Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Sovereign Violence: Temple Destruction in India and Shrine Desecration in Iran and Central Asia

  • A. Azfar Moin (a1)

Was the destruction of Sufi and ‘Alid saint shrines as a rite of conquest in Iran and Central Asia a phenomenon comparable to the desecration of temples in war in India? With this question in mind, this essay examines the changing nature of Islamic kingship in premodern Iran and Central Asia and compares it to developments in Indic kingship. It begins with the thesis that the decline of the caliphate and the rise of Muslim saints and shrines in thirteenth-century Iran and Central Asia led to a new form of “shrine-centered” sovereignty practiced by the rulers of these regions. This development, in turn, gave rise to a notable pattern in which Muslim kings threatened or attacked the shrines of their enemies’ patron saints in times of war. A focus on this ritual violence, which remains neglected in the studies of Islamic iconoclasm and jihad, reveals how the protocols of violence and accommodation that governed these Muslim milieus became analogous to those enacted by Indic kings who also sacked temples of rival sovereigns in times of war. With the spread of Muslim shrines and the related belief that the “real” sovereign was not the caliph but the enshrined saint, Islam and Hinduism developed comparable grammars of “gifting” and “looting.” This argument allows for a new, transcultural perspective to examine the premodern history of India, Iran, and Central Asia, connected by the rise of Muslim saints and their shrines.

Corresponding author
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Finbarr Barry Flood , “Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic Iconoclasm, and the Museum,” Art Bulletin 84, 4 (2002): 641–59

Philip Lutgendorf , “Imagining Ayodhya: Utopia and Its Shadows in a Hindu Landscape,” International Journal of Hindu Studies 1, 1 (1997): 1954

Robert N. Bellah , Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011)

Francis Oakley , Kingship: The Politics of Enchantment (Malden: Blackwell, 2006)

Stewart Gordon , ed., Robes and Honor: The Medieval World of Investiture (New York: Palgrave, 2001)

Nicola Di Cosmo , “State Formation and Periodization in Inner Asian History,” Journal of World History 10, 1 (1999): 140

Khalid Sindawi , “Visit to the Tomb of Al-Husayn b. ‘Ali in Shiite Poetry: First to Fifth Centuries AH (8th–11th Centuries CE),” Journal of Arabic Literature 37, 2 (2006): 230–58

Sheila S. Blair , “Sufi Saints and Shrine Architecture in the Early Fourteenth Century,” Muqarnas 7 (1990): 3549

Robert Hillenbrand , “Turco-Iranian Elements in the Medieval Architecture of Pakistan: The Case of the Tomb of Rukn-i ‘Alam at Multan,” Muqarnas 9 (1992): 148–74

Simon Digby , “The Sufi Shaykh and the Sultan: A Conflict of Claims to Authority in Medieval India,” Iran 28 (1990): 7181

Andrew J. Newman , “The Myth of the Clerical Migration to Safawid Iran: Arab Shiite Opposition to ‘Ali al-Karaki and Safawid Shiism,” Die Welt des Islams 33, 1 (1993): 66112

Shahzad Bashir , “Shah Isma‘il and the Qizilbash: Cannibalism in the Religious History of Early Safavid Iran,” History of Religions 45, 3 (2006): 234–56

Hamid Algar , Jami (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013), 4061

Nile Green , Making Space: Sufis and Settlers in Early Modern India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 3364

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 3
Total number of PDF views: 67 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 199 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.