Week 5 Gender and Social Difference Definitions

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Week 5 - Gender and Social Difference




Khubta – the public sermon from the mosque in pre-modern times would mention the ruler’s name, symbolizing the acceptance of that ruler’s sovereignty

Adab – moral training, cultivation of manner, bodily discipline, and spiritual refinement (O’Hanlon).  More simply it means good manners and etiquette.

Insan kamil – the perfect, ideal man who has reached spiritual perfection

Mirza, mirzai – a title for nobility, that came to mean a well rounded gentleman

da'irah - circules of authority which Madhavi laity are divided into.

kafir - a non-Muslim

ulama – Muslim scholars



Each of this week's readings examines different periods during the Mughal Empire in India, which lasted from 1526–1858. For Lal's paper, it is important to understand the historical context of the early Mughal period. Babur (1526–1530), a direct descendant of Timur, was a conquerer from Central Asia who founded the Mughal dynasty in India.   He, as well as his son Humayun, did not have a peaceful nor stationary reign.  In fact, the size of their kingdoms waned and waxed throughout their lifetimes.  It was not until the rule of Humayun’s son Akbar that the lives of the Mughal emperors become more stable.  In this particular chapter of Domesticity and Power in the Early Moghal World, Ruby Lal focuses on the private lives or familial situations (this is how she defines haram) of the rulers Babur and Humayun.  Previous studies of the Mughal dynasty have either avoided the haram due to lack of information or have treated it as a completely segregated domain, where women await the pleasures of men.  As your read this article, consider how she attempts to unravel the meaning of haram for each of these rulers.
The reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) was very different from that of his father Humayun.  It is in this setting that MacLean investigates Muslim identity and intellectual history. Akbar’s reign has been understood by many as setting an example for religious tolerance. On page 203, MacLean provides some insight into the ‘sociopolitical contexts,’ specifically with regard to “Akbar’s Hindustani turn” and Akbar’s attempts to head off objection from his court ulama. This provides some context for what happens when Shaykh Mustafa Gujarati is brought to Akbar’s court.


Ideas of gender identity are also explored in O'Hanlon's piece on the later Mughal period. Rosalind O’Hanlon's article traces how the concepts of masculinity/manliness developed and shifted in Mughal North India and focuses on concepts of elite manliness in the imperial service under the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan (1605-1658).  As you read pay careful attention to how O'Hanlon explains the changes in the definitions of the "ideal man" from 13th century Sufi scholars, to Baquir, and finally to the emergence of the mirzais in the late 17th century.

As you read these three passages, carefully consider the overall argument that each is making and the evidence that each author uses to draw his/her conclusions. Also consider how these authors investigate and understand gender during this time period.





Ruby Lal is a historian whose research focuses primarily on the Mughul period centering around issues of domestic life.

Rosalind O’Hanlon is a historian who is the chair of Indian history and culture at St. Cross College, Oxford, and a lecturer in history at Clare College, Cambridge.  She has focused much of her work on gender, caste, Western India, and the colonial and pre-colonial eras. 

Derryl MacLean is a social historian of religion, who focuses on Islam and the social consequences of religious contact and change. He currently Associate Professor in the History Department at Simon Fraser University.



1.      Lal claims of the two Mughal emperors that “the domestic is present in many intersecting spaces” and activities with many types of people.  What examples does she give to support this claim?

2.      At the end of the first page, Lal describes the court of Louis XIV of France.  Why is she so concerned at defining what the domestic means at this particular time? What scholarly approaches have attempted to tackle the notions of domestic, and how has Lal attempted to do this? 

3.      How does O'Hanlon represent different definitions of masculinity throughout the 17th century? How do you think the concept of "mirzai" affected the concept of male gender at the time? 

4.      How does MacLean reveal the gendered nature of Shaykh Mustafa Gujarati’s comments in Majalis and how does this contribute to an understanding of Muslim identity at this time?

5. What are some of the problems posed by the methodologies of Lal, MacLean and O'Hanlon, and what does this reveal about understanding gender in a historical setting?  What are some specific examples, both positive and negative, from the readings?




Anooshahr, Ali. 2006. “Mughal historians and the memory of the Islamic conquest of India.” Indian Economic Social History Review. 43, 3: 275-300. 

Ali, Daud. 2004. “Courtly culture and political life in early medieval India.” Cambridge studies in Indian History and Society, 10. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Rowson, E. K. 1991. "The Effeminates of Early Medina." Journal of the American Oriental Society 111(4): 671-693.


Habib, Irfan. “Potentialities of Capitalistic Development in the Economy of Mughal India.”  The Journal of Economic History, 29, No. 1, (Mar., 1969), 



Khan, Iqtidar Alam. “The Middle Classes in the Mughal Empire.” Social Scientist, 5, No. 1 (Aug., 1976), http://www.jstor.org/stable/3516601


Mukhia, Harbans. 2004. The Mughals of India. The peoples of Asia. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.





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