Within: Debating taʿrīb in the Multilingual Ottoman Environment”, Colinda Lindermann (Freie Universität Berlin)
  • Debating Belagat: The Poetics of (Af)filiative Translation in late Ottoman Literary Modernity”, Mehtap Ozdemir (University of Massachusetts Amherst)


Saturday, 24 July 2021

15:00–16:20 | Session 6: Multilingual Lexicology and Exegesis

  •  Mapping ibn ʿArabī’s Teachings in Premodern Persian Sufi World: ʿAbdul Razzāq Kāshānī’s Lexicons and Their Literary Importance in Formalizing Sufi Terminology”, Leila Chamankhah (University of California, San Diego)
  • Religion and Literature in Dialogue: Nāsir-i Khusraw’s Reception of the Quran and Hadith”, Salour Evaz Malayeri (University of St Andrews)
  • Prophethood in Poetic Wisdom: Beginnings, Adab and Muhammad Iqbal”, Abdul Manan Bhat (University of Pennsylvania)

16:20–16:30 | Break

16:30–17:50 | Session 7: Textual Practices, Media, and Reception

  • Arabic Prayer, or Persian or both? Abū Ḥanīfa’s view and its Legal Reception”, Suheil Laher (Hartford Seminary)
  • Sheikh Nuruddin’s Koshur Quran: Trans-linguistic Poetry of a Fourteenth-Century Kashmiri Saint”, Fayaz A. Dar and Zubair Khalid (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
  • Shaping the Language of Love: The Afterlife of Nizāmī’s Khusrau u Shīrīn in Persianate India”, Aqsa Ijaz (McGill University

17:50–18:00 | Organisers' Remarks

18:00–18:30 | Keynote Address: “Learning Arabic in Pre-Modern Times”, Michael Cooperson (UCLA)

18:30–18:40 | Concluding Remarks