Theses Doctoral

Paradigmatic Criteria of “Leadership” in Islamic Thought: Subject-formation at Sunnī, Shīʿī, and Ṣūfī Crossroads

Moughania, Ali Naji

The preoccupation of Islamic thinkers with the formation of moral subjects (themselves and others) motivated their deployments of different conceptual frameworks to satisfy paradigmatic moral requirements. These intellectual pursuits are portrayed as technologies involved in “caring for the self,” that is, in forming the subject/agent of the broader community. Reconstructing historical debates that draw on the works of a selection of Islamic authors, mainly between the 10th and 13th centuries CE, this dissertation addresses the related paradigmatic features of various forms of Islamic leadership (e.g. ulū al-amr, mujtahid, ahl al-ḥall, imām, and quṭb).

The Qurʾānic world of interconnected meanings related to amr (authority, command, matter…) and those vested with it assumes a concern for the morality, if not outright infallibility, and the intellectual merit of a leader. Through an analysis of types of authorship and terms of discourse, ḥadīth literature on verse 4:59 from the Shīʿī tradition sheds light on the rise of various Sunnī strategies addressing the question of infallible juristic leadership (taṣwīb al-mujtahid). Another case of leadership appears in the Ṣūfī mystical strand of Sunnī thought, where the spiritual leader, or quṭb, may be seen as analogous to the Shīʿī Imām in terms of moral excellence and presence-in-absence (ghaybah). My analyses of these distinct features and forms of leadership culminate with a case study on the Mahdī in modernity, an anticipated savior figure at the crossroads of Sunnī, Shīʿī and Ṣūfī thought, in which the adapting of earlier lines of reasoning exhibits strategies for the purpose of subject-formation.

Each of these case studies demonstrates not only that the interpretive frameworks of Islamic thinkers were invested in moral subject-formation but also that a holistic reading of such thought can identify their authorial activity itself as one form among the different forms of leadership that revolve around subject-formation.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Messick, Brinkley M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 30, 2022