The traditional account of the Prophet Muhammad's ascension (micraj) has inspired generations of writers and storytellers from the beginnings of Islam until today. Prompted by a number of vague verses in the Qur'an, hadith transmitters, biographers, exegetes and historians all attempted to offer a clearer picture of the exact nature and circumstances of Muhammad's heavenly ascent. By the tenth century, narratives describing Muhammad's encounter with prophets and angels, his colloquy with God and his visits of heaven and hell lead to the formation of the 'Book of Ascension' (Micrajnama), a novelizing and engaging literary genre most commonly written in Arabic and Turkic dialects. Christiane Gruber here provides a critical analysis and English translation of an extremely rare 'Book of Ascension' text preserved in manuscript form. The text was written in Persian language by an anonymous author and dates from the Ilkhanid period (1256-1353). The English translation is presented alongside the original Persian text. The text provides evidence for the spread of ascension narratives in Persian lands during the medieval period while also shedding new light on the earliest extant series of Islamic ascension paintings, dated c.1317-35, which are reproduced here in full colour. In this 'Book of Ascension', Muhammad's dialogues with angels and prophets in the heavens take the shape of oral prayers in Arabic. The text also stresses at various turns the righteousness of the Sunni community. The narrative therefore takes the shape of a devotional tale that appears to have been used to promote adherence, and encourage conversion, to Sunni Islam - a character that may have extended to the ascension paintings as well. The Ilkhanid Book of Ascension thus provides fascinating insight into the interplay between Islamic bio-apocalyptic literature, artistic practices and missionary efforts aimed at promoting Sunni Islam in Persian lands during Ilkhanid rule. It therefore represents a significant contribution to the fields of Medieval Middle Eastern History, Islamic Studies and Art History.
Ilkhanid Book of Ascension, The
A Persian-Sunni Devotional Tale