The Textual Landscapes of Ḥanafī Eurasia: South Asian Scholarship in Turkish Manuscript Collections (Part 1 of 2)

By Sohaib Baig

In the previous essay, I provided an overview of contemporary print collections for Islamic law in North American libraries. In the next two essays, I shift focus and explore the transmission of knowledge and texts from South Asia to the Ottoman Empire from current manuscript and print collections in Turkey.

In the 1500s, did a Ḥanafī jurist working in Istanbul have access to a similar legal corpus as his Ḥanafī peers in Bukhara, Cairo, Mecca, or Delhi? To what extent did their writings circulate and inform each other’s understanding of Islamic law in general and the Ḥanafī madhhab in particular?

Answering these questions in empirical terms is far from straightforward. In the absence of a union catalog of global Islamic manuscript collections, as well as data on early modern manuscript collections in these regions, one would have to consult a dizzying array of contemporary manuscript collections and then go through the intensive work of reconstructing the journeys of individual manuscripts. Additionally, the manuscript codex only represented one form of legal writing, alongside imperial farmāns (decrees), waqfs (endowment deeds), waraqas (deeds of credit/sale), court records, and many other kinds of legal documents from other legal systems.

These concerns, however, do not remove the necessity of such an exercise. Foregrounding the physical texts and reconstructing the intellectual life worlds of Muslims jurists is essential to avoid anachronistic ideas about legal history. Secondary literature does indeed discuss the regional spread of Islamic legal schools in early modern times in terms of imperial contexts (and especially the Ottoman context) and scholarly circles, but less attention (with some exceptions) is given to mapping and reconstructing the regional production and circulation of the texts of the madhhabs.[1]

In this essay, I reflect on the transmission of manuscripts by South Asian scholars in Turkish manuscript collections based on the research I conducted for my book project on Hanafi legal history across South Asia and the Ottoman Hijaz, tentatively entitled, The Shores of Legal Difference: Indian Hanafis, Hadith Scholarship, and Legal Pluralism across the Indian Ocean, 1500 – 1924. As part of this project, I surveyed a number of prominent manuscript collections in South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and examined the proliferation of texts by scholars from Sindh and Northern India who wrote on Ḥanafī law and ḥadīth studies.

Here, I narrow the scope to the union catalog of Turkish manuscript collections recently launched (on a test basis) by the Türkiye Yazma Eserler Kurumu Başkanlığı (Presidency of the Turkish Manuscript Association). This catalog draws data from 24 libraries and contains (as of the date of writing) 341,054 records of manuscripts, as well as 255,079 printed books.

Below, I analyze its manuscripts holdings for South Asian authors and make a number of basic observations. Executing this search is tricky; there is no easy filter that allows such demarcations. I conducted two kinds of queries:

  • first, in terms of nisbas (terms indicating place of origin or ancestry) such as Hindi, Sindi, Dihlevi, and so forth
  • second, by the names of specific individuals.

First, for nisbas: I conducted an advanced search (“Detaylı Arama”) and listed the keywords listed in the table below in the “Müellif adı (author’s name)” field and filtered for “Yazma eser (manuscript)” under “Materyal Türü” (Material Type). (Currently the Turkish interface of the website has the most advanced search capabilities, so I recommend using the Turkish interface as opposed to the Arabic or English version.)

The numbers below represent a combination of both titles and volumes. Titles that span multiple volumes appear separately in the catalog for each volume. Majmuas, or compilations containing several texts, will also appear multiple times by title (rather than having one record represent the entire codex).

Here are the results:

Keyword: Arabic Persian Turkish Total Items:
Hindi 1,014 135 10 1,165
Dehlevi/Dihlevi* 501 204 2 716
Sindi 141 0 0 141
Siyalkuti* 46 0 0 46
Total 1,702 339 12 2,068

*after removing duplicate entries with “Hindi.”

This query only represents a miniscule .6% of the union catalog’s total manuscript holdings. This is partly due to the fact that the addition of these nisbas in the catalog records is inconsistent. Not all South Asian authors are identified as “Hindi,” for instance. One can add many more nisbas to this list; this list is itself not exhaustive.

Taken together, however, the results from these queries do capture a sizeable range of premodern Indian scholars. Analyzing these records further reveals important insights in terms of subject classification. Thankfully, the union catalog provides subject level classification for 1,853 of these manuscripts. These classifications are not always accurate, but they do provide general insights about the strengths of the collection. The interface on the website was limited, so I had to manually copy the search results onto a spreadsheet to refine and compile this data. (I’ve included the Turkish names and classification numbers for the subject headings to make it easier for others to search by using them, in the “Konu/Subject” field.)


Subject Number of records:
Law (Fıkıh -297.5)          Hanafi Law (Hanefi Fıkhı – 297.511) 232
        Legal theory (Usûl-i Fıkıh – 297.501) 96
Other subcategories: 94
Law Total: 422
Theology and Creed (Akâid ve Kelâm – 297.4) 310
Persian literature (İran Edebiyatı 891.5) 250
Arabic grammar (Arap Dili – 492.7) 171
Islamic Philosophy (İslam felsefesi – 181.07) 104
Sufi texts (Tasavvuf ve Tarikatlar – 297.7) 95
Qur’anic Sciences and Exegesis (Tefsir – 297.2) 90
Hadith Sciences and Compilations (Hadis – 297.3) 89
Logic (Mantık – 160) 78
Arabic literature (Arap Edebiyatı – 892.7) 61


According to this metadata, Islamic Law (297.5) stands as the largest subject category, closely followed by theology and philosophy. As I’ll discuss in more detail below, this is indicative of the transregional mobility of such legal texts across Ḥanafī geographies.

Additionally, 827 records (of the 2,068) did include the date of composition for the manuscripts (istinsah tarihi).[2] I compiled this data to observe larger trends.


Century Hijrī of Composition Number of Manuscript Records:
6th century AH (~12th century CE) 2
8th century AH (~14th century CE) 26
9th century AH (~15th century CE) 63
10th century AH (~16th century CE) 149
11th century AH (~17th century CE) 213
12th century AH (~18th century CE) 203
13th century AH (~19th century CE) 146
14th century AH (~20th century CE) 25


Given the limited sample, any conclusions must be provisionary; however, the timeline followed a predictable course where the bulk of these manuscripts dated to the 10-13th centuries hijrī (16th-19th centuries CE). It is noteworthy to see the relative consistence of holdings through these centuries, with the 13th century holdings almost the same as holdings of 10th century manuscripts.

Second, I conducted searches by author name and compiled the results in the table below.

The question of what constitutes “South Asian” is naturally subject to interpretation: does it denote a place of birth, an ethnic identity, or someone who migrated to South Asia? And does it include, for instance, Afghanistan? The presence of South Asian authorship will change depending on the answers to these questions. For the purposes of this table, I spread a broad net to include all of the above – my concern was less to follow the intellectual output of any particular group defined by ethnic or cultural terms but to get a sense of the texts and figures that moved across geographical zones from South Asia to Anatolia.

The table below provides a brief snapshot of this intellectual transmission. I selected many names based on the figures I encountered in the search above to include scholars who wrote in diverse disciplines. I also included some names who did not surface often in these records but who are well known to secondary literature as key figures in South Asian intellectual history. (I have retained the Turkish spelling so others can also search easily.)

Below, I rank the scholars in order of death dates.[3]


13th – 15th centuries
Name: Number of Manuscript Records:
es-Sagani, Radiyyüddin Hasan b. Muhammed el-Adevi el-Cagani (d. 650/1252) 501
Emir Hüsrev-i Dihlevî, Ebu’l-Hasen Nâsıruddin Hüsrev b. Mahmûd ed-Dihlevi (d. 725/1325) 180
el-Gaznevi, Siracüddin Ömer b. İshak el-Hindi el-Hanefi, Ebu Hafs (d. 773/1372) 69
Âlim b. Alâ’ el-Enderpetî ed-Dihlevî el-Hindî (d. 786/1384) 226
ed-Devletabadi, Şihabüddin Ahmed b. Ömer el-Hindi (d. 849/1445) 135
16th – 17th centuries
Muttakî el-Hindî, Alâ’eddin Ali b. Hüsâmeddin b. Abdulmelik el-Hindî el-Hanefî (d. 975/1567) 77
es-Sindi, Rahmetullah b. Abdullah b. İbrahim (d. 978/1570) 29
Mirzâcan, Şemseddin Habîbullah b. Abdullah el-Ulvî eş-Şirâzî ed-Dihlevî el-Hanefî (d. 994/1586) 445
Feyzî-i Hindî, Ebu’l-Feyz Feyzullah b. Şeyh Mübârek el-Mehdevî el-Ekberâbâdî (d. 1004/1595) 64
Ali el-Kârî, Ebu’l-Hasen Nûreddin Ali b. Sultan Muhammed el-Herevî el-Kârî (d. 1014/1605) 3,384
İmâm-ı Rabbânî, Ebu’l-Berekât Ahmed b. Abdulahad b. Zeynelâbidîn el-Fârûkî es-Sirhindî (d. 1034/1624) 35
Tâceddin b. Zekeriyyâ b. Sultan el-Abşemî el-Hindî el-Osmânî el-Hanefî en-Nakşibendî (d. 1050/1640) 21
Dihlevî, Abdulhakk b. Seyfeddin b. Sa‘ dullah el-Buhârî el-Hanefî (d. 1052/1642) 7
Abdulhakim es-Siyalkûtî, Abdulhakim b. Şemseddin Muhammed es-Siyalkûtî el-Hindî (d. 1067/1657) 362
authorship of el-Fetâva’l-Hindiyye (Alemgiriyye) ~65
18th century
el-Bihari, Muhîbullâh b. Abdüşşekur el-Hindi (d. 1119/1707) 1
Muhammed Hayat b. İbrahim es-Sindi el-Medeni (d. 1163/1750) 19
Şah Veliyyullah ed-Dihlevî, Ebû Abdulaziz Kutbuddin Ahmed b. Abdurrahîm b. Vecîhüddin el-Hindî el-Ömerî el-Fârûk (d. 1176/1762) 2
Âzâd-ı Bilgrâmî, Mir Gulâm Ali b. Nuh el-Bilgrâmi el-Hüseynî el-Vâsıtî (d. 1199/1784) 1


Below, I will quickly mention a few thoughts and observations:

First, this table can certainly be critiqued as subject to survival bias, rather than representing the “actual” landscape of intellectual history. These figures indeed represent the selected manuscripts which outlasted centuries of theft and displacement, as well as a whole range of environmental and political forces. However, they constitute an essential starting ground for intellectual histories rooted in the material history of manuscript culture, as evidence of what was produced and what endured.

In many ways, this table diverges significantly from the existing field of early modern intellectual history of South Asia and the Ottoman Empire. One immediate observation is the sheer dominance of Arabic manuscripts, representing 82% of the holdings in the nisba search conducted first. They speak to the significant scope of premodern Arabic scholarship by Indian Muslims in general, and Arabic as a lingua franca of Indian-Ottoman exchange in particular. This history has long been overshadowed in contemporary literature by the emphasis on the “Persianate.”[4]

Take for instance Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī, whose writings occupy a stratosphere far exceeding the others, as seen in the table above, with 3,805 records. A polymath who fled Safavid advances in Afghanistan, ‘Alī al-Qārī spent several decades in Ottoman Mecca and wrote prolifically on a vast number of fields in Arabic. Yet, there is not a single academic monograph on him in English.[5] A few reasons may be: his location in the Hijaz, as opposed to an imperial center such as Delhi or Istanbul; his lack of high office in state institutions and bureaucracies; and perhaps his lack of successors enjoyed by many other Sufi shaykhs, such as Aḥmad al-Sirhindī. Historians may have incentive to write about intellectuals who occupied high-ranking imperial offices or led major ṫarīqas (Sufi orders) and movements, but such approaches may not capture the basic textual landscapes of early modern Muslim scholarship. A similar point can be made about many other figures in this table.

Second, this table represents the transregional mobility of Islamic law as a field that connected Indian and Ottoman scholars. Here, we do see the proliferation of patronized works, such as the 14th century multi-volume Fatāwā al-Tātārkhānīyya (225 records) and the 17th century Fatāwā-yi ‘Ālamgīriyya (~65 records) that rapidly achieved wide canonical status (it is worth repeating here that each volume is counted separately as a record).[6]

By far, the most prolific representation of fiqh works – including both commentaries and treatises, or rasā’il – is amongst those South Asian scholars who were actively based in the Hijaz (or other cities) and who likely would have created a readership through their teaching and participation in intellectual life. On a broader level, many of the figures listed in the table (such as Raḍī al-Dīn al-Ṣaghānī, Sirāj al-Dīn al-Ghaznawī, ‘Alī al-Muttaqī, Raḥmatullāh al-Sindī, ‘Alī al-Qārī, among others) demonstrate the historical importance of the Hijaz – and the Arabian Sea – as a key pathway of scholarly exchange from South Asia to Mamluk and (later) Ottoman lands.

In fact, this data reveals some historical gaps in the distribution and reception of legal scholarship from Delhi to Istanbul. As a point of comparison, both Mullā ‘Alī al-Qārī (in Mecca) and his younger contemporary, ‘Abd al-Ḥaqq al-Dihlawī (in Delhi, often regarded as one of the most prominent premodern Indian scholars of ḥadīth) wrote Arabic commentaries on the famous ḥadīth compilation, Mishkāt al-Maṣābīḥ. Both even mentioned having been motivated to defend Ḥanafī legal doctrine against accusations of having weak foundations in ḥadīth; both were led by overlapping legal concerns in writing these commentaries. Ultimately, ‘Alī al-Qārī’s work was massively popular; one can find manuscript copies abundantly in Turkish, Arab, and South Asian collections. In contrast, I have not yet found a manuscript copy of ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq al-Dihlawī’s Arabic commentary anywhere outside South Asia (and Europe).[7]

Similarly, for the 18th century, there are several dozen manuscripts in the Turkish collections by Sindhi scholars who moved to Medina, such as Muḥammad Ḥayāt al-Sindī. However, I have only found two manuscript copies of texts by the contemporaneous, Delhi-based Shāh Walīullāh’s writings in the Turkish collections (instead one finds prints from the 19th century, as will be discussed in the next essay).[8] This fact arguably speaks to limitations in the transmission of manuscripts (and scholarship) across these geographies. It demonstrates how legal collections in the early modern period would indeed have a significant degree of variance from Delhi to Istanbul. This in turn would help shape the emergence of subtraditions in the Ḥanafī school across these geographies.

To conclude this essay, more detailed and comprehensive metadata of manuscript collections (and others beyond this particular union catalog) is necessary to build a more thorough understanding of the historical transmission of texts and knowledge. Yet, even this basic exercise demonstrates that the evidence that emerges from the Turkish manuscript collection offers many opportunities to uncover new narratives and histories thus far neglected or downplayed within the historiography of both South Asia and the Ottoman Empire. Hopefully, this essay will help encourage more research into their histories and the connections that enveloped them.

In the next essay, we shall explore what changed with the coming of print.


[1] Here, I am thinking of Mahmood Kooria, Islamic law in Circulation: Shāfiʻī texts across the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022).

[2] As a precautionary note: The catalog records do not usually provide information on when a manuscript was added to a library collection. As such, they don’t provide a glimpse of the movement of these texts in real time. However, they furnish a basic record of whether a text originally authored by or attributed to an Indian scholar did make it at some point to this massive collection of manuscripts in Turkey.

[3] An author can have inconsistent spellings and titles in the catalog records, so the results may not be 100% representative of the true holdings. I did my best to check for variant spellings.

[4] Nile Green, “Introduction: Arabic as a South Asian Language,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 55, no. 1 (2023): 106–21.

[5] See Patrick Franke, “ʿAlī al-Qārī,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE (2014).; Patrick Franke, “Mulla ʿAlī al-Qārī. Textproduktion und Gedankenwelt eines mekkanischen Religionsgelehrten der islamischen Jahrtausendwende” (Habilitation thesis, Halle University, 2008); and Sohaib Baig, “Indian Hanafis in an Ocean of Hadith: Islamic Legal Authority between South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, 16th – 20th Centuries,” (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2020), 62–97.

[6] For a survey of Indian fatwā collections, see Zafarul Islam, “Origin and Development of Fatāwā Compilation in Medieval India,” Studies in History 12, no.2 (1996): 223–41.

[7] Baig, “Indian Hanafis in an Ocean of Hadith,” 88–108.

[8] On their respective scholarly networks and trajectories, see: Baig, “Indian Hanafis in an Ocean of Hadith,” 186–94.

(Suggested Bluebook citation: Sohaib Baig, The Textual Landscapes of Ḥanafī Eurasia: South Asian Scholarship in Turkish Manuscript Collections (Part 1 of 2), Islamic Law Blog (Aug. 10, 2023),

(Suggested Chicago citation: Sohaib Baig, “The Textual Landscapes of Ḥanafī Eurasia: South Asian Scholarship in Turkish Manuscript Collections (Part 1 of 2),” Islamic Law Blog, August 10, 2023,

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