Traveling Tales of Saif al-Mulūk: Islam and Cosmopolitanism in the Indian Ocean World


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


South Asian Languages and Civilizations


Saif al-Mulūk is the most compelling epic tale of the Indian Ocean world, one embodying a religio-ethical Islamic worldview about travel and belonging. It has been narrated and performed by various peoples from medieval times through modernity across the vast geographical space, cultures, and languages of the Indian Ocean world. The dissertation studies its South Asian retellings from the 16th-21st centuries in eight languages. Unearthing a variegated archive, it charts Saif al-Mulūk’s historical transmission to construct a picture of socio-literary exchanges that shaped the values, ethics, and ideals of the Indian Ocean world. It analyzes how Saif al-Mulūk’s narrative, performance, and transmission function as an Islamic ethical discourse to constitute a cosmopolitan selfhood and sense of belonging. It adopts a unique comparative, transhistorical, multilingual, and multidisciplinary approach towards how different peoples accommodated cultural and religious difference by asserting universalist and cosmopolitan Islamic modes of belonging in the Indian Ocean world.