Advisory function of the Tales of the Prophets (Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ)
This thesis examines the advisory function of the tales of three prophets (Joseph, David and Solomon) in al-Ṭabarī’s (d. 923/310 AH) History and al-Thaʿlabī’s (d. 1025/416) Tales of the Prophets within their religio-political contexts in Baghdād and Nīshāpūr respectively. The hypothesis is that by reading the tales through the prism of Islamic advice literature, in particular the works of Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (d. 757 / 139) and Kay Kāʾūs (d. 1084 /476), one sees how these stories convey important ideas about just leadership, friendship and enmity. The thesis, which is based on both a close textual and contextual reading of the tales, contrasts the perspective of the centre (Baghdād), where al-Ṭabarī lived and where caliphal power was situated in the late ninth century, with the view from the edge of the empire (Nīshāpūr), where al-Thaʿlabī lived in a religiously vibrant society. This dissertation, which comprises five chapters, begins by describing the genre of the Tales of the Prophets (Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ) as adab (cultivated literature), because such works recapture pre-Islamic values and adapt them to Muslim contexts. Al-Ṭabarī’s view from the centre with respect to leadership is characterized by its deliberate distance from non-Islamic monarchical images and its suspicion of Ṣūfīsm. Al-Thaʿlabī’s position on the edge, on the other hand, weds royal images with Ṣūfī ideas, while cautioning against the excessive asceticism of the mystical tradition in Nīshāpūr. For leaders at the centre friendship relies on receiving good counsel which has the positive effect of creating stability in the Empire, whereas for leaders on the edge friendship promotes social harmony. Lastly, the centre and the edge both view enmity as emerging from the leaders’ family circle, but they advise leaders to practise diplomacy as jihād in order to win genuine converts. The centre promotes ṣabr (patient endurance) when confronting enmity, while the edge recommends prayer in coping with grief over calamities. Overall, the tales of the prophets are more than stories; they are lessons in leadership.