Thread: A fascinating element of Indo-Muslim literature is the use of Indic theological terms like Brahma, Vishnu, Nirinjan, & Avatara to articulate their Islamic message. Sunni Sufi & Ismaili Saints (Pirs) presented Prophet Muhammad & Imam Ali as the Avataras of Brahma or Vishnu
Sayyid Sultan was a Sunni Sufi poet in Bengal who composed an epic poem called Nabi-Vamsa in which he retells the epic of various “Hindu figures” like the Rama and Krishna Avataras functionally equates the Prophets of Islam to the “Hindu” avataras.
Contrary to popular opinion, Sultan wasn’t changing Islamic beliefs or promoting idolatry. He was reinterpreting what is a Prophet & what is a an Avatara while stressing their common function of divine guidance. This is an act of “conceptual translation”
Tony Stewart explains how in the Indic milieu, the concept of avatara denotes divine guidance among other meanings. The closest equivalent in the Arabo-Persian Islamic discourse was the Nabi category. So Sultan’s poetry created a bridge between the two to preach Islam in Bengal
Sultan went further & taught about the Nur Muhammad in terms of Indic cosmologies & theologies. He spoke of the Divine Essence (dhat) or Ahad as Nirinjan (the unseen) and the Nur Muhammad with the manifestation of “Om” from God.
Likewise Ismaili Pirs spoke of Imam Ali & Ismaili Imams as the Avatara of Vishnu as Bengali Sunni poets did. Avatara is a dynamic equivalent of the Shia & Sufi idea of mazhar (locus of manifestation). In doing so Ismaili Pirs were “correcting” indigenous understanding of Avatara
Ismaili Pirs speak of God as Nirinjan/Nirakar (unknowable/unseen); they refer to the first spiritual emanations from God as Vishnu & Brahma called the ‘Lights’ of Ali & Muhammad. The historical Ali & Muhammad on earth are Avataras of cosmic eternal Ali/Vishnu & Muhammad/Brahma
Next time someone refers to an Ismaili or Sufi discourse about Avataras or Vishnu as “shirk”, pause for a minute & recognize their religious and historical illiteracy. This is a modern attempt to Arabize & Wahhabis culturally diverse traditions of Islamic thought & literature.
Plenty of Muslim apologists including Zakir Naik are happy to preach that Prophet Muhammad is the Kalki Avatar described in Hindu scriptures like the Puranas. So there’s a double standard here about the term Avatara and it’s equation with a Prophet or Imam…
Also Mahmud of Ghazna minted coins saying: “avyaktam ekaṃ, muhamadaḥ avatāraḥ, nrpatiḥ mahamudah” (The Invisible is one; Muhammad is His manifestation [avatar] Mahmud is the king). From @ccsahner

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Khalil Andani, PhD

Khalil Andani, PhD Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @KhalilAndani

17 Aug
No, Taliban’s laws =/ Shariah. Taliban laws = Taliban’s interpretation of Shariah cherry picked to implement in modern state. Shariah is an ideal about God’s law & guidance which is then interpreted by every single Muslim branch/community differently using its own methodology.
Fundamental in the Sunni paradigm is that Shariah (the idealized divine law) differs from Fiqh - the human fallible understanding & interpretation of Shariah. In a Sunni paradigm what any given jurist or group can claim to present is Fiqh at best, not Shariah as such.
Most Muslims use & understand the term Shariah as a just/equitable system of governance and ethics that’s free of corruption as well worship rituals. Of course many Muslims will say they want Shariah as law of their land. But they don’t imagine shariah looking Talibanish
Read 8 tweets
21 Jul
Thread: How did the Umayyad Caliphs understand & articulate their own religio-political status to their subjects & competitors? Crone & Hinds work remains one of the best resources in English for this. Below I share some excerpts from "God's Caliph".
Mu'awiya, the son of Abu Sufiyan who was the Prophet Muhammad's arch nemesis & adversary, styled himself as God's Caliph with no reference to Prophet Muhammad. Mu'awiya said: "The Earth belongs to God and I am the Deputy of God" per Balahduri.
Mu'awiya likewise styled his son Yazid, the killer of Imam al-Husayn, as God's Caliph "over His worshippers". Yazid was declared by his supporters to be "the Imam of the Muslims and Khalifa (deputy) of the Lord of the Worlds."
Read 13 tweets
5 Jun
When did the Sunnis first adopt the view that the Four Madhhabs were equally legitimate/orthodox? The Prophet's time? The early Caliphs? Did the Prophet foretell the birth of Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi'i & Ahmad b. Hanbal? Who canonized these four schools as comprising Ahl al-Sunna
Believe it or not, there was no "Sunni consensus" over what comprises Ahl al-Sunna even into the late 11th century where fist fights & riots broke out between Hanbalis & Ash'ari-Shafi'is in Baghdad. Abu Nasr al-Qushayri (an Ash'ari) had to bring bodyguards to his lectures
The first instance of "equality" between the Four Madhhabs was a top-down imposition by the Mamluk Sultan Baybars in 1256 when he appointed four Chief Qadis (1 from each school). In other words, what would become the Sunni legal paradigm was a political not scriptural imposition
Read 7 tweets
4 Jun
Enjoyed listening to .@holland_tom ‘s take on historical Muhammad. While I don’t agree with all of your theory, I think your take was balanced compared to ultra revisionist theories & raises important questions.…
There are intra Muslim theories of Quranic revelation & prophecy from ancient & modern Muslims that are less mechanistic than the verbatim dictation model you spoke to. I’ve studied some in my dissertation - which I’m currently working into a book.
The Quran is arguably ambiguous on the mechanics of prophetic revelation - often called Wahy - which one can plausibly read to mean “nonverbal inspiration” as opposed to verbatim dictation.
Read 6 tweets
19 May
This chart received unexpected amount of engagement. I appreciate the critiques: some are warranted & some are not. It is not a perfect chart but I stand by it as a teaching tool & starting point to show intra-Muslim diversity. Some critique I am happy to take on board: (thread)
@MM_Knight makes a good point that the chart appears to show genetic origins - as if a "Sunni" family subdivided into madhabs & other groups, which is not correct. I agree on this. Will consider a better way to capture the history.
Others noted that the visual order of Sunni madhahib do not follow chronology of their 'founders'. This is true; chart did not presume to offer a historical narrative but more of a snapshot at a time (today).
Read 8 tweets
18 May
Thread: I created this chart to present the internal diversity of Islam from an inclusive & pluralist lens. This is how I teach Islam in the academy. I have tried to show important branches that emerged from larger groups -even if said branches no longer identify as Muslim
The Sufi Turuq & Theological schools in this chart are NOT meant to appear as separate from Shia & Sunni, but rather, as embedded within those branches. That is why the Sufi & Kalam schools are not in boxes, since their ideas pervade many communities.
Some people are freaking out because I included Quranists, Progressives, Salafis, and Ahmadis under the Sunni umbrella. That is because, for the most part, these groups emerged from the Sunnis - even if there is debate over whether they are still Sunni.
Read 8 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!