The Muhammad Avatara: Salvation History, Translation, and the Making of Bengali Islam

ISBN : 9780190089221

Ayesha A. Irani
456 ページ
156 x 235 mm

In The Muhammad Avatara, Ayesha Irani offers an examination of the Nabivamsa, the first epic work on the Prophet Muhammad written in Bangla. This little-studied seventeenth-century text, written by Saiyad Sultan, is a literary milestone in the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural history of Islam, and marks a significant contribution not only to Bangla's rich literary corpus, but also to our understanding of Islam's localization in Indic culture in the early modern period. That Sufis such as Saiyad Sultan played a central role in Islam's spread in Bengal has been demonstrated primarily through examination of medieval Persian literary, ethnographic, and historical sources, as well as colonial-era data. Islamic Bangla texts themselves, which emerged from the sixteenth century, remain scarcely studied outside the Bangladeshi academy, and almost entirely untranslated. Yet these premodern works, which articulate Islamic ideas in a regional language, represent a literary watershed and underscore the efforts of rebel writers across South Asia, many of whom were Sufis, to defy the linguistic cordon of the Muslim elite and the hegemony of Arabic and Persian as languages of Islamic discourse. Irani explores how an Arabian prophet and his religion came to inhabit the seventeenth-century Bengali landscape, and the role that pir-authors, such as Saiyad Sultan, played in the rooting of Islam in Bengal's easternmost regions. This text-critical study lays bare the sophisticated strategies of translation used by a prominent early modern Muslim Bengali intellectual to invite others to his faith.


A Note on Transliteration and Other Conventions
A Map of Medieval Bengal and Arakan
1. The Prophet of Light and Love: Nur Muhammad in Bengal's Mirror
A Historical Overview of Cattagrama
Islamic Bangla Literature and Islamization
Literary Portraits of the Author
Inscribing Islam in the Bengali Religious Landscape
Nur Muhammad as the Ontological Principle of Light and Love
The Islamic Cosmogony of Obm
Later Developments in Islamic Bengali Cosmogonical Discourse
Cosmogony, Translation, and Conversion
2. Text, Author, and Authority: The Nabivamsa and the Making of Islamic Community
Genre and Performance
The Structure of the Nabivamsa's Salvation History
The Critical Edition of the Nabivamsa vis-a-vis the Manuscript Tradition
Author and Authority in the Making of Islamic Community
3. Translation and the Historiographic Process: The Work of a Text in the Making of Bengali Islam
The Terms of Translation
Translation as Qurqanic Exegesis
The Representation and Transculturation of Musalmani and Hinduani Traditions
Translation as Entextualizing Conversion
A Hermeneutic Model of Muslim Missionary Translation
Frontier Literature
4. A New Prophetology for Bengal: Purana- Koran Salvation History
An Indo- Islamic Salvation History for Bengal
The Original Couple, Maric- Marijat or Siva- Parvati
The Puranic Predecessors of Adam
The Account of Adam, the First Man
Righteous Sis and Islam's Triumph over Hinduani Adharma
Evil Iblis as Primal Guru of the Hinduani Clans
Translation as Renewal, Subversion, and Manipulation
5. Hari the Fallen Prophet: An Avatara's Descent into Disgrace
In the Shadow of Gauriya Vaisnavism
Recasting the Acts of Kcrsna
The Polemics of the Tale of Kcrsna
An Islamic Reappraisal of Vaisnava Theology
Messianic Intersections of the Avatara and Nabi
Missionary Translation as Creative Iconoclasm
6. Ascension and Ascendancy: Constructing the Prophet for Bengal
The Nabivamsa's Ascension Narrative in the Perso- Turkic Micraj Tradition
The Prophet as God's Beloved
The Prophet as Perfect Phakir
The Prophet as Intercessor
The Historiographer and Legitimation
Conclusion: Historiography, Translation, and Conversion
Appendix: Distribution of Manuscripts of the NV in Various Bangladeshi Archives
Works Cited


Ayesha A. Irani is Associate Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston