South Asia Seminar: "Gaining a Name for Generosity: Ethics and Exemplarity in the Tales of Hatim Ta'i"

Pasha Khan, Chair in Urdu Language and Culture, Assistant Professor, Institute of Islamic Studies McGill University

The name of the pre-Islamic Arab Hātim Tā'ī has been a synonym for generosity in Islamicate texts from Andalusia to Southeast Asia, and from biographies of the Prophet Muhammad to Bollywood films. Hātim became the protagonist of tales of extreme generosity, including the 18th-century Indo-Persian Hātim-nāma, in which he gives his own flesh to creatures in need, in a manner reminiscent of the Boddhisatvas of the jātaka stories. This talk explores the economy of the "nām" (name and fame) that Hātim gains in exchange for his sometimes scarcely believable open-handedness, as articulated most strikingly by Sa'dī Shīrazī in 13th-century Iran, and echoed in the reflections on dāna (giving) in the 19th-century Hātim-nama in Braj Bhasha, written by the Sikh poet Saundhā for the ruler of Punjab, Ranjīt Singh. How has the counter-gift of the name worked to render effective the ethical exemplarity of Hātim, often in spite of his status as a non-Muslim? What might have been the limits placed upon, or the damage done to, Hātim's ethics on account of his gaining a name for his generosity?

Thursday, February 8, 2018 - 5:00pm
Foster 103