The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India

The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India

The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India

The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India

Synopsis

The female voice plays a more central role in Sufi ritual, especially in the singing of devotional poetry, than in almost any other area of Muslim culture. Female singers perform sufiana-kalam, or mystical poetry, at Sufi shrines and in concerts, folk festivals, and domestic life, while male singers assume the female voice when singing the myths of heroines in qawwali and sufiana-kalam. Yet, despite the centrality of the female voice in Sufi practice throughout South Asia and the Middle East, it has received little scholarly attention and is largely unknown in the West. This book presents the first in-depth study of the female voice in Sufi practice in the subcontinent of Pakistan and India. Shemeem Burney Abbas investigates the rituals at the Sufi shrines and looks at women's participation in them, as well as male performers' use of the female voice. The strengths of the book are her use of interviews with both prominent and grassroots female and male musicians and her transliteration of audio- and videotaped performances. Through them, she draws vital connections between oral culture and the written Sufi poetry that the musicians sing for their audiences. This research clarifies why the female voice is so important in Sufi practice and underscores the many contributions of women to Sufism and its rituals.

Excerpt

Western scholars have described Islam as a “male” religion, a characterization that continues to be repeated well into the twenty-first century. As evidence for this position, commentators state and restate that no women are observed in the mosque for prayers, that only boys appear to be students in the Quranic schools, and that female participation is lacking during the major religious feasts (the Iid al Fitr which follows Ramadan, and the Iid al Adha, or feast of sacrifice). If this is actually the case, how could Islam be seen as other than male-focused? This view arises from several misconceptions.

Primary among these is the early scholars’ need to compare Islam to a familiar system, i.e., Christianity. Such a comparison ignores a central fact: the mosque is not, like the Christian church, the center of religious observance. The focus of Muslim practice, like the focus of Judaic religious practice, lies in the home. The home is where the rituals marking the religious year take place and where women have tended to pray. And girls have always attended Quranic schools and received religious education, though often in private settings separate from boys. Further, early Western studies of Islam were text-based, rather than being the result of on-the-ground research and fieldwork in Muslim countries. The absence of a common language has also contributed to an ethnocentric view. Until very recently, knowledge of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and other languages spoken by Muslims around the world was minimal in the West. Muslim scholars themselves only began to write in English, French, and German after the nineteenth-century incursions by Western colonial powers.

Ethnocentrism also affected scholars’ recognition of the importance of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.