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    The word ‘anthology’ comes from the Greek for ‘flower-gathering’. An Anthology of Ismaili Literature: A Shi‘i Vision of Islam is the first collection of the literary ‘flowers’ of the Ismaili tradition, offering up to its readers glimpses of a literary tradition as rich and varied as it is little-known. The extracts, drawn from all periods of the Ismailis’ pre-modern history, reflect the plural and multi-ethnic history of the community and display a remarkable diversity in style and genre.

    As Azim Nanji points out in his foreword, the impulse to anthologise has a hallowed history in Muslim literature. Muslims have long compiled collections of hadithinfo-icon, biographies, histories, poetry and commentaries as ways of preserving and systematising their heritages. The present volume follows in that tradition, albeit supplemented with the full apparatus of modern scholarship. With sections on ‘History and Memoir’, ‘Faith and Thought’, and ‘Poetry’, this anthology introduces its readers to the diverse genres of pre-modern Ismaili writing and to the circumstances in which they were produced.

    The book opens with a substantial essay on Ismaili history and literary traditions by Farhad Daftary. The first section of historical extracts begins with the times of uncertainty that preceded the establishment of Fatimid rule in Egypt, as chronicled by the 10th century da‘iinfo-icon and author Ibn al-Haytham. Scenes from the days of the earliest Fatimid Imaminfo-icon-Caliphinfo-icon al-Mahdiinfo-icon (d. 322 AH/934 CE) are retold by his faithful chamberlain Ja‘far and by the renowned jurist and author, al-Qadi al-Nu‘man (d. 363 AH/974 CE).

    We hear more about the Qadiinfo-icon and the last imam of his time, Imam-Caliph al-Mu‘izz (r. 341-365 AH/953-975 CE), in the words of the 15th-century Tayyibi author Idris Imad al-Dininfo-icon. Two of the greatest luminaries of the 11th-century Ismaili da‘wainfo-icon have also left detailed accounts of their travels. The autobiography of al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Dininfo-icon al-Shirazi (d. 470 AH/1078 CE) includes a gripping account of his escape from the hostile kingdom of the Buyidsinfo-icon to safety in the Fatimid realms, an excerpt from which is included here.

    Roughly at the same time, Nasir-i Khusraw (d. after 462 AH/1070 CE) made a long spiritual journey from Persia to Egypt, then ruled by the Imam-Caliph al-Mustansir bi’llah (d. 487 AH/1094 CE). Here we include his famous description of Old Cairo and his account of the imam-caliph’s rule, in which justice was available to all, regardless of their faith. The section ends with chapters from Pirinfo-icon Sabzali’s narrative of a journey to Central Asia in the early 20th century, in which he and his Indian companions toiled through difficult terrain in Chitral and met with local Ismailis who impressed the Indian delegation with their fervent devotion to the imam of the time.

    Part Two, on ‘Faith and Thought’, is the heart of the volume, and comprises four sections of reflections by the greatest Ismaili thinkers on fundamental questions of creation, revelation, the imamatinfo-icon, ethics and faith. In the first section are extracts from the work of classical Ismaili thinkers such as Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani (d. around 360 AH/971 CE), Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. after 411 AH/1020 CE) and Nasir-i Khusraw, who argued against the theology of the time by refusing to project any anthropomorphic (human-like) qualities of God, the Originator.

    To quote one of the editors, Hermann Landolt, these thinkers ‘also set themselves apart from the mainstream philosophical tradition, arguing that ‘existence’ itself belongs to the domain of the originated and thus cannot be applied to the Originator, whose pure identity is beyond intellectual reach.’ This section also contains al-Sijistani’s reflections on the spiritual quality of beauty in nature and art. It ends with an extract from the epistles of the anonymous Brethren of Purity who are believed to have lived in Basra in the mid 10th century. The authors used the natural world to make profound philosophical arguments: here, the parrot, appointed to argue the case for the animals of prey, attempts to explain how animals stand higher in God’s eyes than humans.

    The second section consists of reflections on the nature of prophecy and the imamat, many of which affirm the importance of the continued existence of the imamat and its role as a guiding principle down the generations. It begins with al-Sijistani’s demonstration of the universal process of prophetic revelation as an esoteric reflection of the history of mankind itself. The Fatimid da‘i al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi said that ‘…. all the sciences, including the rational ones… are collectively present in the sciences of the prophets’, thus establishing the importance of reason in religion. Human reason, further explains the Ismaili thinker and poet Nasir-i Khusraw, is a trace of the Universal Intellect, and thus does not contradict revelation.

    Another distinguished Fatimid scholar, Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi (fl. 4th/10th – early 5th/11th century), similarly used rational tools and metaphors from the natural world to explain how the imamat is the pole and foundation of religion. Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani explains why the imamat is necessary to carry forward God’s message and the example of His Messenger. The 11th-century Persian hujjainfo-icon Hasan-i Sabbah, affirms, in a fragmentary surviving text, the need for the Ismaili imam as the authoritative teacher who would guide humans towards their spiritual goals. Finally, the thinker Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (d. 672 AH/1274 CE) explains the nature and necessity of the imamat and why it is necessary for the seeker to submit to ‘the wise and perfect man’ to achieve true knowledge.

    Several Ismaili texts describe individual journeys in search of spiritual knowledge. The third section begins with the tale of the initiation of a young seeker, excerpted from the account of Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman (d. ca. 346 AH/957 CE), who wrote even before the establishment of the Fatimid caliphateinfo-icon. Next is the account of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi who found himself dissatisfied with various spiritual paths and eventually came to believe in the necessity of a ‘spiritual instructor’ to guide his way to spiritual knowledge.

    Knowledge itself has an external dimension and an inner, subtle truth. Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani explains the need for higher knowledge through the interpretation of scripture and al-Sijistani explains that such knowledge is acquired by the prophets in the form of spiritual inspiration, bypassing the material world. Next are three examples by Ismaili scholars of ta’wil or subtle elucidations that bring out the inner esoteric meanings of Qur’anic phrases and the religious duties of Muslims.

    The section on faith and ethics begins with al-Qadi al-Nu‘man’s distinction between iman (faith) and islam (submission) from the start of his magnum opus of Fatimid law, the Da‘a’im al-Islam. This is followed by al-Naysaburi’s ‘code of conduct’ for da‘is, which brings out key aspects of the institutional hierarchy of the Fatimidsinfo-icon. From laws and norms to ethics is a natural progression.

    In a passage on the refinement of character from a text attributed to Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, the author asserts that ethics is governed by the recognition of and reverence for the imam of the time. Al-Tusi also wrote a short treatise on tawalla, ‘solidarity’ and tabarra, ‘dissociation’, which is quoted here in full. This is followed by an extract from a treatise by a 16th-century author, Khayrkhwah-i Harati, who asserts the importance of spiritual edification or ta‘lim and the role of the Ismaili hierarchy in leading believers towards the truth and the divine.

    The third part of the volume is devoted to Ismaili poetry, the prime vehicle for devotional expression throughout the generations. As Kutub Kassam explains, poetry discloses ‘the inner, spiritual life of the poets and the communities they represent’. This part is divided into compositions originally produced in Arabic, Persian and the languages of South Asia. The Fatimid period is represented by compositions of the versatile and prolific poet Ibn Hani al-Andalusi (d. 362 AH/973 CE), famed as the ‘Mutanabbi of the Maghribinfo-icon’, and the more personal, devotional verses of al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi.

    Nasir-i Khusraw is another one of the greatest poets of the Persian Ismaili tradition. The poems included here demonstrate his devotion to the Ismaili cause as well as his virtuosity and poetic skill. These are followed by compositions by the 13th-century Alamutinfo-icon-based poet Hasan-i Mahmud-i Katib, which express devotion to the imam, and the more astringent, questioning poetry of Nizari Quhistani (d. 720 AH/1320 CE). The lesser-known poets of the post-Alamut era are represented in several compositions dating from the 15th to the 18th century, which demonstrate a continuing devotion to the Ismaili imams even when the community was dispersed and fragmented.

    The maddah poetry of the Ismailis of Badakhshan, composed largely in Tajik Persian, is represented here in several compositions that reflect the diversity of genres and themes in devotional poetry. Rounding off the volume are selections from the ginans of the South Asian Nizaris, attributed to some of the Ismaili preacher-poets who were active in the region from the 7th AH/13th CE century. Many of the poetic compositions in this part of the anthology continue to be a source of inspiration for Nizari Ismailis today.

    Although the IIS has published Ismaili texts and their English translations for over a decade, it is for the first time that a publication brings the range of the tradition to academic and lay readers. Lovers of poetry could turn to Shimmering Light: An Anthology of Ismaili Poetry (1996), translated by F. M. Hunzai and edited by Kutub Kassam. Enthusiasts of Ismaili philosophy could consult the second volume of An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia: Ismaili Thought in the Classical Age edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Mehdi Aminrazavi (2008).

    The present volume, however, brings to its readers a greater range of genres, new translations from the foremost scholars in the field, and brief contextual introductions to every extract. It is hoped that the bouquet of this anthology will draw readers to further explore the riches and diversity of Ismaili literature.

  • List of Plates xi
    Foreword Azim Nanji xiii
    Preface and Acknowledgements xv
    Contributors xvii
    List of Reprinted Works xxi
    List of Abbreviations xxv

    Ismaili History and Literary Traditions Farhad Daftary 1


    Introduction Samira Sheikhinfo-icon 33

    1. Ibn al-Haytham: Kitab al-munazarat 35
    Ibn al-Haytham meets the da‘iinfo-icon Abu ‘Abd Allah 35
    The Proof of the Excellence and Purity of Imaminfo-icon ‘Ali 37
    Ibn al-Haytham Takes the Oath of Allegiance 40
    The da‘is of the Kutama 41
    2. Ja‘far b. ‘Ali: Sirat al-hajib Ja‘far 44
    An Incident from al-Mahdiinfo-icon’s Journey to North Africa 44
    al-Mahdi Greets his Troops 46

    3. al-Qadiinfo-icon al-Nu‘man: Iftitah al-da‘wainfo-icon 49

    al-Mahdi’s Coming from Sijilmasa and his Arrival in Ifriqiyainfo-icon 49
    Early Decrees of al-Mahdi 52
    Eulogy of al-Mahdi 55
    The Administrative System of al-Mahdi 56

    4. Idris Imad al-Dininfo-icon: ‘Uyuninfo-icon al-akhbar 59

    On the Nurturing of the Imams 59
    Under the Guidance of the Imam: al-Qadi al-Nu‘man’s Compositions 62

    5. al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Dininfo-icon al-Shirazi: Sirat al-Mu’ayyad 67

    Fleeing from Shiraz to Ahwazinfo-icon 67

    6. Nasir-i Khusraw: Safar-nama 71

    A Description of the City of Old Cairo 71
    A Description of Sultan’s Banquet 75
    7. Pirinfo-icon Sabzali: Madhya Eshiya ni rasik vigato 77
    Journey to Central Asia 77


    Introduction Herman Landolt 85


    1.Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani: al-Risala al-durriyya 89

    On the Meaning of tawhidinfo-icon, muwahhid and muwahhad 89

    2. Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani: Kashf al-yanabi 121

    On the Pure Identity of the Originator 98
    The Explanation of the World of Intellect and the World of Soul 99

    3. Nasir-i Khusraw: Gushayish wa rahayish 102

    Ontology 102

    4. Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani: Kashf al-mahjub 111

    That the Beauty or Adornment of Nature is Spirtual 111

    5. Ikhwan al-Safa: Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’ 113

    The Case of the Animals versus Man before the King of the Jinn 113


    1.Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani: Kash al-mahjub 121

    On the Fifth Creation (Prophethood) 121’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi: al-Majalisinfo-icon al-Mu’ayyadiyya 131

    Reason and Revelation 131

    3. Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi: Kitab ithbat al-imamainfo-icon 142

    Affirming the Imamate 135

    4. Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani: al-Masabih fi ithbat al-imama 142

    In the Proof of the Imamate and its Necessity 142

    5. Hasan-i Sabbah: al-Fusul al-arba‘a 149

    The Doctrine of ta‘lim 149

    6. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi: Rawda-yi taslim 153

    Concerning the Various Kinds of Submission 153
    On Prophethood and Imamate 158


    1. Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman: Kitab al-alim wa’l-ghulam 169

    Initiation of the Disciple by the Master 169
    Conversation between Salih and Abu Malik 174

    2. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi: Sayr wa suluk 180

    al-Tusi’s Search for Knowledge 180

    3. Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani: Kitab al-yanabi‘ 186

    On the Manner of the Transmission of Spiritual Inspiration 186

    4. Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani: al-Masabih fi ithbat al-imama 188

    In Proof of the Interpretation of the Revelation 188

    5. al-Qadi al-Nu‘man: Asasinfo-icon al-ta’wilinfo-icon 192

    The Story of Job 192

    6. Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani: Kitab al-yanabi‘ 195

    On the Meaning of the Profession of Faith 195
    On the Meaning of the Cross 197
    On the Agreement of the Cross with the Profession of Faith 197

    7. Nasir-i Khusraw: Wajh-i din 199

    On the Establishment of Knowledge 199
    On the Description of the Subtle Spiritual World 200
    On the Necessity of Obedience to the Imam of the Time 203
    On the ta’wil of Inna li’llahi wa-inna ilayhi raji‘un (We Belong to Allah and unto Him we Return) 207


    1. al-Qadi al-Nu‘man: Da‘a’im al-Islam 211

    On Faith (iman) 211
    On the Distinction between iman (Faith) and islam (Submission) 219

    2. Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi: al-Risala al-mujaza 222

    Qualifications for the da‘wa 222
    Qualifications for a da‘i 226

    3. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi: Rawda-yi taslim 234

    On the Refinement of Character 234

    4. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi: Tawalla wa tabarra 241

    Solidarity and Dissociation 241

    5. Khayrkhwah-i Harati: Risala 247

    The Epistle 247


    Introduction Kutub Kassam


    1. Ibn Hani’ al-Andalusi 257
    2. al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi 260


    1. Nasir-i Khusraw 271
    2. Hasan-i Mahmud-i Katib 282
    3. Nizari Quhistani 285
    4. Persian Poets of the post-Alamutinfo-icon Era 290
    5. The Poetry of Central Asia 298


    1. Pir Shams 309
    2. Pir Sadr al-Din 311
    3. Pir Hasan Kabir al-Din 315
    4. Nurinfo-icon Muhammad Shah 318
    Glossary 322
    Bibliography 328
    Index 339
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    — —, ‘The Ismaili ginans as Devotional Literature, in R. S. McGregor, ed., Devotional Lit­erature in South Asia: Current Research, 1985–1988. Cambridge, 1992, pp. 101-112.

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    — —, Temps cyclique et gnose Ismaelienne. Paris, 1982. English trans., Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, tr. Ralph Manheim and James W. Morris. London, 1983.

    Cortese, Delia. Ismaili and Other Arabic Manuscripts: A Descriptive Catalogue of Manu­scripts in the Library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies. London, 2000.

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    Cortese, Delia and Simonetta Calderini. Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam. Edinburgh, 2006.

    Dachraoui, Farhat. Le califat Fatimide au Maghrebinfo-icon (296–365 H./909–975 Jc.): histoire politique et institutions. Tunis, 1981.

    Daftary, Farhad. ‘Persian Historiography of the Early Nizari Isma‘ilisinfo-icon,’ Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies, 30 (1992), pp. 91-97.

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    — —, (ed.) Mediaeval Isma‘ili History and Thought. Cambridge, 1996.

    — —, A Short History of the Ismailis: Traditions of a Muslim Community. Edinburgh, 1998. French trans., Les Ismaeliens, tr. Z. Rajan-Badouraly. Paris, 2003. Persian trans., Mukhtasari dar ta’rikh-i Isma‘iliyya, tr. F. Badra’i. Tehran, 1378 Sh./1999.

    — —, ‘The Ismaili Da‘wainfo-icon outside the Fatimid Dawlainfo-icon,’ in Marianne Barrucand, ed., L’Egypte Fatimide, son art et son histoire. Paris, 1999, pp. 29–43.

    — —, ‘Intellectual Life among the Ismailis: An Overview,’ in F. Daftary, ed., Intellectual Traditions in Islam. London, 2000, pp. 870-111.

    — —, ‘Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and the Ismailis of the Alamutinfo-icon Period,’ in N. Pourjavady and Z. Vesel, ed., Nasir al-Din Tusi, philosophe et savant du XIIIe siecle. Tehran, 2000, pp. 59–67.

    — —, Ismaili Literature: A Bibliography of Sources and Studies. London, 2004.

    — —, Ismailis in Medieval Muslim Societies. London, 2005.

    — —, The Isma‘ilis: Their History and Doctrines. 2nd ed., Cambridge, 2007.

    — —, ‘Rashid al-Din Sinan,’ EI2, vol. 8, pp. 442–443.

    — —, ‘Satr,’ EI2, vol. 2, Supplement, pp. 712–713.

    — —, ‘Isma‘ilism. iii. Isma‘ili History,’ EIR, vol. 4, pp. 178–195.

    De Smet, Daniel. La Quietude de l’intellect: Neoplatonisme et gnose ismaelienne dans l’œuvre de Hamid ad-Dininfo-icon al-Kirmani (Xe/XIes). Louvain, 1995.

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    Encylopedia of Religion, ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed., Detroit, 2005.

    Esmail, Aziz. A Scent of Sandalwood: Indo-Ismaili Religious Lyrics (Ginans). Richmond, Surrey, 2002.

    Fida’iinfo-icon Khurasani, Muhammad b. Zayn al-‘Abidin. Kitab hidayat al-muminin al-talibin, ed. Aleksandr A. Semenov. Moscow, 1959.

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    — —, Compendium of Fatimid Law. Simla, 1969.

    Gacek, Adam. Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in the Library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies. London, 1984–1985.

    Gnosis-Texte der Ismailiten, ed. Rudolf Strothmann. Gottingen, 1943.

    The Great Islamic Encyclopaedia (Dairat al-Ma‘arifinfo-icon-i Buzurg-i Islami), ed. K. Musavi Bujnurdi. Tehran, 1367 Sh. —/1989—

    The Great Ismaili Heroes, ed. A. R. Kanji. Karachi, 1973.

    Hafiz-i Abru, ‘Abd Allah b. Lutf ‘Allah al-Bihdadini. Majma‘ al-tawarikh al-sultaniyya: qismat-i khulafa-i ‘Alawiyya-yi Maghribinfo-icon va Misr va Nizariyan va rafiqan, ed. M. Mudarrisi Zanjani. Tehran, 1364 Sh./1985.

    Haft bab-i Baba Sayyidna, ed. W. Ivanow, in his Two Early Ismaili Treatises. Bombay, 1933, pp. 4–44. English trans. M. G. S. Hodgson, in his Order of Assassins, pp. 279–324.

    Halm, Heinz. Kosmologie und Heilslehre der fruhen Isma‘iliya. Eine Studie zur islamschen Gnosis. Wiesbaden, 1978.

    — —, Die islamische Gnosis : Die extreme Schia und die ‘Alawiten. Zurich and Munich, 1982.

    — —, The Empire of the Mahdiinfo-icon: The Rise of the Fatimids, tr. M. Bonner. Leiden, 1996.

    — —, ‘The Isma‘ili Oath of Allegiance (ahdinfo-icon) and the “Sessions of Wisdom” (majalisinfo-icon al­hikmainfo-icon) in Fatimid Times,’ in MIHT, pp. 91–115.

    — —, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning. London, 1997.

    — —, Die Kalifen von Kairo. Die Fatimiden in Agypten 973–1074. Munich, 2003.

    — —, Shi‘ism, tr. J. Watson and M. Hill. 2nd ed., Edinburgh, 2004.

    Hamdani, Abbas. The Beginnings of the Isma‘ili Da‘wa in Northern India. Cairo, 1956.

    — —, ‘The Fatimid Da‘iinfo-icon al-Mu’ayyad: His Life and Work,’ in Great Ismaili Heroes, ed. Kanji, pp. 41–47.

    al-Hamidi, Ibrahim b. al-Husayn. Kitab kanz al-walad, ed. M. Ghalib. Wiesbaden, 1971.

    Hasan Kabir al-Din, Pirinfo-icon. ‘Venati’, in Lalaji Devaraj, ed., Elam sar: samgrah rag mala. Mumbai, 905, pp. 2.

    — —,‘Umcha re kot bahu vechana’, in Ginan-e-Sharifinfo-icon: Our Wonderful Tradition. Vancouver, 1977, pp. 89–90.

    Hillenbrand, Carole. ‘The Power Struggle between the Saljuqs and the Isma‘ilis of Alamut, 487–518/1094–1124: The Saljuq Perspective,’ in MIHT, pp. 205–220.

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    Hunsberger, Alice C. Nasir Khusraw, The Ruby of Badakhshan: A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveller and Philosopher. London, 2000.

    Hunzai, Faquir. M. and Kutub Kassam (ed. and tr.), Shimmering Light: An Anthology of Ismaili Poetry. London, 1996.

    Ibn al-Haytham, Abu ‘Abd Allah Ja‘far b. Ahmad al-Aswad. Kitab al-munazarat, ed. and tr. Wilferd Madelung and Paul E. Walker as The Advent of the Fatimids: A Contem­porary Shi‘i Witness. London, 2000.

    Ibn ‘Idhari, Abul-‘Abbas Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Marrakushi. al-Bayan al-mughrib fi akhbar al-Andalus wa’l-Maghrib, vol. , ed. G. S. Colin and E. Levi Provencal. Beirut, 1956.

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  • Prof. Hermann Landolt

    A major contributor to modern scholarship on Sufism and Iranian Philosophy, and a student of Fritz Meier and Henry Corbin, Hermann Landolt was educated at Basel University, Switzerland and Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Sorbonne), Paris. He taught Islamic Studies and Persian at McGill University in Montreal, Canada from 1964 to 1999, during which he was also affiliated to the University's Tehran Branch. From 1982 to 1984, Professor Landolt served as the Head of the then-Department of Graduate Studies and Research at the Institute of Ismaili Studies where he is currently a Senior Research...Read more

    Dr. Samira Sheikh

    Dr Samira Sheikh was awarded a DPhil in Modern History (completed at Wolfson College, Oxford in 2004) on the society and politics of Gujarat between 1200 and 1500 CE. Before commencing her studies at Oxford, Samira had completed an MA and MPhil in Medieval History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. She was a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College from 2002-06. Among Dr Sheikh's research interests are: medieval India and the Islamic world; trade and navigation in the Indian Ocean; and the religious history of western India. She has presented papers on her research at a...Read more


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