Fathers and Daughters in Islam: Spiritual Inheritance and Succession Politics, Thirteenth to Nineteenth Centuries

AHA Session 130
World History Association 1
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Room 305 (Hynes Convention Center)
Cynthia Metcalf, Manhattanville College
Judith Tucker, Georgetown University

Session Abstract

One of the most significant, yet uncharted, relationships in the Muslim societies stretching from South Asia to North Africa are father-daughter ties. Despite the scripturally-sanctioned ideal of males as morally, intellectually, and spiritually superior,  examples, both historical and figurative, abound of fathers holding daughters in high esteem, and of some who regarded them as legitimate, indeed preferred, successors. This panel explores father-daughter bonds and dynamics as documented in Muslim literary and historical works over a broad geographical and chronological expanse. It challenges the commonly held notion of daughters as inherently and inevitably inferior in status to brothers or other male relatives by focusing upon the historical matrix in which socio-spiritual inheritance and succession politics combined to bring women into diverse leadership positions.

The first paper takes us into the political universe of thirteenth-century Delhi  where Sultan Iltutmish named his daughter, Raḍiyya, as successor because: “although she is in appearance a woman, yet in her mental qualities she is a man.”  It explains the multiple historical factors at play during the years that Iltutmish (d. 1236) groomed Raḍiyya as his heir and her three-year reign. It argues that in medieval Muslim India an ambiguous socio-metaphorical space existed for women to self identify, or be identified, as men; under certain historical conditions, this opened the doors to the actual exercise of power. 

The second presentation focuses upon Mihrimah, the only daughter of the Ottoman Sultan Süleyman I and examines her unique rapport with her father and how this relationship shaped sixteenth-century imperial and trans-Mediterranean struggles. Mihrimah acted as the sultan’s advisor by urging him to attack the Knights of Malta and offering to equip 400 ships at her own expense. While she, like Radiyya, endowed Islamic pious foundations in the imperial center, Mihrimah, much in contrast to her South Asian counterpart, did not inherit her father’s office. Rather, this paper argues that bitter succession struggles among Süleyman numerous sons and potential heirs constituted the fundamental element in Mihrimah special bond with the most powerful ruler in Dar al-Islam.  

In a final paper, the succession battles unleashed in late nineteenth-century colonial Algeria, after a revered Sufi and saint designated his only daughter as his spiritual heir, serve as a point of departure for exploring the socio-historic contexts within which father-daughter ties were enmeshed across a wide swatch of time and space. It develops a typology to account for how and why apparently hegemonic gender ideologies accommodated Muslim women (or those from other religious communities within dominant Islamic societies and states) as spiritual heirs and/or political successors in specific historical periods.  It argues that approaching global history from this perspective invites us to rethink the highly gendered western/non-western, or Christian/Muslim, binaries.

Our commentator, Judith Tucker, will greatly enrich the panel by bringing to bear her extensive research on women, gender, and law in the early modern Ottoman period (17th-18th centuries) as well as in nineteenth-century Egypt and in world history.

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