A Muslim Bhagavadgita: 'Abd al-Rahman Chishti's interpretative translation and its implications

Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst
Assistant Professor of Religion
University of Vermont

ABSTRACT: The Bhagavadgita, as one book within the epic text of the Mahabharata, has long held a place of importance in South Asian religious traditions, most notably in Hindu lineages, but also among some non-Hindus. This paper examines a Chishti-order Sufi's interpretation of the Bhagavadgita as a text that could and should address his fellow Muslims. In his translation and commentary, entitled mir'at al-haqa'iq (Mirror of Realities), 'Abd al-Rahman Chishti (d. 1683 CE) instructed his readers to see the presence of God in the Bhagavadgita, while altering aspects of the text to fit Islamic conceptions of the divine, and drawing upon well-known Hindu philosophical traditions in his explication of the text. This paper argues that religious boundaries are both maintained and conflated within 'Abd al-Rahman Chishti's version of the Bhagavadgita in ways that challenge understandings of his historical time period, which is shared with the early reign of Aurangzeb (d. 1707 CE). A text presumed to be Hindu was understood using both Hindu and Muslim sources, and was presented as a source of proper religious behavior for Muslims in an era usually characterized as one of Islamic orthodoxy; as such, this text exemplifies a fluid, regional articulation of a South Asian Muslim practice and historical evidence to counter prevailing conceptualizations of religion in this period.

KEYWORDS: Islam; Chishti; Bhagavadgita; Sufi; South Asia; Aurangzeb

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