Sufis and Saints' Bodies: Mysticism, Corporeality, and Sacred Power in Islam

Sufis and Saints' Bodies: Mysticism, Corporeality, and Sacred Power in Islam

Sufis and Saints' Bodies: Mysticism, Corporeality, and Sacred Power in Islam

Sufis and Saints' Bodies: Mysticism, Corporeality, and Sacred Power in Islam

Synopsis

Islam is often described as abstract, ascetic, and uniquely disengaged from the human body. Scott Kugle refutes this assertion in the first full study of Islamic mysticism as it relates to the human body. Examining Sufi conceptions of the body in religious writings from the late fifteenth through the nineteenth century, Kugle demonstrates that literature from this era often treated saints' physical bodies as sites of sacred power.

Sufis and Saints' Bodies focuses on six important saints from Sufi communities in North Africa and South Asia. Kugle singles out a specific part of the body to which each saint is frequently associated in religious literature. The saints' bodies, Kugle argues, are treated as symbolic resources for generating religious meaning, communal solidarity, and the experience of sacred power. In each chapter, Kugle also features a particular theoretical problem, drawing methodologically from religious studies, anthropology, studies of gender and sexuality, theology, feminism, and philosophy. Bringing a new perspective to Islamic studies, Kugle shows how an important Islamic tradition integrated myriad understandings of the body in its nurturing role in the material, social, and spiritual realms.

Excerpt

Sufis and Saints’ Bodies: Mysticism, Corporeality, and Sacred Power in Islam is the seventh volume to be published in our series, Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks.

Why make Islamic civilization and Muslim networks the theme of a new series? the study of Islam and Muslim societies is often marred by an overly fractured approach that frames Islam as the polar opposite of what “Westerners” are supposed to represent and advocate. Islam has been objectified as the obverse of the Euro-American societies that self-identify as “the West.” Political and economic trends have reinforced a habit of localizing Islam in the “volatile” Middle Eastern region. Marked as dangerous foreigners, Muslims are also demonized as regressive outsiders who reject modernity. the negative accent in media headlines about Islam creates a common tendency to refer to Islam and Muslims as being somewhere “over there,” in another space and another mind-set from the so-called rational, progressive, democratic West.

Ground-level facts tell another story. the social reality of Muslim cultures extends beyond the Middle East. It includes South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and China. It also includes the millennial presence of Islam in Europe and the increasingly significant American Muslim community. in different places and eras, it is Islam that has been the pioneer of reason, Muslims who have been the standard-bearers of progress. Muslims remain integral to “our” world; they are inseparable from the issues and conflicts of transregional, panoptic world history.

By itself, the concept of Islamic civilization serves as a useful counterweight to that of Western civilization, undermining the triumphalist framing of history that was reinforced first by colonial empires and then by the Cold War. Yet when the study of Islamic civilization is combined with that of Muslim networks, their very conjunction breaks the mold of both classical Orientalism and Cold War area studies. the combined rubric allows no discipline to stand by itself; all disciplines converge to make possible a refashioning of the Muslim past and a reimagining of the Muslim future. Islam escapes the timeless warp of textual norms; the additional perspec-

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