New York University, Silsila: Center for Material Histories
ILLUMINATING THE HISTORY OF PRIVATE DEVOTION IN THE MUSLIM WEST
Hiba Abid, Silsila/NYU
Wednesday, February 2nd, 12:30pm EST
[Webinar] Silsila Spring 2022 Lecture Series
In many parts of the Islamic world, prayer books dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad are privileged objects, which mediate a relationship to the Prophet in his role as intercessor to God’s presence. In North and Sub-Saharan Africa, the production of such manuscript copies increased substantially between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, reflecting an intensification of devotion to the Prophet. To respond to an increasing demand, copyists and specialized workshops produced large quantities of prayer books that encompass a range of formats and shapes. Their output included miniature books and large-scale manuscripts, lavishly illuminated or simply decorated, and often illustrated books.
The history of these manuscripts and the ways in which they were used shed light on aspects of personal or private piety not well documented in standard textual sources. Through the very act of reading, readers appropriated, readapted and reshaped these books by adding notes in the margins or personal prayers in the final pages, inserting bookmarks and intercalating illustrated leaves. In this lecture, I will demonstrate how a methodology that lies at the intersection of art history, codicology, textual analysis and anthropology of the book can bring to light otherwise undocumented reading practices in which gesture and word combined in remembrance and the summoning of mental representations of the Prophet. I will raise fundamental questions about the context and practices of reading associated with such devotional literature in the premodern Muslim West. I will suggest that, through analysis of the manuscripts and their functions, we can uncover the intimacy of a private practice that lies at the heart of Muslim piety.
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