Getting God's Ear: Women, Islam, and Healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf

Getting God's Ear: Women, Islam, and Healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf

Getting God's Ear: Women, Islam, and Healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf

Getting God's Ear: Women, Islam, and Healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf

Synopsis

The circumscribed role of women in orthodox religious societies has long intrigued scholars and general readers alike. How these roles evolved and how women today reconcile feminism with traditional religious practice is a subject of controversy both within the academy and in religious communities. Getting God's Ear considers this subject by examining the role of religious worship and spiritual affairs in women's lives in the twentieth-century Arab world.

The meaning of women's exclusion from the "sacred precincts" of the mosque and their limited access to religious learning -- as well as the effects of this exclusion on women's lives -- is the focus of the book. Exploring both their role as midwives, healers, and ritual participants in spite of such exclusion, Eleanor Doumato examines the ways women strive for agency and sacralize their own space in an effort to experience community, to heal and be healed, and to find ways of getting God to hear them.

Focusing on the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula region during the first half of the twentieth century, the book weighs the influence of Wahhabi Islam on women's religious experience against the experience of women in the Sunni and Shia towns of Kuwait and Bahrain. At the same time, the author incorporates the voices of American missionaries and others who wrote about women of this region and whose writings form the informational core of the book. Connecting doctrine and practice in pre-oil Arabia to current sociopolitical developments, she raises an intriguing question: Is there something in the historical experience of women under Wahhabi Islam that can help us understand the persistence of women's separation in Saudi Arabia today?

Excerpt

Getting God’s Ear is about women, religion, and healing practices in the Arabian Gulf region and in Najd, the central region of the Arabian Peninsula, during the first half of the twentieth century. It is about women’s access to religious knowledge and to sacred space in a male-centered environment that marginalizes women’s access to both, and about ways women strive for agency and sacralize their own space in an effort to experience community and to heal and be healed; it is about women’s ways of getting God to hear them.

This book, however, began as something else: it began as an inquiry into the persistence of women’s separation in contemporary Saudi Arabia. It began as a curiosity about what seemed to me to be a preoccupation on the part of the Saudi government with controlling the things women do and about what seemed to me to be a complacency, if not complicity, on the part of women in incorporating these controls into their daily lives. I was curious about why women’s behavior was so much more restricted in Saudi Arabia than in any other place in the Middle East where I had lived or traveled, whether Iran, Syria, Lebanon, or Egypt.

In my attempt to find answers to these questions, I began to look at the culture of Wahhabi Islam that is peculiar to Saudi Arabia’s politically dominant region, Najd, where for almost two and a half centuries this conservation interpretation of Islam has been nurtured and its rules of behavior promoted through public policy. I began to explore the possibility that . . .

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