The Political Cosmology of Prison Poetics: Khāqānī of Shirwān on Muslim–Christian Difference



This essay examines the political cosmology fostered by the medieval Persian prison poem, specifically in the oeuvre of Khāqānī of Shirwān (d. 1199), in relation to this genre's cosmopolitan geography. I focus in particular on how Khāqānī's Christian Qasīda (ode) negotiated 12th-century Islamic attitudes towards non-Muslim religious minorities, particularly Christians of varying ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. An important document in the history of Muslim–Christian relations, Khāqānī's text was one of many Persian prison poems (habsīyyāt) that elaborated a new conception for the role of poetry in the political economy of medieval Islamic societies. In simultaneously presenting the incarcerated poet as a faithful Muslim and as a metonym for Jesus Christ, Khāqānī's prison poetics reconceived the fault lines of religious and ethnic difference.